The Project Gutenberg EBook of With Rifle and Bayonet, by F.S. Brereton

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Title: With Rifle and Bayonet
       A Story of the Boer War

Author: F.S. Brereton

Illustrator: Wal Paget

Release Date: June 20, 2010 [EBook #32918]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

Captain F.S. Brereton, R.A.M.C.

"With Rifle and Bayonet"

Chapter One.

A Sad Mistake.

The last few rays of a cold September sunset were streaming through the High Street of a large and populous village called Redford, in the county of Surrey, lighting up the pretty red-brick cottages and casting a deep shadow beyond the quaint and tumble-down old porch which led to the church. A few mellow shafts had slipped by it, and, struggling through the iron bars of a massive gate, travelled up a long gravel drive and cast a ruddy glow on the windows of a fine country mansion.

In one of the rooms facing the sunset, a man and a woman were standing opposite one another, engaged in angry conversation, while outside, on the great staircase, the subject of their dispute, a boy of about eleven, was slowly making his way upward, stopping now and again to let his head drop upon his folded arms against the banisters, and sob as if his heart would break. At last, after many stops, he reached a landing midway up, and was just in the act of succumbing once more to his grief when a jeering and unsympathetic laugh from above caught his ear, and caused him to give a violent start. Instantly the lad dried his eyes, and choked back his sobs. Then, with a sudden gesture, as if of determination to forget his sorrow, he crossed the landing, and with his head now held proudly erect in the air, ran up the remaining stairs and was quickly out of sight.

Meanwhile, in the room below, the man and woman faced one another in the gathering gloom, while angry words passed between them.

The former, Captain Charles Somerton by name and title, a lithe and active man of middle age, was evidently ill at ease. He stood close beside his writing-desk, shuffling restlessly from one foot to another, and toying with a paper-knife. His wife, on the other hand, was apparently calm and self-contained, though a careful scrutiny of her features would have shown that passion had almost mastered her. She was a proud, haughty-looking woman, and now that her temper had almost got the better of her there was a decidedly evil look upon her face. She listened impatiently to what her husband was saying, glaring spitefully at him, and occasionally opening her lips as if on the point of interrupting.

“My dear,” the captain was saying, somewhat nervously, “you really must be more kind to the poor little chap. Scold him if you wish to, for I have no doubt that, like all boys, he is constantly up to some kind of mischief; but if you have occasion to correct him, do so in a more gentle manner. He is quite a young lad, you must remember, and I am sure that his worst deeds cannot merit such punishment. You frighten him out of his life, and you do what I consider an extremely unkind thing—you constantly hurt his feelings, well knowing him to be a thin-skinned boy. Poor little chap! If you are not more careful he will detest you. You say that he and Frank together smashed a piece of valuable china in your boudoir? How then is it that Frank is forgiven, while Jack, who is the younger by more than a year, has his ears boxed and is spoken to so harshly?”

“There you are again, Charles!” was Mrs Somerton’s angry answer. “How often must I tell you that Jack is the ringleader in all the mischief? If it were not for him Frank would never go astray, for he is a quiet and good-mannered boy, and, unless led away by the bad example of the other, always conducts himself as I should wish.”

“I am much inclined to disagree with you there, Julia,” the captain replied, with some show of temper. “It seems to me that there is something of the hypocrite about Frank. His manners may be good, but he can never look one in the face, and he is ready at any moment to snivel and whine. Jack may be a naughty boy, and given to getting into mischief, but I tell you candidly that I would far rather that he were so than a namby-pamby, milk-sop lad, afraid to say boo! to a goose. He’s a plucky little fellow, and all that is wrong with him is that, like the majority of healthy individuals, he has a large stock of animal spirits, which are a tremendous help in getting one along in this world, but which occasionally lead one into trouble. You say he is the ringleader; but to my mind that only shows his pluck. He goes ahead where others are afraid and hang back.

“But there, my dear, do not let us quarrel about this trumpery matter. Remember that when I, a widower with one boy, married you, a widow with an only son, a great object of our union was that the lads might prove good brothers and playfellows. That was three years ago, and now we have the satisfaction of knowing that they are fairly good companions, and our wish is that they should continue so. Treat them alike, Julia, and they will always be firm friends. But make a difference between them, punish one for the other’s faults, and you will surely separate the lads and cause them to dislike one another. As for the bit of china, I am sorry it is broken. Give it to me next time I go to London, and, if possible, I will replace it, or buy you something more valuable.”

Captain Somerton spoke in his kindest and most conciliatory manner, and patted his wife playfully on the arm. But this subject of the two boys was a bitter one to her, and she was far from feeling appeased.

“Yes, it is just like you, Charles, to take Jack’s part!” she exclaimed, with an angry sneer. “It is always the same, and, upon my word, I have no patience with you. Jack is a mischievous little monkey, and if there is to be an unpleasant scene between us whenever he misbehaves himself, then the sooner he is sent away to school the better. If I had had my way he should have gone long ago.”

Mrs Somerton, having delivered a parting shot, glared angrily at her husband, and bounced out of the room, banging the door after her.

As for the captain, he was evidently distressed that his attempt to set matters right had failed so completely. He gave a deep sigh, and, sinking resignedly into a chair, lit a cigar, and smoked furiously till the room was filled with choking clouds, through which the red end of his cheroot glimmered feebly.

He was a soldierly-looking man, tall and upright, and with a kindly expression on his face. Had a stranger seen him he would have taken him at once for what he was. There was no mistaking the moustache and the military air; while, had anyone been in doubt, the manner in which his grooms—who were all old soldiers—saluted him, and his method of responding, would have been convincing to the dullest. A few years before the event just narrated Captain Somerton had belonged to a crack hussar regiment. But, his father dying, he had resigned his commission, in order that he might be able to manage in person the property which had come into his possession.

Then it was that his first wife had died, leaving him with a child of five. Three years later he had married a widow, who also had a boy.

It had been a sad, indeed a fatal, mistake. His second wife was unsuitable in every respect, and was the very last woman he should have selected. She had no sympathy with him, spent much of her time amongst smart people in London, and when at home invariably upset the house, and caused her husband displeasure by her treatment of his boy. Indeed, as time passed, she seemed to take a positive delight in speaking sharply to Jack, knowing well that by doing so she caused Captain Somerton pain and annoyance.

And Jack—poor little fellow!—though at first he had, boy-like, quickly forgotten his scoldings, was now really in terror of his unloving stepmother.

People who knew the Somertons, and were callers at Frampton Grange, soon learnt what kind of a woman its new mistress was. Though outwardly all that was pleasant and entertaining to them, they quickly gauged her character, and knew her to be a source of discord in a house which was, before her arrival there, one of the happiest in the land. They summed her up, noticed the icy looks with which she often greeted Jack, and contrasted them with the tender embraces with which she almost smothered her own son.

Then they discussed the subject by other firesides till it was almost threadbare, and came to the conclusion that jealousy of Jack’s undoubted superior qualities and good looks was the main cause of her unkind treatment of him.

And below stairs, in the kitchen of Frampton Grange, the captain’s servants put their heads together many a time, with the result that all sympathised secretly with their master and his son, and cordially disliked the new mistress and the peevish and ill-mannered cub belonging to her.

Even as Captain Somerton and his wife were exchanging their views in the study above, old Banks, the butler, who had been with the Somertons for many years, was holding forth with unusual vehemence to the cook and maids below.

“I calls it just about a shame!” he cried indignantly, bringing his fat fist down upon the table with such a thump as to make his audience start out of their seats and cause himself a twinge of pain.

“Why can’t she let the boy alone? Poor little chap! She’s always a-nagging at him; and to hear her going on at the captain is enough to make yer tear yer hair. And he sits there in front of her as tame as a girl, and gives her back gentle words. Bah! I hates it! Yer wouldn’t think at such times as he’s got a name for miles round here as the daringest rider after hounds; but that’s what he has, as anyone would tell yer. And yet, when he gets in front of her, and she starts to tackle him, he’s as mild as milk, and scarcely dares to answer her. She’s a vixen, that’s what she is, cook, and I can tell yer I ain’t much in love with her. Why don’t he pitch into her a bit? But I dare say he acts all for peace! He dislikes a row, as all gentlemen does, and his motter is ‘Least said the soonest mended’. ’Tain’t the way I’d do it if I was in his shoes! I’d pretty soon make her leave the boy alone and stop her talk, I can assure yer!”

Banks shook his head in a threatening manner, and finding that his outburst of indignation had gained for him the sympathy and admiration of his fellow-servants, gave a deep grunt of satisfaction, and was on the point of launching forth afresh when a bell, rung from Mrs Somerton’s boudoir, sounded in the passage.

With a startled “Oh, lor!” he was himself again. His flushed features at once assumed their accustomed impassiveness, and with a hasty hitch at his tie to place it in the most exact position, he slipped hurriedly from the kitchen to obey the summons.

And now to follow the boy who had been weeping so bitterly on the stairs. Having gained the landing above, he entered a large room which was evidently set aside for the lads to play in. It was carpeted with felt, almost bare of furniture, and had stacks of cricket bats and balls and other implements in its various corners. Encircling the room, and running close to the wall, was a miniature set of rails, with a wonderfully-constructed station near the fireplace; while opposite the door there was a long tunnel, built up with artificial bricks and earth, from the mouth of which a beautiful model locomotive had half emerged, and remained there stationary, waiting for steam to get up again, and hinting gently to its two old playmates that they were sadly neglectful of their one-time friend.

Here, seated on the fire-guard, with his legs dangling some inches from the floor, was a dark, sallow-complexioned lad, with heavy features and shifting eyes, who went by the name of Frank.

“Well, baby!” this pleasant young gentleman remarked as Jack entered the room, “so you’ve been blubbing again, have you? Why, you are always turning the taps on. We shall have a flood soon.”

“If you were anything but a sneak you would take my part, and your own share in the blame,” Jack answered sharply, vainly endeavouring to steady his quivering lip. “You are a coward to leave me to bear it all. Why did you say that I broke the vase, when you know very well that you pushed me against it? I may be a baby, but I’d rather be that than a coward and a sneak.”

Jack blurted out his last words boldly, and glared defiantly at his stepbrother.

“Here, you shut up, baby!” cried Frank, slipping to the floor and looking threateningly at him.

“Sha’n’t,” said Jack stubbornly. “You know it’s the truth.”

“It’s the truth, is it, baby?” repeated the other, lifting his hand menacingly. “Take it back, or I’ll lick you.”

“I won’t take it back. You are a sneak and a coward, and now you are trying to be a bully,” cried Jack sturdily, facing his opponent without a sign of flinching.

“Then take that!” shouted Frank, bringing his hand with a smack across Jack’s face.

Words ended there. Jack might be a baby and give way to tears when he had been treated unkindly, for he was a very sensitive boy, though not wanting in manliness, but for all that it took a considerable amount of physical pain to make him whimper.

On the receipt of the blow from Frank his teeth closed tightly, cutting off the cry he might otherwise have given; his hands shot out in front of him, and moved rapidly backwards and forwards as he guarded the vicious blows aimed at him, while he returned them with due interest whenever there was an opportunity. To anyone who did not know the two boys it looked at first a most unfair encounter, for, despite the fact that little more than twelve months intervened between Jack’s birthday and that of Frank, the latter was at least three inches taller, and correspondingly heavy.

But, though Nature had given him a body which overlapped Jack’s by more than a year’s growth, it had placed within it a meagre stock of courage, which fact was quickly brought to light.

In the first scuffle Frank’s weight and reach gave him an advantage, and in spite of his lack of science, he planted some heavy blows on Jack’s face, which, however, only seemed to increase the latter’s stubbornness. He took his punishment without a murmur, and, blinking to clear the stars from his eyes, attacked his opponent with even more vigour and fierceness than before. Then luck favoured him. He succeeded in stopping an ugly rush with such abruptness as to make Frank stagger, and followed it up with lightning-like rapidity.

That was the turning-point. Frank could no longer face him, but dodged and scuttled round the room in a desperate hurry, vainly endeavouring to avoid the blows. One more settled the matter. With a sharp and most unpleasant thud Jack’s fist struck him on the nose, and next moment the bully was grovelling on the floor, writhing and shrieking as if in agony, while a flood of tears poured down his cheeks.

It was a funny sight, and fat and jovial old Banks, who, at his mistress’s order, had scrambled hurriedly upstairs to learn what the commotion was about, chuckled inwardly, and looked on in great enjoyment. Nor was it the only part of the struggle he had witnessed. He had arrived at the door of the play-room shortly after its commencement, quite unknown to the boys, and there he remained, listening for sounds from below, and waiting for a more opportune time to interfere.

“That’s it! Go it, my lads!” he murmured to himself, as he stood panting on the landing outside. “You’re bound to have it out, and I ain’t a-going to stop yer if I can help it. Best get it settled now. That young Master Frank’s been wanting a licking for a goodish time, and I’ll back Master Jack to give it him.”

And so he stood calmly in the darkness, till Jack had, to the butler’s huge delight, proved victorious, when, having cautiously stolen back to the top of the stairs, he returned, walking heavily across the landing, and burst into the room. He was quickly followed by Mrs Somerton, at whose appearance Frank’s agonised bellows increased tenfold, while Jack went sullenly to the fireplace and waited for the scolding which he knew would undoubtedly be his. He was not disappointed, and a few minutes later he had retired to his room in great disgrace.

On the following morning Captain Somerton called him into his study, and explained with much kindness and sympathy that he had arranged to send him away to school.

“It will be the best place for you, Jack,” he said, patting him on the back. “You are not too young to go to a public school, and I can vouch for it that you will thoroughly enjoy the life. It will give you opportunities of playing games and of making friends that you have never had here. You will be leaving this house in about a week’s time, and till then, my boy, contrive to live on good terms with Frank. Do not quarrel with him. A term at school will make all the difference, and when you return here you two lads will be the best of friends. There, that will do, Jack.”

Captain Somerton had come to a wise determination. His wife was strongly in favour of home education, and for that purpose a tutor attended daily at the Grange. But to the captain’s mind such a bringing up was far from judicious. He himself had had a public-school life, and had rubbed shoulders with hundreds of other boys, and he knew the value of such a training. He argued, and argued rightly, that in the majority of cases a boy who has never left his home becomes either a milk-sop or a conceited youth, and he was strongly of opinion that Jack should go to school. Now, much to his secret delight, there was an opportunity to separate the boys and send Jack away from home, and he seized it promptly.

Within two days of the quarrel between himself and Mrs Somerton, and between Jack and Frank, he had posted off to a popular and high-class public school not forty miles from London, where he arranged that Jack should be sent at once, as the term was about to commence and he was fortunate in obtaining a vacancy.

Meanwhile Jack had received the news of his impending change in life with the greatest pleasure. For the past three years his had been anything but a happy existence, and the knowledge that there was now to be a change was therefore a source of delight to him. He was not a quarrelsome lad; far from it. But for all that he was not the lad to put up with ill-treatment; and his stepbrother’s attempts to presume upon his year of seniority so often approached the verge of ill-treatment that trouble was constantly occurring.

Still, his father had asked him to be on good terms with Frank till he left for school, and Jack determined to act up to the promise he had given. He told his father he was sorry there had been a quarrel, and retired to the schoolroom again. Frank was there, seated again on the fire-guard, and greeted him with no very friendly looks, made all the more unpleasant by the unnatural size of his nose and lips. But he had had a lesson, and carefully confined himself to grimaces, fearing that Jack might renew the struggle.

The week passed slowly, so that Jack was heartily glad when the carriage drove up to the door, and he and his father were whirled away to the station, together with a couple of large school boxes. The past seven days had been decidedly dull and unpleasant. There had been an obvious coolness between Captain and Mrs Somerton, which affected the whole house, and in addition Frank had been silent and morose, and occasionally inclined to forget his caution and venture upon sarcastic jeers.

But Jack took it all calmly, the knowledge that he was going where he would make many friends helping him to do so. He therefore carefully abstained from answering, and when on the point of leaving, shook hands with his stepbrother heartily. Mrs Somerton gave him a kiss which was as cold as an icicle, and good-natured, fat old Banks squeezed his hand, and huskily wished him good luck and good-bye.

It was not long before they arrived at their destination, and that night Jack was one of the new boys at a large school where there were as many as four hundred. It was a new experience, but he enjoyed it, despite the many jokes which his comrades saw fit to make at his expense. For a few days he put up with them all good-naturedly, and soon felt quite at home; so much so, that before very long, when comparing his present life with the unhappy days he had lately spent at Frampton Grange, he had scarcely sufficient words of praise to bestow upon it.

He quickly fell into the ways of the school, and showed his masters what they might expect of him—which, to tell the truth, was not a great deal at first—and rapidly made friends with all his fellows. As with most popular lads, a nickname was very soon found for him, though why it should have been “Toby” not one of his comrades could have told you. Still, that is what it was, but it was used always in the most friendly way, which showed that he was a favourite.

Before many weeks had passed shouts of “Go it, Toby! Well hit, Toby!” resounded across the playing-fields; while a stranger, looking on at the game, might often have heard a sigh of relief from certain select lads who, like himself, were spectators, as Jack walked out to take his place at the wickets, and “Now we’ll have better luck! Toby’ll give ’em beans!” muttered in very audible tones, and with every sign of satisfaction.

If it was wet, and outdoor games were impossible, Jack was to be found in the gymnasium, or in the workshop, using his hands as best he could, and learning to be dexterous with his fingers.

Thus, in one way and another, he spent his days. The terms rapidly succeeded one another, and almost before he could realise it, he was one of the big boys of the school. At home matters seemed to have improved, and separation had certainly had the effect of making Frank more friendly. But still he was not quite the fellow that Jack was accustomed to. Any attempt to rag or scuffle annoyed him, and sent him upstairs to rearrange his clothing; and as for a rough-and-tumble game of football, he looked on at such a thing with horror, as he also did at Jack’s venturesome attempts to ride a wild young colt which was out to grass in the paddock. Such recklessness was beyond his comprehension; he could not understand Jack’s high spirits, and always endeavoured to curb them as if he were in charge of him.

“Take him easy, Jack!” said Captain Somerton one day, noticing the difference between his sons. “Frank is not used to your rough ways. ’Pon my word, you are like a young bull in a china shop! I hear your shouts and your romping all over the house. But there, don’t let me discourage you. I love to hear it. It wakes the old place up. But be careful, Jack, and if you can, endeavour to copy Frank in politeness. See how well he behaves at meals, and notice how at afternoon-tea he helps your mother when we have callers. Everyone remarks upon his manners, and I can tell you, old boy, you should take a leaf from his book. I like to see you in good spirits, but I also wish you to be well accustomed to the ways of the people you will meet Remember this, politeness is never thrown away; the smallest attention to your elders—the mere opening of a door—is never forgotten, and has before now helped many a man on in the world.”

“Very well, Father, I’ll do my best,” replied Jack heartily. “But I’m an awful bungler, I am afraid. Only yesterday I tried to do as Frank does, and handed round the cream at tea in the drawing-room. I felt just like an elephant; my feet got in the way, and I almost came a cropper on the floor. Then, just as I was helping that old Mrs Tomkins, I caught sight of Spot racing round the house after a cat. By Jove! it was a near shave, and puss only just saved her skin by bolting across the lawn and jumping into the beech-tree. But the worst of it was, that while I was staring through the window old Tomkins was whispering something or other to Miss Brown, and as neither of us was watching her cup it moved a little to one side, and before I knew what was happening the cream was pouring down her dress. Mother says it was a brand-new one on that day, and that’s perhaps why the old lady looked at me so funnily. She said it didn’t matter, but I could see she was just boiling, and felt glad to get away. Then, of course, Mother had something to say to me, and Frank called me a clumsy beggar. That’s all I got for trying to be polite. But I’ll do what I can to learn; see if I don’t, Father!”

“Ha, ha, ha! That was an unfortunate beginning!” laughed Captain Somerton. “I can well imagine poor Mrs Tomkins’ disgust. You must be more careful next time. Stick to it, old boy! There are lots of other ways in which you can show your politeness, and if handing tea or cream is too much for you, you must leave it alone for a while.”

Jack was not discouraged by the want of success which attended his first attempt. He was an observant lad, and quickly picked up his brother’s manners, so much so that when the holidays were over, and he returned to school, his chums noticed that “Toby” was strangely altered. Out in the playing-fields he was still the same jolly, noisy fellow, always ready for a bit of fun. But at meal-times there was something different about him; he was quieter and more polished.

And the change, little as it was valued by his schoolfellows, rapidly caught the attention of his masters, and in consequence they took more notice of him, and became quite attached to the lad.

But in spite of this change in Jack, he led the way in all outdoor games, and indeed was as noisy and high-spirited as ever. So that during holiday times he and Frank still differed vastly from one another. The latter had now donned the very highest of stick-up collars, and his ties were a source of the greatest anxiety to him. In addition, owing to Mrs Somerton’s foolishness, his allowance of ready money enabled him to do as he wished as regards his clothes. And in consequence, he was never happier than when at his tailor’s, trying on some new suit.

To many other boys this is a great pleasure, and indeed it is a gratifying thing to see a lad careful of his personal appearance, and always anxious to appear neat and tidy. But the boy who expends all his time and money in dressing himself, and to whom the rough clothes and boots and the dirt associated with a game of football are distasteful, is a fop, and a fop is the least attractive of all individuals.

This was what Frank was fast becoming. He was selfish and indolent, and gave himself such airs that to a lad of Jack’s breezy nature he was perfectly intolerable. But Jack had promised his father to live peacefully with him, and he kept his promise faithfully, only disagreeing openly when Frank attempted to dictate to him or order him about. Then there was invariably an angry scene, during which Jack pointed out to his brother in plain, matter-of-fact terms that the consequences might be painful if he persisted in trying to rule; and Frank, remembering a struggle, now some years past, in which he had decidedly come off the worse, usually contented himself with some sarcastic remark, and went off to Mrs Somerton to tell her his grievances. So that, altogether, life at Frampton Grange was not so happy as it might have been, and Jack far preferred his school-days. What he did enjoy, however, were the summer holidays, when, by mutual consent, the family divided, and Jack and Captain Somerton went for a trip on the Continent.

At school he was now a prefect, and a most popular boy, and thoroughly appreciated his life. Though, like others of his age, he was looking forward to the time when he would take some position in the world a little more exalted than a school-boy’s, he was yet in no hurry to say “Goodbye!” Cricket and football and his comrades were strong inducements to stay, and when at last the unexpected happened, and misfortune burst like a bomb at his feet, he looked back at the old days with a longing and regret which was never deeper in any boy’s heart.

Chapter Two.

Good-Bye to Home.

Jack Somerton was not given to low spirits; to mope and worry about trifles was a foolish habit to which he had never yielded; but had he done so one beautiful evening in May, a few days before his return to school, he might very well have been excused, for matters had been anything but pleasant.

To begin with, he and Frank had fallen out seriously, partly owing to the latter’s selfishness, and also partly, it must be owned, to Jack’s hot-headed impulsiveness, which always caused him to blurt out at once exactly what was on his tongue, before considering the consequences. He was just one of those lads who liked what is called a “row” as little as did anyone, and sooner than sulk, or treasure up a fancied grievance, he preferred to end the matter at once. Not by blows, for he was not pugnacious either, but amicably, if possible, and if not—well in some other way.

Frank, on the other hand, could never forget that he was the elder of the two, and when Jack came home for the holidays a certain amount of friction always arose, because the former attempted to control his brother’s actions.

“You can’t do that,” he would say, as Jack was on the point of saddling his father’s favourite hunter for a canter in the paddock. “You know very well that Father does not allow anyone to ride Prince Charlie but himself.”

“Who told you that?” would be Jack’s answer. “Did Father say so, or ask you to see that no one rode the horse? Of course he didn’t; Prince Charlie’s a bit fresh at times, and that’s why Father does not like anyone to ride him. But I have had him out before, and I am going to do so again.”

Jack was not exactly a wilful boy, but his brother’s attempts to rule him jarred his feelings. Had Captain Somerton told him he was not to ride his horse, Jack would certainly have obeyed him. But when it practically became a question as to whether he was to do as Frank said, and thereby acknowledge a certain amount of authority on his part, it was a different matter, and the opposition to his wishes very often drove him to doing what he would otherwise not have done.

Day by day these petty squabbles were almost certain to occur, and as the holidays neared the end they became even more frequent. One had arisen on the evening in question. It was not a serious one, but had, as usual, been caused by an attempt on Frank’s part to order Jack about.

As a natural consequence Mrs Somerton had been put out, and had made Frampton Grange so exceedingly uncomfortable for Jack that he had at once gone to the stables, saddled his pony, and ridden through the village, out into the country.

“Well, I shall be jolly glad when the 15th comes, and I get back to school again,” he said to himself as his pony walked slowly along the road. “I wish things weren’t quite so wretched at home. It would be ripping if Frank were like Ted Humphreys, always jolly and ready for a bit of fun, and not for ever nagging and advising me, or ordering me not to do this or that. One would think I was a perfect baby still and he was a grown-up man. I’m sorry, that’s all. Father feels the same too, I know. He as good as told me so the other day. Never mind, I won’t let it worry me. I shall be out of the Grange in a few days, and when next term’s done I shall go up to London to coach for the army.”

How long Jack would have soliloquised it would be difficult to state. He was completely lost in the brownest of brown studies, so much so that he did not heed the noise of hoofs clattering up behind him, and only woke with a start when another rider had drawn his steed in close at his side, and given him a smack on the back which almost knocked the breath out of his body.

“Dreaming, eh? Good gracious, the lad’s wool-gathering!” exclaimed the stranger—a dark, dapper little man, with a clean-shaven face,—giving vent to a hearty chuckle. “What in the world’s the matter, lad?”

“Oh, is that you, Dr Hanly?” exclaimed Jack.

“Of course it is!—who else would it be? What’s the matter, my boy?” answered the doctor kindly. “Troubles at home—eh? Well, don’t worry about them. They’ll mend themselves, and you’ll be back at school soon.”

Dr Hanly looked sympathisingly at Jack, and patted him gently on the shoulder. He was an old friend of Captain Somerton, and had known for a long while how matters were at the Grange. Indeed, outside the family no one knew so well what quarrels there were, and what trials the captain and his son had to put up with. Nor was it in his professional capacity alone that the doctor had obtained his information. He had long been an intimate friend of Jack’s father, and had known and appreciated the former mistress of Frampton Grange.

“Well, Jack, when do you leave school?” he continued. “The captain tells me he intends sending you shortly to a crammer’s, who will coach you for the army. Fine profession, my boy; a fine profession! You’ll make one in a long line, for, if I make no mistake, the Somertons have held commissions for years. I’ve no doubt you will enjoy a soldier’s life. From what one hears it is not all so smooth and easy as one would think. There’s a gay uniform and a jolly life on the surface, but behind the scenes there’s sure to be plenty of tough work—marching and drilling and so on. But—halloo!—who’s this! Someone in a desperate hurry evidently. Want me for sure; a doctor never has a moment he can call his own.”

Doctor Hanly’s last words were caused by the sudden appearance of a light cart, which at that moment whirled round a distant bend in the road, and came racing along towards them, behind a galloping horse. In the cart, standing up and using his whip freely, was a man whose cap and clothes showed that he had some connection with the railway.

As he reached Jack and the doctor he pulled in his horse with a jerk, and waving his arms excitedly, shouted: “There’s been an awful smash on the railway, sir, midways between here and Redley. The station-master said as he’d seen you a-riding this way, and told me I was to let yer know that an engine and truck would stop at Harvey’s crossing, and take yer on to where the line is blocked. It’s been an awful smash, sir, and I heard nigh everyone in the London express has been badly hurt!”

“Why, that’s the train in which Father said he should return this evening!” exclaimed Jack, suddenly feeling a chill of fear run through his body.

“Come with me then, lad,” cried the doctor. “This way. It’s only a few hundred yards. Perhaps you will be of use. Go back to the station, my man,” he called out as they were setting off, “and tell the station-master to send out blankets, brandy, and any linen he can get hold of, as quickly as he can. Come along, Jack. I can hear the engine.”

They both put their animals into a gallop, jumped a narrow ditch which flanked the road, dashed across a broad stretch of common land, and finally pulled up at a gate which closed a level crossing over the railway. The engine and truck were already there.

“Hitch your reins on to this post,” said Dr Hanly calmly, making his own horse fast. “Now, on to the engine! Every moment may be of the utmost value. Send her ahead, my man.”

Jack climbed on to the foot-plate of the engine, followed by the doctor, who at once sat down on the driver’s seat and proceeded to inspect sundry instruments and bandages with which two capacious side pockets of his coat were stocked. He was as cool as if on an ordinary journey. Carefully selecting three of his instruments, he put the case back in his pocket, and commenced to cut a sheet of lint into small strips. These he folded up methodically and gave to Jack to hold. Then he rose to his feet, and looked along the line in front, waiting quietly for the moment when the engine should reach the scene of the disaster, and enable him to commence his work of rescuing the injured. What a contrast there was between this dapper little man, cool and collected, with all his wits about him, waiting for his work to begin with a quietness born of long experience, and Jack, standing on the other side of the foot-plate, dodging his head from side to side to obtain a better view of the rails, holding the bundle of lint with fingers which trembled with nervous excitement, whilst his heart thumped against his ribs with a force which almost frightened him!

“Steady, Jack, steady!” exclaimed the doctor, smiling encouragingly at him. “Nothing was ever done well in a hurry. Keep cool, and you will be able to help me considerably. Ah, there it is! We shall be close up in a few seconds.”

As the doctor spoke the engine ran round a wide curve, and came in full sight of the spot where the accident had occurred. The axle of the driving-wheels of the express engine had suddenly snapped, causing the whole train to leave the rails, and plough along on the gravel. Then the heavy engine had suddenly toppled over and come to an abrupt halt, while the carriages had been piled on top of it and on one another in hopeless confusion.

It was indeed a dreadful disaster. The guard’s van and the first passenger truck lay crushed out of all shape on the gravel, while on top of them the others were heaped in disorder, with dangling wheels and shattered woodwork, the whole being surmounted by the last carriage of all, the end of which was thrown up as high as a house in the air.

About twenty men had already collected near, and these at once set to work, at Dr Hanly’s orders, to climb into the carriages and bring out the passengers. Jack joined in the work, feeling giddy and thoroughly upset at the awful sights he saw, and dreading that every body taken from the wreckage would prove to be his father’s.

But the doctor, guessing what his feelings were, called him to help in bandaging up one of the injured passengers, and kept him hard at work for an hour at least; so that when Captain Somerton’s body was at last discovered, crushed almost out of recognition, Jack was not there to see it and be shocked at the sight. Indeed, he did not hear the tidings for some time, for the doctor required his help; and before long Jack was so much absorbed in his work that he had forgotten his nervousness, and was applying splints and bandages together with his friend with a skill and coolness which would have done credit to an older hand. But all the time he was oppressed by a feeling that a calamity had befallen him.

When all the injured had been seen to, Jack was at liberty to make enquiries, when he soon learnt that his father was among the killed.

“It is a sad thing, my dear boy, a shocking accident,” murmured Dr Hanly, taking him on one side, “and your grief is natural, for you have lost the best friend you ever had in the world. Go home now and break the news. I will come to-morrow, and after that, if you are in any difficulty come to me.”

The next few days were exceedingly trying ones for Jack. Frampton Grange was even more miserable than before, for there was no sympathy amongst the inmates, and therefore no consolation in talking to one another about the terrible accident which had led to Captain Somerton’s death.

Two days were occupied in attending and giving evidence at the inquest; then there was the funeral, after which Mrs Somerton and her two sons returned to the Grange with Dr Hanly, a few relatives of the deceased captain, and two austere gentlemen, who proved to be lawyers. The will of the late owner of the house was then produced.

A quarter of an hour later it had been read, the party had broken up, and Jack found himself the future owner of Frampton Grange and all the wealth his father had possessed, and alone in the world save for a stepmother and stepbrother who cared little for him.

Captain Somerton had made one very big mistake during his life. He had married, for the second time, a woman upon whom his choice should never have fallen. This he recognised too late, but not so late as to prevent him from altering his will accordingly.

I leave to my son, John Hartly Somerton, all that I possess,” ran the will, “to be held in trust by my wife and Dr Hanly, the former of whom shall have the use of Frampton Grange till the said John Hartly Somerton shall attain the age of twenty-six.”

Mention was made that Mrs Somerton had sufficient means of her own to live in the same style as before. In addition to this, there were various small legacies to the servants, a sum was set aside for Jack’s education and for his expenses in entering the army, and another sum for the upkeep of the Grange until it came into his own management.

“Come over and see me to-morrow, Jack,” whispered the doctor as soon as the will had been read. “I am now a kind of guardian to you, and shall feel it my business to give you advice. I shall be in about tea-time, when we can be sure of a quiet chat.”

“Thanks, Doctor,” replied Jack. “You can expect me at the time you mention.”

On the following afternoon, therefore, Jack mounted his pony and rode through the village and away up the hill to the doctor’s house.

“Now, my boy, what are you going to do with yourself?” asked the doctor, when they had finished their tea and were strolling in the garden.

“Well, first of all, as you know, Doctor, I am not to go back to school. I am awfully sorry, as I have been very happy there, and we hoped to pull off some good cricket matches this term. But now that is all knocked on the head for me. Do you know, I believe Father had some kind of feeling that something was going to happen to him, for he left a letter with the lawyer instructing me to leave school and begin coaching for the army immediately his death occurred. He mentioned that he would like me to read at home with Frank, but really, Doctor, I feel more inclined to go straight up to London, as I had intended all along. You know Frank and I are not too friendly. We don’t get on well together; and I’m afraid I don’t hit it off very well with Mother either.”

“Yes, I know that, my boy. It’s very unfortunate,” remarked Dr Hanly. “Still, it is the case. I believe you will do well to go up to London at an early date, for, if I am any judge, you are still more likely to quarrel at home now that there is no one to keep the peace. Think it over, and if you make up your mind to do as I say, come over and see me again, and we will arrange to go up together. London is a very big place, and it is a good thing to have a friend or two there when you go. I have many, and will ask them to look after you. Take your time about deciding. It would not do to leave home immediately after your father’s death.”

Jack rode slowly back to the Grange, and long before he got there had come to the decision that it would be best for all if he left home and went up to the big city.

“We’re certain to have rows if I stay,” he thought. “Then perhaps Frank will try to boss me, as he has tried before; so, altogether, I shall be doing everyone a good turn by going.”

His conviction was strengthened during the next few days, for the very sight of him seemed to be an annoyance to his stepmother. The truth was, that Mrs Somerton was highly incensed at the contents of her husband’s will. At the least she had expected a third, or perhaps more, of the estate to be left to Frank. But that all should have gone to Jack was a bitter pill which she found too difficult to swallow.

“How your father can have been so unjust I cannot imagine!” she had the bad grace to remark to Jack on the evening after his chat with Dr Hanly. “You and Frank are equally his sons, and should have been treated alike. But it was always the same. You were to have first place, and Frank was to have what was left. It is abominable, and if it were not that your father was always unjust in dealing with Frank, I really should begin to think that he was out of his senses when he made that will.”

Jack listened to his mother’s reproach, and was on the point of indignantly protesting; but better counsel prevailed, and he kept silent.

Two weeks later he and Dr Hanly took the mid-day train for London, leaving Mrs Somerton still in a very sullen mood, and Frank standing in a lordly manner on the steps of Frampton Grange, with an ill-disguised air of triumph about him which seemed to say that now at least he would be head and ruler of the establishment.

Jack had only once before been to London, and when the four-wheeler in which he and his friend were driving to their hotel became jammed in the dense traffic which converges at the Mansion House he was perfectly astounded. Nor was his astonishment lessened when he noticed how the busmen and drivers joked and laughed as they drove their vehicles through the narrowest parts with an accuracy which was wonderful; while tall, powerful-looking policemen stood in the thick of it all, and with a wave of a hand arrested the flow in one direction, while a flood of omnibuses and carriages swept by in the other.

“Fine fellows, aren’t they!” exclaimed Dr Hanly. “And many of them are old soldiers too. I really do not think there is another force in the world that equals them. They are well-trained and disciplined; polite and obliging, especially to country-cousins like ourselves, and with a power which is simply wonderful. I have never seen its equal, though I have known of many attempts to copy. In Paris, for instance, the policeman’s efforts to control the traffic, and make a street-crossing comparatively safe, are simply ludicrous.”

Ten minutes later the cab drew up at the hotel, and their baggage was carried in.

“Now, Jack, you can do as you like for the next hour,” cried the doctor. “I have letters to write, and so will go to my room. You had better get on a bus and go as far as you can in the time. I should advise your taking one which runs through the Strand and on past Charing Cross and Westminster. But wherever you go you will find it interesting.”

Jack had never gone alone through the streets of London before, but he was quite old enough to take care of himself, and having selected a bus, with the words “Strand, Charing Cross, and Victoria” painted on the side, he boarded it while it was running at a respectable pace, just as every boy likes to do, and seated himself in the garden-seat on top, just behind the driver.

“Afternoon, sir!” the latter, a jolly, red-faced individual, exclaimed.

“Good afternoon!” Jack replied. “I’m up in town for the second time in my life, and if you can tell me the names of the various buildings we pass, I shall be much obliged to you.”

“Ah, then you ain’t the first gentleman from the country as I’ve taken round!” answered the busman, grinning with pleasure, for, seated for many hours during the day on his box, an occasional chat came as a treat, which relieved the monotony.

“Well now, sir, that there building’s the Law Courts, and a fine place it is too; and under that funny-looking arch on t’other side is the Temple, where all these lawyer chaps has their lodgings and their church.”

As they drove through the Strand the driver showed him the various theatres, and finally pointed to the National Gallery across Trafalgar Square.

“That’s where all the best pictures go to, sir,” he said, “and if yer was to pass along on the right of it you’d see the sodger-sergeants a-walking up and down a-looking for recruits. And a fine bag they are making nowadays. What with old Kruger and the Transvaal Boers there’s likely to be trouble coming, and that’s what draws recruits. When there’s a chance of active service the young chaps comes up in scores. Funny, ain’t it, when yer think of other countries where pretty well every man has to join the army, whether he likes or not; while here, in free England, it’s left to choice, and no one need belong who doesn’t like!

“Do yer know who it is who’s perched up yonder a-looking down towards Westminster?” he continued, nodding to the Nelson Monument.

“Yes, that’s Nelson, of course,” answered Jack. “I’ve been here once before, I remember, to see the square and the fountains playing.”

“Nelson it is, right enough, sir, but he ain’t the only chap as perches himself up there. There’s a lot of chaps stands on the stonework below at times and spouts to the crowd. Agitators or something of the sort they calls ’em. At any rate they’re fellers as has got too long tongues in their mouths, I should think. Then it’s round that moniment that Englishmen gathers when there’s a row abroad, so as to let everybody know what they thinks about the matter. Ah! Trafalgar Square’s a useful sort of place, if it ain’t so very nice to look at.”

The omnibus now turned down Parliament Street, swept past Whitehall and the Horse Guards, and finally drew up at Westminster.

With a cheery “Thank you, and good-bye” to the genial driver, Jack jumped off and walked towards Westminster Bridge, where he stopped for a quarter of an hour or more, looking at the swarm of vehicles crossing, and at the panting tugs and the lazy barges floating on the river. Then he walked along the Embankment, back into the Strand, and so returned to his hotel.

“Well, Jack, to-morrow we will have a good run round the place,” exclaimed the doctor as they finished their dinner, “and after that we must find rooms for you somewhere, and introduce you to the crammer. As regards the rooms, I think it will be a good plan for you to board with someone. It is very lonely for a lad of your age in lodgings by himself, as I remember well, for I spent four years of that kind of life when I was a student. To-night, if you are not too tired, we will go to some place of amusement; a theatre for choice.”

Accordingly they went to Drury Lane, and thoroughly enjoyed the piece and the wonders of modern stage scenery.

On the following day they went to various other places, and in the evening looked up an old friend of the doctor’s, a barrister, who lived near Victoria Station.

“Look here, Jackson,” said Dr Hanly as soon as he had introduced his young friend, “I am on the look-out for rooms for this lad. He is to go to a crammer’s and work up for the army. The next examination takes place in about six months, and, if possible, I want to get him into some comfortable place where he will not be too much alone.”

“Why not try this house, then?” answered Mr Jackson. “I have been here for five years now, and have found it comfortable and reasonable. The people who run the place are most respectable, in fact they are gentlefolks who have been compelled to let rooms owing to reduced circumstances. I have two rooms, and so have Clarke and another man. I know there are two more vacant ones, for Franklin left for India last week. We generally breakfast and dine with the Eltons (the people who let the rooms), and we usually lunch outside.”

“What do you say, Jack?” asked the doctor. “You are the one chiefly concerned.”

“It seems to be just the very thing, Doctor,” Jack answered. “It is close to the address of the crammer, and therefore suitable in that way. Could we look at the rooms now, and come to a decision?”

Accordingly the vacant accommodation was inspected, and at once engaged. A week later Jack had quite settled down, the doctor had returned home, and work at the crammer’s had begun.

Jack enjoyed the life. The allowance which he was entitled to draw was a comfortable one, which enabled him to meet all his current expenses and still find something in his pocket with which to pay for amusements. His work usually kept him engaged from ten in the morning till four in the afternoon, and every night except Saturday and Sunday he did a couple of hours’ reading.

Between tea-time and dinner-time he generally went for a long walk, as to a boy of his habits constant exercise was essential. Sometimes he would make his way along the Embankment and on past Chelsea, for the river always had an attraction for him; while at other times he would go in the opposite direction.

One Saturday evening, just after dark, he was slowly returning towards Victoria, when a shrill whistle suddenly sounded in front of him, followed by a loud shout. Rain was pouring down at the time, so that the streets were practically deserted, while on the Embankment there was not a soul about.

Again the shrill whistle sounded, followed by a shout, this time less loud and decidedly muffled.

Jack’s suspicions were at once aroused, and, dropping his umbrella, he took to his heels and ran along the pavement. A few yards farther on scuffling and the sound of heavy blows reached his ears, while, almost at the same moment, a flickering gas lamp cast a feeble light across the damp pavement, showing the base of Cleopatra’s Needle, close to which was a group of struggling figures.

A minute later Jack had reached the spot, to find that four roughs had set upon two well-dressed gentlemen, one a man of some forty years of age, while the younger was no older than himself.

As Jack reached them the latter was leaning half-stunned against the stonework, where he had been knocked by a staggering blow, while at his feet rolled a police whistle with which he had made a brave attempt to call assistance.

The older gentleman stood with his back to the lamppost, and as Jack reached his side knocked one of the ruffians flat on his back on the pavement.

Jack made up his mind instantly as to what he ought to do. Without stopping he dashed up to the feet of the younger man, picked up the whistle, and next moment was at the side of the older man. Then he placed the whistle to his lips and blew with all his might.

“Come on! What are yer standing there for?” exclaimed one of the ruffians, turning fiercely on his companions, who had drawn away as Jack arrived upon the scene. “He ain’t a peeler! He’s only some clerk as don’t know when to keep himself to himself. Now, let’s do for ’em all, and clear away with the swag!”

A second later Jack was forced to drop his whistle and defend himself, for the three roughs rushed at them. The gentleman sent one of them reeling back with a tremendous blow on the chest, and was instantly engaged with the second; while the leader of the gang, a burly, brutal-looking fellow, singled Jack out and struck at his head with both fists in quick succession.

To attempt to guard was hopeless. It would have required a far stronger young fellow than Jack to break the blows. But he escaped by ducking rapidly, rising the next moment to strike fiercely at the man, and then throw himself upon him and drag him to the ground.

They fell heavily, the jar shaking the breath out of their bodies, and causing a sudden pain to shoot through Jack’s thigh. But though his left leg was now useless to him, he stuck to his man in spite of the excruciating pain it caused him, and, shifting his grasp for a moment, threw his arms round his antagonist and pinned him to the ground.

A few seconds passed, and just as his strength was giving way, and the ruffian was on the point of wrenching himself free, a policeman’s helmet appeared above them, a powerful hand grasped his opponent’s neck, and the man was dragged away.

What happened afterwards was a complete blank to Jack.

Chapter Three.

Off To Africa.

When Jack came to his senses again he was astonished to find himself tucked up in a cosy bed, with clean white sheets and a red counterpane. It was placed in the centre of a row of beds which were precisely similar, and which ran down one side of a large and comfortable-looking ward, on the opposite side of which there was a fire burning brightly, and a table round which sat three neatly-dressed nurses.

Jack slowly ran his eyes round the ward, noted that most of the other beds had occupants, and that the three nurses looked decidedly pretty in their white caps and aprons. And all the while he wondered mildly what it all meant, why he was there, and what sort of a place it was. Then, like others who have been seriously ill for a considerable time and are almost too weak to move a hand, he closed his eyes again and fell into a deep sleep.

When he awoke he lay quite still, with closed eyelids, listening to voices near his bedside.

“He’ll do well now, Nurse,” he heard someone say, “and I am glad to be able to tell you that the worst is over. It was a difficult job to get the thigh in satisfactory position, and nicely put upon the splint. But it’s done, and done well, I think I may say. Your young friend will make steady progress now, sir,” the voice continued, “and from what I have learnt I am sure you will be very pleased to hear it. Good-day! I must be going now, as I have several other patients to look to.”

“Good-day!” was repeated heartily by someone else, and then the owner of the first voice moved away.

“I am delighted to hear the doctor’s report,” somebody else exclaimed, in tones which were unmistakably those of Dr Hanly. “He has met with a very nasty accident, and it takes quite a load from my mind to hear he is doing well. By all accounts he must have increased the severity of the injury by sticking to that fellow as he did. He’s a plucky lad.”

“Plucky, my dear sir! I should think so indeed!” answered a third voice. “Why, I owe a lot to your young ward. There was really no call for him to come to our help; but he did so without hesitation, with the result that he got badly smashed, while Wilfred and I were merely a little bruised and knocked about.”

“I’m glad to hear you say so, Mr Hunter,” was the doctor’s reply. “It is just like the lad to get into a mess in an attempt to help others who were in a tight corner. But we had better be moving away, I think, or we may disturb him.”

“Don’t go, Doctor,” Jack feebly murmured at this moment, opening his eyes and looking up at his friend. “Tell me how I came to be here, and all about it. It’s awfully rummy! I cannot understand why I should be lying in bed, when only a minute ago I was well and strong and walking along the Embankment.”

“Why, good gracious me! that was a week ago, Jack! This is a hospital in London, and you are in bed because your thigh is broken. But you must get to sleep. Mr Hunter and I will come again to-morrow.”

Jack obediently closed his eyes, wondered in a dreamy kind of way who Mr Hunter might be, and who was the plucky lad he had been talking about, and promptly fell asleep.

When he became conscious again a nurse was bending over him, and, feeling stronger and more lively, he was propped up in bed as far as his splint would allow, and given a cup of tea. From that day he rapidly improved. The pain, which had been severe at first after he had recovered consciousness, had now entirely gone, and about three weeks after his accident his bed was lifted on to a long wheeled chair, and he was able to get about the ward and chat with the other patients.

Almost daily Mr Hunter and his son Wilfred came to see Jack, and very soon the two lads, who were within a few days of the same age, had become fast friends.

“By Jove!” Wilfred exclaimed one day as he was sitting by Jack’s side, “it was touch and go for us when those four blackguards attacked us, and you were a perfect brick to come up in time to lend us a helping hand.”

“Oh, humbug! What else could I have done?” answered Jack. “I heard your whistle and shouts, and guessed there was a row on. I couldn’t stand still, could I? so of course I came along to see what was up. Then, when I found it was an uneven fight, I tacked myself on to the side which wanted me most.”

“It’s all very well your talking like that, Jack, but you know as well as I do that you might just as well have run in the opposite direction, especially when you saw what brutes the men were who were attacking us. But we’ll say no more about it just now. I’ll get even with you though, old chap, if I can manage it, one of these fine days.”

“Then that’s agreed,” answered Jack; “but before you drop the subject, tell me what the row was really about. I suppose those fellows were after your money!”

“Money! Yes, but in a different form from that in which you usually see it. You know, Father runs a big store out in Johannesburg, and deals in everything. You can get anything, from a bag of peas or a tin tack to Kimberley diamonds of the first water, from his shop, and it’s the last that those ruffians were after. But here is Father. Ask him, and he will tell you all about it.”

“Well, Jack, getting along nicely, are you?” exclaimed the latter heartily. “And you want to know how it was we were attacked by those ruffians? It’s very simple. I have come over from South Africa for a holiday, and to see the old home. My wife and Wilfred came too, and during our stay here I have managed to combine business and pleasure. I brought over some diamonds, and on the day you came so opportunely to our aid I had been to a stone merchant in the city, and was returning with all those he had not bought from me; I should say some fifteen thousand pounds’ worth. It would have been a good haul if they had managed to get away with the bag. No doubt they knew all about me, and had tracked me all the way from the hotel. But they made a little mistake. You see in my younger days I had to rough it pretty well, and of recent years, while living in the Transvaal, life has not been altogether smooth. Every Boer’s hand there is against the Englishman, Uitlanders as they call us, and so one has to be particularly wary.

“Immediately I caught sight of those rascals I guessed their game, but I can tell you, my lad, it would have been all U P if it hadn’t been for you and the whistle. Well, we came out of it pretty comfortably, save for your fractured thigh, and as soon as you are fit to go out those fellows will be tried and, I trust, will get heavily sentenced.

“By the way, my boy, have you thought about the future? You know it will be at least three months before that leg of yours is really strong again; at least that is what the surgeon says.”

“No, I haven’t given it a thought, Mr Hunter. I suppose I shall go home to the Grange for a month or so, and then return to the crammer’s. Not that that would be much good, for I cannot possibly go up for the next exam. I haven’t done nearly enough reading, and should certainly get ploughed if I attempted it.”

“Why not come out to Africa with us?” said Mr Hunter earnestly. “We go as soon as those ruffians are tried, and we should be good companions on the way. Besides, it would be a splendid ‘pick-me-up’ for you; you would get the air on the voyage, and still be able to keep your leg in splints, or whatever is found necessary.”

“Mr Hunter, it’s awfully kind of you, and I should enjoy it immensely!” Jack suddenly blurted out, and then stopped abruptly as the thought of the expense entailed flashed across his mind.

“Then it’s settled,” exclaimed Mr Hunter. “I thought you’d jump at the idea. I’ve spoken to Dr Hanly about it, and he and your mother are quite willing for you to go. It will be the best thing you could possibly do under the circumstances, and besides, you may find that the experience will be of real service to you later on; for if you join the army it is more than probable that you will find yourself out in Africa with your regiment before many years are gone. I expect we shall sail in about a month’s time. It will be another four weeks before we reach Johnny’s Burg, as we call it, and then you can stay with us just as long as you please.”

Jack was delighted at the prospect before him, and made up his mind to get his leg sound again as quickly as possible. Save for a trip on the Continent with his father he had never left the shores of old England, and now the knowledge that in a short time he would be on board a huge ocean-going vessel bound for Africa, the land of gold and diamonds, Zulus, ostriches, and lions, filled him with the highest spirits, and served, to no small extent, to relieve the tedium of his long stay in hospital.

A month afterwards he was staying with the Hunters at a fine hotel near Piccadilly, and a week later had been able to give evidence at the Old Bailey—where he was complimented for his pluck by the judge,—and had seen the four ruffians who had attempted to obtain possession of the bag of diamonds condemned to heavy sentences.

In a fortnight they had set sail from Southampton, and were well in the Channel. It was a lovely summer’s day, and Jack enjoyed the change immensely. Reclining in a long cane chair, propped up with cushions and wrapped in a rug, he was a subject of interest to the passengers, and before many days had passed was on the best of terms with all. Indeed, had he but known it, he was thought a deal of by them, for Mr Hunter and Wilfred had not failed, when they joined the gentlemen in the smoking-room, to tell how his leg became damaged; while Mrs Hunter confided it to the ladies after dinner in the drawing-room.

Day by day Jack’s leg grew stronger and more firmly knit, and very soon, when the sea was quite smooth, he was able to hobble about the deck with the help of a crutch. Before the voyage was over he had discarded the plaster splint with which his thigh had been encased, and by the time the big ship steamed into Table Bay and whistled for the authorities to come off and give instructions as to where it was to berth, he had become quite an ordinary individual once more, and there was nothing noticeable about this strong, broad-shouldered young Englishman save the fact that he walked with a slight limp. It was a glorious morning when Mr and Mrs Hunter and the two boys landed, and as they were not to take the train for Johannesburg till the following day, Wilfred was able to escort Jack round the town and out into the country.

Jack enjoyed it all immensely. The streets were much the same as in London, and in many respects it reminded him of home. But the people walking about were different; Englishmen were certainly in evidence, but there was a good sprinkling of other nationalities, French, German, Kafir, and especially Dutch.

The country outside, however, was very different. The vegetation, of a semi-tropical nature, was more luxuriant and green, while the scorching sun overhead, and the dusty roads underfoot, which reflected the dazzling rays, were a complete change from what he had known in this country.

Still, in spite of the glaring sun there was no doubt of the picturesqueness of Cape Town, backed as it was by its green slopes and fields, and frowned over by the sharply-cut summit of Table Mountain.

Two days later the party arrived in Johannesburg, tired and weary after their long railway journey.

“Now, Jack, you must do just as you like while you are here,” said Mr Hunter a few days after they had reached this modern city in which the Uitlander population of the Transvaal had, for the most part, taken up its residence. “Of course you will want to see Pretoria, and get a peep at his honour, dear old Kruger, whom we Englishmen love so much. Then, perhaps, you would like to accompany me to Kimberley. I go there about twice a month, and though it is a dusty, uninteresting sort of place at first sight, yet I think I can promise to open your eyes when I show you the mines. You have heard of them, of course, and are aware that they are valued at millions of pounds. On our way there, or on our return, we could take a peep at Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, where President Steyn has his residence. It will be all new to you, and, I dare say, sufficiently interesting.”

“Thank you very much, Mr Hunter!” Jack replied. “I am already awfully interested, and should certainly like to see all there is in the country. I wonder whether you would object to my helping sometimes in the store. I am quite strong enough for that now, and I should very much like to learn how you manage matters, and particularly how your books are kept. I am sorry to say I am a terribly poor hand at accounts. Mine never came out right at the end of the month in London.”

“Mind! Of course not, Jack! I am glad to think you would care to do it. Place yourself in Wilfred’s hands. He knows all about it, and will show you how the business is carried on. Who knows? One of these days you may find shopkeeping more congenial than army life. Out here there are lots of young fellows who come from the best of houses in the old country, and yet are not ashamed to pull off their coats and put their shoulders to the wheel. Why, one man of my acquaintance, who is in a very prosperous way of business just now, in spite of the exorbitant taxation with which we have to put up, owns to a title in England, and when he was there would have no more thought of turning out in the streets of London without the time-honoured tail-coat and topper than he would have thought of flying. And here he is now, not too proud to make his living by honest means, simply because he happened to be born a lord. And there are lots more like him too. Dear me, what a shock their parents would have if they could see them now, working behind their counters with sleeves rolled up, and selling groceries or ironware as if they had been at it all their lives!”

On the following day Jack took the train for Pretoria, and had the good fortune to catch a glimpse of Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal Republic, as he drove by in his carriage.

“Father says he’s the deepest and cleverest schemer that ever was!” exclaimed Wilfred, nodding after the carriage, “and from all one hears there can be little doubt about it. They say, too, that he is a religious man, and is something like the Puritans of old. Whatever he is, however, he is certainly one of our bitterest enemies. He simply loathes the sight of an Englishman, and won’t speak our language. He forgets all we have done for him, for I can tell you, there would have been no Kruger and no Boers in the Transvaal if it hadn’t been for our country.”

“He’s a funny-looking fellow at any rate,” answered Jack; “and why in the name of all that’s rummy he should want to wear a topper in this outlandish place is more than I can guess. If I met him at home I should take him for some dissenting minister, a trifle hard-up and out-at-elbow.”

“Hard-up!” exclaimed Wilfred in disgust. “Don’t make that mistake, Jack. Paul Kruger is no pauper. He is certainly one of the wealthiest of the Boers.”

And this was exactly the case. President Kruger was a man who had for many years not only managed the affairs of this particular country, but had also contrived to look well after his own. It was only a glimpse that Jack caught of him, but it was quite sufficient to impress the features on his mind.

Paul Kruger was a heavily-built man, arrayed in black from head to foot, which shone as all threadbare and worn-out clothing does. On his head was a fairly presentable top hat, and in his fat, ungainly hands he held a pair of black kid gloves.

But his face was the part which riveted one’s attention.

In anyone else’s case but the president’s it would have passed without comment, especially amongst a gathering of typical Boers. But, holding the position he did, one looked a second time, and noticed the wrinkled, jowly cheeks, fringed with a belt of straggly hair; the heavy, sleepy-looking eyes, overhung by bushy brows, and the general appearance of obtuseness.

And yet it was this man who, for the sake of a boundless ambition, was destined to defy the might of England, ay, and stagger it with his blows; and he it was, this sheepish-looking Boer, who for years and years had been secretly dreaming and planning—planning to oust the Britishers from their fair colonies, and claim for himself the proud position and title of President—perhaps King—of the United States of Africa.

Shortly after his return from Pretoria, Jack settled down to life in Johannesburg, and soon found himself quite one of the Uitlanders. His leg was now practically strong again, though he had not yet got rid of the limp. Still, for all that, he was able to get about, and even enjoy a game of cricket.

Soon, too, he became accustomed to life in the store conducted by Mr Hunter, and made it a regular custom to help wherever he could during the morning hours. It was really a large shop, with several departments, and with a big storehouse behind. The main entrance was quite an imposing one, and a common place for friends to meet, while just inside was a large office in which the books were kept.

Jack was often here, and did not take long to master the intricacies of book-keeping, so much so that he soon became of real help to Mr Hunter.

In the afternoon he played cricket or drove out with Wilfred, and in the evening he and his friend frequently sauntered into the town, and played billiards at a large restaurant which was a popular rendezvous. Here he met numbers of Englishmen, and in addition several Boers, some of whom he learnt to like. But the younger men were for the most part odious, and gave themselves such airs that the Uitlanders held aloof from them.

Now it happened that Jack and Wilfred frequently played with two other young fellows, one of whom was a delicate lad about Jack’s age, who had come to Africa for the sake of his health. His name was Mathews, and Jack took a great fancy to him. He was quiet and dignified, seldom spoke unless asked a question, and was as inoffensive and harmless a being as anyone could have wished to meet.

But this very mildness was to be the cause of trouble, as Jack was soon to learn.

Amongst the young Boers who visited the restaurant was one tall young man of about twenty-five, who made himself more objectionable than any of the others. He was bumptious to a degree, and openly expressed his hatred of all Englishmen. Even in the billiard saloon his sneers were loudly uttered, so that Jack itched to thrash him on several occasions. But Wilfred dissuaded him.

“Be careful, Jack,” he exclaimed earnestly, one evening, when the Boer had been more than usually hostile. “Don’t take any notice of the brute, or it will lead you into trouble. I know him well, and so does Father, and I can tell you that Piet Maartens, as he calls himself, is a scoundrel, and a most dangerous man to have anything to do with. He is thickly in with the Kruger gang, and if all is true that has been said of him, he has a reputation that would hang a man in England. I have no wish to blacken his character. I merely tell the truth when I say that he has treated more than one of the Kaffirs on his father’s farm so brutally as to cause death. Keep clear of him, Jack!”

“I’ll do my best, Wilfred,” Jack answered slowly, “but he’d better look out. I’m not going to stand quietly by much longer and listen to his sneers. One would think we Englishmen were dirt beneath his feet. Up to the present his remarks have been general, but I’ll tell you this, if he shouts any of his names at me, I’ll show him that an Englishman is as good as, and perhaps better than, a Boer. I’ve got a game leg, but that won’t prevent me from tackling him if it’s necessary.”

“Take my advice; keep clear of him,” repeated Wilfred. “After all, if you had lived all your life here you would have become accustomed to the doings of these young Boers. Ever since Majuba they have been brought up to think of us and our soldiers as cowards, and their absolute ignorance prevents them from seeing their mistake. I never take any notice of them.”

“Yes, I dare say that is the best plan,” Jack answered stubbornly; “but when I was at school a fellow had to take the consequences of what he said. If he called another chap names there was safe to be a row, and someone got a licking. That’s what happens in ordinary life, and it’s going to be the same here if that Piet Maartens doesn’t look out. Perhaps he could lick me if we had a fight, but I’d rather get knocked about and teach the fellow manners than sit down quietly and be insulted.”

Jack meant every word he said. Himself a kind-hearted and polite young fellow, to hurt the feelings of a comrade, or of a foreigner who happened to be anywhere within hearing of him, was the last thing he would have thought of doing. And to be forced to listen to sneers which were meant for any Englishman who might happen to hear them was so galling that it set his blood on fire. Just as his stepbrother’s attempts to control his actions had raised his ire, so did the behaviour of this young Boer irritate him and stir him to anger. Jack was not pugnacious, but the mere suspicion that he was in the presence of a bully ruffled him, and his meetings with Piet Maartens had so convinced him that this was what he was at heart, that Jack, in his own quiet dogged way, determined to discomfit him at the very first opportunity.

“He’s a bully,” he muttered to himself after Wilfred’s warning, “and I’m not going to put up with his sneers any longer.”

A few nights later the four lads were playing billiards in the restaurant, and the opposite table was occupied by Piet Maartens and a friend, while a number of Uitlanders and Boers were looking on. Jack had completely forgotten his determination, and, wrapped up in the game, had scarcely noticed the other players. Mathews was his partner, and, suddenly getting the balls into a favourable position, was adding rapidly to the score. The onlookers became interested, and all stood up to watch the game. Even Piet Maartens stepped over, and, rudely pushing Jack aside, craned his head and watched as Mathews played a stroke.

“Come here, Fritz,” he cried loudly. “Come and see this Uitlander. See, after all one of these Britishers is some good. Well, there is room for improvement, but whatever happens they will never make brave men.”

Instantly the whole of the occupants of the room became silent, while Mathews turned round and faced the Boer.

“You look after your own game, Maartens,” he said nervously.

“Thank you, little man, but perhaps I prefer to look on at you,” Piet Maartens answered, while his companion gave vent to a sniggering laugh which set Jack’s pulses thumping.

“Then you’ll have to wait a little,” cried Mathews angrily. “I’m going to stay here till you are out of the way.”

“Don’t get angry, my friend,” the Boer answered tauntingly. “Here, this will cool you.” And snatching up a tumbler of iced water which stood on a table near at hand, he deliberately poured it over Mathews, drenching him to the skin.

It was a foolish act and a cowardly one, for Mathews was a head and shoulders shorter than his opponent, and quite incapable of retaliating; and no doubt Piet Maartens had taken this into consideration. But for months and months he had indulged in sneering taunts, and no Englishman had had the temerity to make him answer for them. Not that they always lacked the courage, but it was not policy to fight with a Boer in the Transvaal, and thereby have one’s business prospects ruined. Piet Maartens had traded on this, and also on his height and strength.

Having poured the contents of the tumbler over poor Mathews, he and his companions burst into loud laughter as their victim held his head down and attempted to shake the water off. But a second later they changed their tune.

The sight of such an act of bullying had maddened Jack, and noticing a large glass jug of iced water on another table, he coolly walked over to it, lifted it by the handle, and having reached Piet Maartens’ side, brought it down with a bang on the top of his head, shivering the glass, and drenching him thoroughly. It was tit for tat, and at once a roar of laughter and applause burst from the Englishmen present.

Jack took no notice of it, but stood quietly waiting till Piet had recovered himself. A second later both Boers rushed at him, and struck at him with their cues. One he dodged, and at the same time lunged forward, and struck out so strongly with his fist that Piet’s companion went rolling on the floor. But the other cue fell heavily upon his shoulder, and caused him considerable pain. A moment later he had snatched it out of Piet’s hand, and, breaking it across his knee, clutched the bully by his collar, and belaboured him till he howled for mercy. Then Jack let go, and, standing in front of him, waited to see what would happen, while the Englishmen approached nearer and looked on silently.

“How dare you?” the Boer panted, scowling angrily at Jack. “If it were not that you are only a boy I would break you into pieces. Who asked you to interfere?”

Piet Maartens clenched his fist and, approaching close to Jack, shook it in his face, while his comrade picked himself up from the floor, and looked as if on the point of rushing in again. But Wilfred at once stood by his friend’s side, and the Boer retired to the other side of the room. Meanwhile Jack never moved a step, but, leaning against the table, laughed scornfully.

“Who asked you to ill-treat my friend?” he cried. “He had not injured you, and you deliberately poured a glass of water on his head. For that I gave you a ducking, and when you struck me with your cue I thrashed you with it. Now you threaten to knock me to pieces. Don’t let the fact of my age prevent you. I am quite ready.”

Jack faced Piet Maartens coolly, and proceeded to divest himself of his coat.

“Now,” he said sternly, stepping forward till he was within a foot of Piet, “put up your fists, and I will endeavour to teach you to keep your tongue to yourself, and to be careful in future when you speak of my countrymen.”

Jack squared his shoulders, and put himself into a position of defence, while the onlookers cheered him loudly.

But Piet Maartens had had enough. His eyes dropped before Jack’s determined gaze, and, muttering a fierce oath, he turned on his heel and left the saloon, followed by his companion.

Jack at once slipped on his coat, and, nodding to all, went out with Wilfred and returned at once to the house.

“By Jove, Jack,” exclaimed his friend enthusiastically, “you have done what no one else has been able to accomplish, and I admire your pluck, old chap! But take care of yourself. You have made an enemy of an unscrupulous brute, who will never forget that you have defied him, and made a fool of him. Well, I’m glad you did it; and there is one thing, we shall see less of him at the store. He was always popping in to speak to Father.”

That evening Jack recounted the quarrel to Mr Hunter.

“Ah! I am sorry to hear it, Jack, for you have really made an enemy of a dangerous fellow, as Wilfred says,” remarked the latter. “But I am glad in other respects, for it will keep him away. It would not be policy for me to send him about his business, but as it is he is not likely to trouble me again. For a long time he has spied upon me here, but with what object I have never been able to discover, though I suspect he is an agent of Kruger’s and is suspicious that I have arms concealed on the premises. He really is one of the most uppish of the many bumptious Boers to be met with here and in Pretoria, and of course in other towns in the Transvaal. Everywhere, all over the Transvaal, Englishmen are belittled and sneered at, simply because, years ago, in a fit of generosity we stayed our hands, and would not give them the lesson they deserved. And now we have a very different matter to face. We collectively outnumber them, I believe, but they are all armed, whereas we are forbidden to carry, or even to possess, a weapon of defence. Not only here, but in all the country parts, distrust of us is the rule, and I very much fear things are getting to such a pass that life will become intolerable to Englishmen who are worthy of that name. Once the Boers are openly opposed to us, we shall find ourselves engaged with an enemy nearly every one of whom is a sturdy, weather-hardened fighter, full of pluck and determination, and with a cunning in warfare which will try our troops, should they meet them, far more than is believed. But some day I will tell you all about our troubles. For the present I am glad you showed that fellow that you were by no means afraid of him. He wanted a lesson, and has had it.

“I am going to Kimberley to-morrow, and suggest that you come with me. Matters will have quieted down when you return.”

Jack jumped at the offer, for he had heard much of the diamond city, though when he got there he found that “city” was scarcely the term to apply to it. The mines are situated on the western border of the Orange Free State, which lies directly south of the Transvaal, and are about a hundred miles from Bloemfontein.

It was a distinctly disappointing place at first, at least so Jack thought, especially when compared with Johannesburg. But when he and Mr Hunter had made a round of the mines, he was deeply impressed with the work carried on, and with the prosperous condition of everyone in the town. From Kimberley they returned to Bloemfontein, staying there only a few hours, for, unlike Pretoria, it was of little interest, while at the latter place the huge forts, which had recently been built on most modern lines, were alone well worth a visit.

When they reached Johannesburg again, Jack had been exactly three months in the country, and liked it so much that he determined to stay still longer. His leg was now perfectly strong again, but the accident had been a severe one, and the shock to his system so great that it had brought to light some slight weakness of the lungs, which up to the moment when his thigh had been broken had remained completely unsuspected.

“If you take my advice, my boy,” said Mr Hunter, patting him kindly on the back, one day when Jack had suggested it was time to return home, “you will stay on here for a complete year. We are some thousands of feet above the sea-level, and Johannesburg, and indeed most of the Transvaal, is notoriously healthy. You are not fit to go back to the cold English climate. Of course there is not much the matter with you, but I don’t like that weakness you sometimes complain of. I have written to Dr Hanly and your mother, and the former quite agrees with me that a prolonged stay will do you good.”

“There is nothing I should like better, Mr Hunter,” Jack replied, “but what am I to do with myself all day?”

“Oh, that is easily arranged! You seem to have taken quite kindly to shop life, and I am going to propose that you become one of my regular assistants. I shall only want you in the mornings, and as we always open early you will be able to get plenty of exercise in the open air. You have already made many friends here, and no doubt you will find plenty ready to accompany you on horseback out into the veldt. There are two good horses in the stable which you may use whenever you like.”

Accordingly it was settled, much to Jack’s and Wilfred’s delight, that the former should prolong his visit, and very soon he had quite settled down to the life. Early morning found the two lads in their shirt sleeves outside the store taking down the shutters. By breakfast time everything was dusted and the goods uncovered. After the meal they stood behind their counters, and before long Jack knew as well as anyone in Johannesburg what was the current rate of butter and ham, and what was the lowest figure at which sugar could be sold in order to leave a good margin of profit for his employer.

But there was really no need for the cutting down of prices. A store in such a populous town was a valuable property, and Mr Hunter’s had a reputation which ensured the various departments brisk business all day long. All who patronised it seemed to be in a prosperous way, and indeed only grumbled that all their energies and business prospects were smothered by the continual opposition and stupid action of President Kruger and the Boers.

To say that Jack enjoyed the life he was now leading was to describe his feelings rightly. He took the deepest interest in his work, and after his hours in the shop were done, generally went for a gallop with one or more of the many young fellows he knew. Christmas came and went, and by the early months of the New-Year, the eventful and never-to-be-forgotten year of 1899, he was quite himself again, a rosy-cheeked and manly-looking young fellow whom everyone but Piet Maartens and his Boer sympathisers liked.

So well did Jack’s life agree with him that he was within an ace of deciding to forego his commission in the army and remain for good in Africa. But Mr Hunter dissuaded him.

“You are too young to settle down as yet,” he said. “And besides, it was your father’s wish that you should follow his footsteps and enter the army. Of course we should prefer you to stay, but under the circumstances I hope you will return and go up for that examination. Later on, perhaps, when you have knocked about the world a little more, you may wish to resign your commission, and then if you join us here all the better! You will be older and more ready to settle down, and your family ties in England are not likely to prevent your emigrating if you wish to do so.”

Jack recognised the wisdom of doing as Mr Hunter suggested, and accordingly made all preparations to leave Africa in the following August.

But the old proverb that “Man proposes and God disposes” was exemplified in his case. Events proved too strong for him, and he remained in the country, shoulder to shoulder with his English friends, to face the storm of passion which was soon to burst over their heads, and to take his part in the bitter struggle which was to be fought out between the Boers and their allies, and the sons of our mighty empire.

Chapter Four.

A Startling Adventure.

“Jack, how would you like to carry out a little piece of business for me?” asked Mr Hunter one morning, extracting a letter from a big bundle which he held in his hand.

“I have just had this offer of leather goods from the agents in Durban, with whom I am in the habit of dealing. In spite of war scares, and the fear that we should have to leave the country suddenly, shoals of new-comers constantly reach us, and such articles as bags and trunks are always in demand by those who are forced to travel from town to town. Saddlery, bits, and reins are also easily disposed of. This would be a good opportunity for you to make a run down to Durban. You have never been there, and you could inspect these goods between the hours when you will be looking round the town.

“There is a list of the articles that have just been shipped over from England, and you will notice that against the prices quoted I have ticked down the amount usually asked for here. If the goods are of first-rate quality, you may close with the agents at once.”

“Thanks! It’s very good of you, and I’d like to go immensely, Mr Hunter,” Jack answered. “How many of each of these items am I to buy? I see you have not stated that.”

“Well, I imagine it is a big consignment, Jack, and I believe by buying now I shall be able to sell all at a large profit, for I think there is likely to be an unprecedented demand very shortly. So I shall leave it to your discretion to buy as many as you think reasonable. Here is a signed cheque. Of course you will get something taken off for a large order, and the terms I shall also leave to you. You have already shown you possess a business head, and I can therefore rely upon your carrying the arrangements out satisfactorily. Fill in the cheque and hand it over when you have settled the matter. To-day is Saturday. You had better start on Monday morning, and I shall expect you back on the Thursday or Friday following.”

Jack was delighted at the confidence placed in him, and set off on the Monday morning in the highest spirits. He purchased a return ticket, shook hands with Wilfred—who would have liked to accompany him, but had to remain behind, as his father was going to Kimberley for a few days,—and jumped into a luxuriously-furnished carriage.

It was a long and monotonous journey to Durban. Many of the towns they passed through, however, bore names which only a few months later were to be in the mouths of all Englishmen, in fact of the whole of the civilised world.

Running south towards the Orange Free State border, the railway curved towards the south-east, passing in succession Heidelberg, Standerton, and Volksrust. Then, with a loud and piercing shriek from the engine whistle, the train dived into a long, dark tunnel in the Drakenberg range of mountains, and emerged into Natal, one of England’s most loyal colonies. Sweeping past Laing’s Nek and Majuba Hill, names which will ever cause our countrymen to grit their teeth with vexation and regret, the train passed through a mountainous and extremely rugged country, and finally pulled up at Newcastle, one of the towns where the opening scenes of the second Boer war were to be laid. Then, after a ten-minute wait, the guard’s whistle sounded, and they steamed on past Glencoe and Dundee, and, swerving to the right away from the neighbourhood of Rorke’s Drift (that little mission station on the banks of the deep, swift-flowing Buffalo River, where a mere handful of English soldiers kept at bay the flower of Cetewayo’s army of fierce Zulus), they ran through Elands Laagte and Reitfontein, and drew up once more, at Ladysmith. On proceeding, the train ran down to the river Tugela, skirted its western bank, and thundered across the bridge, and on past Chieveley and Frere to Estcourt, stopping only when it had run into the station at Pietermaritzburg. From there to Durban was only a short spin, and very soon Jack had arrived, and had been whirled to his hotel on a “rickshaw” drawn by a strapping Kafir.

On the following day he called on the agents, and inspected the leather goods he had been commissioned to buy; and having decided how many to take, and offered a certain sum down for the articles he required, he left the warehouses, promising to call at the same hour next day and hear whether they would accept it or not.

Then he took a “rickshaw” a little way out of the town, and called upon a young fellow who had sailed out from England with him.

“What! Somerton! The fellow with a groggy leg whom the ladies on board took so much care of!” the latter exclaimed, shaking Jack cordially by the hand, and forcing him into a chair on the shady verandah on which the two lads had met.

“Boy! Joko! Do you hear?” he shouted. “Look lively! I’m on the verandah.”

“Coming, Baas! coming!” sounded away from the opposite side of the house, from which a Kafir appeared a moment later, in a desperate hurry to obey his master.

“Now, Somerton,” said Jack’s jovial friend, whose name was Turner, “join me in a lemon-squash and a cigarette. It’s a funny combination, but I find it agrees with me, and I’m sure it’s far better for one than drinking spirits as many fellows do.”

Jack gladly agreed to do so, and soon they were lolling back out of the heat of the sun, puffing their cigarettes, for that was a habit which Jack had already learnt to appreciate, and chatting about their respective doings for the past few months.

“So you’re up in the Transvaal with Mr Hunter, and under the eyes of the Boers, are you?” said Turner, when he had heard how Jack had been employing his time. “Well, I dare say you fellows up there know more about affairs than we do here; but there are going to be ructions, awful ructions, I feel sure, and if I were you I should get ready to leave at a moment’s notice.”

“Yes, everyone says the same, Turner,” replied Jack, “and from what I can understand, trouble is certain to follow. Some say it will lead to war, and others say it is likely to be merely a kind of storm in a tea-cup. Whatever happens, though, I expect I shall stick to Johannesburg till the Hunters clear out I’ve thrown in my lot with theirs, and I couldn’t very well leave them, you know. Besides, I am not anxious to do so.

“If matters come to a head before August, then I shall stay in the country and see the trouble through; if not, why, I suppose I shall have to go back to England and begin to cram for the army, a grind which I don’t fancy at all.”

“Then the chances are you will be in the thick of it, Somerton, for by August there will either be war, or old Kruger will have knuckled under. I can tell you this, at any rate: the Boers have been arming for years, and if I were in your shoes I should certainly smuggle in some weapon, a revolver for choice. And mark my words, you’ll have need of it before long or I’m a Dutchman! Now what do you say to a spin round the town or down to the quays?

“Joko! We want a couple of ‘rickshaws’. Bustle up and fetch them!”

Jack and his friend were soon bowling along through the streets of Durban, and spent a pleasant afternoon together.

On the following day Jack called on the agents again, and having come to an agreement with them, and arranged that the goods should be despatched by the train which left for Johannesburg the next morning, he sauntered through the town in the direction of his hotel.

“I wonder whether Turner was right about that revolver!” he suddenly thought, a window full of sporting guns and rifles having caught his eye, and caused him to remember the conversation of the previous day. “If all these Boers are really arming it might come in very handy some day. Yes, I will buy one, with plenty of ammunition, and see whether I cannot hide it away where a pretty close search would not discover it.”

To make up his mind was to act, and within a few minutes Jack was in the gun-shop.

“I want a revolver of some sort,” he said. “Something which would be useful, and at the same time not too big and heavy.”

“Then you couldn’t do better than take one of these Mausers,” the owner of the shop, an Englishman, replied. “They lie much flatter than a revolver, are not given to jamming, and fire ten shots in rapid succession. Come in here, sir, and try one. I have a range specially fitted up.”

Jack followed the man into a big shed behind, and here, for an hour, he practised with various pistole, finally deciding upon a Mauser.

“There will be a run on that weapon soon, sir,” remarked the shopman knowingly, “and if all is true that one hears, or indeed only half one hears, the Boers have been buying a heap of them.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that too,” replied Jack, “and also that they take precious good care that none of the Uitlanders get hold of any.”

“That’s so, sir; but still, I dare say there are many of our countrymen who have managed to smuggle in arms. That Mauser you’ve bought could be easily managed if fixed with a good deal of padding beneath the arm.”

“Ah, I dare say!” Jack answered casually, and then left the shop.

“That was a good idea,” he thought, as he walked back to the hotel, “and I’ll just see how I can manage it.”

Arrived at the hotel, he first begged a reel of cotton, a needle, and a small piece of dark serge from the manageress, and then retired to his room. He was wearing a navy-blue suit at the time, and whipping the coat off, he first fitted the Mauser pistol beneath the waistcoat, pushing the muzzle up till it rested in the right armpit.

“Now, all I have to do is to open the seams down each side and let them out,” he murmured. “Then I will sew on a kind of inner pocket, and as soon as it is finished I must pad the waistcoat all round with cotton-wool. It will make it awfully hot, and I dare say I shall make rather a muddle of it, as I never was very grand at sewing. Still, it’s got to be done, and after all, what does it matter how neat the stitching is?”

It took a good two hours to let out the seams and add the pocket, but at last that part was completed, and he sallied out to buy some cotton-wool.

Then he placed the wooden holster of the Mauser in the pocket, and arranged the wool on either side of it and between it and the waistcoat, securing it by cross stitches. An hour later the other side was similarly padded, and he tried the waistcoat on.

The cotton-wool he found had certainly made all the difference. Both sides beneath his arms were well rounded off, and it would require a good deal more than a casual glance to detect that matters were not as they were meant to be. Then he put on the coat, buttoned it up, and, standing in front of the glass, practised drawing the weapon.

It was wonderful how quickly he could change himself from an unarmed English youth to one with a deadly Mauser, with ten bullets between himself and disaster. To thrust his hand beneath his coat, touch the spring, and unbutton the flap of his hidden pocket was the work of only a moment, and an instant later the pistol had by its own weight slipped out, and the butt was in his grasp, while the holster remained in its old position ready to conceal the weapon again.

Jack practised diligently with and then without the glass, and finally, feeling satisfied that he was now prepared in case of accidents, donned his hat and went out for a walk.

No one suspected him, or looked after him as though they had noticed that he was carrying hidden arms, and even Turner, when he accidentally ran across him, not only failed to perceive that Jack had something beneath his arm, but once more dilated on the possibilities of trouble in the future, and urged him to buy some weapon before returning to Johannesburg.

“You’d better do as I say, old chap,” he said persuasively. “Those Boers are bad ’uns to deal with at any time, but when they are armed and you are not—and they know it too—well, it’s apt to go hard with the poor Uitlander.”

“Ah, well, I fancy I’ll take my chance, or perhaps get a revolver next time I come south to Durban!” answered Jack with a quiet smile. “You see, from all accounts they are awfully suspicious fellows, and no one can pass into the Transvaal with so much as a cartridge; at least, that’s what I have been told.”

“Yes, Somerton, there is that difficulty about it,” Turner answered, wrinkling his forehead. “Well, I shouldn’t think that any Boer would be ass enough to search you. You don’t look the sort of fellow to smuggle arms; in fact, if you’ll excuse my saying it, old chap, you’re about the most innocent-looking and harmless young Englishman of my acquaintance. But I must be going now. So long, old horse, and mind you, if you think of that revolver, or want anything sent up to Johnny’s Burg, drop me a line, and I’ll get it forwarded to you somehow or other.”

The two young fellows shook hands, nodded, and went their different ways, Jack to various shops to carry out sundry small commissions with which Mrs Hunter had entrusted him, and Fred Turner to his office.

On the following morning Jack was whirled to the station on a rickshaw, and, leaping to the ground, paid the Zulu “boy”, who, as a matter of fact, was a fine, big, strapping man of about thirty-five, with a long scar down the side of his face, evidently the result of some old assagai stab, but which, curiously enough, served only to make a naturally jovial expression all the more pronounced.

Then he carried his bag, which contained all his purchases, to the train, and placed it on the seat he intended to occupy.

He had arrived a good ten minutes before the time announced for the departure of the Pretoria and Johannesburg express, and employed it in walking up to the engine, which he admired as a very fine specimen of machinery. Then he strolled back along the platform, dodging the passengers, who had now commenced to arrive in large numbers, and finally reached the end of the train. It was rather longer than usual, he noticed, and curiously enough, tacked on to the back of the guard’s van there were six trucks open and one closed, five of the former filled with an assortment of wooden cases labelled “Sugar”, while the sixth was loaded with a consignment of finely-broken coal.

Having satisfied his curiosity, he returned to his carriage, first ascertaining that the leather goods he had bought for Mr Hunter were on board the train and duly labelled.

Soon the last of the passengers came tearing across to the train, ticket in mouth and a heavy bag in each hand, and he had barely flung open a door and sprung in before the engine gave a loud grunt and they were off.

It was a long run up to the tip of Natal, and the latter part of it somewhat slow and tedious, in spite of occasional snatches of lovely scenery; but at last they reached Newcastle, and pulled up in the station.

“Twenty minutes’ wait here, sir,” said the guard, putting his head in through the window. “You can get something to eat on the platform if you like.”

Jack jumped out at once, bought a bag of buns, and drank a glass of milk. Then he walked out of the station and into the town, thinking he would like to have a glimpse of it. But it was getting dusk, and lights were already appearing. Still, he went for some distance, forgetful of the fact that the minutes were rapidly flying, and that the moment for the departure of his train was getting very close.

Suddenly he looked at his watch, and found with a start that in three minutes it would leave. Darting through the street, he ran towards the station at his fastest pace, only to find, when he reached it, that the outside door was closed and to hear the guard’s whistle sounding.

It was an awkward dilemma, but Jack was not to be beaten. Running along towards the front part of the platform, he climbed some rails, crossed a siding full of coal wagons, between which he dived, and rushed up the incline on to the platform only to see the train steaming off. More than half the carriages had already passed him, and the first of the trucks at the tail of the train was abreast of him.

Jack determined not to be beaten, and, calmly judging the time, he grasped the hand-rail in the centre of the last van of all, and swung himself on to the narrow step which was secured along the side. Next moment he was carried on into the darkness without a soul having seen him join the train.

“Well, I caught it after all!” he murmured to himself with an exclamation of satisfaction; “but I shall never be able to hold on here for long. Besides, there’s no saying when I may be jerked off, or smashed against a signal-post. There’s a door along there, and I’ll see whether I cannot open it and get into the van.”

Climbing along the footboard, with his body held as close against the van as possible, he was not long in reaching the door and in wrenching it open. The rest was easy, and in a few moments he was safely inside, with the door closed.

To his surprise he found that there was a dim oil-lamp burning at the end, not that he could see it very well, for a wall of small cases was built between him and it. But, by climbing on to this and peeping over, he was able to see that it was a small lantern slung from the roof, and swinging backwards and forwards and from side to side as the van jerked.

But what was, perhaps, more surprising than all, was to find four men seated on as many boxes in the space that was walled off, playing a game of cards. They were typical Boers; that is to say, three of them were big, bearded men dressed in rough suits and felt hats, whilst the fourth was none other than Piet Maartens, more carefully clothed than his companions, and with a clean-shaven and evil-looking face. Close beside each man was a Mauser rifle and a bandolier full of cartridges.

“Whew!” whistled Jack under his breath, climbing stealthily down. “What are those men doing here, and armed too! What does it mean, I wonder?”

For a few moments he sat on the floor puzzling his brains, and then a suspicion that he had accidentally made a discovery dawned upon him.

“They’re up to no good, those fellows,” he said to himself, “and it looks very much as though they were in charge of this van-load of boxes. I wonder what’s inside them! Let me see. They’re labelled ‘Grapes—to be kept cool’, and are addressed to President Kruger himself.”

Having inspected the outside of the cases, Jack’s suspicions led him to test the weight of one of them, for, like every other Uitlander, he had heard that quantities of ammunition and arms were being secretly imported by the Boers.

“Phew!” he muttered, hurriedly putting it back in its place. “Not grapes, but Mauser cartridges, I’ll be bound. It’s twenty times as heavy as a case of grapes would be.”

There was no doubt now that Jack had hit upon something more than curious, and, having discovered a van loaded presumably with grapes but undoubtedly with Mauser cartridges, and in charge of a party of Boers whilst still in an English colony, his curiosity led him to persevere and probe the matter thoroughly.

“I’ll just see what is at this end now,” he thought, “and if I find the same I shall certainly get out of this as soon as possible. Those fellows would have no hesitation in shooting me to ensure my keeping a silent tongue; and Piet Maartens would certainly help them to get rid of me.”

Jack now crept across the narrow space which had been left opposite the doors of the van, and inspected the end nearest the engine. It, too, was apparently full of cases of grapes, but on climbing along on the top—for the boxes were here several tiers in thickness—he came to another large space left in the centre of them, and on lowering himself into it and feeling about with his hands, discovered no fewer than three Maxim guns jammed close together, whilst beneath them, packed loosely in straw, were piles on piles of rifles, undoubtedly of the Mauser pattern, as he could tell to a certainty by the shape of the breech-lock. Here was a position for a young lad to find himself in! By the merest accident he had managed to get into an extremely dangerous situation, and common sense advised him to quit it at once.

Stealthily climbing out of the hiding-place again, he waited till a sudden roar, as the train ran over a small culvert, gave him an opportunity to open the door and slip out of the van.

Clinging to the rail, he made his way along the footboard, stretched across to the truck in front, and soon had the satisfaction of finding himself sitting on top of a truck-load of fine coal.

But Jack’s surprises were not ended by any means, for as he went on all-fours to creep into a safer position, there was a sudden tearing sound, and one leg went deep down through the coal, to be followed instantly by the other. Next moment he was standing on the wooden flooring of the truck, with a layer of coal round his middle, while, strangely enough, his legs were quite free to move about.

Jack was as sharp as most lads of his age, and though he could not exactly see through a brick wall, he could certainly, now that suspicion had sharpened his wits, get to the bottom of this new discovery.

With the greatest care he swept the coal aside till he came to a tarpaulin some five inches beneath it, which was evidently stretched across the truck. Through this he had already forced a hole, and he had soon completely disappeared beneath it, and, nothing daunted by the novelty or danger of the situation, had begun to grope about in the dark. From end to end of the truck he crawled, going over every inch of the space, and when his inspection was finished he had counted two more big guns of some description, besides a vast number of Mauser rifles.

“Ah, this is really serious!” he muttered gravely to himself. “A van-load of grapes, which are really cartridges, for President Kruger, and a truck-load of coal, hiding no end of guns, not to mention those hidden by the cases of grapes. And I suppose the other trucks in front are just the same. I wonder now where they are going to! I’d very much like to find out; but just now, if I want to see the Hunters again, I had better get back to my own carriage.”

Jack popped up through the hole again, and was on the point of moving along the top of the coal when, with a shriek and a deafening roar the train dived into the long tunnel which connects Natal and the Transvaal. To attempt to move now would have been to run the chance of having his brains knocked out against the arch above, for the coal-van was one with sides of sheet-iron, built very much higher than those usually seen on our English railways. He therefore lay down flat upon the thin layer of coal, taking good care to spread his weight over as much surface as possible. Five minutes later the train emerged from the tunnel and rushed out into the open. Once more Jack crawled to the side of the truck, and having worked his way to the foremost end of it, clambered over on to the buffer, and from there on to the next truck.

“Now I shall be able to get along far more quickly,” he thought. “But first of all I will try the weight of one of these cases labelled ‘Sugar’. Ah, I thought as much! this one is so heavy that I can scarcely lift it.”

Stumbling along on top of the cases, he tried first one and then another, till he was convinced that here again he had hit upon a large consignment of war material of some sort. For if it was not ammunition, or something of that nature, what could it be? And why should the cases be labelled ‘Sugar’? Obviously it was extremely likely that all the trucks were loaded with war material, for otherwise why the secrecy and incorrect labelling?

Satisfied that he had discovered a secret of the Boers, Jack scrambled from truck to truck on his way back to his carriage.

It was by no means easy work, for the train was now rushing along at a rapid pace, swaying from side to side and necessitating great caution, especially when he was stretching across the space which separated the trucks.

However, by dint of due caution he at last reached the foremost truck, and was on the point of lowering himself on to the buffers when his hand struck against a cord which seemed to run from end to end over the middle of the wooden cases. He ran his fingers along it, and was wondering what it could be, when the flash of a light from the open veldt at the side of the line caught his eye. A second later it had been left behind, but the rope in his hand jerked and then stretched tight, as though the flash had been a signal and someone were pulling.

At that moment the train was rushing downhill, and the brakes were applied to steady it. The grinding roar, and the sparks as they gripped the wheels, attracted Jack’s attention, while the tension on the cord in his hand became instantly greater. Then there was a succession of loud bangs and heavy jolts as the buffers of the carriages and trucks came together. Before Jack could so much as guess at the meaning of it all, the cord became suddenly slack, the brakes were clapped on to the wheels of the trucks, almost throwing him over the front with the jerk they caused, and the Johannesburg express was racing away from him into the darkness. For five minutes the trucks followed in the wake of the express, their pace getting every moment less. Then there was a clank and a jar, and they swerved from the main track through a siding behind a station, which was totally unlighted, and on beneath some overhanging trees, and out on to the veldt once more. A couple of hundred yards farther on a big hill loomed up directly in front of them, a large shed appeared in sight, and within five minutes the trucks had run beneath it and on a little way into the hill. Then the brakes bit the steel rims harder, and the whole came to a stop.

Jack had not wasted his time meanwhile. Feeling sure that he had accidentally got into a very dangerous corner, he crouched low upon the cases, and the instant the trucks pulled up, jumped over the side and darted underneath.

“Wie gaat daar?” (who goes there?) he heard someone exclaim, and a big Boer, with an iron-grey beard, appeared, carrying a lantern.

“We are Uitlanders and have brought you a present,” a voice shouted, and then there was a loud chorus of laughter.

Jack thrust his head out from beneath the truck and looked round. As far as he could ascertain from a hasty glance the trucks had come to a standstill in a large vaulted stone chamber, along the sides of which numerous guns of all sizes were packed, while behind them was a solid wall of boxes, similar to those in the truck above his head labelled “Sugar.”

As he looked out, the four men, including Piet Maartens, who had ridden in the van from Durban, stepped down to the ground, and it was one of these, a short stumpy little German, whom he knew well by sight, having seen him frequently in the streets of Johannesburg, who had made the brilliant joke at which his comrades had laughed. Evidently he was more proficient in the English tongue than in the difficult and uncouth language of which the Boer boasts, and as most of the latter who live in the Transvaal towns can speak English more or less perfectly, the conversation which followed was carried on so as to be perfectly intelligible to Jack.

“Well, Hans,” the big man who had first spoken said, addressing the German, “so you have brought Oom Paul’s groceries through quite safely, and without raising the suspicions of those English fools. Ha, ha! ‘Grapes, to be kept cool.’ Tis a fine idea. But it would never do if others than our own men handled them. They are too heavy, my friends, too heavy by far, and so also is the sugar of which his honour is buying such a large amount. It just shows what fools there are in the world, and what money, liberally spent, can do.”

“True, Oom Schalk,” the German answered, with a chuckle, “there are some fools indeed, as you say, and also there are wise men. Oom Paul is the wise man of this land, and he is slim—ah! so slim that no one has yet got the better of him. It was by his order that all this stuff here came through openly, and labelled as it is. It is just the fact that we make no attempt to hide it that ensures its reaching us in safety. Ah, those English! Well, a time is coming, Oom, when we shall teach them something. Bah! How I hate them! The very sight of one makes me ill.”

“Well, well,” Oom Schalk said with a smile, “you shall have a chance to pay them out, my friend. But now, let us see that all the trucks are right, and then we can leave them till the morning.”

Holding the lantern well above his head, and followed by his four comrades, the big Boer looked into the covered van, and then walked along by the side of the trucks, climbing up and inspecting the contents of each.

Now was Jack’s chance to get away, and he took it at once. Scrambling along on the concrete with which the vault was paved, he slowly passed beneath the trucks till he reached the end of the van. Peeping out to make sure that there was no one about, he stole along in the darkness, and soon was out of the vault and in a large shed built against the opening.

There seemed to be no one near, and the only sound was the grating of the feet of those behind him and the faint hum of their voices.

Standing up, he listened for a few moments, and, hearing nothing suspicious, ran across the shed towards the door. It was standing wide open, and at the sight he almost gave a cry of joy. In a moment he was close to it, and was on the point of rushing through when a strong arm clutched him by the collar, while the cold muzzle of a weapon was thrust into his ear.

It was a terrible shock, and set Jack’s heart throbbing fiercely. But he had the presence of mind to keep perfectly still, for that cold touch at his ear told him better than so many words that the slightest movement would mean his certain death.

A moment later someone else had grasped him on the other side, and he was marched back into the vault, and dragged before Oom Schalk and his companions.

“What is the matter?” the Boer demanded, placing his lantern close to Jack’s face, and scrutinising his features closely. “Why, he is not one of ours! He is a spy!”

“I cannot say who he is or how he came here, Oom,” the man who had captured Jack replied; “but as I stood by the door with Van Zyl and watched you as you walked along the trucks, I suddenly caught sight of someone creeping across the vault. His head passed between me and your lantern, and I saw at once that he was not one of you. So we waited here silently in the dark, and caught him as he was about to run through the door.”

“Who are you, boy?” Oom Schalk demanded fiercely, staring at Jack’s face.

“He’s English. He’s one of the hated Uitlanders!” shouted Piet Maartens, recognising Jack at this moment. “His name is Somerton, and I tell you, Oom, young though he is, he is as much our enemy as any. He is a spy, and has been sent by Hunter, or probably by the British consul, to watch our movements, so that news may be sent to the English Government.”

“A spy, a spy!” shrieked Hans, his fat face becoming livid with fear and rage. “He has seen all, and will betray us, this hated Englishman! Shoot him, Oom, shoot him! No one will know.”

“I am not a spy, and I came here because I could not help myself,” Jack answered defiantly. “I was late for the train at Newcastle, and only just managed to climb on one of these trucks. Before I could get back to the carnages they were gone, and I was being carried down here. Then, when I found none of my own countrymen with you I naturally tried to get away without being seen.”

“And you were not sent by anyone to spy on us?” asked Oom Schalk a little less sternly. “Answer me truly, for if you tell me a lie, as there is a heaven above I will shoot you, so that no one shall ever know what has become of you.”

“I am telling you the truth,” Jack answered stubbornly. “I can say no more. If you shoot me, you will be committing a foul murder, and will some day regret it bitterly.”

“Don’t believe him, Oom! Don’t believe the dog!” cried Piet Maartens savagely, scowling angrily at Jack. “He lies. I can see it on his face. He is a spy, and we must shoot him.”

“Yes, shoot him, shoot him!” chimed in the German. “What does it matter one proud Englishman more or less?”

“Softly, softly, Hans Schloss and Piet Maartens,” exclaimed Oom Schalk. “We need not hurry about this matter. The lad is young—no older than my own son—and I will not kill him yet. Wait till to-morrow, and we will learn more about him. All Englishmen are hateful, but I will not take the life of a single one of them unless there be good cause. Remember, my friends, there is but one God above us, and He will judge us for our acts. If this lad is guilty of spying he shall die, but in proper form, for I will not have him murdered. But he has a truthful face, and I am inclined to believe his story, for who would be such a fool, even amongst these Uitlanders, as to spy upon us here? No, no. It is unlikely, and we will wait till to-morrow to learn more about him, and sift the matter properly.”

“Bah! You have too soft a heart, Oom Schalk,” Hans Schloss shouted. “I say, let us end his spying at once, for if you wait he will manage to escape from us.”

“Wait, wait!” exclaimed Oom Schalk, with some show of temper. “You would not be so ready for me to carry out the sentence if you were in his place. To-morrow we will see about the matter, and meanwhile I place the prisoner in your hands. You will be responsible for him, and see that no harm comes to him, or I will show you that Oom Schalk has a stony heart at times.”

The big Boer nodded to Jack, and stalked out of the vault.

For a few moments Jack faced unflinchingly the six men who remained, wondering whether, now that their commandant had gone, they would shoot him or injure him in any way. But with a few muttered oaths and sneering remarks as to what would happen to him on the morrow, they turned away, Piet Maartens giving orders that he should be bound with a rope.

Five minutes later Jack was tied hand and foot, and placed upon the concrete flooring with his back resting against a wheel of one of the trucks. From here he watched his captors, who had retired into the shed. Placing their lanterns on the ground, they wrapped themselves in blankets, and, leaving one of their number seated on a stool, threw themselves down to sleep.

“I’m in a nasty hole,” thought Jack, “a very awkward fix indeed. If it had not been for Oom Schalk those brutes would certainly have shot me; and I’m not at all sure that they won’t do so after all, for there is no one to prove that I am telling the truth. Even if they don’t harm me, they are bound to get rid of me, for they can never allow me to remain in the Transvaal after this. Well, I must get away somehow.”

For half an hour he sat quietly thinking, with his eyes fixed upon the lanterns and upon the figure sitting close to them. The Boer had lit his pipe, but it constantly went out, and he as constantly lifted a lantern to get a light again. Then he put it on the ground, folded his arms, and stared about him. Soon his head drooped, and nodded gently, then his chin went down on his chest with a jerk, and he sat upright again, shrugged his burly shoulders, yawned, and looked about him. Jack watched him with deep interest, and soon saw that he had fallen asleep.

Now was his time, and noiselessly bringing his heels close beneath him, he gave his body a jerk forward by pressing against the truck with the back of his head, and in another moment was standing on his feet.

He was still helpless, for he was firmly bound, with his hands behind his back. But he had not been racking his brains all this time for nothing. He remembered that at Durban he had noticed that the corners of the iron trucks were not turned over, but bolted to angle-irons inside, leaving a more or less rough surface at the edge. It was a small matter, but he had noticed it just as one does take note of trivial points, and he now determined to put it to a good purpose. Inch by inch he shuffled along till he reached the corner of the truck against which he had been placed, then he leant against it, and commenced to rub the cords which bound his wrists up and down the roughened edge.

It was difficult work, but he clenched his teeth and put all his strength into it. After more than half an hour’s nibbing the cord was cut through and his hands were free. To release his legs was now a simple matter, and in a few minutes he was standing close to the truck, with his boots off, and slung across his shoulders by the laces. Then he undid his secret pocket, pressed the spring, and gripped the butt of his Mauser pistol.

At this moment there was a sound from the shed, and on looking in that direction Jack noticed that the sleepy sentry was half-awake once more, and was making a desperate effort to stand upon his feet. He yawned several times, shook himself, rubbed his eyes, and then suddenly turned and looked towards the trucks.

But Jack had expected such a movement, and when the sentry turned, the dim light showed him the prisoner still seated in the same position. Once more his head nodded, and within a few minutes he had dozed off again.

In a moment Jack was on his feet, and was darting across the concrete. A few seconds took him into the hut, and in another moment he was at the door. There was no lock, but it was bolted top and bottom.

He at once commenced to draw the bolts back, and had almost succeeded in opening the door when the sentry woke at the noise, saw his prisoner escaping, and shouted at the top of his voice.

“Stand!” cried Jack sternly, pointing his pistol at the man, as he was in the act of leaning over to reach his rifle.

Quick as lightning he pulled back the last bolt and flung the door open, covering the six men in front of him all the time. Three of these still lay on the ground in their blankets, half-sitting up on their elbows, and as yet scarcely understanding what had happened. Piet Maartens, however, and Hans Schloss the German, had at once jumped to their feet, and as Jack was turning to fly the latter stooped and picked up his rifle. Before he could bring it to his shoulder there was a sharp report, Jack’s weapon flashed vengefully, and the fat little German fell with a scream on the floor, with a Mauser bullet through the calf of his leg. Next moment Jack had darted through the doorway, banged the door to, and hurled a wheel-barrow, which happened to be just outside, across it. Then he turned sharp to the right and ran round the corner of the shed, for common sense told him that to attempt an escape across the open veldt which stretched away in front would be to run the almost certain risk of capture.

As it was, he crouched round the corner of the shed, and, Mauser in hand, watched to see what would happen next.

From the inside he could still hear a succession of piercing shrieks uttered by Hans Schloss, but these were quickly drowned by angry shouts and oaths. There was a loud shuffling of feet, and a moment later the door through which he had just escaped was flung open with a bang, and all the Boers rushed out pell-mell, leaving the German to his own devices.

But the wheel-barrow was yet to be a lesson to them, to teach them that even an English lad must be reckoned with at times. They were all men who had been used to sneering at the “Rooineks” (English) from the time when they were boys, when their fathers had detailed to them how some thousands of Boers had lain in ambush behind the stones on Laing’s Nek, and had destroyed a handful of British soldiers exposed out in the open. But here was a mere lad who had dared to spy upon their movements, and who, after capture, had listened bravely and calmly to the speedy death proposed for him. He had not even whined, or begged for mercy, but had as good as defied them. And now, to add to it all, he had in some manner, totally inexplicable to themselves, severed his bonds and escaped from the vault, wounding one of their number in the process; and had laid, as a kind of parting shot, a trap for them all, which brought the five men suddenly and with a violent crash to the ground, sending their rifles flying in all directions.

It was a bitter lesson, and goaded them to madness. With muttered curses and fierce shouts of rage they leapt to their feet, and, without pausing to think, rushed out into the open veldt, where the sharp reports from their rifles showed that they were firing at imaginary objects which they took to be the fugitive.

Had Jack wished it he could have planted more than one of the bullets from his pistol in the bodies of the Boers as they lay on the ground in the full glare of the lamps from the inside of the shed, but as yet he was by no means proficient with his weapon, and besides, he had no wish to take the life of any one of them, or to injure them in the slightest. All he aimed at was to make good his escape, and no sooner were they out of sight than he darted back towards the steep kopje in the side of which the vault was evidently constructed, and climbed up it, taking care to stoop low, and dodge from boulder to boulder. Soon he was at the top, and here, sheltered behind a breastwork of rock, he stopped and listened.

He could still hear shouting down on the veldt below, and an occasional rifle shot, but these soon ceased, and about half an hour later the five Boers returned and entered the shed, the light from the lamps throwing their figures into strong relief.

“Ah, now I can make a move!” thought Jack, “and the sooner I get away from here the better. After what has happened those fellows would shoot me if they got hold of me.”

At this moment he suddenly remembered that at Newcastle he had stowed his bag of buns away in his pocket. Pulling it out, he finished what was left, for he had an excellent appetite which no amount of adventure could disturb. Then, feeling better, he picked his way down the opposite side of the hill, and, having made a wide détour, turned towards the railway, and walked on till he came to it. Then he trudged along by the side of the metals, and in due course reached a small station midway between Volksrust and Standerton.

There was no one about, but the night was beautifully warm, and Jack therefore lay down on the veldt outside the station. Early next morning he walked on to the platform and knocked at the station-master’s door.

“Hallo! Who are you?” the latter asked in sleepy surprise, appearing in a half-dressed state, which showed that he had only just got out of bed.

“Oh, I’m one of the English from Johnny’s Burg!” Jack answered easily. “I’ve been staying with some people this way, and started last night to catch the train. But you people don’t trouble about sign-posts in these parts, and so I lost my way. Instead of finding my road to Standerton I got out of my reckoning and came down here, where I’ve spent the last few hours asleep on the veldt. Can you give me something to eat?”

“It’s a precious funny story,” the station-master, who was a Cape Dutchman, grumbled in reply. “But, then, you Englishmen, fresh from home, do all manner of strange things. Come in, and we’ll see what the Tanta has for you. But mind, I can’t afford to give you a meal; you must pay for it.”

Jack readily agreed, and ate ravenously when at last a dish of smoking biltong was placed before him, for his long march across the veldt had given him a keen appetite again, which his sleep in the open had in no way diminished. Big cups of smoking coffee were also provided, so that altogether he fared very well.

Then he lit a cigarette, paid the amount demanded, and went outside on to the platform, where he and the Dutch station-master walked up and down in friendly converse till the train for Johannesburg arrived.

Four and a half hours later he stepped on to the platform at the big mining city, the Golden City of South Africa, and walked to Mr Hunter’s store.

“Back again, Jack! Why, we did not expect you till to-morrow morning!” exclaimed Mr Hunter, shaking him by the hand. “Your bag and the leather goods turned up early this morning, and as you didn’t arrive we naturally thought you had decided to stay a day longer and would return by to-night’s mail.”

“No; I ought to have been back early this morning with the baggage, Mr Hunter,” Jack answered; “but as it was, I was delayed just on this side of the Transvaal border, and have had to come on by a local train. I’m afraid it’s likely to be rather a serious matter, and as soon as possible I should like you to give me some advice.”

“My dear Jack, whatever are you talking about?” exclaimed Mr Hunter in astonishment. “Was there an accident at Volksrust? But no, I know there was not, for I went to meet the train this morning. Whatever made you break your journey? You have no friends in that part of the country that I have heard of.”

“I’ll tell you all about it if you’ll come out on the verandah, Mr Hunter,” Jack answered. “I’ve been on my legs, tramping over the veldt, all night, and I’m feeling a bit done-up and tired. Let us get a couple of chairs out there, and then you can hear all I’ve got to tell.”

A few minutes later Wilfred joined them, and the three settled themselves comfortably on the verandah, where Tom Thumb, Mr Hunter’s Zulu “boy”, who was the biggest native ever seen in Johannesburg, supplied them with long glasses of deliciously cold lemon-squash.

Chapter Five.

Rise of the Boer Power.

“And so you’ve discovered a secret magazine of our friend Paul Kruger, have you, Jack?” exclaimed Mr Hunter when the adventure of the previous night had been narrated to him. “Well, the existence of arms in that part of the country is more than I or any one of us had guessed. That ammunition and guns of all description are pouring into the Transvaal, and have been pouring in for the past three years, there is no doubt. They come openly from Delagoa Bay, and from the south under cover of some other name. Yes, we all know what is going on; but now the fact of there being a big magazine close to the Natal border opens my eyes. I have often heard it said that the Boers are ready to fight for their independence, but would not attack their neighbours till they were compelled to do so. Then I have heard it rumoured, and very often too, that the government at Pretoria has bigger schemes in view.

“Cecil Rhodes has, as is well-known, a strong desire to see a United South Africa under the British flag; and if I make no mistake, Kruger and his underlings are scheming to trample that spotless banner under foot and replace it with the vierkleur. In my opinion they are capable of anything, and I feel positive that a United South Africa under the Boers, with Kruger president of all, and with a population solely composed of Dutch, is aimed at. To oust the British is what they have in view, and for that purpose they are hatching a gigantic conspiracy, the result of which will be a terrible war.”

“But surely, Mr Hunter, they would not dare to attack the English,” Jack interposed. “We are the strongest nation on the face of the earth; so strong, indeed, that no other European race would declare war upon us if an honourable settlement were possible.”

“Ah, Jack! you have learnt a deal since you came to Johnny’s Burg, but not enough yet of Boer ambitions and Boer cunning to be able to say exactly what they would be capable of. For my own part, I believe what I have said. England is face to face with a vast and dangerous conspiracy, and these hardy and resolute Boers will yet prove a thorn in her side. But to return to your adventure. You have certainly escaped from a difficult position, and I congratulate you, my lad, on the pluck and coolness you evidently showed. Had they put you against a wall and shot you immediately you were discovered it would have been only what might have been expected, for you undoubtedly possess a secret of theirs which they have been jealously guarding. Supposing my theory of a war with England is correct, that huge accumulation of war material close to the border would enable them to despatch a force of Boers by train, and post them and the guns on the passes, and upon the mountains which separate us from Natal, within a few hours of the declaration of hostilities. We could not possibly be ready, and instead of our manning every rock and stone, and so preventing their passage into the country, they would pour through the passes in their thousands, and the colony of Natal would be invaded and in the hands of the enemy before our countrymen had had time to recover from the surprise.

“Yes, it is a most important secret, and I fear you will be a marked man. You have already made an enemy of Piet Maartens, and Hans Schloss bears no better reputation than he. And you have wounded him, a fact which he will never forget. But there are the others too. They will have a score against you. Altogether, Jack, I think you will be wise to leave us and get back to England as quickly as you can.”

“You say there will be trouble soon, Mr Hunter?” Jack asked, after a few moments’ silence, during which he considered what he should do in the circumstances.

“Yes, I firmly believe there will be an awful struggle between England and the Boers before many weeks are past,” replied Mr Hunter earnestly.

“Then, if that is the case,” said Jack decisively, “we are likely to get the worst of it for a time, and every man in South Africa will be wanted.”

“That is precisely what I think, Jack. Some, no doubt, would scoff at me as a pessimist. But I speak from some experience and many years’ knowledge of the Boers. England, it is my firm belief, will be aghast at the huge armaments and the large force opposed to her, and she will require every man that can be found able and willing to shoulder a rifle.”

“Then I shall stay, Mr Hunter,” Jack said quietly. “I’ve no great wish to get back to a crammer’s at present. A few months later will do just as well, so I shall wait and see what happens. There is nothing I should like better than to take part in a campaign. Not necessarily against the Boers, for some of them seem good fellows, but in some war alongside of British troops. Meanwhile, if the Transvaal has become too dangerous a place for me to stay in, I can easily run down to Kimberley. A few weeks amongst the mines would be excellent fun.”

“Well, Jack, you must do just as you wish,” answered Mr Hunter. “If you stay in the country, you will do well to go to Kimberley, or one dark night you will be having a bullet flying after you, for the Boers are not apt to stick at trifles. They are men whom it is not well to play with, and the code of honour is not so high amongst them as to prevent their murdering one who possesses a secret likely to endanger their future plans.”

“I should think not, indeed, Father,” chimed in Wilfred. “Look at the mean tricks they played in the last war—firing on white flags and ambulances, and saving their own skins by running away. You have often told me how they treated our soldiers, and everyone here knows how they bully the natives.”

“They are a curious and, I believe, unique race,” replied Mr Hunter; “and if you two lads care to listen I will tell you what little I know about them, and what are the precise difficulties which have led to such friction here between the Boer Government and the Uitlander population.”

“Do, by all means!” both lads cried.

“Well, I will; but first we’ll have another glass of this cool stuff. Tom Thumb!” he shouted. “Here, I want you.”

A moment later the big Zulu appeared, clad in light check trousers and a striped flannel shirt.

“Bring more ‘squashes’ and a cigar,” said Mr Hunter.

“Alright, Baas! I bring him plenty quick,” Tom Thumb replied, turning on his bare heels, and striding noiselessly into the pantry close by, where soon the sound of popping soda-water-bottles told that he was carrying out his master’s orders.

A few minutes later the drink was placed on the arm of each chair, Mr Hunter had lit his cigar, and was leaning back, puffing clouds of smoke from his lips, and staring thoughtfully at the ceiling.

“Light up, boys!” he said at last. “It’s a bit of a yarn, and wants to be followed closely. Now, to start the ball rolling, as it were, I must tell you who and what our neighbours are, and from what race they derive their origin. You must know that the first whites to visit this vast continent of Africa in its southern parts were of Dutch nationality. They were servants of the Dutch East India Company, who placed a colony of their countrymen at Table Bay to form a depot, where vessels could put in and replenish their provisions and water with some degree of safety. They were joined many years after by a band of French Protestants who had been driven from their own country.

“In 1795 the Colony was taken over by the British by request of the Stadtholder of Holland, who had been dethroned. But in seven years’ time we handed the country back again.

“Later on, however, our forces returned once more and ousted the Dutch, setting up a government on the site which is now occupied by Cape Town. Naturally, many of the Dutch and French immigrants had become possessed of property, and had commenced to farm the land; and these stayed on under the new rule. In process of time they intermarried, and by the commencement of this century numbered about 75,000 souls all told. That is the origin of the present Boer nation. They are sprung from the union between Dutch and French settlers, who were the pioneers of Africa.

“Then the British immigrant arrived and sat down by the side of the Boers, and together, in perfect unity and good fellowship, they pushed farther into the country, fighting one long continuous fight against hordes of natives and against lions and other savage beasts. Every step they advanced had to be fought for; for, just as the Bed Indians in America have persistently resisted the onflow of strangers into their hunting-grounds, so have the natives of South Africa fought to resist the onward progress and invasion of the white settlers into the land which they considered theirs by right of birth.

“But now—to hark back for one moment to that time when England stepped in and took possession of the colony—a factor arose to upset the peace and general agreement of Boer and Briton. The fact that they had been handed over by their own government to the British, like so many sheep, had roused the fiercest anger amongst the Boers. And now this resentment was inflamed by the restraining hand which our government laid upon them with regard to the natives.

“Years before, the Boer settlers had become accustomed to slave labour, and as they pushed on into the country, natives were pressed into their service. And these they had punished as each man considered the case deserved. Probably because there was a plentiful supply of Kafirs and Hottentots our Boer friends had not stopped at whipping the poor fellows. They treated them with absolute brutality, even going to the length of taking their lives.

“Such barbarous doings awoke in England a storm of anger, for, thank God, our country has long been opposed to slavery. Freedom and equality has been our motto for many years, and we have sustained it at no small cost to ourselves.

“When the tales of Boer brutality became known to the folks at home, the indignation it caused resulted in the emancipation of all slaves, and from that date the ‘Baas’, as the master is called, and the native ‘boy’ had equal rights; and to injure one of them was a crime punishable by the same laws as hold good in England.

“You can imagine, my lads, what rage this new arrangement caused in the hearts of the Boers. For years they had been free to do as they chose, and now their slaves were theirs no longer, and the natives, who had been in their masters’ eyes like mere cattle, were now their equals in point of law, and were not to be ill-treated with impunity.

“This was too much for the Dutchmen. The very sight of an Englishman roused their anger and hate, and rather than be forced to live side by side with them and be governed by their laws, they struck out a line for themselves and trekked away north into the unexplored wilds. Taking their wives and children with them, and driving their flocks, they set out for the unknown, seeking isolation from the British, and a country they could call their own.

“Thousands joined in what is known as the ‘Great Trek of 1837’. Some of the more daring of them pushed on as far as the Vaal River, which, of course you know, is the southern boundary of the Transvaal, or South African Republic, as it is called nowadays. They paid dearly for their temerity, for the Zulus came down in swarms against them and massacred every one of them. But the staunch Boer, with his dogged pluck, in which he much resembles our countrymen, was not the man to be deterred by first failures. He pressed on, but in greater numbers and with more caution, and when the Zulus attacked again, beat them off and drove them out of the neighbouring country.

“Others of the Trekkers settled on the Zand River, in what is now the Orange Free State, while others pushed across the veldt, and finally crossed the passes of the Drakenberg Mountains and came to a halt in Natal.

“But these last were also to meet with trouble from the Zulus, for whilst their leaders were bargaining with Dingaan, the chief of that fierce native tribe, they were fallen upon with barbarous ferocity and slaughtered to a man.

“Well, you have often heard it said that when the black man sees blood, no power on earth can keep him in check. That was what happened now. The fierce Zulu warriors had dipped their assagais in the blood of their white foes, and they were not to be held back. Like a wave they burst over the smiling landscape of Natal, and when the tide had ebbed hundreds of hapless men and women had been sent to their last account.

“That was the commencement of all the bitter hate which the Boer of the present day has for the native race.

“I think you have seen, my lads,” proceeded Mr Hunter, “that dogged stubbornness of purpose and undoubted pluck were characteristics of that old Boer people. They never knew when they were beaten, and no amount of danger and hardship would prevent them from pushing on for that promised land which was to be theirs alone, and where they might live in freedom and solitude, with no thought for to-morrow, and with no cares to upset the calm and peace of the life for which they longed.

“They banded themselves together and marched against the treacherous Dingaan, only to be beaten. But again they gathered their forces under the leadership of Andries Pretorius, and on December 16th, 1838, gave the Zulus a tremendous thrashing, killing three thousand of them.

“Then, having settled the natives, they built their farms and appointed from their number certain men who were to form the Volksraad or parliament of their new possessions. But again the British stepped in and intimated that they would not allow an independent state to be formed in the colony. The Boers resisted, and hoisted their flag, but reinforcements were sent up-country, and in May, 1842, the whole of Natal was taken over as a British colony.

“Now, had these hardy pioneers cared to live under British rule, they were free to stay on their farms in Natal. But hatred of all things English was as prominent in their hearts as their enmity for the natives. Britons should not rule them, they swore; nothing but absolute independence would suit them, and so once more they trekked away and joined their brothers on the Zand River.

“One really admires the persistence and pluck of those brave fellows. To an Englishman freedom and independence is a birthright for which he is ever ready to give his life, and to these uneducated Boers interference of any sort was detestable. Brought up in a strictly religious way, the Bible was the only book they ever cared to read. They had no ambition, no wish to rise in the world, and no desire for riches. Give each one a wife and children and a farm right away on the lonely veldt, where he could ride for miles on miles with his gun across his shoulder and never see a house or man, then he was happy. He was independent, could go and come as he liked, and had no cares and worries to destroy his happiness. It was not much to ask for, and had he but acted as our countrymen have always done, his simple, pastoral existence would never have been disturbed. But again ill-treatment of the natives roused the ire of the British Government, and the Queen’s authority was asserted over the whole of the Orange Free State.

“It always strikes me as remarkable that men so devoutly inclined, whose honour and integrity were in those days characteristic of them, and whose private lives were almost always so upright and correct, should still forget that after all a native is but one of God’s creatures, placed in this world to live in happiness. But they could not realise it. The Bible spoke of slavery, and that was good enough for them.

“Well, my boys, we now come to the last trek. England took over the Orange Free State, and the Boers only gave it up after a stern conflict at Boomplaats, in which they were beaten. With Pretorius, their leader, they took their wagons and horses, and pushed on in a northerly direction till they were beyond the 25th degree south latitude. Here they settled once more, and those hardy pioneers, amongst whom I believe was President Kruger, are the oldest white inhabitants of this the South African Republic. At last they were in a country all their own. They chose the members of their Volksraad, and promptly scattered to lay out their farms, and commence that life of simple ease for which their hearts had longed.

“At the same time, too, the English Government handed over the Orange Free State to the settlers there, and the two young Republics started into being, the one with Mr Boshof as president, and the other with Pretorius.

“There you have the history of our neighbours. But before passing on to tell you about the first Boer war, in which I myself took a part, I must mention that the Basutos, who have their country wedged as it were into the Free State, had constant conflicts with the Boers. They are now happy and contented under our own rule, but they bear an undying hatred for their neighbours which at any time may lead to further troubles.

“And now, my boys, to get to more recent times, that is to say, the past twenty years or so. We have, as I have endeavoured to show you, two Boer republics adjacent to one another, and only sparsely populated. South of them are Cape Colony and Natal, also populated by Dutchmen and blood relations of the Boers, while amongst them are many British settlers.

“I have told you how our neighbours dealt with their native servants. Now that they had been given their independence they were free to do as they liked, save that slavery would not have been permitted. But, to the Boer, native labour is everything. His one aim and object in life is to live at peace with all the world, to possess vast stretches of country which shall be all his own, and in the heart of which he may bury himself away from the world, troubling only to till by means of native servants sufficient land to supply his wants, and devoting himself to the rearing of cattle. His daily routine of life since independence was assured was to rise with the lark, and ride round his lands counting his herds of cattle. That done he was at leisure all the rest of the day. His life was simplicity itself; the gaieties and amusements of cities, and social intercourse with other men, never upset the serenity of his existence. His soul longed to be free of them all. He was at last, and determined to be to his dying day, king of the stretches of plain he owned. No one should oust him from them, and for his happiness it only sufficed that he should live alone with his own family, sit the livelong day upon the stoep (step) of his farmhouse, drinking coffee and smoking incessantly, while he gazed listlessly across the waving grass and veldt, and busied himself with thoughts the nature and depth of which could not be great.

“Dressed in rough cloth coat and trousers, and with a dilapidated slouch hat upon his head, he never troubled to discard his clothing. His beard and hair were seldom trimmed, and his toilet was a matter of which he never thought.

“But all the while, though nothing seemed to stir him from his lazy life, the mere suspicion that his dearly-cherished independence was in danger brought him to tear himself away from his peaceful farm, and, rifle in hand, to place himself shoulder to shoulder with his brother Boer to fight for the Republic.

“For twenty years the Boers maintained a constant succession of disputes as regards the frontiers of the Transvaal. Now it was with the Orange Free State, and at another time with the English. But at last they picked a quarrel with Sekukuni, whose country lies to the northeast of us, and this led to open warfare.

“Now, all along I have given our neighbours credit for staunch and dogged pluck, though I am bound to confess that their constant association with the natives has taught them dishonest and treacherous habits. But to be really brave our friends must lie behind the rocks. It is against their nature to fight when exposed in the open. True guerilla warfare is their motto; to shoot down the enemy unawares, and without showing so much as a finger.

“For defence these tactics are excellent, but for attack quite useless. Sekukuni and his followers proved too much for the Boers. Hidden in caves from which nothing but a frontal attack and absolute disregard of danger could dislodge them, they laughed at our neighbours, who were far too careful of their own safety to make a rush.

“The Boers were forced to retire, but only to face more troubles. To live in idleness and ease is not to make the wherewithal with which to support a government. Their public money ran out, their coffers were empty, and hordes of natives pressed upon their borders.

“In this predicament, when only 12 shillings 6 pence remained to their credit, the British Government stepped in again, for we could not afford to allow the Zulus to become possessed of land close to our colonies, and on April 12th, 1877, Sir Theophilus Shepstone annexed the Transvaal. Troops were despatched against Sekukuni, and he was beaten; and to follow it up, we entered upon hostilities with the Zulus, the hereditary foe of the Boers, and after some terribly trying work, broke the power of the notorious Cetewayo. Rorke’s Drift and Ulundi are names which will never be forgotten at home, and Isandhlwana will for ever be spoken of with bated breath.

“After annexing the country we garrisoned the different towns, and all went well for a time. But, though the better-educated Boers had looked kindly at our government, the ignorant, narrow-minded, and pig-headed peasants thought only of their independence. Once the much-feared Zulus had been crushed, their debts paid, and their finances put in order, they forgot their gratitude to us, and longed to be free again. And, mind you, my boys, they did not shout or brawl about it. They worked sullenly and in secret, as a result of which they determined upon revolt against their English masters.

“They elected a provisional Boer Government, with Kruger, Joubert, and Pretorius at the head, and opened their rebellion by attacking a convoy and escort of our soldiers from Lydenburg to Pretoria at Bronkers Spruit.

“It was a detestable affair. They ordered Colonel Anstruther, who was in command, to halt and turn back. He persisted in obeying his orders, and in a moment, from the hills around, the Boers poured in a terrific fusilade, picking off officers first and men last like so many sheep. The remainder they took prisoners, compelling them to take the places of the slaughtered oxen and drag the wagons to Pretoria.

“To cap all this they foully murdered Captain Elliot, one of two officers to whom they had given permission to leave the country, and whom they drove into the river Vaal when in flood, pouring volleys into them as they struggled in the water.

“And now to tell you of my own part in the affair,” said Mr Hunter. “But first of all, pass me another cigar, Jack, and shout to Tom Thumb for some more of this stuff. It’s rather dry work giving you a yarn of this length.”

Tossing away the stump of his old cigar, Mr Hunter carefully selected another, and having lit it and gulped down a few mouthfuls of lemon-squash, he placed his feet on the rail of the verandah, leant back in his comfortable chair, and proceeded with his narrative.

“Wilfred knows all about it, of course,” he commenced, “but I dare say you’ll be surprised to hear, Jack, that I was once a soldier of the Queen. That is to say, I was a gunner with my battery in Africa when the Boer troubles first began. I look comfortable and fat enough now, I think you’ll agree, and I’m doing as well in the world as I could wish; but the fact remains that I was once a soldier. I had been a reckless and restless lad at home in England, and rather than settle down in trade as a grocer’s assistant, I donned the queen’s uniform. And let me tell you, my boys, the army is by far the best place for all such youngsters as I was. It’s a kind of big school where those who like can climb up the rungs of the ladder, and find themselves, when they go back to civil life, in far better positions than they might otherwise have occupied. It does not matter who or what you were before you ’listed; it’s each for himself, and it is the smart, sober lad, who is respectful and knows his work, who gets promotion to the non-commissioned rank.

“But I’m talking of the Boer War. Well, my battery of six guns was sent up into Natal, with about 870 men, mostly of the 58th Regiment and the 60th Rifles, with a few of the 2nd Scots Fusiliers and a Naval Brigade, all under Sir George Pomeroy Colley. We joined hands at Newcastle, some thirty miles south of Laing’s Nek, and marched up there on January 26th, forming camp at Mount Prospect, three miles from the slopes of the Drakenberg range, where the Boers were known to be in force.

“Now I am not going to tell you every incident of the engagements we fought. The memory of three successive defeats is too painful, but to make matters clear to you I will just mention each in turn.

“Laing’s Nek was the first, and on that fatal day we marched out of camp and up the rugged and zigzag road which leads to the pass of that name. On either side of us some 1500 Boers were posted, and we attacked those on the right. Our gallant boys of the 60th Rifles and the 58th Regiment marched directly against them, whilst we with the guns and the ‘tars’ with their rockets were posted in the rear. It was a one-sided conflict. We had only stones to fire at, while our poor lads, many of them, like myself, mere youngsters, were out in the open, without cover of any kind, and wearing white helmets, which were simply a series of bull’s-eyes for the enemy.

“I shall never forget that morning. The sun came up over the mountain peaks, making them look like golden pinnacles. Then, passing down the green elopes of the hills, it lit up the valley, with its dusty road, and its little farmhouse nestling on the left at the foot of the steep incline. And there, moving across the grass in regular order, and with the rays flashing from their helmets and rifle-barrels, were our brave fellows, many of them marching to their death.

“Well, well, such things must be, I suppose! England has not done all the glorious acts for which she is famous without a deal of suffering and much loss of life.

“When our troops started up the slopes a perfect hail of lead was poured into their ranks, and every bullet, mind you, was directed by an unseen hand, and by a hand which, backed up by a steady eye, never failed, even from the back of a galloping horse, to bring down the swiftest deer that ever ran.

“But though many of our gallant lads fell, the remainder reached a ridge, fixed bayonets, and prepared to charge. They were met by a murderous fire, which almost decimated them, and the same fate befell a squadron of the 1st Dragoon Guards, who charged the enemy’s flank.

“The Boers pressed forward immediately, and we were forced to retire.

“That was the end of that engagement. We sent in a flag of truce in order that we might gather our wounded, who were unmolested by the Boers, save in one instance, when a cowardly ruffian was caught in the act of shooting a helpless soldier, and was promptly bayoneted by one of the injured man’s comrades.

“We were now in a pretty tight hole. Surrounded on all sides by the Boers, our supplies were cut off completely. But on February 8th we moved out of camp back towards Newcastle, from which town a convoy was to set out to join us. It never started, but we were ignorant of that, and, pushing forward, crossed the Ingogo River, which runs transversely across that portion of Natal. The guns remained on the other side, and were at once at it hammer and tongs, throwing shrapnel at the Boers, who were strongly posted opposite to us.

“It was the same old tale again. There wasn’t so much as a hat to be seen, but every tuft of grass, every mimosa bush and stone sheltered a keen-eyed and stout-hearted marksman. Yes, my lads, I will give them their full due. They were roused to desperation in a struggle for independence, and they were in their element. Themselves in shelter, save from our shrapnel fire, which searched their hiding-places, they aimed steadily and coolly at our boys, with fatal results. For six long hours we stuck to it, and then retired, dragging the guns with us, for most of the horses had been killed.

“It was our second reverse, and we returned to camp dispirited, drenched with rain, which had been falling since the afternoon, and thoroughly exhausted, leaving our wounded under the red-cross flag in charge of the army surgeons. Our infantry behaved nobly in the face of insurmountable difficulties, and it was no fault of theirs that they were beaten. Opposed to us were a host of men, wholly undrilled and unused to modern warfare. Yet they showed the greatest foresight and cunning in the selection of their trenches, and no one, not even the most experienced veteran, could have improved upon their tactics.

“It was a hot day for us at the guns. We were well within rifle range, and long before the action was over every one of us had been shot. I had a bullet through my shoulder, but was able to get away with the others, though most of my comrades were killed. But to show you the pluck of our brave fellows, when all the gunners were helpless, some of the infantry manned and served the guns in spite of the heavy losses they sustained.

“It was a nasty reverse, but not the worst we were to suffer. In a fatal moment our brave general decided to make a night march and occupy the crest of Amajuba Hill. With 545 men he set out at nine o’clock, reaching his destination only as the dawn was breaking. When the Boers saw our fellows there, they were on the point of bolting, but they rallied, and, dashing across the open ground on their wonderful little ponies, were hidden out of sight at the base of the hill long before we could punish them. Then commenced a conflict for which there was but one ending. Our poor fellows were too much exhausted by their long march and arduous climb to entrench themselves, and the slopes below the summit were not occupied by skirmishers, for whom there was ample cover. Instead, we manned the edge of a shallow depression which formed the summit of the hill, and every man of ours was sharply defined against the sky. Below, seated behind the rocks, the Boers picked them off one by one, and soon the whole hill was surrounded. Foot by foot they pushed upwards, and at last with one final rush carried the position.

“That was a bad day for all the poor Englishmen out there, and ever since it has been an evil day for all our countrymen. It is a smudge, my lads, upon a slate which has seldom known one before. Our poor fellows behaved nobly, but they were helpless; the position which, if entrenched and manned by a sufficient force, should have been impregnable, was untenable, and those of the troops who survived the last onslaught ran for their lives as Englishmen have seldom been known to do.

“But there! The mention of it sickens me. We were beaten after a gallant fight, so I will make an end of the matter.

“By this time General Sir Evelyn Wood, who had conducted a share of the operations in Zululand with such great distinction, had reached Newcastle with a relieving force, and hoped to have it substantially increased in the course of a few days. Meanwhile an armistice was agreed upon for eight days.

“At the termination of that period there is little doubt that this able leader would have outflanked the Boers and gained a signal success, but he never had the opportunity.

“All the Dutchmen in Africa were hotly incensed at England’s action in attacking this small state, and in Holland there was the same feeling. The Orange Free Staters, too, were ready to join with their brothers, and indeed had already helped to a large extent with men and money. After a short extension of the armistice, a peace was made, one of the terms being that England should hold suzerain power over the Transvaal and control its foreign affairs, and another, that Boers and British should have equal rights.

“Meanwhile I must tell you that our garrisons in the Transvaal had been invested by the enemy and had gallantly resisted. And it was at these attacks that the most outrageous use of the white flag was made. Our men were lured on by its demonstration, and shot down mercilessly when they showed themselves.

“When the war was over, our troops were withdrawn, leaving the Boer and British settlers face to face, distrustful of one another, and holding themselves apart.

“Hosts of our countrymen, attracted by the wealth of the Transvaal, had settled there and invested their money, and these were specially bitter at the manner in which they had been left to the tender mercies of the Boers.

“There is no doubt about it that had we marshalled our forces and crushed the enemy then and there, we should have removed a dangerous thorn from our side. But we were too magnanimous, and we shall have to pay for it.

“And now to tell you, in as few words as possible, what has happened since.

“In 1885 gold was discovered in this country, and as with the goldfields of America, thousands flocked to participate in the wealth to be obtained. Towns sprang up in every direction, and Johannesburg became a golden city, the heart of the mining industry. Here, at the present day there are some 100,000 of us more or less, and in the whole of the Transvaal there are quite 180,000 Uitlanders, or outsiders, as we are called. We found the mines, we have opened them, and it is our money which has worked them and erected the splendid stamps with which to crush the ore.

“I may tell you that we are a cosmopolitan lot, for amongst us are all nationalities; and in addition we are a strictly business class of men. We have come here to make money, and we invest it in the mines or in the country, for the Transvaal teems with natural riches. Here beneath our feet we have the gold-bearing quartz, and close at hand there are excellent coal-mines. There is iron ore in abundance, with coal alongside it to work it with. Lead, copper, and other metals are to be found in plenty, and if that were not all, the land has not a rival for grazing purposes. It is the best corn-producing country known, and in addition it is blessed with a wonderful climate, which at this altitude makes it a splendid health resort.

“But do you think our friends the Boers recognise all these things? Certainly not. They always were and always will be, in the main, ignorant and illiterate farmers, stubbornly opposed to progress. Even the best amongst them have, till quite recently, been unable to write an ordinary letter, and all the public appointments, save the president’s chair and the seats in the all-powerful Volksraad, are filled by salaried clerks recruited from the Afrikanders of Dutch stock, or from the Dutchmen of Holland itself.

“These men are under the president and his autocratic government, and I will, if I can, explain exactly what has happened to cause all the bad blood between us and our Boer masters.

“Ever since that fatal peace of 1881 the Boer has shown an open contempt of the Englishman. His arrogance has passed the bounds of belief, especially in the case of the younger generation, in whom the same ideas have been instilled.

“We have never got on well together. There has been no sympathy between us, and while we see them leading indolent lives and spending money recklessly, we know that that same money comes from our own pockets, that we, the workers, pay through the nose for the privilege of staying here and managing the mines, while they look on and live in ease and luxury.

“The Republic has an income of some five-and-a-half millions per annum. Think of it! Five-and-a-half millions, when only twenty years ago there was but 12 shillings 6 pence in their coffers. And of this vast sum five millions are paid by us, the Uitlander population, while the 70,000 Boers contribute only half a million.

“We should not mind the amount so much, though everything we eat or drink, or require for the working of our mines, is taxed to the highest; but what we do grumble at, and what is fast helping to hurry on a disruption between us, is the fact that we have no voice in its expenditure. We slave and pay, and they loaf and spend the money recklessly, investing huge sums in arms and ammunition and defensive works, and in keeping up a staff of foreigners with which to train their gunners.

“There is no Government here. It is a corrupt oligarchy, with such autocratic powers and under such a stubborn and autocratic president that even the judgments of the courts can be tampered with.

“‘Why should you expect citizen rights and representatives in our Volksraad?’ Kruger says when approached on the subject of our grievances. ‘You, who came here unbidden to disturb our peace, and come only with the object of making fortunes and returning home.’

“For years now we have striven for an amicable settlement. It is a vital question with all of us, for we do not forsake the country after making money; we invest our wealth here, and we have solid interests for which we have good cause to fight.

“We even organised a Reform Committee and smuggled in arms. But all our hopes were dashed by the Jameson raid. That was a fatal mistake. We wished to press our claims for voting-powers, but not by force. Our weapons were only for defensive purposes. A few, however, were for upsetting the present Government by a show of arms, and for this purpose invited the gallant but reckless doctor to come in with his forces to their aid, promising to meet him.

“Of course you know he came too soon, riding right away from the Rhodesian border. We were not even agreed to meet him, and he and his force suffered defeat at the hands of the Boers. It was a gallant but an extremely foolhardy movement.

“Since then our grievances have increased. Numbers of necessaries are monopolies, for which we have to pay a tremendous price, and on top of all two new laws have been passed. One, the Press Law, makes it impossible for us to air our grievances in the papers; and the other, the Alien Expulsion Law, decrees that any foreigner who by word or deed disturbs the peace of the country shall be expelled without appeal to the courts.

“It is monstrous! In no other place in the whole of the civilised world are Englishmen treated so shamefully. We have done all that is possible, and now we have appealed to our Government, who are carrying on negotiations with Pretoria.

“And meanwhile the Boer population is becoming more and more openly hostile. They evince it in every possible action, and they do not hesitate to show that they are armed to the teeth, while we are completely without weapons. But do you think all this agitation will end in peace? Do you think that autocratic, pig-headed Kruger will give in in the slightest? No, my lads, he will not, I am assured. He cares nothing for us. Our needs, our grievances, are little to him, and only serve as a pretext for a rupture with England. He is as sly as a fox, and has more ambition than any single individual in this world. For many long years he has waited for a day when the British Lion shall be engaged in some European war, and then, and only then, has he been prepared to drive us out, and throw off the suzerain power of England, that hated power which destroys his sense of independence. But he does not stop there. A united Africa, a vast republic with Paul Kruger as its first president or king, is what he aims at; and to bring that about he is on the eve of defying the might of our great empire. He has the guns and ammunition, the money lies in abundance beneath our feet, and the men he will obtain by harping on that independence for which all are sworn to lay down their lives. Once the fire is kindled, a gigantic and terrible blaze will sweep over the land, Englishmen who have married Boer wives and settled here will find themselves opposed to their own country, throughout Africa there will be treachery, the bad blood of the Dutch population will be roused, and many of Her Majesty’s subjects will go over to the Boers.

“They do not realise this in England. They think that a few thousand troops will be sufficient should the emergency arise. But they will not be. Of that I am certain, for we are face to face with the biggest and most dangerous conspiracy that we have ever been called upon to meet. It will be a struggle for supremacy in Africa, and England will have to put out all her strength. Should she fail—and I trust and firmly believe that she will not—it will be the first step down on the ladder, which in the end will mean the dismemberment and the downfall of the most glorious empire that the world has ever seen.

“But we shall see. If we suffer reverses at first we shall learn by them, and I prophesy that this coming war will bring out England’s manhood and unanimity. Her sons will flock from the remotest corners of the world, her colonies will vie with one another to help her, and from every shore, from every spot which harbours an Englishman all eyes will be turned towards the great white mother.

“My lads, I am not romancing. I am telling you this in sober earnest. We are a slow and unemotional race, but we are true, and we are dogged, even more so than the Boers, and if real danger confronts the nation, woe to those who have attacked her. We shall want a lot of beating, and we’ve yet to find the ones who can do it.”

Chapter Six.

Face to Face with President Kruger.

More than five minutes of unbroken silence elapsed after Mr Hunter had finished that portion of his narrative which dealt with the troubles of the Uitlanders. He had summed the whole position up, discussed every point, and had finally shown that the dispute between the Transvaal Government and its alien population was approaching vast proportions, which threatened to involve the English Government, who were now supporting the claims of their distant subjects. That a great conspiracy existed he had proved almost beyond a doubt, and now, like the patriotic man he was, he had prophesied how the sons of the great White Queen would meet their troubles, and how on every side and from every colony they would stretch forth their hands and join them in a cordial union, swearing that nothing should part them but death, till the country they loved had regained her paramountry.

Then, with flushed face and quickened breathing he had sprung from his chair, and was now striding up and down the verandah with a stem, determined look upon his face, while his cigar was firmly gripped between his teeth and his hands were thrust deeply into his trouser pockets.

Against the shady wall, lounging full-length in big cane chairs, Jack and Wilfred stared thoughtfully over the verandah rail, and away over the rolling veldt which stretched between Mr Hunter’s house and his neighbour’s. They had both listened without an interruption to the details of the rise and origin of the Boers, and of their subsequent fortunes, and now they sat moodily wondering whether the conspiracy spoken of could really be a fact, or whether, after all, it was not some delusion with which Mr Hunter was frightening himself.

“Don’t imagine I am romancing or inventing a tale with which to alarm you,” repeated Mr Hunter at this moment, with marked emphasis, stopping suddenly in front of the two lads, and fixing them with his eyes as though he had guessed their thoughts and was replying to them. “What I have said is strictly true. A day of trial and tribulation is fast coming for the British Empire, and you will see that her sons will answer the call ‘To arms!’ with the enthusiasm that I have predicted.

“Very soon, I fear, the Transvaal will be an unsafe country for Englishmen, and if we, together with the foreigners of all nationalities who make up the Uitlander population, are compelled to fly over the borders, it will mean ruin for us all. Take my own case, for example. When I had served my time with the British army I determined to settle out here, having heard rumours of the hidden wealth of the country. First I obtained employment at Kimberley. Then, when I had saved a little pile, I came up here and invested the money in an old shanty, built for the most part of biscuit-boxes, with a presentable plank here and there to hold them together. Fortunately I had a friend in Durban, a cousin as a matter of fact, and from him I obtained consignments of useful articles, food and other matters, of which spades and picks of best English manufacture formed a large proportion. There was a growing demand for all sorts of things. Prices ruled high, and in the first year I had more business to transact than I could manage single-handed, and had a large sum in hand after paying off all my accounts at Durban and the cost of transporting the goods. Next year my wife became my partner and helper in more ways than one. We carried on the store between us, and from that date we have prospered beyond our wildest hopes. I have built this house and the large buildings of the store. There are funds of mine invested in the diamond mines at Kimberley, not to mention the gold diggings here, and every year almost I and my partners in the mines industry buy up mining rights in other parts.

“Thus you will see that a war will mean practical ruin for all, unless, of course, we beat these Boers and annex their country. Even then we cannot fail to be heavy losers.

“If it does come to blows I shall stay here as long as possible, and then I shall enlist in some of the volunteer corps of Colonials, which are certain to be called for. Possibly I shall obtain a commission, and in any case, my boys, I can promise you you shall get some post which will give you a share in the campaign.

“And now to return to you, Jack. I strongly advise you to leave for England. Unfortunately you have quarrelled with Piet Maartens, who is a dangerous young fellow; and now, by no fault of your own, you have become a marked man. I tell you your life will be in real danger from this moment, and I strongly advise you to get away.”

“Yes, I realise that I shall be no special favourite of the Boers after this,” Jack replied quietly; “but, whatever happens, I am not going to clear out of the country for Piet Maartens or any of his class. There is a deep game being played, and I think the information I can give ought to be passed on to the British consul here, and so to the Government. Also, there is likely to be some kind of a row pretty soon, and by what you have told me, Mr Hunter, I expect it is going to be a precious big one. At any rate there is likely to be some kind of excitement, and I am going to stay to see the fun. Johnny’s Burg is likely to be too hot for me, and since I am not particularly anxious to get a bullet between my ribs, I think I will slip away at once for Kimberley, where I am certain to be safe.”

“Do so, Jack, and at once too,” said Mr Hunter earnestly. “Take my advice and go immediately. Call on Tom Salter when you reach the diamond mines, and he will give you something to do. If there is trouble here I will write you, and arrange where you are to meet us. As to the magazine, I will see that the consul hears all about it. Now let us go into the dining-room and have something to eat. There is a train for Bloemfontein in two hours’ time. It will be dark then, and you can easily slip away. When you arrive you must procure a pony and ride to Kimberley.”

Accordingly they left the verandah and joined Mrs Hunter in the dining-room, where dinner was already laid. About half an hour later, as they were in the middle of an animated conversation as to whether Paul Kruger would or would not grant concessions to the Uitlanders, Tom Thumb, the Kafir boy, entered the room hurriedly, and cried in a low voice, “Baas, de Zarps outside, and that angry man, Piet Maartens, him knock at door. De Zarps all round de house. I know ’cos I look through de window.”

“Then they are after you, Jack,” exclaimed Mr Hunter. “Go on eating for a moment, lads, while I think how we can escape those fellows.”

“I’ll tell you, Mr Hunter,” said Jack calmly. “They know you dine about this time. Go on with your dinner, and let Tom Thumb remove my glass and seat at once, and make it appear as though I was not here. I’ll slip out and get away somehow. When he comes you will not know where I am, and can honestly say so. Good-bye all! We shall meet again soon. Don’t forget to send my things on to Kimberley, Mr Hunter.”

A moment later he had slipped out of the room, and Tom Thumb had swept away his glass and plate, and had made it appear that he had never been there. Meanwhile there was loud knocking at the door.

Jack darted through the hall, seized a broad-brimmed and somewhat shabby hat which Mr Hunter sometimes wore about the country, so as to make himself look less like a foreigner, and ran up the stairs. As he got to the top the front door was flung open by another Kafir, just as Tom Thumb walked across from the kitchen to the dining-room with a steaming dish in his hand.

“Mr Hunter in?” asked Piet Maartens roughly, stepping into the hall and rudely staring into the dining-room. “Tell him I want him.”

“Baas at dinner; finish in half-hour,” said Tom Thumb, standing in his way.

At this moment Mr Hunter called out to the “boy” to show Piet in, and a moment later the latter had entered the dining-room.

“I’ve a warrant here for the expulsion of John Somerton, who has been living with you,” he said with a malicious smile. “Where is he? I call upon you to hand him over!”

Piet Maartens stared round rudely, and strutted up and down the room as he spoke, as if the house were his and not Mr Hunter’s.

“John Somerton?” asked Mr Hunter quietly. “Why, what can he have been doing? Surely there is some mistake?”

“Mistake or not, I have a warrant here,” repeated Piet, still with the same malicious smile, “and I call upon you once more to tell me where he is.”

“I don’t know where he is. You can see for yourself that he is not dining with us,” said Mr Hunter quietly.

“He was seen to enter this house three hours ago, and he is here now, and you know it too!” exclaimed Piet angrily. “Now, where is he?”

“I have told you he is not here. If you do not believe me, and still think he is in the house, go and find him,” said Mr Hunter calmly. “Tom Thumb will take you round. Perhaps, then, you will have no objection to our going on with the meal which you have so rudely interrupted?”

Piet Maartens was evidently put out, but he knew Mr Hunter to be a man who was not to be trifled with, and with a muttered oath he turned on his heel and strode out into the hall. Then he went to the door and gave a shrill whistle. Two Boer policemen, who are locally known as “Zarps”, joined him immediately, and at once commenced to search every corner of the house. Meanwhile Jack had not been idle. Once upstairs he had darted into Mr Hunter’s room and obtained possession of an old tweed suit and a muffler resembling in appearance those usually worn by the Boers. Then he hurried out and along a passage till he came to a ladder leading up through a trap-door into a large loft where the cisterns for the supply of water were kept, much as they are in England. A moment later he had scrambled up, passed into the loft, and dragged the ladder after him. As he did so he heard steps running upstairs, and lowered the trap gently just as Piet Maartens and one of the Zarps arrived at the end of the passage.

There was a moment’s silence, and then he heard an exclamation of vexation and a rapid conversation, in which he recognised a word here and there which showed him that his pursuers had already guessed his whereabouts.

But Jack was not to be so easily caught. Above his head there was a small glass skylight, and this he pushed open with the end of his ladder, and was quickly out on the roof. Mr Hunter’s house was irregular in shape, and the roof was consequently not one of those sloping ones on which there is no cover. Where Jack was he was in a small hollow, with tiles rising steeply on either side of him; and here he determined to remain as long as possible. It was already dusk, and in a few moments it would be quite dark, so that his figure would not be seen as he climbed over the top of the roof.

Placing his ladder against the steeply-sloping tiles, in readiness for a hurried escape, Jack hastily dragged Mr Hunter’s old suit on over the clothes he was already wearing. There was no difficulty about it, for though Jack was somewhat taller than his friend, the latter was stouter and broader. Soon his rough disguise was completed, and with the slouch hat on his head he looked precisely like hundreds of Boers who were to be found in and around Johannesburg.

By now it was pitch dark, and he cautiously climbed up the ladder and stared down into the garden which surrounded the house. It was illuminated in patches where the lights from the windows fell upon it, and here the figures of half a dozen Zarps stood out prominently. Elsewhere all was darkness, but by watching carefully, Jack saw first one and then as many as four other widely-separated dots of fire, which now and again disappeared, to become more prominent a moment later, clearly showing them to be the glowing ashes of the pipes which Boers one and all indulge in from morning till night, whether acting as policemen or not.

There was at least ten yards between them, and Jack at once made up his mind to attempt to reach the ground and slip away. Sitting astride the top of the roof, he lifted his ladder with the greatest caution, and lowered it again on the other side till it rested in the gutter. Then he gently pressed upon it, and finding it secure put all his weight upon it and descended. Arrived at the bottom he fixed his heels in the iron gutter, and once more lifted his ladder and passed it down till it rested upon the roof of the verandah. This, like the one upon which he was sitting, was composed of corrugated iron, and at the slightest blow gave out a sound like a drum. But fear of capture, and what that might mean, made Jack cautious. His wits were sharply alert, and he handled the light ladder with such care that once more he managed to fix it in the gutter which edged the verandah, without so much as a sound.

Seated on the roof, he waited for a few moments, watching the little glowing spots below, and noticing that they had not moved. Then he heard shouts from inside the house, a loud bang, and the trampling of feet just beneath him, which told him that Piet Maartens and his companions had secured another ladder and were already in the loft.

There was not a moment to be lost. He scrambled on to the ladder and down to the verandah roof. Then he shifted his ladder and clambered down it to the ground, and was on the point of moving off when a rough hand forced something into his mouth, preventing him from crying out, a sack was thrown over his head, and he was carried away swiftly and bundled into a four-wheeled cart, which was driven off at a rapid pace.

For the moment Jack was bewildered. But he quickly realised that after all his caution the slim Boer had been too clever for him. One of the Zarps must have seen him climbing down the roof, and now he was in their hands, a prisoner, and with what fate before him? On his wrists a pair of handcuffs had been slipped, and at either side of him sat an armed Zarp. He could tell that, for each held him by the arm as though afraid that he would still contrive to get away, while one of them clicked the lock of his revolver in a very suggestive manner close to Jack’s head.

“Well, I suppose I had better sit still and wait,” he thought. “I must try to remember the various turnings, so that I shall know where they are taking me and how to return.”

But this proved unnecessary. The cart rattled along through the streets and then out into the veldt. About half a mile outside the town it slowed down, the sack was removed, and Jack found he was close to the railway.

A few minutes later there was the shriek of an engine, and a locomotive and one carriage steamed up and stopped close by them.

Jack was bundled unceremoniously and with many a brutal jeer out of the cart and into the train, which at once went ahead, carrying him in the direction of Pretoria with three rough-looking, shaggy Boers, one of whom was the identical man who had acted as sentry in the magazine when Jack made his escape. About a mile farther on they pulled up again, and this time Piet Maartens climbed in and joined them. Then they proceeded, and were soon racing along at a fast pace.

“We’ve got you at last, my fine, brave young Englishman, have we?” jeered Piet Maartens. “Let me give you some good advice. Make the most of the next few minutes, as they are the last you are ever likely to see. You will have to reckon with Oom Paul now. You will not find him so soft-hearted as that fool Oom Schalk, and even if you do, there is myself, not to mention fat Hans Schloss, who have to be considered. Altogether, you had best prepare for the end, and perhaps, now that you find we are in real earnest, you will not be quite so brave or cock-a-whoop as you were down in the magazine.”

Jack made no answer, for to do so would only have been to wrangle, and he felt as though he would like to think in peace, for even without Piet’s malicious advice it was sufficiently certain that he could expect little mercy from the rough men into whose hands he had fallen.

Instead, therefore, of replying, he smiled disdainfully and remained silent, watching the lights which now and again flew past the window.

Half an hour later, the train drew up on the open veldt, and he was bundled out and into another cart drawn by a couple of horses, which at once set off at a gallop. Jack was placed on a seat between his two guards, and in this position was driven through Pretoria and up to the Government Buildings, his slouch hat and general appearance attracting no attention. He was now forced to descend and enter the building, where he was ushered into a small room, unlighted save for one electric lamp, which swung from the ceiling just above a leather-covered desk, littered with maps and papers, and behind which, leaning back in an arm-chair, sat President Kruger himself, seemingly half-asleep, and with his fat hands clasped together in his lap.

On one side of the president sat a big, burly man with a rugged, white-bearded, and not unpleasing face, whom Jack at once recognised as General Joubert, commandant of all the Boer forces, and, next to the president, the most powerful man in the Transvaal. Jack was placed in front of the table and remained silent, glaring defiantly and boldly at the man who, if report spoke true, was at once the most artful diplomat and the most consummate conspirator in the world.

There was some conversation in the Boer tongue, which Jack could not follow, as he had only picked up a few words as yet. Then Joubert addressed him in English, acting as interpreter between him and Paul Kruger, as the latter had such an intense dislike for anything British that he even pretended to be ignorant of the language.

“The president desires to know who you are, and for whom you were acting as spy two nights ago,” he said courteously. “Who employed you? Was it the British Government?”

“No one employed me,” answered Jack, looking Joubert straight in the face. “It was purely by accident that I discovered the magazine down by Volksrust, and since the men there were positive that I was a spy and talked of shooting me, I was forced to escape for my life. That is all I know about the matter; and now I will ask you by what right I am removed in this manner from Johannesburg and brought here as a prisoner. I am a British subject, come here for my health, and if I have done anything wrong I am willing to stand my trial in the courts.”

“Tush, boy!” Joubert replied harshly. “What do we care about subjects of England here? You have acted as a spy, and that is why you are a prisoner.”

“Ask him on his honour whether he was a spy and whether he is telling the truth,” President Kruger broke in at this moment, using the English tongue in his eagerness to put the question. “Ask him on his honour,” he repeated. “All of his country pride themselves on that, and when they are put upon it they will tell the truth.”

“I am no spy,” Jack said calmly. “I have told you the truth, and will swear to it on my honour.”

“Will you make use of the secret you have obtained, if I let you go and send you outside the Transvaal?” asked the president, now fully awake, leaning forward and favouring Jack with a piercing gaze.

“I cannot promise not to,” replied Jack, after a moment’s pause. “If that magazine is a menace to England, as seems most probable, it will be my duty to inform the Governor of Cape Colony of it, and I shall do so.”

“Ah, you will!” growled Oom Paul angrily. Then he turned to General Joubert, and the two conversed volubly for a few minutes, the president hammering on the table with his hand in the most emphatic manner, and evidently laying down the law.

“Bah!” he exclaimed at last. “What does it matter? It would do more harm to us to injure this lad than for our secret to be known. The British are already aware that we are purchasing arms. Let them know it all. It will not harm us; though to act so as to cause the prisoner’s friends to make active enquiries for him might precipitate matters. Let him go! Release him! He is a brave lad, which is unusual amongst these hated Rooineks, and he deserves to go free as a reward for his boldness. See to it, Joubert!”

Jack was overjoyed, for he had quite expected that the rash avowal of his intention to divulge his secret would make matters even more unpleasant. And now he was free. He was on the point of thanking the president and of retiring when his eyes lit upon Piet Maarten’s angry scowling face, and he at once remembered the young Boer’s threat that he and Hans Schloss together would have to be reckoned with.

“Your honour,” he said, facing Oom Paul again, “I have a request to make. You have commanded that I shall have my liberty. I ask for protection. That man there, together with a German whom I had the misfortune to wound when escaping from the magazine, have threatened to deal with me should I receive my freedom at your hands. I ask you now to grant me some kind of an escort to the frontier.”

“Have I not ordered that you shall have your freedom?” answered Paul Kruger brusquely. “That is enough. Should anyone attempt to molest you he shall account for it.”

Satisfied with his answer, Jack murmured his thanks and retired. He was at once placed in charge of two Boers whom he had never seen before, and was driven off into the veldt again. About an hour later an engine and a single carriage steamed up and he was told to get in. Then they were whirled away to Johannesburg just in time to catch a train starting on the long run to Port Elizabeth.

One of the guards remained behind, but the other stayed on with Jack, making himself most pleasant, and chatting with him constantly.

Many hours later he shook hands with him, and wished him good-bye.

“Don’t come back to us,” he said shortly, as the train ran into Norval’s Pont, the southern border of the Orange Free State. “You have escaped with your life, but you would not do so a second time. Here is money which the president told me to hand to you. It is just sufficient to pay for your journey and comfort to Port Elizabeth, and here also is your ticket.”

Jack thanked him, pressed his hand, and then watched him depart. A few moments later the train was in motion again. At Naauwpoort, the next stopping point, there is a junction, with a connecting line running westward to De Aar to join the Cape Town line to Kimberley and Mafeking, and here Jack left the carriage and boarded another train. Late the next evening he had reached the diamond city, and had called on Tom Salter, an old friend of Mr Hunter’s.

“Hallo, Jack!” exclaimed the latter, who had met him before. “What brings you here? Your place should be alongside of the Hunters, for they are likely to want every man they can lay hands on soon.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that,” Jack answered, “but unfortunately I have got into hot water in Johnny’s Burg, and have consequently come here for the good of my health.”

“Ha, ha! That’s queer, my lad,” laughed Tom Salter, a typical, red-faced, and robust-looking colonist. “You’ve been punching that fellow’s head again, I suppose? What’s his name? Piet Maartens, or something of that sort, isn’t it? Ah, it’s you quiet, harmless-looking lads who are always getting into a warm corner!”

“Well, no, it’s not quite that,” Jack replied, with a smile. “Piet Maartens, though, had a hand in it all the same. I’ll tell you all about it if you like. Mr Hunter told me to come here, and said you would be able to give me something to do.”

“Of course I will, Jack,” said Tom Salter heartily. “And you will take up your quarters with me. There’s plenty of room in the house, and the wife will be glad to see you. Now tell me the yarn.”

“That was a close shave, old boy,” he said, when he had heard Jack’s adventures. “Phew! You were within an ace of being shot by those fellows in the magazine. Ah, they are rough customers, and we’re going to have an ugly trouble with them! That’s why we here and our boys up at Mafeking are getting ready. Special-service officers have come to us from England, and though you’d scarcely think it, ammunition and stores are quietly pouring in. Ah! we’ve one of them here as slim as old Oom Paul himself, and another lad up at Mafeking, by name Baden-Powell, who would even give that old crafty schemer a start, and lick him easily. Well, we shall see, but if there is to be a row I’m going to be in it.”

“Everything seems to point to war; at least so I have gathered from Mr Hunter,” remarked Jack, “and I, too, mean to take a share in it.”

“Well done! You’re the right sort of lad!” exclaimed Tom Salter, slapping him on the back. “And mind you, if you want to be in the thick of it, you must stay over here. Kimberley and Mafeking will be besieged, and there will be stirring times. There will be work, too, for everyone. Every lad here will give a hand; all the civilians will join in with our soldiers, and will show our friends the Boers that we mean business.”

“If there is trouble, and the Uitlanders have to leave the Transvaal, I shall return to Johnny’s Burg, Tom. I arranged it all with Wilfred before I left; in fact, weeks ago. You see, Mr Hunter means to stay on and look after his property, so someone will be wanted to take Mrs Hunter down to the frontier, for, by all accounts, once the Boers are let loose there are likely to be unpleasant times for the refugees. After that I shall come over here and lend a hand if I can, though I don’t know about staying for good. There will be little fun if the siege lasts for months, as seems likely by the amount of stores which you say are coming in.”

“Ah, I never thought of that, Jack! My property and money are here, and naturally I shall stick by it and defend it as long as I can; but for you it is a different matter. But there will be lots of despatches to be carried south, for our telegraph wires and communications are certain to be cut. You could volunteer after a little while as a messenger. It would be rough and dangerous work, but I dare say all the more to your taste, and after the few weeks you will work here with me you will have the advantage of knowing the country. You have arrived just in time to join me in a prospecting tour. Mr Hunter and I, with two others, have been in partnership for many years, and just now we have agents travelling from place to place searching for possible gold reefs. They report their finds to me, and I ride or drive over and inspect. Then, if it is likely to prove of any value, we buy the property and secure the mining rights.

“I intend starting north to-morrow, and expect to be away for a month. You may come if you care, and I need not say I shall be glad to have you.”

Jack gladly jumped at the offer, and next morning, after a visit to a local store, where he purchased some clothing, he set out with Tom Salter, looking every inch a young colonist, dressed in riding-breeches and gaiters and a dark-blue shirt. On his head he wore a slouch hat, and over his shoulder was a bandolier filled with cartridges which fitted the Lee-Metford rifle which Tom had lent him. At his hip he carried his Mauser pistol, now no longer concealed, and thus equipped he and Tom rode out, and turning north-west, made for a country which was noted for its wildness.

More than six weeks passed, and during that time he and Tom Salter made many expeditions, sometimes to the west into an almost unknown country, and at other times into the Orange Free State or the Transvaal. After each one they would return to Kimberley, and Tom would write reports on the properties he approved of, and leave Mr Hunter and the other partners to purchase them and secure the rights. In this way Jack quickly became hardened to the saddle, acclimatised and weather-beaten, and moreover was a rider who by constant practice could have held his own now in an American ranche out west by the Rockies. He was, as even Piet Maartens would have been compelled to admit, a strapping, well-set-up young fellow, whose laughing lips and open face almost belied the bull-dog squareness of his chin, and the daring, unflinching look in his eyes. The sun had tanned his cheeks and arms, and as he sat his native pony, his left hand well down, while his right grasped his rifle and leant the butt against his thigh, the natural, upright pose of his body and set of his head, together with a certain jauntiness, don’t-care-who-comes-along sort of style, imparted by an artful bend in the brim of his hat, made Jack Somerton look just what he really was, a plucky young Englishman, who had come out to rough it in this far-away country, and had done exactly what he had intended.

But Jack was not only a fine-looking young fellow. His rough life and his contact with the Boer had made him quick and slim. He looked even-tempered and easy-going, and appeared to take little heed of what he heard or saw; but he was wide-awake, very wide-awake. He missed nothing, and he put all he saw away to be remembered. Thus his various rides had not only made him acquainted with many people, but by now he knew the surrounding country, and could have found his way over it in the darkest of nights.

In addition, he had had many opportunities of practising with his weapon.

“You’ve got a gun there, Jack, my lad,” Tom Salter had said when they first started out prospecting, “and it’s not for appearances only. You want to learn to use it. I never miss a chance even now, and I’m a pretty good shot, I can tell you, without the slightest wish to boast. Still, I am always practising, because I know there is nothing one gets out of so easily. You must be at it constantly to be a good shot. If you’ve got good eyes, and can spare the time to shoot, you’re bound to turn out a marksman. Look at the Boers! Every one of them living outside the towns is a crack shot, simply because he starts when he’s young and sticks to it. Now what you want to do is to take a pot shot at any likely object we come across out in some of these deserted places. The trunk of a tree, a white stone on the side of a distant kopje, or even a vulture, of which there are numbers hereabouts. They are brutes, and the more you hit the better. You’ve got a Mauser pistol too, and had better make use of it. If this war comes, you’ll find your time has not been wasted.”

Jack followed this advice. During their long, and generally lonely, rides, he would often fire as many as twenty cartridges in an afternoon, galloping up to the object afterwards to see what success he had had. As a rule, he fired from the saddle, but sometimes he would jump to the ground and aim whilst standing; at other times, at Tom’s suggestion, he would slip from his saddle, scuttle hurriedly across a piece of open ground, taking advantage of every boulder or ant-hill, and firing at an imaginary enemy from behind each one. Then, when he had reached a ridge, or a piece of better cover, a glance from his trained eye would pick out the best spot to fire from, and he would lie prone on the ground, without so much as the brim of his hat showing, while the muzzle of his rifle projected between two boulders and hurled forth a stream of bullets as he used the magazine.

“That’s it, my lad,” Tom would say encouragingly. “That’s just how our Boer friends fight, and it’s the only method nowadays, when bullets carry so far, and everyone is armed with a modern weapon of precision. It’ll be ticklish work, I can tell you, if our fellows have to attack from the open, and that’s what it will have to come to, for you won’t find these Dutchmen exposing themselves if they can help it. They’ll sit tight behind their boulders, and we shall have to turn them out at the point of the bayonet. Yes, it will be ticklish work, and will require real grit, but I’ll bet anything our boys will tackle it. There’s another thing too. Every youngster armed with one of these magazine rifles is inclined to blaze off all his ammunition at the first alarm. It’s wasting cartridges, which cannot always be spared; and what is more, it is apt to demoralise the others. That’s what you must guard against. Never use the magazine unless there are lots of beggars coming pell-mell at you. If there’s a rush, then is the time to pump in the lead as fast as you possibly can.

“Then, too, you must learn to train your pony, and whilst I’m teaching you to use your rifle, I may as well instruct you in the other matter also.”

Jack was naturally only too willing to learn. Riding all day long across the open veldt was somewhat monotonous at times, and his rifle practice and other manoeuvres helped to make the journeys pass more pleasantly.

Thanks to the allowance which his father had left him, and which was regularly transmitted from England, he was always supplied with an ample sum, and this, when supplemented with the wages paid him at Johannesburg, had given him sufficient for all his wants. Something to ride was one of the most pressing of them, and with Tom’s help he had, soon after his arrival at Kimberley, become possessed of two Basuto ponies, noted for their hardiness and agility. They were about the size of an English cob, mouse-coloured, and somewhat scraggy looking. But for all that they were wiry little animals, with plenty of spirit, but not vicious. Jack named one Victoria and the other Prince, and had no need to complain of his purchases. They turned out to be fast and sturdy little animals, who could easily thrive on the veldt when stable-fed horses would have starved. In addition, they were absolutely sure-footed, so that one could trust them to gallop down the side of a rough kopje, with the reins on their neck, without fear of an accident, for they were used to the work, and could be left to themselves to leap the boulders which came in their path, and steer clear of the ant-bear holes and nullahs which cut up the ground in every direction.

A few weeks’ training was sufficient, and before the prospecting tour came to an end they would stand stock-still while Jack fired above their heads, or at a touch from his heel would canter on, and turn swiftly with the merest pressure of a knee. A jerk of the reins across their necks, and down they would drop on the ground, the rider standing in his stirrups and easily freeing himself, and there they would lie while Jack fired his rifle over them. Sometimes, too, he would knee-halter them and leave them to graze unattended. This knee-haltering was rapidly effected. A long thong of untanned hide was passed over the neck, close up to the head, and one end put through a slit in the other. The free end was then taken round the leg just above the knee and secured with a clove hitch. The animal could then hobble about over a limited area in search of grass, but could not get far, and the halter could be thrown off at a moment’s notice.

But by this time other and more important matters began to engage his attention. There was an ominous cloud of unrest hovering over South Africa. It affected all, and filled them with anxious thoughts, for none knew when it would burst and let loose the thunder and lightning of a terrible war.

Already negotiations between the Boers and the British Government were at a deadlock. Both sides were arming, the former with the absolute certainty and wish for war, and the latter slowly and with evident sorrow. Suspicion was in the air, and hatred between the two races unconcealed. A conference at Bloemfontein had been held between Sir Alfred Milner, the Governor of Cape Colony, and President Kruger, but had led to no result, save a further deadlock. Kruger would make no satisfactory proposals. He was firmly determined that the Transvaal should be for Boers alone, and that no Englishman should have a voice in the country. England asked for equal rights, and was laughed at—defied. Yes, this small state, with a history which could only record some two hundred years of peasant existence, and a total population less than that of one of our big northern towns, had as good as cast down the glove at the British Lion’s feet. And the Lion still sat half-crouched, silently waiting, and hoping that matters might be arranged for peace.

Opposed to England’s forces was a minor state, which was snapping its fingers at her and practically daring her to retaliate. Once before the Transvaal had acted in a similar manner, and then, because there was some doubt as to the justice of our cause, and because we have ever been magnanimous, we made peace with her.

But, like a little dog, the South African Republic had continued yapping at us, distracting our attention while she grew and thrived, and armed herself to the teeth. And now that she had attained to full proportions, the conceit of youth and the impetuous desire to play with her new guns had led her to seek a quarrel, the result of which she hoped would for ever free her from the hated British suzerainty, and give her that independence for which she longed.

And on every side the world looked on and laughed in its sleeve at our difficulties, while it openly upbraided us for having ulterior designs on so small a state.

Matters could not remain as they were. Business was at a standstill, and crowds of refugees were fleeing from the Transvaal. Then the Orange Free State intimated that in the event of hostilities it would cast in its lot with the Transvaal, while there was open disloyalty amongst a portion of the Dutch Cape Colonists, which proved the existence of a wide-spread conspiracy.

England awoke sorrowfully to the fact that hostilities were not to be put off, and, calmly making the best of a bad matter, set to work to prepare for the struggle. Already she had despatched special officers for the defence of certain parts, and now she sent sufficient men to raise the garrisons of Cape Colony and Natal to 20,000, and that done, set to work to mobilise a complete army corps and call up 25,000 of her reserves.

The Boers, too, showed that they meant business. Every male of a certain age was bound to serve, and by October let had been called upon. From Pretoria and Bloemfontein the call to arms was passed on by the telegraph wire, and then by the field-cornets, or local magistrates, and within a few hours, bringing their rifles, horses, food, and ammunition with them, the burghers mustered to their several commandoes. The Orange Free State men manned the passes in the Drakenberg range of mountains looking into Natal, and also sent other commandoes (a large force of men) to watch the southern border along the Orange River, and the Basuto border, where trouble from their old enemies might be expected.

The Transvaallers for the most part went south by train through Volksrust to Laing’s Nek, the scene of the former struggle, while others went north to Komati Poort, where the railway from Delagoa Bay entered the country, and to the northern border near Tuli. A large commando was also despatched to threaten Mafeking, and another marched south towards Kimberley.

Thus, armed to the teeth, the Boers awaited the coming war, and now that they were fully prepared, with all their burghers on the borders and within striking distance, they despatched an ultimatum to the British Government, the more audacity of which set the world agasp, and made our countrymen shut their teeth with rage. It was addressed by President Kruger on October 9th, and declared that forty-eight hours’ grace would be allowed for our forces to be withdrawn from the Cape, our war preparations to be suspended, and our grievances submitted to arbitration. If we refused to do as demanded, war should commence on October the 11th, in the afternoon.

Never before had such an audacious message been addressed to us. There was no answer to be made. Its despatch made war unavoidable. We were forced into it, and accepted the inevitable with a sigh. But had we known all that was in store for us, had we as a nation realised that this was no tribal war, such as we were accustomed to, but a stern struggle against a race of born soldiers armed to the teeth, and favoured by a rough country suited to their tactics, that sigh would have been replaced by a start and by an anxious foreboding which would have led us to throw all our available forces into Africa without a moment’s delay.

But to return to Jack Somerton.

Early in October he and Tom Salter found themselves back in Kimberley again discussing the news, and on the 9th of the month, the very date upon which President Kruger despatched his ultimatum, a letter reached Jack from Mr Hunter, earnestly begging him to come to his help, and aid Wilfred in escorting Mrs Hunter to the frontier.

I know it is asking a lot of you, he wrote, for it would be awkward if you were found in the Transvaal after the warning you have had. But I know you and Tom have often been prospecting in this country during the past few weeks, and really, my boy, I should be grateful if you could come. Wilfred is a good lad, but scarcely capable of the work which will be required, for I can tell you the refugees are likely to meet with trying times.

Jack naturally determined to go at once, and communicated his intentions to Tom. “I’ll risk it,” he said. “An old tweed suit and a slouch hat ought to disguise me, and if I carry a rifle all the better. I shall ride through on Vic and Prince. It would take longer by rail, and all the stations are certain to be watched. I know the way, and ought to get through in about three days.”

Accordingly he saddled up his ponies, jumped into the old suit in which he had left Mr Hunter’s house, and with a hearty shake of the hand from Tom and his wife, set out towards the north, carrying sufficient water and provisions with him to last for a week.

“Good-bye, old boy!” Tom shouted after him. “We shall expect to see you here in a week or so, but we shall be closely shut up, and you will have to find a way in. Ta, ta! you’ll manage it, I’m sure.”

Jack waved his hand, shouted back that they might expect him in about a fortnight, and, shaking up his ponies, cantered away out of sight.

Chapter Seven.


It was shortly after noon when Jack set out from Kimberley on his long ride to Johannesburg, and as he could not expect to get there before the afternoon of 11th October, when the ultimatum addressed by President Kruger to the British Government expired, he determined to ride at a moderate pace, for he knew that Wilfred would wait for his arrival. But there was another matter to be considered. An Englishman would now be a marked man in the Transvaal or the Orange Free State, so that if he wished to get through undetected, he must choose the darkest hours for travelling, and lie up during the day.

About five miles out from Kimberley he pulled up, knee-haltered his ponies, and sat down on a boulder, with a map of the two republics spread out before him.

“Let me see!” he thought; “I must pick out a route which will be little frequented just now. The Transvaallers, I know, are rushing west and north to Mafeking and the northern border, and east and south towards Natal. The other fellows in the southern state are making down this way to Kimberley with some of the Transvaallers, and they are certain to combine at Bloemfontein, coming across country by train. The remainder go east to Natal. That leaves the Vaal River deserted, and that ought to be my direction. I will wait here till dusk, and then cut straight to the right into the Orange Free State, and make for the road to Hoopstad. From there I must manage to get to the neighbourhood of Reitzburg, cross the river, and trust to luck to get through the remaining distance. It will be touch and go, but, dressed as I am, I ought to have a chance.”

And, indeed, looking at Jack anyone might have admitted the same. Clad in Mr Hunter’s old tweed suit, which was a size or two too big for him across the shoulders and round the waist, but all too short at wrists and ankles, he looked for all the world like the average Boer. Beneath his trousers he wore a pair of high riding-boots, round his neck was a blue woollen scarf, and on his head a dilapidated and weather-beaten felt hat. Over his left shoulder was a bandolier filled with cartridges, and hitched over the other, and drawn tight against his back so that the butt swung well free of his saddle, was his Lee-Metford rifle. In addition he carried a water-bottle, a mackintosh sheet, with a hole in the middle through which he could put his head, and his Mauser pistol, which was comfortably hidden away in its old position.

Extra shoes, or implements for putting them on to his ponies, were not wanted, for in addition to their many other good points, these shaggy, unkempt-looking Basuto animals, though never shod, were nevertheless equally fast over grass or stony ground.

It was still early in the day, and after riding on a few miles, Jack pulled up again and off-saddled, so as to rest his ponies. Whilst they set about foraging for themselves, he sat under a large eucalyptus-tree, pulled out his pipe and lit it, and proceeded to clean his rifle. A few hours later the shadow in which he sat had lengthened considerably, and he turned round towards the west to see the sun, which had been streaming down upon him all the day, just declining behind a far-distant range of mountains. It was a sight which set Jack moralising, for here, before his eyes, was a gorgeous scene, a fit subject for any artist. The sun was sinking in a splendour of gold and purple lights, and the heavens above it were decked with beautifully red and silver-streaked blue clouds, against which the jagged broken peaks of the mountains stood up boldly, while their rugged and boulder-strewn slopes, and the stretch of rolling veldt below, were already clouded with the shades of coming night. It was a peaceful scene, and why, thought Jack, should not all the beings dwelling within reach of it, or, for the matter of that, dwelling in a country capable of displaying such a prospect as lay before him, live in peace and good brotherhood with one another and enjoy it? South Africa was a vast country, so sparsely populated that one could ride for miles and miles without sighting so much as a roof or habitation, let alone a man. And yet no one thought of the beauties of the country. Other and deeper matters vexed their minds, and because they could not agree they were on the brink of a sanguinary war which would mean an awful loss of life, and—what then?

“Mr Hunter says it’s a case of British supremacy,” he murmured. “Yes, that’s what it is, and that is what it shall be when the war is over.” And straightway Jack forgot all about the declining sun, and the peaceful landscape, and with a curious feeling of elation, which the thought of coming excitement had given him, knocked the ashes out of his pipe, jumped briskly to his feet, and set about saddling his ponies.

Half an hour later it was dark, save for a small moon which just gave sufficient light to show the road. Jack vaulted into his saddle, hitched his rifle over his shoulder, shook the reins, and cantered off across the main road running north, and then on over the rolling veldt, which was just beginning to send forth a few blades of fresh green grass.

Alternately cantering and walking, and changing from one pony to the other, he kept steadily on, the unshod hoofs of his animals making no sound, so that Jack had the advantage of being able to hear anyone approaching. Five hours later he stumbled upon the road from Kimberley to Hoopstad, and at once off-saddled to rest himself and his ponies for an hour.

During that time no one passed, and having eaten a good meal of biscuit and hard-boiled eggs, he started again, riding along just by the side of the road, and turning on to it now and again, when the veldt was so strewn with boulders or cut up by nullahs and deep water-courses as to make it difficult for him to pick his way.

About half an hour later he heard a low, murmuring sound in the distance, and in a few moments could plainly distinguish galloping hoofs. Instantly he turned on to the veldt, and made for a steep kopje a hundred yards off, amongst the boulders of which he quickly hid both himself and the animals.

He was not a moment too soon, for just as he got Vic and Prince prone on the ground, and had seated himself on the quarters of one of them, a couple of horsemen came spurring up alongside the road, while three more at that moment galloped round from the farther side of the kopje on which he was hiding, looking ghostly and white in the faint rays of the moon. They all pulled up within a few yards of Jack, and one of them, whom he recognised at once as Hans Schloss, the fat and vindictive little German, turning in his saddle pointed to the top of the hill, and cried out: “Ha, my friends, there is the flag, and here we shall all gather before riding on to kill those pigs of Englishmen in Kimberley!”

“That’s so,” another voice broke in. “That’s the flag kopje, and your friends the Transvaal burghers will be joining us at midnight. They are coming through from Bloemhof, and should be here in good time. Then, Hans, my boy, we shall ride for Kimberley, but as for killing the Rooineks, that is another matter. We shall not catch them napping. They are ready, but if the good Lord will give us strength we shall drive them out. Then, Hans, you shall kill them, and they shall be filled with fear at the sight of you. Ha, ha! you will frighten them out of their lives, my brave comrade!”

The Boer chuckled audibly, and Hans Schloss, whose self-conceit and density were almost as pronounced as his fatness, failed to see the thinly-veiled sarcasm, and joined in heartily, dropping one hand upon his thigh and assuming such an attitude of importance that his companions roared at the sight.

“Two days more, and we shall be over the border,” another of the Boers cried, when the laughter had died down, “and then there will be good work for all of us. For years we have waited, and now our dreams are to be realised. Even now most of the Uitlanders will have left us, and those who have not gone are hurrying as fast as possible to the frontiers. Well, they had better do so, for after 11th October it will be an evil day for any of them should we catch them. Only a few who have permits signed are to be allowed to stay, and those we will set to work at native labour. It will be more fitted for them.”

“Yes,” chimed in another with a hoarse chuckle, “they shall be set to work at our trenches, and if an English bullet should pick them out, then all the better. But softly, Carl! In two days’ time we shall be rid of the Rooineks, ’tis true, but they are a stubborn nation, and these boys they send against us are filled with pluck. Our leaders have asked us to believe otherwise, but we, who have lived in the towns, know that it is not always so. They will fight us, and to the death. But we shall beat them, and then what a prospect there will be before us! Ourselves one of the big Dutch states of Africa, we shall have ships upon the sea, while here the natives will slave to dig out the gold and diamonds. Independence is a great thing, but for us who have seen something of the world besides a lonely farm, wealth and riches in abundance are more to be desired. And we shall get them by the help of these Kafirs, while we live the same old peaceful life. Then we shall sail over to London—if England still exists—and our old enemies will be glad to welcome the Boer millionaires who have come to visit them and help them with their gold.”

What other wild dreams this bearded young man would have spoken of is difficult to guess, for at this moment a commando of Boer horsemen trotted up on the road. Within five minutes all had halted, and were seated upon the ground or boulders lying thickly everywhere, smoking their pipes and conversing in loud tones while they waited for the arrival of their friends who were following them, and for the burghers from the Transvaal who were to join with them in attacking Kimberley.

All this time Jack had remained silently amongst the huge splintered rocks tumbled haphazard on the kopje, listening with all his ears, and ready at a moment’s notice to slip away and gallop for his life. He was in a precarious position, even more so than when a prisoner in the magazine near Volksrust. For here he was surrounded by a band of men armed to the teeth and ready for war, and only too willing to wreak their vengeance on the hated English. Glancing up at the top of the kopje, he noticed now what he had failed to see before, a broad flag, the vierkleur, flying from a post wedged between the rocks. A few seconds’ consideration showed him that his best course was to lie quietly where he was, without attempting to move, unless some Boer happened to discover him. His ponies lay as if dead upon the ground, and were not likely to betray him except by snorting or answering the neighs of other animals, and to guard against this he rapidly passed the thong employed in knee-haltering them round their muzzles, effectively preventing them from making a sound.

Minutes passed, dragging terribly slowly for Jack, but at last there was a distant shout, and a few moments later a commando, about five hundred strong, rode silently across the veldt and pulled up on the road. Almost at the same instant a large force of men and wagons came up on the road from Hoopstad, and after all bad exchanged greetings, and a brief prayer had been recited by one of them, who was evidently in command, they scrambled into their saddles and set off at a walk.

Jack watched them file past, in threes and fours, and in any kind of order. Then came the wagons, drawn by long spans of patient, toiling oxen, showing clearly in the white moonlight, so that several large pieces of cannon were visible. More wagons followed, heaped high with shell and cases of ammunition, while others contained sacks of flour and mealies, and a few Boer women who had cast in their lot with their men folk, and had come to act as cooks. There were also a few Kafir servants and drivers; while in rear of all rode a small body of bearded men, joking and laughing uproariously, and evidently in the highest spirits at the prospects before them. Jack gave them half an hour to get well away, and to make sure that there were no stragglers following. Then he cast off the thongs from the muzzles of Vic and Prince, and was soon cantering along by the side of the road as before in the direction of Hoopstad. By four in the morning, when the clouds in the east were beginning to brighten, he had ridden some sixty miles, and was within fifteen of Hoopstad. He now searched about for a secure hiding-place, and presently came across an isolated farm standing a few miles back from the road. Leaving his ponies hidden upon the side of another convenient kopje, he stole forward, and soon reached the building. There was no one about, not even a dog, and he at once boldly walked up to the door. It was locked, but a window he tried was unlatched, and Jack at once squeezed through it and drew up the blind. The farmhouse consisted of two large rooms, a kitchen and a bedroom, and both were empty.

“Ah, all gone to the war!” thought Jack. “This place will suit me perfectly. It’s well away from the road, so that no one is likely to come near, and if anyone does, he will find the door locked, and will probably go away at once.”

Unlocking the door, he went out and fetched his ponies, leading them into the farmhouse, and stabling them in the kitchen. Then he searched about in the few outhouses, and having discovered some straw and oats, came back and made his animals quite comfortable. Another journey procured water for them, and then, locking the door once more and pulling down the blind, Jack first indulged in a much-needed meal, and then lay down in a bed in the sleeping-room.

When he awoke the sun was already more than half-way overhead, and as soon as it was dark he set out again, and by early morning had reached the neighbourhood of Reitzburg. Here he was forced to camp in the open, in a thick belt of scrub composed of acacias and mimosa shrubs, for there was no comfortable farmhouse available. But it was much the same to Jack. He enjoyed a good meal, watered Vic and Prince, knee-haltered them, and once more lay down to sleep.

Early on the following morning, as day was beginning to break, he rode round to the back of Johannesburg and pulled up at Mr Hunter’s house. No one was to be seen, so he stabled his ponies, and then knocked loudly at the door.

Who’s that?” Mr Hunter shouted from above; and then, when Jack had made himself known and had been admitted, cried in astonishment: “Good heavens, my boy! I did not expect you for two days at least, and perhaps not then, for I asked you to do an almost impossible thing. However have you managed to get here? My letter can only have reached you on the 9th at the earliest, and here you are at dawn on the 12th. But come in, my lad; you must be tired out, and will want a good sleep.”

“Yes, I am a little done up,” Jack admitted. “I have been riding ever since dusk yesterday, and did the same for two whole nights before that. I have ridden every inch of the way from Kimberley, through Hoopstad and Reitzburg, and my legs and back are so stiff that I can scarcely move them. I think I’ll have a hot bath if I can get one, and then get Tom Thumb to rub me down with oil. A good tuck-in and a small nip of brandy will set me up again, and after a few hours’ sleep I shall be fit to start for the border.”

Accordingly Jack jumped into a hot bath, and was well rubbed with oil. After that he partook of a good meal and at once turned in between beautifully-clean sheets, to which, down Kimberley way, he had been a total stranger, except when he and Tom returned from one of their expeditions.

Almost before his head was on the pillow he was fast asleep, and when he woke again, feeling wonderfully refreshed, it was already getting dusk.

“Ah, there you are!” cried Mr Hunter with satisfaction, when he made his appearance in the dining-room. “Now I will tell you what has happened since the ultimatum, and indeed since war became a certainty. On October let the governments at Pretoria and Bloemfontein called up their burghers, and since then our streets have been filled with men, all on their way to the front, armed and supplied with ammunition, and trusting to an iniquitous system of commandeering to obtain other necessaries. No one’s property has been safe, and we in Johannesburg have suffered, I believe, more heavily than any others. My store has been practically denuded of its contents, so that I now congratulate myself on having cancelled all expected consignments of goods from Durban for the past three months, and having cleared all goods remaining here as rapidly as possible. Some of my friends have not been so fortunate, and have lost everything valuable to men about to embark in a campaign. Horses have been seized everywhere, and there again I have been wise in time. Two weeks ago I sent over the four-wheeled cart and four good horses to Ted Ellison’s farm, ten miles out from here. They will be perfectly safe there, for Ted married a Boer girl five years ago, and she is a good little woman, who would gladly see all this trouble over and a British government here, with the usual peace and good order.

“At the present moment my stables are cleared of everything save your two ponies, and they will be safe till you start, for the Boers have twice paid me a visit, and have commandeered every saddle and horse I had left.”

“I’m glad to hear about the team and cart,” said Jack thoughtfully. “But why not take the train down to the border. Surely Kruger and his friends will grant all refugees a safe-conduct?”

“Safe-conduct! A precious fine conduct they are giving us! Thousands of poor creatures are clamouring to be taken down, and have been doing so for these past three days. But what can you expect, Jack? It is a single line to Natal, and every inch of it is occupied in passing down trains laden with burghers. The refugees are quite a secondary matter, and by all accounts are experiencing cruel times. All available carriages are packed with Boers, and our poor country-people have to do as best they can in open cattle trucks or coal wagons.

“Then every station is crammed with armed and excited Transvaallers, who have committed all sorts of detestable acts. I know this is the case, for Joe Pearson, who works on the railway in ordinary times, watched train after train of refugees passing through one of the stations. The older Boers are quiet and well conducted, but it is the younger men who have committed these excesses. Threatening to shoot helpless passengers is the least of them. They have actually kept the poor people in the sidings for as many as twenty-four hours, absolutely preventing their leaving the trucks to obtain food or water. It is really terrible. The unhappy women and children, who form a good proportion of the refugees, have been exposed to the weather for three days between here and Laing’s Nek, and you can imagine what that has meant, for you yourself experienced the heavy rain last night. I hear one or two of the children died on the way down.

“It is dreadfully sad, terribly sad. But there is one consolation, England will demand a just retribution when the time comes.

“That is why I have decided to send Mrs Hunter down by road, rather than let her run the risks of the journey by train. The horses are good ones, and ought to get you to Volksrust quicker than the rail; that is, of course, if they are not commandeered. If that were to happen, I suppose you would have to get to the nearest station. But I can leave that to you, Jack. You have an old head upon those broad shoulders of yours.”

“I’ll do my best, never fear, Mr Hunter,” Jack exclaimed. “And now about starting. I suppose we had better do so at once. Mrs Hunter can ride Vic, and Wilfred and I will take it in turns to get on Prince’s back.”

“Yes, I think you had better go at once, my lad. Mrs Hunter is ready, and Tom Thumb carried over a hamper of provisions to Ted Ellison’s last night. All I shall ask you to carry is this bag of notes and gold-dust. Wilfred has another, and Mrs Hunter a third. I shall stay here to look after the house and property, and to keep an eye on the mines. I have already asked for a permit, and ought to get it, as I am one of the oldest residents here.”

“By the way, Mr Hunter,” said Jack suddenly, “this is the 12th. Has the war begun yet? I suppose it has, as these Boer fellows seem to have been in readiness long ago.

“Yes, it has already opened with a sharp affair with an armoured train below Mafeking, and I am sorry to say our boys, under Captain Nesbit, V.C., were taken prisoners. The news has only just reached us, but it appears they made a gallant stand before they were taken, and accounted for a few of the Boers. They were running up from Kimberley to Mafeking, and suddenly came upon a part where the rails had been broken up. It was a regular trap, for the enemy had their guns already laid for it, and used them freely. Well, it is just the opening incident of a long campaign, that is all.”

By now it was quite dark, and after a tender farewell from her husband, Mrs Hunter and the two lads, Jack and Wilfred, slipped round to the stables.

A few minutes later the door was opened silently, and they issued out on to the veldt, Mrs Hunter and Wilfred mounted respectively upon Vic and Prince, while Jack walked alongside.

An hour and a half later Ted Ellison’s farm was reached. The heavy spring-cart was already standing in the yard, with the hamper stowed inside, and it took very little time to put the team in and hook up the traces.

“Now, Wilfred,” said Jack, who had all this time been thinking how best to arrange matters so as to ensure their safe arrival in Natal, “you hop up there and take the reins. When you get into the road, keep the team at a steady trot, and if anyone shouts to you in Dutch, answer them, and keep rattling on. You know their lingo, and that should be a great advantage. I am going to keep some way ahead of you, and shall scout on one side of the road first and then on the other. If you hear a whistle like this”—and Jack gave a low but peculiarly piercing and long-drawn-out whistle, which he had learnt from Tom Salter—“pull up at once, and wait till I tell you the road is clear. If I whistle twice, turn on to the veldt, and whip up till you are well away from the road.”

Having given his directions, Jack vaulted on to Prince’s back, and, leading Vic, turned away from the farm, after thanking Ted Ellison and his wife, who heartily wished them a safe journey.

For three miles they went at a slow pace, Jack riding close beside the cart. Then they struck across the main wagon-road to Natal, and Jack at once cantered ahead on the veldt. To all appearances he was a young Boer burgher bound for the wars, so that even if he did happen to run across anyone, he was not likely to be recognised in the darkness as an Englishman. Beneath his coat he still wore his bandolier, and his pistol under his waistcoat, while his rifle was firmly strapped to the side of the empty saddle on Vic’s back.

Mile after mile passed by without a single Boer appearing. Then the sky, which had been open up to this, became banked up with clouds, and very soon a heavy storm broke, thunder roared, and large, jagged forks of lightning flickered everywhere, lighting up the lonely road running across the veldt. Then the rain began to pour down in a heavy deluge.

Wilfred and Mrs Hunter were well provided with waterproofs, and Jack by this time was enveloped in his large mackintosh, only his head and his broad-brimmed hat being exposed, while the ends of the rubber sheet fell over his pony’s neck and quarters, and completely protected his legs.

Suddenly, as he was cantering silently along on the veldt, the only sounds being the noise of the thunder and the squish, squish of the ponies’ feet, a brilliant flash of lightning seemed to pierce the ground some yards behind him, and almost instantly a hoarse voice cried out: “Wie gaat daar?”

He cantered on, and a moment after heard Wilfred answer the hail, for it was evident that Jack himself had escaped discovery, while the team and cart, trotting along on the open road, had been shown up by the flash. Then there was a second hoarse hail, and an order for the cart to pull up. But Wilfred paid no heed, and instead whipped up his horses, and sent them flying down the road.

Jack meanwhile had turned to the left and then ridden back, well away from the road, till he was on a level with the cart. Then he turned towards it and pulled up. As he did so a second flash showed Wilfred standing up and using his whip freely, while two mounted Boers were galloping along on either side of the leaders, vainly endeavouring to pull them up. At last, however, finding themselves unsuccessful, and stung to madness by Wilfred’s whip, one of them lifted his rifle and fired at the near leader, bringing the animal to the ground like a stone. The others stopped at once, almost throwing Mrs Hunter and Wilfred out of the cart.

Seeing that there was likely to be trouble, Jack at once reached over and unstrapped his rifle. Then he galloped up to the cart, to find that Mrs Hunter had been roughly dragged on to the road, while the second Boer was hastily lashing Wilfred to the wheel of the cart. What his intentions were was evident, for at that moment he completed the lashing, strode away a few paces, and lifted his rifle to his shoulder.

“Stop that!” shouted Jack, pulling up close to him. “We are refugees and deserve fair treatment!”

In an instant the Boer, who was a fierce young fellow, swung round and fired point-blank at him, the bullet cutting a streak from the brim of his hat.

Jack’s answer was even more rapid. His rifle spoke out, and the Boer dropped prone on the road. Then he swung round just in time to duck and escape a second bullet from the other Boer, and before the latter could load again, Jack’s Mauser pistol had safely reached his hand beneath the mackintosh, and the muzzle of it just showed at the edge in front, directed straight for the man’s head.

“Drop your rifle!” he said sternly. “That’s it! Now take off your cartridge-belt! That will do! Stand over there in the road! Now, Wilfred,” he said, turning to his friend, “as soon as Mrs Hunter has set you loose, back the cart away from the leader and cut the harness. Then drive on, and I will catch you up.”

“Move on up the road in front of me,” he continued, addressing the Boer, “and if you attempt any tricks I’ll put a bullet through you!”

The young Boer evidently understood every word, for with a downcast air he set out along the road in the direction of Johannesburg, with Jack a couple of yards behind him. A mile farther on, when the storm seemed to have reached its height, and the thunder was roaring overhead in long, continuous claps, Jack quietly pulled up, turned on to the veldt, and galloped back, leaving his prisoner still marching on in blissful ignorance.

When he arrived at the scene of the recent conflict he dismounted, picked up both of the Boer rifles and bandoliers, and, mounting again, galloped away into the veldt, where he smashed the butts against a boulder.

“That fellow is safe to return as soon as he finds I have slipped away,” he thought, “and if I left the rifles the chances are he would follow and stalk me. That will settle him at any rate.”

Once more he cantered on, and caught up the cart about two miles along the road. Wilfred at once pulled up, and the two young fellows held a consultation.

“It was a piece of bad luck all through,” said Jack, with an exclamation of disgust. “If there had been light enough I should have seen those fellows, and could have warned you so as to avoid them. That flash of lightning just spoilt our chances. If it hadn’t been for that we should have got through. One thing is certain too, that if we had given in to them, and pulled up when they ordered us to do so, we should have had our cart and horses commandeered, and then we should have been in a nice pickle.”

“That’s just what I thought,” answered Wilfred. “I knew it meant that we were prisoners, or that the cart and team would go, so I held on and gave them a taste of the whip when they came alongside. My word, though, it was a precious near shave for us! I very nearly went flying on to the horses’ backs. But as it is, neither of us is hurt, thanks to you, Jack, old boy!”

“Well, it was a near shave,” agreed Jack. “That Boer’s bullet has cut a long slice out of my hat. I was sorry to shoot the poor fellow, but he brought it on himself, and certainly deserved it, for he meant to kill you. But now, about the other man. I took him up the road, and on the way back broke the rifles. I noticed, too, that both their horses had scampered away on to the veldt. For all that he is now on his way to the nearest station, and before two hours have passed the news will have been telegraphed down the road to Yolksrust, and the Boers will be on the look-out for us. What are we to do? We are sure to run our heads into a trap if we go on in this direction.”

“Why not bear to the right and strike into the road for Villiersdorp in the Orange Free State, and from there to Harrismith?” asked Mrs Hunter. “I have driven along it more than once. We can cross the Vaal by the drift (ford), and by taking that route shall put the Boers off the scent.”

“That’s a capital plan, Mrs Hunter!” cried Jack. “What do you think, Wilfred?”

“Yes, I quite agree with Mother,” Wilfred answered. “The Villiersdorp road will be the one for us, and once we get into the other state we shall be comparatively safe from molestation, for the burghers there are not nearly so bitter against us as are these Transvaallers.”

Accordingly the cart was driven off the road to the right, and then across the veldt in a south-westerly direction. Soon they bumped across the railway, and before dawn were on the other road. Driving along it a little way they came to a part which was covered with kopjes, and here, within easy distance of the road, they made a halt, pulling the cart into a deep donga (big water-course), where it was completely hidden. Alongside it they stretched out their mackintoshes on the sodden ground, and having waited till the day had broken, and satisfied themselves that no one was about, they lay down and fell asleep.

Three nights later they were in the neighbourhood of Harrismith without having met with any adventure of note upon the way, and on the following night they drove past Albertina, where they discarded the cart, leaving it for the first comer to appropriate, and pushed forward to Van Reenen’s Pass in the Drakenberg mountains. This they knew was already watched by a force of Free Stater Boers, but they were looking more for an invasion from Natal than for refugees endeavouring to slip through from their own country.

Jack scouted ahead, and having found the pass free of men, went back and informed his companions. Then they pushed on again, Wilfred leading one of the three horses and riding another, while Mrs Hunter boldly clung to the back of the third. A pitch-black darkness and heavy rain again favoured them, and they slipped through the pass and down to the plain below unchallenged.

Two hours later the welcome hail “Who goes there?” in healthy English, greeted them, and having shouted back “Friends”, they halted and waited for the cavalry patrol to give them permission to go on.

Soon afterwards they were in Ladysmith, and had found rooms at the hotel, where their arrival after their long and adventurous drive caused quite a sensation. But all three were too tired to do much talking. They snatched a hasty meal, and retired to bed, where they were soon sleeping the sleep of exhaustion.

There was no need for them to rise at dusk and set out again, for they were now in the British camp and in British territory, so that when Jack did wake, late in the afternoon, he rolled over again and dozed off for more than two hours longer. Then he turned out, shook Wilfred, who was asleep in a bed in the same room, and, accompanied by him, crossed the camp and indulged in a swim in a large pool of water where many of the soldiers were bathing.

“Now, what is the order?” cried Jack, when they had returned to the hotel and had sat down to dinner with Mrs Hunter, in a room in which many of the officers were dining. “I suppose you will go down to Pietermaritzburg or Durban, Mrs Hunter, and if Wilfred will escort you there, I will stay here for a day or two, and then make across to Kimberley. There may be something going on here during the next few days, and if so I should like to be in it.”

“Yes, that is what I shall do, Jack,” Mrs Hunter replied. “I have friends at ’Maritzburg, and will join them to-morrow. Probably any wounded there may be—and I fear there will be many of them, poor fellows, before long—will be sent down there to the hospitals, and if so I shall occupy myself in nursing them. I have had some experience, and I dare say everyone willing to act the good Samaritan will be welcomed.”

“Then I will take you down there, Mother,” said Wilfred, “and after that will go with Jack if I may. Father told me it was more than probable that he would be ejected from the Transvaal before long, for he has no direct connection with the mines. In that case he will come south, and I shall wait here on the chance of his doing so. We shall hear from him before long, and if he is able to remain in Johannesburg I shall go across to Kimberley and join Jack.”

“Very well, then, I shall expect you some day, but I think you will have to wait for the relieving force,” Jack said. “Kimberley is already closely invested, I have no doubt, and you would have no chance of getting in, for you do not know the country. I do, however, and now that I have had such practice at long-distance riding, I shall slip in if I can, and then volunteer to carry despatches either south to De Aar, or north to Mafeking. Later on, if the town is not relieved—and a long siege seems to be expected,—I shall get out again, and see whether I cannot join one or other of the relieving-forces which are certain to be sent. For the present I shall rest here a little while.”

Accordingly Jack made himself at home, and on the following day, when Wilfred and Mrs Hunter had departed, he turned out into the camp, and was not long in making friends with a number of young officers, and with some of the soldiers.

Ladysmith he found was much like other towns in the district. Its most prominent building was the Town Hall, round which there were clusters of stores and verandahed houses, mostly with tin roofs, which reflected the rays of the sun like a number of large mirrors. In and about the houses, and around the town, was a more or less treeless, open plain, while surrounding it on every side were ridges and mountains which had a most imposing effect.

Jack was soon in conversation with a young captain of the gunners, and with him he made a tour of the camps, thoroughly enjoying the sight of all the tents, wagons, and guns, and the hundreds of khaki-clothed soldiers bustling about in their shirt sleeves preparing the mid-day meal All seemed to be in the very cheeriest of spirits, and as Jack and his new friend passed amongst them he heard many a laughing allusion to “Old Crujer” and the Boers.

In one corner of the camp a game of football was going on, and the combatants, selected from two of the British regiments, were playing in their shirt sleeves with as much keenness and energy as they would have displayed at home before a crowd of onlookers. Here, however, there were only a few officers watching the game, and a sprinkling of other “Tommies”, smart, healthy-looking men, smoking their pipes and cigarettes, and making the most of the few days of ease which remained before a sterner struggle would demand all their strength and courage.

“Fine boys, aren’t they!” remarked the captain. “They are never so happy as when they are kicking a football, or joining in some sort of sport. I dare say if we have to stay here very long we shall hold a gymkhana, a kind of athletic meeting on a large scale, and then Tommy is in his element. Ah, they are jolly good fellows, and it’s a real pleasure to serve with them!”

Soon after this Jack said “Good-bye!” and returned to his hotel, where, after luncheon, he again turned in for a sleep, for he had ridden some four hundred miles in little more than a week, and still felt the effect of the fatigue.

Chapter Eight.

The Battle of Glencoe.

When Jack came down to breakfast on the morning following the departure of Mrs Hunter and Wilfred for Pietermaritzburg, there was only one vacant place in the cramped little dining-room of the hotel, and on taking his seat he found himself face to face with a young fellow some three years older than himself, who was dressed in civilian riding-costume which closely resembled the khaki uniform worn by officers.

He was a jovial-looking fellow, with clean-shaven face, laughing eyes, and a head which was covered with closely-cropped red hair.

“Good morning!” he said, as Jack sat down. “It’s not much of a breakfast this morning; but then what can you expect with so many of these lusty officers about. They’ve eaten us out of house and home. Well, they’ll fight all the better. By the way, what are you? Volunteer, Natal carbineer, or civilian? Excuse my asking, but I am a stranger here, and am anxious to get information.”

“Then you have come to the wrong man this time,” Jack answered with a smile. “I only arrived a day ago, and know simply nothing.”

“In that case I dare say I shall be able to teach you then. My name’s O’Farnel, Lord Edward O’Farnel, commonly known as ‘Farney’. If we’re both strangers we had better look round together.”

“Delighted, I’m sure!” Jack exclaimed. “I was wondering what I should do with myself. I only came through from Johnny’s Burg a few days ago, and before that I had ridden over from Kimberley; so you can understand I am a perfect stranger here.”

“That was a long ride,” said Lord O’Farnel. “Tell me about it, and what kind of an experience you had coming down. By all accounts some of the refugees had a terrible time of it.”

Jack at once complied, and before the meal was over found himself on most friendly terms with the young lord who sat opposite him.

“Now tell me something about yourself,” he said, when he had told O’Farnel how he had come down from Johannesburg, and how he had spent his time since arriving in Africa.

“Something about myself, is it?” replied his companion. “Well, there’s very little. I’m twenty-two or thereabouts, Irish, and have no profession. Away back in good old Ireland I’ve a castle and a mansion, and any amount of acres which bring me in about twopence halfpenny a year. Ah, it’s a fine place, and very good to look at, but ruination to keep up! I said ‘Good-bye’ to it three years ago, and since then I have been travelling round. Last year I went home for a week, thinking they’d be pleased to see me; but, bless your life, the old caretaker in the mansion was the only one who cared a jot. The others thought I had come for the rent, so the very next morning they had dug a grave in front of the hall-door and put an old black coffin near it with a notice on top, written in the best of Irish, advising me to clear out at once. Pleasant fellows! They’ve quaint ways about them, but they are good-hearted all the same.

“I took their advice and left at once, and then came out here to see what I could do at the mines. But Kruger and his friends had upset everything, so I went south to Durban for a time, and when there was a talk of fun up here I took the train and came on the chance of seeing it. But how to do it is the next thing. What do you think, Somerton?”

“I am going back to Kimberley very soon,” said Jack; “but if there is to be a struggle in this direction I shall stay for a time and join in if I can. I was told yesterday that volunteers are badly wanted, and that anyone could be taken for the Imperial Light Horse. But that would be more or less of a tie. I really don’t see why we should not take part in all the fun as simple volunteers. Have you a rifle and a mount?”

“Yes, I have a good pony and the usual rifle,” O’Farnel answered; “and what is more, my kit makes me practically the same as any of the volunteers. I have been here for the last week, and so can put you in the way of things. I know one of the officers in a regiment stationed here. Let us look him up. I dare say he could get whatever you want, and I should advise you to buy a suit of khaki and a pair of putties. Then we will see whether we cannot go along with the troops.”

Accordingly Jack and O’Farnel strolled across to one of the camps and were fortunate enough to find the officer of whom the latter had spoken.

“Hallo, Farney!” he exclaimed, as they stopped opposite his tent. “So you’ve come up here! I thought you were going to stay at Durban.”

“No, I’ve got a restless fit on, Roper, and have come to see what is doing here. This is Jack Somerton, a friend of mine. By the way, he wants to get some kit. Can you help him?”

“I may be able to,” answered Roper. “Come over to the quartermaster and we will see what he has to say.” When they reached the quartermaster’s stores, which were temporarily in a large tin house, they found that he had a complete kit to sell, one of the men having been killed on the way up to Ladysmith in a railway accident.

The clothes were just the right size for Jack, and he quickly became possessed of them.

“There,” said Roper, as he handed them to Jack, “it’s not exactly correct, you know. These should be sold by auction in the regiment. But no one wants them, and you have paid more than they would have fetched at a sale.”

“Now we want to know whether you can help us to see some of the fun,” said O’Farnel. “We will volunteer for anything so long as it does not tie us down.”

“Then I should advise your going farther north,” said Roper. “Here you are not likely to come in for much, for the Free Staters compel us to keep on the watch. But General Symons is at Dundee, up towards the north of Natal, about thirty miles away, and if you go up there you are certain to see some fighting. He has 4000 men, and he will strike the first big blow. Look here, Farney, I’ll give you a note to a fellow I know in the Hussars up there, and if there’s to be a battle, he will see that you both have a share in it.”

“Thanks, that will suit us capitally!” said Lord O’Farnel. “We’ll start as soon as you can give me the note, for it would be an awful disappointment to arrive too late.”

A few moments afterwards they returned to their hotel, where Jack discarded his shabby tweed suit and donned the khaki.

“There you are now,” said Farney, looking quizzically at him. “You look just like the ordinary ‘Tommy’, and will do. My word, though, I thought what a quiet-looking fellow you were before; but now, what with the rifle and bayonet and that broad-brimmed hat, you look a regular mountebank! But come along. There is nothing to keep us, and we may as well start north at once.”

Having paid their bills, Jack and his new friend, Farney, saddled up their ponies and took the road for Glencoe.

It was a long ride, but the road passed through some wonderful bits of rugged scenery, and about half-way up they fell in with an ammunition column, with a small escort, and an officer who proved a perfect mine of information.

“Oh, yes!” he said, when Farney asked him, “there’s going to be a big battle up this way within a very short time. We are stationed at Dundee to check the invasion. We cannot stop it, for I suppose there must be thirty to forty thousand Boers marching south, besides others threatening our communications with Ladysmith. But we are bound to make a stand somewhere, just to show the beggars that they cannot have things all their own way.

“I hear all the enemy came over the border on the evening of 11th October, and on Saturday they were at Newcastle. Since then they have been pushing slowly south, while hundreds of wagons have followed them. They mean business, do those Boers, and we shall have a pretty hard job to turn them out of Natal when reinforcements reach us.”

“Then you think we shall have to retire?” said Jack.

“I’m sure,” replied the officer. “Joubert is as cunning as a fox, and a clever soldier. He is marching in three columns. One came through Botha’s Pass, close below Majuba. The centre one has passed through Newcastle, and the third, on our right, is marching down the eastern border, and will no doubt make a dash to cut our communications. They are too many for us. We shall have a go at them, hammer them, and then retire to Ladysmith, where we shall entrench ourselves and wait for reinforcements, which will take some weeks to reach us.

“I suppose you fellows are going up as volunteers? There are lots more like you. If you have never been under fire, you will have that experience before long. It’s not so bad after all. Keep cool, and take, advantage of every scrap of cover. Keep an eye overhead, too, if you can. It is possible to dodge a shell, and the farther you can get away from it the better.”

It was late on the evening of 19th October when Jack and Farney reached the British tents at Craigside Camp, between Dundee and Glencoe, and close against Talana Hill, which was to be the scene of the next day’s battle.

A few enquiries soon brought them to the Hussar quarters, and having introduced themselves to Roper’s friend, by means of his note, they were both able to get a shake-down in a tent near by for the night, as well as a good meal.

They had had a long and tiring ride, and were soon asleep, wrapped in the blankets which each one had carried strapped behind his saddle.

Just as daylight dawned on the following morning they were startled from their sleep by a succession of loud reports, followed in a few seconds by the screaming of several shells overhead and by an explosion close at hand.

“By Jove, they’ve started already, so we’re in the nick of time!” exclaimed Jack, jumping up and rushing outside the tent, where he was joined by Farney. “What has happened?” he asked an officer, who was passing at that moment.

“Lucas Meyer has occupied Talana Hill,” was the reply, “and he is shelling us with six guns. Wait a few minutes! Our batteries are galloping out, and you will see how soon they will polish those beggars off!”

Hastily slinging their belts across their shoulders and picking up their rifles and blankets, Jack and his friend saddled their ponies, which had spent the night close by, and cantered out of the camp after the British guns, which had already taken up a position.

“That was a close one,” exclaimed Jack calmly a moment later, as a shell whizzed just above his head and plunged into the ground behind, where it failed to explode. “A foot lower and it would have knocked my head to pieces!”

“Ah, there’s many a slip!” laughed Farney light-heartedly. “Look at our fellows! They are giving our friends over there a good peppering.”

Jack turned to watch the British guns, of which there were twelve, and then directed the field-glasses which he had purchased in Ladysmith at the heights of the Talana Hill. There he could see six cannon belching forth sharp spirts of flame, but no smoke, for the latest ammunition was being used.

As he looked, the British batteries spoke out, and the reports were followed by a succession of blinding flashes close by the Boer guns.

For twenty minutes the storm of shell continued to fall, and by that time the enemy had ceased to fire, and their guns stood unattended.

By now the troops had poured out of the camp, and while some remained behind in case of an attack, the King’s Royal Rifles, a gallant corps commonly known as the 60th, the Dublin Fusiliers, and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, both regiments composed of stalwart, dashing Irishmen, fell in on the bugle-call, and formed up for the attack. Smart, bold fellows they all looked too, clad in their khaki uniforms, with belts, helmets, and buttons all of the same mud-colour. And true heroes they were soon to prove themselves, for the bugles now rang out the “Advance”, and in open order they set off for Talana Hill across a wide, sweeping plain, almost completely devoid of cover, and shortly to be swept by a murderous hail of Mauser bullets directed by unseen hands.

At this moment another Boer commando was reported advancing from the left, and the Leicester Regiment and a battery of guns was sent against them.

“By George, it looks as though we meant to clear that hill!” exclaimed Farney excitedly. “What shall we do, Somerton? Leave our horses and follow them, or stay where we are for a time?”

“Let us ask Preston,” said Jack, nodding to the Hussar officer who had befriended them on the previous night, and who galloped up at that moment.

“Look here, Preston,” Farney called out. “Somerton and I want to have a hand in this battle. What shall we do?”

“If you will take my advice,” Preston answered, “you will join us. The chances are you would be in the way over there with the regulars, and your ponies would certainly be picked off. We are going to form over by the shoulder of the hill, and when our boys have set the beggars running, we will gallop round and break them up. There will be some fun in it, and you may both of you just as well have a share.”

Accordingly Jack and Lord O’Farnel joined the Hussars and a body of mounted infantry supplied by the Rifle Regiments and by the Dublin Fusiliers.

Jack was mounted on Prince, and had left Vic behind, as it was unlikely that he would require two mounts.

They rode forward close in rear of the advancing regiments until the bullets began to whistle past them, while now and again some poor fellow tumbled forward on the ground. But undeterred, with never a backward glance or a thought of flinching, the three British regiments pushed forward, the nonchalance and absolute coolness of the men being superb. They acted just as if on a big field-day at home in the Long Valley, and as if sure that, within a certain time, and after firing so many rounds and marching a given number of miles, they would return to camp, and to a comfortable dinner which would await them.

Many of the men smoked pipes and cigarettes, and joked and called to one another as they advanced, but for all that, beneath all their dogged pluck and coolness, there was a certain restlessness, a nervous grasp of the rifle, and a keen look in their eyes which told that they had braced themselves for a determined effort, and that nothing, not even thoughts of sweethearts and wives and children at home, or even death, should deter them from mounting the slopes of the hill in front of them and putting the Boers to flight.

“By Jove, it’s fine to see them!” Farney cried, with a ring of pride in his voice. “Look at them now! They have opened out, and the foremost lines have reached the edge of the hill. Ah, now they are giving it to them! Volley-firing, regular and well delivered. Look at them now, Jack; they are pushing up the hill, and more of the poor fellows are dropping! Ah! who would now dare to say that my countrymen are disloyal? I know some of them have acted as blackguards at home, but they are the scum of Irishmen, while these soldiers are real, brave boys!”

By this time the three advancing regiments had commenced to climb the hill, and the batteries had galloped up to closer range, and were now pouring in a hail of shrapnel at the puffs of flame which told where the Boer marksmen were. On our side, too, the men were cunningly taking advantage of every stone and boulder, or bravely facing the hail where no cover existed, and from their rifles a steady discharge of bullets was kept up at the heights above.

And behind them, and right up in the firing line, with no time to think of cover, the army surgeons and the bearers of the Army Medical Corps were at work picking up the wounded, applying dressings, and carrying the poor fellows away with a coolness and bravery which matched that of the other soldiers.

But our lads were gradually creeping up the hill, and were now within 300 yards of the summit, where they lay down, and poured in murderous volleys at the Boers, while a few feet overhead a succession of screaming shells flew by, to plunge amongst the boulders a few moments later, and burst with an appalling roar, scattering death-dealing bullets on every side.

Gallantly did our brave fellows fight, and gallantly too did the Boer marksmen prove their devotion to their country. Struck down on every side, they still stuck to their posts, and in those last few minutes added numbers to our list of dead and wounded.

But British pluck, whether bred in England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales, or indeed in any of our colonies, was not to be gainsaid. With a roaring cheer and the shrill notes of the “charge” sounding along the hill, the British fixed bayonets, sprang to their feet, and made one rush for the summit of Talana, never pausing to fire, but trusting to reach the enemy and apply cold steel, the most terrifying death of all. But the Boers did not wait for them. Those that had held so stubbornly to the crest of the hill had performed their allotted task, for they had enabled their comrades to withdraw the guns and retreat in order; and now, springing from behind the boulders, they darted down the other side, a mark for the bullets of our soldiers.

Meanwhile the two hundred cavalry with whom Jack and Farney had thrown in their lot had been quietly walking their horses round the shoulder of the hill. As the infantry lay down for the last time before the charge, Colonel Moller, who was in command, gave the order to trot, and the little column swept round the shoulder, a Maxim gun on a galloping carriage trundling along in the centre. Arrived in sight of the reverse side of the hill, they halted for a few moments and waited for the flight of the Boers. Already they were retiring in ones and twos, but a minute later they came in a swarm.

“Draw swords! Trot! Charge! At them, my lads!” came in quick, sharp tones, and in a second the horsemen had opened out, and were going pell-mell across the open space.

Jack was close to Farney, and as, like the mounted infantry, neither possessed a sword, they had fixed their bayonets on their rifles, and holding the latter close to the lock, with the bayonet well advanced, prepared to use them as lances.

A moment later they were amongst the flying enemy, bullets singing about their heads and knocking men out of their saddles. But all the time the sabres were flashing fiercely in the sunlight, and Jack and his friend were using their bayonets to advantage. It was a wild ten minutes, and what happened during that time Jack never knew. Almost before he had expected it, Boers rose up in front of him and fired point-blank in his face. One bullet actually grazed his forehead and sent his hat flying, while another smashed his water-bottle to pieces. But he knew nothing about it at the time. Gripping Prince firmly with his knees, and keeping him well in hand, he leant forward in the saddle prepared to act at any moment. Suddenly a huge, bearded Boer stood in his way, half-hidden by a boulder, and, waiting till Jack was almost on him, pulled his trigger. What happened to the bullet Jack never knew; probably it went beneath his arm, for he found a slit in the sleeve after the fight was over, but the concussion and flash of light almost blinded him. Next moment with a hitch at the reins and a touch with his leg, given almost unconsciously, he was round the boulder and had plunged his bayonet into the Boer’s body.

Then he dashed on and set his pony full-tilt at three of the enemy who were standing close together and emptying their magazines into the troopers. One he despatched with his bayonet, a second was knocked senseless by Prince’s shoulder, and the third was cut down a second later by a man galloping along close behind Jack.

But many of the Boers had managed to reach their ponies, and were galloping away to join their friends; and after them the gallant little body of horsemen spurred, determined to teach them a lesson if they could only reach them. A mile farther on, as they were passing some rocky ground, a line of fire spurted out from some bushes, and Lord O’Farnel, who had kept close to Jack, was thrown senseless to the ground, a bullet having killed his pony. Jack at once pulled up and dismounted, to find his friend huddled upon the ground with one leg twisted suspiciously beneath him.

A glance told Jack that it was broken, and that it would be impossible to move his friend until something had been done. As a preliminary he straightened the limb out, and then turned Farney on his back and opened his collar. That done, he sprinkled some water on his face, obtaining it from his friend’s bottle, and looked round to see what had become of the column with whom they had charged.

They were out of sight, and it looked as though the two young fellows were alone, but the phit, phit of two bullets flying past his head, and the loud thuds and spurts of dust which followed, told him that some of the Boers were still in the neighbourhood and were firing at him. But he could see no one, though he searched all round. He and his friend lay in a wide hollow about half a mile across, and close to an isolated patch of boulders which cropped up in the centre.

“There are some Boers over there,” thought Jack, “and if I am not precious careful they will bag me. But I’m not going to get hit or taken if I can help it.”

Determined to make a fight for it, and protect his unconscious friend, he took Farney by the shoulders and dragged him across the ground as gently as possible till he was in a spot with an almost complete barrier of boulders round him. Then he called Prince and ordered him to lie down, which the obedient animal did at once.

A few moments later Jack himself was hidden behind the rocks, and was busied in loading his own and Farney’s rifle, and in laying cartridges close at hand. “That’s all right,” he muttered. “Both magazines are full, so I ought to give a good account of myself. Now I’ll pile up a few more boulders, or I shall be getting some of those bullets flying closer to my head than I like.”

Keeping his body sheltered as much as possible, he rapidly piled up pieces of rock till there was a complete breastwork round himself and Farney. Then he sprinkled more water on the latter’s face, and finding that he was recovering consciousness, repeated it till his companion opened his eyes, looked about him in bewilderment, and then smiled serenely at Jack.

“That you, Jack?” he asked. “What’s wrong with my leg? It feels quite dead; and where are the other fellows?”

“Oh, the others have gone on, Farney!” Jack replied, “and as far as I can make out your right leg is broken somewhere above the knee. We’re here alone, old chap, and about a dozen Boers are sitting down firing at us. But they can keep that up all day without doing us any harm. We are in a regular fort here.”

“Then you’ll have to defend it alone,” replied Farney, with a groan. “I’m just like a log. Half a minute though! Lend me that Mauser of yours. If they try to rush us, I shall be able to use that to some purpose.”

Jack, who was lying flat on the ground all this time, handed his pistol to his friend, and then raised his head carefully and looked round. As he did so he saw a white flag flying from a rifle barrel some hundreds of yards away at the edge of the hollow. He at once tied his own handkerchief to his rifle and waved it. Then he stood up and advanced to meet the Boer who had first shown the white flag.

“You are surrounded,” the latter said, “and so are all your comrades. Lay down your arms and surrender at once, or we will not be responsible for your life.”

“Surrender!” said Jack in reply. “I shall certainly not do that yet. You have been firing at me for a good half-hour without touching me. Let me advise you to clear off, or else you will find yourselves prisoners long before you take me. The English are close at hand and will be here soon. You had better get away as quick as you can.”

“Ah! we will see to that,” the Boer answered calmly. “I will give you five minutes longer, and if at the end of that time you have not agreed to surrender I shall give my men orders to shoot you like a dog.”

“Very well,” said Jack coolly; “but I should advise you to leave me alone and get away while you can.”

The Boer gave an impatient stamp with his foot and turned round brusquely, while Jack made his way back to his friend.

“They have called upon me to surrender,” he said, “and I have refused, and advised them to clear off whilst they can. They are to give me five minutes, and if I haven’t raised the white flag by then they will attack.”

“Well, what are you going to do?” asked Lord O’Farnel anxiously. “Don’t throw your life away, old boy. Mount your pony and make a dash for it! I’ll take care of myself.”

“Oh no, you won’t!” exclaimed Jack sharply. “You’re hurt, and I’m going to get you safely back to friends. I’ve two rifles and plenty of ammunition. These Boers will have to shoot pretty well to touch us here, and if they want to get closer they will have to cross the open ground. If they try that game I think I can promise to stop every one of them before they reach me. But when it gets dark I suppose the game will be up. If your leg wasn’t broken I’d make a dash for it.”

“Why not pack me up now?” asked Farney. “One rifle will be ample for you, for the magazine holds ten cartridges. Pull the lock out of the other, and tie my leg to it. I was shown how to make a gun splint by an army doctor and will put you up to the trick. Now open the lock, old boy. That’s it! Put the butt up under my arm and buckle it there with my belt. Now tie the leg to the barrel with my handkerchief and bandolier. That’s it! you’re a splendid surgeon, Jack. If you tie my other leg to the damaged one, you can do what you like without hurting me.”

Jack did as he was directed. Placing the butt of the rifle beneath the arm he secured it there with Farney’s belt. Then he made the injured leg fast to the barrel, and with his own handkerchief and belt lashed both legs together.

By this time more than five minutes had passed, and bullets had again begun to patter against the stones. But by dint of lifting a few more boulders into position Jack succeeded in constructing a few apertures through which he could see every part of the plain surrounding him. To reply to the shots directed against him was useless, for there was nothing but a series of faint puffs of flame to aim at. Still, he occasionally let off his rifle, to show the enemy that he was on the alert.

Lying flat on the ground, he crawled from side to side of the fort, keeping a particularly sharp watch in the direction in which the white flag had been shown. Suddenly he saw the flag lifted again, but this time it was waved rapidly to and fro, and then lowered. A moment later about a dozen dark figures burst from various parts of the ridge surrounding the hollow, and commenced to run towards him.

Leaning his rifle on a boulder, Jack took a steady aim and fired, the leader, who still carried the white flag attached to his weapon, falling forward on his face at once. Then he loaded again and picked off another of the attackers.

Within a minute he had discharged five more cartridges, his aim proving true on every occasion, so that as many as four Boers now lay motionless upon the ground, while three more were limping slowly away.

Then Jack made use of his magazine, and within as many seconds had shot two more of the Boers who happened to be close together.

The slaughter proved too much for the men who were attacking. At no time fond of exposing themselves in the open, they had dared it now knowing that only one rifle was opposed to them. But that rifle in Jack’s hands was a deadly one, and, astonished and dismayed at the accurate shooting and at the loss they had already suffered, the remaining Boers turned and fled for their lives, Jack sending a few parting shots after them.

“They will let us alone for a little while after that,” he exclaimed with a grunt of satisfaction. “Well, in a couple of hours it will be dark, and if they haven’t taken me by then, I shall make a bolt for it. Will you be ready, Farney?”

“Ready, old chap!” answered Lord O’Farnel with a gay laugh. “Of course I shall be! I dare say it will hurt a bit, but I don’t want to become a Boer prisoner any more than you do. But how are you going to manage? I shall be awfully in the way. Why not leave me, and when you have reached the camp, come back for me with a few others to help you, and a stretcher?”

Jack glared at his friend.

“Did I not say I was going to get you out of this?” he said brusquely. “I’m going to do it, and if you say another word I shall think you are afraid I shall hurt you!”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Farney. “Don’t get annoyed. ’Pon my word, for a quiet inoffensive young chap, you are quite the boldest I have ever met. Have a try at getting me out and you will not hear a groan from me. But I wish I could help you. It’s hateful to have to lie here and never fire a shot, whilst those fellows are sending showers of bullets at us.”

“Very well,” replied Jack in a softer tone, “wait till it is dark and we will get out of this. Half a minute, though. I think I shall be able to put these Boers off the scent.”

Giving a sharp look round to see that a second rush was not being made, Jack slipped out of the fort, and, opening his knife, commenced cutting a big armful of grass and weed which grew beneath many of the boulders. Then, still hidden from the Boers, he hacked at a small tree which stood near at hand, and crawled back to the fort dragging it after him. Bundling the reeds and grass into as close compass as possible, he bound them round with others. Then he cut the branches off the tree and thrust the slim pole it left up through the centre of his bundle. With his friend’s hat on top his dummy was completed, and a few moments later he had arranged a heap of stones with which to prop it up.

“There,” he said, surveying the reeds with satisfaction, “as soon as it gets dusk we will put that up. That will make them think I am still here, and when night really falls I shall lift you as well as I can, get on Prince, and ride away in the direction in which we were galloping. If they look for us anywhere, it will be towards the camp, so that by going the opposite way, and leaving our dummy up, we shall put them completely off the scent.”

“Well, you are a ’cute one!” chuckled Farney. “Put them off the scent! I should think it would! But you’ll find me an awful weight, old chap. Still, I’ve no doubt you’ll manage it. You’ve stuck to this business like a brick, and as you’ve said you’ll get me back to the camp I believe you’ll do it.”

It was already late in the afternoon, and the sun had sunk behind the sharp ridge of the Drakenberg range. But there was still sufficient light to see across the open ground to the circumference of the hollow, and since Jack had nothing more to do than to keep a good lookout, he opened his haversack and made a hearty meal of biscuits and a piece of cheese. Lord O’Farnel wouldn’t touch a mouthful. Poor fellow! though evidently suffering acute agony from his broken leg, he never allowed so much as a groan to escape him. But his knitted forehead and the perspiration on his face showed that he was in pain, which was so severe that, though he had not touched a morsel since the previous night, he refused even to nibble a biscuit. But he drank all that remained in his water-bottle, and seemed much refreshed.

“Now, I think it is about time to stick our dummy up,” said Jack, when it became so dark that the edges of the hollow were indistinct.

Slowly lifting the bundle, he perched it above the rocks, and wedged the stake between the stones; as he did so, a volley fired from some twenty rifles, showing that reinforcements had reached the Boers, was discharged at the figure, and a dozen or more bullets passed through it.

For ten minutes the firing continued and then slackened off, till it ceased altogether. By this time it was almost pitch dark, so that Jack determined to set off.

Prince was already on his feet, and having placed him close to a boulder which he could use as a mounting-block, he went across to Lord O’Farnel, slung his rifle across his shoulder, grasped his pistol in his right hand, after having slipped one arm under his friend’s legs, and, passing the other beneath his shoulders, lifted him gently from the ground.

“Put your arms round my neck,” he whispered. “Now hold on as tight as you can.”

Stepping across the fort, Jack mounted the boulder and seated himself on Prince’s back.

A touch with his heel sent the pony ahead, and soon they were out in the open, heading away from the camp.

About five minutes later Jack managed to hook his fingers in the reins and pull up, for the sound of approaching footsteps fell on his ear. Then two dusky figures slipped by in the darkness, and having given them time to pass on, Jack once more set his animal going. When he had ridden about a mile, and was well clear of the hollow, there was a sudden burst of firing behind him followed by fierce shouts, changing almost immediately to angry cries, which reached him distinctly in the still night air.

“Ah!” he thought, “the Boers have been fairly taken in, and have rushed the fort, only to find a dummy there. I expect they are mad with rage.”

Turning to the left, he now made a wide détour, and about two hours later rode into Craigside camp, utterly worn out with his exertions.

He was at once greeted with anxious questions as to the safety and whereabouts of the column with whom he and Lord O’Farnel had ridden. But his first duty was to his friend, whom he carried towards the hospital tent. Here he found all the surgeons who were not out on the elopes of Talana Hill searching for the killed and wounded, hard at work treating the cases that had been brought in. But they had time to look to Lord O’Farnel.

“What’s happened?” asked one of them, coming out of the tent and helping Jack to dismount with his burden. “Broken thigh? You’ve got that splint put on very nicely. Let us carry him in and look at him.”

A minute later Farney was lying on a stretcher, and the splint was being taken off.

But the poor fellow knew nothing about it. Up to that he had borne the jolting, as he was being carried in Jack’s arms, without a murmur, but when they reached the camp, his arms, which had been round his friend’s neck, relaxed, and he went off into a dead faint. Jack waited long enough to see his clothes removed and the limb set. Then he went out of the tent and strolled back towards the quarters he had occupied on the previous night, leading Prince with him.

“Hi! Somerton!” someone shouted at this moment, “where are you?”

Jack walked towards the sound, and was met by a young officer carrying a lantern, and at once recognised him as one he had met in the Hussar mess on the previous night, and who was pointed out to him as being on the staff.

“I’ve been sent after you,” the officer said, “to ask what has become of Moller’s horse. You and O’Farnel rode out with them, I know, but none of them has returned up to this, though we heard firing in their direction. It begins to look nasty. Do you think they have been trapped?”

“I should not be at all surprised if they have been,” Jack answered. “O’Farnel and I were cut off and surrounded about a mile beyond the shoulder of the hill, and the remainder of our fellows rode on still farther. Towards evening I also heard firing right away behind, and there was more than one gun at work. I fear they have been taken. The Boer flight was a ruse. They certainly, bolted from the top of Talana Hill, but once they reached their friends with the guns they must have rallied. I know we were surrounded by about twenty of them.”

“Then they have been taken,” exclaimed the young staff-officer with conviction. “It’s bad luck, and just spoils our victory. It was just like the plucky beggars to ride on when they must have known that hosts of Boers were near them. But how did you manage to get away, Somerton? Our friends didn’t let you go, I’m sure, and twenty to two, and one of those two wounded, is precious long odds to fight against.”

“Oh, they did their best to bag us!” answered Jack quietly. “But we played their own particular game. O’Farnel was knocked over and badly hurt, so I stopped to help him. Then, when the Boers began to fire, I dragged him behind the stones, built up a kind of fort round us, and banged at them in return. They told me to surrender, and I advised them to clear off. Then they made a rush, but that didn’t help them, for I was able to bowl several of them over long before they reached the fort. After that they got under cover again, and as soon as it was dark we slipped away, leaving a dummy stuck up on a stick to make them believe we were there. They made a splendid rush in the dark and captured it, and weren’t they wild when they found we had gone!”

“By Jove! do you mean to say you kept a lot of them at bay, and got clean away, bringing a badly-injured man with you?” exclaimed the officer. “Well, you’re a plucky beggar, and I shall tell our general. By the way, have you heard that poor General Symons was badly hit, and is now in hospital?”

“I haven’t heard anything,” Jack answered. “Tell me how many men we have lost.”

“Ah, it’s a big list!” answered the staff-officer with a sigh. “Ten officers killed and 22 wounded; 30 men killed and 150 wounded. It’s a big bill to pay for our success, but I suppose no bigger than one might have expected. I dare say there will be one or two more to add to it when the search parties have come in. They have been out a long time now, and the Boer prisoners we took are helping like bricks. They can fight, can those fellows, and our engagement to-day will teach both sides a lesson. We shall respect them more, and follow their tactics of taking cover; while they will have learnt that Rooineks are lads filled with any amount of pluck. By Jove! it was grand to see the way in which the 60th and the Irishmen went up that hill. They have covered themselves with glory, and to-morrow the whole world will be singing their praises.”

“Yes, they are fine fellows,” agreed Jack. “I thought it hardly possible that men could advance in the teeth of such a storm of bullets. But tell me what losses the Boers suffered, and what our movements are likely to be after this.”

“The Boers lost heavily. They must have done so,” answered the officer; “but exactly how many were killed and wounded it is impossible to state. They make it a rule to carry as many as they can away with them, and the list will never be published. Even in Pretoria they will never know. As to our future movements, I believe we shall retire on Ladysmith very shortly. In fact I expect it will be as much as we can do to get there at all. Even now our communications may have been cut, and we shall have to fight our way through. When we reach the base camp I hear we shall make a stand and entrench ourselves. If you are anxious to be cooped up there for a few weeks you had better join some of the Natal volunteers. If not, I advise you to get away as quickly as you can. Well, good-night, Somerton! I’m glad you showed your metal and brought O’Farnel out.”

“Good-night!” answered Jack, and then walked across to the tent, and having tethered his pony and brought him some water, snatched a meagre repast and lay down to sleep. Early next morning he went to see how O’Farnel was getting on.

As he reached the tent the surgeon in charge of the hospital emerged, and, recognising him, shook him cordially by the hand.

“My dear fellow,” he said enthusiastically, “O’Farnel has told us all about your gallant action. Let me congratulate you. It was splendid, and you have shown our enemies what one plucky youngster can do against a crowd of them. Your friend is doing nicely, and I fancy is longing to see you. He’s at the end. Take care not to lean upon the stretcher or you may disturb the splints.”

Jack thanked the surgeon for his congratulations, modestly disclaiming any praise for what he had done. Then he lifted the flap of the tent and entered.

“Hallo, Jack!” Farney sang out cheerfully from the farther end; “come here, my preserver, and let me thank you.”

“Oh, never mind that, Farney!” Jack replied shortly. “Tell me how you feel.”

“But I do mind, old chap!” persisted O’Farnel earnestly. “Jack, you are a real plucky fellow, and if you did not exactly save my life, you certainly kept me from becoming a Boer prisoner. It was fine the way you kept all those fellows away from our fort, and it was noble of you to stick by me. There, I know you don’t like my saying anything about it. Shake hands, old boy; but you’ll not forget that Farney is deeply in your debt, and will not be happy till he has repaid you.

“Now, I hear our fellows are about to retire. That means we shall be left here under the red-cross flag. What will you do? Go with them, I suppose?”

“Yes; I think I shall slip away now,” replied Jack. “They tell me all the troops are likely to be shut up in Ladysmith, and as I promised to go to Kimberley, I shall set out at once. Good-bye, Farney! You’ll get on well, I hope, and soon be about again.”

The two bade one another farewell, and, issuing from the tent, Jack returned to his own quarters and saddled up his ponies. Late that evening he arrived once more at Ladysmith, and took up his quarters at the hotel. Here he learnt that another big battle had been fought during that afternoon at Elandslaagte, and that a large number had fallen on both sides. Tired though he was, he at once rode back along the road to Dundee, and arrived at the scene of the day’s battle after covering some fifteen miles.

Then he joined a search-party, and all that night and on into the following morning he helped to bring in the poor fellows who had been wounded. Boers and British were picked up just as they were found, and treated with equal kindness. And all the while, as the searchers toiled amongst the boulders on the hill, thunder roared above them, and forked lightning lit up the scene, while a bitterly cold rain fell in torrents, soaking everyone to the skin, and increasing the troubles of the wounded.

The battle of Elandslaagte proved to have been almost similar to that of Talana Mill, and as stubbornly fought. Commencing as a mere reconnaissance under General French, it had developed into a pitched battle. As usual the Boers were hidden amongst the boulders of a huge kopje with two guns at the summit; and up the slopes of this, with shell from our own batteries pounding overhead, and a hail of bullets pouring down at them, the Manchesters, the Devons, and the Gordon Highlanders, assisted by the Imperial Light Horse, rushed with dauntless courage, capturing the position, and bayoneting those of the Boers who had not fled. Many of the enemy were thrust through and through by the lances of our troopers and by the sabres of the 5th Dragoon Guards, for our men were not likely to spare anyone when just before they had seen many of their own comrades shot down on the side of the kopje by a party of Boers bearing the white flag.

And all the time, while shells were screaming, and bursting to form a huge red blotch against the dark hillside, while men were gallantly forcing their way up to the summit, and others were shooting them down, a violent storm was raging, and sheets of water were almost hiding the combatants from one another.

And now, as Jack helped to find the killed and wounded, the thunder of the guns and the rattle of the rifles had ceased for good, and only fierce gusts of ice-cold wind and rain whistled across the ground and moaned and shrieked mournfully round the boulders. Late on the following day the list of killed and wounded was complete, and on our side included 4 officers killed and 31 wounded; a total which, with direct evidence from prisoners, went far to prove that the Boers purposely picked off our gallant leaders. Of rank and file we lost 37 killed and 175 wounded; while on the enemy’s side numbers were again uncertain, though more than 100 dead bodies were found, and amongst these that of their commanding officer. Many prisoners were taken, and one of them proved to be Colonel Schiel, an ex-German officer who had trained the Transvaal artillerists in the use of cannon.

Two days after the battle of Elandslaagte, Jack was back at Ladysmith, and having rested his ponies, he managed to secure places in a railway truck for them, and was rapidly conveyed to Durban. Here he engaged a passage in a steamer sailing in less than a week for Port Elizabeth, and, having stabled his ponies, took the train back to ’Maritzburg, where he called upon the Hunters, and took up his quarters with them for the short time which intervened before the ship was to sail.

Later on, full particulars from northern Natal reached him, and he learned with a thrill of pride that despite the numbers of the enemy who were endeavouring to cut off the troops at Glencoe, the latter had retired, under the leadership of General Yule, to Ladysmith, making use of the Helpmakaar road. It had been a dangerous and exceedingly trying march, and to make it possible all the wounded, including the gallant General Symons, who subsequently succumbed to his injury, had been left behind under the red-cross flag and in charge of our own army surgeons. And the Boers had shown that flag all due respect, and had indeed been most kind and humane to all our poor fellows.

To aid the retirement, General White had marched from Ladysmith and had fought an engagement at Reitfontein. Once the forces had joined hands they fell back on Ladysmith. A series of fiercely—contested engagements was then fought out, the British troops slowly retiring upon their camp before the advancing hordes of Boers. An unfortunate accident during this retirement resulted in the capture, after a gallant stand, of some thousand of our brave fellows. They lost their way in the dark, and the mules stampeded with their guns. Still, they occupied Nicholson’s Nek and fought to the bitter end, when, their ammunition having failed, they were compelled to surrender. On our side many were killed and wounded, and on the enemy’s, the losses were reported to have been exceptionally severe. But the Boers pressed on, and at length, after a few days of skirmishing and fighting, closely invested Ladysmith, and then marched on as far as Colenso and the River Tugela.

Then for days and days little was heard of the besieged garrison, save that they were continually bombarded by heavy guns, fired some five miles away, and to which the naval twelve-pounders and 4.7-inch guns replied, the latter having arrived with a naval brigade 500 strong just in the nick of time.

Once the Boers attempted an assault, during which they lost heavily. They were repulsed, and from that date, for many long weeks, they kept up a desultory bombardment, but never returned to the assault. And inside the camp the troops played football and polo, now and again varying the monotony of the siege by a gallant sortie, in which they destroyed more than one of the enemy’s guns. And thus we will leave them for a time, boldly holding their own, while we return to Jack Somerton.

Chapter Nine.

A Dash for Kimberley.

“Well, Jack, what do you think of doing now?” asked Mrs Hunter, as soon as the incidents of Talana Hill and Elandslaagte had been narrated. “Do you intend to do as you had arranged, or will you stay here? I have already put my name down as a nurse, and Wilfred is longing to accompany you to Kimberley, or wherever you decide to go. A letter reached us yesterday from Mr Hunter, in which he says he is to be allowed to remain for the present at Johannesburg, but for how long he cannot tell. Wilfred is to do as he likes, he writes, and since every loyal man in the colony is needed, I will not attempt to dissuade him from joining the troops. England is fighting for freedom and peace, but also for the Uitlander population, and in my opinion every one of those capable of bearing arms should help in the good work.”

“I am going straight up to Kimberley, Mrs Hunter,” Jack replied, “and have already taken a passage to Port Elizabeth, whence I shall go by train as far as De Aar, if that is possible. Once I reach that place I shall ride during the night, and endeavour to slip into the town. Of course the Boers are all round it by now, but others I have no doubt will be able to slip in and out, and I mean to do the same, and once there I shall volunteer as a despatch-rider. It will be exciting work, and suited to my tastes, and the fact that I know the country well all round, and between Kimberley and Mafeking, will help me considerably. If Wilfred likes to come, we will make the attempt at slipping in together, but after that he will have to stay in the town till it is relieved.”

“That will suit me, Jack, old chap,” Wilfred replied eagerly. “The garrison is not likely to sit down and do nothing. There will certainly be exciting times, sorties and so on, and I should like to join in it all. When shall we start?”

“The ship sails in three days, Wilfred. We will telegraph down for a berth for you. By the way, you will want a good mount. One pony will be sufficient.”

“Then I am already set up,” said Wilfred. “Our friends here told me they could let me have a reliable pony whenever I liked to ask for him. Since coming down here I have obtained a complete campaigning kit and a Lee-Metford rifle and bayonet. So I am ready to set off just whenever you like.”

Three days later, therefore, the two lads—or rather, young fellows they should be called, for both stood well above five feet nine inches in their boots, and were broad-shouldered and muscular in proportion—set out for Durban, and having embarked there, arrived in due course at Port Elizabeth, having had a pleasant sail.

An hour after landing they were in the train, and after many long stops and tedious delays arrived at De Aar, a town where there was a small force of troops, and which was likely before long to be a station of some importance, for it was filled with vast military stores, and truck-loads were still arriving.

Here they learned that the Boers had already crossed the Orange River and were invading Cape Colony.

Jack and Wilfred took up their quarters for the night at a small hotel, and having washed, and enjoyed a hearty meal, they lit up their pipes and strolled through the town.

Then they returned, and were chatting with the owner of the hotel when a stranger, to all appearance an English colonist, entered, and without invitation joined in the conversation.

“Warm evening, landlord!” he exclaimed. “The kind of evening that makes one thirsty! Let me have a bottle of something good, and perhaps these gentlemen will join me. All Englishmen are comrades in these times.”

Jack and his friend were naturally surprised, but they had already experienced that sense of brotherhood in the colony now that war had commenced, and rather than offend the stranger they consented to join him, with an expression of their thanks. A moment later the landlord returned with the liquor, and as he placed it on the table and prepared to draw the cork of the bottle which contained it, deliberately nudged Jack, and nodded significantly at the stranger, whose back happened to be turned. Jack was puzzled, but passed on the nudge to Wilfred; then the three sat down and chatted. For half an hour the stranger plied his two guests with all sorts of seemingly careless questions, casually asking them where they were going, and whether they belonged to the volunteers. But the nudge the landlord had given had warned Jack and his friend to be on the alert, and to all the questions they gave incomplete or totally incorrect answers. Then the stranger left, and the landlord came from behind his counter and explained the mystery.

“I don’t know what you two are here for, or where you are going,” he said, “and if you will take my advice you will keep everyone you meet in the same ignorance. That fine chap is a Boer spy, paid with Pretoria gold, and I can tell you this whole colony holds heaps more like him. So my advice is, keep all your own affaire to yourself. Supposing you two wanted to get into Kimberley, and had told him so, thinking him to be a colonist, as he certainly looks, he’d have set the Boers on your trail, and you’d find yourselves prisoners before you could look round.”

Jack and Wilfred took the warning to heart. They had heard that spies were to be found everywhere, even in England itself, so lavishly had the Transvaallers spent their money, and so carefully had they prepared their plans. But they had never met one before, and to find him in the guise of a loyal colonist was a surprise, though, if they had only given the matter a thought, they would have seen that that was the most probable appearance he would assume.

On the following morning Jack and his friend paid their bill and rode off from the hotel.

“I vote we go in the opposite direction from Kimberley, and take the road for Hanover,” said the former as they trotted out of the yard. “That spy may be somewhere about. Yes, there he is! Good-day to you!” he shouted. “We’re off. See you to-night, perhaps.”

The stranger shouted back “Good-day!” and watched them ride out of the town.

“Now he’ll sneak off to the hotel and ask the landlord whether we are coming back,” laughed Wilfred, “and I’ll be bound our friend will answer that we are. Well, we ought to get away from him easily enough. Look, Jack! there are two other fellows riding ahead of us. Let us slip into this farm and hide up in an outhouse. If he really is a spy he will follow before long, and we will let him pass and slip off in the opposite direction.”

Accordingly they turned into the farm, and having entered a cattle kraal which was close to the road, they glued their eyes to the chinks between the boulders of the wall, and waited to see what would happen. Five minutes later there was a sound of galloping hoofs, and to the intense delight of Jack and Wilfred, their host of the previous evening clattered past, with his gaze fixed on the two distant horsemen, who were now almost out of sight.

A little later they emerged from the kraal, and, crossing the road, cantered off across the veldt in the direction of Kimberley. For ten miles they kept on without a halt. Then they drew aside from the road to Hope Town, which they had lately followed, and bivouacked in a dense copse of eucalyptus-trees.

“Now, Wilfred,” said Jack, “out with that piece of beef we brought with us. I’ll get a fire alight, and we’ll have a good meal. Probably it is the last good one we shall be able to eat for some time, and cooking it will help to pass the hours between this and nightfall. We’ll push on then, and we shall have to go carefully, for there are numbers of Boers hereabouts.”

Wilfred at once opened his haversack, while Jack gathered a few twigs and lit a fire between some boulders. Slices of beef were cut, and having been toasted in front of the blaze, were placed on pieces of bread and eaten with great relish. Then they lit up their pipes and smoked, one or other of them occasionally getting up to have a good look round.

Late in the afternoon Jack sighted some horsemen, and as these might be a party of the enemy, the fire was trampled out, and the two crawled to the edge of the trees and looked out. The road ran within twenty feet of them, and very soon ten men, who were undoubtedly Boers, passed by them, laughing, and evidently quite unconscious of the presence of two of the hated Rooineks. And in the centre of the group of horsemen was the English colonist who had made himself so agreeable to them the night before.

“Ah! there is no doubt about his being a scoundrel,” whispered Jack. “Well, we shall know what to do if we meet him in an English town after this; and if I happen to ride this way with despatches I shall certainly call at De Aar and warn them there. Now I think we may as well take it in turns to have a sleep. We’ll start again at nightfall and cover about fifty miles. Then we’ll lie up in a quiet spot I know of, and the following night we ought to get through to Kimberley.”

“All right, Jack! you turn in, and I’ll take the first watch,” answered Wilfred jovially. “I’ll wake you in a couple of hours.”

Accordingly Jack lay down, and, like a hardened campaigner, fell asleep at once. Two hours afterwards Wilfred took his turn, and after a short nap was awakened. Then, saddling their ponies, they turned out of the eucalyptus-trees and started on their long ride.

Before dawn they were securely hidden in a donga, in the midst of a group of small but steep boulder-strewn kopjes, and there, feeling secure from observation, they lay down in their blankets beneath the shade of a huge rock and fell asleep.

When darkness fell again they proceeded on their journey, and a few hours later swam their ponies across the Modder River. It was risky work, but to have attempted to cross by the railway-bridge or at the drift (ford) would have led to certain discovery, for both places were closely watched by the Boers. Instead of that, they had made a wide détour, and crossed at a bend in the river where the stream ran very slowly. Then they turned their faces towards Kimberley, and pressed forward, hoping to reach the beleaguered town an hour or more before daylight.

They were now in a country overrun by Boers, and they therefore rode in silence, with their bayonets fixed and the magazines of their rifles filled, but without a cartridge in the breech, for the accidental pressure on a trigger might easily have betrayed them. Five miles farther on, the flash of the search-light caught their eyes as it slowly swept a broad beam across the veldt surrounding the town.

“Turn to the left—quick!” whispered Jack. “Now get in under this boulder. It would never do to stand out in the open. That light would show us up at once.”

A minute or two later the electric beam had passed by, and they pushed on once more.

“That is Frank Russel’s farm over there,” said Jack, a quarter of an hour later, as a house loomed up on their left. “He is evidently standing by his property, and trusting to the Boers to leave him alone, for you can see the lights in his windows—Hold on a moment, Wilfred! What was that? I thought I heard shouts.”

“Sounds to me like a concert or something of the sort going on,” answered Wilfred, pulling up alongside Jack and listening intently. “Yes, I’m sure of it; there are a lot of fellows singing together.”

“Then they must be Boers, Wilfred! Frank Russel is an oldish man, steady and quiet, and he would never think of entertaining a party of rowdies, especially if they belonged to the enemy. He held a good position at home, but something caused him to come out here with his wife, where he has lived for about twenty years, cattle-ranching and farming. Tom Salter and I have had a cup of tea with him many a time. His wife is dead, and he has a rather pretty daughter, who runs the home for him. I wonder what is going on over there? Frank is loyal to the backbone, and would never think of harbouring one of England’s enemies.”

“Ho, ho! There’s a girl there, and a pretty one too, is there, Jack?” Wilfred chuckled. “Well, if you think that something is happening to them we may as well go over and investigate.”

“Just what I think, Wilfred. I don’t like the look of things. Either Frank has changed his mind and gone into Kimberley with Eileen, or the Boers are ill-treating them. Keep close beside me, and we’ll see what’s up. I know every foot of the ground round here, and will see that we do not fall into a trap.”

Jack at once touched his pony with his heel, and in absolute silence the two moved forward towards the farmhouse. It consisted of one small building, surrounded by a neat English flower-garden, and lying isolated in the middle of the veldt, the outhouses and sheds for cattle being at least a mile away.

As they rode up to it on the soft noiseless turf, the sound of uproarious singing became louder, and was interrupted by bursts of hoarse laughter.

“Hold on to my ponies,” whispered Jack, when they had reached the edge of the garden. “I’ll be back as soon as I’ve seen what is going on.”

Slipping to the ground, he passed the reins to Wilfred, and, climbing the iron railing which fringed the garden, stole across the beds towards the house. At the door a number of ponies were standing, knee-haltered, and picking the grass from the borders of the garden. Jack got close up to them and made sure that they were animate belonging to the Boers. Then he crept up to one of the windows, and peered in beneath the blind, which was only partly drawn.

The sight which met his eyes caused him to give a start, while an exclamation of anger escaped his lips, for Jack was a kind-hearted lad, and to see anyone wantonly inflicting pain upon a fellow-being, or indeed upon any dumb animal, was hateful to him, and doubly so when, as in this case, it was a helpless girl who was being tormented.

As he looked into the room, which was lit by a hanging lamp, he saw Eileen Russel standing, violin in hand, in the opposite corner, the very picture of terror, grief, and despair, playing an air which had been popular in Johannesburg a few months before; while, seated round a table, in all sorts of attitudes, were ten men, shouting the chorus in a mixture of Dutch and English which grated on his ear.

Jack watched them closely, and recognised with another start that the man in the centre, leaning back in his chair, with his legs upon the table, was none other than the dapper English colonist who had questioned them so closely at De Aar.

Satisfied with his inspection, he slipped back again, and a moment or two later stood by Wilfred’s side.

“We’re going to stop here for a little while,” he said shortly. “There’s a bit of bullying going on over there. Bring the ponies round into the garden, and we’ll tie them up at the back of the house.”

Wilfred looked searchingly at his friend, but recognising from the resolute tone that Jack meant every word he said, he sent the ponies ahead, and soon had them at the back of the farmhouse.

“Look here, Wilfred,” said Jack brusquely, as soon as the animals were fastened to the rails, “there’s a scandalous piece of business going on in there. That spy fellow from De Aar is chief of the gang of Boers, who are ill-treating Eileen Russel. She and her father have shown me many a kindness, and I am going to repay it. There are ten of them altogether. If you don’t like the job you can slip outside and wait till I’ve done with them.”

“Of course I like it,” Wilfred whispered back indignantly. “Shut up, Jack! If there’s a row on, of course I shall help you!”

“Then, come along, but don’t do anything till I give the word.”

Stealing across to the window, they raised their heads and looked in, to find the Boers in much the same position, except that most of them were drinking the contents of long tumblers of whisky and water, which “Tim”, a faithful Zulu servant of the Russels, had just placed in front of them. Eileen had stopped her playing, and stood in her corner looking like a hunted animal, while tears trickled down her cheeks.

“Here, you black animal! Go and fetch me some more drink,” shouted the Boer leader at this moment. “Do you hear? Get away with you! Now, Miss—what’s your name, play ‘God Save the Queen!’ You’ll not have many opportunities of doing so after this, for England’s going to the wall, and that old tune will soon be forgotten. Now then, strike up, and let it be sharp and merry.”

The spy gave vent to a coarse laugh, shouted once more at the trembling girl, and gulped down a glass of spirit which “Tim” placed close to his hand at that moment.

But, like her father, this delicate English girl was loyal-hearted and true to her beloved queen and country. Her head, which had drooped before this, was now held proudly erect in the air; she faced her tormentors steadily, and in a voice which scarcely quivered, refused to play any more for them.

“No,” she said firmly, “I will not play our national anthem for you. You would only jeer at it, like the cowards you are. One of these days you and all your countrymen shall be proud to call yourselves subjects of our queen, and will sing in all earnestness that sacred song you now ask me to play!”

“None of your threats! Do as you’re told!” snarled the Boer leader angrily. “It will be many a long year before your queen claims a single one of us as a subject; but let me tell you, miss, it will be only a very few minutes before this ugly-looking thing does you a mischief, if you refuse to play ‘God Save the Queen’!”

As he spoke the villain snatched a Mauser pistol from his belt and held it pointed at Eileen’s head.

Jack’s teeth ground together, and, quickly slipping a cartridge into his rifle, he covered the Boer leader, and was on the point of pressing the trigger when Tim, the gallant Zulu boy, his eyes glaring with rage, rushed at the man and struck him from his chair. He was seized at once, and held in front of the villain who had dared to threaten Eileen, who again lifted his Mauser, placed the muzzle against the poor fellow’s head, and held it there a moment, so as to prolong the agony of fear, ere he pressed the trigger and sent Tim to his last account.

That pause proved the latter’s salvation, while to the Boer it meant a sudden death. Jack, who had kept him covered, thrust the end of his rifle through the glass and fired, dropping the villain in his tracks. Then shouting: “Give it to them, boys!” he opened his magazine and poured a hail of shot into the house, taking care to miss Tim and Eileen Russel.

Startled by the shot and alarmed by Jack’s shout, which seemed to show that there were many there besides himself, the Boers started to their feet and rushed through the door. A minute later they were flying away across the veldt, leaving four of their number lying dead upon the floor of the farmhouse.

Jack and Wilfred at once ran round to the door, which stood wide open, and stepped in.

“Don’t be frightened, Eileen,” said the former soothingly. “Those cowards have bolted, and you are safe for a time at least. What has happened to your father?”

“Ah! is that you, Jack Somerton?” the poor girl asked in a dreamy way, as if she were not quite certain that her eyes had told her correctly—“Jack Somerton, the young Englishman who used to come here with our old friend Tom Salter?”

“Yes, it’s Jack all right, Eileen,” he replied. “Now tell me how those villains happened to find you here alone.”

Eileen Russel stepped forward from her corner, and, grasping Jack by the hand, gazed searchingly into his face, as though she was still uncertain of his identity. Then she suddenly sat down in a chair, and, hiding her face in her hands, sobbed as if her heart would break. But it was merely the reaction after the terrible hour of torment she had suffered, and, cheered by a gentle pat on the back from Jack’s strong hand, she soon regained her composure and dried her eyes.

“Father is here, Jack,” she exclaimed eagerly. “He is down below in the cellar, where Tim and I hid him. He is wounded—badly, I fear. Those Boer cowards rode up here just before daylight, and ordered Father to come out and be taken before their leader. Father asked what they wanted with him, and they shouted back that this part of English territory had been annexed by the Boers, and that as an old inhabitant he was bound to fight for them now that he was no longer a subject of the queen.”

“‘Get away from here at once,’ Father shouted back, as soon as he had heard what they had to say. ‘I am a British subject, and shall be to the end. None of your republics or presidents for me! Clear off, all of you; and if one of you dares to attempt to come in I will shoot!’

“The Boers laughed at his threat, and attempted to beat in the door, but Father was as good as his word, and shot one of them at once. The others poured a volley into the house, and one of the bullets passed through the wall and wounded Father in the shoulder. Then the Boers made a rush, and began to force the door open, and as we knew that they would have little mercy for Father, Tim and I hid him away in a cellar down below, which he had constructed to keep stores and ammunition in. Then we lowered the trap-door and placed the table over it.

“They broke in a few minutes later, but, failing to find him, thought he had escaped through the window. Then they forced me to play my violin, and just as I thought they would shoot Tim or myself, the leader fell dead and the others ran for their lives.”

“Well, you are safe for the present at least,” answered Jack. “Sit down there, Eileen, and rest yourself. We will get your father up again. Those fellows will not be coming back yet awhile, so that we need not fear a surprise. Now, Wilfred and Tim, lend a hand and pull up this trap.”

A minute later the table had been removed to one side, and Jack was clambering down into the cellar, Tim lowering the lamp after him. On the boarded floor he found Frank Russel lying upon his back, and making feeble efforts to rise, for the reports of Jack’s rifle had roused him from unconsciousness.

“Where am I? What has happened?” he asked. “Hallo! is that you, Jack! Where’s Tom Salter?”

Then he suddenly remembered the Boers and sat up with a jerk.

“Ah! what has become of those brutes?” he demanded, clutching at the rifle which had been placed beside him, while his face flushed red with rage.

“Now don’t worry about them,” said Jack kindly. “They’ve bolted, and Wilfred and I arrived here just in the nick of time. Let us get you up on top and look at the wound. When that is seen to, we will discuss the situation.”

Frank Russel was still too much dazed to offer any resistance, and was soon carried up the ladder and laid on a bed. Then Jack opened up the seams of his jacket, and cut away the shirt over his left shoulder. A close inspection showed two little blue wounds, the size of a pea, one in front, and one behind where the Mauser bullet had made its exit. There had been scarcely any loss of blood, and luckily no bones broken. Eileen meanwhile had produced a basin of cold water and a soft towel, and with this they dressed the wound and bandaged the shoulder. A stiff glass of spirits pulled Frank Russel round, and now that he was over the first shock, he very quickly became himself again, for he was as hard as iron, and accustomed to the rough life of a colonist. Ten minutes later he was standing up lighting a big pipe, and even using his left hand, so little pain did his wound give him.

“Now tell me all about it, Jack Somerton,” he said, puffing big clouds of smoke into the air with the greatest satisfaction.

As soon as the brutal action of the Boer spy and his friends had been narrated, and followed by a description of their flight, Frank Russel sprang to his feet and shook Jack and Wilfred heartily by the hand.

“My lads,” he said in a husky, trembling voice, “you’ve won the deep gratitude of old Frank Russel. I’d sooner see every Boer in Africa dead than hear that one of them had ill-treated my darling child. Ah! she’s all I have left since the wife went to her home above, and a good, dutiful, and loving girl she is! Come here, Eileen dear, and kiss your father. You’ve had a close shave, and but for these brave Englishmen that brute would have murdered you. And Tim, too, has proved a faithful boy. Well, he shall not regret it, for from this day he shall never have a fear for his old age. I will give him sufficient to ensure his independence.

“But now we have other things to think about. Kimberley is closely besieged, and though we are only five miles away we are surrounded by hosts of Boers. They will be back here soon, and then it will be all up with us.”

“Why not ride off at once?” asked Wilfred. “There are four of the Boer ponies outside, and Jack and I have our own.”

“It would be useless,” replied Frank Russel, with a vigorous shake of his head. “Those fellows have already warned the whole district, and by this time we are closely surrounded. Look away over there. That small light is their signal, and it is flashing a message in the darkness which every Boer can read. No, I fear it is all up with us. I’m sorry, lads; you two would have got in safely if you hadn’t come along in this direction and helped us in our trouble. If there was a chance of your succeeding now, I’d say go at once and leave us. But there isn’t, not the slightest, and it’s only fair to say so.”

“We must make the best of matters as they are,” remarked Jack coolly. “A week ago I was in a fix which was every bit as awkward. I’m not going to be shot or taken prisoner yet awhile if I can help it, and if you all feel the same I propose we make a fight for it.”

“Ah, I’d fight if I had a chance!” growled Frank Russel. “But it’s no use here. They would be a hundred to one against us.”

“Wait a minute, Mr Russel,” exclaimed Wilfred, who had an unbounded faith in his friend’s sagacity. “Let us hear what Jack has to say. I’m like him, and don’t mean to fall into the Boers’ hands without a struggle.”

“Ah, well! what is it, Jack?” answered Frank. “But you’d best be quick about it, for those fellows will be getting close to us by this.”

“I’ve said I am going to make a fight for it,” exclaimed Jack, “and I mean to do so, for from what I have seen and heard, our enemies have the greatest dislike to attacking in the open. It is too risky for them, and is apt to lead to fatal consequences, as I have already been compelled to show them. Now this house stands clear out on the veldt. There is not even a boulder within half a mile of us, and therefore no cover. It is true that at close quarters a Mauser bullet will pierce these walls, but at long range it will not come through. Let us make a stand here. But, first, have you plenty of cartridges, Frank?”

“Heaps, lad, heaps! ’Pon my word, I like this idea of yours! But where is it going to end? We’ve a pump and water in the house, and plenty of food and ammunition; but we cannot hope to keep them out for long, and they are certain to rush us in the darkness.”

“Yes, they will do that,” Jack agreed, “but they have got to get inside the house before they can hurt us, and we shall have something to say to that. Now before talking about the means of defence, let us send Tim off to Kimberley. He is the only one who could possibly get through. That will be our only hope. We are in the direction of the railway, and not too far from the town for a sortie to reach us. Now, Tim, will you go?”

Tim at once signified his willingness.

“Then off you go!” exclaimed Jack. “Quick! There is not a moment to be lost! When you get into the town ask for Tom Salter, and get him to take you to the ‘Baas’. Tell him what trouble we are in, and ask for help to be sent us.”

The plucky Zulu boy at once stepped to a corner of the room, snatched up an assagai with an enormous blade, and, shaking a farewell with it, darted out through the doorway.

“Jack, you’re one of the right sort!” exclaimed Frank Russel when Tim had disappeared. “I’ve looked at this idea of yours from every side. If they take us now or later on it won’t make much odds to me, for they will treat me as a rebel; while you two and Eileen will just be prisoners. We’ve a chance of beating them off till help reaches us, and so sure as I’m a true Englishman we’ll have a try at it.

“You’ve settled the matter up to this, so go on with it. I’m an older man, and perhaps more used to these fellows, but I’m sure you could beat me in slimness. Now out with it, lad, or those Boers will be on us before we are ready.”

“Very well, then,” Jack replied, “let us set to work. We must break up some of this furniture. We want a couple of hammers, a saw, and some big nails. Have you got them?”

“Yes, close handy, Jack. Eileen, fetch the bag, like a good girl, and bring the axe along.”

“Now break up the table and nail the boards across the window, Wilfred,” continued Jack. “Frank and I will see to the door. It must be firmly closed. Wait a minute, though, our ponies may be of some use to us. I will slip out and bring them in.”

Jack opened the door and ran round to the back of the house. A minute later he returned and led in the three ponies, taking them to a small kitchen. Then he brought in two of the Boer ponies, and drove the others out of the garden on to the veldt. That done, he shut the door, bolted it, and nailed two heavy uprights against it. A quarter of an hour later all the windows were firmly barricaded, a niche about three inches wide having been left between the planks through which the rifles could be pushed. Then with an auger he drilled a number of holes through the walls all round the house, driving three of them so as to form a triangle, the sides of which he completed with a chisel, thus forming apertures about five inches high and as much in breadth, which would give them a good view across the veldt.

“Now we’re ready,” he said, when all was at last completed, “and I expect we shall have the Boers here soon. Eileen, you had better go down into the cellar, I think, so as to be out of danger.”

“Thank you, Jack!” she answered calmly. “This house will require every rifle we have to defend it. I have used one many a time, and I shall stay up here and help you.”

“Brave girl, and it’s like you, dear!” exclaimed Frank Russel. “Stay if you wish, for we’ll not deny that three is a small number to garrison this place. I suppose we had better take our posts now. One at each wall will be the thing. Remember, it’s steady, quiet shooting we want, and only use the magazine when they make a rush. That will be our trouble. It wants more than three hours before we shall get daylight, and until then we shall have to trust to our ears to tell when the Boers get close to us.”

“Have you got a bell here?” Wilfred suddenly asked.

“Yes, there is one in the kitchen,” Eileen answered, “and the handle is just outside the door. We are the only colonists hereabouts who possess such a thing.”

“Then we’ll beat them yet!” cried Wilfred. “They are certain to ride into the garden through the opening in the rails. Open the door, Jack; and give me a long piece of string, someone. I’ll slip outside and run it from the bell-handle to the rails and across the opening. Then the first man who rides in will jerk it, and the bell will give us a warning.”

“Good, lad, good!” exclaimed Frank Russel with a grunt of satisfaction. “That will just save us. Set about it as quick as you can.”

Five minutes later Wilfred had carried out his plan, and not content with running a cord from the bell-handle across the opening into the garden, he passed others completely round the railings, so that anyone attempting to climb them, or pass through them, would almost certainly come in contact with one or other of the strings and warn those inside the house. Then he joined his friends again, and the door was safely nailed up as before.

About half an hour later, when the night had lifted a little, there was a faint tinkling of the bell, and Jack, who had chosen a position commanding the front of the house, caught sight of a dusky figure at the opening to the garden. His rifle spoke out instantly, and with a shriek of pain the man disappeared.

After that there was silence for many minutes, and then the bell jerked feebly once or twice, and afterwards pealed loudly.

“There are a crowd of them in front of me,” whispered Jack. “Give me a hand here, Wilfred, and leave Frank and Eileen to watch the rest.”

Wilfred at once darted across the floor, and, peering through a loophole, saw a number of dusky figures hurrying into the garden through the opening, while others suddenly appeared against the sky-line, and then became almost invisible as they climbed over the railings and jumped amongst the flowers.

“Let them have it with the magazine,” Jack whispered again, and waiting a moment for Wilfred to prepare, he aimed at a bunch of the enemy pouring into the garden, and discharged shot after shot amongst them. Meanwhile, Wilfred fired at the figures climbing the railings, while sharp reports from the side and back of the house told that Frank and Eileen were also engaged.

Once their magazines were empty, it took only a few moments to replenish them, and again they poured a stream of bullets through the loopholes.

But the Boers had already had sufficient. With shouts and shrill cries of fear they disappeared in the darkness, leaving many of their number dead or wounded in the garden.

“That will make them more careful next time,” muttered Jack. “I wonder what their next move will be!”

He had not long to wait, for almost before he had finished speaking there was a roar of musketry all round, and a hail of bullets flew through the house, piercing the walls as if they were merely composed of paper, and sending splinters flying in all directions. It was decidedly unpleasant, but all escaped by the greatest luck, the only injury sustained being a flesh wound by Jack. The bullet had passed through the calf of his leg, but so unimportant was it that a handkerchief tied round it was amply sufficient to staunch the blood which flowed, while the pain was so little that he scarcely felt it then, though later on he suffered considerably.

“Lie down, all of you!” shouted Frank at this moment. “They will be giving us another volley.”

All threw themselves on the ground close to their loopholes, through which they stared out at the veldt, which was now becoming more visible every moment.

A second later another storm of bullets tore through the house, while others struck the iron roof above, giving rise to an alarming noise. For five minutes the fusilade continued, and then suddenly ceased.

“To your posts!” cried Jack. “They will hope to have killed or wounded all of us, and will make a rush.”

Sure enough, a host of Boers now appeared in the growing light, running towards the house, and into them all four rifles poured a stream of lead, each shot of which, though hastily fired, was carefully aimed. At such close quarters it proved disastrous, and though a few of the bolder spirits amongst the enemy did manage to reach the house, the majority were either struck down or retired precipitately. For those who were attempting to kick in the door Jack’s Mauser pistol still remained, and he emptied it amongst them without pity.

At any other time the fact that he was taking human life, and sending fellow-beings to a last and sudden account, would have shocked him and filled him with lasting remorse. But now it was different. He had seen a crew of powerful men injuring and threatening a helpless girl. For that alone they deserved punishment, part of which had been summarily meted out to them. But the remainder had escaped, to return with other comrades, all enemies of the queen. They would not hesitate to take the lives of those who so gallantly defended the farmhouse, and he in turn would not spare a single one of them. Jack hardened his heart, and calmly loaded the magazines of his weapons again, in preparation for the next assault.

But they had read the Boers a severe lesson, and those of them who had escaped the hail of bullets fled from the neighbourhood of the little farmhouse, and, flinging themselves upon their ponies, galloped away across the veldt till well out of range of fire. Then they pulled up and collected together, solemnly swearing that, come what might, they would subdue those few English opposed to them, and wreak a fearful vengeance on their heads. The pluck and dauntless determination of the little band they fully recognised and admired; but they had already killed or wounded some forty or more of their brothers, and a price must be exacted for those lives.

With sullen and determined looks they parted to surround the house, while a few were despatched for reinforcements, and for guns with which to splinter the walls behind which the defenders lay.

Meanwhile Jack and his friends stood grimly at their posts, thankful for the breathing-space allowed them, and for the daylight which was fast stealing across the veldt. At last the day broke completely, leaving the plain in front of them partially obscured in a thin grey mist. But a few minutes later a golden glow lit up the eastern sky, and in course of time first a rim and then the whole of the morning sun rose above the steep spires and pinnacles of the range of mountains beyond the Vaal River, and poured a flood of warmth across the lonely veldt. Instantly the mist cleared away, and a glorious day had dawned.

“Now our first duty is to give the enemy permission to remove their dead and wounded,” exclaimed Frank. “Let us pull down one of these boards and shout to them.”

Accordingly a plank was wrenched from one of the windows, and a white flag waved through the opening. A Boer horseman at once galloped up, and, riding into the garden, reined in opposite the window.

“You can remove your dead and wounded,” said Jack, who had agreed to act as spokesman, so that Frank Russel should not appear. “Only ten of you must come for them, and on no account must anyone be armed. We will give you an hour to do the work. After that we shall fire on anyone who approaches.”

The Boer courteously expressed his thanks, and at once rode away.

Five minutes later a wagon was driven up to the railings, and the party who had come to pick up the dead and wounded entered the garden.

Those inside the house sat down at their loopholes and kept a close watch, for they had heard before of Boer treachery and slimness, and more than one incident of the abuse of the white flag had been clearly exposed during the opening days in Natal. As they watched they hastily ate a meal, and having finished looked to their rifles.

All this while the unhappy men who had been wounded were being gently conveyed to the wagons, and Jack and his friends pitied them, and admired them for their fortitude. Scarcely a groan did they utter. They bore their sufferings patiently and in silence, and won the unstinted sympathy and praise of those who, by the fortune of war, had been the cause of their trouble.

At last all were removed, the search-party retired, and the young Boer who had at first replied to the white flag trotted up to the window and once more expressed his thanks. Then he turned his horse and galloped away, leaving the four inmates of the farmhouse to resume the desperate and one-sided struggle.

Chapter Ten.

Desperate Odds.

The sun had climbed some way into the heavens, and the day had already advanced three hours on its course before Jack and his staunch little following saw a horseman galloping across the veldt towards the farmhouse.

He was a big, handsome man, well-dressed for a Boer, and wore a long tawny beard. Attached to a stick which he held in his hand was a white flag, and having ridden to within two hundred yards of the house he waved it vigorously, and shouted to attract the attention of those within. A moment later a handkerchief was fluttering from the window, and Jack was waiting there in readiness to hold a parley.

“Good morning!” said the Boer in excellent English as he pulled up alongside the window. “It’s a grand day, and far too fine to be spoilt by fighting. I’ve come from the commandant to offer you terms—liberal terms. We believe Frank Russel is with you after all, and if so, as a rebel he shall be shot. For the others, honourable captivity is offered, and the girl shall be in my special charge. I have known her for many years, and she shall be safe with my mother.”

“Don’t trust him, Jack,” whispered Eileen, who had crept close up against the window, where she looked through one of the rifle apertures and listened intently to all that was said. “I know him well. He is an Africander, and a British subject. His farm lies ten miles to the north, and Father will tell you why he is anxious for me to be given over to his care.”

“Yes, it’s true,” growled Frank Russel, joining in at this moment. “He is a rebel, and not to be trusted. He’s been pestering round here for many a day, and asking Eileen to become his wife. But she hates the sight of him, and for my part, though I’ve no doubt he’s smitten with her, it’s this farm and the fat acres attached to it he is more interested in obtaining. Don’t trust him, Jack; send him about his business!”

“And what if we refuse these liberal terms of your commandant?” Jack asked coolly. “How will he guarantee all he promises? Words are not sufficient. Let him put it in writing, and we will consider it; but understand, we will not accept captivity, nor will we give up Miss Russel. As to Frank Russel, you did not find him here, and how can we have done so?”

“Surely the word of Elof Visser is sufficient!” exclaimed the Boer. “You have heard the terms, and they are the only ones I have to propose. We will give you half an hour to discuss them, and then, if the white flag is not waving from this window, we shall open fire. Only, if you should foolishly still decide to resist us, I ask you to pass out the girl. We do not wish to war with her sex. Hand her over to me, and I swear, by the God who made us all, that she shall be safe from harm.”

“We will consider your proposal,” answered Jack, “and if you do not see the flag at the termination of the time you mention, you are free to fire on us again. But I warn you we are well prepared, and you would do far better to leave us alone.”

“Tush, boy, don’t lecture me!” exclaimed the Boer angrily. “Discuss the terms, and if you refuse, we will knock this house about your heads like a pack of cards, and shoot every one of you.”

Giving an impatient jerk at his reins, he pulled his animal round and cantered away.

“Well, what answer shall we give?” asked Jack, turning to his companions.

“What answer!” retorted Frank Russel grimly. “Lads, if you’re ready and willing to stand by me and my child, as I believe you are, I say let us stand fast. The Boer promises aren’t worth the breath that’s wasted on them, and that fellow Elof Visser has his own ends in view.”

“Then we’ll face it out,” exclaimed Jack, “and after all, things are not so very desperate. Last night was our worst time, and if we could beat them back then we ought to be able to do the same during daylight. We’ve lots of ammunition, food, and water. The only thing I don’t like the thought of is the shell which will soon be thrown at us, but the Boer gunners are not such good marksmen as to be able to strike us every time, and when the shell do strike, if they are like those used in Natal and do not burst, they will go clean through these walls and do no further damage. When they fire we shall have to take to the cellar, and it seems to me that the sooner we make it bomb-proof the better. It won’t be difficult. The kitchen is paved with big slabs of stone, and by forcing them up and placing them here on the floor, and half over the trap, we shall have a secure place to hide in. The ponies must take their chance, though I expect most of the poor beasts will be killed as soon as the bombardment commences.”

“George! The very thing!” cried Frank Russel, smacking Jack on the back. “Now all hands to the job! There are plenty of tools to work with in the kitchen, and I fancy a good strong poker will be the best to use.”

All at once went into the kitchen and set to work as only men can whose lives depend upon their exertions. Once the first slab was raised the rest was easy, and while Eileen kept watch the others laboured at the work, Frank Russel levering up the stones, while Jack and Wilfred carried them into the room and laid them over the cellar.

“One will be sufficient to keep watch above, so the others had better go below,” cried Jack, as soon as the flooring was completed. “There is no saying when a shell may pitch into the house. Light the lamp and make all comfortable. Perhaps it will be a good plan to pass a few buckets of water down also, in case they make it too hot for us to come up and fetch it.”

This was quickly done, and Eileen and her father climbed down the ladder into the cellar, while Jack and Wilfred remained on top to watch for the next attack by the enemy. The half-hour had already passed, and indeed double that period had gone by, but still there was no movement. Then Wilfred cried out that he saw a force of Boers approaching, and looking through his field-glasses Jack made out a body of about sixty men following a couple of guns. One of these was smaller than the other and had no limber attached. The larger one, which was drawn by six horses, galloped forward till within less than 1200 yards of the house and commenced to unlimber.

“We’ll just teach those fellows to keep at a more respectful distance,” muttered Jack. “Put up your sights, Wilfred, and have a shot at them. There is a good big lump to fire at, and with a little luck we might pick a few of them off.”

Both at once took a steady aim and fired, and a second later Jack seized his glasses and saw one of the horses in the gun team rear up and fall backwards.

Another and another shot followed, one of the gunners and a second horse being hit. Then the gun was hurriedly limbered up again and galloped back out of rifle fire. Ten minutes later there was a puff of smoke, followed in about half a minute by a sharp report, and by the ominous hum of a shell overhead.

“Ha, ha!” Jack chuckled coolly; “they’ll want to do a deal better than that to turn us out of this. Look out, here comes another!”

As he spoke there was a second puff, and this was followed by a deafening thud overhead and by a loud explosion behind the house.

“Not a bad shot that,” Jack remarked serenely. “It touched the roof, ricochetted off, and burst away behind.”

The next shot proved almost more alarming, for it was a shrapnel shell, and exploded some hundred yards in front of the farmhouse, sending a hail of bullets spattering in all directions.

“They’ve got the range now, and I think we had better get below,” said Jack. “We shall be quite safe from a rush, for the Boers cannot come close while their friends are shelling us. I expect they will continue firing till they have smashed the place to pieces, and then they will gallop up full-tilt. That will be our time. We will lie low, and make them think that the shelling has killed or wounded all of us. We will hold our fire till they are at the railings, and then we will blaze into them. I fancy we shall be safe enough till nightfall, but then, if help does not reach us, it will go hard with us. Tim must have slipped into the town by this, so we can hope for the best.”

“I will play something for you, if you like,” said Eileen Russel at this moment. “You don’t want any cheering up, but just to show you that I feel quite safe in your hands, and have no fear of the Boers, you shall have some music. What shall it be?”

“Let us have ‘God Save the Queen!’ Miss Russel,” Wilfred cried. “It will make us feel all the better.”

Accordingly the brave girl stood up at one end of the cellar, and in that curious place, and with shell and bullets plunging through the walls of the house above, and occasionally exploding with a deafening noise which drowned the music for the moment, made the air throb with those strains which no Englishman worthy of the proud name can listen to unmoved. It was indeed a strange proceeding, and to the Boer horseman who galloped up just then, during a lull in the firing, and approached the farmhouse within fifty yards, it was totally inexplicable. Here were a few mad Englishmen listening to the strains of their national anthem with bullets flying all about them. “Surely they are a strange people!” he thought. And plucky too, for that violin he heard was played by a young girl’s hands.

Eileen played right through the anthem, and was heartily applauded by the men, who sat round her, rifle in hand, their faces dimly lit by the rays from the oil-lamp which had been placed upon the floor.

By this time the farmhouse had been drilled through and through with shell, most of which, however, had passed out without exploding. A few had struck directly upon the stone slabs above the cellar, but all save one had merely fizzled angrily and poured out a quantity of smoke. But one burst, and blew part of the roof of the house away, also shattering two of the stone slabs.

“Volunteers to replace the damaged stone roof!” sang out Jack, pushing his head up through the trap and inspecting the havoc. “Two of the slabs above us have been blown to pieces and must be replaced at once, or else an unlucky shell will pitch through the boards and come in here on top of us.”

Wilfred at once rose to his feet, and the two darted up the ladder and into the kitchen. Here they found that a brick wall, built to carry the cooking range, stood between the Boer fire and the ponies, so that the hail of Mauser bullets had for the most part failed to reach them. But one had entered through the wall at the back and had killed a pony, while a shell burst through the thin layer of brick just as Jack and Wilfred entered, and, throwing a shower of dust and débris in all directions, inflicted a fearful wound upon another of the captured ponies and flew out through the other wall.

“Poor beast!” exclaimed Jack with a shudder. “I will put it out of its agony. They will not hear my Mauser from such a distance.”

Stepping up to the wounded animal, he placed his pistol close against its chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet passed through its heart and killed the suffering animal instantly.

“Now for the stones!” he said quietly. “I’ll lever them up, and then help you to put them in position. Hurry up! I see those fellows are getting the other gun into place, and preparing to fire it.”

Jack took a hasty view through one of the loopholes with his glasses, and then proceeded to prise up the slabs from the kitchen floor. Five minutes sufficed to complete the work, and just as they were preparing to descend into the bomb-proof chamber once more, a loud and incessant rat, tat, tat sounded in the distance, followed an instant later by a continuous hum overhead, and then, as the range was found, by a stream of one-pounder shells which hurtled through the farmhouse, smashing walls, chairs, and everything in their way into matchwood.

“Come down, lads!” cried Frank Russel anxiously. “That’s a quick-firing Vickers-Maxim barking. They’ll give us a long dose of that while the mounted men ride closer, and then there’ll be a rush. Get your guns ready, and immediately the firing ceases climb out of this and man the walls. I expect they’ll come mostly from the front, for they don’t know of this cellar, and will fancy we are all wiped out. Well, we’ll teach them something, that’s all.”

“Then it is agreed we hold our fire till they are within a few yards of the railings,” said Jack. “A volley to start with will be the thing, and then when they reach the garden we will use our magazines.”

“That’s it, lad!” Frank Russel answered. “We all understand, and we’ll hold our fire till you give the word. George! they are pouring it in this time!”

There was good cause for this last remark, for above their heads there was a perfect pandemonium, in which the loud rip, rip, and scream of a flow of shells predominated, while now and again a dull, heavy thud, as one struck the slabs above, caused all to start nervously.

But they were well protected, and although the position was not exactly pleasant, or devoid of danger, they bore the bombardment with a serenity which was wonderful. At any moment one of the iron missiles might find its way into the cellar, and deal a sudden and awful death to all. Indeed Jack began to wonder what would be the best course to adopt supposing one of the bombs did happen by ill-luck to find an entry, and lie in front of them fizzling and spluttering ere it shattered itself and its immediate surroundings to pieces. He had seen that some of them did no more than splutter and smoke, and he at once determined in his own quiet dogged way that he would take immediate action and remove it to the slabs above. If it burst in his hand—well—neither he nor his friends would ever know much about it. But if the fuse were not expended he might be able to remove it in time, and so save all their lives.

But he was never called upon to take such a desperate risk, and instead sat silently in his corner, smoking furiously, and watching the smoke which Frank Russel and Wilfred blew out from their lips. It was quite fascinating to see it curling slowly up from the dark cellar into the bright light overhead, and then suddenly cut in twain by a rushing shell. Even Eileen was interested in it, and, catching Jack’s gaze fixed in the same direction, smiled at him just to show how steady she felt. “Look out, lads!” exclaimed Frank Russel a few minutes later. “They’ve done pumping those shells into us, and we had better get back to our posts.”

All four at once scrambled up the ladder, and, darting across the floor, looked out over the sunlit veldt. In front it was covered by a number of galloping ponies, with wild-looking Boers upon their backs.

Jack at once rushed to the other side of the house and gazed in that direction, but there was no one to be seen.

“They are all in front,” he cried. “All the better for us! Each of you lie full-length on the floor and push your rifle a few inches only through the wall. That’s it! Now wait till I give the word.”

Lying flat on their faces the gallant little band held their fire, and waited in dead silence while the horsemen galloped towards them. Soon, as they got within 200 yards, one of them gave a shout and threw his hand in the air. All at once drew rein and walked their ponies forward, laughing and shouting joyfully to one another; for the fact that no sharp reports had greeted their rush seemed to show that the shells they had poured into the farmhouse had been effective, and that all the defenders had been killed.

Laughing, therefore, and smoking their pipes, they rode slowly towards the farm, gradually drawing close together as they directed their ponies towards the entrance to the garden.

“Get your magazines ready!” whispered Jack. “We scarcely hoped for such luck. Wait till they reach the opening, and then fire into them as fast as you can.”

His companions obeyed him silently, and then waited grimly for the word which would send a death-dealing stream of lead into the Boers.

It seemed an hour before it was given, but Jack was not the lad to be flurried, or to allow excitement to get the better of his judgment. He waited calmly till some of the enemy had ridden through the opening, while the remainder were in a close body outside.

Then he shouted, “Fire!” and instantly the four rifles spoke out, spouting forth a continuous stream of bullets and angry puffs of flame. Then they stopped as suddenly, as the magazines emptied.

“Now volley-firing!” shouted Jack; and each, slipping in a cartridge, waited till he gave the word. Four times in rapid succession they emptied their rifles, but on the last occasion only into flying men, for the Boer slimness had for once been dormant, and neglect of ordinary precautions had led them into a trap which proved a bitter lesson to them. At such close quarters, and grouped together as they were, the long Lee-Metford bullets, with their tremendous velocity and penetrating power, had drilled through and through the mass, and had almost annihilated the band. Had a Maxim been turned upon them for a minute the slaughter could scarcely have been greater, and as it was, a pile of dead and wounded Boers blocked the entrance to the homely English flower-garden, while injured ponies struggled and lashed out madly with their heels, adding to the ghastly picture.

It had been a sudden and terrible blow, and those of the enemy who yet lived turned their animals, and, extricating themselves from the heap of fallen comrades, galloped madly away in the desperate desire to escape from the murderous rifles of the few dauntless “Rooineks” whom they had hoped to find dead and mangled beneath the ruins of the farmhouse.

“That will teach them something, my lads!” exclaimed Frank Russel hoarsely. “It’s awful to have to kill so many of them, but it’s their lives or ours, and besides, we’ve a glorious cause to fight for.”

“It is truly awful,” murmured Eileen, sitting down on the floor and suddenly turning deadly pale. “Oh, I cannot bear to hear their groans!”

“She’s done up, and no wonder, poor girl!” cried Frank. “Slip below, Jack, and fetch up a glass of brandy. There, that’s it, Eileen dear! pull yourself together, and remember it is all for our queen and country.”

Jack at once dived into the cellar and reappeared with some brandy and water, some of which was poured between Eileen’s lips. But she was now in a dead faint, and it was some minutes before she regained consciousness again. Naturally a somewhat timid and gentle-mannered girl, to be called upon to use a rifle in earnest and deal mortal wounds was a sore trial to her. The need for strength, and the stern struggle in which she had so bravely borne a part, had, however, braced her for the work. But now, when it was all over, or rather when the hostilities had ceased for a time, and she saw the wounded and heard their groans, the terrible sight and the unusual sounds unnerved her, and she was prostrate in a moment.

A little later she had recovered, and, stimulated by the brandy and soothed by her father’s kind words, was soon herself again and able to stand up.

Meanwhile Wilfred and Jack had dragged a table from a corner in the kitchen, and having placed it beneath the gap in the iron roof, and lifted a chair upon it, the latter jumped up, and, standing on tiptoe, waved a handkerchief. It was answered from a distance, and as soon as one of the enemy had galloped up, Jack informed him that for an hour they were at liberty to send a party of fifteen men to remove the killed and wounded.

The permission was again accepted with grateful thanks, and while the gruesome work was going on, the little garrison once more took advantage of the time to snatch a hasty meal. When all the Boers who lay in front of the house had been removed, a man with a grey beard and wrinkled face rode forward alone and asked for a parley.

From his post in the roof Jack beckoned to him to advance, and asked him what he wanted.

“Elof Visser is dead,” he began sadly, “and so are many more of my poor comrades; but, for all the loss we have suffered, we are none the less determined. We will capture you if we have to smash the house to pieces. But you are brave men, and I again offer you terms, and if you refuse them, beg that you will send out the girl. She shall be taken and handed over to the English pickets outside Kimberley. Think well of what I say. Frank Russel shall not be injured if he is with you. That is all; but I will remind you that they are honourable terms, which men such as you are might well accept.”

“Thank you,” replied Jack courteously. “I will discuss your terms with my comrades. Draw off as far as the railing and wait till I call you.”

“Now, what shall we do?” he asked, jumping from the table. “Whatever happens, I think Eileen had better trust herself to these men. The Boer outside looks an honest sort, and I am sure he will do exactly as he promised.”

“I refuse to leave you!” exclaimed Eileen indignantly. “If you are not going to surrender, I shall certainly not say ‘good-bye’ now. My rifle has proved of some help to you, and will be wanted badly later on. You can settle the point as to surrender or not, Jack, but I am mistress of my own actions, and shall throw in my lot with you.”

“George! then I expect there’s only one answer to be made!” cried Frank. “We’ve shown them that this is a precious tough nut to crack, and we’re no worse off now than we were early this morning. Let us stick to it, I say, and trust to the boys from Kimberley reaching us by nightfall.”

“And I think the same,” exclaimed Wilfred excitedly. “We’ve got the cellar to hide in, and since it has already stood a long bombardment, it will serve our purpose for a few hours longer. We’ve plenty of ammunition and food and water. Yes, I quite agree. ‘Stick to it!’ is our motto.”

“Very well, then,” said Jack, with a grim chuckle, “I’ll let this fellow know.”

Jumping up on the table he called to the Boer, and as soon as he bad approached near enough told him the decision of the little garrison.

“We are much obliged for your kindness and for the terms you offer,” he called out, “and are only sorry we cannot accept them. We are willing to retire from this house to Kimberley, if you will promise to let us go unmolested, but we will not surrender. Miss Russel, too, refuses to leave us. Now let me advise you again to leave us alone. We have already shown you that we are determined not to be taken, and we mean it more now than we did before. Grant us a free and safe passage into Kimberley and end the matter. If you refuse, then you must take the consequences, for my men are fully prepared to fight till they are killed.”

“How many of you are there?” asked the Boer craftily.

“Ah!” replied Jack with a knowing smile, “there are just as many here as there were last night. Promise us a safe pass into the town and I will give you our numbers.”

“It is impossible,” was the curt answer. “I have done all that man can do. My comrades and I admire your bravery, and therefore have offered you these terms. You refuse for the second time. Very well, I am sorry, my young friend, for you compel us to kill you. It is a pity your wisdom does not match your bravery. I shall return now, and when I reach our lines the guns will commence again.”

The Boer nodded and cantered away, and five minutes later the storm of shell had once more commenced to plunge through the farmhouse.

First plugged shells were used, that is, shells without explosive contents and devoid of fuses; and these for the most part rushed through the walls, merely increasing the havoc already wrought. Then the one-pounder, quick-firing gun, familiarly known as the pom-pom, a terrible weapon against troops exposed in the open, joined in the awful din, and sent murderous projectiles hurtling through the house. But by some lucky chance the majority of the shells failed to explode (probably because the foreign contractors had filled a large proportion of them with saw-dust), and merely burst their way through the shattered house without doing much damage. For an hour the cannonade continued, and just before it finished it was increased by the firing of a Maxim, which had been galloped up to closer quarters.

By this time Frank Russel’s farm was a ruin; doors, windows, and walls were in pieces, and the roof was gashed in all directions. Only the kitchen seemed by some chance to have escaped. And down below it all, in the bomb-proof cellar, Jack and his friends sat waiting for another rush, Eileen quietly boiling a kettle over a spirit-stove and preparing to make some tea, while the men smoked on serenely, laughing and chatting when a momentary lull allowed them to do so, and ready at any moment to hurry upstairs and man their posts again.

“That is the last burst!” exclaimed Frank Russel, with an easy laugh as the distinctive rat, tat, tat, tat of the Maxim reached their ears. “Get ready, lads! they’ll be coming soon. When they find we’re still alive and kicking, they will be wondering whether we are ordinary men or not. It was a splendid idea of yours, Jack, to make use of this cellar. Tim and I, with another of the Kaffir boys, dug it out and bricked it round some years ago. It’s a good storehouse for cartridges, but I never thought it would mean the saving of our lives. Ah, that is the very last!” he added as a one-pounder shell burst overhead and carried away a good portion of the roof.

Jack immediately pushed his head up through the trap, and as the Maxim had stopped, crawled across the floor, clearing a path through the scattered woodwork and débris. Then he peered through a small aperture made by a shell, and looked earnestly across the veldt. As he had expected, the Boers were advancing, bringing their guns with them.

“They are pushing forward,” he cried, “but I fancy they do not mean to rush us. It looks as though they would shell us again. If they do we must still keep quiet, for if they attack at close quarters and in force, a surprise will help us more than anything.”

By this time the horsemen were within 600 yards, and here the guns halted, while the Boers spread out and advanced towards the front of the little farmhouse. Almost immediately the Hotchkiss opened fire, and soon after the rattle of the Maxim and the continuous rip, rip of the bullets overhead told the defenders that it was as yet unsafe to venture up from their cellar. Jack had already slipped down there, but now, rifle in hand, with bayonet fixed, he stood close to the ladder, ready to rush up as soon as the time arrived. A glance at him was sufficient to show that this young Englishman had firmly made up his mind not to give in till the last drop of his blood had been shed; and Frank Russel and Wilfred were evidently determined to back him up through thick and thin. They were without doubt in a tight corner, and might expect to be rushed at any moment; but for all that, the dangers they had already passed through seemed only to have increased their doggedness.

Dressed in corduroy riding-breeches, gaiters, and spurs, and with the sleeves of his shirt turned up over his elbow, Jack looked fit for any work. A pipe was in his mouth, and his thin lips encircled the stem closely with what was next door to a smile, showing that, however young and inexperienced he might be, Jack was certainly by no means dismayed at the thought of the coming struggle.

“This is going to be the hottest and stiffest fight of all,” he cried, so that all could hear; “and mind you, it will not do for any one of us to show so much as a finger. They are coming from the front, and we three will look after them there, opening fire when they are about sixty yards away. Some of them who have the pluck will get close up to the house, and will try to force their way in through the broken walls. If we fail to shoot them down Eileen will be able to stop them, for she will take her post half-way up this ladder, so as to be out of the fire.”

“But, Jack,” Eileen began to expostulate.

“You will do as I say, or else we will show the white flag at once,” exclaimed Jack earnestly.

“The lad’s right, Eileen,” Frank chimed in. “It’s going to be hot work up above, and you can help us far more by doing as Jack says than by taking a place by our sides. But—look out, lads! It’s time we hopped up again.”

All three instantly scrambled out of the cellar and took their places, while Eileen climbed a few rungs of the ladder and stood there, rifle in hand, and with her head just below the level of the floor.

Meanwhile Jack had darted to the back, and then to either side of the house, and having made sure that none of the Boers were in that direction, rejoined his comrades. Looking out through an aperture, he saw that about forty men had dismounted and were creeping forward in extended order, while in the centre was the Maxim, which had just stopped work for fear of injuring its own side.

“Mark that Maxim!” said Jack sharply. “If we drive off these fellows we can easily make it next door to impossible for them to remove it, for at this distance we could shoot down any man who approaches it. But our duty now is to look after these fellows. Frank, you take those of the left. I’ll look after those directly in front of me, and Wilfred will manage those on the right. Let them get within sixty yards, and then fire fast and steady. Keep the magazine for closer quarters.”

Lying full-length on the ground, they pushed the muzzles of their rifles a few inches through the loopholes and waited.

“Now I think we can begin,” said Jack, when the Boers were well within the distance he had named. “Are you ready? Then fire!”

Taking a careful aim, the three pulled their triggers, and as many of the Boers threw up their hands and fell forward upon their faces. The remainder at once dropped full-length upon the grass and wriggled forward, firing after going a few feet, for they were still ignorant of the force opposed to them behind the shattered walls of the house, and therefore abstained from rushing. Had they done so, there is little doubt that they would quickly have overwhelmed the little garrison; but the average Boer dislikes nothing more intensely than to fight in the open and attack a position in which the enemy lurks in complete concealment. But to take the house there was absolute need for this, and believing that after all there were not many opposed to them, they ventured to approach.

And now the superiority of khaki clothing was fully sustained, for instead of being barely visible, each one of the Boers formed a black bull’s-eye against the waving veldt, and was an easy target for the rifles of Jack and his friends.

Loading and firing rapidly and steadily, they picked off one recumbent figure after another, and after five minutes’ work, when their rifles were becoming so hot that they could scarcely hold them, the enemy stopped and hesitated, and then fled in confusion, pursued still by the merciless bullets. When they reached the Maxim they stopped, and three of their number commenced to place it in position so as to rake the farmhouse.

But Jack and his two friends, helped now by Eileen, concentrated their fire upon it, and picked off the Boers. More at once rushed pluckily forward to take their places, but suffered the same fate, and soon, stung by the bullets which still spattered amongst them and struck puffs of dust from the ground, the enemy bolted out of range, leaving their Maxim behind them.

“By Jove, if we only possessed a few more rifles,” exclaimed Wilfred impetuously, “we would go out and bring in that gun. But it’s impossible as things are, and I expect we shall have something else to think of shortly.”

But, contrary to their expectations, nothing occurred, on shells flew overhead, and the Boers seemed to have disappeared from sight Jack climbed up on to the table and mounted on the chair. Then he searched all round with his glasses, and made out a number of men riding off in the distance towards Kimberley. He climbed up the iron sheets on to the top, and looked out behind. Here, too, all seemed deserted, but the sight of a half-hidden figure behind one of the low houses a mile away told him that they were still watched by the enemy.

“They’ve left us alone for a little,” he said, “but there are men all round us. The guns have gone, and I expect our friends have ridden back for reinforcements. You may be certain, though, that they have left sufficient behind to make it impossible for us to approach that Maxim. Well, I suppose we have nothing to do but wait. To-night, if we can last out so long, the garrison in Kimberley will make a sortie, but I think we are too far out for them to reach us.”

“That is so, Jack,” Frank Russel said. “We cannot expect direct help from them, but by making a sortie they will draw away some of these fellows who are watching us.”

“Then I vote we make a bolt for it!” Wilfred cried excitedly. “It will be our only chance, and if we don’t take advantage of it we shall never get any.”

“Yes, we must make a rush,” Jack agreed, “and by striking out here at the back, and away round to the left, we ought to manage it. To go straight ahead to meet a sortie party would mean that we should be surrounded.”

“You’re right, lad, perfectly right!” Frank Russel cried. “We’re playing a move with men who are as slim as slim can be, and to get away we must beat them at their own game. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. It is just what any ordinary set of fellows would do if they were in a close fix like this. They’d rush towards the comrades who were coming out to help them. Our friends the Boers will expect us to do that, and we’ll disappoint them.”

“Then it is agreed we make a rush,” said Jack. “Let us have a look at the ponies.”

Going into the kitchen, they found that Prince and one of the Boer ponies alone remained alive, Vic and the others having been struck down by the shell.

Jack stepped up to the body of the little animal which had proved a true friend to him, and patted her gently on the neck. Then he climbed on to the table again and out on to the roof.

For three hours nothing happened, and then a large force of Boers appeared, and having reached their old position, out of range of the defenders’ rifles, they pulled up and put two big guns in position.

For an hour they poured a perfect torrent of shell at the house, smashing it to pieces and bringing that part over the cellar down with a crash upon the ground.

But though it was sufficiently terrifying to Jack and his friends below, it did not damp their ardour. Carefully popping up their heads, they ascertained that there were yet many posts in which they could kneel and fire and still not be exposed to the enemy. And if the worst were to happen, the cellar itself would form a last site for defence, from which they could hope to keep the Boers away for a considerable time.

It was now getting dark, and after a short pause, probably to fetch up more ammunition and cool the guns, the bombardment again commenced, one of the shells setting fire to the wreckage above the bomb-proof chamber. In an instant big tongues of flame burst forth, and a dense volume of choking smoke eddied into the cellar.

The sight filled the Boers with pleasure, as a faint cheer showed, and almost immediately afterwards they started forward, in open order, and rushed for the house.

“Out with the fire!” Jack cried sharply. “Those fellows cannot reach us for some minutes yet. Quick! Pass up those buckets to me!”

Standing on the top rung of the ladder, with the smoke blowing in his face and almost smothering him, he stretched down his hands, grasped the buckets passed up to him, and dashed the contents over the blazing timber. Two were sufficient, and in a minute the fire was subdued, and he had kicked out the surviving embers with his feet.

Then all four took the best places they could find, and, waiting till the Boers were close enough to make their aim fairly certain, opened fire upon them. But the dusk was already almost turning into night, and, undeterred by the bullets, the enemy was rapidly closing in upon them. Things looked very black, and common sense would have suggested an honourable surrender. But the excitement of the struggle had taken fast hold of Jack and his friends, and their blood was thoroughly roused. They had defended the house for many hours, and now, just at the moment when help and rescue were expected, they were not going to give up the unequal struggle till the very last moment had arrived. Even Eileen was firmly determined upon this point. Encouraged by the resolute pluck of her father and these two young Englishmen, she seemed to have forgotten her sex for the time being, and now, crouched behind a tumbled portion of the iron roof, her rifle spoke out repeatedly and truly, and sent many a Boer to his last account, or limping from the field.

But the impossible could not be expected. In spite of a gallant defence, the host of Boers were now close at hand, and a hail of bullets was directed at the house and at the four spitting points of flame which showed where the muzzles of the rifles were hidden.

“It’s all up, lads,” shouted Frank Russel. “Shall I shout to them to cease their fire?”

“Wait, what is that?” Eileen cried, clutching her father by the arm. “Guns in the distance, Father, and rifle fire. It is the sortie!”

Pausing for a moment, the defenders crouched behind their shelter and listened eagerly and with beating hearts. Shouts and volley-firing reached their ears, together with the well-known rattle of a Maxim, and almost instantly the Boers who were attacking them called anxiously to one another, and, leaping to their feet, rushed in the direction of the sounds at their fastest pace.

“Thank God, lads!” exclaimed Frank Russel earnestly. “It was a close shave, but He saw us safely through it.”

“Amen!” muttered Jack and Wilfred in husky voices, while Eileen threw herself in her father’s arms and embraced him affectionately.

“There’s no time to be lost,” Jack cried out hurriedly. “Wilfred, give me a hand with the ponies. Frank, you take Eileen outside and wait in front.”

Hastening to the kitchen, they searched about for the ponies, but found to their grief and disappointment that all had been killed.

“Well, it cannot be helped,” said Jack. “Come along, Wilfred. Let us get out of this.”

Picking their way across the tumbled beams and roof, they were soon out in the garden, and, waiting for a moment to make sure that no one was about, they hurried off across the veldt, leaving the sounds of the conflict on their right. It was an adventurous escape, and more than once they were on the point of discovery. But they had the fortune to pass by the few Boers who were still hurrying up to help their comrades, and two hours later they approached a huge bank of débris and earth which had been removed from the mines, and which formed one of the outlying positions of the garrison.

“Halt, who goes there!” was shouted. Then the dazzling beams of a search-light played upon their faces, and the same voice cried out in delighted tones, “Hooray, boys, it’s our friends right enough!”

Such a welcome the soldiers gave them. On every side they pressed forward to shake them by the hand, till the officer in charge of the works advanced and rescued them from the enthusiastic “Tommies.”

“We’re awfully glad to see you safe in our lines,” he exclaimed heartily. “Come into my tent and have some tea. We thought you would probably strike over for this spot, and so I had everything prepared. When you’ve had some refreshment I’ll pass you on to the commanding-officer. He has got quarters ready for you.”

Jack thanked the officer for his thoughtful kindness, and all four having partaken of a much-needed cup of tea, they prepared to walk across to the centre of the town. On their arrival there, the electric light was once more switched upon them, and every man who could be spared, and was not on duty, turned out to look at the four strangers who had so gallantly kept the Boers at bay and taught them such a lesson. When it was seen that one of them was only a girl, and that she carried a rifle, hearty cheers burst forth, and the enemy outside, when they heard them, ground their teeth and muttered things beneath their breath. Nor were their tempers improved when, on the following day, a bearer was sent out with a note describing exactly how many of the English had been hidden in the cellar of the farmhouse.

The commanding officer, the world-famous Cecil Rhodes, who had so pluckily stayed behind to take a part in the siege, and a score of officers of the garrison, all stepped forward and shook them by the hand. Tom Salter, too, was there, as well as Tim, and as soon as the excitement had abated the former led them away to quarters which had been allotted to them.

“Now, Jack,” he said, sitting down on an empty case, “light up and give me the yarn. Things here are very old and stale, and a little news is always welcome. Pass along that bottle, Frank, and make yourselves comfortable all of you.”

When Jack had given him the incidents of the attack upon the house, Tom’s face was a study, and the absolute amazement and wonder depicted upon it set the others in a roar.

“Well, I’m blowed!” he stuttered hoarsely. “Who’d have thought it! It just makes a fellow proud to be an Englishman. Jack, I knew all along that you were a plucky young beggar, but this beats all! Your friend, too, has got some grit about him, and so has Frank; but the girl—well, I never did hear of such downright bravery;” and Tom passed his fingers through his hair and gulped down a pannikin of rum and water with a distracted air which seemed to say that the news had been altogether too much for him.

Chapter Eleven.

Tracked by the Enemy.

It was in the last few days of October, when the hot season and the rains of South Africa were about to set in, that Jack Somerton and his friends at length found safety in the beleaguered town of Kimberley, after their stubborn and protracted fight in the farmhouse of the Russels. By this time the war had been many days in progress, for President Kruger’s ultimatum was despatched on October 9th, and hostilities had commenced on the afternoon of the 11th by an invasion of British territory.

We have seen that to meet that invasion and to stem the flow of the jubilant Boers there were only some 20,000 English regulars in South Africa at the time; and to these the feat of rolling back the overwhelming forces of the burghers in Natal, the protection of our northern towns in Cape Colony, and the garrisoning of Mafeking and Kimberley was a practical impossibility. Yet, with the dogged pluck and determination for which their predecessors had ever been known, that small army had done wonders already.

By October 6th, when war seemed so inevitable, 10,000 additional troops were ordered to be despatched forthwith to South Africa; and since the case was an urgent one, the regiments in India, which are always kept on a war footing, were mainly drawn upon.

But to transport men, guns, horses, and ammunition from India to Africa, or across the 6000 miles of heaving water which intervene between England and Cape Colony, is no small matter. Indeed it is a gigantic undertaking. Transports have to be chartered and specially prepared; food, forage for the horses, arms, medicines, tents, clothing, and a thousand-and-one more items, all of great importance, have to be conveyed, and cannot be prepared in a minute. But in spite of all difficulties the 10,000 troops were soon afloat and en route for the scene of the war.

Contrast for a moment these almost insurmountable difficulties with those of the Boer nation with whom we were contending. For them the only items which called for special transport were guns and ammunition. For the burghers a train journey of some twenty hours, or a long march on horseback of, at the most, 200 miles, brought them to the borders, and all need, for the time being, of a commissariat train was obviated by the fact that each and every man carried on his own person, or attached to his saddle, sufficient ammunition and food to last him several days.

But the fact that the Orange Free State had thrown in its lot with the Transvaal Republic called for bigger forces, and on October 7th, the day following the order for the above 10,000 troops, the Home Government gave instructions for the calling up of 25,000 of our Reserves, and the mobilisation of an army corps and of one cavalry division. Parliament was also summoned specially to meet on October 17th.

Ten days were given for the Reserves to present themselves, and these ten days may be easily described as a time of intense anxiety to the nation.

The old days of lifelong service in the army had disappeared, and now young men who joined the ranks did so for a few years only, after which they were in a condition of thorough military training, and were at liberty to go back to civil life as reserves. In this capacity they were paid a certain sum per diem for a limited number of years, and were liable during that time to be called back to don the queen’s uniform and carry a rifle should their country have need of their services. It was an experiment, and one for which England will never have cause to blame herself.

The revival of the Boer trouble, the memory of Amajuba and Laing’s Nek, together with the fact that this present war was forced upon us against our wishes, sent a thrill of patriotic fervour through the length and breadth of the land.

Almost 100 per cent of the Reserves answered the call, and the few absentees were for the most part at sea in merchant vessels. Nor was this all. When England found herself face to face with a gigantic struggle, that generosity for which all her people have been noted was shown on every hand. If the manhood of the country could respond so nobly to the call to arms, then they should be rewarded for it, and those who were left behind would make it their duty to care for the helpless wife and child.

Everywhere employers showed their patriotic spirit by declaring that those of their servants who left for the war should find their places waiting for them when they returned. And not only that, a large proportion at once arranged to pay half wages to the wife or dependants of the reservist, thus lifting a load of anxious care from the brave fellows’ minds.

Thousands of pounds were subscribed for the maintenance of the homeless refugees from Johannesburg and other places, and later on large funds were raised, so that the widows and orphans of all the gallant men of the army or navy who gave their lives for their country might never know what it was to want. Money privately subscribed provided hospital ships and beds, and in this manner our American cousins showed their friendship, for they equipped and despatched The Maine for the treatment of our wounded.

To even mention each and every one of the incidents which showed the fervid patriotism of the people, and their intense loyalty to and love for their beloved queen, would be impossible.

But no description of our preparations for this war is complete without a reference to the splendid patriotism of our colonies and of our home volunteers. Unasked, they clamoured loudly to participate in the struggle, and while for the time being our own citizen soldiers were not accepted, contingents of splendid men were welcomed from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Thus it will be seen that England prepared for war, a war which it was confidently expected would be of short duration. An army corps was mobilised, and those who, by family ties or by reason of their civil duties, were compelled to stay at home, saw to their particular part of the patriotic work.

And then, when all was ready, they first of all despatched Sir Redvers Buller, one of our finest veterans, to take command of the accumulating army in South Africa, and afterwards, for many days in succession, accompanied the soldiers in shouting, cheering thousands to Waterloo Station, and sent them off on the first stage of their long journey with many a “God-speed!” and with hoarse cheers which showed how truly their good wishes went with them.

And who amongst us who formed one of that crowd did not feel a strange rising in the throat and an inability to say exactly all we wished to those who were leaving England—perhaps for the last time? We longed to join the gallant fellows, and when we saw one of them turn aside for the moment, just to brush away the tears that would come, and get his lips steady again ere he bade a long farewell to his weeping wife and, most likely, to the infant in her arms, our hearts prompted us to step forward and wring his hand, just to show him that we thought all the more of him for his feeling.

Those were stirring scones indeed, and that great lady and the country for whom all our gallant troops were about to sail over the sea will never, never forget them. What happened to those brave men and officers we despatched will be described in due course. The surprising strength of the enemy, their careful and long-thought-out preparations, and their modern and overpowering armaments will be spoken of, as will the painful events which led to England’s awakening. For the present we shall leave her with the eyes of all her people at home and in the colonies turned hopefully and anxiously to that far-off field of battle, while we return to Jack Somerton and his friends in Kimberley.

On the morning after their safe arrival in the town, Tom Salter took Wilfred and Jack to the conning-tower erected in the De Beers compound and pointed out the various points in the defences. It was a remarkable scene. In all directions were huge mounds of débris removed from the diamond mines, and these, with the help of ample native labour, had been converted into fortresses, while outside all was an entanglement of barbed wire completely surrounding the town. From their elevated position they could look down on every post, and to Jack, who had been in the town many times before, and indeed to anyone, it was most strange to see the townsmen and regulars manning the defences or scouting outside, while down below them 10,000 natives laboured in the huge compound, delving for the diamonds which after all might fall into the Boers hands.

“Just shows what we think of those fellows,” laughed Tom Salter, jerking his thumb in the direction of the Boer laagers. “They have been round us since the 14th of this month, and they’ve done nothing but look on all the time. If we were in their places I expect we should just make one big rush to take the town; but your Boer hates that kind of work, and so is content to look on while guns are coming from Pretoria. Then, I expect, they will make us jump a little.”

“How many men have you here?” asked Jack.

“About 3000 all told,” answered Tom. “We are under the command of Colonel Kekewich, and Cecil Rhodes is here to keep us company. A good number of our force are colonial troopers and volunteers, but we have the 1st Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment here, besides a few gunners and engineers. I can tell you, my boy, we shall be a pretty tough lot to conquer. Why, only a few days ago we made a sortie towards Macfarlane’s Farm in the north, and bagged a number of the Boers, including Commandant Botha. We had 3 killed and 21 wounded—not a great loss when you consider the work we did. It was grand fun, and I’ve no doubt, now that Cronje has given Mafeking up as hopeless and come down here, we shall give them another taste. Now tell me all the outside news. How did you get across to Johnny’s Burg, and what have you been doing since? Last night you spoke of Glencoe and Ladysmith. ’Pon my word, Jack, you are just like the proverbial bad penny. You seem to turn up all over the place.”

Jack laughed heartily at Tom Salter’s remark, and then proceeded to tell him about his adventures since leaving Kimberley. Then Tom in turn told him all that had happened during his absence.

It seemed that Kimberley was by no means unprepared. Both Government and the De Beers Company had poured supplies and arms into the town, and there was sufficient to last for many weeks. The water-supply had been cut off, but there was plenty to be obtained in the town, and there was therefore no fear on that point. Altogether the inhabitants were faring better than might have been expected. All food was to be had at standard prices, and they were protected by a force which, if not too ample, at any rate made up for their lack of numbers by a dauntless determination to hold the town.

No one was allowed to leave the neighbourhood of the defences or to enter the town without a signed permit, and this was strongly adhered to, for, as in Mafeking, and indeed in our camps in any part of South Africa, spies swarmed everywhere.

But if the garrison were determined to hold the town, they were equally prepared to make the time pass easily. Mr Cecil Rhodes, the administrator of Rhodesia and at once a brilliantly clever and most popular man, dispensed hospitality on every side. He gave dinners and dances to enliven the people, and at one of them, which occurred on the night after their arrival, Jack was present with the Russels, and waltzed with Eileen to the strains of inspiriting music. Then they slipped out, and, climbing on a mound near by, stared across the veldt at the Boer laagers and then back at the defences of Kimberley, all easily distinguishable under the rays of a glorious moon.

“How lovely it all looks in this light!” said Eileen gently. “What a pity that there should be such a thing as war! But I can see it is necessary, for if the English troops did not fight they would be driven out of the country, and then none of us would be safe. I am sorry about the old home too. I loved it and the flower-garden; but it was far better to defend it as we did than give in to the Boers. Jack, do you know I have never really thanked you for all you did, and for saving me from that brutal man. Only last night Father said that we owed our lives to you. I am proud of you, Jack! Shake hands!”

Jack was astonished. He stuttered, grew confused, and then dropped Eileen’s hand as though it were a hot coal, for he was a bashful lad, and in a terrible fright all the time that Eileen would burst into tears or throw herself in his arms in the excitement of the moment.

“Oh, never mind what I did, Eileen!” he blurted out. “I’d have done it for anyone else; and Wilfred deserves your thanks as much as I do. Now let us go in.”

Eileen obeyed, feeling glad that she had at last thanked her preserver. She had met Jack many times, and had come to know that he was a plucky, good-looking young Englishman. That he had taken her thanks so brusquely did not jar her feelings. She understood him, and knew that though he did not show it he was really gratified. Therefore, taking his arm again, she returned to the dancing-room, and five minutes later she was watching her stalwart hero waltzing round, with a light in her dark eyes which, had he seen it, would have set his heart beating. But Jack had other matters to think about, and on the following morning approached Tom Salter on the matter.

“I came up here to act as a despatch-rider,” he said, “and I want you to help me. I know the country all round as well as anyone, and ought to be able to get through. Whom ought I to apply to?”

“No need to apply to anyone,” answered Tom. “I saw one of the officers last night, and told him all about you. News came in three days ago from the south, and you also brought information when you came. What we want to know is how Mafeking is getting on, and I expect you will be asked to ride in that direction. It will be ticklish work, my boy, but it seems to me that you are specially suited for it, for you have already ridden more than once in the enemy’s country. Come with me now to head-quarters and I will send in your name.”

Jack followed him through the town, and a few minutes later was shown into the commanding-officer’s rooms. Here he was cordially greeted, and before anything was said about the ride to Mafeking he was urged to tell the officers present all about the defence of Mr Russel’s house. Then he was asked whether he was willing to ride to the north with despatches.

Jack answered that he was, and promised to be ready to set out that evening.

“Very well,” said one of the officers, “we will have the despatches ready for you. Come here at dusk and you will find a good horse waiting to carry you. Above all, do not let anyone know that you are to start. There are spies everywhere.”

Jack promised to observe this precaution, and without even dropping so much as a hint to Wilfred, who joined him a few minutes later, walked all round the defences of the town.

Late in the afternoon he filled his bandolier, saw that the magazines of his rifle and pistol were prepared, and then walked into the room where the Russels, Tom Salter, and Wilfred were. There was now no reason for keeping his mission a secret, and as he joined the party in a cup of afternoon-tea he told them that he was about to set out for Mafeking.

Wilfred’s face at once showed his disappointment, for he would have gladly accompanied his friend; while Eileen went suddenly pale to the lips, and almost dropped her cup. But she recovered herself quickly, and said good-bye cheerfully.

“Good-bye, Jack!” she murmured earnestly. “Take care of yourself, for we should all be sorry if you were captured.”

“By Jove, old chap,” Wilfred broke in impetuously, “I wish I were going with you! It will be awfully flat here without you to liven us up. I only hope we shall have plenty of fighting while you are away. Good-bye, and if you meet any of the Boers just give them fits! You’re well able to.”

Frank Russel and Tom Salter slapped him heartily on the back and wished him luck, and in another moment he was striding up the street, with clanking spurs, looking a typical young colonist, and one, moreover, well able to take care of himself.

Arrived at the head-quarter office, he was shown in, and accosted by the same officer as before.

“Here are your despatches,” he said, producing a thin piece of tissue-paper very finely written upon, “and now we must decide where to hide them. It is an important document, and if it fell into the Boers’ hands would do us a large amount of harm. What do you think of the puggaree round your hat for a hiding-place?”

“Well, it seems to me,” replied Jack, “that that is just the kind of thing they would search. I have been thinking about it as I came along, and believe that a far safer place will be in the case of my Mauser pistol. Here it is, under my arm, and it has already escaped detection.”

“Splendid! Of course that will be far and away the best place,” exclaimed the officer. “And now, in case the Boers should capture you, here is a letter stating that you are a despatch-rider acting for the British. Without that they would probably shoot you as a spy. Now you can start as soon as you like. If you reach Mafeking in safety, tell the boys there that all goes swimmingly with us, and we hope it is the same with them. Well, good-bye, Somerton, and the best of luck go with you!”

They shook hands, and Jack clattered downstairs and into the street, where he found a shaggy-looking horse waiting for him. In a moment he had vaulted lightly into the saddle, and was riding away towards the nearest gate which lay to the east. He had chosen this purposely, for had the Boers obtained an inkling of the direction in which he was to ride, the telegraph wire which was at their service between the two beleaguered towns would have warned all the burghers to look out for him. At the gate he was challenged, and on giving a special pass-word, which he had been instructed to use, a lamp was flashed for a moment on his face, and he was allowed to proceed.

“Good luck to yer, mate!” said the sentry who had received the countersign. “Give our best respects to the chaps up north, and tell them we’re having a fine time down this way. Ta, ta, old horse! Mind the palings as you go out; they are a bit inclined to scratch yer.”

“So long, Joey!” laughed Jack cheerfully, recognising the sentry as one of the volunteers he had met the night before.

Cantering on he carefully avoided the high fence of barbed wire, and, riding through an opening in it, was almost immediately challenged by a picket, and was compelled to pull up suddenly, to find a couple of bayonets pointed at his chest.

“Gently, boys!” he called out in a low voice. “You’ll be sticking those things through me next time. I’m Jack Somerton, and ‘Buller’ is the pass-word.”

“Right; ‘Buller’ it is,” was the answer. “Pass on, Jack, and go easy when you get half a mile away; there’s a lot of our dear Boer friends prowling about over there.”

Jack thanked the man for his advice, and cantered on again. Then he pulled up, dismounted, and led his pony along over the grass, pausing every now and again to listen and search the darkness in all directions. At this moment the search-light from the town was suddenly turned on, and passing well above his head was flashed across the veldt in front of him, and then all round till it fell upon the same spot again.

Jack stopped where he was and followed it carefully with his eyes. Again it flashed round the town, and then was suddenly cut off, leaving everything in absolute darkness. Springing on his pony, Jack touched it with his spurs and galloped ahead, and did not draw rein again till he had ridden a good five miles. Then he dismounted for a few minutes, and having allowed the animal sufficient time to rest, jogged on at a gentle canter, the most comfortable pace at which to cover a long distance. There was no difficulty about keeping in the right direction, for his rides with Tom Salter had taught him how to make use of the stars as guides, so that he went on for several hours with a short halt here and there, and by three in the morning found himself well on the way to Vryburg, and only a few miles to the west of the railway.

By this time the clouds on his left hand were already beginning to lighten, warning him that ere long dawn would sweep over the wide range of veldt, and that unless he wished to be discovered by the enemy he had better set about finding some hiding-place. Fortunately there was no difficulty in this, for he was now well in the bush country which stretches in a wide belt north and south of Vryburg. Up to this he had ridden by the side of it, but now he turned to the left, and, jumping to the ground, led his pony on amongst the bushes. Threading his way carefully between the clumps of mimosa and cactus, and the still more painful wait-a-bit thorns, he at length came to a small and precipitous kopje, covered with rugged boulders and bush, and clambered up to the top.

Here he found a small hollow almost surrounded with boulders, and with sufficient grass to give his pony a good feed, and still allow room for himself to lie down. It was just the place for a secret camp, and five minutes later he had taken possession of it. Vic—as he had called the pony in memory of his favourite—was soon knee-haltered and busily picking at the herbage, and Jack was equally busy devouring some bread and meat he had brought in his haversack.

By the time he had satisfied his hunger and lit a pipe there was bright daylight, and, crawling to the edge of the kopje, he squeezed his body between two of the boulders, and with the help of his glasses made a thorough survey of his surroundings. About six miles on his right the snakelike track of the giant railway from Cape Town via Kimberley and Mafeking to Buluwayo, met his eye, while away in the distance was Vryburg, looking like a white blotch against the green bush which almost surrounded it.

But nowhere was there a Boer to be seen, and, satisfied that for the present he ran no chance of discovery, Jack lay down on his mackintosh sheet, wrapped himself in his blanket, and with his head resting on his saddle was soon fast asleep.

Shortly after noon he woke again, and there being no one in sight he saddled up, and, leading his horse to the foot of the kopje, pushed forward on the long ride to Mafeking. But though all seemed quiet, he was not to reach his destination without some startling adventures. Had he but known it, three roughly-dressed Boers had caught sight of his figure as he left his hiding-place, and, following him cautiously through the bush, had soon surrounded him. Wide-awake as Jack generally was, it was only when a horseman mounted on a snaggy pony suddenly appeared in front of him that he became aware that there was a Boer within miles of him. To halt and glance all round was the work of an instant only, and showed him the figures of two other horsemen hemming him in on every side. Next moment he had slipped to the ground and had unslung his rifle. Fortunately he happened to be riding through a thick part of the bush, so that, lying flat on the ground, he was completely invisible to the advancing Boers. When within three hundred yards of him all three halted and shouted to him to surrender. By this time, in spite of the sharp spikes and thorns, Jack had crawled a little way into the bush and was some feet from his pony. Then, gently kneeling up, he lifted his head inch by inch and looked about. Immediately surrounding him was a thick clump of mimosa bush which completely hid him, while the Boers, seated upon their animals, were well above the top of it.

“I’ll wait a moment where I am,” thought Jack, “and if they fire I will pick one of them off and crawl away to another position at once. Then I’ll fire at another. There are three of them, but after all I am in a good position, and unless they gallop in and finish me, I ought to get safely away.”

Once more one of the Boers shouted to him to surrender, and as Jack kept silent, all three fired at the bush close to his pony, one of the bullets killing the poor animal instantly, while another passed through the top of Jack’s hat, as he happened to be just in the line of fire.

In no way put out by the occurrence, though his hat leapt from his head, Jack hastily replaced it, and, lifting his rifle, fired at the man whose bullet had so nearly been the means of ending his career. At such a short range it was not a difficult shot, and the Boer threw up his arms and fell backwards over the quarters of his pony with a bullet through his chest.

Next moment there were two sharp reports, and the ominous swish, swish of Mauser projectiles flying close above him. But Jack escaped unhurt, and though the Boers emptied their magazines into that part of the bush they did not touch him, for a second after firing he had again dropped on all-fours and crawled away to the left. Once more he lifted his head, to find the two remaining horsemen, rifle in hand, standing up in their stirrups and searching the thick mimosa shrubs in front of them, ready to open fire the instant he showed himself.

Jack crawled on a little farther till he came to a spot where, still lying prone on the ground, it was possible to get a good sight of the enemy. Taking a careful aim, he once more fired, and had the satisfaction of seeing another of the Boers fall, while the third hastily discharged his rifle and galloped away, Jack sending a bullet whizzing after him.

Then he rose to his feet and strode over to the man who had just tumbled from his pony. He was quite dead, and as Jack had no means of burying him he left him there in the bush, and, taking his pony, which had, like all well-trained animals, remained close by his master’s side, he walked across to look at the other Boer. He found the poor fellow in the centre of a dense thorn bush, groaning feebly, while a thin stream of blood ran from his lips.

But a minute before he had been an enemy, and had, indeed, very nearly been the death of Jack; but for all that he was now a fellow-being in distress, and Jack determined to do what he could for him. He was a big, bearded man of thirty-five, and no light weight to lift. But Jack’s strong arms soon carried him on to an open patch of grass. Then he gave him a drink from his water-bottle, and proceeded to look to his wound. There was little to be seen, merely a small puncture in front of the chest and a slightly larger one behind. Searching in the man’s pocket, Jack produced a scarf and tied it tightly round the chest. Then he gave him another drink, and five minutes later had the satisfaction of finding him stronger and able to speak. “Where are your friends?” he asked. “If they are near, and you will promise that I shall not be taken prisoner, I will carry you to them.”

“They are at Vryburg,” the wounded man answered in a whisper; “but I cannot promise that they would not take you prisoner. Elof Vuurren is no lover of the English. It would be better for you to leave me to die alone.”

Jack thought the matter over for a few moments. If he left the poor fellow in the bush he knew that his fate was sealed, for he would never be found. Why should he not risk it, and show these Boers that the English could be kind and good to them, and not, as the field-cornets and leaders were always telling the burghers, cowards and brutes. Jack looked again at the wounded man, and the sight of his helpless and pitiable condition at once decided him. Unwinding the puggaree from the Boer’s hat, he brought one of the ponies close alongside him, and putting out all his strength, lifted him into the saddle. Then he lashed his ankles together beneath the pony’s body, and, leading the spare animal by the reins, set off for Vryburg through the bush.

It was a long and tedious march, but in three hours’ time he was opposite the town, and, leaving the belt of scrub in which he had been walking, he turned into the open. A mile farther on thirty Boers came cantering towards them, and, taking a hurried farewell of the wounded man, Jack vaulted on to the other pony and cantered off.

A few minutes later the wounded Boer was amongst his comrades, and, looking back, Jack saw him feebly moving his arms as though explaining the manner in which the Englishman had brought him in, and begging them not to follow him. But the sight of one of the hated Rooineks proved too much for the Boers, and with a shout they left their comrade, and, putting their animals into a mad gallop, came thundering after Jack.

In a moment he had dug his spurs into the wiry little animal upon whose back he rode, and, turning towards the bush again, galloped directly towards it at his fastest pace. When within 300 yards of the mimosa scrub another body of horsemen appeared directly in front of him, riding amongst the thorn bushes, and as soon as they caught sight of him, and of the men who were pursuing him, they scattered to right and left and rode off, leaping the rocks and bushes in their way, and evidently intending to surround him.

It was a desperate predicament, but Jack’s coolness never deserted him, and he instantly decided how to act. Turning sharply to the right, he galloped on at the same headlong pace parallel to the belt of bush, but drawing closer to it. Suddenly he turned to the left again, and, applying his spurs, set his pony straight for the centre of the Boers who had appeared in front of him.

It was a smart manoeuvre, for the horsemen had already separated, so that by the time Jack reached the line of bush there were only two in front of him. His rifle was already in his hand and his bayonet fixed. Holding the weapon ready to strike, he charged straight at the two Boers, who levelled their rifles at him and fired. One of the bullets flew close by his head, and the other actually struck and severed his stirrup leather without touching him. In an instant Jack dropped his reins and raising his rifle, took a hasty aim, and pulled the trigger. It was a lucky shot, for one of the ponies pitched forward, throwing its rider violently over its head.

The other man boldly stood his ground, and, rising in his stirrup, took a deliberate aim and sent a bullet swishing so close past Jack’s head that it cut his ear. Before he could repeat the shot Jack was on him, and had thrust his bayonet through him and swept him off his saddle.

After that there was a quarter of an hour of the wildest excitement. Tearing madly forward, his pony leapt everything that came in its path and soon outdistanced the pursuers, who had halted at the fringe of bush and were now sending volleys after him. But horse and rider seemed to bear a charmed life, till an unlucky bullet struck the plucky little animal and caused it to fall. Jack went flying some yards ahead into a thick mimosa bush, which broke his fall, and, extricating himself and picking up his rifle, darted off. Showers of bullets followed him, but by bending low he escaped them all, and an hour later was in the heart of the bush and safe from the pursuing Boers. By that time he was thoroughly exhausted. He threw himself panting on the ground and remained motionless for a long time. Then he rose to his feet once more and set off in the direction of Mafeking.

All that night he trudged on, and spent the following day beneath the shade of a friendly thorn bush. Then he started again, and reached his destination just as the next day was dawning. Footsore and weary, he staggered up to one of the pickets, and, hastily answering his hail of “Who goes there?” with “Friend”, snatched at the man’s water-bottle and greedily gulped down the contents. Then, feeling stronger and more refreshed, he limped on into the town and handed his despatches to the redoubtable Baden-Powell, who welcomed him heartily.

Chapter Twelve.

Gallant Mafeking!

Had he been the bearer of the most eagerly-looked-for news, Jack could not have received a more enthusiastic welcome than he obtained from the gallant little garrison of Mafeking. As he staggered into the town, hot, dusty, and dishevelled, and worn out with his long tramp, a horn was sounded, and hosts of men flocked towards him, and, gathering in a circle round him, listened while Colonel Baden-Powell—affectionately known as B.-P. by his men—questioned him.

A stiff glass of brandy made him feel quite fresh again, and, sitting down on a box at the colonel’s invitation, Jack detailed his news and delivered his despatch. That done, he was hurried off by a number of the town volunteers to an underground cell built close behind a parapet of sand-bags, and there given a couple of blankets to lie on. He was tired out by his long march, and in a few moments was asleep.

When he woke again the afternoon was far advanced. Rising from his bed, he crawled out of the cell and found a young fellow busily tending some pans suspended over a blazing fire.

“Oh, there you are at last!” the latter exclaimed cheerfully. “We’ve been dying to hear all your news, but have had to wait patiently for you to wake up. Can I do anything for you?”

“Yes, if you could tell me where I can obtain a bucket of water and a makeshift for a towel I should be obliged,” answered Jack cheerfully. “I haven’t had a wash for three days.”

“Oh, that’s nothing!” the other answered, with a gay laugh. “It’s nearly three weeks since I had a shave, and when I got a look at myself in a bit of glass yesterday I nearly had a fit. Such a fright I look with this beard! But we’re all the same, that’s one comfort. But you want some water! You’ll find some behind that house over there. Keep your eyes open as you go, and if you hear the horn sound make a bolt for this bomb-proof cell. We always keep a fellow on watch, and as soon as he sees the smoke from the Boers’ guns he sounds his horn and we all run for shelter. It generally gives us plenty of time to get under cover. But sometimes some poor chap is caught.”

Jack thanked the volunteer for his information, and strolled across to the house. There was a pump and trough behind it, and, stripping off his coat and shirt, he enjoyed a thorough rinse. He had already borrowed a towel, and on returning he obtained a small piece of comb and the corner of a splintered looking-glass, and made his hair tidy. Then he stood outside the cell and chatted with the volunteer who had first spoken to him, and asked him to tell him what had occurred at Mafeking.

“Oh, we’ve had pretty lively times, I can tell you, Somerton!” the young fellow exclaimed jovially. “Of course you know that B.-P. turned up here some weeks ago, and started at once to enlist a colonial mounted corps. There wasn’t much difficulty about it either, for we knew something about him, and rushed to put in our names. Then old Kruger despatched his ultimatum, and we sent most of our women and children south with Nesbit, who, as I dare say you have already heard, was captured on the return journey. By October 14th we were surrounded, but B.-P. didn’t let the grass grow much before he was at them. For instance, on the 13th he sent out a couple of trucks of dynamite, which were a positive danger to us in the town. They were attached to an engine, and backed a mile or more up the line. The Boers spotted them, and galloped forward when they saw the engine uncouple and steam back without them. I suppose they thought they were armoured trucks filled with men, and when they were within close range blazed away at them. There was a terrific explosion, and it is reported that a hundred were killed. Then on the 14th we made a sortie and drew our friends into an ambush, in which they suffered still more heavily.

“Since that time there has not been much doing, though I expect we shall beat them again soon. A few days ago they started bombarding us at a range of two and a half miles with three Krupp guns, but now they have got some heavier metal about five miles away, and the shells are by no means pleasant. Still, we have come off well up to this. Now, Somerton, the fellows will not be back for half an hour, so give me some of the outside news.”

Jack told him all he knew about Glencoe and the campaign in Natal, and wound up with his ride to Kimberley and on to Mafeking.

“’Pon my word, I believe you have seen more of the war than anyone!” exclaimed his friend enviously. “But I suppose I ought not to grumble. Here we are, volunteers, and a detachment of the Munster Fusiliers, and townsmen, about 1200 all told, and if things turn out as is expected we shall have precious tough work to hold the place against the enemy.”

“From what you have told me of B.-P. I have no doubt you will see plenty of fighting before the siege is over,” answered Jack. “For my part, this despatch work is more fascinating than any. It gives one a splendid outdoor life, with plenty of adventure, and the dangers are not really more than those you incur here. You never know when these shells may drop on your head, so that, however carefully you keep below the sand-bag parapet, you may be struck down at any moment.”

A few minutes later ten men came hurrying along the street, and joined Jack and the volunteer. They had just been relieved of picket duty, and tackled the meal which had been preparing for them with the greatest gusto. A stalwart, sunburnt set of young Englishmen they were. Dressed in the usual riding kit and shirt, with sleeves rolled up to the elbow and slouch hat upon their heads, they looked capable of the toughest fighting. Nearly every one of these young fellows was the younger son of gentlefolks in England. Restless young spirits, full of pluck and go, who had failed in their examinations at home, or could not settle down to the humdrum life of an office in London. One could easily imagine that only a few years before every one of them was the pride and joy of some particular public school in old England—the kind of boy who captained the football or cricket teams, and with the roar of his schoolfellows’ cheers behind him carried the leather to the back of the goal-posts of some opposing team; or perhaps the calm, big-limbed, young hero, dressed in white flannels and shirt, who stood fast at the wickets and saved the day for his comrades, sending the strongest balls delivered to him away to the boundary. That is the kind of lad that most of these had been, and now, under vastly altered circumstances, they showed the same sort of spirit. Throwing themselves upon the ground in the shade, they ate their meals with a good appetite. Then, pulling out their pipes, they made a circle, and listened eagerly to Jack’s news.

In the middle of a glowing description of Glencoe and the storming of the heights of Talana Hill a horn sounded in the distance, and instantly all scuttled into the bomb-proof shelter. They were not a moment too soon. Less than five seconds later a huge shell shrieked just above their heads, and, striking the house opposite, exploded with a terrific flash and roar, shattering the walls to pieces.

“That’s bad luck!” one of the volunteers snouted; “it has smashed up our sleeping quarters, and has set them on fire. Tumble up, you fellows, and set to work to put the flames out!”

Jack joined the others, and helped to fling water on the flaring timbers. The fire was soon put out, and they returned once more to continue the yarn.

“Well, you’ve seen a good deal of service already, Somerton,” said one of the young fellows, “but if you have nothing to do to-morrow, and care for a new experience, I will take you out to snipe the enemy. It’s a slow game, but has its excitements. We shall have to crawl out in the dark about three o’clock, take up our quarters outside, and wait there till the following night. Perhaps we shall not get a shot all day. But on the other hand we may bag a few of the Boers who show themselves. Will you come?”

Jack willingly assented, and next morning, when it was still dark, followed the young volunteer outside the defences. Each carried a rifle and plenty of ammunition, field-glasses, water and food sufficient to last the day.

“Now the thing is to get hold of a spot where there is some shade to be had,” said the young volunteer, whose name was Francis. “I know a splendid place, where we shall be able to get out of the rays of the sun. We can lie there together and chat. It is much better than being by one’s self.”

Picking their way carefully amongst the boulders, Jack and Francis soon reached a mass of rock which had been specially prepared for sniping. It was really a gigantic boulder, which had at some time split, the two portions rolling a few feet apart. In the gap between, a little wall of boulders and sand-bags had been made. Francis stretched a blanket from one piece of the rock to the other, and kept it in position by means of stones.

“That’s all right,” he said, with satisfaction. “However hot the sun is we shall be sheltered from it. Now we’ll get our rifles ready, and have a snooze till the dawn breaks.”

Placing their weapons against the wall in front, they rolled themselves in their blankets and soon dozed off. An hour later the sun was up, and both prepared for action.

“You’ve been under fire before, at Glencoe, Somerton,” said Francis, “but I fancy you will find this rather different. The Boers hate us fellows who come out here to take potshots at them worse than all the rest. It makes it impossible for them to show themselves for long. Every shot we fire will be answered by a dozen rifles or more, and sometimes they will let off a shell at us. It gets pretty warm work at times. But I dare say you’ll get used to it.”

“I fancy I have had a share of it already,” replied Jack coolly. “You see, before I got out of Glencoe I had some experience of it, and just outside Kimberley a force of Boers bombarded the house in which some friends and I had sheltered, and riddled it with bullets.”

“By Jove! Really!” Francis exclaimed in surprise; for, had the truth been known, he was almost wishing he had not brought this young despatch-rider out with him on such a trying expedition till he had learnt how he conducted himself under fire. “Really!” he repeated, lifting his eyebrows with astonishment. “You did not tell us anything about it last night when all the fellows were asking you for news. Let me know all about it at once, there’s a good chap! It will help to pass the time, and we can keep a sharp look-out all the same.”

“Oh, it was only a small matter, and of little interest!” said Jack in reply; “but if you would really care to hear it I will start right away.”

Accordingly, lying prone behind the breastwork of boulders, Jack commenced his yarn, and modestly told his companion how he had saved a comrade at Talana Hill, and how some days later he had rescued Eileen Russel from the hands of the Boers.

Meanwhile they had kept their eyes open, and had broken off the narrative to fire a couple of shots apiece, one of which evidently found its mark. In response a storm of Mauser bullets was hurled at them on each occasion, and once a shell tore through the air above their heads, and swept the blanket away. In an instant Jack was on his feet, and, running across to the spot to which the blanket had been carried, picked it up, and with the utmost coolness and nonchalance replaced it over their sniping ground.

It was a bold if somewhat foolhardy act, for bullets swished past him all the while, and even threw up the dust between his feet without striking him. But it was just one of those daring deeds for which our countrymen are noted, not performed in the hope of obtaining praise, but merely out of cool bravado, and to show the enemy that pluck is still a feature of the race.

When Jack threw himself down again behind the shelter and commenced to fill his pipe, the remarkable calmness, not to say absolute carelessness of danger, of this new comrade filled the garrison, who happened to be looking on, with wild enthusiasm, and they cheered loudly.

As for Francis, himself by no means a coward, he was quite upset. “Well, I’m jiggered!” he exclaimed, shaking Jack warmly by the hand. “Here are you walking about under fire as cool as an icicle, and only an hour ago I was wondering whether, after all, I had been wise to ask you to come out here, and whether you would funk a bit when the bullets began to fly. I can tell you this is one of the warmest jobs to be found, as you can see for yourself, and I’ve known fellows who were good at a sortie, and always did their fair share in a fight, who couldn’t stand this kind of work. It’s too cold-blooded for them. Let them get their monkey up and they are fit for any job; but to lie down here in the open, and never know when a shell may knock you to pieces, is too trying for them. Somerton, you’re a perfect wonder. Just fancy your arriving in time to save that girl! She was an old friend of yours, wasn’t she? Dear me, can I congratulate you, old chap? Any engagement?”

“Oh, humbug; of course not!” Jack exclaimed warmly, flushing up to the roots of his hair. “Both Eileen Russel and I are far too young to be thinking of marriage; besides, I’ve only met her a few times. What rot you talk, Francis! Look out, there’s a Boer showing up over there!”

Jack got quite wrathful, and, taking up his rifle, fired at the man who had just appeared, and had the satisfaction of seeing him go limping away.

That appeased him, and he once more chatted in a friendly manner with Francis. But in spite of himself, Eileen’s pretty face would appear before him in fancy as he lay there puffing at his pipe, and he could not help wondering with some anxiety how she was, and whether a safe place had been found for her in Kimberley, where she would be out of harm’s way.

That night, when they slipped back within the defences, they received quite an ovation, and Jack was compelled to repeat the story of his adventures. In return for doing so he was offered the very last bottle of beer to be obtained in the town.

“You’re a plucky young beggar,” exclaimed one of the garrison, “and as a mark of our appreciation we offer you this. Take it at once and drink it, or else the others will repent and want it back. We’ve run clean out of beer, worse luck, for in this hot weather something else besides water is wanted. And a fellow begins to long for a change, too, especially when he’s been used to taking it. Why, only two days ago one of the officers who was at school with me happened to pass, and I offered him one of our precious bottles. He nearly fainted, it was such a treat, for the poor beggars are worse off than ourselves in that respect.”

Jack laughed heartily at the anecdote, and, pouring out the beer, drank to the health of all present. Then someone started a song, and for two hours the party kept the town awake. Then they wrapped themselves in their blankets and all became quiet, and nothing disturbed the silence save an occasional challenge from a picket as the officer made his rounds.

The next day was Sunday, and by mutual agreement a day of peace for Boers and British alike. In the enemy’s camp solemn services were held in the open air, while in solitary little Mafeking all who could flocked to the church. In the afternoon everyone gathered in the market square where the band played, and before they parted for the night stood stiffly at attention, hat in hand, or at the salute, while the National Anthem was played.

And outside, lying in their cheerless trenches, the Boers heard it, and forgot to jeer as formerly; for this little town, far away from all help, with its indomitable commander and plucky garrison, had already taught them in the space of less than a month more respect for the British than they had learnt in their whole lives before. They listened to the strains in silence, and a chill went through many of their frames, for it was beginning now to dawn upon them that England’s day was still to come; and in their heart of hearts the majority of these sturdy peasants believed that that day was getting close at hand, and that when it came they too would acknowledge England as their ruler just as their forefathers had done years before. It was a bitter thought to these misguided men, to whom independence was so dear, and damped their spirits so effectually that they preserved a sullen silence and listened to the distant strains of the band despondently.

On the following day Jack received a message from one of the officers who acted for Colonel Baden-Powell, and on entering the bomb-proof fort in which the latter lived, was asked if he was willing to ride out of the town again.

“We are naturally anxious to know how Colonel Plumer and the Rhodesian forces are doing at Tuli,” the officer said, “and also whether we can receive relief from them. Will you undertake to find out, and return with whatever information you can get? We can supply you with a good horse, and I have also a map and a compass which will help you on the way.”

Jack jumped at the offer, for it was just the kind of adventurous work that suited him.

“I will do my best,” he answered, “and I think I stand a good chance of getting through, for I have already prospected up some way north of this, though not so far as Tuli. I shall be ready to start to-night, and with luck shall be back here in three weeks’ time.”

A few minutes sufficed to make all arrangements, and that night, after a farewell supper with Francis and his friends, Jack shook hands cordially with them all and said good-bye. Then, mounting the animal which had been sent down for him, he shook the reins and trotted off into the darkness. Turning to the left, he was soon out in the open veldt, and in half an hour was well away from the beleaguered town and the investing forces without having been challenged by anyone.

Riding by night at first, and then during the day, he had covered a considerable number of miles at the end of three days. On the third evening he rode into a deserted native kraal, and having knee-haltered his pony, stretched his blankets on the floor of one of the huts and was soon asleep. Some hours later he was awakened by the creak of wagon wheels, and, springing to his feet and peering out through the doorway, found that a force of some thirty Boers had laagered within the walls of the kraal. It was still night, but the moon was up, and in its light Jack watched the figures flitting about in the open space amongst the huts. The wagon had been left in one corner and the oxen outspanned, and a Kafir servant was in the act of setting all the wearied beasts free to graze outside, when there was a bellowing roar, which seemed to shake the huts, and a huge animal landed in the centre of the kraal and stood crouching there, one forepaw poised in the air, while his tail lashed angrily from side to side.

It was an immense African lion, rendered bold and reckless by hunger; a terrifying sight as it stood there roaring loudly, and crouching lower, ready to spring upon the nearest object.

As the beast landed in the kraal the Boers were on the point of making a fire and cooking a meal. Now they turned and bolted at headlong speed, but not so rapidly as to escape the dreaded lion. With a deafening roar it leapt high in the air, and landing on the shoulders of one of the burghers, beat in his skull like an egg-shell. Then it stood defiantly over the body and growled ominously.

But it was not to carry off the body without interference, for one of the Boers had gallantly remained behind, and, stepping forward and lifting his rifle to his shoulder, he fired point-blank at the lion’s head.

Jack watched for the result with breathless excitement, and the next moment ran out of the hut towards the scene of the struggle; for, stung to madness by the bullet, the fierce animal had left its first victim, and with a spring which carried it at least six feet in the air, dashed the plucky burgher to the ground. Jack slipped his thumb on to the magazine catch and opened it; then, taking a steady aim, he pulled the trigger, and sent a bullet crashing through the lion’s body. It failed to touch a vital spot, and once more sighting for the angry beast’s head, Jack discharged his weapon. But again the small bullet failed to kill, and, roused to madness by his wounds, the lion roared savagely and sprang at him.

To lift his rifle and fire at the flying mass was the work of a moment. Next second Jack was struck senseless to the ground, and lay there motionless, almost smothered by the huge limp animal lying stone-dead upon him.

When Jack recovered consciousness again, two bearded men were bending over him, and were gently dressing a large wound in his shoulder. With a dying effort the huge African lion had struck him on the shoulder, and had torn a deep gash in his chest and arm, and this the Boers were now tending. Finding that their patient was sensible again, they smiled kindly at him, and soon afterwards applied dressings.

It was an extremely painful operation, but Jack bore it all without a murmur. Then he was given some weak brandy and water.

“How do you feel now?” asked one of the Boers. “Better, I hope? It was a close shave for you, but your last bullet went through the lion’s heart and killed the animal.”

“Oh, I’m all right again now!” replied Jack, endeavouring to sit up, but falling back with a groan. “That beast has knocked all the strength out of me,” he continued. “But tell me, who are you, and was the other man killed?”

“His arm was broken,” the Boer answered, “and he has to thank you for his life. It was a brave act to come forward and fight the lion alone, and your life was in God’s hands. It was doubly noble of you, Englishman, for by attacking that lion you fell into our hands and are a prisoner. But do not let that worry you. You shall be well treated, and in Pretoria you will be far safer than out here as a despatch-rider.”

“A prisoner!” exclaimed Jack indignantly. “Surely you will not take me to Pretoria. After all I might have stood quietly in the hut, and let the lion carry off your comrade without moving a finger to help him. You say it was brave of me, then why not let me go on that account!”

“My friend, that would be impossible,” the Boer replied kindly. “You are too weak to stand now, and believe me, you will be much the same for a week or more. If we left you you would certainly die, for I have seen enough of wounds, especially of this class, to know that if not carefully attended to they prove dangerous. We are returning to Pretoria, and you must accompany us. After all, it will be some consolation to you to know that the young burgher you saved is an Englishman by birth. He was commandeered to fight for us, but we all know that his heart is with his countrymen. Cheer up! He will be a comrade for you.”

Jack remained silent for some time after the Boer doctor had left him, and was at first inclined to grumble at his luck. Then, as he began to realise how weak he really was, he saw that to be taken prisoner was really the best thing that could happen to him.

“After all,” he thought, “I shall have a chance of escaping, and I am sure if I were given my liberty I should die out here in the bush like a dog. I’m as weak as a rat now, but by the time we reach Pretoria I ought to be strong again. Then, if I do manage to get away, and I shall certainly have a try, I ought to be able to carry valuable information with me. Yes, after all, I am not so badly off, and will make the best of matters.”

About half an hour later the Boer doctor returned, and with the help of three other men, who treated Jack with the utmost kindness, lifted him gently and carried him towards the wagon. Day had already dawned, so that Jack was able to see that another figure lay on a rough bed of rugs beneath the huge canvas tent which covered the cumbersome vehicle. It was the young English burgher who had first attacked the lion, and as they approached the wagon he sat up with a jerk and looked eagerly at Jack.

He was a broad-shouldered young fellow, with a pleasant, open face, now somewhat pale from the effects of the injury he had received and from the pain he suffered. His right arm was suspended in a sling, and there was a deep scratch across his forehead.

No sooner was Jack laid beside him than his comrade in misfortune leant across, and, taking up his hand, pressed it warmly and endeavoured to speak. But he was evidently too much overcome by emotion, and his lips trembled so much that he looked as though he were on the point of bursting into tears. With a visible effort he steadied himself, and, still pressing Jack’s hand, began to talk to him.

“We’re strangers,” he exclaimed excitedly, “but for all that we are brothers! My God, how I have longed for the sight of an honest Englishman! and last night, if I had thought that by being carried away by that lion I should have met one, I almost think I should have been glad if the beast had picked me up and walked off with me. And they tell me I have to thank you for my life, and that you tackled the lion alone, and so fell into their hands. I’m sorry that you should be a prisoner, but I can’t tell you how glad I am to have a comrade.”

“Yes; it’s an awful sell to find myself a prisoner when I had covered so much of the journey,” Jack answered; “but I suppose it’s for the best. I should have died if I had been left here alone. But tell me about yourself. The Boer doctor said you had been commandeered against your will.”

“That is true. My name is Guy Richardson, and I’ve lived all my life in the Transvaal. But for all that, Father and I are British to the backbone, and would sooner shoot ourselves than fight against our countrymen. But I’ll tell you all about it if you like, and if you feel strong enough to listen.”

“Just push something under my head, so that I can look at you without straining my neck,” said Jack. “That’s it, thank you! Now, fire away; I shall be delighted to hear the tale. But first of all let me tell you that my name is Jack Somerton, and that you’ve nothing to thank me for. You forget that you were the only one of all the Boers who stood your ground when the lion sprang into the kraal.”

“That’s true, Somerton,” Guy Richardson agreed; “but for all that I know that I owe my life to you. But now that you are comfortable, I’ll go ahead with the yarn. To begin with, I must explain that Father came to the Transvaal five years before the annexation by Sir Theophilus Shepstone, and as soon as the Boer trouble was over, and the Transvaal had become a republic, he became a naturalised burgher, for he found it was a necessity if he wished to prosper in business. I was born quite close to Johnny’s Burg, and can speak the Boer tongue as well as our own. We got on pretty well with our neighbours, but our sympathies have been with the Uitlanders, and when matters got to such a pass that war seemed probable, it became a question as to whether we should follow Mother down to Durban. But to take that step would mean absolute ruin, for all our property would be confiscated by the Transvaal Government; so, after a long discussion, Father and I decided to stay, on the distinct understanding that we were not to bear arms against the British. For a week after the ultimatum we were employed as town guards in Johnny’s Burg. Then we were commandeered for service, for every available man was wanted to make good the losses the Boers had suffered. For another week we were kept in laager near Pretoria, and then we were separated, Father being dragged down south, while I was compelled to accompany this commando. We were in desperate straits, but we swore we would never fire a shot against the English.

“What has happened to Father I do not know. For myself I should have escaped long ago, but each one of these Boers has instructions to shoot me on suspicion of such an attempt, and they watch me constantly. It is awful, Somerton! If we meet the British troops these fiends will stand behind me and shoot me if I refuse to fight.”

“Good heavens, you don’t say so!” Jack exclaimed indignantly. “To force a man to fight against his own flesh and blood is simply monstrous!”

“It’s true all the same,” replied Guy Richardson dejectedly. “There are hosts more like myself. Good Englishmen, who know that this war has been wilfully forced on the empire by the Boers, and who are determined to escape from their adopted Republic and fight for the queen. But we are all carefully watched, and I fear that more than one of the poor fellows have lost their lives. Only a few days ago I heard that they have been forced to fight in the most exposed positions, and these men here have threatened that I shall have such a post. If a bullet finds me out when I am fighting for England I shall not grumble, but if I am to be struck down by my own people, would rather shoot myself. It is awful, but I have sworn never to fire a gun for these brutes, and I will stick to that determination.”

“Tell me where you have been,” said Jack. “From the fact of this being such a small commando, I imagine there are none of our troops near at hand. I was riding up to meet Plumer’s force.”

“We have been on a visit to the natives, Somerton,” Guy Richardson replied, “and although I have not been told the motive, it is easy to guess that the Boers wish to stir them up so as to increase our difficulties. We are now returning to Pretoria. I am thankful that I have broken my arm, for now they will not be able to send me to the front. I wish, though, I could find out what has happened to Father.”

“I suppose they will put us in hospital when we reach the end of our journey, Richardson,” Jack said thoughtfully. “If so, and you are ready to come with me, we will make an attempt at escape. I have been in difficulties in the Transvaal once before, and got out safely.”

“I’ll stand by you and make the attempt at any time,” exclaimed Richardson impulsively. “Anything to get out of the hands of these Boers!”

“Then we’ll take it as settled that we will have a try to get away at the first opportunity,” Jack replied. “We shall have lots of time to talk the matter over, but one thing has occurred to me. We must make believe that we are worse than we really are. That will make any guards placed over us less watchful, and will give us a better chance.”

That evening Jack’s wound was dressed again with the greatest tenderness by the Boer doctor, and on the following morning the oxen were inspanned, and the small commando set off for Pretoria, carrying with them as a trophy the skin of the African lion.

A week later they reached the seat of the Boer Government, and, much to Jack’s pleasure, he was placed in hospital side by side with Guy Richardson, with whom he had already struck up a firm friendship. He had quite expected to be placed amongst the English prisoners, of whom there were unfortunately a large number already; and though he would have been glad to be with them, his plans for escape would have become all the more difficult. As it was, he was surrounded by Boers, and still under the care of the same doctor, who seemed to have taken quite a fancy to him.

Two weeks later he was about, with his arm in a sling, and was able to see what Pretoria was like during these days of struggle. Once, too, the President passed close to him when making a visit to the hospital, and though it might have been merely imagination, Jack fancied that his heavy face bore traces of ever-growing sorrow, and that the broad, stooping shoulders were bowed a little more than usual under a load of anxious care, and under the bitter disappointment of an overwhelming ambition which had been cherished and nurtured for a lifetime. Nor was the President the only one who felt the anxiety of these times of war. The Boer forces, though long prepared for their work, had not swooped down and driven the hated British into the sea. The Dutch population of South Africa had not risen as was expected, and joined their kith and kin to shake off English rule. But instead, Joubert and his hordes of burghers had invaded Natal only to a point a few miles south of Colenso, while in Cape Colony the Free Staters had barely passed the borders, and Mafeking and Kimberley still laughed at the invading forces. It was not a brilliant prospect, when the Boers had hoped to crush the British in three weeks.

They had now done all the invading they were ever likely to do, and though successes might still fall to their arms, though in carefully-prepared trenches and defences they might resist and bear back for a time the relieving-forces now marching towards Ladysmith and Kimberley, yet they knew that those reinforcements would eventually invade the two republics and appear before Bloemfontein and Pretoria just as surely as the earth would continue to revolve.

No wonder, then, that they looked downcast and harassed, while many of them secretly longed for a peaceful termination of the struggle, and a life of freedom under British rule.

Chapter Thirteen.

Wounded and a Prisoner.

A month after he reached Pretoria, Jack’s wound was almost healed, and he really had no need to keep his arm in a sling. But, for the first time in his life, he made a pretence of feeling weak, and still walked slowly, as if he were feeble after his adventurous encounter with the lion.

Guy Richardson, too, was now quite strong again. His broken arm had united firmly; but still he persisted in wearing it slung in a scarf, and thus escaped being sent to the front.

They were both inmates of the hospital, which was once a school building, but had now, like hosts of others, been turned into shelters for the wounded. Of these, despite the small numbers acknowledged by the Boers, there were now hundreds—so many indeed that the staff of doctors and attendants was taxed severely.

The building in which Jack and Guy had been placed had large windows, and as they were the only Englishmen there, no sentries were placed over them. There were about twenty other patients in the hospital, who were constantly changing, those who were sufficiently well being sent elsewhere to make room for more severe cases. Consequently there was little to fear from their companions, and the two young fellows, feeling now sufficiently strong to stand the fatigues of a long journey, decided to make their long-talked-of attempt at escape.

“Now, the first thing to be settled is which frontier we shall make for,” said Jack, when they were discussing the matter. “The best and easiest way is to the east, through Komati Poort, into Portuguese territory, and on to Lorenzo Marques. We could get a steamer there, sailing from Delagoa Bay to Durban, and so should be able to join the British troops. The difficulty about the matter is that all trains to the coast will be closely watched, for there are many Englishmen, like yourself, endeavouring to slip away.”

“Yes, Lorenzo Marques appears to be the best place to aim for,” Guy answered thoughtfully; “but the whole of the frontier is certain to be strongly patrolled. Supposing it were out of the question for us to attempt to get through on the east, what direction do you think we ought to take?”

“I should say that Natal, by way of Harrismith, would be the best, Guy. I have made the journey once before, and it will have two advantages. One is, that both the Transvaal and the Orange Free State are practically deserted; and the second, that such a mad act as the attempt on the part of an escaping prisoner to cut into Natal, where the Boers are so strongly posted, would never cross their minds. These burghers are slim, very slim, but recklessness is a vice they cannot understand. Their motto is to take due care of themselves, and to attempt to creep through the enemy’s strongest position would mean as much as suicide to them. If Komati Poort and the eastern coast are too carefully watched I think we ought to try to reach Natal and get into Ladysmith. The Boers have failed to take the camp, and from what the doctor here has told me are likely to be kept outside for an indefinite period.”

“But we could never hope to get through as we are,” cried Guy. “Remember, Jack, Harrismith is a long way from here, and we should certainly be seen by someone.”

“Yes, that is probable,” answered Jack calmly, puffing thoughtfully at his pipe, “but we must brazen it out. There are lots of scoundrels, fellows who got into hot water at home, or who were never fit to be called Englishmen, who have taken up arms for the Boers. You have told me so yourself, and that, dressed as we are, we should pass for them. Very well, that is what we must do. We must pretend we are Englishmen on the Boer side returning to the front after being wounded. It will be simple enough, and all we shall want will be rifles. We must manage to get hold of two Mausers and bandoliers. I suppose we shall have to steal them, but then, all is fair in war, and when you come to think of it, all the weapons the Boers possess have been paid for by Uitlander gold.”

“By Jove, Jack, I believe you are right!” exclaimed Guy enthusiastically. “The bolder we are, the more chance we shall have of getting through. I think, however, that we ought first of all to make the attempt towards the east. If that fails, we can try the south. But how about those rifles?”

“Oh, we must get them somehow, Guy!” answered Jack firmly. “Look down the street,” he continued, pointing in the direction of the government buildings. “Opposite Government House there is always a guard of six men, and they live in the little shed close by. I know something about them, for I have watched them change guard every day I have been here. If you look closely you will see that the four men off duty place their rifles in the rack outside the house, and sling their bandoliers over the muzzles. Surely we could manage to get possession of a couple of them.”

“Yes, we might,” agreed Guy dubiously, “but how?”

“Well; break one of the windows of Government House, for instance. How would that do?” asked Jack. “After all, we only want to call the sentries’ attention away from the guard-room for a few moments. There ought not to be much difficulty about it. One of us could manage the window and the other walk off with the rifles. But it is a kind of matter to be settled on the spot. Another thing we must think of is food. Our rations here are none too plentiful, and I fancy that provisions are scarce in every part of the Transvaal. But we have put by some of ours this last week, and that will keep us going for a time.”

“Well, then, the sooner we make the attempt the better,” cried Guy. “What do you say to to-night?”

“To-night will do as well as any, Guy, and we will slip through this window as soon as it gets dark.”

A few minutes later, as Jack and his friend were talking over the plans for their escape that night, the Boer doctor entered the hospital and walked up to them.

“My friend,” he said, placing his hand on Jack’s shoulder, “I am sorry to say that from to-day you and I must part company. You are now sufficiently well to leave this hospital and make room for a burgher who has just arrived from Natal in a serious condition, and your comrade will also be moved to-morrow. Get whatever things you have ready. There is a cart outside to convey you to a farm on the outskirts of Pretoria. By right you should be sent to the race-course, where all the English prisoners are confined, but I managed to get the authorities to let me keep you here, and afterwards to send you to the farm as a particular favour. We may not meet again till this terrible war is over, but then, whoever wins the day, if you come back here ask for me and I will hand over to you the skin of that lion you helped to slay.”

Jack was dismayed at the order, but, recovering from his astonishment, he managed to stutter out his thanks to the doctor, who had been exceedingly kind and attentive to him.

“I can never thank you sufficiently, Dr Otto,” he said warmly, “and if I ever return to Pretoria I will certainly look you up and claim the skin. It is a trophy which I should be very glad to possess.”

“Very well, then, my dear young fellow,” answered the Boer doctor. “We will consider the matter as settled. Ah, how I wish this conflict was over! My heart is not in it. Peace and equality for all is a maxim I have always considered best for this country. But I am busy. Goodbye! and I trust we shall meet again some day.”

Jack shook hands with him, and then commenced to pack up his few belongings.

“Don’t be down-hearted, Guy,” he exclaimed cheerfully. “This separation is a nuisance, but we are not going to give up our plans. Expect me to-night; I will tap gently at this window and wait underneath it for you. If I fail to get away from this farm to-night, I will find out where you are in the course of a few days, and then you can expect me. Good-bye, old chap, and keep up your pecker! We are going to get out of this cage, and together, too!”

“That we will, Jack,” Guy answered brightly. “Be sure I shall be ready when you come along; but if you find that coming for me spoils your own chances, leave me to get away as best I can and make good your escape.”

“I’m going to get out of Pretoria, and you are coming with me or I won’t go at all!” exclaimed Jack stubbornly, and with more excitement than he was wont to show. “Expect me to-night. It will not be my fault if I fail to turn up.”

Shaking hands with one another, the two young fellows parted, still firm in their intention to escape if possible from Pretoria, but now far more doubtful of success.

A few minutes later Jack was seated in a four-wheeled cart, and was driven through the streets towards the outskirts of the town. As they passed the railway-station a train from Natal had just arrived, and the Boer driver pulled up his horse and chatted with a comrade who was standing near.

On the platform there was an immense crowd, mainly composed of women, and a glance told Jack the reason of their presence. The carriages were all marked with a big red cross, and it was evident that this was an ambulance train, of which the Boers had many, perfectly fitted up. All the doors were open, and ambulance men and bystanders were helping to carry out the wounded.

A sorry, forlorn set of soldiers they looked, but not more sorry or woebegone than the women. Things were different now from what they had been a month before. The Boer forces had not met with that complete and overwhelming success which at first seemed to be in store for them. They had invaded the British colonies so far, and there they had been checked, and there they remained now, waiting till the tide turned, and the British troops, whom all had been taught to think lightly of, rolled their ranks back towards the frontier. And then—what would happen? They had never paused to think of that before. They had cheered their men folk on, and bidden them fight well for their country. But now it was a different matter. A few names only of killed and wounded had been returned, but rumour said that hundreds of others had been suppressed. No wonder, then, that these poor women flocked with tear-stained faces to the station, and clamoured for news of their husbands and sons.

It was a piteous sight, and Jack felt sorry for them; but he did not forget that in Cape Colony and Natal and away in Old England there were thousands more like them, weeping for the lads who had given their lives for queen and country.

The Boer now put his horse in motion again, and having driven half a mile outside the town, drew up at a pleasant little farmhouse.

Jack descended and entered. He was met by a field-cornet and a detachment of five armed men, and was at once placed in a small room at the back of the building.

Left to himself, he looked round for a means of escape, and noted with much satisfaction that there was a small window which would suit his purpose.

“I’ll lie down and pretend I am tired by the drive,” he murmured to himself, “and as soon as it gets dark I’ll get through that window. I wonder whether they will bring me anything to eat!”

Flinging himself on a bed placed in one corner, Jack remained quiet for more than an hour, thinking over his plans. Then the door was flung open, and a man entered, bearing a jug of water and some bread and meat.

“There you are, rooinek,” he said surlily. “That is all you will get to-night. If I had my way you would be sent to keep your countrymen company at the race-course. How Oom Otto could wish to have you here is more than I can say.”

Jack made no answer, but, turning on his side, closed his eyes as if he were weary and took no notice of the food. A moment later the man was gone, and, slipping from the bed, he stole noiselessly across the floor and carefully inspected the door. It had a large key-hole, and this he plugged with bread.

Then he sat down on the cot again and ate some of the food.

“Now I am ready,” he murmured. “There is enough food here to last me two days, and by that time I shall have managed to get some more.”

Three hours later it was quite dark, and, flinging his haversack over his shoulder, and carefully feeling beneath his coat to make sure that his Mauser was still there,—for by a wonderful chance it had escaped notice when his wound was first dressed,—he crept across to the window and opened it noiselessly. It was placed high up in the wall, so that Jack put a wooden stool beneath it, and, mounting on this, was on the point of hoisting himself up, when, to his horror and dismay, the door was thrown open, and a man entered bearing a candle in his hand.

A second later he had grasped Jack firmly by the collar and had flashed the light in his face.

It was a terrible misfortune, and Jack could almost have cried. But, for the moment, his attention was otherwise occupied, for as the rays from the candle fell upon the stalwart Boer, he recognised, with a curious feeling of pleasure and hope, that it was the very man whom he had handed over to his friends near Vryburg, after wounding him in the chest.

The recognition was mutual, and the Boer, who a moment before was in the act of calling for assistance, shut his lips and stared at Jack as though he were too much surprised to speak. Then he burst into silent laughter and dragged Jack to the bed.

To resist was useless, and like a wise man Jack at once resigned himself to his fate.

“So, Englishman,” the big Boer at length exclaimed, when both were seated, “you were about to bid us goodbye! Surely we have not treated you so badly.”

“I have had the kindest attention,” answered Jack, “but, remember, liberty is dear to every man.”

“It is so. Liberty is our birthright, and that is why we fight,” the Boer answered solemnly. Then he remained silent for several minutes and looked earnestly at Jack. “Why did you not throw me off and make good your escape?” he asked, with the suspicion of a smile upon his face. “I am weak still from the wound you gave me, and for that reason am in hospital here. You could have beaten out my brains with that stool.”

“Yes; I might have done that,” Jack answered thoughtfully, “but it would not have helped me. The guard outside would have been roused, and I should have been taken. Well, it is rough luck, and to-morrow I suppose I shall be sent off to the race-course.”

“Perhaps, Englishman, perhaps!” the Boer answered slowly, and then lapsed into silence again, and became buried in deep thought.

Suddenly he roused himself and said in a low whisper: “Englishman, I do not love your countrymen, but I cannot forget that once you helped me when wounded. You ran the risk of imprisonment so that I might not die like a poor deserted dog in the bush. It is hard that I should repay you in this way. It would have been better had I entered this room an hour later. But I will show my gratitude at all costs. Escape now, before I change my mind, for in doing this I too shall risk my life. Escape! Leave me! I will lie upon the floor, and so disarrange the room that, when my comrades find me there in the morning, they will think that you have attacked me. Go, Englishman; you deserve a reward for your noble act!”

Jack was simply astounded, and could scarcely believe his ears. “Was it true that he was free to escape after all?” he wondered vaguely, “or was this merely some sly ruse?”

A second later he dismissed the thought as ungrateful, for a glance at the Boer’s face told him that here at least was one man with honest intentions. Then he wrung his hand, blurted out his thanks, and a minute later was climbing through the window.

Creeping close to the wall once he had dropped outside, Jack paused for a few moments and listened. There was a light in a room at the side, and from the open window sounds of voices proceeded. Stealing along to it Jack lifted his head cautiously and peeped in, to find that the field-cornet and his five men were seated on some benches in a cloud of tobacco smoke.

It was clear that they had no fear that the Englishman in their care would escape, and, thankful for the fact, for the longer his absence remained undiscovered the better, Jack hurried away in the darkness, and a quarter of an hour later entered the streets of Pretoria.

When he reached the neighbourhood of the hospital in which Guy was living, he slipped off his boots, and, carrying them, walked along till he was close to the guard-house opposite the government buildings.

“It will be much better for me to get those rifles now,” he thought. “Perhaps someone might give the alarm as Guy is leaving the hospital, and then we could never hope to get possession of any weapons, and to pass as Englishmen on the Boer side we must have them. I’ll wait here till the sentries are changed. The hour for that is ten o’clock, and it is not far from that now.”

Seating himself in the darkest corner, but well in sight of the guard-house, Jack waited patiently, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing two men emerge from it and relieve their comrades. It was quite an informal matter, and performed in a very different manner from that practised by English troops. Smoking their pipes, the two men stepped out of the hut and called to the others to come to them. Then each took a bandolier and a rifle from one of the sentries, and, still smoking, strolled across to their posts and stopped in front of the big building to continue a conversation which they had broken off in the hut.

Now was Jack’s chance, and he seized it. Slipping along close to the wall, he crossed the road noiselessly, peeped into the guard-house to see that all was quiet, and then, with his eyes upon the careless sentries, slipped two of the bandoliers across his shoulder, and carefully lifted two rifles from the rack. A moment later he was gone, and, hurrying back to his former hiding-place, deposited his possessions on the ground. A few minutes passed, and as all was still quiet, he slipped up to the window of the hospital close to which Guy’s bed was placed, and gently tapped on the window-frame. It was an intensely hot night, and fortunately the window stood wide open. A second later Guy was leaning through it.

“Is that you, Jack, old boy?” he whispered.

“Yes. Come along, Guy,” Jack answered. “Slip out at once. There is no one about.”

“I’m ready,” Guy whispered back, and, dropping from the window, was standing close at Jack’s side in a twinkling.

Taking him by the sleeve Jack led him along close to the wall till he reached his former post, when he placed a bandolier and a rifle in his hands.

“Slip the belt on, Guy,” he said shortly; “we have no time to lose.”

“What! Where did you get these, Jack?” Guy asked hoarsely.

“Stole them, old chap!” Jack chuckled. “I stole them from the guard-house a few minutes ago. Steady, man! What are you doing?”

The last hurried exclamation followed the accidental dropping of Guy’s rifle, which clattered loudly on the pavement.

Instantly the two sentries became alert, and one of them called out harshly: “Wie gaat daar?”

“Come along! Quick!” Jack whispered, “Follow me! We must get out of this at once.”

Darting down the street they came to a turning, and waited there to see what would happen. As they did so, the sentry who had challenged walked quickly towards the hospital, evidently determined to solve the cause of the mysterious sound. Finding nothing, he looked up at the windows, and then looked in at the open one and asked if anyone inside had heard anything. The reply was unsatisfactory, for he at once shouted that something was wrong, and called to the hospital attendant to bring a light. At the same moment the men off guard emerged hurriedly from the hut, and by simple force of habit went to the rack for their rifles.

“Someone has taken two of our guns and bandoliers,” one of them shouted in the Boer tongue. “What is wrong, Paul? Are there thieves about, or is it that weak-hearted Englishman, Guy Richardson, who is trying to escape?”

What the answer was Jack and Guy did not stay to hear. Guy hastily interpreted what had been said, and realising that their flight had already been discovered, the two darted off down the street in the direction of the station. They could still hear excited shouts behind them, but these soon died away.

“Let us stop here for a minute,” said Jack breathlessly, when they were close to the station. “Now, what is to be done? We must get out of Pretoria as soon as possible.”

“Listen! what is that?” Guy exclaimed eagerly. “It is an engine in the station with steam up. What luck if a train is about to leave! Let us make a rush for it.”

“Yes, and be collared at once,” muttered Jack. “No, Guy, we must be cool about it. That is a train on the point of leaving. Let us brazen the matter out. Pretend that we are burghers, and join the train as though we had a right to. Come along! There goes the whistle! It will be off in a minute!”

Swinging their Mausers behind their backs, Jack and Guy coolly walked through the gates of the station, and mounted the platform, against which a locomotive and carriages were standing on the point of moving off. Swaggering along as though there were plenty of time to take their places, and as if there could be no question as to their right to be there, they had passed a good half-way up the platform when the whistle sounded again and the wheels began to revolve. Glancing hastily into the carriages, Jack selected one which had only two occupants, and sprang into it, followed by Guy. Then they sat down in the two corners facing one another, and commenced to smoke their pipes.

The two men in the carriage, who were dressed in the usual Boer costume, scarcely noticed their entrance, for they were engaged in an animated conversation which seemed to occupy all their thoughts. But they were conscious of the fact that strangers had joined them, for they immediately sank their voices to a whisper.

Jack and Guy listened to them, and soon became aware that the language used was English. At the same moment the stoutness of one figure, and an obtrusive German accent, roused Jack’s suspicions, and another glance convinced him that by some evil fate he and his comrade had entered a carriage in which were Piet Maartens and Hans Schloss, the two men who above all others in this land of Boers bore him an ill will.

His discovery by the wounded Boer when in the act of escaping from the farm to which he had been sent in the morning was nothing to the shock which this recognition brought him. Here he was, with only one friend, attempting to get back to British territory, and their flight had already been discovered; and now, to make matters ten times worse, they were in the presence of two men who would certainly arrest them as soon as they learnt who they were. It was a terrible predicament, and might very well have awed the boldest, for to be captured now meant almost certain death for Guy, while for Jack a punishment of little less severity might be expected.

Sitting in his corner Jack puffed briskly at his pipe and thought deeply. Then he pulled his slouch hat well over his eyes, and, casually stretching out his legs, touched Guy and attracted his attention. A serious of short winks and nods followed, and if they did not exactly explain the situation to Guy Richardson, they at least showed him that danger was to be expected.

Suddenly Jack became aware that Hans Schloss and his companion had stopped their talking and were staring hard at him. But he took no notice, and, still lying back in his corner, puffed heavily at his pipe.

“Who are you?” Piet Maartens suddenly asked, leaning across and jerking him by the sleeve. Then as Jack looked up he recognised him, and shouted: “The spy again! Help me, Hans, these two are Englishmen!”

Next second Jack had thrown himself upon him, and Guy rushed at the fat little German, and, grasping him by the collar, threatened to blow out his brains if he made so much as a sound.

But though Hans Schloss was no great fighter, and had given in at once with a terrified whine, the Boer was made of sterner stuff, and endeavoured to draw his pistol. Jack was too quick for him, and now, locked in each other’s arms, they swayed backwards and forwards, and finally fell to the floor with a crash, striking one of the doors heavily as they did so, and bursting it open.

“Out with him, Jack! Pitch him out! It is our only chance,” Guy cried excitedly.

Jack heard and understood his words, and, summoning all his strength, folded Piet Maartens in his arms, and, staggering to his feet, hurled him from the carriage. A moment after Guy had served the shrieking German in the same manner, and they were left alone in the carriage.

Meanwhile the train had got up speed on its long run to the Portuguese frontier, and was now well out of Pretoria and rushing across the lonely veldt.

“By Jove!” exclaimed Jack breathlessly, lifting his hat from his head and wiping the perspiration from his forehead, “that was a close shave, and if those fellows are not killed, we shall have them setting the whole country after us!”

“Then that settles it, Jack,” Guy answered with conviction. “If one or both survived the fall they will make for the nearest office and telegraph down the line to stop us. We must get out of this and make for the south.”

“Yes, you’re right, Guy. Lorenzo Marques and Delagoa Bay are out of the question, and we had better leave this as soon as possible. The train is running too fast now, but as soon as it slackens pace a little we will jump off and strike south for the other railway. We said we would go through the Orange Free State to Harrismith, and so into Natal; but I begin to think that our best route will be by way of Johnny’s Burg and on through Laing’s Nek. But there is no saying. We must do whatever seems best, but get out of this we must at all costs.”

About half an hour later the speed of the train slackened, and, climbing out on to the footboard, Jack and Guy jumped off in turn, alighting on the soft grassy veldt without hurting themselves. Then they turned to the right and tramped on steadily all night.

When morning dawned they were well on the way to Johannesburg, and by the following night had struck the railway some miles below that town. That same night they boarded a goods train bound for Natal, and hid themselves beneath a sheet of coarse canvas which was thrown over an immense Creuzot gun being taken south to add its fire to the bombardment of Ladysmith.

It was a long and tedious run, but no one disturbed them, and two days later they ran through the tunnel at Laing’s Nek, and on through Newcastle without stopping.

When nearing Ladysmith Jack and Guy left the truck which had proved such a friendly shelter to them, and striking away from the line hid themselves close to the summit of a solitary hill. And here, behind a breastwork of boulders, they threw themselves on the ground and slept till the sun came up.

Chapter Fourteen.

An Alarming Predicament.

When Jack Somerton and his friend Guy Richardson awoke on the morning following their escape into Natal, and looked out cautiously between the rough boulders which surrounded and hid them from sight, a scene at once picturesque and awe-inspiring met their eyes. They were on the top of an immense and precipitous hill, situated some three miles from the railway, and almost encircled by a wide plain of lovely grass land, looking beautifully cool and green beneath the rays of the morning sun. Away in the distance, and jutting forward on to the grassy plain, were hills and short mountain ranges innumerable, their summits for the most part brilliantly lit up, and flashing back the light from the white faces of thousands of boulders, while the valleys between were still hidden in deep shadows and mist. Here and there, nestling in among the hills or out on the open veldt, were groves of waving trees, while away in the distance the sparkle of an immense cascade of water could be distinctly seen.

It was a peaceful and lovely country, and on that fine summer’s morning appeared perhaps even more beautiful than it might have done had Jack and his friend not so recently escaped from a flat and cheerless part, where hills were scarcely to be met with. And yet, much as they admired it all, the presence of a large force of Boers marred the scene, and filled them with forebodings for the future. Two miles south of them there was a large camp, mainly composed of bullock wagons, and to the left of this another could be seen; while crawling across the plain were strings of vehicles laden with supplies.

In every part, too, galloping about singly or in knots, were mounted Boer patrols, searching every foot of the country, and making it a practical impossibility for anyone to slip across it unseen.

Still farther south the tops of other hills could be seen, and as Jack looked at them through his glasses there were two sudden bursts of smoke and flame, closely following one another, while the faint reports which reached him almost a minute later told him that another day of bombardment had commenced for the troops in Ladysmith.

“Now, what’s to be done, Guy?” he asked, shutting the glasses with a snap and slipping them into the case. “We are fairly surrounded now, and this will be the hardest part of our journey.”

“Humph! It doesn’t look over promising,” Guy answered slowly. “But we’re going to get through, old chap! Luck has been on our side up to this, and will be yet. Remember, if it had been any other Boer who caught you when trying to slip out of the farm, all our plans would have been hopelessly ruined. Ladysmith cannot be more than seven miles from here, and during the darkness we must manage to get through these fellows and reach our friends.”

“We’ll do it!” Jack answered shortly; “and now, as there seems to be no need for us both to keep awake, I propose that we take it in turn to have a snooze. But first of all, we’ll have breakfast and a smoke.”

Accordingly, taking the greatest pains to keep below the boulders and not expose themselves to anyone who might be on the plain below, they breakfasted off some bread which they still had left, and washed it down with water. Then they lit their pipes, and smoked for an hour or more.

As soon as darkness had fallen again, they picked up their rifles and stole down the hill on to the veldt. Then, keeping slightly to the right, they marched on in silence, listening for sounds of approaching footsteps and ready at a moment to stand back to back and defend themselves.

But no one appeared to disturb them, and they pushed on steadily for five miles till they found themselves on a slight eminence and close to a farmhouse which they had seen from their hiding-place that morning. They were on the point of moving on and stealing past it, when a groaning sound caught Jack’s ear, and he stopped abruptly, detaining Guy with a tug at his coat.

“What was it?” he asked. “I heard a groan, or something of the sort. Did you hear anything?”

“No, nothing,” Guy answered.

“Well, let us wait a moment and listen.”

Standing perfectly still, and almost holding their breath, they craned their heads in the direction from which the sound had come, and strained their ears to listen for it.

There was deep silence for a minute, and then a low, sobbing groan broke the stillness, seeming to come from the interior of the house.

“What is it, Guy?” Jack asked again; and then, as the sob was heard again and broke into a loud wail, he blurted out in a hoarse whisper: “There’s something wrong there. Come along, and let us find out what’s the matter.”

Creeping noiselessly across the ground, they reached the house, and skirted all round it till they came to the back, where a broad stream of light showed through a window. The window was wide open, and as they stood watching it the sobbing wail once more reached their ears, and told them that they were close to some woman in distress.

“Come along, Guy. We’ll see what is up,” Jack whispered, and at once stole forward and looked into the room.

The sight which they witnessed was one which neither will ever forget. Over the figure of an infant, sleeping peacefully in a cot in the middle of a dismantled room, was a distracted woman, weeping bitterly, with big sobs which showed her to be heart-broken. At any other time she would have been described as a comely woman, for she had young and pleasant features and was tastefully dressed. But now grief seemed to have utterly unhinged her mind, and she bore upon her face deep lines of sorrow and despair which would have made the hardest villain pity her.

Jack was on the point of risking all and calling to her, when a change of temper seemed to alter her. From a grief-stricken woman she suddenly became a tiger, and, leaving the child, flung her arms wildly into the air and called down the wrath of heaven upon those who had injured her.

She stopped abruptly, and, catching sight of Jack looking at her through the window, rushed to the cot, and, turning to face him like a hunted animal, exclaimed: “What do you want? You have taken my husband; do you now want my child? Come a step nearer, and I will kill the boy rather than let him fall into your hands!”

“We are friends, and English like yourself,” Jack answered soothingly. “We are escaping from the Boers, and on our way to Ladysmith passed close by and heard you. Tell me what has happened.”

For a minute or more the lady stared at him as though her senses had gone, then she stepped forward and clasped him by the hand.

“Then help me,” she urged eagerly. “If you are Englishmen help one of your countrywomen who is in deep distress. My name is Robb, and my husband and I took this farm five years ago. Now the Boers say they have annexed this part to the Transvaal, and have dragged my husband off to work in the trenches for them. It is awful. Help me to reach Ladysmith with my child, and God will bless you!”

“There, there!” said Jack soothingly. “We will take you with us, never fear, and before long you and the child shall be amongst friends. How long will it take you to get ready?”

“Half an hour,” Mrs Robb answered; “and while I am preparing you can have a meal. Open the cupboard at the end. There is some meat and bread on the top shelf.”

Jack and Guy willingly accepted the invitation, for they had not had too much to eat on their journey from Pretoria. Accordingly, opening the cupboard, they sat down on the floor with their backs to the wall, and tackled the welcome meal provided, while Mrs Robb left them and went into the front of the house to collect the things she required to take away with her.

A few minutes later she returned hurriedly, banged the door, and put out the light. “Quick!” she said. “About fifty Boers have ridden up, and are entering. Fly for your lives!”

Next second the door was again burst open, and a light shone through from the front room.

Jack and Guy were crossing the floor at the moment, hoping to escape from the window, but voices which they suddenly heard outside showed them that their flight was cut off in that direction.

“Surrounded!” Jack muttered harshly. “Into the cupboard, Guy!”

It was their only chance; and, rushing across to it, they had squeezed themselves and their rifles into it before the man bearing the light had entered the room. It was one of those roomy cupboards often to be found in old country-houses at home, and once in it, Jack and Guy deposited their weapons on the floor, and, standing there behind the doors, glued their eyes to the chinks, of which there were many, and looked out to see what was happening.

By this time a young Boer, with rifle slung across his back, had placed on a table a lighted candle which was jammed into the neck of a bottle, and was looking round for chairs. A second later five men entered, and one of them they recognised at once as a prominent Boer general, the commander of the burgher forces in Natal. Another was evidently a Frenchman on the directing staff, to whom the others showed rough deference.

Meanwhile Mrs Robb had flown to the cot again and stood bending over it, ready to protect her child.

“Leave the room, woman!” the general said harshly. “Now,” he continued, turning to the man who had brought the light, “fetch chairs and benches, and form the court. You can bring in the food or prisoners, whichever is ready first.”

The Boer saluted like a clumsy plough-boy and disappeared, to return with two others bearing chairs. They placed the table close beside the cupboard, and a few moments later the general and his staff were seated behind it, the former being in the middle.

“I am hungry,” the general suddenly exclaimed, “and hope the food will not be long in coming. Then we must eat our meal and get this business done as soon as possible, for we have many miles to ride to-night. But, wait! Look in that cupboard, Fritz. Perhaps there is something there in the way of food on which we can commence.”

Jack and Guy heard the words with feelings of despair, and still stood silent, rooted to the spot and with their hearts pulsating violently. To reach the cupboard the man addressed as Fritz had to go round the table; and as he was doing so, and had stretched out a hand to pull open one of the doors, there was a joyful shout from the men sitting round the table, and a burgher appeared bearing horn mugs and a plate, on which was a joint of cold meat.

“Never mind, Fritz; we shall do better with this,” the general cried, and immediately began to carve the meat placed before them.

As for Jack and Guy, they had braced their muscles, and were on the point of bursting the cupboard door open and making a wild rush for the window, when the man dropped his hand at the general’s words, and turned to help at the table. It was a narrow squeak, and the two young fellows breathed deeply with relief, while beads of perspiration appeared upon their foreheads and trickled down their faces. But they were still in a precarious position, and remained in silence watching the party of men in front of them.

A few minutes later there was a stamping of feet in the front room of the house, the door opened, and a big bearded Boer stepped up to the table, and, leaning with one hand upon it in a most free-and-easy fashion and removing a big pipe from his lips, said something to the general.

“Ah, the prisoners are outside!” exclaimed the latter; “and now, Monsieur Villebois-Mareuil, I will show you how we deal with these Rooineks. These are not like the brave soldiers who are fighting against us. They are chicken-hearted fools, who will fight for neither side. But they are burghers of the Transvaal, and have received the voting rights. Therefore they shall do their utmost for us, their brothers, in these days of difficulty. March them in, and let them be surrounded by a strong guard, for there is no saying what reckless act an Englishman is not capable of. You have seen it for yourself, monsieur, for have not the British troops times out of number attacked us from the open and been mowed down by our rifle fire?”

“That is so,” answered the French mercenary. “They are a fine race to fight against; for though I detest them to a man, they are lion-hearted, and the best troops the world can show. Look at their discipline. It is superb. But we shall beat them, and then what joy there will be in the Transvaal, my friend!”

A minute later the prisoners who had been spoken of were marched into the room in the centre of a strong guard of armed Boers, and the latter, opening out, halted in front of the table, and stood on either side and behind the two Englishmen who were in their charge.

Jack and Guy stared across at them, and both gave a violent start, which might easily have betrayed them had not the attention of Boers and prisoners been otherwise engaged.

“That is Father! My God, what will they do with him?” Guy whispered fiercely, grasping Jack firmly by the wrist.

“And the other man is Mr Hunter, my old friend from Johnny’s Burg!” answered Jack in a low voice. “Steady, Guy! You will let them hear you. Keep quiet, man! If we are found, we can be of no use to them; but if we remain silent, we may be able to rescue them.”

Jack gripped his friend by the arm and whispered the words into his ear, for the excitement of seeing his father had proved almost too much for Guy, and he was on the point of rushing from the cupboard.

But Jack’s commanding tones stopped him, and a moment later he was calm again.

“Prisoners, you are brought before me for refusing to fight for the cause,” the general now began. “You are burghers of the Republic, and have disobeyed the call of your country. What have you to say?”

Jack and Guy listened attentively, and then looked across at the prisoners. Both were absolutely calm, and stood there, in front of the table, with an air of stubborn determination and courage which showed that, come what might, their minds were made up on one subject.

“We are burghers of the Transvaal, it is true, general,” Mr Hunter answered in a firm voice, “and we are ready to do our duty by that Republic at any time but this. Against the natives, or the Portuguese, or even your own kith and kin, the men from the Orange Free State, we were prepared to fight, but when you tell us to bear arms against our own flesh and blood we refuse to obey you at all costs.”

“Yes, and I’ll go one further,” burst in Guy’s father impetuously, and with a total disregard for the consequences; “if we had been able we would have joined our comrades, the English troops, and fought there in their ranks against you.”

“You are a bold, but a foolish man,” the general answered, laying down his knife and fork with which he had been busy. “I will give you both another chance. Will you go to the trenches and do your duty like men?”

“We have already refused,” Mr Hunter replied shortly. “Is that not enough?”

“Very well, then, you shall be put there by force,” the general exclaimed harshly. Then, turning to the Boer in command of the guard over the prisoners, he said: “Remove these men, and take them straight to the gun hill nearest to the English camp, and tie them there to the wheels of the gun. That shall be their punishment. They will not fire on the Rooineks, but the Rooineks shall fire at them. It is a fitting reward. Perhaps, my friends, if you live through to-morrow you will be glad to change your minds. Believe me, it is far pleasanter to lie behind a rock and pick off the foe than to be tied up in the open and exposed to the lyddite shells which your barbarous British gunners employ.”

Meanwhile the prisoners listened calmly to their fate, and Mr Hunter bowed when the general had finished speaking.

They were then hurried out of the room, and some ten minutes later the Boers followed them.

The stamp of hoofs and the clanking of stirrups and bits told Jack and Guy that the Boers were on the point of leaving, and were then having their horses brought round for them. There was a hoarse command, and next second the whole party galloped off, leaving the house deserted save for the two young fellows and Mrs Robb and her infant child.

“Phew! I want some air after that,” exclaimed Jack, thrusting the door open and stepping into the room.

“Yes, it was a pretty tight corner,” Guy agreed; “but, Jack, our difficulties seem to increase the closer we get to Ladysmith. First you get caught as you climb through the window of the hospital, then Piet Maartens and his fat German friend try to arrest us, and now we are pledged to help this poor lady, while my father and your friend are being hurried away to their death.”

“Well, and what of it?” cried Jack. “Look here, Guy. We are not going back on our word. We will take Mrs Robb and her child safely into Ladysmith, and before I go there I shall rescue Mr Hunter and your father. What is to prevent us? The hill must be near by, and at night-time will have few upon it. You stay here and I will go out in search of it. It must be the one straight in front of this house, for that is certainly the nearest to the British camp.”

“Nonsense! Stay here indeed!” Guy answered hotly. “If you are ready to risk your life for a friend, Jack, I am fully prepared to do the same for my father. I shall come with you. That’s agreed, and also that we help this lady. Now, how is it all to be done?”

“It is already midnight,” Jack answered thoughtfully. Then turning to Mrs Robb he said, “How far is it to this gun hill, Mrs Robb? You have heard that two prisoners were to be taken there?”

“Yes; I listened outside,” Mrs Robb replied. “Just fancy their thinking of such a brutal act! The hill they are being taken to is two miles or more away, and from there to Ladysmith is a matter of three miles. I know the ground well, and could lead you.”

“The difficulty is this,” continued Jack. “To go to the top of the gun hill, set the prisoners free, and return here would take such a time that the day would have dawned before we could get near Ladysmith. If we make straight for the camp and leave you and the child there, it will be too late then to attempt a rescue, and to-morrow will settle their fate.”

“Then I can tell you what to do,” exclaimed Mrs Robb. “I will lead you to the hill where your friends are to be tied, and will accompany you nearly to the top. Then you must help the prisoners, and as soon as they are free, we will all strike straight across for the camp, and endeavour to pass through the pickets.”

“Good! That is the very ticket!” Guy cried excitedly. “We cannot find this hill without you, and as we are all bound for Ladysmith, we will go together.”

“Yes, it’s the best way,” Jack agreed. “Are you ready to start now, Mrs Robb?”

“Yes, perfectly,” the plucky English lady replied.

“Then give me the child. I will carry him.”

Mrs Robb placed the sleeping infant in Jack’s strong arms, and, snatching up a small bundle, blew out the candle, and led the way out of the house, followed by her two stalwart protectors.

It was still intensely dark, so by a hurried arrangement Jack and Guy each linked an arm in one of Mrs Robb’s, and thus, guided by her and helping her over the rough ground, they pressed forward at their fastest pace, knowing well that there was much to be done ere morning.

For an hour they trudged on, and then suddenly halted, and hastily concealed themselves in a small copse of trees. They were barely in time, for a moment later some twenty Boers rode slowly by, making no sound on the grassy plain.

“Those are the men who were told off to tie them to the guns,” whispered Jack. “At least I expect that is who they are, and if so we are lucky once more.”

“I’m sure that the man riding in front is the Boer who was in charge of the two prisoners,” Guy answered. “Come along, Jack. They have gone on sufficiently far now.”

“No, not yet. We will not ruin everything for the sake of a few minutes, Guy. Let them get well ahead and then we will move on. How near are we to the hill now, Mrs Robb?”

“Quite close, Mr Somerton,” the English lady answered. “If I guide you on about three hundred yards farther you will be at the foot, and there I will stop and wait for you. How shall I know that it is you when you return?”

“I will whistle like this,” Jack answered, giving a low whistle. “Of course, if you hear firing, or any row going on on top, you will know that we have caught a tartar, and that our hopes of reaching the camp are over. In that case you had better slip back to the farm.”

“Ah, it will not be that!” Mrs Robb answered with confidence. “We deserve a better reward than that, and I feel sure that God will see us through this trouble safely. May He permit us to reach the English camp with your friends, and may He in His goodness grant that my poor husband be restored to me!”

“Amen, amen!” Jack and Guy answered huskily.

“Now it is time to be moving on, Guy,” said Jack, and, linking arms once more, they left their shelter and pushed on without a halt till they reached the base of the hill.

It was rough and boulder-strewn, and had extremely steep sides. Its summit was faintly defined against the star-lit sky, and, looking up, the two young fellows fancied that they could make out the form of a gun.

“Now we will leave you here, Mrs Robb,” Jack said, “but we must first find some place in which you can hide. Let us move along here to the left.”

Cautiously creeping through the grass and bushes, and in and out amongst the boulders, it was some time before they came across a likely spot. But at last they plunged into a dense growth of mimosa bush and fern, and this they decided would form a suitable hiding-place.

Jack handed the child to its mother, and placed the bundle by her side. Then he whispered: “Wait here for us, and remember, do not answer any other signal than the one agreed upon. Good-bye! I hope we shall be back soon.”

“Good-bye! oh, good-bye, you two brave boys!” Mrs Robb whispered.

With a hasty shake of the hand Jack and Guy left this brave and tender-hearted woman kneeling on the veldt, with the child held in her arms, and her lips moving as she offered up an earnest prayer for their safety.

Chapter Fifteen.

Saved from an Awful Fate.

“Let us stop here a few moments, Guy,” said Jack, when the two had advanced some twenty yards from the mimosa clump in which they had left Mrs Robb and her infant to wait for them. “That is evidently the gun up there at the top, and tied to the wheels are, I suppose, Mr Hunter and your father. Now how are we going to rescue them! It isn’t likely that the Boers will have left them unguarded. You can see for yourself that there is a camp away there on the left, for their fires are burning brightly. And in addition to the men there within easy call, there are certainly others near the gun.”

“Yes, there are sure to be pickets close to the top, for the garrison of Ladysmith might make a sortie at any moment,” Guy answered in a low whisper. “In Pretoria I heard that more than one gun had been put out of action in that manner. But about these pickets—we must slip between them. They are not likely to be awake at this hour. About three o’clock in the morning finds them astir.”

“Very well then, unsling your rifle, Guy, but do not load it. If there is trouble you can open the magazine in a moment, but with a cartridge in the breech, and the bolt pulled back, the slightest touch on the trigger would ruin all. Are you ready? Then keep close behind me, and if any of the Boers challenge I will leave it to you to answer them.”

“Trust me, Jack, old boy,” Guy whispered back. Then, feeling for his friend’s hand, he gave it a cordial grasp, which was returned as eagerly with a squeeze which almost made him cry out with pain. “If things go wrong, Jack,” he said earnestly, “we’ve been good pals. You’re a real brick, old man!”

“Things are not going wrong,” Jack answered grimly. “I’m going to get them both away, or I’ll know the reason why!”

For a moment longer the two young fellows stood facing one another in the darkness, gripping each other by the hand in a manner which said better than words could do that they were determined on one thing at least, and that was to be true to one another to death. Then Jack whispered, “Come along!” And, followed closely by Guy, he commenced to climb the steep and rugged side of the hill.

At any time it was no easy task, but now, when the displacement of a stone, or a footstep upon a piece of exposed rock, would easily have betrayed them, it was a matter of the utmost importance that only soft and grassy spots should be selected to put their feet upon.

By this time both were on hands and knees, and, feeling carefully in front of him, Jack wound from side to side, sometimes going a considerable way out of the direct course in his endeavour to find soft ground.

It was a long and tedious climb, but at last they were within fifty feet of the summit, where they came to a halt and looked cautiously round.

There was no one near them as far as they could see, but above them, standing dimly silhouetted against the sky, was an immense Creuzot gun, looking like some gigantic animal crouching on all-fours.

“Keep a bright look-out!” Jack whispered, with his mouth close to Guy’s ear. “There must be a guard somewhere close at hand.”

“What is that?” Guy answered hoarsely, pointing to the left. “Surely those are men wrapped in blankets and asleep. Yes, I am sure of it.”

“Stay here a moment, and I will see,” said Jack; and a second later he was gone in the darkness, and was creeping towards the ill-defined figures which Guy had pointed out.

It was dangerous work, but he had had a good grounding in the duties of a scout, and now he put into practice all the cunning that Tom Salter and his own quick wits had taught him. Lying almost flat upon the ground, he wriggled his body between the boulders and rapidly advanced. A few moments later he was sufficiently close, and, cautiously standing up behind a jagged mass of rock, peeped over the top.

The sight he saw filled him with satisfaction, for, wrapped from head to foot in blankets, were ten men fast asleep on the side of the hill.

“We ought to get past those fellows safely,” he muttered, “and if there are no more of them we might even be able to make a fight of it. By George, there are their rifles stacked a few feet away from their heads! It is worth the risk, and I will chance it.”

Once more crawling forward, he writhed amongst the boulders, and was soon within easy reach of the weapons, but with a boulder between himself and the recumbent figures. At that moment, despite all his care, the butt of his rifle struck against the rock and gave rise to a sharp sound.

Jack immediately lay flat on the ground, and, placing his thumb on the magazine catch, prepared to shoot a cartridge into the breech, and keep the Boers from taking possession of their Mausers.

It was evident that one of the men was a light sleeper, for at the sound of the butt striking the boulder he sat up on his elbow and looked suspiciously round. Then he rose to his feet, shook off the blankets, and strode towards the stack of rifles. Jack covered him and prepared to shoot, but, satisfied that here there was nothing wrong, the Boer again stopped, and then, evidently still suspicious, climbed up the hill to the gun.

Jack followed him, and again hid himself behind a boulder some ten feet away. As he did so, another ghostly-looking figure approached the Boer, and demanded, in somewhat quavering tones, what was the matter. Jack had no difficulty in following his words, for once again, with a start of surprise and an angry snap of his teeth which boded ill for the man should Jack find himself opposed to him, he recognised the voice of the fat little German, Hans Schloss, who had shown himself such a bitter hater of the English.

“That man is always coming across my path,” he muttered grimly to himself, “but let him look out this time; for if he comes between me and my object I will put a bullet through his carcass!”

Then he sat up and craned his head to listen.

“What is the matter, Gert?” the German asked in a trembling voice, which showed that sentry duty in front of these much-despised English was a task he had little liking for.

“Nothing is wrong, little man,” the Boer answered surlily, “but I heard a sound, and came up here to see whether anything had happened. But these prisoners are evidently afraid of you, Hans Schloss. Ah! you are a gallant fighter, and to-morrow you shall help us to work this gun, and see the English shells come bursting close at hand. It will be a fine sight for you to watch those prisoners blown to pieces by the very men they would wish to fight for!”

“Ha, ha, Gert! You were always funny,” Hans answered, with a husky laugh which had no merriment in it, “but to-morrow I have other work to do. It is a misfortune, for I should dearly have loved to witness the execution of these traitors.”

“Well, keep a bright look-out, Hans,” the Boer replied brusquely, “or else you may never live to see to-morrow’s light.” Then he turned about, and swung down the hill past Jack, leaving the little German quivering with fear. Five minutes later the man addressed as Gert was once more wrapped in his blankets, and Jack was crawling back to join Guy.

“Come away over here,” he whispered when he had reached him. “Now lie down flat, and I will tell you what I have seen.”

Then he detailed how ten Boers were sleeping upon the hill, and how Hans Schloss was keeping guard in front.

“With a little luck we shall manage beautifully,” he went on, “but there is always the chance of one of those Boers waking up, or of Hans discovering us. I had intended removing the stacked rifles, but it was too risky a job when one of the men was only half-asleep. But we can do every bit as well by separating. Are you willing to do just as I suggest?”

“I’ll do exactly as you order, Jack,” Guy answered. “You’re boss of this show, and had better continue to act as such. Too many cooks spoil the broth, old chap!”

“Very well, then, you will follow me, and I shall leave you behind a boulder close to the sleeping Boers. When you are safely hidden there, slip a cartridge into the breech and open the magazine. If there is an alarm, it will be your duty to keep anyone from using those rifles, and whatever happens you will stick to your post till I call you.”

“I understand. You can rely upon me,” Guy answered shortly.

“When you are in position,” Jack continued, “I shall sneak up to the gun and cut the prisoners loose. I’d give you that part of the job, Guy, old boy, as your father is there, but I have already been up there and know the ground. When we are ready I will slip across to you, and tell you how matters have gone. Then we will all cut away down the hill, fetch Mrs Robb and the kid, and strike round into the camp. Is that all clear?”

“As clear as daylight, old horse!” exclaimed Guy, with a suspicion of excitement in his voice. “I’m ready now. Let us set about it.”

Once more creeping forward on their knees, it was not long before Jack had guided his friend to the important post he was to occupy. Then he left him there, and, knife in hand, climbed up the hill.

The gun was now only a few yards away, and in little more than a minute Jack was close to it. Dropping flat upon the ground for a moment, he waited till Hans Schloss had moved out of sight. Then he scrambled forward and hastily dived beneath the enormous weapon. On either side of him were the massive wheels, and through the spokes Jack made out the figures of two men.

Rising slowly, he gently pulled the sleeve of one, and whispered in his ear: “Be silent for your life! I am a friend.”

The man gave a start, and almost cried out. Then he turned his head and answered: “Who are you? For God’s sake rescue us!”

Jack recognised the voice as Mr Hunter’s, and placing his lips close to his ear, whispered: “I am Jack Somerton. Stand still. I will cut you loose.”

Feeling along the spokes, he soon found that Mr Hunter’s wrists were lashed together to the hub of the wheel. He severed the cord with his knife.

Then he dived beneath the gun to the other prisoner, and having told him who he was, and that his son was close at hand, set him free also.

A moment later they were ready to start, Mr Hunter and Mr Richardson still standing against the wheels as though their lashings were secure.

“Hush, here comes the sentry!” Mr Hunter whispered as they were about to leave their posts.

Jack at once lay down upon the ground, and, opening the magazine of his rifle, slipped a cartridge in in readiness, in case there should be trouble.

A second later Hans Schloss swaggered up with his Mauser at the slope across his shoulder, and looked closely at each of the prisoners.

“Ha, Oom Hunter and Oom Richardson!” he laughed brutally, “this is a fine night for you. It is your last, my English friends, so make the most of it. Well, you are securely fastened, so I will leave you alone to think of your wives and your homes.”

Neither of the prisoners deigned to answer; but, had the vindictive and cowardly little German but known it, both were braced and ready to hurl themselves upon him and strangle the life out of him should he discover that their bonds were gone.

But, turning round with a sneering and cruel laugh, he walked back to his post, and all three at the gun breathed freely again. Another minute, and they would have hurried away, when a faint sound close in front of them attracted Jack’s attention. It was so faint that neither of the prisoners had heard it, but Jack’s trained ear told him that some men were approaching in the darkness.

“Wait, what is that?” he asked, detaining Mr Hunter and his comrade by the arm. “Surely the Boers are not coming up to work the gun!”

Next second all three became convinced that a large body of men was approaching, and even Hans Schloss had his suspicions aroused. He stopped in his lonely tramp abruptly, faced down the hill towards Ladysmith, and brought his rifle to his shoulder. An instant later a figure bounded into sight close in front of him, and the German fired and turned to fly. But he was too late. The flash of the rifle lit up the darkness, and to the astonishment of Jack and his two companions they saw a swarm of kilted men rushing headlong at the gun, while in front of them was the brawny giant, a fine Scotch lad from the Highlands, at whom the German had fired. The bullet evidently found a mark, for the soldier gave a fierce cry of anger and pain, and, bounding forward, buried his bayonet in Hans Schloss’s body, and with the strength of a Hercules hurled him over his shoulder just as a man might toss a bundle of hay with a pitchfork. Then someone shouted in the darkness, “At them boys! Surround the gun and keep everyone back till we have done the work!”

A second later there was a rush, and a hurricane of bullets swept across the top of the hill, splashing on the gun, and making it uncommonly uncomfortable for Jack and his friends, while the sharp crack of a Mauser close at hand and a series of terrified cries told them that Guy was performing his allotted task.

“Stop! Don’t fire! We are English!” Jack shouted.

“Cease fire there! Steady, men! Cover these fellows till I can get a look at them!” shouted the officer.

“Why, it’s Rawlings!” Jack cried in delight, recognising the voice of an officer he had met in Ladysmith. “Rawlings, I am Jack Somerton. Don’t let your men fire, and we will explain everything.”

At this moment a dark lantern was unmasked, and the rays flashed in Jack’s face.

“By Jove, it’s you right enough!” Rawlings cried. “Who are the others?”

“Prisoners who had been tied to the gun, and whom I and a friend were rescuing,” Jack answered hurriedly. “But I’ll tell you all about it later on. The Boers are away on the left, and that is the side you had best look to.”

“Why, who’s this?” the officer demanded a second later, as Guy was brought up a prisoner and halted in front of him between two Highlanders with fixed bayonets.

“Don’t know, sir,” one of the men answered shortly, with a Scotch accent. “He was firing away like mad down the hill, and there were a couple of dead Boers at his feet lying over a pile of rifles.”

“That’s my friend who was helping me, Rawlings,” Jack explained hastily. “Look here; how long are you likely to be on this hill?”

“Just as long as it takes to blow this infernal gun to pieces,” the officer coolly replied. “Why do you want to know? Can I help you?”

“Yes, we left a poor English lady and her child down there,” Jack answered, pointing down the hill. “I’ll go and fetch her, and then we will all get back together.”

“That’ll suit me, Somerton,” Rawlings replied. “A lady in distress, old boy, and you never need appeal twice to a soldier. Cut along then, and get back as soon as you can. Sergeant, detail three men to help. Quick about it, lads! Sing out when you’re near again.”

A minute later Jack and his escort were tearing down the hill, and having found Mrs Robb, returned with her to their friends.

“Ah! you’re there, are you, Somerton?” Rawlings cried calmly. “All right then! slip along down the hill and we’ll follow you. Now, where’s the lantern? That’s it. Line the top of the hill, boys, till the fuse begins to splutter. Then we’ll run for it.”

It was an exciting moment, and Jack, who had stayed behind, revelled in it, for this was just the kind of hazardous work that he enjoyed. But by this time the fuse was burning brightly, and the Highlanders fell back, having placed a heavy charge of gun-cotton in the breech of the Creuzot gun.

Five minutes later there was a loud report, and the breech had been blown to atoms and the rifling destroyed.

But it must not be supposed that all this time the sortie party had been left undisturbed. On the contrary, a dash, which had at first been merely in the nature of a gallant attempt to destroy a gun which had annoyed the garrison in the camp below, had now developed into a sharp affair. Recovering from their first surprise, the Boers on the left of the hill had leapt from their hard couches, and had moved upwards against the British troops in extended order. Soon their bullets began to swish close to the gun, and one or two of the Highlanders were wounded. But the others lay down behind boulders, and soon their rifle fire was answering the flashes below.

Immediately the fuse had become fairly alight the officer drew off his men, and, carrying the wounded, moved down the hill towards the camp. A minute later and Mrs Robb and her child were in the centre.

“Look out, sir!” the sergeant shouted at this moment; “they’ve got between us and the camp!”

“Then are you ready with those bayonets?” Rawlings cried cheerfully. “Charge right through them!”

Five minutes of wild, fierce fighting followed, for British troops, whether English, Irish, or Scotch, are perfect demons when their blood is roused and they are armed with that deadly weapon which none know better how to use. It seems to be an understood thing with them that, however much firing of guns there may be, and however thickly the bullets may fly, matters are not satisfactory and ended as they should be unless the bugle sounds “the charge”, and they rush with a cheer and hurl themselves upon the enemy.

The brave Highlanders, with their kilts blowing from side to side, rushed headlong at the Boers, and simply split them into two parties. Then they turned upon each one, and with a savage fierceness and a splendid disregard of the danger they incurred, forged a way into them and thrust them back at the points of the murderous bayonets.

Prominent amongst them was the giant who had ended Hans Schloss’s career, and by his side, using a bayonet which he had taken from a wounded soldier, was Jack Somerton, using it too with a vigour and a quickness which sent many a Boer to his last account.

“Get together there, me boys!” the Highlander by his side shouted. “Now, at ’em! Remember Majuba, and give them a taste of your steel!” His comrades answered with a hoarse cheer, and shouting “Remember Majuba!” fell upon the remaining Boers and put them to flight. Then they picked up those who had fallen and returned slowly to the camp, a rearguard marching behind them and answering the volleys discharged at them with a brisk fusillade.

Soon they were out of harm’s way, and stepped forward to the inspiriting wail of a bagpipe. About half an hour later it became light, and the whole garrison of Ladysmith who were free to do so turned out to welcome them. They had heard the firing, seen the flash of the gun-cotton which had destroyed the gun, and so learned that some of their number were making a sortie. It was a surprise to them as much as to the enemy; but to have published the news the day before would have meant a certain reverse, for in the town and camp, fraternising with our troops, were still men bought with Pretoria gold—spies and traitors who lived in the guise of harmless and refugee civilians, and yet were ready to send news of intended movements to the Boers.

But now that the sortie was an accomplished fact, and had proved such a signal success, the troops flocked out in hundreds and cheered the gallant party, relieving of their burdens those who were carrying the wounded.

Then a couple of ambulance wagons galloped up, and while one of them halted and took in the poor fellows, the other went ahead, one of the surgeons climbing in behind. A few hundred yards farther on a shell dropped and exploded near them, and a groan burst from all who were watching; for the work done for all who were helpless or hurt, by the medical staff, had already roused a feeling of deep gratitude in the hearts of the men.

Undaunted by the shell, and by another which quickly followed it, the ambulance wagon galloped on, a white flag with the red cross of Geneva flying above it. On arriving close to the hill, the surgeon was seen to leap out, and, followed by four stretcher-bearers, to walk hither and thither in search of the one or two men who had been left behind. Soon they found them, in the midst of a pile of wounded Boers, and, carrying them to the wagon, returned to the camp at a leisurely pace, the enemy this time letting them go unmolested.

Meanwhile the sortie party had almost been carried to their tents, while the officer who had been in command turned to the strangers who had so strangely joined his forces.

“What’s the matter, Somerton?” he cried. “You look awfully white. Not hit, I hope?”

“Oh, I’m all right! It’s nothing, thanks!” Jack answered. But his looks belied his words. He was deadly pale. His head was in a whirl, and now that all the excitement and danger was over, the power to control his feelings deserted him. His rifle dropped from his hand, he staggered forward, and fell senseless at the feet of his astonished friends.

Guy rushed to his side, and with the help of Rawlings, Mr Hunter, and Mr Richardson carried him to a field hospital which happened to be near. There it was found that a bullet had struck the magazine of his Mauser pistol, and, exploding the ammunition, had shattered the weapon and torn a deep wound in his side. But, strange to say, Jack had barely felt it at the time, though on the way back to the camp the pain had been excruciating. He had received the wound when charging with the bayonet, and the loss of blood which followed had at last told upon his strength.

When he recovered consciousness he was lying in a comfortable cot in a huge marquee, in which were fifteen others. In front of him, calmly stitching beneath the flap-like awning, was an army nursing sister, one of that band of noble women who follow our armies everywhere. She was stitching quietly, and seemed quite unconcerned when shell after shell, thrown from the Boer guns, fell in the camp.

Jack stirred, and at once gave vent to a sharp cry of pain, for the slightest movement caused him agony.

“Ah, so you’ve come to at last!” said the sister in a gentle voice, jumping up from her seat and coming to the side of his cot. “Now you must drink this. It is nasty stuff, but will do you good, and to-morrow, if you are strong enough, I will tell you how my life has been pestered these last two days by the hundreds of friends who have called to ask after you.”

“Friends!” said Jack feebly. “What friends? I have only a few here.”

“You have far more than you imagine,” the sister replied with a smile. “But I am disobeying orders. You are not to talk.”

With gentle hands she arranged his pillows and saw that he was comfortable, and Jack fell into an easy sleep as he was in the act of thanking her.

But on the following day he was unconscious again, for his wound was inflamed and he was in the height of a fever. Against this his iron constitution fought for two long weeks, during which he was tenderly looked after by the nurse, and watched with anxious feeling by the surgeons. And all this time Guy and his father and Mr Hunter hovered outside in the depths of despair, waiting impatiently for the first good news of their friend.

At last one day he showed signs of improvement, and two weeks later was rapidly recovering. The change in his condition caused a wave of gladness to spread over the beleaguered town, for Guy and his noble comrade, to whom he unstintingly and generously gave most of the credit, were the heroes of Ladysmith. Their adventures were detailed round many a camp fire, and if one soldier puffed more fiercely at his pipe, and swore beneath his breath that Jack was a downright good fellow, hundreds did, from the officers downwards.

As for Mrs Robb, the forlorn but brave little English lady whom the two young fellows had befriended at such risk to themselves, she was now quite happy once more, for her husband had escaped from his captors and had joined her in the camp.

And now to return for one brief moment to Frampton Grange, the family seat of the Somertons, and the amiable mistress and youth who resided there. Jack’s accident in London and his voyage to Africa had long ceased to be topics of interest to them, and, indeed, beyond wondering occasionally what had become of him, they never troubled themselves about him. Jack had written to them several times, but neither Mrs Somerton nor Frank had deigned to respond, and in consequence he had for months kept silent, so that they had no idea of his whereabouts.

But Dr Hanly was a regular correspondent of Jack’s, and when the latter wrote and said that they were on the eve of war, and that he should volunteer for service, the doctor sent the letter down to the Grange, so that Mrs Somerton might read it.

Who shall say what were the thoughts of this disappointed woman, or of the worldly son who lived with her? Frampton Grange was a charming and luxurious residence, and the legacy to which Jack was entitled at a certain age was by no means a small one. What if something happened to him? Then all would come to Mrs Somerton, and in due course to Frank. The very thought of it made the latter more unbearable, his airs and graces grew even more exasperating, and he finally became a veritable ruler of the house, with the result that there were many changes in the household. The first to leave was the old butler, who had been for years in the service of the family, and then one by one the other domestics quitted the house.

Kruger’s ultimatum was delivered, hostilities commenced, and mother and son scanned the newspapers and the long list of casualties with expectant feelings. Judge of their disappointment, then, when, instead of wounded, killed, or missing, Jack’s name appeared in large type, and beneath it a long article describing the adventures of a young Englishman, by name Jack Somerton, of a good old family at home, who had ridden from Kimberley to Johannesburg to aid the refugees, and had afterwards brought news to the beleaguered town, after having accomplished a gallant deed on the way.

No sooner had this appeared than another telegram announced his successful dash for Mafeking, and his subsequent daring ride to the north.

Then came silence. There was no news of him. Messages from Tuli and Mafeking stated that nothing further had been heard of him, and it was feared that he had been captured. But advices from Pretoria failed to mention his name amongst the lists of prisoners, and the master and mistress of Frampton Grange felt their hopes rise high.

But later, after more than a month of silence, the busy flash-light from Ladysmith explained how Jack Somerton had come nobly to the fore again.

Dr Hanly was beside himself with pride and pleasure, and no sooner had he read the news than he darted off to the Grange and congratulated Mrs Somerton. He was an observant man, was this little doctor; given to thinking charitably of everyone; but when he saw the little enthusiasm his intelligence caused he was astounded and disgusted, and at once left the house with the firm intention of never going there again till Jack returned.

Dr Hanly was not the only neighbour who showed his appreciation of our hero’s services to his country. From far and near people called to offer their congratulations, and letters poured in in shoals. So much so, indeed, that Mrs Somerton and her son gradually began to look upon the other side. They were not altogether bad or selfish, and in time they too, feeling a kind of reflected glory, began to think more kindly of the homeless lad they had treated so harshly. In this satisfactory condition we will leave them, and while Jack Somerton lies in his bed in that field hospital in the invested camp at Ladysmith we will return to the British troops in other parts of South Africa.

It will be remembered that on the receipt of Kruger’s ultimatum England had despatched a large army over the 6000 miles of water which cut her off from South Africa, and this force had arrived at its destination in due course, armed and ready for war, and accompanied by supplies. In addition, local colonial forces were rapidly enlisted, for it was apparent to all that no one could approach so close to the Boers in slimness and astuteness in fighting as these hardy young sons of the old country, who, finding themselves crowded out by the more fortunate ones, had betaken themselves to this fair land of South Africa to set up new homes. And with them, to do all and every arm of the service justice, must be classed the gallant volunteers from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. For the most part used to a rough life in the bush, they proved most valuable scouts, and were as fine a body of men as could be met with.

Thus it will be seen that we had a large army in the field, and when it is recollected that some 10,000 troops were hemmed in at Ladysmith, while others kept the foe at bay in Cape Colony, Kimberley, and Mafeking, it will be realised that England was well represented.

A glance at the map of South Africa will show the four railway systems leading into or close by the two republics in arms against us. Those who know the country through which they run believed that General Buller, the able leader of the British forces, would invade the Orange Free State by way of the Orange River, and thus draw off the investing forces from Ladysmith and the other besieged towns.

But a little consideration will show that such a task was all too formidable for the army we had accumulated. To begin with, the Boers far outnumbered us—not that that damped the spirits of our men, but it was a fact to be seriously reckoned with. Then Cape Colony was seething with sedition, and a revolt was to be feared unless troops were there to keep the rebels in check. But perhaps the greatest difficulty was that this necessity for troops in all parts of the country, and along the railway to the Orange River, the absolute importance of keeping the communications open from the advancing army right away to the sea, and above all the large force required to keep the Boers in check in Natal and south of Kimberley, capped the strength of our army corps to such an extent that when all demands had been supplied its numbers had dwindled so alarmingly that the idea of an invasion had to be promptly abandoned.

The urgent necessity for the timely relief of the three beleaguered towns now became obvious, for the fall of any one of them, but particularly of Ladysmith, would have been a heavy blow to our prestige in the country, and would have increased the already growing sedition.

Accordingly Lord Methuen was despatched with a force of some 10,000 men to Kimberley, while the remaining troops were sent via Durban into Natal. A few others were placed under General Gatacre’s command, and, having sailed to East London, took train for Queenstown, while another force, under General French, went via Port Elizabeth towards Naauwpoort.

To detail the regiments or the exact numbers in each column would be to tax the patience of the most generous of readers, as would also a full description of the various skirmishes which each had with the enemy. They started from the sea base by railway, and as they reached the invaded country they followed the rails, and repaired the parts which had been torn up by the Boers. Thus, their communications being assured, they had abundant supplies of ammunition and of food, and could pass their wounded down the line a few hours after the injuries were received.

But though this means of transport saved a vast deal of labour, and for the moment allowed our generals to dispense with wagons and mules, it had one decidedly important disadvantage, for, inasmuch as we were tied to it, the Boers knew weeks beforehand what part they would have to defend, and made preparations accordingly. And this was particularly the case on the west and in Natal.

In the case of the former, a large force of Boers, under Commandant Cronje, opposed Methuen’s advance just above Hope Town. Heights had been selected at Belmont, and these had been carefully entrenched. But the Guards, the Marines, and the others who composed the force dashed at them, and captured them at the point of the bayonet.

A few miles farther north, at Graspan, another position had been taken by the Boers, and once again we drove them out of it.

But there was sterner work before this truly gallant column, for, though they had driven the enemy before them on each occasion, the lack of a really large mobile arm, in the shape of a cavalry force, hampered them seriously, and allowed the Boers to retire where otherwise they might have been routed. Consequently they were far from beaten, and when the column reached the banks of the Modder River it was to find a long line of ridges entrenched on the other side, and the bridge blown down. In addition, the knowledge that the British must pass on in this direction had allowed the Boers full scope in the way of artillery, a most important arm, and instead of the field-guns which we were forced for the most part to make use of, they had mounted long-range weapons of position, against which only our naval 4.7 cannon could effectively fight.

The battle of Modder River was a murderous affair, but once again, in spite of severe losses, we damaged the enemy to such an extent that, though not driven from his entrenchments, he deserted them overnight, and under cover of darkness retired on the long ridges of Spytfontein and Magersfontein, only a few miles south of Kimberley.

It was an exceedingly formidable and well-chosen position. In spite of the most complete reconnaissances the trenches remained hidden, and the Boers held their fire, refusing to be drawn into showing their exact whereabouts till an attack was made in force.

It was a crafty and exceedingly wise proceeding on their part, for when, in the grey of dawn, our Highland Brigade advanced, they stumbled, in close order, upon the first line of trenches before they were aware of it. And the Boers, who were almost taken by surprise, poured murderous volleys into their ranks as they marched in quarter column, and almost decimated them. It was a most unfortunate affair, and though we covered the retirement of the brigade, and indeed killed and wounded large numbers of the Boers, we failed to turn them out of their trenches, and retired on our camp, checked for the first time in a memorable march, in which in seven days we had fought no fewer than three successful engagements.

It was a check, not a reverse, though the disaster to the Highlanders was a serious affair. But it created a sensation, and formed one of those irritating pin-pricks which roused the British lion to do his utmost, and caused us to pour into Africa an army larger than had ever before been transported across the sea. How those troops were raised, how the patriotic spirit of the nation showed itself, will be described in due course. For the moment we shall leave Methuen’s column safely entrenched in front of the Boers, waiting for reinforcements from oversea ere they made a second attempt at an almost impossible task, and will mention the fate in store for Gatacre’s force. This small column, with its base at Queenstown, had a disastrous beginning. A night march to Stormberg, where the enemy was in force, was attempted. A miscalculation brought the troops into an extremely dangerous position, and a large number were taken prisoners, the remainder retiring in good order.

What happened to the other column in Natal is of so much importance that it must be described in fuller detail.

Chapter Sixteen.

The Attempt upon the Guns.

It was in the early days of September that Jack and his friend reached the beleaguered camp of Ladysmith, and found safety there after their adventurous flight from Pretoria. The former, as has been shown, knew little about the troops or the movements of the enemy, for he had been struck down by a serious wound. But he was a strong and healthy lad, and, once he got over his fever, made rapid progress; so much so that when Christmas-day came round he was sufficiently well to recline outside the tent and look on at the camp. The sunlight and the air did him a vast amount of good, and when the New-Year arrived he was able to walk with comfort, and was almost himself again.

“Jack, how would you like a drive?” cried Guy on this festive day, entering the small bell-tent which had now been allotted to his friend. “I’ve got the loan of a light cart and a couple of horses, and if you care to dodge an occasional shell we’ll make a tour round the camp and have a look at the boys. A real good time they are having too, and there is to be a big football-match this afternoon between the Highlanders and the Rifles, which will be well worth looking at.”

“Just what I should like,” Jack answered. “When shall we start?”

“Oh, in half an hour! I’ll get the cart at once.”

Accordingly, when Guy drove up in a comfortable Cape cart, Jack climbed into it, and accompanied him round the camp. It proved to be highly interesting. The huts and houses and the long lines of tents in various parts were still much the same as when he was last in Ladysmith, but what was different was the stretch of trenches which had since been dug, and near which the soldiers lived, ready at any moment to man them and keep back the enemy.

Ladysmith was for all the world like Aldershot. It was the big camp of South Africa, and probably for that reason had been garrisoned and held, when the southern bank of the River Tugela would have been a more favourable position. For health and the collection of a large body of men it was certainly not to be beaten. There was ample room for camp and town, and a wide plain over which cavalry could manoeuvre, and field-days be practised by the foot regiments. In addition, it was high land and supplied with excellent water.

But it had obvious disadvantages when held against a besieging force. With trenches and redoubts the encircling hills could be held, but beyond these there was a second outer circle, from which a fierce bombardment could be kept up by the Boers. Guy and Jack drove round the defences, and noticed that the chief position was to the south of the camp, at Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp, and it was near the latter that Jack’s field hospital lay.

Outside, the Boers had mounted big Creuzot guns on several hills, and from these, ever since the camp was surrounded on October 30th, they had kept up a more or less severe bombardment, throwing immense numbers of shells into the town. But the results were not very creditable. Football and cricket matches were played in full view of the gunners, while the officers played polo. Occasionally a shell would plump in their midst and send them all flying, but very little damage was done.

As Guy and Jack drove across towards the northern part a huge shell pitched just in front of their horses, and, burying itself deep in the ground, exploded, throwing dirt all over them.

“Shall we go on, Jack?” asked Guy. “Those Boer fellows have spotted us, I expect. Perhaps you don’t feel quite up to it just now that you are weak after your wound.”

“Humbug!” was Jack’s answer. “Get ahead, Guy; it’s only a chance shot that will hit us.”

“Ah, I thought you’d say that!” Guy continued; “and the majority of fellows who have been hurt say that had they been out in the open they could have easily run away. But a few shells have burst in houses and tents, and some people have been killed. Of course the Boers have pounded the town, and have even sent a few shots through the big hospital. At any rate it has been hot work in there, and now all non-combatants and the women and children live over on the neutral ground at Intombi Spruit. The troops have nicknamed their camp Funkemburg.”

At this moment someone called out to Guy to pull up, and Rawlings, the officer who had conducted the sortie which had helped Jack and his friends back into Ladysmith, came up to the cart.

“Hallo, Jack Somerton!” he cried heartily, shaking him by the hand. “When are you going to turn out of that hospital and join Guy in our mess. He tells us you have lots of yarns to give, and he says something about a girl near Kimberley. When are you coming, old boy? We’d like awfully to hear all about that little affair.”

“Well, I hope to be out in a few days now,” Jack replied with a laugh. “But shut up about that Kimberley business! Guy, what have you been telling these fellows?”

There was a loud laugh at Jack’s expense, and then Rawlings climbed into the cart and accompanied the two young fellows on their drive.

“I can tell you, Jack,” he said, “that you had better hurry up and get your strength back, for those beggars outside are getting restless again. Just fancy, they have been firing away at us, and looking into the camp, for two months now, and, much as they long to take it, they have only made one feeble assault. We beat them back then, and if they try the game again I expect we shall give them a better hiding. You chaps haven’t had all the fun to yourselves. We may be shut in here, but we’ve drawn a few of old Krugers teeth. We’ve played that game of blowing up his guns twice, in addition to that time when we three had the pleasure of meeting. And we’ve also upset him a bit by sending out the cavalry. If it had been a British force investing Boers in Ladysmith, I’m open to bet a new hat that we’d have turned them out of it long ago. Just fancy looking on for two whole months! Well, I expect they will wake up again soon, especially now that Buller has been checked at Colenso and cannot release us at present. I can tell you, chaps, it’s a beast of a position. You see these hills round here? Well, the main Boer army, under Joubert, blocks the country between this and the River Tugela, and that country is choke-full of rocky hills and kopjes. To reach this camp and set us free the British troops have first to cross the river, and then they have to fight their way foot by foot past all those hills, every one of which will have guns mounted on the summit, and be entrenched from the base up to the guns. It is a difficult undertaking, and Buller and his troops, in spite of the greatest bravery, failed in the first step—the crossing of the river—on December 15th. The heliograph has told us the whole story, and now we know that the Boers had entrenched the whole of the north bank of the river for miles on either side of Colenso. You’ve seen our trenches here, and can guess how difficult it is to locate them from a distance.

“The Boers, with their usual cunning, had concealed theirs perfectly, and the heaviest artillery fire failed to make them disclose them. There was nothing else for it but an assault over an open stretch of country, just the kind of work that our men are fitted for, but work which is terribly trying.

“With splendid dash, General Hart’s brigade moved forward on the left to the drift across the river, supported by General Hildyard’s brigade, guns accompanying both. But the drift, which is usually fordable, was now too deep, for the Boers had dammed the river. Added to that, all those who crossed were under a terrific rifle fire. Still, our lads did it, and got to the other side, only to find the position untenable. It was altogether terribly hot work, and it was soon seen that a frontal attack could not succeed. Buller recognised it early, and skilfully withdrew his men.

“But one unfortunate affair happened. The guns galloped forward to support the infantry, but got so close to the masked trenches of the Boers that all the horses were shot down immediately, and nearly all the gunners. They made a gallant fight of it, but they had fallen into an ambush, and in spite of the desperate efforts made to get the guns away, only two were saved, the others being captured by the enemy.

“During the battle Colenso was occupied by our troops, but later on was evacuated. In the evening, after having sustained severe losses in men and guns, our army retired to its camp. The Boers, too, suffered very heavily in spite of rocks and boulders.

“It was a check, and a severe check, but our boys went back that night not a bit disheartened; and now, by all accounts, they are itching to make another attempt. Meanwhile, here we are, poor little Ladysmith, surrounded on every side, garrisoned by some 9000 men on half-rations, with no luxuries, and with typhoid fever and dysentery raging amongst us.

“It’s enough to dispirit anyone, but we are hopeful still; and I guarantee, if you come to our footer match this afternoon, you will watch as good a game as you could see at home.

“But mark my words, you chaps. The Boers are getting restless. Reinforcements are being hurried up-country to Buller, besides extra guns, and they know very well that he is only getting everything ready before making another—and let us hope this time successful—attempt. Their aim and object is to capture this camp before he comes. They are getting desperate, for to fail to take us will make them the laughing-stock of the world. But an assault is distasteful to the Boer. Nothing goes so much against his grain, unless perhaps it is a British bayonet. But he will try it, and when he does we shall have our work cut out. There, now you know all about it, and if you hurry up and get strong, Jack, you’ll be able to take a hand in the affair.”

“Well, I feel almost fit for a tussle now,” Jack laughed, “and if the camp is assaulted you may be sure I shall get hold of a rifle somehow and join in the fun.”

“I’m sure you will,” Rawlings answered heartily. “Such a fire-eater as you are would be certain to be somewhere in it. But come along to our mess and lunch. They can spare you from the hospital for once, and I don’t suppose it matters much what you eat, now that you are up and about.”

Jack accepted the invitation, and much enjoyed it, for it was the first time he had had a repast out of hospital since he came to Ladysmith. After lunch he was given a big chair and a large cigar, and ordered to tell the story of the defence of the farmhouse near Kimberley.

He obeyed the order, and had to put up with a good deal of good-natured chaff. Then he drove off with Guy and Rawlings to the football ground.

It was an exciting and fast game, and was closely contested, there being little to choose between the smart riflemen and the brawny Highlanders. The whole camp was there to look on, and evidently the Boers were also watching through their field-glasses, for in the midst of a severe tussle, and when the two sides were grouped close together, there was a screaming noise overhead, and a huge Creuzot shell plunged into the middle of them, narrowly missing one man’s head, and buried itself deep in the ground.

Instantly the umpire’s whistle sounded, and he shouted: “Half-time, boys!”

A roar of laughter followed, and all the players decamped hastily and threw themselves on the ground. A second later there was a muffled roar, sand and earth were driven in all directions, and a large fragment of shell whizzed across the ground, passed close to Jack’s head, and tore a huge rent in a galvanised-iron shed behind him.

Then the umpire’s whistle sounded again, and the game was proceeded with, one and all treating the matter as a joke.

That evening when Jack got back to his tent he was tired out, but by the dim light from a lantern he perused, with many a chuckle, the pages of one of the two papers published in the camp. It was The Lyre, and purported to contain nothing but untruths.

On the evening of January 5th, as Jack was reclining on his chair looking round the camp with his field-glasses, he noticed that amongst the men passing to Ladysmith from Intombi Spruit, or “Funkemburg”, were three whose movements were suspicious. They were dressed like colonial volunteers, and carried rifles. Passing separately across the open ground, they pushed forward without hesitation, and, once inside the camp of Ladysmith, walked in the direction of Wagon Hill, where each in turn disappeared into a hut which had been almost smashed to pieces by one of the enemy’s shells.

Jack watched them, curiously at first, wondering why they did not come across from the neutral ground together, and what business they had to be out of the camp; and then suspiciously, for their movements were peculiar. They looked about them cautiously, and one by one dived into the hut. Here they remained, and though he fixed his glasses in that direction for half an hour there was no sign of them, and they did not even appear when the bugle sounded the “Fall in!” all over the camp, and the garrison turned out of their tents and formed up for the evening inspection.

“That is queer!” he muttered suspiciously. “Who can they be? Not civilians, I am sure, for they have no business over in this direction. I don’t like the look of things, and I’ll keep my eyes upon those beggars.”

A few minutes later, as Sir George White and his staff rode on to the nearest parade-ground and the guard there presented arms to their commanding-officer, a man slipped out from the back of the hut, and, having peered in all directions, struck the wall with his rifle. Jack fixed his glasses upon him and waited. Almost immediately two men emerged, and having looked about them suspiciously, fell in, and, shouldering their weapons, marched off towards the heights of Caesar’s Camp, with the one who had first left the hut walking by their side.

“Well, that’s rummy!” exclaimed Jack aloud. “What can they be doing? I suppose they are going to relieve the pickets, or the guards over the guns. But it is an unusual time. Of course I know that the colonials take their turn, but they are generally marched up to change guard just before the evening parade. I’ll just watch, and at the same time keep out of sight, for they will pass close by me.”

He promptly entered his tent, and, lying full-length on the ground, lifted the flap, and again watched the volunteers through his field-glasses. Soon they were close at hand, and though it was already getting dusk, something about the figure of the officer caught his notice, and that, combined with the peculiar manner in which he threw out his feet, set Jack wondering who he was.

“I’m sure I’ve had something to do with that fellow before,” he muttered. “Who can he be?”

Jack puzzled his brains, but could not solve the problem, and was on the point of giving it up in disgust when the merest chance disclosed it to him. There was a sentry standing in front of an iron hut used as the paymaster’s office, and as the volunteers got opposite him, and just in front of Jack, the watchful man hailed them and shouted: “Halt! who goes there?” saluting the party at the same moment by shouldering his rifle.

He was evidently a young soldier, and eager to be considered wide-awake, or else he would have remembered that it was already dusk and no salute was required. Still it served Jack’s purpose, for a second later “Eyes right!” and “Gun picket!” was shouted out in a voice which made him tingle from head to foot and tremble with excitement, for the voice and the figure together told him that it was none other than Piet Maartens, his old enemy, who had so nearly proved the death of him in the Transvaal magazine.

“Good heavens!” Jack exclaimed in astonishment. “What does it mean? Can he have come over to our side to fight against the Boers? No, that’s impossible. He must be a spy, and, by George! those other men with him must belong to the enemy too.”

Jack sprang to his feet and gazed after the squad of volunteers. Then he thought for a few moments, and, having determined what to do, he dived into the tent again, and, snatching up his rifle, ran across to call Guy Richardson.

“Quick, Guy!” he said, pushing his head into the hut in which Guy and Mr Hunter lived. “Come out here! I want you both! Bring your rifles!”

An instant later all were walking rapidly towards the heights of Caesar’s Camp, the southern boundary of the defences of Ladysmith, and a position of the most vital importance to the garrison, for with the Boers in possession of it their guns would have forced our troops to surrender.

“There’s some treachery going on!” Jack whispered as they walked along side by side. Then he explained what he had seen, and told them how Piet Maartens, and two men dressed presumably as colonial volunteers, were marching towards Caesar’s Camp.

“There is certainly something wrong,” Mr Hunter replied hurriedly. “Now what had we better do! Ah, I know! You two follow them, and I will go to the quarters of the officer in command of the pickets to-night and warn him. What can those spies want! Keep your eyes open, lads. It looks as though our friends were about to make an attempt to take Ladysmith.”

A moment later Mr Hunter was gone, and Jack and Guy hurried on till they were within sight of the men they were following. It was now almost dark, and having ascertained the direction in which they were marching, the two took to their heels, and, making a wide détour, ran up to the trenches at the top of the hill.

“Wait here, Guy, while I go over and speak to the officer on duty,” said Jack. “I’ll be back directly.”

Slipping across the turf, he was soon challenged by a sentry and brought to a sudden stop with the man’s bayonet at his chest. Then he was taken to the officer.

“I’ve some important news to give you,” he said. “Can I see you alone!”

“Certainly! Come in here,” was the answer; and Jack was led into a trench.

“There’s something going on to-night,” Jack whispered. “A Boer I knew in Johannesburg is marching up here with two men, all dressed as volunteers. They are all spies, I believe, and I have come to warn you!”

“Spies! By Jove, we’ll get hold of them immediately they appear!” exclaimed the officer.

“Don’t you think it would be well to let them do whatever they are coming for,” said Jack thoughtfully. “You might set a watch on them, and as soon as you have found out their game arrest them. I should warn your sergeants and a few of the older men, so as to be ready. Mr Hunter thinks it looks as though the Boers were about to make a rush.”

“By George, they’d better not!” the officer exclaimed. “But I’ll do as you suggest, and what is more, I’ll send a man over to warn the fellows on Wagon Hill.”

“Very well! I’ll slip back, and follow Piet Maartens and his friends up,” said Jack; and, stepping from the trench, he nodded to the young officer and ran across to Guy.

A few minutes later the Boer spies appeared marching stealthily up the hill, and as soon as they had passed by, Jack and Guy fell in behind them. They kept steadily on, halting for a few seconds now and again to listen and glance cautiously round them. Soon they were at the top of the heights, when they turned to the left, and after proceeding some two hundred yards came to a stop directly behind a battery of field-guns placed in a most commanding position to rake the flats below. They stood unguarded and unattended, save that below them, on the farther side of the hill and some distance away on either hand, pickets were posted.

“Looks as though they were going to play some game with the guns,” whispered Guy. “What do you think, Jack? It would suit their purpose well to destroy our cannon and then assault us.”

“I think you are right, Guy. Let us hide up here and watch. At present I do not think they will do much, for it is too light, but in another hour perhaps they will make a move. By that time they will be surrounded.”

At this moment Piet Maartens rose to his knees from the hollow in which he and his two companions had thrown themselves, and, not seeing anyone, all three stole forward about fifty paces, and again lay prone upon the ground, where they remained without a move, save that now and again one of them raised his head and attempted to pierce the gloom. But the night had already fallen, and it would have required more than the unaided eye to distinguish any but a very close object.

Meanwhile Jack and Guy had crept into a good position near at hand, and feeling sure that the officer in charge of the trenches had taken due precautions to surround the Boer spies, they sat down in silence and waited to see what would happen.

“Stay here a moment,” said Jack, seeing that at present nothing was likely to happen, “I’ll go and get that officer, and then there will be official evidence against those fellows. It looks as though we should have them beautifully.”

Leaving Guy crouching behind a mound of earth, Jack slipped back, and, having reached the trenches, was soon in conversation with the officer.

“I wonder what their game is,” said the latter. “At any rate we shall nab them all, for I have put a circle of men all round the guns.”

“I believe they are going to damage the weapons in some way or other,” Jack answered, “and in that case they will certainly use explosives. I came over to ask you to join us at a spot where we can see everything. The sentries on the guns show well up against the sky-line, so that when these fellows get on their feet we can see at once when they move. By the way, it would be wise to warn the gunners to be careful when the time comes for using their weapons.”

“Yes, I’ll do that,” exclaimed the officer. “Who knows! these spies may fix a charge of dynamite. Wait here a moment while I give the order.”

A few minutes later he joined Jack once more, and both crept to Guy’s side and then moved forward, for Piet Maartens and his companions had crawled closer to the guns. Raising their heads cautiously, they peeped over a bank and saw the guns, only a few yards in front of them, standing dimly defined against the star-lit sky, while close beside them crouched the Boer spies.

Piet Maartens lay a few yards in front upon the edge of the hill, and as Jack and his friends watched him they saw him lift his head and look steadily in either direction, and then turn round as if to make sure that he was unobserved.

Instantly all three sank flat on the ground, but a minute later, when they peered over the bank again, he was facing down the hill, and as they looked, he stood up and produced what was evidently a pair of field-glasses and applied them to his eyes.

“He’s trying to make out where the pickets are,” whispered Jack. “Keep down, you fellows, he’s turning this way now.”

“He can look as long as he likes,” chuckled the young officer, “but he won’t see a single man beyond the regular outposts. I ordered all my fellows to lie flat and remain without a move till they hear me shout.”

“That’s good,” muttered Jack. “Halloa! what’s that?”

As Jack spoke, one of the Boer spies gave a low warning hiss between his teeth, and a second later a corporal and two men swung by in the darkness on their way to relieve an outlying picket. They had approached so silently that Piet Maartens was taken by surprise, and was instantly perceived. But his coolness did not desert him. He instantly replaced his glasses and challenged.

“Relieving picket,” shouted the corporal, and passed on without a halt.

“Pass, relieving picket. All’s well,” Piet Maartens answered, and, having waited a minute, again produced his glasses.

Five minutes later the corporal and the men he had relieved returned, and silence settled down upon the hilltop.

It was a trying time for Jack and his friends. Crouching behind the mound of earth, with their eyes glued upon the Boer spies in front, they expected them to make some attempt upon the guns at any moment. But an hour dragged slowly past, and then another, and the officer was on the point of shouting to his men to close in, when Piet Maartens was again seen to make use of his glasses.

“Wait a moment,” Jack whispered, placing his hand upon the young officer’s arm to restrain him. “They are moving now, and the fun will begin.”

An instant later, having satisfied himself that there was no one about, Piet Maartens slipped stealthily to the side of one of his fellow-spies, and, extracting something from his haversack, approached one of the guns. There was a faint click, then a few seconds of silence, which was followed by a metallic “clang”. Once more he returned to his comrade, and approached another gun. And all the while Jack and his friends looked on in breathless silence. In all, there were twelve weapons belonging to the Field-Artillery, and each in turn Piet Maartens visited. Then he returned to his former position, and, having looked round in all directions, gave a soft whistle. At the signal the other spies joined him, and immediately disappeared over the brow of the hill and climbed down the opposite side. Instantly the young officer rushed up to the guns, accompanied by Jack and Guy, and, drawing his revolver, shouted “Look out, men!”

The next moment a ring of soldiers leapt to their feet, and with fixed bayonets faced the party of Boer spies.

“Lay down your arms, Piet Maartens. It’s all up, and if you lift a hand you will all be shot like dogs!” Jack shouted, rushing forward at the same time and presenting his rifle at his old enemy’s head.

A snarl of rage escaped from the Boer’s lips, and he made a frantic effort to unsling his rifle; but long before he could get it free the circle of soldiers rushed in and knocked all three to the ground. A minute later they were being marched towards the town, surrounded by a strong party in charge of a subaltern.

“Now we’ll have a look at the guns,” exclaimed the officer. “Sergeant, bring along a lantern and a couple of men, and don’t attempt to touch the guns till I have inspected them. Come and help me, Somerton. I expect that beggar has placed a charge of dynamite in the breech.”

A few moments later a lantern was produced, and, followed by Jack and Guy, the officer looked closely at the breeches of the guns. At first there was nothing to be seen. But a close inspection revealed a thin piece of wire attached to the handle of the breech, passing from there into the inside of the weapon.

“Don’t open it, whatever you do,” cried Jack in a warning voice. “It is a regular trap for the gunners, and the opening of the breech would fire the charge inside. Snip the wires, and then you will be able to learn all about it.”

A wire nipper was now produced, and the piece attached to the handle having been cautiously snipped, the breech was opened and disclosed a charge of gun-cotton inside arranged so that the mere opening of the handle would pull the wire and explode the charge, and so destroy the gun immediately.

“Ah, I told you there was a plot on hand!” exclaimed Jack with satisfaction. “They know that we have guns here, and they sent those spies in to arrange matters, so that when the rush comes and they attack the hill, we should be left without a single weapon to fire at them as they cross the ground below. Well, I fancy we shall be able to open their eyes. It’s getting on for midnight now, and we can expect them very soon.”

“Right you are, Somerton,” the officer replied. “There’s no mistake about it. They are going to have a real good try to take us, and, thanks to you, we shall be ready for them. I’ll go off and report the matter, and meanwhile I’ll have all the guns loaded with shrapnel. By the way, what are you going to do?”

“Oh, Guy and I will give a hand, if we may!” answered Jack.

“My dear chap, every man of us will be wanted, and the more we can get the better. Come into my trench, if you like. It’s certain to be a hot corner, being so close to the guns.”

Jack and his friend eagerly accepted the invitation, and accompanied the officer back to the trench. Here they were joined by Mr Hunter, and a few minutes after his arrival some Highlanders and Riflemen put in an appearance. Then all lay down, while the gunners trained their weapons upon the flats below, and loaded them with shrapnel. Outposts were doubled, and every man waited in dead silence for the assault, prepared to hurl back the attacking Boers at the point of the bayonet.

Chapter Seventeen.

The Grand Assault.

For almost three complete months had the Boers surrounded Ladysmith on every side, and shelled it persistently, and yet here were the British troops, seemingly as steadfast as during the early days of the siege.

But wounds and disease had slowly thinned their ranks, and against the 20,000 or more of the enemy there were scarcely 8000 to man a huge circle of trenches. What could they do against the odds opposed to them? It was almost an impossible feat that was expected of them, but for all that, each and every one of our sturdy lads, as he sat in the trenches that night, listening intently and vainly endeavouring to pierce the gloom, swore solemnly to himself that the task should be accomplished. For many weeks they had laughed at and kept a horde of Boers at bay, and now, when they were in a tight corner and in difficulties, they would teach the enemy that they yet had teeth to show, and good strength to use them.

And down beyond the flats stretching away from the heights of Caesar’s Camp, and in all the laagers surrounding the beleaguered garrison, bands of stern, resolute Boers collected together in absolute silence in the darkness. There was no need for words. Their plans had long since been arranged. They were the pick of all the forces from the Transvaal and the sister republic, and for the most part they had volunteered to attack and capture the camp, or die in the attempt. Rough, bearded men of middle age, they numbered amongst their ranks commandants, field-cornets, and officers of the Boer army. At a peremptory order from Pretoria, and because they could no longer put up with the humiliation of thus being laughed at by a handful of men, they had set themselves the dangerous task of a grand assault. It would be warfare after a method hateful to them one and all, for the comfortable shelter of a big boulder was more to their liking. But a desperate position called for stern measures, and, like the brave men they were, they prepared for the work, determined to do or die in the attempt. Collecting together in silence, they for the most part removed their boots, and just before the darkness lifted they set out across the grassy plain, and without so much as a sound commenced to scale the heights of Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp. Without firing a shot those at the western end of the heights clambered up till they were almost upon the trenches, when they were discovered by an outpost of the Manchesters, who gave the alarm. Instantly a hail of lead was poured into the night, and the guns opened fire, tearing the elopes and the flats below with bursting shrapnel.

But the darkness aided the Boers, and in a few moments they were upon our men.

They had got so far, but they were not to make another step forward, for by now the Gordon Highlanders and the Rifle Brigade had arrived, and, rushing forward with fixed bayonets, they dashed pell-mell at the enemy, and after a fierce and bloody conflict broke them, and hurled them shattered and bleeding down the steep hillside.

It was desperate work. As the night lifted, and the grey haze of dawn lay upon the grassy slopes of Caesar’s Camp, Briton and Boer stood face to face and fought for supremacy. Every man of ours had need of all his courage and strength, and not one failed to do his duty to his queen. Magnificently the brave fellows kept up the reputation of the army, and in spite of the havoc wrought by Mauser bullets, pressed the enemy still closer, and when they fled sent a taunting cheer after them, and stood ready and willing to meet them again.

Jack and Guy took a full share in the work. Deafened by the reports of the field-artillery and the incessant tat, tat of the rifles, they stood shoulder to shoulder in the trench, and when their comrades charged, rushed forward with them and helped to hurl back the Boers. But that was the least difficult part of the task. Some minutes before the much-needed reinforcements arrived they were closely pressed, and barely held their own. The Boers swarmed up the hill, and now that the alarm was given, opened a hot fire upon them. Then they rushed at them, and surrounded the small party of defenders.

Standing back to back, Jack and his friend, with Mr Hunter, beat off a determined assault, but a second which followed parted them, and the two young fellows found themselves alone and cut off from their friends, while Mr Hunter had been forced back amongst the Highlanders.

Side by side Jack and Guy thrust fiercely at the Boers, parrying the swinging blows aimed at them, and escaping the flying bullets by a miracle.

“Surrender, and lay down your arms!” shouted a big, bearded man, presenting his rifle at Jack’s head. “You are surrounded and cut off from your friends.”

“Never!” cried Jack, hoarsely. “Come and take us it you can!”

“Very well, then,” the Boer answered roughly, and at once pulled his trigger, falling himself in a heap upon the ground at the same moment and rolling down the hill, his head almost smashed in by a shell which had struck him. But his bullet took effect. Swishing close by Jack, it hit Guy with a dull thud in the thigh, causing him to stumble and crash down upon the grass.

“All right, old boy!” cried Jack immediately, standing across his body and plunging his bayonet deep into the chest of a young Boer.

“That’s it, Jack. Keep them off!” Guy answered weakly; “I’m hit in the leg, but can fire my rifle.”

Next second both were hotly engaged, for the enemy, who had drawn back for the moment, rushed upon them again, and while some fired their rifles, others swung theirs over their heads and bit with all their strength. But the keen, gleaming bayonet, darting angrily here and there, kept them at arm’s-length, and not content with that, Jack gave a defiant shout, and, springing forward, threw himself upon them, transfixing one with his murderous blade, and knocking a second senseless with the butt of his rifle.

Meanwhile Guy had calmly opened his magazine, and as the burghers returned to the attack he picked them off one by one. But it was an uneven contest, and another minute would have seen both of them killed or captured, when there was a roaring cheer from behind, and down the hill, careless of the pelting bullets, swept the brawny, kilted sons of Scotland and the fearless and lithe little riflemen, their bayonets at the charge and the light of battle in their gleaming eyes.

At the sight the Boers drew back for one brief moment, and Jack and Guy regained their friends, the latter forgetting the agony of his wound in the excitement of the moment. Then, plucking up their courage and remembering their desperate resolve, the burghers turned to face the oncoming line of bayonets with a bravery which none of their fellows had ever shown before. With one fierce shout they ranged themselves together, poured in a volley, and rushed like a tide up the hill to meet the avalanche of terrible steel now pouring down it. A minute later the two forces met with a crash, but the result was never for a moment doubtful. The British onrush was not even checked. There was a fierce lunging of rifles, a succession of awful groans, and the Boers were gone, all swept to the ground, save a few who were now racing away for their lives. And after them the gallant English troops sent a scathing volley, and then stood watching them, shouting hoarsely to them, and more than half-longing that they would return again ere the flush of victory had died down in their hearts. But one such bitter experience was sufficient for the moment. The Boers hastily rejoined their friends, and, diving into cover, opened up a galling fire upon the heights of Caesar’s Camp.

Meanwhile other parts of the town had been attacked, to draw off attention from the heights to the south, the position which was of such vital importance. But the main strength of the enemy was directed against Caesar’s Camp, and while to the west of it one commando of staunch men had been hurled backward down the slopes, another had advanced on Wagon Hill, and had occupied it before the three detachments of the Imperial Light Horse stationed near were aware of it. The Boers, however, were raked by a murderous fire of Lee-Metford bullets, for the gallant colonists stuck to their posts with dogged persistence.

As the day dawned and it was seen that the enemy had possession of the hill, the Highlanders, Devons, and 60th Rifles charged them in company with the Imperial Light Horse. There was no denying this old and supremely British method of settling a conflict. One crash, one murderous flash of fire, and the hearts of the Boers were inspired with terror, and they fled precipitately to cover, whence they kept up a sullen fusillade.

For many long hours the Boers poured a storm of bullets upon the heights of Caesar’s Camp from a long ridge of which they had taken possession, and then, at noon, they made a second desperate onslaught, only to be shattered by the field-artillery and mown down by our riflemen.

Late that memorable afternoon, in the midst of a blinding storm of sleet and rain which only Natal could produce, a third and last attempt was made, but proved a signal failure, for by now the artillery, which had already done such excellent service, had ranged their guns to rake the open ground, and those of the enemy who escaped retired to their laagers to rest and recover from the terrors of an awful day. They were a sad gathering, for they had many comrades to mourn, and in addition their dearest hope had been frustrated. From behind a barrier of rock, and concealed in carefully-prepared trenches on the ridges north of the Tugela, they and their long-range guns had proved too formidable for Buller’s army, despite a stubborn and gallant attack. But here, when the position had been reversed, when a handful of British manned a trench on the summit of a hill which sloped easily and was not too steep to be assailed, they, in spite of their superior number, had been shattered and defeated.

It was humiliating, bitterly humiliating; but that desperate conflict served, if it did nothing else, to banish the mistaken ideas which each side had for the other. England now knew that she was fighting valiant men, who would be perfect as enemies, and equally chivalrous as her own soldiers, did not many of their number sully a good name by dastardly acts, such as firing upon the red cross and the wounded and making a scandalous use of the white flag. And on the Boer side, where previously scorn and worse for the bravery of the “Rooineks” had been shown, ungrudging praise for their dauntless courage was now given; while those who had stood to face the desperate charge upon the heighs of Caesar’s Camp shivered, and swore silently to themselves that nothing, not even their cherished independence and the longing for a Dutch South Africa, should prevail upon them to commit such an act of madness again.

On the heights of Caesar’s Camp, when the tide of battle had been turned back and the dusk of evening was beginning to fall, there were many poor fellows sleeping their last long sleep upon the grass. They had chosen a soldier’s life, and their reward had been to die for the sacred cause of their country. It was a sad and heart-rending scene, and Jack, as he looked on and endeavoured to help the wounded, fully realised the misery of it all. At his feet lay Guy Richardson, roughly bandaged and waiting to be carried off, while close at hand was the lifeless body of a little rifleman, the face turned upward to the sky, and smiling as though death had laid its hand upon him painlessly.

It was a gruesome scene, but he had little time to brood upon it, for at that moment he caught sight of a familiar figure a few yards away, and, running across the grass, knelt down by the side of Rawlings, the brave and jovial Highlander who had led the assault upon the Boer gun.

“Hallo, Jack!” he panted cheerfully; “not hit, I see. Prop me up, like a good fellow.”

Jack lifted him gently, and propped him up with his knee. Then he unslung his water-bottle and gave the poor fellow a drink.

“Thanks, old man!” the wounded officer said in a weaker voice. “Those beggars have done for me! I’m shot through the chest.”

“Not done for, Rawlings!” Jack answered hopefully. “You’ve many a year to live. You’ll pull through, old chap, never fear.”

“No, I’m going home, Jack,” was the whispered reply. “I can feel the life running out of me. Hold me tight and stay by me, will you? It’s lonely work to die without a friend.”

Jack’s eyes filled with tears, for from the very first he had feared that his poor friend was mortally hit and upon the point of death. He propped him up still higher, and having moistened his lips again, put his arms round him and held him firmly.

There was a long and painful pause, and then the young Highlander spoke again, this time in a stronger voice:

“Jack,” he said earnestly, “I’d have given more than I possess to live to the end of this struggle; but we shall win. Mark the words of a dying man—England shall come out victorious. The cause of freedom and justice shall triumph above all others, and Victoria, God bless her! shall rule this continent.”

He was silent again for a few moments, and then continued in a voice which was scarcely as loud as a whisper:

“Bend down, old chap,” he said. “I’m off to the other land. Remember me, Jack, when I’ve gone, and when you get back to dear old England again, look the people up and tell them that Angus met the end like a soldier and a man. They’ll be sorry. Yes, Mother and Father and the boys and girls will miss me. But they’ll he proud, too, that I died like this—Put your hand in mine, Jack. Ah, now I know you’re there! Good-bye! God bless everyone! My love to you, Dad and Mother! Good—”

There was a deep sigh, and the head of the gallant young officer fell back upon Jack’s shoulder, and the tears which were streaming down the latter’s cheeks fell upon the pale face of as brave a man as Britain had ever known.

Jack laid him gently on the grass, and, rising sorrowfully to his feet, looked for the last time upon this stalwart young Highlander. He beckoned to some Highlanders who had looked on tearfully all the while, and who now approached and carried their officer away. Then he joined Mr Hunter, and all night long helped to gather the wounded.

When morning dawned again—the morning of the Sabbath—the awful havoc wrought by our shell was for the first time seen. Down the slopes of the hill, and away across the flats, Boer and Briton lay cold and motionless, separately and in groups; sometimes huddled together as if still engaged in a deadly tussle, and sometimes side by side in seeming friendship. Farther away, near the long ridge which the enemy had held, scores of mangled bodies were found, and at once handed over to the Boers, while the poor wounded wretches were tended to by our surgeons.

Then, when human skill and care had done all that was possible for the living, the troops formed up and in long lines carried their dead to the cemetery. The rifles rang out the regulation volleys, the bugles wailed the “Last Post”, and all was over, save that each and every soldier bore away with him from that scene a lasting memory of those brave comrades who but a few hours before had been full of life and energy.

After that they thronged into the church, and joined earnestly in the prayer of thanksgiving offered up for their glorious victory.

At the close of the service the men joined with such a will in singing the National Anthem—a loyal ceremony never neglected in a garrison church—that the strains were heard far away by the lonely pickets and patrols, and set each one of them singing blithely as he trudged up and down on his beat.

Jack Somerton sat amongst the officers in the church, and when the service was over he walked across to the hospital marquees and enquired for Guy Richardson. Even now, though the wounded had all been collected, the surgeons had their hands more than full, for typhoid fever and dysentery, those scourges which ever dog the footsteps of an army, had claimed many victims, and these required the most careful attention.

“Well, Jack, old boy,” said Guy cheerfully, “tell me all about Saturday’s affair. Of course I saw that part of the fighting which occurred at Caesar’s Camp; but elsewhere our fellows were hard pressed, they tell me.”

Jack told his friend all that he knew of the engagement, and mentioned the names of the gallant officers who had fallen.

“What are you going to do now, Jack?” his friend asked, after they had chatted for some minutes. “The surgeon who is looking after me says we are likely to be cooped up here for some time longer, and I am sure that will not suit you.”

“No, I don’t think I care much about sticking in Ladysmith while the siege continues,” mused Jack. “You see, the Boers, by all accounts, have entrenched all the hills between this and the Tugela, and with the heavy guns of position which they have been able to bring down by rail from the Transvaal, have practically made their lines impregnable. An officer told me that it would require an army of more than 100,000 to break through them and relieve us, and that even then the job would not be accomplished without frightful loss of life.

“I believe we shall have to wait. Buller and his forces will keep the enemy busy while another army is massing in Cape Colony ready to invade the Orange Free State. That would probably lead to the relief of Kimberley and Mafeking, and possibly Ladysmith. But to get the army in motion and prepare the commissariat is a gigantic undertaking, and will require weeks yet. There will not be another assault here, at least not for many a long day to come, as we have just given the burghers such a smashing, but elsewhere there will be lots of fun. They tell me that despatch-riders are being asked for, and I shall send in my name and risk it. It would be fine to feel that one had been able to creep through to Chieveley in spite of all those Boers.”

“By Jove, Jack,” Guy exclaimed, raising himself upon his elbows and flushing with excitement, “you are the most adventurous beggar I have ever come across! First of all, you have excitement sufficient to suit most fellows for a year up there at Talana Hill; then you fight your way through to Kimberley and Mafeking; and finally, through sheer daring and pluck, save me from that beast of a lion. Then, of course, it was mainly through you that we rescued Father and Mr Hunter, not to mention that poor little woman whose husband had been commandeered. No wonder the camp is ringing with your name. By now I expect the news of Piet Maartens and the spies, and the manner in which you checkmated them, has been heliographed across to Buller’s signallers, and I dare say London is reading the news, and every man in England rejoicing over it as he drinks his breakfast coffee. Well, old man, go on a little further. Many of our countrymen will make a name before this war is over, but if Jack Somerton doesn’t top the list—well—I’m a Transvaal burgher, which is the very last thing I shall care to be.”

“Oh, shut up, Guy!” Jack cried warmly, colouring with embarrassment. “It’s all been luck—sheer luck from beginning to end.”

“Luck! Bosh, my dear old chap; bosh!” exclaimed Guy with a merry laugh. “You’re the only fellow who will ever say such a thing.”

“Well, I think so,” Jack answered. “But you’ve talked enough already, Guy. The surgeon expressly told me that you were to keep silent, and here you are chattering away as though there was nothing the matter with you. I shall send in my name as a despatch-rider, and let you know what happens. Now I’ll say good-bye for the present. To-morrow I have to give evidence against Piet Maartens, and after that I expect I shall clear out of Ladysmith. So long, old chap, and mind you keep quiet, as you have been told, or something will go wrong with your wound.”

Pressing Guy’s hand, Jack took his leave, after exchanging a few words with the other wounded soldiers lying in the tent.

On the following morning he attended the court-martial upon the Boer prisoners and gave formal evidence. It went much against his wishes, but the stern necessities of war demanded that spies should be summarily dealt with.

There was no doubt about their guilt. All had been caught red-handed, and in a deathly silence sentence was passed upon them that at dawn on the following morning they should be shot for their offence, in sight of all the troops.

Piet Maartens was a pitiable sight. Unarmed and a prisoner, he was a very different individual from the bumptious Boer who had been taught a lesson by Jack only a few months before. At the reading of the death penalty he turned white with terror, his limbs shook, and perspiration rolled from his forehead. With a shriek of fear he fell upon his knees and begged the president of the court to reconsider his decision. Then, finding him obdurate, he turned to Jack and besought him to say something for him.

Of very different moulding were his companions. Stern, sunburnt young men, they held their heads erect and heard their doom like men, and even harshly remonstrated with Piet Maartens for his cowardice.

Just as the sun rose on the following morning, and one of the loveliest of lovely African days dawned, a dozen rifles cracked, and Piet Maartens and his companions had paid the last penalty of all spies.

Chapter Eighteen.

Out of the Trap.

On the following day a mounted orderly dashed up to the tent in which Jack was living with Mr Hunter and Mr Richardson, and handed him a note. It was brief and terse, and asked him to call at once at a certain house in the town, close to General White’s quarters, where a proposition would be made to him. Jack at once jammed his hat on his head, and, slinging his rifle and bandolier over his shoulder, set out to keep the appointment.

“Ah, good-day, Somerton!” said a young officer of the staff who was standing outside the door of the house. “I waited for you here, and now that you have come we will both go in. My business is the same as yours, and I believe I may say I am about the luckiest beggar in the camp to be chosen for this job.”

“Why, what is the job?” Jack asked in some surprise. “Oh, you’ll hear all about that in a moment, old chap!” laughed the officer, whose name was Poynter. “Come along in; they’re waiting for us.”

A second later Jack was ushered into a large room, with wide-open windows, through which he could see the helmet and bayonet of a sentry who was marching up and down just out of ear-shot. In the middle was a table, on which were many large plans of Ladysmith and the neighbourhood, while behind it, seated in cane chairs, and in their shirtsleeves, for the heat was oppressive, were three more officers of the staff.

“Good-day, Somerton!” said the central one, evidently the senior. “Sit down there for a moment while I just finish this matter, and then we will have a chat.”

Jack shook hands with all of them, for he had met them many times before, and then he and Poynter took their seats on a long form close to the window, and waited while the officer finished a document upon which he was engaged.

“Now,” he said at last, throwing down his pen, “I am ready. We want you to do something for us, Somerton, and we have sent for you particularly, because the matter is one of some delicacy and of great consequence. Shortly put, it is this. It is of vital importance that certain facts and plans shall be conveyed to General Buller at Chieveley. Of course we could employ one of our native runners, but they are not to be relied upon in every case, and as this matter is of the utmost importance we have decided to send Poynter and another. Will you be that other, my lad? We have all heard about your despatch-carrying over at Kimberley and at Mafeking; and here, too, we have learnt something about you. I am sure you could get through the enemy’s lines if anyone could, and could guide Poynter. What do you say about it?”

“Just what I’d like, sir!” exclaimed Jack, springing to his feet in his excitement. “I was on the point of volunteering my services as a despatch-carrier when your orderly galloped up. I’ll undertake the matter with pleasure, and will do my best to steer Poynter clear with me.”

“That’s good, Somerton,” answered the officer with satisfaction, “but it is just the answer I expected of you. Now, each of you will be provided with the facts which General White wishes to convey to General Buller, and we want you to commit them to memory. Then there will be no despatches or papers to fall into Joubert’s hands should you be captured, and if only one of you happens to get through, he will still be able to tell Buller what we mean to do. Come over here and sit down by my side, and I will tell you all about it.”

Half an hour later Jack and his young friend Poynter were fully primed with official secrets of the greatest importance, and had committed them so well to memory that there was no chance of their forgetting.

“Now, I think you have heard all the facts,” exclaimed the officer, “and I leave it to yourselves to arrange how you are to get through the enemy’s lines. I need not tell you how difficult the task is. The knowledge will make you all the more determined. You must go just as you are, so that the harshest of the Boers could not call you spies should they capture you; and, Poynter, you will be well advised to place yourself in Jack Somerton’s hands. People say that he is as ‘slim’ as Kruger himself, and I know,” added the staff-officer with a kindly smile, “that he has any amount of pluck to back it up. Remember, both of you, that this is a service of great danger, for which, if successful, your queen and country will not fail to reward you.”

The officer shook hands cordially with Jack and his friend, who stood for one brief moment stiffly at attention, and saluted. Then they hurried away to Poynter’s tent, and, stretched full-length in comfortable lounge chairs, discussed the situation.

“I shall do just as the colonel suggested,” said the latter. “You’ve run the gauntlet of these Boers before, and I shall place myself unreservedly in your hands. When shall we start, and what route shall we take? It’s all one to me, so long as we get through.”

“We shall start to-night, of course,” answered Jack after a long pause. “We have been told that it is important that our despatches should get through as early as possible, and by setting out as soon as darkness falls we ought to be at the Tugela by to-morrow night. Then, as regards the road. I was chatting with ‘Israel’, the native runner, a few days ago, and he told me that patrols of Boers were scouring the country everywhere, particularly to east and west, on either side of their lines of trenches. It seems to me that, that being the case, a bold course will be the safest. We could walk over to the neutral camp at Intombi Spruit this evening, to visit the hospitals, and then cut across for Nelthorpe. We shall be within twelve miles of the river, and with luck might even cross it before morning. If not, there must be plenty of dongas in which we could hide up for the day and keep out of sight of the Boers.”

“By Jove, I like that idea!” exclaimed Poynter with a gay laugh, “and we’ll have a shot at getting through to-night. What shall we carry with us?”

“Our rifles and bayonets, and some provisions; enough to last three days,” Jack answered. “I think we’ve settled everything now, so I’ll go across to my friends. Expect me back at five o’clock, and we’ll stroll over to Intombi Spruit. Take my advice, Poynter, have the magazine of your rifle filled in readiness for a tussle.”

“Trust me!” answered Poynter. “Well, so long, Jack! I’ll see you at five.”

Jack left him sitting in the shade of the tent inspecting his rifle, with which every officer was now armed in place of a sword, the latter having by its conspicuousness led to the death of many a poor fellow who had been deliberately picked off by the Boer sharpshooters. Then he walked across to Guy Richardson, who was progressing well, and afterwards sat down and had a long chat with Mr Hunter.

“Good-bye, Jack, lad!” said the latter as the time arrived for his young friend to keep his appointment with Poynter. “You’re the most venturesome young fellow I have ever come across, and if all goes well, as I feel sure it will, we shall meet again before long. Give my love to the wife when you get through, and tell all the boys that when we’ve eaten all our horses we’ll take to chewing grass before we hand over Ladysmith and ourselves to the Boers. Wasn’t I right, old boy, when I told you long ago up in Johnny’s Burg that Kruger and his pleasant friends had a surprise in store for us. Ha, ha! they were going to drive us into the sea, and eat fish dinners in Durban! And they had got all the guns and men ready close to the frontier too! Remember that. We’ve just checked them now, that’s all, and both sides are sitting still, watching one another. But, bless you! that won’t win this grand country for the Boers. They should be up and doing; instead of that, they act on the defensive alone, save here and at Kimberley and Mafeking, where we’ve pinched their tails pretty sharply for them whenever they have attacked. And all the while our reinforcements are pouring into the country. Mark my words, Jack. We’ve had a troublous time, and we’ve lost many gallant lives, and shall lose more yet; but the tide is on the turn, and soon it will be sweeping in full flood, not towards the coast, but across the Orange Free State to Pretoria.”

“Yes, I feel sure it will all come right in the end,” answered Jack, “and you may be certain of this, when that tide does turn I shall be somewhere near the front, and on my way to renew my acquaintance with his honour the President of the Transvaal Republic.”

Jack shook hands cordially with Mr Hunter, promised to remember his messages, and departed to join young Poynter. He found him burning with impatience, and longing to set out.

Half an hour later they were sauntering across to Intombi Spruit, and here they remained till darkness fell. Then they set out as if to return to Ladysmith, for there was no saying that a spy might not be watching them, and, slipping amongst a pile of boulders, they waited for some moments to make sure that they were not followed. Ten minutes later they had cut across to the left, and were tramping silently over the veldt in the direction of Nelthorpe. For two hours they kept on steadily, Jack carefully selecting a path which took them clear of boulders and rocky ground. Then suddenly, as they climbed to the summit of a long incline, they came in sight of an extended line of fires flickering in front of them, and stretching on either hand as far as they could see.

“The road is over to our left,” whispered Jack, “and our best plan will be to cut down to it boldly, and endeavour to slip through the lines. We shall have to be very cautious, for there must be sentries posted.”

After another glance at the twinkling dots of fire, Jack and his friend pushed forward, but with renewed caution, and nearly an hour later struck the main wagon-road leading through Nelthorpe and Pieters to Colenso. Then, walking along on the turf which skirted the beaten track, they slowly approached the lines in which the Boers were camped. Soon a large collection of tents away on their left attracted their attention, while the nickering embers now and again showed up a solitary canvas shelter, or a tented wagon, in which no doubt those of the burghers who were not on duty were asleep.

Suddenly the clatter of hoofs sounded behind them, and a few moments later a pony cantered past, bearing a man upon its back.

Jack and his friend lay flat on the ground as the rider passed, and were on the point of rising to their feet again when the pony was pulled up almost in front of them, and a voice called out a little farther on, in execrable English, which had a highly flavoured foreign accent: “Stop there! Who is that? Advance and give the pass-word.”

“Going rounds,” was the answer. Then the rider walked his pony a few feet towards the sentry, who could now be seen in the centre of the road.

“Ha, you are wide-awake, I see!” the former exclaimed in a loud tone. “It is only right that you and your friends from the Free State should do something to help us. Be ready to pass a convoy of wagons. We are sending down stores and ammunition to Colenso, besides a few boxes of special shells for the big guns. Remember, ‘Kruger’ is the pass-word. Shoot anyone who does not know it.” A moment later the Boer had ridden away, and the sentry retired into the darkness at the farther side of the road.

“Come back here, Poynter,” whispered Jack, pulling him gently by the sleeve.

Rising to their feet, they stepped noiselessly across the turf, and retired some hundred yards from the road.

“Look here, Poynter, are you ready to try a risky game?” exclaimed Jack shortly, when they were well out of ear-shot of the sentry. “If so, I believe I have got hold of an idea which will get us safely through the Boer lines.”

“Of course I am,” the young officer replied, with a gay laugh. “I place myself altogether in your hands, and will back you up through thick and thin. So heave ahead, and tell me all about it.”

“To creep through those lines ahead of us will be next door to impossible,” said Jack, “for in the dark we might stumble right up against a sentry, and if the alarm was once given we should have to make a dash back towards Intombi Spruit. Now, it occurred to me that we might get a lift amongst the wagons of this convoy. Each one will be driven by a Kafir, who most likely will be walking alongside his team. Let us select a covered cart and slip into it. There ought to be little difficulty about it this dark night, and if we are lucky we might even get into one drawn by a mule team, and afterwards make use of the animals.”

“By George, Jack, what a thing to think of!” exclaimed Poynter in delight. “Why, it’s about the biggest bit of cheek I ever heard of. Still, it is just the kind of dodge to end successfully, and we’ll do as you say.”

“Ah! I am glad you approve,” Jack answered quietly; “and now all we have to do is to sit down and wait for the convoy to turn up. By the way, to avoid confusion I will pull your sleeve when the right wagon comes along, and then, while you jump in behind, I will slip in in front. Look out in case someone happens to be inside. It would be a bit of bad luck, and if we failed to silence him, there would be nothing for it but to bolt back to Ladysmith as fast as our legs would take us.”

Poynter gave a low grunt to show that he understood, and a minute later, having arranged all their plans, the two young fellows crept down to the edge of the road once more, and hid up in an old and deserted Kafir hut which stood some hundreds of yards from the sentry. They had scarcely settled down when the low rumble of wheels in the distance attracted their attention, and looking back towards Ladysmith, they saw a couple of lanterns suddenly appear within a short distance of them. There was a hoarse shout and a gruff reply as the driver answered the challenge, while at the same moment the rays from the lanterns flashed upon a low, tented wagon, drawn by a long team of mules, at whose head the figure of a Kafir was for one brief second silhouetted against the light, to be swallowed up in the darkness immediately after. Then another wagon came into view, to be followed by another and another, each one of the long string which composed the convoy being inspected by the men who carried the lanterns.

“The first one that comes along is the one for us,” whispered Jack. “The driver is on this side of his team, so we will skip over to the other side of the road. Wait till the wagon is directly in front, and then hop in as quickly as you can.”

“Right! I understand,” was Poynter’s answer.

By this time the convoy of stores was close at hand, creeping slowly along the road, for many of the teams were composed of oxen, and were consequently incapable of covering much more than two miles in an hour. There were a few minutes of suspense, and then the mules which were leading filed past Jack and his friend like so many ghosts, followed by a lumbering, creaking wagon which groaned and rattled at every inequality in the road.

Jack pressed Poynter’s arm, and instantly both rose from the ground and darted towards the vehicle. With a spring Jack landed upon the driving-board, and, diving beneath the apron of the tent, crawled on to the top of a pile of mealie bags. Suddenly his hand fell upon the face of someone who was lying stretched fast asleep on top of the bags, and set his heart thumping heavily with the shock. A second later he had clapped his other hand over the sleeper’s mouth, and called gently to his comrade to help him. But long before Poynter had grasped the awkward situation, Jack and the stranger were engaged in a desperate struggle, the former with both hands clasped across the man’s mouth, and the Boer—for such he proved to be—endeavouring to clutch Jack by the throat. A moment later Poynter had come to the rescue, and long before the line of the enemy’s fires was reached the sleepy burgher was bound hand and foot with cords taken from the mealie bags, while Jack’s handkerchief was secured in his mouth. Then he was lifted to one side, with Poynter in attendance, while Jack stretched himself full-length upon the bags, and peeped out through the opening in the tent.

It seemed an age before the sentry was reached, but suddenly the same foreign voice as before called out: “Who goes there?”

Jack waited a moment, and as the Kafir driver in charge of the team of mules did not answer, he guessed that the Boer he had discovered asleep upon the mealies was intended to give the pass-word.

“Convoy for Colenso!” he called out in a sleepy voice. “Give the pass-word!” replied the sentry, lifting a lantern and flashing the light upon the wagon.

“‘Kruger’,” Jack called out in a still more sleepy voice, and as if he were just stifling a yawn.

“Pass, convoy; all’s well!” the sentry exclaimed, and a minute later the wagon rumbled by him, and the man in charge of the next was heard giving the pass-word.

“Thank goodness that’s over!” whispered Jack, slipping back to Poynter’s side. “Now, we have nothing more to do but to keep this fellow quiet and wait.”

“And what then!” asked Poynter, with a chuckle. “What are we going to do?”

“You said you’d stick by me through thick and thin,” Jack replied, “and by Jove, I’m not only going to get through to Buller with General White’s despatches, but I’ll take this wagon with me. Are you ready for the job?”

“Ready?” asked Poynter, scarcely able to repress a shout of excitement. “Try me and you’ll see soon enough. It would be grand. We should create quite a stir in the camp!”

“Then it’s settled!” answered Jack shortly. “But get your gun ready in case of accidents, and whatever you do, keep an eye on that fellow’s gag.”

Poynter gave another chuckle expressive of intense enjoyment, and, unslinging his rifle, sat down close to his captive, while Jack once more crawled to the front of the wagon.

An hour later the convoy passed through Pieters, being challenged by the Boer sentries, and coming to a halt close to the railway-station. But no one came near them. The Kafir drivers left their teams standing, and, taking buckets from beneath the axles of the wagons, went to a stream and procured water, which they gave to their thirsty animals.

Jack kept his eye upon the tall Zulu in charge of the mules, and watched him watering them. Then, as the man jumped on the driving-board, he stretched himself full-length on the mealie bags and snored loudly as if fast asleep. A moment later the Zulu put his head into the tent, and pulling him by the coat asked him whether he should push on, in a language composed of English, Dutch, and Zulu. Jack sat up and yawned in the most natural manner, and growled out an unintelligible answer. Then he pushed the man off the wagon, as if angry with him for waking him, and lay down once more. And all the time the young staff-officer sat beside his unwilling captive, with his hand over his mouth so as to make sure that he could not give an alarm.

It was touch and go, but no doubt the Kaffir driver had experienced the ill-temper of his Boer master before, and taking the gruff answer as an order, he sent the lash of his sjambok over the heads of the mules, with a crack as sharp as the report of a rifle, and started them along the road to Colenso.

Three hours later there was another halt, and, peering out through the back of the wagon, Jack noticed that all but the leading dozen wagons had turned aside, and their teams were being outspanned upon the veldt. Soon a horseman carrying a lantern rode up and gave a gruff order, and once more the wagons were set in motion.

Just as the dawn was beginning to break they reached the road bridge over the River Tugela, and having trundled across it, pushed on towards Colenso.

“Now we shall have to look lively, Poynter,” whispered Jack calmly. “Which part of the job will you take? Will you drive the team, or act as rearguard?”

“I fancy I had better do the driving,” answered Poynter. “I never was much of a hand with a rifle, while with the ribbons I fancy I take some beating. Tell me what to do, and you can rely upon my carrying it out.”

“Very well,” replied Jack; “as soon as we are well in the Boer camp at Colenso I will call the Kafir, and when he puts his head in the tent I will ask him for his whip. The sight of my rifle will persuade him to part with it, I have no doubt. Then I will tell him to clear off, and at the same moment you will pick up the reins, which you will find hooked up above, and will set the team going for all they are worth. You can leave the rest to me.”

“Right!” exclaimed Poynter jovially. “I’m to keep these mules going, and if anyone or anything gets in the way I am to drive clean over or through them, while you pick off any of the beggars who may be following. Jack, I’ll wager a pair of boots that we pull this business off.”

“Can’t take you,” answered Jack shortly. “We’re going to get this wagon through at all costs!”

By now the presence of a number of Boer horsemen galloping about, and a collection of houses, showed that the outskirts of Colenso had been reached, but the wagon still kept on. Then a large open space was reached, evidently in the centre of the town, and a burgher was seen galloping towards them, evidently with orders for them to halt alongside the others already collected there.

“Now is our time,” whispered Jack. Then he tapped on the woodwork and gave a hoarse shout. Almost instantly they heard the Kafir driver jump on the plank in front, and a second later he pulled the curtain of the tent aside and thrust his head in. Poynter at once grasped his whip, while Jack presented his rifle at his head.

For a moment the Zulu’s eyes nearly started out of his head, and he was speechless with astonishment. Then, with a yell of fear he started back and tumbled off the wagon. Poynter at once stepped out, and, picking up the reins, shook them in a manner that showed he was a practised hand, and with a crack of his whip set the team trotting down the road. Another crack above their heads and they were cantering, and at this pace he kept them, knowing that he could still expect more of them, and that, however fast he drove, he could never keep ahead of the Boer horsemen.

Meanwhile Jack had thrown himself upon the mealie bags, and, lifting the flap of the tent behind, peered out in readiness to act should they be followed. At first little notice was taken of them, but the Kafir driver had taken to his heels, shouting that his wagon was stolen, and soon there were loud shouts, followed by the crack of rifles and the whistling of bullets through the tent above his head.

“Sit as low as you can, Poynter!” Jack shouted, and his friend, who had also heard the sound of the bullets, crouched down on the driving-board, and, touching up his leaders with his whip, set the team of six mules galloping towards the British camp at their fastest pace.

A second later Jack’s rifle spoke out, and was followed by another volley from the Boers, more than thirty of whom had now joined in the chase, while others, hearing the shouts and firing, hurriedly threw themselves into their saddles and came tearing after the lumbering wagon, rising in their stirrups every now and again to discharge their rifles at it.

From Colenso to Chieveley the road stretches across five miles of open veldt, and long before Jack and his friend had driven across half of it a large troop of Boers was pursuing them. But Jack’s rifle was already hard at work, and few of his shots went amiss; while in the distance two sudden jets of smoke spurted up into the morning air, and a couple of shrapnel shells hurtled over the roof of the flying wagon, and bursting in their flight, scattered bullets amongst the horsemen. Once more the smoke from the field-guns shot up, one of the missiles striking the tent of the wagon and ripping it to pieces, while the other landed in the middle of the pursuing Boers. Then a column of dust rose from the far-off camp, and before Poynter could quite make out what was happening, two squadrons of irregular horse came spurring towards them.

At the sight the Boers with one accord turned back, while Poynter pulled in his panting steeds and walked them towards the British camp. Soon they were surrounded by friends. There were hurried questions and explanations, and as soon as it was known that two of the plucky garrison of Ladysmith had escaped, actually bringing a prisoner with them, cheer after cheer rent the air. Then a horseman was sent forward, and when Jack and his friend drove calmly into General Buller’s camp the road on either side was lined by soldiers and blue-jackets all shouting a welcome.

Some refreshment was provided, and afterwards Poynter hurried off to the general’s quarters, while Jack was offered a bed in an officer’s tent, and at once turned in, as he had been awake all night.

On the following morning they were the lions of the camp. Their names were published in the orders for the day as having performed a service of signal danger and great merit, and before the sun had risen an hour they were besieged by an army of correspondents, all eager to hear news of Ladysmith and the narrative of their own escape.

Jack and Poynter held quite an informal reception, for officers flocked to have a chat with them, and for the greater part of the day their attentions were busily engaged in answering the hundreds of questions put to them. As for Jack, just when he believed that he had secured peace at last, and could enjoy the luxury of an hour’s quiet before dinner, he was suddenly attacked by a world-famous war-correspondent, who had waited till all his friends were satisfied and till he could get the adventurous despatch-rider to himself. Seated in front of our hero, pen and note-book in hand, this genial man, who had seen perhaps far more of war than the oldest veteran in our forces, skilfully extracted all his news, and by dint of careful questioning even managed to get from the bashful and retiring Jack an account of his early escapade in front of Kimberley.

“Ah, when I was a youngster like you,” he exclaimed, with some animation, “that despatch-riding was just the kind of work that would have suited me! Mind you, Mr Somerton, I don’t forget for one moment that it is really most risky work and requires a deal of pluck, but that is just where the fascination of it all comes in. I suppose, now that you have done so well, you will be given a commission, and that should suit your tastes, being, as you are, the son of an old officer!”

“Yes, I hope some day to have a commission in the service,” Jack answered thoughtfully, “but I fancy I should prefer it after the war is over. You see, if I were made a subaltern now I should no doubt see lots of fighting, but I should be tied and hampered to a great extent. I cannot forget that I left friends in Kimberley whom I promised to call upon again, and now that I am safely out of Ladysmith, with nothing in particular to do, I feel all the more inclined to turn my face that way.”

“Ha, ha, ha! Excuse me,” laughed the genial correspondent. “Of course I had not forgotten that you have friends on the Western border, and no doubt you are anxious to meet one of them at least again. Don’t mind my chaff, Somerton. It’s the sign of true friendship when one’s friends remember one. As to your leaving for Kimberley, I certainly advise you to do so, for you are not likely to see much fun hero; and besides, anyone not belonging to the regulars or volunteers is to be rigorously excluded from General Buller’s camp. Ladysmith is a precious tough nut to crack, and to be honest and perfectly candid, I do not believe we shall break our way through the Boers till we have distracted their attention to other quarters, and caused them to weaken their forces here. We are playing a big game, and while we keep Joubert and the Boer army before us by feints and attacks in deadly earnest, we are anxiously awaiting reinforcements to drive them out of Cape Colony, and if possible invade their own territory.”

“In that case,” answered Jack, “I shall leave as early as possible and join the troops under Lord Methuen; they are twelve miles south of Kimberley, and barred from reaching the town by General Cronje and the impregnable heights of Magersfontein and Spytfontein. Perhaps a despatch-carrier will be wanted, for Mafeking if not for Kimberley, and I shall offer my services.”

A few minutes later, after thanking Jack, the war-correspondent retired to his own tent to write up his despatches, and send them across the telegraph cables to the head offices of the London newspaper for which he worked.

Jack joined the officers of one of the regiments at dinner, and afterwards retired to rest. On the following morning, on mentioning to one of the staff of the general that he was about to set out for Kimberley, a letter was given him describing him and his services, and recommending that he be employed as a despatch-carrier.

Armed with this, Jack took a hearty farewell of young Poynter, and, climbing on board a coal truck which had come along the line to the front filled with ammunition, he was whirled south to Pietermaritzburg. Here he found that all was bustle. Loyal to the heart, the inhabitants of this old town had for many long weeks been energetically aiding the Government authorities. Relief committees had been instituted to manage the funds sent out from the English public, and had already done enormous good in lessening the sufferings of the poor people who had fled at the commencement of the war from Johannesburg and other parts of the two republics, bringing with them only what wealth they could carry.

Hospitals had been arranged in various public buildings, and in these, ladies—high-born, rich, and poor—worked with a will. At the front their services were not wanted, for the war was a stern and sanguinary one in which only men could take a part; but here, out of sound of the cannon’s roar, they were doing a noble work, and while they ministered to the poor suffering soldiers, at the same time they eased their own aching hearts, and distracted in some measure their own troubled thoughts, for scarcely one of them but had some dear one, husband or brother, cooped up in the beleaguered camp of Ladysmith and exposed to the fire of the Boer guns.

Amongst them Jack found Mrs Hunter, and one can imagine with what joy and tears she greeted him, and how eagerly she listened to the messages sent her by her husband. In a twinkling the news that someone had arrived who had recently escaped from Ladysmith spread through the town, and nurses flocked from every hospital to interview him.

Poor Jack! Naturally a bashful lad, especially where ladies were concerned, it proved a most trying ordeal for him, and far more so than his interview with the correspondent. But at last he satisfied them all, having in the large majority of cases only good news to give. Then he said good-bye to Mrs Hunter, promised to convey all her messages to Wilfred, and once more boarding the train, set out for Durban.

Here he was fortunate enough to find a transport sailing for Cape Town, and that night was again at sea.

Chapter Nineteen.

Jack Finds a Sweetheart.

When Jack came on deck upon the following morning, after leaving the port of Durban, it was to discover that the transport on which he had obtained a passage was conveying a most important personage—one of the chief officers on the staff of the commander-in-chief in Africa. Like Jack, this staff-officer had recently journeyed from General Sir Redvers Buller’s camp, and though he was a stranger to our hero, yet, to Jack’s surprise, no sooner did he catch sight of him than he stepped briskly towards him, and with outstretched hand addressed him in the most affable tones.

“Ah, Mr Somerton,” he commenced, giving Jack’s hand a hearty shake, and smiling at his evident astonishment, “this is a pleasure! I knew, of course, that you were leaving Chieveley for Lord Roberts’s force, but did not imagine that we should make the sea-trip together. As it is, it will save me the trouble of finding you at the other end. You must know, my young friend, that you have made quite a reputation for yourself as a colonial despatch-carrier and scout, and I have been instructed to make use of your services if you feel so disposed. Are you ready to do something more for us? Of course, we have all heard how you and young Poynter got through from Ladysmith, and I may tell you that it is a service of a similar nature for which we want you now.”

“Certainly, sir,” Jack answered with a flush. “I am prepared to undertake anything in the nature of despatch-carrying or scouting that may be given me, and if Kimberley is the destination for the messages so much the better, for I have friends in there whom I am anxious to meet again.”

“Then, my lad, this is the very job to suit you!” the staff-officer exclaimed. “Shortly put, the service which you are asked to undertake is this—ride to Kimberley and carry a letter and verbal instructions to its commanding officer, and afterwards return to us. There is a big and most important movement afoot. But I will tell you about it later, when we arrive at the Modder River. It is a great satisfaction to hear that we may rely upon you.”

“It’s just the thing I should like,” Jack remarked eagerly. Then, seeing that his new acquaintance did not care, for some reason, to discuss the matter further at that moment, he changed the conversation. Soon they descended to the saloon for breakfast, and from that day until they reached the Modder River below Kimberley they were constantly together.

While they are being swiftly conveyed along the South African coast we will leave them laughing and chatting, and return for a few moments to Old England to view matters there.

At first the news of the reverses at Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso found her like one in a dream. “Was it true,” she asked herself, “that her brave and hitherto invincible troops had been thus hardly dealt with by a horde of men who were little more than uncivilised peasants? Could it be a fact that the Boer forces were far more numerous than had been imagined, and that in guns and ammunition they were so abundantly supplied that our cannon and the shells we fired were swamped and sometimes altogether outranged? Could these facts be true?” It was almost impossible to believe them. But for all that, unpalatable though the truth was, the reality of it all quickly dawned upon the country. The beginning of the war had found our millions resolved as one man to carry it through to a successful issue, and now, instead of weeping over past failures and the ill-luck which had attended their troops, they maintained a dignified silence and watched patiently to see what the Government would do.

The latter instantly ordered out more troops and a supply of more powerful guns, and, in addition, they called upon the ready volunteers and the yeomanry for their aid. And with what result? There was a rush to obey the call to arms. Beneath the calm surface of a business life there lurked in the hearts of our young manhood a passionate desire for active fighting, to throw off the trammels of an office desk and take rifle in place of pen. Men flocked from every part of the country, and those whose age or infirmities prevented their joining in the movement cut asunder their purse strings and poured out their gold.

The city of London, ever foremost in patriotic work, organised and equipped a force of 1400 men and sent them to the front by means of private subscription alone; and all over the country funds were provided to furnish sturdy yeomen for the war.

Then, too, our colonies, not to be outdone, sent other contingents of men, and England, recognising the vastness of the task before her, despatched Lord Roberts of Kandahar—the famous and ever-popular “Bobs”—and Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, two of her finest generals, to the Cape to assume chief command and lighten the labours of General Buller, already sufficiently engaged in the struggle to relieve the invested town of Ladysmith.

While the Imperial Volunteers and the Yeomanry are being equipped and hurried on board transports for Africa, accompanied by an ever-increasing number of big guns, let us once more return to the neighbourhood of the River Tugela and join the gallant and determined men under, the command of General Sir Redvers Buller.

Foiled in their frontal attack, they were far from leaving the invested town of Ladysmith to its fate, and after long and carefully-thought-out preparations, the army once more advanced on the impregnable Boer positions. These stretched some ten miles along more or less continuous ridges on the northern side of the Tugela, and to turn the enemy out of their trenches a vast flanking movement was attempted. Preceded by a brigade of cavalry under Lord Dundonald, two-thirds of our force advanced against the Boer right flank, and captured and covered with their guns Potgieter’s Drift. A pontoon bridge was rapidly thrown across, and over this the advance was steadily made, the troops pushing forward stubbornly behind a cloud of cavalry, and having to fight almost every foot of the way.

On January 20th the division under Sir Charles Warren, a general of great African experience, had reached and occupied the southern crests of a high table-land stretching to the western hills of Ladysmith, and on the 23rd this gallant force charged and took at the point of the bayonet a huge hill known as Spion Kop, the key of the Boer position.

It was a daring feat, and was performed under cover of darkness with a dash and daring equal to that shown by our lads at the heights of Alma, when the Russian hordes were scattered and chased away as a disordered rabble.

But ill-luck again attended our efforts. On our side the slope of Spion Kop was so steep that it was scarcely possible to scale it, while to hoist guns of large calibre to the top was an impossibility. On the summit our troops manned the Boer trenches, and for a whole day kept back the enemy, who again and again attacked it in great force. And all the time every gun that could bear from their other positions poured in a continuous hail of exploding shell, converting Spion Kop into a veritable inferno, in which no man could live for long. Without many batteries of powerful cannon the position was untenable, and after a heroic and stubborn resistance our brave soldiers withdrew slowly and in perfect order.

Then the whole force retired on the Tugela, and while the majority returned to their camp at Chieveley, a division clung to the northern bank of the river at Potgieter’s Drift, and entrenched themselves, more than doubly determined to break through the Boer position and relieve their comrades in Ladysmith on a future occasion.

On our aide, during more than a week of stubborn fighting, the losses in killed, wounded, and missing amounted to 1600, officers again forming a large proportion of the casualties, an illustration, if a sad one, of the glorious dash and courage shown in leading their men.

Within little more than a week after leaving Natal, Jack Somerton and the staff-officer whom he had met on board the transport were seated in the train en route for Lord Methuen’s camp on the Modder River. It was a long and tedious run—now crawling along the iron track, and scaling steep acclivities which barred their onward progress, and round the sides of which the railway could be seen winding in and out, and later rattling down the other side till the veldt was reached; then on and on, over an endless, brownish waste of sand and barren earth, here and there relieved by a bright patch of vivid green, where the young spring grass had made its appearance.

“Here is a note for you, Mr Somerton,” said the staff-officer as the train came in sight of the Modder camp. “Take it to the quartermaster who looks after the general staff, and he will give you a tent and bedding, and also obtain a good pony for you. When you have settled down come over to the general’s quarters. You know, Lord Roberts is here. He arrived last night, and sent special orders to me by telegram to introduce you to him. Goodbye for the present! I shall see you in an hour’s time.”

Thanking him for his kindness, Jack made his way into the camp as soon as the train drew up at the rough platform that had been built, and after making enquiries, was shown where the quartermaster was to be found. Half an hour later his tent was pitched close behind those allotted to Lord Roberts’s staff.

“You want a pony too, I see,” said the quartermaster. “Well, Mr Somerton, a number of them arrived only this morning, and are now being taken out of the train. I will speak to the officer in charge of remounts and transport animals, and if you will come back later on I have no doubt you will be able to choose your animal from amongst three or four hundred.”

Accordingly Jack retraced his steps, and shortly afterwards walked across to the little farmhouse in which the celebrated general had taken up his quarters. When he emerged from the commander-in-chief’s sanctum an hour later, Jack was not only delighted with the kindness and urbanity of Lord Roberts, but had mastered all the particulars which he was to carry into Kimberley.

Then he went across to the remount-camp and selected a likely-looking pony. That night he on-saddled, and without a word to anyone slipped out of the camp, taking care to avoid the notice of the British sentries. This was in accordance with the general’s wishes, which had been communicated to him only an hour before by his friend the staff-officer.

“Look here, Somerton,” the latter had said, “the general has just sent me across to tell you that he wants you to get away from the camp without anyone knowing. There is never any saying whether or not spies are about I firmly believe they are everywhere; and the news you are to take into Kimberley is so important that it is absolutely necessary that no one should have an idea as to what are our intentions. Get away from this secretly. There—I will leave the rest to you. Do as well as you did while escaping from Ladysmith, and we shall have nothing to complain about.”

It was still pitch dark, therefore, when Jack vaulted into his saddle and rode silently across the camp. Arrived at the outskirts, he turned to the left and kept steadily on, keeping carefully on the grass, which dulled the sound of his pony’s hoofs. Very shortly he was clear of the pickets, and turning once more to the left pushed forward for the beleaguered town of Kimberley. Soon a brilliant moon came up, and he carefully concealed himself amongst the rugged boulders of a kopje, and, raising his head, swept the country round with his glasses. There was no one in sight, so he mounted his pony again and cantered on at a rapid pace. Early the next morning he rode into Kimberley, having slipped through the circle of Boers with the greatest ease.

He was immediately taken before Colonel Kekewich, the commander of the town, and delivered his message.

“I was instructed by Lord Roberts,” he said, after saluting the colonel, “to tell you that, all being well, you may expect him to relieve you in a month’s time from this date. He also asks that you will be ready to act, as far as possible, in conjunction with his relieving force.”

The news, meagre though it was, was eagerly listened to, and Jack had to answer many questions before he was permitted to leave. Outside the house he found Tom Salter, his old friend, waiting for him with a welcoming smile on his sunburnt face.

“Ah, Jack!” he cried out with a merry laugh, “turned up again like a bad penny, have you? Well, I quite expected it, and my only wonder is that you haven’t been here before. You’ve so many friends to meet again, haven’t you, old boy? Why, I can assure you that I know several who are simply longing to see you, one especially, Eileen Russel, turned as white as a sheet, poor girl, when she heard the news. Ha, ha, it’s a shame to tease you now, but she’s a splendid girl is Eileen Russel!”

Tom laughed heartily, and smacked Jack on the back, and then grasped his hand and shook it up and down like a pump-handle.

“Then she is all right, Tom!” exclaimed our hero, with a sigh of relief, for ever since he had ridden north to Mafeking he had been wondering whether the brave English girl who had stood so staunchly by them in Frank Russel’s ruined farmstead had survived the trials of a siege which had lasted now so many weeks.

“Tell me all about her and the others, Tom,” he proceeded eagerly. “I have been over in Ladysmith, and ever since I left Mafeking and was taken to Pretoria I have heard not a single word of you.”

“Goodness, Jack! Pretoria and Ladysmith! whatever do you mean?” exclaimed Tom in astonishment. “You left us here to carry despatches to Baden-Powell—and precious sorry hearts you left behind you, my lad, I can tell you—and since then, as we heard nothing of you save that you had reached your destination, we quite believed that you had taken up your quarters with the plucky garrison in Mafeking and were helping them to keep out the Boers. And now you talk about Pretoria and Ladysmith! What does it all mean? Out with it, man!”

“Oh, it’s a long yarn, Tom!” Jack laughed, “and I’ll give it to you this evening, but just now I should like to see the others.”

“Of course you would, old boy!” exclaimed Tom. “Come along, and follow me closely, or else you will have a shower of millets flying around your head. Ah, here we are! Hop down into that trench. Now push on and take the third turn to the right. We are bound to take care of ourselves here, and as our streets are often swept by bullets, and a bursting shell is a common thing, we have dug these shelter trenches.”

Dropping into a deep trench, Jack and his friend pushed along rapidly, halting once, however, and crouching low as a huge shell shrieked just overhead, and, striking a storehouse opposite, shivered it into a thousand fragments, scattering the ruins on every side.

“That’s about the only thing our friends are any good at,” said Tom Salter with a growl. “They’ve sat outside this town for weeks and weeks, and all that time they’ve never given us a chance for a healthy fight. Bless you, they thought that the taking of Kimberley was a simple matter, and when they found that they had got men to deal with, they just sat down to starve us out, or worry us to death with their shells; but assault us, or make anything like a plucky effort to take us, they have never done. But here we are; hop up, old boy. Now, follow me along here to the chamber of horrors; that’s what we call our bomb-proof rooms. There it is; five steps down, and turn to the left.”

Jack descended a flight of wooden steps, and, turning to the left, entered a low subterranean chamber, lighted by a spluttering candle stuck into the neck of a bottle standing upon a table in the centre. It was Tom Salter’s sanctum, in which he and three others lived and sheltered from the Boer shells, thousands of which had fallen into the beleaguered town since the commencement of the siege.

“Now, put your traps down there and have a wash,” said Tom, indicating a bucket of water and a towel; “then I will take you along to Frank and his girl. Halloo! Come in!” he shouted, as a knock was heard just outside the chamber.

The next moment Wilfred Hunter burst in, and rushed up to Jack. The two lads shook hands warmly.

“Back again, Jack? I’m glad to see you, old chap!” Wilfred cried excitedly. “Why, what a whopping big fellow you’ve got; as broad as a house, and taller, I am sure. But come along, I must not forget my message. The Russels want to see you, and ordered me to bring you along immediately. Ah, you lucky dog! I’d give anything to be in your shoes, for she’s the best and sweetest girl that I or any other fellow ever set eyes on!”

Jack blushed red with pleasure, and his chest swelled and his heart beat with pride and hope, for, young though he was, since he had met Eileen Russel his thoughts had dwelt continuously upon her. Had he been at home, perhaps it would have been ridiculous folly; but for months now he had been doing man’s work, and doing it well too,—work which required strength and pluck, and which moreover brought him at any hour of the day face to face with a sudden death. No wonder then that, sobered down from the usual impulsive rashness of a boy, our hero had thought seriously of Eileen. Many a time, as he lay in Pretoria suffering from his wound, had he wondered how she was, and whether she ever gave a thought to him. Sometimes he felt certain she did, and then at others the fear that it was some other—someone older and more of a man than he—turned his heart sick, and made the hopes which were now beginning to gain ground disappear in an instant. But they would return again, and as he had ridden towards Kimberley that day they had been surging through his heart, and he had determined to see Eileen, if she were yet alive, and ask the question for himself.

As if in a dream he sluiced his head and hands with water, and tidied his hair before a small, angular piece of cracked glass, a process which he had scarcely troubled about for many weeks. Then he followed Wilfred and Tom out of the bomb chamber and along the trench towards the Russels’ quarters, feeling every yard he went more and more like a lamb going to the slaughter.

Had he but known it, there was no reason for his fears. A minute later all three had dived down into another subterranean chamber, and before Jack had had time to notice that it was neatly carpeted, and provided with chairs, and a table upon which a clean white cloth and glasses were laid, there was a joyful shout, and Frank Russel had seized him by the hand, while Eileen, looking pale, but more beautiful than ever, had stepped towards him, hesitated, and then, with a radiant blush and a cry which was half-laugh, half-sob, had thrown herself into his arms, and had embraced him as if he were a long-lost brother.

Jack was a bashful lad, and at any other time would have been covered with confusion. But now it was different. Eileen was truly glad to see him, and he returned her kisses with an impetuosity which surprised himself. A few seconds later he was himself again, and being eagerly questioned.

“Tell us how it is you happened to come back to us,” said Frank Russel. “You said you would, but none of us believed it possible, save perhaps Eileen, who always declared that you would return before the end of the siege.”

“Yes, Father, I felt sure that Jack would fulfil his promise,” Eileen cried.

“There, my lad, you see what a reputation you have,” laughed Frank. “But get ahead with the yarn, and let us know what has happened to you since we parted.”

Jack readily complied with the request, and then asked how the besiegers had fared.

“Ah! it was all very well at first,” Tom Salter exclaimed, “but these last few weeks our trials have been awful. Water has not been too good, though there’s been plenty of it. But grub’s the thing that has been wanting. We’ve been on short rations for a long while, and if that relief-column does not turn up pretty soon there will be none of us left. We are eating horse and mule now. Vegetables are practically exhausted, and what with that, the impure water, the heat, and living here below-ground, death and disease have been very busy amongst us. The women and the children—poor little souls!—have suffered terribly, and the little ones have died like flies. But mark my words, Jack; we’re far from giving in. There’s not a man of us who would listen to surrender, and if we did, the women-folk would soon make us ashamed of ourselves. No. This town’s kept out the Boers for a goodish time. They haven’t the pluck to take us, and we haven’t the numbers or the strength to beat them off. Starvation and disease are our biggest enemies, and we’re going to face them. Seems to me that we’re like Ladysmith; we’re in a precious tight fix. But we’ll get out of it, both of us, and I don’t mind betting a pipe of baccy—which, considering we’ve scarcely an ounce left, is a biggish bet—that B.-P. will stick to Mafeking too till that town is relieved. But, to return to you, my lad. You have indeed seen as much of this terrible war as anyone, and, as your old friend, I am proud of you. Now tell us what you intend doing with yourself. If you decide to stay here, I need not say how glad we shall all be.”

“Thanks, Tom,” Jack answered, “but I leave Kimberley to-morrow for Mafeking. Perhaps by the time I return you will have been relieved, but if not, you may be sure shall join you with the relieving force.”

Jack had indeed much work before him. He had been entrusted with a message to the garrison of Kimberley, telling them that the British forces lying on the banks of the Modder river would advance to their aid in one month’s time, and meanwhile, having delivered the message, he was to push north to Colonel Baden-Powell, and inform him that, once Kimberley was free, a strong column would march to the help of gallant Mafeking. The news of coming relief, distant though it might be, would be of the greatest service. It would help to hearten a garrison still far from dispirited, and above all it would show them how much longer they would be compelled to rely upon themselves, and therefore induce them to husband their scanty provisions and ammunition.

On the following day Jack was taken to a sand-bag fort, and shown with much pride a long cannon manufactured in the besieged town. It was the work of the engineers of the great De Beers Company, and it had filled a most important post, for its range being very great, it was able to successfully dominate and keep down the fire of the big Creuzot guns which had for so long been throwing shell into the town. As Jack was taken up to it a Kimberley-made shell, bearing the inscription “With Cecil Rhodes’s compliments” was placed in the breech and backed by a charge of explosive. The gun was carefully sighted, there was a thunderous roar, and a minute later a flash, a leaping column of smoke and dust, and a faint answering report told that the missile had done its allotted work inside the sangar which protected the Boer gun. That evening, after a scanty meal consisting of horse-soup, known as “chevral”, and a piece of beef suspiciously unlike that usually provided, Jack bade his friends good-bye.

“We’ll go along and look after your pony,” said Tom Salter, with a knowing wink, a few minutes before his departure. “Come along, Frank, and you too, Wilfred, while Jack picks up his traps and settles himself. Now bustle up, boys, or else we shall find that someone has got hold of his mount, and perhaps has started already turning him into sausages.”

All at once sprang to their feet and left the underground chamber, Frank Russel turning round just as he was stepping out, and smiling kindly at Jack and at Eileen. Then with “So long, my lad, I’ll see you later,” he ran up the steps and disappeared from sight.

It was an awkward moment. Standing close to the table, with one hand grasping the back of a chair, was Eileen Russel, her beautiful face lit up by the lamp, and clearly showing the pain which this parting would give her. Close to the door was Jack. Sturdy, handsome, and stalwart, dressed in riding-breeches and gaiters, a khaki jacket, and a wide-brimmed hat, and with his upper lip adorned by a thin line of fair hair, which looked almost white when contrasted with his sunburnt face, he was a young man whom any of the gentle sex might have looked upon with pleasure. But when one knew that behind those smiling eyes there lurked a determined will, and that beneath that coat beat a heart as kindly and as brave as any man possessed, it should not seem wonderful that Eileen had long ago fallen in love with him. He was no namby-pamby lad, given to soft manners and flattery, but a brusque young fellow, kind, considerate, but undoubtedly shy, and a man, moreover, who had already made a good name for himself for bravery. She herself had witnessed his courage. It was he who had rescued her from the Boer ruffians in her father’s house, and from that day Jack had been her hero. And now he was to go, to leave her and run still further risks. It was hard indeed, and her lips trembled at the thought.

“Good-bye, Jack!” she said, tearfully, holding out her hand, but not trusting herself to look at him. “Good-bye, and do take care of yourself!”

Jack walked across to her, and, taking her hand in his, Pressed it gently and said to her, “Eileen, look at me. You ask me to take care of myself. Why should I do so? Who would care if anything did happen to me? My mother and brother might, and Wilfred and Tom Salter would, I am sure. But who else? Tell me, Eileen dear, that you would care. Tell me that you love me now as I love you, and have done ever since we first met, and I promise you I will guard my life for your sake alone.”

“Ah, Jack, you know how I love you without asking me!” whispered Eileen, looking now directly into his face, and smiling so sweetly at him that all his fears left him in an instant, and he forgot everything but the fact that Eileen was there and that he loved her and she him.

It was the happiest moment of their lives, and when Jack at last kissed her and strode from the room he and Eileen were engaged to pass through life together if it pleased God to spare them during the remainder of the war.

Walking along the trench, Jack turned sharp to the left, and half-way to the point at which his friends were to wait for him, met Frank Russel, leaning against the wall of earth, and thoughtfully staring at the sky.

“Got it over, lad?” the former asked kindly.

“Yes, Frank, I’ve said good-bye to Eileen,” Jack answered, “and before we join the others I want to tell you something. Perhaps I ought to have spoken to you before, but the fact that I have had so little time must be my excuse. With your consent Eileen and I will be married some day.”

“Lad, give me your hand!” exclaimed Frank Russel enthusiastically. “God bless you, old boy, and I trust that you’ll live to see the end of this awful war! I can tell you, Jack, that there’s no other man I know whom I’d rather have as a son-in-law. You’re young, but that will alter fast enough, and the girl is a good one. She’s been a devoted daughter to me, as you well know, and if she’s only half as good to her husband when she’s married, then he’ll have no cause to complain. Shake hands on it again. Now let us get along.”

When the news of Jack’s engagement was communicated to Tom Salter and Wilfred they congratulated him heartily. Then his pony was led out, and after a cordial farewell he mounted and left the town. It was a pitch-dark night, and luck was again in his favour, so that he escaped the notice of the Boer pickets, and when day dawned was well away from Kimberley.

It was a long and lonely ride to Mafeking, but to Jack the time passed pleasantly, and the road seemed short, for all the way his thoughts were occupied with the happy prospects in front of him when the war was over. He would wait two years perhaps, and then he and Eileen would be married and live in Africa till he reached the age of twenty-five. His allowance under his father’s will, and the sum he could earn at the mines, or at Mr Hunter’s store in Johannesburg, if that still existed, when added to it would be amply sufficient to keep them in comfort. Then they would return to old England, and Eileen would become the mistress of Frampton Grange.

Jack built many castles in the air, and might have erected many more had not a party of mounted Boers caught sight of him and given chase. But our hero was now well able to take care of himself, and he quickly eluded his pursuers. Then he pushed forward, and in two days’ time arrived at Mafeking.

There was a great change in the town. Scanty rations and absence of all luxuries had produced their results. Constant fighting and the explosion of shell on every hand had wrought sad havoc with the gallant little garrison. Wan of face, pinched and haggard, out more determined than ever, they still manned their posts, and B.-P., smiling still in spite of a load of responsibility, still made his rounds and cheered his men.

And outside, the Boers fired their guns, throwing shell everywhere, not even sparing the hospital and women’s laager, in which many women and children had already fallen victims. Protests had proved unavailing, and now the children and their mothers lived elsewhere, while all the Boer prisoners filled the hospital and laager, and ran the risk of being slaughtered by their friends outside.

Jack stayed only long enough to deliver his message and obtain some sleep. Then, loaded with despatches, he slipped from the town once more and cantered south, en route for Lord Roberts’s camp.

Chapter Twenty.

The Road to Victory.

The month of January was just drawing to a close when Jack on-saddled in the market square of Mafeking, now almost battered out of all recognition by the tremendous and continuous shell fire to which it had been so long subjected, and, vaulting into his seat, settled his rifle across his shoulders, strapped on the water-sack which dangled on one aide, carrying a supply sufficient to last until he reached the Modder River, and, picking up the reins, trotted across the open space.

Quite a crowd had collected to see him off and wave him an adieu, and many a message was entrusted to him, and many a “So long, Jack, old horse!” followed him. Soon he was at the outskirts, where he passed the pickets, and pushed on, searching the ground in every direction with eyes which were now as sharp as a hawk’s. Once he almost stumbled on a Boer advanced picket lying on a small kopje, but a crouching figure and a big hat dimly silhouetted against the star-lit sky warned him, and in an instant he and his pony were lying prone upon the veldt.

“Wie gaat daar?” came in hoarse tones across to him, but he lay like a log, without answering; nor did he take any notice when a rifle flashed and a bullet buzzed some yards above him.

“I’ll lie where I am,” he thought. “They did not catch sight of me, but probably heard some suspicious sound. I’ll give them half an hour to clear away, and if they are not gone by then I’ll make a bolt for it.”

But there was no necessity for this, for suddenly the long naval smooth-bore gun now used in Mafeking belched out its home-made shell, and the picket lying in front of him rose to their feet and looked back at their own camp, where, a moment later, a dull, muttering roar and a brilliant spurt of flame showed that the missile had exploded.

In an instant Jack was on his pony again, and, turning slightly to the left, galloped away at his fastest pace. All that night he kept on steadily, and at daybreak hid up in a patch of mimosa bush.

By the following morning he was nearing the Modder River, and was on the point of concealing himself again when he caught sight of a figure some three hundred yards in front of him.

In a moment his pony was lying on the ground, and Jack was crawling, rifle in hand, towards the stranger.

“I could pick him off from here,” he thought, lying flat upon his stomach and taking a steady aim at the man’s head, “but he doesn’t seem to have noticed me, and I hate the idea of shooting a poor fellow without giving him a chance of making a fight for it. Besides, for all I know he may be an Englishman. Perhaps it is Riley. He left Mafeking with despatches a week before I got there, but he was new to the game, and might easily have come to grief. But otherwise he ought to have reached our camp long before this.”

Jack lowered his rifle, and, removing his hat from his head, looked long and carefully at the stranger through his glasses. To all appearance he might be either a Boer or an Englishman, for he wore a ragged sombrero on his head and a tattered shirt on his back. His face was turned in the opposite direction from Jack, and every now and again he raised himself upon his elbow and looked out across the veldt. Then, as if with considerable effort, he dragged himself a few paces forward and looked out again.

“I believe that fellow is wounded,” murmured Jack. “At any rate I’ll get closer to him, and keep my gun ready in case of emergencies.”

Crawling stealthily forward, he made a slight détour, and soon approached the stranger within fifty yards. At this distance his appearance was certainly in favour of his being English, and taking up a position behind a screen of leaves, Jack called out: “Hallo, there!”

Instantly the stranger turned his head, and stared about him in bewilderment. Then he answered, in a tremulous voice: “Hullo! Help me for God’s sake!”

There was now no doubt that he was a comrade in distress, and, jumping to his feet, Jack ran across towards him, only to find that the poor fellow had fainted. Placing him on his back, Jack sprinkled some water on his face, and soon had the satisfaction of bringing him round.

“Who are you, old chap?” he asked.

“I’m Riley, from Mafeking,” the injured man answered.

“I was on my way to Lord Roberts, and reached here four days ago. I’d have got through safe enough if I hadn’t had the bad luck to be bitten by a snake. There is the beast over there. I put my blanket down and left it, to take the pony down to that stream behind the kopje, and on returning and seating myself at the end of the blanket, the brute suddenly sat up on his tail in front of me and struck before I could get away. You can see he hit my gaiter, scratched all down it, and then just managed to get to my skin through the canvas shoe I was wearing, owing to my boots having given out.”

Jack at once inspected the leg, and noticed that the gaiter, which was only half unfastened, was scratched from top to bottom as if with a sharp nail.

“By Jove!” he exclaimed. “That was three days ago, and you are alive now to tell me the tale! Then you are a lucky man, for that beast is a puff-adder, a most deadly snake! But for your gaiters you would certainly have died within two hours, and as it is, I don’t know how you escaped. What did you do?”

“I can scarcely tell you,” Riley answered weakly. “When I saw the beast and knew that I was bitten I was terrified, and could not collect my thoughts. Then I tried to remember what others had done under similar circumstances. I recollected that a knife and gunpowder were necessary, and I started to do something at once. With my knife I cut away the flesh round the red mark left by the snake’s fang, but I hadn’t the strength to break open a cartridge. Then I remembered that large doses of spirit were used, and having a bottle of hollands with me, I drank it down till my throat was almost scalded. After that I don’t recollect what happened. I suppose I must have become unconscious and delirious. When I came to again it was daylight; but I tumbled off into a heavy stupor, and on awaking found that another day had commenced. I was parched with thirst, but could not move a step, for my legs are paralysed from the hips. Thank God you have turned up, old chap! Give me another drink, like a good fellow.”

“What is to be done now?” asked Jack, as soon as the helpless Riley had satisfied his thirst. “I am bearing despatches to Lord Roberts, and must push on. Can you come with me?”

“Yes, if you lend me your pony,” replied Riley. “Mine must have strayed away.”

“Very well. You shall ride the pony, and I will walk,” Jack answered readily. “We’ll start to-night, and with a little luck ought to reach the camp by daylight.”

Taking the helpless Riley on his back, Jack carried him into a shady spot, and placed him on the grass beneath the overhanging branches of a large and solitary broad-leaved tree. Then mounting a kopje, and assuring himself that the surrounding country was clear of Boers, he collected a pile of dried grass and twigs, and set fire to it with his flint and steel. In his haversack he carried a piece of horseflesh, which had been given him ready cooked at Mafeking, and this he cut into slices and toasted over the flames. The meal was a welcome one to the poor fellow, who had so nearly lost his life alone on the desolate veldt.

“Thanks, Somerton, old man!” he said, looking gratefully at Jack. “But for you I expect all would have been up with me by now. Another day under this broiling sun, without water and food, would have killed me. I feel lots better already, and almost fancy the strength is returning to my legs. Do you know, I believe a little rubbing would do them good.”

“Then I’ll set to work at once,” Jack exclaimed cheerfully. “A bit of this horse-fat will act as a lubricant. Now let me begin.”

Taking each leg in turn, he smeared the skin with fat and rubbed it gently, Riley declaring that he already felt some improvement by the treatment, and begging Jack to repeat it later.

Now and again during the day Jack climbed to his lookout post again to see that no one was approaching, and during the afternoon both enjoyed three hours’ refreshing sleep.

When night fell Riley was almost able to support his weight on his legs, so rapidly were the effects of the snake-bite disappearing, and once Jack had hoisted him into the saddle he was able to retain his position there unaided.

“Now, old horse,” he said cheerily, “I am at your service. We are both of us bound for Roberts’s camp with despatches, and since I am more or less of a cripple and do not know the country, I place myself in your hands.”

“Then we’ll push ahead at once,” answered Jack. “Sing out if you are feeling knocked up, and be ready to be lifted off your saddle and lie down at any moment. The country a few miles south of this is full of Boers, who are always on the look-out for despatch-carriers.”

Taking the pony by the bridle, Jack stepped forward over the short grass of the veldt, and kept steadily on, hour after hour. Once or twice he listened eagerly, fancying he heard sounds, but on each occasion it was a false alarm, and after a moment’s pause he took the road again.

By midnight they were abreast of Kimberley, and two hours later, after making a wide détour, they caught sight of the twinkling fires in the British camp.

“Now we’ll have to be extra cautious,” whispered Jack. “If we are challenged by a Boer, leave the answering to me.”

“All right, Somerton!” Riley answered. Then suddenly pulling Jack by the coat, he exclaimed: “Hush! What is that? Look over there!”

Jack looked in the direction indicated, and caught sight of a dusky figure some thirty yards away. Instantly he let go of the bridle and unslung his rifle.

“Who goes there?” came a loud hail at this moment.

“Friend!” shouted Jack.

“Where from? Answer quickly, or I fire!”

“From Mafeking, with despatches,” Jack replied unsuspectingly.

“Advance, friend, and give the countersign!” the sentry now called out; and as soon as Jack and Riley had approached within ten yards he shouted, “Halt! Lay down your arms at once—you are prisoners!”

“Trapped, by Jove!” shouted Jack, snatching at his rifle; but before he could lift it a dozen other dark figures rose beside the sentry and covered him with their weapons. To resist would have been madness, and a minute later Jack and his friend were disarmed and being taken back towards the Boer camp at Magersfontein, Riley still mounted on his pony.

“What hard luck!” cried the latter bitterly. “We were within a couple of miles of our friends, and after all the trouble we had taken we deserved to get in safely.”

“Yes, it was rough luck,” Jack agreed cheerfully. “But it is the fortune of war, and there is no use worrying about it. I should not have minded so much if I had had a fight for it. To be taken without firing a shot is humiliating. But now we have nothing to do but to escape. I’ve managed that once before, and I’ll do it again if the chance comes.”

“Then I hope you’ll take me with you,” said Riley eagerly. “I’ve no special wish to spend my days a prisoner in Pretoria.”

Soon after sunrise that morning the two prisoners were brought into the enemy’s camp, and Riley was at once taken to the hospital and placed in charge of a Scotch surgeon who had been commandeered by the Boers. Jack was taken across to a large bell-tent, standing apart from the others in an open space, and ushered into it. It was most elaborately furnished. The floor was carpeted, and there was a handsome brass bedstead and a writing-table, seated behind which was a short, shabby, and vindictive-looking man, with iron-grey beard and whiskers, unkempt and undipped, and almost concealing a powerful-looking mouth, and eyes which flashed fiercely at the stranger Englishman. It was General Cronje, a man who had taken a prominent part in the first Boer war, and who had earned for himself the contempt of all Englishmen for his treacherous behaviour.

“Who are you?” he demanded, looking searchingly at Jack’s face.

“I am Jack Somerton, a despatch-rider, and now a prisoner in your hands,” Jack answered coolly. “Where are your despatches?”

“I don’t know, general,” was Jack’s calm reply, for, sharp of wit, he had torn and scattered his papers on the veldt the instant after being taken prisoner.

“Search him!” cried General Cronje. And then, as soon as Jack’s clothes had been thoroughly examined, he ordered him to be taken away.

Careless of the black looks with which the general favoured him, Jack swept his hat off and stalked unconcernedly out of the tent. He was then taken across to a large wagon laager, and given in charge of an armed sentry.

Ten days passed quietly, and during that time he was well treated, and was on good terms with his captors. On the 14th of the month there was a sudden stir in the camp, and mounted men galloped in and out.

“What is the matter?” Jack asked the young sentry who was in charge of him.

“Our scouts say that your countrymen are moving,” the Boer replied. “General French—that is what you call him, I think,—has been active. He and a lot of English guns and horsemen marched on Sunday to Ramdan, and next day pushed on to the Riet river. There was a fight, and we gave way, as it is not policy to prevent a foolish man running his nose into a trap. I hear he is now at the Rondeval Drift, on the Modder River, where we are again playing with him. Some fools here say he threatens our flank, but our general knows better. You will see, we shall eat up your general, and then we shall march south to Cape Town.”

Jack did not correct him, but smiled secretly, hoping and believing that the big movement of which he had carried the first tidings to Kimberley and Mafeking was at last actually begun. He knew that for more than a month much work had been going on in the British camp, and if the news he had just learnt were really true, it was extremely probable that Roberts and his troops were about to strike that blow at the Boer forces which should mean the turning of the tide, and a full compensation for all the care and thought taken in making their preparations.

On the following morning a wild-looking Boer galloped up to General Cronje, who was sitting smoking and sipping coffee outside his tent, and in an excited voice informed him that the British had crossed the Modder and had captured five laagers, full of stores, 2000 sheep, and a large number of cattle.

Jack happened to be near the general at the time, and his guard, who was a friendly young Boer, interpreted what was said.

At first the news evidently caused the general some excitement, and he rose to his feet and walked restlessly up and down. Then he suddenly sat down, lit his pipe again, and smiled sourly.

“Let them take the laagers,” he said in a rasping voice. “What does it matter? We shall take them back again. These Englishmen are brave, but they are fools, and have no cunning. You shall see. We will turn on him and eat up completely this General French and his men.”

Three other Boer leaders were standing near at hand, and as Cronje finished speaking, two of them nodded sagely and ejaculated: “Ja, Ja! we shall take the English soldiers. They are not wise.”

The third, however, who was a Free State burgher, differed.

“These English are not such fools as you think,” he said shortly. “I tell you, there is a big force advancing on our flank, and unless we do something, and at once, we shall ourselves be captured.”

“Nonsense, nonsense, you are too timid!” exclaimed Cronje fiercely, turning on him and scowling angrily at him.

The Free State commandant was on the point of answering back, and commencing a quarrel with his superior, when two more horsemen galloped up and reported news of the gravest importance. General French, accompanied by a column of some 10,000 mounted men and guns, was pushing straight forward for Kimberley, and the British foot were following, and already threatened the road to Bloemfontein.

Instantly all was confusion in the Boer camp. Valuables were hastily thrown into wagons, and within a very short time Gronje and his forces were in full retreat, a long column streaming across the veldt on the way to Bloemfontein, while a second and smaller one went north. Behind them they left all their stores, and even their dinners, which in the hour of departure they were unable to eat.

Jack was marched between two ruffianly-looking Boers with the first column, and watched with secret satisfaction the confusion that reigned everywhere, and the downcast looks of the men who had boasted only a few hours before that the British were in their hands.

At the head of the column, sullen and dejected, rode Cronje, and on either flank and far behind were Boer skirmishers ready to guard the long line of wagons.

All day they pushed forward, resting frequently to allow the tired oxen and mules to lie down. At night a laager was formed, but by daylight the long column had taken the road again, and was pressing forward in feverish haste towards Bloemfontein. Then came rifle shots in the distance, and with his glasses, which had fortunately not been taken from him, Jack made out men in khaki marching across the veldt some miles away.

They were the plucky soldiers of General Kelly-Kenny’s division, and now, having come up with the enemy after forced marches, they showed that they were determined that he should not slip through their fingers.

On the following morning Cronje and his forces were completely surrounded and hemmed in, for the British troops had engaged fiercely, and had compelled the Boer general to laager in the dry bed of the Modder river and stop his progress towards Bloemfontein. Then foot by foot they had crept round him, and on Sunday morning, when Jack looked out, men in khaki were all round, and he knew that Cronje and his force of some 6000 Boers were doomed.

In the camp were a few other English prisoners, including Riley, and these at once set to work with spade and pickaxe, and, copying the methods of the Boers, dug deeply into the ground and then tunnelled beneath it, forming large bomb-proof chambers. And in these for four awful days they lived, never daring to emerge save at night. And all the time the British troops swept the laager, which was spread over an area of some two miles, and devastated it with lyddite and shrapnel, killing most of the draught animals and setting fire to the wagons. But no one has ever equalled the Boers at trench-digging. In a marvellous manner they constructed bomb-proof chambers, and sat there for the most part safe from the British fire. But others of them tried to keep down the volleys of our soldiers, and amongst these death was soon busy.

On the 27th of February, celebrated all over the Boer dominions as Majuba Day, Cronje and his forces capitulated unconditionally, and, throwing down their arms, marched as prisoners into the British camp. With them were many women and children who had come from their homes to Magersfontein expressly to celebrate Majuba Day.

It was a glorious success, our first real one. And added to it all was the news that General French and his mounted men had relieved the invested and sorely-straitened town of Kimberley on the 15th.

When Jack entered Lord Roberts’s camp he was greeted by many friends and acquaintances, and eagerly questioned as to his experiences. Then he was conducted to the general’s tent, and gave the verbal messages entrusted to him by B.-P.

“Now, Riley,” he said, as soon as he was at liberty once more, “what are you going to do with yourself? I am going to Kimberley, and if you have nothing particular to take you down to Cape Town you had better come with me. A week or so’s rest will do you all the good in the world, for you are still far from strong upon your legs.”

“There is no reason for me to go anywhere in particular, old chap,” Riley answered. “I have no friends down this way, and may just as well stay in Kimberley till the road to Mafeking is open again. Yes, if you have business in Kimberley I will go along with you.”

“Well,” said Jack rather shamefacedly, “I cannot say that it is exactly business that takes me to the town. The fact is I am engaged to Miss Eileen Russel, and am anxious to find out how she is.”

“What, Eileen Russel, daughter of the colonist whose house was bombarded at the commencement of the war!” cried Riley in astonishment. “Yes, his house was attacked,” answered Jack, smiling.

“By Jove, then, you must be the fellow we all heard about!” shouted Riley, seizing Jack by the hand; “and now I understand why I could not make out where I met you before. Of course it was in Mafeking, and I remember you left us, to ride north. Good heavens, man! to think that we have been together all these days and you have never mentioned it! Why, the fame of that beating you fellows gave the Boers close to Kimberley has gone everywhere. Shake hands again, old man, and when we reach Kimberley I shall make a point of seeing this young lady and telling her what a brick you are.”

Two days later Jack and his friend left the English camp, and, passing through the lines of the Canadian troops, who had distinguished themselves for their bravery during the whole campaign, and especially in the attack upon the Boer laager, they trotted across the open veldt to Kimberley.

Tom Salter was the first to meet them, and at once conducted Jack to the house in which the Russels had now taken up their quarters.

“There you are, lad,” he said kindly, patting Jack on his broad back; “the girl’s in there, just crying her eyes out for you, and fancying you’ve been hurt. The news came over yesterday that you had been found in Cronje’s laager, and as nothing was said as to your being dead or alive, she has naturally been in a state of anxiety ever since. You go in, old boy, and I’ll take care of Riley. We’ll come along in half an hour and have a yarn.”

There is no need to tell of the joy of the meeting between stalwart Jack and his future bride. Of this be sure, the half-hour flew by so quickly that it seemed to be only a few minutes before Tom and Riley turned up again.

“What do you think of the town now?” asked the former, eyeing Jack quizzically. “I can tell you, my lad, it’s a tremendous relief to be free from those Boers and have plenty of good food and water again. I shall never forget that day when General French marched in. You’d have thought we were a lot of babies. The street was crammed with yelling crowds of pale, sickly-looking men, who had lived for weeks on less than half the accustomed amount, and I know that many a one was too feeble to choke back his sobs. And the women and the kids—God bless them!—just held up their arms and blubbered. I felt just like a girl. But it’s all over now, and we’re beginning to live like decent folks again, up in the air and daylight.”

“Yes,” Jack agreed, “you have had a terrible experience, and have come out of it wonderfully. Now it will be our turn to advance upon the Boer towns and retaliate.”

Far into that night they chatted, and then, bidding Eileen and Frank Russel good-night, Jack accompanied Tom Salter to his quarters. On the following morning he did not awake with that feeling of strength and vigour to which he was accustomed, and all day long was depressed by a feeling of weariness and lassitude. That night he was in a fever, and on the following morning was too ill to get out of bed.

Four months of hard work and exposure had told upon him. Weakened by his wound and by his stay in Ladysmith, Jack had fallen a victim to the foul water and odours of the Boer laager at Paardeberg, and had been struck down with typhoid fever. From that day, for more than three weeks he lay helpless and almost wholly unconscious, tended by his future wife and by another good Samaritan in the form of a soldier’s wife.

And while he lay in bed, fighting for his life, the British troops had been scoring successes. Scarcely had the news of the capture of Cronje and his force and the relief of Kimberley reached England when the glorious message was flashed along the cables that Ladysmith had been relieved on February 28th, after ten days of very heavy fighting.

On March 7th still more news was sent to England, for on that day Lord Roberts attacked a large force of burghers at Poplar Grove, on the road to Bloemfontein. For days they had slaved to dig their trenches, and these extended for miles and miles, while Presidents Kruger and Steyn themselves were there to cheer on their followers. But all to no purpose. We were not going to advance across an open plain and break our forces against an impregnable position. Instead, our cavalry and guns swept round towards the rear, and in an instant the Boers were galloping away towards Bloemfontein, leaving the labour of weeks behind them, and refusing to listen to the entreaties of their presidents, who were also compelled to join in an ignominious flight.

Pressing forward, Lord Roberts again attacked the enemy at Driefontein and dispersed them, killing 102. Driven from post to post, the Boer forces melted away from the neighbourhood of Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and on March 13th the town was occupied by the British without further opposition.

Then came suggestions of peace from President Kruger, demanding independence for both republics; and in reply the English Government refused to assure that independence, and declared its readiness to fight to a finish.

When Jack was at last well enough to be moved, and was taken down country and placed on board a ship, the Orange Free State burghers were throwing down their arms in all directions, a column was marching to the relief of gallant Mafeking, and our armies, the one in Natal and the other at Bloemfontein, were preparing for another crushing stroke.

Eileen and Frank Russel accompanied Jack, and on the same ship were Wilfred and his father and mother.

And how was the news of their coming received at Frampton Grange?

Almost every month had brought news of Jack, news of his daring and of his pluck People who knew Mrs Somerton wrote to congratulate her, while the neighbours for miles around made a point of calling to express their admiration of her stepson. And at length, from cordially disliking Jack, the two inhabitants of the old Grange had caught the general infection, and were as loud as any in his praises. He was weak and ill, and moreover he had much to blame them for, for neither had shown him much kindness after his father’s death; but they determined to make all that good to him, and when at last our hero did arrive at his old home, and, stepping from the carriage somewhat weakly, assisted the beautiful and blushing Eileen to the ground, both Mrs Somerton and Frank were there to greet them with a hearty welcome, while Frank Russel, who was also one of the party, had no cause to complain of his reception.

A minute later a dapper little man, with clean-shaven face, jumped from a trap which had just driven up, and Dr Hanly rushed forward to shake Jack by the hand.

“My dear old boy,” he cried excitedly, roused for once out of his usual placidness, “how glad I am to meet you! What a monster you have grown, and what a name you have made for yourself! Dear, dear! and it seems only yesterday that you went off with a thigh done up in plaster and as stiff as a ramrod, and here you are returning a little weak after your illness, but a man, every inch of you, and with a lovely lady by your side. Lucky dog! Introduce me. Miss Eileen, I shall take the liberty of an old man and a very old friend of Jack’s, and shall give you a kiss. You are a lucky girl, let me tell you, for amongst all our plucky lads there is only one Jack Somerton. Well, there is Mrs Somerton calling us, and—’pon my word, here is old Banks.”

It was indeed a splendid welcome. No sooner had one shaken Jack by the hand than someone else appeared; a gardener, a groom who had seen some service, and now there was fat old Banks, who had been reinstated, waddling up, beads of perspiration on his smiling face, and his hair almost standing on end with excitement.

“Master Jack, it’s just going to be like old times again,” he murmured, and then shook his hand violently and coughed loudly to get rid of the big lump he felt sticking in his throat.

A home-coming after a long separation is the greatest of joys, and Jack’s was indeed a happy one. Everyone seemed to have a kind word for him, and, what he appreciated far more, a welcome for Eileen Russel.

At home, then, happy and contented, we will leave him, anxiously watching the doings of his comrades out in Africa, and patiently waiting for that day when Eileen should become his wife.

And, meanwhile, his days were fully occupied. Invitations poured in upon him to dine with the gentry round about, and many a time was Jack compelled against his will to narrate his doings with the gallant British troops. And chief of all those tales, the one most appreciated, was that describing the defence of Caesar’s Camp in Ladysmith, and how he had stood there shoulder to shoulder with the Highlanders and riflemen, keeping the Boers at bay “With Rifle and Bayonet.”

The End.

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