A MEMORABLE DAY OF TROUBLE
It was only a few days after the van
Warmelos had parted from Mr. Botha that Mr. J. Joubert
arrived at Harmony with the tidings that four men
had again entered the town that night. One of
them was a lad of nineteen, young Erasmus, whose parents
had been killed by lightning when he was a child,
and to whom Mrs. Joubert had been a second mother.
When he arrived at their home that
night they were very angry with him, and demanded
what he meant by coming into the very heart of danger.
He meekly answered that he had merely
come to see how they were all getting on, and to spend
a few days at home, casually remarking that there
was a dearth of horse-shoe nails on commando, and that
he had been ordered to bring some out.
He and his comrades knew nothing of
the recent betrayal, and it was their good fortune
that they had used an entirely different route, coming
through Skinner’s Court. They had not seen
a single guard.
Besides the horse-shoe nails, there
was the usual demand for clothing and European and
Mrs. van Warmelo immediately made
a parcel of the cuttings which she and her friends
had been collecting for some time past, and wrote a
tiny note to Mr. Greyling, warning him and his fellows
against coming in through the usual way, which was
now guarded, and informing him that his name had been
betrayed. This note was hidden in a match-box
with a double false bottom, covered with matches, and
given to Erasmus to be handed to Greyling.
Since the revelations made, it was
not safe to see the spies, nor was it known by whom
the match-box had been sent.
After all, in spite of Mrs. Joubert’s
vexation with the reckless youth, she was thankful
to know that some one was going out to Skurveberg
with a warning to the Secret Service.
Erasmus had to leave without the horse-shoe
nails, because, though J. Joubert hunted all over
the town, he could not procure enough to send out.
The stores sold them only to the military
and blacksmiths, and the latter were curious to know
why he did not bring his horses to them to be shod.
Mother and daughter were there at
5.30 p.m., with their parcels, and at 6 p.m. the spies
were to leave, Mrs. Malan and van der Westhuizen
driving out with them as far as they could.
That was a real danger, compared with
which all other risks were as nothing, to drive through
the streets of Pretoria with spies, at a time when
everyone was liable to be stopped to produce residential
passes and to show permits for horses and carriages.
But, indeed, those women were not
to be intimidated by anything!
We have now come to a morning into
which many events of disastrous importance were crowded,
the fateful September 9th. Before breakfast,
an agitated girl, unknown at Harmony, arrived with
the intelligence that Mr. Willem Botha had been arrested
at 8 o’clock the night before.
No other names were mentioned then,
but it was felt instinctively that the entire Secret
Committee had been betrayed and arrested, and the
news, when it reached Harmony during the course of
the day, found mother and daughter to some extent
prepared. The shock, nevertheless, was so great,
so crushing, that it took them some time to recover
sufficiently to form a plan of action.
Hansie hastily swallowed some food
and was preparing to go to town, when her mother asked
her what she meant to do, whether she had thought
of anything, or if it was advisable to show herself
at all just then.
“I don’t know what I am
going to do afterwards, mother,” she said,
“but I am going straight to Mrs. Botha now.”
“Hansie!” exclaimed Mrs.
van Warmelo in consternation, “you will do nothing
of the kind. Their house will be watched, and
you will be followed home. You can do nothing
to help that poor woman now, and to be seen with her
would be an unpardonable and unnecessary risk.”
But Hansie had made up her mind, and
nothing could persuade her that it was not her duty
to stand by her friend in her hour of need. There
was good reason, too, for her anxiety.
After thirteen years of happy, though
childless married life, Mr. and Mrs. Botha’s
home was about to be blessed with an infant child,
and it was the thought of the expectant mother’s
anguish and despair that took Hansie to her side.
“Well” (Mrs. van Warmelo
was secretly pleased with her daughter’s behaviour),
“if you are determined to expose yourself to
this danger, I think I had better begin to pack at
once, for we shall certainly be sent away.”
“All right, mother,” Hansie
laughed; “pack away, and I’ll come home
as soon as I can to help you.”
She took tender leave of her mother,
cheering her with hopeful words and whistling gaily
to Carlo to come and protect her on her adventurous
No one could have been more surprised
to see Hansie than Mrs. Botha. She stared as
if she could not believe her eyes, and then fell sobbing
on her young friend’s shoulder.
“How could you risk it to come here?”
“No one else has been near me,
and I am deserted by all my friends since ”
here she fell a-weeping again, and clung to Hansie
As soon as she could speak, she gave
an account of all that had taken place.
She and her husband were sitting under
the verandah the night before, talking about the miserable
business of the spy’s infidelity and its disastrous
results to so many people in town. Mr. Botha was
just saying that, in the event of his arrest, his
wife need have no fear of his betraying a friend,
and that the English might shoot him, but they would
not get a shred of information out of him, when two
detectives on bicycles rode up and dismounted at the
Mrs. Botha just had time to whisper
hurriedly to her husband that she would rather see
him dead than have him come back to her a traitor,
when the detectives, producing a warrant for his arrest,
He gave himself up quietly; there
was nothing else for him to do. He was unarmed,
for it was one of the first rules of the Committee
and practically their only safeguard in the event
of an arrest, to carry on their work without weapons
of any sort.
The house was thoroughly searched
for spies and all books and papers were taken away,
but, thanks to Mr. Botha’s prudence and foresight,
not a single incriminating document was found.
The remembrance of this was a source
of great comfort to his wife, for, without proofs,
his life was safe, although he would probably be sent
as prisoner of war to one of the distant islands.
Mrs. Botha was a brave and true woman.
She did not think of herself at all, but she was so
much concerned for Hansie’s safety that she urged
her to go home at once and not to come again.
The first part of her injunctions Hansie obeyed, but
she refused to promise not to be seen at that house
It was being closely watched, there
was no doubt of that, and on getting into a cab she
soon became aware of being followed by two men on
This was rather exciting, and Hansie
actually enjoyed the chase. Instead of urging
her cabby to whip up his horses, she gave him instructions
to go as slowly as possible, well knowing that it would
be more difficult for any one on a bicycle to follow
a crawling cab unnoticed than to pursue a more swiftly
When she reached Harmony and paid
her fare she saw, out of the corner of her eye, that
the men dismounted before the War Office.
“Were you followed home?”
was her mother’s first question.
“Yes, indeed,” she replied,
laughing; “they are near our gate at this very
moment, and I can just imagine them going to the sergeant-major
presently, asking questions about the people living
here. And I am quite sure his answer will be,
’Bless you, no. Those two ladies are quiet
and well-behaved, and you don’t suppose they
could be carrying on any of that business under
my very nose!’”
Hansie’s diaries had all been
removed to an office in town and placed in a safe
safe. All safes were not “safe”
in those days, but this one belonged to a man who
was known as a model of good behaviour throughout
the war. White envelopes, diaries, copies of official
dispatches from the field, all had been removed from
Harmony, except the “White Diary” which
lay open on her writing-table, and to which we owe
a detailed account of the stirring events of September
What it naturally did not contain
was accurate information of the arrest of the other
Committee members and their subsequent experiences.
Trusted friends were beyond her reach,
and she had to content herself with what information
she could gather from men “about the town,”
but this information, verified by what she was told
by the men concerned long after the war was over,
will give the reader a fair idea of the events of
Not only Mr. Botha, but all the members
of the Secret Committee had been arrested that night,
and two days later the staggering tidings came of
Mr. Jannie Joubert’s removal to the Rest Camp,
where “political prisoners” were detained.
Now indeed fears of a speedy raid
on Harmony were justified.
Their fellow-conspirators were all
in the hand of the enemy, and although they trusted
them implicitly, and knew there was no one amongst
them base enough to betray his friends, they had no
reason to think that the people who had betrayed the
others would spare them.
One revelation after the other was
made that day, and Hansie learnt from some one, who
said he was in possession of all the facts, that,
despicable though the treacherous spy’s behaviour
had been, he was not responsible for the exposure
of the Secret Service Committee.
Alas, no! the appearance of another
traitor in our midst has to be recorded here.
One of the young spies in the service
of the Committee had been taken by the enemy, how
and where I am not at liberty to say, but there were
circumstances connected with his capture, and facts
known to the enemy of the hazardous part he had played
on previous occasions, which made it clear from the
beginning that he would be convicted.
Some one who was allowed to visit
him regularly in his cell told me that he stood his
trial bravely and steadfastly refused to betray a
single name to save himself. Threats and persuasions
were of no avail.
On Saturday night in his cell his
death sentence was read to him.
The execution was to take place on
Sunday morning at 6 o’clock, he was told.
Incidentally his jailers informed
him that there was still a chance for him if he would
give the authorities the names of some of the people
in town who were in communication with the Boers in
He was then left to his pleasant reflections.
Reader, we must not be too harsh in
our judgment of him. He was only a boy, not yet
twenty years of age, and we shall never know what anguish
of mind he endured that night.
When day broke he was in no way fit
for the harrowing scene awaiting him. His father,
his sister, and his fiancee were admitted to his cell
at the fateful hour that morning, to take their last
leave of him.
They clung to him, sobbing, wailing,
and imploring him to give the names of his fellow-conspirators.
What arguments were brought to bear upon him we shall
He yielded, and in that God-forsaken
cell on Sunday morning he gave the names required
of him, the five members of the Secret Committee and
other names familiar to us all, Jannie Joubert, Franz
Smit, Liebenberg, etc.
Ah, if he had been executed that day,
how his memory would have been revered by his friends
and respected by his foes! But what was he now? a
traitor, oh God! a traitor to his land and people!
And a coward too, base and craven-hearted,
shielding his miserable life with dishonour and treachery.
That the enemy would not have shot
him in any case, because of his youth, makes no difference
to the blackness of his deed, except perhaps to add
to the bitterness of his remorse when afterwards he
was apprised of this fact.
The death sentence was commuted, and
instead he was sentenced to several years’ hard
labour; he was, in fact, still “doing time”
in Pretoria and Johannesburg two years after peace
had been declared.
Of the women who were the cause of
his downfall I can only say that they were never in
any way connected with the “Petticoat Commando.”
When the news of Jannie Joubert’s
arrest became known, Mrs. van Warmelo positively forbade
her daughter to go to Mrs. Joubert’s house.
There was nothing to be done, and
although they had every reason to believe that their
names were on the list of the betrayed, nothing could
be gained by exposing themselves to unnecessary danger.
It was told Hansie, the day after
the last sweeping arrests had been made, that Mrs.
Joubert’s carriage had been standing before the
Military Governor’s office for some time.
This information brought the reality
of the situation vividly to her mind.
What was the old lady doing there?
Pleading for her son? Was there no way of helping
her? These questions preyed on Hansie’s
mind, until she obtained permission from her mother
to visit Mr. Jannie’s sister, Mrs. Malan.
Mrs. Malan was in bed with influenza,
she said, but it was quite evident that acute distress
of mind had a large share in her indisposition.
On Sunday night, after the fateful
morning of the last betrayal, the Jouberts were surprised
by a visit from the Provost-Marshal himself, accompanied
by another officer.
They asked permission to search the
house for the ammunition which they knew to be concealed
there. Ammunition! Jannie said he knew of
none, except a boxful of cartridges standing in the
loft. They had been found lying about the house
and were stowed away when the English had taken possession
of Pretoria. He took the officers up to the loft
and showed them the box, but they were not satisfied,
and ordered him to appear before the Provost-Marshal
the next day, to give a satisfactory explanation.
A search was also made for documents,
but nothing was found except an old heliographic chart
which his father, Commandant-General Joubert, had
used long ago in Kaffir wars.
Jannie Joubert went the following
day to give an account of himself, and the next thing
his mother heard was that he had been arrested and
removed to the Rest Camp. (Arrest Camp, some
people called it!)
He was very independent and refused
to take the oath of neutrality, which, strange to
say, he had hitherto avoided, and it would certainly
not have been to his taste had he known that his mother
had been to the Military Governor to intercede for
The result of that interview was not
satisfactory. He would only be released on signing
This, Mrs. Malan thought, he would
certainly refuse to do.
“We were treated with marked
kindness,” she continued, “and this may
be taken as proof that the English are not aware of
the real facts.”
The two women laughed in mutual understanding
of their conspiracies.
“Still this leniency may be
only a blind, Hansie. It is painful not to know
how much the enemy knows.”
“What will you do if Captain
Naude and Mr. Greyling come in to-night?” Hansie
“Shelter them, of course!” was the undaunted
That night as Hansie lay on her sleepless
pillow, she felt as if all the batteries of the gold
mines were thumping on her heart.
Mrs. Malan’s last words to her
rang continually in her ears:
“Willie Botha will be executed without a doubt.”
But before day dawned Hansie’s
heart was at rest and she slept, for she had solved
the problem in her mind.
She would go to General Maxwell and
plead with him for the life of her friend.
He was human and tender-hearted, that
she knew, and she would tell him how an innocent young
life hung in the balance, how the lives of both mother
and child would be imperilled if such a cruel fate
befell the father. If her pleadings were of no
avail, she would offer to give, in exchange for his
life, the name of one well known to her as a dangerous
enemy to the English.
And when she had made sure of his
release, hers would be the name she would reveal.
During the dark days which followed
Hansie found her strong support in the thought of