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The story takes place during the time of the first Boer War, in 1880-81. Captain John Niel comes to work on the Transvaal farm of a fellow Englishman, Silas Croft, and becomes involved in a love triangle of sorts with Croft's two nieces. One of them, Bessie, is a pretty, hardworking blond; the other, Jess, is plainer looking, intellectual, and deep thinking. Niel becomes engaged to Bessie, but after being trapped with Jess in the siege at Pretoria, realizes that he is in love with her. This makes for quite a mess for these people of high honor. To add to the problems, Haggard throws in one of his best villains, Frank Muller, an Anglo-Boer who has designs on Bessie himself and who wants to kill off the rest of her family, steal their farm, become a great Boer leader and ultimately rule all of South Africa as some kind of monarch. Muller is a truly memorable and hissable villain; extremely handsome, and with a flowing blond beard, full of contradictions and yet quite intelligent, he really does impress.

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