This is Dingaan’s Day, the great national festival of the Boers. It celebrates the terrible battle on the Blood River, sixty-one years ago, when Andreas Pretorius slaughtered the Zulus in revenge for their massacre of the Dutch at Weenen, or Lamentation. In honour of the occasion, the Boers began their battle earlier than usual. Before sunrise “Puffing Billy” of Bulwan exploded five 96lb. shells within fifty yards of my humble cottage, disturbing my morning sleep after a night of fever. I suppose he was aiming at the bakery again, but he killed nobody and only destroyed an outbuilding. Farther down the town unhappily he killed three privates. He also sent another shell into the Town Hall, and blew Captain Valentine’s horse’s head away, as the poor creature was enjoying his breakfast. After seven o’clock hardly a gun was fired all day. Opinion was divided whether the Boers were keeping holiday for that battle long ago, or were burying their dead after Buller’s cannonade of yesterday. But raging fever made me quite indifferent to this and all other interests.
THE SEASON OF PEACE AND GOODWILL
Sunday, December 17, 1899.
We are sick of the siege. Enteric and dysentery are steadily increasing. Food for men and horses is short and nasty. Ammunition must be used with care. The longing for the English mail has almost become a disease. Only two days more, we thought, or perhaps we could just stick it out for another week. Now we are thrown back into vague uncertainty, and seem no nearer to the end.
All the correspondents were summoned at noon to the Intelligence Office. That the Intelligence should tell us anything at all was so unprecedented that we felt the occasion was solemn. Major Altham then read out the General Order, briefly stating that General Buller had failed in “his first attack at Colenso,” and we could not be relieved as soon as was expected. All details were refused. We naturally presume the situation is worse than represented. Each of us was allowed to send a brief heliogram, balloting for turn. Then we came away. We were told it was our duty to keep the town cheerful.
The suffering among the poor who had no stores of their own to fall back upon is getting serious. Bread and meat are supplied in rations at a fair and steady price. Colonel Ward and Colonel Stoneman have seen to that, and as far as possible they check the rapacity of the Colonial contractor. But hundreds have no money left at all. They receive Government rations on a mere promise to pay. Outside rations, prices are running up to absurdity. Chickens and most nice things are not to be obtained. But in the market last week eggs were half a guinea a dozen, potatoes 1s. 6d. a pound, carrots 5s., candles 1s. each, a tin of milk 6s., cigarettes 5s. a dozen. Nothing can be bought to drink, except lemonade and