The Peripatetic Reviewer

BY EDWARD WEEKS
I LIKE islands, small ones, and the more rudimentary, the better. In northern waters, Naushon, the island owned and cultivated by the Forbes family for the past hundred and thirty years, seems to me just about the right size, and its virgin white sand, beech forests where the deer run, and freshwater ponds holding some ancient smallmouth bass make an ideal composite for a tiny rampart breasting the Atlantic. In southern waters, my favorite is Green Turtle Cay.
Green Turtle Cay is a coral isle, the most northerly of the seven hundred in the Bahama group, three miles long and half that at its widest, with headlands rising more than eighty feet. It lies in the trade winds, which is why the self-indulgent of Nassau shun it, but the winds are dry winds, reminding me of those that used to pour over the Barnegat when I was a boy, and they are not agonizing to sufferers who come seeking the sun for their sinus. The sun is very close to you here, and the wind, like a tonic, sweeps away the miasma of humidity.
You reach the cay in an hour’s flight from West Palm Beach or Nassau, the plane setting you down on the long airstrip on Abaco, the neighboring big island, whence you and your luggage (and rods) are boated across the choppy bay to the ancient pastel settlement of New Plymouth. The boat trip takes twenty minutes — hold on to your hats, kids — and deposits you in another century.
Those who settled New Plymouth in the 1780s were Loyalists from our mainland who preferred to live under a monarch. The colony, now as then, is predominantly white, towheaded; and the English they speak, with an intonation peculiar to their island, is much as Tony Weller speaks it in The Pickwick Papers. The h’s are dropped with a detonation, and the w’s are all v’s. ‟Papa, Papa,” said Captain Joe, in a reflective moment while we were fishing, ‟ven I consider my remote life— and as we went on to compare his remote existence, and its gratifications, with mine, had Tony Veller been listening, it would have been I who was using the foreign tongue.
For foreigners coming ashore, there are the New Plymouth Inn, tastefully run by Colyn Rees, the Other Shore, run by Skip Wright, and the Bluff House, whose host is Pearce Cody, on the highest point on the island, with a superb view across White Sound. If you decide to stay, be sure to bring your own liquor, as the settlement is and always has been dry.
The natives, all three hundred, dwell in onestory houses made of sand and cement, pasteltinted and close together for protection against hurricanes; the only roads on the island are in the settlement, and they are kept clean by the only vehicle, a cannibalized truck with a large bin which once a day creeps from door to door collecting cans and rubbish. Two shops: one proffering delectable homemade bread and fresh milk, once a week, if the provision boat remembers to bring it. The other provides you with canned goods — butter from New Zealand, deviled ham and cheese from Australia — canvas shoes, dark glasses (‟Where is that last pair?”), and perishables such as tomatoes, oranges, lemons, and pineapples. Be sure to get mayonnaise and lemons for the amberjacks and the crayfish which are so plentiful.
We were staying with our friend the Major, an MP here on holiday, and we stocked up with our staples on Saturday and returned by boat Monday morning for what we had forgotten to order. It took some time on our second visit for the shopkeeper to figure out, in his copperplate handwriting, what we owed him. Ruefully, he looked up from the paper and said, ‟If you and your friend keep coming back, I won’t get anything done.”
The fun of new places is the new food and what it does to the taste buds. Outside our porch on the cay was a papaw bush, so I split and spooned into one for breakfast; rather medicinal, I thought, as I sprinkled it with sugar. But our delicacies came from the day’s pleasure. The Major, who is a pretty fair shot, was twice ferried across the bay before dawn, and twice returned with what he termed ‟wild boar.” They were actually pigs which had escaped from a shipwreck a century ago and had taken to the bush. So we had a haunch of tasty lean pork and a supper of nine fat roast plover — and would have had two mallards, also, if only the gunner had been looking in the right direction when they passed overhead. Meantime, I was bringing in amberjacks and yellow snappers, which Captain Joe filleted; and conch, which, if you spank it hard enough and cook it long enough, comes out tasting like the white flesh of capon; and a green turtle, which I spotted and which Joe speared and which we had for supper; and crayfish by the dozen. They are the native lobster — without claws and with luscious tails — and Captain Joe had his own swift way of bringing them to the surface. ‟’Ow many vill you vant, Papa?” he asked. ‟Ten, fifteen? I bet you I can catch them in fifteen minutes.” I took the bet.
Joe procured a twenty-foot spear and a wooden bucket with a glass bottom; then, in his light outboard, we slapped, slapped out to the center of the bay, where I saw him take a fix on a line drawn between the big rock on Abaco and a clump of palm trees on the cay. He cut the motor, and as we drifted to a stop, Joe leaned far over the side, with the bucket as an eyeglass in the choppy sea. Down went the spear, until the very end of it was in his hand. ‟Vun,” he said, and gave a dig with his right arm. Then up came the long pole, and, ‟Knock him off, Papa, knock him off!” Exactly twelve minutes later, we had fifteen goodsized crayfish scuttling around our feet. What Joe had laid out for himself was a crayfish farm. He had sunk six big iron tuns on a line across the bay with an opening in each. ‟Crayfish feed by night, Papa. They like shade by day. But ven I ‘it the tun, out they run.” The accuracy with which he speared the choice ones at a depth of twenty feet in a choppy sea, leaning his weight on that bucket eyeglass, was something to see. But Captain Joe, who balances himself with prehensile toes, as do all good Caribbean boatmen, is a man of skill.
Postscript: Since my staff has taken a firm stand against my writing about any more ‟speckled beauties,” I have refrained until now from mentioning that I also boated eleven bonefish, the largest being nine pounds, six ounces. I shall disclose further details only to those who ask. Please address requests to: Anglers Anonymous, 8 Arlington Street, Boston, Massachusetts.

PATAGONIAN PETS

Travel writers of the first rank are a great rarity, and it is their special gift to propel the reader into adventures far beyond his normal reach. Freya Stark, Peter Fleming, and Patrick Leigh Fermor are three English writers who do this very well, and to the trio I should add GERALD DURRELL. Mr. Durrell travels to collect animals for the zoo he founded on the island of Jersey, and in THE WHISPERING LAND (Viking, $3.95) he tells us vividly and gaily of the creatures which he encountered, photographed, and some few of which he brought home from his expedition to Patagonia and the remote reaches of Argentina.
‟The plains of Patagonia are boundless,” wrote Charles Darwin, ‟for they are scarcely passable, and hence unknown; they bear the stamp of having lasted, as they are now, for ages, and there appears no limit to their duration through future time.” In a Land Rover with his female help his wife, his secretary, and his interpreter — Mr. Durrell set out to follow the footsteps of his hero. The ladies bedded down in the cabin, and he himself, in a blanket roll under the rear axle. After two days of driving through the flat golden grassland of the Pampas, they entered an arid waste stretching as far as the eye could see, ‟a uniform pelt of grey-green scrub composed of plants about three feet high, each armed with a formidable array of thorns and spikes”; but this wasteland which locked out the world was also a sanctuary. And in time they came to a colony of a million penguins, at which point the zestful, saucy writing begins. The author has an instinctive sympathy for his beasts and an observant eye for what is ludicrous or beautiful; he writes of them not as people in fur and feathers, but as beings, captivating in their differences.
The long trek of the adult penguins as they plod across the desert and coast down the dunes into the sea is a lively picture, and so, too, is their waddling return when, full of fish, they begin their hiccuping regurgitation for their young. The next stop was Peninsula Valdes on the coast of Chubut, where they parked the Land Rover amidst ‟the frenzied roar of a football crowd” on the verge of a huge colony of fur seals. The great bulls with physiques like boxers’, their tremendous shoulders tapering down to slender hindquarters, first caught their eyes, and then the harem of slim and sinuous wives ‟with their neat pointed faces and big melting eyes,” and after that the antics of a pup like Oswald. Oswald is to laugh at, but the love play of a young newlywed couple as Mr. Durrell tells it is a picture of beauty.
On down the coast they went in search of one of the last herds of elephant seal, and they found them at last in a remote cove, sleeping and looking like huge immovable boulders. The hairy armadillos; the rheas, one of which ran six feet in front of the car for half a mile at thirty miles an hour; the supercilious guanacos; and the little foxes that he watched at five A.M. as they did their ballet with an unwinding roll of toilet paper — such encounters as these add the joy of life to these intelligent and engaging pages.

WAUGH THE MASTER

In the first half of a new novel by EVELYN WAUGH I find myself asking again and again, Is there any other living novelist who could do this so well? The beautiful economy of its style, the firmness and edge of its satire, the shrewd divulging of character, the laughter and naturalness of the dialogue — these are surely the assets of an exceptional talent. And then, in the later stages of the story, I have pauses in which I wonder if I have been right. Such is my reaction to THE END OF THE BATTLE (Little, Brown, $4.50), the last in Mr. Waugh’s trilogy, Men at War.
The diffident hero, Guy Crouchback, has returned to England as the book opens, war-spent, disillusioned, and much older than his thirty-nine years. He is reassigned for paratroop duty, injures his knee in an early jump, and while convalescing, before being flown in for liaison work with the partisans in Yugoslavia, he has the chance to reidentify himself with his generous, bitchy wife, Virginia, and such fragments of his old London life as have survived. In the vestibule of the book is a synopsis for those who may need help in recalling Guy’s earlier friends and adventures.
Through the English chapters runs a thread of gleaming, delightful satire. Thus, in speaking of a convent school, Mr. Waugh writes, ‟Here the girls danced together in the winter evenings to the music of a gramophone and tender possessive friendships were contracted and repudiated; here in the summer was held the annual concert, and a costume play, chosen for its innocence of subject and for the multiplicity of its cast, was tediously enacted.” How can you beat it? Virginia as she sponges off Ruby; de Souza in his macabre spoofing of the Commandant; the madhouse of the R.A.F. Hospital, from which Guy eventually has to be rescued; Uncle Peregrine’s bachelor Christmas and his embarrassed, preposterous proposal to Virginia are all of them instances of Mr. Waugh’s very special blend of irony and reality. Yet, in Yugoslavia the story seems to sag, and episodes which might have been poignant have a tendency to be cut short. They are still a good deal better than what most writers could do, but the master hand seems a little tired.