January 30, 1900.
Mortals depend for their happiness not only on their circulation but on the weather. To-day was certainly the gloomiest in all the siege. It rained steadily night and morning, the steaming heat was overpowering, and we sludged about, sweating like the victims of a foul Turkish bath. Towards evening it suddenly turned cold. Black and dismal clouds hung over all the hills. The distance was fringed with funereal indigo. The wearied garrison crept through their duties, hungry and gaunt as ghosts. There was no heliograph to cheer us up, and hardly a sound of distant guns. The rumour had got abroad that we were to be left to our fate, whilst Roberts, with the main column, diverted all England’s thoughts to Bloemfontein. Like one man we lost our spirits, our hopes, and our tempers.
The depression probably arose from the reduction of rations which I mentioned yesterday. The remaining food has been organised to last another forty-two days, and it is, of course, assumed we shall have to use it all, whereas the new arrangement is only a precaution. Colonel Ward and Colonel Stoneman are not to be caught off their guard. One of their chief difficulties just now is the large body of Indians—bearers, sais, bakers, servants of all kinds—who came over with the troops, and will not eat the sacred cow. Out of about 2,000, only 487 will consent to do that. The remainder can only get very little rice and mealies. Their favourite ghi, or clarified butter, has entirely gone, and their hunger is pitiful. The question now is whether or not their religious scruples will allow them to eat horse.
Most of us have been eating horse to-day with excellent result. But one of the most pitiful things I have seen in all the war was the astonishment and terror of the cavalry horses at being turned loose on the hills and not allowed to come back to their accustomed lines at night. All afternoon one met parties of them strolling aimlessly about the roads or up the rocky footpaths—poor anatomies of death, with skeleton ribs and drooping eyes. At about seven o’clock two or three hundred of them gathered on the road through the hollow between Convent Hill and Cove Redoubt, and tried to rush past the Naval Brigade to the cavalry camp, where they supposed their food and grooming and cheerful society were waiting for them as usual. They had to be driven back by mounted Basutos with long whips, till at last they turned wearily away to spend the night upon the bare hillside.
[Illustration: INDIAN BAKERY]
January 31, 1900.
Again the sky was clouded, and except during an hour’s sunshine in the afternoon no heliograph could work. But below the clouds the distance was singularly clear, and one could see all the Dutch camps, and the Boers moving over the plain. The camps are a little reduced. Only four tents are left in the white string that hung down the side of Taba Nyama.