By Reef and Palm
INTRODUCTION CHALLIS THE DOUBTER "'TIS IN THE BLOOD" THE REVENGE OF MACY O'SHEA THE RANGERS OF TIA KAU PALLOU'S TALOI A BASKET OF BREAD-FRUIT ENDERBY'S COURTSHIP LONG CHARLEY'S GOOD LITTLE WIFE THE METHODICAL MR BURR OF MAJURU A TRULY GREAT MAN THE DOCTOR'S WIFE THE FATE OF THE ALIDA THE CHILIAN BLUEJACKET BRANTLEY OF VAHITAHI
When in October, 1870, I sailed into the harbour of Apia, Samoa, in the ill-fated ALBATROSS, Mr Louis Becke was gaining his first experiences of island life as a trader on his own account by running a cutter between Apia and Savai'i.
It was rather a notable moment in Apia, for two reasons. In the first place, the German traders were shaking in their shoes for fear of what the French squadron might do to them, and we were the bearers of the good news from Tahiti that the chivalrous Admiral Clouet, with a very proper magnanimity, had decided not to molest them; and, secondly, the beach was still seething with excitement over the departure on the previous day of the pirate Pease, carrying with him the yet more illustrious "Bully" Hayes.
It happened in this wise. A month or two before our arrival, Hayes had dropped anchor in Apia, and some ugly stories of recent irregularities in the labour trade had come to the ears of Mr Williams, the English Consul. Mr Williams, with the assistance of the natives, very cleverly seized his vessel in the night, and ran her ashore, and detained Mr Hayes pending the arrival of an English man-of-war to which he could be given in charge. But in those happy days there were no prisons in Samoa, so that his confinement was not irksome, and his only hard labour was picnics, of which he was the life and soul. All went pleasantly until Mr Pease—a degenerate sort of pirate who made his living by half bullying, half swindling lonely white men on small islands out of their coconut oil, and unarmed merchantmen out of their stores—came to Apia in an armed ship with a Malay crew. From that moment Hayes' life became less idyllic. Hayes and Pease conceived a most violent hatred of each other, and poor old Mr Williams was really worried into an attack of elephantiasis (which answers to the gout in those latitudes) by his continual efforts to prevent the two desperadoes from flying at each other's throat. Heartily glad was he when Pease—who was the sort of man that always observed LES CONVENANCES when possible, and who fired a salute of twenty-one guns on the Queen's Birthday—came one afternoon to get his papers "all regular," and clear for sea. But lo! the next morning, when his vessel had disappeared, it was found that his enemy Captain Hayes had disappeared also, and the ladies of Samoa were left disconsolate at the departure of the most agreeable man they had ever known.
However, all this is another story, as Mr Kipling says, and one which I hope Mr Becke will tell us more fully some day, for he knew Hayes well, having acted as supercargo on board his ship, and shared a shipwreck and other adventures with him.
But even before this date Mr Becke had had as much experience as falls to most men of adventures in the Pacific Ocean.
Born at Port Macquarrie in Australia, where his father was clerk of petty sessions, he was seized at the age of fourteen with an intense longing to go to sea. It is possible that he inherited this passion through his mother, for her father, Charles Beilby, who was private secretary to the Duke of Cumberland, invested a legacy that fell to him in a small vessel, and sailed with his family to the then very new world of Australia. However this may be, it was impossible to keep Louis Becke at home; and, as an alternative, a uncle undertook to send him, and a brother two years older, to a mercantile house in California. His first voyage was a terrible one. There were no steamers, of course, in those days, and they sailed for San Francisco in a wretched old barque. For over a month they were drifting about the stormy sea between Australia and New Zealand, a partially dismasted and leaking wreck. The crew mutinied—they had bitter cause to—and only after calling at Rurutu, in the Tubuai Group, and obtaining fresh food, did they permit the captain to resume command of the half-sunken old craft. They were ninety days in reaching Honolulu, and another forty in making the Californian coast.
The two lads did not find the routine of a merchant's office at all to their taste; and while the elder obtained employment on a sheep ranche at San Juan, Louis, still faithful to the sea, got a berth as a clerk in a steamship company, and traded to the Southern ports. In a year's time he had money enough to take passage in a schooner bound on a shark-catching cruise to the equatorial islands of the North Pacific. The life was a very rough one, and full of incident and adventure—which I hope he will relate some day. Returning to Honolulu, he fell in with an old captain who had bought a schooner for a trading venture amongst the Western Carolines. Becke put in $1000, and sailed with him as supercargo, he and the skipper being the only white men on board. He soon discovered that, though a good seaman, the old man knew nothing of navigation. In a few weeks they were among the Marshall Islands, and the captain went mad from DELIRIUM TREMENS. Becke and the three native sailors ran the vessel into a little uninhabited atoll, and for a week had to keep the captain tied up to prevent his killing himself. They got him right at last, and stood to the westward. On their voyage they were witnesses of a tragedy (in this instance fortunately not complete), on which the pitiless sun of the Pacific has looked down very often. They fell in with a big Marshall Island sailing canoe that had been blown out of sight of land, and had drifted six hundred miles to the westward. Out of her complement of fifty people, thirty were dead. They gave them provisions and water, and left them to make Strong's Island (Kusaie), which was in sight. Becke and the chief swore Marshall Island BRUDERSCHAFT with each other. Years afterwards, when he came to live in the Marshall Group, the chief proved his friendship in a signal manner.
The cruise proved a profitable one, and from that time Mr Becke determined to become a trader, and to learn to know the people of the north-west Pacific; and returning to California, he made for Samoa, and from thence to Sydney. But at this time the Palmer River gold rush had just broken out in North Queensland, and a brother, who was a bank manager on the celebrated Charters Towers goldfields, invited him to come up, as every one seemed to be making his fortune. He wandered between the rushes for two years, not making a fortune, but acquiring much useful experience, learning, amongst other things, the art of a blacksmith, and becoming a crack shot with a rifle. Returning to Sydney, he sailed for the Friendly Islands (Tonga) in company with the king of Tonga's yacht—the TAUFAAHAU. The Friendly Islanders disappointed him (at which no one that knows them will wonder), and he went on to Samoa, and set up as a trader on his own account for the first time. He and a Manhiki half-caste—the "Allan" who so frequently figures in his stories—bought a cutter, and went trading throughout the group. This was the time of Colonel Steinberger's brief tenure of power. The natives were fighting, and the cutter was seized on two occasions. When the war was over he made a voyage to the north-west, and became a great favourite with the natives, as indeed seems to have been the case in most of the places he went to in Polynesia and Micronesia. Later on he was sent away from Samoa in charge of a vessel under sealed orders to the Marshall Islands. These orders were to hand the vessel over to the notorious Captain "Bully" Hayes. (Some day he promises that he will give us the details of this very curious adventure). He found Hayes awaiting him in his famous brig LEONORA in Milli Lagoon. He handed over his charge and took service with him as supercargo. After some months' cruising in the Carolines they were wrecked on Strong's Island (Kusaie). Hayes made himself the ruler of the island, and Mr Becke and he had a bitter quarrel. The natives treated the latter with great kindness, and gave him land on the lee side of the island, where he lived happily enough for five months. Hayes was captured by an English man-of-war, but escaped and went to Guam. Mr Becke went back in the cruiser to the Colonies, and then again sailed for Eastern Polynesia, trading in the Gambiers, Paumotus, and Easter and Pitcairn Islands. In this part of the ocean he picked up an abandoned French barque on a reef, floated her, and loaded her with coconuts, intending to sail her to New Zealand with a native crew, but they went ashore in a hurricane and lost everything. Meeting with Mr Tom de Wolf, the managing partner of a Liverpool firm, he took service with him as a trader in the Ellice and Tokelau Groups, finally settling down as a residential trader. Then he took passage once more for the Carolines, and was wrecked on Peru, one of the Gilbert Islands (lately annexed), losing every dollar that he possessed. He returned to Samoa and engaged as a "recruiter" in the labour trade. He got badly hurt in an encounter with some natives, and went to New Zealand to recover. Then he sailed to New Britain on a trading venture, and fell in with, and had much to do with, the ill-fated colonising expedition of the Marquis de Ray in New Ireland. A bad attack of malarial fever, and a wound in the neck (labour recruiting or even trading among the blacks of Melanesia seems to have been a much less pleasant business than residence among the gentle brown folk of the Eastern Pacific) made him leave and return to the Marshall Islands, where Lailik, the chief whom he had succoured at sea years before, made him welcome. He left on a fruitless quest after an imaginary guano island, and from then until two years ago he has been living on various islands in both the North and South Pacific, leading what he calls "a wandering and lonely but not unhappy existence," "Lui," as they call him, being a man both liked and trusted by the natives from lonely Easter Island to the faraway Pelews. He is still in the prime of life, and whether he will now remain within the bounds of civilisation, or whether some day he will return to his wanderings, as Odysseus is fabled to have done in his old age, I fancy that he hardly knows himself. But when once the charm of a wild roving life has got into a man's blood, the trammels of civilisation are irksome and its atmosphere is hard to breathe. It will be seen from this all-too-condensed sketch of Mr Becke's career that he knows the Pacific as few men alive or dead have ever known it. He is one of the rare men who have led a very wild life, and have the culture and talent necessary to give some account of it. As a rule, the men who know don't write, and the men who write don't know.
Every one who has a taste for good stories will feel, I believe, the force of these. Every one who knows the South Seas, and, I believe, many who do not, will feel that they have the unmistakable stamp of truth. And truth to nature is a great merit in a story, not only because of that thrill of pleasure hard to analyse, but largely made up of associations, memories, and suggestions that faithfulness of representation in picture or book gives to the natural man; but because of the fact that nature is almost infinitely rich, and the unassisted imagination of man but a poor and sterile thing, tending constantly towards some ossified convention. "Treasure Island" is a much better story than "The Wreckers," yet I, for one, shall never cease to regret that Mr Stevenson did not possess, when he wrote "Treasure Island," that knowledge of what men and schooners do in wild seas that was his when he gave us "The Wreckers." The detail would have been so much richer and more convincing.
It is open to any one to say that these tales are barbarous, and what Mrs Meynell, in a very clever and amusing essay, has called "decivilised." Certainly there is a wide gulf separating life on a Pacific island from the accumulated culture of centuries of civilisation in the midst of which such as Mrs Meynell move and have their being. And if there can be nothing good in literature that does not spring from that culture, these stories must stand condemned. But such a view is surely too narrow. Much as I admire that lady's writings, I never can think of a world from which everything was eliminated that did not commend itself to the dainty taste of herself and her friends, without a feeling of impatience and suffocation. It takes a huge variety of men and things to make a good world. And ranches and CANONS, veldts and prairies, tropical forests and coral islands, and all that goes to make up the wild life in the face of Nature or among primitive races, far and free from the artificial conditions of an elaborate civilisation, form an element in the world, the loss of which would be bitterly felt by many a man who has never set foot outside his native land.
There is a certain monotony, perhaps, about these stories. To some extent this is inevitable. The interest and passions of South Sea Island life are neither numerous nor complex, and action is apt to be rapid and direct. A novelist of that modern school that fills its volumes, often fascinatingly enough, by refining upon the shadowy refinements of civilised thought and feeling, would find it hard to ply his trade in South Sea Island society. His models would always be cutting short in five minutes the hesitations and subtleties that ought to have lasted them through a quarter of a life-time. But I think it is possible that the English reader might gather from this little book an unduly strong impression of the uniformity of Island life. The loves of white men and brown women, often cynical and brutal, sometimes exquisitely tender and pathetic, necessarily fill a large space in any true picture of the South Sea Islands, and Mr Becke, no doubt of set artistic purpose, has confined himself in the collection of tales now offered almost entirely to this facet of the life. I do not question that he is right in deciding to detract nothing from the striking effect of these powerful stories, taken as a whole, by interspersing amongst them others of a different character. But I hope it may be remembered that the present selection is only an instalment, and that, if it finds favour with the British public, we may expect from him some of those tales of adventure, and of purely native life and custom, which no one could tell so well as he.
CHALLIS THE DOUBTER
The White Lady And The Brown Woman
Four years had come and gone since the day that Challis, with a dull and savage misery in his heart, had, cursing the love-madness which once possessed him, walked out from his house in an Australian city with an undefined and vague purpose of going "somewhere" to drown his sense of wrong and erase from his memory the face of the woman who, his wife of not yet a year, had played with her honour and his. So he thought, anyhow.
* * * * *
You see, Challis was "a fool"—at least so his pretty, violet-eyed wife had told him that afternoon with a bitter and contemptuous ring in her voice when he had brought another man's letter—written to her—and with impulsive and jealous haste had asked her to explain. He was a fool, she had said, with an angry gleam in the violet eyes, to think she could not "take care" of herself. Admit receiving that letter? Of course! Did he think she could help other men writing silly letters to her? Did he not think she could keep out of a mess? And she smiled the self-satisfied smile of a woman conscious of many admirers and of her own powers of intrigue.
Then Challis, with a big effort, gulping down the rage that stirred him, made his great mistake. He spoke of his love for her. Fatuity! She laughed at him, said that as she detested women, his love was too exacting for her, if it meant that she should never be commonly friendly with any other man.
* * * * *
Challis looked at her steadily for a few moments, trying to smother the wild flood of black suspicion aroused in him by the discovery of the letter, and confirmed by her sneering words, and then said quietly, but with a dangerous inflection in his voice—
"Remember—you are my wife. If you have no regard for your own reputation, you shall have some for mine. I don't want to entertain my friends by thrashing R——, but I'm not such a fool as you think. And if you go further in this direction you'll find me a bit of a brute."
Again the sneering laugh—"Indeed! Something very tragic will occur, I suppose?"
"No," said Challis grimly, "something damned prosaic—common enough among men with pretty wives—I'll clear out."
"I wish you would do that now," said his wife, "I hate you quite enough."
Of course she didn't quite mean it. She really liked Challis in her own small-souled way—principally because his money had given her the social pleasures denied her during her girlhood. With an unmoved face and without farewell he left her and went to his lawyer's.
A quarter of an hour later he arose to go, and the lawyer asked him when he intended returning.
"That all depends upon her. If she wants me back again, she can write, through you, and I'll come—if she has conducted herself with a reasonable amount of propriety for such a pretty woman."
Then, with an ugly look on his face, Challis went out; next day he embarked in the LADY ALICIA for a six months' cruise among the islands of the North-west Pacific.
* * * * *
That was four years ago, and to-day Challis, who stands working at a little table set in against an open window, hammering out a ring from a silver coin on a marline-spike and vyce, whistles softly and contentedly to himself as he raises his head and glances through the vista of coconuts that surround his dwelling on this lonely and almost forgotten island.
"The devil!" he thinks to himself, "I must be turning into a native. Four years! What an ass I was! And I've never written yet—that is, never sent a letter away. Well, neither has she. Perhaps, after all, there was little in that affair of R——'s.... By God! though, if there was, I've been very good to them in leaving them a clear field. Anyhow, she's all right as regards money. I'm glad I've done that. It's a big prop to a man's conscience to feel he hasn't done anything mean; and she likes money—most women do. Of course I'll go back—if she writes. If not—well, then, these sinful islands can claim me for their own; that is, Nalia can."
* * * * *
A native boy with shaven head, save for a long tuft on the left side, came down from the village, and, seating himself on the gravelled space inside the fence, gazed at the white man with full, lustrous eyes.
"Hallo, TAMA!" said Challis, "whither goest now?"
"Pardon, Tialli. I came to look at thee making the ring. Is it of soft silver—and for Nalia, thy wife?"
"Ay, O shaven-head, it is. Here, take this MASI and go pluck me a young nut to drink," and Challis threw him a ship-biscuit. Then he went on tapping the little band of silver. He had already forgotten the violet eyes, and was thinking with almost childish eagerness of the soft glow in the black orbs of Nalia when she should see his finished handiwork.
The boy returned with a young coconut, unhusked. "Behold, Tialli. This nut is a UTO GA'AU (sweet husk). When thou hast drunk the juice give it me back, that I may chew the husk which is sweet as the sugar-cane of Samoa," and he squatted down again on the gravel.
* * * * *
Challis drank, then threw him the husk and resumed his work. Presently the boy, tearing off a strip of the husk with his white teeth, said, "Tialli, how is it that there be no drinking-nuts in thy house?"
"Because, O turtle-head, my wife is away; and there are no men in the village to-day; and because the women of this MOTU [Island or country.] I have no thought that the PAPALAGI [Foreigner] may be parched with thirst, and so come not near me with a coconut." This latter in jest.
"Nay, Tialli. Not so. True it is that to-day all the men are in the bush binding FALA leaves around the coconut trees, else do the rats steal up and eat the buds and clusters of little nuts. And because Nalia, thy wife, is away at the other White Man's house no woman cometh inside the door."
Challis laughed. "O evil-minded people of Nukunono! And must I, thy PAPALAGI, be parched with thirst because of this?"
"FAIAGA OE, Tialli, thou but playest with me. Raise thy hand and call out 'I thirst!' and every woman in the village will run to thee, each with a drinking-nut, and those that desire thee, but are afraid, will give two. But to come inside when Nalia is away would be to put shame on her."
* * * * *
The white man mused. The boy's solemn chatter entertained him. He knew well the native customs; but, to torment the boy, he commenced again.
"O foolish custom! See how I trust my wife Nalia. Is she not even now in the house of another white man?"
"True. But, then, he is old and feeble, and thou young and strong. None but a fool desires to eat a dried flying-fish when a fresh one may be had."
"O wise man with the shaven crown," said Challis, with mocking good nature, "thou art full of wisdom of the ways of women. And if I were old and withered, would Nalia then be false to me in a house of another and younger white man?"
"How could she? Would not he, too, have a wife who would watch her? And if he had not, and were NOFO NOA (single), would he be such a fool to steal that the like of which he can buy—for there are many girls without husbands as good to look on as that Nalia of thine. And all women are alike," and then, hearing a woman's voice calling his name, he stood up.
"Farewell, O ULU TULA POTO (Wise Baldhead)," said Challis, as the boy, still chewing his sweet husk, walked back to the native houses clustered under the grove of PUA trees.
* * * * *
Ere dusk, Nalia came home, a slenderly-built girl with big dreamy eyes, and a heavy mantle of wavy hair. A white muslin gown, fastened at the throat with a small silver brooch, was her only garment, save the folds of the navy-blue-and-white LAVA LAVA round her waist, which the European-fashioned garment covered.
Challis was lying down when she came in. Two girls who came with her carried baskets of cooked food, presents from old Jack Kelly, Challis's fellow-trader. At a sign from Nalia the girls took one of the baskets of food and went away. Then, taking off her wide-brimmed hat of FALA leaf, she sat down beside Challis and pinched his cheek.
"O lazy one! To let me walk from the house of Tiaki all alone!"
"Alone! There were two others with thee."
"Tapa Could I talk to THEM! I, a white man's wife, must not be too familiar with every girl, else they would seek to get presents from me with sweet words. Besides, could I carry home the fish and cooked fowl sent thee by old Tiaki? That would be unbecoming to me, even as it would be if thou climbed a tree for a coconut,"—and the daughter of the Tropics laughed merrily as she patted Challis on his sunburnt cheek.
Challis rose, and going to a little table, took from it the ring.
"See, Nalia, I am not lazy as thou sayest. This is thine."
The girl with an eager "AUE!" took the bauble and placed it on her finger. She made a pretty picture, standing there in the last glow of the sun as it sank into the ocean, her languorous eyes filled with a tender light.
Challis, sitting on the end of the table regarding her with half-amused interest as does a man watching a child with a toy, suddenly flushed hotly. "By God! I can't be such a fool as to begin to LOVE her in reality, but yet ... Come here, Nalia," and he drew her to him, and, turning her face up so that he might look into her eyes, he asked:
"Nalia, hast thou ever told me any lies?"
The steady depths of those dark eyes looked back into his, and she answered:
"Nay, I fear thee too much to lie. Thou mightst kill me."
"I do but ask thee some little things. It matters not to me what the answer is. Yet see that thou keepest nothing hidden from me."
The girl, with parted lips and one hand on his, waited.
"Before thou became my wife, Nalia, hadst thou any lovers?"
"Yes, two—Kapua and Tafu-le-Afi."
"May I choke and perish here before thee if I lie! None."
Challis, still holding her soft brown chin in his hand, asked her one more question—a question that only one of his temperament would have dared to ask a girl of the Tokelaus.
"Nalia, dost thou love me?"
"Aye, ALOFA TUMAU (everlasting love). Am I a fool? Are there not Letia, and Miriami, and Eline, the daughter of old Tiaki, ready to come to this house if I love any but thee? Therefore my love is like the suckers of the FA'E (octopus) in its strength. My mother has taught me much wisdom."
A curious feeling of satisfaction possessed the man, and next day Letia, the "show" girl of the village, visiting Challis's store to buy a tin of salmon, saw Nalia, the Lucky One, seated on a mat beneath the seaward side of the trader's house, surrounded by a billowy pile of yellow silk, diligently sewing.
"Ho, dear friend of my heart! Is that silken dress for thee? For the love of God, let me but touch it. Four dollars a fathom it be priced at. Thy husband is indeed the king of generosity. Art thou to become a mother?"
"Away, silly fool, and do thy buying and pester me not."
* * * * *
Challis, coming to the corner of the house, leant against a post, and something white showed in his hand. It was a letter. His letter to the woman of violet eyes, written a week ago, in the half-formed idea of sending it some day. He read it through, and then paused and looked at Nalia. She raised her head and smiled. Slowly, piece by piece, he tore it into tiny little squares, and, with a dreamy hand-wave, threw them away. The wind held them in mid-air for a moment, and then carried the little white flecks to the beach.
"What is it?" said the bubbling voice of Letia, the Disappointed.
"Only a piece of paper that weighed as a piece of iron on my bosom. But it is gone now."
"Even so," said Letia, smelling the gaudy label on the tin of salmon in the anticipative ecstasy of a true Polynesian, "PE SE MEA FA'AGOTOIMOANA (like a thing buried deep in ocean). May God send me a white man as generous as thee—a whole tin of SAMANI for nothing! Now do I know that Nalia will bear thee a son."
* * * * *
And that is why Challis the Doubter has never turned up again.
"'TIS IN THE BLOOD"
We were in Manton's Hotel at Levuka-Levuka in her palmy days. There were Robertson, of the barque ROLUMAH; a fat German planter from the Yasawa Group; Harry the Canadian, a trader from the Tokelaus, and myself.
Presently a knock came to the door, and Allan, the boatswain of our brig, stood hat in hand before us. He was a stalwart half-caste of Manhiki, and, perhaps, the greatest MANAIA (Lothario) from Ponape to Fiji.
"Captain say to come aboard, please. He at the Consul's for papers—he meet you at boat," and Allan left.
"By shingo, dot's a big fellow," said Planter Oppermann.
"Ay," said Robertson, the trading skipper, "and a good man with his mauleys, too. He's the champion knocker-out in Samoa, and is a match for any Englishman in Polynesia, let alone foreigners"—with a sour glance at the German.
"Well, good-bye all," I said. "I'm sorry, Oppermann, I can't stay for another day for your wedding, but our skipper isn't to be got at anyhow."
The trading captain and Harry walked with me part of the way, and then began the usual Fiji GUP.
"Just fancy that fat-headed Dutchman going all the way to Samoa and picking on a young girl and sending her to the Sisters to get educated properly! As if any old beach-girl isn't good enough for a blessed Dutchman. Have you seen her?"
"No," I said; "Oppermann showed me her photo. Pretty girl. Says she's been three years with the Sisters in Samoa, and has got all the virtues of her white father, and none of the vices of her Samoan mammy. Told me he's spent over two thousand dollars on her already."
Robertson smiled grimly. "Ay, I don't doubt it. He's been all round Levuka cracking her up. I brought her here last week, and the Dutchman's been in a chronic state of silly ever since. She's an almighty fine girl. She's staying with the Sisters here till the marriage. By the Lord, here she is now coming along the street! Bet a dollar she's been round Vagadace way, where there are some fast Samoan women living. 'Tis in the blood, I tell you."
The future possessor of the Oppermann body and estate WAS a pretty girl. Only those who have seen fair young Polynesian half-castes—before they get married, and grow coarse, and drink beer, and smoke like a factory chimney—know how pretty.
Our boat was at the wharf, and just as we stood talking Allan sauntered up and asked me for a dollar to get a bottle of gin. Just then the German's FIANCEE reached us. Robertson introduced Harry and myself to her, and then said good-bye. She stood there in the broiling Fijian sun with a dainty sunshade over her face, looking so lovely and cool in her spotless muslin dress, and withal so innocent, that I no longer wondered at the Dutchman's "chronic state of silly."
Allan the Stalwart stood by waiting for his dollar. The girl laughed joyously when Harry the Canadian said he would be at the wedding and have a high time, and held out her soft little hand as he bade her adieu and strolled off for another drink.
The moment Harry had gone Allan was a new man. Pulling off his straw hat, he saluted her in Samoan, and then opened fire.
"There are many TEINE LALELEI (beautiful girls) in the world, but there is none so beautiful as thou. Only truth do I speak, for I have been to all countries of the world. Ask him who is here—our supercargo—if I lie. O maid with the teeth of pearl and face like FETUAO (the morning star), my stomach is drying up with the fire of love."
The sunshade came a little lower, and the fingers played nervously with the ivory handle. I leant against a coconut tree and listened.
"Thy name is Vaega. See that! How do I know? Aha, how do I? Because, for two years or more, whenever I passed by the stone wall of the Sisters' dwelling in Matafele, I climbed up and watched thee, O Star of the Morning, and I heard the other girls call thee Vaega. Oho! and some night I meant to steal thee away."
(The rascal! He told me two days afterwards that the only time he ever climbed the Mission wall was to steal mangoes.)
The sunshade was tilted back, and displayed two big, black eyes, luminous with admiring wonder.
"And so thou hast left Samoa to come here to be devoured by this fat hog of a Dutchman! Dost thou not know, O foolish, lovely one, that she who mates with a SIAMANI (German) grows old in quite a little time, and thy face, which is now smooth and fair, will be coarse as the rind of a half-ripe bread-fruit, because of the foul food these swine of Germans eat?"
"Allan," I called, "here's the captain!"
There was a quick clasp of hands as the Stalwart One and the Maid hurriedly spoke again, this time in a whisper, and then the white muslin floated away out of sight.
The captain was what he called "no' so dry"—viz. half-seas over, and very jolly. He told Allan he could have an hour to himself to buy what he wanted, and then told me that the captain of a steam collier had promised to give us a tug out at daylight. "I'm right for the wedding-feast after all," I thought.
* * * * *
But the wedding never came off. That night Oppermann, in a frantic state, was tearing round Levuka hunting for his love, who had disappeared. At daylight, as the collier steamed ahead and tautened our tow-line, we could see the parties of searchers with torches scouring the beach. Our native sailors said they had heard a scream about ten at night and seen the sharks splashing, and the white liars of Levuka shook their heads and looked solemn as they told tales of monster sharks with eight-foot jaws always cruising close in to the shore at night.
* * * * *
Three days afterwards Allan came to me with stolid face and asked for a bottle of wine, as Vaega was very sea-sick. I gave him the wine, and threatened to tell the captain. He laughed, and said he would fight any man, captain or no captain, who meddled with him. And, as a matter of fact, he felt safe—the skipper valued him too much to bully him over the mere stealing of a woman. So the limp and sea-sick Vaega was carried up out of the sweating foc'sle and given a cabin berth, and Allan planked down two twenty-dollar pieces for her passage to the Union Group. When she got better she sang rowdy songs, and laughed all day, and made fun of the holy Sisters. And one day Allan beat her with a deal board because she sat down on a band-box in the trade-room and ruined a hat belonging to a swell official's wife in Apia. And she liked him all the better for it.
* * * * *
The fair Vaega was Mrs Allan for just six months, when his erratic fancy was captivated by the daughter of Mauga, the chief of Tutuila, and an elopement resulted to the mountains. The subsequent and inevitable parting made Samoa an undesirable place of residence for Allan, who shipped as boatsteerer in the NIGER of New Bedford. As for Vaega, she drifted back to Apia, and there, right under the shadow of the Mission Church, she flaunted her beauty. The last time I saw her was in Charley the Russian's saloon, when she showed me a letter. It was from the bereaved Oppermann, asking her to come back and marry him.
"Are you going?" I said.
"E PULE LE ATUA (if God so wills), but he only sent me twenty dollars, and that isn't half enough. However, there's an American man-of-war coming next week, and these other girls will see then. I'll make the PAPALAGI [foreign] officers shell out. TO FA, ALII [Good-bye]."
THE REVENGE OF MACY O'SHEA
A Story Of The Marquesas
Tikena the Clubfooted guided me to an open spot in the jungle-growth, and, sitting down on the butt of a twisted TOA, indicated by a sweep of his tattooed arm the lower course of what had once been the White Man's dwelling.
"Like unto himself was this, his house," he said, puffing a dirty clay pipe, "square-built and strong. And the walls were of great blocks made of PANISINA—of coral and lime and sand mixed together; and around each centre-post—posts that to lift one took the strength of fifty men—was wound two thousand fathoms of thin plaited cinnet, stained red and black. APA! he was a great man here in these MOTU (islands), although he fled from prison in your land; and when he stepped on the beach the marks of the iron bands that had once been round his ankles were yet red to the sight. There be none such as he in these days. But he is now in Hell."
This was the long-deferred funeral oration of Macy O'Shea, sometime member of the chain-gang of Port Arthur, in Van Dieman's Land, and subsequently runaway convict, beachcomber, cutter-off of whaleships, and Gentleman of Leisure in Eastern Polynesia. And of his many known crimes the deed done in this isolated spot was the darkest of all. Judge of it yourself.
* * * * *
The arrowy shafts of sunrise had scarce pierced the deep gloom of the silent forest ere the village woke to life. Right beside the thatch-covered dwelling of Macy O'Shea, now a man of might, there towers a stately TAMANU tree; and, as the first faint murmur of women's voices arises from the native huts, there is a responsive twittering and cooing in the thickly-leaved branches, and further back in the forest the heavy, booming note of the red-crested pigeon sounds forth like the beat of a muffled drum.
* * * * *
With slow, languid step, Sera, the wife of Macy O'Shea, comes to the open door and looks out upon the placid lagoon, now just rippling beneath the first breath of the trade-wind, and longs for courage to go out there—there to the point of the reef—and spring over among the sharks. The girl—she is hardly yet a woman—shudders a moment and passes her white hand before her eyes, and then, with a sudden gust of passion, the hand clenches. "I would kill him—kill him, if there was but a ship here in which I could get away! I would sell myself over and over again to the worst whaler's crew that ever sailed the Pacific if it would bring me freedom from this cruel, cold-blooded devil!"
* * * * *
A heavy tread on the matted floor of the inner room and her face pales to the hue of death. But Macy O'Shea is somewhat shy of his two years' wife this morning, and she hears the heavy steps recede as he walks over to his oil-shed. A flock of GOGO cast their shadow over the lagoon as they fly westward, and the woman's eyes follow them—"Kill him, yes. I am afraid to die, but not to kill. And I am a stranger here, and if I ran a knife into his fat throat, these natives would make me work in the taro-fields, unless one wanted me for himself." Then the heavy step returns, and she slowly faces round to the blood-shot eyes and drink-distorted face of the man she hates, and raises one hand to her lips to hide a blue and swollen bruise.
The man throws his short, square-set figure on a rough native sofa, and, passing one brawny hand meditatively over his stubbly chin, says, in a voice like the snarl of a hungry wolf: "Here, I say, Sera, slew round; I want to talk to you, my beauty."
The pale, set face flushed and paled again. "What is it, Macy O'Shea?"
"Ho, ho, 'Macy O'Shea,' is it? Well, just this. Don't be a fool. I was a bit put about last night, else I wouldn't have been so quick with my fist. Cut your lip, I see. Well, you must forget it; any way, it's the first time I ever touched you. But you ought to know by now that I am not a man to be trifled with; no man, let alone a woman, is going to set a course for Macy O'Shea to steer by. And, to come to the point at once, I want you to understand that Carl Ristow's daughter is coming here. I want her, and that's all about it."
* * * * *
The woman laughed scornfully. "Yes, I know. That was why"—she pointed to her lips. "Have you no shame? I know you have no pity. But listen. I swear to you by the Mother of Christ that I will kill her—kill you, if you do this."
O'Shea's cruel mouth twitched and his jaws set, then he uttered a hoarse laugh. "By God! Has it taken you two years to get jealous?"
A deadly hate gleamed in the dark, passionate eyes. "Jealous, Mother of God! jealous of a drunken, licentious wretch such as you! I hate you—hate you! If I had courage enough I would poison myself to be free from you."
O'Shea's eyes emitted a dull sparkle. "I wish you would, damn you! Yet you are game enough, you say, to kill me—and Malia?"
"Yes. But not for love of you, but because of the white blood in me. I can't—I won't be degraded by you bringing another woman here."
"'Por Dios,' as your dad used to say before the devil took his soul, we'll see about that, my beauty. I suppose because your father was a d——d garlic-eating, ear-ringed Dago, and your mother a come-by-chance Tahiti half-caste, you think he was as good as me."
"As good as you, O bloody-handed dog of an English convict. He was a man, and the only wrong he ever did was to let me become wife to a devil like you."
The cruel eyes were close to hers now, and the rough, brawny hands gripped her wrists. "You spiteful Portuguese quarter-bred ——! Call me a convict again, and I'll twist your neck like a fowl's. You she-devil! I'd have made things easy for you—but I won't now. Do you hear?" and the grip tightened. "Ristow's girl will be here to-morrow, and if you don't knuckle down to her it'll be a case of 'Vamos' for you—you can go and get a husband among the natives," and he flung her aside and went to the god that ran him closest for his soul, next to women—his rum-bottle.
* * * * *
O'Shea kept his word, for two days later Malia, the half-caste daughter of Ristow, the trader at Ahunui, stepped from out her father's whaleboat in front of O'Shea's house. The transaction was a perfectly legitimate one, and Malia did not allow any inconvenient feeling of modesty to interfere with such a lucrative arrangement as this, whereby her father became possessed of a tun of oil and a bag of Chilian dollars, and she of much finery. In those days missionaries had not made much head-way, and gentlemen like Messrs Ristow and O'Shea took all the wind out of the Gospel drum.
And so Malia, dressed as a native girl, with painted cheeks and bare bosom, walked demurely up from the boat to the purchaser of her sixteen-years'-old beauty, who, with arms folded across his broad chest, stood in the middle of the path that led from the beach to his door. And within, with set teeth and a knife in the bosom of her blouse bodice, Sera panted with the lust of Hate and Revenge.
* * * * *
The bulky form of O'Shea darkened the door-way. "Sera," he called in English, with a mocking, insulting inflection in his voice, "come here and welcome my new wife!"
Sera came, walking slowly, with a smile on her lips, and, holding out her left hand to Malia, said in the native language, "Welcome!"
"Why," said O'Shea, with mocking jocularity, "that's a left-handed welcome, Sera."
"Aye," said the girl with the White Man's blood, "my right hand is for this"—and the knife sank home into Malia's yellow bosom. "A cold bosom for you to-night, Macy O'Shea," she laughed, as the value of a tun of oil and a bag of Chilian dollars gasped out its life upon the matted floor.
The native drum was beating. As the blood-quickening boom reverberated through the village, the natives came out from their huts and gathered around the House of the Old Men, where, with bound hands and feet, Sera, the White Man's wife, sat, with her back to one of the centre-posts. And opposite her, sitting like a native on a mat of KAPAU, was the burly figure of O'Shea, with the demon of disappointed passion eating away his reason, and a mist of blood swimming before his eyes.
The people all detested her, especially the soft-voiced, slender-framed women. In that one thing savages resemble Christians—the deadly hatred with which some women hate those of their sex whom they know to be better and more pure than themselves. So the matter was decided quickly. Mesi—so they called O'Shea—should have justice. If he thought death, let it be death for this woman who had let out the blood of his new wife. Only one man, Loloku the Boar Hunter, raised his voice for her, because Sera had cured him of a bad wound when his leg had been torn open by the tusk of a wild boar. But the dull glare from the eyes of O'Shea fell on him, and he said no more. Then at a sign from the old men the people rose from the mats, and two unbound the cords of AFA from the girl, and led her out into the square, and looked at O'Shea.
"Take her to the boat," he said.
* * * * *
Ristow's boat had been hauled up, turned over, and covered with the rough mats called KAPAU to keep off the heat of the sun. With staggering feet, but undaunted heart, the girl Sera was led down. Only once she turned her head and looked back. Perhaps Loloku would try again. Then, as they came to the boat, a young girl, at a sign from O'Shea, took off the loose blouse, and they placed her, face downwards, across the bilge of the boat, and two pair of small, eager, brown hands each seized one of hers and dragged the white, rounded arms well over the keel of the boat. O'Shea walked round to that side, drawing through his hands the long, heavy, and serrated tail of the FAI—the gigantic stinging-ray of Oceana. He would have liked to wield it himself, but then he would have missed part of his revenge—he could not have seen her face. So he gave it to a native, and watched, with the smile of a fiend, the white back turn black and then into bloody red as it was cut to pieces with the tail of the FAI.
* * * * *
The sight of the inanimate thing that had given no sign of its agony beyond the shudderings and twitchings of torn and mutilated flesh was, perhaps, disappointing to the tiger who stood and watched the dark stream that flowed down on both sides of the boat. Loloku touched his arm—"Mesi, stay thy hand. She is dead else."
"Ah," said O'Shea, "that would be a pity; for with one hand shall she live to plant taro."
And, hatchet in hand, he walked in between the two brown women who held her hands. They moved aside and let go. Then O'Shea swung his arm; the blade of the hatchet struck into the planking, and the right hand of Sera fell on the sand.
A man put his arms around her, and lifted her off the boat. He placed his hand on the blood-stained bosom and looked at Macy O'Shea.
"E MATE! [Dead!]" he said.
THE RANGERS OF THE TIA KAU
Between Nanomea and Nanomaga—two of the Ellice Group—but within a few miles of the latter, is an extensive submerged shoal, on the charts called the Grand Cocal Reef, but by the people of the two islands known as Tia Kau (The Reef). On the shallowest part there are from four to ten fathoms of water, and here in heavy weather the sea breaks. The British cruiser BASILISK, about 1870, sought for the reef, but reported it as non-existent. Yet the Tia Kati is well known to many a Yankee whaler and trading schooner, and is a favourite fishing-ground of the people of Nanomaga—when the sharks give them a chance.
* * * * *
One night Atupa, Chief of Nanomaga, caused a huge fire to be lit on the beach as a signal to the people of Nanomea that a MALAGA, or party of voyagers, was coming over. Both islands are low—not more than fifteen feet above sea-level—and are distant from one another about thirty-eight miles. The following night the reflection of the answering fire on Nanomea was seen, and Atupa prepared to send away his people in seven canoes. They would start at sundown, so as to avoid paddling in the heat (the Nanomagans have no sailing canoes), and be guided to Nanomea, which they expected to reach early in the morning, by the far distant glare of the great fires of coconut and pandanus leaves kindled at intervals of a few hours. About seventy people were to go, and all that day the little village busied itself in preparing for the Nanomeans gifts of foods—cooked PURAKA, fowls, pigs, and flying-fish.
* * * * *
Atupa, the heathen chief, was troubled in his mind in those days of August 1872. The JOHN WILLIAMS had touched at the island and landed a Samoan missionary, who had pressed him to accept Christianity. Atupa, dreading a disturbing element in his little community, had, at first, declined; but the ship had come again, and the chief having consented to try the new religion, a teacher landed. But since then he and his sub-chiefs had consulted the oracle, and had been told that the shades of Maumau Tahori and Foilagi, their deified ancestors, had answered that the new religion was unacceptable to them, and that the Samoan teacher must be killed or sent away. And for this was Atupa sending off some of his people to Nanomea with gifts of goodwill to the chiefs to beseech them to consult their oracles also, so that the two islands might take concerted action against this new foreign god, whose priests said that all men were equal, that all were bad, and He and His Son alone good.
* * * * *
The night was calm when the seven canoes set out. Forty men and thirty women and children were in the party, and the craft were too deeply laden for any but the smoothest sea. On the AMA (outrigger) of each canoe were the baskets of food and bundles of mats for their hosts, and seated on these were the children, while the women sat with the men and helped them to paddle. Two hours' quick paddling brought them to the shoal-water of Tia Kau, and at the same moment they saw to the N.W. the sky-glare of the first guiding fire.
* * * * *
It was then that the people in the first canoe, wherein was Palu, the daughter of Atupa, called out to those behind to prepare their ASU (balers), as a heavy squall was coming down from the eastward. Then Laheu, an old warrior in another canoe, cried out that they should return on their track a little and get into deep water; "for," said he, "if we swamp, away from Tia Kau, it is but a little thing, but here—" and he clasped his hands rapidly together and then tore them apart. They knew what he meant—the sharks that, at night-time forsaking the deep waters, patrolled in droves of thousands the shallow waters of the reef to devour the turtle and the schools of TAFAU ULI and other fish. In quick, alarmed silence the people headed back, but even then the first fierce squall struck them, and some of the frail canoes began to fill at once. "I MATAGI! I MATAGI! (head to the wind)" a man called out; "head to the wind, or we perish! 'Tis but a puff and it is gone."
* * * * *
But it was more than a puff. The seven canoes, all abreast, were still in shallow water, and the paddlers kept them dead in the teeth of the whistling wind and stinging rain, and called out words of encouragement to one another and to the women and children, as another black squall burst upon them and the curling seas began to break. The canoe in which was Atupa's daughter was the largest and best of all the seven, but was much overladen, and on the outrigger grating were four children. These the chief's daughter was endeavouring to shield from the rain by covering them with a mat, when one of them, a little girl, endeavoured to steady herself by holding to one of the thin pieces of grating; it broke, and her arm fell through and struck the water, and in an instant she gave a dull, smothered wail. Palu, the woman, seized her by her hair and pulled the child up to a sitting posture, and then shrieked with terror—the girl's arm was gone.
* * * * *
And then in the blackness of night, lightened now by the white, seething, boiling surge, the people saw in the phosphorescent water countless hundreds of the savage terrors of the Tia Kau darting hither and thither amongst the canoes—for the smell of blood had brought them together instantly. Presently a great grey monster tore the paddle from out the hands of the steersman of the canoe wherein were the terrified Palu and the four children, and then, before the man for'ard could bring her head to the wind, she broached to and filled. Like ravening wolves the sharks dashed upon their prey, and ere the people had time to give more than a despairing cry, those hideous jaws and gleaming cruel teeth had sealed their fate. Maddened with fear, the rest of the people threw everything out of the six other canoes to lighten them, and as the bundles of mats and baskets of food touched the water the sharks seized and bit, tore and swallowed. Then, one by one, every paddle was grabbed from the hands of the paddlers, and the canoes broached to and filled in that sea of death—all save one, which was carried by the force of the wind away from the rest. In this were the only survivors—two men.
* * * * *
The agony could not have lasted long. "Were I to live as long as he whom the FAIFEAU (missionary) tells us lived to be nine hundred and sixty and nine, I shall hear the groans and cries and shrieks of that PO MALAIA, that night of evil luck," said one of the two who lived, to Denison, the white trader at Nanomea. "Once did I have my paddle fast in the mouth of a little devil, and it drew me backwards, backwards, over the stern till my head touched the water. TAH! but I was strong with fear, and held on, for to lose it meant death by the teeth. And Tulua—he who came out alive with me, seized my feet and held on, else had I gone. But look thou at this"—and he pointed to his scarred neck and back and shoulders "ere I could free my FOE (paddle) and raise my head, I was bitten thus by others. Ah, PAPALAGI, some men are born to wisdom, but most are fools. Had not Atupa been filled with vain fears, he had killed the man who caused him to lose so many of our people."
"So," said the white man, "and wouldst thou have killed the man who brought thee the new faith? Fie!"
"Aye, that would I—in those days when I was PO ULI ULI [Heathen, lit. "In the blackest night"]. But not now, for I am Christian. Yet had Atupa killed and buried the stranger, we could have lied and said he died of a sickness when they of his people came to seek him. And then had I now my son Tagipo with me, he who went into the bellies of the sharks at Tia Kau."
A Memory Of The Paumotus
I stayed once at Rotoava—in the Low Archipelago, Eastern Polynesia—while suffering from injuries received in a boat accident one wild night. My host, the Rotoava trader, was a sociable old pirate, whose convivial soul would never let him drink alone. He was by trade a boat-builder, having had, in his early days, a shed at Miller's Point, in Sydney, where he made money and married a wife. But this latter event was poor Tom Oscott's undoing, and in the end he took his chest of tools on board the THYRA trading brig, and sailed away to Polynesia. Finally, after many years' wandering, he settled down at Rotoava as a trader and boat-builder, and became a noted drinker of bottled beer.
The only method by which I could avoid his incessant invitations to "have another" was to get his wife and children to carry me down to his work-shed, built in a lovely spot surrounded by giant PUKA trees. Here, under the shade, I had my mats spread, and with one of his children sitting at my head to fan away the flies, I lay and watched, through the belt of coconuts that lined the beach, the blue rollers breaking on the reef and the snow-white boatswain-birds floating high overhead.
* * * * *
Tom was in the bush one morning when his family carried me to the boat-shed. He had gone for a log of seasoned TOA wood [A hard wood much used in boat building] to another village. At noon he returned, and I heard him bawling for me. His little daughter, the fly-brusher, gave an answering yell, and then Tom walked down the path, carrying two bottles of beer; behind him Lucia, his eldest daughter, a monstrous creature of giggles, adipose tissue, and warm heart, with glasses and a plate of crackers; lastly, old Marie, the wife, with a little table.
"By ——, you've a lot more sense'n me. It's better lyin' here in the cool, than foolin' around in the sun; so I've brought yer suthin' to drink."
"Oh, Tom," I groaned, "I'm sure that beer's bad for me."
The Maker of Boats sat on his bench, and said that he knew of a brewer's carter in Sydney who, at Merriman's "pub," on Miller's Point, had had a cask of beer roll over him. Smashed seven ribs, one arm, and one thigh. Doctors gave him up; undertaker's man called on his wife for coffin order but a sailor chap said he'd pull him through. Got an indiarubber tube and made him suck up as much beer as he could hold; kept it up till all his bones "setted" again, and he recovered. Why shouldn't I—if I only drank enough?
"Hurry up, old dark-skin!"—this to the faded Marie. Uttering merely the word "Hog!" she drew the cork. I had to drink some, and every hour or so Tom would say it was very hot, and open yet another bottle. At last I escaped the beer by nearly dying, and then the kind old fellow hurried away in his boat to Apatiki—another island of the group—and came back with some bottles of claret, bought from the French trader there. With him came two visitors—a big half-caste of middle age, and his wife, a girl of twenty or there-about. This was Edward Pallou and his wife Taloi.
* * * * *
I was in the house when Tom returned, enjoying a long-denied smoke. Pallou and his wife entered and greeted me. The man was a fine, well-set-up fellow, wiry and muscular, with deep-set eyes, and bearing across his right cheek a heavy scar. His wife was a sweet, dainty little creature with red lips, dazzling teeth, hazel eyes, and long wavy hair. The first thing I noticed about her was, that instead of squatting on a mat in native fashion, she sank into a wide chair, and lying back enquired, with a pleasant smile and in perfect English, whether I was feeling any better. She was very fair, even for a Paumotuan half-caste, as I thought she must be, and I said to Pallou, "Why, any one would take your wife to be an Englishwoman!"
"Not I," said Taloi, with a rippling laugh, as she commenced to make a banana-leaf cigarette; "I am a full-blooded South Sea Islander. I belong to Apatiki, and was born there. Perhaps I have white blood in me. Who knows?—only my wise mother. But when I was twelve years old I was adopted by a gentleman in Papeite, and he sent me to Sydney to school. Do you know Sydney? Well, I was three years with the Misses F——, in —— Street. My goodness! I WAS glad to leave—and so were the Misses F—— to see me go. They said I was downright wicked, because one day I tore the dress off a girl who said my skin was tallowy, like my name. When I came back to Tahiti my guardian took me to Raiatea, where he had a business, and said I must marry him, the beast!"
"Oh, shut up, Taoi!" growled the deep-voiced Pallou, who sat beside me. "What the deuce does this man care about your doings?"
"Shut up yourself, you brute! Can't I talk to any one I like, you turtle-headed fool? Am I not a good wife to you, you great, over-grown savage? Won't you let a poor devil of a woman talk a little? Look here, Tom, do you see that flash jacket he's wearing? Well, I sat up two nights making that—for him to come over here with, and show off before the Rotoava girls. Go and die, you ——!"
The big half-caste looked at Tom and then at me. His lips twitched with suppressed passion, and a dangerous gleam shone a moment in his dark eyes.
"Here, I say, Taloi," broke in Tom, good-humouredly, "just go easy a bit with Ted. As for him a-looking at any of the girls here, I knows better—and so do you."
Taloi's laugh, clear as the note of a bird, answered him, and then she said she was sorry, and the lines around Pallou's rigid mouth softened down. It was easy to see that this grim half-white loved, for all her bitter tongue, the bright creature who sat in the big chair.
Presently Taloi and Lucia went out to bathe, and Pallou remained with me. Tom joined us, and for a while no one spoke. Then the trader, laying down his pipe on the table, drew his seat closer, and commenced, in low tones, a conversation in Tahitian with Pallou. From the earnest manner of old Tom and the sullen gloom that overspread Pallou's face, I could discern that some anxiety possessed them.
At last Tom addressed me. "Look here, ——, Ted here is in a mess, and we've just been a-talkin' of it over, and he says perhaps you'll do what you can for him."
The half-caste turned his dark eyes on me and looked intently into mine.
"What is it, Tom?"
"Well, you see, it come about this way. You heard this chap's missus—Taloi—a-talkin' about the Frenchman that wanted to marry her. He had chartered a little schooner in Papeite to go to Raiatea. Pallou here was mate, and, o' course, he being from the same part of the group as Taloi, she ups and tells him that the Frenchman wanted to marry her straightaway; and then I s'pose, the two gets a bit chummy, and Pallou tells her that if she didn't want the man he'd see as how she wasn't forced agin' her will. So when the vessel gets to Raiatea it fell calm, just about sunset. The Frenchman was in a hurry to get ashore, and tells his skipper to put two men in the boat and some grub, as he meant to pull ashore to his station. So they put the boat over the side, and Frenchy and Taoi and Pallou and two native chaps gets in and pulls for the land.
"They gets inside Uturoa about midnight. 'Jump out,' says the Frenchman to Taloi as soon as the boat touches the beach; but the girl wouldn't, but ties herself up around Pallou and squeals. 'Sakker!' says the Frenchy, and he grabs her by the hair and tries to tear her away. ''Ere, stop that,' says Pallou; 'the girl ain't willin',' an' he pushes Frenchy away. 'Sakker!' again, and Frenchy whips out his pistol and nearly blows Pallou's face off'n him; and then, afore he knows how it was done, Ted sends his knife chunk home into the other fellow's throat. The two native sailors runned away ashore, and Pallou and Taloi takes the oars and pulls out again until they drops. Then a breeze comes along, and they up stick and sails away and gets clear o' the group, and brings up, after a lot of sufferin', at Rurutu. And ever since then there's been a French gunboat a-lookin' for Pallou, and he's been hidin' at Apatiki for nigh on a twelvemonth, and has come over here now to see if, when your ship comes back, you can't give him and his missus a passage away somewhere to the westward, out o' the run of that there gunboat, the VAUDREUIL."
* * * * *
I promised I would "work it" with the captain, and Pallou put out his brawny hand—the hand that "drove it home into Frenchy's throat"—and grasped mine in silence. Then he lifted his jacket and showed me his money-belt, filled.
"I don't want money," I said. "If you have told me the whole story, I would help any man in such a fix as you." And then Taloi, fresh from her bath, came in and sat down on the mat, whilst fat Lucia combed and dressed her glossy hair and placed therein scarlet hisbiscus flowers; and to show her returned good temper, she took from her lips the cigarette she was smoking, and offered it to the grim Pallou.
A month later we all three left Rotoava, and Pallou and Taloi went ashore at one of the Hervey Group, where I gave him charge of a station with a small stock of trade, and we sailed away east-ward to Pitcairn and Easter Islands.
* * * * *
Pallou did a good business, and was well liked; and some seven months afterwards, when we were at Maga Reva, in the Gambier Group, I got a letter from him. "Business goes well," he wrote, "but Taloi is ill; I think she will die. You will find everything square, though, when you come."
But I was never to see that particular island again, as the firm sent another vessel in place of ours to get Pallou's produce. When the captain and the supercargo went ashore, a white trader met them, with a roll of papers in his hand.
"Pallou's stock-list," he said.
"Why, where is he? gone away?"
"No, he's here still; planted alongside his missus."
"Yes. A few months after he arrived here, that pretty little wife of his died. He came to me, and asked if I would come and take stock with him. I said he seemed in a bit of a hurry to start stocktaking before the poor thing was buried; but anyhow, I went, and we took stock, and he counted his cash, and asked me to lock the place up if anything happened to him. Then we had a drink, and he bade me good-day, and said he was going to sit with Taloi awhile, before they took her away. He sent the native women out of the bedroom, and the next minute I heard a shot. He'd done it, right enough. Right through his brain, poor chap. I can tell you he thought a lot of that girl of his. There's the two graves, over there by that FETAU tree. Here's his stock-list and bag of cash and keys. Would you mind giving me that pair of rubber sea-boots he left?"
A BASKET OF BREAD-FRUIT
It was in Steinberger's time [Colonel Steinberger, who in 1874 succeeded in forming a government in Samoa]. A trader had come up to Apia in his boat from the end of Savaii, the largest of the Samoan Group, and was on his way home again, when the falling tide caused him to stop awhile at Mulinu'u Point, about two miles from Apia. Here he designed to smoke and talk, and drink kava at the great camp with some hospitable native acquaintances, during the rising of the water. Soon he was taking his ease on a soft mat, watching the bevy of AUA LUMA [The local girls] making a bowl of kava.
Now this trader lived at Falealupo, at the extreme westerly end of Savaii; but the Samoans, by reason of its isolation and extremity, have for ages called it by another name—an unprintable one—and so some of the people present began to jest with the trader for living in such a place. He fell in with their humour, and said that if those present would find for him a wife, a girl unseared by the breath of scandal, he would leave Falealupo for Safune, where he had bought land.
"Malie!" said an old dame, with one eye and white hair, "the PAPALAGI [foreigner] is inspired to speak wisdom to-night; for at Safune grow the sweetest nuts and the biggest taro and bread-fruit; and lo! here among the kava-chewers is a young maid from Safune—mine own grand-daughter Salome. And against her name can no one in Samoa laugh in the hollow of his hand," and the old creature, amid laughter and cries of ISA! E LE MA LE LO MATUA (The old woman is without shame), crept over to the trader, and, with one skinny hand on his knee, gazed steadily into his face with her one eye.
* * * * *
The trader looked at the girl—at Salome. She had, at her grandmother's speech, turned her head aside, and taking the "chaw" of kava-root from her pretty mouth, dissolved into shame-faced tears. The trader was a man of quick perceptions, and he made up his mind to do in earnest what he had said in jest—this because of the tears of Salome. He quickly whispered to the old woman, "Come to the boat before the full of the tide, and we will talk."
When the kava was ready for drinking the others present had forgotten all about the old woman and Salome, who had both crept away unobserved, and an hour or two was passed in merriment, for the trader was a man well liked. Then, when he rose and said TO FA, [good-bye] they begged him not to attempt to pass down in his boat inside the reef, as he was sure to be fired upon, for how were their people to tell a friend from an enemy in the black night? But the white man smiled, and said his boat was too heavily laden to face the ocean swell. So they bade him TO FA, and called out MANUIA OE! [Bless you!] as he lifted the door of thatch and went.
* * * * *
The old woman awaited him, holding the girl by the hand. On the ground lay a basket strongly tied up. Salome still wept, but the old woman angrily bade her cease and enter the boat, which the crew had now pushed bow-on to the beach. The old woman lifted the basket and carefully put it on board.
"Be sure," she said to the crew, "not to sit on it for it is very ripe bread-fruit that I am taking to my people in Manono."
"Give them here to me," said the trader, and he put the basket in the stern out of the way. The old woman came aft, too, and crouched at his feet and smoked a SULUI [a cigarette rolled in dried banana leaf]. The cool land-breeze freshened as the sail was hoisted, and then the crew besought the trader not to run down inside the reef. Bullets, they said, if fired in plenty, always hit something, and the sea was fairly smooth outside the reef. And old Lupetea grasped his hand and muttered in his ear, "For the sake of this my little daughter go outside. See, now, I am old, and to lie when so near death as I am is foolish. Be warned by me and be wise; sail out into the ocean, and at daylight we shall be at Salua in Manono. Then thou canst set my feet on the shore—I and the basket. But the girl shall go with thee. Thou canst marry her, if that be to thy mind, in the fashion of the PAPALAGI, or take her FA'A SAMOA [Samoan fashion]. Thus will I keep faith with thee. If the girl be false, her neck is but little and thy fingers strong."
Now the trader thought in this wise: "This is well for me, for if I get the girl away thus quietly from all her relations I shall save much in presents," and his heart rejoiced, for although not mean he was a careful man. So he steered his boat seaward, between the seething surf that boiled and hissed on both sides of the boat passage.
* * * * *
As the boat sailed past the misty line of cloud-capped Upolu, the trader lifted the girl up beside him and spoke to her. She was not afraid of him, she said, for many had told her he was a good man, and not an ULA VALE (scamp), but she wept because now, save her old grandmother, all her kinsfolk were dead. Even but a day and a half ago her one brother was killed with her cousin. They were strong men, but the bullets were swift, and so they died. And their heads had been shown at Matautu. For that she had grieved and wept and eaten nothing, and the world was cold and dark to her.
"Poor little devil!" said the trader to himself—"hungry." Then he opened a locker and found a tin of sardines. Not a scrap of biscuit. There was plenty of biscuit, though, in the boat, in fifty-pound tins, but on these mats were spread, where-on his crew were sleeping. He was about to rouse them when he remembered the old dame's basket of ripe bread-fruit. He laughed and looked at her. She, too, slept, coiled up at his feet. But first he opened the sardines and placed them beside the girl, and motioned her to steer. Her eyes gleamed like diamonds in the darkness as she answered his glance, and her soft fingers grasped the tiller. Very quickly, then, he felt among the packages aft till he came to the basket.
A quick stroke of his knife cut the cinnet that lashed the sides together. He felt inside. "Only two, after all, but big ones, and no mistake. Wrapped in cloth, too! I wonder—Hell and Furies! what's this?"—as his fingers came in contact with something that felt like a human eye. Drawing his hand quickly back, he fumbled in his pockets for a match, and struck it. Bread-fruit! No. Two heads with closed eyes and livid lips blue with the pallor of death, showing their white teeth. And Salome covered her face and slid down in the bottom of the boat again, and wept afresh for her cousin and brother, and the boat came up in the wind, but no one awoke.
* * * * *
The trader was angry. But after he had tied up the basket again he put the boat on her course once more and called to the girl. She crept close to him and nestled under his overcoat, for the morning air came across the sea from the dew-laden forests, and she was chilled. Then she told the story of how her granddam had begged the heads from those of Malietoa's troops who had taken them at Matautu, and then gone to the camp at Mulinu'u in the hope of getting a passage in some boat to Manono, her country, where she would fain bury them. And that night he had come, and old Lupetea had rejoiced, and sworn her to secrecy about the heads in the basket. And that also was why Lupetea was afraid of the boat going down inside the passage, for there were many enemies to be met with, and they would have shot old Lupetea because she was of Manono. That was all. Then she ate the sardines, and, leaning her head against the trader's bosom, fell asleep.
* * * * *
As the first note of the great grey pigeon sounded the dawn, the trader's boat sailed softly up to the Salua beach, and old Lupetea rose, and, bidding the crew good-bye, and calling down blessings on the head of the good and clever white man, as she rubbed his and the girl's noses against her own, she grasped her Basket of Bread-fruit and went ashore. Then the trader, with Salome nestling to his side, sailed out again into the ocean towards his home.
The two ghastly creatures sat facing each other in their wordless misery as the wind died away and the tattered remnants of the sail hung motionless after a last faint flutter. The Thing that sat aft—for surely so grotesquely horrible a vision could not be a Man—pointed with hands like the talons of a bird of prey to the purple outline of the island in the west, and his black, blood-baked lips moved, opened, and essayed to speak. The other being that, with bare and skinny arms clasped around its bony knees, sat crouched in the bottom of the boat, leaned forward to listen.
"Ducie Island, Enderby," said the first in a hoarse, rattling whisper; "no one on it; but water is there ... and plenty of birds and turtle, and a few coconuts."
At the word "water" the listener gave a curious gibbering chuckle, unclasped his hands from his knees, and crept further towards the speaker.
"And the current is setting us down to it, wind or no wind. I believe we'll see this pleasure-trip through, after all"—and the black lips parted in a hideous grimace.
The man whom he called Enderby sank his head again upon his knees, and his dulled and bloodshot eyes rested on something that lay at the captain's feet—the figure of a woman enveloped from her shoulders down in a ragged native mat. For some hours past she had lain thus, with the grey shadows of coming dissolution hovering about her pallid face, and only the faintest movement of lips and eyelids to show that she still lived.
* * * * *
The black-whiskered man who steered looked down for a second upon the face beneath him with the unconcern for others born of the agony of thirst and despair, and again his gaunt face turned to the land. Yet she was his wife, and not six weeks back he had experienced a cold sort of satisfaction in the possession of so much beauty.
He remembered that day now. Enderby, the passenger from Sydney, and he were walking the poop; his wife was asleep in a deck-chair on the other side. An open book lay in her lap. As the two men passed and re-passed her, the one noted that the other would glance in undisguised and honest admiration at the figure in the chair. And Enderby, who was as open as the day, had said to him, Langton, that the sleeping Mrs Langton made as beautiful a picture as he had ever seen.
* * * * *
The sail stirred, filled out, and then drooped again, and the two spectres, with the sleeping woman between, still sat with their hungry eyes gazing over toward the land. As the sun sank, the outlines of the verdure-clad summits and beetling cliffs stood forth clearly for a short minute or two, as if to mock them with hope, and then became enshrouded in the tenebrous night.
* * * * *
Another hour, and a faint sigh came from the ragged mat. Enderby, for ever on the watch, had first seen a white hand silhouetted against the blackness of the covering, and knew that she was still alive. And as he was about to call Langton, who lay in the stern-sheets muttering in hideous dreams, he heard the woman's voice calling HIM. With panting breath and trembling limbs he crawled over beside her and gently touched her hand.
"Thank God, you are alive, Mrs Langton. Shall I wake Captain Langton? We must be nearing the land."
"No, don't. Let him sleep. But I called you, Mr Enderby, to lift me up. I want to see where the rain is coming from."
Enderby groaned in anguish of spirit. "Rain? God has forgotten us, I——," and then he stopped in shame at betraying his weakness before a woman.
The soft, tender tones again—"Ah, do help me up, please, I can FEEL the rain is near." Then the man, with hot tears of mingled weakness and pity coursing down his cheeks, raised her up.
"Why, there it is, Mr Enderby—and the land as well! And it's a heavy squall, too," and she pointed to a moving, inky mass that half concealed the black shadow of the island. "Quick, take my mat; one end of it is tight and will hold water."
"Langton, La-a-ngton! Here's a rain squall coming!" and Enderby pressed the woman's hand to his lips and kissed it again and again. Then with eager hands he took the mat from her, and staggering forward to the bows stretched the sound end across and bellied it down. And then the moving mass that was once black, and was now white, swept down upon them, and brought them life and joy.
Langton, with an empty beef-tin in his hand, stumbled over his wife's figure, plunged the vessel into the water and drank again and again.
"Curse you, you brute!" shouted Enderby through the wild noise of the hissing rain, "where is your wife? Are you going to let her lie there without a drink?"
Langton answered not, but drank once more. Then Enderby, with an oath, tore the tin from his hand, filled it and took it to her, holding her up while she drank. And as her eyes looked gratefully into his while he placed her tenderly back in the stern-sheets, the madness of a moment overpowered him, and he kissed her on the lips.
Concerned only with the nectar in the mat, Langton took no regard of Enderby as he opened the little locker, pulled out a coarse dungaree jumper, and wrapped it round the thinly-clad and drenched figure of the woman.
She was weeping now, partly from the joy of knowing that she was not to die of the agonies of thirst in an open boat in mid-Pacific, and partly because the water had given her strength to remember that Langton had cursed her when he had stumbled over her to get at the water in the mat.
* * * * *
She had married him because of his handsome face and dashing manner for one reason, and because her pious Scotch father, also a Sydney-Tahitian trading captain, had pointed out to her that Langton had made and was still making money in the island trade. Her ideal of a happy life was to have her husband leave the sea and buy an estate either in Tahiti or Chili. She knew both countries well: the first was her birthplace, and between there and Valparaiso and Sydney her money-grubbing old father had traded for years, always carrying with him his one daughter, whose beauty the old man regarded as a "vara vain thing," but likely to procure him a "weel-to-do mon" for a son-in-law.
Mrs Langton cared for her husband in a prosaic sort of way, but she knew no more of his inner nature and latent utter selfishness a year after her marriage than she had known a year before. Yet, because of the strain of dark blood in her veins—her mother was a Tahitian half-caste—she felt the mastery of his savage resolution in the face of danger in the thirteen days of horror that had elapsed since the brigantine crashed on an uncharted reef between Pitcairn and Ducie Islands, and the other boat had parted company with them, taking most of the provisions and water. And to hard, callous natures such as Langton's women yield easily and admire—which is better, perhaps, than loving, for both.
But that savage curse still sounded in her ears, and unconsciously made her think of Enderby, who had always, ever since the eighth day in the boat, given her half his share of water. Little did she know the agony it cost him the day before when the water had given out, to bring her the whole of his allowance. And as she drank, the man's heart had beaten with a dull sense of pity, the while his baser nature called out, "Fool! it is HIS place, not yours, to suffer for her."
* * * * *
At daylight the boat was close in to the land, and Langton, in his cool, cynical fashion, told his wife and Enderby to finish up the last of the meat and biscuit—for if they capsized getting through into the lagoon, he said, they would never want any more. He had eaten all he wanted unknown to the others, and looked with an unmoved face at Enderby soaking some biscuit in the tin for his wife. Then, with the ragged sail fluttering to the wind, Langton headed the boat through the passage into the glassy waters of the lagoon, and the two tottering men, leading the woman between them, sought the shelter of a thicket scrub, impenetrable to the rays of the sun, and slept. And then for a week Enderby went and scoured the reefs for food for her.
* * * * *
One day at noon Enderby awoke. The woman still slept heavily, the first sign of returning strength showing as a faint tinge in the pallor of her cheek. Langton was gone. A sudden chill passed over him—had Langton taken the boat and left them to die on lonely Ducie? With hasty step Enderby hurried to the beach. The boat was there, safe. And at the farther end of the beach he saw Langton, sitting on the sand, eating.
"Selfish brute!" muttered Enderby. "I wonder what he's got?" just then he saw, close overhead, a huge ripe pandanus, and, picking up a heavy, flat piece of coral, he tried to ascend the triplicated bole of the tree and hammer off some of the fruit. Langton looked up at him, and showed his white teeth in a mocking smile at the futile effort. Enderby walked over to him, stone in hand. He was not a vindictive man, but he had grown to hate Langton fiercely during the past week for his selfish neglect of his wife. And here was the fellow, gorging himself on turtle-eggs, and his tender, delicate wife living on shell-fish and pandanus.
* * * * *
"Langton," he said, speaking thickly and pretending not to notice the remainder of the eggs, "the tide is out, and we may get a turtle in one of the pools if you come with me. Mrs Langton needs something better than that infernal pandanus fruit. Her lips are quite sore and bleeding from eating it."
The Inner Nature came out. "Are they? My wife's lips seem to give you a very great deal of concern. She has not said anything to me. And I have an idea——" the look in Enderby's face shamed into silence the slander he was about to utter. Then he added coolly—"But as for going with you after a turtle, thanks, I won't. I've found a nest here, and have had a good square feed. If the cursed man-o'-war hawks and boobies hadn't been here before me I'd have got the whole lot." Then he tore the skin off another egg with his teeth.
With a curious guttural voice Enderby asked—"How many eggs were left?"
"Thirty or so—perhaps forty."
"And you have eaten all but those?"—pointing with savage contempt to five of the round, white balls; "give me those for your wife."
"My dear man, Louise has too much Island blood in her not to be able to do better than I—or you—in a case like ours. And as you have kindly constituted yourself her providore, you had better go and look for a nest yourself."
"You dog!"—and the sharp-edged coral stone crashed into his brain.
* * * * *
When Enderby returned, he found Mrs Langton sitting up on the creeper-covered mound that over-looked the beach where he had left Langton.
"Come away from here," he said, "into the shade. I have found a few turtle-eggs."
They walked back a little and sat down. But for the wild riot in his brain, Enderby would have noted that every vestige of colour had left her face.
"You must be hungry," he thought he was saying to her, and he placed the white objects in her lap.
She turned them slowly over and over in her hands, and then dropped them with a shudder. Some were flecked with red.
"For God's sake," the man cried, "tell me what you know!"
"I saw it all," she answered.
"I swear to you, Mrs Lan——" (the name stuck in his throat) "I never meant it. As God is my witness, I swear it. If we ever escape from here I will give myself up to justice as a murderer."
The woman, with hands spread over her face, shook her head from side to side and sobbed. Then she spoke. "I thought I loved him, once.... Yet it was for me ... and you saved my life over and over again in the boat. All sinners are forgiven we are told.... Why should not you be? ... and it was for me you did it. And I won't let you give yourself up to justice or any one. I'll say he died in the boat." And then the laughter of hysterics.
* * * * *
When, some months later, the JOSEPHINE, whaler, of New London, picked them up on her way to Japan, VIA the Carolines and Pelews, the captain satisfactorily answered the query made by Enderby if he could marry them. He "rayther thought he could. A man who was used ter ketchin' and killin'whales, the powerfullest creature of Almighty Gawd's creation, was ekal to marryin' a pair of unfortunit human beans in sich a pre-carus situation as theirs."
* * * * *
And, by the irony of fate, the Enderbys (that isn't their name) are now living in a group of islands where there's quite a trade done in turtle, and whenever a ship's captain comes to dine with them they never have the local dish—turtle eggs—for dinner. "We see them so often," Enderby explains, "and my wife is quite tired of them."
LONG CHARLEY'S GOOD LITTLE WIFE
There was the island, only ten miles away, and there it had been for a whole week. Sometimes we had got near enough to see Long Charley's house and the figures of natives walking on the yellow beach; and then the westerly current would set us away to leeward again. But that night a squall came up, and in half an hour we were running down to the land. When the lights on the beach showed up we hove-to until daylight, and then found the surf too heavy to let us land.
* * * * *
We got in close to the reef, and could see that the trader's copra-house was full, for there were also hundreds of bags outside, awaiting our boats. It was clearly worth staying for. The trader, a tall, thin, pyjama-clad man, came down to the water's edge, waved his long arm, and then turned back and sat down on a bag of copra. We went about and passed the village again, and once more the long man came to the water's edge, waved his arm, and retired to his seat.
In the afternoon we saw a native and Charley together among the bags; then the native left him, and, as it was now low tide, the kanaka was able to walk to the edge of the reef, where he signalled to us. Seeing that he meant to swim off, the skipper went in as close as possible, and backed his foreyard. Watching his chance for a lull in the yet fierce breakers, the native slid over the reef and swam out to us as only a Line Islander or a Tokelau man can swim.
"How's Charley?" we asked, when the dark man reached the deck.
"Who? Charley? Oh, he fine, plenty copra. Tapa my bowels are filled with the sea—for one dollar! Here ARIKI VAKA (captain) and you TUHI TUHI (supercargo)," said the native, removing from his perforated and pendulous ear-lobe a little roll of leaf, "take this letter from the mean man that giveth but a dollar for facing such a GALU (surf). Hast plenty tobacco on board, friends of my heart? Apa, the surf! Not a canoe crew could the white man get to face it. Is it good twist tobacco, friends, or the flat cakes? Know that I am a man of Nanomea, not one of these dog-eating people here, and a strong swimmer, else the letter had not come."
The supercargo took the note. It was rolled up in many thicknesses of banana-leaf, which had kept it dry—
"DEAR FRIENDS,—I have Been waiting for you for near 5 months. I am Chock full of Cobberah and Shark Fins one Ton. I am near Starved Out, No Biscit, no Beef, no flour, not Enything to Eat. for god's Saik send me a case of Gin ashore if you Don't mean to Hang on till the sea goes Down or I shall Starve. Not a Woman comes Near me because I am Run out of Traid, so please try also to Send a Peece of Good print, as there are some fine Women here from Nukunau, and I think I can get one for a wife if I am smart. If you Can't take my Cobberah, and mean to Go away, send the Squair face [Square face—Hollands gin], for god's saik, and something for the Woman,—Your obliged Friend, CHARLES."
We parcelled a bottle of gin round with a small coir line, and sent it ashore by the Nanomea man. Charley and a number of natives came to the edge of the reef to lend a hand in landing the bearer of the treasure. Then they all waded back to the beach, headed by the white man in the dirty pyjamas and sodden-looking FALA hat. Reaching his house, he turned his following away, and shut the door.
"I bet a dollar that fellow wouldn't swap billets with the angel Gabriel at this partikler moment," said our profane mate thoughtfully.
* * * * *
We started weighing and shipping the copra next day. After finishing up, the solemn Charley invited the skipper and supercargo to remain ashore till morning. His great trouble, he told us, was that he had not yet secured a wife, "a reg'lar wife, y'know." He had, unluckily, "lost the run" of the last Mrs Charley during his absence at another island of the group, and negotiations with various local young women had been broken off owing to his having run out of trade. In the South Seas, as in the civilised world generally, to get the girl of your heart is usually a mere matter of trade. There were, he told us with a melancholy look, "some fine Nukunau girls here on a visit, but the one I want don't seem to care much about stayin', unless all this new trade fetches her."
"Who is she?" enquired the skipper.
"Let's have a look at her," said the skipper, a man of kind impulses, who felt sorry at the intermittency of the Long One's connubial relations. The tall, scraggy trader shambled to the door and bawled out: "Tibakwa, Tibakwa, Tibakwa, O!" three times.
The people, singing in the big MONIEP or town-house, stopped their monotonous droning, and the name of Tibakwa, was yelled vociferously through-out the village in true Gilbert Group style. In the Gilberts, if a native in one corner of a house speaks to another in the opposite, he bawls loud enough to be heard a mile off.
* * * * *
Tibakwa (The Shark) was a short, squat fellow, with his broad back and chest scored and seamed with an intricate and inartistic network of cicatrices made by sharks' teeth swords. His hair, straight, coarse, and jet-black, was cut away square from just above his eyebrows to the top of his ears, leaving his fierce countenance in a sort of frame. Each ear-lobe bore a load—one had two or three sticks of tobacco, twined in and about the distended circle of flesh, and the other a clasp-knife and wooden pipe. Stripped to the waist he showed his muscular outlines to perfection, and he sat down unasked in the bold, self-confident, half-defiant manner natural to the Line Islander.
* * * * *
"Where's Tirau?" asked the trader.
"Here," said the man of wounds, pointing outside, and he called out in a voice like the bellow of a bull—"TIRAU O, NAKO MAI! (Come here!)"
Tirau came in timidly, clothed only in an AIRIRI or girdle, and slunk into a far corner.
The melancholy trader and the father pulled her out, and she dumped herself down in the middle of the room with a muttered "E PUAK ACARON; KACARON; TE MALAN! (Bad white man)."
"Fine girl, Charley," said the skipper, digging him in the ribs. "Ought to suit you, eh! Make a good little wife."
Negotiations then began anew. Father willing to part, girl frightened—commenced to cry. The astute Charley brought out some new trade. Tirau's eye here displayed a faint interest. Charley threw her, with the air of a prince, a whole piece of turkey twill, 12 yards—value three dollars, cost about 2s. 3d. Tirau put out a little hand and drew it gingerly toward her. Tibakwa gave us an atrocious wink.
"She's cottoned!" exclaimed Charley.
* * * * *
And thus, without empty and hollow display, were two loving hearts made to beat as one. As a practical proof of the solemnity of the occasion, the bridegroom then and there gave Tirau his bunch of keys, which she carefully tied to a strand of her AIRIRI, and, smoking one of the captain's Manillas, she proceeded to bash out the mosquitoes from the nuptial couch with a fan. We assisted her, an hour afterwards, to hoist the sleeping body of Long Charley therein, and, telling her to bathe his head in the morning with cold water, we rose to go.
"Good-bye, Tirau!" we said.
"TIAKAPO [Good-night]", said the good Little Wife, as she rolled up an empty square gin bottle in one of Charley's shirts for a pillow, and disposed her graceful figure on the matted floor beside his bed, to fight mosquitoes until daylight.
THE METHODICAL MR BURR OF MADURO
One day Ned Burr, a fellow trader, walked slowly up the path to my station, and with a friendly nod sat down and watched intently as, with native assistance, I set about salting some pork. Ned lived thirty miles from my place, on a little island at the entrance to the lagoon. He was a prosperous man, and only drank under the pressure of the monotony caused by the non-arrival of a ship to buy his produce. He would then close his store, and, aided by a number of friendly male natives, start on a case of gin. But never a woman went into Ned's house, though many visited the store, where Ned bought their produce, paid for it in trade or cash, and sent them off, after treating them on a strictly business basis.
Now, the Marshall Island women much resented this. Since Ned's wife had died, ten years previously, the women, backed by the chiefs, had made most decided, but withal diplomatic, assaults upon his celibacy. The old men of his village had respectfully and repeatedly reminded him that his state of singleness was not a direct slight to themselves as leading men alone. If he refused to marry again he surely would not cast such a reflection upon the personal characters of some two or three hundred young girls as to refuse a few of them the position of honorary wives PRO TEM., or until he found one whom he might think worthy of higher honours. But the slow-thinking, methodical trader only opened a bottle of gin, gave them fair words and a drink all round, and absolutely declined to open any sort of matrimonial negotiations.
* * * * *
"I'm come to hev some talk with you when you've finished saltin'," he said, as he rose and meditatively prodded a junk of meat with his forefinger.
"Right, old man," I said. "I'll come now," and we went into the big room and sat down.
"Air ye game ter come and see me get married?" he asked, looking away past me, through the open door, to where the surf thundered and tumbled on the outer reef.
"Ned," I said solemnly, "I know you don't joke, so you must mean it. Of course I will. I'm sure all of us fellows will be delighted to hear you're going to get some nice little CARAJZ [an unmarried girl] to lighten up that big house of yours over there. Who's the girl, Ned?"
"Whew!" I said, "why, she's the daughter of the biggest chief on Arhnu. I didn't think any white man could get her, even if he gave her people a boat-load of dollars as a wedding-gift."
"Well, no," said Ned, stroking his beard meditatively, "I suppose I SHOULD feel a bit set up; but two years ago her people said that, because I stood to them in the matter of some rifles when they had trouble with King Jibberick, I could take her. She was rather young then, any way; but I've been over to Arhnu several times, and I've had spies out, and damn me if I ever could hear a whisper agin' her. I'm told for sure that her father and uncles would ha' killed any one that came after her. So I'm a-goin' to take her and chance it."
"Ned," I said, "you know your own affairs and these people better than I do. Yet are you really going to pin your faith on a Marshall Island girl? You are not like any of us traders. You see, we know what to expect sometimes, and our morals are a lot worse than those of the natives. And it doesn't harrow our feelings much if any one of us has to divorce a wife and get another; it only means a lot of new dresses and some guzzling, drinking, and speechifying, and some bother in teaching the new wife how to make bread. But your wife that died was a Manhikian—another kind. They don't breed that sort here in the Marshalls. Think of it twice, Ned, before you marry her."
* * * * *
The girl was a beauty. There are many like her in that far-away cluster of coral atolls. That she was a chief's child it was easy to see; the abject manner in which the commoner natives always behaved themselves in her presence showed their respect for Le-jennabon. Of course we all got very jolly. There were half a dozen of us traders there, and we were, for a wonder, all on friendly terms. Le-jennabon sat on a fine mat in the big room, and in a sweetly dignified manner received the wedding-gifts. One of our number, Charlie de Buis, though in a state of chronic poverty, induced by steadfast adherence to square gin at five dollars a case, made his offerings—a gold locket covering a woman's miniature, a heavy gold ring, and a pair of fat, cross-bred Muscovy ducks. The bride accepted them with a smile.