Of course we all know that we are merely a pawn in the game, and that it does not much matter to England what becomes of us, but it matters a good deal to us. We are now just going to begin to feel the nip of the siege. One day last week we had a proclamation that various necessaries, such as flour, meal, bread, rice, sugar, etc., would in future only be issued in stated quantities, and that only to the holders of permits. To get a permit for any one of these things you had to make a declaration of the quantities of all of them which you had in your possession, and not only that, but you had also to declare the quantities of every kind of provision which you had. So to get a little, say, sugar, you would have to give the military a list of everything you had, and I have no doubt they would keep a list of those things which you had rather a large quantity of, and commandeer them later on.
This seems all right in theory, but having myself been one of the provident ones, I don't at all appreciate the idea of being looted for the benefit of the improvident ones. The only thing we wanted was bread. We had a good store of flour, but did not care to bake for ourselves if we could help it. I went to Major Gorle, the head of the food supply arrangements, and proposed a compromise to him. My bread allowance came to about twenty pounds a week, so I offered to give his baker twenty-five pounds of flour a week in exchange for that amount of bread, the extra flour to pay for labour and fuel. I thought it seemed a fair offer, but I suppose he thought it would be a bad precedent, for he declined to accept it. He offered, however, to supply me with bread as long as the siege lasted if I handed over all my flour to him in a lump. But this I declined, for he cannot know how long the siege will last, and though my flour would be a drop in the ocean for the whole of Kimberley, it will last me quite three months. So as soon as our baker gives up supplying us with bread, we shall start' baking our own.
As for meat, just now we "dunno where we are," for the butcher has given notice that he will not be allowed to supply us after to-day, as the military are going to take over the meat supply, but so far the military have not made their method of procedure public. Vegetables are also very scarce. The military have taken over the regulation of them, and as usual have so far made a ghastly muddle of it. Yesterday they advertised to supply them at a certain place from 6 a.m. to 10.30. Agnes suggested that she should go and get some, but I, knowing something of the crush there would be, said: "Not much." I went myself at a little after six o'clock, and found the street full, so I came home and did some gardening, and I afterwards heard that nothing was sold till nearly eleven o'clock.
After this I don't look forward with any keen enjoyment to the military administration of the meat supply. We can get a little greenstuff out of our own garden, enough to keep us from getting scurvy, but not much more. When the water was cut off by the Boers, we were not allowed to water our gardens (though many people have done so), and as we imagined a week or two, or at the very outside a month, would see us free, we did not worry about the vegetables, but tried to keep our fruit-trees and vines alive.
Now, however, as we look like being shut up for all time, I am going to run my vegetable-garden again. I have succeeded in getting one of the borough water-carts to bring me two loads of water a week. The water is supplied by De Beers; they have to pump a lot out of the mine, and have laid on a big pipe to the nearest street, and practically any one can get water who cares to lead it. The cart holds about four hundred gallons, and I have some tanks and barrels to store it in during the days between the loads, so I shall get on all right. Of course the water is very hard, but it is a very great deal better than none.
I have put in potatoes, lettuce, dwarf beans, peas, mustard and cress, and Indian corn this week, and have just got some tomatoes up in the greenhouse to be transplanted presently. Beet is the best thing of all to grow here; it grows well, and you can take the outside leaves off time after time just like we used to do off the wurzels at Garton for the cows. When the leaves are boiled, you can't tell them from spinach.
At last a Dutchman has been decently sentenced for communicating with the Boers. He lived far out at Wesselton, and on two occasions was seen after dark to leave his house (the last one in the village) and go in the direction of the Boer rifle-pits, not returning for several hours. He could have no possible business in that quarter at that time, so he must have been communicating with the enemy. The judge wanted to give him a year, but the other members of the court declared that they would sit for ever unless the sentence was three years' hard, and so eventually the judge gave way, and he got it.
A Dutch lawyer, a prominent Bondsman who cleared out from here the day before we were cut off was captured by Methuen's people some weeks ago, and is now in gaol at Cape Town. Rumour says that when caught he was in an office telegraphing some information to the Boers, but the truth is not known. Now he keeps writing to his relatives asserting his innocence, and they publish his letters. He says he was arrested by the Boers, as he was suspected by them, and that, being a leading Bondsman, he was suspected by the English. When he is tried, I have very little doubt his Boer friends will swear that he was arrested by them, but Kimberley will never believe that, whatever the court does.
I hear to-day that the Pretoria Boers are very cocky as to what the end of the war will be. They say that when England sues for peace, their terms will be Natal, Bechuanaland, and Griqualand West to be given up to them, and any other parts of the colony in which the majority of the inhabitants wish to be under the Dutch flag. They will also demand the payment of twenty millions. Fairly good cheek, haven't they?
We hear that Roberts and Kitchener are coming, or, rather, are already on the way, and heaps of troops of all sorts, but it is an anxious time. Try as I will, I don't find I can take my usual amount of interest in the work, and as to settling down to read professional literature, that is quite out of the question.
January 5th, 1900.—Very little has happened in the war line since the last entry. On several days the Boers have fired a few guns at our patrols or the cattle guard, and one shell came into the town and went through an inhabited house two days ago, with the usual result—no one hurt. We hear that the Australian contingent drove the Boers out of Douglas on January 1st, and to-day there are rumours that they have done the same at Barkly West, but I hardly think this will be confirmed. But if nothing military has been happening, we have had lots of other distractions. On January 1st the new proclamation about meat came out. The butchers had to cease selling at their shops, and the whole arrangement was taken over by the military. The new allowance was a quarter of a pound per day for adults, and two ounces for children under twelve.
The meat was to be distributed in the new Market Hall, and the three wards that formed half the town were to go in and be served at one side, and the other three on the other. This was for white people only; coloured folks and natives had a separate place, each in a different part of the town. Railings were put up at the sides of the Market Hall, with three gates, and each ward formed up in front of its own gate, in a two-and-two string, and was let in four at a time.
The day before the new arrangement began every head of a house had to send in a notice stating the number of adults and children there were in his family, and the quantity of meat he wished to draw, so that when he turned up for his supply, his demand could be checked from the list made out from all the requisitions. He was then given a numbered card, with the quantity he was entitled to stamped upon it and properly signed, so that in future he would just have to show this card and there would be no further bother. The distribution began at 6 a.m. on the 3rd.
Agnes wanted to go and fetch our supply, but I did not care for her to do so. I had been out in the night and was tired, so we neither of us went that day, as we had enough meat on hand. Being the first day, all the arrangements were strange and the tickets had to be made out and so on, so it took a long while, but it was very superior to the previous indiscriminate fighting for meat at the butchers'.
Next day I went along about 6 a.m. and found I was pretty late, heaps of folks being there before me. I came near the tail of the string. My ward (No. 2) and another (No. 6) are each of them quite three times the size of any of the others, so these wards were not half done when the others were all served, and consequently were at a disadvantage. It took over an hour to draw my pound of meat that day. All dealings are for cash, ninepence a pound being the fixed price.
The officer in charge of all food matters, Major Gorle, is a smart man, and he saw at once that it would not do to put the two big wards in a worse position than the small ones, so for the third morning he arranged that the two big wards should draw two days' supply one day, and on the next day the four small ones should do the same. This hurried things up a good deal, for of course only half the people had to be served every day instead of the whole of them That day I left the house about half-past five, and was back very soon after six. Vegetables are to be given out in a similar way twice a week, but I have not been on a vegetable day yet.
The present arrangement is very good. The elimination of natives and coloured people, and the presence of a few police and soldiers, makes everything quite orderly, and, but for the tediousness of waiting your turn, fairly comfortable. Inside the hall the meat is laid out on the tables ready cut up and weighed into half, one, two, three, four pound lots, so when you show your ticket the man sees in a minute how much you are entitled to and hands it over. There is nothing that a lady need object to in the whole business now, so I shall let Agnes go if I happen to be out on the days we want our supply.
You are allowed to send another white person, servant or otherwise, to fetch your ration, but he or she will have to take his turn just in the same way. You are also allowed to send a coloured or native servant, but these have to wait till the whites present are all served, so that dodge is not good enough, or we should send John. Our white servant is too big a fool to send, so one of us has to go. It is very funny to see all the town's big swells either fetching their meat themselves or sending a member of their family for it. Parsons, lawyers, doctors, business men, we are all there, and it is a huge joke that we are all in the same boat, but it is to be hoped the joke won't last too long. Previous to this, we have all thought that as long as there was a decent balance at the bank, nothing could go far wrong, but now we find that the balance is of very little use. You can only buy necessaries, and these only in strictly defined quantities, not too liberal. As for luxuries, they are either not to be had at all or else only on production of a medical certificate that they are absolutely necessary, as you are ill. So unless you have a private stock of luxuries, or other things intermediate between necessaries and luxuries, you have to live very sparely and monotonously.
The permit business is a perfect nuisance to us doctors. Every patient you have ever seen, whether rich or not, considers that there are special circumstances which entitle him or her to have a permit from you to buy milk, butter, stout, cheese, oatmeal, mutton (beef or veal only being generally supplied), extract of beef, and heaps of other things. We are between the devil and the deep sea. On the one side the patients clamouring, and getting offended if they don't get permits for everything they fancy, and on the other Major Gorle making trouble if we send in too many. Most of us only give them in cases where we feel sure that the applicant is actually suffering in health for want of the food-stuff asked for; but some of the doctors are either very soft-hearted or easily imposed upon. Milk (condensed) is the chief thing wanted, and the stock is none too great, so we have to be careful.
The Boers have raided most of our milk cows, so fresh milk is very scarce, but there is some, and we are amongst the lucky ones who get it. You would think that the military would have asked the doctors to hold a meeting and decide what to do about permits for milk and other things, giving us a rough idea of the amounts in stock and the daily amount it was safe to issue; but such is not the military way. So far they have given us no instructions whatever, and within the last three days they have told me that the total available amount per day is twenty tins, Watkins that it is forty, and Mackenzie that it is twenty-five. You can't work with figures like that.
Now the colonel is half inclined to commandeer all the fresh milk and issue it only to infants and invalids. This would be rather a good plan, as it would save a lot of the condensed milk, and we should then have a reserve in case the milk cows had to be killed for food. We should miss our fresh milk, but would quite gladly give it up, if we were sure it fell into the right mouths when we had done so. At present, if we did, it would probably go to some one who needs it no more than we do, and that is not worth while. Many of the people are very good about the milk. The De Beers Company supplies the hospital with a great deal, and just now they are sending a good quantity to Agnes for free distribution among the sick and poor. She is a boss in the Benevolent Society, and so knows who is deserving. One patient of mine has a cow of his own, and after keeping a moderate supply for his own children, he allows me to use the rest for any one who needs it, free.
Every one, however, is not so good. Some genius who did not care for black tea or coffee struck the happy idea of getting in some of the tinned infants' foods which contained milk and using them as milk. This however, did not last long, as I expect the fact of young single men buying babies' food led to inquiries. Anyhow, one of the parsons told me of it, and I went straight off to Gorle to suggest the commandeering of all infants' foods, and found that he had already done so, so he is pretty wide awake.
To-day (January 7th) I got my supply of vegetables at the same time as my supply of meat, and considered myself lucky to get them. The quantity was for half a week for four people, and consisted of a bunch of five carrots, none of them big, four small parsnips, and nine beetroots, none of them as big as a big radish —price one shilling. But one gets a few little presents, or is able to buy small quantities of vegetables and fruit from people who have wells in their gardens, and so are independent of the water supply.
To-day Mackenzie bought a lot of beautiful peaches for himself and me at three-halfpence each. Agnes says I am to say that eggs are six shillings and sixpence a dozen. Butter is a thing of the past, except in tins, and that only (as usual) with a doctor's certificate. We had several lots of beautiful fresh butter from a patient long after it was unbuyable. She had a child down with scarlet fever, and consequently was afraid to send the butter to her brother's and sister's families for fear of infecting them, but you bet I did not mind that, and offered to buy her surplus stock. She refused, but gave me about a pound several times. Of course I made it level with honey or sweets, or something of that sort, for the kids.
On January 1st we were delighted to find a notice in the paper that the water would be turned on for watering gardens on and after Tuesday, January 2nd. I found the tap would run on the 1st, so I stole a day and gave all my garden a fine old soaking. Having been so virtuous all those weeks and not used a drop of tap-water unnecessarily, I felt easy in my mind.
Now we thought we should be able to grow all sorts of vegetables, and so we rushed lots of seeds in. I also put in a patch of barley to cut green for my horses, only a little one, but still it will be a help. I put in some mealies too, but you will know them better under the name of Indian corn. When they grow up, the green stems and leaves are good fodder for horses. I had a few plants already in of sweet mealies, such as the Americans call sweet corn or popcorn, and I stuck a lot more of them in. I got the seed from Gardner Williams, who, you will remember, is the general manager of De Beers, and is an American—and a first-class one too.
But, alas! on Friday a new notice appeared, that no gardens were to be watered, under the same pains and penalties as before. This was bad. But as the taps seemed inclined to run still, I thought it a pity to disappoint them and let them set fast for want of use, so I watered away on the sly, Friday, Saturday, and to-day (Sunday, January 8th). But I have talked the thing over with one of the waterworks men and the military officer who is responsible for the water supply, and they give very good reasons why the gardens cannot be watered, so I shall relapse into virtue again, and use tap-water only for necessary domestic purposes; but I mean to give up the measly little saucer-bath we have been using, and use my big bath with a fair quantity of water.
The reasons why we can't water our gardens are these: all our water supply now is pumped from Wesselton Mine, and the daily supply is two hundred and fifty thousand gallons, whereas the daily consumption, without watering any gardens, is three hundred thousand gallons. When the water-pipes from the river were cut by the Boers, our reservoir was full, but the difference between supply and consumption lowers it about half an inch a day; so if the siege lasts long enough, the reservoir will in time become empty.
Another reason is that the Dutch are always shelling Wesselton, so one day they may happen to drop a shell into the pump, and then good-bye to our water. The pipes from Wesselton run a good long way outside our line of defences, and the Boers could cut them easily enough if they knew just where they ran, and had the pluck to come and do it.
If either of these things happened, the water in the reservoir would be the last we should get, so it is wise to keep it as full as we can without actually stinting ourselves for necessary water.
When the water was on, we thought we were going to do great things in the gardening line, and grow almost enough vegetables to keep us going. We put a lot of seeds in; but whether we shall manage to keep them going, is another matter. Greenstuff for horses being very scarce, I put in a little patch of barley, and a lot of mealies in the trench down which the bath-water runs. The mealies when cut green make good food for horses. Of course I shall have nothing like enough to feed them on, but it will give them a taste of greenstuff.