Later in the afternoon the streets were again filled, but this time with people hurrying to the mines with their children, some carrying their babies, others carrying blankets or bedding, others food, but all loaded up with something. Cabs could not be got, all the horses being turned out to earn their own living, as there was no forage left except for the military horses, and so every one had to walk. As I went round seeing my patients, I was asked by them all what I advised them to do. I know the mines pretty well down below, and though the places the people would go to were cool and lofty, my advice always was: "If you have a fairly strong fort of your own, don't go down below." This seemed sense to me, for there must be intervals between the firing during which you could get food and a bath and so on, and the prospect of being shut up in the same compartment with about a hundred children did not seem sufficiently alluring to compensate for the extra danger incurred by staying above ground.
I believe Mr. Rhodes's original intention was to offer shelter in the mines to those who had no place of shelter to go to, or who had insufficient protection of their own. Many of the poor people had no means of making shelters for themselves, and could neither afford the material nor the labour necessary to make one, and it was to these that the mines were offered. The notice, however, did not state so, and many better-class people went down. The mine-heads were crowded with people, and though they began to lower them down at about 5.30 p.m., it was long after midnight before they were all in the mines. More than a thousand went down Kimberley Mine, and about fifteen hundred were taken down in De Beers' Mine, yet neither in letting them down nor hauling them up again nor during their four days' stay down below was there a single accident to any one of them.
All this time provisions, or, rather, luxuries, had been getting dearer. We had a fowl for dinner, price fifteen shillings, and we bought some eggs for twenty-two shillings a dozen. Vegetables were very scarce, and often unprocurable. We used to make salad of a weed that grew in our garden. We had planted several beds of things that did not come up, or died from want of water, but this weed came up instead, and very handy we found it.
Shelling began at about seven on Monday, February 22nd, but in a half-hearted sort of a way, and not much damage was done—in fact, the whole day's performance was a pleasant surprise, as we had expected a very lively time. Our old friend was still the only big gun at work. The streets were almost deserted, for in addition to the people who had gone down the mine, many others had gone to Beaconsfield for safety. Beaconsfield lies at the foot of a hill, and Kimberley on the top of it, so Beaconsfield is not visible from where the big gun fires, and as there is an open space nearly half a mile wide between the two places, I expect the Boers thought they were as likely to hit the space as the houses, and did not care to waste shells.
The patient I operated on on Saturday moved down yesterday, also the man whose leg was hit by a piece of shell a few days ago. The gun could reach Beaconsfield with the greatest ease, and soon after this last man moved, a big shell landed fairly close to his house there, but that was the only one that got so far. The shells which flew such a distance were curious to listen to. When this one went off, I was at a house about as near to the gun as I could go. We heard the shell go over, and then its noise became more and more indistinct, until, when far away, the usual whiz seemed to be quite lost, and the noise reminded me of an empty cart galloping down a country lane far away on a still night. Then it plunged into something and burst.
One of the shells fired a block of four houses in Kenilworth to-day, but I do not think they were burnt out. Another struck the street about twenty yards from a house where one of my private nurses was nursing a patient. It did not burst, but bounced off again through an iron fence, making a big clatter, and disappeared nobody knows where. The nurse was splendidly plucky, and so was the patient. The house in which they were was near the foot of the conning tower, and therefore was liable to be hit at any time, but neither nurse nor patient wanted any shelter. The patient lay calmly in bed and said she did not expect she would get hurt, and the nurse never flinched, but looked after her like a brick. The nurse took me to look over the back fence at a sight I don't expect to see again. This was a lot of Kaffir women building themselves a shelter with heavy mine timbers. Everybody was busy, and no one could be spared to fix them up, so they were told that there was the timber and they could build for themselves, and they did.
To-day a shell went through a nice, new two-storied house not so far from the Sanatorium. It was built soon after mine, and by the same architect (Jarvis). He always professed to believe that the Boers were in the right, but how he will feel when he hears that they have wrecked one of his very special houses, I don't know. There were twelve people scattered about the house, and not one of them was touched, but pretty well all the upper story was wrecked, and will have to be rebuilt. A suit of clothes hanging up was riddled to such an extent that three more tears would have caused them to fall into little bits. They were a sight: no self-respecting scarecrow would be seen dead beside them.
Another shell burst in the hospital grounds, about twenty yards from the side of a ward full of patients, and later on a shell dropped into an aloe thicket in the hospital grounds, but did not burst. These aloes are very thick and tough, so they stopped the shell without leaving a mark on it. It is the nicest specimen I have seen, and will, I have no doubt, be mounted and put in the entrance hall at the hospital as a trophy if we ever do come out of our troubles right side up. The hospital porter fished it out of the aloes and commenced to experiment upon it with a stick, giving it a good old stir up and smoking all the time. Dr. Russell admired his zeal, but thought him lacking in discretion, and made him put it in a tub of water before he proceeded with his experiments.
By the way, a friend told me a lovely yarn about one of these big shells to-day. Wherever a shell falls, whether it bursts or not, there is a rush for it, as both shell and pieces are marketable, if you don't wish to stick to them yourself. My friend was out with the cattle guard, and a big shell fell close to two natives who were with him, and did not explode. It was rather too hot to carry off, so they fought vigorously for possession, and the victor then sat down on it, to take care of it till it had cooled down enough for him to take it away.
I heard of another little joke to-day which amused me mightily. A certain man built a large and fine A1 copper-bottomed fort. A neighbour came to inspect it, and found great fault with it—in fact, condemned it altogether, and strongly advised the proud owner to take his family down the mine for safety. This he promptly did. Then the neighbour, having a very rotten fort of his own, took possession of the good one with equal promptness, and all was peace. (N.B.—The band played later.)
To-day we had no newspaper, but a little slip came out, saying that for reasons that would be explained afterwards, the paper had shut down for a time. We none of us required an explanation, for we all expected this to happen to-day. For some time there had been friction between the paper and the military censor, as he refused to let anything but the vaguest accounts of the siege and our general condition be heliographed through. When the big gun started, several correspondents tried to wire through about it, as it seemed to us that it was time for our relief column to get up and hustle a bit. But that was not the censor's idea. He flatly refused to let any information of the use of a bigger gun go through at all. Whether he actually got it out or not, I do not know; if he didn't, this was on the tip of his tongue: "It might interfere with the military situation."
Oh, Lord! that "military situation." It was the answer to every conundrum you liked to ask all through the siege. After this the paper got mad, and on Saturday morning dodged the censor and came out with a very strong leader on the foolishness of such censorship, and just walked into the military people all round. So we were not surprised to get no paper to-day, and we were not particularly disappointed, for there was no news in the paper at all, and we had got a little tired of stories of the Battle of Waterloo, and other ancient history with which the dearth of news had been helped out. Even the Mother Seigel man had ceased to trot out new pitfalls in the way of advertisements. I do not think the paper was suppressed, but as the military possessed all the channels of information, I guess they shut them all up. The result was the same: no paper.
February 13th.—-We had rather a rest from the shells to-day. Only about twenty came in altogether, but they did a fair amount of damage, all the same, and got on people's nerves a good deal. Many of my patients stayed in their shelters all the time, and as it was a hot day and many of the shelters were very small and stuffy, they suffered accordingly. One shell struck the Presbyterian Church. The English Church had been hit in the first bombardment, but the Dutch Church escaped altogether. It was curious to notice that many people among the Dutch took shelter in their church when the shelling was on; either they had greater faith than the other religions, or, what is far more likely, they had had word from their friends on the outside that the church would not be shelled. We had heaps of traitors in the place, who went to and fro much as they pleased; and though I don't think the gunners could see the Dutch Church, I have no doubt they had accurate plans of the town, and could locate all the big buildings.
Two shells went into Nazareth House (the Catholic orphanage), or, rather, one dropped just at the back door, and the other burst overhead, and a big bit of it went through the roof into the sisters' sitting-room. This last was a shrapnel, and was the first of the big gun shrapnels I had seen. They are not quite the same as the smaller ones we had got to know before. They have a big, solid base weighing fourteen pounds. On to this a thin steel sheet is fastened to make the receptacle for the bullets. The bullets are about the size of ordinary marbles, and are not loose, but lie in holes in cast-iron discs, like marbles on a solitaire board. These discs are not solid, but are divided up into lots of small pieces by deep notches, which are so arranged that when the shell bursts, the pieces will come apart easily, and fly about like the bullets; but each piece has about a dozen jagged corners and would make a ghastly wound. The discs are threaded on a wide copper tube, which conducts the flame from the fuse at the point of the shell to the charge near its base, which rips the shell open when it bursts. The steel case takes up all sorts of outlandish shapes, as it does not fly to pieces, but just gets bent and twisted up, making very queer noises as it flies through the air. I heard one whistle just like a hooter. This particular Nazareth one looked more like the breastplate of an ancient suit of armour or a dilapidated soup tureen than anything else.
I forgot to say that on Sunday Rhodes somehow got a message from Lord Roberts to the effect that the column was going to move to our relief at once, and every day we heard rumours of heavy firing on both sides of Spytfontein, but nothing has come of it so far.
February 14th.—To-day has been a great day. We do at last seem to have beaten the wily Boer on his own ground. Shelling began about as early as usual, but they treated us to some small shells from a gun in their old position near the lazaretto, and one of these killed a man working in a bakery quite early in the morning. The big gun was evidently trying for the Army Office just behind us, for several of its shells came rather close to us when we were at breakfast. I hate to be disturbed at my meals, either by patients or shells, so I sat tight and proceeded. I had got well used to shells by this time, and though I had the instinct to take cover whenever I heard a shell very well developed, I managed to resist it. We all had found that the only thing to do was to take a good grip of yourself and sit fast. If you once gave way and let yourself go, it was all up, and you had to strike out for the shelter every time the bugle went. I was seeing a patient in my office at the chemist's a few days before, when a shell dumped itself into a store next door but one. I felt that I was urgently needed elsewhere, but still I went on talking and fixed up the patient before I went downstairs, though the pieces pattered on the window and roof.
However, to return to breakfast. Just as we were finishing, a shell came very close, and when we rushed out to see where it was, we found it had fallen and burst in the street just at the end of our yard. This was a shrapnel too, but one of those that only explode when they strike, and so much less dangerous than the time-fuse ones, which burst overhead and rain bullets down on you. I think the Boers had used all their stock of solid shells, for I saw several shells during the day, and they were all this kind of shrapnel.
Yesterday the fourteen-pound base of one of these went through the water tank which stands at the corner of the nurses' home at the hospital. That was the third in the hospital grounds, and to-day several flew right over the hospital. One poor chap, a patient of mine, was so terrified by them that he insisted on going out, though his own place is much nearer the gun. He is very ill, and will not be able to get much attention at home, so I am afraid he will die.
I hardly think even the Boers intend to hit the hospital. These were merely bad shots at the Sanatorium, where Mr. Rhodes is staying. The shot which killed Labram was a bad shot at the Town Hall, and the one which killed the woman and child I spoke of earlier on was a bad shot at the conning tower. They have never yet hit a thing they aimed at, but they have done some damage, all the same.
The most wonderful shell of all was one which fell to-day at Dr. Fuller's gate. It just ran its nose under the curbstones at the edge of the pavement and burst there. Two big stones were flung aside, but the biggest one, a solid blue whinstone block about twenty inches long by six inches wide and ten inches deep, was thrown right up on to the roof of the house, and from there slid gently down and lodged on the roof of the second-story verandah, quite twenty feet above the street. There it lies now. I hope some photographer will take a snap at it there, or you will think some one else lies, as well as the stone.
So much for the Boers' day's work; now for ours. Early in the morning some natives came from Alexandersfontein to Beaconsfield, and said that the Boers there had all cleared out to help another commando, which was in difficulties, or wanted to do something funny, and was not strong enough to do it single-handed, or something of that sort. The Beaconsfield Town Guard was a bit suspicious of a trap, but sent out spies to investigate, for Alexandersfontein was an important position for the Boers, as there was plenty of water there, and it was only about four miles from Beaconsfield. The spies found the natives' story to be quite true, and some of the Town Guard, with help from the Lancashires, Light Horse, and Kimberley Rifles, went out and took possession. There were a few Boers there, but very few. Several were killed, and more wounded, amongst them a Dutch girl who was rather badly hurt in the left arm. Four Boers were taken prisoners. The girl was brought into the hospital as soon as possible, and attended to. It is a regular Dutch performance to take women and children to the front. They have women with all the commandoes around us. I expect they imagine they are going to have a gay time looting the Kimberley shops, but that has yet to come. After our men had taken possession of Alexandersfontein, they lay low to wait for developments. Before long, four waggon-loads of provisions and stores for the Boers came along, and came right into our men's hands before the drivers realised that the scene had changed. There was any amount of stuff there besides these four waggon-loads, making about twelve loads altogether, so our men had a fine haul. There was butter, vegetables, grain, mutton, pigs, poultry, and all sorts of things that we had not seen for weeks. Some of the loot was sent up to Kimberley at once.
I met the procession as I was coming in to lunch. It was first-rate, and the people turned out delighted, hoping that this was the beginning of better things. First came about twenty horses, then about the same number of cattle, and then a big waggon with a water tank on it, and drawn by sixteen lovely bullocks, so fat that our mouths watered just from looking at them. On the front of the waggon stood a man I know in a statuesque attitude, with his rifle grounded, and an "I-did-it-though-you-wouldn't-think- it-of-me" expression on his face. Oh, it was great!—but the effect was rather spoiled by an excited Kaffir who was standing up on the waggon tilt just behind him, waving a riding-boot in each hand and shouting "Look at Cronje's boots" in Dutch.
Our people sent out strong reinforcements to Alexandersfontein, for they knew that the Dutch would return presently and would hanker after those provisions, and as the place was on the flat, within easy artillery range of kopjes on three sides, they expected a pretty warm time—and they got it. Along in the afternoon the Boers returned, and did not take to the new order of things at all kindly, but commenced to make things hum, both with rifles and artillery. Fortunately there was fairly good cover against rifle fire, and, as I have said before, the Dutch never could hit anything at which they aimed their artillery. A lot of lead was wasted and no harm was done, but we are very much afraid our men will not be able to hold out to-morrow if the Boers get reinforcements and try to cut them off. We cannot spare any men. We have too few already, so they may have to retire, and that is always a dangerous business.
It is rumoured to-day that General French is coming on through Jacobsdal to our relief, and is burning every Dutch laager and homestead that he comes across on the way. Certainly I saw three or four columns of smoke over in the Jacobsdal direction this afternoon, but I guess the rumour was made to fit them, for, as far as we know, French is over Colesberg way still. A rumour that Cronje has been captured is probably equally false. It is too good to be true.
Early this morning Major Rodger, the second in command of our mounted men, got shot by the Boers when out with a scouting party in the Alexandersfontein direction. He is a very good man, a keen sportsman, a first-rate shot, and full of the quiet, determined pluck that the men appreciate far better--than hot-headed recklessness. They would follow him anywhere. He had sent some men to spy out the land behind some kopjes, and after a time saw two men coming out on the far side. Thinking they were his own men, he rode off towards them, well in advance of the main body. When he got within about seventy yards, he saw that they were Boers. If he returned to his own men, he knew the Boers would shoot, ditto if he galloped up to them, and if he tried to get his revolver out of the holster, they would certainly pot him before he could fire; so he pulled his horse into a walk and went right up to them. When quite close, one of them spoke to him in Dutch:
"Who are you?"
"Oh, I am one of the fighting men from Kimberley," he answered.
The words were hardly out of his mouth before the gallant pair of Boers turned round and fled over the veldt for all they were worth. When they got about half a mile away, they came up to some of their own men hidden in a sluit, and then they all fired at Rodger together, but in the meantime his men had come up, and after a volley or two the Boers suddenly remembered that it was breakfast-time and went off. Rodger was hit in the left forearm and one of the bones broken, but he went on and finished his day's work, and only came to look for me at half-past five in the afternoon. I was out, so Mackenzie saw him and wanted to order him off duty, but Rodger flatly declined, and I don't expect he will appear on the sick list at all. The Regulars call our Kimberley forces "tin soldiers," and are a little inclined to be superior with them, but if this is a sample, the tin breed is the one for us.
I was down the Kimberley Mine when Rodger was looking for me. I had an hour or so to spare, and thought I would see if I could be of any help down there, though Mackenzie had been down in the morning. Still, I knew that there were a lot of small ailments amongst the people there, and, as they had been down for three days, a second visit would not hurt them.
I got to the mine just as they were sending the tea down. There were a thousand people to be fed, but the Company was quite equal to it. A staff of their ambulance men had been put on duty, and they were sending down huge quantities of corned-beef sandwiches (in condensed milk boxes for convenience in handling), and buckets of tea and coffee, with condensed milk in it. This was at a time when nobody above ground could get either corned (tinned) beef or condensed milk without a doctor's order, and as there was a fair supply of fresh milk for the children, those down below fared better than those above. I went first down to the lowest level, fifteen hundred feet below the surface. As well as I know the mine, I was astonished to see how different it looked full of people. They were in the large chamber cut in the rock, past one end of which the shaft runs. It is about twenty feet high and thirty or forty wide, and leads away into the mine at the far end.
It was lighted up as usual with electric light, and was fairly cool, but it was just packed with people. Most of the children had been laid down to sleep on the rugs and blankets or mattresses they had brought with them, and these things just covered the floor. Except for a passage down the whole length of the chamber, there did not seem to be an inch of space. I moved about gingerly for fear of treading on somebody, and saw a few people who had little troubles or wanted to know how things were up above, but the people were as good as gold and did not make a single complaint. Many of the babies were a little feverish from the draughts, which were unavoidable, and from the rather close atmosphere, but this was far better than I had expected, considering the number of people.
Except those who were looking after things, I hardly saw a man there. A few had come down at first, but public opinion had got rid of them by this time. I spent some time here talking to the people I knew. Many of them asked whether I advised them to stay down or not. I said that if they were well, I thought they should stay, but if they were feeling seedy and had a decently strong shelter up above, I advised them to go up, as there were often long intervals between the shells, during which they could get food, fresh air, a bath, and so on.
Then I went up to the next level, twelve hundred feet down, and found things just about the same, only it was cooler and the people were, if anything, packed closer. Walking round and dodging the sleeping babies reminded me of a visit I made to that place near Brigg where "the seagulls nest. There you could hardly put a foot down without damaging eggs or young birds, and it was just the same here.
After looking round, I went up top-side again, and found more people there in the tunnel, which slopes down from the compound to the cage in which the boys go down the mine. The bottom end of this is about thirty feet below the ground, but opens into a large space round the engine-house, so that many people who did not care to go down below took shelter here, as they could get out into the air between the spells of shelling. But this place had many drawbacks. It was only about three feet wide, and when you lay down, people kept walking over you all the time, so it was not really so good as the mine.
I forgot to tell you, when speaking of the provisions captured at Alexandersfontein, that many of our men carried off anything that came handy in the eatable line. Some of them were busy chivying fowls and turkeys even when the Boer fire was hottest. But the butter was the greatest attraction. Most of it was commandeered by the military for the hospital, but I know of one man getting away with two pounds by sticking it on his arm and wrapping a handkerchief round it, and putting the whole thing into a sling as if he were wounded. Others came in with fowls and ducks slung across their saddles in regular campaigning style.