We suffered most on those long nights when, for some reason or other, we could not sleep, for many of the burghers were troubled with fears for their dear ones. Often, after a long ride, we were too tired to prepare a meal, but simply flung ourselves against our saddles and slept before we had time to let our thoughts wander. But if the enemy were not at our heels, we often passed the long nights in sleeplessness, gazing up at the stars with the most bitter feelings in our hearts. No wonder that many a burgher grew gray. We were often kept awake by the tethered horses stumbling among the groups. Sometimes a man would jump up and strike at them till all the others awoke, too, and then there was great hilarity in the quiet of the night.
Sometimes a constant rain cast a shadow over the sunny Hoogeveld and made our lives sombre and almost unbearable. Then our tattered garments could not dry on our bodies, and everything about us was wet and dirty. Even in dry weather fuel was almost unattainable, for the treeless Hoogeveld had been almost exhausted by the many large commandos which had visited the ‘uitspan’ places. In wet weather it was almost an impossibility to make a fire.
Whoever had an ailment passed unpleasant nights then; each night meant a nail in his coffin. Even the constant rain the burghers bore cheerfully, and many a joke was passed along during an interval in the downpour. But in the morning, as we dragged our weary limbs out of our mud-baths, shivering from cold, we did not venture to put the conventional question, ‘Did you sleep well?’ to each other.
The spirit among the burghers was very different from what it had been. No swearing was heard, and quarrelling was exceptional. Thefts, too, were seldom committed. We called ourselves ‘sifted’; traitors and thieves had gone over to the stronger party. I do not believe that any European army would have kept its moral tone so high under such demoralizing circumstances as did that small army of Boers with the help of their religion. Whereas in time of peace there was much difference in churches, especially in the Transvaal (although no difference in belief), now, during the war, the unity of belief in one Bible had become the means of raising the moral tone of the burghers.
During the last few months a plague had come amongst us that we had heard much about, and now caused us much trouble—a plague of lice. It is not an edifying subject, but anyone can understand how the itching caused many a sleepless night. We were not to blame. When we no longer were able to change our clothes, we could not guard against the vermin that had become a plague among the huge wandering armies of the enemy. Although we boiled our clothes, to our horror the nits appeared again.
BATTLE OF BOESMANSKOP—FLIGHT OF WOMEN
Fortunately, the enemy gave us a week’s rest on the farm of Landdrost Schotte. During that time Veld-Kornet Meyer, with his small troop of Germans, blew up the electric factory at Brakpan.