Travels

Martha Gelhorn, from Travels With Myself and Another…

(note: read U.C. as the Unwilling Companion, a.k.a. Ernest Hemingway)

“The farewell luncheon was sensational. Generals and colonels clustered around a long table. Dish followed dish; when you lost count, the grandeur was out of sight. Chopsticks had a life of their own in my hands so I had to use a tin fork and spoon which I carried in my pocket. I was stuffing in the welcome food and failed to observe that the party had turned into a booze battle. U.C. alone against fourteen Chinese officers. One of them rose and made a toast to which U.C. replied; then he and U.C. drank bottoms up. The grisly yellow rice wine, Chinese vodka. While one toaster rested another rose, obliging U.C. to spout fancy words and again drink bottoms up. When all fourteen had finished the first round, they returned to the fray. U.C., breathing rather hard, looked like a man who is winning in a brawl against overwhelming odds.

Slowly officers grew scarlet in the face and slid beneath the table; others went green-white and fell as if shot. U.C. was planted on his feet like Atlas. I mumbled that he would have a seizure, was it worth it, patriotism is not enough, remember Nurse Cavell. But he was gleaming with the pride of combat. No question now about the honour of the United States, his personal honour was at stake, he was ready to drink them down if he died in the process.

General Wing became purple and his eyes watered and he had trouble focusing so that when he tottered upright he directed his toast to the wall rather than to U.C. Mr. Ma was so drunk that he was unable to translate U.C.’s most beautiful toast to the Generalissimo’s glorious and heroic armies. Half the company lay under the table, most of the remainder rested their heads upon it. U.C. towered above us, swaying but triumphant. General Wong, in whose power lay reprieve, apologized for the disgrace of having no more rice wine to offer his honoured guests.

U.C. walked with care. ‘I guess that showed ’em, eh M.?’

‘How do you feel?’

‘Like a man who is never going to make a speech or toast again.'”

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