It was at the time when the northern territories were being swept by the enemy for the first time that Mrs. van Warmelo heard that a relative of hers had been put over the border, and was staying with her husband at the Grand Hotel in Pretoria.
She therefore asked Hansie to call at the hotel to inquire whether she could be of any assistance to them in their trouble, and Hansie donned her prettiest frock that very afternoon on her "calling" expedition, Carlo walking with unusual sedateness by her side.
"We'll go and see General Maxwell too this afternoon, Carlo," she said, "and see whether we can get that permit. Always put on your best clothes when you go to the Military Governor, my boy. You'll find that Tommy Atkins never keeps you waiting then."
Arrived at the hotel, she suddenly remembered that she had forgotten her young relative's name, and did not know whom to ask for.
She was waited upon by a hall-porter, who watched her with a face of stolid patience while she searched her memory for the forgotten name.
At last she said: "The lady I want was a Miss Maré, but she has married an Englishman since last I saw her, and I have forgotten his name. Can you tell me whether there is a young couple with a baby, from Zoutpansberg, staying at the hotel?"
"I'll find out, miss."
He came back with the information that there were four young couples from Zoutpansberg, each with a baby.
Hansie wondered that he did not smile.
"Are they all in?" she asked.
"Some are in and some are out," he said.
Suddenly he seemed to wake up.
"Would it be any help if I told you their names?" he inquired.
"Yes, indeed," she exclaimed; "I would know the name at once if I heard it."
He brought her the book in which the names of visitors were entered, and read one name after the other slowly.
"That's it," Hansie said. "Knevitt! Is Mrs. Knevitt in?"
"No, miss, she is out, and I happen to know that she is leaving again soon. They only arrived yesterday. They were put over the border by the Boers."
"I don't understand," Hansie answered.
"Don't you see, miss? The Boers are still in possession of Pietersburg, and Mr. Knevitt, as a British subject, has been put over the border."
"Oh yes, I see. Well, will you please give these cards to Mrs. Knevitt when she comes in?"
Once on the street, Hansie again addressed herself to her faithful companion:
"It is not hard to believe that the world is turning round, Carlo, when one has to believe that Pretoria is the other side of one's own border. I wonder what our next sensation is to be."
She was soon to find out.
The Military Governor was engaged, and she was shown into the office of an under official, a tall, fair man whose name she did not catch.
She was politely asked to take a seat and the nature of her business inquired into.
The tall, fair man bent over some papers he had before him and toyed with a gold pencil, while she stated her case as clearly and concisely as she could.
He asked her a few questions, with long pauses in between, and again bent over his papers, making pencil marks and turning the pages over slowly.
The silvery chime of a tiny clock told the hour of five.
"You—er—will have some tea?"
"No, thank you," surprised.
A moment's silence, then he pressed an electric bell at his right hand.
An immaculate "Buttons" instantly appeared.
"Tea for two," the officer commanded, without raising his head.
Buttons disappeared, to return in an incredibly short time, bearing aloft a well-appointed tête-à-tête.
When he had withdrawn, the hospitable officer, of whom it could well be said that "he had a teapot in his soul," poured out two cups of tea with an abstracted air, pushed one towards Hansie with his right hand, while he slowly stirred his own with his left.
"Have some tea," he said persuasively.
There was no answer, and he again bent over the work with which he was occupied.
Hansie got up quietly and left the room, but she had not gone many yards in the long corridor before she became aware of hurried footsteps following.
It was the tall officer, very straight now, who called out to her:
"Stop, stop a moment. Where are you going?"
Without turning round she replied:
"To General Maxwell. He never keeps me waiting," and walked on rapidly.
"Don't go," he implored. "Come back to my office. I have your permits quite ready for you. I was busy with them all the time."
She turned round slowly and walked back with him to his office.
"Thank you very much," she said as she took the papers from his hand.
He opened the door for her with exaggerated courtesy, and she went on her way, brimming over with delight.
"I missed two teas this afternoon, but I got my permits and came off with flying colours," she confided to her dumb companion. "Let us go home and tell the mother all about it, Carlo mine."