Mid Oriental Squalor
( Originally Published 1903 )
THERE were two British men-of war at Aden, and we saw that we were again at a British coaling-station. Timmie said that England seemed to own every decent port on the way around the world, and this was evidently the case. Gibraltar and Malta dominate the Mediterranean, and Aden controls the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Beside this, there is an English Army of Occupation in Egypt, and all signs agree that this army will remain indefinitely. " We want to hustle around and get some coaling-stations for Uncle Sam," said Timmie, " or we might have a hard time in this part of the world in case of war. It isn't fair that Old England should have every port that's valuable." This conversation took place in the mess-room, and the assistant messman, who proved to be a deserter from Malta, expressed some sentiments which made him very popular with our crowd. " Why," he exclaimed, " in case of a war between America and any European power, the United States fleet could use any coaling-station that England owns, for she would be a firm ally. You have no idea what a strong feeling of friendship exists between the two countries. All this jingo talk doesn't amount to anything. On the China station, if a party of Yankee tars goes ashore and is pitched into by Germans or Russians, you can bet that there'll be a crowd of Britishers on hand mighty quick, and the Anglo-American alliance is successful every time. And if the British crowd gets into trouble, the Yanks help 'em out, and that's the way it always goes. There may not be a formal alliance between the two nations, but there's a mighty strong feelin' of friendship, just the same." This sentiment met with the approval of nearly everyone in the mess-room except two Spaniards who worked in the engineer's department. We had all been treated so well in the English ports we visited, that whatever ill-feeling we had toward Britain had been wiped away with kindness.
The Steamer Point
When the transport dropped anchor off the rocky peninusula of Aden, we could see only three or four buildings ashore. That isn't much of a place," said Kenneth Eddy; " it won't be worth while going ashore here at all." Mr Casey laughed. " That isn't the town at all," he explained. " That is Steamer Point, and Aden is about five miles back. But I can tell you now that Steamer Point is cleaner and more attractive in every way than the native town. This is one of the worst holes you can find on a journey round the earth, and for my part I'm goin' to stay on shipboard, where I'm fairly comfortable and can get something to eat" Captain Linder announced that we would have to stay in Aden two days in order to coal the ship, and of course Timmie and I didn't propose to remain quietly on board for a long time; so we asked for permission to go ashore that very afternoon, and when it was given, we went after Howard and Kenneth Eddy to go with us. We four made up a congenial crowd, and we could have a good time in any place, however uninteresting it might prove to be. Shore leave was granted to nearly all those in the deck department, but the. engineer's people were obliged to remain on board and help in the coaling operations.
Our fun began as soon as we boys landed at the wharf and set foot for the first time on the Asiatic Continent. We were immediately surrounded by natives who had horses and carriages which were at our service for the journey over-land to Aden, but none of us noticed the carriages at all. We were too much occupied with the natives themselves. They were the most remarkable persons in appearance that we had seen on our trip. They were Somalis from the neigh-boring coast of Africa, with shiny, black skins, and facial expressions which were positively idiotic. But they might have looked natural if they had left their hair as nature made it. Nearly everyone we saw had dyed his hair with a solution of lime until it was the color of a ripe orange, and shone out in strong contrast to his ebony skin. None .of the natives were troubled with an over-abundance of clothing, and most of them were thin as walking skeletons, and looked as if they were not accustomed to good food or nourishment.
Popularity of Red Hair
It happens that my own hair is somewhat reddish in tint, and when those Somalis saw me land from the launch they stared at it in open amazement. I tried not to notice this discourtesy, but when they followed me about, and endeavored to get as near as possible to my head, so that they could examine it, I couldn't help being embarrassed. The boys noticed their curiosity, too, and of course they joked me about it unmercifully. " My," said Howard, " isn't it wonderful how these natives can admire red hair. Some people have to go a long way from home to be appreciated." " Yes," said Timmie, " I suppose the poor things don't know any better. It's possible that they have never seen any hair so red before." I didn't mind the attention I attracted, but I didn't relish the idea of being teased about it during the remainder of the voyage, so I tried to make the Somalis understand that I didn't appreciate their delicate attentions. But they followed me about just the same, and they called other natives to come and see. It is possible that they had never seen a foreigner with red hair, but this seems hardly probable, since so many ships coal at Aden every year. We entered a store at Steamer Point to buy some lemonade, and when I turned around suddenly there were three natives examining me from behind. This was too much, so I went after them with a cane. The boys laughed uproariously, and they told all about it as soon as we returned to the transport. The sailors were not slow to take up the joke, and I heard about " Aden hair " during the remainder of the voyage. There's no doubt but what the Somalis thought my hair artificial, like their own, and if they had been able to speak English they would certainly have asked for my recipe. Whenever the sailors began to tease me about the Somalis' admiration, I would say: " Well, I don't mind. It's worth a trip around the world just to find a place where red hair is really appreciated." And this sentiment was usually enough to silence them.
After an hour among the English shops at Steamer Point, we boys began to consider ways and means of getting to Aden. A carriage was too conventional to suit, and no one had any intention of walking five miles in the hot sun, although there was a refreshing breeze from the southwest. While we were discussing the question, we saw a long caravan of camels passing along the road, and Kenneth had an inspiration, or what he called one. " I have it ! " he exclaimed. We'll go to Aden on camels, just like Arabs from the desert. That'll be great fun, and an experience none of us will ever forget." Timmie was equally enthusiastic. "I never did ride on a camel," he said, "and this will, maybe, turn out to be my last chance." Howard said he was willing, so I agreed, although I doubted the pleasure of a five-mile ride on camels' backs.
On Camel-Back to Aden
Having decided to ride camels, we had to look about for animals which we could hire, and there didn't seem to be any available. We walked all over the Point, and were getting discouraged, when Kenneth spied a short caravan coming up the road. " I'll make a deal with the caravan man," he said, and when the train came up to where we stood he carried on an animated conversation with the driver by means of signs. Finally an agreement was reached, and we mounted our beasts of burden. There were ten camels altogether, walking solemnly along in single file, and it was hard to decide which ones would be best for riding purposes, and it turned out that Timmie had chosen the meanest one of all. His camel refused absolutely to walk along at a comfortable rate. He insisted on trotting at intervals, and when Timmie kicked he would stop altogether. When he trotted, the poor boy had to hold on for dear life, and we all expected to see him thrown off. It was fun to watch the beast's manoeuvres, but Timmie couldn't appreciate the joke. He yelled at us to make the driver stop so that he could get off, and at last we all waited while he could change to a more docile animal.
It took us some time to get accustomed to the queer, swaying motion, but after about fifteen minutes we felt as if we were true Arabs, who had ridden only camels all our lives. It was pleasant to be seated high above the ground, where we could see everything of interest, and we felt quite superior to the ship's passengers, who passed us in carriages. They were surprised to find us riding camels, but one of the Congressmen said afterward that they needn't be surprised at anything " that quartette " did. " They'll always do the unexpected," he remarked, and we didn't object to this reputation. We hadn't started round the world to do the things we were accustomed to doing at home, and we all agreed that variety is the spice of life and the joy of travel. " They can play whist and knit if they want to," said Kenneth, " but we'd rather do something more exciting."
We had excitement enough to last us quite a while before we completed that ride to Aden. None of us had ever heard that camels would run away, so we were surprised when the leading one broke loose from the driver, and ran wildly down the road. Of course the others followed suit, and in less time than it takes to write it we were all clinging tightly to our animals and expecting every minute to be thrown off. Our feet were in the air most of the time, and every second we rebounded from the camels' humps. They seemed to be loping rather than trotting, and Kenneth said afterward that he'd match his camel to beat any trotter that ever ran a race. Of course they didn't run as fast as we thought, but we were sufficiently frightened to make us yell at the tops of our voices for someone to stop the runaways. We had no lines to pull them back, for they were tethered one to the other by ropes, and the driver con-trolled the whole number by leading the first. We didn't notice much of the passing landscape, but I recognized Captain Linder in one of the carriages we passed. He was leaning out of the window and grinning—for the first time during the trip, I'm sure. I said afterward that if our plight would make the Captain grin again, I was quite willing to go through another runaway experience.
Our Thrilling Ride
We were all about exhausted when all at once the camels stopped running. When we looked up we saw that the road led between two great walls of rock. There was an iron gate and other defences to mark the British territory, and when the guard saw the camels running without a driver he immediately shut the gate and stopped them. We were most profuse in our thanks, and Howard in particular acted as if he had been near losing his life. " We might have been killed," he said, " if those animals had thrown us against some of those big rocks along the road. I'll never ride one of them again, and I'll walk back to Steamer Point if we can't get a carriage. We couldn't help laughing, in spite of our fright, when Howard said he'd walk, for we were all so sore from the bumps we received that we couldn't have walked a mile to save us. We stayed there by the gate, and told the driver when he came up that we wouldn't pay him a cent for the ride we had. " If you lived in New York," said Timmie, " we'd sue you for damages, instead, and before any decent jury you'd have to pay." This threat made no impression, since the driver couldn't understand English, but he realized that we wouldn't pay, and stormed about it in great style. He made all sorts of-fierce gestures, but we weren't afraid. We were four to one, and we had several British soldiers there to help us. After a few minutes he took his frisky camels and went on to Aden, and we were glad to see the last of him.
We waited until we saw the boatswain coming along in a carriage, all alone. We greeted him joyfully, and told him that he'd have to take us on to Aden, since we were stranded in the desert. He was glad to do this, and said he wanted company, so all our troubles were over for the time being. " What an exciting time we've had," said Kenneth, when we were comfortably seated in the carriage and speeding along the smooth road. "Do you know," he continued, " I think it's that red hair which caused all the disturbance. In the first place it excited the natives at Steamer Point, and now it's made the camels run away. When you visit Arabia again," he said to me, " you'd better wear a wig."