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The Adventures of Louis de Rougemont

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THE ADVENTURES OF LOUIS DE ROUGEMONT

CHAPTER I

Early life--Leaving home--I meet Jensen--I go pearling--Daily
routine--Submarine beauties--A fortune in pearls--Seized by an
octopus--Shark-killing extraordinary--Trading with the natives--
Impending trouble--Preparing for the attack--Baffling the savages.

I was born in or near Paris, in the year 1844. My father was a
fairly prosperous man of business--a general merchant, to be
precise, who dealt largely in shoes; but when I was about ten years
old, my mother, in consequence of certain domestic differences,
took me to live with her at Montreux, and other places in
Switzerland, where I was educated. I visited many of the towns
near Montreux, including Lausanne, Geneva, Neufchatel, &c. The
whole of the time I was at school I mixed extensively with English
boys on account of their language and sports, both of which
attracted me.

Boys soon begin to display their bent, and mine, curiously enough,
was in the direction of geology. I was constantly bringing home
pieces of stone and minerals picked up in the streets and on the
mountains, and asking questions about their origin and history. My
dear mother encouraged me in this, and later on I frequently went
to Freiburg, in the Black Forest, to get a practical insight into
smelting. When I was about nineteen, however, a message arrived
from my father, directing me to return to France and report myself
as a conscript; but against this my mother resolutely set her face.
I fancy my father wanted me to take up the army as a career, but in
deference to my mother's wishes I remained with her in Switzerland
for some time longer. She and I had many talks about my future,
and she at length advised me to take a trip to the East, and see
what the experience of travel would do for me. Neither of us had
any definite project in view, but at length my mother gave me about
7000 francs and I set out for Cairo, intending eventually to visit
and make myself acquainted with the French possessions in the Far
East. My idea was to visit such places as Tonkin, Cochin-China,
Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, &c. My mother was of the
opinion that if I saw a bit of the world in this way I would be
more inclined to settle down at home with her at the end of my
wanderings. The primary cause of my going away was a little love
episode. Whilst at Montreux I fell in love with a charming young
lady at a boarding-school near my home. She was the daughter of
some high personage in the court of Russia--but exactly what
position he held I cannot say. My mother was quite charmed with
the young lady and viewed our attachment with delight. But when my
father heard of the matter he raised a decided objection to it, and
ordered me to return to France and join the army. He had, as I
have previously intimated, made his own plans for my future, even
to the point of deciding upon a future wife for me, as is customary
in France; but I resolutely declined to conform to his wishes in
this respect, and my mother quite sided with me. I never quite
knew how he got to hear of my love affair, but I conclude that my
mother must have mentioned it to him. I only stayed a few days in
the wonderful metropolis of Egypt; its noises, its cosmopolitanism,
its crowds--these, and many other considerations, drove me from the
city, and I set out for Singapore.

I had not been many days in that place when, chancing to make
inquiries at a store kept by a Mr. Shakespeare, I was casually
introduced to a Dutch pearl-fisher named Peter Jensen. Although I
describe him as a Dutch pearler I am somewhat uncertain as to his
exact nationality. I am under the impression that he told me he
came from Copenhagen, but in those days the phrase "Dutchman" had a
very wide application. If a man hailed from Holland, Sweden,
Norway, or any neighbouring country, he was always referred to as a
Dutchman. This was in 1863. We grew quite friendly, Jensen and I,
and he told me he had a small forty-ton schooner at Batavia, in
which sturdy little craft he used to go on his pearling
expeditions.

"I am now," he said, "about to organise a trip to some untouched
pearling grounds off the south of New Guinea, but have not
sufficient capital to defray the preliminary expenses."

This hint I took, and I offered to join him. He once agreed, and
we commenced our preparations without delay--in Batavia. Now when
a pearler engaged a crew of native divers there in those days, he
had to deposit beforehand with the Dutch Government a certain sum
for each man entering his service, this money being a guarantee
that the man would get his wages. Well, I placed all the money
that I had with me at Captain Jensen's disposal, provided he gave
me a share in the venture we were about to undertake. "We will
not," he said to me in Singapore, "draw up an agreement here, but
will do so at Batavia," and forthwith we set sail for that place.
Before leaving Singapore, however, Jensen bought some nautical
instruments he could not get at Batavia--including compasses,
quadrant, chronometer, &c. Strange to say, he did not tell me that
his ship was named the Veielland until we had arrived at Batavia.
Here the contract was duly drawn up, and the vessel fitted out for
the voyage. I fancy this was the first time Jensen had embarked on
a pearling expedition on a craft of the size of the Veielland, his
previous trips having been undertaken on much smaller vessels, say
of about ten tons. Although the fitting out of the ship was left
entirely in his hands, I insisted upon having a supply of certain
stores for myself put aboard--things he would never have thought
about. These included such luxuries as tinned and compressed
vegetables, condensed milk, &c. Jensen did not even think of
ship's biscuits until I called his attention to the oversight. He
demurred at first about buying them, but I told him I would not go
until we had the biscuits aboard. Jensen was a very bluff,
enigmatic sort of fellow, as I afterwards found out. He was of a
sullen, morose nature, and I could never get much out of him about
his past. He would not speak about himself under any
circumstances, and at no time of our acquaintance was he any sort
of a sociable companion. He was very hard upon the sailors under
him, and was much addicted to the use of strong language. I admit
that I was an absolute "muff" in those days, and Jensen was quick
to grasp the fact. He was very fond of schnapps, whilst I hated
the smell of the stuff. Moreover, he was a great smoker, and here
again our tastes differed.

Our preparations in Batavia complete, we next went over to the
islands of the Dutch Archipelago, and engaged forty experienced
Malay divers to accompany us. Jensen was very particular in
selecting the men, each being required to demonstrate his
capabilities before us. The way he tested them prior to actually
engaging them was to make each dive after a bright tin object
thrown into so many fathoms of water. Altogether he spent several
weeks choosing his crew. He had engaged a couple of Malays at
Batavia to help in the work of navigating the ship, but besides
being sailors these men were also good divers. The majority of the
other Malays were only useful as divers, and took no part in the
working of the ship. A native SERANG, or "boss," was appointed as
chief, or foreman, over the Malays, and he was permitted to take
with him his wife and her maid. This "serang" had to be a first-
class diver himself, and had also to be acquainted with the
manoeuvring of a small boat. He was also required to have a
smattering of navigation generally. Above all, he had to be able
to assert authority over the other divers; and in all these
respects our serang was thoroughly proficient.

I may here explain that shortly after leaving Batavia the captain
had the ship repainted a greyish-white colour all over. I never
troubled to look for her name, but one day I saw Jensen painting
the word Veielland on her. There was a totally different name on
the lifeboat, but I cannot remember it. What Jensen's motive was
in sailing the ship under another name I never understood;
certainly it was a very suspicious circumstance. Perhaps the ship
as originally named had a bad name, and if such were the case--mind
you, I don't say that it had--the Malays could never have been
induced to go aboard. Once out at sea, however, they would be
absolutely at the mercy of the captain, and he could treat them
just as he pleased. The first thing they did before coming aboard
was to look at the name for themselves. No doubt they knew the
reputation of every pearler. Jensen did on one occasion exercise
his authority to the extent of transferring some of his own Malay
divers to another ship when we were out at sea.

At last everything was ready, and when we sailed for the pearling
grounds, our crew numbered forty-four all told, not including a
fine dog that belonged to the captain. This dog, which played so
important--nay, so vitally important--a part in my strange
afterlife, was given to Jensen at Batavia by a Captain Cadell, a
well-known Australian seaman, who had gained some notoriety by
navigating the Murray River for the first time. Cadell, who was a
great friend of Jensen, was himself a pearler. But he met with a
sad end. He was in a pearling expedition in the neighbourhood of
Thursday Island, and among his crew were some of the very
Australian Blacks who in after years proved so friendly to me.
Cadell treated these men very badly, keeping them at work long
after the time for their return home had expired, and one day they
mutinied and murdered him whilst he was asleep. The black fellow
who called himself "Captain Jack Davies," of whom I shall have more
to say hereafter, was amongst the crew at the time. I obtained
this information in Sydney from Captain Tucker, a well-known Torres
Straits pearler. Bruno, Jensen's dog, was something of a greyhound
in build, only that his hind-quarters were heavier.

As you may suppose, my knowledge of seamanship was very limited
indeed, but Jensen interested himself in me, so that I soon began
to pick up a good deal of useful knowledge. He taught me how to
take the sun, I using his old instruments; but I could never grasp
the taking of the lunars. On our voyage out I had no duties to
perform on board, but I found much to interest myself in the
beautiful tropical islands among which we threaded our way; and I
took quite a childish delight in everything I saw. It was really a
grand time for me. I constantly wrote home to my mother, the last
letter I forwarded to her being from Koopang. Occasionally we
landed on one of the islands to buy fresh provisions, in the shape
of fowls, pigs, fruit, &c. We then set sail for the coast of New
Guinea. The voyage thence was accomplished without the slightest
hitch, the divers spending most of their time in singing and
playing like little children,--all in the best of good spirits.
Their favourite form of amusement was to sit round a large fire,
either telling stories of the girls they had left behind, or
singing love melodies. When the weather was at all cold, they
would make a fire in a rather shallow tub, the sides of which were
lined with a layer of sand. They were a wonderfully light-hearted
lot of fellows, and I greatly enjoyed listening to their chants and
yarns. I was more often with them than in Jensen's company, and it
did not take me long to pick up bits of their language.

The Veielland only drew between seven feet and eight feet of water,
so that we were able to venture very close in-shore whenever it was
necessary. At length, about a month after starting, we reached a
likely spot where the captain thought that the precious shells
might be found; here we anchored, and the divers quickly got to
work. I ought to have mentioned that we carried a large whale-
boat, and about half-a-dozen frail little "shell" boats for the use
of the divers.

The comings and goings of the various pearling expeditions were of
course regulated by the weather and the state of the tide. The
captain himself went out first of all in the whale-boat, and from
it prospected for shells at the bottom of the crystal sea. The
water was marvellously transparent, and leaning over the side of
the boat, Jensen peered eagerly into his sea-telescope, which is
simply a metal cylinder with a lens of ordinary glass at the
bottom. Some of the sea-telescopes would even be without this
lens, being simply a metal cylinder open at both ends. Although
they did not bring the objects looked at nearer the vision, yet
they enabled the prospector to see below the ruffled surface of the
water.

The big whale-boat was followed at a respectful distance by the
flotilla of smaller boats, each containing from four to six Malays.
When Jensen discerned a likely spot through his peculiar telescope,
he gave the signal for a halt, and before you could realise what
was going to happen, the native divers had tumbled out of their
boats, and were SWIMMING in a weird way down to the bottom of the
translucent sea. As a rule, one man was left in each little boat
to follow the movements of the divers as they returned to the
surface. Not only did these divers wear no mechanical "dress," but
they used no stimulants or palliatives of any kind to aid them in
their work. All they carried was a small sheath-knife hung from
the waist by a piece of string. The water for the most part was
only two or three fathoms deep, but sometimes it would be as much
as eight fathoms,--which was the greatest depth to which the men
cared to go. When he reached the bottom, the diver would grope
about for shells, and generally return to the surface with a
couple, held in his left hand and hugged against his breast; the
right hand was kept free and directed his movements in swimming.
Each diver seldom remained under water more than one minute, and on
coming to the surface he would take a "spell" of perhaps a quarter
of an hour before going down again.

As fast as each man brought his shells into the boat, they were put
into a separate little pile, which was respected absolutely, and
always recognised as belonging to its owner. The bed of the sea at
these pearling grounds is usually coral, with innumerable holes of
different depths and sizes dotted all over it. It was in these
recesses that the best shells were mostly found.

The marine vegetation down in these seas was always of extreme
beauty; there were stately "trees" that waved backwards and
forwards, as though under the influence of a gentle breeze; there
were high, luxuriant grasses, and innumerable plants of endless
variety and colour. The coral rocks, too, were of gorgeous hues--
yellow, blue, red, and white; but a peculiar thing was that the
moment you brought a piece of this rock up to the surface, the
lovely colour it possessed whilst in the water gradually faded
away. Some of the coral I saw had curious little shoots hanging
from its numerous projections bearing a striking resemblance to
bluebells.

The illusion of a submarine forest was further heightened by the
droves of gaily-coloured fish that flitted in and out among the
branches. Perhaps the most beautiful of all were the little
dolphins. The diving expeditions went away from the ship with the
ebb tide, and returned with the flow. Sometimes their search would
take them long distances away, and on one occasion they were
working fully ten miles from the Veielland. When the water
suddenly became rough, rendering the divers unable to paddle their
own little skiffs back to the ship, they made their way to the
whale-boat, clambered aboard, and returned in her, trailing their
own craft at the stern. The boats, however, were not always
brought back to the ship at night; as a rule they were buoyed near
the pearling beds, whilst the divers returned to their quarters
aboard. I might here explain that the sleeping accommodation for
the Malays was both ample and comfortable. A large room in which
the casks of fresh water were stored was set apart for their use.
These casks were turned on end and a deck of planks placed over
them, on which the Malays laid their sleeping mats and little
wooden pillows. They ranged themselves twenty a side. But you may
be asking, what was I doing during these pearling expeditions?
Well, I was intrusted with the important duty of receiving the
shells from the men, and crediting each with the number he
delivered. Thus I was nearly always left alone on the ship--save
for the dog; because even the two Malay women frequently went out
diving, and they were credited for work done precisely as the men
were.

If I had no shells to open whilst the divers were absent, I filled
in my time by sewing sails, which Jensen himself would cut to the
required shape--and reading, &c. My library consisted of only five
books--a copy of the Bible, and a four-volume medical work in
English by Bell, which I had purchased at Singapore. I made quite
a study of the contents of this work, and acquired much valuable
information, which I was able to put to good use in after years,
more particularly during my sojourn amongst the Blacks. Bruno
generally sat by my side on deck when I was alone,--in fact he was
nearly always with me. He took to me more than to Jensen from the
first. Jensen rarely tried to bully me, though of course I was now
very much in his power, as he emphatically illustrated one day. A
Malay diver had very much annoyed him, and in his fury he picked up
a heavy broom with a stick fully four feet long, and felled the
poor fellow senseless to the deck with it. I was shocked at such
awful brutality, and ventured to protest against it. "Captain," I
said, "don't do anything like that again whilst I am aboard."
Turning round in a great passion he ordered me to keep my own
counsel, otherwise he would have me put in irons. But for all that
Jensen never again let his temper get the better of him to such an
extent in my presence. He was always very gruff in his manner, and
looked upon me as the "darndest fool he had ever met."

These divers, by the way, never seemed to trouble about the value
of the treasure they were constantly bringing to the surface. They
thought themselves well paid if they were given plenty of rice and
fish, turtles' eggs and fowls, in addition to such luxuries as
spices, coffee, and "Brummagem" jewellery, of a kind which is too
well known to need description. At the same time it must be
admitted that in addition to their wages, which were paid them when
they were discharged from the ship, the Malays had practically no
opportunity of being dishonest, even though they might have been
inclined that way. They never came into actual contact with the
pearls; they were rewarded according to the number of shells
brought to the surface, and not the value of the pearls they might
contain. All the shells were opened by me. A healthy spirit of
rivalry was maintained among the divers, and the man who had the
best record of shells each week was rewarded with an extra
allowance of rum or tobacco; a choice of some article of jewellery,
or anything else he fancied from among the stock we had on board.
A bottle of chutney or pickles was considered a specially valuable
delicacy. No money was ever given to the divers as wages whilst at
sea, remuneration in kind being always given instead. Each
expedition would be absent perhaps six hours, and on its return
each diver generally had between twenty and forty shells to hand
over to me. These I arranged in long rows on the deck, and allowed
them to remain there all night. Next day I cleaned them by
scraping off the coral from the shells, and then opened them with
an ordinary dinner-knife. Of course, every oyster did not produce
a pearl; in fact, I have opened as many as a hundred consecutive
shells without finding a single pearl. The gems are hidden away in
the fleshy part of the oyster, and have to be removed by pressure
of the thumb. The empty shells are then thrown in a heap on one
side, and afterwards carefully stowed away in the hold, as they
constitute a valuable cargo in themselves, being worth--at that
time, at any rate (1864)--from 200 pounds to 250 pounds, and even
350 pounds a ton. All the pearls I found I placed in a walnut
jewel-case, measuring about fourteen inches by eight inches by six
inches. The value of the treasure increased day by day, until it
amounted to many thousands of pounds; but of this more hereafter.
I did not know much of the value of pearls then--how could I,
having had no previous experience?

Captain Jensen, however, assured me at the end of the season that
we had something like 50,000 pounds worth of pearls aboard, to say
nothing about the value of the shells, of which we had about thirty
tons. It must be clearly understood that this is Captain Jensen's
estimate--I am utterly unable to give one. The oysters themselves
we found very poor eating, and no one on board cared about them.
Some of the shells contained one pearl, others two, three, and even
four. One magnificent specimen I came across produced no fewer
than a dozen fine pearls, but that of course was very exceptional.
The largest gem I ever found was shaped just like a big cube, more
than an inch square. It was, however, comparatively worthless.
Actually the finest specimen that passed through my hands was about
the size of a pigeon's egg, and of exquisite colour and shape.
Some of the pearls were of a beautiful rose colour, others yellow;
but most were pure white.

The greatest enemy the divers had to fear in those waters was the
dreaded octopus, whose presence occasioned far greater panic than
the appearance of a mere shark.

These loathsome monsters--call them squids, or devil-fish, or what
you will--would sometimes come and throw their horrible tentacles
over the side of the frail craft from which the divers were
working, and actually fasten on to the men themselves, dragging
them out into the water. At other times octopuses have been known
to attack the divers down below, and hold them relentlessly under
water until life was extinct. One of our own men had a terribly
narrow escape from one of these fearful creatures. I must explain,
however, that occasionally when the divers returned from pearl-
fishing, they used to rope all their little skiffs together and let
them lie astern of the schooner. Well, one night the wind rose and
rain fell heavily, with the result that next morning all the little
boats were found more or less water-logged. Some of the Malays
were told off to go and bale them out. Whilst they were at work
one of the men saw a mysterious-looking black object in the sea,
which so attracted his curiosity that he dived overboard to find
out what it was. He had barely reached the water, however, when an
immense octopus rose into view, and at once made for the terrified
man, who instantly saw his danger, and with great presence of mind
promptly turned and scrambled back into the boat.

The terrible creature was after him, however, and to the horror of
the onlookers it extended its great flexible tentacles, enveloped
the entire boat, man and all, and then dragged the whole down into
the clear depths. The diver's horrified comrades rushed to his
assistance, and an attempt was made to kill the octopus with a
harpoon, but without success. Several of his more resourceful
companions then dived into the water with a big net made of stout
twine, which they took right underneath the octopus, entangling the
creature and its still living prey. The next step was to drag up
both man and octopus into the whale-boat, and this done, the
unfortunate Malay was at length seized by his legs, and dragged by
sheer force out of the frightful embrace, more dead than alive, as
you may suppose. However, we soon revived him by putting him into
a very hot bath, the water being at such a temperature as actually
to blister his skin. It is most remarkable that the man was not
altogether drowned, as he had been held under water by the
tentacles of the octopus for rather more than two minutes. But,
like all the Malays of our party, this man carried a knife, which
he used to very good purpose on the monster's body when first it
dragged him under the water. These repeated stabs caused the
creature to keep rolling about on the surface, and the unhappy man
was in this way enabled to get an occasional breath of air;
otherwise he must infallibly have been drowned. It was a horrible-
looking creature, with a slimy body, and a hideous cavity of a
mouth. It is the tentacles of the creature that are so dreaded, on
account of the immense sucking power which they possess.

After this incident the divers always took a tomahawk with them on
their expeditions, in order to lop off the tentacles of any octopus
that might try to attack them in the boats. And, by the way, we
saw many extraordinary creatures during our cruise. I myself had a
serious fright one day whilst indulging in a swim.

We had anchored in about five fathoms, and as I was proceeding
leisurely away from the vessel at a slow breast stroke, a monstrous
fish, fully twenty feet long, with an enormous hairy head and
fierce, fantastic moustaches, suddenly reared up out of the water,
high into the air. I must say that the sight absolutely unmanned
me for the moment, and when this extraordinary creature opened his
enormous mouth in my direction, I gave myself up for lost. It did
not molest me, however, and I got back to the ship safely, but it
was some little time before I recovered from the terrible fright.

Occasionally too we were troubled with sharks, but the Malays did
not appear to be very much afraid of them. Their great dread was
the ground shark, which lay motionless at the bottom of the sea,
and gave no indication of his presence. The result was that
occasionally the divers would sink down to their work quite
unknowingly almost by the side of one of these fearful creatures,
and in such cases the diver rarely escaped without injury of some
kind. With regard to the ordinary shark, however, our divers
actually sought them. Their method of capturing them was almost
incredible in its simplicity and daring. Three or four of our
divers would go out in a boat and allow themselves to drift into a
big school of sharks. Then one man, possessed of more nerve than
the rest, would bend over the side and smartly prick the first one
he came across with a spear taken out for the purpose. The moment
he had succeeded in this the other occupants of the boat would
commence yelling and howling at the top of their voices, at the
same time beating the water with their paddles, in order to
frighten away the sharks. This invariably succeeded, but, amazing
to relate, the shark that had been pricked always came back alone a
few minutes later to see what it was that had pricked him. Care
has to be taken not to inflict a very severe wound, because the
moment the other sharks taste the blood of a wounded companion,
they will immediately turn upon him and eat him. When the
inquisitive shark is seen coming in the direction of the boat, the
Malay who has accosted him in this way quietly jumps overboard,
armed only with his small knife and a short stick of hard wood,
exactly like a butcher's skewer, about five inches in length, and
pointed at each end.

The man floats stationary on the surface of the sea, and,
naturally, the shark makes for him. As the creature rolls over to
bite, the wily Malay glides out of his way with a few deft strokes
of the left hand, whilst with the right he deliberately plants the
pointed skewer in an upright position between the open jaws of the
expectant monster. The result is simple, but surprising. The
shark is, of course, unable to close its mouth, and the water just
rushes down his throat and chokes him, in consequence of the gills
being forced back so tightly as to prevent the escape of water
through them in the natural way. Needless to remark, it requires
the greatest possible coolness and nerve to kill a shark in this
way, but the Malays look upon it as a favourite recreation and an
exciting sport. When the monster is dead its slayer dexterously
climbs on to its back, and then, digging his knife into the shark's
head to serve as a support and means of balance, the conqueror is
towed back to the ship astride his victim by means of a rope hauled
by his companions in their boats.

After many adventures and much luck in the way of getting pearls,
our food and water supply began to give out. This induced Captain
Jensen to make for the New Guinea main in order to replenish his
stores. We soon reached a likely spot on the coast, and obtained
all that we wanted from the natives by means of barter.

We gave them tomahawks, knives, hoop-iron, beads, turtles, and
bright-coloured cloth. Indeed, so friendly did our intercourse
become that parties of our divers often went ashore and joined the
Papuans in their sports and games. On one of these occasions I
came across a curious animal that bore a striking resemblance to a
kangaroo, and yet was not more than two feet high. It could climb
trees like an opossum and was of the marsupial family. The
pigeons, too, which were very plentiful in these parts, were as
large as a big fowl. The headman, or chief, took quite an interest
in me, and never seemed tired of conversing with me, and pointing
out the beauties of the country. He even showed me a certain
boundary which he advised us not to pass, as the natives beyond
were not under his control. One day, however, a party of our
Malays, accompanied by myself, imprudently ventured into the
forbidden country, and soon came to a native village, at which we
halted. The people here were suspicious of us from the first, and
when one of my men indiscreetly offended a native, half the village
rose against us, and we had to beat a retreat. We were making the
best of our way to the coast again, when the friendly chief came
and met us. He interceded with the indignant tribesmen on our
behalf, and succeeded in pacifying them. On reaching the ship,
which was anchored within a mile of the coast, Jensen complained to
me ominously that he was getting fairly swamped with natives, who
persisted in coming on board with fruit and vegetables for barter.
He said he was getting quite nervous about the crowds that swarmed
over the vessel, the natives going up and down as though they had a
perfect right to do so.

"I don't like it," said the captain, "and shall have to put my foot
down."

Next morning, when the usual batch of native canoes came alongside,
we declined to allow a single man on board. While we were
explaining this to them, our friend the chief himself arrived,
accompanied by half-a-dozen notables, most of whom I knew, together
with the now friendly dignitary whose wrath we had aroused the
previous day. They were all full of dignity and anticipation.
Captain Jensen, however, was obdurate, and refused permission to
any one to come aboard. That was enough for the chiefs. They went
away in high dudgeon, followed immediately by all the other canoes
and their occupants. When all had disappeared, a curious stillness
came over the ship, the sea, and the tropical coast, and a strange
sense of impending danger seemed to oppress all of us. We knew
that we had offended the natives, and as we could not see a single
one of them on the beach, it was pretty evident that they were
brooding over their grievance. We might have weighed anchor and
made for the open sea, only unfortunately there was a perfect calm,
and our sails, which were set in readiness for a hasty departure,
hung limp and motionless. Suddenly, as we stood looking out
anxiously over the side in the direction of the shore, we were
amazed to see at least twenty fully-equipped war-canoes, each
carrying from thirty to forty warriors, rounding the headland, some
little distance away, and making straight for our ship. Now my
shrewd Dutch partner had anticipated a possible attack, and had
accordingly armed all the Malays with tomahawks, in readiness for
any attempt that might be made to board the schooner. We had also
taken off the hatches, and made a sort of fortification with them
round the wheel.

Jensen and I armed ourselves with guns, loaded our little cannon,
and prepared to make a desperate fight for our lives against the
overwhelming odds. In spite of the danger of our position, I could
not help being struck with the magnificence of the spectacle
presented by the great fleet of boats now fast advancing towards
us. The warriors had all assumed their fighting decorations, with
white stripes painted round their dusky bodies to strike terror
into the beholder. Their head-dress consisted of many-coloured
feathers projecting from the hair, which they had matted and caused
to stand bolt upright from the head. Each boat had a prow about
three feet high, surmounted by a grotesquely carved figure-head.
The war-canoes were propelled by twelve men, paddling on either
side. When the first came within hailing distance I called out and
made signs that they were not to advance unless their intentions
were peaceful. By way of reply, they merely brandished their bows
and arrows at us. There was no mistaking their mission.

It was now quite evident that we should have to make a fight for
it, and the natives were coming to the attack in such numbers as
easily to overwhelm us if they once got on board. Our position was
rendered still more awkward by the fact that all round the ship
ropes were hanging down to the water, up which our divers used to
climb on their return from the day's pearling. These ropes were
attached to a sort of hawser running round the outside bulwarks of
the ship. We had not even time to haul these up, and the enemy
would certainly have found them very useful for boarding purposes
had they been allowed to get near enough. It was therefore very
necessary that some decisive step should be taken at once. While
we were debating what was best to be done, we were suddenly greeted
by a shower of arrows from the leading war-canoe. Without waiting
any longer I fired at the leader, who was standing in the prow, and
bowled him over. The bullet went right through his body, and then
bored a hole low down in the side of the canoe. The amazement of
the warriors on hearing the report and seeing the mysterious damage
done is quite beyond description; and before they could recover
from their astonishment, Jensen sent a charge of grape-shot right
into their midst, which shattered several of the canoes and caused
a general halt in the advance.

Again I made signs to them not to come nearer, and they seemed
undecided what to do. Jabbering consultations were held, but while
they were thus hesitating ten more canoes swung round the headland,
and their appearance seemed to give the advance-guard fresh
courage.

Once more they made for our ship, but I was ready for them with the
little cannon we had on board; it had been reloaded with grape
after the first discharge. With a roar the gun belched forth a
second deadly hail against the advancing savages, and the effect
was to demoralise them completely. One of the canoes was shattered
to pieces, and nearly all the men in it more or less seriously
wounded; whilst the occupants of several other canoes received
injuries.

Quite a panic now ensued, and the fleet of canoes got inextricably
mixed. Several showers of arrows, however, descended on our deck,
and some of them penetrated the sails, but no one was injured. The
natives were too much afraid to advance any farther, and as a wind
had now sprung up we deemed it time to make a dash for liberty. We
therefore quietly slipped our anchor and, heading the ship for the
open sea, glided swiftly past the enemy's fleet, whose gaily
decked, though sorely bewildered, warriors greeted us with a
Parthian flight of arrows as we raced by. In another half-hour we
were well out to sea, and able to breathe freely once more.

CHAPTER II

The three black pearls--The fatal morning--Jensen and his flotilla
drift away--Alone on the ship--"Oil on the troubled waters"--A
substitute for a rudder--Smoke signals--The whirlpool--The savages
attack--I escape from the blacks--A strange monster--The Veielland
strikes a reef--Stone deaf through the big wave--I leap into the
sea--How Bruno helped me ashore--The dreary island--My raft--A
horrible discovery.

This adventure made our Malay crew very anxious to leave these
regions. They had not forgotten the octopus incident either, and
they now appointed their serang to wait upon the captain--a kind of
"one-man" deputation--to persuade him, if possible, to sail for
fresh fishing-grounds. At first Jensen tried to persuade them to
remain in the same latitudes, which is not to be wondered at,
seeing the harvest he had secured; but they would not listen to
this, and at last he was compelled to direct his ship towards some
other quarter. Where he took us to I cannot say, but in the course
of another week we dropped anchor in some practically unexplored
pearling grounds, and got to work once more. Our luck was still
with us, and we continued increasing every day the value of our
already substantial treasure. In these new grounds we found a
particularly small shell very rich in pearls, which required no
diving for at all. They were secured by means of a trawl or scoop
dragged from the stern of the lifeboat; and when the tide was low
the men jumped into the shallow water and picked them up at their
ease.

One morning, as I was opening the shells as usual, out from one
dropped three magnificent black pearls. I gazed at them,
fascinated--why, I know not. Ah! those terrible three black
pearls; would to God they had never been found! When I showed them
to the captain he became very excited, and said that, as they were
worth nearly all the others put together, it would be well worth
our while trying to find more like them. Now, this meant stopping
at sea longer than was either customary or advisable. The pearling
season was practically at an end, and the yearly cyclonic changes
were actually due, but the captain had got the "pearl fever" very
badly and flatly refused to leave. Already we had made an enormous
haul, and in addition to the stock in my charge Jensen had rows of
pickle bottles full of pearls in his cabin, which he would sit and
gloat over for hours like a miser with his gold. He kept on saying
that there MUST be more of these black pearls to be obtained; the
three we had found could not possibly be isolated specimens and so
on. Accordingly, we kept our divers at work day after day as
usual. Of course, I did not know much about the awful dangers to
which we were exposing ourselves by remaining out in such uncertain
seas when the cyclones were due; and I did not, I confess, see any
great reason why we should NOT continue pearling. I was
inexperienced, you see.

The pearl-fishing season, as I afterwards learned, extends from
November to May. Well, May came and went, and we were still hard
at work, hoping that each day would bring another haul of black
pearls to our store of treasure; in this, however, we were
disappointed. And yet the captain became more determined than ever
to find some. He continued to take charge of the whale-boat
whenever the divers went out to work, and he personally
superintended their operations. He knew very well that he had
already kept them at work longer than he ought to have done, and it
was only by a judicious distribution of more jewellery, pieces of
cloth, &c., that he withheld them from openly rebelling against the
extended stay. The serang told him that if the men did once go on
strike, nothing would induce them to resume work, they would simply
sulk, he said; and die out of sheer disappointment and pettishness.
So the captain was compelled to treat them more amiably than usual.
At the very outside their contract would only be for nine months.
Sometimes when he showed signs of being in a cantankerous mood
because the haul of shells did not please him, the serang would say
to him defiantly, "Come on; take it out of me if you are not
satisfied." But Jensen never accepted the challenge. As the days
passed, I thought the weather showed indications of a change; for
one thing, the aneroid began jumping about in a very uneasy manner.
I called Jensen's attention to the matter, but he was too much
interested in his hunt for black pearls to listen to me.

And now I pass to the fatal day that made me an outcast from
civilisation for so many weary years. Early one morning in July
1864, Jensen went off as usual with the whole of his crew, leaving
me absolutely alone in charge of the ship. The women had often
accompanied the divers on their expeditions, and did so on this
occasion, being rather expert at the work, which they looked upon
as sport.

Whenever I look back upon the events of that dreadful day, I am
filled with astonishment that the captain should have been so mad
as to leave the ship at all. Only an hour before he left, a tidal
wave broke over the stern, and flooded the cabins with a perfect
deluge. Both Jensen and I were down below at the time, and came in
for an awful drenching. This in itself was a clear and ominous
indication of atmospheric disturbance; but all that poor Jensen did
was to have the pumps set to work, and after the cabins were
comparatively dry he proceeded once more to the pearl banks that
fascinated him so, and on which he probably sleeps to this day.
The tide was favourable when he left, and I watched the fleet of
little boats following in the wake of the whale-boat, until they
were some three miles distant from the ship, when they stopped for
preparations to be made for the work of diving. I had no
presentiment whatever of the catastrophe that awaited them and me.

A cool, refreshing breeze had been blowing up to his time, but the
wind now developed a sudden violence, and the sea was lashed into
huge waves that quickly swamped nearly every one of the little
cockle-shell boats. Fortunately, they could not sink, and as I
watched I saw that the Malays who were thus thrown into the water
clung to the sides of the little boats, and made the best of their
way to the big craft in charge of Captain Jensen. Every moment the
sea became more and more turbulent as the wind quickened to a
hurricane. When all the Malays had scrambled into the whale-boat,
they attempted to pull back to the ship, but I could see that they
were unable to make the slightest headway against the tremendous
sea that was running, although they worked frantically at the oars.

On the contrary, I was horrified to see that they were gradually
drifting AWAY FROM ME, and being carried farther and farther out
across the illimitable sea. I was nearly distracted at the sight,
and I racked my brains to devise some means of helping them, but
could think of nothing feasible. I thought first of all of trying
to slip the anchor and let the ship drift in their direction, but I
was by no means sure that she would actually do this. Besides, I
reflected, she might strike on some of the insidious coral reefs
that abound in those fair but terribly dangerous seas. So I came
to the conclusion that it would be better to let her remain where
she was--at least, for the time being. Moreover, I felt sure that
the captain, with his knowledge of those regions, would know of
some island or convenient sandbank, perhaps not very far distant,
on which he might run his boat for safety until the storm had
passed.

The boats receded farther and farther from view, until, about nine
in the morning, I lost sight of them altogether. They had started
out soon after sunrise. It then occurred to me that I ought to put
the ship into some sort of condition to enable her to weather the
storm, which was increasing instead of abating. This was not the
first storm I had experienced on board the Veielland, so I knew
pretty well what to do. First of all, then, I battened down the
hatches; this done, I made every movable thing on deck as secure as
I possibly could. Fortunately all the sails were furled at the
time, so I had no trouble with them. By mid-day it was blowing so
hard that I positively could not stand upright, but had to crawl
about on my hands and knees, otherwise I should have been hurled
overboard. I also attached myself to a long rope, and fastened the
other end to one of the masts, so that in the event of my being
washed into the raging sea, I could pull myself on board again.

Blinding rain had been falling most of the time, and the waves came
dashing over the deck as though longing to engulf the little ship;
but she rode them all in splendid style. The climax was reached
about two o'clock, when a perfect cyclone was raging, and the end
seemed very near for me. It made me shudder to listen to the wind
screaming and moaning round the bare poles of the sturdy little
vessel, which rose on veritable mountains of water and crashed as
suddenly into seething abysses that made my heart stand still.
Then the weather suddenly became calm once more--a change that was
as unexpected as the advent of the storm itself. The sky, however,
continued very black and threatening, and the sea was still
somewhat boisterous; but both wind and rain had practically
subsided, and I could now look around me without feeling that if I
stirred I was a doomed man. I clambered up the lower portion of
the main rigging, but only saw black, turbulent waters, hissing and
heaving, and raging on every side, and seemingly stretching away
into infinity. With terrible force the utter awfulness and
hopelessness of my position dawned upon me, yet I did not despair.
I next thought it advisable to try and slip my anchor, and let the
ship drift, for I still half-fancied that perhaps I might come
across my companions somewhere. Before I could free the vessel,
however, the wind veered completely round, and, to my horror and
despair, sent a veritable mountain of water on board, that carried
away nearly all the bulwarks, the galley, the top of the companion-
way, and, worst of all, completely wrenched off the wheel.
Compasses and charts were all stored in the companion-way, and were
therefore lost for ever. Then, indeed, I felt the end was near.
Fortunately, I was for'ard at the time, or I must inevitably have
been swept into the appalling waste of whirling, mountainous
waters. This lashing of myself to the mast, by the way, was the
means of saving my life time after time. Soon after the big sea--
which I had hoped was a final effort of the terrible storm--the
gale returned and blew in the opposite direction with even greater
fury than before. I spent an awful time of it the whole night
long, without a soul to speak to or help me, and every moment I
thought the ship must go down, in that fearful sea. The only
living thing on board beside myself was the captain's dog, which I
could occasionally hear howling dismally in the cabin below, where
I had shut him in when the cyclone first burst upon me.

Among the articles carried overboard by the big sea that smashed
the wheel was a large cask full of oil, made from turtle fat, in
which we always kept a supply of fresh meats, consisting mainly of
pork and fowls. This cask contained perhaps twenty gallons, and
when it overturned, the oil flowed all over the decks and trickled
into the sea. The effect was simply magical. Almost immediately
the storm-tossed waves in the vicinity of the ship, which hitherto
had been raging mountains high, quieted down in a way that filled
me with astonishment. This tranquillity prevailed as long as the
oil lasted; but as soon as the supply was exhausted the giant waves
became as turbulent and mountainous as ever.

All night long the gale blew the ship blindly hither and thither,
and it was not until just before daybreak that the storm showed any
signs of abating. By six o'clock, however, only a slight wind was
blowing, and the sea no longer threatened to engulf me and my
little vessel. I was now able to look about me, and see what
damage had been done; and you may imagine my relief when I found
that the ship was still sound and water-tight, although the
bulwarks were all gone, and she had all the appearance of a
derelict. One of the first things I did was to go down and unloose
the dog--poor Bruno. The delight of the poor creature knew no
bounds, and he rushed madly up on deck, barking frantically for his
absent master. He seemed very much surprised to find no one aboard
besides myself.

Alas! I never saw Peter Jensen again, nor the forty Malays and the
two women. Jensen MAY have escaped; he may even have lived to read
these lines; God only knows what was the fate of the unfortunate
fleet of pearl-fishers. Priggish and uncharitable people may
ejaculate: "The reward of cupidity!" But I say, "judge not, lest
ye also be judged."

As the morning had now become beautifully fine, I thought I might
attempt to get out some spare sails. I obtained what I wanted from
the fo'c'sle, and after a good deal of work managed to "bend" a
mainsail and staysail. Being without compass or chart, however, I
knew not where I was, nor could I decide what course to take in
order to reach land. I had a vague idea that the seas in those
regions were studded with innumerable little islands and sandbanks
known only to the pearl-fishers, and it seemed inevitable that I
must run aground somewhere or get stranded upon a coral reef after
I had slipped the cable.

However, I did not see what advantage was to be gained by remaining
where I was, so I fixed from the stern a couple of long sweeps, or
steering oars, twenty-six feet long, and made them answer the
purpose of a rudder. These arrangements occupied me two or three
days, and then, when everything was completed to my satisfaction,
and the ship was in sailing trim, I gave the Veielland her freedom.
This I managed as follows: The moment the chain was at its
tautest--at its greatest tension--I gave it a violent blow with a
big axe, and it parted. I steered due west, taking my observations
by the sun and my own shadow at morning, noon, and evening. For I
had been taught to reckon the degree of latitude from the number of
inches of my shadow. After a time I altered my course to west by
south, hoping that I might come upon one of the islands of the
Dutch Indies,--Timorland, for instance, but day after day passed
without land coming in sight.

Imagine the situation, if you can: alone on a disabled ship in the
limitless ocean,--tortured with doubts and fears about the fate of
my comrades, and filled with horror and despair at my own miserable
prospects for the future.

I did not sail the ship at night, but got out a sea-anchor (using a
float and a long coir rope), and lay-to while I turned in for a
sleep. I would be up at day-break next morning, and as the weather
continued beautifully fine, I had no difficulty in getting under
way again. At last the expected happened. One afternoon, without
any warning whatsoever, the vessel struck heavily on a reef. I
hurriedly constructed a raft out of the hatches and spare spars,
and put biscuits and water aboard, after which I landed on the
rocks. When the tide reached its lowest point the stern of the
Veielland was left fully TWENTY FEET OUT OF WATER, securely jammed
between two high pinnacles of coral rock. The sight was remarkable
in the extreme. The sails were still set, and the stiff breeze
that was blowing dead against them caused them to belly out just as
though the craft were afloat, and practically helped to keep the
vessel in position. The bows were much higher than the stern, the
line of the decks being at an angle of about forty-five degrees.
In this remarkable situation she remained secure until the turning
of the tide. My only hope was that she would not suffer from the
tremendous strain to which she was necessarily being subjected. It
seemed to me every minute that she would free herself from her
singular position between the rocks, and glide down bows foremost
into the sea to disappear for ever. But the sails kept her back.
How earnestly I watched the rising of the waters; and night came on
as I waited. Slowly and surely they crept up the bows, and the
ship gradually assumed her natural level until at length the stanch
little craft floated safe and sound once more, apparently very
little the worse for her strange experience. And then away I went
on my way--by this time almost schooled to indifference. Had she
gone down I must inevitably have succumbed on those coral reefs,
for the stock of biscuits and water I had been able to put aboard
the raft would only have lasted a very few days.

For nearly a fortnight after the day of the great storm I kept on
the same course without experiencing any unpleasant incident or
check, always excepting the curious threatened wreck which I have
just mentioned.

Just before dusk on the evening of the thirteenth day, I caught
sight of an island in the distance--Melville Island I now know it
to be; and I was greatly puzzled to see smoke floating upwards
apparently from many fires kindled on the beach. I knew that they
were signals of some kind, and at first I fancied that it must be
one of the friendly Malay islands that I was approaching. A closer
scrutiny of the smoke signals, however, soon convinced me that I
was mistaken. As I drew nearer, I saw a number of natives,
perfectly nude, running wildly about on the beach and brandishing
their spears in my direction.

I did not like the look of things at all, but when I tried to turn
the head of the ship to skirt the island instead of heading
straight on, I found to my vexation that I was being carried
forward by a strong tide or current straight into what appeared to
be a large bay or inlet. I had no alternative but to let myself
drift, and soon afterwards found myself in a sort of natural
harbour three or four miles wide, with very threatening coral reefs
showing above the surface. Still the current drew me helplessly
onward, and in a few minutes the ship was caught in a dangerous
whirlpool, round which she was carried several times before I
managed to extricate her. Next we were drawn close in to some
rocks, and I had to stand resolutely by with an oar in order to
keep the vessel's head from striking. It was a time of most trying
excitement for me, and I wonder to this day how it was that the
Veielland did not strike and founder then and there, considering,
firstly, that she was virtually a derelict, and secondly, that
there was no living creature on board to navigate her save myself.

I was beginning to despair of ever pulling the vessel through, when
we suddenly entered a narrow strait. I knew that I was in a
waterway between two islands--Apsley Strait, dividing Melville and
Bathurst Islands, as I have since learned.

The warlike and threatening natives had now been left behind long
ago, and I never thought of meeting any other hostile people, when
just as I had reached the narrowest part of the waterway, I was
startled by the appearance of a great horde of naked blacks--
giants, every one of them--on the rocks above me.

They were tremendously excited, and greeted me first of all with a
shower of spears. Fortunately, on encountering the first lot of
threatening blacks, I had prepared a shelter for myself on deck by
means of the hatches reared up endwise against the stanchions, and
so the spears fell harmlessly around me. Next, the natives sent a
volley of boomerangs on board, but without any result. Some of
these curious weapons hit the sails and fell impotently on the
deck, whilst some returned to their throwers, who were standing on
the rocks about fifty yards away, near the edge of the water. I
afterwards secured the boomerangs that came on board, and found
that they were about twenty-four inches in length, shaped like the
blade of a sickle, and measured three or four inches across at the
widest part.

They were made of extremely hard wood, and were undoubtedly capable
of doing considerable injury when dexterously and accurately
thrown. The blacks kept up a terrific hubbub on shore, yelling
like madmen, and hurling at me showers of barbed spears. The fact
that they had boomerangs convinced me that I must be nearing the
Australian mainland. All this time the current was carrying the
Veielland rapidly along, and I had soon left the natives jabbering
furiously far behind me.

At last I could see the open sea once more, and at the mouth of the
strait was a little low, wooded island, where I thought I might
venture to land. As I was approaching it, however, yet another
crowd of blacks, all armed, came rushing down to the beach; they
jumped into their catamarans, or "floats," and paddled out towards
me.

After my previous experience I deemed it advisable not to let them
get too near, so I hoisted the mainsail again and stood for the
open sea. There was a good supply of guns and ammunition on board,
and it would have been an easy matter for me to have sunk one or
two of the native catamarans, which are mere primitive rafts or
floats, and so cooled their enthusiasm a bit; but I refrained, on
reflecting that I should not gain anything by this action.

By this time I had abandoned all hope of ever coming up with my
friends, but, of course, I did not despair of reaching land--
although I hardly knew in what direction I ought to shape my
course. Still, I thought that if I kept due west, I should
eventually sight Timor or some other island of the Dutch Indies,
and so, for the next three or four days, I sailed steadily on
without further incident.

About a week after meeting with the hostile blacks, half a gale
sprang up, and I busied myself in putting the ship into trim to
weather the storm, which I knew was inevitable. I happened to be
looking over the stern watching the clouds gathering in dark, black
masses, when a strange upheaval of the waters took place almost at
my feet, and a huge black fish, like an exaggerated porpoise,
leaped into the air close to the stern of my little vessel.

It was a monstrous, ungainly looking creature, nearly the size of a
small whale. The strange way it disported itself alongside the
ship filled me with all manner of doubtings, and I was heartily
thankful when it suddenly disappeared from sight. The weather then
became more boisterous, and as the day advanced I strove my utmost
to keep the ship's head well before the wind; it was very
exhausting work. I was unable to keep anything like an adequate
look-out ahead, and had to trust to Providence to pull me through
safely.

All this time I did not want for food. Certainly I could not cook
anything, but there was any quantity of tinned provisions. And I
fed Bruno, too. I conversed with him almost hourly, and derived
much encouragement and sympathy therefrom. One morning sometime
between the fifteenth and twentieth day, I was scanning the horizon
with my customary eagerness, when suddenly, on looking ahead, I
found the sea white with the foam of crashing breakers; I knew I
must be in the vicinity of a sunken reef. I tried to get the ship
round, but it was too late. I couldn't make the slightest
impression upon her, and she forged stolidly forward to her doom.

A few minutes later her keel came into violent contact with a coral
reef, and as she grated slowly over it, the poor thing seemed to
shiver from stem to stern. The shock was so severe that I was
thrown heavily to the deck. Bruno could make nothing whatever of
it, so he found relief in doleful howls. While the vessel remained
stuck on the rocks, I was looking out anxiously from the rigging,
when, without a moment's warning, a gigantic wave came toppling and
crashing overboard from the stern, overwhelming me in the general
destruction that followed. I was dashed with tremendous force on
to the deck, and when I picked myself up, bruised and bleeding, the
first thing I was conscious of was a deathly stillness, which
filled me with vague amazement, considering that but a few moments
before my ears had been filled with the roar and crash of the
breakers. And I could see that the storm was still raging with
great fury, although not a sound reached my ears.

Gradually the horrible truth dawned upon me--I WAS STONE DEAF! The
blow on the head from the great wave had completely deprived me of
all sense of hearing. How depressed I felt when I realised this
awful fact no one can imagine. Nevertheless, things were not
altogether hopeless, for next morning I felt a sudden crack in my
left ear, and immediately afterwards I heard once more the dull
roar of the surf, the whistling of the wind, and the barking of my
affectionate dog. My right ear, however, was permanently injured,
and to this day I am decidedly deaf in that organ. I was just
beginning to think that we had passed over the most serious part of
the danger, when to my utter despair I again heard that hideous
grating sound, and knew she had struck upon another reef. She
stuck there for a time, but was again forced on, and presently
floated in deep water. The pitiless reefs were now plainly visible
on all sides, and some distance away I could see what appeared to
be nothing more than a little sandbank rising a few feet above the
waters of the lagoon.

While I was watching and waiting for developments the deck of the
vessel suddenly started, and she began rapidly to settle down by
the stern. Fortunately, however, at that point the water was not
excessively deep. When I saw that nothing could save the ship, and
that her deck was all but flush with the water, I loosened several
of the fittings, as well as some spars, casks, and chests, in the
hope that they might drift to land and perhaps be of service to me
afterwards. I remained on board as long as I possibly could,
trying to build a raft with which to get some things ashore, but I
hadn't time to finish it.

Up and up came the inexorable water, and at last, signalling to
Bruno to follow me, I leaped into the sea and commenced to swim
towards the sandbank. Of course, all the boats had been lost when
the pearling fleet disappeared. The sea was still very rough, and
as the tide was against us, I found it extremely exhausting work.
The dog seemed to understand that I was finding it a dreadful
strain, for he swam immediately in front of me, and kept turning
round again and again as though to see if I were following safely.

By dint of tremendous struggling I managed to get close up to the
shore, but found it utterly impossible to climb up and land. Every
time I essayed to plant my legs on the beach, the irresistible
backwash swept me down, rolling me head over heels, and in my
exhausted condition this filled me with despair. On one occasion
this backwash sent me spinning into deep water again, and I am sure
I should have been drowned had not my brave dog come to my rescue
and seized me by my hair--which, I should have explained, I had
always worn long from the days of my childhood. Well, my dog
tugged and tugged at me until he had got me half-way through the
breakers, nor did this exertion seem to cause him much trouble in
swimming.

I then exerted myself sufficiently to allow of his letting go my
hair, whilst I took the end of his tail between my teeth, and let
him help me ashore in this peculiar way. He was a remarkably
strong and sagacious brute--an Australian dog--and he seemed to
enjoy the task. At length I found myself on my legs upon the
beach, though hardly able to move from exhaustion of mind and body.
When at length I had recovered sufficiently to walk about, I made a
hasty survey of the little island or sandbank upon which I found
myself. Thank God, I did not realise at that moment that I was
doomed to spend a soul-killing TWO AND A HALF YEARS on that
desolate, microscopical strip of sand! Had I done so I must have
gone raving mad. It was an appalling, dreary-looking spot, without
one single tree or bush growing upon it to relieve the terrible
monotony. I tell you, words can never describe the horror of the
agonising months as they crawled by. "My island" was nothing but a
little sand-spit, with here and there a few tufts of grass
struggling through its parched surface. As a matter of fact the
sand was only four or five inches deep in most places, and
underneath was solid coral rock.

Think of it, ye who have envied the fate of the castaway on a
gorgeous and fertile tropical island perhaps miles in extent! It
was BARELY A HUNDRED YARDS IN LENGTH, TEN YARDS WIDE, AND ONLY
EIGHT FEET ABOVE SEA-LEVEL AT HIGH WATER! There was no sign of
animal life upon it, but birds were plentiful enough--particularly
pelicans. My tour of the island occupied perhaps ten minutes; and
you may perhaps form some conception of my utter dismay on failing
to come across any trace of fresh water.

With what eager eyes did I look towards the ship then! So long as
she did not break up I was safe because there were water and
provisions in plenty on board. And how I thanked my God for the
adamant bulwarks of coral that protected my ark from the fury of
the treacherous seas! As the weather became calmer, and a
brilliant moon had risen, I decided to swim back to the ship, and
bring some food and clothing ashore from her.

I reached the wreck without much trouble, and clambered on board,
but could do very little in the way of saving goods, as the decks
were still below water. However, I dived, or rather ducked, for
the depth of water was only four or five feet, into the cabin and
secured some blankets, but I could not lay my hands on any food.

After infinite trouble I managed to make some sort of a raft out of
pieces of wood I found lying loose and floating about, and upon
this platform I placed the blankets, an oak chest, and one or two
other articles I proposed taking ashore. In the oak chest were a
number of flags, some clothing and medicine together with my case
of pearls and the four medical books. But after I had launched it,
I found that the tide was still running out, and it was impossible
for me to get anything ashore that night. The weather was
beautifully fine, however, and as the forepart of the ship was well
out of water, I decided to remain on board and get an hour or two's
sleep, which I needed badly. The night passed without incident,
and I was astir a little before dawn.

As the tide was now favourable, I loosed my raft and swam it
ashore. When I gained the island, I made another survey of it, to
find the most suitable spot for pitching my camp, and in the course
of my wanderings I made a discovery that filled me with horror and
the anguish of blackest despair. My curiosity was first attracted
by a human skull that lay near a large circular depression in the
sand about two feet deep. I commenced scratching with my fingers
at one side, and had only gone a few inches down, when I came upon
a quantity of human remains.

The sight struck terror to my heart, and filled me with the most
dismal forebodings. "My own bones," I thought, "will soon be added
to the pile." So great was my agony of mind that I had to leave
the spot, and interest myself in other things; but some time
afterwards, when I had got over my nervousness, I renewed my
digging operations, and in an hour or so had unearthed no fewer
than sixteen complete skeletons--fourteen adults, and two younger
people, possibly women! They lay alongside one another, covered by
sand that had been blown over them by the wind.

CHAPTER III

On the wreck--Efforts to kindle a fire--My flagstaff--Clothing
impossible--Growing corn in turtles' blood--My house of pearl
shells--How the pelicans fished for me--Stung by a "sting-rae"--My
amusements--A peculiar clock--Threatened madness--I begin to build
a boat--An appalling blunder--Riding on turtles--Preaching to
Bruno--Canine sympathy--A sail--How I got fresh water--Sending
messages by the pelicans--A wonderful almanac--A mysterious voice
of hope--Human beings at last.

That morning I made my breakfast off raw sea-gulls' eggs, but was
unable to get anything to drink. Between nine and ten o'clock, as
the tide was then very low, I was delighted to find that it was
possible to reach the wreck by walking along the rocks. So,
scrambling aboard, I collected as many things as I could possibly
transfer ashore. I had to take dangerous headers into the cabin,
as the whole ship's interior was now full of water, but all I could
manage to secure were a tomahawk and my bow and arrows, which had
been given me by the Papuans. I had always taken a keen interest
in archery, by the way, and had made quite a name for myself in
this direction long before I left Switzerland. I also took out a
cooking-kettle. All these seemingly unimportant finds were of
vital importance in the most literal sense of the phrase,
particularly the tomahawk and the bow, which were in after years my
very salvation time after time.

I was very delighted when I secured my bow and arrows, for I knew
that with them I could always be certain of killing sea-fowl for
food. There was a stock of gunpowder on board and a number of
rifles and shot-guns, but as the former was hopelessly spoiled, I
did not trouble about either. With my tomahawk I cut away some of
the ship's woodwork, which I threw overboard and let drift to land
to serve as fuel. When I did eventually return to my little
island, I unravelled a piece of rope, and then tried to produce
fire by rubbing two pieces of wood smartly together amidst the
inflammable material. It was a hopeless business, however; a full
half-hour's friction only made the sticks hot, and rub as hard as I
would I could not produce the faintest suspicion of a spark. I sat
down helplessly, and wondered how the savages I had read of ever
got fire in this way.

Up to this time I had not built myself a shelter of any kind. At
night I simply slept in the open air on the sand, with only my
blankets round me. One morning I was able to get out of the vessel
some kegs of precious water, a small barrel of flour, and a
quantity of tinned foods. All these, together with some sails,
spars, and ropes, I got safely ashore, and in the afternoon I
rigged myself up a sort of canvas awning as a sleeping-place, using
only some sails and spars.

Among the things I brought from the ship on a subsequent visit were
a stiletto that had originally been given to me by my mother. It
was an old family relic with a black ebony handle and a finely
tempered steel blade four or five inches in length. I also got a
stone tomahawk--a mere curio, obtained from the Papuans; and a
quantity of a special kind of wood, also taken on board at New
Guinea. This wood possessed the peculiar property of smouldering
for hours when once ignited, without actually bursting into flame.
We took it on board because it made such good fuel.

As the most urgent matter was to kindle a fire, I began experiments
with my two weapons, striking the steel tomahawk against the stone
one over a heap of fluffy material made by unravelling and teasing
out a piece of blanket. Success attended my patient efforts this
time, and to my inexpressible relief and joy I soon had a cheerful
fire blazing alongside my improvised shelter--and, what is more, I
took good care NEVER TO LET IT GO OUT DURING THE WHOLE LIME I
REMAINED A PRISONER ON THE ISLAND. The fire was always my first
thought, and night and day it was kept at least smouldering by
means of the New Guinea wood I have already mentioned, and of which
I found a large stock on board. The ship itself, I should mention,
provided me with all the fuel that was required in the ordinary
way, and, moreover, I was constantly finding pieces of wreckage
along the shore that had been gathered in by the restless waves.
Often--oh! often--I reflected with a shudder what my fate would
have been had the ship gone down in deep water, leaving me safe,
but deprived of all the stores she contained. The long, lingering
agony, the starvation, the madness of thirst, and finally a
horrible death on that far-away strip of sand, and another skeleton
added to that grisly pile!

The days passed slowly by. In what part of the world I was located
I had not the remotest idea. I felt that I was altogether out of
the beaten track of ships because of the reefs that studded these
seas, and therefore the prospect of my being rescued was very
remote indeed--a thought that often caused me a kind of dull agony,
more terrible than any mere physical pain.

However, I fixed up a flagstaff on the highest point of the island-
-(poor "island,"--THAT was not many inches)--and floated an ensign
UPSIDE DOWN from it, in the hope that this signal of distress might
be sighted by some stray vessel, and indicate the presence of a
castaway to those on board. Every morning I made my way to the
flagstaff, and scanned the horizon for a possible sail, but I
always had to come away disappointed. This became a habit; yet, so
eternal is hope, that day by day, week by week, and month by month
the bitter disappointment was always a keen torture. By the way,
the very reefs that made those seas so dangerous served completely
to protect my little island in stormy weather. The fury of the
billows lost itself upon them, so that even the surf very rarely
reached me. I was usually astir about sunrise. I knew that the
sun rose about 6 A.M. in those tropical seas and set at 6 P.M.;
there was very little variation all the year round. A heavy dew
descended at night, which made the air delightfully cool; but in
the day it was so frightfully hot that I could not bear the weight
of ordinary clothes upon my person, so I took to wearing a silk
shawl instead, hung loosely round my waist.

Another reason why I abandoned clothes was because I found that
when a rent appeared the sun blazed down through it and raised a
painful blister. On the other hand, by merely wearing a waist-
cloth, and taking constant sea baths, I suffered scarcely at all
from the scorching tropical sun. I now devoted all my energies to
the wreck of the Veielland, lest anything should happen to it, and
worked with feverish energy to get everything I possibly could out
of the ship. It took me some months to accomplish this, but
eventually I had removed everything--even the greater part of the
cargo of pearl shells. The work was rendered particularly arduous
in consequence of the decks being so frequently under water; and I
found it was only at the full and new moons that I could actually
WALK round on the rocks to the wreck. In course of time the ship
began to break up, and I materially assisted the operation with an
axe. I wanted her timbers to build a boat in which to escape.

The casks of flour I floated ashore were very little the worse for
their immersion; in fact, the water had only soaked through to the
depth of a couple of inches, forming a kind of protecting wet
crust, and leaving the inner part perfectly dry and good. Much of
this flour, however, was afterwards spoiled by weevils; nor did my
spreading out the precious grain in the sunlight on tarpaulins and
sails save it from at least partial destruction. I also brought
ashore bags of beans, rice, and maize; cases of preserved milk and
vegetables, and innumerable other articles of food, besides some
small casks of oil and rum. In fact, I stripped the ship's
interior of everything, and at the end of nine months very little
remained of her on the rocks but the bare skeleton of the hull. I
moved all the things out day by day according to the tides.

In a large chest that came ashore from the captain's cabin I found
a stock of all kinds of seeds, and I resolved to see whether I
could grow a little corn. Jensen himself had put the seeds aboard
in order to plant them on some of the islands near which we might
be compelled to anchor for some length of time. Another object was
to grow plants on board for the amusement of the Malays. The seeds
included vegetables, flowers, and Indian corn, the last named being
in the cob. The Malays are very fond of flowers, and the captain
told them that they might try and cultivate some in boxes on board;
but when he saw that this would mean an additional drain upon his
supply of fresh water he withdrew the permission. I knew that salt
water would not nourish plants, and I was equally certain I could
not spare fresh water from my own stock for this purpose.

Nevertheless, I set my wits to work, and at length decided upon an
interesting experiment. I filled a large turtle shell with sand
and a little clay, and thoroughly wetted the mixture with turtle's
blood, then stirring the mass into a puddle and planting corn in
it.

The grain quickly sprouted, and flourished so rapidly, that within
a very short time I was able to transplant it--always, however,
nourishing it with the blood of turtles. This most satisfactory
result induced me to extend my operation, and I soon had quaint
little crops of maize and wheat growing in huge turtle shells; the
wheat-plants, however, did not reach maturity.

For a long time I was content with the simple awning I have
described as a place of shelter, but when I began to recover the
pearl shells from the ship, it occurred to me that I might use them
as material with which to build some kind of a hut. Altogether
there were about thirty tons of pearl shells on board, and at first
I took to diving for them merely as a sort of pastime.

I spent many weeks getting enough shells ashore to build a couple
of parallel walls, each about seven feet high, three feet thick,
and ten feet in length. The breeze blew gratefully through them.
I filled the interstices of these walls with a puddle of clayey
sand and water, covered in the top with canvas, and made quite a
comfortable living-place out of it. The walls at any rate had a
high commercial value! When the wet season set in I built a third
wall at one end, and erected a sort of double awning in front,
under which I always kept my fire burning. I also put a straw
thatch over the hut, proudly using my own straw which I had grown
with blood.

In course of time I made myself crude articles of furniture,
including a table, some chairs, a bed, &c. My bedding at first
consisted of sails, but afterwards I was able to have a mattress
filled with straw from my corn patch. The kettle I had saved from
the wreck was for a long time my only cooking utensil, so when I
had anything to prepare I generally made an oven in the sand, after
the manner of the natives I had met on the New Guinea main. I
could always catch plenty of fish--principally mullet; and as for
sea-fowls, all that I had to do was walk over to that part of the
island where they were feeding and breeding, and knock them over
with a stick. I made dough-cakes from the flour whilst it lasted;
and I had deputies to fish for me--I mean the hundreds of pelicans.
The birds who had little ones to feed went out in the morning, and
returned in the afternoon, with from three to ten pounds of
delicious fresh fish in their curious pouches.

On alighting on the island they emptied their pouches on the sand--
too often, I must confess, solely for my benefit. Selfish bachelor
birds on returning with full pouches jerked their catch into the
air, and so swallowed it. It used to amuse me, however, to watch a
robber gull, perched on their back, cleverly and neatly
intercepting the fish as it ascended. These fish, with broiled
turtle meat and tinned fruits, made quite a sumptuous repast.

After breakfast I would have a swim when the tide was low and there
was no likelihood of sharks being about. A run along the beach in
the sun until I was dry followed, and then I returned to my awning
and read aloud to myself in English, from my medical books and my
English-French Testament, simply for the pleasure of hearing my own
voice. I was a very good linguist in those days, and spoke English
particularly well long before I left Switzerland. After breakfast,
my dog and I would go out to catch a peculiar sort of fish called
the "sting-rae." These curious creatures have a sharp bony spike
about two inches in length near the tail and this I found admirably
adapted for arrow-heads. The body of the fish resembled a huge
flounder, but the tail was long and tapering. They would come
close in-shore, and I would spear them from the rocks with a Papuan
fishing-spear. The smallest I ever caught weighed fifteen pounds,
and I could never carry home more than a couple of average weight.
They have the power of stinging, I believe, electrically, hence
their name. At all events, I was once stung by one of these fish,
and it was an experience I shall never forget. It fortunately
happened at a time when some friendly blacks were at hand,
otherwise I question very much whether I should be alive to-day.

I was wading slowly along the beach in rather deep water, when I
suddenly felt a most excruciating pain in my left ankle. It seemed
as though I had just received a paralysing shock from a powerful
battery, and down I fell in a state of absolute collapse, unable to
stir a finger to save myself, although I knew I was rapidly
drowning. Fortunately the blacks who were with me came and pulled
me ashore, where I slowly recovered. There was only a slight
scratch on my ankle, but for a long time my whole body was racked
with pain, and when the natives got to know of the symptoms they
told me that I had been attacked by a "sting-rae." The spike or
sting measures from two to six inches in length according to the
size of the fish.

But to return to my solitary life on the island. The flesh of the
sting-rae was not pleasant to eat, being rather tough and
tasteless, so I used it as a bait for sharks. Turtles visited the
island in great numbers, and deposited their eggs in holes made in
the sand above high-water mark. They only came on land during the
night, at high tide; and whenever I wanted a special delicacy, I
turned one over on its back till morning, when I despatched it
leisurely with my tomahawk. The creatures' shells I always devoted
to the extension of my garden, which became very large, and
eventually covered fully two-thirds of the island. The maize and
cob-corn flourished remarkably well, and I generally managed to get
three crops in the course of a year. The straw came in useful for
bedding purposes, but as I found the sand-flies and other insects
becoming more and more troublesome whilst I lay on the ground, I
decided to try a hammock. I made one out of shark's hide, and
slung it in my hut, when I found that it answered my purpose
splendidly.

The great thing was to ward off the dull agony, the killing
depression, and manias generally. Fortunately I was of a very
active disposition, and as a pastime I took to gymnastics, even as
I had at Montreux. I became a most proficient tumbler and acrobat,
and could turn two or three somersaults on dashing down from the
sloping roof of my pearl-shell hut; besides, I became a splendid
high jumper, with and without the pole. Another thing I interested
myself in was the construction of a sun-dial.

Indeed, I spent many hours devising some means whereby I could
fashion a reliable "clock," and at last I worked out the principle
of the sun-dial on the sand. I fixed a long stick perfectly
upright in the ground, and then marked off certain spaces round it
by means of pegs and pearl shells. I calculated the hours
according to the length of the shadows cast by the sun.

But, in spite of all that I could do to interest or amuse myself, I
was frequently overwhelmed with fits of depression and despair, and
more than once I feared I should lose my mental balance and become
a maniac. A religious craze took possession of me, and, strive as
I might, I could not keep my mind from dwelling upon certain
apparent discrepancies in the various apostles' versions of the
Gospel!

I found myself constantly brooding over statements made in one form
by St. Matthew, and in another by St. Luke; and I conjured up
endless theological arguments and theories, until I was driven
nearly frantic. Much as I regretted it, I was compelled at last to
give up reading my New Testament, and by the exercise of a strong
will I forced myself to think about something totally different.

It took me a long time to overcome this religious melancholia, but
I mastered it in the long run, and was greatly delighted when I
found I could once more read without being hypercritical and
doubtful of everything. Had I been cast on a luxuriant island,
growing fruits and flowers, and inhabited at least by animals--how
different would it have been! But here there was nothing to save
the mind from madness--merely a tiny strip of sand, invisible a few
hundred yards out at sea.

When the fits of depression came upon me I invariably concluded
that life was unbearable, and would actually rush into the sea,
with the deliberate object of putting an end to myself. At these
times my agony of mind was far more dreadful that any degree of
physical suffering could have been, and death seemed to have a
fascination for me that I could not resist. Yet when I found
myself up to my neck in water, a sudden revulsion of feeling would
come over me, and instead of drowning myself I would indulge in a
swim or a ride on a turtle's back by way of diverting my thoughts
into different channels.

Bruno always seemed to understand when I had an attack of
melancholia, and he would watch my every movement. When he saw me
rushing into the water, he would follow at my side barking and
yelling like a mad thing, until he actually made me forget the
dreadful object I had in view. And we would perhaps conclude by
having a swimming race. These fits of depression always came upon
me towards evening, and generally about the same hour.

In spite of the apparent hopelessness of my position, I never
relinquished the idea of escaping from the island some day, and
accordingly I started building a boat within a month of my
shipwreck.

Not that I knew anything whatever about boat-building; but I was
convinced that I could at least make a craft of some sort that
would float. I set to work with a light heart, but later on paid
dearly for my ignorance in bitter, bitter disappointment and
impotent regrets. For one thing, I made the keel too heavy; then,
again, I used planks that were absurdly thick for the shell,
though, of course, I was not aware of these things at the time.
The wreck, of course, provided me with all the woodwork I required.
In order to make the staves pliable, I soaked them in water for a
week, and then heated them over a fire, afterwards bending them to
the required shape. At the end of nine months of unremitting
labour, to which, latterly, considerable anxiety--glorious hopes
and sickening fears--was added, I had built what I considered a
substantial and sea-worthy sailing boat, fully fifteen feet long by
four feet wide. It was a heavy ungainly looking object when
finished, and it required much ingenuity on my part to launch it.
This I eventually managed, however, by means of rollers and levers;
but the boat was frightfully low in the water at the stern. It was
quite watertight though, having an outer covering of sharks' green
hide, well smeared with Stockholm tar, and an inside lining of
stout canvas. I also rigged up a mast, and made a sail. When my
boat floated I fairly screamed aloud with wild delight, and
sympathetic Bruno jumped and yelped in unison.

But when all my preparations were complete, and I had rowed out a
little way, I made a discovery that nearly drove me crazy. I found
I had launched the boat in a sort of lagoon several miles in
extent, barred by a crescent of coral rocks, over which I COULD NOT
POSSIBLY DRAG MY CRAFT INTO THE OPEN SEA. Although the water
covered the reefs at high tide it was never of sufficient depth to
allow me to sail the boat over them. I tried every possible
opening, but was always arrested at some point or other. After the
first acute paroxysm of despair--beating my head with my clenched
fists--I consoled myself with the thought that when the high tides
came, they would perhaps lift the boat over that terrible barrier.
I waited, and waited, and waited, but alas! only to be
disappointed. My nine weary months of arduous travail and half-
frantic anticipation were cruelly wasted. At no time could I get
the boat out into the open sea in consequence of the rocks, and it
was equally impossible for me unaided to drag her back up the steep
slope again and across the island, where she could be launched
opposite an opening in the encircling reefs. So there my darling
boat lay idly in the lagoon--a useless thing, whose sight filled me
with heartache and despair. And yet, in this very lagoon I soon
found amusement and pleasure. When I had in some measure got over
the disappointment about the boat, I took to sailing her about in
the lagoon. I also played the part of Neptune in the very
extraordinary way I have already indicated. I used to wade out to
where the turtles were, and on catching a big six-hundred-pounder,
I would calmly sit astride on his back.

Away would swim the startled creature, mostly a foot or so below
the surface. When he dived deeper I simply sat far back on the
shell, and then he was forced to come up. I steered my queer
steeds in a curious way. When I wanted my turtle to turn to the
left, I simply thrust my foot into his right eye, and vice versa
for the contrary direction. My two big toes placed simultaneously
over both his optics caused a halt so abrupt as almost to unseat
me. Sometimes I would go fully a mile out to sea on one of these
strange steeds. It always frightened them to have me astride, and
in their terror they swam at a tremendous pace until compelled to
desist through sheer exhaustion.

Before the wet season commenced I put a straw thatch on the roof of
my hut, as before stated, and made my quarters as snug as possible.
And it was a very necessary precaution, too, for sometimes it
rained for days at a stretch. The rain never kept me indoors,
however, and I took exercise just the same, as I didn't bother
about clothes, and rather enjoyed the shower bath. I was always
devising means of making life more tolerable, and amongst other
things I made a sort of swing, which I found extremely useful in
beguiling time. I would also practise jumping with long poles.
One day I captured a young pelican, and trained him to accompany me
in my walks and assist me in my fishing operations. He also acted
as a decoy. Frequently I would hide myself in some grass, whilst
my pet bird walked a few yards away to attract his fellows.
Presently he would be joined by a whole flock, many of which I
lassoed, or shot with my bow and arrows.

But for my dog--my almost human Bruno--I think I must have died. I
used to talk to him precisely as though he were a human being. We
were absolutely inseparable. I preached long sermons to him from
Gospel texts. I told him in a loud voice all about my early life
and school-days at Montreux; I recounted to him all my adventures,
from the fatal meeting with poor Peter Jensen in Singapore, right
up to the present; I sang little chansons to him, and among these
he had his favourites as well as those he disliked cordially. If
he did not care for a song, he would set up a pitiful howl. I feel
convinced that this constant communing aloud with my dog saved my
reason. Bruno seemed always to be in such good spirits that I
never dreamed of anything happening to him; and his quiet,
sympathetic companionship was one of the greatest blessings I knew
throughout many weird and terrible years. As I talked to him he
would sit at my feet, looking so intelligently at me that I fancied
he understood every word of what I was saying.

When the religious mania was upon me, I talked over all sorts of
theological subjects with my Bruno, and it seemed to relieve me,
even though I never received any enlightenment from him upon the
knotty point that would be puzzling me at that particular time.
What delighted him most of all was for me to tell him that I loved
him very dearly, and that he was even more valuable to me than the
famous dogs of St. Bernard were to benighted travellers in the
snow.

I knew very little about musical instruments, but as I had often
longed for something to make a noise with, if only to drown the
maddening crash of the eternal surf, I fashioned a drum out of a
small barrel, with sharks' skin stretched tightly over the open
ends. This I beat with a couple of sticks as an accompaniment to
my singing, and as Bruno occasionally joined in with a howl of
disapproval or a yell of joy, the effect must have been picturesque
if not musical. I was ready to do almost anything to drown that
ceaseless cr-ash, cr-ash of the breakers on the beach, from whose
melancholy and monotonous roar I could never escape for a single
moment throughout the whole of the long day. However, I escaped
its sound when I lay down to sleep at night by a very simple plan.
As I was stone-deaf in the right ear I always slept on the left
side.

Seven weary months had passed away, when one morning, on scanning
the horizon, I suddenly leaped into the air and screamed: "My God!
A sail! A sail!" I nearly became delirious with excitement, but,
alas! the ship was too far out to sea to notice my frantic signals.
My island lay very low, and all that I could make out of the vessel
in the distance was her sails. She must have been fully five miles
away, yet, in my excitement, I ran up and down the miserable beach,
shouting in a frenzy and waving my arms in the hope of attracting
the attention of some one on board; but it was all in vain. The
ship, which I concluded was a pearler, kept steadily on her way,
and eventually disappeared below the horizon.

Never can I hope to describe the gnawing pain at my heart as,
hoarse and half mad, I sank exhausted on the sand, watching the
last vestige of the ship disappearing. Altogether, I saw five
ships pass in this way during my sojourn on the island, but they
were always too far out at sea to notice my signals. One of these
vessels I knew to be a man-o'-war flying the British ensign. I
tried to rig up a longer flag-staff, as I thought the original one
not high enough for its purpose. Accordingly I spliced a couple of
long poles together, but to my disappointment found them too heavy
to raise in the air. Bruno always joined in my enthusiasm when a
sail was in sight; in fact, he was generally the first to detect
it, and he would bark and drag at me until he had drawn my
attention to the new hope. And I loved him for his tender sympathy
in my paroxysms of regret and disappointment. The hairy head would
rub coaxingly against my arm, the warm tongue licking my hand, and
the faithful brown eyes gazing at me with a knowledge and sympathy
that were more than human--these I feel sure saved me again and
again. I might mention that, although my boat was absolutely
useless for the purpose of escape, I did not neglect her
altogether, but sailed her about the enclosed lagoon by way of
practice in the handling of her sails. This was also a welcome
recreation.

I never feared a lack of fresh water, for when, in the dry season,
the ship's stock and my reserve from the wet season were exhausted,
I busied myself with the condensing of sea water in my kettle,
adding to my store literally drop by drop. Water was the only
liquid I drank, all the tea and coffee carried on board having been
rendered utterly useless.

The powerful winged birds that abounded on the island one day gave
me an idea: Why not hang a message around their necks and send
them forth into the unknown? Possibly they might bring help--who
knows? And with me to conceive was to act. I got a number of
empty condensed-milk tins, and, by means of fire, separated from
the cylinder the tin disc that formed the bottom. On this disc I
scratched a message with a sharp nail. In a few words I conveyed
information about the wreck and my deplorable condition. I also
gave the approximate bearings--latitude fifteen to thirteen
degrees, not far from the Australian main.

These discs--I prepared several in English, French, bad Dutch,
German, and Italian--I then fastened round the necks of the
pelicans, by means of fish-gut, and away across the ocean sped the
affrighted birds, so scared by the mysterious encumbrance that THEY
NEVER RETURNED TO THE ISLAND.

I may say here that more than twenty years later, when I returned
to civilisation, I chanced to mention the story about my messenger-
birds to some old inhabitants at Fremantle, Western Australia,
when, to my amazement, they told me that a pelican carrying a tin
disc round its neck, bearing a message in French from a castaway,
HAD been found many years previously by an old boatman on the beach
near the mouth of the Swan River. But it was not mine.

So appalling was the monotony, and so limited my resources, that I
welcomed with childish glee any trifling little incident that
happened. For example, one lovely night in June I was amazed to
hear a tremendous commotion outside, and on getting up to see what
was the matter, I beheld dimly countless thousands of birds--Java
sparrows I believe them to be. I went back to bed again, and in
the morning was a little dismayed to find that my pretty visitors
had eaten up nearly all my green corn. And the birds were still
there when I went forth in the morning. They made the air ring
with their lively chatter, but the uproar they made was as music to
me. The majority of them had greyish-yellow bodies, with yellow
beaks and pink ruffs, and they were not at all afraid of me. I
moved about freely among them, and did not attempt to drive them
out of my corn patch, being only too grateful to see so much life
about me. They rose, however, in great clouds the next day, much
to my regret, and as they soared heavenwards I could not help
envying them their blessed freedom.

I kept count of the long days by means of pearl shells, for I had
not used up the whole cargo in the walls of my hut. I put shells
side by side in a row, one for each day, until the number reached
seven, and then I transferred one shell to another place,
representing the weeks. Another pile of shells represented the
months; and as for the years, I kept count of those by making
notches on my bow. My peculiar calendar was always checked by the
moon.

Now, I am not a superstitious man, so I relate the following
extraordinary occurrence merely as it happened, and without
advancing any theory of my own to account for it. I had been many,
many months--perhaps more than a year--on that terrible little
sand-spit, and on the night I am describing I went to bed as usual,
feeling very despondent. As I lay asleep in my hammock, I dreamed
a beautiful dream. Some spiritual being seemed to come and bend
over me, smiling pityingly. So extraordinarily vivid was the
apparition, that I suddenly woke, tumbled out of my hammock, and
went outside on a vague search. In a few minutes, however, I
laughed at my own folly and turned in again.

I lay there for some little time longer, thinking about the past--
for I dared not dwell on the future--when suddenly the intense
stillness of the night was broken by a strangely familiar voice,
which said, distinctly and encouragingly, "Je suis avec toi. Soit
sans peur. Tu reviendras." I can never hope to describe my
feelings at that moment.

It was not the voice of my father nor of my mother, yet it was
certainly the voice of some one I knew and loved, yet was unable to
identify. The night was strangely calm, and so startling was this
mysterious message that instinctively I leaped out of my hammock
again, went outside and called out several times, but, of course,
nothing happened. From that night, however, I never absolutely
despaired, even when things looked their very worst.

Two interminable years had passed away, when one day the weather
suddenly changed, and a terrible gale commenced to blow, which
threatened almost to wreck my little hut. One morning, a few days
later, when the storm had abated somewhat, I heard Bruno barking
wildly on the beach. A few seconds afterwards he came rushing into
the hut, and would not rest until I prepared to follow him outside.
Before doing so, however, I picked up an oar--I knew not why. I
then followed my dog down to the beach, wondering what could
possibly have caused him to make such a fuss. The sea was somewhat
agitated, and as it was not yet very light, I could not clearly
distinguish things in the distance.

On peering seawards for the third or fourth time, however, I
fancied I could make out a long, black object, which I concluded
must be some kind of a boat, tossing up and down on the billows.
Then I must confess I began to share Bruno's excitement,--
particularly when a few minutes later I discerned a well-made
catamaran, WITH SEVERAL HUMAN FIGURES LYING PROSTRATE UPON IT!

CHAPTER IV

I try to revive my visitors--Demonstrations of amazement--A variety
entertainment--Evil spirits in the mirror--"The star above my
home"--"Preliminary canter" with the boat--A joyful procession--
"Good-bye to my island home"--Nearing the main--Among the
cannibals--Smoke telegraphy--A weird audience--A nation meets me--
My first palace.

My state of mind was perfectly indescribable. Here, I thought, are
some poor shipwrecked creatures like myself; and I prayed to God
that I might be the means of saving them. The prospect of having
at length some one to converse with filled me with unutterable joy,
and I could hardly restrain myself from rushing into the water and
swimming out to the catamaran, which was still several hundred
yards away from me. Would it NEVER draw near? I thought, wild with
impatience. And then, to my horror, I saw that it was closely
followed by a number of sharks, which swam round and round it
expectantly. Seeing this, I could contain myself no longer.
Sternly commanding my dog not to follow me, I waded into the waves
and then swam boldly out to the catamaran, taking good care,
however, to make a great noise as I swam, by shouting and splashing
in order to frighten away the sharks. When eventually I did come
up to the floating platform of logs, I found that there were four
blacks upon it--a man, a woman, and two boys. All were lying quite
prostrate through exhaustion, apparently more dead than alive. The
sharks still hung on persistently, but at length I drove them away
by beating the water with my oar, with which I then proceeded to
paddle the catamaran ashore. You see, the oar I grasped when Bruno
came to give the alarm proved of inestimable value; and so all
through my marvellous years of sojourn among the cannibals an
undeniable Providence guided my every action. But this will be
seen from my narrative in a hundred amazing instances. I climbed
aboard the catamaran and paddled it into shallow water; and then,
jumping overboard again I pulled it right up on to the beach, and
carried the four blacks one by one into my hut. They were in a
most pitiable state of collapse. Their tongues were swollen and
protruding out of their mouths, and for a long time I could get
nothing down their throats. First of all I tried to revive them
with cold water, but found they could not swallow.

Then I remembered the rum I had saved from the wreck all this time,
and procuring some I rubbed their bodies with it, tied wet bandages
round their necks, and rolled them about in wet sails, in the hope
that in this way their bodies might absorb the necessary liquid.
You see I had an idea that they were dying from want of water. All
four were terribly emaciated, and in the last stages of exhaustion.
After two or three hours' treatment, the two boys recovered
consciousness, and some little time later the man also showed signs
of reviving, but the woman did not come to until the afternoon.
None of them, of course, were able to walk; and in the meantime
they did nothing but drink water. They seemed not to realise what
had happened or where they were until the following day, and then
their surprise--mainly at the sight of me--was beyond all
description. Their first symptom was one of extreme terror, and in
spite of every kind action I could think of, they held out for a
long time against my advances--although I signed to them that I was
their friend, patting them on the shoulders to inspire confidence,
and trying to make them understand that I had saved them from a
terrible death. I fancy they all thought they had died and were
now in the presence of the mysterious Great Spirit! At any rate,
it was not until they began to eat freely that they grew in some
measure accustomed to me. Then an ungovernable curiosity
manifested itself. From gazing at me unceasingly, they took to
feeling me and patting my skin. They made queer, guttural sounds
with their mouths, evidently expressive of amazement; they slapped
their thighs, and cracked their fingers.

Next, my belongings came in for inspection, and everything excited
wonderment and delight to such a degree, that I blessed Providence
for sending me so much entertaining society. My hut, with its
curious thatched roof, excited vast interest; and it was amusing to
see the two boys, aged respectively about twelve and fourteen,
following their parents about, jabbering incessantly, and giving me
sly, half-terrified glances as they examined my implements and
utensils. The woman was the first to get over her fear of me, and
she soon grew to trust me implicitly; whereas her husband never
ceased to view me with inexplicable suspicion until we regained his
own country. He was a big, repulsive-looking savage, with a morose
and sullen temper; and although he never showed signs of open
antagonism, yet I never trusted him for a moment during the six
long months he was my "guest" on the little sand-bank! It seems I
unwittingly offended him, and infringed the courtesy common among
his people by declining to take advantage of a certain embarrassing
offer which he made me soon after his recovery.

It may not be anticipating too much to say here that the woman was
destined to play a vitally important part in the whole of my life,
and with her I went through adventures and saw sights more weird
and wonderful than anything I had ever read of, even in the wildest
extravagances of sensational fiction. But the ruling passion was
very strong, and one of the first things I did was to take my black
friends down to the beach and show them my precious boat floating
idly in the lagoon. Oddly enough, I had in the meantime always
taken the greatest care of the boat, keeping her bottom clean and
generally furbishing her up--having, however, no particular object
in view in doing this, except perhaps that it gave me something to
do. The poor little "home-made" boat threw the blacks into a
perfect frenzy of astonishment, and they concluded that I must have
come from a very distant part of the world in so enormous a
"catamaran." As a matter of fact, from that moment they looked
upon me as most certainly a kind of Supreme Spirit from another
world; they may have had doubts before. Next I showed them the
wreck, which was now only a bare skeleton of rotting woodwork, but
still plainly discernible among the coral rocks. I tried to
explain to them that it was in the larger boat that I had come, but
they failed to understand me.

On returning to the hut I put on my clothes for their benefit,
whereupon their amazement was so great that I seriously
contemplated discontinuing my list of wonders, lest they should
become absolutely afraid to remain with me. The clothes they
considered part of myself--in fact, a kind of secondary skin! They
were terribly frightened and distressed, and not one of the four
dared approach me.

The blacks did not build themselves any place of shelter, but
merely slept in the open air at night, under the lee of my hut,
with a large fire always burning at their feet. I offered them
both blankets and sails by way of covering, but they refused them,
preferring to lie huddled close together for warmth. In the
morning the woman would prepare breakfast for them, consisting of
fish (mainly mullet), birds' and turtles' eggs, and sea-fowl; to
which would perhaps be added some little luxury from my own stock.
They only had two meals a day--one in the morning and the other in
the afternoon. Their favourite food was turtle, of which they
could eat enormous quantities, especially the fat. Bruno was a
long time before he took kindly to the new arrivals, probably
because they manifested such extraordinary emotion whenever he
lifted up his voice and barked.

I think the only thing that roused the father of the family from
his sullen moods was my extraordinary acrobatic performances, which
also threw the two little nigger boys into hysterics of delight.
Father, mother, and children tried to imitate my somersaults,
"wheels," and contortions, but came to grief so desperately (once
the morose man nearly broke his neck) that they soon gave it up.
The man would sit and watch our gambols for hours without moving a
muscle. I was never actually afraid of him, but took good care not
to let him get possession of any of my weapons; and as I had also
taken the precaution to break up and throw into the sea the spears
he had brought with him on his catamaran, I felt pretty sure he
could not do much mischief even if he were so disposed. After
seeing me bring down birds with my bow and arrow he began to hold
me in absolute fear, probably because he had some idea that his own
skin might be jeopardised if he did not accommodate himself to
circumstances. I repeatedly told him that with my boat I might
perhaps some day help him to get back to his own country, and I
must say that this suggestion roused him somewhat from his
lethargy, and he appeared profoundly grateful.

Gradually I acquired a slight acquaintance with the extraordinary
language of the blacks, and had many a chat with the woman, who
also picked up a few words of comical English from me. She was a
woman of average height, lithe and supple, with an intelligent face
and sparkling eyes. She was a very interesting companion, and as I
grew more proficient in her queer language of signs, and slaps, and
clicks, I learnt from her many wonderful things about the habits
and customs of the Australian aborigines, which proved extremely
useful to me in after years. Yamba--for that was her name--told me
that when I rescued them they had been blown miles and miles out of
their course and away from their own country by the terrible gale
that had been raging about a fortnight previously. It seems that
they had originally started out on an expedition to catch turtles
on a little island between Cambridge Gulf and Queen's Channel, but
the storm carried them out to sea. They drifted about for many
days, until at length they reached my little island. The only food
they had during the whole of this time was turtle, but they were
entirely without water. One would think that they must inevitably
have died of thirst, but the blacks are wonderful people for going
without water for prolonged periods. Moreover, they find a
mouthful of salt water occasionally quite sustaining.

One of my most amusing experiences with the blacks was one day
when, quite accidentally, Yamba caught sight of herself for the
first time in the little oval looking-glass I had hanging up in the
hut near my hammock. She thoughtlessly took it down and held it
close up to her face. She trembled, felt the surface of the glass,
and then looked hurriedly on the back. One long, last, lingering
look she gave, and then flew screaming out of the hut.

Oddly enough, she overcame her fears later, and, woman-like, would
come and look in the mirror for an hour at a stretch, smacking her
lips all the while in wonderment, and making most comical grimaces
and contortions to try various effects. Her husband, however
(Gunda, as I called him), was very differently affected, for the
moment his wife showed him his own reflection in the glass he gave
a terrific yell and bolted to the other end of the little island,
in a state of the most abject terror. He never quite overcame his
terror and distrust of the mirror, which he evidently considered
possessed of life, and in reality a kind of spirit to be feared and
avoided.

But, of course, the two boys found the glass a never-ending source
of amazement and wonder, and were not in the least afraid of it
after the first natural shock of surprise. Altogether, I thanked
God for sending me my new companions; and, as you may suppose, they
afforded me as much entertainment and gratification as I and my
belongings did them.

Every evening, before retiring to rest, the family squatted round
the fire and indulged in a mournful kind of chant--singing, as I
afterwards learnt, the wonders they had seen on the white man's
island; my mirror coming in for special mention. This was the only
approach to a "religious service" I ever saw, and was partly
intended to propitiate or frighten away the spirits of the
departed, of whom the Australian blacks have a great horror.

The blacks had been with me two or three weeks, when one evening
the man approached and intimated in unmistakable terms that he
wanted to get away from the island and return to his own land. He
said he thought he and his family could easily return to their
friends on the mainland by means of the catamaran that had brought
them.

And Yamba, that devoted and mysterious creature, solemnly pointed
out to me a glowing star far away on the horizon. There, she said,
lay the home of her people. After this I was convinced that the
mainland could not be more than a couple of hundred miles or so
away, and I determined to accompany them on the journey thither, in
the hope that this might form one of the stepping-stones to
civilisation and my own kind. We lost no time. One glorious
morning we three--Yamba, her husband, and myself--repaired to the
fatal lagoon that hemmed in my precious boat, and without more ado
dragged it up the steep bank by means of rollers run on planks
across the sand-spit, and then finally, with a tremendous splash
and an excited hurrah from myself, it glided out into the water, a
thing of meaning, of escape, and of freedom. The boat,
notwithstanding its long period of uselessness, was perfectly
water-tight and thoroughly seaworthy, although still unpleasantly
low at the stern. Gunda was impatient to be off, but I pointed out
to him that, as the wind persistently blew in the wrong direction
day after day, we should be compelled perforce to delay our
departure perhaps for some months. You see, Gunda was not a man
who required to make much preparation: he thought all we should
have to do was to tumble into the boat and set sail across the

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