You must remember that I was observing the heavy artillery of the attack on the conflagration. Individual campaigns were everywhere in progress. I saw one man standing on the roof of a threatened building. He lowered slowly, hand over hand, a small tea-kettle at the end of a string. This was filled by a friend in the street, whereupon the man hauled it up again, slowly, hand over hand, and solemnly dashed its contents into the mouth of the furnace. Thousands of other men on roofs, in balconies, on the street, were doing the same thing. Some had ordinary cups which they filled a block away! The limit of efficiency was a pail. Nobody did anything in concert with anybody else. The sight of these thousands of little midgets each with his teacup, or his teapot, or his tin pail, throwing each his mite of water—for which he had to walk a street or so—into the ravening roaring furnace of flame was as pathetic or as comical as you please. They did not seem to have a show in the world.
Nevertheless, to my vast surprise, the old system of the East triumphed at last. The system of the East is that if you get enough labour you can accomplish anything. Little by little those thousands of tea kettles of water had their aggregate effect. The flames fed themselves out and died down leaving the contiguous buildings unharmed save for a little scorching. In two hours all was safe, and I returned to the hotel, having enjoyed myself hugely. I had, however, in the interest and excitement, forgotten how deadly is the fever of Mombasa. Midnight in pyjamas did the business; and shortly I paid well for the fun.
Up from the coast.
Nairobi is situated at the far edge of the great Athi Plains and just below a range of hills. It might about as well have been anywhere else, and perhaps better a few miles back in the higher country. Whether the funny little narrow-gauge railroad exists for Nairobi, or Nairobi for the railroad, it would be difficult to say. Between Mombasa and this interior placed-to-order town, certainly, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, either in passengers or freight, to justify building the line. That distance is, if I remember it correctly, about three hundred and twenty miles. A dozen or so names of stations appear on the map. These are water tanks, telegraph stations, or small groups of tents in which dwell black labourers—on the railroad.
The way climbs out from the tropical steaming coast belt to and across the high scrub desert, and then through lower rounded hills to the plains. On the desert is only dense thorn brush—and a possibility that the newcomer, if he looks very closely, may to his excitement see his first game in Africa. This is a stray duiker or so, tiny grass antelopes a foot high. Also in this land