It must have been the next evening, as we were waiting three or four hours, as usual, for the line to clear, that General Joubert came up in a special train. A few young men and boys in ordinary clothes formed his “staff.” The General himself wore the usual brown slouch hat with crape band, and a blue frock coat, not luxuriously new. His beard was quite white, but his long straight hair was still more black than grey. The brown sallow face was deeply wrinkled and marked, but the dark brown eyes were still bright, and looked out upon the world with a kind of simplicity mingled with shrewdness, or perhaps some subtler quality. He spoke English with a piquant lack of grammar and misuse of words. When I travelled with him next day, almost the first thing he said to me was, “The heart of my soul is bloody with sorrow.” His moderating influence on the Kruger Government is well known, and he described to me how he had done his utmost for peace. But he also described how bit by bit England had pushed the Boers out of their inheritance, and taken advantage of them in every conference and native war. He was particularly hurt that the Queen had taken no notice of the long letter or pamphlet he wrote to her on the situation. And, by the way, I often observed what regard most Boers appear to feel for the Queen personally. They constantly couple her name with Gladstone’s when they wish to say anything nice about English politics. As to the General’s views on the crisis, there would be little new to say. Till the present war his hope had been for a South African Confederacy under English protection—the Cape, Natal, Free State, and Transvaal all having equal rights and local self-government. He knows well enough the inner causes of the present evils. “But now,” he said, “we can only leave it to God. If it is His will that the Transvaal perish, we can only do our best.”
At Zandspruit, the scene of the old Sand River Convention, the whole Boer camp crowded to the station to greet the national hero, and he was at once surrounded by a herd of farmers, shaking his hands and patting him warmly on the back. It was a respectful but democratic greeting. The Boer Army—if for a moment we may give that name to an unorganised collection of volunteers—is entirely democratic. The men are nominally under field cornets, commanders, and the General. But they openly boast that on the field the authority and direction of officers do not count for much, and they go pretty much as they please. The camp, though not in the least disorderly, was confused and irregular—stores, firewood, horses, cattle, and tents strewn about the enormous veldt, almost haphazard, though the districts were kept fairly well separate. Provisions were plenty, but the cooking was bad. It took three days to get bread made, and some detachments had to eat their meat raw. I think there were not more than 10,000 or less than 7,000 men in the camp at that time, but the commandeered trains crawled up every two or three hours with their new loads.