Coats of wool and corduroy pants,
Gold and wine, women and sin,
I'll give to you, if you let me in
To the glittering house of chance."
American Dice Incantation.
At Johannesburg we were the guests of Mr. Abe Bailey at Clewer Lodge. Our host, however, was unfortunately absent, "detained" in the precincts of the gaol at Pretoria, although allowed out on bail. In the same house he had entertained in 1891 my brother Randolph and his friend Captain G. Williams, Royal Horse Guards, on their way to Mashonaland. One of my first visitors was another fellow-traveller of theirs, Mr. H.C. Perkins, the celebrated American mining expert. This gentleman was a great friend of Randolph's, and he spoke most touchingly of his great attachment to the latter, and of his grief at his death. For five years Mr. and Mrs. Perkins had lived in Johannesburg, where they both enjoyed universal respect, and their approaching departure, to settle once more in America, was deplored by all. Considered to be the highest mining expert of the day, Mr. Perkins had seen the rise of the Rand since its infancy, and he had been shrewd enough to keep out of the late agitation and its disturbances. Under his guidance we saw the sights of the towns: the far-famed Rand Club; the Market Square, crammed, almost for the first time since the so-called "revolution," with trek-waggons and their Boer drivers; the much-talked-of "Gold-fields" offices, barred and barricaded, which had been the headquarters of the Reform Committee; the Standard Bank, where the smuggled arms had been kept; and finally the Exchange and the street enclosed by iron chains, where the stock markets were principally carried on. We were also shown the interior of the Stock Exchange itself, though we were warned that it was scarcely worth a visit at that time of depression. We heard the "call of the shares," which operation only took twenty minutes, against nearly two hours during the time of the recent boom. Instead of the listless, bored-looking individuals below us, who only assumed a little excitement when the revolving, clock-like machine denoted any popular share, we were told that a few months ago every available space had been crowded by excited buyers and sellers—some without hats, others in their shirt-sleeves, almost knocking one another over in their desire to do business. Those must indeed have been palmy days, when the money so lightly made was correspondingly lightly spent; when champagne replaced the usual whisky-split at the Rand Club, and on all sides was to be heard the old and well-known formula, "Here's luck," as the successful speculator toasted an old friend or a newcomer.
However, to return to Johannesburg as we found it, after the 1895 boom. Even then it seemed to me that for the first time in South Africa I saw life. Cape Town, with its pathetic dullness and palpable efforts to keep up a show of business; Kimberley, with its deadly respectability—both paled in interest beside their younger sister, so light-hearted, reckless, and enterprising. Before long, in spite of gloomy reflections on the evils of gold-seeking, I fell under the fascination of what was then a wonderful town, especially wonderful from its youth. The ever-moving crowds which thronged the streets, every man of which appeared to be full of important business and in a desperate hurry, reminded one of the City in London. Smart carriages with well-dressed ladies drove rapidly past, the shops were cunningly arranged with tempting wares, and all this bustle and traffic was restored in little over a week. A fortnight previously a revolution was impending and a siege was looming ahead. Business had been at a complete standstill, the shops and houses barred and barricaded, and many of the inhabitants were taking a hurried departure; while bitterness, discord, and racial feeling were rampant. Now, after a few days, that cosmopolitan and rapidly changing population appeared to have buried their differences, and the uninitiated would never have guessed the town had passed, and was, indeed, still passing, through troublous times. Mr. Perkins, however, was pessimistic, and told us appearances were misleading. He rightly foresaw many lean years for those interested in the immediate future of the Rand, though even he, perhaps, hardly realized how lean those would become. Since those days much water has flown under the bridge, and the trade of the town, not to speak of the mining industry, has gone from bad to worse. Recently Federation, the dream of many a statesman connected with South Africa, has opened a new vista of political peace and prosperity to its chastened citizens. Many of these, in affluent circumstances in 1896, have since gone under financially; but some of the original inhabitants still remain to show in the future that they have learned wisdom from their past troubles, brought on principally by their mad haste to get rich too quickly.
During our stay at Johannesburg we made an expedition to Pretoria in order to see our host and other friends, who were still on bail there, awaiting their trial, and also to visit the seat of the Boer Government. By these remarkable State railways the short journey of thirty-two miles occupied three hours. We passed one very large Boer laager, or military camp, on the line, which looked imposing enough in the bright sunlight, with its shining array of white-tarpaulin-covered waggons; companies of mounted burghers, armed to the teeth, and sitting their ragged but well-bred ponies as if glued to the saddle, were to be seen galloping to and fro. Although the teeth of the enemy had been drawn for the present, the Boers were evidently determined to keep up a martial display. As Pretoria was approached the country became very pretty: low hills and many trees, including lovely weeping-willows, appeared on the landscape, and away towards the horizon was situated many a snug little farm; running streams caught the rays of the sun, and really rich herbage supplied the pasture for herds of fat cattle. The town itself did not prove specially interesting. An imposing space called Church Square was pointed out to us with great pride by the Dutch gentleman who kindly did cicerone. There we saw the little primitive "dopper" church where the President always worshipped, overshadowed and dwarfed by the magnificent Houses of Parliament, built since the Transvaal acquired riches, and by the no less grand Government Offices. As we were standing before the latter, after the fashion of tourists, our guide suddenly became very excited, and told us we were really in good luck, for the President was just about to leave his office on his return home for his midday meal. In a few minutes the old gentleman emerged, guarded by four armed burghers, and passed rapidly into his carriage. We took a good look at this remarkable personage. Stout in figure, with a venerable white beard, in a somewhat worn frock-coat and a rusty old black silk hat, President Kruger did not look the stern dictator of his little kingdom which in truth he was. Our Dutch friend told us Oom Paul was in the habit of commencing work at 5 a.m., and that he transacted business, either at his house or in the Government Offices, with short intermissions, until 5 p.m. Simply worshipped by his burghers, he was on a small scale, and in his ignorant fashion, a man of iron like Bismarck, notably in his strong will and in the way in which he imposed the same on his countrymen. The extent of his personal influence could be gauged when one considered that his mere orders had restrained his undisciplined soldier-burghers, who, irritated by being called away from their peaceful existences, maddened by the loss of some of their number who fell in the fighting, and elated by their easy victory, were thirsting to shoot down the leaders of the Raid, as they stood, in the market-square at Krugersdorp. The state of the Boer Government at that time added to the President's difficulties. He was hampered by the narrowest—minded Volksraad (Parliament) imaginable, who resented tooth and nail even the most necessary concessions to the Uitlanders; he was surrounded by corrupt officials, most of whom were said to be implicated in the late rebellion; he was the head of a community which was known to be split up into several sections, owing to acute religious disputes; and yet he contrived, at seventy-one years of age, to outwit the 60,000 Uitlanders at Johannesburg, and to present his rotten republic as a model of all that was excellent and high-minded to the world at large. At the same time he compelled his burghers to forget their own differences, as they hurled defiance at the common foe. It seems to be a truism that it requires a Boer to rule a Boer; and in some ways the mantle of President Kruger would appear to have descended in our days upon General Louis Botha. According to all accounts, his will is now law to the ignorant back Veldt Boers, although his guiding principles savour more of the big stick than of the spoon-feeding system. Undoubtedly loyal to England, he bids fair in the future to help found a nation, based upon the union of British and Boer, inheriting their traditions, cultivating their ideals, and pursuing their common ends.
But this Utopia seemed far away in 1896, and it was, alas! destined that many lives should be laid down, and much treasure expended, before its advent. For the moment lamentations were rife in Johannesburg, and at many a dinner-party unprofitable discussions raged as to what would have happened had Dr. Jameson entered the city. On this point no one could agree. Some people said the town could have been starved out in a few days, and the water-supply cut off immediately; others asserted that the Boers were in reality overawed by Dr. Jameson's name and prestige, and would have been glad to make terms. The practical spirits opined that the only thing which would have saved the inhabitants in any case was the tame ending which actually came about—namely, the High Commissioner's intervention coupled with President Kruger's moderation and wisdom in allowing England to punish her own irregular soldiers. The more one heard of the whole affair, the more it seemed to resemble a scene out of a comic opera. The only people at Johannesburg who had derived any advantage from the confusion were several hitherto unknown military commanders, who had proudly acquired the title of Colonel, and had promptly named a body of horse after themselves. During the days before the final fiasco these leaders used to make short detours round the town in full regimentals, and finally fill up the time by being photographed in groups. Mercifully, as it turned out, they were not ready for active service when Dr. Jameson was reported at Krugersdorp.
We made an excursion to the so-called battle-field before leaving for the South. We started in a covered waggonette with no springs to speak of, drawn by six mules, and a pair of horses as leaders. Two Kaffirs acted as charioteers, and kept up an incessant jabber in Dutch. The one who held the reins looked good-natured enough, but the other, whose duty it was to wield the enormously long whip, had a most diabolical cast of countenance, in which cruelty and doggedness were both clearly depicted. We found his face a true indication of his character before the end of the day. Bumping gaily along, we soon left the well-built houses behind, and after passing the Malay quarter of the town, remarkable by reason of the quaint houses these blacks make out of paraffin tins, flattened out and nailed together with wonderful neatness, we emerged on the open veldt. Of course the road was of the roughest description, and sometimes we had to hold on with all our might to avoid the concussion of our heads with the wooden roof. In spite of this, as soon as the Kaffirs saw an open space before them, the huge whip was cracked, and away went our team at full gallop, seemingly quite out of control, the driver leaning back in his seat with a contented grin, while his colleague manipulated the unwieldy whip. The tract ran parallel to the Rand for some distance, and we got a splendid view of Johannesburg and the row of chimney-shafts that so clearly define the reef.
On passing Langlaate village, we were stopped by a party of Boers, who had off-saddled by the side of the road. As they were fully armed and their appearance was not prepossessing, we expected to be ordered to alight while our conveyance was being searched. However, our fears were unfounded, and they were most polite. The driver muttered something in Dutch, whereupon the leader came to the door, and said in broken English: "Peeck neeck—I see all right." I am sorry to say one of the gentlemen of our party muttered "Brute" in an audible whisper; but, then, he had undergone a short, but a very unpleasant term of imprisonment, with no sort of excuse, at the instance of a Boer Veldtcornet, so no wonder he had vowed eternal vengeance. Luckily, this officer did not hear, or else did not understand, the ejaculation, so after a civil interchange of good-days we drove on.
After about three hours we reached a shallow ford over a wide stream, and our driver informed us that this was our destination. Leaving the carriage, we walked up to some rocks overlooking the stream, which seemed an inviting place for luncheon; but we were quickly driven away, as thereon were lying seven or eight carcasses of dead horses and mules. Curiously enough, the vultures, or "aas-vogels," had left the skins on these poor beasts, for I remember noticing how their coats glistened in the sunshine. This sight was not very conducive to a good appetite, and a little farther on we saw another pathetic spectacle: a very deep trench, made in the past by some gold-prospector, had been filled in with rocky boulders, and was covered with withered ferns. Here lay those who had fallen of the Chartered Company's Forces. No doubt by now the space is enclosed as a tiny part of God's acre, but at that time the rough stones in the deep grave, and the faded flowers, seemed to enhance the dreariness of the scene. As to the locality of the final encounter and surrender of the Raiders, there was not much to interest any but military men. Standing on the top of the eminence before alluded to, one could see the Boer position and the sore strait of their foes. Whether the column had come purposely towards this drift, as being the only possible ford for many miles, or whether they had been guided thereto by a treacherous guide, no one knew. One thing was certain: destruction or surrender must have stared them in the face. The kopjes on the farther side of the stream were bristling with Boers, and away on the veldt beyond was drawn up the Staats artillery. And then one realized a most awful blunder of the Reform Committee, from their point of view. The Boer forces, arriving hereabouts in hot haste, from a rapid mobilization, had been almost entirely without ammunition. We were told on good authority that each burgher had but six rounds, and that the field-guns were without any shells at all. During the night the necessary supply was brought by rail from Pretoria, actually right through Johannesburg. Either by accident or mature reflection on the part of the conspirators in that city, this train was allowed to pass to its destination unmolested. It proved to be one of those small happenings that completely alter the course of events. If the burghers had not stopped the Raiders there, nothing could have prevented them from entering Johannesburg, for after another three miles the long-sought-for chimneys—the overhanging cloud of smoke—would have come into view. The very stars in their courses seemed to have fought for the Boers, and justified President Kruger's belief that his people were specially under the protection of Providence. Neither will anyone ever determine the number of Boers killed at Krugersdorp. One Veldtcornet inserted in all the papers that he defied anyone to prove that more than four burghers were shot, and of these two were killed accidentally by their own rifles. Residents on the spot, however, averred that many more fell; but I think the point was not disputed in view of President Kruger's famous claim for "moral and intellectual damages," which was then already beginning to be mooted.
The lengthening shadows at last reminded us that we had to return to town for a dinner-party given in our honour. It usually takes some time to catch a team of six mules and two horses turned out to graze on the veldt; it is endless, however, when they are as frightened of their drivers as ours appeared to be. At length they were collected and we made a start, and then our adventures began. First the leader, a white horse, jibbed. Off jumped the Kaffir coachman, and commenced hammering the poor brute unmercifully over head, ears, and body, with what they called in Africa the shambok. In consequence the team suddenly started off, but the long whip, left on the carriage roof, slipped down, and was broken in two by the wheel passing over it. Anyone who has driven behind mules knows how absolutely powerless the Jehu is without a long whip; so here we were face to face with a real misfortune: increasing darkness, jibbing leaders, no whip, and fifteen sandy miles to traverse before dinner-time. With every sort of ejaculation and yell, and a perfect rain of blows with the shambok from the Kaffir still on foot, we lurched forward at a gallop, escaping by a hair's-breadth another gold-prospector's trench. But the same leader jibbed again after another mile. I must admit he was a most irritating brute, whose obstinacy had been increased by the cruelty of the driver. It was now decided to put him in the "wheel," where he would be obliged to do his work. We crawled on again till our white friend literally threw himself down. I have related this incident to show how cruel Kaffirs can be, for now the rage of the evil-looking driver burst forth. He not only hammered the prostrate horse to any extent, but then made the rest of the team pull on, so as to drag him along on his side. Of course this could not be allowed, and Major —— jumped out and commanded him to desist, take out the useless horse, and tie him behind. At first the Kaffir was very mutinous, and it was only when a stick was laid threateningly across his back that he sulkily complied, looking the while as if he would like to murder the man he was forced to obey. One hears so much nowadays of the black population having equal rights with the white inhabitants, that it is well to remember how ferociously their lack of civilization occasionally comes out. Doubtless there are cruel men both white and black, but for downright brutality the nigger is hard to beat, and it is also quite certain that whom the latter does not fear he will not love. I have personally experienced great devotion and most attentive service on the part of natives, and they are deserving of the kindest and most considerate treatment; but it has often made me indignant to hear people, who have had little or no experience of living in the midst of a native population, prate of the rights of our "black brothers," and argue as if the latter thought, judged, amused themselves, or, in short, behaved, as the white men do, who have the advantage of hundreds of years of culture.
The day following our drive to Krugersdorp we left for Cape Town and England. We made the voyage on the old Roslin Castle. Always a slow boat, she had on this occasion, in sporting parlance, a "wing down," having broken a piston-rod on her way out from England, when we had vainly awaited her at Cape Town, and I think it was nearly three weeks before we landed at Plymouth. Again Randolph's African journey was brought back to my recollection. The captain of the Roslin Castle, Travers by name, had commanded the Scot, which brought his party home from Mashonaland, and he had very agreeable recollections of many an interesting conversation and of quiet rubbers of whist.
Numerous and exciting events had been crowded into the past six weeks, and in spite of revolutions and strife we had found our South African visit a very pleasant one. A curious thing about that continent is: you may dislike it or fall under its charm, but in any case it nearly always calls you back. It certainly did in my case; and while recalling the people we had met and the information we had acquired it was impossible not to think a little of the Boers themselves, their characteristics and their failings. At Johannesburg I had been specially struck by men, who knew them from long experience, telling me how fully they appreciated the good points of the burghers—for instance, their bravery, their love of their country, and their simple, unquestioning, if unattractive faith, which savoured of that of the old Puritans. Against these attributes their pig-headedness, narrow-mindedness, laziness, and slovenliness had to be admitted. All these defects militated against their living in harmony with a large, increasing, and up-to-date community like the Johannesburg Uitlanders. Still, one could not forget that the Transvaal was their country, ceded to them by the English nation. They left Cape Colony years ago, to escape our laws, which they considered unjust. It is certain we should never have followed them into the Transvaal but for the sudden discovery of the gold industry; it is equally true they had not the power or the wish to develop this for themselves, and yet without it they were a bankrupt nation. There is no doubt that the men who made the most mischief, and who for years embarrassed the President, were the "Hollanders," or officials sent out from the mother-country of the Dutch. They looked on the Transvaal only as a means for getting rich. Hence the fearful state of bribery and corruption among them, from the highest official downwards. But this very bribery and corruption were sometimes exceedingly convenient, and I remember well, when I revisited Johannesburg in 1902, at the conclusion of the war, hearing people inveigh against the hard bargains driven by the English Government; they even went so far as to sigh again for the good old days of Kruger's rule. Now all is changed once more, after another turn of the kaleidoscope of time, and yet it is well to remember that such things have indeed been.