Uninterrupted communication had once more been established between the conspirators, and all was going well.
So it seemed!
But the Prince of Darkness was at work. And with him an accursed band of Judas-Boers.
How can I tell the tale? How force into the background of my mind and soul the unspeakable horror with which all my being is filled when I contemplate this aspect of the war, in order to collect my thoughts sufficiently to find the words I need?
That week the town was full of spies.
Captain Naudé had come in on Thursday night and was to leave again on Saturday night. Another spy, young Delport, a brave and reckless youth, was also in the capital, "recruiting" men to take out with him to commando.
That Saturday night, as Mr. Botha was on the point of leaving his home for the Captain's place of refuge, from where he had to "see him off," as arranged, Mrs. Krause arrived at his house in some agitation and said that her husband had just come in and wished to see Mr. Botha. Krause was suffering from an exceedingly painful whitlow in the thumb of his left hand, she said, and he had come to see a doctor and to have the whitlow cut. She implored Mr. Botha and his neighbour Mr. Hocke to come without delay, and to be present when the operation had to be performed.
With all the speed he could Mr. Botha hurried to the house in which Captain Naudé was waiting, explained the case of Krause to him and took a warm and hearty leave, kneeling with him for a few moments first, as was his wont, in earnest prayer to God for the protection of the traveller.
He then called for Mr. Hocke, and the two men hurried to Mr. Krause's house in Prinsloo Street, where they found the doctor (a man initiated in all the mysteries of Boer espionage and a trusted friend) on the point of performing the small, though painful operation.
When it was over, Mr. Botha, prompted Heaven only knows by what foreshadowing of disaster, gave his friend a serious lecture on the dangers of his recklessness.
"How can you go about the town so much in broad daylight, whenever you come in?" he asked. "Always on that bicycle of yours! Surely you must know that you expose yourself to untold dangers!"
"Oh, I could not always stay indoors! The house is far too close," the patient exclaimed, nursing his lacerated thumb.
Mr. Botha urged him to leave on Sunday night, not to remain longer than was necessary, and to take with him a young German, who had been wounded and was now convalescent, after having been concealed and nursed for many months by trusty friends in town.
And another warning he impressed upon him with unusual earnestness:
"Whatever you do, Krause, don't associate yourself with the party leaving under young Delport's guidance. I fear that there is something terribly wrong. He is going out with far too large a number, fifty men in all, he told me yesterday, and something warns me that amongst the men there are detectives on the English side. Delport is young and very reckless, and the thought of the great number going out with him this time has made me more anxious than I can say."
Krause produced his revolver from an inside pocket, and declared that before he surrendered himself a prisoner more than one British soldier would be killed or wounded by him.
With a heavy heart and many sad forebodings, Mr. Botha left him. For he remembered, with increasing anxiety, a visit he had had from Delport, when the latter had asked for his assistance in getting his men—fifty, as he had said—safely through the town.
Mr. Botha had refused at the time, pretending that he had never taken part in such proceedings, and warning the young man that the game he was about to play was hazardous in the extreme.
"If you must go out with those men, leave on Monday night, when the others have escaped in safety," was his last advice to Delport.
Unfortunately, Fate decreed that Krause and Delport should meet accidentally on Sunday morning, the day after Mr. Botha's warning to Krause.
Together the two men, flinging caution to the winds, or perhaps in their enthusiasm entirely forgetting the wise counsel of their friend, laid their heads together, and agreed to meet at a certain point that night, Krause with the wounded German and two or three of his most faithful friends, and Delport with his party of fifty men.
As Mr. Botha, with strange intuition, had predicted, there were dastardly traitors in that group of fifty men—Judas-Boers—who, under the pretence of seeking an opportunity of joining the burgher forces, had persuaded Delport to allow them to accompany him. That he was innocent in this black crime of hideous treachery, no one who knew him ever had a doubt.
At the appointed place the two men met. Farther on they were joined by the wounded German and his comrades; still farther, beyond the boundary of the town, under a cluster of trees, well known to them as a secret trysting-place, the large party had assembled one by one and was awaiting the arrival of its leaders.
The latter, seeing in the distance a group of moving figures which they took to be their friends, walked boldly and serenely forward—to find themselves a moment later in a most deadly trap!
The conflict must have been a desperate one!
He who played so brave a part in it, Krause, the only armed man on his side, shot down his opponents one by one, until they closed on him, and then, overpowered by the fearful odds and battered beyond recognition by heavy blows from the butt-ends of their guns, he was at last pinioned to the ground by his infuriated captors.
Three men were taken, Krause, Venter (a mere boy, the son of a widow in Pretoria), and one other—who must be nameless here.
Of the rest some fled into the open veld, while others, hopelessly ignorant of their surroundings or of the route to take, wisely returned to town under cover of the darkness of the night.
With one exception. Fritz W., the wounded German, lost his way and was unable to go back to town before the curfew-bell, the hour at which every resident was supposed to be indoors.
Finding himself near a small camp of soldiers in the vicinity of the Pretoria West Station, he cautiously crept into one of the tents, where he found a solitary soldier, sound asleep. Without a moment's hesitation, he stretched himself down on the ground beside him, thinking over the tragic events of that awful Sunday evening and dozing off at intervals, from sheer exhaustion of mind and body.
During the night another soldier, evidently returning from duty as guard or outpost, entered the tent and lay beside him on the other side.
So he spent the night between two British soldiers, and with the first approach of dawn he cautiously and stealthily extricated himself from his perilous position and made his way to town.
Three or four days after the perfidious betrayal of the Secret Service men the Committee was staggered with the tidings of the execution of their comrades, Krause and Venter, in the prison-yard of the old Pretoria jail.
The third, the nameless one, had, it was said, saved himself by turning King's evidence.
Of their last days on earth nothing will ever be known, but those of us blessed or cursed with the divine and cruel gift of imagination see in our mind's eye two men in prison-cells in solitary confinement, one a broken-hearted husband, the other the beloved son of a widowed mother.
Wounded and suffering they lie on their last bed of pain. Friendless and alone they await the untimely end of their brief but glorious career. Longing, with all the weakness of the human heart, for one last look of love, one reassuring clasp from a tender woman's hand, they prepare themselves to meet the death they have faced so often and so manfully in their heroic struggle for liberty and independence.
No—a thousand times, No!
Could there have been fear or despair in the hearts of those two men, with the knowledge beating in their brains that they held their lives in their own hands, that one word from them of information against their fellow-workers could avert their doom, and that they, and they alone, could save themselves at the sacrifice of honour and fidelity?
How in the end they met their fate we do not know—we can but dimly guess.
The painful task of acquainting Mrs. Krause with the fate of her husband fell to the lot of Mr. Botha and Mr. Hocke.
As she would probably be destitute, the two men decided to collect a sum of money before approaching her with their evil tidings, and this they had to do by stealth, in order not to bring suspicion on themselves.
They were successful in obtaining over £34 for the bereaved wife in a very short time, from friends and sympathisers as poor as they themselves, and later, from the same source, in the same unostentatious way, a far larger amount was collected in order to send the widow to her relatives in Germany.
These details, mundane though they may appear after the stirring acts of heroism described above, are significant of greater things—self-sacrificing generosity, unswerving loyalty, and a compassionate desire to atone, in some practical and helpful way, for their share in the disaster brought on innocent and helpless womanhood.