Read CHAPTER XVII - THE FIRST INTERVIEW WITH SPIES, INTRODUCING TWO HEROES of The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service , free online book, by Johanna Brandt, on ReadCentral.com.

Among other things, Mr. Willem Botha warned his friends at Harmony against having a single incriminating document in the house.

“Detection means death for all concerned,” he said one day, “but without written evidence the worst the enemy can do is to send you out of the country or to a Concentration Camp. Destroy every paper of a dangerous nature you may have, as I have done, and then you need never feel anxious.”

This wise counsel was all very well, but Hansie had a mania for “collecting,” and she could not make up her mind to destroy what might become a valuable relic of the war.

She therefore had her diaries and white envelopes removed to some safe hiding-place and began a new book for future use.

In this book, in everyday pen and ink, she entered the ordinary events of the day, but in another she wrote in lemon-juice her adventures with the spies and all information of an incriminating character. Both books lay open on her writing-table the “White Diary,” as she called it, with its clean and spotless pages, with only here and there an almost invisible mark to show how far she had got, and the misleading record in pen and ink to throw the English off their guard in the event of an unexpected search of the house.

The white diary gave a sense of security and satisfaction at the thought of the secrets it contained for future reference, and it was only after eight years that portions of the writing became visible to the naked eye.

A few hours’ exposure to the sun’s rays, and the application of a hot iron here and there, made it sufficiently legible to be rewritten word for word, and it is to the existence of this diary that we owe our accurate information of what otherwise would have been lost for ever.

I may add here that it was only the re-reading of the White Diary after so many years, and the surprising amount of half-forgotten information Hansie found in it, that suggested the idea to her mind of publishing its contents in the form of a story.

It was on the morning of July 17th, 1901, that Mr. Botha was seen coming up the garden path between the rows of orange trees at Harmony, with his jauntiest air, by which it was evident that he was the bearer of news from the front. Briefly he informed our heroines that two spies had come in the previous night and wished to see Mrs. van Warmelo about certain communications sent out by her to General Botha a few weeks back. They were staying with Mrs. Joubert, widow of the late Commandant-General P.J. Joubert, and were leaving again the next night with dispatches.

In the interview with them at 9 o’clock the next morning Hansie made her first acquaintance with Captain Naude, who plays the principal part in the story here recorded, and whose courage and resource gave him an unquestioned position of leadership.

Good reader, do you know what it means to be an unwilling captive in the hands of your enemy for more than a year, and then to find yourself in the presence of men, healthy, brown, and hearty, your own men, straight from the glorious freedom of their life in the veld? Can you realise the sensation of shaking hands with them for the first time and the atmosphere of wholesome unrestraint and unconscious dignity which greeted you in their presence? Well, I do, and it would be useless trying to tell any one what it is like, for those who know will never forget, and those who don’t will never understand.

In Mrs. Joubert’s drawing-room they were waiting for their visitors next day, Captain Naude and his private secretary, Mr. Greyling the former a tall, fair man, slightly built and boyish-looking and with a noble, intelligent face, the latter a mere youth, but evidently shrewd and brave.

The first eager questions naturally were for news of Fritz, the youngest of the van Warmelos and the last remaining in the field since the capture of his brother Dietlof in April of that year.

Mr. Greyling said that he had seen Fritz a few weeks back in perfect health and in the best of spirits, but barefoot and in rags. His trousers were so tattered that he might as well have been without, and Mr. Greyling had provided him with another pair. With unkempt beard and long hair he seemed to justify the jest about a “gorilla” war with which some of our enemies amused themselves.

When the merriment occasioned by this description of the young warrior had subsided, the conversation turned on more serious matters.

The Captain had with him a full report of the last conference held by the generals, and a copy of the resolution passed by them and President Steyn, a unanimous determination to stand together until their independence had been secured. What the ultimate destination of these documents was I am not at liberty to say, but copies of them were despatched, smuggled through in one way or another to President Kruger.

Captain Naude also brought greetings from General Botha and told Mrs. van Warmelo how pleased the General had been with the news she had sent him on a previous occasion.

In order to explain the nature of the business which had brought the Captain into Pretoria again, it will be necessary to turn our attention for a moment to the matters referred to in the previous chapter in connection with which he had once more risked the dangers of a visit to the capital.

“Yes,” in answer to his inquiries, “the dynamite has arrived and is at Delagoa Bay. A sample will be brought to this house to-day, with instructions for mixing it.”

This was glad news for the two men, and Hansie soon after took her leave, promising to come back in the course of the morning with the dynamite.

Her manner was rather mysterious, and she took some unnecessary turns, to make sure of not being followed, before she reached the house where the dangerous article had been hidden. There a brown-paper parcel was handed to her with a brief, “Read the instructions and destroy them,” and she was left alone in a quiet drawing-room.

On opening the parcel she found a small bottle of yellowish powder, ostensibly a remedy for colic, to be used in the way prescribed, and a pot of paste purporting to be an excellent salve for chapped hands. The two, when mixed together in a certain way, made up one pound of dynamite and had passed safely through the hands of the inspector of goods on the frontier.

As Hansie was cycling back to Mrs. Joubert’s house with her precious parcel, she had to pass the Military Governor’s offices on Church Square, and the thought occurred to her that this was a fitting opportunity to interview General Maxwell regarding her tour of inspection to the Concentration Camps, and at the same time to procure a permit for the Vocal Society to hold a charity concert.

“Why not go in now?” she thought. “There is some fun in going to see the Governor with one pound of dynamite in one’s hands, and it would save me the trouble of coming into town again. Another thing: if I am being watched or followed, I am sure there can be nothing like a visit to Government Buildings to disarm the most suspicious.”

Arrived at the Governor’s office, she noticed with some amusement that the urchin at the door wrote on the card, under her name, “Nature of business: permission to have a consort.” (This was indeed to come later!)

The German Consul was engaged with General Maxwell and Hansie had a long time to wait, and when at last she was shown in she found the affable Governor in a very bad temper and his A.D.C., Major Hoskins, looking anything but comfortable.

The former shook hands and greeted her with a curt, “Well, what is the matter with you now?”

“That is very unkind of you, General,” she said.

“Why?” he demanded.

“Oh, because it sounds as if I trouble you every day.”

“Well,” he answered, smiling slightly, “what can I do for you?”

“That’s better, thank you,” exclaimed Hansie cheerfully, and straightway plunged into business.

With her mind dwelling on explosives and Secret Service men, she reminded him of a promise he had given her soon after her return from the Irene Camp, that she should visit all the Camps in the Transvaal and write reports for him, to be sent to London if necessary, for publication in the Blue books.

“I have come to arrange with you about my tour,” she said.

“Yes,” he answered. “I have thought about it and will give you the necessary permits and every facility. You will travel at Government expense, and I will do all I can to make your way easy, on one condition. You must promise to give me a full and true report of things exactly as you find them.”

Hansie was deeply touched by his confidence in her truth, which she knew was not misplaced, and gladly gave the promise he asked from her.

“What you are undertaking,” he continued, “will not only be difficult, but dangerous. The accommodation in the Camps will probably be very bad, and what would you think of a charge of dynamite under your train?”

Hansie glanced down at the parcel on her lap and said something about thinking she would risk it.

The conversation was taking an unexpected turn, and she longed to get away, but the Governor still had much to say to her.

“You can safely visit all the Camps except those in the north, in the Zoutpansberg and Waterberg districts, and the one in Potchefstroom.” ("Boers ahead!” was Hansie’s mental comment.) “And I don’t think you ought to go alone. Have you thought of any one who could accompany you?”

“Yes,” Hansie replied. “A friend of mine, Mrs. Stiemens, who nursed with me at Irene, would like to go with me. She is the right woman for such an undertaking, strong and healthy and very cheerful.”

This suggestion meeting with the Governor’s approval, it was arranged that they should visit the camp at Middelburg first, and while they were preparing for the tour he would notify their visit to the various commandants and arrange about the permits.

Permission to hold a concert was instantly granted, and she was on the point of leaving, when he asked her whether she had heard of President Steyn’s narrow escape.

Yes, she had heard something, but would like to know more about it.

With evident enjoyment he proceeded to relate how the President had slept in Reitz, a small, deserted village in the Free State, with twenty-seven men, how they had stabled their horses and made themselves generally comfortable for the night, how they were surrounded and surprised by the English, who took all their horses before the alarm could be given, how the President escaped on a small pony, which was standing unnoticed in the back yard, and how all the other men were captured, General Cronje (the second), General Wessels, General Fraser, and many other well-known and prominent men. The President must have fled in the open in nothing but a shirt, because all his clothes and even his boots were left behind. In his pockets were many valuable letters and documents.

Altogether this event must have given the English great joy, but I think they forgot it in their chagrin at the President’s escape, for when Hansie openly rejoiced and blessed the “small unnoticed pony,” expressing her great admiration for the brave President, the Governor suddenly turned crusty again and said he could not understand how any one could admire a man who had been the ruin of his country.

“Poor old General!” Hansie mused as she cycled slowly up to Mrs. Joubert’s house, where the spies were waiting for her. “I have never known him so quarrelsome and unkind. I wonder what it could have been! The German Consul’s visit or the President’s escape? What a mercy that he knew nothing of ” She cycled faster, suddenly remembering that it was late and there was still much to do before the two men could begin their perilous journey that night.

After she had handed the parcel over to them, with verbal instructions for its use, she bade them good-bye and went home to lunch.

That evening Mrs. van Warmelo took important documents, of which we speak later, and European newspaper cuttings to the Captain, with some money for her tattered son, and a letter for him in a disguised hand. No names were mentioned, and in the event of the spies falling into the hands of the enemy, nothing found on them could have incriminated any one.

They were about to leave when she arrived at Mrs. Joubert’s house.

Their preparations were conducted in perfect silence, except for an occasional whispered command, while outside, guard was kept by an alert figure, slender and upright, the figure of the aged hostess of the spies, who, it is said, was never visible to the spies and never slept by day or night as long as these men were being sheltered under her roof.

A brave and dauntless woman she was, knowing no fear for herself, but filled with concern for the fate of the men whose capture meant certain death, for it was whispered in town that on the head of Koos Naude, Captain of the Secret Service, a price of L1,000 had been fixed.

The men left Pretoria that night for the “nest” of the spies in the Skurvebergen, west from Pretoria, and from there they proceeded to where they expected to find the Generals.