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which may work its ruin. At present it is no bigger than a little island in the Red Sea called Perim. Perim also belongs to England, and has been leased to a private company, who hope that it will some day supplant Aden as a coaling station. It has many natural advantages, including a fine harbour, and offers the inducement of increased cheapness of coal. At Aden a big steamer cannot let go its anchor and haul it up again under a fine of £20. There are no port charges at Perim, which is, moreover, directly on the route, and a day's steaming nearer to Cardiff.
It is, however, as a naval station, an outpost of the British Empire, that Aden is chiefly prized, and as such it will always hold its own. At present the fort is not very heavily armed, its biggest guns being nine-inch muzzleloaders of twelve tons, practically obsolete in these days of ironclads. The guns are mounted on the open barbette system, pretty to look at, but dangerous to serve. This is to be altered at something like an expenditure of £100,000. New guns of twenty-six tons are to be placed in armoured cupolas, and all points within the harbour at which a landing might be effected by an enemy will be protected by light guns. At Aden, as at Hongkong, a place practically defenceless against first-class ironclads, trust has hitherto been placed in the watchfulness of the fleet. It is intended to place Aden in a position in which, like Gibraltar, it can answer for itself. This is a work quietly undertaken by a Government understood in some quarters to be careless of national defences, and particularly reckless of the safety of our empire in the East.
I hear at Aden of another little stroke of business affected without blare of trumpets, and uncelebrated in music-halls. Just facing Aden, and commanding the harbour, there just out a rocky promontory which, should it be seized by an enemy or acquired by a friendly Power, would immeasurably reduce the value of Aden as a naval and military post. In 1869, when Mr. Gladstone's Government was supposed to be absorbed with such humdrum things as reforming churches, freeing land, and creating a system of national education, this long-overlooked coign of vantage was quietly bought from the Arab chief who held its suzerainty. One day Lieutenant (now Major) Hogg, in command of a troop of Scinde Horse stationed on the narrow spit of sand where the cavalry lines lie, received instructions to go and take possession in the Queen's name of this potential Gibraltar. So little was known of the district that he was informed that the journey skirting the bay would be seven miles. He found it fifteen, and though the little troop had started with the hope of arriving at their destination before the heat made day insufferable, it was high noon when the fagged horses and men reached their camping-place.
At sunrise the next morning, amid a salute from the cavalry, the British flag floated from the barren rock, announcing to whom it might concern that this was British soil. At sunset the flag was taken down, the process being repeated every day for a week, at the end of which time the troops trotted back, and a new, though exceedingly rough, diamond had been added to the circlet of the British crown. Nothing has been done since, but I believe that Little Aden, as it is called for want of a better name, is forth with to be fortified, completing the impregnability of the harbour.
Driving along the road skirting the bay on the way
to Aden town, we passed on the righthand the burial-place where hundreds of natives were huddled during the last cholera epidemic. It would be impossible for words to convey an idea of the desolateness of this place. It is not even enclosed, and all but a few of the graves are nameless and unmarked, save by the little mounds that rise out of the unkempt shingle. Behind, bare and bleak, ungraced by tree or shrub and unblessed by blade of grass, rise the forbidding hills of volcanic rock. In front is the sea, with glimpses beyond of a jagged coast and an illimitable stretch of desert. Here, when the sun has gone down and the sea moans all round, sits Death in the dark alone.
All shores about and afar lie lonely,
We passed on the road many Arabs leading strings of camels loaded with elephant grass, the principal fodder yielded by the district. One camel went by with a load of rough but sweet-scented hay. A gharry drove by with an Arab and three children in the front seat. The back part under the hood had a cloth drawn down, closely veiling the inmates—presumably the wives of the gentleman on the box seat—who thus sadly took their pleasure on a morning's drive. A little ahead was a lanky Arab on a minute donkey. The man carried a little child, fast asleep, on his breast. What with the heat of the sun, and the distraction born of the united duties of caring for the sleeping infant and keeping his feet off the ground, he perspired freely.
Through the covered way flanked by the fort we came upon a funeral procession of Arabs. The leader, dressed in white, held in his arms a packet wrapped in matting, through the open end of which peeped a tiny bare brown foot. About twenty Arabs, chiefly dressed in white, followed in irregular procession, singing a monotonous chant. I hope they were not going to bury the little thing among the shingle under the hill.
Nearer Aden, just before the road turns off to mount the hill that leads to the town, there is another graveyard, not much better kept, but lying in a shadier nook, with an outlet upon another position of the bay, where the blue waters fall in tiny breakers around purple islets. Doubtless that was their destination.
Most of the people we met on the road were Arabs, fine, handsome men, with erect bearing and lithe, springy step; but there was a considerable sprinkling of Somalis, a race who come from the other side of the Red Sea. Many of these had their woolly hair curled and tinted yellow, a mode at one time, I believe, popular among ladies of fashion in London. I do not know how they acquired the adornment, but the process in vogue among the Somalis is very simple. On the shore by the port he finds a soft yellow mud, with which he liberally plasters his head.