R. H. Bruce Lockhart
"Bulan trang, bintang berchahaya;
Burong gagá mêmakan padi.
Kêlan Tuan ti' ada perchaya,
Bêlah dadá mêllihat hati."
(The moon is clear. The stars shine bright above.
The crow is feeding in the rice apart.
If Thou, my Lord, misdoubt my plighted love,
Come, cleave my breast and see my wounded heart.)
IN my stormy and chequered life Chance has played more than her fair part. The fault has been my own. Never at any time have I tried to be the complete master of my own fate. The strongest impulse of the moment has governed all my actions. When chance has raised me to dazzling heights, I have received her gifts with outstretched hands. When she has cast me down from my high pinnacle, I have accepted her buffets without complaint. I have my hours of penance and regret. I am introspective enough to take an interest in the examination of my own conscience. But this self-analysis has always been detached. It has never been morbid. It has neither aided nor impeded the fluctuations of my varied career.
It has availed me nothing in the eternal struggle which man wages on behalf of himself against himself. Disappointments have not cured me of an ineradicable romanticism. If at times I am sorry for some things I have done, remorse assails me only for the things I have left undone.
I was born in Anstruther in the county of Fife on September 2nd, 1887. My father was a preparatory schoolmaster, who migrated to England in 1906. My mother was a Macgregor. My ancestors include Bruces, Hamiltons, Cummings, Wallaces and Douglases, and I can trace a connection back to Boswell of Auchinleck. There is no drop of English blood in my veins.
My childhood memories are of little interest to any one except myself. My father was a keen Rugby football player and a member of the Scottish Rugby Union Selection Committee. My mother's brothers were well-known Scottish athletes. I therefore received my first "rugger" ball at the age of four and, under the tuition of various Scottish Internationals, could drop a goal almost as soon as I could walk. What is stranger is the fact that my father, who was no player, was also an ardent cricket enthusiast. When my third brother was born, I clapped my hands and exclaimed delightedly: "Now we shall have one to bat, one to bowl, and one to keep wicket!" Then, repairing to the kitchen, I stole a raw beefsteak and placed it in his cradle in order that he might the quicker develop bone and muscle. I was seven at the time!
In other respects, my education was normal. I received my fair share of corporal punishment---chiefly for playing football or cricket on the Sabbath, which my father observed strictly. At the age of twelve I gained a foundation scholarship at Fettes, where I spent five years in the worship of athleticism. This exaggerated devotion to games interfered sadly with my studies. In my first term at Fettes I was first in the Latin sentence paper set for the whole school, with the exception of the VIth form, and corrected by the headmaster himself. During the rest of my school career I was never again within the first fifty, and, although I succeeded in reaching the VIth form, I was a grievous disappointment to my parents. In order to rid me of an unwholesome fetish, my father sent me to Berlin instead of allowing me to go to Cambridge, where a few years later my second brother was to distinguish himself by obtaining two Blues, forfeiting in the process the first-class "honours" in modern languages which otherwise he almost certainly would have secured.
To Germany and to Professor Tilley I owe much. Tilley was an Australian who had become more Prussian than the Prussians, even to the extent of dropping the "e" from his name and signing himself after the manner of the great German soldier of fortune. His methods were spartan and pitiless, but he showed me how to work---a virtue which, in spite of many backslidings, I have never entirely lost. He taught me two other valuable lessons---respect for institutions and customs other than English and the secret of mastering foreign languages. The first has helped me out all through my life in my relations with foreigners. The second was to stand me in good stead when seven years later I went to Russia. If Tilley is still alive, I hope he will see this tribute to his thoroughness. In my life his was the one influence which I can describe as wholly beneficial.
From Berlin I was sent to Paris, where I came under the influence of that good and godly man, Paul Passy. From him I acquired an excellent French accent and my first insight into Welsh revivalist methods. Passy, who was the son of Frédéric Passy, the eminent French jurist and pacifist, was the gentlest of Calvinists. As a young man he had wanted to be a missionary and, serious in all things, he had trained himself for his arduous career by eating rats. An affection of the lungs prevented this great scholar from burying himself in the wilds of China or the remoter South Sea Islands. The heathens' loss became science's gain, and today the name of Passy is linked eternally with the names of Sweet and Viëtor in the honours list of the pioneers of modern phonetics. In spite of his absorption in his linguistic studies, Passy never abandoned his good works or his reclamation of sinners. When first I knew him, he was under the influence of Evan Roberts, the Welsh evangelist, and for the only time in a varied career I had the strange experience of appearing on the platform and singing Welsh revivalist hymns in French before a Paris slum audience. Passy said the prayers and played the harmonium with three fingers, while I sang the solos supported by a chorus of three trembling English students.
If life is a succession of accidents, the series in my own life has been rapid. After three years in France and Germany, I returned to England in order to undergo a final preparation for the Indian Civil Service. Fate and my own genius for drifting ruled otherwise. In 1908, my uncle, one of the pioneers of the rubber-growing industry in the Malay States, came home from the East and fired my imagination with wonderful tales of the fortunes that were to be made almost for the asking in that elusive and enchanting land. Already the travel-bug had entered my blood, and in my desire for new worlds and new adventures, I decided to throw in my lot with the rubber-planters and to go East.
My student days in Berlin and Paris had been serious and blameless. In Germany a passionate devotion to Heine---even today I can recite by heart most of the Intermezzo and the Heimkehr---inspired me with an innocent attachment to the daughter of a German naval officer. I sailed my boat on Wannsee by moonlight. I sighed over my Pilsener on the terrace of a Schlachtensee café. I sang---in the presence of her mother---the latest and most romantic Viennese and Berlin Lieder. And I mastered the German language. But there were no adventures, no escapades, no excesses. In France I steeped myself in the exotic sentimentalism of Loti, whom I once met and whose eccentricities and mincing manners failed to cure me of an admiration which I feel to this day for the charm and beauty of his prose. But my tears were shed over "Les Désenchantées" in solitude. I learnt the farewell letter of Djénane by heart. Three years later it was to be of good service to me in my examination for the Consular Service. But I learnt it for the mortification of my own soul. I made no attempt to imitate the long series of "Mariages de Loti." Now the East was to lead me along the broad highway of her unrestricted temptations.
N0 journey will ever give me the same enchantment as that first voyage to Singapore. It remains in the memory as a delicious day-dream in which I can recall every incident and which never fails to console me in moments of sadness. Far more clearly than the numerous travelling companions I have since met, I can see in my mind's eye the captain, the smoking-room steward, the deck hands, the obese and romantic purser, and the three German naval officers who were my only serious rivals for first place in the deck sports. But the real magic of that journey was. in the kaleidoscope of wonderful colours and haunting landscapes which every twenty-four hours was unfolded before my eyes. This pageant I enjoyed for myself and by myself. I rose in the dark to catch that first flutter of the breeze which heralds the approach of the Eastern dawn and waited with a delicious tremor of anticipation until the great fire-ball of the sun burst through the pall of greyness and revealed where sky ended and the calmest of seas began. Alone in the bows I watched the saffron-tinted sunsets with their changing panoramas of ships and armies, of kings and castles, of knights and fair women, of adventures far more enthralling and vivid than the most thrilling film-story. I was only twenty-one, and my thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. I devoured every travel-book on which I could lay my hands. Some of the books I read then are still among my greatest treasures. Jules Boissière's "Fumeurs d'Opium" remains the best book of its kind that I know. Others, like Swettenham's "Unaddressed Letters," which bears its date on every page, seem almost comic today. Then, however, they were tremendously real. Lod was my hero, and like Lod I wrapped myself in a mantle of melancholy solitude. At ports I fled instinctively from my countrymen and, unaccompanied by any fawning guide, explored at random what I conceived to be the native quarters. With the exception of Victor Corkran, who, years older than myself, probably found a whimsical pleasure in drawing me out and in listening to the extravagant dreams and confident ambitions of an all-too-conceited, because self-conscious, youth, I made few friends. Nevertheless, he was kind, and concealed his amusement behind a mask of sympathy. He had travelled widely and knew strange scraps of history and folk-lore which were not to be found in guidebooks. On board the Buelow he was a Roman in a horde of Goths, and today I am grateful to him for many a valuable lesson which, doubtless, he was unaware that he was imparting.
Above all, I learned to appreciate the beauty of warm colours and luxuriant vegetation. An orchid in the Malayan jungle meant more, means more to me today, than the most beautiful "cattleya" on the breast of the most beautiful woman. The glowing warmth of the tropical sun became a necessity to my physical existence and a stimulant to my mind. Even today I cannot think of those cloudless Eastern skies, those long stretches of golden sand with their background of cooling palms and lofty casuarinas without a feeling of longing which is almost akin to physical pain. Like Fauconnier's hero I have come to believe that every country where a man cannot live naked in all seasons is condemned to work, to war, and to the hampering restraint of moral codes. Today, the fogs of an English winter are to me as grim a nightmare as the walls of my Bolshevik prison.
And yet in this Malaya, which I love, which remains as the pleasantest regret in my life, and which I shall never see again, I was a failure. On my arrival in Singapore I was sent as a "creeper" to a rubber plantation outside Port Dickson. Earth knows no gem more beautiful than this tiny harbour which lies at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca. At that time it was unspoilt by the intrusion of the white man. The climate was almost perfect. Its coast-line was like an opal changing in colour with every angle of the sun. The stillness of its nights, broken only by the gentle lapping of the sea on the casuarina-crested shore, brought a peace which I shall never know again.
I enjoyed every minute of my year there. But I was an indifferent planter. The pungent odour of the Tamil coolies I could not abide. I learnt enough of their language to carry out my duties. Today, beyond stock-phrases of command and a string of oaths, I have forgotten every word. The Chinese, with their automatic accuracy, made no appeal to me, and the actual estate work, the filling in of check rolls, the keeping of accounts, bored me. My head-manager, a brother-in-law of the late Lord Forteviot, was easy-going and benevolent to my shortcomings. Very quickly I entered into the life of the British planter. I learnt to drink the inevitable "stengah" [Whisky and soda] . Once a month I went with my chief to the neighbouring town of Seremban and imbibed vast quantities of gin "pahits" in the Sungei Ujong Club. At week-ends I travelled about the country playing football and hockey and making hosts of new acquaintances. The hospitality of the Malaya of those golden, prosperous days of 1908 was for a youngster almost overwhelming, and few there were who survived it unscathed.
During my stay at Port Dickson I had one minor triumph, the echo of which I hear faintly to this day.
Within a few months of my arrival in the country, I went up to Kuala Lumpur to play "rugger" for my State, Negri Sembilan, against Selangor. Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Selangor and of the Federated Malay States. Selangor itself has the largest white population of any State and, at that time, its "rugger" side contained several international players including that gargantuan and good-natured Scot, "Bobby" Neill. In those days Negri Sembilan could hardly muster fifteen "rugger" players. Certainly, we had never beaten Selangor, and I doubt if we had ever beaten any other state. Notwithstanding the climate, "rugger" is the most popular of all spectacles in Malaya, and, in spite of the apparent disparity in strength between the two sides, a large gathering of Europeans and natives turned out to see the match, which was played on the Kuala Lumpur Padang. Those who witnessed this classic encounter were rewarded with one of the greatest surprises in the history of sport. The match was played about Christmas time, and Selangor were not in training. Perhaps they rated their opponents a little too lightly. At any rate at half-time Selangor were leading by a try and a penalty goal dropped by the ponderous "Bobby" to a try scored by myself. Soon after the beginning of the second half, it was obvious that Selangor were tiring, and the crowd---a Selangor crowd---delighted at the prospect of a surprise victory, cheered us on. I was fortunate enough to score a second try, and with five minutes to go the scores were level. Then, from a line-out, a big New Zealander, who had played a sterling game for us, threw the ball back to me, and from just inside half-way I dropped a goal.
We had perpetrated the greatest joke for years, and the Selangor team and the spectators were sportsmen enough to appreciate it. I was carried off the field in triumph to the "Spotted Dog," the once famous club which stands on the edge of the Padang. There I was surrounded by a host of people whose names I did not know, but who were old Fettesians---Scotsmen, who knew my brother or my father, and who slapped me on the back and insisted on standing me a drink. Long before dinner time I must have had a drink, perhaps several drinks, with nearly every one in the room. By the time I arrived at the F.M.S. Hotel, where an official dinner was being given to the two teams, both teams and guests were in their places. I was met at the door by "Bobby" Neill, who informed me that the chair was being taken by the acting Resident-General, and that I had been unanimously voted into the place of honour on his right-hand at the top table. This was my first experience of the limelight of publicity, and I did not like the ordeal. My crowning achievement, however, was my conversation with the R.G., to whom I talked like a father of my experiences in the East. They must have been too vividly described, for he informed me reprovingly that he was a married man.
"Tamil or Malay, sir?" I asked him politely.
"Hush!" he said. "I've three children."
"Black or white, sir?" I continued with irrepressible affability.
Fortunately, he had a sense of humour and a blind eye for the failings of twenty-one, and, when next year's match came round, he asked me to stay with him, came to see me play, and in his speech referred to me---alas! no longer the fleet-footed speed-merchant of the previous year---as "faint yet pursuing."
That fitful triumph had an unpleasant sequel. As the youngest and, therefore, most insignificant and innocent member of the visiting team, I had been quartered with the parson, a fine athlete but a trifle strait-laced---especially for a padre in the tropics. Kuala Lumpur, like Rome, being built on seven hills, I had some difficulty in finding the good man's bungalow in the early hours of the morning. Thanks, however, to the faithful "Bobby" and to other kind friends I was steered safely to my room, and by a great effort I succeeded in putting in an appearance at breakfast the next morning---Sunday morning with a three-course Sunday breakfast to celebrate it! Cold water had done wonders, and I looked not too bad, but my voice had gone. As I croaked out my answers to a fusillade of questions regarding my health and how I had slept, Mrs. Padre looked at me pityingly:
"Ah, Mr. Lockhart," she said, "I told you, if you did not put your sweater on after the game, you would get a chill."
With that she rushed from the table and brought me a glass of cough-mixture, which in that spirit of shyness, which even to this day I have never quite overcome. I was too weak to refuse. The result was instantaneous, and without a word I rushed from the room. Never before, or since, have I suffered as I suffered on that Sunday morning. I often wonder how much Mrs. Padre knew. If she intended to teach me a lesson, the rewards of the schoolmaster can never have been sweeter.
These wild excursions, however, were but episodes in a life which in spite of the monotony of my work provided me with countless new interests. The Malay gentleman at large, with his profound contempt for work, made an instant appeal to me. I liked his attitude to life, his philosophy. A man who could fish and hunt, who knew the mysteries of the rivers and forests, who could speak in metaphors and make love in "pantuns," was a man after my own heart. I learnt his language with avidity. I studied his customs and history. I found romance in the veiled mystery of his women-folk. I devoted to my Malays the energy and enthusiasm which should have been expended on the Tamil and Chinese coolies of my rubber estate. Despising the unintellectual existence of the planter, I sought my friends among the younger government officials. I showed them my poems. They invited me to admire their water-colours. There was one soulful young man---today he has reached the heights of Colonial eminence---with whom I played duets on the piano.
I made friends, too, with the Roman Catholic missionaries ---splendid fellows, voluntarily cutting themselves off from Europe and even from the Europeans in the East and devoting their whole life to tending their native flock and to reclaiming and educating the half-caste population.
In the columns of the local newspaper I made my first essay in journalism, and, although my morbid efforts to expose the Japanese traffic in fallen women met with little favour, I achieved editorial recognition and a demand for more work of a similar nature as a result of a leader on the defects of Esperanto. Above all, I read, and read seriously. The average planter's library might contain a varied selection of the prose and poetry of Kipling, but its chief stand-by in those days was the works of Hubert Wales and James Blyth. I do not know what authors have taken their place today, but to me Hubert Wales was neither lurid nor instructive. I made a rule never to buy a novel, and to the weekly packet of serious literature which I received from Singapore I owe my sanity and my escape from the clutches of the Eastern Trinity of opium, drink and women. All three were to spread the net of their temptations over me, but reading saved me from the worst effects of a combined offensive.
Twas my youthful craving for solitude which led me finally into serious trouble. I was always tormenting my uncle with requests for a job on my own. At last I was sent to open up a new estate at the foot of the hills. The place, which for over a year was to be my home, was ten miles away from any European habitation. No white man had ever lived there before. The village on which my estate bordered was the headquarters of a Sultan who had been deposed and who was, therefore, not too friendly towards the English. My house, too, was a ramshackle affair, verandahless and, although slightly better than the ordinary Malay house, in no sense of the word a European bungalow. A death-rate for malaria unequalled in the whole State did not enhance the attractions of the place. My only links with civilisation were a push-bike and the Malay police corporal who lived two miles away. Nevertheless, I was as happy as a mahout with a new elephant. During the day my time was fully occupied. I had to make something out of nothing, an estate out of jungle, to build a house for myself, to make roads and drains where none existed. There were, too, minor problems of administration which were a source of constant interest and amusement to me: Malay contractors who had an excuse for every backsliding; Tamil wives who practised polyandry on a strictly practical basis---two days for each of their three husbands and a rest on Sundays; an outraged "Vullimay" who complained that "Ramasamy" had stolen his day; Chinese shopkeepers who drove hard bargains with my storekeeper, and Bombay "chetties" who stood round on pay day and held my coolies in their usurious clutch.
With this mixed collection I held sway as the sole representative of the British Raj. I dispensed justice without fear or favour, and, if there were complaints against my authority, they never reached my ears. During these first four months I was entirely care-free. I worked hard at my Malay. I wrote short stories which subsequently earned the unsolicited encomiums of Clement Shorter and were published in the "Sphere." I began a novel on Malay life---alas, never finished and now never likely to be---and I continued my reading with praiseworthy diligence. For amusement there was football and shooting and fishing. I felled a piece of land, laid out a football ground, and initiated the Malays of the village into the mysteries of "Soccer." In that glorious hour before sunset I shot "punai," the small Malay blue pigeon, as they were flighting. I dabbed for "ikanharouan"---the coarse fish of the Malayan rice-ponds---with a small live frog to take the place of a daddy-long-legs. Marvellous to relate, I made friends with the deposed Sultan and especially with his wife, the real ruler of the royal household and a wizened up old lady with betel-stained lips and an eye that would strike terror into the boldest heart. Rumour had it that she had committed every crime in the penal code and many offences against God and man which were not included in that list of human shortcomings. She was, however, the Queen Victoria of her district, and, although we subsequently became enemies, I bear her no grudge.
Among my own household I acquired an entirely unmerited reputation as a revolver shot. My primitive bungalow was infested with rats, which during meal-times would run down a round beam from the palm-thatched roof to the floor. My little fox terrier would then rout them out, while I stood with a rattan cane in my hand to knock the rats down as they ran up the beam again. I killed scores of them in this manner. Still better fun was shooting them with a revolver as they crawled out from the "ataps" on to the ledge of the wall and sat staring at me impudently. This practice certainly improved my shooting. Then came the great day which was to invest me in native eyes with the magic skill of a wizard.
The whole estate, including my own bungalow, was served by a large well, round and deep, with great cracks in its earthy sides between the water and the surface. One morning, as I was breakfasting in solitary state, there was a fiendish gibbering in the compound outside my office door. The chatter of many tongues was accompanied by a chorus of women's wails. Infuriated, I rushed out to discover the reason for this matitudinal interlude. A Tamil coolie was lying groaning on the ground. Two hundred of his compatriots surrounded him, shrieking, explaining, imploring. A batch of Malays and the whole of my Chinese household stood round to offer advice and see the end of the tragedy. The unfortunate. wretch had been bitten by a snake. In jerks and pieces and with many contradictions, the wildly excited crowd told its story. There was a cobra---a giant cobra. It was in the well. It had built its nest in a crack in the side. It was a female. There would be eggs and then young. The well was unapproachable, Armagam had been bitten. The master must build a new well at once. With the aid of the estate dispenser I lanced the two tiny blue punctures in the wretch's leg, cauterised the wound, gave him a bottle of gin, and sent him off in a bullock cart to the hospital twelve miles away. (He recovered!) Then, accompanied by two Tamil "Kenganies" and the Malay overseer, I went out to examine the well. My rifle was still at Port Dickson. My gun I had lent to the District Officer at Jelebu. My only weapon was my rat-shooting revolver. At the well all was still. The Tamil "Kengany" pointed out the hole some eight feet down, in which the cobra had made her home, and with a long bamboo pole my Malay overseer hammered at the entrance. Then life moved with cinematic swiftness. There was a warning hiss. A black hood showed itself at the hole, raised an angry head, and sent my companions running for their lives. I took careful aim, fired and likewise retreated. There was a commotion from the well. Then all was still. I had shot the cobra through the head. In its death struggle it had fallen from its hole into the water. The victim of my wizardry was exposed to the public gaze and to the public awe. My reputation was made. In future I could go anywhere.
It was a fortunate chance, because the nearest way to Seremban and civilisation lay through a Chinese mining village with a bad reputation for gang-robberies. Already my bank clerk had been held up by "Kheh" desperadoes, who, disappointed with the contents of his wallet, had cut off his finger as the most convenient means of removing his ring.
To this danger I was no longer exposed. Even in the mining village it was well known (1) that I could shoot rats and cobras with a single bullet, (2) that I never travelled without my revolver, and (3) that I never carried money. I travelled, therefore, in peace. I confess, however, that nothing in life has thrilled me quite so much as riding an ordinary push-bike through the jungle in the middle of the night. This ordeal, terrifying and yet enchantingly mysterious, was my experience every time I went into the chief town and stayed for dinner. As I had to be on my estate before six o'clock the next morning, I used to set out on the return journey about midnight. From the fourth to the tenth milestone I did not pass a single house and for six miles I rode for dear life through a forest of giant trees which in the moonlight cast fantastic shapes and shadows across my path. In the distance, like King Solomon's mountains, loomed the hills of Jelebu, mysterious, intimate and yet unfriendly. In the face of this unknown world, which quickened my senses, until like the soldier in the fairy-tale I could put my ear to the ground and hear people whispering some miles away, I was afraid, but there was fascination in my fear. Always I was glad when I reached home. But never was I too afraid to accept a dinner invitation in Seremban or to face the journey home through the jungle. It was a good apprenticeship for Bolshevik Russia. Familiarity soon conquers fear. I grew used to the nightly concert of owls and night-jars. Occasionally, I heard a tiger roaring to its mate. Once I nearly ran into a black panther. But these were rare interludes, and in the end, although I never quite conquered the feelings of eerieness, my fears left me.
I was now to seek other adventures. I have said that I cultivated good relations with the deposed Sultan and his wife. My diplomacy bore fruit, and shortly before the fast of Ramazan I received an invitation to a "rong-geng"---a kind of dancing competition at which the professional dancing girls dance and sing Malay love quatrains. And as they sing, they throw challenges to the would-be poets and dancers among the local youth. To the European it is not a particularly enthralling performance. The dancers do not dance in couples, but shuffle side by side, the man endeavouring to follow the steps of the professional lady. To the Malay, however, it is a romantic adventure with an irresistible sex appeal. Occasionally, a young man, his blood heated to boiling point, will lose all restraint and try to hurl himself on one of the girls. Then the local bodyguard steps into action and the delinquent is removed forcibly from the arena for the rest of the evening. He is disgraced but envied.
A model of decorum and European propriety, I sat between the Sultan and his virile spouse. The Sultan, old and shrivelled, maintained a dignified silence. His activities were confined to plying me with sweet lemonade and whiskey. His virago was more voluble. She discoursed to me on the wickedness of the younger generation and, particularly, of the young women. I enjoyed her conversation. According to local report she had been the wickedest woman of her own generation. Her lovers had been as numerous as the seeds of a mangosteen, but none had ventured to criticise her conduct or to exert the customary Malay rights of a jealous husband or paramour. Even then, with her betel-stained lips and her wrinkled face, she was more than a match for any man. She reminded me of Gagool in "King Solomon's Mines" and inspired me with the same awe and respect.
On the whole, however, it was a tedious entertainment. I did not dare to turn my head to inspect the ladies of the "istana" who, with "sarongs" drawn over their heads, revealing only their dark, mysterious eyes, stood behind me. I retired early, determined to requite the hospitality I had received by a far more gorgeous spectacle. The next morning I engaged from a neighbouring state two "rong-geng" girls, whose beauty was a byword even in this remote village. I cleared a space in my own compound, erected seats and a miniature grandstand, and sent out invitations broadcast for the following week.
The village, headed by the Court, turned up in full force. In the moonlight the bright "sarongs" of the Malays acquired a new and strange splendour. The palm-trees, still as the night itself, cast a ghostly shadow over the earthen floor. Myriads of stars shone from the dark blue canopy of heaven. It was a ballet setting, of which Bakst himself might have been proud, and with the removal of the first restraint my guests gave themselves up to full enjoyment of the sensuous scene! To add lustre to my own brilliance, I had invited the Commissioner of Police, a genial Irishman, whom with some trepidation I placed between the Sultan and his wife. I was thus free to organise the proceedings and to superintend the arrangements for my guests. And then I saw her. She was standing among the ladies of the "istana"---a radiant vision of brown loveliness in a batik skirt and a red silk coat. A "sarong" of blue and red squares was drawn over her head, exposing only the tiniest oval of a face and eyes which were as unfathomable as the night.
THERE are moments in life which photograph themselves indelibly on the brain. This was such a moment---what the French call the coup de foudre. I have been in one of the worst earthquakes in Japan. I have seen Tsarist ministers shot before my eyes as a premonitory example of what my own fate was to be if I did not speak the truth. I have had the roof lifted off my house by a "Sumatra." But none of these cataclysms was as tremendous or as shattering as the first explosion of love in my heart when I saw Amai. I was twenty-three. I had spent four years in France and Germany. I had been through my calf love, but I had had no affairs, no dangerous attachments. I had been living for six months in splendid isolation from my fellow countrymen. I had not spoken to a white woman for over a year. Steeped in an unhealthy romanticism, I was ripe for temptation. My life was abnormal enough for me to take my temptation with tragic seriousness. And serious it was in its consequences to both of us, changing the course of both our lives.
For the rest of that evening I was in a fever. A fierce longing to be rid of my guests consumed me. I left the Sultan and his malignant wife to the cares of the Commissioner and, crossing to the other side of the arena, I walked up and down, staring across at the frail beauty of this Malayan girl, who had so suddenly disturbed the monotony of my life. Just above her head there was a torchlight, which seemed to shine on her alone, making her stand out like a pearl on a black background. And, indeed, she was passing fair for a Malay, her skin being far lighter than the skin of the peasant women who worked in the fields. I was soon to discover why.
Letting impatience get the better of discretion, I summoned Si Woh, my Malay headman, whom I had brought from Singapore and whose relations with the villagers were none too good.
"The girl standing behind the Sultan---who is she?" I whispered fiercely.
His face never changed. Slowly he swept the arena with his eyes as though following the movements of the dancers. He showed no astonishment. He roused no suspicion. Then, talking as though he was discussing some detail of estate work, he answered slowly:
"The crow does not mate with the bird of Paradise. That is Amai, the Sultan's ward. She is married and is about to divorce her husband. When the divorce is through, she will be married to the Sultan's cousin."
I waited impatiently until the last guest had gone. Then, with my new knowledge adding to my ardour, I unburdened myself to my Commissioner friend. His warning was more explicit than Si Woh's. In a few terse sentences he told me to put Amai out of my head now and for always. Otherwise there would be trouble---serious trouble. Native women were all the same anyway. There were others more easily attainable and less dangerous.
The advice was good. I should have taken it. Instead, I set in motion such machinery as I possessed in order to establish contact with my goddess. I took Si Woh into my confidence. Through him I enlisted the services of an old woman attached to the "istana"---a betel-stained old hag who pleaded my suit for me. My progress was slow, but I never relented. Every day at five o'clock Amai used to walk from her house to the "istana," and every day at five o'clock I stood at the corner of the road to watch her pass. We made no sign. I remained motionless. To have spoken would have ruined everything. She never unveiled. She never slackened her pace. And on these daily two minutes of transient passing I lived for six weeks. Then one evening, soon after the divorce proceedings had been completed, I went to my usual trysting-place. The sun was setting and had settled like a ball of fire on the highest mountain peak. A cooling breeze brought a rich fragrance from the jungle. I waited for a few minutes, drinking in the warm beauty of the Malayan sunset, a gnawing hunger in my heart. For once the road was empty. My eyes were fixed on the little footpath which led from her house to the road. At last she came, a crimson "sarong" over her head and small green slippers on her feet. Would she pass me by again as she had passed me on so many occasions before---without a sign, without even a glance? She seemed to be walking more slowly than usual. When she was nearly opposite me, she paused, drew her "sarong" back until it showed the lotus-blossom in her hair, and looked straight into my eyes. Then, like a startled hare, she turned and, quickening her steps, disappeared into the gathering darkness.
I went home on fire. I summoned Si Woh. I summoned the old "bidan" [the court medicine woman]. A meeting---a real meeting---must be arranged at once.
Two days later the "bidan" came back. She looked more sinister than ever. With many prayers for her own safety she told me that everything had been arranged. The meeting was for that night. I was to wait at the edge of the jungle opposite the ninth milestone at nine o'clock, and Amai would come to me. I was to be punctual and very careful. I was to avoid the road.
Very deliberately I made my preparations. I oiled my revolver, put on a pair of rubber-soled gym shoes, and slipped an electric torch into my pocket. Then, trembling with excitement, I set out on my wild adventure. I had about a mile to walk through a narrow jungle path which led to a disused tin mine. There was the river to cross by a rickety bamboo bridge which even by daylight was a balancing test for any white man. It was not a journey which I would have made for money. No woman will ever tempt me to make it again. Fear lent speed to my limbs, and, when I arrived at the footpath across the rice fields by which Amai had to come, I was a quarter of an hour before my time. The waiting was worse than the walking. In the stillness of the Malayan night my hearing was intensified a hundred-fold. The harsh call of the night-jar filled me with forebodings. A giant moth, attracted by my silver buttons, embedded itself in the folds of my coat, striking terror into my heart. There was no moon---not a star in the sky. Crouching on my haunches like a native, I waited, gun in hand, while the minutes passed in an agony of slowness. Had the old "bidan" played a trick on me? If so, she would pay dearly for it on the morrow. Had Amai's courage failed her at the last moment? For her the ordeal was a thousand times more dangerous than for me. Then, when despair had almost driven me away, I heard a splash. Some living creature had slipped in the marshy water of the "Padi" field. Then silence, followed by a footstep, and, before I could distinguish whether it was a man or beast, a figure loomed suddenly out of the darkness not two paces in front of me. I jumped to my feet. The figure stopped. A faint smell of perfume filled my nostrils. She had come. It was Amai. For one fierce moment I held her in my arms, her body trembling like the quivering of Ialang grass at the first touch of the morning sun. Then, taking her by the hand, I led her swiftly from the night down that murky jungle path, across that rickety bridge, back to the friendly shelter of my bungalow. She was never to leave it again until I myself was to be led, half-corpse, half-man, on to the boat at Port Swettenham which was to bear me for ever from the shores of Malaya.
The rest of the story is all tragedy or all comedy according to the romanticism or cynicism of the reader. After that first night Amai remained in my bungalow. Her presence was not merely a visible proof of her love; it was also inspired by fear of her own people. In short, the affair of Amai provoked a great scandal. My bungalow underwent a kind of siege. My Malayan Gagool came to interview me on my doorstep. She came to cajole and entice and remained to threaten. She enlisted the services of her nephew, a ruling prince and a charming young man with whom I had frequently played football. His embarrassment was great. He liked Europeans and he liked me. Over our "stengahs" we discussed the situation from every angle. He offered me the fairest "houri" of his principality. But Amai I must surrender. She was of the blood royal. It was an insult to his aunt and, worse still, it was dangerous to me. The Malays of my village were not civilised like himself. There would be trouble---very serious trouble. He shook his head and smiled, just like my Police Commissioner, but he might as well have talked to the wind as tried to over-ride my Scottish obstinacy. I did not wish to quarrel with the man, still less did I wish to hurt his pride. The affair had made some stir even in European circles. It had reached the ears of the Resident, and I had found it necessary to take counsel's opinion.
I went to Mr. C., an important government official, who had married a Malay, and who was a member of a family with a distinguished record of service in the East. His unofficial advice---his official advice was like "Punch's" advice about marriage---was given from the dearly-bought store of his own oriental wisdom.
"This is a question of face-saving," he said. "You must gain time. You must say you are preparing to become a Mohammedan."
In my interview with Gagool's nephew I bethought myself of this advice. When all else had failed, I turned to him and said: "I am ready to become a Mohammedan. I have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury to obtain the necessary permission."
When a man is infatuated with a woman, there are almost no limits to the baseness of his conduct. In the eyes of other men my conduct was base and sordid---but not in my own. To keep Amai I was prepared to embrace Mohammedanism. It is not an episode in my life of which I am proud or for which I seek to make my youth and my loneliness an excuse, but at the time it was---in the literal sense of the words---deadly serious. It was not merely infatuation. Something of the lust of battle was in my soul---the same spirit which in rugby football has always made me prefer a struggle against odds to an easy victory. I was playing a lone hand against the world, and I was determined to play it to the last trick.
The Prince professed himself satisfied. Gagool and the village did not. Amai and I became outcasts. My football team deserted me. Akbar, my best half-back, who held the nominal post of bendahara or minister of war under Gagool, betook himself to the jungle. I was warned that he was preparing to run "amok." My Chinese cook left me. He was afraid of what might happen to my food.
And then I fell ill. Day after day a particularly virulent form of malaria wasted my flesh and blood. Every afternoon and every morning I ran a temperature with the regularity of an alarm clock. My doctor came. Like every one else the good man was immersed in the rubber boom. His charge was by the mile, and, as my estate was his most distant call, I could not afford him very often. He drenched me with quinine, but to little purpose. As the months passed, my illness became aggravated by a constant vomiting. I could not keep down any solid food. In three months my weight declined from twelve stone eight, to under ten stone. I became depressed and miserable. All day I lay propped up in my long chair, trying to read, cursing my half-caste assistants and the "kenganies" who came to disturb me about the estate work, making myself a burden and a nuisance to every one. But Amai I would not give up. This determination, this obstinacy, was the one thing that saved me from suicide.
For Amai herself I have nothing but praise. She was an incurable optimist. She was not afraid of any man and she ran my house with a rod of iron. Her cheerfulness, it is true, became a strain almost greater than I could bear. She liked noise, which in Malaya means that she liked the gramophone. It was not safe for her to go outside the compound. She, therefore, stayed at home and played "When the Trees are White with Blossom, I'll Return." Today, I should break the record, or throw it at her head, but at that time I was too weak. Instead, I made a martyr of myself. My only relief from the gramophone was the piano. When I could bear the blossom of the trees no longer, I would offer to play the tin-kettle upright which I had borrowed from my cousin. Amai would then help me to the piano-stool, put a shawl over my shoulders, and sit beside me, while with chattering teeth and palsied fingers I strove to recall the harmonies of my Viennese and Berlin days. Her taste in music was entirely primitive. Obviously, she would have liked negro spirituals and, more than negro rhythmics, the languorous melodies of the Tsiganes. But in those days the Blue Danube was the supreme thrill of her musical sensuousness, and, if Wolff and Buresh could have descended on my bungalow with that combined artistry which has made them supreme as exponents of the Viennese waltz, she would have transferred her affections on the spot.
Perhaps I do her an injustice. She had her full share of pride of race. She despised the women who worked in the fields. The irregularity of her own position worried her not at all. Marriage and my own Mohammedanism never entered her mind. As mistress of the only "Tuan" in the district, she held her head proudly. She had the only gramophone and the only piano in the village. Moreover, she saved my life. Suspecting that I was being poisoned, she allowed no food, which she had not prepared herself, to pass my lips. And when I failed to recover, she sent Si Woh for Dowden, the government doctor.
Dowden was a queer fellow---a cynical, morose Irishman, whom I had known in my Port Dickson days. He was unhappy in the East and vented his unhappiness in an aggressiveness which made him unpopular. His heart, however, was all gold, and, as the son of the Dublin Shakespeare and Shelley professor, he appealed to me intellectually more than any other white man in Malaya. He was not entitled to attend me professionally, but he was not the man to worry overmuch about questions of etiquette. He came at once. He saw and he grunted. And that night he went into the bar of the Sungei Ujong Club. The rubber boom was then at its height. Several planters, including my uncle, had made vast fortunes on paper, and in the club drink flowed as it always seems to flow in moments of sudden prosperity. My uncle was playing poker in the cardroom----high poker with an "ante" of a hundred dollars. Dowden, who had something of the Bolshevik in his nature, tracked him down. My uncle had just raised the stakes. The doctor poured a douche of cold water on his exuberance.
"If you don't want to lay out your stake in a white man's coffin, you had better collect that nephew of yours at once!"
My uncle was shocked. He acted immediately. The next morning he came out with two Chinese "boys" in his car. In silence the "boys" packed my clothes. Wrapping me in blankets, my uncle carried me into the car. Amai had disappeared into the back room. She must have guessed what was happening, but she never came forward. There was no farewell. But, as the car turned in the compound drive, the sun cast a glint on her little silver slippers which were lying neatly on the bottom step of my bungalow entrance. They were the last I saw of her---the last I was ever to see of her.
TODAY, although I have travelled farther afield both by land and sea than even most Scotsmen, I never remember the name of a ship. I recall only vaguely the date and the route of my voyages. Perhaps it was my illness; perhaps first impressions and the memories of early youth are more easily retained; perhaps---and this is true---the first home-coming is the one a man remembers best. The fact remains that every moment of that long voyage from my uncle's bungalow in Seremban to my Highland home in Scotland is impressed on my mind as clearly as if it were yesterday. With great generosity my uncle sent me to Japan for two months. His doctor had said that, once I were removed from the source of infection and infatuation, I should be a new man in six weeks. But Dowden shook his head. He advised me to cut my traces and to go for good. I was given money and a ticket to Yokohama. Maurice Foster, the Worcestershire cricketer, brought me to Singapore. Ned Coke took charge of me on board the steamer. He had left the Rifle Brigade for big business in rubber in Malaya and in real estate in Canada, and his immense physique and vigorous personality overwhelmed me. I let myself be managed. The ship's captain, a German with a Captain Kettle beard, was kindness itself. Perhaps the other passengers objected to my constant retching. At any rate he gave me a cabin to myself on the upper deck. But the voyage itself was a nightmare. The sickness and the vomiting would not stop. My clothes hung in loose folds on my wasted frame. The other passengers had bets whether I should reach Japan alive. At Shanghai I was too ill to go ashore. My eyes were too weak to allow me to read. I wanted to die and was prepared to die. All day long I lay on my long chair and gazed with a fixed vacant stare at the pleasant panorama of hazy coast and island-studded sea. The ship's doctor had me watched in case I slipped overboard. But there was no thought of suicide in my mind---only an immense weariness of the body and of the soul. I was well enough to appreciate the beauty of the Inland Sea. I was well enough to write bad poetry---atrocious sonnets to Amai in which I still heard the surf beating upon Malaya's palm-crested shore with regret for the life and the love I had lost. I was well enough, when we landed in Yokohama, to hate the Japanese with all the prejudice of an Englishman who has worked with the Chinese. But I was not well enough to eat. I was too ill to withstand Ned Coke.
With military precision he had already decided my fate. He was sailing for England via Canada in ten days. If I wished to save my wretched carcass, I must sail with him. He had business in Canada which would detain him six weeks. I should spend these six weeks in the "Rockies." I should take the sulphur baths at Banff (of which more anon). The fever would leave my body, and I should land in Liverpool and be restored to my parents in the same state of healthy and seraphic innocence in which I had left them.
To me it seemed a complicated decision. Coke made it delightfully simple. He took me to a Tokio doctor who confirmed Coke's views about my salvation. He telegraphed both to my father and to my uncle for the necessary funds for this new journey, and both lots of money---more than double what was necessary for my needs---arrived three days later. He was the perfect organiser, and, if I qualify the perfection later, I cast no reflection either on his merits or on my own gratitude. If I were dictator of England at this moment, I should make him Earl of Leicester and leader of the House of Lords. He would soon find the necessary means of reinvigorating that palace of somnolence or, failing in his task, he would, like Samson, remove it on his broad shoulders and deposit it gracefully in the Thames.
Having paid this tribute to my rescuer, I must return to the narrative of my voyage. Everything worked out according to plan. Crossing the Pacific, I shivered and suffered tortures from ague. But at last I began to take nourishment without ill effects. I could even watch with zest a British admiral (long since dead) indulging in deck hockey with that ferocious youthfulness which makes us at once the envy and the laughing-stock of foreigners. When we arrived at Vancouver, I was introduced to Robert Service and for the first time for months the blood came back to my cheeks. I was a shy youth and could still blush, and Service, then at the height of his fame, was the first British author I had met. He gave me autographed copies of his "Songs of a Sourdough," and his "Ballads of Cheechako." Today, with the rest of my books, they are doubtless gracing the shelves of a Bolshevik library unless, which is highly probable, they have been burnt by the Moscow hangman as imperialistic effluvia and, therefore, noxious to the Moscow nostrils.
In the smoking-room of the C.P.R. Hotel I heard delirious conversation about speculators in real estate who had made millions in a night, leaving in their trail a ruin which has lasted to this day. There, too, for the first time I heard the name of Max Aitken, who, having fought and beaten the millionaires of Montreal, had gone to seek new fields of conquest in England. It is a tribute to the honesty of my romanticism, if not to the soundness of my judgment, that at that moment Max Aitken meant nothing to me and Robert Service a good deal.
Be that as it may, I read Service's books, had a drink with him, and sniffed the Canadian air. The combined effort cured me of my infatuation for Amai and made me turn my eyes towards the West. And so to Banff.
Patriotism is the most abused of all sentiments. In its best sense it expresses an animal instinct of self-preservation. In its worst it is tainted with material interests and such sordid things as money and self-advancement. In the Englishman it manifests itself in a dumb contempt for everything that is not English. The Scot has a more practical patriotism. His contempt for foreigners includes the Englishman, but is carefully concealed. His jingoism is confined to cheering Scotland at Twickenham. It is racial rather than local. It concerns Scotland hardly at all. Its aim is the glorification and self-satisfaction of the Scot in whatever part of the globe the impulse of self-advancement drives him.
There is, however, another form of patriotism which may be truly expressed as love of country. This is the actual love which is in every man for the place in which he was born and brought up. It may be inspired by vanity, by the desire to see himself reflected again in the glory of his youth. It is especially strong in the man who has been brought up in beautiful surroundings, but it affects even the man from Wigan. It is strongest of all in the Highlander.
Banff with its glorious background of fir and pine was to me the first breath of returning life. Rarely have I felt so homesick, and this outpost of Scotland was already half-way home. The Rockies were grander than the Grampians, but they were like the Grampians. The Bow River made a substitute for the Spey. The village itself was named after a Scottish town not twenty miles away from the scenes of my own early youth. I took Banff to my heart. I hired a launch and explored the Bow River (alas! I was still too weak to fish) and I visited the cold waters of Lake Louise and Lake Minnewanka. I talked with the Indians in the settlement. I discovered Parkman and read him voraciously. I devoured stories of Soapy Smith and the other brigands of the trail of '98. Klondyke was still on every one's lips. In every township one found the scarred and frost-bitten victims of the gold rush. It was an age of romance---sordid enough when one looked beneath the surface, but in the luxurious comfort of a C.P.R. Hotel no one wanted to look. Motor-buses had not yet made the highways hideous. There was no army of American tourists to fill the mountain air with their discordant rapture. Dangerous Dan McGrew was at any rate true to life and "Soapy" himself a nearer descendant of Dick Turpin than Al Capone. Above all, the mountain passes lit by the Arctic moon were a more fitting setting for romantic crime than the searchlights and machine-guns of the underground fastnesses of Cicero.
If it is true that man creates his own atmosphere, Nature can make or mar the process, and in Banff Nature was a powerful ally. I bathed myself in the romance of the Far West and felt better. I was now to bathe in a more literal sense.
Ned Coke was the agent of my undoing. My health was his constant preoccupation. My progress towards recovery delighted him, and, rightly, he took full credit for it. Unfortunately, he was unable to leave well alone. He had the mind of a prospector, and he was always seeking new fields of exploration. At Banff there were famous sulphur baths---open-air baths situated some 1,000 feet above sea level. I had spent three years in an unhealthy climate almost on the equator. I was suffering from as had an attack of malaria as mortal man could withstand and, if the desire to live had returned, death had not yet relaxed his grip on my enfeebled body. Common-sense might have pointed out to me the folly of bathing in the open air in a high and cooler altitude. I had, however, little common-sense and less will-power, and Coke was an experimentalist. He found an ally in the hotel doctor----a young enthusiast, who was impressed by Coke's persuasiveness and wished to share in the credit of the discovery of sulphur as a sovereign cure for malaria. Perhaps my faith was not as strong as Naaman's. At any rate I bathed in Banff's Jordan. I stayed in the bubbling sulphur the requisite number of minutes ordained by Coke and his McGill University admirer. Unaided, but with chattering teeth, I returned to the hotel; within ten minutes my temperature had risen to 103. I retired to bed. My friends piled blanket after blanket on top of me. An hour later my temperature had risen another point. Gasping and half-delirious, I raved for quinine. Prompted by Coke, the doctor gave me five grains of quinine and five grains of aspirin. Then they both withdrew to leave me to sleep. Fortunately, they left the bottles on my night-table. I made a sign to Harry Stephenson, who had remained with me, and Harry gave me fifteen grains more of both the quinine and the aspirin. For four hours I tossed in my delirium, half-way between life and death. And then the sweat broke. I dripped through my sheets. I dripped through my mattress. My bed was like a pool. But my temperature was down, and, limp and weary, I changed beds and slept myself back to life.
The rest of my homeward voyage was accomplished without incident. I stayed a week in Quebec, read the "Chien d'0r," scaled the heights of Abraham and dreamed those first dreams of Empire which were afterwards to make me a willing disciple of the policy of Lord Beaverbrook. The seeds of my Canadian visit bore fruit in 1916, when I was the first Englishman to celebrate Empire Day in Russia in a fitting and official manner.
The only fiasco was the actual home-coming itself. If the blue skies of the Canadian autumn had restored some of my former vigours, the fogs of Liverpool brought a return of my malaria and with it a fresh access of that moral cowardice which in moments of crisis has always been my bane in life.
I returned to the bosom of my family who were then rusticating in the Highlands. There was, however, no fatted calf for the returning prodigal. My mother welcomed me, as mothers will always welcome their first born, that is to say, with gratitude to God for my escape from death and with sorrow for the disappointment of her fondest hopes. My father, himself the most austere of moralists, has always been tolerance itself in his attitude towards others. No word of reproach fell from his lips. I am, however, on my mother's side, a member of the Clan Gregarra, and until her death our family world moved on the axis of my grandmother---an Atlas of a woman who supported on her broad shoulders a vast army of children and grandchildren. She was a woman cast in the Napoleonic mould ---an avatar of the old Highland Chieftains whose word was law and whose every whim a command which had to be fulfilled. She supported the clan with a generosity which is rare in these days, but the business of the clan was her business, and woe betide the scapegoat whose delinquencies were brought to her notice by any other members of the family than the offender himself.
She was a rigid and austere Presbyterian who ruled her ministers with the same iron rod with which she ruled her family. Nor was she tolerant of clerical opposition. On one occasion the elders of the Speyside congregation over which she presided dared to select as parish minister a candidate against whom she had turned her face. Her anger was as sharp as her decision. She deserted the church where her ancestors were buried, and half a mile away set up at her own expense a new church and a new manse for the candidate whom she herself had approved. Not until the offending minister had passed away did she relent. Then her repentance was as magnanimous as her anger had been petty. Her own church was joined to the old church and converted into a free library and concert hall. The manse was sold for the benefit of the parish, and she herself returned to the family pew in which she had sat in judgment on so many sermons. Today her remains repose on the banks of the Spey beside those massive granite boulders of which she herself had been in life the living embodiment.
She was a great woman, but like most Presbyterians she worshipped material success. At the time of my return she had made a vast paper fortune out of her plantations in the Malay States. In Edinburgh she was re-christened the Rubber Queen, and the flattery had gone to her head like new wine. Already she saw herself controlling the Stock Exchange. Her financial success was the reward of her own foresight and business acumen. She refused to see anything exceptional in this most exceptional of booms and, heedless of the warnings of her brokers, she continued to buy rubber shares on a falling market Within a few years her fortune had dwindled to proportions incommensurate with her scale of expenditure.
At that moment, however, her star was in the ascendant. Planters are not renowned for their intellectual attainments. Yet every planter had made money out of the rubber boom. I, who had been a scholar, had failed to profit by my golden opportunities. This was the measure of my business capacity in her eyes. I was a fool.
There was worse to come. The news of my moral delinquencies had preceded my arrival. There had been gossip. My uncle had been accused of neglecting me, and, if he was too good a sportsman to bother to defend himself, other relatives in the Malay States had undertaken the task for him. The shadow on my grandmother's face, when she greeted me, was the shadow of Amai.
Every day I was made to feel myself a moral leper. I was dragged to church. If the sermon was not actually preached at me, it was interpreted in that sense afterwards by my grandmother. The scarlet woman was conjured up before my eyes on every conceivable occasion. I was too weak to fish or shoot. Instead, I went motoring with my grandmother. Every drive was the occasion for a lecture. Every scene of my boyhood was recalled and pointed to adorn a moral tale. I was told to lift up my eyes to the hills, until even my beloved Grampians became a plague-spot and a canker of self-torture. To this day I hate the right bank of the Spey, because that year my grandmother's shoot was on that bank.
That October in the Highlands undid all the good which Canada had done for my health, and, shattered in mind and body, I returned to the South of England to place myself once more in the hands of the doctors. I visited two malaria specialists in Harley Street. Their reports were grave. My heart was seriously affected. My liver and spleen were enlarged. My digestion was ruined. The process of recovery would be slow, very slow. I could never return to the Tropics. I must not walk up-hill. Exercise was out of the question. Even golf was forbidden. I must be careful, very careful.
I returned to my father's home in Berkshire and, freed from the moral domination of my grandmother's personality, began at once to recover. In spite of the English winter and frequent bouts of malaria, I put on weight. I cast my drugs and tonics into the outer darkness and confined my medicine to a brandyflip a day. In three months I was playing rugby football again. So much for the experts of Harley Street.
Partial recovery, however, did not solve the question of my existence. The malaria had left me with an impaired will-power and an unhealthy morbidness. If a certain amount of morbidity in the thoughts of a young man is normal, the lack of will-power, which is a characteristic reaction of tropical fevers, is serious and not easily remedied. I had no ambitions of any kind. In a delightfully vague manner I desired to be an author. I was given a special room in my father's home and there I sat through the winter, writing sketches of Eastern life and short stories with morbid settings and unhappy endings. I engaged in desultory correspondence with various literary agents. At the end of six months I had succeeded in placing one short story and two articles. My receipts were smaller than my postage bill.
And then one May morning my father sent for me. There was nothing peremptory about the command, no reproach in what he said. He talked to me---as I hope I shall be able to talk to my own son when his turn comes---suggesting rather than ordering, studiously safeguarding my sensitiveness, solicitous only of my welfare even if that welfare entailed more sacrifices and more self-denial on his part. He pointed out to me what many others have pointed out before: that literature was a good crutch, but scarcely a pair of legs, that I did not seem to be making much headway, and that security of occupation was the master-key to happiness in life. At twenty-three I was too old for most government examinations. There was, however, the general Consular Service. It was a career in which my knowledge of foreign languages would reap their full benefit and which would give abundant scope to my literary ambitions. Had not Bret Harte and Oliver Wendell Holmes been members of the American Consular Service? In slow and measured sentences my father expounded the pleasures of a life of which he knew less than nothing. Then, like the Fairy Godmother, he produced his surprise packet---a letter from John Morley announcing that he had been able to procure for me a nomination for the next examination. Years before, my grandfather, a staunch Conservative and one of the earliest Imperialists, had opposed Morley at Arbroath, and such is the sporting spirit of English political life that twenty years afterwards the great man had seen fit to bestir himself on behalf of the grandson of the defeated candidate.
Before this new onslaught of my father's kindness, my defences broke down. Doubtless, his manner of dealing with a recalcitrant and self-indulgent offspring was too gentle. But I have studied at close hand the methods of the stern, relentless father, and the results have brought neither happiness to the parent nor discipline to the children. If, viewed from the angle of material success, my life has been a failure, my father has the consolation that in a flock of six I have been the only black sheep and that to all of us he has remained not only a wise counsellor but a friend and companion from whom not even the most shameful secret need be withheld.
As I read the Morley letter, I looked into the mirror of my past life. The reflection gave me no satisfaction. I had been an expensive investment for my parents. Hitherto I had paid no dividends. It was time that I began. To the unqualified relief of my father I graciously consented to burden the Civil Service Commissioners with the correction of my examination papers.
Before I could enter the precincts of Burlington House there were certain formalities to be fulfilled. Almost immediately I had to undergo a personal inspection by a committee of Foreign Office inquisitors. Dressed in my most sombre suit, I travelled to London, made my way to Downing Street, and was piloted into a long room on the first floor of the Foreign Office, where some forty or fifty candidates sat waiting their turn in various degrees of nervousness. The procedure was simple but tedious. At one end of the room there was a large door before which stood a Foreign Office messenger. At intervals of ten minutes the door would open, an immaculately dressed young man with a sheet of paper in his hand would whisper to the messenger, and the messenger, clearing his throat, would announce in stentorian tones to the assembled innocents the next victim's name.
By the time my turn came the room was nearly empty and my nerves had gone back on me. I was in agony lest there had been some mistake and my name had been forgotten. I saw myself forced into making some sheepish explanation. Only terror lest my boots should creak prevented me from tiptoeing to the messenger to set my doubts at rest. Then, just when I had given up hope, the frock-coated messenger raised his voice, and this time the rafters re-echoed with the name "Mr. Bruce Lockhart." With flushed face and clammy hands I crossed the threshold of my fate and passed into the inner temple. My mind was a blank. My carefully rehearsed answers were completely forgotten.
Fortunately, the inquisition was less formidable than the waiting. In a narrow oblong room six senior officials sat at a long table. For a moment I stood before them like a prize bull at a cattle show undergoing the scrutiny of six pairs of bespectacled or bemonocled eyes. Then I was told to take a seat on the other side of the table. Again there was a pause while the inquisitors rustled with their papers. They were extracting my curriculum vitae---that record of suppressio veri and suggestio falsi which like the questionnaire of an insurance company every candidate is obliged to produce before he can present himself for examination. Then, with the politeness of Stanley addressing Livingstone, the chairman smiled at me benevolently: "Mr. Lockhart, I presume," and, before I knew where I was, I was being questioned about my experiences as a rubber planter. I imagine most of the inquisitors were interested personally in the rubber market. At all events I underwent a rapid cross-fire of questions about the merits of different shares. As my knowledge was greater than that of my examiners, my confidence returned, and I expanded with volubility and authority on the dangers and possibilities of the Malayan Eldorado. I hope they took my advice. It was inspired with caution derived from the experiences of my own overoptimistic relations.
Then, just when I felt completely at my case, I was brought back to earth with a sudden bump. Hitherto I had been playing the schoolmaster to a band of attentive and enthusiastic schoolboys. Now the roles were to be suddenly reversed. Across the smooth plains of this pleasant and entirely satisfactory conversation came an icy blast from a stumpy little man with a wrinkled forehead and iron-grey moustache.
"And will you tell us, Mr. Lockhart, why you left this terrestrial Paradise?"
My knees rocked. Had the omniscience of the Foreign Office already discovered the escapade of Amai? It had been glossed over in my testimonials. It did not figure in my curriculum vitae. The speaker was Lord Tyrrell---at that time plain Mr. Tyrrell---and there and then, with an instinct which has rarely played me false, I registered him as a potential enemy. With an effort I pulled myself together.
"I had a very bad attack of malaria," I said. And then I added feebly: "but I'm playing 'rugger' again now." This afterthought was a happy inspiration. A sportsman with a monocle and the lean spare figure of an athlete came to my rescue.
"Are you a relation of the Cambridge googly bowler?" he asked. (My brother---a double Blue and "Rugger" International ---was then at the height of his athletic fame.)
"He is my little brother," I said simply. And with that password I received the official blessing and passed out again into the sunshine.
So far so good. There remained, however, the more serious obstacle of the written examination. The more I considered my chances, the less I liked them. In that year of grace there were only four vacancies. The number of registered candidates exceeded sixty. Practically all had been preparing for the examination for several years. Several had been in the first twenty the previous year. Half a dozen had taken first-class honours at Oxford and Cambridge. I had done no scholastic work of any kind for three years. Now I had only ten weeks in which to prepare myself for an examination, which not only was highly competitive, but which included among its obligatory subjects, law and economics. Of law I had not read a single line. Political economy was to me an occult and mysterious science. Truly, indeed, the outlook seemed hardly worth the effort.
My father, however, was enthusiastically optimistic. I transferred myself to London and entered the most successful "crammer" of those days. The experience plunged me into even deeper gloom. For one long week I attended my classes with unfailing patience and punctuality. The other candidates were finishing off where I was beginning, and the lectures on law and political economy---doubtless, admirably given, but intended rightly for advanced students---were sheer waste of time. My despair roused me to action, and I took a rapid decision. I wrote to my father and told him that I must leave the "crammer" and that I proposed taking my chance on the other subjects and engaging the services of the law coach and the political economy coach for private tuition. My father agreed to the extra expense. As my fees for the term had been paid in advance, the "crammer" authorities made no objection.
My law coach was a born teacher. My political economy coach was a German genius who had gone to seed on snuff and whiskey. Together we "gutted" Marshall and Nicholson, and, as we did our work in German, I was enabled to kill two subjects with one fee.
My plan of campaign involved three hours a day with my coaches and whatever work I chose to do by myself. There were, however, disturbing distractions. An uncle, who after ten years of incessant labour had made a fortune, had come to London to enjoy himself. He had fallen in love with a charming South American who required a chaperon. He required some one to engage the attentions of the chaperon, and the most tractable and easily managed some one was myself. He made me give up my modest rooms in Bayswater and took me to live with him in his hotel. Every evening we dined en partie carrée, went to a theatre and then to supper at the Ritz or the Carlton. It was scarcely the best preparation for a sadly unprepared candidate, but with the supreme egotism which characterises most successful business men my uncle had no idea of the harm he was doing. On the contrary, he hounded me off to my coaches' rooms every morning and informed me that if I failed to pass I should be cut out of his will. I laughed and continued to drink his champagne. He has since married twice, and the chances of my heritage have been wrecked, partly on the quicksands of my own follies, but mainly through the arrival into this world of four flourishing cousins, who are young enough to be my own children. In the intervening years, however, he has rewarded my chaperonage a thousandfold, and today, but for my reckless extravagance, the sum total of his generosity would he yielding me an income of some five hundred pounds a year.
In this spirit of preparation I approached that fatal first week in August when with a strange lack of consideration the Civil Service Commissioners unfold the doors of Burlington House to the youthful hopes of the nation. I give a detailed account of the proceedings for the benefit of those pedagogues who believe in the futility of all examinations. In my own experience they will find an ample justification for their theories.
When on that Monday morning I took my place in. the queue of perspiring candidates, my prospects were so poor as to relieve me personally of all anxiety. The disadvantages of my unpreparedness were obvious. Against them I could set two advantages: I was more of a man of the world than my fellow-competitors and, having, as I thought, no chance, I had no nerves. I had perhaps one other advantage and certainly one enormous piece of luck. That summer was the hottest summer England had experienced for many years, and I liked heat. That year, too, for the first time an essay was included in the French and German papers---an innovation which had escaped the vigilance of the "crammers" and which left the candidates to their own slender resources. In the choice of subjects for the French essay was included Kipling's tag of "East is East and West is West." I fastened on it eagerly, drawing on my Malayan experiences and paraphrasing whole pages of Loti which I knew by heart. I enjoyed that examination, feeling completely at my case in the face of a new adventure. My one embarrassment was the paper on political economy. There were ten questions of which we had to answer not more than six. Unfortunately, my knowledge embraced only four. There was, however, one question on which I was a minor expert. I wrote pages on it, scribbled short and non-committal answers to the three other questions, and then added a polite footnote to the effect that two hours was too short a time in which to answer a paper of this nature.
On the Thursday evening, having completed my written papers, I said goodbye to my coaches, who had worked with me every night of the examination. As we shook hands, my German mentor handed me a sealed envelope.
"You will open it," he said, "on the day the result is declared. The envelope contains my prophecy of the successful candidates. I am rarely wrong."
As soon as he had gone, I opened the letter. He had placed me fourth, and in celebration of a joke which was truly "kolossal" I dined at the CarIton and went to the theatre.
There remained only the oral examination on the next day to complete my ordeal, and I considered I was entitled to some relaxation. Nevertheless, the oral examination was nearly my undoing. My German oral was at ten in the morning. I do not know if my late night was to blame, but with the German examiner I lost my head. He was altogether too suave and too enticing. Before I knew where I was, he had drawn me into a conversation about Malaya. From that starting point he proceeded to question me, for his own edification, on the different processes of tapping rubber. Even in English this is a technical and difficult basis for an ordinary conversation. In a foreign language it was frankly impossible, and, although my knowledge of German was considerable, I knew that I had made a failure of my German oral. I left the room cursing myself for my stupidity and determined not to be caught again in the same manner. When I came out into the sunlight, I was in a quandary. My French oral---the climax of my week's ordeal---was not until five o'clock in the afternoon. All my friends had left for Scotland or the Continent. How was I to fill in the long blank between eleven and five? I hesitated and then stepped boldly across the street. Opposite Burlington House was the "Bristol Bar," the favourite haunt of the foreign women who frequented the London of the pre-war days. Stimulating my courage with a sherry and bitters, I made the acquaintance of two elderly but extremely voluble Pompadours. I gave them a free luncheon and free drinks, in return for which they talked French with me. I went for an hour's walk in the Green Park and returned at three thirty for more alcohol and more French. By quarter to five my volubility was immense and my accent almost perfect. Then at five minutes to five I walked steadily across the road for my French oral.
Once again, like a convict with a warder, I was kept waiting in the long corridor until the examiner's cell was free. This time, however, all trace of nervousness was gone, and I entered the room with the courage of a seasoned veteran. A mild-looking professor with pince-nez and a drooping moustache looked up from his desk and placed the tips of his fingers together.
"Can you tell me the name of the French Dreadnought recently launched at Brest?" he asked.
I shook my head and smiled.
"No, sir," I said with a fine precision. "I do not know and I do not care. I have only half an hour in which to prove to you that I know French as well as you do. Let me talk of other matters."
Then I made a lucky shot. He had a slight English accent and, before he could interrupt me, I beat down his defences.
"You are Professor S-----," I said, "and last week I reviewed a book of yours in the Maître Phonétique."
My conduct was a breach of the anonymity which is supposed to be enjoyed by all Civil Service examiners, and the Professor promptly reproved me without admitting or denying the accuracy of my identification. The damage, however, had been done. The conversation had been turned to phonetics in which science I was an expert and he only a beginner, and from that moment I was safe. For long past the regulation period the Professor continued to be absorbed in our conversation. I had wound up the main spring of his interest, and, when finally I said goodbye to him, I knew that, however badly I had done in German, my French oral had been a brilliant success.
THAT night I left for the Highlands, and for the next four weeks I led a pleasant existence fishing in the Spey and shooting my grandmother's grouse. As September approached, I experienced vague pangs of uneasiness. I had prepared my parents for the disappointment which I had assured them was bound to come. My pessimism did nothing to relieve their anxiety about my future. My grandmother, in particular, continued to regard me as a scapegrace, who had no right to the good things of life. If I took a second glass of port at dinner, I was sure to find her reproving eye fixed upon me. I lived in an atmosphere of apprehensive disapproval and, resigning myself to an inevitable return to rubber-planting and the East, I endeavoured to extract as much enjoyment as I could from these last opportunities of luxury in much the same spirit as a condemned man eats a hearty breakfast before his execution.
Then on September 2nd, that blessed day which saw my birth, I went into the neighbouring town to play a round of golf. As I was putting on the third green, I was disturbed by a wild yell. I looked up from my ball and saw my two young brothers careering on bicycles across the mountainous slopes of our Highland course. Norman, who was later to die gloriously at Loos, had disappeared into a ditch. His front wheel was buckled, but his face was radiant with excitement. He waved a paper triumphantly in the air.
"You're in," he gasped breathlessly. "You're first!"
I took the paper from his hands. It was true. There it stood in black and white: first, R. H. Bruce Lockhart. I studied the cold marks sheet. I was first by seventeen marks. Fifty marks covered the first four candidates. I had done badly in German which was by far my best subject. I had qualified by one mark in the mathematical paper. I was second in law and first in political economy. I had collected thirty-five more marks in French than any other candidate. I had received ninety-nine marks out of a hundred for my French oral. The Pompadours had done it. I do not know if they are still alive. I never discovered even their Christian names. But for such damage as I have inflicted on the might, majesty and dominion of the British Empire in my official capacity, they---and they alone---must bear the full responsibility.
I abandoned my game and returned home to announce the glad tidings to my parents. They had recently celebrated their silver wedding, and most of my numerous relations had assembled in the neighbourhood for the event. Great, indeed, was my welcome. Never before or since have I felt so completely virtuous. An unstamped envelope, bearing the inscription "On His Majesty's Service," had wrought a lightning metamorphosis in my existence, and overnight I had passed from the ranks of the ne'er-do-weels into the Valhalla of heroes. My grandmother took me to her ample bosom and with the infallibility of the truly great announced firmly that she had always believed in my success. She sent for her bag. She sent for her spectacles. And, there and then, she wrote me out a cheque for one hundred pounds. Her example was contagious, and that afternoon I collected nearly two hundred pounds in tips. A few days later, with my winnings still intact, I left for London in order to enter upon my official duties at the Foreign Office.
In that year of grace the Foreign Office was a very different place from what it is today. Then it combined space with elegance and ease. Now it is a rabbit-warren overrun by bespectacled typists and serious-looking and rather badly dressed young men. In 1911 there were still elderly gentlemen who wrote fastidiously with quill-pens. A certain standard of penmanship and a minute attention to margins were still demanded from youthful draft-writers. Otherwise, it was a leisurely and not unpleasant existence, fortified by regular hours and an adequate luncheon interval. If the hours were longer than Palmerston's comparison with the fountains of Trafalgar Square, "which played from ten to four," they were not a weariness of the flesh. Nor were they devoted entirely to work. In the department to which I was attached desk-cricket flourished under the skilful guidance of Guy Locock, today the presiding genius of the Federation of British Industries.
The war and the industry of Lord Curzon have destroyed this calm backwater in the rushing river of life. The corridors, where one used to play football with the Resident-Clerks, are now lined with heavy cases of archives. Staffs have been doubled. Papers have accumulated to such an extent that the conscientious official has to work late into the night in order to complete his daily task. The Foreign Office now works longer hours than most business houses. It has become efficient and more democratic.
In my day it had a highly developed sense of its own superiority. It was a home of mandarins, holding itself superbly aloof from the more plebeian departments of Whitehall. The Treasury was admitted to some degree of equality. After all, the allowances of even ambassadors were subjected to Treasury control. We are justly famed for our sense of the practical. I have yet to meet the Englishman who is not prepared to put his social pride in his pocket if by this action his pocket will benefit. The Board of Trade, on the other hand, was regarded in much the same light as the Shooting Eight at a public school ---as a home for bug-shooters. Junior vice-consuls, whose main function is the fostering of British trade abroad, were, therefore, looked upon as unnecessary intruders. Their social position in the office was a kind of purgatory suspended between the Heaven of the First Division and the Hell of the Second.
In those days the procedure with regard to a junior vice-consul was as follows: before proceeding to a foreign post he was required to spend three months in the Consular and Commercial departments of the Foreign Office. Except for the fact that it gave me an opportunity to know some of the clerks in the office, it was sheer waste of time. In view of the official attitude towards trade, these two departments were the most inefficient in the Foreign Office. The senior clerks, who ran them, were men who had lost all ambition and who had abandoned hope of further promotion. They were the last stepping-stones to honourable retirement and a pension.
As head of the new list of vice-consuls, I was sent for my period of probation to the Consular Department. My "chief" was Lord Dufferin---a kind and generous man, who smoked countless cigarettes and who looked---and, indeed, was---a sick man. His only exaction from his subordinates was neatness, his only passion---red ink. My first fortnight in the office was sheer misery comparable only with one's first fortnight at a public school. Nobody spoke to me. Every day at eleven I made my appearance, dressed in the stiffest of white collars and the regulation short black coat and striped trousers. I minuted a few letters from distressed British subjects abroad. Occasionally I wrote a draft demanding the repayment of sums advanced by British consuls to stranded seamen. Once I had a minor thrill. A letter arrived addressed to His Majesty, and beginning with the words "My dear King." It was from a young English girl of seventeen who had taken a post with a Russian landowner in the Volga district. She was miles from any railway station, and her employer was making love to her in a particularly violent and disgusting manner. This pathetic cry from the wilderness was given to me to answer, and my gorge rose with indignant emotion. I wrote a strong minute which was approved with commendable despatch. The telegraph wires were set in motion. The intervention of His Majesty's Ambassador was requested, and within thirty-six hours the little lady was set free and despatched at government expense to her home in Ireland. For the first time I had put my finger on the Empire's pulse. I had tasted power and felt duly elated.
On the whole, however, there was little to do, and I was left severely alone. Every day I lunched alone at the "Ship." I could not share my meals with Kaye, my consular colleague in the department, as we had alternate luncheon hours. Occasionally, in the corridors I passed the silently great and greatly silent figures of the Foreign Office hierarchy. Furtively, I studied their gait and their mannerisms: the long, raking stride of Sir Edward Grey, the automatic energy of Sir Eyre Crowe, the graceful elegance of Sir Ian Malcolm, and the ponderous roll of Sir Victor Wellesley. They were, however, vague and awe-inspiring shadows in my existence, and they gave me proper sense of my own insignificance.
Gradually, as I came to know Guy Locock better, my lot improved. We lunched together. With Sir George Buchanan and Harold Nicholson he was one of the few Wellingtonians in the Foreign Office. As my brothers were playing for Marlborough, I took him to see the Wellington v. Marlborough "rugger" match. We played golf together. I was admitted to desk cricket and became an expert. From him I learnt the historical gossip of the office---wondrous tales of the practical jokes of Lord Bertie and of other stalwarts of bygone days. In return, with my weakness for self-revelation, I told him the story of my life. Our friendship progressed so rapidly that within a few weeks I was able to induce him to listen to the Eastern sketches which I had written and which English editors had been foolish enough to refuse. Doubtless, he found the performance more amusing than the writing of consular minutes.
This literary entertainment, provided of course during office hours, led to a strange turn in my fortunes. In the ordinary course of events, after completing my six weeks in the Consular Department, I should have been transferred to the Commercial Department, where I should have come under the tutelage of Sir Algernon Law, a fierce disciplinarian, of whom every youngster stood in awe. There had been, however, a change in my own department. Lord Dufferin had fallen ill and had been replaced temporarily by Don Gregory, who was then a junior assistant. In the meantime the Agadir crisis had broken out, and, as the political departments were working at high pressure, our staff had been reduced in order to provide extra help. One afternoon, as I was reading a particularly touching tale of a Catholic missionary in the East to Guy Locock, Don Gregory came into the room. The word "Catholic" must have caught his ear.
"What's this?" he said in his pleasant, rather fussy manner.
"We have a literary genius in the office," he said. "He's reading us a story about a Catholic missionary."
Gregory took my manuscript. The next day he asked me to dinner. I met Mrs. Gregory and liked her. I talked about my life in the East and gave her more manuscripts to read. I presented her with a couple of Japanese portraits which I had bought in Japan and about which I had written a sentimental sketch. Within a few days I was asked to dine again. My position in the office changed. Gregory gave me more work to do. I became, in short, his private secretary. Then one day he sent for me.
"We are very short-handed," he said. "You will gain nothing by going to the Commercial Department or by going abroad too soon. I can arrange for you to stay here for a bit to help us out. When the time comes for you to go abroad, I shall see that you will lose nothing by this arrangement in the selection of your post."
Of course I accepted. I was then still an Episcopalian, although my sympathies with Roman Catholicism were already strong. This, however, was enough. The generous, warm-hearted Don liked Catholics. What was more important he seemed to like me, and I owe him the full measure of my gratitude. As a departmental official he had few equals, and from him I learnt much that was to benefit me in future years. He put me wise about official life abroad. He told me much about Rumania, where he had been en poste, and about Poland, in whose fate he was deeply interested. He greatly stimulated my interest in Russia, which even then he realised was to be the storm-centre of Europe. Then, one evening about Christmas time, he summoned me to his room and showed me a despatch. It was an intimation from our Ambassador in St. Petersburg announcing that the Russian Government had approved my appointment as British Vice-Consul in Moscow.
"You will have to leave in a fortnight," he said with a smile.
Moscow! Like a flash the Russia of Seton Merriman---the only Russia I knew---passed before my eyes. Adventure, danger, romance photographed themselves in my mind. But one thought dominated everything. Moscow was Europe. It was only three days away from home. Six weeks ago, but for my luckless Eastern manuscripts, it was a thousand to one that like all new vice-consuls I should have been sent to Colon or Panama, or at the best, to Chicago or Pittsburgh. Gratefully I faltered out my thanks, and that night I left the office for good to rush home to tell the good news to my parents and to prepare for my departure.
There was to be one more adventure before I left. My father and mother gave a farewell dance for me. It was attended by all my---or rather their---friends in the neighbourhood. One house-party, which turned up in full force, brought with it a beautiful Australian girl, whom I had never seen before. I succumbed at once. I had only a fortnight in which to press my suit. In ten days we were engaged. Early in the year I left for Russia and she returned to Australia. We were married during my first leave the following year.
Book Two: The Moscow Pageant
Table of Contents