Prester John HTML version

Arcoll's Shepherding
While I lay in a drugged slumber great things were happening. What I have to tell
is no experience of my own, but the story as I pieced it together afterwards from
talks with Arcoll and Aitken. The history of the Rising has been compiled. As I
write I see before me on the shelves two neat blue volumes in which Mr
Alexander Upton, sometime correspondent of the Times, has told for the
edification of posterity the tale of the war between the Plains and the Plateau. To
him the Kaffir hero is Umbooni, a half-witted ruffian, whom we afterwards caught
and hanged. He mentions Laputa only in a footnote as a renegade Christian who
had something to do with fomenting discontent. He considers that the word
'Inkulu,' which he often heard, was a Zulu name for God. Mr Upton is a
picturesque historian, but he knew nothing of the most romantic incident of all.
This is the tale of the midnight shepherding of the 'heir of John' by Arcoll and his
At Bruderstroom, where I was lying unconscious, there were two hundred men of
the police; sixty-three Basuto scouts under a man called Stephen, who was half
native in blood and wholly native in habits; and three commandoes of the
farmers, each about forty strong. The commandoes were really companies of the
North Transvaal Volunteers, but the old name had been kept and something of
the old loose organization. There were also two four-gun batteries of volunteer
artillery, but these were out on the western skirts of the Wolkberg following
Beyers's historic precedent. Several companies of regulars were on their way
from Pietersdorp, but they did not arrive till the next day. When they came they
went to the Wolkberg to join the artillery. Along the Berg at strategic points were
pickets of police with native trackers, and at Blaauwildebeestefontein there was a
strong force with two field guns, for there was some fear of a second Kaffir army
marching by that place to Inanda's Kraal. At Wesselsburg out on the plain there
was a biggish police patrol, and a system of small patrols along the road, with a
fair number of Basuto scouts. But the road was picketed, not held; for Arcoll's
patrols were only a branch of his Intelligence Department. It was perfectly easy,
as I had found myself, to slip across in a gap of the pickets.
Laputa would be in a hurry, and therefore he would try to cross at the nearest
point. Hence it was Arcoll's first business to hold the line between the defile of the
Letaba and the camp at Bruderstroom. A detachment of the police who were well
mounted galloped at racing speed for the defile, and behind them the rest lined
out along the road. The farmers took a line at right angles to the road, so as to
prevent an escape on the western flank. The Basutos were sent into the woods
as a sort of advanced post to bring tidings of any movement there. Finally a body
of police with native runners at their stirrups rode on to the drift where the road
crosses the Letaba. The place is called Main Drift, and you will find it on the map.
The natives were first of all to locate Laputa, and prevent him getting out on the
south side of the triangle of hill and wood between Machudi's, the road, and the
Letaba. If he failed there, he must try to ford the Letaba below the drift, and cross
the road between the drift and Wesselsburg. Now Arcoll had not men enough to