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GASOLINE AND TROUBLE

I took the Postmaster by the arm and asked him if he could find me a cup of tea. A new arrival said, ‘I am Commandant of Military here.’ He added, ‘The Governor-General has wired to me about you. You will stay at my house. Do you carry passengers? Do you know that the President-elect likes flying? It is possible that the President-elect might find you some gasoline.’ It soon became plain that the Public Works Department, the Police and the Army all thought that they would like flying. By the time I got to the house, hints were being hurled at me till I felt like an Aunt Sally. I began to fear that they would be offended when at last the Army said, ‘What would happen if Governor-General Davis, Governor-General of the Philippine Islands wanted a ride in your plane?’

‘He couldn’t have one,’ I said promptly and firmly. It was a merciful reply, for if I refused the Governor-General they need not feel insulted. Tea, cigars and brandy were served on the veranda. The matter of gasoline? It was a matter that could be gone into presently, very soon. There was something queer about the business; I decided to shut up and wait.

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Australia Map World

The PWD invited me to ride in an automobile to see the President. I said that I would rather eat and sleep, but they hinted, ‘No President, no gas.’ We started on a long drive along a narrow, washed-out road. Every now and then we met and forced aside a bullock and cart driven by a Filipino boy in a large, floppy, straw-plaited hat smoking a fat cigar. Every time I asked who owned the coconut grove or banana plantation we were passing through I was told, ‘This belongs to President Lopez.’

We drove up with terrific horn-blowing to a two-storeyed house where many people were lined up outside. The President took me upstairs to a wide veranda. He was dressed in expensive golf trousers of pepper and salt flannel, black silk stockings, and white kid shoes. A handsome .32 calibre automatic with a mother-of pearl handle made his cartridge belt sag at one hip. I was allowed to handle it, but not to fire it. He gave me a superb cigar, the best I have ever smoked. After dark, fireflies spangled the darkness, like twitching stars. The tropical night was cool and scented. The President took me off to see his crocodile. He shone his torch on a tough leathery brute about 9-foot long lying beside a concrete pool against some wire netting 12 inches high. It had a merciless unwinking stare. Then the President shone his torch round the wall of the snake house. I said, ‘Where are the snakes?’ He flashed his torch round again, but all I could see was a thick brown beam under the rafters on top of the wall. Did I not see it? It had dined on a cat the other day and was sleeping it off. Surely I could see the cat? Then I noticed that the thick bar all round the hut on top of the wall was mottled, and I saw a bulge in it like a football.

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