As the afternoon wore on, an extreme nervousness came over all at Harmony, a feeling of tense anxiety which no words can describe, and was betrayed in a restless flitting through the house, arranging something here, peering through the blinds at the camp of the Military Mounted Police.
Unconsciously voices were lowered and final instructions given in hushed tones.
Only a few hours remained of the Captain's visit to Harmony and much had still to be arranged.
The tension was broken by the arrival of Mrs. Malan, with large parcels containing the articles of clothing, etc., ordered by Naudé—hats, boots, riding-suits, soap, matches, salt, and a number of the small necessities of life. This gave the women something to do, for everything had to be sorted and made up into smaller parcels as compactly as possible, while Naudé donned a surprising quantity of clothing and disposed of various articles about his person.
In the excitement of the moment Captain Naudé, while he was dressing, must have forgotten to take off a waistcoat lent to him by Mrs. van Warmelo and clearly marked D.S. van Warmelo.
This caused her a great deal of anxiety for some days after the departure of the spies.
Had Naudé reached the commandos in safety or had he fallen into the hands of the enemy with the tell-tale waistcoat on?
They wondered and speculated, but as the days went by and no startling reports convulsed the town, they once again settled down—not to the same old sense of security as far as they were personally concerned, but to the comforting conviction that all was well with their friends.
Their own fate—but this is coming presently.
Mrs. Malan did not stay long, and there were fortunately no unexpected visitors that afternoon—except, strange to say, the English colonel who had all but ceased his visits and was on this occasion entertained by Hansie and her mother in turn.
His presence gave a great sense of security!
Hansie walked with Mrs. Malan to the gate, where her carriage was waiting for her, and the sergeant-major, slowly sauntering past and saluting to the girl as she gave the coachman her directions, little knew that the words spoken in Dutch were:
"You must be here at 7 to-night, and bring your residential pass without fail."
Van der Westhuizen, with the bandaged arm, was going to help to carry their parcels through the bush and escort the three men through the most dangerous parts of the town.
When all the preparations were complete there was an hour or two to spare before the other men, under cover of darkness, should join Naudé near the six willow trees at the foot of the orchard. That time was spent in making plans for the future.
"Promise me that you will never take in strange men," Naudé said earnestly. "Do not even harbour any one who professes to come from me unless he gives a watchword. What shall our watchword be?"
They thought for a few moments, and then Mrs. van Warmelo said:
"'Appelkoos' [apricots], because you came to us in the apricot season!"
"So be it." This was agreed upon.
"And if anything should happen to us before you come again?" Hansie inquired. "By what sign will you know that we have been taken and that Harmony is a pitfall instead of a refuge?"
Again they pondered. This was indeed a serious problem, for in the event of an arrest they would not be allowed to see or communicate with any of their friends, and there would be no possible chance of sending out a warning.
After a great deal of discussion it was decided that they should use one of the posts of the enclosure dividing the upper part of Harmony, where the orchard was, from the lower, on which the vegetable gardens of the Italians were.
On one of the posts they would, if they had time to do so, fasten a small piece of plank, and this would serve as a warning to the men not to approach the house.
In case the enemy was not considerate enough to give them time to put up signs and signals, it was agreed to have this done at dead of night by one of the few remaining men in town, van der Westhuizen for instance, at the first news of their arrest.
This arrangement eased their minds of some anxiety, and the rest of the time was spent in quietly chatting about other matters.
"I suppose you cannot let my wife know that I have been here and am well?" Naudé asked.
"I am afraid not," Mrs. van Warmelo answered thoughtfully.
"We know no one in the Camp in which she is, and her correspondence will no doubt be closely watched, but we could write an ordinary, cheerful letter, urging her to be hopeful and strong."
"Thank you very much," he answered gratefully, "but do not use your own names on any account. Get other people to write, people less implicated than yourselves."
Towards 7 o'clock Hansie walked slowly down to the willows, the faithful Carlo by her side, wistfully looking into her face. Did he feel the suppressed agitation, the unrest in the air?
I do believe Carlo knew and felt every changing emotion in his young mistress, and sympathised or rejoiced accordingly.
There was no one in the garden.
Hansie waited ten minutes, twenty, half an hour, then she went back to the house.
There the form of the tall young man in his English officer's uniform, from which the traces of blood had been removed as well as possible, was to be seen walking to and fro in restless nervousness.
"Have the others not come yet?" he exclaimed impatiently. "Where can they be so late?"
"I think it is too light still for them to be abroad," Hansie answered; "you should have made the appointment for 8 o'clock."
"But then the moon will be up," he objected. "I hope they will be here soon."
Hansie once more walked to the six willows, and the next half-hour was spent in a restless pacing up and down between the orange trees of the avenue.
"Will they never come? Have they fallen into some unforeseen pitfall?
"At this, the most critical moment of our whole adventure, when all arrangements seem to have come to a smooth and successful termination, must our plans be frustrated, and a bloody encounter be the climax?"
Hansie walked boldly towards the Military Camp, whistling to Carlo and admonishing him thus audibly:
"Why can't you leave the kittens alone, Carlo?" Then more softly: "A peaceful serenity pervades the camp. Evidently nothing brewing here!"
With a lighter heart she went back to the house, but one glance at the face of the Captain was enough, and once more she sped down the garden-path to the ill-fated trysting-place.
As she neared the spot she heard no sound of life and her heart once more sank, but only for a moment. Suddenly she started violently. "What is this?"
The place seemed in a moment alive with silent figures. From the depths of the overhanging willow branches they emerged, one by one, and approached the tense form of the girl as she stood immovable, with straining eyes trying to distinguish the moving, silent figures in the darkness.
The white dress of a woman fluttering among the leaves reassured her.
"What is this?" she whispered. "Who are you? Why are you here?"
One of the men came forward.
"Venter and Brenckmann," he said softly, "come for the Captain."
"Yes, yes," Hansie said hurriedly. "I know. We have waited for you more than an hour. But these people? Who are they?"
"Our friends and relatives come to see us off," came the unexpected reply.
Hansie was silent, trying to hide her indignation, her rising resentment, as another and yet another form cautiously emerged from behind the foliage.
"Do you know," she said at last, "that you are not only exposing us to great danger by coming here at a time like this, but that you are making it a thousand times more difficult for the Captain to depart unobserved? How could you be so indiscreet?"
"These people are all trustworthy," one of the men volunteered.
"I have no doubt of it." Hansie extended her hands cordially to them. "But you must all go now as quietly as you came. Say good-bye and go, please, before I go to call the Captain."
She turned away with a lump in her throat, for no sounds broke the stillness of the night save those of stifled sobs and murmured caresses.
"Fare thee well. God be with you!"
There was Brenckmann with his three sisters, there was Venter with one sister and a sweetheart, and there was the sweetheart of one of Brenckmann's sisters, to say nothing of the other relatives and friends whom I have been unable to place.
Some distance from the scene, and unobserved by all save one, was the figure of the ever-cautious and discreet van der Westhuizen, guarding the parcels which had previously been conveyed there, lurking among the trees.
Swiftly and silently Hansie sped up to the house to meet the Captain, just as he, unable to bear the suspense any longer, had made up his mind to set out on his perilous expedition alone and was cautiously emerging from the bath-room door, concealing himself under the vineyard as he went.
"They are there, Captain," she said in a quick and lowered voice, "waiting for you under the willows. Lower down near the bush van der Westhuizen is also waiting. He will distribute the parcels when you come. I think everything is in order and the coast clear. The military camp is quiet, the sergeant-major is in his 'tin villa.' Good-bye, Captain. God bless you."
The man removed his helmet and stood before her in the pale light of the rising moon. His face was very white.
"I shall never be able to thank you. God keep you. Good-bye, good-bye." He clasped her hand and was gone, as silent as the shadows into which he disappeared.
When Hansie rejoined her mother a few minutes later no word was said on either side. The extreme tension was over, the reaction had set in, and they could not trust themselves to speak, but set to work at once, firmly and decently removing every trace in the house of confusion and disorder.
In the room vacated by Captain Naudé they found the snapshots of his wife and children taken in the Concentration Camp.
Mrs. van Warmelo held them up to her daughter's view with a significant look.
"I am not surprised that he would not take them with him," she said.