"Here we stand at the grave of the two Republics," said Acting President Burger when the resolution had been taken by the meeting. There was a great silence while he spoke. "For us," he continued, "there remains much to be done, and we must devote ourselves to it. Although we can no longer do so in the official capacities we have heretofore held, let us not draw back our hands from doing what is our duty. Let us pray God to lead us, and to show us how we can keep our People together. Of the unfaithful ones also we must be mindful. We may not cast out that portion of our People; let us learn to forgive and to forget."
That evening, shortly before eleven o'clock, both the Governments were back at Pretoria. With the utmost haste they were conducted to the house of Lord Kitchener.
For a few moments they were left alone, because they wished once more to hear the resolution of the Delegates read, and assure themselves that it was correct.
When this had been done Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner entered.
The two Representatives of the British Government sat at the head of the table, alongside each other, at the south side of the hall. Next to Lord Milner, on his left hand, sat Acting President S. W. Burger, and next followed, on that side of the table, State-Secretary F. W. Reitz, General L. Botha, General J. H. de la Rey, Mr. Krogh, and General L. J. Meyer.
Next to Lord Kitchener, on his right hand, sat Acting President C. R. de Wet, General C. H. Olivier, Judge J. B. M. Hertzog, and Acting Government Secretary W. J. C. Brebner.
The contract had been written in quadruple on parchment by a typewriter. One copy was intended for the King of England, one for Lord Kitchener, one to be preserved in the archives of Pretoria, and one in that of Bloemfontein.
Everything was as silent as death when Acting President Burger took the pen in his hand.
I looked at my watch; it was five minutes past eleven on the 31st day of May in the year Nineteen Hundred and Two.
President Burger signed. After him the other members of the Government of the South African Republic; then Acting President de Wet, and after him the other members of the Free State Government. Lord Kitchener followed, and Lord Milner signed the last of all.
President Steyn was not there. Our hearts bled at the thought that he had been seized by a dangerous malady; and yet it seemed to me as if I owed some obligation at that moment to that malady, since it was owing to it that the President of the Orange Free State was prevented from doing what would have caused him the greatest pain in the world. He had said once, "To set my hand to a paper to sign away the Independence of my People—that I shall never do." Sad circumstances, which he might then almost have called fortunate, had brought it about that he could not do what he would not do.
The document was signed!
All were silent in that room where so much had been spoken.
For a few moments longer they sat still. Then the members of the Republics, which had now ceased to be, rose up as if dazed, to retire from the hall.
Lord Kitchener passed from one to the other, and shook hands with all. "We are good friends now!" he said.
Did this give him satisfaction? Did no dart of pain, no pang of sorrow, pass through his heart at the thought that he had taken a great share in the extinction of a free people?
But he spoke as a soldier should to a brave enemy who had been forced to give up his sword; and the members of the Governments strove to take what he said in the spirit in which it was spoken. But their hearts were broken.
Then they left the hall. EPILOGUE
Do I feel any remorse, now that all is over, because I struggled on to the end? Is there any feeling of regret in me, when I look back, that I persisted even when I sometimes thought that there was no hope—when, as at Nauwpoort in the dark last days of July 1900, and several times after, I thought that all was lost? No, nothing troubles me. On the contrary, whilst I am writing this I am experiencing an indescribable feeling of satisfaction—something that tells me, You have—very inefficiently, it is true—but yet you have endeavoured to do your duty.
I constantly felt that as long as my Government stood it was not for me to ask why or wherefore—
"Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die."
Moreover, I deemed it a sacred privilege to be, in my capacity as a minister of God's word, with my people in the time of their greatest trouble; to bind up the broken-hearted, to encourage the despondent, to comfort the suffering—especially the much-suffering women, our heroines—to bring the word of God to them who would otherwise have been deprived of it, and to point the dying to the Cross. I heard from time to time that my work had not been without blessing, and it was always a source of joy and gratitude to me to know that there were other brothers in Christ who were also in the field; while it pained me to know that others had been prevented by unavoidable circumstances from labouring with the small band in the field.
Once more, there is no sense of regret in my mind. I thank God that He enabled me to remain on commando until the end; and with regard to the charge flung at the heads of the leaders, that instead of leading they had misled the people, I can say this, that never, not even in the darkest hours, could I know what might happen, nor what God had destined for our people—and this, too, was always clear to me, that if every cause had been abandoned when it was apparently hopeless, then some of the most glorious victories that the world has seen would never have been won.
With the deepest gratitude to God for His protection in the many dangers of the war, I now lay down my pen.