Imágenes de página

Suspended!" command the presence of the S.O.I. at the luncheon, a meal at which some matters, up till then obscure, became plain.

"Hanging! exclaimed Mlle. 'Z' (third officer, archæologist, and cooktheoretical), her large brown eyes opening wide.

"Well, you see," explained the S.O.I., "my Admiral is a perfect terror! an absolute man-eater! drinks blood for breakfast-you know the kind, and I simply dare not go back and say you won't come over! He'll keel-haul me for a certainty, and we haven't been docked for months. Just think of the sharp barnacles . . ."

“Oh, but this is too tragic!" Mlle. "X" tried to keep a straight face.

"Why doesn't that officer go back to the flagship?" demanded the presence on the stern walk.

"I'm still getting the necessary information in order to make out the Boarding Report Form B.O. 567, sir!" replied the S.O.I., who felt that, although he had lost the main battle, yet the fact that he was on the deck of the yacht, whilst the Malplaquet was separated from her by twenty yards of water, constituted a certain local tactical success which ought to be exploited to the utmost. The S.O.I. resumed his conversation, and observed with gratitude that his steamboat had drifted 200 yards to leeward. Eventually a compromise was agreed upon, and three very nut-brown maidens, also "le petit frère du Capitaine," promised to lunch next day with the Admiral.

The Admiral turned to the Captain, who was sitting on his right.

[ocr errors]

You seem to have established an entente with the Malplaquet, Captain. Some signal about bacon, wasn't there?

"Oh, the Malplaquet!" The Captain seemed at that instant to become a trifle more sunburnt. "Oh yes, Admiral, we have met her before on our voyage, you understand. You see, it was after this fashion. We leave Marseilles and make a route for Sicily to find my brother and put into Aranci Bay, where' Tiens! voilà toute la flotte anglaise.' It was a tremendous surprise.'


"Of course, remarked the Admiral. The Captain shot a suspicious glance at her host. "It was only half the Fleet,' observed the Flag-Captain.

[ocr errors]

"Oh, la, la!" exclaimed the second in command. "You English have such a big Fleet it covers all the Mediterranean."

"So you see, Admiral," continued the Captain, "Mlle. 'Z' observed that it would be très rigolo to ...'

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

"Well, anyhow, WE ALL It pleased the Admiral to thought it would be nice to

establish a social acquaintance with the ships of the British Navy-but how to effect this plan, that was the question. So we discussed, and we thought that we would make a short signal of a very general nature. You understand, Admiral, we did not wish to seem-how do you say?-indiscreet? "

"Naturally! Naturally! I quite understand," the Admiral assured the Captain.

The Captain has an overhead fan in his cabin," judicially observed Mlle. 'Y.'

"I am having Two fans fitted here," announced Admiral. "You know I have only just come out from England. I hope," he continued, "they did all they could to make you comfortable."

[ocr errors]

"Oh, I should just think so," declared the Captain. The British Navy has been "So I put up the signal in so kind to us. But just imagine, International Flags:

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


[ocr errors]


We sailed very close to the Wellington, the Second Admiral's ship."

"And then what happened?" inquired the Secretary.

But nothing happened; it was very sad," announced Mlle. "Y."

"I always said the signal department in the Wellington were slow in the uptake, sir," remarked the Flag-Lieutenant.

Then we sailed on," continued the Captain. "And the next ship was the Malplaquet, and they had read the signal, for the officer of the watch shouted at us, Yacht Français, ahoy! Nous avons beaucoup de bacon, venez ici!' And so we became très bons amis with the Malplaquet, which is a very fine ship."

"A good deal smaller than this one, and slower," protested the Admiral.

when I tell you that ten officers came with brooms and buckets and soap and scrubbed all the yacht for us; never has she looked so smart before. So many officers came they could not all get on the deck together, for she is only a little yacht, you know. Then they lent us a bathroom."

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

To see an attractive French girl, who owns to being passionately fond of dancing, skip about with joy and flush with pleasure on being presented with a text-book on the spherical trigonometry of navigation, is a rare and curious sight which I have now been privileged to see.

Then, of course, the Admiral must inspect the yacht. Indeed he would, and the sooner the better.

But in this matter the Captain was adamant. The Admiral was to come next day, so as to give her a chance of getting the yacht ship-shape. He would understand that they had been four days at sea from Sicily to the Ionian Islands, and things were still "en grand désordre ; the crew had been very lazy. It was not every day that her yacht was inspected by a British Admiral, and that was that. She must insist.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

In due season we went our way and they went theirs, and we said farewell to the sporting little yacht-I vow she can't be more than ten tons,-which

was cruising in the Egean Sea during the summer of the year the Barham won the Silver Cock at Corfu. The little yacht with a lamb of a Captain who could take sights "of a sort," but confessed to a preference for dead reckoning because she simply could not remember to wind the chronometer; with a second in command who loved books so much there was no room in the larder for tinned food; and with a third hand who was an archæologist and a cook. Archæologist, because she and the Captain during their school years had sworn to wander together through classic Greece, and had studied archæology and modern Greek for that purpose; cook, not because she liked cooking, or knew anything about it, but because she was the only one of the three who could stay down below in moderately bad weather.

And, if the combined ages of these very courageous and charming ladies exceed seventyfive, certain very experienced naval officers have sadly erred in their dead reckoning.




THE interview was over. I did not wait for this undignified means of relief, but sprang from the restless chafing craft on to the steel ladder, and clambered nimbly up away from its antics.

was once again in the roar of busy London streets, from whence I strolled into a café, prompted more, perhaps, by the desire for mental reflection than physical nourishment. had been commissioned, commissioned to penetrate into the back of beyond after that elusive and precious liquidpetroleum. As I sat there sipping my coffee, I took out a picture postcard from my pocket-book and studied it carefully-a picture postcard of the Central American Republic of Salvador, my sole instructions, eloquent, terse, and complete, the farthermost corner of which had been marked by a spot of ink-my destination, Carolina, a tiny frontier community close to the borders of Spanish Honduras.

Some six weeks later I arrived at La Libertad, that republic's principal port. Passengers and luggage were being dumped into lighters from the little coastal steamer, and away we went swirling and tossing, pulled by a tug. On reaching the jetty the iron cage, with its four scats set like the four cardinal points of a compass, was lowered into the lighter; but becoming impatient by the squeamishness of my surroundings, I

"Ha!" cried a voice from the lighter, "you have to be a man to land in this country, hombre."

"A monkey could perform the feat equally well," I retorted, glancing down as I climbed on to the jetty.

After nearly five weeks of sea, and now-no, I hesitate to pronounce that much-hackneyed and in this instance most inapplicable phrase terra firma. I think this earthquake land may better be described as a terror firma-that is, something awful which moves.

I was met by the British Vice-Consul, and was soon being hurtled away at break-neck speed by one of those wild native chauffeurs towards the capital.

At length we arrived in San Salvador, nestling picturesquely if somewhat ominously at the foot of the lofty volcano of the same name whose lava beds spread for miles across the valley.

"Come," said my hospitable companion, shortly after we arrived, "let me put you up

for temporary membership of ened by a violent clanging the International Club."

Now, I cannot remember whether it was the 13th or even a Friday, but, alas! that beautiful club was burnt to ashes a few hours later.

The main part of the city is built in squares, and the frequent and almost systematic fires were really becoming most noticeable. It was the insurance companies which rebuilt most of this part of the city, at least, to my way of thinking. You could almost predict where the next fire would occur-but enough said; I am I am cursed with this mania for systematic observation.

noise. Every bell in every
belfry was in mad flight, their
tongues raised to heaven, I
presume calling down the
wrath of God on those who did
not forthwith present them-
selves at the solemn ritual.
Now I hate noise, and will not
expiate for having lived, I who
have no choice either as to my
entry into this world or my
exit from it. My whole nature
bristled at this dogmatic dom-
ineering demand for my per-
sonal attendance at ritual.
will not be shriven in some con-
fessional; I will not expiate;
I will live as part of that
natural scheme of things to
which I belong. At last
the noise ceased
tired atmosphere relaxed. Peace
reigned. Then the long shadows
began to shoot across the plaza.
Now the dice-a meal, and the
city was wrapped in darkness.


and the

It was now about 6 P.M., nearly time to throw the dice, a good custom; the loser pays the round of drinks, but he is then free to leave at will. Meantime, I was soliloquising after a brief siesta, calmly contemplating and mentally preparing for the journey before me. Mañana I was to interview El Presidente de la Republica de El Salvador. Yes, but this is a mañana country, I reflected. Will to-morrow really come? Shall I really meet His Excellency, or will my arrangements be delayed? The rest of my preparations were within my own control, but this meeting with the supreme representative of Salvador was a question of opportuneness. Then suddenly as I lay there, just before the twilight hour, filled with that peace that passeth all understanding, I was rudely awak- temporarily excluded. The

The morning came, as it always does, and my companion and I rattled off over the cobbles and primitive streets in a vehicle which felt supremely insecure. The pace was slow, but the motion was intense and surprising. In this manner we clattered up to the palace; a small portion of a large door opened. We were inspected and found correct. The entry was made, and we were ushered into the waitingroom. I always think one's thoughts in a waiting-room must be melancholy, for you hear outside the hub of life from which you yourself are

« AnteriorContinuar »