Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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MY very old friend, the author of these reminiscences, has flattered me by inviting me to write an introductory note.
We first met as journalists. He has followed that strangely alluring profession with distinguished success and always with the eagerness of youth. My own path, since our early days, has been in another direction; but those who have once lived in Fleet Street can never be indifferent to its charm, can never lose sympathy with the men, the companions of adolescent years, who have remained faithful to their original purpose.
Fleet Street is not an easy road; it is littered with failures or broken men and broken enterprises. I have seen brilliant spirits extinguished and fortunes fruitlessly squandered in Fleet Street. It is only now beginning to be realised that the true journalist is born and not made. His qualities are curiously rare. In an age when everybody can write, surprisingly few succeed in Fleet Street, though there are people who say that journalism is only a "knack." I do not think so. I suspect that there is something of disappointed envy, as there certainly is a world of misunderstanding, in such an ascription. The great journalist at least must possess qualities that come near to genius.
But there is a certain technique of journalism that can be learnt. What to say and how much to say. When to say it and to what audience to address it. All these things can be learnt. It is useless to send a Quarterly Review article to a daily newspaper, or an article on cricket to any paper in the height of the football season; or, let me say, a passionate exposition of Liberal aims to a trenchantly Conservative journal. I give but a few instances. Yet, these mistakes are made every day, and by clever writers. Too often they sicken of repeated failure and join the ranks of that still numerous band who console themselves with the belief that editors accept only the work of their personal friends.
Mr. Bridges is the one free-lance journalist known to me who, having achieved the security of an editor's chair, has voluntarily returned to free-lancing. It was a risky thing to do. The outside contributor to the Press is dependent week by week on the amount of literary work he can produce and place each week. Unless he is untiringly industrious and exceptionally fertile in ideas the lean weeks are likely to eat up the fat ones. But he has his advantages. He enjoys a large measure of freedom; he can, if he wishes, live a country life. To Mr. Bridges this has been an inestimable boon. His several books and innumerable articles on open-air subjects are fruits of his emancipation from the bondage of daily work in Fleet Street itself.
I commend this book especially to the beginner in journalism. He will gain much from it that he could not acquire from his unaided experience alone. Above all, he will learn that to a natural aptitude for his craft must be added the method, the diligence, and the high and indomitable spirit that have secured for Mr. Bridges his place among the journalists of to-day.
FORTY years ago it was still usual for parents to choose their son's profession, and that often before the boy was out of the nursery. In my own case my father made up his mind that I should follow in his footsteps and become a parson. In those days we called it "going into the Church." So in 1879, at the tender age of ten, I was sent off to Marlborough, where, for more than a year, I was the youngest boy in the school, and consequently got most of the kicks and precious few of the halfpence. Somehow I managed to win a foundation scholarship, a performance which naturally confirmed my father in his opinion that I was specially destined for a clerical career. And as for me, I was too young to have any opinions of my own on the matter.
There was a deal of bullying in those days at Marlborough, and, I fancy, at most other big schools as well. Pretty beastly bullying, too. I have seen things happen worse than any described in Tom Brown. The unpleasantest time for us youngsters was on winter nights between tea and prep., when a gang, armed with blood-knots (unpleasant scourges made of knotted boot-laces), roamed Court (as the quadrangle is called) in search of victims. Many and many a time have I stood, shivering in the porch of "A" House, waiting till the very last minute, before bolting like a rabbit for Upper School, where, being in the Lower Fourth, I had to do my preparation. If I live to be a hundred I shall never forget the sick suspense of those times.
The food left much to be desired. Bread and butter for breakfast, bread and butter for tea. Not too much butter, either. Soup and meat or meat and pudding for dinner. No porridge, eggs, sausages, not even jam. Poor fare for growing boys, and consequently a lot of illness among those whose parents could not afford to supply them with extras. In common justice, I should say that matters improved in this respect even before I left, but at first they were very, very bad.
G. C. Bell was head master, a perfect figure of a "head," with his fine features, flowing beard, and beautiful hands. But he was never popular. Chiefly, I think, because he was a Radical, and boys are the most conservative creatures on earth. I remember a great political row. It was in the year when Walter Long was first returned for the Division. Boys had been strictly ordered to remain within bounds on Election Day, and the whole of the town beyond St. Peter's Church was put entirely out of bounds.
Early in the afternoon word came that the Conservative candidate was approaching along the Bath Road, whereupon nearly the whole school sallied out to meet him. The horses were taken out of his carriage, and several hundred boys pulled him, cheering, past College Gates and right down town to the Aylesbury Arms, where Mr. Long was called upon for a speech. There was a sharp scrimmage between his supporters and the rival faction, the air being thick with bloaters raided from a stall. I think we all expected to be "swished," and I know that the head master was extremely angry. But no doubt there was mediation, for in the end all that happened was the stoppage of one half-holiday, a penalty which was as bad for the masters as the boys.
Games were compulsory, and, though I enjoyed cricket, I well remember how I loathed being driven up to play Rugger. I was never any use, and was generally condemned to take part in "Remnants," where some thirty a side played upon a piece of rough ground which sloped steeply to a ditch. Inevitably the game gravitated to the edge of this ditch, and in the end the whole scrum would go rolling over into it, with consequences most unpleasant to the unfortunates who were at the bottom.
Marlborough has the great advantage of being set in the centre of some of the most lovely of all down country, and my great joy was to escape to the forest. Savernake Forest was, and I hope still is, a place of pure delight. It was full of birds and beasts, from red deer to squirrels and from great hawks down to golden-crested wrens. One Sunday a friend named Stayner and myself found a red stag which had recently died, and spent a gory hour in hacking off its head with our pocket knives. We then started back, with the intention of leaving the head with Colman, the taxidermist, to be set up. Just as we got out of the forest, who should come riding along but the young Marquis of Aylesbury (the one who afterwards married Dolly Tester) and his sister! He gave a view halloo, and started after us, and we bolted for some chalk pits, where we dropped the head, then ran for our skins for a clump of thorn bushes. The marquis did his best, and the thong of his whip licked around our ears time and time again. But in the end we got clear away. We were, however, nearly half an hour late for Sunday afternoon Scripture lesson, and caught it accordingly. Then there was Clinch Common, where, at the proper season, wild raspberries were plentiful, and from the top of which is one of the finest views in Wiltshire.
We had a capital Natural History Society, which, although jeered at by a section as "The Bug and Beetle," yet found plenty of recruits. It was managed by the Rev. T. A. Preston, mathematical master and one of the keenest and best naturalists I ever had the luck to meet. "Prunk," as we called him, had a red-hot temper, and I remember his knocking a boy right into one of the glass cases in the old museum where we were taken. It should, however, be added that he had caught the youth in question first at cribbing, then in lying. In summer we had occasional field days, delightful occasions when we drove miles into new country and visited Silbury Hill, Avebury, Stonehenge, and many other places of interest. I don't suppose there is any other part of England which can match that side of Wiltshire for relics of our Neolithic ancestors. We had constant encounters with keepers and farmers, and once I was shot at by an irate gamekeeper and quite sharply peppered. On another occasion a pal and myself were forced to swim the Kennet in order to get away from a water bailiff. The present generation of boys seem to have abandoned these rather violent forms of amusement, but they now have far more forms of diversion than in my day. What with bicycles, wireless, photography and the like, they are never without something to do.
I have no doubt but that many Marlburians of my time have since become distinguished folk. The late Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson was there in my time, but he was older than I, and I never knew him. I do, however, remember E. F. Benson, who was in "B" House and keen on racquets, and Eustace Miles, who was a contemporary in "C" House. The two Irvings, Harry and Lawrence, were also at Marlborough with me. They did not shine at games, but were by no means unpopular. Lawrence I never saw again after leaving, but Harry I had the pleasure of meeting frequently in later days. The very last time that I saw him was at a Savage Club Saturday Night a few months before he died. I sat next him, and remember how sadly ill he was looking.
Of the masters, the one whom I always remember with pleasure was W. J. ("Slogger") Ford. He was master of the Middle Fourth when I was promoted into it. Of huge stature, though not so tall as his brother, "The Stork," he was one of the most powerful men I ever saw. Even a playful cuff from him would floor the biggest chap in his form. And what a cricketer! It was his joy to take the bowling at a net and set boys out at enormous distances to field. If a boy caught one of his monstrous smites he was usually rewarded with a pot of jam. In those happy days you could buy a pot of real strawberry jam for sevenpence.
Very good cricket teams used to come down to Marlborough. We always played the Gentlemen of Lancashire, and I remember Hornby hitting up a huge score. On one occasion, when I was a very small lad, E. M. Grace, W. G.'s brother, honoured me by sending me off to the pavilion to fetch him a glass of lemonade. I spoke of "The Stork," W. J. Ford's brother. He was six foot six, and I once saw him hit a ball full-pitch, not only out of the ground, but on to the thatched roof of a cottage on the other side of the road. It was by far the biggest hit I ever saw in my life, and it would be interesting to know its length. W. J. himself went to New Zealand after leaving Marlborough, but later came back England and took private pupils, at the same time doing a good deal of cricket journalism. I had the great pleasure of meeting him again in London, and he came to dine with me at the Cocoa Tree. I remember how he laughed at me because I still called him "sir." For the life of me, I could not help it. He died soon afterwards, still a comparatively young man.
I suppose I was about sixteen when I began to have my doubts about turning parson. I am afraid it was a sad disappointment for my poor father, when he was eventually forced to agree with me. Of course, there was only one alternative—to emigrate. At that date, though only forty years ago, any boy who failed in his Army or Civil Service exams., or who, for any reason, refrained from the profession for which he had been originally intended, went either to America or one of the Colonies. Never was there a more curious delusion than that a lad who had shown himself unfit for the Church, the Bar, Medicine, or the Services, should have been considered capable of making a living at what is perhaps the most complicated and exigent of all callings, namely, that of farming.
In 1886, the year in which I left Marlborough, the first Florida boom was at its height, and the papers were full of advertisements of the enormous profits to be made by growing oranges. The very name of Florida had a magic, and when I heard that the State possessed the finest fishing and shooting of any part of the South, I was mad to go. So in the end it was arranged, and in September 1886 I formed one of a convoy of three going out under charge of a clergyman named Noyle, who was himself intending to settle in the States. We sailed on the Egypt of the National Line, a comfortable old tub that possessed three tall masts as well as engines, and set a full suit of sails whenever the wind was favourable.
My chief recollection of New York is the profusion of fruit and the cheapness of the ice cream. We spent three days there, and went south by boat to Charlestown. We met a full gale off Hatteras, and the top-heavy steamer took an ugly list. Charlestown we found in parlous condition. Three weeks earlier the town had been practically wrecked by the worst earthquake ever known in South Carolina. The streets were still cumbered with piles of masonry, and the spires and chimneys tottered drunkenly. But the people were quite cheerful. We changed steamers and left again about two in the morning.
Now we were at last reaching the sub-tropics. Sky and sea were bluer than I had ever imagined; shoals of flying fish lifted out of the smooth swells. I saw a green turtle floating on the surface. Thirty-six hours later we were steaming up the immensely broad estuary of the St. John's River to Jacksonville, then, as now, the commercial capital of the State. A river steamer took us up from Jacksonville. The St. John's is probably the widest river in the world for its comparatively short length. It opens into lakes eight and ten miles in breadth. We passed the house of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famous author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book which did more to inflame the passions of the North against the South in the great Civil War than anything else that has ever been written. Having lived so long among the kindly Southerners, it may be that I take a prejudiced view, but I say frankly that I think Mrs. Stowe was a dangerous extremist whose writings did a terrible deed of harm.
Slavery, of course, had become an anachronism in the nineteenth century, yet the servitude of the negro race was nothing like so black as Mrs. Stowe painted it. In point of fact, slaves were extremely well treated, and very rarely bought or sold. Among Southern gentlefolk it was considered a disgraceful thing to divide a family. Mrs. Stowe took her colour from the only State where conditions were bad, and made it seem that these conditions were usual all over the South. At the time when I went out the Civil War was still a matter of almost recent history. It was only twenty-two years past. I have known dozens of negroes who were formerly slaves, and who, almost without exception, deplored their changed condition. As one dear old black mammy of sixty said to me, "If Ah still belonged to mah old mahster Ah wouldn't be working now at mah age."
At four the next morning we were dumped on a board wharf at the river-side to wait for a train which was to leave at eight. On the verandah of the little hotel I found a fishing-rod, and, baiting with a piece of pork raided from the meat safe, promptly hooked a gigantic cat-fish which pulled like a horse until in the end it got the line round a snag and broke me. We breakfasted on fried pork, buckwheat cakes and syrup, and hot coffee served with "long sweetening" (that is, molasses), then got into the train and went trailing away slowly through the "piney" woods. Never was anything more bitterly disappointing than the view from the windows. Stunted pines, saw palmetto, cypress swamps, and here and there a savannah with scrub cattle grazing. The whole country was flat as a pancake, and steaming under a fierce blaze of sunshine.
By degrees the ground rose a little and the swamps were replaced by lakes. At last we ran into "hammock," that is hard wood forest, with splendid live oaks and glossy-leaved magnolias. Then to the left we saw the broad expanse of Lake Harris, and presently stopped at Lane Park, a new little town on the lake-side. Winterpark was my destination, but Noyle had friends on Lake Harris and had arranged for me to stay a day or two before going on. His friend lived a couple of miles up the lake-shore, but his boat was waiting. If the country so far had disappointed us, Lake Harris and its surroundings came as a delicious surprise. The hammock, tangled with climbing masses of grape vines, was the tropical forest of my dreams, and the shores sloped down to beaches of exquisite yellow sand. Here and there graceful cabbage palmettoes towered high above the bays and gums. We had hardly pulled a mile before the evening breeze sprang up, and inside five minutes the lake, which, when we started, had been smooth as glass, was a mass of short, steep, and very dangerous waves. It was all we could do to beach our light, flat-bottomed craft on the nearest stretch of sand, and the rest of the journey we did afoot. Our host's house was still a-building, and he was living in his stable. He gave us supper, and announced that he had fixed up a 'possum hunt for our benefit. I had not had a wink of sleep the previous night while coming up the river, and precious little the night before, but at eighteen one does not worry about that sort of thing, and I was eager to start. At nightfall, just as swarms of golden fireflies began to dance over the hammock, there arrived four young Americans and three negroes, together with a pack of half a dozen large, ugly, yellow hounds, and a few minutes later we all started away together into the woods.
Very soon the dogs got upon the track of an opossum, and drove it up a persimmon-tree, around which they bayed furiously. The persimmon was a tree which here in England would be prized as a splendid specimen, but the niggers tackled it with their axes, and, in a very few minutes, it came crashing to the ground, flinging the wretched opossum from its leafy summit.
The dogs had the creature in a moment, and killed it. They would have eaten it, but the negroes drove them off, and dragged their prey from them.
The opossum weighed about eight pounds, and bore a strong resemblance to a gigantic rat. I was told that it made as good a dish as a young sucking pig, and this is indeed perfectly true, for later I caught many in traps and ate them.
The hunt went on. Towards midnight I became so sleepy that I could hardly keep my eyes open, but there was no going back, for, alone, I should have been hopelessly lost before I had gone a quarter of a mile. It was three o'clock before we stopped hunting, and, lighting a smudge fire to keep off the mosquitoes, camped until daylight.
I stayed three days at Lake Harris, then my friend drove me to the terminus of the Tavares and Orlando railway. On this line, which was in a very bad way, there was but one train each way in the day, and these alternately passenger and freight trains. As ill luck had it, I struck a freight train, and had to travel in a box car.
It was a gruesome journey. The heat was frightful, the dust and smoke suffocating. The line was little better than two streaks of rust, and only once did the speed exceed twelve miles an hour. This was when, in the middle of a big swamp, the engine-driver suddenly saw half a dozen cattle on the metals directly ahead. It was too late to pull up, so, opening his throttle to the widest, he charged.
It was a horrid business. The wretched beasts, caught by the cow-catcher, were hurled off the embankment into the deep black slime on either side. The shock threw me flat on the floor, and for a moment I fully believed that the train would follow its victims; but, by a miracle, we held the metals, and carried on.
It was dark before we reached Orlando, which is the capital of Orange County, and to-day a very beautiful town. Even at that time, nearly forty years ago, it was a place of three thousand inhabitants, a large proportion of whom were people from the northern States.
What between the dust, the smoke, and the heat, I was by this time nearly as black as the negro train-conductor, and I actually hesitated to leave the train. But I was desperately hungry, and, in any case, had to change trains.
Close by the depôt I found a rough little restaurant kept by an Italian. I went up to the bare counter, and asked for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. A large roll, split in half, with a thick slice of ham in the centre, was pushed across and a mug of coffee poured out.
I never knew food taste better, for it was twelve hours since breakfast, but when I asked how much, the little Italian waved his hand. "You no pay," he said; and, after a moment's puzzlement, it came to me with rather an ugly shock that he took me for a tramp. Not that I blame him, for I was hardly recognisable as a white man.
It was with difficulty that I made him accept ten cents, then the good fellow allowed me to have a wash in his kitchen, and I set off to catch my train.
At Winterpark there was no one to meet me, and I was told that the house for which I was bound was two miles out in the wood. At last I found a nigger who was going my way and who acted as guide.
In those days the pupil farmer was more common than he is in 1926, and it was to one of these gentlemen that, unknown either to myself or to my people, I had been consigned.
The pupil farmer was a person who had a farm of some sort or another. It might be wheat in Canada, tobacco in Virginia, or oranges in Florida, but, whatever crop was grown on the soil, it did not yield the same profit as that derived from the human grist employed by its owner.
The modus operandi of the pupil farmer was to advertise in English papers for farm pupils. In every case he promised home comforts, good society, and good sport, and undertook to turn them out finished farmers. His charge was usually about a hundred pounds a year.
There are honest pupil farmers, especially in the remoter parts of our own Empire, but the American brand could not have been so described by any stretch of the imagination, and the gentleman into whose hands I had the misfortune to fall was one of the worst of his breed. He was a big, dark, and rather good-looking man, soft spoken and outwardly pleasant mannered. In actual truth, he was a soulless scoundrel, and the worst bully whom I have ever encountered.
Of the year which I spent under him I prefer to say as little as possible. All the hardest, dirtiest work fell to my share, and, as I learned later, the neighbours were under the impression that I was a hired hand, and was getting the usual dollar a day for my services.
Hard work hurts no healthy youngster, so long as he is decently treated and fed, but the food was the worst part of the business so far as I was concerned. All through the great heat of the following summer I had to live upon salt pork, sweet potatoes, and "biscuit," that is, baking-powder bread.
I got no fresh fruit or vegetables, and, into the bargain, the water (from an old well) was intensely nasty, and no doubt hideously unwholesome. The result was that I developed blood-poisoning and became covered with horrible sores.
There was no doctor in the place, and, in any case, my boss would have taken very good care that I did not see one.
In the end I became desperate and cleared out. I had one friend, son of an old Southern officer, General Samuel French, who lived at the other end of the big lake, and the youngster arranged with his father that I should live with them and work for my board and lodging.
General French was one of the best-known leaders in the Confederate Army, and had been a friend of the famous Jeff Davis. He had been in the regular U.S. Army before the war, and was a graduate of West Point. But he had settled in the South, married a Southern woman, and when the war broke out had definitely thrown in his lot with the Southerners. It was he who held the fort near Chattanooga, when that famous old song was written, "Hold the fort, for I am coming." He was a little man with a quick temper, but the kindest heart imaginable. He lived to a very great age, and died only about ten years ago.
A Swamp Story—Batching It
THE work on General French's property was every bit as hard as what I had been doing. We were up at half-past four every morning, and did two hours' chores before breakfast, and, barring the midday rest of two hours, we were busy until nightfall.
Yet the change was like one from hell to heaven. The old general was kindness itself, and his cook—a burly negro named Cicero Mack—knew the last thing about Southern dainties. Delicacies such as fried chicken, beaten biscuit, and guava jelly were on the table every day. There was any quantity of fresh milk and butter, and we had an excellent garden, from which came lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, water-melons, okra, and many other vegetables.
While living with the general, his son and I made use of a short holiday to go off on a shooting and fishing trip, during which we very nearly came to a bad end.
Our idea was to take a boat, put it on the head waters of the Wekiva River, drop down the river through the swamps to the point where it met the St. John's, then sail up the St. John's to Sanford, and so home. Two young American friends of the general's son came with us, and we four loaded the boat on to a waggon, and hauled it to the source of the Wekiva.
Like many other Florida rivers, the Wekiva leaps full fledged from one mighty spring, with a stream large enough to float a good-sized boat. We were warned that no one had been down the creek for some years, but it was not until we had gone some distance that we began to realise the difficulties in our way. The first thing that happened was the finding of a huge dead log right across the stream. When we started to cut it away, thousands of large red ants poured out of its rotten recesses and covered the boat, our provisions, and ourselves. They bit like fire. Some hours later we reached a saw-grass swamp, where shallow channels meandered between great grey walls of stiff, sharp-edged grass. It was not long before we went hard aground, and, when two of us jumped out to lighten the boat, we found that the bottom was quicksand, and had to scramble back with all possible speed. It took us an hour or more to get clear.
Our idea had been to spend the night at a place called Clay Springs, which was only about fifteen miles from our starting-point. But we had not reckoned on the delays, and night found us pulling along a deep, narrow, sluggish waterway, over-arched by giant cypress-trees. The roots of these trees formed the most extraordinary buttresses, edging the river like wooden rocks. From their branches above hung enormous trails of grey Spanish moss, so thick that the creek resembled a tunnel.
The creek itself was so sluggish that in places it was completely blocked by weed. This weed, known as water-lettuce, floats upon the surface, and, when it meets any obstruction, gathers in thick rafts, so thick that oars are useless and the boat has to be poled. What is worse, the under-water layers rot away, filling the air with the sickly reek of decay. Just as the light failed completely we struck one of these bars, and, when half-way through it, found that a monstrous tree-trunk lay all across the river a few inches below the surface.
It was out of the question to cut it. The only way to get past was to drag the boat over it. Two of us got out, and stood barefooted on the slimy log and set to hauling the boat over the obstruction. I shall not easily forget the sensations of those few minutes. In the first place, I was aware that if I lost my balance, and fell into the water, the heavy crust of vegetation would effectually prevent my ever reaching the surface again; but the worst part of it was the knowledge that the water-lettuce was the favourite haunt of the water-moccasin, the much-dreaded Florida swamp viper. This creature is short, thick, sluggish, and extremely venomous.
Luckily, all went well, and we got the boat safely over the log and into clearer water beyond. Now, since it was almost pitch dark, it was necessary to camp, but our trouble was that we could find no dry land to camp upon. The water was higher than usual for the time of the year, and in between the great cypresses was nothing but a sea of glutinous black slime. The only chance was to land upon one of the great buttress roots of which I have already spoken, and this we did, and, with much difficulty, lighted a small fire and set our kettle to boil. But these buttresses are hollow, and very rapidly the fire burned through the shell and fell hissing into the water beneath.
There was nothing for it but to make up our minds to a night in the boat, and let me tell you that there is precious little room for four men to sleep in the bottom of a small cat-boat. To add to our miseries, clouds of mosquitoes and sand-flies settled down upon us. The mosquitoes were bad enough, but the sand-fly, which is so small that it can go through an ordinary mosquito-net, bites like a red-hot needle. We lit a smudge fire in a frying-pan, and the smoke did something to keep off the insect pests.
Tired out, I fell asleep, to be roused by a deep roaring sound, and, jumping up in a fright, saw that the huge cypress-tree, at the base of which we kindled our fire, was all alight. It was a weird and even terrible sight, for the flames, rushing up the hollow trunk, spouted crimson torrents from every knot-hole. Tied up as we were, close under the burning tree, our position was one of great danger, and we had to shift in a hurry to a spot a hundred yards farther up-stream. There we sat and watched the blaze mounting to the summit of the doomed giant. The flames threw a lurid glare over a wide area of the swamp, and the reddened smoke rose in a great plume high into the windless air.
All sorts of swamp birds, roused by the unnatural glare, flitted, shadow-like, around the burning tree, and the roar was like that of a blast furnace. Presently great branches began to come crashing down, and towards three in the morning the charred ruins of the forest monarch toppled over, and went thundering and hissing into the depths of the swamp.
At dawn we breakfasted on a tin of bully beef and some dry biscuits, and pushed on. We passed the deserted ruins of a shingle-cutter's camp, and twice that morning got lost in blind channels. About two in the afternoon we discovered the entrance to the Clay Spring Run and turned up it. This was a clear and comparatively swift stream, teeming with fish. After two hours' hard pulling we reached its head, where there bursts out at the foot of the hill a spring large enough to float a steam launch. The water is a clear green—so clear that you can see a sixpence at the bottom in thirty feet. It is charged with sulphur, and its temperature of seventy degrees never varies, summer or winter.
As soon as we had tied up the boat we all stripped and plunged into the great spring. The rush of this giant source is so great that it picks you up, rolls you over and over, and flings you out into the tranquil little lake beyond. The water has extraordinary curative properties. Within a few moments it had washed away all the stinging discomfort of my numerous bites, and my skin felt soft as silk. Much refreshed, we made our way up the hill to the settlement, and were most kindly received in the house of friends, who gave us an excellent supper and spread mattresses for us on a wire-screened verandah.
Next morning we were off again early, and soon found ourselves back in the depths of the swamp. The next two days were one long struggle through rafts of water-weeds, and, as before, it was impossible to find landing- or cooking-places. What made this the more annoying was the fact that we were catching any quantity of fish. By merely trailing a spinning bait behind the boat we were able to take any number of magnificent black bass. We also caught a quantity of crimson-throated bream, one of the best of fresh-water pan fish.
On the second evening after leaving Clay Springs we did at last strike solid ground, and, landing, lit a roaring fire, made a huge pot of coffee, and set to grilling fish. It was thirty-six hours since we had last had a decent meal, and I, personally, finished a three-pound bass as my share of the supper.
We slung hammocks and slept in comparative comfort. Early next morning we found ourselves at the mouth of the Wekiva where it opens into the St. John's. The day breeze had not yet begun to blow, and the river was like glass, so we started to row southwards in the direction of Lake Monroe, on which lies the town of Sanford. We had gone but a little way when we heard a hoot in the distance. One of the big river steamers was coming up behind us at full speed. As ill luck would have it, we were in one of the narrowest parts of the river, and we saw at once that we should be in considerable danger from the wash. But we knew that there was no chance of the steamer slackening speed, so all we could do was to turn the boat bow on to the wave and take our chances. It is true that we could all swim, but that would not have helped us, for the river is bordered by tall saw-grass, through which no human being could hope to force a way. The bow wave came curling up a yard high, and, before we knew it, the boat was half full of water. We bailed like fury, and somehow kept afloat. But, comparing notes afterwards, we all agreed that not one of us had expected to come out of it alive.
Just as we reached the head of Lake Monroe the breeze began to blow. We got up our big sail, and the rest of our journey was finished in comfort. Reaching the wharf at Sanford, the first person we met was the father of Godfrey Moyers, one of our crew. He glanced at us and passed on. The fact was that our faces were so disfigured by mosquito bites that we were all entirely unrecognisable.
A letter from home contained the surprising announcement that my father had purchased an orange-grove for me. It was the fact that I had been making my own living for some months past which had induced him to make me this present.
For any man in England to purchase a property from complete strangers, at a distance of four thousand miles, is bound to be a somewhat risky proceeding. But my father, an old-fashioned English clergyman, was himself too honest and upright to realise the likelihood of being swindled in such a transaction, and, in result, he paid nearly a thousand pounds for a place which was possibly worth three hundred.
The property was, in all, eight acres. There was a little four-roomed house, a small stable, and about one hundred and fifty old orange-trees. But these trees were seedlings, not "budded" trees, and the fruit was inferior in quality. Also, they had been badly neglected. It was years since they had been pruned or properly fertilised, and the trunks were covered with moss and the ground with weeds.
The land lay between two lakes, and had the advantage of a constant draught of air, which made it cool and healthy, but, on the other hand, it was nearly three miles from the nearest railway station, and in those days there were no roads in Florida, but only narrow tracks, deep in soft, yellow sand.
In spite, however, of the obvious disadvantages, I was delighted to have a place of my own, so set to work to move in as soon as possible. The trouble was that I had not a stick of furniture, or any tools or agricultural implements. Nor had I a pony, which is the first necessity of life in a new country. My entire capital was about twenty-five dollars—say five pounds in English money. Hunting about, I discovered a man who was selling out and leaving, and from him I purchased a small iron cook-stove, some pots and kettles, crockery, a cot with a wire mattress, a table, and two chairs. I gave him eighteen a dollars for the lot, hired a waggon, and hauled them to my new home. The stock of flour, coffee, salt pork, and necessary groceries ran away with most of my remaining seven dollars, but I had a gun and a fishing-rod so hoped to make out.
I shall never forget those first months of "batching" it. The house stood on a patch of white sand which was covered with scrub palmetto, and my first job was to clear this and make a garden. The heat was terrific, and those palmettoes had roots like wire. The heavy stems, each as thick as my leg, ran along the surface, with their tentacle-like roots penetrating deep into the ground. Each had to be grubbed separately, and, even when they were grubbed and piled, they would not burn. I had to cut pine logs in order to start each fire.
It was the rainy season, and each day we had a crackling, roaring thunderstorm. For days together the storm would gather in the morning and break about twelve. Then it would shift, and for perhaps a week come at three in the afternoon. Sometimes the clouds did not bank up until nightfall, and that was worst of all, for on such days the sky was clear and the heat almost intolerable. I had no neighbours except one poor, crazy white man on the far side of the lake and half a dozen negro shacks a mile in the other direction. I had no books except a paper-covered Shakespeare, and, of course, no newspapers. For days together I never exchanged a word with a human being, for I was nearly five miles from the English settlement at Conway, and equally far from the county town of Orlando.
Of course, I did all my own cooking. At first it was very rough. I shall never forget the first time I tried to make yeast bread. The yeast, I think, was bad; at any rate, the dough refused to rise; so, leaving it in a bowl in the kitchen, I went out to work and forgot all about it. When I came back in the evening a second fermentation had taken place. The dough had risen clean out of its pan, had crawled over the table, and hung in long festoons to the floor. Red ants had found it, and were crawling in thousands up and down the dough icicles. But experience teaches, and I soon learned to make excellent baking-powder bread, potato cakes, and even gingerbread. Later I made guava jelly from my own guavas, and capital marmalade from the sour oranges which grow wild round the lakes. Americans I may mention, neither made nor ate orange marmalade,—at least, not in those days.
My two chief troubles were the fact that I had no fresh water, or money to put down a well, and that, for a similar reason, I could not afford the wire blinds which were fitted to all windows in the tropics for the purpose of keeping out flies. Flies were an absolute torment, and the only way to keep the house free from them was to darken it. I managed to buy some old green window-blinds second hand, which aided me to do this.
Probably because of the bad water, I suffered again from blood-poisoning, and this time a druggist in Winterpark gave me Fowler's solution of arsenic, telling me to take three drops three times a day. No doubt I took too much, for within a week I was desperately ill—so ill that I could neither cook, nor eat, nor sleep. No one came near me, and for some days I believe that I was in a very dangerous state, but somehow I pulled through, and presently found that the arsenic had done the trick, and that my blood-poisoning was completely cured.
October came, and cooler weather. I had now been in the country two years, and had made some friends. Occasionally I had an invitation to supper at some English or American house, and thought little of tramping five miles through the woods in either direction. One of my friends was a Yankee named Ward, and there came to stay with him another Vermonter named Denny. Denny was as keen as I on fishing, but knew little about it. And the odd thing was that, although he was a man of over thirty, he had never been in a boat in his life. One day I took him out in a borrowed boat on a big sheet of water called Lake Virginia. It was a sultry afternoon, fish did not bite well, but after a time Denny got hold of something heavy, and hauled up a great, ugly black-fish weighing about four pounds.
Now, a black-fish has a large mouth full of small but very sharp teeth, and I warned Denny to be careful in taking the hook out. Too excited to hear what I said, he thrust his hand into the gaping mouth, and the jaws instantly closed on his fingers. Uttering a yell of pain, he stumbled backwards, and fell with a crash into the bottom of the boat. In doing so he knocked one oar overboard and—worse than that—one of the metal rowlocks with it. The rowlock sank, of course, and, while I was reaching for the oar, a strong squall of wind caught the boat, and inside a minute a furious thunderstorm was raging.
With only one oar it was impossible to get the boat back to the near shore. I was forced to let her drive. It is astonishing what a sea gets up on one of these shallow lakes, and, of course, the farther we ran towards the far side of the lake the higher grew the waves. Denny had to bail for dear life, but, even so, the boat was absolutely waterlogged by the time we struck the far bank. There we had to beach the boat and tramp four miles in drenching rain.
About this time I had a legacy of a hundred pounds from a relative in England, and the first thing I did was to put down a well. There was no digging about it; I simply purchased a "point"—which is a perforated steel pipe with a sharp end. I drove this into the ground, screwed other lengths of pipe into it, and at a depth of about fifteen feet struck good water.
After that there was nothing to do but affix a small hand-pump on to the upper section of pipe, and, at a cost of about four pounds, I had an unfailing supply of deliciously cool water. Then I fitted blinds to my windows, painted the whole house, bought some fertiliser for the grove, and set to work to find a good pony.
I found a pony, but I have to confess that it was not a good one. Its looks were the best part of it, but its temper was abominable. It was what they call in America a "balky" horse, and it always chose to balk at the most inconvenient season. Also it was given to stumbling, and, soon after I had it, this unpleasant habit nearly brought me to a sudden end. I had ridden into Winterpark one evening to get my post, and was returning home up the broad avenue leading past the hotel. Down the centre of this avenue ran the tram-line from the hotel to the railway station. I was going at a sharp hand-gallop when Master Brandy, as I called him, shied, stumbled, and came down. He pitched me clean over his head, and I fell on mine on the near metal of the tram-line. For a moment I hardly realised that I was hurt, and I picked myself up, intending to go after the pony, but Brandy had already made himself scarce, and, feeling rather giddy, I made my way back to the drug store at the corner. In American towns, where there is no saloon, the drug store, with its soda-water counter, is the favourite resort, and as I entered there were three or four men in the place. They turned as I came in, and one and all gasped or exclaimed in horror. Then I caught sight of myself in a looking-glass, and was no longer surprised at their dismay. I was absolutely covered with blood—face, clothes—it was even in my boots. The fact was that I had cut an artery over the skull, and—so the druggist told me—should have bled to death if help had not been near. He, however, stitched up the cut, a friend drove me home, and in less than a week I had forgotten all about my tumble.
White Folk, Black Folk, and Crackers
I AM told that nowadays Florida has more than a million visitors each winter. In my time the entire population of the State was only about three hundred thousand, but the tourist traffic was already going strong. The first of the magnificent winter hotels was the Ponce de Leon, built by Flagler, the oil magnate, at St. Augustine, on the Atlantic coast. Plant, owner and builder of most of the Florida railways, ran the line through to the port of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast, and decided to build there an hotel which should be, not only the finest in Florida, but the most luxurious in the world. He began this in or about the year 1891, and the result was a most imposing building in the Moorish style, with copper domes and minarets, and accommodation for about three hundred visitors. Almost every bedroom had its own bathroom—a very unusual thing in those days; there was a wonderful circular ballroom, a vast drawing-room furnished with costly old French furniture and a white velvet pile carpet studded with golden lions. I mention the lions because of these I shall speak hereafter. There were stately pleasure grounds, with a small private zoo, hard tennis courts, a landing-place on the bay, with a fleet of all sorts of pleasure craft, to say nothing of a private railway siding. I never saw a place upon which money had been lavished so recklessly.
To open this hotel Plant organised a big tennis tournament, and was good enough to ask a number of us young Englishmen to play. We had talent among us, two men especially, Grinstead and Garrett, being very nearly first class. Among the Americans who came down was dear old Dr. Dwight, the father of American lawn tennis, and the two Wrights. It was great fun. We Englishmen travelled down from Orlando in Plant's private car, and at the hotel we found all sorts of delightful Americans and Canadians. The tennis was not taken too seriously. Every night we danced till midnight, then played pool or poker until far into the small hours. One of the finest of New York cocktail mixers presided over the bar, and such sherry cobblers, gin fizzes, and whiskey sours I have never tasted elsewhere.
Among the English contingent was a man known as "Bones," who was given to mixing his drinks rather recklessly. One night—or, rather, morning, for it was past two—Bones was missing, and a search-party was organised. For a long time we hunted in vain, then, as I passed the double doors of the great state drawing-room, I heard something move inside. Looking in, I found the room flooded with the soft light of the moon, then nearly at its full. The light showed up a solitary figure on hands and knees in the centre of the vast expanse of white carpet. It was Bones, and, as I watched him, he was creeping very slowly and cautiously forward. He stopped, raised his right hand, in which he was grasping something which looked horridly like a dagger but was actually only a paper-knife, and brought it down with a vicious thud. "Bones! Bones!" I called, hurrying forward. "What on earth are you doing?" He looked up. "Get out, you fool! Can't you see I'm killing lions?"
All sorts of people came to Florida for the winter. On one occasion President Cleveland and his wife stayed at the big Seminole Hotel at Winterpark, and a reception was organised. In a long row we filed before the President and Mrs. Cleveland and solemnly shook hands, then passed on. Though Winterpark was then merely a village, there were three or four hundred people present, and Mr. Cleveland was shaking hands for an hour on end. I am told that one of his successors, President Roosevelt, once shook hands with eight thousand guests in one afternoon. No wonder that a President, after his four years of office, usually ends with his right hand a whole size larger than his left. Cleveland was a typical American President, a big, solid, middle-class man. The politicians who control the destinies of the great republic invariably choose a person of this type. When a man like Theodore Roosevelt arises, every effort is made to keep him in the background, for the last thing wanted is a really strong President. In Roosevelt's case, he was cleverly shelved by being made Vice-President, and it was only the fact that poor McKinley was murdered which set the great Theodore in the Presidential seat.
Another interesting visitor to Florida was Bishop Whipple of Minnesota. Physically, he was one of the finest men whom I have ever seen, over six feet in height, straight as a wand, narrow-waisted, broad-shouldered. He had the high cheek-bones, piercing eyes, and straight black hair of the American Indian. Indeed, he bore such a remarkable resemblance to a Red Indian that he might have been one of the old chiefs reincarnated as a white man. Perhaps it was this which helped to make him such a power among the Indians. They called him "Straight Tongue," and truly he could talk straightly. He was a very great preacher indeed. We had Indians in Florida, the remnants of the once powerful Seminole tribe. They lived in the depths of the Everglades, that vast swamp which occupies the southern extremity of the peninsula. It is an interesting fact that these Indians had negro slaves, and kept them long after the Civil War of the sixties ended in the freeing of all slaves.
Florida has the most mixed population of any State in the Union, with the possible exception of California. There are the old Southerners, a small and dwindling minority, but the most charming people imaginable, and the very soul of hospitality. There are Yankees, keen, hard-working, long-headed, who have done everything to develop the resources of the State and, incidentally, to enrich themselves. They have built the railways and the hotels; they have drained the swamps and planted oranges, vines, and peaches. At present they control the great and growing trade in early vegetables for the Northern markets. There are "crackers," as they are called. These are the descendants of the "poor whites," that is, the white people who, before the Civil War, had no slaves. It is difficult to decide upon their origin, but they are certainly of mixed descent. It is said that they come, at least in part, from a colony of Minorcans planted in Florida by Governor Oglethorpe in the eighteenth century. Thirty years ago they were a very degenerate race, living in rough log or frame cabins in the depths of the piney woods. Each family had a small patch of corn (maize) and sweet potatoes. For the rest, they lived by shooting, fishing, or trapping. Some owned great herds of scrub cattle. One, a neighbour of mine, told me that he owned over eight hundred cattle, yet this man had never tasted fresh butter in his life, and I don't believe he had ever drunk fresh milk. The cattle were a poor lot, and were generally killed for their hides. Their beef was almost uneatable. The cracker women used to chew snuff—a horrible practice which left them toothless at thirty. Very few could read or write, and one used to hear extraordinary stories of the savage feuds which prevailed among them.
There were two clans—the Mazells and the Barbers—who had an hereditary quarrel. The men used to ambush one another with guns or rifles until at last there were only three Mazells and one Barber left. The Mazells, so the story runs, laid for the surviving Barber, caught him, tied a keg of nails to his legs, and dropped him into a deep lake. And that was the end of the Barbers. Even in my day there was still a certain amount of shooting. One day, when fishing in a boat on a lake, I was unpleasantly surprised by the crack of a pistol from among the thick growth on the shore and the nasty ping of a bullet close above my head. I lost no time in dropping into the bottom of the boat, but there was no second shot, and presently I thought it safe to pull rapidly away. I was not aware at the time of anyone who disliked me sufficiently to put a bullet into me, and, thinking it over, put it down as simply a silly practical joke. But listen to the sequel. A few days later I rode into Winterpark to get the mail, and my way took me along a track leading through the thick hammock bordering the same lake where I had been fishing. There was a thick malarial mist, and I went through at a sharp canter. As I reached the higher ground beyond I heard a gun-shot behind me, but paid no particular attention. I thought it was merely a nigger after a 'possum. I tied up my pony outside Ergood's store, which was also the post office, went in, and stood chatting while the mail was sorted.
Suddenly a young American came riding up at full gallop. "Say, there's a man been shot over in the hammock by Lake Virginia," he shouted. We all poured out. The marshal (policeman) was summoned, and, with him in charge, we went to investigate. We found a man lying in the road with his head shattered by a charge of buckshot. He was a cracker from a settlement on Lake Monroe, four miles away, and the place where he lay was only a few yards from the spot where I had been fired at. There was strong suspicion that he had been shot down by a man with whom he had quarrelled over a girl, but it was impossible to obtain proof, and the murderer, if murderer he was, went free. But the latter had been seen hanging about in this particular hammock on two days previously, and I have wondered if he was the same gentleman who took the pot shot at me.
The old-fashioned cracker was not a pleasant neighbour, for he had no sense of meum and tuum. He was worse than a 'possum in the chicken yard, and would raid whole sackfuls of oranges from a grove during the owner's brief absence from home. But, even before I left the State in 1894, a great change was coming about. The Education Authorities were getting hold of the rising generation, and by this time the old, bad cracker is practically extinct.
Negroes—"coloured people" is the polite term—far outnumbered the white population. I confess to something of a liking for the nigger, particularly the old-fashioned sort that could neither read nor write. Lazy fellows, yet good workers when put to it; always cheery, and showing their wonderful white teeth in the broadest of grins. So skilful, too, with axe and hoe! When I first moved to my little property the grove was full of old, dead pine-trees—stark, ugly, rotting relics. How to get rid of them was the question, for it looked as if it was sheerly impossible to fell them without smashing the growing orange-trees to smithereens. A negro named Ki Johnson, whom I consulted, smiled at my qualms. "Ah'll cut dem down, sah," he promised. "Ah won't hurt none ob dem orange-trees. You gib me a quarter apiece, and Ah don't get no pay ef I breaks a orange-tree." I agreed gladly, and inside two days the dead trees were down and not a single branch broken from a orange-tree. A man like Ki would drive a peg into the ground by felling a tree so as to drop exactly upon it. There was a negro settlement at the end of the lake, a mile from my place, so I could always get help when I wanted and could afford it. Wages were a dollar and a quarter (five shillings) a day, but by far the better plan was to bargain on a piece-work basis. If I wanted rails split, firewood cut, or a ditch dug, I could always get a nigger to take on the job for a lump sum, and I have known a man cut a whole strand of wood (ordinarily speaking, a good half-day's work) before breakfast. An old nigger mammy used to do my washing. One day the wash did not return on the usual day, so I rode down to see what was wrong. I found aunty, who was nearly as broad as she was long, standing under a shelter of palmetto leaves smoking a black clay pipe, and scrubbing away steadily.
"Where are my things, aunty?" I asked.
She looked round. "Dere's two coloured gentlemen come to de settlement dis week," she told me, "and yo' white men will hab to wait."
In Florida, as elsewhere, the Englishman usually gets on well with the negro. The two seem to understand one another. The old-fashioned Southern gentleman, who was usually of pure Anglo-Saxon origin—he, also, could always handle the negro, and the relations between the two were very pleasant. It is the Yankee who has done most to spoil the coloured people. It is no use attempting to educate coloured children on the same lines as white. The two races are fundamentally different, and the "black man and brother" theory never did, and never will, work. But I am getting on to very contentious ground, and had better, perhaps, say no more on this particular subject.
Queer fish—Remittance Men—Boyce and the Borrowed Grove—Macallum and The Alligator—Some Quaint Ladies
IT was poor luck for me that the place which my father had bought for me was so far from any of my fellow-countrymen. It was three miles from Winterpark, five from the county seat of Orlando, and quite six from the big English settlement on Lake Conway. Around Lake Conway there were at that time nearly a hundred English people—a few families, but mostly young fellows who batched it, either alone or in couples. There were also a good many English folk in and around Orlando, among them the two who ran the English Club. One of these was an old Marlborough boy, the other an old Cheltonian, and they were among the few who made any money. It was the custom for us all to ride into Orlando on Saturday afternoon and meet in the club, where we drank quantities of excellent iced lager beer and played billiards or pool on the only full-sized English table which existed in those days in South Florida. We supped in one of the restaurants, where a capital meal was to be had for a quarter (one shilling). Even the best hotel—the Magnolia—charged but fifty cents for supper.
Living, I may say, was wonderfully cheap in those days, which was as well for us, for we were all precious hard up. You could buy Florida beef for as little as five cents (twopence halfpenny) a pound, and, since anyone could grow all the sweet potatoes he could eat, there really was no reason for anyone to starve. The best tobacco, seal of North Carolina cut plug, cost sixty cents (half a crown) a pound, sound rye whiskey could be had for three dollars (twelve and sixpence) a gallon, and other things were in proportion. The only expensive matters were horse feed—all imported from the North—and clothes. But clothes did not worry us much, for a flannel shirt and an old pair of riding-breeches were the regulation attire, and store clothes were only needed during the short winter season, and then but occasionally. In summer the less clothes one wore the better. I have seen a man ploughing his orange-grove dressed in an old suit of pyjamas. When the heat and the flies became too trying he left his horse to graze while he ran down to the lake and jumped in, pyjamas and all, to come back a few minutes later, dripping but refreshed.
Most of the English orange-growers were steady-going fellows who were making a real effort to gain a living from the soil. But among so many we had all sorts, and some were very odd characters. One whom I particularly remember was the perfect type of a remittance man. I do not know why he left England, but it was probably for his country's good. At any rate, his people had banished him, giving him a hundred a year, paid monthly, and five acres of land. He loathed the country, and vowed that nothing would ever persuade him to grow an orange-tree, and he refused to clear even enough of his land to make a garden. He built himself a two-roomed shack in the thick of the pine-trees, and lived with no company but a bulldog and a squirrel. All his books were law books, from which it was inferred that he had once been a lawyer, but no one knew for certain, and it was not considered the thing to ask pertinent or personal questions. When his cheque was due, Lane, as I will call him, walked into Orlando, and his first care was to buy enough food and tobacco to keep him for the month. Then he went to the club or the nearest saloon and blew the rest. He was, at best, a sombre, reserved sort of person, and the more rye whiskey he absorbed the more silent he grew. When the last dollar was gone he walked home, and remained in seclusion for the rest of the month.
Lane was the means of nearly finishing my career, and this is how it happened. One Saturday night I met at the club a friend named Vivian, who asked me to spend Sunday with him at his place at Conway. "I'm flush," he told me, "and I've hired a buggy from Bob Hyer to take us out." The buggy, drawn by two fine Kentucky horses and driven by a nigger, arrived for us about eleven, and we started out. I remember that it was a brilliantly moonlit night, and, for Florida, rather cold. A mile out of town we saw a huge, gaunt figure seated on a log beside the track, his chin on his hands, which were resting on a heavy walking-stick. "It's Lane," said Vivian, and, ordering the nigger to pull up, asked Lane if he would like a lift. Without a word Lane got in, and we drove on. We had gone some distance, and were on a slight slope where the track ran down to a small lake, when, without the slightest warning, Lane sprang up, and, with a hideous yell, smote the off-side horse over the quarters with his stick. In an instant both horses were running away. Vivian and I seized Lane, flung him down, and sat on him, but the mischief was done, and the horses, quite beyond control, were galloping, hell for leather, down towards the lake. There was nothing to do but sit tight and pray hard. Next instant we were in the lake, but, happily for us, the water was shallow and the bottom firm, so, with our help, the nigger managed to check the horses before they got too far in. Soaking wet, but otherwise none the worse, we pulled back on to the track and reached Conway in safety. But Lane was showing symptoms of D.T., and, as I realised that he could not be left alone, I decided to stay the night with him. A beast of a night I had, too, for there was no firewood cut, and, cold as it was, I could not light the stove until daylight enabled me to go out and use an axe.
The sequel is the oddest part of the story. Returning to Orlando on the following Monday, I met Bob Hyer, the livery keeper, looking very solemn. He told me that the horses had turned up about two in the morning, but without the buggy or the nigger. The buggy was found in the woods, smashed to atoms, but of the driver there was no trace. Nor was anything ever heard again of that nigger, and to this day no one knows whether he is dead or alive. Lane, it seems, must have left a bottle of tanglefoot in the buggy, which the nigger found and finished. Then, presumably, he lost control of the horses, and they bolted again. But whether he was flung out and killed, or whether he was merely so scared that he decamped, remains a mystery.
Another queer fish was a gentleman whom I will call Boyce. Like me, he was a parson's son, and, when he arrived in the State, was every bit as green as I. But presently he developed great skill at games of chance, especially poker, and became also a first-rate shot and billiards player. Such pursuits do not tend to success in orange-growing, and, anyhow, Boyce voted any sort of farming a bore. So, when his father sent him a thousand pounds to buy a grove, he found other uses for the money. A year or so passed, and one day Boyce appeared in the club with a very long face. "Here's a devil of a mess," he told us. "My father has just written to say he's coming out to Florida for the winter. He wants to see how my grove is getting on. The deuce of it is I can't stop him, for he's started already." A shout of laughter interrupted him, but Boyce did not laugh. When the first merriment had died down a man named Dane spoke up. "All right, Boyce," he said, "I'll lend you my grove. I'm going over to Havana for three months," he explained, "and if you'll live in my house and look after it, you can have my grove while I'm away, and tell your father it's yours." He turned to us. "You chaps will back him up," he added. Of course we promised, and a week later Boyce was installed upon Dane's place, while the rest of us waited on tiptoe of expectation for the arrival of papa. But Boyce Senior never turned up. He got as far as New York, where he caught a severe chill, and, after a fortnight in bed, went straight back to England. I have often wondered what would have happened if he had arrived, and once I went so far as to make the incident the subject of a short story, which I called The Pinelake Conspiracy.
Later, Boyce came in for a fifty-pound legacy, and decided to visit New York. Boyce, I should explain, had a round, innocent face, and no one could possibly have mistaken him for anything but a Britisher. It was the off season, and the only other passengers on the boat out of Savannah were four "drummers" (commercial travellers), who at once settled down to poker in the little deck smoking-room. For the first day Boyce watched them in silence, and apparently none of them thought it worth while to speak to him. On the second day the sea was rather rough, and one of the drummers remained in his cabin. To make anything of a game at poker four players are needed, and one of the three survivors enquired of Boyce if he would care to come in. Bashfully Boyce agreed, but at the same time protesting that he was no expert. "I don't reckon any of us ever supposed you were," returned the drummer rather drily. Of the exact course of events during the next two days I have no record; but this I do know—that, instead of spending one week in New York, Boyce bought a first-class ticket to Liverpool on a Cunarder, and was away for rather more than three months. Those drummers, I fancy, were afterwards cautious about inviting youthful and innocent-looking Englishmen to share their amusements.
Years afterwards—I think it was in 1898—Boyce turned up one day in my London office, looking stouter, but still cheery. "I heard you were in town," he said, "and you're just the chap I want. Can you come to a dance to-night?" Anxious for a yarn with Boyce, I agreed, and he told me to meet him at six-thirty at King's Cross. From King's Cross we took train to a station some twenty miles north of London, where a well-appointed carriage met us and whirled us out to a large house, where we were hospitably entertained to an excellent dinner. After dinner the carriage took us to the dance, which was held in a big hall, and everything done in first-rate style. About two in the morning a special train took us back to London, and Boyce and I parted very cheerfully, he promising to come and look me up on the following Saturday. But he never appeared, and I have not since seen or heard of him.
Another queer fish was Lorton. He was a little shrivelled person of uncertain age, who had spent his youth—and, I presume, his money—in London. He had been one of the Piccadilly "mashers" in the early eighties, and he still wore an eyeglass and had the old trick of shooting his cuffs. He was "stony broke," and made a living by cooking for two other men with whom he lived. I liked him, and once asked him to stay the night and come to a dance at the Seminole Hotel at Winterpark. He turned up on a borrowed pony, with a dress suit, a relic of his youth, in his saddlebags. It was made of that old-fashioned glossy cloth, and, from being tightly rolled up, had developed a million wrinkles. I shall never forget his quaint appearance under the brilliant electrics of the big parlour where we danced. I introduced him to a plump little American girl, whom he led into the centre of the room and twirled round and round until she was so giddy that she sat down flop on the floor, bringing him with her. She was not pleased with me.
The stories of stingy Scots are as numerous as they are libellous to a kindly and hospitable nation. The meanest man I ever met was of English extraction, and lived in Florida. A friend of mine, a big, burly man of enormous muscular strength, was out duck-shooting one day in a boat upon a lake, when, in some way, the gun was accidentally discharged, and nearly blew its owner's left arm off. The accident was seen from the shore, and the sufferer was quickly brought to bank and carried into the nearest house, the residence of the mean man, where he was laid upon the parlour floor while his rescuer did his best to stop the bleeding. A doctor was at last fetched, the dreadful wound was properly bandaged, and the injured man taken to hospital. Before he recovered he received a bill from the mean man for the price of a new sitting-room carpet—"spoilt by your bleeding over it," ran the missive.
Speaking of Scots, there was one named Hugh Macallum who had a pretty place near Winterpark, but who always struck me as the last man who should ever have come to a new country. His house stood on rising ground above a small circular lake, which was perhaps a quarter of a mile across. The whole of the shores were planted with orange-trees, and there were several houses facing the water. One day Macallum's nigger came running up. "Dar's a mighty big 'gator down in de lake," he exclaimed. "Cain't yo' shoot him, boss?"
Macallum was the proud possessor of a rifle—an old Snider belonging to the Dark Ages of the British Army, a weapon of great weight and with a kick like a mule. Armed with this, he hurried down to the lake, and there, sure enough, the ridged back and bony head of a large alligator showed, floating on the glassy surface, out in the middle of the lake. Taking careful aim, Mac pulled the trigger, and a roar like that of a small cannon sent the echoes crashing along the lake-shore. "Did I hit him?" gasped Mac, rubbing his bruised shoulder.
"No, sah," said the nigger. "Dat dere gun throws high. Yo' went a big way ober him. Ah seed de bullet jist a-skippin' ober de water. Ah guess—" He pulled up short. "What's dat?" he exclaimed.
"Dat" was a sudden bellow of wrath from the opposite side of the lake, and from among the orange-trees a very tall, burly man, followed by a woman and a tribe of children, came running down to the water's edge. The man was carrying some large, round object, and Mac and the nigger and the rest of us stood watching in paralysed silence as the big man and one of the boys got into a boat and came pulling furiously across. They soon reached our side, and the man—he was a big, ugly cracker named Marriner—jumped out and came striding up to Mac. Under one arm he carried a large clock, and this he thrust under Mac's nose. "Gol dam ye!" he began furiously. "Look at that!" Mac looked with horror at a gaping hole in the clock face, while Marriner forcibly expressed his opinion of "blamed fools as shoots off guns without a-knowing whar the bullet's a-going." What had actually happened was that the heavy Snider bullet, ricochetting from the surface of the lake, had gone right through a window of Marriner's house, passed over the heads of the family, who were eating their midday meal, and buried itself in the clock. I don't know how much it cost Mac to square Marriner, but he was very sad for days afterwards.
Macallum had a brother-in-law named Harold Johnstone, who ran his place for him. Johnstone had knocked about in South Africa and elsewhere, and was a delightful companion and a very great friend of mine. He was a wonderful musician, and had all the old Gilbert and Sullivan operas by heart. Anything he had heard once he could reproduce on the piano. In summer, when Macallum was away, Johnstone stayed South and looked after the grove, and I often went over and spent the night, for the place was less than two miles from mine. The next house to Macallum belonged to two elderly American ladies, Miss Brown and Miss Macluer. They had been missionaries in their youth, and had retired to end their days in sunny Florida.
Johnstone had an old black horse, commonly known as the Polished Skeleton, and with this he used to plough the grove. His language as he ploughed was more peculiar than picturesque. It was just a habit he had picked up, and meant nothing at all, but it must have been a bit terrifying to those who did not know him as I did. One day, when I turned up, I found him looking puzzled and rather annoyed. "I say, Bridges," he remarked, "those two old women have gone crazy. Look at their windows!" I looked, and saw that the two windows of their house facing the Macallum grove had been covered with brown paper pasted over them.
I roared with laughter. "It's your language, Johnstone," I told him. "It's the way you talk to your horse. I told you there'd be trouble." Johnstone was quite upset, but, happily, matters righted themselves. A few days later Johnstone, working in the grove, heard shrieks from the lake-shore, and, running down, saw little old Miss Macluer hanging on desperately to a fishing-rod. She had apparently hooked something so big that it was on the point of pulling her into the water. He seized the rod and landed a three-foot alligator, which had taken the old lady's bait. This gave a chance for explanation and apologies. The brown paper was removed, and all went well. But the old ladies themselves were a source of endless amusement to the rest of us. They had a small jack donkey, to which they were greatly devoted, and which they used, not only to drive, but also to cultivate their grove. I have watched them ploughing, Miss Brown holding the plough-handles, while her friend walked alongside the donkey, holding over its head a large green umbrella, presumably to save it from sunstroke.
Another quaint old lady with whom I had a good deal to do was a Mrs. Sweetapple, who owned a large grove, a feeble husband, and a pretty daughter. She also had a Swedish maid who was an excellent cook. One night Mrs. Sweetapple was awakened by a sound of voices, and, getting out of bed, went to the window. The maid's room was over the kitchen, and presently she became aware that a man was standing beneath the maid's window and talking up to her. The man's voice was that of Ezra Tuckett, a neighbour of Mrs. Sweetapple, and it was clear that he was trying to persuade the maid to leave her present employ and come to work for his wife. Burning with indignation, Mrs. Sweetapple hurried downstairs, and returned carrying a large and over-ripe water-melon. This she flung from her own window with such good aim that it hit Tuckett on the back, just between the shoulders. When Tuckett recovered a little, he found himself flat on the ground, soaked to the skin with the squashy contents of the melon, and in the most filthy mess imaginable. Mrs. Sweetapple preserved a stony silence as from her window she watched him sneak away.
Mr. Sweetapple was afraid of his wife, and usually her obedient slave. One day she ordered him to mend the roof of the barn, and, as usual, he did as he was bid. At twelve Mrs. Sweetapple sallied out. "John, it's dinner-time," she said. "You come down."
"I'll come when I've finished," replied John.
"You come right now," ordered the lady; but for once John proved recalcitrant.
"I'll finish first," he answered.
Mrs. Sweetapple said no more, but, going into the barn, put the harness on her old horse, attached him to the buggy, and drove off to Orlando, where she stopped at the house of Sheriff Anderson. Anderson came out—a big, quiet, bald man with a long, tawny moustache.
"Sheriff," said Mrs. Sweetapple, "I want you to come right back home with me. John's gone crazy."
"John gone crazy!" repeated Anderson in amazement.
"Yes, he's surely crazy. He won't do what I tell him."
Later on I did some work for Mrs. Sweetapple, but that comes later in my story.
Some Small Adventures—Wilton and The Alligator—Swimming in a Dress Suit—Locked Out in the Rain—The Death of Tom Stanley
MAN, it is said, was not made to live alone, and certainly living alone is a dull business for a youngster not yet twenty years old. To get up and cook one's own breakfast, to go out to work, to come in for lunch, go out and work again, to end the day by cooking a solitary supper, then reading until bedtime, is the sort of life that a boy may stick for three or four days at a time—but hardly more. It was not so bad when one was really busy about the place, for then one was so tired that one slept like a log, but in summer, when things were slack in the grove, and when, in any case, it was too hot to work between twelve and three, it was pretty trying. The men in the settlement at Conway could always visit one another's houses in the evenings, but, as I have explained, my place was miles from Conway, and I had no near neighbours. Sometimes a week went by without my exchanging a word with another human being. It must be remembered that there was no delivery of post, no newspaper, and that books were rare and hard to come by.
For the first year of bachelor life on my grove I had not a pony, so wherever I went had to be on foot, and let me tell you that walking on roads ankle deep in dry sand is an exhausting sort of amusement—particularly so in summer, when the day temperature rarely falls below seventy-eight degrees, and is more often ten degrees above that figure. Even so, I usually footed it into Winterpark two evenings a week, where I collected my mail, if there was any, and chatted with the postmaster or one of the storekeepers. In those days I walked considerable distances. On one occasion I tramped sixteen miles to Clay Springs, through the pine-woods, and, after spending the night with some friends, walked back next day. Sixteen miles is a fair walk on a made road, but try it on a dry, sandy beach—a fair counterpart of a Florida road in the last century.
Now and then a friend—Harold Johnstone or Vivian, or a young scapegrace named Hudson—would arrive at my place to spend the night. These were great occasions, when I spread myself on cooking a top-hole supper, and then afterwards we sat out on the verandah smoking corn-cob pipes, twanging an old banjo, and singing all the songs we could remember.
Later, when I was able to buy a pony, things were better, for even in summer I could ride away in the evening to some friend's house for supper. There was no need for an invitation. You simply turned up and took pot luck. If there was nothing else, you could always open a tin of bully beef, and make a dry hash of it with potatoes and onions. This, with a pot of tea and a dish of stewed prunes, formed a typical Florida meal. Our chief amusement in summer was a weekly poker-party, and there were six or eight of us who gave these in turn. The guests turned up a little before sunset, and the first amusement was a clay pigeon shoot. Then at sunset we all bathed. Florida has the finest bathing in the world, for everywhere are lakes of the clearest soft water, and there are very few days in the year when one cannot enjoy a swim. At half-past six we supped, then settled down to cards. The limit was small, and the losses or gains proportionate to our minute incomes. About midnight we broke up, and rode home through the pine forests.
I had a man staying with me named Wilton, who owned a queer-tempered pony called Dixie. One hot summer night he and I rode down to supper with Jack Milton at Conway, and, as usual, tied our ponies to the hitching-posts outside the house, took off their bridles, and fed them there. When we came out, we found that Dixie had broken her halter-rope and departed. It was a moonless night, but the stars gave light enough to see that she was grazing by the edge of the lake, so three of us went quietly down to surround and catch her. She heard us, looked around, and at once plunged into the lake and swam to a little island, about fifty yards out, where she landed and began to graze again. Wilton, whose temper was never of the best, was extremely annoyed. Using language fit to make the lake boil, he stripped off and went in. But the moment he reached the island Dixie slipped off the other side and swam away to the far edge of the lake. Wilton, without a rag to protect his skin from the swarming mosquitoes, fairly danced with rage, and swore for five minutes on end without once repeating himself, while we roared with unsympathetic laughter. But we had to join in the chase, and I don't think any of us were laughing when at last, after two hours of hard riding, we rounded up that wretched beast in a pelting rainstorm.
Wilton was a Roman Catholic, and once a month went off early on Sunday morning to Mass. On one of these mornings I got up just in time to see him riding off, and I noticed that, although it was midsummer and sweltering hot, he wore a dark suit, a stiff collar, and a hard black bowler hat. My house was within thirty yards of a small, deep lake, and the track led out on the left through a wooden gate close to the water's edge. Wilton had carefully opened the gate beforehand, and he rode through it at a brisk pace. He had short, thick legs, which stuck out almost at right-angles on either side of his saddle, for he rode with short-leathered iron stirrups, English fashion, instead of following the custom of the country, which was to use long leathers and broad wooden stirrups. Towel in hand—for I was just going down to bathe—I stood on the verandah and watched him, smiling a little at the odd figure he cut. The grass was long and thick by the lake-side, and, as I watched, something moved in it, and instantly Dixie, who was going at a good canter, went up in the air with a most amazing twisted buck-jump. Wilton left the saddle and fairly few into the air, falling, head foremost, actually on top of a six-foot alligator, which was travelling at the top of its speed for the lake. In falling, Wilton's hard hat jammed over his eyes, and there he was, quite blinded, mixed up with the alligator, while Dixie, with her tail straight up, went off into the woods at the rate of knots. I don't know which was worse scared—Wilton or the alligator—but the alligator was the first to get out of the tangle, and I saw it flop into the lake. Weak with mirth, I reached the spot in time to extricate Wilton from his hat, and then he turned on me and cursed me as if it was all my fault. The more he cursed the more I laughed, and it is a mercy that he did not go for me, for, if he had, I could never have defended myself. Poor Wilton, he was never meant for orange-growing; and presently he pulled up sticks and left for Chicago, where I fancy he did pretty well.
That little lake of mine was the scene of several small adventures. One winter night I had been to a dance, and rode home, very weary, about two in the morning. It was my custom to walk my pony the last half-mile, so as to cool him, then to ride down to the lake and water him before feeding and bedding him down. The lake, as I have said, was deep, but there was one particular spot where it was shallow, and there it was that Texas always drank. Perhaps he was thirstier than usual on this particular night, or possibly I was sleepier. At any rate, he went to the wrong spot, and, the next thing I knew, the bank had given way and he and I were floundering in eight feet of distinctly cold water. That did not matter much, for we could both swim. The serious part of it was that I was wearing my dress suit, my only dress suit, without which there would be no more dances that winter, nor—since a new dress suit was quite outside the possibilities of my purse—any other winter, so far as I could see. I was out in a twinkling, and Texas had sense enough to swim to his usual watering-place and scramble ashore. I flung off his saddle and bridle and turned him loose in the paddock, then hurried into the house, lit a lamp and a fire, and, stripping off my soaked garments, set to work to dry them. I think I worked over them most of that night and nearly all the following morning, and, though they were never quite the same again, they were, at any rate, wearable.
There was another night when I got very wet, but on that occasion I was not wearing dress kit. It was during the rainy season, and I had been to Orlando to do some shopping. I came back a long time after dark, with my saddlebags full, and, just as I got to my gate, it began to pour. I put up the pony, and, carrying the saddlebags, ran back to the house. The key was in its usual place, on a ledge above the back door, but, reaching up in a hurry, I knocked it down, and it fell to the left, between the inner and outer wooden skins of the wall. For a moment I was utterly dismayed; then I remembered that one of the upper windows had a broken catch and that there was a ladder in the barn. By the time I had fetched the ladder it was raining literally in sheets, and black as ink. I could hardly see my hand in front of my face, but somehow I got the ladder in position and started up. Half-way there was a sharp crack, a rung broke, and down I went with a crash that knocked all the wind out of my body, but, luckily, broke no bones. I had to carry the ladder back to the barn, then by matchlight—for my lantern was in the house—mend it as best I could.
When at last I gained the window and got into the house I was as wet as if I had been swimming. But my troubles were not yet over, for, when I unpacked my saddlebags, I found that my Sunday joint was in such a condition, owing to the heat, that it would not keep till morning. So there and then I was compelled to light a fire and stay up until I had it cooked, when at last I was able to put my weary self to bed.
Talking of being caught in the rain, on one occasion four of us went down into the flatwoods, quail shooting. It was winter—the dry season—and it had no business to rain, yet rain it did, and so furiously that the whole country began to flood, and we took refuge in an old shack, which, being built on posts, was above the water. The roof leaked a little, yet we congratulated ourselves on getting under cover, and made up our minds to spend the night there. Our congratulations were premature, for first one, then another, began to fidget and scratch. "The darn place is stiff with fleas," said young Hudson, and there was no one to contradict his statement. Since sleep was out of the question, we up-ended an old packing-case, and on this played poker with a pack of cards which one of the party happened to have with him. Having no money and no chips, we used gun-wads extracted from our cartridges, marking them with different values. Towards dawn, when we were all desperately tired and sleepy, there was a strange noise under our feet, and the floor heaved ominously. As we bolted out, a herd of razorbacks, the half-wild swine of the Florida woods, rushed, grunting, into the nearest bay-head. We knew then where the fleas came from.
One night, when I was quite alone in my house, I was roused by a loud knocking, and, jumping up in a hurry, found an old chap, called Berry, on the verandah. Berry lived just across the lake from my place, and looked after a grove belonging to the very same pupil farmer under whom I had suffered during my first year in Florida. He did little himself, for all the real work was done by a quaint old Irishman named Tom Stanley. "Tom's bad," Berry told me. "I reckon he's dying, Can you go for the doctor?"
We hurried back, to find poor old Stanley lying on a mattress on the floor, breathing heavily, and quite insensible. I took the best mule they had, and rode away through the starlit night. The doctor, so called, was merely a chemist, and I had a job to rouse him. Then I had to find a buggy to drive him out. He could do nothing. Old Tom was evidently dying, and I stayed with him till the end. He was one of the best, and it grieved me sadly to see him go. What a story that old man could have written, if he had been able to write! Bits of his life that he told me at odd times were full of amazing adventure. Once, for instance, he had driven the dead-cart at Panama during the first and futile French attempt to cut a Panama Canal. He had sailed every sea in the world; he had been in every sort of craft, from small fishing-boats to great four-masted schooners. Once he had spent nearly three years on a whaler, and on another occasion he had been wrecked on an unknown part of the wild coast of North Australia. Though quite uneducated, he was full of curious lore, and very wise about accidents. Once, when a drop of hot lime splashed into my eye, and I was in agony, he forced my eye open and cleaned the lime away with his tongue. It is quite likely that by so doing he saved the sight of that eye. God rest him!
I have mentioned being fired at when out fishing. There was a second occasion when I narrowly escaped being shot, but that was an accident. A party of us had been to Winterpark on a summer evening, and I was rowing back across Lake Virginia with two sisters named Abercrombie when we heard a shot fired.
"It's Mr. Wright out after alligators," said Emma Abercrombie.
"I wish I knew just where he was," I said rather uneasily. "I can't see his light."
Alligators, I should explain, are killed by fire-hunting. You carry a lantern on your head and shine it into the eyes of the alligator, then you let the beast have it, either with a shotgun loaded with buckshot or a rifle bullet. We pulled on; then, all of a sudden, as we approached our landing-place, a small, bright light appeared from out of a small bay, and, before I could even shout, a heavy report crashed out, and buckshot came spattering past so close that one or two pellets actually struck the boat. How we shouted! And how I talked to Master Wright when I got him to myself, ashore! I hear that the Florida alligator is now nearly extinct, except in the Glades and in the heart of the big swamps, but in my time they were plentiful enough. I never heard of one tackling a man, but they took pigs and dogs. I have seen an alligator enticed within shooting distance by a man who was able to imitate to perfection the whining of a puppy.
The closest call I ever had during my nine years in Florida was from lightning. In spite of the fact that there are thunderstorms almost every day for four months of the year—that is from June to September—it was very rarely that one ever heard of serious damage being done, and in all my time in the State I never once knew of anyone being killed. My own experience was, however, rather startling. It was during my first year of servitude as a farm pupil, and I was ploughing in a large grove with one horse. The heat was intense, and the daily storm was in sight, coming up across the lake. It was a most impressive sight, for the huge arch of blue-black cloud was edged with a mass of vapour, white as cottonwool, which rolled and tossed in the strangest fashion. In the darkness behind, lightning, blue and white, writhed and wreathed, while the growl of thunder was continuous. A line of snowy foam showed on the inky mirror of the lake, and, aware that the storm was almost upon me, I unhitched the trace chains, fastened them up to the harness, and, driving the horse in front of me, ran back for the barn. I lost the race, for the rain caught me while I was still fifty yards from the building, and instantly soaked me to the skin. The horse was frightened, so I stood between him and the open doors of the big barn, doing my best to soothe him. Crash—crash! came the thunder, while the lightning glared blue-white through the rain mist.
A minute later there was an explosion which I can only compare to that of a bursting shell, and I just remember falling backwards and seeing the horse in the air above me as he leaped clean over me. Some minutes must have passed before I came round, for the floor of the barn, which had been dry when I fell, was now half an inch deep in water. I felt very dizzy, and one leg was numb. But I was able to struggle up, and my first anxiety was for the horse, a valuable animal. I found him standing shivering under a pine-tree, about ten paces from the barn, and the tree itself was split from top to bottom. What had knocked me out was merely a return shock, increased by the fact that I was soaking wet. I was all right again in a day or two, but I may as well confess that since that occasion I have never enjoyed a thunderstorm.
The freaks of lightning are most curious. A Florida friend of mine was shaving in his bedroom, which was above the kitchen. Lightning struck the stove-pipe, which was not more than fifteen feet from the window. It wrenched the razor from my friend's hand and flung it all across the room, while he himself felt as if someone had struck him a heavy blow with a boxing-glove. Yet, like me, he was none the worse.
Upon another occasion—this in England—lightning struck a house on one side of the road near which I was living and set it afire. At the same time it tore a flagstone clean out of the floor of the kitchen in a house on the other side of the road; while a third effect of the same flash was to completely upset the spring which gave water to both of these houses, causing it to run thick and red for some hours afterwards.
Football in Florida—Tennis and Polo—How Towns Keep Their Birthdays—Fish Small and Great—Sea Monsters—The Best Beach in the World
IT is said that wherever Englishmen settle, the first thing they do is to form a club, and the second to make a cricket pitch. Well, we had our club in Orlando, and we did make a cricket pitch. But, oddly enough, cricket never flourished, and was played even less than football. Rugger, with the thermometer in the seventies, is a strenuous amusement, but I took part in several matches at Orlando. One I particularly remember, which was played against an English team coming from the Gulf Coast. Our ground had been allowed to grow up in coarse grass, and the only way to get it cleared in time was to burn it off. Since the weather was dry and hot, this left the surface covered with a fine layer of black ash, which rose in clouds around each scrum. Very few of us possessed footer kit, and what remained was mostly moth eaten. People turned up in all sorts of queer garb. One wore pyjamas; another was in breeches and long brown riding-boots; the majority wore dungarees or ducks cut short, and ancient flannel shirts.
The players were as various as their clothes. We had two old Blues, one, d'Aeth, having been a famous man in his time at Cambridge. There was a fair sprinkling of people who had been in their public school fifteens, and the ruck were youngsters who, like myself, had never even scraped into their house teams. All the beauty and fashion of Orlando rolled up to watch, and the game, if rather slow, was fiercely contested. At the end of the first ten minutes the first casualty occurred, and a man was seen lying flat on his face in the middle of the ground. A linesman ran out, but what he brought was not a first aid outfit, but an overcoat. It was not the player who had been injured, but his clothes. His nether garments, badly moth eaten, had given way under the strain of a scrum, and the only thing the poor lad could do was to lie on the ground and wait until cover arrived.
Tennis was the favourite game. We had courts in Orlando on Lake Lucerne. These were made of clay and were quite fast and good. The Seminole Hotel at Winterpark had its own hard courts, and there I have had many a good game. There were also a few grass courts at Conway. On land that is nothing but loose sand, it might be supposed that the making of real turf was cut of the question, and so it would have been but for that wonderful plant known as Bermuda grass. Bermuda grass does not come from Bermuda, but owes its name to a certain Captain Permoody who introduced it into the States. Like the Marram grass, which binds the dunes on our own East Coast, Bermuda grass has the property of driving its fine roots five or six feet below the surface, so that it can survive months of drought, while it also binds the sand firmly together. The result is a good mat of turf which, carefully cut and rolled, makes a quite passable tennis court.
But our great game was polo. In or about the year 1890, polo ground was made at St. Augustine, and one of our crowd who had seen play there came back keen as mustard. In all the colony there was only one man who had ever played polo, but we called a meeting, and enrolled nearly every person present as a member of the new club. The next thing was to get a ground. Land was cheap, and we found a piece of prairie which gave us ample room, and bought it for a small sum. Then the club themselves turned out and cleared it. We burnt off the grass, dug out the stumps, marked out the boundaries, and started. We all had ponies, and the only things we had to buy were mallets. We actually made our own polo balls out of palmetto roots. The first game was a most amazing performance. Some of the ponies took to it as keenly as their masters. But they were too keen, and bit and kicked one another savagely when after the ball. Others went clean mad with excitement. One bolted slap into a lake, disappearing in a cloud of foam, another departed into the woods and raked his rider off against an overhanging branch. But inside a month they had all come down to it, and every Friday afternoon the whole colony met on the polo ground and either played or watched. I never saw people so keen. It was quite a common thing to meet a youngster cantering along through the woods, mallet in hand, whacking a home-made ball along in front of him. We had our reward, for, only two years after the club had started, we sent a team to St. Augustine, who actually beat an American team of Northern players. To-day golf is one of the great games in Florida, but that came later. I think golf did not begin in Florida until about 1899.
There was a very good racecourse at Orlando, and almost every little town in the State had its own race meeting. Down at Kissimmee, thirty miles south of Orlando, the yearly meeting attracted great crowds, and there was always a barbecue with free food for all comers. On one occasion when I attended this meeting I backed all the wrong 'uns, and, when I got back to the hotel, found that I had just enough left to pay my bill, but not enough for my railway fare back to Orlando. It looked as if I should have to tramp the ties, in other words, hoof it back up the railway track.
We had a couple of hours to wait for the train, and a man I knew, who came from down Tampa way, challenged me to a game of pool. I had just half a dollar left, and he offered to play me a cent (a halfpenny) a ball. I am quite sure that I never played so well before or since. Before train time I had taken a dollar and a half off him, and went back in comfort in the day coach.
Englishmen may be every bit as patriotic as Americans, but they have little of that civic pride which is so evident in the United States. Every little town in Florida kept its birthday, and very amusing celebrations they were. At a little place called Oakland, on Lake Apopka, the town's birthday was kept with a barbecue, a football match, sports, and a tug-of-war. The match was played in the main street, a wilderness of sand some sixty or seventy yards in width, and the tug-of-war held outside the railway station. This was between eight Englishmen and eight Americans, and I have to confess that the Americans won. They were about the biggest eight men I have ever seen. The best of the show was the barbecue. There is no beef to compare with that of a fat ox roasted whole over a wood fire. Of course we all had good appetites, but I never remember better meat.
Of sport there was plenty, especially of fishing. I have fished since I could walk, but I shall never again catch fish as I used to in Florida. Florida is a country of lakes and rivers. There are thousands upon thousands of lakes, from tiny little scrub ponds where the water is so clear and the bottom so white that you can see every fish in them, to great inland seas such as Apopka, Tohopekaliga and Okeechobee. All these lakes hold fish, particularly bass, which are of two sorts, the large- and small-mouthed. There are also pickerel, bream, catfish, mud-fish, great armoured gar-fish which grow to five feet in length, and others too numerous to mention.
It is the bass that give the best sport. The bass will rise to a fly, and will take a spinning bait, but is generally angled for with a live bait, a sort of minnow called a "shiner." It is a fine sporting fish running up to eight or ten pounds in weight, and puts up an excellent fight when hooked. In winter you could generally be sure of a dozen good bass in an afternoon's fishing, and I have often had double that number, averaging, perhaps, a pound and a half apiece. They are excellent food fish, though not so good as the red-throated bream, which is the best fresh-water fish I have ever eaten. It was great fun to put my old flat-bottomed boat on a set of waggon wheels, and drag it down into the woods to some little lake where, perhaps, a boat had never before floated. Then if conditions were good the sport was simply wonderful. Bass are best cut into collops, which are rolled in corn-meal or cracker-crumbs and fried in boiling fat. Pickerel can be cooked in similar fashion, but bream should be split and grilled.
Florida sea fishing is famous the world over, and whole books have been written, to say nothing of countless magazine articles, on the subject of the "Silver King," the lordly tarpon. Since I lived in the very middle of the peninsula, and rarely had the time, or money, to visit the sea, I know comparatively little of the salt-water fishing. Still, I have caught channel bass off the Ormond beach, mullet in the Indian River, and various sea fish off Tampa. When I had that memorable holiday at the Tampa Bay Hotel, a yacht came in belonging to Winthrop Rutherford, a member of the old Knickerbocker family of that name. Winty, who was a tall, quiet man, and a most delightful companion, was an old acquaintance of mine, for I had met him on several occasions at Winterpark. He brought in a tarpon which he had caught that same morning after two hours' fight. It was six feet seven inches in length, and weighed one hundred and sixty-six pounds. Its scales, which had the gleam of new-minted silver, were as large as dollars. The pity is that this magnificent fish is useless for food, and any specimen which is not set up is usually buried under the nearest orange-tree. Winty had with him his brother Louis and his wife. She was one of the handsomest women I ever saw, and had two charming boys, who, years later, were both killed in motor accidents. Mrs. Louis was a great fisherwoman, and on one occasion hooked a hundred-pound sand shark, and killed it single-handed.
The Indian River, that curious salt-water inlet which runs for more than one hundred miles down the Atlantic coast of Florida, is full of fish. Once when staying at Coronado Beach I walked back across the isthmus to fish off the railway bridge crossing the river. There was another man fishing there, a Northerner, who told me that this was his first visit to Florida. He began by getting a couple of mullet, then he hooked something else, and, hearing him call out, I went across to find that he had pulled up a sea-parrot, a globular beast covered with spikes, and armed with a parrot-like beak. Its captor regarded it with dismay, and seemed relieved when I told him that it was quite useless, and that he had better chuck it back. Time passed, and I was busy hauling in a sheep's-head, when there came a yell behind me. This time the Yankee had got hold of a small hammer-head shark, than which nothing uglier swims the sea. It lay flopping on the boards with its horrid eyes glaring at each end of its hammer-shaped head, and the American gazed down at it with absolute horror on his face. "Gosh," he said, "but I'm sure fed up with nightmares. I guess this is where I quit." And there and then he packed up and went home.
The hotel we stayed in at Coronado faced the sea, and at night one sometimes heard a dull booming sound resembling that of a big gun fired out at sea. This was caused by one of the great rays, which have a playful habit of leaping six feet out of the sea. For an instant the fish hangs poised, winnowing the air with its monstrous fins, then falls back flat upon the water. Seeing that the creature is about the size of a dining-room carpet, a foot thick, and weighs a ton, the crash with which it falls may be imagined.
One beauty of the Atlantic coast is that the bathing is so safe, for there are no sharks—no man-eaters, at any rate. The reason given is that the Arctic current, sneaking down the coast, here comes inside the Gulf Stream. This, too, is the reason for the delicious coolness of the Atlantic beach. Even in August the shade temperature rarely rises above seventy-eight degrees, while three miles inland it will be ten or twelve degrees higher.
The Gulf Coast is much hotter, and here sharks swarm. If you want to bathe you must stick to shallow water or else run the risk of getting gobbled up. There are other nasty fish besides sharks. One of these is the barracouta, which the negroes fear much more than they do the shark. The creature grows to six or eight feet in length, and is built like a pike. It has long jaws armed with terrific teeth. It was one of these brutes which attacked a young American girl swimming off Palm Beach some years ago, and bit her so badly that she died from loss of blood. In the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico live monsters which have never been classified, and of which little is known.
In the spring of 1923 Captain Charles H. Thompson caught, off Miami, a creature which greatly exercised the minds of American naturalists. It was forty-five feet long, weighed thirty-three thousand six hundred pounds, and had a hide three inches thick. Its mouth was immense, its tongue was forty inches long, and it had a great number of teeth. When opened, it was found to have dined on a four-hundred-pound octopus, a black-fish weighing one thousand five hundred pounds, and in its stomach was also found nearly five hundredweight of coral. It belonged to no recognised species. It was suggested that this was one of the creatures of the abyss which had been flung up by some submarine convulsion.
The Gulf is immensely deep, and, at times, masses of raw petroleum have been found floating on the surface. What lives in these depths no one knows, but Mr. Mitchell Hedges's recent explorations have opened our eyes to the fact that there are real sea monsters quite fit to match some of those manufactured by fiction writers. I met Mr. Mitchell Hedges one day at luncheon at the Savage Club in company with Mr. Rose Macleod, then literary editor of the Daily Mail, and found that he talked as interestingly as he writes. He is a tremendous enthusiast on big fish, and I sometimes wish he would confine his energies to that subject, instead of using them to hunt buried cities. Speaking of sea monsters, there were stories afloat of big octopods on the Florida coast, but, personally, I never saw even a small one. In 1897, however, there was washed up on the beach near St. Augustine the remains of an octopus far bigger than anything ever before seen or heard of. Only a part of the creature remained, yet this part weighed over six tons. It was examined by Professor Verrill of Yale University, who calculated that the living animal must have had a length of twenty-six feet, and a girth of twenty-five feet, with arms seventy-two feet in length, provided with suckers the size of dinner plates.
The late Frank Bullen was a member of the Savage Club, and I once had a long chat with him. I asked whether there was any foundation in fact for his story of the battle between the sperm whale and the giant decapod in The Cruise of the Cachalot, and he, while admitting that personally he had never seen such a battle, told me that an old whale man of his acquaintance professed to have done so. He said, too, that he had seen big sperm whales killed which bore on their hides great scars which must have been caused by the suckers of the monstrous devil-fish, on which the sperm chiefly feeds.
The beach which runs south from St. Augustine down to Jupiter Inlet has no match in the world. It is so straight that, standing on any part of it, you look north or south to see it fade into the blue haze of distance. The sand is so firm and hard that you can play tennis on it, and there is not a pebble or a shell on which to cut your bare feet. It is backed by a low, sandy bluff, crowned with saw palmettoes which rustle harshly in the sea wind, and fronted by an everlasting line of snowy breakers falling in mellow thunder on the bar. It is here that, ever since 1903, the great motor speed trials have taken place, and speeds of over two miles a minute have been attained. In my time motors were still undreamed of, and even bicycles had not yet reached Florida, so the long stretches of yellow sand were still empty, and one could walk for miles without seeing a living soul. The bathing is simply magnificent. Inside the bar is smooth and shallow water, perfect for children to play in, and on the bar itself one can dive headlong through the warm green surf, and swim far out on the heaving surface of the Atlantic.
The first time that I visited the beach I got up early and hurried down for a swim. In a few moments I was through the breakers and lying floating beyond them, cradled on the great smooth swells. It was so delightful that I lost all sense of time, and it was only when I began to realise that breakfast must be nearly ready that I thought of returning to land. When I did at last turn inwards, I had the shock of my life. The hotel opposite which I had gone in seemed to have vanished. I looked and looked, and saw it nearly two miles away to the northward. There was nothing for it but to tramp back up the beach, and when I arrived, very late for breakfast, I was told that, at certain stages of the tide, a strong current sets southward along the coast, and that I was not the only one who had been tricked by it.
The only objection to such a beach is that there can be no boating, for there is no inlet or harbour in which to keep boats, and in bad weather the waves break right up to the foot of the bluff. But a mile back is the Indian River, which is as perfect a place for yachting or small boat sailing as can be imagined. More than a hundred miles long, it is from a mile to two miles in width. There are no rocks or reefs, very little tide, and, while there is usually a sailing breeze, there is seldom too much wind. Nowadays, so I hear, wealthy Northerners have built houseboats on the Indian River, where they live all the winter long, enjoying a perfect climate and all kinds of sport. The man who set this fashion was the late Mr. Pierre Lorillard, who used to bring a whole establishment south with him, and who even had a separate houseboat to act as stable for his horses.
Florida as a Winter Resort—Her Climate and Crops—Insect plagues—The Odd Results of an Attack of Ague
THE winter of 1925-6 saw a boom in Florida, the like of which has not been witnessed since the gold rush to California in 1849. Besides the million or so of regular visitors, who came down from the North to escape the snow and frost of the American winter, there were six hundred thousand more who camped out because they could find no roofs to shelter them. Near Miami, on the Gulf Coast, there were no fewer than thirty camps, sheltering, in all, some eleven thousand people. Since there is no gold or other precious metal in Florida, those who do not know the State are apt to wonder what possible object brought all these boomers flocking into the State. The answer is in one word—climate.
Ask an average stay-at-home Englishman what he knows about Florida, and his reply will probably be, "Oh, isn't that the place where they had the big freeze that killed all the orange-trees?" That is, of course, perfectly true, for the frost of 1894-5 blasted the whole State, and, as a matter of fact, chilled even Louisiana end the West Indies. But this is the sort of phenomenon that happens once a century, or even less often as that. We have records, remember, of ice-floes in the Mediterranean, snow in Jerusalem, and the freezing up of the Bosphorus. In point of fact, Florida's climate is perhaps the most wonderful in the world. California his not only frosts—precious severe ones—but fogs and bad droughts. Also, a great deal of the State is practically desert, with burning hot days and very cold nights. I should not dare to write in this strain if I ever intended visiting California, but facts are facts, and anyone who has studied the actual range of temperatures at, say, Los Angeles, will back me up in my assertions. California, of course, has a good many climates, for it is not only much bigger than Florida, but is also a mountainous country, whereas Florida has no elevation greater than about five hundred feet.
Florida is rather larger than England and Wales put together, and its northern portion is, of course, somewhat cooler than the southern, yet, taking it all round, I can repeat that there is no other land lying on the edge of the tropics which is so pleasant and healthy to live in all the year round. Being a peninsula, and lying between a hot sea and a cool one, the air is hardly ever still, and the hottest summer days are rendered bearable by the breeze, while the nights are invariably cool. In the whole of my nine years in the State I never knew a night when, even if I went to bed under a sheet only, I did not require a blanket before morning. Of course the summer is hot. All parts of the Northern Hemisphere in the latitude of Florida have a hot summer, yet when I remember that Orlando is in about the same latitude as Cairo, the contrast in favour of the former is startling.
In Florida summer begins in May, and you often get a couple of weeks of hot, dry weather in that month. Then, as the heat increases, so do the clouds. Each day they grow thicker, until at last thunder growls, and with a rush and a roar the first storm breaks in a cooling deluge. After that, and right on up to September or October, there is rain practically every day. For days on end the storm will break each day at twelve, then it will shift to three in the afternoon, or even come later for a few days at a time. Till the storm breaks the air is close and heavy, but after it the rest of the day is much cooler. Then too, owing to the fact that the soil is all sand, water never stands about, and, except in the swamps, there is never any feeling of dampness in the air. In October the rain ceases, the air begins to cool, and from then on to April the weather resembles that of a perfect English June with an occasional touch of October. Now and then there is a dull wet day, after which the wind shifts north-west, the sky clears, and it turns quite cool for a day or two, with, perhaps, a touch of ground frost. But these breaks are rare, and as a rule the Florida winter is day after day of blue sky and brilliant sunshine, while always in the dry air is a faint scent of turpentine from the immense pine forests.
Fully half a century ago the people of the North began to realise the charm of the Florida winter climate, and big hotels began to rise first in the north of the State, then, as the railways crept downwards, farther south. St. Augustine, on the Atlantic coast, was the first of the winter resorts, and here Mr. Flagler, who was one of Rockefeller's first associates in Standard Oil, built the really beautiful Ponce de Leon Hotel. Since there is no building stone in Florida, this was constructed entirely of a concrete made, I believe, from coquina or coral rock. Next, Plant took hold, and, running the South Florida railway clear down to Tampa on the Gulf, built the magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel, of which I have spoken in an earlier chapter. A little later, Palm Beach was opened up, and to-day Palm Beach possesses not only the finest hotels in the State, but also the most luxurious private residences.
The Seminole Hotel at Winterpark was typical of the earlier days of tourist enterprise in Florida. Three hundred feet long, and four stories high, it was built entirely of wood, yet was fitted with every luxury. It had a vast dining-room, a great parlour where there was dancing every night to the music of the hotel band, a good billiard-room and bar, lifts, private sitting-rooms, and a kitchen equal to that of any New York hotel. There were fine grounds sloping to the lake, where a large boat-house had been built out over the water. The hotel accommodated some two hundred guests, and was full from Christmas almost up to Easter. You met there people from almost every State in the Union, as well as Canadians and English. Many Boston and New York people came there year after year. Even forty years ago Winterpark was but forty-four hours by train from New York, a journey only one-third as long or expensive as that to California. You met every sort, from the real American aristocracy, such as the Rutherfords and Stuyvesants, down to the newest Chicago millionaires, and even a fair sprinkling of absolute adventurers.
One of the latter I well remember was a fascinating little lady, who managed to rope in a wealthy young man fresh from Harvard, with more money than brains, and get engaged to him. When his people heard of it they came down in a hurry and carried him off. But the little lady stayed on. I feel sure that the cheque she received was more than enough to keep her in luxury for the rest of the winter. The Westinghouses of brake fame were among the patrons of the Seminole. Mrs. Westinghouse was a very handsome woman, and her dresses matched her appearance. She brought with her her boy, who looked miserably bored in a wonderful velvet suit. One day this youngster was decoyed away from his coloured nurse by two small American boys named Schultz. I don't know what they did to him, but I happened to see him on his return to the hotel. He had evidently been in the lake, for he was dripping wet, and, not only that, but he was covered from head to foot with the black mire of the hammock, "muck," as we called it. Poor little lad, he never had a second chance of getting off on the spree.
The Seminole was burned down some twenty years ago, the almost inevitable fate of these great wooden buildings. It must have been a wonderful sight, for the whole thing was of pitch-pine, and must have blazed to heaven. I hear that my own dear little shanty has shared the same fate. Fire was an ever-present danger, not only to the house, but to the orange-groves. In winter the coarse wire-grass, which carpets the pine forests, gets dry as tinder, and a dropped match means acres, perhaps miles, of fire. These fires are not as a rule serious, unless the fire gets into a dry swamp or a bay-head. Then, with a bit of breeze, there is all the makings of a first-class forest fire. One of my earliest experiences in Florida was fighting such a fire. Forty acres bordering a swamp had been planted in young orange-trees, and, just before the winter ploughing, fire got into the swamp, and, by the time we reached the spot, the fence was alight, and the flames working right up into the grove, much of which was covered with dry weeds and grass. There were only four of us to act as fire fighters, and we had to beat the flames out with wet sacks. The heat was bad, but the smoke worse, and for days afterwards my eyes were sore and inflamed.
On my own place I once had a nice scare. In the south side of my grove was a big lake bordered by a bay-head—that is a thicket, in this case about fifty yards wide, of evergreen bay tangled with a mass of creepers. I had been cutting out and burning some stumps on that side of the grove, and at twelve had gone back to the house for luncheon. It was a perfectly still day, and I had not dreamed of danger from fire. Suddenly I heard a most terrifying roar, and, rushing out, saw the bay-head all ablaze. One of those little wandering whirlwinds had come spinning across the grove, and, picking up a bunch of burning embers, distributed them among the bay-bushes. The flames were rising about forty feet into the air, and the heat was so terrific that I could not approach nearer than fifty feet. There was nothing to do but let it burn out, and incidentally destroy a large portion of my fencing. An interesting point about forest fires in Florida was that scores of beautiful little hawks—"killy-hawks" we called them, and they were no bigger than English thrushes—gathered above, catching the insects which were driven up by the flames.
In my day in Florida all our eggs were in one basket, for we grew practically nothing except oranges. The Floridian of to-day knows better, and Florida is rapidly becoming the market garden of the United States. There is no vegetable which cannot be grown in Florida, from potatoes to tomatoes, and from celery to lettuce. There is also an enormous and constantly growing small fruit industry. The great score about vegetable growing in Florida—truck farming as they call it there—is that the crops come in just at the time when prices are highest. Strawberries, for instance, ripen in February, and I have picked green peas in the last week in January. This is one of the main causes behind the present land boom, for out of five acres of Florida soil well cultivated a whole family can make a comfortable living. Celery is one of the biggest crops, and whole train-loads of string beans (dwarf beans) go north towards the end of each winter. It is practically glass-house farming in the open, and the profits are proportionate. The banana industry, too, is profitable, and there are wide areas where pineapples can be grown with success.
Down at the south end of the peninsula the great swamp known as the Everglades is being steadily drained and turned into sugar plantations. It is, I believe, a fact that sugar cane grown in this State carries an unusually high percentage of sugary juice. The swamp called the Everglades is a strange place. It is rather a shallow lake than a swamp, and, during the rains, can be traversed in any direction by boats. It fills the whole of the toe of the State, and its level is only a few yards above that of the sea. Thousands of small islands, covered with dense thickets, dot the Everglades, and on these live the few survivors of the Seminole Indians. These Indians are rarely seen, for very wisely they keep to themselves, and have as little as possible to do with their white neighbours.
Another advantage which Florida possesses is her comparative immunity from insect plagues. Comparative, I repeat, because insects are plentiful and prolific in all hot countries, and house-flies are a nuisance there as they are elsewhere. But flies can be kept out by wire gauze screens over the doors and windows, or even by darkening a room. There are also midges in profusion, which are a pest out of doors in summer. They do not bite, but swarm in such numbers that they almost blind you. The remarkable part of the country is its immunity from mosquitoes. There are, of course, plenty of these abominable insects, but they stick to the swamps and lakes. Up in the high pine-lands there are so few that, even on a summer night, one can sit out on the verandah without getting seriously bitten, while mosquito nets, though useful, are not really necessary. One result is that there is very little ague in the State. Those who live there all the year round may get an occasional attack of chills and fever, but, if you are careful to keep out of the swamps after sunset, you may live a lifetime in the State without ever being afflicted with fever.
Speaking of this disease reminds me of a rather amusing episode. Near Winterpark there lived an old Southerner named Alperton, who was one of the mildest mannered men alive. He was a widower with two daughters. A man named Barter wanted to marry the younger of these girls. He was a big, handsome brute with some money, and the girl, Millie, was fascinated by him. Old Alperton loathed him, but was far too courteous to express his opinion, or to tell Barter that he preferred his room to his company. So Barter turned up day after day to take Millie buggy riding or rowing on the lake, or to sit on the verandah with his chair very much next to hers. One evening I had some business with the old man, and went over to see him, but his elder daughter met me and told me that her father had a chill on him. She asked me to come in and have some supper, and I accepted the invitation. After supper Barter turned up. I disliked the man as much as Alperton did, and while he and Millie sat at one end of the verandah, the other daughter and I went into the sitting-room. It was a hot night, and, of course, all the windows were wide. Suddenly came a voice, a great roaring voice: "Barter! You, Barter, get right out of this!" There was a horrified silence, then the voice again. "You dog-gone son of a gun"—I paraphrase, for the real expression was far stronger—"you hear me. You quit right now or I'll burst you to pieces." I hurried out to see old Alperton, with his mild blue eyes blazing with unnatural fire and his white beard bristling, leaning out of the window and glaring at Barter whose face, in the lamplight, was singularly pale.
"Parpa, what are you saying?" enquired the horrified Millie.
"I'm telling that there gol-durned skunk to quit my house right now," replied her furious father. And in point of fact the skunk did quit—and with speed. I got the old man back to bed, and in the morning he had no memory whatever of what had happened. It was the fever burning in his veins which had momentarily swept away what psychologists would call Alperton's inhibitions, and enabled him, for once, to express his real opinions. At any rate, Barter had quit for good.
Rattlers, Moccasins, and Other Reptiles—Night Life in the Florida Forests—Judge Mazell and the Orange Thieves—An Exploit of Sheriff Anderson
THE late Mr. Ingram Fletcher, one of the best-known men of his time in South Florida, and for a long time postmaster of Orlando, once told me that he had shot for nearly twenty years in the Florida woods and never once met a rattlesnake. Though I was in the State less than half that number of years, I was not so fortunate, for I have encountered many rattlers and killed not a few. The great diamond-back rattlesnake of South Florida is a terribly poisonous reptile, and not very uncommon one, yet in all my time in the State I only knew of two deaths caused by this snake. One was an old cracker whose name I have forgotten, the other an Englishman named Bosanquet. To do the rattler justice, he is never out for trouble, and it is only when you happen to step on him accidentally, or corner him deliberately, that he strikes. The moment you come into his neighbourhood he starts his danger signal, his uplifted rattle quivering with a tremor so rapid that the sound resembles that of the chirring of a giant grasshopper. The worst of it is that the snake is a bit of a ventriloquist, so that it is by no means easy to tell from just which spot in the undergrowth the sound comes. Another warning given by this snake is its scent, which is exactly like that of fresh-cut cucumber.
Natural-history books tell you that the rattlesnake grows to an extreme length of six feet. I have, however, killed one slightly exceeding that length, and have seen one that was no less than seven feet ten inches in length. This monster was caught at Oviedo and exhibited, alive, in Orlando. There are two sorts of rattlesnake in the South, the big diamond-back, which is generally found near water, and the much smaller ground rattler which lives in dry places. But the latter is equally poisonous as the diamond-back.
One day, when cutting cabbages to take to market, I was within an ace of being struck by a ground rattler which was coiled under the spreading leaves of the vegetable, and on another occasion I had a close shave of being bitten by a much larger snake. This time I was hoeing water-melons, the runners of which covered the whole ground, when I heard a sharp rattle. For the life of me I could not tell where the snake was. The rattling went on and on, and, as I did not dare to move, I began probing about with my hoe. Suddenly a triangular head shot up out of the thick green leaves, struck viciously at my hoe, missing my hand by a bare foot. The next strike was done by me, and when Master Snake was good and dead I discovered that, though only five feet ten inches long, this snake was the thickest I had ever seen. He was so old that he was almost black, while his rattles, of which there seemed to have been fourteen, were badly broken. Like other snakes, the rattler is at home in the water, and I once saw one swimming across Lake Osceola where it is quite half a mile wide.
Another unpleasant reptile is the moccasin, a sluggish, venomous water-snake which is common in the swamps. I once counted nine of these nasty snakes coiled on a small patch of mud at the mouth of a creek. The closest call I ever had was from a moccasin. The lake was high and we had made a rough board walk to reach the boat-house. This was simply two pine trunks laid parallel and connected by planks nailed across them. One day, as I ran across this plank walk on my way to dive into the lake, I was conscious of something striking up from the mud below at my bare feet, but it was not until I had dived in and come up again that I saw the bloated form of a large moccasin coiled beneath the planking. How the creature's fangs had missed me I cannot understand. I shouted to a friend on shore, who ran to the house and fetched a gun. He fired at such close range that he blew the snake's head off, and, flying into the air, it dropped into the water close beside me. Oddly enough, this scared me a great deal worse than my previous narrow escape. On another occasion, when I was wading in a cypress swamp, trying to find a tree fit to make a mast for a boat, a moccasin actually struck me. Luckily for me I was wearing heavy knee-boots which its fangs could not penetrate. But the strike was exactly like the strong peck of an angry hen.
The biggest Florida snake is the coach-whip, a perfectly harmless creature which seems to live mainly on rats, and which you will often find in outbuildings. Once, when I was particularly busy, I hired a German boy named Oscar Kunz to help me for a week or two. The first morning after he came I sent him to the barn to feed my pony, while I turned my attention to cooking breakfast. Presently a ghastly shriek rent the air, and as I ran out I saw Oscar racing wildly towards the house, but before he reached it he fell down in a sort of fit. Even when I got him round it was some time before he could talk coherently, but at last I made out what had happened. He had picked up a bundle of hay to put in the pony's rack, and, in doing so, had picked up with the hay my pet coach-whip, which had speedily escaped across the back of his bare neck. I don't think I blame the boy for being scared, but I was unwise enough to give him a stiff drink of whiskey to pull him round. After that he threw fits every day until the whiskey and my patience both gave out and I sacked him.
There was a snake which we called the chicken-snake, which was a nuisance. It grows to about seven feet long and is a constrictor. One day I saw one coiled in front of a wretched hen, and the hen, absolutely fascinated, crouched quite motionless. If I had not reached the spot when I did, I should have been minus one of my best laying fowls. The niggers have the firmest belief in what they call a hoop-snake. This creature, according to their story, has a spike in its tail which is as poisonous as the fangs of an ordinary snake. The hoop-snake's method of attack is as strange as its build, for it lies in wait on a hillside, then, when its prey approaches, takes its tail in its mouth, forms itself into a hoop, and rolls downhill at great speed until it reaches its victim, when it straightens out and spikes him with its poisoned tail. A nigger once showed me a dead tree at the bottom of a little hill which he solemnly swore had been killed by a blunder on the part of a hoop-snake.
The thing that strikes you most strongly about the Florida pine woods is their silence and emptiness of life. There are very few birds and still fewer animals. I speak, of course, of the daytime, for in the dark there is plenty of movement. Among the few animals which you do see in daylight is the skunk, and a more pernicious creature one seldom meets. Beautiful, yes—for, as every woman knows, the skunk provides lovely fur. But it also provides a smell, a smell so awful that there are no words to describe it. The only way in which I can convey any idea of its horror is to say that a mere whiff of it will make most people deathly sick. And the skunk knows it and acts accordingly, for it shows no fear whatever of man, and many a time I have seen one amble along the road ahead of me, forcing me to either check my pony to a slow walk, or turn aside and go some other way.
The worst of luck is to meet a skunk when out shooting, for if you get your dogs "skunked" there is an end to the day's sport. No setter or pointer has any nose for game for twenty-four hours or more after being skunked, and the poor beast has to be kept well away from the house for a full week afterwards. Water won't take away the smell, and, if you get the gruesome fluid on your clothes, the only thing to do is to burn them. The skunk is a terror in the chicken-yard, and another of its unpleasant peculiarities is that it is apt to get hydrophobia. But not in Florida. One of the advantages of Florida is that hydrophobia is unknown in the State, whether among tame animals or wild.
Another creature you may see in daylight is the large fox squirrel, which is at least twice as big as the English red squirrel. Down in the hammocks, as they call the hardwood forests around the lakes, you see red squirrels very like our English ones. Also the flying squirrel, which is quite the prettiest thing that lives. It is the smallest of all the squirrels, has a coat like finest grey velvet, and large luminous eyes. Of course it does not actually fly, but the way in which it planes or glides through the air is perfectly wonderful. You see one of these little chaps come out of the top of a tall pine, and, spreading the membranes between hind and front legs, swoop downwards for thirty or forty feet, then plane upwards again, and land safely in another tree quite two score yards away.
It is at nightfall that the Florida woods arouse to life. At dusk the whip-poor-will sets up its curious cry, while its cousin, a bird of the same order, calls constantly "chuck-will's-widow" in startlingly distinct tones. Down in the lakes the bull-frogs start booming. Newcomers to the State can never be brought to believe that a frog can make so much sound, and frequently insist that the noise-maker must be an alligator. The din along the lake-shores on a night in the rainy season must be heard to be believed. Tree-frogs, crickets, katydids, and a whole host of other insects unite in a chorus which is so loud that, literally, you cannot hear yourself speak. One tree-frog, a tiny green chap, bleats exactly like a lost lamb. Fireflies gleam everywhere along the edges of the lakes. Each insect gives a blue flash once in a few seconds, and the effect, when there are hundreds in a swarm, is very beautiful. All sorts of prowlers are afoot. Opossums, racoons, wild-cats, foxes hunt at night, and there are larger creatures too.
One night during the rains I was roused by a barking of dogs, and, getting up quickly and dressing, ran out to meet my old friend Judge Mazell, accompanied by his nigger and a pack of dogs, crossing my place. The dogs were hard on the trail of a panther, which, however, got away into a big bay-head. The judge told me that he had heard a noise in his chicken-house, and, going out, had suddenly seen a big panther leap up on top of a tall wooden fence. "The darn brute was within ten feet of me," he groaned, "and I hadn't got a gun."
Old Mazell was a great character. A tall, raw-boned, bald-headed man, he had lived in Florida all his life, and had many strange adventures in the old days of the Indian Wars. He owned a very fine orange-grove, which lay on the edge of Lake Mazell, close to Winterpark. One winter day his daughter told him that she had seen some waiters from the Seminole Hotel stealing oranges in the grove. The old man grinned. "I'll fix them," he said, and went off. He was just in time to see the men bundle a sack of oranges into the boat and row off. "You come right back," he ordered.
One of the men put his finger to his nose, another burst out laughing. "Say, what sort of fools do you take us for?" enquired a third.
"I guess you better come back," insisted Mazell.
"What do you reckon to do to us if we don't?" jeered one of the thieves.
"You'll mighty soon find out," was the answer.
"The old bird's loony," said one of the waiters, as he got out his sculls and began to pull away. Mazell's fist went to his hip and came back grasping a heavy '44. The sharp reports cracked like a whip-lash across the lake, and, as the big bullets crashed one after another into the stern of the boat, exactly on the waterline, the terrified waiters yelled for mercy. But the judge kept on until he had emptied his pistol, and by that time the boat was so badly holed that it was sinking. The wretched waiters swam ashore, and stood dripping in the shallow water, afraid to come farther.
"Come right out," said the judge. "I guess you'd have found it cheaper to come before. That boat won't cost you a mite less than sixty dollars." It was noticeable that for the rest of the season not one trespasser landed on the shore of Lake Mazell.
I was very fond of Lake Mazell, where I got excellent fishing. One hot day, when the fish would not bite, I was loafing in the stern of my boat, smoking and half asleep, when I suddenly got the idea that someone or something was looking at me. Opening my eyes, but being careful not to move, I caught sight of an otter almost within arm's length of the boat, watching me with big, soft eyes. So long as I remained motionless the creature stayed where it was, but at the first move it sank down without a sound and vanished.
What a curious thing it is how one becomes sensitive to being watched. One hot summer day, when alone on my place, I was lying asleep in a long canvas chair, close under the open window. I had done a hard morning's ploughing, and was very tired. Quite suddenly I was awake and staring up at the face of a man who was leaning in through the window, and if ever I saw an evil face, that was it. The moment the fellow saw that I was awake he drew back. "Sorry, boss," he whined, "I was jest hunting round for someone to tell me the way. I'm plumb lost in these here woods." Of course it was a lie, for the man was a hobo, or tramp, looking for a chance to steal. However, I thought it best to pretend that I believed him, and, after setting him on his way, I trailed him until quite assured that he was not coming back. Tramps were rare birds in Florida in those days, especially in the country districts. Distances were so great and roads so bad that there was not much to attract them. Anderson, who was sheriff of Orlando, had a short way with tramps, for any of the breed found wandering in the town were at once rounded up and stuck in the calaboose (prison). Next morning the offender would be taken before Judge Butt and sentenced to thirty days—thirty days spent, not in the peaceful seclusion of the prison, but in the chain gang, cleaning the streets.
Anderson was just the sort of sheriff you read about in those stories of the Wild West which are now so popular. A square, strongly built man with a bald head, a walrus moustache, and eyes almost the colour of steel. He never said much, but, when time for action arrived, he was very much all there. On one occasion a negro, a big, dangerous brute, who had murdered a white woman with an axe, took refuge in a small swamp a few miles from Orlando. The criminal was armed with a Winchester repeating rifle, and boasted that he would not be taken alive. Anderson took a posse down and surrounded the swamp, then, armed only with a pistol, he went in. Anything more like suicide could hardly be imagined, for the swamp was thick as a hedge, and it seemed as if the negro had only to lie low and ambush the officer. But no shot was fired, and about an hour later Anderson came out again with the murderer, disarmed, walking in front of him.
Getting a Job—Rats and Bats—Champagne as a Cure for Jaundice—Freaks of a Hurricane—Orange Packing for a Living—The Great Frost of 1894
WHEN the year 1894 dawned I was plugging away much as usual on my grove. I had made a good garden, and my frame-built shanty, once so gaunt and bare, was covered with creepers and shaded with big oleander-bushes, which I had planted as cuttings no larger than lead pencils. But, in spite of the improved looks of the place, I was not making any money. My last crop of fruit had brought me in only forty dollars (eight pounds), not enough to pay for fertiliser. I was getting discouraged. I feel sure that there is nothing worse for any young man than to be in a position where he cannot make money or even a living by reasonably hard work. Insensibly he begins to think that there is no money to be made. It would have been infinitely better for me if I had never had a grove, but had been turned loose to make a living in any way I could. Having the place and knowing how much money my father had sunk in it, I felt it my duty to stick to it. Besides, I was very fond of it. When you have made a garden out of a wilderness with your own hands, you come to have a feeling for it which is different from any other feeling you will ever know. It becomes a part of you, and for years after I left Florida I constantly re-visited my grove in my dreams, and nearly always these were very happy dreams. Then one night some years ago I had a dream in which I was back on the place, but could not find my house. I wandered to and fro miserably in a fog of uncertainty, and woke with a sense of something desperately wrong. Some months afterwards I heard from a friend that my house had shared the usual fate of frame-built houses. It had been burned down.
To return to the events of 1894, the first was the sudden closure of the First National Bank of Orlando. It was here that I, in common with most of my fellow-countrymen, banked, and I was left with only the three or four dollars which I had in my pocket to carry on with. It was quite evident that I must get a job, but unfortunately a good many others were in the same boat as myself, and, in any case, jobs were not easy to find during the Florida summer. I happened to hear that Mrs. Sweetapple, the somewhat eccentric lady whom I have previously mentioned, was leaving for Canada, and wanted someone to look after her place while she was away. I landed the job, but the pay was beneath contempt. Still, there was not a great deal of hard work about it, and there was good grazing for my pony as well as for her old horse. She left and I moved in. The house was big and gloomy. It was surrounded by heavy orange-trees and huge clumps of bamboo. Also it was full of bats and rats. The very first night I was wakened by the cold feet of a rat as it walked across my face, and when I came down in the morning I found the brutes had eaten my bread, butter, and bacon to the last ounce.
That summer was fiercely hot, and for some reason—perhaps because I lived largely on mushrooms, of which there was a huge crop along the lake-shore—I fell ill. I got into a queer drowsy state, lost all appetite, and wanted nothing but sleep. I did the necessary work in the early morning, and slept almost all the rest of the time. Though at the time I did not know what was the matter, I was really suffering from jaundice. One evening a cheery, irresponsible Irishman, called Butler, turned up demanding supper. When I came out he stared at me. "What the blazes is the matter with you?" he demanded. "You're yellow as a guinea. Tell you what," he went on, "you've been sticking here too long. Come into town to-night. Martell is going north by the midnight mail to get married, and there'll be a great send-off."
The last thing I wanted was to go into Orlando, and so I told Butler. But he flatly refused to take no for an answer, and, going off into the grove, caught my pony, saddled him, and brought him round. I found myself riding, sulky and silent, alongside Butler, down the sandy track into Orlando. The club was full. Martell was standing champagne. I don't quite know how much I imbibed, but, after forming one of the crowd who saw Martell off by the mail, I rode back very cheerfully to my rat-haunted residence, slept soundly, and got up feeling comparatively fit. I did a hard day's work, fencing, and in a few days was quite well again.
That great heat ended with a hurricane. Hurricanes are not uncommon in the West Indies, but they do not often strike Florida. This was a terrifying experience. On the evening the storm broke I went to call on my friends, the Fletchers, at their house on Palm Lake, and as I rode back the night was black as pitch, with an occasional flicker of sheet lightning dancing across the sullen sky. Suddenly came a weird roaring sound which seemed to pass a good way in front of me, and a few minutes later my pony, a steady-going old sorrel, called Prince, pulled up short. It was so dark that it was literally impossible to see one's hand in front of one's face, and the lightning had ceased. But I knew that Prince would not stop without good reason, so I got off and struck a match. To my amazement a big, live oak was down all across the road. Blown down, too, yet I had felt no wind. I did not like it a bit, and, turning off in another direction, made the best of my way home.
Next morning I was roused by an indescribable din. It was blowing as I have never seen wind blow, and the great sixty-foot bamboos, which grew close to the house, were flogging the shingle roof like giant flails. When I went out it was impossible to stand, and green oranges torn from the trees littered the ground. Happily for us we were getting only the tail end of the storm, and by nightfall it had blown off, leaving the air deliciously fresh and cool. The rainfall during the twenty-four hours was something like eight inches, and some of the lakes rose as much as six feet. My own grove was badly damaged, and when I returned there in the autumn I began to realise that it was perfectly hopeless to think of making a living out of my oranges. The only chance seemed to grow vegetables, but for that I wanted capital which I had not got. Casting about for another job, I was offered one in an orange-packing house in Orlando, so once more I packed up and left my place—for the last time, though of that I had then no suspicion whatever. I got a room over the market place in Orlando, put some of my own furniture in it, and started in upon orange packing.
Entering a packing-house, you find yourself in a big room some sixty feet long and half as wide. Adjoining this are other rooms, not so large, where the boxes are put together and material for making them stored. One end of the main room opens on a platform to which runs a siding from the railroad; and on the siding stand one or two of the big "ventilated" or "refrigerator" fruit cars, used for conveying fruit all over America. At the other end is an open shed, under which one waggon after another, laden with newly picked fruit, is driven up and unloaded. Inside, all is bustle, and a heavy scent of orange peel and juice fill the air.
Along the centre of the main room is a sunken area, thirty feet long, ten or twelve feet wide, and two and a half feet deep; in this is the "sizer." The sizer consists of a great hopper holding, perhaps, three thousand oranges at a time, and kept constantly full by a negro; from this slope down two long bottomless troughs, each formed of two narrow slats diverging in such fashion that the small fruit fall through first, then larger, and so on to the end; endless cords, worked by a treadle, assist gravity in conveying the oranges down these slopes and keep the fruit from sticking or jumping. One trough is for the bright fruit, the other for the russet or dark-skinned. Wide lateral troughs branching from the main ones convey the oranges, as they fall through, to bins which are lined with sacking to prevent bruising.
Along the sides of the sizer, in the narrow passage between the bins and the raised floor, stand the packers; each has in front of him a stool, which raises the edge of his box to a level with the edge of the bin and is so constructed as to tilt the box slightly towards him; this keeps the oranges in position as they are laid in their places. The boxes are twenty-eight inches long, fourteen inches wide, and fourteen deep, divided in the centre by a partition, thus making each half-box a perfect cube. The packing is according to the size of the oranges: thus, the smallest oranges—which, of course, fall into the bin nearest the hopper—run two hundred and fifty to the box, and each side is packed five by five and five deep. The other usual sizes run two hundred and sixteen, two hundred, one hundred and seventy-six, one hundred and fifty, one hundred and twenty-six, ninety-six to the box—the one hundred and seventy-six size being considered the best size for market, while, in those days, the big ninety-sixes, now so valuable, were hardly worth paying freight on.
The packer picks up the oranges, as they fall, with his right hand, an operation which requires more care than one might imagine, as often a large flat orange will fall into a bin of smaller fruit, and, again, a slightly bigger orange is required for the corner of each layer. Any orange in the least damaged must be thrown out, for a single decayed fruit may ruin the whole box before it reaches its destination. At the same time that he picks up the orange with his right, with his left hand the packer seizes a sheet of tissue paper, and bringing both hands together, with a peculiar twisting motion, wraps the orange, which is then put in its place in the box; the paper is held in a rough wooden tray which is placed on the left-hand side of the box.
The rate at which skilled hands work is almost incredible. I have several times seen a man pack one hundred boxes in ten hours. Taking the average of oranges as one hundred and seventy-six to the box, this rate means wrapping and packing one thousand seven hundred and sixty per hour, an average of nearly thirty a minute.
For my own part, it was a week before I could pack as many as twenty boxes a day, and my hands got into a shocking state. The citrous acid from the rind of the oranges always plays mischief with the hands of the new packer. But, once I got my hands hardened, I quickly improved, and in another month had reached sixty boxes a day. Seventy-two was my top mark, and by the end of such a day's work my legs were like lead and my back one ache. My average earnings were about ten dollars a week, and my average number of hours of work nearly sixty. I got up, cooked my own breakfast, and was in the packing-house by seven. I worked till twelve, went to a restaurant for midday dinner, and with luck was able to leave at six, though, if a car-load had to be got off in a hurry, all hands went back after supper, and sometimes carried on till ten at night. I don't see the average workman of 1926 doing that sort of toil for two pounds a week. Still, I was making a living and saw a steady job before me, lasting up to the end of February.
That was a wonderful December. Day after day of weather resembling the best of an English June. All through Christmas week the temperature was each day in the seventies. Everything was growing. The gardens were full of flowers, the streets full of tourists. Old-timers had begun to talk of a new boom. On December 26th the cold-snap flag flew from the flagstaff over the Court House, and the papers said that a cold wave was sweeping down from the north. We were not unduly disturbed, for these snaps came every winter, and often two or three times in a winter. As a rule there were not more than two degrees of frost, and that, though it nipped the early beans and potatoes, was nothing serious. But on the 27th the temperature began to fall fast, and with it half a gale from the north-west.
That evening my friend Philip Fair and I had an engagement to call on Bishop Weed of Florida, and, coming back, we shivered in the bitter blast. I had no fireplace in my room and only two blankets on my cot. At midnight I woke, chilled to the bone. I put on all the clothes I could find, and lit my oil-stove. It was no use, for all the rest of the night my teeth were chattering with cold. In the morning I looked out to see nigger boys grey with cold, poking their toes at frozen puddles in the street. Few of them had ever before seen ice except in blocks from the ice factory. I went out, and the first man I met was an American friend of mine, Lawyer Jones. "Eighteen degrees of frost," he told me. "I guess we're finished." It froze all day in the shade, and next night, water spilled on the verandah was ice inside five minutes. The frost lasted three days, and at the end the whole country looked as if swept by fire. The orange-trees were black, the fruit lumps of yellow ice. As for pineapples, bananas, mangoes, guavas, and other tropical plants, they were all dead. Then the frozen oranges began to fall. In one great grove I saw four thousand boxes of magnificent fruit rotting on the ground. Here in England you cannot imagine the tragedy of it. Not merely the fruit-growers, but everyone in the State, from the grocer to the land agent, was utterly ruined. Groves, for which a week earlier two thousand dollars an acre had been asked, could now be bought for twenty. The amazing thing was the pluck of the people. The papers stated plainly that we had been foolish to put all our eggs in one basket, and besought us to turn our attention to other crops, and, instead of bewailing their fate, the Americans, one and all, set to discussing what crops they could best turn to.
For my own part, I made up my mind that I had had enough of orange growing, and that, as soon as I could raise the necessary dollars, I would clear out. A friend from New York State, who ran a small preparatory school, had offered me a job as assistant master, and I made up my mind to accept, but my difficulty was that for this I should need a better wardrobe than I had at the time, to say nothing of journey money. Since orange packing had come to an abrupt end, the question was how to raise the necessary cash, for in Florida work was now as scarce as money. For the next few weeks I went back to batching it with my friend Philip Fair, and then I got a letter from my father enclosing a draft for twenty pounds. He said that as Florida was evidently finished I had better come home, and, since my American schoolmaster friend had written to say that he would not want me until the autumn term, I was grateful for the chance. I felt that a few months in England would set me up, after my long spell in a hot climate.
It was in February—on the 10th if I remember right—that I finally left Orlando with a ticket for New York, and that very night another cold spell struck the unlucky State. As the train left Jacksonville it was freezing hard, and I shall never forget the wonderful sight of the full moon shining on acres of thin ice covering the swamps on the Georgia border. About ten that night the train stopped in a swamp, and the conductor told us that a coupling had snapped, and that the locomotive had gone on to the next station to fetch another. Meantime the heavy train, which had been left standing in a swamp, began to sink. From the windows we saw the water rising slowly over the metals, and as time went on it was clear that the whole permanent way was slowly sinking. The water was nearly up to the hubs of the wheels before at last our engine returned and, taking us in tow, dragged us to safety.
A Luckless Journey—A Small Accident and its Ugly Result—My First Attempts at Journalism
IN the course of a lifetime one looks back upon periods in which good or bad fortune have predominated. But, of all times in my life when ill luck dogged my footsteps, nothing has touched that journey home in 1894. The train that pulled safely out of the swamp in Georgia proceeded on its northward journey without incident until nearing Alexandria, in Virginia, when it stopped dead in a snowdrift. Virginia was in the grip of a veritable blizzard, and the temperature was actually four degrees below zero. We got out of one drift only to stick in another, and then the provisions ran so short in the dining-car that some of us got out, waded through the snow, and visited a village store, where we bought crackers (biscuits) and potted meat. Finally, we pulled into Washington at eight at night—nearly twelve hours late. I was getting nervous, for this was Friday night, and the steamer I meant to sail by—the Manitoba, of the Atlantic Transport Line—was due out on Saturday afternoon. Washington lay in the grip of winter. The Potomac was covered with huge ice-floes, and snow was piled high on each side of the enormously wide streets. "There's seven trains stalled ahead of us," the conductor told me. "If any of you gents likes to get dinner in the town, you can go ahead. We won't get out of here for two hours or more."
I had friends in Washington—the family of Mr. Lynch, who was at that time Secretary of the Treasury—so I decided to go and see them. The fashionable time for calling in the States is in the evening. First I got some food, then a tram took me nearly to the house, but I rang and rang without getting any reply. At last an upstairs window opened, and I heard the voice of Miss Lynch enquiring who was there. When I told her, she was full of apologies. "Everyone in the house but me is down with 'flu," she told me. "I don't think you'd better come in." So I regretfully said good night and started back for the train. Trams had stopped running, so I had to walk. I was tramping down a wide but deserted thoroughfare when out of a side-street emerged a huge and very drunken gentleman, who caught me by the arm. "Sho glad to meet you," he said. "Come and have a drink."
"I have a train to catch," I explained politely.
"No trainsh running to-night. Too damn cold. You come and have a drink." Holding me in a grip of iron, he started back down the side-street, dragging me I knew not where. I was worried, for it was now nearly ten, and if I missed my train I should certainly miss my boat. I resorted to guile. Pretending to be submissive, I waited till we were close to a huge snowdrift, then I put my foot in front of the large man, tripped him, and while he wallowed, bellowing, in the snow, ran for my life. I never saw him again. I got my train, which, by the by, stayed in the station all night and did not move until the morning. As we steamed out we bumped into something with a horrible crash and a force which sent me sprawling. I damaged my left knee quite badly, but how badly I did not know till long afterwards. "Next stop Philadelphia," the conductor told me. I was tired, and the coach was warm, so I drowsed off, and woke to find the train at rest. I knew I had to change at Philadelphia, so I wasted no time, but jumped off. Aware that it was now out of the question to catch the Manitoba, I had decided to stay over Sunday in Philadelphia, see some friends there, and push on to New York to catch another boat on Monday. I got into a hack, and told the man to take me to the nearest hotel, and, leaving the station, found myself driving up a steep hill on a sort of country road. I had never been in Philadelphia, but it struck me that this place did not much resemble my ideas of the Quaker City, so I called to the driver, "Is this Philadelphia?" He grinned broadly. "Philadelphia? You're crazy! This here is Wilmington, Delaware."
I gasped. "Get me back to that train and I'll give you double fare," I cried. He did his best, but we missed it by a minute. There were, however, two other trains in the station, and I got into one. Down upon me came a large, angry conductor, ordering me to show my ticket. "Here, this ain't no good to me. You can't travel by this train," he growled. I explained, but it was no use. A conductor is king on an American train, and I should have had to pay a fresh fare had not a young man come up at that moment and asked politely what the trouble was. I explained, and the way he squashed that cross conductor was pure joy. He told me that he had been specially sent by the company to look after passengers delayed by the blizzard, and that if I had been put to extra expense for food or lodging I should be indemnified. He was a delightful person, and with the most charming manners, and I only wish that our English railway companies would employ a few like him, and behave in similar fashion in case of accident.
It was quite late on Saturday when at last I reached Philadelphia and found a hotel. I dined, and went off to look for my friends, whom I luckily found at home. They were kindness itself, and at once phoned through to New York to find out about boats. To my surprise and delight I heard that the Manitoba had only reached port on Friday, having been delayed by the blizzard, and that she would not sail again until Monday evening. I spent a peaceful Sunday, and on Monday pushed on to New York. On visiting the Atlantic Transport Office, I was told that nearly all the passengers who were to have travelled by the Manitoba had gone by the boats on Saturday, and that I could have a saloon berth for forty dollars. Think of it, you who pay forty to fifty pounds in this year of grace 1926! I had a cabin all to myself, steam-heated, with electric light, from New York to London for eight pounds! There were only six passengers, all men, and the skipper was that fine fellow, Captain R. Griffith, who, only four years later, captained the Mohegan when she crashed into the Manacles and sank, carrying him and one hundred and six others with her to the bottom. Broke as I was, I ought to have travelled steerage, but I had cause to be thankful that I did not. We had a horrible passage—easterly gales all the way, bitter cold, and I was miserably ill; not seasick, but feverish and wretched altogether. The ship's doctor, Moore, an Irishman, was kindness itself, and I have never forgotten how good he was to me. It was not until the fourteenth day after leaving New York that we reached London River, to find England still in the grip of one of the longest and fiercest frosts of a lifetime.
No fatted calf was killed for me when I reached my father's rectory in Herefordshire. I did not expect it, but was only too grateful to drop into quiet home life for a little before again starting on my travels—for to stay in England was the last thing that I thought of. I fully intended to take on my New York job in the autumn. Meantime I renewed acquaintance with old friends. I worked in the garden, and, when the weather improved, began to play tennis—began, I say, because the very first set proved that my damaged knee was anything but sound. I gave up tennis, but still walked. The knee got worse, and some idiot recommended an elastic bandage. Believe me, there is nothing worse, for it gives you temporary support, so that you do too much, and the last state is worse than the first. By June, water had developed on the knee, and I was laid up. For weeks I was on my back or hobbling on crutches. It soon became plain that I should not be able to return to America, and I had to write and tell my friend that he could not expect me. Weeks dragged into months, and still I got no better. I began to get seriously worried about my prospects. It was out of the question that my father should keep me indefinitely, yet, otherwise, what was I to do? I had led an open-air life for so long that I could hardly fancy myself fitted for an office. In any case, I knew myself to be a fool at figures. On the other hand, my doctor, a personal friend, told me plainly that, even if I recovered, I should never be fit for an oversea life. Anything like hard work on a farm would, he said, bring back the trouble in my damaged knee.
I suppose I had always had some idea of writing. It occurred to me to see if I could make use of any of my Florida experiences, and I set to work and wrote two articles on fishing in Florida. I had no typewriter, and could not have used it if I had, but I copied those articles out by hand with the greatest care, and sent them to the Field. I may perhaps be forgiven for mentioning that, years later, a friend on the Field told me that the angling-editor, the late Mr. Senior, speaking of these articles, said that he had never read better-written manuscript in all his editorial experience. The articles were both accepted, and I received for them a cheque for five pounds. I shall never forget the thrill of delight with which this utterly unexpected good luck filled me. I thought my fortune was made, and I worked ten hours a day turning out articles of every length, but all on Florida. I had nothing else to write about. They all came back, and my spirits sank again. Mind you, I had not a soul to give me any advice, to tell me how to write, where to send my stuff, or how to make use of it. As I have since realised, most of it was quite useless. But I was not wholly discouraged, and it began to dawn on me that the one thing necessary was to go up to London and find out for myself what to write and where to sell it. But I had no money, and, even in those cheap days, I reckoned that I could not exist in London on less than a pound a week. I set myself to studying the advertisement columns of the newspapers, and, after dozens of vain applications, managed to get in touch with an accountant who wanted a clerk.
I knew nothing whatever of accountancy. To this day it is all I can do to add up a column of figures, usually incorrectly. Yet somehow I landed the job at a pound a week. The next thing was to find a place in which to live, and in the end I discovered a so-called bed-sitting-room in a Bloomsbury side-street for which I was to pay twelve and sixpence a week, including attendance. Even so, I could not possibly have lived had not my father, realising that I was in deadly earnest, decided to make me a small allowance. I moved up to London on a Saturday in August, and I shall never forget the black loneliness of the following Sunday. There was not one soul I knew in London. Nor did I know anything of London itself, and of its many free entertainments and amusements. I remember that I walked all the way to Kensington Gardens, and sat there, alone, watching the people, envying the cheerful parties who walked together, and feeling profoundly unhappy. But it is one of the worst of life's blunders to dwell upon past miseries, especially when almost everyone has so many pleasant things to remember. The only advantage of doing so is that it makes one so much the more grateful for good friends and good times, and enables one the better to appreciate them. Also, it makes one feel more charitable towards those who are down, whether from their own fault or those of others. Enough to say that I had a very unhappy time during those first few weeks in town, and one that has filled me with sympathy for others in a similar position. For there is no loneliness so utter as loneliness among crowds, and nothing so hard to bear as to see happy people all around you, yet to have no share in their happiness.
My employer had an office in Temple Chambers, and there were two clerks besides myself. Our work, however, led us all over London. One week would find us taking stock for a firm of ready-made tailors in the Harrow Road; the next, we would be doing a similar office for wholesale butchers in Smithfield. Evenings I spent in attempts at writing, but at first with little success. There were, in those days, no schools of journalism, and I had not a single acquaintance either among editors or contributors. At last—I do not quite remember how—I got the advice to obtain a reading-ticket in the British Museum, and there I spent every spare hour. Soon I came to know something of the wonderful reference library which is available, and began to get odds and ends accepted—little paragraphs for papers like Scraps and the Golden Penny. The Golden Penny was a capital little paper, edited at that time by S. H. Leeder. He ran a number of prize competitions in each number, and presently I succeeded in winning one of these. It was not money—only a case of pipes—but its great value to me was that it brought me into personal touch with Leeder, and to him I owe much excellent and helpful advice.
It was in August that I came to London. By Christmas I was making fifteen shillings to a pound a week by my contributions, and I decided that I would turn down the office work, which I heartily loathed, and chance making a living by my pen. By this time I had made some friends, and the first horrid loneliness of my life in London was a thing of the past. But the odd thing was that I had no friends in my own chosen profession, and very few acquaintances. Meantime, I moved from my solitary and dingy bed-sitting-room in Guilford Street to a boarding-house in Bedford Row, where I was far more comfortable. My accepted contributions were still of a decidedly scrappy character, and my earnings were chiefly in the shape of postal orders varying from half a crown to half a guinea. I tried hard to get more ambitious articles accepted, but quite without success. Then a stroke of luck came my way. An Irish uncle sent me an introduction to Cecil Harmsworth, who at that time was editing Answers.
Carmelite House was not yet in existence, and Answers office was at the top of 24 Tudor Street—a tall, narrow building with steep and narrow stairs. I remember the nervousness with which I first climbed those stairs, a nervousness rapidly dispelled by the genial kindness of Cecil Harmsworth. I had brought a list of suggestions, a list which I still have, pasted in my scrap-book, with Harmsworth's notes and suggestions. Several ideas were approved of as suitable for Answers, and these I set work on at once. That was nearly twenty-nine years ago, and since then there has hardly been a week that I nave not received a cheque from Answers. The sub-editors were Randall Roberts, an Irishman, and Lawrence Clarke, now better known as a novelist and serial writer than as editor. The fourth member of the staff was Sidney Gowing, then a slim youngster of eighteen, already a brilliant writer, but much more interested in a little five-tonner which he kept at Burnham-on-Crouch than in matters connected with Fleet Street. The very first time we met he gave me an invitation to come down to Burnham for a week-end, and that was the beginning of a friendship which has lasted ever since.
About this time Alfred Harmsworth obtained a controlling interest in the Cycle Press, which consisted of two weekly papers, the Cycle and the Rambler, and a few months later I obtained a position as sub on the Rambler. C. P. Sisley was editor-in-chief, and the Rambler staff was composed of Gilbert Floyd and myself. Our offices were at 108 Fleet Street, the old building, now swept away, which was the original home of Answers and the other early Harmsworth publications. I began on three pounds a week, and felt a millionaire.
The Rambler, was a penny weekly devoted to the interests of people who like tramping about the country afoot. Charles G. Harper was one of our principal contributors, and his articles were illustrated by his charming black-and-white sketches. Our coloured covers were a great feature. They were all done by Edgar Wilson, and were so good that many people collected them. One of our first serials was written by Alice Livingstone, now Mrs. C. N. Williamson. It was called Under a Crimson Seal, and was a really excellent story, though of a very different type from The Botor Chaperone and other later work of the Williamsons. Its author was then only a girl—a very pretty and charming girl. She was a wonderfully prolific writer, and did many short stories for Answers and others of the Harmsworth papers.
The Rambler office projected from the back of the old building, and had windows on both sides. In summer, with all these windows open, there was a fine draught through the place. My desk faced one way, my chief's the other, and one warm day, when alone in the room and very busy with make-up, I became conscious of a curious roaring sound behind me. Presently I looked round, and was horrified to see flames spouting a yard high from Sisley's big waste-paper basket, which was filled to the brim with crumpled sheets. I yelled for help, and, grabbing a strip of carpet, tried to stifle the flames. Others ran in, and we got the fire under, but it was a close call. If that old building had caught, it would have gone up like tinder, and, with the breeze that was blowing, probably involved all that east end of Fleet Street.
The Harmsworth firm was growing rapidly. Home Chat, Forget-Me-Not, and various boys' papers had been started, and the Harmsworth Magazine (now the London) had just come into being. Of this Cecil Harmsworth was the first editor. During the ensuing winter the firm made an attempt to bring their people together socially. A big billiard-room was rented at Burroughes & Watts, and a billiards tournament started on the American plan. I don't think Alfred himself ever played much, but nearly all the brothers were well above the average amateur form. Harold, Cecil, Leicester, Hildebrand, and St. John all played a good game. The tournament led to the starting of a staff paper called The Cue, with caricatures by "Rip."
It was an amusing if somewhat scurrilous publication. I remember a delightful caricature of Lord Mountmorres as a mediaeval saint. Mountmorres at that time wrote stories for the boys' papers, and the editors used to complain of the difficulty of bringing him up to the scratch with his instalments. The caricature seems to have been prophetic, for since that time its original has, I believe, taken orders. Though Alfred Harmsworth did not play in the tournament, he often dropped in for a chat, and it was on one of these evenings that I had my first meeting with him. He came to the table where I was playing. "You're Bridges?" he asked; and I said I was.
"Have you any Staff Trust shares?" he went on.
"No," I told him. "I am on the Cycle Press, and we have not been offered any."
"What!" he exclaimed. "Oh, that shall be seen to at once."
The very next morning came an intimation to our office that each of the staff would be allowed to take up a hundred pounds' worth of the new shares at par. I borrowed the money and bought at once. I don't think that, even from the very beginning, the interest was ever less than twenty per cent. The Chief, as even then we had already begun to call him, was busy with plans for starting the Daily Mail, but, in spite of this, he still kept a personal eye upon his older publications. The proofs of Answers went to him each week, and I believe he read every word of them. It always beat me how he kept up with things as he did. Some men have big ideas and the capacity for carrying them out; others have the talent for detail and the minutiae of business. Alfred Harmsworth had both, and combined with them a marvellous memory. To give just one example of his eye for detail. Years later than the date of which I am writing I sent an article to the Daily Mail on "Pollacking"—that is, pollack fishing. A day or two later the article came back with a letter:
"Dear Bridges,—What is 'pollacking?' Yours sincerely,
I replied, explaining, but did not return the article with my letter. I took it that it was not needed. By return of post came another letter:
"Dear Bridges,—What a man you are! Where is the article?"
I sent it in a hurry, and it went in at once.
Even in the nineties envious competitors spread stories to the effect that Alfred Harmsworth took young men and picked their brains, then sacked them. Never was a more wicked libel. It is quite true that he would give a trial to almost any young fellow who seemed keen and ambitious. Some of them were idle dogs, or hopelessly bad eggs, and there was nothing for it but to get rid of them. But if a man was any good he never lacked encouragement. What is more, if he felt himself aggrieved in any way, Alfred was always ready to listen and put things right. And of his charity the half has not been written. There was, for instance, a young artist who used to contribute to the Rambler and other early publications. His lungs went wrong, and some of us started a subscription to help him out. Somehow the matter came to Alfred's ears, and the next thing we knew the poor fellow was out in Switzerland with enough money to keep him in comfort until he recovered or died. Remember, please, that this particular artist had never been on the staff. He was merely an outside contributor.
These were the days of the simple life. Most of the staff lunched at an Express Dairy shop in Fleet Street. Between one and two you might see two or three of the brothers and a dozen or so of the staff seated in the cellar-like smoking-room eating poached eggs or cold tongue, with stewed figs and a cup of coffee as a second course. Few of us ever spent more than eighteenpence on a midday meal. As our numbers increased, we migrated to the Temple Restaurant in Tudor Street. It was here that I first met Eden Phillpotts, who was at that time on the staff of that excellent but now long-extinct weekly, Black and White. It was a winter day, and I remember that he came in wearing an Inverness cloak—a sleeveless garment now quite extinct, and of which the very shape is forgotten. Eden had then just published his first book, The Laughing Philosopher, but his Dartmoor stories were still in the lap of the Future. Another habitué of the Temple Restaurant was my very good friend Lincoln Springfield, whose reminiscences, Some Piquant People, are a model of what such a book should be, and breathe in every page the innate good-fellowship of their kindly author. Mountmorres was often there, and with him his friend, "Tuppy" Hayter, now, alas! passed over to the other side. Tuppy was very much the young-man-about-town, and outwardly, at least, always smart, though it was rumoured that he dared not take off his well-cut frock coat because of the state of the lining. Tuppy had been to Florida with Alfred Harmsworth on a tarpon-fishing expedition, and used to tell many yarns of his experiences, some of them very tall ones. One night I was asked to dine at the house in Great Cumberland Place where Mrs. Harmsworth then lived with her unmarried sons and daughters. Tuppy, whom I had not previously met, was one of the guests, and presently began a thrilling narrative of how he and somebody else got wrecked in a sailing-boat on the coast of South Florida. Man-eating sharks were all around the boat, but Tuppy dragged his friend up the face of the cliff with the monsters snapping at their heels.
"Was that in Florida?" I asked.
"Yes, near a place called Punta Rassa," replied Tuppy rather truculently.
"But, my dear sir," I said, "there isn't a cliff—there isn't even a rock within a hundred miles of the place."
Tuppy never quite forgave me.
Tuppy, as I have said, was one of the dandies of Fleet Street. I—perhaps because it was the first time in my life that I had ever been able to afford a decent coat to my back—bought good clothes. And among the young men on the Mail there were some who were really smart. But the majority dressed anyhow, and there was still a sort of old-fashioned tradition of comfort rather than elegance. That idea has passed, and it is now recognised that a man need be none the worse journalist if he goes to a decent tailor, and owns a pair of boot-trees and a coat-hanger.
Early Days at Carmelite House—Yachting Recollections—Bayard Brown, Brightlingsea's Eccentric Millionaire—Knocking Out Titles—The Hard Lot of the Free-Lance Twenty-Five Years Ago—The Fall of a Rude Editor
IN these days, when I call at the Daily Mail office, I have to send my name up first, and am then put in charge of one of a corps of messenger-girls, who solemnly conducts me along the well-remembered corridors. It is quite useless to assure her that I know my way, for she will not leave me until she has delivered me safely at the door where I am due. Yet, if the young women only knew it, I was one of the very first to move into the building, together with Somers J. Summers, the second sub, and the office-boy, the four of us constituting the complete staff of Answers.
I secured the room nearest to the lift on the second floor. It was exactly over the Chief's big office, and a bright, cheerful place.
The work, of course, was far beyond the capacity of the diminutive staff. To-day, with a paper no larger, there are three sub-editors on Answers, together with an efficient staff for dealing with correspondence, competitions, and the like. What made matters worse for us juniors was that Summers rarely turned up before lunch, and seldom got really busy till tea-time. Consequently we were kept till all hours, and on press days were frequently in the office until ten at night. When one of us subs was away, ill or on holiday, the other had to get the whole paper together, paragraphs, articles, story, jokes, storyettes—everything, in fact, except the serial, to which Summers himself attended.
The two Leightons, husband and wife, wrote most of the Answers serials in those days, and their copy made extraordinary reading, their two handwritings being constantly interlined on the same page. Convict 99 was their great success, and certainly sent up the circulation. Among our constant contributors was J. McCluer Stevens, who still carries on as a free-lance, and whose reminiscences recently appeared serially in the Pictorial Magazine; also Henry Leach, who would insist on writing all his copy in pencil on sheets of very inferior paper. Since those days he has blossomed out into one of the principal writers on golf, while his delightfully written "The Heart of Things" has appeared for many years in Chambers's Journal.
In or about the year 1898 the Harmsworth firm had the idea of starting a new magazine, to be called the Sunday Circle, and Leach was appointed editor. I don't know what happened, but the Sunday Circle hung fire, and it was eventually decided not to publish it. Some weeks went by; then one day the Chief started upon one of his periodical tours of the building. Entering an office on the top floor, he found a man brewing himself a cup of tea over a pleasant fire. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"I am Leach," was the answer.
"What are you doing here?"
"Editing the Sunday Circle."
"There is no such paper. It has been stopped."
"I have had no official intimation of that fact," replied Leach politely. This was quite true, but it is not often that a man draws a salary for editing a non-existent paper.
Another periodical that was started about this time was the New Liberal Review, of which Cecil Harmsworth was originator and editor. It was remarkably well done, and I never quite understood why it failed to achieve the success which it certainly merited. A little later the firm entered quite a new field with a publication called The World and his Wife, a sixpenny weekly printed on good paper and well illustrated. This was edited by Lawrence Clarke, and very well edited, too. Yet for some reason it never took the popular taste, and eventually was closed down. Lawrence Clarke has since made a name for himself as a writer of serial stories. In those days he sometimes came down to Burnham for week-end sailing with Sidney Gowing and myself. Another of the yachting party was Arkas Sapt, afterward first editor of the Daily Mirror. He was a brilliant journalist, and a most delightful person. Alas, like so many others of those I knew well at that date, he has crossed the border-line.
Those yachting week-ends were pure joy. Sometimes we went right up the coast to the Blackwater and Mersea Island. The Blackwater estuary is a perfect cruising-ground, and in those days the island was comparatively primitive. You could get an excellent bed and breakfast for three and sixpence in one of the cottages. I never tasted such whiting as we used to get there, fresh from the sea. And the oysters were, of course, the finest in the world. Sometimes we visited Brightlingsea, where Bayard Brown's big steam yacht, the Valfreyia was the centre of attraction. Bayard Brown was one of those eccentrics who always interest and puzzle their fellow-men. The Valfreyia, a magnificent craft of a thousand tons, was purchased by him about 1896, and sent straight from the yard to Brightlingsea, where Brown went aboard her with a crew of twenty-one men. From that time right on to the date of the Great War the Valfreyia never once left her moorings, nor, I believe, did her owner ever leave her for more than a few hours at a time. Many are the queer stories told of the eccentricity of this American millionaire. Sometimes, in the dead hours of the night, he would prowl about the deck armed with a syringe, then woe betide any unfortunate man of the watch who happened to be dozing on his post. At other times he would order his crew up in the middle of the night and give them handfuls of gold and silver to throw overboard. It went hard with a man who attempted to appropriate any of the money. One day he would allow visitors on board; then for a week, perhaps, not even a tradesman was permitted to come over the side. Cadgers were always hanging round the Valfreyia. Sometimes Brown would fling a handful of money into a boat; sometimes he would turn the hose on it. At the same time, he was amazingly generous to the town and to those in real need. I know that he gave £600 for a local recreation ground, £800 to enlarge the Church schools, and £200 to improve the waterside landing. The trouble was that his generosity was indiscriminate, and did for Brightlingsea very much what the "dole" is at present doing for the nation at large.
The weather in the North Sea is apt to be severe, and sandbanks hard as pavement lie in mazes along the coast, but Sidney Gowing was too good a sailor to allow the Penguin ever to get into serious trouble. The only time he and I were ever "wrecked" was far up the Crouch near Fambridge, where we went ashore on a falling tide and had to leave the ship where she was. We walked back—an endless tramp down the sea wall—and had to wade a dangerously muddy side-creek, so when we arrived at Burnham we were desperately hungry. It was about seven when we reached the Railway Inn, where we were staying, and Parker, the landlord, met us with the cheering news that a couple of ducks were ready roasted for dinner. We fled to wash and change, and Gowing and I burst simultaneously into the dining-room. There was a dish on the table: but where were the ducks? An ominous crunching coming from beneath the table told its own story. Gowing's spaniel was just finishing the last of our dinner. I won't say what happened to the spaniel, but I know we fed—I won't say dined—on cold pork chops.
It was about this time that I first met Roger Pocock, who was then very busy with plans for starting the Legion of Frontiersmen. Pocock has crammed more adventure into one lifetime than any other three men I know, but you can read his story for yourself in that extraordinarily interesting autobiography, The Frontiersman. He introduced me to his father, Commander Pocock, R.N. In later life the old gentleman had taken orders, so he was generally known as the Rev. Commander Pocock. I used to go and see him in his flat in Holborn, and he was a most interesting talker. Here, too, I met Roger's sister, best known under her stage name of Lena Ashwell.
Later, Pocock, Gowing, and I joined forces and took part of a house in Great Ormond Street. It was a queer old place, with powdering-closets and curious old-fashioned fireplaces. We had a housekeeper who, when sober, could cook like an angel, but unfortunately was frequently very far from sober. Gowing and I lived on the first floor, Pocock a floor above, and on the top floor of all there roomed a silent man whose very name I have forgotten. Pocock found that his whiskey was disappearing, and also his coals, and complained about it. The old housekeeper threw suspicion upon the top-floor tenant, and Pocock vowed that he would get even. Some evenings later I was working in our sitting-room when I was startled by a loud bang overhead, followed by a heavy fall. I rushed up, to find Pocock lying on the landing outside his room. Smoke was pouring out of the door. At first I thought there had been a gun accident, but presently Pocock was able to explain. With a view to trapping the coal thief, he had spent the morning boring holes in lumps of coal and inserting in each a small charge of explosive. At lunch-time he had gone out, and, coming in later, cold and tired, had completely forgotten his morning's work and dumped half the contents of the scuttle on the fire. The room was in ruins, and the only crumb of comfort was that the housekeeper—who was, of course, the actual thief—had to do the necessary spring-cleaning.
It was while we were in these rooms that we were nearly driven crazy by a dog that barked all night. We remonstrated with the owner, but quite without effect, and at last, in despair, clubbed together and bought the dog—a miserable little mongrel. It was decided that the only thing to do was to end its unhappy life, and Pocock was deputed to take it to a veterinary surgeon to be destroyed. He went, but was away all day. When he got back he confessed that he could not bear to think of the dog being killed, so had taken it out of town, and, after much trouble, succeeded in finding it a home in the country. I tell the little story because it is so entirely typical of Roger Pocock's kindly nature.
As new periodicals kept on being added to the number already produced by the firm, Carmelite House became more and more crowded, and the second sub and I and the office-boy were forced to share one office between us. This, as I have said, was directly above the Chief's room. One night—it was press day, and, as usual, we were very late—the second sub and myself were racking our brains in the task of getting good, snappy titles for the articles. This was always the most difficult job of the week, but it had to be done before the pages were finally sent down. Summers, a perfect genius in this respect, was away ill, so my companion and I were left to handle the job between us. At last we got fairly stuck, and even tobacco failed to help us. I got up, took the poker from the grate, the other man took the shovel, and we started a fencing match. The stamping and clatter must have been appalling, but, since it was nearly ten o'clock, we had no idea that there was anyone to be disturbed by the racket. Suddenly the door banged open, and in marched the Chief. "Gentlemen, what is this infernal noise?" he demanded angrily. The other sub—a quick-witted young man—had an answer pat. "We are just knocking out titles, Sir Alfred." A smile replaced the frown. "Please don't make quite so much noise about it," he asked quite mildly, and vanished as quickly as he had come.
In spite of hard work, I think we all enjoyed our lives. Our pay, though absurdly small from a present-day point of view, was better than that in other publishing houses that could be named. I got four guineas a week, but made a little extra by contributing an article or two weekly. Only the other day I was talking over these old times with a brother Savage, now editor of a big weekly, but at that date in charge of a boys' story paper. His salary was thirty-five shillings a week, and for that he did all the editorial work, including a page of editorial notes. But at that time I think his age was only nineteen.
Contributors' rates were on a similar scale. For adventure fiction for the boys' papers the payment was ten to fifteen shillings a thousand words, and this remained the usual rate right up to 1914. One day in or about 1899 Gilbert Floyd and I, on our way to lunch, met a girl walking down Tudor Street, crying. Floyd, who knew her as a contributor, stopped, and in his kindly, paternal fashion questioned her. She told us that she had written a twenty-thousand-word story for a girl's paper. It had been accepted, and she was to get four pounds for it. Now the firm had gone bankrupt, and not only the cheque, but her story also, had disappeared. I mention this as a sample of the sweating that went on in this particular line, but I must add that Floyd interested himself in getting the lady a job in a publishing office, and that she made a big success, and eventually became quite a rich woman.
There was one boys' paper—I should like to mention its name, but have a wholesome fear of the Libel Act—which was wicked in the way it treated its unfortunate contributors. I had an idea for a series of articles for this paper, and, on taking the suggestion to the editor, was told to write four articles of twelve-hundred words each. I wrote them and sent them in. Weeks ran to months, and I heard nothing of my articles. At the end of six months I ventured to write and enquire. Back came a curt note to the effect that space was limited, and that if I was in such a hurry perhaps I had better have the articles back. Since they had been written especially for this paper, I said no more, and another six months passed. Again I enquired, and was told they were coming on in due course. To make a long story short, it was over two years before they were used, and then they were paid for at the munificent rate of fifteen shillings apiece. There are still firms which treat their contributors in similar fashion—especially young writers who dare not make a fuss for fear of losing a market. I wish these people could be made to realise that, by acting in this way, they are cutting their own throats as well as those of their writers. For the latter, as soon as ever they attain a recognised position in the world of letters, proceed to turn down cold the firms that have treated them badly. I know one man, whose stuff now commands big prices and is much sought after, who has definitely instructed his agents that no story of his is to appear in the publications of a certain firm which behaved badly towards him some twenty years ago.
But the editor who was the guilty party in this case long ago got the sack. This particular man—I remember him well—was a perfect terror to contributors. Even after an article was accepted it would be sent back two or three times for correction or revision, and then very likely held over for months, or perhaps not used at all. And the man himself was brutally rude to all the smaller fry of journalism. But Nemesis was on his track. The management of this firm changed, and complaints reached sympathetic ears. The editor was given his notice. I am told he refused to believe it, and carried on exactly as before. When the day came for him to leave, and his successor appeared to take over, there was a terrible scene. The man wept, clung to his chair, and had actually to be ejected by force. His reputation was so well known that no one else would employ him, and he simply sank out of sight. I have never been able to find out what became of him.
Many are the tragedies of Fleet Street. There are few professions in which success may be so sudden as in journalism. A young man who has been working hard for very little money suddenly makes good, with a big scoop or a brilliant short story. To many such success is perilous. The youngster gets the impression that he is a heaven-born genius. He slacks off, or starts turning out indifferent stuff. He begins to go down again, then ten to one he takes to drink, and that spells "Finish." Some three years ago I was walking down Fleet Street when I was accosted by a terrible-looking creature. He wore a frock coat green with age, torn and stained; his trousers flapped in ragged fringes over his burst boots. His hair was matted, a week's beard covered his gaunt face, and his eyes were red and inflamed. The odour of him was such that it nearly made me sick. "You know me, Mr. Bridges," he began hoarsely. "I'm H—, and I was on the—." I looked again, and saw that it was true. Hastily I thrust my hand into my trouser pocket, took out what loose silver I had, put it into his hand, and fairly bolted. Cowardly, I dare say, but what could I do? That man, as I remembered him some seventeen years earlier, had been sub-editor on a cycling paper—a smart young Irishman, keen and with excellent prospects. His only fault, so far as I remember, was that about once in three months he went on a week-end spree, but, even so, he was always back in his office on Monday morning, ready for the week's work. What happened I don't know. Presumably one of these sprees lasted too long, and he lost his job. After that—facilis descensus!
Many queer characters visit editorial offices. One day there appeared in my room a little fat man, dressed in a red velvet suit much the worse for wear. He told me that he was an Australian, and was walking round the world for a bet. The red velvet kit was part of the contract. He wanted to contribute his experiences, but his stuff, when handed in, proved that he was hopelessly illiterate. Unfortunately it was impossible to make him understand this, and we simply could not get rid of him. At last I was obliged to tell the hall-porter to refuse him admission. For weeks we saw him drifting about Fleet Street, the red velvet suit getting more and more shabby. At last he vanished. Let us hope he abandoned the suit and got a job of honest work.
There was another man of a very different type. I will call him Smith. Smith was tall, gaunt, with the most extraordinary pair of eyes I ever saw in a human face. You may think I am talking nonsense, but they were the eyes of a devil rather than of a man. Smith had a curiously intent expression, a soft, hoarse voice, his clothes were stained and threadbare, and his boots looked as if they had not been blacked for months. Yet he was quite clever, and occasionally turned out a really good article. The very first time I saw the man I conceived a most extraordinary aversion for him. I am not what is called a sensitive, I have no psychic powers, but this man had an effect upon me similar to that which snakes and spiders have upon some folk. Every time I met him this aversion increased.
One day I had gone to the British Museum Library to look up some reference, and was sitting at a desk, deep in a book, when all of a sudden I had a feeling of intense discomfort. Cold chills seemed to run down my spine. I turned, to see Smith standing motionless behind me, looking at me with a peculiar smile. The man became a sort of nightmare to me, and if his name was sent up I used to invent excuses so that I need not see him. So things went on for months; then one day I was walking down Tudor Street from the Temple end when once more I had the same sensation of creeping horror. Looking round, there was Smith walking past on the opposite side of the street.
I stared. Gone was all his usual shabbiness, and he was got up in a brand-new frock coat, shining silk hat, dark striped trousers, and patent boots. He carried a pair of kid gloves and a silver-headed cane. This time he did not smile, but favoured me with a fierce scowl. I passed on; he went the other way. From that day to this I have never again seen or heard of him, nor did he ever send me another contribution.
Life as a Free-Lance—From Articles to Stories—A Move to Devon—Accidents Unlimited
IN 1899 I married. The firm gave me a month's holiday, which is the longest that I have ever enjoyed since I first took to journalism. My wife and I spent our honeymoon fishing on Exmoor, then went to live at High Beech, on the borders of Epping Forest. Our house was on the steep hillside beyond the forest, looking down upon Waltham Abbey, and, being on a by-road, we were not troubled by trippers. But we were two miles from the station, and, especially in winter, I found it stiff work cycling in and catching a nine-five train at Loughton each morning. The train service was pretty good, but the journey from Liverpool Street Station down to Fleet Street often took twenty minutes. There were no Tubes then, and the congestion of traffic in those times of horse buses was just as bad as it is with the modern motor vehicles. Nowadays not even a sub-editor of a weekly dreams of going to the office on Saturday, but at that time I had to go up for half the day every alternate Saturday. My lame knee went queer again, and in the end I decided to give up my office job and take to free-lancing. The firm gave me a small retainer in return for doing a page each week for Answers, and I fixed up a room as a study and settled down to writing articles.
Many of my friends told me bluntly that I was a fool, among them Arkas Sapt, who prophesied that I should do all right for a year or two, then run dry of ideas and be forced to hunt another editorial job. But my mistake, as I have since realised, was not in going outside; it was in tying myself to one firm. Unless the retainer is enough to live upon, or unless a definite amount of work is absolutely guaranteed, it is madness for any writer to tie himself to one firm and one market. Another blunder which time has since revealed was my failure to specialise. Right here, as my American friends say, I should like to say that the one chance of real success for any free-lance journalist is to take one special subject, and stick to it until he gets his name known as an expert on that subject. It doesn't matter a hang what the subject is. From crime, clothes, and cards, to prize-fighting, prisons, or poison, the choice is enormous, and, once the writer is really a master of his particular subject, he gets his market without trouble. In fact, as his name becomes known he finds commissions pouring in upon him, and will end by having as much work as he can do at very remunerative rates. In these days the tendency is all to specialisation, and broadcasting is increasing this tendency, for the men who have made their names known by articles on special subjects are finding themselves called upon by the British Broadcasting Company to address larger audiences even than newspaper ones.
I, of course, had no chance of specialising, for, having only half a dozen papers to write for, I was forced to tackle anything that might be of topical interest. One day I would be interviewing a returned explorer to get an article on "Battles with Wild Beasts," and the next searching the files in the British Museum to write upon "The Profits of Patentees." Answers was my best market, and I have, on occasion, contributed as many as sixteen columns to one number. This was a double Easter number, and the work had been begun many weeks earlier.
In those early days my difficulty was not so much to get ideas for articles as to find the material for writing them. I began to collect a reference library, which has, in the passage of years, attained formidable proportions, and I began also to collect newspaper cuttings which, like my books, have mounted up until their number must approach one hundred and fifty thousand. Cuttings are invaluable to any free-lance journalist, but I must give a word of warning concerning them. The writer who shuts himself in his study and depends entirely upon cuttings and books, however numerous and up to date, is going to fall down badly. He loses his faculty of observation, and all the best articles are written from first-hand observation. Lord Northcliffe once said to me, "You ought at any time to be able to get at least three good articles while coming down the Strand on top of a bus," and these are words that I have never forgotten. So far from Sapt's prophecy as to running dry coming true, the older I grow the less difficult it is to find subjects for articles. Reading a newspaper, talking to a friend, walking in a country lane—it does not matter where I am or what I am doing, ideas are always welling up. For example, the other day I stopped to watch two men thatching a rick, and it occurred to me to ask them why they waited until the autumn to do it. The information I got from them in five minutes' chat netted me three guineas from the Daily Mail.
Again, years ago I happened to meet a straw-hat manufacturer in a train, who gave me much interesting information of the making of these now nearly extinct articles of headwear. It occurred to me to write a series of articles: "My Life—by a Straw Hat"; "My Life—by a Silk Tie"—by a Toothbrush, a Pair of Scissors, a Cigarette, etc. They were approved by Lord Northcliffe, and ran for weeks. Of course, I had to run about a good deal to get them, but that is all part of the game. One of the most interesting series which I have done was "The Romance of Great Businesses," worked from the idea that so many of the great commercial houses of to-day have risen from tiny beginnings or even from a lucky accident. Take such a case as that of Stephens's Inks. The originator of the ink was a doctor, who got so fed up with the horrible compound of lampblack which, in those days, was the only ink available, that he set himself to invent something better. Though he succeeded, he never had the faintest idea of putting his ink on the market until he found that he could not make it fast enough to supply the demands of his friends.
Most of the firms to whom I applied for information of this sort were courtesy itself, and, as a rule, proud of their modest beginnings. But there was one exception, and that a rather amusing one. I went, by appointment, to see the managing director of a great grocery firm, who began to tell me all about its huge turnover and wonderful activities. "But that is not what I want," I objected. "I understand that, of the present heads of the firm, one began life in a foundling hospital, and the other was the son of a navvy." The manager looked uneasy. "You can't say anything about that," he said. "They would not like it. You see, one owns racehorses and the other is lord-lieutenant of a county." So the article was a wash-out, but I should like to add that it was absolutely the only case of such snobbishness that I have encountered. Men like Sir Thomas Lipton enjoy nothing better than telling you of their early starvation and struggles.
Interviewing is usually one of the pleasantest parts of a journalist's work, and the bigger the man the more accessible, as a rule, you find him. The late Lord Leverhulme was a pattern in this respect, and, if it was impossible for him to see you, you got a courteous note explaining the reason. But sometimes you have trying experiences. When Arkas Sapt was editing the Daily Mirror he asked me one morning to find Mr. Crooks and get from him some special information. I posted off to Crooks's little house in Gough Street, Poplar, where his wife told me that he had gone to the Town Hall. I hurried there, to miss him by five minutes and hear that he had gone to Islington. Again I followed, and again I missed him, but was told that I should certainly find him at Woolwich. It is quite a journey to Woolwich, and it was well into the afternoon when I got there, only to discover that once more he had eluded me. It was past five when I at last ran him to ground at the House of Commons. I got but half a guinea for the paragraph I wrote, at least half of which had gone in expenses. But the writing man must never allow this sort of thing to disturb his equanimity, nor must he ever turn down a commission. One job leads to another, and a reputation for reliability is worth more than one for erratic brilliance.
Twenty-five years ago I had never written any fiction. No, that is not quite true, for I had once written a short story of two thousand words. The plot was given me by a friendly editor, who told me I could knock it off in a couple of hours and bring it next day. In point of fact, I began it after supper that night, and sat up till two next morning before I finished it. What it was like I dare not think, but, at any rate, it was used, and brought me a most welcome three guineas. But the experience was so horrible that I swore off fiction, and for years afterwards stuck strictly to fact—or, at any rate, to what passed for fact. However, about two years after I started free-lancing, my good friend Gilbert Floyd, who was at that time editing a boys' paper belonging to the Harmsworth firm, suggested to me that I ought to try a boys' story. "You've knocked about," he said. "You've had a few small adventures. Try a serial." About that time many new article-writers were appearing, and competition was becoming so stiff that I could rarely count on more than two columns a week in Answers, so I did start on the serial. I called it Paddy Leary's Schooldays, and it told of the adventures of an Australian boy at an English school. I have never worked so hard in my life as I did on that story, for which I was paid at the rate of fifteen shillings per thousand words. But it went—it went so well that I wrote two sequels, or, in all, nearly two hundred thousand words. It was even published in book form at the price of threepence. And so I started writing boys' stories, and to-day one shelf of my bookcase will no longer hold copies of all the bound books for which I have been responsible.
Writing boys' books is not a paying proposition from the point of view of cash, and the boys' writer will not make the money in a lifetime which may come from one successful novel. Yet, at the same time, it has something to commend it, for youth, if critical, is also lavish with praise, and I cherish in my scrap-book some delightful letters from boy and girl readers. If they like your stuff, you will very soon know it, but woe betide you if you fail to fill the bill! They like stories packed with incident, and the more excitement you can get to the page the better they are pleased. Years before the Great War my friend Sidney Gowing wrote a serial concerning a German invasion of England. The story was originally meant to run for fourteen weeks, but long before half that time had elapsed the editor's desk was piled with letters demanding more. One sequel followed another, and, if I am not mistaken, the story ran on for at least two years, at the rate of six thousand words a week, before it was allowed to close down. I have the copies, and freely confess that I can still read them with as much pleasure as the first time I saw them in print. The amazing thing about them is that the interest never flags and that the last is as good as the first.
At that time Hamilton Edwards was in control of all the boys' papers belonging to the Harmsworth firm, and he seemed to know exactly what was wanted. At any rate, the circulations left little to be desired. Later, he and Northcliffe fell out, and Edwards left and went to Ireland, where a new journalistic venture proved less fortunate than the old. The firm had long grown out of Carmelite House, which was tenanted exclusively by the Daily Mail and Evening News. Answers and the other weeklies had gone into the old Tribune building in Bouverie Street, and the Fleetway House was not yet built.
Living in Essex had its advantages, in that London was so easily reached, but its disadvantages were numerous. For one thing, there was no sport. Sidney Gowing—now married and living only a few miles from High Beech—and I used to roam the country-side on our bicycles, hunting any sort of water where we might fish. Sometimes we tried the Lea and sometimes the Roding. We had leave to fish in the confines of the Small Arms Factory at Enfield, and there got a few perch and an occasional pike. The Roding, too, held coarse fish, but was so overgrown that it was extremely difficult to find sufficient open water in which to sink a hook. Of shooting there was none, except at a price beyond our means. Beyond gardening, there was little to do in spare time. Ever since our marriage my wife and I had spent our summer holiday on Dartmoor, invariably staying at the little fishing-hotel at Two Bridges, in the middle of the Moor. Henry Trinaman was the landlord, and, I firmly believe, the best landlord that ever lived. At that time—twenty-three years ago—the Moor was not so popular as it has since become, and the fishing was both cheap and good, while a Duchy licence for shooting cost but ten shillings a year. The climate suited us both, and, now that I was writing more fiction, it seemed possible to move farther from London.
In 1903 we finally made up our minds to move, and spent that holiday house-hunting. In the upshot, I bought a derelict house on the hillside just above the Dart, and opposite the hotel—an ugly place, but solidly built of granite, and with three acres of land. We left Essex in the autumn of 1903, and spent the winter with relations in Bournemouth while our Dartmoor house was being put into some sort of order. In February, while cycling up Richmond Hill out of the Bournemouth Square, I took a tumble on the tram-lines and fell heavily on my left knee. I went to a doctor, who told me to take it easy for a few days. I obeyed, but at the end of a week the knee was still swollen and painful, and when the time came to move in March I was very lame indeed, and could only hobble with two sticks. That was the beginning of four years of miserable lameness, during the whole of which time I was either on crutches or on my back, and became an object of interest to a large part of Harley Street. The trouble was that no one knew what was the matter. Howard Marsh thought it was the result of malaria, contracted in Florida; a great surgeon considered that I was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Another specialist, whose name is now as well known as any in Harley Street, spent an hour in overhauling me, and at the end said frankly, "I don't know what is the matter with you, Mr. Bridges, and I am not going to take any fee." On the advice of the great surgeon above mentioned, but whose name I had, perhaps, better not reveal, the knee was opened in order to remove the cartilage, which, however, was found to be perfectly sound. But the wound would not heal, and at last the late Mr. Walter Woolcombe, who was looking after me, told my wife that the only thing to do was to have the leg off next day. But when he came in next morning he found me asleep, and decided to defer the operation. Just as well for me, for after that I began to mend. But when, after seven weeks, I left the nursing-home, I was not only as lame as ever, but had a stiff leg into the bargain. And so I dragged on for years, trying every remedy, from arsenic to electric massage, and finding them all equally futile. At last a friend told me of Frank Romer, and I went to see him. He looked at the leg, which, of course, was little but skin and bone. "This is a nice mess," he said. "It will take me three weeks to do anything with it." I smiled. "You don't believe me?" he added rather sharply.
"If you had said three months—" I suggested.
He looked at me. "My fee," he said, "is ten guineas. I will bet you that, double or quits, that I have you off those crutches in three weeks." I took him on, and all he did was to put on a special sticking-plaster bandage, and then send me to his medical gymnasium. To make a long story short, at the end of three weeks I paid over my twenty guineas and went home walking with the aid of two sticks. Barring a troublesome stiffness, I was soon quite fit again, and walking quite long distances, fishing.
One day I drove out to the Cherry Brook, a couple of miles from home, and started fishing down towards the Dart. I was a long way down when I saw a trout rise in a pool, and, quite forgetting my stiff leg, ducked down sharply so as to cast from out of sight. There was a crack like the snap of a whip-lash, and down I went on my back, in absolute agony, and feeling as if I had broken the leg. It wasn't broken, but it hurt like sin, and I could not use it at all. The worst of it was that I was a long way out of sight of the road, and in a place so lonely that days might pass before anyone came that way. When I thought things over I felt anything but happy, for, although it was summer, yet the nights up here, at twelve hundred feet above sea-level, are always bitterly cold. However, it was no use getting in a flap, so I filled and lit a pipe and sat still. By the time the pipe was finished the knee was not hurting nearly so much, and in about an hour I was able to hobble to the road. What was more, my stiff leg moved quite easily, and what three operations had failed to do I had accomplished purely by accident.
Perhaps I may be pardoned for mentioning the odd fact that, ever since I was a child, I have had constant accidents to my legs. At seven years old a dog belonging to a parishioner of ours, the late Lord St. John, tore my right leg in such a fashion that I still bear the scars; a little later I sprained my left ankle so badly that I was lame for months. At ten my right ankle went wrong, and I had to wear irons for a year. In Florida I got blood-poisoning in both legs from neglected mosquito-bites. Then came the accident, already mentioned, on my way home from America, which left me lame for a long time in the right knee. In 1904 followed the accident just described, resulting in four years of lameness, and in 1910 I had a bad fall when salmon fishing which bared the bone of my right shin and laid me up for weeks. After that, Fate was satisfied until 1923, when, while motorcycling across Dartmoor, the machine skidded and I got a comminuted fracture of both bones of the left leg. In this case, as in the former, my doctor had little hopes of saving my leg, yet I was out of bed in a month, and, if I cannot play tennis, can still enjoy a game of golf or billiards, and do a bit of fishing and shooting. My Theosophic friends tell me that I am making up for crimes committed in a former incarnation, and, upon my word, I am strongly tempted to agree with them. But I wonder what the crimes were. The only thing that I can imagine is that I must have been the gentleman who administered the torture of the boot in the Inquisition.
The Perfect Inn and Its Notable Visitors—Sport on Dartmoor—Black-game, Grouse, Snipe, and Trout
I LIKE to think that Henry Trinaman's name will not be easily forgotten. Before the war, if Dartmoor was ever mentioned anywhere, from the Strand to Singapore, someone was sure to say, "Oh, then you know Trinny?" One reason why he was so well known was that so many naval officers spent their leaves at the Two Bridges Hotel. Among them I remember Major Drury, author of The Tadpole of an Archangel—only, come to think of it, he was not a naval officer, but a Marine. Then Ricci, better known as "Bartimaeus," was fond of the Moor, and wrote about it. Fleet-Surgeon Ximenes Browne was another visitor. He was as clever with his brush as was Drury with his pen, and the late King Edward VII was a great admirer of his paintings. A friend of mine, Ralph Bodilly, a naval lieutenant in those days, but now a barrister, used to spend much time on the Moor. He was a physical instructor in the Navy, and very keen on boxing. On Sunday afternoons he used to collect some of the stable-lads and teach them how to use the gloves in a barn belonging to the hotel. One day there turned up two or three Dartmouth cadets, with their tutor, in a motor-car, and they came into the barn to watch the fun. Bodilly put a big fist on the shoulder of one of the lads. "How d'ye like Dartmouth, son?" he asked.
"First rate, sir," was the cheery answer.
The tutor spoke to Bodilly. " Let me introduce you to the Prince of Wales," he said.
The Prince has been on the Moor many times since, but of that more in a later chapter.
Trinaman must have known nearly every officer of the ships that used Devonport. Naval officers are proverbially keen fishermen, but the keenest of them all was Wolfe Murray. He has been a captain for years, but was then merely a sub-lieutenant. One summer day his ship got into Devonport, but he was kept busy aboard until too late to catch the last train to Princetown. But was he going to lose a day's fishing? Not he. Carrying his rod, he started and walked the eighteen miles up from Devonport, arriving at Two Bridges about four in the morning. Seating himself on a bench outside the hotel, he slept till six, when Trinaman came out and drew him in and fed him royally. Then Wolfe Murray went down Dart, returning at four in the afternoon with three and a half dozen trout, to eat a noble tea and take the evening train back to Plymouth. Such teas Trinaman gave you! Anchovy toast, and tough-cakes with cream and jam. But all the feeding was of the very best, and, if any visitor failed to do justice to the good things, Trinny was at his shoulder softly suggesting that if there was anything in the house he could fancy he had only to ask. Trinaman never forgot anyone. Once I was in the bar when a man came in.
"You won't remember me, Mr. Trinaman," he said. "I don't expect you to. It is fourteen years since I was last here, and then only for a night. My name—"
"Wait, please!" exclaimed Trinaman. "I remember your face. I shall have your name in a moment." Sure enough, he did, and the stranger was as pleased as he was surprised. Nor did the old man ever forget a visitor's preferences in the way of room or food. However busy he was, he always found time to come to the door and greet new arrivals or speed the departing guest. He was also one of the most generous men alive, and must have given away almost as much drink as he sold. All through the fishing season the hotel was packed, and even in winter it was rarely empty, for some came to shoot and others to hunt.
Eden Phillpotts often stayed at Two Bridges. There never was a man who worked more conscientiously than he, for when busy on preparing one of his Dartmoor novels he spent days tramping with his secretary over that part of the Moor which he had chosen as its scene, making notes of every kind, and getting all the information that he could possibly obtain. And I think I am right in saying that every one of his books was written at least twice—first in rough draft, then in finished style.
His brother, the doctor, came up constantly. A many-sided man, he was an expert on such different subjects as bee-keeping, boxing, and Association football. He was also a mental specialist. Incidentally, he did a good deal of writing, though never under his own name. When Robert Barr edited the Idler he used a good many of the doctor's stories. Dr. Phillpotts was one of the early motorists, and I remember his driving up to Two Bridges in one of those original one-cylinder, eight-horse-power Rovers. He took me for a drive, and scared me stiff, for, good as he was at most things, he was one of the worst drivers I ever sat beside.
Among the many pleasant folk who gathered at the Two Bridges Inn there were also queer fish. Of them all, the oddest was a man whom, as he may still be alive, I will call Benison. One evening—a very wet one—a number of men were sitting chatting over the fire in the hotel bar, and among them were Dr. Phillpotts and Benison. For some reason Benison objected to a remark of the doctor, and protested so loudly that we all thought he was doing it for a joke, and there were peals of laughter. Benison, who was a big man, sprang up, shook his fist under the doctor's nose, then stalked out through the swing door leading into the road.
"What's the matter with the man?" asked Phillpotts, in genuine surprise.
"Had one too many," suggested someone else; and the talk turned back to fishing. Three or four minutes later, when we had all forgotten the incident, the door banged suddenly open, and in stalked Benison with the rain running off him in streams. He marched up to Phillpotts and again shook his fist under his nose. "I have been waiting for you outside for five minutes," he shouted. "Are you not going to give me the satisfaction one gentleman owes to another when he has insulted him?" It was lucky for all present that Phillpotts was an alienist. He apologised charmingly, and the pacified Benison went off to bed. But that was not the end of it. Nearly two hours later the bar door again opened wide, and in marched Benison, attired in a violently red dressing-gown. "Mr. Trinaman," he said, "give me a gin and bitters. I feel that if I do not have one now I shall have no appetite for breakfast." Benison was so eccentric that Trinaman got rid of him, and he went to the Forest Inn at Hexworthy, where he fell out with a tin-miner from the Vitifer Mine, and the two had a fearful battle.
Talking of battles, the weirdest fight I ever saw was on Dartmoor. A gang of navvies were at work on the Moor putting the telephone lines underground. It was a heavy job, and there were about forty of them, the real old-fashioned sort of "navigator"—big men in moleskins—wicked poachers, but otherwise delightful people. They had tents, and camped wherever they happened to be working. One night about nine o'clock I was walking home through a thick fog when I saw the dull glow of big braziers by the roadside, and realised I was approaching a navvy camp. As I came nearer I saw that the men were standing in a wide ring on the roadside turf, and that in the centre of the ring a battle was raging. Two big men—one a fair-haired Saxon, the other a dark Celt—were stripped to their shirts and pounding one another with bare fists. I've seen a bit of boxing, both in London and Plymouth, but never watched men take more tremendous punishment and remain on their feet. One of the navvies explained to me that the dark man was a tin-miner who had come among them with the evident intention of making trouble. He had picked a fight, and, by Jove! he certainly got it. In the end he was knocked out, whereupon the navvies, so far from showing any ill-will, got water, washed his broken face, gave him a drink, and, when he was able to walk again, set him on his way.
Dartmoor folk are not the least like those of the in-country, as we call the lowlands of Devonshire. While the latter are soft-spoken, courteous people, the Moormen are rougher, harder, and much keener on the main chance. The stranger is looked upon with suspicion, and, if he puts on side, will simply get cold-shouldered. On the other hand, if he is a friendly soul he will presently break through the crust of reserve, and then is welcome in all houses. "You come in just when you've a mind to," is the invitation given, and, unlike most invitations of the kind, it is thoroughly genuine. The teas I have had in many moorland farmhouses are equalled only by those that I have enjoyed in keepers' cottages in the Highlands of Scotland.
One of the biggest Duchy farms was Great Sherberton, reigned over by "Uncle" Dick Coaker. Uncle Dick was a fine old sportsman who talked the broadest of Devon. His specialty was birds, of which he knew more than most naturalists. Henry Maurice, Secretary of the Board of Fisheries, used to stay at Sherberton, and has often spoken to me of Uncle Dick's keen interest in birds. One year the old man got a sitting of wild geese eggs and hatched them out. For a time the young birds stayed on the farm, then they went wild, and all through the winter were seen at different places on the Moor. Many tried to shoot them, but they were extraordinarily wary, and difficult of approach. On one occasion, when snow was on the ground, we heard that they had been seen in Muddy Lake Newtake, a great stretch of wild land on the Cherry Brook. I could not go, but my cousin, Victor Bridges, and another man went off with their guns. The birds had been seen to alight in a hollow guarded by a belt of thick gorse, and Victor and his friend approached them from opposite sides, each crawling on hands and knees through the hard, frozen snow. At last, very cold, wet, and weary, Victor reached the gorse and cautiously raised his head, but all he could see was a few feathers, amid which a big old Moor fox was sitting up and licking his chops.
The Moor was stiff with foxes, which is one reason why black-game, once common, are now so rare. But the real reason why sport is so bad on Dartmoor is the constant "swaling" that goes on. Swaling, I should explain, is the burning of heather, which is an excellent thing if done at the proper season and not carried to excess. But, with the idea of getting fresh pasturage for their ponies and sheep, the Moormen burn off the whole place each spring, with the result that all cover is completely destroyed. Worse still, the burning is often carried on right into May, so that the nests of grouse and black-game and other ground-building birds are destroyed wholesale. The Duchy has rules against swaling, but the trouble is to enforce them. During all my nineteen years on Dartmoor I only remember one prosecution for this offence.
The one game bird which you can find all over Dartmoor is the snipe. In sharp winter weather every little bog-hole, even up on the tops of the high Moor, holds snipe. But it is useless to dream of getting any sport unless you have a good dog. Trinaman had a breed of red setters which seemed to work without being trained, and, when I had not a dog of my own, I borrowed one of his. It is hard walking, and there is always the risk of getting caught in a fog, but on a fine winter's day there is no air in the world to beat that of Dartmoor, and perhaps no other place in England where you get such wonderful views and such a sense of space and wildness. My brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Bridges, of the Marines, who knew South Africa well, often said that the Moor reminded him of the kopjes of that country, only the Moor has the added beauty of a stream in every valley. Besides snipe you may always pick up a teal or duck, and in some parts of the Moor rabbits are plentiful. Rabbits are fond of the great stone "hedges" which bound the Moorland Newtakes, and we used to have very good days ferreting along these walls. It was, however, necessary to bell your ferrets, for, as they would work very long distances along the centres of these great ramparts of granite and rubble, they would otherwise have been lost. The odd thing was that, while one valley teemed with rabbits, the next would be absolutely bare of them. This is a phenomenon I have noticed in other parts of the country, and one which is decidedly difficult to explain.
Of late years the Duchy authorities have imported grouse and turned them loose on Dartmoor, but, while they certainly breed, they remain very scarce. I do not think that there is any reason why they should not do well on Dartmoor, if properly looked after, but until the vermin are reduced and the indiscriminate swaling stopped there will never be any large head of game on the Moor.
The raven still nests on Dartmoor. I came to know of two nesting-places, but naturally have no intention of disclosing them. Among other rare birds still found on these heights are the common buzzard and the marsh harrier. Eagles are occasionally seen. One winter a sea-eagle haunted the neighbourhood of the prison, and was frequently noticed feeding on a rubbish-heap near by. To the best of my belief, this bird escaped the fool with the gun who shoots every rare bird he sets eyes upon.
All Dartmoor waters hold trout. It is true that, as a rule, the fish are very small, but they make up for lack of size by being the most sporting little fish imaginable. Twenty years ago one could be sure of two or three dozen fish on a good day. A friend—Mr. Slade, of Torquay—once took eight dozen in a day on the East Dart. In those days the trout licence cost only ten shillings a year, with another pound if you wanted to fish for salmon. Like everywhere else, the cost of the licence has risen, while the quality of the fishing has gone down. There are far, far too many rods on the water, and you must go very far afield to make sure of a basket. The deterioration in Dartmoor fishing is largely due to the scandalous way in which the rivers have been neglected.
The Darts, East and West, and their tributaries are all very rapid streams, and, owing to the tremendous rainfall, which averages nearly eighty inches yearly, are subject to furious floods. I have seen a flood come down the West Dart in a wall of water a yard high, and, after a big thunderstorm, have seen the river rise as much as nine feet, and turn from a purling brook to a raging torrent a hundred yards or more in width. Floods like these cut the banks to pieces, scour out the whole stream, bury the trout ova, and destroy the water-plants which attract the animalculae on which trout feed. On the other hand, in a dry summer the upper reaches of the brooks run almost dry. Indeed, the West Dart, Blackbrook, and Cowsic, the upper waters of which are drained by the Devonport leat, often run completely dry, and the trout either die or are forced to drop down into the lower reaches. No attempt has ever been made to remedy this state of things, as might easily be done by throwing rough stone dams across in suitable places. I know a Galway river, the Costello, which has been converted into a really first-class fishing stream in this way, and some years ago Mr. Cutcliffe Hyne described in the Field how he had, in similar fashion, turned a Yorkshire beck from a perfectly valueless water into a series of pools which teem with trout. Restocking has been equally neglected. In all my years on Dartmoor there was only one consignment of trout put into the Dart. Even that did an immensity of good. For years afterwards you caught trout much better in size and shape than the lean, dark little native fish.
Some years ago the Dart Fishery Board stopped worming for trout. On the face of it this seemed quite a useful regulation, for without doubt the local fishermen used to catch huge baskets with the worm during floods. But it cuts two ways. Dartmoor trout that have reached a weight of half a pound or more are too sophisticated to rise any longer to the fly. They take to bottom feeding, and very soon turn cannibals. A cannibal trout lives upon its own kind, and each accounts for three or four young trout daily. The only possible way of thinning out these pests is with the worm, and since worming has been abolished the fishing has gone from bad to worse. You may take it that every pool in the river holds its cannibal, and that the destruction wrought by them is infinitely worse than that formerly effected by the flood worming. Herons, again, are far too plentiful; so much so that the Fishery Board actually set a price on the head of these beautiful but voracious birds. There was an awful outcry among bird-lovers, and Henry Maurice wrote to me on the subject. I answered that I did not think he need trouble about the matter, for that Jack Heron knew a gun so well that very few of those rewards would ever be claimed. Often and often, when I have been fishing, I have seen a heron rise out of the river within easy gunshot, but when I have gone down, gun in hand, to tackle the marauder, he has never let me get within sixty yards. As a bird-lover as well as an angler I reiterate my opinion that the heron is the worst of pests on a trout stream.
Fishing perhaps twice a week, I usually took between six and seven hundred trout during the season. The heaviest trout I ever had from the Dart was one of two pounds, but the average was more like six to the pound. One of the best fishing waters is the Devonport leat, for which one has to take out a special licence. It is a mere ditch, five feet wide, which runs in great curves along the hillsides, carrying pure spring water from the heights down to the big seaports of Plymouth and Devonport. Clear as crystal, the water runs over beds of sand and shingle, and, since the average depth is something less than six inches, the stranger never dreams of its holding trout. Yet trout there are in plenty, and I have had them up to a pound in weight. It is difficult fishing, for it is, of course, essential to keep out of sight. The most successful leat fisherman I ever knew, the late Mr. Collins of Bristol, used nothing but the dry fly. For myself, I confess that my best baskets from the leat have been taken by dapping with the grass-hopper and the fern-web beetle, otherwise known as the "bachelor's button."
Cheap Fishing—An Angler in Tears—Bait for an Adder—My Biggest Fish
ONE frequently hears of people renting beats on famous salmon rivers like the Tay, paying huge sums, and getting no fish. A year or two ago a certain noble lord paid six hundred pounds for such a beat, only to find on his arrival that the water was so low that it was quite unfishable. Forty-eight hours before the end of his lease came a downpour, and on his last day he caught one grilse. "I ate it myself," he said. "I did not see why I shouldn't, seeing what it cost me." On the Moor we used to pay thirty shillings for a salmon licence for the whole season, lasting from March to the end of September, and if March was wet there was a good run of fish into the upper waters. If not, one had to wait until September, when there were always some fish up. A friend who lived on the best of the water some three miles below Two Bridges once got sixty fish in the season, averaging about ten pounds in weight. In other words, his fish cost him only sixpence each, which is somewhat of a contrast to the experience of the peer above mentioned.
There were two or three men who lived all the year round in Moorland farmhouses simply for the enjoyment of cheap sport. One of these, the late Standish Jackson, was a very keen salmon fisherman. I remember a September that was unusually dry and fine, and when fish were consequently very scarce. On the night of the 29th it began to rain, and by morning the water was rising fast and the fish moving. Jackson started early, and by four in the afternoon had five fish. Loading these into the carrier of an extraordinary old motor-tricycle, in which he always travelled, he drove up from Dartmeet to Two Bridges to exhibit them at the hotel. He was soaked wet, so no one can blame him for having a drink or two to keep out the cold. As he stood at the bar, who should turn up but Sam Adams, the well-known master of the Lamerton Hounds, and one of the finest, hardest sportsmen in Devon. "Well," he said, looking at the fish, "I reckon I'd have had half a dozen while I was about it."
"I can catch another if I want to," cried Jackson.
"Bet you a fiver you can't," retorted Sam.
"Done with you," exclaimed Jackson and was off, roaring up the hill in his weird machine.
A man who saw him arrive at Dartmeet begged him to leave it alone. It was nearly dark, the rain falling in torrents, the flood thundering down. But Jackson would listen to no remonstrances, and, making straight for the nearest pool, began to cast. By a sort of miracle his third cast brought a rise. It was a twelve-pound fish, and fought savagely in the swollen flood, but more by luck than judgment Jackson got it to the gaff, and at seven was back again at Two Bridges to claim Sam's fiver. Sam had the fish, so he got something for his money. A reckless person was Jackson. On another occasion, after spending an unsuccessful afternoon in pursuit of salmon, he was coming home at dusk over Hexworthy bridge when, looking over, he saw a fish lying close under the high arch on the lower side of the bridge. It was not the sort of place where a fish was likely to take, and an impossible one to put a fly over, but, more for a joke than anything else, Jackson whipped a prawn on to a single hook and dropped it over the parapet, letting it drift down towards the salmon. To his utter amazement the fish seized it, and, when struck, went straight up stream under the bridge. As I have said, the arch was high, and the water is, I suppose, fully twenty feet below the roadway. Jackson, holding his rod, went over the parapet, landed on the high, rocky bank, slid down it, and dropped into waist-deep water below. By that time the fish was up at the top of the big, deep pool above, and nearly all his line was off the reel. Jackson had to wade up against the strong stream under the arch of the bridge and then start fighting the fish above it. To make a long story short, he got the fish, a very nice sixteen pounder.
Personally I think salmon fishing the finest sport in the world, and have found no thrill to compare with the first furious rush of a hooked fish. It is also one of the most trying, difficult, even heart-breaking of sports. In the first place a salmon, as you all know, does not feed in fresh water, and it is probably not one fish in ten that comes up to spawn which can be tempted or worried into rising to a fly or taking a shrimp or prawn. Often and often I have spent a whole day casting till my arms ached, with never a rise to reward me. On the other hand, I have more than once gone down late in the evening and got a couple of fish before dark. The best I ever had in the Dart was a twenty pounder caught a mile below Dartmeet. I was fishing that day with that fine sportsman, Mr. Harold Cross of Dartmeet, and without his help should never have landed my big take.
Half a mile above Dartmeet on the West Dart is a famous pool known as Queenie Pool, and I have a little story to tell of a tragedy which occurred there. One August afternoon in the year 1910 I was working in my garden when a friend named Bates turned up in a car and suggested that he would like to go salmon fishing. The sun was blazing down, there had been no rain for days, and the river was low and clear as gin.
I jeered. "You might as well go fishing in the road," I told him.
He refused to be discouraged. "It will be very nice down the river," he said. "And even if there are no fish to be caught, you can show me how to work a prawn. I want to know." It was, in truth, a delightful evening, and a drive down river sounded tempting. I went into the house, got my rod and tackle, and we drove down.
"If there's a fish in the river," I said, "it will be in the head of Queenie Pool, but it's a hundred to one against its taking even if it is there."
We walked to the pool and I put up my rod. As the water was so clear I put on a full fly cast, a brand new one made by one of the best-known firms of tackle-makers. I used one hook and whipped on a very small prawn. I showed Bates how to cast, and handed him the rod. He could not manage it, and I took the rod again.
"Like this," I said, and, dropping the prawn into the white water at the head of the stickle, let it swim down. It stopped. "Good Lord!" I gasped, and struck.
Whizz! Out went the line with a scream, and Bates yelled as a yard of gleaming silver flung itself high out of the water and fell back with a resounding splash.
"Fourteen pounds if he's an ounce!" I cried; and my joy can hardly be measured as I saw that the fish was going down the pool instead of up into the difficult and dangerous water above. We ran with the fish to the lower end of the long pool, and he went down into fast water below.
"Now I've got you, my beauty," was my unspoken thought, for I had the biggest pool and the best bank on the river in which to play the fish. What a triumph it would be to land a fish in such weather! The fish turned, and, being well below him, I gave him the butt. That brand-new seven-and-sixpenny gut cast broke like rotten pack-thread, and now you will see why I have not mentioned the name of the firm that made it!
Here is another thing that happened at Queenie Pool. A schoolmaster from a low-country village came up on the Moor for a few days' holiday. He was a meek little man who knew nothing of fishing except that he had occasionally caught a few perch or roach. However, he brought a rod, took out a licence, and went fishing. His bait appears to have been worms. Late that same evening a friend of mine, who lived on the Moor, was making his way up along the fisherman's path past Queenie Pool, when in the dusk he heard a sound of sobbing. Pushing through the bushes, he saw a little man on the bank, holding on to a rod. And it was this man who was sobbing.
"What the devil is the matter with you?" enquired my friend bluntly.
"I—I've got something on my line. I've had it for two hours. I—I can't land it," moaned the little man.
My friend took the rod, and at once realised that there was a salmon on the hook and that the fish was sulking in the depths of the pool. A few well-directed stones soon stirred the creature into action, and in a few minutes he was brought to bank, a nice little fish of about eight pounds. But—as every salmon fisherman will understand—the miracle is that the schoolmaster had managed to hold the fish when first he hooked him.
There are few more difficult rivers than the Dart and, I may add, few more dangerous. There is indeed much truth in the old saying, "Dart—Dart, every year thou claimest a heart." I have myself had one or two pretty close calls. Once when trout fishing below Prince Hall, with the water still high after a big flood, I stepped out from the bank on to a big rock fronting a deep, swirling pool. I knew the place well, and always took my stand on this particular rock, which was the only spot from which one could command the pool. The moment my weight was on the rock I felt it move, and with a desperate effort leaped backwards. As I gained the bank the whole great mass, tons in weight, keeled slowly over and fell into the river with a sullen plunge. Another time I was after salmon down the Double Dart when I got my line hung up, and stepped out on a great spur of rock to clear it. This rock, polished with floods, was smooth as ice. My nailed boots skidded on its glassy surface and I found myself plunged into a roaring stickle. Somehow I grabbed the end of the spur and hung on, and, after a bit, managed to clamber out. But it was a close call. Incidentally I bruised the bone of my right shin in the fall and was laid up for a month.
We had some hard-bitten sportsmen on the Moor. One bitter April day a friend—the same who found the schoolmaster with the salmon—was by the river when, to his amazement, he saw a man undressing beside a pool. Next minute he stood up stark and plunged in. It's a pool called Hurdle Pool, any depth you like, and with a horrible spin where the full stream hits a big rock and comes round in a great whirl. By the time my friend came up the other was out again.
"Bathing?" questioned my friend drily.
"Oh, no," said the other. "Got my fly hung up and had to go in to clear it." This particular bold fisherman was a young curate. Me, if I'd lost my whole book of flies, I would not have gone into any part of the Dart in such weather.
Talking of bathing, my friend, Colonel Fawcett, the Brazilian explorer, was fond of fishing in the early morning. He used to get up at daybreak, walk a mile or two down and fish up, and generally come back to breakfast with a full creel. One morning he had started down as usual when he was stopped by a parson, who came running frantically up. "You can't go down there!" he shouted.
Fawcett was inclined to think that the poor fellow had taken leave of his senses, but he stopped. "What's the matter?" he asked.
"My wife and my sister are bathing in the long pool," panted the parson. Presumably they were in puris naturalibus, but Fawcett, being a modest man, enquired no further. He turned and fished up.
One of the best fishermen on the Dart is Fred Daubeny, who has lived on the Moor for at least thirty years past, and has probably caught more salmon than any other fisherman in Devonshire. Though not a Devon man by birth, he can, if he pleases, talk better Devon than the Moormen themselves. His pet aversion is to see people wading, and anglers indulging in this form of fishing opposite Little Sherberton, where Daubeny was living, were invariably warned off. "If they want to wash their feet," said Daubeny, "they can do it somewhere else."
There was a dear old lad named Meares who used to fish from Two Bridges. He was a London solicitor, elderly, and very stout. Always, when he went fishing, he took with him a lad called Tommy French, "to pull me out if I fall in," he used to say with a fat chuckle; but, as he weighed sixteen stone and Tommy less than six, the result would probably have been contrariwise. Meares fished for trout, not salmon, but one day, when far down the river, Tommy spotted a fish lying in a pool. Meares, all excitement, plaited together three light trout casts, while Tommy dug a big lob-worm. Dangled in front of the salmon's nose, the bait proved too tempting to resist, and Meares hooked him firmly. After fearful excitement the fish began to give up the struggle, but then it occurred to Meares that he had no gaff, and that his little trout-net was not nearly large enough to hold the fish. So Tommy was sent flying to the nearest farmhouse to fetch a gaff. There was no gaff, but the resourceful youth returned with a pitch-fork. Between them they landed the fish. I know they did, for I helped to eat it.
One day Meares nearly trod on an adder, which escaped into a pile of stones. "But I'll have him," Meares told us that evening. " I have set a night line for him."
"What did you bait it with?" asked someone.
"A ham sandwich," was the answer.
There is often a fine run of peal (sea trout) up the Dart, but they rarely rise in daytime, and we used always to go down and fish for them by night. Braky Firs was the most famous pool for peal, and more than once I have spent the whole night there fishing, or resting rolled in a rug. A summer night spent in this fashion is one of the most delightful experiences possible, but has a touch of the weird. You hear noises difficult to account for, and the river itself, talking in the darkness, has a strange resemblance to voices whispering in some unknown language. Odd things happen. A Mr. Martin, who was very fond of peal fishing, hooked a good fish one night, had tired it out, and was drawing it in when there came a great rush and swirl and the line went ripping off his reel and, before he could do anything, was snapped. It was an otter, which had seized his fish and gone off with it. On another occasion Martin, casting out into the darkness, hooked what he took for a fish. Imagine, if you can, his utter amazement when the "fish" flew straight up into the air. When, after a long struggle, he brought his catch to hand, he found that it was a moorhen. I have, myself, caught a swallow which swooped at my fly, and I know of another case of an angler hooking a good-sized grass-snake which was swimming across the pool.
Salmon running up to spawn will often push up during a flood into waters far too small to hold them. I have seen a fourteen-pound fish right away up the Cowsic, which is a brook so small that in many places one can step across it. The foolish fish that take such risks are too often the prey of poachers. As for peal, they have been known to reach the intake of the Devonport leat and to work down it into Burra Tor reservoir. Only those who know the water can appreciate what this means.
Myself, I have fished from the time I could walk, beginning with perch from muddy Herefordshire ponds, and never despising any sort of angling. The best sport I ever had in my life was during a fortnight spent in Connemara, as the guest of Cecil Harmsworth. That was in 1910. Harmsworth took a fishing called the Costello, which then belonged to Major Laing. There were three miles of river and a very wonderful lough. The best sport was with the white trout on the lough and, though the weather was none too good, four rods averaged forty white trout daily. By way of making the most of my time I used to get up early every morning and go up the river to try for salmon. For six days in succession I returned empty-handed to breakfast, to endure the good-natured chaff of the house party. On the sixth day there was some rain and next morning the river was up a few inches. I went a mile up, to a place known as the Carrig Pool, and almost at once saw a fish rise near the head. At the third cast he came at me. I struck, and away he went, ripping out over fifty yards of line before I could begin to check him.
The Costello fish run small, and one of eight pounds is accounted a prize, but, though I had not seen my gentleman, I knew at once that I was into something a deal heavier than that. Quivering with excitement, I gave him the butt, but he went down into the depths—the pool is twenty feet deep—and I could do nothing with him. It was a quarter to seven when I hooked that fish, it was five-and-twenty to eight before I got on terms with him, and when at last I drove the gaff into him and hauled him out I could hardly believe my eyes. He was twenty pounds if an ounce. My return that morning was a Roman triumph, and the fish, weighed by dear old "John Bickerdyke," was found to scale twenty-one and a half pounds, almost a record for the river. J. B.—who, I am glad to say, is still in the land of the living, and from whom I had a letter not long ago—had meant to spend that morning in doing his weekly work for the Field, of which he was angling editor. Instead, he returned with me to Carrig Pool, and we put in hours vainly endeavouring to secure the mate of my giant.
Another of the fishing party at Costello was the late Sir Joseph Leese, who, if I am not mistaken, was at one time member for Accrington. He was an expert at working a spinning bait, and, using a tiny six-foot rod, used to cast enormous distances. He killed more fish than any of us. Costello is the only place I know of where you can catch salmon with the fly in salt water. The river runs into a bay, and a hundred yards or so off the mouth are a couple of large rocks bare at half tide. Here the salmon seem to gather, waiting for a flood to run upstream, and here you may see them leaping literally by the hundred. Bright as silver and full of life, they form a really wonderful sight as they splash up out of the clear salt water. Anchoring a boat off these rocks, one can fish with a fly, and now and then a fish takes and, of course, gives splendid sport. The odd thing is that the fish will not look at any of the ordinary patterns of salmon fly, nor will they take a spinning bait, a prawn, or any of the usual lures. The only fly to use is one made locally, a nondescript arrangement that resembles a daddy-long-legs rather than any other insect.
The finest pollack fishing imaginable may be enjoyed off this coast. One afternoon J. B. and I took a boat and pulled through the bay into the open Atlantic. It was a lovely day without wind, but with a long Atlantic swell smashing in clouds of foam on the bare coast. I have never seen so bare a coast as this. Not a green thing in sight—just granite rocks. The water is like green glass, and you can see the bottom in five fathoms. We had carefully collected a good store of sand eels, which are the finest possible bait for pollack, and we had hardly got a line out before we began to catch fish. In all we had about forty, the smallest six pounds and the largest about double that weight. We fished right up to dusk, and it was dark when we got back and the tide so low we could not reach the river-mouth, so we landed at the village and hired an ass-cart to take our catch up to the lodge. The natives were simply amazed at our catch, for they themselves had vowed that the water was too clear for pollacking. But then they use tackle as thick as an ordinary blind-cord, while we had snoods of fine steel wire. They are very poor fishermen, these Connemara folk, and their boats such wretched things that, except in the calmest weather, they dare not venture out at all.
The main industry of the coast is cutting turf, which the people sell to the inhabitants of Aran and the other islands off the coast. In 1910 a man was satisfied if he made a shilling a day, and the poverty was terrible. St. John Harmsworth came over, bringing the big Rolls-Royce in which he has always had to travel after the terrible accident which crippled him. Such a car had never before been seen in the country, and as it came from Galway to Costello the chauffeur saw a turf-cart ahead. He blew his horn, and the driver of the turf-cart, a typical bog-trotter, looked round. One glance was enough, then, with a shriek of terror, he leapt down and ran for his life. The horse, equally frightened, bolted, and, running against a boulder, tipped the cart and spilt all the turf. The driver, recovering, came back and began vigorously to abuse the people in the car. But a gift of half a crown changed his curses to blessings, and all was well.
Some Prison Episodes—Dashes for Liberty and Their Results—A Dartmoor Mutiny—In the Punishment Yard—Literary Tastes of Convicts
ONE of the very first things that happened after our arrival on Dartmoor was a search of our place by warders from the prison who were hunting for an escaped convict. In those days, now more than twenty years ago, escapes, or attempts at escape, were frequent. The number of prisoners in Dartmoor was very much larger than it is now. At times, indeed, there were as many as twelve hundred in residence, and, as Dartmoor is the recidivist prison, they were the toughest lot of old lags in the country. Discipline and conditions generally were much stiffer than they are now. I say attempts at escape because, so far as known, only one lag ever succeeded in making good his escape from Dartmoor, and that was some forty years ago. This particular convict got away to Australia, where, some years later, he was spotted by a Scotland Yard detective who had been sent out on other business. The detective, instead of arresting the fugitive, made enquiries about him, and found that he was earning an honest livelihood. He then cabled home for instructions, and, according to the story I have heard, was directed to leave the man alone. A very sensible decision, too.
The lags who bolted from the prison usually did so under cover of either fog or rain, and the poor devils had a horrible time of it. The prison stands at a height of nearly fifteen hundred feet above sea-level, and there is practically no shelter. Even when provided with a good macintosh, it is impossible to keep dry on Dartmoor, and the escaped convict wearing ordinary working clothes is soon soaked to the skin, and chilled to the bone. As soon as an escape is notified the prison bell is rung and all prisoners at work on "the bogs," as the farm is called, are quickly marched in and locked in their cells. In fact, almost all prison work ceases, and a very large force of warders, usually about seventy in number, set out in pursuit. A guard is posted on every bridge for miles around, and of course the police of Tavistock, Plymouth, Okehampton, and other towns within a wide radius are warned by telephone. To make matters still worse for the escaped man, there is a standing reward of five pounds for anyone who brings in a fugitive, with the result that the Moormen are all on the qui vive to catch the runaway. Since the roads are barred to the fugitive, he has to keep to the open moor, while his only possible chance of getting food, change of clothes, or shelter is to break into some lonely moorland farm. In private life the prisoner may have been a successful burglar, but burgling is a poor game when you have no jemmy or weapon of any kind, and are, into the bargain, frozen cold, soaked through, and weak with starvation.
As a rule a runaway is picked up within a few hours, but there have been cases of men being at liberty—if you can call it liberty—for longer than that. I remember the case of a lag called Yaxley, who escaped one Friday morning and made off across the Moor in an easterly direction. In spite of every effort nothing was heard of him that day, and on Saturday excitement ran high. Scores of Moor folk joined the warders in the chase, but Yaxley had disappeared so completely that an idea gained ground that he had fallen into a bog and been swallowed up. But this was not the case, for on Sunday morning a farmer named Yeo turned up at the prison in his trap with Yaxley in charge. Late on the previous evening Yeo, who lived at Boggator near Petertavy, four miles from Tavistock, was walking through a plantation when his dog stopped opposite a pile of dead leaves and began to bark. A man in prison kit jumped out of the leaves and tried to run, but he was so weak with hunger that he could not go fast, and Yeo and the dog very soon had him. Yeo took him to the farm, gave him a good meal, let him sleep in the kitchen, and brought him back to captivity next morning.
Another man—I forget his name—got away from the quarries one winter evening, and, like Yaxley, completely disappeared. For three whole days the man-hunt went on, then on the fourth night a warder who lived about half a mile from the prison, near Rundlestone, on the Tavistock Road, was roused by a knocking at his door, and, going down, found the escaped man leaning against the wall, almost too weak to stand upright. When able to speak, the wretched lag explained that he had never been a mile from the prison during his seventy-odd hours of liberty, but had been lying up in a hole in the prison plantation on the side of Hessary Tor, creeping out at night to steal a turnip or two from one of the fields. Fed up with this diet and the bitter cold, he had decided at last that the best and only course was to give himself up.
It was a man named Searle who, of all those who attempted to escape during my acquaintance with the prison came nearest to success. William Searle was a little man who had once been a jockey, but for some unknown reason had turned his attention from racing-stables to jewellers' shops. While serving a sentence in Dartmoor he got a book out of the prison library which described Winston Churchill's escape from the Boers during the South African War. To Searle the idea seemed so sound that he determined to act upon it, and, seizing the chance offered by the sudden sweep of a thick fog, bolted and got clear away. Instead of going off across the Moor, he made for the railway line, hid in a patch of gorse close to the station, and waited for the evening goods train which he knew to be due out shortly. As it came rumbling slowly past he leaped up and scrambled into a truck, which he found to be laden with agricultural implements and timber. The train went through Yelverton down to Plymouth, where the truck was shunted, then attached to another train which took it down the Great Western main line into Cornwall. At the end of twenty-four hours Searle was half dead with cramp and hunger, yet dared not emerge, and when at last, driven to desperation, he tried to do so, found that the timber had shifted so that he could not get out. Eventually the truck stopped at Penzance, where two porters, engaged in unloading it, discovered the wretched Searle half dead and almost insensible. He had been nearly three days in the truck, and the wonder was that he survived such an experience.
Two men working on the roof of the blacksmith's shop made a clever escape. Using a plank, they gained the wall of the Deputy Governor's garden, then boldly crossed the road and hid in the wood opposite. No one had seen them go, and it was some time before their escape was detected. The next heard of them was when the driver of the evening goods train spotted them close by the line. He stopped the train and the guard sprang out and, raising a shunting-pole to his shoulder, shouted, "Stop or I'll shoot."
They stopped, but as the guard came nearer they spotted the deception and bolted. They went back into the prison wood, and, though hunted by scores of warders, could not be found. At one in the morning two civil guards watching a bridge over the Walkham saw a man approaching cautiously, and pounced on him. He was one of the runaways, and was found to have taken off his boots so as to get past quietly. The other man, however, eluded his pursuers, and all next day was hunted in vain. When a third night arrived without a sign of him the general opinion was that he had got clear. In point of fact this fellow—F.24 was his official number—was in hiding quite close to the bridge where his companion had been captured, and that night he broke into a dwelling-house, helped himself to a suit of clothes, a silver watch, and some money, then went to the larder, where he guzzled on cream and other good things, after which he hid himself in a culvert running under the road, where he could actually hear the warders talking. Before dawn he started for Plymouth, but had the misfortune to be spotted by a dog belonging to two warders, and, its barking bringing up the officers, F.24 was soon back in his cell.
Civil guards, mounted on ponies, patrol while parties of prisoners work in the open, and they and the warders in charge of the parties are armed with carbines. In September 1911 a gang was being marched down from the quarries at the end of the day's work when, just as they passed through the tunnel leading under the main road, two young men named Bruce and Lewis made a dash for liberty. Lewis leaped the low wall and got clear, but Bruce was shot by one of the civil guards, and, though he regained his feet, was soon taken. Lewis was recaptured twenty-four hours later. Bruce was not much hurt, for the cartridges used in prison carbines are loaded, not with bullets, but merely buckshot, while the charge of powder is a very small one. This change was made some twenty years ago after a prisoner, trying to escape from Dartmoor, was shot dead by a civil guard. While the average lag waits for fog before making a bolt, there are cases in which a man has tried to clear in broad daylight. I remember one such case—I think it was in 1909—when a convict called James Henry "did a bunk" in broad daylight. I happened to be fishing on the leat at the time, within a mile of the prison, and, though I did not actually see the escape, I heard two shots fired. The second got Henry in the leg, and he was at once retaken. His wounds were very slight, and he was only in hospital for a few days.
Attempts to escape are severely dealt with. Before the war the punishment for such an attempt was fifteen days No. 1 diet (bread, water, and gruel), forty-two days No. 2 diet, deprivation of marks, and a special dress which is a hideous yellow uniform. Also the wearing of leg-irons for a period of six months. These are light chains which are riveted to the ankles and worn day and night.
Deprivation of marks means longer detention in prison, for it is only by gaining full marks that a prisoner can obtain the one-third remission which is granted to all well-behaved men.
Basil Thomson was Governor of the prison when I first went to live on Dartmoor. I found him a kindly, clever, interesting man, and know that he was popular both with his officers and with the prisoners. His book, The Story of Dartmoor Prison, is by far the best thing of its kind that I have read.
No institution depends more absolutely upon its head than a prison, and no man has a harder and more responsible job than a prison Governor. He not only works all day, but at least once a week has to make a surprise visit by night. It is no joke to get out of bed at one o'clock on a winter morning and tramp all round a huge prison like Dartmoor. Some idea of its size may be gained from the fact that the great circular wall surrounding the yard in which the buildings stand measures exactly a mile in length. One Governor will be popular with the officers and hated by the lags; another will be liked by the prisoners and loathed by the warders. To satisfy both sides needs a combination of qualities rarely found in one individual. A prison Governor must have infinite tact, perfect control of his temper, and—above all—a sense of humour. Once he loses control the most terrible trouble is almost sure to occur.
There was a very ugly business at Dartmoor during the time I was on the Moor, but this I should be careful to say was no fault of the Governor. Under the new Borstal system of treatment which was then just coming in, a concert party was invited from Plymouth to give an entertainment in the prison one Sunday afternoon. It was to have been held in the infirmary, but, owing to a serious accident necessitating an operation on a prisoner, this was impossible, and the concert was arranged to be held in the prison chapel. In this building there was, however, room for nine hundred only out of the twelve hundred inmates of the prison, so that three hundred were necessarily disappointed. These lost no time in starting trouble, and when they were paraded for exercise there were two attacks on warders.
A little later a party of sixty convicts were being escorted from the Roman Catholic chapel to No. 4 prison when they suddenly mutinied. A big brute, who appeared to be the ringleader, sprang out and struck Warder Birch a heavy blow. Birch's mate, Warder Bailey, went to Birch's assistance, but both men were knocked down, kicked, and smothered with coal, coke, and other missiles. Warders outside the messroom heard the row, and came running, drawing their coshes as they came. The lags saw them and bolted to their cells, where they were at once locked in. The two warders, Birch and Bailey, were badly hurt, and had to be carried to hospital. The next business was to find out who was responsible for the riot, and then there was more trouble. The prison Medical Officer, Dr. Murray, was examining one of the mutineers, a man named Benjamin Evans, when without warning the fellow hit him a tremendous blow in the face. Warder Rundle, who was in charge of the prisoner, was also knocked down, and it took three warders to overpower him. Evans, I believe, got a bashing, and some of the others were birched.
Birching, by the by, though nothing like so serious a punishment as bashing (that is, flogging), is far more effective. A lag who has been tied to the triangle and flogged with a cat-o'-nine-tails poses afterwards as a hero among his mates, but birching, which corresponds to a similar punishment meted out to unruly schoolboys, is looked upon as beneath the dignity of a grown man. He cannot well show his scars, and you can take it that the prison Governor who knows his business prefers birching to flogging. The Governor himself has no power to order a birching, let alone a flogging. Any prisoner who has been guilty of a serious misdemeanour, such as an attack on a warder, has to be held for the next meeting of the visiting justices, who hear all the evidence and decide on fitting punishment. But even they cannot sentence a man to be flogged. They can recommend a flogging, but their recommendation and all the evidence has to go to the Home Office, and the Home Secretary himself must sign the order before the sentence can be carried out. A bashing is a nasty business, and the Governor himself, as well as the prison doctor, has to be present. In all British prisons the average of floggings is less than three per year.
Once when I was going round the prison with the Governor, he took me into the stone yard. Here he made me walk on the inner side—that is, farthest from the men at work. Also he warned me not to look specially at any of them. What I noticed was that the men, of whom there were eight or ten only, were breaking stones with hammers which were chained to ring-bolts. When we got outside, the Governor explained that these were men who could not be trusted in any shop, let alone outside. Any one of them was liable to run amok. There is always a small percentage of these human brutes to whom nothing appeals, neither kindness nor punishment. As an old principal warder once told me, "It's no joke going into the cell of one of those chaps in the morning. You never know whether he isn't waiting behind the door, ready to jump on you." Such men are perfectly reckless, and if one takes a grudge against a warder no fear of punishment prevents his revenging himself. A lag named Murphy was pulled up for talking at exercise by a young assistant-warder named Weale. He scowled and muttered, and waited his chance. Next day, Sunday, Weale was walking in front of the gang taking them to service in the Roman Catholic chapel, when Murphy slipped up behind him, floored him with a terrific blow, and, as the warder fell, started to kick him on the head. It was the priest, Father Finnigan, who came to Weale's rescue, and, though by no means a big man, managed to hold Murphy until help came. Another case I remember was that of a lag called Joyce, who sneaked up behind Warder Curry and hit him over the head with a spade. Curry nearly died, and Joyce got a well-deserved bashing.
You get all sorts in a prison, and knowing, as I did, so many prison officers, I heard a good deal about the ins and outs of prison life. Murderers are always the best prisoners. I remember a black man who had been a stoker. He killed another stoker in a fight with knives, and got fifteen years' penal servitude. A quieter man never served a sentence, and he was a first-class worker. I saw him busy in the blacksmith's shop, and was told he never lost a mark. There was one old lag who had been living for a long time in a cell right up under the roof. He was a good prisoner, and the Governor, by way of rewarding him, offered him a much better cell on a lower floor. But the old chap refused. "I'd much sooner stay where I am, sir," he said. "You see, I used to be a sailor, and up there under the roof I can hear the wind whistling overhead. It's company to me." This man could neither read nor write, and used to walk up and down his cell for hours.
Cells are searched at intervals during the absence of the inmate. There are two warders who do this and nothing else. One of the searchers reported to the Governor that he had found a bar in one cell filed almost through. The Governor saw the inmate and asked where he kept his file. He and his cell both had been searched without effect. "That would be telling, sir," replied the lag with a grin.
"You will be punished," threatened the Governor.
The man, however, would not speak, and went to a punishment cell for three days, after which he was moved to another cell. A week or two later the searchers found a window-bar in this cell cut nearly through, the gap being carefully concealed with a pellet of chewed bread. Again the man was questioned, again he refused to answer, and again he was punished, after which he was removed to a cell up at the very top of the hall, where, even if he did cut a bar, he would certainly not be able to reach the ground. A few months later the date came for his release. Always, before a prisoner goes out, the Governor sees him and has a chat. "Judd," said the Governor, "you are now a free man. Purely as a matter of curiosity I should like to know where you kept that file. Will you tell me?"
Judd grinned. "Yes, I'll tell you, sir." He put his finger into his mouth, and after a moment produced a tiny watchmaker's file to which was attached a morsel of fine twine.
"You kept it in your mouth?" said the Governor in amazement.
"No, sir," said Judd. "I kept it down my throat, tied to a back tooth so it wouldn't slip down altogether." Such a feat sounds sheerly incredible, yet I have the Governor's word for it that it is perfectly true.
Once when watching the various parties filing into the prison in long double columns at the end of their day's work, I noticed a bent, elderly man who, instead of walking in column like the rest, followed his party walking alone. The Governor saw me staring at the fellow and laughed. "The whole British prison system has tried to make that old chap walk in column and has failed. He never gave any reason for refusing to walk next another man; he simply won't do it. He was punished and punished when he first came in, but it was absolutely useless. And, since in other respects he was, and is, an excellent prisoner, it was at last thought best to let him have his way."
There is a very good library at Dartmoor, and it was interesting to hear from the librarian what books are most popular with prisoners. It seems that seventy per cent. prefer light literature. I have noticed that the volumes bearing the names of Hall Caine and Marie Corelli showed signs of hard usage, and that quite a number of prisoners liked Dickens, Scott, and Thackeray. Dumas, Rider Haggard, and Mrs. Henry Wood were much read. Charles Reade's books have always been prison favourites, especially his Never Too Late to Mend. Other standard authors whose books are regularly out are Miss Braddon, Marion Crawford, Besant and Rice, Seton Merriman, and Clark Russell. The poets are not in any great request, yet the volumes of Shakespeare show signs of pretty constant usage. Occasionally you get a swanky prisoner who makes a point of asking for higher grade literature. One man caused a small sensation by wanting Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations.
Ill-educated prisoners who do not read easily are very fond of bound volumes of illustrated magazines, of which there is a good store in every prison library. A point that interested me was the extraordinary popularity of boys' books and papers. The B.O.P., Chums, and the like are always in great request. On one occasion a bigwig from the Home Office was making a round of the prison, and, entering a cell, asked the occupant, "Have you any complaints to make of your treatment?"
"Yes, sir," came the answer promptly. "I have been down for the Boys' Own Paper for a month and haven't got it yet." A convict once asked for Tacitus de Oratore, and when the chaplain mildly suggested that he probably meant Cicero he replied, "Sir, I'm a Smith's Prizeman, and that ought to be good enough for you." But the gentleman was, after all, discharged without reading Tacitus de Oratore.
The New Era in the Treatment of Prisoners—The Pendulum Swings Too Far—Prison as a Health Resort—"The Dartmoor Shepherd"—Winston Churchill and a Shovel—Old Lags
THE two greatest changes that I have seen in my life have been in the education of children and the treatment of prisoners. "When I was a young man, prison was prison," said an old lag once in my hearing, and truly the discipline was iron. The policy in this country was to give the prisoner just enough food to keep him in health, and to get as much work out of him as possible. Now—well, the pendulum has a way of swinging too fast and far, and I shall have more to say on the absurdities which are practised nowadays.
The new gaol era owes its inception to Winston Churchill, who, when he was Home Secretary in 1910, outlined a complete revision of our prison and punishment system which, as he said in a speech made in July of that year in the House of Commons, was designed with the dual object of keeping as many people as possible out of gaol and of fitting for a return to honest life all those who get within it. Many people, he said, were sent to gaol because they were unable to pay fines, and he intended to see how a period of grace could be ensured before the alternative sentence was enforced. In the second place, he considered it a disaster to send lads under twenty-one to prison. "No boy," said Mr. Churchill, "ought to go to prison unless he is incorrigible or has been guilty of one of the gravest offences." Other reforms suggested in this speech were the shortening of "separates" from three months to one month. All prisoners sentenced to penal servitude had, previous to 1910, served three months' separate confinement. A fourth reform was that of entertainments, concerts or the like, in all gaols, at least once in three months.
All these reforms were useful and, carried out with sense and moderation, as they were up to the outbreak of the war, proved most valuable. It is since 1919 that prison reform has fallen into the hands of cranks and has been carried to an absurd excess. To-day prison food is much better than that which the guardians of the average country workhouse can afford for the inhabitants of their institution. On this particular point I know what I am talking about, for I was a member of the Tavistock Board of Guardians for nine years, and I have also been many times in the kitchen of Dartmoor prison and have seen and tasted the food there provided. Convicts are no longer compelled to wear the broad arrows which have been their uniform for generations past; their hair is not cropped short, and they are provided with safety razors for shaving. They are no longer searched morning and evening, as was formerly the case. Warders, who, by the by, are no longer "warders" but prison officers, are ordered to address their charges by name and not by number, and are enjoined on no account ever to speak roughly to these lambs. In order to cultivate the aesthetic senses of the old lags, flowers are to be kept in each hall. Entertainments varying from concerts to cinema entertainments are frequent and free, and to-day a convict prison is the finest health resort in the kingdom.
The result is deplorable. The old lag has lost all fear of prison, and thinks nothing of a fresh conviction and return to gaol. What the modern prison reformer forgets, or never considers, is the fact that these old lags are the very scum of civilisation, many of them guilty of crimes so cruel and beastly that the details are never recorded in the newspapers. Most are quite beyond reform, and it seems to me a wicked business that they should be petted and pampered while honest working men starve for lack of employment. I need hardly say that the cost of all these "reforms" is enormous. I think I am right in stating that each prisoner now costs the burdened tax-payer considerably more than double what he did in 1914. If you want the opinion of a prisoner on the subject of the modem British prison, here it is. The verses were found written on the wall of a cell in Reading Gaol:
I cannot take my walks abroad,
I'm under lock and key,
And much the public I applaud
For all their care of me.
Not more than others I deserve;
In fact, much less than more;
Yet I have food while others starve
Or beg from door to door.
The lowest pauper in the street
Half naked I behold,
While I am clad from head to feet
And covered from the cold.
Thousands there are who scarce can tell
Where they may lay their head,
But I've a warm and well-aired cell,
A bath, good books, and bed.
While they are fed on workhouse fare
And grudged their scanty food,
Three times a day my meals I get,
Sufficient, wholesome, good.
Then to the British public "health,"
Who all our care relieves;
And when they treat us as they do
They'll never want for thieves.
Soon after Mr. Churchill's speech of 1911, he and Mr. Lloyd George visited Dartmoor Prison. During his visit, there was pointed out to him Dartmoor's most celebrated convict, David Davies, known as "The Dartmoor Shepherd." This man, who is still alive, has spent thirty-eight out of his seventy-seven years of life in gaol, mostly in Dartmoor. His sentences, nearly all for robbing church offertory-boxes, total fifty-one years. A rough customer at first, a flogging or two sobered him, and he became a model prisoner. He was particularly good with sheep, and time after time I have seen him walking in front of his flock across one of the prison fields, the sheep following him in a long string. At the time of the visit I speak of, Davies was serving a three years' sentence for his usual crime of sacrilege. The two ministers took much interest in the case, and, owing to the efforts of Mr. Lloyd George, Davies was released and placed on a farm. Two days later he ran away, and was very soon caught robbing another church. Since then he has been almost continuously in prison, his last conviction having been in March 1925, when he was caught prising open the poor-box at Christ Church, Macclesfield.
I quote the case of Davies to show how futile is the idea of reforming the old lag. There should be a penal settlement for men of his sort where they could be interned for the term of their natural life. Davies robbed churches, and nearly every convict is a specialist, who, the moment he is released, returns to his particular form of crime. Not long ago there was released from Dartmoor a man who had served a three-year stretch for stealing a motorcar. This man went straight to London, and the very next day stole a car and drove to Bournemouth, where he sold it, stole another, and drove that to Southampton. Having disposed there of his Bournemouth booty, he stole a third car and drove to Bristol, where he was arrested in the act of selling it. The man had been at liberty ten days, during which time he had stolen three cars, putting, not only the owners, but also the police and the insurance companies, to an immensity of trouble and expense. Added to that was the cost of the man's arrest, of his trial, then of sending him to a local prison to serve his separates, and finally of returning him to Dartmoor, where he had not only to serve the fresh term to which he had been sentenced, but also nine months extra, being the remission from his last sentence, which he had forfeited by his crime. What can one think of a penal system which has such results?
Camp Hill, the Preventive Detention Prison, was a step in the right direction, but has been muddled till it is now known as the Prison Hotel. In one of his delightful stories "Sapper" makes his hero deport a parcel of Bolshies to an uninhabited island in the Hebrides, where they are forced to cultivate potatoes or starve. A penal settlement for old lags need not be quite so stiff as this, but the preventive detention ought to be for life. Any man who has had two sentences of penal servitude ought to go into a penal settlement and stay there. It would not only save the tax-payer no end of money, but it would go far to prevent the breeding of criminals.
I am climbing on to one of my hobbies, and I had better get down or I shall be voted a bore. Let me lighten things up a little by relating a story concerning that visit of Winston and Lloyd George to Dartmoor Prison. They left by car, travelling straight across the Moor to Exeter. At Postbridge, six miles from Princetown, lives—or rather lived, for the good fellow has since passed away—a very fine old Moorman named George French. He was a man of many parts, a farmer, an expert on antiquities of the Moor, and the village postmaster. Also he had charge, under the County Council, of a stretch of the high road. He was a big, fine-looking, bearded man, with much natural dignity. As it happened, on the day of the visit to Princetown he and his men were working on the road just beyond the Cherry Brook Bridge, and just before the car came along they had dumped a cart-load of stone in the middle of the road. Since there was not room to pass, the car pulled up, and Winston, impatient of the delay, jumped out. "Here, let me have the shovel," he said to French. "I'll show you how to shift it." Old George drew himself up. He was, of course, quite ignorant of the identity of either Churchill or Lloyd George. "I am sixty years old, and I have never yet given up my shovel to any man," he said quietly, and went on with his work.
One of my most interesting experiences was giving a lecture to the J.A.s' at Dartmoor. The J.A.s', or Juvenile Adults, are a class of prisoner peculiar to Dartmoor. They are young men, under twenty-one, whose offences have been so serious as to lead to sentences of penal servitude. They are kept quite separate from the old lags, having their own hall, shops, and gymnasium. Many of them are murderers, perpetrators of crimes of passion. They have killed their girls, or in some cases rivals in the affections of their young women. There used to be about seventy of them up to the time of the war. The chaplain asked me to give them a talk, and I worked up a little paper on natural history, which I read to them in their schoolroom. The majority were quite intelligent and not bad looking, but there were among them a percentage of perfectly hopeless cases—dwarfish, low-browed, with all the characteristics of the congenital criminal. After twenty-one these J.A.s' pass into the ordinary convict routine, but, even in the case of those condemned to life imprisonment, their sentences are always reviewed at the end of fifteen years, and if a man's conduct has been good he is released.
Constantly I used to see fresh batches of prisoners being brought to the prison. They usually came up from Plymouth in a special carriage, six or eight at a time. They were handcuffed and chained together. It was a beastly business to see gangs of chained men passing across the platform or seated in a carriage with all the blinds up, and I am glad that this sort of thing has been done away with. Also, I often saw old lags released. In the case of a convict who had served ten or fifteen years, it was pathetic to notice how utterly helpless he was. A warder bought his ticket and put him in the train, and there he sat, decently clad and very clean, but totally unable to look after himself. He found himself in a changed world, while he himself had not changed, except that he had lost all habit of self-reliance. Even if he had any desire to go straight—a highly unlikely supposition—how could he be expected to do so? Arrived at his destination, he naturally drifted into the nearest public-house, where, since he had not tasted liquor for so many years, a couple of glasses of beer left him completely muddled, and then, of course, instinct, if not inclination, drove him back to crime. Almost the only chance for such a man is for the Salvation Army to get hold of him. I take off my hat to them for their good work in this direction.
It is not unusual for a prisoner to be unwilling to leave Dartmoor. I have known of several such cases. One old chap has been there for twenty years, and a little while ago the chaplain wanted to help forward his release. The man, however, would have none of it. He suggested that he would like a week's holiday to visit his sister, and would then return to prison to look after the horses, which is his special job. What your old lag does love is to be called as witness in some case in London. He gets a complete change, a week's holiday, and a chance to open his mouth. I once heard one of these men in the box at the Central Criminal Court. After giving his evidence he burst out in a tremendous tirade against his treatment at Dartmoor. The warders, I noticed, merely grinned, and presently the judge shut him up.
I have read many books written by ex-convicts, and most of them full of such appalling misstatements that the marvel is that anyone had the face to publish them. A gentleman whose name I had better suppress, for fear of libel, published a series of articles about Dartmoor in a popular magazine, which were simply one long string of utter falsehoods. In 1923 an ex-soldier, who was sentenced at Gloucestershire Quarter Sessions to three years' penal servitude for burglary, told a remarkable story of his treatment at Dartmoor. He had, he said, been "doubled up" in handcuffs for long periods, and had been placed in chains for six months. He added that his mind had nearly given way under the inhuman treatment, and that he left the prison a mental and physical wreck, with only eighteen pence to face the world with. Those who know Dartmoor will best appreciate the utter falsity of such a story. Even in the old days, when convicts did a deal more work than they do now, and were not half so well fed, it was wonderful to watch the drink-sodden wrecks who came in turning rapidly into lean, brown, healthy-looking men. As I have said before, Dartmoor Prison is the finest health resort in England.
A good many Americans visit Dartmoor. They are always interested in the burying-ground where so many of their fellow-countrymen were laid to rest in the days when Dartmoor was a war prison. Old inhabitants still tell stories handed down from their grandfathers of the days when the place was packed with prisoners of war. Escapes were numerous, and as a rule the country folk did not give the refugees away or claim the reward. One story I heard was of a Jew pedlar who, on his way to the prison, met a man whom, from something in his manner, he suspected of being an American prisoner who had just escaped. His fingers itched to claim the three pounds reward, and the other, who was actually a local farmer, seizing the humour of the situation, began to sing Yankee Doodle, then submitted quietly to arrest. But he declined to walk, so the Jew had to spend half a guinea in hiring a cart from Dousland Barn Hotel, which is seven miles from Princetown. The prisoner also insisted upon liquid refreshment. On arrival at the prison the farmer was, of course, at once recognised by the sentries, and the wretched Jew, so far from acquiring three pounds, had to pay five pounds as compensation money to the farmer. When I heard this tale it occurred to me that it was just the sort of thing of which Eden Phillpotts could make a capital yarn, so I wrote and sent him the gist of it. A few days later I had from him a letter telling me that he had already used it, and the good fellow sent me his book, The Fun of the Fair, which contains the story. Fond as I am of Eden Phillpott's books, I prefer his short stories. Some of them are gems of humour. But his descriptions of Dartmoor scenery are really wonderful, especially in Children of the Mist and Sons of the Morning.
Another story told me by an old warder was that of the only man who ever broke into Dartmoor Prison. He was a negro named Joe Denny, and, during his term, behaved so badly that he had been frequently punished. Early in the year 1890 he was discharged, and left vowing vengeance upon everyone, but more particularly against the chief warder. One night in the following August the night patrol officer heard a sudden ringing of the alarm bell connecting the semaphore station with the gate. This could only have been rung by someone tugging at the wire. The warder raised an alarm, and the whole length of the bell-wire was inspected without result. A large number of warders were called out, and suddenly came a shout, "We have him." The man they had caught was Joe Denny, who had actually succeeded in climbing the wall and getting into the prison yard. The village policeman was called, and Denny was locked up in the police station until he could be taken to Tavistock. Next morning a ewe was found dead in one of the sheds. The creature had been hacked about and a piece of flesh cut out and eaten raw. When Denny was brought before the bench at Tavistock, he admitted that he had killed the sheep and that he had walked all the way from London with the object of setting the prison afire and killing the chief warder.
Mainly about Conchies—With a Few Remarks on the Holiday Hooligan
THE worst thing that ever happened to Dartmoor was the settlement of the Conchies in Dartmoor Prison. The lags were at any rate human, and during the war showed a degree of patriotism by working really hard in the provision of munitions. But the conscientious objectors, so-called, were crazy egotists whose mere appearance was repulsive. Many had long hair and wore their shirts open half down their chests, while few had ever done a day's work except with their tongues. One heard a deal of talk during the war of the Hidden Hand. To my mind the Conchies, and the way in which they were pampered, gave concrete proof of its existence. They were supposed to work, but no one had the power to punish them if they refused to do so. I have seen them in the prison fields on a summer day, the majority lying on the ground and smoking cigarettes. They seemed to have unlimited tobacco, unlimited food, and they bought out the Princetown shops so completely that often on Sundays the poorer folk were left without bread, and had to go hungry.
But the crying scandal was that these people were allowed to wander all over the Moor and spread their poison in scores of cottages and farms. From six to nine every week-day, from twelve to nine on Saturday, and all day on Sunday, they were free to leave the prison and go where they pleased. The Moor folk are simple people, and fell easy victims to the specious tongues of the Conchies. It made one sick to see two or three of these beauties having tea in a cottage with the sisters of boys who were fighting in the filth and mire of Flanders. The Moor has never recovered from the taint, and perhaps never will do so. Oddly enough, it was the children who stood out against them. The Conchies tried to bribe them with cakes and sweets, but the boys stood firm against these blandishments, and to the end showed their scorn by every means in their power.
The conscientious objector, so-called, was supposed to be a person whose conscience refused to allow him to fight even in defence of his wife, his sister, or his home. There may be such people, but they were not included in the gang at Princetown. These, if they saw a wounded man at home on leave, would stop and jeer at him, shouting out, "That's what you get for serving your country." On one occasion a lieutenant, lame with a bullet in his foot, was standing outside the hotel at Two Bridges, talking to young Trinaman, son of the hotel proprietor, who was also in uniform, when two Conchies came by. As usual, they pulled up and jeered. Young Trinaman, who was fairly useful with his fists, marched up and demanded hotly that they make themselves scarce, whereupon one of them attacked him. This particular Conchy, I should like to remark, had been a professional pug. He and young Trinaman fought desperately all over the road, and Trinaman was getting the better of it, when the other Conchy came to his friend's assistance with a stick, and, after hitting Trinaman several blows across the back, got him one over the head. Even so, Trinaman succeeded in knocking down his opponent, and the two Conchies then took to their heels across the Moor. Upon another occasion a young fellow belonging to Princetown was invalided home, having lost an arm at the Front. One day some Conchies met him up on Hessary Tor, above the prison, and at once began not only to bait, but to bully him. Luckily for the cripple, help was at hand, for some of the village boys, who happened to be on the hill, seeing what was happening, came hotfoot to the rescue. The Conchies, cowards all, fled, but one tripped and fell, and the boys caught him. In spite of his shrieks for mercy, the boys, who were thoroughly roused, stripped him stark naked, then dragged him to a bog-hole and plunged him in, neck and crop. They ducked him until he was covered from head to foot with black peat mud, held him until the stuff dried upon him, then at last released him, to find his way back as best he might.
There was one Conchy, quite a young man, who wore his fair hair so long that it hung down over his shoulders, making him a most repulsive object. One day he had been down to Plymouth by train, and, as he returned, was spotted at Yelverton Station by some of these same boys, who were returning from school at Tavistock. They followed him into a carriage, and, when the train had started, announced that they did not like his hair and were going to cut it for him. Goldy-locks made a dash for the communication cord, but was caught before he could get hold of it; then the boys stretched him out on the seat, and, while two sat on him, the third proceeded to amputate his locks with a rather blunt penknife. The Conchy wept salt tears, but the boys had no pity, and, before the train had climbed to Princetown, the job was well and truly done, and the victim looked as if a party of hungry rats had been at work on his head.
When they first arrived at Princetown, parties of Conchies used to visit Tavistock on their bicycles. Tavistock folk, however, had just one opinion of Conchies, and that not to be set down in plain print. The fellows were warned to keep away. "Quos Deus vult perdere prius dementat" might be the motto of the whole Conchy movement. They sneered at the warning, talking loudly and scornfully about country bumpkins, and next Friday (market day) turned up in force. They had reached the road by the River Tavy when they were met by a volley of swedes and similar missiles. Some were knocked off their bicycles; all turned and fled. Then began a chase which lasted for three miles, and was not finally abandoned until the fugitives reached the foot of Palk Hill. After that the authorities had to do something, and Tavistock was put out of bounds for the objectors.
The prison warders, who, with very few exceptions, had joined our Forces, were very sore indeed at what they considered the desecration of the prison. There was one warder, a very decent, quiet sort of chap, who had been a physical instructor to the J.A.'s at the prison, and whose people lived at Princetown. Late in the autumn of 1917 this man came home on leave. As I have said, he was a very quiet fellow, and it was noticed that he kept quite away from the prison, and never even mentioned the Conchies during his stay at home. Just before nine o'clock on the evening before his furlough was up the Conchies came trooping in through the big prison gate, talking loudly, as usual. It was a very dark night, and rather foggy. As the first party came along, suddenly a figure darted out from behind one of the great gate-posts, and, with half a dozen well-directed blows of his fists, floored the lot. More came running up, but only to meet a similar fate. I am told that at one time there were over a dozen Conchies lying knocked out in the entrance. The Governor's house lies just to the right of the gates as you enter, and presently the Governor heard a loud knocking and ringing at his front door. He came out of his study, got a cap and a coat, found a stick, and lighted a lantern, and all this time the uproar outside increased. At last he opened the door, to find a crowd of badly damaged, frightfully excited Conchies, who all started to tell their story at once. It was to the effect that a large number of soldiers were at the gate, brutally ill-using those who tried to enter. The Governor went out, but all that he could see was a certain amount of blood upon the ground.
"Where are your soldiers?" he demanded.
"They—they've gone," cried one of his informants.
"So it appears," said the Governor drily. "I don't believe a word of your story. I believe that you have been fighting among yourselves, and I shall stop your leave for a week."
I will not go so far as to say that there were no real conscientious objectors. Indeed, I knew one, a Quaker, who during the war spent all his time working, and working very hard, upon a farm. But among that gang in the prison I am certain that the vast majority—well over ninety per cent.—were the sort who, for the good of their country, ought to have been kept in a criminal lunatic asylum. In this belief I am by no means alone, for it was shared by the prison officials who came into personal contact with the members of the "settlement" every day. Some of them were mischievous as monkeys, doing all sorts of damage on the Moor during their walks abroad. After the war was over and they were cleared out, I went over the hall which they had formerly inhabited. It was filthy beyond words, and whole cartloads of rubbish had to be cleared out of it before the convicts could come back. Worse than that, the drawings and inscriptions on the walls were strongly reminiscent of the graffitti which may be seen upon the walls of the excavated buildings of Pompeii, and these are plain proof of the moral, as well as mental, degradation of the inhabitants of the building.
It was a disaster, in the first place, to allow the conscientious objector, but it was a worse disaster to turn him loose on the country at the end of the war. I am quite sure that the Communist ranks have been largely recruited from these windy scoundrels. They had a short way with Conchies in the United States. In 1917, when America at last came in on our side, a certain Conchy was very active in Kansas, making speeches against the war. He received a curt warning to keep his mouth shut, but, foolishly disregarding it, made another speech. Next morning his dead body was seen dangling from a pole pushed out from an upper window of the Town Hall of the place where he had been orating. A notice was pinned to it: "This carrion is to hang for twenty-four hours." So far as the State of Kansas was concerned, this ended any question of conscientious objecting. The story was told me by dear old Ned Cleary.
Princetown was mightily relieved when at last the Conchies were cleared out and the prison reverted to its old uses. When the first party of convicts arrived, the boys of the village turned out and actually cheered them, and you can fancy how the old lags grinned.
A prison, like an execution, is always a point of pilgrimage for the tripper, and even before the war, motor-coaches used to roll up from all parts of the country, even so far away as Bournemouth, bringing loads of people to view the Moor and the prison. While the majority of these tourists were merely sightseers, there was a proportion who were a nuisance—a most dangerous nuisance to prison officials. Very often a gang works on the road outside the prison, repairing the road itself, or the ditches or walls. The type of tripper of which I speak delights in trying to talk to the convicts, which is, of course, strictly against rules, or—what is worse—drops cigarettes for the lags to pick up. To a prisoner a cigarette is, or used to be before they were allowed to smoke, a treasure beyond price, and to gain it men would scramble and fight like savages. Prison officers are extraordinarily forbearing, but there are limits. On one occasion two rough-looking young men, who had already been warned, were seen by a warder in the act of slipping a packet of tobacco to a prisoner. To their utter amazement, the warder then and there arrested them, and, leaving his party in charge of his assistant, told them to come with him to the prison. They blustered, vowing that he had no power to arrest them, but he informed them quietly that every warder has the same power of arrest as a policeman. He took them straight into the Governor's office, and, as the Governor told me afterwards, two-worse scared men he never saw. The Governor, inwardly amused, but outwardly very grim, gave them a thorough dressing down, then let them go, and I do not fancy that they ever again visited Princetown.
The tripper of this type is one of the curses of modern England. He fouls every beauty-spot with paper bags, old cigarette boxes, orange peel, and banana skins; he tramps right across standing crops, breaks down hedges, and does every possible kind of senseless damage. One of the most lovely spots on the Moor is Dartmeet, where the East and the West Darts join their tumbling torrents to make the Double Dart. I was fishing there one day before the war when a brake-load of trippers stopped and spread themselves over the turf by the river. One, seeing me casting in a pool, flung a stone in, by way, I suppose, of encouraging the trout to rise. Then some others, setting up ginger-beer bottles on a boulder, began stoning them, covering the mossy turf with splinters of broken glass. I was driven to remonstrate, but all I got for my pains was, "Yah! wot business is it o' yours?"
One of my few neighbours on the Moor was a farmer called Mortimore. He was a real old-fashioned Moorman, who, with his long, bare upper-lip and mutton-chop whiskers, looked like a picture of one of the old Pilgrim Fathers. But his language, when annoyed, did not quite fit with that picture. Indeed, I have never heard anything to match it. One of his hay-fields bordered the road by Two Bridges, and it was quite a common thing for a party of trippers to climb over the stone wall and picnic there, beating down flat a large area of fine mowing-grass. Then out would come the old man, and, if they were wise, the trespassers ran for their lives. The old man did not always discriminate between the sheep and the goats, for on one occasion he tackled two perfectly innocent visitors to the hotel who were walking up the fisherman's path leading beside the Cowsic. They were quite within their rights, and were doing no harm to him or his crops. The husband resented such language in the presence of his wife, and the result was a free fight which ended in the brook, both getting very wet and somewhat damaged. Poor old Mortimore was summoned, and had to appear before the Bench in Tavistock, where he got fined five pounds. Personally, I always got on quite comfortably with the old gentleman, and was very sorry when he died.
But the ways of the holiday hooligan are past understanding. While living in Essex, I was walking through Epping Forest when I came upon two good-sized girls, who must have been fourteen or fifteen. They were crying bitterly, and I stopped to find out what was the matter. "We—we're lost," one sobbed. "We're awful scared." They were actually within fifty yards of the main road, and less than a quarter of a mile from the big public-house where their parents were no doubt drinking.
I had two fine laburnum-trees, which overhung the by-road which my garden faced. On one occasion I found an interesting family of trippers engaged in tearing off whole branches of golden bloom and flinging them down in the road. For the life of me I cannot imagine their object. An acquaintance had a whole plantation of fine young trees destroyed by a party of trippers, who simply pulled them up by the roots. Again, last summer I went to fish one day on the Duke of Bedford's water at Chenies. I noticed a policeman about, and the keeper told me that the Duke paid him to keep the destroying tripper off the estate. Yet, in spite of his presence, a party of about thirty people had recently trekked across the very centre of a big field of standing corn, drawing a wide swathe of destruction from one side to the other. Surely there is something very seriously wrong with our costly system of education when such things are possible! African baboons are notoriously mischievous, but they destroy in search of food. This is not an excuse which the hooligan can put forward. On the contrary, he usually leaves a trail of food—and drink—behind him.
Dangers of Dartmoor Fogs and Bogs—Strange Relics of the Past—Dartmoor Ponies and Pony Racing—A Visit from Royalty
SPEAKING of trippers, residents on Dartmoor are fairly safe from them so long as they do not live upon one of the main roads. There are few roads on the Moor, and the spaces between them are immense. They are not only immense, but wild and lonely to a degree unknown elsewhere in the south of England. What is called the High Moor is a tableland, all of which lies at an elevation of more than twelve hundred feet, and which rises in places to over two thousand. What with sudden fogs, deep ravines, and bogs, which are the worst in England, it is no exaggeration to say that Dartmoor is no place for a stranger to wander at large.
Up in the very heart of the Moor, some seven miles from Two Bridges, and nearly the same distance from Okehampton, lies a lonely pool called Cranmere Pool, and this, for some reason rather difficult to explain, is a point of pilgrimage for all tourists. Cranmere is the centre of a vast expanse of boggy tableland. All around lies a slightly undulating surface of heath and morass, and in wet weather the place is inaccessible; even in dry summer weather the only way to reach it is by jumping from tussock to tussock across wide stretches of bog. Without a guide it is extremely difficult to find it at all, and, when the tourist has at last reached the object of his toilsome tramp, he will see nothing but a deep, dark-looking hollow, only partly filled with water, and a cairn of stones, on which is fixed a box where it is the custom to insert postcards, which are retrieved by the next comers. The pool is the source of the River Ockment, and was formerly of good size, with an average depth of five feet, but some years ago a cut was made in the northern bank, with the result that it is now nearly dry and merely a hollow in the bog. The danger to the tourist who tries to find Cranmere is that fog may fall. Lying, as it does, between two seas, and being the wettest place in the south of England, Dartmoor is particularly subject to fog. One minute all is clear, and the sun shining brightly from a blue sky; the next you see grey wisps dropping down over the heads of the tors, and a quarter of an hour later you are groping in a white mist, so thick that you cannot see thirty yards in any direction.
One evening I was dining at the Two Bridges Hotel, and after dinner we were sitting outside in the dusk on the stone wall opposite, when a man came staggering down the road and collapsed, fainting, at the door of the hotel. When he came round he explained to us that he had left Okehampton that morning to walk to Cranmere. He had reached it in safety, and, luckily for himself, had crossed the worst of the bog beyond it on his way to Princetown when fog came on. He found a brook which he thought was the head-waters of the West Dart, and worked his way slowly down it. The water was so cold that he took to the bank, only to blunder knee-deep into black slime. After that he kept to the bed of the river, and for nearly six hours had been struggling slowly down it. Twice, he said, he had fallen into deep pools, and the last time was so exhausted that he could hardly drag himself out. He had to spend two days in bed as the result of his expedition.
Upon another occasion two young fellows who left Postbridge to visit Cranmere were caught in similar fashion by fog. They, too, groped their way through it until they found a running stream, and tramped on and on until long after dark, when they found themselves in the bottom of a deep ravine, where the going was not only difficult, but extremely dangerous. It was past midnight when they reached a village, which turned out to be Petertavy. They had come the whole way down from near the source of the River Tavy almost as far as Tavistock.
I have myself been lost in a fog on Dartmoor, and, although I was on ground of which I knew, or thought I knew, every square yard, I wandered for nearly two hours before I found the brook of which I was in search and which I knew would guide me to the road. I do not know anything more unpleasant than to be caught in fog when motoring across Dartmoor, especially upon the road between Tavistock and Princetown. A great deal of this road has no walls on either side, so that there is absolutely nothing to guide one. Upon one occasion, when coming out to Tavistock after dark on a winter night, my man and I were nearly three hours in covering eight miles. Most of the way one of us had to stand upon the running-board, holding one of the side-lights so as to show the edge of the road, and practically the whole distance was done on low gear; the radiator boiled so badly that there were constant stops to cool off.
The whole Moor is covered with relics of the Stone Age. Hut circles, stone avenues, and ancient burying-places are everywhere to be seen. It is difficult to imagine why the old people chose so wet and windy a tract of country for residence, but the idea seems to be that they were the weaker tribes, who were driven up from the low country to these lonely heights by invaders from the north. Yet they themselves must have had plenty of physical strength, for the stones which they used to build the dome-shaped huts in which they lived, and to make walls for their villages, are, many of them, of huge size and weight. The most interesting of these prehistoric settlements is Grimspound. Grimspound lies high in a saddle of the hills some three miles from Postbridge, and on the north-west slope of Hameldon. The wall around it is formed of gigantic masses of rough granite and is double, a space—probably a passage, with entrances to it from the interior—running between the two walls. There are twenty-four hut circles within the enclosure, of which ten are said to have been dwellings and the rest to have been used for store-houses or cattle-pens. No doubt the wall was built to protect the cattle from the wolves and bears, which were plentiful in those early days.
In the peat cuttings along the Cherry Brook I have found roots and stems of the trees which, up to the Middle Ages, thickly covered the sides of all the river valleys up to a height of about fourteen hundred feet. These thick woods were cut by the tinners, who used the timber for smelting the ore. Once the woods were cut, the cattle and ponies which grazed in the valleys prevented new growth by biting off the seedlings. I feel sure that this is the explanation of the disappearance of timber from Dartmoor, for I have myself often noticed how the hundreds of young beech-trees which sprout each year along the banks of the West Dart below the Beardown Woods are grazed off before they are more than a few inches high.
At present the only remaining portion of the ancient forests is Wistman's Wood, which stands above the West Dart a couple of miles beyond Two Bridges. Here are a couple of acres of stunted oak-trees, not one of which is more than twenty feet high, yet which their thick, gnarled trunks show to be of great age. Their twisted branches are draped with grey lichens, giving them the weirdest possible appearance. The reason why these ancient trees have survived is that the ground beneath and all around them is one mass of granite boulders. This has protected them, not only from the tinners and the cattle, but also from the fires which sweep the Moor every spring. Wistman's Wood is well worth a visit, yet the visitor should exercise caution. The deep rifts and crevices between the boulders are hidden by ferns and other vegetation, and form traps into which it is only too easy to fall, with the risk of broken bones. Also Wistman's Wood has a not altogether undeserved reputation as a haunt for vipers.
I love the place names of Dartmoor—Lar Tor, always, pronounced, and sometimes spelt, Laughter; Beardown called Bairdown, where, on the great ridge, stands a tall pillar of stone known as Beardown Man; Avon Head, pronounced Awn Head; Cut Hill, Rough Tor, Fur Tor, and Watern Tor. There is a long, sombre ridge, overhanging the upper Cowsic valley, known as Omen Beam, while above Foxtor mire stands the desolate hill called Caters Beam. Bellevor, a great conical tor which commands the country for miles round, is said to be so called after the great god Baal, the name tracing back to the ancient days when the Phoenicians traded to Cornwall and Devon for tin and copper.
Bellevor is the scene of the big spring harrier meet. Up to the time of the war three packs of harriers always came up for hunt week, and Friday was Bellevor day. Many men who hardly took another holiday during the year never missed Bellevor, and, if the weather was anything possible, it was the greatest fun imaginable. I have seen a thousand people on the tor on this occasion, of whom over three hundred were mounted. People turned up in every kind of vehicle, from a coach and four down to a chimney-sweep's pony-cart, and, although the way up to the tor from the road is simply a track leading steeply up on to rock and heather, they all managed to gain the top, where, at a height of fourteen hundred feet, one of the finest views in the county of Devon is to be seen. To the west you look right across to Princetown, and to the east the whole valley of the East Dart lies at your feet. The top of the tor is a mass of monstrous granite rocks, making a regular grand stand from which you can see the hunt wherever the hare takes it. And Bellevor is one of the few places on Dartmoor where hares are still fairly common. Hunting begins about eleven, but at or about one everyone returns to the tor for luncheon. In the old days Trinaman used to send up a couple of carts laden with refreshments, largely liquid, and when the Moormen had imbibed sufficient jumping powder the sport was resumed. The tosses taken over the stone walls were amazing, and the jumping was the most reckless I have ever seen, yet it was very seldom that anyone got hurt. On one occasion I was driving away from the tor in a pony-trap when, as we passed down the sunken road, a man came galloping down the steep hillside full clip, and for a moment it looked as if he would smash right into us. But, luckily for us all, his horse knew his business, and, with a big effort, cleared the whole road, passing almost over our pony's head. The rider came off on the far side, but he was soon up and away again.
The way in which the tough little Dartmoor ponies cover the ground is amazing. One big farmer used to ride a little black beast that was little, if anything, more than twelve hands high. His feet almost dragged on the ground, yet the pony would carry him all day. What makes the endurance of these ponies all the more amazing is the fact that few of them get any fodder beyond what they can pick up among the gorse and heather. And, while the summer grazing on Dartmoor is good, in winter the case is very much the reverse. The best pony I ever owned was prison bred—a cross between a Welsh stallion and a Dartmoor mare. He was a grey, just over thirteen hands, and you could give him a loose rein and trust him anywhere. He would climb a bank like a cat, he would pick his way among loose stones where any ordinary horse would have broken a leg, and as for a bog, nothing could tempt him on to unsound ground. Added to all this, he was a thoroughly sensible, kindly beast. If you got off he would wait for you, and if you fell off he waited till you picked yourself up. I am very fond of grey horses. I have owned more than one, and always found them sound, steady, and sweet tempered.
The best horse I ever drove was a bay cob called Dormer, which my wife bought as a confirmed puller for thirty pounds. To show how he pulled, on one occasion he galloped the whole way from Newbury to Reading with two strong men trying to hold him, and did not stop running till he landed with a crash in his own stable. By dint of careful handling and a rubber-covered bit, we gradually overcame his tendency to bolt, and he did us yeoman service for years. I never saw a finer trotter. With a heavy dog-cart and four people in it, he thought nothing of travelling at fifteen miles an hour, and keeping it up. The trouble was always to prevent him doing too much.
Some four years after we first had him, and when he was already aged, we were driving in Essex when a sporting publican stopped us and, after admiring Dormer, offered us one hundred guineas down on the nail for him. But when Providence has provided you with a horse like Dormer you don't sell, however hard up you may be. We kept him until his stout heart began to fail, then gave him a summer at grass, and afterwards had him destroyed. It nearly broke our hearts to let him go, but it was the only fair thing to do. He was sixteen years old, but his legs were still like silk, and in any country less hilly than Dartmoor he might have gone on to a great age. Horses are much longer lived than is generally supposed. A Welsh pony belonging to my old friend, the late Mr. Harry Bailey, of Rowden Abbey, lived to be thirty-six, and a few months before its death I saw it galloping round the paddock like a two-year-old.
Talking of horses, we started pony races on Dartmoor some seventeen years ago. Our racecourse was, and is perhaps, the strangest in England. It is on the Ashburton road, about a mile from Dartmeet, and is a big saucer between two tors, giving a circular course of about a mile. To reach the course means a stiff climb across the Moor from the road, yet cars by the score managed to accomplish the ascent, and the crowd of spectators grows from year to year. The racing is almost entirely confined to Dartmoor ponies, and the riders are sons of Dartmoor farmers—daughters, too, sometimes, for on more than one occasion girls have acted as jockeys, and ridden very well, too.
The greatest of all the Dartmoor pony race-meetings was in 1909. The King, then Prince of Wales, came down on a tour through the West Country, and stayed for the race-meeting at the Duchy Hotel in Princetown. I should explain that most of Dartmoor lies in the Duchy of Cornwall, and is therefore the property of the Prince of Wales. On this occasion all the tenants received an invitation to luncheon with the Prince and Princess. A large tent was pitched in a field below the racecourse, and those invited, myself among them, turned up and enjoyed, not only a very good lunch, but a very good little speech from our host. The point that always strikes one about our Royalties is their utter absence of side. I always feel that the King would have made an ideal country squire, and would probably have been far happier in such a path of life than in the one to which Fate has called him. After the speech Scott James, of Chagford, sang that fine old Devonshire ditty, "Widdecombe Fair," and the Royalties seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. Then a move was made for the course.
It was June, and, luckily, very fine, but a bitterly cold east wind was blowing up at the top. We had, however, erected a royal box—a little wooden arrangement, well carpeted and lined with red cloth—and here the royal party took their seats. By this time the road was black for miles with carriages and cars. Never in the whole history of Dartmoor did so many people gather in one spot. It was estimated that the crowds numbered, in all, nearly seven thousand. Being one of the stewards, I was on duty all the afternoon outside the royal box, and, in spite of an overcoat, I was half frozen.
During the afternoon a number of Duchy tenants were brought up and introduced to the Prince and Princess. Among them was my old friend Farmer Jim Mortimore, of Crockern, the gentleman who had such trouble with trespassers. He was very anxious to get word with the Prince about his lease—so anxious that he quite forgot to remove his ancient hard hat when he entered the box. He wore it during the whole of his interview. Indeed, I never saw him without it, and we used to wonder if he slept in it. Another wonderful old lad named Middle was proudly wearing a medal which he won in the Indian Mutiny.
Late in the afternoon I had quite a long chat with the Prince. He was very keen to hear about sport on the Moor, and I told him how shockingly the black game were poached, and how, what between poachers, vermin, and the spring swaling, the birds never had a chance. It may have been on account of what I told him that a little later two keepers were appointed by the Duchy. But, since these keepers spent most of their time in strolling from one public house to another, the benefit to the black game was not appreciable. That, however, was the fault of the Duchy officials, who are not noted for discrimination in their choice of keepers or bailiffs. One of the Moor water-bailiffs, I may mention, was caught selling poached salmon.
Afterwards I was presented to the Princess (Queen Mary), who was anxious to hear details of a motor accident of which I had been a shocked spectator a week or two earlier. A naval officer who had been in the Bacchante with the Prince during his first world voyage had been driver of the car, which had come to a fearful smash on Okery Bridge, near Princetown. He, by a miracle, had escaped without serious injury, but his passenger, a Major Broad, had been badly hurt. The Royalties left about six, and then came the awful job of getting home. The road was blocked for miles, and the people on foot, who were able to cross the open Moor, scored heavily over those who were in cars or carriages.
Dartmoor pony races are still going strong, and will probably continue to do so. Although no longer living on the Moor, I always read the accounts in the Western Morning News, which paper, by the by, is now controlled and edited by a son of Sir Leicester Harmsworth.
Facts and Fancies about Pixies—Ghosts of the Moor—Stone Crosses and Clapper Bridges—Some Sting Stories
FARMER JIM MORTIMERE would never move out of his house after dark. He had too much respect for the pixies. Nor was he singular in this respect, for there are still many other old Moormen who have the firmest belief in the little people and in their powers to interfere with humanity. Thirty years ago I should have grinned broadly if anyone had talked to me seriously about pixies, but now—now I am not so cocksure as I used to be. True, I have never seen a pixie, nor even a ghost, but, then, I have never seen the Rock of Gibraltar or the Sphinx, and yet I can swear to their existence. And, so far as evidence goes, I cannot but believe that there exist upon this earth entities which are not generally visible, yet which some people have the gift or power of seeing.
I will quote just two cases of such evidence. A friend of ours, a woman who lived upon the Moor and knew it well, went with some friends to picnic in the Upper Teign Valley. This is a part of the Moor which, from time immemorial, has had the reputation of being a favourite resort of the fairies. It was a lovely summer evening, without a cloud in the sky, and the air clear as crystal. After tea our friend went for a stroll by herself down the valley, walking along a narrow path running at some height above the river. Presently her attention was attracted to a little ring of mist which had appeared over a patch of level turf close to the water's edge. It was the very last sort of weather for mist to appear, and, besides, this patch was curiously localised. Thinking it odd, she stopped and gazed, and, while she did so, noticed that the mist seemed to be taking shapes. Presently she became aware of a circle of dainty little figures, each about eighteen inches high, swinging in a mazy dance. They were perfectly formed, and dressed in grey drapery. Their movements were exquisitely graceful, and it was evident that they were greatly enjoying themselves. Our friend watched in breathless interest—for how long she does not know, but certainly for some minutes. She looked back, hoping to be able to attract the attention of her friends, but unfortunately they were out of sight. At last she determined to try to get closer to the dancing fairies, but, as she approached, the tiny figures faded again into mist, and before she arrived at the spot the mist, too, had vanished, and not the slightest sign remained. Our friend is a highly educated woman, and the very last person to indulge in any kind of vain imaginings. It must also be remembered that it was broad daylight, the time being only a little after six o'clock on a July evening.
The Moor folk themselves are shy of speaking of their beliefs to strangers, but in the course of my twenty years on Dartmoor I heard a good deal of beliefs about pixies. Pixies are supposed to five in green hillocks, and in the evening to go out about their business. They like to come into kitchens by night and warm themselves. In many Devonshire farmhouses the turf fire in the kitchen is never extinguished, but, stoked overnight, is blown into fresh flame each morning. They may steal milk or butter, but sometimes one of them will take a fancy to an individual or a family, and in return for some simple gift of food will do domestic or farm work at night-time. If spied upon, he will go and never return. The little folk are mischievous, and fond of playing tricks upon those who walk across the Moor by night. The fear of being pixie-led is universal on Dartmoor, and exists even among the present generation, who have grown up during the twentieth century, and received a modern Board School education.
That the fairies have underground hoards of treasure is everywhere believed, and such a belief is natural enough on Dartmoor, with its great store of mineral wealth. One of the best-known legends of Devonian elves is that told of the family of Sokespitch, who lived near Topsham. They had a barrel of ale in their cellar, which for many years had continued to run freely without being exhausted. From this a proverb grew up. If any affair in Topsham was proceeding prosperously, it was said to be going "like Sokespitch's can." The cask was naturally considered a valuable heirloom, and respected accordingly, until one day a maidservant, anxious to probe the mystery, took out the bung and looked inside. The cask was found to be full of cobwebs, and when the cock was turned no more ale flowed out.
The stories you hear are, of course, mostly pure superstition, yet every now and then you get a jolt by discovering that something which you had always regarded in the light of fiction has in it an element of fact. Over and over again I had heard the story that if a snake bit a milch cow, and the milk was allowed to stand, the form of the snake would be seen in the milk, but naturally I had looked upon this as simply legend. Then one evening in July 1911 a cow belonging to Mrs. Heale, of Goldbum, near Okehampton, was found to be suffering from a terribly swollen udder, and the conclusion was drawn that the poor creature had been bitten by an adder. The cow was milked, and the milk was about to be thrown away when the servant-girl interposed, suggesting that it should be allowed to stand "because if the cow has been bitten by a snake it will show up in the milk." The milk was accordingly set aside, and, on looking at it some three hours afterwards, the form of a snake was distinctly seen in the cream which had collected on the surface. The head with the V mark, the eyes, and the whole shape of the snake was perfect. Moreover, with the aid of a magnifying glass even the scales on the skin could be distinctly seen. Five people testified to the truth of this fact, namely, Mrs. Heale, her two grown-up daughters, the servant-girl, and the boy groom. More than this, when the veterinary surgeon called next morning his attention was called to the pan of milk, and, although the figure was then less distinct—a moth having got into the cream—yet he admitted that the form of the snake was undoubtedly there. The case was fully reported in the Western Daily Mercury and other papers, and I have in my scrap-book a cutting giving the details. I don't know what the explanation is—I don't know whether there is any explanation—but you can hardly doubt the facts on the definite evidence of six people.
Ghosts haunt the Moor. For ghosts, mind you, are by no means confined to rivers or graveyards. There are queer manifestations in the open spaces. One case was odd and rather interesting. The son of an old friend of ours, a boy of twelve, had been for a walk one day all by himself up the valley of the West Dart. His people were staying at Two Bridges. When he got home he found his mother. "Mum," he said, "I saw such an odd old man up beyond Wistman's Wood. He was dressed in leather, and he had a big stick and a dog. But it wasn't like any dog I ever saw." She questioned him, and he described both man and beast. His description of the man was exactly that of one of the neolithic folk whom we know to have lived on Dartmoor between three and four thousand years ago, while the "dog" was a wolf, or something very near to a wolf. This boy, who is now a railway engineer in South America, was then a level-headed lad of more than ordinary intelligence, very practical, not in the least given to romancing. And what he saw he saw in the broad daylight of a summer afternoon.
The present century has seen the slow but beautiful resurrection of the ancient abbey of Buckfast, and the re-establishment of the monastery there. Some few years ago a visitor fishing on the Dart a mile or so from the town noticed four monks walking past up the opposite bank. It was broad daylight, and he watched them more or less idly as they passed. A day or so later the fisherman went to see the new church at Buckfast, and met the Abbot, who showed him round. To him he happened to mention the monks whom he had seen pass up the river. "But why," he asked, "were they in grey habits, when you now wear brown?"
The Abbot shook his head. "None of us wear grey," he said, "nor have we since the old foundation was destroyed in the time of Henry VIII." Since it is highly unlikely that four men should have been masquerading in monkish dress on the banks of the Dart, the only possible explanation seems to be that the men the angler saw were revenants. By the by, I am not sure about the exact colours of their habits, but the contrast and the rest of the story is as I heard it.
Then there is the old bridge which is held by a Power of Darkness, and which it is impossible to cross for some space of time after midnight. I am not going to vouch for the truth of this story, yet I knew a man who swore to the facts. Three young fellows made up their minds to prove that the whole thing was nonsense, and, waiting at one end of the bridge until the forbidden hour, they made the effort to cross. But, reaching the middle, they were met by some influence which forced them back. Two fled in terror; the third clung to the coping and tried to scramble past. Next moment the others heard a heavy splash, and when they had dragged their friend, half drowned and chilled to the bone, from the pool below, he told them that he had been forced to jump over. "If I had not, I should have died," he vowed.
Speaking of the monks of Buckfast reminds me that the Monks' Way from Buckfast to Tavistock was originally indicated by stone crosses. One of the prison clerks who used to do some secretarial work for me was walking along this track one day when he picked up a small ivory cross, beautifully carved, but unfinished. It seems likely that the monk was working upon it as he walked across the Moor. Some of these old crosses have fallen down, and my friend, Percy Phillpotts, a cousin of Eden Phillpotts, has of late been busy setting them up again. He tells me that a very old Moor woman who died not many years ago told him that, as a girl, she walked some seven miles to see a cart, the first wheeled vehicle that she had ever seen. Dartmoor, you see, had no roads until after the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Sir Thomas Tyrwhit, the builder of Tor Royal and the founder of Princetown, made the road to Princetown and on to Two Bridges. Before that there were only tracks, all goods being carried on the backs of pack-horses. Thousands of tons of tin must have been taken down off the Moor in this fashion during the Middle Ages, and the clapper bridges, which are often pointed out to tourists as relics of prehistoric times, were, as a matter of fact, built by the tinners to give passage to their beasts of burden. These clapper bridges are made of solid slabs of granite, many of which are still in existence. The finest is the one that crosses the East Dart at Postbridge. The piers consist of six layers of granite slabs, and the pathway is made of stones sixteen feet long by five wide. So massive is its construction that it has withstood the floods of centuries, even the great flood of 1891, when the drifts from the March blizzard of that year are said to have been forty feet deep, and their melting caused such floods as surpassed anything ever remembered. The miracle is that men ever moved such huge masses of stone with the rude tackle which was all they had in those days. Some years ago Bart Kennedy, writing a series of articles on the Moor in a London daily, spoke of the scythed chariots of the ancient Britons crossing this clapper bridge, but, as I told him, the average clapper bridge is hardly wide enough for a perambulator.
Every brook and stream on Dartmoor shows signs of having been thoroughly searched for tin by the miners of past times. In some cases the whole course of the river has been turned by those persevering workers. The Horse Shoe, in the Dart, below Two Bridges, is an instance in point, for a new channel has been cut across the neck of a wide curve, and the old bed is now merely a swamp. Gold as well as tin is said to have been recovered from the stream beds, and it was in an attempt to prove that "colour" may still be obtained that a very unpleasant adventure befell me.
In 1907 my youngest brother, Captain Walter Bridges, came home from South Africa and stayed with us on the Moor. He had dug gold in such varied places as Tasmania, Western Australia, and Africa, and he and I decided to try the bed of one of our Dartmoor brooks for "colour." At the time I was on crutches, but, even so, I used to get out as much as possible and actually go fishing. One morning we armed ourselves with a shovel and a milk-pan—the latter to use for washing the gravel—and went down to the Cowsic. This brook ran just below my house, through a deep, narrow gorge which had been planted by a former owner of Beardown Farm, and was thickly wooded. It was not easy for me to get down the steep side of the gorge, but I managed it successfully, and Walter hunted about until he found a pool where gravel lay on a bed of solid granite. "This looks a likely spot," he said, and, shovel in hand, waded in and started operations. I had just hobbled to the bank when I put one crutch straight into the mouth of a wasps' nest, and in a moment was covered with a swarm of angry insects. I could not run. The only thing was to fling myself flat on my face on the ground so as to protect my eyes. The wasps were all over me, especially the back of my neck, and the pain agonising. Walter leaped out of the brook, tore a leafy branch from a tree, and began beating the swarm off me. Then he dragged me away. I had about a score of stings on the back of my neck, and many others on my hands and wrists, and was laid up for a day or two. Walter got off with only three or four stings. It spoilt our gold-hunting, but it cured me of long-standing rheumatism in the left shoulder.
There was a comic sequel. Walter made up his mind to abolish that wasps' nest, and, armed with a small packet of blasting powder and a fuse, went down that evening to tackle the job. With him went our Great Dane, Pluto, a huge beast of forbidding appearance, but of a mild and inquisitive nature. Thrusting the powder packet into the hole and covering it with a sod of turf, Walter lit the fuse and moved off. But Pluto, intensely interested in the proceeding, and evidently imagining that a bone had been buried for his delectation, went straight to the nest and, to Walter's horror, started digging. Next moment the wasps were all over him, and, howling dismally, he ran straight to Walter for comfort and protection. But Walter, who had had all he wanted in the way of stings that morning, bolted, crossed the river, and made for the open field opposite. He went away at the rate of knots, with Pluto and the wasps a good second. The pace beat even the wasps, and this time Walter returned unscathed, though poor old Pluto was very sorry for himself.
Our English wasps are no joke, especially when you get a number of stings at once, but they are not in the same street with the Florida brand. I remember once, when I was on a ladder pruning a big orange-tree, a large black and yellow wasp flew out and stung me on the neck. The result was exactly as if someone had punched me on the jaw, and the next thing I knew I was on my back on the ground below. Luckily for me it was soft sand, or I should most certainly have broken myself up. The pain was intense for about a quarter of an hour, then went off rapidly. The worst poisoning I ever had in my life was from a large green caterpillar with spikes on its back. In trimming some oak scrub I accidentally brushed this thing with the back of my hand. Red-hot iron could not have hurt worse, and great scarlet weals appeared all across the back of my hand. It was hours before the pain abated, and I could not use the hand for a couple of days.
It is curious how different poisons affect different people. I have known a man bitten by an adder pay hardly any attention to the bite. He put on some ammonia, but that was all. His hand swelled a good deal, but he was all right in a couple of days. On the other hand, a man I knew up in Herefordshire, who was similarly bitten, very nearly died. He was laid up for three weeks, and suffered for months afterwards. The one bite I am really afraid of is that of the common horse-fly. I have had my whole hand like a cushion from one of these bites, and had to wear my arm in a sling for days. A groom at Lynton, in North Devon, actually died from the bite of a horse-fly. Doctors say that the danger from a horse-fly bite depends entirely upon what the insect has previously been feeding on, and that the bite may carry infective poison into the wound in the same way that one species of mosquito introduces malarial poison into the blood.
Mainly About Dogs—Pluto, Patch, Punch, and a Few Others—Also Describing Some Interesting Pets
PLUTO'S appearance made him a splendid watch-dog, but the worst of it was that he got credit for every ill happening for miles round. On one occasion a neighbouring farmer came to see me with a very grave face. "That there girt dog o' yours have bit off the tail o' one o' my bullocks," he announced. I assured him that Pluto would never dream of doing any such thing, but he shook his head and went away unconvinced. Next day my wife was walking up the leat. Just opposite Beardown Farm is a basin where two branches of the leat join, and this is surrounded by strong spiked iron railings. She saw some gory remnants clinging to the spikes, and, behold, it was the tail of the unfortunate bullock. So for once Pluto's character was cleared.
Pluto was the first dog we had on the Moor. He came to us in April. In the following September I was having tea in the house of my old friends, the Caunters of Dartmeet. They had a famous Jack Russell bitch called Vick, and at the time she was nursing a litter of pups under a table in the corner of the kitchen. At the opposite side of the room a basket contained three sturdy kittens. One of the pups came staggering across the floor, picked up a wandering kitten by the scruff of its neck, and, in spite of its protests, carried it to my feet. I gave Caunter half a sovereign for that pup, and never in my life was money better spent. For all the fourteen years of her life Patch, as I called her, was my constant companion and friend. She was the best dog I ever knew, the best I shall ever know, and it is my confident hope that she is waiting for me just round the corner, and will be the first to greet me when I cross the threshold. Patch was pluck personified. Almost the first thing she did was to stagger up to Pluto, who was gnawing a bone on the lawn, and calmly take it away from him. In a week Pluto, who could have swallowed her at one gulp, was her devoted slave. She used to make him lie down, then, selecting the softest part of his anatomy, curl herself on top, using him as a cushion. But she was equally devoted to him. One day a big collie came into the garden. Pluto, then not quite full grown, started to turn him out, and there was a terrible fight. Patch, still a mere puppy, saw what was happening and raced for the spot. I too saw, and followed as fast as crutches would take me, shouting frantically to her to stop, for I fully expected she would be annihilated. But, paying no attention whatever to me, she hurled herself between the two battling furies. I don't know whether it was from sheer surprise at the colossal pluck of this tiny ball of fluff, but the two big dogs instantly parted, and before they could resume operations I got to work with a crutch and sent the intruding collie about its business.
Patch fell downstairs when she was six months old and broke a foreleg. It was cleverly mended by Mr. Gibbings, our veterinary surgeon in Tavistock, but was always a little shorter than the other. Yet she could walk and run with the best. Always she would come out with me when shooting, and would compete with the old red setter for the honour of bringing back a snipe or rabbit. Once she tried to retrieve a rabbit which I had killed on a steep hillside. It was a particularly big rabbit, and Patch found it too much for her. She lost her balance, and she and the rabbit rolled to the bottom together. But when I reached her she was still trying hard to carry it back up the hill. She was a wonderful ratter. One day a rat ran behind an old kennel in the yard, and my man came in to ask me to bring Patch. A strange chauffeur happened to be in the yard, and he grinned sardonically when Patch arrived. "You don't reckon she'll tackle that great big beast, sir?" he remarked. I put Patch in, and inside fifteen seconds she was out again. "I told you so," remarked the chauffeur. "She wouldn't face it." "Help me move the kennel," I said; and when we had done so there lay the rat, dead as mutton.
Patch had puppies, and we kept one, which was called Johnny. He had none of Patch's good looks, but much of her sweet nature, and she was devoted to him. Down at the hotel were a number of half-wild cats, which lived in the outbuildings and sometimes prowled around our place. Johnny, a puppy and knowing no better, tried to tackle one of these—a great, powerful Tom—and was getting badly clawed when his mother arrived. I had heard the shindy, and was on my way, but Patch got there first, and I saw her and the cat disappear together into a patch of tall nettles at the bottom of the garden. I was in an awful stew, for I fully expected that Patch would get her eyes clawed. But a strange silence reigned, and, when at last I had parted the nettles and got sight of the pair, I saw that Patch was in no danger. She had caught the cat by the nose and was holding its head tight against the ground, so that the creature could use neither teeth nor claws. It was, in fact, perfectly helpless, yet almost unhurt. I lifted Patch away, and the cat left instantly. A streak of lightning could hardly have departed more rapidly.
One day in Plymouth my wife and I noticed a perfectly beautiful Jack Russell bitch sitting beside the driver of a hansom cab. We admired her, and the owner at once offered to sell. Of course, we fell, paid him three pounds, and took Susan, as she was called, home with us. Patch met her, surveyed her, then fell upon and whipped her. Not severely, but just enough to show that she was top dog. Susan took to the kitchen and stayed there. Beautiful as she was, she had no brains. All she cared about was driving. The moment the dog-cart came round she was in, and would stand and balance herself on one shaft while Dormer trotted at full speed. It is funny how fond dogs are of driving. Once a dog has been out in a car, its one desire is for a second run. We have now a white West Highland called Toots, and, like most of her breed, she is very sweet-tempered, but desperately shy. She came to us from a bad home, where she had been half starved and hideously ill-treated, and at first we could do nothing with her. She vanished if you so much as looked at her. But care and kindness have done marvels, and she is now very lively and very happy. She, too, adores driving, and the other day, when a tradesman's car was in the drive, I actually caught her in the act of getting into it on her own. Patch used to come with us on our drives from Devonshire to Bournemouth. During the long run through open country she would lie with her head under a rug, but as soon as we reached a town, up she jumped, very much alive, to watch all that was going on, and more particularly to regard, with lady-like condescension, those plebeian dogs who had to run on their own feet instead of on rubber-shod wheels.
Pluto grew huge, and it was almost impossible to give him sufficient exercise. Then one day he was accused of sheep-killing. Myself, I don't believe he would have touched a sheep even if he had been left all night in a sheepfold, but there was a certain amount of evidence, so I paid for the sheep and gave the dear beast away. Neil Lyons had him, and he lived with the Lyons for years, and died in a happy old age.
I have owned a good many dogs in the course of my life. The first was a queer black-and-tan mongrel called Punch, which was given me when I was batching in Florida. He was a rather characterless animal, and hated his own company. Like Mary's lamb, wherever master went, Punch followed too. One Sunday I rode over to church in Winterpark, but, before I left, tied Punch in his kennel, leaving him a bone and a bowl of water. It was a hot day, and the church doors were left open, only the wire gauze being closed to keep out flies. In the middle of the second lesson I heard a scratching sound, but for the moment did not connect it with anything in particular. It grew louder; people began to look round. Next minute Punch, his tongue lolling out, came trotting up the aisle, inspecting each pew in turn. He found me, and plunged into my pew, upsetting a lot of books as well as the equanimity of an old lady who sat near me. There was nothing for it but to take him out, and, when I reached the door, behold a gaping hole in the wire gauze where Punch had bitten his way through! I had to pay to have it mended, and dollars were mighty scarce in those days.
The jolliest pet I ever possessed was a red squirrel, which I took from the drey in Savernake Forest. He was the sweetest little creature imaginable, and soon became perfectly tame. Moses, as he was called, used to sit on my shoulder as I walked about the garden at home in Herefordshire, and I could trust him to run up a tree, where he would amuse himself for a time, then come back to me for a nut or some small delicacy. He used to sleep on the rod of the window-curtain in my room, but, if the night grew too cold for his taste, he would get into my bed, and in the morning I would find him snuggled down by my feet. When I left for Florida I had to leave him behind, but he seems to have missed me, and used to go and hunt about in the garden for me. One day he failed to return. I only hope that he merely went wild, but one cannot know, and, in any case, a creature that had been cared for ever since it was a month old was hardly capable of looking after itself. That is the worst of pets. Tragedies occur so often, so nowadays I confine myself entirely to dogs. I told the story of Moses in my book The Life-story of a Squirrel.
The queerest pet I ever had was a raccoon, which was given to me by my friend Harold Johnstone. This creature grew embarrassingly tame, and, unless put on a chain, refused to be parted from me. In the morning, when I went down to bathe, he used to follow me along the spring-board, and, when I jumped in, he jumped in too. He swam like a dog, and much quicker than I. Before I could turn and reach shore he had always caught up, and would climb upon my shoulder, digging all his sharp little claws into my skin.
My brother Walter was a great man for queer pets. When living up in Northern Rhodesia, very much in the wilds, he tamed two cheetahs (hunting leopards). They were, he told me, as tame as dogs, but would occasionally go out on their own and kill a buck. He watched them once run down a buck, and vowed that he never in his life saw creatures move with such amazing speed. He did not think that even a greyhound could have travelled so fast. One evening a missionary turned up at my brother's place. Missionaries are not popular in Rhodesia, but Walter, of course, offered hospitality. The man was a newcomer to the country, and anything but happy. He had supper, then, as he was tired, Walter took him to one of the huts, where a bed had been made up by the boys.
Breakfast was at seven, but the missionary failed to appear, and Walter, thinking the man wanted a long sleep, did not call him. He breakfasted and went about his business. Eight came—nine—and at last Walter thought he had better go and see what had happened to his visitor. When he went into the hut, there was the missionary lying flat on his back in bed, and stretched out upon him was one of the cheetahs, which had jumped in through the open window. The cheetah had no thought except to be friendly, but the missionary, under the full impression that this was a leopard, and that his only chance for life was to remain perfectly still, had been so lying for nearly two hours. He was paralysed with terror, and almost insensible.
Another creature which Walter managed to tame was a lynx. A lynx is a very queer beast, and there are not many cases of one being domesticated. This was during the South African War, and Walter was in charge of transport and supply at a place called O'Kiep, where his column, under Colonel White, was beleaguered by Boers. He kept his lynx in an empty store, which was also used as a bathroom by the officers of the force. Water was scarce, and baths great luxuries, to be enjoyed only in strict rotation. One afternoon a certain stout major came off duty, and went to the store for his tub. He had undressed, and was just going to begin his ablutions, when all of a sudden he saw the lynx, tufted ears erect, coming stealthily on great velvet feet down the long, bare counter. The major stayed not upon the order of his going. With one jump he reached the door, and with the next he was in the street. What he said to Walter later that evening would probably make an excellent gramophone record, but one only fit for use in a smoking-room.
The Biggest Parish in England—Work as District Councillor and Guardian—Motoring in Devonshire and Elsewhere
WHILE living on Dartmoor I served three three-year terms on the Tavistock District Council and Board of Guardians as one of the representatives of the Forest Ward of Lydford Parish. Fifteen years ago, before Lydford was divided, it was the largest parish in England, its area being sixty thousand acres, or about two thirds the size of the County of Rutland. At Two Bridges we were actually sixteen miles by road from our parish church at Lydford, and Postbridge, a village on the Exeter road, but still in Lydford, is twenty miles from the church. In ancient days every parishioner had to go to Lydford to church, and carry his dead there for buried, but after a time the tax upon the time and energies of the Moor folk became so intolerable that a special dispensation was granted permitting them to attend service and take the sacraments at the little church of Widdecombe, which lies deep in a fold of the hills about ten miles east of Princetown.
This licence was granted in the thirteenth century, and for more than five hundred years Widdecombe remained the centre of religion for the inhabitants of Dartmoor. Widdecombe Church has, in fact, been called the Cathedral of the Moor. It is famous for its lofty tower, which has often been compared with that of Magdalen College, Oxford. Legend asserts that this tower was built as a thank offering by miners who had discovered and been enriched by a wonderful vein of tin. The old church contains a number of curious memorials, among others painted tablets commemorating the famous thunderstorm of 1638, a tempest which has since been immortalised by Blackmore. In its course a thunderbolt struck the church itself, doing damage of such an extraordinary and freakish nature that it is worth quoting a portion of the account given by Prince, the author of Worthies of Devon:
"In the year of Our Lord 1638, Oct. 21, being Sunday, and the congregation being gathered together in the parish Church of Wydecombe, in the afternoon, in service time, there happened a very great darkness, which still increased to that degree, that they could not see to read; soon after a terrible and fearful thunder was heard, like the noise of so many great guns, accompanied with dreadful lightning, to the great amazement of the people; the darkness still increasing that they could not see each other, when there presently came such an extraordinary flame of lightning, as filled the church with a loathsome smell, like brimstone; a ball of fire came in likewise at the window and passed through the church which so affrighted the congregation that most of them fell down in their seats crying out of burning and scalding.
"There were in all four persons killed, and sixty-two hurt, divers of them having their linen burnt, though their outward garments were not so much as singed. . . . The church itself was much torn and defaced. The steeple was much wrent; and it was observed that where the church was most torn, there the least hurt was done among the people."
Indirectly it was due to the great French wars at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth that Widdecombe ceased to be the centre of moorland worship. The hulks at Plymouth became so crowded with prisoners of war that it was decided to build a new military prison on Dartmoor. The great prison of Princetown was begun in the year 1807, and the first part of it completed within two years. There was not another building on the site at the time, the nearest house being Tor Royal, a mile away; but a village soon grew up, and presently it was decided to build a church. French prisoners were employed for the masonry, which is all of native granite, and Americans, it is said, finished the interior. The church, which is dedicated to St. Michael and All Angels, is a large, solid, but not beautiful edifice, and, since the old war prison was in 1850 turned into a civil prison, it has become the most important church on the Moor; its tower is certainly the most conspicuous object for very many miles round, and can, it is said, even seen from some parts of Plymouth. From the top of Hessary Tor, just above the church, the view is magnificent. On a clear day the Hamoaze and the Sound, with their shipping, seem close beneath one's feet.
Close to the church is the parsonage, formerly tenanted by a curate-in-charge, but now, since Lydford has been divided, by the incumbent of Princetown. His duties include occasional prison work, and consequently a small Government grant in aid is made towards his stipend. There is probably not a parsonage in England more exposed to the weather than that at Princetown. The windows are double, like those of a Russian house.
Princetown Church is now the centre of worship for a large district on the western side of Dartmoor, and for a century past the dead have been borne to its churchyard from places as distant as Dartmeet and Postbridge; but Postbridge and Huccaby, a mile from Dartmeet, each have their mission chapels, which are managed by a second curate-in-charge, who lives at Postbridge.
Postbridge is six miles from Princetown, on the Moreton Hampstead Road, and some years ago a burial-ground was consecrated near the village. Moormen do not move about much: the old type seldom venture farther than Tavistock. It was one of these, a native of Postbridge, who was taken ill, and soon became aware that his end was near. To him, as he lay upon his bed, came a friend who, by way of cheering him, told him that he would not have to be carried all that long way to Princetown; he could be buried in the nice new ground at Postbridge.
The dying man was silent a minute. Then he said decidedly: "Racken I'll not be buried at Postbridge, John; I'll have a grave at Princetown. It'll be a change, like, after living here all my life."
The whole of Dartmoor, and much of the surrounding country, was, during the Middle Ages, under the sway of the tin-miners, the stannary towns being Tavistock, Chagford, Ashburton, and Plympton, while the stannary prison was at Lydford itself. The ancient parliament of the tin-miners was held on Crockern Tor, a rocky point lying above the West Dart, near Two Bridges.
Lydford itself, the capital of the great parish of the same name, lies on the western edge of Dartmoor, on the little River Lyd. To-day it is only a village dominated by the ugly, ruinous square keep of its ancient castle. Yet Lydford was once among the most important towns in England. In the eleventh century it was rated, according to Domesday Book, as of equal value with London; and for long years after the Norman Conquest its great castle—with its dungeons, in which Richard Stride, a member of one of King Henry VIII.'s parliaments, was imprisoned—dominated the surrounding country.
In Saxon days Lydford even had a mint of its own. It owes the beginning of its decadence to Norman William, who destroyed and burnt a large part of the city on his conquering march into Cornwall.
The present Lydford Church is mainly of the fifteenth century, but there are remains of earlier date in the chancel, and the font is believed to be of extreme antiquity. In the churchyard is the oft-quoted epitaph of George Routleigh, watchmaker, which begins:
Here lies in horizontal position
The outside case of
George Routleigh, watchmaker.
Lydford's chief claim to interest lies in its famous gorge, which is startlingly unlike anything else of the kind on or near Dartmoor. Here the Lyd has cut for itself through intensely hard rock a passage which, though eighty feet or more in depth, is so narrow that, looking down from above, the river itself, pouring and boiling along the bottom, is often entirely invisible. The precipitous sides of the gorge are a mass of the most exquisite ferns and foliage. A pathway, narrow and slippery, leads along the stream-side, near the bottom of the gorge; but when the river is in flood, and roaring furiously in the pot-holes which it has scooped in the rocks, this path is not to be trodden by any unblessed with the best of nerves and a steady head.
Friday is market day in Tavistock, and before the war the District Council sat one Friday and the Guardians the next, so the work meant giving up one whole day weekly. There were also committee meetings—some in Tavistock, some special committees sent to investigate matters such as drains or water supplies in distant parts of the district. I have sometimes driven forty or fifty miles in the day on such work. There are so many parishes in the Union that the Guardians numbered over forty and the District Council about the same number. Nearly all were farmers or shopkeepers. Two doctors, a clergyman, a Methodist minister, a country squire, and myself were almost the only exceptions. This sort of thing is all wrong, for there were, and are, quite a number of leisured people in the district who could have much more easily spared the time for public duties than those hard-working folk who actually performed them. And you will see the same thing all over England. There are hundreds of retired Army and Navy officers, Civil Servants, and the like who are still perfectly fit and able to do public work, yet spend their whole lives playing golf or shooting or fishing, leaving the mass of unpaid public service to people who have their own living to make. I do not mean to tar them all with the same brush, for I know quite a number who make themselves extremely useful running local fire-brigades and village clubs, acting as scoutmasters and the like. But these are the exceptions, and it is a thousand pities that the majority cannot be roused to do something for the public good. Numbers are too slack even to vote at municipal elections, and that is the chief reason why so many municipalities have been captured by Socialists, and why Guardians generally are getting so bad a name for extravagance.
There was no extravagance on the part of the Tavistock Guardians; of that I can assure you; nor, on the other hand, any undue stinginess. We always had long lists of cases for relief, and especially so since the war, when so many tin-mines had been closed down, leaving great numbers of men without a means of livelihood.
In the winter of 1921 we had to start stone-breaking yards in order to find work for some of these poor fellows. The beauty of relief work in our district was that, in practically every case, at least one of the Guardians had personal knowledge of the applicant, and could tell us at once whether the need was or was not genuine. One special case that comes to mind was of a man who applied for relief because he was suffering from miner's phthisis. The chairman was putting him down for the usual fifteen shillings a week when a Guardian, who rarely spoke, rose. "Mr. Chairman," he said, "I know this man. He has worked hard all his life, and even when he was too ill to go underground he wouldn't give up, but drove a cart for six months, until the doctor forbade him to do even that. Now he is dying and cannot live more than six months. Fifteen shillings a week isn't much for a dying man to get on with. Couldn't we stretch a point in his favour?" The Board unanimously raised the relief to thirty shillings a week, and later I saw the poor fellow, who was pathetically grateful. For years past Guardians of the Poor have been threatened with legal extermination, and when they perform in the fashion of those at Poplar not a word can be said in their favour. But Poplarites are the exception, not the rule, and in country districts the substitution of paid officials for elected Boards of Guardians will be simply a disaster, and a very costly one, too.
During my first term on the Council and Board I had no car, and had to either drive my horse to Tavistock or take the slow and roundabout route by railway, from Princetown via Yelverton. In 1910 I bought my first car, a Spyker, a most unreliable machine. For days she would go to perfection, then of a sudden she would balk on a hill. Time after time I have been forced to shed, not only my passengers, but even the very cushions before I could crawl up one of our steep ascents on low gear! Six months of her was enough, then I got a De Dion, one of the old 12-14's. She was a wonderful bus. You could put the clutch out with a finger, and a child could drive her. Of course her power was limited. By modern standards it would be about seven horse power, but she would climb anything if you gave her time, and we kept her for four years, and drove her many thousand miles over all sorts of country. We explored a great deal of Devonshire and Cornwall, and went as far as Bournemouth and Worcester in other directions.
While motor taxation was far lower then than it is now and petrol cheaper, yet cars cost much more to run. The trouble was always with the tyres. On Devonshire roads you thought you were doing well if you got three thousand miles out of a tyre, whereas now twelve thousand is nothing out of the way. Punctures were frequent, and over and over again one had to fit that awkward device, the Stepney wheel, in order to get home. The spare wheel was still an invention of the future. Nor were brakes as good as they are now, and that was a cause of frequent accidents.
My house near Two Bridges stood just opposite the juncture of two roads, one coming from Princetown, the other from Tavistock. They both dropped at a gradient of about one in nine. One day, I think it was in 1910, a big covered car coming from Tavistock had started down the hill towards Two Bridges when first the foot and then the side brake gave out. The car, which weighed quite two tons, ran away, and came past our gate at something like fifty miles an hour. The curve where the two roads meet is very wide, with a triangle of grass in the centre, and the driver's idea was to swing to the left, cross the bridge at the bottom, and check the car on the opposite ascent. He would never have managed it, for the abrupt hump of the bridge would most certainly have wrecked the car. However, as he reached the corner, the first thing he saw was a four-horse brake coming up the hill and, of course, completely blocking the road. As a last resource, he tried to turn right handed, but it was too late. The car skidded sideways, just missed the telegraph post in the middle of the grass patch, and hit the low stone wall on the far side of the road. Through, or over, this it crashed, and dropped six feet into the newtake below, landing upside down. The passengers were an old gentleman and his wife, both, I believe, over seventy. Will it be believed that neither of them were seriously hurt, and that the driver, too, got off with only a few cuts? Yet when I went to look at the car afterwards there was a lump of granite, weighing fully a hundredweight, lying inside the front screen, which was, of course, smashed to atoms.
On another occasion, while I was working in the garden, I heard a bicycle bell going furiously in the road, and next moment a slight thud. However, the road was full of trippers, and I paid no special attention until a man broke in upon me, excitedly shouting that his friend was killed. Then I hurried out. "His bicycle ran away with him," explained the man breathlessly. And sure enough there, at the very spot where the big car had come to grief, I saw the twisted remains of a bicycle against the wall. Its rider was in the field below. He had been pitched a good twenty feet out into the field and lay flat on his back. At first sight I thought his friend was right, and that he really was done for, but I soon found that he was breathing and that his heart was beating quite strongly. I sent for some cold water and bathed his face, and he soon came round. Then I gave him a stiff tot of whiskey, which soon pulled him together. He sat up. "Where's ma bicycle?" he demanded in an accent which seemed to stamp him as from Aberdeen. "Mostly wire," I told him. "Do you know that you have had a most uncommonly lucky escape. If you had not been pitched as far as you were, you would have landed among those stones and cracked your skull for a certainty."
He paid no attention whatever to my remarks, but, getting on his feet, climbed over the wall, and began to examine the crumpled remains of his machine. "It'll cost shillings to get it mended," he moaned.
I lost patience. "You'll have to buy a new one," I told him brutally, and went back to my gardening. I never had one word of thanks for either my trouble or my whiskey. I think this man must have been the same who, when he visited Woolworth's, enquired for the bargain basement.
That case was a bit different from another which happened a few weeks later. A tall, weather-beaten man came to the house, and, finding me in the garden, asked for work. "I'm a Londoner," he said, "and I came down for the haying, but it's late this year, and I can't find a job."
"What can you do?" I asked. "Do you know anything of gardening?"
"I know potatoes from weeds," he said with a ghost of a grin.
I took him to a flower-bed and told him to weed it. He was evidently quite green to gardening, but he worked with a will, and as there was plenty to do I took him on for a week. He earned his money, and was delighted with a present of some old clothes. He told me he was a bricklayer's labourer, a widower with one little girl. Once a year he left London and tramped for a couple of months haying and harvesting. He loved the country, he said, and the change kept him in health. We were quite sorry to see the last of him. Just a year later he turned up again, but this time not in search of work, for he told me he was on his way to a job. "But I came this way, sir," he added, "just to tell you how grateful I was for the job you gave me last year."
But I was talking about accidents caused by bad brakes. The two I have mentioned were very nearly tragedies, but another in our neighbourhood was rather comic. An elderly parson who owned an elderly car came to the top of that tremendous descent known as Holne Hill, and, aware that his brakes were in none too good order, shed his passengers and put in second gear before descending. In spite of these precautions he could not control the ancient machine, which soon began to gather speed. Holne Hill is twisty, while the road has high banks, and as he rounded the first curve the parson became suddenly aware of a waggonette with two horses going down in front of him. He blew his horn desperately, but before anything could be done he had bumped right into the tail of the waggonette, not doing it or his car any serious harm, but causing the horses to bolt. Luckily there is a level piece of road near the bottom of the hill, and here the driver managed to get control of his steeds. Frightened and very angry, he turned, and had just begun to talk to the parson in terms not fitted for clerical ears, when the car, still out of control, hit the waggonette a second time and started the horses off afresh. Before they could be pulled in again they were half-way up the opposite slope, and—perhaps fortunately—the driver was out of ear-shot of the parson.
My brakes on the old De Dion were not too good, and, having received a summons to attend a Grand Jury at the Exeter Assizes, I sent the car down on the previous day to Plymouth to have the brakes refined. A man from the garage drove her back, and at half-past eight next morning I left for Exeter. The distance is twenty-six miles, and the road is moderately described in the guidebook as "A series of precipitous hills." The car went rottenly, and ten was striking as I reached the castle. I was only just in time, for my name was the very first read out to serve. At lunch-time, when I went to the garage where I had left the car, the man in charge showed me that the paint was all cracked off the brake drum on the off hind wheel. "It was nearly red hot when you came in," he told me. "Those beauties had lined up your brake so that it was on the whole time." Bad workmanship was a very common trouble in those days, and if you wanted a repair done it paid you to stand over the workmen. I am very glad to say that matters in this respect are now immensely improved and that, in spite of higher wages, motor repairs are far better and, I think, cheaper than they were twelve or fourteen years ago.
Roads in Devon were never good, and some, such as that from Exeter to Okehampton, were at one time almost impossible for cars. Considerable improvements have, however, been made since 1923. Modern motorists do not realise what a vast difference tar has made to their comfort in driving. In former days every car threw up in dry weather a vast cloud of dust, which hung in the air, blinding those who followed. On some Devonshire roads they still cling to the dreadful mud-pie system of mending. Stone is laid, covered with earth or loam dug from the roadside, this is profusely watered, then the roller gets to work. On the Moor the tremendous rainfall soon washes away all the earth, and then the stones work out and lie loose, while great pot-holes form everywhere. In Cornwall the roads, though not good enough to boast about, are better than those in Devon. The best roads in 1914 were in Herefordshire, where the surveyor understood the art of dry rolling. Herefordshire roads are still good, and most of the Worcestershire roads are fair. But even now the contrast is often keen between the roads of adjacent counties. In Bucks, for instance, the by-roads are still very bad, while just over the border in Bedfordshire they are mostly quite good. But we shall never have good roads in England so long as huge steam locomotives are allowed to haul plough tackle over them. I followed one of these awful contraptions near Dunstable not long ago. The road had just been newly mended, and this engine, weighing I don't know how many tons and provided with bossed wheels, was simply ripping it up by the roots. The damage, according to a road man I spoke to, would cost over a hundred pounds a mile to repair.
Anyone who can drive a car in Devonshire need not fear driving in any other county. The roads on Dartmoor are at any rate open, but take the stretch from the edge of the Moor to Moretonhampstead, you never saw anything worse. It is not only desperately narrow, and fearfully hilly, but it twists like a snake, and on each side is bordered by banks so high that it is impossible to see what is coming. And this, if you please, is the favourite route for the great motor-coaches which come in hundreds to carry thousands of sightseers across the Moor. On one occasion in August 1923 I counted forty of these huge vehicles following one another in a string. They carried between them something over twelve hundred passengers. The reason why these Devonshire roads twist as they do is that they follow the lines of the old pack-horse tracks, and these, made originally across open moorland, followed, of course, the line of least resistance—that is, the ground that happened to be naturally driest and most firm. This sort of thing is not, of course, peculiar to Devon, but may be noticed in most parts of the country. We are at present paying millions yearly to keep up roads which, if they were straightened, would be in the aggregate hundreds, even thousands, of miles shorter than they actually are.
I have had many unpleasant experiences while motoring in Devonshire, but none worse than one February night in 1913. My cousin, Victor Bridges, and I had driven to Plymouth to dine and see the boxing at the Cosmopolitan, where a very good show was usually staged. The day had been lovely, soft and warm as spring, but, when we came out of the hall about eleven, a complete change had come about. It was bitterly cold and blowing a gale from the north-east. It was well enough until we reached Yelverton Common, but then the full force of the wind met us, and so strong was it that I had to drop the hood and put the old car into second speed and grind along at about ten miles an hour. In spite of heavy coat and gloves, I soon got so cold that I could not feel my hands. The farther we got and the higher we rose the worse became the gale, until up on the fourteen-thousand-foot level above Yelverton the wind was like a wall. It took us nearly two hours to do the seventeen miles, and when at last we reached our gate I was so frozen that I could not, for a time, get out of the car.
My next car, after the De Dion, was an Alldays, most comfortable and reliable, but a brute to drive because of the difficulty in gear changing. The last occasion upon which I drove her was in February 1916, when, on my way back from a District Council meeting in Tavistock, my man and I were caught in a violent snowstorm, and at Merivale Bridge had to dig our way through a drift which barred our passage. It was all we could do to get home. That was the beginning of the worst series of snowstorms I ever saw on the Moor. They lasted for a week, and in the end the drifts were fourteen feet deep, and we were quite cut off, for naturally there was no labour left at that time to clear the roads. It was the end of March before this mass of snow melted. But, taking it all round, March is usually about the worst month of the English winter, and if it happens to be mild April takes its place.
Some Artists—Stories of Phil May, Tom Browne, and Others
ALTHOUGH during the whole of 1905 I was on crutches, it is a year which I look back upon with pleasure, for it was then that I was elected a member of the Savage Club. Soon after I first came to London I became a member of the old Cocoa Tree Club in St. James's Street, where the food was cheap and very good, but where during the whole of three years' membership I never came to know more than five other members, and two of those were the men who had originally put me up. The fact was that I had no idea what a club could be to a member until I joined the Savage. "Join" is, of course, not the right word, for a man who is put up for the Savage has to pass two committees, the Qualification and the House committee, and, even after he has survived these ordeals, is on probation for a month, during which period it is quite open for any member or members to put in an objection to his membership.
When I was elected I was on my back in my Devonshire home. However, I got a little better, wrote for a bedroom at the club, and came up to spend a week. As it happened, neither of my sponsors, Roger Pocock and C. P. Sisley, were in the club when I arrived, and I was a very lost and shy sheep as I hobbled into the big room at about seven and meekly ordered some dinner. Members were drifting in, for, owing to the exigencies of theatres, most men who dine at the Savage dine early.
A squarely built, elderly, and bald man took the next chair to me. "You're a new member?" he said, and I admitted it.
"What's your name?" he asked, and I told him.
At once he introduced me to the other men who were sitting at the table, and within a few minutes I was perfectly happy and at home. My friend was H. de Mosenthal, a great expert in explosives, who has long since passed over to the bourne where good Savages go. He was a very quiet man, and, as a rule, ate his dinner in silence. I mention the incident merely to illustrate the spirit of the Savage Club. It is the recognised duty of every old member to look after a new member, a duty which is never neglected, and I am glad to say that during my twenty-one years membership I have been able occasionally to pass on de Mosenthal's courtesy, and to help newer members than myself in a similar fashion. Twenty-one years is a longish stretch of time, yet, compared with some of my Savage Club friends, I am still a very junior person. Smedley Yates, for instance, has been a member ever since 1882, and still looks as smart and as young as ever, while Freddy Bowyer, who was elected in 1889, is to-day just as good a partner in a game of slosh as he was when I first met him.
There is a spirit of perennial youth in the old club. Frankie Thornton at seventy-four, with hardly a grey hair in his head, used to come literally dancing into the billiard-room. He looked about fifty and behaved as if he was twenty. Another friend who has been a member since 1889 is Louis Brennan of torpedo fame. He is also the inventor of the mono-rail. In my study hangs a framed copy of the menu of the Saturday night House Dinner of July 9th, 1907. That was the last occasion upon which Mark Twain visited the Savage Club, and it was also the night upon which Brennan gave us an exhibition of his mono-rail. A cable was stretched from end to end of our big room, and upon it the solid-looking model, with its two grooved wheels set in line, moved to and fro in a most uncanny fashion. Mark Twain, who was wearing his famous white flannel suit, was greatly interested. That was the year when the Ascot Gold Cup was stolen, and one of the stunts of that memorable evening was the presentation of a sealed packet to Mark Twain which, when at last the numerous wrapping papers were removed, proved to be a model of the cup itself.
Mark Twain was one of our honorary life members. So were Lords Roberts and Kitchener and Captain Scott, all of whom have since left us. I have the menu of a dinner given on June 19th, 1909, when Scott and Shackleton were the guests of the club. The contrast between the two men was very great. Scott short, compact, very modest, rather shy, and a poor and hesitating speaker, yet in spite of these disadvantages a great personality and a real leader of men; Shackleton bigger, harder in every way, and with a wonderful gift of speech. At the head of the menu are the portraits of the two men, done by Jack Hassall, and he has caught to perfection the contrast between the two. Below is a clever sketch of an Antarctic scene by Charles Dixon.
It is the fashion for the member chosen to take the chair on a Saturday night to get a menu done to commemorate the occasion, and the walls of the club are hung with scores of the originals of these menus, which in themselves form a sort of illustrated history of the club and of the guests entertained during the past half century. Jack Hassall, George Stampa, Tom Browne, Douglas Almond, Lance Thackeray, Bert Thomas, Raven Hill, and George Whitelaw are among the members who have done most for the club in this direction.
Tom Browne I came to know nearly thirty years ago. At that time he was working for one of the Harmsworth periodicals called Comic Cuts, but he very soon rose to higher things, and became a Punch contributor. An odd thing about Tom was that, though he was practically top of his profession in his own particular line, he had always the desire to be taken seriously as an artist, and indeed some of his character sketches in wash were very clever. I have one that he did for me when I was on the Rambler, of a market scene, which is quite a good specimen of his serious work.
He was not only a good artist but a good fellow. Prosperity, so far from spoiling him, made him ever more genial and hospitable. He started life as an errand boy in Nottingham, so where he got his intense love of horses is a bit of a mystery. As soon, however, as he could afford it he joined the yeomanry and took to hunting, and how he did enjoy it! He had some bad accidents. On one occasion I met him in the club with his head all strapped up, the result, he told me, of an encounter with a stretched wire in a Kentish hop-yard. But he was cheery as ever, and hunting again a couple of days later. Any brother Savage who went down to Tom's place would find a mount for a day with the foxhounds. He was still a comparatively young man when he died, and we have a very excellent portrait of him hung in our big room at the club. Lance Thackeray I liked immensely, but, then, so did everyone else. He was the sort who would take any amount of trouble for a friend, and once, when I was trying to get a job for a relative on the West Coast of Africa, Lance wrote I don't know how many letters to help me in the matter. Lance was one of the many victims of the war. A delicate man, the training killed him.
We have in the club several specimens of Phil May's lightning work, notably a head of Irving as Mephistopheles. I only once met Phil May, so I cannot say much about him from personal experience. But numbers of my friends who knew him well say that he was the most generous man alive, and that he gave away more sketches than he ever sold. It has been said that the Stage is the Pirate of the Professions, but Art can surely run it close. Phil May began life as timekeeper in an iron-foundry at Leeds. He had to leave because his time-book showed that no man had ever been late since he began to keep the book. After that he sat on a stool in an architect's office, and then took to painting character sketches for theatre bills. I believe that the first London paper for which he worked was Black and White, and I think I have mentioned that Eden Phillpotts was on the staff of the same paper when I first met him.
One little story of Phil May which was told to me in the Savage Club is worth repeating. He was asked to a supper party at the Savoy, given in honour of a great singer, and afterwards did a dainty little drawing on the menu card of the guest of the evening. This was passed round for inspection, and presently fell into the hands of a woman whose wealth was equalled only by her lack of breeding. She called a waiter, handed the man a ten-pound note, and told him to "take it to Mr. May and ask him to do me a similar drawing." Note and message were duly delivered, and the sender was gratified by seeing the artist rise to his feet and take a good long look at her. Then he set to work, and in a little while the waiter returned to the sender the result. It was a caricature—an appallingly truthful caricature—and it was executed on the back of the ten-pound note.
Dudley Hardy was another very well-known Savage, and, although he lived abroad a good deal, I very often saw him in the club. He began his artistic career as a painter pure and simple, and was hung in the Academy and the Salon long before he took to the black and white and poster work which made so big a name for him. Dudley Hardy was a very versatile person, for he was a capital mimic. He could do a costermonger almost as well as Albert Chevalier himself. Chevalier, by the by, was another old Savage of many years, standing, and a very popular one. Yeend King was a delightful man who has left us all the sadder and poorer for his absence. It is not, however, as an artist, but as a friend that I best remember him, and of all men whom I have known I should choose Yeend King as the most perfect example of kindness, tact, and courtesy. For some years before his death he was chairman of the House Committee. There were all sorts of post-war difficulties to contend with, besides the ordinary troubles which must arise in conducting the affairs of any club. But King's calm temper was always equal to the occasion, and, even when he had to administer a reprimand, the culprit, who often came in angry and upset, was soon soothed into making apologies and expressing his regret.
It is pleasant to be able to turn to artists who are still with us. Jack Hassall is perhaps the most many-sided of them all. He is equally at home with poster, cover illustrations, water colours, and black and white. It is an education for any young artist to see Jack do a lightning sketch in crayon on the blackboard. He is one of the most vigorous, as well as original, of draughtsmen, and especially during the war did much to cheer us up with his wonderful sketches of British Tommies and W.R.A.F.'s. Hassall began life by roughing it for some years in Western Canada, so it is no wonder that he can draw a Red Indian better than any other English artist. And you should see him in Red Indian kit as he appeared at our Savage Club Victory Ball at the Albert Hall. It was while he was in Canada that he took to painting, and I believe his first pictures were exhibited at the Agricultural Exhibition in Minnedosa, the little town nine miles from his lonely farm. Three prizes were given in the Art Department, and Hassall entered for all three. He painted his pictures, packed them in a buck-board, and drove into the town on the "sending-in day." All three proved successful, and in the following year he again raked in first, second, and third prizes. The year after that a deputation waited upon him. They wanted him to exhibit, but said that there was a feeling in the town that all honours should not go to one Englishman. Hassall, of course, assented, and that time first prize went to the daughter of the local Methodist minister for a composition showing a large blue bird against a bright red sky.
Among possessions which I prize are the old volumes of the Strand Magazine containing the zig-zag sketches of J. A. Shepherd. Shepherd has been a Savage for more than thirty years, but no one would believe it, to look at him. Probably because he lives an active, open-air life in the country, the years treat him lightly, and he really does not look a day older than when I first knew him.
One of the most wonderful men I know is Joseph Harker, who still remains the youngest of his numerous family. I wonder how many acres of scenery he has painted in his long and active lifetime. Years ago when he lived at Clapham I used sometimes to go down to his house on a Sunday evening. It was a sort of second edition of Savage Club Saturday night, the main difference being that about half the company were ladies. There was much good music and good fellowship, and these occasions were most enjoyable. My companions were usually Alfred Wareing and his charming wife. Alfred, alas, no longer lives in that wonderful little bandbox of a house up at Hampstead, but in a smoky northern manufacturing town, where he runs a repertory theatre with much success.
H. M. Bateman is not a Savage, but I used to see something of him on Dartmoor before the war, and liked him much. George Studdy, however, is both a Savage and a Devonshire man, and I knew him long before Bonzo brought him fame and fortune. P. H. Fearon, better known to the British public as "Poy," the famous caricaturist of the Evening News, was elected to the Savage during the war. He is a Dorsetshire man, rather slim and small, with very bright eyes and a delightful smile, and is, I think, the most modest genius whom I ever met. Genius he is beyond doubt, for no one but a genius could possibly keep on turning out these amazingly clever cartoons day after day as Poy does. He has told me that he comes fresh to each day's work, and that he never has even one reserve drawing up his sleeve, so to speak.
Another artist for whose work I have a great admiration is Raven Hill. One day I was sitting in the club library, and Raven Hill was there working on a Punch cartoon. He was depicting some notability—Lloyd George, I think—crossing a stream on a donkey, and the donkey would not come right. George Stampa came in and looked on, and took a shot at the donkey, but still it would not gee. Then a third man, Bert Thomas, if I remember right, arrived, and also had a try at the refractory beast, but it still remained refractory. At last there turned up G. D. Armour, and with his aid at last the donkey came to life. I wish I could have had a snapshot of that group. Bert Thomas came to the Savage in 1916. He has earned his great success by sheer dogged hard work. I love to see a drawing develop under his nimble fingers, and he is kindness itself in doing delightful little sketches for all his friends.
Fred Villiers was never a member of the Savage Club, but I knew him very well during my earlier days in London, and also Louise Lister, whom he afterwards married. Villiers was a great friend of George Alexander, who often gave him a box at the St. James's. In those days the pit was all that I could usually run to, and I used to feel a great swell when asked by Villiers or Miss Lister to share the box. Villiers had a house in the wilds of Kilburn, and on one occasion Sidney Gowing and I, on our way to supper with him, got completely lost and, wandering down a dark road, nearly got bogged in a great ditch that had been dug across it. Afterwards Villiers and his wife went to live down in Hayling Island.
Roland Hill was on the staff of the Evening News in my early days. He is the great cricket caricaturist, and no one else could draw the great "W. G." as he did. Probably no one ever drew him so many times or in so many different positions. Hill once did a caricature of Linforth and myself playing billiards which was reproduced in our staff paper, The Cue. But, like so many clever men, Roland Hill would never work unless the spirit moved him, and I remember even patient Cecil Harmsworth becoming decidedly annoyed when a set of cricket drawings promised for the London Magazine failed to turn up at the last moment.
In all my life I have only met one man who vows he would like to live over his whole life again just as he has lived it. He is J. Thomson Dunning, R.B.A., a painter well known for his Devonshire figure subjects. Dunning has spent I don't know how many summers—nearer forty than thirty—at Petertavy, that pretty village up the river above Tavistock, and every soul there knows and loves him. He is getting on in years, yet just as cheery and happy as ever. I possess an interesting sketch of his showing part of the West Dart, with that weird grove, Wistman's Wood, clinging to the opposite hill side.
Friends of the Present and Music Halls of the Past—A Few Remarks About Scots and Scotland
THE praiser of past times belongs to a class of dreary bores among whom I have no ambition to class myself. In fact, if I had my choice, I would much sooner have had my innings in the twenty-first than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For all that, one does regret the greater leisure of pre-war days. In these times, when everyone has to spend at least a quarter of his working hours in making money to pay taxes, we don't have as much time for fun as we used to, and it is notable that most of us go to bed earlier than was formerly our custom. That is simply a matter of necessity in order to be fit for longer hours of work. When I first became a member of the Savage it was usually midnight before things began really to move, and after supper came all the best of the fun.
Often Charlie Pounds used to come in after the theatre and sing to us in the big room, with Harold Samuels as his accompanist on the piano. I have seldom enjoyed anything more than those impromptu concerts, which used to carry on till two in the morning. One night Charlie brought in a Rajah of sorts, a young Indian fresh from Oxford. He drank a great deal of "Starboard light," and sang us Persian love songs which sounded for all the world like Gregorian chants. One man was so interested that he started taking down the notation on his white shirt cuff in pencil. Charlie is still with us, as sound and mellow as a ripe nut, but he seldom sings for us nowadays. During his last years, W. S. Penley was often in the club. He was very proud of his pedestrian feats, and used to tell me that he thought nothing of walking twenty miles in a day. Penley began life in a silk firm in the City, and it was William Terriss who first told him that he ought seriously to think of going on the stage. His first engagement brought him the princely salary of twelve shillings a week, but I believe that he cleared nearly one hundred thousand pounds out of Charley's Aunt, which, by the by, is still running.
Another constant attendant at the club was dear old Charles Collette, who lived to a fine old age—well over eighty, I believe. He must have been almost a contemporary of Charles Wyndham, for his first engagement was with the Kendals in 1868, and before that he had been a subaltern in the Third Dragoons. His first part was, of course, a humble one—that of a footman, I believe—but all his old friends in the regiment rolled up and cheered him so lustily that the whole play was hung up. Next day Collette went round to the Mess. "I say, you fellows, for goodness sake don't do it again," he begged. "If you do I shall get the sack." Collette was a dandy to the end. The last time I met him was in Sloane Square only a few months before he died. He was wearing a grey frock coat and a tall grey hat, and I felt quite proud to walk with him. If Collette had not taken to the stage as a profession he could have made a living with his brush. His comic postcards done in colours were perfectly delightful, and I treasure one or two examples which I have had from him at various times.
Henry Irving I never saw in the Savage, but All Brough I remember. Lionel Brough became a Savage so long ago as 1860, and remained a member to his death in 1909. He was one of those actors who could play anything. He was, for instance, "Taffy" in Trilby, a drunken reveller in Twelfth Night, the gardener in Richard II., and the obstinate juryman in Resurrection.
Fragson was often at the Savage, and whenever he sat down to the piano everyone within hearing gathered to listen. But, of course, most of his work was done in Paris, and I do not suppose that any other Englishman was ever so popular as Fragson with French audiences. I have, however, heard him at the old Tivoli. In the north-west room at the club stands a clever little model of Fragson and his piano. How one misses the old Tivoli, the Empire, the Oxford, and indeed all the old music halls, with their constantly changing and generally excellent programmes. There were giants in those days, Dan Leno, for instance. Personally I am quite convinced that we now have no one to touch Dan Leno in his particular line of business. By the by, I happened to be in Bournemouth on the occasion when poor Dan made his last and unrehearsed appearance on any stage. It was at the Winter Gardens, and Dan, whose mind was then seriously affected, was listening to a concert when he suddenly left his attendant and climbed on the stage. The audience recognised him and cheered loudly, and the poor fellow tried to make a speech, but it was not possible to understand what he said.
A music hall performer who always impressed me immensely was Paul Cinquevalli. As a conjurer there never was anyone to approach him, and I do not think there ever will be. For to amazing skill he added a wonderful degree of personality. A curious thing about Cinquevalli is that he began his public career as a tightrope walker and gymnast. This was ended by a terrible fall caused by the carelessness of a drunken attendant. Cinquevalli broke nearly every bone in his body, and was in hospital for the better part of a year. One wrist was so badly smashed that the bone protruded noticeably. His career as a gymnast being at an end, he set deliberately to work to train himself as a professional juggler, and in spite of the handicap of broken bones, reached the very top of his profession.
Another very great personality on the halls was Lafayette who called himself "The American Magician and Mimic." I well remember the excitement caused by his silver-plated steam car in days when any sort of motor was very much of a novelty. In it was a special seat for Beauty, his Tennessee hound, the pet to save which he, in the end gave his life. One more music hall performer whose show sticks in my memory was Eddie Gifford, the one-legged trick cyclist. Gifford was an American who, as a youth, went in for track racing. One day, on a Chicago track, he had so terrible a fall that his left knee was smashed to pieces and the leg had to be amputated. Then, with admirable courage and nerve, Gifford resolved to become a trick cyclist, and one of the most thrilling performances I have ever seen was at the Hippodrome, where Gifford calmly rode his bicycle along a narrow platform into space—dropping heaven knows how many feet into a small tank of water below. Gifford could ride up or down a flight of twenty steps with his one leg just as well, or perhaps better, than any two-legged trick cyclist.
A celebrity of the beginning of the century whom I knew rather well was "Lord" George Sanger, greatest of circus men. If one wanted any sort of copy about showmen Sanger was the man to give it, and I went out quite often to his place at Finchley and came back with my note-book full. He used to show his colours in a novel fashion by keeping three parrots on the lawn in front of the house, one red, one white, and one blue.
One of my oldest friends is Arthur Helmore, on whom years make little impression, and who gives us his nursery rhyme sermons on Saturday nights with as much success and applause as ever. Arthur's perfect mimicry of the parson does not prevent his possessing a large number of clerical friends and acquaintances. One Sunday afternoon a year or two ago I went down into Sloane Square Underground Station at about half-past twelve to take a train for Charing Cross. Both platforms were packed with people just out of church, and I found myself standing next a pleasant-looking padre. Suddenly from the opposite platform came Arthur Helmore's voice. "Hulloa, Tom. How are you?" Everyone looked round, and I turned a delicate pink. But Arthur, not at all embarrassed, went on in that peculiar high voice of his. "I see you are standing next my old friend Mr.—. Let me introduce you." Which, to the joy of the audience, he proceeded to do.
One of the best of brother Savages was Carl Leyel, for years manager at His Majesty's Theatre, who died quite suddenly in 1925. A very tall, distinguished-looking man, he had a great love of horses and hunting, and was the owner of a small farm on Exmoor, where he spent every week-end that he could spare from his work. His idea of absolute happiness was a day with the stag-hounds. He came of an old Danish family who had been settled in this country for generations.
Now that the boom in real estate in Florida has attained such proportions, I often wish that I had hung on to my bit of land near Winterpark. A friend who sympathises with me in this matter is Lauderdale Maitland, who also owned land in Florida some twenty-five years ago. But his case is even harder than mine, for the orange-grove of which he was part proprietor was on land which is now actually within the city limits of Miami, and an acquaintance of his, who owned the next piece of land and who held on to it, has every prospect of becoming a millionaire. Maitland could throw up his stage career to-morrow and retire if he still owned that grove. I saw a good deal of his acting when he was with Jose Levy at the Little Theatre during the first Grand Guignol season. Levy had put on a playlet called Dead Man's Pool, which was mainly the work of my cousin Victor Bridges, but of which I figured as part author. The play, you see, dealt with salmon fishing, a matter in which my technical experience was of some value. But a salmon rod is a most awkward thing to manage on the stage, and it is difficult to convince a man who has never caught a salmon that he cannot heave it out like a perch. However, we had lots of fun out of it, and some welcome dollars, and the critics said nice things, so we were quite happy.
Talking of plays recalls to mind the time when Eden Phillpotts was putting on The Secret Woman. He wanted some real Dartmoor clothes to dress his characters, and wrote to Victor, who at the time was staying with me on the Moor, to ask him to go round and hunt some up. Victor got a car, and he and another man drove round to various farms. They arrived at a little pub kept by one of the numerous Coakers, and from him Victor purchased Granfer's coat, a real antique, for which he paid, I think, twenty-five shillings. Coaker, much bucked at the bit of business, suggested that Victor might like a drink, and produced cider. Victor took a sip and set down his glass. The old boy was watching him anxiously. "Don't 'ee like it, maister?" he asked.
"A bit sharp, isn't it," suggested Victor.
"Ah," said the old man. "Missus and I, us did try that cask last night, and us did think a rat had died in un."
A fine old gentleman who used to fish Dartmoor rivers season after season was Dr. Waugh, grandfather of Alec Waugh, who wrote that much discussed book Loom of Youth. Dr. Waugh lived at Midsomer Norton in Somersetshire, and it is his son, Arthur Waugh, who has for years been managing director of Chapman & Hall. Among Devonshire Savages two whom I have known well are Dennis Drew and Maurice Drake. We all know Dennis Drew as a singer, but perhaps few are aware that he is also a farmer and a bayonet expert. During the war he was sent to the United States to instruct the recruits on that side in the use of the bayonet. He is very fond of Devonshire, and of Devonshire songs. Drew is tall and slim, but Maurice Drake, who left us in 1924, was a true "stuggy" son of Devon. To look at him you would never have dreamed that the "Glazier of Exeter," as he called himself, was so real a genius, or so many-sided a man. There was not a greater authority on stained-glass in the country, and if you want to know how interesting stained-glass can be I recommend you to read his Doom Window. It is a first-class story. Drake had his works in a wonderful old house in the Cathedral Close at Exeter, and a prized possession of mine is a bit of glass painted and framed by himself, which he gave me as a Christmas card in 1923. It is surely unusual for a stained-glass expert to branch out as a novelist, and not only that, but to win a thousand-pound prize with his first book, as Drake did with The Salving of a Derelict. But he was more than an artist and a novelist. He was also a poet. With his native modesty he called himself a rhymester, but his verses are more than rhymes. He may have had other talents of which I am ignorant, but this I do know, that a nicer fellow or a more delightful companion you would go far to find. Drake was one more of the victims of the war. A bad illness, brought on by hardships and exposure, weakened his sturdy constitution, so that when pneumonia seized him he fell an easy victim.
The late Edmund Candler became a member of the Savage in the same year as myself. He was one of those very quiet people who rarely spoke unless spoken to, and I count myself fortunate that I knew him fairly well. Years ago we happened to sit together at the same table at the club on a Sunday night, when there was hardly any one else in the place. I had never seen him before, but I recognised him by his missing hand. We chatted, and after that we met whenever we were both in London. Physically there never was anyone less fitted for the arduous life of a war correspondent, but in spirit there were few to equal him. It was as the representative of the Daily Mail that he went with Younghusband's Expedition to Tibet, where he was treacherously attacked by a group of Tibetans, who slashed at him with their heavy swords, and not only cut off his left hand, but wounded him badly on the head. The aggravating thing about Candler was that you could never get him to talk about himself. He would tell you about other people whom he had met, but the moment you tried to get a word about his own adventures he was mum as an oyster.
As I have said, in the Savage Club it is the custom for any members to talk to any other, and one sometimes has most interesting conversations with people whom one imagines to be complete strangers. One evening I sat next a man whom I had certainly never seen before, and we talked about the East End of London and its inhabitants, of which my neighbour had an astonishing knowledge. Later another member stopped beside us. "Hulloa, Bullen," he said. "How are you?" So I had been talking all this time to Frank Bullen, author of that classic of the sea, The Cruise of the Cachalot. Bullen was not often in the club, but I did see him occasionally, and later had a chance to ask him a few questions about his early experiences. The story that had always intrigued me was that of the struggle between the huge sperm whale and the giant octopus, which Bullen describes as having been viewed by moonlight. Bullen told me that he had not actually seen this himself, but had heard of it from an old whaleman.
Another friend of mine who is very keen on whaling is J. J. Bell, best known to the reading public as the author of Wee Macgregor. He has spent more than one holiday aboard whalers in the North Atlantic. But the modern whaler of the sort in which he cruised is a very different craft from the old Cachalot. It is a small but powerfully engined steamer, in the bow of which a harpoon gun is fixed upon a platform. Instead of boats being lowered in chase of the whale, the harpoon is shot direct from the gun into the giant beast. The process is quicker, less dangerous to the men, and more merciful to the whale than the older-fashioned method, and when the whale has been killed its great body is towed into one of the whaling stations on the coast, and there dealt with far more efficiently than is possible at sea. In fact, nowadays nothing is lost, for even the bones are cut up and boiled down for oil, while the skin is saved for various purposes. I have always been fortunate in having many Scottish friends both in America, in England, and in Scotland itself, and my own experience has been that no kinder or more generous and hospitable people are to be found anywhere. J. J., if he will allow me to say so, is in himself an epitome of the virtues of his country, and nothing gives me greater pleasure than to find that he is staying in London when I am up in Town for a few days.
Most of the stories told against the canny Scot have their origin in pure envy. That Scotchmen run England as well as their own country is simply because they work a dam sight harder than we do. They begin by educating themselves properly, and continue by sticking to their job, whatever it may be. They earn their success. I remember the first time I visited Scotland, nearly thirty years ago, and stayed up in Perthshire. One day we went for a long trip up into the hills, and, tired, hungry, and thirsty, were asked into the home of a cotter, where we were given a first-class tea. We knew better than to offer money for the hospitality we had received, but when we asked if there was anything that we could do to return it, the answer was, "If ye would juist send me a buke."
What teas they do give you in Scotland! Some years ago I was staying up in Inverness-shire with my brother-in-law, and he, poor fellow, went down with a severe attack of whooping cough, and was confined to his bed. So I perforce went fishing each day with his keeper, John MacDonald, and had some wonderful sport. Usually I ended up at MacDonald's cottage, where he and his sister gave me tea. I have never eaten such teas. Three or four sorts of scones, the most delicious oatcakes, and home-made butter and home-made jams. One little point that was amusing from a Southerner's point of view was that before tea, and whenever milk was needed, Miss MacDonald went out and milked the cow in the pasture between the house and the river.
Harold Thomson, whose dog stories are so popular, is another Scot who is a brother Savage, and also a neighbour of mine. No one tells Scotch stories better than he, but, since he has taken to broadcasting, that is no news to the public that listens in. Not long ago I stayed in the house of another Thomson, also a Scot. I speak of Professor Arthur J. Thomson, whose acquaintance I was fortunate to make in the course of doing some editorial work on the New Natural History which has recently been published by Messrs. George Newnes. He is Regius Professor of Natural History at Aberdeen, and lives in a big square house in the Chanonry in Old Aberdeen. Aberdeen itself struck me as one of the coldest-looking towns possible to imagine, and most of the country about is flat and dull, but the professor took me by car right up into the Cairngorms, and thence into the Dee valley. This is perfectly lovely country, and I could hardly tear myself away from the sight of salmon leaping in the Dee. But what interested me most was the University itself, where I saw such stained-glass as I never knew existed in the North, and where I would like to have spent a whole day in the Natural History Museum. It is not a large museum, but it is full of interest, and most beautifully kept and arranged by Professor Thomson himself.
Although J. J. Bell and Harold Thomson stick to the contributing side of journalism, most of their countrymen engage in the publishing or editorial side. Willie Blackwood, better known to his friends as W.B., was the rawest kind of a Scot when Northcliffe caught him and brought him South.
You ought to hear him tell of the first time he was asked down to Sutton, Northcliffe's country house, how he had no dress clothes, and indeed no suspicion that it was customary to change one's garments for dinner. That is one thing about a Scot. He never minds telling a story against himself. And now W.B. is not only editor of Answers but also one of the directors of the Amalgamated Press.
Clubs and Cookery, With Some Notes on a Trip to Portugal
LONDON is full of queer clubs. There are dozens of dining clubs which, as a rule, meet once a month for a dinner at some restaurant. The first that I ever had anything to do with was the Merry Men, which afterwards changed itself into the Flagon Club. Most of its members belonged to Fleet Street, and the Northcliffe papers were strongly represented. In this case the name, Merry Men, was thoroughly appropriate, but you cannot always tell about the constitution of a dining club from its name. For instance, the Castaways is not a gathering of tramps or Thames Embankment derelicts, but a dining club of Naval Officers no longer on the Active List, who forgather once a year.
I was at one time a member of the New Vagabonds, a club composed entirely of people interested in writing. Douglas Sladen was our chairman at the time. We used to do things very well, and have all sorts of guests. I remember once sitting opposite to the late Lord Charles Beresford, who kept his neighbours in roars of laughter the whole time. At present I am a member of the Anchorites, who, let me say at once, are not eremites, but a cheerful society of naval journalists among whom I have no earthly right to sit. My only claim to their society is that I once wrote an article for the Daily Mail on the old clippers and their speed as compared with that of modern yachts. No yacht ever built would have had a look in with one of the crack tea clippers in an ocean race. Dr. Oscar Parkes and Frank Bowen, who was in the Royal Marine Light Infantry during the war, are among our members. We meet once a month at the Aux Petits Riches in Compton Street, and, as a rule, a member gives us a talk on some subject of nautical interest. The dinners are very pleasant functions.
The great increase of dancing clubs has somewhat damaged the dining clubs, but there are still a large number in existence. There are also luncheon clubs. The best known of these is, of course, Rotary, which is, to my mind, one of the most valuable institutions of the present day. There is now a Rotary Club in every large town in the kingdom, and their motto, "Service, not Self," describes their object with admirable brevity and perfection. Rotary is, of course, not merely national, but international, and, like Masonry and Scoutship, knits together members from many different countries. I was a guest at a Rotary luncheon at Bournemouth not long ago, and was much struck by the good fellowship prevailing.
Since the war some of the big West End clubs have been in Queer Street, and many have had to completely reorganise, but, on the other hand, clubs outside London have been booming in the most extraordinary fashion since the war. There is hardly a village, let alone a town in the country, that has not got some sort of a club. It may be merely a wooden hut where the men meet in the evening, but in most cases it is very much more than that. At Woburn Sands in North Bucks, the little place near which I am now living, which contains some twelve hundred inhabitants, there is a really first-class village club with billiard-room, card-room, a large room that can be used as a theatre, a bowling green, croquet ground, and tennis courts. It has also its own electric light plant. And for all these privileges members pay one shilling a month.
The club of this sort which provides recreation only and not food is comparatively easy to run. Catering is the rock which has wrecked so many clubs. In pre-war days when food and service were both cheap, catering was a fairly simple matter, but nowadays the secretary and steward alike have many anxious hours. The manager of a hotel can usually foretell with some accuracy the number of persons for whom he will have to cater on any particular day, but at a club this is impossible. At the Savage, for instance, luncheon is a popular meal, and the steward can reckon on a minimum of sixty on five days a week, but dinner is simply a toss up. The room may be full or empty.
Before the war, when living in Devonshire, I used to come up about once in three months and spend a week or ten days at the Savage, and in this way I met many of the country members who, like myself, took a room at the club. One whom I often found there in those days was Lorin Lathrop, equally well known as a writer of serials and as American Consul at Bristol and afterwards at Cardiff. Lathrop was not fond of the usual British bacon-and-egg breakfast, and one morning when I came down to breakfast I found him quite cross because there was, as he said, nothing to eat. "See here, Bridges," he said, "we'll go over to the Cecil and see if we can't get a real American breakfast."
We went across, and Lathrop found some pretty good porridge, and then demanded stewed apples. The waiter regretted that they had none.
"Pshaw!" said Lathrop, "didn't you have apple-pie for dinner last night?"
The waiter agreed that this was possible.
"Then go and get me one."
The waiter went off and returned with a small apple-tart, from which Lathrop removed the crust, then, mixing the fruit with cream and sugar, proceeded to enjoy his meal.
Myself, I am not keen upon stewed fruit for breakfast, but I do like the American way of giving you iced grapefruit or a big slice of chilled melon to begin the morning meal. Americans provide the best breakfasts in the world, just as the Scots have the best teas, and the French the best dinners. There is one great score about living in London—that you can get almost any sort of food you like. I have tried a good few restaurants in my time, but consider that the man of modest means can still do best for himself in Soho. You can find a really good lunch for half a crown at several of the smaller places, and a dinner for a shilling more. I once tried a Chinese restaurant, where I had a dish of chicken cooked with almonds and apricots. But one experience was enough. An old friend of mine, now dead, was Frank Schlesser, author of a delightful work on food which he called The Greedy Book. There was no one in London who knew more than he about the moderate-priced restaurants, and, in spite of his foreign-sounding name, no more thorough-paced Englishman.
There are plenty of men able to order a dinner, but precious few who can cook one. At school in the old days the fags learned to make tea and to fry sausages. I knew one fag at Marlborough who could turn out a very fair dish of scrambled egg. Nowadays, however, it seems that "brewing," as we called it, is not encouraged. Perhaps it is that the food supplied by school authorities is so much better than formerly that extra tuck is not needed. But I do think that all boys ought to learn something of simple cookery, for you never can tell when such knowledge may come in not only handy, but necessary. Scouts are taught cookery as a matter of course, but for the rest it is rare to find a man who can even boil a potato. In Florida I saw many young fellows go all to pieces simply because they had no notion how to prepare their food.
One case comes back most clearly to my mind, that of a man named Wilton, who lived about five miles from my place. His people had come out with him to start him. They had bought a fine grove, built a really good house, and stocked it with all necessaries and a good many luxuries. He asked me to come and stay for a week-end, and I rode over. Supper that night consisted of a piece of Florida beef slightly burned on the outside and quite raw within, some half-boiled, watery potatoes, and a tin of peaches. The tea was undrinkable. Afterwards I offered to help him to wash up. "Oh, we do that on Sunday," he said; and I found that his method was to use up his large stock of crockery during the week, and on Sunday morning load it into a big washing basket, which he carried down to the lake and left with its contents to soak for a few hours. The condition of his kitchen was unspeakable. Everything was black with soot, the place swarmed with flies, and, as to the smell of it, the less said the better.
On another occasion I was caught in a heavy thunderstorm when shooting down near Lake Monroe, and took refuge with an Englishman who had a small grove there. As it was nearly dark and still pouring, he asked me to stay the night. This man never attempted to cook. He lived on tinned beef, tinned fruits, and biscuits. Bread was not obtainable within five miles. True, he made tea, but I can assure you that he never so much as cooked a potato. He looked sallow, skinny, and miserable, but what could you expect?
Myself, I learned to cook in self-defence, and eventually became fairly good at it. At the same time, a few lessons in cookery before going to America would have been invaluable, for there are many things which you cannot learn from a recipe as written in a cookery book. Let me give just one example. The first time I started in to make the baking-powder bread on which we all lived, I had the book before me. It said: "Take two cups of flour, half a teaspoonful of salt, one teaspoonful of baking-powder and a piece of lard or butter the size of an egg. Mix with cold water to a dough, roll out, etc., and bake for fifteen minutes." To mix salt and baking-powder with flour was child's play, but the butter was quite another pair of shoes, and after considering the matter for some minutes I decided to melt it and stir it in with a spoon. That is the worst of cookery books. The experts who write them know how to make the dishes they describe, but precious few of them know how to put their knowledge down in plain English. Incidentally it is not cookery books only which err in this respect. I could mention an encyclopaedia which is full of articles written by experts, and consequently beyond the comprehension of the average layman.
This chapter seems to be a mixture of clubs and cookery, but after all the two things do to a large extent run together. The most remarkable cookery that I ever sampled was in Portugal. I have for a good many years been a member of the British International Association of Journalists, a body which lives up to its name by entertaining foreign journalists who visit our shores, and which, in turn, is entertained at times by those of other countries which it visits. In the year before the war a party of us visited Portugal, and I have seldom had a more strenuous and, at the same time, interesting fortnight. There were about a score of us, representing all sorts of different papers. We went first to Havre, then by Booth boat to Oporto. Oporto is interesting, both as the oldest seaport in Portugal and as the centre of the great port wine industry. The first thing we did was to visit Dow's establishment, where we were expected to sample ports of all kinds and vintages. There was only one member of the party who really did his duty in this respect, and he was not one of us. He was an American who had invented a new method of making a livelihood. He travelled the smaller countries of Europe, writing them up for certain American papers. His daughter, who accompanied him, acted as his amanuensis. I can't say how much port he got through that morning, but I watched him drink six full dock-glasses. The amazing thing is that he remained perfectly sober.
From Oporto we went north by train and car. North Portugal has a curious resemblance to Dartmoor. It is high, bare country with big granite bosses rising along the ridges. What spoils the illusion is the fact that when you drop down into a valley you find yourself suddenly in the midst of orange-trees and blossoming camelias. The month, by the by, was February. Fine cars were provided for our use by our hosts, but Portuguese roads are hardly worthy of such vehicles. Frozen ploughed fields varied by swamps would be a flattering description. But the native chauffeurs kept going at well over twenty miles an hour, and, whenever a few hundred yards of level occurred, jumped on the accelerator and tore along at double that speed. We, the unfortunate passengers, were bumped and jolted like peas in a pan, but remonstrance was perfectly useless, for none of us knew a word of Portuguese, while the men, for their part, had no knowledge of any language but their own. Indeed, the more we cursed them the faster they went, so in the end we sat and suffered in silence. A particularly horrid part of the business was the massacre of dogs. Cars are not common objects on the country roads of Portugal, but dogs are, and the moment a dog caught sight of the procession of cars it immediately rushed at them, barking furiously, and was instantly immolated under the wheels.
The Portuguese live in the past. They know all about Henry the Navigator, but their interest in history stops about the sixteenth century, and I doubt if many have ever heard of George Washington, let alone Stanley Baldwin or Mussolini. We were taken from one ruin to another, wonderful relics of the past, but ruins grow tiresome in large quantities, and as a rule we were extremely grateful when lunch-time gave us a little rest from the everlasting bumping or tramping. The feeding was on a most lavish scale, but many of the dishes were complete mysteries. At a place called Bom Jesus they gave us goat-flesh so cleverly cooked up that we all took it for mutton. Real mutton is rare in Portugal, and the beef so tough it can hardly be roasted. The one place where we got a real beef steak was at Busaco, where we stayed in a hotel that had formerly been a royal palace and was perched on a lofty hill-top in the centre of a really wonderful forest, where there are said to be one hundred and fifty different varieties of trees. This hotel was also the only one where we found a real bathroom with hot and cold water. The fish in Portugal is poor, but the poultry quite good, especially the turkeys.
One afternoon we stopped at a village to inspect the school, and found that the good folk had prepared "tea" for us. The tea was green, made very weak, and served with slices of lemon, but the food was amazing in its variety and profusion. The pièce de résistance was a huge cold turkey which, at first sight, bore a strong resemblance to a hedgehog, for it bristled with small splinters of white wood, resembling toothpicks. Presently we discovered that the whole carcase had been cleverly cut up into small portions, each of which could be lifted out by means of one of the tiny skewers. There were cakes of extraordinary richness, and black dried figs.
The Portuguese are devoted to sweets, and their favourite sweetmeat is one made of sugar and raw yolk of egg. It is inexpressibly nasty. Some of the native Portuguese wines are excellent, and they have a number of mineral springs, the waters of which, if better known, would be world-famous. But if you ever visit the country beware of their green claret! It is newly made wine, quite refreshing on a hot day, but at the same time a most dangerous drink for those who are not accustomed to it. One of our party was made very ill by it, and a single glass of it gave me a stomachache for hours afterwards.
The most noble feast we had in Portugal was a banquet to which we were bidden by the Mayor and Corporation of Lisbon. Our party was housed in two different hotels, and in the one where I was staying there were only six of us. At half-past six our courier turned up to say that the car would be coming for us at seven, so we all dressed in a hurry, and at a few minutes past seven found ourselves at the Town Hall, but no sign of the rest of the party. We went up a majestic flight of stairs which were guarded by firemen in full kit, and, wandering down an immense corridor, found ourselves in a vast reception-room where the Mayor was waiting to receive us. "You talk French," said someone, shoving me forward. I was born in France, and could talk French before I went to Marlborough, where I very soon forgot it all. It was a horrible moment; I had not the faintest idea what to say or how to say it, and the Mayor, a fierce-looking little gentleman with close-cropped, jet-black hair, did nothing to help me out. Talk of bad quarters of an hour! I suppose it was really only about five minutes before the rest turned up, and with them that accomplished linguist Mr. Baker, but to me the time stretched to a perfect eternity.
The dinner was a most amazing performance. There were no less than eleven courses. Everything that should have been hot was cold and the ices had melted. When at last the lengthy meal was over and the speeches concluded, we moved across the corridor into another splendid reception-room, and there found coffee and piles and piles of cakes. The coffee was excellent. Portuguese coffee is quite different from any that you get in England. It is grown, I believe, in Fernando Po and has a peculiar flavour, but one to which one soon gets accustomed. But the cakes were a terrible trial, for our kind hosts kept pressing them upon us, quite oblivious of the eleven courses we had already consumed.
Next day we went down by car to Cascaes and visited lovely gardens and the royal palace. We were shown the private suite of the murdered King Carlos, and in the rooms were some excellent cartoons done by the King himself. Like the rest, I naturally took off my hat as I entered these rooms. A nasty-looking little man came up and whispered in my ear, "Put your 'at on." I paid no attention, and presently the remark was repeated with emphasis. "Thanks," I said, "but I don't usually wear my hat indoors. Why do you want me to wear it here?"
"We do not like heem. We are Republican, see?" said the fellow; and I realised that he was anxious that I should not even seem to show respect to the ruler of his country who had been so foully done to death. I am afraid I lost my temper and was rude, but surely I had excuse.
It is, however, hardly fair to quote an incident like this, almost the only unpleasant one during our stay. The Portuguese people were, as a rule, as kind and courteous as could possibly be desired. Indeed they were at times almost too kind. During the latter part of our tour we were taken down into the Algarve, Portugal's southern province, which fronts the Gulf of Cadiz. Our cars were sent down by train, and if the roads in the north had been trying, those in the south were indescribable. We reached a place called, I think, Lagoa, and stopped to have a little rest, when a Portuguese who was driving a couple of fine mules in a sort of buggy came up and offered to show us round the town. Joseph Fisher and I accepted the invitation, and the good fellow took us first to see the town gaol, which was a perfect survival from the Middle Ages, even to a wild-eyed, long-haired prisoner glaring out between the massive iron bars of a window just above the street.
Our friend next stopped at a tobacco-shop, a little stall six feet by four, cut out of solid rock, and bought a whole box of cigars, which, to our embarrassment, he wished us to share between us. He then suggested—by signs, of course, for he had no English or we any Portuguese—that we should accompany him to the local wineshop. But by this time we were growing anxious, for our cars had only halted for a few minutes, and we feared they might push on without us. So we refused the wineshop and tried to make him understand that we must rejoin our party. He nodded assent, we got into the buggy again, and drove off. "I believe he's going the wrong way," I said to Fisher. "I'm sure he is," I added a minute later, but remonstrances were only met by smiles. Our driver left the town, drove up a villainous track to the top of a high hill, and pointed to our cars racing along a road running close to the sea, a long way below us and quite a mile away. "Now we're for it," I said in dismay; but Fisher is not easily upset. He pointed to a village in the distance, and suggested that the cars would probably stop there. So, as it was very evident that the mules could not tackle the descent, out we got and started downhill on foot. It was abominably steep, and, when at last we reached the road below, the cars had long vanished. Fisher suggested that the beach offered a short cut to the village, and so it did. The trouble was that it was covered with nets stretched out to dry, and if you want really bad going when in a hurry, let me recommend stretched fishing-nets. Though the month was February, the temperature was that of a warm English June day, and we were both dripping and done when at last we reached the village to hear horns honking as the cars made ready to start. We caught the last car by the skin of our teeth, but had not gone a mile before the back axle went and we had to be crowded into another car. We drove and drove through lovely country with great groves of oranges and fig-trees, but we were far too hot and uncomfortable to enjoy it. Some time after dark we reached the quaint little half Moorish town of Olao (pronounced Oolong), and found dinner waiting for us.
The Algarve is by far the finest part of Portugal, but quite the least known. The soil is wonderful, a red clay resembling that around Exeter. Irrigated, it would grow anything on earth, but the trouble is that the rainfall is very small, only about ten inches, I believe. However, just behind are hills, the Sierra Monchique, and, if capital was available, all the rich coast lands could be irrigated. Even as it is, the oranges grown there are as fine as I ever saw, even in Florida. The sea is as rich as the land, and it is here that most of the French sardines are caught. Sardines swarm in these warm waters, and the French buy them in bulk and tin them.
In most countries it is the north that is the prosperous region. One need hardly cite Lancashire and Yorkshire as by far the richest counties in England, or Belfast as the centre of Ireland's commerce, or compare New York and Chicago with Atlanta and Galveston. In Portugal the case is reversed, and it is in the Algarve that you find the finest people in Portugal, the best houses, and a level of living far above the extreme poverty of the north. In the south, too, the people drive good mules, and the creaking bullock waggons of North Portugal are almost unknown. Yet, as I have already said, the Algarve is perhaps the least-known part of the whole Iberian peninsula. In all our travels there I met but one Englishman resident in the country. He was engaged in the cork industry, and was delighted to see us, for, as he said, he had not had a chance of talking his own language since his last holiday in England. He told me that English tourists were almost unknown in Southern Portugal, but that he liked the Southern Portuguese, who were friendly and sociable. The province has a perfectly wonderful winter climate, pretty scenery, and is full of old Roman remains. We saw some wonderful ruins, great brick walls still rising to a height of twenty feet or more, and the owner of the land showed me a great solid gold Roman signet ring which he had dug up, together with coins and other treasures. I asked about revolutions, but apparently the Algarvians don't worry about the Lisbon doings, but carry on much as usual, whatever Government is struggling for power in the capital.
It is a thousand pities that Portugal cannot get or keep a stable Government, for her people in bulk are steady and hard working, and—a point I specially noticed—far kinder to their animals than the Spaniards. And the country itself is rich as it can be, both in soil, minerals, and climate.
Old Scenes Revisited—Some Bird and Beast Stories
elapsed since I had left Marlborough, and, feeling that all my old friends had long ago scattered to every part of the earth, I had no heart to visit the old school. Years later my friend and brother Savage, J. W. Ivimey, was appointed music master at the college, and very kindly asked me to go down for a week-end. Nearly thirty-seven years had passed since I had last seen the place, and it was with the most mixed feelings that I walked down the field-path from the station and reached the familiar gates. Familiar in a way; yet the changes were, of course, great, for a big, new building loomed on the playing-fields side of the Bath road, connected with the rest of the college by a flying bridge high above the roadway. But at the far end of Court, opposite the gates, stood "C" House, looking much the same as ever. "C" House is the old Castle Inn, and the one really ancient part of the college. I lived in it for more than four years. There, too, were the Modern School buildings which were put up in my time, with the fine school museum. The one thing I missed, and was glad to miss, was the horrible "Tin Tab," a temporary building of galvanised iron which, in my time, stood in the middle of Court, acting as a substitute for Upper School, which in its turn was being used as chapel. The museum was my joy in the old days. I was a member of the Natural History Society and particularly keen upon birds. A prize, called the Stanton Prize, was given each year for some natural history subject, and once, when the subject was birds, I only missed it by a few marks. I had the best collection of eggs in college, comprising eighty sorts of British inland birds, and all my best fun during my schooldays was enjoyed in the getting of those eggs.
A fellow called Stayner was my chief ally on egg-hunting expeditions. He was the most fearless climber I ever knew. I remember a March day when he and I went to the rookery at Martinsell to try to get the "Notice" for the first rook's egg of the season. It was bitterly cold, and the trees were coated with half-melted snow, but Stayner insisted upon going up. He climbed a beech to a height of fully sixty feet, got an egg, put it in a chip box, and started down. He reached the big fork of the tree some thirty feet from the ground, then called out to me that his hands were no good—they were frozen. He looked so bad that I was scared stiff, and, though I was always a perfectly rotten climber, put on the climbing-irons and started up to help him. Somehow we both reached the ground in safety, and then Stayner fainted, a proceeding that frightened me even worse than his earlier predicament. He came round pretty quickly, and the first thing he exacted from me was an oath that I would not give him away. Dear good chap, he was killed in the South African War, so I am not violating confidences by telling the story.
On another occasion Stayner and I and another boy called Barlow had slipped into a garden on the Bath road to get some tree-sparrow eggs. Stayner was right up the tree, Barlow half way, and I at the bottom, when a gruff voice spoke in my ear, and, behold, a large policeman stood behind me. A second constable was out in the road. The tree was in the hedge at one end of the garden, and beyond the hedge was a steep drop into the water-meadows bordering the River Kennet. The policeman did not even trouble to lay hold of me, so thoroughly were we cornered. I gave a whistle signal, and in a flash Stayner and Barlow had dropped out of the tree right down into the water-meadow below. That they would risk such a fall had evidently never occurred to the bobby, and he made a dash for the hedge. That gave me my chance, and I did not waste any time in jumping that hedge and following the others. The constable, however, had still a card up his sleeve. He turned and ran for the bridge which crossed the river about two hundred yards below. The bridge was the only way across the river, and it looked as if we were done, for the second policeman made retreat roadwards impossible, while the owner of the house was also on the warpath.
"Come on!" snapped Stayner, and went slap into the river. It was neck deep and beastly muddy, and I couldn't swim. But somehow we got across, only to find ourselves in a thick withy-bed. Running through a withy-bed is not to be recommended as an amusement, and when at last we cleared it the state of our garments was beyond description. But then we had a clear run across the water-meadows, and the policeman was completely defeated. We were lucky enough to get into college without being spotted by a master, and had just time for a quick change before Hall. We never heard anything more of the matter.
Stayner was utterly fearless, and over and over again pulled the rest of us out of what might have been bad trouble. We were once chased by a farmer and his man, and the man was young and could run faster than we. We were being headed out into a large, open field, where it looked all odds upon our being caught, but Stayner was equal to the occasion. He led the way to a hedge, wormed his way through, and, as we followed, turned sharp to the left uphill, instead of down. I was horrified, for we were making straight back for the farm, but Stayner knew what he was about. While our pursuers were casting in the wrong direction, and wondering what the dickens had happened to us, Stayner led us right back into the farmyard and into a big barn, where a very dicky ladder led up into a loft.
"They'll never think of looking for us here," grinned Stayner, as we spread ourselves on some dusty boards; and he was perfectly right. The comic part of it was that about a quarter of an hour later the farmer and his man came into the barn, and actually stood right underneath us, discussing gravely the mystery of our disappearance. We had to lie doggo for something over an hour, and in the end were late for call-over, but that was a minor matter compared with the trouble we should have got into if we had been caught by the farmer and by him lugged before our house-master. There was hardly a day in the summer term when Stayner and I were not out of bounds, but, so far as I remember, we were never caught.
During my recent visit to Marlborough I told some of the boys about these and other exploits. They listened most politely, but I am sure as can be that they did not believe a single word of what I said. They simply don't do things of that sort nowadays, nor do they use catapults, squalers, and slings as we used to. There was a boy at Marlborough called Abbey who could use a sling like David himself. I have seen him knock a wood-pigeon off the top of a big tree with a stone from his sling. Abbey was one of those very quiet boys who do not shine at games or work, but who knew a wonderful deal about birds and beasts. He went into the Indian Forest Department, and a most promising career was cut short by a tree falling upon him.
Boys prowling by themselves see odd things at times—how odd they do not realise till afterwards. Once I saw a cock pheasant rise abruptly out of a hedgerow with a tremendous clattering of wings, and there appeared to be something clinging to its neck. I ran after it, and presently saw the bird come down with a thump just as if it had been shot. I was in time to see a long, lithe little creature glide away into the grass. It was a stoat, which must have sneaked up on the bird and seized it by the throat, then, clinging to its prey, been carried into the air. Being on preserved ground, I did not dare to carry off the pheasant, so left it where it lay. What bloodthirsty little beasts are stoats! Years later, when fishing on a Scottish loch, I saw a pack of stoats hunting like hounds along the edge of the water. Presently they turned off into the heather, and a few moments later a pack of young grouse exploded like a shell in every direction. It took some time to pull in and land, and when I reached the spot a few feathers were the only sign of the murder which had taken place.
Rabbits are supposed to be cowardly creatures, yet I once saw an old doe tackle a stoat which had seized one of her young and kick it head over heels. On another occasion, when I was a small boy, a little black-and-tan terrier belonging to the village schoolmistress came out for a walk with me, and in a big ditch cornered a large buck rabbit. Here again the rabbit turned to bay, and the dog retreated, yelping.
When I first went to Florida, and fell into the clutches of the pupil farmer, I had precious little time to devote to natural history, but later I did a certain amount of bird-watching. My difficulty was that I had no book on Florida birds, nor was there any work on the subject within reach. The natives had names for all the common birds, but most of them were wrong. A red-breasted thrush, for instance, was always called the robin, and a night-jar went by the name of bull-bat. The Florida pine woods strike the casual observer as being singularly silent and destitute of life, yet if you go out at night there is plenty of wild life afoot. 'Possums and coons move like shadows; you hear foxes barking, and many creatures which lie in the thick of the swamps and hammock during the day are afoot in the hours of darkness. Once, at early dawn, I saw a bear. Two of us were camping out in the flatwoods, and I was on my way to the creek to get water when I spotted the animal. I had no gun with me, and long before I could get one the shaggy beast had disappeared into a thick bay-head.
One morning I heard my dog barking furiously, and, going out to see what was the matter, found that he had cornered a little alligator about eighteen inches long, which was facing him boldly, and snapping and hissing in the most ferocious fashion. It was a pretty creature, marked yellow and black, so I threw an old sack over it, caught it, and later took it into Winterpark, where I sold it for a dollar to a man who bought such things to sell again to Northern tourists.
On another occasion I witnessed a fight to the death between two snakes. One was a grass-snake, brilliant green in colour, the other the common black snake, neither of them belonging to poisonous varieties. What the quarrel was about I do not know, but when I found them they were twisted together in desperate conflict. There was not much difference in size, but the black snake was the master, and in the end the pretty green snake went limp, and the other, slowly relaxing its coils, glided away. There is a snake called the king-snake, which is also non-poisonous, and which is always spared by the crackers and negroes because, so they say, it is the enemy of the rattlesnake. It is, however, difficult to imagine how a non-poisonous snake can tackle a reptile so deadly venomous as the rattler, unless, indeed, it possesses some special immunity against poison. The Florida rattler's worst enemy is the razorback, the half-wild hog that swarms the woods. A razorback seems to have no fear of snakes. It kills all it comes across, and—what is more—eats them.
What strikes one at once on returning from any foreign country to England is the profusion of birds. Some birds are actually becoming too numerous in this country, notably wood-pigeons, house-sparrows, rooks, herons, and starlings. Starlings come here in great numbers during the winter from the Continent, and on Dartmoor I have seen such flights that they resembled vast columns of smoke. These birds took to roosting in a small wood at Whitchurch, near Tavistock, and by their weight actually broke down the trees, while their numbers may be gathered from the fact that in the following spring many cart-loads of guano were gathered in the wood and spread upon the adjacent fields. At Ballysop, my mother's Irish home in County Wexford, a beautiful wood was completely destroyed by starlings, the ground being so poisoned that everything except a few of the largest trees died.
Yet, in spite of the numbers and variety of birds in England, there are places which, for some reason or other, are shunned by birds. Below my old home on Dartmoor is a wood of firs, larch, and beech, which were planted on both sides of the gorge of the Cowsic by a Mr. Bray, who owned Beardown Farm about a century ago. The trees are big, and beneath them is plenty of undergrowth, giving shelter that seems ideal for birds, yet the wood is known as The Birdless Grove. You may see some wood-pigeons there in autumn, feasting on the beech-mast, and in the spring a pair of kestrels sometimes build in one of the tall firs. Apart from these, you hardly ever see a bird in the place, but the cause remains a mystery.
Most of our rarer birds are now beginning to increase owing to wise protection, and to the fact that the modern gamekeeper has come to realise that it does not pay to completely exterminate birds of prey, and that some, such as kestrels and owls, do far more good than harm. A rare bird that is still remorselessly persecuted is the golden eagle. When last in Inverness-shire I constantly saw a pair of golden eagles wheeling over the loch, and Lord Lovat's keeper showed me one of their eyries. One day, when my brother-in-law, his keeper, and I were crossing a high ridge to reach a burn where we were to fish, a female golden eagle got up out of a peat hag within twenty paces of the path. She was a fine sight as she rose, and I would have given much at that moment for a camera. Macdonald, the keeper, said that he had never before seen a wild eagle at such close quarters. The odd thing was that she had no kill, so what she was doing down in the peat hag is something of a puzzle. The eggs of the golden eagle have become so valuable that certain collectors have a standing offer of five pounds to anyone who will show them an eyrie, and this is the chief reason why this splendid bird is becoming so rare. Captain Knight told me recently that, in spite of every effort, he has never yet been able to arrange to film the nesting operations of a golden eagle. Such a picture would be extraordinarily interesting. I have been told, for instance, that the mother bird carefully plucks a grouse or other bird before presenting it to her hungry family.
Another bird that is increasing is the raven. I hold no brief for the raven, but it is such a big, handsome, and wise bird that one would hate to see it exterminated. A raven makes a most interesting pet.
War Years—Red Tape and Raids—November 11th, 1918
TALK of starving amid plenty, of this I never saw a worse example than at Exmouth in the autumn of 1914. When the war broke out my wife and I and our small boy left our house on Dartmoor and settled in rooms at Exmouth, to live as quietly as might be until we could get some idea of how things were going to turn out. The North Devon Yeomanry were training at Exmouth—a very fine lot of young fellows. Food was, of course, still plentiful and cheap, and one used to see the men wheeling handcarts loaded with prime beef to their kitchens. The trouble was that there was no one to cook it, and the boys used to tell me that the meals were simply too awful. It naturally occurred to me that my knowledge of cookery might be of some use, but, when I made enquiries as to the possibility of being helpful, I was told that the only thing to do was to enlist. Unfortunately I was already six years over the age-limit, and that and my damaged knee put the hat on my efforts.
Exmouth is one of the nicest towns in Devonshire. For the West Country it has a wonderfully dry climate. Dartmoor, you see, catches all the south-westerly drift from the Atlantic, so that the stretch of coast from Exmouth to Sidmouth has less than thirty inches of rain yearly. There is one of the best clubs in the West, and there are many pleasant people. Sir Theodore Cook, editor of the Field, was born at Exmouth, and often came down when he could get away. I met him once or twice at the club. A wonderful man. There seems to be no subject in which he is not interested. An old acquaintance who lived in Exmouth was the Rev. J. P. Way, who was master of the Upper Fourth at Marlborough in my time, and afterwards head master of Rossall. He was stroke of the Oxford eight in 1874-5, and in 1914 still keen on fishing and sailing. Another friend was Professor Worthington, who did wonderful things with soap-bubbles, working them down to the thinnest films imaginable. He used to keep them for days under glass cases, and anything more lovely than the iridescent colours that he produced could hardly be imagined. He was an authority, too, on meteorites, and immensely interested in the boring which was then going on for the giant meteorite which fell centuries ago at Cañon Diablo, in Arizona. This was so huge that it has formed a crater a mile across and five hundred and eighty feet deep. Boring to a depth of fourteen hundred feet in the crater, drills have struck a solid mass, which appears to be composed of meteoric iron, nickel, and manganese. A tunnel has since been driven down to this mighty messenger from space, and a line of rails laid in it. The professor, had he still been alive, would, I feel sure, have started for America to see what was going on.
The following summer saw us back on the Moor, where we at once started breaking up new land and planting vegetables. It was uncommonly hard work, for the ground was full of huge lumps of granite, which had to be blasted and levered out. The soil is peat, and, being new, was, of course, very sour, so I got a truck-load of lime, and laid it on at the rate of six tons to the acre. The Moor farmers were horrified. "You'll burn the land up," they told me, but I only smiled, and in the following August, when their potatoes were flat and black, mine were standing up green and strong, and no one had ever before seen such a crop out of newly broken land on the Moor. What was more, I had wonderful crops of all kinds of green vegetables—cabbages, sprouts, and broccoli. Cabbages rarely succeed on the Moor, for the young plants get "gout," as it is called, and perish. But this is all due to lack of lime, and if you will only put on plenty you can grow just as fine vegetables on Dartmoor as anywhere in England. The ignorance of the average Moor farmer as to the needs of the soil is incredible. I have actually seen a man mixing lime with his stable manure, thereby, of course, releasing all the ammonia, and rendering the good stuff practically useless. It may sound boastful, but never before did I have such crops of vegetables as in those war years, when we ourselves did all the work, our only help being an old Moorman of past seventy, who stuck to us faithfully all through those troublous years. Once or twice a week I went up to the prison to drill with the volunteers, who were mostly warders. Since I had given up my car, I used to walk up across the prison farm, and found it pretty strenuous on top of a hard day at my desk or in the garden.
We were, of course, utterly isolated, yet there were some advantages in life on Dartmoor during the war. For one thing, we got plenty of milk and butter and fresh vegetables, and even eggs; for another, we were saved the endless worry of having to pull down all blinds and draw curtains the moment it got dark. I had a big acetylene lamp in my study, the light of which could be seen nearly two miles down the Dartmeet road, and people used to tell me that it was a regular beacon to them on dark winter nights. Work was not too plentiful, for nearly all the weeklies had to cut down the number of their pages, with the result that articles and stories alike grew shorter and shorter.
Early in 1915 my brother Walter came home from Northern Rhodesia to join up. He had been thinking of going in with the South African Forces, but that, he said, was too much like a comic opera business. Walter had got his commission during the South African War, and been in charge of transport and supply for a column. He was thirty-five when he came home, thin as a rail, and brown as coffee, yet, although he had spent no less than fourteen years in the tropics, was passed by the doctors fit for the Flying Corps. In spite of his fitness and experience, all that was offered him was a second-lieutenancy in a line regiment. The idea of going in as junior to the newest joined subaltern from Woolwich naturally did not appeal to him, and he refused, and left with the intention of enlisting in one of the irregular corps. As he was walking away from the War Office he heard his name called, and there, coming towards him, was the late Earl Grey, whom he had known well in Africa and taken on shikar north of the Zambezi. Grey asked what was up, and Walter told him. "I will see what I can do," Grey promised, and a few days later Walter received his commission as first lieutenant in the Army Service Corps. He was in France three weeks later, and presently got his captaincy, and became Adjutant, Headquarters, 14th Corps, when he was several times mentioned in despatches.
It was to the 14th Corps that the Prince of Wales was attached, and with which he went to Italy when we sent an army to help the Italians against the Austrians. One morning Walter had been out early, and was coming back to breakfast in a car when he spotted a slim figure in shorts running round a field. He pulled up. "It's just breakfast, Prince," he said. "Shall I give you a lift back?"
"No, don't wait, Bridges," was the answer. "I must do one more round. It keeps a man young, you know—keeps a man young." The Prince was about twenty-one at that time. He was utterly fearless, and was always pushing off on his bicycle into places notoriously unsafe. One day, so Walter told me, he applied to General Cadorna to be allowed to go right up into the Italian front line—some ghastly place cut out of an Alpine summit. Cadorna shook his head. "No, sir," he said. "We don't want any historical incidents on this front." They say that no man is a hero to his valet, but when, some four years ago, I happened to chat with the man who was the Prince's chauffeur in France, I learned that there are exceptions to every rule.
Vegetable-growing on Dartmoor flourished, but, when it began to look as if everyone was needed, I had another shot at enlisting, but was turned down in very short order. So then I took on a job in the Food Office under Mr. (now Sir) Lawrence Weever, and went to work in a huge, gloomy building in Victoria Street. I was told that I was to help to sell seed potatoes, and that I was to take a fortnight to learn something about the job. I spent some nine hours daily in doing so, and at the end of the fortnight was, of course, ordered to take on the seed wheat. I did know something about potatoes, but of wheat so little that I could not tell the difference between Victor and Little Joss, so I had to start learning all over again. To use an Americanism, "it was fierce." We were already late with our stocks, and farmers all over the country were shouting for seed.
Selling seed wheat may sound a simple sort of job, but, in point of fact, it is an infernally difficult one. When you get an order, the first thing to find out is what soil the buyer has. It will not do, you see, to send seed from chalk to chalk land or loam to loam. Then, again, when carriage was so difficult as it was during the war, the great thing was to send the consignment from the nearest depôt, but often the depôt that looked nearest on the map was not really so, because there was no direct railway communication between the depôt and the farmer. So for almost every order it was necessary to study the railway map as well as the list of stocks in each depôt. The delays were endless. The office, like all Government offices, was tied and bound in red tape, one result of which was that I never got my morning post much before midday. Many of the seed orders were for very small amounts, and these small consignments were constantly getting hung up at junctions. Then despairing letters and telegrams would arrive from the farmers. "My land is ready; the time is passing. Where is my seed?" When this sort of thing occurred, I would write off at once to the stationmaster at the junction begging him to forward the seed immediately. Presently the head of my department sent for me.
"Mr. Bridges, I understand you have been signing letters," he said severely.
"I generally put my name to any letter I write," I replied.
"You will understand," he said, "that no letters leave this office without my signature. You will send to the Stationery Department for a portfolio, and in it place all your letters, which will come to me each evening for my signature."
"But, hang it all!" I replied, "you are not here half the time, and these orders are frightfully urgent. Can't I even write to a stationmaster to tell him to shift John Jones's wheat in a hurry?"
"All letters must come to me for approval and signature," was the cold reply.
I was so angry that I was on the point of chucking my hand in then and there, but I restrained myself and went back to my dark, cold den, where I poured out my sorrows to the good chap—a pukka Civil Servant—with whom I shared it. He grinned, then from a drawer took out a large bundle of forms, which he pushed across to me without a word. They were official telegraph forms.
"Can I use these?" I demanded eagerly.
"If the occasion is very urgent," he answered.
"A nod's as good as a wink," I told him. And after that I did all my urgent business by telegraph. I shudder to think what I spent, but, anyhow, I got on with the job.
I do not remember any period since my early days in Florida which I enjoyed less than that winter. I am not, of course, talking of mere personal discomfort or hard work. That was the lot of us all. It was this—that, for the first time in my life, I was, so to speak, behind the scenes, and could see with my own eyes the miserable muddling, waste, and inefficiency of a Government department, and it seemed to me that, if the rest were equally bad, the only possible result must be utter smash for us all. We talk of "muddling through," but I wonder how many realise the extent of the muddle that went on all through the war. The only explanation of the fact that Germany did not stamp us into the mud must be that she muddled worse than we. The ordinary Civil Service clerk carried on exactly as if there was nothing unusual afoot. He arrived at the office at ten, took his full hour for luncheon, and left sharp at five, while many of us volunteers stayed till seven or eight. The higher-class Civil Servants were, however, in a very different category. Most of them worked like slaves, and they were extraordinarily good in extending help and assistance to us ignorant amateurs.
The one bright spot in those dark days was the fact that in the evenings I could usually get away to dine or sup in pleasant company at the Savage. Seeing that the average age of Savage Club members is probably about forty, and that they are all professional men, it is worth mentioning that quite one-third were in khaki, while another large proportion were acting as special constables. Even men of advanced age, such as J. E. Preston Muddock, were in the force. Muddock is one of the few survivors of the Indian Mutiny, for he was a fourteen-year-old cadet of John Company, and at work in the gun foundry near Calcutta when the Mutiny broke out at Meerut on May 10th, 1857. Muddock is, perhaps, the only living man who knew personally that arch-fiend of the Mutiny, the terrible Nana Sahib. Strangely enough, his recollection is that of a tall, handsome man with fine manners, who spoke perfect English—the last person one would have imagined to be guilty of the horrors which have made his name execrated.
The Mutiny saw the end of John Company, and Muddock, left without a job, returned to England and took to journalism. He is best known to the reading public as Dick Donovan, that being the name under which he wrote a number of excellent detective stories, and afterwards a whole string of novels, of which For God and the Czar was perhaps the most popular. He was also for a year a successful lecturer. On one occasion he had an engagement to lecture in Yorkshire. It was a very cold, wet day, and he arrived chilled to the bone, and the first thing he did was to refresh himself from a pocket-flask. As it happened, the chairman was a rabid teetotaller, and in introducing the lecturer held forth on the evils of drink. After the lecture a man came up and said, "Aw, laad, reckon t' chairman's speech didn't do 'ee much good. Ah saw thee soopin'."
"You would have done the same if you had been as wet and cold as I," retorted Muddock.
"Aye, mebbe," said the man. "Happen tha's a soop left."
There was; but when the man had finished with the flask it was quite empty.
"Naw, laad," said the fellow, as he handed back the flask, "tak' my advice and gie up soopin'. It's main bad for ye."
The work of special constables during the war was more than mere patrolling. Most people will remember the mad panics among the aliens during air-raids. On one occasion Muddock, with only two helpers, had to tackle a rush of between thirty and forty of these fear-crazed beauties, who were trying to get down into a Tube station, the stairs of which were crowded with women and children. "What did you do?" I asked him. "Clubbed 'em," Muddock answered rather grimly.
They were horrid businesses, those raids, yet they had their lighter side. I think it was in October 1915 that I was staying in London when Zeppelins came over, and the first we knew of it was the fall of eight bombs almost simultaneously. The first of these was the one that just missed the Lyceum, and, as I was in the Savage when the business started, I was on the spot within a few minutes. The bomb had burst a gas main, and a great column of flame lighted the gloom with a blue glare and showed the streets absolutely paved with broken glass. A taxi came coasting down Wellington Street, and just as it got opposite to where I was standing two tyres blew up simultaneously and it stopped abruptly. A man got out and looked round. "Just my luck!" he said in an aggrieved tone. "Now I shall miss my train at Waterloo." I had to smile. The remark seemed so utterly inadequate under the circumstances.
The windows of a tailor's shop were blown out of their frames, and I stood just across the street wondering if there would be any attempt to loot the contents. Several people passed, then a rather roughly dressed man stopped opposite the window. "Ah, he means to have a go at it," I said to myself. What he actually did was to remove a small piece of the broken glass from the frame, pocket it, and walk on. I suppose he wanted it as a souvenir, but, if so, why did he not pick up a piece from the street?
During one raid a bomb dropped on the Embankment at the base of Cleopatra's Needle, and shook us all up at the club, which is in Adelphi Terrace, facing the river. Our steward, a rather nervous person, came up to the billiard-room, where some of us were playing slosh, and begged us to go down to the basement, where, he said, most of the members had gone. We went down, but only a few men were there, and it was very cold and dismal. So we soon got fed up, and returned to the dining-room, where one solitary member was calmly eating his dinner, unperturbed by the infernal racket that raged outside. The steward was there, and very much upset. "Mr. —," he told us, "has helped himself to beef, and has exceeded his ration."
I was in London during most of the raids, including the big daylight raid in June 1916. I happened to be in Coutts's Bank in the Strand when it started, and the first notice was a long procession of clerks carrying their ledgers down into the strong-rooms below. I went out into the Strand and saw about thirty German planes high in the blue above. Bombs were raining on the City, so I took a bus and went East, to see what was doing. I found the General Post Office burning, and saw two big fires up by Liverpool Street. One bomb had fallen just outside the Mansion House, but failed to explode, and another, which luckily had an equally faulty fuse, dropped on the north end of Blackfriars Bridge.
People had amazing escapes. One man I knew who lived in Dulwich was shaving before dinner when suddenly there was a slight shock, and all the lights went out. He got candles, and, going down to the cellar, found that one of those small fire-bombs, dropped, no doubt, from an enormous height, had gone through the roof, through three floors, including a bed, and struck the gas-meter. Luckily for him and his household this bomb, like so many of its kind, was a dud.
It was a curious thing how frequently the Germans just missed their targets. One of these was, of course, Charing Cross Bridge. One night our club hall-porter, an old soldier, who has been with us for many years, had waited till nearly midnight for a raid to pass over before leaving the club. At last the firing stopped, and he walked down to Charing Cross to take a tram. While he stood waiting just under shelter of the arch there came an explosion so terrific that it almost stunned him. A bomb—a very big one—had missed the bridge by not more than twenty yards, and exploded on striking the water. The heaviest shock that I felt during the raids was from the bomb that fell just opposite the Russian Embassy, near Eaton Square. I then had rooms in Eaton Terrace, and the whole house rocked with the impact. When I went to look at the spot, I found that the whole street had been blown out, the crater extending from one pavement to the other and being deep enough to bury an omnibus. Luckily for myself, I never was particularly scared; my chief feeling was one of anger and despair at the hideous and futile destruction of life and property.
At the beginning of 1918, just as we were preparing for a big campaign to sell all our remaining wheat for spring sowing, the powers above us suddenly decided to sell the whole stock to France. Of course, the French milled it all. I resigned, and turned my attention to propaganda work. My immediate chief in this was that charming fellow, Dion Clayton Calthrop, and I soon found that working for him was a very different and much more pleasant business than toiling in the Food Department. But I will not dwell upon 1918. In spite of the tardy co-operation of America, that was a ghastly spring and summer. Night after night Villiers Street was packed with ambulances waiting for the boat-trains from Charing Cross, and day after day more and more women donned mourning, until there was hardly any colour left in the streets.
We kept up our Savage Club Saturday nights. Sometimes the fare was no more than herrings and sausages, but the entertainments were as good as ever. Mark Hambourg played for us; George Baker, "Massa" Johnston, Harry Dearth, and others sang; Arthur Helmore preached his sermons. These dinners did much to keep up our spirits. One night Louis Raemaekers, the great Dutch cartoonist, came and drew for us. His contribution was a lightning sketch of the ex-Kaiser, which still hangs in the north-west room. It is a gruesomely powerful piece of work.
If the early part of the year was horrible, our successes in the autumn made up for a good deal, and the climax came with the Armistice. I reached the Strand just as the maroons banged off, and what happened then was almost too fantastic for words. The first thing I saw was a hatter come out of his shop and start beating a drum. Six girls joined hands and danced round him. A complete stranger came up and seized both my hands and shook them cordially. "Isn't it splendid?" he kept saying. Processions formed. All kinds of musical instruments appeared and were played upon. From every window in the Cecil Hotel, then the Air Office, girls flung strips and streamers of coloured paper, and from almost every other window flags were pushed out. Even the war had not taught people to fly them properly, for I saw several Union Jacks, and even one Royal Standard, flown upside down. I got on top of a bus which was supposed to be bound for the City, but it turned down to the Embankment and wandered along so close under the trees that several people had their hats scraped off. They merely roared with laughter. I got to Blackfriars eventually, and went to the Fleetway House, where the editors and staff of the Amalgamated Press had given up all pretence at work, and were walking into one another's offices and smacking one another on the back. It was all so jolly and spontaneous—so amazingly different from that hideous performance on Mafeking Day, when coarse horse-play was seen in every street and half the people were drunk. There was trouble, I know, on succeeding nights—more especially that riot and bonfire in Trafalgar Square—but Armistice Day itself was wonderful. Wonderful for me in more ways than one, for, as it happened, I had an invitation that night to dine with the visiting American editors whom Cecil Harmsworth was entertaining at Dr. Johnson's house in Gough Square. It will be remembered that he bought the house in order to preserve it for the nation.
That dinner was a most interesting occasion. There were fourteen American editors, and, besides them, Cecil as host, and his brothers Rothermere and St. John Harmsworth. Also the Lord Mayor, Mr. Dickens, the City Recorder, Harry Irving, Forbes Robertson. Augustine Birrell, and a few others. The Cheshire Cheese provided the dinner, and, by a special dispensation, we needed no ration cards. There was turtle soup, sole, a real beefsteak pudding, and delicious toasted cheese. We ended with rum punch, port, and coffee, and some of the best speeches to which I have ever listened. The editor of the Atlanta Constitution (I forget his name) was particularly worth listening to, and so—as always—was Forbes Robertson. His voice remains as wonderful as ever. Altogether it was an evening to which I look back, and always shall look back, with the greatest pleasure.
Journalism After the War—New Openings—The Demand for Humour
AT Postbridge, which is perhaps the most remote village on Dartmoor, lives a family of Warnes, real, old-fashioned Moor folk, most of whom have been engaged for generations in tin-mining. One of them, a man then about thirty, who had never in his life been farther from his home than Plymouth, joined up early in the war and went to France. I met him one day returning home on furlough, and asked him into the Two Bridges Hotel to have a drink and a chat. He laid a book on the counter, and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that it was a copy of Exton Manor, by Archibald Marshall.
"You are never going to read that?" I exclaimed.
"I have read it," replied Warne, "and I liked the book so much I bought it to read to my missus."
Such a case is no doubt exceptional, yet it goes to show how the war broadened the outlook of many men, and it helps to explain the enormous expansion in journalism which has taken place in the past six or seven years. Before the war it was thought impossible to launch any popular production at a price beyond sixpence, or, at the very outside, sevenpence, but to-day the book-stalls are piled with magazines at a shilling, and with periodicals brought out in fortnightly parts at one shilling and threepence apiece. These could not exist unless they found a market, and there is no doubt that the public at large is spending far more upon reading matter than it ever did before.
In spite of the long-continued trade depression, publishing firms have done well and earned good dividends, and there certainly never was a time which provided a better opportunity for writers generally. A sign of the times is the number of Schools of Journalism which have been started, and the hosts of pupils they have enrolled. Myself, I have no particular belief in Schools of Journalism. Six months in an editorial office in even the humblest capacity will teach a youngster more of the realities of writing work than any amount of classes.
The trouble with the modern free-lance is that he does not work hard enough. Not long ago I showed some drawings done by a young friend of mine to Bert Thomas, and asked for his opinion on them. He approved them, so then I wanted to know if he had any advice for the budding artist. "Tell him to work," said Bert. "There' s no other way to success except hard, slogging work. When I started I often put in fourteen hours out of the twenty-four." I could quote a score of similar instances. Every great pianist practises for hours daily; every great medical specialist works night after night reading up everything that has to do with his particular branch of medicine or surgery. Why, then, should the man who wishes for success in journalism or authorship imagine that he can reach it by spending an hour or two daily at his desk? Yet there are any number who do hold this opinion. They usually possess—are cursed with, I might better say—a certain facility in writing, and you cannot persuade them that they have anything to learn. I was talking the other day to the editor of one of the best-known popular weeklies. "Do let me have some good, 'meaty' columns," he said.
I looked at the tray beside him, piled with manuscript. "Surely you have plenty there," I suggested.
He shook his head. "Precious little that is of any use," he answered. "Nearly all these outside contributors want to write on 'Should red-haired girls marry?' 'How to Manage Home Finances,' or some similar abstract subject. They forget that, until their names are known, their opinions on such subjects are absolutely worthless, and they are too lazy to go and dig out stuff to make a solid article on some topical subject of the day. The fact is," he added, "they don't know how to work."
My very good friend, Lewis Rose Macleod, who was for some years literary editor of the Daily Mail, told me that the average number of articles received daily for his page was one hundred and twenty, and that, even so, it was not always easy to pick out the four or five which he needed from this huge mass of stuff. To the regret of all his many friends in England, Macleod has now gone to South Africa, where he edits a Johannesburg paper and is very happy in the sunshine of the high veld.
The prices paid by the papers that use outside stuff have, with very few exceptions, been increased by the proprietors, but the scale of rates has not risen in proportion to the increased cost of living. However, it is always up to the contributor himself to make his or her own bargain with the editor, who, in turn, is always willing to pay good money for anything that he actually wants. Speaking of bargaining with editors brings me to the question of literary agents. In my early days I became strongly prejudiced against agents, for their practice in those days was to send in a score of articles or stories in a bunch. The mere look of such a huge bundle of stuff was enough—more than enough—for the overworked sub-editor. He might possibly take it home with him and tackle it after dinner, but, even if he did so, the first story he picked up was probably four thousand words in length, when the maximum length for his paper was two thousand. Very often the string that tied the stories was never cut, and the parcel lay in the office until it was thick with dust or the agent at last sent a messenger to collect it. The ways of agents have changed much for the better since those days, and there are now some agents who are as good as could be desired.
My own opinion is that the writer of fiction will do well to employ an agent. The agent who knows his business has probably a branch in New York, and knows just where to sell a story in America. The commission charged is a small matter when a double price is obtained for the work. Prices are, of course, very much higher than those to be obtained in Great Britain, and many of our cleverest writers devote nearly all their attention to the American market. P. G. Wodehouse and Bertram Atkey are examples of story writers who work first for America, and secondly for Britain. The worst of the American market, from my own point of view, is that juvenile fiction written for the English market simply will not sell in the States. On the other hand, if the editor of an English boys' paper were to publish an American serial, he would probably lose half his readers. It is different with short stories, for nearly all English magazines use short stories by American writers, and one has to own that many of these are admirable. The English editor, however, is rarely content to publish them as they are. His favourite trick is to anglicise them by altering the scene from New York to London, changing Broadway to Piccadilly and the Bowery to Whitechapel. Yet American slang and colloquialisms are left in, with a result that is simply deplorable. Speaking of short stories, what an odd thing it is that books of short stories sell so badly. I am told that women will not read them, and that, since women are the principal patrons of the lending library, this in itself is sufficient to account for their poor circulation. Yet women buy and read magazines, which in these days are composed almost entirely of short stories.
Many writers—men especially—are hopelessly unpractical in the matter of business, and it is to men of this type that a good agent is invaluable. The late Hughes Massie, who was a friend of mine and a brother Savage, was the best agent I ever knew. I know that he took hold of the affairs of a certain well-known novelist, and inside three years increased his income from fifteen hundred pounds to nearly six thousand a year, so that shows what an agent can do. Hughes Massie died some years ago, but his firm I am glad to say continues. Another thing that an agent can do for a client is to find him work, and for a writer who does not live within easy reach of London this is an immense boon.
So far as short articles are concerned, I think that the contributor will do best as his own agent. I mean that it will pay him to deal direct with his editors. In article-writing half the battle is to be topical, and the two or three days' delay caused by sending stuff to an agent, who in turn has to market it, may just make all the difference between acceptance and refusal. This is more particularly the case with those who write for daily papers.
A big opening that has appeared since the war is in the matter of advertisement. British advertisers have waked up with a vengeance during the past few years, and their requirements have meant an entirely new field for the outside contributor. The railway companies in particular are constantly publishing guide-books of all sorts, dealing with such different subjects as angling, cathedrals, and points of interest on their lines. Seaside resorts, watering-places, and hotels require brochures which have to be carefully written, but are usually well paid. Very many large firms are publishing firm magazines, which frequently take outside work. During the war I wrote a propaganda article on firm magazines, and even then—in 1918—there were nearly a hundred of them. Some such as the Lyons Mail and Smith's Dock Monthly are important publications, excellently done and edited. Anyone with a gift for writing light verse will also find openings among the advertisers. Twenty years ago poetry and poverty were almost synonymous, but to-day the case is completely changed, and the work of a man like Reginald Arkell is so highly valued by the advertisers that many demand that he shall sign the verses he writes for them.
Popular taste in fiction has changed a great deal within my experience. Thirty years ago the incident story was in demand, and the man who could write a melodrama within the space of three or four thousand words found a ready market for his wares. I have recently looked back at some of these stories in the pages of magazines of those days, and they strike me as being heavy and crude, and, in spite of their violent action, very often dull. No wonder, for they are written heavily, and without a single spark of humour. In these times a story of that type is at a discount, and the humorous story in enormous demand. Magazines of the type of the Sunny and the Happy use nothing else, and many weeklies, such as the Passing Show, the Humorist, and the London Mail, provide similar fare for their readers. Even the melodramatic story must be written with a light touch. Sapper's Bulldog Drummond is a well-nigh perfect example of melodrama written in a very light and easy style. Its popularity is proved by the number of sequels which have appeared. Another example which at once rises to my mind is Victor Bridges's The Lady from Longacre, in which even the heroine herself has a sense of humour—a rare achievement in any novel. Perhaps because we have to work so much harder now than we did in pre-war days, and because life has become so serious a business, the reading public delights in the frothy, amusing story, told in the lightest manner imaginable. The market for this sort of thing is insatiable, and anyone who can do this type of work well can earn much more than a mere living.
Editors are, I think, much more accessible than formerly, and once a contributor gets a footing in any publication it is his own fault if he loses it. Every freelance journalist must, of course, write a certain amount of stuff "on spec," but it is a great advantage to get commissions, and to feel that the work you are doing is practically certain of publication. The only way in which to do this is to keep in personal touch with editors or publishers, and you will generally find that they have time to spare for genuine contributors. Why not? After all, publishers live by contributors, and without writers there would be no publishers. There is just one word of advice that I would offer to the free-lance. Find out the day on which your editor goes to press, and do not call upon him on that day. He will be up to his eyes in work, and, even if he receives you, will naturally feel aggrieved at your taking up his time.
Article-writing is by far the most interesting form of free-lancing. Of that there is no doubt whatever. The short-story writer can remain inside his study or garden from one year's end to another, but to get articles you must go out and see things and people. For example, one of my editors called me up and told me that he wanted a really good article on rats for rat week. I happened to know of a man down in the Borough who was a professional rat-catcher, so I went down at once, and have seldom had a more interesting morning. The rat-catcher was a most interesting man, and he and his family had been rat-catchers for generations. He showed me his catch of the previous night—over three hundred rats—and I learned for the first time that, in London at least, the black Alexandrine rat, which is comparatively a new-comer to this country, is already as plentiful as the brown Hanoverian rat. I got stuff, not merely for one article, but for half a dozen. Another most interesting interview was with a man who trains Toby dogs for Punch and Judy shows. In the search for articles one meets all sorts of people, one sees new inventions, and one makes friends. At least, it is one's own fault if one fails to do so.
Another interesting part of article-writing is the number of letters which it brings you. I am not referring to the nasty anonymous communications which occasionally reach all journalists, but to the signed letters, friendly or otherwise, but mostly the former. It is just as well to think twice before sending in an article, and consider whether the subject is contentious, or one likely, for any reason, to bring down correspondents upon you. Some years ago I spent a week at a little sea-fishing hotel on the south coast of Devon, and, while there, discovered that there was not a shop worth calling so in the village. "Villages Without Shops " was the subject which at once presented itself, and a few days later the article appeared in the Daily Mail. Two days later Macleod forwarded to me a bundle of some fifty letters from readers eager to know the names of these shopless villages. Next day I had about a hundred more, and before the week was out the number had risen to nearly two hundred. It was out of the question to answer them all, and I had to ask Macleod to publish a letter in the Mail apologising for my inability to do so. One thing journalism does teach you is to write carefully. There seem to be hundreds of readers who spend their lives in looking out for blunders, and if you make one in print, be very sure that you, as well as your editor, will hear all about it.
I have said that the market for the free-lance journalist has improved since the war, but, at the same time, there are many more in the game than formerly, so that competition is stiffer than ever it was. There is also much unfair competition from people who have made money in other professions or industries, yet who get big fees for giving their opinions in print on various matters of which, as a rule, they know little or nothing. For these reasons it is the more necessary for the contributor to be always on the look-out for fresh markets. As in all other lines of life, the writer who is not going ahead is most certainly going back. You cannot stand still in a world that is moving ever faster and faster.
Changes on the Moor, and Work in London—Authors and Others
DEAR old Henry Trinaman passed away during the war, the Two Bridges Hotel fell into other hands, and the old friends who used to come there for the fishing year after year dropped off, and we missed them sadly. Also a large proportion of the regular residents on Dartmoor found it impossible to carry on, and so left. There were other changes. The Duchy stopped the shooting licences. The pretext was that they had put down grouse and did not wish them disturbed. But the swaling that went on as usual each spring was far more destructive to the birds than any amount of shooting, while the vermin made short work of the rest. There will never be any head of grouse on Dartmoor, or, indeed, any game at all, until the Moor is keepered like a Scottish moor—the vermin killed off and the heather-burning properly controlled. The real sporting people who had made the Moor so pleasant in the old days were fast disappearing, and being replaced by hordes of trippers, who crowded the roads in huge, thundering motor-coaches. We began to talk of moving, yet the house was our own, the garden we had carved for ourselves out of wild moorland, and we were loath to go. Meantime I kept on a room in Town, and divided my time between London and Devonshire.
One result was that I saw more than ever before of my brother Savages, and made more acquaintances—and friends—in Fleet Street than I had previously had the opportunity of doing. I found some new markets, and wrote for periodicals so different as the Daily Express and the Empire Review. The latter, under the control of Commander Locker Lampson, has greatly enlarged its scope and interest. Sidney Dark was then literary editor of the Express, but presently he left and went to Newnes. He used to give me boys' books to review for John o' London, and twice I found one of my own in the bundle. It is rather amusing to have to review one's own book. One so seldom reads over anything of one's own after one has once gone through the proofs.
I was elected to serve on the committee of the Savage—difficult work during the reconstruction period, but at the same time very interesting. The Savage Club Golfing Society was revived, and we had some delightful days at the clubs of various members. I played at Wimbledon Park, Mid Surrey, Tooting Bec, and many other courses north and south of London. We have some useful golfers in the club, among them Harry Dearth, whose fine bass voice is well known to Londoners, Harry Rowntree, the black-and-white artist, and Harold Thomson, the serialist and writer of short stories. Mark Hambourg, too, plays golf. I don't know what his handicap is—pretty long, I fancy—but he is enormously strong in the arms, and if he hits a ball it travels. On one occasion, when I was playing against him in a foursome, there was a solitary young woman practising in front of us, and as we came up to a tee she moved off to the left. Mark had to drive, and smote furiously. He hit the ball, but pulled it clean round to square leg, and if that young woman had not been pretty spry in ducking out of harm's way Mark would probably have had a bill for funeral expenses.
Mark Hambourg is one of the kindest of people, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for coming to play for me more than once when I have been in the chair at a Saturday night house-dinner. It is one of the joys of the Savage Club that no artist ever refuses to give his help at a Saturday night so long as he is not otherwise engaged. But in the club everyone considers it a duty to help a brother member in any possible way. I remember once that I had a rather sudden invitation to go fishing, and all my rods were down in Devonshire. A member whom I knew but slightly happened to hear me expressing my disappointment, and at once said, "I've got a rod. Come up to my place, and you can have it for as long as you like. There's a creel, too, and waders, if they are any good to you."
Among musical members of the Savage who constantly give their services on a Saturday night are T. C. Sterndale Bennett, Tom Clare, Lyell Johnston, and Norman Williams. Norman Williams has a magnificent voice, and ought to be in opera. "Billy" Barrett is one of the oldest members of the club, and in his day was one of the greatest of flautists. He is an example of the fact that players of wind instruments are among the longest lived of people. Cornet players are credited with an average life of sixty-nine years, and clarionet and bassoon players are almost equally long lived. A proof, I suppose, of the fact that a steady use of the lungs keeps a man going far longer than the rest of us, who mostly do not know how to breathe properly.
A member who rarely missed a Saturday night was Edwin—better known as Ned—Cleary, who was not only one of the most popular members of the club, but one of the most many-sided men who ever belonged to it. He was engineer, inventor, writer, war correspondent, theatrical entrepreneur, actor, and I don't know how much else besides. He had spent years in South Africa helping to build railways, he had a farm in Iceland, and he was the inventor of the Cleary lamp. The idea of this came to him in Iceland, and he spent the whole of a long, dark winter working on it. He had just brought it to perfection, and had the patent taken up by a big company, when paralysis struck him down, and he died as he would have wished to die—quickly and painlessly. When he realised that his invention was going to succeed, and that, if he lived, he would be a rich man, he began to plan for a country club for the Savage. There would have to be a river or lake, he said, for those who wanted to boat or fish, a golf-course, a good billiard-room, and two little bars, one at each end of a long terrace. He would talk of these plans by the hour. Ned was a great Savage and a great gentleman. There is no one whom we older members miss more sorely, none whom we more greatly look forward to meeting again.
Talking of angling, we have a number of fishermen in the club. Sir Herbert Waterhouse, who is head of Charing Cross Hospital, is a keen fisherman, and puts his fly on waters all over the country, from Devonshire to the North of Scotland. Rafael Sabatini, who, despite his name, is a fair-haired Yorkshireman, is equally keen after trout and salmon. Walter Gallichan is the greatest authority on fishing in Spain, and is interested in a new fishing-lake in Anglesea. Sidney Gowing I have mentioned already as the keenest of sportsmen. As soon as a serial is finished and sold he is off in his old Ford bus to Wales or Yorkshire or Scotland, and his knowledge of British fishing-waters is encyclopaedic. Edmond Maurice is a dry-fly expert, and, incidentally, an enthusiast in microscopic work. Dr. Seymour Taylor is another brother of the rod, and there are many others.
In the spring of 1921 Cecil Harmsworth asked me to fish with him in Radnorshire, on the Wye. He went on the Saturday. I followed on the Monday, and, going straight down to the river, found him engaged in landing a nice eighteen-pound fish. I rose a fish, but failed to hook it, but turned in that night with excited anticipation of great sport next day. Alas, next morning the wind was in the east and the water falling fast. We fished hard for three days, and never sniffed another fish. Then came the coal strike, and, since Harmsworth was then in the Government, he had to go back to London. We drove straight across England, and I never had a more delightful drive. It was a perfect spring day, with a brilliantly blue sky dappled with fleecy clouds. Every orchard was a mist of bloom. We came by Monmouth and Gloucester, where we stopped to look at the lovely old cathedral, thence across the Cotswolds to Cirencester, where we lunched, and early in the afternoon came to Oxford, where we got out and walked through the town, and out across Magdalen Bridge. Then across the hills again, with beech-woods turning faintly green. Is there anything so lovely as the golden green of a beech in spring? Then down to Henley, and so by Maidenhead to London. It was one of those days that sticks in one's memory, and goes far to explain the reason why, in spite of its climate, its taxes, its overcrowdedness, one still believes in England as the finest country in the world. The older one gets the better one appreciates such rare days. It is, I think, one of the chief consolations of advancing years that one comes to know just when one is really enjoying life. When one is young one fails to take advantage of the passing hour, because one is always looking forward in the hope of something a little better to-morrow or the next day.
One Saturday night I had dining with me a naval cousin, Captain Stephen Tillard, and one of the first people he recognised was Ricci, best known by his pen-name of "Bartimaeus." Ricci is a naval paymaster—a slim, dark, good-looking man with a very pleasant smile. We sat and yarned together, and afterwards walked down to Westminster Underground Station along the Embankment. There are many sailor-men who write, but of them all "Bartimaeus" is easily first. "Torps," "Bunje," "The young Doctor"—all his characters are so real that you feel you know them personally. I know a little more of the Navy than most civilians, for I once had a fortnight's cruise, as my brother's guest, aboard the cruiser Carnarvon. Also I have been shorter cruises aboard fishery protection gunboats; while, living so near Plymouth, I have come into contact with a large number of naval officers. No one, not even Mr. Kipling in His Fleet in Being, has drawn such perfect pictures of the Navy to-day as "Bartimaeus." It is an odd thing how many people are under the utterly mistaken impression that Ricci is blind. I suppose it is because of his nom de plume. I asked him once why he took such a name. "Well," he said, "I was certainly a beggar at the time I began to write, and, since I was just recovering from ophthalmia, I was also partly blind."
Another very delightful person with whom I came in contact about that time was Gerard Fiennes, who was head of a Government publicity department for which I did a little work. During the war he had been director of the National War Aims Committee's publications. There are some people to whom you feel drawn the moment you meet them, and he was one of these. He had all the most attractive English qualities. He was, of course, one of the Say and Sele family, and I reminded him of a little story of his uncle, who was Lord Say and Sele and at the same time a high dignitary in the Church. In the year 1876, when a new church was being consecrated at Bredenbury, my father's parish, in Herefordshire, the old lord was assisting, and as he passed the lectern, which was an ancient and a clumsy arrangement, his sleeve caught in it, and the Bible fell with a crash. When service was over, my father found in the plate an envelope containing a five-pound note, and on the envelope, in Lord Say and Sele's hand, these words: "Towards a new lectern."
I have mentioned my friend Bart Kennedy in connection with clapper bridges on Dartmoor. He is of a very different type from Ricci or Fiennes, both mentally and physically. In spite of being something over sixty, he is still a man of powerful physique, and with his big head and bushy eyebrows a distinctly imposing presence. He is perhaps the only other living member of the Savage Club whose life has been as full of adventure as that of Muddock. But Bart's adventures have been harder and sterner than those of any other man I know. He began life as a half-timer in a great Manchester factory, getting to work at five each morning, and receiving in return the princely wage of eighteen pence a week. No wonder he chucked it up and went to America. There he was everything, from tramp to sailor, and sailor to opera singer. In all the eighties of the last century he was in British Columbia, digging for gold, and he and four others ventured into the country of the murderous Chilcat Indians. Of the five, only two got back alive, Bart and one other, and this other man was wounded. He was in the Klondike long before the great rush of 1899; he toiled as a navvy on the building of the great Canadian Pacific Railway; and afterwards worked his way by sea from Vancouver to San Francisco, where he got taken on to sing in the chorus at the Tivoli Opera House. He crossed the continent with a travelling dramatic company to New York, where he at last began to write. He came very near to starving—not for the first time, but stuck to his guns—or, rather, his pen—and in the end got some stories accepted and came to London. Bart resembles Roger Pocock in that he writes what he himself wishes to write rather than what the editor wants from him, and that has militated against his attaining the success that was really his due. But probably there is no other writing man alive who has such an immense store of personal experience from which to draw, and there are few who can tell you true stories more startling than those which Bart can tell.
Max Pemberton is not a member of the Savage Club, but he comes occasionally as a guest. Many years ago, when he was editing Cassell's Magazine, I went to him about some work, and have always been grateful for the kindly way in which he received me. It will be remembered that Robert Louis Stevenson, after writing several books for grown-ups, which did not bring him either fame or fortune, wrote Treasure Island for boy readers, and woke to find himself famous. Similarly, Max Pemberton, after writing a novel, The Diary of a Scoundrel, in 1891, made his great hit with The Iron Pirate, which was published in Chums in 1893. This story of a wealthy man who turned pirate, and held up Atlantic liners with his secret cruiser, caused a sensation which I, for one, vividly remember. There cannot be many authors who have turned out such an immense amount of varied work over a long period of years as has Pemberton—not only books, but plays, revues, and a steady stream of articles on all sorts of subjects. There is rarely a Sunday when I do not read an article of his in a Sunday newspaper.
H. G. Wells thinks that one thousand words a day is "quite enough for any man to give the world." Possibly he is right, but at a pound a thousand it would not give the unfortunate author much of a living. In any case, there are many writers who do, or have done, very much more. Hall Caine confesses, I believe, to having turned out, under pressure, eight thousand words in twenty-four hours, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has written a twelve-thousand-word story without once leaving his desk. I can't imagine how he did it, for once, when I had to write a six-thousand-word boys' story in one day, I completely collapsed, and was fit for nothing for two days afterwards.
Stevenson is said to have written the whole of his famous Jekyll and Hyde story within seven days, but Mrs. L. T. Meade holds the record by producing twenty thousand words in one day. I have a friend who gets up early and knocks out a four-thousand-word story on his typewriter before breakfast. This always seems to me in the nature of a miracle, for, though I can use a typewriter, the idea of composing fiction while rattling its keys is the most impossible idea. I can't get on at all without a pen in my hand—a fountain pen, of course, for the business of dipping a steel pen into the ink-pot is the most maddening thing imaginable. For many years I used an American pen, believing that there was no such thing as an English fountain pen. I am glad to say, however, that I have found my mistake, for I now have one made by the Wyvern Pen Company which is the most perfect thing of its kind I ever handled. I give them this little puff—the only one of its kind in this book—because I am so pleased to find a British firm beating, not only the American manufacturers at their own game, but even the Germans, for I am assured by the head of the firm that this country is actually exporting gold pens to Germany, the country which, before the war, supplied this one with nearly all its writing materials.
I am afraid that my women readers, if I have any, will say that all the writers I have met or known have been of the male sex. This is almost true. Indeed, the only exceptions I can quote from memory are Frances Hodgson Burnett, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and Mrs. C. N. Williamson. The first, whose real name was Mrs. Stephen Townesend, I met at a mutual friend's house at Tavistock, and I can only say that the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy was as charming as her books. But we never talked of books, for, making the mutual discovery that we were both keen on gardening, we talked flowers and nothing else, and she told me about the garden of white phloxes at her home on the Hudson. Miss Wilcox I took in to tea at a party in London, but that sort of thing does not give one much chance for intelligent conversation, and the crowd was so great that all my energies were devoted to seeing that she had a sufficiency of the good things provided by our hostess.
Mrs. Williamson I have mentioned as writing serials for the Rambler nearly thirty years ago. She took to fiction at a very early age. Indeed, I believe that Alice Livingstone, as she then was, had barely reached fifteen when she had her first story accepted, much to the horror of her relatives, who were very old-fashioned folk. But that was nothing to the next shock she gave them by going on the stage. The first company in which she played was that of Miss Kate Clacton. Then she was landed in a company of barn-stormers which did not prosper, and the climax came at Manitou Springs, in Colorado, where the treasury dried up completely. Instead of throwing in her hand and going home, Miss Livingstone set to work to write articles descriptive of Manitou and its scenery. These caught on, and enabled her to clear the company of its debts. More than that, they brought her commissions from New York, so that from that time onwards she was able to make a living by her pen. In 1893 she came to England as correspondent for an American paper, and among her letters of introduction was one to C. N. Williamson, founder and editor of the now defunct Black and White. Then—well, we all know what happened. She married Mr. Williamson, and the two started the long list of novels which have made their names known all over the world, and of which The Botor Chaperone is my own particular pet and fancy.
Of late years Mrs. Williamson has become deeply interested in occult matters, and, curiously enough, it was through C. N. Williamson that my own interest was first aroused in these questions. Coming into the Savage Club one day many years ago, the first man I met was Williamson, in England on a visit from his home in the South of France. I naturally enquired for his wife, and he told me that she had been ill with neuralgia, but was much better. Since a member of my own family suffered severely from the wretched complaint, I was interested, and asked how she had been cured. "She cured herself," he said. "She uses mind power." I hardly understood what he meant, and he told me of a book, The History and Power of Mind, by Richard Ingalese, which he said would explain better than he could. I at once went down to Rider's and bought the book. Coming back to the club later for dinner, I found myself sitting next a member whom I had never before met. He proved to be H. Knight Horsfield, of whom I have spoken as nature editor of the Yorkshire Post. Knight Horsfield's knowledge of this particular subject is extensive, and what he told me that evening gave me quite a new outlook on life, and a very much better and happier one than I had ever before known. Since those days I have come into touch with many people interested in the same subject, among them A. P. Sinnett, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Mr. Vale Owen. More particularly I should mention Colonel P. H. Fawcett, whose experiences in the occult have been of a very unusual type.
A Great South American Explorer—False Economy and a Motor-Bicycle—The Horrors of House-Hunting
COLONEL FAWCETT'S acquaintance I made during my first visit to Two Bridges, nearly a quarter of a century ago. He was then Captain Fawcett, R.A., and was on leave and staying at the Two Bridges Hotel. A good deal of his early service had been in Ceylon, where he had some curious and interesting experiences. Exploration was always his hobby, and all his spare time was spent in digging among the huge and mysterious ruins of the vanished civilisation of Northern Ceylon. He made friends with many natives, among them an old priest of very striking appearance. The latter told Fawcett that he had a message for him, and Fawcett asked him to come and see him, which the priest promised to do.
A few days later Fawcett, having finished tiffin, was in his quarters when he became aware of the priest and his chela salaaming at the open door. He asked them in, and he and the priest had a long talk, in the course of which the latter made several prophecies as to Fawcett's future, all of which have since come literally true. He said, among other things, "Sahib, I see you going to the west."
Fawcett replied, with a smile, "Why, of course I go to the West. I am going home to England next year."
The priest shook his head. "Much farther west than England," he answered.
At last the old fellow took a courteous leave and departed. Some minutes after he had gone it occurred to Fawcett that no native could leave the fort or—for that matter—enter it without a special pass, and he called his servant and told him to go and see that the priest and his chela were not held up by the sentry at the gate. The man came back to say that nothing had been seen of any natives. Much puzzled, Fawcett went out himself and spoke to the sentries. Both men told him definitely that no native had either entered or left the fort within the past two hours.
Fawcett never saw the priest again, but later, when he had returned to England, married, and retired from the Service, he heard that the Bolivian Government had asked the British authorities for an English officer to lead the commission for delimiting the Bolivian frontiers. It was supposed that an R.E. officer would be appointed, but Fawcett applied, and, through the friendship of Sir Clement Markham, received the appointment. It was not until this had happened that he remembered the prediction of the priest as to his going far to the west.
He accomplished his difficult task with success, and, while in South America, became so deeply interested in the extraordinary remains of pre-Inca civilisation which exist all over Bolivia and Brazil that he soon started upon a second expedition, during which he had amazing adventures. He was swept over a waterfall in a canoe ; he was attacked by a giant bushmaster, the huge and deadly hamadryad of the Brazilian forests; he killed the biggest snake on record, an anaconda nearly seventy feet in length; he was lost on a poison creek, where there was neither game nor fish, and he met and lived with Indians who had never before seen white men. He went a third time, and obtained definite information as to the existence of a great ruined city in the desert uplands of the province of Bahia. At time of writing he and his eldest son have again disappeared into the depths of the forest, and it is not likely that anything will be heard of them until 1927. I could write pages about the adventures which Fawcett has related to me, but that would not be fair, since he himself will no doubt be publishing a book about them when he returns once more to England.
South America is without doubt the greatest field for exploration to-day. Brazil, which in itself is about the same size as Australia, is still largely unknown. The traders stick to the waterways and never venture far into the forests, for these are not only trackless, and swarming with poisonous snakes and insects, but also inhabited by Indians, who are still the wildest people on earth. They belong to many different races, and agree in one point only—detestation of the white man. The brutalities committed by the Spaniards when they first conquered the Incas have had their aftermath in a bitter hatred of all white men, and one expedition after another sent into the hinterland have been massacred to the last man. The physical difficulties of exploration are equally great. In Africa it is always possible for the traveller to hire carriers, but no Indian would ever consent to act as carrier to white men, and, at the same time, none of the negroes or half-breeds who work in the more civilised regions can be persuaded to venture among the Indians. The result is that the explorer, having gone inland as far as boats or mules can take him, has to shoulder his own pack and tramp afoot, living on the country as he goes. And the Brazilian forest give no easy living. Game is extraordinarily scarce, and monkeys and snakes are the fare on which the traveller has mainly to depend. The flesh of the anaconda, so Fawcett says, is palatable, but that of poisonous snakes is extremely nasty and very unwholesome. But the rewards are great, for all this country was once the seat of a civilisation which was probably older and more wonderful than that of Egypt itself, yet of which hardly anything is known. It is certain that during the present century wonderful discoveries will be made in Brazil, and it is Fawcett's opinion that it may be possible to trace the connection between this lost civilisation and that of the lost continent of Atlantis, from which he believes that it originally came. If anyone can probe these secrets, it is Fawcett, and that, not merely because of his wide knowledge of the country, but also because he has that rare gift of being able to make friends with the wild Indians and to speak to them in their own languages.
Fawcett, who, when in England, lived near Exeter, frequently came up to the Moor to see us, and we used to sit up half the night and yarn about South America. He used to ride a big Sunbeam motor-cycle, and, having no car, I, too, took to a motor-bicycle as a means of getting about the country both quickly and economically. That a motor-bicycle is quick there is no manner of doubt, while, in the matter of economy, my little two-and-a-quarter horse-power two-stroke would carry me at least sixty miles to each gallon of petrol, even on Dartmoor hills. But when you have said that you have said all that there is to say in favour of a motor-bicycle. It is noisy, uncomfortable, and, except for the young and active, a distinctly dangerous means of conveyance. The end came with me when riding home from Tavistock on an August afternoon on a new and larger machine. I was forcing the bicycle up a steep hill on second gear when she struck a patch of tar, and skidded over the side of the road. The next thing I knew I was on the ground, with the machine on my left leg, and, since the foot was pointing round the wrong way, I took it that something was seriously wrong. I shouted to a woman who was standing outside her cottage at the bottom of the hill, and, when she came up, suggested that perhaps she could move the machine off my leg, but she declared that it was too heavy, so I made the effort and shifted it myself. Then I sent her for a stick, which she brought. I was wearing puttees, and, taking off the right one, bound up the damaged leg as tightly as I could on the splint. About this time a good fellow arrived from the quarry on the opposite hill. He had had the forethought to bring a flask of brandy with him, and, even if I had been a Prohibitionist all my life, that drink would have converted me, for it put new life into me. After that there was nothing to do but sit in the road and wait for a car. Luckily one turned up before long, and the two occupants, complete strangers, lifted me into their vehicle and drove me home. It is perfectly wonderful the amount of kindness you meet with when anything goes wrong. I have seen and experienced it so often that it makes me hot and angry to hear the unco guid talk of the inherent evil in human nature. Our doctor was phoned for from Tavistock, and came out and set the leg, but the job did not satisfy him, so next day he came and did it again. Both bones were completely crumpled, and I had a month on my back and another on a sofa before I could begin to get about again. When at last I did mend, I had to realise that I could no longer tramp the Moor and fish the upper waters of the Moor streams, and that there was nothing for it but to sell out and move.
House-hunting was never a pleasant business, even in the old days, but since the war it has become a nightmare. One used to say that horse-dealers had no consciences, but, personally, I would far sooner buy a horse than a house. You go to a house-agent and explain to him what you want, and he at once produces a list of desirable properties, any one of which appears on paper to be the ideal of your dreams. You pick the best, and spend a day and a heap of money in viewing it, only to find that it has not the slightest resemblance to the printed description, or that, if it has, its surroundings make it utterly impossible.
One house I saw advertised stood in the woods above Pangbourne—just the part of the world where we wanted to live. I wrote to the agents asking for the fullest particulars, saying that I was a busy man and could not spare time to go upon wildgoose chases. They assured me that it was "a gentleman's residence," so off I went. I had much difficulty in finding the house, which stood on a lane quite away from any main road, and when I reached it saw a dilapidated cottage surrounded with brambles, and with out-buildings so rotten that you could have kicked a hole through the planking anywhere. And for this the price asked was over two thousand pounds!
Another place I went to see was in Surrey. The house in this case was a very nice one, quite up to the description given, but exactly opposite was a big military camp, with acres of galvanised iron roofs, bugle calls going all day, and big lorries roaring past. There is no excuse whatever for this sort of thing, and it ought to be possible to recover damages against the agents for false pretences.
In the end we found and bought a queer old manor house in North Bucks. It dates from 1560, has not a level floor anywhere upstairs, but possesses a dear old walled garden, a pond, and a ghost (the latter fortunately quite friendly).
There are kindly neighbours, good golf, plenty of bridge, everything one can desire except fishing. True, the Upper Ouse is within easy reach, and the Ouse holds many sorts of fish, from pike and eels to perch, dace, and roach, but not trout or salmon; and, after one has spent nearly half a century in pursuit of game fish, one does not take kindly to coarse fishing. Not that I despise coarse fishing. Far from it, for it is a most difficult art. Indeed, I think that the man who can secure a basket of good roach or takable perch is at least as skilful as he who lures half a dozen trout from a dry-fly stream. But coarse fish, with few exceptions, are not eatable, and I confess to a dislike to killing anything that is not fit for food.
There is still trout fishing in Buckinghamshire, but it is getting less and less, and what is left is far beyond the means of any but rich men. The Chess was once a good dry-fly stream, but some years ago nearly all the fish were poisoned, presumably by road tar. The Duke of Bedford still has good fishing on the Chess at Chenies, and there are a few other nice trout-waters in South Bucks. But if he wants trout fishing, the Londoner must go south, not north. There are, however, a number of small streams north of London which would carry trout. I have in mind the Ouzel, a river with plenty of water which runs into the Ouse at Newport Pagnell, and I wonder sometimes that angling societies do not lease such streams, and clean and stock them. I think it would pay. But I am once more mounting my hobby, from which I had better climb down, for I feel sure that my readers have had quite enough of my reminiscences, whether of fishing or other matters.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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