Buller’s guns were heard for about two hours in the morning, and wild rumours filled the air. Roberts and Kitchener were coming out. Buller was across the Tugela. Within the week our relief was certain. At night the 18th Hussars gave another concert among the rocks by the riverside. In the midst of a comic song on the inner meaning of Love came a sound as of distant guns. The inner meaning of Love was instantly forgotten. All held their breaths to listen. But it was only some horses coming down to water, and we turned to Love again, while the waning moon rose late beside Lombard’s Kop, red and shapeless as a potsherd.
December 24, 1899.
Nothing disturbed the peace of Christmas Eve except three small shells thrown into the town about five o’clock tea-time, for no apparent reason. The main subject of interest was the chance of getting any Christmas dinner. Yesterday twenty-eight potatoes were sold in the market for 30s. A goose fetched anything up to L3, a turkey anything up to L5. But the real problem is water. The river is now a thick stream of brown mud, so thick that it cannot be filtered unless the mud is first precipitated. We used to do it with alum, but no alum is left now. Even soda-water is almost solid.
December 25, 1899.
The Boer guns gave us an early Christmas carol, and at intervals all day they joined in the religious and social festivities. Our north end of the town suffered most, and we beguiled the peaceful hours in digging out the shells that had nearly killed us. They have a marketable value. One perfect specimen of a 96lb. shell from Bulwan fell into a soft flower bed and did not burst or receive a scratch. I suppose it cost the Boers about L35, and it would still fetch L10 as a secondhand article. A brother to it pitched into a boarding house close by us, and blew the whole gable end sky high. Unhappily two of the inmates were wounded, and a horse killed.
But such little contretemps as shells did not in the least interfere with the Christmas revels. About 250 children are still left in the town or river caves (where one or two have recently been born), and it was determined they should not be deprived of their Christmas tree. The scheme was started and organised by Colonel Rhodes and Major “Karri” Davis, of the Imperial Light Horse. Four enormous trees were erected in the auction rooms and decked with traditional magnificence and toys ransacked from every shop. At half-past eight p.m. fairyland opened. A gigantic Father Christmas stalked about with branches of pine and snowy cap (the temperature at noon was 103deg. in the shade). Each child had a ticket for its present, and joy was distributed with military precision. When the children had gone to their dreams the room was cleared for a dance, and round whirled the khaki youths with white-bloused maidens in their arms. It was not exactly the Waterloo Ball with sound of revelry by night, but I think it will have more effect on the future of the race.