As we have said, the Committee of women had decided on Harmony as the only safe spot for harbouring Captain Naudé on his next visit. It was still hemmed in by troops on every side, and, as the weeks went by, and the van Warmelos became more convinced that their name had not been betrayed with those of the Secret Committee, they settled down with a sense of peaceful security and prepared themselves once more for the reception of their friends.
Their wonderful "escape" was a topic of daily conversation, and they congratulated themselves over and over again with not even having been approached by the military and put on their best behaviour.
No promises had been given by them, and they felt free as the birds of the air to continue their work of outwitting the enemy, whenever occasion presented itself. But occasions were rare now.
As far as was known, there was no longer a spot in the fencework around Pretoria through which a spy could enter unobserved, and no word or sign had been received from the brave Captain for more than three months. By this they knew that he had been informed of the calamities which had befallen his friends in town.
Still they doubted not that he would at least make an attempt to come in again. His friends remembered his once having said that his keen enjoyment of the perils he underwent was only enhanced by the obstacles which lay in his way, and when the English thought they had made it quite impossible for any man to cross their lines, it would be his greatest pleasure to prove how much mistaken they were.
There was no vain boasting in the quiet and natural way in which he made these remarks, and they were remembered with a strong conviction that he would keep his word. But still it was realised that his greatest difficulty would not be so much his entrance into the town as his perplexity when once he found himself there.
He would not know where to go. His friends had been banished, their houses were occupied by the enemy, and as yet he did not know of the existence of the new Committee. Sending out word to him was impossible.
No man could risk the unknown dangers of leaving the town under the present conditions to warn him; no one would know where to find the Secret Service Corps in the field. His friends decided to possess their souls in patience, trusting in the capabilities of the wily Captain and knowing full well that if any one could find a way out, or in, he would.
He did not disappoint them, and they might have known that on this occasion everything he did would be exactly opposed to his former methods.
It was to be a time of surprises for every one.
Hansie and her mother were just talking about the Captain and regretting the appearance of the young moon—which meant under ordinary circumstances, no spies in town—and wondering how much longer they would be able to endure their suspense—wondering, too, how they would communicate with the Commander in future and longing for reliable news from the field—when the unexpected happened.
At break of day December 17th three travellers entered the town, travel-stained, torn, and weary. They walked boldly through the streets of Pretoria in the dim light of a summer's dawn, and what their destination was we shall see presently.
The van Warmelos were having supper that night at 8 o'clock when the door opened unceremoniously and Flippie's shock head was thrust in.
"There are two ladies looking for Harmony," he said. "They are at the front gate and want to see you."
Hansie immediately went out and met two girls, strangers to her, coming up the garden-path.
"Good evening," she said. "Do you wish to see my mother?"
"Who are you?" was the somewhat unexpected but perfectly natural question.
"I am Miss van Warmelo. Do you want any one here?"
"Yes," one of them replied in a hurried and mysterious way. "There are two men at your garden gate and they want to see Mrs. van Warmelo."
"Won't you ask them to come up to the house?" Hansie asked. "You can't very well expect my mother to——"
"Oh yes, she must," the other broke in hurriedly; "it is all right—she knows them. They will tell her themselves what they want."
"Wait here a moment. I will call my mother."
Hansie had some trouble in persuading her mother to leave the house.
"I am not going down to the gate to see any men," she said. "Let them come up to me."
"They won't, mother. It is no use. There is something behind this. They are either our own spies or the English are setting a trap for us. Be on your guard, but come out into the garden."
Sorely against her will Mrs. van Warmelo hurried out of the house, where she gave the girls a cool and haughty reception, saying:
"I don't understand this. Will you be good enough to ask your friends to come up to my house if they wish to speak to me?" And with that she turned back to the house alone.
Girl No. 1 said, "I think I had better go and fetch them, they are waiting near the wire fence," and walked rapidly down the path, while Hansie followed slowly with girl No. 2, asking many questions, but getting none but the most unsatisfactory replies.
When they reached the gate, girl No. 1 had disappeared altogether and there was no sign of the men. Hansie thought this very suspicious, and was about to turn to her companion with an impatient remark, when she suddenly said something about going to look for girl No. 1 and disappeared too, leaving Hansie standing alone at the gate with her troubled reflections.
Men and girls had now disappeared for good it seemed, and, after what seemed an endless time of waiting, she decided to go back to the house, when she was suddenly joined by her mother, now thoroughly alarmed.
"It must be a trap, dear mother," she whispered. "I can't make it out. Ah, here is some one coming at last"—but then her heart stood still, for a tall English officer, with helmet on and armed to the teeth, advanced, saluting the two ladies in the pale light of the young moon.
"Naudé," he whispered, stretching out his hands to them.
Captain Naudé in an English officer's uniform! Thank God, thank God!
In a moment all was happy confusion.
The Captain introduced his corporal, Venter, warmly took leave of girls No. 1 and 2, thanking them gratefully for services rendered by them that night, and then the four people sauntered up to the house, talking loudly as they passed the sergeant-major's tin "villa" on the other side of the fence.
The glimpse Hansie caught of the good man, calmly sitting inside, smoking his pipe and reading, little dreaming that his arch enemies were within a stone's throw of his peaceful abode, added a delightful thrill to the sensations experienced by her that night.
Very little was said when once they got inside. The hostesses took in the condition of the starved and exhausted heroes at a glance and busied themselves with preparations for a feast, while the men stretched themselves on the sofas in the dining-room. When Mrs. van Warmelo had lit the fire in the kitchen and set the kettle on to boil, Hansie opened the windows of the drawing-room as wide as possible, lit the lamps and candles, and opening the piano, played some "loud music" for the edification of the sergeant-major.
"I've made him understand that we have visitors," she said, laughing, when she got back to the dining-room. "He will quite understand the all-pervading smell of coffee, even if he can't account for the ham and eggs at this time of night."
Home-made bread, butter, and preserves, rusks, cold plum-pudding, and fruit completed the repast—and how the men tucked in! They were so bruised and worn-out that they could hardly sit up straight to eat, and when they had each "forced a square meal into a round stomach" they once more stretched themselves out on the sofas, supremely content with their pipes.
Mother and daughter sat beside them talking until nearly midnight.
"Tell me" (Hansie began at the end)—"tell me where you disappeared to from our gate. I can't quite forgive you the nasty fright you gave us. You might have come straight up to the house."
"Well," Naudé answered, "I did not know whether you were still in town and alone at home, and we could not risk finding you with visitors. While we were at the gate some of the Military Mounted Police passed and we thought it safer to go for a walk. Unfortunately we walked right into their camp, and before we knew where we were, we were falling over their tent-ropes, and in our hurry to escape from them we found ourselves before the house of the Military Governor, where the sentinels on guard saluted me most respectfully. I can't tell you how glad we were to find you waiting for us when we came back to the gate." The diary shrinks from the attempt to describe the thrilling adventures these men had to relate, their hairbreadth escapes, their hardships, privations, and fatigue.
They sat talking with them far into the night, their hostesses hung on every word, their hearts full of admiration and respect for men so brave, so strong and calm, facing death a thousand times without flinching, looking their troubles philosophically in the face, trusting implicitly in their God.
The faith of Captain Naudé was sublime.
By degrees they got the story of their entering into the town from them.
It seemed that at this time Pretoria was so well guarded that it was almost impossible for the wiliest of spies to pass through the sentries unobserved, but, after much cautious inspection, one single unguarded spot had been found, the drift of the Aapies River, over which the S.E. railway bridge passed. This drift, which was about twenty feet wide, was so completely fenced in with a network of barbed wire that it was evidently not considered necessary to place sentinels there. By throwing over their parcels first and working away the ground for more than an hour under the barbed wire, the men were able to crawl and wriggle their way through the barrier.
They made it a rule never to clip the wires around the town, because this would betray the route used by them, but out in the veld no wire fences were spared.
When they had removed the worst traces of dust and dirt from their clothes they walked boldly through the streets, Naudé in the uniform of an English officer and Venter and Brenckmann, as his orderlies, dressed in khaki.
They were anxious to get under cover before the full light of day overtook them, but none of them knew where Harmony was, and they actually walked over the lower portion of Harmony's grounds, across the main road and over the Sunnyside bridge, hiding themselves in the thick poplar bushes beside the river. Here three Kaffir police sprang up and saluted Naudé as he passed. But for his uniform, he and his men would have been lost.
After a short consultation it was decided that Brenckmann should risk walking through the town in daylight to his home in Arcadia and send some one in the evening to escort Naudé and Venter to Harmony.
The two men had a terrible day in the bush, lying as flat as possible in the choking heat, without food and nothing to drink but a little filthy water in a hole near by.
When night fell Brenckmann sent his sister, with one of Venter's, to their hiding-place, and then the search for Harmony began. It was the unsuspecting Flippie, lounging about the streets after his day's work was done, who gave the required information and volunteered to show them the way.
Before they retired for the night Naudé took Mrs. van Warmelo's hand, and, looking earnestly into her face, said:
"Do you know what it means to harbour me? There is a heavy price on my head, and in the event of an attack I do not mean to be taken alive. There will be a fight under your roof. I am well armed"—he tapped his revolvers significantly; "it means confiscation of your property and imprisonment for you and your daughter. Are you prepared for this? If not, say the word; it is not yet too late for us to seek refuge elsewhere."
"You are heartily welcome here," she replied, "and if it comes to fighting——"
"We have arms too," Hansie broke in, "a revolver and a pocket-pistol. It will not be the first time that Boer women have fought side by side with their men——" She stopped in some confusion, suddenly remembering General Maxwell and the permits he had given her.
"I fervently hope there will be no fighting," she continued. "I am sure there will not be. There are too many troops lying around Harmony, we shall never be suspected of harbouring spies; but if we should be surprised in the night, don't begin shooting at once. We have a hiding-place for you."
Mrs. van Warmelo led the way to her bedroom, where the men were to sleep, and, removing a rug from the floor beside the bed, she lifted two boards and disclosed an opening large enough for the body of a man to pass through.
"Put all your belongings in here and creep in at the first alarm," she said. "We will cover you up securely. Leave the matter in our hands."
"By the way," said the Captain suddenly, "who is Flippie?"
She gave him a brief outline of Flippie's history and how he came to be at Harmony.
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, I should like to cultivate Flippie's acquaintance. I must find out what he thinks of how we come to be with you."
"Oh, Flippie is all right," she declared. "You can trust him with anything. But perhaps it will be safer for you to remain in hiding while you are with us, not to be seen even by the servants."
"We can arrange all that to-morrow," Captain Naudé answered. "I am sure you must be tired now, and perhaps you will not get much rest. There are many things to do and to discuss to-morrow. I must see several people and give you the reports for the President."
"Will you let me be your secretary?" Hansie asked. "I am secretary to the new Committee."
"I shall be very glad if you will," Captain Naudé replied.