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A Talk With Kruger
by [?]

It was a warm day in the end of September 1898 when I put my foot in Pretoria. There was an air of lassitude about the town. President Steyn, of the Orange Free State, had been and gone, and the triumphal arch still cried “Wilkom” across Church Square. The two Boer States had ratified their secret understanding, and many Boers looked on the arch as a prophecy of victory. Perhaps by now those who were accustomed to meet in the Raadsaal close by are not so sure that heaven-enlightened wisdom brought about the compact. As for myself, I thought little enough of the matter then, for Pretoria seemed curiously familiar to me, though I had never been there, and had never so much as seen a photograph of it until I saw one in Johannesburg. For some time I could not understand why it seemed familiar. It is true that it had some resemblance to a tenth-rate American town in which the Australian gum-trees had been acclimatised, as they have been in some malarious spots in California. And in places I seemed to recall Americanised Honolulu. Yet it was not this which made me feel I knew Pretoria. It was something in the aspect of the people, something in the air of the men, combined doubtless with topographical reminiscence. And when I came to my hotel and had settled down, I began to see why I knew it. The whole atmosphere of the city reeked of the very beginnings of finance. It was the haunt of the concession-monger; of the lobbyist; of the men who wanted something. These I had seen before in some American State capitals; the anxious face of the concession-hunter had a family likeness to the man of Lombard Street: the obsession of the gold-seeker was visible on every other face I looked at.

In the hotels they sat in rows: some were silent, some talked anxiously, some were in spirits and spoke with cheerfulness. It pleased my solitary fancy to label them. These had got their concessions, they were going away; these still hoped strongly, and were going to-morrow and to-morrow; these still held on, and were going later; these again had ceased to hope, but still stayed as a sickened miner will hang round a played-out claim. They were all gamblers, and his Honour the President was the Professional Gambler who kept the House, who dealt the cards, and too often (as they thought) “raked in the pot,” or took his heavy commission. And I had nothing to ask for; all I wanted was to see the tables if I could, and have a talk with him who kept them.

The President is an accessible man. He does not hide behind his dignity: he affects a patriarchal simplicity, and is ever ready to receive his own people or the stranger within his gates. His unaffected affectation is to be a simpleton of character: he tells all alike that he is a simple old man, and expects everyone to chuckle at the transparent absurdity of the notion. Was it possible, then, for me to see him and have a talk with him? I was told to apply to a well-known Pretorian journalist. As I was also a journalist of sorts, and not wholly unknown, it was highly probable he would assist me in my desire not to leave Pretoria without seeing the Father of his people. But my informant added: “The President will say nothing–he can say nothing in very few words. If you want him to talk, say ‘Rhodes.'” I thanked my new hotel acquaintance and and said I would say “Rhodes” if it seemed necessary. And next afternoon I walked down Church Street with the journalist W—- and came to the President’s house. We had an appointment, and after waiting half-an-hour in the stoep with four or five typical and silent Boers, Mr Kruger came out in company with a notorious Pretorian financier, for whom I suppose the poor President, who is hardly worth more than a million or so, had taken one of his simple-hearted fancies. And then I was introduced to his Honour, and we sat down opposite to each other. By the President’s side, and on his right hand, sat W—-, who was to interpret my barbarous English into the elegant taal.