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The Earthquake

One year, about Christmas, we had an earthquake; it was strong enough to turn over a number of native huts, it was probably of the power of an angry elephant. It came in three shocks, each of them lasted a few seconds, and there was a pause of a few seconds in between them. These intervals gave people time to form their ideas of the happening.

Denys Finch-Hatton, who was at the time camped in the Masai Reserve, and was sleeping in his lorry, told me when he came back, that as he was woken up by the shock he thought, A rhino has got underneath the lorry. I myself was in my bedroom going to bed when the earthquake came. At the first tug I thought, A leopard has got up on the roof. When the second shock came, I thought, I am going to die, this is how it feels to die. But in the short stillness between the second and the third shock, I realized what it was, it was an earthquake, and I had never thought that I should live to see that. For a moment now I believed that the earthquake was over. But when the third and last shock of it came, it brought with it such an overwhelming feeling of joy that I do not remember ever in my life to have been more suddenly and thoroughly transported.

The heavenly bodies, in their courses, have it in their power to move human minds to unknown heights of delight. We are not generally conscious of them; when their idea is suddenly brought back, and actualized to us, it opens up a tremendous perspective. Kepler writes of what he felt when, after many years work, he at last found the laws of the movements of the planets:

I give myself over to my rapture. The die is cast. Nothing I have ever felt before is like this. I tremble, my blood leaps. God has waited six thousand years for a looker-on to his work. His wisdom is infinite, that of which we are ignorant is contained in him, as well as the little that we know.

Indeed it was exactly the same transport which took hold of me and shook me all through, at the time of the earthquake.

The feeling of colossal pleasure lies chiefly in the consciousness that something which you have reckoned to be immovable, has got it in it to move on its own. That is probably one of the strongest sensations of joy and hope the world. The dull globe, the dead mass, the Earth itself, rose and stretched under me. It sent me out a message, the slightest touch, but of unbounded significance. It laughed so that the Native huts fell down and cried: Eppur si muove.

Early next morning, Juma brought me my tea and said: The King of England is dead.

I asked him how he knew.

Did you not, Memsahib, he said, feel the earth toss and shake last night? That means that the King of England is dead.

But luckily the King of England lived for many years after the earthquake.


Of Natives and History | Out of Africa | George