Fortunately, it appeared that fright had made the old man believe his own imagination, and the lager was quite safe. My brother told me that the slight attack made upon them by the enemy was easily beaten off.
The opinion of the majority was that we should have left Kaalfontein Station alone. We were thoroughly exhausted by our rapid journeys, particularly by the journey of the preceding night, and besides that the burghers were unwilling to make an attack of which they did not see the advantage. We had several killed and wounded.
The consequence was that we had to trek that night in a way that none of us will ever forget, to get beyond the reach of the enemy. One cannot imagine how terrible it is to sit for hours on horseback, dead tired and overcome by sleep. We did not even guide our horses; they simply jogged along mechanically, too tired even to object to ill-treatment. Our hands rested on the bows of the saddles, and as we sat leaning forwards, apparently lost in thought, but in reality suffering tortures from the effort to keep awake, we forced ourselves to look up and about us, but our eyes half closed in the effort, and everything about us took a strange shape, and the sky became chaos; with a nod we half awoke, only to dream again a second later that we were falling from our horses.
Not a word was spoken, for everyone was dozing. Whenever we had to wait for our guns or waggons, we simply flung ourselves on the grass with one arm through our bridles, and soon we were unconscious of the pulling and tugging of the horse, and if the order to mount woke us up, the tugging had ceased, and our horses were calmly grazing some distance from us. Then we lifted our bodies, loaded with cartridges and guns, into the saddle at the risk of toppling over on the other side, like a lizzard sliding down a bank, and rode on in silence, drowsily and top-heavy.
The horsemen rode generally two by two, partly in front of the waggons as advance-guard, and behind as rear-guard, each corporal with his men in his place by his Veld-Kornet. The Krugersdorpers were no longer allowed to leave their places before they had permission from their corporal. Even those burghers who were most disorderly in the beginning now saw the necessity of discipline, and were obedient to the commands of their officers.
It was a mixed crew of old and young. But the majority were still in the prime of life, and proof against the privations of guerilla life. The old men among us were all men whose powerful constitutions were yet unbroken. It was praiseworthy of them that in their old age they were willing to suffer the difficulties and dangers of a wandering life for their country’s sake, for although their constitutions were strong, they were susceptible to cold and damp, the effects of which they could not shake off. There were also many brave little boys, who were thus early initiated into the privations of commando life; but they shared all bravely, in a careless spirit of adventure.