"In Quest of a Mermaid" by J. H. Williams

This final volume by Elephant Bill begins with the delightful story of the mermaid carved on a pew in Zennor church, which he used to watch during the long sermons of his childhood, and of how he used to dream of finding a mermaid. When at last he caught one, with a boathook off the Andaman Islands, she proved so ugly that he let her go.

But in his travels he found many things as strange as mermaids and more beautiful - the sacred turtles of Leiksakan with gold leaf on their heads, the rusty rifle in the tree which brought a message from the dead, the ghost of Crasher the dog that did not die of rabies.

Here are two long stories, the epic of Kayem who swam beneath a mountain and the grim comedy of Pugli and the Pard, rival gardeners in the murderous heat of Shwebo. And there are shorter stories of dogs and pythons, the elephant doctor and Rajah, the pride of Belfast. Perhaps the most tender is the story of Fire Opal the blind mother elephant whose calf was her guide.

'A Hunk of Jade,' the farewell story, tells of the author's struggle to salvage a huge lump of jade as a sort of compensation for the loss of all his material possessions during the war in Burma, and his final discovery that "the riches I had amassed during my years in Burma could never be looted by invading armies. I did not need a hunk of jade, when I possessed a treasury full of experience."

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Perhaps the most memorable gem, however, was a handwritten letter found amongst the pages while I was reading late one night:

J + J

Angus & Robertson were quite unhelpful about A. L. Rowse’s “Early and Later Churchills” which I want to give you both. So this is just a stop-gap - & I hope a pleasant one - until I can get you the other at home.


to you all, see you soon, & with my love,

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