Although Cecil Rhodes was so happily placed that he had no need to bother over wealth, he was not so aloof to the glamour of politics. He had always felt the irk of his retirement after the Raid, and the hankering after a leading political position became more pronounced as the episode which shut the Parliamentary door behind him after he had passed through its portals faded in the mind of the people.
It was not surprising, therefore, to observe that politics once more took the upper hand amidst his preoccupations. It was, though, politics connected with the development of the country that bore his name more than with the welfare of the Cape Colony or of the Transvaal. It was only during the last two years of Rhodes’ existence that his interest revived in the places connected with his first successes in life. Rhodes had been convinced that a war with the Boers would last only a matter of a few weeks—three months, as he prophesied when it broke out—and he was equally sure, though for what reason it is difficult to guess, that the war would restore him to his former position and power. The illusion lingered long enough to keep him in a state of excitement, during which, carried along by his natural enthusiasm, he indulged in several unconsidered steps, and when at last his hope was dispelled he accused everybody of being the cause of his disappointment. Never for a moment would he admit that he could have been mistaken, or that the war, which at a certain moment his intervention might possibly have avoided, had been the consequence of the mischievous act he had not prevented.
When the Bloemfontein Conference failed Rhodes was not altogether displeased. He had felt the affront of not being asked to attend; and, though his common sense told him that it would have been altogether out of the question for him to take part in it, as this would have been considered in the light of a personal insult by President Kruger, he would have liked to have been consulted by Sir Alfred Milner, as well as by the English Government, as to the course to be adopted during its deliberations. He was fully persuaded in his own mind that Sir Alfred Milner, being still a new arrival in South Africa, had not been able to grasp its complicated problems, and so had not adopted the best means to baffle the intrigues of President Kruger and the diplomacy of his clever colleague, President Steyn. At every tale which reached Cecil Rhodes concerning the difficulties encountered by Sir Alfred, he declared that he was “glad to be out of this mess.” Yet it was not difficult to see that he passionately regretted not being allowed to watch from a seat at the council table the vicissitudes of this last attempt by conference to smooth over difficulties arising from the recklessness displayed by people in arrogantly rushing matters that needed careful examination.
[Illustration: President Kruger]