Read CHAPTER XXXVII - BETRAYED of The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service , free online book, by Johanna Brandt, on ReadCentral.com.

Hansie was one of those unfortunate women who cannot cry, but I believe she cried that night when the awful strain was over, the house quiet and deserted, and the feeling of “nothing to do but wait” creeping over her.

She and her mother lay for hours listening for sounds of commotion in the suburb, following in spirit the brave men on their route to the free veld, so perilous and insecure, watching and praying for their safety.

At last Hansie fell into a heavy, unrefreshing sleep, from which she was roused in the early dawn by her mother’s voice, hurried and extremely agitated.

“Hansie, Hansie, come here quick!”

“Where, mother? Where are you?”

“In the dining-room! Come at once, come and look!”

Hansie sprang out of bed, alarmed and now thoroughly roused, and ran into the dining-room, where she found her mother concealing herself behind the lace curtains and cautiously looking out of the window to the Military Camp.

She half turned as her daughter approached and said in a whisper: “Don’t show yourself. Look, Hansie, we have been betrayed. Our house is suspected. See how it is being watched.”

Hansie looked and looked again. There was no doubt of it.

The sergeant was in excited conversation with a man on horseback, well known to Hansie by sight as a detective in plain clothes. Here and there the soldiers were grouped around other private detectives, on horseback and on foot, talking and gesticulating and pointing to the house in wild excitement. What struck Hansie as almost ludicrous, even at that moment, was the unbounded astonishment betrayed by them.

Their looks and gestures spoke as plainly as the plainest words: “Can it be possible? Has that been going on under our noses? And pray, how long?”

“There is no doubt about it. We and our house have been betrayed. But cheer up, mother; forewarned is forearmed. Oh, silly fools, to give away their game like that!”

“They have not seen us yet, Hansie. They think we are asleep.”

“Even so, the servants are about. Oh, mother!”

“Go and get dressed, Hansie, and let us behave exactly the same as usual. All we can do now is to see that we do not betray that we know we have been betrayed. How do you think this has come about?”

“The crowd under the willows last night?”

“Gentleman Jim?”

“Flippie?”

They looked at one another inquiringly and slowly shook their heads.

Good reader, after more than ten years, when they talk about this period of their lives, they still look inquiringly at one another and slowly shake their heads.

Who could it have been? How did it come about?

When Hansie went out into the garden an hour or so later to gather roses for the table, Harmony was flooded with the exquisite morning sun, the birds were twittering and bickering among themselves, and Carlo sprang up to meet her, barking an affectionate “good morning,” as he playfully capered round his mistress.

As she stooped down to pat him she glanced through her hair to the camp, where some of the men were bending over their camp-fires and others were rubbing down and feeding their horses.

Will you believe it? At the first sight of the girl every man dropped his work, stood up straight and stared at her in open-mouthed astonishment as if he had never seen her before. They even got together again in little groups of twos and threes and began talking rapidly to one another. Their amazement, their consternation was so obvious that Hansie found it difficult to pretend that she saw nothing unusual in their behaviour, and when she joined her mother at the breakfast-table and told her what a commotion her appearance had created, Mrs. van Warmelo said: “It is the same with me. Wherever I show myself under the verandahs or in the garden, I am met with stares that can only be described as thunderstruck.”

“And that, after all the months they have spent within earshot of all that went on at Harmony! Why, mother, those men have never lifted their heads when we have passed them for a year and more, they had got so used to us, but now !”

She went on more seriously:

“We can never be thankful enough that you found this out in time. The members of the Committee must be warned not to come to Harmony, but we must invite lots of other people. Let us give a few fruit parties and musical evenings for the young people, and above all, let us invite the Consuls and their families.” Hansie was feeling hopeful, buoyed up by the unlooked-for privilege of having been put on her guard, but Mrs. van Warmelo was silent and depressed.

“I am thinking about the spies,” she said at last. “How can we ever harbour them here again? How can we let them know that Harmony is being watched? How shall we get through the anxiety and suspense when we begin to expect them again? Naude’s last words to me were, ’We shall be with you four weeks from now, when the moon is young again.’”

Hansie looked thoughtful, but brightened up again immediately.

“We have always the sign on the gatepost to fall back on, you know, mother dear, but I hope it won’t be necessary to put that up. In the meantime let us watch developments. We have nothing to be anxious about yet, and when the time comes we shall know what to do. Just think how terrible it would have been if this had happened yesterday while Naude was in the house!”

But poor Mrs. van Warmelo could not shake off her gloom, and Hansie, who, strange to say, was usually most hopeful and strong in the presence of depressed folk, but pessimistic and downhearted when others were most bright, sighed for once and allowed herself to be cast down by her mother’s forebodings.

They realised that an anxious time was before them, their worst fear being that Naude and his companions had been captured the previous night and that some time would probably elapse before they knew with any certainty what his fate had been.

That they were safe in his hands they never doubted for a moment, but there were too many others, practically unknown to them, concerned in this enterprise, and every conspirator more added to the list made their own position less secure.

“I think I must go to Mrs. Joubert this afternoon, mother, to see if I can get hold of van der Westhuizen. Perhaps he can throw some light on the subject. At any rate he will be able to tell us whether he parted from Naude under favourable conditions last night.”

“Do that,” Mrs. van Warmelo answered, “if you can make sure beforehand of not being watched. Don’t go to that house if you have any reason to think you are being followed. We are on the black list now, but that makes it all the more necessary for us to protect our friends.”

“Yes, mother; but the Jouberts have been under suspicion so long and have so successfully escaped detection that I am sure their names have long since been removed from the black list.”

“Don’t be too sure. Jannie’s transportation was not a sign of the cessation of hostilities. The enemy is not asleep, but merely slumbering, as far as they are concerned that is, if this thing” (waving her hand over Harmony) “has not roused him completely.”

All day long, and in fact for many days after, an unusual commotion was apparent in the Military Camp.

Detectives could be seen coming and going, little groups of soldiers clustered together, and even “Judas-Boers” made their appearance on the lower portion of Harmony, examining the ground and following the tracks made by the spies in their escape from the town.

Beyond that the van Warmelos could not follow their investigations, and whether they found conclusive evidence in the marks made by the men at the closely barbed and netted drift, under the railway bridge, will never be known, but there was reason to believe that the last remaining route of the spies had been discovered. Brave hearts sank at the thought of their probable fate when they tried that route again.

But, thank God! the birds had flown for the time at least.

That afternoon, when Hansie cycled to Mrs. Joubert’s house, the streets were quiet and practically deserted. She was quite sure that no one followed her, for she dropped her handkerchief once and had suddenly to turn and pick it up.

Carlo was some way ahead of her and did not notice the interruption until she was on her bicycle again, when he came tearing back to find out what had happened, furious with himself for having missed the smallest piece of excitement. After that he did not leave her side again, but trotted quietly along, watching her every moment from the corner of his eye.

When Hansie entered the house in Visagie Street, Carlo stretched himself as usual beside her bicycle, ostensibly to sleep, but in reality on guard and alert with every nerve in his quick body. Hansie was thankful to find van der Westhuizen in; in fact, he was expecting her and wished to see her, but did not think it advisable to go to Harmony.

“Tell me all about last night,” she said. “Tell me everything, and then I have something to tell you too.”

“Well,” he said, and the inscrutable face was for once turned to her in frank confidence, “after we left Harmony last night things did not go as smoothly as we expected. It was all right as long as we were in the bush, and we were able to get our heavy parcels through safely, but when we came to the drift we found it strongly guarded. We retreated at once without a sound and lay down in the thick shrubs to wait. The men were nervous and impatient, and after a little while Brenckmann borrowed my residential pass from me and walked on ahead to see if the coast were clear.

“He soon came back and said it was impossible to get through.

“After a short consultation, Naude advised me to come home. They would stay in the bush and wait until the moon went down, he said. I hated leaving them in such a plight, but Naude insisted, and I only came away when he said he thought there would be more chance for them to get through unobserved if they were fewer in number. How they managed without residential passes and handicapped by those parcels, I do not know.”

“God only knows how they do manage,” Hansie answered sombrely. “Well, I have nothing good to relate either.”

She told him in a few words what had happened at Harmony, and the steadfast face opposite her, so calm and strong, grew more grave as she proceeded.

“This is very serious,” he said at last; “then the fact of their being in town, and the route they had taken, must have been known to the enemy yesterday. That is why we found the drift guarded. But do not be downcast. I am sure they got through unharmed, for there has been no commotion of any sort in town. I always know when prisoners have been taken. We must be thankful they were not discovered in your house.”

Hansie nodded, and the quiet voice went on:

“You are in no danger now ”

But the girl broke in impetuously:

“Oh, that does not trouble me at all, but I would give my life to know that those men were with General Botha now. I am only anxious about them.”

“I am not,” he answered. “The Captain is a man of vast experience. This was not his first visit to Pretoria. Venter has been five times in Pretoria and nine times in Johannesburg under the same conditions. Brenckmann, too, can speak of unique experiences but I can bet you anything that he will never come in again.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, he had an awful time here. There are khakis and handsuppers living all round his house, to some of whom he is well known by sight. It was found necessary to conceal him, and for three days and two nights the poor boy was stowed away in a tiny attic, just under the corrugated-iron roof and hardly large enough to hold a man. There he lay in the suffocating heat of those endless days, only coming out at night for a few hours like the bats and owls. No, he won’t trouble us again!”

Before she left she told him what had been arranged about a sign on the gatepost and asked van der Westhuizen to warn her friends of the “inner circle” that Harmony was no longer a safe place to visit, begging them to keep this information to themselves, “because,” she added, “the enemy must not know that we know.” Later on she hoped to see him again when the time approached for Naude to come again, but she advised him not to visit Harmony unnecessarily, as much would depend on him in the event of a raid on Harmony and the transportation of its inhabitants to other regions.

I can only say in conclusion of this chapter that the friends of the “inner circle,” Mrs. Malan, Mrs. Joubert, Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Honey, and a few others, bravely scorned the idea of avoiding Harmony.

“Why should we not come?” Mrs. Armstrong asked, with her cheerful, ever-ready laugh; “don’t other people come here still?”

“Oh yes, but ”

“Then why not we? The more the better, say I! Surely we cannot all be arrested and sent away!”