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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XXIV. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
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CHAPTER XXIV. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
Brenda\'s reasoning power was not at fault in that moment of excitement. Harold, with his small patrol party, had crossed the river. She, too, was across the river--Van Zwieten had told her that. It was Harold\'s voice she had heard; she could not be mistaken. It was no matter of the wish being father to the thought. It was his voice she had heard--the voice of her own husband. He was there in the farmhouse with his party.

"Thank God!" she cried, raising herself with difficulty.

Where Van Zwieten was she did not know. He could not harm her now; Harold was there to protect her. Clinging to the stones of the fence in the drenching rain, she cried his name aloud again. There was silence, then the sound of many voices and the tramp of feet.

"Who goes there?" asked a gruff, military voice.

"I--an Englishwoman--Mrs. Burton--let me in."

The gruff voice uttered an exclamation of astonishment, and there sounded the dull thud of a rifle being grounded. Immediately afterward she heard a light footstep on the veranda of the house, and her husband\'s voice, surprised and incredulous.

"Brenda!"

"Oh, Harold, Harold, it is I! Let me in--let me in!"

The gate in the wall was pushed open and several privates emerged. Someone carrying a lantern swung it so that the light fell on her pale and haggard face. Then, with a low cry of astonishment, her husband picked her up in his arms and carried her into the house.

"Good God! Brenda, what are you doing--how did you come here?"

She could not speak--she was sobbing on his breast. He placed her gently on the hard sofa. Then she found her voice. But she could think of nothing--say nothing. She could only rejoice in having found him.

"Oh, Harold, Harold! Thank God, I have been led to you!"

"My poor girl, you are cold and wet and exhausted. Here, drink this brandy, and I\'ll get something cooked for you. Don\'t exhaust yourself more by trying to explain. That will come after."

He had thought of her far away--safe and sound in Spearman\'s Camp. Even now he had some faint notion that Van Zwieten had something to do with this, though how he could have managed it he couldn\'t for the life of him conjecture.

She smiled lovingly at him, and submitted to be wheeled in the chair to the fire. Her habit was soaking wet, and steaming now in the heat. He knelt beside her and took her hand.

The room was of no great size. It was furnished quite roughly with a few chairs and a sofa, and a table of unpainted deal. Pictures from the Illustrated London News and the Graphic were on the walls; there was a portrait of President Kruger, looking even more grim than usual, over the mantelpiece; from its presence she judged that the owners of the place were rebels. Outside, the rain still came down in torrents, and in a room close by she could hear the men keeping up their spirits and doing their best to make all gay within. Making her take off her soaking habit, her husband wrapped her in his military cloak. He asked no questions, for he saw that she was not in a fit state of mind to answer them. She began once or twice to try and tell him, but he would not listen.

"When you have something to eat, dear, and have got these wet things off, then I am ready to listen to all the miracles you have to tell me, for I can\'t conceive how you came here in this plight except by a miracle."

Then a woman--who so far belied the traditions of Boer female beauty as to be exceeding lean instead of stout--entered the room with a tray of smoking dishes. She was a kindly creature, and smiled pleasantly. She spoke nothing but low Dutch, and answered to the name of Tant\' Wilhelmina. If she were at heart a rebel she showed no sign of hostility outwardly. She bustled Brenda into another room, and there supplied her with garments, dry certainly, but of the most wonderful design and colour.

Clothed in these things--which were in truth the Boer woman\'s Sunday finery--Brenda came back to the sitting-room. Even such garments could not take away from her beauty, though they effectually concealed every line of her figure. She sat down to the table and ate. Harold had gone to see his men. Then she sipped a little of the brandy and sat herself down by the fire. She felt as though she would never be warm. But after all she had undergone, this peace and rest was heavenly.

"Well, dearest," said her husband, entering quickly, "how do you feel now?"

"Better--much better. Come and sit by me, Harold, and I will tell you how I come to be here. You are just dying to know, and trying not to show it for my sake!"

He unbuckled his sword and drew a chair beside his wife. "I am very much astonished," he said, taking her hand in his, "but I have an idea before you say a word. Is it Van Zwieten?"

"Yes! I thought you might guess as much. I left the camp for a ride, and my pony bolted. Mr. van Zwieten, it appears, through the agency of a Kaffir, arranged it all by tampering with the bit. I was thrown; there I lay alone on the veldt. He came up and carried me off on his horse. When the storm burst I managed to wrench myself free and ran toward the lights in the house. But I never, never expected to find you here, dearest! It is God\'s mercy that has led me to you."

"I have only been here a few hours," he explained. "Warren\'s division had started, and we are to remain until it comes up. How strange that we should meet here. So Van Zwieten is at his tricks again! The brute! How I wish I could get a shot at him. Did he come near the house with you?"

"No. When he heard the shots he rode away; at least, I think so. But I am safe with you, Harold!"

"For the time being, Brenda. But it is just as likely as not Van Zwieten, knowing where you are, will return with a Boer force and try to take the house. This is the enemy\'s country, and they have not yet retired before the advance. I expect the division about dawn; but there will be time for Van Zwieten to attack before then."

"Harold! promise to shoot me before I fall into his hands."

The perspiration broke out on the young man\'s forehead. "If the worst comes, Brenda, I will," he said solemnly, "but I hope to shoot him. Of course, he may not bring any Boers up after all. They must know of Warren\'s advance, and I dare say they\'ll be afraid to linger outside their entrenchments. How did Van Zwieten find you on the veldt?"

"He watched the camp and followed me. Oh Harold, the whole thing was a scheme of his own to get possession of me. When I escaped he was taking me to the Boer camp; and he intended to send me to Pretoria."

"To marry you, I suppose, after I was shot! How did he treat you, Brenda?"

Mrs. Burton met her husband\'s gaze fearlessly. "With all courtesy," she said. "If I had been his sister he could not have treated me better. And I had my revolver, you know, until he took it from me.

"The scoundrel! I am glad you were well treated. I have to thank him for so much consideration. But if he had not----" Harold clenched his fist.

"I would have killed myself!" said his wife, with equal fierceness. "You can trust me, Harold. You don\'t suppose anything--anything, even torture, could change me?"

"No, dear; I know you are the bravest little woman in the world. I have the utmost faith in you. I should be a cur if I had not. Tell me more about this brute\'s plotting."

This she did, omitting no detail from the time when Van Zwieten had picked her up on the veldt to the time of her meeting with him, her husband. He ground his teeth as he listened; yet he was relieved to find things were no worse. In spite of the Dutchman\'s villainy, he was inclined to think better of him than he had hitherto done. Dishonourable as he was, he had at least treated a defenceless woman with respect. At the conclusion of the story he kissed her again for her bravery.

"Dearest, you have been splendid! I am a lucky fellow to have so plucky a little soul for my wife. Curse the man! I long for the moment when I shall be face to face with him. He deserves nothing better than a bullet; and he\'ll get it if I can shoot straight."

"No, don\'t shoot him," said Brenda; "he behaved well to me. He is a spy and a scoundrel, but he is not a brute. And, Harold, I really believe he loves me truly!"

"Who would not love you, my own?" said her husband, tenderly. "Yes, I can see he loves you. It is the best feeling in his black heart. All the same, I wish he would transfer this chivalrous affection to some other quarter and leave you alone."

"I am afraid he will never leave me alone until he dies!"

"Then he must die!" cried her husband, fiercely. "I shall protect you from these insults at any cost. Curse him, I wish I had shot him at Chippingholt when he accused me of murdering Malet. But we will talk of this another time, Brenda. You are worn out. Lie down on the sofa, dear, and try to sleep. Let me put my cloak over you."

"But you, Harold?"

"I must keep my eyes about me. I have an idea that Van Zwieten will bring his Boers up before dawn."

"If you think so, would it not be better to retreat tow............
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