"RACHEL MARE," "BIANCA'S CAPRICE,"
"THE PROMOTION OF THE ADMIRAL."
How much bitter experience a man keeps to himself, let the experienced say, for they only know. For my own part I am conscious that it rarely occurs to me to mention some things which happened either in England or out of it, and that if I do, it is only to pass them over casually as mere facts that had no profound effect upon me. But the importance of any hardship cannot be estimated at once; it has either psychological or physiological sequelæ, or both. The attack of malaria passes, but in long years after it returns anew and devouring the red blood, it breaks down a man's cheerfulness; a night in a miasmic forest may make him for ever a slave in a dismal swamp of pessimism. It is so with starvation, and all[Pg 2] things physical. It is so with things mental, with degradations, with desolation; the scars and more than scars remain: there is outward healing, it may be, but we often flinch at mere remembrance.
But time is the vehicle of philosophy; as the years pass we learn that in all our misfortunes was something not without value. And what was of worth grows more precious as our harsher memories fade. Then we may bear to speak of the days in which we were more than outcasts; when we recognised ourselves as such, and in strange calm and with a broken spirit made no claim on Society. For this is to be an outcast indeed.
I came to San Francisco in the winter of 1885 and remained in that city for some six months. What happened to me on broad lines I have written in the last chapter of The Western Avernus. But nowadays I know that in that chapter I have told nothing. It is a bare recital of events with no more than indications of deeper miseries, and some day it may chance to be rewritten in full. That I was of poor health was nothing, that I could obtain no employment was little, that I came to depend on help was more. But the mental side underlying was the worst, for the[Pg 3] iron entered into my soul. I lost energy. I went dreaming. I was divorced from humanity.
America is a hard place, for it has been made by hard men. People who would not be crushed in the East have gone to the West. The Puritan element has little softness in it, and in some places even now gives rise to phenomena of an excessive and religious brutality which tortures without pity, without sympathy. But not only is the Puritan hard; all other elements in America are hard too. The rougher emigrant, the unconquerable rebel, the natural adventurer, the desperado seeking a lawless realm, men who were iron and men with the fierce courage which carries its vices with its virtues, have made the United States. The rude individualist of Europe who felt the slow pressure of social atoms which precedes their welding, the beginning of socialism, is the father of America. He has little pity, little tolerance, little charity. In what States in America is there any poor law? Only an emigration agent, hungry for steamship percentages, will declare there are no poor there now. The survival of the fit is the survival of the strong; every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost might replace[Pg 4] the legend on the silver dollar and the golden eagle, without any American denying it in his heart.
But if America as a whole is the dumping ground and Eldorado combined of the harder extruded elements of Europe, the same law of selection holds good there as well. With every degree of West longitude the fibre of the American grows harder. The Dustman Destiny sifting his cinders has his biggest mesh over the Pacific States. If charity and sympathy be to seek in the East, it is at a greater discount on the Slope. The only poor-house is the House of Correction. Perhaps San Francisco is one of the hardest, if not the hardest city in the world. Speaking from my own experience, and out of the experience gathered from a thousand miserable bedfellows in the streets, I can say I think it is, not even excepting Portland in Oregon. But let it be borne in mind that this is the verdict of the unsuccessful. Had I been lucky it might have seemed different.
I came into the city with a quarter of a dollar, two bits, or one shilling and a halfpenny in my possession. Starvation and sleeping on boards when I was by no means well broke me down and at the same time[Pg 5] embittered me. On the third day I saw some of my equal outcasts inspecting a bill on a telegraph pole in Kearny Street, and on reading it I found it a religious advertisement of some services to be held in a street running out of Kearny, I believe in Upper California Street. At the bottom of the bill was a notice that men out of work and starving who attended the meeting would be given a meal. Having been starving only some twenty-four hours I sneered and walked on. My agnosticism was bitter in those days, bitter and polemic.
But I got no work. The streets were full of idle men. They stood in melancholy groups at corners, sheltering from the rain. I knew no one but a few of my equals. I could get no ship; the city was full of sailors. I starved another twenty-four hours, and I went to the service. I said I went for the warmth of the room, for I was ill-clad and wet. I found the place half full of out-o'-works, and sat down by the door. The preacher was a man of a type especially disagreeable to me; he looked like a business man who had cultivated an aspect of goodness and benevolence and piety on business principles. Without being able to say he was a hypocrite, he struck me as being one. He was not bad-looking, and about[Pg 6] thirty-five; he had a band of adoring girls and women about him. I was desolate and disliked him and went away.
But I returned.
I went up to him and told him brutally that I disbelieved in him and in everything he believed in, explaining that I wanted nothing on false pretences. My attitude surprised him, but he was kind (still with that insufferable air of being a really first-class good man), and he bade me have something to eat. I took it and went, feeling that I had no place on the earth.
But a little later I met an old friend from British Columbia. He was by way of being a religious man, and he had a hankering to convert me. Failing personally, he cast about for some other means, and selected this very preacher as his instrument. Having asked me to eat with him at a ten-cent hash house, he inveigled me to an evening service, and for the warmth I went with him. I became curious about these religious types, and attended a series of services. I was interested half in a morbid way, half psychologically. Scott, my friend, found me hard, but my interest made him hope. He took me, not at all unwilling, to hear a well-known revivalist who combined religion with anecdotes. He told stories well,[Pg 7] and filled a church every night for ten days. During these days I heard him attentively, as I might have listened to any well-told lecture on any pseudo-science. But my intellect was unconvinced, my conscience untouched, and Scott gave me up. I attended a number of services by myself; I was lonely, poor, hopeless, living an inward life. The subjective became real at times, the objective faded. I had a little occasional work, and expected some money to reach me early in the year. But I had no energy, I divided my time between the Free Library and churches. And it drew on to Christmas.
It was a miserable time of rain, and Christmas Day found me hopeless of a meal. But by chance I came across a man whom I had fed, and he returned my hospitality by dining me for fifteen cents at the "What Cheer House," a well-known poor restaurant in San Francisco. Then followed some days of more than semi-starvation, and I grew rather light-headed. The last day of the year dawned and I spent it foodless, friendless, solitary. But after a long evening's aimless wandering about the city I came back to California Street, and at ten o'clock went to the Watch-Night Service in the room of the first preacher I had heard.
The hall was a big square one, capable of seating some three hundred people. There was a raised platform at the end; a broad passage way all round the room had seats on both sides of it, and made a small square of seats in the centre. I sat down in the middle of this middle square, and the room was soon nearly full. The service began with a hymn. I neither sang nor rose, and I noticed numbers who did not. In peculiar isolation of mind my heart warmed to these, and I was conscious of rising hostility for the creatures of praise. There was one strong young fellow about three places from me who remained seated. Glancing behind the backs of those who were standing between us I caught his eye, which met mine casually and perhaps lightened a little. He had a rather fine face, intelligent, possibly at better times humorous. I was not so solitary.
A man singing on my left offered me a share of his hymn-book. I declined courteously. The woman on my right asked me to share hers. That I declined too. Some asked the young fellow to rise, but he refused quietly. Yet I noticed some of those who had remained seated gave in to solicitations or to the sound or to some memory, and rose. Yet many still[Pg 9] remained. They were all men, and most of them young.
After the hymn followed prayer by the minister, who was surrounded on the daïs by some dozen girls. I noticed that few were very good-looking; but in their faces was religious fervour. Yet they kept their eyes on the man. The prayer was long, intolerably and trickily eloquent and rhetorical, very self-conscious. The man posed before the throne. But I listened to every word, half absorbed though I was in myself. He was followed in prayer by ambitious and emotional people in the seats. One woman prayed for those who would not bow the knee. Once more a hymn followed, "Bringing home the sheaves."
The air is not without merit, and has a good lilt and swing. I noted it tempted me to sing it, for I knew the tune well, and in the volume of voices was an emotional attraction. I repressed the inclination even to move my lips. But some others rose and joined in. My fellow on the left did not. The sermon followed, and I felt as if I had escaped a humiliation.
What the preacher said I cannot remember, nor is it of any importance. He was not an intellectual man, nor had he many gifts beyond his rather sleek manner and a soft manageable[Pg 10] voice. He was obviously proud of that, and reckoned it an instrument of success. It became as monotonous to me as the slow oily swell of a tropic sea in calm. I would have preferred a Boanerges, a bitter John Knox. The intent of his sermon was the usual one at such periods; this was the end of the year, the beginning was at hand. Naturally he addressed himself to those who were not of his flock; it seemed to me, as it doubtless seemed to others, that he spoke to me directly.
The custom of mankind to divide time into years has had an effect on us, and we cannot help feeling it. Childhood does not understand how artificial the portioning of time is; the New Year affects us even when we recognise the fact. It required no florid eloquence of the preacher to convince me of past folly and weakness; but it was that weakness that made me weak now in my allowing his insistence on the New Year to affect me. I was weak, lonely, foolish. Oh, I acknowledged I wanted help! But could I get help here?
It was past eleven when they rose to sing another hymn. Many who had not sung before sang now. Some of the girls from the platform came down and offered us hymn-books. A few took them half-shamefacedly; some[Pg 11] declined with thanks; some ignored the extended book. And after two hymns were sung and some more prayers said, it was half-past eleven. They announced five minutes for silent meditation. Looking round, I saw my friend on the left sitting with folded arms. He was obviously in no need of five minutes.
In the Free Library I had renewed much of my ancient scientific reading, and I used it now to control some slight emotional weakness, and to explain it to myself. Half-starved, nay more than half-starved, as I was, such weakness was likely; I was amenable to suggestion. I asked myself a dozen crucial questions, and was bitterly amused to know how the preacher would evade answering them if put to him. Such a creature could not succeed, as all great teachers have done, in subduing the intellect by the force of his own personality. But all the same the hour, the time, and the song followed by silence, and the silence by song, affected me and affected many. What had I to look forward to when I went out into the street? And if I yielded they might, nay would, help me to work. I laughed a little at myself, and was scornful of my thoughts. They were singing again.
This time the band of women left the daïs[Pg 12] and in a body went slowly round and round the aisle isolating the centre seats from the platform and the sides. From the platform the preacher called on the others to rise and join them, for it was nearly twelve o'clock, the New Year was at hand. Most of the congregation obeyed him, I counted but fifteen or twenty who refused.
The volume of the singing increased as the seats emptied, in it there was religious fervour; it appealed strongly even to me. I saw some young fellows rise and join the procession; perhaps three or four. There were now less than twelve seated. The preacher spoke to us personally; he insisted on the passing minutes of the dying year. And still the singers passed us. Some leant over and called to us. Our bitter band lessened one by one.
Then from the procession came these girl acolytes, and, dividing themselves, they appealed to us and prayed. They were not beautiful perhaps, but they were women. We outcasts of the prairie and the camp fire and the streets had been greatly divorced from feminine sweet influences, and these succeeded where speech and prayer and song had failed. As one spoke to me I saw hard resolution wither in many. What woman had spoken kindly to[Pg 13] them in this hard land since they left their eastern homes? Why should they pain them? And as they joined the singing band of believers the girls came to those of us who still stayed, and doubled and redoubled their entreaties. That it was not what they said, but those who said it, massing influences and suggestion, showed itself when he who had been stubborn to one yielded with moist eyes to two. And three overcame him who had mutely resisted less.
They knew their strength, and spoke softly with the voice of loving women. And not a soul had spoken to me so in my far and weary songless passage from the Atlantic States to the Pacific Coast. Long-repressed emotions rose in me as the hair of one brushed my cheek, as the hand of another lay upon my shoulder and mutely bade me rise; as another called me, as another beckoned. I looked round like a half-fascinated beast, and I caught the eye again of the man on my left. He and I were the only ones left sitting there. All the rest had risen and were singing with the singers.
In his eye, I doubt not, I saw what he saw in mine. A look of encouragement, a demand for it, doubt, an emotional struggle, and deeper[Pg 14] than all a queer bitter amusement, that said plainly, "If you fail me, I fall, but I would rather not play the hypocrite in these hard times." We nodded rather mentally than actually, and were encouraged, I knew if I yielded I was yielding to something founded essentially on sex, and for my honesty's sake I would not fail.
"My child, it is no use," I said to her who spoke to me, and, struggling with myself, I put her hand from me. But still they moved past and sang, and the girls would not leave me till the first stroke of midnight sounded from the clock upon the wall. They then went one by one and joined the band. I turned again to my man, and conscious of my own hard fight, I knew what his had been. We looked at each other, and being men, were half ashamed that another should know we had acted rightly according to our code, and had won a victory over ourselves.
And now we were truly outcasts, for no one spoke to us again. The preacher prayed and we still sat there. But he cast us no word, and the urgent women were good only to their conquered. Perhaps in their souls was some sense of personal defeat; they had been rejected as women and as angels of the Lord.[Pg 15] We two at anyrate sat beyond the reach of their graciousness; their eyes were averted or lifted up; we lay in outer darkness.
As they began to sing once more we both rose and with a friendly look at each other went out into the streets of the hostile city. It is easy to understand why we did not speak.
I never saw him again.
The Portuguese are wholly inoffensive, except when their pride is touched. In politics, or when they hunger after African territory we fancy needed for our own people, they may not seem so. When a rebuff excites them against the English, Lisbon may not be pleasant for Englishmen. But in such cases would London commend itself to a triumphant foreigner? For my own part, I found a kind of gentle, unobtrusive politeness even among those Portuguese who knew I was English when I went to Lisbon on the last occasion of the two nations quarrelling about a mud flat on the Zambesi. Occasionally, on being taken for an American, I did not correct the mistake, for having no quarrel with Americans they sometimes confided to me the bitterness of their hearts against the English. I stayed in Lisbon at the Hotel Universal in the Rua Nova da Almeda, a purely Portuguese house where only stray Englishmen came. At the[Pg 17] table d'hôte one night I had a conversation with a mild-mannered Portuguese which showed the curious ignorance and almost childish vanity of the race. I asked him in French if he spoke English. He did so badly and we mingled the two languages and at last talked vivaciously. He was an ardent politician and hated the English virulently, telling me so with curious circumlocutions. He was of opinion, he said, that though the English were unfortunately powerful on the sea, on land his nation was a match for us. As for the English in Africa, he declared the Portuguese able to sweep them into the sea. But though he hated the English, his admiration for Queen Victoria was as unbounded as our own earth-hunger. She was, he told me, entirely on the side of the Portuguese in the sad troubles which English politicians were then causing. He detailed, as particularly as if he had been present, a strange scene reported to have taken place between Soveral, their ambassador, and Lord Salisbury, in which discussion grew heated. It seemed as if they would part in anger. At last Soveral arose and exclaimed with much dignity: "You must now excuse me, my Lord Salisbury, I have to dine with the Queen to-night." My Lord Salisbury[Pg 18] started, looked incredulous, and said coldly, "You are playing with me. This cannot be." "Indeed," said the ambassador, producing a telegram from Windsor, "it is as I say." And then Salisbury turned pale, fell back in his chair, and gasped for breath. "And after that," said my informant, "things went well." Several people at the table listened to this story and seemed to believe it. With much difficulty I preserved a grave countenance, and congratulated him on the possession of an ambassador who was more than a match for our Foreign Minister. Before the end of dinner he informed me that the English were as a general rule savages, while the Portuguese were civilised. Having lived in London he knew this to be so. Finding that he knew the East End of our gigantic city, I found it difficult to contradict him.
Certainly Lisbon, as far as visible poverty is concerned, is far better than London. I saw few very miserable people; beggars were not at all numerous; in a week I was only asked twice for alms. One constantly hears that Lisbon is dirty, and as full of foul odours as Coleridge's Cologne. I did not find it so, and the bright sunshine and the fine colour of the houses might well compensate for some [Pg 19]draw-backs. The houses of this regular town are white, and pale yellow, and fine worn-out pink, with narrow green painted verandahs which soon lose crudeness in the intense light. The windows of the larger blocks are numerous and set in long regular lines; the streets if narrow run into open squares blazing with white unsoiled monuments. All day long the ways are full of people who are fairly but unostentatiously polite. They do not stare one out of countenance however one may be dressed. In Antwerp a man who objects to being wondered at may not wear a light suit. Lisbon is more cosmopolitan. But the beauty of the town of Lisbon is not added to by the beauty of its inhabitants. The women are curiously the reverse of lovely. Only occasionally I saw a face which was attractive by the odd conjuncture of an olive skin and light grey eyes. They do not wear mantillas. The lower classes use a shawl. Those who are of the bourgeois class or above it differ little from Londoners. The working or loafing men, for they laugh and loaf, and work and chaff and chatter at every corner, are more distinct in costume, wearing the flat felt sombrero with turned-up edges that one knows from pictures, while the long coat which has displaced the cloak still retains a[Pg 20] smack of it in the way they disregard the sleeves and hang it from their shoulders. These men are decidedly not so ugly as the women, and vary wonderfully in size, colour and complexion, though a big Portuguese is a rarity. The strong point in both sexes is their natural gift for wearing colour, for choosing and blending or matching tints.
These Portuguese men and women work hard when they do not loaf and chatter. The porters, who stand in knots with cords upon their shoulders, bear huge loads; a characteristic of the place is this load-bearing and the size of the burdens. Women carry mighty parcels upon their heads; men great baskets. Fish is carried in spreading flat baskets by girls. They look afar off like gigantic hats: further still, like quaint odd toadstools in motion. All household furniture removing among the poor is done by hand. Two or four men load up a kind of flat hand-barrow without wheels till it is pyramidal and colossal with piled gear. Then passing poles through the loop of ropes, with a slow effort they raise it up and advance at a funereal and solemn pace. The slowness with which they move is pathetic. It is suggestive of a dead burden or of some street accident. But of these latter there must be very few; there is[Pg 21] not much vehicular traffic in Lisbon. It is comparatively rare to see anything like cruelty to horses. The mules which draw the primitive ramshackle trams have the worst time of it, and are obliged to pull their load every now and again off one line on to another, being urged thereto with some brutality. But these trams do not run up the very hilly parts of the city; the main lines run along the Tagus east and west of the great Square of the Black Horse. And by the river the city is flat.
Only a little way up, in my street for instance, it rapidly becomes hilly. On entering the hotel, to my surprise I went downstairs to my bedroom. On looking out of the window a street was even then sixty feet below me. The floor underneath me did not make part of the hotel, but was a portion of a great building occupied by the poorer people and let out in flats. During the day, as I sat by the window working, the noise was not intolerable, but at night when the Lisbonensians took to amusing themselves they roused me from a well-earned sleep. They shouted and sang and made mingled and indistinguishable uproars which rose wildly through the narrow deep space and burst into my open window. After long endurance I rose and shut it, preferring heat to insomnia. But[Pg 22] in the day, after that discord, I always had the harmonious compensations of true colour. Even when the sun shone brilliantly I could not distinguish the grey blue of the deep shadows, so much blue was in the painted or distempered outer walls. It was in Lisbon that I first began to discern the mental effect of colour, and to see that it comes truly and of necessity from a people's temperament. Can a busy race be true colourists?
In some parts of the town—the eastern quarters—one cannot help noticing the still remaining influence of the Moors. There are even some true relics; but certainly the influence survives in flat-sided houses with small windows and Moorish ornament high up just under the edge of the flat roof. One day, being tired of the more noisy western town, I went east and climbed up and up, being alternately in deep shadow and burning sunlight and turned round by a barrack, where some soldiers eyed me as a possible Englishman. I hoped to see the Tagus at last, for here the houses are not so lofty, and presently, being on very high ground, I caught a view of it, darkly dotted with steamers, over some flat roofs. Towards the sea it narrows, but above Lisbon it widens out like a lake. On the far side was[Pg 23] a white town, beyond that again hills blue with lucid atmosphere. At my feet (I leant against a low wall) was a terraced garden with a big vine spread on a trellis, making—or promising to make in the later spring—a long shady arbour, for as yet the leaves were scanty and freshly green. Every house was faint blue or varied pink, or worn-out, washed-out, sun-dried green. All the tones were beautiful and modest, fitting the sun yet not competing with it. In London the colour would break the level of dull tints and angrily protest, growing scarlet and vivid and wrathful. And just as I looked away from the river and the vine-clad terrace there was a scurrying rush of little school-boys from a steep side-street. They ran down the slope, and passed me, going quickly like black blots on the road, yet their laughter was sunlight on the ripple of waters. The Portuguese are always children and are not sombre. Only in their graveyards stand solemn cypresses which rise darkly on the hillside where they bury their dead; but in life they laugh and are merry even after they have children of their own.
Though little apt to do what is supposed to be a traveller's duty in visiting certain obvious places of interest, I one day hunted for the[Pg 24] English cemetery in which Fielding lies buried, and found it at last just at the back of a little open park or garden where children were playing. On going in I found myself alone save for a gardener who was cutting down some rank grass with a scythe. This cemetery is the quietest and most beautiful I ever saw. One might imagine the dead were all friends. They are at anyrate strangers in a far land, an English party with one great man among them. I found his tomb easily, for it is made of massive blocks of stone. Having brought from home his little Voyage to Lisbon, written just before he died, I took it out, sat down on the stone, and read a page or two. He says farewell at the very end. As I sat, the strange and melancholy suggestion of the dead man speaking out of that great kind heart of his, now dust, the strong contrast between the brilliant sunlight and the heavy sombreness of the cypresses of death, the song of spring birds and the sound of children's voices, were strangely pathetic. I rose up and paced that little deadman's ground which was still and quiet. And on another grave I read but a name, the name of some woman "Eleanor." After life, and work, and love, this is the end. Yet we do remember Fielding.
On the following day I went to Cintra out of sheer ennui, for my inability to talk Portuguese made me silent and solitary perforce. And at Cintra I evaded my obvious duty, and only looked at the lofty rock on which the Moorish castle stands. For one thing the hill was swathed in mists, it rained at intervals, a kind of bitter tramontana was blowing. And after running the gauntlet of a crowd of vociferous donkey-boys I was anxious to get out of the town. I made acquaintance with a friendly Cintran dog and went for a walk. My companion did not object to my nationality or my inability to express myself in fluent Portuguese, and amused himself by tearing the leaves of the Australian gum-trees, which flourish very well in Portugal. But at last, in cold disgust at the uncharitable puritanic weather which destroyed all beauty in the landscape, I returned to the town. Here I passed the prison. On spying me the prisoners crowded to the barred windows; those on the lower floor protruded their hands, those on the upper storey sent down a basket by a long string; I emptied my pockets of their coppers. It seemed not unlike giving nuts to our human cousins at the Zoo. Surely Darwin is the prince of pedigree-makers. Before him the[Pg 26] darings of the bravest herald never went beyond Adam. He has opened great possibilities to the College dealing with inherited dignity of ancient fame.
This Cintra is a town on a hill and in a hole, a kind of half-funnel opening on a long plain which is dotted by small villages and farms. If the donkey-boys were extirpated it might be fine on a fine day.
Returning to the station, I ensconced myself in a carriage out of the way of the cutting wind, and talked fluent bad French with a kindly old Portuguese who looked like a Quaker. Two others came in and entered into a lively conversation in which Charing Cross and London Bridge occurred at intervals. It took an hour and a quarter to do the fifteen mites between Cintra and Lisbon. I was told it was considered by no means a very slow train. Travelling in Portugal may do something to reconcile one to the trains in the south-east of England.
The last place I visited in Lisbon was the market. Outside, the glare of the hot sun was nearly blinding. Just in that neighbourhood all the main buildings are purely white, even the shadows make one's eyes ache. In the open spaces of the squares even [Pg 27]brilliantly-clad women seemed black against white. Inside, in a half-shade under glass, a dense crowd moved and chattered and stirred to and fro. The women wore all the colours of flowers and fruit, but chiefly orange. And on the stone floor great flat baskets of oranges, each with a leaf of green attached to it, shone like pure gold. Then there were red apples, and red handkerchiefs twisted over dark hair. Milder looking in tint was the pale Japanese apple with an artistic refinement of paler colour. The crowd, the good humour, the noise, even the odour, which was not so offensive as in our English Covent Garden, made a striking and brilliant impression. Returning to the hotel, I was met by a scarlet procession of priests and acolytes who bore the Host. The passers-by mostly bared their heads. Perhaps but a little while ago every one might have been worldly wise to follow their example, for the Inquisition lasted till 1808 in Spain.
In the afternoon of that day I went on board the Dunottar Castle, and in the evening sailed for Madeira.
A week's odd moments of study and enforced intercourse with waiters and male chambermaids, whose French was even more[Pg 28] primitive than my own, had taught me a little Portuguese, that curious, unbeautiful sounding tongue, and I found it useful even on board the steamer. At anyrate I was able to interpret for a Funchal lawyer who sat by me at table, and afterwards invited me to see him. This smattering of Portuguese I found more useful still in Madeira, or at Funchal—its capital—for I stayed in native hotels. It is the only possible way of learning anything about the people in a short visit. Moreover, the English hotels are full of invalids. It is curious to note the present prevalence of consumption among the natives of Funchal. It is a good enough proof on the first face of it that consumption is catching. There is a large hospital here for Portuguese patients, though the disease was unknown before the English made a health resort of it.
Funchal has been a thousand times described, and is well worthy of it. Lying as it does in a long curve with the whole town visible from the sea, as the houses grow fewer and fewer upon the slopes of the lofty mountain background, it is curiously theatrical and scenic in effect. It is artistically arranged, well-placed; a brilliant jewel in a dark-green setting, and the sea is amethyst and turquoise.
I stayed in an hotel whose proprietor was an ardent Republican. One evening he mentioned the fact in broken English, and I told him that in theory I also was of that creed. He grew tremendously excited, opened a bottle of Madeira, shared it with me and two Portuguese, and insisted on singing the Marseillaise until a crowd collected in front of the house, whose open windows looked on an irregular square. Then he and his friends shouted "Viva la partida dos Republicanos!" The charges at this hotel were ridiculously small—only three and fourpence a day for board and lodging. And it was by no means bad; at anyrate it was always possible to get fruit, including loquats, strawberries, custard apples, bananas, oranges, and the passion-flower fruit, which is not enticing on a first acquaintance, and resembles an anæmic pomegranate. Eggs, too, were twenty-eight for tenpence; fish was at nominal prices.
But there is nothing to do in Funchal save eat and swim or ride. The climate is enervating, and when the east wind blows from the African coast it is impossible to move save in the most spiritless and languid way. It may make an invalid comparatively strong, but I am sure it might reduce a strong man to a[Pg 30] state of confirmed laziness little removed from actual illness. I was glad one day to get horses, in company with an acquaintance, and ride over the mountains to Fayal, on the north side of the island. And it was curious to see the obstinate incredulity of the natives when we declared we meant going there and back in one day. The double journey was only a little over twenty-six miles, yet it was declared impossible. Our landlord drew ghastly pictures of the state we should be in, declaring we did not know what we were doing; he called in his wife, who lifted up her hands against our rashness and crossed herself piously when we were unmoved; he summoned the owner of the horses, who said the thing could not be done. But my friend was not to be persuaded, declaring that Englishmen could do anything, and that he would show them. He explained that we were both very much more than admirable horsemen, and only minimised his own feats in the colonies by kindly exaggerating mine in America, and finally it was settled gravely that we were to be at liberty to kill ourselves and ruin the horses for a lump sum of two pounds ten, provided we found food and wine for the two men who were to be our guides. In the[Pg 31] morning, at six o'clock, we set out in a heavy shower of rain. Before we had gone up the hill a thousand feet we were wet through, but a thousand more brought us into bright sunlight. Below lay Funchal, underneath a white sheet of rain-cloud; the sea beyond it was darkened here and there; it was at first difficult to distinguish the outlying Deserta Islands from sombre fogbanks. But as we still went up and up the day brightened more and more, and when Funchal was behind and under the first hills the sea began to glow and glitter. Here and there it shone like watered silk. The Desertas showed plainly as rocky masses; a distant steamer trailed a thin ribbon of smoke above the water. Close at hand a few sheep and goats ran from us; now and again a horse or two stared solemnly at us; and we all grew cheerful and laughed. For the air was keen and bracing; we were on the plateau, nearly four thousand feet above the sea, and in a climate quite other than that which choked the distant low-lying town. Then we began to go down.
All the main roads of the Ilha da Madeira are paved with close-set kidney pebbles, to save them from being washed out and destroyed by the sudden violent semi-tropical rains.[Pg 32] Even on this mountain it was so, and our horses, with their rough-shod feet, rattled down the pass without faltering. The road zigzagged after the manner of mountain roads. When we reached the bottom of a deep ravine it seemed impossible that we could have got there, and getting out seemed equally impossible. The slopes of the hills were often fifty degrees. Everywhere was a thick growth of brush and trees. At times the road ran almost dangerously close to a precipice. But at last, about eleven o'clock, we began to get out of the thick entanglement of mountains and in the distance could see the ocean on the north side of the island. "Fayal is there," said our guide, pointing, as it seemed, but a little way off. Yet it took two hours' hard riding to reach it. Our path lay at first along the back of a great spur of the main mountain; it narrowed till there was a precipice on either side—on the right hand some seven or eight hundred feet, on the left more than a thousand. I had not looked down the like since I crossed the Jackass Mountain on the Fraser River in British Columbia. Underneath us were villages—scattered huts, built like bee-hives. The piece of level ground beneath was dotted with them. The place looked like some[Pg 33] gigantic apiary. The dots of people seemed little larger than bees. And soon we came to the same stack-like houses close to our path. It was Sunday, and these village folks were dressed in their best clothes. They were curiously respectful, for were we not gente de gravate—people who wore cravats—gentlemen, in a word? So they rose up and uncovered. We saluted them in passing. It was a primitive sight. As we came where the huts were thicker, small crowds came to see us. Now on the right hand we saw a ridge with pines on it, suggesting, from the shape of the hill, a bristly boar's back; on the left the valley widened; in front loomed up a gigantic mass of rock, "The Eagle's Cliff," in shape like Gibraltar. It was 1900 feet high, and even yet it was far below us. But now the path pitched suddenly downwards; there were no paving-pebbles here, only the native hummocks of rock and the harder clay not yet washed away. The road was like a torrent-bed, for indeed it was a torrent when it rained; but still our horses were absolute in faith and stumbled not. And the Eagle's Cliff grew bigger and bigger still as we plunged down the last of the spur to a river then scanty of stream, and we were on the[Pg 34] flat again not far from the sea. But to reach Fayal it was necessary to climb again, turning to the left.
Here we found a path which, with all my experience of Western America mountain travel, seemed very hard to beat in point of rockiness and steepness. We had to lead our horses and climb most carefully. But when a quarter of a mile had been done in this way it was possible to mount again, and we were close to Fayal. I had thought all the time that it was a small town, but it appeared to be no more than the scattered huts we had passed, or those we had noted from the lofty spur. Our objective was a certain house belonging to a Portuguese landowner who occupied the position of an English squire in the olden days. Both my friend and I had met him several times in Funchal, and, by the aid of an interpreter, had carried on a conversation. But my Portuguese was dinner-table talk of the purely necessary order, and my companion's was more exiguous than my own. So we decided to camp before reaching his house, and eat our lunch undisturbed by the trouble of being polite without words. We told our guide this, and as he was supposed to understand English we took it for granted that he did so when we[Pg 35] ordered him to pick some spot to camp a good way from the landowner's house. But in spite of our laborious explanations he took us on to the very estate, and plumped us down not fifty yards from the house. As we were ignorant of the fact that this was the house, we sent the boy there for hot water to make coffee, and then to our horror we saw the very man whom we just then wanted to avoid. We all talked together and gesticulated violently. I tried French vainly; my little Portuguese grew less and less, and disappeared from my tongue; and then in despair we hailed the cause of the whole misfortune, and commanded him to explain. What he explained I know not, but finally our friend seemed less hurt than he had been, and he returned to his house on our promising to go there as soon as our lunch was finished.
The whole feeling of this scene—of this incident, of the place, the mountains, the primitive people—was so curious that it was difficult to think we were only four days from England. Though the people were gentle and kind and polite, they seemed no more civilised, from our point of view, than many Indians I have seen. Indeed, there are Indian communities in America which are far[Pg 36] ahead of them in culture. I seemed once more in a wild country. But our host (for, being on his ground, we were his guests) was most amiable and polite. It certainly was rather irksome to sit solemnly in his best room and stare at each other without a word. Below the open window stood our guide, so when it became absolutely necessary for me to make our friend understand, or for me to die of suppression of urgent speech, I called to João and bade him interpret. We were silent again until wine was brought. Then his daughter, almost the only beautiful Portuguese or Madeiran girl I ever saw, came in. We were introduced, and, in default of the correct thing in her native language, I informed her, in a polite Spanish phrase I happened to recollect, that I was at her feet. Then, as I knew her brother in Funchal, I called for the interpreter and told her so as an interesting piece of information. She gave me a rose, and, looking out of the window, she taught me the correct Portuguese for Eagle's Cliff—"Penha d'aguila." We were quite friends.
It was then time for us to return if we meant to keep to our word and do the double journey in one day. But a vociferous [Pg 37]expostulation came from our host. He talked fast, waved his hands, shook his head, and was evidently bent on keeping us all night. We again called in the interpreter, explaining that our reputation as Englishmen, as horsemen, as men, rested on our getting back to Funchal that night, and, seeing the point as a man of honour, he most regretfully gave way, and, having his own horse saddled, accompanied us some miles on the road. We rode up another spur, and came to a kind of wayside hut where three or four paths joined. Here was congregated a brightly-clad crowd of nearly a hundred men, women and children. They rose and saluted us; we turned and took off our hats. I noticed particularly that this man who owned so much land and was such a magnate there did the same. I fancied that these people had gathered there as much to see us pass as for Sunday chatter. For English travellers on the north side of the island are not very common, and I daresay we were something in the nature of an event. Turning at this point to the left, we plunged sharply downwards towards a bridge over a torrent, and here parted from our land-owning friend. We began to climb an impossible-looking hill, which my horse strongly objected[Pg 38] to. On being urged he tried to back off the road, and I had some difficulty in persuading him that he could not kill me without killing himself. But a slower pace reconciled him to the road, and as I was in no great hurry I allowed him to choose his own. Certainly the animals had had a hard day of it even so far, and we had much to do before night. We were all of us glad to reach the Divide and stay for a while at the Poizo, or Government rest-house, which was about half-way. One gets tolerable Madeira there.
It was eight or half-past when we came down into Funchal under a moon which seemed to cast as strongly-marked shadows as the very sun itself. The rain of the morning had long ago passed away, and the air was warm—indeed, almost close—after the last part of the ride on the plateau, which began at night-time to grow dim with ragged wreaths of mist. Our horses were so glad to accomplish the journey that they trotted down the steep stony streets, which rang loudly to their iron hoofs. When we stopped at the stable I think I was almost as glad as they; for, after all, even to an Englishman with his country's reputation to support, twelve or thirteen hours in the saddle are somewhat tiring. And[Pg 39] though I was much pleased to have seen more of the Ilha da Madeira than most visitors, I remembered that I had not been on horseback for nearly five years.
When I first went out to the Australian colonies in 1876 in the Hydrabad, a big sailing ship registered as belonging to Bombay, I had a very curious time of it, take it altogether. It was my first real experience of the outside world, and the hundred and two days the Hydrabad took from Liverpool to Melbourne made a very valuable piece of schooling for a greenhorn. I was a steerage passenger, and the steerage of a sailing vessel twenty-five years ago was something to see and smell. Perhaps it is no better now, but then it was certainly very bad. The food was poor, the quarters dirty, the accommodation far too limited to swing even the traditional cat in, and my companions were for the most part Irishmen of the lowest and poorest peasant class. In these days I was quite fresh from home and was rather particular in my tastes. Some of that has been knocked out of me[Pg 41] since. A great deal of it was knocked out of me in that passage.
Yet it was, take it altogether, an astonishingly fertile trip for a young and green lad who was not yet nineteen. The Hydrabad usually made a kind of triangular voyage. She took emigrants and a general cargo to Melbourne, loaded horses there for Australia, and came back to England once more with anything going in the shape of cargo to be picked up in the Hooghly. She carried a Calashee crew, that is, a crew of mixed Orientals, and among them were native Hindoos, Klings, Malays, Sidi-boys. In those days I had not been in the United States and had not yet imbibed any great contempt for coloured people. They were on the whole infinitely more interesting than the Irish. I knew nothing of the world, nothing of the Orient, and here was an Oriental microcosm. The old serang, or bo'sun, was a gnarled and knotted and withered Malay, who took rather a fancy to me. Sometimes I sat in his berth and smoked a pipe with him. At other times I deciphered the wooden tallies for the sails in the sail-locker, for though he talked something which he believed to be English, he could not read a word, even in the [Pg 42]Persi-Arabic character. The cooks, or bandaddies, were also friends of mine, and more than once they supplemented the intolerably meagre steerage fare by giving me something good to eat. I soon knew every man in the crew, and could call each by his name. Sometimes I went on the lookout with one of them, and one particular Malay was very keen on teaching me his language. So far as I remember the languages talked by the crew included Malay, Hindustani, Tamil and, oddly enough, French. That language was of course spoken by someone who came from Pondicherry, that small piece of country which, with Chandernagor, represents the French-Indian Empire of Du Plessis's time. I had learnt a little Hindustani and Malay, and could understand all the usual names of the sails and gear before I discovered that there was someone on board whose native tongue was French, or who, at anyrate, could talk it fluently enough. We were far to the south of the Line before I found this out. For, of course, among his fellows the boy from Pondicherry spoke Hindustani mixed with Malay and perhaps with Tamil. I well remember how I made the discovery. It was odd enough to me, but far stranger, far more wonderful,[Pg 43] far more full of mystery to my little, excitable and very dark-skinned friend. I daresay, if he lives, that to this hour he remembers the English boy who so surprised him.
The weather was intensely hot and I had climbed for a little air into one of the boats lying in the skids. The shadow of the main-topsail screened me from the sun; there was just enough wind to keep the canvas doing its work in silence. It was Sunday and the whole ship was curiously quiet. But as I lay in my little shelter I was presently disturbed by Pondicherry (that was what he was called by everyone), who came where I was to fetch away a plate full of some occult mystery which he had secreted there. He nodded to me brightly, and then for the first time it occurred to me that if he came from his nameplace he might know a little French. I knew remarkably little myself; I could read it with difficulty. My colloquial French was then, as now, intensely and intolerably English. I said, "Bon jour, Pondicherry!"
The result was astounding. He turned to me with an awe-stricken look, as he dropped his tin plate with its precious burden, and holding out both hands as though to embrace[Pg 44] a fellow countryman, he exclaimed in French,—
"What—what, do you come from Pondicherry?"
For a moment or two I did not follow his meaning. I did not see what French meant to him; I could not tell that it represented his little fatherland. I had imagined he knew it was a foreign tongue. But it was not foreign to him.
"No," I said, "I am an Englishman."
He sat down on a thwart and stared at me as if I was some strange miracle. His next words let me into the heart of his mystery.
"It is not possible. You speak Pondicherry!"
He did not even know that he was speaking French, the language of a great Western nation. He could not know that I was doing my feeble best to speak the language of a great literature; the language of Voltaire, of Victor Hugo, of diplomacy. No, he and I were speaking Pondicherry, the language of a derelict corner of mighty Hindustan. Now he eyed me with suspicion.
"When were you there?" he demanded in a whisper.
If I was not Pondicherry born I must at[Pg 45] least have lived there in order to have learnt the language.
"Pondy, I was never there," I answered.
He evidently did not believe me. I had some mysterious reason for concealing that I was either Pondicherry born or that I had resided there.
"Then you didn't know it?"
"And you have not been in Villianur?"
I shook my head. He shook his and stared at me suspiciously. Perhaps I had committed some crime there.
"Then how did you learn it?"
"I learnt it in England."
That I was undoubtedly speaking the unhappy truth would have been obvious to any Frenchman. But to Pondicherry what I said was so obviously a gross and almost foolish piece of fiction that he shook his head disdainfully. And yet why should I lie? He spoke so rapidly that I could not follow him.
"If you speak so fast I cannot understand," I said.
"Ah, then," he replied hopefully, "it is a[Pg 46] long time since you were there. Perhaps you were very young then?"
I once more insisted that I had never been at Pondicherry, or even in any part of India. All I said convinced him the more that I was not speaking the truth.
"You speak Hindustani with the bandaddy."
It is true I had learnt a dozen phrases and had once or twice used them. To say I had learnt them in the ship was useless.
"Oh, no, you have been in India. Why will you not tell me the truth, sahib? I am the only one from Pondicherry but you."
He spoke mournfully. I was denying my own fatherland, denying help and comradeship to my own countryman! It was, thought Pondicherry, cruel, unkind, unpatriotic. He gathered up the mess he had spilt and descended sorrowfully to the main deck to discuss me with his friends among the crew. As I heard afterwards from the wrinkled old serang, there were many arguments started in the fo'castle as to my place of origin. It was said, by those who took sides against Pondicherry, that even if I knew "Pondicherry" (and for that they only had his word), I also undoubtedly knew English. And when did any of the white rulers of Pondicherry know[Pg 47] that tongue? Some of the Lascars who had been on the Madras coast in country boats swore that no one spoke English there. On the whole, as I came from England and knew English it was more likely that I was what I said than that I came from Pondicherry. But even so all agreed it was a mystery that I could speak it. The serang came to me quietly.
"Say, Robat, you tell me. You come Pondicherry?"
"No, serang," said "Robat."
"But you speak Pondicherry the boy say, Robat?"
"Yes, I speak it, serang. Many English people speak it a little. Very easy for English people learn a little, just the same as we learn jeldy jow, toom sooar."
And as the serang was well acquainted with the capabilities of English officers with regard to abusive language, he went away convinced that "Pondicherry" and "Hindustani" insults were perhaps taught in English schools after all.
In spite of my refusing to take Pondicherry into my confidence he remained on friendly, if suspicious, terms with me. When I said a word or two of French to him he beamed all over, and turned to the others as much as to[Pg 48] say, "Didn't I tell you he came from my country?" For nothing that I and the serang or his friends said convinced him, or even shook his opinion. He used to sneak up to me occasionally as he worked about the decks and spring a question on me about someone at Pondicherry. Of course I had heard of no one there. But my ignorance was wholly put on; he was sure of that. Often and often I caught his eyes on me, and I knew his mind was pondering theories to account for my conduct. It was all very well for me or anyone else to say that Pondicherry was talked elsewhere than in his own home. He had travelled, he had been in Australia, in England, in many parts of the East, and he had never, never met anyone but himself and myself who knew it! I think he would have given me a month's pay if I would have only owned up to having been at Pondicherry. He certainly offered me an ample plateful of curried shark, a part of one we had caught days before, if I would be frank about the matter; but even my desire to obtain possession of that smell and drop it overboard did not tempt me to a white lie. I persisted in remaining an Englishman through the whole passage of one hundred and two days. And then at last, after good times and bad, after[Pg 49] calms on the Line and no small hurricane south of stormy Cape Leuuwin, we came up with Cape Otway and entered the Heads. Pondicherry's time for solving the mystery grew short. In another few hours the passengers would go ashore and be never seen again. For my own part, though the passage had been one of pure discomfort, I was almost sorry to leave the old ship. I had to quit a number of friends, black and white, and had to face a new and perhaps unfriendly world. Though the Hydrabad half-starved me I was at anyrate sure of water and biscuit. And many of the poor Lascars had been chums to me. As I made preparations to leave the vessel and stood on deck waiting, I saw Pondicherry sneaking about in the background. I said farewell to his old serang, and the Malay quartermasters, who were all fine men, and to some of the meaner outcast Klings, and then Pondicherry darted up to me. I knew quite well what was in his mind. It was in his very eyes. I was now going, and should be seen no more. Perhaps at the last I might be induced to speak the truth. And even if I did not own up bravely, it was at anyrate necessary to bid farewell to a countryman, though he denied his own country. He came close to me[Pg 50] in the crowd and touched my sleeve appealingly.
"What is it, Pondy?"
"Oh, sahib, you tell me now where you learn Pondicherry?"
"Pondy, I told you the truth long ago," I answered.
"Sahib, it is not possible."
He turned away, and I went on board the tug which served us as a tender. Presently I saw him lean over the rail and wave his hand. When he saw that I noticed him he called out in French once more, with angry, scornful reproach,—
"If you were not there, how, how can you speak it?"
The travel-micrococcus infected me early. Before I can remember I travelled in England, and, when my memory begins, a stay of two years in any town made me weary. My brothers and sisters and I would then inquire what time the authorities meant to send my father elsewhere, and we were accustomed to denounce any delay on the part of a certain Government department in giving us "the route." Such a youth was gipsying, and if any original fever of the blood led to wandering, such a training heightened the tendency. To this day even, after painful and laborious travel, Fate cannot persuade me that my stakes should not be pulled up at intervals. I understand "trek fever," which, after all, is only Eldorado hunting. With the settler unsatisfied a belief in immortality takes its place.
In the ferment of youth and childhood, which now threatens to quiet down, my feet stayed in many English towns and villages,[Pg 52] from Barnstaple to Carlisle, from Bedford to Manchester, and I hated them all with fervour, only mitigating my wrath by great reading. I could only read at eight years of age, but from that time until eleven I read a mingled and most preposterous mass of literature and illiterature. It was a substitute for travel, and, in my case, not a substitute only, but a provoker. Reading is mostly dram-drinking, mostly drugging; it throws a veil over realities. With the child I knew best it urged him on and infected me with world-hunger and roused activities. To be sure the Elder Brethren, who are youth's first gaolers, nearly made me believe, by dint of repetition (they, themselves, probably believing it by now), that books and knowledge, which are acquired for, with, by and through examinations, were, of themselves, noble and admirable, and that an adequate acquaintance with them (provided such acquaintance could be proved adequate to Her Majesty's Commissioners of the Civil Service) would inevitably make a man of me. For the opinion is rooted deep in many minds that to surrender one's wings, to clip one's claws, to put a cork in one's raptorial beak, and masquerade in a commercial barnyard, is to be a very fine fowl indeed.
Some spirit of revolt saved the child (now a boy, I guess) from being a Civil Cochin China, and sent him to Australia. The ship in which I sailed for Melbourne was my first introduction to outside realities, to world realities as distinct from the preliminary brutalities of school, and it opened my eyes—indeed, gave me eyes instead of the substitutes for vision favoured by the Elder Brethren, who may be taken to include schoolmasters, professors, and good parents. How any child survives without losing his eyesight altogether is now a marvel to me. Certainly, very few retain more than a dim vision, which permits them to wallow amongst imitations (such as a last year's Chippendale morality) and imagine themselves well furnished. My new university (after Owens College an admirable hot-bed for some products under glass) was the Hydrabad, 1600 tons burden, with a mixed mass of passengers, mostly blackguards in the act of leaving England to allow things to blow over, and a Lascar crew, Hindoos, Seedee boys and Malays. The professors at this notable college were many, and all were fit for their unendowed chairs. They taught mostly, and in varying ways, the art of seeing things as they are, and if some saw things as they[Pg 54] were not, that is, double, the object lesson was eminently useful to the amazed scholar. Some of them pronounced me green, and I was green.
But a four months' session and procession through the latitudes and longitudes brought me to Australia in a less obviously green condition. I had learnt the one big lesson that too few learn. I had to depend on myself. And Australia said, "You know nothing and must work." Had I not sat with Malays, and collogued with negroes, and eaten ancient shark with Hindoos? I was afraid of the big land where I could reckon on no biscuit tub always at hand, but these were men who had faced other continents and other seas. I could face realities, too, or I could try.
It is the unnecessary work that gets the glory mostly, especially in a fat time of peace, but some day the scales will be held more level. A shearer of sheep will be held more honourable than a shearer of men; and he who shirks the world's right labour will rank with the unranked lowest. The music-hall and theatre and unjustified fiction will have had their day. The little man with a little gift, that should be no more than an evening's joke or pleasure after real work, will exist no[Pg 55] more. But we live under the rule of Rabesqurat, Queen of Illusion.
The Australian bush university, with the sun, moon and stars in the high places, and labour, hunger and thirst holding prominent lecturerships, helped to educate me. The proof of that education was that I know now that a big bit of my true life's work was done there. The preparation turned out to be the work itself. One does necessary things there, and they are done without glory and often without present satisfaction, except the satisfaction given to toil. What does the world want and must have? If all the theatres were put down and all the actors sent to useful work, things would be better instead of worse. If all the music-halls became drill-halls it would add to the world's health. If most of the writers concluded justly that they were in no way necessary or useful, some healthy man might be added to the list of workers and some unhealthy ones would find themselves better or very justly dead. But the sheep and cattle have to be attended to, and ships must be sailed, and bridges must be built. Hunger and thirst, and all the educational unrighteousness of the elements must be met, fought, out-marched or out-manœuvred. I went to[Pg 56] school in the Murray Ranges, and carried salt to fluky sheep. Even if this present screed stirred me doubly to action, the salt-carrying was better. The sun and moon and stars overhead, and the big grey or brown plain beneath were for ever instilling knowledge that a city knows not. A city's soot kills elms, they say; only plane trees, self-scaling and self-cleaning, live and grow and survive. I think man is more like the elm; he cannot clean himself in a city.
It has often been a question for me to solve, now youth exists no more, except in memory, whether this present method of keeping even with one's own needs and the world's has any justification. If it has, it lies in the fact that my real work was mostly done before I knew it. When energy exists devoid of self-consciousness (for self-consciousness is the beginning of death) the individual fulfils himself naturally, obeying the mandate within him. So in Australia, and at sea, or in America, lies what I sometimes call the justification of my writing to amuse myself or a few others.
For America was my second great university, and though I lack any learned degree earned by examinations, and may put no[Pg 57] letters after my name, I maintain I passed creditably, if without honours, in the hardest schools of the world. About a young man's first freedom still hangs some illusion. With apparently impregnable health and unsubdued spirits, he has the illusion of present immortality; life is a world without end. But when youth begins to sober and health shows cracks and gaps, and hard labour comes, then the realities, indeed, crawl out and show themselves. My early work in New South Wales seemed to me then like sport. America was real life; it was for ever putting the stiffest questions to me. I can imagine an examination paper which might appal many fat graduates.
1. Describe from experience the sensations of hunger when prolonged over three days.
2. Explain the differences in living in New York, Chicago and San Francisco on a dollar a week. In such cases, how would you spend ten cents if you found it in the street at three o'clock in the morning?
3. How long would it be in your own case before want of food destroyed your sense of private property? Give examples from your own experience.
4. How far can you walk without food—(a)[Pg 58] when you are trying to reach a definite point; (b) when you are walking with an insane view of getting to some place unknown where a good job awaits you?
5. If, after a period (say three weeks) of moderate starvation, and two days of absolute starvation, you are offered some work, which would be considered laborious by the most energetic coal-heaver, would you tackle it without food or risk the loss of the job by requesting your employer to advance you 15 cents for breakfast?
6. Can you admire mountain scenery—(a) when you are very hungry; (b) when you are very thirsty? If you have any knowledge of the ascetic ecstasy, describe the symptoms.
7. You are in South-west Texas without money and without friends. How would you get to Chicago in a fortnight? What is the usual procedure when a town objects to impecunious tramps staying around more than twenty-four hours? Can you describe a "calaboose"?
8. Sketch an American policeman. Is he equally polite to a railroad magnate and a tramp? What do you understand by "fanning with a club"?
9. Which are the best as a whole diet—apples or water-melons?
10. Define "tramp," "bummer," "heeler," "hoodlum," and "politician."
This is a paper put together very casually, and just as the pen runs, but the man who can pass such an examination creditably must know many things not revealed to the babes and sucklings of civilisation. From my own point of view I think the questions fairly easy, a mere matriculation paper.
When the Queen of Illusion illudes no more youth is over. I am ready to admit Illusion still reigned when I took to writing for a living. The first illusion was that I was not doing it for a living (it is true I did not make one) but because the arts were rather noble than otherwise and extremely needed. I admit now that they are necessary, in the sense of the necessarian, but I can see little use for them, unless the production of Illusion (with few or many gaps in it) is needed for the world's progress. The laudation of the artist, the writer, and the actor returns anew with the end of the world's great year. But if any golden age comes back, the setting apart of the Amusement Monger will cease. If it does not[Pg 60] cease, their antics will be the warnings of the intoxicated Helot.
Yet without illusion one cannot write. Or so it seems to me. Is this writing period only another university after all? Perhaps teaching never ends, though the art of learning what is taught seems very rare. To write and "get there" in the meanest sense, so far as money is concerned, is the overcoming of innumerable obstacles. London taught me a great deal that I could not learn in Australia, or on the sea, or in any Texas, or British Columbia. But I came to London with scaled eyes, and tasted other poverty than that I knew. Illusion is mostly foreshortening of time. One wants to prophesy and to see. The chief lesson here is that prophets must be blind. The end of the race is the racing thereof after all. To do a little useful work (even though the useful may be a thousandth part of the useless) is the end of living. The only illusion worth keeping is that anything can be useful. So far my youth is not ended.
It is not everyone who can make friends with a bull, and it is not every bull that one can make friends with. Yet next to one or two horses, about which I could spin long yarns, El Toro, the big brindled bull of Los Guilucos Ranch, Sonoma County, California, is certainly nearest my heart. He was my friend, and sometimes my companion; he had a noble character for fighting, and in spite of his pugnacity he was amiability itself to most human beings. His final end, too, fills me with a sense of pathos, and enrages me against those who owned him. They were obviously incapable of understanding him as I did.
When I went up to Los Guilucos from San Francisco to take up the position of stableman on that ranche, I had little notion of the full extent of my duties. What these were is perhaps irrelevant in the present connection. And yet it was because I had to work so incredibly hard, being often at it from six in the morning to[Pg 62] eight or nine o'clock at night, that I made particular friends with El Toro, to give him his Spanish name. In all that western and south-western part of the United States there are remnants of Spanish or Mexican in the common talk. For California was once part of Mexico. El Toro became my friend and my refuge: when I was driven half-desperate by having ten important things to do at once he often came in and helped me to preserve an equal mind. I have little doubt that I should have discovered how to work this by myself, but as a matter of fact I was put up to some of his uses by the man whose place I took. He showed me all I had to do, and lectured me on the character of the hard-working lady who owned the place; and when I was dazed and stood wondering how one man could do all the stableman was supposed to accomplish between sunrise and sundown, Jack said, "And besides all this there is a bull!" He said it so oddly and so significantly that my heart sank. I imagined a very fierce and ferocious animal fit for a Spanish bull-ring, a sharp-horned Murcian good enough to try the nerve of the best matador who ever faced horns and a vicious charge. Then he took me round the barn and opened a stable. In it El Toro was tied to a[Pg 63] manger by a rope and ring through his nose: he greeted us with a strangled whistle as he still lay down. "When you are hard driven good old El Toro will help you," said Jack, as he sat down on the bull's big shoulders and started to scratch his curl with a little piece of wood which had a blunt nail in it. As I stood El Toro chewed the cud and was obviously delighted at having his curl combed.
The departing Jack delivered me another lecture on the uses of a mild and amiable but fighting bull on a ranche where a man was likely to be worried to death by a lady who had no notion of how much a man ought to do in a day. When he had finished he invited me to make friends with El Toro by also sitting on his back and scratching him with the blunt nail. I did as I was told, and though El Toro twisted his huge head round to inspect me he lay otherwise perfectly calm while I went on with his toilet. He evidently felt that I was an amiable character, and one well adapted to act as his own man. His views of me were confirmed when I brought him half a bucket of pears from the big orchard. With a parting slap and a sigh of regret which spoke well both for him and the bull, Jack went away to "fix" himself for travel. I was left in charge.
How hard I worked on that Sonoma County ranch I can hardly say. I had horses in the stable and horses outside. The cattle outside were mine. Three hundred sheep I was responsible for. Some young motherless foals I nursed. I milked six cows. I chopped wood. I cleaned buggies. I drove wagons and carriages and cleaned and greased them. Sometimes I stood in the middle of the great barn-lot or barnyard and tore my hair in desperation. I had so much to attend to that only the strictest method enabled me to get through it. And, as Jack had told me would happen, my method was knocked endways by the requirements of the lady who was my "boss." What a woman wants done is always the most important thing on earth. She used to ask me to do up her acre of a garden in between times when the sheep wanted water or twenty horses required hay. She was amiable, kindly, but she never understood. At such times who could blame me if I went to the bull's stable when I saw her coming. Though the bull was the sweetest character on the ranch, she went in mortal terror of him. She would try to find me in the horse stable, but she would not come near El Toro for her very life. It was better to sit quietly with him and recover my equanimity[Pg 65] while she called. I knew her well enough to know that in a quarter of an hour something else of the vastest importance would engage her attention and I should be free to attend more coolly to my own work.
Yet sometimes she stuck to my track so closely that there was nothing for me to do but to turn El Toro loose. Then I could say, "Very well, madam, but in the meantime I must go after the bull." She knew what the bull being loose meant; he carried devastation wherever he went. He was the greatest fighter in the whole county. I had to get my whip and my fastest horse to try and catch him. I can hardly be blamed if I did not catch him till the evening. For in that way I got a wild kind of holiday on horseback and was saved from insanity. Certainly, when El Toro got away on the loose and was looking for other bulls to have a row with I could think of nothing else. Sometimes he got free by the rope rotting close up to his ring. In that case he went headlong. If he took the rope with him he sometimes trod on it and gave himself a nasty check. Usually, however, he got it across his big neck and kept it from falling to the ground. He never stopped for any gate. When he saw one he gave a bellow, charged it and went through the[Pg 66] fragments with me after him. If I was really anxious to get him back at once I usually caught him within a mile. When I wanted a rest I only succeeded in turning him five or six miles away, after he had thrashed a bull or two belonging to other ranchers. No fence was any use to keep him out or in. On one occasion he broke into a barn in which a rash young bull was kept. When the row was over that barn stood sadly in need of repair: and so did the young pedigree bull. I may say that on this particular occasion El Toro got away entirely by himself, and I only knew he was free when I found the door of his stable in splinters.
There was a magnificent difference between El Toro as I sat on him and scratched him with a nail and as he was when he turned himself loose for a happy day in the country. In the stable he was as mild as milk. I could have almost imagined him purring like a cat. He chewed the cud and made homely sloppy noises with his tongue, and regarded me with a calm, bovine gaze, which was as gentle as that of any pet cow's. I could have fallen asleep beside him. It is reported that my predecessor Jack, on one occasion, came home much the worse for liquor and was found reclining on El Toro. There was not a soul on[Pg 67] the ranch who dared disturb the loving couple. But when the rope was parted and El Toro loped down the road to seek a row as keenly as any Irishman on a fair day, he was another guess sort of an animal. He carried his tail in the air and bellowed wildly to the hills. He threw out challenges to all and sundry. He gave it to be understood that the world and the fatness thereof were his. This was no mere braggadocio; it was not the misplaced confidence of a stall-fed bull in his mere weight; he really could fight, and though he was only on the warpath about once a month, there was not a bull in the valley which had not retained in his thick skull and muddy brains some recollection of El Toro's prowess. The only trouble about this, from my pet bull's point of view, was that he could rarely get up a row. Most of his possible enemies fled when he tooted his horn and waltzed into the arena through a smashed fence. He was magnificent and he was war incarnate.
In that country, which is a hard-working country, there is really very little sport. Further south in California, the ease-loving Spanish people who remain among the Americans still love music and the dance. We worked, and worked hard; only Sundays brought us a little[Pg 68] surcease from toil. All our notions of sport centred on our bull. I had many Italian co-workers, some Swedes, and an odd citizen of the United States. All alike agreed in being proud of El Toro. We yearned to match him against any bull in the State. Sometimes of a Sunday morning, after he had devastated the country and was back again, he held a kind of levée. The Italians brought him pears as I sat on him in triumph and combed him in places where he had not been wounded. He always forgot that I had come behind him and laced his tough hide with my stock-whip. He bore no malice, but took his fruit like a good child. I think he was almost as proud of himself as we were. Certainly we were proud of him. As for me, had I not ridden desperate miles after him: had I not interviewed outraged owners of other bulls and broken fences: had I not played the diplomat or the bully according to the treatment which seemed indicated? He was, properly speaking, my bull; I did not care if I had to spend three days mending our home gates and other's alien fences.
Yes, it was a fine thing to gallop through that warm, bright, Californian air after El Toro, with the brown hills on either side and its patches of green vineyard brightening daily.[Pg 69] It was freedom after the toil of axle-greasing and the slow work with sheep. It was better than grinding axes and trying to cut the tough knobs of vine stumps: better than grooming horses and milking cows. It made me think even more of the great Australian plains and of the Texas prairie and the round up. Ay de mi, I remember it now, sometimes, and I wish I was on horseback, swinging my whip and uttering diabolic yells, significant of the freedom of the spirit as I rush after the spirit of El Toro. For my pet, my brindled fighter, my own El Toro, whom I combed so delicately with a bent nail, for whom I gathered buckets of bruised but fat Californian pears, is now no more. They told me, when I visited Los Guilucos seven years ago, that he became difficult, morose, hard to handle, and they sold him. They sold this joyous incarnation of the spirit of battle and the pure joy of life for a mean and miserable thirteen dollars! When I think of it I almost fall to tears. So might some coward son of the seas sell a battleship for ten pounds because it was not suitable for a ferry-boat or a river yacht. I would rather a thousand times have paid the thirteen dollars myself and have taken him out to fight his last Armageddon and then have shot him on the[Pg 70] lonely hills from which all other bulls had fled. These mean-souled, conscienceless moneymakers, who could not understand so brave, so fine a spirit, sold him to a Santa Rosa butcher! Shame on them, I say. I am sorry I ever revisited the Valley of the Seven Moons to hear such lamentable news. It made me unhappy then, makes me unhappy now. My only consolation is that once, and twice, and thrice, and yet again, I gave El Toro the chance of finding happiness in the conflict. And when I left Los Guilucos, before I returned to England, I sat upon his huge shoulders and scratched him most thoroughly, while ever and again I offered him a juicy and unbruised pear. On that occasion I pulled him the best fruit, and left windfalls for the ranging, greedy hogs. And as I fed and scratched him he lay on his hunkers in great content, and made pleasant noises as he remembered the day before. On that day, owing to the kindly feeling of me, his true and real friend, he had had a great time three miles towards Glenallen, and had beaten a newly-imported bull out of all sense of self-importance. He was pleased with himself, pleased with me, pleased with the world.
Since taking to writing as a profession I have lost most of the interest I had in literature as literature pure and simple. That interest gradually faded and "Art for Art's sake," in the sense the simple in studios are wont to dilate upon, touches me no more, or very, very rarely. The books I love now are those which teach me something actual about the living world; and it troubles me not at all if any of them betray no sense of beauty and lack immortal words. Their artistry is nothing, what they say is everything. So on the shelf to which I mostly resort is a book on the Himalayas; a Lloyd's Shipping Register; a little work on seamanship that every would-be second mate knows; Brown's Nautical Almanacs; a Channel Pilot; a Continental Bradshaw; many Baedekers; a Directory to the Indian Ocean and the China Seas; a big[Pg 72] folding map of the United States; some books dealing with strategy, and some touching on medical knowledge, but principally pathology, and especially the pathology of the mind.
Yet in spite of this utilitarian bent of my thoughts there are very many books I know and love and sometimes look into because of their associations. As I cannot understand (through some mental kink which my friends are wont to jeer at) how anyone can return again and again to a book for its own sake, I do not read what I know. As soon would I go back when it is my purpose to go forward. A book should serve its turn, do its work, and become a memory. To love books for their own sake is to be crystallised before old age comes on. Only the old are entitled to love the past. The work of the young lies in the present and the future.
But still, in spite of my theories, I like to handle, if not to read, certain books which were read by me under curious and perhaps abnormal circumstances. If I do not open them it is due to a certain bashfulness, a subtle dislike of seeing myself as I was. Yet the books I read while tramping in America, such as Sartor Resartus, have the same attraction for me that a man may feel for a place. I[Pg 73] carried the lucubrations of Teufelsdröckh with me as I wandered; I read them as I camped in the open upon the prairie; I slipped them into my pocket when I went shepherding in the Texan plateau south of the Panhandle.
Another book which went with me on my tramps through Minnesota and Iowa was a tiny volume of Emerson's essays. This I loved less than I loved Carlyle, and I gave it to a railroad "section boss" in the north-west of Iowa because he was kind to me. When Sartor Resartus had travelled with me through the Kicking Horse Pass and over the Selkirks into British Columbia, and was sucked dry, I gave it at last to a farming Englishman who lived not far from Kamloops. I remember that in the flyleaf I kept a rough diary of the terrible week I spent in climbing through the Selkirk Range with sore and wounded feet. It is perhaps little wonder that I associate Teufelsdröckh, the mind-wanderer, with those days of my own life. And yet, unless I live to be old, I shall never read the book again.
The tramp, or traveller, or beach-comber, or general scallywag finds little time and little chance to read. And for the most part we must own he cares little for literature in any form. But I was not always wandering. I[Pg 74] varied wandering with work, and while working at a sawmill on the coast, or close to it, in the lower Fraser River in British Columbia, I read much. In the town of New Westminster was a little public library, and I used to go thither after work if I was not too tired. But the work in a sawmill is very arduous to everyone in it, and while the winter kept away I had little energy to read. Presently, however, the season changed, and the bitter east winds came out of the mountains and fixed the river in ice and froze up our logs in the "boom," so that the saws were at last silent, and I was free to plunge among the books and roll and soak among them day and night.
The library was very much mixed. It was indeed created upon a pile of miscellaneous matter left by British troops when they were stationed on the British Columbian mainland. There was much rubbish on the shelves, but among the rubbish I found many good books. For instance, that winter I read solidly through Gibbon's Rome, and refreshed my early memories of Mahomet, of Alaric, and of Attila. Those who imported fresh elements into the old were even then my greatest interest. I preferred the destroyers to the destroyed, being rather on the side of the gods than on the side[Pg 75] of Cato. Lately, as I was returning from South Africa, I tried to read Gibbon once more, and I failed. He was too classic, too stately. I fell back on Froude, and was refreshed by the manner, if not always delighted by the matter.
After emerging from the Imperial flood at the last chapter, I fell headlong into Vasari's Lives of the Painters, in nine volumes. Then I read Motley's Netherlands and the Rise of the Dutch Republic, always terrible and picturesque since I had read it as a boy of eleven.
At the sawmill there was but one man with whom I could talk on any matters of intellectual interest. He was a big man from Michigan and ran the shingle saw. We often discussed what I had lately read, and went away from discussion to argument concerning philosophy and theology. He was a most lovable person; as keen as a sharpened sawtooth, and a polemic but courteous atheist. His greatest sorrow in life was that his mother, a Middle State woman of ferocious religion, could not be kept in ignorance of his principles. We argued ethics sophistically as to whether a convinced agnostic might on occasion hide what he believed.
Sometimes this friend of mine went to the library with me. He had the penchant for science so common among the finer rising types of the lower classes. So I read Darwin's Origin of Species, and talked of it with my Michigan man. And then I took to Savage Landor and learnt some of his Imaginary Conversations by heart. I could have repeated Æsop and Rhodope.
But the one thing I for ever fell back upon was an old encyclopædia. I should be afraid to say how much I read, but to it I owe, doubtless, a stock of extensive, if shallow, general knowledge. Certainly it appears to have influenced me to this day; for given a similar one I can wander from shipbuilding to St. Thomas Aquinas; from the Atomic Theory to the Marquis de Sade; from Kant to the building of dams; and never feel dull.
Now when I come across any of these books I am filled with a curious melancholy. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire means more to me than to some: I hear the whirr of the buzz-saw as I open it; even in its driest page I smell the resin of fir and spruce; Locke's Human Understanding recalls things no man can understand if he has not worked[Pg 77] alongside Indians and next to Chinamen. As for Carlyle, I never hear him mentioned without seeing the mountains and glaciers of the Selkirks; in his pages is the sound of the wind and rain.
There are some novels, too, which have attractions not all their own. I remember once walking into a store at Eagle Pass Landing on the Shushwap Lake and asking for a book. I was referred to a counter covered with bearskins, and beneath the hides I unearthed a pile of novels. The one I took was Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. And another time I rode into Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California, and, while buying stores, saw Gissing's Demos open in front of me. It was anonymous, but I knew it for his, and I read it as I rode slowly homeward down the Sonoma Valley, the Valley of the Seven Moons.
These are but a few of the books that are burnt into one's memory as by fire. All I remember are not literature: perhaps I should reject many with scorn at the present day; nevertheless, they have a value to me greater than the price set upon many precious folios. I propose one of these days to make a shelf among my shelves sacred to the books which[Pg 78] I read under curious circumstances. I cannot but regret that I often had nothing to read at the most interesting times. So far as I can recollect, I got through five days' starvation in Australia without as much as a newspaper.
It was late in May or early in June, for I cannot now remember the exact date, that I landed in Apia, in the island of Upolu. Naturally enough that island was not to me so much the centre of Anglo-American and German rivalries as the home of Robert Louis Stevenson, then become the literary deity of the Pacific. In a dozen shops in Honolulu I had seen little plaster busts of him; here and there I came across his photograph. And I had a theory about him to put to the test. Though I was not, and am not, one of those who rage against over-great praise, when there is any true foundation for it, I had never been able to understand the laudation of which he was the subject. At that time, and until the fragment of Weir of Hermiston was given to the world, nothing but his one short[Pg 80] story about the thief and poet, Villon, had seemed to me to be really great, really to command or even to be an excuse for his being in the position in which his critics had placed him. Yet I had read The Wrecker, The Ebb Tide, The Beach of Falesa, Kidnapped, Catriona, The Master of Ballantrae, and the New Arabian Nights. I came to the conclusion that, as most of the organic chorus of approval came from men who knew him, he must be (as all writers, I think, should be) immeasurably greater than his books. I was prepared then for a personality, and I found it. When his name is mentioned I no longer think of any of his works, but of a sweet-eyed, thin, brown ghost of a man whom I first saw upon horseback in a grove of cocoanut palms by the sounding surges of a tropic sea. There are writers, and not a few of them, whose work it is a pleasure to read, while it is a pain to know them, a disappointment, almost an unhappiness, to be in their disillusioning company. They have given the best to the world. Robert Louis Stevenson never gave his best, for his best was himself.
At any time of the year the Navigator Islands are truly tropical, and whether the sun[Pg 81] inclines towards Cancer or Capricorn, Apia is a bath of warm heat. As soon as the Monowai dropped her anchor inside the opening of the reef that forms the only decent harbour in all the group, I went ashore in haste. Our time was short, but three or four hours, and I could afford neither the time nor the money to stay there till the next steamer. I had much to do in Australia, and was not a little exercised in mind as to how I should ever be able to get round the world at all unless I once more shipped before the mast. I was, in fact, so hard put to it in the matter of cash, that when the hotel-keeper asked three dollars for a pony on which to ride to Vailima, I refused to pay it, and went away believing that after all I should not see him whom I most desired to meet. Yet it was possible, if not likely, that he would come down to visit the one fortnightly link with the great world from which he was an exile. I had to trust to chance, and in the meantime walked the long street of Apia and viewed the Samoans, whom he so loved, with vivid interest. These people, riven and torn by internal dissensions between Mataafa and Malietoa, and honeycombed by Anglo-American and German intrigue, were the most[Pg 82] interesting and the noblest that I had met since I foregathered for a time with a wandering band of Blackfeet Indians close to Calgary beneath the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. Their dress, their customs, and their free and noble carriage, yet unspoiled by civilisation, appealed to me greatly. I could understand as I saw them walk how Stevenson delighted in them. Man and woman alike looked me and the whole world in the face, and went by, proud, yet modest, and with the smile of a happy, unconquered race.
As I walked with half a dozen curious indifferents whom the hazards of travel had made my companions, we turned from the main road into the seclusion of a shaded group of palms, and as I went I saw coming towards me a mounted white man behind whom rode a native. As he came nearer I looked at him without curiosity, for, as the time passed, I was becoming reconciled by all there was to see to the fact that I might not meet this exiled Scot. And yet, as he neared and passed me, I knew that I knew him, that he was familiar; and very presently I was aware that this sense of familiarity was not, as so often happens to a traveller, the awakened memory of a type. This was an individual[Pg 83] and a personality. I stopped and stared after him, and suddenly roused myself. Surely this was Robert Louis Stevenson, and this his man. So might the ghosts of Crusoe and Friday pass one on the shore of Juan Fernandez.
I called the "boy" and gave him my card, and asked him to overtake his master. In another moment my literary apparition, this chief among the Samoans, was shaking hands with me. He alighted from his horse, and we walked together towards the town. I fell a victim to him, and forgot that he wrote. His writings were what packed dates might be to one who sat for the first time under a palm in some far oäsis; they were but ice in a tumbler compared with séracs. He was first a man, and then a writer. The pitiful opposite is too common.
I think, indeed I am sure, for I know he could not lie, that he was pleased to see me. What I represented to him then I hardly reckoned at the time, but I was a messenger from the great world of men; I moved close to the heart of things; I was fresh from San Francisco, from New York, from London. He spoke like an exile, but one not discouraged. Though his physique was of the[Pg 84] frailest (I had noted with astonishment that his thigh as he sat on horseback was hardly thicker than my forearm), he was alert and gently eager. That soft, brown eye which held me was full of humour, of pathos, of tenderness, yet I could imagine it capable of indignation and of power. It might be that his body was dying, but his mind was young, elastic, and unspoiled by selfishness or affectation. He had his regrets; they concerned the Samoans greatly.
"Had I come here fifteen years ago I might have ruled these islands."
He imagined it possible that international intrigue might not have flourished under him. Never had I seen so fragile a man who would be king. He owned, with a shyly comic glance, that he had leanings towards buccaneering. The man of action, were he but some shaggy-bearded shellback, appealed to him. His own physique was his apology for being merely a writer of novels.
We went on board the steamer, and at his request I bade a steward show his faithful henchman over her. In the meantime we sat in the saloon and drank "soft" drinks. It pleased him to talk, and he spoke fluently in a voice that was musical. He touched a hundred[Pg 85] subjects; he developed a theory of matriarchy. Men loved to steal; women were naturally receivers. They adored property; their minds ran on possession; they were domestic materialists. We talked of socialism, of Bully Hayes, of Royat, of Rudyard Kipling. He regretted greatly not having seen the author of Plain Tales from the Hills.
"He was once coming here. Even now I believe there is mail-matter of his rotting at the post-office."
I asked him to accept a book I had brought from England, hoping to be able to give it to him. It was the only book of mine that I thought worthy of his acceptance. That he knew it pleased me. But he always desired to please, and pleased without any effort. When the boy came back from viewing the internal arrangements of the Monowai, he sat down with us as a free warrior. He was more a friend than a servant; Stevenson treated him as the head of a clan in his old home might treat a worthy follower. As there was yet an hour before the vessel sailed I went on shore with him again. We were rowed there by a Samoan in a waistcloth. His head was whitened by the lime which many of the[Pg 86] natives use to bleach their dark locks to a fashionable red.
The air was hot and the sea glittered under an intense sun. The rollers from the roadstead broke upon the reef. The outer ocean was a very wonderful tropic blue; inside the reefs the water was calmer, greener, more unlike anything that can be seen in northern latitudes. A little island inside the lagoon glared with red rock in the sunlight; cocoanut palms adorned it gracefully; beyond again was the deeper blue of ocean; the island itself, a mass of foliage, melted beautifully into the lucid atmosphere. Yonder, said Stevenson, lay Vailima that I was not to see. But I had seen the island and the man, and the natural colour and glory of both.
As we went ashore he handed the book which I had given him to his follower. He thought it necessary to explain to me that etiquette demanded that no chief should carry anything. And etiquette was rigid there.
"Mrs Grundy," he remarked, "is essentially a savage institution."
We went together to the post-office. And in the street outside, while many passed and greeted "Tusitala" in the soft, native[Pg 87] speech, we parted. I saw him ride away, and saw him wave his hand to me as he turned once more into the dark grove wherein I had met him in the year of his death.
I went across the Parade, which every morning is full of cheap-jack auctioneers selling all things under the sun to Kaffirs, Malays, coolies, towards Rondebosch and Wynberg. At the Castle the electric tram passed me, and I jumped on board and went, at the least, as fast as an English slow train. The wind was blowing and the dust flew, but ahead of us ran a huge electricity-driven water-cart, a very water tram, which laid the red clouds for us. Yet in London we travel painfully in omnibuses and horse-trams, and the rare water-cart is still drawn by horses.
The road towards Rondebosch, where Mr Rhodes lived, is full of interest. It reminded me dimly of a road in Ceylon: the colour of it was so red, and the reddish tree trunks and heavy foliage were almost tropical in character. Many of the houses are no more than one-storey bungalows; half the folks one saw were[Pg 89] coloured; a rare Malay woman flaunted colour like a tropic bird. Avenues of pines resembled huge scrub; they cast strong shadows even in the greyness of the day. Far above the huge ramparts of Table Mountain lay the clouds, and the wind whistled mournfully from the organ pipes of the Devil's Peak. In unoccupied lands were great patches of wild arum, and suddenly I saw the gaunt Australian blue gum, which flourishes here just as well as the English oak. Two white gums shone among sombrest pines. They took my mind suddenly back to the bush of the Murray Hills, for there they gleam like sunlit lighthouses among the darker and more melancholy timber of the heights.
The houses grew fewer and fewer beyond Rondebosch, and at last we came to Wynberg, a quiet little suburban town. The tram ran through and beyond it, and I got off and walked for a while among the side roads. And the aspect of the country was so quiet, and yet so rich, that I wondered how any could throw doubts upon the wonderful value of the country. Surely this was a spot worth fighting for, and, more certainly still, it was a place for peace. A long contemplative walk brought me back to Rondebosch, and again I took the[Pg 90] train-like tram and went back to busy Capetown.
In any new town the heights about and above it appeal strongly to every wanderer. I had no time to spare for the ascent of Table Mountain, and the tablecloth of clouds indeed forbade me to attempt it. But someone had spoken to me of the Kloof road, which leads to the saddleback between the Lion's Head and Table Mountain, so, taking the Kloof Street tram, I ran with it to its stopping-place and found the road. There the houses are more scattered; the streets are thin. But about every house is foliage; in every garden are flowers. As I mounted the steep, well-kept road I came upon pine woods. Across the valley, or the Kloof, I saw the lower grassy slopes of Table Mountain, where the trees dwindled till they dotted the hill-side like spare scrub. Above the trees is a cut in the mountain, above that the bare grass, and then the frowning weather-worn bastions of the mountain with its ancient horizontal strata. It is cut and scarped into gullies and chimneys; for the mountain climber it offers difficult and impossible climbs at every point. Down the upper gullies hung wisps of ragged cloud, pouring over from the plateau 4000 feet above the town.
On the left of the true Table Mountain there is a rugged and ragged dip, and further still the rocks rise again in the sharper pinnacles of the Devil's Peak. That slopes away till it runs down into the house-dotted Cape flats, and beyond it lie Rondebosch, Wynberg and Constantia. Across the grey and misty flats other mountains rise—mountains of a strange shape which suggests a peculiar and unusual geological formation.
Although the day was cool and the southerly wind had a biting quality about it, yet the whole aspect of the world about me was intensely sub-tropical. In heavy sunlight it would seem part of the countries north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The close-set trees, seen from above, appear like scrub, like close-set ti-tree. They are massed at the top, and among them lie white houses. Beyond them the lower slopes of the Devil's Peak are yellow and red sand, but the grey-green waters of the bay, which is shaped like a great hyperbola, are edged with white sand.
Among the pines the rhythmic wind rose and fell; it whistled and wailed and died away. Beneath me came the faint sound of men calling; there was the clink of hammers upon stone.
But suddenly the town was lost among the trees, and when I sat down at last upon a seat I might have been among the woods above the Castle of Chillon, and, seen dimly among the foliage, the heights yonder could have been taken for the slopes of Arvel or Sonchaud. A bird whistled a short, repeated, melancholy song, and suddenly I remembered I had seen no sparrows here. A blackcap stared at me and fled; its triple note was repeated from bush to bush.
The wind rose again as I sat, but did not chill me in my sheltered hollow. It rose and fell in wavelike rhythm like the far thunder of waves upon a rock-bound coast. Then came silence, and again the wind was like the sound of a distant waterfall. There for one moment I caught the resinous smell of pine. It drew me back to the Rocky Mountains, and then to the woods above Zermatt, where I had last smelt that healthiest and most pleasing of woodland odours. I rose again and walked on.
Presently I gained a loftier height, and saw the Lion's Head above me, a bold shield knob of rock rising out of silver trees, whose foliage is a pale glaucous green, resembling that of young eucalypti. Then, turning, I saw[Pg 93] Capetown spread out beneath me, almost as one sees greater Naples from the Belvedere of the San Martino monastery. The whitish-grey town is furrowed into cañon-like streets. Beyond the town and over the flats was a view like that from Camaldoli. The foreground was scrub and pine and deep red earth, whereon men were building a new house. May fate send me here again when the sun is hot and the under world is all aglow!
I came at last to the little wind-swept divide between Table Mountain and the Lion's Head. Here Capetown was lost to me, and I stood among sandy wastes where thin pines and whin-like bushes grow. And further still was the cold grey sea with the waves breaking on a rocky point and a little island all awash with white water.
Though beyond this divide the air was cold as death, the slopes of Table Mountain sweeping to the sea were full of colour; deep, strong, stern colour. When the sun shines and full summer rules upon the Cape Peninsula the place must be glorious. Even when I saw it an artist would wonder how it was that with such a chill wind the colour remained. And above the coloured lower slopes this new view of Table Mountain suggested a serried rank of[Pg 94] sphinxes staring out across the desert sea. The nearest peak of the mountain is weathered, cracked and scarred, and it in are two chimneys that appear accessible only for the oreads who block the way with their smoky clouds. In the far north-eastern distance the grey headlands melted into the grey ocean. But beneath me were the tender green of the birch-like silver tree and the rich young leaves of the transplanted English oak.
Among the problems which remain perpetually interesting are those which deal with the influence of environment on races, and that of races on environment. What happens when the people are plastic and their circumstances rigid? What when the people are rigid and unyielding, and their surroundings fluent and unabiding? And does character depend on what is outside, or does the dominant quality of a race remain, as some vainly think, for ever? These are puzzling questions, but not entirely beyond conjecture for one who has heard the siren songs of the African veldt, the Australian plain, and the American prairie.
He who consciously observes usually observes the obvious, and may rank as a discoverer only among the unobservant. Truth may be looked for, but he who hunts her shall rarely find when the truth he seeks is something not suited for scientific formulæ. The real observer is[Pg 96] he who does not observe, but is gradually aware that he knows. Sometimes he does not learn that he is wise till long years have passed, and then perhaps the mechanical maxim of a mechanical eye-server of Nature shall startle him into a sense of deep abiding, but perhaps incommunicable, knowledge. So comes the knowledge of mountain, moor and stream; so rises the Aphrodite truth of the sea, born from the foam that surges round the Horn, or floats silently upon the beach of some lonely coral island; and so grows the knowledge of vast stretches of dim inland continents.
I spent my hours (let them be called months) in Africa seeking vainly after facts that after all were of no importance. Politics are of to-day, but human nature is of eternity. And while I sought what I could hardly find, in one cold clear dawn I stumbled upon the truth concerning the white people of the veldt, whom we call Boers. And yet it was not stumbling; I had but rediscovered something that I had known of old in other lands, far east and far west of Africa. When first I entered on the terraces of the Karroo I tried to build up for myself the character of the lone horsemen who ride across these spaces, and though I was solitary, and saw sunrises, the construction of[Pg 97] the type eluded me. I saw the big plain and the flat-topped banded hills that had sunk into their minds. I saw the ruddy dawn glow, and the ruddier glory of sundown as the sun bit into the edge of the horizon, and I knew that here somewhere lay the secret of the race, even though I could not find it. And I knew too that I had discovered sister secrets in long past days; and I saw that, not in the intellect as one knows it, but in some revived instinct, revived it might be by one of the senses, lay the clue to what I sought. What did these people think, or what lay beneath thought in them? It was something akin to what I had felt somewhere, that I knew. But the sun went down and left me in the dark; or it rose clear of the distant hills and drowned me in daylight, and still I did not know. Then there was the babble of politics in my ears, and I spoke of Reform and such urgent matters in the dusty streets of windy Johannesburg.
But one day, as it chanced, I came upon the secret; and then I found it was incommunicable, as all real secrets are. For your true secret is an informing sensation, and no sensation can resolve itself other than by negatives. I had spent a weary, an unutterably weary, day in a coach upon the Transvaal uplands,[Pg 98] and came in the dark to the house of a Boer who served travellers with unspeakable food and gave them such accommodation as might be. It was midnight when I arrived, and all his beds were full of those who were journeying in the opposite direction. He made me a couch on the floor in a kind of lumber-room, and, softened child of civilisation that I had become, I growled by myself at what he gave, and wondered what, in the name of the devil who wanders over the earth, I was doing there. And how could he endure it? How, indeed. I fell asleep, and the next minute, which was six hours later, I awoke, and stumbled with a dusty mouth into the remaining night, not yet become dawn. Such an hour seemed unpropitious. My bones ached; I lamented my ancient hardness in the time when a board or a sheet of stringy bark was soft; I felt a touch of fever, my throat was dry, a hard hot day of discomfort was before me. In the dim dusk I saw the mules gathered by the coach, which had yet to do sixty miles. A bucket invited me; I washed my hot hands and face, and walked away from the buildings into the open. Then very suddenly and without any warning I understood why the Boer existed, and why, in his absurd perversity, he rather preferred[Pg 99] existing as he was; and I saw that even I, like other Englishmen, could be subdued to the veldt. The air was crisp and chill; the dawn began to break in a pale olive band in the lower east; the stars were bright overhead; the morning star was even yet resplendent. But these things I had seen on the southern Karroo. It was not my eyes alone that told me the old secret, the same old secret that I had known. I knew then, and at once, as an infinite peace poured over me, that all my senses were required to bring me back to nature, and that one alone was helpless. Now with what I saw came what I heard. I heard the clatter of harness, the jingle of a bell, the low of a cow, the trampling of the mules. And I smelt with rapture, with delight, the complex odours of the farm that sat so solitary in the world; but above all the chill moving odour of the great plain itself. This, or these, made a strange, primitive pleasure that I had known in Australia, in Texas, even in a farm upon the edge of a wild Westmorland moor. My senses informed my intellect. I shook hands with the creatures of the veldt, for I was of their tribe. Even my feet trod the earth pounded by the mules, the horses and the oxen, with a sensation that was new and old.[Pg 100] Why did not spurs jingle on my heels? I felt strong and once more a man. So feels the Boer, and so does he love, but he cannot even try to communicate the incommunicable. For, after all, the secret is like the smell of a flower that few have seen. Its odour is not the odour of the rose, not that of any lily, not that of any herb; it is its own odour only.
What is the difference, then, in those who ride the high Texan plateaux or scour the sage-bush plains of Nevada, or follow sheep or cattle in the salt bush country of the lingering Lachlan? There is much difference; there is little difference; there is no difference. The great difference is racial, the small difference is human, the lack of any difference is animal and primæval. In all alike, in any country where spaces are wide, the child that was the ancestor of the man arises with its truthful unconscious curiosity and faith in Nature. Here it may be that one gallops, here one trots, here again one walks. But all alike pull the bridle and snuff the air and find it good, and see the grass grow or dwindle, and watch the stars and the passing seasons, and find the world very fresh and very sweet and very simple.
To a man who has lived and travelled in the United States of America and the not yet United States of Australia, there is one characteristic of South Africa which is particularly noticeable. It is its oneness as a country. And this oneness is all the more remarkable when we take into consideration its racial and political divisions. A bird's-eye view of America is beyond one; a similar glance at the seaboard of Australia from Rockhampton even round to Albany (which is then only round half its circle) gives me a mental crick in the neck. But in thinking of Africa, south of the Zambesi, there is no such mental difficulty. Even the existence of the Transvaal seemed to me an accident, and, if inevitable, one which Nature herself protests against. Some day South Africa must be federated, but if any politician asks me, "Under[Pg 102] which king, Bezonian, speak or die," I shall elect (in these pages at least) to die.
But though this disunited unity seemed to me a salient feature in cis-Zambesian Africa, it was the differences in that natural ring fence which attracted most of my attention as a story-writer even as a story-writer who so far has only written one tale about it. I began to ask myself how it was that, with one eminent exception, our African fiction writers had confined themselves to the native races, and the friction between these races and white men, Boer or English, when there were infinitely more attractive themes at hand. Perhaps it may seem like begging the question to call the political inter-play of the Cape Colony, of the Transvaal, and the Free State more interesting than tales in which the highest "white" interest appears in a love story betwixt some English wanderer and an impossible Boer maiden, or such as relate the rise and fall of Chaka and Ketchwayo. And yet to me the mass of intrigue, the political friction, the onward march of races, and the conflicts above and below board, called for greater attention than the Zulu, even at his best.
To a novelist (who sometimes pretends to think, however much such an unpopular[Pg 103] tendency be hidden) environment and its necessary results are of infinite interest. Upon the Karroo, even when in the train, I tried to build up the aloof and lonely Boer, and, though I failed, there came to me in whiffs (like far odours borne on a westerly wind) some suggestions that I really understood deep in my mind how he came to be. The chill fresh air of the morning, before the sun was yet above the horizon, recalled to me some ancient dawns in far Australia: and then again I thought of days upon the Texan plateaux. But still the secret of the lone-riding Boer, who loves a country of magnificent distances, escaped me.
But one early dawn, when I was half-way between Krugersdorp and Mafeking, I came out upon the veldt in darkness, which was a lucid darkness, and in the silent crisp air I stumbled upon the truth. Betwixt sleep and waking as I walked I felt infinite peace pour over me. So had the silent Campo Santo at Pisa affected me; so had I felt for a moment among the ancient ruins of the abbey at Rivaulx. In this dawn hour came a time of reversion. I too was very solitary, and loved my solitude. The necessities of civilisation were necessities no more: I needed luxury[Pg 104] even less than I needed news. I cared for nothing that the men of a city ask: there was space before me and room to ride. The lack of small urgent stimuli, the barren growth of civilisation's weedy fields, left me to the great and simple organic impulses of the outstretched world. And in that moment I perceived that this silence is the very life of the wandering Boer, even though he knows it not; for it has sunk so deep into him that he is unaware of it. He belongs not to this age, nor to any age we know.
For one long year, twenty years ago, I lived upon a great plain in Australia, and now I remembered how slowly I had been able to divest myself of my feeling of loneliness. But when I came at last to be at home upon that mighty stretch of earth, which seemed a summit, I grew to love it and to see with opened eyes its infinite charm that could be told to none. I knew that the need of much talk was a false need: as false as the diseased craving for books.
To feel this was true of the widespread wandering folks who once came out of crowded Holland to resume a more ancient type, instructed me in what a false relation they stand to the rolling dun war-cloud of "Progress."[Pg 105] They called in the unreverted Hollander to stand between them and the men of mines, and now they love the Hollander as a man loves a hated cousin, who is a man of his blood, but in nothing like him. But anything was, and is, better than to stand face to face with busy crowds. To have to talk, to argue, to explain to the unsympathetic was overmuch. The veldt called to them: it is their passion. As one labours in London and sinks into a dream, remembering the hills wherein he spends a lonely summer, among Westmorland's fells and by the becks, so the Boer, called cityward, looks back upon the wide and lonely veldt which is never too wide and never lonelier to him than to any of the beasts he loves to hunt.
But the fauna disappear, and ancient civilisations crumble. And those who revert are once more overwhelmed by civilisation. It is a great and pathetic story, a story as old as the tales told in stone by the preserved remnants of prehistoric monsters.
Yet, speaking of monsters, what is a stranger monster (to an eye that hates it or merely wonders) than the many-jointed Rand demon crawling along the line of banked outcrop? I saw it first by day, when it seemed an elongated[Pg 106] wire-drawn Manchester in a pure air, but I remember it best as I saw it when returning from Pretoria. First I beheld the gleam of electric lights, and remembered the glow of Fargo in Eastern Dakota as I saw it across the prairie. Then the mines were no longer separate: they joined together and became like a fiery reptile, a dragon in the outcrop, clawing deep with every joint, wounding the earth with every claw, as a centipede wounds with every poisoned foot. The white residues gleamed beneath the moon, from every smoke stack poured smoke: the dragon breathed. Then the great white cyanide tanks were like bosses on the beast; the train stopped, and the battery roared. That night, for it was a silent and windless night, I heard forty miles of batteries beating on the beach of my mind like a great sea. And men laboured in the bowels of the earth for gold. But out upon the veldt it was very quiet, "quietly shining to the quiet moon." I understood then that it was no wonder if the simple and stolid Dutchman had a peculiar abhorrence for a town, which, even at night, was never at rest. In Johannesburg is neither rest, nor peace, nor any school for nobility of thought; it destroys the pleasures of the simple, and satisfies not the desires of[Pg 107] those whose simplicity is their least striking feature.
Upon the veldt and the Karroo, and even through the Mapani scrub country that lies north of Lobatsi, simplicity is the chief characteristic of the scenery. As I went by Victoria West (I had spent the night talking politics with the civillest Dutchmen) I came in early morning to the first Karroo I had seen. The air was tonic, like an exhilarating wine with some wonderful elixir in it other than alcohol, and though the country reminded me in places of vast plains in New South Wales, it lacked, or seemed to lack, the perpetual brooding melancholy that invests the great Austral island. As I stood on the platform of the car, the sun, not yet risen, gilded level clouds. The light reddened and the gold died: and the sudden sun sparkled like a big star, and heaved a round shoulder up between two of Africa's flat-topped hills, which were yet blue in the far distance. Then the level light of earliest day poured across the plateau, yellow with thin grass, which began to ask for rain. The picture left upon my mind is without detail, and made up of broad masses. Even a railway station, with some few gum trees, and the pinky cloud of peach blossom about the little house, was[Pg 108] excellently simple and homely. A distant farm, with smoke rising beneath the shadow of a little kopje, a band of emerald green, where irrigation sent its flow of water, a thousand sheep with a blanketed Kaffir minding them, filled the eye with satisfaction.
Out of such a country should come simple lives. By the sport of fate the cruellest complexity of politics is to be found there.
And yet who can declare that the environment shall not in time exert its inevitable influence on the busy crowding English, and make them or their sons glad to sit upon their stoeps and smoke and look out upon the veldt with a quiet satisfaction which is unuttered and unutterable? The Karroo and the veldt do not change except according to the seasons; they pour their influences for ever upon those who ride across them as the Drakensberg Mountains send their waters down upon Natal beneath their mighty wall. And even now the busy Englishman complains that his African-born son is lazy and seems more content to live than to be for ever working. Each country exacts a certain amount of energy from those who live there; as one judges from the Boer, the tax is not over heavy.
And as in time to come the great centre of[Pg 109] interest shifts north, as now it seems to shift, one may prophesy with some hope, certainly without dread of such a result, that a more energetic Dutch race, and a less energetic English one, will fuse together, and look back upon their childish quarrels with mere historic interest. Perhaps the Dutch in those times will become the aristocrats, as they have done in New York; they may even see their chance of going for ever out of politics. For they never yet sat down to the political gaming-table gladly.
The first experience I had in regard to gold mining was in Ballarat, when a well-known miner and business man in that pretty town took me round the old alluvial diggings and pointed out the most celebrated claims. These (in 1879) were, of course, deserted or left to an occasional Chinese "fossicker," who rewashed the rejected pay dirt, which occasionally has enough gold in it to satisfy the easily-pleased Mongolian. I went with my friend that same day into the Black Horse Mine, and saw quartz crushing for the first time; but, naturally enough, I took far more interest in the alluvial workings that can be managed by few friends than in operations which required capital and the importation of stamping machinery from England; and Ballarat, rich as it once was for the single miner, is now left to corporations.
One of the strangest features of an old [Pg 111]gold-mining district is its wasted and upturned appearance. The whole of the surrounding country is, as it were, eviscerated. It is all hills and hollows, which shine and glare in the hot sun and look exceedingly desolate. When, in addition, the town itself fails and fades for want of other means of support, and the houses fall into rack and ruin as I have seen in Oregon, the place resembles a disordered room seen in the morning after a gambling debauch. The town is happy which is able to reform and live henceforth on agriculture, as is now the case to a great extent with Ballarat and with Sandhurst, which has discarded its famous name of Bendigo.
To a miner, or indeed to anyone in want of money, as I usually was when knocking about in Australian or American mining districts, the one painful thing is to know where untold quantities of gold lie without being able to get a single pennyweight of it. I remember on more than one occasion sitting on the banks of the Fraser River in British Columbia, or of the Illinois River in Oregon, pondering on the absurdity of my needing a hundred dollars when millions were in front of me under those fast-flowing streams. Those who know nothing about gold countries may ask how I[Pg 112] knew there were millions there. The answer is simple enough. First let me say a few words about one common process of mining.
When it is discovered that there is a certain quantity of gold in the vast deposits of gravel which are found in many places along the Pacific slope, but especially in Oregon and California, water, brought in a "flume" or aqueduct from a higher level, is directed, by means of a pipe and nozzle fixed on a movable stand, against the crumbling bench, which perhaps contains only two or three shillings-worth of gold to the ton. This is washed down into a sluice made of wooden boards, in which "riffles," or pieces of wood, are placed to stop the metal as it flows along in the turbid rush of water. Some amalgamated copper plates are put in suitable places to catch the lighter gold, or else the water which contains it is allowed to run into a more slowly-flowing aqueduct, which gives the finer scales time to settle. This, roughly put, is the hydraulic method of mining which causes so much trouble between the agricultural and mining interests in California; for the finer detritus of this washing, called technically "slickens," fills up the rivers, causes them to overflow and deposit[Pg 113] what is by no means a fertilising material on the pastures of the Golden State.
Now, what man does here in a small way, and with infinite labour and pains, Nature has been doing on a grand scale for unnumbered centuries. Let us, for instance, take the Fraser River and its tributary the Thompson, which is again made up of the North and South Forks, which unite at Kamloops, as the main rivers do at Lytton. The whole of the vast extent of mountainous country drained by these streams is known to be more or less auriferous. Many places, such as Cariboo, are, or were, richly so; and there are few spots in that part which will not yield what miners know as a "colour" of gold—that is, gold just sufficient to see, even if it is not enough to pay for working by our slight human methods. I have been in parts of Oregon where one might get "colour" by pulling up the bunches of grass that grew sparsely on a thin soil which just covered the rocks. But the united volumes of the Fraser and the two Thompsons and all their tributaries have been doing an enormous gold-washing business for a geological period; and all that portion of British Columbia which lies in their basin may be looked upon as similar to the bench of gravel[Pg 114] which is assaulted by the hydraulic miner. And just as the miner makes the broken-down gold-bearing stuff run through his constructed sluices, Nature sends all her gold in a torrent into the natural sluice which is known as the Fraser Cañon.
This cañon, which is cut through the range of mountains known erroneously as the Cascades, is about forty miles long, if we count from Lytton and Yale. In its narrowest part, at Hell Gate, a child may throw a stone across; and its current is tremendous. So rapidly does it run, that no boat can venture upon it, and nothing but a salmon can stem its stream. It is full, too, of whirlpools; and at times the under rush is so strong that the surface appears stationary. What its depth may be it is impossible to tell. But one thing is certain, and that is, that in the cracks and crannies of its rocky bed must be gold in quantities beyond the dreams of a diseased avarice. But is this not all theory? No, it is not. At one part of the river, in the upper cañon, there is a place where the current stayed, and, with a long backward swirl, built up a bar. If you ask an old British Columbian about Boston Bar, he will, perhaps, tell stories which may seem to put Sacramento in the[Pg 115] shade. Yet there will be much truth in them, for there was much gold found on that bar. Again, some years ago, at Black Cañon, on the South Fork of the Thompson, when that clear blue stream was at a low stage, there was a great landslip, which for some eighty minutes dammed back the waters into a lake. The whole country side gathered there with carts and buckets, scraping up the mud and gold from the bottom. Many thousands of dollars were taken out of the dry river bed before the dam gave way to the rising waters. And, if there was gold there, what is there even now in the great main sluice of the vastest natural gold mining concern ever set going, which has never yet since it began indulged in a "cleanup?"
I have been asked sometimes, when speaking about the Fraser and other rivers, which are undoubtedly gold traps, why it was that nobody attempted to turn them. Of course, my questioners were neither engineers nor geographers. Certainly an inspection of the map of British Columbia would show the utter impossibility of such a scheme. To dam the Fraser would be like turning the Amazon. Yet once I do not doubt that it was dammed, and that all the upper country was a vast lake,[Pg 116] until the waters found the way through the Cascades which it has now cut into a cañon. Otherwise I cannot account for the vast benches and terraces which rise along the Thompson. Indeed, the whole of the Dry Belt down to Lytton has the appearance, to an eye only slightly cognisant of geological evidence, of an ancient lacustrine valley.
Yet much work of a similar kind to damming this river has been done in California; and even now there is a company at the great task of turning the Feather River (which is also undoubtedly gold bearing) through a tunnel in order to work a large portion of its bed. Whether they will succeed or not is perhaps doubtful; but if they do, the returns will probably be large, as they would be if anyone were able to turn aside the Illinois in Southern Oregon, or the Rogue River, which has been mining in the Siskiyou Range for untold generations.
I feel certain that all human gold discovering has been a mere nothing; that our methods are only faint and feeble imitations of Nature, and that only by circumventing her shall we be able to reach the richer reward. But by the very vastness of her operations we are [Pg 117]precluded from imitating the sluice robber, who does not work himself, but "cleans up" the rich boxes of some mining company which has undertaken a scheme too large for any one man.
The whole of this vast country—this sea of mountains, as it has very appropriately been called—used practically to belong to the Hudson's Bay Trading Company, and they made more than enough money out of it and its inhabitants. The Indians, though never quite to be trusted, were, and are, not so warlike as their neighbours far to the south of the forty-ninth parallel, such as the Sioux and Apaches, and naturally were so innocent of the value of the furs and skins they brought into the trading ports and forts as to be vilely cheated, in accordance with all the best traditions of white men dealing with ignorant and commercially unsophisticated savages. Guns and rifles being the objects most desired by the Indian, he was made to pay for them, and to pay an almost incredible price, as it seems[Pg 119] to us now, for the company made sure of three or four hundred per cent, at the very least, and occasionally more; so that a ten shilling Birmingham musket brought in several pounds when the pelts for which it was exchanged were sold in the London market.
Their dominion of exclusion passed away with the discovery of gold in Cariboo, and the consequent assumption of direct rule by the Government. The palmy days of mining are looked back on with great regret by the old miners, and many are the stories I have heard by the camp fire or the hotel bar, which explained how it was that the narrator was still poor, and how So-and-so became rich. There were few men who were successful in keeping what they had made by luck or hard work, yet gold dust flew round freely, and provisions were at famine prices. I knew one man who said he had paid forty-two dollars (or nearly nine pounds) for six pills. They were dear but necessary; and as the man who possessed them had a corner in drugs, he was able to name his price. At that time, too, some men made large sums of money by mere physical labour, and for packing food on their backs to the mines[Pg 120] they received a dollar for every pound weight they brought in.
An acquaintance of mine, who is now an hotel-keeper at Kamloops, was a living example of the strange freaks fortune played men in Cariboo. He was offered a share in a mine for nothing, but refused it, and bought into another. Gold was taken out of the first one to the tune of 50,000 dollars, and the other took all the money invested in it and never returned a cent. He was in despair about one mine, and tried to sell out in vain. He was thinking of giving up his share for nothing, when gold was found in quantities. I think he makes more out of whisky, however, than he ever did at Cariboo, though he still hankers after the old exciting times and the prospects of the gold-miner's toast, "Here's a dollar to the pan, the bed-rock pitching, and the gravel turning blue."
Nowadays there are still plenty of men who traverse the country in all directions looking for new finds. They are called "prospectors," and go about with a pony packed with a pick, a shovel, and a few necessaries, hunting chiefly for quartz veins, and they talk of nothing but "quartz," "bed-rock," "leads," gold and silver,[Pg 121] and so many ounces to the ton. It is now many years ago since I was working on a small cattle ranch in the Kamloops district, when one of these men, a tall, grey-haired old fellow named Patterson, came by. My employer knew him, and asked him to stay. He bored us to death the whole evening, and showed innumerable specimens, which truly were not very promising, as it seemed to us. His great contempt for farming was very characteristic of the species. "What's a few head of rowdy steers?" asked Mr Patterson; "why, any day I might strike ten thousand dollars." "Yes," I answered mischievously; "and any day you mightn't." He turned and glared at me, demanding what I knew about mining. "Not a great deal," said I; "but I have seen mining here and in Australia, and for one that makes anything a hundred die dead broke." "Well," he replied, scornfully "I'd rather die that way than go ploughing, and I tell you I know where there is money to be made. Just wait till I can get hold of a capitalist."
That is another of the poor prospector's stock cries; but as a general rule capitalists are wary, and don't invest in such "wild cat" speculations.
Next morning Mr Patterson proposed that[Pg 122] I should go along with him and he would make my fortune. "What at?" said I. "Quartz mining?" "Not this time," was his answer; "it's placer" (alluvial). I was not in the least particular then what I did if I could only get good wages, so I wanted to know what he proposed giving me. "Bed-rock wages," said he. Now that means good money if a strike is made, and nothing if it is not. So I shook my head, and he turned away, leaving me to wallow in the mire of contemptible security. I can hardly doubt that he will be one day found dead in the mountains, and that his Eldorado will be but oblivion.
Just as I was about to leave British Columbia for Washington Territory there were very good reports of the new Similkameen diggings, and for the first and only time in my life I was very nearly taking the gold fever. But though I saw much of the gold that had been taken out of the creek, I managed to restrain myself, and was glad of it afterwards, when I learned from a friend of mine in town that very few had made anything out of it, and that most had returned to New Westminster penniless and in rags.
Railroads and modern progress are nowadays civilising the country to a great extent,[Pg 123] though I am by no means sure that civilisation is a good thing in itself. However, manners are much better than they used to be in the old times, and it might be hard now to find an instance of ignorance parallel to one which my friend Mr H. told me. It appears that a dinner was to be given in the earlier days to some great official from England, and an English lady, who knew how such things should be done, was appointed manager. She determined that everything should be in good style, and ordered even such extravagant and unknown luxuries as napkins and finger-glasses. Among those who sat at the well-appointed table were miners, cattle-men, and so on, and one of them on sitting down took up his finger-bowl, and saying, "By golly, I'm thirsty," emptied it at a draught. Then, to add horror on horror, he trumpeted loudly in his napkin and put it in his breast pocket.
The progress of civilisation, however, destroys the Indians and their virtues. One Indian woman, who was married to a friend of mine—and a remarkably intelligent woman she was—one day remarked to me that before white men came into the country the women of her tribe (she was a Ptsean) were good and modest but that now that was all[Pg 124] gone. It is true enough. This same woman was remarkable among the general run of her class, and spoke very good English, being capable of making a joke too. A half-bred Indian, working for her husband, one day spoke contemptuously of his mother's tribe, and Mrs ——, being a full-blooded Indian, did not like it. She asked him if he was an American, and, after overwhelming him with sarcasm, turned him out of doors.
As a matter of fact, most of the Indians are demoralised, especially those who live in or near the towns, and they live in a state of degradation and perpetual debauchery. Though it is a legal offence to supply them with liquor, they nevertheless manage to get drunk at all times and seasons. When they work they are not to be relied on to continue at it steadily, and when drunk they are only too often dangerous. Their type of face is often very low, and I never saw but one handsome man among the half-breeds, though the women, especially the Hydahs, are passable in looks. This man was a pilot, and a good one, on the lakes; but he was perpetually being discharged for drunkenness.
The lake and river steamboats are not always safe to be in, and some of the pilotage and[Pg 125] engineering is reckless in the extreme. The captains are too often given to drink overmuch, and when an intoxicated man is at the wheel in a river full of the natural dangers of bars and snags, and those incident on a tremendous current, the situation often becomes exciting. I was once on the Fraser River in a steamer whose boiler was certified to bear 80 lb. of steam and no more. We were coming to a "riffle," or rapid, where the stream ran very fiercely, with great swirls and waves in it, and the captain sang out to the engineer, "How much steam have you, Jack?" "Eighty," answered Jack.
"Fire up, fire up!" said the captain, as he jammed the tiller over; "we shall never make the riffle on that."
The firemen went to work, and threw in more wood, and presently we approached the rapid. The captain leant out of the pilot house.
"Give it her, Jack," he yelled excitedly.
The answer given by Jack scared me, for I knew quite well what she ought to bear.
"There's a hundred and twenty on her now!"
"Well, maybe it will do;" and the captain's head retreated.
On we went, slowly crawling and fighting against the swift stream which tore by us. We got about half-way up, and we gradually stayed in one position, and even went back a trifle. The captain yelled and shouted for more steam yet, and then I retreated as far as I could, and sat on the taffrail, to be as far as possible from the boiler, which I believed would explode every moment. But Jack obeyed orders, and rammed and raked at the fires until the gauge showed 160 lb., and we got over at last. But I confess I did feel nervous.
This happened about ten miles below Yale, and at that very spot the tiller-ropes of the same boat once parted, and they had to let her drift. Fortunately, she hung for a few moments in an eddy behind a big rock until they spliced them again; but it was a close call with everyone on board. A steamer once blew up there, and most of the crew and passengers were killed outright or drowned.
Above Yale the river is not navigable until Savona's Ferry is reached. That is on the Kamloops Lake, and thence east up the Thompson and the lakes there is navigation to Spallamacheen. Once the owners of the Peerless ran her from Savona down to Cook's Ferry, just in order to see if it could be done.[Pg 127] The down-stream trip was done in three hours, but it took three weeks to get her back again, and then her progress had to be aided with ropes from the shore; so it was not deemed advisable to make the trip regularly.
As for the river in the main Fraser cañon, it is nothing more nor less than a perfect hell of waters; and though Mr Onderdonk, who had the lower British Columbia contract for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, built a boat to run on it, the first time the Skuzzy let go of the bank she ran ashore. She was taken to pieces and rebuilt on the lakes. The railroad people wanted her at first on the lower river, and asked a Mr Moore, who is well known as a daring steamboatman, to take her down. He said he would undertake it, but demanded so high a fee, including a thousand dollars for his wife if he was drowned, that his offer was refused. Yet it was well worth almost any money, for it would have been a very hazardous undertaking—as bad as, or even worse than, the Maid of the Mist going through the rapids below Niagara.
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[Pg 129] 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,[Pg 130] 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.[Pg 131] 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.
If few of our caricaturists have done Mr Kruger justice, they have seldom been entirely unjust. He is heavy and ungainly, and though his face is strong it is utterly uncultivated. He wears dark spectacles, and smokes a long pipe, and uses a great spittoon, and in using it does not always attain that accuracy of marksmanship supposed to be characteristic of the Boer. His whiskers are untrimmed, his hands are not quite clean; his clothes were probably never[Pg 132] intended to fit him. And yet, in spite of everything, he has some of that dignity which comes from strength and a long habit of getting his own way. But the dignity is not the dignity of the statesman, it is that dignity which is sometimes seen under the blouse of an old French peasant who still remains the head of the family though his hands are past work. I felt face to face with the past as I sat opposite him. So might I have felt had I sat in the kraal of Moshesh or Lobengula or the great Msiligazi. Though the city about me was a modern city, and though quick-firers crowned its heights, here before me was something that was passing away. But I considered my audience, and told the President and his listening Boers that I was glad to meet a man who had stood up against the British Empire without fear. And he replied, as he puffed at his pipe, that he had doubtless only done so because he was a simpleton. And the Boers chuckled at their President's favourite joke. He added that if he had been a wise man of forethought he would probably have never done it. And so far perhaps he was right. All rulers of any strength have to rely rather on instinct than on the wisdom of the intellect.
Then we talked about Johannesburg, and[Pg 133] the President puffed smoke against the capitalists, and led me to infer that he considered them a very scandalous lot, against whom he was struggling in the interests of the shareholders. I disclaimed any sympathy with capitalists, and declared that I was theoretically a Socialist. The President grunted, but when I added that he might, so far as I cared, act the Nero and cut off all the financial heads at one blow, he and his countrymen laughed at a conceit which evidently appealed to them. But his Honour relapsed again into a grunt when I inquired what he considered must be the upshot of the agitation. On pressing him, he replied that he was not a prophet. I tried to draw him on the loyalty of the Cape Dutch by saying that they had even more reason to be loyal than the English, seeing that if England were ousted from the Continent the Germans would come in; but he evaded the question at issue by asserting that if the Cape Dutch intrigued against the Queen he would neither aid nor countenance them. Then, as the conversation seemed in danger of languishing, I did what I had been told to do and mentioned Rhodes.
It was odd to observe the instant change in the President's demeanour. He lost his[Pg 134] stolidity, and became voluble and emphatic. Rhodes was evidently his sore point; and he abused him with fervour and with emphasis. All trouble in this wicked world was due to Rhodes; if Rhodes had not been born, or had had the grace to die very early, South Africa would have been little less than a Paradise. Rhodes was a bad man, whose chief aim was to drag the English flag in the dirt. Rhodes was Apollyon and a financier, and the foul fiend himself. And as the old man worked himself into a spluttering rage, he emphasised every point in his declamation by a furious slap, not on his own knee, but on the knee of the journalist who was interpreting for me. Every time that heavy hand came down I saw poor W—— wince; he was shaken to his foundations. But he endured the punishment like a martyr, and said nothing. I dropped ice into the President's boiling mind by asking him if he thought it would remove danger from the situation if Mr Rhodes and Mr Chamberlain were effectually muzzled by the Imperial Government. His peasant-like caution instantly returned; he smoked steadily for a minute, and then declared he would say nothing on that point. It was not necessary; he had showed, without the shadow of a doubt, that he was an[Pg 135] old man who was, in a sense, insane on one point. Rhodes was his fixed pathological idea. This Tenterden steeple was the cause of the revolutionary Goodwin Sands.
As a last question about the Cape Dutch, I asked if, when he declared he would not aid them against the Queen, he would act against them; he replied denying in general terms the right to revolt. I said, "But the right of revolution is the final safeguard of liberty"; and his Honour did nothing but grunt. From his point of view he could neither deny nor affirm this safely, and so our interview came to an end.
At that time I acknowledge that trout-fishing as a real art I knew nothing of; whipping English waters had been almost entirely denied me, and with the exception of a week on a river near Oswestry, and a day in Cornwall, I had never thrown a fly over a pool where a trout might reasonably be supposed to exist. But in British Columbia I used to catch them in quantities and with an ease unknown to Englishmen. I am told (by an expert) that using a grasshopper as a bait is no better than poaching, and that I might as well take to the nefarious "white line," or Cocculus indicus. That may be so according to the deeper ethics of the sport, but I am inclined to think many men would have no desire to fish at all after going through the preliminary task of filling a small tin can with those lively insects.
Owing to the fact that I was working for my living on a ranch at Cherry Creek, I had no chance of fishing on week-days, but on Sundays, after breakfast, I used to take my primitive willow rod from the roof, where it had been for six days, see that the ten or twelve feet of string was as sound at least as my frayed yard of gut, examine my hook, and then start hunting grasshoppers. That meant a deal of violent exercise, especially if the wind was blowing, for they fly down it or are driven down it with sufficient velocity to make a man run. Moreover, near the ranche they were mostly of a very surprising alertness, owing, doubtless, to the fact that the fowls, in their eagerness to support Darwin's theory of natural selection, soon picked up the slow and lazy ones. But after an hour's hard work I usually got some fifty or so, and that would last for a whole day, or at anyrate for a whole afternoon. Then I went to the creek, fishing up it and down it with a democratic disregard of authority.
Cherry Creek was only a small stream; here and there it rattled over rocks, and stayed in a deep pool. Now and again it ran as fast as the water in a narrow flume; and then the banks grew cañon-like for fifty[Pg 138] yards. But for almost the whole of its length it went through dense brush, so dense in parts that it defied anyone but a bear to get through it. But when I did reach a secluded pool and manage to thrust my rod out over the water and slowly unwind my bait, I was almost always rewarded by a lively mountain trout as long as my hand, for they never ran over six inches. The grasshopper was absolutely deadly; no fish seemed able to resist it, and sometimes in ten minutes I took six, or even ten, out of a pool as big as an ordinary dining-room table. The fact of the matter is that the greatest difficulty lay in getting to the water. When I fished up stream into the narrow gorge through which the creek ran, I often walked four or five miles before I got the small tin bucket, which was my creel, half full; yet I knew that if I could have really fished five hundred yards of it I might have gone home with a full catch.
But it was not so much the fishing as the strange solitude, the thick, lonely brush, that made such excursions pleasant. Every now and again I came to a spur of the mountains, and climbed up into the open and lay among the red barked bull-pines. If I went a little[Pg 139] higher I could catch sight of the dun-coloured hills which ran down, as I knew, to the waters of Kamloops Lake, only five miles distant. If I felt hungry, I could easily light a fire and broil the trout; with a bit of bread, carried in my pocket, and a draught from a spring or the creek itself, I made a hearty meal. And all day long I saw no human being. Every now and again I might come across a half-wild bullock or a wilder horse, or see the track of a wolf, but that was all, save the song of the birds, the wind among the trees, and the ceaseless murmurs of the creek. In the evening I made my way back in time to give the cook what I had caught.
In California I used to fish in the small creek running at the back of Los Guilucos Ranch, Sonoma County, and, though the trout were by no means so plentiful there as in British Columbia, I often caught two or three dozen in the afternoon. But there I had to use worms, and they seemed far less attractive than the soft, sweet body of the grasshopper. Yet once I caught a very large fish for that part of the country. He was evidently a fish with a history, as I caught him in a big tank sunk in the earth, which supplied the ranch, and was itself[Pg 140] supplied by a long flume. As I went home past this tank one day I carelessly dropped the bait in, and it was instantly seized by a trout I knew to be larger than I had yet hooked. But, though he was big, he had very little chance. The smooth sides of the tank afforded him no hole to rush for, and, after a short struggle, I hauled him out. My only fear was that my rotten line would part, for he weighed almost a pound, and I was accustomed to fish of less than seven ounces.
I often wondered in British Columbia why so few people fished. In some of the creeks running into the Fraser River, near Yale, I have seen splendid trout of two or three pounds; there would be a dozen in sight at once very often. They always seemed in good condition, too, which was more than could be said for the salmon, for those were half of them very white with the fungus, as one could easily see on the Kamloops or Shushwap Lakes from the bows of the steamer if the water was smooth.
Perhaps the reason there are no trout-fishers out there is that those who care sufficiently for any kind of sport find it[Pg 141] more to their taste to hunt deer, bear or cariboo. When these have disappeared, as they must, seeing the ruthless manner in which they are slaughtered, many may be glad to take to the milder and less ferocious trout. The country certainly affords very good fishing, and the spring and summer climate is perfect. If it were only a little nearer they might be properly educated, until they were far too wary to fall into the simple traps laid for them by a man who fished with a piece of string and carried a bucket for a creel. It may have been my brutal ignorance of tying flies, but when I tried them with what I could furbish up, they seemed to resent the thing as an insult. So there seems some hope of their being capable of instruction.
When I went to New York in the spring I meant going on farther whether I could or not. Australia and home again was in my mind, and in New York slang I swore there should be "blood on the face of the moon" if I did not get through inside of four months. Now this is not record time by any means, and it is not difficult to do it in much less, provided one spends enough money; but I was at that time in no position to sling dollars about, and, besides, I wanted some of the English rust knocked off me. Living in England ends in making a man poor of resource. I hardly know an ordinary Londoner who would not shiver at the notion of being "dead broke" in any foreign city, to say nothing of one on the other side of the world; and though it is not a pleasant experience it has some charms and many uses. It wakes a man up, shows him the real world again, and makes him know his own value once more. So I started for New[Pg 143] York in rather a devil-may-care spirit, without the slightest chance of doing the business in comfort. And my misfortunes began at once in that city.
To save time and money I went in the first quick vessel that crossed—the Lucania; and I went second-class. It was an experience to run twenty-two knots an hour; but it has made me greedy since. I want to do any future journeys in a torpedo-boat. As to the second-class crowd, they were, as they always are on board Western ocean boats, a set of hogs. The difference between first and second-class passengers is one of knowing when and where to spit, to put no fine point on it. I was glad when we reached New York on that account.
I meant to stay there three days, but my business took me a fortnight, and money flowed like water. It soaked up dollars like a new gold mine, and I saw what I meant for the Eastern journey sink like water in sand. But I had to get to San Francisco. I took that journey in sections. All my trouble in New York was to get across the continent. I let the Pacific take care of itself, being sure I could conquer that difficulty when the time came. I recommend this frame of mind to all[Pg 144] travellers. I acquired the habit myself in the United States when I jumped trains instead of paying my fare. It is most useful to think of no more than the matter in hand, for then we can use one's whole faculties at one time. Too much forethought is fatal to progress, and if I had really considered difficulties I could have stayed in England and written a story instead, a most loathsome pis aller.
I do not mean to say that I was without money. All I do mean is that I had less than half that I should have had, unless I meant to cross the continent as a tramp in a "side-door Pullman," as the tramping fraternity call a box car, and the Pacific in the steerage. As a matter of fact, I proposed to do neither. I wanted a free pass over one of the American railroads, and if there had been time I should have got it. I tackled the agents, and "struck" them for a pass. I assured them that I was a person of illimitable influence, and that if I rode over their system, and simply mentioned the fact casually on my return, all Europe would follow me. I insinuated that their traffic returns would rise to heights unheard of: that their rivals would smash and go into the hands of receivers. It was indeed a beautiful, beautiful game, and reminded one of poker,[Pg 145] but the railroad birds sat on the bough, and wouldn't come down. They are not so easy as they used to be, and I had so little time to work it. Then the last of the cheap trains to the San Francisco Midwater Fair were running, and if I played too long for a pass and got euchred after all, I should have to pay ninety dollars instead of forty-five. Then I should be the very sickest sort of traveller that ever was. In the end I bought a cheap ticket on the very last cheap train. By the very next post I got a pass over one of the lines. It made me very mad, and if I had been wise I should have sold it. I am very glad to say I withstood the temptation, and kept the pass as a warning not to hurry in future. I started out of New York with twenty-two pounds in my pocket. For I had found a beautiful, trustful New Yorker, who cashed me a cheque for fifteen pounds with a child-like and simple faith which was not unrewarded in the end.
My affairs stood thus. I had to stay in San Francisco for a fortnight till the next steamer, and as I have said even a steerage fare to Sydney was twenty pounds. I had two pounds to see me through the transcontinental journey of nearly five days and the time in the city of the Pacific slope. I looked for hard times and[Pg 146] some rustling to get through it all. I had to rustle.
As a beginning of hard times I could not afford to take a sleeper. I was on the fast West-bound express, and the emigrant sleepers are on the slow train, which takes nearly two days more. The high-toned Pullman was quite beyond me, so I stuck to the ordinary cars and put in a mighty rough time. After twenty-four hours of the Lehigh Valley Road, which runs into Canada, I came to Chicago. There I had to do a shift from one station to another, and after half-an-hour's jolting I was landed at the depôt of the Chicago and North-Western Railroad. I hated Chicago always; I had starved in it once, and slept in a box car in the old days. And now I didn't love it. I tried to get a wash at the station, for I was like a buried city with dust and cinders.
"There used to be a wash-place here a year or two back," said a friendly porter, "but it didn't pay and was abolished."
Of course they only cared about the money. The comfort of passengers mattered little. This porter took me down into a rat-and-beetle-haunted basement, and gave me soap and a clean towel. I sluiced off the mud, and discovered somebody underneath that at anyrate[Pg 147] reminded me of myself, and hunted for the porter to hand him twenty-five cents. But he had gone, and the train was ready. I had to save the money and run.
From thence on I had no good sleep. I huddled up in the narrow seats with no room to stretch or lie down. Once I tried to take up the cushions and put them crossways, but I found them fixed, and the conductor grinned.
"You can't do it now; they're fixed different," he said.
So I grunted, and was twisted and racked and contorted. In the morning I knew well that I was no longer twenty-five. Twelve years ago it wouldn't have mattered, I could have hung it out on a fence rail, but when one nears forty one tries a bit after ordinary comforts, and pays for such a racket in aches and pains, and a temper with a wire edge on it. But I chummed in after Ogden with a young school ma'am from Wisconsin who was going out to Los Angeles, and we had quite a good time. She assured me I must be lying when I said I was an Englishman, because I did not drop my H's. All the Englishmen she ever met had apparently known as much about the aspirate as the later Greeks did of the Digamma. This cheered me up greatly, and[Pg 148] we were firm friends. In fact, I woke up in the Sierras and found her fast asleep with her head on my shoulder. It was an odd picture that swaying car at midnight in the lofty hills. Most of the passengers were sleeping uneasily in constrained attitudes, but some sat at the open windows staring at the moon-lit mountains and forests. The dull oil lights in the car were dim, so dim that I could see white sleeping faces hanging over the seats disconnected from any discoverable body. Some looked like death masks, and then next to them would be the elevated feet of some far-stretching person who had tried all ways for ease. It was a blessing to come to the divide and run down into the daylight and the plains. Yet even there, there was something ghastly with us. At Reno a young fellow, trying to beat his way, had jumped for the brake-beam under our car and been cut to pieces. He died silently, and few knew it. I was glad to get to San Francisco. I went to a third-class hotel on Ellis Street, and had a bath, which I most sorely needed. I went out to inspect the city.
It looked the same as when I knew it, and yet it was altered. The gigantic architectural horrors of New York and Chicago had leapt to[Pg 149] the Pacific, and here and there ten or twelve-storied buildings thrust their monotonous ugliness into the sky.
In this city I had starved for three solid months, picking up a meal where I could find it. I had been without a bed for three weeks. I had shared begged food with beggars. Now I came back to it under far different circumstances. I walked in the afternoon to some of my old haunts, and, coming to the hideous den of a common lodging-house where I had once lived, my flesh crept. I remembered that once the agent for a directory had put down "Charles Roberts, labourer," as living there and I tried to get back into my old skin. For a while I succeeded, but the experiment was horrible, and I was glad to drop the dead past and leave the grimy water front where I had looked and looked in vain for work.
For a week I stayed in San Francisco. Then I had an experience which falls to few men, for I went to stay as a visitor at Los Guilucos, where I had once been a stableman. The situation was interesting, for there were still many men in the ranch who had worked with me; even the Chinese cook was there. In the old days he had often appealed to me for more wood to give his devouring dragon of[Pg 150] a stove. But things were altered now. On the first morning of my stay I saw the wood pile, and could not help taking my coat off and lighting into it with the axe. The Chinaman came running out with uplifted hands.
"Oh, Mr Loberts, Mr Loberts, you no splittee me wood, you too much welly kind gentleman, you no splittee me wood!"
So things change, but I split him a barrow load all the same.
I was sorry to leave the ranch and go back to San Francisco, where nine men out of ten in all degrees of society are much too disagreeable for words. The only really decent fellows I met there were a Frenchman and a young mining engineer named Brandt, son of Dr Brandt, at Royat, who was once R. L. Stevenson's physician; and above all an Irish surveyor and architect, the most charming and genial of men. The Californians themselves are less worth knowing as they appear to have money; the moment they begin to fancy themselves a cut above the vulgar, their vulgarity is their chief feature, stupendous as the Rocky Mountains, as obvious as the Grand Duke of Johannisberg's nose. But I had other things to think of than the social parodies of the Slope.
I found at the Poste Restante a letter from my agent, which was a frank statement of misfortune and ill-luck. There was not a red cent in it, and I had only a hundred dollars left. This was just enough to pay my steerage fare to Sydney, but I had still some days to put in and there was my hotel bill. I concluded I had to make money somehow. I tried one of the papers, but though the editor willingly agreed to accept a long article from me, dealing with my old life in San Francisco from my new standpoint, his best scale of pay was so poor that I frankly declined to wet a pen for it. Journalistic rates in the East seem about three times as high as in the West.
I went to a man in the town who was under considerable obligations to me for holding my tongue about a certain transaction, and asked him to cash a cheque for a hundred dollars. He refused point-blank. I never regretted so in my life that there are things one can't do and still retain one's self-respect. I could, I know, have sold some information to his greatest enemy for a very considerable sum. I was, indeed, approached on the point. However, I couldn't do it, worse luck, so I washed my hands of this gentleman, and went to a comparatively poor man, who helped me[Pg 152] over the fence. Even if I had no luck I could still go steerage. But I meant going first-class. And I did. If I had put up my ante I meant staying with the game.
For a day after my agent's letter came a letter from a shipping friend in Liverpool. I had been "previous" enough to write him from New York for a good introduction in San Francisco. He sent me a letter to an old friend of his who occupied a pretty important post in the city, one as important, let us say, as that of a Chief of Customs. I laughed when I saw the letter, for I knew if I could make myself solid with this gentleman I had the San Franciscan folks where their hair was short. It's a case of give or take there, sell or be sold, commercial honesty is good as long as it pays. I whistled and sang, and took a cocktail on the strength of it.
In these little commonplace adventures I had some luck. That I have written many articles on steamships has often helped me in travel, and it helped me now. It was an unexpected stroke of fortune that the gentleman to whom I took the letter was not only an extremely good sort, but when I learnt that he knew my name, and had seen some of my work, I found it was all right. I was not only[Pg 153] all right, for inside of an hour I had a first-class ticket to Sydney, with a deck cabin thrown in, for the very reasonable sum of one hundred dollars. I have a suspicion that I might have got it for less, but I have found it a good business rule never to lose a good thing by trying for a better. I had accommodation equal to two hundred and twenty-five dollars. Of course, I regretted I dare not ask them one hundred dollars for condescending to go in their boat. If I had been full of money I might have tried it. However, I was quite happy and satisfied. That I might land in Sydney with nothing did not trouble me. Three days after I went on board the steamer, and was seen off by my friend the Irishman and one other.
I had never sailed on the Pacific, or at least that part of it, before, and its wonders were strange to me. I had not seen coral islands, nor cocoanuts growing. It grieved me that I could not afford to stay in Honolulu and visit Kilauea. I only remained some hours, which I spent in prowling about the town, which is like a tenth-rate city in America. And the business American has his claw into it for good. The Hawaiians, in truth, seem to care little. They go blithely in the streets crowned and[Pg 154] garlanded with flowers, and even the leprosy that strikes one now and again with worse than living death seems far away.
On board the Monowai, most comfortable of ships, commanded by Captain Carey, best of skippers, life was easy and delightful. Our one romance was between San Francisco and the Islands, for an individual, with most incredible cheek, managed to go first-class from California almost to Honolulu without a ticket. Two days from the Islands he was bowled out, and set to shovel coals. We left him in gaol at Honolulu, and steamed south of Samoa.
It was good to be at last in the tropics, deep into them, and to wear white all day and feel the heat tempered by the Trades. We played games and sang and lazed and loafed, and life had no troubles. Why should I think of future difficulties when there were none at hand, and the weather was lovely? We ran at last into Apia, the harbour of Upolu, the island where the late Robert Louis Stevenson lived. I rushed ashore, met him, spent three more than pleasant hours with him, and away again round the island reefs with our noses pointed for Auckland.
Some of our passengers had left us at[Pg 155] Honolulu, others dropped off at Samoa, but after Auckland, when the weather grew quite cold, we were a thin little band, and our spirits oozed away. We could not keep things lively, the decks seemed empty, I was glad to run into Sydney harbour. I found I had just enough money to get to Melbourne if I went at once, so I caught the mail train and soon smelt the Australian bush that I had left in 1878. On reaching Melbourne at mid-day I had fifteen shillings left. Dumping my baggage at the station, I hunted up my chief friend, a journalist. The very first thing he handed me was a cablegram demanding my instant return to England. My rage can be imagined; it would take strong language to describe it, for I had meant to stay in Australia for a year, and write a book about it from another standpoint than Land Travel and Seafaring.
I hadn't even enough money to live anywhere. I couldn't cable for any, for if my instructions had been obeyed, all available cash was now on its way to me, when I couldn't wait for it. I talked it over with my friend.
"Have you no money?" I asked, but then I knew he had none.
"Nobody has any money in Australia," he answered. "If it is known you have a[Pg 156] sovereign in cash you will be pestered in Collins Square by millionaires, whose wealth is locked up in moribund banks, for mere half-crowns as a temporary accommodation."
I pondered a while.
"I have a plan whereby we may get a trifle in the meantime. You can write a long interview with me and I will take the money. Sit down and don't move."
He remonstrated feebly.
"My dear fellow, why not do it yourself?"
"It would be taking a mean advantage of other writers," I said. "Besides, I'm in no mood to write."
Overcome by my generosity, he at last wrote a column and a half. I shall always treasure that interview, for when he tired I dictated some of it myself. The only thing I really objected to was his determination not to let me say what I meant to say about the Australian financial outlook. Under the circumstance of the failure of credit, the matter touched me deeply, and was a personal grievance. But he persisted that if I were too pessimistic the article would never see type, and I couldn't have the money. I gave way, and condescended to have hopes about Australia. But[Pg 157] even when I got his cheque I was not much further forward.
I went to my banker's agents and asked them to cash a cheque. Would I pay for a cable home and out? No I would not, because I didn't know whether my account was overdrawn or not. All I knew was that if they would cash a cheque I would telegraph from Port Said or Naples and see it was met. So that failed. I tried Cook's, who had cashed cheques for me on the Continent. They also spoke of cabling. I explained matters, but they had no faith. Nobody had.
I began to think I would have to work my passage, for I was determined to get away inside of two weeks or perish. I looked up the vessels in port in case I might know some of them. They were all strangers. In such cases, unless one is in a hurry such as I was, for my return was urgent, it is best to tackle some cargo boat. It is often possible to get a passage for a quarter the mail-boat fare, for the tramp steamer's captain looks on the fare as his own and never mentions passengers to the owner. But I couldn't wait for a good old tramp, and at last, in despair, my friend and a friend of his and I clubbed everything together that was valuable and raised a fare to Naples[Pg 158] on the proceeds. I left Melbourne after ten days' stay there. We lay at Adelaide two days, and got to Albany in a howling gale of wind. Leaving it we got a worse snorter round Cape Leeuwin. But after that things improved till we caught the south-west monsoon, which blew half a gale, and was like the breath of a furnace. We reached Colombo, and I had no money to spend. I raised five pounds on a cheque with the steward and spent the whole of it in rickshaws and carriages. I saw what one could in the time, for I breakfasted at one place, lunched at another, dined at a third. I mean one of these days to spend a week or two at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo. At Mount Lavinia I got the one dinner of my life. I cordially recommend the cooking.
We ran to Cape Guardafui in a gale, a sticky hot gale which made life unendurable. The Red Sea was a relief and not too hot, but how we pitied the poor devils quartered at Perim, and the lighthouses seen at the Two Brothers. I would as soon camp for ever on the lee side of Tophet. But my first trip through the Canal was charming. At night, when the vessel's search-light threw its glare on the banks, the white sand looked like snow-drifts.[Pg 159] In the day the far-off deserts were a dream of red sands, and red sand mingled with the horizon. At last we came to the Mediterranean and I landed at Naples. The driver of my carrozzella took my last money, so I put up at a good hotel and wired to England at the hotel-keeper's expense. I went overland to London, and was back there in four days under four months from the time I started from New York.
There are scores of people—I meet them every day—who are in a constant state of yearn to do a bit of travelling. They say they envy me. But it is not money they want, it is courage. It will interest some of them to know what it can be done for. I will put down what it usually costs. A first-class ticket from London viâ New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Melbourne, Colombo, the Suez, Naples, Gibraltar and Plymouth will run to £125, without including the cost of sleeping-car accommodation and food in the American trans-continental journey. If he stays anywhere it is a mighty knowing and economical traveller who gets off under £200 or £250 by the time he turns up in London.
Now as to what it cost me when I meant doing it moderately. It cost £8 to New York.[Pg 160] Owing to business in New York I stayed there a fortnight, and it cost me $4 a day, say £11. The journey to San Francisco ran to £12 including provisions. The Pacific voyage was £22 in all. The fare from Sydney to Melbourne for ocean passengers is £2. 1s. 6d. To Naples I paid £32. Another £12 brought me to London. This runs up to £99.
If I had not been in a hurry I could have done the homeward part for less. If I had been twenty-five I would have gone steerage. But with time to spare for looking up a tramp I might have easily got to London as the only passenger for £20. If I had not stayed in New York and had had the time I could have cut expenses to £70.
But any young man, writer or not, who wants to see a bit of the world, can do it on that if he has the grit to rough it. He can cut the Atlantic journey to £3, and learn some things he never knew while doing it. I can put anyone up to crossing America for £15 at any time. But if he spends £20 he can see Niagara, the work of God, and Chicago, the chef d'œuvre of the Devil. The Pacific can be done for £20 steerage; and he can stay in Australia a month for £10, and a year for £20 if he knows what I know. The steerage fare home[Pg 161] is £16. I fancy it would be the best investment that any young fellow could make. He would learn more of what life is than the world of London would teach him in the ordinary grooves in ten years.
On Los Guilucos Ranch, Sonoma County, California, where I worked for six months in 1886, there was a very large orchard. I know how large it was on account of having to do much too much work with the apricots, plums and cherries; and day by day, as one fruit or the other ripened, I cursed the capable climate of the Pacific slope, which produced so largely. Fortunately, however, the lady who owned the ranch did not trouble her head greatly about the almonds, of which we had a very fine double avenue. For one thing, the crop in 1886 was not very heavy, and there was no great price to be got at any time. I and the Italian vine-dressers (there were some eight or nine of them) always had sufficient to fill our pockets with, and that without the labour of picking them up. We reserved the avenues themselves for Sunday,[Pg 163] and cracked the fallen fruit with two stones as we sat on the ground; but for solid consumption, not mere dessert, we went elsewhere. I remember my astonishment when I discovered in what manner my companions supplied themselves. One day, while standing by the gate which led from the stableyard, an Italian, with the romantic name of Luigi Zanoni, remarked suddenly that he would like some almonds. He looked up at the tree overhead, which was an old oak with gnarled limbs, here and there broken and rotting. "Not out of an oak tree," I laughed; and then Luigi went to the wood pile and brought my sharpest axe back with him. He jumped on the fence, then into the tree, and in a moment was over my head on a big limb. Seeing him there, two or three other Italians came up. Zanoni walked about the level branches, tapping with the back of the axe. Presently he stopped, and began cutting into the tree vigorously. Just there it was apparently hollow, for with five or six blows he struck out a big bit of shell-like bark and let fall a tremendous shower of almonds. Then he sat down, and, putting his hand into the hollow, raked them out wholesale. Probably he scattered two gallons on the ground,[Pg 164] for while we scrambled for them they were falling in a shower. Henceforth I, too, could find almonds, and I prospected every likely-looking oak or madrona within three hundred yards of the avenue—sometimes with great success, sometimes with none. It was quite as fluky as gold mining or honey hunting.
Of course birds had made these stores; probably the jays and magpies, who yet retained an instinct which had become useless. With the equable climate and mild open winters of Central California, no bird need store up food; and this was shown by the great accumulations which had never been touched. Moreover, nuts were often put in holes that were inaccessible to so large a bird as a jay. So necessity has never corrected the failings of instinct by making a jay wonder, in the depths of winter, why he had been fool enough to drop his savings into a bank with the conscience of an ill-regulated automatic machine, which takes everything and gives nothing back. If he had really needed the almonds, they would have been put in an accessible spot. Though this perhaps is a scientific view, I must acknowledge that we were grateful to the birds who stored them for us, and, by making fools of themselves,[Pg 165] gave us the opportunity of gathering, if not grapes from thistles, at least almonds from oaks.
Although I do not remember having seen any instances in California of the woodpecker which bores holes in trees and then neatly fits an acorn in, I have serious doubts as to the likelihood of the explanation commonly given. It is said the woodpeckers do it to encourage grubs—that they thus make a kind of grub farm. If so, why do they leave these acorns in? They do not perpetually renew them. Besides, there is no more need for them to trouble about the future than there is for the jays who made our almond stores. If I may venture to suggest an explanation—to make a guess, perhaps a wild one, at this acorn mystery—is it altogether impossible that the woodpeckers have imitated the jays? I have noticed that the jays get careless as to the size or accessibility of the hole they drop provisions into—indeed they will place them sometimes in little more than a rugosity or wrinkle of the bark. I have often found odd almonds on an oak tree which were only laid on the branch. The woodpeckers have probably mimicked the jays, and in so doing have naturally endeavoured to make the holes[Pg 166] they had themselves drilled for other purposes serve them the same turn that the bigger holes did the jays. They have joined their work with play. It must be remembered that in a climate like California, where birds find it very easy to make a living all the year round, they are likely to have much time at their disposal, which would be occupied in a colder, less fruitful district. I should not be surprised to learn that there were many odd examples of useless instincts still surviving on the Pacific slope; for doubtless many of its birds found their way there from the east over the Rockies and Sierra Nevada.
Once, no doubt, Corsica was a savage, untamed, untrimmed kind of country, and a man's life was little safer than it is to-day in the neighbouring island of Sardinia. There were brigands and bandits and families engaged in the private warfare of the vendetta, so that things were as lively and exciting as they get in parts of Virginia at times. Killing was certainly no murder, and even yet the vendetta flourishes to some extent. There is nothing harder than to get a high-spirited southern population ready to acknowledge the majesty of the law. The attitude of the inland Corsican, even to this day, is that of a young East-Ender whom I knew. When he was asked to give evidence against his particular enemy, he replied, "But if I do, they'll jug him, and I won't be able to[Pg 168] get even with him." He preferred handling the man himself.
Yet nowadays Corsica has greatly changed from what it was in Paoli's time. French justice is a fairly good brand of justice after all. The magistrates administer the law, and the system of military roads all over the island makes it easy for the police to get about. When a criminal gets away from them he has to take to the hills and to keep there. It is such solitary fugitives who still give the stranger a notion that the country is essentially criminal. But he is a bandit, not a brigand. He may rob, but he does not kidnap. His idea of ransom is what is in a man's pockets, not what his Government will pay to prevent having his throat cut. After all, there is such a thing in England as highway robbery, and in Corsica robbery is usually without violence. If a bandit is treated as a gentleman he will be polite, even though he points a gun at a visitor's stomach and requests him to hand over all he happens to have about him.
I went to Corsica from Leghorn with a friend of mine who knew no more of the island than I did. We landed at Bastia,[Pg 169] where, by the way, Nelson also landed and was severely repulsed, and found the town one of the most barren and uninviting places in the world. It is hot, glaring, sandy, stony, sun-burnt, a most unpleasing introduction to one of the most beautiful and interesting islands in the Mediterranean, or, for that matter, in the world. For the island is fertile and is yet barren; it is mountainous and has great stretches of plain in it along the eastern shore. Though it is but fifty miles across and little more than a hundred long, there is a real range of rugged high mountains in it, two of them, Monte Cinto and Monte Rotondo, being nearly 9000 feet high, while three others, Pagliorba, Padre and d'Oro are over 7000 feet. The rocks of these ranges are primary and metamorphic, and the scenery is bold. Yet it is kindly and gracious for the forests are thick. On the peaks, and in the recesses of the loftier forests, a wild black sheep, the mufflon, can still be hunted. And the tumbling streams and rivers are full of trout. There are few better trout streams in Europe than the Golo, which runs into the sea on the east coast through a big salt-water lagoon called Biguglia. When I saw it the stream[Pg 170] was in fine order, and I longed to get out of the train to throw a fly upon it. For the island is now so civilised that a railway runs from Bastia across the summit of the island by the towns of Corte and Vivario down to Ajaccio. But when I and my friend were there the train only ran to Corte. We had to drive from there across the summit to Vivario, whither the rail had reached, in the western slope of the hills. Corte sits queen-like on the summit of the island, and is quiet and ancient. Yet some day it will be, like Orezza with its strong iron waters, a health resort. The French go more and more to Corsica, and the intruding English have what is practically an English hotel at Ajaccio. There is another in the forests of Vizzavona.
It is a quick descent from the summit to Ajaccio, which lies smiling in its gulf, that is somewhat like one of the deep indentations of Puget Sound. We stayed there for a week and during that time took a diligence and went up to Vico. It was on this little forty-mile journey among the hills that I saw most of Corsica's character. And at first it was curiously melancholy to me. As we drove inland we met numbers of the[Pg 171] peasants, men and women, and at first it seemed as if a great epidemic must have devastated the country. Almost every woman we saw was in black. But this comes from a habit that they have of wearing black for three years after any of their relatives die. Even in a healthy country (and the lowlands, or the plage of Corsica, is not healthy in summer) most families must lose a member in three years, and thus it happens that most of the women are in perpetual mourning. The solidarity of the family is great in Corsica. It must be or women would not renounce their natural and beautiful dress to adorn themselves with colours. It was curious to see at times some young girl not in mourning. I could not help thinking that she had an unfair advantage over her darkly-dressed fellows.
We came at last to Vico in the hills, and found it picturesque to the last degree, and quite equally unsanitary. It was at once beautifully picturesque and foully offensive. Nothing less than a tropical thunderstorm could have cleansed it. But none of its inhabitants minded. They loafed about the deadly streams of filth and were quite unconscious of anything disagreeable in the[Pg 172] air. A Spanish village is purity itself to such a place as Vico. But then the proud and haughty Corsicans object to doing any work except upon their own fields. If an ordinance had been passed to cleanse Vico's streets and that dreadful main drain, its stream from the hills, it would have been necessary to import Italians to do it. For all hard labour outside mere tillage is done by them. I would willingly have employed a couple to clean up the little inn at which we stayed for the night. It would have been a public service.
In the morning my friend and I started on a little walk to a village higher in the hills called Renno. We went up a good open road, cut here and there through le maquis, the scrub or bush of Corsica. And as we went we got a good view of many little mountain villages, which hang for the most part on the slope of the hills, being neither in the valley nor on the summit. We were high enough to be among the chestnuts; vineyards there were none. And at last we came to Renno, and found the villagers taking a sad holiday. I spoke to them in bad Italian, and found that it seemed good Corsican to them, perhaps even classical Corsican, if there be[Pg 173] such a thing, and learnt that there had been a funeral of a little child that morning. They proposed to do no more work that day. Most of the men were loafing along a wall by their little inn, and they were soon reinforced by many women. In a few minutes the village had almost forgotten the funeral in the excitement of seeing two strangers, foreigners, Englishmen. They told us that so far as they remember no foreigner, not even a Frenchman, had been there before. Their village was indeed lost to the world; they looked on Vico, evil-smelling Vico, as a great, fine town: Ajaccio was a distant and immense city. But no one from Renno had been there. It was indeed possible that most of the inhabitants had never seen the sea. There was something touching in this quaint and simple isolation, and the men were simple too. I invited the whole male population of the place to drink with me at the poor little cabaret. The drink they took (it was the only drink save some sour wine) was white brandy at ten centimes the glass. To make friends in this time-honoured way with the whole village cost me less than two francs. And I had to use my "Corsican" freely to satisfy in some small measure their curiosity about the world beyond[Pg 174] le maquis, and beyond the sea. They asked me how it was that I, a stranger and an Englishman, spoke Corsican. To this I replied that it was spoken, though doubtless in a corrupt form, in the neighbouring mainland, Italy. And on hearing this they chattered volubly, being greatly excited on the difficult point as to how Italians had learnt it. It is a small world, and most of us are alike. Did not the lad from Pondicherry, the French settlement in Hindustan, to whom I spoke in French, ask me how it was I spoke "Pondicherry?"
Corsica certainly has a character of its own; it resembles no other island that I know. It is fertile, and might be more fertile yet if its native inhabitants chose to work. But the Corsican is haughty and indolent, he does not care to work in his forests or to do a hand's turn off his own family property. Even in that he grows no cereal crops to speak of; it is easier to sit and watch the olive ripen and the vineyards colour their fruit. They rear horses and cattle, asses and mules, and sometimes hunt in the hills for pigs or goats, or the wild black sheep. And even yet they hunt each other, for not even French law and French police can eradicate revenge from the Corsican heart.[Pg 175] They are a curious subtle people, not at all like the French or the Italians. And, to speak the truth, they have some more unamiable characteristics than these, which lead them to hereditary blood feuds. It is said, I know not with what accuracy, that most of the mouchards, or spies, and the agents provocateurs of the French police, are Corsican by birth. But certainly Corsica has produced more than these, since it was the birthplace of Paoli and of Napoleon.
Owing to my having read very little Alpine literature, I have seen but few attempts to analyse the mental experiences of the novice who, for the first time, ascends any of the higher peaks. And having read nothing upon the subject I was naturally curious, while I was at Zermatt this last summer, as to what these experiences were. I may own frankly that the desire to find out had a great deal to do with my trying mountaineering. A writer, and especially a writer of fiction, has, I think, one plain duty always before him. He ought to know, and cannot refuse to learn, even at the cost of toil and trouble, all the ways of the human mind. And experience at second-hand can never be relied on. The average man is afraid of saying he was afraid. And the average climber is one who has long passed the interesting stage when he first faced the[Pg 177] unknown. I was obviously a novice, and a green one, when I tried the Matterhorn. That I was such a novice is the only thing which makes me think my experience at all interesting from the psychological point of view. And to my mind that point of view is also the literary one.
On looking back I certainly believe I was very much afraid of the mountains in general and of the Matterhorn in particular. It is difficult, however, to say where fear begins and mere natural nervousness leaves off. Fear, after all, is often the note of warning sounded by a man's organism in the face of the unknown. It is hardly strange it should be felt upon the mountains. But if I was afraid of the mountains (and I thought that I was) I was certainly curious. During my first week at Zermatt I had done a good second-class peak, but had been told that the difference between the first and second class was prodigious. This naturally excited curiosity. And I began to feel that my curiosity could only be satisfied by climbing the Matterhorn. For one thing that mountain has a great name; for another it looks inaccessible. And it had only been done once that year. If I did it I should be the first Englishman on the summit for the season.[Pg 178] And the guides were doubtful whether it would "go."
But, after all, was it not said by folks who climbed to the Schwartzsee that the mountain was really easy? Were not the slabs above the Shoulder roped? Did not processions go up it in the middle of the season? And yet it was now only the first of July and there was a good deal of new snow on the mountain. And why were the guides just a little doubtful? Perhaps they were doubtful of me; and yet Joseph Pollinger had taken me up three smaller peaks. I decided that I had hired him to do the thinking. But I could not make him do it all.
The day I had spent upon the Wellenkuppe had been a time of imagination, and I had seen the beauty of things. But from the Matterhorn I can eliminate the element of beauty. I saw very little beauty in it or from it. I had other things to do than to think of the sublime. But I could think of the ridiculous, and at one o'clock in the morning, when we started from the hut with a lantern, I said the whole proceeding was folly. I was a fool to be there. And down below me, far below me, glimmered the crevassed slopes of the Furgg Glacier. I grew callous and[Pg 179] absorbed, and I shrugged my shoulders as the dawn came up. I did not care to turn my eyes to look upon the red rose glory of the lighted Dom and Täschhorn. Let them glow!
At the upper ice-filled hut we rested. The vastness of the mountain began to affect me. I saw by now that the Wellenkuppe was a little thing. The three thousand extra feet made all the difference. This was obviously beyond me, and I could never get to the summit. It was ridiculous of the Pollingers to think I could. I told them so quite crossly as we went on. Probably they had made a mistake; they would, no doubt, find it out on the Shoulder. It seemed rather hard that I should have to get there when it was so easy to turn back at once. But I said nothing more and climbed. My heart did its work well, and my head did not ache. This was a surprise to me, as I had looked for some sort of malaise above twelve thousand feet. As it did not come I stared at the big world about me. I viewed it all with a kind of anger and alarmed surprise. Where was I being taken to? I began to see they were taking me out of the realm of the usual. I was rapidly ascending into the unknown,[Pg 180] and I did not like it in the least. If we fell from the arête we might not stop going for four thousand feet. Down below, a thin, blue line was a bergschrund that was capable of swallowing an army corps. That patch of bluish patina was a tumbled mass of séracs. The sloping glacier looked flat.
Then the guides said we were going slowly. I knew they meant that for me, of course, and I felt very angry with them. They consoled me by saying that we should soon be at the Shoulder, and that it would not take long to reach the summit. I did not believe them and I said I should never do it. But when we got to the Shoulder I was glad. I knew many turned back at that point. We sat down to rest. The guides talked their own German, not one word of which I could understand, so turned from them and looked at the vast upper wedge of the Matterhorn. It glowed red in the morning sun; it was red hot, vast, ponderous, and yet the lower mountain held it up as lightly as an ashen shaft holds up a bronze spear-head. It was so wonderfully shaped that it did not look big. But it did look diabolic. There was some infernal wizardry of cloud-making going on about that spear-head. The[Pg 181] wind blew to us across the Zmutt Valley. Nevertheless, the wind above the Roof, as they call it, was blowing in every direction, and the live wisps of newborn cloud went in and out like the shuttles of a loom. I came to the conclusion that this was a particularly devilish, uncanny sort of show, and stared at it open-eyed. But I was comforted by the thought that the Pollingers were rapidly coming to the belief that this was not the sort of day to go any higher. I was quite angry when they declared we could do it easily. For I knew better, or my disturbed mind thought I did. This was the absolutely unknown to me, and their experience was nothing to my alarmed instincts. I was sure that my ancestors had lived on plains, and now I was dragging them into dangers that they knew nothing of. Nevertheless, I told the guides to go on. I spoke with a kind of eager interest and desperation. For, indeed, it was most appallingly interesting. We came to the slabs where the ropes made the Matterhorn so easy, as I had been told. I wished that some of those who believed this were with me.
But with the fixed ropes to lay hold of I climbed fast. I relinquished such holds upon[Pg 182] solidity with reluctance. That yonder was the top, said my men, but for fully half a minute I declined to go any further. For it was quite obvious to me that I should never get down again. But again I shrugged my shoulders and went on. I might just as well do the whole thing. And sensation followed sensation. My mind was like a slow plate taking one photograph on top of the other. It was like wax, something new stamped out the last minute's impression. I heard my guides telling me that we must get to the summit because the people in Zermatt would be looking through telescopes. I did not care how many people looked through telescopes. So far as I was concerned the moon-men might be doing the same. I was one of three balancing fools on a rope.
And then we came to the heavy snow on the little five-fold curving arête that is the summit. Within a stone's throw of the top I declared again that I was quite high enough to satisfy me, but with a little more persuasion I went across the last three-foot ridge of snow, reached the top and sat down.
The folks at Zermatt were staring, no doubt, but I had nothing to do with them. Let them look if they wished to. For it was[Pg 183] impossible to get to the top, and I was there. It was far more impossible to get down, and we were going to try. That was interesting. I had never been so interested before. For though I hoped we should succeed I did not think it likely. So I took in what I could, while I could, and stared at the visible anatomy of the Mischabel and the patina-stained floor of the white world with intense, yet aloof, interest. After a mere five minutes' rest we started on our ridiculous errand. But though I was as sure in my mind that we should not get down as I had been that we should not get up, there was an instant reversal of feeling. My instincts had been trying to prevent my ascending; they were eagerly bent on descending. I did not mind going down each difficult place, for I was going back into the known. Every step took me nearer the usual. I was going home to humanity. These mountains were cold company; they were indifferent. I was close up against cold original causes, which did not come to me mitigated and warmed by human contact or the breath of a city. I had had enough of them.
There are gaps in my memory; strange lacunæ. I remember the Roof, the slabs,[Pg 184] the big snow patch above the Shoulder. Much that comes between I know nothing of. But the snow-patch is burnt into my mind, for though it was but a hundred mètres across it took us half-an-hour's slow care to get down it. Without the stakes set in it and the reserve rope it would have been almost impossible. It only gradually dawned on me that this care was needed to prevent the whole snow-field from coming away with us. I breathed again on rock. But the little couloirs that we had crossed coming up were now dangerous. I threw a handful of snow into several, and the snow that lay there quietly whispered, moved, rustled, hissed like snakes, and went away. But I could hardly realise that there was danger here or there. There was, of course, danger to come, yonder, round the corner of some rock. But the guides were very careful and a little anxious. It dawned on me, as I watched them with a set mind, that this was rather a bad day for the Matterhorn.
The distances now seemed appalling. After hours of work I looked round and saw the wedge stand up just over me. It made me irritable. When, in the name of Heaven, were we coming to the upper hut? When we did[Pg 185] at last get there I began to feel that by happy chance we might really reach Zermatt again after all.
Once more I had vowed a thousand times that I would never climb again. But I know I shall, though I hardly know why. It is not that the fatigue is so good for the body that can endure it. Nor is it the mere sight of the wonders of Nature. The very thing that is terrifying is the attraction, for the unknown calls us always.
But if there is a great pleasure, and a terrible pleasure, in coming into (and out of) the unknown, it is intensified by the fact that one is learning what is in one's self. It is a curious fact that writers seem to have done a great deal of climbing. Many of the first explorers among the higher Alps may not unjustly be classed among men of letters, and some of them, no doubt, went on a double errand. They learnt something of the unknown in two ways.
All Zurich turned out to see the procession that was a mile long and overlapped, and went past double, going opposite ways, and the skies were blue as amethyst, and the lake was like the heavens, while underfoot the white dust lay thick until the growing, hurrying crowd sent it flying. All trades, with banners and bands and emblems, were represented; there were iron workers, tin workers, gardeners, women and children. One beautiful young girl in a cap of liberty waved a red banner to Freedom among the applause of thousands. For there were eight thousand in the procession, and the spectators were the half of this busy Canton making Sunday holiday. At the end of the procession we rested in the Cantonal Schulplatz, and Grealig spoke, and then Volders, the violent, strong-voiced Belgian, who called for la lutte,[Pg 187] and looked most capable of fighting. He is now dead.
And on the morrow, at the opening of the many-tongued Congress, the fighting and confusion began and lasted a long, long time. For after some usual business and congratulations the usual fight about the Anarchists commenced. It all turned on the invitation, which was worded in a broad way, so broad as to catch the English Trades Unions, who fear Socialism as they do the devil, and thus let in Anarchists claiming to represent trades become corporate by union.
The long hall, decorated by Saint Marx and many flags, quickly filled with an incongruous mass of four hundred delegates, and the gallery were soon yelling. Bebel, who kept in the background and pulled the strings, proposed a limiting amendment about "political action" which the Anarchists maintained includes revolutionary force. This was the signal for the fight. Landauer, a German, young, long, thin and enthusiastic, made a fine speech in defence of the Anarchists. Then Mowbray of the English backed him up. I was then in the gallery and saw the mass surge here and there. Adler of the Austrians strove for peace with outstretched arms among the crowd, dividing[Pg 188] angry and bitter men. But he was overborne and blows were struck. The Anarchists were expelled. Only one man was seriously hurt, but those thrown out were bitter at their expulsion, and on the morrow the row began again.
On the platform were the president and vice-president, and the interpreters and others. These interpreters are mostly violent partisans and don't conceal it. A speech they like they deliver with real energy, rasping in the points. They are not above private interpretations; they were as liberal as Sir Thomas Urquhart when he translated Rabelais not in the interests of decency. When they hated a speaker they mangled and compressed him. There was a great uproar when Gillies, a German, but one of the English deputation, insisted on translating his first speech into German. The interpreters and others vowed he would make another and different one, but he stuck to his point and raised the very devil among the Germans of the Parliamentary Socialist party who wanted to dispute the Anarchist delegates' credentials and have them definitely "chucked." They howled and roared and shook their fists, and the French president shrieked for order. But at times his bell was a faint tinkle, like a[Pg 189] far sheep-bell on distant hills. He shouted unheard and looked in vain for a break. For the Germans were accused of meanness; it was simply a desire to keep out the younger, more open, most alive of the workers, those who admired not their methods and looked on them as they did on Eugene Richter.
Then at last the English delegation, who as a body were in favour of turning the Anarchists out, rose and yelled for the closure, vowing they would leave until real business was reached if some decision wasn't come to; and that had some effect. The yells of "Clôture, clôture!" dominated all else, and it was finally voted among frantic disorder, the French and Dutch standing uproarious against eighteen nationalities. For on important points they vote so. And in this there is great cunning, for the organisers hold pocket boroughs among the Swiss, and Bulgarians, and Servians and other European kidlings of the Balkans. So one delegate may equal a hundred; Servia and Bulgaria may outvote France; a solitary Russian hold ninety-two Germans in check.
Before this they turned out a Polish girl with unsigned credentials. She made a good speech and was gallantly supported, but in the end failed. And when all the putting out was[Pg 190] done there was an appeal for unanimity. No one laughed, however, and then Bebel came from behind with a proposal that seeing so much time had been wasted the articles of the agenda should be submitted to the various committees first. So this morning is a morning off and there is peace at anyrate among the mass of the delegates.
In all this it is excessively easy to be unjust, to misjudge and to go wrong. The man who is ready with à priori opinions about all forms and means and ends of Socialism will smile if he be kindly and sneer if he be not. But most of these people are in earnest. If they represent nothing else, and however they disagree and quarrel, they do represent an enormous amount of real discontent. "I protest" is often in their mouths; as the president yells "Monsieur, vous n'avez pas la parole" they stand in the benches and protest again in acute screams. It is under extraordinary difficulties that the movement is being carried forward. Marx, when he started this internationalism, can hardly have recognised the supreme difficulties that the differing tongues alone offer to united action. In many a large assembly there is frequent misconception, but here are three main languages, and many of the delegates[Pg 191] understand neither English, German nor French.
And under the broad top currents of jealousy are the secret unmeasured tendencies of enmity or rivalry of ancient jealousy. To explain one man's vote we must remember that So-and-so threw a glass of absinthe in his face ten years ago in a Paris restaurant; that another was kicked in Soho; that another got work over the head of a friend.
So the thing goes on, but whether their outlook be wide or narrow, personal or impersonal, they work in their way and something is really done.
But for deadly earnestness commend me to the party with the unfortunate name of Anarchists. The party headed by Landauer and Werner issued invitations in the Tonhallé to the delegates and others, to come to the Kasino Aussersehl, where they would protest against the non-reception of their mandates. I went there with an English delegate. We entered a long hall with a stage and scenery at the end. All the tables were full of a very quiet crowd drinking most harmless red wine. I sat near Landauer. He is a very nervous, keen, eager young fellow, with the thin, well-marked eyebrows in a curve which perhaps[Pg 192] show the revolutionary or at the least the man in revolt. But his general aspect and that of his immediate friends and colleagues is extremely gentle and mild; this no one can help marking.
The proceedings began with a long speech by Werner and were continued by a Dutch journalist, who took the contrary side but was listened to with exemplary patience. He was controverted by Domela Niewenhuis, the leader of the Dutch, who looks a mediæval saint but speaks with great vigour and some humour.
The most noticeable feature of this revolutionary meeting was its extreme peace and the great firmness with which every attempt at noise or interruption was put down. The only really violent speech made during the evening was by a fair Italian, who called the German Parliamentary Socialist "Borghesi" and recommended their immediate extinction by all means within the power of those who objected to their methods. Landauer, their revolutionary leader, spoke after him, and though greatly excited was not particularly violent. I talked with him the morning after and endeavoured to explain to him why the English workers were more conservative and more ready to trust to constitutional methods[Pg 193] of enforcing their views. For it is the triple combination of long hours, low wages and militarism that makes the German violent and impatient of the slow order of change recommended by the Parliamentarians, who, so far, have done nothing.
On a map the Canary Islands look like seven irregular fish scales, and of these Grand Canary is a cycloid scale. For it is round and has deep folds or barrancas in it, running from its highest point in the middle. Like all the other islands it is a volcanic ash pile, or fire and cinder heap, cut and scarped by its rain storms of winter till all valleys seem to run to the centre. With a shovel of ashes and a watering-pot one could easily make a copy in miniature of the island, and at the first blush it seems when one lands at Las Palmas that one has come to the cinder and sand dumping ground of all the world, an enlarged edition of Mr Boffin's dust heaps, a kind of gigantic and glorified Harmony Jail. There is no more disillusioning place in the world to land in by daytime. The port is under the shelter of the Isleta, a barren cindery satellite of Grand Canary joined to[Pg 195] the main island by an isthmus of yellow sand-dunes. The roads are dust; dust flies in a ceaseless wind; unhappy palms by the roads are grey with dust; it would at first seem impossible to eat anything but an egg without getting one's teeth full of grit. And yet after all one sees that there are compensations in the sun. I said to a man who managed a big hotel, "This is a hideous place;" and he answered cheerfully, "Yes, isn't it?" And he added, "We have only got the climate." So might a man say, "I've not much ready money, but I've a million or two in Consols." I understood it by-and-by. And after all Las Palmas is not all the island, nor is its evil-mannered port. The country is a country of vines behind the sand and cinder ramparts of the city, and if one sees no running water, or sees it rarely, the hard-working Canarienses have built tanks to save the rain, and they bring streams in flumes from the inner hills that rise six thousand feet above the sea. They grow vines and sugar and cultivate the cochineal insect, which looks like a loathsome disease (as indeed it is) upon the swarth cactus or tunera which it feeds on. And the islands grow tobacco. Las Palmas is after all only the emporium of Grand Canary and a coaling[Pg 196] station for steamers to South Africa and the West Coast and South America. It also takes invalids and turns out good work even among consumptives, for there is power in its sun and dry air.
Its people are Spanish, but Spanish with a difference. The ancient Guanches, now utterly extinct as a people, have left traces of their blood and influence and character. Even now the poor Canary folk naturally live in caves. They dig a hole in a rock, or enlarge a hollow, and hang a sack before the hole, and, behold, they possess a house. Not fifty yards from the big old fort at the back of the town the cliffs are all full of people as a sandstone quarry is sometimes full of sand martins. The caves with doors pay taxes, it is said, but those with no more than a sack escape anything in the shape of a direct tax. To escape taxes altogether in any country under Spain is impossible. The octroi or fielato sees to that.
For the most part Las Palmas to English people is no more than a sanatorium. They come to the Islands to get well and go away knowing as much of the people as they knew before. And indeed the climate is one that makes sitting in a big cane chair much easier than walking even a hundred yards. But the[Pg 197] English for that matter do not trouble greatly about the customs or conditions of any foreigners. They are foreigners, Spaniards, strangers. It is easy to sit in the garden of a big hotel surrounded by one's own compatriots and ignore the fact that the Canary Islands do not belong to us. That they do not is perhaps a grievance of a sort. One is pleased to remember that Nelson made a bold attempt to take the city of Santa Cruz in Teneriffe, even though he was wounded and failed. For no more surprising piece of audacity ever entered an English head. There was no more disgrace in his failing than there would be in failing to take the moon. And after all, some day, no doubt, the English will buy or steal a Canary Island. There is a lingering suspicion among us all that no island ought to belong to any other nation, unless indeed it is the United States. With an enterprising people these cinder heaps would be less heavily taxed and more prosperous. For the prosperity of Las Palmas itself is much a matter of coaling. And the islands have had commercial crisis after commercial crisis as wine rose in price and fell, as cochineal had its vain struggle with chemical dyes. Now its chief hold is the banana.
My first walk at Las Palmas was through the port to the Isleta. I went with a Scotchman who talked Spanish like a native and astounded two small boys who volunteered to guide us where no guide was needed. The begging, as in all Spanish places, is a pest, a nuisance, a very desolation. "Give a penny, give a penny," varied by a tremendous rise to "Give a shilling," is the cry of all the children. Among Spaniards it is no disgrace to beg. While in the cathedral one day two of us were surrounded by a gang of acolytes in their church dress who begged ceaselessly, unreproved by any priest. These two boys on the Isleta having met someone who spoke Spanish left us to our own devices after having received a penny. And we went on until we were stayed by sentries. For the Isleta is now a powerful fort. It was made so at the time of the Spanish-American War, and no strangers are allowed to see it. So we turned aside and walked miles by a barbed wire fence, among fired rocks and cinders, where never a blade of grass grew. The Isleta is the latest volcano in Grand Canary, and except in certain states of the atmosphere it is utterly and barrenly hideous. Only when one sees it from afar, when the sun is setting and the white sea is aflame, does it[Pg 199] become beautiful. Certainly Las Palmas is not lovely.
And yet there is one beauty at Las Palmas, a beauty that none of the natives can appreciate and few of the visitors ever see. It is a kind of beauty which demands a certain training in perceiving the beautiful. There are some folks in this world who cannot perceive the beauty of a sunset reflected in the mud of a tidal river at the ebb. They have so keen a sense of the ugliness of mud that they fail to see the reflections of gold and pink shining on the wet surface. It is so with sand, and Las Palmas has some of the greatest and most living sand-dunes in the world. And not only does it owe its one great beauty to the sand, it owes its prosperity to it as well. Yet folks curse its great folded dunes, which by blocking the channel between the main island and the Isleta have created the sheltered Puerto de la Luz, where all its shipping lies in security from the great seas breaking in Confital Bay. These dunes rise two hundred feet at least, and for ever creep and shift and move in the draught of keen air blowing north and north-west. In the sunlight (and it is on them the sunlight seems most to fall) they shine sleekly and appear to have a certain pleasant and silky[Pg 200] texture from afar. But as we walk towards them the light gets stronger, almost intolerably strong, and when one is among them they deceive the eye so that distances seem doubled. And they lie and move in the wind. Day after day I watched them, and walked upon them, and on no two days were they alike; their contours changed perpetually, changed beneath one's eyes like yellow drifting snow. They advanced in walls, and the leeward scarp of these walls was of mathematical exactness. As the wind blew the sands moved, a million grains were set in motion, so that at times the surface was like a low cloud of sand driving south-east. In the lee of the greater dunes were carven hollows, and here the sand-clouds moved in faint shadows. A gust of wind made one look up into the clear sky for clouds where there were none. The motion of the sand was like shot silk. Now and again we came to a vast hollow, a smooth crater, a cup, and from its bottom nothing was visible but the skyline and the sky. Again we saw over the blazing yellow ridge sudden white roofs of the Puerto and the masts of ships, and then a streak of blue more intense than ever because of the red yellow of the sand. And all the time the dunes moved, lived and marched south-east, while the[Pg 201] sands rose up out of the sea of the windy bay and marched overland. The sand itself was very dry, very fine, so fine indeed that when it trickled through the fingers it felt like fine warm silk. No particle adhered to another. As I raked it through my fingers the sand ran in strange, enticing curves, each pouring stream finely lined, as if it was woven of curious fibres, making a wonderful design of interlacing columns. And deep beneath the surface it held the heat of yesterday.
To sit upon, within, these dunes and see the wind dance and the sand pour had a strange fascination for me. I lost the sense of time and yet had it impressed upon me. The march of the sand was slow and yet fast; there was a strange sense of inevitability about it; each grain was alive, moving, bent on going south-east. There was silence and yet an infinite sense of motion; no life and yet a sense of living. The sand came up from the sea, marched solemnly and descended into the sea again. The two seas were two eternities; that narrow neck of sand was life. Distances grew great in the sun and the glare; it was a desert and a solitude, and yet close at hand were all the works of man. I often sat in the[Pg 202] folds of the dunes and soaked in the sunshine as I was lost to the world.
And beyond it all was Confital Bay; there I forgot that Las Palmas was ugly, a bastard child of Spanish mis-rule and modern commerce, for the curve of the bay and its sands and boulder beach to the eastward were wonderful. For though Confital is but a few steps across the long sand spit to leeward of which the commercial port lies, it might be a thousand miles away as it faces the wind and has its own quiet and its own glory of colour. The sea tumbles in upon a beach of shingle and sand and is for ever in foam, and the colour of it is tropical. Away to the left the hills above Bañodero and Guia are for the most part shadowy with clouds. Often they are hidden, swathed in mist to the breakers at their feet. And yet the sun shines on Confital and both bays, and on the Isleta, which is red and yellow and a fine atmospheric blue away towards Point Confital, where the sea thunders for ever and breaks in high foam like a breaking geyser. On the beach at one's feet often lie Portuguese men-of-war, thrown up by the sea. They are wonderful purple and blue, and very poisonous to touch, as so many beautiful things of the sea are. One whole day was greatly spoiled to[Pg 203] me by handling one of them carelessly. My hands smarted furiously, and when I sucked an aching finger, after washing it in the sea, the poison transferred itself to my tongue and I had hardly voice left to swear with at a wandering band of young beggars from the Puerto. But then neither swearing, nor entreaty, nor indifference will send Spanish beggars away. They are to be borne with like flies, or mosquitoes, or bad weather, and only patience may survive them. But for them and for cruelty to animals Spain and Spain's dependencies might make a better harvest out of travellers. One may indeed imagine after all that nothing but accident or a sense of desperation might land and keep one at Las Palmas. I would as soon stay there for a long time as I would deliberately get out of a Union Pacific overland train at Laramie Junction and put down my stakes in that dusty and bedevilled sand and alkali hell. And yet there is the climate at Las Palmas. And out of it are the sand-dunes and Confital Bay.
Nowadays the traveller gets into the train at Rome and goes south by express. He sees a little of the wide and waste Campagna, sees a few of the broken arches of the mighty aqueducts which brought water to the Imperial city so long ago, but he is not steeped in the soil; he misses the best, because he is living wholly in the present. The beauty of Italy, its mere outward beauty, is one thing; the ancient spirit of the past brooding in desolate places is another. And the road which runs from Terracina south by sullen Fondi, by broken and romantic Itri and Formia of the Gaetan Gulf, is full at once of natural beauty and the strange influences of the past. It is To-day and Yester-day and Long Ago; the age of the ancient Romans and the Samnites with whom they warred is mingled with stories of Fra Diavolo and piratical Saracens. And To-day marches[Pg 205] two and two in the stalwart figures of twin carabinieri upon dangerous roads, even yet not wholly without some danger from brigands. These carabinieri (there are never less than two together) represent law and order and authority in parts where the law is hated, where order is unsettled, where authority means those who tax salt and everything that the rich or poor consume. And down that ancient Appian Way, made by Appius Claudius three centuries before the Christian era, there are many poor, and poor of a sullen mind, differing much from the laughter-loving lazzaroni of Naples. I saw many of them: they belonged still to a conquered Samnium. Or so it seemed to me.
The train now runs from Rome to Velletri, and on to Terracina. The Sabine and Alban Mountains are upon the left soon after leaving the city. Further south are the Volscian Hills. Velletri is an old city of the Volscians subdued by Rome even before Samnium. The Appian Way and the rail soon run across the Pontine marshes, scourged by malaria at all seasons of the year but winter. Down past Piperno the Monte Circello is visible. This was the fabled seat and grove and palace of Circe the enchantress. One might imagine that her[Pg 206] influence has not departed with her ruined shrine. Fear and desolation and degradation exist in scenes of exquisite and silent beauty. From Circello's height one sees Mount Vesuvius, the dome of St Peter's, the islands in the bay of Naples. Below, to the south-east, lies Terracina; on its high rock the arched ruins of the palace of Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, who conquered Odoacer and won Italy, ruling it with justice after he had slain Odoacer at Ravenna with his own hand.
I got to Terracina late at night one January, and though I own that things past touch me with no such sense of sympathy as things yet to be, my heart beat a little faster as I drove in the darkness through this ancient Anxur, once a stronghold of the Volscians. Here too I left the railway and the southern road was before me. Terracina was touched with literary memories; Washington Irving had written about that very same old inn at Terracina to which I was going, that inn which poor deceived Baedeker called Grand Hotel Royal in small capitals. I was among the Volscians, in the Appian Way, in the country of brigands, with the spirit of Irving. And suddenly I drove across rough paving stones in the heavy[Pg 207] shadows of vast corridors, and was greeted by a feeble and broken-down old landlord, who wished the noblest signor of them all, my undistinguished self, all good things. Poor Francia was the very spirit of a deserted landlord. I imagined that he might have remembered prosperous days before the railway through Monte Cassino and Sparanise robbed Terracina of her robber's dues from south-bound travellers. His vast hotel, entered meanly by a little hall, was dimly lighted by candles. With another feeble creature, once a man, he preceded me, and speaking poor French said he had had my letter and had prepared me the best apartment in his house. We climbed stone staircases as one might climb the Pyramids, wandered on through resounding and ghostly corridors, and finally came to a room as vast as a quarry and almost as chilly as a catacomb. When he placed the candle on a cold slab of a table and withdrew with many bows I could have imagined myself a lost spirit. There was just sufficient light to see the darkness. The room was a kind of tragedy in itself; the floor was stone; a little bed in one far distant corner was only to be discovered by travel. It was a long walk to the window. Outside I saw white foam [Pg 208]breaking in the harbour now silted up and wholly useless.
I dined that night in another hall which could have accommodated a hundred. I was lost in shadows. But then I was a shadow among shades. This was the past indeed, an ancient world. And after dinner, at last, I got a bath. It took me two hours to get it, and when it came it was nothing more than a great kettle for boiling fish in. I knew it was that by the smell. I rejected it for a basin which was almost as large as an English saucer for a breakfast cup. And then I slept. I felt that I was in a tomb, sleeping with my fathers. It was a kind of unexpected resurrection to wake and find daylight about me.
I had meant to stay for a little while at Terracina, but somehow I took a kind of "scunner" at this poor old hotel of magnificent distances and the lingering, doddering, unwashed old men who acted as chambermaids. Perhaps, too, the fish kettle as a bath was a discouragement. No bath at all can be put up with in course of time, but a fish kettle invited me to be clean and yet did not allow me to smell so. I went down to my prehistoric landlord and requested him to get me a carriage to go in to Formia, where I[Pg 209] should be once more in touch with the rail. I instructed him to get it for me at a reasonable price, and that price I knew to be about twenty lire or francs. For the first time in my Italian experiences I had come across a hotel-keeper who was not in league with the owners of carriages. I was soon made aware of this by overhearing an awful uproar in the big outside corridor. I lighted a cigarette and went out to find the landlord and the man of carriages, a very black and hairy brigand, enjoying themselves as only southerners can when they are making a bargain or combinazione. The old landlord brisked up wonderfully at the prospect of such a struggle. It doubtless reminded him of days long past. It made his sluggish blood flow. I believe that he would not have missed the excitement even to pocket a large commission from his opponent. I was so rare a bird and he had not seen a traveller since heaven knows when. My Italian is poor but I understood some of the uproar. The man of carriages presumed that I was a noble gentleman who desired the best and would be ready to pay for it. The landlord retorted that even if I was a prince and a millionaire, both of which seemed likely, it was no reason I should be robbed.[Pg 210] He suggested fifteen lire, and the outraged brigand shrieked and demanded forty. For an hour they wrangled and haggled and swore. First one made believe to go, and then the other. They came up and came down franc by franc. More than once any northerner would have anticipated bloodshed. They struggled and beat the palms of their hands with outstretched fingers. It took them half an hour to quarrel over the last two francs. And finally it was settled that the noble prince and millionaire, then leaning against the wall smoking cigarettes, was to pay twenty-two lire and to give a pourboire. They shook hands over it and beamed. My old landlord wiped his brow and communicated the result to me with tears of pride. I thanked him for his care of my interests and paid him his modest bill at once. He entreated me to speak well of his hotel, the Albergo Reale, and really I have done my best.
The brigand furnished me with a decent pair of horses—decent at anyrate for Italy—and I left for Formia before noon. Now I was no longer on the railway, but on the real road, the Appian Way, and I felt in a strange dream, such as might well come to one on a spot[Pg 211] where ancient Rome, the age of the Goth, and mediæval Italy and modern times mingled. By the road were fragments of Roman tombs; at Torre dell' Epitafia was the ancient southern boundary of the Papal States; in reedy marshes by the road, and near the sea, were herds of huge black buffalo. And the sun shone very brightly for all that it was winter; the distances were fine blue; the sea sparkled, and the earth even then showed its fertility.
Eleven miles from Terracina we drove into Fondi, and the sky clouded over, as indeed it should have done, for Fondi is a gloomy and unhappy, a sullen and unfortunate-looking town. Once it was a noted haunt of brigands, and even yet, as the sullen peasants stand about its one great street, which is still the Appian Way, they look as if they regretted not to be able to seize me and take me to the hills to hold me to ransom. But Fondi, gloomiest of towns, has other stories than those of the brethren of Fra Diavolo. There is a castle in the town, once the property of the Colonnas, and in the sixteenth century this palace was attacked by a pirate, Barbarossa, a Turk and a daring one. His object was to capture Countess Giulia Gonzaga for the hareem of the Sultan. He failed but[Pg 212] played havoc among its inhabitants and burnt part of the town. It was rebuilt and burnt again by the Turks in 1594.
We rushed through the latter part of the gloomy town at a gallop. I was glad to see the last of it and get into the clear air. Then my horses climbed the long slope of the Monte St Andrea, where the steep road is cut through hills, while I walked. And then as evening came on we swept down into Itri. This too was gloomy, but not, like Fondi, built upon a flat. This shadowy wreck of ancient times lies on hills and among them. It has an air of mountain savagery. It looks like a ruined mediæval fortress. Broken archways, once part of the Appian Way, are made into substructures for ragged, ruinous modern houses. The place is peaked and pined, desolate, hungry and savage. In it was born Fra Diavolo, who was brigand, soldier and political servant to Cardinal Ruffo when the French Republic, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, invaded the Kingdom of Naples. Once he was lord of the country from the Garigliano to Postella; he even interrupted all communications between Naples and Rome. He was sentenced to death and a price set on his[Pg 213] head. Finally he was shot at Baronissi. In such a country one might well believe in the wildest legends of his career.
And now the night fell and my driver drove fast. He even engaged in a wild race with another vehicle, entirely careless of my safety or his own. The pace we drove at put my Italian out of my head, for foreign languages require a certain calmness of spirit in me. I could remember nothing but fine Italian oaths, and these he doubtless took to mean that I wished him to win. And win we did by a neck as we came to the dazio consume, the octroi post outside Formia. And below me I saw Formia's lights, at the foot of the hill, and the Bay of Gaeta stretched out before me.
That night I slept in a little Italian inn by the verge of the quiet sea. There also, as at Terracina, ancient and doddering men acted as chambermaids. They wandered in with mattresses and sheets, until I wondered where the women were and what they did. And outside was a fountain where Formia drew water, as it seemed, all the night, chattering of heaven knows what. For Formia is a busy and beautiful little town. On the north side it is sheltered by a high range of hills; on[Pg 214] the lower slopes are grown oranges and lemons and pomegranates; there also are olive-groves and vineyards. I stayed a day among the Formian folk, and then Naples, which one can almost see from the terraces above the town, drew me south. At the Villa Caposele one can see Gaeta itself to the south and Ischia in the blue sea, Casamicciola facing one. I remember how the Italian nature came out when I arranged to go to the station to take the train for Sparanise. I had but little baggage and it was put in a truck for me by the landlord of the Hotel dei Fiori. I walked into the station and the boy who pulled the truck followed. As he came up the little slope to the station I saw that eight or ten others were pretending to help him, and I knew that they would inevitably want some pence for assisting. In a few moments I was surrounded by the eager crowd. "Signor, I pushed behind!" "And, signor, so did I!" "And oh, but it was hard work, signor!" And everyone who could have had a finger on the little truck wanted his finger paid. They were insistent, clamorous, and at the same time curious to see how the stray foreigner would take it. I perceived gleams of humour in them, and to their disappointment, yet to their[Pg 215] immense delight, for the Italian admires a degree of shrewdness, I stared them all over and burst into laughter. They saw at once that the game was up, and they shrieked with laughter at their own discomfiture. I gave the boy with the truck his lira, dropped an extra ten centesimi into his palm, and said suddenly, "Scappate via!" They gave one shout more of laughter and ran down the hill. And as for me, I got into the train and went to old quarters of mine in Naples. But I was glad to have been off the beaten track for once.
Perhaps it is not wholly an advantage that most Alpine literature has been done by experts in climbing, by men who have climbed till climbing is second nature and they see Nature through their snow-goggles as something to be circumvented. That this is the attitude of most mountaineers is tolerably obvious. And though much that is good has been written about the Alps, and some that is, from some points of view, even surpassingly so, most of it is a proof that climbing is a deal easier than writing. Who in reading books of mountain adventure and exploration has not come across machine-made bits of description which are as inspiring as any lumber yard? For my own part, I seldom read my Alpine author when he goes out of his gymnastic way to express admiration for the scenery. It is usually a pumped-up admiration. I am inclined to say that it is unnatural. I am almost ready to go[Pg 217] so far as to say that it is wholly out of place. In my own humble opinion, very little above the snow-line is truly beautiful. It is often desolate, sometimes intolerably grand and savage, but lovely it is very rarely. It is perhaps against human nature to be there at all. There is nothing to be got there but health, which flies from us in the city. If life were wholly natural, and men lived in the open air, I think that few would take to climbing. And yet now it has become a passion with many. There are few who will not tell you they do it on account of the beauty of the upper world. Frankly, I do not believe them, and think they are deceived. I would as willingly credit a fox-hunter if he told me he hunted on account of the beauty of midland landscapes in thaw-time.
And yet one climbs. I do it myself whenever I can afford it. I believe I do it because Nature says "You sha'n't." She puts up obstacles. It is not in man to endure such. He will do everything that can be done by endurance. For out of endurance comes a massive sense of satisfaction that nothing can equal. If any healthy man who cannot afford to climb and knows not Switzerland wishes to experience something of the feeling that comes[Pg 218] to a climber at the end of his day, let him reckon up how far he can walk and then do twice as much. Upon the Alps man is always doing twice as much as he appears able to do. He not only scouts Nature's obstacles, but discovers that the obstacles of habit in himself are as nothing. For man is the most enduring animal on the earth. He only begins to draw upon his reserves when a thing becomes what he might call impossible.
But this is but talk, a kind of preliminary, equivalent in its way to preparing for an Alpine walk. As for myself, I profess to be little more than a greenhorn above the snow-line. I have done but little and may do but little more. Yet there are so many that have done nothing that the plain account of a plain and long Alpine pass may interest them. I will take one of the easiest, the Schwartzberg-Weissthor, and walk it with them and with a friend of mine and two well-known guides.
The Schwartzberg-Weissthor, a pass from Zermatt to Mattmark in the Saas Valley, is indeed easy. It is nothing more than a long "snow-grind," as mountaineers say. It is supposed to take ten hours, and it can certainly be done in the time by guides. But then guides can always go twice as fast as any but[Pg 219] the first flight of amateurs. My companion, though an excellent and well-known mountaineer, took cognisance of the fact that I was not in first-class training. And I must say for him that he is not one of those who think of the Alps as no more than a cinder track to try one's endurance. He was never in a hurry, and was always willing to stay and instruct me in what I ought to admire. It is perhaps not strange that a long walk in high altitudes does not always leave one in a condition to know that without a finger-post. Sometimes he and I sat and wrangled on the edge of a crevasse while I denied that there was anything to admire at all. Indeed, he and I have often quarrelled on the edge of a precipice about matters of mountain æsthetics.
We left Zermatt in the afternoon and walked up to the Riffelhaus, which is usually the starting-point for any of the passes to Macugnaga, or for Monte Rosa or the Lyskamm. It was warm work walking through the close pine woods. In Switzerland, where all is climbing, one does what would be considered a great climb in England in the most casual way. For after all the Riffelhaus is more than 3000 feet above Zermatt, as high, let us say, as Helvellyn above Ullswater. But then 3000[Pg 220] feet in the Alps is a mere preface. We dined at the little hotel, and I went to bed early. For early rising is the one necessary thing when going upon snow. It is the most disagreeable part about climbing, and perhaps the one thing which does most good. In England, in London and in towns, men get into deadly grooves of habit. To break these habits and shake one's self clear of them is the great thing for health. The disagreeables of climbing are many, but the reward afterwards is great. To lie in bed the next morning after having walked for twenty hours is a real luxury. But, nevertheless, to rise at half-past one and wash in cold water before one stumbles downstairs into a black dining-room, lighted by a single candle, is not all that it might be at the moment. Every time I do it I swear sulkily that I will never, never do it again. It is obvious to me that no one but an utter fool would ever climb anything higher than Primrose Hill, and only a sullen determination not to be bested by my own self makes me get out of bed and downstairs at all. I am only a human being by the time the sleepy waiter has given me my coffee. After drinking it and taking a roll and some butter I went into the passage and found O—— sitting on the stairs putting[Pg 221] his boots on. He too was silent save for a little muttered swearing. It is always hard to get off camp before dawn. When O—— had finished his breakfast we found the guides waiting for us with a lantern, and we started on our walk by two o'clock or a little later. The guides at anyrate were cheerful enough but quiet. I myself became more and more like a human being, and when we got to the Rothe Boden, from which in daylight there is a wonderful view of the Alps from the Lyskamm to the Weisshorn, I was quite alive and equal to most things, even to cutting a joke without bitterness. For the most part in these early hours I spend the time considering my own folly. It is perhaps a good mental exercise.
It was even now utterly dark. The huge bulwark of the Breithorn rose opposite to us like a great shadow. Monte Rosa was very faintly lighted by the approach of dawn. The mighty pyramid of the solitary Matterhorn had yet no touch of red fire upon it. And presently one of the guides said "Look!" and looking at the Matterhorn we presently perceived that two parties were climbing it from the Zermatt side; we saw their lanterns moving with almost intolerable slowness. And far across the great ice river of the Gorner[Pg 222] Glacier we saw other and nearer and brighter lanterns going from the Bétemps Hut on the Untere Plattje. One party was going for Monte Rosa, another for the Lyskamm Joch. We knew that they could see us too. But these little lantern lights upon the vast expanse of snow looked very strange and lonely and very human. We seemed small ourselves, we were like glow-worms, like wounded fire-flies crawling on a plain. And still we saw these little climbing lights upon the Matterhorn. One party was close to the lower hut, another was beginning to near the old hut, twelve thousand feet high. Then and all of a sudden the lights went out. There was a strange red glow upon the Matterhorn, a glow which most people, as victims of tradition, call beautiful. As a matter of fact the colour of dawn upon the rock of the Cervin is not truly a beautiful colour. It is a hard and brick-dusty red, very different from the snow fire seen on true snow peaks. Yet the scene was fine and majestic, and cold and dreadful, solitary and non-human. This fine inhumanity of the mountains is their chief quality to me. The sea is always more human; it moves, it breathes, it seems alive. I have been alone at sea in the Channel and yet never felt quite alone. The human water[Pg 223] lapped at the planks of my boat. I knew the sea was the pathway of the world. But on the mountains nothing moves at night. There even stones do not fall; there are no thunders of avalanches; no sudden and awful crash of an ice-fall. Even when the sun is hot and the mountains waken a little these motions seem accidents. And the perpetual motion of a glacier has something about it which is cruelly inevitable, bestial, diabolic. No, upon the mountains one is swung clear of one's fellow-creatures; one is adrift; it is another world; it gives fresh views of the warm world of man.
Now we plunged downwards towards the Gadmen, whence the Monte Rosa track branches off. We went along rock, now in daylight, till we came on ice, and went forward to the Stocknubel, a little resting-place at the base of the Stockhorn. Here the guides made us rest and eat. Swiss guides are, when they are good, the best of men, and ours were of the best. The two young Pollingers of St Niklaus, Joseph and Alois, are known now by all climbers. I am pleased to think they are my friends. I wish I was as strong as either and had as healthy an appetite. As we sat on rock and ate cold meats and other horrible and indigestible matters, washed down[Pg 224] by wine and water, we saw another party come after us, an old and ragged guide with two strange little figures of adventurous Frenchmen, clad in knickerbockers and carrying tourist's alpenstocks, bound for the Cima di Jazzi. It must be confessed that our own party looked more workman-like. For we had our faithful ice-axes, and our lower limbs were swathed with putties, now almost universally worn by guides and climbers alike. I fancied our guides looked on the other guide with some contempt He was not one of those who do big ascents. And though we were on an easy task, the Cima di Jazzi is very easy indeed, so easy that most real climbers have never climbed its simple mound of easily rising snow.
Then we went on and soon after roped, as there might be some crevasses not well bridged, and presently I perceived that we had indeed a long snow-grind before us, and I got very gloomy at the prospect and swore and grumbled to myself. For there is no pleasure to me in being on the mountains unless there is some element of risk, apparent or real matters not. For, after all, with good guides and good weather there is little real danger. The main thing is to get a sensation out of it;[Pg 225] the feeling of absorption in the moment which prevents one thinking of anything but the next step. A snow-grind is like a book which has to be read and which has no interest. I can imagine many reviewers must have their literary snow-grinds. And so we crawled along the surface of the snow with never a big crevasse to enliven one, and the sun rose up and peered across the vast curves of white and almost blinded us. On our left was the great chain of the Mischabel, of which I had once seen the real bones and anatomy from the Matterhorn, and then came the Rimpfischorn and Strahlhorn. I once asked a guide what had given its name to the Rimpfischorn, and he answered that it was supposed to be like a "rimf." When I asked what that was he said it was something which was like the Rimpfischorn. And to our right were the peaks of Monte Rosa, Nordend and Dufourspitze, black rock out of white snow, and the ridge of the Lyskamm, and the twin white snow peaks, Castor and Pollux. And some might say the view was very beautiful, and no doubt it was beautiful, though not so to me. For I hate the long snow-fields, the vast plains of névé with their glare and their infinite infernal monotony. Sometimes when I took off my snow-goggles[Pg 226] the shining white world seemed a glaring and bleached moon-land, a land wholly unfit for human beings, as indeed it is. And though things seem near they are very far off. An hour's walk hardly moves one in the landscape. A man is little more than a lost moth; such a moth as we found dead and frozen as we crawled over the great snow towards the Strahlhorn. We sat down to rest, and I fought with my friend O—— about the beauty of the mountains, and horrified him by denying that there is any real loveliness above the snow-line. He took it quite seriously, forgetting that I was rebelling against so many miles of dead snow with never a thing to do but plod and plod, and plod again.
And then we came to the top of the pass where rocks jutted out of the snow, and a few minutes' climb let us look over into Italy, and down the steep south side of Monte Rosa, under whose white clouds lay Macugnaga. We sat upon the summit for an hour and ate once more, and argued as to the beauty of things, and the wonder and foolishness of climbing, and I own that I was very hard to satisfy. The snow-grind had entered into my soul as it always does. It is duller than a walk through any flat agricultural country before the corn begins to grow.
And yet below us was the other side of our pass, which certainly looked more interesting. Right under our feet was a little snow arête with slopes like a high pitched roof. It was quite possible to be killed there if one was foolish or reckless, and the prospect cheered me up. It is at anyrate not dull to be on an arête with a snow slope leading to nothing beneath me. And I cannot help insisting on the fact that much mountaineering is essentially dull. Often enough a long day may be without more than one dramatic moment. There is really only five minutes of interest on the Schwartzberg-Weissthor. We came to that in the arête, for after following it for a few minutes we turned off it to the left and came to the bergschrund, the big crevasse which separates the highest snows or ice from the glacier. By now I was quite anxious that the guides should find the schrund difficult. I had been bored to death and yearned for some little excitement. I even declared sulkily (it is odd, but true, that one does often become reckless and sulky under such circumstances) that I was ready to jump "any beastly bergschrund." My offer was no doubt made[Pg 228] with the comfortable consciousness that the guides were not likely to let me do anything quite idiotic. But there was no necessity for any such gymnastics. The schrund's lower lip was only six feet lower than the upper lip, and the whole crevasse was barely three feet across, though doubtless deep enough to swallow a thousand parties like ours. Somewhat to my disappointment we got over quite easily, and struck down across the glacier, passing one or two rather dangerous crevasses by crawling on our stomachs. The only satisfaction I had was that both the guides and O—— declared that the way I wished to descend was impossible, whereas it finally turned out to have been easy and direct. I said I had told them so, of course, and then we got on the lower glacier and on an accursed moraine. It was now about noon. We had been going since two in the morning. We came at last into a grassy valley, and presently stood on the steep débris slope above Mattmark. It was a steep run down the zigzag path to the flat, which is partly occupied by the Mattmark Lake, and at last we got to the inn. There we changed our things and had lunch, and[Pg 229] I and O—— once more fought over the glacier of the upper snows, and the question as to whether we should climb on æsthetic or gymnastic grounds. And though we did not reach the hotel at Saas-Fée till the evening, that argument lasted all the way. But when he and I get together, as we usually do when climbing comes on, we always quarrel in the most friendly way upon that subject. But for my own part I declare that I will never again do another pure snow-grind such as the Schwartzberg-Weissthor for any other purpose than to fetch a doctor, or to do something equally useful in a case of emergency. If climbing does not try one's faculties as well as one's physique it is a waste of labour.
I came out of London's mirk and mist and the clouds of the Channel and the rollers of the Bay to find sunshine in the Gironde, though the east wind was cool in Bordeaux's big river. And then even in Bordeaux I discovered that fog was over-common; brief sunshine yielded to thick mist, and the city of wine was little less depressing than English Manchester. But though I spent a night there I was bound south and hoped for better things close by the border of Spain. And truly I found them, though the way there through the Landes is as melancholy as any great city of sad inhabitants.
The desolation of the Landes is an ordered, a commercial desolation. Once the whole surface of the district bore nothing but a scanty herbage. The soil is sand and an iron cement, or "hard-pan," below the sand. Here uncounted millions of slender sea-pines cover the plain; they stand in serried rows, as[Pg 231] regular as a hop-garden, gloomy and without the sweet wildness of nature. And every pine is bitterly scarred, so that it may bleed its gum for traders. When the plantations are near their full growth they are cut down, stacked to season slowly, and the trees finish their existence as mine timbers deep under the earth.
After seventy miles of a southward run there are signs that the Landes are not so everlasting and spacious as they seem. To the south-east, at Buglose, where St Vincent de Paul was born, the Pyrenees show far and faint and blue on the horizon. And then suddenly the River Adour appears, and a country which was English. Dax was ours for centuries, and so was Bayonne, whose modern citadel has had a rare fate for any place of strength. It has never been taken; not even Wellington and his Peninsular veterans set foot within its bastions.
This is the country of the Basques, that strange, persistent race of which nothing is known. Their history is more covered by ancient clouds than that of the Celts; their tongue has no cousin in the world, though in structure it is like that of the North-American Indians. I met some of them later, but so far[Pg 232] know no more than two words of their language.
The wind was cool at St Jean de Luz, but the sun was bright and the sea thundered on the beach and the battered breakwaters. To the east and south are the Pyrenees—lower summits, it is true, but bold and fine in outline. The dominant peak, being the first of the chain, is Larhune (a Basque word, not French), where English blood was spilt when Clauzel held it for Napoleon against the English. Further to the south, and across the Bidassoa, in Spain, rises the sharp ridge of the Jaisquivel, beneath which lies Fuentarabia. Yonder by Irun is the abrupt cliff of Las Tres Coronas, three crowns of rock. Here one is in the south-east of the Bay, where France and Spain run together, and the sea, under the dominion of the prevailing south-westers, is rarely at peace with the land. To the northward, but out of sight, lies windy Biarritz; to the south is blood-stained, battered and renewed San Sebastian, a name that recalls many deeds of heroism and many of shame. The horrors of its siege and taking might make one cold even in sunlight. But between us and its new city lies the Bidassoa. Here, at St Jean de Luz, is the Nivelle flowing past Ciboure. The[Pg 233] river was once familiar to us in despatches. The whole country even yet smells of ancient war. For here lies the great western road to Spain. And more than once it has been the road to Paris. It is a path of rising and falling empire.
During my few days at St Jean de Luz I had foregathered with some exiled friends, walked to quiet Ascain, and regretted I lacked the time even to attain the summit of so small a mountain as Larhune, and then, desiring for once to set foot in Spain, took train to Hendaye. This is the last town in France. Across the Bidassoa rose the quaint roofs and towers of old Fuentarabia, the Fontarabie of the French. I hired an eager Basque to row me across the river, then running seaward at the last of the ebb.
The day was splendid and mild. There was no cloud in the sky, not a wreath of mist upon the mountains. The river was a blue that verged on green; its broad sand glowed golden in the sun; to seaward the amethystine waters of the Atlantic heaved and glittered. On the far cliffs they burst in lifting spray. The hills wore the fine faint blue of atmosphere; the wind was very quiet. This seemed at last like peace. I let my hands feel the cool waters[Pg 234] of the river and soaked my soul in the waters of peace.
And yet my bold Basque chattered as he stood at the bows and poled me with a blunted oar across the river shallows. He told me proudly that he had the three languages, that he was all at home with French and Spanish and Basque. He was intelligent within due limits; he at anyrate knew how to extract francs from an Englishman. That generosity which consists in buying interested civility as well as help or transport with an extra fifty centimes is indeed but a wise and calculated waste. It occurred to me that he might solve a question that puzzled me. Were the Basques united as a race, or were their sympathies French or Spanish? After considering how I should put it, I said,—
"Mon ami, est-ce que vous êtes plus Basque que Français, ou plus Français que Basque?"
He taught me a lesson in simple psychology, for he stopped poling and stared at me for a long minute. Then he scratched his head and a light came into his eyes.
"Mais, monsieur, je suis un Basque Français!"
My fine distinction was beyond him, and[Pg 235] it took me not a little indirect questioning to discover that he was certainly more French than Basque. He presently denounced the Spanish Basques in good round terms, and incidentally showed me that there must be a very considerable difference in their respective dialects. For he complained that the Spanish Basques spoke so fast that it was hard to understand them.
He put me ashore at last on a mud flat and accompanied me to the Fonda Miramar, where a bright and pretty waitress hurried, after the fashion of Spaniards, to such an extent that she got me a simple lunch in no more than half an hour. My Spanish is far worse even than my French, but in spite of that we carried on an animated conversation in French and English, Basque and Spanish. At lunch my talk grew more fluent and Mariquita went more deeply into matters. She desired to know what I thought of the Basques, of whom she was one, and a sudden flicker of the deceitful imagination set me inventing. I told her that I was a Basque myself, though I was also an Englishman. She exclaimed at this. She had never heard of English Basques. How was it I did not speak it? This was a sore point with me. I[Pg 236] assured her of the shameful fact that the English Basques had lost their own tongue; they were degenerate. I had some thoughts of learning it in order to re-introduce it into England. As soon as Mariquita had mastered this astounding story she hurried to the kitchen, and as I heard her relating something with great excitement, I have little doubt that a legend of English Basques is now well on its way past historic doubt. Leaving her to consider the news I had brought, I went out with my boatman to view the old town. I found it quaint and individual and lovely.
A man who has seen much of the world must hold some places strangely and essentially beautiful. My own favourite spots are Auckland, N. Z.; the upper end of the Lake of Geneva; Funchal in Madeira; the valley of the Columbia at Golden City and the valley of the Eden seen from Barras in England. To these I can now add Fuentarabia, the Pyrenees and the Bidassoa. I stood upon the roof of the old ruined palace of Charles Le Quint, and on every point of the compass the view had most peculiar and wonderful qualities. Beneath me was the increasing flood of the frontier river:[Pg 237] at my very feet lay the narrow and picturesque street cañons of the ancient town; to the south was Irun in the shelter and shadow of the mountains; east-south-east rose the pyramidal summit of Larhune; the west was the sharp ridge of the brown Jaisquivel which hid San Sebastian; to the north was the rolling Bay; and right to the south the triple crown of Las Tres Coronas cut the sky sharply. Right opposite me Hendaye burnt redly in the glow of the southern sun. In no place that I can remember have I seen two countries, three towns, a range of mountains, a big river and the sea at one time. And there was not a spot in view that had not been stained with the blood of Englishmen.
But now there were no echoes of war in Fuentarabia. Peace lay over its dark homes and within its ancient walls.
I had seen Etna, Vesuvius and Stromboli, but had never yet climbed any volcano until I stood upon the summit of the Peak of Teneriffe, Pico de Teyde, home of the gods and devils as well as of the aboriginal Guanches of the Canary Islands.
The wind was bitterly cold, more bitter, indeed, than I have ever felt, and yet, as I stood and shivered upon the little crater's brink, fumes of sulphurous acid and smoke swept round me and made me choke. The edge of the crater was of white fired rock; inside the cup the hollow was sulphur yellow. Puffs of smoke came from cracks. I dropped out of the wind and warmed myself at the fire. I picked up warm stones and danced them from one hand to another. And overhead a wind of ice howled. For the Peak is twelve thousand feet and more above the sea. An hour before I had been cutting steps in the last slopes of the last ash cone[Pg 239] of the volcano which still lives and may burst into activity at any fatal moment.
To stand upon the Peak and look down upon the world and the sea gives one a great notion of the making of things. Once the world was a crucible. The islands are all volcanic, all ash and cinders, lava and pumice. But I perceived that the Peak itself, the final peak, the last five thousand feet of it, was but the last result of a dying fire—a mere gas spurt to what had been. The whole anatomy of the island is laid bare; the history and the growth of the peak are written in letters of lava, in wastes of pumice and fire-scarred walls. The plain of the Cañadas lies beneath me, and is ten miles across. This was the ancient crater; it is as big as the crater of Kilauea, in the Hawaiian Islands. But Kilauea is yet truly alive, a sea of lava with many cones spouting lava. Such was the crater of Teneriffe before the last peak rose within its basin. Now retama, a hardy bitter shrub, grows in these plains of pumice; the flats of it are pumice and rapilli, white and brown. But the ancient crater walls stand unbroken for miles, though here and there they have been swept away, some say by floods of water belched from the pit.
From the last ash-peak of fire, as I stood on the crater walls in smoke and a cold wind, I saw no sign of Teneriffe's fertility. The works of man upon the lower slopes below the piñon forests were invisible. The slopes by Orotava lay under cloud, the sea was hidden almost to its horizon by a vast plain of heaving mist. All I could see plainly was the old crater itself, barren, vast, tremendous, with its fire-scarred walls and its fumaroles. To the west some smoked still, smoked furiously. But though I stood upon the highest peak, another one almost as high lay behind me. Chahorra gaped and gasped, as it seemed, like a leaping, suffocating fish in drying mud. Its crater opened like a mouth and around it lesser holes gaped. On the plain of the old crater there rise two separate volcanoes—one, the true peak, rising 5000 feet from the Cañada floor (itself 7000 feet above the sea), and Chahorra, nearly 4000. But so vast is the ancient crater that these two peaks, one yet alive and the other dead, seem but blisters or boils upon its barren plain. To the north, miles from the edge of my peak, I could see the crater cliff rise red. To the west and east the wall has broken down, but the Fortaleza, as the Canary men call it, stands yet,[Pg 241] scarred into chimneys, shining, half glassy, half like fired clay. And further to the east, beyond the gap called the Portillo, the cliffs rise again as one follows the trail over that high desert to Vilaflor. White pumice lies under these cliffs, looking like a beach. Once perhaps the crater was level with the sea. It may even be that the crater walls were broken down by outer waters, not by any volcanic flood.
None knows at what time the peak of Chahorra and the great peak were truly active. But obviously the final peak itself was the result of a last great eruption. Perhaps the old crater had been quiescent for thousands of years, and then it worked a little and threw up El Teyde. At some other time Chahorra rose. At another period, in historic times, the volcano above Garachico, even now smoking bravely, sent its lava into Garachico's harbour and destroyed it. But the last peak as it stands is the work of two periods of activity at least. The first great slope ends at another flat called the Rambleta. Here was once an ancient crater. Then the fires quietened, and there was a time of lesser activity. It woke again, and threw up the last weary ash-cone of a thousand feet or near it.
All things die, but who shall say when a[Pg 242] volcano has done its worst? A quiet Vesuvius slew its thousands: Etna its tens of thousands. Some day perhaps Teneriffe will wake again, either in earthquakes or lava-flow, and cause a Casamicciola or a Catania. The cones over against Garachico seemed much alive to me, and had I not warmed frozen hands at the very earth fires themselves? I broke out hot sulphur with the pick of my ice-axe. Icod of the Vines, or Orotava itself, port and villa, might some day wake to such a day as that which has smitten St Pierre in fiery Martinique.
Once all the quiet seas were unbroken by their seven islands—Hierro, Palma, Gomera, Teneriffe, Grand Canary, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote lay beneath the waters of the smiling ocean. Even now they smell of fire and the furnace; in the most fruitful vineyards of Grand Canary the soil is half cinders. In all the islands vast cinder heaps rise black and forbidding. Lava streams, in which the poisonous euphorbia alone can grow, thrust themselves like great dykes among fertile lands. The very sands of the sea are powdered pumice and black volcanic dust. One of the greatest craters of the world holds within itself great parts of wooded Palma. On dead volcanoes are[Pg 243] the petty batteries of Spain over against Las Palmas. There is something strange and almost pathetic in the thought of guns raised where Nature once thundered dreadfully in the barren sunlit Isleta.
But of all the islands and of all parts of them, the Peak, shining over clouds and visible from far seas, is the king and chief. I left its fiery summit with a certain reluctance. It attracted me strangely. It represented, feebly enough, I daresay, the greatest of all elemental forces. Yet its faint fires and its smoke and sulphur fumes had all the power of a mighty symbol. By such means, by such a formula, had the very world itself been made. Though snow lay upon its slopes and ice bound ancient blocks of lava together, it might at any hour awake again and renew the terrors which once must have floated over the seas in a gust of flame.
With the introduction of fences, which are now coming in with tremendous rapidity, sheep-herding as an art is inevitably doomed. When I knew north-west Texas a few years ago there was not a fence between the Rio Grande and the north of the Panhandle, but now barbed or plain wire is the rule, and in the pastures it is, of course, not so necessary to look after the sheep by day and night. In Australia I have not seen those under my charge for a week or more at a time. While there was water in the paddock I never even troubled to hunt them up in the hundred square miles of grey-green plain with its rare clumps of dwarf box. If dingoes were reported to be about I kept my eyes open, of course, but they were very rare in the Lachlan back blocks, and I was never able to earn the five shillings reward for the tail of this yellow marauder. But in Texas there are more wild[Pg 245] animals—the coyote, the bear, the "panther" or puma—and it is impossible to leave the sheep entirely to their own devices, even in pastures which prevent them wandering. Nevertheless, looking after them on fenced land is very different from being with them daily and hourly, sleeping with them at night, following and directing them by day, being all the time wary lest some should be divided from the main flock by accident, or lest the whole body should spy another sheep-owner's band and rush tumultuously into it.
But the new and unaccustomed shepherd on the prairie is apt to give himself much unnecessary trouble. It takes some time to learn that a flock of sheep is like a loosely-knit organism which will not separate or divide if it can help it. It might be compared with a low kind of jelly-fish, or even to a sea-anemone, for under favourable conditions of sun and sky it spreads out to feed, leaving between each of its members what is practically a constant distance. For when the weather changes they come closer together, and any alarm puts them into a compact mass. I have heard a gun fired unexpectedly, and then seen some 2000 sheep, spreading loosely over an irregular circle, about half a mile in diameter, rush for a[Pg 246] common centre with an infallible instinct. And then they gradually spread out again like that same sea-anemone putting forth its filaments after being touched.
The new shepherd, however, is in constant dread lest they should separate and divide so greatly that he will lose control of them. I have walked many useless miles endeavouring to keep a flock within unnatural limits before I discovered that they never went more than a certain distance from the centre. And this distance varied strictly with the numbers. At night time they begin to draw together, and if they are not put in a corral or fold will at last lie down in a fairly compact mass, remaining quiet, if undisturbed, until the approach of dawn. But if they have had a bad day for feeding they sometimes get up when the moon rises and begin to graze. Then the shepherd may wake up, and, finding he is alone, have to hunt for them. As they usually feed with their heads up wind it is not as a rule hard to discover them. If the moon is covered by a cloudy sky they will often camp down again.
The hardest days for the shepherd are cold ones, when it blows strongly. For then the sheep travel at a great pace, and will not go[Pg 247] quietly until the sun comes out of the grey sky of the chilly norther, which perhaps moderates towards noon. But in such weather they do not care to camp at noonday, and instead of spreading they will travel onward and onward. They doubtless feel uncomfortable and restless. After such a day they are uneasy at night, especially when there is a moon.
It is my opinion, after experience of both conditions, that unherded sheep do much better than those which are closely looked after. In Australia our percentage of lambs was sometimes 104, and any squatter would think something wrong if his sheep on the plain yielded less than 90 per cent. increase. But in Texas, where the mothers are watched and helped, the increase is seldom indeed 75 in the 100, much oftener it is 60. I used to wonder whether the losses by wild animals would have equalled the loss of 25 per cent. increase which is, I believe, entirely due to the care taken of them. For herding is essentially a worrying process, even when practised by a man who understands sheep well. The mothers are never left alone, and must be driven to a corral at night. Consequently they often get separated from their lambs before they come to know them, and one of[Pg 248] the most pitiful things seen by a shepherd is the poor distracted ewe refusing to recognise her own offspring even when it is shown to her. We used in such cases to put them together in a little pen during the night, hoping that she would "own" it by the morning. But very often she would not, and then the lamb usually died. If, indeed, it was one of a more sturdy constitution than most, it would refuse to die and became a kind of Ishmael in the flock. The milk which was necessary it took, or tried to take, from the ewe, who, for just a moment, might not know a stranger was trying to share the right of her own lamb. Such an orphan rarely grows up, and most of them die quickly, as they are knocked about and cruelly used by those who take no interest in the disinherited outcast of that selfish ovine society. And yet its real mother is in the flock, reconciled to her loss after a few days of suffering.
In spite of my present very decided disinclination to have anything to do with sheep, they are, like every other animal, very interesting when closely studied. I spent some years in their society in New South Wales and know a little about them. Shortly before I left Ennis Creek ranch in North-west Texas a[Pg 249] very curious incident occurred, which I could never quite satisfactorily explain, for I believe the most serious fright I have ever had in all my life was caused by these same inoffensive, innocent quadrupeds. It was not inflicted on me by a ram, which is occasionally bellicose, but by ewes with their lambs, and I distinctly remember being as surprised as if the sky had fallen or something utterly opposed to all causation had confronted me. I want to meet a man, even of approved courage, who would not be shocked into fair fright by having half-a-dozen ewes suddenly turn and charge him with the fury of a bullock's mad onset. Would he not gasp, be stricken dumb, and look wide-eyed at the customary nature about him, just as if they had broken into awful speech? I imagine he would, for I know that it shook my nerves for an hour afterwards, even though I had by that time recovered sufficient courage to experiment on them in order to see if the same result would again follow. I had about 500 ewes and lambs under my care. The day was warm, though the wind was blowing strongly, and when noon approached the flock travelled but slowly towards the place where I wished them to make their mid-day camp. To urge them on I took a large bandana [Pg 250]handkerchief and flicked the nearest to me with it as I walked behind. As I did so the wind blew it strongly, and it suddenly occurred to me to make a sort of a flag of it in order to see if it would frighten them. I took hold of two corners and held it over my head, so that it might blow out to its full extent. Now, whether it was due to the glaring colour, or the strange attitude, or to the snapping of the outer edge of the handkerchief in the wind—and I think it was the last—I cannot say, but the hindmost ewes suddenly stopped, turned round, eyed me wildly, and then half-a-dozen made a desperate charge, struck me on the legs, threw me over, and fled precipitately as I fell. It was a reversal of experience too unexpected! I lay awhile and looked at things, expecting to see the sun blue at the least, and then I gathered myself together slowly. In all seriousness I was never so taken aback in all my life, and I was almost prepared for a ewe's biting me. I remembered the Australian story of the rich squatter catching a man killing one of his sheep. "What are you doing that for?" he inquired as a preliminary to requesting his company home until the police could be sent for. The questioned one looked up and answered coolly,[Pg 251] though not, I imagine, without a twinkle in his eye, "Kill it! Why am I killing it? Look here, my friend, I'll kill any man's sheep as bites me." For my part, I don't think biting would have alarmed me more. After that I made experiments on the ewes, and always found that the flying bandana simply frightened them into utter desperation when nothing else would. It was a long time before they got used to it. I should like to know if any other sheep-herders ever had the same experience at home or abroad.
In another book I spoke of lambs when they were very young taking my horse for their mother. This was in California; but in Texas I have often seen them run after a bullock or steer. One day on the prairie a lamb had been born during camping-time, and when it was about two hours old a small band of cattle came down to drink at the spring. Among these was a very big steer, with horns nearly a yard long, who came close to the mother, just then engaged in cleaning her offspring. She ran off, bleating for her lamb to follow. The little chap, however, came to the conclusion that the steer was calling it, and went tottering up to the huge animal, that towered above him like the side of a cañon, apparently much to[Pg 252] the latter's embarrassment. The steer eyed it carefully, and lifted his legs out of the way as the lamb ran against them, even backing a little, as if as surprised as I had been when the ewes assaulted me. Then all of a sudden he shook his head as if laughing, put one horn under the lamb, threw it about six feet over his back, and calmly walked on. I took it for granted that the unwary lamb was dead, but on going up I found it only stunned, and, being as yet all gristle, it soon recovered sufficiently to acknowledge its real mother, who had witnessed its sudden elevation, stamping with fear and anxiety.
Sheep-herding is supposed, by those who have never followed it, to be an easy, idle, lazy way of procuring a livelihood; but no man who knows as much of their ways as I do will think that. It is true that there are times when there is little or nothing to be done—when a man can sit under a tree quietly and think of all the world save his own particular charge; but for the most part, if he have a conscience, he will feel a burden of responsibility upon him which of itself, independently of the work he may have to do, will earn him his little monthly wage of twenty dollars and the rough ranch food of "hog and hominy." For there is no[Pg 253] ceasing of labour for the Texas herder of the plains; Sunday and week-day alike the dawning sun should see him with his flock, and even at night he is still with them as they are "bedded out" in the open. Even if he can "corral" them in a rough sort of yard, some slinking coyote may come by and scare them into breaking bounds; and when they are not corralled the bright moon may entice them to feed quietly against the wind, until at last the herder wakes to find his charge has vanished and must be anxiously sought for. In Australia, as I have said, the sheep are left to their own devices for the greater part of the year, unless there should be unusual scarcity of water; but even there, to have charge of so many thousand animals, and so many miles of fencing, makes it no enviable task, while the labour, when it does come, is hard and unremitting. In New South Wales I have often been eighteen and twenty hours in the saddle, and have reached home at last so wearied out that I could scarcely dismount. One day I used up three horses and covered over ninety miles, more than fifty of it at a hard canter or gallop—and if that be not work I should like to know what is. This, too, goes on day after day during shearing, just when the days are[Pg 254] growing hot and hotter still, the spare herbage browning, and the water becoming scanty and scantier. And for a recompense? There is none in working with sheep. They are quiet, peaceable, stupid, illogical, incapable of exciting affection, very capable of rousing wrath; far different from the terrible excitement of a bellowing herd of long-horned cattle as they break away in a stampede, among whom is danger and sudden death and the glory of motion and conquest; or with horses thundering over the plain in hundreds, like a riderless squadron shaking the ground with waving manes, long flowing tails, and flashing eyeballs, whom one can love and delight in, and shout to with a strange, vivid joy that sends the blood tingling to the heart and brain. Were I to go back to such a life I would choose the danger, and be discontented to maunder on behind the slow and harmless wool-bearers, cursing a little every now and again at their foolishness, and then plodding on once more, bunched up in an inert mass on a slow-going horse, who wearily stretches his neck almost to the ground as he dreams, perhaps, of the long, exhilarating gallops after his own kind that we once had together, being conscious, I daresay, of the contemptuous pity I feel for the slow [Pg 255]foredoomed muttons that crawl before us on the long and weary plain.
It is highly probable that the introduction of fences will have its effect in other ways than in increasing the number of lambs born and reared. Sheep-herding will almost disappear when the wild beasts of Texas are extinct, as they soon will be, for a fenced country is very unfit for such animals. But then the natural glory of the wide open prairie will be gone, and civilisation will gradually destroy all that was so delightful, even when my sheep, by worrying me, taught me what I have here set down.
Everybody nowadays has some notion of the way the railroad business of America is carried on. They know that there are too many roads for the traffic, and that, to prevent a general ruin, the managers combine, pay the profits into the hands of a receiver, and receive again from him a certain agreed proportion of the whole sum. But this method of "pooling" the profits is sometimes unsatisfactory. One line will think it gets too little if the fluctuations of trade send more freight over its rails than it formerly had, and will demand a greater proportion of the gross profits. This demand may be granted, but if not, the agreement may break down, and the discontented railroad go to work on the old principle of every man for himself. This very likely inaugurates a war of tariffs; fares and freights go down slowly or quickly[Pg 257] according as the quarrel is open or secret, until one or other of the parties gives in to avoid complete ruin.
While I was living in San Francisco, early in 1886, there was an open war between all the lines west of Chicago and Kansas City, including the Union Pacific, the Northern Pacific, the Denver and Rio Grande, the Southern Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fé. Fares to New York and the Atlantic seaboard came tumbling down by $10 at a fall. The usual rate from New York to San Francisco is $72. It fell to 60, to 50, 40, 30, to 25, to 22. All the railroad offices had great placards outside inviting everyone to go East at once, for they would never get such a chance again. Some of the notices were very odd. One began with "Blood, blood, blood!" and another had a hand holding a bowie knife, with the legend "Here we cut deep!" And, as I have said, they did cut deep, for at the end one might go to New York for about $18. Now this $18 went in a lump to the railroad east of Chicago. Consequently the passengers were carried over 2000 miles for nothing. Frequently during two days men were booked to Chicago or Kansas City[Pg 258] from San Francisco or Los Angeles for $1. Two thousand miles for 4s. 2d!
Such a state of things could not last, but while it did it gave rise to much speculation. Many men bought up tickets, good for some time, believing the bottom prices had been reached when the fall had by no means ended. It was odd to stand outside an office and listen to the crowd. Some would hold on and say, "I'll chance it till to-morrow." Then I have seen an agent come outside and say, "Gentlemen, now's your time to go east and visit your families. Don't delay. Of course fares may fall further, but I think not. Don't be too greedy. You are not likely to get the chance again of going home for twenty-five dollars." They did fall further, but recovered again on the rumour of negotiations beginning between the competing lines. When that was contradicted they fell again. Suddenly, without any warning, they jumped up to normal rates, and left many of the outside public—the bears, so to speak—lamenting that they had not taken the opportunity so eloquently pointed out by the oratorical agents on the sidewalk by the offices. For the placards and pictures came down at once,[Pg 259] and to an inquirer who asked, "What can you do New York at?" the answer was, "Why, sir, the usual rate—$72."
To an Englishman who has not travelled in the States and become familiar with the methods employed there by business men, it seems odd that anyone should chaffer with the clerk at a ticket-office. What would an English booking-clerk say if he were asked about the fare to some place, and, on replying £1, received the rejoinder, "I'll give you 15s?" He would think the man a joker of a very feeble description. Yet this may often be done in Western America. Even when there is no "war" the agents have a certain margin to veer and haul on in their commission, and will often knock off a little sooner than allow a rival line to get the passenger. Besides, it frequently happens that there may be a secret cutting of rates without an open war. My own experience, when I came down from Sonoma County in the autumn of 1886, meaning to return to England, will give a very good notion of this, and of the way to get a cheap ticket when there is the trouble among the companies which may end in a war, or be patched up by arbitration.
It had been said in the papers for some time[Pg 260] that rate-cutting was going on in San Francisco, and this made me hurry down not to lose the opportunity. The morning after my arrival I walked into an office in Kearney Street and said briefly, "What are you doing to New York?" The clerk said in a business way, "Seventy-two dollars." I laughed a little and looked at him straight without speaking. "Hum," said he; "well, you can go for sixty-five." "Thanks," I said, "it isn't enough." I walked out, and though he called me back I would not return. Then I went to Mr P., a well-known agent for railroads and steamships. To use a vulgarism, he did not open his mouth so wide as the other, but at once offered me a through ticket to Liverpool for $72. I thanked him and said I would call again. Deducting the $12 for a steerage passage, his railroad fare was $60. So far I had knocked off 12. And now it began to rain very hard. It did not cease all day. And my day's work was only begun, for it was only ten o'clock then. I went from one office to another, quoting one's rates here and another's there, and slowly I dropped the fare to fifty. I had to explain to some of these men that I was not a fool, and that I knew what I was doing; that if they took me for a "tenderfoot," or a "sucker,"[Pg 261] they were mistaken. My explanations always had an effect, and down the fare tumbled. At last, about three o'clock, I had got things to a very fine point, and was working two rival offices which stood side by side near the Palace Hotel. One man—Mr A., whom I knew by name, who indeed knew a friend of mine—offered me $45. I shook my head, and going next door, Mr V. made it a dollar less. It took me half-an-hour to reduce that again to forty-three; but at last Mr A., who was as much interested in this little game as if I were a big stake at poker, went suddenly down to $41. I offered to toss him whether it should be $40 or $42. He accepted, and I won the toss. As he made out the ticket, he remarked, almost sadly, "We don't make anything out of this." But he cheered up, and added, "Well, the others don't either." So I got my ticket; and it was over one of the best lines. By that day's work, though I got wet through, covered with mud, and very tired, I saved $32.
When on board the east-bound train next day I got talking with some dozen men who were going east with me, and, naturally enough, we asked each other what fares we had paid, I found they varied greatly, but the average was about $60. One little Jew, a[Pg 262] tobacconist, was very proud that his only cost $48. He almost wept when I told him that I beat him by eight whole dollars. Moreover, I reached New York twenty hours before him, for when we parted at Chicago we made arrangements to meet in New York, and then I found that he had been obliged to round into Canada, and lie over all one night, while I had come direct on the Chicago and Alton with only two hours' wait at Lima; so on the whole I did not think I did very badly.
It may seem strange to people who are entirely unacquainted with the methods of shipmasters and officers generally in the American mercantile marine that a sailor should have such a deadly objection to sail in one of their vessels; but those who know the hideous brutalities which continually occur on such ships will quite understand the feelings of a man who finds himself on a vessel which would probably have been manned willingly if it had not a bad character among seamen. I have known an American vessel lie six weeks and more off Sandridge, Melbourne, waiting for a crew, which she could not get, although men were very plentiful and the boarding-houses full. There are some vessels running from New York, etc., round the Horn to San Francisco, which have a villainous reputation. The captain of one of these was sentenced to eighteen[Pg 264] months in the Penitentiary when I was in the great Pacific Port for incredible atrocities practised on his crew. For one thing, he shot repeatedly at men who were up aloft, and hit one of them who was on the main-yard, though not so seriously as to make him quit his hold of the jack-stay. One of the ship's boys was treated with barbarity during the whole passage; thrashed, beaten, starved, and ill-used in the vilest manner; and at last the captain knocked him down and jumped on his face so as to blind him for life. This man went a little too far, and the courts, which are always biassed, and very much biassed considering their origin, on the side of rich authority, were compelled to do their duty by the uproar that this last incident caused. Yet even after that the people connected with the shipping interests got up petitions, and intrigued and wire-pulled for months to get the Governor of California to pardon him. Failing in this, they approached the President; but I am heartily glad their efforts were vain.
One of my own shipmates in the Coloma, of Portland, Oregon, was once with a commander of this class, and so bad was his reputation that no one among the crew knew until they were under way who the captain was. My mate said,[Pg 265] "I was at the wheel when I saw him come up the companion, and, as I had sailed with him before, my blood ran cold when I recognised him. He came straight up to the wheel, stared at me, and asked me, 'Haven't you sailed with me before?' 'Yes, sir,' I answered. Then he grinned, 'Ha, then you know me. When you go forward you tell the crowd what kind of a man I am, and tell them that if they behave themselves I'll be a father to 'em.' I knew what his being a father to us meant. However, I didn't see any good in scaring the fellows, so when my trick was over I told them the skipper was a real beauty. Just then there was a roar from the poop, 'Relieve the wheel'; and the man who had relieved me came staggering forrard with his face smothered in blood. He had let her run off a quarter of a point or so, and the skipper, without saying a word, struck him right between the eyes with the end of his brass telescope, cutting his nose and forehead in great gashes. That was his way of being a father to us, and he kept it up all the passage. The first chance I got I skinned out!"
It is true that the American mercantile marine is not so bad as it was. These things do not occur in all vessels, but even yet they occur so frequently that an English sailor would,[Pg 266] as a general rule, rather sail with the devil himself than an American skipper. What the state of affairs was some twenty or thirty years ago one can hardly imagine, but it certainly was much worse then. Shanghai-ing is not so much practised. There is a story current among seamen, though I know not how true it is, that it was checked owing to the lieutenant of an English man-of-war being drugged and carried on board an American merchant-man. However, there is now, or was but lately, a boarding-house keeper in San Francisco whose Christian or first name had been abolished in favour of "Shanghai." I had the very doubtful honour of knowing him, and could easily believe any stories told of his chicanery and treachery to sailormen.
The poor tramp is a much-abused person, and I have no doubt that he often deserves what is said of him, but, in spite of that, his life is often so hard that he might extort at the least a little sympathy—and something to eat. All Americans are too ready to confound two distinct classes of tramps—those who take the road to look for work, and those (the larger number, I confess) who look for work and pray to heaven that they may never find it. In this preponderance of the lazy traveller over the industrious lies the distinction between the state of affairs in America and Australia, for in the latter country the "sundowner," or "murrumbidgee whaler," or "hobo" proper, is in the minority.
When I was on the tramp myself in Oregon I was much annoyed by being taken for one of the truly idle kind. I remember at Roseberg,[Pg 268] or a little to the north of it, I once stopped and had a talk with a farmer whom I had asked for work. Although he had none to give me he was very civil, and we talked of tramps and tramping. He looked at me keenly. "I can see you are not of the regular professionals," said he. "Thank you for your perspicacity," I answered, and though perspicacity fairly floored him, he saw it was not an insult, and went on talking. "Now look here, my boy, they say we're hard on tramps, and perhaps some of us are, but I reckon we sometimes get enough to make us rough. Last summer I was in my orchard, picking cherries, I think, and a likely-looking, strong young fellow comes along the road. Seeing me, he climbs the fence, and says to me, 'Say, boss, could you give me something to eat? I haven't had anything to-day.' I looked at him. 'Why, yes,' said I. 'If you'll go up to the house I'll be up there in a few minutes when I've filled this pail; and while you're waiting just split a little wood. The axe is on the wood pile.' Now, look you, what d'ye think he said. 'I don't split wood. I ain't going to do any work till I get to Washington Territory.' 'Oh!' said I, 'that's it, is it? Then look here, young fellow, don't you eat anything till[Pg 269] you get there either; for I won't give you anything, and just let me see you climb that fence in a hurry.' So he went off cursing. Ain't that kind of thing enough to make us rough on tramps?—let alone that they steal the chickens; and if you look as you go down the road you'll see feathers by every place they camp." That was true enough, and south of the Umpqua I used to find goose feathers every few hundred yards. On that same tramp down through Oregon I once met four men travelling north. There had been a murder committed by a tramp in the south of Roseberg, and we stopped under an old scrubby oak to talk it over. Three of them were working men, but the fourth was a true professional, about fifty years of age, whose clothes were ragged to the last extremity of tatters. His hands were brown at the backs, but I noticed, when I gave him some tobacco, which he very promptly asked for, that the palms were perfectly soft. He told us how long he had travelled, and how many years it was since he had done any work; and, finally rising, he picked up a wretched-looking blanket, and said, "Well, good-day, gentlemen. I'm off to call on the Mayor of Portland and a few rich friends of mine up there." He[Pg 270] winked good-humouredly and shambled off.
I met a lame young fellow near Jacksonville, who told me he had come all the way from New York State, and was thinking of going back. He was in very good spirits, and did not appear in the least dismayed at the prospect of tramping 2000 miles, for he was one of those who do not use the railroad and "beat their way." When I was at work in Sonoma County, California, a little fellow came and worked for ten days, who once travelled 200 miles inside the cowcatcher of an engine. Most English people know the wedge-shaped pilot in front of the American engine well enough by repute to recognise it. When the engine was in the yard over the hollow track he crawled in, taking a board to sit on inside. When the locomotive once ran out on the ordinary track it was impossible to remove him, although the fireman soon discovered his presence there, and poured some warm water over him. On coming to a little town about fifty miles from his destination the constable came down to the train. "He came," said Hub (that was our tramp's name) "to see that no tramps get off there, or, if they did, to advise them[Pg 271] to clear out. He walked to the engine and said 'Good day' to the driver. 'Got any tramps on board to-day, Jack?' he said. 'We've got one,' he answered; 'but we can't get him off.' 'Why? how's that?' said the constable. 'Go and look at the pilot.' So he came round and looked at me, and he burst into a laugh. 'All right, Jack,' says he, 'you can keep him. He won't trouble us, I can see.' And with that he poked me with his stick, and called everyone to take a look. I said nothing, but you bet I felt mean to be cooped up there, not able to move, with all the folks laughing at me."
But, in spite of Hub's sad experience, he went off on the tramp again as soon as he had enough to buy a pair of new boots with.
Tramps—that is, the bad ones among them—are very often insolent when they find no one but women in the house. Once a man I knew was working in Indiana, but having a bad headache he remained in one morning. By-and-by a truculent-looking tramp came along. "Kin you give us suthin' to eat, ma'am?" he growled. "Certainly," said the woman, who was always kind to travellers. She set about making him a meal and put out some bread and meat. The tramp, who[Pg 272] certainly did not look hungry, eyed it with disfavour. "Bah!" said he at last, with intense contempt; "I don't want that stuff. D'ye think I'm starving? A'nt you got suthing nice—say, some strawberry shortcake and cream?" The woman stared with astonishment, as well she might. But the man with the headache heard Mr Tramp's remarks. There was a shot-gun hanging in the room where he was; so, slipping off the bed, he reached for the weapon, walked out quietly, and, thrusting the muzzle of the gun under the tramp's ear, he roared in a fierce voice "Get!" And, to use the vernacular, the tramp "got" instantly.
The last story I will tell of tramps is perhaps the most audacious of all. I met the chief actor in British Columbia. It appears that he and another man went one Sunday to a very respectable farmhouse in Illinois to beg for food. They knocked and there was no answer. They knocked again, and still without avail. Then they opened the unlocked door and went in. The dining-table was laid ready for a feast, as it seemed, for it was adorned with an admirable cold collation, including a turkey, several fowls, and a number of pies. The eyes of my[Pg 273] acquaintance and his partner sparkled. Here was a chance, for the family was at church. They went out, got a sack, and hastily tumbled into it the turkey, the fowls, some bread, and the most substantial pies. Just as it was getting full one looked out of the window and saw a man coming up the path. They were struck with terror of discovery, but on watching they soon saw that this was a tramp like themselves. He came up and knocked at the door. "Can you give me something to eat, sir?" he asked humbly. "I guess so," said my acquaintance, coolly; "that is, if you ain't one of the tramps that won't work. Will you cut some wood for your dinner?" "Of course I will," said the tramp, gladly, and he went to the wood pile. While he was at work the two spoilers of the Egyptians departed through the back door, and went about a hundred yards to the corner of a wood, where they laughed till they cried. The result of their manœuvre was sure to be too good to be lost, so one of them climbed up a tree and watched. In about a quarter of an hour he saw a string of men and women coming towards the house, and still the working tramp made the chips fly. On entering the yard one of the men went up[Pg 274] to interview him, and by the tramp's gestures it was evident that he was explaining that he had been set to work. Meanwhile, the women went in, but came out again in a moment, shrieking with indignation. The next sight was the farmer armed with a stick belabouring the astonished worker, who fled across the fence incontinently. He was followed to the very verge of the wood, and then the exhausted "mossback" left him to return to the house. "It was just the funniest thing I ever saw," declared my unabashed friend; "and to see that poor fellow get whipped for our sins nearly killed me. But I tell you we rewarded him for his labour after all. We found him sitting on a stump rubbing himself all over, and invited him to dinner with us. So, you see, he got the grub we promised him, and he didn't work for nothing, for that would just kill a tramp."
The fauna of Texas is very varied, and a naturalist may find plenty there for his note-book, and much to reflect on, if he be a contemplative man. A hunter may satisfy himself, too, if he goes into the extreme west and north-west, but he must be quick about it, for I received a letter years ago from a friend of mine in the south part of the Panhandle of Texas, in which he told me that all the land was getting fenced in, even in those parts that I knew in 1884 as wide and open prairie, and when fences come the beasts go, deer and antelope retreat, and "panther" or cougar are hunted and shot by those who own sheep, cattle and horses. I am no naturalist, and no great hunter. At the risk of causing a smile of contempt I must confess that I can hold a shot-gun, a "double-pronged scatter-gun," or a rifle in my hands without shooting at anything I see. I have let antelope and deer pass me without even[Pg 276] letting the gun off, and have spared squirrels and birds innumerable that most of my friends would have promptly slain; but I take great interest in animal life, and am fond of watching the denizens of prairie or forest.
When on my friend Jones's ranche in 1884 I sometimes went wild turkey hunting or potting; we used to choose a moonlight night and lie under the trees, where they roosted, and shoot them on the branches. It was mere butchery, and the sole excitement consisted in the doubt as to whether any of the big birds would come or not, and the chief interest to me was the conversation of my wild Texan friends, who were stranger than turkeys to me.
There were not many birds of prey around us, except the big slow-sailing turkey-buzzards, which are protected by law as useful scavengers. Nevertheless, I shot at one once, and having missed it I never tried again.
My great friends were the hares or jackrabbits, which are fast, but very easy to shoot, for if I saw one coming my way, loping or cantering along, I stood stock-still, and he would come past me without taking the least notice of my presence, probably imagining I was only a curious-shaped stump. Sometimes I found them in the dry arroyos or water-courses,[Pg 277] and threw stones at them. They rarely ran away at once at full speed, but for the most part went a little distance and sat up to look at me, waiting for two or three stones, until they made up their minds that I was decidedly dangerous.
Another little animal was the cotton-tail rabbit, so called from the white patch of fur under the tail, which is as bright as cotton bursting from the pod, I killed one once more by impulse than anything else. It ran from under my feet when I had a knife in my hand. I threw it at the rabbit, and to my surprise knocked it over, for I am a very bad shot with that sort of missile.
The prairie dogs or marmots were in tens of thousands round us, and I used to amuse myself by shooting at one in particular with the rifle. His hole was a hundred yards from our camp, and he would come out and sit on his hill every now and again, and then go nibbling round at the grass. I shot at him a dozen times, and once cut the ground under his belly, but never killed him. They are extremely hard to get even if shot, for they manage to run into their burrows somehow, even if mortally wounded. The Texans believe they go back even when quite dead;[Pg 278] but then they are rather credulous, for some of them believe that the rattlesnake lives on friendly terms with the inmates of the burrows. The rattlesnakes were very numerous, for one day I killed seven. The first one I saw threw me into a curious instinctive state of fury, and I smashed it into pieces, while I trembled like a horse who has nearly stepped on a venomous snake. Those Texans who do not believe in the friendship of snake and prairie dog say that it is possible to make the rattler come out of a hole he has taken refuge in by rolling small pieces of dirt and earth down it. For they assert that the prairie dogs earth up the mouth of the burrow when they know a snake is in it, and the reptile knows what is about to happen.
Of other snakes there were the moccasins, water snakes, and esteemed very deadly. It is said that when an Indian is bitten by one of these he lies down to die without making any effort to save his life, whereas if a rattlesnake has harmed him he usually cures himself. Besides these there were the omnipresent garter snakes, and the grey or silver coach-whip, both harmless. The bull snake is said to grow to an enormous size, and is a kind of North American python or boa. About five miles[Pg 279] from our camp was an old hut, which was occupied by a sheep-herder whom I knew. One night he heard a noise, and looking out of his bunk saw by the dim light of the fire an enormous snake crawling out of a hole in the corner of the room. He jumped out of bed and ran outside, and found a stick. He killed it, and it measured nearly eleven feet. It is called bull snake because it is popularly supposed to bellow, but I never heard it make any noise of such description.
On these prairies there are occasionally to be found cougars, commonly called panthers or "painters," although erroneously. In British Columbia they are called mountain lions, and the same name is applied to them in California, unless they are called California lions. I am informed by a naturalist friend that they are the same species as the South American puma. I knew a man in Colorado City who was a great hunter of these animals, and he had half a dozen hunting dogs torn and scratched all over their bodies, with ears missing, and one with half a tongue, who had suffered from the teeth and claws of these cougars. He kept one in a cage which was much too small for it, and I was often tempted to poison it to put an end to its misery. This man had a regular menagerie[Pg 280] at the back of his house, consisting of various birds, this cougar, and two bears.
These bears are not infrequently to be met with on the prairies, and while I was staying in a town one was brought in in a wagon. Bruin had been captured by four cowboys, who had lassoed and tied it. He weighed about 600 lbs., and was a black bear, for the cinnamon and grizzly do not, I believe, range in open level country.
Besides these harmful animals there were plenty of antelopes to be found, if one went to look for them, and the cowardly slinking coyote was often to be seen as one rode across the prairie; and often in walking I found tortoises with bright red eyes. These were small, about six inches long. In the creeks were plenty of mud turtles, which are fond of scrambling on to logs to sun themselves. If disturbed they drop into the water instantly, giving rise to a saying to express quickness, "like a mud turtle off a log."
I have said nothing of bison. Perhaps there are none now, but in 1884 there were supposed to be still a few on the Llano Estacado or Stakes Plain. I knew one man who used to go hunting them every year and usually killed a few. But the last time I saw him he was on a[Pg 281] "jamboree," or spree, and killed his unfortunate horse by tying it up without feeding it or giving it water while he was drinking or drunk, and so he did not make his usual trip. But I imagine there can be few or none left now, and probably the only representatives of the race are in the National Park.
After coming back to England from Australia in the barque Essex I found "home" a curious place, which afforded very few prospects of a satisfactory job. For if there is one thing more than another borne in upon anyone who returns from the Colonies it is the apparent impossibility of earning one's living in London. Every avenue is as much choked as the entrance to the pit at a popular theatre on a first night. And though it is said that we may always get a tooth-brush into a portmanteau however full it is, there comes a time when not even a tooth-brush bristle can be put there. I looked at London, wandered round it, spent all my money, and determined to go to sea again, this time in a steamer rather than in a "wind-jammer." With this notion in my mind I went down to Hull, whither a shipmate of mine had preceded me. He had been a quarter-master in the Essex and was the melancholy possessor[Pg 283] of a cancelled master's certificate. He owed this to drink, of course, as most men do who pile their ships up on the first reef that comes handy. But when he was sober he was a good old fellow. He took me round to the Sailors' Home in Salthouse Lane, and introduced me to the man who ran it. I stayed there six weeks.
The Sailors' Home as an institution is not over-popular with seamen, especially with the more improvident of them. And the improvident are certainly ninety per cent. of the total sea-going race of man. As a rule Homes cease to be such when a man's money is done. He is thrown out into the street or into some equivalent of the notorious Straw House. There is always much talk at sea about the relative advantages of Boarding-Houses and Homes, and half the arguments about the subject end in more or less of a "rough house" and a few odd black eyes. However rude and brutal the boarding-house master may be, however much of a daylight robber he is (and they mostly are "daylight robbers") it is to his advantage to make his house popular. There is no surer way of doing this than ensuring his boarder a ship at the end of his short spree on shore. In many Homes the men look after this[Pg 284] themselves. Jack is a child and wants to be looked after. As far as the Home in Salthouse Lane went, I think it combined some of the better qualities of both the common resorts of men ashore. The boss of it knew something about seamen; he was certainly not a robber, and he kept me and several others when we did not possess a red cent among us to jingle on a tombstone. He also kept order, for he had had some experience as a prize-fighter, and could put the best of us on the floor at a moment's notice. Once or twice he did so, and peace reigned in Warsaw.
There were certainly very few of us in the Home. Hull was not quite as full of sailors as hell is of devils, as a boarding-house master once assured me that San Francisco was when I tried to get taken into his house after being rejected even less politely by that eminent scoundrel Shanghai Brown. Besides myself there were a sturdy blue-nose or Nova-Scotian; a long-limbed, slab-sided herring-back or native of New Brunswick, a big thick-headed ass of an Englishman and a smart thief of a Cockney, known to us all as Ginger. We lived together without quarrelling more than three times a day. This we thought was peace. It was certainly more peaceful than my last [Pg 285]boarding-house at Williamstown, where we had a little bloodshed every night. But there the very tables and benches were clamped to the floor; the windows were too high above us for anyone to be thrown out, and on a board nailed beyond our reach was the legend, "Order must and will be preserved." But that boarding-house was very exciting; my last excitement In it was tripping up a man, treading on his wrist and taking away a razor with which he meant to cut throats. In Hull we never went further than a good common "scrap," though they happened fairly often.
Times were not very brisk in Hull just then. At anyrate, we did not find them so. We had a "runner" at the Home, who was supposed to help us find a ship, but certainly did not. He was a very curious person to look at. He weighed eighteen stone and was a perfect giant of strength, with legs like columns and a neck about twenty inches round. I never found out what his nationality was. He looked like a Russian, but denied that he was one. It was said that he once fought six men in the lane and downed them all in sheer desperation. As a matter of fact, he was rather cowardly, I think, and easily put on, though if he had really got mad something would have[Pg 286] had to give. We did not rely on him but looked for ships ourselves in a very casual way. Most of us pretended to look for them and loafed about the neighbouring slums. When sailormen are thrown on their own resources they are pretty helpless creatures. The man who is a lion on a topsail yard in a gale is too often like a wet cat in a backyard when he is ashore. I was lazy enough myself, but as it happened it was I who got something to do for Ginger, for the New Brunswicker and myself.
I had not been living in the highly-desirable neighbourhood of Salthouse Lane for a week before I found myself without a stiver. The rest were in the same condition. Every three days or so I borrowed a penny from the boss and got a shave in order to keep up my spirits. Three days' beard is almost as depressing as three days' starvation, and the little shop at the corner, which renewed my self-respect for a penny, seemed to me a most admirable institution. As for drinks, we had none—we were sober sailors indeed. The sun might get over the fore-yard and go down over the cro'-jack but we never touched liquor. Nevertheless we had fights to relieve the monotony of the situation. The Nova Scotian and I took[Pg 287] to being hostile. We disbelieved each other's lies. So one day while we were in the smoking-room he said something which was not at all polite. I could not knock him down with a chair because the careful and provident boss had had them chained to the floor. So I hit him, and hit him rather hard, for what he had said out of pure devilry. He was sitting on the table and I knocked him off. His particular mate was the very thick-headed Englishman. He did his best for the Nova Scotian by holding me very tight while the blue-nose hammered me. This was awkward, to say nothing about the unfairness of it. I got away but presently found myself across a bench with my back in danger of being broken. More by good luck than management I broke loose and got the blue-nose across the bench, I am thankful to say I nearly broke his back. Then we waltzed round the room in the wildest way, till the wife of the boss and the servant girl flew in and broke up the party with the most amazing energy. I was the youngest and the most civilised, and the women naturally said it was the Nova Scotian's fault. They said so in the most voluble manner, and the Nova Scotian did not like it. He said they took my part because I was not so ugly as he[Pg 288] was, and said it wasn't fair, especially as I had spoilt what little beauty he had. He further asserted that he would knock the stuffing out of me, and we were on hostile terms for twenty-four hours. Two days later he got a job as bo'sun in a barque and his mate shipped with him, and peace was assured for a time.
The food they gave us was rough but fairly good and plentiful. Wherever the meat came from it could be masticated with some effort. In Barclay's boarding-house, in Williamstown, we had to take a spell in the middle of a mouthful. I have seen steak there that would have pauled a chaff-cutter. In the dining-room at Salthouse Lane there lived the wildest, most eccentric clock I ever saw in all my travels. It had a most remarkable way of striking quite peculiar to itself. We used to dine at one o'clock. At noon the clock usually struck one. In very extravagant days it struck two. But no one could guess what it would strike when it was really one o'clock. I once counted seventy-two strokes, and on a public holiday it went up to a hundred and twenty. It was our only amusement.
We were allowed to come in at almost any time. When the Nova Scotian and his mate had departed the Cockney and the [Pg 289]herring-back and I used to run together and go waltzing round the back part of Hull pretty well all night. Once we sat on the steps of a bank for nearly four hours, between twelve and four. With us were two young ladies, who were possibly not very respectable but about whom I knew nothing as I had never seen them before and never saw them again, and another young sailor who was good at yarns. I didn't know his name. Absurd as it may seem we were all quite happy. The policeman on the beat saw that we were, and evidently hated to disturb us. He came past us three times, and each time asked us very nicely to go home. Next time he repeated his request, and as he said he would look on our doing so in the light of a personal favour to himself, we agreed to evacuate the bank at last.
Our greatest privation at the Salthouse Lane establishment was want of tobacco. We rarely had any of it. I remember one day, when want of nicotine made me very sad, we went, on my suggestion, into the bag-room and pulled out our bags and chests. My chest was what seamen call a round-bottomed chest, i.e., a sailor's canvas bag. The beauty of it is that anything wanted is always at the bottom. In turning the bag out I found half a plug of tobacco. If we had been gold-mining and I[Pg 290] had struck a "pocket," or come across big nuggets we could not have been happier. We sat in the smoking-room, and having divided the plug we had a grand debauch. Of course we sometimes begged a pipe or two from luckier men about the docks, but to find a real half plug was something to gloat over.
When I had been in the Home nearly two months, and owed what seemed an amazing amount of money, I really began to think that if I could not ship in a steamer I must go in a wind-jammer again after all. So I really began to hunt round in earnest, and after trying all sorts and conditions of craft I landed on a job in the Corona of Dundee. She was a biggish composite vessel of about seventeen hundred tons register, with that horrible thing, wire running rigging. In her I made the acquaintance of one of her old crew, who had stayed by her in Hull river, who told me various yarns of her behaviour at sea, and how one man had been killed in her on her homeward passage from San Francisco. As we got to be pals he suggested I should bring some more men if I knew of any in want of a job. I brought along Ginger and the herring-back, and we went to work cleaning out the limbers. It was not a nice job, for the limbers of a ship which has been carrying wheat are, to say the least of it,[Pg 291] rather malodorous. We scraped the rotting black muck out with boards and scrapers, and sent it up on deck. It was a two and a half days' job. Then the mate set me over my two friends to "break out" casks of beef and pork from the fore-peak. As I hadn't been much to sea it rather amused me to find myself bossing two men who had been at it all their lives. But I have to own that they were two of the stupidest men I ever met, though they were not bad fellows. Then the time came for us to go to London by the "run." They offered us 30s. for the run to London river. This, with the five shillings a day I had earned by six days' work on board, made £3. I had practically spent nothing while I was working in her, although we left the Home too early in the morning to have breakfast there. We used to go to a coffee-stall near the dock entrance and get what is described by Cockneys as "two doorsteps and a cup of thick" for about 2d. We went home for dinner and supper. Thus I had nearly all my £3 for the boss of the Home. He got the money when we were out in the "stream" with the tug ahead of us.
We were only one night at sea. We washed her down and cleaned her a bit generally and made her look a little decent, and I had the look-out that night. As we towed the whole[Pg 292] distance we came up London river next afternoon. It was a gloomy and miserable day, which made London horrible to behold. It was like entering hell itself to come up into the parts where the big warehouses stand and where the docks are. We came at last to Limehouse, where she was to be dry-docked. I was at the wheel then, and it took us two hours before we got her in and had her settled down upon the blocks with the shores to hold her. Then I took my round-bottomed chest and left her. The mate, who had taken a fancy to me, asked me to ship in her for her next voyage, but I said I meant to "swallow the anchor" and have no more of that kind of work. My experience in Hull—the semi-starvation, the fighting, the loneliness and general blackguardism of the whole show—had somewhat sickened me of the life. And yet seamen are good fellows, and might be much better if it were not for the greed of owners, who feed them badly, house them vilely, and think of nothing in the world but dividends. Seamen know what they know, and they resent with bitterness the way they are treated. They have a bitter saying, "That's good enough for hogs, dogs and sailors." The day must come when England will cry to her children of the sea, and weep because they are not.
According to his temperament a man's memory of travel and the strange wild places of the earth deals chiefly with one set of reminiscences or with another. For me the remembered mornings of the wide and lonely world, whether in the bush, or on the prairie, or the veldt, or at sea, are my chiefest delight. For in them, as in the morning even now, is something especial and peculiar which recalls and recreates youth: which breaks up the dead customs of to-day, and sends one back again to the swift, sweet hours of experiment and change. Assuredly the nights had their charm, whether they were spent by some great camp-fire on the winding Lachlan, in the darkness of a pine forest in British Columbia, or on the fo'c'sle-head of a ship upon the sea; and yet the night was the night, the prelude to sleep, and not to activity, the chief joy of man.
I can recall how a morning broke for me once which was the morning of a kind of freedom almost appalling to the child of cities.[Pg 294] This was the morning of youth, or rather of earliest manhood, when I was timid and yet unafraid, curious, and, after a manner, innocent, when I had slept by my first camp-fire, on the Bull Plains of Australia's Riverina. And yet I can remember nothing of those hours clearly. Rather is there in my mind as typical of the Australian dawn such hours as those I spent away beyond the Murray, the Murrumbidgee and the Lachlan, on a station on the banks of the Willandra Billabong. It was early summer and shearing time for a hundred thousand sheep, whose fleeces were destined for Lyons and the North of England. I had dropped off a wearied horse close upon midnight, and yet by half-past three I was up once more. I stumbled sleepily in the starry darkness to the mare that was kept up, one Beeswing by name, a mare so swift and keen for a little while that to ride her was a delight. She whinnied and muzzled me all over as I put the saddle on her and drew the girths tight. Then I swung across her, and for some minutes she went gingerly, for she was unsound and wanted warming for the hot task before her. Yet it was her only work in the long day and she delighted in it even as I did. We picked our way across the shadows of big salt-bush and the rounded humps of cotton-bush, then[Pg 295] brown and leafless, to the paddock, a mile square, where the other horses were at pasture, and as I rode sleep dropped away from me and my eyes opened and my lips grew moist as I sucked in the air of dawn. In the east the pale ghost of the day's forerunner stood waiting. The wind in that hot season came from the north; it had no intoxicating quality save that of comparative coolness after the furnace of yesterday. Yet how sweet it was, when I remembered the burning noon, the hot labours of the stock-yard and its dust as the ten thousand of that day's driving entered reluctantly. And in the darkness the plain stretched before me without a break for a thousand miles save for the Barrier Ranges. With no map on the whole station I knew not even of them, and as far as eye could reach not a rolling sand-dune marred the calm oceanic level of that brown sea of land.
And now upon this morning, that yet was night, I was adrift upon a horse with a definite task in the great circle of immensity. The rest of the world was nothing, and I rode delicately over the rotten grey ground till the starshine dwindled and the day came up like a slow diver through dark waters. The pallid air was odorous as I rode with rolled-up sleeves and open breast, and I sang a little,[Pg 296] for the night was out of me and my throat was sweet. And Beeswing warmed, and under me grew nimble, with the swing and easy spring of the dancer, and she reached out to feel the bit lightly with an unspoiled mouth and to feel my hands, and she raised her lean head and sniffed the air for her own kind that we were after. Were we not horse-hunting? She bent her neck and went as delicately as ever Agag went, and then bounded lightly over a hole in the rotten ground of the great horse-paddock. She and I were partners in the morning as the dawn came up. And now, indeed, the morning tide broke over the eastern bar, and was like a pale grey flood moving over level earth. Then she whinnied low as though she spoke to me in a whisper, and I saw one dark, moving shadow, and another, as she broke into a gallop. Oh, but out of seven alarmed shadows, fearful of work, I needed three, and neither Beeswing nor her rider could endure in their pride to drive in seven when a special chosen three were enough. The dawn's game began, and though it was yet dawn's dusk we went at a gallop. For Beeswing and I together were the swiftest two, or the swiftest one, on that great station by the Willandra. But though the night was not gone there was enough light[Pg 297] to see which horses I needed and which horses I had to discard, and to note how they broke apart cunningly. For two went this way, and one that; and four split into units as I swung round the outside edge of them in a wide circle. The rottenness of the ground gave chances, and made it hazardous. But Beeswing knew her work and the paddock, and now she was warm and as keen as fire, and any touch of lameness went away from her. She stretched out her fine lean head, and her eyes were quick; her open nostrils almost smelt and swept the ground as her head swung to and fro. Beneath me she was live steel, tense and wonderful as she sprang to this side and that of danger, and yet galloped. Again and again she swerved, and then, as a ten-foot hole showed before her, she leapt it in her stride. And again, another and another, for here the ground was crumbling, patchy, sunken, with little rims of hard earth in between cup-like openings. And as we went, and the day came, I swung my long stock-whip and shouted when it cracked. I was on them, into them, and they broke back, being over-pressed. But Beeswing was a bred stock-horse, she knew the game and loved it. Back she swung right upon her haunches, and was away upon the hunt after a great raking[Pg 298] mare called Mischief. We galloped almost side by side, and then Mischief quailed and turned coward. As Beeswing swung again I brought the whip down on my quarry's quarters.
And now the joy of the game of dawn was great, for selection came in and the skill of the game. To-day I wanted Mischief and Black Jack and the grey mare. So as I galloped, still with swinging and reverberating whip, I edged up and put my knees into Beeswing. As she answered and sprang forward, with a rush I was within whip length of Mischief and Tom, with Mischief on the outside. One flick of the lash and the mare outpaced Tom, leaving him last of the seven. Had I edged up outside of him Beeswing might have doubted whether I wanted him or not, but I sent her up on his near side, and when I flicked him he plunged back and out and she let him go. There were six to deal with, though he came after us whinnying; yet not being urged he presently stayed, and then I shot forward again and cut off two that I did not want, and now among the four there was but one I wished to leave behind. They were well aware that one or more of them was not to work to-day, for I still hung upon them with some eager discrimination. They knew the final shout of[Pg 299] victory as well as I who sent it up. But Lachlan, the horse I wished to leave, was the fastest of the four and kept ahead. So I ran them hard for a quarter of a mile and then edged out a little, and slowed down till they slowed and left a space betwixt the three and Lachlan. I suddenly spoke to Beeswing and shook her up till she came swiftly abreast of my three galloping like horses in a Roman chariot. Then left-handed I cut Lachlan in the flank, and with a swift turn Beeswing swept between him and the others. They stayed and turned while disparted Lachlan ran wildly. And now my three, being turned, ran back for the others; and Beeswing followed them like fire and came up with them, and once more turned them and sent them for home. To keep them going while the others whinnied meant urging; it meant filling their minds, occupying their attention. So once more, with a great shout, I was upon them and swung the whip, letting it fall with a crack first on this side and then on that, and now in the growing daylight the dust rose up as we galloped. And presently I saw the little "tin" house where the out-station boss lived, and the tent I shared with my chum the "rouseabout." And as we went fast and faster (for it was morning and I was young) the sun thrust up a shoulder behind[Pg 300] me and it was day in Australia, day in the Lachlan back-blocks. And I could see Long Clump, a patch of dwarf-box, over my shoulder as I turned loosely in the saddle to note whether the other horses still followed. I laughed at the day (for it was dawn), and yet I knew as I ran my three into the yard that ere the day was done I should have ridden sixty miles, and have mustered 20,000 sheep in Long Clump Paddock. And when I stayed outside the stock-yard and put up the slip panels and patted Beeswing on the neck the one great pleasure of the day was over. The rest was not to be accomplished in the dusk of dawn and under the morning star, but had to be wrought out in flying dust, amid the plague of flies and the fierce heat of an Austral noon, whose heat increased with the slow sun's decline. But that swift sweet hour of the morning had been my very own. The remainder of the day belonged to the world, to duty, to the man who paid me a pound a week and "tucker" for my hands and arms and as much brains as work with sheep demanded. Yet through these hours sometimes the glory of the morning remained.
* * * * *
There are mornings on land and mornings on the sea, and when the world is a grey wash[Pg 301] and a mask of spindrift it is good to be alive upon the sea, high on a topsail-yard, to see the grey return of the glory of the day. The work is often sheer murder, but it is the work of men, and though the skin cracks and the nails bleed, as the bulging, slatting, frantic canvas surges like a cast-iron wave, the thin red-shirted line along the jack-stay does heroic work without meaning it, without one touch of consciousness, without praise, and mostly without even that reward of a "tot" of grog so sweet to the simple-minded sailorman. Ah, yes, to be sure we were heroes, and I too (though now soft and self-conscious) played an Homeric part upon the yard, was bold, and afraid, and "funked" it with any god-smitten, panic-driven half-god by Scamander's banks, or the windy walls of Troy. Now I know what it was, and can see the grey wash of ocean, and the grey wash of white-faced morning with the great seas driving against the rising day, even as the rollers of the Atlantic surge against the base of a high berg. Little good men at home, fat men, rotund, easy souls, or those who are neither good, nor fat, nor easy, may stare and imagine yet not come near the reality when the wind booms and the sea rises, and the great concave of night sky flattens and presses down upon the[Pg 302] driven ship, and men strive to escape doom and yet care not, and work till they are blind, and then drop down into the scant shelter of the deck, where the icy wind seems warm after the strife and bellowing up aloft. Heroes? To be sure we were heroes. What is being shot at a mile off, or a hundred yards off, to being shot at by the very heavens while one hangs over the gaping trenches of the sea? There is not an old shellback alive who has clung between angry heaven and the grey-green pastures of the deep but deserves a Victoria Cross for unconscious, dutiful, grumbling, growling valour. He might justly call every scanty dollar he earns a medal. For he has often fought in the Pacific, or by the Horn, or off the windy Cape. To recall the thick tempest at midnight, when the wind harps thunder on the stretched rigging, is to be a man again. If I blow their trumpet, the trumpet of the old sea-dogs, these scallawags, these Vikings, what matter if I seem to blow my own, having been their companion one campaign or two upon the deep? That "Me" is dead, I know, and can only be resurgent in memory, and will never laugh or feel afraid again when the slatting canvas jars one's very teeth. Yet to remember (as I can remember) how one wild night on the Southern Pacific grew into morning gives me back youth[Pg 303] and morning again when I cared nothing for death, since death was as far off, as impossible, ay, as absurd, as Fame itself.
It had blown hard all day, and an hour after midnight our scanty band, some ten of us (mostly Cockneys like myself), stood upon the foot-ropes of the lower fore-topsail. There should have been twenty, but to be undermanned has been English fashion since Agincourt. Growl we ever so loudly where could more be found? The work was to be done by ten, one more even was not to be asked for. If the task seemed possible, why, it was possible, and when we scrambled to that narrow line of battle in the dark it seemed as easy as most things at sea, where the difficult is done hourly. Risks are nothing there; to risk nothing would be to risk destruction and to incur the bitter reproach of having shipped "not to go aloft." Each man to his fellow on the yard was a shadow and a pale blot of a face; each voice was a windy whisper, a bellow blown down into silence. As the ship ran, and lifted, and pitched and trembled, her narrow wedge shape was a blot beneath us: on each side of her white foam marked the hissing, hungry sea. But, with the sail surging before us in its gear like a mad balloon, who noted aught but the sail? I leant out upon[Pg 304] my taut bulge of living canvas, beat it with the flat of my hand, and being the youngest waited for the word to "leech" it or "skin" it up. Being tall I was not at the extremity of the yard arm; my fellow fore-topman and a little squat man from the lower Thames stood outside me. My mate and the man inside were my world. The others I saw and heard not. The word came along the yard from the bunt to "leech" it up, and we leant over and caught the leech and pulled it on the yard. Now the fight began, but the beginning of it was easy sparring, and though the wind blew heavy, and each minute we had to remember death when she checked her roll with a jerk, the weather leech came up easy and we chuckled, each being glad. And in half an hour, or an hour, we were half masters of the wind, or as much of it as gave the sail life, after many small defeats. And then (whose fault of fingers for not being steel hooks, who shall say?) the wind, having got reinforcements, tore the victory from us and away went the sail once more free and thundering in the dark. The word was passed again, the indomitable word by the indomitable bo'sun at the bunt, this time to "skin" it up, and each man clawed out again at the flat booming canvas, clawed at it with his crooked fingers as wrestlers claw for[Pg 305] hold behind each others' backs. A wrinkle gave hold, we nipped it, and then the ironic devil in the gale shrieked with laughter and snatched even so small an advantage from us. We knew the "old man" and the mate were cursing us down below. Did they curse us, or the weather, or the owners, or our English Agincourt trick once more? What did it matter to us, beaten and unbeaten, as we rested for a moment and then again stretched out bleeding fingers for some little advantage, knowing well that when such a gale blew victory was only possible when by constant trials the chance came of each being given good or fair handhold at once. Then came a shriek of wind and a blown-out lull and a wrinkle lapsed into a fold. We shouted "Now!" left hold of the jack-stay, and with feet outstretched grabbed slack canvas and hung on as another squall came singing like shrapnel across the peaks of the leaping sea. "Hold on now, hold on!" so sang all of us, and we cursed each other furiously. "Oh, oh, you miserable devil, hang on or it's lost again!" We cursed ourselves, felt our muscles crack, our nails shred, our skin peel and stretch and sting, and yet (thanks to our noble selves) we only lost an inch. Once more—"Now, now up, you dogs!" and that's the long-lost, long-waited,[Pg 306] sudden, surprising clock of dawn yonder. We have been two hours here, and once more the sail leaps up and comes down. Here, two hours, two compressed swift hours, two compacted eternities measured in gasps and half the work is done unless we weaken and let up and let go.
But that's the dawn!
Morning and the glory of it, the grey wash of Eternity; sea-grey and world-grey and sky-grey, all in one great wash with a little whiteness standing for daylight. Beyond the illimitable wash where the sea breaks against the sky is the sun; source of all, strength of all. And there is no sleep to wash out of our eyes before we catch up strength from it, and encouragement. Lately we might have raised the Ajax cry, "In the light, in the light, destroy us," but now we see the little sea-plant of grey-green grow in the east, and we are strong. There is light, or a blight, a greyness out ahead and the deck whitens all awash, and the "old man" shivers in his oilskin coat as he hangs on to a pin in the rail to watch us. The poop is wet and gleaming, wet with the spray of following seas, and as our ship rolls the swash of shipped seas hisses, and her cleanness is as the cleanness of something newly varnished. Once and again as she[Pg 307] rolls (the wind now quartering) the scuppers spout geyser-like and gurgle. As she ran like a beaten thing she wallowed a little, dived, scooped up seas and shook them off. And yet the topsail was not conquered.
And now and once again the squalls howled, and we held on, gaining nothing, yet losing nothing. We were blind but obstinate; to have gained something when everything might be lost beneath us gave us grip and courage. Ah, and then, then the great chance came, and as the last great fold of white canvas rose up like a breaking wave we shouted, flung ourselves upon it, and as our bellies (lean by now) held the rest, smothered it and beat its last life out. The thing had been alive; the gods too had blown, and we had been all but dissipated, but now we were conquerors, and the gaskets bound our dead prey to the yard. And the morning was up, a wild and evil-minded waste it flowered in; the music of the storm shrieked like the Valkyries scurrying through grey space. But what cared we, since now she would carry or drag what sail remained, creaseless, resonant, wide-arched and wonderful. The light leapt from crest to crest, and a little pale yellow blossom of blown dawn peeped out of the grey. Like a touch of fire it reanimated our washed and reeling[Pg 308] world; we laughed as we dropped down after our three hours' battle with the demons of the air. It was morning; there was coffee and tobacco; our souls were satisfied and satiated with rewarding toil; if Fate was kind there would be neither making nor shortening of sail till the next day. We touched the deck and ran for'ard laughing. We saluted the cook, blinking at the door of his galley. "Good-morning, doctor!" and it was "good-morning!" for we were mostly young.
* * * * *
On the lofty sloping plains of Texas and Kansas the air is often keen at night, even in the summer time. And what it is in winter let train hands on the Texas Pacific declare. But in the warmer season, when northers have ceased to blow, it has an intoxicating, thrilling quality only comparable to the breath of the higher South African veldt. It is good to be alive then, and the glory of the morning is an excellent and moving glory since it wakes one to swift activity and the very joy of being. For long months I had worked upon a ranch in the Southern Panhandle, and now felt healthy energies stirring within me. In Western America the very blood of life is unrest; to remain is difficult; the difficulties of motion are its joys, though hardship and [Pg 309]privation be the migrant's life for ever. For me the ever-present prairie grew a little dull; for sheep were sheep always, and there were mountains afar off and strange, bright rivers and the dark, odorous forests of the north. Though my boss was of the order that remains and accumulates wealth he understood when I declared that I must go or die. On the third day hereafter he and an old confederate "Colonel" (discharged as "Full Private" doubtless) and I and a Mexican sheep-herder moved southward towards the railroad. We travelled on horseback and in a two-mule buggy, and with the movement discontent dropped away from me and all was well with the world, even though I knew not what weeks or even days should bring me. That night we camped thirty miles from the ranch and thirty from the little town we called a city, which had grown up in the sand-dunes by the banks of the Texan Colorado. We lighted our scanty fire at sundown. It was a typical camp of the later days upon the high prairie, and a not untypical set of men. Our talk was of horses and steers and sheep and of Virginia, whence our grizzled colonel came, and the Mexican sat and smoked and said nothing, save with his beady, brilliant eyes, as he made his yellow papers into flat cigaritas. And at nine o'clock[Pg 310] silence and sleep fell upon us while the mules and horses champed their dry fare beside the buggy. For me the sleep of the just was my due, for I had worked hard that day. Yet I woke suddenly before the dawn, and woke all at once, refreshed and alive. It was still dark and yet I knew it was not properly night, for the time sense in me, measured healthily by refreshment, told me of the passage of time, and I arose from my blankets. As I walked out among the shadows softly my companions made no motion, and the horses whinnied coaxingly, as though I were still the guardian of their provender. The wind was cool, even cold, as it blew from the north, and on every side the vast prairie stretched like a mysterious dark green sea, with here and there a shadow heaving itself out of the infinite level. I walked lightly with a happy sense of detachment and well-being, almost with the feeling of a quiet resurrection.
Elsewhere and in cities one awakes reluctantly; the trumpet of the Angel of the Day is heard with deaf ears; but here in the keen coolness, the vast greenness, the infinite interspace of prairie betwixt city and city, I was awake and keen and cool as dewy grass, and as peaceful as the stars even before the Day blew her horn upon the verge of a far[Pg 311] horizon. This was summer, but it was not dawn yet; the year was young even in August because this was night; and I was part of the hour and the year. It was well with the world and well with me as I left the camp and marched snuffing the air like an antelope and with as keen a joy. And as I walked I was aware again that it was not night, for there was a Day-spring in the East, a pale glow like a whitish mirage, and star by star the night departed, till I stayed and looked back to the west and saw the silent waggon under which my sleeping comrade still lay unconscious of the hour. And slowly, very slowly the Glory of the Morning broke out of bondage and covered the glory of the night until the pallor of the new-born day was fine pale gold, and the gold was under-edged with rose, and the rose grew insistently and shot upward like a great corona upon the eclipsing earth. And as I stood, balancing lightly upon my light feet, bathed with dew, I moved my lips and greeted Day without conscious words, being even as my own ancestor, who perhaps had no words of greeting. And so upon that solitude the day was born like a new miracle with only one visible worshipper, and the sun rose up like a star and was then a convexed line of fire, and presently it ate a little into the prairie; and[Pg 312] the world was light and rose and green and very near me, so that I sighed a little and then walked back briskly to the camp and raised a loud shout, not to the sun, but to my fellow-men. For the Glory had departed and there was the work of the day to be done.
Colston & Coy. Limited, Printers, Edinburgh.