Read CHAPTER VII - POSTAGE BY STRATEGY of The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service , free online book, by Johanna Brandt, on ReadCentral.com.

Life at Pretoria was at this time far from pleasant for the Boers who remained loyal to their cause.

Most people who had the means, or were not bound to the country by the closest ties, let their houses and went to Europe until the war was over. Many of those who did not leave of their own free will were sent away to the coast, where they were considered safe from plotting against the British, and the few remaining Boer families were apparently on their best behaviour, above all dreading the fate of their fellow-countrymen.

The inmates of Harmony, perhaps more than any other Boers, feared being sent away, because they knew that watching events from afar would be a thousand times worse than enduring the restrictions of English martial law, and that banishment would make it impossible for them to render their fighting men any services. But they found the time of inactivity terribly trying, so much so that they began to cast about in their minds for work, for mischief for anything, in fact, to relieve the daily, deadening suspense and the dread, of what they knew not, with which they were consumed.

Very galling was the severe censorship of their letters. Mrs. van Warmelo’s high spirit rebelled against the continued surveillance of her correspondence and she determined to outwit the censor.

Then began an exciting period of smuggling and contriving, which led to the most complete independence on their part of the services of Mr. Censor, and ended in a well-organised and exceedingly clever system of communication with friends in every part of the world.

On one occasion a sympathiser, leaving the country for good, offered to smuggle through to Mrs. Cloete any document Mrs. van Warmelo might wish to send.

There was nothing ready at the time, but Mrs. van Warmelo decided to make use of this opportunity for some future occasion, and wrote to her daughter on a tiny piece of tissue-paper, “Whatever you may receive in future, marked with a small blue cross, examine closely.”

This was smuggled through in some way unknown to the sender and safely delivered to Mrs. Cloete, for people were leaving Pretoria daily, and it was not difficult to find suitable envoys.

Hansie had and has to this day in her possession as a priceless memento of the war a small morocco case with a maroon velvet lining, which travelled backwards and forwards between Harmony and Alphen until some better way of communication was contrived. With a sharp instrument Mrs. van Warmelo had removed the entire tray-like bottom of the case, packed two or three closely-written sheets of tissue paper in the opening, and pressed the little tray firmly down in its place again. A tiny blue cross carelessly pasted on the bottom of the case carried its own message to the conspirator at Alphen.

A few weeks later the case came back to Harmony with an antique gold bracelet for Hansie and a long uncensored letter, in the snug hiding-place, for Mrs. van Warmelo.

The next adventure was with a charming lady, whom we shall call “the English lady,” she was so very English. (If the truth were known, she was not really English, but Cape Colonial, and, as is often the case, more English than the English themselves, and more loyal than the Queen.)

She unwisely said to a friend of Hansie’s, who naturally repeated her words to Hansie, that she would take good care not to convey letters or parcels for the van Warmelos when she left for England, as she shortly intended doing, because she was quite sure they “smuggled,” or, if she did consent to take anything, she would examine it thoroughly and destroy whatever it contained of a doubtful character.

When this reached Hansie’s ears she made up her mind that “the English lady,” and no other, would be her next messenger to Alphen. She dismissed the morocco case from her mind as unsuitable for the occasion, and deliberated long with her mother. At last she was sent to town to buy three medium-sized dolls.

It did not matter much what kind of dolls they were, but they had to have hollow porcelain heads, and they were to be bought from one man only, an indispensable fellow-conspirator in one of the principal stores in Church Street.

When she came home with the dolls her mother seemed pretty well satisfied with the heads; they looked fairly roomy from the outside, and so they were found to be when one of them had been carefully steamed until the glue melted and the head dropped off.

Hansie had been writing, without lifting her head, while her mother prepared the doll. The sheets of paper, rolled up into pellets, were then forced through the slender neck, and the dolls weighed to see if the difference in weight were noticeable. It was not. The head was glued on again, a blue cross was marked on the body, and the dolls were neatly wrapped in a brown-paper parcel.

“The English lady” soon after came to pay her farewell call. After the usual formalities had been exchanged she remarked that she hoped to visit Alphen soon after her arrival in Cape Town.

Mrs. van Warmelo was charmed and delighted, and asked whether she would be good enough to take a parcel of three dolls for Mrs. Cloete’s little daughters.

There was just one moment’s hesitation, then “the English lady rapidly made up her mind.” “Yes, with pleasure, but I must have the parcel to-morrow, because my trunks have to be closed and sent on ahead.”

Mrs. van Warmelo turned to her daughter in grave consultation. “Let me see, it is too late now, the shops will be closed, but you can perhaps go to town on your bicycle early to-morrow morning to buy the dolls and have them sent straight to Mrs. ’s house.”

“Yes, mother, I’ll do that with pleasure, but I won’t have them sent. I’ll take them to her myself to be quite sure that she will have them before twelve o’clock.”

The next morning Hansie took the dolls to her fellow-conspirator behind the counter and had them made up into an unmistakably professional-looking parcel, tied and sealed with the label of the shop.

Thus were the suspicions of “the English lady” lulled to rest. For her comfort, should this ever reach her eye, I may say that there were no dangerous communications in the doll’s head, and should she feel resentful at having been outwitted, she should have known better than to dare one of her country-women under martial law.

On other occasions sympathetic friends were willingly made use of, and the methods of smuggling were so carefully planned in every case that none of the bearers ever got into trouble, with one exception.

A foreign gentleman of high position, through his own carelessness, found himself in a difficult and unpleasant situation. He was leaving for Europe and expressed his willingness to take letters or documents, provided they were packed so carefully that there would be no danger of their being discovered.

Mrs. van Warmelo asked him if he could let her have any little article in daily use and which he was in the habit of carrying about in his pockets. He said that he would think about it, and sent her, next day, a silver cigarette-case with a watered-silk lining. It did not take long to remove the lining and to pack the letters under it. When the lining was replaced and the cigarettes lay in neat rows against it, the most careful observer could not detect anything unusual. These letters were destined for Mr. W.T. Stead and contained a full account of the condition of the Irene Concentration Camp.

In addition to this, Hansie gave her friend a photo of herself in a sturdy frame, containing a hidden letter for Mrs. Cloete, whilst instructing him to destroy the epistle if he could not hand it over to Mrs. Cloete personally, moreover, not to remove the letter from the cigarette-case until he arrived in London.

At Cape Town he met at the hotel a man who professed to be a great pro-Boer and with whom he soon became so friendly that he, finding it impossible to go out to Alphen himself, indiscreetly entrusted Mrs. Cloete’s letter into the hands of this stranger, with the result that it was taken direct to the military authorities.

Our friend was arrested the next day as he was boarding the ocean liner, and was kept under strict surveillance while his luggage was being overhauled.

We were told afterwards by friends who witnessed the scene that, during the process, he sat on deck with the utmost unconcern, smoking cigarettes and toying with a silver case! No further evidence having been found against him, he was allowed to sail away in peace, and Mrs. Cloete too escaped without so much as a warning, perhaps because the contents of the letter were not considered sufficiently incriminating.

Mr. Stead received the documents hidden in the cigarette-case in due time and made full use of their contents in his monthly magazine, The Review of Reviews.

Although, surprising to relate, no steps were taken against the conspirators at Harmony, they soon noticed an extraordinary increase in the vigilance of the censor, so much so, that the most harmless communications failed to reach their destination, and when by chance anything was allowed to pass through it was mutilated beyond recognition, whole sentences being smirched with printer’s ink or pages cut away by the ruthless hand of the censor.

It may seem a small thing now, but this state of affairs, when letters and papers were the only consolation one had, became a source of such keen annoyance and distress that Hansie decided to approach the censor and ask him the reason for such petty persécutions.

The head censor being away at the time, she was shown into the presence of a man whose very appearance excited her strongest antipathy. In the first place he had a purely Dutch name, and she knew that he could not occupy a position of so much trust under the British without being a traitor to his own countrymen.

Secondly, he seemed to derive much pleasure from her visit and, when she told him who she was, had the audacity to say:

“I always enjoy your letters very much, Miss van Warmelo; they quite repay me for my trouble!”

When taxed with confiscating and mutilating them, he was all concern and innocence personified.

No, indeed, he could never be guilty of such a breach of gallantry and etiquette, the fault must lie elsewhere; he was her friend, and if she would promise to bring all her letters to him personally, he would see that they were passed.

“Miserable Renegade!” she thought, with boiling blood.

Instantly it flashed through her mind that it would be foolish indeed to make an enemy of this man. Her whole manner changed.

“How very kind of you!” she said. “Yes, I shall come myself if you are sure I shall not be giving you too much trouble.”

“A pleasure, I assure you,” bowing with great gallantry, and Hansie went home to tell her mother what had happened.

After this interview with the censor, he allowed their letters to pass with unfailing regularity.

True to her promise, Hansie took her European mail to him herself every week, and this brought her into contact with him frequently. He was always affable (hatefully affable) and obliging, and the thought of this man made it more and more difficult for her to write, especially those letters destined for the north of Holland.

One day she asked her mother to think of some plan by which she could use the censor for her own purposes, without his knowledge, and this set Mrs. van Warmelo’s active mind and resourceful brain working, with what result we shall see in our next chapter.