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Fellow-Travellers

At the table on the boat to Africa I sat between a Belgian going to the Congo, and an Englishman who had been eleven times to Mexico to shoot a particular kind of wild mountain-sheep, and who was now going out to shoot bongo. In making conversation on both sides, I got mixed up in the languages, and when I meant to ask the Belgian if he had travelled much in his life, I asked him: Avez-vous beaucoup travaill'e dans votre vie? He took no offence but, drawing out his toothpick, he answered gravely: Enorm'ement, Madame. From this time he made it his object to tell me of all the labours of his life. In everything that he discussed, a certain expression came back: Notre mission. Notre grande mission dans le Congo.

One evening, as we were going to play cards, the English traveller told us about Mexico and of how a very old Spanish lady, who lived on a lonely farm in the mountains, when she heard of the arrival of a stranger, had sent for him and ordered him to give her the news of the world. “Well, men fly now, Madame,” he said to her.

“Yes, I have heard of that,” said she, “and I have had many arguments with my priest about it. Now you can enlighten us, sir. Do men fly with their legs drawn up under them, like the sparrows, or stretched out behind them, like the storks?”

He also, in the course of our talk, made a remark about the ignorance of the Natives of Mexico, and of the schools there. The Belgian, who was dealing, paused with the last card in his hand, looked piercingly at the Englishman, and said: Il faut enseigner aux n`egres `a ^etre honn^etes et `a travailler. Rien de plus. Laying down the card with a bang on the table, he repeated with great determination: Rien de plus. Rien. Rien. Rien.


In the Menagerie | Out of Africa | The Naturalist and the Monkeys







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