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Chapter 30

THE CAMPAIGN OF DE WET


IT had been hoped that the dispersal of the main Boer army, the
capture of its guns and the expulsion of many both of the burghers and
of the foreign mercenaries, would have marked the end of the war.
These expectations were, however, disappointed, and South Africa was
destined to be afflicted and the British Empire disturbed by a useless
guerilla campaign. After the great and dramatic events which
characterised the earlier phases of the struggle between the Briton
and the Boer for the mastery of South Africa it is somewhat of the
nature of an anticlimax to turn one's attention to those scattered
operations which prolonged the resistance for a turbulent year at the
expense of the lives of many brave men on either side. These raids
and skirmishes, which had their origin rather in the hope of vengeance
than of victory, inflicted much loss and misery upon the country, but,
although we may deplore the desperate resolution which bids brave men
prefer death to subjugation, it is not for us, the countrymen of
Hereward or Wallace, to condemn it.

In one important respect these numerous, though trivial, conflicts
differed from the battles in the earlier stages of the war. The
British had learned their lesson so thoroughly that they often turned
the tables upon their instructors. Again and again the surprise was
effected, not by the nation of hunters, but by those roineks whose
want of cunning and of veldt-craft had for so long been a subject of
derision and merriment. A year of the kopje and the donga had altered
all that. And in the proportion of casualties another very marked
change had occurred. Time was when in battle after battle a tenth
would have been a liberal estimate for the losses of the Boers
compared with those of the Briton. So it was at Stormberg; so it was
at Colenso; so it may have been at Magersfontein. But in this last
stage of the war the balance was rather in favour of the British. It
may have been because they were now frequently acting on the
defensive, or it may have been from an improvement in their fire, or
it may have come from the more desperate mood of the burghers, but in
any case the fact remains that every encounter diminished the small
reserves of the Boers rather than the ample forces of their opponents.

One other change had come over the war, which caused more distress and
searchings of conscience among some of the people of Great Britain
than the darkest hours of their misfortunes. This lay in the
increased bitterness of the struggle, and in those more strenuous
measures which the British commanders felt themselves entitled and
compelled to adopt. Nothing could exceed the lenity of Lord Roberts's
early proclainations in the Free State. But, as the months went on
and the struggle still continued, the war assumed a harsher aspect.
Every farmhouse represented a possible fort, and a probable depôt for
the enemy. The extreme measure of burning them down was only carried
out after a definite offence, such as affording cover for snipers, or
as a deterrent to railway wreckers, but in either case it is evident
tbat the women or children who were usually the sole occupants of the
farm could not by their own unaided exertions prevent the line from
being cut or the riflemen from firing. It is even probable that the
Boers may have committed these deeds in the vicinity of houses the
destruction of which they would least regret. Thus, on humanitarian
grounds there were strong arguments against this policy of destruction
being pushed too far, and the political reasons were even stronger,
since a homeless man is necessarily the last man to settle down, and a
burned-out family the last to become contented British citizens. On
the other hand, the impatience of the army towards what they regarded
as the abuses of lenity was very great, and they argued that the war
would be endless if the women in the farm were allowed always to
supply the sniper on the kopje. The irregular and brigand-like
fashion in which the struggle was carried out had exasperated the
soldiers, and though there were few cases of individual outrage or
unauthorised destruction, the general orders were applied with some
harshness, and repressive measures were taken which warfare may justify
but which civilisation must deplore.

After the dispersal of the main army at Komatipoort there remained a
considerable number of men in arms, some of them irreconcilable
burghers, some of them foreign adventurers, and some of them Cape
rebels, to whom British arms were less terrible than British law.
These men, who were still well armed and well mounted, spread
themselves over the country, and acted with such energy that they gave
the impression of a large force. They made their way into the settled
districts, and brought fresh hope and fresh disaster to many who had
imagined that the war had passed for ever away from them. Under
compulsion from their irreconcilable countrymen, a large number of the
farmers broke their parole, mounted the horses which British leniency
had left with them, and threw themselves once more into the struggle,
adding their honour to the other sacrifices which they had made for
their country. In any account of the continual brushes between these
scattered bands and the British forces, there must be such a
similarity in procedure and result, that it would be hard for the
writer and intolerable for the reader if they were set forth in
detail. As a general statement it may be said that during the months
to come there was no British garrison in any one of the numerous posts
in the Transvaal, and in that portion of the Orange River Colony which
lies east of the railway, which was not surrounded by prowling
riflemen, there was no convoy sent to supply those garrisons which was
not liable to be attacked upon the road, and there was no train upon
any one of the three lines which might not find a rail up and a
hundred raiders covering it with their Mausers. With some two
thousand miles of railroad to guard, so many garrisons to provide, and
an escort to be furnished to every convoy, there remained out of the
large body of British troops in the country only a moderate force who
were available for actual operations. This force was distributed in
different districts scattered over a wide extent of country, and it
was evident that while each was strong enough to suppress local
resistance, still at any moment a concentration of the Boer scattered
forces upon a single British column might place the latter in a
serious position. The distribution of the British in October and
November was roughly as follows. Methuen was in the Rustenburg
district, Barton at Krugersdorp and operating down the line to
Klerksdorp, Settle was in the West, Paget at Pienaar's River, Clements
in the Magaliesberg, Hart at Potchefstroom, Lyttelton at Middelburg,
Smith-Dorrien at Belfast, W. Kitchener at Lydenburg, French in the
Eastern Transvaal, Hunter, Rundle, Brabant, and Bruce Hamilton in the
Orange River Colony. Each of these forces was occupied in the same
sort of work, breaking up small bodies of the enemy, hunting for arms,
bringing in refugees, collecting supplies, and rounding up
cattle. Some, however, were confronted with organised resistance and
some were not. A short account may be given in turn of each separate
column.

I would treat first the operations of General Barton, because they
form the best introduction to that narrative of the doings of
Christian De Wet to which this chapter will be devoted.

The most severe operations during the month of October fell to the lot
of this British General, who, with some of the faithful fusiliers whom
he had led from the first days in Natal, was covering the line from
Krugersdorp to Klerksdorp. It is a long stretch, and one which, as
the result shows, is as much within striking distance of the Orange
Free Staters as of the men of the Transvaal. Upon October 5th Barton
left Krugersdorp with a force which consisted of the Scots and Welsh
Fusiliers, five hundred mounted men, the 78th R.F.A., three pom-poms,
and a 4.7 naval gun. For a fortnight, as the small army moved slowly
down the line of the railroad, their progress was one continual
skirmish. On October 6th they brushed the enemy aside in an action in
which the volunteer company of the Scots Fusiliers gained the applause
of their veteran comrades. On the 8th and 9th there was sharp
skirmishing, the brunt of which on the latter date fell upon the Welsh
Fusiliers, who had three officers and eleven men injured. The
commandos of Douthwaite, Liebenberg, and Van der Merve seem to have
been occupied in harassing the column during their progress through
the Gatsrand range. On the 15th the desultory sniping freshened again
into a skirmish in which the honours and the victory belonged mainly
to the Welshmen and to that very keen and efficient body, the Scottish
Yeomanry. Six Boers were left dead upon the ground. On October 17th
the column reached Frederickstad, where it halted. On that date six
of Marshall's Horse were cut off while collecting supplies. The same
evening three hundred of the Imperial Light Horse came in from
Krugersdorp.

Up to this date the Boer forces which dogged the column had been
annoying but not seriously aggressive. On the 19th, however, affairs
took an unexpected turn. The British scouts rode in to report a huge
dust cloud whirling swiftly northwards from the direction of the Vaal
River -- soon plainly visible to all, and showing as it drew nearer
the hazy outline of a long column of mounted men. The dark coats of
the riders, and possibly the speed of their advance, showed tbat they
were Boers, and soon it was rumoured that it was no other than
Christian De Wet with his merry men, who, with characteristic
audacity, had ridden back into the Transvaal in the hope of
overwhelming Barton's column.

It is some time since we have seen anything of this energetic
gentleman with the tinted glasses, but as the narrative will be much
occupied with him in the future a few words are needed to connect him
with the past. It has been already told how he escaped through the net
which caught so many of his countrymen at the time of the surrender of
Prinsloo, and how he was chased at furious speed from the Vaal River
to the mountains of Magaliesberg. Here he eluded his pursuers,
separated from Steyn, who desired to go east to confer with Kruger,
and by the end of August was back again in his favourite recruiting
ground in the north of the Orange River Colony. Here for nearly two
months he had lain very quiet, refitting and reassembling his
scattered force, until now, ready for action once more, and fired by
the hope of cutting off an isolated British force, he rode swiftly
northwards with two thousand men under that rolling cloud which had
been spied by the watchers of Frederickstad.

The problem before him was a more serious one, however, than any which
he had ever undertaken, for this was no isolated regiment or
ill-manned post, but a complete little field force very ready to do
battle with him. De Wet's burghers, as they arrived, sprang from their
ponies and went into action in their usual invisible but effective
fashion, covered by the fire of several guns. The soldiers had thrown
up lines of sangars, however, and were able, though exposed to a very
heavy fire coming from several directions, to hold their own until
nightfall, when the defences were made more secure. On the 20th,
21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th the cordon of the attack was drawn
gradually closer, the Boers entirely surrounding the British force,
and it was evident that they were feeling round for a point at which
an assault might be delivered.

The position of the defenders upon the morning of October 25th was as
follows. The Scots Fusiliers were holding a ridge to the
south. General Barton with the rest of his forces occupied a hill some
distance off. Between the two was a valley down which ran the line,
and also the spruit upon which the British depended for their water
supply. On each side of the line were ditches, and at dawn on this
seventh day of the investment it was found that these had been
occupied by snipers during the night, and that it was impossible to
water the animals. One of two things must follow. Either the force
must shift its position or it must drive these men out of their cover.
No fire could do it, as they lay in perfect safety. They must be
turned out at the point of the bayonet.

About noon several companies of Scots and Welsh Fusiliers advanced
from different directions in very extended order upon the
ditcbes. Captain Baillie's company of the former regiment first
attracted the fire of the burghers. Wounded twice the brave officer
staggered on until a third bullet struck him dead. Six of his men
were found lying beside him. The other companies were exposed in
their turn to a severe fire, but rushing onwards they closed rapidly
in upon the ditches. There have been few finer infantry advances
during the war, for the veldt was perfectly flat and the fire
terrific. A mile of ground was crossed by the fusiliers. Three
gallant officers -- Dick, Elliot, and Best -- went down; but the rush
of the men was irresistible. At the edge of the ditches the supports
overtook the firing line, and they all surged into the trenches
together. Then it was seen how perilous was the situation of the Boer
snipers. They had placed themselves between the upper and the nether
millstone. There was no escape for them save across the open. It
says much for their courage that they took that perilous choice rather
than wave the white flag, which would have ensured their safety.

The scene which followed has not often been paralleled. About a
hundred and fifty burghers rushed out of the ditches, streaming across
the veldt upon foot to the spot where their horses had been
secreted. Rifles, pom-poms, and shrapnel played upon them during this
terrible race. 'A black running mob carrying coats, blankets, boots,
rifles, &c., was seen to rise as if from nowhere and rush as fast as
they could, dropping the various things they carried as they ran.'
One of their survivors has described how awful was that wild blind
flight, through a dust-cloud thrown up by the shells. For a mile the
veldt was dotted with those who had fallen. Thirty-six were found
dead, thirty were wounded, and thirty more gave themselves up as
prisoners. Some were so demoralised that they rushed into the
hospital and surrendered to the British doctor. The Imperial Light
Horse were for some reason slow to charge. Had they done so at once,
many eye-witnesses agree that not a fugitive should have escaped. On
the other hand, the officer in command may have feared that in doing
so he might mask the fire of the British guns.

One incident in the action caused some comment at he time. A small
party of Imperial Light Horse, gallantly led by Captain Yockney of B
Squadron, came to close quarters with a group of Boers. Five of the
enemy having held up their hands Yockney passed them and pushed on
against their comrades. On this the prisoners seized their rifles
once more and fired upon their captors. A fierce fight ensued with
only a few feet between the muzzles of the rifles. Three Boers were
shot dead, five wounded, and eight taken. Of these eight three were
shot next day by order of court-martial for having resumed their
weapons after surrender, while two others were acquitted. The death
of these men in cold blood is to be deplored, but it is difficult to
see how any rules of civilised warfare can be maintained if a flagrant
breach of them is not promptly and sternly punished.

On receiving this severe blow De Wet promptly raised the investment
and hastencd to regain his favourite haunts. Considerable
reinforcements had reached Barton upon the same day, including the
Dublins, the Essex, Strathcona's Horse, and the Elswick Battery, with
some very welcome supplies of ammunition. As Barton had now more than
a thousand mounted men of most excellent quality it is difficult to
imagine why he did not pursue his defeated enemy. He seems to have
underrated the effect which he had produced, for instead of instantly
assuming the offensive he busied himself in strengthening his
defences. Yet the British losses in the whole operations had not
exceeded one hundred, so that there does not appear to have been any
reason why the force should be crippled. As Barton was in direct and
constant telegraphic communication with Pretoria, it is possible that
he was acting under superior orders in the course which he adopted.

It was not destined, however, that De Wet should be allowed to escape
with his usual impunity. On the 27th, two days after his retreat from
Frederickstad he was overtaken -- stumbled upon by pure chance
apparently -- by the mounted infantry and cavalry of Charles Knox and De
Lisle. The Boers, a great disorganised cloud of horsemen, swept
swiftly along the northern bank of the Vaal, seeking for a place to
cross, while the British rode furiously after them, spraying them with
shrapnel at every opportunity. Darkness and a violent storm gave De
Wet his opportunity to cross, but the closeness of the pursuit
compelled him to abandon two of his guns, one of them a Krupp and the
other one of the British twelve-pounders of Sanna's Post, which, to the
delight of the gunners, was regained by that very U battery to which
it belonged.

Once across the river and back in his own country De Wet, having
placed seventy miles between himself and his pursuers, took it for
granted that he was out of their reach, and halted near the village of
Bothaville to refit. But the British were hard upon his track, and for
once they were able to catch this indefatigable man unawares. Yet
their knowledge of his position seems to have been most hazy, and on
the very day before that on which they found him, General Charles
Knox, with the main body of the force, turned north, and was out of
the subsequent action. De Lisle's mounted troops also turned north,
but fortunately not entirely out of call. To the third and smallest
body of mounted men, that under Le Gallais, fell the honour of the
action which I am about to describe.

It is possible that the move northwards of Charles Knox and of De
Lisle had the effect of a most elaborate stratagem, since it persuaded
the Boer scouts that the British were retiring. So indeed they were,
save only the small force of Le Gallais, which seems to have taken one
last cast round to the south before giving up the pursuit. In the
grey of the morning of November 6th, Major Lean with forty men of the
5th Mounted Infantry came upon three weary Boers sleeping upon the
veldt. Having secured the men, and realising that they were an
outpost, Lean pushed on, and topping a rise some hundreds of yards
further, he and his men saw a remarkable scene. There before them
stretched the camp of the Boers, the men sleeping, the horses grazing,
the guns parked, and the wagons outspanned.

There was little time for consideration. The Kaffir drivers were
already afoot and strolling out for their horses, or lighting the
fires for their masters' coffee. With splendid decision, although he
had but forty men to oppose to over a thousand, Lean sent back for
reinforcements and opened fire upon the camp. In an instant it was
buzzing like an overturned hive. Up sprang the sleepers, rushed for
their horses, and galloped away across the veldt, leaving their guns
and wagons behind. A few stalwarts remained, however, and their
numbers were increased by those whose horses had stampeded, and who
were, therefore, unable to get away. They occupied an enclosed kraal
and a farmhouse in front of the British, whence they opened a sharp
fire. At the same time a number of the Boers who had ridden away came
back again, having realised how weak their assailants were, and worked
round the British flanks upon either side.

Le Gallais, with his men, had come up, but the British force was still
far inferior to that which it was attacking. A section of U battery
was able to unlimber, and open fire at four hundred yards from the
Boer position. The British made no attempt to attack, but contented
themselves with holding on to the position from which they could
prevent the Boer guns from being removed. The burghers tried
desperately to drive off the stubborn fringe of riflemen. A small
stone shed in the possession of the British was the centre of the Boer
fire, and it was within its walls that Ross of the Durhams was
horribly wounded by an explosive ball, and that the brave Jerseyman,
Le Gallais, was killed. Before his fall he had despatched his staff
officer, Major Hickie, to hurry up men from the rear,

On the fall of Ross and Le Gallais the command fell upon Major Taylor
of U battery. The position at that time was sufficiently alarming.
The Boers were working round each flank in considerable numbers, and
they maintained a heavy fire from a stone enclosure in the centre.
The British forces actually engaged were insignificant, consisting of
forty men of the 5th Mounted Infantry, and two guns in the centre,
forty-six men of the 17th and 18th Imperial Yeomanry upon the right,
and 105 of the 8th Mounted Infantry on the left or 191 rifles in all.
The flanks of this tiny force had to extend to half a mile to hold off
the Boer flank attack, but they were heartened in their resistance by
the knowledge that their comrades were hastening to their assistance.
Taylor, realising that a great effort must be made to tide over the
crisis, sent a messenger back with orders that the convoy should be
parked, and every available man sent up to strengthen the right flank,
which was the weakest. The enemy got close on to one of the guns, and
swept down the whole detachmcnt, but a handful of the Suffolk Mounted
Infantry under Lieutenant Peebles most galtantly held them off from
it. For an hour the pressure was extreme. Then two companies of the
7th Mounted Infantry came up, and were thrown on to each flank.
Shortly afterwards Major Welch, with two more companies of the same
corps, arrived, and the tide began slowly to turn. The Boers were
themselves outflanked by the extension of the British line and were
forced to fall back. At half-past eight De Lisle, whose force had
trotted and galloped for twelve miles, arrived with several companies
of Australians, and the success of the day was assured. The smoke of
the Prussian guns at Waterloo was not a more welcome sight than the
dust of De Lisle's horsemen. But the question now was whether the
Boers, who were in the walled inclosure and farm which formed their
centre, would manage to escape. The place was shelled, but here, as
often before, it was found how useless a weapon is shrapnel against
buildings. There was nothing for it but to storm it, and a grim little
storming party of fifty men, half British, half Australian, was
actually waiting with fixed bayonets for the whistle which was to be
their signal, when the white flag flew out from the farm, and all was
over. Warned by many a tragic experience the British still lay low in
spite of the flag. 'Come out! come out!' they shouted. Eighty-two
unwounded Boers filed out of the enclosure, and the total number of
prisoners came to 114, while between twenty and thirty Boers were
killed. Six guns, a pom-pom, and 1,000 head of cattle were the prizes
of the victors.

This excellent little action showed that the British mounted infantry
had reached a point of efficiency at which they were quite able to
match the Boers at their own game. For hours they held them with an
inferior force, and finally, when the numbers became equal, were able
to drive them off and capture their guns. The credit is largely due
to Major Lean for his prompt initiative on discovering their laager,
and to Major Taylor for his handling of the force during a very
critical time. Above all, it was due to the dead leader, Le Gallais,
who had infected every man under him with his own spirit of reckless
daring. 'If I die, tell my mother that I die happy, as we got the
guns,' said he, with his failing breath. The British total losses
were twelve killed (four officers) and thirty-three wounded (seven
officers). Major Welch, a soldier of great promise, much beloved by
his men, was one of the slain. Following closely after the repulse at
Frederickstad this action was a heavy blow to De Wet. At last, the
British were beginning to take something off the score which they owed
the bold raider, but there was to be many an item on either side
before the long reckoning should be closed. The Boers, with De Wet,
fled south, where it was not long before they showed that they were
still a military force with which we had to reckon.

In defiance of chronology it may perhaps make a clearer narrative if I
continue at once with the movements of De Wet from the time that he
lost his guns at Bothaville, and then come back to the consideration
of the campaign in the Transvaal, and to a short account of those
scattered and disconnected actions which break the continuity of the
story. Before following De Wet, however, it is necessary to say
something of the general state of the Orange River Colony and of some
military developments which had occurred there. Under the wise and
conciliatory rule of General Pretyman the farmers in the south and
west were settling down, and for the time it looked as if a large
district was finally pacified. The mild taxation was cheerfully paid,
schools were reopened, and a peace party made itself apparent, with
Fraser and Piet de Wet, the brother of Christian, among its strongest
advocates.

Apart from the operations of De Wet there appeared to be no large
force in the field in the Orange River Colony, but early in October of
1900 a small but very mobile and efficient Boer force skirted the
eastern outposts of the British, struck the southern line of
communications, and then came up the western flank, attacking, where
an attack was possible, each of the isolated and weakly garrisoned
townlets to which it came, and recruiting its strength from a district
which had been hardly touched by the ravages of war, and which by its
prosperity alone might have proved the amenity of British military
rule. This force seems to have skirted Wepener without attacking a
place of such evil omen to their cause. Their subsequent movements
are readily traced by a sequence of military events.

On October 1st Rouxville was threatened. On the 9th an outpost of the
Cheshire Militia was taken and the railway cut for a few hours in the
neighbourhood of Bethulie. A week later the Boer riders were dotting
the country round Phillipolis, Springfontein and Jagersfontein, the
latter town being occupied upon October 16th, while the garrison held
out upon the nearest kopje. The town was retaken from the enemy by
King Hall and his men, who were Seaforth Highlanders and police.
There was fierce fighting in the streets, and from twenty to thirty of
each side were killed or wounded. Fauresmith was attacked on October
19th, but was also in the very safe hands of the Seaforths, who held
it against a severe assault. Phillipolis was continually attacked
between the 18th and the 24th, but made a most notable defence, which
was conducted by Gostling, the resident magistrate, with forty
civilians. For a week this band of stalwarts held their own against
600 Boers, and were finally relieved by a force from the railway. All
the operations were not, however, as successful as these three
defences. On October 24th a party of cavalry details belonging to
many regiments were snapped up in an ambuscade. On the next day
Jacobadal was attacked, with considerable loss to the British. The
place was entered in the night, and the enemy occupied the houses
which surrounded the square. The garrison, consisting of about sixty
men of the Capetown Highlanders, bad encamped in the square, and were
helpless when fire was opened upon them in the morning. There was
practically no resistance, and yet for hours a murderous fire was kept
up upon the tents in which they cowered, so that the affair seems not
to have been far removed from murder. Two-thirds of the little force
were killed or wounded. The number of the assailants does not appear
to have been great, and they vanished upon the appearance of a
relieving force from Modder River.

After the disaster at Jacobsdal the enemy appeared on November 1st
near Kimberley and captured a small convoy. The country round was
disturbed, and Settle was sent south with a column to pacify it. In
this way we can trace this small cyclone from its origin in the old
storm centre in the north-east of the Orange River Colony, sweeping
round the whole country, striking one post after another, and finally
blowing out at the corresponding point upon the other side of the seat
of war.

We have last seen De Wet upon November 6th, when he fled south from
Bothaville, leaving his guns but not his courage behind him. Trekking
across the line, and for a wonder gathering up no train as he passed,
he made for that part of the eastern Orange River Colony which had
been reoccupied by his countrymen. Here, in the neighbourhood of
Thabanchu, he was able to join other forces, probably the commandos of
Haasbroek and Fourie, which still retained some guns. At the head of a
considerable force he attacked the British garrison of Dewetsdorp, a
town some forty miles to the south-east of Bloemfontein.

It was on November 18th that De Wet assailed the place, and it fell
upon the 24th, after a defence which appears to have been a very
creditable one. Several small British columns were moving in the
south-east of the Colony, but none of them arrived in time to avert
the disaster, which is the more inexplicable as the town is within one
day's ride of Bloemfontein. The place is a village hemmed in upon its
western side by a semicircle of steep rocky hills broken in the centre
by a gully. The position was a very extended one, and had the fatal
weakness that the loss of any portion of it meant the loss of it
all. The garrison consisted of one company of Highland Light Infantry
on the southern horn of the semicircle, three companies of the 2nd
Gloucester Regiment on the northern and central part, with two guns of
the 68th battery. Some of the Royal Irish Mounted Infantry and a
handful of police made up the total of the defenders to something over
four hundred, Major Massy in command

The attack developed at that end of the ridge which was held by the
company of Highlanders. Every night the Boer riflemen drew in closer,
and every morning found the position more desperate. On the 20th the
water supply of the garrison was cut, though a little was still
brought up by volunteers during the night. The thirst in the sultry
trenches was terrible, but the garrison still, with black lips and
parched tongues, held on to their lines. On the 22nd the attack had
made such progress that the post had by the Highlanders became
untenable, and had to be withdrawn. It was occupied next morning by
the Boers, and the whole ridge was at their mercy. Out of eighteen men
who served one of the British guns sixteen were killed or wounded, and
the last rounds were fired by the sergeant-farrier, who carried,
loaded, and fired all by himself. All day the soldiers held out, but
the thirst was in itself enough to justify if not to compel a
surrender. At half-past five the garrison laid down their arms, having
lost about sixty killed or wounded. There does not, as far as one can
learn, seem to have been any attempt to injure the two guns which fell
into the hands of the enemy. De Wet himself was one of the first to
ride into the British trenches, and the prisoners gazed with interest
at the short strong figure, with the dark tail coat and the
square-topped bowler hat, of the most famous of the Boer leaders.

British columns were converging, however, from several quarters, and
De Wet had to be at once on the move. On the 26th Dewetsdorp was
reoccupied by General Charles Knox with fifteen hundred men. De Wet
had two days' start, but so swift was Knox that on the 27th he had run
him down at Vaalbank, where he shelled his camp. De Wet broke away,
however, and trekking south for eighteen hours without a halt, shook
off the pursuit. He had with him at this time nearly 8,000 men with
several guns under Haasbroek, Fourie, Philip Botha, and Steyn. It was
his declared intention to invade Cape Colony with his train of weary
footsore prisoners, and the laurels of Dewetsdorp still green upon
him. He was much aided in all his plans by that mistaken leniency
which had refused to recognise that a borse is in that country as much
a weapon as a rifle, and had left great numbers upon the farms with
which he could replace his useless animals. So numerous were they
that many of the Boers had two or three for their own use. It is not
too much to say that our weak treatment of the question of horses will
come to be recognised as the one great blot upon the conduct of the
war, and that our undue and fantastic scruples have prolonged
hostilities for months, and cost the country many lives and many
millions of pounds.

De Wet's plan for the invasion of the Colony was not yet destined to
be realised, for a tenacious man had set himself to frustrate it.
Several small but mobile British columns, those of Pilcher, of Barker,
and of Herbert, under the supreme direction of Charles Knox, were
working desperately to head him off. In torrents of rain which turned
every spruit into a river and every road into a quagmire, the British
horsemen stuck manfully to their work. De Wet had hurried south,
crossed the Caledon River, and made for Odendaal's Drift. But Knox,
after the skirmish at Vaalbank, had trekked swiftly south to Bethulie,
and was now ready with three mobile columns and a network of scouts
and patrols to strike in any direction. For a few days he had lost
touch, but his arrangements were such that he must recover it if the
Boers either crossed the railroad or approached the river. On December
2nd he had authentic information that De Wet was crossing the Caledon,
and in an instant the British columns were all off at full cry once
more, sweeping over the country with a front of fifteen miles. On the
3rd and 4th, in spite of frightful weather, the two little armies of
horsemen struggled on, fetlock-deep in mud, with the rain lashing
their faces. At night without cover, drenched and bitterly cold, the
troopers threw themselves down on the sodden veldt to snatch a few
hours' sleep before renewing the interminable pursuit. The drift over
the Caledon flowed deep and strong, but the Boer had passed and the
Briton must pass also. Thirty guns took to the water, diving
completely under the coffee-coloured surface, to reappear glistening
upon the southern bank. Everywhere there were signs of the passage of
the enemy. A litter of crippled or dying horses marked their track,
and a Krupp gun was found abandoned by the drift. The Dewetsdorp
prisoners, too, had been set loose, and began to stumble and stagger
back to their countrymen, their boots worn off, and their putties
wrapped round their bleeding feet. It is painful to add that they had
been treated with a personal violence and a brutality in marked
contrast to the elaborate hospitality shown by the British Government
to its involuntary guests.

On December 6th De Wet had at last reached the Orange River a clear
day in front of his pursuers. But it was only to find that his labours
had been in vain. At Odendaal, where he had hoped to cross, the river
was in spate, the British flag waved from a post upon the further
side, and a strong force of expectant Guardsmen eagerly awaited him
there. Instantly recognising that the game was up, the Boer leader
doubled back for the north and safety. At Rouxvilie he hesitated as
to whether he should snap up the small garrison, but the commandant,
Rundle, showed a bold face, and De Wet passed on to the Coomassie
Bridge over the Caledon. The small post there refused to be bluffed
into a surrender, and the Boers, still dropping their horses fast,
passed on, and got over the drift at Amsterdam, their rearguard being
hardly across before Knox had also reached the river.

On the 10th the British were in touch again near Helvetia, where there
was a rearguard skirmish. On the 11th both parties rode through
Reddersberg, a few hours separating them. The Boers in their
cross-country trekking go, as one of their prisoners observed,
'slap-bang at everything,' and as they are past-masters in the art of
ox and mule driving, and have such a knowledge of the country that
they can trek as well by night as by day, it says much for the energy
of Knox and his men that he was able for a fortnight to keep in close
touch with them.

It became evident now that there was not much chance of overtaking the
main body of the burghers, and an attempt was therefore made to
interpose a fresh force who might head them off. A line of posts
existed between Thabanchu and Ladybrand, and Colonel Thorneycroft was
stationed there with a movable column. It was Knox's plan therefore
to prevent the Boers from breaking to the west and to head them
towards the Basuto border. A small column under Parsons had been sent
by Hunter from Bloemfontein, and pushed in upon the flank of De Wet,
who had on the 12th got back to Dewetsdorp. Again the pursuit became
warm, but De Wet's time was not yet come. He headed for Springhaan
Nek, about fifteen miles east of Thabanchu. This pass is about four
miles broad, with a British fort upon either side of it. There was
only one way to safety, for Knox's mounted infantrymen and lancers were
already dotting the southern skyline. Without hesitation the whole
Boer force, now some 2,500 strong, galloped at full speed in open
order through the Nek, braving the long range fire of riflemen and
guns. The tactics were those of French in his ride to Kimberley, and
the success was as complete. De Wet's force passed through the last
barrier which had been held against him, and vanished into the
mountainous country round Ficksburg, where it could safely rest and
refit.

The result then of these bustling operations had been that De Wet and
his force survived, but that he had failed in his purpose of invading
the Colony, and had dropped some five hundred horses, two guns, and
about a hundred of his men. Haasbroek's commando had been detached by
De Wet to make a feint at another pass while he made his way through
the Springhaan. Parsons's force followed Haasbroek up and engaged
him, but under cover of night he was able to get away and to join his
leader to the north of Thabanchu. On December 13th, this, the second
great chase after De Wet, may be said to have closed.

Arthur Conan Doyle