Tim Butcher



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Copyright © Graham Greene 1936, 1978
Foreword copyright © Tim Butcher 2010

Graham Greene has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann 1936

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library




About the Author

Also by Graham Greene

Title Page


Preface to Second Edition




1  The Way to Africa

2  The Cargo Ship

3  The Home from Home


1  Western Liberia

2  His Excellency the President

3  Into Buzie Country

4  Black Montparnasse


1  Mission Station

2  ‘Civilized Man’

3  The Dictator of Grand Bassa

4  The Last Lap

5  Postscript in Monrovia




Graham Greene was born in 1904. On coming down from Balliol College, Oxford, he worked for four years as sub-editor on The Times. He established his reputation with his fourth novel, Stamboul Train. In 1935 he made a journey across Liberia, described in Journey Without Maps, and on his return was appointed film critic of the Spectator. In 1926 he had been received into the Roman Catholic Church and visited Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution there. As a result he wrote The Lawless Roads and, later, his famous novel The Power and the Glory. Brighton Rock was published in 1938 and in 1940 he became literary editor of the Spectator. The next year he undertook work for the Foreign Office and was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1941 to 1943. This later produced the novel, The Heart of the Matter, set in West Africa.

As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography – A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape and A World of My Own (published posthumously) – two of biography and four books for children. He also contributed hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews, some of which appear in the collections Reflections and Mornings in the Dark. Many of his novels and short stories have been filmed and The Third Man was written as a film treatment. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. Graham Greene died in April 1991.



The Man Within

It’s a Battlefield

A Gun for Sale

The Confidential Agent

The Ministry of Fear

The Third Man

The End of the Affair

The Quiet American

A Burnt-Out Case

Travels with my Aunt

Dr Fischer of Geneva or

The Bomb Party

The Tenth Man

Stamboul Train

England Made Me

Brighton Rock

The Power and the Glory

The Heart of the Matter

The Fallen Idol

Loser Takes All

Our Man in Havana

The Comedians

The Human Factor

Monsignor Quixote

The Honorary Consul

The Captain and the Enemy

Short Stories

Collected Stories

The Last Word and Other Stories

May We Borrow Your Husband?


The Lawless Roads

In Search of a Character

Getting to Know the General


Collected Essays

Yours etc.


Mornings in the Dark


Collected Plays


A Sort of Life

Ways of Escape

Fragments of an Autobiography

A World of my Own


Lord Rochester’s Monkey

An Impossible Woman

Children’s Books

The Little Train

The Little Horse-Bus

The Little Steamroller

The Little Fire Engine


SIX years after this book was written I found myself living in Sierra Leone – a writer should be careful where he goes for pleasure in peacetime, for in wartime he is only too likely to return there to work. It was odd flying up from Lagos, following from the sky the line of surf along the Liberian coast, seeing the huddle of tiny shacks which called itself Grand Bassa, where I had dismissed my carriers, passing over the small white isolated building which was the British Consulate at Monrovia. It was odd too retracing my steps from Freetown to Kailahun, travelling in the same tiny lamp-lit train, staying in the same rest-houses.

I can look back now with a certain regret at the hard words I used about Freetown, for Freetown is now one of the homes I have lived and worked in through all the seasons. I have been able to recognize in myself after a year’s sojourn the inertia which as a tourist I condemned so harshly in other people. But if there are fallacies into which the passing visitor falls, there are fallacies too which come from a close acquaintance. After a little while there is so much one ceases to notice, and if I were writing of Freetown now, how unnaturally rosy would my picture be, for I begin to remember mainly the sunsets when all the laterite paths turned suddenly for a few minutes the colour of a rose, the old slavers’ fort with the cannon lying in the grass, the abandoned railway track with the chickens pecking in and out of the little empty rotting station, the taste of the first pink gin at six o’clock. I have begun to forget what the visitor noticed so clearly – the squalor and the unhappiness and the involuntary injustices of tired men. But as that picture is true too, I let it stand.

London, November 1946

‘O do you imagine,’ said fearer to farer,
‘That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,
Your diligent looking discover the lacking
Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?’

W. H. Auden

The life of an individual is in many respects like a child’s dissected map. If I could live a hundred years, keeping my intelligence to the last, I feel as if I could put the pieces together until they made a properly connected whole. As it is, I, like all others, find a certain number of connected fragments, and a larger number of disjointed pieces, which I might in time place in their natural connection. Many of these pieces seem fragmentary, but would in time show themselves as essential parts of the whole. What strikes me very forcibly is the arbitrary and as it were accidental way in which the lines of junction appear to run irregularly among the fragments. With every decade I find some new pieces coming into place. Blanks which have been left in former years find their complement among the undisturbed fragments. If I could look back on the whole, as we look at the child’s map when it is put together, I feel that I should have my whole life intelligently laid out before me . . .

Oliver Wendell Holmes



Chapter 1


Harvest Festival

THE tall black door in the narrow city street remained closed. I rang and knocked and rang again. I could not hear the bell ringing; to ring it again and again was simply an act of faith or despair, and later sitting before a hut in French Guinea, where I never meant to find myself, I remembered this first going astray, the buses passing at the corner and the pale autumn sun.

An errand boy came to my help, asking me whether I wanted the Consul, and when I said yes, that was what I wanted, the boy led me straight to the entrance of St Dunstan’s Church and up the steps and into the vestry. It wasn’t the sort of beginning I’d expected when I was accumulating the tent I never used, the hypodermic syringe I left behind, the automatic pistol which remained hidden underneath boots and shoes and bags of silver in the money-box. They were preparing for the harvest festival; the vestry was crowded with large dressy yellow blooms and litters of vegetable marrow; I couldn’t see the Consul anywhere. The errand boy peered among the flowers in the dim light and at last pointed to a little intent woman bent above the blooms. ‘There she is,’ he said, ‘that’s her, She’ll tell you.’

I felt very self-conscious, picking my way among the vegetables in St Dunstan’s asking: ‘Could you by any chance tell me? Is the Liberian Consul – ?’ But she knew and I left that street for another.

It was three o’clock and lunch at the Consulate was just over. Three men, I could not distinguish their nationality, overcrowded the tiny room which was deeply buried in the huge new glittering office block. The window-sill was lined with old telephone directories, school textbooks of chemistry. One man was washing up lunch in a basin stuck in the top of a waste-paper basket. Unidentifiable yellow threads like bast floated in the greasy water. The man poured a kettle of boiling water from a gas jet over a plate which he held above the basket; then he wiped the plate with a cloth. The table was littered with bursting parcels of what looked like stones, and the lift porter kept on putting his head in at the door and flinging down more parcels on the floor. The room was like a shabby caravan held up for a moment in a smart bright street. One doubted whether, returning in a few hours’ time to the gleaming mechanized block, one would still find it there; it would almost certainly have moved on.

But everyone was very kind. It all came down to a question of paying money; no one asked me why I wanted to go, although I had been told by many authorities on Africa that the Republic of Liberia resented intruders. In the Consulate they had little guttural family jokes among themselves. ‘Before the war,’ a large man said, ‘you didn’t need passports. Such a fuss. Only to the Argentine,’ and he looked across at the man who was making out my papers. ‘If you wanted to get to the Argentine you even had to give your fingerprints a month ahead, so that Scotland Yard and Buenos Aires could get together. All the scoundrels in the world went to the Argentine.’

I examined the usual blank map upon the wall, a few towns along the coast, a few villages along the border. ‘Have you been to Liberia?’ I asked.

‘No, no,’ the large man said. ‘We let them come to us.’

The other man stuck a round red seal on my passport; it bore the National Mark, a three-masted ship, a palm tree, a dove flying overhead, and the legend ‘The love of liberty brought us here’. Above the same red seal I had to sign the ‘Declaration of an Alien about to depart for the Republic of Liberia’.

I have informed myself of the provisions under the Immigration Law, and am convinced that I am eligible for admission into the Republic thereunder.

I realize that if I am one of a class prohibited by law from admission, I will be deported or detained in confinement.

I solemnly swear that the above statements are true to the best of my knowledge and that I fully intend when in the Republic to obey and support the laws and constituted authorities thereof.

The only thing which I knew of the law was that it forbade a white man to enter the country except through the recognized ports unless he had paid a large sum for an explorer’s licence. I intended to enter the country from the British border and make my way through the forest of the interior to the coast. I am a Catholic with an intellectual if not an emotional belief in Catholic dogma; I find that intellectually I can accept the fact that to miss a Mass on Sunday is to be guilty of mortal sin. And yet ‘I solemnly swear’ . . . these contradictions in human psychology I find of peculiar interest.

Blue Book

I had read in a British Government Blue Book that May:

The rat population may fairly be described as swarming, the wooden and corrugated iron houses lend themselves to rat harbourage . . .

The absence of any attempt by the Government, not only to take effective steps to control yellow fever or plague, but even to arrange for the notification of yellow fever, as well as the complete lack of medical supervision of ships touching the Liberian coast . . .

The great majority of all mosquitoes caught in Monrovia are of a species known to carry yellow fever . . .

Altogether forty-one villages have been burnt and sixty-nine men, forty-five women and twenty-seven children, making a total of one hundred and forty-one, killed . . .

A case was also reported to me from several sources of a man who had been wounded close to Sasstown and wished to surrender. Although unarmed and pleading for mercy he was shot down in cold blood by soldiers in the presence of Captain Cole.

The soldiers crept into the banana plantations, which surround all native villages, and poured volleys into the huts. One woman who had that day been delivered of twins was shot in her bed, and the infants perished in the flames when the village was fired by the troops . . .

In one village the charred remains of six children were found after the departure of the troops . . .

In this connection it may be mentioned that a man who had been a political prisoner at New Sasstown stated that he had heard soldiers boasting of having cut children down with cutlasses and thrown them into burning huts . . .

And when I learnt that Colonel Davis had fought with Tiempoh, who are my children and make farm for me, and had caught Payetaye men and women and ill-treated them, I and all my people were afraid . . .

As far as is known, the principal diseases in the interior include elephantiasis, leprosy, yaws, malaria, hookworm, schistosomiasis, dysentery, smallpox and nutritional conditions. In the whole country there are only: two doctors in Monrovia, both foreign and both engaged in private practice, a medical officer on the Firestone Plantations, and three or four missionary doctors working in the interior . . .

In Monrovia itself malaria is practically universal . . .

In other places the producer sets the prices for his goods, but in this country the buyer enforces the price to suit his convenience . . .

The Government can kill all the people of Sasstown and all the tribes of the Kru Coast before we surrender to the Government. We will not return to the coast or surrender until we hear from the British Consul in Monrovia that there will be no more war. Then we will return to Old Sasstown . . .

There was something satisfyingly complete about this picture. It really seemed as though you couldn’t go deeper than that; the agony was piled on in the British Government Blue Book with a real effect of grandeur; the little injustices of Kenya became shoddy and suburban beside it.

And it was saved from melodrama by its irony, by the fact that the Republic was founded as an example to all Africa of a Christian and self-governing state. An American philanthropic society at the beginning of the nineteenth century (many of its directors, it is said, were slave-owners who found it convenient thus to get rid of their illegitimate children) began to ship released slaves to the Grain Coast of Africa. Land was bought from the native rulers and a settlement established at Monrovia. ‘The love of liberty brought us here,’ but one can hardly blame these first half-caste settlers when they found that love of their own liberty was not consistent with the liberty of the native tribes. The history of the Republic was very little different from the history of neighbouring white colonies: it included the same broken contracts, the same resort to arms, the same gradual encroachment, even the same heroism among the early settlers, the peculiarly Protestant characteristic of combining martyrdom with absurdity. There were, for example, the black Quakers from Pennsylvania, teetotallers and pacifists, who when they were attacked by Spanish slavers depended on prayer and were massacred. Only a hundred and twenty escaped and settled in Grand Bassa.

From the first these American half-caste slaves were idealists in the American manner. Their Declaration of Independence, when the Republic was declared, had the glossy white marble effect of the American. The year was 1847, but the phrases were eighteenth century; they belonged to Washington; they had the rhetoric of an expensive tomb. The inalienable rights of life and liberty gravely led off the scroll; but then one passed to ‘the right to acquire, possess, enjoy, and defend property’. Today the ‘ideals’ are still American, something a little like the American of Tammany Hall; the descendants of the slaves have taken to politics with the enthusiasm of practised crap players.

‘If you desire the prosperity of your people, the independence of your Government, a place of honour for the Lone Star among the flags of all nations, you will support the reelection of President Barclay in this campaign . . .’

This too attracted me. There seemed to be a seediness about the place you couldn’t get to the same extent elsewhere, and seediness has a very deep appeal: even the seediness of civilization, of the sky-signs in Leicester Square, the tarts in Bond Street, the smell of cooking greens off Tottenham Court Road, the motor salesmen in Great Portland Street. It seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost; it seems to represent a stage further back.

Streets that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .

But there are times of impatience, when one is less content to rest at the urban stage, when one is willing to suffer some discomfort for the chance of finding – there are a thousand names for it, King Solomon’s Mines, the ‘heart of darkness’ if one is romantically inclined, or more simply, as Herr Heuser puts it in his African novel, The Inner Journey, one’s place in time, based on a knowledge not only of one’s present but of the past from which one has emerged. There are others, of course, who prefer to look a stage ahead, for whom Intourist provides cheap tickets into a plausible future, but my journey represented a distrust of any future based on what we are.

The motive of a journey deserves a little attention. It is not the fully conscious mind which chooses West Africa in preference to Switzerland. The psychoanalyst, who takes the images of a dream one by one – ‘You dreamed you were asleep in a forest. What is your first association to forest?’ – finds that some images have immediate associations; to others the patient can bring out nothing at all; his brain is like a cinema in which the warning ‘Fire’ has been cried; the exits are jammed with too many people trying to escape, and when I say that to me Africa has always seemed an important image, I suppose that is what I mean, that it has represented more than I could say. ‘You dreamed you were in Africa. Of what do you think first when I say the word Africa?’ and a crowd of words and images, witches and death, unhappiness and the Gare St Lazare, the huge smoky viaduct over a Paris slum, crowd together and block the way to full consciousness.

But to the words ‘South Africa’ my reaction, I find, is immediate: Rhodes and the British Empire and an ugly building in Oxford and Trafalgar Square. After ‘Kenya’ there is no hesitation: ‘gentleman farmers, aristocracy in exile and the gossip columns’. ‘Rhodesia’ produces: ‘failure, Empire Tobacco’, and ‘failure’ again.

It is not then any part of Africa which acts so strongly on this unconscious mind; certainly no part where the white settler has been most successful in reproducing the conditions of his country, its morals and its popular art. A quality of darkness is needed, of the inexplicable. This Africa may take the form of an unexplained brutality as when Conrad noted in his Congo diary: ‘Thursday, 3rd July . . . Met an offer of the State inspecting. A few minutes afterwards saw at a camp place the dead body of a Backongo. Shot? Horrid smell’; or a sense of despair as when M. Céline writes: ‘Hidden away in all this flowering forest of twisted vegetation, a few decimated tribes of natives squatted among fleas and flies, crushed by taboos and eating nothing all the time but rotten tapioca.’ The old man whom I saw beaten with a club outside the poky little prison at Tapee-Ta, the naked widows at Tailahun covered with yellow clay squatting in a hole, the wooden-toothed devil swaying his raffia skirts between the huts seem like the images in a dream to stand for something of importance to myself.

Today our world seems peculiarly susceptible to brutality. There is a touch of nostalgia in the pleasure we take in gangster novels, in characters who have so agreeably simplified their emotions that they have begun living again at a level below the cerebral. We, like Wordsworth, are living after a war and a revolution, and these half-castes fighting with bombs between the cliffs of skyscrapers seem more likely than we to be aware of Proteus rising from the sea. It is not, of course, that one wishes to stay for ever at that level, but when one sees to what unhappiness, to what peril of extinction centuries of cerebration have brought us, one sometimes has a curiosity to discover if one can from what we have come, to recall at which point we went astray.

Via Liverpool

But none the less I was a little scared at the prospect of going back by way of Africa alone; I feel very grateful to my cousin Barbara, who was willing to accompany me, to share the journey, for which no maps were to be bought, from its start in the restaurant car of the 6.5 from Euston, as we sat before the little pieces of damp white fish. A headline told me that there was another clue in a trunk murder case; a man on the dole had killed himself; while along the line the smaller stations were dashed out like so many torches plunged in water.

The huge Liverpool hotel had been designed without aesthetic taste but with the right ideas about comfort and a genuine idea of magnificence. It could probably house as many passengers as an Atlantic liner; passengers, because no one goes to Liverpool for pleasure, to the little cramped square and the low sky-signs which can almost be touched with the hand, where all the bars and the cinemas close at ten. But there was a character hidden in this hotel; it wasn’t chic, it wasn’t bright, it wasn’t international; there remained somewhere hidden, among its long muffled corridors, beneath the huge clifflike fall of its walls, the idea of an English inn; one didn’t mind asking for muffins or a pint of bitter, while the boats hooted in the Mersey and the luggage littered the hall; there was quite probably a Boots. Anyway enough remained for me to understand the surprise of Henry James when he landed in England, that England should be as English as, for my entertainment, she took the trouble to be’.

The natural native seediness had not been lost in the glitter of chromium plate; the muffin had been overwhelmingly, perhaps rather nauseatingly, enlarged. If the hotel were silly, it was only because magnificence is almost always a little silly. The magnificent gesture seldom quite comes off. When on rare occasions beauty and magnificence do coincide, one gets a sense of the theatre or the films, it is ‘too good to be true’. I find myself always torn between two beliefs: the belief that life should be better than it is and the belief that when it appears better it is really worse. But in the huge lounge at Liverpool, like the lounge of a country inn fifty times magnified, one was at home on the vast expanse of deep dark carpet, only one business man asleep with his mouth open; at home as one would certainly not have been if the Hollywood imagination had run riot. One was protectively coloured, one was seedy too.

Next morning, in the public house near the Prince’s Stage, four middle-aged women sat drinking with an old dirty man of eighty-four. Three had the dustbin look; they carried about them the air of tenements, of lean cats and shared washhouses; the fourth had risen a little way in the world, she was the old man’s daughter over from America for Christmas. ‘Have another drink, Father?’ He was seeing her off. Their relationship was intimate and merry; the whole party had an air of slightly disreputable revelry. To one the party didn’t really matter; she had caught the American accent. To the other women, who must return to the dustbin, it was perilous, precarious, breath-taking; they were happy and aghast when the old man drew out a pound note and stood a round himself. ‘Well, why shouldn’t he?’ the daughter asked them, asked Jackie boy, the bar-tender, the beer advertisements, the smutty air, the man who came in selling safety-razor blades, half a dozen for threepence, ‘it’s better than spending it on a crowd of strange dames.’

The Liverpool waterside at least had not changed since James’s day: ‘The black steamers knocking about in the yellow Mersey, under a sky so low that they seemed to touch it with their funnels, and in the thickest, windiest light’; – even the colour was the same, ‘the grey mildness, shading away into black at every pretext’.

The cargo ship lay right outside the Mersey in the Irish Sea; a cold January wind blew across the tender; people sat crammed together below deck saying good-bye, bored, embarrassed and bonhomous, like parents at a railway station the first day of term, while England slipped away from the port-hole, a stone stage, a tarred side, a slap of grey water against the glass.

Chapter 2



MY cousin and I had five fellow passengers in the cargo ship: two shipping agents, a traveller for an engineering firm, a doctor on his way to the Coast with anti-yellow-fever serum, and a woman joining her husband at Bathurst. All except the woman and the traveller knew the Coast; they knew the same people; they had a common technique of living enforced by common conditions. The daily dose of quinine, mosquito-netting over all the port-holes: these to them were as natural as the table-cloth at meals.

It is a condition favourable to the growth of legend. Legend belongs naturally to primitive communities where minds are so little differentiated, by work or play or education, that a story can move quickly from brain to brain uncriticized. But sometimes these conditions arise artificially. A common danger, purpose or way of life can very nearly destroy differences of intellect and class; then you get the angels of Mons and the miracles at a shrine.

‘Yes,’ they were saying in the smoking-room, ‘you won’t find a tougher man than Captain W.’ They all knew of him because they all belonged to the Coast: the captain, the doctor, the shipper.

‘If he ran into a broken bottle,’ the doctor said, ‘his face wouldn’t look any different.’

‘He’d take a tug round the world as soon as look at you.’

‘He doesn’t insure his cargo. He bears the risk himself. That’s why his freight-rates are so cheap.’

‘Will people take the risk?’

‘His word’s as good as an insurance company’s.’

‘But when he loses a cargo?’

‘He hasn’t lost one yet.’

In the wireless room on a Saturday night the young agent waited hour after hour for the League results. He and the wireless officer shared an esoteric gossip of the sea: how this or that man had quarrelled with the Old Man and joined another line. The bulbs flickered overhead; tubes hummed in the little cabin with its rows of discs and bulbs, as mechanized as was the engine-room below, a great black polished cliff, pipes tied up at the joints in blue, yellow or scarlet bags like hot-water bottles, a solitary Negro with a polishing rag in all the glittering desert of brass and iron.

Coming in from the bulbs and gossip and the dusk I overheard the Captain talking to the doctor in the smoking-room. ‘Four hundred and sixteen people at Dakar,’ he was saying. The subject came up again at breakfast: plague at Dakar, yellow fever at Bathurst, outbreaks hushed up on the French coast, never reported on the Liberian: one was seldom allowed to escape the subject of fever. One could begin a conversation with religion, politics, books; it always ended with malaria, plague, yellow fever. As long as one was at sea it was a joke, like somebody else’s vicious wife; when one was on land it was like a grim story intended to make the flesh creep, but one became conscious then of people who wouldn’t play, who preferred something comforting.

Something like A Village in a Valley by Mr Beverley Nichols, which was in the small library. One reads strange books in a ship, books one would never dream of reading at home: like Lady Eleanor Smith’s Tzigane, and the novels of Warwick Deeping and W. B. Maxwell: a lot of books, written without truth, without compulsion, one dull word following another, books to read while you wait for the bus, while you strap-hang, in between the Boss’s dictations, while you eat your A. B. C. lunch; a whole industry founded on a want of leisure and a want of happiness.

At Madeira it was raining. The touts were out at ten in the morning in the shabby notorious town. One drank sweet wine at the Golden Gates, and the rain dripped off the curious phallic hats hanging outside the shops. The touts wore straw hats with Cambridge ribbons; they kept at one’s elbow all the way round Funchal; they weren’t a bit discouraged because it was raining, because it was only just after breakfast. ‘Luxe,’ they kept on saying, and ‘Sex’ and something about dancing girls. Their industry, like Mr Beverley Nichols’s, was founded on a want of leisure and a want of happiness. Quick, quick, you are only on shore for half an hour, you are only vigorous for a few more years, have another girl before it’s too late, you aren’t happy with the one you’ve got, try another. The women sold violets and lilies and roses in the rain, the phallic hats dripped, the touts couldn’t understand that one didn’t want a girl just after breakfast on a wet day. There were other ways of filling up time, one could drink sweet wine at the Golden Gates, one could go back on board and read Lady Eleanor Smith or Mr Beverley Nichols.

A young German artist and his wife came on board at Funchal as deck passengers and were given the little hospital to sleep in. He was a thick spotty man in a velvet jacket; he had known D. H. Lawrence at Taos and Mabel Dodge Luhan. It hadn’t made any difference, he wasn’t going to write a book about it. In the little hospital he put out his canvases, crude realistic landscapes and the baked faces of Mexican Indians; it grew dark; and everyone drank bad Madeira out of the bottle and he talked about Art and Sport and the Body Beautiful, and his wife, small and curved and lovely and complaisant, was quiet and seasick. He believed in Hitler and Nationalism and swimming and love, he liked the pictures of Orpen and de Laszlo, but Munch’s pictures left him dissatisfied. They left out the Soul, he said, they were materialist; not that he disbelieved in the Body, the Body Beautiful and in physical Love. He agreed to come to Africa too, and illustrate this book; an artist was at home anywhere – but after dinner he changed his mind; and his sweet complaisant nubile wife said, Yes, she wouldn’t mind coming to Africa, and after dinner she changed her mind too. He was a bad artist, but he wasn’t a bogus one. He lived on almost nothing; he believed in himself and in his hazy Teutonic ideas; and there was a sensual beauty in their relationship. The two lived in a kind of continuous intimacy, she had no ideas but his, no vitality but his; he supplied all the life for both of them and she supplied a warm friendly sensual death; they shared the universe between them. All the time, in the cabin, at dinner, at a café table, they gave the impression of having only just risen from bed.

By dinner-time everyone was drunk on bad Madeira and the pink gin they called Coasters. The shipping agent sang The Old Homeland and The Floral Dance and I shot an Arrow into the Air and the fat traveller called Younger said, ‘Pass me some more eau de cow,’ spilling his coffee. The aliens went to their cabin, picking their way across the lower deck and up the iron stairs into the stern; she was seasick, but it only made her quieter; it didn’t alter her beautiful sensuous receptivity. The agent sang The Old Homeland again – ‘Far across the sea, I wonder will they pray for me’ – and everyone felt English and exiled and wistful, everyone except Younger, who climbed carefully up the stairs, clinging to the banister: ‘I’m going home by rail.’ He was more English than any of them; the north country was in his heart; he was firmly local and unsentimental and bawdy and honest. He drank because he needed a holiday, because he had heavy work before him on the Coast, because he loved his wife and had desperate anxieties. He had more cause to drink than anyone. The boom years were in his heavy flesh and his three chins; one couldn’t at first sight tell how the depression lay like lead in his stomach. If one were to paint his portrait in the old style of tiny landscapes and Tuscan towns, one would have given him as background an abandoned blast-furnace or the girders of a great bridge left a perch for birds.

Even when drunk, even when bawdy, he had an admirable sanity. ‘Eighteen months on the Coast. Tell me, doctor, what do people do about it?’

‘Insoluble,’ the doctor said.

‘But what do they do about it?’

‘Even the Governor has asked me that. There’s no answer.’

He was the last to go to bed, he would reel for ten minutes up and down the corridor, there was something common and royal about him which called for devotion, nothing he did could offend, ‘Kipper,’ he would shout outside the captain’s door, ‘Kipper,’ and obediently the Captain would emerge. He had the way of Falstaff with a woman, an absurd innocence that was quite content with a slap and a tickle. ‘You saucy little sausage,’ and even the young shy inhibited married woman who had never left Liverpool, who wouldn’t drink and wouldn’t smoke and wouldn’t look at the moon, slapped him back. There was a ballad quality about his bawdry. His words had the merit of children’s art; they were vivid, unselfconscious, uncorrupted.


The cinema in Tenerife was showing a film which had been adapted from one of my own novels. It had been an instructive and rather painful experience to see it shown. The direction was incompetent, the photography undistinguished, the story sentimental. If there was any truth in the original it had been carefully altered, if anything was left unchanged it was because it was untrue. By what was unchanged I could judge and condemn my own novel: I could see clearly what was cheap and banal enough to fit the cheap banal film.

There remained a connection between it and me. One had never taken the book seriously; it had been written hurriedly because of the desperate need one had for the money. But even into a book of that kind had gone a certain amount of experience, nine months of one’s life, it was tied up in the mind with a particular countryside, particular anxieties; one couldn’t disconnect oneself entirely, and it was curious, rather pleasing, to find it there in the hot bright flowery town. There are places where one is ready to welcome any kind of acquaintance with memories in common: he may be cheap but he knew Annette; he may be dishonest but he once lodged with George; even if the acquaintance is very dim indeed and takes a lot of recognizing.

Two Youthful Hearts in the Grip of Intrigue. Fleeing from Life. Cheated? Crashing Across Europe. Wheels of Fate.

Never before had I seen American ballyhoo at work on something I intimately knew. It was magnificent in its disregard of the article for which it had paid. Its psychological insight was either cynically wrong or devastatingly right.

The real Orient Express runs across Europe from Belgium to Constantinople. Therefore, you will go wrong if you interpret the word ‘Orient’ to indicate something of a Chinese or Japanese nature. There is enough material of other kinds to arrange a lively colourful ballyhoo, as you will see as soon as you turn to the exploitation pages in this press book.

Date Tie-Up. In the exhibitor’s set of stills available at the exchange are three stills which show Norman Foster explaining the sex life of a date to Heather Angel, passing dates to Heather Angel and Heather Angel buying dates from the car window. The dialogue is quite enlightening on the date subject at one point in the picture. Every city has high-class food shops which feature fancy packages of dates. Tie-in with one of these for window displays, and for a lobby display, using adequate copy and the three stills.

Another angle would be to have a demonstration of date products, the many uses of dates, etc. This would be quite possible in the much larger cities. And in cases where working with large concerns, patrons may be permitted to taste samples. These tie-ups must be worked out locally despite the fact that we are contacting importers of important brands.

Don’t underestimate the value of a real smart window fixed up with date products, baskets of delicious fruits and dates, and the three stills shown here with adequate copy for your picture. ‘Buy a package of delicious dates, and take ‘The Orient Express’ for Constantinople, a most thrilling and satisfying evening’s entertainment, at the Rialto Theatre.’

Do You Know That: Heather Angel’s pet kitten Penang had to have its claws clipped because it insisted on sharpening them on the legs of the expensive tables;

That the pet economy of Heather Angel is buying washable gloves and laundering them herself;

That Una O’Connor permits only a very few of her intimate friends to call her Tiny?

The blast of ballyhoo had not sold the film; to my relief, because by contract my name had to appear on every poster, it had kept to the smaller shabbier cinemas, until now it was washed up in Tenerife, in a shaded side street behind an old carved door like a monastery’s. This was what made it an agreeable acquaintance; it hadn’t the shamelessness of success; it might be vulgar, but it wasn’t successfully vulgar. There was something quite un-Hollywood in its failure.

The Canaries were half-way to Africa; the Fox film and the pale cactus spears stuck in the hillside, a Victorian Gothic hotel smothered in bougainvillaea, parrots and a monkey on a string, innumerable themes were stated like the, false starts and indecisions of a lifetime: the Chinese job from which one had resigned, the appointment in Bangkok never taken up, the newspaper in Nottingham. I can remember now only the gaudy poster, the taste of the sweet yellow wine, flat roofs and flowers and an arbour full of empty bottles, and in the small dark cathedral a Christmas crib (castles and little villages and women with baskets of carrots, a donkey and a motor-car and a comic man in a top-hat, little caves where hermits or gipsies sat asleep on moss-covered rocks, a man on an old-fashioned bicycle, and somewhere right up in a corner, dwarfed by the world, the flesh, those bright spring carrots, and the devil, the man in a top-hat, sat the Mother of God with an old-young child, wrinkled and careworn and cross-eyed, while Herod leant over a wall with his crown tilted).

Las Palmas

Of Las Palmas I can remember little more: a man selling women’s pyjamas from a rowing boat after midnight, the women in the ‘33’ with black theatrical eyes and heavy figures. It was half-past one in the morning before we got ashore and found a taxi. Nobody could speak a word of anything but Spanish; the drink was bad and dear, but Younger didn’t mind. His inevitable expression, ‘You saucy little sausage,’ could be heard through all the rooms, his progress was one long slap and tickle and free drink. The manager followed him round with bills he wouldn’t pay and Phil brought up the rear, the young shipping agent who was afraid there would be trouble, who had the unrequited devotion of a page in an Elizabethan play. Every now and again to keep the manager quiet Phil paid a bill and the manager tore it up and dropped it on the floor and wrote another. Then Younger stole the woman belonging to a man with a guitar and the man kissed him and had a drink; the manager wrote a bill, and Phil plucked at Younger’s sleeve and said, ‘Go steady, old man. Go steady.’ A madman came up and threatened Younger, but Younger didn’t understand, didn’t care anyway, didn’t even hear perhaps. He sat on a chair playing pat-paw with his stout black bitch; sometimes he made a pass at her mouth, but she avoided that, nudging with her elbow, pushing forward her empty glass while the manager wrote out another bill. Then it began all over again, the refusal to pay, the arguments, Phil’s ‘Go steady, old man, go steady,’ another drink all round, pat-paw, ‘You saucy little sausage,’ another bill. On the way to the waterside he passed out altogether, had to be carried, fourteen stone of him, into the rowing boat in the dark, dragged up the rocking companion, undressed and put to bed. But no one grudged it him, he could do these things, next day he was as well as ever, bathed in a costume which wouldn’t meet across him, called ‘Kipper, Kipper’ in the passage, was drunk by lunch-time, explained it was his last drink before the Coast: he was going to work now. No one believed him, but we were wrong.

He had the stamina of a bull; he could stop drinking when he chose. The islands were past, next port of call was on the Coast, he had work to do. Nobody knew how far afield his work was taking him and of its importance; he was fat and boisterous, one couldn’t tell from his manner the anxiety of his journey. He was taking a big risk; he had to get orders; and yellow fever was not going to stop him. There was an epidemic at one of the points on his route; he didn’t know of it when he came on board; everyone laughed at him about the fever, and one could tell that he was a little scared; but one could tell too that it was not going to make any difference. He was like an old fighter who is forced back into the ring because he needs the purse; he may be out of condition, may be afraid of getting hurt, but he cannot afford to lose, even if the effort kills him. Younger talked about his wife; he had never before been to a place where he couldn’t ring her up at nine o’clock of an evening; he’d always done it when he was in Brussels, in Berlin, in Warsaw.


The day after Las Palmas, passengers in West Coast boats wake to a completely new air. It lasts for a day and a day only. My sheets were damp with a kind of dew; there was a warm wet wind and a haze over the sea. The air smelt as salt and fishy as the air on Brighton front. The sodden damp to a traveller back from the Coast with malarial infection in his blood is said to be dangerous, and among sailors this part of the Atlantic is known as the Elder Dempster Graveyard. But the tradition is older than the Line. Burton wrote of it in his Anatomy: ‘Such a complaint I read of those islands of Cape Verde, fourteen degrees from the Equator, they do male audire; one calls them the unhealthiest clime of the world, for fluxes, fevers, frenzies, calentures, which commonly seize on seafaring men that touch at them, and all by reason of a hot distemperature of the air. The hardiest men are offended with the heat, and stiffest clowns cannot resist it.’

It made Younger think of yellow fever at Kano. In the smoking-room that night, the first night of his new sobriety, he said that he thought death was a great adventure. But life, Phil said, was a great adventure too. Science was making great strides these days; you never knew; though of course Wells and Jules Verne had foreseen it all; what wonderful prophets they were. He said, ‘I thought Hannen Swaffer was a prophet too once, but he let me down.’

‘Isn’t Hannen Swaffer a woman?’ Younger asked.

No, he’s a man.’

‘Are you sure?’ Younger said. But Phil was sure. He’d seen him. He had even spoken to him one night when he came up to address their literary club. It was a change from bridge, that club; they got really famous writers to talk to them. Chesterton had been and Cecil Roberts. Then he went out to look at the moon, leaning over the side, waiting in vain for my cousin or the other woman on board to join him. If one did, he put his arm round her and talked about Wallasey or his wife or League results. He was only formally romantic; he had a great respect for women. He was really far more at home with Younger, looked after Younger when he was drunk, protected him, undressed him if necessary; when Younger became sober he was rather lost, looked at the moon more often, padding round the deck earnestly romantic, irritable because no one would play at tropic nights with him, disappearing at last into the little wireless room to talk about football to ‘Sparks’. One night his vitality which had no outlet overcame him and he began to throw glasses overboard.


It must have been two days later that I woke to the grating of iron against stone, and there was the Coast. The world was already over-familiar. People said, ‘Eldridge. Of course, he’s an old Coaster,’ and Eldridge, the middle-aged shipping agent, at the beginning of every meal would say, ‘Chop, as we call it on the Coast,’ or handing a plate of onions, ‘Violets, we say on the Coast.’ One’s pink gin was called a Coaster. There was no other Coast but the West Coast and this was it.

On the quay the Senegalese strolled up and down, long white and blue robes sweeping up the dust blown from the ridge of monkey-nuts twenty-five feet high. The men walked hand-in-hand, laughing sleepily together under the blinding vertical glare. Sometimes they put their arms round each other’s necks; they seemed to like to touch each other, as if it made them feel good to know the other man was there. It wasn’t love; it didn’t mean anything we could understand. Two of them went about all day without loosing hold; they were there when the boat slid in beside the monkey-nuts; they were there in the evening when the loading was finished and the labourers washed their hands and faces in the hot water flowing from the ship’s side; they hadn’t done a stroke of work themselves, only walked up and down touching hands and laughing at their own jokes; but it wasn’t love; it wasn’t anything we could understand. They gave to the blinding day, to the first sight of Africa, a sense of warm and sleepy beauty, of enjoyment divorced from activity and the weariness of willing.

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,

Luxe, calme et volupté.

One found it hard to believe at Dakar that Baudelaire had never been to Africa, that the nearest he had come to it was the body of Jeanne Duval, the mulatto tart from Le Théâtre due Panthéon, for Dakar was the Baudelaire of L’Invitation au Voyage, when it was not the René Clair of Le Million.

It was René Clair in its happy lyrical absurdity; the two stately Mohammedans asleep on the gravel path in the public gardens beside a black iron kettle; the tiny Syrian children going to school in white topees; the men’s sewing parties on the pavements; the old pock-marked driver who stopped his horses and disappeared into the bushes to tell his beads; the men laden with sacks moving rhythmically up and down a ladder of sacks, building higher the monkey-nut hill, like the tin toy figures sold in Holborn at Christmas-time; in the lovely features of the women in the market, young and old, lovely less from sexual attractiveness than from a sharp differentiated pictorial quality. In the restaurant, a little drunk on iced Sauterne, one didn’t trouble about the Dakar one had heard about, the Dakar of endemic plague and an unwieldy bureaucracy, the most unhealthy town on the Coast. Mr Gorer in his Africa Dances tells how in Dakar the young negroes simply die, not of tuberculosis, plague, yellow fever, but of inanition, of hopelessness. He stayed too long, I suppose, and saw too much; that sudden sense of happiness which came to one in Dakar doesn’t last, which came to one in Le Million, a happiness that tingles behind the eyes, beautiful and insecure, a wish fulfilment.

Do not expect again a phoenix hour,
The triple-towered sky, the dove complaining,
Sudden the rain of gold and heart’s first ease . . .