Moral effects of shell fire—General White appeals to Joubert—The neutral camp—Attitude of civilians—Meeting at the Town Hall—A veteran's protest—Faith in the Union Jack—An impressive scene—Removal of sick and wounded—Through the Boer lines—How the posts were manned—Enemy mounting big guns—More about the spies—Boer war ethics—In an English garden—Throwing up defences—A gentlemanly monster—The Troglodytes—Humorous and pathetic—"Long Tom" and "Lady Anne"—Links in the chain of fire—A round game of ordnance
The reconnaissance under General Brocklehurst, above described, brought home to the garrison of Ladysmith their utter helplessness to prevent the isolation and investment of the town. Any doubt that may have lingered among them or the civil inhabitants was dispelled by the action promptly taken by Sir George White to try and secure the safety of these latter and his sick and wounded. The circumstances are related by Mr. Pearse in a letter dated 5th November:—
Sunday, 5th November.—There can be no doubt about the first effects of shell-fire on a beleaguered town. Let men try to disguise the fact as they may, it gets on the nerves of the most courageous among us, producing a sense of helplessness in the presence of danger. Nobody likes sitting still to be battered at without power of effective reply. Still less would he be content to stand inactive by while the wounded and defenceless were being shelled. These considerations no doubt influenced Sir George White yesterday when he sent a message to General Joubert asking that non-combatants with sick and wounded might be allowed to leave Ladysmith without molestation. It must have been bitterly humiliating for a soldier in command of ten or twelve thousand British troops, who have been twice victorious in battle, to feel that one reverse had resulted in making him a suitor for so much favour at the hands of an adversary. Whether the request ought ever to have been made or not, to say nothing of whether we ought to have been in the abject position of having to make it, is a question about which most civilians are at variance with the military authorities, seeing that the answer was a foregone conclusion. Its exact purport we do not know yet, but it amounted to a flat refusal, as most of us had foreseen, and was accompanied by alternative proposals which placed Joubert in the position of a potential conqueror—dictating terms, and our acceptance of these cannot be read by the Boers in any other light than as an admission of weakness or pusillanimity. Of course we know that it means nothing of the kind, but simply that Sir George White would not expose sick and wounded, with helpless women, children, and non-combatants generally, to the possible horrors of a prolonged bombardment. So long as they remained in town he would be righting with one hand tied, because he could not in that case place batteries in certain advantageous positions without the risk of drawing fire from Boer guns on Ladysmith and its civilian inhabitants. Whether this state of things has been mended much by Sir George White's acceptance of Boer conditions and Ladysmith's practical repudiation of them may well be doubted. As the matter is generally understood, General Joubert, while declining to grant Sir George's request, consented that a neutral camp for sick, wounded, and non-combatants should be formed at Intombi Spruit, five miles out on the railway line to Colenso, and practically within the Boer lines. They were to be supplied with food, water, and all necessaries from Ladysmith by train daily, under the white flag, and to be on parole not to take any part thenceforth in this war.
As a set-off against these conditions, Joubert undertook that the camp should not be fired upon by any of his men, or its occupants molested, so long as they observed the regulations imposed upon them. And he promised further that they should all be released, but still on parole, whenever the siege of Ladysmith might be raised or the Boer forces withdrawn. He gave no pledge, however, that his batteries should not be placed in such a position that they would be screened by the hospital camp from the fire of our guns, or that when he might choose to attack, the Boer forces would not advance from a point where we could not shoot at them without danger of sending shells and bullets among our own comrades and fellow-subjects.
Ladysmith's most representative men were dead against the acceptance of conditions which seemed to them all in favour of one side. They expressed freely, and without reserve, doubts as to General Joubert's good faith, and saw in his proposals only fresh instances of Boer cunning. Their sturdy manhood rebelled against arbitrary terms dictated by an enemy whose superiority, except in mere numbers, they naturally enough declined to admit. The weaker spirits might yield, if they would, out of timid respect for "Long Tom" and other heavy artillery, the shells from which, though they have done little harm so far, have a distinctly demoralising effect when they come screeching through the air and crashing into houses day after day.
In earlier stages of the bombardment people showed little alarm after they had got over the first shock of hearing a shell burst. Children were allowed to play about the streets, and women went shopping, according to the custom of their sex all the world over. Kaffir girls stood in groups at street corners, swaying their bodies as they beat noiseless time with their bare feet to the monotonous drone of mouth-organs or Jews'-harps, which most of them carry strung about their necks, wherewith to banish dull care in the many moments of leisure snatched from toil, and beaming broad smiles on every dusky swain who passed. But the rumour got about that General Joubert had threatened to bombard the town indiscriminately if our guns fired lyddite at his batteries, and this threat had unknown terrors for the simple, who did not realise that, whether discriminately or indiscriminately, Boer shells would continue to fall in Ladysmith streets all the same.
So far as I can find out, General Joubert never sent such a foolish message, but the rumour—possibly put about by Boer agents—served its purpose by inducing a timorousness in some minds, and men who had no fear for themselves began to get very anxious about the safety of wives and children. That was the keynote of a speech made by Mr. Farquhar at the public meeting yesterday, when he, as Mayor of Ladysmith, made official announcement of General Joubert's proposals. Mr. Farquhar is a cautious Scotsman, whose sense of responsibility in such a crisis would compel him to put the gravest phase of the case first. The Boer conditions, however, met with nothing but indignant protests, nobody venturing to raise his voice in favour of them except by way of comment on the utterances of some fiery orator, who was for asking the General to send back threats of dire punishment on every Boer if a shot should be fired into the town. Mr. Charles Jones, who was a transport rider in the Boer war of 1881, and carried Sir Evelyn Wood's despatches through the enemy's lines to a beleaguered garrison, was first to express in calm, manly words what was afterwards found to be the general feeling of the townsmen present at that meeting. Mr. Jones has won the respect of every Englishman who knows him by the steadfastness with which he stuck to his post when others were seeking safety in migration to Maritzburg or Durban. With firm faith in the leader under whom, as a volunteer, he saw active service, Mr. Jones believes that we should see our difficulties through, without asking or accepting doubtful favours from a foe. Somebody in the crowd ventured to say, "But your wife and children are not here now." "No," was the answer; "and I have no wish nor right to speak for fathers and husbands, who are at liberty to do as they please. But I can still say that if my wife and children were here, I would rather they should trust to protection under the Union Jack with British soldiers than under the white flag at Joubert's mercy."
There were men in that crowd who had to speak for those near and dear to them. Anxious-eyed and pale, with muscles knit into hard lines on their faces, one after another declared in voices that may have faltered, but still rang true as steel, that they and theirs would face their fate under the Union Jack. Archdeacon Barker, who has been ceaseless in his ministrations among the afflicted since fighting began, gave eloquent expression to the prevalent sentiment, as one who had kith and kin about him, and finished by saying that he would neither go to the camp selected by General Joubert, nor allow his wife and family to go. To this conclusion the meeting also came by general agreement, the dissentient minority being still free to do as they wished, except that no man who had taken up arms in defence of Ladysmith could accept the terms offered by General Joubert. Then the people gave three lusty cheers, and ended by singing "God Save the Queen," with an effect, the impressiveness of which was deepened by the thought that within a few hours Ladysmith would be under bombardment from all the thundering artillery our enemy could muster. But the resolution of this public meeting made no difference to Sir George White's decision, which was a practical acceptance of the terms formulated.
To-day has passed in peace, but marked by a very natural depression as we have seen train after train laden with sick, wounded, and non-combatants, go out to the neutral camp at Intombi Spruit, where these people will have to remain under a white flag so long as this humiliating investment of Ladysmith may last. To make the matter worse they were sent out at first with insufficient supplies for urgent needs, and with so few attendants that tents for all could not be pitched the same night. Even now many non-combatants have to lie in small patrol tents of thin canvas with a double slope, under the ridge of which there is barely room for a child to stand upright, and the camp is placed on ground so flat, near the river bank, that heavy rains might convert it into a mere swamp. There, however, General Joubert decided that the neutral camp must be pitched, and those who were too weak or spiritless to help themselves, must needs be thankful for such gracious concessions. Some, not quite satisfied with the protection this affords, are digging burrows deep into clay banks by the river side, where they will be even more liable to be flooded out. In strict justice it must be said that many sick and wounded went out, not of their own free will, but because, being under medical care, they had no option. The result of this is that men suffering from slight ailments, or whose wounds would not incapacitate them from duty longer than a week or so, are virtually prisoners of war, only to be released at the pleasure of the Boers, or until we reclaim them by force of arms. These are unpleasant things to write, but they are true none the less.
The Boer guns have preserved all along an absolute silence, which was not broken on our side until ten at night, when a sentry set off his rifle. This roused the whole camp, and soldiers everywhere stood to their arms until the cause of this false alarm was discovered.
November 6.—At daybreak this morning, Second Lieutenant Hopper, 5th Lancers, came into camp, having got through the Boer lines by a ruse as clever as it was sportsmanlike. He brought despatches from the General commanding at Estcourt. His difficulties show that though a soldier may get through the Boer lines, they are now tightening round us, and unless a British force strong enough to break through can be assembled quickly, we are in for a long siege here. Nobody gave the Boers credit for so much enterprise, and if Sir George White made a mistake, as I think he did, in not sending all the women and children away from Ladysmith when Dundee was abandoned, this error probably arose from faulty information, for which those who thought they knew the Boers and their resources were in the first instance responsible.
Our defences begin to take shape, so that their strong and weak points can be estimated. Southward is a long brown hog-backed hill, which the local people call Bester's Ridge, though military authorities divide it into Cæsar's Camp, with Maiden's Castle forming a spur in the inner curve towards Ladysmith, and Waggon Hill. Altogether it is three miles in length, and being the key of the position will want holding. For that purpose the trusty Manchester battalion is placed there, having roughly constructed sangars for rallying points. This ridge forms one horn of the roughly-shaped horse-shoe which I have already spoken of, the toe of which sweeps round from Maiden's Castle in low but rugged kopjes overlooking slopes of open veldt to where Klip River loops the old camp which, being constructed of corrugated iron, is called "Tin Town." That would be a weak point, but that it is protected by an outlying kopje known as Rifleman's Post on the far side of the river. This is occupied by a small body of the King's Royal Rifles, the other companies of which hold King's Post, an eminence from which the northern horn of the horse-shoe bends along by Cove Ridge, Junction Hill, Tunnel Hill, and Cemetery Hill, to Helpmakaar Hill. Here the Devons are posted at the heel of the shoe, which juts into a scrubby flat pointing towards the neck between Lombard's Kop and Bulwaan. These hills are respectively four and five miles distant from our outworks. Bulwaan stands across the opening afar off like a huge, bevelled, flat-topped bar placed, as it might be, for a horse-shoe magnet to attract it. The whole curve of our defensive works must stretch nearly nine miles. In addition, there is an undefended opening nearly two miles long, where the straggling town lies naked to its enemies, or rather screened by nothing more formidable than belts of mimosa, Australian willow, and eucalyptus trees. Between the town and Bulwaan, however, flows Klip River, with many windings through a broad plain, mostly pasturage, but with mimosa scrub closing it in towards the gorge where river and railway converge at Intombi Spruit.
Long as our defensive line is for 10 or 12,000 men to occupy effectively, it must be held at all costs, and a post must be kept on Observation Hill north-west of the Cove Ridge, for if once the Boers got possession of that kopje they might make other positions untenable. As matters stand, they have planted guns on an outer ring of hills, whence they can throw shells into the town. Sir George White was blamed for giving up Lombard's Kop and Bulwaan, but these could not have been held without weakening more important points. They seemed, moreover, too far off to serve as artillery positions for the enemy's smaller guns, and almost inaccessible for big Creusot 94-pounders. Against attacks by riflemen from that direction the hard plain is a sufficient obstacle. Any body of Boers attempting to cross that open could be met by overwhelming infantry fire and the shrapnel of field-batteries. The idea that Bulwaan is beyond effective range of anything but the heaviest artillery has, however, been dispelled to-day. The enemy got a high velocity 40-pounder into position there, and its shell, travelling faster than sound, whistles over the town, to burst near the balloon detachment which is moving with the guy ropes up a valley towards the outer defences. This gun must have a range of nearly six miles, and we have nothing that can reach it but our naval 4.7-inch and 12-pounders mounted on Junction Hill, both of which have enough to do in keeping down the fire of "Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill.
November 8.—In previous letters and telegrams I have referred frequently to the presence of known Boer sympathisers who were suspected of being in constant communication with our enemies. No steps were taken to test the truth of these suspicions until numberless facts, which the most sceptical could not ignore, proved that every movement made by our troops within or near the camp was known very soon afterwards to Boers outside, who could not have discovered these things by mere observation without the aid of secret agents. Several people were understood to be shadowed, but nothing came of this except an order that no person should be allowed to remain in Ladysmith without an official permit. This was practically set at naught by farmers, who considered themselves free to enter and leave the town without let or hindrance, until it was practically surrounded by Boers, and they often gathered about the hotel doors listening furtively to every scrap of gossip or news that fell from officers.
At length the course was taken that might have saved much trouble if put into practice days earlier, by making peremptory the order that all non-residents who could not show the necessary permit to remain should clear out within twenty-four hours, or be subject to arrest and imprisonment. At the same time a warning went round that none would, after the allotted time, be allowed to pass our outposts coming or going, and so perforce many who would have been glad to get away remained, having missed their last chance of going southwards by train. What has become of them since then I do not know, unless they have taken refuge with non-combatants, and sick and wounded, in the neutral camp. At any rate, they are not here now, and that is something to be thankful for, though they could give little information to the enemy, except that shelling has done surprisingly little harm, and killed or wounded very few in proportion to the enormous number of projectiles thrown. This in spite of good guns, aimed with most accurate skill, is attributable solely to the fact that the shells were too weakly charged to burst with much destructive effect.
But the spies—for they were certainly nothing less—had done their work in locating every point of military importance or personal interest in Ladysmith, and it is hardly possible to doubt that this knowledge was imparted to Boer gunners, who promptly began training their heaviest artillery in the direction of supply depots, ordnance stores, headquarters, intelligence offices, and other places not visible from the enemy's positions, though within easy range of, and therefore commanded by them, if the gunners knew exactly where to aim so that projectiles might drop over intervening houses and trees. When the most destructive shell burst in my bedroom most people regarded it as an accidentally erratic shot, intended for some other mark. Those who suggested that time and place had been deliberately chosen because Colonel Frank Rhodes, Doctor Jameson, Sir John Willoughby, General French with his staff, and other officers, were known to have lunched in the Royal Hotel on several previous days, met with nothing but ridicule. Colonel Rhodes especially made light of the idea that any gun could shoot so accurately as to get within a few feet of hitting the exact mark aimed at from a range of nearly five miles. Since then, however, the hotel has been nearly struck several times, and on each occasion about the same hour, so that the most sceptical are now changing their opinions in favour of a belief that the Royal Hotel has been marked for destruction. Out of consideration for other guests, therefore, Colonel Rhodes, "the Doctor," Sir John Willoughby, and Lord Ava have taken up their quarters elsewhere.
It may be a mere coincidence, but since their departure shells have fallen less frequently in this part of the town, though a great many have passed close over the Town Hall, on which a Red Cross flag floats, denoting its use as a refuge for sick and wounded, and the Convent Hospital, conspicuously placed on a ridge behind, has been completely wrecked inside. Fortunately, however, the convalescent patients and nurses were got away before that happened. It will probably be pleaded in justification of the Boers that these buildings, being directly in the line of fire behind our naval batteries, were liable to be hit by high shots from "Long Tom." The same excuse, however, cannot be made in other cases when shells fell among houses that are not in line with any defensive work, camp, or arsenal. One cannot suppose that a mere desire for wanton destruction of life and property directed the shots, which were probably aimed on the off-chance of hitting officers known or believed to be living in those houses. That would be sufficient justification according to all the accepted ethics of war, and some military men contend even that the Boers would be quite right to shell Ladysmith until it was reduced to ruins if they hoped to accelerate thereby the work they have taken in hand. It must be remembered that Joubert's main object just now is to gain possession of the town, which it is said he has sworn to capture, and if he thought that end could be hastened by ceaseless bombardment of the place, involving possible slaughter of many unarmed people, there is nothing in the law of nations to prevent him, so long as a military force remains here ostensibly for the defence of Ladysmith.
So runs the argument, but it would be preposterous to assume that General Joubert thinks he can reduce British troops to submission or bring about an evacuation by such feeble means. Sir George White has, from humane motives, yielded points to his adversary which most of us would have thought worth fighting for, but he is every inch a gallant soldier, as we who have watched him under heavy fire all know full well, and nobody here needs to be assured that he will never surrender Ladysmith or abandon its stubborn defence as long as there is any reason for holding it.
Ample provision is made for the safety of all non-combatants, where they will not be exposed to shell fire from any quarter, or other dangers except unlikely accidents, and against these no foresight can guard entirely. There are some people who continue to take all risks rather than forsake their property by day or night. These, however, are comparatively few. The great majority got away while there was yet time, leaving their houses, full of furniture, locked up or in charge of Kaffir servants. Curiously enough, they were in many cases the first to suffer loss by shell fire, and are probably now congratulating themselves on the timely desertion that enabled them to escape worse evils.
Mr. Fortescue Carter, the most famous of Ladysmith's townsmen, whose History of the Boer War in 1881 is well known, had scarcely left his home, next door to the Intelligence Department's headquarters, when shells began to fall in his beautiful garden among rose trees, hollyhocks, dahlias, verbenas, and other familiar English flowers, which he cultivated with much care. Neighbours might be content to surround their houses with fences of almond-scented oleander, and let the hundred varieties of South African shrubs bloom in wild profusion under the shadowing eucalyptus tree, but his gardens were laid out with well-ordered primness, and in them he delighted to see growing the fragrant flowers that reminded him and his visitors of home life in England. All this is in danger of becoming a shell-fretted wilderness now. "Long Tom" once having turned his attention in this direction continued to pound away until two shots struck the house itself, and, bursting inside, shattered the dainty contents of several rooms to atoms.
Meanwhile, in a picturesque, vine-trellised cottage, not fifty yards off, ladies went about their domestic duties as usual, apparently oblivious of all danger. One I saw quietly knitting in the cool, shaded stoep, and her busy needles only stopped for one moment, when a shell burst in the roadway beyond, then went on again as nimbly as ever. After the first shock, some people, who seem least fitted to bear a continuous strain on their nerves, become so accustomed to the hurtling of huge projectiles through the air that they show no sign of fear when danger is close to them. Women are often braver than men in these circumstances. There is one whose courageous example alone keeps native servants and coolie waiters at their posts, but she, when little more than a child, saw some of the horrors of the Zulu War, and she speaks with pride of her father as one of the few farmers who, refusing to quit their homes, kept wives and families about them, and fought like heroes in defence of all they held dear.
Not all in Ladysmith are of this heroic temper, but very few make open parade of fear if they have any, and though precautions are taken against exposure to unnecessary risks, there is no sign of panic yet. Soldiers, every one of whom may be very valuable as a fighting unit before this siege closes, are ordered to protect themselves by such shelter trenches or bomb-proofs as can be constructed out of loose stones, sandbags, forage bales, or other material that lies ready at hand. The works have to be built under shell-fire, but when finished they will be an inestimable advantage to regiments that occupy day and night hill-crests where they might be enfiladed by long-range artillery fire. That risk must, of course, be taken if the enemy's riflemen should harden their hearts for a determined frontal attack upon any position supported by flank fire from guns, but until such a critical moment arrives the men not actually on duty as sentries or outlying pickets will be little harassed by bursting shells or flying splinters or showers of shrapnel bullets, if they dig themselves good pits to lie in, with sufficiently thick coverings overhead.
The 1st Devon battalion, which, as one of the best here, and trusted for its steadiness in all circumstances, was given the most vulnerable point to hold, has busied itself in the formation of works that promise to make Helpmakaar Hill impregnable, though its long, low spur is exposed to artillery fire from Bulwaan and Lombard's Kop and the scrub-screened nek between them. The works there show what can be done under difficulties by a good regiment toiling cheerfully to carry out the orders of good officers. The original breastworks were traced by engineers who had in view rather the necessity of throwing up light defences against rifle fire than the probability that these works would be battered at by heavy artillery from one side and taken in reverse from another. It soon became evident that the entrenchments if left in that state would be untenable, and yet they could not be abandoned without serious risk that Boers might then be able to advance under cover near enough to threaten other posts, if not to command by rifle fire, within twelve hundred yards or so, the heights on which naval guns are mounted. Only by holding the contours of extreme spurs on Helpmakaar Hill could the Devons hope to sweep by rifle fire a wide zone of slightly undulating veldt, and thus command all possible approaches from Lombard's Kop or Bulwaan in that direction. So they stuck generally to the lines traced by engineers for their outer defences, but deepened the trenches, widened the banks in front of them, built bomb-proof traversers overlaid with balks and earth to neutralise the effects of enfilading fire, and then began to form for themselves dug-out huts in which to sleep, with solid earth roofs supported on railway sleepers.
All this means enormous labour, carried on frequently under a galling cannonade from the enemy's smaller guns, and interrupted occasionally by the necessity of having to keep down the rifle-fire that comes from a distant kopje, while standing on the front of these works.
Yesterday, watching a cavalry patrol that tried in vain to feel for a way through the scrubby nek into more open ground beyond, General Brocklehurst and his staff were nearly hit by a shell from some newly-mounted battery the exact position of which could not be located, for its smokeless powder made no flash that anybody could see in broad daylight, nor generated even the faintest wreath of vapour. Its projectile travelled faster than sound, so that the range could not have been great, but there was nothing by which our own batteries might have been directed to effective reply. We all abused "Long Tom" at first because of his unprovoked attack on a defenceless town, but by contrast with what is known among Devon men as the "Bulwaan Sneak," and among bluejackets as "Silent Susan," the big Creusot gun with its loud report, the low velocity of its projectiles, and the puff of white smoke giving timely warning when a shot is on its way, is regarded as quite a gentlemanly monster.
Following the example thus set by regiments on the main defensive positions, others temporarily in reserve have begun to build or dig for themselves splinter-or bomb-proof retreats, in which they may take shelter when the shelling becomes too hot. The Imperial Light Horse were first to hit upon the idea of burrowing into the river-banks. They began by forming mere niches, in which there was only just room enough for three or four men to stand huddled together when they heard a shell coming. Finding, however, that the soil could be easily dug out, they set gangs of natives to work lengthening the tunnels and connecting them by "cross drives," in the planning of which several Johannesburg mine managers found congenial occupation. This went on until the river-bank for a hundred yards in length was honeycombed by dark caves, in which a whole regiment might have been hidden with all its ammunition, secure from shell fire, the walls and roofs being so formed that they needed no additional support. There was no danger of the stiff alluvial soil falling in even if a shell had buried itself and burst above the entrance to any of these cool grottoes.
I spent half an hour in one of them, and found the air there delightful by contrast with scorching sunshine outside. What it will be, however, after many people have been crowded together for some time is less pleasant to contemplate, but even for that the resourceful Imperial Light Horse are prepared, and they already begin to talk of air-shafts so cunningly contrived that light and air may enter, but shells be rigidly excluded. Civilians in their turn emulate the Light Horse, but with unequal success, and their excavations assume such primitive forms that future archæologists may be puzzled to invent satisfactory explanations of curious differences in the habits of the cave-dwellers of Ladysmith, as exemplified by the divergent types of their underground abodes.
And, indeed, these habits are strangely various even as presented to the eyes of a contemporary student. Some people, having spent much time and patient labour in making burrows for themselves, find life there so intolerably monotonous that they prefer to take the chances above ground. Others pass whole days with wives and families or in solitary misery where there is not light enough to read or work, scarcely showing a head outside from sunrise to sunset. They may be seen trooping away from fragile tin-roofed houses half an hour before daybreak carrying children in their arms, or a cat, or monkey, or a mongoose, or a cage of pet birds, and they come back similarly laden when the night gets too dim for gunners to go on shooting. There would be a touch of humour in all this if it were not so deeply pathetic in its close association with possible tragedies. One never knows where or at what hour a stray shot or splinter will fall, and it is pitiful sometimes to hear cries for dolly from a prattling mite who may herself be fatherless or motherless to-morrow. We think as little as possible of such things, putting them from us with the light comment that they happen daily elsewhere than in besieged towns, and making the best we can of a melancholy situation.
There are, I believe, many good reasons why Sir George White should allow his army to be hemmed in here defending a practically deserted town, apart from the ignominy that abandonment would entail, and it is probably sound strategy to keep Boer forces here as long as possible while preparations are being matured for attacking them from other directions. On the latter point one cannot express an opinion without full knowledge of the circumstances such as we cannot hope to get while communications are cut off. But nobody can pretend to regard our present inaction following investment as anything but a disagreeable necessity, or affect a cheerful endurance of conditions that become more intolerable day after day. Now and then we have hopes that the Boers may risk everything in a general attack with the object of carrying this place by storm, when they would most certainly be beaten off and lose heavily.
They did something to encourage this hope yesterday. It began with a heavy artillery duel between "Long Tom" and the naval gun that is known as "Lady Anne." After vain attempts to silence our battery, the enemy's fire, generally so accurate, became wild, several shells going so high that they struck the convent hospital hundreds of yards in rear. This, at any rate, is the most charitable explanation of acts that would otherwise be inexcusable. The Red Cross was at that time, and for days before, flying above the convent, in which Colonel Dick-Cunyngham and Major Riddell were patients, under the care of nursing sisters. Fortunately, good shelter was found for them in the convent cellars until they could be removed to safer quarters, but before this much of the upper rooms had been reduced to ruins by persistent shelling. When the Boers thought they had sufficiently demoralised our defensive forces by artillery "preparation," a brisk attack by riflemen began to develop against Maiden's Castle, Cæsar's Camp, and Waggon Hill, a continuous range forming the southern key to our position, and held by the Manchester Regiment. Brigadier-General Hamilton and his staff were there from the outset, ready, if need be, to call up the Gordons in support. This necessity, however, never arose, though the attack, as I can testify from personal observation on the spot, was pushed for some time with great persistence, the Boers trying again and again to creep up by the western slopes of Waggon Hill, while shells raked the whole face of Cæsar's Camp to Maiden's Castle, and burst repeatedly among the tents of the Manchester battalion, without doing serious harm.
A colour-sergeant with only fourteen men defended the crest of Waggon Hill until nightfall, when the Boers retired sullenly. To repeated offers of reinforcements the sergeant warmly replied that he had men enough for the job, and proved it by repelling every attack, the Boers declining to face the steady fire that was poured upon them whenever they showed themselves. Colonel Hamilton, however, had a firm conviction that the Boer movement against that flank was only a feeler for more determined enterprises to follow, and he accordingly stiffened the defensive lines there by mounting half a field battery in strong earthworks during the night, and sending up bodies of mounted infantry to support the Manchesters.
As the sun was setting in clouded splendour behind Mount Tinwa's noble crags and peaks, throwing their dark shadows across the lower hills near us, a flash so quick, that it could hardly be seen, darted from out the gloom there, and with the crashing report that followed came a shell plump into one of our most crowded camps. This was evidently from a gun newly mounted on Blaauwbank. Two other shells burst in quick succession about the same place, but fortunately nobody was hit. Then, satisfied with having got the range to a nicety, our enemy left us in undisturbed quiet for the night, but with an uncomfortable consciousness that fresh links were being forged in the chain of artillery fire by which Ladysmith is now completely girdled, for two batteries that cannot be exactly located have been shelling steadily all day from each end of Bulwaan, with accurate aim and far-reaching effect, as if to disprove all the theories that led to the error of abandoning that position.
This morning fallacious prophecies were further shattered by a shell from works placed far back on the table top of Bulwaan. It did not demolish anything else, but it makes us very chary now about predicting what the Boers can or cannot do. Through telescopes they had been watched building that strong fort, and everybody knew it was being thrown up as an emplacement for heavy artillery, yet few people thought that another gun, akin to "Long Tom" in calibre and range, could have been mounted there so soon, until they saw the dense cloud of smoke from a black powder charge, and heard the familiar gurgling screech of a big shell, followed by the thundering report.
"Puffing Billy" was the appropriate name bestowed on this new enemy by Colonel Rhodes, who has an amusing faculty for applying quaintly descriptive phrases to every fresh development in this state of siege. I am told on high authority that the word "siege" is not quite applicable to our case here, but if the Boers are not sitting down before Ladysmith in a very leisurely way, intent upon keeping us under bombardment as long as they may choose to stay, I do not know the meaning of such movements. It was we who provoked "Puffing Billy" to his first angry roar by a trial shot from one of our big naval guns into the Bulwaan battery. "Long Tom" presently joined in the chorus, and it took our two 4.7 quick-firers all their time to keep down that cross-fire. Though "Lady Anne's" twin-sister had been mounted some days, her voice was seldom heard, until this morning, when, after a few rounds, "Long Tom" paid silent homage to her sway, and in celebration of that temporary knock-out, Captain Lambton christened his new pet "Princess Victoria," but the bluejackets called it by another name, to indicate their faith in its destructive effect.
It was interesting to watch these weapons at work. Their gunners would wait until they saw a flash from "Long Tom" or "Puffing Billy" and then fire, their shells getting home first by two or three seconds, owing to the greater velocity imparted by cordite charges. Soon after ten o'clock the enemy's artillery fire from different directions grew brisker. The damage, whatever it may have been, inflicted on "Long Tom," or his crew, having been made good under cover of a white flag, which the Boers seem to think they are at liberty to use whenever it suits them, Rietfontein called to Bulwaan, and Blaauwbank in the west echoed the dull boom that came from the distant flat-topped hill in the east. Then along our main positions, against the Leicesters and Rifles on one side, and the Manchesters on another, an attack by rifles developed quickly.
Intermittently these skirmishes lasted most of the day, our enemy never pressing his attack home, but contenting himself with long-range shooting from good cover. Neither heavy guns nor small arms did much damage. Major Grant, R.E., of the Intelligence Staff, was slightly wounded as he sat coolly sketching the scene of hostilities as he saw it from the front of Cæsar's Camp. A lieutenant of the Manchesters and three men of the Leicester Regiment were also hit by rifle bullets or shell splinters, but none very seriously.