Beryl Markham Lands In Baleine Cape Breton




From WEST WITH THE NIGHT 


I have seldom dreamed a dream worth dreaming again, or at least none worth recording. Mine are not en? igmatic dreams; they are peopled with characters who are plausible and who do plausible things, and I am the most plausible amongst them. All the char? acters in my dreams have quiet voices like the voice of the the man who telephoned me at Elstree one morning in September of nineteen-thirty-six and told me that there was rain and strong head winds over the west of England and over the Irish Sea, and that there were variable winds and clear skies in mid-Atlantic and fog off the coast of New? foundland. 'If you are still determined to fly the Atlantic this late in the year,' the voice said, 'the Air Ministry suggests that the weather it is able to forecast for tonight, and for tomorrow morning, will be about the best you can expect.' The voice had a few other things to say, but not many, and then it was gone, and I lay in bed half- suspecting that the telephone call and the man who made it were only parts of the mediocre dream I had been dreaming. I felt that if I closed my eyes the unreal quality of the message would be re-established, and that, when I opened them again, this would be another ordinary day with its usual beginning and its usual routine. But of course I could not close my eyes, nor my mind, nor my memory. I could lie there for a few moments--remembering how it had begun, and telling myself, with senseless repetition, that by tomor? row morning I should either have flown the Atlantic to America • or I should not have flown it. In either case this was the day I would try. I could stare up at the ceiling of my bedroom in Aldenham House, which was a ceiling undistin? guished as ceilings go, and feel less resolute than anxious, much less brave than foolhardy. I could say to myself, 'You needn't do it, of course,' knowing at the same time that nothing is so inexorable as a promise to your pride. I could ask, 'Why risk it?' as I have been asked since, and I could answer, 'Each to his element.' By his nature a sailor must sail, by his nature a flyer must fly. I could compute that I had flown a quarter of a million miles; and I could foresee that, so long as I had a plane and the sky was there, I should go on flying more miles. There was nothing extraordinary in this. I ,had learned a craft and had worked hard learning it. My hands had been taught to seek the controls of a plane. Usage had taught them. They were at ease clinging to a stick, as a cobbler's fingers are in repose grasping an awl. No human pursuit achieves _ dignity until it can be called work, and when you"" can experience a physical loneliness for the tools of your trade, you see that the other things--the experiments, the irrelevant vocations, the vani? ties you used to hold--were false to you. Record flights had actually never interested me very much for myself. There were people who thought that such flights were done for admiration and publicity, and worse. But of all the records-- from Louis Bllriot's first crossing of the English Channel in nineteen hundred and nine, through and beyond Kingsford Smith's flight from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia • none had been made by ama? teurs, nor by novices, nor by men or women less than hardened to failure, or less than masters of their trade. None of these was false. They were a company that simple respect and simple ambition made it worth more than an effort to follow. The Carberrys (of Seramai) were in London and I could remember everything about their dinner par- ty--even the menu. I could remember June Carberry and all her guests, and the man named McCarthy, who lived in Zanzibar, leaning across the table and saying, "J. C, why don't you finance Beryl for a record flight?' I could lie there staring lazily at the ceiling and recall J. C.'s dry answer: 'A number of pilots have flown the North Atlantic, west to east. Only Jim Mollison has done it alone the other way--from Ireland. Nobody has done it alone from England-- man or woman. I'd be interested in that, but noth? ing else. If you want to try it. Burl, I'll back you. I think Edgar Percival could build a plane that would do it, provided you can fly it. Want to chance it?' 'Yes.' I could remember saying that better than I could remember anything--except J. C.'s almost ghoulish grin, and his remark that sealed the agreement: 'It's a deal. Burl. I'll furnish the plane and you fly the Atlantic--but, gee, I wouldn't tackle it The Messenger in a bog at Baleine for a million. Think of all that black water! Think how cold it is!' And I had thought of both. I had thought of both for a while, and then there had been other things to think about. I had moved to Elstree, half-hour's flight from the Percival Aircraft Works at Gravesend, and almost daily for three months now I had flown down to the factory in a hired plane and watched the Vega Gull they were making for me. I had watched her birth and watched her growth. I had watched her wings take shape, and seen wood and fabric moulded to her ribs to form her long, sleek belly, and I had seen her engine cradled into her frame, and made fast. The Gull had a turquoise-blue body and silver wings. Edgar Percival had made her with care, with skill, and with worry • the care of a veteran flyer, the skill of a master designer, and the worry of a friend. Actually the plane was a standard sport model with a range of only six hundred and sixty miles. But she had a special undercarriage built to carry the weight of her extra oil and petrol tanks. The tanks were fixed into the wings, into the centre section, and into the cabin itself. In the cabin they formed a wall around my seat, and each tank had a petcock of its own. The petcocks were important. 'If you open one,' said Percival, 'without shut? ting the other first, you may get an airlock. You know the tanks in the cabin have no gauges, so it may be best to let one run completely dry before opening the next. Your motor might go dead in the interval--but she'll start again. She's a De Havil- land Gipsy • and Gipsys never stop.' I had talked to Tom. We had spent hours going over the Atlantic chart, and I had realized that the tinker of Molo, now one of England's great pilots, had traded his dreams and had got in return a bet? ter thing. Tom had grown older too; he had jetti? soned a deadweight of irrelevant hopes and wonders, and had left himself a realistic code that had no room for temporizing or easy sentiment. 'I'm glad you're going to do it. Beryl. It won't be simple. If you can get off the ground in the first place, with such an immense load of fuel, you'll be alone in that plane about a night and a day--mostly night. Doing it east to west, the wind's against you. In September, so is the weath? er. You won't have a radio. If you misjudge your course only a few degrees, you'll end up in Labra? dor or in the sea • so don't misjudge anything.' Tom could still grin. He had grinned; he had said: 'Anyway, it ought to amuse you to think that your financial backer lives on a farm called "Place of THDeath" and your plane is being built at "Graves- end." If you were consistent, you'd christen the Gull "The Flying Tombstone."' I hadn't been that consistent. I had watched the building of the plane and I had trained for the flight like an athlete. And now, as I lay in bed, fully awake, I could still hear the quiet voice of the man from the Air Ministry intoning, like the voice of a dispassionate court clerk: '... the weather for tonight and tomorrow... will be about the best you can expect.' I should have liked to discuss the flight once more with Tom before I took off, but he was on a special job up north. I got out of bed and bathed and put on my flying clothes and took some cold chicken packed in a cardboard box and flew over to the military field at Abingdon, where the Vega Gull waited for me und photograph? ers, but the R.A.F. kept everyone away from the grounds except technicians and a few of my friends. The Carberrys had sailed for New York a month ago to wait for me there. Tom was still out of reach with no knowledge of my decision to leave, but that didn't matter so much, I thought. It didn't matter because Tom was unchanging • neither a fair- weather pilot nor a fairweather friend. If for a month, or a year, or two years we sometimes had not seen each other, it still hadn't mattered. Nor did this. Tom would never say, 'You should have let me know.' He assumed that I had learned all that he had tried to teach me, and for my part, I "The Messenger," on a scow, arriving in Louisbourg Harbour thought of him, even then, as the merest student must think of his mentor. I could sit in a cabin overcrowded with petrol tanks and set my course for North America, but the knowledge of my hands on the controls would be Tom's knowledge. His words of caution and words of guidance, spoken so long ago on bright mornings over the veldt or over the forest or over a far mountain vi sableover the tip of our wing would be spoken again if I asked. So it didn't matter it was silly to think about

Rain continues to fall, and outside the cabin it is totally dark. My altimeter says that the Atlan? tic is two thousand feet below me, my Sperry Arti? ficial Horizon says that I am flying level. I judge my drift at three degrees more than my weath? er chart suggests, and fly accordingly. I am fly? ing blind. A beam to follow would help. So would a radio--but then, so would clear weather. The voice of the man at the Air Ministry had not promised storm. I feel the wind rising and the rain falls hard. The smell of petrol in the cabin is so strong and the roar of the plane so loud that uy senses are almost deadened. Gradually it becomes unthinkable that existence was ever otherwise. At ten o'clock P.M. I am flying along the Great Circle Course for Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, in? to a forty-mile headwind at a speed of one hundred and thirty miles an hour. Because of the weather, I cannot be sure of how many more hours I have to fly, but I think it must be between sixteen and eighteen. At ten-thirty I am still flying on the large cabin tank of petrol, hoping to use it up and put an end to the liquid swirl that has rocked the plane since my take-off. The tank has no gauge, but writ? ten on its side is the assurance: 'This tank is good for four hours.' There is nothing ambiguous about such a guaranty. I believe it, but at twenty-five minutes to eleven, my motor coughs and dies, and the Gull is power? less above the sea. I realize that the heavy drone of the plane has been, until this moment, complete and comforting silence. It is the actual silence following the last splutter of the engine that stuns me. I can't feel any fear; I can't feel anything. I can only observe with a kind of stupid disinterest that my hands are violently active and know that, while they move, I am being hypnotized by the needle of my altimeter. I suppose that the denial of natural impulse is what is meant by 'keeping calm,' but impulse has reason in it. If it is night and you are sitting in an aeroplane with a stalled motor, and there are two thousand feet between you and the sea, nothing can be more reasonable than the impulse to pull back your stick in the hope of adding to that two thousand, if only by a little. The thought, the knowledge, the law that tells you that your hope lies not in this, but in a contrary act--the act of directing your impotent craft toward the wa- ter--seems a terrifying abandonment, not only of reason, but of sanity. Your mind and your heart re? ject it. It is your hands--your stranger's hands-- that follow with unfeeling precision the letter of the law. ing with agonizing composure, find the petcock and turn it; and I wait. At three hundred feet the motor is still dead, and I am conscious that the needle of my altimeter seems to whirl like the spoke of a spindle winding up the remaining distance between the plane and the water. There is some lightning, but the quick ??flash only serves to eftiphasize the darkness. How high can waves reach--twenty feet, perhaps? Thirty? • It is impossible to avoid the thought that this is the end of my flight, but my reactions are not or? thodox; the vaVious incidents of my entire life do not run through my mind like a motion-picture film gone mad. I only feel that all th-is has happened before--and it has. It has all .happened a hundred times 'n my mind, in my sleep, so that now I am not really caught in terror; I recognize a famil? iar scene, a familiar st'ory with its climax dulled by too much telling. I do not know how close to the waves I am when the motor explodes to life again. But the sound is al? most meaningless. I see my hand easing back on the stick, and I feel the Gull climb up into the storm, and I see the altimeter whirl like a spindle again, paying out the distance between myself and the sea. The storm is strong. It is comforting. It is like a friend shaking me and saying, 'Wake up! You were only dreaming!' But soon 1 am thinking'. By simple calculation I "find that my motor had been silent for perhaps an instant more than thirty seconds. I ought to thank God--and I do, though indirectly. I thank Geoffrey De Havilland who designed the in? domitable Gipsy, and who, after all, must have been designed by God in the first place. A lighted ship--the daybreak--some steep cliffs standing in the sea. The meaning of these will nev? er change for pilots. If one day an ocean can be flown within an hour, if men can build a plane that so masters time, the sight of land will be no less welcome to the steersman of that fantastic craft. He will have cheated laws that the cunning of science has taught him how to cheat, and he will feel his guilt and be eager for the sanctuary of the soil. I saw the ship and the daybreak, and then I saw the cliffs of Newfoundland wound in ribbons of fog. I felt the elation I had so long imagined, and I felt the happy guilt of having circumvented the stern authority of the weather and the sea. But mine was a minor triumph; my swift Gull was not so swift as to have escaped unnoticed. The night and the storm had caught her and we had flown blind for nineteen hours. I sit there and watch my hands push forward on the stick and feel the Gull respond and begin its dive to the sea. Of course it is a simple thing; surely the cabin tank has run dry too soon. I need only to turn another petcock... But it is dark in the cabin. It is easy to see the luminous dial of the altimeter and to note that my height is now eleven hundred feet, but it is not easy to see a petcock that is somewhere near the floor of the plane. A hand gropes and re? appears with an electric torch, and fingers, mov- I was tired now, and cold. Ice began to film the glass of the cabin windows and the fog played a ma? gician's game with the land. But the land was there. I could not see it, but I had seen it. I could not afford to believe that it was any land but the land I wanted. I could not afford to be? lieve that my navigation was at fault, because there was no time for doubt. South to Cape Race, west to Sydney on Cape Breton Island. With my protractor, my map, and my'compass, I set my new course, humming the ditty that Tomhad taught me: 'Variation West--magnetic best. Var? iation East • magnetic least.' A silly rhyme, but it served to placate, for the moment, two warring poles--the magnetic and the true. I flew south and found the lighthouse of Cape Race protruding from the fog like a warning finger. I circled twice and went on over the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. After a while there would be' New Brunswick, and then Maine--and then New York. I could anticipate. I could almost say, 'Well,, if you stay awake, you'll find it's only a matter of time now'--but there was no question of staying awake. I was tired and I had not moved an inch since that uncer? tain moment at Abingdon when the Gull had elected to ri.se with her load and fly, but I could not have closed my eyes. I could sit there in the cab? in, walled in glass and petrol tanks, and be grate? ful for the sun and the light, and the fact that I could see the water under me. They were almost the last waves I had to pass. Four hundred miles of wa? ter, but then the land again--Cape Breton. I would stop at Sydney to refuel and go on. It was easy now. It would be like stopping at Kisumu and go- "ng I Acpomn 4 TRIPS DAILY BETWEEN SYDNEY & HALIFAX • ? SYDNE TRIP 52 - Pick ups in: NORTH SYDNEY, LITTLE BRAS D'OR, BIG HARBOUR, BADDECK, LITTLE NARROWS, WHYCOCOMAGH, PORT 8:45 a.tr HASTINGS, PORT HAWKESBURY, & others TRIP 54 - via St. Peter's - Pick ups in: SYDNEY RIVER, BIG POND, ST. PETER'S, GRAND ANSE, CLEVELAND, PORT 2:15 p.n HAWKESBURY, & others TRIP 64L - No other Cape Breton pick ups 10:30 a For more information on: RATES, PICK UP POINTS, AND SCHEDULES PARCEL EXPRESS Same day service to over 51 locations in Nova Scotia'',,,'-'-'''-' iThe fast econonriicalp''''-'*7~'>Tj!!' I way to send parcels''4>-'iij'' ' letters or packages 4''''*' TERMINAL & GENERAL OFFICE: 6040 Almon St., Halifax, N. S. (902) 454-9321 Success breeds confidence. But who has a right to confidence except the Gods? I had a following wind, my last tank of petrol was more than three-quar? ters full, and the world was as bright to me as if it were a new world, never touched. If I had been wiser, I might have known that such moments are, like innocence, short-lived. My engine began to shudder before I saw the land. It died, it splut? tered, it started again and limped along. It coughed and spat black exhaust toward the sea. There are words for everything. There was a word for this--airlock, I thought. This had to be an airlock because there was petrol enough. I thought I might clear it by turning on and turning off all the empty tanks, and so I did that. The handles of the petcocks were sharp little pins of metal, and when I had opened and closed them a dozen times, I saw that my hands were bleeding and that the blood was dropping on my maps and on my clothes, but the effort wasn't any good. I coasted along on a sick and halting engine. The oil pressure and the oil temperature gauges were normal, the magnetos work- ing, and yet I lost altitude slowly while the real? ization of failure seeped into my heart. If I made the land, I should have been the first to fly the North Atlantic from England, but from my point of view, from a pilot's point of view, a forced land? ing was failure because N'ew York was my goal. If only I could land and then take off, I would make it still... if only, if only... The engine cuts again, and then catches, and each time it spurts to life I climb as high as I can get, and then it splutters and stops and I glide once more toward the water, to rise again and de? scend again, like a hunting sea bird. I find the land. Visibility is perfect now and I see land forty or fifty miles ahead. If I am on my course, that will be Cape Breton. Minute after min? ute goes by. The minutes almost materialize; they pass before my eyes like links in a long slow-mov- onmeing chain, and each time the engine cuts, I see a broken link in the chain and catch my breath until it passes. The land is under me. I snatch my map and stare at it to confirm my whereabouts. I am, even at my present crippled speed, only twelve min? utes from Sydney Airport, where I can land for re? pairs and then go on. The engine cuts once more and I begin to glide, but now I am not worried; she will start again, as she has done, and I will gain altitude and fly into Sydney. But she doesn't start. This time she's dead as death; the Gull settles earthward and it isn't any earth I know. It is black earth stuck with boulders and I hang above it, on hope and on a mo? tionless propeller. Only I cannot hang above it long. The earth hurries to meet me, I bank, turn, and sideslip to dodge the boulders, my wheels touch, and I feel them submerge. The nose of the plane is engulfed in mud, and I go forward strik? ing my head on the glass of the cabin front, hear? ing it shatter, feeling blood pour over my face. I stumble out of the plane and sink to my knees in muck and stand there foolishly staring, not at the lifeless land, but at my watch. Twenty-one hours and twenty-five minutes. Atlantic flight. Abingdon, England, to a nameless swamp--nonst Beryl Markham in the Lewis ______ __ _ __ Eva Lewis, Ms. Markham, Dr". Freeman"?'TIenT, GeorgeTewTs. Running, R.N., 'September 1936) stop. A Cape Breton Islander found me--a fisherman trudg? ing over the bog saw the Gull with her tail in the air and her nose buried, and then he saw me floun? dering in the embracing soil of his native land. I had been wandering for an hour and the black mud had got up to my waist and the blood from the cut in my head had met the mud halfway. From a distance, the fisherman directed me with his arms and with shouts toward the firm places in the bog, and for an? other hour I walked on them and came toward him like a citizen of Hades blinded by the sun, but it wasn't the sun; I hadn't slept for forty hours. He took me to his hut on the edge of the coast and I found that built upon the rocks there was a lit? tle cubicle that housed an ancient telephone--put there in case of shipwrecks. I telephoned to Sydney Airport to say that I was safe and to prevent a needless search being made. On the following morning I did step out of a plane at Floyd Bennett Field and there was a crowd of people still waiting there to greet me, but the plane I stepped from was not the Gull, and for days while I was in New York I kept thinking about that and wishing over and over again that it had been the Gull, until the wish lost its signific? ance, and time moved on, overcoming many things it met on the way. Beryl Markham landed her plane, "The Messenger," at Baleine • the place the Sydney newspaper called "the last vestige of land Lindbergh viewed as he zoomed across to Paris on that epic flight in 1927." Markham had tried to land, but the wheels dug into the bog and the plane nosed forward. She struck her head against the instrument board but was otherwise unhurt. She is reported to have said, "I thought I was in Lapland" • although all other evidence indicates that she knew exactly where she was • "... and when I trudged around that bog up to my knees for what seemed hours, I thought I was go? ing to perish for sure." There were only four families at Baleine in 1936. Ms. Markham was found by three berry pickers • two Burke children and a Perry • and taken first to Wil? liam Burke's home, and then to Alfred Perry's (both fishermen), where a call was made to Louis? bourg. George Lewis drove out and took her home. There are stories relating to Sydney/Louisbourg rivalry, and whatever the details, George and Eva Lewis got the prize of an overnight visit with Ber? yl Markham in their home at Louisbourg. Dr. Free? man O'Neill attended her, and several people from Sydney made the trip out for a visit. Meanwhile, the R.C.M.P. stood guard at the plane to keep "hun? dreds" who trooped through the bogs from taking souvenirs off the plane. There had been till then 11 non-stop solo flights across the Atlantic Ocean: 6 flights east to west and 5 west to east. Lindbergh had been the first (1927), and Amelia Earhart the first woman. Beryl Markham was the first woman to make the flight from east to west, and the first person from Eng? land to North America. The newspapers reported that she ran out of gas • got only 22 hours of flight from enough gas for 27 hours. By the time she wrote the book, she knew she had had plenty of gas, but was stopped by an airlock in the gas lines Beryl Markham left Cape Breton Monday, September 7, heading for New York City and a ticker-tape wel? come. Her airplane was taken by scow from Baleine Drinovz Catering Company Ltd. 683 MAHON STREET, NEW WATERFORD * CATERING FOR ALL OCCASIONS * Weddings - Parties - Anniversaries 862-6040 or 539-5300 (ext. 182) (56) beryl Markham's arrival in New York City to Louisbourg Harbour, and from there shipped (probably) on to New York. While Cape Breton is only a brief moment in the book West with the Night, we are fortunate we have that connection to draw us toward this altogether interesting and beautifully written book. Ask your bookseller to get it for you,

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