At any rate it was absolutely necessary that she should know what was happening. She might as well be a hundred miles away as a hundred yards. "Jantje," she said, "tell me where the Boers are." "Some are in the waggon-house, missie, some are on sentry, and the rest are down by the waggon they brought with them and outspanned behind the gums there.
This condition of affairs was as favourable as possible to their enterprise, and under cover of it the Hottentot and the white girl crept far down the hill to within twelve or fourteen paces of the back of the waggon-house. Then Jantje, who was leading, suddenly put back his hand and checked her, and at that moment Jess caught the sound of a sentry's footsteps as he tramped leisurely up and down.
This time there was no sound to be heard except the regular tramp of the sentries. But their present business did not take them to the waggon-house; they left that on their right, and went on towards the blue-gum avenue. When they were nearly opposite to the first tree they halted in a patch of stones, and Jantje slipped forward to reconnoitre.
Some of the men obeyed, and to them he gave instructions in the same terms that he had given to the other two men who were watching old Silas, ordering Bessie to be instantly incarcerated in the corresponding little room on the other side of the waggon-house, and kept strictly from all communication with the outside world, adding, however, these words: "Bid the burghers assemble in the waggon-house for the trial of the Englishman, Silas Croft, for treason against the State, and attempted murder of one of the burghers of the State in the execution of the commands of the Triumvirate."
There is a sentry at the back of the waggon-house, and two in front. But," he added, "perhaps we might get near. I will go out and look at the night." Presently he returned and said that a "small rain" had come on, and the clouds covered up the stars so that it was very dark. "Well, let us go at once," said Jess. "Missie, you had better not go," answered the Hottentot.
Her first thought was of escape, but soon she came to the conclusion that this was a practical impossibility. The stout yellow wood door was locked upon her, and a sentry stood before it. She rose and looked through the air-hole in the rear wall, but there another sentry was posted. Then she turned her attention to the side wall that divided the room from the waggon-house.
Presently he ceased stroking his beard and sat for some minutes perfectly still so still that he might have been carved in stone. By this time the afternoon sun had sunk behind the hill and the deep waggon-house was full of shadow that seemed to gather round him and invest him with a sombre, mysterious grandeur.
It was built of fourteen-inch green brickwork, and had cracked from the shrinkage of the bricks, so that she could hear everything that went on in the waggon-house, and even see anybody who might be moving about in it. But it was far too strong for her to hope to be able to break through, and even if she did, it would be useless, for armed men were there also.
Then, faint and overpowered, she was led through the little plantation, over a gap in the garden wall, down past the scorched syringa-trees which lined the roadway that ran along the hillside at the back of the still burning house, till they reached the waggon-house with the two little rooms which served respectively as a store and a harness room.
The cook's quarters, kitchens, men's quarters, store, meat-house, and waggon-house, facing each other on either side of this oblong space, formed a short avenue-the main thoroughfare of the homestead the centre of which was occupied by an immense wood-heap, the favourite gossiping place of some of the old black fellows, while across the western end of it, and looking down it, but a little aloof from the rest of the buildings, stood the house, or, rather, as much of it as had been rebuilt after the cyclone of 1897.