Needless to say, there was not much peace or rest for any one that night.
Mrs. van Warmelo and Hansie kept guard all night in the dining-room. Every time Carlo barked outside they sprang up in alarm, their hearts throbbing, their breath held up in listening suspense, but nothing happened; and when day broke and the glorious sunlight flooded the garden, all their fears vanished, and they felt as if they had been harbouring spies all their lives.
They were up early, and as soon as their guests heard sounds of life about the house they cautiously emerged from their rooms, looking about them anxiously and inquiringly.
"Come in and have some coffee," Mrs. van Warmelo said warmly. "Did you have a good night? The servants are not in the house yet and you are safe for the present, but we must make our plans immediately. Are you going to be seen about the house or not?"
Captain Naudé then informed her that his orderly Venter wished to go home to his people in Arcadia towards evening, if she could lend him civilian clothing to wear, for once in the town the khaki was more of a danger than a safeguard to him, and Captain Naudé was in the same difficulty himself.
It would never do for him to be seen at Harmony in an English officer's uniform—"unless," he added inquiringly, "you are in the habit of entertaining the British military?"
"No, indeed we are not!" she exclaimed indignantly, and told him the story of the officers who had tried to visit her.
"Only one dear old colonel comes now," Hansie said, "but he has not been here for a long, long time. I would enjoy introducing you to him."
"Not in these clothes," Naudé replied. "An English colonel would know at once to whom they belonged. No; if I am to remain at Harmony as an ordinary visitor, you will have to provide me with ordinary clothes."
Mrs. van Warmelo promised to do that during the course of the day, and in the meantime it was decided to keep the men in the unused spare bedroom, out of sight of the prying eyes of servants and possible callers.
There their meals were served to them, the women washing up their dishes without a sound in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and at the same time doing all in their power to look and act as usual, showing themselves all over the house and garden, and busying themselves with the usual household duties.
"What did those two khaki women want with you last night, Miss Hansie?" the irrepressible Flippie asked as soon as he saw her that morning.
"Khaki women! What do you mean, Flippie?"
"They were khaki women," he said aggressively. "I saw two English officers with revolvers with them, and they were pretending they didn't belong to them. What did they want with Harmony?"
"I don't know them, Flippie. I never set eyes on them before. I am sure they were up to no good."
"But what did they say they wanted with Harmony?" he persisted.
"They told me they were looking for something else," Hansie answered lamely. "Have you fed the fowls, Flippie?"
"No, but I wonder—"
"Then go and do so at once," Hansie interrupted severely. "It is long past 6 o'clock."
He went unwillingly.
On comparing notes, she found that he had carried on the same conversation with her mother. There was no doubt that his suspicions had been thoroughly roused, and for the next few days they had their hands full, trying to keep his curiosity in check. Perhaps if they had taken Flippie into their confidence and trusted him with their secret, it would have saved them all the anxiety and unrest they had to pass through afterwards, but they acted for the best, and perhaps they would have been betrayed in any case.
What use to speculate now on what might have been?
Hansie's first duty that day was to go to town and inform the members of the Secret Committee of Naudé's arrival in Pretoria, and to procure clothing for Venter.
A friend of hers, whom she judged to be about the same size as Venter, gave her a splendid suit of clothes, nearly new, without asking many questions, and placed his further services at her disposal.
She then went to Venter's relatives in Arcadia and told them on no account to visit him at Harmony, as he was coming home to them that evening. Too many people knew about the spies at Harmony, and there was good reason for beginning to feel uncomfortable.
The women of the Committee promised to call at Harmony that afternoon.
When Hansie arrived home she sewed on Venter's buttons, supplied him with studs and ties, a clean pocket-handkerchief, and a new hat.
I believe he had on clothing belonging to six different people when he sallied forth soon after sundown, and Mrs. van Warmelo was glad to see the last of him, for her cares and responsibilities were multiplying, and his presence in the house was one more.
The Captain was still in his uniform, but he was provided with clean underclothing from the "boys'" wardrobes, and from that moment the unmistakable smell of commando no longer pervaded that home!
The rest of the morning was spent in making copies of the dispatches to the President and drawing up a list of the necessaries to be provided by the Committee for the men to take out with them, and in the afternoon Harmony was besieged with a stream of callers.
Poor Hansie thought they would never end, and while she was entertaining them in the drawing-room her mother was keeping the others quiet in the dining-room—Mrs. Honey, Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Malan, and the two spies.
That night their sleep was deep and refreshing, for they were worn out in mind and body. There was only one man in the house, and they were getting used to his presence, and the thought of the secret hiding-place gave a sense of security.
They were up early again next morning, and, all the "business" transactions having been done the day before, they devoted themselves to the entertainment of their guest.
A more delightful day they never spent, and the memory of it clings to them still.
Captain Naudé was beginning to feel the restrictions of city hospitality, and, longing to get out into the big garden, where the early figs and apricots held their tempting sway, he asked Mrs. van Warmelo once more to provide him with a suit of civilian clothing.
He was taller and slighter of build than the "boys," but she gave him a suit belonging to the youngest son, Fritz, and from that moment he walked freely about the house and garden.
His helmet and uniform lay buried in the hiding-place under the floor, but his revolvers he kept on under his coat, in the leathern belt strapped around his waist. This fact was significant of the deadly peril in which they all were.
While the women were hastily getting through their household duties in order to have a long talk with him, he roamed about the garden and finally stretched himself out on the benches under the six weeping-willows at the foot of the orange avenue.
"Who dat lying under our trees, Miss Hansie?" "Gentleman Jim" inquired, from his perch in the mulberry tree behind the house.
"A friend of ours, Jim. He has been very ill in the hospital and has asked us to let him spend the day in our garden."
"Oh yes, I can see him's cloes much too big for him."
"Hand me that basket, Jim, if it is full," Hansie commanded. "Here is another; and when you have finished, make a big fire in the kitchen, because we must have a nice dinner to-day for the baas."
"All right, little missie," was the respectful answer.
"Gentleman Jim" was settled, and the same performance was gone through casually with Flippie and Paulus; but the three Italian gardeners and the eight or ten Kaffirs employed by them were left to think what they pleased, and they went about their work without taking the slightest notice of Captain Naudé.
"The people in your hospital have nice ruddy complexions," Mrs. van Warmelo said laughingly, when Hansie told her what the Captain was passing for; but the ruse answered, and, for the time at least, all suspicions were lulled to rest.
When they joined the Captain in the garden later on they invited him to help them to gather strawberries for the people who were coming to see him again that afternoon. They were just engaged in the pleasant task, chatting gaily and feeling, oh, so safe, when Mrs. van Warmelo started violently.
The sergeant-major was standing on the other side of the fence, watching them intently.
Captain Naudé bent low over the strawberry plants and whispered: "Don't move. Go on picking quietly. He will soon go away."
He did, apparently satisfied with the appearance of the stranger, but the ladies had been seized with a sudden nervousness and implored the Captain to come into the house.
Mrs. van Warmelo pointed out to him a group of dense loquat trees, with dark-green, glossy foliage, a suitable place of refuge should he be compelled to flee from the house at night.
He was not a man of many words, but, once started, there was no difficulty in getting all the information they wanted out of him, and he answered their leading questions in a simple, straightforward way, his every word bearing the unmistakable stamp of truth.
I have avoided going into the details of the actual war as much as possible.
It has not been my intention to weary my reader with dry facts concerning battlefields, nor to give the war reports and war rumours, so often unreliable, with which Hansie's diary is filled, but the events connected with Captain Naudé's first visit to Harmony I wish to give in the smallest detail. Great historical truths stand out in bold relief against a background of minute details and the realistic description of the common life. This background Hansie's diary affords better than anything written from memory after many years could have done.
While the Captain slept Hansie made her notes, and when he woke she was with him again for further news.
Her thirst for information was insatiable.
"I have been longing to ask you, Captain, where you got your English uniform," Hansie said as they sat down in the dining-room with the great bowls of scarlet strawberries before them. "Tell us everything while we remove these stems."
"You have heard of the terrible battle we had at Bakenlaagte—when Colonel Benson fell, mortally wounded? I was there."
"Were you?" they exclaimed in breathless surprise.
"Yes, and the uniform lying buried under your floor I myself took from the dead body of Colonel Thorold after the battle."
By degrees a full description was given of that great British reverse on the High Veld and what took place after.
When the battle was over and Colonel Benson lay mortally wounded, surrounded by doctors and officers in high authority, Naudé advanced, and asked to be allowed to take his papers. The men protested, but Naudé ordered them all aside and gently removed every paper from his pockets. He had no important documents with him and the private papers were of course returned to the men in charge of the dying officer.
He expired soon afterwards and was mourned by the Boers as well as the English, for he was admired and respected by all for his courage and daring, and his fame as an honourable foe had spread throughout the Boer lines.
Many of them were heard to say that they had only meant to catch him and that they bitterly regretted his death.
It was one of the worst battles, under General Botha, Naudé had ever been in. About twelve Boers were killed instantly, and three wounded to death.
With the storming of the cannon, Boers and English were so close together that the one could hear what the other said, and Naudé's corporal, Venter, saw a poor soldier fall back mortally wounded, gasping out with his dying breath, "Oh, dear mother!"
God of pity! who will tell that bereaved parent that her son's last thoughts and words were for her alone?
It was terrible to hear the wounded and dying praying and calling to their God for help. Nationality, language, enmity, and bitter hatred were forgotten as side by side those mortal foes prepared to meet their God—one God!
Imploring one another for help, praying for one drop of water to alleviate their dying agonies—in vain!
Two cannon were taken by the Boers, one of which they destroyed at once, keeping the other for their future use.
When all was over General Botha spoke a few touching words to his men, thanking them for their bravery, and congratulating them on their success.
Unpleasant though it may be to think of, it is my duty to relate that, before burial, the soldiers were stripped of their clothes, and every Boer permitted to take what he required, but the bodies were treated with respect.
Naudé, for purposes of his own, chose the uniform of the dead Colonel Thorold, which had six bullet holes through it and was covered with blood-stains.
Revolvers, leggings, whistle, helmet, all was complete, even to the stars and crown on the Colonel's shoulders.
Naudé felt himself rich indeed in the possession of articles which he knew would be invaluable to him on his next entry into Pretoria.
One of his men took Colonel Benson's uniform, but handed the crown to him (Naudé) at his request, and then the bodies were covered with blankets for a hurried burial.
Oh, cruel war when men slay one another!
"Oh, blest Red Cross, like an angel in the trail of the men who slay!"
There were about ten dead English officers on the field and nineteen wounded, of whom three or four died afterwards.
"When did you see General Botha last?" Mrs. van Warmelo inquired.
"About three weeks ago, and then he was looking well and brown. He told me of a narrow escape he had had. He was completely surrounded and barely got off with his life. His hat was left behind, also his Bible and hymn-books. Lord Kitchener, courteously, and with a touch of humour, returned the books to him with a boy's hat which had been found on the field, thinking evidently that it belonged to the General's little son, who was known to go everywhere with him; but General Botha sent the hat back to Lord Kitchener with a message to the effect that it was not his son's, but had belonged to his 'achter-ryder,' and thanking him for the books."
"Tell us some of your own escapes," Hansie begged, "I am sure you have had many."
"So many that I have forgotten them nearly all," he answered, "but one I shall never forget."
He then related how he and twenty of his men had once been pursued for four hours by about one thousand English. The bullets fell like hail about them, and he was keeping the saddle he rode on, as a curiosity, because of the many bullet holes in it. Once a bullet passed between his coat and shirt along his stomach, the shock taking his breath away. He was sure he had been mortally wounded, but could not stop to find out, and the very recollection of it still caused him to experience the sensation of coming into close contact with death.
General Botha tells me that the hat which was returned to him by Lord Kitchener had first belonged to his little son, Louis, who had written his name in full, in blue pencil, on the inside of the crown, and had given it, when he had no more use for it, to his little native orderly.