Three weeks went uneventfully by.
Visitors at Harmony were few and far
between, for the story of the “raid” went
quickly through the town, and many people who had been
in the habit of visiting the van Warmelos, all unsuspecting
of the cloud under which they rested, took alarm at
this first open hint of danger and discreetly withdrew
from the scene.
When Hansie thought of them it was
with some contempt and bitterness, but her mind was,
at the time, occupied with more important matters,
and her fair-weather friends soon passed from her life,
never to return again.
Only about a dozen remained, mostly
women, friends staunch and true, upon whom one could
depend through days of the most crushing adversity.
How close we came to one another in
those days only those who have been through similar
experiences can ever realise.
Those three uneventful weeks were
by no means the least trying of the long war.
Sorely tested nervous systems were giving way, fine
constitutions were being broken down, and powers of
resistance had reached their limit. It needed
but the acute anxiety and intense strain of the last
adventure which I am about to relate, to reduce our
heroines to a state bordering on the hysterical.
The phases of the moon were watched
in suspense, and when the time drew near for the next
visit from the spies, Mrs. van Warmelo took the precaution
of locking Carlo up in the kitchen before retiring
for the night. Although she let him out very
early every morning in order not to arouse the suspicions
of the servants, “Gentleman Jim,” ever
on the alert, soon found out that something unusual
was taking place.
“Why you lock up the dog every
night, missis?” he inquired one morning.
Mrs. van Warmelo was completely taken
by surprise, but answered with great presence of mind:
“Oh, because he barks so much
that we cannot sleep. But I think I will have
to let him out again, because thieves will help themselves
to the fruit if there is no watch-dog about.”
The ruse had been found out and Carlo
had to be released, although his vigilance added greatly
to the dangers of the situation.
The grapes were ripe, great luxurious
bunches of purple and golden fruit were weighing down
the sturdy old vines.
“I wish Captain Naude would
come,” Hansie sighed. “Harmony is
at its very best.”
“He won’t come again,
I am convinced of that,” her mother answered
mournfully. “No more news from the field
for us. The dangers are too great, and nothing
could be gained by coming into town now that our friends
have nearly all been sent away.”
“We shall see,” Hansie
said cheerfully. “I have a strong presentiment
that the men are coming in this very night. I
am going to put everything in readiness for them,
and we must go to bed early, dear mother. Perhaps
we shall have very little rest to-night.”
This was Sunday night, February 9th.
Hansie packed away various little
articles lying about the bedrooms and bathroom, and
generally prepared herself for the midnight adventure
which she felt more than ever convinced would take
place within a few hours, while Mrs. van Warmelo went
about with a feather and an oil-can, oiling the hinges
She was soon sound asleep in her mother’s
bedroom, for the two women were not as brave as they
had been during the first part of the war and had
got into the habit of sleeping together “for
Suddenly at about 2 a.m. they both
started up violently, at the sound of Carlo’s
furious barking near their window, where he usually
Mrs. van Warmelo sat up and panted
“Here they are,” but Hansie’s heart
was beating so loudly in her throat that she was unable
Mrs. van Warmelo went quickly to the
window, and on cautiously raising the blind saw the
forms of two men close to the window, undistinguishable
in the darkness but quite evidently the cause of Carlo’s
startled and furious barkings. She ran through
the bathroom and, opening the door leading to the
garden, asked softly, “Who is there?”
“Appelkoos,” the welcome
answer came clearly and cautiously, and Mrs. van Warmelo
drew the men unceremoniously into the room, noiselessly
locking the door.
“Not a word, not a sound,”
she commanded, “remove your boots you
have never been in greater peril.”
“Hush! What was that?
A man’s voice outside! The sergeant-major?
The police? My God! then we are lost indeed!”
But no! Only one moment of agonising
suspense and the familiar voice of “Gentleman
Jim” could be heard, reprimanding the growling
“What for you make so much noise,
Carlo? Go to sleep, bad dog you frighten
everybody when you kick up so much row.”
Muttering discontentedly, he retired
to his room, evidently reassured by the dead silence
which pervaded the house.
For some time the four people inside
stood close together without a word. No lights
were lit, no sound whatever made until Carlo’s
restless growlings ceased and he had settled himself
to sleep again.
Then only were a few whispered words
of welcome and greeting exchanged and a breathless
account given of the dangers with which Harmony was
“How did you come in?” Mrs. van Warmelo
“Through the drift,” Naude
replied. “There were no guards in
fact, we did not see a soul from first to last, and
the dog was the only one to object to our midnight
wanderings. We were nearly on top of him before
Nearly on top of the sensitive and
alert watchdog before he became aware of their proximity!
No wonder, then, that the Boer spies frequently glided
up so close to the English outposts that they were
able to knock them down with a wooden stick or the
butt end of a gun before they could give the alarm
or utter a sound!
The men were tired and exhausted,
and gladly stretched themselves on the beds to get
what sleep they could before morning, having first
divested themselves of their outward trappings, helmets,
etc., which they buried under the floor.
As before, the Captain came in a khaki uniform, while
his orderly, Venter, was dressed like a soldier.
As it was necessary for them to remain
in Mrs. van Warmelo’s bedroom in order to be
near their place of refuge under the floor, mother
and daughter retired to the dining-room, there to
watch and wait for the dawn of day.
Would the long night never end?
Every time Carlo barked the two women
started up from their couches and listened with straining
ears for sounds of commotion outside but
in vain. Nothing disturbed the serenity of the
night, and when the rosy glow of dawn broke in the
eastern sky and gradually spread its glory over the
hushed and expectant earth, Hansie fell into a fitful
Not so her mother. Mrs. van Warmelo
had been quietly pondering over “Gentleman Jim’s”
unexpected appearance at the first sign of commotion
in the night and had come to the conclusion that something
should be done to disarm his suspicions.
That the guard of Military Police
had been withdrawn from Harmony was very evident,
but it was quite possible that the task of maintaining
a vigilant watch had been transferred to Jim, with
promises of a liberal payment if he succeeded in getting
information which might lead to the arrest of Boer
Mrs. van Warmelo therefore cautiously
rose, while the rest of the household lay in sleep,
plucked clusters of grapes from the vines and strewed
them about the garden paths. The ruse answered
“Gentleman Jim” himself
discovered the grapes lying about the garden and was
loud in his expressions of indignation.
“Them thieves have been at the
grapes again,” he called out.
“Look here, missis, here is
a bunch and another, and here is some more.”
He shook his head in despair.
The sergeant-major too was sent for
and informed of the plundering that had been carried
on in the small hours of the morning.
“What is to be done?”
he asked. “Shall I put a guard here again?”
Mrs. van Warmelo thanked him for his
kind offer, but thought that very little damage had
been done, and was of opinion that Carlo’s vigilance
would be sufficient to prevent the thieves, whoever
they might be, from returning on a second pilfering
When Hansie woke it was past six o’clock,
and the Captain was sitting near her, drinking coffee
and chatting with her mother in a matter-of-fact way,
evidently quite at home and glad to find himself in
such comfortable quarters again.
The whole of that eventful February
10th was spent in writing dispatches and procuring
articles of clothing and small necessaries for the
men to take out with them; three pairs of riding-breeches,
shirts, brown felt hats, leggings, boots, soap, salt,
cotton, etc., etc.
Fortunately, among the few remaining
men in town who could be trusted to carry out these
commissions was the young man behind the counter in
the store in Church Street.
To him Hansie went with a small list,
which she laid before him without a word.
He glanced over it and whistled softly.
“Leggings? Riding-breeches? When must
you have them?”
“If possible this evening,” she replied.
“I’ll do my best,” he said, and
she departed joyfully.
“Now, I could never have got
those things myself without rousing great suspicion,”
she thought as she cycled rapidly to the next person
whom she had been instructed to see van
der Westhuizen with the bandaged arm.
“The Captain came last night
with Venter,” she whispered hurriedly.
“They are at Harmony, and Naude wishes to see
you as soon as possible on a matter of great importance.
No one must know of his presence in town this time,
not even our best friends, for he has a dangerous
mission to fulfil and you must help him.”
“I shall be there some time to-day,” he
Hansie thanked him and departed.
Much writing work waited her at Harmony,
and the rest of the day was spent in drawing up dispatches
at the Captain’s dictation and making notes
of the condition of the various commandos.
In the course of a long conversation
with him he told her the object of his visit and why
he required van der Westhuizen’s services.
“My flying column of scouts
is over sixty strong, picked men and wonderfully brave,”
he said. “They are all in khaki and scour
the country, doing the enemy incalculable harm, but
they would be of more service to the commandos if
they had better horses. Our horses are worn-out
and underfed, their life is very hard, and it is imperative
that we should have them reinforced. Now, we have
heard that there are many magnificent horses kept
at Skinner’s Court, remounts kept in good condition
for the special use of officers. Those horses
we must have, and we have come to get all the information
we can about the strength of the guards at Skinner’s
Court. For this I require van der Westhuizen’s
Hansie felt a thrill of excitement.
The adventure was very much to her
taste, and she remembered with delight that first
successful raid on British stables. She wished
she could supply the desired information. To
steal the enemy’s best horses seemed to her
an enterprise worth toiling for, for there would probably
be little or no bloodshed connected with it and, if
successful, the reward would be very great.
But she felt assured that the adventure
could not be in more capable, more trustworthy hands
than in those of the silent van der Westhuizen.
When van der Westhuizen arrived,
he and the Captain were closeted together in the bedroom
for nearly an hour, and then he departed as silently
as he had come, but Hansie had observed the look of
steadfast determination on his face, and was satisfied.
Very unlike the previous visit was
this, the last sojourn of the Secret Service men at
There was no entertaining of shoals
of trusted friends, no lying about under the trees,
no sociable gathering of strawberries.
The men were not allowed to leave
their bedroom during the day, but remained in safe
proximity to the place of refuge under the floor,
where their belongings lay buried.
Of the many plans devised by Mrs.
van Warmelo for the safety of her guests, the following
was decided upon as being the most ingenious:
A large bath was brought into her
bedroom and half-filled with soapy water, bath-towels,
sponges, and other toilet requisites being placed
near by in readiness for use. In the event of
a raid, Mrs. van Warmelo (if she had time to do so)
would rush into the room, locking the door on the
inside, while her daughter (if she had the presence
of mind and kept cool enough) informed the police
that her mother was having a bath. Thus time
would be gained to enable the men to creep into their
The bath of soapy water, standing
in readiness night and day, was a constant source
of amusement during that time of suspense.
The men begged to be allowed to smoke,
but Mrs. van Warmelo protested strongly. In case
of an unexpected search, how was she going to account
for the smell of smoke in her bedroom?
Seeing, however, that this restriction
was becoming a source of great discomfort to them
in the monotony of their imprisonment, she gave them
permission to smoke in the dining-room while she and
Hansie kept watch outside.
Even with these precautions Mrs. van
Warmelo seemed to feel very uneasy, and Hansie coming
into the kitchen unexpectedly one afternoon, found
the Captain standing beside the stove and blowing vigorous
puffs of smoke up the chimney!
Volcanoes and earthquakes would have
been a welcome change to every one after those never-to-be-forgotten
days of strain and tension; and much as Hansie had
longed to see some one from commando again, her longing
to see these men depart became a hundred times more
intense. There was no pleasure for any one during
that visit of two days, for the very air was charged
with treachery, and not even the servants could be
trusted with the dread secret.
The men were waited on stealthily,
food was brought in unobserved and the plates and
dishes washed surreptitiously by the two watchful
women, who took turns in guarding the place and enjoyed
what conversation they could get in fragments from
That night was spent in anxiety and
unrest, and again the glorious day was hailed with
joy and relief.
Van der Westhuizen was an
early visitor that morning, and the report of his
investigations of the past night must have been highly
satisfactory to the men, to judge by their faces.
The women were not taken into their confidence, but
Hansie watched and wondered, and dared not even ask
whether the attack on Skinner’s Court was to
be made or not.
It was better not to know.
The long summer’s day went slowly
by, broken only once when Hansie rushed into the bedroom
with a breathless, “Danger, danger hide
It was not at all funny at the time,
but afterwards, when Hansie thought it over, she laughed
and laughed again at the recollection of those two
men, diving for the hole in the floor, and of their
resentful looks when they emerged, on hearing that
the alarm had been caused by the unexpected appearance
The departure that night was in dead
silence. There was no hearty “send-off”
under the six willows, no escort through the bush,
van der Westhuizen alone going on ahead to see
if the coast were clear.
The events of that night are blurred
and vague in the memory of the two solitary women,
and Hansie’s diary contains but meagre information
on the subject in fact, her war-diary practically
Frail womanhood had reached the breaking-point.
A period of dull suffering, of deadly
indifference followed, broken one day by the news,
with which the whole town rang, that Skinner’s
Court had been stormed by the Boers and that every
horse had been taken, fourteen in all, valuable remounts
of the officers.
Hansie just glanced at her mother
and then asked hoarsely, “Was any one hurt?
Was any one taken?”
“No,” the answer came,
with a curious look at her strained face; “the
attack was so wholly unexpected, and the Boers so evidently
informed of every detail of the place, that they were
gone with all the horses almost before a shot could
This meant not only that the Captain
had reached his men in safety, but that the enterprising
object of his visit had been successfully carried
out, beyond his most sanguine expectations.
And now we take our leave of the brave
Captain whose name appears so often and so honourably
in this book, and in leaving him, we quote, at his
request, the tribute with which he closed his little
book In Doodsgevaar ("In Danger of Death") published
in August 1903 a tribute to the women who
“I feel it my duty, before closing
this story of our personal experiences of the
war, to direct a word of thanks and appreciation
to those faithful South African mothers and sisters
who personally supported us during those difficult
days and did what they could in Pretoria to further
our cause in the field. But how can this
be done? I have no adequate words at my command,
and I feel that the work of these women is above all
expression of appreciation.”
“When I look back on those days,
there floats across my mind not only the names,
but also the personality of each of these worthy women,
and I remember to the minutest detail their self-sacrifice
and the zeal with which they stood by us during our
visits to Pretoria, while exposed to the danger of
themselves being plunged into the greatest difficulties.
But for this they had no thought, no care, as
long as the sacred cause could be advanced.
I feel, however, that it would be out of place
to mention the names of a few where so many
risked their all, willingly offering even the
sacrifice of their lives, if necessary, to further
the interests of our cause.”
“How fervently I should
have wished to see their great work
crowned with a well-deserved
“He who rules the destinies of
nations decreed it otherwise, however, and we
must bow in resignation to His will, but, faithful
women and girls of South Africa, rest assured that
your noble work and self-sacrifice have not been
in vain. For myself I find in that which
was performed by you this great abiding comfort,
that so long as South Africa possesses women and girls
of your stamp, so long can we go forward to meet
the future hopefully and cheerfully; so long as
the spirit, nourished by you, still lives and
thrives in our midst, so long may we pursue our
“The struggle is over, brought
to an end more than a year ago, and some of us
have already learnt to adapt ourselves to our altered
circumstances. We have been taught by those whose
position, as leaders of the people, gives them
the fullest right thereto, how to conduct ourselves,
and we require no further encouragement to follow
“But we feel that we cannot lay
sufficient emphasis on the injunction to be true
to one another as a nation, to be true to our
traditions of the past, true to the lessons we have
learnt in the recent conflict.”
“We have seen to what
a pass one can be brought by infidelity.”
“Let us in future live
in such a way that nothing may be lost of
the honour which is our inheritance
from the battle-fields of