Dora B. Montefiore 1902
Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. VI No. 3 March 1902, pp. 94-96;
Transcription: Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: Brian Reid.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
I walked by the edge of England’s white cliffs, and looked out over the ever-rolling sea. Behind me lay the grand soft curves of the South Downs, swelling in grass-clad chine, and sinking into hanging copse or gaping chalk-pit. As I gazed out over the water the wind dropped, and a sea-fret came up, dimming on either hand the heaving distances of wave and down, and hanging like a white silent pall between earth and sky. And it seemed for a space as if all things of the earth dissolved and melted away, and as if I were loosed from the bands of flesh, and saw a vision of things as they are, and heard voices such as are not heard by the dull ears of flesh. For silently, sadly, slowly, there crept out from the damp clinging mist, and passed before me, a great army of men. I noticed first men of my own race, fighting men, and with them walked men of another race, bearded, hardy, and strong; and they also, I saw, were, fighting men. But they trooped past together in silent comradeship, and I knew as I watched, them that they had all passed beyond the veil of flesh into the land of shadows. By thousands and by tens of thousands they marched, mournfully past, and now and again, as I gazed, I noticed that one or two among the, bearded warriors walked with a rope round his neck, but with a glory as of a halo round his head. In stealthy, shadowless array they continued to steal past, and in the breasts of some I saw where cold steel, leaping in, had let out life; while others passed, mangled and drooping, with maimed limbs and shattered frames. Boys there were also marching with the men among the moving shadows; and men of black races marched in their thousands and swelled the ranks. But all seemed now as comrades, all moved with one aim, and but one light gleamed from every haggard eye. For, as they passed noiseless and shadow-less through the enfolding mist, it seemed as if the eyes of each one of them were turned in, pity and in sorrow towards the land where I stood watching, towards the white coast-line of England. Such a haunting, sorrowful, reproachful look streamed forth from those thousand and ten thousand eyes, which, I seemed to know had but lately closed on this earth in the agony of violent death. And, whilst I grew chill under that harrowing gaze, lo other forms loomed silent also from the slowly-swirling sea-fret, as it hid the waves swishing- mournfully at the foot of the sea-girt cliff. The forms of women, old and young, but all broken, all bowed, all wasted with want, and with watching, and with sickness. They passed by in their hundreds and turned also with that strange reproachful light as of pity and of sorrow towards England’s shore. Oh, the weariness of those wan women, as of those who had long lacked, and wept for, home and happiness and loved ones! And the look that streamed from their tear-swollen, sorrow-strained eyes spoke of long, slow death-agony, of hope deferred, but also of a spirit unquenched and unquenchable.
And as the last shadowless woman-form swept silently past me, lo! another army of little ones, halting, stumbling, and gasping, moved through the ever-thickening mist. Hunger, gaunt, gnawing hunger, had stripped their childish limbs and pinched the baby outline of their cheeks. Their fluttering bodies shook as with a palsy, and the look in their hollow eyes as they turned them likewise in pity and in, sorrow on the England that I loved burnt into the soul and scorched it as with a white-hot iron. The look in the men’s eyes as they turned them towards England’s shares was an accusation of endless reproach. The look in the eyes of the women chilled the blood with sorrow and remorse; but the look in, the eyes of the little children made my knees rock and my head bow; and I covered my eyes with my hands to keep out the, sight of the questioning accusing horror; whilst in my ears surged the words of the Jewish Teacher of old: “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones …..”
Then, as the pitiful army of hunger-racked, disease-tortured children tottered forward in the steps of those who led the way, my tongue was loosed, and I cried out to the sea, and to the sky, and to the dear soil on which I stood: “Turn, turn away their eyes from England! …. Why do they curse and shrivel and brand it with their silent, dead gaze?” And the voices of the sea, and of the sky, and of the dear earth replied, as I hid my eyes and crouched on the ground.: “These are they who have testified! …. Life is the best that man or woman or child can give; and they have given that life to buy for others what they believed was best worth having …. The men that walked first were men who have all died on the soil of South Africa …. Some died fighting for England’s Ideal—territory and gold-mines and power over the weak. Some died fighting for the Boers’ Ideal—the right to live their lives under their own Government, in their own land, according to their own traditions. They loved liberty and independence, just as the English nation used to love, them, and they reckoned that death was sweet when their country or their Ideal claimed for its own their lives. Those who escaping wounds and disease, were caught alive by the English, and were hanged and shot as criminals, met death as martyrs have ever met it, in the sure and steadfast belief that their blood was not spilt, in vain, and that man could but destroy the body; he could not trample, out the effulgent faith. Death now has mingled the dust of Briton and of Boer, but, as their restless wraiths mingle with the earth’s vaporous mists, they circle round in wind and mist and wave, their haunting eyes rending aside the veil of materialism with which England has wrapped herself around, and they dumbly bid her, ere it is too late, to cease living for luxury and lies, and to choose rather death for a higher ideal and for truth. And these women, in their fluttering, scanty rags, they also have testified. Theirs was the choice, and they chose the better part. They gave, their husbands, their lovers, their fathers, their sons, when, by a weak word, a tender caress, they might perchance have kept them. But their sacrifice was not then consummated. Women in England have given as much, and have stifled their weeping, because they felt that the dear one died for England and her cause. But these women of South Africa had to watch homes laid waste, and all that made life bright destroyed. Then, one by one, they gave their little ones. Some gave all. All gave some; till at last their own call came, and they rendered up the life which now had become worthless, for it was bereft of love. So they, also, have testified, and their sorrowful, reproachful eyes ask of England and of England’s mothers: ‘How long? Ah! how long?’ “But the children,” wailed the voices round my bowed head; the children, in their tens of thousands, they also have testified, and have sealed their testimony their thousands; and their eyes, though scorched and dried with weeping, with their baby blood. That is the blood which cries the loudest to heaven; those are the eyes whose pleadings wring the heart of every just and strong man. The child’s curse is shrill and unnatural; and the look in the eyes of a dying child, whether it pants out its little life in a pestilential tent in South Africa or in a sweltering slum in England, is the, look that silently damns a nation, and tells us that the hour of its destiny has struck. Woe to the men and to the women who have ‘offended’ these little ones! Woe to those who have hardened their hearts, and stifled their consciences, and who say ‘peace’ when they mean ‘desolation,’ and who, strong in theirs own strength, tread down the weak in their own ruthless struggle for supremacy!” And the surging voices of the waves and of the earth mingled with the swirling mist, and wrapped me round as with a gathering, clinging curse—me and the land of England that I loved; and, though my head was bowed, and my eyes were hidden, the look in the eyes of dead little ones gnawed and ate into my soul, whilst a wailing, weeping, accusing voice was wafted past me on the rising wind: “The testimony that is sealed with the blood of babes is the testimony that cries for ever to heaven!”
DORA B. MONTEFIORE.