The events about to be recorded in this chapter have just reminded me of an incident which took place immediately after the occupation of the capital.
An old Kaffir, who had been with the English just before Pretoria was taken, told Mrs. van Warmelo that three Boer men had ridden out on bicycles to the English lines, and held consultation with them—traitors evidently, in secret understanding with the enemy, to whom they took information of some sort.
The old Kaffir wound up his remarks by saying:
"Missis, you are bitten by your own dogs."
How true this was, was soon to be brought home to us in the most forcible way; but before we go on to the next developments in our story I must not forget to tell you, good reader, that the three spies from whom Hansie parted on the evening of August 15th had quite an escape as they left the town.
They were driven in a cab, with their numerous parcels, as far as the wire enclosure, by a friend who always escorted them through the most dangerous parts of the town.
This friend, a young Mr. van der Westhuizen, played an important but unobtrusive rôle in the history of the men with whom we are concerned.
When Hansie met him first he was in the Pretoria hospital with a badly wounded arm, of which some of the muscles had been completely severed. As he never recovered the entire use of that arm, he was detained in Pretoria with other men unable to escape, and, carrying his left arm in a sling, he was made use of by the Secret Committee and by Mrs. Joubert, who employed him as her coachman.
He carried a residential pass, which he produced on every imaginable occasion, and was able to render untold services to the spies by conveying them with their parcels to the wire fence. But on this occasion they nearly got into serious trouble, for, just as the cab was nearing the enclosure, a searchlight from one of the forts was turned full on them. In consternation, one of the men ordered the driver to turn to the left, another to the right, but with great presence of mind he ignored them both, and drove straight on, thus disarming a group of soldiers, standing near, of any suspicions they might have had at seeing a cab so near the fence at night.
Fortunately, the light was soon turned in another direction.
The spies descended with their parcels, and were shortly in the deep furrow along which they had to creep to reach the wire fence, cautiously wending their way to friends and liberty, when some one came running after them, shouting to them to stop.
It was van der Westhuizen with a parcel they had left in the cab.
In this way the three men left the town with the railway time-table, not to come in again until September 10th.
My readers will remember the five men who were cut off from their refuge in the Skurvebergen some time back, and one of whom Mrs. van Warmelo had refused to harbour.
I shall not name them, for I do not feel myself justified in damning the reputation of the Boer traitors for ever by publishing their names, but the events I am about to relate cannot be excluded without changing the entire character of this story.
These men had been concealed by other friends, and when the scare was over they escaped from Pretoria to the commandos. They had nearly been forgotten when news reached the capital of their capture by the enemy, five of them in all, and of their imprisonment in jail.
While their life hung in the balance a time of nervous dread, not to be forgotten, was passed through, for they would either be shot as spies or they could save themselves by betraying their friends.
The suspense was soon over.
One of them—the very one, in fact, who had been refused admittance to Harmony through Mrs. van Warmelo's prudence, turned King's evidence and, to save his own precious skin, revealed the names of the good friends who had sheltered him at their own peril.
Rumour said that two of the betrayed would be shot on the evidence he gave against them.
Not only the names of his friends in town did he betray, but he also told the authorities how and when and where the spies came in, the names of the men who worked with him on commando, and the families who harboured them in town.
More than eighty people were incriminated.
On every side whole families were arrested, the men being put into jail, while their women and children were sent away to Concentration Camps.
My readers must understand that this was an entirely different set of people, not known to those at Harmony, and with whom they had had no dealings. It was no credit to Hansie that she and her mother were not on the list of the betrayed. She remembered with humility and shame her unreasonable fit of temper when her mother refused to harbour the traitor, and determined to give ear to her wise counsel in future.
They and their friends were in no way affected by his treachery, except in so far that it cast a gloom over them and made them realise that the Boers would not be able to hold out much longer against the machinations of these traitors of their own flesh and blood. Another matter for grave concern was the thought that Captain Naudé might attempt to pass through his usual route, not knowing that the enemy had been informed of it, and run straight into the traps prepared for him.
How to get out a warning to the Skurvebergen in time was the problem before them now.
Hansie spent the next few days in flying about on her bicycle to find out if any one in the "inner circle" had been arrested.
Thank God, no. Mr. Willem Botha was at home, the Jouberts were still in undisturbed security, all the other members of the Secret Committee were safe.
They congratulated themselves and one another on their escape, and Mr. Botha, visiting at Harmony a few days later, once more impressed on them the danger of coming into contact with any spies other than those they knew and trusted.
And again he warned them to keep no papers in the house—"for," he continued, "we must always bear in mind that we can never be sure we have not been betrayed. Our names may be on the black list already, and the enemy may only be waiting to catch us red-handed. No one is safe, and no one ought to feel safe."
There was a moment's pause, and then he went on, with evident reluctance: "I have good reason for warning you again. I do not wish to alarm you, but only last night, as I was walking in the moonlight with my wife, we passed a man I know well, with a girl on his arm. The moon was shining very brightly, and, as they passed me, I distinctly heard him say, 'This man has also been given away.'"
Hansie felt a thrill of acute anxiety for her friend. The two women looked at one another.
They tried to console themselves with the thought that the man might have mistaken Mr. Botha for some one else. There was nothing to do but wait, but the suspense and uncertainty were very hard to bear, and long were the discussions over every imaginable possibility.
They knew that the traitor was acquainted with the Captain of the Secret Service and his private secretary Mr. Greyling. Did he also know the names of the members of the Committee? Did Greyling confide the secret of the time-table to him? These young men were reckless. Death was their daily bread, and caution was a thing unknown to them.
Wonderful developments could be expected within the next few days.
The lowering clouds of adversity gathered closely, surely, mercilessly, around our friends.
Clasp that hand again, and once again, in mute farewell. Look deep into those steadfast eyes. It may be for the last time for many long, relentless years; it may be for the last time—on earth!