If the method of writing between the
lines in chemicals presented itself to Mrs. van Warmelo’s
mind for a moment, it was dismissed as too crude and
well-known, and, in consequence, too dangerous.
And yet she found her thoughts reverting
persistently to chemicals as the only solution to
the problem before her. One day she took the
strained juice of a lemon and wrote a few words with
it on a sheet of white paper. When dry, there
was no trace of the written words to be seen until
she had passed a hot iron over them. Imagine her
joy and satisfaction when they showed up clear and
distinct, in a colour of yellowish brown. Well
satisfied with her experiment, she sought and found
a square white envelope of thick paper and good quality,
which she carefully opened out, by inserting and rolling
the thin end of a penholder along the part that was
glued. Spreading the envelope before her on the
table, she wrote some sentences in lemon juice on the
inside, folding it into shape again and pasting
it down with great care and neatness. This envelope
she placed in Hansie’s hands, with an expectant
look, when the latter came home that afternoon.
Hansie turned it over, examined it
on all sides and shook her head, puzzled.
“Open it,” her mother suggested, “and
Hansie opened it and, peering into
it, shook her head again, more mystified than ever.
“I give it up, mother,”
she said. “Come, don’t be so mysterious tell
me what it all means.”
Mrs. van Warmelo then took the envelope,
opened it with the penholder again, and, producing
the hot iron which she had been keeping in readiness
for the psychological moment, she ironed out the flattened
sheet and revealed to the astonished gaze of her daughter
the written words within.
At first Hansie was speechless with
admiration; then she threw her arms round her mother
and hugged her vigorously.
“Really, mother,” she
exclaimed, “I am proud of you. How we shall
be able to dupe ‘Miserable Renegade’ now!”
The full importance of this discovery
was not realised at the time, for all their smuggling
had hitherto been carried on merely for pleasure and
they had had no information of any importance to communicate
to their friends across the seas; but, in the light
of after-events, they realised that they had been
led to make their preparations and to have their methods
in full working order before the time came to use
them in conveying dispatches from the Boer Secret
Service to President Kruger in Holland.
They were now in the possession of
a scheme which defied detection, and the next thing
to be done was to inform some distant conspirator
of this valuable discovery and instruct him in the
use of it.
That this could not be done through
the post, my reader will understand, and as reliable
opportunities were becoming more rare, Hansie had
to wait some months and to possess her soul in patience
until at last some trusted friend, leaving the country,
could be persuaded to convey the important instructions.
When and how they were eventually
sent I cannot tell with positive certainty. There
is a difference of opinion on this point between Mrs.
van Warmelo and her daughter, and there is no way of
settling the dispute, because Hansie’s diary
contains no word about the White Envelope, for reasons
which it will hardly be necessary to explain.
Mrs. van Warmelo says the instructions
were dispatched in a false double-bottom of an ordinary
safety match-box. Hansie thinks they were either
hidden behind a photo-frame or in a tin of insect-powder,
both these methods having been employed on various
occasions, but at present we are only concerned with
the fact that the instructions reached their destination
safely, and from that day until the end of the war
a gloriously free and uninterrupted communication was
kept up between Harmony and Alphen and one spot in
the north of Holland, of which we shall hear more
as our story unfolds itself.
Further experimenting showed that
the lemon-juice became visible after a few days when
written on certain papers, while on others there was
nothing to be seen after many weeks, and this danger
was immediately communicated to Holland as a very
serious one, for it stands to reason that the danger
connected with the sending of the White Envelope from
South Africa was nothing compared to the danger of
receiving one and having it censored three weeks after
it had been written.
One had to keep in mind that letters
leaving the country would be censored immediately
and would not be subjected to further scrutiny in
Europe, whereas letters for South Africa ran every
risk of being betrayed on examination, after a three-weeks’
journey by land and sea.
When the smuggled instructions were
well on their way, the first White Envelope was written
to Holland, and carelessly thrust amongst a pile of
other letters by the quaking Hansie when next she handed
her mail to “Miserable Renegade.”
He glanced through them all without
examining them, merely putting the mark of the censor
on them and assuring Hansie that they would be forwarded
that very day.
No seven weeks could have been longer
or more full of suspense than those which followed,
and the excitement at Harmony when in due time a square
white envelope in the well-known hand arrived from
Holland can better be imagined than described.
With what anxiety it was opened and
how eagerly examined before the hot iron was applied!
how keen the delight when nothing legible was found,
even on the closest inspection! What relief, at
last, when the written messages became not only legible,
but clear and distinct!
So this method was going to answer
beyond their wildest expectations!
To make assurance doubly sure, and
because Hansie did not trust “Miserable Renegade”
one jot, she sometimes made use of friends, going
to Johannesburg, to post her White Envelope there,
giving as her reason for doing so the difficulties
she had had with the Pretoria censor.
Of course the secret of the White
Envelope was not confided even to her most intimate
This correspondence having been fairly
established, there was nothing to prevent Hansie from
using the European mail every week; but to avoid needless
risks and the possible exposure of the valuable secret,
it was agreed to use it only in cases of extreme necessity.
The sign of the White Envelope became
an understood thing between the conspirators, and
for all other correspondence grey and coloured envelopes
The correspondent in the north of
Holland was a young minister of the Gospel who had
taken for years an unusual interest in Hansie’s
At this point of our story the two
young people, after some years of estrangement, brought
about by an unfortunate misunderstanding on his part,
pride and self-will on hers, had reached the delightfully
unsettling stage of exchanging photographs, the sequel
of which took place under the most romantic circumstances,
not to be related in this volume.
“It is an ill wind that blows
nobody any good,” the young man must often have
thought, as he faithfully carried out every instruction
from the scene of action.
All communications for the President
and Dr. Leyds were sent to him (through the White
Envelope), because it was not considered safe to correspond
with them direct, even through the medium of the lemon-juice
As time went on, this method of communication
was used for many purposes and always with success,
but some time after the war, when it was Hansie’s
right and privilege to go through the war correspondence
of the young minister of religion, she came upon a
letter from Dr. Leyds to him, in which she read, with
growing interest, the following information:
“I cannot conceal from you that
I was startled when I opened the last white envelope,
for I was able to read the whole report, though the
writing was faint, without applying the heating process
to it. Perhaps this letter lay in a warm place
near the engine-rooms on the voyage. Will you
not send a timely warning? You could, for instance,
say that the measles have come out and are plainly
visible, even without the application of hot compresses.
Those people are quite clever enough to understand
what you wish to convey to them.”
This warning did not reach Harmony
at the time. Perhaps the censor, trained as he
must have been in the art of reading dangerous meanings
into seemingly harmless sentences, decided in his own
mind that it would be advisable to keep the information
about the measles to himself, and consigned the letter
to the waste-paper basket.
In time experience taught the conspirators
at Harmony that the greatest care would be necessary
in the use of the White Envelope, and to this they
probably owe the fact that it was never found out by
The reproductions given here of specimens
of the White Envelope, showing the address on one
side and the written messages on the other, will give
the reader an idea of how this correspondence was carried
on. We do not vouch for the accuracy of the information
conveyed in the following translation of the contents
of this envelope. The figures were quoted from
memory, but the general impression conveyed in this
report, of the condition of the commandos at the time,
is reliable and correct. On the side flaps of
the envelope certain love messages were written.
These have been covered over with blank paper and
are not for publication.