The Noble Pioneer
As far as Berkeley Cole and Denys Finch-Hatton were concerned, my house was a communist establishment. Everything in it was theirs, and they took a pride in it, and brought home the things they felt to be lacking. They kept the house up to a high standard in wine and tobacco, and got books and gramophone records out from Europe for me. Berkeley arrived with his car loaded up with turkeys, eggs, and oranges, from his own farm on Mount Kenya. They both had the ambition to make me a judge of wine, as they were, and spent much time and thought in the task. They took the greatest pleasure in my Danish table glass and china, and used to build up on the dinner table a tall shining pyramid of all my glass, the one piece on the top of the other; they enjoyed the sight of it.
Berkeley, when he stayed on the farm, had a bottle of champagne out in the forest every morning at eleven o’clock. Once, as he was taking leave of me, and thanking me for his time on the farm, he added that there had been one shadow in the picture, for we had been given coarse and vulgar glasses for our wine under the trees. “I know, Berkeley,” I said, “but I have so few of my good glasses left, and the boys will break them when they have to carry them such a long way.” He looked at me gravely, my hand in his. “But my dear,” he said, “it has been so sad.” So afterwards he had my best glasses brought out in the wood.
It was a curious thing about Berkeley and Denys,—who were so deeply regretted by their friends in England when they emigrated, and so much beloved and admired in the Colony,—that they should be all the same, outcasts. It was not a society that had thrown them out, and not any place in the whole world either, but time had done it, they did not belong to their century. No other nation than the English could have produced them, but they were examples of atavism, and theirs was an earlier England, a world which no longer existed. In the present epoch they had no home, but had got to wander here and there, and in the course of time they also came to the farm. Of this they were not themselves aware. They had, on the contrary, a feeling of guilt towards their existence in England which they had left, as if, just because they were bored with it, they had been running away from a duty with which their friends had put up. Denys, when he came to talk of his young days,—although he was so young still,—and of his prospects, and the advice that his friends in England sent him, quoted Shakespeare’s Jaques:
“If it do come to pass
That any man turn ass,
Leaving his wealth and ease
A stubborn will to please?”
But he was wrong in his view of himself, so was Berkeley, and so perhaps was Jaques. They believed that they were deserters, who sometimes had to pay for their wilfulness, but they were in reality exiles, who bore their exile with a good grace.
Berkeley, if he had had his small head enriched with a wig of long silky curls, could have walked in and out of the Court of King Charles II. He might have sat, a nimble youth from England, at the feet of the aged d’Artagnan, the d’Artagnan of Vingt Ans Apr`es, have listened to his wisdom, and kept the sayings in his heart. I felt that the law of gravitation did not apply to Berkeley, but that he might, as we sat talking at night by the fire, at any moment go straight up through the chimney. He was a very good judge of men, with no illusions about them and no spite. Out of a kind of devilry, he was most charming to the people of whom he had the poorest opinion. When he really chalked his soles for the job he was an inimitable buffoon. But to be a wit in the manner of Congreve and Wycherley en plein vingti`eme si`ecle takes a few more qualities than Congreve or Wycherley themselves had got in them: a glow, grandezza, the wild hope. Where the jest was carried far in its daring and arrogance, sometimes it became pathetic. When Berkeley, a little heated, and as if translucent with wine, really got on his high horse, on the wall behind him the shadow of it began to grow and move, falling into a haughty and fantastical canter, as if it came of a noble breed and its sire’s name had been Rosinante. But Berkeley himself, the invincible jester, lonely in his African life, half an invalid,—for his heart always gave him trouble,—with his beloved farm on Mount Kenya every day more in the hands of the Banks, would have been the last to recognize or fear the shadow.
Small, very slight, red-haired, with narrow hands and feet, Berkeley carried himself extremely erect, with a little d’Artagnanesque turn of the head to right and left, the gentle motion of the unbeaten duellist. He walked as noiselessly as a cat. And, like a cat, he made every room that he sat in, a place of comfort, as if he had had in him a source of heat and fun. If Berkeley had come and sat with you upon the smoking ruin of your house, he would, like a cat, have made you feel that you were in a picked snug corner. When he was at his ease you expected to hear him purr, like a big cat, and when he was sick, it was more than sad and distressing, it was formidable as is the sickness of a cat. He had no principles, but a surprising stock of prejudices, as you would expect it in a cat.
If Berkeley were a cavalier of the Stuarts’ day, Denys should be set in an earlier English landscape, in the days of Queen Elizabeth. He could have walked arm in arm, there, with Sir Philip, or Francis Drake. And the people of Elizabeth’s time might have held him dear because to them he would have suggested that Antiquity, the Athens, of which they dreamed and wrote. Denys could indeed have been placed harmoniously in any period of our civilization, tout comme chez soi, all up till the opening of the nineteenth century. He would have cut a figure in any age, for he was an athlete, a musician, a lover of art and a fine sportsman. He did cut a figure in his own age, but it did not quite fit in anywhere. His friends in England always wanted him to come back, they wrote out plans and schemes for a career for him there, but Africa was keeping him.
The particular, instinctive attachment which all Natives of Africa felt towards Berkeley and Denys, and towards a few other people of their kind, made me reflect that perhaps the white men of the past, indeed of any past, would have been in better understanding and sympathy with the coloured races than we, of our Industrial Age, shall ever be. When the first steam engine was constructed, the roads of the races of the world parted, and we have never found one another since.
There was a shadow cast over my friendship with Berkeley by the circumstance that Jama, his young Somali servant, was of a tribe at war with Farah’s tribe. To people familiar with the clannish feelings of the Somali, those dark deep desert glances that were exchanged over our dinner table, when the two were waiting on Berkeley and me, bode as ill as possible. Late in the evening we fell to talking of what we were to do when we should be coming out in the morning to find both Farah and Jama cold, with daggers in their hearts. In these matters the enemies knew neither fear nor sense, they were held back from bloodshed and ruin solely by their feelings of attachment, such as they were, for Berkeley and me.
“I dare not,” said Berkeley, “tell Jama tonight that I have changed my mind, and that I shall not this time be going to Eldoret, where lives the young woman that he is in love with. For then his heart will turn to stone against me, it will be a matter of no importance to him if my clothes are brushed, and he will go out and kill Farah.”
Jama’s heart, however, never did turn to stone towards Berkeley. He had been with him a long time, and Berkeley often talked about him. He told me how once, over a matter in which Jama held himself to be right, Berkeley had lost his temper and had hit the Somali. “But then, my dear, you know,” said Berkeley, “at the very same moment I had one straight back in my face.”
“And how did it go then?” I asked him.
“Oh it went all right,” Berkeley said, modestly. After a little while he added: “It was not so bad. He is twenty years younger than me.”
This incident had left no trace in the attitude of either the master or the servant, Jama had a quiet, slightly patronizing manner towards Berkeley, such as most Somali servants have got towards their employers. After Berkeley’s death, Jama did not want to stay in the country, but went back to Somaliland.
Berkeley had a great, ever unsatisfied, love of the Sea. It was a favourite dream of his that he and I should,—when we had made money,—buy a dhow and go trading to Lamu, Mombasa and Zanzibar. We had our plans all worked out and our crew ready, but we never did make money.
Whenever Berkeley was tired or unwell he fell back on his thoughts of the Sea. He then grieved over his own foolishness in having spent a lifetime anywhere but on salt water, and used strong language about it. Once when I was going to Europe and he was in this mood, to please him I conceived the plan of bringing out two ships’ lanterns, starboard and port, to hang by the entrance door of my house, and told him of it.
“Yes, it would be nice,” he said, “the house would be in that way like a ship. But they must have sailed.”
So in Copenhagen in a sailors’ shop by one of the old Canals, I bought a pair of big old heavy ships’ lanterns, which had for many years sailed in the Baltic. We had them up on each side of the door, it faced East and we were pleased to think that the lamps were correctly placed; as the earth, on her course through the ether, throws herself forward, there would be no collision. These lamps gave Berkeley much content of heart. He often used to come to the house quite late, and ordinarily at a great speed, but when the lamps were lighted he drove slowly, slowly, up the drive, to let the little red and green stars in the night sink into his soul and bring back old pictures, reminiscences of ship-faring, to feel as if he were indeed approaching a silent ship on dark water. We developed a signalling system in regard to the lamps, changing their place or taking down the one, so that he should know, already while in the forest, in what mood he would find his hostess, and what sort of dinner was awaiting him.
Berkeley, like his brother Galbraith Cole and his brother-in-law Lord Delamere, was an early settler, a pioneer of the Colony, and intimate with the Masai, who in those days were the domineering nation of the land. He had known them before the European civilization,—which in the depths of their hearts they loathed more than anything else in the world,—cut through their roots; before they were moved from their fair North country. He could speak with them of the old days in their own tongue. Whenever Berkeley was staying on the farm, the Masai came over the river to see him. The old chiefs sat and discussed their troubles of the present time with him, his jokes would make them laugh, and it was as if a hard stone had laughed.
Because of Berkeley’s knowledge of, and friendship with, the Masai, a most imposing ceremony came to take place on the farm.
When the Great War first broke out, and the Masai had news of it, the blood of the old fighting tribe was all up. They had visions of splendid battles and massacres, and they saw the glory of the past returning once more. I happened to be out, during the first months of the war, alone with Natives and Somali, with three ox-waggons, doing transport for the English Government, and trekking through the Masai Reserve. Whenever the people of a new district heard of my arrival they came round to my camp, with shining eyes, to ask me a hundred questions of the war and the Germans—was it true that they were coming from the air? In their minds they were running breathless, to meet danger and death. At night the young warriors swarmed round my tent, in full warpaint, with spears and swords; sometimes, in order to show me what they were really like, they would give out a short roar, an imitation of the lion’s roar. They did not doubt then that they would be allowed to fight.
But the English Government did not think it wise to organize the Masai to make war on white men, be they even Germans, and it forbade the Masai to fight, and put an end to all their hopes. The Kikuyu were to take part in the war as carriers, but the Masai were to keep their hands off their weapons. But in 1918, when conscription had been introduced in regard to all the other Natives of the Colony, the Government thought it necessary to call out the Masai as well. An officer of the K.A.R., with his regiment, was sent to Narok to procure three hundred Morani as soldiers. By this time the Masai had lost their sympathy with the war and refused to come. The Morani of the district disappeared into the woods and the bush. In the pursuit of them the K.A.R. troops by mistake fired on a manyatta, and two old women were killed. Two days after, the Masai Reserve was in open revolt, swarms of Morani swept through the country, killed a number of Indian traders, and burned down more than fifty dukhas. The situation was serious, and the Government did not want to force it. Lord Delamere was sent down to negotiate with the Masai and in the end a compromise was set up. The Masai were allowed to take out the three hundred Morani themselves, and they were let off with a joint fine in punishment of their devastation in the Reserve. No Morani appeared, but by that time the Armistice put an end to the whole matter.
During the time of all these events, some of the old big Masai chiefs had made themselves useful to the English military, by sending out their young men to scout on the movements of the Germans in the Reserve and on the border. Now that the war was over, the Government wanted to show their recognition of their services. A number of medals were sent out from home to be distributed amongst the Masai, and as far as twelve of the medals were concerned Berkeley, who knew the Masai so well and could speak Masai, was asked to deal them out.
My farm bordered on the Masai Reserve and Berkeley came to ask me if he might stay with me and give out the medals from my house. He was a little nervous about the enterprise, and told me that he had no clear idea what was expected from him. On a Sunday we drove together a long way down into the Reserve, and talked with the people in the manyattas, in order to summon the chiefs in question to the farm on such and such a day. Berkeley in his very young days had been an officer in the 9th Lancers, and he was then, I have been told, the smartest young officer in his regiment. Still, as, towards sunset, we were driving home again, he began to speak to me of the military calling and mentality, and to develop his ideas upon them, in the manner of a civilian.
The distribution of the medals, although in itself of no special consequence, was an event of great dimensions and weight. So much wisdom, sagacity and tact were displayed in it, on both sides, as to make it stand for an act in the history of the world, or a symbol:
“His Darkness and his Brightness
exchanged a greeting of extreme politeness.”
The old Masai had arrived, followed by retainers or sons of theirs. They sat and waited on the lawn, from time to time discussing my cows grazing there, perhaps they had a faint hope that, in reward of their services, they were to be made a present of a cow. Berkeley kept them waiting a long time, which was, I believe, to them in the order of things, in the meantime he had an armchair carried out on the lawn in front of the house, in which to sit while he gave out the medals. When in the end he came forth from the house he looked, in this dark company, very fair, red-haired and light-eyed. He had now the complete brisk cheerful carriage and expression of an efficient young officer, so that I learned that Berkeley, who could let his face express so many things, could also in the hour of need, make it an absolute blank. He was followed by Jama, who had on a very fine Arabian waistcoat all embroidered in gold and silver, which Berkeley had let him buy for the occasion, and who carried the box with the medals.
Berkeley stood up in front of his chair to speak, and so active was the uprightness of his slight small figure that the old people got on to their legs, one by one, and stood facing him, their eyes in his, gravely. What the speech was about I cannot say, as it was in Masai. It sounded as if he were briefly informing the Masai that an unbelievable benefit was to be bestowed upon them, and that the explanation of the happenings was their own incredibly praiseworthy behaviour. But seeing that it was Berkeley who spoke, and that from the faces of the Masai you would never learn anything, it may have contained something quite different, of which I should never have thought. When he had spoken, without a moment’s pause he let Jama bring up the box, and took out the medals, solemnly reading out, one after another, the names of the Masai chiefs, and handing them their medals with a generously outstretched arm. The Masai took them from him very silently, in an outstretched hand. The ceremony could only have been carried through so well by two parties of noble blood and great family traditions; may democracy take no offence.
A medal is an inconvenient thing to give to a naked man, because he has got no place to fix it on to, and the old Masai chiefs kept standing with theirs in their hand. After a time a very old man came up to me, held out his hand with the medal in it and asked me to tell him what it had got on it. I explained it to him as well as I could. The silver coin had on the one side a head of Britannia, and upon the other side the words: The Great War for Civilization.
I have later told some English friends of the incident of the medals, and they have asked: “Why was not the King’s head on the medals? It was a great mistake.” I myself do not think so, it seems to me that the medals should not be made too attractive, and that the whole matter was well arranged. It may still be that it is this sort of thing which we shall be given at the time when our reward is great in heaven.
When Berkeley was taken ill, I was about to go to Europe on a holiday. He was then a member of the Legislative Council of the Colony, and I telegraphed to him: “Will you not come and stay at Ngong for the sitting of the counci. Bring bottles.” He wired back: “Your telegram straight from heaven. Arriving with bottles.” But when he came to the farm, his car all filled up with wine, he did not care to drink it. He was very pale, and even sometimes quite silent. His heart was bad, and he could not do without Jama, who had been taught to give him the injections for it, and he had many worries that lay on it heavily; he lived in great fear of losing his farm. Still, by his presence, he turned my house into a chosen, comfortable corner of the world.
“I have come to the stage, Tania,” he said to me gravely, “when I can only drive in the very best of cars, only smoke the finest cigars and only drink the most exquisite vintages of wine.” While he was staying with me then, he told me one evening that the doctor had ordered him to go to bed and stay in bed for a month. I said to him that if he would follow the order, and stay in bed for a month at Ngong, I would give up my journey to remain there and look after him, and go to Europe next year. He thought my offer over for a little while. “My dear,” he said, “I could not do it. If I did it to please you, what should I be afterwards?”
I said good-bye to him then with a heavy heart. While I was sailing home, past Lamu and Takaunga, where our dhow was to have found her way, I thought of him. But in Paris I heard that he had died. He had dropped down dead before his house, as he was stepping out of the car. He was buried on his farm, where he wished to be.
When Berkeley died, the country changed. His friends felt it at the time, with great sadness, and many people came to feel it later. An epoch in the history of the Colony came to an end with him. In the course of the years many things were reckoned from this turning point, and people said: “When Berkeley Cole lived” or “Since Berkeley died.” Up till his death the country had been the Happy Hunting Grounds, now it was slowly changing and turning into a business proposition. Some standards were lowered when he went: a standard of wit, as it was soon felt,—and such a thing is sad in a colony; a standard of gallantry,—soon after his death people began to talk of their troubles; a standard of humanity.
As Berkeley went away, a grim figure made her entrance upon the stage from the opposite wing,—la dure n'ecessit'e ma^itresse des hommes et des dieux. It was a strange thing that a small slight man should have been able to keep her from the door, for so long a time as he drew breath. The yeast was out of the bread of the land. A presence of gracefulness, gaiety and freedom, an electric power-factor was out. A cat had got up and left the room.