After her brothers' departure, described in Chapter I, Hansie fastened her "Vierkleur," a broad band of the Transvaal colours, round her hat, and announced her intention of going into town to see the British troops come in.
Her mother thought it a most unseemly proceeding, and declined to accompany her wilful daughter, but the latter did not wish to miss what she knew would become an historical event of great importance, and rode away on her bicycle, accompanied by her faithful retriever, Carlo.
The thought of the conspicuous band of ribbon round her hat, in green, red, white, and blue, gave her a certain feeling of comfort and satisfaction.
At least none of the friends she might chance to meet that day could suspect her of being in town to welcome the enemy.
The air was charged with the electricity of an excitement so tense, so suppressed, that it struck her like some living force as she rode through the thronged, though silent streets.
In the heart of the town, as she neared Government Square, a change was noticeable—a change that she could not define until it was borne in upon her that it originated in the attitude of the black and coloured part of the community.
They had come out in their thousands—the streets literally seethed with them, the remarkable part of this being that they were all on the pavements, while their "white brothers" walked in the middle of the road.
For the sake of the uninitiated I must explain that under the Boer regime no black or coloured person was allowed on the pavements, nor to be out at night, nor to walk about without a registered pass. There was no "black peril" then.
This noisy, unlawful demonstration was an expression of joy on their part at the prospect of that day being set free from Boer restrictions, a short-lived joy, however, for they became so lawless and overbearing that it was found necessary, within a very few days, to re-enforce the Boer laws and regulations.
In perfect order, but weary unto death, the British troops marched in. Thousands and thousands of soldiers in khaki, travel-stained, footsore, and famished, sank to the ground, at a given command, in the open square facing Government Buildings.
Some of them tried to eat of the rations they had with them, others, too exhausted to eat, fell into a deep sleep almost at once, and one old warrior, looking up into the face of the girl standing above him, said, in a broken voice, "Thank God, the war is over."
Hansie bent towards him and answered, in a voice vibrating with passionate feeling, "Tommy Atkins, the war has just begun."
He looked at her in puzzled surprise, and sighing heavily, closed his eyes.
Ah, unknown soldier, did you in after years, I wonder, remember the prophetic words spoken by the lips of a girl that day?
At three o'clock that afternoon the Union Jack was hoisted on Government Buildings!
Those of my readers whose love of home, kindred, traditions, ideals—patriotism—belong to other countries can draw a mental picture of what a similar experience would mean to them. One day to be full of hope that a beloved country and independence would be restored to its people, the next with those hopes laid low in the dust, shattered, destroyed for ever, by the sight of a small, unfamiliar flag standing out against the blue sky.
In time of great shock or crisis, merciful Providence numbs our keenest sensibilities and the brain acts and thinks mechanically. The inevitable comes, however, and we wonder at finding ourselves still breathing, after passing through that fire of mental agony.
Our young patriot's heart was torn and bleeding, but her sufferings then were as nothing compared to those she endured in later months and years, when the incidents of that winter's day would pass in review across her brain, haunting her sleeping and waking thoughts like some hideous nightmare.
It is not for me to describe the scene: the cheering of the multitude, the parade of haggard troops—the soul-sickening display of imperial patriotism.
As if ashamed of having witnessed it, the sun, suddenly grown old and grey, hid himself behind a passing cloud, and in the shadows which enveloped her the girl seemed to feel the hand of Nature, groping for hers, to convey its silent message of sympathy.
The crowds dispersed and the troops withdrew to the outskirts of the town to pitch their tents for the night.
When Hansie arrived at Harmony she found all the open space around it occupied by troops, and camps erected at the very gates, while, all along the roads and railway lines, fires were burning and soldiers were engaged in tending their horses and preparing their rations.
The air was so heavy with smoke and dust that it seemed as if a dense fog were resting on the town, but an order and discipline prevailed which could not be surpassed.
Mrs. van Warmelo was standing at the gate with a loaded revolver in her hands, keeping the entire British army at bay with a pair of blazing eyes.
She had already spoken to the officer in command, who, on hearing that two unprotected ladies were living alone on the property, had immediately issued orders that no man was to enter Harmony on any pretext whatever. Somewhat reassured, mother and daughter retired into their stronghold, barricading doors and windows and ordering Carlo, the good watch-dog, to preserve an extra vigilance that night.
Brave old Carlo! from that moment he seemed to understand that his duty was to protect his beloved mistresses from their mortal foe, and nothing could equal his dislike and distrust of anything connected with the unwelcome visitors around his hitherto peaceful abode. For a long time, he valiantly withstood temptation in the form of titbits offered him by soldiers, not at any time responding to the many advances made by them, and my reader will agree with me, as this story unfolds itself, that no dog could have developed more useful qualities.
The first few weeks after the occupation of Pretoria were spent in settling down and finding accommodation for the thousands of British officers and men, and it soon became evident to the inhabitants of Harmony that Sunnyside had been chosen as a suitable suburb for the more important members of the military forces.
To give the reader some idea of how Harmony was hemmed in by troops on every side, I have drawn the annexed chart, and, though some alterations were made as the months went by, this was practically the position of our heroines during the greater part of the war.
On the eastern side were encamped the Military Mounted Police; on the west, on the banks of the Aapies River and adjoining the Berea Park, lay Kitchener's bodyguard; on the south were established the Montmorency Scouts; and on the north, commanding the principal entrance to Harmony, the Provost-Marshal, Major Poore, had taken up his abode in the comfortable residence of the ex-Mayor of Pretoria, Sir Johannes van Boeschoten, who was knighted on the occasion of the recent visit to South Africa of the Duke of Connaught.
Opposite the Provost-Marshal, in a house belonging to Mr. B.T. Bourke, the War Office, as we called it, was established; and still a little farther north, in the British Agency, vacated by Sir Conyngham and Lady Lily Greene when martial law was proclaimed, Lord Roberts and his staff were installed, until better quarters could be found for them. The Military Governor, General Sir John Maxwell, then took possession of the British Agency and remained there, as far as I know, until the end of the war.
During the first half-year after the British entry into Pretoria Harmony's front gate was blocked by the tent of the military post office, the ropes of which had been fastened to the posts of the gate. Although the inhabitants of Harmony found it inconvenient to squeeze through the small opening at the side of the gate, Mrs. van Warmelo made no objection to the arrangement, because it safeguarded the property to some extent from possible intruders.
Other houses in the immediate neighbourhood of Harmony were occupied at different times by Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, the Duke of Westminster, and many other distinguished personages, with their staffs. From this it will readily be understood that in the whole of Pretoria no spot could have been more completely hemmed in by the vigilant military than Harmony.
How this vigilance was evaded by two Boer women, and how Harmony became the centre of Boer espionage as time went on, will be the theme of this story; but I wish my reader clearly to understand that from beginning to end there was no treachery, no broken promises of peace and good behaviour.
It was simply taken for granted that the two women in question were hopelessly cut off from all communication with their friends in the field, and utterly helpless and incapable of assisting their fellow-countrymen.
There were no conditions attached to the privilege of remaining undisturbed in their home, and, though it was well known that their menfolk were among the fighting burghers and that they themselves entertained the strongest feelings of antagonism towards the British, they were quietly left in peace.
Whether the fact that Mrs. van Warmelo's elder daughter was married to Mr. Henry Cloete, of Alphen, Wynberg, had anything to do with this unexpected and altogether undeserved leniency, I do not know. It certainly could not be put down to the credit of our heroines that Mr. Cloete had at one time been Acting British Agent at Pretoria, nor that he had shown the British Government such services as earned for him the distinction of having the Order of Companion of St. Michael and St. George conferred upon him.
All I can say is that if the van Warmelos owed their security to these facts, we can only look upon that as one of the fortunate circumstances of war over which we had no control. Other Boer residents in Pretoria fared less fortunately.
A great many "undesirable" families were put over the border at once; and of the remaining burghers, some took the oath of allegiance for purposes of their own, on which I am not in a position to pass judgment, others, the greater majority, took the oath of neutrality, and a few, in some mysterious way or other, avoided both these oaths, and remained in the capital, without pass, without permit, until time and occasion presented themselves for a sudden and unaccountable disappearance. In another chapter I shall endeavour to describe the dangers and difficulties under which one of these men escaped from British martial law to the free life of the Boer commandos.
Although houses were "commandeered" right and left, and officers quartered on private families, as is the custom in every well-conducted war, Harmony was left in peace, only one mild attempt being made a few days after the occupation of Pretoria, by the officer in command of the Montmorency Scouts, to obtain entrance for himself and fellow officers at Harmony's inhospitable door.
"Only three officers," he said—"no men; and we shall give no trouble."
It was Hansie's duty to refuse, and refuse she did, firmly, patiently, without betraying her inmost fear that he could, and probably would—like the American darkie preacher, who announced to his flock that a certain meeting would take place "on Friday next, de Lord willin', an' if not, den on Sat'dy, whedder or no"—take possession of her home, "whedder or no" she gave her consent.
It is still a source of surprise that he did not, that, instead, he descended to argument, to beseechings.
"Our tents are bitterly cold at night," he said at last. "Let us at least sleep in the house."
"My brothers in the field have no tents," Hansie answered, "they sleep under the open sky. Do you think that we are going to allow British officers to sleep in their beds? Allow me to tell you that we are red-hot Republicans."
He departed, and, though Mrs. van Warmelo and Hansie lived in some trepidation for the next few days, no second attempt was made to commandeer Harmony.
The incident of the large number of side-saddles found in the British camp at Dundee had given Hansie food for much thought, and had caused her to plan her own future line of action long before the British officers entered Pretoria.
"They will want to enjoy themselves with our girls," she told her mother.
"They will be found at tennis-parties, at social evenings, and at concerts. They will want us to go out riding and driving with them, but, mother, I vow I shall never be seen with a khaki officer as long as our men are in the field." And, as far as she was able, she kept her word until the war was over.
This was not always easy, for many temptations were brought in her way, and she soon found it necessary to give up riding and tennis altogether in order to keep to her resolution.