“‘Tis True ‘Tis Strange, but Truth Is
Always Strange; Stranger Sometimes
Eastward Ho! Passing through the Suez Canal
Towards the close of my visit to Burmah I was dining one night at a friend’s house in Rangoon, when my neighbour, a noted member of the I. C. S. suddenly turned to me and asked me if it was my intention to write a book. At my prompt reply in the negative he seemed astonished, and asked, what then did I intend to do with my life? I had never looked at the matter in that light before, and felt depressed. It has always been my ambition to do at Rome as the Romans do, and if, as my questioner clearly intimated, it was the custom for every casual visitor to the Land of Pagodas either to write a book or to “do something with his life,” my duty seemed clear. I had no desire at all to undertake either of the tasks, but as there was apparently no third course open to me, I decided to choose the safer of the two, and write a book. So far so good, but what to write about? I have considered the merits of innumerable subjects, from the exploits of the old Greek heroes to green Carnations, but each appears to have been appropriated by some earlier author. The only subject which, so far as I can discover, has never hitherto formed the theme of song or story, is Myself, and as that is a subject about which I ought to know more than most folks and which has always appeared to me to be intensely interesting, I have adopted it as the theme of this, my first plunge into Literature.
“Who spoke of things beyond my knowledge and showed me many things I had never seen before.”
“For to admire, and for to see, and for to behold
the world so wide.” — (Rudyard Kipling.)
“I am not naturally a coward, except when I am afraid; at other times I am as brave as a lion.”
It is an unfortunate state of existence, but such it is. From my babyhood I have been known to my friends and relations as one who might be confidently expected to behave in a most terror-stricken manner on all occasions when no real danger threatened; but for myself, I have always felt convinced that should I ever be brought face to face with real danger, I should behave with a coolness and courage calculated to win the unbounded admiration of all beholders. I say advisedly “of all beholders,” because, possibly, were no witnesses present, I might not feel disposed to show so resolute a front to the danger!
For example, in the case of a shipwreck, I can picture myself presenting my life-belt to any one in distress, in the most self-sacrificing manner, with the neatest little speech, quite worthy of “Sir Philip Sidney” himself, and from some commanding post of vantage in the rigging, haranguing the terrified passengers on the advisability of keeping their heads. I feel sure that no power on earth would prevent me from diving into the raging sea to rescue inexpert swimmers from a watery death, were such an opportunity to present itself to me.
And yet, if I am taken out of my depth, during a morning bathe, I am paralysed with fear. Though a brave and expert swimmer in shallow water, no sooner do I find myself out of reach of dry land, than all my powers forsake me. I swim with short, irregular, and utterly ineffective strokes, I pant, gasp and struggle, and unless promptly rescued, I sink.