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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v1 - 1/11 -
CUMNER'S SON AND OTHER SOUTH SEA FOLK
by Gilbert Parker
Volume 1. CUMNER'S SON
Volume 2. THE HIGH COURT OF BUDGERY-GAR AN EPIC IN YELLOW DIBBS, R.N. A LITTLE MASQUERADE DERELICT OLD ROSES MY WIFE'S LOVERS THE STRANGERS' HUT
Volume 3. THE PLANTER'S WIFE BARBARA GOLDING THE LONE CORVETTE
Volume 4. A SABLE SPARTAN A VULGAR FRACTION HOW PANGO WANGO WAS ANNEXED AN AMIABLE REVENGE THE BLIND BEGGAR AND THE LITTLE RED PEG A FRIEND OF THE COMMUNE
Volume 5. A PAGAN OF THE SOUTH
In a Foreword to Donovan Pasha, published in 1902, I used the following words:
"It is now twelve years since I began giving to the public tales of life in lands well known to me. The first of them were drawn from Australia and the islands of the southern Pacific, where I had lived and roamed in the middle and late eighties. . . . Those tales of the Far South were given out with some prodigality. They did not appear in book form, however; for at the time I was sending out these antipodean sketches I was also writing--far from the scenes where they were laid--a series of Canadian tales, many of which appeared in the 'Independent' of New York, in the 'National Observer', edited by Mr. Henley, and in the 'Illustrated London News'. On the suggestion of my friend Mr. Henley, the Canadian tales, Pierre and His People, were published first; with the result that the stories of the southern hemisphere were withheld from publication, though they have been privately printed and duly copyrighted. Some day I may send them forth, but meanwhile I am content to keep them in my care."
These stories made the collection published eventually under the title of Cumner's Son, in 1910. They were thus kept for nearly twenty years without being given to the public in book form. In 1910 I decided, however, that they should go out and find their place with my readers. The first story in the book, Cumner's Son, which represents about four times the length of an ordinary short story, was published in Harper's Weekly, midway between 1890 and 1900. All the earlier stories belonged to 1890, 1891, 1892, and 1893. The first of these to be published was 'A Sable Spartan', 'An Amiable Revenge', 'A Vulgar Fraction', and 'How Pango Wango Was Annexed'. They were written before the Pierre series, and were instantly accepted by Mr. Frederick Greenwood, that great journalistic figure of whom the British public still takes note, and for whom it has an admiring memory, because of his rare gifts as an editor and publicist, and by a political section of the public, because Mr. Greenwood recommended to Disraeli the purchase of the Suez Canal shares. Seventeen years after publishing these stories I had occasion to write to Frederick Greenwood, and in my letter I said: "I can never forget that you gave me a leg up in my first struggle for recognition in the literary world." His reply was characteristic; it was in keeping with the modest, magnanimous nature of the man. He said: "I cannot remember that there was any day when you required a leg up."
While still contributing to the 'Anti-Jacobin', which had a short life and not a very merry one, I turned my attention to a weekly called 'The Speaker', to which I have referred elsewhere, edited by Mr. Wemyss Reid, afterwards Sir Wemyss Reid, and in which Mr. Quiller-Couch was then writing a striking short story nearly every week. Up to that time I had only interviewed two editors. One was Mr. Kinloch-Cooke, now Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke, who at that time was editor of the 'English Illustrated Magazine', and a very good, courteous, and generous editor he was, and he had a very good magazine; the other was an editor whose name I do not care to mention, because his courtesy was not on the same expansive level as his vanity.
One bitter winter's day in 1891 I went to Wemyss Reid to tell him, if he would hear me, that I had in my mind a series of short stories of Australia and the South Seas, and to ask him if he could give them a place in 'The Speaker'. It was a Friday afternoon, and as I went into the smudgy little office I saw a gentleman with a small brown bag emerging from another room.
At that moment I asked for Mr. Wemyss Reid. The gentleman with the little brown bag stood and looked sharply at me, but with friendly if penetrating eyes. "I am Wemyss Reid--you wish to see me?" he said. "Will you give me five minutes?" I asked. "I am just going to the train, but I will spare you a minute," he replied. He turned back into another smudgy little room, put his bag on the table, and said: "Well?" I told him quickly, eagerly, what I wished to do, and I said to him at last: "I apologise for seeking you personally, but I was most anxious that my work should be read by your own eyes, because I think I should be contented with your judgment, whether it was favourable or unfavourable." Taking up his bag again, he replied, "Send your stories along. If I think they are what I want I will publish them. I will read them myself." He turned the handle of the door, and then came back to me and again looked me in the eyes. "If I cannot use them--and there might be a hundred reasons why I could not, and none of them derogatory to your work--" he said, "do not be discouraged. There are many doors. Mine is only one. Knock at the others. Good luck to you."
I never saw Wemyss Reid again, but he made a friend who never forgot him, and who mourned his death. It was not that he accepted my stories; it was that he said what he did say to a young man who did not yet know what his literary fortune might be. Well, I sent him a short story called, 'An Epic in Yellow'. Proofs came by return of post. This story was followed by 'The High Court of Budgery-Gar', 'Old Roses', 'My Wife's Lovers', 'Derelict', 'Dibbs, R.N.', 'A Little Masquerade', and 'The Stranger's Hut'. Most, if not all, of these appeared before the Pierre stories were written.
They did not strike the imagination of the public in the same way as the Pierre series, but they made many friends. They were mostly Australian, and represented the life which for nearly four years I knew and studied with that affection which only the young, open-eyed enthusiast, who makes his first journey in the world, can give. In the same year, for 'Macmillan's Magazine', I wrote 'Barbara Golding' and 'A Pagan of the South', which was originally published as 'The Woman in the Morgue'. 'A Friend of the Commune' was also published in the 'English Illustrated Magazine', and 'The Blind Beggar and the Little Red Peg' found a place in the 'National Observer' after W. E. Henley had ceased to be its editor, and Mr. J. C. Vincent, also since dead, had taken his place. 'The Lone Corvette' was published in 'The Westminster Gazette' as late as 1893.
Of certain of these stories, particularly of the Australian group, I have no doubt. They were lifted out of the life of that continent with sympathy and care, and most of the incidents were those which had come under my own observation. I published them at last in book form, because I felt that no definitive edition of my books ought to appear--and I had then a definitive edition in my mind--without these stories which represented an early phase in my work. Whatever their degree of merit, they possess freshness and individuality of outlook. Others could no doubt have written them better, but none could have written them with quite the same touch or turn or individuality; and, after all, what we want in the art of fiction is not a story alone, not an incident of life or soul simply as an incident, but the incident as seen with the eye-- and that eye as truthful and direct as possible--of one individual personality. George Meredith and Robert Louis Stevenson might each have chosen the same subject and the same story, and each have produced a masterpiece, and yet the world of difference between the way it was presented by each was the world of difference between the eyes that saw. So I am content to let these stories speak little or much, but still to speak for me.
THE CHOOSING OF THE MESSENGER
There was trouble at Mandakan. You could not have guessed it from anything the eye could see. In front of the Residency two soldiers marched up and down sleepily, mechanically, between two ten-pounders marking the limit of their patrol; and an orderly stood at an open door, lazily shifting his eyes from the sentinels to the black guns, which gave out soft, quivering waves of heat, as a wheel, spinning, throws off delicate spray. A hundred yards away the sea spread out, languid and huge. It was under-tinged with all the colours of a morning sunrise over Mount Bobar not far beyond, lifting up its somnolent and massive head into the Eastern sky. "League-long rollers" came in as steady as columns of infantry, with white streamers flying along the line, and hovering a moment, split, and ran on the shore in a crumbling foam, like myriads of white mice hurrying up the sand.
A little cloud of tobacco smoke came curling out of a window of the Residency. It was sniffed up by the orderly, whose pipe was in barracks, and must lie there untouched until evening at least; for he had stood at this door since seven that morning, waiting orders; and he knew by the look on Colonel Cumner's face that he might be there till to-morrow.
But the ordinary spectator could not have noticed any difference in the general look of things. All was quiet, too, in the big native city.
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