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Oom Paul's People Part 13

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Drinking is a second diversion which occupies much of the time of the average citizen, because of the great heat and the lack of amus.e.m.e.nt.

The liquor that is drunk in Johannesburg in one year would make a stream of larger proportions and far more healthier contents than the Vaal River in the dry season. It is a rare occurrence to see a man drink water unless it is concealed in brandy, and at night it is even rarer that one is seen who is not drinking. Cape Smoke, the name given to a liquor made in Cape Colony, is credited with the ability to kill a man before he has taken the gla.s.s from his lips, but the popular Uitlander beverage, brandy and soda, is even more fatal in its effects. Pure liquor is almost un.o.btainable, and death-dealing counterfeits from Delagoa Bay are the subst.i.tutes. Twenty-five cents for a gla.s.s of beer and fifty cents for brandy and soda are not deterrent prices where ordinary mine workers receive ten dollars a day and mine managers fifty thousand dollars a year.

Of social life there is little except such as is afforded by the clubs, of which there are several of high standing. The majority of the men left their families in their native countries on account of the severe climate, and that fact, combined with the prevalent idea that the weather is too torrid to do anything unnecessary, is responsible for Johannesburg's lack of social amenity. There are occasional dances and receptions, but they are partic.i.p.ated in only by newcomers who have not yet fallen under the spell of the South African sun. The Sunday night's musical entertainments at the Wanderer's Club are practically the only affairs to which the average Uitlander cares to go, because he can clothe himself for comfort and be as dignified or as undignified as he pleases.

The true Johannesburger is the most independent man in the world. When he meets a native on the sidewalk he promptly kicks him into the street, and if the action is resented, bullies a Boer policeman into arresting the offender. The policeman may demur and call the Johannesburger a "Verdomde rooinek," but he will make the arrest or receive a drubbing.

He may be arrested in turn, but he is ever willing and anxious to pay a fine for the privilege of beating a "dumb Dutchman," as he calls him.

He pays little attention to the laws of the country, because he has not had the patience to learn what they consist of, and he rests content in knowing that his home government will rescue him through diplomatic channels if he should run counter to the laws. He cares nothing concerning the government of the city except as it interferes with or a.s.sists his own private interests, but he will take advantage of every opportunity to defy the authority of the administrators of the laws. He despises the Boers, and continually and maliciously ridicules them on the slightest pretexts. Specially true is this of those newspapers which are the representatives of the Uitlander population. Venomous editorials against the Boer Government and people appear almost daily, and serve to widen the breach between the two cla.s.ses of inhabitants.

The Boer newspapers for a long time ignored the a.s.saults of the Uitlander press, but recently they have commenced to retaliate, and the editorial war is a bitter one. An extract from the Randt Post will show the nature and depth of bitterness displayed by the two cla.s.ses of newspapers:

"Though Dr. Leyds may be right, and the Johannesburg population safe in case of war, we advise that, at the first act of war on the English side, the women and children, and well-disposed persons of this town, be given twenty-four hours to leave, and then the whole place be shot down; in the event, we repeat--which G.o.d forbid!--of war coming.

"If, indeed, there must be shooting, then it will be on account of seditious words and deeds of Johannesburg agitators and the co-shareholders in Cape Town and London, and the struggle will be promoted for no other object than the possession of the gold. Well, then, let such action be taken that the perpetrators of these turbulent proceedings shall, if caught, be thrown into the deep shafts of their mines, with the debris of the batteries for a costly shroud, and that the whole of Johannesburg, with the exception of the Afrikander wards, be converted into a gigantic rubbish heap to serve as a mighty tombstone for the shot-down authors of a monstrous deed.

"If it be known that these valuable buildings and the lives of the wire-pullers are the price of the mines, then people will take good heed before the torch of war is set alight. Friendly talks and protests are no use with England. Let force and rough violence be opposed to the intrigues and plots of Old England, and only then will the Boer remain master."

It is on Sat.u.r.day nights that the bitterness of the Uitlander population is most noticeable, since then the workers from the mines along the Randt gather in the city and discuss their grievances, which then become magnified with every additional gla.s.s of liquor. It is then that the city streets and places of amus.e.m.e.nt and entertainment are crowded with a throng that finds relaxation by abusing the Boers. The theatre audiences laugh loudest at the coa.r.s.est jests made at the expense of the Boers, and the bar-room crowds talk loudest when the Boers are the subject of discussion. The abuse continues even when the not-too-sober Uitlander, wheeled homeward at day-break by his faithful Zulu 'ricksha boy, casts imprecations upon the Boer policeman who is guarding his property.

Johannesburg is one of the most expensive places of residence in the world. Situated in the interior of the continent, thousands of miles distant from the sources of food and supplies, it is natural that commodities should be high in price. Almost all food stuffs are carried thither from America, Europe, and Australia, and consequently the original cost is trebled by the addition of carriage and customs duties.

The most common articles of food are twice as costly as in America, while such commodities as eggs, imported from Madeira, frequently are scarce at a dollar a dozen. b.u.t.ter from America is fifty cents a pound, and fruits and vegetables from Cape Colony and Natal are equally high in price and frequently un.o.btainable. Good board can not be obtained anywhere for less than five dollars a day, while the best hotels and clubs charge thrice that amount. Rentals are exceptionally high owing to the extraordinary land values and the cost of erecting buildings. A small, brick-lined, corrugated-iron cottage of four rooms, such as a married mine-employee occupies, costs from fifty to seventy-five dollars a month, while a two-story brick house in a respectable quarter of the city rents for one hundred dollars a month.

Every object in the city is mutely expressive of a vast expenditure of money. The idea that everything--the buildings, food, horses, clothing, machinery, and all that is to be seen--has been carried across oceans and continents unconsciously a.s.sociates itself with the cost that it has entailed. Four-story buildings that in New York or London would be pa.s.sed without remark cause mental speculation concerning their cost, merely because it is so patent that every brick, nail, and board in them has been conveyed thousands of miles from foreign sh.o.r.es. Electric lights and street cars, so common in American towns, appear abnormal in the city in the veldt, and instantly suggest an outlay of great amounts of money even to the minds which are not accustomed to reducing everything to dollars and pounds. Leaving the densely settled centre of the city, where land is worth as much as choice plots on Broadway, and wandering into the suburbs where the great mines are, the idea of cost is more firmly implanted into the mind. The huge buildings, covering acres of ground and thousands of tons of the most costly machinery, seem to be of natural origin rather than of human handiwork. It is almost beyond belief that men should be daring enough to convey hundreds of steamer loads of lumber and machinery halfway around the world at inestimable cost merely for the yellow metal that Nature has hidden so far distant from the great centres of population.

The cosmopolitanism of the city is a feature which impresses itself most indelibly upon the mind. In a half-day's stroll in the city representatives of all the peoples of the earth, with the possible exception of the American Indian, Eskimos, and South Sea islanders, will be seen variously engaged in the struggle for gold. On the floors of the stock exchanges are money barons or their agents, as energetic and sharp as their prototypes of Wall and Throckmorton Streets. These are chiefly British, French, and German. Outside, between "The Chains," are readily discernible the distinguishing features of the Americans, Afrikanders, Portuguese, Russians, Spaniards, and Italians. A few steps distant is Commissioner Street, the princ.i.p.al thoroughfare, where the surging throng is composed of so many different racial representatives that an a.n.a.lysis of it is not an easy undertaking. He is considered an expert who can name the native country of every man on the street, and if he can distinguish between an American and a Canadian he is credited with being a wise man.

In the throng is the tall, well-clothed Briton, with silk hat and frock coat, closely followed by a spa.r.s.ely clad Matabele, bearing his master's account books or golf-sticks. Near them a Chinaman, in circular red-topped hat and flowing silk robes, is having a heated argument in broken English with an Irish hansom-driver. Crossing the street are two stately Arabs, in turbans and white robes, jostling easy-going Indian coolies with their canes. Bare-headed Cingalese, their long, shiny hair tied in knots and fastened down with circular combs, noiselessly gliding along, or stopping suddenly to trade Oriental jewelry for Christian's money; Malays, Turks, Egyptians, Persians, and New-Zealanders, each with his distinctive costume; Hottentots, Matabeles, Zulus, Mashonas, Basutos, and the representatives of hundreds of the other native races south of the Zambezi pa.s.s by in picturesque lack of bodily adornment.

It is an imposing array, too, for the majority of the throng is composed of moderately wealthy persons, and even in the centre of Africa wealth carries with it opportunities for display. John Chinaman will ride in a 'ricksha to his joss-house with as much conscious pride as the European or American will sit in his brougham or automobile. Money is as easily spent as made in Johannesburg, and it is a cosmopolitan habit to spend it in a manner so that everybody will know it is being spent. To make a display of some sort is necessary to the citizen's happiness. If he is not of sufficient importance to have his name in the subsidized newspapers daily he will seek notoriety by wearing a thousand pounds'

worth of diamonds on the street or making astonishing bets at the race-track. In that little universe on the veldt every man tries to be superior to his neighbour in some manner that may be patent to all the city. When it is taken into consideration that almost all the contestants were among the cleverest and shrewdest men in the countries whence they came to Johannesburg, and not among the riffraff and failures, then the intensity of the race for superiority can be imagined.

Johannesburg might be named the City of Surprises. Its youthful existence has been fraught with astonishing works. It was born in a day, and one day's revolution almost ended its existence. It grew from the desert veldt into a garden of gold. Its granite residences, brick buildings, and iron and steel mills sprang from blades of gra.s.s and sprigs of weeds. It has transformed the beggar into a millionaire, and it has seen starving men in its streets. It harbours men from every nation and climate, but it is a home for few. It is far from the centre of the earth's civilization, but it has often attracted the whole world's attention. It supports its children, but by them it is cursed.

Its G.o.d is in the earth upon which it rests, and its hope of future life in that which it brings forth. And all this because a man upturned the soil and called it gold.

THE END

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Oom Paul's People Part 13 summary

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