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By Rock and Pool on an Austral Shore, and Other Stories by Louis Becke

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* * * * *

On An Austral Shore



New Amsterdam Book Company
















* * * * *


_By Rock and Pool on an Austral Shore_

The quaint, old-fashioned little town faces eastward to the blue
Pacific, whose billows, when the wind blows from any point between north
and east, come tumbling in across the shallow bar in ceaseless lines of
foaming white, to meet, when the tide is on the ebb, the swift current
of a tidal river as broad as the Thames at Westminster Bridge. On the
south side of the bar, from the sleepy town itself to the pilot station
on the Signal Hill, there rises a series of smooth grassy bluffs, whose
seaward bases touch the fringe of many small beaches, or start sheer
upward from the water when the tide is high, and the noisy swish and
swirl of the eager river current has ceased.

As you stand on the Signal Hill, and look along the coast, you see a
long, long monotonous line of beach, trending northward ten miles from
end to end, forming a great curve from the sandspit on the north side of
the treacherous bar to the blue loom of a headland in shape like the
figure of a couchant lion. Back from the shore-line, a narrow littoral
of dense scrub, impervious to the rays of the sun, and unbroken in its
solitude except by the cries of birds, or the heavy footfall of wild
cattle upon the thick carpet of fallen leaves; and then, far to the
west, the dimmed, shadowy outline of the main coastal range.

* * * * *

It is a keen, frosty morning in June--the midwinter of Australia--and as
the red sun bursts through the sea-rim, a gentle land breeze creeps
softly down from the mountain forest of gums and iron-barks, and blows
away the mists that, all through a night of cloudless calm, have laid
heavily upon the surface of the sleeping ocean. One by one the doors of
the five little white-painted, weather-boarded houses which form the
quarters of the pilot-boat's crew open, and five brown, hairy-faced men,
each smoking a pipe, issue forth, and, hands in pockets, scan the
surface of the sea from north to south, for perchance a schooner, trying
to make the port, may have been carried along by the current from the
southward, and is within signalling distance to tell her whether the bar
is passable or not. For the bar of the Port is as changeable in its
moods as the heart of a giddy maid to her lovers--to-day it may invite
you to come in and take possession of its placid waters in the harbour
beyond; to-morrow it may roar and snarl with boiling surf and savage,
eddying currents, and whirlpools slapping fiercely against the grim,
black rocks of the southern shore.

Look at the five men as they stand or saunter about on the smooth,
frosty grass. They are sailormen--one and all--as you can see by their
walk and hear by their talk; rough, ready, and sturdy, though not so
sturdy nor so square-built as your solid men of brave old Deal; but a
long way better in appearance and character than the sponging,
tip-seeking, loafing fraternity of slouching, lazy robbers who on the
parades of Brighton, Hastings, and Eastbourne, and other fashionable
seaside resorts in this country, lean against lamp-posts with "Licensed
Boatman" writ on their hat-bands, and call themselves fishermen, though
they seldom handle a herring or cod that does not come from a
fishmonger's shop. These Australians of British blood are leaner in
face, leaner in limb than the Kentish men, and drink whiskey instead of
coffee or tea at early morn. But see them at work in the face of danger
and death on that bar, when the surf is leaping high and a schooner lies
broadside on and helpless to the sweeping rollers, and you will say that
a more undaunted crew never gripped an oar to rescue a fellow-sailorman
from the hungry sea.

One of them, a grey-haired, deeply-bronzed man of sixty, with his neck
and hands tatooed in strange markings, imprinted thereon by the hands of
the wild natives of Tucopia, in the South Seas, with whom he has lived
forty years before as one of themselves, is mine own particular friend
and crony, for his two sons have been playmates with my brothers and
myself, who were all born in this quaint old-time seaport of the first
colony in Australia; this forgotten remnant of the dread days of the
awful convict system, when the clank of horrible gyves sounded on the
now deserted and grass-grown streets, and the swish of the hateful and
ever active "cat" was heard within the walls of the huge red-brick
prison on the bluff facing the sea. Oh, the old, old memories of those
hideous times! How little they wounded or troubled our boyish minds, as
we, bent on some fishing or hunting venture along the coast, walked
along a road which had been first soddened by tears and then dried by
the panting, anguished breathings of beings fashioned in the image of
their Creator, as they toiled and died under the brutal hands of their
savage task-masters--the civilian officials of that cruel "System"
which, by the irony of fate, the far-seeing, gentle, and tender-hearted
Arthur Phillip, the founder of Australia, was first appointed to

But away with such memories for the moment. Over the lee side with them
into the Sea of the Past, together with the clank of the fetters and the
hum of the cat and the merciless laws of the time; sink them all
together with the names of the military rum-selling traducers of the
good Phillip, and of ill-tempered, passionate sailor Bligh of the
_Bounty_--honest, brave, irascible, vindictive; destroyer of his ship's
company on that fateful adventure to Tahiti, hero of the most famous
boat-voyage the world has ever known; sea-bully and petty "hazer" of
hapless Fletcher Christian and his comrades, gallant officer in battle
and thanked by Nelson at Copenhagen; conscientious governor of a
starveling colony gasping under the hands of unscrupulous military
money-makers, William Bligh deserves to be remembered by all men of
English blood who are proud of the annals of the most glorious navy in
the world.

* * * * *

But ere we descend to the beach to wander by rock and pool in this
glowing Australian sun, the warm, loving rays of which are fast drying
the frost-coated grass, let us look at these square, old-time monuments
to the dead, placed on the Barrack Hill, and overlooking the sea. There
are four in all, but around them are many low, sunken headstones of
lichen-covered slabs, the inscriptions on which, like many of those on
the stones in the cemetery by the reedy creek, have long since vanished.

There, indeed, if you care to brave the snake-haunted place you will
discover a word, or the part of a word--"Talav----," "Torre----Vedras,"
"Vimiera," or "Badaj----," or "Fuentes de On----," and you know that
underneath lies the dust of men who served their country well when the
Iron Duke was rescuing Europe from the grip of the bloodstained
Corsican. On one, which for seventy years has faced the rising sun and
the salty breath of the ocean breeze, there remains but the one glorious
word, "Aboukir!" every indented letter thickly filled with grey moss and
lichen, though the name of he who fought there has disappeared, and
being but that of some humble seaman, is unrecorded and unknown in the
annals of his country. How strange it seems! but yet how fitting that
this one word alone should be preserved by loving Nature from the
decaying touch of Time. Perhaps the very hand of the convict mason who
held the chisel to the stone struck deeper as he carved the letters of
the name of the glorious victory.

But let us away from here; for in the hot summer months amid these
neglected and decaying memorials of the dead, creeping and crawling in
and out of the crumbling masonry of the tombs, gliding among the long,
reedy grass, or lying basking in the sun upon the fallen headstones, are
deadly black and brown snakes. They have made this old, time-forgotten
cemetery their own favourite haunting place; for the waters of the creek
are near, and on its margin they find their prey. Once, so the shaky old
wharfinger will tell you, a naval lieutenant, who had been badly wounded
in the first Maori war, died in the commandant's house. He was buried
here on the bank of the creek, and one day his young wife who had come
from England to nurse him and found him dead, sat down on his grave and
went to sleep. When she awoke, a great black snake was lying on her
knees. She died that day from the shock.

The largest of these four monuments on the bluff stands nearest to the
sea, and the inscription on the heavy flat slab of sandstone which
covers it is fairly legible:--

Sacred to the Memory of
Who was a Private in Captain
Fraser Allan's Company
of the 40th Regiment,
Who died on the 24th November, 1823,
of a Gunshot Wound Received
on the 20th Day of the Month,
when in Pursuit of a
Runaway Convict.
Aged 25 years.

The others record the names of the "infant son and daughters of Mr. G.
Smith, Commissariat Storekeeper," and of "Edward Marvin, who died 4th
July, 1821, aged 21 years."

Many other sunken headstones denote the last resting-places of soldiers
and sailors, and civilian officials, who died between 1821 and 1830,
when the little port was a thriving place, and when, as the old gossips
will tell you, it made a "rare show, when the Governor came here, and
Major Innes--him as brought that cussed lantana plant from the
Peninsula--sent ninety mounted men to escort him to Lake Innes."

* * * * *

The tide is low, and the flat _congewoi_-covered ledges of reef on the
southern side of the bar lie bare and exposed to the sun. Here and there
in the crystal pools among the rocks, fish have been left by the tide,
and as you step over the _congewoi_, whose teats spurt out jets of
water to the pressure of your foot, large silvery bream and gaily-hued
parrot-fish rush off and hide themselves from view. But tear off a piece
of _congewoi,_ open it, and throw the sanguinary-coloured delicacy into
the water, and presently you will see the parrot-fish dart out eagerly,
and begin to tear it asunder with their long, irregular, and needle-like
teeth, whilst the more cautious and lordly bream, with wary eye and
gentle, undulating tail, watch from underneath a ledge for a favourable
moment to dash out and secure a morsel.

In some of the wider and shallower ponds are countless thousands of
small mullet, each about three or four inches in length, and swimming
closely together in separated but compact battalions. Some, as the sound
of a human footstep warns them of danger, rush for safety among the
submerged clefts and crevices of their temporary retreat, only to be
mercilessly and fatally enveloped by the snaky, viscous tentacles of the
ever-lurking octopus, for every hole and pool among the rocks contains
one or more of these hideously repulsive creatures.

Sometimes you will see one crawling over the _congewoi_, changing from
one pool to another in search of prey; its greeny-grey eyes regard you
with defiant malevolence. Strike it heavily with a stick, or thrust it
through with a spear, and in an instant its colour, which a moment
before was either a dark mottled brown or a mingled reddish-black,
changes to a ghastly, horrible, marbled grey; the horrid tentacles
writhe and cling to the weapon, or spread out and adhere to the
surrounding points of rock, a black, inky fluid is ejected from the
soft, pulpy, and slimy body; and then, after raining blow after blow
upon it, it lies unable to crawl away, but still twisting and turning,
and showing its red and white suckers--a thing of horror indeed, the
embodiment of all that is hateful, wicked, and malignant in nature.

Some idea of the numbers of these crafty and savage denizens of the
limpid pools may be obtained by dropping a baited fishing line in one of
the deeper spots. First you will see one, and then another, thin end of
a tentacle come waveringly out from underneath a ledge of rock, and
point towards the bait, then the rest of the ugly creature follows, and
gathering itself together, darts upon the hook, for the possession of
which half a dozen more of its fellows are already advancing, either
swimming or by drawing themselves over the sandy bottom of the pool.
Deep buried in the sand itself is another, a brute which may weigh ten
or fifteen pounds, and which would take all the strength of a strong man
to overcome were its loathsome tentacles clasped round his limbs in
their horrid embrace. Only part of the head and the half-closed,
tigerish eyes are visible, and even these portions are coated over with
fine sand so as to render them almost undistinguishable from the bed in
which it lies awaiting for some careless crab or fish to come within
striking distance. How us boys delighted to destroy these big fellows
when we came across one thus hidden in the sand or _debris_ on the
bottom! A quick thrust of the spear through the tough, elongated head,
a vision of whirling, outspread, red and black snaky tentacles, and then
the thing is dragged out by main strength and dashed down upon the
rocks, to be struck with waddies or stones until the spear can be
withdrawn. Everything, it is said, has its use in this world, and the
octopus is eminently useful to the Australian line fisherman, for the
bream, trevally, flathead, jew-fish, and the noble schnapper dearly love
its tough, white flesh, especially after the creature has been held over
a flame for a few minutes, so that the mottled skin may be peeled off.

But treacherous and murderous Thug of the Sea as he is, the octopus has
one dreaded foe before whom he flees in terror, and compresses his body
into the narrowest and most inaccessible cleft or endeavours to bury
himself in the loose, soft sand--and that foe is the orange-coloured or
sage-green rock eel. Never do you see one of these eels in the open
water; they lie deep under the stones or twine their lithe, slippery
bodies among the waving kelp or seaweed. Always hungry, savage-eyed, and
vicious, they know no fear of any living thing, and seizing an octopus
and biting off tentacle after tentacle with their closely-set,
needle-like teeth and swallowing it whole is a matter of no more moment
to them than the bolting of a tender young mullet or bream. In vain does
the Sea Thug endeavour to enwrap himself round and round the body of one
of these sinuous, scaleless sea-snakes and fasten on to it with his
terrible cupping apparatus of suckers--the eel slips in and out and
"wolfs" and worries his enemy without the slightest harm to itself.
Some of them are large--especially the orange-coloured variety--three or
four feet in length, and often one will raise his snaky head apparently
out of solid rock and regard you steadily for a moment. Then he
disappears. You advance cautiously to the spot and find a hole no larger
than the circumference of an afternoon tea cup, communicating with the
water beneath. Lower a baited hook with a strong wire snooding, and
"Yellowskin" will open wide his jaws and swallow it without your feeling
the slightest movement of the line. But you must be quick and strong of
hand then, or you will never drag him forth, for slippery as he is he
can coil his length around a projecting bit of rock and defy you for
perhaps five or ten minutes; and then when you do succeed in tearing him
away and pull him out with the hook buried deep in his loose, pendulous,
wrinkled and corduroyed throat, he instantly resolves himself into a
quivering Gordian knot, winding the line in and about his coils and
knotting it into such knots that can never be unravelled.

Here and there you will see lying buried deep in the growing coral, or
covered with black masses of _congewoi_ such things as iron and copper
bolts, or heavy pieces of squared timber, the relics of the many wrecks
that have occurred on the bar--some recent, some in years long gone by.
Out there, lying wedged in between the weed and kelp-covered boulders,
only visible at low water, are two of the guns of the ill-fated
_Wanderer_, a ship, like her owner, famous in the history of the
colony. She was the property of a Mr. Benjamin Boyd, a man of flocks and
herds and wealth, who founded a town and a great whaling station on the
shores of Twofold Bay, where he employed some hundreds of men, bond and
free. He was of an adventurous and restless disposition, and after
making several voyages to the South Seas, was cruelly cut off and
murdered by the cannibal natives of Guadalcanar in the Solomon Islands,
in the "fifties." The captain, after beating off the savages, who,
having killed poor Boyd on shore, made a determined attempt to capture
the ship, set sail for Australia, and in endeavouring to cross in over
the bar went ashore and became a total wreck. Here is a description
written by Judge McFarland of the _Wanderer_ as she was in those days
when Boyd dreamed a dream of founding a Republic in the South Sea
Islands with his wild crew of Polynesians and a few white fellow

"She was of 240 tons burthen; very fleet, and had a flush deck; and her
cabins were fitted up with every possible attention to convenience, and
with great elegance; and had she been intended as a war craft, she could
scarcely have been more powerfully armed, for she carried four brass
deck-guns--two six-pounders and two four-pounders--mounted on carriages
resembling dolphins, four two-pounder rail guns--two on each side--and
one brass twelve-pounder traversing gun (which had seen service at
Waterloo)--in all thirteen serviceable guns. Besides these, there were
two small, highly-ornamented guns used for firing signals, which were
said to have been obtained from the wreck of the _Royal George_ at
Spithead. There were also provided ample stores of round shot and grape
for the guns, and a due proportion of small arms, boarding pikes,
tomahawks, &c."

Half a mile further on, and we are under the Signal Hill, and standing
on one side of a wide, flat rock, through which a boat passage has been
cut by convict hands, when first the white tents of the soldiers were
seen on the Barrack Hill. And here, at this same spot, more than a
hundred years ago, and thirty before the sound of the axe was first
heard amid the forest or tallow-woods and red gum, there once landed a
strange party of sea-worn, haggard-faced beings--six men, one woman, and
two infant children. They were the unfortunate Bryant party--whose
wonderful and daring voyage from Sydney to Timor in a wretched,
ill-equipped boat, ranks second only to that of Bligh himself. For Will
Bryant, an ex-smuggler who was leader, had heard of Bligh's voyage in
the boat belonging to the _Bounty_; and fired with the desire to escape
with his wife and children from the famine-stricken community on the
shores of Port Jackson, he and his companions in servitude stole a small
fishing-boat and boldly put to sea to face a journey of more that three
thousand miles over an unknown and dangerous ocean. A few weeks after
leaving Sydney they had sighted this little nook when seeking refuge
from a fierce north-easterly gale, and here they remained for many days,
so that the woman and children might gain strength and the seams of the
leaking boat be payed with tallow--their only substitute for oakum.
Then onward they sailed or rowed, for long, long weary weeks, landing
here and there on the coast to seek for water and shell-fish, harried
and chased by cannibal savages, suffering all the agonies that could be
suffered on such a wild venture, until they reached Timor, only by a
strange and unhappy fate to fall into the hands of the brutal and
infamous Edwards of the _Pandora_ frigate, who with his wrecked ship's
company, and the surviving and manacled mutineers of the _Bounty_, who
had surrendered to him, soon afterwards appeared at the Dutch port.
Bryant, the daring leader, was so fortunate as to die of fever, and so
escaped the fate in store for his comrades. 'Tis a strange story indeed.

* * * * *

At the end of the point of brown, rugged rocks which form a natural
breakwater to this tiny boat harbour, the water is deep, showing a pale
transparent green at their base, and deep inpenetrable blue ten fathoms
beyond. To-day, because it is mid-winter, and the wind blows from the
west, the sea is clearer than ever, and far down below will be discerned
lazily swimming to and fro great reddish-brown or bright blue groper,
watching the dripping sides of the rock in hope that some of the active,
gaily-hued crabs which scurry downwards as you approach may fall in--for
the blue groper is a _gourmet_, disdaining to eat of his own tribe, and
caring only for crabs or the larger and more luscious crayfish. Stand
here when the tide is high and the surf is sweeping in creamy sheets
over the lower ledges of rocks; and as the water pours off torrent-like
from the surface and leaves them bare, you may oft behold a huge
fish--aye, or two or three--lying kicking on its side with a young
crayfish in its thick, fleshy jaws, calmly waiting for the next sea to
set him afloat again. Brave fellows are these gropers--forty, fifty, up
to seventy pounds sometimes, and dangerous fish to hook in such a place
as this, where a false step may send a man headlong into the surf below
with his line tangled round his feet or arms. But on such a morning as
this one might fall overboard and come to no harm, for the sea is
smooth, and the kelp sways but gently to the soft rise and fall of the
water, and seldom in these cold days of June does Jack Shark cruise in
under the lee of the rocks. It is in November, hot, sweltering November,
when the clinking sand of the shining beach is burning to the booted
foot, and the countless myriads of terrified sea salmon come swarming in
over the bar on their way to spawn in the river beyond, that he and his
fellows and the bony-snouted saw-fish rush to and fro in the shallow
waters, driving their prey before them, and gorging as they drive, till
the clear waters of the bar are turned into a bloodied froth. At such a
time as this it might be bad to fall overboard, though some of the local
youths give but little more heed to the tigers of the sea than they do
to the accompanying drove of harmless porpoises, which join in the
onslaught on the hapless salmon.

A mile eastward from the shore there rises stark and clear a great
dome-shaped rock, the haunt and resting-place of thousands of
snow-white gulls and brown-plumaged boobies. The breeding-place of the
former is within rifle-shot--over there on that long stretch of
banked-up sand on the north side of the bar, where, amid the shelter of
the coarse, tufted grass the delicate, graceful creatures will sit three
months hence on their fragile white and purple-splashed eggs. The
boobies are but visitors, for their breeding-places are on the bleak,
savage islands far to the south, amid the snows and storms of black
Antarctic seas. But here they dwell together, in unison with the gulls,
and were the wind not westerly you could hear their shrill cries and
hoarse croaking as they wheel and eddy and circle above the lonely rock,
on the highest pinnacle of which a great fish-eagle, with neck thrown
back upon his shoulders and eyes fixed eastward to the sun, stands
oblivious of their clamour, as creatures beneath his notice.

Once round the southern side of the Signal Hill the noise of the bar is
lost. Between the hill and the next point--a wild, stern-looking
precipice of black-trap rock--there lies a half a mile or more of
shingly strand, just such as you would see at Pevensey Bay or Deal, but
backed up at high-water mark with piles of drift timber--great dead
trees that have floated from the far northern rivers, their mighty
branches and netted roots bleached white by the sun and wind of many
years, and smelling sweet of the salty sea air. Mingled with the lighter
bits of driftwood and heaps of seaweed are the shells of hundreds of
crayfish--some of the largest are newly cast up by the sea, and the
carapace is yellow and blue; others are burnt red by exposure to the
sun; while almost at every step you crush into the thin backs and
armoured tails of young ones about a foot in length, the flesh of which,
by some mysterious process of nature, has vanished, leaving the skin,
muscles, and beautiful fan-like tail just as fresh as if the crustaceans
were alive. Just here, out among those kelp-covered rocks, you may, on a
moonlight night, catch as many crayfish as you wish--three of them will
be as much as any one would care to carry a mile, for a large,
full-grown "lobster," as they are called locally, will weigh a good ten

Once round the precipice we come to a new phase of coastal scenery. From
the high land above us green scrub-covered spur after spur shoots
downward to the shore, enclosing numerous little beaches of coarse sand
and many coloured spiral shells--"Reddies" we boys called them--with
here and there a rare and beautiful cowrie of banded jet black and
pearly white. The sea-wall of rock has here but few pools, being split
up into long, deep, and narrow chasms, into which the gentle ocean swell
comes with strange gurglings and hissings, and groan-like sounds, and
tiny jets of spray spout up from hundreds of air-holes through the
hollow crust of rock. Here for the first time since the town was left,
are heard the cries of land birds; for in the wild apple and rugged
honeysuckle trees which grow on the rich, red soil of the spurs they are
there in plenty--crocketts, king parrots, leatherheads, "butcher" and
"bell" birds, and the beautiful bronze-wing pigeon--while deep within
the silent gullies you constantly hear the little black scrub wallabies
leaping through the undergrowth and fallen leaves, to hide in still
darker forest recesses above.

There are snakes here, too. Everywhere their sinuous tracks are visible
on the sand, criss-crossing with the more defined scratchy markings of
those of iguanas. The latter we know come down to carry off any dead
fish cast ashore by the waves, or to seize any live ones which may be
imprisoned in a shallow pool; but what brings the deadly brown and black
snakes down to the edge of _salt_ water at night time?

Point after point, tiny bay after bay, and then we come to a wider
expanse of clear, stoneless beach, at the farther end of which a huge
boulder of jagged, yellow rock, covered on the summit with a thick
mantle of a pale green, fleshly-leaved creeper, bearing a pink flower.
It stands in a deep pool about a hundred yards in circumference, and as
like as not we shall find the surface of the water covered by thousands
of green-backed, red-billed garfish and silvery mullet, whose very
numbers prevent them from escaping. Scores of them leap out upon the
sand, and lie there with panting gill and flapping tail. It is a great
place for us boys, for here at low tides in the winter we strip off, and
with naked hands catch the mullet and gars and silvery-sided trumpeters,
and throw them out on the beach, to be grilled later on over a fire of
glowing honeysuckle cobs, and eaten without salt. What boy does care
about such a thing as salt at such times, when his eye is bright and his
skin glows with the flush of health, and the soft murmuring of the sea
is mingling in his ears with the thrilling call of the birds, and the
rustling hum of the bush; and the yellow sun shines down from a glorious
sky of cloudless blue, and dries the sand upon his naked feet; and the
very joy of being alive, and away from school, is happiness enough in

For here, by rock and pool on this lonely Austral beach, it is good and
sweet for man or boy to be, and, if but in utter idleness, to watch and
listen--and think.


The last strokes of the bell for evening service had scarce died away
when I heard a footstep on the pebbly path, and old Pakia, staff in hand
and pipe dangling from his pendulous ear-lobe, walked quietly up the
steps and sat down cross-legged on the verandah. All my own people had
gone to church and the house was very quiet.

"Good evening, Pakia," I said in English, "how are you, old man?"

A smile lit up the brown, old, wrinkled face as he heard my voice--for I
was lying down in the sitting-room, smoking my after-supper pipe--as he
answered in the island dialect that he was well, but that his house was
in darkness and he, being lonely, had come over to sit with me awhile.

"That is well, Pakia, for I too am lonely, and who so good as thee to
talk with when the mind is heavy and the days are long, and no sail
cometh up from the sea-rim? Come, sit here within the doorway, for the
night wind is chill; and fill thy pipe."

He came inside as I rose and turned up the lamp so that its light shone
full on his bald, bronzed head and deeply tatooed arms and shoulders.
Laying down his polished staff of _temana_ wood, he came over to me,
placed his hand on my arm, patted it gently, and then his kindly old
eyes sought mine.

"Be not dull of heart, _taka taina_.[1] A ship will soon come--it may be
to-morrow; it must be soon; for twice have I heard the cocks crow at
midnight since I was last here, three days ago. And when the cocks crow
at night-time a ship is near."

"May it be so, Pakia, for I am weary of waiting. Ten months have come
and gone since I first put foot on this land of Nukufetau, and a ship
was to have come here in four."

He filled his pipe, then drawing a small mat near my lounge, he squatted
on the floor, and we smoked in silence, listening to the gentle lapping
of the lagoon waters upon the inner beach and the beating, never-ceasing
hum of the surf on the reef beyond. Overhead the branches of the palms
swayed and rustled to the night-breeze.

Presently, as I turned to look seaward, I caught the old man's dark eyes
fixed upon my face, and in them I read a sympathy that at that time and
place was grateful to me.

"Six months is long for one who waits, Pakia," I said. "I came here but
to stay four months and trade for copra; then the ship was to call and
take me to Ponape, in the far north-west. And Ponape is a great land to
such a man as me."

"_Etonu! Etonu!_ I know it. Thrice have I been there when I sailed in
the whaleships. A great land truly, like the island called Juan
Fernandez, of which I have told thee, with high mountains green to the
summits with trees, and deep, dark valleys wherein the sound of the sea
is never heard but when the surf beats hard upon the reef. Ah! a fine
land--better than this poor _motu_, which is as but a ring of sand set
in the midst of the deep sea. Would that I were young to go there with
thee! Tell me, dost know the two small, high islands in the _ava_[2]
which is called Jakoits? Hast seen the graves of two white men there?"

"I know the islands well; but I have never seen the graves of any white
men there. Who were they, and when did they die?"

"Ah, I am a foolish old man. I forget how old I am. Perhaps, when thou
wert a child in thy mother's arms, the graves stood up out of the
greensward at the foot of the high cliff which faces to the south. Tell
me, is there not a high wall of rock a little way back from the landing
beach?... Aye!... that is the place ... and the bones of the men are
there, though now great trees may grow over the place. They were both
good men--good to look at, tall and strong; and they fought and died
there just under the cliff. I saw them die, for I was there with the
captain of my ship. We, and others with us, saw it all."

"Who were they, Pakia, and how came they to fight?"

"One was a trader, whose name was Preston; he lived on the mainland of
Ponape, where he had a great house and oil store and many servants. The
name of the other man was Frank. They fought because of a woman."

"Tell me the story, Pakia. Thou hast seen many lands and many strange
things. And when ye come and sit and talk to me the dulness goeth away
from me and I no longer think of the ship; for of all the people on this
_motu_, to thee and Temana my servant alone do I talk freely. And Temana
is now at church."

The old man chuckled. "Aye, he is at church because Malepa, his wife, is
so jealous of him that she fears to leave him alone. Better would it
please him to be sitting here with us."

I drew the mat curtain across the sitting-room window so that we could
not be seen by prying eyes, and put two cups, a gourd of water, and some
brandy on the table. Except my own man, Temana, the rest of the natives
were intensely jealous of the poor old ex-sailor and wanderer in many
lands, and they very much resented his frequent visits to me--partly on
account of the occasional glass of grog which I gave him, and partly
because he was suspected of still being a _tagata po-uriuri, i.e._, a
heathen. This, however, he vigorously denied, and though Mareko, the
Samoan teacher, was a kind-hearted and tolerant man for a native
minister, the deacons delighted in persecuting and harassing the ancient
upon every possible opportunity, and upon one pretext or another had
succeeded in robbing him of his land and dividing it among his
relatives; so that now in his extreme old age he was dependent upon one
of his daughters, a woman who herself must have been past sixty.

I poured some brandy into the cups; we clicked them together and said,
"May you be lucky" to each other. Then he told me of Solepa.

* * * * *

"There were many whaleships came to anchor in the three harbours of
Ponape in those days. They came there for wood and water and fresh
provisions, before they sailed to the cold, icy seas of the south. I was
then a boat-steerer in an English ship--a good and lucky ship with a
good captain. When we came to Ponape we found there six other
whaleships, all anchored close together under the shelter of the two
islets. All the captains were friends, and the few white men who lived
on shore were friends with them, and every night there was much singing
and dancing on board the ships, for, as was the custom, every one on
board had been given a Ponape girl for wife as long as his ship stayed
there; and sometimes a ship would be there a long time--a month perhaps.

"The trader who lived in the big house was one of the first to come on
board our ship; for the captain and he were good friends. They talked
together on the poop deck, and I heard the trader say that he had been
away to Honolulu for nearly a year and had brought back with him a young

"'Good,' said my captain, 'to-night I shall come ashore and drink
_manuia!_[3] to ye both.'

"The trader was pleased, and said that some of the other captains could
come also, and that he had sent a letter to the other trader, Frank, who
lived on the other side of the island, bidding him to come and greet the
new wife. At these words the face of Stacey--that was my captain's name,
became dark, and he said--

"'You are foolish. Such a man as he is, is better away from thy
house--and thy wife. He is a _manaia_, an _ulavale_[4]. Take heed of my
words and have no dealings with him.'

"But the man Preston only laughed. He was a fool in this though he was
so clever in many other things. He was a big man, broad in the shoulders
with the bright eye and the merry laugh of a boy. He had been a sailor,
but had wearied of the life, and so he bought land in Ponape and became
a trader. He was a fair-dealing man with the people there, and so in
three or four years he became rich, and bought more land and built a
schooner which he sent away to far distant islands to trade for
pearl-shell and _loli_ (beche-de-mer). Then it was that he went to
Honolulu and came back with a wife.

"That day ere it became dark I went on shore with my captain; some of
the other captains went with us. The white man met them on the beach,
surrounded by many of his servants, male and female. Some were of
Ponape, some from Tahiti, some from Oahu, and some from the place which
you call Savage Island and we call Niue. As soon as the captains had
stepped out upon the beach and I had bidden the four sailors who were
with me to push off to return to the ship, the trader, seeing the
tatooing on my arms, gave a shout.

"'Ho,' he cried, turning to my captain, 'whence comes that boat-steerer
of thine? By the markings on his arms and chest he should be from the
isles of the Tokelau.'

"My captain laughed. 'He comes from near there. He is of Nukufetau.'

"Then let him stay on shore to-night, for there are here with me a man
and a woman from Nanomaga; they can talk together. And my wife Solepa,
too, will be well pleased to see him, for her mother was a Samoan, and
this man can talk to her in her mother's tongue.'

"'So I too went up to the house with the white men, but would not enter
with them, for I was stripped to the waist and could not go into the
presence of the lady. Presently the man and woman from Nanomaga sought
me out and embraced me and made much of me and took me into another part
of the house, where I waited till one of my shipmates returned from the
ship bringing my jumper and trousers of white duck and a new Panama hat.
Ta|pa|! I was a fine-looking man in those days, and women looked at
me from the corner of the eye. And now--look at me now! I am like a
blind fish which is swept hither and thither by the current against the
rocks and sandbanks. Give me some more grog, dear friend; when I talk of
the days of my youth my belly yearns for it, and I am not ashamed to

"Presently, after I had dressed myself, I was taken by the Nanomea man
into the big room where Solepa, the white man's wife, was sitting with
the white men. She came to me and took my hand, and said to me in Samoan
_'Talofa, Pakia, e ma|lolo| ea oe?'_[5] and my heart was glad; for
it was long since I heard any one speak in a tongue which is akin to
mine own.... Was she beautiful? you ask. Ta|pa|! All women are
beautiful when they are young, and their eyes are full and clear and
their voices are soft and their bosoms are round and smooth! All I can
remember of her is that she was very young, with a white, fair skin, and
dressed like the _papalagi_[6] women I have seen in Peretania and
Ita|lia and in Chili and in Sydney.

"As I stood before her, hat in hand and with my eyes looking downward,
which is proper and correct for a modest man to do when a high lady
speaks to him before many people, a white man who had been sitting at
the far end of the room came over to me and said some words of greeting
to me. This was Franka[7]--he whom my captain said was a _manaia_. He
was better clothed than any other of the white men, and was proud and
overbearing in his manner. He had brought with him more than a score of
young Ponape men, all of whom carried rifles and had cutlasses strapped
to their waists. This was done to show the people of Jakoits that he was
as great a man as Preston, whom he hated, as you will see. But Preston
had naught for him but good words, and when he saw the armed men he bade
them welcome and set aside a house for them to sleep in, and his
servants brought them many baskets of cooked food--taro and yams, and
fish, turtle, and pork. All this I saw whilst I was in the big room.

"After I had spoken with the lady Solepa I returned to where the man
from Nanomaga and his wife were awaiting me. They pressed me to eat and
drink, and by and by sent for a young girl to make kava. Ta|pa|!
that kava of Ponape! It is not made there as it is in Samoa--where the
young men and women chew the dried root and mix it in a wooden _tanoa_
(bowl); there the green root is crushed up in a hollowed stone and but
little water is added, so that it is strong, very strong, and one is
soon made drunk.

"The girl who made the kava for us was named Sipi. She had eyes like the
stars when they are shining upon a deep mountain pool, and round her
smooth forehead was bound a circlet of yellow pandanus leaf worked with
beads of many colours and fringed with red parrakeet feathers; about her
waist were two fine mats, and her bosom and hands were stained with
turmeric. I sat and watched her beating the kava, and as her right arm
rose and fell her short, black wavy hair danced about her cheeks and hid
the red mouth and white teeth when she smiled at me. And she smiled at
me very often, and the man and woman beside me laughed when they saw me
regard her so intently, and asked me was it in my mind to have her for
my wife.

"I did not answer at once, for I knew that if I ran away from the ship
for the sake of this girl I would be doing a foolish thing, for I had
money coming to me when the ship was _oti folau_ (paid off). But, as I
pondered, the girl bent forward and again her eyes smiled at me through
her hair; and then it was I saw that on her head there was a narrow
shaven strip from the crown backward. Now, in Tokelau, this fashion is
called _tu tagita_, and showeth that a girl is in her virginity. When I
saw this I was pleased, but to make sure I said to my friends, 'Her hair
is _tu tagita_. Is she a virgin?'

"The woman of Nanomaga laughed loudly at this and pinched my hand, then
she translated my words to the girl who looked into my face and laughed
too, shaking her head as she put one hand over her eyes--

"'Nay, nay, O stranger,' she said, 'I am no virgin; neither am I a
harlot. I am respectable, and my father and mother have land. I do not
go to the ships.' Then she tossed her hair back from her face and began
to beat the kava again.

"Now, this girl pleased me greatly, for there were no twists in her
tongue; so, when the kava-drinking was finished I made her sit beside
me, and the Nanomaga woman told her I would run away from the ship if
she would be my wife. She put her face to my shoulder, and then took
the circlet from her forehead and bound it round my bared arm, and I
gave her a silver ring which I wore on my little finger. Then, together
with the Nanomaga man and his wife, we made our plans.... Ah! she was a
fine girl. For nearly a year was she wife to me until she sickened and
died of the _meisake elo_[8] which was brought to Ponape by the
missionary ship from Honolulu.

"So the girl and I made our plans, and my friends promised to hide me
when the time came for me to run away. We sat long into the night, and I
heard much of the man called Franka and of the jealousy he bore to
Preston. He was jealous of him because of two reasons; one was that he
possessed such a fine house and so much land and a schooner, and the
other was that the people of Jakoits paid him the same respect as they
paid one of their high chiefs. So that was why Franka hated him. His
heart was full of hatred, and sometimes when he was drunk in his own
house at Ro|an Kiti he would boast to the natives that he would one
day show them that he was a better man than Preston. Sometimes his
drunken boastings were brought to the ears of Preston, who only laughed
and took no heed, and always gave him the good word when they met, which
was but seldom, for Jakoits and Kiti are far apart, and there was bad
blood between the people of the two places. And then--so the girl Sipi
afterwards told me--Franka was a lover of grog and a stealer of women,
and kept a noisy house and made much trouble, and so Preston went not
near him, for he was a quiet man and no drinker, and hated dissension.
And, besides this, Franka took part in the wars of the Kiti people, and
went about with a following of armed men, and such money as he made in
trading he spent in muskets and powder and ball; for all this Preston
had no liking, and one day he said to Franka, 'Be warned, this fighting
and slaying is wrong; it is not correct for a white man to enter into
these wars; you are doing wrong, and some day you will be killed.' Now
these were good words, but of what use are good words to an evil heart?

"So we pair sat talking and smoking, and the girl Sipi made us more
kava, and then again sat by my side and leant her face against my
shoulder, and presently we heard the sounds of music and singing from
the big house. We went outside to see and listen, and saw that Preston
was playing on a _pese laakau_[9] and Solepa and the captain of my ship
were dancing together--like as white people dance--and two of the other
captains were also dancing in the same fashion. All round the room were
seated many of the high chiefs of Ponape with their wives, dressed very
finely, and at one end of the room stood a long table covered with a
white cloth, on which was laid food of all kinds and wine and grog to
drink--just as you would see in your own country when a rich man gives a
feast. Presently as we looked, we saw Franka walk into the room from a
side door and look about. His face was flushed, and he staggered
slightly in his steps. He went over to the table and poured out some
grog, and then beckoned to Preston to come and drink with him, but
Preston smiled and shook his head. How could he go when he was making
the music? Then Franka struck his clenched fist on the table in anger,
and went over to Preston, just as the dancers had stopped.

"'Why will ye not drink with me?' he said in a loud voice so that all
heard him. 'Art thou too great a man to drink with me again?'

"'Nay,' answered the other jestingly and taking no heed of Franka's rude
voice and angry eyes, 'not so great that I cannot drink with all my
friends tonight, be they white or brown,' and so saying he bade every
one in the room come to the great table with him and drink _manuia_ to
him and his young wife.

"So the nine white men--Preston, and Franka, and the seven whaleship
captains, and Nanakin, the head chief of Ponape, and many other lesser
chiefs, all gathered together around the table and filled their glasses
and drank _manuia_ to the bride, who sat on a chair in the centre of the
room surrounded by the chiefs' wives, and smiled and bowed when my
captain called her name and raised his glass towards her. Then after
this he again took up the _pese laakau_ and began to play, and my
captain and Solepa danced again. Suddenly Franka pushed his way through
the others and rudely placed his hand on her arm.

"'Come,' he said, 'leave this fellow and dance with me.'

"She cried out in terror, and then silence fell upon all as my captain
withdrew his right arm from her waist and struck Franka on the mouth; it
was a strong blow, and Franka staggered backwards and then fell near to
the open door. As he rose to his feet again my captain came up to him
and bade him leave quickly. 'We want no drunken bullies here,' he said,
and at that moment Franka drew a pistol and pointed it at his chest. I
leapt upon him and as we struggled together the pistol went off, but the
bullet hurt no one.

"Then there was a great commotion, and my captain and Preston ran to my
aid and seized Franka. They dragged him out of the room, and with words
of scorn and contempt threw him out amongst his own people who were
gathered together outside the house, with their muskets in their hands.
But already Nanakin and his chiefs had summoned their fighting men; they
came running towards us from all directions, and surrounding Franka and
his men, drove them away and bade them beware of ever returning to

"When they had gone, my captain called me to him, and, turning to the
other white men, said, 'This man hath saved my life. He hath a brave
heart. I shall do much for him in the time to come.' Then he and the
others all shook my hand and praised me, and I was silent and said
nothing, for I was ashamed to think I was about to run away from such a
good captain.

"In the morning we went back to the ship, and the boats were then sent
away to fill and bring off casks of water. Every time my boat went I
took something with me; tobacco and clothing and other things which I
had in my sea chest. Sipi and some other girls met us at the watering
place, and they took these from me and put them in a place of safety.
That afternoon as the boats were about to leave the shore for the last
time, towing the casks, I slipped into the forest which grew very
densely on both sides of the little river, and ran till I came to the
spot where Sipi was awaiting me. Then together we went inland towards
the mountains and kept on walking till nightfall. That night we slept in
the forest; we were afraid to make a fire lest it should be seen by some
of Nanakin's people and betray us, for I knew that my captain would
cause a great search to be made for me. When dawn came we again set out
and went on steadily till we came to the summit of the range of
mountains which divides the island. There was a clear space on the side
of the mountain; a great village had once stood there, so Sipi told me,
but all those who had dwelt there had long since died, and their ghosts
could be heard flitting to and fro at night time. Far below us we could
see the blue sea, and the long waving line of reef with the surf beating
upon it, and within, anchored in the green water, were the seven ships
and Preston's schooner.

"All that day and the next the girl and I worked at building a little
house for us to live in until the ships had gone. We had no fear of any
one seeking us out in that place, for it had a bad name and none but
travelling parties from Ro|an Kiti ever passed there. Sipi had brought
with her a basket of cooked food; in the deserted plantations we found
plenty of bananas and yams, and in the stream at the foot of the valley
we caught many small fish. Four days went by, and then one morning we
saw the ships set their sails and go to sea. We watched them till they
touched the sky rim and disappeared; then we went back to Jakoits.

"The white man and Solepa were sitting under the shade of a tree in
front of their house. I went boldly up to him and asked him to give me
work to do. At first he was angry, for he and my captain were great
friends, and said he would have naught to do with me. Why did I run away
from such a good man and such a good ship? There were too many men like
me, he said, in Ponape, who had run away so that they might do naught
but wander from village to village and eat and drink and sleep. Then
again he asked why I had run away.

"'Because of her,' I said, pointing to the girl Sipi, who was sitting at
the gate with her face covered with the corner of her mat. 'But I am no
_tafao vale_.[10] I am a true man. Give me work on thy ship.'

"He thought a little while, then he and Solepa talked together, and
Solepa bade Sipi come near so that she might talk to her. Presently he
said to me that I had done a foolish thing to run away for the sake of
the girl when I had money coming to me and when the captain's heart was
filled with friendship towards me for turning aside Franka's pistol.

"I bent my head, for I was ashamed. Then I said, 'I care not for the
money I have lost, but I am eaten up with shame for running away, for my
captain was a good captain to me.'

"This pleased him, for he smiled and said, 'I will try thee. I will make
thee boatswain of the schooner, and this girl here shall be servant to
my wife.'

"So Sipi became servant to Solepa, and I was sent on board the schooner
to help prepare her for sea. My new captain gave us a house to live in,
and every night I came on shore. Ah, those were brave times, and Preston
made much of me when he found that I was a true man and did my work
well, and would stand no saucy words nor black looks from those of the
schooner's crew who thought that the boatswain should be a white man.

"Ten days after the whaleships had sailed, the schooner was ready for
sea. We were to sail to the westward isles to trade for oil and
tortoiseshell, and then go to China, where Preston thought to sell his
cargo. On the eve of the day on which we were to leave, the mate, who
was an old and stupid Siamani,[11] went ashore to my master's house, and
I was left in charge of the schooner. Sipi, my wife, was with me, and we
sat together in the stern of the ship, smoking our _sului_ (cigarettes)
and talking of the time when I should return and buy a piece of land
from her father's people, on which I should build a new house. There
were six native sailors on board, and these, as the night drew on,
spread their mats on the fore deck and went to sleep. Then Sipi and I
went into the cabin, which was on deck, and we too slept.

"How long we had slumbered I cannot tell, but suddenly we were aroused
by the sound of a great clamour on deck and the groans and cries of
dying men, and then ere we were well awakened the cabin door was opened
and Solepa was thrust inside. Then the door was quickly closed and
fastened on the outside, and I heard Franka's voice calling out orders
to hoist sails and slip the cable.

"There was a lamp burning dimly in the cabin, and Sipi and I ran to the
aid of Solepa, who lay prone upon the floor as if dead. Her dress was
torn, and her hands and arms were scratched and bleeding, so that Sipi
wept as she leant over her and put water to her lips. In a little while
she opened her eyes, and when she saw us a great sob broke from her
bosom and she caught my hand in hers and tried to speak.

"Now, grog is a good thing. It is good for a weak, panting woman when
her strength is gone and her soul is terrified, and it is good for an
old man who is despised by his relations because he is bitten with
poverty. There was grog in a wicker jar in the cabin. I gave her some in
a glass, and then as the dog Franka, whose soul and body are now in
hell, was getting the schooner under way, she told me that while she and
Preston were asleep the house was surrounded by a hundred or more of
men from Ro|an Kiti, led by Franka. They burst in suddenly, and Franka
and some others rushed into their sleeping-room and she was torn away
from her husband and carried down to the beach.

"'Is thy husband dead?' I asked.

"'I cannot tell,' she said in a weak voice. 'I heard some shots fired
and saw him struggling with Franka's men. That is all I know. If he is
dead then shall I die too. Give me a knife, so that I may die.'

"As she spoke the schooner began to move, and again we heard Franka's
voice calling out in English to some one to go forward and con the ship
whilst he steered, for the night was dark and he, clever stealer of
women as he was, did not know the passage out through the reef, and
trusted to those with him who knew but little more. Then something came
into my mind, and I took Solepa's hand in mine.

"'I will save thee from this pig Franka,' I said quickly, 'he shall
never take thee away. Sit ye here with Sipi, and when ye hear the
schooner strike, spring ye both into the sea and swim towards the two
islands which are near.'

"In the centre of the deck cabin was a hatch which led into the hold.
There was no deck between, for the vessel was but small. I took my knife
from the sheath and then lifted the hatch, descended, and crawled
forward in the darkness to the fore hatch, up which I crept very
carefully, for I had much in my mind. I saw a man standing up, holding
on to the fore stay. He was calling out to Franka every now and then,
telling him how to steer. I sprang up behind him, and as I drove my
knife into his back with my left hand, I struck him with my right on his
neck and he fell overboard. He was a white man, I think for when my
knife went into his back he called out 'Oh Christ!' But then many native
men who have mixed with white people call out 'Oh, Christ,' just like
white men when they are drunk. Anyway, it does not matter now.

"But as I struck my knife into him, I called out in English to put the
helm hard down, for I saw that the schooner was very near the reef on
the starboard hand. Franka, who was at the wheel, at once obeyed and was
fooled, for the schooner, which was now leaping and singing to the
strong night wind from the mountains smote suddenly upon the coral reef
with a noise like the felling of a great forest tree, and began to grind
and tear her timbers.

"Almost as she struck Solepa and Sipi stood by me, and together we
sprang overboard into the white surf ... Give me some more grog, dear
friend of my heart. I am no boaster, nor am I a liar; but when I think
of that swim to the shore through the rolling seas with those two women,
my belly cleaves to my backbone and I become faint.... For the current
was against us, and neither Sipi nor Solepa were good swimmers, and many
times had we to clutch hold of the jagged coral, which tore our skins so
that our blood ran out freely, and had the sharks come to us then I
would not be here with thee to-night drinking this, thy good sweet grog
which thou givest me out of thy kind heart. Ta|pa|! When I look
into thy face and see thy kind eyes, I am young again. I love thee, not
alone because thou hast been kind to me in my poverty and paid the fines
of my granddaughter when she hath committed adultery with the young men
of the village, but because thou hast seen many lands and have upheld me
before the teacher, who is a circumcised but yet untatooed dog of a
Samoan. A man who is not tatooed is no better than a woman. He is a male
harlot and should be despised. He is only fit to associate with women,
and has no right to beget children....

"We three swam to the shore, and when the dawn came we saw that the
schooner stood high and dry on the reef and that Franka and his men were
trying to float her by throwing overboard the iron ballast and putting a
kedge anchor out upon the lee side of the reef. And at the same time we
saw three boats put off from the mainland. These boats were all painted
white, and when I saw them I said to Solepa, 'Be of good heart. Thy
husband is not dead, for here are three of his boats coming. He is not
dead. He is coming to seek thee.'"

"The three boats came quickly towards the schooner, but ere they reached
her Franka and those with him got into the boats in which they had
boarded the vessel, and then we saw smoke arise from the bow and
stern.... They had set fire to the ship. They were cowards. Fire is a
great help to cowards, because in the glare and dazzling light of
burning houses or ships, when the thunder of cannons and the rattle of
rifles is heard, they can run about and kill people.... I have seen
these things done in Chili.... I have seen men who would not stand and
fight on board ship run away on shore and slay women and children in
their fury and cowardice. No, they were not Englishmen; they were
Spaniolas. But the officers were Englishmen and Germans. _They_ did not
run away, they were killed. Brave men get killed and cowards live. I am
no coward though I am still alive. It is quite proper that I should
live, for I never ran away when there was fighting to be done. I have
only been a fool because of my love for women. No one could say I was a
coward, and no one can say I am a fool, because I am too old now to be a

"As Franka and those with him left the burning schooner and rowed
towards the islands, the three boats from the shore changed their course
and followed him. Franka and his men were the first to reach the land,
and they quickly ran up the beach and crouched behind the bushes which
grew at high-water mark. They all had guns, and Sipi and Solepa and I
saw them waiting to shoot. We were hiding amid the roots of a great
banyan tree, and could see well. As the boats drew near Solepa watched
them eagerly, and then began to weep and laugh at the same time when she
saw her husband Preston was steering the one which led. She was a good
woman. She loved her husband. I was pleased with her, and told her to be
of good cheer, for I was sure that Preston and his people would kill
Franka and those with him, for as they rowed they made no noise. No one
shouted nor challenged; they came on and on, and the white man Preston
stood up with the steer oar in his hand, and his face was as a stone in
which was set eyes of fire. When his boat was within twenty fathoms of
the beach the rowers ceased, and he held up his hand to those who
awaited his coming.

"'Listen to me, men of Ro|an Kiti. We are as three to one of ye, and
ye are caught in a trap. Death is in my mouth if I speak the word. Tell
me, is my wife Solepa alive?'

"No one answered, but suddenly Franka stepped out from behind the bushes
and pointed his rifle at him, and was about to pull the trigger when a
young man of his party who was of good heart seized him by the arm, and
cried out 'twas a coward's act; then two or three followed him, and
together they bore Franka down upon the sand; and one of them cried out
to Preston--

"'This is a wrong business. We were led astray by this man. We are no
cowards, and have no ill-will to thee. Thy wife is alive. She swam
ashore with two others when the ship struck. Are we dead men?'

"Then, ere Preston could answer, Solepa leapt out from beneath the
banyan tree and ran through the men of Ro|an Kiti towards the beach,
and cried--

"'Oh, my husband, for the love of God let no blood be shed! I am well
and unharmed. Spare these people and spare even this man Franka, for he
is mad!'

"Then Preston leapt out of the boat and put his arms around her waist
and kissed her, and then put her aside, and called to every one around

"'These are my words,' he said. 'I am a man of peace, but this man
Franka is a robber and a dog, and hath stolen upon me in the night and
slain my people, and his hands are reddened with blood. And he hath put
foul dishonour on me by stealing Solepa my wife, and carrying her away
from my house as if she were a slave or a harlot. And there is no room
here for such a man to live unless he be a better man than I. But I am
no murderer. So stand aside all! Let him rise and rest awhile, and then
shall we two fight, man to man. Either he or I must die.'

"Then many men of both sides came to him and said, 'Let this thing be
finished. You are a strong man. Take this robber and slay him as you
would slay a pig.' But he put them aside, and said he would fight him
man to man, as Englishmen fought.

"So when Franka was rested two cutlasses were brought, and the two men
stood face to face on the sand. I kept close to Franka, for I meant to
stab him if I could, but Preston angrily bade me stand back. Then the
two crossed their swords together and began to fight. It was a great
fight, but it did not last long, for Preston soon ran his sword through
Franka's chest. I saw it come out through his back. But as he fell and
Preston bent over him he thrust his cutlass into Preston's stomach and
worked it to and fro. Then Preston fell on him, and they died together.

"There was no more bloodshed. Solepa and Sipi and I dressed the dead man
in his best clothes, and the Ro|an Kiti men dressed Franka in his
best clothes, and a great funeral feast was made, and we buried them
together on the little island. And Solepa went back again to Honolulu in
a whaleship. She was young and fair, and should have soon found another
husband. I do not know. But Sipi was a fine wife to me."

_The Fisher Folk of Nukufetau_

Early one morning, about a week after I had settled down on Nukufetau as
a trader, I opened my chest of fishing-gear and began to overhaul it. In
a few minutes I was surrounded by an eager and interested group of
natives, who examined everything with the greatest curiosity.

Now for the preceding twelve months I had been living on the little
island of Nanomaga, a day's sail from Nukufetau; and between Nanomaga
and Nukufetau there was a great bitterness of long standing--the
Nanomagans claimed to be the most daring canoe-men and expert fishermen
in all the eight isles of the Ellice Group, and the people of Nukufetau
resented the claim strongly. The feeling had been accentuated by my good
friend the Samoan teacher on Nanomaga, himself an ardent fisherman,
writing to his brother minister on Nukufetau and informing him that
although I was not a high-class Christian I was all right in all other
respects, and a good fisherman--"all that he did not know we have taught
him, therefore," he added slyly, "let your young men watch him so that
they may learn how to fish in deep and rough water, such as ours."
These remarks were of course duly made public, and caused much
indignation, neither the minister nor his flock liking the gibe about
the deep, rough water; also the insinuation that anything about fishing
was to be learnt from the new white man was annoying and uncalled for.

I must here mention that the natives of De Peyster's Island (Nukufetau)
caught all the fish they wanted in the smooth and spacious waters of the
lagoon, and were not fond of venturing outside the barrier reef, except
during the bonito season, or when the sea was very calm at night, to
catch flying-fish. Then, too, the currents outside the reef were swift
and dangerous, and the canoes had either to be carried a long distance
over the coral or paddled a couple of miles across the lagoon to the
ship passage before the open sea was gained. Hudson's Island
(Nanomaga)--a tiny spot less than four miles in circumference--had no
lagoon, and all fishing was done in the deep water of the ocean. The
natives were used to launching their canoes, year in and year out, to
face the wildest surf, and were, in consequence, wonderfully expert, and
in the history of the island there is only one instance of a man having
been drowned. The De Peyster people, by reason of the advantage of their
placid lagoon, had no reason to risk their lives in the surf in this
manner, and so, naturally enough, they were not nearly as skilful in the
management of their frail canoes when they had to face a sweeping sea on
the outer or ocean reef.

Just as I was placing some coils of heavy, deep-sea lines upon the
matted floor, Mareko the native teacher, fat, jovial, and
bubbling-voiced, entered in a great hurry, and hardly giving himself
time to shake hands with me, announced in a tone of triumph, that a body
of _atuli_ (baby bonito) had just entered the passage and were making
their way up the lagoon.

In less than ten seconds every man, woman, and child on the island,
except the teacher and myself, were agog with excitement and bawling and
shouting as they rushed to the beach to launch and man the canoes, the
advent of the _atuli_ having been expected for some days. In nearly all
the equatorial islands of the Pacific these beautiful little fish make
their appearance every year almost to a day, with unvarying regularity.
They remain in the smooth waters of lagoons for about two weeks,
swimming about in incredible numbers, and apparently so terrified of
their many enemies in their own element, and the savage, keen-eyed
frigate birds which constantly assail them from above, that they
sometimes crowd into small pools on the inner reef, and when the tide is
low, seek to hide themselves by lying in thick masses under the
overhanging ledges of coral rock. Simultaneously--or at least within a
day or two at most--the swarming millions of _atuli_ are followed into
the lagoons by the _gatala_--a large black and grey rock-cod (much
esteemed by the natives for the delicacy of its flavour) and great
numbers of enormous eels. At other times of the year both the _gatala_
and the eels are never or but rarely seen inside the lagoons, but are
occasionally caught outside the reef at a good depth--forty to sixty
fathoms. As soon, however, as the young bonito appear, both eels and
rock-cod change their normal habits, and entering the lagoons through
the passages thereto, they take up their quarters in the deeper
parts--places which are fringed by a labyrinthine border of coral
forest, and are at most ten fathoms deep. Here, when the _atuli_ are
covering the surface above, the eels and rock-cod actually rise to the
surface and play havoc among them, especially during moonlight nights,
and in the daytime both rock-cod and eels may be seen pursuing their
hapless prey in the very shallowest water, amidst the little pools and
runnels of the coral reef. It is at this time that the natives of
Nukufetau and some other islands have some glorious sport, for in
addition to the huge eels and rock-cod many other deep-sea fish flock
into the shallower lagoon waters--all in pursuit of the _atuli_--and all
eager to take the hook.

* * * * *

As soon as the natives had left the house, Mareko turned to me with a
beaming smile. "Let them go on first and net some _atuli_ for us for
bait," he said, "you and I shall follow in my own canoe and fish for
_gatala_. It will be a great thing for one of us to catch the first
_gatala_ of the season. Yesterday, when I was over there," pointing to
two tiny islets within the lagoon, "I saw some _gatala_. The natives
laugh at me and say I am mistaken--that because the _atuli_ had not come
there could be no _gatala_. Now, _I_ think that the big fish came in
some days ago, but the strong wind and current kept the _atuli_ outside
till now. Come."

I needed no pressing. In five minutes I had my basket of lines (of white
American cotton) ready, and joined Mareko. His canoe (the best on the
island, of course) was already in the water and manned by his two sons,
boys of eight and twelve respectively. I sat for'ard, the two youngsters
amidships, the father took the post of honour as _tautai_ or steersman,
and with a chuckle of satisfaction from the boys, off we went in the
wake of about thirty other canoes.

Oh, the delight of urging a light canoe over the glassy water of an
island lagoon, and watching the changing colours and strange, grotesque
shapes of the coral trees and plants of the garden beneath as they
vanish swiftly astern, and the quick _chip, chip_ of the flashing
paddles sends the whirling, noisy eddies to right and left, and frights
the lazy, many-hued rock-fish into the darker depths beneath! On, on,
till the half mile or more of shallow water which covers the inner reef
is passed, and then suddenly you shoot over the top of the submarine
wall, into deepest, loveliest blue, full thirty fathoms deep, and as
calm and quiet as an infant sleeping on its mother's bosom, though
perhaps not a quarter of a mile away on either hand the long rollers of
the Pacific are bellowing and thundering on the grim black shelves of
the weather coast.

So it was on this morning, but with added delights and beauties; as
instead of striking straight across the lagoon to our rendezvous we had
to skirt the beaches of a chain of thickly wooded islets, which gave
forth a sweet smell, mingled with the odours of _nono_ blossoms; for
during the night rain had fallen after a long month of dry weather, and
Nature was breathing with joy. High overhead there floated some
snow-white tropic birds--those gentle, ethereal creatures which, to the
toil-spent seaman who watches their mysterious poise in illimitable
space, seem to denote the greater Mystery and Rest that lieth beyond all
things; and lower down, and sweeping swiftly to and fro with steady,
outspread wing and long, forked tail, the fierce-eyed, savage frigate
birds scanned the surface of the water in search of prey, and then
finding it not, rose without apparent motion to the cloudless canopy of
blue and became as but tiny black specks--and then, _swish_! and the
tiny black specks which but a minute ago were high in heaven are
flashing by your cheeks with a weird, whistling sound like winged
spectres. You look for them. They are gone. Already they are a thousand
feet overhead. Five of them. And all five are as motionless as if they,
with their wide, outspread wings, had never moved from their present
position for a thousand years.

"Chip, chip," and "chunk, chunk," go our paddles as we now head eastward
towards the rising sun in whose resplendent rays the tufted palms of the
two islets stand clearly out, silhouetted against the sea rim beyond.
Now and again we hear, as from a long, long distance, the echoes of the
voices of the people in the canoes ahead; a soft white mist began to
gather over and then ascend from the water, and as we drew near the
islets the occasional thunder of the serf on Motuluga Reef we heard
awhile ago changed into a monotonous droning hum.

"_Aue_!" said Mareko the _tautai_, with a laugh, as he ceased paddling
and laid his paddle athwartships, "'tis like to be a hot day and calm.
So much the better for our fishing, for the water will be very clear.
Boy, give me a coconut to drink."

"Take some whisky with it, Mareko," I said, taking a flask out of my

"_Isa_! Shame upon you! How can you say such a thing to me, a minister!"
And then he added, with a reproachful look, "and my children here, too."
He would have winked, but he dared not do so, for one of his boys had
turned his face aft and was facing him. I, however, made him a hurried
gesture which he quite understood. Good old Mareko! He was an honest,
generous-hearted, broad-minded fellow, but terribly afraid of his
tyrannical deacons, who objected to him smoking even in the seclusion of
his own curatage, and otherwise bullied and worried him into behaving
exactly as they thought he should.

By the time we reached the islets the _atuli_ catching had begun, and
more than a hundred natives were encircling a considerable area of water
with finely-meshed nets and driving the fish shoreward upon a small
sandy beach, where they were scooped up in gleaming masses of shining
blue and silver by a number of women and children, who tumbled over and
pushed each other aside amidst much laughter and merriment.

On the larger of the two islets were a few thatched huts with open
sides. One of these was reserved for the missionary and the white man,
and hauling our canoe up on the beach at the invitation of the people,
we sat down under a shed whilst the women grilled us some of the
freshly-caught fish. This took barely over ten minutes, as fires had
already been lighted by the children. The absence of bread was made up
for by the flesh of half-grown coconuts and cooked _puraka_--gigantic
species of taro which thrives well in the sandy soil of the Equatorial
islands of the Pacific. Just as we had finished eating and were
preparing our lines we heard loud cries from the natives who were still
engaged among the _atuli_, and three or four of them seizing spears
began chasing what were evidently some large fish. Presently one of them
darted his weapon, and then gave a loud cry of triumph, as he leapt into
the water and dragged out a large salmon-like fish called "utu", which
was at once brought ashore for my inspection. The man who had struck
it--an active, wiry old fellow named Viliamu (William) was panting with
excitement. Some large _gatala_, he said, had just made their appearance
with the _utu_ and were pursuing the small fish; therefore would we
please hurry forward with our preparations. Then the leader of the
entire party stood up and bellowed out in bull-like tones his
instructions. The canoes were all to start together, and when the ground
was reached all lines were to be lowered simultaneously; there was to be
no crowding. The white man and missionary, however, if they wished,
could start first and make a choice of position.

"No, no," I said, "let us all start fair."

This was greeted with a chorus of approval, and then leaving the women
and children to attend to the camp, we hurried back to the canoes. Just
as we were leaving the hut I had a look at the _utu_--a fish I had never
before seen. It was about three feet in length, and only for its head
(which was coarse and clumsy) much like a heavy salmon. The back was
covered with light green scales, the sides and belly a pure silver, and
the fins and tail tipped with yellow. It weighed about 20 lbs., and
presented a very handsome appearance.

The fishing-ground to which we were now paddling was not half a mile
from the islets, and lay between them and the outer reef which formed
its northern boundary. It consisted of a series of deep channels or
connected pools running or situated amidst a network of minor reefs, the
surfaces of which were, for the most part, bare at low water. Generally
the depth was from eight to ten fathoms; in places, however, it was much
deeper, and I subsequently found that there were spots whereon I could
stand (on the coral ledge) and drop my line into chasms of thirty-two or
thirty-three fathoms. Here the water was almost as blue to the eye as
the ocean, and here the very largest fish resorted--such as the _pura_,
a species of rock-cod, and a blue-scaled groper, the native name of
which I cannot now recall.

It must have been nearly ten o'clock when the canoes were all in
position, and the word was given to let go lines. The particular spot in
which we were congregated was about three acres in extent and about
seven fathoms in depth, with water as clear as crystal; and even the
dullest eye could discern the smallest pebble or piece of broken coral
lying upon the bottom, which was generally composed of patches of coarse
sand surrounded by an interlacing fringe of growing coral, or white,
blue, or yellow boulders. A glance over the side showed us that the
_gatala_ had arrived; we could see numbers of them swimming lazily to
and fro beneath, awaiting the flowing tide which would soon cover the
lagoon from one shore to the other with swarms of young bonito, as they
swam about in search of such places as that in which we were now about
to begin fishing.

Each man had baited his hook with the third of an _atuli_--at this stage
of their life about four inches long and exactly the colour and shape of
a young mackerel--and within five minutes after "_Tu'u tau kafa_!"
("Let go lines!") had been called out several of the canoes around our
own began to pull up fish--four to six pounders. I was fishing with a
white cotton line, with two hooks, and Mareko with the usual native
gear--a hand-made line of hibiscus bark with a barbless hook made from a
long wire nail, with its point ground fine and well-curved inwards. We
both struck fish at the same moment, and I knew by the zigzag pull that
I had two. Up they came together--three spotted beauties about eighteen
inches in length and weighing over 5 lbs. each. Then I found the
advantage of the native style of hook; Mareko simply put his left thumb
and forefinger into the fish's eye, had his hook free in a moment, had
baited, lowered again and was pulling up another before I had succeeded
in freeing even my first hook which was firmly fixed in the fish's
gullet, out of sight. I soon put myself on a more even footing by
cutting off the small one and a half inch hooks I had been using and
bending on two thick and long-shanked four inchers. These answered
beautifully, as although the barbs caused me some trouble, their stout
shanks afforded a good grip and leverage when extracting them from the
hard and keen-toothed jaws of the struggling fish. Then, too, I had
another advantage over my companions; I was wearing a pair of seaboots
which effectually protected my feet from either the terrible fins or the
teeth of the fish in the bottom of the canoe.

I had caught my eighth fish, when an outcry came from a canoe near us,
as a young man who was seated on the for'ard thwart rose to his feet and
began hauling in his line, which was standing straight up and down, taut
as an iron bar, the canoe meanwhile spinning round and round although
the steersman used all his efforts to keep her steady.

"What is it, Tuluia?" called out fifty voices at once. "A shark?"

"My mother's bones!" said old Viliamu with a laugh of contempt. "'Tis an
eel, and Tuluia, who was asleep, has let it twist its tail around a
piece of coral. May he lose it for his stupidity."

We all ceased fishing to watch, and half a dozen men began jeering at
the lad, who was too excited to heed them. Old Viliamu, who was in the
next canoe, looked down, and then cried out that he could see the eel,
which had taken several turns of its body around a thick branch of
growing coral.

"His head is up," he called out to the youth, "but you cannot move him,
he has too many turns in and out among the coral." Then paddling up
alongside he again looked at the struggling creature, then felt the line
which was vibrating with the tension. Stepping out of his own craft into
that of the young man, the line was placed in his hands without an inch
of it being payed out, for once one of these giant eels can get his head
down he will so quickly twine the line in and out among the rugged coral
that it is soon chafed through, if of ordinary thickness. But the
ancient knew his work well, as we were soon to see. Taking a turn of the
line well up on his forearm and grasping it with his right a yard lower
down, he waited for a second or two, then suddenly bent his body till
his face nearly touched the water, then he sprang erect and with
lightning-like rapidity began to haul in hand _under_ hand [12] amid
loud cries of approval as the wriggling body of the eel was seen
ascending clear of the coral. The moment it reached the surface, a
second native, with unerring aim sent a spear through it and then a blow
or two upon the head with a club carried for the purpose took all
further fight out of the creature, which was then lifted out of the
water and dropped into the canoe. Here the end of its tail was quickly
split open and we saw no more of him for the time being.

To capture an eel so soon was looked upon as a lucky omen, to have lost
it would have been a presage of ill-fortune for the rest of the day, and
the incident put every one in high good humour. By this time the tide
was flowing over the flatter parts of the reef and young bonito could be
seen jumping out of the water in all directions. Immense bodies were, so
I was assured by the natives, now coming into the lagoon from the sea,
and would continue to do so till the tide turned, when those in the
passage, unable to face a six-knot current, would be carried out again,
to make another attempt later on.

By this time every canoe was hauling in large rock-cod almost as quick
as the lines could be baited, and the bottom of our own craft presented
a gruesome sight--a lather of blood and froth and kicking fish, some of
which were over 20 lbs. weight. Telling the two boys to cease fishing
awhile and stun some of the liveliest, I unthinkingly began to bale out
some of the ensanguined water, when a score of indignant voices bade me
cease. Did I want to bring all the sharks in the world around us? I was
asked; and old Viliamu, who was a sarcastic old gentleman, made a mock
apology for me--

"How should he know any better? The sharks of Tokelau have no teeth,
like the people there, for they too are eaters of _fala_."

This evoked a sally of laughter, in which of course I joined. I must
explain that the natives of the Tokelau Group, among whom I had lived,
through constantly chewing the tough drupes of the fruit of the _fala_
(pandanus palm) wear out their teeth prematurely, and are sometimes
termed "toothless" by other natives of the South Pacific. However, I was
to have my own little joke at Viliamu's expense later on.

Just at this time a sudden squall, accompanied by torrents of rain, came
down upon us from the eastward, and whilst Mareko and his boys kept us
head to wind--none of the canoes were anchored--I took the opportunity
of getting ready two of my own lines, each treble-hooked, for the boys.
Their own were old and rotten, and had parted so often that they were
now too short to be of use, and, besides that, the few remaining hooks
of soft wire were too small. As soon as the squall was over I showed
Mareko what I had done. He nodded and smiled, but said I should try and
break off the barbs--his boys did not understand them as well as
native-made hooks. This was quickly accomplished with a heavy knife, and
the youngsters began to haul up fish two and three at a time at such a
rate that the canoe soon became deep in the water outside and very full

"A few more, Mareko," I said, "and then we'll go ashore, unload, and
come back again. I want to tease that old man."

We caught all we could possibly carry in another quarter of an hour, and
I was confident that our take exceeded that of any other canoe. This was
because the natives would carefully watch their stone sinkers descend,
and use every care to keep them from being entangled in the coral,
whilst my line, which had a 12 oz. leaden sinker, would plump quickly to
the bottom in the midst of the hungry fish; consequently, although I
lost some hooks by fouling and now and then dragged up a bunch of coral,
I was catching more fish than any one else. And I was not going to let
my reputation suffer for the sake of a few hooks. So we coiled up our
lines on the outrigger platform, and taking up our paddles headed
shoreward, taking care to pass near Viliamu's canoe. He hailed me and
asked me for a pipe of tobacco.

"I shall give it to you when we return," I said.

"When you return! Why, where are you going?" he asked.

"On shore, you silly old woman! I have been showing these boys how to
fish for _gatala_, and we go because the canoe is sinking. When we
return these two _tamariki_ (infants) shall show _you_ how to fish now
that they have learnt from me."

There was a loud laugh at this, and as the old man took the jest very
good-naturedly I brought up alongside, showed him our take, and gave him
a stick of tobacco. The astonishment of himself and his crew of three at
the quantity of fish we had afforded me much satisfaction, though I
could not help feeling that our luck was not due to my own skill alone.

Returning to the islets we were just in time to escape two fierce
squalls, which lasted half an hour and raised such a sea that the
remaining canoes began to follow us, as they were unable to keep on the
ground. During our absence the women and children had been most
industrious; the weather-worn, dilapidated huts had been made habitable
with freshly-plaited _kapaus_--coarse mats of green coconut leaves, the
floors covered with clean white pebbles, sleeping mats in readiness, and
heaps of young drinking nuts piled up in every corner, whilst outside
smoke was arising from a score of ground ovens in which taro and puraka
were being cooked, together with bundles of _atuli_ wrapped in leaves.

Etiquette forbade Mareko and myself counting our fish until the rest of
the party returned, although the women had taken them out of the canoe
and laid them on the beach, where the pouring rain soon washed them
clean and showed them in all their shining beauty. Among them were two
or three parrot-fish--rich carmine, striped with bands of bright yellow,
boneless fins, and long protruding teeth in the upper jaw showing out
from the thick, fleshy lips; and one _afulu_--a species of deep-water
sand mullet with purple scales and yellow fins.

Whilst awaiting the rest of the canoes I drew the teacher into our hut
and pressed him to take some whisky. He was wet, cold, and shivering,
but resolutely declined to take any. "I should like to drink a little,"
he said frankly, "but I must not. I cannot drink it in secret, and yet I
must not set a bad example. Do not ask me, please. But if you like to
give some to the old men do so, but only a very little." I did do so. As
soon as the rest of the party landed I called up four of the oldest men
and gave each of them a stiff nip. They were all nude to the waist, and
like all Polynesians who have been exposed to a cold rain squall, were
shivering and miserable. After each man had taken his nip and emitted a
deep sigh of satisfaction I observed that hundreds of old white men
saved their lives by taking a glass of spirits when they were wet
through--they had to do so by the doctor's orders.

"That is true," said one old fellow; "when men grow old, and the rain
falls upon them it does not run off their skins as it would from the
smooth skins of young men. It gets into the wrinkles and stays there.
But when the belly is warmed with grog a man does not feel the cold."

"True," I said gravely, as I poured some whisky out for myself; "true,
quite true, my dear friends. And in these islands it is very bad for an
old man to be exposed to much rain. That is why I am disturbed in my
mind. See, there is Mareko, your minister. He, like you, is old; he is
wet and cold. And he shivers. And he will not take a mouthful of this
_rom_ because he fears scandal. Now if he should become ill and die I
should be a disgraced man. This _rom_ is now not _rom_; it is medicine.
And Mareko should take some even as you have taken it--to keep away

The four old fellows arose to the occasion. They talked earnestly
together for a minute, and then formed themselves into a committee,
requested me to head them as a deputation with the whisky, and then
waited upon their pastor, who was putting on a dry shirt in another hut.
I am glad to say that under our united protests he at last consented to
save his life, and felt much better.

Presently the women announced that the ovens were ready to be opened. As
soon as the fish were counted, and the rain having ceased, we all
gathered round the canoes and watched each one emptied of its load. As I
imagined, our party had taken the most fish, and not only the most, but
the heaviest as well. Mareko added to my blushing honours by informing
the company that as a fisherman and a knowledgable man generally I
justified his brother minister's opinion and would prove an acquisition
to the community. We then inspected the first eel caught, and a truly
huge creature it was, quite nine feet in length, and in girth at its
thickest part, as near as I could guess with a piece of line, thirty
inches. The line with which it was caught was made of new four-stranded
coir-cinnet, as thick as a stout lead pencil, and the hook a piece of
3/6 or 1/2 inch iron with a 6-inch shank, once used as a fish spear,
without a barb! The natives seemed much pleased at the interest
displayed, and told me that sometimes these eels grew to _elua gafa_
(_i.e._, two fathoms), but were seldom caught, and asked me if I had
tackle strong enough for such. Later on I showed them a 27-stranded
American cotton line 100 fathoms long, with a 4-inch hook, curved in the
shank, as thick as a pencil, and "eyed" for a twisted wire snooding.
They had never seen such beautiful tackle before, and were loud in their
expressions of admiration, but thought the line too thin for a very
heavy fish. I told them that at Nanomaga I had caught _palu_ (a
nocturnal feeding fish of great size) in over sixty fathoms with that
same line.

"That is true," said one of them politely, "we were told that you and
Tiaki (one Jack O'Brien, an old trader) of Funafuti have caught many
_palu_ with your long lines; but the _palu_ is a weak fish even when he
is a fathom long. And as he comes up he grows weaker and weaker, and
sometimes he bursts open when he comes to the surface. Now if a big
eel--an eel two fathoms long--"

"If he was three fathoms long he could not break this line," I replied

They laughed and told me that when I hooked even a small eel, one half a
fathom in length, I would change my opinion.

Soon after our midday meal was over, and we were preparing to return to
our fishing-ground with an ample supply of fresh bait, the sky to
windward became black and threatening, and through the breaks in the
long line of palms on the weather side of the island, which permitted
the horizon to be viewed, we could see that a squall of unusual violence
was coming. All the canoes were at once hauled up on the lee-side of the
islets, the huts were secured by ropes as quickly as possible, and every
one hurried under shelter. In a few minutes the wind was blowing with
astonishing fury, and the air was full of leaves, sticks, and other
_debris_, whilst the coco-palms and other trees on the islets seemed
likely to be torn up by the roots. This lasted about ten minutes. Then
came a sudden lull, followed by a terrific and deafening downpour of
rain; then more wind, another downpour, and the sun was out again!

As soon as the squall was over, I walked round to the weather side of
the islet with some children. We found the beach covered with some
thousands of _atuli_ and beautiful little garfish which had been driven
on shore by the force of the wind. We were soon joined by women carrying
baskets, which they filled with fish and carried back to the camp. On
returning, we again launched the canoes and started off again--to meet
with some disappointment, for although the _gatala_ still bit freely and
several eels were also taken, some scores of the small, pestilent,
lagoon sharks were swimming about and played havoc with our lines. These
torments are from two to four feet in length, and their mouths, which
are quite out of proportion to their insignificant size, are set with
rows of teeth of razor-like keenness. The moment a baited hook was seen
one of these little wretches would dart at it like lightning, and
generally bit the line through just above the hook. So quick were they,
that one could seldom even feel a tug unless the hook got fast in their
jaws. Taking off my sinker, and bending on a big hook with a wire snood,
I abandoned myself to their destruction, and as fast as I hauled one
alongside it was stunned, cut into three or four pieces, and thrown
overboard to be devoured by its fellows. Many of the Ellice and Tokelau
islanders regard these young sharks as a delicacy, as their flesh is
very tender, and has not the usual unpleasant smell. In one of these
young sea lawyers we found no less than five hooks, with pieces of line
attached; these were duly restored to their owners.

Another two hours passed, during which we had fairly good sport, then
the rain began to fall so heavily that we gave up for the day. We spent
the first part of the evening in the huts, eating, smoking, and talking,
and overhauling our tackle for the next day. It had been intended that
about midnight we should all go crayfishing in the shallow waters along
the shore of the islets, but this idea had to be abandoned in
consequence of the rain having soaked the coco palms--the dead branches
of which are rolled and plaited into a cylindrical form and used as
torches. The method of catching crayfish is very simple: a number of
men, each carrying a _kaulama_ torch about 6 feet in length in the left
hand, and a small scoop net in the right, walk waist-high through the
water; the crayfish, dazed by the brilliant light, are whipped up into
the nets and dropped into baskets carried by the women and children who
follow. They can only be caught on dark, moonless nights.

* * * * *

When we returned to the village our spoils included besides a great
number of fish, a few turtle and some young frigate birds. The latter
were captured for the purpose of being tamed. I made many subsequent
visits to the two islets, sometimes alone and sometimes with my native
friends, and on each occasion I left these lovely little spots with a
keen feeling of regret, for they are ideal resting-places to him who
possesses a love of nature and the soul of a fisherman.

_Mrs. MacLaggan's "Billy"_

When Tom Denison was quite a young man he was earning a not too
dishonest sort of a living as supercargo of a leaky old ketch owned by
Mrs. Molly MacLaggan of Samoa, which in those days was the Land of
Primeval Wickedness and Original and Imported Sin, Strong Drink, and
Loose Fish generally. Captain "Bully" Hayes also lived in Samoa; his
house and garden adjoined that of Mrs. MacLaggan, and at the back there
was a galvanised iron cottage, inhabited by a drunken French carpenter
named Leger, whose wife was a full-blooded negress, and made kava for
Denison and "Bully" every evening, and used to beat Billy MacLaggan on
the head with a pole about six times a day, and curse him vigorously in
mongrel Martinique French. Billy MacLaggan was Mrs. Molly's male goat,
and as notorious in Samoa as Bully Hayes himself.

I want to try and tell this story as clearly as possible, but there are
so many people concerned, and so many things which really happened
together, though each one seemed to come before the other a little and
try and get into the general jumble, and every one was so confused,
some fatuous people blaming the goat, and some Denison, who was
generally disliked by the Germans, while Mrs. Molly said it was caused
by the man with the bucket of milk, and Captain Hayes who had bribed him
to do it, and nearly caused bloodshed, as the German officer who was
insulted by Hayes had shot a lot of people in duels, or if he had not
shot them he had stuck his sword into them in fifteen places, more or

Now let me explain: First of all there was Mrs. Molly, who was the
hostess; then there was Hamilton, the Apia pilot and his wife; the
manager of the big German firm at Matafale (he wore gold spectacles, and
was very fond of Mrs. Molly, who was a widow); then there was Bully
Hayes, and old Coe the American consul, and young Denison; all these
were some of the local guests, and lived in Samoa, the rest were
officers from a German man-of-war lying in port, and the usual
respectable town loafers. Then there were Leger, the bibulous carpenter;
'_Liza,_ his black wife; a white policeman named Thady O'Brien, and a
loafing scoundrel of a Samoan named Mataiasi, called "Matty" for
brevity, who was the public flogger, and milked Mrs. MacLaggan's herd of
seven imported Australian cows; and lastly the goat, and about thirty or
forty of Bully Hayes's crew, and as many Samoans, who came to look at
the dancing and see what they could steal, Leger and his wife and the
policeman and the town flogger had charge of the refreshment tables,
which for the sake of coolness had been laid out upon the wide, back
verandah, and handsomely decorated with pot plants and flags from the
man-of-war, and blanc-manges and jellies, and tipsy cake, and cold roast
pigeons and chickens were lying around as if they weren't worth two

The big wholesale store, which formed part of Mrs. Molly's house and
establishment, made a fine ballroom. All the barrels of whisky and
Queensland rum, and the cases of lager beer and Holland's gin, had been
stowed neatly on each side, and covered over with flags and orange
blossoms by Denison and Bully Hayes and his men, and the orange blossoms
killed the smell of the rum so much that strangers would have thought it
was sherry.

Everything went on beautifully for the first two hours, and then Mrs.
Molly asked Denison to take out a very pretty young half-caste lady and
get her a drink of milk. When they reached the side table where the milk
should have been, they found it all gone; but O'Brien the policeman said
that Mataiasi had just started off to milk another cow.

Just then Hayes came out to the refreshment tables with a lady on his
arm. She was thirsty, and so "Bully" opened a large bottle of champagne,
and she and he and Denison and the young half-caste lady drank it; then
they drank another, and all went oft together to see Mataiasi milking
the cow, which was tied up to a coconut tree just outside the fence. The
cow was a yellow cow, and was standing very quietly, and just beside her
Billy MacLaggan (who caused all this trouble) was lying down, working
his jaws to and fro and making curious, snorting sounds in the bright
and gorgeous moonlight. I forgot to say that Wm. MacLaggan was the
largest and ugliest goat ever known to the memory of man, and had been
taught every vice and wickedness any goat could be taught, and it is as
natural for a goat to imbibe sin as it is for him to eat a cactus, or a
hedgehog, or a tract.

Hayes addressed the goat by his Christian name, and asked him how he
did, and Billy looked at Hayes for a second or two out of his green,
sharky eyes, then he rose in a dignified manner, and came over to him to
be scratched under the chin. Then he blew himself out, snorted, and
rubbed his horns against the captain's knee: and Hayes remarked to
Denison that the poor beggar wanted a drink, and proposed to give him a
"proper one."

The goat knew perfectly well what "drink" meant, and made his vicious
tail quiver; then he followed them back to the house, and stood at the
foot of the steps waiting for Hayes and Tom to come out again.

On the other side of the courtyard was Mrs. MacLaggan's laundry. The
door was wide open and the place was in darkness, and no one took any
notice when presently Tom sauntered out of the ballroom, picked up a
large plateful of tipsy-cake, and, being kind to animals, gave a piece
to William, who followed him into the laundry for the rest; then Hayes
came in with a quart bottle of champagne, shut the door and struck a
light. Then he opened the bottle of fizz and poured it out into a deep,
enamelled starching-dish, and Billy MacLaggan drank thereof, and then
raised his head, with his immoral-looking beard hanging in a sodden
point like a wet deck-swab, and asked for more. That is, he asked as
well as any Christian and civilised goat could ask, by standing up on
his hind legs like a circus-horse and making strange, unearthly noises.
Then he rammed his wicked old nose into the dish again, and pushed it
all round the room, trying to sop up more liquor, which wasn't there,
and trod on Denison's canvas-slippered foot, and knocked over the little
tin kerosene oil lamp which was standing on the floor, and when Hayes,
with loud and blasphemous remarks grabbed at the ironing-blanket of the
laundry-table to extinguish the flames, he pulled the table down on the
top of Denison and himself and the goat and everything, for the blanket
was nailed on at the four corners, and when he was down on his hands and
knees, the goat being exceedingly alarmed and half-drunk, and smelling
his own hair burning, put his head down and charged at the universe in
general, or anything else he could hit, and he hit Hayes fair on the
temple with a noise like a ship's mainmast going by the board; then the
people outside burst in the door, and the creature, with a bull-like
bellow, charged out among them, and landed his bony head into the
stomach of Mataiasi, who was carrying the bucket of milk, and was afraid
to put it down when he saw him coming; then in some way the handle of
the iron bucket got on Billy MacLaggan's horns, which simply made him
thirst for gore, for he thought he was being made fun of because he was
in liquor. With the bucket swinging and clattering and banging around,
he made a dash up on the verandah, among the pretty muslin-clad ladies
and white-duck suited men, creating havoc and destruction, and smelling
of kerosene and burnt hair and ancient goat, and uttering horrible,
blood-curdling _bah-h-h-s_, till he got into the card-table corner, and
mistaking the wide glass window for an open door, he promptly jumped
through it, and fell with a shower of glass outside on to the verandah
again, where Thady O'Brien and the fat German with the spectacles fell
on him, and tried to hold him down, and the spectacles were ground into
dust and otherwise damaged, and some of the ladies endeavouring to
escape out of the hideous _melee_ fell with him, and then the goat
struggled to his feet with the bucket squashed flat against his
forehead, and his horns covered with lace, and tulle, and bits of kid
gloves, and planted one of his cloven forefeet into the shirt-front of a
German officer, and smashed his watch. Then with another roar of
defiance he burst through and disappeared into the wilderness at the
back of Mrs. MacLaggan's garden, where he was followed by Leger, the
drunken carpenter, and his wife, and nineteen Samoans, all armed with
rifles. The army fired at him for two hours, and about midnight returned
and reported him riddled with bullets, whereupon Mrs. Molly, who was a
little hysterical at the awful mess and wreckage caused by the brute,
thanked them and gave them ten dollars.

Now it so happened that Billy MacLaggan was not killed at all, for about
two o'clock in the morning, as Bully Hayes and Tom Denison were sitting
on the verandah of the former's house at Matautu Point, drinking brandy
and soda, and dabbing arnica bandages on their various contusions, Pilot
Hamilton hailed them from the front gate. He had just left the dance
with his wife, and was quite sober--for Samoa. He asked them to come on
with him to his place, as Billy MacLaggan, he said, was lying down in
Mrs. Hamilton's kitchen, and seemed poorly, and that he hoped Hayes
would forgive the poor thing, which was only a dumb animal. So Hayes and
Denison went and saw William, who was now sober and looked sorry. They
dressed his wounds, and Tom Denison took him on board early in the
morning, intending to take him to sea till the memory of his misdeeds
had toned down a bit, for Billy was a great institution in Samoa, and
had many friends. Hardly a white man in the place, no matter how hard up
he was, but would stand Billy a bottle of lager or a chew of tobacco. (I
forgot to mention that Billy would drink anything and chew anything,
except cigarettes, at which he snorted with contempt.) Now Denison's
little vessel was lying quite near the German man-of-war, and was to
sail next day for the Solomons if the captain was sober, and he
(Denison) had a lot of work to do to get the ship ready, and whilst he
was poring over accounts in the cabin about noon, a boat ran alongside
and Bully Hayes came into the cabin.

"Where's Billy?" he said. "Quick, get him into my boat at once. There's
a search-party coming on board, and the widow is going to give you the
dirty kick-out, Tom Denison. There's been the devil to pay over that
cursed goat, but I'm going to save his life all the same. But if she
does sack you, you can come to me for a berth."

Billy, who was placidly eating bananas on the main deck, was at once
seized and hoisted over the side into Hayes's boat, which shoved off,
leaving Hayes on board to explain things to Tom.

It seemed that when the fat German manager--the man with spectacles--I
mean the man who had the spectacles until Billy MacLaggan came in--the
man who was courting Mrs. Molly--fell on the top of the goat, some other
man trod on his face, and Leger (who was not sober enough to tell one
person from another) said that he saw Tom Denison do it. Seven natives,
male and female, swore that at the time alleged Tom was out on the beach
bathing his crushed toe in the salt water, and using solemn British
oaths; but Leger, who disliked Denison, who had once kicked him
overboard violently for being drunk, not only stuck to the story, but
said that Hayes and Tom had set the goat on fire on purpose to break up
the dance and cause annoyance to the Germans present; also he vaguely
hinted that they, Denison and Hayes, would have driven the seven cows
into the ballroom but couldn't find them. Then Mrs. MacLaggan promised
the fat man to sack Denison on the following morning, and at midnight,
as I have said, word was brought in that Billy had been shot. But about
ten in the morning Leger heard from some native that the goat was as
well as ever, and on board Denison's vessel, and being a mean, spiteful
little hound, off he trotted to the German manager, and said that
Captain Hayes and Mr. Denison had rescued the creature. At that very
moment the manager was talking to some German officers, one of whom was
the man whose watch had been smashed, and as every German in Samoa hated
Hayes most fervently, it was at once concluded that Hayes had trained,
or suborned, or bribed, or corrupted the goat to do it. So a young
lieutenant went and called upon Hayes, and demanded satisfaction for his
friend, and Hayes was exceedingly rude to him, but said that if the man
with the broken watch liked to meet Billy MacLaggan with his own
weapons, and fight him in a goatsmanlike manner, for fifty dollars a
side, he (Hayes) would put up Billy's fifty. Then the lieutenant asked
for a written apology for his friend, and Hayes said that Billy couldn't
write, and, anyway, he was Mrs. Molly's goat. If the man with the
smashed nickel wanted an apology, why the blazes didn't he approach Mrs.
MacLaggan? he asked.

Whilst Hayes was telling all this to Tom, pulling his thick beard and
laughing loudly, as they paced the little vessel's deck, the
search-party came on board to recover the goat. The leader bore a letter
from Mrs. MacLaggan to Tom, informing him that his services as
supercargo were no longer required, also that he could come ashore at
once and be paid off, as his conduct was heartless, and the consuls said
it might lead to serious complications, as it had been done with intent
to insult the citizens of a friendly nation, one of whom, as he was
aware, had made the natives cut down the price of copra half a cent.
Under these circumstances, &c.

Tom grinned and showed the letter to Hayes. Then he turned to the mate.

"I've got the sack, Waters. You're in charge of this rotten, filthy old
hooker now until the old man is sober."

He packed up his traps, went ashore, drew his money from Mrs.
MacLaggan's cashier, and bade him goodbye.

"Where's the goat, Tom?"

"On board Bully Hayes' ship. His crool, crool mistress shall see him no
more! Never more shall his plaintive call to his nannies resound o'
nights among the sleeping palm-groves of the Vaisigago Valley;

The cashier jumped up out of his chair and seized the dismissed
supercargo by the collar.

"Stop that bosh, you rattlebrained young ass, and come and take a
farewell drink."

"Never more will he butt alike the just and the unjust, the fat and
bloated German merchant nor the herring-gutted Yankee skipper, nor the
bare--ah--um--legged Samoan, nor the gorgeous consul in the solar topee.
Gone is the glory of Samoa with Billy MacLaggan. Goodbye for the
present, Wade, old man--I am not so proud of my new dignity--I am to be
supercargo of the brig _Rona_--as to refuse to drink with you, though
you are but a cashier. And give my farewell to the widow, and tell her
that I bear her no ill-will, for I leave a dirty little tub of a
cockroach-infested ketch for a swagger brig, where I shall wear white
suits every day and feel that peace of mind which--"

"Oh, do dry up, you young beggar," said the good-natured cashier, whose
laughter proved so infectious that Tom joined in.

"Come then, Wade, just another ere we part."

Now as these two were drinking in the cashier's office it happened that
Thady O'Brien, the policeman (he was chief of the municipal police, and
fond of drink) saw them, and invited himself to join them and also to
express his sorrow at Denison's "misfortune," as he called it, for
Denison was a lovable sort of youth, and often gave him drink on board.
So they all sat down, Wade in the one chair, and Tom and the policeman
on the table, and had several more drinks, and just then Mrs. MacLaggan
came to the door, holding a note in her hand. She bowed coldly to Tom,
whose three stiff drinks of brandy enabled him to give her a reproachful

"Captain Hayes wants to buy one or two of the nanny-goats, to take away
with him to Ponape, Mr. Wade," she said. "I shall be glad to let him
have them. Please tell Leger and Mataiasi to catch them at once."

Then Mrs. MacLaggan went away, and Tom and O'Brien went down to the
jetty to wait for a boat to take them on board--Tom to his duty, and
O'Brien because he was thirsty again. Presently Leger and Mataiasi and a
large concourse of native children came down, carrying two female goats,
who, imagining they were to be cast into the sea, began to cry with
great violence, and were immediately answered in a deep voice by Billy
MacLaggan from over the water, whereupon Leger started to run off and
tell Mrs. MacLaggan that Billy was alive, and on board the _Rona_, and
Denison put out his foot and tripped him, and was at once assailed by
Leger's black wife, who hit him on the head with a stick, and then
herself was pushed backwards off the jetty into the water by Mr.
O'Brien, taking several children and one of the goats with her, and in
less than two minutes there was as pretty a fight as ever was seen.
Several native police ran to help their superior officer, and a lot of
dogs came with them; the dogs bit anybody and everybody
indiscriminately, but most of them went for Leger and Denison, who were
lying gasping together on the jetty, striving to murder each other; then
a number of sailors belonging to a whaleship joined in, and tried to
massacre or otherwise injure and generally maltreat the policemen, and
by the time the boat from the _Rona_ came to the rescue the jetty looked
like a battlefield, and one goat was drowned, and the new supercargo was
taken on board to have his excoriations attended to, for he was in a
very bad state.

That is the end of the story, which I have told in a confused sort of
away, I admit, because there are so many things in it, though I could
tell a lot more about the adventures of Billy MacLaggan, after he went
to sea with Captain Bully Hayes.

_An Island Memory_


From early dawn wild excitement had prevailed in the great native
village on the shores of Port Lele, and on board two ships which were

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