I can assure the Reader that now, having returned from Kazohinia and looking back to my sufferings among the Hins and particularly among the Behins, I am of completely the same opinion.
Thus may I mention, not by way of excuse but by way of explanation, that on this occasion, apart from my accursed adventurous spirit, it was the protection of Great Britain and Christian civilization that prompted me to travel anew. And I ask the educated Reader whether there is a more worthy calling for a British subject than to serve under the Royal flag the elevated ideas of mankind and Christianity against their sworn enemies.
Possibly the circumstance that my voyage to Kazohinia led me to hitherto entirely unknown territories and afforded me such extraordinary experiences as no fellow-being had previously undergone also deserves some appreciation. In particular my becoming acquainted with the Behinic disease, however, raised my hopes that my travels had not been in vain and that by describing my experiences I should be able — in proportion to my humble faculties — to perform some service to my country and to medical science.
I am perfectly prepared for the Reader to accept my narrative with an occasional shake of the head; I therefore mention in advance that in the course of my work I have always striven to describe everything with the strictest objectivity.
Should, however, some parts of my book still furnish opportunity for doubt I shall not be unduly surprised. Kazohinia is so remote from my country and European civilization that both the customs there and particularly the Behinic disease are completely unknown to us, and had I not seen them with my very own eyes I would possibly not believe that they exist and that they. are indeed as they are.
If now, having compiled my accounts of this voyage, I nevertheless publish them all, this proves only my devotion to the objective truth which, faced though I was with the inevitable doubts of the Reader, prompted me to describe these definite facts.
Mankind, redeemed of his sins, was writing "one thousand nine hundred and thirty-five" when the government of His Majesty came to the conclusion that, in all probability, we should have to wage war with Italy.
To the educated Reader I possibly need not explain in detail that the differences of opinion had arisen as a result of the actions directed against the Ethiopian people.
It is beyond doubt that Italy entered this action with the intention of extending her territories — an action which an English gentleman can take cognizance of with a measure of respect, even if perpetrated by the enemy. And lest the Reader should accuse me of partiality, I hasten to add that this was appreciated by every decent inhabitant of Great Britain.
Especially were we deeply impressed by the enthusiastic generosity of the Italian prelates as they sacrificed money, valuable crosiers and bejewelled crosses of gold on the altar of the country in order that incendiary bombs, bayonets and even tanks be purchased for the noble purpose. We were all deeply impressed by the spirited pastoral letters in which they did not cease to encourage, with patriotic words, the shepherds, farmers, fishermen, fishmongers, grocers, piemen, icemen, longshoremen, ginger-bread makers, candle-dippers, beggarmen and thieves alike to go to the front and spread culture and the true Christian virtues among the Blacks, while they would ceaselessly implore the Saviour and the Virgin of Loreto in devout prayer that the grace of Heaven should succour those bearing arms for a noble cause.
At the same time we willingly recognized the heroic feats of the Italian soldiers whose death-defying courage and other honourable virtues might well be followed as an example by every loyal British subject of character, naturally under the Union Jack, and against the Italians. I repeat that as regards the how of the matter there was no discord between my country and Italy; it was merely the why of it which provided a basis for disagreement.
As their motive for the Ethiopian action, the Italians put forward their desire to liberate the Ethiopians from the yoke of the Amharas and to spread culture. The obvious untruthfulness of this — with all due respect — must prompt every sober-minded and better educated person to laughter if he has even but a passing knowledge of the diplomatic phrases customary in other countries when they wish to gloss over the essence of things and thereby mislead the uninitiated observer.
I have no wish to slip into the error of partiality in the way of travellers who are not above a disproportionately ostentatious display of the glory of their country in the guise of scientific description; I believe, however, that with all modesty and due respect to foreign states I might mention that adoption of such a perspective is an error a British subject would never commit. In my country it is well known even to the less educated that the devoted but noble work of liberating the peoples of the tropics has always been a heartfelt duty of Great Britain. Sufficient proof may, I feel, be found in the many colonies from South-East India to the Boers, whose peoples were set free from oppression at the cost of heavy battles.
And, much as an English gentleman is left cold by the material aspect, I cannot conceal my opinion that, apart from the cause of culture and freedom, Italy, in making her decision, may have been influenced, possibly unconsciously, by Ethiopian coffee and oil-fields.
This is why the government of His Majesty, having made sanctions against the Italians, came to the decision to launch a defensive war against Italy. With this end in view and to ensure peace and balance of power in Europe, several divisions were urgently posted to Egypt with aeroplanes, tanks, flame-throwers and incendiary bombs, while battleships were despatched to the Mediterranean Sea accompanied by torpedo-carrying destroyers and submarines.
These actions were of course received with strenuous counteraction by the Italian press. They asserted that, apart from the reasons mentioned, my country's actions had perhaps been influenced by the desire for gain and that she was begrudging a needy people the few oil-wells and mines which did not even approach the sphere of Italy's interests, and would not even have been mentioned had not the British become involved.
The Reader may by now find the political details tedious but it is my strictly determined intention to adhere to the objective truth and always to raise my humble voice in protest whenever unmerited blame is cast upon my country, its navy, its aeroplanes, its tanks, and in general on any of our splendid establishments that distinguish noble man from the beast of prey.
Thus, so as not to lose the thread of my story, it happened at that time that His Majesty's heavily armour battleship "Terrible", riding at anchor in Chinese waters, was despatched to the Mediterranean and in its place an old tub, the worn-out cruiser "Invincible", was sent to fly the Royal colours and represent the rightful interests of my country with its presence. The task of the "Invincible" was not at all easy as my country's interests were strongly threatened in the Far East by the danger of Japanese expansion; even some sections of the Chinese people were in rebellion against the concession belts representing culture and civilization, and it was on account of these interests that the "Invincible" had to be stationed at Shanghai.
My country was resolved to secure a European-type civilization in the East, too. The conflict with Italy, however, did not then permit it, which opportunity was thoroughly utilized by Japan who herself began to spread civilization in northern China, in full concord for the time being with the Covenant of the League of Nations and my beloved country.
The "Terrible" was replaced by the "Invincible" for a further reason, too; this was that if the Japanese sank it the damage would be comparatively insignificant and the case would not require consideration as hostile action. Although this intention was a strictly confidential naval secret, it nevertheless leaked out to the crew, and, as a direct result of this, several requests for transfer were received. These requests were turned down by the Admiralty, whereupon many people deserted.
The government was compelled to resort to other methods as it was to be feared that the forced personnel would jump ship in Shanghai.
Accordingly double salary was promised together with life insurance for a high sum.
At that time I was serving aboard the cruiser "Trafalgar" as surgeon, and having returned home one day I made mention of the matter to my wife.
My wife, who was the paragon of the faithful partner in marriage, as well as a good mother, and who as a zealous and chaste spouse had never ceased to rouse me with her frequent advice and urgency in my duties as a husband, immediately grasped the situation and enjoined me not to hesitate in having myself transferred immediately to the "Invincible". With zealous words, she explained that in Shanghai I should have no expenses, nor should I be in a position to spend my afternoons with my frivolous friends in the club and prodigally waste my money at dominoes, but would instead be able to send it all home for the support of my beloved family. I should have no need for anxiety for them, as to what would happen in the case of my death in action as, apart from the pension, the life insurance would be sufficient for her and the children to cherish my memory as befitted my rank.
The lofty words of my gentle and loving spouse as well as the call of my adored country prompted me to petition my transfer to the "Invincible", which I duly received within a week.
After another week we sailed. My wife bore the pain of parting with the strength of spirit becoming to a patriotic woman. She did not even accompany me to the port lest she should cause me unnecessary grief, but to ease her aching heart, she hastened to the dressmaker to try on the dress she had ordered for the tea-party, which was to be given by Mrs. E. Palmer the next day but one, from my first double salary.
The sailing incidentally took place quite without ceremony. On October fourth but half an hour after embarkation, the "Invincible" weighed anchor, and after three cheers and some cap-waving we put to sea.
Already on the eighth we were passing through the Straits of Gibraltar. After another four days we reached Malta where we took on coal, oil and fresh water but we continued our voyage. On the fourteenth we arrived at the Suez Canal through which were moving several Italian troop-ships accompanied by some torpedo-carrying destroyers and the battle-cruiser "Il Duce". This had earlier been called "LibertÓ" but had then been renamed due to the the demand of a grateful people liberated from the oppression of the old regime, to which the leader — with all his modesty — could not turn a deaf ear.
Both we and the Italian battleships expressed our joy at the meeting in the most courteous forms. We each hoisted the flag of the other nation, dipped our own, and fired salvoes partly to convey our friendly greetings and partly to show the other that we had ammunition.
I do not want to bore the Reader by describing the details of our voyage on the Red Sea — though particularly around Aden we enjoyed a magnificent panorama; I will rather continue from the point at which we reached the Indian Ocean.
Our route led widely south of the Equator as it was necessary for us to reach our destination discreetly if possible, so we tried to avoid the sea-lanes of regular liners. Our next port of call was to be Singapore, which we had to reach by sailing round the island of Sumatra.
We had been cutting through the waves of the Indian Ocean for eight days and already believed that we should arrive in Shanghai safe and sound. The captain was quite prepared for our ship to be an example of true British tradition so he had two sailors put in irons in solitary confinement and another was threatened with court-martial. This was because they had not polished their buttons properly and had shouldered arms negligently on parade.
Everything was in perfect order. The guns were polished, the hull repainted; in the end we managed to look as formidable as if we had just come out of dock after being completely refitted.
At about seven o'clock in the evening I was standing beside the gun-turret on the middle-deck. Near me my friend, a lieutenant-commander, was contentedly rubbing his hands and from the crew's quarters some drawling singing could be heard to an accordion and castanet accompaniment. It was some old song they had learned in Barcelona. (Lest the educated Reader should accuse our honest staff of officers of laxity I hasten to add that at that time the Spanish Civil War had not yet broken out, and consequently my country had not then signed the Non-Intervention Pact.)
Suddenly, without any warning, I felt a violent thrust. The screw-propellers pulled back our ship with full counter-steam; confused shouting and running about could be heard.
I looked around in fear, and understood everything in a flash.
From the distance a long streak was drawing nearer and nearer at an incredible speed. For an instant I faintly hoped that it would perhaps pass by the prow, but in vain. I had time only to throw myself on the floor in the recess behind the gun and the next second a terrible force hurled me against the opposite wall and the detonation almost deafened me.
My head was humming from the blow, I was only able to crawl out on all fours. My friend the lieutenant-commander lay near me, laughing uproariously.
"The blockheads... The blockheads..." he spluttered. "They surely believe they've made a lucky hit! We've played a fine trick on them!... It was good to have the ten-inch ones swabbed!... One must burst!"
He would have continued but in the meantime died, while I endeavoured to drag myself quickly towards the stern which was as yet out of the water.
One of the crew threw some lifebelts into the lifeboat after us; another managed to throw in some forty pounds of tins, but then we hastened to get launched and row away as fast as we could lest the wash of the ship should swamp us.
I do not wish to concern the Reader with excessive detail. It can be imagined how we spent the following pitch-dark night down in the Southern hemisphere, far from every sea-lane, and the significance it had for us when at two after midnight we received no answer to our shouts any more and had to conclude that we had lost contact with the other boats.
We rowed to and fro until dawn and when the sun rose saw nothing but water and more water.
One old sailor repeatedly asserted that there was in those parts a sea current which we had slipped into and by our stupid dodging about we had become still more deeply enmeshed.
I bitterly cursed the foolhardy impulse which after so many trials and tribulations had driven me to sea anew and I beseechingly prayed to the all-merciful Lord of Heaven to rescue me but this once more, and I should never put to sea again.
The only thought that relieved my despair was that my admirable wife and family would inherit my heroic name which, cut in a stone together with many others, would proclaim on the main square of Southampton where foreign citizens should place the wreath. After the reconciliation even the Minister of Naval Affairs of the state that had had us torpedoed would stand before our monument and pay tribute with zealous eloquence to the heroism with which we had drowned in the sea. This thought inflated all of us with pride. We realized that a true English patriot cannot expect more from life and with heads erect we awaited our destiny and sang before we were due to perish.
Our preserves gave out on the fourth day. At noon we opened the last two tins, drank after it the last sip of fresh water and prepared for our glorious death.
At twilight, however, we were lucky enough to be caught in a storm which grew more and more violent. Eventually it so raged that not even the oldest seamen could remember anything to compare with it, and I myself could only compare it with the monsoon that overtook us on my voyage to Brobdingnag off the Molucca Islands.
Everybody put on their lifebelts with sinking hearts and half an hour later, when our boat was already being swallowed by the billows, I decided to try my luck with my lifebelt round my waist.
In another half-hour the storm had blown over, and taking advantage of the opportunity I tried to fasten myself with the strings of the lifebelt.
Thus did I spend the night. The sufferings of this night would, I believe, be unnecessary to describe in detail. When day dawned I saw nobody around me, but to the even greater pleasure of my faint heart the coastal line of an island appeared before my eyes at a distance of some two miles.
Gathering the rest of my strength I began to swim. My arms were reinforced in the knowledge that a stone inscribed with my name would proclaim my death as a hero, and, what is more, even though I should live, I should never see my beloved wife again.
After a desperately hard struggle lasting four hours I succeeded in reaching the shore where I immediately collapsed from exhaustion and sank into a deep sleep.