Mafeking, April 15th, 1900.
There is now happily no longer any doubt of the truth of the native reports of important successes having befallen our arms in the vicinity of Kimberley. We hear with infinite rejoicing that Kimberley has pulled through, and is no longer invested by the enemy, and almost so soon as these tidings reached us, natives brought in the unconfirmed news of the capture of Cronje. This has since been officially published, and the garrison here is beginning to feel at last that their turn is about to come! We have waited long for this moment, passing many black hours in the interval, but even now it seems that the power of England may be successfully defied by these federated South African Republicans. Yet we hope and, in the changing of the fortunes which we anticipate, we express and share in the felicitous congratulations which the Empire is offering to Lord Roberts. The shrewdness and tactical genius of this gallant veteran has been a source from which the entire garrison has drawn an inspiring hope which encouraged one and all to resist to the uttermost the attacks of the Boers.
We have already been besieged six months, and although the internal situation does not appreciably differ from that which existed on the first day of the siege, the signs of the times betoken the gravity of our condition. During recent days there have been two separate indications of the straits to which the siege has reduced us. Colonel Plumer endeavoured to pass into Mafeking a mob of cattle; the Almighty sent a flight of locusts in such numbers that for many miles the veldt was brown beneath the thousands which alighted upon it. Now the locust is an article of diet, though it has not yet attained the dignity of the position enjoyed by the nimble prawn. At present the locust is compared only to a tasteless prawn, but it may be that when the siege of Mafeking be raised and the world knows that no small portion of the garrison were reduced to locusts without wild honey, this somewhat unconvincing appetiser may be relegated to the office of a hors d'œuvre. Dame Fashion is responsible for so much that she might well introduce to the social world such a toothsome delicacy. To catch your locust is almost as difficult as to eat it, but it may be done by turning out at night and throwing a blanket over any patch whose numbers suggest the possibility of a profitable return. This, of course, is not the native mode: the native, being as nimble as the locust, goes for them on the rush, and sweeps them into heaps before they have quite recovered from the shock of the surprise. By this method you certainly secure your locust, by the other you generally catch a cold, for the process of catching an individual locust is somewhat laborious. However, it may be done, more especially where there is the tedium of a siege to while away. Having caught your locust, you then immerse him in boiling water, a treatment which at once subdues him. You then proceed to sun-dry him and pluck away his wings and head. The locust is then ready for the table, when, after eating him, you discover that he has all the aroma and subtlety of chewed string. For all the world one might as well munch string, but since the possibilities of imparting to him an especial flavour be so numerous and so eminently calculated to test the qualities of the chef, he should again be commended to the notice of society in so much that it is possible to create an altogether original locust. There is, of course, another way of eating locusts, and that is to eat them alive. This practice, however, is not held in any very great esteem, since the native who cannot afford to wait to cook his locust is déclasse, even if he be starving. Personally, I rather like locusts if they be fried, more especially if they be curried, for just now the great thing is to eat, and, having digested what has been laid before you, discreetly to ignore any question which might verify the truth of your suspicions: therefore in eating curried locusts, you thank Heaven for the curry, and pass on quickly to the next course. To eat just now upon this basis is to enjoy consolation, which, in relation to our food, is our sole form of enjoyment, since when you know that you are eating horse and you imagine that you are eating beef, your imagination is necessarily so strong and so triumphant that the toughness of the horse becomes the tenderness of beef. Moreover, everything is only a question of comparison, and as a consequence the toughness of horse-beef and the tenderness of ox-beef necessitates merely an exchange of terms which imply similar standards of perfection.
The pleasures of the table, however, are as nothing compared to the delights of the bombardment by which the Boers assail the town almost daily. We have had more time these days to recognise the precise value of the enemy's shell fire and its wide area of demolition—more time because the Boers have withdrawn "Big Ben," and we no longer fear to walk freely in the streets, nor are we kept constantly upon the alert listening to the clanging of the alarm. The guns remaining do not appear to be able to reach the town from their distant emplacements. They are an array of minor ordnance, uninteresting to us, since their attentions would seem to be directed upon the outposts and the outlying forts. "Big Ben," however, was no respecter of places, but gaily hurled defiance at us from a variety of points, maintaining with wonderful regularity an almost daily bombardment.
We who are anxious for his welfare, now spend many dreary hours upon the housetops, for, if we show appreciation of his presence by taking refuge in the cellars, we ascend to the highest points of our houses in order to make sure that he is gone. The sense of gratitude which inspires us to do these things is unrestricted, and were it not that there were smaller guns around us, we might have waved a parting salutation from a more adjacent point; but under the circumstances we are content, and although we feel sorry that he has left us, we shall more infinitely deplore his presence when he returns. It is almost pleasant in Mafeking just now, and if it were not for the scarcity of food, the coldness of the weather, the never-ending rains, the fever which exists (and of which we are all frightened), the entire absence of wood with which to make fires, and the appalling monotony of the days, the dreariness of the situation and the dulness of the people, we might be happy, possibly inclined to exchange our lot for that of anyone else who was not in Mafeking; but as it is, we are really rather anxious to get out and to see the siege raised. Our nerves are altogether raw, our tempers soured, our digestions failing. We were young men six months ago, impressed with the importance of our situation, invigorated with a determination to stick it out; but we have aged considerably since then, and we would willingly send the siege to the devil if we, by way of exchange, were permitted to indulge in the comparative comfort of another form of purgatory. It has become quite the accepted fashion to draw a simile between Mafeking and hell, and to give the early Christian fathers full credit for their powers; they were nevertheless quite incapable of imagining a punishment so deliberate as the mental and physical torture of a siege. To use a colonial colloquialism, "we went in blind," but one experience is sufficient to guarantee that every member of the garrison just now would put a thousand miles between him and the next beleaguered town. In the situation itself there is nothing to write about, it so constantly repeats itself until the absolute monotony of the days settles down upon the nerves, depressing one's spirit like a wet blanket. The Boers still fire at us, and we still sit tight, nursing our hopes by a sublime confidence in the relief column. If we be sceptical at times, we endeavour not to take our scepticism too seriously, and we talk airily about the date by which the van will have arrived here. But in reality there are but few people who believe in the practical existence of any relief column.