Sunday again! the most popular day of the seven; pre-eminently so since the war began. The peace that marked an occasional week-day was the certain accompaniment of the Sunday. The conditions of life were normal on Sunday; its advent made us happy. Following upon the unpleasant experiences of the previous day it was peculiarly welcome, albeit, mayhap, the herald of troublous times. The death of the poor washerwoman had opened up a world of possibilities; morbid forebodings were conjured up by morbid people, and nobody dreamt of measuring future fatalities by so low an average as one per day. But yesterday, we were as safe as if we were "in Piccadilly." A great man had said so—a great man and millionaire. His name was Rhodes, Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Chairman of the De Beers Corporation, and "no mean judge of a situation," our newspaper stated in substantiation of his Piccadilly peccadillo. He had come up specially for the siege, it was said by some who, had they but half his foresight, would have "specially" gone away for it. Well, Mr. Rhodes, felt safe and we, too, had felt safe until the sad event of Saturday rather neutralised the confidence inspired by the shrewd, but human, millionaire. There was a minority, indeed, who could not logically look for aught but ruin and disaster as a sequence to the shock of Saturday. "Look at the narrow escapes so many had," the minority argued. There were plenty of stories. Legends of hairbreadth escapes were legion. They were well told by fluent liars, by such raconteurs as talk of prodigious things in fishing, and catch nothing but colds. The narrow escapes were yet to come. Our wounded in the hospital were doing well; some of them had already been discharged. Their escapes had been narrow enough, in all conscience; but they were not romantic; they occurred on the field of battle.
The enemy apparently "slept it out" on Monday. There was no firing until eight o'clock when a beginning was made with Wesselton. A number of shells fell in the vicinity of the mine; but, as a lady afterwards reported: "they did not hit even a dog." Some missiles fell also on the Bulfontein side, and were buried in the debris heaps. A more serious assault was subsequently opened on the town itself; for several hours shells came pouring in from Kamfers Dam and the Lazaretto Ridge. The firing did not cease until upwards of seventy missiles had burst in the streets. In the market square a horse was killed—one of two attached to a Cape cart. The other animal remained alive, very much alive, as its kicking testified. The driver of the vehicle, a Dutchman, received a wound in the arm. Another Dutchman, curiously enough, was injured slightly while injudiciously exposing himself on top of a debris heap. Happily, no more serious casualities occurred. The Municipal Compound and the Fire Brigade Station had to bear the brunt of the bombardment, but the damage done was small.
Despite the real element of danger now attending the mania, the thirst for souvenirs was unquenchable yet, and the masses of struggling humanity that seemed to drop from the clouds simultaneously with every missile to be in at its dismemberment, were as fierce as and more reckless than before in the fight for fragments. When the shells had been wont to crumble accommodatingly, as would a clay pipe, the winning of a curio had—I mix the metaphor advisedly—merely involved participation in a football scrimmage. But since the ball had, as it were, begun to turn "rusty" the popularity of the game, so far from diminishing, increased. All day long its devotees "scrummed" and "shoved" for the coveted trophies. Quite a brisk trade was done in souvenirs, the smallest scrap of iron fetching a tickey (threepence), and so on in proportion to weight and size as far as half a sovereign. These souvenirs included sundry nuts and bolts which had been kicked about the neighbourhood of De Beers workshops for a quarter of a century. Whole shells, intact, were sold for a couple of pounds each, and the hundred or so received up to date circulated a good bit of money. One of the funny spectacles of the bombardment was a local entomologist, who had a sense of humour, endeavouring to catch the missiles with his butterfly net; the "buzzing," he said, attracted him. This humourist is still alive—he caught nothing.
Healthy folk who lived to eat were at this stage beginning to complain of hunger, and to assert—not quite truthfully—that they got but "one meal a day." Eight ounces of meat was not enough for them; they could devour it all at a single sitting; they were slowly starving. Little sympathy was felt with these uneasy gourmands. Our sources of supply were by no means inexhaustible, and the Colonel's restriction was intelligible to all reasonable men. The Boers, on the other hand, appeared to possess more live stock than they needed, and it was upon this hypothesis that the plan of confiscating a portion of the one to equalise the other was conceived by the artful and gallant Colonel. No sooner thought of than done. From among the coloured fraternity whose love of looting had occasioned trouble in the past he selected the most expert, and commissioned them to resume their bad ways. On the Monday night operations were commenced, and carried out successfully. By dint of much patience and caution, the trusty looters were enabled (unperceived) silently to segregate some seventy oxen and drive them into Kimberley. Splendid animals they were, too, and an addition to our depleted flocks and herds which gave us solid satisfaction.
Whether it was that the enemy was engrossed in a vain search for the missing cattle—if they were missed at all—he gave no expression to his indignation next morning. Not until lunch time had we any indications of annoyance. The vials of Boer wrath were then let loose in earnest, and from the Lazaretto Ridge we were peppered furiously. The shells fell thickly in the principal thoroughfares—eighty or ninety of them—one for every bullock "pinched." Fortunately again, the assault was unattended by loss of life. The tin walls of Saint Cyprian's Church were perforated by pieces of shell. Another hissing monster dropped in Dutoitspan Road in front of a tobacco-shop, but thanks to the picturesque array of pipes and pouches in the window the missile, as if it had an eye for art, refrained from bursting; instead it made a little grave to the depth of several feet and buried itself with honour. Three or four buildings were struck, and a funny man spread an alarming rumour relative to the loss of eighteen lives in the Queen's Hotel! On enquiry it transpired that two cats had met their doom. The victims had been serenading in an out-house when the fatal missile (very properly) slit their throats. The dear people of the neighbourhood affected little sympathy for the slain whose orgies had kept them awake at night. Indeed a wish was expressed that a few more of the cult might get hissed off the world's stage. And curiously enough a second shell did fall at the hotel; but the feline minstrels were out of the way—and their well-wishers so much in it that they made peace with the cats at once.
The night had been dark, with vivid flashes of lightning to brighten it now and then, and nature's artillery had rolled until the Boers on Wednesday morning took Up the refrain with theirs. One poor old man was wounded in the arm as he lay sleeping in his bed. Houses here and there up Newton way were damaged, the occupiers escaping injury. The firing went on for several hours until heavy rains came down and put a stop to it.
A further note was received from Mr. Wessels. The Dutch folk in our midst were fairly numerous and not only as liable to laceration as the British, but, judging by our records so far, rather more so. They had experienced rank bad luck altogether, and a little bird may have whispered it to Wessels. However that may be, the Commandant reiterated his former request in their regard. Now, Colonel Kekewich was only too willing to accede to the request, in proof of which he wrote up a special proclamation on the subject. But the Dutch adhered to their first determination; there is no place like home; leave it they would not. Mr. Wessels, they insinuated, would not find them new houses and gardens; nor too much to eat—not even half a pound of meat (perhaps). There were only three or four families prepared to pack up and with more reluctance than exultation take their departure.
The possibility of springing something in the nature of a surprise upon the enemy was a thought which had long exercised the mind of Colonel Kekewich. The idea culminated in a stiff fight on Thursday. Three or four hundred of our mounted men had remained up all night, and two guns of the Diamond Fields' Artillery had no sleep either. It was still dark when the cavalcade fell into line and proceeded noiselessly along a ridge leading to Carter's Farm (occupied by the Boers). Daylight had not yet broken when the men in khaki reached their destination—reached it, because owing to the recent rains a thick mist obscured the landscape, and the invaders found themselves in closer proximity to the Farm than they desired to be—in fact they were right among the "Grabbers." The surprise was complete—far too complete, for the attackers were as much astonished as were the yawning Boers. Both sides, however, retained sufficient presence of mind to shoot at each other; and they did. The enemy roused from their slumbers had their vision clarified effectively, an operation which had the drawback of enabling them the better to see their visitors. The battle waxed fierce, and when re-inforcements came galloping to the assistance of the Boers it looked as if the Light Horse must be worsted. But the artillery was behind them, and from it was belched forth a hail of shrapnel which compelled the re-inforcements to draw rein and "pant to the place from whence at first they flew." Our guns away back at the Reservoir also contributed to this result. Thus it was that the task of evicting the Boers was in the end a comparatively easy one. Thirteen of their number lay dead or wounded on the Farm. We had one killed and three severely wounded, seven others, including Major Peakman, getting slightly hurt.
That a bombardment would follow these events was to be expected: nor were we disappointed. The town, its thoroughfares and houses were left alone for the nonce, while the guns were trained on the redoubts. This was a precedent we could have wished to see followed oftener; but it was mainly the heart of Kimberley that was assailed at all times. The new departure did not prove successful; no great harm was done, for the shells lighting on the soft veld were kinder than the shellers, and generally failed to burst. As for the citizen soldiers, they received these attentions with a nonchalance that would reflect credit on older campaigners. They did not get enough of them; there was money in the missiles; and the local army had a way of appreciating a good cigar, with a puff of "Cape Smoke." A barter in souvenirs would admit of these things, and their indulgence would not be the less sweet because payment of the damage would really fall upon the producer (President Kruger).
It was at this stage in the vicissitudes of our siege existence that the authorities and the public were confronted with a fresh difficulty and made to feel the presence of a new danger. The outbreak of hostilities had sent a large number of natives from the adjoining districts into Kimberley, and these added to the permanent coloured population increased our responsibilities. There was not sufficient work for so many. This idle host was a menace to the maintenance of law and order, and unless something was done for it internal trouble of a serious kind was sure to arise. These men had no money wherewith to buy food, and although they could not get liquor to drive them to deeds of desperation, hunger would soon supply an impetus. And so it came to pass that the philanthropic spirit was awakened in the breasts of philanthropists and simulated by others who loved themselves only. That work must be found for the coloured horde was the unanimous verdict of the Upper Ten. It was a problem, peculiarly complex at a time when the "first law of nature" (in a restricted sense) was so stern in its exactions. But it was a problem which had to be solved and which puzzled everybody until—Mr. Rhodes entered the breach with a solution. He had been relieving distress in a quiet, unostentatious way, and he now settled the native question with characteristic celerity. He held a short conference with the Mayor; evolved a scheme of road-making; had some thousands of men employed next day; and, in fine, completed arrangements to pay away two thousand pounds per week with as little fuss as another man—or millionaire—would make about a collar lost in the wash. Indigent "whites," also, were provided for; Mr. Rhodes made himself responsible for the formation of an auxiliary Fire Brigade for the behoof of refugees more accustomed to a pen than a pick. The Colossus had some enemies in Kimberley; but they were less severe—less numerous, perhaps—from that day onward.
Our defences were by this time in thorough ship-shape, and the connection of the several redoubts by telephone had just been completed. From the reservoir another brand new searchlight beamed down upon the Boers. The Town Guard had taken up permanent residence in the camps. Its members were supplied with soldiers' rations; also with professional cooks—who knew better hotels—to cook them. The camp cook was quite a character, much deferred to and patronised, and was ever eager to drop his ladle in favour of the refrigerator which he kept ready to make cold meat of the cool Boer who ventured within range of it. The chef whose cooking-pot had been scuttled was particularly thirsty for "the vengeance blood alone could quell."
On Friday a party of the enemy approached the reservoir, presumably to see if there were water in it. But when our gunners metaphorically advised them that there was danger of falling in, the party took the hint and retired. Later on, the Boers advised us with numerous tokens of their good-will. While this was being done a large force of the enemy were massing at Alexandersfontein, as if they had finally decided to take Kimberley without more ado. They deployed in battle array, preparatory to sweeping all before them. The hooters had been relegated to oblivion and already, swan-like, sung their sad, sweet song. Whether the silence of these atrocious mimics induced the Boer to fancy that he might surprise us, is not known. Certain it was that we did see him, and were awaiting his coming with composure. It was a long wait. The mounted men got tired sitting in their saddles, and were ordered out to query the delay. They broke up into skirmishing parties and shook their fists at the foe. But it was all to no purpose; the foe declined to be caught with chaff, and decided "to fight another day."
The townspeople expected a sensational sequel to the affair and assembled in thousands to greet the returning horsemen. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, attired in duck pants, a slouch hat, and a necktie, happened to be passing in a cart at the same moment, and to his profound disgust was greeted with cheers. He raised his hat, however, and smiled, with a sigh.
Saturday, contrary to expectation, was quiet. There was the capture of a lot of cattle to avenge. A good haul had been made on the Friday night—of fine corpulent cows, worth a deal of money, dealers said. They were worth a deal of beef, and that was the feature about them of most immediate interest. We had had no news from anywhere for a long while; despatch riders, we conjectured, must have fallen at or into the hands of the enemy. No matter; the British Army, colloquially speaking, knew its way about. Thus when the shades of night were falling, the general disposition was one of willingness to wait. The food, to be sure, lacked something of its wonted excellence; but it served (in the summer), and we did not grumble. The shelling, too, had fallen somewhat flat. Mafeking was more out of the way and in a worse plight than Kimberley. Reflections of this kind begot condescension and a noble willingness to wait.