He, more than all of them, had been in open conflict with Oom Paul in the the past, had fought him the most vigorously, and yet for him the old veldschoen Boer had some regard and much respect, in so far as he could respect a Rooinek at all.
Soon the smoke of the veteran's pipe rose above his lurking-place, and as Saxham, with a grunt of satisfaction, stretched himself upon his stomach on the hot, sandy earth and pulled the lever, a return bullet sheared a piece off his boot-heel, and painfully jarred his ankle-bone. No one else was shooting at the big rooinek now. It was understood that Father Noah had a prior claim.
Not a shot had been fired, and there would certainly have been firing if the Boer had known; for he could not allow the Rooinek to get to the point where his own position would be threatened or commanded. When Kruger's men did discover the truth, there would be fighting as stiff as had been seen in this struggle for half a continent.
Parties of Boers from the country round rode up and down with an air of insolent triumph, some of them shouting "We shall soon be rid of you; in another month there will not be a rooinek left in South Africa." Those addressed paid no heed to the words. They had heard the same thing over and over again for the past two months.
No more imaginative promises with reference to the taking of the small, defiant hamlet before breakfast, wiping out the garrison to a rooinek, and starting on the homeward march refreshed with coffee and biltong, and driving the towns-people before them as prisoners of War.
"To-morrow" was here, and it would bring the challenge from Oom Paul to try the might of England against the iron courage of those to whom the Vierkleur was the symbol of sovereignty from sea to sea and the ruin of the Rooinek. "Prepare!" He knew vastly more than those responsible men in position or in high office, who should know a thousand times as much more.
At length he spoke, and Stafford listened intently, for now Caliban was off his guard, and he knew the worst that was meant. "Ah, you speak of traitor you! The sjambok for the traitor, eh? The sjambok fifty strokes, a hunderd strokes a t'ousand! Krool Krool is a traitor, and the sjambok for him. What did he do? What did Krool do? He help Oom Paul against the Rooinek against the Philistine.
Just before dawn broke Byng's men were rushing the outer trenches. These they cleared with the wild cries of warriors whose blood was in a tempest. Bayonets dripped red, rifles were fired at hand-to-hand range, men clubbed their guns and fought as men fought in the days when the only fighting was man to man, or one man to many men. Here every "Boojer" and Rooinek was a champion.
The Rooinek eats from a bloody basin this day." Alamachtig! At the moment Ian Stafford fell the battle was well launched. The air was shrieking with the misery of mutilated men and horses and the ghoulish laughter of pom-poms. When he went down it seemed to him that human anger had reached its fullest expression. Officers and men alike were in a fury of determination and vengeance.
Stafford gave an order. "Take the prisoner to the guard. They will at once march him back to the prisoners' camp." Now Krool understood, and he made as if to spring on Stafford, but a pistol suddenly faced him, and he knew well that what Stafford would not do in cold blood, he would do in the exercise of his duty and as a soldier before these Rooinek privates.