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Chapter 4

THE EVE OF WAR

The message sent from the Cabinet Council of September 8th was
evidently the precursor either of peace or of war. The cloud must
burst or blow over. As the nation waited in hushed expectancy for a
reply it spent some portion of its time in examining and speculating
upon those military preparations which might be needed. The War
Office had for some months been arranging for every contingency, and
had made certain dispositions which appeared to them to be adequate,
but which our future experience was to demonstrate to be far too small
for the very serious matter in hand.

It is curious in turning over the files of such a paper as the
'Times' to observe how at first one or two small paragraphs of military
significance might appear in the endless columns of diplomatic and
political reports, how gradually they grew and grew, until at last the
eclipse was complete, and the diplomacy had been thrust into the tiny
paragraphs while the war filled the journal. Under July 7th comes the
first glint of arms amid the drab monotony of the state papers. On
that date it was announced that two companies of Royal Engineers and
departmental corps with reserves of supplies and ammunition were being
dispatched. Two companies of engineers! Who could have foreseen that
they were the vanguard of the greatest army which ever at any time of
the world's history has crossed an ocean, and far the greatest which a
British general has commanded in the field?

On August 15th, at a time when the negotiations had already assumed a
very serious phase, after the failure of the Bloemfontein conference
and the dispatch of Sir Alfred Milner, the British forces in South
Africa were absolutely and absurdly inadequate for the purpose of the
defence of our own frontier. Surely such a fact must open the eyes of
those who, in spite of all the evidence, persist that the war was
forced on by the British. A statesman who forces on a war usually
prepares for a war, and this is exactly what Mr. Kruger did and the
British authorities did not. The overbearing suzerain power had at
that date, scattered over a huge frontier, two cavalry regiments,
three field batteries, and six and a half infantry battalions -- say
six thousand men. The innocent pastoral States could put in the field
forty or fifty thousand mounted riflemen, whose mobility doubled their
numbers, and a most excellent artillery, including the heaviest guns
which have ever been seen upon a battlefield. At this time it is most
certain that the Boers could have made their way easily either to
Durban or to Cape Town. The British force, condemned to act upon the
defensive, could have been masked and afterwards destroyed, while the
main body of the invaders would have encountered nothing but an
irregular local resistance, which would have been neutralised by the
apathy or hostility of the Dutch colonists. It is extraordinary that
our authorities seem never to have contemplated the possibility of the
Boers taking the initiative, or to have understood that in that case
our belated reinforcements would certainly have had to land under the
fire of the republican guns.

In July Natal had taken alarm, and a strong representation had been
sent from the prime minister of the colony to the Governor, Sir
W. Hely Hutchinson, and so to the Colonial Office. It was notorious
that the Transvaal was armed to the teeth, that the Orange Free State
was likely to join her, and that there had been strong attempts made,
both privately and through the press, to alienate the loyalty of the
Dutch citizens of both the British colonies. Many sinister signs were
observed by those upon the spot. The veldt had been burned unusually
early to ensure a speedy grass-crop after the first rains, there had
been a collecting of horses, a distribution of rifles and ammunition.
The Free State farmers, who graze their sheep and cattle upon Natal
soil during the winter, had driven them off to places of safety behind
the line of the Drakensberg. Everything pointed to approaching war,
and Natal refused to be satisfied even by the dispatch of another
regiment. On September 6th a second message was received at the
Colonial Office, which states the case with great clearness and
precision.

'The Prime Minister desires me to urge upon you by the unanimous
advice of the Ministers that sufficient troops should be dispatched to
Natal immediately to enable the colony to be placed in a state of
defence against an attack from the Transvaal and the Orange Free
State. I am informed by the General Officer Commanding, Natal, that he
will not have enough troops, even when the Manchester Regiment
arrives, to do more than occupy Newcastle and at the same time protect
the colony south of it from raids, while Laing's Nek, Ingogo River
and Zululand must be left undefended. My Ministers know that every
preparation has been made, both in the Transvaal and the Orange Free
State, which would enable an attack to be made on Natal at short
notice. My Ministers believe that the Boers have made up their minds
that war will take place almost certainly, and their best chance will
be, when it seems unavoidable, to deliver a blow before reinforcements
have time to arrive. Information has been received that raids in
force will be made .by way of Middle Drift and Greytown and by way of
Bond's Drift and Stangar, with a view to striking the railway between
Pietermaritzburg and Durban and cutting off communications of troops
and supplies. Nearly all the Orange Free State farmers in the Klip
River division, who stay in the colony usually till October at least,
have trekked, at great loss to themselves; their sheep are lambing on
the road, and the lambs die or are destroyed. Two at least of the
Entonjanani district farmers have trekked with all their belongings
into the Transvaal, in the first case attempting to take as hostages
the children of the natives on the farm. Reliable reports have been
received of attempts to tamper with loyal natives, and to set tribe
against tribe in order to create confusion and detail the defensive
forces of the colony. Both food and warlike stores in large
quantities have been accumulated at Volksrust, Vryheid and
Standerton. Persons who are believed to be spies have been seen
examining the bridges on the Natal Railway, and it is known that there
are spies in all the principal centres of the colony. In the opinion
of Ministers, such a catastrophe as the seizure of . Laing's Nek and
the destruction of the northern portion of the railway, or a
successful raid or invasion such as they have reason to believe is
contemplated, would produce a most demoralising effect on the natives
and on the loyal Europeans in the colony, and would afford great
encouragement to the Boers and to their sympathisers in the colonies,
who, although armed and prepared, will probably keep quiet unless they
receive some encouragement of the sort. They concur in the policy of
her Majesty's Government of exhausting all peaceful means to obtain
redress of the grievances of the Uitlanders and authoritatively assert
the supremacy of Great Britain before resorting to war; but they state
that this is a question of defensive precaution, not of making war.'

In answer to these and other remonstrances the garrison of Natal was
gradually increased, partly by troops from Europe, and partly by the
dispatch of five thousand British troops from India. The 2nd
Berkshires, the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, the 1st Manchesters, and
the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers arrived in succession with reinforcements of
artillery. The 5th Dragoon Guards, 9th Lancers, and 19th Hussars came
from India, with the 1st Devonshires, 1st Gloucesters, 2nd King's
Royal Rifles and 2nd Gordon Highlanders. These with the 21st, 42nd,
and 53rd batteries of Field Artillery made up the Indian
Contingent. Their arrival late in September raised the number of
troops in South Africa to 22,000, a force which was inadequate to a
contest in the open field with the numerous, mobile, and gallant enemy
to whom they were to be opposed, but which proved to be strong enough
to stave off that overwhelming disaster which, with our fuller
knowledge, we can now see to have been impending.

As to the disposition of these troops a difference of opinion broke
out between the ruling powers in Natal and the military chiefs at the
spot. Prince Kraft has said, 'Both strategy and tactics may have to
yield to politics '; but the political necessity should be very grave
and very clear when it is the blood of soldiers which has to pay for
it. Whether it arose from our defective intelligence, or from that
caste feeling which makes it hard for the professional soldier to
recognise (in spite of deplorable past experiences) a serious
adversary in the mounted farmer, it is certain that even while our
papers were proclaiming that this time, at least, we would not
underrate our enemy, we were most seriously underrating him. The
northern third of Natal is as vulnerable a military position as a
player of kriegspiel could wish to have submitted to him. It runs up
into a thin angle, culminating at the apex in a difficult pass, the
ill-omened Laing's Nek, dominated by the even more sinister bulk of
Majuba. Each side of this angle is open to invasion, the one from the
Transvaal and the other from the Orange Free State. A force up at the
apex is in a perfect trap, for the mobile enemy can flood into the
country to the south of them, cut the line of supplies, and throw up a
series of entrenchments which would make retreat a very difficult
matter. Further down the country, at such positions as Ladysmith or
Dundee, the danger, though not so imminent, is still an obvious one,
unless the defending force is strong enough to hold its own in the
open field and mobile enough to prevent a mounted enemy from getting
round its flanks. To us, who are endowed with that profound military
wisdom which only comes with a knowledge of the event, it is obvious
that with a defending force which could not place more than 12,000 men
in the fighting line, the true defensible frontier was the line of the
Tugela. As a matter of fact, Ladysmith was chosen, a place almost
indefensible itself, as it is dominated by high hills in at least two
directions.

Such an event as the siege of the town appears never to have been
contemplated, as no guns of position were asked for or sent. In spite
of this, an amount of stores, which is said to have been valued at
more than a million of pounds, was dumped down at this small railway
junction, so that the position could not be evacuated without a
crippling loss. The place was the point of bifurcation of the main
line, which divides at this little town into one branch running to
Harrismith in the Orange Free State, and the other leading through the
Dundee coal fields and Newcastle to the Laing's Nek tunnel and the
Transvaal. An importance, which appears now to have been an
exaggerated one, was attached by the Government of Natal to the
possession of the coal fields, and it was at their strong suggestion,
but with the concurrence of General Penn Symons, that the defending
force was divided, and a detachment of between three and four thousand
sent to Dundee, about forty miles from the main body, which remained
under General Sir George White at Ladysmith. General Symons
underrated the power of the invaders, but it is hard to criticise an
error of judgment which has been so nobly atoned and so tragically
paid for. At the time, then, which our political narrative has
reached, the time of suspense which followed the dispatch of the
Cabinet message of September 8th, the military situation had ceased to
be desperate, but was still precarious. Twenty-two thousand regular
troops were on the spot who might hope to be reinforced by some ten
thousand colonials, but these forces had to cover a great frontier,
the attitude of Cape Colony was by no means whole-hearted and might
become hostile, while the black population might conceivably throw in
its weight against us. Only half the regulars could be spared to
defend Natal, and no reinforcements could reach them in less than a
month from the outbreak of hostilities. If Mr. Chamberlain was really
playing a game of bluff, it must be confessed that he was bluffing
from a very weak hand.

For purposes of comparison we may give some idea of the forces which
Mr. Kruger and Mr. Steyn could put in the field, for by this time it
was evident that the Orange Free State, with which we had had no
shadow of a dispute, was going, in a way which some would call wanton
and some chivalrous, to throw in its weight against us. The general
press estimate of the forces of the two republics varied from 25,000
to 35,000 men. Mr. J. B. Robinson, a personal friend of President
Kruger's and a man who had spent much of his life among the Boers,
considered the latter estimate to be too high. The calculation had no
assured basis to start from. A very scattered and isolated
population, among whom large families were the rule, is a most
difficult thing to estimate. Some reckoned from the supposed natural
increase during eighteen years, but the figure given at that date was
itself an assumption. Others took their calculation from the number
of voters in the last presidential election: but no one could tell how
many abstentions there had been, and the fighting age is five years
earlier than the voting age in the republics. We recognise now that
all calculations were far below the true figure. It is probable,
however, that the information of the British Intelligence Department
was not far wrong. According to this the fighting strength of the
Transvaal alone was 32,000 men, and of the Orange Free State
22,000. With mercenaries and rebels from the colonies they would
amount to 60,000, while a considerable rising of the Cape Dutch would
bring them up to 100,000. In artillery they were known to have about a
hundred guns, many of them (and the fact will need much explaining)
more modern and powerful than any which we could bring against them.
Of the quality of this large force there is no need to speak. The men
were brave, hardy, and fired with a strange religious enthusiasm. They
were all of the seventeenth century, except their rifles. Mounted
upon their hardy little ponies, they possessed a mobility which
practically doubled their numbers and made it an impossibility ever to
outflank them. As marksmen they were supreme. Add to this that they
had the advantage of acting upon internal lines with shorter and safer
communications, and one gathers how formidable a task lay before the
soldiers of the empire. When we turn from such an enumeration of their
strength to contemplate the 12,000 men, split into two detachments,
who awaited them in Natal, we may recognise that, far from bewailing
our disasters, we should rather congratulate ourselves upon our escape
from losing that great province which, situated as it is between
Britain, India, and Australia, must be regarded as the very keystone
of the imperial arch.

At the risk of a tedious but very essential digression, something must
be said here as to the motives with which the Boers had for many years
been quietly preparing for war. That the Jameson raid was not the
cause is certain, though it probably, by putting the Boer Government
into a strong position, had a great effect in accelerating matters.
What had been done secretly and slowly could be done more swiftly and
openly when so plausible an excuse could be given for it. As a matter
of fact, the preparations were long antecedent to the raid. The
building of the forts at Pretoria and Johannesburg was begun nearly
two years before that wretched incursion, and the importation of arms
was going on apace. In that very year, 1895, a considerable sum was
spent in military equipment.

But if it was not the raid, and if the Boers had no reason to fear the
British Government, with whom the Transvaal might have been as
friendly as the Orange Free State had been for forty years, why then
should they arm? It was a difficult question, and one in answering
which we find ourselves in a region of conjecture and suspicion rather
than of ascertained fact. But the fairest and most unbiased of
historians must confess that there is a large body of evidence to show
that into the heads of some of the Dutch leaders, both in the northern
republics and in the Cape, there had entered the conception of a
single Dutch commonwealth, extending from Cape Town to the Zambesi, in
which flag, speech, and law should all be Dutch. It is in this
aspiration that many shrewd and well-informed judges see the true
inner meaning of this persistent arming, of the constant hostility, of
the forming of ties between the two republics (one of whom had been
reconstituted and made a sovereign independent State by our own act),
and finally of that intriguing which endeavoured to poison the
affection and allegiance of our own Dutch colonists, who had no
political grievances whatever. They all aimed at one end, and that end
was the final expulsion of British power from South Africa and the
formation of a single great Dutch republic. The large sum spent by
the Transvaal in secret service money -- a larger sum, I believe, than
that which is spent by the whole British Empire -- would give some
idea of the subterranean influences at work. An army of emissaries,
agents, and spies, whatever their mission, were certainly spread over
the British colonies. Newspapers were subsidised also, and
considerable sums spent upon the press in France and Germany.

In the very nature of things a huge conspiracy of this sort to
substitute Dutch for British rule in South Africa is not a matter
which can be easily and definitely proved. Such questions are not
discussed in public documents, and men are sounded before being taken
into the confidence of the conspirators. But there is plenty of
evidence of the individual ambition of prominent and representative
men in this direction, and it is hard to believe that what many wanted
individually was not striven for collectively, especially when we see
how the course of events did actually work towards the end which they
indicated. Mr. J. P. FitzPatrick, in 'The Transvaal from Within ' --
a book to which all subsequent writers upon the subject must
acknowledge their obligations -- narrates how in 1896 he was
approached by Mr. D. P. Graaff, formerly a member of the Cape
Legislative Council and a very prominent Afrikander Bondsman, with the
proposition that Great Britain should be pushed out of South Africa.
The same politician made the same proposal to Mr. Beit. Compare with
this the following statement of Mr. Theodore Schreiner, the brother of
the Prime Minister of the Cape:

'I met Mr. Reitz, then a judge of the Orange Free State, in
Bloemfontein between seventeen and eighteen years ago, shortly after
the retrocession of the Transvaal, and when he was busy establishing
the Afrikander Bond. It must be patent to every one that at that time,
at all events, England and its Government had no intention of taking
away the independence of the Transvaal, for she had just
"magnanimously" granted the same; no intention of making war on the
republics, for she had just made peace; no intention to seize the Rand
gold fields, for they were not yet discovered. At that time, then, I
met Mr. Reitz, and he did his best to get me to become a member of his
Afrikander Bond, but, after studying its constitution and programme, I
refused to do so, whereupon the following colloquy in substance took
place between us, which has been indelibly imprinted on my mind ever
since:

'REITZ: Why do you refuse? Is the object of getting the people to take
an interest in political matters not a good one?

'MYSELF: Yes, it is ; but I seem to see plainly here between the lines
of this constitution much more ultimately aimed at than that.

'REITZ : What?

'MYSELF: I see quite clearly that the ultimate object aimed at is the
overthrow of the British power and the expulsion of the British flag
from South Africa.

'REITZ (with his pleasant conscious smile, as of one whose secret
thought and purpose had been discovered, and who was not altogether
displeased that such was the case) : Well, what if it is so?

'MYSELF: You don't suppose, do you, that that flag is going to
disappear from South Africa without a tremendous struggle and fight?

'REITZ (with the same pleasant self-conscious, self satisfied, and yet
semi-apologetic smile) : Well, I suppose not; but even so, what of
that?

'MYSELF: Only this, that when that struggle takes place you and I will
be on opposite sides; and what is more, the God who was on the side of
the Transvaal in the late war, because it had right on its side will
be on the side of England, because He must view with abhorrence any
plotting and scheming to overthrow her power and position in South
Africa, which have been ordained by Him.

'REITZ : We'll see.

'Thus the conversation ended, but during the seventeen years that have
elapsed I have watched the propaganda for the overthrow of British
power in South Africa being ceaselessly spread by every possible means
-- the press, the pulpit, the platform, the schools, the colleges, the
Legislature -- until it has culminated in the present war, of which
Mr. Reitz and his co-workers are the origin and the cause. Believe me,
the day on which F. W. Reitz sat down to pen his ultimatum to Great
Britain was the proudest and happiest moment of his life, and one
which had for long years been looked forward to by him with eager
longing and expectation.'

Compare with these utterances of a Dutch politician of the Cape, and
of a Dutch politician of the Orange Free State, the following passage
from a speech delivered by Kruger at Bloemfontein in the year 1887:

'I think it too soon to speak of a United South Africa under one flag.
Which flag was it to be? The Queen of England would object to having
her flag hauled down, and we, the burghers of the Transvaal, object to
hauling ours down. What is to be done? We are now small and of little
importance, but we are growing, and are preparing the way to take our
place among the great nations of the world.'

'The dream of our life,' said another, 'is a union of the States of
South Africa, and this has to come from within, not from without. When
that is accomplished, South Africa will be great.'

Always the same theory from all quarters of Dutch thought, to be
followed by many signs that the idea was being prepared for in
practice. I repeat that the fairest and most unbiased historian
cannot dismiss the conspiracy as a myth.

And to this one may retort, why should they not conspire? Why should
they not have their own views as to the future of South Africa? Why
should they not endeavour to have one universal flag and one common
speech? Why should they not win over our colonists, if they can, and
push us into the sea? I see no reason why they should not. Let them
try if they will. And let us try to prevent them. But let us have an
end of talk about British aggression, of capitalist designs upon the
gold fields, of the wrongs of a pastoral people, and all the other
veils which have been used to cover the issue. Let those who talk
about British designs upon the republics turn their attention for a
moment to the evidence which there is for republican designs upon the
colonies. Let them reflect that in the one system all white men are
equal, and that on the other the minority of one race has persecuted
the majority of the other, and let them consider under which the
truest freedom lies, which stands for universal liberty and which for
reaction and racial hatred. Let them ponder and answer all this
before they determine where their sympathies lie.

Leaving these wider questions of politics, and dismissing for the time
those military considerations which were soon to be of such vital
moment, we may now return to the course of events in the diplomatic
struggle between the Government of the Transvaal and the Colonial
Office. On September 8th, as already narrated, a final message was
sent to Pretoria, which stated the minimum terms which the British
Government could accept as being a fair concession to her subjects in
the Transvaal. A definite answer was demanded, and the nation waited
with sombre patience for the reply.

There were few illusions in this country as to the difficulties of a
Transvaal war. It was clearly seen that little honour and immense
vexation were in store for us. The first Boer war still smarted in our
minds, and we knew the prowess of the indomitable burghers. But our
people, if gloomy, were none the less resolute, for that national
instinct which is beyond the wisdom of statesmen had borne it in upon
them that this was no local quarrel, but one upon which the whole
existence of the empire hung. The cohesion of that empire was to be
tested. Men had emptied their glasses to it in time of peace. Was it
a meaningless pouring of wine, or were they ready to pour their
hearts' blood also in time of war? Had we really founded a series of
disconnected nations, with no common sentiment or interest, or was the
empire an organic whole, as ready to thrill with one emotion or to
harden into one resolve as are the several States of the Union? That
was the question at issue, and much of the future history of the world
was at stake upon the answer.

Already there were indications that the colonies appreciated the fact
that the contention was no affair of the mother country alone, but
that she was upholding the rights of the empire as a whole, and might
fairly look to them to support her in any quarrel which might arise
from it. As early as July 11th, Queensland, the fiery and
semitropical, had offered a contingent of mounted infantry with
machine guns; New Zealand, Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New
South Wales, and South Australia followed in the order named. Canada,
with the strong but more deliberate spirit of the north, was the last
to speak, but spoke the more firmly for the delay. Her citizens were
the least concerned of any, for Australians were many in South Africa
but Canadians few. None the less, she cheerfully took her share of the
common burden, and grew the readier and the cheerier as that burden
came to weigh more heavily. From all the men of many hues who make up
the British Empire, from Hindoo Rajahs, from West African Houssas,
from Malay police, from Western Indians, there came offers of service.
But this was to be a white man's war, and if the British could not
work out their own salvation then it were well that empire should pass
from such a race. The magnificent Indian army of 150,000 soldiers,
many of them seasoned veterans, was for the same reason left
untouched. England has claimed no credit or consideration for such
abstention, but an irresponsible writer may well ask how many of those
foreign critics whose respect for our public morality appears to be as
limited as their knowledge of our principles and history would have
advocated such self denial had their own countries been placed in the
same position.

On September 18th the official reply of the Boer Government to the
message sent from the Cabinet Council was published in London. In
manner it was unbending and unconciliatory; in substance, it was a
complete rejection of all the British demands. It refused to
recommend or propose to the Raad the five years' franchise and the
other measures which had been defined as the minimum which the Home
Government could accept as a fair measure of justice towards the
Uitlanders. The suggestion that the debates of the Raad should be
bilingual, as they have been in the Cape Colony and in Canada, was
absolutely waived aside. The British Government had stated in their
last dispatch that if the reply should be negative or inconclusive
they reserved to themselves the right to 'reconsider the situation DE
NOVO and to formulate their own proposals for a final settlement.' The
reply had been both negative and inconclusive, and on September 22nd a
council met to determine what the next message should be. It was short
and firm, but so planned as not to shut the door upon peace. Its
purport was that the British Government expressed deep regret at the
rejection of the moderate proposals which had been submitted in their
last dispatch, and that now, in accordance with their promise, they
would shortly put forward their own plans for a settlement. The
message was not an ultimatum, but it foreshadowed an ultimatum in the
future.

In the meantime, upon September 21st the Raad of the Orange Free State
had met, and it became more and more evident that this republic, with
whom we had no possible quarrel, but, on the contrary, for whom we had
a great deal of friendship and admiration, intended to throw in its
weight against Great Britain. Some time before, an offensive and
defensive alliance had been concluded between the two States, which
must, until the secret history of these events comes to be written,
appear to have been a singularly rash and unprofitable bargain for the
smaller one. She had nothing to fear from Great Britain, since she had
been voluntarily turned into an independent republic by her and had
lived in peace with her for forty years. Her laws were as liberal as
our own. But by this suicidal treaty she agreed to share the fortunes
of a State which was deliberately courting war by its persistently
unfriendly attitude, and whose reactionary and narrow legislation
would, one might imagine, have alienated the sympathy of her
progressive neighbour. There may have been ambitions like those
already quoted from the report of Dr. Reitz's conversation, or there
may have been a complete hallucination as to the comparative strength
of the two combatants and the probable future of South Africa; but
however that may be, the treaty was made, and the time had come to
test how far it would hold.

The tone of President Steyn at the meeting of the Raad, and the
support which he received from the majority of his burghers, showed
unmistakably that the two republics would act as one. In his opening
speech Steyn declared uncompromisingly against the British contention,
and declared that his State was bound to the Transvaal by everything
which was near and dear. Among the obvious military precautions which
could no longer be neglected by the British Government was the sending
of some small force to protect the long and exposed line of railway
which lies just outside the Transvaal border from Kimberley to
Rhodesia. Sir Alfred Milner communicated with President Steyn as to
this movement of troops, pointing out that it was in no way directed
against the Free State. Sir Alfred Milner added that the Imperial
Government was still hopeful of a friendly settlement with the
Transvaal, but if this hope were disappointed they looked to the
Orange Free State to preserve strict neutrality and to prevent
military intervention by any of its citizens. They undertook that in
that case the integrity of the Free State frontier would be strictly
preserved. Finally, he stated that there was absolutely no cause to
disturb the good relations between the Free State and Great Britain,
since we were animated by the most friendly intentions towards
them. To this the President returned a somewhat ungracious answer, to
the effect that he disapproved of our action towards the Transvaal,
and that he regretted the movement of troops, which would be
considered a menace by the burghers. A subsequent resolution of the
Free State Raad, ending with the words, 'Come what may, the Free State
will honestly and faithfully fulfill its obligations towards the
Transvaal by virtue of the political alliance existing between the two
republics,' showed how impossible it was that this country, formed by
ourselves and without a shadow of a cause of quarrel with us, could be
saved from being drawn into the whirlpool. Everywhere, from over both
borders, came the news of martial preparations. Already at the end of
September troops and armed burghers were gathering upon the frontier,
and the most incredulous were beginning at last to understand that the
shadow of a great war was really falling across them. Artillery, war
munitions, and stores were being accumulated at Volksrust upon the
Natal border, showing where the storm might be expected to break. On
the last day of September, twenty-six military trains were reported to
have left Pretoria and Johannesburg for that point. At the same time
news came of a concentration at Malmani, upon the Bechuanaland border,
threatening the railway line and the British town of Mafeking, a name
destined before long to be familiar to the world.

On October 3rd there occurred what was in truth an act of war,
although the British Government, patient to the verge of weakness,
refused to regard it as such, and continued to draw up their final
state paper. The mail train from the Transvaal to Cape Town was
stopped at Vereeniging, and the week's shipment of gold for England,
amounting to about half a million pounds, was taken by the Boer
Government. In a debate at Cape Town upon the same day the Africander
Minister of the Interior admitted that as many as 404 trucks had
passed from the Government line over the frontier and had not been
returned. Taken in conjunction with the passage of arms and cartridges
through the Cape to Pretoria and Bloemfontein, this incident aroused
the deepest indignation among the Colonial English and the British
public, which was increased by the reports of the difficulty which
border towns, such as Kimberley and Vryburg, had had in getting cannon
for their own defence. The Raads had been dissolved, and the old
President's last words had been a statement that war was certain, and
a stern invocation of the Lord as final arbiter. England was ready
less obtrusively but no less heartily to refer the quarrel to the same
dread Judge.

On October 2nd President Steyn informed Sir Alfred Milner that he had
deemed it necessary to call out the Free State burghers -- that is, to
mobilise his forces. Sir A. Milner wrote regretting these
preparations, and declaring that he did not yet despair of peace, for
he was sure that any reasonable proposal would be favourably
considered by her Majesty's Government. Steyn's reply was that there
was no use in negotiating unless the stream of British reinforcements
ceased coming into South Africa. As our forces were still in a great
minority, it was impossible to stop the reinforcements, so the
correspondence led to nothing. On October 7th the army reserves for
the First Army Corps were called out in Great Britain and other signs
shown that it had been determined to send a considerable force to
South Africa. Parliament was also summoned that the formal national
assent might be gained for those grave measures which were evidently
pending.

It was on October 9th that the somewhat leisurely proceedings of the
British Colonial Office were brought to a head by the arrival of an
unexpected and audacious ultimatum from the Boer Government. In
contests of wit, as of arms, it must be confessed that the laugh has
been usually upon the side of our simple and pastoral South African
neighbours. The present instance was no exception to the rule. While
our Government was cautiously and patiently leading up to an
ultimatum, our opponent suddenly played the very card which we were
preparing to lay upon the table. The document was very firm and
explicit, but the terms in which it was drawn were so impossible that
it was evidently framed with the deliberate purpose of forcing an
immediate war. It demanded that the troops upon the borders of the
republic should be instantly withdrawn, that all reinforcements which
had arrived within the last year should leave South Africa, and that
those who were now upon the sea should be sent back without being
landed. Failing a satisfactory answer within forty-eight hours, 'the
Transvaal Government will with great regret be compelled to regard the
action of her Majesty's Government as a formal declaration of war, for
the consequences of which it will not hold itself responsible.' The
audacious message was received throughout the empire with a mixture of
derision and anger. The answer was dispatched next day through Sir
Alfred Milner.

'10th October.-- Her Majesty's Government have received with great
regret the peremptory demands of the Government of the South African
Republic, conveyed in your telegram of the 9th October. You will
inform the Government of the South African Republic in reply that the
conditions demanded by the Government of the South African Republic
are such as her Majesty's Government deem it impossible to discuss.'

And so we have come to the end of the long road, past the battle of
the pens and the wrangling of tongues, to the arbitration of the
Lee-Metford and the Mauser. It was pitiable that it should come to
this. These people were as near akin to us as any race which is not
our own. They were of the same Frisian stock which peopled our own
shores. In habit of mind, in religion, in respect for law, they were
as ourselves. Brave, too, they were, and hospitable, with those
sporting instincts which are dear to the Anglo-Celtic race. There was
no people in the world who had more qualities which we might admire,
and not the least of them was that love of independence which it is
our proudest boast' that we have encouraged in others as well as
exercised ourselves. And yet we had come to this pass, that there was
no room in all vast South Africa for both of us. We cannot hold
ourselves blameless in the matter. ' The evil that men do lives after
them,' and it has been told in this small superficial sketch where we
have erred in the past in South Africa. On our hands, too, is the
Jameson raid, carried out by Englishmen and led by officers who held
the Queen's Commission; to us, also, the blame of the shuffling,
half-hearted inquiry into that most unjustifiable business. These are
matches which helped to set the great blaze alight, and it is we who
held them. Rut the fagots which proved to be so inflammable, they
were not of our setting. They were the wrongs done to half the
community, the settled resolution of the minority to tax and vex the
majority, the determination of a people who had lived two generations
in a country to claim that country entirely for themselves. Behind
them all there may have been the Dutch ambition to dominate South
Africa. It was no petty object for which Britain fought. When a nation
struggles uncomplainingly through months of disaster she may claim to
have proved her conviction of the justice and necessity of the
struggle. Should Dutch ideas or English ideas of government prevail
throughout that huge country? The one means freedom for a single race,
the other means equal rights to all white men beneath one common
law. What each means to the coloured races let history declare. This
was the main issue to be determined from the instant that the clock
struck five upon the afternoon of Wednesday, October the eleventh,
eighteen hundred and ninety-nine. That moment marked the opening of a
war destined to determine the fate of South Africa, to work great
changes in the British Empire, to seriously affect the future history
of the world, and incidentally to alter many of our views as to the
art of war. It is the story of this war which, with limited material
but with much aspiration to care and candour, I shall now endeavour to
tell.

Arthur Conan Doyle