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Chapter NumberXXVI
Chapter TitleTHE FIRST SKIRMISH.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197737010
Full Date1880-02-28
Page Number1
Corrections0
Word Count2457
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleEvening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)
Trove TitleFreebench. A Tale of South African Life
article text

FKEEBENCII;

A TALE OF SOUTH AFRICAN LIFE.

CHAPTER XXVI. THH FIBST SKIRMISH.

BY GOPIA F&iror, S.O.L. (Author of " Twelve True Tain of Vie Law.")

The troops marched on, and Harry was often called on to reproduce his March, and as often the refrain rang merrily through the ranks. As they got up the country they were joined by new men, mostly Boers, who were a troublesome, surly, unruly, and cowardly set of fellows. Even when the enemy was a hundred miles off, some of them showed symptoms of a strong desire to return to their mother*, and Harry and some of his comrades often had to ride behind them - for mile after mile, with orders to shoot any man who should turn his bead. At night, when the rest of the column wanted to be jolly, the Dutchmen sat moodily ap rt, singing their melancholy hymns, which they would have protracted long into the night but for orders to the contrary. It was not an act ot worship, but was resorted to because they always ft area the approach of the enemy, and thought that, if shot singing, they would go to heaven. At last the expedition reached what was meant to be tbe scene of active operations, and encamptd near the junction of the Waterfall of Steelpoort Rivers, where a star-shaped fort was built, which was called, in honour of the President, Fort Burgers. To the south of them, where tbe Lula Mountains came down to the Sttelpoort River before its junction with the Waterfall, was Sekukuni's Tswn. His people, though by strict right tbe owners of the vast open country stretching south-east from the right bank of tbe Steelpoort down to Middleburg, were at present in actual occupation of no more than tbe Lulu chain of mountains, which stretched sonth-westerly from the left tank of the river. Qaite indepenfently'of military purposes, tbe mountains bad always been more suited than the plains for Kafir occupation, and were doubly so at this - moment, inasmuch as they formed a series of fastnesses, which would be impregnable if defended with ordinary prude nee and courage. The Chief—like the English non-official aristocracy {vide Lothair)—spoke no language but Ms own. He did not read or write itj because letters were unknown to all natives except those who were taught by the missionaries. Among his Council of Twelve, however, there were some who had been in Oape Colony and other English provinces, and were familiar with the civil customs and the military drill of the wbite man. There were two wbo could speak a little English, and one who could read the newspapers and reckon English weights and money, an accomplishment very useful in dealing with the Dutchmen, or.with any white trader who should cross tbe border. Of chese there were, at this time, with Sekokuni only one, and he was a young man descended bom a French Huguenot family of the name of V •. His ancestors, like many of their compatriots, had fled to Holland to escape religious persecution, and had gone to tbe Cape Colony with tbe Datch emigrants who bad settled there, and among whom the Frenchmen's names became disguised both in spelling and pronunciation. This voang man often acted as Secretary to tbe Chief in bis dealings with white men and in his political affairs. The plan of the campaign was to starve Sekukuni oat. It was chiefly by destroying their mealy gardens, or fields of maize, by preventing fresh sowings, and by driving off the cattle, that the English bad overcome the Kafirs in tbe Cape wars. Sekukani's little mountain territory was too restricted for tbe number of his tribe, and his western frontier bordered on the tribe oE Umapaslela, who were also numerous and hid uu room to spare. And so it waa by building forts communicating by good roads with the foot of his mountain by preventing his nse of the er grounds for growing maize, and by making

raids on bis cattle, that Von Schlickmann hoped to reduce him to submission. The fort was about half-built when the force began to suffer from petty raids made by the enemy upon the horses and cattle; and as the spies brought information that large numbers of the tribe were assembled at a little distance, it was thought desirable to engage them. Leaving the fort guarded, Von Schlickmann divided bis troops into two parties, so as to attack tbe enemy on two sides. One division be led himself and Loavain commanded the other. They set out at half-past two in the morning, and fell upon the enemy at day break. Tbe latter were completely taken by sarprise, and, though a few of tbem retired into their long holes in the rocks, and kept up an ill-directed fire, yet the rest broke up in a thorough roat. Tbe affair did sot last more than half an boor ; but that half hour was enough to show the ntter cowardice of tbe Dutchmen. I am not going into particulars of the fight; but it suffices to say that, even when the enemy were in disorder, the Boers clung tenaciously to any cover that offered, and could only be got to advance when there was nothing but naked and helpless savages before them. Then they became active, and fired away bravely. Coming home, Harry did 'a thing which was a good deal talked of afterwards, and which has a certain interest for this history. a A Kafir had got up into a tree, and below, aiming at him with a revolver, was a young Boer, wbo had been conspicuous for cowardice in the field. Harry at once drew his revolver and presented it at the Boor. " Down with that pop-gun, you hound!" he shonted, running np to him, « or I'll make you food for vultures. Give np your revolver to me." The Dutohman, overcome with astonishment and fear, obeyed, and Harry called to the Kafir to come down from the tree and fly for safety. He was a fine-looking young man, about seventeen, and leaping from his place of concealment, and casting a glance of gratitude at Harry, tbe youth bounded away in flight. On returning to tbe Fort, Harry found the Englishmen, and all the foreigners, expressing intense indignation at the cowardice of their Boer associates. In the presence of a little group who were thus engaged Harry returned the young Boer's revolver, and told the story.

CHAPTEB XXVII. MACLHAN AND HIS KATIE BBIDE. "Now then, comrades!" said Von Schlickmann, " we have all fought together; let as all dine together; though, by-the-way, this Republic might victual ns a little better." The word was soon passed, and, leaving those who had not fought to guard the walls as before, all bands were soon engaged in cooking and preparing for dinner. The wounded were few, and none of the wounds were grave. There were two or three missing from one troop, bat the roll of that troop was to be called over again, and it was expected the men wonld soon come in. There were none killed. All were in good spirits and eat with the appetites of men wbo have fought. Presently the talk began. There were two subjects on which all were agreed. One was that they were well officered, that Von Schickmann was a brave and clever General, bat walked so qaick that it was hard to follow him, and exposed himself too much by doing so. The other was

that the Boers were cowards, and that their cowardice was both an insult and a danger to the rest of the force. A small ration of brandy was now served oat, and well the men deservfed it. "Gentlemen," said Von Schlickmann,"you have gone through your first engagement well. I give you ' Success to the Volunteers of the South African Bepublic.'' The toast was drank. " And now, Holroyd," continued the General, " set tbem going with that song of yftors." And Holroyd sang " The Mercenaries' March" amid tremendous enthusiasm. The echo ot the last refrain had scarce died away before Harry's rescue of the Kafir became the subject of discussion. The men entertained different views about it. That it was a generous act and that Harry was a noble fellow, all were agreed; bat, as to the justice of letting a fine young Kafir go free rather than let a cowardly Boer kill him, opinions differed. One of the principal disputants was Alick Maclean, a handsome young Sootchman, with fair hair and beard and a countenance in which courage, independence, and nobility of character were stamped on every feature. I maintain," said Alick, with a little touch of the dogmatism natural to bis countrymen, "that that Boer had no right to hare the shooting of that Kafir. And I lay down this principle, that a man who has behaved like a coward in tbe field should not have the privilege of refusing quarter to a brave and unarmed enemy." " Hear, hear!' '' Bravo!" " Weil said, Maclean!" resounded on ali sides. "Maclean's sympathy with Kafirs," said a squeaking voice with a cockney ascent, " is quite allowable to a man who has left behind him such an interesting little establishment on the Buffalo." And then followed a little langb. It was no more than a little laugh, because Alick Maclean wbo was a sergeant in the corps, was mach respected. " Is it true, Maclean," asked one, " that yon married that Chiefs daughter P or did you bay her with cows ?" "Both," said Maclean; " I paid the cows for her because I could not get her without, and then I married her with Christian nuptials." " But what was the use of that ?" " Because," said Maclean," I mean to stick to her." "I thought you were going home to Scotland ?" " So I sno, and she shall go with me." " Ho! Ho! Ho! that's a good idea," said one. " What, take a Kafir woman home to Scotland ? what will your family think of it ?" said another.

" Why, you'd want a ship all to yourself," «aid the cockney. " My word! I'd like to be a passenger aloeg with you if it was only to see a row of fine old colonial mums tarnin' up their colonial noses when the black woman took her seat at dinner. But it would be rough on you, Maclean, old man." " My wife shall be as much respected ado it or ashore as other white men's wives," said Maclean ; " I'll answer for that." They bad told the story to tbe General, and he looked at Maclean with a good deal ef interest, and seeing how he was placed, came to his rescne. "Sergeant Maclean," he said—and Maclean stood up—" You have done your duty well today, and are a man whom I am proud to command. I drink your health, and if you can help us to a song, which I am told you can do very well, I won't return to my quarters till I have heard it." Maclean then, still retaining his attitude, sang a song, but not the one they expected:— KEG BIT A. Two roses were mates at the end of the vale— The one was of purple the other wa$ pale— Till there passed by a maiden who chose, and behold 'Twas the purple rose blushed in her tresses of gold. In a city of Cyprus o'erlooking the tide Stood tbe Qneea of the Isle a dark rival beside; A Cyprian Venus of marble all fair And a Lybiairi Tenaa with crisp curly hair. Then a sailor came by who'd been tossed on the brine, And lie bflfe, ? flajiia wont, a libation of wine ; For tbe Cyprian Queen 'twas an offering meet, KaVifai^jjirt watj-pottrtd'out at the African's feet. And does love, .think ye, hang cnthe tint of the skin And'not lie boiomed deep in the nature within ? Will my-cheek, -think ye, tingle one moment with shame When I bear back my bride to the folks of my name . ; She shall mix with the throng of tbe noble and gar, As admired, as adorned, and as honoured as they ; She shall reign in the home of my fathers with me. And her sons be as peers with the sons of the free. Nothing could be more sincere than the applause . that followed Maclean's song, which indeed was a complete surprise to those who heard it; and he was never laughed at any more about his Kafir bride. He bad no opportunity, however, to carry out tbe experiment which he had proposed to himself; for, a few weeks,after he fell in one of the many skirmishes of tbe campaign; and his widow, ignorant of. the sacrifice which he had devoted to ber affection and his own honour, bemoaned him on the banks of the Buffalo. Von Schlickmann rose from his place and the men went to look after their horses. " I' see that I do not half understand yoa English people yet," said Loavain, as he walked away with Harry; "there is more talent and more feeling in yoar men than I had supposed. Now, this man, is he noble or proletaire ?" " He comes from one of the best families in Scotland," said Harry. "Ah, then that explains itself. But what an experiment to make! Do yoa think he would really do what he says ?" " Certainly; he means what he says." "And have yoa seen tbe woman. Is she handsome ?" " There is a beauty of the black, aud there iB a beauty of the white," said Harry. "I am told she is the perfection of black beauty in form, in features, and in expression." " Now. how would this woman he received in English society ?" " Well, yoi cannot be certain," said Harry; " a good deal woald depend on chance. I think the odds are she would cut a good figure and be made mach of by great people for six weeks, and then by the lesser people for several yean afterwards, and especially in public, and that she would be thoroughly spoilt, till some day, daring a visit at a country-house, she woald endeavour to regain an instalment ot her lost liberty by flinging away all her clothes and taking to a blanket, after which the world would turn its back on ber." " Ab, what a fearful catastrophe P' exclaimed Loavain, throwing up his hands with a look of horror. " Let us hope it may be averted."