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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XXII. AT THE FRONT.
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CHAPTER XXII. AT THE FRONT.
Van Zwieten\'s sins had evidently made no difference in his fortunes. He appeared to be flourishing like the proverbial green bay tree. He was dressed in a smart riding suit, with long brown boots, and a smasher hat of the approved Boer type. Quite unabashed at sight of Brenda, he crossed the road with an impudent smile and held out his hand. She shot one glance of indignation at him, and drew aside as though to avoid contact with an unclean thing--a proceeding which appeared to cause the man some shame, although he tried to assume an air of unconcern and amusement.

"You won\'t shake hands with me, Mrs. Burton?" he said, quite jauntily.

"How dare you speak to me?" she said, drawing back. "I wonder you are not ashamed to look me in the face after that trick about the letter."

"Ah! that was what the Boers call \'slim,\'" he said, wincing, nevertheless, at her open contempt for him. "All\'s fair in love and war, you know, but your husband has been rather in advance of himself on this occasion, and the plot has failed. Yes, you see I admit that it is a plot, and I admit that it has failed."

"I have nothing to say to you," said Brenda, coldly, "except to tell you that if you attempt to molest either my husband or myself further I shall have you arrested as a spy."

He looked uneasily down the road and at the stern, set faces of the passing soldiers. He knew that from such men as they he might expect precious little mercy once the word spy had gone out against him, followed by damning evidence of his complicity. Boer treachery had to be avenged; there had been plenty of it about, and he did not fancy being a scapegoat for others.

"My dear Mrs. Burton," he went on calmly, "I wonder you spare me at all. Why not have me arrested now and have done with it? I am completely in your power, am I not? You have but to raise your voice and the thing would be done. Indeed, I am not at all sure that I should reach the jail alive. They hate spies here, and it is true they have good reason to. You may not have such a chance again, so cry out upon me now and revenge yourself on me once and for all for my crime--my crime of loving you."

"No, I will not," replied Brenda, firmly; "but I give you fair warning, Mr. van Zwieten, that if you do not leave this place immediately I shall at once inform the authorities about you. In luring me to Pretoria you made one mistake; you thought I should come unprepared. I did no such thing. I have ample evidence with me to prove that in London your occupation was that of a spy. Lady Jenny gave me the papers."

"I\'m very much obliged to Lady Jenny, I\'m sure," he said, with a bow. "At Pretoria--for Oom Paul--you could hardly have brought credentials calculated to speak more highly in my favor. He would be quick to appreciate my services."

"Why did you wish me to come to Pretoria? You know I am married."

"Yes, I know you are married; but marriage can be severed as all else is severed--by death," he said significantly. "If you had come to Pretoria--but there is no need to talk about that," he broke off impatiently. "I was duly informed that your husband was missing, but he escaped before I could reach the Tugela and myself take him to Pretoria, where he would have been completely in my power. I wrote the letter thinking you would really find him there. But he escaped and got your telegram--the one you sent to Wilfred Burton. I followed him down here, and learned how he intended to intercept the Kaiser Fritz. You see I am well informed, Mrs. Burton."

Brenda was astonished at the extent of the man\'s knowledge and the dogged fierceness with which he seemed to follow her and Harold. She wondered if it would not be wise to have so dangerous an enemy arrested at once. But the thought of Lady Jenny and the shame which it would bring upon her through the deeds of her late husband--which Van Zwieten would assuredly reveal in such a contingency--prevented her from deciding upon so severe a course. Later on she had reason bitterly to regret that she had not acted upon her first impulse. Had she done so it would have saved both her husband and herself endless trouble. Van Zwieten half guessed what was in her mind, but he made no move, and seemed quite content to abide by her decision. There was even a smile on his face as he looked at her. Villain as he was, his courage was undeniable. The pity was that such a virtue should not have been linked to others. But then that was the man all over. He was a belated Conrad the Corsair. "A man of one virtue and ten thousand crimes." Yet another virtue might be added. He loved Brenda, and he loved her honestly.

"I see you know your business as a spy, Mr. van Zwieten," she said coldly. "But all your work is thrown away. If you succeeded in killing my husband, as you seem anxious to do, I should kill myself!"

Van Zwieten turned a shade paler. For once he was moved out of his attitude of sneering insolence. "No, no," he said hoarsely, "do not think of such a thing! I won\'t harm your husband, on my honor----"

"Your honor! The honor of a spy?"

"The honor of a man who loves you!" he said with some dignity.

She shrugged her shoulders. She had not much belief in a love which was so selfish in its aims and so unscrupulous in the carrying out of them. But she would not argue further with him, she thought. The conversation was taking a turn of a personal character highly repugnant to her, and she moved away. "Well, Mr. van Zwieten, I have warned you! If you don\'t leave British territory I shall inform the authorities of your London career. Good-bye!"

"Good-bye," he said. He took off his hat with a grand bow as she left him. Nor did he make any attempt to stay her; he knew already that she was going to the front with her husband, and he had every intention of following. That she would reveal his true character he did not for one moment believe. There he had her in his power, for he would at once make known Gilbert Malet\'s conduct, and that would mean shame and trouble for Lady Jenny, from which Brenda was more than anxious to shield her, as he well knew. She had been a good friend to the girl, and had indirectly done a great deal to bring about the marriage. This Dutchman had more knowledge of a woman\'s nature than most of his sex, and he found it of no little service in the profession which he had taken up.

Brenda found her husband impatiently awaiting her. He had made all arrangements for the journey; and after a hasty meal they went down to the station. She was in high spirits. With Harold beside her, and the prospect of a novel and busy life in her capacity of nurse, she was perfectly happy. And he, still more of a lover than a husband, thought he had never seen her look more beautiful.

Concerning the journey there is very little to say. There was considerable monotony about it. Some of the scenery was beautiful, particularly when they got amongst the mountains, but for the most part the plains extended on all sides, grey and dreary, the kopjes humping themselves everywhere amongst the karoo bushes. The dust-storms, too, were altogether disagreeable, and in spite of her veil and cloak Brenda arrived at the camp in a very gritty condition, and thoroughly worn out. Her husband saw the doctor at once and told him of his wife\'s desire to nurse the wounded. Her offer was gratefully accepted, for Brenda had had a certain amount of professional experience which stood her in good stead now. So next day she took up her quarters in the hospital and went to work in earnest. Mr. Scarse, having been introduced to the authorities, amused himself by wandering about the camp and enjoying the novelty of his surroundings. To a home-staying man such as he, the round of daily life at the front proved most amusing.

Indeed, father and daughter were equally delighted with this new experience. Mrs. Burton proved herself a most capable nurse, and paid every attention to those under her charge. Her husband chafed somewhat at first. He did not like the idea of his wife doing such work; but when he saw that she really enjoyed it, and that she was anxious to be of use in her own way to those who were fighting for Queen and country, he made no further opposition. Moreover, he had his own duties to attend to, and upon the whole, husband and wife saw very little of each other. The few moments they did have were therefore all the sweeter. And the knowledge that Brenda was near him and safe from the machinations of Van Zwieten was a supreme satisfaction to Harold. He had yet to learn that the Dutchman was as active as ever, and bent upon getting her into his power.

Since his failure to cross the Tugela, General Buller had been reconstructing his plans, and was taking ample time over the preparations. As he himself said, there should be no turning back this time. The garrison at Ladysmith was holding out bravely; but the messages showed that they were anxiously expecting relief. The soldiers, held like hounds in a leash, were longing to get at the foe and wipe out their first failure. But the days passed and no move was made. On this side of the Tugela all was safe; but on the other the Boers swarmed, although they kept at a safe distance from the British position. To Brenda, the mere fact of living in a camp in time of war was sufficiently exciting.

Shortly after their arrival, Captain Burton was ordered on patrol duty to scour the neighboring country on this side of the Tugela. He said good-bye to his wife and went off in high spirits. But it was with a sinking heart that she watched him go off on this dangerous duty. The arrival of Wilfred, however, served to cheer her somewhat.

As has been stated, young Burton was acting as war correspondent for one of the London papers, and had been gathering information about the country around. He had been absent, therefore, when his brother\'s party arrived; but when he came back the first thing he did was to look up Brenda at the hospital. She was struck at once by his healthy appearance. He seemed less nervous and hysterical than he had been in London, for the outdoor life and the vigorous exercise was telling upon him. But his big black eyes flashed as feverishly as ever; nor did they lose their restlessness when Brenda told him of her meeting with Mr. van Zwieten at Durban. To Harold she had never mentioned it, knowing too well his impulsive na............
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