CHAPTER XXXII

The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service


 

CHAPTER XXXII

 

KIDNAPPING MAUSER THE KITTEN

 

   One afternoon when Mrs. van Warmelo and Hansie were returning home, as they passed the house occupied by one of the biggest "lords" in the British Army, they saw an exquisite black kitten sitting on the steps leading from the street to the garden.

 

   Such a kitten! Coal black she was, except for a snowy shirt front and four dainty, snow-white paws.

 

   A delicate ribbon of pale blue satin was fastened in a bow round her neck, and she blinked at the passers-by in friendly consciousness of her superior beauty.

 

   "Oh, you darling!" Hansie exclaimed. "I wish you belonged to me!"

 

   "She does," Mrs. van Warmelo answered, and stooping, she picked up the unresisting kitten and placed it in her daughter's arms.

 

   It was done in a moment and was meant for a joke, but Hansie took the matter seriously and walked on, rapturously caressing her small "trophy of the war."

 

   "Hansie, put that cat down," Mrs. van Warmelo said, looking anxiously up and down the street.

 

   "No indeed, mother; you gave her to me."

 

   "You know very well I did not mean you to keep

   her. I decline to have anything more to do with the matter."

 

   She walked rapidly on and Hansie followed in some uncertainty, but holding on to her new-found treasure as if her life depended upon it.

 

   Soon she caught up with her indignant parent and said in a conciliatory tone of voice:

 

   "Surely, mother, you don't suppose I would steal a cat from any one else! But Lord —— is trying to take my country, why should I not take his cat?"

 

   "Two wrongs never made one right," her mother answered, "but do as you please. You always do."

 

   Hansie kept that kitten and, after Carlo, loved it better than any other pet, and even Mrs. van Warmelo relented as she watched the playful creature hiding in the shadows and springing out at every passer-by.

 

   "What are you going to call her?" she asked her daughter.

 

   "Oh, I don't know. Perhaps I'll go and ask Lord —— what he called her."

 

   She stopped, observing her mother's frown, and then went on:

 

   "We must think of a name, a nice, appropriate war name."

 

   A few moments later the kitten crept into a corner, with a small mouse held firmly between her jaws.

 

   "Oh, mother, look, she has caught a mouse already. She is going to be a splendid mouser. And oh, now I have a name for her. We'll call her mother dear!"

 

   So be it. "Mauser" is her name, and hereafter she may be seen invariably in Hansie's company, a welcome addition to the small, harmonious family.

 

   Perched on Hansie's shoulder as she sat reading under the verandah, or purring round her as she lay under the trees, with Carlo watching by her side, Mauser was ever to be found where her young mistress was; and when the latter went to town she and Carlo were invariably escorted to the gate by the faithful Mauser, who again welcomed them on their return.

 

   This kidnapping episode had taken place a few months after the British entry into Pretoria.

 

   A full year had gone by; and Mauser, the kitten, had developed into a beautiful full-grown cat and was the mother of five mischievous little ones, grey-striped and very wild, for whom she had made a home in a deep hollow in the trunk of one of the big weeping-willows, the very tree under which "Gentleman Jim" had built his small kitchen of corrugated iron.

 

   It is a stormy night in November 1901, a month remembered by all for the violence and frequency of its storms.

 

   Hansie is bending over her diary, trying to make her entries between the crashes with which the house is shaken.

 

   Her mother is lying on a couch near by; her tired eyes are closed, but she is not asleep. Who could sleep in such a storm?

 

   Perhaps we may be allowed to look over the writer's shoulder.

 

   "Nov. 8th, Friday, 10 o'clock p.m.

 

   "And this terrific storm has been raging for hours! It seems incredible.

 

   "It was the same last night and the night before. As I write, the roar of thunder never once breaks off, peal after peal, crash after crash, vivid, dazzling

   flashes of lightning, torrents of rain mixed with hail, and a howling wind.

 

   "Such a night is never to be forgotten.

 

   "One is thrilled and impressed by its magnificence, by its awful grandeur and its majesty, and yet I think one would go mad if it continued for any length of time.

 

   "I feel as if I am going mad with the thought of our thousands and thousands of women and tender little children exposed to all this fury....

 

   "Where is the God of pity to-night?

 

   "Surely not in our desolate land, not in our ruined in South

 

   "The fourth storm within a few hours, each more violent than the last, is just approaching, and this one threatens to surpass the others in unabated fury.

 

   "The Lord hath turned His face from us.

 

   "The hand of the Lord is laid heavily upon us. His ear is deaf to our cries and supplications. I cannot write, my soul is crushed by the sorrow, suffering, and sin around me....

 

   "I feel better now, but the struggle has been great....

 

   "At the front, fierce blows have been struck lately. Our men are fighting as they never fought before....

 

   "How the storm rages on! In my sheltered home, safe from the fury of the elements, I think I suffer more than the women under canvas, for their sakes....

 

   "The letter I have before me must be answered now. He asks me to bind myself to him definitely....

 

   "I have decided to do so. It is a weighty step, and God knows....

 

   "But I have long prayed for guidance, and it

   seems to me clear enough that we are destined for one another.

 

   "So to-night, in this raging storm, with a heart filled with the desolation of land and people, the blackness of the present, the hopeless misery of the future, I am going to write the words which will bind me for ever to L.E.B.

 

   "Strange betrothal! Strange sequel to a stormy life!

 

   "But perhaps—perhaps, the future holds something for me of calm and peace...."

 

   With throbbing brow she went out into the night to watch the storm, from a sheltered corner under the verandah.

 

   Nothing fascinated her so much.

 

   Suddenly a blinding flash, accompanied by a sound like the sharp cracking of a whip and instantly followed by a deafening roar of thunder, drove her to her mother's side.

 

   "Are you all right, mother? That bolt fell very near. I thought it struck the house."

 

   "It was frightfully close," Mrs. van Warmelo answered.

 

   "Come and sit beside me here. I am quite sure one of our big trees has been struck."

 

   She was right, for walking through the demolished garden next morning, they came upon the spot where the bolt had fallen and found one of the gigantic willow trees furrowed from top to bottom, with the outer bark scorched and curled up like paper and the white bark showing underneath.

 

   Jim was breaking down his little kitchen with all the speed he could.

 

   "What are you doing, Jim?" Hansie asked.

 

   "Jim's shifting," was the answer, soberly and sadly made.

 

   "But the storm is over. All the danger is past. You can safely stay on now."

 

   "No fear, little missie. The Big Baas was very cross last night, and when Him cross He don't care what He do. Jim want to live a little longer."

 

   Hansie laughed.

 

   "I wonder where Mauser could have been with her kittens last night!" she exclaimed, putting her hand into the deep hollow of the tree. "The nest is empty. Do you know, Jim?"

 

   "No, little Missie. I 'spose Mauser's time had not come yet," he said, with stolid philosophy.

 

   "I suppose not."

 

   But alas, alas! Mauser's time was soon to come, for the soldiers, setting a strong trap to catch a wild cat which was nightly plundering them of their meat ration, caught Hansie's beloved Mauser instead, killing her instantly.

 

   No reproaches from her mother were added to her keen remorse as she bent over the motherless kittens, whispering: will care for you, as she would have done; but oh, remember this, that honesty is the best policy, and all is not fair in love and war."

 

   Tragedy was in the air.

 

   A bee-keeper came to Harmony one morning to help Mrs. van Warmelo to take out honey from the hives, and this disturbance, combined with the fact that the soldiers had unwisely set up a smithy near the beehives under the row of blue-gum trees dividing

   their camp from Harmony, enraged the bees so much with the noise and the smoke and heat of the smithy fires, that they attacked man and beast in vicious fury.

 
 

THE APIARY, HARMONY.

 

   In a few moments all was confusion.

 

   The servants rushed about frantically, in their endeavours to bring the fowls and calves under shelter in time.

 

   The two women took refuge in the house, closing the doors and windows, while they watched the consternation and disorder in the camp.

 

   Fortunately there was only one horse in the smithy at the time, a beautiful chestnut mare belonging to the Provost-Marshal, Major Poore, so Mrs. van Warmelo was told afterwards.

 

   The soldiers seemed to lose their heads entirely. They ran away, not into their tents, but right away into the "koppies" on the other side of the railway line.

 

   The bee-keeper cut the halter with which the unfortunate horse was tethered to a post, then he too took refuge.

 

   What followed was pitiful to behold and will never be forgotten by the women, helplessly, and as if fascinated by the scene, watching from their windows.

 

   The infuriated bees, deprived of all other living things on which to wreak their vengeance, turned, in their thousands, on the hapless mare, which stood unmoved, as horses do, when lashed by hail or panic-stricken under flames.

 

   She made no attempt to save herself, but with bent head and ears laid flat she stood still under the furious attack of countless bees.

 

   One or two of the men, wrapped up to the eyes in

   the coats and waistcoats of their comrades, cautiously approached the mare at their own great peril, and tried with all their strength to move her from the scene.

 

   In vain. As if rooted to the spot she stood, with her four feet planted firmly on the ground, and they desisted in despair, once more fleeing to the hills.

 

   All day they sat upon the hillside, homeless, many of them hatless, until towards afternoon, when, the fury of the bees abating, they ventured a return to their tents.

 

   The next day, when the dead mare had been removed for burial, a letter was brought to Mrs. van Warmelo from the Provost-Marshal, commanding the immediate removal of the beehives to some safer spot in the lower portion of Harmony.

 

   This was done by degrees, little by little every night, in order to accustom the bees to the change gradually, and there was never any repetition of the attack.

 

   Hansie, writing to her brother in his prison-fort at Ahmednagar, that his bees had put a valuable English horse out of action for ever, received in reply a postcard, with the single comment, "My brave bees!"