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20. Peter Pienaar Goes to the Wars
This chapter is the tale that Peter told me - long after, sitting beside a stove in the hotel
at Bergen, where we were waiting for our boat.
He climbed on the roof and shinned down the broken bricks of the outer wall. The
outbuilding we were lodged in abutted on a road, and was outside the proper
_enceinte_ of the house. At ordinary times I have no doubt there were sentries, but
Sandy and Hussin had probably managed to clear them off this end for a little. Anyhow
he saw nobody as he crossed the road and dived into the snowy fields.
He knew very well that he must do the job in the twelve hours of darkness ahead of him.
The immediate front of a battle is a bit too public for anyone to lie hidden in by day,
especially when two or three feet of snow make everything kenspeckle. Now hurry in a
job of this kind was abhorrent to Peter's soul, for, like all Boers, his tastes were for
slowness and sureness, though he could hustle fast enough when haste was needed.
As he pushed through the winter fields he reckoned up the things in his favour, and
found the only one the dirty weather. There was a high, gusty wind, blowing scuds of
snow but never coming to any great fall. The frost had gone, and the lying snow was as
soft as butter. That was all to the good, he thought, for a clear, hard night would have
been the devil.
The first bit was through farmlands, which were seamed with little snow-filled water-
furrows. Now and then would come a house and a patch of fruit trees, but there was
nobody abroad. The roads were crowded enough, but Peter had no use for roads. I can
picture him swinging along with his bent back, stopping every now and then to sniff and
listen, alert for the foreknowledge of danger. When he chose he could cover country like
Soon he struck a big road full of transport. It was the road from Erzerum to the
Palantuken pass, and he waited his chance and crossed it. After that the ground grew
rough with boulders and patches of thorn-trees, splendid cover where he could move
fast without worrying. Then he was pulled up suddenly on the bank of a river. The map
had warned him of it, but not that it would be so big.
It was a torrent swollen with melting snow and rains in the hills, and it was running fifty
yards wide. Peter thought he could have swum it, but he was very averse to a
drenching. 'A wet man makes too much noise,' he said, and besides, there was the off-
chance that the current would be too much for him. So he moved up stream to look for a
In ten minutes he found one, a new-made thing of trestles, broad enough to take
transport wagons. It was guarded, for he heard the tramp of a sentry, and as he pulled
himself up the bank he observed a couple of long wooden huts, obviously some kind of