On Sunday, 29th September 1901, I held services in the house of Mr. Gerrit Aveling at Wagenmakers Vlei, after having, during the past week, addressed the burghers in different parts of the district of Vrede. It was my intention now to visit my own congregation, and I had already written to Commandant Meyer to arrange for the holding of services for his men. But this could not take place. The English had already marched out of Harrismith, and on Monday we heard that they had arrived in the neighbourhood of Sandhurst, the farm of Mr. Hermanus Wessels. The people living in the vicinity of where I was immediately took to flight, and I temporarily joined the company of Mr. Jan Adendorf.
On Tuesday the English came as far as the farm of Mr. Adendorf, Christina, and from there a small number of them went to Natal, while the rest were sent about seizing cattle everywhere and otherwise conducting themselves after their wont. They did not, however, burn down houses now, but where they found property that the owners had carried out of their houses and hidden, they consigned this to the flames.
My son was now taken prisoner by the English, along with Assistant Field-Cornet Gert van Deventer, and the Burgher Thys Uys. He had remained behind to fight. One evening it appeared that the English were retiring from Ottershoek to Brakfontein, and Field-Cornet van Deventer thought it was safe enough to sleep in a house. He with the two others therefore went to the homestead of Mrs. Swart. But there was a Kaffir there who saw them, and when it got dark he went and informed the English. The consequence was that at daylight the following morning these three, together with the two little sons of Mrs. Swart, were taken prisoners. The news was brought me when I was not far from Woodside. It may be imagined that after my son and I had been chums for so long I felt very lonely. But I was more anxious about him than about myself, because I knew that he would be uneasy about me. It was some consolation, however, that he had been captured and not killed. Meanwhile I had almost without noticing got into a women's laager. During the flight the company in which one finds oneself keeps increasing in numbers—vires acquirit eundo. And now I thought that it was not advisable to remain in a women's laager; for I did not wish to expose myself to the chance of being captured again in the same manner as on the 6th of June at Graspan. Therefore, on the day after the news reached me of my son's capture, I took leave of the good friends with whom I had spent some days, and went to General Wessels. I arrived there the following day, having spent the night at the farm of Mr. Kootje Muller.
Others of the English had meanwhile come from Standerton and reached Woodside; and before I was well aware of it I was again one of a number of fugitives. Separating myself from them, when I learnt that the English had retired from Woodside, I soon found myself, now for the third time, again in a laager of women. This laager was a Harrismith one, under Ex-Commandant Truter and Mr. James Howell. I now thought that I should be able to accompany this laager to the district of Harrismith, and thus realise my wish to visit my own congregation. But in this I was again disappointed, for on Tuesday, the 15th of October, we nearly drove into the English, who were at Newmarket. I therefore left them, and for the present gave up the idea of visiting the Harrismith people. An incorrect report, stating that the English were advancing from Frankfort up the Wilge River, prevented my crossing that river, as I had intended to do, and I remained the fellow-fugitive of Mr. Piet de Jager for a week. From his farm I then went to his brother's, Michal de Jager, and when I had been there two days I heard from the President. He wrote me a letter wherein he informed me where I should find him. I started immediately, and on the 24th of October I arrived in his laager, and resolved, at his friendly request, to remain with him.
Life was now again the old commando life that I had not known since January. We knew of no roof but that which spreads over all the earth. On the grass we spent our time, sitting by our carts or saddles, or lying down where we happened to be. We ate, drank, and slept under the open sky. It did sometimes happen that the housewives invited their President to their tables, and that such invitations were not declined; but he never went to sleep in a house unless rainy weather forced him to do so. And even this was not done whenever the enemy was in the vicinity.
Commandant van Niekerk constantly received reports from his outposts, which were placed at a certain distance from the laager. They always kept him informed as to the movements of the enemy, and he made the little laager shift every evening according to circumstances. We very seldom slept at the same place on two consecutive nights, and thus, in spite of ourselves, had to undergo the penalty of wandering. To be always ready for what might happen, the horses were brought from the veld every morning at two o'clock and held until the patrols brought a report later in the morning that all was safe.
The President's horse stood ready saddled from that hour. The President never took off his boots at night, and was therefore ready every moment to mount his horse. I always took off my boots at night, unless the enemy was very near. But I was more circumspect with regard to the safety of my MS. I never let it off my person. I made a little bag of old linen, placed my MS. in it, and wore it under my waistcoat, whenever the English were approaching. If anything should happen there would be a chance, provided the enemy did not "shake me out," that my book would not be lost for the second time as at Graspan.
The distance which we "trekked" every night depended upon how far we were away from the English. If they were far away, we only travelled three or four miles; if they came nearer, we were sometimes obliged to push on during the whole night in order to pass through between them or to get round them.
So I again led the old commando life. But though we were exposed to much discomfort, the time passed rapidly, especially as we had something to read in the laager. Newspapers, picked up where the English had camped, reached us from all sides. And before the carts were done away with, we carried on them a small library. Here is an incomplete catalogue of our books: Krieg und Frieden, a German translation of Tolstoi's War and Peace, Anna Karénina, some books of poetry, a book on physics, a history of the American War, some theological works, a little book containing extracts from Seneca in English, a biography of Savonarola. My pastime was writing. I was incessantly sitting cramped at the seat of my cart writing my notes.
Yes, the time passed rapidly! Before we were aware of it a week was gone, and Sunday with its divine service had come. This consoled me, for the thought constantly occurred to me that we were not crawling but flying towards the end.