20 JUNE 1931, Page 10



AVERY old man sat at a bench in a small shop over- looking the Black Sea. Before him, upon a dusty table, were strewn the various parts of watches and clocks, and every now and then he screwed a glass into his left eye and peered at a spring or a wheel. The sun was high in the sky, and the Asiatic beggars in gaudy rags had crawled into the shade, and were half-dozing against dirty walls by the time that fortune had led my steps along the dusty track into the smelling village. I walked wearily, and it was only when I saw that the village was of some size that I remembered the letter in my pocket, and reminded myself that it should have been posted many days ago.

It was obvious that there was no railway in the place, and I was wondering how I should ever get the letter on its way, when a notice caught my eye. The only word I recall is " Posta," but it was enough for me. I advanced and found myself outside the shop of the watchmaker. Looking through the window I could see him at his bench. There was no sign of any of the activities- commonly associated with a post-office, but the notice was unmis- takable. " Posta " and the rest of it could only mean one thing. So I entered the shop and stood before the old man who sat on the bench. For a moment he took no notice, but when he looked up and saw me standing there, he showed no surprise. He removed the glass from his eye, and blinked at me, and it was only when I addressed him in French that I discovered (a) he was deaf, and (b) he did not understand a word of the language. Next I said ". Posta " in a very loud voice, and went through the motions of popping a letter into a box, having first pro- duced the letter. At this he nodded violently, and his seamed face broke into a wide grin. He said some un- intelligible words, nodded once more at the letter, and then prepared to go on with his work. He took no more notice of me as I stood there holding my letter until I once more cried " Posta," and brandished the thing before his face. Having nodded again, he held out his hand with a sudden violent lurch forward,- and took the letter. He put it beside him upon the bench, and signified by a gesture that he regarded. the interview 'as finished. But it had occurred to me, the moment he put the letter down beside him, that it required a stamp. So I had to begin the signs all over again; and when he thought that I was asking for the letter back, his face said unmistakably that it was really time I made up my mind whether I wanted him to keep it, or whether I preferred to look after it myself, I tried to act the sticking on of stamps in dumb-show. but that only made him stare at me with a kind of, sullen patience, as though he were humouring an imbecile, And finally, shrugging his shoulders, he gave me:back the letter, and bent once more to his task.

• I was hungry and -thirsty, but it was most important that this matter should be settled, so I shouted " Posta " three times in an angry voice, and pointed once more to the letter. After a short hesitation he took it back from me, and appeared to be examining -it intently. He held it (upside down and then the right way up, lowered his eyes to within an inch of the address, turned it round, turned it over and looked at the back of the envelope, and then made a sweeping movement with his arm, signifying that the letter was flying like a bird over the sea. He also used a word which sounded to me like the Turkish for " England," and when I assented eagerly, he nodded his head from side to side, and counted imaginary money into his palm.

We were getting on, I thought. I took some money from my pocket and showed him a • coin. He looked at the money and then again at the letter., and stretched out his hand for a small scales that stood on the table. After he had weighed the letter four times, he handed it again to me, indicating with a kind of back-hand tennis stroke that I was to keep it. All I could do was to shout " Posta " again, which only made him nod in agreement, and point to the place where the stamp should go. I, too, nodded. Whereupon this astounding old man raised his eyebrows questioningly, as though to say, " Shall I put a stamp on the letter ? " The question he was asking was so plain to me, and so exasperating that I was tempted to' tear the letter up and rush from the shop. But I conquered my impatience, and tried to make it clear that I did indeed want a stamp affixed to the letter. With a sigh of satisfaction he began to hunt for a stamp. He opened drawers, lifted papers and explored odd corners of his room. After perhaps five minutes he took' from a coat that hung on the wall a tattered brown wallet, opened it, and pulled out some stamps. These he exhibited to me, so that I might know it was no mere dream, and with a little chuckle of satisfaction tore: one off, licked it and stuck it on to the left hand bottom corner of the envelope,: from which it immediately slipped when he lifted the letter.

By now I was too exhausted with the heat and hunger and thirst to be keenly aware of what was going on. I leant helplessly against the wall of the shop while the old man wrestled with the stamp which would not stick on. He hunted for paste, but could find none, and the expression on his face said pretty clearly that the easiest way out of the difficulty would be for me to write the letter all over again, and put it in a fresh envelope, since stamps would evidently never stick to this one. At this stage of the business he began to talk rapidly in the Turkish language. His voice was petulant, and he repeatedly spread out his hands, as though he would defy anyone to say that he had not done his best. A slow fire of anger was burning inside me. I did not know how to tell him that I would gladly pay for another stamp in place of the one that would not stick to the envelope, and the perpetual dumb-show was so wearying and so futile that I made no attempt to continue it. By this time he had smeared the letter all over with thumb-marks, and a perfect fury of persever- ance seemed to possess him, so that he would not abandon his attempt to affix the stamp. He was standing up, and thumping his fist down, and when I straightened myself, and took -a pace forward,- he held up one hand, as though imploring me to have patience. I took no notice, but stretched out my fingers, demanding the letter. When ' he realized that =I was determined to take it out of his keeping, he again shrugged his shoulders add raised his eyebrows, seeming to- say • " There is no accounting for the eccentricities of some people " ; and as my hand closed over the letter he offered me the limp and mangled remains of the Turkish stamp. I refused it with more rage than dignity, and stalked out of the shop, leaving him standing in the doorway, holding my money in his hand, and gazing after me in amazement.

Once outside, I tore the confounded letter into a thousand fragn-Ints, and went on my way.