De Wet, who had been lying low for some months, was roused by a certain communication from Botha as well as by action taken against him by Lord Kitchener. A carefully devised and accurately carried out centripetal drive of fourteen columns converging, like meridian lines on the Pole, on a certain point ten miles N.E. of Reitz, was abortive. When the columns reached it on November 12 they found that the enemy had wriggled through the intervals, leaving scarcely a burgher at the place of meeting; and while they were blankly staring at each other, De Wet at Blijdschap, only twenty miles away, was in conference with Steyn and discussing with him a suggestion made by Botha that peace negotiations with Lord Kitchener should be opened.
To this an answer similar to that which had been given to Botha in May was returned. De Wet and Steyn scouted the idea of reconciliation with the enemy. A Council of War was summoned and a concentration of burghers ordered. By the end of November De Wet had collected at Blijdschap a force of 1,000 men undetected by Elliott’s columns, which, having taken part in the centripetal failure, were again on the move after a brief rest at Harrismith. Elliott, while on the march to Kroonstad, actually brushed past De Wet.
A column under Rimington then came upon the scene. He had heard of the Council of War from a captured Boer, who probably with intent refrained from reporting the concentration. Thus when Rimington expected that the easy task before him was the capture of De Wet and Steyn and the units of a Council of War, he suddenly found himself opposed by a considerable force, a detachment of which passed by him and attacked his train in rear. After an encounter in which a gallant young cavalry subaltern, who but a few weeks before had joined the Inniskilling Dragoons from the Militia, laid down his life for his country, Rimington extricated his convoy, but refrained from attacking De Wet’s main body, which was reported to be strong.
Each side thereupon withdrew, Rimington to Heilbron and De Wet to Lindley, from which he found it advisable to retire on coming into contact with a column forming part of another Elliott drive, the second of the series, suggested by Rimington on his return to Heilbron. De Wet then trekked towards Bethlehem, halting at Kaffir Kop, where, nine days later, he foiled a third Elliott drive by promptly dispersing his burghers, who soon reassembled on a range of hills beyond Bethlehem.
Elliott’s units then returned to their respective bases to refit. A column under Dartnell at Bethlehem, which had recently been reinforced from Rundle’s command by a strong detachment under Barrington Campbell, was on the point of returning to Harrismith, when it was informed that De Wet’s re-united commandos were lying in wait at a spruit about twenty miles out on the road to Harrismith. Dartnell marched on and maintained himself without much difficulty when he arrived at the spruit. Campbell came up, and De Wet’s commandos withdrew without orders; but no attempt was made to convert their retirement into a rout. Dartnell continued his march to Harrismith.