King Solomon's Mines HTML version
The Last Stand Of The Greys
In a few more minutes the regiments destined to carry out the flanking movements had
tramped off in silence, keeping carefully to the lee of the rising ground in order to
conceal their advance from the keen eyes of Twala's scouts.
Half an hour or more was allowed to elapse between the setting out of the horns or wings
of the army before any stir was made by the Greys and their supporting regiment, known
as the Buffaloes, which formed its chest, and were destined to bear the brunt of the battle.
Both of these regiments were almost perfectly fresh, and of full strength, the Greys
having been in reserve in the morning, and having lost but a small number of men in
sweeping back that part of the attack which had proved successful in breaking the line of
defence, on the occasion when I charged with them and was stunned for my pains. As for
the Buffaloes, they had formed the third line of defence on the left, and since the
attacking force at that point had not succeeded in breaking through the second, they had
scarcely come into action at all.
Infadoos, who was a wary old general, and knew the absolute importance of keeping up
the spirits of his men on the eve of such a desperate encounter, employed the pause in
addressing his own regiment, the Greys, in poetical language: explaining to them the
honour that they were receiving in being put thus in the forefront of the battle, and in
having the great white warrior from the Stars to fight with them in their ranks; and
promising large rewards of cattle and promotion to all who survived in the event of
Ignosi's arms being successful.
I looked down the long lines of waving black plumes and stern faces beneath them, and
sighed to think that within one short hour most, if not all, of those magnificent veteran
warriors, not a man of whom was under forty years of age, would be laid dead or dying in
the dust. It could not be otherwise; they were being condemned, with that wise
recklessness of human life which marks the great general, and often saves his forces and
attains his ends, to certain slaughter, in order to give their cause and the remainder of the
army a chance of success. They were foredoomed to die, and they knew the truth. It was
to be their task to engage regiment after regiment of Twala's army on the narrow strip of
green beneath us, till they were exterminated or till the wings found a favourable
opportunity for their onslaught. And yet they never hesitated, nor could I detect a sign of
fear upon the face of a single warrior. There they were--going to certain death, about to
quit the blessed light of day for ever, and yet able to contemplate their doom without a
tremor. Even at that moment I could not help contrasting their state of mind with my
own, which was far from comfortable, and breathing a sigh of envy and admiration.
Never before had I seen such an absolute devotion to the idea of duty, and such a
complete indifference to its bitter fruits.
"Behold your king!" ended old Infadoos, pointing to Ignosi; "go fight and fall for him, as
is the duty of brave men, and cursed and shameful for ever be the name of him who
shrinks from death for his king, or who turns his back to the foe. Behold your king,
chiefs, captains, and soldiers! Now do your homage to the sacred Snake, and then follow
on, that Incubu and I may show you a road to the heart of Twala's host."