The enemy continued to pursue us, but not now at such close quarters as on the previous day, and next morning we could proceed more at our leisure. It was also fortunate that we could do this, for otherwise many horses, starved and worn-out by the rapid marches, could not have held out. More than 300 of them had now been abandoned, and some of the burghers had to walk, whilst others led their tired horses.
Not far from the ford we passed the beautiful farm "Zevenfontein" of Mr. Jacobus Swanepoel. The luxuriant growth of the trees before the house and in the orchard testified to the presence of a plenteous supply of water, and that the name "Seven Fountains" was one well chosen for this farm. Formerly this was the site of the mission station "Beersheba."
Having halted here long enough to enable everyone to get some forage for his horses, we went on to the farm of Dr. Lottery.
The following day was Sunday, and now, at last, we could hold our long-deferred thanksgiving day. I spoke in my sermon of the despondence of the Prophet Elijah, and after I had done two of the burghers engaged in prayer.
Two days after our arrival here we had advanced after nightfall as far as Helvetia. There we found plenty of mealies and could feed our horses well. In the course of the day General de Villiers had again joined us. He had got his waggon, and had followed us with the commando of Commandant Hasebroek. They had not been able to pass through Sprinkhaans Nek, and had had to make a long detour round Bloemfontein. I was very glad to meet my old friend once more.
We betook ourselves to rest, but restful we were not; for our scouts had reported that the enemy had again come up within a very short distance of us. Next morning it became evident that such was the case, for then the English were only a few miles behind us. With the greatest speed we saddled and inspanned and very quickly the laager hurried on, whilst the burghers took up positions to hold back the enemy until the waggons and carts were out of danger.
In the meanwhile the English had advanced so rapidly that they were able to fire on the hindmost waggons with a Maxim-Nordenfeldt. In the confusion caused by this, and the excitement which reigned everywhere, four of the English officers contrived to escape.
From time to time our men had to retire before the overwhelming force that pursued us and take up new positions. This went on during the whole day, until we got beyond Hex River Mountain.
During the night the forced marching was continued. General de Wet went first of all in a westerly direction towards Edenburg, with the object of getting round the English and thus proceeding to the Cape Colony again; but hearing that there was a force of English he changed his course in the night and went north, and later on east, leaving the village of Reddersburg to the left. At daybreak we halted not far from De Wet's Dorp. It was thus that General de Wet managed to keep out of the hands of the enemy.
From the place at which we now were, the rest of the English officers were released. They were captured at De Wet's Dorp, and after a long detour they were set free at the same town.
In the night of that same day we reached Plat Kop, where we in our march to the south had halted for some days after the taking of De Wet's Dorp. General de Wet thought that by having made so wide a turn he would be rid of the enemy for some hours, and he ordered the following morning after breakfast that we should proceed to Daspoort in order to have better pasturage for our animals. Everybody thought that there was time enough to carry out this order, and began preparing the morning meal leisurely. The majority were still engaged in this when it was reported that the English were on the ridge towards the north-west. We could not believe this, but it was true enough, and presently we heard the crack of rifle fire. Again there was a confused flight. Some sped east, others south. The Maxim-Nordenfeldts again played upon the waggons in the rear, and the officers had again the greatest trouble to get the burghers into position. How miserable it is when a laager becomes panic-stricken. At Daspoort, therefore, it was impossible to remain. We hurried past and halted some miles from there at a suitable ridge on the farm Rietfontein. Here General de Wet made a demonstration as if he were going to take positions on the ridge and wait there for the English to come; but when it became dark he ordered us to saddle, and the whole commando proceeded with the object of getting through Sprinkhaans Nek before dawn the following day.
A short distance in front of us marched the commando of Bethlehem, under Commandant Michal Prinsloo. This Commandant had on the previous night come to us through the nek without any mishap, and had now under these circumstances to return immediately.