"With malice to none ... with firmness in the right, asGod gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in."—ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
At Pretoria Mrs. Godley and I found accommodation, not without some difficulty, at the Grand Hotel. Turned for the moment into a sort of huge barrack, this was crowded to its utmost capacity. The polite manager, in his endeavour to find us suitable rooms, conducted us all over the spacious building, and at last, struck by a bright thought, threw open the door of an apartment which he said would be free in a few hours, as the gentleman occupying it was packing up his belongings preparatory to his departure. Great was my surprise at discovering in the khaki-clad figure, thus unceremoniously disturbed in the occupation of stowing away papers, clothes, and campaigning kit generally, no less a personage than my nephew, Winston Churchill, who had experienced such thrilling adventures during the war, the accounts of which had reached us even in far-away Mafeking. The proprietor was equally amazed to see me warmly greet the owner of the rooms he proposed to allot us, and, although Winston postponed his departure for another twenty-four hours, he gladly gave up part of his suite for our use, and everything was satisfactorily arranged.
Good-looking figures in khaki swarmed all over the hotel, and friends turned up every minute—bearded pards, at whom one had to look twice before recognizing old acquaintances. No less than a hundred officers were dining that night in the large restaurant. Between the newly liberated prisoners and those who had taken part in the victorious march of Lord Roberts's army one heard surprised greetings such as these: "Hallo, old chap! where were you caught?" or a late-comer would arrive with the remark: "There has been firing along the outposts all day. I suppose the beggars have come back." (I was relieved to hear the outposts were twelve miles out.) The whole scene was like an act in a Drury Lane drama, and we strangers seemed to be the appreciative audience. Accustomed as we were to a very limited circle, it appeared to us as if all the inhabitants of England had been transported to Pretoria.Early next day we drove out to see the departure of General Baden-Powell and his Staff, who had been most warmly received by Lord Roberts, and who, after receiving his orders, were leaving to rejoin their men at Rustenburg. As an additional mark of favour, the Commander-in-Chief and his retinue gave the defender of Mafeking a special send-off, riding with him and his officers some distance out of the town. This procession was quite an imposing sight, and was preceded by a company of turbaned Indians. Presently, riding alongside of General Baden-Powell, on a small, well-bred Arab, came the hero of a thousand fights, the man who at an advanced age, and already crowned with so many laurels, had, in spite of a crushing bereavement, stepped forward to help his country in the hour of need. We were delighted when this man of the moment stopped to speak to us. He certainly seemed surprised at the apparition of two ladies, and observed that we were very daring, and the first of our sex to come in. I shall, however, never forget how kindly he spoke nor the inexpressible sadness of his face. I told him how quiet everything appeared to be along the road we had taken, and how civil were all the Boers we had met. At this he turned to the guest whose departure he was speeding, and said, with a grave smile, "That is thanks to you, General." And then the cortege rode on. On reflection, I decided, rather from what Lord Roberts had left unsaid than from his actual words, that if we had asked leave to travel home via Pretoria, it would have been refused.
The rest of that day and the next we spent in seeing the town under its new auspices, and it certainly presented far more to interest a visitor than on the occasion of my last visit in 1896. In a suburb known as Sunny Side was situated Lord Roberts's headquarters, at a house known as the Residency. Close by was a charming villa inhabited for the nonce by General Brabazon, Lord Dudley, Mr. John Ward, and Captain W. Bagot. The surroundings of these dwellings were exceedingly pretty, with shady trees, many streams, and a background of high hills crowned by forts, which latter were just visible to the naked eye. From Sunny Side we were conducted over some of these fortifications: there was Schantz's Kop Fort, of very recent construction, and looking to the uninitiated of tremendous strength, with roomy bomb-proof shelters. Here a corner of one of the massive entrance pillars had been sharply severed off by a British lyddite shell. Later we inspected Kapper Kop Fort, the highest of all, where two British howitzer guns, firing a 280-pound shell, had found a resting-place. Surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge, the view from this fort was magnificent. The Boers were in the act of making a double-wire entanglement round it, and had evidently meant to offer there a stubborn resistance, when more prudent counsels prevailed, and they had left their work half finished, and decamped, carrying off all their ammunition. In the town itself General French and his Staff had established themselves at the Netherlands Club, from which resort the members had been politely ejected.
To outward appearances, civil as well as military business was being transacted in Pretoria with perfect smoothness, in spite of the proximity of the enemy. The yeomanry were acting as police both there and in Johannesburg. The gaol, of which we had a glimpse, was crowded with 240 prisoners, but was under the competent direction of the usual English under-official, who had been in the service of the Transvaal, and who had quietly stepped into the shoes of his chief, a Dutchman, when the latter bolted with Kruger. This prison was where the Raiders and the Reformers had been in durance vile, and the gallows were pointed out to us with the remark that, during the last ten years, they had only been once used, their victim being an Englishman. A Dutchman, who had been condemned to death during the same period for killing his wife, had been reprieved.
In the same way the Natal Bank and the Transvaal National Bank were being supervised by their permanent officials, men who had been at their posts during the war, and who, although under some suspicions, had not been removed. At the latter bank the manager told us how President Kruger had sent his Attorney-General to fetch the gold in coins and bar just before he left for Delagoa Bay, and how it was taken away on a trolley. The astute President actually cheated his people of this bullion, as he had already forced them to accept paper tokens for the gold, which he then acquired and removed. We also saw the Raad Saals—especially interesting from being exactly as they were left after the last session on May 7—Kruger's private room, and the Council Chamber. These latter were fine apartments, recently upholstered by Maple, and littered with papers, showing every evidence of the hurried departure of their occupants. Finally, specially conducted by Winston, we inspected the so-called "Bird-cage," where all the English officers had been imprisoned, and the "Staat Model" School, from where our cicerone had made his escape. These quarters must have been a particularly disagreeable and inadequate residence.
After a day in Pretoria we realized that, in spite of the shops being open and the hotels doing a roaring trade, notwithstanding the marvellous organization visible on all sides, events were not altogether satisfactory; and one noted that the faces of those behind the scenes were grave and serious. Louis Botha, it was evident, was anything but a defeated foe. This gentleman had actually been in the capital when the English entered, and he was then only sixteen miles away. During the previous week a severe action had been fought with him at Diamond Hill, where the English casualties had been very heavy. The accounts of this engagement, as then related, had a touch of originality. The Commander-in-Chief and Staff went out in a special train, sending their horses by road, which reminded one forcibly of a day's hunting; cab-drivers in the town asked pedestrians if they would like to drive out and see the fight. The real affair, however, was grim earnest, and many were the gallant men who lost their lives on that occasion. All the while De Wet was enjoying himself to the south by constantly interrupting the traffic on the railway. No wonder the Generals were careworn, and it was a relief to meet Lord Stanley, A.D.C. to Lord Roberts, with a smiling face, who, with his unfailing spirits, must have been an invaluable companion to his chief during those trying weeks. One specially sad feature was the enormous number of sick in addition to wounded soldiers.
Of the former, at that time, there were over 1,500, and the recollection of the large numbers buried at Bloemfontein was still green in everyone's memory. The origin of all the sickness, principally enteric, was undoubtedly due to the Paardeberg water in the first instance, and then to that used at Bloemfontein; for Pretoria was perfectly healthy—the climate cool, if rainy, and the water-supply everything that could be desired. As additional accommodation for these patients, the magnificent and recently finished Law Courts had been arranged to hold seven or eight hundred beds. Superintended by Sir William Thompson, this improvised establishment was attended to by the personnel of the Irish hospital, and Mr. Guinness was there himself, organizing their work and doing excellent service.
One evening we were most hospitably entertained to dinner by Lord Stanley, Captain Fortescue, the Duke of Westminster, and Winston. As it may be imagined, we heard many interesting details of the past stages of the war. Winston, even at that early stage of his career, and although he had been but a short time, comparatively, with Lord Roberts's force, had contrived therein to acquire influence and authority. The "bosses," doubtless, disapproved of his free utterances, but he was nevertheless most amusing to listen to, and a general favourite. The next day we saw him and the Duke of Westminster off on their way South, and having fixed my own departure for the following Monday, and seen most of the sights, I determined to avail myself of an invitation Captain Laycock, A.D.C. to General French, had given me, and go to the Netherlands Club in order to peruse the goodly supply of newspapers and periodicals of which they were the proud possessors. It was a cold, windy afternoon, and, finding the front-door locked and no bell visible, I went to one of the long French windows at the side of the house, through which I could see a cozy fire glimmering. Perceiving a gentleman sitting in front of the inviting blaze, I knocked sharply to gain admittance. On nearer inspection this gentleman proved to be asleep, and it was some minutes before he got up and revealed himself as a middle-aged man, strongly built, with slightly grey hair. For some unknown reason I imagined him to be a Major in a cavalry regiment, no doubt attached to the Staff, and when, after rubbing his eyes, he at length opened the window, I apologized perfunctorily for having disturbed him, adding that I was acting on Captain Laycock's suggestion in coming there. In my heart I hoped he would leave me to the undisturbed perusal of the literature which I saw on a large centre table. He showed, however, no signs of taking his departure, and made himself so agreeable that I was perforce obliged to continue the conversation he commenced. I told him of the Mafeking siege, giving him my opinion of the Boers as opponents and of their peculiarities as we had experienced them; also of how, in the west and north, the enemy seemed to have practically disappeared. Presently, by way of politeness, I asked him in what part of the country, and under which General, he had been fighting. He answered evasively that he had been knocking about, under several commanders, pretty well all over the place, which reply left me more mystified than ever. Soon Captain Laycock came in, and after a little more talk, during which I could see that he and my new acquaintance were on the best of terms, the latter went out, expressing a hope I should stay to tea, which I thought exceedingly kind of him, but scarcely necessary, as I was Captain Laycock's guest. When he had gone, I questioned the latter as to the identity of his friend, and was horrified to learn that it was General French himself whom I had so unceremoniously disturbed, and to whom I had volunteered information. When the General returned with some more of his Staff, including Lord Brooke, Colonel Douglas Haig, Mr. Brinsley Fitzgerald, and Mr. Brinton, 2nd Life Guards, I was profuse in my apologies, which he promptly cut short by asking me to make the tea, and we had a most cheery meal, interspersed with a good deal of chaff, one of his friends remarking to me that it was probably the only occasion during the last six months in South Africa that General French had been caught asleep.
The following day, Sunday, we attended a very impressive military service, at which Lord Roberts and his Staff, in full uniform, were present, and at the conclusion the whole congregation sang the National Anthem with the organ accompaniment. The volume of sound, together with the well-loved tune, was one not soon to be forgotten.
In the evening I had a visit from a stranger, who announced himself to be Mr. Barnes, correspondent to the Daily Mail. This gentleman handed me a letter from my sister, Lady Georgiana Curzon, dated Christmas Day of the previous year, which had at last reached me under peculiar circumstances. It appeared that, when my resourceful sister heard I had been taken prisoner by the Boers, she decided the best way of communicating with me would be through the President of the South African Republic, via Delagoa Bay. She had therefore written him a letter as follows:
"Christmas Day, 1899.
"Lady Georgiana Curzon presents her compliments to His Honour President Kruger, and would be very much obliged if he would give orders that the enclosed letter should be forwarded to her sister, Lady Sarah Wilson, who, according to the latest reports, has been taken prisoner by General Snyman."
In this letter was enclosed the one now handed to me by Mr. Barnes. The President, in the novel experience of receiving a letter from an English lady, had sent for the American Consul, and had handed him both epistles without a remark of any kind, beyond asking him to deal with them. Thus the missive finally reached its destination. This visitor had hardly departed when another was announced in the person of a Dr. Scholtz, whom, with his wife, I had met at Groot Schuurr as Mr. Rhodes's friends. This gentleman, who is since dead, had always seemed to me somewhat of an enigmatical personage. German by origin, he combined strong sympathies with the Boers and fervent Imperialism, and I was therefore always a little doubtful as to his real sentiments. He came very kindly on this occasion to pay a friendly call, but also to inform me that he was playing a prominent part in the abortive peace negotiations which at that stage of the war were being freely talked about. Whether he had acted on his own initiative, or whether he had actually been employed by the authorities, he did not state; but he seemed to be full of importance, and proud of the fact that he had spent two hours only a few days before on a kopje in conference with Louis Botha, while the same kopje was being energetically shelled by the English. He gave me, indeed, to understand that the successful issue of the interview had depended entirely on the amount the English Government was prepared to pay, and that another £2,000,000 would have ended the war then and there. He probably did not enjoy the full confidence of either side, and I never verified the truth of his statements, which were as strange and mysterious as the man himself, whom, as events turned out, I never saw again.
It had been difficult to reach Pretoria, but the departure therefrom was attended by many formalities, and I had to provide myself, amongst other permits, with a railway pass, which ran as follows:
The bearer, Lady Sarah. Wilson (and maid) is permitted to travel at her own expense from Pretoria to Cape Town via the Vaal River.
Major, Provost Marshal
(For Major-General, Military
Governor of Pretoria).
June 25, 1900.
Everything being then pronounced in order, I said good-bye to Mrs. Godley, who was returning by road to Zeerust and Mafeking, and, accompanied by Captain Seymour Fortescue, who had a few days' leave, and by Major Bobby White, I left on June 25 for Johannesburg. The train was painfully slow, and rarely attained a speed of more than five or six miles an hour. At Elandsfontein the engine gave out entirely, and a long delay ensued while another was being procured. At all the stations were small camps and pickets of bronzed and bearded soldiers, and on the platforms could be seen many officers newly arrived from England, distinguished by their brand-new uniforms, nearly all carrying the inevitable Kodak. At length we arrived at Johannesburg as the daylight was fading, and found excellent accommodation at Heath's Hotel. In the "Golden City," as at Pretoria, the shops were open, and seemed wonderfully well supplied, butter and cigarettes being the only items that were lacking. I remember lunching the next day at a grill-room, called Frascati's, underground, where the cuisine was first-rate, and which was crowded with civilians of many nationalities, soldiers not being in such prominence as at Pretoria. The afternoon we devoted to seeing some of the principal mines, including the Ferreira Deep, which had been worked by the Transvaal Government for the last eight months. For this purpose they had engaged capable managers from France and Germany, and therefore the machinery was in no way damaged. At a dinner-party the same evening, given by Mr. A. Goldmann, we met a German gentleman who gave an amusing account of the way in which some of the city financiers had dashed off to the small banks a few days before Lord Roberts's entry, when the report was rife that Kruger was going to seize all the gold at Johannesburg as well as that at Pretoria. They were soon seen emerging with bags of sovereigns on their backs, which they first carried to the National Bank, but which, on second thoughts, they reclaimed again, finally confiding their treasure to the Banque de la France.
Colonel Baden-Powell had been promoted to the rank of Major-General.
Now Earl of Derby.
Now Major-General Haig.
Now Major Brinton.