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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XXVIII. CALM AFTER STORM
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CHAPTER XXVIII. CALM AFTER STORM
Two weeks later Mrs. Burton was in Maritzburg, by the sick-bed of her husband. As prophesied by Wilfred, the attempt to relieve Ladysmith by storming the impregnable positions of the enemy had failed. Certainly Warren had been so successful as to have seized Spion Kop, but only to abandon it on finding the position untenable. Then Buller very wisely had fallen back on his original line of defence across the Tugela; and the retreat had been conducted in a masterly fashion, without the loss of a man or a gun. Brenda and her wounded husband had gone back also to Spearman\'s Camp, and later on had gone on to Maritzburg. Wilfred was left in his lonely grave under the shadow of Spion Kop, where also lay the body of Van Zwieten.

Harold\'s wound was dangerous, but had not proved fatal. He had been invalided home by the doctors; and so soon as he might be able to travel he was to sail for England. But when that would be it was difficult to say. For some days he had hovered between life and death; but now he had turned the corner and was gradually winning his way back to life under the loving and skillful care of his wife. He was out of danger and on a fair way to recovery, but it would be many a long day before he would be able to fight again.

In the meantime, Mr. Scarse, hearing that his daughter was safe and sound, had now returned from Durban, and was staying at the same hotel. He was thankful to know that at last she was to be spared the persecutions of Van Zwieten, whose death he openly rejoiced in. He was greatly astonished at the news that Wilfred had killed Malet, but he hardly censured him so severely as a Little Englander might have been expected to do in the circumstances. But, indeed, Mr. Scarse was by no means so virulent against his country now as he had been in the past. His visit to South Africa had opened his eyes to the other side of the question, particularly to the many failings of the Boers. He had learned from experience that England was not invariably wrong; that however she might blunder, she had usually right on her side. In fact, both as a father and a politician, Mr. Scarse was a reformed character.

Harold was terribly distressed to hear of the death of his brother. For a long time Brenda kept the news from him, fearing its effect in his weak state. But the day came when it could no longer be withheld, and she was obliged to tell him the truth.

It was a glorious tropical morning. Her father had gone out, and she was seated by her husband\'s bed, holding his hand in her own. His beard had grown, he was thin and haggard, but his eyes were bright and full of intelligence. He was anxious, and able now to hear all that had to be told. And she told him everything. He was amazed.

"Wilfred killed Malet!" he said, hardly believing his ears. "But he had a sprained ankle on that night. It is impossible!"

"His sprain was feigned to protect himself," replied Brenda, sadly; "it is all in his confession."

"He left a written confession?"

"Yes, he wrote everything as it happened on that night, and carried the statement about with him, to be placed in the hands of you or myself when he died. Hush, Harold, dear, you must not speak. Here is my father."

Mr. Scarse entered on tiptoe to inquire how the invalid was getting on. He brought in some fruit--always a welcome gift to the convalescent. He had heard enough to acquaint him with the subject under discussion. So busy had Brenda been in nursing her husband that she had not found time to tell the whole story to her father. Now he asked her for details, and she went over them again for his benefit.

"But why did Wilfred kill the man?" he asked.

"From sheer patriotic feeling," answered his daughter. "He found out that Mr. Malet was supplying information about our defences to Van Zwieten, and he remonstrated with him. Malet laughed at his scruples and denied his complicity. Then Wilfred searched Mr. Malet\'s desk and found papers which proved conclusively his treachery. Then it was he decided to kill him to save the honor of the family."

"Well," said Scarse, reflectively, "murder is a terrible crime; but if ever it is excusable, surely it is in such circumstances as these."

"So I think," chimed in Harold. "A man who betrays his country should not be allowed to live. In his place I would have acted just as Wilfred did. It was not a murder; it was well-deserved extermination."

"It is terrible, nevertheless. Read the confession, Brenda," said Mr. Scarse.

"No. I can tell you the story better. Harold must not be wearied, and the confession is long. Wilfred has stated at great length the reasons which led him to this act, and sets out a strong defence of it. He never regretted it at all events."

"Go on, Brenda, dear child. I am anxious to hear how he did it."

She glanced at Harold to see if he was listening, and began: "I need not weary you with his own defence," she said. "As I have told you, from papers in Mr. Malet\'s desk he found out that he was a traitor, and was supplying Van Zwieten with information concerning the plans of the Government, the number of men and guns which we could place in the field, and many other things which the Transvaal authorities wished to know. Had Kruger and his gang not known that we were wholly unprepared, they would not have dared to defy Great Britain and risk this war. Mr. Malet, it appears, is responsible for a great deal--indeed, for the whole war!"

"The scoundrel!" Harold said weakly. "I am glad, indeed, that Wilfred shot him. I would have done so myself."

"To ward off suspicions from his doings, Malet posed as an Imperialist. He saw Van Zwieten only at intervals. It was to obtain possession of some papers from Malet that Van Zwieten came down to Chippingholt, and for that reason he extorted an invitation from you, father."

"I thought he was anxious to come," Mr. Scarse said. "Now I can see it all."

She continued: "Wilfred heard that Van Zwieten was at the cottage, and kept a sharp eye on Malet. He found out that he was to meet Van Zwieten on that night and give him some documents. He then made up his mind to kill him, to save--as I have said--the honor of the family, as well as to punish him for his wickedness in betraying his own country.

"Shortly before nine o\'clock, Van Zwieten came to the Manor and entered the library by one of the French windows. It was his voice that Lady Jenny heard when she went to see if her husband was back from his walk. Indeed, it was Malet who brought Van Zwieten to the library to give him the papers. When Lady Jenny was on her way to the Rectory to see you, Harold, Wilfred escorted her. She mentioned that she had heard voices in the library, and wondered with whom her husband had been speaking. Wilfred guessed at once that the man was at his scoundrelly work, and was more than ever determined to put a stop to it. To get away from Lady Jenny without exciting her suspicion, and also to prove an alibi in case he shot the man, he pretended to sprain his ankle. Lady Jenny was quite unsuspicious, and went on to the Rectory alone. As you know, she never reached it, having been stopped by the storm. As soon as she was out of sight, Wilfred hastened back to the house with the intention of confronting both men, and killing Malet if he did not take the papers back from Van Zwieten. He also entered the library by the French window, so the servants never saw him come in. He found the room empty, as Van Zwieten had gone away, and Malet with him--I suppose it was to receive further instructions. Wilfred saw the revolvers belonging to Harold on a side-table, for Mr. Malet had been using them that afternoon. He took one, found that it was loaded, and hastened after the pair. Knowing that Van Zwieten was at our cottage, he went first in that direction; but for a long time he could see neither of them. At last he caught sight of Malet in the orchards, just before the storm. He was talking with a man whom Wilfred took to be you, father."

"My brother, I sup............
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