A Fugitive Rests on the Farm
There was one traveller who came to the farm, slept there for one night, and walked off not to come back, of whom I have since thought from time to time. His name was Emmanuelson; he was a Swede and when I first knew him he held the position of ma^itre d’hotel at one of the hotels of Nairobi. He was a fattish young man with a red puffed face, and he was in the habit of standing by my chair when I was lunching at the hotel, to entertain me in a very oily voice of the old country, and of mutual acquaintances there; he was so persistently conversational that after a while I changed over to the only other hotel which in those days we had in the town. I then only vaguely heard of Emmanuelson; he seemed to have a gift for bringing himself into trouble, and also to differ, in his tastes and ideas of the pleasures of life, from the customary. So he had become unpopular with the other Scandinavians of the country. Upon one afternoon he suddenly appeared at the farm, much upset and frightened, and asked me for a loan so as to get off to Tanganyika at once, as otherwise he believed he would be sent to jail. Either my help came too late or Emmanuelson spent it on other things, for a short time after I heard that he had been arrested in Nairobi, he did not go to prison but for some time he disappeared from my horizon.
One evening I came riding home so late that the stars were already out, and caught sight of a man waiting outside my house on the stones. It was Emmanuelson and he announced himself to me in a cordial voice: “Here comes a vagabond, Baroness.” I asked him how it was that I should find him there, and he told me that he had lost his way and so been landed at my house. His way to where? To Tanganyika.
That could hardly be true,—the Tanganyika road was the great highway and easy to find, my own farm-road took off from it. How was he going to get to Tanganyika? I asked him. He was going to walk, he informed me. That, I answered, was not a possible thing to do for anyone, it would mean three days through the Masai-Reserve without water, and the lions were bad there just now, the Masai had been in the same day to complain about them and had asked me to come out and shoot one for them.
Yes, yes, Emmanuelson knew of all that, but he was going to walk to Tanganyika all the same. For he did not know what else to do. He was wondering now whether, having lost his way, he could bear me company for dinner and sleep at the farm to start early in the morning?—if that was not convenient to me he would set out straight away while the stars were out so bright.
I had remained sitting on my horse while I talked to him, to accentuate that he was not a guest in the house, for I did not want him in to dine with me. But as he spoke, I saw that he did not expect to be invited either, he had no faith in my hospitality or in his own power of persuasion, and he made a lonely figure in the dark outside my house, a man without a friend. His hearty manner was adapted to save not his own face, which was past it, but mine, if now I sent him away it would be no unkindness, but quite all right. This was courtesy in a hunted animal,—I called for my Sice to take the pony, and got off,—“Come in, Emmanuelson,” I said, “you can dine here and stay over the night.”
In the light of the lamp Emmanuelson was a sad sight. He had on a long black overcoat such as nobody wears in Africa, he was unshaven and his hair was not cut, his old shoes were split at the toe. He was bringing no belongings with him to Tanganyika, his hands were empty. It seemed that I was to take the part of the High Priest who presents the goat alive to the Lord, and sends it into the wilderness. I thought that here we needed wine. Berkeley Cole, who generally kept the house in wine, some time ago had sent me a case of a very rare burgundy, and I now told Juma to open a bottle from it. When we sat down for dinner and Emmanuelson’s glass was filled he drank half of it, held it towards the lamp and looked at it for a long time like a person attentively listening to music. “Fameux ” he said, “fameux; this is a Chambertin 1906.” It was so, and that gave me respect for Emmanuelson.
Otherwise he did not say much to begin with, and I did not know what to say to him. I asked him how it was that he had not been able to find any work at all. He answered that it was because he knew nothing of the things with which people out here occupied themselves. He had been dismissed at the hotel, besides he was not really a ma^itre d’hotel by profession.
“Do you know anything of book-keeping?” I asked him.
“No. Nothing at all,” he said. “I have always found it very difficult to add two figures together.”
“Do you know about cattle at all?” I went on. “Cows?” he asked. “No, no. I am afraid of cows.”
“Can you drive a tractor, then?” I asked. Here a faint ray of hope appeared on his face. “No,” he said, “but I think that I could learn that.”
“Not on my tractor though,” I said, “but tell me, Emmanuelson, what have you ever been doing? What are you in life?”
Emmanuelson drew himself up straight. “What am I?” he exclaimed. “Why, I am an actor.”
I thought: Thank God, it is altogether outside my capacity to assist this lost man in any practical way; the time has come for general human conversation. “You are an actor?” I said, “that is a fine thing to be. And which were your favourite parts when you were on the stage?”
“Oh I am a tragic actor,” said Emmanuelson, “my favourite parts were that of Armand in ‘La Dame aux Camelias’ and of Oswald in ‘Ghosts’.”
We talked for some time of these plays, of the various actors whom we had seen in them and of the way in which we thought that they should be acted. Emmanuelson looked round the room. “You have not,” he asked, “by any chance got the plays of Henrik Ibsen here? Then we might do the last scene of ‘Ghosts’ together, if you would not mind taking the part of Mrs. Alving.”
I had not got Ibsen’s plays.
“But perhaps you will remember it?” said Emmanuelson warming to his plan. “I myself know Oswald by heart from beginning to end. That last scene is the best. For a real tragic effect, you know, that is impossible to beat.”
The stars were out and it was a very fine warm night, there was not long, now, to the big rains. I asked Emmanuelson if he did really mean to walk to Tanganyika.
“Yes,” he said, “I am going, now, to be my own prompter.”
“It is a good thing for you,” I said, “that you are not married.”
“Yes,” said he, “yes.” After a little while he added modestly: “I am married though.”
In the course of our talk, Emmanuelson complained of the fact that out here a white man could not hold his own against the competition from the Natives, who worked so much cheaper. “Now in Paris,” he said, “I could always, for a short time, get a job as a waiter in some cafe or other.”
“Why did you not stay in Paris, Emmanuelson?” I asked him.
He gave me a swift clear glance. “Paris?” he said, “no, no, indeed. I got out of Paris just at the nick of time.”
Emmanuelson had one friend in the world to whom in the course of the evening he came back many times. If he could only get in touch with him again, everything would be different, for he was prosperous and very generous. This man was a conjurer and was travelling all over the world. When Emmanuelson had last heard of him he had been in San Francisco.
From time to time we talked of literature and the theatre and then again we would come back to Emmanuelson’s future. He told me how his countrymen out here in Africa had one after another turned him out.
“You are in a hard position, Emmanuelson,” I said, “I do not know that I can think of anyone who is, in a way, harder up against things than you are.”
“No, I think so myself,” he said. “But then there is one thing of which I have thought lately and of which perhaps you have not thought: some person or other will have to be in the worst position of all people.”
He had finished his bottle and pushed his glass a little away from him. “This journey,” he said, “is a sort of gamble to me,le rouge et le noir. I have a chance to get out of things, I may even be getting out of everything. On the other hand if I get to Tanganyika I may get into things.”
“I think you will get to Tanganyika,” I said, “you may get a lift from one of the Indian lorries travelling on that road.”
“Yes, but there are the lions,” said Emmanuelson, “and the Masai.”
“Do you believe in God, Emmanuelson?” I asked him.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Emmanuelson. He sat in silence for a time. “Perhaps you will think me a terrible sceptic,” he said, “if I now say what I am going to say. But with the exception of God I believe in absolutely nothing whatever.”
“Look here, Emmanuelson,” I said, “have you got any money?”
“Yes, I have,” he said, “eighty cents.”
“That is not enough,” I said, “and I myself have got no money in the house. But perhaps Farah will have some.” Farah had got four rupees.
Next morning, some time before sunrise, I told my boys to wake up Emmanuelson and to make breakfast for us. I had thought, in the course of the night, that I should like to take him in my car for the first ten miles of his way. It was no advantage to Emmanuelson, who would still have another eighty miles to walk, but I did not like to see him step straight from the threshold of my house into his uncertain fate, and besides I wished to be, myself, somewhere within this comedy or tragedy of his. I made him up a parcel of sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs, and gave him with it a bottle of the Chambertin 1906 since he appreciated it. I thought that it might well be his last drink in life.
Emmanuelson in the dawn looked like one of those legendary corpses whose beards grow quickly in the earth, but he came forth from his grave with a good grace and was very placid and well-balanced as we drove on. When we had come to the other side of the Mbagathi river, I let him down from the car. The morning air was clear and there was not a cloud in the sky. He was going towards the South-West. As I looked round to the opposite horizon, the sun just came up, dull and red: like the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, I thought. In three or four hours she would be white-hot, and fierce upon the head of the wanderer.
Emmanuelson said good-bye to me; he started to walk, and then came back and said good-bye once more. I sat in the car and watched him, and I think that as he went he was pleased to have a spectator. I believe that the dramatic instinct within him was so strong that he was at this moment vividly aware of being leaving the stage, of disappearing, as if he had, with the eyes of his audience, seen himself go. Exit Emmanuelson. Should not the hills, the thorn-trees and the dusty road take pity and for a second put on the aspect of cardboard?
In the morning breeze his long black overcoat fluttered round his legs, the neck of the bottle stuck up from one of its pockets. I felt my heart filling with the love and gratitude which the people who stay at home are feeling for the wayfarers and wanderers of the world, the sailors, explorers and vagabonds. As he came to the top of the hill he turned, took off his hat and waved it to me, his long hair was blown up from his forehead.
Farah, who was with me in the car, asked me: “Where is that Bwana going?” Farah called Emmanuelson a Bwana for the sake of his own dignity, since he had slept in the house.
“To Tanganyika,” I said.
“On foot?” asked he.
“Yes,” I said.
“Allah be with him,” said Farah.
In the course of the day I thought much of Emmanuelson, and went out of the house to look towards the Tanganyika road. In the night, about ten o’clock, I heard the roar of a lion far away to the South-West; half an hour later I heard him again. I wondered if he was sitting upon an old black overcoat. During the following week I tried to get news of Emmanuelson, and told Farah to ask his Indian acquaintances who were running lorries to Tanganyika, whether any lorry had passed or met him on the road. But nobody knew anything of him.
Half a year later I was surprised to receive a registered letter from Dodoma, where I knew no one. The letter was from Emmanuelson. It contained the fifty rupees that I had first lent him when he had been trying to get out of the country, and Farah’s four rupees. Apart from this sum,—the last money in all the world that I had expected to see again,—Emmanuelson sent me a long, sensible and charming letter. He had got a job as a bartender in Dodoma, whatever kind of bar they may have there, and was getting on well. He seemed to have in him a talent for gratitude, he remembered everything of his evening on the farm, and came back many times to the fact that there he had felt amongst friends. He told me in detail about his journey to Tanganyika. He had much good to say of the Masai. They had found him on the road and had taken him in, had shown him great kindness and hospitality, and had let him travel with them most of the way, by many circuits. He had, he wrote, entertained them so well, with recounts of his adventures in many countries, that they had not wanted to let him go. Emmanuelson did not know any Masai language, and for his Odyssey he must have fallen back upon pantomime.
It was fit and becoming, I thought, that Emmanuelson should have sought refuge with the Masai, and that they should have received him. The true aristocracy and the true proletariat of the world are both in understanding with tragedy. To them it is the fundamental principle of God, and the key,—the minor key,—to existence. They differ in this way from the bourgeoisie of all classes, who deny tragedy, who will not tolerate it, and to whom the word of tragedy means in itself unpleasantness. Many misunderstandings between the white middle-class immigrant settlers and the Natives arise from this fact. The sulky Masai are both aristocracy and proletariat, they would have recognized at once in the lonely wanderer in black, a figure of tragedy; and the tragic actor had come, with them, into his own.