The following story was related to Hansie by her mother soon after her return from the Irene Camp, and must be repeated here for its connection with subsequent events.

One afternoon in June Mrs. van Warmelo had been visited by a young friend, Miss F., with a man whom she introduced as her brother, an unexpected arrival from Europe.

"Indeed!" Mrs. van Warmelo exclaimed. "What a delightful surprise it must have been to you!"

"Yes, but he is leaving again very, very soon. In fact"—here Miss F.'s manner became mysterious—"he is here on a mission and we shall see very little of him."

Mrs. van Warmelo expressed her regret at this, and the conversation naturally turned to the general topic, the war.

Leading questions were put to Mrs. van Warmelo, and she felt that her assistance was required for some purpose or other; but being too discreet to invite her visitors' confidence, she waited.

After beating about the bush a good deal, Miss F. remarked:

"You know the Zoutpansberg District very well, do you not?"

"Yes," Mrs. van Warmelo answered; "we lived there formerly."

"Then you will perhaps know trustworthy people in Pietersburg, people on whom one can thoroughly rely in these days."

Mrs. van Warmelo answered hesitatingly:

"Yes—there is one, at least, on whom I can depend."

"Would there be much risk and difficulty in communicating with General Botha through such a person?" Miss F. inquired.

"General Botha!" Mrs. van Warmelo exclaimed. "But he is not in the north. He is on the High Veld, somewhere south-east of Transvaal, and much easier to communicate with than if he had been in Zoutpansberg."

"How could one get a message through to him?" Miss F. asked, and her hostess decided to beat about the bush no longer.

"Do you not think it would be better to trust me and tell me what you wish to do? I would be better able to answer and help you."

Miss F. then turned to her brother and said:

"Mrs. van Warmelo is quite right. Tell her everything." Upon which the young man explained that he had been sent out on a secret mission connected with a consignment of dynamite which lay buried on the eastern frontier. News had been received in Europe that there was a dearth of explosives and, consequently, a temporary cessation of adventures on the railway lines, and it was for the purpose of communicating the fact that this consignment had arrived that he had travelled to Pretoria via the East Coast and over Durban. How to get into touch with some reliable person in Pretoria who was in direct communication with the Boer forces had been his greatest problem, and he was grateful indeed for Mrs. van Warmelo's guarded promise of assistance.

"I cannot tell you anything now," she said, "but if you will leave the matter in my hands I promise that you will hear from me to-morrow morning."

Mr. F. then told her that he had brought with him a small quantity of the dynamite, made up into two separate parcels, non-explosive apart, but dangerous when mixed together in a certain way. He had been deputed to instruct the Boers how to mix these ingredients.

He had with him, too, a large prospecting hammer, the long handle of which was bound with leather and closely studded with nails. But the handle was hollow and contained a number of detonators, to be sent out to the Boers for blowing up trains and for damaging the railway lines and bridges. One other article of interest he had brought with him, a huge Parisian hat for his sister, and he told Mrs. van Warmelo how the polite inspector of goods on the frontier had held the lovely headpiece up, admiring the pink roses nestling in black lace and chiffon, and little dreaming that he was handling many yards of dynamite fuse.

"A lovely hat!" he exclaimed when he put it back into the box, without having noticed the weight, which alone would have betrayed it to any one familiar with ladies' headgear.

Early next morning Mrs. van Warmelo sallied forth to the house of her confederate, Mr. Willem Botha, at the other end of the town. He listened to her story attentively and said, "There are spies in town at this very moment, and they are leaving for the General's commando to-night."

This was good news indeed, and Mrs. van Warmelo immediately made an appointment with Mr. Botha to meet Mr. F. at Harmony that afternoon.

On her way home she called at Miss F.'s house, informing her of the appointment.

That afternoon at Harmony a map was closely studied by the two men and the exact spot pointed out where the dynamite lay buried, while Mrs. van Warmelo packed the detonators one by one in cotton wool in a small box, which was conveyed to Mr. Hattingh's house, where the spies were being harboured. In the meantime the entire crown and brim of the lovely Parisian hat had been unpicked, and that night the dynamite fuse, wound closely round the body of a spy, went out to the commandos, with the small box of detonators.

Soon after this Mr. F. returned to Europe as he had come, via Natal and Delagoa Bay, well satisfied that his mission should have been accomplished with so much ease.

What became of the sample of dynamite my reader will see in the next chapter.

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Category: Brandt: Petticoat Commando
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