Since the siege began one farmer has steadily continued to plough his acres on the plain near the racecourse. He reminded one of the French peasant ploughing at Sedan. His three ploughs went backwards and forwards quite indifferent to unproductive war. But to-day the Boers deliberately shelled him at his work, the shells following him up and down the field, and ploughing up the earth all wrong. Neither the farmer nor his Kaffir labourers paid the least attention to them. The plough drove on, leaving the furrow behind, just as the world goes forward, no matter how much iron two admirable nations pitch at each other’s heads.
Of course percussion-fused shells falling on ploughed land seldom burst, as a boy here found by experiment. Having found an eligible little shell in the furrows, he carried it home, and put it to soak in his washing basin. When it had soaked long enough, he extracted the fuse and proceeded to knock out the powder with a hammer. Then the nasty thing exploded in his face, and he lost one eye and is otherwise a good deal cut about.
In the afternoon I rode out again to the howitzers on Waggon Hill. The 6 in. gun which they command from their invisible station has not fired for six days. The Boer gunners dare not set it to work for fear of the 85lb. shells which are fired the moment Boers are seen in the sangar. Two were fired just as I left.
From the end of the hill there was a magnificent view of the great precipices in Basutoland, but hardly a Boer could be seen. Ninety-seven waggons had been counted the evening before, moving towards the Free State passes, but now I saw hardly a dozen Boers. Yet if their big gun had sent a shrapnel over us, what a bag they would have made! Colonel Rhodes and Dr. Jameson were at my side, General Ian Hamilton, with Lord Ava and Captain Valentine were within six yards, to say nothing of Captain Clement Webb, of Johannesburg fame, and other Imperial Light Horse officers.
In the evening the Natal Carbineers gave an open-air concert to a big audience. A good many women and girls came. As usual the sailors had the best of it in the comic songs, but the event of the evening was “The Queen.” Though the Boers must have seen our lights, and perhaps heard the shout of “Send her victorious,” they did not fire, not even when the balloon, fresh charged at the gas-works, stalked past us like a ghost.
December 7, 1899.
A glorious day for the heliograph, which flashed encouragement on us from that far-off mountain. But little else was done. The bombardment was only half-hearted. Some of the shells pitched about the town, smashing walls and windows, and two of the Irish Fusiliers were wounded by shrapnel. Towards evening a lot of children in white dresses were playing among the rocks opposite my window, when “Puffing Billy,” of Bulwan, sent a huge shell over my roof right into the midst of them as it seemed. Fortunately it pitched a few yards too high. The poor little creatures scuttled away like rabbits. They are having a queer education—a kindergarten training in physical shocks.