RECOLLECTIONS OF A BLACKBIRDER
At first we didn't take any particular notice of him, but when we saw that he carried a gun we knew he was a white man. Putting a stop to the row for a minute, he came to the edge of the water, and made us signs to go away. We showed that we were thirsty, and wanted water; but it was no use, for he again waved us away with his gun, and pointed to the things on poles, which we now saw were white men's heads.
Stopping the way of the boat, I looked round, and there I saw what I did on the first island I came to in the Pacific, for, standing out against the silvery green leaves of the bananas, were the same sort of black posts, which showed that some labour ship had been up to its devilish work; and I was glad to see, when I looked at those heads, that some of them had met with the punishment they deserved. They no doubt had tried to play the old game, but these chaps had got a white man living with them, and then blackbirding had gone wrong. We tried for a long time to talk to the fellow, till at last he lost his temper, and let fly at us; at which the boss jumped below for his gun, and, golly! didn't he make the brown devils jump about!
The white man then shouted out something, and away they went to launch their canoes. "Too many of the cusses!" said the boss quietly, as he fired another shot right into the thick of them. "Set sail at once, Bruce, and look sharp, or, by golly! they will have us for breakfast, and we shall look as pretty as those chaps on sticks. Here they come! Put her along, Bruce, or it's all over with us." My word! I wasn't long getting the schooner before the wind; and off we shot, but only just in time---in another minute they would have been on top of us.
All the time the boss was firing away like blazes; but the savages didn't care a bit about that, for they had a white man of their own, who was firing too, and they would follow him to the devil. By-and-by we got well away, when the boss turned round and said: "There, Bruce! You see the harm those cussed blackbirders do in the islands. "They come down from all round, just anyhow. Steal the men. If they won't go quietly, they kill them; and when two peaceful, honest traders, like you and me, want a little water, we not only don't get it, but have to fight for our lives. That blackbirding ought to be put a stop to; it isn't Christian! But, I say, Bruce, weren't those fellows fools not to make friends till they got us on shore!"
This way the boss went on talking, just as though he was the mildest man in the whole world, which I knew he wasn't. All that day he was very excited over his shooting and killing, and he drank no end of grog, "to save the water," he told me.
At the same time he didn't give me much. "He was afraid," he said, "that it would do a good man like me harm." And the more he drank the more he yarned, and told me all sorts of stories of what he had done in the islands before he met me; and if only a little part of it was true, he wasn't one bit better than the skipper of that Callao-Peruvian. At last he went to sleep down below, but, full as he was, he took gun, pistol, and grog with him, and locked himself in.
We had a fine, steady wind all night, so I let the schooner go just in the way she could take it easiest, until the boss could tell me the course to make. The first thing in the morning up he came, and said at once: "What did I tell you last night, before I turned in?" "Nothing at all," I answered, "but damning that beach-comber for kicking up that row on the island." "Quite sure?" "Yes, main sure; but I think the sun was just a little bit too strong last night."
"No, Bruce, not the sun, but the rum. I know all about that this morning; but it's all the fault of that mean white over there. What did he want to shoot at me for? Curse him! I'll be even with him before long. I always get square with my friends before I have done with them, and he is one of them now. Understand? But, I say, Bruce, didn't I talk about getting square with people last night? I sometimes do when I take a drop too much."
Now, that's just what he did talk most about, and pretty horribly too. His "getting square" meant cutting throats; and if he didn't lie, it would have taken a big ship to carry all the people he'd "squared" up to date. Anyhow, I didn't want him to square me that way, and just then he looked in the humour to do it, so I said: "How can I remember all you said last night? You gave me such a lot of grog that I was quite drunk long before you went below." He laughed like fun at that, but suddenly stopped, and said quite seriously: "Perhaps it's all the better for you that you were tight, and don't remember all that I said,---if I said anything,---as I don't allow anybody to meddle with my private affairs without a fight; it ain't business. But how did the ship; go in the night?"
I saw, like lightning, that he was trying to catch me, so I told another lie, and answered: "I don't know anything; I tumbled down and I went to sleep there, and only woke up a little before you came on deck." "Well, old darkie, that's all right; but it's lucky for us the wind took us to sea, instead of back again to that island. If it had, our heads would have been walking about without their bodies by this time, in the middle of those other pretty chaps. But, Bruce, don't you think it's very wrong for a good man like you to drink too much, and risk the safety of the ship? I really think that, as skipper, I ought to take serious notice of it, and stop your wages, or something. But, there, you haven't got any to stop just yet, and won't have, if the cargo don't pay expenses; but we'll talk about that in Fiji. You see, old man, how great the responsibilities of the skipper are; and at present they weigh so heavy on me that I scarcely know what to do in your case. I like you very well, but, at the same time, I must do justice to the owners, whoever they are, as an honest skipper should; but I'll think the matter over in the course of the day."
I never quite knew whether that man was joking or not, so I said nothing, and he left off his sneering, set the course, and took the helm. On we went for two more days, going south the whole time, till our water got so very low that we had to allow ourselves to one little panikin apiece a day. At the end of the third day, the wind fell altogether again, and there we were left swinging about, twisting round and round, rolling and groaning, with the sail flapping fit to tear the mast out of her, on the tops and down in the hollows of the big black swells, rolling south like moving mountains, awful big, but quite smooth.
Although it was night, it was frightfully hot; the moon was shining bright, but quite low down, so that we only saw her when we climbed up to the top of the waves. There, just for a moment, we caught a full sight of her, skipping and jumping to us in yellow rays over the dark lumps of water, heaving and throbbing as far as we could see. Then down we would plunge into the depths below, between the two immense moving walls, almost in the dark; but above us, against the black sky, we could see the light shooting right across the watery valley, from the top of one swell to the other, throwing a silvery bar between them.
Presently, as the wave passed beneath us, up we would shoot, twisting and twirling round as we climbed the height, and busting through into the upper air once more the deck was flooded with light; l again and again we swung up and down like this, until I fell asleep, and remember no more till morning. At daylight the boss woke me up, when I found the sea had gone down considerably, but still there was no wind. The sun got up, but not in his usual peaceful mood; he was a bad, lazy, red, misty colour, and altogether looked very angry.
"There must have been a big blow somewhere north," said the boss, "to kick up all that rumpus of a swell last night, and I don't at all like the look of that beastly sunrise. We are going to have some bad weather, I'm afraid. Wish I had a barometer, then I could tell. What a careless chap that fellow was who hired this boat from me not to carry one! I wouldn't let such a chap as that sail any craft of mine. However, I don't like the look of things, so let us make all snug for a blow. It will come, I'm sure; and when it does, it's precious hot in these parts, I can tell you."
We then set to work making everything fast, saw the ropes all clear for letting go, and nailed a large piece of tarpaulin over the hatch, until there was no hole for the water to get down but the small well in which we stood to steer, and that we so arranged that we could close it when necessary. The last thing the boss did before battening down was to empty all the water that was left in the cask into a big bottle, which he took down aft and fastened up in his locker. I didn't like that arrangement, so I said, "What are you doing that for?" He answered, "I think I told you to mind your own business. I shan't tell you much more."
I got desperate, and called out, "That is my business; the water is as much mine as yours." No, it ain't," said he. "The water is all mine; anyhow, I've got it, and mean to keep it. There's not enough for two, and I think I can do with it all." "But what am I to do?" I cried. "Go without, Bruce, like many better men than you have done before. If you want a drink, there's plenty all round you; try that, but you don't get any of mine. You'll get used to the taste in time. I don't like it myself, and that's why I want the other. And perhaps, Bruce, we will both be full of it before this time to-morrow---rather too full for our healths. We perhaps will be full of it both inside end out, but not on top of it. No, Bruce, we may be a few fathoms down, dining with the sharks; but we shan't enjoy ourselves much, for we won't know anything about it; but we will be quiet enough; and, my Christian friend, let me tell you it is not right to get excited over anything, and least of all over any danger.
You're good now, ain't you? Of course you are! Then you can afford to go off the hooks first. You're pretty safe, don't you see; but I require a little more time to repent. I don't feel at all safe just now, and that's why I took the water all to myself. And now, Bruce, no more fooling! You see this pistol I've got in my hand. Well, if you try to best me, I'll blow your brains out; but I promise you this, that if we weather the storm coming up,k you shall have your fair share of the water---that is if we sight land; but if we don't, then I'm sorry for you! I tell you, like a plain-speaking man, that I don't intend to die if by killing you I can live; and whether you get wiped out by shooting, or die of thirst. I don't care. I mean to live, if I have to eat you, boots and all. Understand?"
After the storm. The last of the "Blackbirder"
I thought I did, but said no more and sat down waiting for the wind to come up. After all the talk the boss became more pleasant, and spoke to me quite lively and nice, just as if he had never thought of such a thing as blowing my poor brains out. Soon the sun went down in a great blaze of dirty red and yellow, looking as angry as he could, and as he dropped below the water he seemed to throw his great arms about through the clouds, and snatch hold of all the restless waves, and shake them up to make them as angry as himself, and then, in a sort of blood-red mist, he sunk right out of sight, and left us alone in the darkness.
The stars presently came out, and they, too, were not at all promising, but looked weary and worn out, as if they had suffered and were sorry for something, and each one seemed ragged with a sort of misty fringe. As we lay on the deck watching them, I thought I heard a dull moaning going on all round, but far off, and I told the skipper, who said that that sort of noise is nearly always heard before a big storm in these parts. Presently little, little clouds began to cross the stars high up, getting lower and lower, till at last the wind reached us on the water.
The curious noise kept on rising and falling: one moment it would sound quite loud and close, the next it would be far away, almost dying off altogether. The ship seems to know there was something nasty about to happen, for she creaked and groaned as though alive, as she swung up and down the steep sides of the big black lumps of the troubled waters. By-and-by stronger puffs of wind began to flap the sail, but only to die away almost as soon as they came up; and we recognized in them the messengers of the coming storm.
Then came, flying high against the stars, bigger and more angry clouds, while away to the north-west, although it was not near daybreak, the sky looked a dirty yellow, even in the middle of the black night so thick all round. "We're in for it now, Bruce, and no error!" said the boss. "About midday to-morrow we shall be fighting for our lives, and shall have all we can do to get through, I'm sure." The puffs came up longer and stronger than ever, increasing every moment, until they settled down into a steady breeze, and we loosed sail and ran before it, but all was closely reefed down.
The stars next were completely put out of sight by the black, heavy clouds rolling up, and the wind began to get wilder every moment. I don't think I ever saw it so dark before as it was when the stars went out; "the inside of a Solomon islander" wasn't a circumstance to it. I felt as though I could take handfuls of darkness and throw them about; the only break was that yellow, rusty, wicked light away to windward; but even that appeared to be only another sort of black. When the day broke, we could see no sun as he came up behind the big, dusty, thick clouds which covered the sky all over, and nothing was to be seen from one end to the other of our watery world but these dirty, threatening messengers of wrath, as, from the north-west, whence the wind was coming, they were rolling up thicker and blacker than ever.
The sea was getting more uncomfortable all the time, for the wind, blowing across the swell, began to throw it up into lumps and break the long, regular lines of moving waves, no longer smooth and glassy. Now and then through a rent in the clouds, the sun would throw a great slanting path of light across the water, and appeared as if he would like to come out and stop all the dismal things going on below; and then he seemed to change his mind, as he suddenly would draw back, just as if he was ashamed to be seen in such a dirty-looking rumpus. "It's no good going on like this," said the boss. "We had better round up while we can, and take it bows on, if it must come;" so we brought the schooner up, head to wind, and set to making all things as snug as possible. We then closely furled the sails, putting presenter gaskets round them all, but left a little bit of the mainsail showing, flattened and guyed out quite stiff, to act the same as the tail of a weathercock, and keep her pointing to the wind.
Then we lashed together all the lumber we could find---casks, spars, oars, anything that would float---which we chucked overboard, bent on to three of our strongest ropes, as a floating anchor; and after lashing the tiller amidships, we sat down to wait for what was to come. For a long time we drifted slowly before the strong breeze, which did not increase so fast as we thought it would, but the sea from it, blowing across, became more troublesome every minute. The heavy clouds still kept coming up blacker and blacker, till they closed in all round, and made it pretty nearly dark; and still the storm didn't break, till at last we began to think it wouldn't come at all; but there we were mistaken.
Lightning then began to play about all round, and loud thunder was heard growling and grumbling away out of sight, while heavy rain fell splashing on the deck with a loud rattle. Suddenly the wind dropped entirely, and all was as still as the grave for a little while. I noticed the boss kept his eyes fixed to windward, where the lightning was flashing out brightly and the thunder rolling terribly; still, he kept very calm, but I saw that he was desperate also, as he made a line fast round his arm, to hold on to when the row began.
Presently he sung out, "By the Holy! here she comes! Hold on, Bruce! Hold on for your life! We shall be all right if we get over the first wave." I was too confused and scared to take much notice then, but looking windward I saw, right away on the sky line, the heavy black clouds torn to bits, just as though they had been burst with gunpowder, and from behind them big spouts of froth, white as snow, jumped up from the world below. They then formed into a long line stretched across the whole sea, and rushed at an awful pace right towards us as hard as they could, leaping over and driving before them the big swell lie feathers.
All the great clouds, jammed together, and crammed with lightning and thunder, came so low that they appeared to touch the mast as they burst right into us. The blinding flashes played all round and through us; the thunder crashed and roared, till my head felt crushed with the row; and the rain and hail came down in thick sheets as cold as ice, till the deck ran like a river, and the waist of the ship was nearly filled up. All this happened with little or no wind near us, but it was fast coming up, and soon the salt spray, driven from off the tops of the waves, came flying over; and then we saw, roaring towards us, a great wave of water, higher than our mast, with the hurricane howling and raging behind it.
I had just time to throw myself flat on the deck, and hold on to a ringbolt like from death, when it was on the top of us, and the little ship seemed to stand up on end, and then with a great jerk, jump straight into the sky. The last thing that I remember was seeing an enormous curl of angry water bending over us from high up in the air, and then an awful crashing, smashing row as it came down on the deck, shaking the little craft all over, just like breaking up.
I don't know at all how we got through with that contract, for the tumbling water knocked al the life out of me. When I came to, I was pinned down to the deck with something across my back and legs, which wouldn't let me get up. I called out for the boss, but got no answer; then I tried to turn round, but I couldn't---my bonds held me so fast to the deck. "What the deuce is the meaning of this?" I said to myself. "I think that cursed fellow has been and tied me up while I was silly," and I sung out again louder than ever, but heard nothing but the howling and shrieking of the wind tearing through the ship, and the hissing and spitting of the water as it was being driven in spouts and fountains all over us. Every now and then a big green sea would break right on board, and go very near drowning me, as I lay tied down on my face, and only just able to move my head a little.
The jerks and heaves of the ship were awful, as she jumped, with the wind, right out of the water, from one wave to another; and then in the deep hollows, where the wind couldn't get hold of her, she would pull up short, shiver all through, then roll till she got near to going right over. How I did curse that mate of mine! for I thought it was he who had made me fast, and was perhaps down in the cabin drinking, or sitting quietly aft, looking at me and enjoying the sight.
At last I thought that it was strange that he hadn't fixed my hands at the same time, and I began to feel for the ropes that held me, and soon discovered what was the matter. Nobody had tied me up at all, but the Lord His mercy has saved my life by a miracle, and but for the broken rigging tangling me up with the stump of the mainmast, I certainly should have been washed over with the boss when we went through the first wave. It was more than the crashing of the water that I heard then; it was the smashing of the masts out of the ship, and the tearing of the bulwarks from her decks.
With my knife I soon cut myself loose, and on my hands and knees crawled aft towards the stern, holding on to anything till I got to the steering place, where, with a line, I made myself fast, for the ship was jumping about like the very devil, and the seas were pouring over her so fast that I was afraid of going overboard. Once more in my life I thought it was all up with me, and I prayed to the Lord to save me this time, and I thought He would, for why should He stop me from going to the sharks along with the poor boss if He wanted me to die after all?
As I sat there, all wet through, smashed up and very sorrowful, I ;prayed as I never prayed before. And it gave me strength to live on; all the devil went out of me, and I promised to be really good if ever I got to shore again. There are no words which can describe that storm properly; the poor little schooner was frightfully knocked about. No masts, no bowsprit, the bulwarks all torn away---in fact, everything was wrecked. But, than God!---the tarpaulin over the hatch stood all right---the boss knew well what he was doing when he made me nail that on.
The sky was terribly wild, and the gale howled and screeched as it tore the huge waves to shreds and threw them high aloft in white foamy showers. The dismal, dirty, angry clouds were flying quick as lightning across the sky quite low down, and twisted and curled themselves like horrid flat serpents, crawling about to swallow everything they should meet, and some of them, blown to bits by the raging hurricane, hung down their ragged streamers, almost sweeping the boiling waters.
Sometimes on the top of a big sea, right in the middle of its seething crest, the little ship would twist round, almost broaching to, and then all would have been over, but the floating anchor, which, thank God! still held fast, would ;pull her bows up to the storm again, and then, head first, down we would go with such a rush to the other side as took away my breath and made me shut my eyes through fright. It was just the same feeling as coming down in a very big swing.
As the bottom, with eyes shut and stopped ears, so as not to see those enormous walls of water with their great white moving crests, and not to hear the terrific howling of the wind, for a little time you could think you were in a calm; down there there was no wind at all, and the water was quite smooth; but that would last for only one little minute.
Presently the next wave would come along, shove itself under the craft, and then the wretched thing, shivering and shaking in every plank, would climb the great hill-side till she burst through the surf on the top, right in the teeth of the gale, almost driven under for good by the weight of the angry water falling on her like a lot of hissing devils trying to tear plank from plank. The sight of those raging seas was tremendous and fearful; the whole world was at war---at least, all the world I saw---and the sky was so disturbed and blown about that it looked like the sea turned upside down, while below, as far as the eye could reach, was nothing but foam and flying spray, jumping and hurling themselves aloft from the immense green seas. The clouds, with their ragged bellies, hung down very low, and the tormented spouts of white sea-drift, torn from the crested swells by the raging wind, appeared to fall in snow-wreaths against them.
When it got dark, it was worse than ever. I thought it bad enough when I could see to get drowned, and the horror was doubled by the murky darkness. However, it was not quite dark, but much more nasty, for wherever the water broke there was a pale, dim, graveyard light---the light people say that dead men like. When the waves struck the ship and threw up showers of spray all shining into the black air, I could see in it some dead sailor's ghost coming for me, and would shut my eyes in fright; and when the drops fell flashing on me, I could see the dead man's hand trying to pull me off to the depths below, where he had left his bone; while the wind, howling above, shout out---and I could hear the water say so too---"Come along, Bruce! Your time's up!"
Then I would open my eyes again to see the whole ship, from stern to stern, burning dully with this dreadful, ghostly, wet fire. By-and-by I got quite done up---so far gone that I fell asleep; but not quite that, because for a long time I felt every wave, that tumbled on board. They ran all over me, but I was too tired to care, and thought that I might just as well die as carry on any more at that rate. I fell properly to sleep at last, and when I woke, cold, wet, and miserable, it was broad daylight, and the force of the hurricane was broken, but still it was blowing very hard.
The big, tumbling sea was going down fast, and becoming more regular; the clouds had gone back to their proper places and colours, and the sun shone out clear and warm, promising better things to come. The water still came on board, but not like it did the day before; and, feeling weak, hungry, and thirsty, I cast myself loose to look for something to eat and drink. I crept carefully to the companion hatch, holding on like grim death, and opening it, I got quickly through, just in time to close it against a big lump of green sea that swept over the whole length of the craft. Looking round, in the boss's locker I found the jar of water he talked so cruelly to me about, but first I drove the misery out of me with a long pull at the grog bottle.
That warmed me up and gave me strength and life. I mixed some more, and whilst drinking it and eating some biscuit, I thought to myself, "I think you've made a mistake, my dear boss; all this sweet water if for me---not you. Thank you very much for taking all this care of it for me, likewise the grog. I can assure you that it comes in very nicely just now. I shall drink all this nice water, my dear old chap, because I know that if you come back from outside, you won't want any, as you have, no doubt, got used to the other sort by this time; but when you go to the devil, you'll get none at all. Here's your very good health in this nice, cool, sweet water you took so much care of, all for me. Damn you!"
I talked to myself like that for some time, and then laid down on the floor and went to sleep. Before the sun went down, I was up on deck again, and found everything much calmer, but still there was s strong gale blowing, and a heavy sea running. I could do no good there, so I determined to take shelter below; but before I went down, I took a good look round, and there, right away to the west, I saw the three masts of a ship. Each time the waves threw me aloft I saw her, with all her topmasts gone, and bits of canvas streaming out on the wind from her lower stumps.
Sometimes she was broadside on, and other times her bow or stern would swing round and took my way, and from that I knew it was not all right on board of her. I watched her until it got dark, and by that time she was a long way down to leeward, for, standing high out of the water, the wind caught hold, and sent her along quicker than me. When the night came, I went below; but before I turned in I drank the boss's health again, and thanked him for the nice cool water he so kindly left me. I knew he was only joking when he said he wanted it all himself, and that he would kill and eat me if he liked.
Perhaps he thought when he stepped out of the ship and hid himself in that big wave, on purpose to give me a chance at the water, that I would go back for him; but I was afraid I had no time, being in a great hurry to get on shore; besides that, I had his own word that there was not enough of the cool, nice water for two men, so I was obliged to keep it all myself. In my silliness I said, "Excuse me, Mr. Boss, I'm very sorry, so good night. Damn you!"
I slept very well that night, and in the morning, at break of day, I was glad to see a lot of birds sailing round and round the ship, which told me that land was not very far off, and looking over the stern, a long way off, I thought I saw it. Still, however, the sea and wind both kept very high, but decreasing in force slowly, and before the middle of the day I was sure what I had seen in the morning was land, and, drifting nearer and nearer, the current and wind set me right on to it as it grew quite fast out of the water.
By-and-by I spied a long white line of breakers between me and the high land far beyond it, and, set in the middle, I saw a black spot, which, at first, I took for an opening in the reef. But what use was that to me, for I had no masts, no sails, no anything to work the boat; if the whole reef was openings, I could go nowhere but where the wind chose to take me. I watched what I thought was the channel entry for a long time, till at last I distinguished against the sky two things like sticks, standing on each side of it.
"Thank goodness!" said I to myself; "some white men live hereabouts, and have put those beacons up to mark the channel. Thank God! I'll soon be right now." On looking again, to my astonishment I saw a big wave roll in and break right against it, and said, "How the deuce can a wave break like that against a hole? It can't; but there goes another, and, by golly! right over the sticks, too." I found out then all about it, and my heart sank when it was a wreck of a ship I had been looking at, and thought it was, no doubt, the remains of that one I had seen the day before, twisting round and round helplessly.
Presently I got within a mile of the reef, and saw the enormous seas rolling in one after the other, pounding themselves to atoms on the sharp coral rocks; and I could plainly hear the growling and the thunder they made as they tried again and again to smash their way to the high land, lying bright and green in the sunlight about five miles beyond. When lifted up on a big wave, I could see that all was smooth on the other side of the foaming barrier of coral, and dotted all over the calm lagoon were numerous sand-banks, and, scattered here and there, small islands, with two or three trees upon them.
Things began now to look very serious for me, as every moment I got closer and closer to the seething, raging breakers, pilling themselves high, so horribly high! as they met and struggled with the waters of the last swell bouncing back seawards. As they came together, they would appear to stop for a minute, and raising, in opposition, a bigger white crest than ever, curl over like a great claw, make a fast run in, and smash down on the coral with a deafening roar, louder than the loudest thunder.
Then up would jump the foaming water, white as snow, high into the air, all hissing and spitting; and while it hung quivering there, floating like the lightest feathers, the shining sun would give it a lovely fringing of all colours; then, in a moment, all would go down, to make room for the next swell to do likewise. All this was very nice to look at from the inside, but it was quite another thing from my point of view, with the certainty of having to go through that boiling surf. I quite lost my head looking at the billows raging, and did nothing until I got quite close, then I suddenly thought that the faster I went the better chance I should have of being thrown right clear of the rocks, so I ran to the bows to cut loose the floating anchor; but before I could finish the job an enormous roller took entire charge of the craft.
Round and round we spun on the top of its great curling crest, with big jerks and tugs; the ship appeared to be tearing to pieces, and everything seemed to me to be falling down, jumping up, and going all sorts of ways; the sky and the water, in my sight, were mixed up together, with the sun dancing all around them. The water poured all over me, shrieking and snarling, as I held on for bare life to the stump of the mast; till at last we made a spring right into the sky, and then down we came. Everything crumbled away like dust beneath me. I fancied I saw the whole world open and let me through, and then I remember nothing till I found myself stretched out on a little sandy spot, thrown up by the storm, just inside the reef, and lying half in the water; and lucky for me it was that I arrived head first.
I got up, feeling very bad from the shaking I received on landing, and looked about for the schooner but not one little bit of her was to be seen; all was smashed upon that cruel sharp reef, where the swells were still hammering as hard as ever, and looking viciously at me; but it was no good then, for I was on the right side of them this time. About five or six miles to the south was the mainland, looking like the end of some very large island, with mountains, rising higher and higher behind one another, as far as I could see, covered all over with trees.
Close down at the edge of the water I saw lots of smoke going up in blue, curly columns, standing out quite plain against the dark green hills, and proclaiming the presence of some sort of humankind. Away down to the east was the wreck, which I took for a hole in the reef on coming in; it was only about half a mile off, so I determined to pay it a visit, if I could, for I was dying of thirst, and perhaps I should find water there, or some sort of means to get on shore. When the tide went down, it felt all the long line of reef quite bare, so I swam off to the rocks, from my little sandy island, and started off, walking along he coral towards the ship I wanted to see.
The big rollers still thundered on the outside edge of the rocks, but they couldn't hurt me, the water was too low; but I could see how lucky I was to have been cast ashore while it was high tide; if I had come any other time, there would have been no John King Bruce left, for certain. Going along, I kept close to the shore side of the reef, and saw a great many big sharks in quite shallow water, watching me with their wicked little pig eyes, and slowly cruising as fast as I travelled, evidently keeping me company.
If I stopped, they stopped too, and when I went on the brutes followed me, as much as to say: "We're waiting for you, old nigger! You'll perhaps make our closer acquaintance before you get on shore. Anyway, we are in no very particular hurry for you, as we have just had a good feed from that wreck over there." I got riled at all this attention, and threw big stones at them. They didn't care a bit, but followed me all the same. As I neared the wreck, I felt there was something about it that I appeared to know; and, by the holy poker! when I got under the stern I did know her. She was that Peruvian blackbirder I ran away from a long time before!
I almost danced with joy to think that she had come to grief at last; but, thinking a little, I got frightened, and hid myself close alongside the rudder, under the stern, for I thought that awful one-eyed skipper might be on board with a gun, and if he saw me, he was bound to put a bullet through me. I stopped there for some time, listening to hear if any one was moving about but all was quiet as the grave, and the only sound was the water, which had filled her up at high tide, as she came through the surf on the reef, pouring slowly out of her, and splashing on the rocks below.
At last I came out, and walked right round her, but saw no big holes, which told me that the water must have got into her from the deck, through the seas washing on board; but how she got so high up on the reef, all comfortable, I never could make out. Perhaps, when the storm came on, the crew broke into the spirit-room, got drunk, and forgot to put on the hatches,---a thing very likely, I thought, with such a lot of rascals as there was on board that ship. I caught hold of a rope hanging over the side and climbed up on deck, when, just as I thought, not one of the hatches were on, the thick glass of the cuddy sky-lights was smashed in, and the whole ship was full of water; but, Lord! what a clean sweep of everything there was. Everything was washed away; there was nothing at all left on deck.
The galley was gone, the wheel gone,---no wonder I'd seen her twisting and turning round the day before,---the bulwarks all smashed, not a bit of the foremast and bowsprit to be seen, and only the stumps of the main and mizzen masts standing. I soon found the scuttle-butt, and, thank goodness! there was a lot of good water in it; and, after a long drink, feeling rather tired, I picked out a soft plant aft, and went to sleep under the shade of the only piece of the bulwarks left. When I woke up, it was night, but the moon and stars were brightly shining; the wind and sea had both gone down, and all was nice and quiet.
I got up and walked about, because I didn't know what to do until daylight, and I went right up into the bows, and, leaning over, listened to the drip of the water running out of the vessel, and the sound of the waves---gentler now---rubbing themselves, with a queer sort of hamming, dreary song, along the rough coral rocks on the outside edge of the reef. I stopped like this, listening, in the broad moonlight, for a long time, and then I went aft, and, passing the main hatch, I saw that the ship was still half full of water. Going on, I took a look down the broken sky-light, and I thought I saw something shining floating about, so I went down on my knees, to get a better look at it, and there I saw, with a most devilish grin, mocking and nodding at me, all green, and glistening with dull, ghostly fire, looking straight in my eyes, the dead face of that damned one-eyed skipper!
The sight curled up my blood; I felt my hair rise up on end wish horror, as I tried to get up and run away; but I couldn't while he glared at me so hard, with his hellish stare and kept my face fixed close to his. I tried to sing out, but it was no use---he wouldn't let me; and as he looked about in the water---oh, so horribly!---he seemed to be telling me something that I couldn't understand. At last the swelling water turned his fearful face a little way from me, his eye lost mine; then up I sprung with a frightened shout, jumped right off the ship on to the reef, and though the water was up to my waist, I tore along through it, sometimes running, sometimes swimming, till I got to my little sand-band where I tumbled down and fainted.
How I got through those sharks astonished me, but I suppose I frightened the brutes with my yells and splashings, for there was enough water all along the way I came for them to catch me, and the last part was swimming in deep water to the island. Anyhow, at the time I was so scared that I much preferred to go along with the sharks to stopping on board that cursed ship, for I was afraid that more ghosts would come back and look at me. How long I stopped all of a heap on that the sun was pouring down on me, blazing hot, and I felt so bad and thirsty that it drove me crazy again.
At last I could stand it no longer, and I thought I would go back to the ship for water. I was not afraid then, for I knew that ghosts didn't run about in daylight; but I wouldn't have passed another night on board for all the gold in the world. Up I got, but one glance showed me that the trip could not be done, for the tide was full up, making it deep water all the way to the ship; and, further, it was impossible for me, in my weakness, to swim it, even if the sharks would have let me.
There they were---three of them---just on the edge of my island, their ugly flat noses resting on the sand, nearly out of the water, waiting for me; and a little way out in the deep, between me and the wreck, their pointed grey fins were cutting the smooth surface in all directions. I began to talk to them, and said, just as though they could hear me: "No, no, my beauties! Under the present circumstances, the journey is not good enough for me. I shall wait now until the reef is dry. It is no use you inviting me to breakfast like this. You've got too big a mouth for me, and too many teeth; and that's not fair. Oh, no! Presently I shall walk to that ship, and then you can all come ashore, if you want to dine with me."
The sun and the thirst, I think, now drove me quite mad; and as I sat close to the edge of the bright, clear water, watching two of those monstrous sharks, not more than three yards off, I thought that one was like that boson's mate I killed at Callao, and the other that chap whose throat I cut on board the blackbirder over there. They both winked at me; and, as they turned over, they grinned, and showed their flashing cruel teeth, as sharp as razors. As they did that, I thought I saw that one had a great cut mark across the throat, and on the other, right through the side, was a big, bloody-red splash; and then I was afraid the devil was round about after me again.
While I sat watching these fish demons, they kept winking at me, and I could think they wee saying: "Come along, Bruce; you look very hot, tired, and thirsty up there. Come along; it's nice and cool here, and we never get thirsty, but are always hungry." Then they would wag their tails, and sort of lick their chops, getting ready for me; but I wasn't quite so mad as to go to them just then; and, turning round, threw myself down on my face, so as not to see them any more.
In a little time I took another look, but they had gone, and I was glad, and thanked the Lord that he had made me strong enough to fight the devil out, for I'm certain Old Nick sent those sharks to tempt me. Though the water had gone down considerably, there was still too much for me to travel safely to the ship with those fish friends of mine cruising about somewhere near, so I laid down, and went to sleep. It appeared to me that I had but just closed my eyes when I was certain I heard light footsteps rustling in the loose sand, and men's voices talking very low. I didn't raise my head, for I was afraid that the devil had sent me some other horrid sight, to drive all the sense left right out of me.
The talking went on like small humming, quite close, and then stopped, when all was quiet as the grave, and nothing was heard but the gentle whispering of the water lapping against the sand. I didn't dare lift my head, all the same, and was thinking of what I should do, when suddenly there came a terrific yell, as if all the devils from the regions below were loose for a holiday, and at the same time a prick of a spear or something sharp brought me upstanding. I found myself in the middle of a ring of the most ferocious savages that I ever experienced before or after.
There was no mild, simple, child-like, trusting look about those chaps, but very much the other way; and as they grinned at me, and showed their teeth, almost as bit as the sharks', I thought I had got to the end of my last journey. They were stark naked, all but a little waist cloth which seemed to be more useful for sticking knives and tomahawks in than for covering; but I was glad to see those things, as I knew they could have only got them from white men, and perhaps there were some about. Their hair was piled into a big mop, tied up with string, and stood quite two feet above them, and if they thought their faces pretty, it was more than I did.
Their bodies and faces were painted all sorts of colours,---blue, red, and yellow,---stuck all over them in filthy patches. All carried great clubs, or spears; but the old chap who did boss had a gun, that he was immensely proud of, no doubt, but from its look I thought I should not like to have the job of firing it off. This chap came up to me from the mob and began to talk, but of course I couldn't understand a word he said, so I pointed to my mouth and made signs for drink. A few words, and one fellow went down to the canoes, and brought me a cocoanut shell full of water.
My word! wasn't it delicious! I never tasted anything half so good, not even on that fishing island. When I'd finished drinking, the chief came right up to me, and, looking in my face, he touched it, and then talked a lot to his crowd. He made signs for me to sit down, and one of the chaps bringing up a bit of wet rag, he scrubbed my face with it till I thought he would have rubbed all the skin off; then they made me take off my shirt and trousers, and seemed surprised that I was the same colour all over. I knew then that they thought I was a white man painted black.
Before, in England, on board that Yankee man-of-war, and on the blackbirder, I used to curse my colour day after day; but this was the third time it had saved my life, and I now blessed it. After some more talk, they took me down to the canoes, and off we paddled to the wreck, and got on board. They took no notice of me, as they were all too busy getting all the iron and rope they could find; so I was left to myself.
I was not now afraid of that old skipper, so I went straight aft and looked down the cuddy sky-light, but saw nothing of him. The water was by this time all out of the ship,---I suppose some plank at the bottom had burst and and let it out,---so down the main hatch I went, to see what was there. As I went through the old quarters, where I'd talked many a time with the one-eyed devil, I almost expected to see the brute sitting, as he always used to, on his locker at the end of the cabin; but I found no signs of him. I thought I might find his ugly carcass that I saw floating about the other night, but nothing was to be seen. I then went forward into the hold, and, Lord a mercy! what a sight I saw!
There, all round the ship's sides, and chained to the floor, were fifty or sixty poor devils of islanders that rascally pirate had stolen from their homes, lying just as the brute had fixed them, all drowned and dead! I ran away from that terrible sight as quick as I could, and went on deck. Looking round and over the side at the fine, big canoes floating a little way off in the deep water, what did I see, in the biggest one, but the ugly head of that one-eyed skipper, stuck on a spear, and tied up in the bows like a flag! He still kept that devilish look on him, and seemed to stare straight at me; but I didn't care when I saw his head and carcass in two bits.
As we came near them, they put up their hands, like asking us not to kill them.
Talk about that, I saw his body, a little time afterwards, all cut to pieces with axes and knives, and thumped flat with clubs, and this didn't make me think that these chaps were fond of white men, and I thanked the Lord again that I was black. By-and-by, when the canoes were as full of plunder as they could hold, they put me in the biggest, with the old chief, and off we went, singing and yelling for the shore. The only two things not joining in the shouting row were the blackbirder's head and me. He couldn't, because he hadn't brought his body with him,---which I thought he was very much better without,---and I wouldn't, because I was too much a stranger in those parts to cut in without invitation.
Our canoe was a very big one, holding about a hundred men, who paddled her on each side, and threw up the spray all over the place as they sent her flying through the water, so lively as to make her nearly jump out of it at every stroke they gave. The old chief squatted down on a flat place in the bow, where he made keep close alongside of him. As we neared the shore, we got into the mouth of a big river, coming down quite fast between two tall mountains; but before we entered, there was a tumbling bar of breaking water, just where the river, rushing down, meets the tide coming up.
There it was, right in front of us, leaping and frothing up fearfully high, looking very nasty indeed. The old chief then stood up, and dancing and yelling, sung out something to his savages amid loud screams. Then, by golly! didn't they all go mad! and the way they worked their paddles was a caution: you could hardly see them move, they went so quick. They threw the water in clouds behind them, tearing he boat along, almost lifting her right out of the lagoon, till with a big shout they actually flung her right through the raging surf into the calm river beyond. It was very funny, from that side, to see the other canoes follow.
From the river you could see nothing at all but the wall of water fighting the sea, trying to get in, and the two together in the scrimmage, beating and tearing themselves into clouds of angry foam. The boat on the other side was not to be seen, but, listening attentively, their shouts could be heard above the hissing of the struggling waters, coming nearer and nearer, getting louder and louder, till in the middle of the snow-white spray would dart into sight something long and dark, with arms and legs, as it were, all working and flashing as quick as lightning.
Then the wild yell would burst out, the canoe jump from out of the watery cloud, and standing almost upright, slip down the back of the wave, and there would be the canoe floating quietly on the river's bosom, when a little baling put her as right as ever she was.
The river was a grand one, and looking so nice and cool. The hills rising straight up from it on each bank kept the sun from making it too hot, and the big bush trees, with a thick belt of cocoanuts waving their long arms in the gentle blowing wind, came right down to the very edge of the water. Every little bit we journeyed the stream appeared to end against the side of the mountains, rising higher and higher, rolling one above the other, like monstrous green waves, till they quite lost themselves in the sky far inland. These endings were, however, only bends in the river, on rounding which, just the same view was seen: there was the end in sight, which never came.
By-and-by it got wider, and suddenly turning a high corner, with a spit of sand running out quite far, the land opened flat on both sides, and right on the brim of a sloping white beach was a town, looking lovely and snug in the shady groves of bananas and cocoanuts, and shining brightly all over with beautiful flowers. As soon as the people on shore saw us, they ran down to the water with tremendous shouts, answered loudly by our fellows. The chiefs danced like mad men in front of their boats, the men tore up the water with their paddles into whirlpools, and yelled their loudest, till the canoes touched the shore, when they were at once seized, and just as they were, men and all in them, were carried right up, high and dry.
The chief made me signs to go along with him, and I took good care to do so, and keep quite close too, for I noticed some of the people looking rather queer at me. As it was, one young fellow shook his club round my head, and, I think, would have hit me if the chief hadn't fetched him such a crack on his with his stick as knocked him silly.
I was taken to a house built all the same as these here in Samoa, told to squat down, and was given some meat and yam to eat. I was so hungry that I didn't look twice at the grub, but pitched in at once, and eat till I could manage no more. When the night came, they gave me a mat to sleep on, the blinds round the house were pulled down, the fires sparkling all over the town went out one by one, and all were turned in and quiet. Next morning at sun-up I was wakened by the natives going out to their work, but as they didn't kick me off my mat, and I felt so comfortable where I was, I turned round and went to sleep again.
When I at last turned out, the sun was quite high, and after a dip in the river, I strolled about the town. At first I thought they didn't take any notice of what I was doing, but I soon saw that wherever I went two of the mob were following me; so I stopped to try and make friends with them, and we walked about together. Presently, at the end of the town, I saw the old one-eyed boss's head grinning on the top of a stick, in the middle of what I took to be a heap of stones, and I smelt a nasty, sickly smell all round.
Getting nearer, to have another look at my dear old friend, who seemed so lonely, but so safe, without the rest of him, I found that the heap was made of the heads of white men, and on the top of the pile, looking as if they didn't appreciate the kind attentions of my friends the natives, was all that was left of the two gentlemen who hated me so much,---the second and third mates of that blackbirder on the reef,---the rest of the heap was the crew.
It was very wrong, I know, but I couldn't help liking that sight, for I knew I was safe with all those brutes out of the way. As I turned them over with my foot, I recognized lots of men's faces who had sworn they would be square with me some time or other; and so they would have been if they had got me on shore; and I laughed to see how they were mistaken! The poor nigger had beaten them, after all---skipper, mates, and every one!
My two companions, seeing me joyful, made signs that they had eaten the rest of those chaps, pointing at the same time to a heap of bones piled up round a big fireplace, and they showed me how they sat down in a ring to enjoy their horrid feast, and threw the well-picked bones to one side. The thoughts of this made me feel quite sick, and I was just turning round to go back to the house and get breakfast, when I was terribly frightened to hear some one sing out quite loud: "Bruce! Bruce! For the Lord's sake, come here!"
It made me so afraid that I could scarcely stand, for I thought that Old Nick was after me again; that he had got all those chaps fast down below, and wanted me to make up the crew, so he had mad those ugly heads sing out. I was fearfully scared, and when I heard the voice cry out again, "Bruce! Bruce! come here!" I took to my heels, and ran off for the house. The two natives thought I was running away altogether, so one of them threw his club, which hit me such a punch in the back that it sent me flat to the ground. That stopped my running at once. I didn't want any more clubbing, so I lay still until they picked me up. They took me first into a house close by, and by the Holy! there were two of my old friends, the blackbirders, tied up as tight as could be to be posts of the house;l and it was those chaps who had sung out to me, and not the devil's heads.
I was so glad of that, for it scared me awfully to think that Satan was trying to get me again, after I had turned good. "For the Lord's sake, let us loose, Bruce!" they said. "We have been tied up like this for more than two days, without water or grub, and those savages have eaten all the other men right before us. For mercy's sake, cut us loose, or kill us!" These were two of the beauties who had threatened me most on board ship, and now wanted me to help them; but I knew they would have killed me as soon as they would a rat, so I said,---
"I can't, my dear friends, for I'm a prisoner just like you are. This dark gentleman here has but just now nearly knocked the back off me, because I walked a little fast when he was in no hurry; and if I let you loose now, he will hammer my head into little bits, and put it on the heap, amongst those other chaps. "No; I think you are very nice where you are; nice and safe, till these gentlemen get hungry; and, besides all that, I think you are a pair of too damned rascals to let loose.
"If you were set free, perhaps you would begin blackbirding in these poor chaps' town, and carry them all away in that hooker of yours, with a big hole in her, out there on the reef, and put them alongside of those poor devils you drowned in the hold, all chained down to the deck. "You don't like, I see, the other side of the game. Not nice, is it? never mind, you'll be useful for once in your lives when you go into the oven; and I don't think it will be long before that event comes off, as these black chaps get very ravenous after work, and will soon go through two such lean chaps as you. And just listen, you chaps! It's because I'm about the same colour as these men that they don't tie me up like you, and invite me to dinner. How about 'damned nigger' now, eh? 'Damned black nigger' now is much better than white 'long pork,' all tied up ready for sticking. No; I don't think it good enough to let you go. Besides, my late boss told me never to meddle with other people's business in these parts, because it is dangerous; and I respect his advice and memory; so good-bye my Christian friends! I don't think I shall miss you much when you're gone, and hope I shall get over the slight bereavement in time, and that you will both enjoy your next dinner. It will be your faults if the others don't. So good-bye, my friends, good-bye."
Golly! how those two sinners did curse and swear at me as I left them; I heard them roaring all the way down the town, as I went to the house I was stopping in. Closely followed by those two natives, who were suspicious of my bolting again, I went in, sat down, and made signs that I was hungry. One of them then got down a basket, the same one they gave me the grub out of the night before. I was so hungry that I didn't inspect it closely, but tackled it at once, and had just got my teeth into it for a big mouthful, when I saw that the other end of it was a man's hand!
Everything then appeared to swim round me in horror, and in my fright the baked hand appeared to catch hold of mine like a vice, so tightly that, for all the world, I couldn't let go, though I tried hard; an', O Lord! how sick I did feel! At last, with a shout of madness, I flung the awful thing away from me, and jumped up to fly anywhere, but my two friends soon had me down on the floor again, and this time they made me fast to the house-post. Presently I got cool again, quite shivering with disgust at the awful meal I had made the day before, which, for certain, was human flesh, and part of one of my former shipmates!
It was horrible to think that at the time I liked it; but if I had known what it was I would rather have starved a hundred times than have touched the dreadful stuff. When the natives saw that I was quiet, they cast me loose, and I finished my breakfast on yam alone; and from that time I never took meat of any sort, but lived on fish and yams; but many a time I couldn't help; wondering who was the chap I eat a piece of.
About sunset, the chief and all the boats came back with lots more things from the wreck, and in one of the canoes was piled up the heads of those poor fellows who were drowned all chained up in the hold. The savages wanted them for the skulls, which they collected to put round their towns and houses; and the more of them they have the more they are pleased.
These heads they put in a heap alongside the others, and then they lit up a fire in a deep hole in the ground, lined with stones, and while it was burning, they all went and sat down in the house where those two blackbirders were tied up. I knew what they were going to do, and tried hard to keep away from the awful sight, but I couldn't, for something seemed to push me nearer and nearer, until I found myself in the house where the cannibal savages were sitting round those two fellows, quite silently, looking at them as a butcher would look at a pig he was about to kill.
Presently, when the inspection was over, the chief said something, two men got up, and holding the poor devils by the hair with one hand, as they stood tied to the posts, they dragged their heads right back, till their throats were quite tight, and then, with two or three slashes of their big knives, they cut them right off the struggling bodies. The red blood spouted high into the air, as the butchers flung the heads, all winking and rolling their eyes along the floor to the feet of the chief, who, taking them by the hair, held them up, and said a word or two to his people.
When I saw the blood, I didn't feel queer, as I used, but was quite fascinated, and couldn't get away, although I wanted to; something stronger than me kept me there looking on. After the killing, in came the old women, untied the bodies, took them outside, and hanging them up by the heels to a tree, poured water over them, and scraped them, just as they do pigs at home. When that was done, they were dressed, and the liver and heart those disgusting savages cut into small bits and eat, all bloody and raw as they were.
The carcasses were then taken down, and the two butchers cut them into quarters and pieces to suit the oven. By this time the fire had burnt down, the ashes were swept out clean, and wet mats put on the hot stones; then the "long pork," as the beach-combers call it, was put in, more wet mats were placed on the top, and the whole lot covered over with stones and earth. All the mob then went to lie down to rest, after their hard work, till dinner was ready; and soon all were as fast asleep as if they had done nothing wrong at all.
About three hours after, away they all went to the end of the town again, and sat down in a big ring all round the oven, which was smoking and steaming finely. When all was ready, the chief squatted down in the middle, with a lot of big banana leaves, about three feet broad, spread out before him. This done, the earth and stones were taken off the oven, then two or three cooks took up the oven, then two or three cooks took up the disgusting meat, all hot and steaming, wrapped it up in leaves, and put it down in front of the chief.
There are always parts of any animal, at a feast, that particularly belong to the head man, and when it is a man that the brutes are feasting off, it is thought the palm of the hand is the best part, and that goes to the chief, before others get their share. Well, after they had twisted off the hands and a piece of a forearm for him, he took a mouthful or two; then said something, when two men---the same chaps who cut up the bodies---divided the rest, looking so deadly white, into many lots. At the same time the cannibal ring broke up into little mobs, as, I suppose, families, and each one sent a man to get their share, who then went back with his loathsome burden, all steaming hot.
Then the head of each family took the grub, and, with his hands and knife, cut and tore it into little lumps, and, as he dragged a handful off the bones, he chucked it here and there to his people, just like throwing bones to dogs, and very soon all that was visible to the naked eye of my late poor friends was a heap of bones, picked as clean as they well could be. Those two didn't last long with such a hungry crew, and all was over in about ten minutes. The chief appeared to be rather delicate on this occasion, and only picked one of the hands; the other with a piece of arm on, he packed up in a leaf, and took it to the house, where it was put away in the same basket I had my awful feed from.
When we got back to the house, the two natives who had kept watch over me began talking to the old man, every now and then pointing at me, in a great state of excitement. I suppose they told him that I had tried to run away, and a lot of lies about the trouble they were put to getting me back. Whatever they said, I don't know, but I soon felt the effects of their talk, for a dozen of the brutes came for me, and held me down on the floor, whilst the old gentleman himself, with a sharp shell, cut a lot of slits in the soles of my feet, which the devils, the whole time I was with them, never allowed to heal, so that I could not walk away from their town, but was kept lame, hopping about on two sticks.
One morning, at daybreak, as I was hobbling about the village as best I could, I noticed that the natives were overhauling their bundles of fine things for dressing---bright-coloured feathers, shell necklaces, and all that sort of thing. All the crowd appeared to be joyful and happy, as if something nice was going to happen; and badly it was wanted, to take away the taste of that horrible feast, still hanging round. Now and then mobs of men and women would go, singing their loudest merry songs, skylarking, and playing with one another, as they bounded down the path like goats, to the bush, into which they disappeared altogether out of sight, just as if some great great monster had swallowed them up for good.
The old men were not in the least excited, gut sat all in a ring in front of the big house, I suppose arranging how things were to come oft that day; and they seemed just as serious about it s if they were making up a fight. I knew it wasn't that though, for not one spear or club was to be seen through the whole town, not a single one; all were put one one side, high up in the roofs of the houses. At times singing was heard a long way off in the bush, coming nearer and nearer, till it burst right out into the open, and there were the bush parties to be seen coming back, loaded up with lovely green, brown, and yellow leaves, and beautiful creepers, flashing splendidly with flowers of a hundred bright colours.
Bundles and bundles of these treasures of the bush they brought, of every showy hue in existence, and threw them down in a heap, with bit shouts, till the place looked as though a rainbow had got wrecked there, in the middle of a tumbling sea of green. Amongst these were heaps of berries of the brightest scarlet, to be made into necklaces, which looked all the more fiery, and like real light, when they stood out in vivid contrast with the dark skins of the people who wore them. Then all hands set to work, weaving the creepers into long ropes, spangling them all over with bright flowers, peeping out from under the hanging green leaves I all their modest beauty.
These were twisted round the posts of the house like great green serpents, with their scales all glistening in the sun, blazing with coloured spots. From the top of the roof also were hung, in gay festoons, these flowery ropes, so thickly that, at last, the dull brown house was changed into the most lovely leafy bower possible to be seen. All this time mobs of young girls, chattering and laughing gaily, as they worked in the middle of a perfect sea of flowers, were dexterously making them into wreaths and crowns; and the whole crowd looked, and were, so innocent, light-hearted, and joyous that I could scarcely think that these were the same people who made that horrible feast but a little time back.
They were now so meek, mild, and simple that I tried to think that the dreadful sight I saw was only a dream, but one small look at the far end of the village told a tale of brutality, for there, in the midst of all this jollity going on, was that ugly heap of heads, with that one-eyed scoundrel's on a spear, sticking right out above the lot of them. When the houses were finished, every one, men, women and children, went to dress, but soon came out again, fearfully and wonderfully arrayed, and sat under the trees, in the shade, just as proud of themselves as the very devil. The girls, with their bodies shining with oil, could scarcely move, from the amount of fine dresses they had managed to put on; all the finery they possessed was in full view, and round their necks, waists, and across the shoulders, or anywhere one would hang, they wore lovely garlands of leaves and flowers.
Their frizzy hair, still with grease, was combed and brushed up as high as it would go, ornamented with gaudy streamers, and crowned with wreaths dazzling in sparking colours, and, although they were not so good looking as the girls here in Samoa, being the first I had ever seen dressed up, I thought them very handsome. The men were rigged out pretty much alike, covered with wreaths, crowns, and garlands, and wore over their oily, naked bodies bright scarlet necklaces of chillies and other bush berries. A few of them were dressed in nothing but leaves, slung round the waist, the head covered with cap made out of banana leaves and tufts of green stuff tied round wrists, elbows, and ankles; in fact there was such a lot of it about them that they looked like so many walking trees.
The whole gang soon settled down in a big ring; the women and men separate, and the chief and three of his oldest friends sitting in the middle; but those chaps in green leaves, each one carrying a long stick like a spear, sat down facing the bush where the path came over the mountains. A long way off, right up in the far-away hills, there had been a pillar of grey smoke going up all the morning, which would at times change its colour to a dark black.
As the day grew, other columns of smoke showed up, each new one coming nearer and nearer, till at last a big fellow appeared on the edge of the hill where the path led down to the flat the town stood on. My friends sitting round the chief appeared to take no notice of all this, but the green men advanced a little, keeping their eyes fixed upon the spot where the road opened out from the bush. Presently from thence, with horrid yells and screeches, out jumped a black fellow from amongst the trees, flourishing a war club in one hand, and the green branch of a tree in the other.
For some time he danced, leapt, howled, and shouted, till he was quite done, and then our green chaps, with loud roars of war, made believe to fight and catch him, when they lugged him through the ring up to the chief. Here, in front of the old man, the prisoner laid down the club and the branch, inviting him with signs to choose one of the two. For a little time the chief didn't move, but looked straight at the things on the ground, and then, after speaking a few words to his companions, he stretched out his hand and touched the branch.
This, I suppose, meant that peace was desired; but if he had chosen the other, war would have been the consequence. Then the stranger, over whose head the green chaps had been holding their sticks, as if ready to knock it off, burst through them, with shouts and bounds, and disappeared into the bush he had just come from. In about ten minutes the sound of many people singing was heard away deep in the forest, so prettily as, rising and falling, it came floating out from amongst the rustling leaves, gently shivering in the light warm breeze; and soon, against the dark hillside, was to be seen, through the trees, a long line of colour, mixed, and sparkling in the sun's rays, and flowing down the steep path towards us like a wonderful river of rainbows.
The wild song was soon quite near, and then out into the open came the visitors, all gay in their best dresses, one living mass of all the brightest and loveliest flowers and leaves they could find in the bush. On they came, slowly and proudly, the little girls leading, the big ones behind, and after them the men, the whole lot keeping up the singing at their very hardest. When they had come quite close, they stopped and sat down, and the chief made a long speech, which ours answered, telling him, I suppose, how glad he was to see him, and then both the crowds mixed up together, shaking hands and kissing one another just like Christians.
As soon as the kissing was pretty well over, half a dozen of the loveliest young girls were told off to make kava for the chief, and were soon chewing away their very hardest, while all the rest of them scattered themselves in every direction visiting amongst the houses. There, for the rest of the day, they did nothing but eat and drink; but when the moon rose bright and silvery from out the rippling water, and threw her soft light along the black mountain slope, glancing off the smooth green leaves of the breadfruit and bananas to explore and liven the darker corners of the bush, they all threw off their fine dresses, came out to the green almost as naked as they were born, and danced the whole night long.
When the day began to break, the fun stopped, and after a short sleep, the visitors disappeared, one by one, without even saying good-bye, and we were left to ourselves alone.
One day, when I had been about four months with those cannibals, I noticed a great stir amongst them, and away they went in their canoes, chattering and jabbering in a great state of excitement. In the afternoon they came back, and with them was a white man, whom they all appeared to know well. He was exactly like all the other beach-combers that I had met--just as hairy, dirty, and ragged; half-native and half-white, but if anything a good deal more of the first than the last; and do you know that a lot of these chaps were as big cannibals as the savages themselves, and would eat a man just for devilment, and because they knew it was wrong.
This same fellow told me afterwards that he did it for trade purposes, and not because he was hungry or liked it; but I didn't believe him, as he looked brutal enough to eat anything, and like it too. It appeared that this awful-looking cove, stuck all round with pistols and knives, and carrying a double-barrelled gun on his shoulder, came twice a year to trade with the natives, exchanging with them their cocoanut oil for knives, axes, calico, and all sorts of such things. When he caught sight of me, he sung out, "Hullo, darkie! How the deuce did you get here?" And when he saw that I couldn't walk without sticks, he said: "Oh! I see they are fond of you down here, but it must be for your cheerful company, and not for your good looks, for you are cursed ugly. What's come to the rest of your gang? Eat up, eh? I'm damned glad they are, for I don't want any strangers knocking about, and I don't want any strangers knocking about, and I don't want you either, so out you must go somehow. I wish they had eaten you too, then there would have been no bother; but it is, I suppose, that you black chaps taste nasty."
"Confound these niggers! they have already let off two fellows like you; and now the brutes are settled, and playing the very devil with my trade. I don't want any one in these parts who speaks English, and I won't have them, if I eat them out of the way myself. All this land belongs to Charley Mafu and your humble servant. We mean to do what we like with it, and won't have anybody here interfering with our rights. Savee?"
"I don't want to stop here," I said; "but how the devil am I to get away? These rascals have cut my feet all to pieces. I can't walk, and I have got no boat."
"Well," he answered, "I feel good-natured just now, so I don't mind taking you down the coast in mine, which is lying outside the bar, and I'll land you with the first white gang we meet down the coast. I don't like whites, and they don't like me. The white chaps here are too inquisitive about private affairs, and not long ago they gave me an invitation I couldn't accept. They wanted me badly to take the principal part in a procession, but I was too shy and timid, so left the night before it came off; and, look here--if you ever reach the other end of the island alive, just you tell them there that 'Paunchy Billy' is your particular friend, and you'll meet with no end of attention. Where are you, do you say? Why, in Fiji. Didn't you know that? You can't have had much schoolin.' I finished my education in a very big school, where there were about three thousand of us, and plenty of masters; but you're bound to know all about that sort of thing if you live long enough, no doubt."
Two days after that talk, he bought me right out from the chief for some cloth and a knife or two, and I felt the place with him in his boat--a half-decked whaler, carrying about five tons, and a half-cast native to help work her. As we sailed down the coast in the beautiful bright blue lagoon, dotted all over with little islands, so green and fresh, the big hills on shore, covered with tall trees and lovely flowers, appeared to take a dive right into the water, and there, below, we could see them standing upside down, just as clearly as they were above.
Whilst travelling along so smoothly with nothing to do, I asked Paunchy Billy who the Charley Mafu was he talked about so much. "Why! the best man in these islands," said he. "He ought to be, anyhow, for he has eaten more good men than any one else in the Pacific. He's not like that old fool Thakambau down the other end, who has got a lot of whit scum to make laws and try to hang people who are free to do what they like. Thank goodness I'm the only white with Charley Mafu, and if I can help it, he doesn't have any more with him. One or two did try to come here, but somehow or other they met with serious accidents on the way up, and didn't arrive. Very strange, wasn't it?"
"Charley don't properly belong here, but the place belongs to him, because he has killed nearly all the people out of it, and that's quite good enough title. He eat most of them. He came from Tonga, away over there to the west, with a lot of his men; soon put the fear of the Lord into these chaps; and if it wasn't for those mean whites and their guns, he would quickly run old Thakambau out, eat him, and have the whole group to himself. Mafu's a very fine chap; never in a hurry about anything, and always makes his friends last as long as possible."
"When he goes out fighting and takes a town, he doesn't kill and eat all the people he finds. Oh, no! At first he only feeds off the ones killed in the fight, and there is always plenty of them. Mafu will have his fun, and doesn't really enjoy his meat without home-grown vegetables. To get them prime, he burns down the first house in the town, and then persuades the owners, perhaps with a club, to make a garden of the ground it stood upon, and plan it up with yams."
"When they are ripe, Mafu will call round to eat them, and always invites the family to dinner. And in all my experience they have never been late for the feast as they come up, wrapped in banana leaves all smoking hot, right straight from the oven. He then burns down the next house, and amuse himself just the same way; and, so as not to create jealousy, he takes them one after the other, till he has gone through the whole town. Lately, he has made so many engagements of that sort that he has been obliged to invite two lots at the same time, so as to get through his feasting fixtures during his lifetime."
"Charley Mafu is a very good friend to every one, but a damned bad enemy. He only want to do what he likes, that's all; and if the people are unreasonable, he kills them and eats them; but if they are wise, and give him what he wants, he lets them alone, just like those chaps you have come from." For two days we sailed down the coast like this without anything happening, and passed plenty of pretty little towns, snugly cradled in the arms of the tall cocoanut trees, stretching out their great feathery leaves, shading he houses, and making them cool in the face of the hot, blazing sun. Paunchy Billy went ashore at some of these places, but he didn't let me land with him, and made me stop on board ship.
On the middle of the third day we ran up a nice-sized river, and brought to opposite a big native town, full of the most horrid-looking savages, all painted and yelling like demons; and didn't they look devilish! As soon as they saw us, they jumped, shouted, danced, and tore up and down the beach like madmen, and Billy then said, "Those are Tongan chaps, and Mafu's somewhere about. I'm not going further than this, as my medical adviser says it is not healthy for me to get down that way any more; the climate very nearly killed me once before; besides which I object to the bad company that loafs round that old fool Thakambau and his beastly court. I was obliged to expostulate with the asses long ago, and they didn't like it."
"That old idiot of a king has got the most intolerably mean lot of drunken rowdy whites for judges that ever was, and of all the thieves in the world, they are the worst. If you happen to come across them, give them Paunchy Billy's compliments, and they may all go to hell; and if they want him for any government work, or any more processions, they have only to call on me and Mafu, right here, and we'll give them a warm reception,--in the oven,--but we won't eat them--they are too dirty beasts for that. And tell their donkey of a master that Mafu has pretty nearly finished all the garden ground this side of the river, and means soon to go planting yams in Levuka, when he hopes to have the pleasure of his company to dinner. He'll know what that means, and perhaps brain you for telling him."
"And now jump overboard that side and swim ashore, and if you follow the exact line, you are sure to find some white men fooling about--that is, if the natives don't cook and eat you before you fetch them. They are awfully civil to strangers on both sides of this river, and generally take them inside out of the rain, for fear they might catch cold. Over you go now, quick, and don't come back; I've had quite enough of you." He didn't wait for me to go myself, but kicked me right slap into the water anyhow, without even looking at me again; and that was the last I saw of the celebrated Paunchy Billy, who I soon found out was very much wanted in Levuka for hanging.
My feet were not all well as I tramped along that beach for the whole day long, but met no one, and when night came, I went a little way into the bush and camped, very hungry and tired, and what made me feel worse was that there were plenty of cocoanuts all round, but I couldn't climb for them. I went to sleep at last, forgetting, all about the grub, and on waking up the next morning, the first thing I saw was a big black savage, with a face painted hideously red and blue, sitting quietly at my feet, and on each side of him there were two more, just as still as though they were watching nothing at all, and didn't know I was there.
It was no use my trying to run, so I kept quite still and pretended to go to sleep again; but it didn't answer, for they weren't going to wait any longer, so one fetched me a whack with a club, at the same time the other stuck about half an inch of his spear into me, which completely woke me up and brought me to my feet. They then tied my hands behind my back, and drove me along in front of them. My poor feet were awfully sore, but when I stopped to rest them, they at once thumped me along, or stuck a spear into me to liven me up, and so on, until I couldn't go any further, sat down, and asked them to kill me.
I was so done that I didn't care what happened; but, by the Holy! the savages were just going to do what I had asked them, and in a minute I should have suffered my last and shortest headache, when a sort of white man hve in sight just in time to stop the club which was swinging over my head. He was about the same looking sort of chap as Paunchy Billy--all hair and dirt, with gin marks all over his fiery face, and wearing scarcely any clothes. His eyes were as red as his face, and so small that they appeared to stop at the back of his ugly head.
As he came up, after shouting something to the savages in their own lingo, he said to me: "And where in thunder do you come from? Who are you, and what do you want here?" I told him that I was John King Bruce, a British subject; that I didn't want to come there at all, and positively couldn't tell him where I had come from, as I didn't know. "That be flowed for a yarn," he said.
"It's true all the same," I answered, for I didn't care what came now. I was that done; "and if you don't believe me, you can ask Paunchy Billy when next you see him. He's the fellow who sent me along here, with a kick overboard; and if you are one of those mean, drunken rowdies of judges, I was to tell you that, with his compliments you can go to hell. That's all I know; so just do what you like, but look sharp about it."
He looked at me for a moment, and then burst out laughing as he sneered: "So you saw old Paunchy, did you? and he sent us that polite message? I am one of those judges he speaks about so handsomely, and, please the pigs! I'll have the pleasure of hanging him yet. I nearly did so once, and the next chance I get, I swear I'll do it altogether. But jump up, and come along to the town; it's not far off; and if you stop here, those two chaps will soon smash your head. They are on the hunt for grub, and you'll do just as well as anybody else for them."
He then cut me loose, helped me up, and off we walked together, talking as we went about all I had been doing lately, where I had come from, and the last news of his friend Billy. Presently we came to a native town, in the middle of which were two or three wooden houses belonging to white traders, and about a mile from shore, in the blue lagoon, rode a pretty little schooner at anchor, just arrived from Levuka, with new goods for the storekeeper of the place. On shore, right in front of his shop, sitting all round a cask of spirits, with the head knocked out, and drinking it neat out of the pannikins, were the crew and a few friends, enjoying themselves immensely, all about as roaring drunk as they could be; and there those awful fellows sat for four days, hard at work at what they called "letting themselves down."
The real drunk is the consequence of the first day's work, when they take the stuff quite straight and raw, perhaps getting through about a quarter of it, when they are drunk, and no mistake, and they finish the night all round the cask. On waking, the cask is filled up with water before beginning again, making strong grog, and to work they go once more. It is still very strong, but they drink on until they can hold no more, then tumble down for their second night's sleep; and so the game goes on.
Each time the grog is decreased, the cask is refilled with water, until at last they swear the stuff is no good at all, kick over the remainder, and go to work; but it never takes less than four days to do a Fiji "let down" and sometimes very much longer. I stopped in that place till the schooner left for Levuka, when the skipper gave me a cast down. There I found lots of white men, traders and loafers of every sort, all trying to cheat one another and do the natives, and they did it pretty well. I soon got work on board a small boat that traded up and down the coast, buying oil from the natives and whites scattered about, and a nice lot of swindling we did too, but at last we got let in dreadfully.
We heard that a fellow about forty miles off had got a lot of oil to sell, determined to try to get hold of it. Times had been very bad---so bad that we had no money nor goods to pay for the stuff if we got it, and no one would lend us a halfpenny; but, all the same, we meant to have that oil somehow. All we had on board was a case of square gin holding a dozen bottles, four of which we emptied, filled them up with water, put them back, and nailed the case up as if it had never been opened; then away we started for the chap's place, and anchored right in front of it, when he came quickly off to see us, and find out what we wanted.
When he got on board, my mate, who rejoiced in the name of "Liza,"---because he had no hair on his face and looked like a girl---sung out, "Hullo, 'Frenchy'! got any oil?" "Yes, Liza, plenty of it. Do you want to buy?" "Of course," said he, "that's just what I came for"; and seeing that Frenchy was about to ask some question, he followed up with, "but you must take dollars, for I've got to trade." "All right," said Frenchy; "they'll do. I like them better than goods."
Liza then brought out the gin case, opened it right in front of us, took two bottles, and pulled the corks out of both; but one was water, and that one we drank out of; our friend from the other. By-and-by he began to get a little bit lively, and then Liza told him, "You go on shore now, Frenchy. Bruce and I are going to put the boat straight, and when we have finished, we shall come to look at your stuff; but here! you might just as well take a couple of these bottles with you; you can have the rest if you like, and we can charge it in the account."
"All right," said he, and off he went with a gin bottle under each arm. Frenchy was an awful chap to drink when he could get it, but it took a tremendous lot to slue him, and that was what we were up to. In about an hour, we went on shore, and found, as we hoped, our friend rather on the spree, and inclined to be more so. Everything was going right for us, so after looking at the casks, all ready for taking away, agreeing upon the price to be paid, and making out the bill, we managed to bet that fellow off his head enough to sign before getting the money, "just to save time, you know."
We had, of course, brought the rest of the gin on shore, and the way that fellow pitched into it was surprising, while all the time we were draining out of the watered bottles. At last he tumbled down flat on the floor, quite done up; and then Liza wrote out another paper, which we left pinned to the door, saying how sorry we were that we couldn't wait till he got better, and that we had left the dollars in the far corner of the hut, which, of course, we hadn't. We were sure that when he came to he would go and look for the coin, and, not finding it, would think that some of the natives had stolen it when he was bad; and if he came to Levuka, and kicked up a row with us, all we should have to do would be to produce the receipt we got out of him.
Anyway, we got all the casks on board in quick time, and were off on the land breeze for home, where, on arrival, we sold the oil to one of the merchants, and sacked the dollars.
Six months soon slipped past. Times were good then, and we made plenty of money one way and another---sometimes quite honestly, at others rather questionably; but no one got riled, for it was the custom of the place, and if you didn't do, more than likely you got done. In that time Liza and me had scraped together a nice little pile of dollars, for we didn't carry on like the other chaps, and spend all in gin as soon as we made money, and we were on the look-out for a safe speculation. One day we got the news that the price of oil had gone up considerably in the Colonies; and thinking that perhaps the fellows down the coast didn't know of it, off we started to buy up all we could before the news got round.
Up to this time we had heard nothing about our old friend Frenchy. He hadn't come to Levuka to be nasty with us about our last deal, nor had he sent word; so we thought he had forgotten all about it; but in the end we found he hadn't, and got shamefully let in by him. We heard that he had a lot of oil to sell some time before, so we went first to his place to begin business. This time he didn't appear to be in a hurry either for news or trade, and stopped on shore; so we landed, and found him filling the last cask of a beautiful lot all ranged round his shed.
"By golly! said Liza; "what a nice lot you have got! Why, it's twice as much as you generally get in the time!" "Yes," said Frenchy, very quietly, "it is a prime lot, and no error. A whole gang of my wife's relations have been down for the last few months to give me a hand with the nuts. Damn them. They ought to do something for me, when they stole all those dollars you gave me for that last deal."
"Did they now?" said my chum, "That's too bad. Why don't you shoot a few of the thieves?" "Can't old man," was the answer. "There are too many of them round about for that sort of thing;l besides that, they buy my stores, and are useful every now and then, as you see by that oil. I've been very lucky this time, and no mistake. I never had such a nice lot before."
"There's the last one" said he, punching in the bung; "and in a couple of days 'Mike' will be round with his schooner to take it." And suddenly breaking off in his conversation, he remarked, "But I forgot to ask you how oil was when you left. I should like to know, as I don't want that fellow Mike to cheat me." Lisa was quite ready for the question, and said at once, "Gone down a good bit; but I think it will come up again in time."
"That's a pity! I suppose I shan't get more than the gone-down price?" "No," answered Liza. "That man is the closest man I know of. I'm certain he'll cut you down as low as he can. Pity he knows it's cheaper, isn't it?" "Well," said Frenchy, looking so very innocent, as if he wasn't selling us the whole time, "then I think I'll keep the stuff till the price goes up again, as you say it will." "Now look here," said Liza, "you were very unfortunate over that last deal, so I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll take the lot, if you will part, at the old figure, and chance the rise. You're a good sort of fellow, and we don't want to drive any hard bargains with friends."
"Done with you," said he. "Post the dollars, and the oil is yours; but first, you might as well take a look round it to see all right. I'm very glad you have taken it, as Mike is such an awful scoundrel. Would you believe it, he did me very badly once---made me drunk, stole the stuff, and never even left a bit of paper behind him,---like you did,---to say anything about the deal. I think I got square with him afterwards, when my natives burnt his store. I always do mange somehow to run level with chaps who cheat me."
I thought those remarks rather pointed, but said nothing, and I must confess that I was rather grieved that they fitted us quite as comfortably as they did that fraud Mike; but he said these awkward thing so calmly that I didn't imagine he was playing with us---yet just wasn't he having a game! We went round inspecting all the casks one after the other, knocked the bungs out of each of them, and found them all full to the brim with good oil.
As soon as the deal was finished and the dollars paid, the casks were put on board our boat; but before we left, Frenchy said: "Very sorry I can't offer you anything to drink before you leave. There is only one bottle left up there on the shelf, and I must keep him for medicine in case I get sick. It was very kind of you to leave the rest of that case you brought. Soon I shall be in Levuka, and than it will be my turn to shout for the crowd, Good-bye, old fellow! Come again. I shall soon have another lot of things ready, for I mean to make those relations of mine work for the dollars they stole. You must come along and buy the oil. I do like dealing with honest, ready-money chaps like you; and mind you let me know what you get for the stuff up there. You can send me word by some of the boats, if you can't come yourself. I shall be very anxious until I know, and then I shall be able to pull the leg of that chap Mike. He is always about here trying to do me. Now, good-bye; and as much luck to you as you deserve!"
I didn't like his talk at all; he appeared to be sneering at us all the time, and I thought I saw him laugh as he turned off up the beach. I told Liza I was sure that something was up; but he was so pleased over the deal, and glad that the news of oil going up had not got down before us, that he wouldn't listen to anything. In Levuka, before the oil is put into the ship's casks to take away, it is poured out of the small trade ones into a big iron tank and this we proceeded to do as soon as we got back. When we knocked the bung out of the first cask, the oil poured out beautifully, but stopped running almost immediately.
"Blow the thing. What's the matter?" sung out Liza, holding on to the barrel to keep it on top of the tank. "Something is stopping up the bung-hole. Poke a stick in it, Bruce." I got one and shove it in, and then said, "Why, the thing's empty!" "Empty, you fool," said he. "How can it be empty when it's so heavy I can scarcely hold it up. Lead is nothing to it for weight."
"I don't care," said I; "there isn't any more oil to come out of that bung-hole. The stick has gone right through to the bottom, and come out quite dry." "Oh, that cursed Frenchy! I do believe he's done us," cried my chum, thinking now of my suspicions. "Help me down with the thing, and bring a gimlet here, and we'll soon find out that's the matter."
Then we bored a hole in the end of the cask, and what do you think came out? Not oil, but salt water! That fraud Frenchy was a cooper, and always made his own casks, and this lot he had specially arranged for getting square with us by fitting a length of bamboo tightly across the cask from the bung-hole to the other side. This, holding about a gallon, he filled up with oil, and the rest of the very scandalous thing with sea water! We were done properly, and no mistake. Couldn't have been worse done, for all our dollars were in that shameless deal. That blackguard swindler got so square with us that time that we had to sell the boat, and there I was loose on the beach again, with no money and nothing to do; so I shipped on board a whaler that was in want of hands.
My new ship hailed from New Zealand, had been out nigh two years, and this was her last fishing before she went home to refit; and from the look of her, she wanted it badly. Everything on board ropes and all, seemed to have been so often mended and smashed about that it was a wonder the masts stood up at all, and the sails were so rotten, holey, and black, that they scarcely hung together. Even the skipper looked very much the worse for wear; but whatever was worn out, his temper wasn't.
If I hadn't badly wanted to get away to some respectable white place I shouldn't have engaged on board that floating coffin. Whalers, you must know, when they want men, take anybody they can get, whether they know anything about ships or not; and before they go out to fish, they go to some quiet place where the new men can't run away, to train them to rowing the boats; and a particular rough time the poor devils have of it. With me joined the biggest lot of loafers out---all chaps who had run away from Australia for one thing or another, but never let on what for. These chaps had loafed about amongst the natives and sponged upon them so long that at last they had worn out their welcome, and been kicked out.
A lot of them said they were gentlemen; but to look at them as they then were no one would have thought so. Anyhow, we had about twenty or thirty of these duffers, and as soon as we got them on board, to stop them changing their minds, we put to sea and anchored about six miles off, close under the lee of the reef; and then began the game. The boats were put in the water, and manned with a crew of these duffers---an old hand in the bows, and a mate in the stern, to look after them. Before they got into the boats, the mates let their men see plainly that they put a pistol in their pockets, by way of a hint for the crews not to try fighting, for some of them were first-class rowdies.
It was a cruel sight to see the mates work those poor devils. They were out morning, noon, and night working as hard as they could go; and if they tried to shirk rowing, the chap in the bows or stern would fetch them a crack with the boat-stretcher, or heave the nearest handy thing right at them. For the first few days those poor beggars were bad, with their backs broken in two, and their hands covered all over with blood blisters; and not much rocking was wanted to put them to sleep when the day's work was over.
In about a fortnight they were licked into some sort of shape, when we passed through the reef and set off on our voyage to the Friendly Group, where we expected to meet with the whales, who every year went down there with their calves. A whaler, you must know, doesn't want to travel fast; so long as she can go at all, that is all that is wanted, and lucky for us it so, as we couldn't go more than four miles an hour in a gale, and then it would have to be behind us. Of course, with so many hands on board, there was precious little to do but loaf round the deck, sleep, and eat; as for drinking, we got nothing but water. We sailed on teetotal principles; but that was more than the skipper did; and of him we saw very little, but when we did, and he was to windward, the stink of rum was powerful strong.
He only came out of his bunk about twice a day, to curse us all round, and to show us that he was alive and not at all drunk; at least, he thought he did so, but he tacked about in a very strange way for a sober man. His swearing was quite refreshing to me after all the stale stuff I had been listening to for the last year. It was something of a very much higher class, and the style quite new to me. The other chaps didn't like it so much though; but they had been in the Colonies, and were used to that kind of language.
All the old hands settled down to something or other; some knitted stockings, some made nets; others did crochet, just like girls; in fact, all did some sort of work. The boatswain and carpenter produced long, thick sticks of wood which they cut into clubs---some so big that no one man could ever use them. These they painted red, blue, and all sorts of colours, hung them with feathers, and then rammed them down the galley chimney, to make them look old; and when they got back to port, they sold these things to museums and collectors for native island weapons.
This was the sort of lie we led until we came to Tongatabu, and anchored about ten miles off, amongst a lot of coral patches, when the misery of the duffers began again, and all the whaling tools were got out, ready for use at any time the fish might come along. One morning, the look-out at the mast-head sung out, "There she blows! there she blows!" and at once three boats were cleared away for the hunt. Away, about two miles off, we saw a lot of fountains spouting into the air which showed that a school of whales was passing by, and we were soon off to try for them.
When we got near, everything was made ready and looked over, the line was seen coiled neatly in the tubs, so that it might run easy, the leading hand stood up in the boat with harpoon all prepared for fastening on, and the mate saw the lance handy, for killing the fish at the end of the hunt. Presently the mate sung out, "Easy all! There she lays, right ahead. Stand by there in the bows, to fix on." I looked round, and there she was really, rolling about like an enormous great tub, so oily and shining in the sun, and amusing herself throwing up the water in fountains of snow-white spray, with a loud, snorting row.
Slowly we crept up without noise, and just at our Bowman was about to heave the harpoon and fix on, the brute up with her tail and slipped down out of sight, so smoothly that she didn't leave the smallest curl on the top of the water.
"Never mind," shouted the mate; "she'll come up again farther on, so pull a sharp stroke or two." We went on smartly for about five minutes, when up the fish came again close alongside of us, and before you could have said "Jack Robinson" the harpoon was stuck deep into its back, and the line flying out of the tub over the bows in sheets of fire as it ran through the reel, over which a man kept pouring water, to put out the burning till it travelled comfortably. Although the line was running out like mad, the boat didn't move at all, for the whale, when struck, "sounded"---that is, dived straight down below.
"Damn the brute!" said the harpooner; "there's one tub of line out, and here goes another. I wonder when that cuss means to come up again?"
At last the line slackened, and we knew that he was coming up; and as the slack got handy, it was carefully taken in and coiled up for another run. We were all the time quite ready for a start, sitting down on the bottom of the boat, our oars fastened, with their blades high in the air, to prevent them catching the water when the fun began. By-and-by the line tautened, when the Bowman made it fast, and at that very moment up came the monster, about fifty yards ahead, rolling like a ship in a storm, throwing up great spouts of water with an awful row, and bringing his enormous tail with a smack like a cannon down on the waves, he drove them into sheets of foam, and then started off as hard as he could, with such a jerk as nearly dragged the boat under the heavy swell.
"Slack off handsomely," shouted the mate, "till we get way on, or the line will break. There, that will do; make fast." And as we rushed through the water swifter than ever I thought a boat could go, the man forward stood by with a tomahawk, to cut the line of anything went wrong, whilst the mate, with his long steer oar out over the stern, put us whichever way the whale chose to go. By golly! how he did pull us over the big swells; we went at such a rate that the water flying off the bows was cut into great big green walls, as smooth as glass, looking just as solid, and so clear that we could see right through them, to the light beyond,---and they stood quite ten feet above us,---so that we could see nothing of the top of the water.
There we were, right own in the bottom of that watery cutting, sitting as still as if we were made of stone, and the only who moved at all was the mate, who had to straighten her up every now and then with a stroke or two of the steer oar. It was awfully grand to fly through the water like that, and throw back the big swells as though they were nothing. It made me feel that I must go mad again with excitement, and I wanted to shout and dance, but the mate soon stopped that with a look. We rushed along like this in the deep, clear cut, the water splitting before us as we touched it with our sharp bows with great ease, as we followed the harpoon line, standing straight out before us as rigid as an iron bar, while the whale, without jerking or twisting, dragged us, with an honest steady strain, right after him.
It was wonderfully confusing to look over the side: the boat appeared to be standing still, s though fixed, while the walls of crystal green water seemed to be rushing past at a headlong pace; and yet there was no hurry to be noticed,---the sides of the cut were so smooth and clear. In about half an hour the pace began to slack, getting slower and slower every moment, and as it lessened, so the walls of water on each side of us came lower and lower, filling up the valley we had been travelling in, as we were floated upwards, till at last we found ourselves quite still, riding over the tops of the rolling swells on the surface once more.
Thee we waited, watching for some time, when up came our friend, spouting in a very troubled manner, and lay rolling about on the top of the water, looking as if he had had quite enough of playing at towing boats. "Now we have him," said the mate. "Out with the oars two of you, and pass me the lance. You, Jim, there, forrard, take in the slack of the line as we go up, and don't pull on it for the life of you, or you'll start him again. That's it boys! Handsomely now!"
We pulled up very slowly, and were quite close already for the mate to lance him, when he shouted, "Look out! By the Lord he's off straight back again. Sharp, now! Peak your oars and sit down tight on the bottom. Feel him, Jim, with your line, and then slack off gently till you get way on the boat, or, by the Holy! he'll pull the nose out of us with the jerk."
He then set to work with the steer oar, and pulled the boat right round, bows towards where the fish had gone. In a moment we were off again, first of all slowly, as Jim slacked off, then at last full pace, as he made all fast, and once more the procession began. It didn't last long this time, as the whale was evidently getting the worse for wear, and started in dodging about from side to side, chucking and jerking us all over the place in a most annoying manner. Once or twice I thought he would have torn the side of the boat out as he suddenly turned off in a new direction, and two or three times he threw us into the walls of water, hit on each side, rather too deep to be comfortable; but each time he dodged the mate put the bows straight to him, and we came through all right.
The waves ran all over me, but I was too tired to care.
Presently he stopped his games, came to the top, and lay there snorting and spouting in a helpless manner, with not another kick in him. Then, pulling up close alongside, the mate drove the long, sharp lance deep into his side, right through the heart, and spouting blood, with a last lash out of his tail, he lay dead on the top of the water. We then made fast, towed him to the ship, and the next day all that was left of that fish of any good was in casks in the hold.
While we were cutting out the fish, the sharks---some of them of enormous size---crowded round, just like chickens in a farmyard coming for their barley. They were as tame as cats, as they lay, with their ugly noses resting on the whale, so close that we could touch them with our spades. They were so friendly that when a man slipped off into the water, right in the middle of the, they didn't attempt to bit him at all, but went out of his way, till he scrambled back again. At last we got to know them so well that the boys gave them all sorts of queer names; all the twelve apostles were there, and well distinguished; the Yankee President---he was striped; "Union Jack," "Holy Joe," and such-like; but one ugly black fellow was christened John King Bruce, and I didn't like that joke.
Here we stopped for a long time without changing ground; sometimes catching two or three fish a day, at other times going for a week or ten days without seeing one. The skipper went on shore every now and then, but when he did, he only took the old hands with him, as he was afraid to trust us, least we should think the new place good enough to loaf in and desert; and I don't say he wasn't right.
One day spouts were reported, the boats were lowered and off after them, and soon got spread out in different parts of the school. My boat went in chase of a fish that appeared to keep away from the crowd, as though there was something the matter with it, while all the rest were sporting as they moved along, spouting and playing as if they were quite safe from harm. Our whale travelled ahead very slowly, but every now and then turned round, and cruised about in the direction it came from.
This seemed rather curious, but when we got close, we saw the cause, and found it was a big lady whale trying to make her obstreperous youngster of a calf go in the right direction; but each time she tried to lead the contankerous little beggar, he would turn and go off in exactly the wrong road. Then the old lady would return, swim round him until she had put his head straight, give him a few punches with her tail, and take the lead again. As soon as she saw us coming her anxiety increased, and she swam round and round that calf quicker and quicker, trying hard to lead him away, but with no result, till at last he turned right round and came straight into us.
"Leave him alone!" shouted the mate. "Leave him alone! There'll be the very devil to pay, and no pitch hot, if you touch him." However, it was too late; the harpooner in the bows couldn't resist the temptation of having a shy, and as the willful child passed close underneath, he drove the iron right into him, with such force that he spouted blood at one and turned up dead.
"You've done it now, you cuss!" roared the mate. "Look out boys! here she comes!"
And, my word! she did come too, at the rate of about a thousand miles a minute, tearing and sending the water flying up all round her, and in the smallest possible space of time up went boat, crew, and all, slap into the air, with the awful heave she gave us from underneath. Down we came again, splashing into the water. But that wasn't enough for the mother, for she was there to make our further acquaintance; and, standing on her head, with her big tail lifted high out of the water, she let us have two such tremendous smashes that the remains of the boat were broken into small pieces. I don't know whether in all this mess I went up again or not---for water, bits of boat, and men, were flying round so thick that I didn't know what I was doing or where I was, and close by was that vicious old whale, cruising about slapping water, and driving it in thick sheets of foam right over us, with the most awful thundering noise.
She was downright mad over that stupid calf; and to be in the water close to a crazy whale is no joke, I can assure you, and a thing I don't want to experience again, for I never was nearer dead than then, not even when I was given up the other day. It was very lucky for us that all her splasings and the heave of the swells had sent us away from where the dead calf was floating, as she looked after him and let our bits alone. When my confusion was over, I found myself floating on a bit of the boat's stern, with no one alive but that fool of a man who had made all the mischief.
In the water, scattered all round, were the other poor chaps, smashed and shivered in every limb, and with heads horribly broken, swimming dead, and there were only me and that harpoon idiot alive to tell the tale. One by one the poor devils sank down out of sight, till we were left all alone, riding up and down on the smooth, swelling limpy sea, with a mad monster of a whale not very far off, quite ready to do more mischief if she had not been occupied with her calf.
The other boats were so long coming that I began to think we should never get home again, but in about three hours, just as we had had quite enough of it, they strived, each towing a fish behind them, which had made them so long getting back. As they passed, they picked us up; the whale had taken care that there was nothing else worth moving; and soon we got on board. The skipper was in a great rage when he heard of the loss of the boat and six men, but I think he was more riled at losing the mate, who always had done the navigation for him.
Nearly all that night he went raging and cursing round the ship, till he couldn't carry all the run that he had kept on swallowing, and then he went to his bunk. The next day he promoted the two other mates, and made me his third; so there I was a ship's officer again! I didn't want to be mate at all; I only wanted to get to some white place; but then, as I saw that the skipper let the mates go on shore with the boats now and then, I thought I might just as well take the place, and see what the country was like; but I don't think the men liked it at all, because I was not their colour. In a day or two, just as I wanted, the skipper sent me on shore for yams and fresh vegetables; so off I started, with a crew of old hands, and, after about two hours' row, got to the landing-place.
The country I found here was very unlike the other islands I'd been in, for it was nearly flat, with only one little hill, about thirty feet high, to be seen near the beach. However, I saw more white men there than I did in Levuka, but exactly the same sort of chaps, most of them more than half native, and the whole lot with dark wives. The back of the beach was crowded with houses, the same sort as in Fiji; but the men were quite different,---they were lighter in colour, and swaggered about so frightfully proud of themselves they would scarcely speak to a fellow.
The first thing I did was to get the yams on board the boat, and then, thinking I would take a small look round, I told the men to wait a little as I had something else to get, and off I went round the beach . I met a great many of the savages, with their faces painted all colors, staling proudly about, looking very busy over something, and flourishing their clubs and spears, as they shouted and talked quite lively. A more insolent lot there couldn't have been; they not only never made room for me on the path, but went out of their way to have the pleasure of shoving me off it;l and I daren't say anything to them, for fear of a lick across the head with something heavy and hard.
The whole lot were in a great state of excitement, and getting ready for some sort of devilment or other. Presently the crowd became thicker, and I was pushed about from one stinking big fellow to another, till I was almost as greasy as any of them, but all finished when a thundering savage gave me such a rough heave that he sent me spinning right off the road, with a bang, against he wall of a wooden-built house. While I stood there, confused and thinking what I was to do to get out of the row, some one inside called out, "You'd better come in, 'snowball.' You'll get a clubbing if you stop long out there."
Very thankfully I went in; and there I found the most complete beach-comber I ever saw. He was naked to the waist, like the natives, and, like them, shining all over with cocoanut oil; his only dress was a piece of cloth round his waist, and from there down to his knees he was tattooed, which showed up remarkably in bright blue against his light-coloured skin. On his head he wore an enormous mop of hair, tied up with wreaths of flowers and leaves. A long smash across his quite flat nose didn't make his face any prettier than did the beastly paint that was stuck all over it; and his red eyes, without whites, one of them squinting in the corner, stuck fast to his wreck of a nose, altogether made up as nasty a picture of a white man as could be seen.
As I entered, he said: "You must be a fool to go wandering about amongst those chaps. Why, they would just as soon kill you and eat you as look at you. I'm surprised you got as far as this without having your head cracked." I answered, "What's the matter? I've done no harm. Why should they kill me?" "For fun," said he. "We are all just back from a fight on the other side; and, by golly! there's no more enemy left in these parts. We eat them all - men, women, children, crops and everything."
"All but the chief, whom we have brought back to have a quiet talk to old Tubou Malahoi, the King; and he'll do something nasty to him, I know, because he has said lots of insulting things about him, and tried to boss the country himself." " Would you like to come along and see the show?" I must be there, for I am a big chief amongst these people and no one will harm you with me."
The invitation to see "something nasty" I couldn't resist, though my short experience of these devils was not nice or assuring so I said I'd go. "All serene; come along. That crowd you met in the road were going to the meeting of those two loving friends--the king and the rebel."
He then called out for one of his wives,--there were about a dozen knocking round about the house,--and she came to rub him down with a lot more oil, this time all sticky and yellow with saffron, ad I think it is called. Another girl brought his gun, his fighting axe, and his long knife, until at last he was all ready, and a real picture of battle, murder, and sudden death he looked. The savages all this time were streaming away in the same direction, and as they came near us, they cleared the road, and gave us all the path to ourselves. There was no hustling this journey; oh, no! The haughty warriors appeared afraid to look at us, as my new friend, with his head in the air, his feathers and wreaths streaming out behind him, gun on his shoulder, and a gig axe slung on his back, strode down the beach, just as if the whole place belonged to him.
What with one thing and another, I quite forgot all about the boat, yams, and everything else, and followed on in great excitement, to see what was going to happen. Presently we turned off from the sea, and passing through a narrow belt of bush, came to a large open space, shaded off round the edges with a lovely fringe of cocoanut and breadfruit trees, and with a big house standing at one end of it. All round, sitting in the shade were hundreds and hundreds of painted and oiled devils of Tongans, with their spears and clubs laid on the grass in front of them. They were actually blaxing with the colours of beautiful flowers and bright berries they wore in garlands round their heads, necks, and bodies.
In front of the big house, standing leaning on a spear still as a stone statue, was the finest man that ever I saw before or after. He was "Tubou Malahoi," King of Tonga, the first fighter in the whole Pacific, and cousin to that cannibal wretch Mafu in Fiji. He appeared to have come there strictly for business for he wore nothing at all but his face grinning with such a devilish look of scorn that it made me shiver with horror to look at it. His big black eyes were flashing out from under his scowling brows with quiet rage, that seemed as if about to break out into something dreadful at any moment, as he kept them fixed on a man, tied up hands and feet, in the middle of the square, right in the full force of the blazing sun.
He was the rebel chief the fighters had brought back for the king to talk to. Just before we came to the meeting place my new friend gave me his axe to carry, saying, "The people will then know that you belong to me, but mind you stick close, and do not move from right behind me when I sit down, for there are a lot of young warriors here who haven't been fighting, and who would knock the head off a stranger just for a lark". When we got to the crowd, they quickly opened out and let us through right up to the king, where, without a word, we squatted sown alongside of two very old men, who had come with us.
For a long time there was deep silence, but I could plainly see that the rage of the king as tearing him to ;pieces, and as he looked so revengefully and cruelly at the victim before him, he fairly shook with wicked frenzy, and ground his teeth together so hard as to be heard a long way off. No devil in hell could have looked more spiteful than that chap; the perspiration was pouring off him like water, till he could stand the excitement no longer. With a hideous screeching yell, he jumped straight out some distance to the front, when, throwing away his spear and working his arms about like a windmill, he began to talk to the warriors, who then were almost as excited as he.
The more he spoke the wilder he got; his eyes flashed sparks of fire, and rolling fearfully, all bloodshot with rage, they stood right out of his head, which, with a face fit for the worst demon, made him a thing too terrible to look at. As he jumped and threw himself about in his fearful rage, his people all round started up and took up the yelling and dancing, but above all the frightful riot, the fearful voice of the king was to be heard, as foaming at the mouth he convulsed himself more furiously than ever, till presently he got so bad that he fell down in a fit quite exhausted.
As soon as that happened all became quiet again, so quiet that you might have heard a pin drop, when the man tied up in the middle took advantage of th4 silence and shouted out loud something or other. It must have been something very insolent, for he had no sooner got the words out of his mouth than up jumped the king, seized his spear, and with a vengeful yell, rushed at him. As he stood over him, with the spear raised all ready to run through the helpless victim, the latter shouted aloud something more when the king, howling like twenty thousand demons, threw away his spear once more, fairly jumped upon the poor devil's breast, stooped down and dragging his mouth wide open, tore his quivering tongue right out by the roots from his broken jaws and swallowed it before his eyes.
He then walked back, and sat down quietly alongside of us, as if he had done nothing at all out of the common. As soon as the king had turned from his tortured enemy, the whole crowd rushed in upon him, and then we heard the sickening thuds of club strokes on human flesh, a sound that made my whole body creep with horror. Every one of those hundreds of savages hit him as he got the chance; and when they cleared off back to their places round the square, they left nothing in the shape of a man to be seen,---nothing but a bleeding heap of flesh and bones, battered and broken to little bits and torn to shreds.
After the murder was over, the whole meeting became calm, and appeared to be talking prettily to one another, as they laughed and made speeches in the easiest possible manner, and soon some girls were sent for to chew kava for the chiefs. They came into the square looking as bright, beautiful, and merry as they well could, and gay with fine dresses, and garlands of the most glorious coloured flowers crowning their jet-black hair, and their lovely young faces smiled on every one present.
They didn't take the slightest notice of the ghastly heap of flesh out on the grass, all steaming and drying in the sun, but sat down close to it, and began their work. When sufficient had been chewed, the mess was put into the big bowl, mixed with water, strained in the same graceful way Samoan girls do it here, and handed round in cocoanut-shell cups. Soon after this the meeting began to break up, as one by one, or in small mobs, these ruffians moved off to their houses to sleep, and perhaps think over all the good things they had been doing lately; till at last there was only the king, those two old men, and my beach-comber left to look at that horribly mangled heap of what had been a living creature gut a short time before.
All this time the sights I was witnessing had driven every recollection of the boat from my mind. These, however, now returned; so I said good-bye to my friend, and started off at a run to the water, but found nothing of the boat or the ship except the three masts of her a long way off on the sky-line. I suppose they had got tired of waiting for me so long, and had gone off to tell the skipper that I'd deserted. This was a real pretty business! I didn't want to stop along with such fellows as I had just left; they were too haughty and quarrelsome for me.
I then sat down on a rock, to think for a bit what I should be up to, and while doing so three savage looking rascals came down with a basket full of what was left of that poor devil they clubbed up on the square. With mocking gestures and laughs they threw the basket into the sea, and the, instead of going away, stopped looking at me precious hard and as wicked as they could be. I got afraid, and moved away in the direction of the beach-comber's house, the only place of safety I knew.
The brutes immediately followed, and when I saw that, I set off running as hard as I could, they after me, shouting like mad. I'm quite sure that I never ran faster in my life, and no wonder, as it was for that I ran; but all this yelling brought out more savages by the dozen from the houses, who joined in the hunt, till there were quite fifty of these tattooed devils all chasing me to get first crack at my poor head. Some of the natives came out in front, and as I rushed past in my flight, they made hits at me, but I jumped so smartly from side to the other, dodging the clubs as they tried to brain me, that I was not touched, until a girl threw a big stone, which caught me across the stomach, knocked all the wind out of me, and brought me down without a breath.
With hideous screeches of victory, those demons then raced all the faster, to get up first and settle me; and once more in my life I gave myself up for lost. I thought then all would have been over in a few moments; but how long they seemed I shall never, never forget, as I laid on my face, expecting the crash that would have sent me off to the kingdom to come. It was so long coming that I sat up and looked round, and saw that once more I was saved, for there was my new friend the beach-comber swinging a big club, standing between me and the men who were thirsting for my blood.
There he stood talking to them in their own ling, and they were hard at work shouting back to him in a very angry and insolent manner. At last he said something that they couldn't stand anyhow, and two of the mob rushed out to fight him. With a jump or two, he met them more than half-way, and before you could say "knife," one of them was dead, with his head burst open, and the other was on the ground, doubled up as if he had the cholera, from a heavy club stroke in the stomach.
The rest didn't like to come on; and as by this time one of his wives had brought him a gun, the howling gang thought it best to go home, and not quarrel any more with the "papalagi alii fita-fita," as they say; or, in English, the "white chief warrior." When they were gone, my beach-comber said, "You 've had a narrow squeak for it this time, darkie. If I hadn't just got home, you would have been amongst the coloured angels by this time, and your handsome carcass in the oven. But how the deuce did you get amongst that kit? They are the worse gang in the town---all low men, who have to do the dirty work. I thought you were off to your ship."
I then told him all about the boat, and how those fellows came to hunt me; when he continued: "Well! I suppose you must come into the house for to-night, but to-morrow you must get somewhere out of this. After this fight, they will have you as sure as fate if you stop. "I've just killed their best man, and given another something to remind him of me for some time to come; but I can't keep on killing and thumping my own men for you, so take my advice and leave this to-morrow; anyway, you don't stop in my shanty."
I went to sleep very sorrowfully that night, not having any idea of where to go, or what to do, after I got kicked out in the morning; it looked a dead certainty for a killing at last. At daylight I was woken up by a solid kick in the ribs, and the gruff voice of my protector telling me to get up at once. "What for?" said I, half asleep. "Because I tell you," he answered angrily. "And what's more, you had better look sharp. Do you know what you are? I'll tell you! You're a cursed deserter from that whaler out there. I've just caught you running away to the bush, and your skipper has given me ten dollars---look at them! there they are, all right and bright---to put you safely in the boat he sent for you this morning. You may bet I'm gong to do it for sure; so get up, you black skunk, while I tie you, or perhaps you'll escape and kill more of my poor men, like you did yesterday."
Without any more talk, he made me fast, and kicked me out in front of him to the beach, where the boat was lying, in charge of the mate. It was no use my telling them that I wanted to go on board very badly, and save my life out of the murderous place; they wouldn't believe me; but, just as though I was a dangerous criminal, they threw me down on the bottom of the boat, and tied me fast to the thwarts. When we reached the ship, they dragged me up the side, and as I went over the bulwarks, tied as I was, the skipper who had been taking something stronger than tea for breakfast, rushed up, and with his shut fist struck me down flat.
"Take the black nigger." said he, "and tie him up forrard. I'll teach him to run away! This is what comes of taking loafers off the beach out of charity, and, by the Holy! I'll have satisfaction of their hides." I was then dragged off to the bows, and lashed up to the heel of the bowsprit, while that respectable skipper went off for some more breakfast. That meal of his lasted more than half the day; and each time he tackled his provisions he came forrard to curse and kick me, and then would stagger back for more, feeling thirsty through the exercise he gave me, I suppose.
This sort of thing went on for two days and two nights, till I could stand it no longer, and what with the sun, no grub, and the hidings, I was going off my head when the men took things in their own hands, and cut me loose. They had to fight the skipper though---though---who it appears, was mad to kill me---before they could do it; and he was so bad that they locked him up aft, till his boiling rage had cooled off a bit. The ship was now upside down; there was no work done, and although great schools of whales were passing daily, no one went for them; nothing was done but eating, drinking and loafing round the decks.
The mates and the crew behaved very well, for all they wanted was to get to New Zealand. No one but the drunken old skipper wanted to stop in Tonga, where the principal sport of the natives was hunting and eating strangers, and the noble savage only made friends and liked them when he had them comfortably inside. No! every man Jack wanted to get away from such a cursed country, where, if you talked a little too much, some gentleman would swallow your tongue for you.
In time the skipper got more reasonable, and one day he hoisted his anchor, and away we went in a northerly direction, to call at another group of islands before turning south for New Zealand. In about a week we found ourselves anchored in the bay of Apia, just out there, with canoes full of these laughing, good-natured natives all round. I didn't see them though for more than an hour or so, for I was so sick with cruel treatment and bad grub that I tumbled into my berth, thinking I must die. All on board thought so too, and as I was a great bother to them, they put me ashore before they sailed and here I've been ever since; up one day, and down the next; but, on the whole, quite happy and contented.
All along since I've been in the island I have only had one trouble, and that was with my wife's relations, who, when they knew I had a little money, would make her mutiny till they got it out of me. No dollars, all right! Lots of dollars, all wrong! And now, sir, that I've finished my story I hope that you will not think worse of me. I never was really bad, for it was only when I was mad that those awful things happened; and the recollection of the terrible manner in which the brutes I met treated me made me that revengeful that I couldn't help paying them out when I got the chance.
It was not the proper John King Bruce who did the things but a man with a devil inside him; a devil put there by the cruelties of the murdering scoundrels, who properly paid for their wickedness with their lives. No, sir; the real John King Bruce is not responsible for all that was done up to the time he ran away from the blackbirder, for he was mad. And, sir, if you should put these things in a book---and somehow I think you will---just tell the kind, good people in England who read it that John King Bruce will die proud being a Britisher, by which he got the acknowledged right of calling himself the "First white man on the beach."