Following the Equator


I have traveled more than anyone else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent.
Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Mark Twain

I SAW Table Rock, anyway—a majestic pile. It is 3,000 feet high. It is also 17,000 feet high. These figures may be relied upon. I got them in Cape Town from the two best-informed citizens, men who had made Table Rock the study of their lives. And I saw Table Bay, so named for its levelness. I saw the Castle—built by the Dutch East India Company three hundred years ago—where the Commanding General lives; I saw St. Simon’s Bay, where the Admiral lives. I saw the Government, also the Parliament, where they quarreled in two languages when I was there, and agreed in none. I saw the club. I saw and explored the beautiful sea-girt drives that wind about the mountains and through the paradise where the villas are: Also I saw some of the fine old Dutch mansions, pleasant homes of the early times, pleasant homes to-day, and enjoyed the privilege of their hospitalities.

And just before I sailed I saw in one of them a quaint old picture which was a link in a curious romance—a picture of a pale, intellectual young man in a pink coat with a high black collar. It was a portrait of Dr. James Barry, a military surgeon who came out to the Cape fifty years ago with his regiment. He was a wild young fellow, and was guilty of various kinds of misbehavior. He was several times reported to headquarters in England, and it was in each case expected that orders would come out to deal with him promptly and severely, but for some mysterious reason no orders of any kind ever came back—nothing came but just an impressive silence. This made him an imposing and uncanny wonder to the town.

Next, he was promoted—away up. He was made Medical Superintendent General, and transferred to India. Presently he was back at the Cape again and at his escapades once more. There were plenty of pretty girls, but none of them caught him, none of them could get hold of his heart; evidently he was not a marrying man. And that was another marvel, another puzzle, and made no end of perplexed talk. Once he was called in the night, an obstetric service, to do what he could for a woman who was believed to be dying. He was prompt and scientific, and saved both mother and child. There are other instances of record which testify to his mastership of his profession; and many which testify to his love of it and his devotion to it. Among other adventures of his was a duel of a desperate sort, fought with swords, at the Castle. He killed his man.

The child heretofore mentioned as having been saved by Dr. Barry so long ago, was named for him, and still lives in Cape Town. He had Dr. Barry’s portrait painted, and gave it to the gentleman in whose old Dutch house I saw it—the quaint figure in pink coat and high black collar.

The story seems to be arriving nowhere. But that is because I have not finished. Dr. Barry died in Cape Town 30 years ago. It was then discovered that he was a woman.

The legend goes that enquiries—soon silenced—developed the fact that she was a daughter of a great English house, and that that was why her Cape wildnesses brought no punishment and got no notice when reported to the government at home. Her name was an alias. She had disgraced herself with her people; so she chose to change her name and her sex and take a new start in the world.

We sailed on the 15th of July in the Norman, a beautiful ship, perfectly appointed. The voyage to England occupied a short fortnight, without a stop except at Madeira. A good and restful voyage for tired people, and there were several of us. I seemed to have been lecturing a thousand years, though it was only a twelvemonth, and a considerable number of the others were Reformers who were fagged out with their five months of seclusion in the Pretoria prison.

Our trip around the earth ended at the Southampton pier, where we embarked thirteen months before. It seemed a fine and large thing to have accomplished—the circumnavigation of this great globe in that little time, and I was privately proud of it. For a moment. Then came one of those vanity-snubbing astronomical reports from the Observatory-people, whereby it appeared that another great body of light had lately flamed up in the remotenesses of space which was traveling at a gait which would enable it to do all that I had done in a minute and a half. Human pride is not worth while; there is always something lying in wait to take the wind out of it.

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