Wednesday, May 19, 2010

one dreary November morning, 1909

I've begun reading a first-person adventure yarn which begins with the author telling us us what motivated him to sign on as purser on a tramp steamer taking coal from Wales to Brazil. He's a journalist and you can tell in this brief extract how much he greatly relishes a nice phrase.
That day was but a thin solution of night. You know those November mornings with a low, corpse-white east where the sunrise should be, as though the day were still-born. ... It occurs to you at once that a London garden, especially in winter, should have no place in a narrative which tells of the sea and the jungle. But it has much to do with it. ... There it was: the blackened dahlias, the last to fall, prone in the field where death had got all things under his feet. My pleasaunce was a dark area of soddened relics; the battalions of June were slain, and their bodies in the mud. That was the prospect in life I had. ... I knew of nothing to look forward to but December, with January to follow. ...

It is necessary for you to learn that on my way to catch the 8.35 that morning — it is always the 8.35 — there came to me no premonition of change. No portent was in the sky but the grey wrack. I saw the hale and dominant gentleman, as usual, who arrives at the station in a brougham drawn by two grey horses. ... There was the pale girl in black who never, between our suburb and the city, lifts her shy brown eyes, benedictory as they are at such a time, from the soiled book of the local public library, and whose umbrella has lost half its handle, a china nob. ...

I have a clear memory of the newspapers as they were that morning. I had a sheaf of them, for it is my melancholy business to know what each is saying. I learned there were dark and portentous matters, not actually with us, but looming, each already rather larger than a man's hand. If certain things happened, said one half the papers, ruin stared us in the face. If those thing did not happen, said the other half, ruin stared us in the face. No way appeared out of it. You paid your half-penny and were damned either way. If you paid a penny you got more for your money. Boding gloom, full-orbed, could be had for that. There was your extra value for you. I looked round at my fellow passengers, all reading the same papers, and all, it could be reasonably presumed, with foreknowledge of catastrophe. They were indifferent, every one of them. I suppose we have learned, with some bitterness, that nothing ever happens but private failure and tragedy, unregarded by our fellows except with pity. ...

I put down the papers with their calls to social righteousness pitched in the upper register of the tea-tray, their bright and instructive interviews with flat earthers, and with the veteran who is topically interesting because, having served one master fifty years, and reared thirteen children on fifteen shillings a week, he has just begun to draw his old age pension. ... Again, the young prince, we were credibly informed in all the papers of that morning, did stop to look in at a toy-shop window in Regent Street the previous afternoon. So like a boy, you know, and yet he is a prince of course. The matter could not be doubted. The report was carefully illustrated. The prince stood on his feet outside the toy shop, and looked in.

To think of the future as a modestly long series of such prone mornings, dawns unlit by heaven's light, new days to which we should be awakened always by these clamant cockcrows bringing to our notice what the busyness of our fellows had accomplished in nests of intelligent and fruitful china eggs, was enough to make one stand up in the carriage, horrified, and pull the communication cord. So I put down the papers and turned to the landscape. Had I known the Skipper was back from below the horizon — but I did not know. So I must go on to explain that that morning train did stop, with its unfailing regularity, and not the least hint of reprieve, at the place appointed in the Schedule. Soon I was at work, showing, I hope, the right eager and concentrated eye, dutifully and busily climbing the revolving wheel like the squirrel; except, unluckier than that wild thing so far as I know, I was clearly conscious, whatever the speed, the wheel remained forever in the same place. Looking up to sigh through the bars after a long spin there was the Skipper smiling at me.
The writer is H. M. Tomlinson and the book is The Sea and the Jungle. (Being the narrative of the voyage of the tramp steamer Capella, 1909 and 1910.) by H M Tomlinson (Duckworth & Co.: London, 1912).

Here is Tomlinson.

The tramp steamer looked very much like this.

Here are online versions of the book.

The Sea and the Jungle Henry Major Tomlinson (New York, E. P. Dutton & Co, 1920) 1912

The Sea and the Jungle by Henry Major Tomlinson (E.P. Dutton & co., 1920)

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