THE NIGHT SURPRISE ON GUN HILL
December 5, 1899.
We have now been shut up nearly five weeks. Some 15,000 people or more have been living on a patch of ground roughly measuring three miles each way. On that patch of ground at the lowest estimate 3,500 cases of explosive iron have been hurled at high velocity, not counting an incalculable number of the best rifle bullets. One can conceive the effect on a Londoner’s mind if a shell burst in the city. If another burst next day, the ’buses would begin to empty. If a hundred a day burst for five weeks, people would begin to talk of the paralysis of commerce. Yet who knows? The loss of life would probably be small. The citizen might grow as indifferent to shells as he is to shooting stars. Here, for instance, the killed do not yet amount to thirty, the wounded may roughly be put down at 170, of whom, perhaps, twenty have died, and all except the confirmed cave-dwellers are beginning to go about as usual, or run for cover only when it shells particularly hard.
To-day has not been hard in any sense. It opened with a heavy Scotch mist, which continued off and on, though for the most part the outlines of the mountains were visible. “Long Tom” of Gun Hill did not speak. The bombardment was almost entirely left to “Puffing Billy” and “Silent Susan.” They worked away fairly steadily at intervals morning and afternoon, but did no harm to speak of.
Again large numbers of Boers were seen moving along the south-west borders, and a Kaffir brought in the story of a great conference at Bester’s on the Harrismith line. Whether the conference is to decide on some future course of action, or to compare the difference between the allied states, we do not know. Probably the Dutch will not abandon the siege without a big fight.
On our side we contented ourselves with sending a shot or two from “Bloody Mary” to Bulwan, but the light was bad and the shells fell short. Sir George White now proposes to withdraw the curfew law, in hopes that any traitors may be caught red-handed. The Town Guard, consisting of young shop assistants with rifles and rosettes, are displaying an amiable activity. Returning from dinner last night, I was arrested four times in the half mile. I may mention that it is now impossible to procure anything stronger than lime-juice or lemonade.
December 6, 1899.
“Long Tom” of Gun Hill surprised us all by beginning a fairly rapid fire about 10 a.m. “Lady Anne” and “Bloody Mary” replied within a few moments of each other, and the second of the two shots exploded right on the top of “Tom’s” earthworks, but he fired again within a few minutes, aiming at the new balloon, the old one having been torn to pieces in a whirlwind nearly a week ago. When the balloon soared out of reach, he turned a few shots upon the town and camps, and then was silent.