With the crossing of the Riet the history of this De Wet hunt ceases, for everything came to pass precisely as the brigadier had foreseen. The brigade arrived at Kalabas bridge before daybreak, prepared, if a tangible enemy was still in front, to take up the running again and pursue the line to an end, no matter the cost.[42] But the soft ground on the far side of the river gave evidence of thirty trails. The commando had scattered to the winds, and as, with cunning foresight, De Wet and his following had removed every living soul, Boer [345]or Kaffir, from the vicinity of the bridge, no evidence of his presence remained. To pursue a fugitive in a solitary Cape cart with a brigade would have been absurd, and so, when five miles on at Openbaar there was no sign of the solitary tracks again converging, the chase was abandoned, and the brigade halted to await the arrival of its mule and ox convoy. That evening Plumer, who had detrained at Jagersfontein road, crossed the Kalabas bridge and reported Haig to be in rear of him at the Spitz Kopjes. It will be seen therefore that Plumer was twenty-four hours too late,—through no fault of his, be it said, but simply because he made the journey from Orange River station by train. Plumer pushed on upon the conjectured De Wet trail, which he still considered hot enough to follow. He lost it, as the brigadier had foreseen, in the vicinity of Abraham's Kraal. The new cavalry brigade moved more slowly into Bloemfontein by way of Petrusburg and the historic field of Driefontein.

At Bloemfontein some changes took place in the staff and composition of the brigade, and the writer of this narrative, to his infinite [346]regret, severed his connection with the brigade. He had been promoted into a new battalion which was being raised at home, and after twenty months his turn had come to say good-bye to the veldt. As the brigadier bade him farewell in the Bloemfontein Club he clapped him good-naturedly on the back, saying, "I believe that it is all a hoax this story of yours about instructions to proceed home by the first transport. I don't believe that you will ever get farther South than that farm at Richmond Road!"




[42] The orders issued this night to the brigade were very instructive, and showed what a real soldier the brigadier was. If he considered that the circumstances demanded an effort he was prepared to take any risk and to make every sacrifice. The orders stated that if it became necessary to pursue, the convoy would be sent back by the shortest route to the railway, that the mounted men would have to live on the country without supply, and such men whose horses gave in would have to walk east against the course of the sun, which line, after 20 to 25 miles, would bring them to the railway, where they could stop the first passing train.