On our way through the Orange Free State we saw immense herds of springbuck and an occasional herd of blesbuck and wildebeeste. As we were badly armed, very little game fell to our guns. In those days it was lawful for travelers to shoot game anywhere along the roadside for their own consumption; a farmer would no more think of objecting to a stranger shooting a buck on his veld than a gardener would object to one destroying a caterpillar.
When we reached the fields we found the "dry diggings" at Du Toit's Pan and Bultfontein in full swing. "Old De Beers" had only been "rushed" a few days previously. So we decided to try our luck at Bultfontein instead of going on to the Vaal River, as we had originally intended. We outspanned in the middle of the Du Toit's Pan "pan"; this, of course, was a purely temporary camp. I was, much to my disgust, left in charge of the carts while the others went on to look for a permanent location.
Here it was that I nearly killed one of my friends. We had foregathered on the road with three brothers named Dell; they belonged to the well-known family of that name in Lower Albany, and were proceeding to the fields in a small wagon. We had met them about a fortnight previously, and ever since the two caravans had traveled together. We had become very intimate; the younger brother, Sam, was my particular friend. He taught me to smoke, and that was the cause of the trouble.
Finding "Boer" tobacco too strong for my unaccustomed nerves, I had beguiled the weary hours of my vigil by soaking about a quarter of a pound of strong tobacco in boiling water in a large pannikin. After the soaking had gone on for some considerable time, I took the tobacco out of the water, squeezed it, and set it out in the sun on a board to dry. The liquor remaining in the pannikin was just the color of milkless coffee made with vlei water. William Dell, the eldest brother (he afterwards lived at Shilbottel, in the Peddie district), had gone to the camp with the others. He returned alone. The afternoon was hot, and Dell was extremely thirsty. When he got near his wagon he called out for water. Unfortunately there was no one at the wagon. Seeing an opportunity of paying off a score, I called out: "Here is some coffee," and offered the pannikin containing the tobacco juice.
Poor Dell thanked me with effusion, seized the vessel eagerly, and took a big gulp of its contents. At once he flung the vessel into the air, fell to the ground, and began to contort violently. I looked on, horror-stricken at the effect of my practical joke. After a few frightful seconds vomiting set in; this, no doubt, saved the sufferer's life. I had quite unwittingly, of course administered a most virulent poison. In the midst of his convulsions I caught William Dell's eye, and read something suggestive of murder in it. So I made for the open veld, and stood not upon the order of my going. Late at night I returned to the vicinity of the camp and, after some difficulty, opened communication with Sam. He acted as ambassador to William, and the latter was good enough to forgive me. Thus I escaped the thrashing I so richly deserved.
Our plans were changed almost immediately; we decided to try our luck at Old De Beers. Next day we trekked thither, and pitched our camp on the plain to the south-westward of the mine. This plain was studded with very large "camel thorn" trees. Before the axe had wrought universal havoc, the landscape surrounding the dry diggings was well wooded and highly picturesque. At the spot we selected for our encampment two especially large trees stood; between these we pitched our tents.
I felt quite at home. Camped in the vicinity were many old Kaffrarian friends Barbers, McIntoshes, Cummings, and others. We started work immediately on the eastern side of the mine. Claims were to be had for the mere trouble of marking out and the payment of a license; probably not more than two thirds of the surface of the mine had been "located." We found a very few diamonds; all were small, and none were of any particular value.
Fuel was plentiful; at night camp-fires twinkled far and near. Around these happened some of the pleasantest gatherings I have ever attended. The nights were usually clear and calm however the wind may have swirled the gritty dust during the day and the stars shone as they only shine when the dew-moist air of upland South Africa underlies them. Every one capable of making music, whether by means of violin, concertina, or voice, was much in demand. Coffee and rusks circulated freely. Quite a number of diggers had brought their families from the Colony; thus, many a pretty girl in print dress and "cappie" joined the firelit circle. Most of us were young and free from care. Life was full of romance, for Fortune scattered her favors with an occasionally lavish hand. Every few days one would hear of some lucky digger finding a "stone" worth perhaps several hundred pounds. And in those days money was money in South Africa; that is to say, its purchasing power was probably three times as great as it is now.
Our most serious difficulty was in the matter of the water-supply. No wells had as yet been dug, and no drinking water was obtainable nearer than Wessel's Farm, seven miles away. It was part of my duty to repair thither once a week with a Scotch cart and fetch two hogsheads full. So far as I can remember, this quantity cost six shillings at the well. Sometimes people were in great straits for something to drink. However, all were helpful towards one another. I have often known some stranger or another come to the camp with a small tin pannikin and beg for permission to fill it at one of our casks. Such a request would never be refused. After the first well in the vicinity of the mine had been sunk, water was sold from it at the rate of a shilling per bucket, and at morning and evening the crush was so great that people had to wait perhaps half an hour before they could be served. I recall one occasion when, the need for a sudden superficial ablution having arisen, I ran over to the liquor-shop tent and bought a bottle of soda-water for the purpose.
I have a very clear recollection of the first case of diamond stealing on the part of a servant that came under my notice. A certain Major Bede, an American, who worked at the north end of the mine, caught a Hottentot in his employ in the act of secreting a stone. The major recovered his property, but the thief wrenched himself from the grasp of his captor, bolted like a rabbit between the sorting-heaps, and gained the open veld. A general view hallo was raised; I should say at least a hundred and fifty men streamed out and joined in the pursuit.
The Hottentot easily distanced them all, but unfortunately for him a man mounted on a small pony appeared on his right front. This man, seeing that a chase was in progress, headed the fugitive off. The latter was brought back, tried on the spot, and sentenced to receive fifty lashes. He was triced up to the wheel of a wagon; an elderly man he had been in the Royal Navy appeared with a cat o' nine tails. At every stroke the culprit called out, in derision, "Hoo-lay." Although terribly punished he never uttered a cry. I remember being struck by the curious circumstance that the ex-seaman should have taken the trouble to bring his "cat" with him to a mining camp. He must have had an affection for the horrible thing.
I will now relate how I very nearly became the discoverer of the world-famed Kimberley Mine. Being somewhat slightly built, I was not of much use at heavy work in the claim, so it was arranged that our Hottentot boy, David, should take my place, I taking his in the matter of herding the twelve oxen. This arrangement suited me exactly. Small game abounded, and I had the use of a gun. My favorite pasturage area was the big shallow basin to the westward, within the perimeter of which was a low, oblong rise covered with long grass, and at the eastern end of which stood a grove of exceptionally large camel thorn trees. This rise afterwards came to be known as "Colesberg Kopje"; eventually it was named "Kimberley," after Lord Kimberley, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time of the annexation of the diamond-fields. On it were usually to be found hares, Namaqua partridges, korhaan, and an occasional steenbok. Ant-bears and jackals had been at work at various places. One burrow was exceptionally deep, and the gravel thrown up from it looked exactly like that of the claim in which I had been working. I determined to do some prospecting on my own account at this spot.
Unfortunately, however, I mentioned my intention at the camp. One of my peculiarities as a youngster was a morbid sensitiveness in respect of anything like chaff. This was so marked that the least attempt at teasing was enough to send me away in a state of misery. My mates knew this, and accordingly often made me the butt of their cheap witticisms. When I spoke of the burrow and the resemblance of the gravel at its mouth to the diamondiferous soil in which we were working, this was made a pretext for derision.
Day by day I was bantered about my supposed diamond-mine; mockingly I would be asked how many carats my last find weighed, and so on. Consequently, I was afraid again to mention the subject. Had it been possible secretly to obtain the necessary appliances for prospecting, and to get them away without the knowledge of my mates, I would have done so. I often thought of asking some of my friends in the other camps to lend me tools, but the dread of my enterprise becoming known and being made the subject of more chaff deterred me, so I kept putting the thing off.
However, I never abandoned the intention of one day carrying out the "prospect." But I delayed too long; the clue dangled by Fortune within my reach was grasped by other hands.
One day when I drove my oxen to their usual pasturage I noticed that the camel thorn grove had been invaded. A tent had been pitched there, and the smoke of a fire arose from the camp. This annoyed me exceedingly; not because it in any way interfered with my intention of prospecting I could still have done that freely, and the tent was nowhere near my burrow but for the, to me, more important reason that the advent of a camp right in the middle of my preserve was bound to spoil my shooting. The camp turned out to be that of Mr. Ortlepp, of Colesberg, and his party. Mr. Ortlepp I afterwards got to know, but at that time we had not met. So for the future I avoided the area in which I had been accustomed to spend most of my days, and sought new and more lonely pastures.
But game had now become so scarce that I usually left my gun at home. Early one afternoon, when I was herding my cattle on that ridge which runs south-east from Kimberley in the direction of Du Toit's Pan, I noticed a stream of men flowing from De Beers towards the north-west, and at once correctly inferred what had happened. Diamonds had been discovered by the Ortlepp party, and a "rush" was in progress. Leaving the cattle to fend for themselves, I started at a run across the veld towards the objective of the rushers. My burrow! on that my thoughts were centered; I longed to reach the spot before any one else had pegged it out. Three or four tunes I paused to take breath, and each tune I managed to pause in the vicinity of some patch of scrub, so that I could therefrom cut pegs wherewith to mark out my "claim." When I reached the kopje which, by the way, never was a kopje at all men were swarming over it like ants over a heap of sugar. But I noticed with delight that my burrow and the area immediately surrounding it were still unappropriated. Accordingly I got in my pess, enclosing a square with sides measuring approximately thirty one feet six inches (or thirty Dutch feet), the burrow being exactly in the middle. Then I fell to the ground, panting from exhaustion.
I remained on my claim until darkness fell. One by one I watched the prospectors depart; I was not going to risk being dispossessed of my burrow, so stuck to my post as long as a human being was in sight. I had managed to get a message through to Brown, some time before sunset, asking him to send David out to look for the oxen. When I reached the camp I was roundly pitched into for my foolishness in abandoning the cattle and running after "wild cat." However, my blood was now up, so I told Brown that for the present I would do no more cattle herding, as I meant to return next morning to my claim. Brown forbade my doing this, and ordered me to resume charge of the cattle, but I defied him.
The stars were still shining; there was, in fact, no hint of dawn in the sky when I reached my claim next morning. I was first in the field, having reached my destination some time even before the fire was lit in the Ortlepp camp. I brought with me a pick, a small circular sieve, a piece of plank about eighteen inches square for use as a sorting-table, and a small iron "scraper" an instrument used in the sorting of sifted gravel. Day soon began to break, so I filled my sieve and separated the sand from the gravel, placing the latter in a heap on the plank.
There was not enough light for sorting; I sat on a tussock and watched the east grow white.
But the morning was chill, so I sprang up and went to work with the pick, uprooting the grass and bushes. Day waxed and a few men appeared. When I thought the light strong enough, I crouched down and began sorting the gravel on the board. With the scraper I separated a small handful from the heap, and spread it out so that every individual pebble became visible. These would be swept off the board and the former process repeated. But before I got half-way through the heap my heart leaped to my throat, and I almost swooned with ecstasy there in the middle of the spread-out gravel glittered a diamond. It was very small, not much more than half a carat in weight, still, it was most indubitably a diamond.
I searched in the pockets of my somewhat ragged coat for a scrap of paper wherein to wrap my treasure. Then I put the diminutive parcel away very carefully, as I thought. I finished sorting the heap of gravel and again filled the sieve. I sorted this and loosened more ground. I worked hard and feverishly, loosening the ground with the pick, filling the sieve with my bare hands, sifting out the sand, and sorting what remained. However, no more diamonds could I find. I had brought in my pocket a lump of roster-koek (a lump of unleavened dough, flattened out and roasted on a gridiron). This I munched as I worked. More and more people arrived. Soon the thudding of picks and the "whish, whish" of sieves sounded from every direction.
Some one shouted. I looked up and saw numbers of people running towards a certain spot. I leapt up and ran too. A diamond had been found, and around the lucky finder an excited and curious crowd soon collected. The stone, a clear yellow octahedron of about ten carats' weight, was passed from hand to hand to be admired and appraised. After an enthusiastic "hip hip hurrah" the crowd dispersed, each one eager to test his claim.
I hugged my secret; no one should know of my good fortune until after my partners had arrived and I had confounded their skepticism. I rehearsed the prospective scene in imagination; what a lofty lecture I meant to read them on the unreasonableness of their incredulity. Within a few minutes another shout rang out; another crowd collected. Once more a diamond had been found. This sort of thing went on, at more or less short intervals, ail day long.
It must have been nearly eleven o'clock before Brown and Beranger strolled up. I watched their approach.
"Well, have you made our fortune?" asked Brown.
"I have found a diamond," I replied loftily.
"What!" he said, with a start. "Where is it?"
I searched through all the pockets and interstices of my coat with trembling fingers. I turned every pocket inside out, but no diamond could I find. I vainly searched the surrounding surface of the sand. But all in vain; my treasure had disappeared. Brown and Beranger smiled superciliously, and strolled back to De Beers. That was to me an hour of bitter humiliation.
However, as the day went on, more and more diamonds, some of considerable size, were found. Indubitable evidence of this having reached my partners, they came back post-haste in the hope of being able to mark out claims. They even went so far as to peg one out. This was on the western edge of the kopje, clean outside the diamond bearing area. But this circumstance was not yet known, for here the red soil lay nearly ten feet deep over the bed-rock. However, we exchanged this worthless site for a piece of ground in No. 9 Road a half claim belonging to Alick McIntosh. The latter piece of ground turned out to be very valuable.
Whilst affecting still to disbelieve in my find, my partners now treated me with more respect. Towards them I assumed a patronizing attitude. They no longer tried to force me to do cattle-herding. Day by day the finds grew richer and more important. So far as I remember, it was on the third day that Government sent officials to verify boundaries and make a general survey of the surface of the mine. Each individual had been, I think, permitted to mark out two claims. But the "rush" had been so swift that very few had been able to avail themselves of this privilege.
A certain amount of "hustling" was attempted; "roughs," who had come in late, occasionally tried to bully those who looked "soft" out of their ground. Being quite a youngster, I was, naturally, the kind of game these gentry were seeking. However, I sought and obtained help among my Kaffrarian friends, so when two glib tongued scoundrels endeavored to claim my burrow on the score of prior occupation, they were soon hunted off. Messrs. Tom Barry and George Ward were entrusted by the Landdrost with the survey. Ward, who had been in the Austrian Army, was an exceedingly handsome man. He was killed in the Kaffir War of 1879, not far from the Taba 'Ndoda.
I think it was on the third day after the rush that Brown, who was the only moneyed man among us, first expressed his full belief in the mine. We were seated under a camel-thorn close to the edge of the kopje, and were just about to begin our midday meal. Brown, who had been unusually silent, put down his rosterkoek and pannikin of coffee. Then he stood up, saying:
"Yes; there are diamonds here, right enough. I'll go and buy another claim."
In about half an hour he returned, looking very hot and ill-tempered as he threw himself down on the sand.
"I'm damned if they're not asking ten pounds apiece for claims," said he; "did you ever hear of anything so ridiculous?"
Within a few weeks it was amply proved that the new mine was one of enormous richness. Day by day large and valuable stones were unearthed. On some sorting-tables the finds ran up to as many as five and twenty diamonds per day. People flocked in by thousands from the surrounding camps. At Du Toit's Pan, Bultfontein, and De Beers claims were abandoned wholesale.
As though by magic the vast plains surrounding "New Rush," as it now came to be called, became populous. A great city of tents and wagons sprang up like mushrooms in a night. There was at first no attempt at orderly arrangement; each pitched his camp wherever he listed. How, eventually, streets and a market square came to be laid out is more than I can explain. I would not like to guess at the number of people and tents surrounding the mine three months after the latter was rushed, but the tents alone must have figured to many thousands. Money literally abounded. I have more than once seen fools lighting their pipes with bank-notes, thus giving the banks concerned a present of the face value. One of the men I saw indulging in this pastime I came across a few years later in a remote goldmining camp. He was then almost starving.
Sanitary arrangements did not exist. Although disagreeable in the extreme, this did not matter so very much as long as the weather was cool and dry, but later, under the summer sun and the then frequent thunder showers, fever began to take its toll. The epidemic was called "diamond-field fever," and was supposed to be a malady peculiar to the neighborhood. But I am convinced that it was neither more nor less than ordinary enteric the inevitable concomitant of the neglect, on the part of a crowded community, of ordinary sanitary precautions.
The character of the population soon changed. At first the ordinary colonist predominated the kind of man who had hitherto led the simple life, in most cases that of a farmer. He was very often accompanied by his whole family. At that time many a farm, especially in the Eastern Province, must have been tenantless, or else left in charge of native servants. But as the fame of the rich and ever richer finds went abroad, a cosmopolitan crowd of wastrels and adventurers poured in from the ends of the earth. However, there never was in those early days anything like the lawlessness that afterwards as much under British as under Republican rule prevailed on the Rand. The great stay of law and order was the individual digger, and this element of stability has always been missing at the goldfields, except in the few instances where alluvial mining has been pursued.
The first serious result of the changed conditions was the development of illicit diamond-buying, "I.D.B." as it came to be called. This was due to white men of the undesirable class tempting native servants to steal from their masters' claims. The clearing-houses for this kind of trade were found to be the low canteens. When the evil had reached a certain pitch and there was no adequate law to deal with it, the better class of diggers took the matter in hand, according to the methods of Judge Lynch, and burnt down the more notorious establishments. This was done calmly, judicially, and without any unnecessary violence.
My claim a disappointment—Good results attained elsewhere—A surprised Boer—"Kopje wallopers"—Thunderstorms—A shocking spectacle—"Old Moore" and his love affair—The morning market—Attack of enteric—I go to King William's Town to recruit Toby once more—A venture in onions—Return to Kimberley—The West End mess—The Rhodes brothers—Norman Garstin—H. C. Seppings Wright—"Schipka" Campbell—Cecil John Rhodes—A game of euchre The church bell—Raw natives—Alum diamonds—Herbert Rhodes and the cannon His terrible end.
My "burrow" claim, which was situated near the north end of No. 7 Road, did not turn out to be the fountain of riches I had anticipated. As a matter of fact we never found another diamond in it. Under its thin crust of limestone was an inconsiderable layer of very poor diamondiferous gravel. Beneath this lay a mass of blue shale, of the variety known as "floating reef." The latter filled the claim, as well as several of those adjoining it, to a depth, as it turned out, of between forty and fifty feet. Below the shale the ground proved to be rich enough. But within a few weeks of the rush we sold this piece of ground for 40 pounds.
However, our half claim in No. 9 Road paid very well indeed. For several months our finds there averaged from three to five diamonds per diem. None of the stones were large; the heaviest weighed only about fourteen carats, and the general quality was exceptionally poor. Nevertheless, we sold the proceeds of about four months' work for nearly 600 pounds. Of this I received one quarter.
It is curious now to reflect that we, in common with many others, were convinced that it would never pay to work to a greater depth than about ten feet. At first every claim holder sank a "paddock," its dimensions being about eight by twelve feet. The ground lifted out was then sifted on the yet unbroken portion of the claim. The largest clods were extracted by means of a sieve with a very wide mesh, and then pulverized in a very perfunctory manner with clubs and pick-heads. The result was cleared of sand in a sieve with a fine mesh, the contents of which were poured on to a table, usually measuring about five feet by four, and sorted. It was in the course of this sorting that most of the diamonds weighing from ten carats downward were found. Larger stones were generally observed either when the ground was loosened in the claim or else in the large sieve. But there can be no doubt that millions of pounds' worth of diamonds were thrown away, owing to the clods not being properly pulverized.
I remember the case of a very old Boer, who was practically a pauper, finding a 90-carat stone when scratching on the side of a rubbish heap. The finder's agitation was so great that he picked up his treasure and bolted incontinently. A few people who saw what had happened gave chase, and within a few minutes his following had increased to several hundreds. The old man sped down the street, rushed into Crowder's store, sprang over the counter, and took refuge among some sugar bags which lay beneath. For a long time he could not be persuaded that the crowd was actuated only by curiosity, and had no furtive intent.
As may be imagined, the detritus in the claims soon became a serious embarrassment. Many claims were heaped up to such an extent that further work, pending the getting rid of the rubbish, became impossible. For those whose holdings lay close to the edge of the mine the problem was simple enough; all they had to do was to keep one or two natives, with barrows, removing the sand and gravel as soon as these had been sifted and sorted. But for those such as ourselves, whose claims lay more or less in the centre of the mine, the problem was a very different one. It sounds hardly credible, but after consultation we came to the conclusion that it would never pay to clear the ground by removing the rubbish, so we solved the problem by filling in the "paddock" we had sunk with the ground excavated therefrom, and opening another alongside. We unanimously decided that the portion of the claim we had sunk to a depth of about eleven feet was done with as a paying proposition. However, it was not very long before we were ridiculing our miscalculations in this respect.
According to the mining regulations, a portion of every claim had to be left standing. These portions, respectively, lay to the right-hand side of one claim and the left of another. Together they formed roadways running right across the mine. There were, I think, fourteen such roadways. They ran parallel with each other, and provided, for a time, access to every claim from the edge of the mine.
There were so far no laws regulating the diamond trade, so a swarm of itinerant diamond buyers were let loose on the community. Many of these were young men, who were averse to manual labor, but whose business instincts were acute. "Kopje Wallopers" was the generic term by which such dealers were known. The equipment of a kopje walloper consisted of a cheque-book, a wallet known as "a poverty bag," a set of scales, a magnifying-glass, and a persuasive tongue. In the course of a morning one's sorting-table might be visited by a dozen of them. Naturally enough they tried to make the best bargain circumstances permitted, but on the whole their dealings appeared to be fair enough.
During the summer months the vicinity was occasionally visited by violent thunderstorms, with deluging rain. Such were always welcomed, for they laid the almost intolerable dust. Considering the severity of these storms there were but few accidents from lightning. However, I recall one occasion when three fatalities resulted from three successive flashes. One almost unbearably hot afternoon in 1872 a small, globular, solid looking cloud passed slowly over the mine. Otherwise, the sky was almost clear. There was not a drop of rain.
Within the space of about eight minutes the three strokes fell. The first killed a mule just at the edge of the mine; the second struck two men, Europeans, who were engaged in stretching a wire rope at the western end of the mine; the third killed a Native who was sifting gravel about fifty yards from where I was standing. The stroke pierced his neck from back to front at the base of the skull; then it ran across the sieve which he was holding in his hands and over which he was bending. It melted every third wire in its course, and made a small hole, such as might have been made with a red-hot brad-awl, through the wood. The unfortunate victim afforded a shocking spectacle, for his tongue swelled enormously and protruded from his mouth for about nine inches.
I well remember the first wedding which took place at "New Rush." It must have been in the summer of 1871. Close to my dwelling an enormous circus tent had been pitched, and this was hired for the occasion. A dance was held in the evening, but it ended in disaster, for a heavy thunderstorm broke, with violent wind, and the tent collapsed on the guests. Had a torrential rain not been falling a horrible catastrophe might have occurred, for the reason that the festive scene was lit with paraffin lamps. However, the canvas was so completely soaked that it could not ignite. But the dancers were held, prone on the ground, by the weight of the sodden material for quite a long time, and the ladies afforded a sorry spectacle as they were hauled out, one by one, by their rescuers. The name of the bridegroom was Cooper. I was destined to meet him at Pretoria a few years afterwards under very extraordinary circumstances. The episode will be related in due course.
A well-known man at Du Toit's Pan in the early days was "Old Moore." I forget what his profession was. Moore was quite sixty years of age, and was exceedingly corpulent; nevertheless, he was amorous to a degree. There was a remarkably pretty barmaid at Benning and Martin's bar, and with her Moore fell in love. This circumstance was a source of great amusement to the local gilded youth. A plot was concocted, the lady consenting to take part in it.
A certain D approached Moore and persuaded him that it was only fear of her employers on the part of the damsel that prevented her receiving his addresses more kindly, but that if an elopement could be arranged she would be willing to accompany him. At the same time the manner of the fair one altered; she met her admirer's gaze with a disingenuously languishing eye, she pressed his hand at meeting and at parting, she replied to his frequent letters in fervent if ungrammatical terms. Old Moore was in the seventh heaven of delighted anticipation.
D acted the part of mutual friend. The details of the elopement were duly arranged; it was to take place on the following Saturday night, after the bar had closed. The lady's absence would thus not be noticed, the bar being closed on Sunday. By Monday the lovers would be over the Boshof Hills and far away across the wide plains of the Orange Free State. Old Moore acquiesced ecstatically, and engaged, at a very heavy cost, a cart with a spanking team of horses.
At the specified time, 12.30 a.m. on Sunday, the equipage stood ready at the appointed spot. Soon a cloaked figure, heavily veiled, was seen to approach with faltering steps, leaning on the arm of the mutual friend. The latter whispered to the impatient lover that the lady felt her position keenly, and begged that she might be left to herself for a time until her feelings became composed. Shrinkingly and in silence she climbed into the cart. Moore followed, and a start was made along the Boshof road.
The first stopping-place was at a wayside hotel a few miles out. Here Moore alighted for the purpose of obtaining some refreshment. On returning to the cart he was astonished to find that his companion had so far recovered from her nervousness as to be able to alight as well. She was standing in the road. A full moon, appropriate to the occasion in more senses than one, was shining. Feeling that the time had arrived when he might assume the privileges of a lover, Moore approached and attempted to slip an arm around his charmer's waist. To his astonishment, however, she lifted up her skirts and began to dance a "can-can" in the road. It then became apparent that her legs were clothed in trousers. The lady was at home in bed; she had been personated by a graceless young cub whose stature was about the same as hers.
The morning market at "New Rush" used to be crowded by wagons loaded with game. Most of this was shot on the flats beyond the Boshof Hills that range which is visible, about ten miles to the north-eastward, from Kimberley. I have seen hundreds of springbucks sold for a shilling apiece; blesbucks and wildebeeste for half a crown. The tails of the latter were in great demand for use as "chowries" wherewith to keep off the flies. I have seen a pound of fresh butter sold for seventeen and sixpence, a dish of peas for thirty shillings, and a head of cabbage for thirty five. The latter prices were, of course, quite exceptional.
Shortly after the summer of 1871 set in, I, in common with many others, went down with enteric fever. Doctors were plentiful enough, but there was no hospital, and nurses were unknown. However, with the help of a sound constitution I managed to keep alive on a diet of black coffee and roster koek administered by our Hottentot, David. My most painful recollections of that horrible time are connected with the plague of flies. These gave one no rest, night or day, for at night the slightest movement of the canvas set them buzzing. Better men than I died in every direction. I got the notion that I, too, would inevitably die unless I could manage to get away, so by an effort of will I crawled out of bed and took a passage in the coach for Queenstown.
I collapsed a few hours after starting, but the other passengers were very kind. The coach was so arranged that they sat facing each other in a double row, so they made a couch for me with rugs laid on their knees, and on this I rested. I reached Queenstown more dead than alive, but a few days of rest there picked me up, and I managed to survive the post-cart journey to King William's Town.
A few weeks at home, followed by a trip to the seaside near the Tshalumna Mouth, completed my recovery. No sooner was I well than an overpowering desire to return to the diamond-fields took possession of me. A military rummage-sale was held at King William's Town, and at this I noticed a "condemned" commissariat wagon, which seemed (barring that it wanted a coat of paint) to have nothing whatever the matter with it. It was knocked down to me for 5, and I spent 8 on having it repaired and painted, and in providing the necessary tackle. This wagon was the best wagon of its kind I have ever owned or traveled in. What caused it to be classed as "condemned" was a problem none but a military man could hope to solve. I also purchased eight strong oxen.
One day when strolling along one of the King William's Town streets I gained a sense that something large and familiar was approaching. Memory began to stir; yes it was Toby's mouth expanded into Toby's wholesale smile, and with Toby's long-lost self behind it. He had grown into a man in the interval since the conflagration and his flight. At that time the plays of Shakespeare were the only serious literature I had read. Unbidden, the song of the Page to Mariana which in some freakish fashion I had always connected with Toby's physiognomy tripped from my tongue
"Take, O, take those lips away, That so sweetly were forsworn."
Toby was fortunately disengaged, so we struck a bargain on the spot. He agreed to accompany me back to the diamond-fields as driver or leader of my team, as occasion might demand. I next sought around for something to take with me in the way of trade something that would ensure profit. I eventually decided upon onions. Colossal varieties of this wholesome but malodorous vegetable were grown by the German farmers in the vicinity, and were to be purchased at a reasonable rate. I obtained twenty full sackfuls, piled them on my wagon, and started. My cargo smelt to heaven but what of that? I could always, except in the rare event of rain, sleep well to windward. Nevertheless my nose suffered great distress during the course of that journey. But the circumstance that I realized 400 per cent, profit on my venture consoled me.
I had also acquired a sporting Snider carbine and four hundred cartridges. This weapon was the worst but one of all the many kickers I discharged during the years in which most of my spare time was devoted to killing game. The exception was an elephant gun which I used some years afterwards, and which made my nose bleed every time I discharged it. After firing ten shots from my vicious little Snider my shoulder would turn black and blue. But it could drive a bullet straight, as many springbucks on the plains of the Orange Free State had good cause to know.
It had been arranged that at Kimberley I was to be the guest, for a time, of Major Drury, formerly of the Cape Mounted Riflemen. I fancy that Major Drury must at the time have been on leave, for when I met him years afterwards he was in an Indian cavalry regiment. He belonged to a "mess" at what was known as the "West End." The members of this mess were camped together on a rise a few hundred yards from the western end of the mine, in the middle of an immense, straggling city of galvanized iron and canvas.
It was when Major Drury's guest that I first met Cecil John Rhodes. Major Drury, Dr. Thorne (formerly of Queenstown), Mr. George Paton (who afterwards represented Barkly West in Parliament), Mr. H. C. Becher (subsequently well known in Hatton Garden), Mr. Rhodes and the latter's brother, Herbert Rhodes, all belonged to this mess. Soon after my arrival came Frank Rhodes, a bright-faced lad of eighteen, but who looked considerably younger. He had passed the necessary examinations and was awaiting a nomination to the army. I have never met any one possessing such charm of manner as did Frank Rhodes at this period. He was, I fancy, a year or so younger than his brother Cecil.
Herbert Rhodes, the eldest brother, was a tall, lean, hatchet-faced man of, I should say, about twenty seven. Although sparely built his strength was considerable, and he was a splendid boxer. Cecil Rhodes was long and loose limbed, with blue eyes, ruddy complexion, and light, curly hair. He was, I think, some three or four years my senior. The Rhodes brothers occupied a large tent stretched over a skeleton framework and measuring about sixteen by eighteen feet. I fancy the site of our camp was the spot known afterwards as "St. Augustines," where a mine was subsequently opened.
Within a few yards of the mess tent were camped Norman Garstin and his partner "Tommy" Townsend. Garstin has since become noted as a painter. He is, or recently was, the patriarch of the artist colony at Newlyn. Although Garstin and Townsend did not belong to the Drury Rhodes mess, they were very intimate with the members thereof. After the completion of my term as Major Drury's guest, during which I slept in my wagon, I pitched a tent a few yards away, and messed for a time with Garstin and his partner. Soon afterwards the original mess was broken up and reorganized. Several members left and others took their places. Among the latter were Garstin and I. Another member was Hugh McLeod, who is, I fancy, still living at Kimberley. I struck my tent and went to live with the Rhodes brothers in theirs.
Everything connected with any phase in the life of a man such as Cecil John Rhodes is necessarily of interest, so I will endeavor to recall what I can of our mutual relations. I received several kindly favors at his hands, but we never became really intimate. He was even then somewhat intolerant in discussion. While Rhodes was already a man in mind and body, I was still a boy, and an ignorant, self-opinionated, argumentative one at that. Moreover, I was given to practical joking, and I played off one practical joke upon Cecil Rhodes of which I am ashamed to this day. When we met, after not having seen each other for nearly a quarter of a century, I felt sure he still remembered this (to me) discreditable episode. However, with Frank Rhodes, whose age was nearer mine, I was more in sympathy. We were, as a matter of fact, intimate friends the whole of the period upwards of a year during which we dwelt together. Herbert Rhodes was generally away on some adventure or another. He appeared to be one of those men to whom constant change was an imperative necessity.
I can very clearly picture Cecil Rhodes in one of his characteristic attitudes. After dinner it was his wont to lean forward with both elbows on the table and his mouth slightly open. He had a habit, when thinking, of rubbing his chin gently with his forefinger. Very often he would sit in the attitude described for a very long time, without joining in whatever conversation happened to be going on. His manner and expression suggested that his thoughts were far away, but occasionally some interjection would indicate that, to a certain extent, he was keeping in touch with the current topic. Indeed, it often seemed to me that the larger part of his brain was dealing with something of which no one else had cognizance. Mr. George Paton used to banter him severely for this peculiarity, but the banter was always taken in good part.
My first transaction with Cecil Rhodes was over the sale of my wagon. Within a few months of my arrival the discovery of gold at Marabastad was much discussed, and an expedition thither, under the leadership of Herbert Rhodes, was organized. There was difficulty in the matter of procuring a suitable wagon; eventually I was persuaded to lend mine for the trip. When the expedition returned, about four months afterwards, the wagon was a wreck. Naturally I demurred to taking it back.
The question arose as to what compensation I was to receive. It was known that the vehicle had cost me only 13, but I had, shortly after my arrival, refused an offer of 35 for it. I now demanded 30. Cecil Rhodes offered 25, which I declined to accept. After discussing the matter several times we agreed one afternoon to settle the dispute by means of a game of euchre. If Rhodes won, the price was to be 25; if victory declared for me, 30 had to be paid. The first two games out of three, "seven up," to decide.
A bag of mealie-meal stood in the corner of the tent; I laid this prone so that it might do duty as a table. Rhodes and I sat down on the ground, one at each side of the meal bag, and the game began. At first luck was on the side of my opponent; he ran away with the first game before I had scored a point, and was soon "all but" in the second. Then fortune favored me and after a hard tussle I won. When at Groote Schuur in 1894 I reminded Mr. Rhodes of this occurrence, and found that he remembered it in every detail.
Among the visitors to our mess tent I recall several who have since played prominent parts on the world-stage. Among these may be mentioned Mr. H. C. Seppings Wright, now an artist on the staff of the Illustrated London News. He occasionally made use of a strange expression: "Some day I mean to go home and get the drawing." He apparently meant by this that he intended learning to draw. That Mr. Wright did "get the drawing" is quite evident from the work he turns out and the position he holds. I have a vivid recollection of an excellent pair of top-boots and a very wide scarlet cummerbund which he used to wear.
Another frequent visitor was Archibald Campbell, who afterwards distinguished himself in the war between Russia and Turkey, fighting for the Turks. He came to be known as "Schipka" Campbell on account of some daring deed connected with the defense of the Schipka Pass, when he was under the Command of the traitorous Suleiman Pasha. Archibald Campbell's brother Alister was another guest, also the former's partner, Reginald Fairlie, who subsequently became a painter, and was the hero of a very sad and exceedingly dramatic romance. I shall have occasion to refer to Archibald Campbell later.
Mr. J. X. Merriman dined with us several times. He was at the time in partnership with Mr. H. C. Becher. Mr. Barry, the first Recorder of the Griqualand High Court, afterwards Sir Jacob Barry, Judge President of the Eastern Districts Court, also was our guest. Of the original members of the mess there are, so far as I know, only four alive. These are Mr. George Paton, Norman Garstin, Hugh McLeod, and myself.
I well remember one Saturday midnight when the Rhodeses, Campbell, Fairlie, Garstin, and I returned from a mild spree at Du Toit's Pan. Close to our camp was a Wesleyan church built of galvanized iron, and with a rather discordant toned bell at one end. My companions threw me on to the roof and forced me, under stress of pelting stones, to climb up the steep pitch and ring the bell. When the indignant inhabitants of the surrounding tents swarmed out my friends decamped, leaving me stranded. However, the sand was soft, so I dropped down and managed to escape.
Cecil Rhodes had a rusty black pony named "Bandersnatch" which I occasionally rode when shooting, game being more or less plentiful within a few miles of the mine. He also owned one of the strangest-looking dogs I have ever seen. It had no vestige of a tail, and, generally, it bore a strong resemblance to an exaggerated guinea pig.
In the days I write of Cecil and Herbert Rhodes were working a claim near the north end of No. 10 Road. They found a fair number of diamonds, but no large stones. I was working on shares a small piece of ground in the same road, the property of Gray Barber. By this time the rudimentary plan of sorting the gravel on one's claim had, of necessity, been superseded. Every digger had a depositing-floor to which his ground was carted or harrowed. Of the original surface of the mine only the roadways were left standing, vast chasms of varying depth lying between. The "stuff" a green, tenacious, decomposed rock of the consistency of very tough pot-clay, but granular and abounding in mica would be loosened with a pick, hauled up to the level of the road by means of bucket, rope, and pulley, and then conveyed to the depositing-floor.
The bulk of the native labor at the diamond-fields was drawn from Bechuanaland and the northern Transvaal. Many of the natives from the latter vicinity belonged to the Baphedi tribe, whose chief was the celebrated Sekukuni. These people used to arrive in an unspeakably miserable physical condition; they had traveled hundreds of miles almost without food. Literally, they were nothing but skin and bone. But after a week's feeding on impoop, as they called the mealie-meal porridge which was their staple food at the mines, they began to pick up. At the end of a month they would be sleek and in first-rate fettle.
It is practically certain that before leaving home these people had been instructed in the art of diamond-stealing. That such was the case may, I think, be inferred from the following incident. A friend of mine bought six "boys" (we used to buy these creatures from the labor touts at 1 per head), and put them the same day to work on his depositing-floor, smashing lumps of "stuff." He and I were sitting on a heap of sittings watching the poor creatures, who were in an unspeakably wretched condition. They were perfectly naked, except that each wore the usual stert reim. In the course of conversation my friend and I began speculating as to whether one of them would know a diamond if he saw it.
Just then a certain kind of "sell" was often practiced. One would cut a piece of alum into the ordinary octahedron form and scrape it so as to round off the edges. Such a production would make a capital imitation of a white, frosted stone. The "sell" was practiced thus: You would go to the sorting table of a friend, stealthily insert the lump of alum into his heap of gravel, and watch until he found it. The first thing a man usually did when he found a diamond was to put it into his mouth so as to remove the dust. The face of a man thus "sold," when he tasted the alum, was not a pretty sight.
On the occasion in question I happened to have in my pocket a carefully prepared lump of alum which, had it been a diamond, would have weighed about fifteen carats. After indicating to my friend what I was about to do, I walked up close to the heap of clods, bent down as though to tie my bootlace, and set the mock diamond on the ground. Then I returned to where I had been sitting. For a minute or so no one was working near the spot, but soon one of the natives shambled away from his companions and came towards it. He put his foot on the lump of alum and shambled on, but the lump had disappeared. My companion wanted to spring up at once, but I restrained him. The native went on pounding clods for a few minutes, and then made off as though to pass behind a big heap of rubbish. We followed and seized him suddenly from behind. He had the lump of alum firmly grasped between his toes.
Cecil Rhodes's depositing-floor was large and very conveniently situated close to the edge of the mine. He very kindly gave me a portion of it to use, thus lightening my labors considerably. But a catastrophe happened. One Sunday morning a shock was felt; this was followed by a rumbling roar. There was talk of earthquakes. Soon, however, we found out what had happened, the whole of the northern portion of No. 10 Road had collapsed into the chasm on its western side. Had this happened on a weekday, at least a hundred men would have lost their lives; probably I would have shared their fate. This occurrence put a stop to my work. Expensive tackle including staging, stretched wire ropes, windlass, and iron pulley-travelers now became necessary for getting out one's stuff. As my little capital was quite inadequate to all this, I surrendered the claim to its owner.
Herbert Rhodes was a restless being, a stormy petrel ever on the wing seeking adventures. I was told a few years since of an escapade which I will here relate. While believing the story, to be literally true, I do not guarantee its authenticity.
It is believed that in the caverns of what used to be Sekukuni's country considerable stores of diamonds, taken back from the fields by Baphedi laborers in the early days, lie concealed. Now, Sekukuni was a warrior of parts, he defied for several years the Transvaal, when the administration of President Burgers attempted to levy tribute on him in the form of hut tax. It was his great ambition to obtain a cannon for the defense of his mountain stronghold. Accordingly, towards the end of the seventies, he offered a heavy price, no less than a pint of clear, flawless diamonds, to any one who would supply such a weapon. Herbert Rhodes heard of the offer, opened communications with the chief, and agreed to provide a cannon on the terms specified.
Gun running the supply of firearms to savage natives is rightly looked upon as the unpardonable sin by men whose opinions are worth regarding. But this case fell not into the ordinary, category of gun-running. A cannon, for purposes of offence or defense, would have been of no more use to Sekukuni than a gramophone. However, the chief did not know this. He possessed the diamonds, but they were of no use whatever to him. He desired the artillery; this could not have been of any use to him for the purpose he had in view. The gun was, as a matter of fact, a weapon so utterly obsolete that it could have been of no use to any one. Logically, therefore, the transaction proposed amounted to x minus against x minus. But the diamonds would have been of great use to Herbert Rhodes, while the cannon would have been as a symbol priceless to the chief; he would have slept sounder the nights through in the realization that he possessed an engine capable, at least, of making a tremendous noise.
The gun, it appears, was conveyed to Lourenco Marques in a small French barque, Herbert Rhodes accompanying it. At night it was lowered into a boat, which was rowed up the Maputa River to a specified landing-place. Sekukuni had sent an induna bearing the pint of diamonds and accompanied by a number of carriers, with directions to keep to the valley of the Olifant River as far as the Lebomba Range, and then to skirt the eastern slope of that range to the Komati River. Here they were to await a message telling of the arrival of the gun.
Herbert Rhodes was not alone a first-rate boxer, but was unduly fond of giving practical illustration of his skill. On board the barque he quarreled with another man and gave the latter a severe thrashing. This man nursed revengeful feelings. Having found out about the forwarding of the gun, he managed to slip ashore early on the following morning and give information to the authorities. The Portuguese commander at once made preparations to send a company of soldiers for the purpose of apprehending the gun-runners. In the meantime a man at Lourenco Marques who was in Herbert Rhodes's confidence dispatched a swift runner ahead to warn Rhodes of his danger. This runner arrived some considerable time before the soldiers, so Rhodes had ample time in which to make preparations.
The way he dealt with the difficulty was simple and ought to have been effective. He tied a rope to the gun and a piece of twine to the rope. Then he flung rope and gun into the river, fastened the end of the twine to a floating fragment of wood, lit a cigarette, and sat down to await developments. In due time the Portuguese force arrived. The officer in charge was accompanied by an interpreter. Rhodes and his companions were at once arrested. The former protested hotly, and inquired in indignant terms as to the reason for such an outrage. When informed of the charge against him he affected the greatest astonishment, and challenged the officer to institute a search. This was done at once, and thoroughly; needless to say, nothing of an incriminating nature was found.
The officer now changed his tone, becoming very apologetic. He probably knew by experience that for a blunder such as this evidently, was, he, rather than his superior, would have to bear the brunt. But Rhodes was implacable; the world, he said, would ring with the outrage. As soon as the British Government learned of the disgraceful manner in which one of its subjects had been treated, a man-of-war would be sent round from Simon's Town to knock the Portuguese shanties about the Portuguese ears, &c. The officer, now thoroughly frightened, became more and more abject. However, Rhodes determined to get full change out of him before climbing from his high horse. But he delayed too long; he failed to make use of the loophole of escape that Fortune showed him.
Rhodes forgot three things, namely, that the Maputa is a tidal river, that several hours had elapsed since the gun had been heaved overboard, and that the tide was falling. One of the soldiers, in strolling about, noticed something unusual just beneath the surface of the water. To this he called the attention of a noncommissioned officer. The latter investigated further, and the gun was hauled out. Rhodes now tumbled incontinently from his high horse and the officer at once mounted it. The search party marched back in triumph to Lourenco Marques, escorting Rhodes and his companions as prisoners. The companions were placed at once on board their ship.
Herbert Rhodes, now in sorry case, was incarcerated in the fortress. This, in the seventies, was a horrible place in which to be confined. The cells were small, dark, and verminous; the flagged passages full of man-traps in the form of unexpected steps. I do not know what part of the building the prisoner was confined in, but if his cell were anything like the one from which, in 1874, I helped to carry the dead body of my poor friend Pat Foote, he was not to be envied. However, the durance apparently did not last long. The captive probably made himself disagreeable a thing he could do most effectively. He was, perhaps, found to be an embarrassment. Possibly that potent solver of difficulties, palm-oil, may have greased the bolts of his dungeon so effectively that they slipped back some dark, convenient night. At all events he got away after a comparatively short imprisonment. Nothing has been recorded as to what became of the pint of diamonds.
Herbert Rhodes came to a terrible end. A few years after the event just related, he was living in a hut on the shores of Lake Nyassa. One night, accompanied by a friend, he returned from a journey. Desiring refreshment he found none available except some Johanna rum in an unopened keg. This liquor is extremely strong and highly inflammable. Rhodes knocked in the bung; some of the spirit spurted out and became ignited.
The keg burst and the contents wrapped the unhappy man in a sheet of flame. After this had with difficulty been quenched, a messenger was dispatched to Blantyre, some forty miles away, to call for medical aid. I believe it was Dr. Jane Waterston, now of Cape Town, who came to the sufferer's assistance. But he died in great agony shortly after her arrival.
Big gambling—Von Schlichmann—Norman Garstin—The painter of St. Michael's Mount—Start for the gold fields—"I am going to be hanged" Plentifulness of game—Snakes in an anthill—Nazareth—Game in the High Veld—Narrow escape from frost-bite—A shooting match—Lydenburg—Painful tramping—"Artful Joe"—Penalty for suicide—Pilgrim's Rest—Experiences of "a new chum"—Tent-making—Explorations—The Great Plateau—Prospect of the Low Country—Elands.
I was told the following tale on good authority. Three men held a claim jointly in the "New Rush" mine. They worked it for about six months, and found a considerable number of diamonds. The weather grew hot and the camp unhealthy; many were dying of fever. Duststorms raged, and the flies became almost intolerable. All three wanted to get away; they longed for the coast and the cool sea-breezes. One of the partners proposed that two of them should go away on a visit and the third stay behind to keep the claim going, the question as to who should stay being settled by lot. Another proposed, as an amendment, that they should toss "odd man out" who was to own the claim; then each could please himself. No sooner said than done. Three coins spun into the air, and two third portions of a claim, worth even then about 2,000, were lost and won within the space of ten seconds.
As might be imagined, gambling was very rife. I well remember one night looking on, awe-struck at the magnitude of the stakes, at a game of loo. The play took place at an eating-house called "The Gridiron," the proprietor of which was an ex-cavalry man named Richardson. The building was of the usual eating-house type; it had a wooden frame covered with canvas. At right angles to a central passage were tables with benches at each side, the tables being cut off from each other by partitions.
At the game in question there were four players: Richardson (the proprietor), H. B. Webb (a noted diamond dealer), his partner Joe Posno, and the celebrated Ikey Sonnenberg. Some idea of the magnitude of the stakes may be formed when it is stated that at one time 1,700 was in the pool.
A man I knew fairly well was Von Schlichmann. He had been secretary to Count Arnim when that unfortunate nobleman was German Ambassador to France. When Arnim fell, the possibilities of the diplomatic career, for which his secretary had been intended, were destroyed. Von Schlichmann was a man of extraordinary strength, and was remarkably handsome in both face and figure. His curled yellow hair was thick, long, and silky in texture. One of his favorite ways of showing his strength was to get four men to grasp handfuls of his locks, each with one hand, as firmly as they could. He would then sway his head round with a jerk, and the four would fall, sprawling, in different directions.
I think it was in 1875 that Von Schlichmann went north and entered the military service of the Transvaal. It was, I know, when preparations were being made to attack Sekukuni. I was one of those enrolled in the expedition that escorted the arms and ammunition for that campaign from Delagoa Bay to Pretoria in the latter part of 1874. So far as my memory serves me, Von Schlichmann arrived early in the following year. But he was killed in one of the attacks on Sekukuni's stronghold. When leading his men a bullet pierced his lungs. He lay exposed on the flat rock on which he fell, waving his sword and encouraging his men to advance to the attack, until blood choked his utterance. One of my best friends, a man named Macaulay, was shot on the same occasion. He received a bullet in the brain from which he, unfortunately, did not die until after several hours of great agony. Macaulay was noted at Pilgrim's Rest as the first in the locality who used dynamite in mining operations.
But I have allowed myself to run ahead too fast, so must hark back to Kimberley, as "New Rush" had now come to be called.
One of my most intimate friends was Norman Garstin, a man whom to know was to love. Once he nearly frightened me to death. He had a habit of sleeping with his eyes wide open, but of this I was quite unaware. Returning home late one night I struck a match and saw him lying on his back, his eyes fixed and glassy. I seized him by the shoulders and, much to his disgust, dragged him into a sitting posture. Garstin was an accomplished draughtsman. His caricatures, which were never ill-natured, and his black and white "parables" brought him wide popularity in the days when we foregathered.
The Cape Times was started by Garstin in conjunction with the late Mr. F. Y. St. Leger. I forget exactly when this happened, but I think it was in the late seventies. After he had severed his connection with the Cape Times, Garstin went to Europe, where he studied serious art for several years. I was his guest at Newlyn, Penzance, in 1899; at the time of my visit he was patriarch of the well-known artist colony there. Garstin's pictures, although they have never been "boomed," and have consequently not reached public favor, are thought very highly of by other artists. To record that they have been hung in the Royal Academy is like saying of an author's books that they have been on sale in a railway bookstall. Two very beautiful examples of his work which I specially recall are "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Lost Piece of Silver."
Garstin told me a very significant tale. He kept an art school at Newlyn. One day an intelligent young Cornish miner came and asked to be received as a pupil; he at once paid a quarter's fees in advance. Then he informed Garstin that he wanted to learn to paint pictures of St. Michael's Mount. Garstin, finding that his pupil was ignorant of the very rudiments of painting, endeavored to explain that some preliminary training was necessary; but the young man would not argue the point. St. Michael's Mount, and nothing else, was to be the subject; all he wanted Garstin to do was to show him how to begin, and afterwards give him an occasional direction.
Canvas, easel, brushes, and paints were all purchased according to a list which Garstin supplied him with. He wanted, he said, everything of the best. A pupil is a pupil, especially when he pays in advance, and when pictures are not as saleable as they should be, so Garstin did all he could to further this particular pupil's desire. The latter was very apt; after a comparatively short time he was able to turn out some daubs, the meaning of which could be more or less recognized.
When he had outraged St. Michael's Mount from one side, Garstin's pupil attacked it from another. St. Michael's Mount at early morning, at high noon, at dewy eve, and at all intermediate hours; St. Michael's Mount in spring, in summer, in autumn, and in winter; St. Michael's Mount lapped by a calm sea, or smitten by spuming waves. He made uncanny progress. Before the second quarter was at an end this remarkable pupil had produced several presentments of the celebrated Cornish excrescence, which were not much worse than average lodging-house oleographs, and were quite as suggestive of their subject as is Turner's celebrated masterpiece. When the quarter came to an end, the pupil announced that he considered he had now learnt enough. Accordingly he left.
Shortly afterwards Garstin was astonished to hear that his former pupil had set up a studio on his own account at St. Ives, a few miles away. It was quite true. Here he sat all day long, painting pictures of St. Michael's Mount in assorted sizes. I forget how many pictures he finished each week, but the output was large. This is the explanation; Johannesburg at the time contained many Cornishmen; to the average Cornishman St. Michael's Mount is what Mecca is to the Moslem. Garstin's shrewd disciple had his daubs framed and sent to the Rand. Here they were all absorbed, fetching prices which left an average profit of 5 each. And all this time Garstin's own beautiful creations were wanting purchasers.
In 1873 rich alluvial gold was reported to have been struck in the Lydenburg district, which was then the extreme limit which civilization had reached in the north-eastern Transvaal. I decided to go and try my fortune at the scene of the discovery. While passing through Pretoria I met a man in the street whose face I thought I knew. He advanced towards me with outstretched hand. Yes, it was Cooper the man during whose wedding festivities the big circus-tent had been blown down. He greeted me with great effusion, a circumstance I thought remarkable, as I had not known him well. The day was warm, so I suggested that we should have a drink together. He agreed with alacrity, so we adjourned to the nearest bar.
"Well, Cooper," said I, "how are you getting on here?"
At once his face fell.
"Very badly indeed," he replied, and heaved a sigh.
"Why, what is the matter?"
"Well, the fact is, I am going to be hanged."
I thought he was joking, but it was not so; he was actually under sentence of death. He had gone on the spree and started painting Pretoria red some months previously. When a constable attempted to arrest him, he drew a revolver and shot the unfortunate officer fatally. In due course he was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead.
"But, Cooper," I queried, "why don't they hang you?"
"Well," he replied, "they don't like hanging white men up here, and just now President Burgers is laying out a rose-garden. I understand that kind of thing, so I go down every day and attend to the work. I was just taking a stroll when I met you."
"Look here, Cooper," I said with emphasis, "if I were you I would clear out without delay. The State Attorney may change his mind; some new man may take on the job a man with strict ideas. Clear out while you can."
"Oh, I don't think there's any danger," replied Cooper, but he looked uneasy.
"Was it a white man or a black man that you shot?"
"It was a white man, right enough."
"Then clear out while there is still time," said I.
Some months afterwards I met a Pretoria man named Brodrick at Pilgrim's Rest. I inquired about Cooper. What Brodrick told me proved the soundness of my advice. The Executive Council had suddenly awakened to a sense of its duty, and decided to allow the law to take its course. Fortunately Brodrick and some others got wind of this, so they managed to get the culprit out of gaol. Mounted on one horse and leading another, Cooper rode for his life westward towards Bechuanaland, pursued by the Transvaal police. However, he escaped. I have never heard of him since.
Game was plentiful at certain places along the road. I remember a locality called "Leeuw Dooms" where blesbuck, wildebeeste, and quagga were in almost incredible abundance. As far as the eye could reach the veld was dappled with herds of these and other animals. So far as I can remember, this place was about three days' wagon journey beyond Pretoria.
Before reaching Pretoria we outspanned near the winkel of a man named Jacobi, a former resident of Cradock. This was within a few miles of where Johannesburg stands today. I remember Jacobi telling me that a nugget of gold had been found in the drift of a river close to his house. Here I had an adventure.
I took my rifle and strolled down the riverbank after some reedbuck, which I had been told were to be found there. I wounded a buck; it hobbled away with difficulty. I ran after it, but the grass was long, and I had a difficulty in keeping the animal in sight. In my course stood an ant-hill about four feet high. Endeavoring to get within view of the buck, I sprang to the top of the ant-hill, but it was hollow, and the crust collapsed under me. I looked down and found that several snakes were crawling and writhing about my feet. I had some difficulty in getting out, for as soon as I got foothold on the edge it broke under my weight. The weather was cold, and the snakes had taken refuge in the cavity.
I reached the town of Nazareth (now called Middelburg ) early one morning. The houses numbered, I should say, from thirty to forty, and stood somewhat wide apart from each other. In making my way to a shop which stood about in the middle of the township, and which had a very high stoep, I noticed that the streets were full of game spoors. I spoke of this to the storekeeper.
"Oh, yes," he replied, "the game comes in here every night. Look there."
I glanced in the direction indicated. Just beyond the outskirts of the town were herds of wildebeeste, blesbuck, and quagga grazing quietly about, like so many herds of cattle. But they were not so tame as they looked, as I found later in the day, when I went towards them with my rifle.
In passing through the High Veld, as the country to the north-east of Nazareth was called, I first saw the spoor of a lion. I left the wagon, which had been obliged to make a very wide detour for the purpose of avoiding swampy ground, and was making straight across country towards a point close to which I knew the road passed. On my left was a very large leegte, a shallow, nearly level valley. For miles of its course this was filled with swamp, out of which tall reeds grew.
Game was very abundant. I shot several blesbuck and wildebeeste, I am sorry to say, for the gratification of mere lust of slaughter, as I could not possibly carry away the meat. In passing over a graveled ridge I noticed a dried drop of blood. I looked more closely and found the tracks of some large animal. This I followed, in the direction of the reeds, until I reached some sandy ground. Then I saw that the track was undoubtedly that of a lion. The animal had evidently killed during the previous night and carried the meat to its lair among the reeds. But this was a mere guess; I did not pursue my investigations.
Next day I left the wagon long before daylight, and started for another tramp this time along a course I had mapped out the previous afternoon. It was bitterly and unseasonably cold. There was no wind, but the hoar-frost lay almost as thick as if a fairly heavy shower of snow had fallen. I was wearing veldschoens, but had no socks. As I trampled through the grass the frost spicules from the tussocks I brushed against filled the spaces between the leather and my feet.
I began to suffer excruciating pain. I thought day would never break. My feet felt as though they did not belong to me. Soon they ceased to be painful, but the pain-area had traveled up my legs. Having heard of frost-bite and its serious effects, I became much alarmed.
Day broke at length. There was so far no game in sight. I thought of kindling a fire, but could find no fuel. Just ahead a low, narrow dyke crossed my course. I crept to this on my hands and knees, and peered through the stones. Yes, there stood a small herd of blesbuck; they were not more than eighty yards away. With great difficulty, for the light was still bad and I was shaking like an aspen, I got my bead on the largest buck. I fired; the animal sprang into the air and rolled over. I hobbled forward to where the creature lay. It was stone dead; shot through the heart. I pulled the carcass up to a convenient stone, cut it open with my hunting knife and thrust my feet into its interior. During the ensuing half-hour I think I suffered more intense physical agony than I have ever endured in the same period of time. My feet must have been very nearly frost-bitten, and the process of circulation being restored was exquisitely painful. I verily believe that my life was saved through the accident of those blesbucks being behind the dyke and close enough for me to be able to kill one. The sun was high in the heavens before I was able to resume my journey.
One day I came across an encampment of Boer hunters. Tired of killing game, they were indulging in the diversion of a shooting-match. I was cordially welcomed, and invited to join in the competition. The farmers had brought their families with them; some dozen or so wagons had been outspanned together, and several tents had been pitched.
Girls, some of them very pretty, dispensed coffee in kommetjes to the competitors. The competition was arranged on very peculiar lines. The targets were circular, and could not have measured more than about five inches in diameter. The range was a hundred paces. Each competitor lay on a feather-bed, which was covered with a kaross, and rested his rifle on a pile of pillows. The price of a lootje that is to say, the fee for entry was sixpence, and each could take as many lootjes as he liked. The number of shots fired in each case was five, and these were fired in succession. The prizes were sheep, sacks of meal, and small casks of vinegar.
In spite of the smallness of the target there were but few misses. Shots were judged to a hair's-breadth, and the judging was perfectly fair. Strangely enough I managed to win a sack of meal and a barrel of vinegar. As these were of no use to me, I exchanged them for fifteen shillings and a hundred Westley Richards cartridges. My shooting caused me to find favor in the eyes of these farmers; I was cordially invited to remain and hunt with them for as long as I liked. I might have done worse than accept; the life they were leading was a lordly one. However, I had to bid them a regretful farewell. Then I tramped on after the wagon.
The people with whom I was traveling did not go beyond Lydenburg, so from there I had to tramp to Pilgrim's Rest, my destination, a distance of about forty miles. I tied my worldly possessions into a "swag" a process in which I was skillfully assisted by an old miner, with whom I casually foregathered. Then I set forth with three companions, likewise casual acquaintances. We all belonged to that despised class known as "new chums" that is, men who were without practical experience in the art of goldmining.
We started early in the afternoon. Our pilgrimage was a painful one; my swag was heavy, and the straps galled my unaccustomed shoulders. After walking about fifteen miles we camped in a small grove of trees. Here we shivered through an apparently interminable night around an inadequate fire. None of us were experienced bushmen, and we had neglected to gather sufficient fuel. The wind was cold, and I had not then acquired that toughness of fiber and insensibility to extremes of heat and cold which long wanderings and many hardships afterwards gave me.
Two only of my companions are worth recalling. One was an ex-larrikin from Melbourne, who went by the name of "Artful Joe"; his real name I never learnt. Joe had been the victim of a horrible accident in the Kimberley mine about a year previously. He had fallen from one of the "roads" sixty feet sheer on to a sorting table at the bottom of the claim. Both his legs had been broken in several places. I was not present when the accident occurred, but I witnessed the tedious and terrible process of hoisting the injured man out of the pit and conveying him to the hospital. With the exception of a slight lameness, and of being more or less bandy-legged, Joe had not suffered much permanent injury.
He sang many comic songs to cheer us up during that night of dolor, filling the intervals between the ditties with anathemas against his South African luck and realistic stories of his Australian experiences. He had lived, he told us, for several years by earning pennies in the Melbourne streets. Outside the sculleries of the large hotels, or where banquets had been held, barrels of 'feast fragments used to be set. In these barrels the street-public were allowed to "dab" with a fork, at the rate of a penny a time, for discarded fragments of food. Occasionally a rich reward would fall to the enterprising "dabber." Joe's most dazzling stroke of luck happened once when he dabbed out a whole fowl (feaoul, he called it). This must have been rendered possible through some extraordinary lapse of culinary carefulness. The description was so appetizing that I am sure the wraith of that long-digested bird hovered over our meager banquet.
The second pilgrim was a Jew named L.
He was extremely short of stature, but wore the biggest boots I have ever seen; literally, they covered him to the waist. L, never having previously roughed it, was the greatest sufferer; his misery was so great that he wept bitterly, refusing to be comforted. He sickened us through his utter want of grit. When, towards morning, he slept, I took his boots and hid them behind a bush some distance away. His lamentations on missing them were long and loud.
The third of my companions was a mere tramp, sodden with drink a man utterly without significance, except as an example of what to avoid.
Some months afterwards, at Pilgrim's Rest, L attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself. He was cut down before life was extinct, and on recovery was prosecuted for felo-de-se. At the time Major Macdonald, the Gold Commissioner, happened to be away, his place being temporarily filled by Mr. Mansfield, the postmaster. The terms used by the latter in sentencing L caused great amusement.
They were as follows:
"As you have been guilty of an attempt only, I will fine you 5, but if you had succeeded I should have felt bound to pass a much more severe sentence."
"Artful Joe" and I were the only two members of the party who were fit to travel next day, so after leaving the others the largest share of our joint stock of provisions (meal and tea), and restoring the boots to their disconsolate owner, we went on. We abandoned the road and traveled by a footpath across country in the compass direction of our objective. It was in the middle of a calm, sunny afternoon that we reached the eastern edge of the mountain plateau overlooking the Blyde River Valley. The prospect was a magnificent one. North and south the great mountain ranges rolled away, seemingly to infinity. Before us, winding down through the range on the opposite side of the valley, lay Pilgrim's Creek, the goal of our long endeavor.
Between two and three miles from where the creek flowed into the Blyde River lay the little township. Among the farther sinuosities of the valley were groups of tents. With the eye of imagination we could almost detect the nuggets gleaming at the bottom of the stream. We had not yet learnt the gold-diggers' variant of a well-known proverb: "Nothing is gold that glitters."
We scrambled down the steep mountain-side, between patches of forest and over reefs of quartz. The latter had a special interest for us; we were now in the land of gold and who could tell where the clues of Fortune were not to be picked up? That afternoon the world was full of glorious possibilities.
We waded across the Blyde River drift and ascended the slope towards the town, which nestled behind a stony rise. Soon, with light hearts and lighter pockets (mine contained but seven shillings), we trudged up the one and only street. Here and there stood a digger, or a storekeeper, glancing with amused contempt at the raw "new chums." I happened to be wearing a pair of new moleskin breeches that were several sizes too wide for me. These were the occasion of a good deal of derisive comment. One man sang out to a friend across the street
"Say, Jim, them looks like town-made legs and country made trousers, eh?"
Joe's limp, also, was the subject of ribaldry. On the whole we must have been a strange looking pair. Feeling rather small under the scrutiny (not bethinking us that within a very few months we would be putting on similar airs of superiority towards weary tramps arriving under like conditions) we were glad when we had passed through the township. We strolled up the winding valley, admiring the landscape and wondering how we were going to set about earning a living. The scenery was enchanting, but scenery by itself is not a satisfying diet.
On our course up the creek we passed numbers of parties at work. Owing to the rugged nature of the Pilgrim's Valley, the pathway zigzagged a great deal. Some acquaintances of mine were said to be working among the terraces high up far beyond the Middle Camp and their tent was my objective. Once we heard a cheery hail from the bed of the creek, and saw a man waving a tin pannikin at us. This meant an invitation to tea, which we gladly accepted. The claim was worked by a couple of Australians; they were on a fair lead, so they told us. They gave us a supply of tobacco, and told us to call round again as soon as we "got stony," and they would see what they could do for us. This evidence of sympathy gave me, at least, a feeling of confidence which I badly needed.
We reached the Middle Camp; as we passed Tom Craddock's bar a stalwart, bearded, and more or less inebriated digger came out with vociferous welcome and insisted on our going in and drinking at his expense. In the bar was a man I knew; seeing him had the effect of making me feel more or less at home. We sat and rested for a few moments; then I got hold of the idea that we were expected to stand return treat to our host and his friends. In this I was, as it happened, quite mistaken. Joe had no money whatever, so I had to pay. My capital was now reduced to two shillings.
The man I met in the bar, whom I knew, told me that the friends I was seeking had, a few days previously, moved down creek. We had passed their camp without knowing it, a couple of miles back. Joe and I were now dog-tired, so decided to go back to a warm nook we had noticed in a kloof on the way up, and spend the night there. We reached this spot just as night was falling, and "dossed" down. Fuel was plentiful, so we made a lordly fire. We worked up our remaining meal into dampers and cooked them in the ashes. We found there was enough tea left for two brews; one of these we prepared at once. Then we filled our pipes with some of the kind Australians' seasonable gift, and sat puffing in a condition of mind that approached contentment.
It had been tacitly assumed that Joe and I were to be mates, although nothing definite had been said on the subject. We conversed for a while after supper; then silence fell upon us. I spoke several times to Joe, but he did not answer. Just as I was wrapping myself in my blanket for the night, Joe turned abruptly to me and said:
"Look here, I ain't your sort; you'll get a better mate. We'll shake hands in the morning and say goodbye."
When I awoke in the grey dawn Joe had already risen, lit the fire, packed his swag, and brewed our last pinch of tea in the billy. We drank to each other's good fortune in silence. Then, after a hand-press, Joe humped his swag and strode away, leaving me with moistened eyes. I felt I had lost my only friend. I have foregathered with much worse men than "Artful Joe."
Early that day I found my friends, some men I had known at Kimberley. They agreed to allow me to work with them for my keep, my services then not being worth more. I knew nothing whatever about gold-mining, and, not having performed any manual labor for some time, my hands were soft. Every new chum had to undergo the purgatorial experience of having his palms blistered and re-blistered until continued contact with the handles of pick and shovel made them horny. However, I soon matriculated at the sluice-box, and was able to do a fair day's work. Then, as my friends could not afford to pay wages they were, for the time, off the "lead," I sought another employer. Work was easily found. The uniform rate of wages for Europeans was an ounce of gold per week, the value thereof being about 3 12s. 6d.
With my first earnings I bought some double width unbleached calico and a palm and needle. By means of these I made myself a small tent. The cost of the material was about seventeen shillings, and the work was easily finished in the course of four or five evenings. I had not been living in this tent for more than ten days when a man, who was about to start on a prospecting trip, bought it over my head for 1pound 15s. I must have made, and sold at a profit, quite a dozen tents during my stay at Pilgrim's Rest. In fact I soon got to be known as "that chap who always has a tent to sell." When a purchaser came along I would deliver the tent at once, and move my few belongings to the dwelling of some friend or another who happened to have room to spare.
I lived very sparingly indeed; two shillings per diem paid for my food and tobacco. I hoarded every penny like a miser. I longed to prospect, to explore; but before attempting this it was necessary to have a few pounds in hand. On Sundays it was my habit to walk to the top of the "Divide," the backbone of the mountain range. On one side of it lay Pilgrim's Rest, on the other "Mac Mac," another mining camp so called on account of most of the diggers there in the first instance having been Scotsmen. From this lofty coign I could occasionally get far and faint glimpses of the mysterious "Low Country," which was just visible (in clear weather) over the intervening precipice-edged plateau which lay beyond the Mac Mac and Waterfall Creeks.