9.40 p.m., Monday. - Mail closes at 10 p.m., so I have just left Station Restaurant, where I have been dining with H - and B - , to close this.The day has been hot; the railway engineer tells me that the thermometer showed 94 degree in the shade at his house, but your thermometer shows maximum 86 degree, and is now at 75 degree. The dust was bad, with a strong wind ; my evening bath was heavenly. The dryness of the air is rather trying, and the regimental buglers can hardly play, and one's nails get brittle at the end; but it makes one feel fit and well.
The difficulty is to avoid drinking. I got down to a very small ration on board ship : half-cup of tea at breakfast, half-glass water and lime-juice at luncheon, and one glass (half-pint) very weak whisky-and-water at dinner, but I think that is too little here; so I am increasing my evening allowance - it encourages perspiration, which is a relief in the dryness. We had about six drops of rain in the afternoon. I am thoroughly well and happy, and consider myself quite out-of-the-way fortunate, as I think the most interesting part of the show will come my way ; but I am reconciled to the thought that I may be left behind here, in which case, however good my work, I shall get little credit; it is only the advertisers who can hope for much, but I expect to have the satisfaction of knowing that I have made their way easier and smoother. Much love.
Your affectionate son, Sydney Earle.
Dear Mother, - Your dear letters received; most cheering, as I was a bit depressed atnews of C - 's force in Natal. They are making the mistakes I expected, detaching small forces to be mopped up in detail. From the meagre information to hand, it is hard to see what the authorities wanted in Natal, unless it was to score a victory before being superseded, which is a cause that often makes mistakes. We hear the Boers are crossing the Orange River at Norval's Pont and Bethulie, but that has been expected for a long time ; and General B - has ordered troops at Naauwpoorb to concentrate here; I felt sure that he would not have had all these detached posts to tempt the enemy.Kimberley and Mafeking seem to be holding out well, and no doubt we shall do the same. We have been strengthened to-day by a battery and a half of artillery, among whom is F -W - , whom I saw at Las Palmas. I am very busy here; got up at 3.30 this morning to receive gunners, and have been at it ever since (5 p.m.). The Naauwpoort garrison will probably be arriving all night. I think it is evident that we have underrated numerical strength of Boers, and that we shall have a harder nut to crack than even I expected. We shall have a pretty strong force when the garrison from Naauwpoort arrives; we want a good many, as we have a lot of valuable stores and a large extent of ground to watch. I have paid for my two ponies, and have got them down in the camp, not far from my office, but I have been too busy to ride. The weather two days ago became suddenly cold. Your thermometer was down to 49 degree in my room, and it must have been nearly freezing outside at night. The flies, which are a nuisance, manage to revive by day. I have got Davison out of the camp of the Yorkshire Regiment, which he hated on account of the dust, and he lives now near the station, in the guard-room, much more convenient for me.We are expecting General F - W to come up here, or even General B - , but we know nothing definite. H - gets newspapers sent out, which is a comfort, as I read them. I wish I had made arrangements to have some sent out. I have just heard a rumour that wires to Ladysmith have been cut, so we sha'n't get any news from them for some time. It is difficult to understand how Boers are able to keep the field so long; their organisation must be very good.
L -has taken a photograph of me on my pony
Mustard,' which I shall perhaps be able to send home to you. I shall number my letters, and send them off to you as I write, as the mail service might break down.I am going to write to Max now, so that he shall get something on arrival.
Your affectionate son,
Sydney Earle. Let me hear all about book.
Sunday, November 5/'99 :De Aar.
Dear Mother, - Things are still very busy here indeed, but we don't get much news. On Friday the troops at Naauwpoort were brought here with all their stores for the purpose of concentration; it was very well and smoothly carried out ; the railway people worked wonders ; but, of course, it has created a bad effect in the country, as it is practically an evacuation and change of plan. Major Rimington's Guides form part of this force; they are an irregular force of colonials, and do excellent work as scouts and spies ; they have been more or less in touch with the Boers all the time ; they seem to think that the Free State Boers don't mean to come down far this way; on the other hand, there are rumours that about 4,000 of these have crossed at Norval's Pont, and are coming this way, but they are still sixty miles off. In an open country like this we ought to get three or four hours' warning of their approach, and so be ready for them. I don't think they can possibly have any artillery, and we have got a good bit.General W - arrived yesterday to take over the command. I hope this will be a permanent arrangement for some little time, as we have been suffering from changes in command as senior men arrive.
The weather is unpleasantly dry and windy, cracks one's lips, but we do not suffer from heat or cold- about 54-77 degree in my room.I am sitting now (7 a.m.) facing the bright sun, on the platform, very comfortable and warm. On Friday we had a most terrible dust storm, covered everything about two inches thick and gave one a thick layer of it between shirt and skin. The same evening we had a thunderstorm with a little rain. We get dreadful dust every afternoon. Martial law was proclaimed for the district on the 3rd, though we only heard about it yesterday. We stuck up a notice about registration of people and closing of bars. Anyone found selling drink to soldiers or natives is to be locked up and his goods destroyed publicly. This has given me a lot of work getting out the passes which I shall have to continue to-day and this evening. There were rumours last night again that the rail had been cut between this and Capetown, which has delayed all the trains. It was, of course, not true, as the wires were working, but still I expect every moment that it will be done ; the people are evidently very disloyal. The proclamation of martial law may make a difference if they carry it out strictly.Major E - seems a very nice fellow, and I should think a good soldier. He certainly gets a lot of work out of his men, and his praises are always being sung by the station-master. The railway officials and telegraph are beyond all praise.Mr. C - , traffic manager ; Mr. C - , station-master; and Mr.F - ,chieftelegraphist,areallAl. Afarrier corporal-major of the 1st Life Guards is standing about two yards off, which seems home-like; we have already had a talk. We have large working parties out every day under the Engineers. They are making excellent works, but our whole line is much too extended, though it is difficult to know how to avoid it, owing to the nature of the ground and the extent to protect. We have got enormous stores here, thousands of animals, so that it would be a tempting place for the enemy to make a dash for; but I fancy he would get more than he bargained for.We are going to have some experimental alarms just to see how the disposition works out. The General and his Staff (Majors B - and C - ) are forming a small mess, and H and I are going to join them; but we shall probably not get as good food as at the Station Restaurant, which would be quite good but for the flies. We think it probable that the first troops to arrive will come up here, unless they are wanted in Natal, or unless they decide to concentrate them further back, say at Beaufort West. They should begin arriving on Monday or Tuesday at Capetown, and I suppose Max will come about the middle of the week. It would be nice if he came up here. I am now writing at noon in my office and bedroom at the station; there was a momentary lull in the business in which I had time to write a few words. We have just had news - only railway news, which is, as a rule, very in-accurate-that there has been a victory in Natal. Let us hope it is true. It is now about 6.30, and I am still at work and likely to be for some time to come, though I shall get some food about seven o'clock. I am getting very little exercise at present, which is tiresome.