Read CHAPTER VI - PASSES AND PERMITS of The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service , free online book, by Johanna Brandt, on ReadCentral.com.

At this time the procuring of passes and permits became the order of the day, and it is inconceivable the amount of red-tape that had to be gone through in the process.

For women living alone and having no menfolk to send to the offices, this was especially annoying.

Hours were spent in waiting, and applicants were frequently sent from one official to another, and from one department to another, on unimportant matters.

This brought Hansie into touch with the very men whose society she had resolved to avoid.

It took her three or four hours to get a permit for her bicycle and as many days to get permission to retain her Colt’s pocket-pistol, for the officers in charge of the rifle department refused to let her keep it and she eventually decided to go straight to head-quarters, viz. the Military Governor, General Maxwell.

Orders had very rightly been issued that all firearms should be delivered to the military authorities, but in this case Mrs. van Warmelo thought an exception should be made, because two unprotected women, living in an isolated homestead, could hardly be considered safe in times of such great danger unless sufficiently armed and able to defend themselves.

Other matters, of minor importance, could be overlooked, but it was to this question of retaining weapons that she and her daughter owed their acquaintance with the charming and affable Military Governor.

The two women were received with great courtesy, and when they had explained that they had a Mauser rifle in their possession, a revolver, and a pistol, begging to be allowed to keep them for self-defence, General Maxwell instantly granted them permits for the revolver and pistol, but asked them to give up their rifle. He gave them a written promise, signed by himself, that the rifle would be returned to them after the war which promise, I may add, was faithfully kept. General Maxwell asked many questions about their fighting relatives, and, when they were departing, said he hoped they would come straight to him if at any time they got into trouble.

This kindness opened the way to many subsequent visits, and brought about a friendly understanding between the officials in the Governor’s Department and Mrs. and Miss van Warmelo.

The latter, upon whom naturally devolved the task of procuring the necessary passes and permits, was always well received, and never kept waiting, although she made no secret of her feelings towards the British, and frankly gave vent to her opinions on every subject connected with the war. This state of affairs was brought about all the more easily by the fact that General Maxwell and his A.D.C., Major Hoskins, invited her opinions on every possible occasion.

Mutual respect, and a sincere desire to alleviate the suffering caused by the war, formed the basis of the somewhat incongruous friendship between the high British official and the Republican girl, especially as time went on and the appalling problem of the concentration camps presented itself. Then it was that General Maxwell, pacing up and down in his office, his brow drawn with care, and every movement betraying his distress, frankly discussed the situation with Hansie and invited her confidence. As she had no secrets of importance at this time, these interviews were marked by a spirit of mutual understanding, and she learnt more and more to admire and respect the Governor for his humanity and nobility of character; but the time was soon to come when the demands of her land and people called her to more dangerous fields of labour, and then it became difficult, well-nigh impossible, to meet the searching eye of the Military Governor.

Her visits became less frequent, of her own free will, and in time ceased altogether.

Soon after the rifle incident Hansie had to call on General Maxwell, as Secretary of the Pretoria Ladies’ Vocal Society, for a permit to hold rehearsals. She found him alone and disengaged, for a wonder, and so evidently pleased to see her again that she entered into conversation with him unhesitatingly.

After she had explained the object of her visit and apologised for troubling him about such a trifle, she told him that she had been informed in other Departments that as there was no institution for granting permits to hold rehearsals, she would have to get a special permit from the Military Governor.

“Why,” he exclaimed in surprise, “can you not rehearse without a permit?”

“No,” Hansie answered laughingly. “Do you not know that two or three may not gather together except in the name of the Governor under the new regulations and since the execution of Cordua? Why, we may be conspiring against your life instead of rehearsing our songs, and at the present moment we can hardly put our noses out-of-doors without being asked whether we have permits for them.”

“You are right,” he answered; “I did not think of this. Well, you may have your permit on condition that you promise to talk no politics and to be in your own homes before 7 p.m.”

Hansie gave the promise on behalf of the vocal society, and yet another war-permit was added to her curious collection! With all the friendliness existing between the Governor and herself, I do not for a moment think that they ever trusted one another completely. Were they not both good patriots? Hansie knew by the questions he asked her that he was trying to extract information from her, and the Governor only told her as much as he thought she could use to his own advantage.

On this particular occasion, when he parted from her, he asked in a fatherly, I-take-such-an-interest-in-you way whether she ever heard from her brothers.

“No,” she exclaimed in innocent surprise. “How can I?” (and at the time she spoke truth). Whereupon he sympathetically murmured something about “a very trying time for you.”

Permits everywhere and for everything!

Men were stopped in the streets to show their residential passes, private carriages were held up and the occupants requested to produce their permits for vehicle and horses, and cyclists had to dismount a dozen times a day at the sign of some khaki-clothed figure patrolling the streets.

The first British officers to cross Harmony’s threshold as visitors and equals were a colonel and a young captain, who both came from Wynberg with letters of introduction from Mrs. van Warmelo’s daughter, Mrs. Henry Cloete.

After the long months of irregular correspondence, always severely censored, it was such a relief to get news direct that the bearers were welcomed gratefully.

They called again, and the dignified presence of the Colonel soon became a familiar sight at Harmony. With him it was quite possible to converse, for he avoided every painful topic with the utmost tact and good-breeding, but the Captain was a veritable firebrand, and many were the heated arguments carried on during his visits.

As the weary, weary months dragged on, and the most sanguine could not see the end of the terrible war, it seemed as if feeling grew stronger and the power of endurance lessened.

Even the occasional visits of the British officers became trying to the van Warmelos, and one day her mother asked Hansie to request the Captain not to come again, valiantly retreating to the garden when next he called, and leaving her daughter to fight it out with him alone.

“I am very sorry,” he said, “but what have I done?”

“Nothing,” Hansie answered, “but you see it is against our principles, and we would like you to wait until the war is over ” The hateful task was over, and the Captain took his departure, not to return again.

Hansie refused obstinately to go over the same ground with the Colonel. He came so seldom, and he was such a kind and courteous old gentleman, that it seemed unnecessary to put an end to his visits, and in time his own good feeling told him to discontinue them.

It was in the summer of 1901, when the days at Harmony were spent in the fruit-laden garden and great jars of apples, pears, peaches, and figs were being canned and preserved for winter use, that thoughts strayed most lovingly and persistently to the two hungry brothers in the field.

“Where are they, I wonder?” was a frequent exclamation. “Did they ever reach the Boer commandos, and oh, when shall we hear from them?”

Great were the rejoicings when Dr. Mulder, who was on his way to Holland, and had got permission from the British to pass through Pretoria from the Boer lines, arrived at Harmony with the news that he had seen the two van Warmelos in the English camp at Nooitgedacht, after its capture by the Boers under General Beyers. They were well and in good spirits then, and the delight their mother and sister experienced at seeing some one direct from the Boer lines can only be appreciated by those who know what it means to a Boer to be a captive under British martial law.

At this time Pretoria was almost completely surrounded by the Boers, and every precaution was being taken against a possible attack. Deep trenches were dug all round the town, electric wires put up, while the hills bristled with cannon and searchlights played from the forts incessantly at night.

The realities of war were forced upon one by the increased activity on the Eastern Railway line to Delagoa Bay, plainly visible from the side verandah at Harmony, and, daily, train loads passed of armed soldiers, or Boer women and children being brought in from the devastated farms.

Armoured trains and Red Cross carriages steamed in and out, horses, cattle, provision loads everything that could remind one of the fierce strife raging throughout the land.

At this time it became evident that a thief or thieves were helping themselves at night to thoroughbred fowls and fruit at Harmony, and Mrs. van Warmelo asked the sergeant-major of the Military Mounted Police to consult with her about catching the miscreants.

She suspected Kaffirs certainly not the troops encamped about the place, for a more orderly set of soldiers it would have been hard to find. Their behaviour was always so exemplary that they were now and then rewarded with baskets of fruit and vegetables from Harmony’s overflowing abundance.

It was therefore perfectly natural that the sergeant-major should hurry over to the house, indignant and sympathetic, to listen to Mrs. van Warmelo’s grievances and to lay plans for the capture of the cunning thief.

That he came at dawn seemed evident, for though the police watched every night, they never caught sight of him, and yet there were fowls missing every morning. Things were beginning to look rather suspicious when, in spite of the vigilant watch kept by the police, there were only nineteen fowls left of the sixty. Mrs. van Warmelo made up her mind to watch for herself.

Early next morning, when a fine white cock had disappeared, she set out with one of the native servants, and, following the track made by the white feathers the bird had lost in its struggles, she came upon the thieves’ den. An ideal spot in a little hollow by the riverside, surrounded by trees and shrubs! A small fireplace, a few old sacks and tins and a mass of feathers and bones told their own tale, and Mrs. van Warmelo went home well satisfied.

The sergeant-major, when he heard her story, said he thought it would be better to catch the thief red-handed in the fowl-run than to surprise him in his den, and the police were set to watch again that night.

In the morning two fine hens were missing! The remarks then made at Harmony on the vigilance of British soldiers in general and Military Mounted Police in particular were complimentary in the extreme.

Then Mrs. van Warmelo sent the boy to reconnoitre, and he soon came running back in great excitement, with the news that the thief, a young Kaffir, was sitting beside a fire, eating fowls.

Armed to the teeth, the police set forth to capture him, and soon returned with the miscreant. Such a sight he was! Glistening with fat and covered with feathers, and, as one of the soldiers remarked, “with a corporation like the Lord Mayor.” He was handcuffed and taken to the police camp, while the men had their breakfast before escorting him to the Charge Office.

Suddenly there was a fearful commotion.

The culprit had slipped off one of his handcuffs, crept through the wire fence unobserved, and was flying like the wind through the garden towards the river.

After him, in wild confusion, jumping over shrubs and furrows, followed half a dozen soldiers, a couple of natives, Carlo, and I don’t know how many other dogs.

He was captured by the brave corporal as he was dashing up the bank on the other side of the river, and brought back to the camp, with his hands tied securely behind.

One month’s imprisonment only and a change of diet were prescribed for him at the Charge Office that day.

This incident, though exciting at the time, would not have been worth recording here were it not for its connection with what happened afterwards.

Whatever suspicions the military may have had of intrigues at Harmony, these must have been removed by the fact of their having been requested by the inmates themselves to keep a watch over the property.

So the way was being unconsciously prepared for subsequent events.

As fruit was also being stolen from time to time, the soldiers maintained their watch over the garden, well knowing that their vigilance would be rewarded by a full share of the good things, while they would be the losers if the pilfering were allowed to continue.

When it became evident, a few months later, that another thief was helping himself to her fowls, Mrs. van Warmelo made up her mind to catch him red-handed, without the assistance of the Military Police.

She decided that he would not come back at once, and gave him two days to digest his spoil, and on the third day she got up very early in the hopes of being on the scenes before him, ready to receive him when he came.

She had only been in the garden a few moments when she saw some one, in a stooping posture, running swiftly towards the fowl-run. A moment later and he had seen her. He turned and ran in the opposite direction, Mrs. van Warmelo following closely on his heels, loading her revolver as she ran and calling out, “Stand, or I fire.” On being warned a second time he stopped and turned round. Mrs. van Warmelo demanded what he was doing on her property, and he answered in good English that he had lost his way, upon which Mrs. van Warmelo offered to show him the way, and ordered him to march on ahead. With the loaded revolver between his shoulders, the culprit was forced to obey, and Mrs. van Warmelo had the satisfaction of handing him over to the sergeant-major “all by herself.”

To save himself, the wily thief turned Queen’s evidence and offered to conduct the police to a place where drink for natives was brewed and sold, but the soldiers, not relishing the idea of his escaping scot-free, first gave him a good thrashing before handing him over to be further dealt with by the Provost-Marshal.