While President Steyn was in the Transvaal the two Governments held a combined session, and prepared a proclamation in which the people were acquainted with what the Government of the Transvaal had telegraphed to President Kruger, and what the reply had been. This document contained, besides the firm resolve of both Governments to continue the war with all possible vigour, a proclamation calling upon everyone to join in a general thanksgiving on the 8th of August 1901, and in a general day of prayer on the 9th. Not only were the dates fixed and the objects for prayer and thanksgiving stated, but the proclamation also admonished us in what spirit we should set about it. Very rarely, I believe, has a proclamation been issued by a Government of modern times couched in similar terms.
I was with the Ficksburg burghers when this proclamation was read to them, and when I arrived at Fouriesburg, on the 16th of July, I received a letter from the President asking me to be with him during the days of thanksgiving and humiliation. I now set out to seek him, where he had directed me, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Nauwpoort.
It so happened that just on the 29th of July I passed the spot where General Hunter had encamped a year before, and where he had received the arms of many of the burghers who had given up the struggle at the unfortunate surrender of Prinsloo.
Once more I marked the sharp contrast of light and shadow on the proud mountains; again I gazed on the beauty and grandeur of cliff, ravine, and torrent, and again I felt my insignificance in the awful presence of Nature. But I was now in a different mood from that in which I was a year before. Then I was despondent and discouraged; now I was buoyant and looked forward hopefully. Then all was dark about me; now I looked up into the blue sky, and the future seemed nearly as bright and unclouded as the blue overhead. What a change the year had wrought. My son and I rode through the mountains at Nauwpoort on the following day, and remained overnight under the roof of Mr. Abraham Naudé. On the following day I rode to the house of Mr. Jan Roos, to get further news about the whereabouts of the President, as the landdrost, Mr. Jan Brand Wessels, stayed there. There I heard about a gallant thing done by the burghers of Harrismith under Commandant Jan Jacobsz. Early on the morning of 28th July a force of English, numbering about 200, and led by a Kaffir, had attacked one of our guards in a kopje not far from Mr. Frederick Moolman's house. The guards fled, abandoning horses and everything else. Soon news of what had happened was brought to Field-Cornet Frans Jacobsz. He hurried to the scene with a handful of men and threw the English into confusion by firing on them. When the men belonging to the guard had procured new horses on the farm of Mr. Marthinus de Jager, they returned and took part in the fight. The result of all this was that instead of the force, which had come from Harrismith, capturing the burghers of Commandant Jacobsz, 43 of them were taken prisoners and several killed and wounded. On our side only Field-Cornet Jacobsz was wounded.
The second day, after having passed through Nauwpoort, I found the President on the farm of Mr. Wessel Naudé. Although he was somewhat indisposed, he was as buoyant as ever and showed no signs of discouragement. He told me, however, that he missed the presence of the old members of his Government and of his bodyguard very much. Mr. Hendrik van Niekerk, captain of the scouting corps raised in connection with the bodyguard, had been appointed in the place of Commandant Davel.
The head of our State then was still full of hope!
How I then, as always, envied persons of an optimistic nature, persons who never gave way to despair! If there were not men like President Steyn and General de Wet in the world, no obstacles, seemingly insuperable, would ever be surmounted.
We held the solemn day of thanksgiving and of prayer—the first on the farm of Mr. Nicolaas Kruger, the second on the farm of Mr. Willem Blignaut, and then I parted from our lovable and indomitable President, in the hope of joining him shortly afterwards. But this did not happen until the 24th of October.