The camp was thought incapable of defence. Artillery could command it from half a dozen hills. Whoever placed it there was neither strategist nor humanitarian. It is like the bottom of a frying-pan with a low rim. The fire is hot, and sand is frying. But, indeed, the whole of Ladysmith is like that. The flat-topped hills stand round it reflecting the heat, and in the middle we are now all frying together, with sand for seasoning. The main ambulance is on the cricket ground. The battalion tents are pitched among the rocks or by the river side, where Kaffirs bathe more often and completely than you would otherwise suppose. The river water, by the way, is a muddy yellow now and leaves a deep deposit of Afric’s golden sand in your glass or basin. The headquarters staff has seized upon two empty houses, and can dine in peace. The street is one yelling chaos of oxen in waggons and oxen loose, galloping horses, sheep, ammunition mules, savages, cycles, and the British soldier. He, be sure, preserves his wonted calm, adapts himself to oxen as naturally as to camels, puts in a little football when he can, practises alliteration’s artful aid upon the name of the Boers, and trusts to his orders to pull him through. His orders are likely to be all right now, for Colonel Ward has just been put in command of the whole town, and already I notice a method in the oxen, to say nothing of the mules. What is it all but a huge military tournament to be pulled together, and got up to time?
This morning most people expected the attack would begin. I rode five miles out before breakfast to see what might be seen, but there were only a few Lancers pricking about by threes, and never a Boer or any such thing. So we have waited all day, and nothing has happened till this afternoon the rumour comes with authority that a train has been captured at Elands Laagte, about sixteen miles on the way to Dundee. The railway stopped running trains beyond there yesterday, and had better have stopped altogether. Anyhow, the line of communication between us and the splendid little brigade at Dundee is broken now. Dundee is pretty nearly fifty miles N.N.E. of this. The camp is happily on a stronger position than ours, and not mixed up with the town. But at present it is practically besieged, and no one can say how long the siege of Ladysmith also will be delayed. For the moment, it seems just possible that the great force, which we vaguely hear is coming out from England (all English news is hopelessly vague), will have to send the bulk of its troops to fight up Natal for our relief. But the south of Natal having few rocks is not suited for Boer warfare. When the Boers boasted they were coming to Durban, a wit replied: “Then you will have to bring the stones with you.” For a Boer much prefers to have a comforting stone in front of him in the day of battle. In these districts every hill is for him a natural fortress. His hope is that we shall venture into the mountains; ours that he will venture down to the plains. So far hope’s flattery has kept us fairly well apart. The day after to-morrow is now fixed by popular judgment for battle and attack. But only one thing is certain: we can stand still if we choose, and the Boers cannot.