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Title: The Siege of Kimberley
Author: Phelan, T.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE SIEGE OF KIMBERLEY

Its Humorous and Social Side

ANGLO-BOER WAR (1899-1902)

_EIGHTEEN WEEKS IN EIGHTEEN CHAPTERS_

BY
T. PHELAN

DUBLIN M.H. GILL & SON, LTD.

1913

_All Rights Reserved_



CONTENTS

CHAPTER I
Week ending 21st October, 1899

CHAPTER II
Week ending 28th October, 1899

CHAPTER III
Week ending 4th November, 1899

CHAPTER IV
Week ending 11th November, 1899

CHAPTER V
Week ending 18th November, 1899

CHAPTER VI
Week ending 25th November, 1899

CHAPTER VII
Week ending 2nd December, 1899

CHAPTER VIII
Week ending 9th December, 1899

CHAPTER IX
Week ending 16th December, 1899

CHAPTER X
Week ending 23rd December, 1899

CHAPTER XI
Week ending 30th December, 1899

CHAPTER XII
Week ending 6th January, 1900

CHAPTER XIII
Week ending 13th January, 1900

CHAPTER XIV
Week ending 20th January, 1900

CHAPTER XV
Week ending 27th January, 1900

CHAPTER XVI
Week ending 3rd February, 1900

CHAPTER XVII
Week ending 10th February, 1900

CHAPTER XVIII
Week ending 17th February, 1900



INTRODUCTION


The famous Ultimatum had gone forth to the world. War had come at last.
We, in Kimberley, were in for it--though happily unconscious of our
destiny until it was revealed by the gradations of time. Nothing awful
was anticipated. The future was veiled. The knowledge of what was to
come was brought home to us by a gradual process that kept us
permanently sane. Dull Kimberley was to be enlivened in a manner that
made us wish it were dull again. We felt it from the first--the sense of
imprisonment--the deprivation of liberty. But that was all, we
thought--all that we should be called to endure. Nobody could leave
Kimberley for a little while; it was awkward, certainly; but nothing
more. How long would the Siege last? "About a week" was a favoured
illusion; until reflective minds put our period of probation at a
fortnight. But the higher critics shook their heads, and added--another
seven days. Three weeks was made the maximum by general, dogmatic
consent. Nobody ventured beyond it; in fact, nobody dared to. Suspicion
would be apt to fall upon the man who suggested a month. Feeling ran
high, and as we all felt the limits of our confinement narrow enough
already, we entertained no wish to have them made narrower still, by
knocking our heads against the stone walls of the gaol. Not then. There
came a time, alas! when we reflected with a sigh upon the probability of
our rations being more regular and assured if we broke a window, or the
law in some way, and gave ourselves up. For the nonce, however, three
weeks would pass, and with them all our woes. The idea of eighteen weeks
occurred to nobody; it would have been too farcical, too puerile. That
starvation must have killed us long ere the period had fled, would have
been our axiom, if it were pertinent to the issue, when the 'pros' and
'cons' of the situation were being eagerly discussed on the opening days
of a Siege that was to send the fame of the Diamond City farther than
ever did its diamonds. A few weeks would terminate the trouble; and if,
in the interim, we ran short of trifles, like salt or pepper, well--we
would bear it for sake of the Flag. Kimberley is a British stronghold,
with a loyal population imbued with a fine sense of the invincibility of
the British army. Many people were surprised to find that they could
descant sincerely and patriotically upon the might and glories of the
Empire. Even the Irish Nationalist seemed to feel that it took a nation
upon whose territory the sun itself could not set to subjugate his
native land; and he was moved to remind his Anglo-Saxon mates that the
absent-minded beggars of the Emerald Isle had contributed to the
promotion of daytime all night.

The Diamond City was in certain respects well adapted to withstand a
siege. The old residents delighted to call it a city. Newcomers, who had
Continental ideas on the subject, inclined to think the term a misnomer,
and a reflection upon Europe and America. But although its buildings
were not high, nor its houses very majestic, Kimberley was a rich place,
and a large place, with a good white population and a better coloured
one. It had its theatre, and it had its Mayor. Arrogant greenhorns were
soon made to cease winking when we talked of the "city"; for Kimberley
_was_ a city (after a fashion), and the most important centre in the
Cape Colony. The young Uitlander (just out) who described it as "a funny
place, dear mother; all the houses are made of tin, and all the dogs are
called '_voet sak_,'" was more cynical than truthful.

The numerous debris heaps surrounding the city made excellent
fortifications, and it was not surprising that the Boers put, and kept,
on view the _better_ part of their valour only, when from their own
well-chosen positions they looked across at our clay Kopjes. To have
attacked or taken Kimberley, they would have been obliged to traverse a
flat, open country; and they have an intelligent antipathy to rash
tactics of that sort, when fighting a foe numerically stronger than
themselves. They were reputed to believe that Providence was on their
side; it was even stated that their ardour to "rush" Kimberley knew no
bounds, until it was cooled by the restraining influence of General
Cronje. That astute leader, though fully cognisant of the virtues of his
people, had a respect for "big battalions," and thought that the virtue
designated patience would best meet the necessities of the situation.
Accordingly, he and his army, well primed with coffee, lay entrenched
around Kimberley, in the fond hope of starving us into submission.
Artillery of heavy calibre was utilised to enliven the process--with
what result the world knows.

And how were we prepared to meet the attentions of this well-equipped
and watchful enemy? We had a few seven-pound guns capable of hurling
walnuts that cracked thousands of yards short of the Boer positions; and
a Maxim or two, respected by the enemy, but easily steered clear of. Of
what avail were these against the potent engines of destruction on the
other side? And as for men; with great difficulty, and by dint of much
pressure, the authorities had been persuaded to send us five hundred (of
the North Lancashire Regiment, and Royal Engineers) under command of
Colonel Kekewich (who constituted himself Czar, in the name of the
Queen)--a small total with which to defend a city--"a large, straggling
city, thirteen miles in circumference," as Lord Roberts subsequently
observed, that he could hardly have thought it possible to defend so
long and so successfully with the forces at our command, that is to
say, with five thousand men; for such was the strength of the garrison
when the shop boys, the clerks, the merchants, and the artisans had
stepped into the gap with their rifles.

In anticipation of trouble, a Town Guard had already been formed when
the Federal forces invaded the Cape. The noisy and discordant hooters of
the mines were to signal the approach of the foe, and to intimate to the
members of the Guard that they were to proceed to the redoubts of their
respective Sections to prepare a greeting. Over at the Sanatorium,
facing the suburb of Beaconsfield, the movements of the enemy were being
closely watched. A conning tower soared high above the De Beers mine,
from which coign of vantage a keen eye swept the horizon for signs of
their advance. At the Reservoir, a look-out was on the _qui vive_. The
Infantry were encamped in a central position, ready for instant despatch
to wherever their services might be needed most. The Kimberley Regiment
of Volunteers had turned out--to a man--for Active Service. War was
certain; its dogs, indeed, were already loosed. The Boers, by way of
preliminary, had been cutting telegraph wires, tearing up rails, blowing
up culverts, and had taken possession of an armoured train at Kraaipan.
Our defences were being strengthened on all sides. The enemy appeared to
be massing in the vicinity of Scholtz's Nek. Such was the condition of
things on the fourteenth of October (1899). Next day (Sunday) the siege
of Kimberley had begun.



THE SIEGE OF KIMBERLEY

ITS HUMOROUS AND SOCIAL SIDE



CHAPTER I

_Week ending 21st October, 1899_


The news relative to the tearing up of the railway line, and the cutting
of the telegraph wires at Spytfontein, spread fast and freely on Sunday
morning. Rather by good luck than good management there happened to be
an armoured train lying at the railway station, and into it, with a
promptitude that augured well for his popularity, the Colonel ordered a
number of his men. The train had not proceeded far when it was
discovered that the rails had been displaced at points nearer home than
Spytfontein. They were soon relaid, however, by the Royal Engineers, and
the train in due course reached its destination. A number of residents
in the neighbourhood were taken on board for conveyance to the
beleagured city. These included the local stationmaster, whose services
were not likely to be in demand for some weeks,--three as we conceived
it. It shortly became evident that there were Boers in the vicinity who
had been watching the progress of operations, and had deemed it prudent
to sing dumb until the train made a move for Tiome. They then opened
fire and hurled several shells at it; but though a carriage was struck
by the fragments, no serious damage resulted. In appreciation of the
compliment, the invisible soldiers sent back a disconcerting volley,
which led, as excess of gratitude often does, to some confusion. It
proved, indeed, to be a kindness that killed one burgher and wounded
half-a-dozen. The armoured train steamed back to Kimberley in triumph.

Meanwhile the excitement in town was great. The situation, in all its
bearings, was being eagerly discussed by gesticulating groups of men and
women. Intelligence arrived that the enemy had cut off our water supply;
and the public were commanded to use what remained in the reservoir with
circumspection, and for domestic purposes only. The public became duly
alarmed, and just retained sufficient presence of mind to take a drought
by the forelock, by filling their buckets, crocks, and cooking utensils
with water. It was one of many little contingencies that had not been
bargained for; the idea of water evaporating while there was yet tea to
brew with it was both ridiculous and appalling. But there was not much
danger of such a calamity; the reservoir was yet half full, and when it
was empty, ways and means could be devised--with the permission of De
Beers--to fill the tea-pots. The ladies were reassured.

Huge posters, proclaiming Martial Law, adorned the dead walls, and were
being eagerly scanned by the populace. The publicans of the town had
been noting events with the composure of men who had already made their
"piles"; but they were, nevertheless, smitten with sudden fury when they
read that all bars and canteens were to be shuttered each evening at
nine o'clock. They showered anathema upon the Colonel, and gave
expression to opinions of his administrative capacity which were at
variance with the views of people outside the "trade." Pedestrians were
warned against walking out _before_ six in the morning, or _after_ nine
in the evening--under pain of a heavy penalty. All persons not enrolled
in the defence forces, the proclamation went on to say, were to deliver
up whatever arms and ammunition they possessed. This was an article of
much significance and importance. We had in our midst a number of
people, enjoying the rights and privileges of British subjects, whose
"loyalty," in the minds of the authorities, was an uncertain quantity.
Their sympathy with the Boers was natural enough; but it was at the same
time too deep--in the eyes of Martial Lawyers--to be compatible with the
duty due to the Queen. A house to house visit was inaugurated by the
police--the sequel to which was the lodgment of some twenty persons
within the solid masonry of the gaol. The most prominent of the
prisoners was one employed as a guard in the mines. De Beers had always
been credited with a desire to observe strict impartiality in their
choice of servants, and the prisoner had hit upon a curious way of
demonstrating his appreciation of such a policy. Ever since they had
learned to handle an assegai the pugnacious natives shut up in the
compounds had been spoiling for a fight; and, having heard of the
Ultimatum, they were just then particularly restless, and keen on
expediting a Waterloo. The obliging guard had thrown open the gates to
gratify the "niggers"--on condition that British heads _only_ were to be
hit! The natives itched to hit somebody, and could not afford to let
slip so good a chance by dilly-dallying over details. They agreed to the
terms; but were fortunately herded together again before they could
strike a blow. It may have been only a slip of the tongue on the guard's
part; but the canons of martial law held such "slips" to be
unpardonable. The one in question lost a man his liberty for two years,
and his billet for ever.

The public were enjoined to hold no communication with the enemy, and to
give them no direct nor indirect assistance. Finally, the proclamation
informed us, a Court of Summary Jurisdiction had been established, armed
with power and authority to hang traitors until they were dead; to
confiscate their property; to lash them (when they escaped death); and
even to deal severely with Imperial persons who failed to comply with
the various regulations set forth in the plain English of one who had
the advantage of being only a _Martial_ lawyer.

It was not until eleven o'clock--during the hours of Divine
Service--that the hundred thousand ears adorning the anatomy of the
human population were first shocked by the horrisonous banshee wail of
the hooters. The music was awe-inspiring, and ineffably weird. It seemed
to portend the cries of the dying; and it was small wonder that the
people subsequently endeavoured--as they did successfully--to have a
more tuneful instrument employed. The immediate effect of the alarm was
to send members of the Town Guard running from their respective homes
and churches to the Town Hall, and thence, in orderly squads of four,
with grim and stern faces, to the redoubts. Non-combatants, in
compliance with the proclamation, went reluctantly to their houses.
Tram-loads of scared women and nonchalant babies were hurried in from
Beaconsfield. The streets were soon deserted. There was no panic; but
many a poor woman felt that the life of a husband, a father, a lover, or
a brother was in jeopardy, and many a fervent prayer went up to heaven.

The battle, however, did not begin. Large commandoes of Boers had been
seen hovering about, and by boastful display had given us the impression
that they purposed attacking the city. It was merely display; the wily
Boer did not yet mean business. He eventually betook himself to coffee
as a more profitable way of spending the afternoon. Late in the evening
the Town Guard entertained some similar ideas with respect to tea, and
were permitted to go home and drink it there.

Next morning, the armoured train was out early; but the Boers discreetly
connived at its effrontery--having, doubtless, still in their minds
unpleasant recollections of its volley-firing. At Modder river, twenty
miles away, the enemy, it was said, were making prisoners of inoffensive
persons, and blowing up the bridge. Bridges seem to have been their pet
aversions everywhere. At Slipklip one was blown sky-high; and artistic
skill was displayed in the picturesque wreck that was made of Windsorton
Road Station.

The town, preparing for anything that might happen, presented a scene of
bustle and confusion. What with strengthening and extending the defence
works, levelling native locations (which might possibly prove
advantageous to the Boers as a cover), and finding new homes for the
evicted, Kimberley looked a stirring place--though train and telegraph
services were suspended.

The ranks of the Town Guard were being augmented daily; fresh men were
coming up in batches to be "sworn in." There was no medical examination,
nor any such bother. Anybody in trousers was eligible for a hat, a
bandolier, and a rifle; and lads in their teens affected one-and-twenty
with the _sang froid_ of one-and-forty. Camp life, and, mayhap, a little
fighting, would be a novelty--for three weeks. Certain employers were at
first disposed to keep their employees exclusively to the work they
engaged them to perform; but the most obtuse among the captains of
industry were soon made to realise that such an attitude, if persisted
in, would scarcely pay. This truth was brought home to them so forcibly
that they forthwith developed the fighting spirit, and became the most
blood-thirsty entities in, the service of the Queen. All were needed,
and When afterwards a merchant found himself "officered" by his
_factotum_, he enjoyed (after a fleeting spasm); the humour of the
revolution as much as anybody.

The manner in which the drills were muddled through at the beginning was
primitive and amusing. The agony depicted on the faces of the "raw"; the
_hauteur_ of the seasoned campaigner; the blunders of the clerks; the
leggings of the lieutenants: made spectators risk martial law and laugh
in the face of it. Ever and anon, the butt of a rifle would come in
contact with some head other than that of him who carried the gun, and
the victim--not the assailant--would be sharply reprimanded for omitting
to "stand at ease." The marching and the turning movements were comical,
too; but practice did much to make perfect the amateur soldiers in
mufti. They, naturally, desired a little target practice. With many of
them experience in the use of arms had been limited to a snowball, a
pop-gun, or a bird-sling; and they were not only dubious of their
marksmanship, but fearful that their rifles in the rough and tumble of
war's realities would "kick" to pieces their 'prentice shoulders. The
authorities, however, could not allow ammunition to be wasted; it might
all be needed for actual warfare. This only tended to make the men
anxious to try conclusions with the Boers--or, better still, the foreign
officers who, it was supposed, directed operations "from behind, when
there was any fighting," like the Duke of Plaza Tora in the play.

The De Beers Corporation continued with untiring energy to do what in
them lay for the further protection of the town, and on Monday offered
to provide the military with a thousand horses. The offer was gladly
accepted. It was decided to form a mounted corps of men who could ride
well and shoot straight. We had a good few denizens of the Rand in our
midst, and there was no difficulty in finding men proficient in both
accomplishments to place on the backs of the horses. There came into
being, accordingly, the famous Kimberley Light Horse--a corps destined
to play an heroic, a tragic part in defence of the Diamond City. To the
refugee the pay was convenient, the work bracing and congenial, and the
prospect of "potting a Boer" not at all bad. With the Light Horse were
soon to be associated some hundreds of the Cape Police (who came in from
Fourteen Streams); and the combined forces inflicted considerable
damage, and were a perennial source of irritation to the enemy all
through. De Beers came out strong in another direction by heading the
list of subscriptions to a Refugee fund which had been opened. The
amount subscribed ran up to four figures. Much distress prevailed, and
the Refugee committee set about distributing the fund to the best
advantage. The ladies came out strong here, and gave yeomen
service--scooping out flour, meal, tea, and sugar to the needy, and in
sifting and rejecting, with rare acumen, the bogus claims of the "Heaps"
who affected humble poverty.

The Summary Commission sat for the first time, and with a courageous
disregard for the despotism of red tape, proceeded to business. The
first case called was that of one, Pretorious, whose open and vehement
condemnation of the war, and the policy that led to it, had rendered him
an object of suspicion. A search of his house had resulted in the
discovery of a revolver and two rifles, with ammunition to suit all
three. The Proclamation had been very clear as to the seriousness; of
this offence, and the penalty it entailed. The Court pronounced the
accused guilty, and sentenced him to six months' imprisonment. The cases
of minor offenders were postponed, and some of the prisoners awaiting
trial were released on bail. The fate of Pretorious was paraded by
mischief-makers as something which had produced a salutary effect in the
Dutch element at large. It induced them to cultivate a remarkable
reticence; but reticence is not essentially a product of good
government.

On Wednesday, the Boers--in so far as their demeanour could be gauged
from a distance--betrayed a tendency to wax indignant with us and our
determination to fight. Large numbers of them perambulated to and fro,
keeping nicely out of rifle range. A section of the Town Guard went out
to the Intermediate Pumping Station, and sought to entice them into
battle; but they were not to be drawn. The Beaconsfield Town Guard was
afterwards deputed to try its powers of persuasion--to no purpose. The
armoured train was finally resorted to as a decoy; but beyond eyeing it
from a distance--and if looks could smash, it would have been reduced to
small pieces--the Boers made no attempt to catch it. So far from being
lured or wheedled by us, they rather conveyed by their wariness that
green had no place in their eyes.

A copy of a Boer proclamation, which had been wafted into Kimberley by a
cynical breeze, gave rise to much astonishment and criticism. In
substance, it presented the Transvaalers with all territory north of the
Vaal river; the Free Staters with the Cape Colony; and the British
with--the sea! The Colonel read and appreciated the excellence of the
joke, but thought it politic to give people who lacked a sense of humour
a little illumination. He, accordingly, issued a counter-proclamation
which made the "point" of the other clear: it was not to be taken
seriously. The British element, which largely predominated, found scope
for their humour in the Boer proclamation; that the enemy should limit
his pretensions to portions of a single continent was surprising.
_Punch_ subsequently published a cartoon which represented President
Steyn artistically painting all territory south of the Equator a
pleasing Orange hue. Oom Paul, looking on in dismay, enquires: "Where
do I come in?" "Oh," Steyn replies airily, "there is the rest of the
British Empire."

But to return to the proclamations. Colonel Kekewich had yet another to
draft; the conduct of the natives compelled it. Many of the aborigines
were addicted to drinking more than was good for them of a species of
brandy--a fiery concoction, with a "body" in it, called Cape Smoke. They
staggered through the streets, rolled their eyes, flourished big sticks,
and sang songs of Kafirland in a key that did not make for harmony. So
the Colonel reasoned that he might as well write out another
proclamation while he was about it, and had pen and ink convenient. He
restricted the sale of "smoke," and decreed that all Kafir bars and
canteens were to remain open between the hours of ten and four o'clock
only. He also provided for the imposition of heavy penalties upon all
and sundry who dared to disobey.

The bar-keepers, it need hardly be said, were angry; it was going rather
too far, they thought. Was it the province of a military man to
advocate, still less to enforce, temperance? Had not the "black" an
"equal right" to quench his thirst? The canteen-men thought so; some of
them, indeed, were sure of it, and went so far as to defy "despot sway,"
by ignoring it. They continued ministering to the needs of the
horny-handed sons of toil. But the police--miserable
time-servers--_would_ do their duty; they were forced to uphold the
Colonel's law, and to requisition the services of the celebrated local
"trappers." The rebel Bonifaces were thus duly indicted, arraigned
before the Summary Court, and heavily fined or deprived of their
licenses.

The death of a sergeant of the Diamond Fields' Artillery threw a gloom
over the city. He was mourned for as one who, indirectly, had sacrificed
his life in defence of Kimberley. It was our first casualty; and made us
wonder how many more there were to be--or rather, if there were to be
any more.

Friday came, and with it came two English prisoners who had made good
their escape from the Boers. Their story was interesting. They carried
Martini-Henry rifles, but (as they explained) given a choice in the
selection, would have chosen Mausers. Their friends, the enemy, had
presented them with the weapons--conditionally; all they had asked in
return was that the recipients should join the Republican ranks. The
Englishmen scratched their heads, hesitated about striking a bargain,
and were promptly commandeered. They determined, however, to get the
best of the bargain at last; they escaped; and here they were in our
midst, easing their consciences with expressions of their intention to
restore the rifles to their rightful owners when the war was over, and
as much of the ammunition as possible, on the instalment plan, while it
lasted.

They had heard pitiful tales of the straits to which we had been
reduced. Imaginative natives had assured them that there was "no more
Kimberley"; the "fall" of Mafeking, forsooth, had staggered us so much
that we did not want to fight. We were in our last gasps for a drop of
water. Terrible guns were being wheeled to the diamond fields, to
scatter it to the four winds of heaven. The diamonds were first to be
blown out of the mines, and with them the local "imaginative"
shareholders; while the _Verkleur_ was to be unfurled Over the City
Hall. All the perishable property was to be confiscated, and consumed as
a sort of foretaste of what was due to the proud invaders' valour. Such
was the romance dinned into the ears of our visitors. Happily, they made
allowances for Bantu palsy, and did not hesitate to ignore it.

Saturday proved altogether uneventful, and prolific in nothing but
outrageous lies. One item of news, however, was but too true: the good
folk of Windsorton had surrendered to the Boers. Intelligence of a more
agreeable nature followed soon after. Cronje's repulse at Mafeking, and
the British victory at Glencoe, made us hopeful at the end of a week,
the beginning of which had looked so ominous; and nearly all things were
to our satisfaction on Saturday night when the third part of our "time"
had formally expired.



CHAPTER II

_Week ending 28th October, 1899_


After a hard and anxious week, Sunday was indeed a day of rest. We
enjoyed it because we felt instinctively that an enemy who sincerely
believed that Providence was necessarily on his side, would leave us
unmolested on the Sabbath. We were therefore justified in feeling a
sense of immunity from stray shells and bullets. We enjoyed the day,
too, because it gave us time and opportunity to look about us; to make a
general inspection; and to pronounce the arrangements for the city's
defence satisfactory. The volunteer forces had assumed gratifying
proportions, and their eyes were all "right." Walls and buildings on the
outskirts of the town, which might serve as a cover for the invader--in
the improbable event of his drawing so near--or that might stand within
the zone of our gun-fire, had been ruthlessly levelled to the ground. A
high barbed wire fence surrounded the various camps, and the vigilant
piquet had orders to shoot down anybody who attempted to cross it. Every
imaginable precaution had been taken to hold the fort at all costs. The
rumour-monger had formally made his _debut_, and was busy drawing upon
the reservoirs of his excellent imagination, and disseminating
information gathered from a mystic source known only to himself. He knew
the exact day and hour of the entrance into Kimberley of the British
troops; he could detail their plans to the letter, and a lot more than
anybody else (including the British troops) concerning them. The
rumour-monger became a character, a siege character, an adventitious
celebrity, destined to receive attention from a facetious press and the
tongues of men. So the day passed, with plenty to encourage, plenty to
talk and laugh about, plenty to predict about, plenty to see and hear,
and as yet, thank goodness, plenty to eat and drink.

Early on Monday morning, a mounted detachment, accompanied by the
armoured train and two hundred men of the Lancashire Regiment, went
forth to reconnoitre. The procession was an imposing one; at least the
Boers encamped at Scholtz's Nek appeared to think so; they made no
attempt to interfere with it, and thus debarred the procession from
interfering with them.

But meanwhile domestic concerns were getting serious, and absorbing the
minds of the people. The grocers of Kimberley are a respectable and, in
the aggregate, a public-spirited body of citizens; they are men of
substance; most honourable; most humane, too; and, as events were to
show, most human. With fine foresight they detected in the conflagration
of patriotism which consumed the consumer, a chance of bettering
themselves. Having a constitutional right to do it, they took this tide
in their affairs at what they (rather hastily) conceived to be its
flood. Actuated by motives of the new ("enlightened") self-interest,
they had proceeded to run up the prices of their goods by nice and easy
gradations of from ten to twenty, thence to fifty, and were well on
their way to a hundred, per cent., when a thunderbolt, an unexpected
projectile, smashed the ring. It was a pity, in a way, for the process
of welding the ring, so to speak, had been carried out with admirable
skill. Rich folk, whose balances at the bank ran into six, and seven,
figures, had commenced operations; they were buying up supplies of all
and sundry, and hanging the expense. People with a thousand or two were
nowhere in the aristocratic rush, and they waxed indignant; they could
buy a quantity of provisions, to be sure; but semi-millionaires could
buy so much more--a shop or two, perchance. Thus it was that the
"comfortable classes" deemed it their duty to protest. And right royally
did the common people, who had only the sweat of their brows, join in
the protest. The public, in fine, were thoroughly roused, and denounced
in unmeasured terms the conduct and the "enterprise" of the grocers. The
women were much alarmed; they collected together in wrathful groups to
enquire where the matter was to end, and with peculiar unanimity, not to
say satisfaction, to prophesy a revolution. This bound in the cost of
living brought us nearer to a state of panic than ever did the sharp
practice of the Boer artillery. The Colonel heard of it--what did he not
hear? Deputations waited on him; his intervention was solicited; he
agreed to intervene. And then came a splendid exhibition of the
autocracy of Martial Law. We had not yet seen all that it could do (far
from it!), and it was a pleasure, in the circumstances, to see the
Colonel put his foot down, since the step was highly approved and
ratified by the people.

Forth from Lennox Street, accordingly, another popular proclamation was
launched, A whole page of our local newspaper was commandeered for its
insertion. By virtue of the powers reposed in him, Colonel Kekewich
fixed the prices to be charged for "necessaries," such as tea, sugar,
coffee, meat (the butchers also had been brushing up their Shakespeare).
Goods were to be sold practically at ordinary rates; and if any
storekeeper charged more, or affected to be "sold out" of this, that, or
the other, the Colonel was to be told, and he would talk to the
storekeeper. There followed, of course, a grand slump. The combination
of the "upper" and "lower" middle-classes was irresistible. The
Commanding-Officer's prompt action was highly esteemed, and even those
who afterwards inveighed against him most severely (for other actions)
never denied him credit for it.

Paraffin oil is worthy of special mention. Coal not being much in
evidence in the diamond fields--where the sun is ever shining with all
its might--paraffin was an important factor in the culinary sphere.
When, therefore, a few gentlemen formed a syndicate, to vaunt their
loyalty in a crisis by cornering all the kerosene in town, another
outcry followed. They bought all they could lay hands on at market price
(sixteen and six per case), and next day imperturbably continued buying
at twenty-five shillings. On Tuesday the wide-awake vendors asked fifty
shillings, and were paid it cheerfully. Another sovereign was added to
each case of what remained on Wednesday, and the seventy shillings was
put down without a murmur. How much farther the bidding would have gone
will never be known, for a vicious little bird must needs tell the
Colonel all about it. That gentleman happened to be engaged in his
favourite (proclaiming) pastime; he sat ruminating on the high price of
coal, and evolving schemes to bring wood back to its proper level. The
latter article was what the poorer classes used as fuel. The Colonel had
no scruples about dotting down a reasonable figure for coal; but wood
was new to him; he sympathised with the woodman, yet could not spare the
tree. Water (sold in casks) had evinced propensities to bubble over, and
to prevent consequent waste it was necessary to make it simmer down to
its normal tepidity. Having settled these little difficulties, the
worried autocrat was about to affix his signature to the magic
manuscript, when the little feathered informer alighted on his shoulder
and warbled "_wacht-een-beitje_, what price oil?" The Colonel had no
hesitation in pouring it on troubled waters, by making eighteen
shillings the maximum charge per case.

What the feelings of the syndicate were is not recorded. There was only
one thing certain, the deal was not a profitable thing--for the
_buyers_. Rumour had it that one gentleman, "with a pigtail," had paid
fifty shillings each for two hundred cases. The story was false--rumour
is never quite right; the man wore no pigtail. A Celestial speculator
indeed he was, but he had long since discarded, if he had ever sported,
his national plait.

The afternoon brought a fight--a fight at last. Nothing less sensational
could explain the wave of excitement that set men, women, and children
struggling in a wild scramble for the debris heaps, which commanded a
view of the match. Yes; a battle at last, was the cry on all
sides,--varied with divers witticisms _apropos_ of the "beans" the
Boers were sure to be given. The military critic, perched high above
everybody else, held his glass to his eye, giving expression the while
to a paradoxical longing to be "blind," etc. He criticised, candidly,
the tactics displayed by both sides--but this chapter would never be
finished if I reproduced, in their entirety, the banalities of the
military critic.

The railway line had been torn up again, and a patrol of mounted men
under the command of Colonel Scott-Turner had been out since early
morning to superintend repairs. The repairs were soon effected, and
after the patrol had rested at Macfarlane's Farm it meandered in the
direction of Riverton. A large body of the enemy shortly became visible
to the right of Riverton, and after a little seductive manoeuvring on
the part of Turner's men, they were drawn within range of Turner's
rifles. The rifles went off; a few Boers toppled from their horses,
while the rest drew rein and rode back at a goodly speed.
Reinforcements, however, were galloping to their assistance, and soon a
lively duel was in full swing. Colonel Kekewich, who was an interested
spectator away back on the conning tower, thought he detected a movement
on the enemy's part to surround Turner; and to frustrate this design, he
forthwith despatched a "loaded" armoured train. The maxims (in the
armoured train) came into play, and spread confusion in the Boer ranks.
Their Commandant was killed and left behind on the field. The rifle duel
was maintained with dogged perseverance on both sides for some time
afterwards. We were not without losses--three men having been killed and
nineteen wounded. The enemy's casualties were estimated to be thirty.
Our men had conducted themselves throughout with conspicuous courage and
coolness, though many of them were quite new to the game of war. To the
Boer, too, a meed of praise is due; for, contrary to popular tradition,
he could--and did--fight a good fight on the open veld. Turner's force
returned to the city, well satisfied with their first brush with the
enemy. The news which appeared in a special edition of the _Diamond
Fields' Advertiser_, relative to the successful dash of Atkins at
Elandslaagte (Natal), added to the enthusiasm that prevailed during the
evening; and made optimists--there were no pessimists--more sanguine
than ever in regard to the speedy capitulation of the Boers.

Our men, on Thursday, patrolled in different directions--alert for a
second encounter, if the fates were propitious. But the foe declined to
oblige; he lay low all day, presumably imbibing coffee. In the
afternoon, heavy rains, which made piquet duty none too pleasant, came
down in torrents. Tents had just been pitched at our redoubts in the
nick of time. The three men killed on Tuesday were buried with military
honours. The funeral was large--the Colonel, his staff, and several
sections of the Town Guard marching in processional order.

Meanwhile a detachment of the Cape Police were endeavouring, with all
due prudence, to lure the Boers into battle. But they did not succeed.
It was advanced as an explanation of this singular inactivity that the
nerves of the enemy were shattered--since Tuesday. It was rumoured, too,
that a number of our "friends" had gone off on a recuperating pilgrimage
to Windsorton and Klipdam--two villages which had been taken without
the waste of a cartridge and placed under the _Verkleur_. Looting
operations, it was said, were being carried out on an extensive scale,
and property was being destroyed. Such was the local estimate of Boer
shortcomings--based on flimsy data, or no data at all. In Kimberley, we
only laughed at looting, and if the Boers effected an entrance we had no
objection to the exercise of their talent for vandalism. We _said_ so;
because we were profoundly confident of our collective capacity to keep
them _out_. Cynicism was the fashion. There was so much to say on the
great topic, and so little to read about it. The evenings seemed so
long; at half-past five, when the shops were closed, it appeared to be
much later. Nice people exchanged visits as usual, albeit they had to be
home at the disgustingly rural hour of nine o'clock, sharp. It was
amusing sometimes to watch the abnormal strides of fat men and women,
and to see them dodging the night patrol when they had to do a ten
minutes' walk in five. The patrol was not a policeman. Oh, dear, no; he
was far more stern, and had banished his politeness for three weeks. If
at nine-fifteen you wished to be directed to Jones Street, you would be
shown the way to the gaol instead. No explanations would be accepted, no
protests heeded, no excuses listened to; no consideration for persons,
no bank-balance however huge, would soften the inflexible patrol. "I did
not read the proclamation," would not do; you must have heard of it. You
might swear you had not, or _at_ the insulting sceptic, but he would
neither yield nor apologise. He was always armed with a rifle, and
accompanied by three or four men with ammunition. It was a common
experience with us to wake up during the night and list to the same old
hackneyed dialogue. "Halt!" in a voice of thunder, "who goes there?" "A
friend," would be the invariable response, the tone, pitch, and temper
of which would be regulated by the "pass" the friend had or had _not_ in
his pocket. "Advance, friend, and give the countersign," Excited
families would by this time have their heads thrust through the windows
to watch the _denouement_. Satisfactory explanations would generally
follow the final command; but occasionally a babel of recrimination
would ensue, and become gradually indistinct as the poor law-breaker was
hustled off to prison.

The people, for the most part, sat on their steps, discussing the events
of the day, the paucity of news, the doings of the army, the destruction
of the Republics and the probability of its easy accomplishment by
Christmas (1899). They would break off now and then with a reference to
the activity of the searchlight. The searchlight was of powerful calibre
and shed a brilliant radiance which, revolving, illuminated the
surrounding country. Needless to say, it shone all night; a surprise
visit from the Boers was out of the question. We felt light-hearted on
Saturday, and profoundly satisfied, that we were too intrepid for the
enemy. Our patrols kept vainly seeking to provoke a quarrel. At the
camps the "Death of Nelson," and "comic" melodies not less doleful, were
rendered with much feeling. At the hospital, the wounded were doing
well, and one man was quite himself again. They were extremely well
tended, and thanks to public solicitude, were the recipients of
countless delicacies, including _bottled_ cheer.

Thus two weeks were over--well over, it was affirmed. Alas! we had
another sixteen to put behind us; but no; nonsense! what am I saying?
Even the wags, and everyone was inclined to be waggish in the first
great fortnight of faith, never put the number higher than eight, lest
their jokes should lose point or their wit its subtlety.



CHAPTER III

_Week ending 4th November, 1899_


The day of opportunity for reflection was with us again, and since so
little occasion for action presented itself we talked about war in
peace. The man in the street--omniscient being!--discussed it threadbare
on the pavement. A man who knew the Boers was the man in the street. He
knew the British army, too, though; and was sanguine of its ability to
go one better--the shrewdness of which view was loudly applauded. And he
really did much to make morbid people easy, and to lighten the burden of
weak minds. The man in the street was respected. It was deemed a
privilege to chat on the situation with this exalted personage, whom it
took a rare and great occasion to make.

On the Stoep, after dinner, the history of the 'eighty-one struggle was
reviewed and punctuated with commentaries on the character of Mr.
Gladstone. The probable date of the relief column's arrival was settled,
and the consequent discomfiture of the enemy laughed at. The talk was
all of war. The children on their way from Sunday school halted the
passer-by to enquire "who goes there"; they formed fours, stood at ease,
and shouldered sticks enthusiastically. The natives shut up in the
compounds eulogised the sword in their own jargon; they were filled with
ambition to lend an assegai in the fray, and to have a cut at the
people who treated them as children--with the sjambok!

It was remarkable the unanimity of opinion which obtained among
Kimberley men at the beginning of the campaign with reference to the
attitude of the Free State. They were in the first place convinced that
war was certain, inevitable, unavoidable; Great Britain would enforce
her demands, and the Boers would "never" give way to them. So much was
agreed. But the idea of the Free State joining hands with the
Transvaal--to stand or fall with it--was ridiculed as a monstrous
proposition. England had no quarrel with the Free Staters, and they were
not such "thundering fools" as to pick one with England, or to be
influenced by shibboleths bearing on the relative thicknesses of blood
and water. When, however, we learned how very much mistaken folks may
be, the "villainy" of President Steyn was--rather overstated, and the
continued independence of his country pronounced an impossibility.

This was all very well; but it involved some inconsistency, in that we
had veered round to the belief that the Transvaal would never have faced
the music _alone_, and without the aid of the neighbouring State! That
is to say: war was certain from the beginning; the Free Staters were
equally certain to be neutral; but since they were not neutral,
responsibility for the war was theirs, and theirs _only_. Perhaps it
was; but how was the view to be reconciled with our previous
positiveness to the contrary? As a fact, few were conscious of any
weakness in their way of laying down the law, and _they_ (tacitly)
admitted their fallibility.

On Monday the enemy betrayed signs of activity in the building of a
redoubt opposite the Premier Mine. This was disappointing; it looked as
if the purpose was to place a gun in the redoubt--to shy shells at the
Premier. A special edition of the _Diamond Fields' Advertiser_ lent
colour to the assumption. The Boers, the special stated, had a gun fixed
up at Mafeking, and had actually trained it on that town. The shells, we
were assured, had not burst; but (flying) they could hit a man in the
head, we thought. Whence they (the Boers) got the gun was a puzzle to
not a few; and how they managed to make it "speak" was beyond the
comprehension of others. "They might have another gun," these people
exclaimed in horror! They might indeed; the question soon ceased to be
one of speculation, for when a body of the Light Horse attempted to
cross the Free State border, the boom of "another gun" was unmistakably
real. Shell after shell was burled at the Light Horse; none of them were
hit, and not having bothered bringing artillery with them, they were
unable to retaliate.

Later in the day an express rider made his way through the Boer lines.
The most interesting news he was able to impart was summed up in the
Proclamation he carried in his pocket. It bore reference to the
prohibition by the Governor of the sale of arms and ammunition
throughout the Cape Colony. It was feared that the Africanders might buy
the goods and throw them across the border; it had been done. But
information in disproof of this was forthcoming when the story reached
us that a number of the Cape Dutch had risen in rebellion and needed the
weapons for themselves! Kimberley's voice at once favoured the extreme
penalty--death for high treason! Even moderate men, who allowed for
racial sympathies, held that neutrality was in the circumstances the
proper attitude to assume. But the local extremist--and he was the man
of the hour--argued that the object of the rebels was to sweep the
English into the sea, and to make Africa the exclusive privilege of the
Africander. In the evening, a terrific explosion was heard; a dynamite
magazine had been blown up at Dronfield. It was stated that some people
went up along with it; but that part of the story has yet to be
verified.

All this made Wednesday an interesting day, but the gallant Colonel had
yet to crown it with his quota. Having previously omitted to fix a
charge for meal and flour, he now brought back to their normal modesty
the prices of the two commodities. The two hardly provided sufficient
material for a proclamation, but with some stretching they were made to
do so. It was easy to discover a disparity in the relative quantities of
the two foodstuffs in Kimberley; we had a great deal of the one, and
comparatively little of the other. Thus when Kekewich in his wisdom
deemed it prudent to take precautions, the populace did not object. We
knew in _our_ wisdom that precautions were superfluous, but we approved,
in a general way, the principle of prudence. The proclamation
accordingly ordained that every loaf baked in future should be three
parts meal and one part flour. The bakers were given the recipé gratis,
with instructions to sell it (the bread, not the recipé) cheaply,
namely, at three pence per loaf. Theoretically, the new loaf was to
prove a palatable change; practically, the wry expression of
countenance it evoked in the process of mastication demonstrated the
contrary. The bread was light "khaki" in colour, and only in this
respect was it fashionable;--not too fashionable, because "Boer meal"
was its chief ingredient, and racial prejudice was strong. The sweetness
of the old-fashioned white loaf was wanting, and we soon clamoured for
its restoration. But the brazen baker would talk of colour-blindness,
and insist that yellow was white. And when we hit upon the plan of
demanding brown bread, the fellow would argue that yellow was brown!
When black was asked for--well, we did not ask for that. But there was
no option in the matter; the Colonel's prescription had to be accepted.
The sensible course was to try to acquire a taste for it; and we did; we
succeeded--too well!--until at last we could not get _enough_ of the
dough. The unkindest cut of all, however, did not come until pies,
pastry, and sweet cakes of all kinds were pronounced indigestible. The
refined cruelty of this revolutionary decree was bitterly resented; not
only by the confectioners, whose shop windows were works of art, but
also by the public, who loved art. Even gouty subjects and folk with
livers protested. As for the ladies, the war on sponge cakes almost
broke their hearts. Pastry was to many of them a staple sustenance, and
conducive--besides being nice--to a, wan complexion. Five o'clock teas
lost prestige; the tarts were gone. It was a case of Hamlet without the
Prince of Denmark. The propriety of a deputation to the Colonel, to test
his gallantry, was mooted; but the proposal, strange to say, found no
seconder. Meanwhile, he (the Colonel) was on the trail of the butcher
again. Prior to the promulgation of the eight-penny regulation the
butcher had been in his element, charging what he liked, and liking
generally a shilling. The small people in the trade had sold their
cattle to their richer brethren who now made hay in the "ample sunshine"
with great ardour. Their prices, it is true, had been limited by
proclamation; but they still catered for the wealthy classes, and the
"greater number" suffered much in consequence. Some people could get no
meat, and when the Colonel awoke to the situation he suddenly limited
the allowance of each adult to half-a-pound _per diem_. A howl of
indignation followed, and Kekewich was denounced as a "high-handed
vegetarian." To be limited to less meat in a day than a man was
accustomed to "shift" at one meal, was at once "too much" and "too
little." Even this restriction worked badly. Coaches and fours were
driven through the proclamation; the well-to-do got good weight, and the
toiler--shinbone! The system of meat distribution was a source of
trouble to the end.

Friday morning was one to live in our memories, it brought the execrable
hooters again. No pen-picture can be drawn of their effect on the
nerves; their unearthly melody must be heard. It sounded incidental to
carnage, and wailed forth that the enemy was at last about to grapple
with us. The shops were promptly closed; employers and employees rushed
off in carts, on bicycles, or on foot to their respective redoubts. It
was admirable: the readiness, the despatch with which every man hurried
to his place. Women and children--liable to arrest--hastened to their
homes. Soon the streets were completely deserted, save by the alert
constable who walked his 'beat'--ready wherever he saw a head (outside a
door) to crack it. All ears were strained to hear the first shot; and
the suspense was probably more poignant than in later times when we had
grown accustomed to the cry of wolf.

But there was no first shot; the cautious Boer had not made up his mind
to beat us just yet. By a series of elaborate movements he had affected
to gird his loins for a swoop that nothing could withstand, and adroitly
managed the while to capture some oxen and horses--the property of our
local Sanitary Conductors. When this was discovered, a batch of mounted
men were deputed to ride out and question the legality of the
proceedings. The enemy, nothing loth, opened the arguments themselves
with a pungent volley, and when our side proceeded to reply, through a
similar medium, the other would not listen. Later in the afternoon the
Light Horse went out again, and got near enough to unlimber their guns
and to plant a few shells among the Boers who guarded the route to the
Reservoir. In this skirmish one of the Cape Police was killed--a
regrettable circumstance which brought our list of deaths up to five.

The enemy still kept showing signs of activity, and of resolution to
make it not only impossible to get out of Kimberley, but also unpleasant
to live in it. They brought a gun as close as they dared to the De Beers
Mine, and impudently endeavoured to shell it. They seized a second
position at Kamfers Dam, and placed a second gun there. We had good
people in Kimberley who asserted that the gentle Boer knew not how to
use a gun; that he considered it so much lumber, an incumbrance. These
were apart from the school given to postulate that the farmers had _no
guns_ to use. No need to say that both theories were dispelled, by sight
as well as by hearing. Much attention was devoted to Otto's Kopje--our
most exposed position--and many missiles dropped dangerously close to
it. They burst, too, though nobody was hit. But they burst; and that was
a visible fact that astounded a host of knowing people. There was a
story in circulation about a respectable refugee from Johannesburg who,
irritated by the fallacies that passed for facts in regard to Boer
armaments and resources, always made it a point to speak the truth on
the subject. He was an Englishman, quite loyal, and stimulated by a
glass of beer was one evening in his boarding house unfolding the facts
of the case. He discoursed fluently on the calibre and the accumulation
of modern instruments of warfare he had beheld in Pretoria with his own
eyes. His candour nettled his listeners, and on going outside he was
threatened by one with pains and penalties if he did not curb his tongue
and be careful. Another gentleman indulged in some vigorous criticism of
spies and traitors in the abstract; while a third produced a pocket-book
and took down the name of the frank offender, with a view to having him
arrested. They went on in this strain until quite eight or ten muscular
men had formed a cordon round the transgressor. "What did I say?" he
enquired, plaintively. "You said a lot too much," was the crushing
retort. One Ajax finally removed his coat and invited the Radical to a
fistic encounter in the garden--if he felt aggrieved. The challenge was
declined, more in sorrow than in anger, and the clamour subsided.

Contempt for the Boers, their methods of warfare, and their resources,
was so marked that facts--traitorous things--were best left unspoken.

We had been informed that the ranks of the enemy had been largely
augmented by commandoes from the north. Thus when on Saturday morning an
alarm was raised we expected a tug-of-war for sure. The Boers were
apparently massing for a concentrated attack on Wesselton, which was
situated a couple of miles from the city proper. The day was
particularly ugly; a dust storm blew with blinding fury. The portion of
the Town Guard on duty the previous night had just settled down to
slumber when they were obliged to jump out of "bed" and betake
themselves in hot haste to their posts. But the Boers were only joking;
they retired after an out-of-range demonstration of pugnacity. The
citizen soldiers went back to "bed," but ere their winks had totalled
forty they were again roused by the sacred goose-cackie of the hooters
and again running to their trenches. The scenes in the streets were
pretty similar to the pictures of the day before. We waited six hours,
in expectation that "the hope which shone through them would blossom at
last." It was all in vain; the Boers--incorrigible humourists--would not
be serious, or draw close enough to be shot at. It was suggested that
the hooters told them a march was not to be stolen on us; hence so many
postponements of the "fall" of Kimberley. The sound, the weirdness of
the hooters in itself, would keep back a braver foe. We wanted them
silenced, however, and were beginning actually to desire a fight. All
the hardships of active service, _minus_ its real excitement, were ours;
and the cadets of the Town Guard--who cared not whether they lived to be
one-and-twenty--were dying to fire and definitely to learn from the
"kick" of a gun whether there was really "nothing like leather."

Other things contributed to the eventfulness of Saturday; the Boers
continued to display the same ominous energy, digging trenches, erecting
forts, and making themselves generally comfortable--pending our
submission to the inevitable like practical men. To emphasise the wisdom
of surrender on our part, it was freely stated that the town was to be
bombarded from Kamfers Dam. There was a feeling--it was in the air--that
mischief was brewing. In obedience to a sudden order, the women and
children of Otto's Kopje and the West End were hurried into the city for
better protection. Finally, a letter from the Boer Commandant was
received by the Colonel, the contents of which went far to justify the
feeling of anxiety which was abroad.

The Commandant was a Mr. Wessels--and a very courteous gentleman his
note proclaimed him. After some conventional preliminaries, he commenced
by suggesting how natural it would be if the Dutch families living in
Kimberley desired to betake themselves to more congenial surroundings.
The Colonel thought it would be natural. Mr. Wessels would take it as a
favour if said families were permitted to trek. Mr. Kekewich would
gladly grant the favour; but the people concerned could not take a
natural view of the matter at all; they decided to remain where they
were. Mr. Wessels next graciously proposed that _all_ women and
children, irrespective of race, should be expatriated. The Colonel was
still anxious to oblige, but the women, unfortunately, were not. They
scouted the proposition. Its impertinence had attractions, but they
declined to leave. It was _too_ ridiculous; living in a desert as they
were, with railway communication cut off on every side. They never heard
the like! The surrender of the entire city was the final little favour
solicited by the Commandant; and lower down it was hinted that the
bombardment of Kimberley would be the painful alternative to a refusal.
Here all courtesy was brushed aside, and Wessels was challenged to "take
it--if he could."

In the evening a "special" was published which contained a few vague
assurances of the satisfactory progress of the war in Natal; also some
items concerning Mafeking, and the philosophic pluck of Baden-Powell.
"The British troops," the special protested, "were rapidly arriving." At
the redoubts the news was enthusiastically digested to the strains of
"Rule Britannia," "Tommy Atkins," and kindred national ballads. The
troops were arriving, but had not yet reached Kimberley. The prophets
were false; the three weeks were over; but not so the siege. One, two,
aye, three weeks more of it distinctly stared us in the face.



CHAPTER IV

_Week ending 11th November, 1899_


The three weeks were over, and there was nothing to show that our
inspirations in regard to the duration of the siege might yet prove to
be substantially true. No immediate prospect of relief was observable,
and our thoughts mechanically took a gloomy turn. How sanguine we had
been, to be sure. Hardened sinners there were, of course, to sing that
fine old chorus, "I told you so!" They never did! Nobody had ventured to
tell us anything so inexplicit. The three weeks dogma had never been
questioned. It was not, however, the detraction from our repute as
prophets that saddened us, so much as the wearing off of what was novel
in our beleagured state. It was beginning to pall a little. The day was
beautiful, and notable for an absence of dust. In the morning, the
Colonel sent out a patrol to have a look around. He also issued some
stringent regulations, affecting the privileges and liberties of persons
residing outside the town's barriers. These good people were
thenceforward obliged to submit to the indignity of being searched, as a
condition precedent to permission to come or go like ordinary mortals.
The right to read their newspaper across the breakfast cup was also
denied them; the duty had to be performed In town, lest the wind should
blow the local journal into the hands of the enemy and reveal--nothing
at all. The position of the barrier guard ceased to be--if it ever
were--a sinecure, and he was kept busy picking pockets, examining bills,
perusing love-letters, written in all sorts of prose, and in verse which
was homely, if not exactly Homeric.

As already pointed out, the day was fine, and the Boers were silent; so
that, recent disappointments notwithstanding, there was little credit in
being jolly on such a Sunday. The Tapleys of the city had accordingly no
great trouble in inducing us to amuse ourselves. The united bands of the
Kimberley and Lancashire Regiments were to give a concert in the Public
Gardens; and at four o'clock some thousands of people, arrayed in their
best, had gathered there. The Gardens were crowded; cares were
forgotten; the Boers were chaffed; while the strains of the melodists
were awaited with pleasurable anticipation. At the psychological moment
the music began. The tune was not unfamiliar; we had heard it
before--and prayed that we might not hear it again! It was not from the
bandstand the discord was wafted; when I say, in a word, it was the hoot
of the hooters, sounding the alarm, it will be understood how far from
soothing was its spell. The exodus from the grounds was a treat to
watch; the ladies in their finery made a dash for home, while the
gentlemen rushed for their rifles with equal despatch. The bandsmen laid
aside their lutes for more deadly instruments, and prepared themselves
to give the Boer as much music as he cared to face. It was altogether a
magnificent dissolution, rapidly accomplished. And, of course, it was as
usual, all for nothing. Wessels was a wag.

Monday morning revealed the Boer clans foregathering in force on the
south side of the city. The citizen soldiers were quietly directed to
get behind their sandbags, while a mounted body was ordered out to
anticipate events, and, if practicable, to knock over a few of the
clansmen. But it was only bluff again. Our women folk, although they
dreaded a _fracas_, were particularly impatient of this time-honoured
game. During the day, a good many shells were expended on the Premier
Mine. The mines, it may be said, were the objectives of special
bombardments until the end; but, so far, we were not inclined to think
highly of the enemy's marksmanship. The shells fell a long way short,
albeit not so short as at first; the aim was improving. Given time, the
Boer would yet hit his target; but of course he would not get time.

Practice was resumed next morning at an hour sufficiently preternatural
to deprive us of a portion of our legitimate sleep. We rose early in
Kimberley--long before the lark--to our credit be it sung; but four
o'clock was too far removed from breakfast time, and four was commonly
the hour chosen by the churlish Boers to commence operations throughout
the tedious months of our investment. The whiz and the explosion were
not invariably audible, but the boom was always heard. Our "friends"
rarely missed making a noise, and, to secure proper rest, this
break-of-day _penchant_ sent people early to bed. A big gun had been
placed by the enemy on the top of Wimbleton Ridge, wherefrom--as our
Garrison Orders grandiloquently stated--"the strength of the fortress of
Kimberley was tested." The shells landed safely on the bare veld, and
even when the dissatisfied gunners brought their gun closer, no harm
was done. Wimbleton was three or four miles away, and we were not
therefore in a position to reciprocate the attentions we received from
it. Another assault was subsequently made on the Premier fort. Our
seven-pounders were this time able to do a bit of bowling, and a ball
was hurled at the enemy's wickets that stopped play for the day.

There was considerable elation in town at the non-success of the Boer as
an artillerist, and the belief was entertained that his stock of
ammunition would soon be blown to the winds. Nearly a hundred shells had
been thrown at us, without angering or damaging anyone or anything
save--a cook and his cooking-pot! The cook resided in a redoubt; his pot
had had the lid broken, and worse still, the stew it covered driven
through the bottom of the utensil, to be incinerated in the blaze
beneath; and he vowed--well, the profanity entwined in his vow of
vengeance will not admit of its publication. The whole bombardment was a
grand joke. In the Law Courts, where the Criminal Sessions were being
conducted in the ordinary way, the lawyers waxed witty. The witnesses
responded. Even the prisoners laughed sorrowfully as each abortive boom
rang out. It was a superb joke. The judge let fall some funny things and
the jury smiled--without prejudice. His lordship said it was a novel
experience for him, as indeed it was for all of us, who were to live and
learn that--the last laugher laughs best.

The results of the Colonel's mild and forbearing efforts to keep the
natives in check were not satisfactory. The exuberance of the Kafirs
knew no bounds; they continued to glory in intoxication, and to "do" the
_breadth_ of the streets, like the gay Bohemians of more advanced
civilisations. They did more; they defied authority, and varied their
pleasures with occasional bouts of house-breaking and burglary. They
appropriated such property as they could lay hands on in the sequestered
houses of the West End, and played tug-of-war with mahogany that lacked
the merit of being portable. An epidemic of looting prevailed--and fine
sport it seemed to offer.

But Colonel Kekewich did not think it a time for sport, and lost no time
in ventilating his thoughts on the subject. Drastic measures were
adopted to suppress the fun. Another proclamation adorned the dead
walls--decreeing that native bars and canteens were to be closed
altogether. To deal effectively with the hooligan school stern methods
were necessary, and total prohibition was the initial step--a step
highly lauded by the public in general, and by the _white_ topers of the
city in particular. The coloured bibbers were thus suddenly reduced to
water, and some twenty of them--caught red-handed in crime--were lashed
and sent to prison for two years. One or two got off with a caution, and
with instructions to preach to the locations on the heinousness of
hooliganism, and of the power of Martial Law to hang "boys" for less
than murder--as the next roost-robber would learn to his cost. No
remarkable curiosity to be learned in the "Law" was afterwards
manifested for some time.

As for the aggrieved liquor people, the Colonel's proclamation well-nigh
broke their backs. Their feelings must be left to the sympathetic
imagination of the reader. That thirty thousand of her Majesty's
subjects should be "by law forbid" to quench their thirst was
incredible. That men in the "trade" should by consequence suffer
financial loss, and have the sweat of their brows, as it were,
confiscated, was an evasion of the Constitution (superseded though it
was by Martial Law) which outraged the name of liberty. It was a bitter
pill to swallow; but it had to be swallowed under pain of penalty for
even a grimace. Some of the patients could not let the purgative down;
they deliberately let nature take its course--the sequel to which was
the mobilisation of the Trapper Reserves for active service. And still
the slimness of the native contrived to dodge the wiles of civilisation.
With the assistance of some Coolie shop-keepers (who acted as middlemen)
he yet managed to drink a fair share. But the middlemen, too, were
hauled over the coals. A few Indians went so far as to establish without
license little canteens of their own, thereby outraging all law, civil
and military. In such cases the canteens were confiscated. The Summary
Court had altogether a busy time, and the Official Interpreters, Dutch,
Kafir, and Indian, were "sweated" at last.

Wednesday was quiet; so also was Thursday, our peace being marred by
neither shells nor hooters. The hooters, indeed, were never to do it
again--a graceful concession, for which we gave thanks; their cat-calls
had been so nerve-shaking. The monotony was relieved on Friday by some
shells which came right into the city--as far as the Post Office. They
omitted to burst. The boom of a gun, which had been wont to play havoc
with the nervous, had come to be regarded as of no consequence, a mere
tap on a drum, eliciting a _nonchalant_ "Ah, there she goes," and
nothing more. Everybody was alive for fragments of the dead missiles;
curio-hunting was a craze, and hundreds of people were ever ready to
pounce upon the projectiles that wasted their sweetness on the desert
air. The tiniest crumb of metal was treasured as a valuable memento. The
shells fell and broke as would a tea-pot, a brick, or an egg of the
Stone Age. No explosion followed; no fragments flew to hurt one's ribs,
or to play the dentist with one's teeth. The missiles declined to burst.

It was natural that much speculation should arise as to the cause of
this anomalous state of things; and there were people to doubt its being
so much due to obstinacy on the part of the shells as to inexperience on
the part of the Boers. One wiseacre held that the missiles were antique
and obsolete relics of the 'eighty-one struggle. Others questioned
whether "the Boer" then knew that shells were invented. A lot more
contended that "the Boer" was unacquainted with the mysteries of a fuse,
and knew as little about "timing" a shell as he did about discipline.
One or two suggested, tentatively, as a solution of the puzzle, that "he
had forgotten to put the powder in." Another argued that he did not know
how; while there were a few who doubted whether "the Boer" considered
powder in any sense explosive. There was a garrulous "bore" (from
somewhere over-sea, not Holland) who advanced a still clearer
elucidation of the mystery. "What was Rhodes doing in Germany for twelve
months," he cried, "tell me that?" The relevancy of this rather
startling query was a little obscure, but somebody replied: "He was
visiting the Kaiser." This was too much for our interlocutor; he pitied
our ignorance of the world, lamented our neglected education, and, as if
our weakness in arithmetic was peculiarly discreditable, deplored our
inability to put "two and two together."

Alarms were now nightmares of the past, and the people could pursue
their avocations undisturbed and undistracted. There was little firing
in the afternoon--nothing more deafening than a rifle-shot. A Boer, on
sniping bent, was hit by one of our sharpshooters; three men approached,
and two only were observed to rush back _with_ their shields. Of what
the British troops were doing we knew nothing. Thousands of them, it was
said, were congregated at Orange River (seventy miles away), and we were
curious to know when they were to "move on"; only curious--not
impatient. The summer was yet in its infancy (as also was the siege) and
our patience was destined to be lost soon enough. Meanwhile, we had not
much cause for complaint in the matter of food. Meat, some said, they
found it hard to procure; one young lady asserted positively that her
family had had no meat for dinner on Sunday, and that she herself had to
dine off "tea." She was the daughter of a public house, too! Just fancy
the daughter of a public house having to do with "tea" for dinner! Hers,
however, would have been a case of exceptional hardship; there was the
"half pound" for everyone who went shopping in time.

We were startled from our slumbers at an early hour on Saturday morning
by the booming of artillery and a succession of very distinct
explosions. The shells fell broadcast, and whistled--while we sought
vainly to see them--with a disconcerting whiz above our heads. Their
contact with mother earth resulted in a loud crash; it was hard to
believe that the theorist who opined that the Boers had "forgotten the
powder" (before) was a clever fellow. They had remembered it this time;
its odour was everywhere. It was our first real taste of a bombardment,
and a nauseating taste it proved. Men and women had a vague belief that
hundreds must be dead. Consternation reigned; and when it was reported
that a woman had been killed in Dutoitspan Road, the excitement was at
its height. The fatality sent a thrill of horror through the people, who
awaited in dread anticipation the news of further massacres. The victim
was a poor washerwoman, and the possibilities it conjured up before the
mind's eye made her death doubly unfortunate. But, happily, no further
damage to life or limb was to be recorded. A good many houses were hit,
though not injured materially. A shell entered the Gresham Bar, and it
was surprising that so few glasses should have been smashed; more
marvellous still that the fair bar-tender should have remained fair; she
was merely frightened. As for the proprietor, he held up fairly well.
There was a hole in his roof (I don't mean his head), but he made the
price of a decent patch in ten minutes. The men about town flocked in to
have a laugh at the mess, and were amazed to find a bottle intact, or a
bigger utensil to drink from than a "thimble" indeed.

Feeling against the Boers grew strong. Enquiries about the British
troops, their movements, their dilatoriness, were sternly renewed; it
was reckoned time to "clear the border." That Colonel Kekewich was
angry goes without saying; he despatched two mounted forces in opposite
directions to record a general protest. One of these, led by Colonel
Scott-Turner, rode towards Otto's Kopje. The enemy, however, were
apparently prepared for Turner; they opened fire with a gun, and
endeavoured to cut him off. In this they failed; they drew rather too
near, and so far from intimidating the fighting Colonel, enabled him to
register his protest very forcibly. Nine Boers were shot down; three on
the British side were injured. Meanwhile the force under Major Peakman
was protesting at Carter's Farm. The enemy there made a bold effort to
silence Peakman. But a Maxim gun has a remarkable gift of the gab; the
Major had one with him, and he let it do all the talking--with results
that quickly drove the Boers beyond the range of its Phillipics.

Notwithstanding these castigations, or perhaps because of them, the
bombardment was resumed in the afternoon. Wesselton was assailed; a few
shells also fell into Kimberley, with no serious consequences. Silence
reigned at six o'clock. It was an exciting _finalé_ to the week. The
morrow would be Sunday, and glad we were to hear it. And still relief
was deferred; but the troops _were_ at Orange River, and seventy miles,
they told us, was a trifle in darkest Africa. That they (the troops)
would soon arrive did not admit of a doubt. And then?--and then the Boer
would run away or die.



CHAPTER V

_Week ending 18th November, 1899_


Sunday again! the most popular day of the seven; pre-eminently so since
the war began. The peace that marked an occasional week-day was the
certain accompaniment of the Sunday. The conditions of life were normal
on Sunday; its advent made us happy. Following upon the unpleasant
experiences of the previous day it was peculiarly welcome, albeit,
mayhap, the herald of troublous times. The death of the poor washerwoman
had opened up a world of possibilities; morbid forebodings were conjured
up by morbid people, and nobody dreamt of measuring future fatalities by
so low an average as one per day. But yesterday, we were as safe as if
we were "in Piccadilly." A great man had said so--a great man and
millionaire. His name was Rhodes, Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Chairman of the De
Beers Corporation, and "no mean judge of a situation," our newspaper
stated in substantiation of his Piccadilly peccadillo. He had come up
specially for the siege, it was said by some who, had they but half his
foresight, would have "specially" gone away for it. Well, Mr. Rhodes,
felt safe and we, too, had felt safe until the sad event of Saturday
rather neutralised the confidence inspired by the shrewd, but human,
millionaire. There was a minority, indeed, who could not logically look
for aught but ruin and disaster as a sequence to the shock of Saturday.
"Look at the narrow escapes so many had," the minority argued. There
were plenty of stories. Legends of hairbreadth escapes were legion. They
were well told by fluent liars, by such raconteurs as _talk_ of
prodigious things in fishing, and _catch_ nothing but colds. The narrow
escapes were yet to come. Our wounded in the hospital were doing well;
some of them had already been discharged. _Their_ escapes had been
narrow enough, in all conscience; but they were not romantic; they
occurred on the field of battle.

The enemy apparently "slept it out" on Monday. There was no firing until
eight o'clock when a beginning was made with Wesselton. A number of
shells fell in the vicinity of the mine; but, as a lady afterwards
reported: "they did not hit even a dog." Some missiles fell also on the
Bulfontein side, and were buried in the debris heaps. A more serious
assault was subsequently opened on the town itself; for several hours
shells came pouring in from Kamfers Dam and the Lazaretto Ridge. The
firing did not cease until upwards of seventy missiles had burst in the
streets. In the market square a horse was killed--one of two attached to
a Cape cart. The other animal remained alive, very much alive, as its
kicking testified. The driver of the vehicle, a Dutchman, received a
wound in the arm. Another Dutchman, curiously enough, was injured
slightly while injudiciously exposing himself on top of a debris heap.
Happily, no more serious casualities occurred. The Municipal Compound
and the Fire Brigade Station had to bear the brunt of the bombardment,
but the damage done was small.

Despite the real element of danger now attending the mania, the thirst
for souvenirs was unquenchable yet, and the masses of struggling
humanity that seemed to drop from the clouds simultaneously with every
missile to be in at its dismemberment, were as fierce as and _more_
reckless than before in the fight for fragments. When the shells had
been wont to crumble accommodatingly, as would a clay pipe, the winning
of a curio had--I mix the metaphor advisedly--merely involved
participation in a football scrimmage. But since the ball had, as it
were, begun to turn "rusty" the popularity of the game, so far from
diminishing, increased. All day long its devotees "scrummed" and
"shoved" for the coveted trophies. Quite a brisk trade was done in
souvenirs, the smallest scrap of iron fetching a tickey (threepence),
and so on in proportion to weight and size as far as half a sovereign.
These souvenirs included sundry nuts and bolts which had been kicked
about the neighbourhood of De Beers workshops for a quarter of a
century. Whole shells, intact, were sold for a couple of pounds each,
and the hundred or so received up to date circulated a good bit of
money. One of the funny spectacles of the bombardment was a local
entomologist, who had a sense of humour, endeavouring to catch the
missiles with his butterfly net; the "buzzing," he said, attracted him.
This humourist is still alive--he caught nothing.

Healthy folk who lived to eat were at this stage beginning to complain
of hunger, and to assert--not quite truthfully--that they got but "one
meal a day." Eight ounces of meat was not enough for them; they could
devour it all at a single sitting; they were slowly starving. Little
sympathy was felt with these uneasy gourmands. Our sources of supply
were by no means inexhaustible, and the Colonel's restriction was
intelligible to all reasonable men. The Boers, on the other hand,
appeared to possess more live stock than they needed, and it was upon
this hypothesis that the plan of confiscating a portion of the one to
equalise the other was conceived by the artful and gallant Colonel. No
sooner thought of than done. From among the coloured fraternity whose
love of looting had occasioned trouble in the past he selected the most
expert, and commissioned them to resume their bad ways. On the Monday
night operations were commenced, and carried out successfully. By dint
of much patience and caution, the trusty looters were enabled
(unperceived) silently to segregate some seventy oxen and drive them
into Kimberley. Splendid animals they were, too, and an addition to our
depleted flocks and herds which gave us solid satisfaction.

Whether it was that the enemy was engrossed in a vain search for the
missing cattle--if they were missed at all--he gave no expression to his
indignation next morning. Not until lunch time had we any indications of
annoyance. The vials of Boer wrath were then let loose in earnest, and
from the Lazaretto Ridge we were peppered furiously. The shells fell
thickly in the principal thoroughfares--eighty or ninety of them--one
for every bullock "pinched." Fortunately again, the assault was
unattended by loss of life. The tin walls of Saint Cyprian's Church were
perforated by pieces of shell. Another hissing monster dropped in
Dutoitspan Road in front of a tobacco-shop, but thanks to the
picturesque array of pipes and pouches in the window the missile, as if
it had an eye for art, refrained from bursting; instead it made a little
grave to the depth of several feet and buried itself with honour. Three
or four buildings were struck, and a funny man spread an alarming rumour
relative to the loss of _eighteen_ lives in the Queen's Hotel! On
enquiry it transpired that _two_ cats had met their doom. The victims
had been serenading in an out-house when the fatal missile (very
properly) slit their throats. The dear people of the neighbourhood
affected little sympathy for the slain whose orgies had kept them awake
at night. Indeed a wish was expressed that a few more of the cult might
get hissed off the world's stage. And curiously enough a second shell
_did_ fall at the hotel; but the feline minstrels were out of the
way--and their well-wishers so much _in_ it that they made peace with
the cats at once.

The night had been dark, with vivid flashes of lightning to brighten it
now and then, and nature's artillery had rolled until the Boers on
Wednesday morning took Up the refrain with theirs. One poor old man was
wounded in the arm as he lay sleeping in his bed. Houses here and there
up Newton way were damaged, the occupiers escaping injury. The firing
went on for several hours until heavy rains came down and put a stop to
it.

A further note was received from Mr. Wessels. The Dutch folk in our
midst were fairly numerous and not only as liable to laceration as the
British, but, judging by our records so far, rather more so. They had
experienced rank bad luck altogether, and a little bird may have
whispered it to Wessels. However that may be, the Commandant reiterated
his former request in their regard. Now, Colonel Kekewich was only too
willing to accede to the request, in proof of which he wrote up a
special proclamation on the subject. But the Dutch adhered to their
first determination; there is no place like home; leave it they would
not. Mr. Wessels, they insinuated, would not find them new houses and
gardens; nor too much to eat--not even half a pound of meat (perhaps).
There were only three or four families prepared to pack up and with more
reluctance than exultation take their departure.

The possibility of springing something in the nature of a surprise upon
the enemy was a thought which had long exercised the mind of Colonel
Kekewich. The idea culminated in a stiff fight on Thursday. Three or
four hundred of our mounted men had remained up all night, and two guns
of the _Diamond Fields' Artillery_ had no sleep either. It was still
dark when the cavalcade fell into line and proceeded noiselessly along a
ridge leading to Carter's Farm (occupied by the Boers). Daylight had not
yet broken when the men in khaki reached their destination--reached it,
because owing to the recent rains a thick mist obscured the landscape,
and the invaders found themselves in closer proximity to the Farm than
they desired to be--in fact they were right among the "Grabbers." The
surprise was complete--far too complete, for the attackers were as much
astonished as were the yawning Boers. Both sides, however, retained
sufficient presence of mind to shoot at each other; and they did. The
enemy roused from their slumbers had their vision clarified
effectively, an operation which had the drawback of enabling them the
better to see their visitors. The battle waxed fierce, and when
re-inforcements came galloping to the assistance of the Boers it looked
as if the Light Horse must be worsted. But the artillery was behind
them, and from it was belched forth a hail of shrapnel which compelled
the re-inforcements to draw rein and "pant to the place from whence at
first they flew." Our guns away back at the Reservoir also contributed
to this result. Thus it was that the task of evicting the Boers was in
the end a comparatively easy one. Thirteen of their number lay dead or
wounded on the Farm. We had one killed and three severely wounded, seven
others, including Major Peakman, getting slightly hurt.

That a bombardment would follow these events was to be expected: nor
were we disappointed. The town, its thoroughfares and houses were left
alone for the nonce, while the guns were trained on the redoubts. This
was a precedent we could have wished to see followed oftener; but it was
mainly the heart of Kimberley that was assailed at all times. The new
departure did not prove successful; no great harm was done, for the
shells lighting on the soft veld were kinder than the shellers, and
generally failed to burst. As for the citizen soldiers, they received
these attentions with a _nonchalance_ that would reflect credit on older
campaigners. They did not get enough of them; there was money in the
missiles; and the local army had a way of appreciating a good cigar,
with a puff of "Cape Smoke." A barter in souvenirs would admit of these
things, and their indulgence would not be the less sweet because
payment of the damage would really fall upon the _producer_ (President
Kruger).

It was at this stage in the vicissitudes of our siege existence that the
authorities and the public were confronted with a fresh difficulty and
made to feel the presence of a new danger. The outbreak of hostilities
had sent a large number of natives from the adjoining districts into
Kimberley, and these added to the permanent coloured population
increased our responsibilities. There was not sufficient work for so
many. This idle host was a menace to the maintenance of law and order,
and unless something was done for it internal trouble of a serious kind
was sure to arise. These men had no money wherewith to buy food, and
although they could not get liquor to drive them to deeds of
desperation, hunger would soon supply an impetus. And so it came to pass
that the philanthropic spirit was awakened in the breasts of
philanthropists and simulated by others who loved themselves only. That
work must be found for the coloured horde was the unanimous verdict of
the Upper Ten. It was a problem, peculiarly complex at a time when the
"first law of nature" (in a restricted sense) was so stern in its
exactions. But it was a problem which had to be solved and which puzzled
everybody until--Mr. Rhodes entered the breach with a solution. He had
been relieving distress in a quiet, unostentatious way, and he now
settled the native question with characteristic celerity. He held a
short conference with the Mayor; evolved a scheme of road-making; had
some thousands of men employed next day; and, in fine, completed
arrangements to pay away two thousand pounds per week with as little
fuss as another man--or millionaire--would make about a collar lost in
the wash. Indigent "whites," also, were provided for; Mr. Rhodes made
himself responsible for the formation of an auxiliary Fire Brigade for
the behoof of refugees more accustomed to a pen than a pick. The
Colossus had some enemies in Kimberley; but they were less severe--less
numerous, perhaps--from that day onward.

Our defences were by this time in thorough ship-shape, and the
connection of the several redoubts by telephone had just been completed.
From the reservoir another brand new searchlight beamed down upon the
Boers. The Town Guard had taken up permanent residence in the camps. Its
members were supplied with soldiers' rations; also with professional
cooks--who knew better hotels--to cook them. The camp cook was quite a
character, much deferred to and patronised, and was ever eager to drop
his ladle in favour of the refrigerator which he kept ready to make cold
meat of the cool Boer who ventured within range of it. The _chef_ whose
cooking-pot had been scuttled was particularly thirsty for "the
vengeance blood alone could quell."

On Friday a party of the enemy approached the reservoir, presumably to
see if there were water in it. But when our gunners metaphorically
advised them that there was danger of falling in, the party took the
hint and retired. Later on, the Boers advised us with numerous tokens of
their good-will. While this was being done a large force of the enemy
were massing at Alexandersfontein, as if they had finally decided to
take Kimberley without more ado. They deployed in battle array,
preparatory to sweeping all before them. The hooters had been relegated
to oblivion and already, swan-like, sung their sad, sweet song. Whether
the silence of these atrocious mimics induced the Boer to fancy that he
might surprise us, is not known. Certain it was that we did see him, and
were awaiting his coming with composure. It was a long wait. The mounted
men got tired sitting in their saddles, and were ordered out to query
the delay. They broke up into skirmishing parties and shook their fists
at the foe. But it was all to no purpose; the foe declined to be caught
with chaff, and decided "to fight another day."

The townspeople expected a sensational sequel to the affair and
assembled in thousands to greet the returning horsemen. Mr. Cecil
Rhodes, attired in duck pants, a slouch hat, and a necktie, happened to
be passing in a cart at the same moment, and to his profound disgust was
greeted with cheers. He raised his hat, however, and smiled, with a
sigh.

Saturday, contrary to expectation, was quiet. There was the capture of a
lot of cattle to avenge. A good haul had been made on the Friday
night--of fine corpulent cows, worth a deal of money, dealers said. They
were worth a deal of beef, and that was the feature about them of most
immediate interest. We had had no news from anywhere for a long while;
despatch riders, we conjectured, must have fallen at or into the hands
of the enemy. No matter; the British Army, colloquially speaking, knew
its way about. Thus when the shades of night were falling, the general
disposition was one of willingness to wait. The food, to be sure,
lacked something of its wonted excellence; but it served (in the
summer), and we did not grumble. The shelling, too, had fallen somewhat
flat. Mafeking was more out of the way and in a worse plight than
Kimberley. Reflections of this kind begot condescension and a noble
willingness to wait.



CHAPTER VI

_Week ending 25th November, 1899_


The commandeering of cattle was an industry now well established. It was
a pleasing spectacle, on Sunday morning, to behold the results of the
preceding night's operations as they were driven through the streets,
and to witness the unconcern with which the languid quadrupeds suffered
the loss of their independence. Nor was the calm indifference with which
their drovers received the compliments shouted at them by passing
Imperialists one whit less admirable. The sight of the enemy's preserves
excited a degree of interest which might be equalled--not surpassed--by
the phenomenon (in pre-war days) of a procession of white elephants. And
in the general chorus of favourable criticism--favourable because they
were cheap, probably, if not exactly "gift" animals--nobody looked the
cattle in the mouth. Very popular were these confiscations; and in view
of so many augmentations of the stock at Kenilworth, it was not too much
to hope that the ravenousness of the public appetite would be allowed
its wonted scope. No longer was there meat for breakfast, not even on
Sunday morning when we had leisure to masticate it. To tell anybody, to
hint the heresy that eight ounces of meat sufficed to preserve health,
would be indiscreet. To suggest that an extra plate of porridge with a
few sardines thrown in (that is, to follow) might make up the
deficiency, would be rude. Tinned sardines, salmon, crawfish, brawn, and
such eatables were not reckoned fish at all; they were eaten--to stave
off starvation--but they did not appease. As for butter; we had none for
our bread! Fresh butter was unprocurable. Even the salted unguent sold
in tins was hard to get, and only a very good customer could buy a tin,
at a huge price, from his grocer. The hens stood the test of the times
better, and laid their eggs generously as if nothing had happened. But
their numbers were small, and not sufficient to provide for local
consumption at any time--still less so since chops had been proscribed.
The owners of the birds, sad to say, were in many cases small,
too--mentally; they ate more eggs, in lieu of butter, on toast than was
necessary. The price of eggs kept daily moving up by sixpences and
shillings, and they were yet comparatively cheap at elevenpence each
(each egg!). But it was some comfort, however cold, that money _could_
buy eggs. They were indubitably fresh, but beyond the reach, too "high"
(at elevenpence) for the average man, or even for men of substance
opposed on principle to eating money. Ham and bacon, also, were
expensive. The local pork had never been highly prized. The African pig
is more noted for his _speed_ than for the rashers he offers when his
race is run; he is tough, and grunts vapidly; his tail corrugates rather
than curls; he eschews jewellery--his nose is free; and the land also
being free, he pays no rent. But the ox was "off" (in large measure),
and the pig, hitherto despised, had come to be looked up to as an asset
and a "gentleman."

In the afternoon a heavy hailstorm passed over the town; the clatter of
hailstones--of enormous size--was unprecedented. It furnished a new and
refreshing topic of conversation, and the war was dropped for full five
minutes--while the shower lasted. Rumours Of a meditated attack on the
enemy's fortifications were the subject of much speculation; that the
morrow would be a big day was the general feeling at bedtime.

The big day came round in due course; we had a big thunderstorm, but in
no other respect was Monday large. The Boers signalised the occasion by
the inauguration of a new plan of campaign, which, if the gods were
kind, would soon compel the surrender of the Diamond City. The
plan--like all great plans--was simple; a dozen guns were trained on
Kenilworth, where browsed the precious bullocks upon whose safety hung
the fate of Kimberley. To kill them all was the end in view. Inspirited
by the thought of the hunger and the "fall" that would follow, the enemy
poured forth a liberal fusillade upon Kenilworth. The cattle-guards,
exposed to grave danger, never shirked their duty. It was not until the
Boers had well warmed to their work that we managed by the play of a
Maxim to cool their ardour. The new departure was a failure. A most
incomprehensible bombardment was subsequently opened on an isolated
place, called "the Brickfields," where no animate thing above the bite
of a mosquito lived, moved, or had its being.

The exigencies of our position necessitated the cultivation of early
rising; but the Boers had, so far, invariably set the ball rolling; they
had acquired a knack of irritating us in their choice of unexpected
moments for starting operations day by day. On Tuesday the
practicability of reversing this order of things was tested by our
gunners. The effect was not clearly apparent, but our shell excited
commotion--it wakened somebody, for the Boers could be seen moving
about. Retaliation soon followed; on the Brickfields again, a choice of
objective which was quite inexplicable. There was nothing there to hit
but bricks. The enemy--perhaps obsessed by the thought that he had
filled us with terror--may have assumed that the place was being used as
a refuge. Some believed that the Town Hall was _aimed_ at, for our
confidence in the skill of the Boer gunners had yet to ripen fully. The
firing was continued for some hours until the venue was changed to
Kenilworth, with no better success than before.

We had a fair supply of ammunition for such guns as we possessed, and in
order to make it last as long as possible, economy was rigorously
observed. One day, however, De Beers astonished the Colonel by offering
to _manufacture_ shells, _ad lib_. The Colonel smiled; he was inclined
to regard the proposal as a joke of the Company's Chairman. But he was
persuaded to permit the test of a few samples made in the workshops, and
lo!--to his infinite astonishment the results were all that could be
desired. The missiles conducted themselves properly, and--contrary to
"expert" opinion--burst at the right moments. There being plenty of the
requisite raw material, a hundred shells were made in a day. This was a
great advantage and was appreciated to the full. Mr. Rhodes knew the
Boers loved him, and, by way of reciprocity, he had engraved on the base
of each shell: "With compliments from C.J.R." His initials sufficed;
the Boers knew him well. The conceit excited much mirth in town, as it
doubtless did among the enemy.

Another letter in the afternoon; from the Boer General to Colonel
Kekewich. It concerned the Dutch again. The Colonel--patient
man--intimated in reply that the families in question had already twice
refused to leave him, and that he could not force nor drive them. The
Boers, we gathered from their envoy, were sick with typhoid fever, sick
with dysentry, sick of the war altogether--so sick, indeed, that part of
our visitor's mission was to borrow medicines and a doctor. That we
should have proven so obstinate in our resistance had not been
anticipated. Well, the Colonel could not refuse the medicines; he
sympathised with the sufferers; but in view of the fact that the
borrowers had already commandeered a doctor, he could not see his way to
lend another.

We had set the ball rolling with such success in the morning that it was
determined to give it the last kick in the evening as well. To make
certain of this, a gun was charged and "sighted" while there was yet
light; and at nine o'clock a shell was sent hurtling through the shades
of night. Its effect, of course, was not observable; but if it were to
startle the enemy as much as the gun's boom did the whole of us, C. J.
R. and his unseasonable "compliments" must have fallen foul of some
"remarks."

Next morning the gift was not at all gracefully acknowledged. The
unfortunate brickfields were pelted again; it was enigmatical; that Mr.
Rhodes should be reckoned "a brick," by Boers, was improbable; rumour
had it that his blood was hungered for. Some shells were hurled also at
the grand stand of the race-course. Finally, the enemy appeared to
suspect that the cattle might have had a hand in the despatch of the
nine o'clock missile, and he bombarded Kenilworth with great gusto.

The houses of a number of our citizens were built immediately outside
the city boundary; and a strong feeling existed not only against
permitting these dwellings to be occupied, but also against allowing
some of their occupiers (who were Dutch) to remain outside the gaol. A
section of these people made no secret of their sympathy with their
kindred across the Vaal, nor of their belief that the war was being
waged on false issues. They were thus tempted to lend the Boers a little
practical assistance. Nor were they long in finding ways and means to
negotiate the loan; they arranged a code of signals which enabled them
to communicate with their friends. They had precious little of
importance to tell--unless the siege value of eggs could be so classed.
Anyhow they were caught signalling one night, and on the following
morning were arraigned before the Summary Court.

This was the popular version of the story. How far it was true, I am not
in a position to say; but the charge was not sustained by the evidence.
The prisoners were acquitted, and ordered to find accommodation _within_
the city. The Court took advantage of the occasion to throw out a
general hint about the inadvisability of permitting anybody to reside
near the borders of a beleagured town.

We had held a grand review of our forces on the opening days of the
siege. The Regulars, the Light Horse, the Town Guard, etc., had filed
past the Colonel and the Mayor, amid the plaudits of the people and the
music of the band. The afternoon brought recollections of the
demonstration. The Boers appeared to be holding a pageant of their
own--for _our_ edification, no doubt. For several hours they were
marshalled on the veld with a demonstrativeness that seemed to say: "You
might as well give in at once; look at the size of us!" Their size was
certainly impressive; more so than their proficiency in drill. We beat
them hollow at drill; so hollow that we laughed arrogantly and loud. The
Boers could shoot well; but what was that--without drill!

On Thursday morning we were still laughing when the guns of Wimbleton
proceeded to query our hilarity. Wimbleton Ridge, unfortunately, was
rather far away; we were unable to respond. Whether it was that the
revels of our risible faculties were ultimately attributed to the
cattle-stealing of Wednesday night, an energetic assault was suddenly
opened on Kenilworth. It is true, we had affected a tidy confiscation;
but that joke was now old--too old to laugh at. We had some "snipers"
all day endeavouring to worry the Boers. A mounted patrol, also, worried
them. In the afternoon the rain came down to complete their misery, and
the imperturbable oxen were let browse in peace.

And from another quarter there was coming worry, to shatter the dreams,
the hopes, the "castles in the air" of Kimberley. The Relief Column was
approaching; this time for certain. We had heard like legends before,
but they were _only_ legends (before). The Column was really coming. A
native had come in with the news. Now, of a white man's reliability a
doubt would not be tolerated; but the native!--well, the native had
acquired a reputation for bad, bold mendacity that was altogether too
unscientific to be appreciated by a close and subtle aristocracy. Still,
the story was nice; we liked to believe it. There are natives and
natives--there is even a _Booker_ Washington--all men are not liars. The
Press, too, attached credence to the tale, and that went far to convince
us of its truth. A glance at the paper next morning established the
veracity of the Bantu.

"We are authorised to state that a strong force has left Orange River,
and is moving forward to the relief of Kimberley."

Such was the message. The joy was universal. In a few days the column
would be with us. Kimberley would be free. The siege was over! Hurrah,
the people shouted with an enthusiasm only transcended in degree by the
resolute contempt with which the reported approach of French was greeted
in the following year. The Queen was sung of with rare earnestness and
lung power. The Colonel was toasted and praised at the bars.
Baden-Powell was promised help; the Mayor was patronised. The column was
drunk to, not wisely, but too well; while Tommy Atkins' glories as a
soldier and a man were chorussed in unmeasured terms--and time. For the
rest--we were generous--the Boers we could forgive. But they must all be
captured; in the interests of the campaign it was not expedient that one
should escape. Where should they be housed? The gaol was not large
enough. The Town Hall was suggested. But the mines were finally
selected--with exquisite irony; for we little dreamt that the thousands
destined eventually to be driven there should be--our friends, indeed,
but not our friend the enemy!

Friday was quiet, and a very jovial day in town. The Boers--in blissful
ignorance of their approaching doom--occupied themselves in disfiguring
the railway line still more. It was not easy to do; but it was done. In
the afternoon two tremendous explosions were heard. "There go the
culverts," was the expression in every mouth. And so it was; the
culverts were blown to pieces.

The Colonel and his officers were getting weary of the cautious methods
of warfare of which the enemy never seemed to tire; and the opportunity
of inflicting a good and stunning blow was a consummation devoutly
wished for in military circles. The Column was coming, and nothing in
the way of a telling stroke had yet been struck--nothing worthy the
vaulting ambition of a soldier accomplished. Fighting is a soldier's
profession, and the peculiar opportunities afforded by a siege, for the
acquirement of fame and distinction, were too rare to be let pass
unseized. How much the Commander and his staff may have been influenced
by considerations of this kind, is not easy to say. But signs were not
wanting that a serious endeavour was to be made to induce Mahomet to
meet, as it were, the Mountain half way. The Regulars were looking to
their bayonets; the Light Horse were being equipped with brand new
steel; and--to make a long story short--at break of day on Saturday
morning a large body of infantry (composed of Regulars and Irregulars)
under the command of Colonel Chamier set out in a southerly direction,
towards Carter's Farm, with general instructions to make things hot for
trespassers. The enemy in possession of the Farm were thus to be
debarred from assisting their _confreres_ at a point where another
British force was to operate with more serious intent. To ensure the
success of this ruse, the services of a section of the Town Guard were
requisitioned for out-flanking purposes on the one side; while the
geographical position of the railway line permitted the utilisation of
the armoured train for similar service on the other. The infantry kept
steadily advancing until they secured a position which enabled them to
rattle with their rifles to some purpose--the artillery behind them also
helping. Their object was soon achieved; the Boers were forced to devote
their energies exclusively to their own defence. They sat
tight--obedient to the number one law of nature--engrossed in blazing at
the foe before them, which was precisely what the foe before them
wanted.

In the meantime the real game was being played on the western border.
All our available mounted men, led by Colonel Scott-Turner, had crossed
the Lazaretto Ridge, and actually drawn close to a Boer
camp--unobserved. When the sentry _did_ open his eyes and had challenged
our advance agents no verbal response was made; but a rifle went off,
and the sentry fell. The Boers were of course instantly aroused by the
report; they rushed to their trenches, and a fierce rifle-duel ensued.
From the muzzles of the Mausers a withering volley came. Some of
Turner's men fell from their saddles, but the rest, nothing daunted,
pressed their advantage and charged pell-mell upon the foe. The Boers
fought gallantly, but were unable to resist the fury of the onslaught;
some of them threw down their arms; others made a dash for liberty;
while not a few fell fighting to the last. Thirty prisoners were taken;
also a large quantity of rifles. Seven Light Horse men were killed;
twelve were seriously, and fifteen slightly, wounded. Colonel
Scott-Turner, who was hit in the shoulder, had his horse shot under him.
Thus ended the most serious sortie of the siege--so far.

The townspeople had assembled in concourse to welcome the warriors home.
Cheer after cheer rent the air as they passed, intermingled now and then
with a murmur of pity, suggested by the sight of a riderless horse.
Scott-Turner was the recipient of a special salvo, which nearly
unsaddled him again; and the other officers were bored to death bowing
their acknowledgments along the route. Privates with bandaged eyes or
arms were also singled out for vociferous greeting, only they passed the
bowing, and were not a bit bored. The Mayor himself, smoking a cigar,
came along in his own goods van! There was no mistaking his identity; it
_was_ the Mayor--the Mayor of the Diamond City in a wooden chariot! not
indeed in his robes of State, but--in the flesh! A flaming Red Cross
waved above the Mayoral van, and a long string of vehicles, adorned with
like emblems, followed. It was to the credit of the merchants generally
that they had voluntarily placed their horses and wagons at the disposal
of the military. Had all the combatants been stricken _hors-de-combat_
there were facilities on the spot for their immediate conveyance to
hospital.

The prisoners, who followed in the wake of their conquerors, were the
great objects of curiosity and interest. One or two spectators started
groaning; but a nudge, or failing that, a kick sufficed to correct their
bad taste. A weary, travel-stained group the captives looked--with their
unkempt locks and unshaven faces. No need to throw mud at them. The
universal feeling was rather one of sympathy, even of admiration, for
brave men whom fortune had omitted to favour.



CHAPTER VII

_Week ending 2nd December, 1899_


Three and three make six weeks. We were not yet free--not quite. Our
period was doubled. The wary seers who "told us so" had triumphed; and
they exploited their intuition for what it was worth, or rather for a
great deal more, since clearly it was not worth much. They had triumphed
(by a short head, so to speak), or said they had. What matter. They were
minor prophets; and the nearness of Methuen and his Column enabled us to
bear the trumpet-blowing with equanimity and good humour. The monster
head-lines of the _Advertiser_--delightful paper!--proclaimed it "the
last week of the siege!" It was placarded on the walls. The newsboys
shrieked it abroad. The man in the street confirmed it. The populace
believed it. The grocer beamed, and the haberdasher made bold definitely
to state the date on which a particular reel of cotton could be
purchased. It even stimulated the hotel-keepers to discover hidden
spirits. The last week of the siege! how comforting it sounded; and what
potent influence it possessed to soothe temperaments unadaptable to
siege life.

The funerals of the brave men who had fought their last fight on
Saturday took place in the afternoon. A funeral is a mournful thing
always; but here were six young men, cut down in the heyday of their
lives, being conveyed to their last resting-place. Most of them had
been esteemed citizens of the town in defence of which they died. It was
this, the circumstances under which they fell, the feeling that it was
for the preservation of the homes of the people they had given up their
lives, that evoked so much sympathy and sorrow. Thousands of mourners
attended to pay the fast tribute of respect to the dead. The various
sections of the Town Guard in processional order followed the coffins to
the cemetery.

Many things occurred in the course of the day to enhance our
satisfaction with the prospect of emancipation. At eleven o'clock an
alarm was sounded, and the services in the churches were in consequence
cut short. The half of the Town Guard enjoying their day off had their
relaxation cut short, too--unnecessarily, as it turned out. Fifty or
sixty Boers were prowling about, a powerful glass enabled the zealous
look-out to explain. It was a mere storm in a teacup, not by any means
the first that had raged in that fragile utensil. This capped all past
tempests, and made the men who had been off duty exceedingly angry, and
the men who were on, exceedingly gay. Mafeking, however, was fighting on
still; and many Boers had been killed in Natal. The
_piece-de-resistance_ was the last to come. It concerned our own Relief
Column, whose progress the enemy had had the temerity to impede at
Belmont. How their hardihood had been rewarded with "cold steel"; how
they had quailed before it; how they had fled before the conquering
Methuen: these and other details, in all their charming vagueness, were
received with rapture. It was fine news; and wounded men in the
hospital, about to die, changed their minds and lived when they heard
it.

We had a visitor--an emissary from the Boers--on Sunday. And though he
turned out to be a Scotchman!--so brimful of hope and good humour were
we that the circumstance detracted little from the cordiality of his
reception. He was a doctor, the doctor whose services had been
commandeered by the practical Boer. Some of us felt disposed to doubt
his nationality; but the gentleman talked Scotch--that is,
English--dialectically and broad; and when he shook hands familiarly
with a few local members of his profession, the sceptics were silenced.
Show me your company, etc., did not apply. The main point, however, was,
his business. What did he want? He wanted medicines, surgical
instruments, and things--a request which occasioned much
shoulder-shrugging _apropos_ of the medico's "nerve." That he served the
Boers in his professional capacity _only_, was evidenced by the candour
with which he opened his heart when queried as to the fortunes of the
family who had taken a loan of him. He admitted a loss of one hundred
killed and wounded Boers in the recent fight. This was rather higher
than our own estimate--and we were not given to minimise on the _wrong_
side. It was wonderful. Whether the learned doctor exaggerated--but why
should he (a Scot) in such a case?--unless indeed the canny one desired
to please and make sure of his medicines. Anyhow he got his medicines
(including a personal prescription, from his "ain country"), and with a
bow of gratitude departed.

The _Diamond Fields' Advertiser_ was quite readable on Monday. It
contained news, and less of the fiction (culled from old magazines)
with which it had been regaling us for weeks. On Monday we read of
modern London, and of transports, fights, etc. (in the present war). We
were engrossed in the news when the Boer guns began to play. Three shots
were fired, and we had to admire the impudence of an enemy who acted as
if the coming Column gave him no concern. The missiles hit nobody,
although one was facetiously alleged to have winged a locust. These
insects swarmed the land--it was difficult to avoid hitting them--and
one was not missed. We got more shells in the afternoon, but they did no
harm whatsoever.

The predominant and all-absorbing subject of discussion was the Column,
its coming, its movements generally. We felt a little disappointed at
the delays which the opposition it had encountered rendered unavoidable.
But we were not despondent, nor hyper-critical--not yet. The
bombardments might be written down a fiasco, and what after all did it
matter whether relief came to-morrow, or not till the day following.
Still, these delays upset plans and calculations. They upset bets and
wagers, and the "bad losers" who villified both Briton and Boer with
delightful impartiality. They upset diary-writers--prospective meteors
in the firmaments of literature--and they upset the magnates of the De
Beers Corporation, whose annual meeting had been fixed for that day. The
meeting had to be postponed until Thursday, in order that the dividend
declared might immediately be cabled, in accordance with custom, to the
shareholders throughout the world. The wires were bound to be in
flashing order by Thursday. It was re-assuring to find oneself in
agreement on that head with a rock of common sense like Mr. Cecil
Rhodes.

Ten more shells were pitched at us on Tuesday, only one of which reached
its destination; the other nine went off at a tangent somewhere else, to
the chagrin of curio company promoters. It would have been more tactful
of the Boers, we thought, to have reserved their ammunition for a more
aggressive foe. No great attention, however, was paid to their
extravagances, and from anything in the nature of repartee we refrained.
There was more serious work in hand; preparations were going on apace to
open up an avenue for the Relief Column. The Town Guard were ready; the
Light Horse, the Imperial troops, and the armoured train were also to
the fore. This formidable combination was soon on its way to the
Schmidt's Drift Road, where it found shelter behind some friendly
ridges. The Boers occupied Spitzkop and were looking across at us with
curiosity--not unmingled with uneasiness, we felt sure. They maintained
a rigid silence, and made no attempt to interfere with our arrangements
until the armoured train came into view. The ridges we occupied were
afterwards shelled, and the _Diamond Fields' Artillery_ responded. While
this not too bloody duel was in progress, a body of mounted men had
received instructions to take up a position away to the right of
Spitzkop.

It grew dark eventually, and we decided, or rather got orders, to remain
where we were for the night. Given a choice we would have done nothing
of the sort; it was chilly weather outside canvas; we had not come
prepared for a bivouac, and we had no great coats nor blankets. But they
were subsequently sent out to us. To satisfy the pangs of hunger, which
were asserting themselves with increasing importunity, we tried
(advisedly) the pockets of the coats, and there found the goods
required. There were belated "Guards" who got blankets _only_. How they
fared is not recorded, but I believe they asked for more! The firing had
by this time ceased on both sides; but the impression was that it would
be resumed early next morning; that a battle was imminent, and a sleep
desirable but not at all imminent. Our "beds" were too strange and cold
for sleep--as in the case of peaceful people when travel necessitates a
departure from feathers to planks of straw. We watched the play of the
searchlight, and were interested observers of a responsive gleam from
Modder River. The Column was there for a certainty. We had been
listening all day to the booming of guns, but had yet no idea that it
was connected with the battle of Modder River. Ultimately we ceased
chattering, and charmed _Morpheus_ at last--all unconscious of the sad
morrow.

For a sad morrow it was. The most tragic day of the siege! A rumour ran
riot that Scott-Turner had been killed; but the people _would not_
believe it. Colonel Scott-Turner dead! It was hard to convince the
populace of the fate of the gallant Colonel; harder still to inculcate
that over with him to the great majority had passed twenty-four of his
followers. But so it was. Of the survivors thirty were wounded!

Some seventy or eighty mounted men had attacked the Boers in possession
of Carter's Farm (which had been re-taken), and had carried the Farm in
the face of a withering fire from the enemy--who fell back upon a
stronger position. Nothing daunted, our men brought up their guns and
prepared to repeat their success. The Boers resisted fiercely, but were
eventually driven back to a third line of defence. Night was rapidly
descending, but this notwithstanding, the Light Horse were ordered to
complete their victory. It was in this last rush that their daring
leader was struck down. The third position was actually taken; but the
disappearance of the light rather handicapped the gunners. The enemy was
re-inforced, and the remnants of the Light Horse were obliged to
evacuate the ground that had cost them so much.

These are the bare facts of the affair--the facts which came to light.
Contradictory opinions as to whether there had been a blunder were
freely expressed. On the conflicting theories advanced I refrain from
commenting. It did not, for the moment, concern the people at large upon
whose shoulders the blame rested. Twenty-four dead! and Scott-Turner one
of them. Seventeen of the number had been well-known and respected
citizens. The _Diamond Fields' Advertiser_ commented on the fight as a
"triumph" for British arms. This point was, to put it mildly, debatable.
The feeling uppermost in the mind of the plain man was that nothing had
been accomplished that could compensate for the loss of so many brave
men. The consoler who argued that the losses on the other side exceeded
ours did not console. Nor did the vapourings of him who prated of what
we, acting in conjunction with the Column, would presently give the
Boers. The disaster enkindled a distrust of the military which remained
inextinguishable to the end. Wherefore the need of risking so many
lives, at such a moment, with a Column outside, on its way to set us
free? That the critics--and they were legion--should search for motives
was inevitable; and the tactics of the military were promptly attributed
to a desire for glory (here below). This may have been an erroneous, a
wild conclusion; but it was jumped to with great satisfaction.
Theoretically, the idea of getting in touch with the approaching troops
was good; but it was a premature effort--how awfully premature we knew
at last. Our defenders were few enough to defend the perimiter of the
city. How were we to hold the positions we had sought to get possession
of? To this and much more (_after_ the event) the public demanded an
answer. They asked in vain; for under the "Resolute Government" of
Martial Law, public opinion is an Irishism.

The funerals made a most impressive spectacle. The troops and Volunteers
with the bands of their respective regiments headed the cortege. There
was profound sadness in the faces of the vast assemblage that crowded
the streets. The twenty-four coffins were lowered into the graves, amid
a solemn silence broken now and then by the Ministers of religion who
read the burial services. It was an awe-inspiring scene, that will be
long remembered in the Diamond City.

The signalling went on as usual in the evening. Heavy fighting, we were
told, had taken place at Modder River, with considerable loss on both
sides. That was all; it was enough; news of that nature was not
satisfying. The De Beers Directors assembled to hold their adjourned
meeting, and to adjourn it again. Mr. Rhodes acknowledged that he had
been wrong in his calculations. Everybody was wrong, but nobody except
Cecil played the candid friend.

Friday was peaceful; an opportune occasion for reviewing our losses. All
told, forty lives had been lost. The recent disaster brought down upon
the military authorities a chorus of adverse criticism. It had been
discovered, too, that it was not the _first_ disaster; and for the
losses sustained in the earlier sorties the Colonel and his advisers
were also condemned. This was hard on the military, whose conduct of
previous operations had been extolled by the men in the street who now
inveighed against it. There were, of course, fair-minded people who were
too honest not to remember this; but they could not _forget_ their meat
allowances; and they wrathfully connived at the hard sayings without
going so far as to join in their dissemination. But, indeed, what with
regrets, tragedies, dry bread, and indifferent dinners--their combined
effect was not to lift us high above ourselves (later on, the altitude
was better). Down at the railway station extensive preparations were
being made for the revivial of traffic. Hundreds of men were employed
laying down new rails, and widening the _terminus_--to provide space for
the miles of trams in the wake of the Column. The Royal Engineers,
accompanying the troops, were repairing the line as they advanced. Other
people, who knew better, had it that a new railroad through a circuitous
route was being made. This was asserted with a positiveness, a
clearness, as it were, of second sight that cowed all promptings of
common sense. But it was not of supreme importance by what route the
train came, if it only came soon. Not a few were indifferent as to
whether it ever came (in); they would be satisfied with a seat in a
truck going _out_. We were anxious to know what was going on in the
world. An intense longing for a glimpse of Stock Exchange quotations
existed in some quarters; others were dying to "back" horses; and there
were guileless people whose sorrows were epitomised in a sigh for a
letter, or two, (or a dozen) from home, and corresponding assurances
that all was well there. We speculated a good deal on the probable depth
of the piles of correspondence accumulating for each of us. The
letter-sorters were not enjoying their holidays; we hoped--we knew they
would soon end. Had we dreamt that they were to lengthen into another
seventy days, the dream would assuredly have killed us. But, thank
goodness, in the watches of the night our sleep was not haunted by the
spectral truth. Seventy _hours_ assimilated better with--our dreams.
There was the Column busy signalling and settling it all with the
Colonel. The Colonel was certainly a reticent man; he gave us precious
little _data_, to supplement our faith. But the _nearness_ of Methuen
was _data_ enough for us. It did not do, it was foolish when it was
useless, to be too curious. It was puzzling, to be sure, to watch the
movements of the Boers, or rather their lack of movement. That they saw
the signals and knew what to expect went without saying. And yet they
perversely showed no signs of running away. On the contrary, they kept
improving their defences and generally indicating that they had come to
stay. We liked the _hardihood_ of this attitude; but were on the whole
inclined to pity the poor beggars. Defiance, in the circumstances, could
only mean annihilation for them. Kimberley reasoned thusly: Kimberley
reasoned well.

Saturday made it still clearer that the ineffable enemy, so far from
being frightened, was obdurate yet. Large commandoes of Boers had joined
the besiegers during the night. All day long they toiled like Trojans,
digging trenches. At Oliphantsfontein they erected a new camp and made
their fortifications unassailable. We could only conclude that they
purposed making a stand. The fatuousness of such a course was clear to
us; for with the aid of the Relief Column we would presently be in a
position to attack the Boers from many sides; to hem them in; to cut off
retreat; and to kill or make prisoners of them all. It was a bold
conviction; we still viewed things through Napoleonic glasses.

It was stated that President Steyn was outside, to stimulate the
burghers with his presence and eloquence. The news was interesting, and
the hope was fairly general that no worse fate would be his than that of
a prisoner of war. There were also some particulars of the Modder River
fight; the Boers had been driven from their kopjes; hundreds had been
shot; thousands made prisoners; and whips of guns captured. This was not
quite a proper version of what happened at the Modder (it is
questionable whether we were ever made acquainted with the actual
facts); but we believed it all; it sounded well. One of the funny
features of the siege in its earlier stages was the readiness on the one
hand with which a practical community swallowed good news, however
false; and the stern disinclination evinced on the other to be "taken
in" by the truth when it chanced to leak out and happened to be
disagreeable.

Such was the condition of affairs when forty-nine long days had crept
by. As to the brightness of the immediate future no misgivings existed.
The days would soon shorten to their normal duration, and be all the
happier for the antecedent gloom. Relief could not in the nature of
things be very far away. Ah, no; it never was; that was the pity of
it--the irritant destined to deepen our disgust--to nourish our
discontent. At Mafeking they were spared at least the galling
consciousness of relief so near, and yet so far. The irritation,
however, was not to be felt yet. We looked confidently to an early
release--so confidently that the decadence of dinners did not distress
us. We considered it of relatively little consequence that provisions
were becoming scarce; they would last another fortnight "in a pinch," we
thought. As for luxuries, we talked of them, and promised shortly to
make up for lost time. The anticipated reunion between bread and butter
was a sustaining thought. The Column might be trusted to carry with it a
sufficiency of firkins to achieve that glorious end; and we were
meanwhile content to be fastidious in our choice of jams, and to be the
bane of our grocer's existence.



CHAPTER VIII

_Week ending 9th December, 1899_


For such comfort as preserved fruit could shed over the soul was still
ours. It was not classed as a "necessary," and the retailers being free
to charge freely for it could sell it at a price too "long" for the
purses of the many. Dry bread is an unpalatable thing, and the new
"Law's" loaf was superlative in that respect. The grocer was beginning
to discriminate, so far as he dared, between his friends (his customers)
and the casual purchaser, whose affected cordiality did not deceive the
shrewd old wretch. Butter had ceased to be practical politics; fruit and
vegetables were sorely missed. When existence is rendered trying by the
scorching rays of a Kimberley sun, fruit and vegetables are essential to
the preservation of health; but there was none preserved in the summer
of the siege. Grapes grew in corrugated green-houses outside the doors
of the houses, but there were no vineyards to speak of. The quality of
the fruit, too, was poor; and though it was yet far from being ripe, it
was guarded with a vigilance that made robbing a garden a suicidal
proceeding. The indefatigable coolies--our not too green
green-grocers--did contrive to get hold of a species of wild grape, no
bigger nor sweeter than haws, and to sell them for two shillings a
pound! Two _pence_ could in normal times procure the best product of the
vine; but these of course were siege grapes, and siege prices were
charged for them, as in the matter of siege eggs, siege drinks, siege
potatoes, siege everything--that the "Law" allowed. Morning lemons were
never so badly needed; oranges would hardly suit the purpose--but they,
too, were gone. Apples were out of the question; water-melon parties had
ceased to be. The absence of the "Java" (guava) broke the Bantu heart.
"'Ave a banana" was (happily) not yet composed, and gooseberries--Cape
gooseberries do not grow on bushes. Small green things which lured one
to colic were offered by the cool coolies for twopence each--a sum that
would have been exorbitant for a gross had they not borne the hall-mark
of siege peaches.

For vegetables, too, our livers waxed torpid, and our blood boiled in
vain. The potato was gone; the benefits conferred on posterity by Sir
Walter Raleigh were at length realised in a negative way. Miniature
"Murphies" fetched four pence halfpenny _each_, while an adult member of
the _genus_ at ninepence was worth two of the little ones. Mr. Rhodes
may have luxuriated on potatoes (_cum grano salis_!) but few others were
so very Irish. The De Beers Company owned a large garden, and that this
should have been given over to the hospital was a delicate consideration
of which even the dyspeptic could not complain. Cabbages were a dream.
Of cauliflowers a memory lingered. Soft words buttered no parsnips.
Onions were "off"--so we went on weeping. Everything in the garden but
some wizened carrots had withered away. Such carrots! small, cadaverous,
brick-coloured things, no bigger than a cork, as dry, as masticable,
and, still like a cork, with little save a _smell_ to commend their
indulgence. But like the donkeys that we were, we ate them every time!

Talking of corks reminds me of bottles, and the precious little that was
in _them_. We had no whiskey; think of that, ye Banks and Braes! There
were nice crystal brands in the hotel windows, but--I shall be dealing
later with _oils_. Sceptical tipplers, whose every feature spelled
whiskey, were reduced to the painful necessity of diluting their sodas
with lime juice; and so strongly did the "claret" taste of timber that
the beverage was adjudged a non-intoxicant with _extraordinary
unanimity_! Port and sherry, being beyond our reach, were despised, like
our neighbour's sour grapes. The publican, however, had good spirits
still; Cape brandy (or "Smoke," as it was called) found a market at
last, and swelled heads enormously. But if the signs and portents of a
drought in beer and stout were to be trusted, the unkindest cut of all
was yet to come. And it did come. In the thirsty clime of Kimberley the
consumption of the brewer's goods was large; and in the restaurants,
with bars attached, good meals were sold cheaply to facilitate the sale
of the beer which "washed" the food down. When the drought came the
proprietors of these delectable taverns promptly raised their charges by
fifty per cent., albeit the value and the variety of the victuals had
lessened. Men in receipt of good wages loved beer and indulged the
passion freely. The addition of the Imperial allowances to their incomes
had intensified their thirst. Then there were the unusual conditions
under which they lived, the paucity of provisions, the great heat--all
these things tended to damage temperance and to exalt the flowing bowl.
A multitude suffered when beer and stout gave out. The tipplers grew
pale and visibly thinner; nature made her exactions with unwonted
abruptness. A certain degree of sympathy was felt for the Bacchanals, by
none more sincerely than by the druggist--artful old quack! It was to
him the sufferers had to turn, to such straits were they reduced. Drugs
were booming, and the druggist, not satisfied with the normal hugeness
of his profits, slipped into the fashion and fleeced all round with
unprecedented flagrancy. A purgative proclamation--classing pills as
"necessaries"--was called for, but it never came. Obese folk, fearful
that their flesh was falling off in lumps, drank freely of cod liver
oil. On the other hand, fragile creatures of delicate mould thought
black tea not only cheaper but ever so much nicer. Of course, the poor
chemist was not responsible for tastes. He had much to answer for; but
he was really sorry for the nerves and the penury of the poor.

With Monday came three despatch-riders who reported that heavy fighting
had taken place--somewhere; the authorities declined to tell us where.
The Boers remained docile all day; the heat was oppressive, but their
silence was more generally attributed to a tardy realisation of their
position. The military were unusually alert and watchful. The public
graciously approved of this watchfulness, but pooh-poohed the danger of
invasion. We were tired hearing day after day that an attack on the town
was to be made "to-night"; it was to be "taken" six nights out of every
seven, the last being, if I mistake not, the one on which General
French was feted at the Kimberley Club.

Elaborate arrangements were made on Tuesday for the better protection of
our cattle. The quadrupeds, Dutch and English, were on the best of
terms--a happy augury, surely, for the amity which would unite the
bipeds of the land when the war was done. We had a batch of natives
employed digging trenches for the cattle-guards. A patrol was at hand to
nip in the bud any interference with the work which might be
contemplated. If the Boers did interfere, so much the better;
interference would involve a fight, and from a friendly tussle in the
sun the patrol was not averse. On the south and west sides the enemy
still laboured at their fortifications. We knew not what to make of
this; it nonplussed us. We had ceased ascribing it to want of knowledge:
for we had, reluctantly, let it down on us that the Boers knew as much
of the Column's movements as we did ourselves. But of course we also
knew that the Boer was a child in such matters as generalship and
tactics.

Every afternoon, at this period, the "child" delighted in trying to hit
the head-gear of the Premier Mine. Whether it was the red flag that
floated at the top or the thing itself he sought to tatter is uncertain.
At any rate, it was no easy matter to hit the head-gear, as the gunner
had long since discovered, nor, could he hit it, to smash it. Hundreds
of shells were thrown at it, but it was never struck, and to damage it
materially it would be necessary to strike it more than once. Its
substance was tough--what Bismarck would have called iron painted to
look like wood. Another object of Boer wrath was the searchlight. Night
attacks were supposed to be the enemy's _forte_, and it was only the
difficulty of extinguishing the candle that delayed _our_ extinction.
And so perhaps it was; we never knew for certain, for the difficulty of
applying the snuffers remained insuperable to the end. Numberless
missiles were shot at the searchlight, but its radiance was never dimmed
for a moment.

The most important of the thousand and one rumours circulated on Tuesday
was that a place called Jacobsdal had been taken by Methuen. We were not
pleased to hear it. Being anxious to give Kimberley away to his lordship
for nothing, we were at a loss to know why he should go out of his way
to lay hold of a town when a city offered. There were, however,
extenuating circumstances, in that a vast quantity of provisions had
been seized at Jacobsdal. Provisions were now in our eyes of greater
value than diamonds even! On Wednesday the _Advertiser_ corroborated the
rumour (_re_ Jacobsdal); it gave details of the whole brilliant
achievement, and sundry absorbing items anent the digestiveness of the
confiscated supplies. All this was highly interesting; but unfortunately
it was all untrue; it was discovered to be fiction. It was not the first
lie (not quite), but none other had been so quickly, so frankly exposed.
Our newspaper had been misinformed, and candidly told us so.

The De Beers directors, looking a little emaciated from anxiety rather
than want of nourishment, assembled in Stockdale Street to hold their
adjourned meeting. But the Column had not yet come in, the Chairman
announced. The public, who were growing sarcastic, opined that the
Kafirs imprisoned in the compounds knew it! Mr. Rhodes suitably
explained how sorry he was to disappoint again; the fault was not his;
he was not (he confided) in the confidence of Lord Methuen. A further
postponement was unavoidable, and the meeting dispersed for a week. The
period was significantly long.

The happiest section of the community was the composite collection of
human units that constituted the Town Guard, and lived in the camps.
There were to be found representatives of all nationalities--English,
Dutch, Irish, Scotch, German, Norwegian, French, etc. With the local
(Kimberley) variety there intermingled all sorts and conditions of
refugees. Men of wealth, of high social standing and education were
there, sleeping in the same "bed," playing cards and competing in
"anecdotage" with the sons of toil. From the very beginning of the siege
the Town Guard had had to "rough it" in rations. It was black tea or
blacker coffee for breakfast; sorry soup and meat (the osseous joints
that made the soup) for dinner; the breakfast again for tea--that made
up from day to day the dreary _menu_. The Mayor, indeed, had for a
little while managed to administer currant buns (it was not easy always
to find the currant) for supper; but even prior to the official
proclamation of their indigestibility they had gone the way of all
luxuries. The generosity of the public, however--the female portion of
it especially--must not be forgotten. Substantial presents, which were
always acknowledged through the columns of the Press, came frequently to
the camps. The cynics detected astuteness in this rush into print; but
while they mourned the frailty of human nature, as instanced by the
vanity competitions in the papers, they humbled themselves to the Greeks
so far as to partake of such gifts as were offered. Tobacco, cigarettes,
and other dainties were received, and consumed with rude rapidity. Every
man was supposed to be responsible for the safety of a tin pannikin, out
of which to scald himself drinking hot tea (for it had the merit of
being hot--if a black draught has any). But there were soldiers who
denied having been supplied with "cups"; whose appeals for pannikins
were persistently flouted by the military utensil-keeper-in-chief. The
"tape" of the Service could not tie up mendacity! The lives of honest
martyrs were thus spent in an eternal borrowing quest, and the petty
larceny of pannikins was a common and popular crime. Many a heated, yet
amusing, quarrel, many a storm in a porringer relieved the monotony of
camp life.

Concerts did it, too, at frequent intervals; and fine concerts they
were. At the Reservoir camp they were particularly excellent, not the
least interesting "turns" being the sanguinary "sword speeches" of the
Officer Commanding. Comic and melodious songs were rendered with equal
gusto; the Royal Artillery rivalled the D.F. Artillery, and Tommy
Atkins, the merchants, shopboys, clerks, and "civies" generally. The
services of an Irishman--_born_ great, by virtue of the brogue with
which he kicked Off to Philadelphia--were in great demand at all the
halls. One night the Chair was occupied by the Senior Officer,
surrounded by his staff, in a halo of cigarette smoke. He (the Chairman)
had a box in front of him, doing duty as a table; a rough programme lay
before him, and two candles, with long beer bottles serving as
_candelabra_, threw sufficient light on the "table," and lit the
cigarettes. The president had bottles in front of him, containing
something still more illuminating than tallow (judging by the hue of the
faces privileged to sample it), from which the ring round the "table"
from time to time regaled itself. Many an envious glance was shot at the
ring; and by-the-by it was wonderful the celerity with which the
diffidence so marked at the outset disappeared when it was observed that
vocal contributors (soloists) were by courtesy entitled to a "pull" from
the bottles. Everybody wanted to sing, and dismal howlers who,
ordinarily, would die first, were driven, tempted, lured, impelled to
howl for drink. The liquor, _generously_ diluted with minerals, was
served out in pannikins; and when the concert ended the National Anthem
was taken by storm, as also were the empty bottles to squeeze, lick, and
drain to the dregs.

The Boer guns continued to sing inexplicably dumb; Wednesday was dull.
The ladies, who had been pretty free in their criticisms of the Boers,
were saying hard things of people nearer home. They had a grievance
against the butcher and his manipulation of the meat. The clamour at the
shambles of the butcher despot was growing in volume. Hungry masses
crowded the shops, and that some should emerge meatless from the melee
was inevitable. Nepotism was reputed to be much in vogue. The Colonel
had curbed the meat vendors in the matter of price; a strictly limited
number of oxen were slaughtered daily, but the number was sufficient to
provide everyone with his or her half-pound of flesh. This arrangement,
however, was to some extent rendered nugatory by cute people who had
what was pithily termed "a leg" of the butcher. Thus a "friend," or a
monied acquaintance, could get as much meat as he could eat (a good
deal!)--which amounted to the legitimate share of perhaps half a dozen
starving creatures who had cash in the bank! In practice the system of
distribution did not work well; the State interference was no doubt a
blessing; but it was a mixed blessing.

On Thursday a mounted force re-visited Carter's Farm to entice the Boers
into battle. In pursuance of this purpose some shells were expended; but
the Boers disregarded the challenge. The rumour-monger, who had an
explanation for everything, interpreted their silence to mean that the
guns had been requisitioned to oppose the advance of Methuen, who did
not seem to be making great headway. One of the sights of Thursday was a
_khaki_ horse! We were in this connection accustomed to such diversity
of shades as black, grey, white, and brown; but a painted quadruped had
never before been seen in Kimberley. The authorities were responsible
for the painter's assault on the lily. It would appear that a high
percentage of white and grey horses had been shot in the several
sorties; hence the necessity of varnishing the survivors. The white
animals were more discernible to the eye behind a Mauser. Condy's Fluid
was the "varnish" utilised; and curious to relate, one noble steed was,
not khaki, but _green_ after treatment. Perhaps he wanted to be shot.

A fund for the benefit of the families whose bread-winners had fallen in
the defence of Kimberley was opened on Friday. The right man put the
collection in motion; Mr. Rhodes, on behalf of De Beers, headed the list
of subscriptions with ten thousand pounds. The Diamond Syndicate
followed with two thousand. The Mayor, with the sanction of the Town
Council, gave two hundred; and the citizens' "mites" were very decent
indeed. It was also decided to erect a memorial in honour of the dead;
for this object seven hundred pounds was subscribed. The Refugee
Committee continued to perform their duties with unabated energy. It was
creditable to all concerned that nothing was left undone to lighten the
burden of the poor; and the deftness--not to speak of the charity--of
the ladies in the scooping out of meal and sugar was admirable.

Saturday was heralded in by the music of the Column's cannon, which
verily had charms to soothe our savage breasts. It was lyddite melody;
the lyddite shells were singing. It was a siege article of faith, a
siege truism, that the Boers could not long stand up to a British
bombardment; and it was an accepted dogma that lyddite was the article
utilised to knock them down. We had read and heard (and magnified) much
of what lyddite could do; our ideas of its decimating powers were
elephantine--and _white_ at that. Sometimes we pitied the Boers; but
were not cognisant, of course, in such weak moments, of the disinfecting
qualities of bottled vinegar; we did not then know that a portable cruet
formed part and parcel of each burgher's kit. It did not need a protest
from General Joubert against the use of lyddite to confirm our
impressions of what it could do. The local Press was alarmingly eloquent
on lyddite; we read not only of what it _could_ do, but consistent
accounts of what it had actually _done_. At a certain battle, for
example, a lyddite shell fell among seventy Boers; and when the smoke
cleared away only eight remained alive, seven of whom were asphyxiated
by the fumes! We were glad that one escaped. Many similar tales were
printed for our delectation, and our credulity--being of the siege
order--was pathetically fine.

In the afternoon we opened fire with our big gun. The Boers retaliated
with unusual fury, and, I am sorry to add, with unusual effect, for in
the duet, which lasted several hours, a missile killed Sergeant-Major
Moss and wounded six men. The death of Mr. Moss caused very general
regret; like many who had gone before him, he was a well-known townsman;
like others, too, he left a wife to mourn him. The body of a white lad
who had disappeared some weeks before was discovered on Saturday; and
these two additions brought up our total of deaths to forty-four. It may
be well to explain that the list included three or four natives. The
natives are human beings; but some people cannot see it.

So closed the fifty-sixth day of the siege. Two months had rolled by, at
traction engine speed. Some impatience manifested itself; the food was
all wrong. But we looked forward, and were sustained by the ultra-jolly
Christmas that would be ours. The few who had promised themselves an
Antipodean Yuletide in the frost--or slush--of merry England could not
keep their words. The most would have to be made of the coast towns.
What an exodus it would be! To sniff the salt air; to fight our battles
over again; to fondle the missing (gastric) links that would litter the
Christmas table! The "greater number" could not of course go far from
the Diamond City. But Modder River was near. There were the
time-honoured annual excursions to that modest watering-place and now
famous battlefield to excite the imagination, where "shells" could be
gathered of more historic value than the "common" ones by the sea.



CHAPTER IX

_Week ending 16th December, 1899_


The pleasures of Sunday were on the wane. The outbreak of war had
detracted little from its peace; but its dinners were--oh, so different!
Sunday had formerly been in the main an occasion of abandonment to the
joy of eating. The propriety of such a custom may be open to question;
but we had turned over a new leaf--until the perusal of the old one
would be feasible again. Our bad habits were compulsorily in abeyance:
the "good tables" were gone. The Simple Life is a splendid thing, but
unless _voluntarily_ adopted it sheds all its splendour. Delicacies had
long been falling victims to galloping consumption, and at this date had
totally succumbed to the disease. Worse still, the "necessaries" were
more or less infected, and disposed to go the way of the dainties. Meat
troubles maddened everybody. The beef was _all_ neck. Everybody said so.
Not one in ten, it seems, ever managed to secure a more tender morsel
from the flesh of these remarkable bovine _phenomena_ (for they _were_
oxen, not giraffes!) The meat was indiscriminately chopped up in the
shambles, and the odd one (in ten) who had not his legal complement of
"neck" alloted him was just as likely to be given for his share--to take
or leave--a nose, his due weight of tail, a teat or two, or a slab of
suet, as any more esteemed ration from the rib. It was laid down that
favouritism had no place in Martial Law; but we were not _all_ Medes and
Persians in Kimberley. The rush for meat between six and eight o'clock
in the morning was one of the sights of the siege: It sometimes happened
that people, after a long wait, would throw up the sponge in despair and
go home meatless; the odds were that they had not missed much, but their
grievance was not the less real, nor their "language" the more correct,
on that account. There were persons who never _tried_ to get meat; and
they were probably the wisest--'the world knows nothing of its greatest
men.' In the scramble for precedence a fight occasionally ensued. The
special constable did his best to keep order; but he had only a
truncheon; he had no other weapon, not even a helmet--that awe-inspiring
utensil!--to cow the multitude. Numbers of people deliberately
transgressed the "Law" by turning out at _five_ in the morning to make
sure of their meat; and the Summary Court was kept busy fining these
miscreants ten shillings each, with the usual "oakum" alternative. One
lady (in a letter to the Editor) drew a vivid picture of the rush for
meat. She had travelled a good deal, she told us, and had "roughed it"
on Boxing nights; she had been (unaffectionately) squeezed to
suffocation in London. But nowhere outside the Diamond Fields had she
encountered the rudeness that springs from ten thousand empty stomachs!
Who now shall say that hunger is good sauce?

There were, besides meat troubles, minor grievances increasing every
day. A plate of porridge was a thing of the past; and milk of course was
an _antediluvian_ quantity! All the tinned milk had been commandeered
for the hospital. Nobody objected to the priority of that institution's
claims; but it was complained that the quantity commandeered was
excessive, unnecessarily large. Eggs were one and a penny _each_ (each
egg!), which sum few could afford to pay, and a number, whose economic
souls revolted at it, declined to pay, through sheer respect for
proportion. There was nothing to fall back on but "mealie-pap," an
imitation porridge, made of fine white mealie meal; the very colour of
if tired one; white stirabout, connoisseurs opined, was not a natural
thing. There were scores who would not touch "mealie-pap" with a
forty-foot spoon. But they changed in time; "I am an acquired taste,"
cries Katisha; so is "mealie-pap." We acquired the taste for it, just as
people do for tomatoes (where were they!) or a glass of vinegar and
water. This hew porridge was not new to the natives; they dissipated on
it three times a day, and were satisfied so long as they had sugar to
make it doubly fattening. It was all so unlike the piping times of
peace! Sunday was now a bore, productive chiefly of _ennui_. On Monday
one could at least scour the town in search of something to eat; and
many a coolie shop was invaded by bluffers, dressed in the "little brief
authority" of a Town Guard's hat, who endeavoured to bully the coolie
into unearthing hidden stores. But to no avail; the coolie was not to be
frightened, nor even excited, by hat or pugaree. His stock of good
things had indeed been reduced to lozenges, sugar-sticks, and other
dental troubles.

Nothing startling was expected on Monday; but we were disappointed. The
noise sounded like the roar of thunder; we had heard similar sounds
emanate from Modder River; but these were undoubtedly louder and nearer.
It soon became evident that they could not be thunder-claps; they were
too continuous and unceasing. We listened for six hours to the incessant
booming of British artillery--the finest in the world! What else could
it be! Would there be a Boer left, we asked ourselves, would one survive
to depict the carnage around him. The guns in action must have numbered
forty or fifty. Soon a great rush was made for the debris heaps on the
Reservoir side--whence, through a glass, the shells could be seen
bursting in rapid succession at Spytfontein. Strong though the position
admittedly was, its defenders could never resist a cannonade so awful.
It was the famous, disastrous battle of Magersfontein that was in
progress. But of that we then knew nothing. We knew not that hundreds of
the Highland Brigade lay dead, nor that while Kimberley was brimming
over with enthusiasm at the prospect of immediate freedom, dismay was
rampant everywhere else. There we were, twenty miles from the scene of
slaughter, looking on, not only ignorant of the truth, but entirely
mistaken in our assumption that it was what we wished it to be.

The sight of what appeared to be a balloon (and we soon discovered that
it was nothing else) excited tremendous interest. It ascended and
descended repeatedly during the battle, apparently for the purpose of
locating the enemy and directing the fire of Methuen's guns. We had been
inundated with narratives of the extraordinary strength of the positions
into which Boer ingenuity had converted the kopjes of Magersfontein. No
further attention was paid to these tales, for lyddite was a terrible
thing--that could move kopjes. It was but a matter of hours until the
Column would be with us, unless, indeed, it paused for rest. The next
day, we felt, would end the Siege of Kimberley, and bring again into
vogue good dinners, buttered bread, and--something to drink.

When firing ceased at length, the Beaconsfield Town Guard determined to
make a noise on their own account. The easiest way to do it was to sound
the alarm; and they did sound it, with right good will. They had
observed a large party of the enemy clearing out of Alexandersfontein,
and were possessed of an hallucination that it portended an attack on
Beaconsfield. These wolf-cries, however, were venial faults; they
denoted watchfulness; we were not disposed to take umbrage at small
things; it was a day of victory. No suspicion of the truth flashed
through our minds to upset our comfortable conclusions. Our ignorance
was bliss; the folly of wisdom was to manifest itself all too soon.

The _Advertiser_ had news at last--authentic news and fresh; and forth
from Stockdale Street was launched a three-penny "Special," to tell of
the balloon "we" had seen and of the cannon "we" had heard. That was
all. We put down our tickeys without a murmur. In the fulness of our
hearts we said the paper had to live. The revenue from its advertising
columns was a cypher, since there was so little to advertise about, and
so little need to advertise anything that _was_ about. The "ads." had
fallen off only in the sense that they were no longer paid for. They
were still printed (to fill up space); and very annoying reading they
made. Before, there was _some_ truth in them; now, there was none. How
we sighed for the times of extreme individualism.

In the afternoon a football match was played. The gate-money was handed
over to the Widows' and Orphans' Fund. Our happy speculations on what
happened at Magersfontein served a good purpose here in stimulating the
generosity of the spectators. A team of our visitors (the Lancashire
Regiment) lined up against the pick of the Citizen Soldiers. The game
was well contested, but the superior discipline of the Colonel's lot
told, and they won.

At break of day on Tuesday the Column's guns were at it again. This was
disappointing, inasmuch as it led us to infer that some Boers were yet
alive at Magersfontein. And our ardour was further damped by the De
Beers directors who instead of formally dispersing until the next day,
once more adjourned their meeting--_sine die_. What did it mean? A
Special was shortly forthcoming and was bought up eagerly, while many
eyes were being strained to catch a glimpse of Lord Methuen's legions in
the distance. The Special gave us news of a fight, indeed; but not of
_the_ fight; it was Modder River over again. In fine, we were sold
again, for the Modder River fight was--if not quite ancient history--as
remote from our thoughts as the "famous victory" at Blenheim in ages
past. Despatch riders had been coming and going, we knew all about the
River battle, and after an interval of fifteen days an ambiguous "slip"
was slipped upon a too confiding _clientele_! It was sharp practice; and
its employment at a moment when suspense had thrown us off our guard
was superb. We bristled with indignation, but the _coup_ (as such) was
splendid. We, the victims, were not entirely blameless; we had had ample
experience of the risk attached to speculation in Specials. It was ever
thus. An ancient number of the _Cape Times_ would drop from the clouds,
and for weeks the news it contained would be administered in homeopathic
doses to the public at three pence per dose. It was good business.
"Slip" was the appropriate appellation bestowed upon the Special.
Sometimes two or three "Slips" would be issued on the same day. One
would come out early, after which a huge blackboard, intimating in
chalked capitals that "important news" was to appear in a later edition,
would be carried round the town by two black boys. And though the news
was never important, the enterprise was a success. To the smart sets the
limited reading matter the "half sheet of notepaper" contained was a
positive recommendation; and at afternoon (Natal) teas there was many a
"Slip" between the cup and the lip.

Time passed; and still the Column came not. We felt disgusted rather
than distressed; we were yet confident of the Column's invincibility.
Various tit-bits of secondary interest were served out to humour us, and
a startling rumour was put in circulation--a rumour round which clung no
element of justification to soften the wrath it aroused.

A meeting composed of the Military authorities and a few leading
civilians had been held some days before, and the subject of its
deliberations had at length come to light. It was proposed and debated
at this meeting that--when railway communication had been restored--all
women, children, and non-combatants should be sent away to the coast!
This would mean some twenty-seven thousand whites, together with
natives, coolies, etc.--about forty thousand people. The idea behind all
this was to make Kimberley a garrison town, to stock it well with
provisions, and afterwards to allow the Boers--if they were so
disposed--to re-mutilate the line to their hearts' content. The
"Military Situation" would not admit of the employment of a host of men
to guard it.

The scheme was immediately howled down. The ladies, it need hardly be
said, were well in the van of opposition. They foregathered in the
streets, and with arms fixed resolutely akimbo denounced the
contemplated outrage as a monstrous tyranny--enough to make them "turn
Boer," indeed, as one lady luridly put it. Whither would they go? Would
the "Military Situation" answer whither? There were women of mature
years who, given a choice between hanging and a whirl day and night
through the Karoo, would almost favour the suspension of the
constitution! But apart from physical inconvenience, the idea of
forsaking their homes and husbands was too ridiculous. The notion of
living in tents on potted beef and adamantine biscuits was shuddered at.
The whole project was voted a wild-cat scheme (and Mr. Rhodes agreed).
After the spartan bravery they had displayed for two months, the ladies
regarded this new and wanton strain on their loyalty as inhuman. Their
protest was loud and dignified; and when the women are concerned in a
public protest the men are--oh, so mere! And the men in khaki were no
exception to the rule; they were cowed, with all their munitions of
war. They had decided on no definite course of action; or said they had
not--to save their face. Their plans were essentially tentative; and,
besides, the railway train--an important factor--was not just yet able
to carry far a scheme of compulsory migration.

Thursday came; but not so Methuen. It was allowed that the Noble Lord
could hardly be expected to gauge accurately the violence of our hurry;
nor to conceive, however noble his imagination, that our hens laid eggs
at eighteen pence apiece. We got another glimpse of the balloon to cheer
us, and were also edified in the course of the day with news of the
_Belmont_ battle. The Belmont battle was a stale story when the Modder
River fight was fresh, and the latter was now in all conscience stale
enough. Of Magersfontein, not a word. This reticence in regard to
Magersfontein intensified our curiosity; it was the parent of a
pessimism that was to thrive. Common sense and the dictates of reason
_would_ clamour for recognition. Between the struggle at Modder River
and the publication of its result there had been no interval to speak
of. The fight of Belmont had occasioned no departure from the exercise
of the "new diplomacy." We had heard of the collision and of the victory
at Graspan almost simultaneously. But we were not yet acquainted with
the sequel to the clash at Magersfontein; it was a solemn secret. There
was news that Cronje had decamped from Mafeking and was at Modder River
with an augmented force; but this did not for the moment interest us. In
his (Cronje's) alleged quarrels with the Free Staters we had no
immediate concern. What they told us of his inglorious retreat from the
north was not to the point; it was enough that he had been wafted south
by an ill wind that might blow us no good luck. All these tit-bits made
news in the abstract, but were foreign to the mystery surrounding what
happened at Magersfontein. Something was wrong; but the policy of
prolonging the suspense was not right. Every nook and cranny in the
hospital were being held in readiness for the sick and wounded
(presumably accompanying the Column), and a vague fear was entertained
that all the nooks and crannies might be needed. Who could tell?

More news in the afternoon--the wrong sort again. A faded (pink) copy of
the _Cape Argus_ was mysteriously smuggled through. Not a line of it
alluded to Magersfontein. A screw was loose somewhere; our distrust of
the Military increased. Could it be, was it conceivable that Methuen had
been worsted at Magersfontein? That indeed was a reasonable conclusion
to draw from the reticence of our Rulers. But it was not _strictly_
logical, and besides--we liked it not. We preferred to attribute the
silence to a way they have in the army; to the Colonel, who did not take
tea with our Editor (it was said)--for Special reasons. We sympathised
with the boycott; but the conduct of the "sojers" tended to cause a
reaction in the Editor's favour. Our paper would tell the truth and
shame the devil if the Censor, who was also a "sojer," did not
unblushingly forbid it. We were oddly ingenious at times when the
monotony clamoured for variation.

But to return to the _Argus_. It was affecting in its puffery of the
beefsteak pudding that ninepence purchased in Cape Town; and poignantly
prolix in its conception of how Horatius held the bridge of Modder River
some five-and-twenty years ago (_sic_). The Boers, we gathered, had been
knocked about at Ladysmith, and Mr. Morley had sympathised with them in
London. All this would have been entertaining, even exciting, _before_
Magersfontein; but after? it annoyed us.

On Saturday a sort of "boiling oil" turn was given by the rumour-monger.
We heard wild stories concerning the annihilation of the British army.
The air was red with blood. No importance was attached to these ghastly
theories--they were nothing more--but their effects were depressing;
they threw an atmosphere of gloom over the city, which was reflected in
a thousand faces. What was once a "frigid falsehood" had been modified
to mean a "gross exaggeration." This connoted a slight departure from
sentiment, a tendency to reason, to think more dispassionately. Anxious
as we were to get again in touch with the world and what it could offer
to eat, we could no longer evade the sorrowful conclusion that siege
figures, like every other, make four of two and two.

In the distance the cannon kept booming intermittently; nothing but
boom. Our besiegers' guns were being used to check the advance of
Methuen. There remained only one piece of ordnance, nicknamed "Old
Susannah," to keep Kimberley in order. The Premier Mine was the
recipient of some lumps of love from this amorous gipsy; but nobody was
smitten by her charms.

The death of the Mayor of Beaconsfield was announced in the afternoon.
In him the Town Guard lost a capable captain, and Kimberley a worthy
citizen. Saturday was Dingaan's day--a sad reminder of the rejoicings
associated with the anniversary, and which had to be skipped for once.
Despite the prevailing glumness, however, the populace turned out to
patronise a gymkhana entertainment at the Light Horse camp. The bands of
the two regiments contributed musical selections; admission was free
(which accounted for a packed "house"); but when the hat was artfully
passed round for our charity we winced, and were only partially
satisfied that it was at our discretion surreptitiously to put in it
what we would from a button to a shilling.

Amid such _gala_ surroundings the week ended. We were still in the dark,
the doings of the Column were yet enveloped in mystery. The thunder of
its artillery had lost its charm, and indeed a great deal of its noise.
Dame Rumour, the lying jade, was saying nasty things, but
downhearted--what! not much! The last flash on Saturday night was from a
_manufactured_ gem. The Boer Army was in Cape Town, if you please!--with
their guns on Table Mountain--and all the Britons in the sea--swimming
home to dear old England! Well, no matter; Kimberley would fight on,
constitute a "new Capital," perhaps, or fall, if fate ordained it, with
its face to the foe.



CHAPTER X

_Week ending 23d December, 1899_


Everything was going from bad to worse, and though the tropical weather
was not conducive to heartiness of appetite the dishes on our tables
were distressing. To attempt to compute the countless creature comforts
missing at this stage of our sorrows would be ridiculous; nor do I
propose inflicting on the reader a reiteration of what remained to keep
body and soul together. Discussion on the Column and its catering
potentialities had come to be proscribed, and lamentations over the
sufferings of the inner man were as bitter as if all hope of alleviation
had vanished for ever and hunger was to be our portion for all time.
Indeed, when matters became worse a better spirit of resignation was
manifested. To the seasoned campaigner roughing it on the Karoo our
fare, plenty of it, might seem good, luxurious even; but to us, with
very little of it, surrounded by the civilising influences of knives and
forks, serviettes, plates, teapots, no end of pepper and _insufficient_
salt--it wore a different aspect and seemed anything but luxurious. Yet
that was our position day after day, Sunday after Sunday, and the irony
growing grimmer all along with unfailing regularity. At the camps the
_menu_ was practically the same, but the graces of civilisation were
happily less in evidence there. There were fortunate possessors of
aviaries, and people who owned hens that produced no protoplasmic
fruit, who could have a bird for dinner occasionally. A brisk business
in fowls was done in the streets. The birds fetched enormous prices.
Very young ones of sparrow proportions, not long out of the shell, were
slaughtered wholesale, to pander to the palate of--perchance a member of
the Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. And here a tribute
is due to him or her who, rising above the selfishness--the siege
selfishness--of the majority, invited a friend now and then to share
their good fortune. There were such noble souls; their numbers were
few--not ten per cent, of those in a position to be hospitable--but all
the more precious for their rarity. It was a sight to fill one with envy
to see the cherished chickens being carried through the streets as
carefully as if they were worth their weight in gold--as indeed they
nearly were. Ever and anon the bearer of a bird would be saluted by a
passer-by who would desire to know its price. On hearing it he would
enjoy a good laugh, or relieve his feelings with a good oath in
deprecation of avarice so naked. Another would pause and say nothing,
but with a baleful gleam in his eye would set himself to measure the
proportions--not of the chicken, but of him who carried it, while he
mentally calculated his chances of success in a tussle, and shaped in
his mind a desperate resolve to enjoy one good meal and then die, or
perish, anyhow, in the attempt. All the provision shops were still open,
but there was nothing for sale in half them. Tinned meats had given out;
this was considered the last straw, even by the fastidiously clean, and
the toxicologist who liked his salmon fresh. Five, ten, twenty
shillings, any sum would be given for a tin of anything, and such bribes
(despite Martial Law) were frequently placed in the hollow of a
merchant's hand, the while he was beseeched in a whisper to slip a
friend a can of something carnal. But the grocer was adamant every time;
he could not do it; and a display of principle is easy when it springs
as much from necessity as from good emotions. The Military Authorities
had been commandeering goods of all sorts--"bully beef" among the
rest--and storing them away in the catacombs of Kimberley. Now, the
public were anxious to know the meaning of the corner in "bully beef";
but nobody could explain it. A vast quantity of cigarettes had been
commandeered, too; but nobody could explain that either. Most of the
"paper," it may be said, was not smoked; it was handed back to the
tobacconists when the siege was raised, and possibly some canned things
were surrendered as well. The hospital was certainly pretty full; care
was taken that the invalids were not neglected, and many things were
being preserved for their exclusive use. This was only as it should be.
But "bully beef" was not reckoned just the ideal food for invalids; and
wicked people accordingly found solace in suggesting that the military
looked suspiciously well-fed. It got abroad, too, that there were tons
of provisions (consigned to Mafeking) lying at the railway station, and
the populace wanted to know why _they_ were not commandeered, and sold
at a profit that would go far towards covering the _then_ estimated cost
of the war. The possibility of forwarding them to their destination was
out of the question; how were they to be sent out of Kimberley? Or how
_into_ Mafeking? The military had the power to let us eat these things,
but they would not exercise it. They preferred to allow the
butter--think of it!--to melt and ooze through the chinks of the boxes;
the cheese--great gorgonzola!--to wax almost too high; and the
potatoes--O Raleigh!--to rot ere they decided to annex them. When these
facts were made known the indignation aroused was very general. Our
prejudice against the khaki grew stronger than ever. Who was Gorle? The
Army Service Corps had come into prominence, and much of its bad
management was rightly or wrongly attributed to a Major Gorle. But the
Military did not put their feet in it firmly until they reduced the
cattle-looting wage from a pound to half a sovereign. The natives
engaged in this hazardous occupation had been hitherto in receipt of
twenty shillings for every animal captured; and they not unnaturally
resented the curtailment of their commission. They declined to
jeopardise their lives on half pay, and went out on strike. From that
day onward the cow-catching industry languished; and though some of us
held that the Colonel personally was in matters monetary above
suspicion, like Cæsar's wife, we did not forget that he was also an
Absolute Monarch, like Cæesar himself.

It was reported in the afternoon that news of Magersfontein had been
gleaned at last, but that owing to the presence of spies in our midst
efforts were being made to keep it secret. We gathered, however, that
the Highland Brigade had been sufferers in a sanguinary struggle. That
was all--except the usual accompaniment--the essential corollary to
every recorded battle--that the Boer losses had been numerically
frightful. Definite official reports were not forthcoming; nor
confirmation of rumour. But we were satisfied that Methuen had been
checked; we were constrained to confess, we consented to believe that he
had at least been checked.

Next day we were more fully convinced; the terrible truth was revealed
at last. All our sympathies went out to the brave men who had tried to
fell the barrier that blocked the way to Kimberley. Their failure was a
blow to our hopes; but personal considerations were for the moment
taboo. And, curiously enough, although the world was ringing with
criticism of Methuen we in Kimberley blamed nobody. Even the "Military
Critic" was dumb. Lord Methuen rose in our estimation to the level of a
hero, who had driven the enemy before him from Orange River, to fail
only in the last lap. Even now, perhaps, the people of Kimberley,
looking back at the events of the past, would be reluctant to join in
the criticism his name evokes. The facts, of course, speak for
themselves; and it did seem strange to see soldiers like Buller and
Warren being arraigned, and Gatacre getting recalled, while others
passed through the fire officially unscathed. Speaking of Gatacre,
we--having just been made acquainted with the Stormberg affair--were
saying nasty things of him. Monday was altogether a miserable day, with
the outlook far less bright than our fancy had painted it.

On Tuesday the muffled booming of the British guns at Modder River was
heard again. It was hard to credit the evidence of our senses, that
Methuen had retreated. Still, we were not to be entirely disheartened
while there remained the possibility of a drive to the sea for
Christmas. At a meeting of the Town Council a new Mayor (Mr. Oliver) was
chosen for the year 1900. General Clery, we were informed, was getting
towards Ladysmith; the news was vague, but we were glad to hear it. Any
news not bad was good. The old proverb is wrong; for who would dare
after all the suspense we had endured to put "no news" in the "good"
category.

The shopkeepers--wise men--had found comfort in hard work, and were
making elaborate preparations for Christmas. The jewellers cut a fair
show, and the drapers, too, But the grocer took, or rather would have
taken, the cake if the "Law" allowed it to be baked. His enterprise knew
no limits; his display of holly (and indeed of everything else) was
unprecedented. The collection of odds and ends exhibited was picturesque
to a degree (no more can be said for it). There were no jellies, no
tempting hams, no imported puddings nor nude poultry, none of the solid,
savoury things associated with the festive season. There were none of
these; but holly, mistletoe, and Chinese lanterns made a fine
phantasmagoria. There were neat and compact packets of starch,
interspersed with tins of mustard, to tickle the palate of the hungry
passer-by; while scented soaps, in lovely little wrappers, intermingled
in malodorous profusion. Bottles of sauces never heard of by the present
generation, and which yet bore traces of the solidified cobweb of half a
century, were much in evidence. So, too, was Berwick's baking powder, as
a sort of satire on the absence of such essential constituents as eggs,
milk, flour, whiskey, raisins, etc. (we had plenty of suet). Reckitt's
blue was there in abundance--a finger-post, as it were, to the shade of
the entire exposition. Condy's Fluid was not the least appetible thing
on show. Bottled parsley and kindred mummied souvenirs of pre-historic
horticulture, half buried in heaps of shrapnel bullets (ticketed sweet
peas!) and other ammunition of a like digestive kind, were also to the
fore to sustain the fame of Christmas. But starch was the all-pervading
feature of every shop-front. In one window a solid blank wall of starch
was erected, with a row of sweet-bottles on top. One would think that
our linen at least should have been irreproachable; but it was not;
because the Town Council happened to be experimenting on the
practicability of establishing Municipal Wash Houses, with a view to
economising water--_not_, as the actual results suggested, to the saving
of _starch_.

Lieutenant-Colonel Peakman had succeeded the lamented Scott-Turner, and
on Wednesday long before daybreak he led a picked force towards
Webster's Farm, to steal a march on the napping enemy. The napping
enemy, however, was alive to the propriety of utilising but one eye in
the lap of "Nature's soft nurse." He could not see much with the open
optic, but he could hear with the one ear he had taken the precaution of
keeping open also. Of the good sense of this precaution Mr. Peakman was
somewhat abruptly apprised by the crack and blaze of a hundred Mausers.
Nothing daunted he returned the salute right gallantly, and with a
doggedness that obliged the Boers to retreat, firing as they went. The
enemy's gun at Oliphantsfontein soon chimed in with some well-directed
shells, one of which failed to burst and was secured intact as a
valuable trophy. Nobody was hurt, and the force got back to town without
further molestation.

A concert was given in the evening at the Reservoir camp, the takings
(£20) going to the Widows' and Orphans' Committee. There was no lack of
entertainment at all the camps, although the men did not feel so
cheerful as their comic singing was intended to denote. Numerous
presents continued to find their way to the redoubts. Cigars and
tobacco, fruits from the De Beers horticultural department, and an odd
pint of wine from the casks of the Colussus were periodically received
to brighten the lives of the citizen soldiers. An odd bottle, or rather
an odd dozen, of "Cape Smoke" found entry at times. Impure though the
commodity was--there is no smoke without fire--a little of it on a raw
morning was not amiss. Some erred, unfortunately, in not confining
themselves to a _little_ of the lava. Eruptions often ensued. One
gentleman, on a certain occasion, was so inflamed with martial ardour
after a too copious indulgence in the "brandy" that it resulted in his
discharge from the Town Guard--for over-doing his duty. He was one night
on sentry duty and challenged an officer, one officer, whom he failed to
identify, or compute--"in the dark," as he explained. Having courteously
yelled out to the intruder to halt, and on being quietly assured that "a
friend" went there, the alert sentry presented arms and called in
solemn, stentorian accents upon his friend to "advance within six inches
of the muzzle of this rifle and give the countersign!" It was due to a
lucky accident that the officer knew the countersign, and was not
buried next day. Another genial tippler disported himself during
business hours in less serious fashion. He was not so fastidiously exact
about killing his man by inches. On the contrary, when his "friend" had
proclaimed himself a friend indeed, he was superciliously informed: "You
have got to say 'Tiger' before you come in here!" "Tiger" was the
countersign; and it was only the humour of the incident that enabled the
worthy sentry to keep the Marshal's baton in his knapsack.

Under the direction of Major Gorle, the Army Service Corps was extremely
energetic in the general regulation of foodstuffs. Colonel Kekewich
seemed bent on starving us. Now, if there remained no less drastic
alternative to surrender he could have starved us by consent. To the
_principle_ of the ordinance there was no open opposition. But it was
ridiculous to start starving us so soon, and we were far from imagining
that it should ever be necessary to start at all. The _Commissariat_ was
being largely extended, and the Colonel had drafted another
proclamation. He had already taken care that the flour should be made to
stretch for years--the colour of the bread never permitted us to forget
that--and he now commanded that all the tea and coffee in town must be
submitted for analysis. Every ounce of chicory in the city, he
proclaimed, must be handed over to the _Commissariat_ within twenty-four
hours; or, by Jingo!--Martial Law! The ladies clung to their caddies and
protested; but in vain. The gallant Colonel insisted--reluctantly; he
had a heart; but he had also, so to say, a partner (Mr. Gorle)--as
inexorable as the "Mr. Jorkins" whom Dickens has immortalised. This
arbitrary conduct on the part of Kekewich and Gorle did not stop at tea
and coffee; it was only a beginning, a preliminary step in the military
dispensation. How far the transactions of the firm would extend we were
not yet to know; but the details of the massacre at Magersfontein, which
kept pouring in, indirectly suggested that the business might extend
very far indeed. The losses sustained at Magersfontein were more
appalling than we were at first led to believe. They were a bitter
sequel to the memorable cannonade of ten days before. How inappropriate
had been our jubilation! The citizens forgot their personal woes in
sorrow for the brave men who after a series of brilliant successes had
perished in the final effort. Magersfontein hit us hard, though we knew
nothing of the "blazing indiscretions" connected with that fatal assault
on positions of peculiar strength and impregnability. Its consequences
meant another delay, perhaps a long one. Meanwhile our resolution grew
stronger to hold Kimberley though the heavens should fall. Eating, after
all, was a habit--a bad habit with some of us--which we could not give
up in a day. But the story of Magersfontein diverted our thoughts from
provisions. Let the Boers but come within range of our rifles, and then,
ah, then there would be squalls! But would they do so; would they screw
their courage to the sticking point? It was feared not, more
particularly in view of the supposed existence of dynamite mines around
Kimberley. The train was laid; the fuse was there to ignite the powder
that would blow up a hostile army. The mere suggestion of such a
_contretemps_ was enough to make the Boers think twice before drawing
near enough to be shot at. Belief in the existence of these mines was
widespread. How far it was warranted, it is hard to say. The enemy had
heard something of them, and burning though was his desire to blow up
the diamonds he did not quite court a flight towards heaven in their
company. He had seen what dynamite applied to culverts and bridges could
do, and doubtless fully measured the indignity of so disentegrating, not
to say violent, a manner of quitting this world for a good one.

On Friday a party of the Lancashire Regiment went out to cut off a Boer
water supply at Curtis Farm. A body of the Light Horse with guns
accompanied them--as a hint to the enemy that intervention would be
resented. The Boer ignored the hint and lost no time in lodging his
protest against our infringement of "the game's" rules. The "Lanks.,"
however, were not to be deterred; they stuck stoically to their work
until their object was accomplished. Our guns had meanwhile kept hurling
defiance at the enemy; but there were no casualties on either side.
These aquatic operations seriously inconvenienced the Boers; they
compelled them to make wide _detours_, to travel a long distance for
water around the great ring which encircled Kimberley; the short cuts
were dangerous. A sad thing happened when night came. A corporal in
charge of a piquet went out to inspect his men. Unfortunately the sentry
on duty was unaware of the fact, and on the corporal's return he was
mistaken in the darkness for a marauding Boer--with the pitiable result
that the sentry shot him dead.

In the morning we had news again. It was simply the _truth_ concerning
Colenso; fiction could not improve a deal on the loss of ten or twelve
British guns. We were unaccustomed to so much candour in the matter of
reverses, and this brutal revelation of the truth overwhelmed and
astonished us--though we could scarcely pretend that we had not _asked_
for it. A "Slip" unfolded the tale in all its naked veracity. It was
_news_, fair and square value for the "thruppence," as siege value goes;
but we were in no mood to appreciate the novelty of that; the
circumstances were too distressing. Buller was roundly abused, and his
staff also were included in a comprehensive denunciation; so that
whoever was at fault in the Colenso collapse did not escape the wrath of
Kimberley. As one of the Pitts (was it one of the Pitts?) has aptly
said: "there are none of us infallible, not even the youngest of us."
Not even Lord Methuen, as we had sadly discovered. The brightness of our
Christmas prospects was beginning to fade.

It faded a great deal when typhoid fever broke out in the Light Horse
camp. The outbreak was attributed to the uncertain water we had to use,
since the purer supply had been cut off. The new water was none too
good. We had been repeatedly warned to boil it before drinking it, and
were now adjured to do so. A large number heeded the warning, but the
perverse majority heeded it not; they did not find it convenient to
spare fuel to boil what was not essential to the creation of the "cup
that cheers" when there is milk in it. Scurvy was playing havoc with the
native population. These trials and tribulations did not enhance our
festive dispositions on the eve of Christmas. A programme of sports
attracted all the Tapleys; but there was little until evening, when the
scramble for the good cheer that was _not_ in the shops had begun, to
enable one to remember that Yule was nigh.

The scene was one that will be long remembered in the Diamond City. It
was only the very large stores that had anything to sell. Before the war
broke out Abrahams and Co. had purchased an immense stock of foodstuffs;
but a great hole had been made in it, and it was to be much greater
_after_ Christmas. It was at Abrahams', therefore, that the multitude
swarmed. The traffic in sweet peas, jams, and raisins was heavy. Boer
meal with imported raisins in it was the richest possible pudding! The
sale of sweets was unprecedented--so unprecedented that toothache was an
epidemic until French relieved it. How the shop assistant clung to his
reason is a mystery which has yet to be solved. Behind the counter he
was hampered by the local _elite_: Judges, Doctors, Directors, etc., who
would never say die (from hunger) while they lived. Outside the counter
the madding throng felt likewise. But the great ones were able to help
themselves; they inspected the shelves, perused the labels of every
antiquated sauce and pickle bottle in stock since the "early days," and
placed the best of these relics of a pre-consolidated era in heaps aside
for Monday's dinner. There were special constables on duty within and
without the store, which was as full as an egg; and when after a while
it was apparent that this congestion retarded business, the hundred
Christians nearest the door were hustled into the street with all the
"good will" in the world. But the relief came too late; the clock
struck nine ere half the multitude were served--or even formally
satisfied that blood is not in turnips. Of the merry season we were wont
to enjoy, the busy throng was the sole reminiscence. Its good things
were absent. But that bitter truth did not make less keen our hunt the
slipper pursuit of Christmas fare.



CHAPTER XI

_Week ending 30th December, 1899_


Christmas Eve--a memorable day in its own way--dawned in due course. It
was not the siege alone, with its attendant inconveniences, that made it
memorable. It was not that the season accentuated the want of _enough_
to eat; nor was it the absence of the time-honoured turkey that tried us
most. There was something else besides, namely, the capers of the sun.
Thermal phenomena are of course not strictly pertinent to my story. But
I feel impelled to digress for a little and warm, as it were, to this
new element of discomfort, provided doubtless as a Christmas Box by the
thoughtful clerk of the weather. To those of us who were enjoying our
first taste of a sunny southern summer the heat of the day was
excruciating; it literally took one's breath away. A man could not even
read; he tried to, in the hope of falling asleep incidentally. But in
vain. 'Nature's soft nurse' was not to be cajoled by artifice. There was
no air, no breeze to fan her softness. The thermometer registered on its
imperturbable face one hundred and seven in the shade, at which experts
who had passed the whole of their summers in the furnace of the Diamond
City inveighed against the slowness of the instrument and its lapse from
the path of rectitude. The cant of the day ordained the twenty-fifth of
December the "hottest day of the year." Well, the newcomers felt that
if it were to be redder than the twenty-fourth they might jump into the
Kimberley mine, without danger of landing on their feet, and enjoy a
better pudding in a better and (perhaps) cooler world. It was a day to
make one fed in all seriousness that life is not worth living; and to a
man fresh from over-sea the association of Christmas with such
weather--to say nothing of the victuals!--was the acme of satire. There
is no whiteness in the African Christmas, and for the first time in
their lives the newcomers sighed for a "green" one! A "green" one would
cool the atmosphere, and a cooler atmosphere would content us. We would
gladly let the turkey and the pudding pass if the Turkish Bath would go
too. Had the shade of _Santa Claus_, or the flesh and blood of anybody,
come loaded with poultry for our "stockings," we should not have said,
thank you. Our appetites were gone. They were gone, and all we asked was
that they should be restored for Christmas Day--just as if _Claus_ had
indeed made amends for the cruel kindness of the "Clerk!" It was kind of
Sir Alfred Milner to arrange a congratulatory flash of compliments (by
signal from Modder River) and to wish us all sorts of luck. One sort
would have sufficed: the kind contained in a record output of rain.
Would it come? First it would--and then it would not. A duststorm
intervened by way of compromise; it was a breeze--hot, choking,
blinding, but still a breeze. We got thunder and lightning, too; but the
rain hesitated--as if it knew there was little left to soak in
Kimberley. It ultimately relented, however, and came down in torrents
through the night.

Christmas Day itself! It had come, cool, delicious; the change, the
metamorphosis in the weather, the disappearance of the azure sky was
strange and lovely. Those shifting, hustling clouds, how pleasant they
were to look at. The day was the antithesis of its predecessor--the
mildest we had had for a long, long time. It was a relief to find that
the "hottest day of the year" was a figurative expression used to denote
the middle of summer. Our fears of cremation were entirely
dissipated--as sometimes happens in the case of passengers to the Cape
who, sweltering in a broiling sun _outside_ the tropics, marvel how they
are to toe the _Line_.

It thus came to pass that our interest in breakfast was after all
considerable. I shall confine my congratulations to the genius of one
resourceful landlady who furnished, in addition to "mealie-pap" allowed
by "Law," some illicit tit-bits of meat, as a surprise! But she did not
cease staggering humanity until a small dish of butter was produced.
Real butter!--the lady's character made her word sacred. It was an
astounding phenomenon in itself, but the sharing of it in a season of
famine with poor relations like her boarders was the kindest cut of all.
Butter it was; we remembered the taste, and there was the circumstantial
evidence of our eyes. We had once been taken in by dripping; but there
was no mistaking the species in the dish on Christmas morning. There it
was in all its luscious sallowness, and the smacking of our lips
betokened an appreciation of all that we had lost in the weeks gone by.
Many, alas! missed more than their butter. Speaking generally, the 'Xmas
breakfast consisted of black tea, khaki bread, and golden syrup--an
appetising rainbow on a "merry" morning. The _menu_ at dinner was little
better; it stirred up sad recollections of the past. Pudding (worthy of
the name) was nowhere. We had imitations; apologies for puddings,
plain--and hard--as a pikestaff, were everywhere. They were not
essentially cheap, because eggs, the chief ingredient, were fabulously
fresh. As for the geese that laid not, well, they did not cackle either;
their bones had long since been mumbled. But there were self-denying
citizens who actually preserved some beer and stout for Christmas Day!
These good stoics--stoical only to be epicurean--were proud of their
will-power. Indeed they ostentatiously affected intoxication and
horrified everybody--with their bad acting.

For the men who were obliged to spend the day in camp there was not much
to live for in the eating line. So everyone thought, at least, when the
fight for leave of absence had begun. But Mr. Rhodes, with
characteristic thoughtfulness, sent a lot of nice things to the camps,
which changed the situation and made men regret their anxiety to spend
Christmas at home. The quantity of what was styled Cape brandy consumed
in camp baffles computation. The effects of the swim were bad, too--not
because there were so many drunk--Christmas comes but once a year--but
because of the awful aftermath. Numbers were ill, very ill, indeed; and
it was a blessing, all things considered, that none were dead. In the
camps, life, although boisterous, was not exactly merry; but it was a
Christmas, as was afterwards declared with chivalrous unanimity, than
which nobody had ever spent a better. Nobody had ever felt so sick the
next morning, and that was most likely the standard by which the measure
of the merriment was gauged.

His Excellency's congratulations were the innocent cause of a little
friction. Had it not been for _his_ example the "compliments of the
season" might have been left unsaid; good taste and good sense would
have conspired to let them lapse. There was something incongruous about
wishing a man a happy Christmas. Let a man be ever so sympathetic and
cordial; let him mean--not wisely but too well; let his accents ring
true as steel: it was still difficult to convince one that there was no
suggestion of sarcasm in the greeting. But the Governor had changed the
situation; he had set the fashion--had reminded us that the fashion with
its conventions and courtesies was an element, a blessing, of our
civilisation; and that we were not permanently outside the pale. It was
nevertheless trying to be taken by the hand and wished "a merry
Christmas" by every brazen Napper Tandy in the town. It was, as I have
said, all the fault of the Governor; the custom was adhered to in
deference to His Excellency rather than with _malice prepense_ on the
part of a friend to indulge in wanton candour. There _were_ monsters who
out of sheer, crass good nature did offend; but even they took care to
couple with their "remarks" an apologetic laugh, which was intended to
convey that the joke, though carried far, was just a joke. The wags--the
species was not yet extinct--were especially felicitous. They treated
the subject as a very original piece of humour indeed. Their treatment
of it gained them an occasional cuff in the ear, and they had to be
discriminative in their choice of victims. Everybody was not to be
wished "returns of the day" with impunity.

The happiest people in the world on Christmas Day were the wise and
simple natives. They foregathered in the streets and revelled to their
hearts' content. All day long they sang, danced, and laughed; they held
orgies (in honour of the Colonel) and _corroborees_ of the kind
described by _de Rougemont_--the Washington of France. The antics of our
dusky tragedians and comedians made a striking spectacle, and were quite
as entertaining as the performances of the highly rated Harrys, Irving
and Lauder. There was a moral in the orgies--though we did not draw it.
The natives were happy; short commons did not trouble them or mar their
enjoyment in the slightest. With us it was far otherwise; _we_ had
anticipated a different Yuletide; the natives had not. The natives made
the most of theirs; we the least of ours. Some of us had dreamt of
dining in Europe. Others of us had visions of beer drinking at the
coast. A great many would fain have taken the waters of Modder River.
But all were disappointed, dour, and sorrowful--all save our true
philosopher, the native.

The twenty-sixth of December is proverbially a sad day. It was so with
us, but not sadder than the day before. A few shells were sent out among
the Boers to ascertain how they got Christmas over them; and they by way
of reply made some good practice on the Premier Mine. A water-pipe was
mutilated, and a man standing near had the pipe knocked out of his mouth
by a piece of shell. A good deal of desultory firing went on for
several hours. The enemy's guns were obviously handled by men who knew
what they were about, and we soon afterwards definitely learned (what we
had long suspected) that there were French and German experts behind
them. The remainder of the day was dusty, stormy, and uninteresting.

Lord Methuen's guns made a noise on Wednesday. Their booming, with
intervals of silence, went on all day; from Kimberley shell after shell
could be seen bursting in all directions. Our confidence began to
revive; indeed it had never waned so far as the capabilities of the
Column were concerned; and we were satisfied that a second assault on
Magersfontein would be crowned with success. The excuses advanced on
behalf of those most responsible for the failure of the first attack
were legion. That they had not been given half enough men for the job
was a favourite plea; and Buller (who had his hands full in Natal) was
reviled for not supplying more. The indications of a renewal of active
hostilities, however, which Wednesday brought, enkindled hope again and
promised a happy New Year. It was still a sore point with us to see the
exchange of signals going on night after night; to think that we--the
people!--should be kept in ignorance of their meaning. But it was in
harmony with the Military methods in general; and some people vowed that
if ever the hat went round for the Colonel they would not put a cent in
it, so help them! How much the Colonel was perturbed by this dire threat
there was no evidence to show. But a Proclamation was soon
forthcoming--which would certainly not conduce to the filling of the
hat. His (the Colonel's) proclamations had for the most part made us
swear by him; the one of which I now speak made us swear _at_ him! And
our language will be pardoned when I explain that the decree struck at
the one commodity it was in our power to get enough of. There _was_ such
a commodity, and that was bread. Until this atrocious edict saw the
light it had been our privilege to, enjoy _carte blanche_ in bread. It
was the last of our privileges--too simple and sacred, one would have
thought, for even an autocrat to have dared to trample on.

Flour, meal, Kafir corn, mealies, etc., were also to be controlled by
the socialists (they had red flags up); but the main insult, added to
the injury already inflicted by the quality of the State loaf, lay in
the suggestion that we ate too much bread, and that we were in future to
be limited to _fourteen ounces per diem_! Already limited to nothing at
all in vegetables and to a glorified _bite_ of beef, it was not
surprising that an angry chorus of protest was raised against the
Government. People asked, in their indignation, if they really lived in
a British Colony? Could such an interference with the freedom of the
subject be brooked for five minutes? Of course the query was beside the
question, but everybody was beside himself with rage. Where was the
Military despotism to stop? In the meantime, while men in the street
raved, shrewd housewives were acting. At the first note of alarm they
had started scouring up their pans and determined to encourage thrift by
baking their own bread. They would thus supplement their allowance of
the readymade article, and by the same token snap their fingers at that
"ass" _in excelsis_--Martial Law. But they reckoned without their host;
there is nothing asinine about _Martial_ Law; a closer perusal of the
proclamation would have taught them that Kekewich and Gorle were old
soldiers; that anybody buying meal or flour could not buy bread, and
_vice versa_. Even "mealie-pap," _ad lib._, we had perforce to forego;
the "Law" allowed it but once a day. Then there was a worse feature than
this limitation indicated. "Mealie-pap" without milk was bad enough;
minus sugar it was unthinkable. But the "Law" would not permit us to
sweeten the "pap" any more--that is to say, the reduced allowance of
sugar was all too little for neutralising the insipidity of black tea.
We were also restricted to a fixed complement per unit of tea and
coffee--as much as we required in any circumstances, but, ironically
enough, a little more than we required of the stimulants in their
undiluted nastiness. An elaborate system was set up garnished with red
tape, and a large clerical staff filled the Town Hall for the purpose of
receiving affidavits, affirmations, and of issuing "permits" to all and
sundry who might feel averse from succumbing to a sudden, in
contra-distinction to a slow, starvation. The possession of a "permit"
entitled the holder to purchase the "regulation" quantity of provisions
for one week, at the expiry of which period he or she would be required
to have his or her "permit" renewed, if he or she desired a renewed
lease of life. The tumult at the Town Hall was remarkable; the people
swarmed there like locusts; the ordeal one had to undergo for a "permit"
involved cruelty to corns. Matters improved when the excited multitude
were at length persuaded that one representative of each family
sufficed to conduct negotiations in respect of their right to vegetate.
No storekeeper could supply more than the exact quantity specified in a
"permit," nor dare he refuse to sell on a false plea.

All these drastic changes were the outcome of the Colonel's
proclamation. His action was pronounced grossly unconstitutional. What
our Rulers meant by it, what such arbitrary interference with the
liberty of the stomach portended, we could not tell. Some ascribed it to
pure "khaki cussedness"; others maintained that the Military aimed at
stretching the duration of the Siege to six months--that they might be
lifted by a short cut to promotion. Such were our views of collectivism;
and if the Military left ear did not tingle it must have been
frost-bitten.

Mr. Rhodes liked the latest inscription on the Statute book as little as
anybody else. On Thursday he contributed one thousand pounds to the
Widows' and Orphans' Fund. We liked this liberality, and there was a
consensus of opinion that the _Colossus was_ a "wonder." During the day
a Despatch Rider brought him a bundle of newspapers, which he rather
indiscreetly handed to the _Advertiser_, to dole out at retail rates on
sheets of notepaper. Thus 'news much older than our ale went round'--but
no; the papers were dated only three weeks back, and we had had no ale
for at least a month. Any intelligence of the outside world, however,
was interesting (save what we read of Belmont). The details of Buller's
repulse at the Tugela did not make good reading. What we read of streams
of transports laden with troops was better; as also was the item that
Warren--who knew much of Boer wiles--was steering through the Karoo. We
took it that he was to join Methuen, but were afterwards annoyed to
learn that his destination was Natal. The situation in Natal appeared to
be serious. Still, our opinions of our spoonfeeders remained unaltered;
we still assumed that they suppressed or minimised the seriousness of
things in Kimberley. Our attitude was perhaps uncharitable, and
deserving of the rope--of half-hanging at least; but the weather was so
hot; we felt so hungry and thirsty. There was no need to starve us, to
deny us bread; we believed that we might be safely granted a slice or
two more--until the British flag was hoisted in Pretoria. We had, it is
true, rather hugged the delusion that it would have been up for
Christmas Day. But even in the light of that error of judgment we could
appreciate the puerility of conserving supplies as if the dogs of war
were to go on barking until doomsday.

A special meeting of the City Council was held in the afternoon; and
although opinions were divided as to the precise form its protest
against the new order of things should take, nobody doubted that it was
for such a purpose the meeting was convened. We were all wrong. It was
simply resolved at the Town House to wish the Queen a Happy New Year;
and thereby demonstrate not only the unswerving loyalty of her distant
subjects, but their _sang froid_ also in days of stress and danger. It
was an excellent idea; the taking off of hats to the Queen was general.
The Colonel signalled to Lord Methuen; that gentleman communicated with
Sir Alfred Milner; and he in turn cabled Kimberley's sentiments to Her
Majesty. There was no mention of the bread; it was an omission; but it
might have sounded "conditional," irrelevant, or even have detracted
from the value of our good wishes; and it was hardly worth risking being
suspected of loyalty to one's bread--unbuttered! Besides, our friend the
enemy (the Colonel, not the Boer) personally supervised the despatch of
messages, and he was quite artful enough to suppress reference to eating
matters if he thereby served the "Military Situation."

Friday was quiet--in the cannonading line; the wind and dust were
bellicose enough. Fodder was scarce, and the animal creation was sharing
with us the privations of a siege. Hundreds of horses were turned out to
"grass." To be reduced to dependence on Karoo grass was a sad fate for
the poor quadrupeds. On a billiard table they could have feasted their
eyes at least on green; but the veld could not offer even that ocular
consolation. Hay and straw were at a premium; the "fighting" horses had
first call, and they were numerous enough to make hard the lot of the
steeds of peace. The poor cart horses were sadly neglected; it was
pitiful to behold their protruding ribs, their forlorn looks. Every sort
of garbage was raked up to keep them alive--second-hand straw hat mashes
being the most notable repasts in vogue. Cab-men were obliged to descend
from their boxes and face the dignity of labour with a pick and shovel.
The dearth of fodder brought down the prices of beasts, and
thenceforward they were sold for songs--ditties to the tune of thirty
shillings. Half-a-dozen horses were on one occasion sold for seven
pounds--animals that were worth a great deal more each. The purchasers
took risks of course. But the booming of cannon was still to be heard in
the land--it boomed all the afternoon--and the possibility of keeping
the quadrupeds alive until the Column came to the rescue was not yet
despaired of.

Saturday was the seventy-seventh day of our investment, with relief not
yet in sight. True, it was within hearing; but so it had been three
weeks before, on Magersfontein day. We were weary of this interminable
thunder, which showed us no results. Colonel Kekewich was as reticent as
ever. Of guesswork there was plenty. Had Methuen not had time
sufficiently to augment his forces to cut his way through. The troops
were in the country; we were placated with the information that they
were "falling over one another in Cape Town." This comforting gem
glittered less in our minds as the days sped past, and the prospects of
a speedy liberation receded correspondingly. The delay was to us
incomprehensible. We fell back on our old theory, that the more
protracted the Siege the greater the fame and honour for the men to
whose 'prentice hands had been committed the destinies of a free
community. It was hard to believe that these armed martinets could play
with their responsibilities in such a crisis. Did they realise its
gravity? Were facts being witheld? Was the true and actual condition of
the city as regards provisions and the contingencies to which their
scarcity might lead--were these things being properly represented to the
public and to Sir Redvers Buller? In our wisdom we feared not.
Scepticism and suspicion, born of disappointment, were in our hearts.
Our conclusions may not have been sound; we lacked a proper knowledge of
the difficulties confronting the army; but we _did_ feel that if the
real state of affairs had been explicitly indicated to the
Commander-in-Chief, a column would have reached Kimberley sooner. We
were not so far away from Orange River, where thousands of troops had
been massing for weeks. We were not so far _out_ of the way as Mafeking.
Nor were we like the defenders of Ladysmith entombed within towering
kopjes. No; to snap _our_ bonds was a relatively easy task. Little
provision had been made for a prolonged investment, and we had fifty
thousand stomachs to cater for. So much was plain. If Kimberley were to
be sacrificed to the "interests," forsooth, of the campaign, British
honour would be tarnished. Such a procedure would be not only brutal,
but a tactical blunder as well. We felt strongly that the relief of
Kimberley was an indispensable preliminary to success, and, by reason of
our proximity to the Free State border, the way that would soonest bring
the war to a successful issue--

But hark! Wherefore that wild halloo. Ah, there was news, charming news.
Lord Roberts had set sail for South Africa, to take over supreme
command. Hurrah for good old "Bobs!" We felt instinctively, or somehow,
that the little General could be trusted to dig for diamonds. The news
of "Bobs" made a chink in the cloud and disclosed its silver lining.
Kitchener, who accompanied Lord Roberts as Chief of Staff, had shown in
his generation some skill as a pioneer of deserts; the Karoo would be
child's play to him. The Soudan was a region in which our interest was
rather academic; but the killing of the Khalifa was announced and
applauded with the rest. Oom Paul's political extinction would soon
follow, and Kimberley would emerge with a whoop from captivity.



CHAPTER XII

_Week ending 6th January, 1900_

The last day of the year and the distant thunder of artillery burst upon
us simultaneously. That the peace of the Sabbath should be broken by
music not exactly sacred (or melodious) was strange. The old year would
be rung out in a few hours, in company with our Utopian expectations.
All our hopes of a rare New Year were, like our Christmas phantasies,
dashed to the ground. The morrow promised to be rare enough in a
melancholy sense, but it would not be New Year's Day. There was but one
ray of comfort to sustain us, namely, the approach of the hero of
Candahar; for although a certain period of waiting had yet to be
endured--ere _another_ famous march could be accomplished--the coming of
Roberts disposed us to think kindly of Job. At the same time we prayed
that the need for patience would not last too long. Any nonentity--be he
General or Private--who could bring relief to Kimberley would eclipse
the fame of a bigger man than "Bobs."

Passing by the Town Hall one could not fail to be struck by the contrast
between its desolate appearance on Sunday afternoon and the bustle of
its precincts on week days. The building had only recently been erected
and was situated in the centre of the Market Square. The Square itself
was an exceptionally spacious one, and the Hall added an ornament to
the city, which was the more imposing and conspicuous in that it
practically stood alone as such. It was a magnificent structure, quite
new, as I have stated; but it probably saw more wear and tear during the
Siege than it would otherwise have seen in the course of half a century.
A few days prior to our investment the building had been completed, and,
immediately after, a two days' holiday had been proclaimed by the
Municipal Authorities--dear old servants of the people! No Czar's writ
ran in Kimberley then. Amid the plaudits of the democracy the Hall had
been duly declared "open." The Mayor, in the blazing dignity of his
Magisterial robes, surrounded by the wealth and intelligence of the
city, had delivered an historical address. The Councillors had followed,
and the several ex-Mayors since the year of one had expatiated
felicitously on the architecture of the "Ornament," the merits of the
architect, and the enterprise of the contractors. "There was a sound of
revelry by night"--for two consecutive nights. Two awfully fancy dress
balls were given; and had the shade of the Duchess of Richmond waltzed
from the heavens to the waxed floor of the hall, it would have assumed
flesh and blood again on beholding the picturesque costumes of every age
and court presented to its spectral view. I will not prolong a
description of those halcyon days of Municipal splendour in these of
common khaki. Let it suffice to add that the "lamps shone o'er fair
women and brave men." The "cannon's opening roar" was soon to be heard
in the land; but all unmindful of the nation of farmers the
"shopkeepers" tripped it on the toe.

Well, we were besieged; and the great Hall was adapted to very
different uses. It was made headquarters. Within its walls the Town
Guard were formally "sworn in," and supplied with hats, rifles,
bandoliers, and ammunition. Hundreds of distressed refugees congregated
there, for one of the Offices of the building had been transformed into
a benevolent grocery shop, presided over by benevolent ladies. There
also did mass some thousands of natives to gather their picks and
shovels and pay. The Town Hall was the pivot round which revolved all
sorts and conditions of men. Overrun inside and outside by roadmakers,
citizen soldiers, and municipal officers (whose military dignity had
raised their souls above scavenging), it was bad enough. But when the
rich and poor of all classes and sexes were forced to join in the
scramble for a bit to eat, it was worse. Until the "permit" system had
come into vogue, money could buy much (of what was going); but the
"permit" system lowered mammon to his rightful level. Money for the
moment had lost its value; a "permit" was all-important--even Croesus
himself would have starved without one. To procure these useful scrips
all sorts of formalities had to be entered into, and the amount of time
lost in waiting to prove one's right to live was provocative of many an
oath, at the expense of the British army. Kafirs, coolies, Europeans of
all nations, the wealthy the poor, and the lowly--all struggled to
procure the precious "permit," as if they were at all hazards determined
to gain one week's respite before finally succumbing to hunger's pangs.
It must be owned that the work was carried on more smoothly when the
black sheep were separated from the white, and when different days were
assigned for attending to the residents of each of the respective wards
into which the town was divided. The incompetence of the military in
civil affairs added to the grievances of the people; complaint against
the administration of the "Law" was as loud as the clamour against the
"Law" itself. The bother entailed in the procuring of authority to
purchase food, and in the purchase of it, was extreme. The food was not
worth it; but life is precious (or was then), and one had in a very
literal sense to live. A man had sometimes to stand from six to eight
o'clock in the morning to buy his paltry bit of offal, hoof, or fat, as
the case might be, and after he had rested on his feet for two hours his
turn would come to draw his miserable allowance--if somebody else had
not drawn it for him. Such accidents happened often enough to make a
good many foreswear meat altogether. Usually, however, the unfortunate
would be consoled with a "precedence ticket"--for next day! so that he
could live on the certainty of a succulent morrow. From ten o'clock to
four might be passed in waiting for one's grocery ticket; and, finally,
from four to six could be whiled away at the crowded store in a frantic
effort to catch the State assistant's eye. Oh, it was a happy epoch in
our lives--an epoch during which vows were registered against being "let
in" for such happiness again, or against living it through while a 'bare
bodkin' was left unconfiscated.

It was the last day of the year, with nothing to elate us but the coming
of Bobs. Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; ours were so ill that but
for Bobs they must have ceased to beat. It was disconcerting to learn
that Warren was in Natal, for it had been stated that Methuen was merely
waiting Sir Charles to join him ere again attempting to fight his way to
Kimberley.

New Year's Day! New Year's Day, indeed! Our Scotchmen sighed. Black tea
for breakfast on New Year's Day was too much for them, and not a few of
them (and others) felt constrained to take kopje dew instead. They drank
brandy--so labelled in the tavern, but more widely notorious as
"lyddite" in the town. Brandy had crimes committed in its name, and
lyddite was a happy and appropriate appellation. Even _vinegar_ could
not counteract the effects of lyddite (i.e. bottled lyddite). As for the
materials used in the manufacture of this explosive, well--necessity is
the mother of invention; and the invention was well protected. It was
only noted that methylated spirits and certain chemicals were scarce;
and a suspicion prevailed that these were lyddite ingredients--a
suspicion which afterwards proved to be well-founded when publicans were
prosecuted for using them as such. One of the peculiarly lamentable
features of the Siege was a certain tendency on the part of men, who
drank little or nothing in normal times, to dissipate in desperation on
this unique brand of brandy.

It was dry bread with many on New Year's Day. Even syrup was extinct.
Nothing remained, to be taken or left (they were generally left), but a
few jars of treacle. Dripping graced the table, but nobody touched it;
it was too ghastly pale for a substitute, too unctuous for anything. The
poor Native's breakfast was of "mealie-pap" exclusively; and from a
hygienic standpoint he was perhaps better off than any of us.

Many things occurred to make the day interesting, or say, rather, out of
the common; but the palm was easily carried off by the Colonel's "gift."
I have had occasion to allude to the parsimonious action of the military
in curtailing the allowances paid to natives for captured cattle and
thereby paralysing the incentive that usually induces humanity (black or
white) to face danger. This untimely experiment in economics had
discouraged the Natives and practically sent them out on strike. There
were no cattle coming in, and so the Colonel thought it would be a good
thing to reduce our meat ration from half a pound to a _quarter_, and
that of little boys and girls with capacious stomachs to two ounces! I
must leave to the imagination of the reader the effect of this
proceeding on the part of the man who made and administered Martial Law.
The promulgation of the half-pound regulation had been resented as an
injustice; but now the "Military Situation" demanded a still more
drastic fast. The Military _regime_ became more and more unpopular; it
was declaimed against with finer gusto and eloquence. The new enactment
was too much even for the "Law's" apologists; it alienated their
sympathies, and afforded them excuse and opportunity to associate
themselves at last with the rightful indignation of their
fellow-citizens. As for Kekewich, we--or as many of us as might survive
his snacks--determined that he should be made explain himself to the
Queen. It was a glad New Year altogether, with every probability of its
gladness continuing "all the year round."

As if he had got wind of the Colonel's _coup_, and looked on it as a
menace to the success of _his own_ starvation policy, the Boer (on
Tuesday) by way of expediting things opened fire on the cattle at
Kenilworth. A supreme effort was made to wipe them out. The effort was
futile; the cows chewed the cud under fire with inimitable nonchalance,
while the goats, our whiskered pandoors, with fine satire sagaciously
cocked their horns. Not that we cared. The non-success of the
bombardment was if anything disappointing (I say it advisedly). What
substantial difference was there between four ounces of ox's "neck" and
nothing at all. None to speak of. Besides, we suspected the law-givers,
who doubtless deemed themselves, like royalty, above the "Law." Did not
the Colonel represent the Queen? Nay, more; could he not exclaim with
the great Imari in the play, "It is the 'Law,' _I_ made it so." In short
we had a notion that the Colonel and his staff did not _weigh_ their
_own_ rations. So that if the Boers had succeeded in slaughtering the
cattle there would have been satisfaction in the thought that the
military had had to suffer with the rest and been served right indeed.
Eggs were too expensive, to be thought of; two shillings each (egg) was
their market value in the New Year. They were fresh of course, beyond
yea or nay they were fresh (since none could be imported); and to be
_sure_, absolutely sure, of that was delightful--to millionaires and
roost-keepers. The exactions of the local egglers formed the subject of
much adverse criticism, but they excused their medicinal charges on the
plea that they had nothing save eggs to sell.

Soon after the issue of the new four ounce edict a learned doctor
delivered a public lecture and eloquently assured us that we ate _too
much_ meat! He urged us to eat less of it, for our health's sake. Now,
the doctors of the Diamond City were hard worked during the Siege; so
much so that they were still allowed (by special arrangement) the
half-pound ration. This was right and proper. But there was none the
less a piquant irony in the principles of a propagandist who was eating
twice as much beef as anyone else and could stand up to utter precepts
so strikingly at variance with his practice! The good doctor no doubt
knew that new-laid missiles were too costly, and too _fresh_, to be
thrown away; but he deserved them; the audience did not say so; but
their eyes blazed kindly.

On Wednesday sports were held at Beaconsfield to cheer up the children
of the township. Sweets, ginger-beer, and tea (neat) were served out,
and were relished by the little ones who were too young to be
particular. It may be said that cricket, football, and smoking concerts
went on as usual, though how the players and the comic songsters managed
to spare wind (on the diet) for such strenuous recreation is a mystery.
Football on four ounces of fat was a strain. No doubt our open air life
did some of us a world of good, and in many instances it was not easy to
recognise in a bronzed civilian soldier the erstwhile sallow clerk or
shop-assistant.

It was at this stage of our travail that the Basuto Chief (Lerothodi)
followed up the fashion of the day by launching a proclamation of his
own which commanded all his people to return at once to Basutoland. Now,
we had shut up with us in Kimberley some thousands of this worthy
tribe. They received their Chief's command and set about preparing for
instant departure, with the Colonel's blessing. We white folk were not
at all sure that the Boers would be so gracious with _their_ blessing.
The process of starving us into submission was in full swing (and
succeeding, alas! but too well). It was thus obvious that a reduction so
substantial in the gross total of stomachs to be catered for would not
tend to starve us the sooner. But the enemy did not deem it politic to
attempt the task of driving Basutos and Britons to the sea together. The
sympathies of the powerful Basuto chief were not on their side, and it
would have been unwise to have risked offending him. So it was that the
natives were permitted to pass unmolested to the kraals of their
childhood. The enemy did not like it--any more than did King John when
he signed the Great Charter--but it had to be.

In the meantime some news had come in to which the Colonel was pleased
to give publicity. It was astonishing all the trifling tit-bits we did
hear; and they occasionally excited interest--until discovered to be of
home manufacture--the distinctive work of local genius. On this
occasion, however, the tit-bit was "Official," and to the effect that
the rebels at Douglas had been routed by the Canadian volunteers. This
was gratifying; we blamed the rebels for our own beleagured state, and
the moral lesson of the rout at Douglas might hasten the discomfiture of
the gentlemen who surrounded us. I have yet to learn that it did in any
shape or form.

It was triumphantly proclaimed in the afternoon that our patrols had
brought in a host of Republican cattle; and when almost simultaneously
with this announcement _two_ proclamations were issued from Lennox
Street, it was more than hoped, it was assumed, that the meat ordinance
was to be relaxed. But it was not so. The first of these monuments to
circumlocution had a final rap at the canteen. There were a few bars and
canteens outside the barriers of the town; the Colonel said they should
be closed, and closed they were--the proprietors, strange to say,
assenting with a will. This alacrity was not consistent with their
earlier diatribes against military despotism; but the fact was that
since "lyddite" had been found out the experts were chary of making it,
and the public still more chary of drinking it. There was some risk in
selling it, too, so--clear the course for the "Law."

The second proclamation was all of wax and tallow. It commanded that all
lights must in future be extinguished at half-past nine. We were thus
considerately given half an hour to undress and lie reading books in bed
after having been turned away from a perusal of the stars. We might have
liked a little time for supper--but what am I saying!--there were no
suppers; at least nobody was expected to commit a capital offence. But
such miscreants existed, and kept their heads. It must in fairness be
explained that they were for the most part possessors of obstinate hens
that _would not_ lay eggs. Eggs were firm at twenty-five shillings a
dozen, and the hen that remained so contemptuous of mammon, so
unredeemed by cupidity, so unmoved by the "golden" opportunity, most
certainly deserved death. Therefore it was that an odd tough member of
the feathered tribe was now and then discussed in secret. There was
little conviviality about these gatherings assembled in back rooms where
the light could burn with impunity. The unsuspecting night-patrol would
pass blindly by, oblivious of the illegally illuminated junket within.

But indeed it must be confessed that few people took seriously the wax
and tallow proclamation. The boarding-house keepers, of course,
championed it and its author's wisdom (for reasons)--with a zeal that
contrasted strangely with their condemnation of grander enactments.
Landladies apart, however, the populace pooh-poohed the Gilbertian
decree. Some regarded it as a mere precaution against a surprise visit
from the Boers. But this was wrong, for the proclamation permitted the
use of electric and acetylene lights at all hours. It was purely an
economic question with the Colonel. Cynics opined that we should later
on be offered the tallow to eat; and that the prohibition of the use of
starch in our linen would be the precursor of some _stiff_ emergency
rations. The public, I say, disregarded the candle law, and the night
patrol was kept busy dotting down in the light of the moon the numbers
of a thousand houses. Unfortunately for the ends of Justice (!) the
transgressors were so outrageously numerous that the heavy undertaking
of arraigning half the city was not thought feasible. Only a few
particularly refulgent "criminals" were hauled up and fined. Where
sickness darkened a house the "Law" allowed a candle to light it, the
whole night, if necessary, and invalids were accordingly as thick as
leaves in Vallombrosa! An epidemic of all the ills that flesh is heir
to raged in the land. Hypochondriacs moaned with their tongues in their
cheeks in the presence of the prying night-patrol. Fevers flourished;
multitudes were prostrated by influenza; the _pleura_ played the devil
with innumerable lungs. Anybody who was not a malingerer was voted a
fool, an altruist. A magistrate, commenting on the great plague and the
manner in which the majesty of the "Law" (the majesty of Martial Law!)
was being outraged, averred that from his own doorstep every night at
eleven o'clock he gazed at hundreds of illuminated houses. It was true;
and we used to wonder which his worship was--an invalid, an altruist, or
an owl!

We held a position at Otto's Kopje from which our men occasionally made
things unpleasant for the Kamfers Dam Laager. The Boers, naturally, did
not like this, and they in turn sometimes harassed the defenders of the
kopje. But Kamfers Dam was shortly to be made quake, for it had just
leaked out that a gigantic gun was in course of construction at the De
Beers workshops; that men who knew their business were sweating at it
day and night. Opinions were much divided as to the probable utility of
this instrument. Some were disposed to pity the poor Boers when it was
ready for action, while others were not less inclined to lament the fate
of the poor Briton who would sit behind it, to get blown to pieces by a
botched piece of mechanism. The withering criticisms passed on this
prospective product of De Beers were anything but re-assuring. It was
useless to try to impress on the morbid critic that there were skilled
Woolwich men engaged in the manufacture of the gun. The argument would
be crushed by that expressive figure, "rats!" The scorn with which
these rodents were slung by the tail in the face of anyone who believed
in "Long Cecil" (the gun had been so named out of compliment to Mr.
Rhodes) was conclusive. Where was the necessary material to come from?
Oh, De Beers had the material, the optimist would reply. But optimists,
once so ubiquitous, were now as rare as radium. Our prophets had for
their reputations' sake altered their tactics. Experience had taught
them that the roseate view of things was the least likely to be sound,
and they now revelled in predictions of an otto--_not_ of roses. They
prepared us, with a vengeance, for the worst. "To-morrow" was ever to be
a day of tragic enormity for Kimberley. The local _Armageddon_ was to
begin (daily) at day-break; the enemy's guns were always being
augmented; the town was to be razed to the ground, and, unless surrender
was prompt, all its inhabitants with it. Thus did a spirit of
despondency continue to depress the people and the prospect of
emancipation grow dimmer and dimmer.

Besides the prophets of evil there was a set of cynics who sneered at
all things, the incapacity of the Town Guard, its Officers, etc. For a
long time the favourite boast of these gentlemen was that they had
refused commissions in the Town Guard. It was true; and it is worth
recalling why. At the beginning of the Siege little coteries were
formed, "rings" were established, private meetings held--at which
gatherings it was settled who was to be Captain of this Section, who
Lieutenant of that, and so forth. All these matters were amicably fixed
up, to the satisfaction of all concerned--including the vintner. It was
assumed that the scale of pay would, as in the Regular Army, be in
accordance with rank. The consideration was of course a minor one; but
still the disgust of the coteries was profound when it was announced
that the Imperial allowances to Town Guards were to be uniform; that a
Captain was to receive for his services no more and no less than a
Private. It was a disconcerting sequel to some skilful wire-pulling, and
the martial ardour of the wire-pullers dropped in a trice to _zero_.
Their dignity demanded their resignations, and their dignity's ruling
was bowed to. These injured people would not be led into action by a raw
volunteer; and they confided to every ear that would hear that the
citizen soldiers could be trusted in a crisis--to shoot each other! But
imagine the discomfiture of these veterans when at a later stage an army
order, retrospective in its operation, was issued which cancelled the
original monetary conditions of service for Officers and
non-commissioned Officers, and increased the rates of pay to which their
respective ranks entitled them. This order was only less effective than
a bombshell in crushing a dignity already injured; and the gusto with
which the Colonel and the Civil Commissioner were relegated to Connaught
was excusable.

A good deal of rumbling was heard on Friday; it might have been thunder,
or perchance artillery. Some said it was nature; others that it was
guns' work. But nobody seemed to think that it mattered a great deal. We
had grown tired of noise, nothing but noise. The whistle of the armoured
train, which kept patrolling the line (the bit that was left of it) was
more interesting, sometimes an innocent soul would allow his fancy to
beguile him into hoping that the whistle portended the approach of a
Cape Town train, with food and mail-bags, and he would march off to the
station on desperate speculation to meet it.

In pursuance of an idea which had long occupied his thoughts the Colonel
despatched a mounted force to cross the border into Free State
territory--at which we could look across with the naked eye. What good
purpose the visit was to serve was not obvious; but it was attributed to
a desire on the Colonel's part to win the distinction of being the
_first_ to invade the enemy's territory. At any rate, the distinction
_was_ won. The men had not far to travel; and they did not go far when
they crossed over, for the Oliphantsfontein camp blocked the way. The
Boers were awake, but the audacity of the raid would appear to have
deprived them for the moment of their visual senses. The Light Horse
drew quite close ere the propriety of halting was suggested to them. The
suggestion was naturally expected to issue in the first instance from
the cannon's mouth; but the guns said nothing, and their silence
emboldened our fellows to persist in their breach of etiquette until
they made a startling discovery, namely, that the guns had been removed.
This unexpected slice of luck so inspired the invaders that they
advanced rapidly and drove out the enemy, whose resistance was feeble. A
general inspection followed; the pantries and cupboards of the houses
around were the objects of a special scrutiny, but not a bone, not an
egg, not a crust was found! In one house a Boer lance with a white rag
for pennon was picked up. This curio was carried back to town, and
ultimately became the property of an enterprising curiosity
shop-keeper, who cut artistic bullet holes in the pennon with his
scissors--thereby adding largely to its curiousness. The bullets that
made the holes were also a good line, and "sold" well (in fact,
everybody). Nothing else occurred to make Friday noteworthy.

Saturday completed the round dozen weeks of siege life. How many more
were to follow? Alas! our seers were discredited. They were silent; but
hollow though time had branded their vaticinations the silence of the
seers was not exactly golden. The prevailing pessimism was
heart-breaking. At a critical stage, when a cheerful optimism was almost
essential to the preservation of one's mental balance, we were
tactlessly stuffed with the "lone lorn" lamentations of a Mrs. Gummidge.
But Roberts was coming, and he was a "great" soldier--far greater than
Wellington, or even Napoleon (a mere Corsican!) We hungered for news of
his plans. Roberts, we took it, was not the man to sanction the alleged
intentions of his subordinates--the callous mediocrities who would let
Kimberley work out its own salvation. It was reported at this time--for
the better security of our peace of mind--that a grand march was to be
made on Bloemfontein, while Kimberley was to live on air and fight away.

In the afternoon a balloon appeared in the air. It attracted much
attention, and set everybody speculating on what its business in the air
precisely was. Our nautical experts (who had been at sea for three weeks
anyhow) opined that it was "steering" for the Diamond Fields. It must
have collided with a "Castle," for it never came into port.

Balloons, indeed, were seen very often, and a great deal of time was
devoted to the study of their movements. In the silence of the night a
practical joker would rush out with a field-glass in his hand and shout
"balloon!" at the top of his voice. The desired effect--of bringing the
whole street out of bed to see the balloon--was easily produced. The
star-gazers would thus spend an hour or so minutely examining all the
stars in the firmament in their endeavours to select the one that most
resembled a balloon. This was not easily done--the stars being much
alike to the stupid naked eye--but they would near the point of
agreement on the question; and then the confounded night-patrol would
come along with his gun, and the observers would have to rush for the
cover of their blankets. When it was thought that the patrol had passed
two thousand yards there would be a general sneak back to begin over
again the search for the needle in the great haggard of the heavens.
Everybody had his or her own particular planet to minimise. The
brightest planets were naturally the more general choice, albeit
distance might in the circumstances be expected to lend a dimness to the
view. _Venus_ was essentially a very nice balloon; numbers swore by
_Jupiter_; _Mercury_ had a heavy following. _Taurus_ was indeed a
"Bull"; and Mars! talk of _Mars_ being inhabited; we identified its
inhabitants as being necessarily British. There were _thirteen_ signs in
the _Zodiac_. Anybody who called a star a star was called an ass.
"_That's_ no star," your exasperated kinsman would retort, "do you take
me for a blind fool." And it only required a fixed, steady gaze of ten
minutes, without winking, to convince the most sceptical that it was
indeed "no star"; that it did "move"; that it was "too large" for a
star; that it was absurd to consider it _not_ a balloon. The _Milky Way_
(as per diverse opinions) was one vast creamery of balloons, undiluted
by the "poetry of heaven!" In fine, among all the things that twinkled
there were only some half dozen that hushed the voice of controversy. It
was certain there remained at least five luminaries, five unmistakable
stars, to wit, the Southern Cross. Paul Kruger once expressed
astonishment that the British had not annexed the moon, if it were
inhabited. Well, the moon, though there is a man in it, was, shall I
say, too large, too obviously itself, to deceive the Imperial eye. We
left the recluse in the moon alone, to smile in dreary solitude;
interference with him would spoil the moonshine.



CHAPTER XIII

_Week ending 13th January, 1900_


The rumour-monger and the quidnunc--to whom only brief allusion has so
far been made--had come to be regarded as distinct public nuisances. I
have hitherto refrained from commenting often on the actions and the
utterances of these monomaniacs in our midst. Any attempt to summarise
their mendacities would be foredoomed to failure; the output of rumours
would exceed the limits of an ordinary tome. There were indeed some
enterprising spirits who did embark upon the task of collecting these
rumours, but they dropped it in despair, before economy in foolscap was
even thought of. These fanciful canards grew more nauseating as the
Siege advanced in seriousness, until anything in the nature of news was
deemed of necessity a lie. A local scribe, "The Lad," took the romancers
severely to task in a series of pithy articles, which the _Diamond
Fields' Advertiser_--domiciled though it was in a _glass_ house--did not
scruple to publish. The "lovely liar" was hanged, drawn, and quartered.
The "Military critic" was satirised, too; he was the lynx-eyed gentleman
who had detected the Lancers approaching Kimberley at a fast gallop two
hours after the Column had departed from Orange River. We had strained
our eyes for weeks on the strength of that man's eyesight, for 'hope
springs eternal in the human breast.'

But all these far-seeing mortals had fallen discredited from their high
estate; and it was at this pregnant turning point in our fortunes that
the need of a little originality (for their credit's sake) appeared to
strike them. They set themselves to weave a romance as weird, as
diabolical, as their perverted ingenuity could suggest. And a
masterpiece it proved to be.

They began to tell us of horseflesh, to recite legends of how under
conditions similar to ours it had been eaten, positively eaten, in the
past by human beings, who without it would have died, and who _did not_
die when they ate it! For our part, we should have elected to die
first--but I must not anticipate. Gradually and tentatively--just as a
man who saw virtue in cannibalism would hem and haw before he advocated
its practice--the subject of horseflesh was furtively discussed in
whispers, which ultimately developed into audible commentaries in regard
to its odour, taste, and general nutritiousness. A plea for cannibalism
could scarcely encounter fiercer opposition or evoke greater disgust
than did the mere suggestion of horseflesh, even as a last resort, a
possible infliction, an alternative to surrender. In no circumstances
would we tolerate it. The very name of such a diet was revolting to our
conservative tastes, and filled us with horror; it was bad form to
mention it. If the British army ever brought us to such a pass terrible
things would happen; loyalty would be a memory of the digestive past;
wholesale forswearing of allegiance to the Queen would be the patriotism
of the day. Horseflesh indeed! The dish was hounded down as something
too utterly inconsonant with the culinary decencies of civilisation.

So strong and bitter was the feeling against the horseflesh fable--for
fable, our anger notwithstanding, we insisted it was--that thinking
meat-eaters began to look upon it as a bad omen, and to wonder why a
baseless rumour should stir up so much indignation. Tales of this kind,
whether or not they tallied with probability, had come to be
pooh-poohed, to be treated with disdain. Hence it was rather odd that an
anecdote so racy should excite so much ferocity.

Meanwhile, the enemy, unaware of our internal troubles, had placed three
new guns on Wimbleton Ridge. This was ominous; it brought about an
armistice; that is, a cessation of hostilities in the war of words
against Gorle and his hippophagous designs. A bombardment was expected;
and as we might easily have our teeth incapacitated by the shells, the
absurdity of bidding the hoofed gentleman good-day before we met him
gave us pause in our campaign against his friends. But the assault was
directed to Kenilworth; the cannon rattled all day with a view to
killing the cattle sheltered there. Our guns, after a while, took part
in the firing, and when the smoke cleared away the kine were still
there--on their feet. A second contingent of Basutos had taken their
departure in the morning, and as they did not return we presumed they
had passed in safety through the Boer lines. This accommodating spirit,
while their policy of exhaustion was doing so well, must have gone
against the Boer's grain; but then Lerothodi was a sleeping dog; it was
important that he should be let lie.

The vindication of the _fama_ was completed on Monday when horseflesh in
all its naked iniquity was offered for sale, as horseflesh, at the
Washington Market. Its virtual effect was to reduce our meat ration by a
quarter; the authorities with rare consideration refrained from
extremities, and started us with small doses of _one_ ounce added to
three of ox-flesh. Perhaps some credit was due to the military for
horse-feeding us by degrees; but certain it is, they never got it. The
people generally declined to intermix their curtailed rations with
"strange food" of any kind; and the strange food accordingly remained in
the shambles to do service another day--when means could be employed, if
need be, to exorcise the demon of fastidiousness that had taken
possession of us.

Our historians, our booky men, were on Tuesday glib to inform us that
the Siege had now extended to eighty-seven days--the exact duration of
the Siege of Lucknow. The tribulations of Lucknow were comparatively
short and sweet; for our troubles, horseflesh made us feel, were only
about to begin. Our clamour for relief had abated, and, except for an
occasional spasmodic outburst, Methuen was left in peace. Agitation in
the wilderness was futile; it could not hasten emancipation from the
thraldom of Martial Law. We developed a lethargy on the broader
(Imperial) issue. The guns still threshed the air, but with an
increasing feebleness suggestive of the Column's return by easy stages
to Orange River. Our disappointments had been manifold, and whispers
with reference to the ultimate terms of surrender were not uncommon. Not
that there was in any mind a disposition to give in until it was humanly
impossible to hold the fort. But it was coming to that stage. Horseflesh
on the top of other trials had implanted the canker of despair in more
than one sensitive soul. We had a great deal of horseflesh of the tram
and cab kind, and much as the obligations of Empire might induce us to
perform, it was _too_ much to expect us to rise to the occasion on
foreign food. The physical needs of the moment demanded something less
repulsive to the palate. No wonder the gloomy picture of digging
trenches for the Boers obtruded itself on our mental vision. Opinions
conflicted as to the aggregate quantity of meal and flour in the
military stores; most people held the view that it was much less than
was actually the fact. The scarcity of fodder, too, was felt acutely,
and necessitated the curtailment of the tram and cab services. More
horses had to be unharnessed and sent out to graze on the veld!--to
live, as it were, on their wits. It was even rumoured that some Indian
members of the community were inviting tenders for a supply of cats, and
were prepared to pay for them as much as two shillings per puss. No
evidence, however, in support of this tale from the Hills was
forthcoming; nor was it in any event likely to prove a remunerative
venture, since _rabbit pie_--ever a convertible term--would be the last
delicacy to inspire trust where _all_ animal food was suspect.

In the afternoon, two visitors entered the city. One had little to tell,
but the other made amends for his companion's taciturnity with a
graphic, Othellonian description of the dangers he had passed, and his
wondrous experiences for many days and nights. He had, it appeared, a
regard for Mr. Rhodes, (who is less popular in the Free State than in
Kimberley), and the Government across the border had arraigned him on
the charge of being "a Rhodes man" (whatever that is). For this high
crime and misdemeanour he had been sentenced to three years'
imprisonment. But the Rhodes man resented the injustice, and, with his
friend, contrived to escape. After a series of peripatetic adventures
they were more dead than alive when the head-gear of De Beers burst upon
their view. The spectacle revivified them, and with a desperate rally
they crawled undetected through the Boer lines, to an asylum in which
they were glad to find even horseflesh to eat.

Wednesday was in no way eventful; lassitude had gripped the people. This
was the more noticeable in that our friends outside appeared to be
uncommonly vigorous. They devoted great attention to their redoubts, to
strengthening them, and conducted themselves like men who were sanguine
of the fall of Kimberley. They bombarded us lightly in the afternoon, on
the chance of stretching _hors-de-combat_ a unit of the garrison--not
more than one or two, as they had no special desire to prejudice the
appeal they felt sure we must soon make for food. They did not want that
consummation delayed a moment longer than was necessary. It would leave
them free to establish railway communication between Kimberley and
Bloemfontein; they had such a scheme in contemplation.

All these things, however, were now of secondary interest; it was the
horseflesh peril that held the field. The masses were still determined
never to submit to such an ordinance on the eve of the twentieth
century; the innovation was too horrible. But the military, undaunted
by popular opposition, were bent on making the horse acceptable; and
their next move was to _equalise_ the proportions of the two species
that constituted a ration. The effect of this little twist of the screw
was to reduce our meat ration (nobody allowed that horseflesh was meat!)
to two ounces. The ounces from the ribs of the tougher animal were left
severely alone--by the majority of the people. On the other hand,
controversialists of strong anti-vegetarian views were forced to
experiment. Their verdicts differed. Some of them knew a _little_ about
cooking, and _they_ were "not surprised." Others, who knew nothing of
cooking, re-harnessed the horse at once; while a third school, expert in
the culinary art, triumphantly overcame their prejudices, but were
afraid openly to smack their lips. Unanimous approval or toleration was
never forthcoming, and, for myself, I am most inclined to respect the
judgment of the heretics who pronounced the equine dish "as good as the
_meat_ that was going." It was certainly not better, and to make it
universally acceptable it would require to have been very much better.

On one "point" agreement obtained; it was admitted on all sides that the
horse tasted sweet. One might suppose the adjective to be a
recommendation; but it was not so; quite the contrary (the nearer the
bone, etc. does not apply to a saddle of horseflesh). And yet there were
people who liked their _porridge_ sweet! who, after wasting their
allowance of sugar in it, would go running about the streets to borrow a
little sugar for their tea. Had it been practicable to utilise a little
horse-essence for the tea, all would be well. But it would hardly do.
Nobody ventured even to hint at the adoption of such a course to a
neighbour; with borrowing rampant it was undesirable to be on other than
amicable terms with the lady next door.

Time passed, and our antipathy to horseflesh abated not a jot. It did
not improve on acquaintance, we were told by those who tried it, while
the self-respecting persons who would not so demean themselves were no
less bitter in their diatribes. It was useless to argue that the horse
was a "clean" animal. He was deemed too useful, too tough, too sinewy,
too hard-working to be digestible. We could not connect a horse-chop
with what was fit for human consumption. Most of us indulgently spared
the butcher the trouble of weighing it; we preferred--with an air of
dignity--to take the two ounces that civilisation sanctioned, and to
forego the rest. And there were numbers who did not consider it worth
while enduring a certain jostling for the _right_ half of their ration;
it was not worth it--and they might get the _wrong_ half! The meat man
did not like the boycott at all; he wanted to get rid of his surplus
sirloins, and the asceticism of those who preferred to thrive on black
tea enabled him to invite the unparticular people to pick and choose the
rib--the equine rib--they liked best. The authorities, to do them
justice, had acted straightforwardly in differentiating between the two
animals; no deception in the way of palming off the one for the other
was permitted. But in the confusion things got mixed; and the poor
butcher, who was only human, succumbed in spite of himself to strong
temptation. Whether he was governed by the motive of doing a little
wrong for sake of a great right is beside the question. The great right
was done. In veterinary circles the meat dispenser was relished as a
rather daring "perverter," while hundreds of smart people began to enjoy
their _pseudo_-beef. And when afterwards informed of the "mistake" they
did not seem to care, but went on serenely pandering to the butcher's
genial ambidextrousness.

On Thursday a good many shells fell in the neighbourhood of Scholtz's
Nek. With an energy which few had hitherto been disposed to give him
credit for possessing, the enemy continued to engross himself in
establishing, as it were, a fixity of tenure. This growing feeling of
security which animated our friends was most depressing. True, it was
something to hear that the Boers at Ladysmith had been repulsed with
heavy loss--if it were true. It was something; but it was not much.
Privations had developed our bumps of Provincialism; the claims of
Empire took a secondary place, as also did the fortunes of Ladysmith.
One authority stated that forty-five thousand Boers had been killed or
wounded in Natal. But these figures, to be correct, would necessarily
have embraced the warriors outside Kimberley--who were much alive! The
figures were afterwards reduced to four, and eventually to two. But
these important amendments were not proposed and carried for weeks after
the events to which they related, by which time we were so deep in the
slough of despond over something else that we could not sink deeper. We
were still in the dark as to the progress of the campaign. No accurate
accounts of the disasters, mishaps, and reverses that marked its opening
stages were placed before us. Brief and garbled references to
Stormberg, Colenso, and Nicholson's Nek were allowed by "Law" to
illumine the columns of the Press--getting lightly treated as trifles of
no consequence. There existed a small, astute minority who hazarded
unpleasant opinions of these "trifles." Our Teutonic friends candidly
expressed the view that England, to save her Empire, must shortly sue
for peace; but though they were just as anxious as anybody else to see
the Column come in, too much weight was not attached to what foreign
fellows said. The _Advertiser_, too, though ever sanguine in its
editorial columns, was sometimes indiscreet in its humour. It gave us,
for example, an anecdote anent the utterances of a certain prominent
Boer, which was in no wise calculated to allay the unrest prevalent
since Magersfontein. The Boers, he said, were willing to make peace at
their own price, and that price included a full recognition of their
Independence, an indemnity of twenty millions of money, and a perquisite
in the shape of Natal for the Transvaal. For the Free State it was
stipulated that the border should be widened to admit Kimberley back to
the fold. These were extravagant terms; they were amusing, as amusement
goes--or might go in the ordinary trend of things. But when coupled with
other symptoms--the misfortunes of the army, the reticence of the
authorities, the uncanny demureness of the fourth estate--they were not
conducive to peace of mind. Had there been aught that was good to tell
it would have been proclaimed with glowing candour; the "new diplomacy"
would have exercised its sway in riotous triumph. The Military, it was
conceded, knew everything. Unanimity obtained on that point. But it
stopped there. On the question of the Colonel's reticence, its cause,
effect, wisdom, or unwisdom, discord was rife. Acute ones had hit the
nail on the head, but they could not drive it home. Every man, or set of
men, had his or their own peculiar theory to expound. The army, some
said, was marching on Bloemfontein with a view to expediting our relief
by forcing the Boer back to defend his own State. Against this it was
maintained that Kimberley was outside the _ambit_ of the army's high and
mighty consideration. Others argued that the Colonel's policy of "mum"
was mainly intended as a protest against the traffic in "Specials." We
were all weary; the strain was weakening our mental faculties; the most
sensible and philosophic cherished the queerest thoughts. As a cynic
observed, one night at _souchong_, it took a siege to test one's
intelligence--and it tried the cynics as much as the non-intellectual.
All honour to those gentlemen--lay and clerical--who by dint of hard
work and in doing good preserved their equilibrium. We had, on Thursday,
an instance of their worth in the establishment of a cook-house to
supply the native population with _cooked_ rations. This was a
praiseworthy innovation, for wood and such fuel as _Mars_ permitted to
be combustible were extremely scarce. The native had been cured of his
weakness for the dismemberment of mahogany; indirectly the cooking-depot
warded off a "relapse," and was altogether an Institution creditable to
its founders.

Friday came and went unmarked by incident of note; but no; we were
told--it was something new to be told anything--that a Cape _dorp_
called Kuruman had thrown up the sponge. The place had been poorly
garrisoned, and the end was not unexpected--in Official quarters. We
protested against the military habit of publishing things we did not
want to know, while all knowledge of more important events was kept
hermetically sealed in one or half a dozen heads. We were not altogether
consistent in this, but--no matter. Saturday wound up the unlucky
thirteenth week of our sorrows. It saw us emaciated, thirsty, and filled
to satiety with the romance of isolation. It found us irascible,
contumacious, with an aptitude for fluent swearing at the tales (of how
light we had grown) unfolded by the weighing-machine. It found us in
lucid intervals conjuring up visions of a beer saturnalia when--alas!
when the barrels were full again. It heard us howling against horseflesh
and the devilish ingenuity of him who discovered a precedent for
roasting it; it heard the chorus, "where is the Column?" and the mocking
echo answering "where!" It heard many divergent opinions as to what the
Column was going to do; some contending that it was waiting to be
re-inforced by the "Sixth Division"; more dictating with fiery rancour
that it was for the "Seventh Division" the Column waited; another
insisting that the "Seventh Division" was operating a thousand miles
away--and _all_ of us knowing about as much of the Sixth or Seventh
Division's movements as Plato did of ping-pong! The need of Army reform
was much felt and talked of. But there was behind this conflict of
tongues a weary but firm determination to keep unfurled at all costs the
flag of no surrender.



CHAPTER XIV

_Week ending 20th January, 1900_

It was an illustration of the people's enduring pluck, this dogged
resolution of no surrender. Not that they felt conscious of any
particular heroism; the thought of capitulation as a means of escape
from discomfort suggested itself to nobody. In moments of mental
depression it might have crossed an ultra-pessimistic mind and been
brooded over as a consummation that no Spartan bravery could enable us
to avert. But to the masses the notion was unthinkable; the idea of
surrender would not bear discussion; it was never discussed. Against
Martial Law as such we did not so much complain; it was an evil, but to
some extent a necessary evil; and however prone we were to find fault,
however scathingly we condemned the machinations of the "Law," or the
stern "will" of its maker, the possibility of yielding to the _other_
enemy was never entertained for one moment. No proposal of the kind was
ever made.

And when it is remembered that the nature and extent of the things they
endured had at this period increased beyond the mere inconveniences of
Siege life, it will be conceded that the citizens of Kimberley played a
worthy part. They saw disease and death busy in their midst; they saw
the natives succumbing to the ravages of scurvy and kindred ills; they
saw sickness playing havoc with the white population; they saw their
families in sore need of the necessities of existence, and young
children--hardest of all--dying from want of nourishment. The infant
mortality was truly heart-rending. It is recorded that thirteen babes
were buried in one day. The authorities had adopted measures to conserve
milk for the young and the invalided, but with only partial success.
When matters were at their worst a further effort was made to induce the
privileged few who could still call their cows their own to send milk to
a central depot for distribution among the children of the poor and
middle classes. And the appeal was not a vain one; the response was
generous; it lessened the mortality. To-day, the men of the Diamond
Fields can look back and laugh at their harsh judgments, their not too
sweet reasonableness towards the "Law" of the land. They acquitted
themselves well on the whole; for an imperturbable spirit covers a
multitude of foibles. The citizens held Kimberley in spite of
everything, and never swerved from the fulfilment of what they felt to
be a sacred duty.

Sunday brought a dreary repetition of a siege Sunday's monotony. The
situation had been discussed threadbare, and there was little else to
converse about. The dust outdoors was blinding, and the people for the
most part dozed over books. That was the cardinal mercy vouchsafed us;
we had books to read, and never were they so ravenously devoured.
Reading was much in vogue; it was a siege innovation--a very good one,
too. Persons who had never hitherto believed in the pleasure to be
derived from books were disillusioned, and driven, as it were, to
cultivate a taste for literature--as men in gaol often are. It may
therefore be set down as portion of the good resulting from evil, this
teaching of people to value mental nourishment. The importance of the
physical variety was only too well understood.

On Monday many shells fell into the west end of the town. Our West End
was not like London's; there were few houses in it, and they were
unoccupied. Mafeking, it was said, had driven back the besiegers, and,
it was added, had "possibly" been relieved from the north ("possibly"
was thought distinctly good). It may have been so; but we did not
believe it. There had all along been a great deal of chopping and
changing anent the position of the Mafeking garrison. We were at one
time told that Mafeking "fell" before our Siege began. We could, and
always did, take a more dispassionate view of Baden-Powell's plight than
we could or would take of our own.

Tuesday morning brought the 'signal sound of strife'; no day brought any
more. The belching of the guns sounded nearer than on the Monday, but
that was small consolation, for it had sounded near and afar off
alternately for many days. There is a modernised game of blind man's
buff in which the blind one is set to find a hidden ping-pong ball, and
is aided in the search by a _fugue_ played on the piano. The nearer she
(or he) approaches the object of her (or his) search the louder grows
the music (the _fugue_) and _vice versa_. It seemed to us that Methuen
not only knew the game but was passionately fond of it. It was our
privilege in the afternoon to behold the twinkling of a balloon. It
being broad daylight the stars were not visible. Still, sceptical
wiseacres refused to come outside to see the sight; they guessed it was
"the sun." A variety of colours were to be seen about the balloon; the
sceptics said it was a rainbow. But there was no mistaking it in the
light of day; the thing was really a balloon. The rumour-monger seized
his opportunity and circulated all over the city that portion of the
Column were visible, or had halted, rather, at Kraalkop, where they
ought to be visible. Kraalkop accordingly was watched intently for eight
and forty hours, but no sign of a human presence rewarded the vigil. The
Boers, meanwhile, evinced no signs of scenting danger from any quarter,
and with their usual nonchalance kept leisurely shying shells at
Kimberley. These missiles were intended probably for the redoubts, as
they fell mainly on the outskirts of the town. They exploded on the hard
roads, and suggested plenty of melancholy speculation as to the precise
number of them that would be needed to double up for ever the entire
population. Fever continued to play havoc with both natives and
Europeans. The Siege was growing warm, insufferably warm, and the
weather that nature gave us was in all conscience hot enough. In our
fourteenth week of hunger and thirst matters were as bad as they could
be--until the meat Directorate proceeded scientifically to confound the
fallacy in their own peculiar way.

The half and half regulation had been in operation some days--a few
eating all they got--others only half of it--more again touching no meat
at all lest they should (horrible thought!) mistake one half for the
other. This state of things did not satisfy the Authorities, and they
proceeded to push the horse--practically down our throats. The feelings
of the civilised citizens of the Diamond City can be better imagined
than described when they read in the daily _bulletin_ at the Washington
Market that they would get--not _all_ horse indeed, but, in the words of
the song, "it was near it." It was decreed that our ration should
henceforth consist of four-fifths horse-flesh and one-fifth meat proper.
This reduced our allowance of solid (familiar) food to less than one
ounce, or in other words to the dimensions of a small cake of tobacco
_minus_ several pipefuls! It may well be doubted whether Gilbert has
ever conceived anything so quaint. I will not dwell on its whimsical
side, nor on the feelings its realism stirred in the breasts of the
suffering multitude. In effect it caused a serious secession from the
ranks of the party who had abstained altogether from horseflesh. For
when it came to a choice between no meat at all on the one side, and
Boer bread and porridge _exclusively_ on the other, it occurred to the
seceders that even horse blood is thicker than water; so they passed
under the yoke of hippophagy with perfect composure. Still the party
that suffered this defection lost neither _prestige_ nor numerical
strength, for the four-fifths' standard made vegetarians of many who had
tolerated--while it lasted--the principle of equal rights, or two ounces
of each animal. A transposition of parties occurred. But none abstained
from opening the floodgates of their wrath on the authors of the latest
_menu_. The authors' apologists, for--tell it not in Gath!--they had
apologists still, argued that there were restaurants in Paris where
cooked horse was a speciality. But special pleading so palpable only
aggravated the prevailing resentment to the dish. There were a great
many customs in Paris equally foreign to our, shall I say, Imperial
ways; together with a plethora of scientific _chefs_ who could
metamorphose anything--rats as well as horses. There were
revolutionaries in France in sufficient numbers to make traffic in
gruesome dietary pay; and plenty of fodder, besides, with which to
"fatten" beasts. All this gammon respecting Continental precedent and
taste was beside the question; it only invited gratuitous vituperation
of the French nation. An ugly feature of the traffic was suggested by
the fact that horses were dying from sheer starvation. The Sanitary
Authorities had become experts in the use of the revolvers with which
they expedited the demise of the poor beasts. Everybody has doubtless
known of the repulsion one feels against partaking of the flesh of a cow
that dies a _natural_ death. All of us, perhaps, have unconsciously
relished it at one time or another, when butchers were above suspicion.
But when it was a question of a horse--well, I will not conjure up the
horror of the situation. The horses used for food were all
_slaughtered_; but the suspicion existed that they might not have been,
and to lay the bogey in minds governing old-fashioned stomachs was not
easy. These old Whigs argued that the meat we ate was "dead" meat, from
"dead" animals (which was indisputable). All this apart, however, it was
manifest even to the devil-may-care fellows who are usually satisfied
with _enough_ of a thing, that the horses were "too thin." The
Authorities kept inviting owners to sell their beasts for "slaughtering
purposes"; good prices were offered for "fat horses." Advertisements
(in huge capitals) to this effect disfigured our newspaper for a long
while, and though we did not regard it as such it was a nice piece of
humour. The "fat" horses were all too few for fighting, and were
reserved for fighting. The artfulness of "slaughtering purposes" can be
appreciated accordingly.

Wednesday was interesting, Colonel Chamier having persuaded Kekewich to
let him off on a little expedition. He took with him a small battery of
guns, a picked force of mounted men (on "fat" horses), and wended his
way towards Alexandersfontein. On the journey he divided his force and
left half of it with a Maxim at a Mr. Fenn's farm. The jolly Boers had
evidently, and not unnaturally, assumed that they had cured us of our
weakness for meanderings. An attack was the last thing they looked for,
and Chamier got well within range of the great camp unobserved. And then
the battle began. The enemy, taken by surprise, suffered much in their
efforts to regain their trenches. In the meantime a large party of Boers
from a neighbouring arc of the circle that encompassed Kimberley were
endeavouring to cut off Chamier's retreat. But it was with tactics of
this sort that the men at Fenn's were instructed to deal; and they did
deal with them, effectually. Unconscious of hidden danger, the
unsuspecting Boers in the course of their operations drew near to the
farm. And it was then, and not till then, that into their midst came a
shower of bullets that spoiled their plans. In the _melee_ a Boer horse
(a plump one) was triumphantly captured and preserved for dissection.
The men shortly afterwards returned to town, having learnt all that they
wanted to learn, and inflicted more damage than they had hoped to
inflict. They were bombarded on the journey home, but their casualities
were nil.

On their entrance into Kimberley they met an enthusiastic baker (with
his breadcart), who was not in a position to confer V.C.'s all round;
but he bombarded each member of the force with something quite as
precious, namely, a loaf of bread. The "regulation" allowance was only a
paltry fourteen ounces, which the lightest of Light Horsemen was capable
of demolishing for breakfast. The generous baker--Martial Law and
proclamations notwithstanding--could not resist the opportunity of
throwing the beam of a good deed on this naughty world; and when he
found he had not sufficient loaves to go round, so far from regretting
his quixotic rashness, he galloped back to his bakehouse for more. It
was a graceful act--reckless, heroic--and the recipients of the dough
were not lacking in gratitude. But, alas! the _Commissariat_ were; they
bristled with anger! How dare a baker be generous in the teeth of the
penalties attached to kindness and such weaknesses. How dare he flout so
outrageously the canons of Martial Law. Who was Czar! Was Kekewich king!
Was Cæsar (_Imperial_ Cæsar) dead and turned to--flour! The offence was
unprecedented in its heinousness. Threats of prosecution followed; but
the offending baker apologised; and though the more rigid of our
disciplinarians, given their way, would have roasted him in his own
oven, the flexible ones deemed shooting too good for him, and accepted
his apology by way of compromise.

But Wednesday will be remembered for more than a sortie, and the
baker's rebellion that ensued. On that day was formally established our
celebrated "Soup Kitchen." Among the sheaves of suggestive letters to
the Editor, for the better management, economy, and distribution of
supplies, the epistles relating to the need of a soup department had
attracted most attention. The idea was not a bad one; it was
practicable, and had much to commend it. But still the feeling of the
people was that so long as they were allowed an _unmixed_ ration of the
roast beef of old England or young Australia (same Empire) it was
preferable that they should be permitted to make their own soup--a poor
thing, perhaps; but their own.

The advent of a joint more accustomed to shafts than to skewers,
however, was a horse of a different colour; so different, in fact, that
all the virtues of a great common kitchen, the saving it would effect,
and the good side of Collectivism generally, dawned simultaneously upon
everybody by some magical inspiration. The advantages of a Soup-house
were at once recognised, and the wisdom of such a creation was
immediately acclaimed by a host of astute correspondents. The idea took
root, germinated, "caught on," so to say, as the one and only panacea
for our ills. So strongly was the scheme approved that arrangements for
the flotation of a semi-philanthropic, semi-military company were
settled forthwith. All the best names available (for reasons which will
be more obvious in due time) were placed on the list of Directors. Mr.
Rhodes, the millionaire, would not lend his name for inscription on a
_prospectus_ that was not _bona fide_; and such respected signatories as
Mr. and Mrs. Maguire, Doctor Smartt (who also was "well," bedad), and
other public personages of high character and probity were a good
guarantee for the quality and purity of the State Soup; while the skill
of Captain Tyson (who undertook the duties of honorary _chef_) was
incontestable. All these names were easily procured. It was laid down
with solemn emphasis, as a primary article of faith, that the soup was
to be made from oxflesh, and nothing but oxflesh. The horse was to be
banned! That was the cardinal condition of the success anticipated for
the venture; and the guarantees on this head were, in view of the
_status_ of the guarantors, accepted unreservedly. Mr. Rhodes, indeed,
went a step further than the rest; he guaranteed a contribution of
vegetables from the De Beers garden; and the Colonel, not to be outdone,
permitted the soup to be thickened with mealie meal. The allowance was
to be at the rate of one pint per adult, at three-pence per pint. That
the value given for the humble "tickey" was good the success of the
scheme proved beyond contention. Hundreds of pints were disposed of--the
Directors in person superintending the sale and wielding the ladles. The
supply did not at first correspond with the demand; thousands who had
assembled with their jugs were turned away disappointed. The great
things expected from the Kitchen were realised; the excellence and the
flavour of the broth surpassed expectations. The ordinary meat ticket
sufficed, and its presentation at the Kitchen entitled the holder to as
many pints of soup as (and in lieu of) the number of meat rations for
which the ticket was good. The fame of the broth travelled far.
Egg-cup-fuls of the liquid were exultingly passed round to the wary,
suspicious ones; and these proud sceptics by extending to it the charity
of their silence most eloquently admitted the groundlessness of their
horsey apprehensions.

The visit of an envoy from the Boer camp aroused a good deal of
curiosity. What did he want? The Colonel would never tell. But there was
much sinister speculation abroad which, taken in conjunction with the
unabating activity of the Boers, was the reverse of comforting. The
unconditional surrender of the town had, it was whispered, been demanded
in explicit terms, and with equal explicitness refused. The consequence
of this refusal was the thought uppermost in every mind. The gentlemen
outside were numerically stronger than ever, and more at ease, too. They
had--if report ever spoke truly--intimated to the "Volunteer" camp, in
some way not explained, that they had just returned from their Christmas
holidays; that their absence accounted for the "quiet time" we had been
enjoying; but that they would presently be giving us "beans." They
certainly know how many make _five_; and their facetiousness in close
proximity to a large British Column was beyond us.

There was yet another pronouncement to complete the eventfulness of the
day, and to cause a lull in the domestic warfare waged against the
Colonel and his Ironsides. By dint of hard work day and night the great
thirty-pound gun constructed by De Beers was finished at last. Big
things were expected from it; the surprise and consternation it was
likely to create was a pleasing reflection. The construction of such a
piece of ordnance in the middle of a desert was considered something to
be proud of, and that reflected credit on the genius of Mr. Labram, who
had planned it. Long Cecil (as it was called), in all its pristine
perfection, was submitted to the public gaze, and was at once the
cynosure of all eyes. On Friday it was tested, with complete success.
The boom, at close quarters, was loud and alarming; and it required the
despatch of a second shell to satisfy non-spectators that the gun had
not been blown to pieces by the first. A few missiles were sent into the
Intermediate Station, a couple of miles distant. Whether anyone was hurt
did not transpire, but the moral effect produced was unmistakable. A
panic appeared to ensue, and vehicles of all sorts were hurriedly
requisitioned to enable the Boers to get away with their goods and
chattels from the Intermediate to a more healthy station. Private
letters were afterwards unearthed in which no attempt was made to
conceal the alarm occasioned by this unexpected visitation.

But the new gun was only a diversion, while the stream of invective
against horseflesh went on like the brook for ever. It is an ill wind
that blows nobody good; the truth of this was well exemplified in the
luck of the dogs. The poor animals looked shockingly thin and wasted,
and had for a long time been unable to move about with their wonted
agility in pursuit of locusts and mosquitoes. The mongrels that had any
fight or vitality left in them would engage in a terrific struggle on
the streets at night for the contents of the refuse buckets which our
primitive sanitation laws permitted to obstruct the pathways until
morning. It need hardly be said that there was not much in the way of
crusts, scraps, or bones to appease canine hunger, and the resultant
keenness of the competition made the night extremely hideous. This
snarling struggle for existence had gone on night after night to the
supreme annoyance of martyrs who would fain have slept, and who urged
(in letters to the Editor) the wholesale destruction of the snarlers as
a work at once humane, essential, and congenial. This was in pre-horse
food days, when the ox was paramount on our tables.

But now all was changed, and every dog had his day indeed! The
brutes--not knowing the difference--revelled in horseflesh. The people
who could not look at it gave it _all_ to their dogs; while the most
enthusiastic equine meat-eater invariably left a trifle behind him.
Canine gluttony was a source of much amusement, envy, or disgust
(according to the individual temperament); and the ubiquitous cynic
reminded one of a good time coming when the horse would be locally
extinct and "fat dog" the daintiest of diets. The irony of it all was
that there were still at Kenilworth some hundreds of oxen, in perpetual
danger of being "sniped "; and the populace argued (not unreasonably)
that to force on us irrational rations was in the circumstances a
callous thing. There were doubtless considerations to palliate this
procedure on the part of the Protector, but we would not see them. The
cattle were there in sufficient numbers to feed us until relief arrived.
True, relief appeared to be remote, but our view was that (if a calamity
were to be averted) it _must_ come within a month at the outside. And
what a pretty _denouement_ it would be, we said, if, through thrusting
"strange food" upon us until the Column came in, there were left a
monster herd of jubilant bullocks to swell the chorus of welcome! And,
if I mistake not, they did actually swell it. At any rate, General
French was reported to have been highly indignant when informed of how
much more useful than palatable the horse was, and to have ordered its
exclusion from the abattoir forthwith. We had to continue vegetating on
Siege rations for two weeks after the arrival of French; but from the
first moment of his entry the nightmare of horseflesh troubled us no
more.

Those dark days were not without their humours withal; and there was a
piquancy in the very imperviousness of our risible faculties to their
correct appreciation. Asses and mules--it was said--were butchered in
common with horses, and discussion was wont to be rife on the relative
merits of the three animals in their new sphere of usefulness. The
difficulty involved in distinguishing a steak of one from a steak of
another was no small one; but donkey was reputed to taste sweeter than
common horse--a questionable recommendation!--and the advocates of this
theory were called cannibals. The mule had its backers, too; it was the
gentler animal, they contended in sustainment of their preference. But
all three beasts had acquired a fresh interest, notoriety, and dignity;
and it was edifying to watch men, not noted for their sporting
proclivities, eyeing an animal with the knowing look of a _connoisseur_
that seemed to say: "I wonder what he would taste like." Whether it was
that, being so cheap he might be regarded "gift horse," or for some less
occult reason, the points of a beast were never looked for in the mouth.
His age, for example, might strike a thinking person as an important
factor to be remembered in the summing up of a horse's fitness for the
grill. But the people generally never thought of that, and were mainly
influenced in their judgments by the spareness or fleshiness of the
animal's hindquarters. On Saturday the atmosphere was thick with rumours
of imminent trouble. The precise terms of the Boer ultimatum we did not
know, but that an ultimatum had been received was not denied. We heard
of a fifty-pound gun (bigger than ours!) being put into position on the
Free State border--with a view to instilling in us the wisdom of
recognising the inevitable. The less formidable instruments of torture
nearer home were also being augmented. There was a feeling that events
of an uncommon character were on the march. People talked of
presentiments--one being that the Baralongs outside Kimberley were being
armed to assist in our annihilation. The much debated topic anent the
likelihood of the Sixth Division being sent to join Methuen was settled
at last--to our chagrin. It had gone off at a tangent somewhere else.
Who knew that the Seventh Division would not follow suit? In any case,
weeks had to pass before the Seventh (being still at sea) could get
anywhere. Our prospects of speedy liberation were therefore none too
excellent. The Empire was passing through a crisis, and if Kekewich had
had only the statesmanship to make known to us the truth, the plain
unvarnished truth, we might have been less captious in our criticisms of
things both local and Imperial. Even the new gun, in common with the
times, was out of joint and undergoing repairs at the workshop.

Nutritious food of any sort was now a rarity in real earnest. Eggs were
hard at a price per dozen that purchased a _gross_ in the not too cheap
days of peace; while ducks and drakes, no bigger than crows, but worth
their weight in diamonds, were too heavy for the patrons of paste. The
military people had an extensive variety of precious birds stuffed away
_in_ their own selected aviaries. They had also seized upon all the
cigarettes in town. Now, this was held up as a well-grounded and
specific grievance against the military. It was conceded that the sick
and wounded had first claim on our humanity; and the chicken monopoly,
had it stood alone, would not have invited criticism. But the cigarette
appropriation was reckoned a scandal. There was an abundance of matches
in the military stores--but nowhere else. The tobacconists were selling
off, at quadrupled rates, quantities of ancient, nasty-smelling
"safety-matches," which but yesterday, alas! they would have paid us to
bury somewhere! Of course there were wide possibilities of economy in
this direction--the one match often putting the kettles to boil in half
a street. The waste in the matter of pipe-kindling had to be modified,
and the mediæval makeshift of flint and steel restored. The fierce rays
of _Sol_, through the _media_ of our monocles, were also utilised to
light cigars. What else on Saturday? Yes, Mafeking, they said, was
fighting on still; and Generals Buller and Warren had forded the Tugela,
_en route_ to Ladysmith. That their plunge might stimulate Methuen to
burn his boots and brave the turgid waters of the Modder, was the
fervent wish of Kimberley at the end of fourteen weeks of irksome,
emaciating duress.



CHAPTER XV

_Week ending 27th January, 1900_


The whirligig of the enemy (time, not the Boer, not the "Law") had again
carried us to the beginning of another week. The Sundays were now
exceedingly dull, and on the particular Sabbath with which I am dealing
little worthy of record came within the sphere of my observations. I
shall therefore--in the absence of matter of graver import--take
advantage of its Sunday silence to say a word or two about the _Diamond
Fields' Advertiser_. The views of the besieged in regard to their local
print had undergone a change. They had at one time been proud of their
paper. It had formerly been conducted on well-defined principles; and it
was its departure from these principles to the _status_ of an "Organ"
that preached, but which at the frown of a Draconic Colonel practised
not its articles--it was this that brought down upon its head the wrath
of the local democracy. The authorities had for a while permitted the
paper to publish war-scraps; but whether it was due to a tendency on the
Editor's part to expand these allowances, the privilege was withdrawn
and scraps were proscribed. Even the fiction in the columns of our
journal was subjected to a rigid censorship; and when the Public had
expected it to be voicing their protests against the Russian government
of the day, the paper was virtually in Slavonic hands and controlled by
the _Czar_ himself. Its eight large pages had been reduced to four
small ones, which became better known as the "Official Gazette" of the
district. But though we read in it garrison orders from time to time,
the three-penny novelette of the town would have been a more fitting
designation. It had once quoted from a London contemporary a statement
to the effect that hundreds of lives had been thrown away at
Magersfontein in an attempt to rescue Cecil Rhodes! Our "Organ" was then
independent enough to retort that there was, besides Mr. Rhodes, the
fate of thousands of British subjects to be considered. But now it was
far otherwise; the independence of tone had vanished. Instead of
dignified sarcasm, we were apologetically regaled with parallels of all
the sieges in the world's history--Troy, Plevna, Sebastopol, Paris,
etc.--and calmly assured that our tribulations weighed lightly in the
balance with what was suffered in the brave days of--"wooden"
horseflesh!

Still the journal, though it evoked the displeasure of its quondam
admirers, doubtless acted for the best in a difficult situation; and
there were many who might have overlooked the "parallels" were it not
for the advertisements. For through the advertising columns we were
perpetually being pressed by the merchants of the city to come in and
buy everything that makes life worth living! All the dainties an
aspirant to gout could wish for were, according to our "Official
Gazette," to be had for the asking. At the hotels, "Highland Cream
Whiskey" was for ever arriving; and "O.K." (another thistle!) kept
"licking 'em all" with monotonous invincibility. Iced beer was on tap;
the champagne was sparkling; the wine needed no bush. The cheese was
still alive (on paper). Cakes, hams, jams, biscuits, potted fish, flesh,
and good red herring were, so to speak, all over the shops. This was the
sort of pabulum our morning sheet supplied by way of breakfast for
inward digestion, and there was an irony in the meal which its
uniqueness did not help to make palatable. Absent-minded people still
went shopping for luxuries gone but not forgotten; to provoke a
premature "April fool" from the startled grocer, who was powerless to
make real the chimeras that haunted the jungles of the shoppers'
imaginations. Even practical (new) women would sometimes think of
Bovril, and rush off to buy it all up, only to find that it had been
bought up long ago, and that not for nothing had so much money been
expended in the booming of that bullock in a bottle! Our boarding-house
tariffs were ridiculously low (the paper said) at seven or eight pounds
per month; while the allurements of the boating and the creature
comforts of Modder River, and the balminess of its breezes, were dangled
before our eyes with aggressive cynicism. The shipping agents were most
attentive to detail in regard to the departure of vessels from Cape
ports--just as if the availability of aerial tugs, to convey us to the
coast, went without saying. Such were the irritating features of our
morning paper. Their humour was utterly lost on us; they only served to
sharpen the unhappy appetites of all whose fatal misfortune was ability
to read.

Nasty stories had been told with reference to the reign of terror to be
inaugurated on Monday. But they did not materialise; the rule of Martial
Law--bad to beat--remained unbeatable. The _expected_ rarely happened,
and peace was oftener than not the characteristic of the prophets'
red-letter-day. Such occasions gave us scope and opportunity to discuss
the _Kabal_ that ran her Majesty's writ, and to wonder whether it (the
writ) should ever again be pacemaker to the people's will. The spectacle
of a number of Union Jacks floating on the breeze was the most startling
incident of the day. What did the transformation mean? A wild conjecture
seized us; it was a moment of unalloyed joy when the fond thought of
Kimberley's relief having been accomplished during the night flashed
across our minds. But our jubilation was short-lived, for the Boers
presently fired a salute with intent clearly to tatter rather than
honour the Flag--in defence of which Long Cecil, tattered itself, was
unable to play a part.

The echoes of a heavy cannonade were the feature of Tuesday. This led us
to infer that the much-vaunted "siege train" (which was the talk of the
city) had begun its work of devastation. The inspiration of itself would
not have been the harbinger of consolation--we were long listening to
sound and fury, meaning nothing--but we were quick to associate it with
the unfurling of the Flag, to put the two "straws" together--and sigh!

"The Column," our Gazette asserted, "had made a most successful
_reconnaissance_." But experience had taught us how to estimate a bald,
non-committal statement of that kind. Our faith in the Column had been
shaken; so much so that cynics hummed, with impunity, that the "little
British army goes a long, long way." We dared to doubt the bellipotence
of the Column. The wisdom of self-help was brought home to us at last.
We were fast learning to put not our trust in Columns, and to ponder the
possibility, handicapped though we were, of hewing from within a way to
freedom.

Meanwhile Long Cecil, successfully treated, was again in the arena. A
few "compliments" were jerked at the Kamfers Dam Laager; the Boers were
made to feel that they had a foeman to deal with worthy of their lead.
The success of the gun and the skill of him who made it were on every
lip. The theme occasioned as much enthusiasm as could be expected from
hearts saddened by disconsolation. And the man in the moon, too far
distant to betray the grimness of his smile, looked silently on.
Favourable accounts of the progress of events in Natal conduced to the
serenity of the evening. The night was so still and grand that it seemed
almost a pity to seek refuge in repose; and when ultimately we did
persuade ourselves to retire it was to dream of Long Cecil and his
potentialities--a sanguine dream of self-reliance and ability to burst
our bonds.

But, oh! what a change came over its spirit in the middle of the night;
when startled from our slumbers by the hissing of shells in the streets
we awoke to a sense of what was real. In the blackness of the early
morning it was hard to connect the booming of cannon with reality. The
shells were falling and bursting in rapid succession. It was the
inauguration of a nerve-ordeal; the prelude to a terrible day; the
beginning of a bombardment long-sustained and fierce.

Not for long did the guns blaze in vain. A young girl lay dead, struck
down in the privacy of her bedroom. Shell after shell came whistling
through the air, jeopardising the reason of scared women, in terror for
the safety of their children. Men rushed about everywhere seeking
shelter for their families. A gentleman walking in the Dutoitspan Road
had his hat unroofed, and a young lad was prematurely put out at elbow
by a piece of shell which passed through the sleeve of his coat. Half a
score of guns poured forth a heavy fusillade until eight o'clock, when a
short interval for breakfast was conceded.

Fast and furious fell the instruments of destruction into every street
and alley that throbbed with human life--smashing tables and delfware,
ripping up floors, and spreading alarm abroad in the land. The Public
Library was the recipient of a missile that played havoc with a hoary
tome. Public buildings and churches were peppered indiscriminately.
Saint Cyprian's--ventilated before in the same accidental fashion--was
holed again. All Saints' fared little better. The Catholic Cathedral was
slightly damaged. Saint Augustine's was hit; and, judging by its
battered walls, the Dutch Reformed Church went nearer to demolition than
any other. No structure with any pretensions to size escaped. The Town
Hall was subjected to a fierce assault; for into the Market Square, to
the right and left of the hall, in front and in rear, the shells fell in
abundance. But the solid walls of the building were not tested, which
was strange in view of its exposed position and the large area it
covered. Inside, the busy officials were hard at work, pandering to the
needs of the hungry throng who sought dispensations from starvation,
and who dared not venture out again lest they should die hungry withal.
The Town Hall towered impregnable--impervious to the myriad
battering-rams that yearned to lay it low. As if it had occurred to them
that the chances rather favoured finding the Mayor at home, the Boer
gunners subsequently launched through the roof of his store in Jones'
Street a shower of shrapnel which riddled the occupants of a compartment
in the upper storey. The Mayor, fortunately, was not one of these; when
the smoke cleared away it was found that the injured consisted of some
handsome wax figures. At Beaconsfield a youth was struck, and another
projectile went so near to putting a poor old woman, who lay upon a sick
bed, beyond the borders of eternity that her feeble limbs were deprived
of the couch's solace. An Indian subject of the Queen had his bungalow
shattered. Not even the hallowed sanctuary of the "Law's" guardians was
held sacred, for a missile telescoped a policeman's helmet--which,
happily, was off its head at the moment.

All day long existence was made well-nigh unendurable. None knew the
moment when an account of one's individual stewardship might be
demanded. It is in trials of this kind that mankind is most vividly
impressed with the reality of being in life and death simultaneously.
That these trials surpassed any that had hitherto ruffled the noiseless
tenor of our way was a truism. But coming at a moment when our nerves
were sufficiently unstrung by the dearth of tonics, they were doubly
enervating. Stomachal grievances were forgotten, and few ventured to
desert the imaginary security of their homes to face the risks the
redress of grievances would entail. Thus did the hours creep on until
darkness with its interregnum of peace had fallen on the city.

But the interregnum was of brief duration, for, to our unspeakable
horror, the bombardment was resumed at nine o'clock. If in the clear
light of day the shells were trying, what were they in the night! A
ghost story well told in the daytime perturbs a superstitious mind; but
to feel queer at its recital in the night one need not necessarily be
superstitious at all. This new departure intensified the strain and went
far to make faint many a heart that had until then remained stout. The
guns were fired with longer intervals between the shots; the shells did
not follow on the top of one another as in the day; but one nocturnal
projectile excited as much terror as did ten when the sun was shining.
Far into the night--for hours after midnight--the war was waged, and
sleep denied the pleasure of steeping our "senses in forgetfulness." To
sleep was nearly impossible, and at the first peep of dawn to recline on
a bed at all was not easy, so fierce and sudden was the energy with
which a dozen guns commenced to bark in chorus.

And with sad results. The men in the redoubts enjoyed comparative
immunity from the dangers of the bombardment; it was mainly the women
and children in the houses who had to bear the brunt of the assaults. A
lamentable instance of the pity of it was only too soon forthcoming. In
the house of a Mr. Webster (who was in camp with his regiment, the
Volunteers) his wife and children were at breakfast, when crash! through
the roof came a shell on top of the tea-pot. The mother sustained
fearful injuries, to which she subsequently succumbed. Her six-year-old
child was also killed; her second son had his leg and arm broken; while
her youngest child--a little girl--was badly bruised. The stricken
family were removed to hospital amid a shower of shells, which continued
with unabashed fury to seek whom they slaughter. Nearly all our public
buildings were hit, and the places of worship were again a mark for the
vandal. Houses everywhere were damaged, and extraordinary indeed were
the escapes of their distracted occupiers. No less gracious was the
kindly fortune that shielded those whom duty, caprice, or foolhardiness
brought into the streets. One family stuffed away in the ostensible
security of a coal-hole vegetated there all day. They were grateful for
their modern ark, but outraged nature disapproved and caused a shell to
pierce it. Nobody was hurt, remarkable to relate, and the frightened
household ascended with alacrity to take their chances in a purer
atmosphere. In every part of the town the shells kept falling.
Beaconsfield appeared to be the most favoured hunting ground, for its
_Sanatorium_ was not only a colossal structure but the home of the
Colossus himself. Hundreds of shells dropped in its vicinity, while the
millionaire went round the city in a cart, to all outward seeming as
little concerned as the most penurious of men. Some weeks before a
grazier who had fallen into the hands of the Boers had been assured that
it was Rhodes they wanted--not Kimberley. Such a revelation in the case
of a personality less notable or less esteemed might have made things
awkward for him.

Forty-five minutes were allowed for lunch--an interval which the Boers
considered long enough for them--and no doubt for us, too, since they
might fairly assume that we did not get much to eat. But on our side
there was the trouble and delay involved in the getting of it. To jostle
about in a crowd for an indefinite period of time for sake of a scrap of
flesh meat--and such meat! such flesh!--required rare ravenousness of
appetite; and the bursting of a shell in the midst of a surging mass of
humanity was so certain to be attended by fatal results that it was only
the very healthy who bothered battling for so little.

The forty-five minutes were of brief duration, and the assault was
promptly renewed when the clock struck two. First came the boom; then
the warning whistle; next the boom of a second gun almost before the
bursting crash of the first shell had proclaimed its contact with _terra
firma_. It was not the numbers of the killed (because they were
marvellously few) that awed the people so much as the possibilities of
the situation. The guns were fired at long range, and ten or fifteen
seconds had to elapse ere anybody could be sure that his turn had not
come. Had a closer range been feasible the bombardment might have been
more destructive, but the suspense would have been less trying. The
shells fell thickly the whole afternoon. Never, hardly ever, was there a
lull as the iron roofs of the houses continued to be fitted for service
as rough observatories which enabled us to see balloons indeed. Several
mourners attending a funeral on its way to the cemetery narrowly escaped
dismemberment, by a missile which dropped behind the hearse. The Fire
Brigade were alert and ready for contingencies; the brigade station at
the Municipal compound was singled out for attack; and it looked as if
the skill of the Boers in picking out and disabling the _Officers_ in
the field extended to the town, for the Chief of the firemen was struck
while standing on his own doorstep. He received a few ugly cuts, as also
did two of his children.

And where all this time, it may be asked, where was Long Cecil? Long
Cecil had been doing its best, but with the odds so long as ten to one
against, its best was a negligible quantity. It sent shell after shell
in one direction, then in another, but the enemy heeded it not at all;
and though it may have irritated the Boer a little and done all that one
gun of its calibre could do, it did not mitigate the perils of the
populace. That it had done its best was undeniable, but it sank in the
public esteem for other reasons. It was reputed to have killed two women
in the Boer camp with its "compliments." I cannot vouch for the truth of
the story, but it was seized upon to intensify the growing aversion to
the whilom bepraised product of Colonial enterprise. The report
converted hostile head-shakes into voluble "I told you so's," and
swelled the feeble chorus that had prophesied ill of Long Cecil from the
beginning.

Why did the Military insist on aggravating the enemy? This was our new
shibboleth. We had, practically speaking, been left unmolested until
Long Cecil sounded its timbrel. Hence the bloody sequel! Now, all this
would have been in better taste had not those of us loudest in the gun's
condemnation been equally boastful anent the fear it was to put into the
hearts of the Boers. They were to be taught that Long Cecil was a thing
to conjure with. In fact, Long Cecil had accentuated what is known in
vulgar parlance as the Jingo spirit. But it had failed to come up to
expectations, and all that was left--the dregs of our chivalry--was
gone; and perhaps the highest form of chivalry extant now-a-days is
consistency. The forty-eight hours' bombardment had been threatened long
ere Long Cecil emerged from the workshop in the panoply war. But it was
enough for the nonce to have even an inanimate scape-goat with which to
relieve our grief--in the absence of something mellow to _drown_ it in.

Firing ceased at six o'clock, and many families, waiving the discomforts
of the trek, had already betaken themselves to the redoubts, away from
the centre of assault. They remained there all night, needlessly, as it
happened. Friday was not looked to with any particular pleasure; but
apart from some deliberate attempts to snap-shot the _Sanatorium_ we had
little to disturb us. The device of fixing the lens on the local library
was next resorted to; a shell dropped on its doorstep, and Beaconsfield
church had a like experience. One or two guns kept firing irregularly
all day. A shell entered a kitchen and made a complete wreckage of its
culinary appliances. Long Cecil, at this stage, made some excellent
practice, upsetting presumably the kitchen at Kamfers Dam, as several
women were among those who fluttered hither and thither for shelter.
Long Cecil was a surprise to the Boers; they had heard of the gun, and
inclined to regard its existence as a myth. They had laughed at the
visionary who had tried to piece it together; and there were not a few
among ourselves who had shared their incredulity.

The proceedings of the previous two days had banished any timidity that
had existed hitherto in the ranks of the town's defenders. They were
eager for a fight. The sweetness of revenge was appreciated in some
measure, and those who might in other circumstances have shirked
personal danger, or collapsed in its presence, had their nerves steeled
for a fair and square encounter. Our defences were never tested; we were
beginning to wish they were. A determined and persevering effort on the
Boers' part might have made them masters of Kimberley. The victory,
however, would have been of the _Phyrric_ order.

Saturday came. The common trials of the great bombardment had lulled the
food warfare, and the thoughts of all were directed to the provision of
adequate protection for life and limb. The erection of forts and
shelters was going on everywhere. The work had been inaugurated when the
bombardment was at its height, and the muscular energy it brought into
play was magnificent. The "boys" (natives) were kept at it like
_Trojans_, under the personal supervision of their respective white
chiefs; and the chiefs themselves, unaccustomed though they were to an
implement less mighty than the pen, perspired beadily and willingly with
the pick and shovel. Even the ladies, regardless of blisters and the
snowy whiteness of their hands, revelled in the role of navvy. Hallowed
little garden patches were ruthlessly excavated; converted into
"dug-outs"--disagreeably suggestive of the grave--and these were covered
over and hedged in with sacks of earth. The apartments thus improvised
were excellent in their way, but somewhat damp and dismal. They were not
strictly well ventilated, but the atmosphere without was so redolent of
smoke and powder that sanitation had lost in importance. Moreover, one
could always stick one's head out of the burrow to inhale the outer air
if it were considered fresher than what saluted the nostrils within. Of
course these shelters did not offer so much security from danger as
their occupiers fancied (I have already instanced how the recesses of a
coal-hole had not been proof against invasion); but they were splinter
proof. If husbands and fathers _did_ magnify the protection they
afforded, their motives were kind.

In the meantime we were not left entirely unmolested. The Beaconsfield
_Sanatorium_ continued to be the chief object of Boer solicitude.
Smokeless powder was being employed, and the boom of the particular guns
in action was not audible, or, if audible, so faintly as to be mistaken
for the Column's artillery. We had a man placed on the Conning Tower
whose duty it was to blow a warning whistle at sight of the flame of the
enemy's fuse. But the whistle--not always heard--was only too apt to be
connected with a policeman in distress.

The forty-eight hours' ordeal was not repeated, and interest in eating
matters was soon revived. The comparative calm of Saturday incited us to
have recourse to all sorts of tricks to unearth what was eatable. The
Soup Kitchen was a huge success, and had they not been already well
endowed with this world's goods the distinguished waiters in charge of
the department might have waxed rich. Thousands of pints were served
out daily; indeed there was never a supply sufficient to feed the
multitudes that swarmed round the cauldrons containing this delicious
_elixir_ of life. One of the most remarkable sights of the Siege was,
not the gravity of doctors, lawyers, directors, etc., presenting tickets
for soup--_that_ was piquant enough--but the number of young ladies,
votaries of fashion, who emerged from the _melee_ bedraggled and flushed
with their pails of _nectar_, to all appearances not only forgetful of
the _convenances_, but beaming with smiles of triumph. It may have been
because their charms were enhanced, artful wenches! Enhanced, in any
case, their charms were.

The Kitchen was booming, but the generality of people had in their
enthusiasm so far failed to observe that the quality of the soup had
sadly deteriorated. It had been degenerating day by day. Condiments were
no longer available; mealie meal was withheld, and the soup had thus
become thinner and less seasoned. But the trade had been established,
and business continued brisk. There was no competition (unfortunately),
and our newspaper kept assuring us with unnecessary gush that horseflesh
was excluded from the Kitchen, and that accidents were impossible. The
meat used was strictly orthodox. The Press dilated speciously on the
economy practised under the system and on its general advantageousness.
Universal confidence was reposed in the Soup Directorate.

But, alas and alack! one fatal day an evil-minded fellow got a lump of
something solid in his jug, and instead of holding his peace he held a
_post-mortem_ examination and essayed to prove by some Darwinian process
of reasoning that the opaque thing was more apish than orthodox! Prior
to the date of this inquest, however, people had grown so habituated to
the soup that they could not give it up if they would. They went on
dutifully consuming it--just as everybody still does his beer, the
recent poisoning revelations notwithstanding. They ate all they could
get of it; it was in truth an indispensable necessity. The Kitchen was a
blessing--in disguise, the wits said--and the most aesthetic, though not
without misgivings, in the end gave the broth the benefit of the doubt.
Only a small band of martyrs elected to bleed at the shrine of
principle; they declined to stultify their stomachs with "horse soup."
This was a reckless assumption, indicative of a shocking disbelief in
human nature; an inexpedient conclusion. They were all honourable men on
the Kitchen Committee. What! all? the reader may exclaim. Well, all but
one, perhaps--who told an interviewer in London that "horseflesh made
excellent soup!" But that was long afterwards; and, moreover, proved
nothing. The gentleman in question no doubt acted discreetly, before
unbosoming himself, in placing six thousand miles of sea between him and
the Kitchen. For that matter greater iniquities than his have been
condoned to give prejudice a fall.

The Italian and American Consuls had protested on behalf of their
respective governments against the recent indiscriminate assault upon
non-combatants. We were pleased to hope that the protests were not
unavailing. They were in conformity with the spirit, if not with the
letter, of International Law; and it was stated that the Boers desired
to stand well with any and every nation that might possibly make real
their Utopian dream of European intervention. Of course, they were
doing well alone; it is conceivable that they now felt less the need of
extraneous assistance. Their energy and enterprise betokened
self-reliance; the will with which they used their picks and shovels was
enigmatical to the British mind. They seemed metaphorically to defy all
Europe and America. And the reply received by the Consuls was quite in
accord with a consciousness on the Boer side of "splendid isolation." It
suggested that they (the Boers) would esteem it a privilege to provide
the protesters with an escort to convey them to a place of safety, if
that would satisfy. It did _not_ satisfy, and there the correspondence
ceased.

It was thus the week ended--the enemy active, vigorous, supercilious;
while we in Kimberley felt fretful, hungry, and sick at heart; but too
thoroughly inured to hardship to shrink from or even to question the
duty of fighting the battle to the bitter end.



CHAPTER XVI

_Week ending 3rd February, 1900_


The fierceness of the assault to which we had been exposed was the great
subject of discussion, but it was not until the sluggish pendulum of
Siege time had again swung round to the Sabbath that we freely and
without dread of interruption gave full expression to our feelings
towards the foe. The inconsistency of a nation so profuse in Christian
professions was much discussed, and ignoring our own shortcomings in the
same respect, to say nothing of the essential cruelty of all wars, we
readily requisitioned our best resources of invective--to show what
charity really was. We had been living in stormy tea-cups for a long
while; our fury was usually more ungovernable than this or that
grievance warranted; but we had never before given way to such
rhetorical excesses, against not only the Boers, but the Military, as
well--Lord Methuen, the Mayor, the Colonel and his Staff. Even Lord
Roberts was snapped at. They were all in turn metaphorically tarred and
feathered.

But these, after all, were old offenders; their faults and
idiosyncrasies had been reviewed often. The occasion demanded a new
scapegoat; and we determined to find him. We looked across the broad
expanse of veld and bitterly reflected on a destiny that circumscribed
our freedom within the barriers of a town; that denied us even the wild
freshness of morning uncontaminated by the _miasma_ of city streets. In
this frame of mind we easily drifted into speculation on first causes.
We began to ask ourselves upon whose shoulders the blame primarily
rested for conditions which made such slavery possible; how it came to
pass that a few toy-guns and a handful of soldiers had been deemed
sufficient to protect Kimberley; and finally to vote the error of
judgment incompatible with good administration. And then we remembered
that the Bond was a powerful organisation, that a Bond Ministry was in
Office. The needed scapegoat, in the person of the Prime Minister, was
thus easily discovered. He it was who pooh-poohed the necessity of
_arming_ Kimberley, and we accordingly lost no time in setting him up in
the game of Siege Aunt Sally as a popular target for our rancour. And
pelted he was with right good will. The genial Mr. Quilp, when he found
himself deserted by his obsequious flatterer, Sampson Brass, cried out
in the seclusion of his apartment at the wharf: "Oh, Sampson, Sampson,
if I only had you here!" and he was considerably consoled by his
operations with a hammer on the desk in front of him. The feelings of
Mr. Quilp were understood, if not respected in Kimberley.

The name of the Prime Minister had not been long added to our "little
list" when a local liar led off mildly with intelligence of the
Premier's resignation. We improved on this by assuming that his
resignation was obligatory--that he had been "dismissed." That he had
been arrested was the fiction next resorted to; and finally it was
blazoned forth that he had been dismissed from the world altogether.
After that he was let rest, and we returned to the misdemeanours of
men, in and out of khaki, whose turns had not yet come. Let me observe
in passing that the Prime Minister was--as we learned subsequently--more
sinned against than sinning. His _apologia_, and the extent to which he
had been wronged and misrepresented are matters outside the scope of
these memoirs. But they shed a lurid light on the picturesque _canards_
we swallowed--and digested with an ease that any ostrich would envy.

While engrossed in these denunciations of everything and everybody,
Sunday glided by--glided, for the pendulum was not so slow on Sundays.
We prepared for the worst the Boers could do on the morrow--rumour said
it was to be very bad--and were in no way disposed to be comforted by
the message, on the seriousness of our position, which the Colonel was
credited with having despatched to Lord Roberts. We were unenlivened by
the talk we heard on all sides as to the probable effect of the Foreign
Consuls' protests; in optimistic quarters it was felt that the protests
would lead to "intervention" of a kind rather different from that
bargained for by brother Boer. The war, it was asserted, might stop
"very suddenly." Well, of course, it might stop in certain
eventualities, or it might not; the sky might fall, but we might easily
die (on the diet) _before_ it came down. The Boers toiling at their
trenches outside cherished no illusions on these points. Their magazines
had been blown up, but, the road to Bloemfontein being clear, they could
replenish them. Plumer's proximity to Mafeking (notified in the
afternoon) would have been of more significance in our eyes had not
experience prejudiced us against faith in proximity value, Methuen's
proximity to Kimberley, for example, aggravated our sorrows in a very
special way.

On Monday Lord Methuen kept telling us from the wilderness that he was
there and still alive. The vitality of the enemy, however, concerned us
more. Operations were started early; three shells presumably intended
for the _Sanatorium_ landed in Beaconsfield. The first two fell
harmlessly, and the charm associated with the third was no less
disappointing--to an outsider. The charm surrounding the life of Mr.
Rhodes was more tangible; it appeared to extend to the roof that covered
him. The greater part of the day was peaceful; but the Military were the
Military, war was their profession; and a fight with the foe being for
the moment impracticable, they ingeniously set about renewing the strife
with their erstwhile friends--who, like _Sancho Panza_, clamoured merely
for something to eat. Our recent experiences had tended to moderate our
claims in this regard; we had become inured to bad living; our
constitutions had had time to wax weak; our appetites were less hearty.
Matters appertaining to the stomach had reached a sad pass. Mealie meal,
_ad lib._, was no longer possible, and porridge--well, the good that it
had done lived after it, though we had never acknowledged the actual
_doing_ of it. Rice was issued to Indians exclusively, and, albeit they
got nothing else, they had on the whole rather the better of Europeans.
The exhaustion of our golden syrup made the children--young and
"over-grown"--weep. We had been reduced to the ignominy of cultivating a
toleration of what was called treacle, and even that nauseous compound
was drifting towards extinction. They were hard times for all who could
eat their soup; they were harder still for those whom the look of it
satisfied. To these latter a tribute of praise for consistency is due,
whatever may be said of their sense. The pathos of it all was that we
got plenty of tea. We had no milk, and because we needed in consequence
all the more sugar we were given less; and as "mealie-pap" had pride of
place on the _menu_ the day's allowance of sugar was only too apt to be
recklessly monopolised in giving _that_ a taste. We were observing a
protracted lenten season, a more rigorous fast than any Church
prescribes. The local Catholic Bishop appreciated the gravity of the
situation when he suspended the Church's law against the use of meat on
Fridays. Eat it when you can (which might be only one day in the week,
Friday as likely as any other), this edict amounted to in effect.

But we had yet fourteen ounces of bread to preserve us, the whole of
which ration was sometimes polished off by mid-day meal time. There
could be no modification in that direction. Fourteen ounces of bread was
needed to sustain life. But the Military apparently thought otherwise;
they suddenly intimated that we must endeavour to keep its lamp aflame
on "ten!" The _Commissariat_ reckoned it possible; so the new "Law" was
set in motion without compunction. A number of Fingoes preferred to die
at home for choice, and with leave of the Colonel made an effort to get
there. Unhappily, they were not allowed a choice; the Boers drove them
back "to die with the English." Unlike the Basutos, the Fingo tribe was
not physically or geographically in a position to make reprisals for
such indignities. Besides, the English, the Boers knew, would be bound
to share their last crust with their black brethren, and they wanted us
to get to the last crust stage at our earliest convenience.

Contrary to expectation, nothing exciting occurred on Tuesday. The enemy
again concentrated their fire on the _Sanatorium_; they evidently
esteemed starvation, however expedient as a means for shuffling off the
common herd, a little too good for a thinker in Continents. According to
documents which had been found in the pocket of a Boer prisoner, Mr.
Rhodes was awaiting a favourable opportunity to escape in "a big
balloon!" This strange idea may have been responsible for the efforts
made to lay the great balloonist.

A cricket match was played in the afternoon by twenty-two disciples of
Tapley; and sundry flashes of congratulation--adulatory of our gallant
stand--were exchanged between our Mayor and Port Elizabeth's. These
messages were soothing, but none of us acknowledged it. Soft words,
alas! only reminded us of parsnips. And soon we should be without bread.
The bread question was the topic of the hour, and gave rise to more
acrimony than had any antecedent injustice. Such unwonted severity in
the administration of Civil affairs was a strain on the loyalty of a
people self-governed since they were born. The view was stoutly
maintained that the situation was not so bad as to warrant the adoption
of such drastic measures. They were straining the limits of human
endurance too callously. Nothing could alter our resolve to dispute with
the Boer every inch of the ground we defended. So much was agreed. But
the tendency to famish us displayed by our Rulers was not calculated to
improve the _morale_ of a civilian, or any, army. It did not bespeak the
early relief of Kimberley. Actions like Kekewich's and Gorle's in the
matter of bread fostered feelings of indifference. They would not
stimulate the town's defenders to shoot better or to fight the more
tenaciously in a crisis. With troops pouring into the country, wherefore
the need of so much supererogation? A hungry man capable of demolishing
a ten ounce loaf--a siege product--in ten bites might well echo
wherefore indeed!

On Wednesday Lord Methuen could be heard banging as usual. In the early
days, the halcyon days of optimism, the banging would have been
exhilarating to a degree; but the march of events had compelled us to
reason better. The day was uncommonly quiet; even the diurnal fling at
Mr. Rhodes was omitted. Lies, rumours, sensations, fabrications were
still rampant. A poster in all the paraphernalia of Official authority,
proclaiming the relief of Mafeking--four months too soon!--adorned the
walls of the Town House. General Buller, we were informed, was about to
unlock the door of Ladysmith--"the key had been found." But evidently
the _lock_ had not, as was proven by the subsequent disastrous retreat
across the Tugela.

Business was at this period conducted in more orderly fashion at the
Washington Market, partly due, no doubt, to the unmixed "meat" put up
for sale. Everything was simplified; the Authorities had developed into
wholehoggers in horseflesh. A placard bearing the grim inscription,
"horse _only_" was flaunted in the market place. The arrangement saved
the butcher much troublesome computation--untrammelled as he was by
bovine fractions--and injured trade agreeably. It kept off the folk who
had no dogs, and others who preferred to take the State Soup, with their
eyes shut. All the cattle slaughtered were exclusively for the Kitchen.
The "Law" decreed it; it was in the "Gazette," and was nothing if not in
equity. The quality of the soup was poorer than ever; the quantity
offered for sale was suspiciously large, and, oh! so inferior to the
article served out with a flourish of ladles a week before. Many took
the pledge against it (some of them broke it), but there were plenty
less aesthetically constituted who could dissipate on _two_ pints! We
could yet buy carrots, dry, tough little things; but they were
vegetables beyond question, and there is much in a _name_ where horses
are _cooked_. They (the carrots) were sold by the State at threepence a
bunch, and the people still made wild rushes to purchase them. A force
of police was always on duty at the vegetable, the carrot wing of the
market, and it was interesting to watch the human nature in everybody,
including strong men not ordinarily credited with much of it.

Thursday was uneventful. The _quasi_-official statement relative to the
relief of Mafeking was contradicted. The peculiarity of the
proceeding--of contradicting an _agreeable_ canard--not the
contradiction itself--occasioned surprise; it was so unusual. Some
people attributed it to a desire on the Colonel's part cheaply to
vindicate Official veracity in all things--not injurious to the
"Military Situation!" All our little troubles and kicks against the
pricks had to be subordinated to the "Military Situation." The quality
of the very horse we ate was due to the "Military Situation." The local
situation, with its alarming death roll, was a trifle light as air
beside the other. Had the Colonel in his wisdom seen anything in its
suppression advantageous to the "Military Situation," the truth anent
Mafeking would hardly have seen the light. The "Military Situation" was
sacrosanct, supreme, inviolable! It was a fetish, a sort of idol that
the "Law" commanded all creeds and classes to worship.

In the afternoon an occasional shell was jerked into the town.
Kenilworth was loudly barked at for an hour; and the correspondent of
the _London Times_, while driving in the suburb, narrowly escaped being
bitten. But no cattle were hit; that was the pity of it. We could have
forgiven the Boers much had they only killed the oxen, and provided us
with something rational to eat, in spite of the Colonel and his horses.

Friday was all excitement; we had a glimpse of the balloon again,
waltzing at a high altitude in the heavens, the Column's artillery the
while maintaining a continuous uproar. Soon a terrific report was heard,
which was presumed to have been caused by the explosion of a Boer
magazine. A lyddite missile had done the deed; no "common" shell, we
argued, could have created such a noise. After an hour the balloon
disappeared, and we were of the earth earthly once more. Late in the
evening some harmless shells dropped into the streets, and a second
catastrophe befel a Boer magazine.

Saturday again. Lord Methuen proclaimed it through the throat of his
cannon. Long Cecil--pretending to deduce from their silence that the
Boers imagined it to be Sunday--was most profuse in the distribution of
"compliments." But no acknowledgment came back, no error was admitted,
and the day dragged itself to an end, leaving little in its train to
turn one's thoughts from gloomy retrospection.

It was at this time that practical people began to express amazement at
the conduct of their less practical neighbours. A new epidemic had
broken out. The doctrine of self-help was being practised with a
vengeance. The pleasure of gardening was the newest discovery. In short,
the notion of growing vegetables on our own, so to speak, since we could
not buy them readymade, had come to be acclaimed as the higher sagacity.
The curious feature of this departure was that it should grow in
popularity as the Siege approached its appointed end. Relief or no
relief, the vegetables would not be wasted. But the practical people
only laughed at economic platitudes. Vegetable seeds were in great
demand, and families were everywhere to be seen reclaiming their ten by
ten feet patches of common-age--where _half_ a blade of grass had never
grown before! Some enthusiasts, to enlarge their holdings, went even so
far as to pull down their untenanted fowl-houses. The soil was not so
favourable to horticulture as it might have been, but the best was made
of it. Inspired by a determination to live as long as possible we
ruthlessly uprooted our flowers, and conjured up visions of unborn
potatoes and cabbage. If the Military kept whittling down our rations,
if we were to be permitted only to nibble like so many birds, the
vegetables might one day serve as a _dernier ressort_. Who could tell?

The enterprise displayed was admirable; but--had we to wait till the
vegetables grew? Were they to grow while we waited? This sudden zeal for
the development of the land recalled the song of the condemned Irishman
who took advantage of his judge's clemency, and with characteristic
humour selected a gooseberry bush from which to be hanged. When the
objection was raised that "it would not be high enough," he expressed
his willingness to wait till it grew!

This policy of despair irritated the landless classes, and some of them
were mean enough to remind us that Martial Law forbade the use of water
for gardening purposes. But the reminder only furnished the workers with
a fresh incentive; it made their work a real as well as an ideal
pleasure. The possibility of breaking the "Law" (with impunity) was
worth a deal of productive, or unproductive, labour. The bread ordinance
had not increased our respect for "benevolent" despotism. Any chance of
setting at naught the _absolute_ prepensities of our legislators (with a
watering-can or by judicious keyhole stuffing, to hide the light) was
duly availed of.

No amount of the portentous signalling that went on night after night
could resuscitate our faith in the Military. An age ago the
Magersfontein misfortune had put off indefinitely the long-expected
succour. We had been made to feel our insignificance beside the
"Military Situation." Our population after all was mainly black, but
black or white, we were nothing to the "Military Situation." Sickness
might increase, and troubles multiply; Kafirs and children might perish
in batches; meanwhile the "Military Situation" decried even a tear.



CHAPTER XVII

_Week ending 10th February, 1900_


The pen-ultimate Sunday of our captivity was notable for nothing but the
average crop of rumours which had characterised every day of our Siege
existence. The listlessness of the people stood out in marked contrast
to their sanguine outlook when the Siege was young, and when the folly
of prophesying unless one knew remained not only, as it were, unsmoked
but outside our pipes altogether. Still--to pursue the metaphor--our
pretensions in the role of prophet had clearly ended in smoke. Happily,
the disillusioning fog had come upon us by degrees. The cheerfulness
with which we had resigned ourselves to bear the first-class
misdemeanant's treatment of a cut and dry "three weeks'" imprisonment
but exemplified, we had thought in all seriousness, the traditional
sporting instincts of our race; and though it was not over-pleasing to
our traditional pride, the destruction of our dogmas had not been taken
to heart. Our faith in the invincibility of the British army had long
continued unshaken. The interval between the expiry of the period (of
three weeks) which with the collective wisdom of all the wizards we had
decreed to be a synonym for the Siege's duration, and the morning of the
pronouncement relative to the advance of the Column from Orange River,
had had its tedium neutralised by a cheerful vituperation of
Gladstone's defective statesmanship in the year of 'eighty-one and his
wicked efforts at a later date to "give Ireland away too." The move from
Orange River had occasioned general rejoicings. Unaccountable delay
ensued. One disappointment was followed by another. Anxiety began to
manifest itself. The dire stage of doubt was reached. Hunger, thirst,
and horseflesh succeeded in due order; until at last we saw:--

    What shadows we are,
    And what shadows we pursue.

We pursued them no longer--in the Siege sense. "All the pleasing
illusions, which make power gentle and obedience liberal," were gone.
The eating and the drinking were gone. Even the surreptitious read in
bed was but a relic of joy; the penalty of burning the candle at both
ends was being paid. To have a bath was a crime; a little water was
allowed for tea and soup _only_. Soda-water was the sole product of the
lemonade factories; but the quality of Adam's ale tasted worse and was
more suggestive of typhoid in that form than in any other. Made into tea
it was better, until the Military, with fears for the nerves of the
"Military Situation," indirectly curbed our excesses in the cup that
does _not_ inebriate. A proclamation was issued which actually went so
far as to establish by "Law" the number of ounces of fuel to be used by
householders! Expert landladies declared the number (six ounces)
insufficient; the cynical boarders said it was _too much_! The medical
men had been entreating us--vainly, for the most part--to boil the water
before drinking it in any form, and had proclaimed it inimical to
health in its raw state. But the "Military Situation," bless you! could
not be compromised by microbes, and if extravagance in fuel involved a
possibility so awful it had to be crushed with an uncompromising hand.

Such were the anomalies prevailing; taken in conjunction with the
ever-increasing seriousness of our position they were hard to bear with
patience. Our hopes of relief were at _zero_. "Three months more" would
sum up a fair consensus of opinion in regard to the further continuance
of the Siege. Oh, it was said, the food would not last so long. But it
had been undergoing such a process of stretching; who knew how much
farther it would not be carried. The authorities were capable of
anything. A death or two (or twenty-two!) from starvation would not
soften hearts obsessed by an elusive "Situation." Surrender, however,
was out of the question; having gone so far we could not turn back. The
Flag, too, whatever the Standard-bearers might be, was worth keeping
aloft. Exacting too much it was; but there was no alternative, save
surrender, to the lowering of it.

Our mental machinery being thus rusted for want of the oil of
contentment it is not incomprehensible that the bulk of the people
should have come to regard the Siege as a thing interminable; and faith
in miracles was not the average citizen's predominant characteristic.
The mere mention of the Column provoked a jeer. Numerous philosophers
came into being. Shakespeare was never so highly appreciated, nor so
famous; never reckoned so "clever," nor quoted so generally; scarcely
heard of before, indeed, by some of the new philosophers. His Hamlet's
soliloquy (which accorded with our mood) was considered very good.

Monday came and went quietly enough, the enemy's attention being given
entirely to Kenilworth. It made no difference to us whether the cattle
lived or died; we regarded the assault as a waste of energy. A few
horses--the irony of it!--were slaughtered by the shells intended for
the oxen. The mutilation of the latter would have been far more
advantageous to the _Civil_ "Situation," and--how nice if the Boers had
been better shots!

Throughout Tuesday a good many interchanges took place between the rival
artillerists. Long Cecil made some excellent practice, while the Boers
occupied themselves with Beaconsfield. A few raps were attempted at the
_Sanatorium_ hall-door, as an intimation that a special eye ogled the
visitors; and some projectiles which fell in the rear of the Kimberley
Club indicated that the same vigilant optic was alive to the fact that
Rhodes lunched there. It may here be mentioned that Mr. Rhodes often
brought his lunch--fresh eggs and the like!--to the hospital to give to
some wounded soldier with unimpaired digestive mechanism. Otto's Kopje
was assailed during the day, and havoc was played with a few
trucks--rusted with ease--at the railway station.

The inevitable calm which precedes a storm was felt on Wednesday. The
morning passed quietly. Whispers of imminent woe were painfully common.
Rumour, subordinating love, ruled "the Court, the camp, the grove." It
was not literally defined, this surpassing evil; its exact nature was
locked up in the breasts of the Authorities. Hours rolled by;
dinner-time (the _time_ for dinner) passed; sufficient for the day is
the evil thereof; we were beginning to think that we had received the
day's allotment, when a boom rang through the startled air! Now, a boom
(in warfare) is not an harmonious note; but one gets accustomed to
discord as to most other things. It was not the boom that was strange;
it was the loud, unearthly chord it seemed to strike; the dread whiz
which followed; which blanched faces, and sent the timid housemaid
diving beneath the bed out of harm's way. Was it an earthquake?--the
buildings shook. A fearful crash dissipated the notion. A fearful crash,
indeed; but a material sound--a relief from its weird, unnerving
prelude. Individuals living miles apart asserted that the missile had
seemed to shoot past their ears. Yet one shell had caused all the
tumult. The awful whiz was repeated again and again. The great six-inch
gun from Mafeking had started its work of destruction. The crisis had
come. The last and bloodiest act of the tragedy had begun--with no
knowledge on our side that it _was_ the last, to sustain us.

It had come without warning; when the heat was insufferable, and the
town a veritable Sahara as regards facilities for quenching thirst; when
the tension was at its worst; when sickness, disease, and death were
busiest. It had come, in fine, with a crown for the sorrows of
Kimberley.

From an artist's point of view a town with high stone buildings would
have offered better raw material for picturesque ruins. In Kimberley we
had but one substantial building that would meet the necessities of the
case, viz., the City Hall. It was the only imposing structure we could
boast of, and was by consequence the harder to hit, albeit some
creditable tries were made to hit it. Large holes were dug in the Market
Square, in which process of grave-digging by storm a little girl was
injured--not by a shell, but by the volley of small pebbles it
displaced. This class of buckshot--apart from the missiles
themselves--did a good deal of light skirmishing about the calves of
people's legs, and threw dust in their eyes with the force and fury of a
"south-easter." One gentleman, meandering in the Square, narrowly evaded
dismemberment, and was fortunate in getting off with a slight bruise.
Another hissing monster went tearing through the roof of the Buffalo
Club, upsetting a billiard table, and laying it out a disordered heap of
firewood on the floor. Fire-wood was worth something; and since chips of
his anatomy were not in the heap--perchance to be utilised in the
cooking of horseflesh for somebody else to eat--its grateful proprietor
conducted himself with resignation.

Meanwhile the scattered fragments of the same mischievous projectile
careered gaily through the air. One piece--no bigger than a Siege
loaf--with sardonic humour embedded itself in the stomach of a horse and
killed it instantaneously. This was pitiful, for the animal had been
fed, and was in the very act of being shod. The smith escaped unhurt.
Another missile tested the metal of a boiler, in a house in Belgravia,
by smashing it into scrap-iron. Whether the shell was intended for a
batch of bread in the adjoining oven is uncertain; the satisfactory fact
remained that the bread was unbroken. Buildings which had been but
imperfectly ventilated by the smaller shells had proper port-holes made
in them, and chimney-tops went down like nine-pins. We were, in short,
in a couple of hours afforded a grim conception of what modern munitions
can do. To that extent the assault was instructive. But that extent was
small and did not impress our common sense--which, by the way, was
small, too, and not at all common.

At six o'clock the firing ceased, and the "Mafeking terror" was allowed
to cool. I might as well explain here that our surmise was entirely
wrong. The gun came from--nobody knew where; but everybody _said_, from
Mafeking. We said more; the Cape Government (the Bond Ministry) had
purchased it in England for the Transvaal, in furtherance, as was
implied, of the projected sweeping of the English into the sea. This was
a hugged delusion until some fool dispelled it by discovering the gun to
be a "_creuzot_" which had been purchased in _France_ by the Transvaal.
But it mattered little where it had been purchased; it was a tangible
reality, a presage of sanguinary import. It was a time for action; and
maybe the picks and shovels did not rise to the occasion! Fort-making
was the rage; the men worked with a will--the women acting as
hod-carriers--to make the graves in which they hoped to live as deep as
possible. All over the city the navvies--amateur and
professional--sweated and panted, so successfully that unless the shells
were to levy _direct_ taxation on the people in the forts, well, the
pieces might skim their heads but they could not cut them off. The
little garden patches were pitilessly disembowelled of the vegetable
seeds so recently planted. We had lived to see them grow, but up they
had to come lest we should be planted ourselves.

In the meantime our friend the enemy--more intimate and candid than
ever--appeared to be fully sensible of the havoc the new weapon was
capable of causing. All ears were strained to catch the first sound of
the Kamfers Dam monster. It was sighted at low range, and the boom,
whiz, and crash seemed to jumble all together. The comparative corks
with which we had been assailed hitherto used to shoot high into the
air, whistling several bars of music before touching _terra firma_, and
by careful attention to time it had been to some extent possible to
dodge them. So at least it was stated. The day waned, and the attack was
not renewed. It was suggested that perhaps the gun had "bust"; but the
straw was too thin to be worth catching at.

It was quite four o'clock in the afternoon ere the first shell hurtled
through the air. The heat in the open was suffocating, and the rush to
the underground atmosphere was not the less brisk on that account. A
constant assault was maintained for two hours. Shops, boarding houses,
and private dwellings were battered indiscriminately. A studio in
Dutoitspan Road was broken up; the Central Hotel was struck; and two
little children were slightly hurt. But the saddest incident of the day
was the death of a young man--an employee of the Standard Hotel--who was
struck down at his work mortally wounded. One or two persons had their
shins kicked by passing fragments. Numerous wonderful escapes were heard
of. What with the vibrations of the demoralising water-melons and their
hap-hazard propensities in the choice of victims, it is difficult even
vaguely to convey an idea of the test to which the mettle of the people
was put.

The bombardment was to have a dramatic termination, for the last heavy
projectile hurled into Kimberley landed in the capacious premises of
Cuthbert's Boot Store. Nobody was hit; but not many minutes had passed
when dense volumes of smoke followed by flames issued through the
windows--until at last the building had developed into a mighty bonfire.
What everybody long feared had at length happened. The excitement was
intense; hundreds of men, women, and children flocked to the burning
pile. The Fire Brigade used the hose for what it was worth; but to no
avail; the house was doomed, and finally was completely gutted. When the
blaze was at its height a few small shells fell amid the gesticulating
throng of sight-seers. A stampede followed; but nobody was struck,
_mirabile dictu_; and there was a general alternative run away and sneak
back as each missile exhausted itself.

There was an element of romance, more startling than the fire itself, in
all this. It was thought that the building (Abraham's Store) adjacent to
the one in flames was in grave danger, and the united exertions of the
firemen were ultimately directed to the task of saving it. Within its
hallowed walls was collected the bulk of our confiscated food! It had
been stored away by order of the Czar, and was guarded day and night by
a strong detachment of well-armed Cossacks. This circumstance lent, it
need hardly be said, a piquant and absorbing interest to the progress of
the blaze. It was of supreme importance--to the "Military" as well as
minor "Situations"--that the supplies should be preserved. What a
glowing page it would be in the war's history that the enemy three miles
away had compelled surrender by burning our provisions! For ourselves,
we got so little of the provisions to eat that we should not have been
particularly broken-hearted by the _contretemps_. Familiarity breeds
contempt, and we Were familiar with the "Military Situation"; its
exactions were so absurdly impalpable. It was natural, therefore, that
the activity of the Military should have provoked a certain amount of
chaff from the multitude of hungry civilians. The chaff went round,
anyhow, whether it was natural or not. Officers tripped over officers in
the wildest confusion, ordering, shouting, swearing, and directing the
shop-boys, the soldiers, and the Kafirs who toiled like demons to throw
the threatened foodstuffs into the street in an impossible space of
time. The men tumbled and staggered in clusters, while the advantages of
being a native unencumbered by the collars of our celestial civilisation
were conspicuously apparent. We had our eyes wide open for all possible
pickings; but so also had the rascally Cossacks. Only one gentleman (a
most respected citizen) got off with a case of--candles! Barrels of oil
were rolled into the streets (between files of soldiers, lest anyone
should roll a barrel home), to the indignant surprise of the people thus
afforded ocular demonstration of the extent to which the commandeering
mania had been carried; it was worse even than they had thought--which
is saving a great deal! When everything had been finally heaped outside,
steps were taken forthwith--to carry them _in_ again. All danger of
their ignition had long since vanished; and the mob dispersed in a wild
rush as the clock chimed nine.

What a day Friday was! Beginning at six in the morning the firing was
kept up unceasingly until night-fall. All day long the death-dealing
projectiles swept like a hurricane through the city, terrorising,
killing, lacerating, surpassing previous visitations by odds that were
long indeed. We had had sufficient evidence to judge of what the great
gun at Kamfers Dam _alone_ could do. But on Friday we were pelted from
all directions with a fury unknown hitherto. The first bulletin to send
a thrill of horror through the people--huddled away in holes--contained
intelligence of the deaths of a well-known lady and her infant child;
they had been struck down as they emerged from their shelter for a
breath of fresh air. In Woodly Street a huge missile went clean through
the roof of a house, shot past the heads of a lady and gentleman seated
on the stoep, fell on a soft patch in front of the door, and burst with
a deafening thud five feet under ground. With the aid of a pick and
shovel the fragments were exhumed and pieced together in the presence of
the pallid spectators; and had the next shell fallen on or near the same
spot (as sometimes happened) the results would have been more
calamitous. Many persons had an idea that they were safer in the streets
than in houses where the additional danger of flying furniture was ever
present. Several exciting escapes were witnessed in the Market Square,
and shells fell thickly in the vicinity of the fire station. A telephone
pole had a semi-lunar lump neatly cut out by a passing missile. With
undiminished fury the bombardment proceeded, battering down walls and
gables, and filling hearts with a desire, a longing for vengeance, to be
duly indulged when the fates were propitious.

It was growing late on this tragic Friday when a profound sensation was
caused by a rumour which excited universal awe. George Labram had been
killed by a shell at the Grand Hotel. It sounded incredible, so
improbable and astounding, that he of all others, he who had achieved
greatness in adverse circumstances by constructing a large gun, the
famous Long Cecil--that he should be a victim. Labram dead! Was it a
fabrication? Alas! no; it was true; a sad, a lurid incident, hardly
needed to mark the day memorable. There was a pathetic strangeness in
the fatality that gave rise to philosophic reflections.

Emboldened by a conviction that we should presently be glad to
supplicate for food and quarter, the enemy relaxed not their energy. It
must not be supposed that our guns were idle all this time. Long Cecil
plied pluckily to hit back, and succeeded in frustrating the ambitious
efforts of the Boers to draw their guns still nearer. They were rather
too close as things were, however, and with the aid of the Maxims we
successfully besought the enemy to fling away ambition. To that limited
extent we defeated Boer designs. Lord Methuen's sympathetic coughs in
the bed of the Orange River were heard at intervals throughout the day,
the long, enervating day which did terminate at last. Worn out by its
trials though we were, sleep was not easily coaxed to weigh our eyelids
down; like other "necessaries," it was rare indeed.

Contrary to expectation, the ferocious assault was not resumed on
Saturday morning. It was a blessed interlude, too; there was so much to
whistle about with unbated breath. The prejudice against the Boers and
the arrogant gentlemen who led and fed us was at its fiercest. How was
it all going to end? A feeling of desperation, engendered by the
sufferings of their families, permeated men's hearts and filled them
with a readiness to dare much, to sacrifice a great deal. The situation
was critical, and many a reckless plan to ease it emanated from minds
normally prudent. The outcry against the Military rose to a high pitch;
the air was reeking with denunciations _apropos_ of their culpability
for--things in general. Their manipulation of the victuals, as I have
endeavoured to show, did not pre-possess many in their favour, and fresh
complaints in this connection were constantly forthcoming. Information
was being suppressed, we cried; our actual condition and circumstances
were being misrepresented; the notoriety of individuals was being
purchased at the expense of the "greater number!" Of course, these
charges had been in the air for a long while; but after Friday they,
though still much in the air, matured in intensity. Dissatisfaction was
expressed on all sides. We--some of us--were willing to admit the
necessity of Martial Law, its rigours, severity, and discipline; but it
was too much to expect us to stand mutely by while the Military gabbled
of the "Military Situation," and (as we suspected) inwardly built
temples of fame in the air, in which they would merit a prominent niche
when, say, half a year had passed; when the last horse-chop had frizzled
on the pan; and when incidentally numbers had been killed, maimed, or
starved!

The clamour developed. No fuel was needed to feed the spreading flame of
resentment. None was needed, but it was supplied all the same--and from
a most unexpected quarter, namely, the _Diamond Fields' Advertiser_! It
was a startling _denouement_. The chains that bound the "mighty engine"
were burst asunder. The spell of militarism was broken; the people's
paper was itself again, and the people took it to their hearts as the
champion of their rights and privileges. Its leading article on Saturday
summarised the situation in a nutshell. It is too good to pass.
Commenting on the version of our sorrows supplied by signal, the sturdy
organ in a manner after our own hearts let flow the following deluge of
consoling truths:--

    "... What are the facts? We have stood a Siege which is rapidly
    approaching the duration of the Siege of Paris; we have practically
    defended ourselves with citizen soldiers; for, thankful as we are to
    the Imperial garrison, their numbers have condemned them to play a
    secondary role; we have raised a large body of mounted troops, who
    have on two occasions attacked the enemy's strongholds with the most
    magnificent gallantry; and through the genius of Mr. Labram--whose
    tragic death yesterday has sent a thrill of sorrow through the whole
    community--we have been able not merely to supply ammunition for the
    pop-guns sent to Kimberley, but also to produce in our workshops the
    only weapon capable of minimising the terrible havoc and destruction
    caused by the enemy's six-inch gun, throwing a projectile weighing
    100 pounds broadcast over the town at range of three miles. They
    shout to us, 'Have patience!' Will they remember that we have fought
    alone and unaided for four long months? Will they remember that we
    are situated practically in the centre of a desert, 600 miles from
    the coast, and have been compelled from the beginning to depend on
    our own resources, and that our lives are daily and hourly exposed
    to danger? Is it unreasonable, when our women and children are being
    slaughtered and our buildings fired, to expect something better than
    that a large British army should remain inactive in the presence of
    eight or ten thousand peasant soldiers? Surely the time has come to
    put in plain English the plain truths of the situation. We have been
    influenced in the past by various considerations, notably a desire
    to avoid compromising what is called the 'Military Situation.' We
    have now come to the conclusion that respect for the 'Military
    Situation' merely means deceiving our own people. The Press
    correspondents cabling to the London papers are actually not
    permitted to mention that Kimberley has been bombarded by a six-inch
    gun! This is indeed the last straw, and if only for the sake of
    future record we take this opportunity of placing the naked truth
    before our readers."

Lively indeed was the satisfaction which greeted this unexpected change
of policy. But there was little time for jubilation, for after breakfast
the shells came whistling through the air. They were delivered in a
desultory fashion, and in the afternoon at still less frequent
intervals. Happily, little damage was done and firing ceased at sunset.
It was over for the week; the prospective respite of thirty-six hours
was a pleasing thought; the morrow would be Sunday, and Sunday was
sacred. Precedent and our sense of the fitness of things alike justified
the assumption. But it did not occur to us that the chimes of midnight
were yet many hours off, nor that from eight o'clock to twelve the
unkindest cut of all was to be administered.

There was something terribly unearthly in the sound of the whizzing
destroyers as they careered across the houses in the blackness of the
silent night. This was the hardest strain of all, and more trying to the
nerves than anything they had to endure in the clear light of day. It
was a never-to-be forgotten ordeal in the lives of the good folk of
Kimberley. From his high and dangerous perch on the conning tower the
bugler ever and anon blew his bugle, suggesting to the scared housemaid
the psychological moment for a plunge beneath the bed. On each
application of the fuse to Long Tom the bugle rang out in clarion tones
its warning to seek cover. It made plaintive melody in the nocturnal
stillness, bespeaking the death-knell perchance of many. Nobody was
abroad, excepting a solemn procession of men wending its way to the
cemetery with all that was mortal of George Labram. Cannon in front of
them volleyed and thundered--to avoid which the late hour had been
chosen for the burial.

Thus closed the long and dreadful week. Over-wrought women and children
emerged from their sodden refuges to court a long-deferred rest, if they
might, for after the events of the night anything might happen. Who was
to tell what the morning might not show?



CHAPTER XVIII

_Week ending 17th February, 1900_


We awoke on Sunday morning with fears of what had happened during the
night. It transpired, however, to our infinite relief, that most of the
shells had fallen on the soft earth of the Public Gardens. One poor
soldier had his leg completely severed from his body, while the escapes
of his nonchalant bed-fellows were hairbreadth. A house was set on fire
and reduced to ashes. Another missile entered the hospital, but did no
great harm beyond rudely extinguishing a lighted lamp. A lady who
resided in a house close by went as near to the borders of eternity as
was possible without crossing them. She was seated on a folding-chair,
and had momentarily altered her position to find a bunch of keys
required by her servant when right through the spot on which she would
have been still reclining but for the timely intervention of the girl a
huge projectile came crashing. The shock was fearful, and though, the
missile failed to burst both women had an escape from death
unprecedented in its narrowness. A native was seriously injured; and,
finally, it was ascertained that a Malay canteen had been invaded, the
sequel to which was the destruction of an army of--empty bottles! There
was a negative satisfaction in the fact that they _were_ empty which the
hapless Malay was not venal enough to appreciate.

In the houses, the streets, the camps, the all-engrossing topics of
discourse were the terrors of the week so dramatically closed when
churchyards yawned on Saturday. Excited groups were talking everywhere,
and questions of hunger and thirst, supremely acute, were subordinated
to the more urgent public importance of the new situation, its dangers,
and its gravity. The feeling grew, the belief gained strength that the
weight of the Siege cross was being officially minimised. The outside
world, Lord Roberts included, knew nothing of its actual heaviness. This
revelation was tangible and distinct. The gun story narrated by our
newspaper only too clearly exemplified the meagre information sent out
concerning the public larder, the public health, the parlous pass
altogether to which the public had been reduced. No confidence could be
reposed in the men at the helm; in pilots who betrayed unwillingness to
steer for harbour; who preferred recklessly to exploit their valour for
the sake of a selfish notoriety. To these haughty, arbitrary men,
accidentally armed with authority, was attributed much that was
avoidable. Their conduct stirred our invective powers to rich depths of
condemnation. Not that from this candid declamation we expected good to
flow; it only served as a salve for our tortured dignity.

It was the last Sunday of the Siege! But no advance ray of light that
was to come illumined our mental horizon. We expected nothing; chimeras
had ceased to satisfy, and were not the less sternly because tacitly
taboo. It was sought indeed to placate us with _talk_ about "imminent
developments." They told us that a meeting of leading citizens had been
held under the presidency of Mr. Rhodes; that the naked truth of things
had been telegraphed to the Commander-in-chief; that the
Commander-in-chief had on receipt of the message sent a flying Column to
relieve us. All this was circulated to soothe; but it failed abjectly in
its purpose. We were not to be fooled "the whole of the time," by cant
about flying Columns--whose wings, like those of Icarus, were only too
likely to get detached in the heat of the Karoo. Such was the temper,
the inflexible pessimism of the people; the much-talked of change that
was to come over the scene was voted a delusion and a fraud.

Business was of course entirely suspended; and further projects to
ensure immunity from danger for the women and children were being
discussed. It was confidently expected that the bombardment would be
resumed with surpassing fury at midnight. An underground dwelling had
been constructed at the railway station, and under the bridge great
walls of sandbags had been erected for the protection of pedestrians. In
all parts of the town gangs of men were excavating the debris heaps and
converting them into habitations in which thousands, irrespective of
colour, social status, or nationality, were henceforth to commingle and
waive all distinctions of class. To the redoubts, where wonderful
contrivances in the way of chambers had been fitted up, some men brought
their families. Shelters and "dug-outs" sprang into being everywhere;
and the troubles of the inner man, in reality more poignant than ever
before, were relegated for the moment to the limbo of forgotten
tribulations. Reliance on relieving expeditions was considered foolish;
all our thoughts and energies were centred in a desire to stay the
slaughter of the innocents, and thus in a manner to spike the enemy's
guns.

A wild craving to spike them in a more concrete fashion pervaded the
minds of hundreds. The cavil against the Colonel abated not a jot; the
epithets hurled at his devoted head were as picturesque as of yore. But
side by side with this domestic hostility there had developed a deeper,
less noisy feeling of resentment against the dear Boers themselves.
Volunteers in plenty were ready for any deed of daring that would enable
them to give back blow for blow. Not the least enthusiastic in this
regard were the Regular soldiers; they wanted to destroy or capture the
gun at Kamfers Dam, recking not the wildness, the impracticability of
the enterprise, but eager for a try--to be heroes in the strife. Colonel
Kekewich was waited on for his sanction; but he argued that the
expedition would entail certain destruction for half of the proposed
attacking force, and would result in failure. The fortifications of the
enemy, he maintained, were too strong, the gun was too well guarded. In
the excitement prevailing a practical view of this kind was apt to be
misconstrued, as indeed it was. The Colonel's position was a delicate
and responsible one; but, ignoring that, his refusal to countenance the
proposed assault lowered him in the minds of individuals bursting to do
something desperate, as well as in the valorous estimation of others who
merely wanted to _see_ it done.

It was the last Sunday of the Siege! It was not stated; no credence
would have been accorded to the suggestion. The day advanced, and
blood-curdling legends--appertaining to the arrival of batteries from
the north, to assist in the completion of Kimberley's
subjugation--abounded on all sides. The rumour-monger excelled himself;
not one but four six-inch guns were to sing on Monday; our past
experiences were to be proved but a foretaste of worse things in store.
The Mines had been talked of as a place of refuge, and when the _hour_
at which we lunched (when luncheons were) was reached the dead walls of
the city were placarded with great posters, inviting all women and
children who desired perfect security to take up their residence in the
caverns of De Beers! The drastic nature of the prophylactic was objected
to; it was feared by the quidnuncs that the treatment might prove more
injurious in its ultimate effects than the ills it was intended to ward
off. But this element was silenced, and soon was witnessed a procession
of people with bundles of bedding and crockery on their shoulders
wending their way (in a thunderstorm) to their deep-level homes. From
all parts of the city streams of families were converging towards the
"Kimberley" and the "De Beers" mines. There were a few bejewelled dames
whose ideal of good form and adoration of the convenances would not
allow them to entertain such a "fall"; it was asking too much; what
would Mrs. Grundy say? There was again a timid set whose notions of a
pilgrimage to the bowels of the earth were peculiar; who associated with
it all the dangers attending a balloon adventure--_plus_ the probability
of asphyxiation. But as time wore on the crowds grew thicker and
thicker, until the outstanding minority began to feel lonely, then to
waver, and finally to take their places as martyrs in the "Lift" that
was to lower them into regions infernal. It was a striking _ensemble_
that mustered at the mouth of the mines. All grades of society were
there, and specimens of almost every European nation, mingled with the
Kafir the Zulu, the Hottentot and the countless shades and depths of
duskiness that make up the coloured classes. The process of lowering the
"Lift" began at four o'clock. It was tedious work. Only eight or nine
persons could be let down at a time, and some of the trippers had so
many rugs, mattresses, cushions, antimacassars, and like lumber along
with them as to make the downward flight of eighteen hundred feet a
pleasure-trip distinctly _modern_. With exemplary patience the emigrants
waited, until it suddenly dawned on them--so slow was the progress
made--that there was every possibility of the dread hour of twelve
anticipating them. And then the pushing and the shoving commenced. It
was past eleven, and there were yet hundreds to go down when "house
full" was shouted. Arrangements were hurriedly made to domicile the
surplus in the debris heaps. Midnight came; not a gun was heard. Morning
dawned; and the weak and young were safe from the ravages of shot and
shell. Thus had closed the last, eventful Sunday of thraldom. The work
achieved did much to ease men's minds, to revivify their hope, and to
strengthen their readiness to immolate themselves, if need be, on the
altar of duty.

Monday was awaited with calmness and a determination to meet the worst
with fortitude. The carnage predicted, and painted in such sanguinary
colours, was slow to begin. It was not until the respectable hour of
seven that a commencement was made. Several untenanted houses were
damaged; four were set on fire at Kenilworth, and though the Brigade
were on the spot as fast as they could be conveyed from Kimberley, the
conflagration was inextinguishable, the houses were burned to the
ground. The intervals between the coming of the shells were much longer
than heretofore. This was due to the fact that a number of our best
marksmen had at length managed to make themselves felt. They had gone
out on the Sunday night and secured cover so close to Kamfers Dam as to
necessitate the exercise of caution on the part of Long Tom's
manipulators. The "snipers" lay alert, invisible, and ready when they
saw a head to hit it. It was alleged that the polls in which the
marksmen were interested had the Red Cross--a useful talisman--waving
over them, the better to enable the gunners to devastate Kimberley with
impunity. Whether this was true is not certain; at any rate, the
_finesse_ did not deceive; every cranium that loomed upon the horizon
received a volley. Sometimes the gun would be fixed partially into
position, and, as the bullets whistled by, lowered, jerked up again, and
fired. Even these hide and seek tactics did not long nonplus the
"snipers"; their adaptability was equal to the occasion. Rumour spread
it that two or three of the Kamfers Dam gunners had fallen; one victim
was certainly vouched for by a number of people who had seen him throw
up his hands, in the very act of firing, and disappear from view. The
success of the "snipers" was the talk of the city. It was tactlessly
conveyed to the bottom of the mines and made some of the women anxious
to get to the top--to breathe gunpowder in preference to brimstone.
Reports went to show, however, that all was as well down below as could
be expected in a "settlement" so new and so congested.

What a spectacle the town presented! Business, as I have stated, had
been entirely suspended since the Friday; but it was not until Monday
that the last vestige of life appeared to have passed away from
Kimberley. Meandering the streets for curiosity or in futile search of
corporal sustenance, it was not until then that the hush of the
thoroughfares struck one in its full intensity. The whole machinery of
man's work and operations was at a standstill. The shops were closed; no
car rattled o'er the stony street; no throb of life was anywhere. A
belated cat, a stranger to milk and mice, and with tail still erect as a
lamp-post to accentuate the body's decay, would now and then cross the
tile-line. The houses wore a funereal aspect. The cabs, enrobed in Red
Crosses, awaited an unwelcome fare--a mangled pedestrian. Spectral
horseman rode hither and thither in pursuit of shells, to aid the
victims of their wrath. A stillness, weird, uncanny, hovered like a pall
above the Diamond City.

    ... now the sounds of population fail,
    No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale,
    No busy steps the grass-grown footway tread,
    For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.

The plucky manner in which "we" had risked our necks for our readers'
sakes had won golden enconiums for the _Diamond Fields' Advertiser_.
Monday's issue was awaited with unwonted eagerness, interested as we
were in the gauntlet flung at Lennox Street. But the gauntlet had been
taken up; there was no paper forthcoming; it was suppressed; the
"Military Situation" proscribed its freedom. This was not altogether
unexpected; but a more prudent counsel would have let the Press alone.
Several stories appertaining to Saturday's outburst were in circulation.
One was that the Editor had been handcuffed and conveyed to
gaol--presumably for seditious libel. But Mr. Rhodes, it was said, had
intervened and offered himself as a "substitute." He would take
responsibility for the famous article; if anybody was to be punished
_he_ would act as criminal. The story ran, however, that he was let off
with a caution--a sentence at once magnanimous and supremely prudent.

Another night assault had been considered probable, but there was no
firing until Tuesday morning when the bombardment was briskly resumed.
Throughout the day the attack was well sustained, despite the strategy
of our "snipers." Shells crashed in close proximity to vacated houses;
half a dozen were broken into; and the _Sanatorium_, where a strong
impenetrable fort had been constructed, was well attended to. But there
was really a better chance of finding Rhodes in the open, for he
peregrinated here, there and everywhere, too much of a fatalist, or too
fond of fresh air to be intimidated by what was flying in it. It was
rumoured that the heel had been knocked off one of his boots; and
fabulous sums were forthwith offered in the souvenir market for the
heel. The story had no foundation in fact--though not for lack of likely
heels; _they_ were as numerous as the pieces of shell that had killed
George Labram. The multiplicity of these fatal fragments was one of the
marvels of the Siege. A single piece had struck Mr. Labram, but the
commercial legend pointed to a score!

The shells continued to tear up the streets until mid-day; after which
all was peace for some hours. The information reached the ears of the
ladies in the mines; and the inevitable consequence was an exodus of the
bolder spirits therefrom, to get a glimpse of the sky; for (as the poet
says):--

    ... the sky we look up to, though glorious and fair,
    Is looked up to the more because Heaven lies there;

and had a superlative fascination for people doomed to deplore their
nearness to "another place." The ladies granted interviews with almost
disconcerting alacrity; their narratives of life down below, its joys
and drawbacks, its good intentions, its climatic conditions and
difficulties, were glowing and diversified. Some were happy and
cheerful, while others, fastidious and accustomed to feathers, would
never be happy until they were--dead! The chorused howling of so many
young ladies and gentlemen, ranging in ages from a fortnight to three or
four (years, not fortnights) kept reasoning people awake o' nights, it
was protested; and other inconveniences like the water--tributaries of
the Styx--in the mines made the atmosphere, and the blankets sometimes,
rather humid. These little discomforts, however, were felt only on one
or two floors; and the fair sex in the main were grateful for the
efforts made to make things cosy for everybody. Sanitation was of course
the paramount difficulty; but altogether to their eternal credit must
redound the indomitable energy and labours of the floor managers, the
mine employees generally, and even the directors, in their new sphere of
caterers for half the population. It was a heavy task, all things
considered, but it was done. Through the long, sweltering day the men
wrought and perspired. Many a missile hissed near them; many a risk they
ran; but they went on doing their duty with unflinching devotion. What
was chivalrous in their nature was stirred, and the good, latent in most
men, shone out brilliantly in all. The ladies acknowledged it freely.
Unexpected little dainties--sent down in the "Lift"--were supplied them
to strengthen their toleration of a home in a warm corner. Baskets, with
the "compliments" of Mr. Rhodes, bunches of grapes, more precious (and
softer, too) than the encrusted gems around, were relished down in the
mines and worth going still deeper for.

The horrisonous whiz of the ostrich eggs from Kamfers Dam was heard
again, and back to the "Lift" flew the ladies. Not a few preferred to
wait until 'night was again descending' to descend along with it. One or
two sturdy amazons refused point blank to be terrorised into descending
at all; they expressed a preference for surface risks. This attitude was
not by any means unintelligible. The babel down below was incessantly
audible; as was the subdued roar of machinery; the heated competition
entailed in the pegging out of claims; the high words excited by the
petty larceny of pilferers who borrowed utensils to break, or keep as
souvenirs. Yet no wayward fragment of shell contributed its quota to
the perpetual din of gem-land. Better still, no exterior sound could be
_heard_; no boom, no faint intonation of the shocks that blighted the
earth's surface ever ruffled its centre. It was the solitary advantage
the centre (as a residence) had over the surface; but it was a
substantial advantage, though rather testily appreciated.

The town was as hushed as a cemetery; and it was not easy to gather
knowledge of the damage done, or of its extent. The hospital was the
recipient of a grant-in-aid, which a gentleman resident in its vicinity
participated in--his face getting chopped by some startled pebbles. One
young lady who had left the mine, who could better hear the shells above
than the confusion of tongues below, was penalised with a gash--happily
slight. A little boy was wounded in the leg. A number of empty houses
were battered; and the headgear of the "Kimberley Mine" was hit by a
passing missile, which occasioned not a little consternation among the
families who, finding no room at the bottom, were quartered at the top
of the shaft. The Opera House was again struck; and at the Presbyterian
Church a dextrous effort was made to discover the "lost chord," which
resulted in the organ's being for ever incapacitated to shed the soul of
any music whatsoever. The caves dug out of the debris heaps were all
inhabited; the teething community never let us forget it. A number of
the mine emigrants had returned to their native land and joined their
friends in the debris heaps. The protection of the debris heaps was not
quite so good as that afforded by the mines, and the music of the cannon
the troglodytes had always with them. But there was more liberty and
comfort in the caves, which were dry as dust and--no slang intended--not
too dusty.

Signs and portents of the approaching revolution were not wanting.
Rumours transcended in sensationalism all past products of inventive
fertility; but though men of weight were beginning to respect the fama
the populace hi the mass were too "_ware_" to fondle her. With the women
hi the mines it was different; their newly-acquired appreciation of
"Home, sweet home" had induced symptoms of their primeval predisposition
to believe all they heard--and they heard all sorts of loving lies. The
enemy, it was noticed, evinced signs of uneasiness at last; he cast
furtive looks behind him, as if some danger lurked unseen. The
traditional stoicism of the Boer was perturbed, and an air of violent
agitation was conspicuous in the portion of the cordon nearest to Modder
River. The "star" shining down on the Free State suggested an
undesirable destiny; it was filled with reconnoitring Britons. For
ourselves, we noted the point from which the balloon had ascended, and
the obvious confusion in the Boer ranks, with curiosity; and though we
still resolutely adhered to belief in the folly of expecting relief,
instinct whispered _nil desperandum_. From out the camp at
Alexandersfontein the enemy appeared to be clearing--all of which
_phenomena_ were the more mysterious because of the silence that
prevailed.

The next day to dawn was Saint Valentine's (Wednesday). The valentines
were delivered by an early post, but the intended recipients had happily
changed their addresses and were not at home to be caricatured. The
_Sanatorium_ received a batch of compliments--as a kind of satire on its
pretensions to salubrity--one of which played havoc with its bakehouse,
and, what was still more serious, a batch of bread in process of baking.
The City Fathers, as per immemorial custom, were not forgotten. One of
them had his house and furniture damaged; another missile struck Mr.
Bennie's dwelling; while, at Beaconsfield, the beauty of Councillor
Blackbeard's verandah was marred, as also nearly were the persons of
half a dozen workmen close by. A few shells shot appallingly close to
the bugler perched on the summit of the headgear. The "sniping" still
went on, but the Boers at Kamfers Dam appeared to be little affected
thereby, or by the signs of alarm betrayed by their fellow-besiegers at
other camps. There was, alas! to be yet one more fatality ere
emancipation was to burst upon us like a thunderbolt. In the afternoon,
while making his ablutions at a tap outside his bakehouse door, an
unfortunate baker was struck down and killed.

Meanwhile proceedings pregnant with meaning were taking place at
Alexandersfontein. The evacuation of the position was going on apace,
and was being watched with bated breath by the Beaconsfield Town Guard.
The numbers of the enemy ensconced at Alexandersfontein had diminished
so materially that Major Rodger with a picked force of one hundred men
ventured to try conclusions with the residue. A sharp, decisive fight
ensued; the few Boers left to defend the place were so startled that
they soon fled, leaving bag and baggage behind them. A few on the Boer
side were killed (or wounded) and half a dozen were taken prisoners. Of
the Major's men, two were injured. Despatches found in the pocket of a
prisoner went to show that Alexandersfontein had been used partially as
a women's laager; and I regret to have to record that a woman and a
young child were severely wounded in the battle.

But it was the sequel to this remarkable fight that roused the people
from their torpor. Large quantities of provisions were found not only in
the camp but in the hotel and houses of the neighbourhood. The news
spread like wildfire, and a great paean of triumph went up from a
thousand throats. From the various redoubts the citizen soldiers,
regardless of risk, hastened in carts to the scene of confiscation. The
early birds got butter! there was no doubting it, for however impaired
may have been our sense of taste, our dilated eyes were right. Some folk
carried away large sacks of meal and flour--satisfied to enjoy _carte
blanche_ in bread without butter. Others, again, bore off bags of
potatoes in contented triumph; while not a few went home with onions in
their pockets and a tear and a smile in their eyes. And when later in
the day a drove of half a hundred oxen, horses, and mules, with their
forage behind them, entered Kimberley they were greeted with a tumult of
applause never meted out to royal pageant or conquering biped coming! A
little whiskey, it was said, had been unearthed; but there was no
evidence, circumstantial or oscillatory, to confirm this. Minor
windfalls in the way of half-sovereigns, five pound notes, Kruger coins,
and trousers buttons had also been picked up and appropriated as a
matter of course.

When Major Rodger had officially apprised the Colonel of his glorious
victory, gyps and re-inforcements were immediately despatched to assist
in the holding of the acquired position. It was soon strongly
garrisoned, and though theatrical preparations for its recovery were not
wanting, no serious attempt was made to re-take it. From the adjacent
ridges (a mile off) an odd shell came hurtling; and thus was an avenue
opened up for the Column that was always coming, and never came.
Cheering auguries there were in plenty, but we guardedly declined to be
cheered, and pretended to snigger sceptically at the auguries. It might
be that the Boers _had_ been "driven out of Colesburg," but we did not
believe it, on principle. From the same source we learned that Cronje
was a prisoner; but he was _not!_ so that our incredulity was in a
measure justifiable to the end. It was conceded, it was being made
manifest daily that the housing of so many people for any length of time
in the over-crowded mines was opt of the question. But that was a
consideration to which the "Military Situation" could not resonably be
expected to play second fiddle.

Despite, therefore, the concrete evidence of impending developments;
despite the distant dust-clouds which only Cavalry, and a good many of
them, could cause; despite the chaos reigning in Boer circles--we still
declined to be hoodwinked on the never-to-be-forgotten morning of
Thursday, the fifteenth of February. On the night previous the sounds of
a heavy musketry duel had been heard. A force had been sent out to
frustrate Boer encroachments and the fury with which (as per
expectation) the lost Alexandersfontein was to be regained. This force
effected a _coup_, and by a series of tricks alarmed the enemy
contiguous to Alexandersfontein into a belief that a bayonet charge in
strength was contemplated, the consequence being that they (the Boers)
beat the air with bullets for full three hours. Three guns had been
trained on our new "possession." To dislodge its garrison, however, more
vigorous measures were called for; and desperate though they continued
to grow, the Boers had no bayonets, without which it was hardly possible
for them to achieve their purpose. Long Tom at Kamfers Dam was too far
off to communicate with the proud usurper; it had perforce to content
itself with the city streets, into which the shells kept falling for
some hours in the forenoon--until positively the last of the missiles
ended its blaze with a groan at eleven o'clock! That the bombardment
would be resumed when the gun had "cooled" nobody thought of doubting
for an instant; and when three hours had sped, when the gun had had time
to become a veritable cucumber, the rumour-monger, positive, superior,
laconic to the last, attributed its silence to a "loose screw!" But, for
us, the screw was never tightened; Kimberley had indeed heard the last
of Long Tom. Our scepticism, however, remained robust, and would not
permit us to treat with aught but ridicule the vaunted wonders with
which the day was to be fraught.

The Colonel and his staff still comported themselves with Patrician
dignity (as befitted their station), only condescending occasionally to
utter unofficial words of cheer. But these utterances were taken for
what they were worth, and the experience of four months had taught us
to estimate their value at rather less than nothing. When, therefore,
towards two o'clock in the afternoon the unfolding of a tale descriptive
of an approaching body of eight thousand cavalry had begun, we
derisively snapped our fingers at the story. With amazing persistence
the narrative was shouted aloud, and with a positiveness which such
angry retorts as "Am I a fool!" "Don't come it on me!" "You're a liar!"
etc., could not subdue. Undaunted the heralds of the oncoming Column
carried their message to every ear, to be accepted or rejected. The bulk
of the people stipulated to "see" the Column, and then they "might"
believe; and it was hard even to induce them to get on to the roof for a
view. The ladies in the mines, who, uncomfortable as they were, had a
horror of being fooled any more, also perversely refused to stir until
they _saw_ the Column; it was not easy to persuade them that an
adjournment to the surface of dull earth was an indispensable
preliminary to the testimony of their eyes. Courier after courier
arrived with the grand and glorious news; and when men on the conning
tower were observed to cheer frantically, wave hand-kerchiefs, and
gesticulate insanely, our flinty nature humbly condescended to soften.
When all in turn beheld the huge body of cavalry drawing nearer and
nearer to Kimberley, the tears began to roll and the pent-up emotion of
four weary months was freely given way to! From verandahs, from windows,
redoubts, and debris heaps the roars of welcome were sent across the
veld. Advance-stragglers, exhausted and travel-stained, presently
arrived, to have their buttons cut off their coats, the feathers plucked
from their hats, their arms wrenched from their sockets, and to be
hugged with merciless and enervating tenderness in the wild paroxysm of
an ultra-Irish _cead mile failte!_ The Siege was raised! The suspense
and sorrow were over! The lowering, ever-darkening cloud had
broken--turned inside out to dazzle with the sheen of its lining our
unaccustomed eyes. We were free again; to revel in pastry and jam, and
ham and eggs, in chops and steaks, in mealies, butter, bread, and _pate
de foie gras_; at liberty to drink, to mix our drinks, to risk "swelled
head" and indigestion if we so willed, as we most certainly did. It was
over; we had fought a good fight; and in the conviction that it was
worth going through it all for the ineffable delight of the final
emergence we sent our hats into the air with an abandon and disregard of
the proprieties that was very, very rude.

The Siege was raised! by French--not Methuen; Codlin was the friend, not
Short! The enthusiasm never slackened, and when late in the afternoon
the General with some of his officers visited the Kimberley Club, the
climax was reached. Cheer after cheer rent the air and shook the trees.
The hand-shaking crusade shook the spheres. Nine o'clock struck; but
much we cared; the warning notes had lost their terrors; they startled
not the joyous groups crowding the streets, laughing, whistling,
singing, crying, dancing, or hilariously toasting French (in the
saloons) on Siege soda-water! Not the least pathetic feature of it all
was the length and wryness of our deliverers' faces when they sought to
buy refreshments--a tin of something--cup of anything--and the loud
laugh that spake the vacant wares of the gay _restaurateur_ as he
brokenly explained the Permit Law with all its "tape" and pomps. The
exodus from the mines was necessarily slow, and midnight had long passed
ere the last of the refugees was restored to the glimpses of the moon.

In the meantime our friends the Boers had taken to flight. Their guns
(including Long Tom) had vanished, and Long Cecil kept barking furiously
to expedite their departure. The Boer positions were soon occupied by
British troops; large quantities of provisions and forage which had been
left behind were duly confiscated; while French's ordnance was
substituted for the guns that had so long intensified the heat of a
Kimberley summer. In town all was bunting and gladness. The red, white,
and blue bedecked the houses, the lamp posts, the tram-cars, the
barrel-organs, the monkeys, the dogs, and the horseflesh! The relief of
Kimberley was an accomplished fact. The issue of the campaign was no
longer in doubt.

Little now remains to be told. There is no need to speak of the rapidity
with which railway communication was restored, or of how amid general
rejoicings a train steamed into the city and steamed out again
choc-a-bloc with passengers in cattle trucks. Nor need I pity the lot of
the postal officials when the sorting of a million letters had begun. It
is not for me to tell of the joy of reading them; to dwell on the
Dronfield fight; the evacuation of Magersfontein; the _tableau_ at
Paarderberg, of its chastening effects on the "Military Situation." Nor
may I speculate on how well or wisely we ate and drank when gormandism
was again in consonance with law-abiding citizenship. All these things
were _after_ the Siege.

For the rest, the citizens had responded to the call of duty with a
spontaneity worthy of the highest praise. They had "roughed it" in their
tents uncomplainingly (sulking only on occasions, like Achilles). All
honour, all gratitude to the good men and women who had spent themselves
so unselfishly for the common good. The De Beers Corporation merit a
meed of commendation for the manner in which they rose to a recognition
of their responsibilities. An expression of regret is due to the
Commanding-Officer for the impatience with which we had treated his
proclamations and chafed under Martial Law. Our attitude had been
oftentimes unfair. But the Colonel's _regency_ had in the main been
conspicuous for high ability, considerateness, and a firmness that could
have scarcely been dispensed with. Finally, Mr. Rhodes--by virtue of his
beneficent, unceasing labours on behalf of the beleagured
population--stood higher than ever in the affections of the people among
whom had been spent so many years of his life. This narrative may be
fittingly closed with a peroration of his--since it reflects the feeling
of the citizens as a whole, which has been my aim throughout. "When we
look back" said the Colossus, "upon the troubles we have gone through,
and especially all that has been suffered by the women and children, we
have this satisfaction, that we have done our best to preserve that
which is the best of commercial assets in the world--the protection of
her Majesty's Flag."





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