THOSE CLOVELLY OAKS
The Pall Mall Gazette, February 11, 1896; Issue 9635, p.3.
"No, I suppose I'm not so patriotic as I ought to be," said the Colonel, in a semi-apologetic tone, as he lit another big cigar and settled himself comfortably in a cosy corner of his sitting-room. "For a war return and a native-born American, who can trace his ancestry back to the time that Sir Walter Raleigh settled Jamestown, I suppose I should be to my country's faults a little blind; but how can a man be blind to infernal idiocy?" And the Colonel puffed vigorously for a few seconds, then continued:
"Did I ever tell you about my Clovelly oaks?" A gesture of negation from us, and he continued :-
"About five years ago I was over here, and, time hanging heavily on my hands, I decided upon a run down to Devonshire, where Raleigh's original settlers came from. I went to Barnstaple, Bideford, Ilfracombe, and finally, intending to stay a day or two, I stopped at Clovelly. Now a man who can go to Clovelly, stay a day or two, and come away satisfied, lacks those qualities which go to make up a civilized human being; he is an unappreciative beast. The place is so quaint, the people so kindly and lovable, the air so invigorating yet mild, the food so excellent, and the surroundings so picturesque, that one might stay there for years and never tire of it. Never mind how long my day's visit extended to, the landlord rendered my bills weekly, and he and I were both satisfied.
"One particular spot which fascinated me was under a little grove of magnificent old oaks, about half-way along the path leading to Gallantry Bower. I used to go up there and take my book, some cigars, and a spy-glass, and sit for hours. I never read my book, but I would lie on the grass and gaze out over the blue water, watch the herring-boats, the gulls, the shadows on the opposite hills, and have an idyllic time generally. When, at last, I was obliged to tear myself away and return to London, I determined to gather some of the acorns, send them home, and perpetuate the Clovelly oaks down on my own little country place not far from New York. You don't see anything incendiary in that, do you? I packed the acorns in an old tobacco tin, and went down to the post-office.
"'Nine shillings, sir,' said the clerk, after weighing the parcel.
"'But there is no writing in the parcel,' I objected.
"'No parcel post to America,' was the reply.
"'But I have sent such a parcel all over the United States for ten cents.' I urged.
"'Can't help it, sir. It is against my orders; something to do with the tariff, I fancy,' said the clerk.
I saw there was no use arguing with the clerk, so I brought the acorns up to London, and making up a very much smaller parcel, I went up to the Strand and tried in a post-office there.
"'Four shillings.' said the clerk, after weighing the package.
"'But the whole thing isn't worth a halfpenny,' I objected.
"'Sorry, sir, but there is no parcel post to America.'
"'Do you mean that I can't send a dozen acorns to America except at full letter rates?' I demanded.
"The clerk consulted a big book. It may have been a dictionary or a general directory, or a Burke's 'Peerage,' for all I know. Then he ejaculated :-
"'Yes, acorns; just plain oak acorns, for breeding purposes,' I added, for I had a hazy remembrance that Jumbo dodged our tariff on some such plea. The clerk smiled, and I pursued my advantage by quoting precedent.
"'You know Jumbo was let in duty free because he was for breeding purposes.'
"'Yes, but he didn't go by parcel post, sir.'
"That was a settler; but my Yankee blood was up, and, hailing a hansom, I drove down to the General Post Office. After some difficulty I gained access to the official in charge of that department, and stated my case to him. He listened courteously, and after consulting various authorities, he informed me I might send them one at a time, as samples, but that under our intelligent combination of tariff and postal regulations one acorn constitutes a 'sample', more than one is merchandize. He advised me to try a forwarding agency. I tried one, and found that I could have the acorns delivered to my man in New York at about the same price for which I could purchase a half-acre of well-wooded oak land."
"Well, perhaps not half an acre, but a well-grown tree. As I had some time to remain in London, I determined to be cunning and to do something I have never attempted before - namely, to cheat the Government for which I had fought and bled. I carefully did up numbers of acorns in copies of the Daily Telegraph and sent them on by newspaper post. I chuckled and was happy, but not for long. In course of time I got a letter from my man, saying that he had been arrested for attempting to defraud the United States mails, and had been fined. He intimated that a similar reception awaited me on my return, as he was arrested on only one charge, while five or six more were ready for me, based on the packets I had subsequently despatched to him. The Protectionists were evidently alarmed. I was, they argued, starting a trade in acorns grown by the pauper oaks of the effete despotism, bringing them into competition with the free American tree. The American oak must and shall be protected in its infant industry of producing pig-nuts.
"I returned to New York, and was promptly summoned a charge of improperly using the mails. I was mad, and employed no lawyer. They say that a man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client, and so it proved. The judge I appeared before was an opponent of mine in politics, and he 'had it in for me,' as the boys say. The proceedings were simple. I knew that it was not a proper thing to attempt to smuggle merchanise through the mails? I placed the acorns in the paper with intent to deceive? I repeated the offence with the same knowledge and the same intent? Fifty dollars fine. I was fairly boiling with rage.
"'A Government which makes such damned idiotic laws deserves to be deceived.' I blurted out, as I turned to leave the court.
"'From a man with your army record such language is most unpatriotic,' said the judge, with a sneer.
"'Army record!' I roared, forgetting the judge, and remembering only my political opponent. 'Army record! Why, I had to have your substitute flogged during the march to the sea for stealing from the sanitary stores.'
"'One hundred dollars for contempt,' snapped the judge, and I saw he had me.
"Of course I had to pay my man's fine as well as my own, and hadn't an acorn to show for my trouble. Next year I came over and went down to Clovelly, and gathered some more acorns. Again I was detained in London, and I entrusted the acorns to a friend, who kindly offered to take over any little package I might have to send. He put them on the top of his trunk, and all went right until he got to the New York Custom House. He is a prominent jeweller, a fact that I had forgotten, or had I remembered it I should not have given it a second thought. His luggage was, naturally, carefully examined, and when he came to look after, he found that some kindly inspector had cracked every acorn looking for smuggled diamonds. It seems that since the new tariff on diamonds has gone into effect our Government has practically compelled dealers to smuggle or get out of business. I believe we do find diamonds or something like them in America, but I have not heard of any boom in the industry since they have been protected. They did not find anything wrong with my friend's luggage, but the incident annoyed him, and he now feels as hard towards me as if each acorn had really contained a first-water gem.
"The next time I came over I delayed my visit to Clovelly until the last thing before my return home. Then I went down and gathered my acorns. I packed them carefully in moss and put them in my trunk. I was very ill that trip across, not seasick, but suffering from an old wound. My room-mate was one of the nicest fellows I ever met, and though he was a perfect stranger to me until we met on ship-board, he nursed me as if he was my own son. Part of the time I was very bad, and he was up night and day with me. Just as we were entering New York harbour I managed to crawl up on deck. He came up to me and said:-
"' Don't you bother to go below, Colonel. I'll pack your state-room trunk for you, and gather up your traps.'
"I assented gladly, and he went below. When he reappeared he remarked,
"'I've managed to get everything into your trunk, so that you won't be bothered looking after small parcels. By the way, there were a lot of acorns and dirt and stuff in the tray. I tossed it all out of the porthole. You didn't want it, I suppose?'
"'What could I say? The handsome, big-hearted boy to whom I owed a debt of gratitude was standing there flushed and happy at having been able to be of assistance to me.
"'You didn't want it?' he repeated.
"I uttered a faint 'No,' and he prattled on.
"'One collects such a lot of rubbish in one's trunk when one is knocking about, you know.'
"To be sure, this was not the fault of the Government, but it looked as if fate, as well as Governmental authority, was against me.
"This year I've been down to Clovelly again and gathered my acorns. I'm not going to trust them to anybody. I hit upon an idea that is new to me. In Torquay they start acorns in glasses, and I've started mine." He pointed to a row of tiny hyacinth glasses on the mantel; each contained an acorn, which was already pushing its root down into the water. "'I'm going to take these home if I have to leave the rest of my luggage behind; and if the customs authorities interfere with me I'll be shot if I don't come back and settle down in Clovelly, where I can get the real thing."