AFRICAN CAMP FIRES
STEWART EDWARD WHITE
THOMAS NELSON AND SONS LONDON, EDINBURGH, DUBLIN AND NEW YORK
PART I.—TO THE ISLAND OF WAR.
I. THE OPEN DOOR
II. THE FAREWELL
III. PORT SAID
V. THE RED SEA
VII. THE INDIAN OCEAN
PART II.—THE SHIMBA HILLS.
IX. A TROPICAL JUNGLE
X. THE SABLE
XI. A MARCH ALONG THE COAST
XII. THE FIRE
XIII. UP FROM THE COAST
XIV. A TOWN OF CONTRASTS
PART IV.—A LION HUNT ON KAPITI.
XVII. AN OSTRICH FARM AT MACHAKOS
XVIII. THE FIRST LIONESS
XIX. THE DOGS
XXI. RIDING THE PLAINS
XXII. THE SECOND LIONESS
XXIII. THE BIG LION
XXIV. THE FIFTEEN LIONS
PART V.—THE TSAVO RIVER.
XXVI. THE FRINGE-EARED ORYX
XXVII. ACROSS THE SERENGETTI
XXVIII. DOWN THE RIVER
XXIX. THE LESSER KUDU
XXX. ADVENTURES BY THE WAY
XXXI. THE LOST SAFARI
XXXII. THE BABU
PART VI.—IN MASAILAND.
XXXIII. OVER THE LIKIPIA ESCARPMENT
XXXIV. TO THE KEDONG
XXXV. THE TEANSPORT RIDER
XXXVI. ACROSS THE THIRST
XXXVII. THE SOUTHERN GUASO NYERO
XXXVIII. THE LOWER BENCHES
XXXIX. NOTES ON THE MASAI
XL. THROUGH THE ENCHANTED FOREST
XLII. SCOUTING IN THE ELEPHANT FOREST
XLIII. THE TOPI CAMP
XLIV. THE UNKNOWN LAND
XLV. THE ROAN
XLVI. THE GREATER KUDU
XLVII. THE MAGIC PORTALS CLOSE
XLVIII. THE LAST TREK
TO THE ISLAND OF WAR.
THE OPEN DOOR.
There are many interesting hotels scattered about the world, with a few of which I am acquainted and with a great many of which I am not. Of course all hotels are interesting, from one point of view or another. In fact, the surest way to fix an audience's attention is to introduce your hero, or to display your opening chorus in the lobby or along the facade of a hotel. The life, the movement and colour, the drifting individualities, the pretence, the bluff, the self-consciousness, the independence, the ennui, the darting or lounging servants, the very fact that of those before your eyes seven out of ten are drawn from distant and scattered places, are sufficient in themselves to invest the smallest hostelry with glamour. It is not of this general interest that I would now speak. Nor is it my intention at present to glance at the hotels wherein "quaintness" is specialized, whether intentionally or no. There are thousands of them; and all of them well worth the discriminating traveller's attention. Concerning some of them—as the old inns at Dives-sur-Mer and at Mont St. Michel—whole books have been written. These depend for their charm on a mingled gift of the unusual and the picturesque. There are, as I have said, thousands of them; and of their cataloguing, should one embark on so wide a sea, there could be no end. And, again, I must for convenience exclude the altogether charming places, like the Tour d'Argent of Paris, Simpson's of the Strand, and a dozen others that will spring to every traveller's memory, where the personality of the host, or of a chef, or even a waiter, is at once a magnet for the attraction of visitors and a reward for their coming. These, too, are many. In the interest to which I would draw attention, the hotel as a building or as an institution has little part. It is indeed a facade, a mise en scenebefore which play the actors that attract our attention and applause. The set may be as modernly elaborate as Peacock Alley of the Waldorf or the templed lobby of the St. Francis; or it may present the severe and Elizabethan simplicity of the stone-paved veranda of the Norfolk at Nairobi—the matter is quite inessential to the spectator. His appreciation is only slightly and indirectly influenced by these things. Sunk in his arm-chair—of velvet or of canvas—he puffs hard and silently at his cigar, watching and listening as the pageant and the conversation eddy by.
Of such hotels I number that gaudy and polysyllabic hostelry the Grand Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix at Marseilles. I am indifferent to the facts that it is situated on that fine thoroughfare, the Rue de Cannebiere, which the proud and untravelled native devoutly believes to be the finest street in the world; that it possesses a dining-room of gilded and painted repousse work so elaborate and wonderful that it surely must be intended to represent a tinsmith's dream of heaven; that its concierge is the most impressive human being on earth except Ludwig von Kampf (whom I have never seen); that its head waiter is sadder and more elderly and forgiving than any other head waiter; and that its hushed and cathedral atmosphere has been undisturbed through immemorial years. That is to be expected; and elsewhere to be duplicated in greater or lesser degree. Nor in the lofty courtyard, or the equally lofty halls and reading-rooms, is there ever much bustle and movement. People sit quietly, or move with circumspection. Servants glide. The fall of a book or teaspoon, the sudden closing of a door, are events to be remarked. Once a day, however, a huge gong sounds, the glass doors of the inner courtyard are thrown open with a flourish, and enters the huge bus fairly among those peacefully sitting at the tables, horses' hoofs striking fire, long lash-cracking volleys, wheels roaring amid hollow reverberations. From the interior of this bus emerge people; and from the top, by means of a strangely-constructed hooked ladder, are decanted boxes, trunks, and appurtenances of various sorts. In these people, and in these boxes, trunks, and appurtenances, are the real interest of the Grand Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix of the marvellous Rue Cannebiere of Marseilles.
For at Marseilles land ships, many ships, from all the scattered ends of the earth; and from Marseilles depart trains for the North, where is home, or the way home for many peoples. And since the arrival of ships is uncertain, and the departure of trains fixed, it follows that everybody descends for a little or greater period at the Grand Hotel du Louvre et de la Paix.
They come lean and quiet and a little yellow from hard climates, with the names of strange places on their lips, and they speak familiarly of far-off things. Their clothes are generally of ancient cut, and the wrinkles and camphor aroma of a long packing away are yet discernible. Often they are still wearing sun helmets or double terai hats, pending a descent on a Piccadilly hatter two days hence. They move slowly and languidly; the ordinary piercing and dominant English enunciation has fallen to modulation; their eyes, while observant and alert, look tired. It is as though the far countries have sucked something from the pith of them in exchange for great experiences that nevertheless seem of little value; as though these men, having met at last face to face the ultimate of what the earth has to offer in the way of danger, hardship, difficulty, and the things that try men's souls, having unexpectedly found them all to fall short of both the importance and the final significance with which human-kind has always invested them, were now just a little at a loss. Therefore they stretch their long, lean frames in the wicker chairs, they sip the long drinks at their elbows, puff slowly at their long, lean cheroots, and talk spasmodically in short sentences.
Of quite a different type are those going out—young fellows full of northern health and energy, full of the eagerness of anticipation, full of romance skilfully concealed, self-certain, authoritative, clear voiced. Their exit from the bus is followed by a rain of hold-alls, bags, new tin boxes, new gun cases, all lettered freshly—an enormous kit doomed to diminution. They overflow the place, ebb towards their respective rooms; return scrubbed and ruddy, correctly clad, correctly unconscious of everybody else; sink into more wicker chairs. The quiet brown and yellow men continue to puff at their cheroots, quite eclipsed. After a time one of them picks up his battered old sun helmet and goes out into the street. The eyes of the newcomers follow him. They fall silent; and their eyes, under cover of pulled moustache, furtively glance towards the lean man's companions. Then on that office falls a great silence, broken only by the occasional rare remarks of the quiet men with the cheroots. The youngsters are listening with all their ears, though from their appearance no one would suspect that fact. Not a syllable escapes them. These quiet men have been there; they have seen with their own eyes; their lightest word is saturated with the mystery and romance of the unknown. Their easy, matter-of-fact, everyday knowledge is richly wonderful. It would seem natural for these young-young men to question these old-young men of that which they desire so ardently to know; but that isn't done, you know. So they sit tight, and pretend they are not listening, and feast their ears on the wonderful syllables—Ankobar, Kabul, Peshawur, Annam, Nyassaland, Kerman, Serengetti, Tanganika, and many others. On these beautiful syllables must their imaginations feed, for that which is told is as nothing at all. Adventure there is none, romance there is none, mention of high emprise there is none. Adventure, romance, high emprise have to these men somehow lost their importance. Perhaps such things have been to them too common—as well mention the morning egg. Perhaps they have found that there is no genuine adventure, no real romance except over the edge of the world where the rainbow stoops.
The bus rattles in and rattles out again. It takes the fresh-faced young men down past the inner harbour to where lie the tall ships waiting. They and their cargo of exuberance, of hope, of energy, of thirst for the bubble adventure, the rainbow romance, sail away to where these wares have a market. And the quiet men glide away to the North. Their wares have been marketed. The sleepy, fierce, passionate, sunny lands have taken all they had to bring. And have given in exchange? Indifference, ill-health, a profound realization that the length of days are as nothing at all; a supreme agnosticism as to the ultimate value of anything that a single man can do, a sublime faith that it must be done, the power to concentrate, patience illimitable; contempt for danger, disregard of death, the intention to live; a final, weary estimate of the fact that mere things are as unimportant here as there, no matter how quaintly or fantastically they are dressed or named, and a corresponding emptiness of anticipation for the future—these items are only a random few of the price given by the ancient lands for that which the northern races bring to them. What other alchemical changes have been wrought only these lean and weary men could know—if they dared look so far within themselves. And even if they dared, they would not tell.
 In old days before the "improvements."
We boarded ship, filled with a great, and what seemed to us, an unappeasable curiosity as to what we were going to see. It was not a very big ship, in spite of the grandiloquent descriptions in the advertisements, or the lithograph wherein she cut grandly and evenly through huge waves to the manifest discomfiture of infinitesimal sailing craft bobbing alongside. She was manned entirely by Germans. The room stewards waited at table, cleaned the public saloons, kept the library, rustled the baggage, and played in the band. That is why we took our music between meals. Our staterooms were very tiny indeed. Each was provided with an electric fan; a totally inadequate and rather aggravating electric fan once we had entered the Red Sea. Just at this moment we paid it little attention, for we were still in full enjoyment of sunny France, where, in our own experience, it had rained two months steadily. Indeed, at this moment it was raining, raining a steady, cold, sodden drizzle that had not even the grace to pick out the surface of the harbour in the jolly dancing staccato that goes far to lend attraction to a genuinely earnest rainstorm.
Down the long quay splashed cabs and omnibuses, their drivers glistening in wet capes, to discharge under the open shed at the end various hasty individuals who marshalled long lines of porters with astonishing impedimenta and drove them up the gang-plank. A half-dozen roughs lounged aimlessly. A little bent old woman with a shawl over her head searched here and there. Occasionally she would find a twisted splinter of wood torn from the piles by a hawser or gouged from the planking by heavy freight, or kicked from the floor by the hoofs of horses. This she deposited carefully in a small covered market basket. She was entirely intent on this minute and rather pathetic task, quite unattending the greatness of the ship, or the many people the great hulk swallowed or spat forth.
Near us against the rail leaned a dark-haired young Englishman whom later every man on that many-nationed ship came to recognize and to avoid as an insufferable bore. Now, however, the angel of good inspiration stooped to him. He tossed a copper two-sou piece down to the bent old woman. She heard the clink of the fall, and looked up bewildered. One of the waterside roughs slouched forward. The Englishman shouted a warning and a threat, indicating in pantomime for whom the coin was intended. To our surprise that evil-looking wharf rat smiled and waved his hand reassuringly, then took the old woman by the arm to show her where the coin had fallen. She hobbled to it with a haste eloquent of the horrible Marseillaise poverty-stricken alleys, picked it up joyously, turned—and with a delightful grace kissed her finger-tips towards the ship.
Apparently we all of us had a few remaining French coins; and certainly we were all grateful to the young Englishman for his happy thought. The sous descended as fast as the woman could get to where they fell. So numerous were they that she had no time to express her gratitude except in broken snatches or gesture, in interrupted attitudes of the most complete thanksgiving. The day of miracles for her had come; and from the humble poverty that valued tiny and infrequent splinters of wood she had suddenly come into great wealth. Everybody was laughing, but in a very kindly sort of way it seemed to me; and the very wharf rats and gamins, wolfish and fierce in their everyday life of the water-front, seemed to take a genuine pleasure in pointing out to her the resting-place of those her dim old eyes had not seen. Silver pieces followed. These were too wonderful. She grew more and more excited, until several of the passengers leaning over the rail began to murmur warningly, fearing harm. After picking up each of these silver pieces, she bowed and gestured very gracefully, waving both hands outward, lifting eyes and hands to heaven, kissing her fingers, trying by every means in her power to express the dazzling wonder and joy that this unexpected marvel was bringing her. When she had done all these things many times, she hugged herself ecstatically. A very well-dressed and prosperous-looking Frenchman standing near seemed to be a little afraid she might hug him. His fear had, perhaps, some grounds, for she shook hands with everybody all around, and showed them her wealth in her kerchief, explaining eagerly, the tears running down her face.
Now the gang-plank was drawn aboard, and the band struck up the usual lively air. At the first notes the old woman executed a few feeble little jig steps in sheer exuberance. Then the solemnity of the situation sobered her. Her great, wealthy, powerful, kind friends were departing on their long voyage over mysterious seas. Again and again, very earnestly, she repeated the graceful, slow pantomime—the wave of the arms outward, the eyes raised to heaven, the hands clasped finally over her head. As the brown strip of water silently widened between us it was strangely like a stage scene—the roofed sheds of the quay, the motionless groups, the central figure of the old woman depicting emotion.
Suddenly she dropped her hands and hobbled away at a great rate, disappearing finally into the maze of the street beyond. Concluding that she had decided to get quickly home with her great treasure, we commended her discretion and gave our attention to other things.
The drizzle fell uninterruptedly. We had edged sidewise the requisite distance, and were now gathering headway in our long voyage. The quail was beginning to recede and to diminish. Back from the street hastened the figure of the little old woman. She carried a large white cloth, of which she had evidently been in quest. This she unfolded and waved vigorously with both hands. Until we had passed quite from sight she stood there signalling her farewell. Long after we were beyond distinguishing her figure we could catch the flutter of white. Thus that ship's company, embarking each on his Great Adventure, far from home and friends, received their farewell, a very genuine farewell, from one poor old woman. B. ventured the opinion that it was the best thing we had bought with our French money.
The time of times to approach Port Said is just at the fall of dusk. Then the sea lies in opalescent patches, and the low shores fade away into the gathering night. The slanting masts and yards of the dhows silhouette against a sky of the deepest translucent green; and the heroic statue of De Lesseps, standing for ever at the Gateway he opened, points always to the mysterious East.
The rhythmical, accustomed chug of the engines had fallen to quarter speed, leaving an uncanny stillness throughout the ship. Silently we slipped between the long piers, drew up on the waterside town, seized the buoy, and came to rest. All around us lay other ships of all sizes, motionless on the inky water. The reflections from their lights seemed to be thrust into the depths, like stilts; and the few lights from the town reflected shiveringly across. Along the water-front all was dark and silent. We caught the loom of buildings; and behind them a dull glow as from a fire, and guessed tall minarets, and heard the rising and falling of chanting. Numerous small boats hovered near, floating in and out of the patches of light we ourselves cast, waiting for permission to swarm at the gang-plank for our patronage.
We went ashore, passed through a wicket gate, and across the dark buildings to the heart of the town, whence came the dull glow and the sounds of people.
Here were two streets running across one another, both brilliantly lighted, both thronged, both lined with little shops. In the latter one could buy anything, in any language, with any money. In them we saw cheap straw hats made in Germany hung side by side with gorgeous and beautiful stuffs from the Orient; shoddy European garments and Eastern jewels; cheap celluloid combs and curious embroideries. The crowd of passers-by in the streets were compounded in the same curiously mixed fashion; a few Europeans, generally in white, and then a variety of Arabs, Egyptians, Somalis, Berbers, East Indians and the like, each in his own gaudy or graceful costume. It speaks well for the accuracy of feeling, anyway, of our various "Midways," "Pikes," and the like of our world's expositions that the streets of Port Said looked like Midways raised to the nth power. Along them we sauntered with a pleasing feeling of self-importance. On all sides we were gently and humbly besought—by the shopkeepers, by the sidewalk vendors, by would-be guides, by fortune-tellers, by jugglers, by magicians; all soft-voiced and respectful; all yielding as water to rebuff, but as quick as water to glide back again. The vendors were of the colours of the rainbow, and were heavily hung with long necklaces of coral or amber, with scarves, with strings of silver coins, with sequinned veils and silks, girt with many dirks and knives, furnished out in concealed pockets with scarabs, bracelets, sandalwood boxes or anything else under the broad canopy of heaven one might or might not desire. Their voices were soft and pleasing, their eyes had the beseeching quality of a good dog's, their anxious and deprecating faces were ready at the slightest encouragement to break out into the friendliest and most intimate of smiles. Wherever we went we were accompanied by a retinue straight out of the Arabian Nights, patiently awaiting the moment when we should tire; should seek out the table of a sidewalk cafe; and should, in our relaxed mood, be ready to unbend to our royal purchases.
At that moment we were too much interested in the town itself. The tiny shops, with their smiling and insinuating Oriental keepers, were fascinating in their displays of carved woods, jewellery, perfumes, silks, tapestries, silversmiths' work, ostrich feathers, and the like. To either side the main street lay long narrow dark alleys, in which flared single lights, across which flitted mysterious long-robed figures, from which floated stray snatches of music either palpitatingly barbaric or ridiculously modern. There the authority of the straight, soldierly-looking Soudanese policemen ceased, and it was not safe to wander unarmed or alone.
Besides these motley variegations of the East and West, the main feature of the town was the street car. It was an open-air structure of spacious dimensions, as though benches and a canopy had been erected rather haphazard on a small dancing platform. The track is absurdly narrow in gauge; and as a consequence the edifice swayed and swung from side to side. A single mule was attached to it loosely by about ten feet of rope. It was driven by a gaudy ragamuffin in a turban. Various other gaudy ragamuffins lounged largely and picturesquely on the widely spaced benches. Whence it came or whither it went I do not know. Its orbit swung into the main street, turned a corner, and disappeared. Apparently Europeans did not patronize this picturesque wreck, but drove elegantly but mysteriously in small open cabs conducted by totally incongruous turbaned drivers.
We ended finally at an imposing corner hotel, where we dined by an open window just above the level of the street. A dozen upturned faces besought us silently during the meal. At a glance of even the mildest interest a dozen long brown arms thrust the spoils of the East upon our consideration. With us sat a large benign Swedish professor whose erudition was encyclopaedic, but whose kindly humanity was greater. Uttering deep, cavernous chuckles, the professor bargained. A red coral necklace for the moment was the matter of interest. The professor inspected it carefully, and handed it back.
"I doubt if id iss coral," said he simply.
The present owner of the beads went frantic with rapid-fire proof and vociferation. With the swiftness and precision of much repetition he fished out a match, struck it, applied the flame to the alleged coral, and blew out the match; cast the necklace on the pavement, produced mysteriously a small hammer, and with it proceeded frantically to pound the beads. Evidently he was accustomed to being doubted, and carried his materials for proof around with him. Then, in one motion, the hammer disappeared, the beads were snatched up, and again offered, unharmed, for inspection.
"Are those good tests for genuineness?" we asked the professor, aside.
"As to that," he replied regretfully, "I do not know. I know of coral only that is the hard calcareous skeleton of the marine coelenterate polyps; and that this red coral iss called of a sclerobasic group; and other facts of the kind; but I do not know if it iss supposed to resist impact and heat. Possibly," he ended shrewdly, "it is the common imitation which does not resist impact and heat. At any rate they are pretty. How much?" he demanded of the vendor, a bright-eyed Egyptian waiting patiently until our conference should cease.
"Twenty shillings," he replied promptly.
The professor shook with one of his cavernous chuckles.
"Too much," he observed, and handed the necklace back through the window.
The Egyptian would by no means receive it.
"Keep! keep!" he implored, thrusting the mass of red upon the professor with both hands. "How much you give?"
"One shilling," announced the professor firmly.
The coral necklace lay on the edge of the table throughout most of our leisurely meal. The vendor argued, pleaded, gave it up, disappeared in the crowd, returned dramatically after an interval. The professor ate calmly, chuckled much, and from time to time repeated firmly the words, "One shilling." Finally, at the cheese, he reached out, swept the coral into his pocket, and laid down two shillings. The Egyptian deftly gathered the coin, smiled cheerfully, and produced a glittering veil, in which he tried in vain to enlist Billy's interest.
For coffee and cigars we moved to the terrace outside. Here an orchestra played, the peoples of many nations sat at little tables, the peddlers, fakirs, jugglers, and fortune-tellers swarmed. A half-dozen postal cards seemed sufficient to set a small boy up in trade, and to imbue him with all the importance and insistence of a merchant with jewels. Other ten-year-old ragamuffins tried to call our attention to some sort of sleight-of-hand with poor downy little chickens. Grave, turbaned, and polite Indians squatted cross-legged at our feet, begging to give us a look into the future by means of the only genuine hall-marked Yogi-ism; a troupe of acrobats went energetically and hopefully through quite a meritorious performance a few feet away; a deftly triumphant juggler did very easily, and directly beneath our watchful eyes, some really wonderful tricks. A butterfly-gorgeous swarm of insinuating smiling peddlers of small things dangled and spread their wares where they thought themselves most sure of attention. Beyond our own little group we saw slowly passing in the lighted street outside the portico the variegated and picturesque loungers. Across the way a phonograph bawled; our stringed orchestra played "The Dollar Princess;" from somewhere over in the dark and mysterious alleyways came the regular beating of a tom-tom. The magnificent and picturesque town car with its gaudy ragamuffins swayed by in train of its diminutive mule.
Suddenly our persistent and amusing entourage vanished in all directions. Standing idly at the portico was a very straight, black Soudanese. On his head was the usual red fez; his clothing was of trim khaki; his knees and feet were bare, with blue puttees between; and around his middle was drawn close and smooth a blood-red sash at least a foot and a half in breadth. He made a fine upstanding Egyptian figure, and was armed with pride, a short sheathed club, and a great scorn. No word spoke he, nor command; but merely jerked a thumb towards the darkness, and into the darkness our many-hued horde melted away. We were left feeling rather lonesome!
Near midnight we sauntered down the street to the quay, whence we were rowed to the ship by another turbaned, long-robed figure, who sweetly begged just a copper or so "for poor boatman."
We found the ship in the process of coaling, every porthole and doorway closed, and heavy canvas hung to protect as far as possible the clean decks. Two barges were moored alongside. Two blazing braziers lighted them with weird red and flickering flames. In their depths, cast in black and red shadows, toiled half-guessed figures; from their depths, mounting a single steep plank, came an unbroken procession of natives, naked save for a wisp of cloth around the loins. They trod closely on each other's heels, carrying each his basket atop his head or on one shoulder, mounted a gang-plank, discharged their loads into the side of the ship, and descended again to the depths by way of another plank. The lights flickered across their dark faces, their gleaming teeth and eyes. Somehow the work demanded a heap of screeching, shouting, and gesticulation; but somehow also it went forward rapidly. Dozens of unattached natives lounged about the gunwales with apparently nothing to do but to look picturesque. Shore boats moved into the narrow circle of light, drifted to our gangway, and discharged huge crates of vegetables, sacks of unknown stuffs, and returning passengers. A vigilant police boat hovered near to settle disputes, generally with the blade of an oar. For a long time we leaned over the rail watching them, and the various reflected lights in the water, and the very clear, unwavering stars. Then, the coaling finished, and the portholes once more opened, we turned in.
Some time during the night we must have started, but so gently had we slid along it fractional speed that until I raised my head and looked out I had not realized the fact. I saw a high sandbank. This glided monotonously by until I grew tired of looking at it and got up.
After breakfast, however, I found that the sandbank had various attractions all of its own. Three camels laden with stone and in convoy of white-clad figures shuffled down the slope at a picturesque angle. Two cowled women in black, veiled to the eyes in gauze heavily sewn with sequins, barefooted, with massive silver anklets, watched us pass. Hindu workmen in turban and loin-cloth furnished a picturesque note, but did not seem to be injuring themselves by over-exertion. Naked small boys raced us for a short distance. The banks glided by very slowly and very evenly, the wash sucked after us like water in a slough after a duck boat, and the sky above the yellow sand looked extremely blue.
At short and regular intervals, half-way up the miniature sandhills, heavy piles or snubbing-posts had been planted. For these we at first could guess no reason. Soon, however, we had to pass another ship; and then we saw that one of us must tie up to avoid being drawn irresistibly by suction into collision with the other. The craft sidled by, separated by only a few feet, so that we could look across to each other's decks and exchange greetings. As the day grew this interest grew likewise. Dredgers in the canal; rusty tramps flying unfamiliar flags of strange tiny countries; big freighters, often with Greek or Turkish characters on their sterns; small dirty steamers of suspicious business; passenger ships like our own, returning from the tropics, with white-clad, languid figures reclining in canvas chairs; gunboats of this or that nation bound on mysterious affairs; once a P. & O. converted into a troopship, from whose every available porthole, hatch, deck, and shroud laughing, brown, English faces shouted chaff at our German decks—all these either tied up for us, or were tied up for by us. The only craft that received no consideration on our part were the various picturesque Arab dhows, with their single masts and the long yards slanting across them. Since these were very small, our suction dragged at them cruelly. As a usual thing four vociferous figures clung desperately to a rope passed around one of the snubbing-posts ashore, while an old man shrieked syllables at them from the dhow itself. As they never by any chance thought of mooring her both stem and stern, the dhow generally changed ends rapidly, shipping considerable water in the process. It must be very trying to get so excited in a hot climate.
The high sandbanks of the early part of the day soon dropped lower to afford us a wider view. In its broad, general features the country was, quite simply, the desert of Arizona over again. There were the same high, distant, and brittle-looking mountains, fragile and pearly; the same low, broken half-distances; the same wide sweeps; the same wonderful changing effects of light, colour, shadow, and mirage; the same occasional strips of green marking the watercourses and oases. As to smaller detail, we saw many interesting divergences. In the foreground constantly recurred the Bedouin brush shelters, each with its picturesque figure or so in flowing robes, and its grumpy camels. Twice we saw travelling caravans, exactly like the Bible pictures. At one place a single burnoused Arab, leaning on his elbows, reclined full length on the sky-line of a clean-cut sandhill. Glittering in the mirage, half-guessed, half-seen, we made out distant little white towns with slender palm trees. At places the water from the canal had overflowed wide tracts of country. Here, along the shore, we saw thousands of the water-fowl already familiar to us, as well as such strangers as gaudy kingfishers, ibises, and rosy flamingoes.
The canal itself seemed to be in a continual state of repair. Dredgers were everywhere; some of the ordinary shovel type, others working by suction, and discharging far inland by means of weird huge pipes that apparently meandered at will over the face of nature. The control stations were beautifully French and neat, painted yellow, each with its gorgeous bougainvilleas in flower, its square-rigged signal masts, its brightly painted extra buoys standing in a row, its wharf—and its impassive Arab fishermen thereon. We reclined in our canvas chairs, had lemon squashes brought to us, and watched the entertainment steadily and slowly unrolled before us.
We reached the end of the canal about three o'clock of the afternoon, and dropped anchor off the low-lying shores. Our binoculars showed us white houses in apparently single rank along a far-reaching narrow sand spit, with sparse trees and a railroad line. That was the town of Suez, and seemed so little interesting that we were not particularly sorry that we could not go ashore. Far in the distance were mountains; and the water all about us was the light, clear green of the sky at sunset.
Innumerable dhows and row-boats swarmed down, filled with eager salesmen of curios and ostrich plumes. They had not much time in which to bargain, so they made it up in rapid-fire vociferation. One very tall and dignified Arab had as sailor of his craft the most extraordinary creature, just above the lower limit of the human race. He was of a dull coal black, without a single high light on him anywhere, as though he had been sand-papered, had prominent teeth, like those of a baboon, in a wrinkled, wizened monkey face, across which were three tattooed bands, and possessed a little, long-armed, spare figure, bent and wiry. He clambered up and down his mast, fetching things at his master's behest; leapt nonchalantly for our rail or his own spar, as the case might be, across the staggering abyss; clung so well with his toes that he might almost have been classified with the quadrumana; and between times squatted humped over on the rail, watching us with bright, elfish, alien eyes.
At last the big German sailors bundled the whole variegated horde overside. It was time to go, and our anchor chain was already rumbling in the hawse pipes. They tumbled hastily into their boats; and at once swarmed up their masts, whence they feverishly continued their interrupted bargaining. In fact, so fully embarked on the tides of commerce were they, that they failed to notice the tides of nature widening between us. One old man, in especial, at the very top of his mast, jerked hither and thither by the sea, continued imploringly to offer an utterly ridiculous carved wooden camel long after it was impossible to have completed the transaction should anybody have been moonstruck enough to have desired it. Our ship's prow swung; and just at sunset, as the lights of Suez were twinkling out one by one, we headed down the Red Sea.
THE RED SEA.
Suez is indeed the gateway to the East. In the Mediterranean often the sea is rough, the winds cold, passengers are not yet acquainted, and hug the saloons or the leeward side of the deck. Once through the canal and all is changed by magic. The air is hot and languid; the ship's company down to the very scullions appear in immaculate white; the saloon chairs and transoms even are put in white coverings; electric fans hum everywhere; the run on lemon squashes begins; and many quaint and curious customs of the tropics obtain.
For example: it is etiquette that before eight o'clock one may wander the decks at will in one's pyjamas, converse affably with fair ladies in pigtail and kimono, and be not abashed. But on the stroke of eight bells it is also etiquette to disappear very promptly and to array one's self for the day; and it is very improper indeed to see or be seen after that hour in the rather extreme negligee of the early morning. Also it becomes the universal custom, or perhaps I should say the necessity, to slumber for an hour after the noon meal. Certainly sleep descending on the tropical traveller is armed with a bludgeon. Passengers, crew, steerage, "deck," animal, and bird fall down then in an enchantment. I have often wondered who navigates the ship during that sacred hour, or, indeed, if anybody navigates it at all. Perhaps that time is sacred to the genii of the old East, who close all prying mortal eyes, but in return lend a guiding hand to the most pressing of mortal affairs. The deck of the ship is a curious sight between the hours of half-past one and three. The tropical siesta requires no couching of the form. You sit down in your chair, with a book—you fade slowly into a deep, restful slumber. And yet it is a slumber wherein certain small pleasant things persist from the world outside. You remain dimly conscious of the rhythmic throbbing of the engines, of the beat of soft, warm air on your cheek.
At three o'clock or thereabout you rise as gently back to life, and sit erect in your chair without a stretch or a yawn in your whole anatomy. Then is the one time of day for a display of energy—if you have any to display. Ship games, walks—fairly brisk—explorations to the forecastle, a watch for flying fish or Arab dhows, anything until tea-time. Then the glowing sunset; the opalescent sea, and the soft afterglow of the sky—and the bugle summoning you to dress. That is a mean job. Nothing could possibly swelter worse than the tiny cabin. The electric fan is an aggravation. You reappear in your fresh "whites" somewhat warm and flustered in both mind and body. A turn around the deck cools you off; and dinner restores your equanimity—dinner with the soft, warm tropic air breathing through all the wide-open ports; the electric fans drumming busily; the men all in clean white; the ladies, the very few precious ladies, in soft, low gowns. After dinner the deck, as near cool as it will be, and heads bare to the breeze of our progress, and glowing cigars. At ten or eleven o'clock the groups begin to break up, the canvas chairs to empty. Soon reappears a pyjamaed figure followed by a steward carrying a mattress. This is spread, under its owner's direction, in a dark corner forward. With a sigh you in your turn plunge down into the sweltering inferno of your cabin, only to reappear likewise with a steward and a mattress. The latter, if you are wise, you spread where the wind of the ship's going will be full upon you. It is a strong wind and blows upon you heavily, so that the sleeves and legs of your pyjamas flop, but it is a soft, warm wind, and beats you as with muffled fingers. In no temperate clime can you ever enjoy this peculiar effect of a strong breeze on your naked skin without even the faintest surface chilly sensation. So habituated has one become to feeling cooler in a draught that the absence of chill lends the night an unaccustomedness, the more weird in that it is unanalyzed, so that one feels definitely that one is in a strange, far country. This is intensified by the fact that in these latitudes the moon, the great, glorious, calm tropical moon, is directly overhead—follows the centre line of the zenith—instead of being, as with us in our temperate zone, always more or less declined to the horizon. This, too, lends the night an exotic quality, the more effective in that at first the reason for it is not apprehended.
A night in the tropics is always more or less broken. One awakens, and sleeps again. Motionless white-clad figures, cigarettes glowing, are lounging against the rail looking out over a molten sea. The moonlight lies in patterns across the deck, shivering slightly under the throb of the engines, or occasionally swaying slowly forward or slowly back as the ship's course changes, but otherwise motionless, for here the sea is always calm. You raise your head, look about, sprawl in a new position on your mattress, fall asleep. On one of these occasions you find unexpectedly that the velvet-gray night has become steel-gray dawn, and that the kindly old quartermaster is bending over you. Sleepily, very sleepily, you stagger to your feet and collapse into the nearest chair. Then to the swish of water, as the sailors sluice the decks all around and under you, you fall into a really deep sleep.
At six o'clock this is broken by chota-hazri, another tropical institution, consisting merely of clear tea and biscuits. I never could get to care for it, but nowhere in the tropics could I head it off. No matter how tired I was or how dead sleepy, I had to receive that confounded chota-hazri. Throwing things at the native who brought it did no good at all. He merely dodged. Admonition did no good, nor prohibition in strong terms. I was but one white man of the whole white race; and I had no right to possess idiosyncrasies running counter to dastur, the custom. However, as the early hours are profitable hours in the tropics, it did not drive me to homicide.
The ship's company now developed. Our two prize members, fortunately for us, sat at our table. The first was the Swedish professor aforementioned. He was large, benign, paternal, broad in mind, thoroughly human and beloved, and yet profoundly erudite. He was our iconoclast in the way of food; for he performed small but illuminating dissections on his plate, and announced triumphantly results that were not a bit in accordance with the menu. A single bone was sufficient to take the pretension out of any fish. Our other particular friend was C., with whom later we travelled in the interior of Africa. C. is a very celebrated hunter and explorer, an old Africander, his face seamed and tanned by many years in a hard climate. For several days we did not recognize him, although he sat fairly alongside, but put him down as a shy man, and let it go at that. He never stayed for the long table d'hote dinners, but fell upon the first solid course and made a complete meal from that. When he had quite finished eating all he could, he drank all he could; then he departed from the table, and took up a remote and inaccessible position in the corner of the smoking-room. He was engaged in growing the beard he customarily wore in the jungle—a most fierce outstanding Mohammedan-looking beard that terrified the intrusive into submission. And yet Bwana C. possesses the kindest blue eyes in the world, full of quiet patience, great understanding, and infinite gentleness. His manner was abrupt and uncompromising, but he would do anything in the world for one who stood in need of him. From women he fled; yet Billy won him with infinite patience, and in the event they became the closest of friends. Withal he possessed a pair of the most powerful shoulders I have ever seen on a man of his frame; and in the depths of his mild blue eyes flickered a flame of resolution that I could well imagine flaring up to something formidable. Slow to make friends, but staunch and loyal; gentle and forbearing, but fierce and implacable in action; at once loved and most terribly feared; shy as a wild animal, but straightforward and undeviating in his human relations; most remarkably quiet and unassuming, but with tremendous vital force in his deep eyes and forward-thrust jaw; informed with the widest and most understanding humanity, but unforgiving of evildoers; and with the most direct and absolute courage, Bwana C. was to me the most interesting man I met in Africa, and became the best of my friends.
The only other man at our table happened to be, for our sins, the young Englishman mentioned as throwing the first coin to the old woman on the pier at Marseilles. We will call him Brown, and, because he represents a type, he is worth looking upon for a moment.
He was of the super-enthusiastic sort; bubbling over with vitality, in and out of everything; bounding up at odd and languid moments. To an extraordinary extent he was afflicted with the spiritual blindness of his class. Quite genuinely, quite seriously, he was unconscious of the human significance of beings and institutions belonging to a foreign country or even to a class other than his own. His own kind he treated as complete and understandable human creatures. All others were merely objective. As we, to a certain extent, happened to fall in the former category, he was as pleasant to us as possible—that is, he was pleasant to us in his way, but had not insight enough to guess at how to be pleasant to us in our way. But as soon as he got out of his own class, or what he conceived to be such, he considered all people as "outsiders." He did not credit them with prejudices to rub, with feelings to hurt, indeed hardly with ears to overhear. Provided his subject was an "outsider," he had not the slightest hesitancy in saying exactly what he thought about any one, anywhere, always in his high clear English voice, no matter what the time or occasion. As a natural corollary he always rebuffed beggars and the like brutally, and was always quite sublimely doing little things that thoroughly shocked our sense of the other fellow's rights as a human being. In all this he did not mean to be cruel or inconsiderate. It was just the way he was built; and it never entered his head that "such people" had ears and brains.
In the rest of the ship's company were a dozen or so other Englishmen of the upper classes, either army men on shooting trips, or youths going out with some idea of settling in the country. They were a clean-built, pleasant lot; good people to know anywhere, but of no unusual interest. It was only when one went abroad into the other nations that inscribable human interest could be found.
There was the Greek, Scutari, and his bride, a languorous rather opulent beauty, with large dark eyes for all men, and a luxurious manner of lying back and fanning herself. She talked, soft-voiced, in half a dozen languages, changing from one to the other without a break in either her fluency or her thought. Her little lithe, active husband sat around and adored her. He was apparently a very able citizen indeed, for he was going out to take charge of the construction work on a German railway. To have filched so important a job from the Germans themselves shows that he must have had ability. With them were a middle-aged Holland couple, engaged conscientiously in travelling over the globe. They had been everywhere—the two American hemispheres, from one Arctic Sea to another, Siberia, China, the Malay Archipelago, this, that, and the other odd corner of the world. Always they sat placidly side by side, either in the saloon or on deck, smiling benignly, and conversing in spaced, comfortable syllables with everybody who happened along. Mrs. Breemen worked industriously on some kind of feminine gear, and explained to all and sundry that she travelled "to see de sceenery wid my hoos-band."
Also in this group was a small wiry German doctor, who had lived for many years in the far interior of Africa, and was now returning after his vacation. He was a little man, bright-eyed and keen, with a clear complexion and hard flesh, in striking and agreeable contrast to most of his compatriots. The latter were trying to drink all the beer on the ship; but as she had been stocked for an eighty-day voyage, of which this was but the second week, they were not making noticeable headway. However, they did not seem to be easily discouraged. The Herr Doktor was most polite and attentive, but as we did not talk German nor much Swahili, and he had neither English nor much French, we had our difficulties. I have heard Billy in talking to him scatter fragments of these four languages through a single sentence!
For several days we drifted down a warm flat sea. Then one morning we came on deck to find ourselves close aboard a number of volcanic islands. They were composed entirely of red and dark purple lava blocks, rugged, quite without vegetation save for occasional patches of stringy green in a gully; and uninhabited except for a lighthouse on one, and a fishing shanty near the shores of another. The high mournful mountains, with their dark shadows, seemed to brood over hot desolation. The rusted and battered stern of a wrecked steamer stuck up at an acute angle from the surges. Shortly after we picked up the shores of Arabia.
Note the advantages of a half ignorance. From early childhood we had thought of Arabia as the "burning desert"—flat, of course—and of the Red Sea as bordered by "shifting sands" alone. If we had known the truth—if we had not been half ignorant—we would have missed the profound surprise of discovering that in reality the Red Sea is bordered by high and rugged mountains, leaving just space enough between themselves and the shore for a sloping plain on which our glasses could make out occasional palms. Perhaps the "shifting sands of the burning desert" lie somewhere beyond; but somebody might have mentioned these great mountains! After examining them attentively we had to confess that if this sort of thing continued farther north the children of Israel must have had a very hard time of it. Mocha shone white, glittering, and low, with the red and white spire of a mosque rising brilliantly above it.
It was cooler; and for a change we had turned into our bunks, when B. pounded on our stateroom door.
"In the name of the Eternal East," said he, "come on deck!"
We slipped on kimonos, and joined the row of scantily draped and interested figures along the rail.
The ship lay quite still on a perfect sea of moonlight, bordered by a low flat distant shore on one side, and nearer mountains on the other. A strong flare, centred from two ship reflectors overside, made a focus of illumination that subdued, but could not quench, the soft moonlight with which all outside was silvered. A dozen boats, striving against a current or clinging as best they could to the ship's side, glided into the light and became real and solid; or dropped back into the ghostly white unsubstantiality of the moon. They were long, narrow boats, with small flush decks fore and aft. We looked down on them from almost directly above, so that we saw the thwarts and the ribs and the things they contained.
Astern in each stood men, bending gracefully against the thrust of long sweeps. About their waists were squares of cloth, wrapped twice and tucked in. Otherwise they were naked, and the long smooth muscles of their slender bodies rippled under the skin. The latter was of a beautiful fine texture, and chocolate brown. These men had keen, intelligent, clear-cut faces, of the Greek order, as though the statues of a garden had been stained brown and had come to life. They leaned on their sweeps, thrusting slowly but strongly against the little wind and current that would drift them back.
In the body of the boats crouched, sat, or lay a picturesque mob. Some pulled spasmodically on the very long limber oars; others squatted doing nothing; some, huddled shapelessly underneath white cloths that completely covered them, slept soundly in the bottom. We took these for merchandise until one of them suddenly threw aside his covering and sat up. Others, again, poised in proud and graceful attitudes on the extreme prows of their bobbing craft. Especially decorative were two, clad only in immense white turbans and white cloths about the waist. An old Arab with a white beard stood midships in one boat, quite motionless, except for the slight swaying necessary to preserve his equilibrium, his voluminous white draperies fluttering in the wind, his dark face just distinguishable under his burnouse. Most of the men were Somalis, however. Their keen small faces, slender but graceful necks, slim, well-formed torsos bending to every movement of the boat, and the white or gaudy draped nether garments were as decorative as the figures on an Egyptian tomb. One or two of the more barbaric had made neat headdresses of white clay plastered in the form of a skull-cap.
After an interval a small and fussy tugboat steamed around our stern and drew alongside the gangway. Three passengers disembarked from her and made their way aboard. The main deck of the craft under an awning was heavily encumbered with trunks, tin boxes, hand baggage, tin bath-tubs, gun cases, and all sorts of impedimenta. The tugboat moored itself to us fore and aft, and proceeded to think about discharging. Perhaps twenty men in accurate replica of those in the small boats had charge of the job. They had their own methods. After a long interval devoted strictly to nothing, some unfathomable impulse would incite one or two or three of the natives to tackle a trunk. At it they tugged and heaved and pushed in the manner of ants making off with a particularly large fly or other treasure trove, tossing it up the steep gangway to the level of our decks. The trunks once safely bestowed, all interest, all industry, died. We thought that finished it, and wondered why the tug did not pull out of the way. But always, after an interval, another bright idea would strike another native or natives. He—or they—would disappear beneath the canvas awning over the tug's deck, to emerge shortly, carrying almost anything, from a parasol to a heavy chest.
On close inspection they proved to be a very small people. The impression of graceful height had come from the slenderness and justness of their proportions, the smallness of their bones, and the upright grace of their carriage. After standing alongside one, we acquired a fine respect for their ability to handle those trunks at all.
Moored to the other side of the ship we found two huge lighters, from which bales of goods were being hoisted aboard. Two camels and a dozen diminutive mules stood in the waist of one of these craft. The camels were as sniffy and supercilious and scornful as camels always are; and everybody promptly hated them with the hatred of the abysmally inferior spirit for something that scorns it, as is the usual attitude of the human mind towards camels. We waited for upwards of an hour, in the hope of seeing those camels hoisted aboard; but in vain. While we were so waiting one of the deck passengers below us, a Somali in white clothes and a gorgeous cerise turban, decided to turn in. He spread a square of thin matting atop one of the hatches, and began to unwind yards and yards of the fine silk turban. He came to the end of it—whisk! he sank to the deck; the turban, spread open by the resistance of the air, fluttered down to cover him from head to foot. Apparently he fell asleep at once, for he did not again move nor alter his position. He, as well as an astonishingly large proportion of the other Somalis and Abyssinians we saw, carried a queer, well-defined, triangular wound in his head. It had long since healed, was an inch or so across, and looked as though a piece of the skull had been removed. If a conscientious enemy had leisure and an icepick he would do just about that sort of a job. How its recipient had escaped instant death is a mystery.
At length, about three o'clock, despairing of the camels, we turned in.
After three hours' sleep we were again on deck. Aden by daylight seemed to be several sections of a town tucked into pockets in bold, raw, lava mountains that came down fairly to the water's edge. Between these pockets ran a narrow shore road; and along the road paced haughty camels hitched to diminutive carts. On contracted round bluffs towards the sea were various low bungalow buildings which, we were informed, comprised the military and civil officers' quarters. The real Aden has been built inland a short distance at the bottom of a cup in the mountains. Elaborate stone reservoirs have been constructed to catch rain water, as there is no other natural water supply whatever. The only difficulty is that it practically never rains; so the reservoirs stand empty, the water is distilled from the sea, and the haughty camels and the little carts do the distributing.
The lava mountains occupy one side of the spacious bay or gulf. The foot of the bay and the other side are flat, with one or two very distant white villages, and many heaps of glittering salt as big as houses.
We waited patiently at the rail for an hour more to see the camels slung aboard by the crane. It was worth the wait. They lost their impassive and immemorial dignity completely, sprawling, groaning, positively shrieking in dismay. When the solid deck rose to them, and the sling had been loosened, however, they regained their poise instantaneously. Their noses went up in the air, and they looked about them with a challenging, unsmiling superiority, as though to dare any one of us to laugh. Their native attendants immediately squatted down in front of them, and began to feed them with convenient lengths of what looked like our common marsh cat-tails. The camels did not even then manifest the slightest interest in the proceedings. Indeed, they would not condescend to reach out three inches for the most luscious tit-bit held that far from their aristocratic noses. The attendants had actually to thrust the fodder between their jaws. I am glad to say they condescended to chew.
THE INDIAN OCEAN.
Leaving Aden, and rounding the great promontory of Cape Guardafui, we turned south along the coast of Africa. Off the cape were strange, oily cross rips and currents on the surface of the sea; the flying-fish rose in flocks before our bows; high mountains of peaks and flat table tops thrust their summits into clouds; and along the coast the breakers spouted like whales. For the first time, too, we began to experience what our preconceptions had imagined as tropical heat. Heretofore we had been hot enough, in all conscience, but the air had felt as though wafted from an opened furnace door—dry and scorching. Now, although the temperature was lower, the humidity was greater. A swooning languor was abroad over the spellbound ocean, a relaxing mist of enchantment.
My glasses were constantly clouding over with a fine coating of water drops; exposed metal rusted overnight; the folds in garments accumulated mildew in an astonishingly brief period of time. There was never even the suggestion of chill in this dampness. It clung and enveloped like a grateful garment; and seemed only to lack sweet perfume.
At this time, by good fortune, it happened that the moon came full. We had enjoyed its waxing during our voyage down the Red Sea; but now it had reached its greatest phase, and hung over the slumbering tropic ocean like a lantern. The lazy sea stirred beneath it, and the ship glided on, its lights fairly subdued by the splendour of the waters. Under the awnings the ship's company lounged in lazy attitudes or promenaded slowly, talking low voiced, cigars glowing in the splendid dusk. Overside, in the furrow of the disturbed waters, the phosphorescence flashed perpetually beneath the shadow of the ship.
The days passed by languidly and all alike. On the chart outside the smoking-room door the procession of tiny German flags on pins marched steadily, an inch at a time, towards the south. Otherwise we might as well have imagined ourselves midgets afloat in a pond and getting nowhere.
Somewhere north of the equator—before Father Neptune in ancient style had come aboard and ducked the lot of us—we were treated to the spectacle of how the German "sheep" reacts under a joke. Each nation has its type of fool; and all, for the joyousness of mankind, differ. On the bulletin board one evening appeared a notice to the effect that the following morning a limited number of sportsmen would be permitted ashore for the day. Each was advised to bring his own lunch, rifle, and drinks. The reason alleged was that the ship must round a certain cape across which the sportsmen could march afoot in sufficient time to permit them a little shooting.
Now aboard ship were a dozen English, four Americans, and thirty or forty Germans. The Americans and English looked upon that bulletin, smiled gently, and went to order another round of lemon squashes. It was a meek, mild, little joke enough; but surely the bulletin board was as far as it could possibly go. Next morning, however, we observed a half-dozen of our German friends in khaki and sun helmet, very busy with lunch boxes, bottles of beer, rifles, and the like. They said they were going ashore as per bulletin. We looked at each other and hied us to the upper deck. There we found one of the boats slung overside, with our old friend the quartermaster ostentatiously stowing kegs of water, boxes, and the like.
"When," we inquired gently, "does the expedition start?"
"At ten o'clock," said he.
It was now within fifteen minutes of that hour.
We were at the time fully ten miles off shore, and forging ahead full speed parallel with the coast.
We pointed out this fact to the quartermaster, but found, to our sorrow, that the poor old man had suddenly gone deaf! We therefore refrained from asking several other questions that had occurred to us—such as, why the cape was not shown on the map.
"Somebody," said one of the Americans, a cowboy going out second class on the look for new cattle country, "is a goat. It sure looks to me like it was these yere steamboat people. They can't expect to rope nothing on such a raw deal as this!"
To which the English assented, though in different idiom.
But now up the companion ladder struggled eight serious-minded individuals herded by the second mate. They were armed to the teeth, and thoroughly equipped with things I had seen in German catalogues, but in whose existence I had never believed. A half-dozen sailors eagerly helped them with their multitudinous effects. Not a thought gave they to the fact that we were ten miles off the coast, that we gave no indication of slackening speed, that it would take the rest of the day to row ashore, that there was no cape for us to round, that if there were—oh! all the other hundred improbabilities peculiar to the situation. Under direction of the mate they deposited their impedimenta beneath a tarpaulin, and took their places in solemn rows amidships across the thwarts of the boat slung overside. The importance of the occasion sat upon them heavily; they were going ashore—in Africa—to Slay Wild Beasts. They looked upon themselves as of bolder, sterner stuff than the rest of us.
When the procession first appeared, our cowboy's face for a single instant had flamed with amazed incredulity. Then a mask of expressionless stolidity fell across his features, which in no line thereafter varied one iota.
"What are they going to do with them?" murmured one of the Englishmen, at a loss.
"I reckon," said the cowboy, "that they look on this as the easiest way to drown them all to onct."
Then from behind one of the other boats suddenly appeared a huge German sailor with a hose. The devoted imbeciles in the shore boat were drenched as by a cloud-burst. Back and forth and up and down the heavy stream played, while every other human being about the ship shrieked with joy. Did the victims rise up in a body and capture that hose nozzle and turn the stream to sweep the decks? Did they duck for shelter? Did they at least know enough to scatter and run? They did none of these things; but sat there in meek little rows like mannikins until the boat was half full of water and everything awash. Then, when the sailor shut off the stream, they continued to sit there until the mate came to order them out. Why? I cannot tell you. Perhaps that is the German idea of how to take a joke. Perhaps they were afraid worse things might be consequent on resistance. Perhaps they still hoped to go ashore. One of the Englishmen asked just that question.
"What," he demanded disgustedly, "what is the matter with the beggars?"
Our cowboy may have had the correct solution. He stretched his long legs and jumped down from the rail.
"Nothing stirring above the ears," said he.
It is customary in books of travel to describe this part of the journey somewhat as follows: "Skirting the low and uninteresting shores of Africa we at length reached," etc. Low and uninteresting shores! Through the glasses we made out distant mountains far beyond nearer hills. The latter were green-covered with dense forests whence rose mysterious smokes. Along the shore we saw an occasional cocoanut plantation to the water's edge and native huts and villages of thatch. Canoes of strange models lay drawn up on shelving beaches; queer fish-pounds of brush reached out considerable distances from the coast. The white surf pounded on a yellow beach.
All about these things was the jungle, hemming in the plantations and villages, bordering the lagoons, creeping down until it fairly overhung the yellow beaches; as though, conqueror through all the country beyond, it were half-inclined to dispute dominion with old Ocean himself. It looked from the distance like a thick, soft coverlet thrown down over the country; following—or, rather, suggesting—the inequalities. Through the glasses we were occasionally able to peep under the edge of this coverlet, and see where the fringe of the jungle drew back in a little pocket, or to catch the sheen of mysterious dark rivers slipping to the sea. Up these dark rivers, by way of the entrances of these tiny pockets, the imagination then could lead on into the dimness beneath the sunlit upper surfaces.
Towards the close of one afternoon we changed our course slightly, and swung in on a long slant towards the coast. We did it casually; too casually for so very important an action, for now at last we were about to touch the mysterious continent. Then we saw clearer the fine, big groves of palm and the luxuriance of the tropical vegetation. Against the greenery, bold and white, shone the buildings of Mombasa; and after a little while we saw an inland glitter that represented her narrow, deep bay, the stern of a wreck against the low, green cliffs, and strange, fat-trunked squat trees without leaves. Straight past all this we glided at half speed, then turned sharp to the right to enter a long wide expanse like a river, with green banks, twenty feet or so in height, grown thickly with the tall cocoanut palms. These gave way at times into broad, low lagoons, at the end of which were small beaches and boats, and native huts among more cocoanut groves. Through our glasses we could see the black men watching us, quite motionless, squatted on their heels.
It was like suddenly entering another world, this gliding from the open sea straight into the heart of a green land. The ceaseless wash of waves we had left outside with the ocean; our engines had fallen silent. Across the hushed waters came to us strange chantings and the beating of a tom-tom, an occasional shrill shout from the unknown jungle. The sun was just set, and the tops of the palms caught the last rays; all below was dense green shadow. Across the surface of the water glided dug-out canoes of shapes strange to us. We passed ancient ruins almost completely dismantled, their stones half smothered in green rank growth. The wide river-like bay stretched on before us as far as the waning light permitted us to see; finally losing itself in the heart of mystery.
Steadily and confidently our ship steamed forward, until at last, when we seemed to be afloat in a land-locked lake, we dropped anchor and came to rest.
Darkness fell utterly before the usual quarantine regulations had been carried through. Active and efficient agents had already taken charge of our affairs, so we had only to wait idly by the rail until summoned. Then we jostled our way down the long gangway, passed and repassed by natives carrying baggage or returning for more baggage, stepped briskly aboard a very bobby little craft, clambered over a huge pile of baggage, and stowed ourselves as best we could. A figure in a long white robe sat astern, tiller ropes in hand; two half-naked blacks far up towards the prow manipulated a pair of tremendous sweeps. With a vast heaving, jabbering, and shouting, our boat disengaged itself from the swarm of other craft. We floated around the stern of our ship, and were immediately suspended in blackness dotted with the stars and their reflections, and with various twinkling scattered lights. To one of these we steered, and presently touched at a stone quay with steps. At last we set foot on the land to which so long we had journeyed and towards which our expectations had grown so great. We experienced "the pleasure that touches the souls of men landing on strange shores."
 82-88 deg. degrees in daytime, and 75-83 deg. degrees at night.
A single light shone at the end of the stone quay, and another inside a big indeterminate building at some distance. We stumbled towards this, and found it to be the biggest shed ever constructed out of corrugated iron. A bearded Sikh stood on guard at its open entrance. He let any one and every one enter, with never a flicker of his expressionless black eyes; but allowed no one to go out again without the closest scrutiny for dutiable articles that lacked the blue customs plaster. We entered. The place was vast and barnlike and dim, and very, very hot. A half-dozen East Indians stood behind the counters; another, a babu, sat at a little desk ready to give his clerical attention to what might be required. We saw no European; but next morning found that one passed his daylight hours in this inferno of heat. For the moment we let our main baggage go, and occupied ourselves only with getting through our smaller effects. This accomplished, we stepped out past the Sikh into the grateful night.
We had as guide a slender and wiry individual clad in tarboush and long white robe. In a vague, general way we knew that the town of Mombasa was across the island and about four miles distant. In what direction or how we got there we had not the remotest idea.
The guide set off at a brisk pace with which we tried in vain to keep step. He knew the ground, and we did not; and the night was black dark. Commands to stop were of no avail whatever; nor could we get hold of him to restrain him by force. When we put on speed he put on speed too. His white robe glimmered ahead of us just in sight; and in the darkness other white robes, passing and crossing, glimmered also. At first the ground was rough, so that we stumbled outrageously. Billy and B. soon fell behind, and I heard their voices calling plaintively for us to slow down a bit.
"If I ever lose this nigger, I'll never find him again," I shouted back, "but I can find you. Do the best you can!"
We struck a smoother road that led up a hill on a long slant. Apparently for miles we followed thus, the white-robed individual ahead still deaf to all commands and the blood-curdling threats I had now come to uttering. All our personal baggage had long since mysteriously disappeared, ravished away from us at the customs house by a ragged horde of blacks. It began to look as though we were stranded in Africa without baggage or effects. Billy and B. were all the time growing fainter in the distance, though evidently they too had struck the long, slanting road.
Then we came to a dim, solitary lantern glowing feebly beside a bench at what appeared to be the top of the hill. Here our guide at last came to a halt and turned to me a grinning face.
"Samama hapa," he observed.
There! That was the word I had been frantically searching my memory for! Samama—stop!
The others struggled in. We were very warm. Up to the bench led a tiny car track, the rails not over two feet apart, like the toy railroads children use. This did not look much like grownup transportation, but it and the bench and the dim lantern represented all the visible world.
We sat philosophically on the bench and enjoyed the soft tropical night. The air was tepid, heavy with unknown perfume, black as a band of velvet across the eyes, musical with the subdued undertones of a thousand thousand night insects. At points overhead the soft blind darkness melted imperceptibly into stars.
After a long interval we distinguished a distant faint rattling, that each moment increased in loudness. Shortly came into view along the narrow tracks a most extraordinary vehicle. It was a small square platform on wheels, across which ran a bench seat, and over which spread a canopy. It carried also a dim lantern. This rumbled up to us and stopped. From its stern hopped two black boys. Obeying a smiling invitation, we took our places on the bench. The two boys immediately set to pushing us along the narrow track.
We were off at an astonishing speed through the darkness. The night was deliciously tepid; and, as I have said, absolutely dark. We made out the tops of palms and the dim loom of great spreading trees, and could smell sweet, soft odours. The bare-headed, lightly-clad boys pattered alongside whenever the grade was easy, one hand resting against the rail; or pushed mightily up little hills; or clung alongside like monkeys while we rattled and swooped and plunged down hill into the darkness. Subsequently we learned that a huge flat beam projecting amidships from beneath the seat operated a brake which we above were supposed to manipulate; but being quite ignorant as to the ethics and mechanics of this strange street-car system, we swung and swayed at times quite breathlessly.
After about fifteen minutes we began to pick up lights ahead, then to pass dimly-seen garden walls with trees whose brilliant flowers the lantern revealed fitfully. At last we made out white stucco houses, and shortly drew up with a flourish before the hotel itself.
This was a two-story stucco affair, with deep verandas sunken in at each story. It fronted a wide white street facing a public garden; and this, we subsequently discovered, was about the only clear and open space in all the narrow town. Antelope horns were everywhere hung on the walls; and teakwood easy-chairs, with rests on which comfortably to elevate your feet above your head, stood all about. We entered a bare, brick-floored dining-room, and partook of tropical fruits quite new to us—papayes, mangoes, custard apples, pawpaws, and the small red eating bananas too delicate for export. Overhead the punkahs swung back and forth in lazy hypnotic rhythm. We could see the two blacks at the ends of the punkah cords outside on the veranda, their bodies swaying lithely in alternation as they threw their weight against the light ropes. Other blacks, in the long white robes and exquisitely worked white skull caps of the Swahili, glided noiselessly on bare feet, serving.
After dinner we sat out until midnight in the teakwood chairs of the upper gallery, staring through the arches into the black, mysterious night, for it was very hot, and we rather dreaded the necessary mosquito veils as likely to prove stuffy. The mosquitoes are few in Mombasa, but they are very deadly—very. At midnight the thermometer stood 87 deg. F.
Our premonitions as to stuffiness were well justified. After a restless night we came awake at daylight to the sound of a fine row of some sort going on outside in the streets. Immediately we arose, threw aside the lattices, and hung out over the sill.
The chalk-white road stretched before us. Opposite was a public square, grown with brilliant flowers, and flowering trees. We could not doubt the cause of the trouble. An Indian on a bicycle, hurrying to his office, had knocked down a native child. Said child, quite naked, sat in the middle of the white dust and howled to rend the heavens—whenever he felt himself observed. If, however, the attention of the crowd happened for the moment to be engrossed with the babu, the injured one sat up straight and watched the row with interested, rolling, pickaninny eyes. A native policeman made the centre of a whirling, vociferating group. He was a fine-looking chap, straight and soldierly, dressed in red tarboosh, khaki coat bound close around the waist by yards and yards of broad red webbing, loose, short drawers of khaki, bare knees and feet, and blue puttees between. His manner was inflexible. The babu jabbered excitedly; telling, in all probability, how he was innocent of fault, was late for his work, etc. In vain. He had to go; also the kid, who now, seeing himself again an object of interest, recommenced his howling. Then the babu began frantically to indicate members of the crowd whom he desired to retain as witnesses. Evidently not pleased with the prospect of appearing in court, those indicated promptly ducked and ran. The policeman as promptly pursued and collared them one by one. He was a long-legged policeman, and he ran well. The moment he laid hands on a fugitive, the latter collapsed; whereupon the policeman dropped him and took after another. The joke of it was that the one so abandoned did not try again to make off, but stayed as though he had been tagged at some game. Finally the whole lot, still vociferating, moved off down the white road.
For over an hour we hung from our window sill, thoroughly interested and amused by the varied life that deployed before our eyes. The morning seemed deliciously cool after the hot night, although the thermometer stood high. The sky was very blue, with big piled white clouds down near the horizon. Dazzling sun shone on the white road, the white buildings visible up and down the street, the white walls enclosing their gardens, and the greenery and colours of the trees within them. For from what we could see from our window we immediately voted tropical vegetation quite up to advertisement: whole trees of gaudy red or yellow or bright orange blossoms, flowering vines, flowering shrubs, peered over the walls or through the fences; and behind them rose great mangoes or the slenderer shafts of bananas and cocoanut palms.
Up and down wandered groups of various sorts of natives. A month later we would have been able to identify their different tribes and to know more about them; but now we wondered at them, as strange and picturesque peoples. They impressed us in general as being a fine lot of men, for they were of good physique, carried themselves well, and looked about them with a certain dignity and independence, a fine free pride of carriage and of step. This fact alone differentiated them from our own negroes; but, further, their features were in general much finer, and their skins of a clear mahogany beautiful in its satiny texture. Most—and these were the blackest—wore long white robes and fine openwork skull caps. They were the local race, the Swahili, had we but known it; the original "Zanzibari" who furnished Livingstone, Stanley, Speke, and the other early explorers with their men. Others, however, were much less "civilized." We saw one "Cook's tour from the jungle" consisting of six savages, their hair twisted into innumerable points, their ear lobes stretched to hang fairly to their shoulders, wearing only a rather neglectful blanket, adorned with polished wire, carrying war clubs and bright spears. They followed, with eyes and mouths open, a very sophisticated-looking city cousin in the usual white garments, swinging a jaunty, light bamboo cane. The cane seems to be a distinguishing mark of the leisured class. It not only means that you are not working, but also that you have no earthly desire to work.
About this time one of the hotel boys brought the inevitable chota-hazri—the tea and biscuits of early morning. For this once it was very welcome.
Our hotel proved to be on the direct line of freighting. There are no horses or draught animals in Mombasa; the fly is too deadly. Therefore all hauling is done by hand. The tiny tracks of the unique street car system run everywhere any one would wish to go; branching off even into private grounds and to the very front doors of bungalows situated far out of town. Each resident owns his own street car, just as elsewhere a man has his own carriage. There are, of course, public cars also, each with its pair of boys to push it; and also a number of rather decrepit rickshaws. As a natural corollary to the passenger traffic, the freighting also is handled by the blacks on large flat trucks with short guiding poles. These men are quite naked save for a small loin cloth; are beautifully shaped; and glisten all over with perspiration shining in the sun. So fine is the texture of their skins, the softness of their colour—so rippling the play of muscles—that this shining perspiration is like a beautiful polish. They rush from behind, slowly and steadily, and patiently and unwaveringly, the most tremendous loads of the heaviest stuffs. When the hill becomes too steep for them, they turn their backs against the truck; and by placing one foot behind the other, a few inches at a time, they edge their burden up the slope.
The steering is done by one man at the pole or tongue in front. This individual also sets the key to the song by which in Africa all heavy labour is carried forward. He cries his wavering shrill-voiced chant; the toilers utter antiphony in low gruff tones. At a distance one hears only the wild high syncopated chanting; but as the affair draws slowly nearer, he catches the undertone of the responses. These latter are cast in the regular swing and rhythm of effort; but the steersman throws in his bit at odd and irregular intervals. Thus:
Headman (shrill): "Hay, ah mon!"
Pushers (gruff in rhythm): "Tunk!—tunk!—tunk!—" or:
Headman (and wavering minor chant): "Ah—nah—nee—e-e-e!"
Pushers (undertone): "Umbwa—jo-e! Um-bwa—jo—e!"
These wild and barbaric chantings—in the distance; near at hand; dying into distance again—slow, dogged, toilsome, came to be to us one of the typical features of the place.
After breakfast we put on our sun helmets and went forth curiously to view the town. We found it roughly divided into four quarters—the old Portuguese, the Arabic, the European, and the native. The Portuguese comprises the outer fringe next the water-front of the inner bay. It is very narrow of street, with whitewashed walls, balconies, and wonderful carven and studded doors. The business of the town is done here. The Arabic quarter lies back of it—a maze of narrow alleys winding aimlessly here and there between high white buildings, with occasionally the minarets and towers of a mosque. This district harboured, besides the upper-class Swahilis and Arabs, a large number of East Indians. Still back of this are thousands of the low grass, or mud and wattle huts of the natives, their roofs thatched with straw or palm. These are apparently arranged on little system. The small European population lives atop the sea bluffs beyond the old fort in the most attractive bungalows. This, the most desirable location of all, has remained open to them because heretofore the fierce wars with which Mombasa, "the Island of Blood," has been swept have made the exposed seaward lands impossible.
No idle occupation can be more fascinating than to wander about the mazes of this ancient town. The variety of race and occupation is something astounding. Probably the one human note that, everywhere persisting, draws the whole together is furnished by the water-carriers. Mombasa has no water system whatever. The entire supply is drawn from numberless picturesque wells scattered everywhere in the crowded centre, and distributed mainly in Standard Oil cans suspended at either end of a short pole. By dint of constant daily exercise, hauling water up from a depth and carrying it various distances, these men have developed the most beautifully powerful figures. They proceed at a half trot, the slender poles, with forty pounds at either end, seeming fairly to cut into their naked shoulders, muttering a word of warning to the loiterers at every other breath—semeelay! semeelay! No matter in what part of Mombasa you may happen to be, or at what hour of the day or night, you will meet these industrious little men trotting along under their burdens.
Everywhere also are the women, carrying themselves proudly erect, with a free swing of the hips. They wear invariably a single sheet of cotton cloth printed in blue or black with the most astonishing borders and spotty designs. This is drawn tight just above the breasts, leaving the shoulders and arms bare. Their hair is divided into perhaps a dozen parts running lengthwise of the head from the forehead to the nape of the neck, after the manner of the stripes on a watermelon. Each part then ends in a tiny twisted pigtail not over an inch long. The lobes of their ears have been stretched until they hold thick round disks about three inches in diameter, ornamented by concentric circles of different colours, with a red bull's eye for a centre. The outer edges of the ears are then further decorated with gold clasps set closely together. Many bracelets, necklaces, and armlets complete the get-up. They are big women, with soft velvety skins and a proud and haughty carriage—the counterparts of the men in the white robes and caps.
By the way, it may be a good place here to remark that these garments, and the patterned squares of cloth worn by the women, are invariably most spotlessly clean.
These, we learned, were the Swahilis, the ruling class, the descendants of the slave traders. Beside them are all sorts and conditions. Your true savage pleased his own fancy as to dress and personal adornment. The bushmen generally shaved the edges of their wool to leave a nice close-fitting natural skull cap, wore a single blanket draped from one shoulder, and carried a war club. The ear lobe seemed always to be stretched; sometimes sufficiently to have carried a pint bottle. Indeed, white marmalade jars seemed to be very popular wear. One ingenious person had acquired a dozen of the sort of safety pins used to fasten curtains to their rings. These he had snapped into the lobes, six on a side.