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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XXVI IN CAPTIVITY
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After the excitement of that day and night came five days of quiet--quiet at least for Captain and Mrs. Burton, held prisoners as they were in a Boer house on the slope of a rocky hill sparsely covered with grass. It was the homestead of a sheep farm and the animals fed amongst the hills, and, when the seasons served, down on the plain. The stone house was solidly built; it was of one storey, with a roof of corrugated iron, and was comfortable enough after the Dutch fashion, so that on the whole Brenda and her husband were not unpleasantly situated. More over they were allowed to be together--a privilege which they valued highly. Indeed, it was the sole thing which rendered this captivity tolerable.

As it happened, Piet Bok was unable to send them to Pretoria as he had wished. The Boers were now engaged with Buller\'s division, and were falling back to a hill called Spion Kop, a name hardly known at that time, but fated in two or three days to be spoken of all over the world. Not a burgher could be spared to escort them to the capital, but, strangely enough, a sufficient number were told off to guard the farm house. Harold was somewhat suspicious of this arrangement--suspicious that somehow Van Zwieten had had to do with it; but he had no means of making certain. The Dutchman had never come near them, but they feared him all the more now that he was out of sight, and fully expected some fresh trouble. As he had warned Mrs. Burton, he had not done with them yet.

Occasionally they were visited by Piet Bok, and the old man still seemed as kindly disposed as ever, but as yet he could do nothing to help them; so for five days they had to make the best of their irksome captivity. Not even a book or a paper could they find. However, putting aside the constant dread of Van Zwieten, they were not unhappy. The house stood so high that there was a splendid view of a large plain, and on the left a huddle of hills. Beyond these the fighting was going on, and the prisoners could hear the boom of the cannon and the shriek of shells. At times they could see the smoke of the battle afar off. Harold hoped that the advance of the army would bring them help at last, but the fighting was in a more westerly direction, and the hoped-for help never came.

"If we could only escape, Brenda!" he said for the hundredth time. "It is maddening to be shut up here and to listen to all that! We must make one desperate attempt to get away. You are not afraid, I know?"

"I am not afraid," replied his wife, "but we must not be rash. We have no weapons, no horses, no food. I don\'t see how we are to manage it."

"Nor do I, unless Piet Bok will help us. These men outside would give us no quarter if we tried to get away. They are just dying to get rid of us."

Brenda shuddered. "Harold, don\'t! It is terrible to think of. I feel sure all will come right in the end."

"It won\'t if Van Zwieten can help it."

"He will have enough to do to look after himself. Harold, that man will die!"

"How do you know? Do you mean a violent death, and that soon?"

"Yes, that is just what I do mean. My mother was a Highland woman, and had what they call second-sight. I have not got it myself, I suppose, because I am not a pure Celt. But I have enough of the seer in me to have a presentiment about that man! I feel certain that he will die by violence, and that shortly. I can\'t explain myself more clearly."

"One never can explain a feeling of that sort. You told this to Van Zwieten himself?"

"Yes, and I frightened him. Perhaps that is why he has not been near us."

"I should not have thought he was superstitious, Brenda; nor you either, for that matter."

"I am not, as a rule," was her reply, "but I feel that what I say is true. Van Zwieten will die!"

Harold, sturdy, stolid Englishman as he was, tried to argue her out of this idea, but he gave it up as hopeless. She had made up her mind that their enemy was a dead man, or would be dead within a few days. Strange to say, it was on that very day that he paid them his first visit. He looked as handsome and as burly as ever. Going by appearances, he had a good many years of villainy before him yet.

He came up to the veranda and saluted Mrs. Burton with a low bow of which she took no notice.

"You are surprised to see me?" he said, with his usual cool insolence.

"I cannot say that I am surprised at anything you do," was Harold\'s disdainful reply. "But if you have come to make the same proposition you made before, I warn you that I shall not listen to it so patiently."

The Dutchman cast a quick glance at the slender figure of the other man. "I am not afraid of you," he sneered; "you have no weapons--neither sword nor revolver."

"I can use my fists even on such a big bully as you!"

"As you please. But I don\'t see much chance of delivering my message until you moderate your tone."

"What is your message?" asked Brenda, speaking for the first time.

"I come to offer you freedom."

"On what conditions?"

"There are none. I love you still. If I had my way I would kill your husband and marry you. But unfortunately," said Van Zwieten, with a sneer, "I am amongst a very moral people. Piet Bok has told the Boer generals about what they are pleased to call my wickedness, and I have been informed that if I persist in my plans I may say good-bye to all advancement amongst the godly Boers. Now I am a poor man, and cannot afford to lose all I have gained. Ambition for me must be stronger than love. So, Mrs. Burton, I give you up!"

"Thank God!" cried she, clasping her hands; adding, as an afterthought, "If I could only believe you!"

"Oh, you can believe me," he said gloomily. "If I were only a rich man--rich enough to give up my position here--I would never rest until you were mine. But the choice lies now between you and my position. I choose to lose you. From this moment you need have no fear of me. You can go with your husband where you will. You do not love me--I know it now--but him you do love--unworthy though he is----"

"That is a lie!" Captain Burton cried, starting up.

"Hush, Harold! Is it worth while arguing about? Let him go on. Well, Mr. van Zwieten, you have come to tell us this. What else?"

"I have come to offer you my assistance to escape."

"Oh! That is what I hardly expected to hear you say. And you must pardon me if I don\'t believe you."

"As you please," he said again. "But you can escape to-night if you will. The men here now I shall take away with me shortly. Two horses will be left behind--food is in the house; and here are a couple of revolvers--one for you and one for Burton."

They took the weapons in silence. Could this be Van Zwieten? They did not know him in this new r?le of self-abnegation, and the suspicions of both husband and wife were thoroughly aroused. But the revolvers were good ones, and they were loaded. Could it be that he spoke truly and that he was anxious now to retrieve his past, to give up his plotting and spying and to live a virtuous life amongst the too-moral Boers, who had indeed, perhaps, forced him to do this thing?

Still Brenda looked doubtfully at him, for compulsory righteousness was somewhat hard to credit.

"I see you don\'t believe me," he said, after a pause. "Well, perhaps you are right. It is rather late in the day for me to turn saint. But you may be sure I should not do this unless I had some very strong inducement. If you are taken to Pretoria you will only remain to vex my eyes, and I want to get you out of sight. That is my reason for giving you your freedom. To-night I will send a messenger who will guide you to the British outposts. They are not so far off as you think. Buller has advanced almost to Spion Kop, and he has taken several of our positions. If he gets Spion Kop--and I understand Warren intends to capture it if he can--he will have the key to our position and will march on to Ladysmith. But"--he shrugged his shoulders--"there is many a slip, you know. Well, I will go in and get my men. Will you follow my messenger?"

"I can\'t say yet," Captain Burton said bluntly. "You speak fair enough, but this may be a trick for all I know."

"How should I benefit by a trick?" Van Zwieten asked. "If I wanted to kill you I could do it now, and no one would be the wiser. The Boers here would shoot you with pleasure. But if I killed you and took Mrs. Burton, why, then, good-bye to my chance of becoming President of the Confederate States of South Africa. No, I will let you go; it suits me better. Love, as I said, must yield to ambition. But if you do not believe me, stay here. My messenger shall come at eight o\'clock to-night. Follow him or not as you please. Good-bye, Mrs. Burton. You little know what it is to me to give you up; but you must say I afford you every chance of being happy with your husband."

Brenda looked at him. She began to think he was acting in good faith after all.

"I am not ungrateful," she said gently. "We will follow your messenger. Good-bye," and she held out her hand to him.

Van Zwieten bent over it and kissed it. Then he drew himself up, looked at Harold steadfastly and turned away in silence.

"Do you believe in him?" asked Brenda after a pause.

"I don\'t know. Upon my soul, I don\'t know. He is such a scoundrel. I wonder you could let him kiss your hand, Brenda!"

"Craft must be met by craft," she replied in a whisper. "You silly boy, you don\'t mean to say you are jealous of that? Can\'t you see that I wanted to disarm his suspicions so that we might get away safely?"

"Then you don\'t believe in him?

"No; he has some scheme in his head. Hush, it\'s not safe to talk about it now--when he\'s gone. Meanwhile, let him thi............
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