H. M. (Henry Major) Tomlinson.

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OLD JUNK



BY

H. M. TOMLINSON



FOREWORD BY S. K. RATCLIFFE



NEW YORK ALFRED · A · KNOPF 1920

COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.
_Second Printing August, 1920_

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA




_To

C. H. G. H.

Who saw with me so much of what is in this book_

(_Killed in action in Artois, August 27th, 1918_)




These stories of travel and chance have been selected from writings
published in various periodicals between January 1907 and April 1918,
and are arranged in order of time.




Foreword


_The author of_ OLD JUNK _has been called a legend. A colleague who
during the later stages of the war visited the western front assured me
that this was the right word by which to describe the memory left among
officers and men, not so much by his work as a war correspondent, as by
his original and fascinating character. A legend, too, he appears to be
in the newspaper world of London: but there in a different sense, by
reason of the singular contradiction between the human creature beloved
of all his fellows and the remarkable productions of his pen._

_The first thing to say about H. M. Tomlinson, the thing of which you
become acutely aware on making his acquaintance, is that he is a
Londoner. "Nearly a pure-blooded London Saxon" is his characterization
of himself. And so it is. He could have sprung from no other stock. In
person and speech, in the indefinable quality of the man, in the humour
which continually tempers his tremendous seriousness, he belongs to
London. Among the men of our time who have done creative writing I can
think of no other about whom this can be so precisely stated._

_It was in the opening years of the century that I first began to
notice his work. His name was appearing in the columns of a London
morning newspaper, since absorbed by the_ Daily News, _over articles
which, if my memory is not at fault, were mainly concerned with the
life of Thames side. They were written with extraordinary care. The man
who did them had, clearly, no competitor in Fleet Street. And he
furnishes a striking illustration of the chances and misfits of the
journalistic life. When, after some years of absence in the Far East, I
was able to fit a person to the writing which had so long attracted me,
I found H. M. Tomlinson on the regular reporting staff of a great
London newspaper. A man born for the creation of beauty in words was
doing daily turn along with the humble chronicler of metropolitan
trivialities._

_A year or two before the war the quality of his mind and of his style
was revealed in_ THE SEA AND THE JUNGLE - _a "narrative of the voyage of
the tramp steamer_ Capella, _from Swansea to Para in the Brazils, and
thence two thousand miles along the forests of the Amazon and Madeira
Rivers to the San Antonio Falls," returning by Barbados, Jamaica, and
Tampa. Its author called it merely "an honest book of travel." It is
that no doubt; but in a degree so eminent, one is tempted to say that
an honest book of travel, when so conceived and executed, must surely
count among the noblest works of the literary artist._

_The great war provided almost unlimited work for men of letters, and
not seldom work that was almost as far from their ordinary business as
fighting itself. It carried Tomlinson into the guild of war
correspondents. In the early months he represented the paper to which
for some years he had been attached, the London_ Daily News. _Later,
under the co-operative scheme which emerged from the restrictive policy
adopted by all the belligerent governments, his dispatches came to be
shared among a partnership which included the London_ Times - _as odd an
arrangement for a man like Tomlinson as could well be imagined. It
would be foolish to attempt an estimate of his correspondence from
France. It was beautiful copy, but it was not war reporting. To those
of us who knew him it remained a marvel how he could do it at all. But
there was no marvel in the fact, attested by a notable variety of
witnesses, of Tomlinson as an influence and a memory, persisting until
the dispersal of the armies, as of one who was the friend of all, a
sweet and fine spirit moving untouched amid the ruin and terror,
expressing itself everywhere with perfect simplicity, and at times with
a shattering candor._

_From France he returned, midway in the war, to join the men who, under
the Command of H. W. Massingham, make the editorial staff of the
London_ Nation _the most brilliant company of journalists in the world.
His hand may be traced week by week in many columns and especially, in
alternate issues, on the page given up to the literary_ causerie.

_To the readers of books Tomlinson is known at present by_ THE SEA
AND THE JUNGLE _alone. The war, it may be, did something to retard
its fame. But the time is coming when none will dispute its right to
a place of exceptional honour among records of travel - alongside the
very few which, during the two or three decades preceding the general
overturn, had been added to the books of the great wayfaring
companions. It is remarkably unlike all others, in its union of
accurate chronicle with intimate self-revelation; and, although it is
the sustained expression of a mood, it is extremely quotable. I choose
as a single example this scene, from the description of the_ Capella's
_first day on the Para River._

_There was seldom a sign of life but the infrequent snowy herons,
and those curious brown fowl, the ciganas. The sun was flaming on
the majestic assembly of the storm. The warm air, broken by our
steamer, coiled over us in a lazy flux.... Sometimes we passed
single habitations on the water side. Ephemeral huts of palm-leaves
were forced down by the forest, which overhung them, to wade on
frail stilts. A canoe would be tied to a toy jetty, and on the
jetty a sad woman and several naked children would stand, with
no show of emotion, to watch us go by. Behind them was the
impenetrable foliage. I thought of the precarious tenure on earth
of these brown folk with some sadness, especially as the day was
going. The easy dominance of the wilderness, and man's intelligent
morsel of life resisting it, was made plain when we came suddenly
upon one of his little shacks secreted among the aqueous roots of a
great tree, cowering, as it were, between two of the giant's toes.
Those brown babies on the jetties never cheered us. They watched
us, serious and forlorn. Alongside their primitive huts were a few
rubber trees, which we knew by their scars. Late in the afternoon
we came to a large cavern in the base of the forest, a shadowy
place where at last we did see a gathering of the folk. A number of
little wooden crosses peeped above the floor in the hollow. The
sundering floods and the forest do not always keep these folk from
congregation, and the comfort of the last communion._

_If the reader is also a writer, he will feel the challenge of that
passage - its spiritual quality, its rhythm, its images. And he will
know what gifts of mind, and what toil, have gone to its making._

OLD JUNK _is not, in the same organic sense, a book. The sketches and
essays of which it is composed are of different years and, as a glance
will show, of a wide diversity of theme. The lover of the great book
will be at home with the perfect picture of the dunes, as well as with
the two brilliantly contrasted voyages; while none who can feel the
touch of the interpreter will miss the beauty of the pieces that may be
less highly wrought._

_As to Tomlinson's future I would not venture a prediction.
Conceivably, when the horror has become a memory that can be lived with
and transfused, he may write one of the living books enshrining the
experience of these last five years. But, just as likely he may not. I
subscribe, in ending this rough note, to a judgment recently delivered
by a fellow worker that among all the men writing in England today
there is none known to us whose work reveals a more indubitable sense
of the harmonies of imaginative prose._

S. K. RATCLIFFE.

_New York, Christmas, 1919._




CONTENTS


CHAPTER PAGE

FOREWORD BY S. K. RATCLIFFE 11

I. THE AFRICAN COAST 21

II. T HE CALL 47

III. OLD JUNK 58

IV. BED-BOOKS AND NIGHT-LIGHTS 65

V. TRANSFIGURATION 75

VI. THE PIT MOUTH 80

VII. INITIATION 86

VIII. THE ART OF WRITING 92

IX. A FIRST IMPRESSION 100

X. THE DERELICT 107

XI. THE VOYAGE OF THE _Mona_ 118

XII. THE LASCAR'S WALKING-STICK 136

XIII. THE EXTRA HAND 144

XIV. THE SOU'-WESTER 152

XV. ON LEAVE 157

XVI. THE DUNES 165

XVII. BINDING A SPELL 174

XVIII. A DIVISION ON THE MARCH 179

XIX. HOLLY-HO! 185

XX. THE RUINS 195

XXI. LENT, 1918 201




OLD JUNK




I. The African Coast


I

She is the steamship _Celestine_, and she is but a little lady. The
barometer has fallen, and the wind has risen to hunt the rain. I do not
know where _Celestine_ is going, and, what is better, do not care. This
is December and this is Algiers, and I am tired of white glare and
dust. The trees have slept all day. They have hardly turned a leaf. All
day the sky was without a flaw, and the summer silence outside the
town, where the dry road goes between hedges of arid prickly pears, was
not reticence but vacuity. But I sail tonight, and so the barometer is
falling, and I do not know where _Celestine_ will take me. I do not
care where I go with one whose godparents looked at her and called her
that.

There is one place called Jidjelli we shall see, and there is another
called Collo; and there are many others, whose names I shall never
learn, tucked away in the folds of the North African hills where they
come down to the sea between Algiers and Carthage. They will reveal
themselves as I find my way to Tripoli of Barbary. I am bound for
Tripoli, without any reason except that I like the name and admire
_Celestine_, who is going part of the journey.

But the barometer, wherever I am, seems to know when I embark. It
falls. When I went aboard the wind was howling through the shipping in
the harbour of Algiers. And again, _Celestine_ is French, and so we can
do little more than smile at each other to make visible the friendship
of our two great nations. A cable is clanking slowly, and sailors run
and shout in great excitement, doing things I can see no reason for,
because it is as dark and stormy as the forty days.

Algiers is a formless cluster of lower stars, and presently those stars
begin to revolve about us as though the wind really had got the sky
loose. The _Celestine_ is turning her head for the sea. The stars then
speed by our masts and funnel till the last is gone. Good-bye, Algiers!

_Celestine_ begins to curtsy, and at last becomes somewhat hysterical.
At night, in a high wind, she seems but a poor little body to be out
alone, with me. Tripoli becomes more remote than I thought it to be in
the early afternoon, when the French sailor talked to me in a café
while he drank something so innocently pink that it could not account
altogether for his vivacity and sudden open friendship for a shy alien.
He wanted me to elope with _Celestine_. He wanted to show me his
African shore, to see his true Mediterranean. I had travelled from
Morocco to Algiers, and was tired of tourist trains, historic ruins,
hotels, Arabs selling picture-postcards and worse, and girls dancing
the dance of the Ouled-Nails to the privileged who had paid a few
francs to see them do it. I had observed that tranquil sea; and in
places, as at Oran, had seen in the distance terraces of coloured rock
poised in enchantment between a blue ceiling and a floor of malachite.

That sea is now on our port beam. It goes before an inshore gale, and
lifts us high, turns us giddy with a sudden betrayal and descent; and
does it again, and again. Africa has vanished. Where Algiers probably
was there are but several frail stars far away in the dark that soar in
a hurry, and then collapse into the deep and are doused.

But here is le Capitaine. There is no need, of course, to be anxious
for _Celestine_. If her master is not a sailor, then all the signs are
wrong. He looks at me roguishly. Ah! His ship rolls. But the mistake,
it is not his. What would I have? She was built in England. _Voilà!_

He is a little dark man, with quick, questioning eyes, and hair like a
clothesbrush. His short alert hair, his raised and querulous eyebrows,
his taut moustaches, and a bit of beard that hangs like a dagger from
his under lip, give him the appearance of constant surprise and
fretfulness. When he is talking to me he is embarrassingly playful - but
I shall show him presently, with fair luck, that my inelastic Saxon
putty can transmute itself, can also volatilise in abandonment to
sparkling nonsense; yet not tonight - not tonight, monsieur. He is so
gay and friendly to me whenever he sees me. But when one of the staff
does that which is not down in the book, I become alarmed. Monsieur
bangs the table till the cruet-stoppers leap out, and his eyes are
unpleasant. Yes, he is the master. He rises, and shakes his forefinger
at the unfortunate till his hand is a quivering haze and his speech a
blast. "Ou - e - e - eh!" cries the skipper at last, when the unfortunate
is on the run.

He has an idea I cannot read the menu, so when an omelette is served he
informs me, in case I should suppose it is a salad. He makes helpful
farmyard noises. There is no mistaking eggs. There is no mistaking
pork. But I think he has the wrong pantomime for the ship's beef,
unless French horses have the same music as English cows. After the
first dinner, I was indiscreet enough to refuse the cognac with the
coffee. "Ah!" he chided, smiling with craft, and shaking a knowing
finger at me. He could read my native weakness. I was discovered.
"Viskee! You 'ave my viskee!" A dreadful doubt seized me, and I would
have refused, but repressed my panic, and pretended he had found my
heart.

He rose, and shouted a peremptory order. A little private cabinet was
opened. A curious bottle was produced, having a deadly label in red,
white, and green. "Viskee!" cried the captain in exultation. (My God!)
"Aha!" said the reader of my hidden desire, pouring out the tipple for
which he imagines I am perishing in stoic British silence. "Viskee!" I
drain off, with simulated delight, my large dose of methylated spirit.
Not for worlds would I undeceive the good fellow, not if this were
train-oil. He laughs aloud at our secret insular weakness. He knows it.
But he is our very good friend.

All is not finished with the whisky. Out comes the master's English
Grammar, for he is wishful to know us better before I leave him. And he
shall. To this Frenchman I determine to be nobler than I was made. I
think I would teach him English all the way to Cochin-China. He writes
in his notebook, very slowly, while his tongue comes out to look on, a
sentence like this: "The nombres Française, they are most easy that the
English language." Then I put him right; and then he rises, reaches his
hands up to my shoulders, looks earnestly in my eyes, and la-las my
National Anthem. It may please God not to let me look so foolish as I
feel while I wait for the end of that tune; but I doubt that it does.


II

Early next morning we arrived at Bougie, to get an hour's peace with
the arm of the harbour thrown about my poor _Celestine_. The deck of a
Grimsby trawler discharging fish in the Humber on a wet December
morning is no more desolating than was the look of _Celestine_ under
the mountains of Bougie; and Bougie, if you have a memory for the
coloured posters, is in the blue Mediterranean. But do I grumble? I do
not. With all the world but slops, cold iron, and squalls of sleet, I
prefer _Celestine_ to Algiers.

Most likely you have never heard of the black Mediterranean. It is
usual to go there in winter, and write about it with a date-palm in
every paragraph, till you have got all the health and enjoyment there
is in the satisfaction of telling others that while they are choosing
cough cures you are under a sunshade on the coral strand. The truth is,
the Middle Sea in December can be as ugly as the Dogger Bank. There
were some Arab deck passengers on our coaster. One of them sat looking
at a deck rivet as motionless as a fakir, and his face had the
complexion of a half-ripe watermelon. His fellow-sufferers were only
heaps of wet and dirty linen dumped in the lee alley-way. It was bad
enough in a bunk, where you could brace your knees against the side,
and keep moderately still till you dozed off, when naturally you were
shot out sprawling into the lost drainage wandering on the erratic
floor. What those Arabs suffered on deck I cannot tell you. I never
went up to find out. At Bougie they seemed to have left it all to
Allah, with the usual result. It was clear, from a glance at those
piles of rags, that the Arab is no more native to Algeria than the
Esquimaux. I was much nearer home than the Arabs. That shining coast
which occasionally I had surprised from Oran, which seemed afloat on
the sea, was no longer a vision of magic, the unsubstantial work of
Iris, an illusionary cloud of coral, amber, and amethyst. It was the
bare bones of this old earth, as sombre and foreboding as any ruin of
granite under the wrack of the bleak north.

As for Bougie, these African villages are built but for bright
sunlight. They change to miserable and filthy ruins in the rain, their
white walls blotched and scabrous, and their paths mud tracks between
the styes. Their lissom and statuesque inhabitants become softened and
bent, and pad dejectedly through the muck as though they were ashamed
to live, but had to go on with it. The palms which look so well in
sunny pictures are besoms up-ended in a drizzle. They have not that
equality with the storm which makes the Sussex beech and oak, heavily
based and strong-armed, stand with a look of might and roar at the
charges of the Channel gale. By this you will see that Bougie must wait
until I call that way again. From the look of the sky, too, there is no
doubt we are in for a spell of the kind of weather I never expected to
meet in Africa. I was a stranger there, but I knew the language of
those squadrons of dark clouds driving into the bay.

The northern sky was full of their gloomy keels. There were intervals
when the full expanse of Bougie Bay became visible, with its concourse
of mountains crowded to the shore. At the base of the dark declivities
the combers were bursting, and the spume towered on the gale like grey
smoke. Out of the foam rose harsh rubble and screes to incline against
broken precipices, and those stark walls were interrupted by mid-air
slopes of grass which appeared ready to avalanche into the tumult
below, but remained, livid areas of a dim mass which rose into dizzy
pinnacles and domes, increasing the tumbling menace of the sky. A fleet
of clouds of deep draught ran into Africa from the north; went aground
on those crags, were wrecked and burst, their contents streaming from
them and hiding the aerial reef on which they had struck. The land
vanished, till only Bougie and its quay and the _Celestine_ remained,
with one last detached fragment of mountain high over us. That, too,
dissolved. There was only our steamer and the quay at last.

I thought our master would not dare to put out from there, but he cared
as little for the storm as for the steward. His last bales were no
sooner in the lighters than he made for Jidjelli. But Jidjelli daunted
even him. The nearer we got, the worse it looked. My own feeling was
that the gathering seas had taken charge of our scallop, a cork in the
surf, and were pitching her, helpless, towards terrible walls built of
night out of a base of thunder and bursting waters. I gripped a rail,
and saw a vague range of summits appear above the nearing walls and
steadily develop towards distinction. Then the howling gale began to
scream, the ceiling lowered and darkened, and merged with the rocks,
reducing the world but to our _Celestine_ in the midst of near flashes
of white in an uproar. When presently a little daylight came into chaos
to give it shape again, there was an inch of hail on our deck, and the
mountains had been changed to white marble. We saw a red light burn low
in the place where Jidjelli ought to be, a signal that it was
impossible to enter. Our skipper put about.

That is all I know of Jidjelli, and all I wanted to know on such an
evening. The sound of the surf on the rocks was better to hear when it
was not so close. We followed that coast all night while I lay awake,
shaking to the racing of the propeller; and I blessed the unknown
engineers of the North Country who took forethought of nights of that
kind when doing their best for _Celestine_; for, though bruised, I
still loved her above Algiers and Timgad. She had character, she had
set her course, and she was holding steadily to it, and did not pray
the uncompassionate to change its face.


III

For more than a week we washed about in the surf of a high, dark coast
towards Tunis. We might have been on the windward side of Ultima Thule.
Supposing you could have been taken miraculously from your fogs and
midday lamps of London, and put with me in the _Celestine_, and told
that that sullen land looming through the murk could be yours, if you
could guess its name, then you would have guessed nothing below the
fortieth parallel.

No matter; when you were told, you would have laughed at your loss. Now
you understood why it was called the Dark Continent. It looked the home
of slavery, murder, rhinoceroses, the Congo, war, human sacrifices, and
gorillas. It had the forefront of the world of skulls and horrors,
ultimatums, mining concessions, chains, and development. Its rulers
would be throned on bone-heaps. You will say (of course you will say)
that I saw Africa like that because I was weary of the place. Not at
all. I was merely looking at it. The feeling had been growing on me
since first I saw Africa at Oran, where I landed. The longer I stay,
the more depressed I get.

This has nothing to do with the storm. This African shadow does not
chill you because you wish you were home, and home is far away. It does
not come of your rare and lucky idleness, in which you have to do
nothing but enjoy yourself; generally a sufficient reason for
melancholy, though rarely so in my own case. No, Africa itself is the
reason. There is an invisible emanation from its soil, the aura of evil
in antiquity. You cannot see it, at first you are unaware it is there,
and cannot know, therefore, what is the matter with you. This haunting
premonition is different from mere wearying and boredom. It gets worse,
the longer you stay; it goes deeper than sadness, it descends into a
conviction of something that is without hope, that is bad in its
nature, and unrepentant in its arrogant heart. When you have got so far
down you have had time to discover what that is which has put you so
low. The day may be radiant, the sky just what you had hoped to find in
Africa, and the people in the market-place a lively and chromatic
jangle; but the shadow of what we call inhumanity (when we are trying
to persuade ourselves that humanity is something very different) chills
and darkens the heart.

Yet the common sky of North Africa might be the heaven of the first
morning, innocent of knowledge that night is to come. It is not a hard


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