Mafeking, December 6th, 1899.
As compensation to the inhabitants of beleaguered Mafeking for the many dull days we have had lately, yesterday was replete with incidents and crowded with a constant succession of events of more than ordinary interest. We have had our days of activity, when the boom of artillery and the rattle of musketry have impressed into a few brief hours the full measure of martial excitement, we have endured our days of lonesome and tiring idleness when the hot winds of the Kalahari Desert have swept eddies of whirring, biting sand across the trenches, when the pitiless sun has spent its energies upon the heat-stricken garrison. But yesterday we experienced the effect of a combination between that Providence which the Boers claim as their special and benign guardian and the elements themselves. It was a reconnaissance in force by nature. A union of extreme subtlety and one against which it was impossible to contend. It came, it swept everything before it, and it left us drenched with rain, surrounded by small lakes of mud, streams of water, and without dry garments to our names. When the mischief was complete the deluge ceased. The general physiognomy of the scene can be described at once. When dawn broke in the morning across the sky there glowered the haze of heat, which in Africa, as elsewhere, denotes a more than usually tropical day. To those, however, who knew the signs of the sky, the fleeting masses of black cloud, low down upon the horizon, foretold a day of evil tempest. Slowly the rising wind drove them together until, shortly before noon, clouds were bunched high up across the sky and over the Boer laager. From where we were in the town it was quite apparent that the temporary centre of the storm was almost above the emplacements of the enemy's artillery. Before the breeze had increased the Boers had thrown a few shells into the town, but presently, as the force of the gale struck us, it was evident that the rain-filled clouds were discharging their contents upon the extreme limits of the veldt. For an hour or two the Boers received the full effect of the storm, and but few drops of rain fell into the town, as the wind swept before its path the débris of the veldt, portions of broken trees, of scrub, and bushes. The deluge quickly left the south-east, concentrating a little beyond and over the town, and so soon as it began to trouble us it seemed to have deserted the Boers. Possibly the wind carried with it a rainspout, since the effect of the streaming water was as though from somewhere in the sky buckets were being emptied on to the place beneath. The veldt was quickly flooded, the dried-up spruits were soon charged with foaming cataracts, Mafeking itself lay under water, the earthworks around the town were swept away, trenches and bomb-proof shelters were choked with eddying streams, everywhere was ruin—destruction and complete chaos reigned until the storm had spent itself. Down the acclivity upon which Cannon Kopje is placed there rolled the surging tide, carrying in its might the stores of the fort, the blankets of the men, the bodies of struggling animals, who, if they succeeded in coping with the force of the stream, were dashed to pieces upon the rocky facing of the hill. The women's laager, which has hitherto rested in snug seclusion at the base of the hills forming the western outposts, was, in a few minutes, flooded with the off-pourings from the sluits of the veldt, while the trenches were quickly submerged or silted with the refuse of the torrent. A cart which went to the assistance of the inmates of the laager found itself water-bound through the tremendous force of the tortuous cataracts. In the town, bomb-proof cellars were vacated, and the people, discarding their shoes and stockings, made their way from point to point by paddling and fording the footpaths across the streets. To the north of the town, below the exterior outposts, the men stripped to the skin, allowing the full strength of the streaming downpour to beat upon them. The Market Square was a sheet of running water, rising with such rapidity that it seemed that the houses bordering the square would be inundated.
From Market Square, upon two sides, the roads make something of a descent, and down these slight inclines volumes of water, yards in width and some feet in depth precipitated themselves to the river-bed. As the storm increased it was seen that it would be impossible to retain any longer our advanced positions in the river-bed. The first to go was the trench occupied by Corporal Currie and his native sharpshooters. As the water swept from bank to bank through this post, which we, but a few days before, had won so gallantly from the enemy, the men clambered up the banks to the veldt and made their way as best they could to the base. With the flooding of this position, so rapidly did the river rise, that those occupied by Captain Fitzclarence and his squadron were equally untenable. As they were abandoned the stream rushed by them with the roar of a river in flood, while the crash of boulder upon boulder turned masses of rock into shattered fragments. Within an hour the river had risen eight feet, and so unexpected was the flood that for the time being it was not possible to rescue from the rising stream the 7-pounder gun, which was in position some way down the river. As the rain continued the wind died down, until in the height of this storm it scarcely possessed the strength to dissipate the white mists which were rising from the veldt. They hung low upon the ground, prevented from rising by the strength of the downpour, and making it difficult to see the progress of events in the enemy's lines. From time to time above the hissing of the rain and the roar of the rivers we heard the angry cough of the Nordenfeldt, the shrieks of their quick-firing guns, and the heavy and more stately boom of "Big Ben." Ofttimes there was the echo of the Mauser, the grating rustle of the Martini, and it soon became evident that the enemy did not propose to let us endure the misery of the storm altogether undisturbed. From these omens, as some slight diminution in the downpour allowed the mists to rise from the ground, we expected to hear the sound of exploding volleys coming through the fog, and to find that the fight had become suddenly desperate; but the Boers lacked the individual courage, and the charge which they might have made under cover of the tangle of the brushwood and the bewilderment of the fog never took place. They were satisfied with cannonading our position; and across the ground, heavy with rain, upon which the mist laid dense, the red flashes of the gun and the sparkle of the rifles had a weird effect as they flared and vanished through the eddying masses of vapour and fantastic columns of smoke. The tumbling volumes of mist and the grey-black masses of smoke mingled and curled in distorted pillars, forming at a moment when the sun shone briefly, as the tears of heaven dried off into space, an evanescent and iridescent canopy of colour. The respite was momentary, and as the sun withdrew, the groups of men that had been seen about the Boer lines were quickly obscured in clouds of grosser vapour. Their fire, however, continued, while about them tossed the thick white fog, as above us occasionally rolled the thunder of their guns. The area of the storm included the most advanced trenches of the Boers, and as the wind shifted the gloomy masses of vapour we saw through the whirling mist and smoke-charged air, the Boers, rain-soaked as ourselves, standing disconsolately upon their muddy parapets. They did not seem to understand what they should do. They could hear their own guns firing on our positions, happily beyond the later centre of the storm, but these men themselves stood still, shaking the water from their limbs, attempting to dry their weapons. At night, with the darkness to cover our misfortunes, the town was busily constructing fresh earthworks, draining those shelters from which any further use could be obtained, and making such amends as were possible for an occurrence, almost unprecedented in the annals of war.