said, 'What a dust do I raise!'"—Æsop.
Oom Paul was in the proud position of this fly in the weeks immediately following the Raid, as well as during many years to come. When we returned to Cape Town early in January, 1896, we found everything in a turmoil. Mr. Rhodes had resigned the premiership and had left for Kimberley, where he had met with a most enthusiastic reception, and Mr. Beit had been left in possession at Groot Schuurr. The latter gentleman appeared quite crushed at the turn events had taken—not so much on account of his own business affairs, which must have been in a critical state, as in regard to the fate of Mr. Lionel Philips, his partner; this gentleman, as well as the other four members of the Reform Committee, and a few lesser lights besides, had all been arrested during the past week at Johannesburg, and charged with high treason. Even at Cape Town, Captain Bettelheim and Mr. S. Joel, who had left the Transvaal, had one forenoon been requested to accompany some mysterious gentleman, and, very much to their surprise, had found themselves lodged in Her Majesty's gaol before lunch. This occurrence came as a bombshell to the Cape Town community, it having been assumed that there was no extradition for political offences. Johannesburg was known to be disarming almost unconditionally "in consequence of a personal appeal from the Governor," and another telegram informed the world that the men in so doing were broken-hearted, but were making the sacrifice in order to save Dr. Jameson's life. Some unkind friends remarked that their grief must have been tempered with relief, in ridding themselves of the weapons that they had talked so much about, and yet did not use when the time for action came. However, the ways of Providence are wonderful, and this inglorious finale was probably the means of averting a terrible civil war. Sir Hercules Robinson was still at Pretoria, conferring with the President, who, it was opined, was playing with him, as nothing either regarding the fate of Dr. Jameson and his officers, or of the political prisoners, had been settled. It was even rumoured that there was a serious hitch in the negotiations, and that Lord Salisbury had presented an ultimatum to the effect that, unless the President ratified the Convention of 1884, and ceased intriguing with Germany, war with England would ensue. This story was never confirmed, and I think the wish was father to the thought. I remember, during those eventful days, attending with Mrs. Harry Lawson a garden-party at Newlands, given by Lady Robinson, who was quite a remarkable personality, and an old friend and admirer of the ex-Prime Minister's. The gardens showed to their greatest advantage in the brilliant sunshine, and an excellent band played charming tunes under the trees; but everyone was so preoccupied—and no one more than the hostess—that it was rather a depressing entertainment.
At last events began to shape themselves. We learnt that the Governor had left Pretoria on January 15, and that the military prisoners, including most of the troopers, were to be sent home to England immediately, for the leaders to stand their trial. The same morning I heard privately that Mr. Rhodes meant to leave by that very evening's mail-steamer for England, to face the inquiry which would certainly ensue, and, if possible, to save the Charter of that Company with which he had so indissolubly connected himself, and which was, so to speak, his favourite child. I remember everyone thought then that this Charter would surely be confiscated, on account of the illegal proceedings of its forces.
The fact of Mr. Rhodes's departure was kept a profound secret, as he wished to avoid any demonstration. The mail-steamer was the even then antiquated Moor of the Union Line, and she was lying a quarter of a mile away from the docks, awaiting her mail-bags and her important passengers. Besides Mrs. Harry Lawson and ourselves, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Beit, and Dr. Rutherford Harris, the two latter of whom were also going to England, embarked quite unnoticed on a small launch, ostensibly to make a tour of the harbour, which as a matter of fact we did, whilst waiting for the belated mail. An object of interest was the chartered P. and O. transport Victoria, which had only the day before arrived from Bombay, with the Lancashire Regiment, 1,000 strong, on board, having been suddenly stopped here on her way home, pessimists at once declaring the reason to be possible trouble with Germany. A very noble appearance she presented that afternoon, with her lower decks and portholes simply swarming with red-coats, who appeared to take a deep interest in our movements. At last we boarded the mail-steamer, and then I had the chance of a few words with the travellers, and of judging how past events had affected them. Mr. Beit looked ill and worried; Mr. Rhodes, on the other hand, seemed to be in robust health, and as calm as the proverbial cucumber. I had an interesting talk to him before we left the ship; he said frankly that, for the first time in his life, during six nights of the late crisis he had not been able to sleep, and that he had been worried to death.
"Now," he added, "I have thought the whole matter out, I have decided what is best to be done, so I am all right again, and I do not consider at forty-three that my career is ended."
"I am quite sure it is not, Mr. Rhodes," was my reply; "and, what is more, I have a small bet with Mr. Lawson that in a year's time you will be in office again, or, if not absolutely in office, as great a factor in South African politics as you have been up to now."
He thought a minute, and then said:
"It will take ten years; better cancel your bet." was careful not to ask him any questions which might be embarrassing for him to answer, but he volunteered that the objects of his visit to England were, first, to do the best he could for his friends at Johannesburg, including his brother Frank, who were now political prisoners, practically at the mercy of the Boers, unless the Imperial Government bestirred itself on their behalf; and, secondly, to save his Charter, if by any means it could be saved. This doubt seemed to haunt him. "My argument is," I remember he said, "they may take away the Charter or leave it, but there is one fact that no man can alter—viz., that a vast and valuable territory has been opened up by that Company in about half the time, and at about a quarter the cost, which the Imperial Government would have required for a like task; so that whether, in consequence of one bad blunder, and partly in order to snub me, Cecil Rhodes, the Company is to cease, or whether it is allowed to go on with its work, its achievements and their results must and will speak for themselves." With reference to the political prisoners, I recollect he repeated more than once:
"You see, I stand in so much stronger a position than they do, in that I am not encumbered with wife and children; so I am resolved to strain every nerve on their behalf." About six o'clock the last bell rang, and, cutting short our conversation, I hurriedly wished him good-bye and good luck, and from the deck of our little steamer we watched the big ship pass out into the night.
We had now been a month in South Africa, and had seen very little of the country, and it appeared that we had chosen a very unfavourable moment for our visit. We were determined, however, not to return home without seeing the Transvaal, peaceful or the reverse. The question was, how to get there. By train one had to allow three days and four nights, and, since the rebellion, to put up with insults into the bargain at the frontier, where luggage and even wearing apparel were subjected to a minute search, involving sometimes a delay of five hours. Our projected departure by sea via Natal was postponed indefinitely, by the non-arrival of the incoming mail-steamer from England, the old Roslin Castle, which was living up to her reputation of breaking down, by being days overdue, so that it was impossible to say when she would be able to leave for Durban. Under these circumstances Sir Hercules Robinson proved a friend in need; and, having admonished us to secrecy, he told us that the P. and O. Victoria, the troopship we had noticed in the harbour, was under orders to leave at once for Durban to pick up Dr. Jameson and the other Raiders at that port; and convey them to England; therefore, as we only wanted to go as far as Durban, he would manage, by permission of the Admiral at Cape Town, to get us passages on board this ship. Of course we were delighted, and early next morning we embarked. It was the first time I had ever been on a troopship, and every moment was of interest. As spick and span as a man-of-war, with her wide, roomy decks, it was difficult to imagine there were 2,000 souls on board the Victoria, and only in the morning, when the regiment paraded, appearing like ants from below, and stretching in unbroken lines all down both sides of the ship, did one realize how large was the floating population, and how strict must be the discipline necessary to keep so many men healthy, contented, and efficient. There were a few other civilians going home on leave, but we were the only so-called "indulgence passengers." The time passed all too quickly, the monotonous hours of all shipboard life, between the six-thirty dinner and bedtime, being whiled away by listening to an excellent military band.
We were told to be dressed and ready to disembark by 6 a.m. on the morning we were due at Durban, as the Admiral had given stringent instructions not to delay there any longer than was necessary. I was therefore horrified, on awaking at five o'clock, to find the engines had already stopped, and, on looking out of the porthole, to see a large tender approaching from the shore, apparently full of people. I scrambled into my clothes, but long before I was dressed the tug was alongside, or as nearly alongside as the heavy swell and consequent deep rolls of our ship would allow. Durban boasts of no harbour for large ships. These have to lie outside the bar, and a smooth sea being the exception on this part of the coast, disembarking is in consequence almost always effected in a sort of basket cage, worked by a crane, and holding three or four people. When I got on deck, the prisoners were still on the tender, being mercilessly rolled about, and they must indeed have been glad when, at six o'clock, the signal to disembark was given.
I shall never forget that striking and melancholy scene. The dull grey morning, of which the dawn had scarcely broken; the huge rollers of the leaden sea, which were lifting our mighty ship as if she had been but a cockleshell; and the tiny steamer, at a safe distance, her deck crowded with sunburnt men, many of whose faces were familiar to us, and who were picturesquely attired, for the most part, in the very same clothes they had worn on their ill-fated march—flannel shirts, khaki breeches, high boots, and the large felt hats of the Bechuanaland Border Police, which they were wearing probably for the last time. As soon as they came on board we were able to have a few hasty words with those we knew, and their faces seem to pass in front of me as I write: Sir John Willoughby and Captain C. Villiers, both in the Royal Horse Guards, apparently nonchalant and without a care in the world; Colonel Harry White—alas! dead—and his brother Bobby, who were as fit as possible and as cheery as ever, but inclined to be mutinous with their unwilling gaolers; Major Stracey, Scots Guards, with his genial and courtly manners, apparently still dazed at finding himself a prisoner and amongst rebels; Mr. Cyril Foley, one of the few civilians, and Mr. Harold Grenfell, 1st Life Guards, like boys who expect a good scolding when they get home; and last, but not least, Dr. Jameson, to whom we were introduced. "What will they do with us?" was the universal question, and on this point we could give them no information; but it can be imagined they were enchanted to see some friendly faces after a fortnight's incarceration in a Boer prison, during the first part of which time they daily expected to be led out and shot. I remember asking Dr. Jameson what I think must have been a very embarrassing question, although he did not seem to resent it. It was whether an express messenger from Johannesburg, telling him not to start, as the town was not unanimous and the movement not ripe, had reached him the day before he left Mafeking. He gave no direct answer, but remarked: "I received so many messages from day to day, now telling me to come, then to delay starting, that I thought it best to make up their minds for them, before the Boers had time to get together."
We were soon hurried on shore, as Mr. Beresford, the 7th Hussars, who had brought the prisoners on board, had to return to the town to make some necessary purchases for them, in the way of clothes, for they possessed nothing but what they stood up in.
We left Durban immediately by train for Pietermaritzburg, where we were the guests of Sir Walter and Lady Hely Hutchinson, at Government House, a very small but picturesque residence where Lady Hely Hutchinson received us most kindly in the absence of her husband, who was in the Transvaal, superintending the departure of the remaining prisoners. Here we seemed to have left warlike conditions behind us, for the town was agog with the excitement of a cricket-match, between Lord Hawke's eleven and a Natal fifteen. On the cricket-field we met again two of our Tantallon Castle fellow-passengers, Mr. Guest and Mr. H. Milner, who had come down from Johannesburg with the cricketers. We were interested to compare notes and to hear Mr. Milner's adventures, which really made us smile, though they could hardly have been a laughing matter to him at the time. He told us that, after twice visiting Captain C. Coventry, who was wounded in the Raid, at the Krugersdorp Hospital without molestation, on the third occasion, when returning by train to Johannesburg, he was roughly pulled out of his carriage at ten o'clock at night, and told that, since he had no passport, he was to be arrested on the charge of being a spy. In vain did he tell them that only at the last station his passport had been demanded in such peremptory terms that he had been forced to give it up. They either would not or could not understand him. In consequence the poor man tasted the delights of a Boer gaol for a whole night, and, worst indignity of all, had for companions two criminals and a crowd of dirty Kaffirs. The following morning, he said, his best friend would not have known him, so swollen and distorted was his face from the visitations of the inseparable little companions of the Kaffir native. He was liberated on bail next day, and finally set free, with a scanty apology of mistaken identity. At any other time such an insult to an Englishman would have made some stir; as it was, everyone was so harassed that he was hardly pitied.
The Governor returned two days before our departure, and we had a gay time, between entertainments for the cricketers and festivities given by the 7th Hussars. Feeling in Durban, with regard to the Raiders, was then running high, and for hours did a vast crowd wait at the station merely in order to give the troopers of the Chartered Forces some hearty cheers, albeit they passed at midnight in special trains without stopping. Very loyal, too, were these colonists, and no German would have had a pleasant time of it there just then, with the Kaiser's famous telegram to Kruger fresh in everyone's memory.
From Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg the railway journey was a very interesting one. North of Newcastle we saw a station bearing the name of Ingogo; later on the train wound round the base of Majuba Hill, and when that was felt behind it plunged into a long rocky tunnel which pierces the grassy slope on which the tragedy of Laing's Nek was enacted—all names, alas! too well known in the annals of our disasters. After leaving the Majuba district, we came to the Transvaal frontier, where we had been told we might meet with scanty courtesy. However, we had no disagreeable experiences, and then the train emerged on the endless rolling green plains which extend right up to and beyond the mining district of the Rand.
Now and then one perceived a trek waggon and oxen with a Boer and his family, either preceded or followed by a herd of cattle, winding their slow way along the dusty red track they call road. At the stations wild-looking Kaffir women, half naked and anything but attractive in appearance, came and stared at the train and its passengers. It is in this desolate country that Johannesburg, the Golden City, sprang up, as it were, like a fungus, almost in a night. Nine years previously the Rand—since the theatre of so much excitement and disappointment—the source of a great part of the wealth of London at the present day, was as innocent of buildings and as peaceful in appearance as those lonely plains over which we had travelled. As we approached Johannesburg, little white landmarks like milestones made their appearance, and these, we were told, were new claims pegged out. The thought suggested itself that this part of South Africa is in some respects a wicked country, with, it would almost seem, a blight resting on it: sickness, to both man and beast, is always stalking round; drought is a constant scourge to agriculture; the locust plagues ruin those crops and fruit that hailstones and scarcity of water have spared; and all the while men vie with and tread upon one another in their rush and eagerness after the gold which the land keeps hidden. Small wonder this district has proved such a whirlpool of evil influences, where everyone is always striving for himself, and where disillusions and bitter experiences have caused each man to distrust his neighbour.
Colonel Frank Rhodes, Mr. G. Farrar, Mr. Hammond, and Mr. C. Leonard.
Mr. Rhodes died in the spring of 1902.
Now Colonel Stracey Clitheroe.
Now Colonel Grenfell, 3rd Dragoon Guards.
Now Major Beresford.