Husbanding supplies—Colonel Ward's fine work—Our Christmas market—A scanty show—Some startling prices—A word to cynics—The compounding of plum-puddings—The strict rules of temperance—Boer greetings "per shell"—A lady's narrow escape—Correspondents provide sport—"Ginger" and the mules—The sick and wounded—Some kindly gifts—Christmas tree for the children—Sir George White and the little ones—"When the war is over"—Some empty rumours—A fickle climate—Eight officers killed and wounded—More messages from Buller—Booming the old year out
It needed perhaps all the music that could be mustered in the town to remind the beleaguered garrison and inhabitants that the festive season was upon them. It was inevitable that at such a time the thoughts of all should turn a little regretfully to other scenes. But it takes a great deal to depress the British soldier to the point at which he is willing to forego his Christmas; and on all hands, in spite of adverse fortune, preparations were made to keep the day in as fitting a manner as the restricted means allowed—with what success is described by Mr. Pearse in the following letter:—
Thanks to the perfect organisation which Colonel Ward, C.B., brings into all branches of the department over which he is chief here, and the attention paid to innumerable details by his second in command, Colonel Stoneman, there has never been any danger of necessary supplies being exhausted, even if this place were invested for a much longer time than seems likely now, but these two officers seem to have more than absolute necessaries in reserve. When Colonel Ward was appointed Military Governor of Ladysmith his measures for preserving health in the town and camps surrounding it took a very comprehensive form. He not only made provision for ample water-supply, in place of that which the Boers had cut off, but his ideas of sanitary precaution embraced inquiry into sources of food-supply and kindred subjects. To the end that he might know whether wholesome meat and drink were being sold, it was obviously necessary that he should have reports as to the articles in which various proprietors of stores traded. Information on these points was collected with so much care that, when the pinch came, he knew exactly where to put his hand on provisions for the healthy and medical comforts for the sick and wounded. He had only to requisition a certain number of shops and hotels that were scheduled as having ample supplies of the things wanted, and the trick was done. Some tradesmen were glad enough to have their old stock taken over wholesale by the military authorities at a profitable price, but others, who foresaw chances of a richer harvest, were inclined to grumble at the arbitrary exercise of power of officials whose acts they regarded as little better than confiscation, and, unfortunately, some of these managed to evade the first call, so that they were allowed to go on selling privately, and running up the prices to a fabulous extent.
This was a mistake. All should have been treated alike, so that none might complain that kissing goes by favour, even in the most immaculate and best regulated armies. As it was, the military commissariat secured much that would add to the comfort of soldiers, but for what was left civilians had to pay dearly. Some idea of the way in which this worked may be given by a quotation from the prices bid at our Christmas market on Saturday. We have no Covent Garden or Leadenhall here, but it was felt that some sort of show ought to be made at this festive season, and accordingly everything in the form of Christmas fare that could be got together was brought out for sale by auction. It did not amount to much. The whole barely sufficed to fill one long table, which was placed in a nook between the main street and a side alley, where fifty people or so might crowd together without attracting the notice of Bulwaan's gunners, who would delight in nothing so much as the chance of throwing a surprise shell into the midst of such a gathering.
The time for holding this auction had been fixed with a view to the enemy's ordinary practice of closing hostilities about sunset each evening, but he does not allow this to become a hard and fast rule, nor does he recognise "close time" that may not be broken in upon at will, if sufficient temptation to shoot presents itself. So the sale was held, not only in a secluded corner, but in the brief half-light between sunset and night. Some civilians came as a matter of curiosity to look on, but the majority were soldiers, regular or irregular, on business intent, and they soon ran up with a rapidity that gave the good traders of Ladysmith a lesson in commercial possibilities when it was too late for them to profit by it to the full. Eggs sold readily at nine shillings a dozen, their freshness being taken on trust and no questions asked. Ducks that had certainly not been crammed with good food were considered cheap at half a guinea each, and nobody grumbled at having to give nine shillings and sixpence for a fowl of large bone but scanty flesh. Imported butter in tins fetched eight and sixpence a pound, jam three and sixpence a tin, peaches boiled that morning in syrup, and classified therefore as preserves, went freely for seven and sixpence a bottle, and condensed milk at five shillings a tin. But these prices were low compared with the five shillings given for three tiny cucumbers no longer than one's hand. The crowning bid of all, however, was thirty shillings for twenty-eight new potatoes, that weighed probably three or four pounds. The buyers were mostly mess-presidents of regiments, whose officers began to crave for some change from the daily rations of tough commissariat beef and compressed vegetables; or troopers of the Imperial Light Horse, who will rough it with the best when necessity compels, but not so long as there are simple luxuries to be had for the money that is plentiful among them.
Cynics dining sumptuously in their clubs may jeer at the idea of campaigners attaching so much importance to creature comforts. Let them try a course of army rations for two months, and then say what price they would set against a fresh egg or a new potato. Two privates of the Gordon Highlanders stopped beside the auctioneer's stall as if meditating a bid for some fruit. They listened in wonderment as the prices went up by leaps and bounds. Then said one to the other, "Come awa, mon! We dinna want nae sour grapes." For them, however, and for others whose means did not run to Christmas market prices, there was consolation in store. Colonel Ward had taken care that there should be a reserve of raisins and other things necessary for the compounding of plum-puddings; and officers of the Army Service Corps were able to report for Sir George White's satisfaction that sufficient could be issued for every soldier in this force to have a full ration. The only thing wanting was suet, which trek oxen do not yield in abundance after eking out a precarious existence on the shortest of short commons; and half-fed commissariat sheep have not much superfluous fat about them. What substitutes were found it boots not to inquire too curiously, seeing that Tommy did not trouble to ask so long as he got his Christmas pudding in some form. There was no rum for flavouring, as all liquors have to be carefully hoarded for possible emergencies. So for once the British soldier had to celebrate Christmas according to the rules of strict temperance. Yet he managed to have a fairly festive time for all that.
Boer guns sent us greeting in the shape of shells that did not explode. When dug up they were found to contain rough imitations of plum-pudding that had been partly cooked by the heat of explosion in gun barrels. On the case of each shell was engraved in bold capitals, "With the Compliments of the Season." This was the Boer gunner's idea of subtle irony, he being under the impression that everybody in Ladysmith must be then at starvation point. In all probability it did not occur to him that he was throwing into the town a number of curious trophies which collectors were eager to buy on the spot for five pounds each, with the certainty of being able to sell them again if they cared to at an enormous profit some day. After wasting some ammunition for the sake of this practical joke, our enemies began a bombardment in earnest. Most of this was directed at the defenceless town. One shell burst in a private house, wounding slightly the owner, Mrs. Kennedy, whose escape from fatal injuries seemed miraculous, for the room in which she stood at that moment was completely wrecked, the windows blown out, and furniture reduced to a heap of shapeless ruin.
Shells notwithstanding, the troops had their Christmas sports following a substantial dinner of roast beef and plum-pudding. There were high jinks in the volunteer camps, where Imperial Light Horse, Natal Carbineers, and Border Mounted Rifles, representing the thews and sinews of Colonial manhood, vied with Regular regiments in strenuous tugs of war and other athletic exercises, preparatory to the tournament, which is fixed for New Year's Day—"weather and the enemy's guns permitting." Three special correspondents, whose waggons are outspanned to form a pleasant little camp in the slightly hollowed ridge of a central hill, where they cannot be seen from the Boer batteries, and are therefore comparatively safe except from stray shells, organised a series of novel sports for the benefit of their nearest neighbours—the Rifle Brigade transport "South Africa," in the person of its genial representative, put up most of the prize-money, and together we arranged a succession of events, offering inducements enough to secure full entries for competitions that lasted from ten o'clock in the morning until near sunset, allowing sufficient intervals for the mid-day meal and other refreshments. We flatter ourselves that our gymkhana, in which races ridden on pack and transport mules furnished the liveliest incidents, would take a lot of beating—as a humorous entertainment at any rate. In order to avoid drawing fire from "Puffing Billy" or "Silent Sue" of Bulwaan, the course had to be laid in a semicircle that passed the picketing line for mules. Up to that point they would gallop like thoroughbreds, then cut it to their customary feeding-places with a promptness that sent several good riders to ground as if they had been shot. There are several good jockeys in the Rifle Brigade transport, and among them one who spent many days in racing stables at home and abroad before he took it into his head to follow the fifes and drums of "Ninety-Five." But even the redoubtable "Ginger," with all his horseman's skill and powers of persuasion in French, Hindustani, and English, could not prevail over a mule's will. It was more by luck than good riding that anybody managed to get past the post without two or three falls by the way. But this only added to the fun of the thing, for Tommy when in sportive mood takes hard knocks with infinite good-humour. When at the finish successful and unsuccessful competitors assembled to cheer their hosts, the three correspondents had the gratification of feeling that for a few of the many besieged soldiers in Ladysmith they had helped to make Christmas merry.
You may be sure that sick and wounded at Intombi hospital were not forgotten in the midst of our wild festivities. For them the morning train was laden with fruit, flowers, and such delicacies as the resources of this beleaguered town can still furnish. There are many unselfish people here who do not want to make money by selling things at market prices, or to keep for their own use the dainties that might be nectar to the lips of suffering soldiers. And there are officers also who have given of their abundance so freely that they will have to be dependent on similar generosity if the chances of war should number them among the sick or wounded. I must guard myself against being misunderstood. The hospital patients at Intombi Camp are not reduced to meagre fare yet, nor likely to be, but medical comforts are not all that a sick man craves for, and the simplest gifts sent from Ladysmith's store that day must have been like a ray of sunshine brightening the lot of some poor fellow with the assurance that, though far from home, he was still among friends who cared for him. Nor were the weakly and the children who still remain in this town forgotten. Colonel Dartnell, a soldier of wide experience, who commands the Field Force of Natal Police, and is beloved by every man serving under him; Major Karri Davis, of the Imperial Light Horse; Colonel Frank Rhodes, Lord Ava, and a few others got together the materials for a great Christmas tree, to which all the little ones between babyhood and their teens were invited. The Light Horse Major's long imprisonment with his brother officer Sampson in Pretoria, far from embittering him against humanity in general, has only made him more sympathetic with the trials and sufferings of others; just as heavy fines and a death sentence seemed to bring out the most lovable characteristics of Colonel Rhodes. It was Karri Davis who bought up all the unbroken toys that were to be found in Ladysmith shops; and the ready hands of ladies, who are always interested in such work, decorated the Christmas trees or adorned the hall in which this gathering was to be held with gay devices and hopeful mottoes. There were four trees. Round their bases respectively ran the words, "Great Britain," "Australia," "Canada," and "South Africa," and above them all the folds of the Union Jack were festooned. Contributors sent bon-bons and crackers in such profusion that each tree bore a bewildering variety of fruit. To avoid confusion in distributing prizes, these were numbered to correspond with the tickets issued; and Santa Claus, who patronised the ceremony, in a costume of snowy swansdown, that shed flakes wherever he walked, was content to play his part in dumb show, while the children walked round after him to receive the toys that were plucked for them, with many jests, by Colonel Dartnell and his genial colleagues. Over two hundred children were there, and many of them so young that it seemed as if the one precluded from attendance on the score of extreme youthfulness must have been the siege baby, who was then only a few days old. Generals Sir George White and Sir Archibald Hunter, with their aides-de-camp and many staff officers, came to take part in the interesting scene.
Looking at the little ones as they trooped through the hall, in their white finery, Sir George said he had no idea that so many children remained in Ladysmith, and perhaps at that moment his heart was heavy with a deeper sense of the responsibility thrust upon him. But fortunately we have been spared the worst horrors of a bombardment. Though Boer gunners have never hesitated, but rather preferred, to turn their fire on the open town, with a probability of hitting some house in which were women and children, none of the latter, and only two of the former, have been hit through the whole siege. Mrs. Kennedy, to whose narrow escape I have already referred, suffered so little bodily injury or nerve shock that she was present with her children at the Christmas tree entertainment, and took the congratulations of her friends quite coolly. After the children had gone home trees and trappings were dismantled, and the hall cleared for dancing, which the young people of Ladysmith and a few subalterns off duty kept up with much spirit until near midnight. In days to come we may look back to our Christmas under siege in Ladysmith, and think that after all we had not a very bad time. At this moment, however, there is probably nobody outside who envies our lot, or grudges us any enjoyment we may manage to get out of it. Soldiers, at any rate, deserve every chance of relaxation that can be found for them. There are several regiments of this force that have been practically on outpost duty since the investment began, often exposed to rain-storms during the day, because they could not pitch even shelter tents without drawing the enemy's fire on them. When the honours for this campaign come to be distributed I hope the services of these regiments will not be ignored.
Some Boxing Day sports had to be postponed for a more convenient opportunity, because shells were falling too thick about the camp, and since then the Boer guns have been so busy that men find occupation enough in fatigue duties at strengthening defensive works without thinking about amusements. The bombardment that day began with the first flush of roseate sunrise—when our enemies brought some smokeless guns to bear on us from new positions—and went on steadily for hours until "Puffing Billy" of Bulwaan left off shelling in this direction, and turned to fire several shells eastward. Rumour, as usual, was equal to the occasion, circulating stories that Sir Charles Warren's patrols were known to be moving that way. These inventions are worth nothing unless the names of corps or their commanding officers can be given, so their originators always take care to give such realistic touches. They give you "the lie circumstantial" or none at all. Possibly there may have been in this firing more method than we imagine, the idea being to mislead us by a pretended engagement with some force on the other side of Bulwaan. Another rational theory is that the gunners were simply expending a little ammunition in practice at range-finding for their guidance in future eventualities. Any story proved acceptable as a relief to the weariness of life in camp, that day when the thermometer registered 108° in the shade. What a climate Natal has! For fickleness it beats anything we have to grumble about in England. At night the temperature went down to 65°, and the brilliant summer weather broke up suddenly in a fierce thunderstorm. For a time every object roundabout would be blotted out by inky blackness, and for the next two or three minutes the lowering angry clouds would pulsate with dazzling light that leaped upward like life-blood from the throbbing heart of the storm. Each thundering peal was followed by a momentary lull, and then spasmodic gusts shook the air, as if Nature were drawing a deep breath for another effort. Before daybreak yesterday the storm had cleared, leaving a clouded sky, but no mists about the hilltops, to prevent a continuance of the bombardment.
Surprise Hill's howitzer surpassed previous performances by throwing three shells over Convent Ridge into the town, and the Bulwaan guns, having done with imaginary foes eastward, turned their attention to us once more. One of the earliest shells from that battery struck the mess tent of the Devon Regiment, and burst among officers at breakfast with disastrous results. Captain Lafone, who had been wounded at Elandslaagte, was killed; Lieutenant Price-Dent so seriously injured that there is little hope of his recovery; six other subalterns wounded—one being hit by shrapnel bullets or splinters in four places—and the mess waiter struck down by a heavy splinter that embedded itself beneath the ribs in a cavity too deep for probing at present. There was a curiously spiteful touch in the bombardment all day, and at midnight we were roused by sounds of rapid rifle-firing that began from Bell's Spruit and the railway cutting against Observation Hill and ran along to Rifleman's Ridge on one flank, and Devonshire Hill on the other. It was all Boer firing, but no shots came into the line of defences, and our men did not reply by letting off so much as one rifle. A thunder-storm raged to the accompaniment of heavy rain for some time, and perhaps the enemy thought we might choose such a night for attacking them under cover of intense darkness.
The last few days of the closing year were, on the whole, quiet, though, as Mr. Pearse seems to have felt, important events were brewing. We make the following extracts from his notebook:—
December 28.—This morning there was just a pale glimmer of dawn when our large naval gun assumed the aggressive part, and sent six shells in rapid succession on to Bulwaan battery and the hillside, where Boers were moving about. A little later stretcher parties could be seen collecting apparently wounded men. As "Puffing Billy" made no reply to this challenge, but remained silent all day, it is probable that many of the gunners were injured. "Silent Susan," otherwise "Bulwaan Sneak," however, fired several shots, and the bombardment was kept up from Rifleman's Ridge, Telegraph Hill, and a 12-pounder on Middle Hill, while Pom-Poms at two points barked frequently, but all this fuss and fury happily did no harm to anybody. At night a brilliant beam, like the tail of a comet, appeared in the southern sky. Presently the tail began to wag systematically, and experts were able to spell out the words of a cipher message. It was General Buller talking to us across fifteen miles of hills, and the conversation, all on one side, was kept up until lowering clouds shut out the light. We had no means of replying, but at eleven o'clock our guns fired two shots as a signal that the message had been seen and understood.
December 29.—Yesterday and to-day the bombardment has been vigorous in spite of heavy rain, and directed mainly on houses in town. Colonel Dartnell had a narrow escape on Friday, a shell bursting close to his tent in the Police Camp behind the Court-House. Next morning one came into and through my old room at the Royal, completing its ruin. To all this shooting the naval guns have replied effectively at intervals. Ammunition for them is precious, and Captain Lambton's gunners take care not to waste it on chance shots, as the Boer artillerymen do. From five o'clock last evening until dawn this morning rain fell heavily. The river rose four feet in one hour at midnight, flooding out the 18th Hussars, who are bivouacked by its banks, and carrying away the bridge that had been built by the Imperial Light Horse. Many horses and mules were swept down-stream by the roaring torrent, and drowned before anybody could attempt to save them.
December 31.—The old year closes in a quiet that is probably deceptive. More Boers than we have seen for weeks past are gathered behind Bulwaan, many having returned from leave which Joubert is said to have granted them to visit their home, with a liberality that shows his confidence in our inactivity. It has not been so quiet all day. The Boers disregarded their customary Sabbath rule of refraining from hostilities unless provoked by some apparently menacing movement on our part. There was nothing of that kind to incense them this morning, but their gunners, unable to resist the temptation offered by herds of cattle on Manchester Hill (as Cæsar's Camp is sometimes called), sent one shell from "Silent Susan" on to that ridge. They missed their mark, however, and did not get another chance until the afternoon, when several "Sneakers" were aimed at the old camp, and one burst close to a group of officers who were exercising themselves and their ponies for a polo match. This may have been meant as a rebuke to the Sabbath-breakers. Boer riflemen were engaged at that time in the more reprehensible pastime of sniping our outposts at long range, and they kept this up until near sunset, as if engaged in the most laudable duty; but we have long since learned that the Boer judges his own conduct by one standard and ours by another.
To-day the sun shone brilliantly, bringing back tropical heat, in contrast to the cold that always accompanies violent thunder-storms in Natal.
And so Christmas-tide was past, and the New Year broke upon the beleaguered garrison. So great is the influence of times and seasons that we may well believe that even in Ladysmith the first day of 1900 brought a brighter ray of hope. But hope must yet for long be deferred, and the daily round of tasks grow wearisome by repetition—the daily dole of eked-out rations, the daily tale of bursting shells, were for many weeks, with one day's startling break, to be the sole preoccupation of the defenders. The enemy, even on this first day of January, were not willing to leave the garrison in doubt as to their presence, although, despite the possible touch of sarcasm, there was a grim sort of friendliness in their reminder. It again took the form of blind shells—this time fired from the Free State batteries—inscribed "Compliments of the Season." The sarcasm (writes Mr. Pearse)
seems the more pointed because we hear that the Boers believe us to be starving and unable to hold out much longer. We should, at any rate, appreciate the good wishes more if they were sent in another form. Shells, even without fuses or powder-charges, are not quite harmless; and though these have done no damage so far, there is always a chance that they may hit somebody when fired into the heart of a town where people still carry on their customary occupations in spite of bombardment.
Whatever change favourable to their hopes was believed in by the Boers, there was none in the spirit with which soldiers and civilians alike in the invested township faced the duties placed upon them. Writing on New Year's Day Mr. Pearse has a timely and a generous word for the humbler heroes of the siege:—
We have among us one little saddler for whose services there is so much demand that he has steadily stitched away for hours together every working day since the siege began, heedless of shells. There are tailors, too, who have done their best to keep officers and civilians clothed, not even quitting their benches when shrapnels burst near them, and I know of at least one poor seamstress who, by working night and day, has earned enough to buy something more than bare rations even at famine prices. Cynics do not look for heroes or heroines among such as these. They toil for gain, that is all. But they have stuck to their notion of duty in the midst of danger, and no soldier could have done more. Not all the shells fired into town on New Year's Day were harmless, however. One from Bulwaan burst near Captain Vallentin's house, which has been a favourite since Colonel Rhodes took up his quarters there, and at last one hit just over the front door. It smashed the drawing-room wall, passed thence to the kitchen, and mortally wounded a soldier servant, whose last words to his master were, "I hope you've had your breakfast, sir!"
Up to this time the subject of food supply, though it had long seriously occupied the attention of the authorities, had not gravely added to the anxieties of the siege. Under the date of 1st January Mr. Pearse has the following entry:—
Colonel Ward tells me that rations are holding out well. Neither soldiers nor civilians, who number altogether over 20,000, have suffered privations yet, and, thanks to Colonel Stoneman's admirable system of distribution, something more than beef, bread, and groceries can still be issued to those who are too weak to be nourished by rough campaigning fare.
Forage for horses was, however, getting very scarce, and the poor beasts suffered greatly.
Four hundred men, including natives, are sent out every day to cut grass on the hillsides that are least exposed to Boer rifle fire, and they manage to bring in about 32,000 lbs. daily, but this does not go far among all the cavalry horses, transport animals, and cattle. Many must be left to pick up their own food by grazing under guard. The old troop-horses, however, break away from their allotted pasturages when feeding-time comes. Perhaps their quick ears catch the familiar bugle call to stables sounding afar off. At all events, neither knee-halters nor other devices are of any avail. They get back to the old lines somehow at feeding-time, and it is pitiful to see them standing patiently, in a row, waiting for the corn or chaff that is not for them, trying by a soft whinny to coax a little out of the hands of soldiers who pass them, or sidling up to an old stable chum who is better fed because better fit for work, in the hope of getting a share of his forage for the sake of auld lang syne. Those who know how the cavalry soldier loves a horse that has carried him well will not need to be told how hard Tommy found it to resist the appeal of a dumb comrade in distress; and who shall blame him if he shortened by just a handful or so the allowance for horses that are rationed on a special scale rather than turn a half-starved outcast empty away? But sentiment is a mistake when kindness can do no more than prolong misery. There is no horse sickness yet in the epidemic form. They simply pine for want of nourishment until, too weak even to nibble the grass about them, they drop and die. Some day we may have a use for them before things come to that extremity, but at present the difficulty is to dispose of their carcases. Sanitary considerations forbid that they shall be buried in town or near camp. The enemy shells working parties, who begin to dig pits on the open plain, and so an incinerating furnace has been built for the cremation of horses.
In the early days of the year the Boer batteries became much more active. We shall see that they were preparing for a climax, which, however, by the splendid bravery and determination of the garrison, was to be turned into one of disaster for the enemy rather than for the defenders. We are now within three days of the hottest ordeal Sir George White and his gallant army had to pass through. Happenings in the short interval are thus described in Mr. Pearse's notes:—
January 3.—For two days the Boer fire from Bulwaan has been directed mainly at the Town Hall or buildings near it, with occasional diversions towards the Intelligence Offices on one side, or the Indian Ordnance Laager on the other. Within these limits of deviation are the busiest parts of Ladysmith, bakeries for the supply of all who are invested, depots at which civilians assemble to draw their daily rations beside the Market Square, where lank-sided dogs snarl over refuse, and such stores as have still something to sell that has not been requisitioned for military uses. The Royal Hotel seems to be a mark once more. Several shells have come near hitting it to-day, and not twenty yards from the room in which I am making these notes a shrapnel has just burst through the wall of a stable. One horse standing there seems to be badly wounded, but curiously enough hardly shows any signs of terror, though the explosion close to him must have sounded terrific, and he was half blinded by dust mingled with fumes of melinite. The fact that Boers use high explosives for bursting charges has been questioned, but this shrapnel, and others I have seen burst at close quarters, undoubtedly contained melinite or some similar villainous compound, to which our own lyddite is near akin. A little later two ladies were driving down the main street when a shell burst just in front of their trap. The pony swerved as if to bolt, but his driver pulled him up with a steady hand and soothed him without a tremor in her voice. At the next corner, fully exposed to Bulwaan's battery, these ladies stopped, waiting to watch the effect of another shot.
It must not be thought that our own guns, though seldom mentioned, are idle all this while. They do not waste ammunition, for a very good reason, but wait their opportunity for effective reply to the enemy's batteries, and when a naval 12-pounder or the "Lady Anne" comes into action the Boer fire is apt to be hurried and wildly inaccurate if it does not cease for a time. The Boers have however mounted a new gun near Pepworth's, which sends "sneakers" into town and about Mount Hill with irritating persistency, and its smokeless powder makes a flash so small that the exact position cannot be located.
January 5.—Days in succession pass unbroken by any incidents dissimilar to the routine which in the very constancy of danger becomes monotonous. Yesterday and to-day are so much alike that one hardly remembers which was which unless some personal adventure or a friend's narrow escape makes a nick in the calendar. Yesterday, for instance, one of several shells bursting about the same spot shattered the water tanks behind a chemist's shop, and its splinters came in curious curves over the housetops, one grazing an officer of the Imperial Light Horse, to whom I was at that moment talking. The next shell was into the police camp, where it burst with destructive force, completely wrecking Colonel Dartnell's tent with all its contents, but injuring nobody. Had that genial and most popular officer followed the almost invariable practice of his everyday life, there would have been an end of the man to whom more than to anybody else we owe the timely retirement from Dundee. He it was who told General Yule, "You must go to-night or you will not be able to go at all," and whose advice, being acted upon, brought back several thousand men to strengthen the garrison of Ladysmith just before its investment. The loss of such a man would have been irreparable, for he knows more than any other officer in this country about Boers and their methods of fighting, and he has every thread of information at command if he were allowed to use native scouts in his own way. He would have made the best possible chief of an Intelligence Staff, but unfortunately military etiquette or jealousy bars his employment in that capacity. If his advice is asked for he gives it readily as at Dundee, and though he has no authority to act in the way that would be most congenial to his fearless and active nature, he is as ready as ever to render a service when wanted. Some of us know too how much civilians have been encouraged in their endurance of a long siege by Colonel Dartnell's cheery example. Nothing disheartens him. He is always the same whether the day's news be good or bad, and perhaps his unostentatious services will be adequately recognised in the end. If they had been taken advantage of in the beginning there would be fewer blunders to regret.
To-day Colonel Stoneman had more than one narrow escape. Two shells burst within splinter range of the office in which he and his assistants have worked steadily at supply details since the bombardment began. A third passed through the roof over that office after a ricochet, and then, without bursting, rolled to the ground in front of a stoup where several Army Service officers were sitting. That shell will be cherished after extraction of its fuse and melinite charge. Fire from other Boer guns proved more disastrous. Surprise Hill's howitzer threw one shell to the little encampment behind Range Point, where it killed one man and wounded four of the unfortunate Royal Irish Fusiliers.But the time seems now ripe for larger events. On the following day the Boers made their supreme attempt upon the defences of the town. Their best and their bravest were pitted against the siege-worn British soldier; but though they gained all the advantage of a night surprise, though their fierce energy placed them at this point and that several times within an inch of victory, they were hurled back by a foeman whose determination was greater than their own, and whose courage and spirit of self-sacrifice rose superior.