Page images


parts observation was good tion, he was unable to prove even at very long distances. A rather curious instance occurred in connection with this, and may be fittingly used to close this account.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Proof came four years later. The observer met a member of the Dardanelles Commission, who described to him his visit to the fort at Chanak. There the Turks had shown him a 12 - inch shell beautifully polished and mounted in one of the main passages. They mentioned that it represented the biggest let-off they had ever had. At this point a flash of memory smote the observer, and he asked whence the shell had come. The member of the Commission told him.

"They said it had been sent over by the Lord Nelson, observed by your balloon. It passed between the main magazines of the fort, but failed to explode!"



My life has been passed on various restful South Pacific atolls, with tranquil intervals of sojourn up divers west coast creeks, at Alaid in the Aleutians, on the banks of a placid backwater just beyond the 184th bend of the Fly River, and in sundry other places of the kind. After an absence of twenty-five years, I stepped off the old Byculla's gangway at Tilbury, and set foot once more upon my native soil.

I was seated in the train bound for Fenchurch Street, gazing with dismay at Poplar's astounding array of dirty roofs and smoking chimneypots, when something-possibly my sense of smell-made me think of Akassa Roads, with a gang of Krooboys loading kernels under a hot sun. I turned, and although it is hard to believe it, there was a Krooboy actually sitting there beside me, calmly smoking a pipe, and grinning as though the carriage belonged to him. I ejected the fellow, of course. I know of no country where natives are tolerated in compartments reserved for white men. But the extraordinary thing is that, within ten minutes, I was dumfoundered to find myself in cells! What is more, it actually cost me £12 to get myself out again-£10 of a fine and £2 to the railway company,

this latter sum being the alleged cost of repairs to the carriage door, which had unfortunately become torn from its hinges. The poor creature who called himself a magistrate had the audacity to tell me this necessary and disciplinary action of mine was "a most brutal and unprovoked assault." This, mind you, after I had explained my great restraint in waiting until the train stopped at a station, instead of immediately throwing the boy out on to the line.

Many things were done to me during the next few days; but I will pass them by in silence, because I do not wish, even now, to defame my native land. I must say, however, that the things I suffered at the hands of my own countrymen in the space of one week far and away surpassed any experiences I have ever undergone during a long life spent in the company of sailors, seal poachers, head-hunting savages and cannibals, and suchlike simple and easily understood folk. I had a very bad time

of it. My life here was fast becoming unbearable, and I had, indeed, made up my mind to depart from this uncomfortable land and return to a certain brown and far-off people whom I understand and who understand me, when the gods

(I suppose) took pity on me. At any rate, in my hour of need, they sent me my niece Ann.

She materialised at the moment chosen by the proprietor of my hotel to telephone for the police. The man, for some absurd reason, objected to my keeping a pair of extremely valuable bird-eating spiders in my bedroom, and because I refused to take any notice of his ridiculous objections, he proposed to have my spiders and myself removed from the hotel by force. But when Ann arrived she very soon settled this business. I explained to my niece that the requirements of my spiders with respect to temperature and food were very exacting, and that so far I had found no one competent or even willing to attend to their wants. Are they pets, Uncle George?" said Ann. "I mean, are you fond of them?" And when I told her I regarded the spiders merely as rare and interesting specimens, Then the Zoo is the obvious place for them," said she. "We'll get a taxi now and take them there."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

It seems to me that it is by no means a simple feat to find suitable homes, on the spur of the moment, for a pair of carnivorous spiders and a fish out of water like me; but the people at the Zoo were delighted to receive the spiders, and Ann's husband, John, seemed very glad to see me. I soon found out, however, that a job like that is nothing to my

niece Ann. niece Ann. My niece is only about one-third of my weight and one-third of my age, and I could easily break her in half with my two hands. She has had, I should judge, less than one hundredth part of my experience of men and things, and yet I note that she serenely meanders, cool, calm, and triumphant, along the perilous and mazy paths of this life-paths which make me sweat blood to navigate and which even then lead me nowhere-except into trouble. I think this is very wonderful. And when I reflect that my gifted niece is not quite five feet high, it seems more wonderful than ever. Now, if the gods enwrap me in their snares, I merely grin and hie me-not in an argosy to Apollo's temple at Delphi, but per taxi to Ann's house in Gower Street. My Oracle very soon sets things right.

When I lay my troubles before Ann she laughs at me

so delightful an effect that I am glad any trouble of mine has the power to produce it. I make the most of my troubles, therefore. I enlarge enormously the magnitude of my dilemmas; and the sight of the lights which dance in Ann's eyes, as she considers my dilemmas and me, well rewards all my exaggerations.

"Uncle George," said Ann one day after she had succeeded in extricating me from a more awkward embroilment than usual-" Uncle George, I don't believe London is really very good for you. You're

not used to towns, you see, and I'm beginning to think a life in the country would be much more suitable for you."

"My child!" I cried (for I was frightened), "for pity's sake, don't tell me you mean to throw over your poor old uncle now! If you desert me -if you send me away, all alone, into the back-countryI'm certain to meet my death at the hands of the natives. You know I am. I beg you not to do it."


"Of course I won't," said Ann. Until you can walk by yourself along these ways which you find so strange and difficult, I shall certainly hold your hand and lead you."

"If you'll do that," I said, "I'll promise to do my best to be a good boy and not give you too much trouble. I sit at your feet, eager-piteously eager, in fact-to hear expounded the proper conduct of life as it must be lived in England. I'll do everything you tell me but I simply can't wear a starched collar. For goodness sake, leave me my soft shirt, and I'll promise to sacrifice everything else to the gods of this land."

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Good child," said Ann. "But you needn't. I only said that to test you. Just have it trimmed to a nice point-like admirals. You must do that and let John take you to his tailor, and then we'll get out of Town as soon as we can. Then I'm sure you'll find things much easier for you. And anyhow, you really ought to see the country now you have come home. To find out about England you've got to get right into the country and live amongst and oh ! that reminds me. I've been wanting to do it for yearsand now we will! Of course. It's the very thing! We'll hire a caravan! We'll go away right into the country, and it will be lovely, and then you really will see what England's like, and you'll love it, and I know you can hire them quite cheaply now by the week or the month, and they're all nicely fitted up inside with bunks and a stove and pots and pans and everything, and if the weather's good it will be perfect, and we'll take a tent for you and John, and I can sleep in the van. There! " said Ann, drawing breath at last, "won't it be splendid?"

"Rotten," said John, emerging from a magazine which appears to deal exclusively with motors. "A caravan's a perfectly putrid notion. I know exactly what it means. There'll be nowhere to camp, because the farmers and people simply won't hear of you going on their land. So it means the


side of the road, and cheeky village kids climbing in at the windows and watching you eat and shave and everything. Awful! And how about cooking? And washing up? And then there's the horse. horse is always a nuisance. Always wants feeding and cleaning and looking after generally. Who'll manicure the horse? You know nothing about horses, Ann. You know you don't. And I know less and I'm proud of it. Awful brutes. Always getting windgalls and springalls and shying about and things like that. You've no control over a horse. They're not like motors. Reins are a mere mockery; and if a horse wants

[ocr errors]

"Hold on, John," I said. "I think the caravan is a very good notion. If there is one thing I can do, it's make things comfortable in camp. So don't you worry about that. I'll run that end of things. And I'll cook. I'm a good cook. I pride myself on it. And I may not know much about England; but you can't tell me the side of the road is the only place we'll be able to camp in. That's absurd. You leave that to me. I always did have a good eye for a camping site. I'm with you about horses, though. Horses are a mistake. Horses are too civilised, and a nuisance to themselves and every one else. It takes one man all his time to look after one horse. And if the fly get at 'em they die at once. But mules, now. Mules are different. I like mules,

and they understand me. Mules are no trouble at all. They are sensible creatures, and never need cleaning, or feeding either, because the great point about them is they can always live on the country. I vote we take a couple of mules."

"If you two have quite done, I will go on," said Ann. "We will take neither horses nor mules. How ridiculous! We will take the car. You are always boasting about what the car can do, John, so I suppose it can pull a caravan ?

"Pull anything with 40 horsepower," said John. "But, good golly, Ann! you can't expect the poor old bus to go towing a confounded van about all over England."

[ocr errors]

"Why not? demanded


Well- said John, rather sheepishly, I thought. "Er-it isn't done, dash it!"

Then let's do it. And it is, anyway," said Ann. "I've seen a catalogue, and they make lots of them now-little light twowheeled ones-specially for towing behind cars."

"Do they, by gum?" said John, putting down his paper and getting interested. "I didn't know that. A light two-wheeled trailer is a notion. If we fitted a special gadget on the dumb irons, with a buffer for the tow-bar, and fixed up a self-acting brake on the van-wheels-I believe, Ann, it would be rather a lark. Where did you say you put that catalogue?

[ocr errors]

John, I have forgotten to mention, is interested in three

« PreviousContinue »