The mass of Boers appeared to be lying under the shelter of Taba Nyama (or Intaba Mnyama—Black Mountain). It is a nine-mile range of hills running east and west, nearly parallel to the Tugela, and having Potgieter’s Drift on its left. The left extremity, looking over the Drift, rises into double peaks, and is called Mabedhlane, or the Paps, by Zulus. The main Boer position appears to be halfway up these peaks and along the range to their right. To-day it is said that the relieving force intends to approach the mountain by parallels, sapping and mining as it goes, and treating the positions like a mediaeval fortress, or one of those ramparted and turreted cities which “Uncle Toby” used to besiege on the bowling green.
One’s only fear is about the delay. The population at Intombi is now approaching 4,000, nearly 3,000 being sick. I doubt if we could put 4,000 men in the field to-day. Men and horses crawl feebly about, shaken with every form of internal pain and weakness. Women suffer even more. The terror of the shells has caused thirty-two premature births since the siege began. It is true a heliogram to-day tells us there are seventy-four big waggons waiting at Frere for our relief—milk, vegetables, forage, eleven waggons of rum, fifty cases of whisky, 5,000 cigarettes, and so on. But all depends upon those parallels, so slowly advancing against Taba Nyama, and our insides are being sapped and mined far more quickly.
Towards noon a disaster occurred, which has depressed the whole town. Two of the Powerful’s bluejackets have lately been making what they called a good thing by emptying unexploded Boer shells of their charges, so that the owners might display them with safety and pride when the siege is over. For this service they generally received 10s. each. It is only two days since they were in my cottage—chiselling out the melinite from a complete “Long Tom” shell which alighted in my old Scot’s garden. I watched them accomplish that task safely, and this morning they set to work upon a similar shell by order of the Wesleyan minister, who wished to keep it in his window as a symbol of Christianity. One of the men was holding it between his knees, while the other was quietly chipping away, when suddenly it exploded. Fragments of one of the men strewed the minister’s house—the other lay wondering upon the ground, but without his legs. Whilst I write he is still nominally alive, and keeps asking for his mate. One of his legs has been picked up near the Town Hall—about 150 yards away.
[Illustration: SPECIMENS OF BOER SHELLS]
A lesser disaster this morning befel Captain Jennings Bramley, of the 19th Hussars. Whilst on picket he felt something slide over his legs, and looking up he saw it was a snake over 5ft. long. The creature at once raised its head also, and deliberately spat in his face, filling both eyes with poison. That is the invariable defence of the “Spitting Snake” (Rinkholz in Dutch, and Mbamba Twan or child catcher in Zulu). The pain is agonising. The eye turns red and appears to run with blood, but after a day or two the poison passes off and sight returns. The snake is not otherwise poisonous, but apparently can count on success in its shots at men, leopards, or dogs.