It was the peacefullest, decentest raid I ever heard of, and it would be difficult to think of anything with a termination more tame and commonplace.
But we have not got there yet.
The events which led up to it must be got over first as briefly as possible, and then we go on to what was called a formal declaration of war between the inmates of the Military Camp and the two principal actors at Harmony.
After the van Warmelos had discovered on December 20th, through the enemy's rank stupidity, that they had been found out, a regular game of hide-and-seek began to be played in and around their beautiful garden.
The curious thing about this game was that it was only carried on under cover of darkness and intense silence, a silence which could almost be felt, and which became so uncanny as time went on that the women found it quite insupportable and had no peace by night or by day until the day on which, a month later, the enemy took the initiative and made what may be called an attack in front. There was only one noisy actor in the game, which was played for four solid weeks before the crash came, and as many after, and that was Carlo, but, although his feelings found relief in constant growlings and furious barkings, I do believe even his nerves suffered under the constant strain, for he became more and more irritable and restless as time went on.
That dog gave a lot of trouble in those days and was a source of great anxiety, as my reader will see presently.
The fruit season was at its height. The garden, heavily laden with the burden of luscious fruits and blooming flowers, was a scene of beauty and riotous luxury impossible to describe; and as the different fruit trees bloomed and bore their rich harvest in rapid succession, each after its kind—apricots, figs, pears, plums, apples, peaches, and, last but not least, the noble vine with its great bunches of purple and white—Hansie and her mother revelled in the wealth of Nature's extravagance from morn till eve.
Mrs. van Warmelo, an energetic and tireless gardener, spent all her time amongst the fruit, while indoors the task of putting up in jars for winter use fell mainly on Hansie's shoulders.
Nothing was allowed to run to waste, and that year was always remembered as an exceptionally fine fruit season.
It was nothing for Mrs. van Warmelo to have 100 lb. of grapes cut before breakfast and have them conveyed to the early market, and even then the vines bore no trace of having been robbed or tampered with.
The soldiers, too, got their share, and the sergeant-major's small basket was often filled—for were they not on the best of terms with one another?
But when the shades of night fell over the land, and silence settled on the birds and beasts and flowers, the sense of careless freedom and security deserted our heroines entirely.
Unseen eyes watched them from behind the leaves, and they knew that the very trees under which they sat had ears, straining to catch up their every conversation.
The Military Police—unknown to the women, as they thought—were guarding them and their property from intruders, and this was known by Carlo's incessant growlings and his furious, sudden fits of barking whenever he came upon some midnight prowler hidden under the trees.
I am sure the good dog never understood Hansie's apathy on this point.
After all he did to warn her of foul play, to have his efforts rewarded with a scolding or a careless "Do be quiet, Carlo. The kitty is only catching moths," seemed unjust and quite unlike his mistress's usual ready sympathy.
In time he got used to finding strangers in the privacy of his domain and only showed his dissatisfaction with an occasional low growl or a vicious snarl.
Perhaps "Gentleman Jim" was not so bad after all, or perhaps he was only stupid, because a few days after the flight of our friends he came to Mrs. van Warmelo with the information, given with an amused smile and more drawl than usual, that "the officer had promised him plenty money" if he ever caught a Boer on the premises or in the garden, and that in future a strict watch would be held over the property and an extra vigilance preserved whenever the dog barked.
What more proof could be wanted after that? Now they knew exactly how the land lay, and in their hearts they thanked their simple servant and still more simple foe, for the confirmation of their suspicions.
As the weeks went by and the time for the Captain's next visit drew near, Mrs. van Warmelo again and again urged the necessity of putting up the danger-signal (a small block of wood, which was kept ready with a nail through it, lying hidden behind the post), only to be met with an obstinate refusal from her daughter.
"How can you be so reckless and foolhardy, Hansie?" her mother would exclaim. "We know that the men may come in any night, and we know that the house and grounds are being watched, and yet you want me to let our friends run right into the trap, without lifting a finger to save them! It would be an unpardonable thing, and I do believe you are only longing to have the excitement of harbouring spies again!"
"Perhaps that is it! But think of the disappointment of the men to be turned back at our very doors after having come so far through untold dangers! Depend upon it they will not come in again for nothing. They went through too much last time, and there will be work of some importance for us all to do if they come in again, you may be sure of that. No, dear mother, let us risk it, I beg of you. We are still in the house, and Naudé is no chicken. He will reach us in spite of guards and fences, and——"
"Be followed right up to the house and be taken here like a rat in a trap," Mrs. van Warmelo continued gloomily.
"I am not so sure," Hansie exclaimed, as cheerfully as her sinking heart allowed, when this horrible picture rose before her.
"You know what our experience has been of English vigilance and English sagacity; now, if they had some of Carlo's intelligence we would have some reason to be anxious."
The danger-signal was not put up, but that things would have ended exactly as Mrs. van Warmelo predicted I now have not a shadow of doubt.
The spies would have glided into the house in the false security occasioned by the absence of the danger-signal, they would have been watched and followed to the very doors by the hidden foe, the house would have been surrounded and stormed by armed men, and a fierce, an unspeakably horrible encounter would have ended in death and destruction—if they had come. But they were prevented on commando from keeping their appointment that month—and at the very time when they expected to be safely housed under Harmony's hospitable roof, the place was surrounded, an entry forced and every corner of the house searched for spies.
It happened "like so," and we must now turn our attention for a moment to a matter of small importance in order to understand why Hansie was from home at a critical time, and how she missed the keen enjoyment of being present at the "raid."
For some weeks the advisability of leaving home on a pleasure trip had been discussed. While the moon was on the wane their friends from commando would not be likely to pay them a visit, but Mrs. van Warmelo, who never had much inclination to leave her little paradise, persuaded Hansie to go to Johannesburg for a few days alone to a dear young friend, newly wed, who had repeatedly begged her to come.
They hoped that such an attitude of innocent pleasure-making on their part would avert some of the suspicion which rested on their heads and cause a part, at least, of the surveillance to be withdrawn from Harmony.
Hansie hoped to be back home before the appearance of the new moon, the time appointed for Naudé's next visit, and it was red-tape, nothing but red-tape, through which she was undone.
So many difficulties were placed in the way of her obtaining the necessary permits that by the time she got away she should have been on her return journey.
Let us see what her diary says.
"January 10th, Friday.
"My poor old diary! I begin to foresee that it is going to die a natural death, simply because I am tired of recording lies and rumours [this was the black-and-white diary, kept on purpose to mislead the enemy, should it fall into their hands].
"I am now busy preparing for a little trip to Johannesburg, but oh dear! the difficulty one has in getting permits!
"The English have never been so strict before!
"Major Hoskins (who could have helped me without further reference had he wished) sent me to the Commissioner of Police, who asked me to produce a note of recommendation from my 'ward officer' in B. Ward.
"My 'ward officer' refused to give me a permit without a medical certificate that I required a change of air.
"I told him shortly that I was going for pleasure and that I would appeal to General Maxwell if he could not assist me. He said 'that made all the difference!' (what did he mean?) and asked me for the name and address of the people with whom I would be staying in Johannesburg, so I gave him Pauline's box number.
"No, that was not sufficient, he must have the name of the street and the number of the house.
"'I do not remember the number, but I shall go home to look it up and come back at once.'
"'It will—er—be more convenient if you bring it to-morrow,' he said."
And Hansie understood that he was gaining time.
After all the fuss that had been made, she was not surprised next day when the Commissioner of Police asked her, very politely, while closely inspecting the "note of recommendation," to call for her permits on Monday (this was Thursday), as there would be some delay in having them "approved" by the other officials.
This was again done to gain time while the authorities were putting their heads together, trying to find out "what the dickens" she could want in Johannesburg.
Hansie knew this well enough, although she filled her diary with lamentations and wonderings.
"Will you be all right alone, mother, at a time like this?" Hansie asked, as, with her permits at last in her possession, she hugged her mother in affectionate farewell.
"Oh yes, I am well guarded, as you know," Mrs. van Warmelo answered, laughing; "there is plenty of time, and you will be back before anything can happen."
Hansie looked doubtful. Was her mother play-acting? Did she mind being left, and was she only eager to have her daughter out of danger's way? Or did she intend putting up the danger-signal, after all?
You see, Hansie was getting so used to plotting and scheming that she could not help turning her newly acquired detective propensities on her nearest and dearest when occasion offered, and she even misdoubted the behaviour of her mother, tried as she had been, and never found wanting, in many a crisis in the past.
"You will wire for me, won't you?" she asked suspiciously.
"Of course, of course—but there will be nothing to wire about, I am quite sure."
With a sigh and many anxious forebodings, Hansie drove to the station on her way to her "pleasure trip."
She was met in the Golden City, now more like a Dead City, by loving friends and a magnificent St. Bernard dog, Nero, who soon made her feel at home, although they could not altogether banish the cares, dimly guessed at by them, with which she was oppressed.
The most reassuring news from home continued to reach her until one morning, on the sixth day after her arrival, a brief postcard from her mother informed her in a few bald words that Harmony had been searched on "Sunday morning the 19th inst."
A few hours later Hansie was in the train, speeding, with remorse tugging at her heart, to her mother's side.
It was something of a disappointment to her, on arriving at Harmony, to find everything exactly as she had left it.
Carlo greeted her with his old extravagant demonstrations of affection and delight, and when she looked searchingly into her mother's face she was met with a beaming smile. There was no trace of the ordeal she had faced alone, and Hansie's anxious heart gave a throb of relief.
She was soon in full possession of the details of the adventure, and it appeared that the "raid" had been made in the early hours of the 19th (Jan.), Sunday morning.
It had been raining heavily all night, and the torrents were still coming down drenchingly when Mrs. van Warmelo was aroused by a knock at her bedroom window and "Gentleman Jim's" voice, with all the drawl gone, calling out anxiously, "Missis, come, the police want you!"
Mrs. van Warmelo dressed hurriedly, and on opening the front door was met by an officer, who informed her that he had been ordered by the Commissioner of Police to search her house.
Armed soldiers were standing about, guarding the different entrances.
Mrs. van Warmelo led the way, and the officer went through the house with her alone, glancing under beds, opening wardrobes and moving screens in his search "for men," as he said in reply to her questions.
"I am surprised that you should have been sent to search my house for men," she said, with righteous indignation.
"I was surprised to see your name on the black list, Mrs. van Warmelo," he answered.
She watched him in puzzled silence.
Evidently he knew her, or her name. Quite evidently he was no Englishman—only a South African could pronounce her name like that.
When they reached the passage leading to the kitchen the officer suddenly started at the sight of Flippie's form lying curled up in deep sleep. He bent over him, pulled his blanket down cautiously, and said below his breath, "Oh, a boy!"
The house having been thoroughly searched, he turned to Mrs. van Warmelo and, courteously thanking her for having allowed him to do so, asked permission to go through the out-buildings, which was instantly granted. There was no one, of course, and the military, if they had expected to make any sensational discoveries that morning, were grievously disappointed.
"Well, I am glad it is over, mamma," Hansie said when the story came to an end.
"It is better to have the house searched in vain, than not to have it searched at all, when one is on the black list. Perhaps the surveillance on Harmony will now be removed, at least to some extent, and the danger to Captain Naudé, when he comes in again, considerably lessened."
That this was the case we shall see in our next chapter.