ROUND THE WONDERFUL WORLD
UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME
A BOOK OF DISCOVERY BY M. B. SYNGE
THE WORLD'S STORY BY E. O'NEILL
ROUND THE WONDERFUL WORLD
BY G. E. MITTON
"THE BOOK OF LONDON" "IN THE GRIP OF THE WILD WA" ETC.
WITH 12 DRAWINGS IN COLOUR AND 120 IN CRAYON BY
A. S. FORREST
LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK, Ltd. 35 PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C. AND EDINBURGH
I. WHICH WAY? 1
II. REALLY OFF! 20
III. FIERY MOUNTAINS 36
IV. THE STRANGEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD 51
V. THE HIGHWAY OF EGYPT 65
VI. A MIGHTY MAN 75
VII. THE CITY OF KINGS 85
VIII. ON THE NILE 95
IX. A MILLION SUNRISES 109
X. A WALK ABOUT JERUSALEM 120
XI. THE COUNTRY OF CHRIST'S CHILDHOOD 139
XII. AN ADVENTURE 147
XIII. THE GATEWAY OF THE EAST 153
XIV. THE DEPTHS OF THE OCEAN 168
XV. A TROPICAL THUNDERSTORM 179
XVI. A SACRED TREE 192
XVII. UNWELCOME INTRUDERS 203
XVIII. THE CAPITAL OF INDIA 218
XIX. TO THE DEATH! 235
XX. A CITY OF PRIESTS 242
XXI. THE GOLDEN PAGODA 250
XXII. THE KING'S REPRESENTATIVE 264
XXIII. THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE 271
XXIV. ON A CARGO BOAT 278
XXV. JIM'S STORY 291
XXVI. THROUGH EASTERN STRAITS AND ISLANDS 304
XXVII. THE LAND OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE 320
XXVIII. IN A JAPANESE INN 332
XXIX. THOUSANDS OF SALMON 345
XXX. THE GREAT DIVIDE 358
XXXI. ON A CATTLE RANCH 371
XXXII. THE GREAT LAKES 382
XXXIII. OLD FRIENDS AGAIN 388
PLATES IN COLOUR
THE MIGHTY SEATED FIGURES AT ABU SIMBEL Frontispiece
SHE IS ON THE POINT OF LEAVING HER COUNTRY, PERHAPS FOR EVER 24
ENGLISH SOLDIERS CLIMBING THE PYRAMIDS 56
JEWS' WAILING PLACE, JERUSALEM 128
SWAYING ITS LEAN UNLOVELY BODY TO AND FRO IN TIME WITH THE TUNE 200
A CARPET SHOP, DELHI 224
THE GOLDEN PAGODA 256
A BURMESE PLAY 288
A VILLAGE BUILT ON PILES, SUMATRA. LITTLE BROWN BOYS PLAY ABOUT AND FISH 312
OUR DINNER IN A JAPANESE INN 336
INDIANS AS THEY ARE NOW 376
THE FALLS OF NIAGARA 388
ROUND THE WONDERFUL WORLD
When you have noticed a fly crawling on a ball or an orange has it ever occurred to you how a man would look crawling about on the earth if seen from a great height? Our world is, as everyone knows, like an orange in shape, only it is very much larger in comparison with us than an orange is in regard to a fly. In fact, to make a reasonable comparison, we should have to picture the fly crawling about on a ball or globe fifty miles in height; to get all round it he would have to make a journey of something like one hundred and fifty miles. It would take a determined fly to accomplish that! Yet we little human beings often start off on a journey round the world quite cheerfully, and it is more difficult for us than for the imaginary fly, because the globe is not a smooth surface of dry land, but is made up of jungles and deserts and forests and oceans. There are some places where people can do nothing in the heat of the day, and others where their flesh freezes like cold white marble in a moment if they don't take precautions.
To set out on foot around such a world would be folly, and man has invented all sorts of ingenious machines to carry him,—trains and steamers, for instance,—and with their help he can do the journey in a reasonable time. It costs money, of course, but it is a glorious enterprise.
Here, in our own homes, we see pretty much the same things every day—green fields and trees, cows and sheep and horses, if we live in the country; and houses and streets and vehicles, if we live in the town. Everyone we meet speaks the same language; even if we were to go up to a stranger to ask a question we are tolerably sure that he would understand us and answer politely. We have cold days and warm ones, but the sun is never too hot for us to go out in the middle of the day, and the cold never so intense as to freeze our noses and make them fall off. The houses are all built in much the same way; people dress alike and look alike. Someone catches me up there, "Indeed they don't; some are pretty and some are ugly and everyone is different!"
Yes, you think that now, but wait until you have travelled a bit, and seen some of the races which really are different from ours, then you'll think that not only are British people alike, but that even all Europeans are more or less so.
You are not likely to travel? Well, I'm not so sure of that, for I'm going to offer to take you, and, what is more, you need not bother your head about expenses, and we will have all the time we want. I am going to carry you away with me in this book to see the marvels of other lands; lands where the burning sun strikes down on our own countrymen wearing white helmets on their heads and suits of snowy white as they walk about amid brown-skinned natives whose bare bodies gleam like satin, lands where lines of palm trees wave their long fronds over the pearly surf washing at their roots. We will visit also other lands where you look out over a glowing pink and mauve desert to seeming infinity, and see reflected in bitter shallow water at your feet the flames of such a sunset glory as you never yet have imagined. Or you can ride out across the same desert lying white as snow beneath a moon far larger and more glistening than any you ever see here. You shall watch volcanoes shooting out columns of fire which roll down toward the villages nestling in their vineyards below, and you shall gaze at mountains which raise their stately heads far up into the silent region of eternal snow. You shall see the steel-blue waves rising in great heaps with the swell of an unquiet sea. You shall talk to the mischievous little Burmese women and watch them kneeling before their pagodas of pure gold, and shall visit the little Japs making merry in their paper houses; you shall find the last representatives of the grand races of North American Indians in their wigwams. And these are only a very few of the wonders of the world.
Where shall we begin? That requires some consideration. As the world is not a solid block of level ground we shall have to choose our track as best we can along the routes that are most convenient, and we can't certainly go right round in one straight line as if we followed a piece of string tied round the middle of the earth. Of course we shall have to start from England, and we shall be wisest to turn eastward first, coming back again from the west. The eastern part is the Old World, and the western the New World, of which the existence was not known until centuries later. It is natural, therefore, to begin with the older part first. If we do this we must start in the autumn so as to arrive at some of the hottest countries in what is their winter, for the summer is unbearable to Europeans. So much is easily settled.
Have you ever realised that Great Britain is an island? I hear someone say "Silly!" under their breath; it does seem an absurd question, for surely every baby knows that! Well, of course even the smallest children have been told so, directly they begin to learn anything, but to realise it is a different matter. An island is surrounded by water, and none of us have ever sailed round our own country and made the experiment of seeing for ourselves that it is so. You have been to the sea certainly, and seen the edge of our island home, but have you ever thought of that long line which runs away and away from your seaside place? Have you followed the smooth sandy bays and the outlines of the towering cliffs; have you passed the mouths of mighty rivers and so gone steadily on northward to the bleak coasts of Scotland where the waves beat on granite cliffs; have you rounded stormy Cape Wrath, and sailed in and out by all the deep-cut inlets on the west of Scotland, and thus come back to the very place from whence you started? If you can even imagine this it gives you some idea of what being an island means. We are on every side surrounded by water, and nowhere can we get away to any other country without crossing the sea.
The very nearest country to us is France, and at the narrowest point of the Channel there are only twenty-one miles of sea to get over. One way of starting on our great enterprise is to cross this little strip of water and take the train across France, right to the other side, there to meet a ship which will carry us onward. Or we can start in the same way across the Channel but go much farther on by train, all along Italy as well as France, and then we can catch the same ship a considerable way farther on in the Mediterranean.
Or there is another way, the quickest of all, and the newest; by this means—after crossing the Channel—we can go the whole distance across Europe, and Asia too, by train, and come out on the other side of the world, near China, in about ten days! To do this we should have to get to Russia first by any European line we pleased, and on arriving at the town of Moscow change into the train which does this mighty journey. It starts once a week, and is called The International. It is quite a small train, though the engine is large. There are only half a dozen coaches, and one of these is for luggage and another is a restaurant. First-class people are put two together into a compartment. It certainly sounds as if that would allow plenty of room, but then if anyone has to live and sleep and move for ten days in a train, he can hardly be expected to sit cramped up all the time, he must have some space to stir about in. At night one of the seats forms one bed and another is let down crossways above it. There is, alas, no bath, but there is a small lavatory for every two compartments where we can wash after a fashion. There are even books provided in the restaurant car, some in Russian, some in French, some in German, and some in English.
The journey itself is not very interesting, and we should be glad enough to get to the end of it I fancy. No, I am not going to allow you to take me that way, not even if you begged hard! It is very useful for business men, whose one idea is to save time, but for us who want to see all we can of this glorious world it would be folly.
On the contrary, the route I should like to take is the very longest of all, and that is by sea the whole way, on one of the great liners running east. The real choice lies between this and the railway journey across France to the seaport of Marseilles, or Toulon, according to which of the great British lines of steamships we choose—the Peninsula and Oriental, known as the P. & O., or the Orient. I am willing you should decide between these routes. Think well. In order that you may understand better what the choice means I will tell you what you will see if we take the railway journey.
We shall have to start one morning from Charing Cross Station in London. All around us people are carrying bundles of rugs and magazines. Some, like ourselves, are going far east and they are parting from those who love them and will not see them again for a long time. That fair young man standing by the carriage door looks little more than a big schoolboy, but he is going out to India to help to govern there. He is a clever fellow and has passed a very stiff examination to gain this position, and he eagerly looks forward to all the new scenes in the life awaiting him. His charming mother and sister are seeing him off; they are so much alike they might be mistaken for sisters; they are trying to talk and joke lightly, but you can see how hungrily the mother's eyes are fastened on her son, as if she could never see him enough. Rightly too, for when she meets him again, he will not be the boy he is now. His face will be browned by the tropical sun, and he will have become a man; he will have an air of command which comes naturally to a man who lives, often by himself, in charge of a district, and has to rule and judge and decide for the dark-skinned people.
Close beside us there are several men smoking big cigars, and one of them says loudly, "All right, old chap, I'll bring one back for you next week; I shall cross again on Monday." He runs over to Paris on business every week and thinks no more of it than of going to his office in the morning. A trip to France is very easy when you have the means to do it comfortably.
Then we take our seats, and the train steams out of the station, leaving the crowd on the platform to scatter. After a long run, with no stops, we reach Dover and go on board a steamer which seems quite large enough to anyone who is not used to steamers. Our heavy luggage has been sent on board the big ship which will meet us at Marseilles, so we have only our handbags to carry. The crossing is quite short, and it is best to stay on deck if you don't want to be ill. The very first thing to notice, as we gradually draw away from the land, is the whiteness of the towering chalk cliffs which stand out prominently near Dover. Often you must have read of the "white cliffs of Old Albion," and if you live in the north or away from the sea, you must have wondered what they were; now this explains it all. When the Romans came over from the Continent they crossed the sea the shortest way, and in approaching this unknown island were struck with astonishment at the high gleaming white cliffs, unlike anything they had seen before; they were so much amazed that ever after the "white cliffs" were the chief feature of Britain in their eyes.
There is a break in the cliffs, where Dover now stands, and here the Romans later on made a port, and a port it has remained to this day.
If we are lucky in getting a fine day for the crossing we can sit on deck-chairs, looking at the dazzling milky-blue sea and sky until someone cries out, "There's France!"
You will not be able to make out anything at all at first, because land does not look in the least what you expect when you see it first from the sea. You would naturally search for a long dark line low down on the horizon, but it isn't like that at all. There is a hazy bluish cloud, very indistinct, and seemingly transparent, but as we draw nearer it grows clearer, and then houses and ships can be discerned, and after a good deal of manoeuvring and shouting and throwing of ropes and churning up the water with the screw, two bridges are pushed across to the dock, and numbers of eager little porters, dressed in bright blue linen suits with very baggy trousers, surround us and implore us to allow them to carry our baggage.
"Me Engleesh speaking, sir."
"Good me, good man me."
"Baggage carrying me."
They are here, there, and everywhere, so good-natured, so lively, so different from the stolid English porters. Their eyes are very bright and they will take money of any kind, French or English, it matters not to them.
We have had to get our money changed on the boat, and that is the first thing that makes us feel we are really out of England. In exchange for an English gold pound we get twenty-five—not twenty—French shillings; these shillings are called francs and are not unlike our shillings at a first glance, but they are thinner and lighter. Some have the head of Napoleon, the last French Emperor, on them—these are old; the latest new ones are rather interesting, for they have a little olive branch on one side and a graceful figure of a woman sowing seed on the other, so one can interpret the meaning as peace and plenty. If you change a franc into copper you get ten—not twelve—pennies for it, and French pennies look very much like those of England. There are also half-franc pieces like little sixpences, and two-franc pieces like smaller florins, and gold pounds called Louis or Napoleons, and half-sovereigns too, but all the money seems light and rather unreal when one is accustomed to our more solid coins.
We walk up the gangway into a large barn-like place, where we meet some smart-looking men in uniform with pointed moustaches turned up to their eyes and a fierce expression. They stand behind a shelf, on which all the baggage from the boat is put, and we approach this with our bags in our hands.
The official demands in French if we have anything to declare, meaning, are we bringing across anything which it is forbidden to sell in France, such as brandy, matches, or cigarettes, for if so we must declare it and pay something to the Government for allowing us to bring it. We answer that we have nothing. "Rien, Monsieur," very politely, hoping to soften his heart, and as we both have honest faces he believes us and scrawls a chalk-mark on our bags and lets us pass. We are lucky, for now we can go straight on to the train and get good places before the crowd follows. Some unfortunate people, however, are caught. One woman who is wearing a hat with enormous feathers and very high-heeled shoes, has two huge trunks.
She tries to slip a five-franc piece into the hand of one of the custom-house officers. It is a silly thing to do, for it at once makes him think she is concealing something; very loudly and virtuously he refuses the money, hoping that everyone notices how upright he is, and then he insists on the contents of her trunks being turned out on to the counter. Piles of beautiful underclothing are spread out before all those men; silk and satin frocks come next; numberless dressing-table ornaments in silver and gold, and little bottles by the dozen; boots and shoes and books follow, while Madame begins to weep and then changes to screaming and raving. She is a Frenchwoman who has been staying in England, but she did not escape any more than an English-woman. How she will ever manage to get all her finery stuffed back into those boxes without ruining it I don't know, and we haven't time to wait to see.
The platform is very low and the train looks in consequence much larger than an English one, as we have to climb up into it almost from the ground. It is a corridor train, and the first classes are lined with a kind of drab cloth, which does not seem so suitable for railway work as our dark blue colour. The guard sets us off with a little "birr-r-r" like a toy cock crowing. When we move out of the station at last we find ourselves going at a snail's pace along a street, and at once we catch our breath with interest—it is all so strange! Never will you forget that first glimpse of a foreign land! The very air is different, with a sharp pleasant smell of wood-smoke in it. Some people say that every foreign country has its own smell and that they would know where they were with their eyes shut! This must be an exaggeration, still there is something in it!
As the train goes slowly forward a clanging bell rings on the engine to warn the people to get off the lines, which are not fenced in in any way. On every side you see neat little women wearing no hats, with their hair done up in top-knots; they are out marketing, and most of them carry immense baskets or string-bags stuffed with cabbages and carrots and other vegetables. The children are nearly all dark, with brown skins and bright black eyes, and they look thin but full of life. The boys wear a long pinafore or overall of cheap black stuff, and even the biggest go about in short socks, showing their bare legs, which looks rather babyish to us. The sun is shining brilliantly, and on most of the pavements there are chairs set out around small tables where men in perfectly amazingly baggy corduroy trousers and blue blouses sit and drink variously coloured drinks. A little boy who was too near the line is caught away by his agitated mother, who pours out over him a babble of words, and the child, laughing roguishly, answers her as volubly. Not one sentence, not one word, can we understand, though we are quite near and can hear it all. When you remember the painfully slow way you have learnt avoir and etre at school it is maddening to think that this child, much younger than you, can rattle away in French without any trouble, and it is still more annoying that when you did think you knew a little French you cannot make out one single word! French spoken is so very different from French learnt out of a book! However, for your comfort you must remember that that little bright-eyed boy, whose name is probably Pierre or Jacques, would think you very clever indeed to be able to talk in English.
The houses have a strange look; it is chiefly because every single one of them, even the poorest, has sun-shutters outside the windows, set back against the wall; they are of wood, mostly painted green and pierced with slits. In countries where the sun is hot and strong at midday the rooms must be kept cool by such shutters.
When we are once clear of the town the train soon gets up great speed, and we race through green fields with hedgerows and trees as in our own land, and yet even here there is something different. It may be because of the long lines of poplars, like "Noah's Ark" trees, which appear very frequently, or it may be the country houses we see here and there, which are more "Noah's Ark" still, being built very stiffly and painted in bright reds and yellows and greens that look like streaks. At the level crossings you see women standing holding a red flag furled, for women seem to do as much of the work on the railways as men; and waiting at the gates there is often a team of three or four horses, each decorated with an immense sheep-skin collar, that looks as if it must be most hot and uncomfortable. Occasionally we catch sight of what looks like a rookery in the trees seen against the sky; however, the dark bunches are not nests at all, but lumps of mistletoe growing freely. Rather a fairytale sort of country where mistletoe can be got so easily!
We can stay all night in Paris if we like, and travel the next day to Marseilles, and stay a night there too. That is doing the journey easily. Many people go right through, running round Paris in a special train and being carried speeding through France all night. There are sleeping cars made up like little cabins with beds in them and every luxury. But it is tiring to travel on continuously in a French train, as the carriages are made very hot by steam, and French people object to having the windows open at all, so the atmosphere gets almost unbearable, according to our ideas.
We shan't have time to see much of Paris if we just stay the night there, but as we drive through in a taxi-cab we can see how full of life it is, though at this time of the year people do not sit out at the little tables on the pavements late in the evening as they do in the summer. There are taxi-cabs everywhere, and they all pass each other on the right side, you notice, the opposite side from that which we use; you will find this in all other foreign countries but Sweden, and in some Provinces of Austria. Though Great Britain stands almost alone, in this case she is certainly in the right, for the driver ought to be on the side near the vehicle he is passing, and also the whip coming in the middle of the street is less liable to flick anyone than if it was on the pavement side.
The hotels in Paris are many and magnificent; when we arrive at one all gilt and glitter, we ask for small rooms, as it is only for one night, and are taken up to two tiny apartments simply crammed with furniture. It is enough to make anyone laugh, for there is hardly room to turn round. Both are alike. In each the bed is covered with a magnificent yellow satin brocade coverlet; there is a large arm-chair, which quite prevents the door of the huge wardrobe from opening. The washing-stand, which has taps of hot and cold water, is crammed into a corner so that one can hardly get at it. There is a writing-table with ink and blotting-pad and everything else for writing, but no dressing-table and nowhere at all to put one's brushes. Above the mantelpiece is a big mirror, too high for you to look into, though I can peer round that immense gilt clock to do my shaving. The rest of the mantelpiece is taken up with heavy marble ornaments—utterly useless—and gilt candlesticks. There is a telephone on the wall, and down this we can give our orders into the hall. Luckily I know enough French to ask for what we want, though if you stand giggling at me every word will go out of my head when the man below inquires my wishes.
It is by means of this telephone I order breakfast for us both to be sent up next morning. All we can get is coffee, or tea, with rolls and butter and two poached or boiled eggs. You'll have to make this do. It is the custom here. In France people start with only coffee and rolls and then go off and do a good morning's work, and come back again to eat a large meal which is a sort of breakfast and lunch rolled into one, at about twelve o'clock. It all depends on what one is accustomed to, and certainly we look very hungrily at the small dish of eggs that appears!
Meantime I am getting a little anxious about my boots. I put them out last night to be cleaned, but this is such a large place, with so many people coming and going, that I began to wonder if they have been taken to the wrong room; timidly I ask the waiter, who brings the breakfast, if he can find them. With a knowing smile he stoops down and opens a tiny cupboard in the wall near the door, and there, slipped in from outside, are the boots! "Voila!" he says triumphantly, as if he had just brought off a successful conjuring trick. Certainly what with the taps and telephone and trap-doors for boots this hotel is very much up to date.
North of Paris we have seen orchards of apple and cherry trees, but farther south, as we rush along, we get into a land of vineyards, where rows of little vines are being cultivated on every foot of ground on the hillsides. By nightfall we reach Marseilles, and if we were going on to Toulon it would have taken two hours more.
Marseilles is the largest seaport in France, and is second only to Paris in size and importance.
Do you know those preserved fruits which generally appear about Christmas-time in oval cardboard or long wooden boxes? Have you ever wondered if they are real fruit, and where they come from? They are real fruit, boiled and dipped in syrup, though they taste very different from the same fruit freshly gathered. A great deal of the preserving is done in France, especially along the south coast, and when we get to Marseilles we are in the very heart of the business.
After passing the night in an hotel we have time to wander about a bit before going down to the docks to find our ship.
The sun is shining brightly as we turn out after another breakfast, which only seems to have given an edge to our keen British appetites. There is a nasty cold wind blowing round corners and buffeting people. The pavements are very lively; we see women and girls hurrying about doing household shopping, and boys in heavy cloth capes and military caps, so that they look like cadets, this is the uniform worn by better-class schoolboys in France. The French policemen, called gendarmes, are also in uniform of so military a kind that unless we knew we should certainly mistake them for soldiers.
There are stalls set out on the pavements, heaped up with embroidery and odds and ends, including soap, which is manufactured here very largely. Bright-eyed girls try to entice us to buy as we pass. One street is just like a flower garden, lined with stalls piled up with violets and roses and anemones and other blossoms. Trams follow one another along the rails in an endless procession. We walk on briskly and turn down a side street; here at last is what I have been looking for, and well worth finding it is too! It is a shop with great plate-glass windows; on one side is every kind of preserved fruit, and on the other a variety of chocolates, tarts, and expensive sweets. Look at that dainty box filled with dark green figs, artistically set off by sugared violets pressed into all the niches! These are rather different from the flat, dry brown figs which is all that English children recognise under that name. Another box glows with tiny oranges, mandarins they call them here, and piled up over them are richly coloured cherries shining with sugar crystals. In the centre is an enormous fruit like a dark orange-coloured melon, surrounded by heaps of others, while the plain brown chestnuts, that don't attract much notice, are really the best of all, for they are the marrons glaces for which Marseilles is famed, and once you have tasted these, freshly made, all other sweets will seem insipid to you.
Inside the shop there are many carefully dressed ladies, daintily holding little plates, and going about from one counter to another, picking up little cakes filled with cream and soaked in syrup. They eat scores of them, and they do it every day and any hour of the day, in the morning or afternoon or whenever they happen to pass. No wonder they look pasty-faced! We are only here for once, so we need have no compunction about our digestions, especially as there is an empty place left after that tantalising bacon-less breakfast. We are soon provided with a plate each and a little implement which looks as if it had started life as a butter-knife and suddenly changed its mind to become a fork.
The shop-girls take no notice of what we eat; we can pick and choose freely, and at the end they trust us to say how many cakes we have had. We can get here also cups of thick rich chocolate, and, if we wanted it, some tea, though it is only of late years that French people have taken to drinking tea at all freely, for coffee is their national beverage.
Well, come along, tear yourself away, we must get a cab and go down to our ship which is at the docks.
In the cab we pass what is called the Old Port with picturesque rows of weather-beaten sailing boats; only the sailing boats are allowed to come in here. Rising up against the sky at the far end of the port is a curious bridge quite unlike any other you have seen, for the bridge part is at a great height and there is nothing below by which people or vehicles can cross over. How is anyone going to take the trouble to climb up there? How, above all, are carts or carriages going to manage it?
You can easily make a rough model to see the principle of this bridge for yourself. Get a couple of the tallest candlesticks in the house, and put a stick across them, run a curtain ring on to the stick, and to the ring attach numerous threads fastened at the lower end to a flat bit of card or board like a raft. Then, by pushing the ring along the stick, you can make the raft follow across below. The stick represents the high bridge, and the raft in reality rests on the surface of the water, and when the machinery above, represented by the ring, is set in motion, it rumbles across and draws with it the floating raft, which is large enough to take a great number of men and vehicles. Every ten minutes or so this floating bridge passes over from one side to another, and people pay a sou, which is the French halfpenny, to travel with it. Thus, you see, when a tall ship comes in she has only to avoid the raft, and she can sail in beneath the high bridge without any trouble. We could, if we wished, go up in a lift to the high bridge; but the railings up there are far apart, and there is a high wind blowing, you are not very big, and if you slipped between I should have to give up my voyage round the world; so I think we won't, if you don't mind!
Besides, we have to catch our ship waiting at the docks, and she will be off very soon.
Now that you have heard what we should probably do and see if we went across France, will you take this journey or will you start from England and go right round in the ship?
You answer that though you would like to see the little blue-bloused porters, and that it would amuse you to think that the little French boys and girls could speak no English, and though you would certainly love the marrons glaces, you think, after all, having heard about it, we might just as well go the other way round, though, of course—the marrons glaces——
Sensible boy! Forget about them! We'll go round. In the very next chapter we'll be up and off in earnest.
It is exciting to start on any journey, even if it is only one we have done before, but to go off round the world that is a real adventure!
There are many lines of steamers we could choose to go by, but we will select for this first part of the journey the Orient Line. The choice really lies between that and the P. & O., as we have already decided, and for many reasons it is best to begin with the Orient and join the other later. The main reason being that I want you to see a little of as many European countries as possible, and the Orient ships stop at Naples, in Italy, while those of the other line do not.
The ships in the Orient fleet all begin with an O; there are the Otranto, Otway, and many more, but the boat which suits us and happens to sail on the date we want to start—in the beginning of November—is the Orontes. She is not the largest ship in the fleet, having about half a dozen before her on the list, but she is a good ship and very steady.
Our jumping-off place is London, whence a special train runs from the station of St. Pancras down to the docks at Tilbury, where the Orontes is waiting for us. The long platform beside the train is covered with people when we arrive there, so that we have some difficulty in finding seats. If all these people were coming with us we should have a full ship indeed, but the one half of them is only seeing the other half off!
The line passes through dreary flat country, and at last we catch sight of open water and funnels and feel as if we must be right down at the Thames' mouth, but we are very far from that yet.
The heavy luggage has all been sent on ahead, and passengers are told only to bring with them what can be carried in the hand; judging from the piles of boxes that are tumbled out of the train many of them must have tolerably large hands!
We pass through a great shed, and coming out on the other side find our ship there, right up against the dock side. It towers above us, blocking out the sky as a street of six-storey houses would do. In fact, it is rather like looking up at a street side, and when we see the sloping ladder leading to the deck, like those used for hen-roosts but on a giant scale, we feel our adventure is well begun. Hang on to the hand-rail, for the wind is blowing hard, and if you went down into the black dirty water between the ship and the dock there would be very little chance of getting you out again; even as we climb up something flicks past us and is carried away, and we see it floating far below; it is an enormous white handkerchief which the man up there on deck has been waving to his wife in farewell. It is gone, and it is to be hoped he has another handy, he'll need it to-day. At the top of the ladder a man in uniform looks at our ticket and calls out the number of our cabin. He is so smart and has such a dignified manner we might well mistake him for the captain, but he is an officer, called the purser, who looks after the passengers. A bright-faced steward, unmistakably English, takes possession of us and pilots us down some well-carpeted stairs, through a large room where small tables are laid for lunch, and into a very long narrow passage shining with white enamel paint. There are little doors with numbers on them on one side, and about half-way along the steward stops and ushers us into our cabin. It is a tiny room. If you lay down from side to side you could touch each wall with head and heels, and if I lay down from end to end I could do the same, and I am rather bigger than you! There are two shelves, one above the other, made up as beds, a piece of furniture with drawers and a looking-glass in it, a fixed basin such as those you see in bathrooms, and a few pegs to hang things on, and that is all. Our cabin trunks, which we sent on ahead, are here before us, and through the open round port-hole we catch a glimpse of grey water. We are lucky indeed to get a cabin to ourselves, for in many, not a bit larger than this, there would be a third bunk or bed, and a stranger would be forced in on us. When we have settled our things you will be surprised to find how comfortable it all is, for everything is so conveniently arranged. It is just as well to put out what we shall want at once while the ship is steady, for once she begins to roll——
When we have done this we go back to the saloon, encountering many people rushing wildly to and fro with bags and bundles, still unable to find their cabins, having come on at the last minute. In the great saloon, those who are going ashore are hastily swallowing cups of hot tea, and just as we arrive a bell rings to warn them to get off the ship if they don't want to be carried away with her.
They flock down the gangway while we stand high above, and many good-byes are shouted, and some are tearful and some are quite casual and cheerful. Then the gangway is moved, but just before it goes down with a run there is a shout, and two policemen hurry along the quay hauling two shamefaced-looking men who are hustled up into the ship again. They are stokers who fire the furnaces for the engines far down below in the bowels of the ship. They had signed on for this voyage and at the last minute tried to slink away, but have been caught and forced back to their work.
Now the strip of water widens and very slowly we move from the quay, being dragged ignominiously backward across the great basin in which we lie by a diminutive steamer called a tug. We are not out in the river yet and our own engines have not begun to work. You can understand that it would be very difficult to load a ship if she stood always in the river, where there are rising and falling tides, so, to make this easier, great docks have been built along the river, and in them the flow of the tides is regulated, so that the water remains always at pretty much the same level.
The tug that pulls us across the dock on our way out looks absurdly small, like a little Spitz dog pulling a great deerhound; but it does its work well, and presently we glide into a narrow cut between high walls; this is the lock, the entrance to the dock, and the water is held up by great gates at each end as required, just as it is on river locks for boats. Once we are inside the great gates behind us are shut, and presently those at the farther end open and we see two other little tugs waiting there to take us in charge. We are going out at the top of the tide, and if we missed it should have to wait for another twelve hours, or there would not be sufficient water in the river to float the ship comfortably. We are still stern first, so if we want to see the fun we must climb up to the top deck at that end. The wind is blowing a perfect gale and almost drives us off our feet; it catches the side of the ship and makes it far harder work for the gallant grimy tugs, which are pulling and straining at the taut ropes till they look like bars of iron lying between us and them. They churn the water to a fury, and pour forth volumes of black smoke; inch by inch we feel the ship moving out; her stern is dragged up-stream, so that when she is finally swung clear, her bows are pointing seaward and she is ready to go. It is an exciting moment when the ropes are cast off, and there is a great deal of running about and shouting, and then our own engines begin gently but powerfully to do their work. The screws beneath the stern revolve and we have started on our long, long voyage!
There are no waves in the river; only those who are very nervous will think about being ill yet awhile, and this is a good chance to examine the great ship which is to be our home for some time.
There is plenty of room to walk about on the decks or to play games when we reach a more summer-like climate. There are many rooms where we can shelter in the wet and cold weather, a great lounge with writing-tables, and a smoking-room—and there is no house on earth kept so spotlessly clean as a ship!
When we go down to dinner we sit on chairs that swing round like office chairs, only they are fixed into the floor, and as they only swing one way, there are some funny scenes till people get used to them. We have hardly taken our seats when a very magnificent man with a white waistcoat and gold shoulder straps and much gold lace on his uniform comes and sits down too, and smiles and bows to everyone. This is the captain, and we must be more distinguished than we guessed, for we have been put at his table, where the honoured passengers usually find seats. Though this captain has such a kindly smile, a captain can be very terrifying indeed; he is king in his ship, and has absolute authority; his word is law, as, of course, it must be, for the safety of the whole ship's company depends on him, and there is the fine tradition, which British captains always live up to, that in case of any accident happening to the ship the captain must be the last man to quit her. Innumerable captains indeed have preferred to go down into the unfathomable depths with their ships sooner than leave them when they have been wrecked.
For several days there are very few people to be seen about, and the rows of empty chairs at the table and on deck are rather depressing, but as the weather brightens a little people creep out of their cabins; white-faced ladies come to lie, rolled in rugs, on the sheltered side of the deck, and the chairs are filled. Yet it is still a little dismal, though we tramp sturdily up and down and would not admit it for the world. The strong wind blows endlessly and the great grey waves are always rolling on monotonously one after another, one after another, in huge hillocks. So we plough down the English Channel and across the Bay of Biscay, which is no rougher than anywhere else, though people ask with bated breath, "When shall we be in the Bay?" "Are we through the Bay yet?" as if there was no other bay in all the world.
Then comes a day when all at once everyone on board seems to wake up and become alive again. The sun shines in patches along the decks and the sea is blue and sparkling. We are passing close beside a steep and rocky coast, and so near do we go that we can see the white waves dashing against it and even spouting up in sheets of spray through blow-holes in the cliffs. What we see is the coast of Spain, so we have set eyes for the first time on another country than our own. There are many other steamers in this stretch of water, some small and some as large as ours, some coming and some going. It is all much more lively than it was. Soon we have pointed out to us the place where the battle of Trafalgar was fought, when Britain won a victory that assured her the dominion of the seas up to the present time—a battle in which our greatest sailor, Lord Nelson, was killed in the moment of victory!
It is the next morning after this that, when we wake up, we find that the tossing and rocking motion has ceased; it is curiously quiet, the iron plates that bind the ship together no longer creak and groan as if they were in agony. We are bewildered. Then in a moment the meaning of all this flashes upon us. We have reached Gibraltar!
Coming up on deck we find the scene glorious. The sun is shining out of a cloudless sky on to a sea so blue that it gives one a sort of pleasant pain to look at its loveliness. The air is brilliant, as if we were living at the heart of a crystal. The ship is stealing along so silently and gently she hardly seems to move, and then she comes to anchor in a bay that seems to be surrounded on all sides with hills. Some of these hills, lying rather far away, gleam white in the sunshine; they are part of the great continent of Africa, and so, though it is only in the distance, we have set eyes on our first new continent. Towering up before us, with mighty bulk, is an immense rock, rising bald and rather awful into the pure sky. Near the summit its sides are completely bare, seamed by great gashes, and broken by masses of rock that look as if they might crash down at any moment. Apes live up there, wild mischievous creatures, who descend to steal from the orchards below, but are so shy that they are hardly ever seen of men. They are of a kind called Barbary apes, only found elsewhere in Africa; and it is thought that perhaps, many ages ago, Europe was joined to Africa at this point, and that when a great convulsion occurred which broke the two asunder and let the water flow through the Straits of Gibraltar some of the apes may have been left on this side, where their descendants still are, sundered for ever from their kinsfolk by the strip of sea.
About the base of the rock is a little town running up the hill and brightened by many trees—this is Gibraltar itself, one of the most famous places in the world. For this alone it is well worth while to come round by sea.
Anyone can see at a glance why it is so important. That little strait, about a dozen miles across, is the only natural entrance by water into the Mediterranean Sea, which lies all along the south of Europe. At the other end men have had to cut a way out by means of a canal. If ever European nations were at war, the nation which held Gibraltar would be able to prevent the ships of other countries from getting into or coming out of the Mediterranean. It could smash them with big guns if they tried, or blow them up. So that even if the country on each side were flat this would still be an important place; but nature has made here a precipitous rock, which is a natural fortress, and by great good luck this belongs, not to the country of Spain, of which it is the southern part, but to Great Britain. To find out how this is so you must go to history. Gibraltar has been held by Britain for many years now, and though the King of Spain is very friendly with Britain, and has married an English princess, I think he must sometimes feel a little sore over Gibraltar.
Lying in a basin on one side of us are some of our own powerful and ugly ironclads, like bulldogs guarding the fort, and on the other side are ships of all nations, come on peaceful trading errands or for pleasure cruises, including a dainty little white French yacht that looks like a butterfly which has just alighted.
We go ashore in a launch and are met on the quay by a medley of strange folk and a great clamour of voices! The men and women are nearly all dark skinned and black eyed, and yet they are all speaking English after a fashion. A woman offers us a curiously twisted openwork basket of oranges, with the deep-coloured fruit gleaming through the meshes, a man implores us to take some of the absurdly neat little nosegays he has made up, picture postcards are thrust under our noses, and cabmen wildly beseech us to patronise their open vehicles. It is a brilliant scene, full of life and colour and warmth, and the people all seem good-humoured and jolly.
Sitting huddled up against a wall, with some odd-looking bundles beside them, are a group of very poor people; they are emigrants about to leave their own country for South America. Out there in the bay is the emigrant ship, and dipping toward her over the open water are several boats loaded down to the gunwale going out; others have reached her side and the people swarm up like flies. This group on the quay are awaiting their turn. A small boy and girl are rolling about in the sun like little lizards and laughing gaily. The little girl is called Maria and is about ten years old; she has a tiny scarlet shawl pinned across her chest, and her bright black hair shines in the sunlight; in her wee brown ears are little gilt ear-rings, and she is hugging tightly to her bosom a large and very gaudy doll. It is not exactly the kind of doll an English child would care about, because its face is the face of an idiot and it is made of some sort of poor composition stuff; its clothes are tawdry material of tinsel and stiff muslin, and are pinned on by pins with coloured glass heads glittering in the sun. Maria thinks it lovely and shrieks if her young brother Sebastian lays a finger on it. She is on the point of leaving her own country, perhaps for ever, to travel for thousands of miles to a land where everything is different from what she is used to; but she is as unconscious of this as if she were a little kitten, and as long as she can roll in the sunshine and hug her doll, the first she has ever possessed, the thought of the morrow does not trouble her soul.
Her home lies far away in the interior of Spain, and her parents have travelled to Gibraltar in carts and then in a marvellous thing called a train which made the children shriek with delight when it moved off without horses. Maria and Sebastian were brought up in a hovel with a mud floor, and only one room, shared with the donkey and the goat. They were never taught to obey, or to have their meals at regular hours, or to go to bed at night at a particular time; they ran in when they pleased, clamoured for something to eat or drink, or else fell down on a bundle of rags in the corner and were sound asleep in a moment. They often slept in the heat of the day and were up almost all night listening to a neighbour playing the guitar, or singing and rollicking with other children. Their usual drink was sour red wine made from grapes grown on the neighbouring hillsides after all the best juice had been already pressed out of them. This the peasants bought in immense bottles, swollen out below like little tubs, and cased in wicker-work with handles which made them easy to carry. In every hovel there was a bottle like this. To match it there was an enormous loaf of dark-coloured bread, made flat and round as a cart-wheel or a small table; bits of this were chopped off as required, and when Sebastian and Maria cried out they were hungry they had a lump of bread and sip of wine given to them, and then they became quite happy again. Sometimes they had olives with their bread, or chestnuts, or a salad made from herbs growing by the roadsides, and they had oranges very often and goat's milk cheese. On high days and festival days they had sometimes very thin hot cabbage soup out of a great black pot that boiled over a few sticks; they dipped their bread into it or supped it up out of large flat wooden spoons, wrinkling their little noses meantime because it was so hot. A grand treat was a purple or crimson pomegranate given by a kindly neighbour.
When Maria was about seven the whole family moved into a town where the narrow streets were always dark between the tall thin houses. It was much more exciting here than in the country; there was always something to see, and in the evenings the whole place was like a bazaar with people coming and going, and shows and entertainments open half the night. On festival days the streets were gay with lanterns, and festoons of coloured paper and flags were waved until the children thought it like heaven.
Then came a talk of crossing the sea. Some members of the family and very many friends had already made a journey to a far-away country called Argentina, and others were thinking of going. It seemed that in that land, which was as sunny and warm as their own, there was more money to be made than in Spain, and as party by party made up their minds and set off in one of the great emigrant ships Maria's father grew more gloomy and unsettled, until at last, by one means or another, he had scraped together enough money to pay for their passages, and then they all started on the great adventure, even a greater one than our going round the world.
It is only a couple of days after leaving Gibraltar that we reach Toulon in good time in the morning. We anchor well outside the splendid bay, as Toulon is one of the most important French ports, and no prying eyes are wanted there. In the little steam-launch we run past the huge battleships La Verite, La Republique, and others lying solidly in a row manned by French sailors with little red top-knots on their flat caps. Then we see the beautiful range of high hills surrounding the bay, and are landed on the quay. The market is one of the most interesting things here, and we are lucky to be in time for it. Up a long narrow street are lines of open-air stalls covered with masses of fruit and vegetables. The natty little Frenchwomen who sell them almost all wear blue aprons and black dresses, and have little three-cornered shawls over their shoulders.
Look at that bunch of celery there, it is monstrous—the size of a child! Everything seems on a huge scale; there are artichokes on great stalks, melons gleaming deep orange-red and too large for any but a man to lift; scattered all about are bunches of little scarlet tomatoes not much bigger than grapes. But the oddest thing to us are the bunches of fungi, tawny-coloured, piled up in heaps, and evidently very popular! There are squares of matting covered with chestnuts, and whelks, like great snails, sticking out their horns and crawling over each other in a lively way. A strange medley! The flowers are lovely; you can buy a big bunch of violets for a son, and sou is the peasant word for a halfpenny. Gladiolus, anemones, roses, and mignonette fill the air with fragrance. It is a beautiful place this market.
After lunch we stroll down to the quay again and wander idly about looking at the people until the launch comes to take us back to the steamer. There is a huge fat man seated on a low stool cleaning the boots of another man equally stout. Wedged into the corner beside them, so that they cannot stir, are two small white boys with thin pathetic little faces. As we watch we see the boot-cleaning man, who has a cruel, mean expression, pull hold of the little tunic of the nearer one, and point to a smear upon it, then deliberately he raises his large hand and smacks the child hard across the cheek. The little chap makes no effort to escape,—he evidently knows it is hopeless,—he only crooks a thin little arm over his cheek as he shrinks back. Deliberately the great man holds down the thin little arm and strikes him again with savage force. It is sickening! If we interfere the child will probably only get it worse afterwards. There are a few brutes like this who make their own children's lives a misery, though mostly French people are very kind. The children look so ill and pale, too, they probably don't get half enough to eat.
"May I get them some sweets?"
Happy thought! We passed a shop a minute ago. Here, wait a second, say to the father in your best French this sentence—
"Ils sont a vous, ces garcons, Monsieur? Tres beaux garcons!"
You see you have put him in a good humour, he is pleased, though the poor little chaps are very far from being "beaux." They seem almost too stupefied to understand the sweets, but they know the way to put them in their mouths.
While we are waiting on the tender before it starts we see a different set of little boys; one, a delicate, pretty-looking little fellow, about your age, but not nearly so tall or strong, raises his cap and begins in English, "Good-day, Monsieur." His little companions sit around in awe at his knowledge and audacity. His name is Pierre, he tells us, and that badly dressed sturdy little boy with a sullen face is Louis. Pierre tries to make conversation in our own language to entertain us. "Are you to Australie going?" he asks. We tell him we are going first to Egypt. "Monter au chameau!" he cries excitedly, going off into a gabble of French and beseeching us to take him with us as "boy." We tell him that he is too small and that it costs much money. "Have you money—English?" he asks. He is very much interested when we show him half a crown and explain that it is equal to three francs of his own money. Then he catches sight of some English stamps. "Timbres!" he cries, and then, with a great effort, "I college," meaning "I collect." We give him a halfpenny stamp, which he carefully puts away in a battered purse already containing two French pennies. Louis, who has been giving convulsive hitches to his little trousers, which threaten to part company altogether with the upper garment, bursts in eagerly, asking us to give him a penny, adding solemnly: "Ma mere est morte," as if the fact of his mother being dead entitled him to demand it. We explain that it is not polite to ask for money. "Cigarette," he then says promptly. We tell him that in England the law forbids boys under sixteen to smoke, whereat they all shriek with laughter. So we add that Englishmen want to grow up tall strong men, and if they smoke as boys they won't, whereupon they grow grave again and nod their little heads wisely.
The waves are quite wild out in the bay and we have considerable difficulty in jumping on to the slippery step at the foot of the long gangway up the ship's side. Hanging on with a firm grip we struggle upward, and when we reach the top we see the little French boys waving their good-byes to us from the tender, Pierre bowing gracefully, cap in hand, Louis with his disreputable air of being a little ragamuffin and rejoicing in it.
Do you learn Physical Geography? I did when I was in the schoolroom, but it is quite likely to have been given up now, or perhaps it is called by some other name. It sounds dull, but is not really, at least there was one part of it that interested me immensely, so much so that that particular page was thumbed and dirty with being turned over so many times. This was the page on which volcanoes were described. I never thought I should see a volcano, but the idea of these tempestuous mountains, seething with red-hot fire inside, and ready to vomit forth flames and lava at any time appealed to the imagination. This lava, it seemed, was a kind of thick treacly stuff, resembling pitch, which ran down the mountain-sides boiling hot and carried red ruin in its track. It seems nothing less than idiotic for people to live on the slopes of a volcano where such an awful fate might overtake them at any time, yet they not only did so but still do.
One of the reasons why we came by the Orient line is to see Naples, which stands almost under the shadow of one of the best-known volcanoes in the world—Vesuvius.
We arrive at Naples early in the morning and are the very first to be up and out on deck. The bay has been called one of the most lovely to be seen anywhere, but to-day at least it is disappointing, for there is no sun and only a dull grey drizzle, which carries our thoughts back to England at once.
The houses of the town rise in tiers up the hillside, very tall and straight, and seem to be filled with innumerable windows.
However, it is not the view of Naples itself which is called so beautiful but rather that of the bay from Naples, especially on a blue and golden day, and that we have no chance of seeing. On one side of the bay rises the mighty mountain whose furious deeds have made him known and respected all over the world. There is a heavy cloud hanging around his crest so that we cannot see the crater; the cloud looks as if it were composed of smoke as much as anything else, for even yet Vesuvius is terribly alive.
We get a hasty breakfast, for though we are going to be here till late afternoon, there is much to see, and we have no time to spare. Then we get into a little launch and steam past all the great ships lying at anchor. On the quay we find ourselves in a great crowd of grey uniformed soldiers, many of them mere lads, carrying their kit, and drawn up in lines waiting their turn to march on board the towering troopship anchored alongside, while some of them wind up the gangway like a great grey snake. Those already in the ship are letting down ropes to draw up bottles of wine or baskets of fruit from the women who sell such things. Within a short time Italy has become mistress of Tripoli, a country in Africa, and now she is finding she will have to garrison it in order to hold it; and though it costs her a great deal of money she is sending out many of her young soldiers to guard the new possession.
We get some money changed on the quay, receiving in exchange a number of lire; the lira is very like a franc and corresponds with it and the English shilling, though a little less in value.
This done we walk along the front to the station. Many of the streets are high and broad with splendid houses lining them. In them are men busily at work washing away the mud with long hose pipes mounted on little wheels, so that they look like giant lizards or funny snakes on legs running across the streets by themselves, and as much alive as the well-known advertisement of the carpet-sweeper and Mary Ann!
Other streets are very narrow and filled with people buying and selling. There are swarms of children rolling about in the filth of the roadway; they are dressed in rags and their bodies show through the large holes. They are often playing with old bones or pebbles. Their faces are sometimes quite beautiful, rich golden-brown in colour, and their great velvety brown eyes look so sweetly innocent you would be easily taken in by them; but they are terrible little rogues and would beg from you or steal if they got the chance. Here and there are shops where macaroni is sold; it is ready boiling in great pans; this and cakes made of a kind of flour called polenta are the chief food of the Italians. The macaroni is made out of flour mixed with water to a stiff paste and squeezed through holes in a box till it comes out in long strings. It used to be made in all the dust and dirt of the villages, and is still often to be seen hanging over posts there to dry, but there are now large manufactories where it is made quite cleanly by machinery; we shall see some as we pass on our way to Pompeii, where we are going. There is one pleasant thing to notice, namely, wherever you look you see flowers growing; the larger and better-class houses have balconies filled with broad-leaved plants and creepers, and the very poorest people living high up towards the sky have window-boxes filled with flowers.
At the station we find a little train, like a tram, with red velvet cushions, and while we sit and wait for it to take us to Pompeii, the city buried by Vesuvius, the rain falls softly and steadily. Presently the stationmaster and his assistant step out gingerly along the uncovered platform, holding umbrellas over their uniforms, and give the word of command, and very slowly we start, and jolt along, stopping frequently. We pass through market gardens first and then through endless vineyards, in many of which the clinging vines are not propped up on sticks, but merely looped from one poplar tree to another, for the trees are growing in straight rows and form a natural support. This ground is particularly good for vines, for the lava which has been dug into the soil is peculiarly fruitful.
There are little white box-like houses amid the vines, and they are hung all over with bunches of brilliant scarlet fruit, which, when we get near enough to see, we find to be tiny tomatoes. Other houses have pumpkins also and melons and chillies, all hanging out to get dried, so that they look quite decorative with their strange adornments. Suddenly our attention is called to a broad strip of black earth, in shape like a river, flowing down the hillside, but made up of huge blocks as if it had been turned up by a giant ploughshare. This is a lava bed made by the last great explosion of Vesuvius in 1906, when the lava ran down in molten streams, tearing its way through the vineyards and sweeping across the railway lines; at that time two hundred people were killed. An enterprising firm has run a little railway to the very top of Vesuvius, and anyone who cares to do so can go by it and peep into the awful crater at the summit, and a cinematograph operator has recently been down one thousand feet into the crater to take films for exhibition. When Vesuvius is in a bad humour and has growled and grumbled for some days, people are not allowed to go up to the top lest he vomit forth his fury even while they are there and overwhelm them.
While we are on the way to Pompeii I will tell you something of the fascinating story.
Many years ago, long before the people on our islands were civilised, when Britons ran about dressed in skins and floated in wicker-boats covered by skins, there were intelligent and refined people living all round the base of Vesuvius; they knew, of course, that the mountain was a volcano, but there had never been any very terrible explosion that they could remember, and, anyway, the slopes of the mountain where the towns stood extended so far from the crater that no one thought it possible for any great disaster to happen. The two principal towns were called Herculaneum and Pompeii. The people there dressed in lovely silks and satins; they had beautifully built houses filled with statues and pictures: the women wore costly jewellery; they had plenty of amusements, for they danced and sang and visited each other, and had stalls at the amphitheatre, and supported candidates at political elections, and gossiped and drove in chariots, and lived and loved. They thought, as we all do in our turn, that they knew everything and that no one could reach so high a pinnacle of civilisation as they had reached. This was only about fifty years after Christ's death on the cross, and the Christians were still a comparatively small and despised band.
Well, one day there was a certain amount of uneasiness felt, for a curious black cloud had formed over Vesuvius, and it was not quite like anything that had ever been seen before; people also spoke of strange rumblings in the bowels of the earth, and there was an oppressiveness in the air which alarmed the timid. Then came terrifying noises, cracklings and explosions, and a fine dust filled the air and began settling down everywhere; no sooner was it brushed off than there it was again; it penetrated even close shut houses, and filled the hinges so that the doors would not open easily. The rich people began to make arrangements to get away, but before they could carry them out awful confusion fell upon them; day was turned to night, the clouds of dust fell thickly and chokingly, stifling men as they ran; volumes of lava poured forth, sweeping like fiery serpents down the mountain-side; they rushed over Herculaneum, which was not far from Pompeii, so that while the one city was boiled the other was smothered. Curses and prayers alike were no avail. Men were caught and choked, houses were silted up, and the whole district was buried.
Years passed and the tradition of the destroyed cities remained; it was known that they were thereabouts, but so completely had the mountain done its work that no one knew exactly where, and it was only comparatively recently that money was subscribed and the work of unearthing them began. By the railway we have passed through Herculaneum, and here we are at Pompeii. Now you shall see what this city of two thousand years ago was like.
The station is close to it, and as we step out of the train we go almost immediately into the gates of the once buried but now uncovered city, which is one of the wonders of the world, attracting people across leagues of sea and land.
We find ourselves in a long narrow street lined by roofless houses. The stones which form the pavement are uneven and much worn, the foot-walks on each side are raised very high, because in wet weather these streets were mere torrents and the water rushed down them. Here and there are stepping-stones, to enable people to cross from one side to the other. It would have been impossible in most places for two chariots or carts to pass one another, and we wonder how they managed. As a fact, the Pompeians did not use wheeled vehicles much, but chairs or palanquins, and the men went on horseback. There are many open counters beside the street, showing that these buildings were used as shops, and in one or two are large marble basins hollowed out where the wine which was sold was kept cool. Along the side of one house is a gaudily painted serpent, signifying that an apothecary, or, as we should say, a chemist, lived here.
We can go into one of the better-class dwelling-houses and we find that it was built around a courtyard or central hall, and we can peep into the sleeping-rooms, which, in spite of all the luxury of the inhabitants, were mere little dark cupboards with no light or air. Well, so they were in our castles until quite recently! There was a garden behind the hall in all the better-class houses, and this had almost always a tank for gold-fish; we can see it still; but all the little personal things that have been unearthed—the jewellery and household utensils and even the statues—have been taken to the museum at Naples for safe keeping, which is a pity, as the streets and living-rooms seem bare and cold and we need a good deal of imagination to picture them as they must have been.
Here at last is something that makes us start and brings back the awful scene of death and dismay. In a deep recess by a doorway are six skeletons, lying in various attitudes, left exactly as they were found. These people had been caught; they were hurrying, evidently to get out of the outer door, and finding it had been silted up by dust and that they could not open it, had turned back, too late, and been smothered! There they lie now, nearly two thousand years after, just as then.
There were about two thousand skeletons thus found and taken away—only these few were left to give visitors some idea of the tragedy that happened. The sticky dust and ashes which poured down upon the doomed city reached a depth of twenty-six feet, and they encased everything in a kind of crust. Dogs and cats were caught in this way, and even little lizards, such as those that live in the cracks of the walls in Italy to this day; and though their bodies had decayed away long before they could be dug out, yet the exact impression remained, and in many cases, by pouring soft plaster into the holes, men have reproduced to the life the poor little wriggling body that was caught in such a terrible prison! You can imagine what great value it has been to historians to find the things used by people so long ago. In most cases customs change gradually; the implements and utensils which one generation use are broken and lost and replaced by new fashions, but here, in one lump, stamped down hard for ever, are the things caught in a second of time and held in an iron grip while the years rolled by.
Passing on we find a small temple to the Egyptian god Isis, and this was the very first object to be discovered. Some men quarrying for stone struck upon it and thus the long-lost site of the town was found. Then we see the public baths with all the arrangements for heating the water; the Pompeians, like the Romans, were very fond of bathing. But it is the little things of everyday life that impress us most, and we are brought up suddenly by seeing on a wall a poster of the day advocating the return of one particular candidate to what was the Pompeian Parliament. This carries us right back into the midst of them! So does also that drinking-fountain by the street side, where the marble has been worn hollow by the hands of those who leaned on it as they stretched forward to drink at the spout!
We can walk through the market-place where the people bought and sold, and look down into the great amphitheatre where the shows which they all loved were held; but as our ship leaves at four o'clock we shall have to tear ourselves away and hurry back along the little line again, running round the base of the sullen brooding mountain which may at any time hurl down his thunder-bolts on the vineyards which still creep up his sides. Past Herculaneum, now partly unburied, and so to gay Naples, where the sun is breaking out.
On the quay we see barrows covered with a curious flesh-coloured fruit about the size and shape of a large pear, and this is quite new to us. We discover these are called Indian figs; but why Indian? They are grown here and are a popular native fruit. They are covered by a thick skin, easily peeled off, and are full of juice and very large pips; they have a sweetish rather sickly taste, but one can imagine they must be a great boon to the poor Italians who can get a good refreshing drink for almost nothing.
Once aboard we discover that something has gone wrong—a propeller has dropped a blade and the ship will not start for some hours. We might have stayed longer in Pompeii after all!
There are compensations for everything and soon we find that this delay is going to be a good one for us, for it will enable us to see two other volcanoes which otherwise we should have missed in the darkness.
We ask the night-steward to wake us in time for the first, and it seems as if our heads had hardly touched the pillows when we hear his voice at the door, "Stromboli in sight, sir!" It is cold and we are very sleepy; grumbling, we make our way to the front of the deck below the bridge, and suddenly, in the blackness ahead, there shoots up a short straight column of fire like that from the chimney of a blast furnace. It disappears as quickly and quietly as it came, and odd bits of flame, like red-hot cinders, roll this way and that, then all is black again. As the sky quickly lightens we see outlined against it a cone or pyramid, and from the summit there shoots out another column of flame, to disappear almost instantly.
"Stromboli sky-rocketing," says the voice of one of the officers on the bridge above.
All the time we are gliding nearer and nearer to the wonderful mountain, when, with an amazing swiftness, up flashes the sun, sweeping rays of colour over the sky, changing it from pale primrose to fiery orange, and there, black against it, is a little island so neatly made that it appears an exact triangle with a bite out of one side near the top. Stromboli is one of a group of little islands. What had appeared as flame in the darkness shows at the next eruption to be a puff of smoke from which burning lumps fall on the rocky sides and down the precipices. This happens about every quarter of an hour. The sea meantime changes to vivid blue. We are quite close now and can see tiny white houses nestling on the edge of the island amid clusters of green. What happens to the people if the boiling lava rolls down through their vineyards and into their houses? There is no one to answer that question. Perhaps it never gets so far, perhaps Stromboli has not yet shown himself to be a fierce volcano, but limits his eruptions to angry splutterings which beat on the scarred precipices of the steep sides above the dwellings of the people,—anyway, I don't think I should care to live there, just in case——
We awake suddenly from our intent gazing to find ourselves the laughing-stock of a crowd of decently dressed men and women who have come up in the daylight, properly clad, and there are we in dressing-gowns, not over-long, and slippered feet! But no one minds these little mishaps on board ship, and with dignity we pass through to our cabin, smiling and feeling very superior to have seen so much more than the lie-abeds!
As it happens, it is Sunday morning and a very different day from yesterday, with bright sun and a clear sky. As a rule there is service on board ship on Sundays, but to-day we are just going to pass through the Straits of Messina, and the captain must be on the bridge the whole time, and there is no clergyman to take the duty for him, so we can't have it. But we could hardly pass a Sunday better than in admiring the marvellous beauty which God has given to us in this world for our delight.
It is about four hours after passing Stromboli that we enter the straits which separate Sicily, the three-cornered island, from Italy, which seems to be kicking it away with the toe of its foot. Land begins to close in on us, and in the dazzling sunshine it appears radiant, while the sea is a mirror of blue. On both sides we see houses and villages built on the sloping shores, but the interest heightens when we come close abreast the great town of Messina which, on the 20th of December 1908, suddenly became world-famous owing to the awful misfortune which befell it. All educated people knew Messina by name previously, but it was not until the Italian wires flashed the story of the earthquake which had wrought destruction so swiftly and dramatically that it will always be ranked as among the most appalling that ever happened, that everyone with one consent turned their attention to Messina, and the eyes of the whole world were focused on it. The suddenness of the calamity was the most terrible feature of it. It was early in the morning when the earth shook and heaved and raised itself, and in about four minutes, what had been a happy prosperous town was reduced to a smoking ruin, a shambles of dead bodies, and a hell on earth for the miserable beings who lived in it! Almost all the houses fell together; whole streets of them collapsed like a pack of cards, and the shock was so tremendous that in many cases even the bricks and stone of which they were made were ground to powder. Tens of thousands of people were buried before they could get into the streets, and their own houses, where they had been happy and miserable, had been born or married or suffered, were turned into their tombs. Those who were killed outright were not the most unfortunate, for others were caught by a limb beneath falling stones, or crushed and held yet living, and their direful shrieks of agony added to the horrors, for there was none to help them, all were in the grip of the same misfortune. To add to the disaster flames broke out from the ruined houses, and the city was lit by the lurid light of fire rising to heaven. No one will ever know how many hapless creatures were burnt to death! There was no possibility of working the telegraph wires, and the people left alive simply had to wait for help till help came. And meantime volumes of water, disturbed by the change of sea-level, rolled in upon the land!
Directly the news startled the whole civilised world, ships of all nations, which happened to be anywhere near, hastened to the rescue. Camps were hastily run up and the survivors taken to them, food was supplied to all who needed it, the wounded and maimed were attended to, and wherever possible those who were still living in the ruins were dug out and set free. But, as you may imagine, this was a work of great danger, because dragging out a beam or stone often sent a shattering avalanche down on the top of the rescuers.
The number of those destroyed can never be known certainly, but it is estimated at somewhere about 200,000, for Messina is a large town. Charitable people sent subscriptions from all quarters; money flowed in; those children who had lost their parents, and even in some cases their names and identity, being too small to give any account of themselves, were placed in kind homes and provided for, and those who were completely crippled assured of support; others were given the means to start life once more. It is difficult to imagine that all this happened only a few short years ago now; even though we are quite close to Messina, and have the use of a very fine pair of field-glasses, it is difficult to make out any of the mischief. It appears as if the houses had been rebuilt, warehouses and chimneys stand as usual, and the great viaduct spans the valley; but those who know say that this is only a good face seen from the sea, and that ruins still lie in quantities behind. In the memories of those who passed through the earthquake there must be a shuddering horror never to be forgotten, a black mark passing athwart their lives and cutting them into two parts—that before and that after the catastrophe.
Farther on more little villages appear, some looking just like a spilt box of child's bricks tumbled any way down a mountain spur. Then we catch sight of the great majesty of Etna, the third volcano we have seen in two days, and we stand lost in admiration of his pure beauty.
The smoothness of the eternal snow glows like a silver shield on the breast of the giant peak. Far below are vineyards, olive groves, orchards, and orange and lemon groves, for Sicily is celebrated for these fruits. Above them are beech-woods, so deep and dark that they are seldom penetrated even by the peasants; beautiful as the beech is, it is a poisonous tree and nothing can live beneath its shade.
It is all so smiling and peaceful on this serene Sunday morning that we can hardly believe that in Etna too there lies the raging demon of mighty force. Even as we watch a faint puff of pure white smoke, so thin that it might be mistaken for a wisp of cloud, floats away from the peak into the infinite blue, and we know by his breath that the demon is not dead but only sleeping.
"Lucky indeed to get Etna clear of clouds," says one of the passengers near us. "I've been through the Straits a score of times and I've hardly ever seen it as you are seeing it for the first time to-day."
Volcanoes and earthquakes are closely connected. There lies within this world of ours an imprisoned power of vital heat, which now and again bursts through at weak places in the crust. Geologists tell us that these weak places may be traced in long lines on the earth's surface, and along one of them lie the volcanoes we have seen. But the laws which govern the earthquake and the volcano are hardly yet understood, even to-day.
After calling at another little Italian port for the mails, we do not stop anywhere for the next few days, but steam along steadily, making up for lost time. We have seen something of the southern part of our own continent of Europe. We have landed in Spain at Gibraltar, we set foot on French soil in Toulon, where the steamer called to take on passengers from across France, we have visited Italy at Naples, and these are the principal countries which line the huge land-locked sea. In old times the whole civilised world centred around the Mediterranean, and Rome, which is now the capital of Italy, dominated it all, making one mighty empire. The dominion of Rome reached far northward to our own islands, and she was so secure and supreme in her power that it never entered the heads of the Romans then living that some day the whole empire would be split up and distributed. Their dominion reached even to Egypt, where we are now going, and to the Holy Land, which we shall visit afterwards; their fleets covered the sea, their armies strode hot-footed across the land, making broad ways that passed over hill and valley without pause or rest, yet now the empire of Rome is but a name.
THE STRANGEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD
Looking down from the deck of the Orontes it seems as if we were peering into the folds of a black gauze curtain, between which demons from the pit rush yelling to and fro. These men are black from head to foot, with the exception of the gleaming white teeth which show between their open lips. They are black to begin with by nature, and are further covered, scanty clothing and all, with a thick coating of coal-dust, which sticks to their oily skins and dirty rags. They are digging frantically into the heaped-up coal of a great barge lying alongside, gathering it into baskets and rushing up planks to deposit it in the coal bunkers of the steamer, and all the while they shout in a strange chant at the tops of their voices. When white men are doing severe work they are silent, as they need all their strength for the task in hand, but when their dark-skinned brothers work they find it necessary to shout as loudly as they can, and the harder the work the more noise they make. At a little distance their confused yelling is like the cheering of a great crowd at a popular football match.
All the port-holes have been closed to keep out the dust, the ship's carpets are rolled away, the place looks as if prepared for a spring cleaning. It is time for us to go, for we have arrived at Port Said, the principal landing-place for Egypt, and we have to say good-bye to the Orontes here, though we shall not forget her as the first of the many ships which carry us on our great adventure.
It is easy enough to get a boat, competition is keen, and the laughing bright-eyed boys who row us across seem in the best of humour; they make a brilliant picture, for they are dressed in scarlet and blue for choice, with bits of orange wherever they can stick them on.
Port Said, where we have landed, is a large town with a big business, yet it is built on a site which a comparatively short time ago was nothing but a marshy salt lake. Men of all nations walk in its streets, and ships of all nations pass through its port. It is a strange mingling of East and West. Here the two meet, and those who come from the West for the first time cry with delight, "This is the East!" while those who have been exiled for many years from their western homes and are at last returning, exclaim, drawing a long breath, "Now I feel I really am in sight of home."