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CHAPTER IX THE LAST STAND OF THE PIONEER
WHEN the penniless younger son of the English society play is jilted by the luxury-loving heroine, he invariably packs his portmanteau and betakes himself to Rhodesia to make his fortune. Fifty years ago he sought the golden fleece in California; thirty years ago he took passage by P. & O. boat for the Australian diggings; ten years ago he helped to swell the mad rush to the Yukon; to-day his journey's end is the newest of the great, new nations—Rhodesia. He returns in the fourth act, broad-hatted, bronzed, and boisterous, to announce that he is the owner of a ten-thousand-acre farm, or a diamond field, or a gold mine, or all of them, and that he has come home to find a girl to share his farm-house on the Rhodesian veldt, where good cooking is more essential in a wife than good clothes and a good complexion.

Now, beyond having a vague idea that Rhodesia is a frontier country somewhere at the back of beyond, there is only about one in every fifty of the audience who has any definite notion where or what it really is. Picture, then, if you can, a territory about the size of all the Atlantic States, from Florida to Maine, put together, with the dry, dusty, sunny climate of southern California and the fertile, rolling, well-watered, and well-wooded [Pg 206] surface of Indiana; picture such a country dropped down in the heart of equatorial Africa—that is Rhodesia. It lies a little above and to the right of that speckled yellow patch on the map of Africa which was labelled in our school geographies the Kalahari Desert. Bearing the name of the great empire-builder is the whole of that region which is bounded on the north by the Congo and the sleeping-sickness, on the east by Mozambique and the black-water fever, on the west by Angola and the cocoa atrocities, and on the south by the Transvaal and the discontented Dutch. It is watered by the Limpopo, which forms its southernmost boundary; by the Zambezi, which separates Southern Rhodesia from the northeast and northwest provinces; and by the innumerable streams which unite to form the Congo.

When the railway which English concessionaires are now pushing inland from the coast of Angola to the Zambezi is completed, the front door to Rhodesia will be Lobito Bay, thus bringing Bulawayo within sixteen days of the Strand by boat and rail. At present, however, the country must be entered through the cellar, which means Cape Town and a railway journey of fourteen hundred miles; or by the side door at Beira, a fever-stricken Portuguese town on the East Coast, which is fortunate in being but a night's journey by rail from the Rhodesian frontier and is, in consequence, the gateway through which British jams, American harvesters, and German jack-knives are opening up inner Africa to foreign exploitation.

The Rhodesia-bound traveller who escapes landing at Beira in a basket is fortunate, for it has a poorly sheltered harbour and neither dock, jetty, nor wharf, so that in the monsoon months, when the great combers come roaring in from the Indian Ocean mountain-high, there is about as much chance of getting the steam tender alongside the rolling liner as there is of getting a frightened horse alongside a panting automobile. If a dangerous sea is running, the disembarking passenger is put into a cylindrical, elongated basket, a sort of enlarged edition of those used for soiled towels in the lavatories of hotels; a wheezing donkey-engine swings it up and outward and, if the man at the lever calculates the roll of the ship correctly, drops it with a thud on the deck of the tender plunging off-side.

Built on a stretch of sun-baked sand, between a miasmal jungle and the sea, Beira is the hottest and unhealthiest place in all East Africa. “It is one of the places that the Lord has overlooked,” remarked a sallow-faced resident, as he took his hourly dose of quinine. Even the paid-to-be-enthusiastic author of the steamship company's glowing booklet hesitates at depicting this fever-haunted, sun-baked, sand-suffocated seaport of Mozambique, contenting himself with the noncommittal statement that “it is indescribable; it is just Beira.” The town has but three attractions: a broad-verandaed hotel where they charge you forty cents for a lemonade with no ice in it; a golf course, laid out by a newly arrived Englishman, who died of sunstroke the first day he played on it; and a trolley system which [Pg 208] makes every resident the owner of his own street-car. The heat in Beira being too great to permit of walking—a shaded thermometer not infrequently climbs to one hundred and twenty degrees; the streets being too deep in sand for the use of vehicles; and the tsetse-fly killing off horses in a few days, those European traders and officials who are condemned to dwell in Beira get about in “trolleys” of their own. These two-seated, hooded conveyances, which are a sort of cross between a hand-car, a baby-carriage, and the wheeled chairs on the board walk at Atlantic City, are pushed by half-naked and perspiring natives over a track which extends from one end of the town to the other and with sidings into every man's front yard. It struck me, however, that the most interesting things in Beira were the corrugated-iron shanty and the stretch of wooden platform which mark the terminus of the railway, and from which, in answer to my anxious queries, I was assured that a train departed twice weekly for Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. I used to sit on the veranda of the hotel and stare across the stretch of burning sand at that wretched station as longingly as the small boy stares at the red numeral on the calendar which indicates the Fourth of July.

A temperature of one hundred and eighteen degrees in my compartment of the sleeping-car; miasma rising in cloud wreaths from the jungle; a station platform, alive with slovenly Portuguese soldiers with faces as yellow as their uniforms; helmeted, gaunt-cheeked traders and officials, and cotton-clad Swahilis, comprised [Pg 209] my last recollection of Beira and the terrible East Coast. The next morning I awoke in my compartment shivering, not from fever but from cold. Gone, as though in a bad dream, were the glaring sands, the steaming jungle, and the sallow, fever-racked men. Instead, my car window framed a picture of rolling, grass-covered uplands, dotted here and there with herds of grazing cattle and substantial, whitewashed farm-houses, while back of all was the gray-blue of distant mountains. As I looked at the transformed landscape incredulously, the train halted at a way-station swarming with broad-hatted, flannel-shirted, sun-tanned men with clean-cut Anglo-Saxon faces. A row of saddle-horses were tied to the station fence, while their owners stamped up and down the platform impatiently, awaiting the sorting of the infrequent mail from home; a democrat wagon and a clumsy Cape cart were drawn up in the roadway; and at a house close by a woman in a sunbonnet was feeding chickens. “Where are we?” I inquired of the guard, as he passed through the train. “We're just into Rhodesia now, sir,” said he, touching his cap. “This is Umtali, in Mashonaland.” (Now, if I had asked that same question of a brakeman on one of our own railways, he would probably have answered, with the independence of his kind: “Can't you read the sign on the station for yourself?”) “Surely there must be some mistake,” I said to myself. “This cannot be Central Africa, for where are the impenetrable jungles through which Livingstone cut his way, the savage animals which Du Chaillu shot, and the naked savages [Pg 210] with whom Stanley alternately battled and bartered? This is not Africa; this is our own West, with its men in corduroy and sombreros and its women in gingham, with its open, rolling prairies and its air like dry champagne.” Indeed, throughout my stay in Rhodesia I could not rid myself of the impression that I was back in the American West of thirty years ago, before the pioneer, the prospector, and the cow-puncher had retreated before the advance of the railway, the harvester, and the motor-car.

The story of the taking and making of Rhodesia forms one of the most picturesque and thrilling chapters in the history of England's colonial expansion. About the time that the nineteenth century had reached its turning-point, a strange tale, passing by word of mouth from native kraal to native kraal, came at last to the ears of a Scotch worker in the mission field of Bechuanaland. It was a tale of a waterfall somewhere in the jungles of the distant north; a waterfall so mighty, declared the natives, that the spray from it looked like a storm cloud on the horizon and the thunder of its waters could be heard four days' trek away. So the missionary, wearied with the tedium of proselyting amid a peaceful people and restless with the curiosity of the born explorer, set out on a long and lonely march to the northward, through a country which no white man's eyes had ever seen. It took him three years to reach the falls for which he started, but when at last he stood upon the brink of the canyon and looked down upon the waters of the Zambezi as they hurtled over four hundred [Pg 211] feet of sheerest cliff, he was so awed by their majesty and their beauty that he named them after Victoria, the young English queen. Before he left the missionary-explorer carved his name on the trunk of a near-by tree, where it can be seen to-day; the name is David Livingstone.

For a quarter of a century the regions adjacent to the Zambezi were disturbed only by migratory bands of natives and marauding animals. Then Stanley came with his mile-long caravan of porters, halting long enough to explore and map the region, on his historic march from coast to coast. In the middle eighties a young English prospector, trekking through the country with a single wagon, found that for which he was seeking—gold. Likewise he saw that its verdure-clad prairies would support many cattle and that its virgin soil was adapted for many kinds of crops; that it was, in short, a white man's country. Unarmed and unaccompanied, he penetrated to the kraal of Lobenguela, the chief of the warlike Matabele, who occupied the region, and induced him to sign a treaty placing his country under British protection. The price paid him was five hundred dollars a month and a thousand antiquated rifles; cheap enough, surely, for a territory three times the size of Texas and as rich in natural resources as California. A year later the British South Africa Company, a corporation capitalised at thirty million dollars, under a charter granted by the Imperial Government, began the work of exploiting the concession; naming it, properly enough, after Cecil John [Pg 212] Rhodes, the lone prospector who, with the vision of a prophet, had foreseen its possibilities and by whose unaided efforts it had been obtained. Such was the first step in Rhodes's policy of British expansion northward—a policy so successful that in his own lifetime he saw the frontiers of British Africa pushed from the Orange River to the Nile.

To hand over a colonial possession, its inhabitants and its resources, to be administered and exploited by a private corporation, sounds like a strange proceeding to American ears. Imagine turning the Philippines over to the Standard Oil Company and giving that corporation permission to appoint its own officials, make its own laws, assess its own taxes, and maintain its own military force in those islands. That, roughly speaking, was about what England did when she turned Rhodesia over to the chartered company. It should be remembered, however, that, beginning when the European nations were entering upon an era of economic exploration of hitherto virgin territories, these chartered companies have played a large part in the history of colonisation in general and in the upbuilding of the British Empire in particular, though in the great majority of cases it was trade, not empire, at which they aimed. Warned, however, by the fashion in which the East India Company and the Hudson's Bay Company abused their power, the British Government keeps a jealous eye on the activities of the Rhodesian concessionaires, their charter, while conferring broad trading privileges and great administrative powers, differing [Pg 213] from earlier instruments in neither delegating sovereignty nor granting an exclusive monopoly.

The Rhodesia protectorate is the result of the consolidation of four great native kingdoms: Mashonaland in the southeast, Matabeleland in the southwest, Barotseland in the northwest, and in the northeast a portion of the now separately administered protectorate of Nyasaland. Practically the whole country is an elevated veldt, or plateau, ranging from three thousand five hundred to five thousand feet above sea-level; studded with granite kopjes which in the south attain to the dignity of a mountain chain; well watered by tributaries of the Congo, the Zambezi, and the Limpopo; and covered with a luxuriant vegetation. Like California, Southern Rhodesia has a unique and hospitable climate, free from the dangerous heats of an African summer and from cold winds in winter. Though the climate of nearly all of Southern Rhodesia is suitable for Europeans, much of the trans-Zambezi provinces, especially along the river valleys and in the low-lying, swampy regions near the great equatorial lakes, reeks with malaria, while in certain other areas, now carefully delimited and guarded by governmental regulation, the tsetse-fly commits terrible ravages among cattle and horses and the sleeping-sickness among men. The climate as a whole, however, is characterised by a rather remarkable equability of temperature, especially when it is remembered that Rhodesia extends from the borders of the temperate zone to within a few degrees of the equator. At Salisbury, the capital, for example, the [Pg 214] mean July temperature is 57.5° and for January 70.5°, the extremes for the year ranging from 34° to 93°. It is a significant fact, however, that the glowing prospectuses of the chartered company touch but lightly on the............
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