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Hotel World - Ali Smith.epub

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Hotel World - Ali Smith.epub

When I survey this work as a whole I find I have drawna picture of a vanished age. The character of society, thefoundations of politics, the methods of war, the outlook ofyouth, the scale of values, are all changed, and changedto an extent I should not have believed possible in so shorta space without any violent domestic revolution. I cannotpretend to feel that they are in all respects changed for thebetter. I was a child of the Victorian era, when the structureof our country seemed firmly set, when its position in tradeand on the seas was unrivalled, and when the realizationof the greatness of our Empire and of our duty to preserve itwas ever growing stronger. In those days the dominantforces in Great Britain were very sure of themselves and of10their doctrines. They thought they could teach the worldthe art of government, and the science of economics. Theywere sure they were supreme at sea and consequently safeat home. They rested therefore sedately under theconvictions of power and security. Very different is theaspect of these anxious and dubious times. Full allowancefor such changes should be made by friendly readers.

Just about this time also there happened the 'Tay BridgeDisaster.' A whole bridge tumbled down while a train wasrunning on it in a great storm, and all the passengers weredrowned. I supposed they could not get out of the carriagewindows in time. It would be very hard to open one ofthose windows where you have to pull up a long strap beforeyou can let it down. No wonder they were all drowned.All my world was very angry that the Government shouldhave allowed a bridge like this to tumble down. It seemedto me they had been very careless, and I did not wonder atall that the people said they would vote against them forbeing so lazy and neglectful as to let such a shocking thinghappen.

The fateful day arrived. My mother took me to thestation in a hansom cab. She gave me three half-crowns,which I dropped on to the floor of the cab, and we had toscramble about in the straw to find them again. We onlyjust caught the train. If we had missed it, it would havebeen the end of the world. However, we didn't, and theworld went on.

During this year I met at my father's house many of the48leading figures of the Parliamentary conflict, and was oftenat luncheon or dinner when across his table not onlycolleagues, but opponents, amicably interchanged opinionson the burning topics of the hour. It was then that Ifirst met Mr. Balfour, Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. EdwardCarson, and also Lord Rosebery, Mr. Asquith, Mr. JohnMorley and other fascinating ministerial figures. Itseemed a very great world in which these men lived; aworld where high rules reigned and every trifle in publicconduct counted: a duelling-ground where although thebusiness might be ruthless, and the weapons loaded with ball,there was ceremonious personal courtesy and mutual respect.But of course I saw this social side only when my fatherhad either intimate friends or persons of high politicalconsequence as his guests. I have heard that on neutral groundhe was incredibly fierce, and affronted people by sayingthe most blunt or even savage things. Certainly thosewho did not know him well approached him with cautionor heavily armed.

My brother and I were sent this summer by our parents51for a so-called walking-tour in Switzerland, with a tutor.I need hardly say we travelled by train so far as the moneylasted. The tutor and I climbed mountains. We climbedthe Wetterhorn and Monte Rosa. The spectacle of thesunrise striking the peaks of the Bernese Oberland is amarvel of light and colour unsurpassed in my experience.I longed to climb the Matterhorn, but this was not onlytoo expensive but held by the tutor to be too dangerous.All this prudence however might easily have been upset byan incident which happened to me in the lake of Lausanne.I record this incident that it may be a warning to others.I went for a row with another boy a little younger thanmyself. When we were more than a mile from the shore,we decided to have a swim, pulled off our clothes, jumpedinto the water and swam about in great delight. Whenwe had had enough, the boat was perhaps 100 yards away.A breeze had begun to stir the waters. The boat had asmall red awning over its stern seats. This awning actedas a sail by catching the breeze. As we swam towardsthe boat, it drifted farther off. After this had happenedseveral times we had perhaps halved the distance. Butmeanwhile the breeze was freshening and we both, especiallymy companion, began to be tired. Up to this point noidea of danger had crossed my mind. The sun playedupon the sparkling blue waters; the wonderful panoramaof mountains and valleys, the gay hotels and villas stillsmiled. But I now saw Death as near as I believe I haveever seen him. He was swimming in the water at ourside, whispering from time to time in the rising wind whichcontinued to carry the boat away from us at about the samespeed we could swim. No help was near. Unaided wecould never reach the shore. I was not only an easy, buta fast swimmer, having represented my House at Harrow,when our team defeated all comers. I now swam for life.Twice I reached within a yard of the boat and each timea gust carried it just beyond my reach; but by a supremeeffort I caught hold of its side in the nick of time before52a still stronger gust bulged the red awning again. Iscrambled in, and rowed back for my companion who,though tired, had not apparently realised the dull yellowglare of mortal peril that had so suddenly played aroundus. I said nothing to the tutor about this seriousexperience; but I have never forgotten it; and perhaps some ofmy readers will remember it too.

I was on the whole considerably discouraged by myschool days. Except in Fencing, in which I had won thePublic School Championship, I had achieved no distinction.All my contemporaries and even younger boys seemed inevery way better adapted to the conditions of our littleworld. They were far better both at the games and atthe lessons. It is not pleasant to feel oneself so completelyoutclassed and left behind at the very beginning of therace. I had been surprised on taking leave of Mr. Welldonto hear him predict, with a confidence for which I couldsee no foundation, that I should be able to make my wayall right. I have always been very grateful to him for this.

My greatest friend at Harrow was Jack Milbanke. Hewas nearly two years my senior. He was the son of anold baronet whose family had lived at Chichester for manygenerations. He was not remarkable either at games orlessons. In these spheres he was only slightly above theaverage of his contemporaries. But he had a style anddistinction of manner which were exceptional, and a mature54outlook and conversation the like of which I never saw inany other Harrow boy. He was always the great gentleman,self-composed, cool, sedate, spick and span andfaultlessly dressed. When my father came down to seeme, he used to take us both to luncheon at the King'sHead Hotel. I was thrilled to hear them talk, as if theywere equals, with the easy assurance of one man of theworld to another. I envied him so much. How I shouldhave loved to have that sort of relationship with my father!But alas I was only a backward schoolboy and my incursionsinto the conversation were nearly always awkward orfoolish.

I was making a road map on Chobham Common inJune 1894, when a cyclist messenger brought me thecollege adjutant's order to proceed at once to London.My father was setting out the next day on a journey roundthe world. An ordinary application to the collegeauthorities for my being granted special leave of absence hadbeen refused as a matter of routine. He had telegraphedto the Secretary of State for War, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman,63'My last day in England' ... and no timehad been lost in setting me on my way to London.

When I look back upon them I cannot but return mysincere thanks to the high gods for the gift of existence.All the days were good and each day better than the other.Ups and downs, risks and journeys, but always the senseof motion, and the illusion of hope. Come on now all youyoung men, all over the world. You are needed more thanever now to fill the gap of a generation shorn by the War.You have not an hour to lose. You must take your placesin life's fighting line. Twenty to twenty-five! Theseare the years! Don't be content with things as they are.'The earth is yours and the fulness thereof'. Enter uponyour inheritance, accept your responsibilities. Raise theglorious flags again, advance them upon the new enemies,who constantly gather upon the front of the human army,and have only to be assaulted to be overthrown. Don'ttake No for an answer. Never submit to failure. Do notbe fobbed off with mere personal success or acceptance.You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as youare generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurtthe world or even seriously distress her. She was madeto be wooed and won by youth. She has lived and thrivedonly by repeated subjugations.

The military year was divided into a seven months'summer season of training and a five months' winter seasonof leave, and each officer received a solid block of two and ahalf months' uninterrupted repose. All my money hadbeen spent on polo ponies, and as I could not afford to hunt,I searched the world for some scene of adventure orexcitement. The general peace in which mankind had for so manyyears languished was broken only in one quarter of the90globe. The long-drawn guerrilla between the Spaniardsand the Cuban rebels was said to be entering upon its mostserious phase. The Captain-General of Spain, the famousMarshal Martinez Campos, renowned alike for victoriesover the Moors and pronunciamientos to the Spaniards, hadbeen sent to the recalcitrant island; and 80,000 Spanishreinforcements were being rapidly shipped across the oceanin a supreme attempt to quell the revolt. Here then wasfighting actually going on. From very early youth I hadbrooded about soldiers and war, and often I had imaginedin dreams and day-dreams the sensations attendant uponbeing for the first time under fire. It seemed to my youthfulmind that it must be a thrilling and immense experienceto hear the whistle of bullets all around and to play at hazardfrom moment to moment with death and wounds. Moreover,now that I had assumed professional obligations in thematter, I thought that it might be as well to have a privaterehearsal, a secluded trial trip, in order to make sure that theordeal was one not unsuited to my temperament. Accordinglyit was to Cuba that I turned my eyes. 041b061a72


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