Other festivities, remote from the unaccustomed feminine charm, were a series of mule races, near the old camp, for soldiers and laughing Kaffir boys. The men’s dinner itself was enough to mark the day. It is true everything was rather skimped, but after the ordinary short rations it was a treat to get any kind of pudding, any pinch of tobacco, and sometimes just a drop of rum.
Almost the saddest part of the siege now is the condition of the animals. The oxen are skeletons of hunger, the few cows hardly give a pint of milk apiece, the horses are failing. Nothing is more pitiful than to feel a willing horse like mine try to gallop as he used, and have to give it up simply for want of food. During the siege I have taught him to talk better than most human beings, and his little apologies are really pathetic when he breaks into something like his old speed and stops with a sigh. It is the same with all.
SICKNESS, DEATH, AND A NEW YEAR
LADYSMITH, December 26, 1899.
Good news came through the heliograph about General Gatacre’s force at Dordrecht. There were rumours about Lord Methuen, too, for which Dr. Jameson was quoted as authority. But the best evidence for hope was the unusual violence of the bombardment. It began early, and before the middle of the afternoon the Boers had thrown 178 shells at us. They were counted by a Gordon officer on Moriden’s Castle, and the total must have reached nearly 200 before sunset. Such feverish activity is nearly always a sign of irritation on the part of the Dutch, and one can always hope the irritation is due to bad news for them.
I have not heard of any loss in town or camp. Our guns, with the exception of the howitzers and Major Wing’s field guns, which can just reach the new howitzer on Surprise Hill, have hardly replied at all.
The milk question was the most serious of the day. I saw a herd of thirty-five cows which had only yielded sixteen pints at milking time. It is now debated whether we shall not have to feed the cows and starve the horses; or kill the thinnest horses and stew them down into broth for the others. The reports about the condition of Intombi Camp were particularly horrible to-day. But General Hunter will not allow any one to visit the camp, and it is no good repeating secondhand reports.
December 27, 1899.
The side of Tunnel Hill, at the angle of the Helpmakaar road, where Liverpools and Gloucesters have suffered in turn, was to-day the scene of an exactly similar disaster to the Devons.