Relief was to have come to us to-day for certain, but we hear nothing of it beyond vague rumours of troops at Estcourt and Maritzburg. We are slowly becoming convinced that we are to be left to our fate while the main issue is settled elsewhere. Colonel Ward has organised the provisions of the town and troops to last for eighty days. He is also buying up all the beer and spirits, partly to cheer the soldiers’ hearts on these dreary wet nights; partly to prevent the soldier cheering himself too much.
In the evening I sent off another runner with a telegram and quite a mail of letters from officers and men for their mothers’, wives, and lovers over seas. He was a bony young Kaffir, with a melancholy face, black as sorrow. At six o’clock I saw him start, his apish feet padding through the crusted slush. One pocket bulged with biscuits, one with a tin of beef. Between his black chest and his rag of shirt he had tucked that neat packet which was to console so many a woman, white-skinned and delicately dressed. Fetching a wide compass, he stole away into the eastern twilight, where the great white moon was rising, shrouded in electric cloud.
November 17, 1899.
A few shells came in early, and by nine o’clock there was so much firing on the north-west that I rode out to the main position of the 60th (King’s Royal Rifles) on Cove Hill. I found that our field battery there was being shelled from Surprise Hill and its neighbour, but nothing unusual was happening. The men were in a rather disconsolate condition. Even where they have built a large covered shelter underground the wet comes through the roof and trickles down upon them in liquid filth. But they bear it all with ironic indifference, consoling themselves especially with the thought that they killed one Boer for certain yesterday. “The captain saw him fall.”
Crossing the open valley in front I came to the long ridge called Observation Hill. There the rifle fire hardly ever ceases. It is held by three companies of the K.R.R. and the 5th Lancers dismounted. It looks out over the long valley of Bell’s Spruit; that scene of the great disaster where we lost our battalions, being less than three miles away at the foot of the rugged mountain beyond—Surprise Hill. Close in front is one of the two farms called Hyde’s, and there the Boers find shelter at nights and in rain. The farm’s orchard, its stone walls, the rocks, and all points of cover swarm with Boer sharpshooters, and whenever our men show themselves upon the ridge the bullets fly. An immense quantity of them are lost. In all the morning’s firing only one Lancer had been wounded. As I came over the edge the bullets all passed over my head, but our men have to keep behind cover if they can, and only return the fire when they are sure of a mark. I found a detachment of Lancers, with a corporal, lying behind a low stone wall. It happened to be exactly the place I had wished to