In the morning a consultation was held on the condition of the cavalry horses. At first it was determined to kill three hundred, so as to save food for the rest, but afterwards the orders were to turn them out on the flat beyond the racecourse, and let them survive if they could. The artillery horses must be fed as long as possible. The unfortunate walers of the 19th Hussars will probably be among the first to go. Coming straight from India, they were put to terribly hard work on landing, and have never recovered. Walers cannot do on grass which keeps local horses and even Arabs fat enough. What the average horse is chiefly suffering from now is a kind of influenza, accompanied by a frightful cough. My own talking horse kept trying to lie down to-day, and said he felt languid and queer. When he endeavoured to trot or canter a cough took him fit to break his mother’s heart.
January 29, 1900.
The only change to-day was the steady passage of Boers westward, to concentrate afresh round Taba Nyama. Their new laager up the Long Valley had disappeared. Large bodies of men had been seen coming up from Colenso. The crisis of the war in Natal is evidently near. Meantime Kaffir deserters brought in a lot of chatter about the recent fighting. On one point they generally agreed—that Kruger himself was with his men. It is very likely. The staunch old prophet and patriot would hardly stay away when the issue involves the existence of his people.
But when the Kaffirs go on to say that Kruger, Joubert, and Steyn stood together on Mount Moriah (Loskop) to witness the battle, the addition may be only picturesque. It would be well if that were the worst fiction credulity swallowed. One of the head nurses from Intombi told me to-day that the Boers had bribed an old herbalist—she thought at Dundee or somewhere—to reveal a terrible poison, into which they dipped their cartridges, and even the bullets inside their shrapnel! To this she attributed the suppuration of several recent wounds. Of the garrison’s unhealthy condition she took no account whatever. No, it was poison. She had heard the tale somewhere—from a railway official, she thought—and believed it with the assurance of the Christian verity. Nearly every one is like that, and the wildest story finds disciples.
Rations are again reduced to-day to the following quantities: tinned meat 1/2 lb., or fresh meat 1 lb.; biscuit 1/2 lb., or bread 1 lb.; tea, 1/6 oz.; sugar, 1-1/2 ozs.; salt, 1/2 oz., and pepper 1/36 oz.
It has also been decided to turn all the horses out to grass, except the artillery, three hundred from the cavalry, seventy officers’ chargers, and twenty engineers’ draught. These few are to be kept fed with rations of 3 lbs. of mealies, 4 lbs. of chaff, 16 lbs. of grass, 1-1/2 ozs. of salt. The artillery horses will get 2 lbs. of oats or bran besides. In the Imperial Light Horse they are killing one of their horses every other day, and eating him.