We had a pleasant time in the grain districts. There was an abundance of bread and no scarcity of slaughter-cattle. We also found wild-honey in the fissures of the rocks. Everything looked fresh and full of life in the early spring. The veld was green, and the trees heavily laden with young fruit gave promise of a good harvest. All the wheat-fields looked splendid, and at many places we noticed that people would reap where they had not sown; for everywhere there were fields where the seed which had fallen on the ground the previous year had again sprouted and was growing luxuriantly enough to be harvested. What a beautiful mountainous country the "Conquered Territory" is! Is it not the Crown of the Orange Free State?
We spent a pleasant time; but it could not continue, as we were in danger of English columns which were constantly marching to and fro from Winburg to Bethlehem. One of these columns, which was just then passing from Bethlehem to Senekal, took our only Africander medical man, Dr. Fourie, prisoner in his hospital at the farm of David Malan. We should now have been wholly without a doctor if Mr. Poutsma, who on the occasion of General de Wet's second attempt to enter the Cape Colony had been captured by the English, had not cast in his lot with us again. The English had let him return to Holland, and now he had come back from there to South Africa. He was welcomed by us, and the house of Mrs. de Jager at the farm Bezuidenhout's Drift on Wilge River was arranged as a hospital for him.
We could not then remain in the "Conquered Territory." We therefore resolved to return to the plains around Lindley and Reitz. On Sunday, the 10th of November, we were on the farm of Mr. Claesens, near Wonder Kop, and I held service under the trees in the garden there for the burghers, and for two large women's laagers, that were fleeing for fear of the English.
Three days after we were at the farm of Mr. W. Prinsloo. Here General de Wet visited the President, and a meeting of the Executive Council was held.
The General informed the President here that it was his intention to form a large flying commando for service against the English wherever an opportunity offered. This commando was to consist of burghers from Bethlehem under General Prinsloo and Commandant Olivier; and, further, of men from Heilbron under Commandant van Coller; Kroonstad, under Commandant Celliers; Ladybrand, under Commandant Koen; Vrede, under Commandant Botha; and the Transvaalers who were at that time in Harrismith district, under Commandant Mears.
General de Wet left in the afternoon, and in the evening we trekked towards Wit Kop, and halted for the night on the ledges near Mr. Krog's farm, between Wit Kop and Wonder Kop.
The English were once more on the road from Winburg to Senekal, and Commandant van Niekerk intended passing round their front; but just as he was on the point of doing this, a false report was brought him that a force of English was also approaching Senekal from Harrismith, and that they had got as far as Rexford.
The Commandant now determined to pass round the rear of the enemy, and a start was made in the afternoon. We had not, however, progressed very far before we learned that the report that the English were at Rexford was untrue. Commandant van Niekerk now decided to carry out his original intention, and the commando returned to the ledges by a round-about way.
The following day, Sunday, the commando again proceeded, passing over Driekuil and to the east of Tafel Kop, where we halted until dark.
In the clear moonlight we then went on, passing east of Biddulphsberg, and at eleven o'clock we were near Leendert Muller's farm. There an occurrence took place which afforded a slight change in the monotony of the night march. Our scouts, who rode about two hundred yards ahead, saw two horsemen riding towards them and put them to flight. They were very nearly fired upon, but luckily both parties perceived betimes that they were friends.
The two men proved to be burghers, who, along with some others, had charge of a women's laager not far off. They told us that on the west the English from Winburg had advanced as far as the farm of Christoffel de Jager—which fact we were aware of ourselves—and that to the east there were others from Bethlehem, at Scheur Klip; and furthermore, that there were British camps in front of us at Blauw Kopje and elsewhere.
It was now too dangerous to go on, and there was nothing to be done but to return, which we did. And when the eastern sky was reddening with the light of dawn, we were back on the farm Driekuil.
It was lucky for us that we did this, for on Tuesday morning the English from Bethlehem made a sortie towards Kaffir's Kop, which lay directly in our route. We remained in the neighbourhood of Driekuil till Thursday, 28th November, and then rode through the night over Pietersdal, Bester's Kop, and across the Bethlehem road, till we reached the farm Nooitgedacht, near Kaffir's Kop.
On the following morning we were in the immediate vicinity of a fight which General de Wet was having with the English not far south of Lindley. He arrested their progress, and they retired that night to the farm of Caspar Kruger at Victoria Spruit.
On the following day the English had disappeared in the direction of Heilbron, abandoning five waggons. These waggons were loaded with flour, sugar, tobacco, blankets and tents.