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Title: In The Strange South Seas - With Photographs
Author: Grimshaw, Beatrice
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Beatrice Grimshaw

Author Of “From Fiji To The Cannibal Islands,” Etc.

London: Hutchinson & Co. Paternoster Row


[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0008]

[Illustration: 0009]

[Illustration: 0010]


               In desire of many marvels over sea,

          When the new made tropic city sweats and roars,

          I have sailed with young Ulysses from the quay,

          Till the anchor rattled down on stranger shores.


MOST men have their loves, happy or hopeless, among the countries of
the earth. There are words in the atlas that ring like trumpet calls
to the ear of many a stay-at-home in grey northern cities--names of
mountains, rivers, islands, that tramp across the map to the sound of
swinging music played by their own gay syllables, that summon, and lure,
and sadden the man who listens to their fifing, as the music of marching
regiments grips at the heart of the girl who loves a soldier.

They call, they call, they call--through the long March mornings, when
the road that leads to everywhere is growing white and dry--through
restless summer nights, when one sits awake at the window to see the
stars turn grey with the dawn--in the warm midday, when one hurries
across the city bridge to a crowded eating-house, and the glittering
masts far away down the river must never be looked at as one passes. Of
a misty autumn evening, when steamers creeping up to seaport towns send
long cries across the water, one here, and another there, will stir
uneasily in his chair by the fire, and shut his ears against the
insistent call.... Why should he listen, he who may never answer?

_(Yokohama, the Golden Gate, Cape Horn, the Rio Grande, Agra, Delhi,
Benares, Bombay, the Amazon, the Andes, the South Sea Islands, Victoria
Nyanza, the Pyramids, the Nile, Lhassa, Damascus, Singapore, the
tundras, the prairies, trade-winds, tropics, and the Line--can’t you
hear us calling?)_

Love is not stronger than that call--let sweetheartless girls left
alone, and the man of cities who has loved the woman of the wandering
foot, give bitter witness. Death is not stronger--those who follow the
call must defy him over and over again. Pride of country, love of home,
delight in well-known faces and kindly hearts that understand, the
ease of the old and well-tried ways, the prick of ordinary ambitions
hungering for the showy prizes that every one may see--these are but as
dead leaves blown before the wind, when the far-off countries cry across
the seas. Not one in a hundred may answer the call; yet never think, you
who suppose that love and avarice and the lust of battle sum up all the
great passions of the world, that scores out of every hundred Englishmen
have not heard it, all the same. “In the heart of every man, a poet has
died young”; and in the heart of almost every Briton, a wanderer once
has lived. If this were not so, the greatest empire of the world had
never been.

So, to The Man Who Could Not Go, I address this book--to the elderly,
white-waistcoated city magnate, grave autocrat of his clerkly kingdom
(never lie to me, sir--what was your favourite reading in the sixties,
and why were you a very fair pistol shot, right up to the time when you
were made junior manager?)--to the serious family solicitor, enjoying
his father’s good old practice and house, and counting among the
furnishings of the latter, a shelf of Marryats, Mayne Reids, and Michael
Scotts, wonderfully free of dust--to the comfortable clergyman, immersed
in parish cares, who has the oddest fancy at times for standing on
dock-heads, and sniffing up odours of rope and tar--to all of you, the
army of the brave, unwilling, more or less resigned Left Behinds, who
have forgotten years ago, or who will never, forget while spiring masts
stand thick against blue skies, and keen salt winds wake madness in the
brain--to all I say: Greeting! and may the tale of another’s happier
chance send, from the fluttering pages of a book, a breath of the
far-off lands and the calling sea.


_Fate and Her Parcels--How It All came true--The First South Sea
Island--Coleridge and the Tropics--The Spell of the Island Scents--What
happens to Travellers--Days in Dreamland--A Torchlight Market--The
Enchanted Fei._

LIKE an idle messenger-boy, Fate takes a long while about her rounds,
but she will get through with them and deliver all her parcels, if you
give her time enough.

She has so much business that she confuses orders very often, and you
are never sure of getting what you sent for. Still, you will certainly
get something, if you wait, and it may even be the thing you demanded.

The morning she called at my door, with a very full basket, she had
already been to my neighbours, and given them, in a big assortment of
goods--a failure on the Stock Exchange, a hunting accident, and a broken
engagement. What they had ordered was a seat in Parliament, and a winter
at Monte Carlo, with anything good that might come in in the way of
new-laid motor-cars. But Fate was, as usual, in a hurry, and she never
changes any goods, once delivered. So they had to take them in.

I had given up expecting her when her knock came to my door, because
my order had been sent in some years ago, and so far had remained
unacknowledged. But she fairly emptied her basket into my hands, once
she was admitted.

“Goods all right, and none the worse for keeping; couldn’t find time to
see to you before, I’ve been so busy attending to an order from Japan
for a new army and a gross of assorted victories,” she panted. “Had to
serve the Czar of Russia with a lot of old defeats I’ve had lying by
since the Crimea, instead of the new empire he sent for; and can’t get
time to fill more than half the German Emperor’s order for fireworks.
You private people are lucky to get anything at all. Count the goods,
please--one journey round the world, two-and-a-half years of mixed
adventures, a hundred South Sea Islands, threescore new friends, first
quality, one large package luck. That’s all, I think--sign the book,
and let me go; I’ve got seven attacks of appendicitis, a foreclosed
mortgage, two lawsuits, and a divorce, to deliver in this square before

So, like the fairy tales, “it all came true,” and one bright winter
afternoon a Cunard liner bore me away from the streets and shops and
drab-coloured, huddled houses of Liverpool, down the muddy Mersey--off
round the world.

There were thousands of people on the quay, come to see the famous boat
away, for it was Saturday afternoon, and the town took holiday. They had
a few hours of freedom before them--then, the airless office room,
the stuffy shop, the ledger and the copying-press, and the clattering
typewriter, the grim window giving on the dark wet street, for six long
days again. Next year, and the year after,-just the office, the frowsy
lodging, the tram car, the pen in the strong young fingers, the desk to
stoop the broad young shoulders, the life foreseen, eventless, grey for
ever and for ever. And I was going round the world.

It is three weeks later, and the big “A and A” steamer is ploughing
along in the midst of a marvellous dazzle of diamond-spangled, pale-blue
tropic sea and scorching, pale-blue tropic sky. The passengers, in cool
white suits and dresses, are clustered together on the promenade deck,
looking eagerly over the port railing, while the captain, telescope in
hand, points out something lying only a mile away, and says: “That’s
Tiki-Hau, so now you’ve seen a South Sea Island.”

We are on our way to Tahiti, a twelve-day run from San Francisco, and
are not stopping anywhere, but as Tiki-Hau is the only glimpse of land
we shall get until we cast anchor in Papeete, every one wants to look
at it. Not one of us has ever seen a South Sea Island, and, we are all
eager to realise this little fragment of our rainbow-coloured childish

Is it as good as we dreamed it? we ask ourselves and each other. The
verdict, given unanimously, is: “Yes--but not the same.”

Here is no high green palmy peak, overhanging a waveless sea, with
sparkling waterfalls dashing down from crag to crag, like the coloured
illustrations in our old school prize books. There are, indeed, just
such islands in the Pacific, we are told--many hundreds of them--but
there are still more of the kind we are now looking at, which is not
half so often mentioned. All South Sea Islands are either high or low;
the high island, with lofty mountains and dark, rich volcanic soil, is
the familiar island of the picture book, while the low type, composed
only of coral, is the variety to which Tiki-Hau belongs.

[Illustration: 0030]

What we can see of the island, however, is enough to set at rest any
tendency to comparison. None of us want anything better; none of us
think there can be anything better, among the wonders that the Great
South Seas yet hold in store.

Tiki-Hau is an island of the atoll or ring-shaped type, a splendid
circle of seventy and eighty-foot palms, enclosing an inner lagoon clear
and still as glass. Outside the windy palms, a dazzling beach runs down
to the open sea all round the island--a beach that is like nothing the
travellers ever have seen before, for it is made of powdered coral,
and is as white as salt, as white as starch, as white as the hackneyed
snow-simile itself can paint it. All the island--the whole great ring,
many miles in length--is coral too, white, branching, flowering coral
under water, white, broken-coral gravel above, with here and there a
thin skin of earth collected by a century or two of falling palm-leaves
and ocean waste. Outside the magic ring the sea-waves tumble, fresh and
blue, upon-the cloud-white sand; within, the still lagoon glows like
a basin of molten emerald. Above, the enormous palm-trees swing their
twenty-foot plumes of gaudy yellow-green to the rush of warm trade-wind,
high in the burning sky. A glorious picture indeed--but one before which
the painter well might tremble.

Here, for the first time, we begin to understand why pictures
of tropical scenes are so few and so unsatisfactory. Paint! what
combination of coloured grease that ever came out of a box could hope to
suggest the pale green fire of those palm-tree plumes, the jewel-blaze
of the lagoon, the sapphire flame of the sea, the aching, blinding
whitenesses of spray and sand? Who could paint the sun that is literally
flashing back from the light dresses of the passengers, making of every
separate person a distinct conflagration, and darting lightning rays out
of the officers’ gold shoulder-straps and buttons? Does any dweller in
the dim grey North really know what light and colour are? did we
know, with our tinselled April days, and gentle blue-and white August
afternoons, that we were so proud of once? Well, we know now; and, alas,
in the dim, prosaic years that are yet to come, we shall remember!

The ship steams on, the atoll fades away in the distance, and once more
comes the changeless level of long blue empty sea. But we have seen a
coral island, and the picture is ours for ever.

Flying-fish, skimming and “skittering” over the surface of the waves, we
have all become used to now. The first day we met them was a memorable
one, all the same--they were so exactly what one had paid one’s money
to see. Sharks have disappointed us so far; never a sight of the famous
“black triangular fin” have we yet enjoyed, and the passengers have an
idea that something ought to be said to the steamship company about it.
Nor have the equatorial sunsets quite kept up their stage character.
Books of travel, and sea literature in general, have led us to expect
that the sun, in the tropics, should go out at sunset as though Poseidon
had hold of the switch down below the water line, and turned off the
light the instant sun and horizon met.

               ... The sun’s rim dips, the stars rush out.

               At one stride comes the dark.

They don’t, Mr. Coleridge, and it doesn’t, and you never were there to
see for yourself, or you would not have talked beautiful nonsense
and misled countless travellers of all ages who did see, but who have
refused to look, save through your illustrious spectacles, ever since.
Even on the equator, the sun gives one time to dress for dinner (if the
toilet is not a very elaborate one) while it is setting, and after it
has set. So dies one more illusion. Yet it can easily be spared, in the
midst of a thousand wild dreams and strange imaginings, realised to the
very utmost, as ours are to be ere long.

Tahiti comes at last. In the pearly light of a sunrise pure as a dawn
of earliest Eden, we glide into the shadow of a tall, rose-painted peak,
spiring eight thousand feet up into heaven, and anchor in the midst of
a glassy mirror of violet sea. Papeëte, the loveliest, sweetest, and
wickedest town of all the wide South Seas, lies before us--just a
sparkle of red roofs looking out from under a coverlet of thick foliage,
a long brown wharf and a many-coloured crowd. Across the water steals
a faint strange perfume, unlike anything I have ever smelled
before--heavy, sweet, penetrating, suggestive.... It is cocoanut oil
scented with the white tieré flower, and never, from Tahiti to Samoa,
from Raratonga to Fiji, Yavau, Manihiki, or Erromanga, will the South
Sea traveller lose the odour of it again. Cocoanut oil, and the nutty,
heavy smell of copra (dried cocoanut kernel) are charms that can raise
in an instant for any old island wanderer, in the farthest corners of
the earth, the glowing vision of the wonderful South Sea world.

               ... Smells are surer than sounds or sights

               To make your heartstrings crack,

               They start those awful voices o’ nights

               That whisper: “Old man, come back!”

_(Old island wanderers in all parts of the world--settled down to
desks in the E.C. district--tramping through the December glare of Pitt
Street, Sydney, for “orders”--occupying a tranquil, well-bred billet,
and a set of red-tape harness, in the Foreign Office--do you smell the
tierê flower, and hear the crooning of the reef, and feel the rush of
the warm trade wind, and the touch of the sun-baked sand, under the utu
trees once more?)_

So I landed in Papeete, and found myself in the South Sea Islands at

All that afternoon, like “Tommy” in Barrie’s _Thrums_, I kept saying to
myself: “I’m here, I’m here!”... There was no mistake about Papeëte. It
was not disappointing or disillusioning, it was only more lifelike
than life, more fanciful than fancy, infinitely ahead of all past

There were the waving palms of picture and story, laden with immense
clusters of nuts; there were the wonderful bananas, with broad green
leaves ten and twelve feet long, enshrouding bunches of fruit that
were each a good load for a man; there were the greenhouse flowers of
home--the costly rare stephanotis, tuberose, gardenia--climbing all over
the verandahs of the houses, and filling half-cultivated front gardens
with stacks and bouquets of bloom. And the dug-out canoes, made from a
single hollowed log supported by an outrigger, flitting about the glassy
lagoon like long-legged waterflies--and the gorgeous, flamboyant trees,
ablaze with vermilion flowers, roofing over the grassy roadway in
a series of gay triumphal arches--and above all, beyond all, the
fiery-gold sunlight, spilling cataracts of flame through the thickest
leafage, turning the flowers to white and red-hot coals, painting the
shadows under the houses in waves of ink, and bleaching the dust to
dazzling snow--how new, how vivid, how tropical it all was!

The native population was out in full force to see the steamer come
in. So, indeed, were the white residents, in their freshest suits and
smartest muslins, but they met with small attention from the little band
of newcomers.

It was the Tahitians themselves who claimed all our interest--the famous
race who had been so well liked by Captain Cook, who had seduced the men
of the _Bounty_ from allegiance to King George of England, a hundred
and sixteen years ago, who were known all the world over as the most
beautiful, the most amiable, and the most hospitable of all the South
Sea Islanders.

Some of the passengers, I fancy, expected to see them coming down to the
shore clad in necklaces and fringes of leaves, eager to trade with
the newcomers and exchange large pearls and thick wedges of fine
tortoiseshell for knives, cloth, and beads.... Most of us were better
prepared, however, having heard a good deal about Papeëte, the Paris of
the South Seas, from the people of the steamer, and having realised, on
our own account, that a great deal of water might run under a bridge in
a hundred years, even here in the South Pacific.

So the smartness of the native crowd surprised only a few, of whom I was
not one. On the contrary, I was surprised to find that here, in this
big island group, with its fortnightly steamer, its large “white” town,
and its bureaucratic French Government, some kind of a national dress
did really still exist. The Tahitian men were variously attired, some
in full suits of white, others in a shirt and a brief cotton kilt. The
women, however, all wore the same type of dress--a flowing nightdress of
cotton or muslin, usually pink, pale green, or yellow, and a neat small
sailor hat made in the islands, and commonly trimmed with a pretty
wreath of shells. Most of them wore their hair loose, to show off its
length and fineness--Tahitians have by far the most beautiful hair of
any island race--and not a few were shoeless, though nearly all had
smart parasols. The colour of the crowd was extremely various, for
Tahiti has more half and quarter castes than full-blooded natives--in
Papeete at all events. The darkest, however, were not more than
tea-coloured, and in most instances the features were really good.

So much one gathered in the course of landing. Later on, during the few
days I spent in an hotel waiting for the Cook Island steamer--for, alas!
I was not staying in Tahiti--there was opportunity for something further
in the way of observation. But------

But------ It happens to every one in Tahiti, why should I be ashamed of
it? There was once a scientific man, who came to write a book, and took
notes and notes and notes--for two days and a half. Then, he thought he
would take a morning’s rest, and that is five years ago, and he has been
resting ever since, and they say in the stores that he has not bought so
much as a sheet of letter paper, or a penny bottle of ink, but that his
credit for cigars and ice, and things that go with both very well, and
for pyjamas to lounge about the back verandah in, and very cheap novels,
and silk-grass hammocks, is nearly run out in Papeete. There was a
Government official--perhaps it was two, or three, or sixty Government
officials--who came to Papeete very full of energy and ability, and very
much determined to work wonders in the sleepy little colony.... He, or
they, is, or are, never to be seen awake before three in the afternoon,
and his clerks have to type the signatures to his letters, because he
will not trouble to write his name; and their people think they died
years and years ago, because they have never carried out their intention
of telling some one to find some one else to send a message to say they
are alive. And there are a dozen or fourteen gentlemen who keep stores
in Papeete, and if you go in to buy things in the morning or afternoon
or evening, mayhap you will find the gentleman or his understudy asleep
behind the counter, but mayhap you will find the door shut, and the
proprietor away at breakfast, which takes him an hour, or lunch, which
takes from two hours to three, or dinner, which occupies him from six
till nine inclusive. After that, he may open again for a little while,
or he may not.

Must I explain now what happened to me in Papeëte, or why I am not in
a position to add anything to the scientific or ethnological, or
geographic knowledge of the world, concerning the Society Islands in

A duty, obvious, immediate, and unperformed, is perhaps the best of all
spices to a dish of sweet laziness. And there is not on earth’s round
ball such a spot to be lazy in as pleasant Papeëte. One is never fairly
awake. It is dreamland--and what a happy dream! The golden light on
the still lagoon is surely the “fight that never was on sea nor
land”--before we sailed in under the purple peaks of Orohena. The
chanting of the coral reef far out at sea, unceasing, day and night, is
the song the sirens sang to strong Ulysses, in the dream dreamed for
all ages by the old Greek poet, long ago. The languorous voices of
the island women, sweet and low as the “wind of the western sea”--the
stillness of the island houses, where feet go bare upon the soundless
floors, and music waxes and wanes so softly now and then in whispering
songs or lightly swept piano keys, that it only blends with the long
mysterious murmur of the wind in the rustling palm trees, to lull the
senses into perfect rest--these, too, are of the world of dream.

Something out of dreamland, also, is the little hotel where most of the
travellers stay--a rambling bungalow in a grass enclosure, overrun with
vivid flowers and splendid leafage. That the proprietress should welcome
her guests in a long lace and muslin nightgown-dress, her pretty brown
feet bare, and her flowing wavy hair crowned with a wreath of perfumed
gardenia and tuberose, seems quite a natural part of the dream; that the
chamber-maids should be beautiful island girls clad in the same garb,
and that they should sit in the drawing-room playing the piano and
singing wild melancholy island songs, like the sighing of the surf on
the shore, when they ought to be making beds or serving dinners, is also
“in the picture.” That the Chinese cook should do elaborate Parisian
cookery, and that the coffee and the curry and the bread (or at least
the bread-fruit) should be picked in the garden as required, and that
there should be no visible means of shutting the door of the bathroom,
which is very public, until a carpenter is called in, and that
L--------, the charming proprietress, should explain with a charming
smile: “Only the house been using it all this time,” to account
completely for the deficiency--all this belongs unmistakably to the
irresponsible dream-country. And when the warm tropic night drops down,
and one goes wandering in the moonlight, to see for the first time
the palm-tree plumes all glassy-silver under the radiant sky, flashing
magically as they tremble in the faint night wind, it is more than ever
the land of dream that is thus lit up in the soft clear dusk. So vivid
is the moonlight, that one can even see the scarlet colour of the
flamboyant flowers fallen in the dust, and distinguish the deep violet
and hyacinthine hues of the far-off mountain peaks across the bay....
How, in such a place, can one waste the night in sleep?

It is certainly not like any sort of waking life one has hitherto known,
to find that the market of Papeëte--one of the principal sights of
the place--is held on Sunday mornings before sunrise. One might have
supposed that such a supremely indolent people would scarcely choose the
most inconvenient hour of all the twenty-four for a general gathering.
But they do choose it, and the visitor who wants to see the market must
choose it also.

L-------- calls me, herself, at some unearthly hour, not much after
four, and I get up and dress in the warm darkness. It is the hot season
at present and the air, night and day, is very like a hot bath, and not
far behind it in temperature. I have been loafing about the town during
the previous day in rather thin shoes, and my feet have been almost
blistered by the heat of the ground striking up through light soles,
so that I cannot walk very far, and am glad to find the market close at

L--------, in a fresh muslin nightdress (she has something like fifty or
sixty of them), acts as guide. She has put a new coronet of flowers in
her hair, and before we reach the market she proceeds to dress me up
Tahiti fashion, with, long necklaces of sweet white blossoms round my
neck, falling all over my dress, and a heavy crown of closely woven
gardenias on my head, instead of my hat, which she removes, and politely
carries. She wants to pull my hair down as well, but in a temperature of
eighty degrees the idea does not sound tempting, so I decline to follow
Tahitian custom further. Besides, there is really no knowing where she
would stop!

There is not yet a glimmer of daylight when we enter the market-place,
and flaring lamps and torches cast huge flickering shadows all over the
gay assembly. Fruit and fish for the most part are the wares--but such
fish, and such fruit! Where one would look at home for white and grey
turbot, pallid plaice, zinc-coloured herrings, here one may see the
most gorgeous shapes of gold and scarlet and green; of iridescent rose,
silver, orange; of blue, brilliant as a heap of tumbled sapphire, and
pearl as bright as the lining of a shell. Tahiti is famous for
its beautiful fish, and indeed these in the market look almost too
poetically lovely to eat.

Then the fruit! bananas as big as cucumbers, as small as ladies’ fingers
(after which, indeed, this little sugar-sweet, variety is named), dark
red bananas, flavoured like a peach, large bloomy ones, tasting and
looking like custard within; smooth yellow ones, like those exported
to other countries, whither the daintier fruits will not safely
go--pineapple in rough-skinned heaps (one learns soon in Tahiti how to
eat a pineapple, and that is to peel it, cut it into largest possible
lumps, eat the latter undiminished even if they make you speechless,
and never, never, shoe the fruit)--oranges of several different kinds,
custard-apples, rose-apples, paw-paws, melons, avocado pears, guavas,
mangoes, and other fruits the name of which I have never heard--all
lying together in masses under the lamplight, costing not as many
halfpence to buy as at home they would cost shillings.

The native beauties are here in a merry crowd, intent quite as much upon
enjoyment as on business. Scarcely one but wears a flower behind her
ear--and if you have ever been in the South Seas, you will know what
that pretty little signal means, but if you have not, why then I shall
not tell you--and all are so wreathed, and crowned, and necklaced with
woven blossoms, that the air is heavy with scent, and the market-place
looks as though the transformation scene of a pantomine were just about
to begin, with a full chorus of flower-decked nymphs appearing for the

One exceedingly pretty girl, with a perfect cataract of black hair
overflowing her pale green gown, and a pair of sparkling dark eyes that
could never be matched outside the magic lines of Cancer and Capricorn,
is making and frying pancakes with something fruity, nature unknown,
inside them. She has half a dozen French officers about her, enjoying
breakfast and flirtation at the same time. Another, who is selling
a number of the oddest little parcels imaginable, made out of cut-up
joints of bamboo, carefully sealed, is doing a good trade among the
coloured and semi-coloured ladies. L-------- says she is selling
readymade sauces, to be eaten with fish or meat, and adds that she
herself will show me what Tahitian sauces are like later on, because
there is no one in the whole group fit to act as scullion to her in that
important matter--or words to the same effect.

Strange-looking mountain men are here, dressed in shirt and kilt of
cotton cloth, patterned in flowers and leaves as big as soup-plates. The
former garment is a concession to Papeete--outside the town, the “pareo”
 or kilt alone forms the Tahitian full-dress suit. These men have come
in to sell the “fei,” or wild banana, which is only found on the highest
and most perilous of the mountain precipices. To get it, the Tahitian
must climb where not even a goat would venture to go, and make his way
back, having secured the fruit, carrying a bunch that is a heavy load,
even on level ground. Many are the lives that have been lost gathering
the “fei,” but the Tahitian, like all islanders, is something of a
fatalist, and the death of one fruit gatherer never stops another from
going a-hunting in the very same place next day.

There is something about the same “fei” that is worth noting. It is
one of the standing dishes of the islands--a cooking banana, large, and
well-flavoured when baked, but not so attractive on the whole as many
of the other kinds. The Tahitian, however, ascribes to this variety a
certain magic property, not unlike that of the fabled lotus. If you eat
of the “fei,” he says, especially if you eat freely of it, you will fall
under the spell. For ever, in its working, it binds you to Tahiti. You
may go away, and without any intention of returning, say goodbye to the
islands, and place many thousand miles of land and sea between yourself
and sweet Tahiti, saying to yourself that you and Papeëte have no more
to do with one another for ever.... Yet by-and-by--some day, one
knows not when; it may be soon, or it may be late, but it will surely
come--you will return to Tahiti. The spell of the fei will work, and
draw you back again.

So the natives said, and I thought the fancy a pretty one, and wondered
whether it had really any connection with the lotus myth, and then
forgot all about it.

That is three years ago, and since those days I have travelled the whole
world over, leaving Tahiti behind as one leaves a station passed long
ago on a railway journey, upon a line that one never expects to traverse
again. As I write, the snows of winter Britain lie thick outside my
window, and a sea of Arctic coldness breaks in freezing green and grey
upon a desolate shore. Nothing on earth seems farther away than-the
warm blue waves, and flowers that never fade, and shining coral sands of
Tahiti. But... there is a steamer running southward before long, and a
great sunny city on the other side of the world where the island boats
lie waiting at the quays. And one of those island boats, in a month or
two, will carry a passenger back to Tahiti--a passenger who ate of the
fei three years ago, and went away for ever, but on whom the spell of
the magic fruit has worked--after all.


_The History of Tahiti--Drink and the Native--In the Old Wild Days--The
Simple and the Civilised Life--What an Island Town is like--The Lotos
Eaters--Cocoanuts and Courtesy--A Feast of Fat Things--The Orgy on the
Verandah--Schooners and Pearls--The Land of Tir-n’an-Oge._

ALTHOUGH I certainly did not use the few days of my stay in Tahiti
to the best advantage--although I saw none of the public buildings of
Papeëte, never set eyes on any of the officials of the place, and did
not collect any statistics worth mentioning, I gathered a few crude
facts of a useful kind, which are herewith offered as a sop to the
reader, who must be informed and improved, or know the reason why. (If
he would only go to Tahiti, that dear reader, whom, all travellers know
so well and fear so much! if he would just spend a week lying on the
coral beach, and strolling in the moonlight, and listening to native
songs, and feeding fat on native dainties--he would never want to be
informed of anything any more, and as to being improved... O Tahiti,
loveliest and least conventional of the siren countries of the dear
South Seas, can you lay your hand on your heart, and honestly declare
you are improving?)

Tahiti was discovered, not by Captain Cook, as is rather commonly
supposed, but by Captain Wallis of H.M.S. _Dolphin_, in 1767. Captain
Wallis formally took possession of the group in the name of His Majesty
King George III., and Captain Cook, in the course of his different
visits to the islands, laid the foundations of all the civilisation
they afterwards acquired. Nevertheless, the islands are French property
to-day. There is nothing in the Pacific better worth owning than the
Society group, more fertile, more beautiful, more healthy, richer in
valuable tropical products--and the construction of the Panama Canal,
an event which has been foreseen for several generations, will obviously
add much to the importance of the islands. Because of these, and other
excellent reasons, Great Britain, acting on the principles by which her
colonial policy is commonly guided, allowed the Society Islands to
slip gradually into the hands of a power better able than herself to
appreciate their value, and the group, after thirty-seven years of
“protection,” was finally taken possession of by France, in the year
1880. The native Queen, Pômare IV. (Pomare being a dynastic name like
Cæsar, but, unlike the latter, applied to both sexes), was allowed to
retain her state and possessions under the French protectorate. Her
successor, King Pomare V., who succeeded in 1877 and died in 1891, only
reigned for three years. After the formal annexation he retained his
title of king, and much of his state, but the power was entirely in
French hands. Prince Hinoe, his heir, who would in the ordinary course
have occupied the throne, lives in a handsome European-built house near
Papeete, and enjoys a good pension, but is otherwise not distinguished
in any way from the ordinary Tahitian.

Under French rule, the islands have done fairly well. There were at
first many regrettable disputes and troubles between opposing camps of
missionaries, but these have long since been made up. Commerce is
in rather a languishing state. The group exports copra, vanilla,
pearl-shell, and fruit, but the trade with America was so much on the
down-grade during the time of my visit, that steamers were leaving the
port with empty holds. The natives are well treated under the present
system; the liquor laws, however, are defective, and no Tahitian,
apparently, has any difficulty in obtaining as much strong spirits as
he wants and can pay for. The disastrous effects of such carelessness
as this need no mention to the reader who knows anything of darkskinned
races. For the benefit of the reader who does not, however, it may
be remarked that all colonial administrators agree concerning the bad
effects of intoxicants on coloured races of every kind. It matters not
at what end or part of the scale of colour the man may be--whether he
is a woolly-haired, baboon-jawed nigger from Central Africa, a grave,
intelligent, educated Maori of New Zealand, or a gentle child-like
native of Tahiti, barely café-au-lait as to colour--all the same, and
all the time, spirits are sure to convert him, temporarily, into
a raging beast, and, in the long run, to wipe out him and his kind
altogether. It is not a question of temperance principles or the
reverse, but merely a matter of common-sense policy, in dealing with
races which have shown themselves unable to withstand the effects of
the liquors that our hardier northern nations can use with comparative
safety. One may lay it down as a general principle that nothing with a
coloured skin on it can take, intoxicants in moderation--it is not at
all, or all in all, with the “native” when it comes to strong drinks.
Scientific folk would probably set down the comparative immunity of
the white races to the protection that lies behind them in the shape
of centuries of drinking ancestors. The coffee-coloured islander’s
great-grandparents did not know whisky, just as they never experienced
measles and other diseases, that do not usually kill the white, but
almost always put an end to the “man and brother.” Therefore, the
islander’s body has not, by inheritance, acquired those points of
constitution which enable the white to resist whisky and measles, and
other dangerous things; and when they touch him, he goes down at once. A
parallel may be found in the case of opium, which the white man, broadly
speaking, cannot take in moderation, although most of the yellow races
can. Europeans who once acquire a liking for the effects of opium will
generally die as miserable wrecks, in the course of a very few years.
A Chinaman, under similar circumstances, may, and often does, live to
a good old age, without taking any harm at all from his constant doses.
His ancestors have been opium takers, the Englishman’s have not. It is
the case of the islander and the spirits over again.

After which digression, one has some way to come back to the fact that
the French Government does not prevent the Tahitian from drinking
gin nearly so effectively as it should, and that, in consequence, the
diminution of the native population receives a downward push that it
does not in the least require. In the Fijis, British rule keeps spirits
strictly away from all the natives, with the exception of the chiefs,
and something, at least, is thereby done to slacken the decline that
afflicts the people of almost every island in the Pacific. The Fijian
chiefs, as a rule, drink heavily, and do not commonly live long, thus
providing another argument in favour of restriction.

The population of Tahiti is indeed much less than it should be. Captain
Cook’s estimates of native populations are now understood to have been
mistaken in many cases, owing to the fact that he calculated the entire
numbers from the density of occupation round the shores. As most Pacific
islands are inhabited about the coasts alone, the interior being often
unsuitable for cultivation, and too far removed from the fishing-grounds
to suit an indolent race, it can easily be understood that serious
errors would arise from such a method of estimate. The diminution,
therefore, since ancient times, is not quite so alarming as the first
writers on the Pacific--and, indeed, many who followed them--supposed
it to be. If the sums worked out by the travellers who visited Honolulu
in the sixties, or Tahiti a little later, had been correct, both of
these important groups would long since have been empty of all native
population. But the Hawaiian group has still a very fair number of
darkskinned people, while Tahiti, including all its islands, had a
population, according to the census of 1902, of over thirteen thousand,
one-eighth of whom are said to be French, and a smaller number Chinese
and other foreigners.

Still, it cannot be said that this is a large, or even a fair population
for a group of islands covering 580 square miles, nor can it be denied
that the numbers of the Tahitians are steadily on the decrease.
The exact causes of the decline are disputed, as indeed they are in
connection with every other coloured race in the Pacific. European
diseases of a serious kind are extremely common in the group, and
consumption also is frequent. These are two obvious causes. Less easily
reckoned are the unnamed tendencies towards extinction that follow the
track of the white man through the lands of primitive peoples, all
over the world. There can be no doubt that the old life of the
Pacific--feasting, fighting, making love, and making murder: dressing in
a bunch of leaves, and living almost as completely without thought for
the morrow as the twittering parrakeets in the mango trees--suited the
constitution of the islander better than the life of to-day.

It may have been bad for his spiritual development, and it certainly
was bad for any wandering white men who came, by necessity or choice, to
visit his far-away fastnesses. But he lived and flourished in those bad
days, whereas now he quietly and unostentatiously, and quite without any
rancour or regret, dies.

Why? Old island residents will tell you that, even if every disease
brought by the white man were rooted out to-morrow, the native would
still diminish in numbers. He has done so in islands where the effects
of European diseases were comparatively slight. He does so in New
Zealand, where the Maori (the supposed ancestor of most of the island
peoples) is petted, cherished, and doctored to an amazing extent by the
ruling race, and yet persists in dying out, although he is not
affected by consumption or other evils to any serious extent. There are
undoubtedly other causes, and perhaps among them not the least is
the fact that, for most Pacific races, life, with the coming of
civilisation, has greatly lost its savour.

It used to be amazingly lively in Tahiti, in the wild old days. Then,
the Tahitian did not know of white men’s luxuries--of tea and sugar and
tinned stuffs, lamps and kerosene, hideous calico shirts and gaudy
ties, muslin gowns and frilled petticoats for the women, “bits” to make
patchwork quilts with, and beds to put the quilts on, and matchwood
bungalows to put the beds in, and quart bottles of fiery gin to drink,
and coloured silk handkerchiefs to put away on a shelf, and creaking
shoes to lame oneself with on Sundays. Then, he did not let or sell his
land to some one in order to get cash to buy these desirable things;
nor did his womankind, for the same reason, adopt, almost as a national
profession, a mode of life to which the conventionalities forbid me to
give a name. Nor did the distractions of unlimited church-going turn
away his mind from the main business of life, which was undoubtedly that
of enjoyment. He had no money, and no goods, and did not want either. He
had no religion (to speak of) and desired that still less. All he had
to do was to secure a good time, and get up a fight now and then when
things in general began to turn slow.

It must be said that the existence of the “Areoi,” a certain secret
society of old Tahiti, went far to minimise the risk of dullness.
The members formed a species of heathen “Hell-Fire Club,” and
they cultivated every crime known to civilisation, and a few which
civilisation has happily forgotten. Murder, theft, human sacrifices,
cannibalism, were among their usual practices, and the domestic
relationships of the Society (which was large and influential, and
included both sexes) are said to have been open to some criticism. They
were popular, however, for they studied music and the dance as fine
arts, and gave free entertainments to every one who cared to come. They
travelled from village to village, island to island, giving “shows”
 wherever they went, and winning welcome and favour everywhere by the
brilliance and originality of their improprieties. They were as wicked
as they knew how, and as amusing, and as devilish, and as dazzling....
How the young Tahitian lad, not yet tattooed, and considered of no
importance, must have reverenced and envied them! how he must have
imitated their pranks in the seclusion of the cocoanut groves, and
hummed over their songs, and longed for the time when he himself should
be big enough to run away from home, and go off with the delightful,
demoniacal, fascinating Areois!

Then there was always a native king in Tahiti in those days, and a
number of big native chiefs, each one of whom had his own little court,
with all the exciting surroundings of a court which are never missing in
any part of the world, from Saxe-Niemandhausen to Patagonia. And there
were tribal fights from time to time, when property changed hands, and
war-spears were reddened, and a man might hunt his enemy in the dusk,
stealthy, soft-footed, with heart jumping in his breast, along the
shadowy borders of the lagoon.... Murder and mischief and fighting and
greed, pomp of savage courts and stir of savage ambitions, and the other
world that nobody knew or cared about, shut off by a barrier of seas
unexplored.... It was a life in which a man undoubtedly did live, a life
that kept him quick until he was dead. Does the decline of Pacific races
look less unaccountable now?

In these days, the Tahitian is undoubtedly improved. He never was a
very “bad lot” all round, in spite of the Areois; but Civilisation,
of course, had to take him in hand once it was known he was there, for
Civilisation will not have loose ends or undusted corners in her
house, if she can help it. So the people of Tahiti were discovered, and
converted, and clothed, and taught, and they gave up being Areois, and
worshipping heathen gods, and going about without shirts and skirts,
and they went frequently to church, and supported their white pastors
generously, and began to trade with the Europeans, so that the latter
made much money.

They are quite happy and uncomplaining, and manage to have a reasonably
good time in a quiet way, but they _will_ die out, and nobody can
prevent them. You see, they are rather bored, and when you are bored,
the answer to the question, “Is life worth living?” is, at the least,
debatable--to a Pacific Islander.

I have written of this at some length, because, _mutatis mutandis_, it
applies to nearly all the island races.

It is not only the Tahitian who looks back with wistful eyes to the
faded sunset of the bad old times, with all their savage gaudiness of
scarlet blood and golden licence, and languishes in the chill pale dawn
of the white man’s civilisation. It is the whole Pacific world, more or
less. The Simple Life in the raw original is not, by many a long league,
as simple and innocent as it is supposed to be, by those new and noisy
apostles of a return to Nature, who have never got nearer to the things
of the beginning than a week-end up the Thames--but, unsimple and
uninnocent as it is, it suits the coloured man better than anything
else. Would one, therefore, wish to put back the clock of time,
re-establish heathenism and cannibalism over all the Pacific, and see
Honolulu, Fiji, Samoa, with their towns and Government Houses, and
shops and roads and plantations, leap back to the condition of the still
uncivilised western islands, where no man’s life is safe, and the law of
might is the only law that is known? Hardly. There is no answer to the
problem, and no moral to be drawn from it either. But then, you do not
draw morals in the South Seas--they are not plentiful enough.

The Society Islands--which were so named in compliment to the Royal
Society--lie between 16° and 18° south latitude, and 148° and 158° west
longitude. Tahiti itself is much the largest, the driveway round
this island being about ninety miles long. Huaheine, Raiatea, Murea,
Bora-Bora, and the small islands Taha’a and Maitea, are much less
important. The only town of the group is Papeëte.

So much, for the serious-minded reader, already mentioned, who knows
most things beforehand, and likes his information cut-and-dried. The
commoner and more ignorant reader, I will assume, knows no more
about Tahiti than I did before I went, and therefore will be glad of

Sixteen degrees only from the equator is hot--very hot at times--and
does not allow of a really cool season, though the months between April
and October are slightly less warm than the others, and at night one may
sometimes need a blanket. Everything near the equator is a long way from
England, and everything on the south side of the line is a very long
way, and anything in the Pacific is so far off that it might almost as
well be in another star. Tahiti, therefore, is quite, as the Irish say,
“at the back of God-speed.”

Perhaps that is where much of its charm lies. There is a fascination in
remoteness, hard to define, but not on that account less powerful. “So
far away!” is a word-spell that has charmed many a sail across the seas,
from the days of the seekers after the Golden Fleece till now.

Papeëte was the first of the island towns that I saw, and it is so
typical an example of all, that one description may serve for many.

Imagine, then, a long, one-sided street, always known in every group as
“the beach.” The reason is apparent--it really is a beach with
houses attached, rather than a street with a shore close at hand. The
stores--roomy, low, wood-built houses, largely composed of verandah--are
strung loosely down the length of the street. Flamboyant trees, as large
as English beeches, roof in the greater part of the long roadway with
a cool canopy of green, spangled by bunches of magnificent scarlet
flowers. Almost every house stands in a tangle of brilliant tropical
foliage, and the side streets that run off landwards here and there, are
more like Botanic Gardens with a few ornamental cottages let loose among
them, than prosaic pieces of a town--so richly does the flood of riotous
greenery foam up over low fence tops, and brim into unguarded drains and
hollows, so gorgeously do the red and white and golden flowers wreathe
tall verandah posts, and carpet ugly tin roofs with a kindly tapestry of
leaf, and bloom. Foot to foot and hand to hand with Nature stands man,
in these islands, let him but relax for a moment, and--there!--she has
him over the line!... Leave Papeëte alone for a couple of years, and you
would need an axe to find it, when you came back.

There are a number of hotels in Papeëte--mostly of an indifferent sort,
and none too cheap--and there are several large cafés and restaurants,
run on lines entirely Parisian, and a crowd of smaller ones, many owned,
by Chinese, where the hard-up white may feed at a very small cost,
pleasantly enough, if he does not ask too many questions about the
origin and preparation of his food. There are three local newspapers,
and a military band plays in the afternoons, and there are clubs of all
kinds’ and not a little society, which--being society--is in its essence
bound to be uninteresting and flat, even here in the many-coloured South
Seas. But under all this, the native life flows on in its own way, and
the Tahitian takes his pleasure after his immemorial fashion, as quietly
and as lazily as he is allowed. I have spoken hitherto of only one side
of the main street. The other, which gives directly on the sea, belongs
to the Tahitian life of Tahiti. Here, a green slope of soft grass
stretches down to the greener waters of the sparkling lagoon: delicate
palms lean over the still sea-mirror, like beauties smiling into a
glass; flamboyant and frangipani trees drop crimson and creamy blooms
upon the grass; and, among the flowers, facing the sea and the ships and
the dreamy green lagoon, lie the natives, old and young. They wear the
lightest of cotton clothing, scarlet and rose and butter-cup yellow, and
white scented flowers are twisted in their hair. Fruits of many colours,
and roots and fish, lie beside them. They eat a good part of the day,
and their dogs, sleeping blissfully in the shade at their feet, wake up
and eat with them now and then. There is plenty for both--no one ever
goes short of food in Tahiti, where the pinch of cold and hunger, and
the burden of hard, unremitting, unholidayed work are alike unknown.
Sometimes the natives wander away to the river that flows through the
town, and take a bath in its cool waters; returning later to lounge, and
laze, and suck fruit, and dream, on the shores of the lagoon again. The
sound of the surf, droning all day long on the coral reef that bars the
inner lake of unruffled green from the outer ocean of windy blue, seems
to charm them into a soft half-sleep, through which, with open but
unseeing eyes, they watch the far-off creaming of the breakers in the
sun, and the flutter of huge velvet butterflies among the flowers,
and the brown canoes gliding like water-beetles about the tall-masted
schooners in the harbour. With sunset comes a cooling of the heated air,
and glowworm lights begin to twinkle through the translucent red walls
of the little native houses scattered here and there. It will soon be
dark now: after dark, there will be dancing and singing in the house;
later, the sleeping mats will be laid out, and with the moon and the
stars glimmering in through the walls upon their still brown faces, the
Tahitians will sleep.... So, in the sunset, with

               Dark faces, pale against the rosy flame,

               The mild-eyed melancholy lotus-eaters

wander home.

Only a flash in the long cinematograph of the wonderful track that
circles the globe, is Tahiti. I cannot tell of Murea, the marvellous
island that lies opposite Papeete, seven and a half miles away, because,
during the few days I spent in Tahiti, no boat was going there, and none
could be induced to go. So I had to look at Murea’s splintered towers
and spiring pinnacles, and wonderful purple goblin palaces, floating
high among the clouds, from the tantalising distance of Papeëte harbour.
Nor could I join some steamer friends in driving round the ninety-mile
roadway, as we had intended--stopping in native towns, and seeing
something of the inner life of the island--because no one in the capital
had any teams for hire just then, and nobody knew when there would be
any. Some of us went up the river to see Pierre Loti’s bathing pool,
and came back rather disappointed, and others drove out to the tomb
of Pômare V., three miles from the town. It was a pile of concrete and
stone, modelled after European fashions, and not especially interesting.

One of the ladies of the party wandered off with me down the beach,
neither of us being interested in the resting-place of the defunct
Pomare--and here we found plenty of food for mind and body both. For was
not this a pandanus, or screw-pine, which we had read about, overhanging
the lagoon, with the quaintest mops of palmy foliage, set on long
broom-handles of boughs, and great fruits like pineapples hanging among
the leaves, and yellow and scarlet kernels lying thick on the sand
below--the tree itself perched up on tall bare wooden stilts formed
by the roots, and looking more like something from a comic scene in a
pantomime, than a real live piece of vegetation growing on an actual
shore? And were not these cocoanuts that lay all about the beach under
the leaning palms--nuts such as we had never seen before, big as a
horse’s head, and smooth green as to outside, but nuts all the same?

[Illustration: 0055]

[Illustration: 0056]

A native slipped silently from among the thick trees beside us--a
bronze-skinned youth of eighteen or nineteen, dressed only in a light
pareo or kilt of blue and white cotton. He stood with hands lightly
crossed on his breast, looking at us with the expression of infinite
kindliness and good-nature that is so characteristic of the Tahitian
race. We signed to him that we wanted to drink, and he smiled
comprehendingly, shook his head at the nuts on the ground, and lightly
sprang on to the bole of the palm beside us, which slanted a little
towards the sea. Up the trunk of that tree, which inclined so slightly
that one would not have thought a squirrel could have kept its footing
there, walked our native friend, holding on with his feet and hands, and
going as easily as a sailor on a Jacob’s ladder. Arrived in the crown
some seventy feet above, he threw down two or three nuts, and then
descended and husked them for us.

[Illustration: 0062]

Husking a cocoanut is one of the simplest-looking operations in
the world, but I have not yet seen the white man who could do it
effectively, though every native is apparently born with the trick. A
stick is sharply pointed at both ends, and one end is firmly set in the
ground. The nut is now taken in the hands, and struck with a hitting and
tearing movement combined, on the point of the stick, so as to split the
thick, intensely tough covering of dense coir fibre that protects the
nut, and rip the latter out. It comes forth white as ivory, about the
same shape and size as the brown old nuts that come by ship to England,
but much younger and more brittle, for only the smallest of the
old nuts, which are not wanted in the islands for copra-making, are
generally exported. A large knife is used to crack the top of the nut
all round, like an egg-shell, and the drink is ready, a draught of pure
water, slightly sweet and just a little aerated, if the nut has been
plucked at the right stage. There is no pleasanter or more refreshing
draught in the world, and it has not the least likeness to the “milk”
 contained in the cocoanuts of commerce. No native would drink old nuts
such as the latter, for fear of illness, as they are considered both
unpleasant and unwholesome. Only half-grown nuts are used for drinking,
and even these will sometimes hold a couple of pints of liquid. The
water of the young cocoanut is food and drink in one, having much
nourishing matter held in solution. On many a long day of hot and
weary travel, during the years that followed, I had cause to bless the
refreshing and restoring powers of heaven’s best gift to man in the
tropics, the never-failing cocoanut.

[Illustration: 0097]

I will not insult the reader by telling him all the uses to which the
tree and its various products are put, because those are among the
things we have all learned at our first preparatory school; how the
natives in the cocoanut countries make hats and mats and houses, and
silver fish-servers and brocaded dressing-gowns, and glacé kid boots
with fourteen buttons (I think the list used to run somewhat after that
fashion--it is the spirit if not the letter)--all out of the simple
cocoanut tree; a piece of knowledge which, somehow or other, used to
make us feel vaguely virtuous and deserving, as if we had done it all

But all this time the youth is standing like a smiling bronze statue,
holding the great ivory cup in his hands, and waiting for us to drink.
We do so in turn, Ganymede carefully supporting the cup in his upcurved
hands, and tilting it with a fine regard for our needs, as the water
drops down in the nut like the tide on a sandy shore when the moon calls
back the sea.

[Illustration: 0103]

Then we take out purses, and want to pay Ganymede; but he will not be
paid, until it becomes plain to him that the greatest politeness lies in
yielding. He takes our franc, and disappears among the trees, to return
no more. But in a minute, out from the bush comes running the oddest
little figure, a very old, grey-bearded man, very gaily dressed in
a green shirt and a lilac pareo, and laden very heavily with ripe
pineapples. We guess him to be Ganymede’s father, and see that our guess
was right, when he drops the whole heap of fruit upon the ground at our
feet, smiling and bowing and murmuring incomprehensively over it, and
then begins to vanish like his son.

“Here--stop!” calls my companion. “We don’t want to take your fruit
without buying it. Come back, please, come back!”

The little old-gentleman trots back on his thin bare legs, recalled more
by the tone than the words, which he obviously does not understand, and
takes a hand of each of us in his own brown fingers. He shakes hands
with us gently and firmly, shaking his head negatively at the same time,
and then, like the romantic youths of Early Victorian novels, “turns,
and is immediately lost to view in the surrounding forest,” carrying the
honours of war, indubitably, with himself.

“Well, they are real generous!” declares my American companion, as we go
back to the tomb. “By the way, Miss G--------, I guess you’d better not
sit down on that grass to wait for the rest. I wouldn’t, if I was you.”

“Why not? it’s as dry as dust.”

“Because the natives say it’s somehow or other--they didn’t, explain
how--infected with leprosy, and I guess they ought to know; there’s
plenty of it all over the Pacific---- I rather thought that would hit
you where you lived.”

It did. I got up as quickly as a grasshopper in a hurry. Afterwards, on
a leper island thousands of miles away from Tahiti---- But that belongs
to another place.

L--------, the ever-amiable, our half-caste landlady at the little
bungalow hotel, all overgrown with bougainvillea and stephanotis, was
grieved because we had seen nothing in the way of “sights,” and declared
her intention of giving a native dinner for us.

[Illustration: 0070]

It was not very native, but it was very amusing. It took place in the
verandah of the hotel, under a galaxy of Chinese lanterns, with an
admiring audience of natives crowding the whole roadway outside, and
climbing up the trees to look at us. This was principally because the
word had gone forth in Papeëte (which owns the finest gossip-market in
the South Seas) that the English and American visitors were going to
appear in native dress, and nobody knew quite how far they meant to
go--there being two or three sorts of costume which pass under that

The variety which we selected, however, was not very sensational. The
ladies borrowed from L--------‘s inexhaustible store, draped themselves
in one or other of her flowing nightdress robes, let loose their hair,
and crowned themselves with twisted Tahitian corqnets of gardenia and
tuberose. A scarlet flower behind each ear completed the dress, and drew
forth delighted squeaks from the handmaidens of the hotel, and digs in
the ribs from L--------, who was nearly out of her mind with excitement
and enjoyment. Shoes were retained, contrary to L--------‘s entreaties,
but corsets she would not permit, nor would she allow a hairpin or
hair-ribbon among the party. The men guests wore white drill suits
with a native pareo, scarlet or yellow, tied round the waist. It was
a gay-looking party, on the whole, and the populace of Tahiti seemed to
enjoy the sight.

[Illustration: 0080]

The dinner was served at a table, but most of the dishes were on green
leaves instead of plates, and L-------- begged us, almost with tears in
her eyes, to eat the native dainties with our fingers, as they tasted
better that way. Little gold-fish, baked and served with cocoanut sauce,
were among the items on the menu: sucking-pig, cooked in a hole in the
ground, fat little river crayfish, breadfruit baked and served hot, with
(I regret to say) European butter, native puddings made of banana and
breadfruit, and the famous raw fish. Some of the guests would not touch
the latter, but the rest of us thought it no worse than raw oysters, and
sampled it, with much enjoyment. I give the receipt, for the benefit of
any one who may care to try it. Take any good white fish, cut it up into
pieces about two inches long, and place the latter, raw, in lime-juice
squeezed from fresh limes, or lemon-juice, if limes are not to be had.
Let the fish steep for half a day, and serve it cold, with cocoanut
sauce, the receipt for which is as follows:--Grate down the meat of a
large cocoanut, and pour a small cup of sea-water over it. Leave it for
three or four hours, and then strain several times through muslin (the
fine brown fibre off young cocoanut shoots is a correct material, but
the reader may not have a cocoanut in his back garden). The water should
at last come out as thick and opaque as cream.

This is the true “milk of the cocoanut” about which one so often hears.
It is of immemorial antiquity in the South Seas.

Captain Cook mentions it in his _Voyages_, and describes the cocoanut
shells full of it, that were given to every man at a feast, in which to
dip his food. When used as a sauce for meat or fish, one or two fresh
red peppers from the nearest pepper bush are cut up and put in. Chili
pepper, judiciously used, is a fair substitute for the latter. The sauce
is also used for many native puddings and sweet dishes, in which case it
is made with fresh water and the pepper is left out. As a fish sauce it
is unsurpassed, and may be recommended to gourmands as a new sensation.
It should be served in bowls of brown cocoanut shell.

[Illustration: 0091]

Breadfruit some of us tasted for the first time at this dinner. It was
universally liked, though a few maintained that it resembled potato more
than bread. I found it very like the latter, with a suggestion of floury
cracknel biscuit. It is most satisfying and nourishing. One never,
in island travels, feels the want of fresh bread when breadfruit is
available. L-------- had cooked it native fashion, peeled and baked
on hot stones in a pit in the ground. It is a good-sized fruit in its
natural state, about as large as a medium hothouse melon, and bright
green in colour. The skin is divided into lizard-like lozenges, and the
surface is very rough. Whether it is indigenous to the islands or not,
I cannot say, but it was there when Cook came, and it grows wild very
freely, providing an immense store of natural food.

Taro we also had, baked native style. It is a plant in use over almost
all the Pacific, very easily cultivated and rapidly producing immense
bluish-coloured roots, which look like mottled soap when cooked and
served. It is extremely dense and heavy, but pleasant to most tastes.
The white taro is a less common kind, somewhat lighter.

The mangoes that were served with the meal (among many other fruits)
were of a variety that is generally supposed to be the finest in the
world. No mango is so large, so sweet, or so fine in grain, as the mango
of Tahiti, and none has less of the turpentine flavour that is so much
disliked by newcomers to tropical countries. It is a commonplace of the
islands that a mango can only be eaten with comfort in a bath, and many
of the guests that evening would not have been sorry for a chance to
put the precept into practice, after struggling with one or two mangoes,
which were, of course, too solid to be sucked, and much too juicy
and sticky not to smear the hands and the face of the consumers

L-------- gave us many French dishes with our native dinner, to suit all
tastes, and gratify her own love of fine cookery, but these would be
of little interest to recount. I cannot forget, however, how this
true artiste of the kitchen described the menu she had planned, on the
morning of the entertainment. She sat down beside me on a sofa to tell
the wondrous tale, and, as she recited dish after dish, her voice rose
higher and higher, and her great black eyes burned, and she seized me
by the arm and almost hugged me in her excitement. When she came to the
savouries, tears of genuine emotion rose in her eyes, and at the end
of the whole long list, her feelings overcame her like a flood, and,
gasping out--“Beignets d’ananas à la Papeete; glaces. Vénus, en Cythère;
fromage----” she cast herself bodily into my arms and sobbed with
delight. She was fully fifteen stone, and the weather was exceedingly
warm, but I admired her artistic fervour too much to tell her to sit
up, and stop crying over my clean muslin (as I should have liked to do),
because it seemed to me that L-------- was really a true artiste in her
own way, and almost worthy to rank, in the history of the kitchen, with
Vatel the immortal, who fell upon his sword and died, because the fish
was late for the royal dinner.

Of the other evening, when half a dozen guests of mixed nationalities
began, through a temptation of the devil, to talk politics at ten
o’clock on the verandah--of the fur that, metaphorically speaking,
commenced to fly when the American cast the Irish question into the
fray, and the Englishman vilified Erin, and the Irishwoman, following
the historical precedent, called the Frenchwoman to her aid, and the
latter in the prettiest manner in the world, got up and closed her
two small hands round the throat of John Bull, and choked him into
silence--it would not be necessary to tell, had not the sequel been
disastrous to the fair name of our steamship party in Papeete. For a big
banana spider, as big in the body as half a crown, and nearly as hard,
came suddenly out from the stephanotis boughs, and, like a famous
ancestor, “sat down beside” a lady of the party. This caused the
politicians to rush to the aid of the lady, who had of course mounted
a chair and begun to scream. The spider proved extremely difficult
to kill, and had to be battered with the legs of chairs for some time
before he yielded up the ghost--one guest, who found an empty whisky
bottle, and flattened the creature out with it, carrying off the honours
of the fray. After which excitement, we all felt ready for bed, and

“And in the morning, behold” the kindly L-------- smiling upon her
guests, and remarking: “Dat was a real big drunk you all having on the
veràndah, after I gone to bed!”

“Good heavens, L--------!” exclaims Mrs. New England, pale with horror,
“what do you mean?”

“Surely, Mrs. L--------, you do not suppose for an instant any of
our party were--I can hardly say it!” expostulates a delicate-looking
minister from the Southern States, here for his lungs, who was very
prominent last night in arguing Ireland’s right to “secede” if she

“That’s a good one, I must say,” remarks John Bull, rather indignantly.

But L-------- only smiles on. She is always smiling.

“Dat don’t go, Mr. ----------” she says pleasantly. “I couldn’t sleep
last night, for the way you all kicking up, and the girl, she say
you fighting. Madame ---------- she trying to kill Mr. Bull, all the
gentlemen smashing the leg of the chairs, the lady scream--and dis
mornin’, I findin’ a large whisky bottle, all drunk up.”

I am privately choking with laughter in a corner, but I cannot help
feeling sorry for Mrs. New England, who really looks as if about to

“_I_ don’ mind!” declares L-------- delightedly. “Why, I been thinking
all dis time you haven’t been enjoyin’ yourself at all. I like every
one here they having a real good time. Every one,” she smiles--and melts
away into the soft gloom of the drawing-room, where she sits down, and
begins to play softly thrumming, strangely intoxicating Tahitian dance
music on the piano.

“_Elle est impayable!_” says the Frenchwoman, shrugging her shoulders.
“From all I hear of Tahiti, my dear friends, I think you shall find
yourselves without a chiffon of character to-morrow.... But courage! it
is a thing here the most superfluous.”

Madame was a true prophet, I have reason to know; for many months after,
the story of the orgy, held on L--------‘s verandah by the English and
French and American ladies and gentlemen, reached me in a remote corner
of the Pacific, as “the latest from Papeete.” What I wanted to know, and
what I never shall know, for my boat came in next day, and took me away
to Raratonga--was whether the minister from the South eventually died of
the shock or not. I do not want to know about the lady from New England,
because I am quite certain she did--as certain as I am that I should
have, myself, and did not.

Of the prospects in Tahiti for settlers I cannot say much. It was said,
while I was in Papeete, that there was practically no money in the
place, and the traders, like the Scilly Island washerfolk of well-known
fame, merely existed by trading with each other. This may have been an
exaggeration, or a temporary state of depression. The vanilla trade,
owing to a newly invented chemical substitute, was not doing well, but
judging by what I saw next year in Fiji, the market must have recovered.
The climate of Tahiti is matchless for vanilla growing, and land is not
very difficult to get.

Quite a number of small schooners seemed to be engaged in the pearling
trade with the Paumotus--a group of islands covering over a thousand
miles of sea, and including some of the richest pearl beds in the
world--(French property). I never coveted anything more than I coveted
those dainty little vessels. Built in San Francisco, where people know
how to build schooners, they were finished like yachts, and their snowy
spread of cotton-cloth canvas, when they put out to sea, and their
graceful bird-like lines, would have delighted the soul of Clarke
Russell. One, a thirty-ton vessel, with the neatest little saloon in
the world, fitted with shelves for trading; and a captain’s cabin like a
miniature finer stateroom, and a toy-like galley forward, with a battery
of shining saucepans, and a spotless stove--snowy paint on hull and
deckhouses, lightened with fines of turquoise blue--splendid spiring
masts, varnished till they shone--cool white awning over the poop, and
sparkling brasses about the compass and the wheel, was so completely a
craft after my own heart that I longed to run away with her, or take her
off in my trunk to play with--she seemed quite small enough, though
her “beat” covered many thousand miles of sea. Poor little _Maid of the
Islands!_ Her bones are bleaching on a coral reef among the perilous
pearl atolls, this two years past, and her captain--the cheerful, trim,
goodnatured X--------, who could squeeze more knots an hour out of his
little craft than any other master in the port save one, and could tell
more lies about the Pacific in half an hour, than any one from Chili
to New Guinea--of his bones are coral made, down where the giant clam
swings his cruel valves together on wandering fish or streaming weed,
or limb of luckless diver, and where the dark tentacles of the great
Polynesian devil-fish

               Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.

The pitcher that goes to the well, and the schooner that goes to
the pearl islands, are apt to meet with the same fate, in time.
Nevertheless, tales about the Paumotus are many, and interesting enough
to attract adventurers from far, if they were known. How the rumour of
a big pearl gets out; how a schooner sets forth to run down the
game, pursues it through shifting report after report, from native
exaggeration to native denial, perhaps for months; how it is found at
last, and triumphantly secured for a price not a tenth its worth; how
one shipload of shell, bought on speculation, will have a fortune in
the first handful, and the next will yield no more than the value of the
shell itself--this, and much else, make good hearing.

“Look at that pearl,” said a schooner captain to me one day, showing me
a little globe of light the size of a pea, and as round as a marble. “I
hunted that for a year, off and on. The native that had it lived way
off from anywhere, but he knew a thing or two, and he wouldn’t part. I
offered him goods, I offered him gin, I offered him twenty pounds cash,
but it was all no go. How d’you think I got it at last? Well, I’ll tell
you. I went up to his island with the twenty pounds in a sack, all in
small silver, and when I came into his house, I poured it all out in a
heap on the mats. ‘Ai, ai, ai!’ he says, and drops down on his knees in
front of it--it looked like a fortune to him. ‘Will you sell now?’ says
I, and by Jove, he did, and I carried it off with me. Worth? Can’t say
yet, but it’ll run well into three figures.”

The pearling in the French islands is strictly preserved, and the terms
on which it is obtainable are not known to me. Poaching is a crime not
by any means unheard of.

A glance at the map, and the extent of the Paumotu group, will explain
better than words why the policing of the pearl bed must necessarily be

The steamer came in in due course, and carried me away to the Cook
Islands. Huaheine and Raiatea, in the Society group, were called at
on the way, but Bora-Bora was left out, as it is not a regular port of
call. I am glad I did not land on Bora-Bora, and I never shall, if I
can help it. No place in the world could be so like a fairy dream as
Bora-Bora looked in the distance. It was literally a castle in the air;
battlements and turrets, built of vaporous blue clouds, springing steep
and impregnable from the diamond-dusted sea to the violet vault of
heaven. Fairy princesses lived there, one could not but know; dragons
lurked in the dark caves low down on the shore, and “magic casements,
opening on the foam of perilous seas,” looked down from those far blue

Perhaps there is a village on Bora-Bora, with a dozen traders, and
an ugly concrete house or two, tin-roofed, defacing the beauty of the
palm-woven native homes, and a whitewashed church with European windows,
and a school where the pretty native girls are taught to plait back
their flowing hair, and lay aside their scented wreaths of jessamine and

But if all these things are there, at least I do not know it, and
Bora-Bora can still remain to me my island of Tir-na’n-Oge--the fabled
country which the mariners of ancient Ireland sought through long ages
of wandering, and only saw upon the far horizon, never, through all the
years, setting foot upon the strand that they knew to be the fairest in
the world. If they had ever indeed landed there.... But it is best for
all of us to see our Tir-na’n-Oge only in the far away.

                   Le seul rêve, intéresse.

                   Vivre sans rêve, qu’est-ce?

                   Moi, j’aime la Princesse



_Is It the Loveliest?--How they deal with the Beachcomber----Cockroaches
and Local Colour--The Robinson Crusoe-Steamer--Emigrating to the South
Seas--The Lands of Plenty--How to get an Island._

EVERY ONE has seen Raratonga, though few travellers have looked on it
with their own mortal eyes.

Close your eyelids, and picture to yourself a South Sea Island, of the
kind that you used to imagine on holiday afternoons long ago, when you
wandered off down to the shore alone, to sit in a cave and look
seaward, and fancy yourself Crusoe or Selkirk, and think the “long, long
thoughts” of youth. Dagger-shaped peaks, of splendid purple and gorgeous
green, set in a sky of flaming sapphire--sheer grey precipices, veiled
with dropping wreaths of flowery vine and creeper--gossamer shreds of
cloud, garlanding untrodden heights, high above an ocean of stainless
blue--shadowy gorges, sweeping shoreward from the unseen heart of the
hills--white foam breaking upon white sand on the beach, and sparkling
sails afloat in the bay--is not this the picture that wanders ever among
the gleams and glooms that dart across the schoolboy’s brain?

It is not very like the average South Sea Island on the whole--but it is
a faithful portrait of Raratonga, the jewel of the Southern Seas.

Nothing is more hotly disputed than the claims of the many beautiful
islands among the numberless groups of the Pacific to the crown of
supremest loveliness. Tahiti is awarded the apple of Paris by many,
Honolulu by a few, Samoa by all who have been there and nowhere else.
The few who have seen the quaint loveliness of Manahiki, or Humphrey
Island, uphold its claims among the highest, and for myself, I have
never been quite certain whether the low atoll islands are not more
lovely than all else, because of their matchless colouring. But, if
one pins one’s faith to the high islands, the accepted type of Pacific
loveliness, there is nothing more beautiful between ’Frisco and Sydney,
Yokohama and Cape Horn, than Raratonga, chief island of the Cook

These islands lie some sixteen hundred miles north-east of New Zealand,
and about six hundred miles to the westward of Tahiti. They are eight in
number, seven inhabited, and one uninhabited, and cover about a hundred
and sixty miles of sea. The largest, Atiu, is about thirty miles
round, Raratonga, which is the principal island, containing the seat of
government and the only “white” town, is twenty miles in circumference.

The whole group, as well as a number of outlying islands as much as six
and seven hundred miles away, is under the guardianship of the Resident
Commissioner appointed by New Zealand, to which colony the islands were
annexed in 1900. The government, as administered by Colonel Gudgeon, a
soldier who won much distinction in the days of the New Zealand Maori
wars, is all that could be desired. The beachcomber element, which is so
unpleasantly in evidence in other groups, has been sternly discouraged
in the Cook Islands, the Commissioner having the right to deport any one
whose presence seems undesirable to the cause of the general good. It
is a right not infrequently used. During my stay in the island, two
doubtful characters, recently come, were suspected of having committed
a robbery that took place in the town. There was practically no one
else on the island who could have done the deed, or would--but direct
evidence connecting the strangers with the crime, was not to be had.
Under these circumstances, the Commissioner simply deported the men
by the next steamer, giving no reason beyond the fact that they were
without means of support. There were no more thefts. The colonel might,
in the same manner, have ordered myself away by the next steamer, and
compelled it to carry me to New Zealand, if he had had reason to suppose
that I was likely to disturb the peace of the island in any way,
or incite it to violence or crime. The doctor--also a Government
official--was empowered to regulate the amount of liquor consumed by any
resident, if it appeared to exceed the permitted amount--two bottles of
spirits a week. Under these circumstances, one would expect Raratonga to
be a little Arcadia of innocence and virtue. If it was not quite
that, it was, and is, a credit to British Colonial rule, in all things

Before the annexation, the government was chiefly in the hands of the
Protestant missionaries, who, with the best intentions in the world,
carried things decidedly too far in the way of grandmotherly laws. Even
white men were forbidden to be out of doors after eight o’clock in the
evening, on pain of a heavy fine, and the offences for which the
natives were fined would be incredible, were they not recorded in the
Governmental reports of New Zealand.

In Raratonga of the older days (not yet ten years past) a native who
walked at dusk along the road with his sweetheart, his arm round her
waist after the manner of sweethearts all the world over, was obliged to
carry a burning torch in his hand, and was fined if he let it go out.
If he was found weeping over the grave of a woman to whom he was not
related (surely the strangest crime in the world) he was again brought
up and fined. These are only samples of the vagaries of irresponsible
missionary rule, but they go far to prove that spiritual and temporal
legislation are better kept apart.

A Government accommodation house had been planned, but not built, when I
visited Raratonga, so I arranged, on landing, to take an unused house by
the week, and “do for” myself, as there seemed no other way of living.
Scarcely had I taken possession of my quarters, however, when the
residents came down to call, and invite me to stay in their house. I
did not know any of them, and they did not know me, but that did not
matter--we were not in chilly England, where a whole country-side must
discuss your personal history, family connections, probable income, and
religious views, for a good six months, before deciding whether you are
likely to be an acquisition or not, and calling accordingly. I began to
understand, now, the meaning of the term “colonial hospitality,” which
had formerly fallen on uncomprehending ears. And when I was settled down
that evening in the most delightful of bungalow houses, with a charming
host and hostess, and a pretty daughter, all doing their best to make me
feel at home, I realised that I was about to see something of the true
island life at last.

[Illustration: 0035]

It began rather sooner than I could have wished. When my new friends had
gone to bed, and left me sitting up alone in the hall to write letters
for the morning’s mail, the local colour commenced to lay itself on
somewhat more rapidly and thickly than I desired. I am not particularly
nervous about insects, but it is trying, when one is quite new to the
tropics, to see a horde of cockroaches as large as mice, with fearsome
waving horns, suddenly appear from nowhere, and proceed to overrun the
walls and floor, with a hideous ticking noise. And when one has steeled
oneself to endure this horrid spectacle, it is still more trying to
be shocked by the silent irruption of dozens of brown hairy
hunting-spiders, each big enough to straddle over a saucer, which dart
about the walls on their eight agile legs, and slay and eat the beetles,
crunching audibly in the silence of the night.... Truly, it was like a
waking nightmare.

Those cockroaches! What I suffered from them, during the year or two of
island travel that followed! How they spoiled my tea, and ate my dresses
(or parts of them), and flew into my hair of moonlight nights, and
climbed into my berth on shipboard! It was on a liner that shall be
nameless, very early in the course of my wanderings, that I first
discovered the tendency of the cockroach to share the voyager’s couch
unasked, and never again did I know unvexed and trustful sleep aboard
a tropic ship. It was a moonlight night, and I was lying looking
peacefully at the brilliantly silvered circle of my port, when suddenly
a horrid head, with waving feelers, lifted itself over the edge of my
berth and stared me coldly in the face. I hit out, like the virtuous
hero in a novel, and struck it straight between the eyes, and it dropped
to the floor with a dull sickening thud, and lay there very still. I
thought gloatingly of how the blood would trickle out under my door in
the morning in a slow hideous stream, and how the stewardess, bringing
my early tea, would start and stop, and say in an awestruck tone that
one that night had met his doom--and so thinking, I fell asleep.

I woke, with one cockroach in my hair, chewing a plait, and another
nibbling my heel. I got up and looked round. It was then that I wished
I had never come away from home, and that, since I had come, my sex
forbade me to go and berth in the hold. I was convinced that, if I could
have done so, I should have had a quiet night, because the hold is
the part of a ship where the cockroaches come from, and they had all
_come_--they were on the floor of my cabin, and sitting about the quilt.

The hideous battle raged all night, and in the morning I asked one
of the mates for an axe, to help me through the coming renewal of
hostilities. He recommended boracic acid instead, and I may record, for
the benefit of other travellers, that I really found it of some use.

[Illustration: 0043]

To find out, as far as possible, what were the prospects for settlers in
some of the principal Pacific groups, was the main object of my journey
to the Islands. It had always seemed to me that the practical side of
Pacific life received singularly little attention, in most books of
travel. One could never find out how a living was to be made in the
island world, what the cost of housekeeping might be, what sort of
society might be expected, whether the climates were healthy, and so
forth--matters prosaic enough, but often of more interest to readers
than the scenic descriptions and historical essays that run naturally
from the pen of any South Sea traveller.

Certainly, the romantic and picturesque side of the islands is so
obvious that it takes some determination, and a good deal of actual hard
work, to obtain any other impressions whatever. But white human beings,
even in the islands, cannot live on romance alone, and many people, in
Britain and elsewhere, are always anxious to know how the delightful
dream of living in the South Seas may be realised. Practical details
about island life, therefore, will take up the most of the present
chapter, and readers who prefer the lighter and more romantic vein, must
turn the pages a little further on. .

The number of those who wish to settle in the Pacific is by no means

The Pacific Ocean has always had a special interest for the English,
from the days of Drake s daring circumnavigation, through the times of
Captain Cook and the somewhat misunderstood Bligh, of the _Bounty_, down
to the dawn of the twentieth century. The very name of the South Seas
reeks of adventure and romance. Every boy at school has dreams of coral
islands and rakish schooners, sharks, and pearls; most men retain a
shamefaced fancy for stories of peril and adventure in that magical
South Sea world, of whose charm and beauty every one has heard, although
very few are fortunate enough to see it with their own bodily eyes. For
the Pacific Islands are, both in point of time and distance, about the
remotest spots on the surface of the globe, and they are also among
the most costly for the ordinary traveller to reach. Thus, for the
most part, the South Seas dream, which so many hot-blooded young Saxons
cherish, remains a dream only. The youth who has a fancy for Canadian
farming life, or for stock-raising in Australasia, may gratify his
desire with the full approval of parents and guardians in private life,
and of Empire-builders in high places. But the British possessions in
the South Seas--and what extensive possession they are let Colonial maps
prove--may cry out for settlers from the rainy season to the dry, and
round again to the rainy season once more, without attracting a single
colonist of the right kind.

What is the reason of this? Where is the broken link? The British
Pacific Islands need settlers; young Britons at home are only too ready
to adventure themselves. Why do they not? There are several reasons. The
first, perhaps, is that neither party can hear the other. In England few
possess any information about the South Sea Islands. In the Pacific
the white residents (almost all New Zealand traders and Government
officials) are possessed with an idea that only wastrels of the worst
kind drift out from England to the South Seas, and that nothing better
is to be looked for. The result is that at the present date young
Englishmen by the hundred are losing their small capital as “pupils” on
Canadian farms, or are starving on the roads in South Africa, while
all the time the South Sea Islands hold out hands of peace and plenty,
begging humbly for a respectable white population. The brown races are
dying out with fearful rapidity; at their best they never touched the
limitless capacities of the golden Pacific soil. Its richness has always
seemed to the original inhabitants an excellent reason for abstaining
from cultivation. When the earth produced of itself everything that was
necessary for comfort, why trouble to work it? Now, however, when
so many groups of fertile islands have fallen into the hands of more
progressive nations, things are changed. The white man can live happily
and healthily in the Pacific; he can obtain a good return for a small
capital at the best, and at the worst cannot possibly suffer from either
cold or hunger, since neither exists in the South Seas. He can lease or
buy land from the natives at slight cost, work it with small labour, and
sell the product to a sure market. Honesty, sobriety, and industry repay
their possessor as almost nowhere else in the world. Yet, with all this,
the white settler in the Pacific Islands is generally of a more or less
undesirable kind.

The “beachcomber” white, without friends, means, or character; the
“remittance man,” paid to keep as far away from home as possible; the
travelling ne’er-do-well, with a taste for novelties in dissipation,
and a fancy for being outside the limit of Press and post--all these are
familiar figures in the Pacific. Kipling’s Lost Legion musters there by
the score; the living ghosts of men whose memorial tablets are blinking
white on the walls of English country churches, walk by daylight along
the coral beaches. Only the steady man, the young energetic man with a
future and without a past, the man who can get on without a three-weekly
spree of the most torrid kind, commonly keeps away. And these are just
the men that the “Islands” want. Local trading interest, religious
and otherwise, often does its best to keep them from coming, through
a natural, if scarcely praiseworthy, desire to retain personal hold of
everything worth holding. The Governmental party of every group desires
the respectable settler with a little capital, and expresses its desire,
as a rule, in gentle wails delivered through Governmental reports--a
method about as effective as putting one’s head into a cupboard to hail
a ’bus in the street. The Press does not recognise the existence of
any habitable land in the Pacific, outside Honolulu and Samoa. So the
dead lock continues.

I can see the Left Behind in the office raise his head at this, and
look through the muddy panes of the counting-house window, or across
the piles of summer goods on the shop counters, out beyond the clanging
street, and right through the whole round world to the far-away Pacific
lands. He wants to get away so very badly, that poor Left Behind, and he
does not quite see his way to do it, because every one discourages him
if he hints at the subject, and he does not know how one could make a
living, out in those fairy lands that he wishes so much to see. Well, I
am on his side in this matter. If it is a crime to long for a glimpse
of the wonderful island world, to ache for a life spent under the free
winds of heaven, and a chance of the danger, adventure, and
excitement, which are as strong wine to the heart of almost every young
Englishman--then it is a crime shared by the best that the nation has
ever known, and one which has done more to build up the empire than all
the parochial virtues ever owned by a million Young Men’s Improvement
Societies put together.

The Islands are not the place for the ne’er-do-well, and I would also
warn the exasperating young man, who never did a square day’s work in
his life, never got into trouble with his employers or his
superiors, but always found himself misunderstood, unappreciated, and
incomprehensibly “sacked,” with an excellent character, at the first
hint of slacking business--that the islands will not suit him either.
If he comes out, he will not starve or go to the workhouse, because you
cannot die of hunger where there is always enough vegetable food to keep
the laziest alive, and you do not need workhouses, under the same happy
conditions--but he will “go native,” and there are some who would say he
had better starve, a good deal. There are men who have “gone native”
 in most of the Pacific groups, living in the palm-leaf huts with the
villagers--but a white man in a waist-cloth and a bush of long hair,
sleeping on a mat and living on wild fruit and scraps given by the
generous natives, drunk half the time and infinitely lower, in his
soberest hours, than the coloured folk who unwisely put up with him, is
not a happy spectacle.

The Cook Islands, which may be taken as a sample of many other groups,
are small to look at on the map, and not over large, when one counts up
the number of square miles. But one cannot fairly estimate the value of
island land by its extent. Much of it is so rich that every foot has its
worth, and that is by no means despicable. And, in any case, there is
plenty available for the small cultivator--the man who has only a few
hundred pounds, and cannot afford to do things on the colossal scale
that makes big fortunes.

Among the productions of the group are pineapples, custard apples,
coffee, tobacco, pepper, mammee-apple or paw-paw, granadilla, cocoa,
cotton, vanilla, limes, lemons, oranges, bananas, castor-oil, and many
other useful plants, besides a number of excellent vegetables, not known
to most Europeans. Many of the fruits above mentioned grow practically
wild. Bananas come to bearing in fifteen months, cocoanuts in seven
years, limes in four or five. The water supply is good all round, and
there is a monthly steamer from Auckland.

The land in all the islands belongs to the natives, and cannot usually
be bought outright. Leases of any length, can, however, be secured
at very low rates, with the New Zealand Government laws, administered
through the Resident, to back up the titles, so that a man who plants
cocoanuts--the safest of island products--may be sure that his children
and grandchildren will enjoy the fruits of his labour.

In most of the outer islands the natives cannot use more than a small
fraction of the land, and are quite willing to let large sections at a
shilling or two an acre. In Raratonga, the chief island, there has been
more demand for land, and prices are consequently higher; also, the
chiefs are not always ready to let, even though they do not use what
they have. It may be said, however, of the group as a whole, that there
is land, and a prospect of a good return for capital, ready for any
reasonable number of settlers, if they bring habits of industry and a
determination to succeed along with them.

There are two classes of possible settlers to be considered--the man
with capital, and the man without.

How much does it take to start a man as a planter, and what return can
he expect?

Taking the Cook Islands as a general example (but by no means suggesting
that the resources of the Pacific begin and end there) the young
Englishman wishing to seek his fortune as a planter should have at least
£500 to start on, exclusive of passage-money. He can do excellently with
a few hundreds more, but it is as well to put things as low as possible.
Copra--the dried kernel of the cocoanut--is the usual, and the safest,
investment. It is always saleable, and the demand increases year by
year--so much so, that the large soapmaking firms, who are the chief
users of the product, are of late planting out islands for themselves.
The cost of clearing and planting the land is about £5 an acre. The
rent, in the outer islands, should not exceed a couple of shillings an
acre. In about seven years, the returns begin to come in, and in ten
years’ time the land should be bringing in £5 net profit for every acre
of trees. This is, of course, a long time to wait, but bananas can grow
on the same land meantime, and will generally yield a quick return. Once
the cocoanuts start bearing, they go on for sixty years or more, so
that a copra plantation is one of the best investments for a man who has
others to come after him.

Banana growing may be managed with less capital, but the profits are not
so sure, since fruit is perishable, and cannot wait for the steamer as
copra can. Coffee has been grown, but is not of late years doing well,
because of something like a “ring” formed in New Zealand to lower
the prices. Cotton used to do excellently, and I have never heard any
satisfactory reason against its being taken up afresh. It is running
wild in a good many parts of the group. The plants above mentioned,
however, by no means exhaust the resources of the islands, which are
suitable for growing anything that will live in the tropics, and are
fortunately not subject to the destructive hurricanes that from time
to time do so much damage in Tahiti and the Fijis. Hurricanes are not
absolutely unknown, but they are very rare, and not of the worst kind.

The cost of living is not very serious, but it must not be supposed that
the settlers can live decently and like white men, on nothing a year. A
house costs something to put up, and furniture to a certain small amount
is necessary, clothes do not grow on the cocoanut tree, nor do lamps and
kerosene, or tools and nails, or fishing lines, or flour and bacon and
tea and tinned butter, and the few groceries that the settler may need.
Still, with care, a single man can live quite respectably on fifty
pounds a year, and enjoy, in all probability, better health than he has
had at home.

What the time of waiting will cost the copra planter, each one must
work out for himself. He will do best to spend his capital gradually,
planting as he can afford. The returns will come in only by degrees,
but he will be saved the mortification of seeing a promising plantation
leave his possession for a third of its value, simply because he cannot
afford to wait until the profits begin.

Copra, the chief article of commerce of the Pacific, is very easily
prepared. The cocoanuts, when ripe, are husked, and emptied, and the
kernels, as a rule, left to dry in the sun, though some few planters use
artificial heat. Bagging is the only other operation necessary.

Bananas are often shipped clumsily and carelessly, in unprotected
bunches. It would be much better to pack them in leaves and crate
them, as is done in the Canary Islands, where the banana trade is the
principal support of the country. Oranges are usually shipped in crates.
They grow wild all over the Cook group, and are not attended to in any
way, but in spite of this, the orange trade with New Zealand is by no
means despicable.

Vanilla is not cultivated for market in these islands, but it would
probably repay the experimenter. It does well in most of the Pacific
groups, and the returns begin in three years from planting.

Island planters, as a race, seem to be the most conservative of men, and
very shy of trying anything new and unproved. There are, of course, good
reasons for this, but there are also excellent arguments in favour of
exploiting fresh fields. The following brief hints may prove fruitful to
enterprising minds.

Only one kind of banana--the sort familiar at home--is usually grown
for trade. There are many varieties, however, and some of the very best
travel quite as well as the commonplace “China” sort. The large red
banana, sometimes called the Aitutaki banana, sometimes the peach
banana, on account of its delicate peach-like flavour, is a fruit that
would become the fashion at once, if it could be put on the market. One
or two planters have gone so far as to send consignments down to New
Zealand, but, finding that these did not sell on account of the unusual
colour of the fruit, they never made another attempt. At the time of
my visit, in 1904, the red banana was practically unobtainable in New
Zealand or Australia. A little intelligent co-operation on the part of
the buyers would probably get over the difficulty.

The same may be said of limes, a fruit which grows wild very freely. The
lime is like a small, round-shaped lemon, and is not an attractive fruit
in appearance. It also suffers under the disadvantage of being very
badly represented as to flavour by the bottled “shop” lime-juice, with
which the taste of the fresh lime has hardly anything in common. Where
it can be obtained fresh, however, no one ever thinks of using lemon as
a flavouring in food or drink. The lime is incomparably more delicate
and refreshing than the best lemon ever grown. For some unknown reason,
however, it is not used in New Zealand, or in the cities of Australia,
to which it could be easily and profitably exported from many of the
Pacific groups. Instead, the juice of limes is squeezed out by a very
rough process, the fruit being run through a wooden hand-press, and is
shipped away in casks. The lime trade would certainly rival the orange
trade, if worked up.

Dried bananas have money in them, and the industry is especially adapted
to some of the lesser Cook Islands, where steamer calls are at present
irregular. The dried and pressed banana is better than the fig, and is
considered a great delicacy by the few people in the colonies who have
tried it. The Cook Islanders peel the fruit, and leave it to dry in
the sun. When it is shrunk, dark, and sticky with its own sugar, they
compress it into neat little packets covered with dried banana leaf, and
tied with banana fibre. These will keep good for many months. Up to the
present, the trade is extremely small, but there is no reason why it
should not be increased.

One of the chief troubles of the settler is the guava bush, which runs
wild all over the islands, and is extremely hard to destroy. It bears
quantities of excellent fruit, but guavas do not pay for exporting, so
no one, apparently, has thought of making the island pest profitable.
And yet, when I went down to New Zealand, which is in direct
communication with the Cook Islands and less than a week away, I found
the price of guava jelly in the shops was higher than it is at home.
Asked why no one in the islands sent jelly for sale, the grocers said it
was because jampots were not made in New Zealand, and had to be imported
if wanted. Since most jams in the colonies are sold in tins, this
did not appear to me an unanswerable argument. Tins are made in the
colonies, and the process of tinning jam or jelly should not be beyond
amateur powers. Moreover, common tumblers (which are also made in New
Zealand) are a good and profitable way of putting up jellies; purchasers
are always willing to pay extra for the advantage of getting something
useful along with the dainty itself.

Another item: Dried peppers bring a good price per ounce, and fine Chili
pepper grows wild everywhere. So far, trade is nil.

Another: One of the commonest plants in the Southern Pacific, a weed
bearing a bright red flower almost exactly like the pine-cone in shape,
contains, in the flower, a quantity of white watery liquid, which
is declared by the natives, and by many of the whites, to be an
exceptionally fine hair tonic. No one, so far as I know, has tried to
make anything out of this, or out of the wild castor oil, which is said
to be of good quality.

If the settler cannot find some useful hint among these, he may be able
to discover a few on the spot for himself.

The second class of settler--the man without capital, or with only a
little--is a pariah everywhere. No colony wants him, agents warn him
away, friends write to him begging him to stay where he is, and not
tempt fortune by going out unprovided with plenty of cash. No doubt
there is reason on the side of the discouragers; but there is not a
colony in the world, all the same, where you shall not find the man who
came out without capital, who endured a few years of hard work and short
commons, began to get on, began to save, went on getting on and saving,
and by-and-by became one of the most successful men in the place.
Whereupon as a rule he becomes an adviser in his turn, and solemnly
counsels young men of every kind against the imprudence of tempting
fortune with an empty purse.

For all that, and all that, young Britons will continue to do what they
are advised not to, and ships will carry out many a man to the far wild
countries whose only gold is the gold of youth and health and a brave
heart. “Sink or swim” is the motto of this kind of colonist, and if he
often goes under, he very often floats on the top, and comes in on the
flood-tide of good luck. “Fortune favours the brave”--a proverb none the
less true because of its age.

To have an island of one’s own, in the beautiful South Seas, to
live remote from strain and worry, and out of the clash and roar
of twentieth-century civilization--to pass one’s days in a land of
perpetual summer; work, but own no master, possess a country (small
though it may be) yet know none of the troubles of sovereignty--this
is an ambition of which no one need be ashamed, even though-it appear
contemptible and even reprehensible to “Samuel Budgett, the Successful
Merchant.” The planter with a fair amount of capital can realise the
dream almost any day, for every big group in the Pacific has many small
unoccupied islands which can be rented for a song, and if the newcomer
is made of stuff that can stand being totally deprived of theatres,
clubs, music halls, daily posts and papers, and a good many other charms
(or burdens) of city life, he has only to pick and choose, secure a good
title to-his island, decide what he means to grow on it, get his house
built, and settle down at once.

But people who have very little money cherish the same ambition, often
enough: There are thousands of men in the United Kingdom to whom a South
Sea Island of their-own would be heaven--only they see no way of
getting it. The desire comes, without doubt, of generations of insular
ancestors. It is the “Englishman’s house is his castle” idea carried a
step further than usual, that is all; and the boy that never wholly dies
in the heart of every Briton is always ready to wake up and rejoice at
the thought.

What is the moneyless man to do?

Well, first of all, he must get out to Sydney or Auckland, each being
a port from which island vessels constantly sail, and with which island
trade is closely concerned. It will not cost him so much as he thinks.
If he goes by Auckland, he can get a third-class ticket from London for
fifteen pounds, and Sydney is little more. Arrived, he will make use of
the information he has, of course, obtained in London, from the offices
of the Agent-General for New Zealand (or Australia, as the case may be)
and try and get a job to keep him on his feet while he looks about. If
he can do any kind of manual labour, he will not be at a loss--and if he
cannot, or will not, he had much better stay at home on an office stool
within sound of Bow Bells, and leave the far countries to men of tougher

In Sydney or Auckland he will find a good many firms connected with
island trading interests, many of whom own trading stores dotted about
the whole Pacific. It is often possible to obtain a job from one of
these, if the newcomer is capable and steady. In this case, the way
of getting up to the islands is clear, and the work of copra trading,
keeping store for native customers, fruit-buying and shipping on the
spot, is the best possible training for an independent position. If this
proves a vain hope (it need not, in the case of a good man, if one may
judge by the wretched incapables who occupy the trader’s post in many
islands) our adventurer must try to raise the cost of a passage as best
he can, and see what he can get to do among the white people of the
group he has selected, when he arrives. There are so many useless
wastrels in most of the islands, that character and capability are to a
certain extent capital in themselves. Some one is generally in want of
a plantation overseer to replace a drunken employee--some one else would
be glad of a handy man to help with housebuilding of the simple island
kind--and in many islands, board and lodging, and a little over, would
be easily obtainable by any educated man, who would undertake to teach
the children of the white settlers. There are groups in which no one is
allowed to land who does not possess a certain minimum of cash, but it
is not in any case that I know of more than ten pounds, and most islands
have no such regulation.

Once so far on his journey, the would-be island owner must think out the
rest for himself. There is sure to be a small island or two for rent,
and there will probably be means of making money by slow degrees in the
group itself. Where the will is, the way will be found.

The popular dream of finding and taking possession of an unoccupied
island somewhere or other, and “squatting” there unopposed, is a dream
and nothing more. The great European nations have long since parcelled
out among themselves all the groups worth having, and rent or purchase
is the only way to acquire land. Far-away separate islands, remote from
everywhere, are still to be had for nothing in a few instances, but they
are not desirable-possessions, unless the owner can afford a private
sailing vessel, and in any case what has not been picked up is little
worth picking in these days.

So much for the how and where of acquiring islands. I shall have one or
two definite instances to give in another chapter.


_Where are the Six Thousand?--Calling on the Queen--A Victoria of the
Pacific--The Prince sleeps softly--The Mystical Power of the Mana--How
Islanders can die--A Depressing Palace--Round the Wonderful Roadway--The
Home of Queen Tinomana--A Princess’s Love Story--Once on Board the
Schooner!--The Incredible Crabs--Depravity of a Mor Kiri-kiri._

A HUNDRED years ago, Raratonga had six thousand native inhabitants, and
was a very flourishing heathen country, where cannibalism was all the
fashion, murder of shipwrecked sailors a common custom, and raids upon
neighbouring islands the chief diversion. There is no doubt that the
Raratongan of those days compared none too well with the Tahitian,
who at the worst never was an habitual cannibal, and was almost always
friendly to strangers. Williams was the first missionary to arrive in
the earlier part of the last century, and the complete conversion of the
island was rapid; the Raratongan in a few years was no longer cannibal,
no longer warlike, had become hospitable and friendly to travellers, had
learned to wear clothes (a good deal more than he wanted or should have
had, but the missionary of the early days really did not know what a
fatal thing he was doing, when he enforced the wearing of white man’s
raiment on the unclothed native, and thereby taught him to catch cold,
and die of chest diseases). The island had (and has) a large school for
the training of mission teachers, and a church and mission house not to
be matched in the Pacific for magnificence, and was on the whole a model
of most of the virtues, compared with what it once had been. There were,
and are, drawbacks to the missionary rule, but these have been discussed
so freely in almost every book of Pacific travel ever written, that I
do not feel it necessary to say over again what has so often been said
before. The missionaries certainly civilised the islands, and made them
safe to live in. Concurrently with this desirable result, others not
so desirable took place, the fruit, in some cases, of irresponsible
authority exercised by semi-educated men; in others, of the inevitable
fate that follows the introduction of civilisation to primitive races.
The Raratongan, like all the other brown folk of the islands, was asked
to leap, almost at once, the gulf between utter savagery and comparative
civilisation, that had taken his instructors all the time between
the Roman Conquest and the end of the Dark Ages to overpass. With the
docility of the true Polynesian, he did his best to comply. It was not
his fault--and not, one must fairly say, the fault of the missionary
either, save in a minor degree--that the effort meant death to him.

There are not nineteen hundred Raratongans living now in the fertile
little country that used to support six thousand of their ancestors.
There are not enough babies in the island to carry on the population at
half its present level, in the future. Not one of the “chief” families,
of whom there are a dozen or so, has any living children at all.
Consumption is common, and on the increase; more serious diseases are
commoner still. A Raratongan seldom lives to be very old, and he almost
always dies without resistance or regret. The islanders are happy and
sunny in their own quiet way, but the backbone of life has been broken
for them, and in the promise of the future, grey or golden, they have no
share. To-day is theirs, but they have no to-morrow.

The Arikis, or chiefs, to whom the principal power once belonged, and
who still retain much importance, regret this state of affairs in an
amiable, fatalistic way, but do not trouble themselves very much over
it. They are for the most part of the opinion of Sir Boyle Roche about
the claims of posterity; and anyhow, they have their fruit trading to
think about, and the next public dancing and singing party, and the last
illegal beer-brewing up in the hills--so the decadence of their country
sits lightly on their minds.

These Arikis are one and all inferior to the ruling sovereign, Queen
Makea, who still contrives to retain a great deal of quiet power in her
shapely old hands, in spite of the fact that she is nominally deposed,
and her country owned by New Zealand. I had not been in Raratonga
more than a day or two, when my hosts took me to call upon the queen,
intimating that she would feel hurt if the newcomer was not presented to

[Illustration: 0111]

We walked through the blazing sun of the tropic afternoon, down the
palm-shaded main street of Avarua town, to the great grassy enclosure
that surrounds the palace of the queen. One enters through a neat
white gate; inside are one or two small houses, a number of palms and
flowering bushes, and at the far end, a stately two-storeyed building
constructed of whitewashed concrete, with big railed-in verandahs, and
handsome arched windows. This is Makea’s palace, but her visitors do not
go there to look for her. In true South Sea Islander fashion, she keeps
a house for show and one for use. The islander, though he aspires when
“civilised,” to own a big concrete house, “all same papalangi” (white
man), does not really like living in a building that shuts out the air.
He discovered the fresh-air system long before it was thought of by the
folk who discovered him, and his own houses are always made of small
poles or saplings, set without any filling, so that the whole building
is as airy as a birdcage, and almost as transparent. In this he lives,
while the big concrete house, with its Auckland made tables, chairs, and
beds, and the red and blue table-cloths, and horrible gilt lamps fringed
with cut glass lustres, and shrieking oleograph of King Edward in
his coronation robes, is kept strictly for show, and perhaps for an
occasional festival, such as a wedding party. It is an odd custom, but
sensible, on the whole.

[Illustration: 0117]

Makea’s favourite house is a pretty little reed and thatch villa several
miles out in the country. When she is in town, she makes some concession
to state by living in a small one-storeyed cottage, with a thatch and a
verandah, and not much else, close beside her big palace. We found her
at the cottage when we called, sitting on the verandah upon an ironwood
couch, and petting a little turtle of which she is very fond. It seems
a curious sort of creature to adore, but an elderly lady must have her
little pet of some kind. In other climes, it is a pug, a parrot, or a
cat. Here, the little turtle is considered chic, so the queen has one,
the turtle having been always considered a perquisite of royalty in the
old days, when the chiefs had the best of everything, even down to the
choicest tit-bits of the roasted enemy, while the commonalty had to put
up with what they could get.

[Illustration: 0125]

I was introduced to the queen, who shook hands politely, and sent one
of her handmaids for chairs. These being brought, my hostess and I sat
down, and the latter conversed with Makea in Raratongan, translating a
few conventional politenesses from myself, and conveying others to me in
return. The queen wanted to know how I liked the island, if I had really
come all the way from England, as she had heard, whether I was not
afraid to travel so far alone, how long I hoped to stay, and so forth.
All the time, as we talked, her keen black eyes were scanning me
silently, rapidly, comprehensively, and making their own judgment, quite
independently of the conversation and its inevitable formalities. And
I, on my side, was gazing, I fear with some rudeness, at the very
remarkable figure before me.

Makea, since the death of her husband, Prince Ngamaru, a few years ago,
has laid aside all vanities of dress, and wears only the simplest of
black robes, made loose and flowing from the neck in island fashion. She
is supposed to be at least seventy years of age, and she is extremely
stout, even for her height, which is well over six feet. Yet a more
impressive figure than this aged, deposed, uncrowned sovereign, in her
robe of shabby black, I have never seen. Wisdom, kindliness, and dignity
are written large on her fine old face, which has more than a touch
of resemblance to the late Queen Victoria. And oh, the shrewdness, the
ability, the keen judgment of men and things, that look out from those
brown, deep-set eyes, handsome enough, even in old age, to hint at the
queen-like beauty that once belonged to this island queen!

Makea was always known as a wise, just, and very powerful sovereign. She
ruled over the whole Cook group, and her word was law everywhere,
even to the Prince Consort, the warlike Ngamaru, who to the very last
retained some traces of his heathen upbringing, and used to be seen,
in the island councils of only a few years ago, making the horrible
cannibal gesture which signifies in unmistakable pantomime, “I will tear
the meat from your bones with my teeth!” at any other council member who
presumed to disagree with him. Their married life was a happy one, in
spite of the prince’s violent character, and when he died, the widowed
queen took all her splendid robes of velvet, silk, and satin, gorgeously
trimmed with gold, tore them in fragments, and cast them into his grave,
so that he might he soft, as befitted the prince who had been loved so
well by such a queen.

Makea holds much of the real power in her hands to-day, for all that
the islands are the property of the British Crown, and administered by a
Commissioner. The Raratongan is submissive to chiefs by nature, and the
queen, though uncrowned, is still reverenced and feared almost, as much
as of old. It is firmly believed that she possesses the mystic power
known as “mana” among the Maori races, and this, as it gives the
owner power to slay at will, is greatly feared. The word is almost
untranslatable, meaning, perhaps, something like “prestige,” “kudos,” or
the old English “glamour.” It includes, among other gifts, second sight
to a certain extent, the power to bring good or evil luck, and the
ability already mentioned to deal death at will.

[Illustration: 0139]

This last may sound like fiction. It is nothing of the sort, it is
plain, bald fact, as any one who has ever lived in the islands can
testify. There is nothing more commonly known in the South Seas than
the weird power possessed by kings and heroes to slay with a word, and
instances of its exercise could be found in every group.

Makea does not use it now, so they say. She is old: like aged folks
in other places, she wants to “make her soul,” and it can readily be
imagined that the mission authorities do not approve of such heathen
proceedings. Still, there is not a native in Raratonga who does not
believe that she could strike him dead with a wish, any day in the week,
if she chose: and there are not a few who can tell you that in the days
long ago, she exercised the power.

“Makea, she never rude, because she great chief,” said a relation of the
royal family to me one day. “She never say to any one, ‘You go die!’ I
think. She only saying, some time, ‘I wish I never seeing you again!’
and then the people he go away, very sorry, and by-n’-by he die--some
day, some week, I don’ know--but he dyin’ all right, very quick, you

The power to die at will seems to be a heritage of the island races,
though the power to live, when a chief bids them set sail on the dark
seas of the unknown, is not theirs. Suicide, carried out without the
aid of weapons or poisons of any kind, is not at all uncommon. A man
or woman who is tired of life, or bitterly offended with any one, will
often lie down on the mats, turn his face, like David of old; to the
wall, and simply flicker out like a torch extinguished by the wind.
There was once a white schooner captain, who had quarrelled with his
native crew; and the crew, to pay him out, lay down and declared they
would die to spite him.... But this is about Makea the Queen, not about
the godless brutal captain, and the measures he took to prevent his men
from taking passage in a body across the Styx. They didn’t go after all,
and they were sore and sorry men when they made the island port, and the
captain, who was a very ill-educated person, boasted far and wide
for many a day after that, that he would exceedingly well learn any
exceedingly objectionable nigger who offered to go and die on him
again--and that is all that I must say about it, for more reasons than

The queen, after a little conversation, punctuated by intervals of
fanning and smiling (and a more charming smile than Makea’s, you
might search the whole South Seas to find), sent a girl up a tree for
cocoanuts, and offered us the inevitable cocoanut water and bananas,
without which no island call is complete. Afterwards, when we rose to
go, she sent a handmaid with us to take us over the palace, of which she
is, naturally, very proud, though she never enters it except on the rare
occasion of some great festival.

The palace proved to be as uninteresting as the queen herself was
interesting and attractive. It had a stuffy, shut-up smell, and it was
furnished in the worst of European taste, with crude ugly sofas and
chairs, tables covered with cheap-jack Manchester trinkets, and staring
mirrors and pictures--partly sacred art, of a kind remarkably well
calculated to promote the cause of heathenism, and partly portraits,
nearly as bad as those one sees in the spring exhibitions at home. There
were two or three saloons or drawing-rooms, all much alike, on the lower
storey. Upstairs (it is only a very palatial island house that owns
an upstairs) there were several bedrooms, furnished with large costly
bedsteads of mahogany and other handsome woods, and big massive
wardrobes and tables--all unused, and likely to remain so. The place
was depressing on the whole, and I was glad to get out of it into the
cheerful sun, although the heat at this hour of the afternoon was really

[[Illustration: 0165]

Another afternoon, I drove out to see Queen Tinomana, a potentate only
second to Makea in influence. Tinomana, like Makea, is a dynastic name,
and is always borne by the high chief, man or woman, who is hereditary
sovereign of a certain district. The present holder of the title is a
woman, and therefore queen.

What a drive it was! The roadway round the island is celebrated all
over the Pacific, and with justice, for nothing more lovely than this
twenty-mile ribbon of tropic splendour is to be found beneath the
Southern Cross. One drives in a buggy of colonial pattern, light,
easy-running, and fast, and the rough little island horse makes short
work of the miles of dazzling white sandy road that circle the shores
of the bright lagoon. On one side rises the forest, green and rich and
gorgeous beyond all that the dwellers of the dark North could possibly
imagine, and opening now and then to display picture after picture, in
a long gallery of magnificent mountain views--mountains blue as the sea,
mountains purple as amethyst, mountains sharp like spear-heads, towered
and buttressed like grand cathedrals, scarped into grey precipices where
a bat could scarcely cling, and cloven into green gorges bright with
falling streams. On the other, the palms and thick undergrowth
hardly veil the vivid gleam of the emerald lagoon lying within the
white-toothed barrier reef, where all day long the surf of the great
Pacific creams and froths and pours. By the verge of the coral beach
that burns like white fire in the merciless sun, the exquisite ironwood
tree trails its delicate tresses above the sand, so that, if you leave
the carriage to follow on the road, and walk down by the beach, you
shall catch the green glow of the water, and the pearly sparkle of
the reef, through a drooping veil of leafage fine as a mermaid’s hair.
Sometimes the buggy runs for a mile or two through thick woods of this
lovely tree, where the road is carpeted thickly with the fallen needles
of foliage, so that the wheels run without sound, and you may catch the
Eolian harp-song of the leaves, sighing ceaselessly and sadly

                   Of old, unhappy, far-off things,

when the evening wind gets up and the sun drops low on the lagoon.

The myths of the Pacific are marvellous in their way, but they pass
over unnoticed much that could not have escaped the net of folk-lore and
poetry in Northern lands. That the lovely ironwood, a tree with
leaves like mermaid’s locks, and the voice of a mermaid’s song in its
whispering boughs, should stand bare of legend or romance on the shores
of a sea that is itself the very home of wonder, strikes the Northern
mind with a sense of strange incongruity. But the soul of the islands is
not the soul of the continents, and the poet of the Pacific is still to
be born.

[Illustration: 0173]

Sometimes, again, the little buggy rattles over white coral sand and
gravel, on a stretch of road that is fairly buried in the forest. The
sun is cut off overhead, and only a soft green glow sifts through. The
palm-tree stems sweep upward, tall and white, the gigantic “maupei”
 rears aloft its hollow buttressed stems, carved out into caverns that
would delight the soul of a modern Crusoe, and drops big chestnuts,
floury and sweet, upon the road as we pass. The “utu,” or Barringtonia
Speciosa, one of the most beautiful of island trees, towers a hundred
feet into the warm glow above, its brilliant varnished leaves, nearly
a foot long, and its strange rose and white flowers, shaped like
feather-dusters, marking it out unmistakably from the general tangle of
interlacing boughs, and crowding trunks and long liana ropes, green and
brown, that run from tree to tree. If you were lost in the bush, and
thirsty, one of those lianas would provide you with waters, were you
learned enough in wood lore to slash it with your knife, and let the
pure refreshing juice trickle forth. You might gather wild fruit of many
kinds, too, and wild roots, mealy and nourishing, or dainty and sweet.
And at night, you might creep into your hollow tree, or lie down on the
warm sand of the shore, with nothing worse to fear than a mosquito or

There are no wild beasts in any of the Pacific Islands, save an
occasional boar, which always lives remote from men in the hills, and is
much readier to run away than to annoy. There are no poisonous snakes,
either, tarantulas, or deadly centipedes and scorpions. I cannot
honestly say that the two latter creatures do not exist, but they very
seldom bite or sting any one who does not go barefooted, and their venom
is not deadly, though painful.

On almost every tree, as we rattle along through the forest, my hostess
and I can see the beautiful bird’s-nest fern, looking like a hanging
basket of greenery. We have not time to stop to-day, but we shall have
to go out some other afternoon and cut down a few of the smaller ones
for table decoration, for there is a dinner party coming off, and we
are short of pot plants for the rooms. Young palms, most graceful of all
green things, shoot up like little fountains in the clearings, some of
the smaller ones still’ root-bound by the large brown nut from which
they have sprung. One would never think these dainty ball-room palms
were related in any way to the stately white columns-spiring high above
them, for the full-grown palm is all stem and scarcely any top, in
comparison, while the young palm, a mass of magnificent spreading
fronds, rises from a short bulb-like trunk that suggests nothing less
than further growth.

The drive is six good miles, but it seems only too short. In a very
little while, we have reached Queen Tinomana’s village--a picturesque
little grassy town, with brown thatched huts, and white concrete
cottages washed with coral lime, and gay red and yellow leaved ti
trees standing before almost every door--and the queen’s own palace,
a handsome two-storeyed house, quite as fine as Makea’s, stands up in
front of us.

Passing by this piece of European splendour, we go to draw a more likely
covert, and ere long flush our quarry in a little creeper-wreathed
cottage, hidden behind bushes of deliciously scented frangipani and
blazing red hibiscus. The queen is on the verandah, seated, like Makea,
on an ironwood sofa of state. She sits here most of the day, having
very little in the way of government to do, and no desire to trouble her
amiable head with the white woman’s laborious methods of killing time.
Sometimes she plaits a hat to amuse herself, being accomplished in this
favourite Raratongan art--a sailor hat with a hard crown and stiff
brim, and a good deal of neat but lacy fancy work in the twisting of the
plait. Sometimes she receives friends, and hears gossip. Sometimes, she
sleeps on the sofa, and wakes up to suck oranges and fall asleep again.
The strenuous life is not the life beloved of Tinomana, nor (one may
hint in the smallest of whispers) would her much more strenuous sister
queen encourage any developments in that direction.

It is well, under the circumstances, that both are suited by their
respective rôles, otherwise the somewhat difficult lot of the Resident
Commissioner might be rendered even more trying than it is.

Tinomana is not young, and she is not lovely now, though one can see
that she has been beautiful, as so many of the soft-eyed island women
are, long ago. She has had her romance, however, and as we sit on her
verandah, drinking and eating the cocoanut and banana of ceremony, the
grey-haired white man who is husband of the queen tells the story to me
of her love and his, just as it happened, once upon a time.

In 1874 the Cook Islands were an independent group, governed by their
own chiefs, or Arikis. The Arikis had much more power in those days than
they are now allowed to exercise. They could order the execution of any
subject for any cause; they could make war and end it: and no ship dared
to call at the islands without their permission. They owned, as they
still own, all the land, and their wealth of various kinds made them, in
the eyes of the natives, millionaires as well as sovereigns.

“Women’s rights” were a novelty to England thirty years ago, but in the
Cook Islands they were fully recognised, even at that early period.
The most powerful of the Arikis was Makea--then a girl, now an elderly
woman, but always every inch a queen, and always keeping a firm hand on
the sceptre of Raratonga. Any Cook Islands postage-stamp will show Makea
as she was some ten years ago. In 1874 Makea and her consort, Ngamaru,
were making plans for the marrying of Tinomana, a young Raratongan
princess closely related to Makea. Tinomana would shortly become
an Ariki, or queen, herself, and her matrimonial affairs were, in
consequence, of considerable importance.

What the plans of Raratonga’s rulers for Tinomana may have been matters
little. Tinomana was pretty, with splendid long black hair, large soft
brown eyes, an excellent profile, and a complexion little darker than a
Spaniard’s. She was also self-willed, and could keep a secret as close
as wax when she so desired. She had a secret at that time, and it
concerned no South Sea Islander, but a certain good-looking young
Anglo-American named John Salmon (grandson of a Ramsgate sea-captain,
Thomas Dunnett), who had lately landed at Raratonga from the trading
schooner _Venus_, and had been enjoying a good deal of the pretty
princess’s society, unknown to the gossips of the island. It was a case
of love at first sight; for the two had not been more than a few days
acquainted when they came privately to James Chalmers, the famous
missionary, then resident in Raratonga, and begged for a secret

James Chalmers refused promptly to have anything to do with the matter,
and furthermore told Tinomana that he would never marry her to any white
man, no matter who it might be. In his opinion such a marriage would be
certain to cause endless trouble with the other Arikis--apart from
the fact that Queen Makea was against it. So the lovers went away
disconsolate. Raratonga was keeping holiday at the time, because a great
war-canoe was to be launched immediately, and a dance and feast were
in preparation. But Tinomana and her lover were out of tune with the
festivities, and no woman in the island prepared her stephanotis and
hibiscus garlands for the feast, or plaited baskets of green palm leaves
to carry contributions of baked sucking-pig and pineapples, with as
heavy a heart as the little princess.

On the day of the feast an idea came to Salmon. There were two schooners
lying in Avarua harbour. One, the _Coronet_, had for a captain a man
named Rose, who was as much opposed to Salmon’s marriage as Chalmers
himself. The _Humboldt_ schooner, on the other hand, had a friend
of Salmon’s in command. From him some help might be expected. Salmon
visited him secretly, found that he was willing to assist, and
arranged for an elopement that very night. Tinomana was willing; nobody
suspected; and the feast would furnish a capital opportunity.

There was no moon that evening, happily for the lovers, for the smallest
sign would have awaked the suspicions of the watching _Coronet_. When
the feast had begun, and all Raratonga was making merry with pig and
baked banana, raw fish and pineapple beer, Tinomana contrived to slip
away and get back to her house. Womanlike, she would not go without her
“things”; and she took so long collecting and packing her treasures--her
silk and muslin dresses, her feather crowns, her fans and bits of
cherished European finery from far-away Auckland--that the suspicions of
a prying girl were aroused. Out she came, accompanied by two others--all
handmaidens to Tinomana--and charged the princess with an intention to
elope. Tinomana acknowledged the truth, and ordered the girls to hold
their tongues, offering them liberal rewards. This was not enough,
however; the three girls demanded that Tinomana, in addition to buying
their silence, should shield them from the possible wrath of the great
Makea by taking them with her. She was forced to consent; and so, when
the impatient lover, lurking in the darkness near the harbour, saw his
lady coming at last, she came with three attendants, and almost enough
luggage to rival Marie Antoinette’s encumbered flight to Varennes.

Eventually, however, the party put off in a canoe, the girls lying flat
in the bottom, with Tinomana crouching beside them and Salmon holding
a lighted torch, which he waved in the air as they went. For the boat
had to pass close by the Coronet, and Captain Rose, somehow or other,
had become suspicious, and young Salmon knew he would think nothing of
stopping any boat that could not give an account of itself. So Salmon
took the torch, to look like a fishing-boat going out with spears and
torches to the reef, and, paddling with one hand while he held the light
aloft with the other, he passed the _Coronet_ safely, knowing well that
his face would be unrecognisable at a distance of fifty yards or so in
the wavering shadow of the flame.

Beyond the reef lay the _Humboldt_ waiting. Tinomana and her maids and
her luggage were swung up the side with small ceremony; Salmon hurried
after, and a small but welcome breeze enabled the schooner to slip out
to sea unnoticed in the dark. She made for Mangaia, another of the Cook
Islands, some hundred and fifty miles away, and reached it in a couple
of days. But the _Humboldt_ had hardly made the land when the dreaded
_Coronet_ appeared on the horizon, carrying every stitch of sail, and
with her decks, her “Jacob’s-ladder,” and her very yardarms crowded by
furious Raratongans. The fugitives were caught!

At first they had not been missed. The islanders were feasting and
drinking, the Arikis were unsuspicious, and the _Coronet_ had seen only
a fishing-canoe with a solitary man on board gliding out to the reef.
But with the morning light came the knowledge that Tinomana was absent
from her palace, that Salmon had not come home, and that the _Humboldt_
was gone. Raratonga was enraged, and all the more so because pursuit
appeared for the moment to be impossible. They knew that the _Humboldt_
had probably made for Mangaia; but the breeze had died away, and
the _Coronet_, her sails flapping idly against her rakish masts, lay
helpless in harbour. Some brilliant spirit, however, proposed that the
schooner should be towed out, in the hope of catching a breeze beyond
the reef; and half a dozen great whaleboats, manned by powerful arms,
were harnessed to the _Coronet’s_ bows. Out she came through the opening
in the foaming coral reef, with screaming and splashing and tugging
at oars, into the blue, open sea, and beyond the shelter of the peaky,
purple hills. The breeze was met at last, the boats cast off and dropped
astern, and the _Coronet_, carrying half Raratonga on board, set sail
for Mangaia.

Once within the range of the _Humboldt_ the _Coronet_ lowered a boatful
of armed men, and the latter made for the schooner lying-to under
the shelter of the Mangaian hills. Captain Harris, of the _Humboldt_,
however, ordered his crew to shoot down the first man who attempted to
board, and the attacking boat thought better of it. Beaten by force they
tried diplomacy, in which they were more successful. They told Captain
Harris that all his cargo of valuable cotton, lying on the wharf at
Raratonga ready for shipment, would be destroyed unless he gave the
princess back. This meant absolute ruin, and the captain had to submit.
Salmon told Tinomana that it was best to give in for the present, as
they were caught; but that the parting would be only for a time. And
back to Raratonga went the disconsolate princess, bereft of her lover
and her stolen wedding, and with the anticipation of a good scolding to
come from the indignant Arikis.

For some months after this disaster Salmon wandered about from island to
island, living now in Raiatea, now in Flint Island, now in Mauke--always
restless and always impatient. At last he judged the time had come to
make a second attempt, and tried to obtain a passage to Raratonga.

Schooner after schooner refused to take him, but finally a little vessel
called the _Atalanta_ braved the wrath of the Arikis and brought
him back. During his absence time had worked in his favour, and the
opposition to the marriage was now much weaker. The Arikis received
him coolly and fined him twenty pounds’ worth of needles, thread, and
tobacco for his late excursion, but they no longer refused to let him
see Tinomana. The missionary, however, still objected to the marriage,
and as he was the only clergyman available for the ceremony it seemed as
if things, on the whole, were “getting no forrader.”

At this juncture the great Makea stepped in, and with the charming
variability common to her sex, took the part of the lovers against all
Raratonga as strongly as she had before opposed their union. She was not
then in Raratonga, but in another of the Cook Islands, Atiu. From thence
she sent the schooner _Venus_ to Raratonga, ordering the captain to
fetch Tinomana and Salmon to Atiu, where the local missionary would
marry them, or Makea would know the reason why.

Raratonga--obstinate Raratonga!--still refused to give its princess to
a foreign adventurer, though it trembled at the thought of defying the
Elizabethan Makea. A band of warriors came down to the harbour to see
that Salmon did not get on board the ship. As for Tinomana, they did not
dare to oppose her departure, when the head of the house had actually
summoned her. But the princess had no notion whatever of going alone.
Salmon was smuggled on board in the dusk and hidden under a bunk. A pile
of mats and native “pareos,” or kilts, was placed over him, and there,
in the heat of the tropic night, he lay and sweltered, while the _Venus_
swung to her cable and the warriors hunted the ship and found nothing.
When they went off, baffled, the schooner put to sea. A Raratongan
vessel, still suspicious, chased her to Atiu, but Makea informed the
pursuing crew that it would be bad for their health to land on her
property unasked; and, as this great Pacific Queen had, and has, the
reputation of keeping her word when it is passed, the Raratongans did
not dare to set foot on shore. This time it was they who went home

And so the young couple were married “and lived happily ever after.”
 Tinomana and her consort now reside at Arorangi, Raratonga, in their
long, low house, set among frangipani trees and oranges, and covered
with flowering tropical creepers, and seldom or never occupy their
palace. Tinomana’s five children are dead; she herself is growing old,
but the memory of those long-past years of adventure and romance is
still with her. Her life glides quietly and dreamily by, within
the sound of the humming ocean surf, under the shadow of the purple
Raratongan hills. She has had her day, and there remain the quiet sunset
and the softened twilight, before the time of dark.

The queen had little to say to us, for she does not speak English,
nor is she shrewdly curious about men and things outside of sleepy
Raratonga, like her sister sovereign, Makea. She smiled a good deal, and
said some polite things about my dress, which illustrated a new fashion,
and seemed to interest her more than anything else connected with the
call. I had brought a gift with me for Tinomana, a silk scarf of a
peculiarly screaming blue, and I presented it before I took my leave
with some politenesses that the royal consort rapidly translated for me.
The queen was much pleased with the gift, and began trying its effect on
several different hats at once. Then we had some more cocoanut water and
said good-bye, and drove home again in the yellow sunset.

The crabs were getting noisy as we passed along a soft bit of sandy road
close by the shore. They are fairly active all day, and at night seem to
wake up a little more completely than before. One can hear them rattling
and scratching loudly all over the stones and rubbish about the shore;
the ground is riddled with their holes--as we pass, they dart in at
their front doors as swiftly as spiders, and stand looking cautiously
round a comer till the threatening apparition is gone. They are not nice
things, these crabs--they are tall and spindly and insectlike in build,
with a scrawny body set on eight spider-like legs, and ugly, sharp, thin
claws. They live on the land, but haunt the beach a good deal, because
of the débris to be found there, and they are such nasty feeders that
not even the natives will eat them, which is saying a good deal.

They have an uncanny fancy for coming into houses. If your residence is
not raised up on a good Verandah, which they cannot surmount, you may be
alarmed some night by a ghostly tapping and ticking on the floor, like
nothing you have ever heard or dreamed of before, and while you are
wondering fearfully what the sound may be, you will suddenly become
aware of something clumsy and noisy scrambling among the mosquito
curtains of your bed. At this, if you are of common human mould, you
will arise hastily, tangling yourself up in the curtains as you do
so, and call loudly for a light. And when one is brought, behold the
offender scuttling hastily away on eight long thin legs into the outer
dark, without stopping to make an explanation or an apology. You are
so annoyed that you put on a dressing-gown and follow him out on the
verandah, a stick in your hand and murder in your heart; but just as you
reach the steps, there is a loud “flump” on the floor, and a centipede
as big as a sausage, with a writhing black body and horrible red legs
and antennae, flashes past the edge of your sweeping draperies. At this
you give it up, and get back to your mosquito curtains.

You are just falling asleep, when------ Good Heavens! what is it?

Surely nothing but a burglar could have made that fearful noise in the
outer kitchen!--a burglar, or a madman, or both in one. It sounds as if
some one were beating somebody else with an iron bucket. Perhaps it
may be only a native dog chasing a cat. Up go the curtains once more,
letting half the mosquitoes in the island in, and off the wretched
traveller sets for the kitchen, accompanied by a brave but pallid
hostess, who says she is extremely sorry her husband _would_ choose this
week for going away from home.

There he is! there is the author of the noise--a black, bristly,
incredibly hideous hermit crab as big as a biscuit--out of his shell,
and fighting like grim death in an empty kerosene tin, with another crab
nearly as big, and quite as vicious. Number one has got too big for the
secondhand univalve shell he lived in, and is touring the country trying
to replace it. Number two, also out-growing his clothes, has got half a
broken sardine box in the kerosene tin (which acts as ash-bucket to the
house), and he thinks it is the loveliest new shell he has ever seen.
So, unluckily, does the other crab, and they are in the act of putting
it to ordeal by combat, when we invade the scene of the battle, and
rudely shake the crabs and the shells and the sardine tin all off the
end of the verandah together.

“What on earth brings crabs into people’s houses?” you ask amazedly,
as you go back to bed again. It seems an insane action for any sensible
crab, considering that we are half a mile from the sea.

“Pure cussedness,” says my friend wrathfully. “They even climb up the
verandah posts, and sit among the flowers. ‘What for? Spite, I think;
there isn’t anything more ill-natured in the world than a hermit crab.”

If it is not a moonlight night, now, we get to sleep at last, but if it
is, and the oranges are ripe------

Well, that is the time the “mor kiri-kiris” choose to perform their
orisons; and when they are playing the devil with the holy peace and
calm of midnight on the roof, not even a fourth mate newly come off his
watch, could sleep below.

“Here, you blank, blank, blank, unspeakable, etcetera, let go that

“I shan’t, blank your double-blank limbs and wings! I got it first!”

“Then just look out, you mangy, fox-faced, clumsy-winged beast, for I’ll
rip the inside out of your rotten carcase with my claws.”

“Like to see you!” (somewhat muffled with stolen orange).

“You will!”

Shriek, shriek, yell, howl, scream.

“You’ve bitten my toe off, you trebly-blanked vermin!”

“Meant to!”

“Clear off!”


“Come on again, then!”

“Pax! pax! here’s the great pig with fur on its head that lives in the
house, coming out with a gun. I’m off.”

“So am I, but we’ll go back again the moment it goes in.” That is the
way one sleeps in the orange season, in a place that happens to be
popular with the “mor kiri-kiri,” or flying-fox--a bat with a furry body
as big as a cat’s, long sharp white teeth, a head exactly like a fox,
and the crustiest disposition of anything living on the island.


_Feasting and Fun on Steamer Day--The Brown People of Rara-tonga--Who
sent back the Teeth?--Divorce made easy--Climbing a Tropical Mountain--A
Hot-water Swim--Out on the Rainbow Coral Reef--Necklaces for No One._

STEAMER day in Raratonga, as in all the islands that rejoice in the
privilege of a regular steamer service, is beyond comparison the event
of the month. Almost before dawn on the day which is expected to see
the boat arrive, the traders are up and about, seeing to the carting of
their fruit and copra, and making ready the shelves of the stores for
the new goods coming in from Auckland. All the residents, men and women,
white and brown, are getting out the cleanest of muslins and drill
suits, and looking up the shoe-whitening box, which perhaps has not been
much in demand since the steamer called on her way back from Tahiti
last month. The daughters of the white community are making tinned-peach
pies, and dressing fowls, in case of callers--these are the inevitable
“company” dishes of the Pacific--and the native women are bringing out
their newly made straw hats, and, ironing their gayest of pink or yellow
or scarlet cotton, squatting cross-legged on the floor as they work.
Cocoanuts for drinking are being husked by the men of the village, and
laid in neat piles under the verandahs, out of the sun; and in most of
the little birdcage houses, the children are impounded to grate cocoanut
meat for cream; while the dying yells of pigs make day hideous from the
groves beyond the town.

When the tiny trail of smoke, for which every one is looking, first
rises out of the empty sea, it may be on the day expected, or it may be
later--there is little time in the Great South Seas--the whole island is
agape with excitement. The natives shriek with delight, and make haste
to gather flowers for wreaths and necklaces; the clean suits and frocks
are put on by brown and white alike, and the populace begins to
hover about the wharf like a swarm of excited butterflies. The great
whale-boats are ready to rush out at racing speed to the steamer, long
before she comes to a stop in the bay--she dares not come into the
harbour, which is only fit for small craft--passengers from Auckland
come ashore, anxious to see the island curiosities, and find to
their embarrassment that they are unmistakably regarded in that light
themselves; and, as soon as may be, the mail comes after them. Upon
which events, the whole population makes for the Government buildings,
and flings itself in one seething breaker against the door of the Post
Office, demanding its mails. While the letters are being sorted by a
handful of officials locked and barred out of reach within, it rattles
at the doors and windows, and as soon as the bolts are withdrawn, the
mighty host, breathless and ruthless, bursts in like a besieging army.
But when all are in, nobody has patience to wait and open papers, in
order to know what has been going on in the outer world all these weeks.
Purser, passengers, and even sailors are seized upon, and compelled to
stand and deliver news about “the war,” and other burning questions,
before any one thinks of opening the envelopes and wrappers in their

Minds being satisfied, bodies now assert their claim. Steamer day is
feast day--beef day, ice day, day for enjoying all the eatables that
cannot be had in the island itself. There is mutton in Raratonga, but
not much at the best of times, and of beef there is none at all. So all
the white folk order beef to come up monthly in the ship’s cold storage,
and for two happy days--the meat will keep no longer--they enjoy a feast
that might perhaps more fairly be called a “feed.” About noon on steamer
day, a savoury smell, to which the island has long been a stranger,
begins to diffuse itself throughout Avarua. Every one, with true island
hospitality, is asking every one else to lunch and dinner, to-day and
to-morrow, so that Mrs. A. and her family may have a taste of Mr. B.’s
sirloin, and Mr. B. get a bit of the C.’s consignment of steak, and the
A.’s and B.’s and E.’s enjoy a little bit of Colonel Z.’s roast ribs.
A sensuous, almost unctuous, happiness shines like a halo about every
face, and after dusk white dinner coats flit up and down the perfumed
avenues, thick as night-moths among the orange bloom overhead. Tomorrow
there will be great doings in the pretty bungalow on the top of the
hill, for the Resident Commissioner has got a big lump of ice as a
present from the captain of the steamer, and is hoarding it up in
blankets to give a dinner-party in its honour. The white man who could
consume a lump of ice all by himself, in the island world, would be
considered capable of any crime, and the hospitable Commissioner is the
last person to shirk his obligations in such a matter.

Once the steamer has come and gone, a dreamy peace settles down upon the
island. There is seldom much certainty as to clock time, since every one
goes by his own time-piece, and all vary largely, nor does any one heed
the day of the month overmuch. This pleasant disregard of time is the
true secret of the fascination of island life--or perhaps one of
the secrets, since no one has ever really succeeded in defining the
unspeakable charm of these lotus lands. Imagine a civilised community,
where people dine out in evening dress, leave cards and have “At Home”
 days, yet where there is no post except the monthly ship mail, there are
no telegrams, trains, trams, times, appointments, or engagements of any
kind! Picture the peace that comes of knowing certainly that, for all
the time of the steamer’s absence there can be no disturbance of the
even current of life; no great events at home or abroad, no haste, or
worry, or responsibility! People keep young long in Raratonga; faces are
free from weariness and strain; the white man with the “burden” laughs
as merrily and as often as the brown man who carries nought but his
flowery necklace and his pareo. Nobody is rich--rich men do not come
down to the islands to run small plantations, or trading stores, or to
take up little appointments under a little Government--but every one has
enough, and extravagance is impossible, since luxuries are unpurchasable
on the island. There are so social distinctions, save that between white
and brown--all the seventy or eighty white residents knowing one
another on a footing of common equality, although in England or even New
Zealand, they would certainly be split up into half a score of mutually
contemptuous sets.

As for the natives--the jolly, laughing,-brown-skinned, handsome men and
women of the island--their life is one long day of peace and leisure and
plenty. The lands of the six thousand who once inhabited Raratonga are
now for the most part in the hands of the nineteen hundred survivors,
and every native has therefore a good deal more than he wants.
Breadfruit; bananas of many kinds, oranges, mammee-apples, and countless
other fruits, grow altogether, or almost, without cultivation; taro,
yam, and sweet potatoes need little, and cocoanuts are always to be had.
A native house can be put up in a day or two, furniture is superfluous,
and clothes consist of a few yards of cotton print. The Raratongan,
therefore, owes no tale of labour to Nature or Society for his existence
in quiet comfort, if he does not choose to work. But in many cases he
does choose, for he wants a buggy and a horse, and a bicycle or two, and
a sewing machine for his wife; shoes with squeaking soles for
festive wear--deliberately made up with “squeakers” for island trade,
these--bottles of coarse strong scent, tins of meat and salmon as
an occasional treat, and, if he is ambitious, one of those concrete,
iron-roofed houses of which I have already spoken, to enhance his social
position, and make the neighbours envious, what time he continues to
live peaceably and comfortably in his palm hut outside--not being quite
such a fool in this matter as he looks.

Sometimes the Raratongan will go so far as to get his front teeth
stopped with gold by a travelling dentist, purely for style, since he
is gifted by nature with grinders that will smash any fruit stone,
and incisors that will actually tear the close tough husk off a
huge cocoanut without trouble. It is related of one of the wealthier
Raratongans that, being stricken in years and short of teeth, he
purchased a set of false ones from a visiting dentist, and that the
latter, when he next returned to the island, was astonished to find the
set thrown on his hands as no good, on the grounds that they would not
husk cocoanuts!

In order to secure all these more or less desirable luxuries, the
Raratongan trades in fruit and copra. That is to say, he cuts up
and dries (strictly at his leisure, and when he feels like it) a few
thousand cocoanuts, or nails up some hundreds of oranges, and scores of
banana bunches, from his overflowing acres, in wooden crates, to send
down to Auckland. This labour, repeated a few times, brings him in good
British gold by the handful. Copra, sold to the traders in the town,
fetches about seven pounds a ton, and a family working for a few days
can prepare as much as that. Other produce is hardly less profitable, to
a cultivator who has more land than he wants, provides his own labour,
and need spend nothing on seeds or plants. There is, at most, only light
work, and that seldom, so that the Raratongan can, and often does, spend
the greater part of his time singing in choruses on the verandahs of
the houses, dancing to the thrilling beat of a native drum under the
cocoanut trees, or fishing lazily off the reef.

The Raratongans are all, to a man, good Christians--good Protestants
of the Dissenting variety, good Catholics, and, in a few cases,
enthusiastic Seventh Day Adventists--being readily enough inclined to
adhere to a cult that makes it sinful to work on the seventh day of
the week, and impossible to work on the first. It is said that Mormon
missionaries have visited the group, but failed to make converts.
Without going into details that might disturb the sensitive mind,
one feels obliged to remark, in this connection, that the failure was
probably on all fours, as to cause, with the ill-success of the merchant
who attempted to sell coals to Newcastle.

And--still concerning this matter--“one word more, and I have done.”
 Some weeks after my arrival, I was going round the group in company with
the Resident Commissioner and a few more officials, who were
holding courts and administering justice in the various islands. The
Commissioner was late getting back to the ship one afternoon, and the
captain asked him if he had been detained.

“Only a little while,” replied the guardian angel of the group,
cheerfully rattling his pockets, which gave forth a pleasant chinking
sound. “Another dozen of divorces. We’ll have a new road round the
island next year.” And he went to dinner.

Divorce in the Cook Islands is not an expensive luxury. If memory serves
me right, it costs under thirty shillings, and there is a sixpence
somewhere in the price--I am unable to say why. But I remember very well
indeed, after the officials had gone home, when I was travelling round
about other islands with a captain, who had just taken over the ship and
did not know the Cook group, that dignitary came to me one day and said:

“I can’t make out these hands of mine. They’re a very decent lot for
niggers, and don’t give no trouble, but one and another, now that we’re
going round the islands, keeps coming to me and asking me for an advance
on their wages, because, says they, they’ve been a long time from home,
and they wants it--and every blessed one of them he wants the same

“Was it so-and-so?” I asked, mentioning a certain small sum with a
sixpence in it.

“How on earth did you know?” was the reply.

“Price of a divorce from the Commissioner,” I explained.

“Well!” said the captain, who was a hard-shelled old whaler, with a
strong religious cast. And again--“Well!”

“That’s what I think myself,” I explained. “But it certainly fills
the exchequer. I hear the score runs up to ten or twelve apiece, often

“Disgustin’,” said the captain, spitting over the rail.

“Certainly,” I agreed.

But the incident has its own significance, so I have recorded it.

I linger long over the life and ways of Raratonga, for I spent many
very happy weeks there--studying native customs, and taking notes? Well,
perhaps--a little, at all events. Raratonga is not quite so lazy a place
as Tahiti, and the climate is less trying. Still--still------

How impossible it is to explain to the reader who has never spent a
hot season in the tropics! I think I shall not try. There were missed
opportunities--there were things I ought to have studied, and did not,
and things I should have seen, and didn’t see. It is of no use to
say why. Those who have passed between the magic line of Cancer
and Capricorn will not need to ‘be told, and the others could not

I did something to satisfy my conscience, however, when I climbed the
highest mountain in Raratonga--a peak something over three thousand feet
high, so the residents said. It was reported that the Admiralty survey
did not agree by a hundred feet or so, with the local estimate. I know
myself that both were wrong; that peak is ten thousand, or perhaps a
little more. Did it not take myself and two or three others from seven
a.m. until nine p.m to get up and down, working as hard as white ants
(there is nothing in the islands really busy except the ants) all the

We went the wrong way--several wrong ways--we lost our food and our
water, and got so thirsty that we licked the leaves of the trees, and so
hungry that it was agony to know ourselves above the zone of the orange
and banana all day, and see the food we could not reach till night
hanging in clusters far below. We did most of our climbing by the heroic
method of swarming up perpendicular rock faces on the ladders of the
creepers, and a good deal of it by scrambling along in the tops of small
trees, like monkeys. When we got to the top there was just room for the
whole party to stand and cheer, and we cheered ourselves vigorously.
People do not climb mountains--much--in the islands of the Pacific, and
the peak we were on had been trodden by only one or two white men, and
no white women.

“There used to be natives up here often enough, some years ago, shooting
wild fowl,” said one of our guides, letting the smoke of his pipe curl
out over “half a duchy,” lying blue and green, and far, far down, under
his elbow. “But they stopped coming. Several of ’em got killed, and
the others didn’t think it good enough.”

“How did they get killed?” I ask, listening to the wild cocks crowing in
the sea of green down below, like a farm-yard gone astray.

“Oh, climbing!”

When we had finished admiring the view of the island, we started down
again. And now, what with our hunger, and our fatigue, and the wild
adventures in impossible places we had had coming up, we all became
rather tired, and more than rather reckless. Over and over again,
slithering down steep descents, we let ourselves go, and tobogganed,
sitting, we did not care where. The lianas crashed, the red-flowered
rata snapped and fell on us, the lace-like tree ferns got in our way
with their damp black trunks, and banged us as we tumbled past. Every
one knew that if we did not get off the precipice slopes before dark, we
should have to halt wherever we might be, and wait till morning, holding
tight to the trunk of a tree to keep from falling down into depths
unknown. But no one said anything about it.

And in the end, we got back safe--sore and tired and hungry; not
thirsty, however, for we had found a stream in the interminable dark of
the valley, and had all put our heads into it like brutes, the moment
our feet felt the welcome hollow and splashed into the water. The ladies
of the party had not a whole gown among them, and not very much else,
so shrewdly had the thorns and creepers of the close-knitted forest
squeezed and torn us. Still, we had got up where no white women had been
before, and we were all very proud, though we had to slink homeward in
the dark, avoiding the lights of the houses, and each slip in unobserved
at the back doors of our respective homes. But we had done the climb,
and------ “That was something,” as Hans Andersen would have said.

Picnics we had in plenty, while I stayed. Sometimes they were bathing
picnics, when the ladies of half a dozen houses went off to spend the
day down on the shore, and swim in the lagoon. The water, not more than
five feet deep in any place, was the colour of green grass when the sun
shines through, and it was as warm as an ordinary hot bath. One could
spend hour after hour amusing Oneself with swimming tricks, coming out
now and then to roast for a little on the hot, snow-white coral
sand, where bits and branches of coral pretty enough for a museum lay
scattered everywhere, and exquisite flowering creepers spread their long
green tails of leafage--often thirty or forty, feet in length, and all
starred with pink or yellow blossoms--right across the broad expanse of
the beach. Coming out finally, it was customary to find a big rock, and
stand-with one’s back against it till the wet bathing dress was half
dried with the blistering heat of the stone. This was supposed to
prevent chills. I think myself that one would have to hunt a chill very
hard indeed in the hot season in Raratonga, before catching it. It is
not a place where one hears of “chill” troubles, and there is no fever
of any kind. When you find a draught there, you tell every one else in
the house about it, and they come and sit in it with you. When you give
tea, to callers, it is correct to serve cold water on the tray to temper
the beverage, and put a spoon instead of a butter knife, in the butter

Nor does it cool down overmuch at night, in the hot months, though in
the “cold” ones, you may want a blanket now and then. The temperature
being so equable all round, chills are, naturally, not to be looked for
and feared at every turn, as in the great tropic continents, where there
is no surrounding sea to prevent rapid radiation of heat, and sudden
changes of temperature are frequent and deadly. On the whole, there is
much to be said in favour of the climate of the Southern Pacific, and
little against it. It enjoys a long cool season of at least six months,
when the heat is not at all oppressive. Three months of the year
are very hot and damp, and three neither hot nor cool. At worst, the
thermometer seldom goes above ninety in the shade. White children can
be brought up in the islands without injury to health, and many of the
older residents have spent the best part of a long life in the South
Seas, and attained to a venerable age, without ever suffering from
illness. The Government doctor in Raratonga leads an easy life on the
whole, and in the other islands of the Cook Group the entire absence of
medical advice seems to trouble no one.

A reefing picnic was among the many pleasant entertainments to which I
was invited during my stay. “Reefing” is such a favourite entertainment
in the islands that nearly every white woman has a reefing skirt and
shoes in her wardrobe--the former short, like a hockey skirt, the
latter stout and old. Buggies are gathered together in the town, and the
picnickers drive to a suitable spot some distance away, where the horses
are taken out and tethered, and the “reefers” secure a canoe to bring
them to their destination--the coral barrier reef, lying between the
lagoon and the sea.

Paddled by some of the native guests (for there are generally a few
Raratongans included in the party) the canoes glide easily over
the shallow water towards the reef, flights of the exquisite little
sapphire-coloured fish that haunt the coral rocks, scattering beneath
the keel like startled butterflies. Now the water is of the most vivid
and burning emerald, shooting green lightnings to the sun, now, as we
near the reef, it begins to change in colour, and-----


Why, the canoe is floating on a liquid rainbow--on a casket of jewels
melted down and poured into the burning sea--on glancing shades of
rose, and quivering gleams of violet, and gold and blue and amethyst and
chrysophrase, all trembling and melting one into another in marvels
of colouring that leave all language far behind. Under the keel, as we
shoot forward, rise and sink wonderful water-bouquets of purple, pink,
and pearl; great lacy fans of ivory; frilled and fluted fairy shells,
streamers of brilliant weed, and under and through all these wonders
glint, from far below, the dark blue depths of unplumbed caverns
beneath. It is the coral reef, and we are going to land upon a
spot exposed by the tide, and see what we can see of these wonders,
by-and-by. If we were bent on fishing, we might spend a pleasant hour or
two catching some of these peacock and parrot-coloured fish that flutter
through these wonderful water-gardens. But reefing proper is more
amusing, after all.

At a point where the coral juts out above the sea, we leave the canoe,
and start to walk about. It is very like trying to walk on a gigantic
petrified hair-brush. The coral is peaked and pointed, and wrought into
honeycombed sponges of stone, and there is nowhere for the foot to rest
in security. Besides, the reef is covered with sea urchins possessing
spines as long and sharp as a big slate-pencil, and these things pierce
through any but the stoutest shoes. The colours of the sea-urchins are
fascinating, and we pick up a good many, in spite of difficulties. Then
there are tiger shells, shiny and spotted, in hues of orange and brown,
and beautiful scarlet and pinky and lilac and chequered shells, and
the daintiest of goffered clam shells, pearl white within, ivory white
without, as large as a pea-pod, or as large as a vegetable dish--you
may take your choice. And, if you are lucky, there is a varnished brown
snail shell that you would not think worth picking up, if you did not
happen to know that it has a “peacock-eye” gem, good to set in brooches,
inside its plain little front door--like the homely brown toad of fable,
that carried a jewel in its head. Much other spoil there is to put
in your basket, and many things that you have no desire to possess at
all--among them the huge hanks of slimy black string, which are alive,
and wrigglesome, and not at all pleasant to put your hand on--and the
wicked-faced great eels that look suddenly out of holes, and vanish,
bubbling; and the revolting, leprous-spotted fish with the spiny back,
that one may chance to see lurking at the bottom of a pool, every spine
charged full of deadly poison for whoever touches it with unwary foot
or hand. Indeed, the friends who are with you will warn you not to put
your fingers into any pool, but to hook out shells and other spoil
with a stick, if you want to be really careful, for there, are as many
stinging and biting things among the beauties of the coral reef, as
there thorns in a bed of roses.

I have secured a good many shells, and a Reckitt’s blue star-fish as
big as a dinner-plate, and one or two other curiosities, and now I want,
above everything else, one of those miraculous coral bouquets that bloom
so temptingly just beneath the surface at this point. One of my friends
asks me which I will have--with a smile, that, somehow or other, seems
to amuse the rest. I select a pinky-violet one, and with some dragging
and pounding, it is detached, and held up in the sun.

“Oh!” I exclaim disappointedly, and every one laughs. The beautiful
bunch of coral flowers is a dirty liver-colour, and the magical hues are

“It’s the water that gives the colours,” explains the coral-gatherer.
“Every one is awfully disappointed about it.”

“Are there no colours at all, then?”

“Oh yes, a little shade of pinkiness, and a touch of green, and that
purply-brown. But you should see the corals when they are cleaned
and dried. You’d better have these, you won’t know them when they are
bleached; they’re like spider’s webs and lace furbelow things, all in

“Is there none of the real red stuff?” I ask somewhat ruefully,
balancing myself with difficulty upon a sort of ornamental sponge-basket
of spiky coral.

“Not here. All these volcanic islands have a ring of coral reef right
round, but the coral is always the white kind. There’s a very little red
coral in Samoa, and about Penrhyn, I believe. But, speaking generally,
it’s all white in the Pacific.”

I think of the dreams of my childhood, and the delightful pictures of
palmy islands circled round with a chevaux-de-frise of high spiky red
coral, which used to flit before my fancy on holiday afternoons. It is
true that the cold practicalities of the _Voyage of the Challenger_,
which somebody gave me in my “flapper” days, once and for all, to my
bitter disappointment, knocked the bottom out of those cherished schemes
of going away to live on something like a glorified coral necklace, some
day. But I wonder, as I get into the canoe again, and glide shorewards
and teawards, paddled by the swift brown arms of native girls, how many
grown-up people still hold to that delightful fancy, not knowing that it
is as impossible to realise as a dream of rambling in the moon?

Tea is preparing on the shore when we get back, very wet and dirty, but
very well pleased. The native girls among the guests immediately offer
us spare dresses. It is the mode among Raratongans to take two or three
dresses to a picnic, and retire every now and then into the bush to
change one smart muslin or cotton “Mother Hubbard” for another--just for
pure style. So there are plenty of clothes to spare, and in a minute or
two the damp, sea-weedy “reefers” are fitted out with flowing garments
of clean cambric and silk, of a mode certainly better adapted to the
climate than the fitted garments of the “papalangi.”

This question of dress is a burning one among island ladies. The native
loose robe, hung straight down from a yoke, is very much cooler, and
the doctors say, healthier, than belted and corseted dresses such as
European women wear. But there is nevertheless a strong feeling against
it, because it is supposed to mean a tendency to “go native,” and the
distinguishing customs of the race acquire, in the island world, a
significance quite out of proportion to their surface importance,
because of the greatness of the thing they represent. Therefore, the
white woman, unless she is suffering from bad health, and needs every
possible help to withstand the heat of the climate, sticks to her
blouses and corsets, as a rule, and sometimes “says things” about people
who do not. For all that, and all that, the native woman is in the
right, and if the other would agree to adopt the pretty, womanly, and
essentially graceful robe of the native, no one would be the loser, and
half of island humanity would be greatly the gainer.

Later, when the dusk is coming down, and the magic moon of the islands
is creeping, big and round and yellow-gold, out of a purple sea, we
drive home again through the scented gloom of the forest, the endless
song of the reef accompanying the voices of the native women, as they
chant strange island melodies of long ago, that no one in these days,
not even the singers themselves, can fully translate or understand. The
moon climbs quickly up as we drive, and the road is as light as day,
when our wheels roll into the sleeping town.


_The Simple Life in the South Seas--Servant Problems again--Foods and
Fruits of the Country--The Tree that digests--Home-made Vanilla--The
Invaluable Lime--How to cook a Turtle--In an Island Bungalow--The Little
House on the Coral Shore--Humours of Island Life--Burying a Cycle--A
Network of Names--Mr. Zebedee-Thunderstorm-Tin-Roof--The Night-dress
that went to Church--The Extraordinary Wedding--South Sea Musicians--A
Conductor’s Paradise--Society Journalism in Song._

HOUSEKEEPING in the South Sea Islands demands a section to itself. All
who are uninterested in such matters may, and doubtless will, begin to
skip at this point.

Nothing helps the white house-mistress more than the simple standard of
living set in most of the islands. It is true that if you are the wife
of an important official in the Government House entourage of Fiji, or
if you live in civilised, Americanised Honolulu, you will have to “do
things” much as they are done at home. But, with these two exceptions,
life in that enormous section of the globe known as the South Seas (much
of it, by the way,--is north of the Line) is simple and unpretentious.
In describing the home life of the white settlers in Raratonga,
I describe what is, with small local variations, the life of settlers
in almost every group of the Pacific, certainly, the life of all in the
eight different groups I visited myself, during the years I spent in the
South Seas. All over the island world, people dine in the middle of the
day, except when entertaining friends, keep few servants or none, and
dress and feed simply, because nothing else is possible. The trade
cottons in the stores form the material of every lady’s dresses, and
as for the making, common consent, not to speak of climatic conditions,
votes the simplest style the best. Where every stitch of sewing in dress
or blouse must be done by the person who is to wear the garment, it is
astonishing how soon one grows to regard elaborate tuckings, flouncings,
inlayings, with hostility, and how satisfied the eye becomes with the
simpler and less “fatigued” lines of the garments fashioned by women
who cannot hire a dressmaker for love or money. Evening dress is
almost always of the “blouse” description, and in a climate which works
universal mischief with delicate white skins, no matter how they are
protected, this is no matter for regret. Men buy their drill suits
ready-made from the trading stores at a few shillings apiece, and, with
a white dinner-jacket and black cummerbund, any one is ready for the
gayest of evening entertainments.

The great dress question--being thus resolved into the simple elements
of a few cotton frocks for every day, and a muslin or two for best,
behold! half the worry of modern life is lifted at a blow. “One must
look like other people”--the goad of the toiling townswoman--becomes
in the islands, “One looks like other people because one must,” and the
words are a lullaby of rest.

After dress, comes servants, in the list of small worries that turn
a woman’s fair locks grey, and swell the takings of the fashionable
hairdressers. Well, it cannot be said that there is no servant trouble
in the islands. White servants simply do not exist; they are far too
much in demand in America and Australasia to desert either of these
domestic paradises for the hotter and lonelier islands. Native girls
cannot be had either, since they marry at thirteen or thereabouts.
Native boys and men are the only resource. They come to work by the day,
and are fed in the house; their wages are generally about five shillings
weekly, in the case of a boy, and ten shillings for a man. So far as
they go, they are satisfactory enough; they work hard, and are extremely
honest, and they are amiability and good-nature itself. But their scope
is decidedly limited. They can garden, under direction; they can
sweep, fetch wood and water, clean the cooking-stove, husk and open the
cocoanuts, wash, peel and boil the vegetables, scrub the verandah floor,
clean the knives, wash up dishes, and whiten the shoes. That is about
all. The mistress of the house and her daughters, if she is lucky enough
to have any, must do all the serious cooking, make the beds, dust, tidy,
and lay the table for meals.

One cannot say, however, that health suffers from the necessity of doing
a certain amount of housework every day. On the contrary, the white
women of the islands are strong and handsome, and do not seem to suffer
from the heat nearly so much as the semi-invalid ladies who have come
to be regarded as the type of white womanhood in India, that paradise of
excellent service and servants.

Otherwise, the islands help out the housekeeper considerably. She can
grow as much excellent coffee as the family are likely to want, on a
few bushes in the back yard, and peppers only have to be pulled off the
nearest wild chili tree. Taro, yam, sweet potato, can be bought from
the natives for a trifle, or grown with very little trouble. There will
probably be enough breadfruit, mango, orange, lime, and mammee-apple in
the grounds of the house, to supply all the family needs, and if any
one likes chestnuts, they can be picked up under the huge maupei trees
along any road. The mammee-apple or paw-paw, mentioned above, is one of
the most characteristic fruits of the islands. In Raratonga, it grows
with extraordinary fertility, springing up of itself wherever scrub is
cleared away, and coming to maturity in a few months. It is a slender
palm-like tree, from ten to thirty feet high, with a quaintly scaled
trunk, very like the skin of some great serpent, and a crown of pointed,
pinnated leaves, raying out fanwise from the cluster of heavy green and
yellow fruit that hangs in the centre. The fruit itself is rather like
a small melon, though wider at one end than the other. It looks likes a
melon, too, when cut open, and is both refreshing and satisfying, with a
sweetish, musky flavour, The small, soft black seeds in the centre are
a sovereign cure for dyspepsia, as is also the fruit itself in a lesser
degree. The whole of this wonderful tree, indeed, seems to be possessed
of digestive powers, for the toughest fowl or piece of salt beef will
become tender in a few hours, if wrapped in its leaves. When boiled in
the green stage the fruit is undistinguishable from vegetable marrow,
and if cooked ripe, with a little lime juice, it can be made into a
mock apple pie, much appreciated by settlers in a land where the typical
British fruit cannot be grown.

Cooking bananas are much used, and grow wild on the lands of the
natives, who sell them for a trifle. Every house has its own patch of
eating bananas of many kinds, and orange-trees are almost sure to be
there as well. There is always a huge bunch of bananas, and two or three
great palm-leaf baskets of oranges, on the verandah of every house, and
the inmates consume them both in uncounted numbers all day. Pineapples
are easily raised in the little bit of garden, or they can be bought for
a penny a piece. A vanilla vine will probably spread its beautiful thick
leaves over the fence, and hang out, in due season, a store of pods for
flavouring use in the kitchens. Arrowroot may be grown or bought--a big
basket sells for sixpence, and it has no more to do with the arrowroot
of the grocer’s shop at home, than a real seal mantle worth three
figures has to do with a two guinea “electric”. Limes grow wild
everywhere, and the island housewife makes full use of them. They clean
her floors, her tables, her enamelled ware, stained table linen, or
marked clothing; they wash her hair delightfully, and take the sunburn
off her face and hands; they make the best of “long drinks,” and the
daintiest of cake flavouring, they are squeezed into every fruit salad,
and over every stew; they take the place of vinegar, if the island
stores run low; in truth, they are used for almost every purpose of
domestic cooking, cleaning, or chemistry.

Cabbage of an excellent kind grows wild in a few islands. Tomatoes,
small but excellent in flavour, are found on the borders of the
seashore, in many. Nearly all English vegetables are grown by the white
settlers with extremely little trouble. The egg-plant, known in England
as a greenhouse ornament, here thrives splendidly in gardens, and
instead of the little plum-like fruit of the British plant, produces a
great purple globe as big as a fine marrow, which resembles fried eggs
very closely, if sliced and cooked in a pan. But in truth there is no
limit to the richness and generosity of the island soil. Were it not
for the troublesome item of butcher’s meat, housekeeping in the
Pacific would be marvellously cheap and easy. That, however, is the
housekeeper’s bugbear. Outside of Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tahiti, the
Marquesas, and Honolulu, fresh beef is not be had at all, and fresh
mutton not often. In very many islands tinned meat and fowls are the
only resource; and the lady of the house must tax her ingenuity to the
utmost to find ways of disguising the inevitable “tin.” Curry, stew,
pie, mince; mince, pie, stew, curry--so runs the monotonous programme in
most houses; and disguise it as one may, the trail of the tin is over it

It is a great day in the islands when turtle are caught. They are not
common in the groups frequented by white people, since they prefer the
lonely, barren atolls where the soil is dry and infertile; but now and
then a “school” is found, and a big catch made. Then there is rejoicing
in the land, and cooking in every house of an uncommonly-liberal and
elaborate kind. The South Sea turtle are enormous, often weighing as
much as seven or eight hundred pounds, and occasionally touching the
thousand. Such a monster as this would easily feed a large household for
a week--but alas, in tropical climates fresh meat, even when scalded,
will not keep more than three days; so a good deal is usually wasted.
The famous turtle soup, is made from the flippers, which are full of
gelatine; and it may safely be assumed that no London aldermen fed on
dying creatures carried half across the world has ever tasted soup so
good as that made from a fine healthy turtle just out of the sea. The
grass-green fat of the upper shell is used to put in the soup, and to
fry the thick steaks of turtle beef, also to baste the big roast of
turtle meat that is generally a feature of a turtle dinner. The eggs (of
which there will probably be a large bucketful at least) are fried in
green fat, and eaten as they are, shell-less, crisp and golden, tasting
rather like roast chestnut. The tripe is cooked like ordinary tripe; the
liver is fried. An excellent dinner, but surely an indigestible one?
By no means. It is a curious property of this turtle meat that a much
larger quantity of it can be eaten than of any ordinary butcher’s meat,
without any sense of repletion or after ill effects. This is the great
dainty of the South Sea islands, and if to a turtle dinner be added
bisque soup made from mountain river crayfish, a real island fruit
salad, with lime juice and cocoanut cream, a freshly plucked pineapple,
a dish of mangoes, granadillas, and a cup of island-grown coffee, not
the Carlton or the Savoy could do better for a travelling prince.

All South Sea Island “white” houses are more or less alike, being
built of coral concrete (occasionally of wood) and fitted with imported
windows and doors. The verandah is the great feature of the building;
for there the family will probably spend most of their time, reading,
smoking, receiving callers, or simply lounging in long chairs and
listening to the monotonous singing of the natives in the thatched reed
houses near at hand. Splendid climbing plants wreathe the pillars
and sloping roofs of these verandahs--stephanotis, Bougainvillea,
and countless gay tropical flowers whose ugly Latin names only an
accomplished botanist could remember. Gardenias, gorgeous white trumpet
lilies, tall bushes of begonia; pink, yellow and scarlet hibiscus,
crimson poinsettia, delicate eucharis lilies, run riot about the
grounds, and orange and lemon flowers fill the air with an exquisite

Within, the high-pitched, deep, church-like roof rises above a range of
partition walls separating the different rooms, but giving a common air
supply to all, since the dividing walls are not more than ten or twelve
feet high. There are no secrets in an island house; what any one says at
one end can be heard at the other, and a light burning late in anybody’s
bedroom keeps all the rest awake. In the older houses the roof is of
“rau” or plaited pandanus thatch, of a soft brown tone, delightfully
cool and exceedingly picturesque. The rafters, in such a house, will
be almost black with age, and beautifully latticed and patterned with
finely plaited “sinnet” (cocoanut fibre). More modern houses have
corrugated iron roofs, generally painted red. The water supply from
these roofs is of some importance, and they are less expense and trouble
than the thatch; but the latter is incomparably the more picturesque,
and a good deal the cooler as well.

The floor is always covered with native matting (pandanus leaf, split
and plaited). This is of a pleasant tan colour in tone, and very cool
and clean. The furniture is generally basket and bamboo, with a native
“tappa” cloth (of which I shall have more to say later on) on the table.
There are sure to be groups of old native weapons on the walls--lances
and spears and clubs and arrows--and a few island fans, arranged in
trophies, and garlanded with chains of shells. On the steps of
the verandah one usually finds a fern or two, planted in big white
clam-shells off the reef, and there may be others in the drawing-room.’
A piano is a great luxury; the island climate is not kind to pianos.
Harmoniums are more common.

The bedrooms may have ordinary beds imported from Auckland, or they may
have (what is quite as good) native bedsteads made of ironwood, laced
across with sinnet, and covered with soft pandanus leaf mats, over which
the under sheet is laid. Unless it is the cool season there will not be
a blanket. Mosquito curtains, of course, protect each bed. All windows
and doors are wide open, day or night, hot season or cool.

The South Sea housekeeper has a few insect plagues to fight against,
but not nearly so many as her sister in India or Jamaica. The ants eat
everything that is not hung or covered up. Enormous hornets, in the cool
season, lurk about ceilings, bookcases and cupboards, sleepy, cross, and
ready to dart a fearful sting, if accidentally touched. Cockroaches are
destructive at all times. Fleas do not trouble much, and flies are only
annoying in a few islands. Mosquitoes are troublesome in the hot season,
but give little annoyance at other times. Centipedes and scorpions
exist, but are not common. They do come into houses occasionally, and
(being very poisonous, though not deadly) frighten the inmates quite as
much as the inmates undoubtedly frighten them. It is the rarest possible
thing, however, to hear of a European being bitten.

Education is not an unsolvable problem in the islands, since quite a
large number of groups possess convent schools, where even such extras
as music, languages, and fancy needlework can be taught.

On the whole, the difficulties of housekeeping are somewhat less than at
home, and the cost certainly much smaller. It is true that a good
many tinned stuffs are used, and tinned food is always dear; but the
cheapness of everything that the soil produces makes up that difference,
and the simple standard of living swings the balance still further to
the right side. I am of opinion myself that white families would benefit
both in comfort and in pocket by adopting the native style of house,
which is, as already mentioned, a structure of small neat sticks or
poles set very closely and strongly, but not filled in. The roof is
always thatched. In such a house, the air circulates freely without any
draught, and there is a pleasant, diffused light during the daytime.
At night, when native houses are more or less transparent, the
privacy-loving white can draw thin cotton curtains across his walls
until the lights are put out.

One such house, built for and used by white people, was conspicuous for
the simple beauty of the design. The interior was very plainly furnished
with a few bamboo tables and chairs, and a light stretcher bed or two.
Its curtains were of printed muslin from the store, and its floor was
nothing but white coral sand brought from the beach. The house stood
sheltered, by tall palms, and the sea was so near that all day one could
watch the soft sparkle of the creaming surf through the half-transparent
walls, and all night long one slept to the matchless lullaby of the
humming reef.

_(Windows blurred with beating mud, grey London roaring by in the
rain; haggard faces, and murky summer, and the snake of custom clipping
stranglingly about the free man’s throat--O Island wanderer, back in the
weary North, does your sea-bird’s heart fly swift from these to those,
and-sicken for the lands where you must go no more?)_


Raratonga is full of funny things, if one knows where to look for them.
One would not suppose that the tombs of the natives were a likely spot.
Yet I would defy the most serious of graveyard moralisers to count
over the list of things that the Raratongan buries in the tombs of his
departed relatives, without feeling his seriousness badly shaken. Little
household ornaments belonging to the deceased are pathetic, certainly;
so, in a lesser degree, are the Sunday clothes that often accompany
their wearer on the long journey. But what is one to say of bicycles,
Japanned bedsteads, and even pianos? All these things have been buried
by Raratongans in the big concreted tombs that crop up sociably along
the edges of the public road every here and there. The piano, I must
add, was dug up again, by order of an indignant missionary, who gave the
disconsolate mourners a good lecture on heathenistic practices, and the
necessity of drawing the line somewhere.

Native names are sometimes exceedingly funny to the perverted white
mind, although to the owners they may be dignified, poetic, and even
beautiful. One young coffee-coloured lady of my acquaintance had
been named (in Raratongan) “Cup-of-Tea.” Another was
“Box-with-a-Hole-in-It”--another “Tin-of-Meat.” I should suppose, from
my knowledge of their religious training, that each of these ladies
possessed a godly scripture name of her own, properly bestowed on her
at her proper baptism. But in the Cook Islands, the name a native
is christened by, and the name he or she goes by, are almost always
distinct, which is certainly confusing. Worse confusion still is caused
by the odd habit of changing these commonly accepted names on any
great occasion that seems to need special commemoration. The natives
themselves never seem to become puzzled over all these name-changes,
but so much can hardly be said of the whites. It is, at the least,
perplexing to employ a gardener called Zebedee by the missionaries,
Thunderstorm by his friends, and Tin Roof by his relatives--like the
notable character in _The Hunting of the Snark_,

               Whose intimate friends called him Candle-Ends,

               And his enemies Toasted Cheese.

But it is even worse to be informed--some day, when you go to look after
Zebedee-Thunderstorm-Tin Roof down in the village, and ask why he has
not turned up to weed your pineapples--that his name isn’t any of the
three, but “Barbed Wire,” because he has just finished putting up a
fence of barbed wire round the grave of his boy who died last year, and
has resolved to call himself henceforth, “Barbed Wire,” in memory of his

Native notions about European clothes often provide a feast of fun for
the whites, who set the copies in dress.

When a lace-trimmed garment of mine, usually reserved for private wear
under the shades of night and the shelter of a quilt and sheet, went to
Sunday morning church as a best dress in full daylight, on the person of
the laundress who had been entrusted with my clothes for the wash, the
funny side of the affair was so much the more conspicuous, that the
borrower never got the reproof she certainly ought to have had. And
when a certain flower toque, made of poppies (a blossom unknown to
the Pacific) first drove the women of the island half-distracted
with excitement, and then led to thirty-six native ladies appearing
simultaneously at a dance in Makea’s grounds, wearing most excellent
copies of my Paris model, done in double scarlet hibiscus from the bush,
the natural outrage to my feelings (which every woman who has ever
owned a “model” will understand) was quite swallowed up in the intense
amusement that the incident caused to everybody on the grounds.

I was unfortunate enough to be away on the island schooner when a great
wedding took place--the nuptials of one of the queen’s nieces--and so
missed the finest display of native dress and custom that had
occurred during the whole year. The bride, I heard, wore fourteen silk
dresses--not all at once, but one after the other, changing her dress
again and again during the reception that followed the wedding ceremony
in the mission church, until she almost made the white spectators giddy.

The presents were “numerous and costly” from the guests to the bride,
and from the bride to the guests, for it is Raratongan custom to give
presents to the people who come to your wedding; a fashion that would
considerably alleviate the lot of the weary wedding guest, if only it
could be introduced over here. The gifts for the bride were carried
in by the givers, and flung down in a heap one by one, each being duly
announced by the person making the present, who showed no false modesty
in describing his contribution. “Here’s twenty yards of the most
beautiful print for Mata (the bride), from Erri Puno!” “Here’s three
baskets of arrowroot, the best you ever saw, for Mata, from Taoua.”

“Here’s eighteen-pence for Mata and Tamueli, from Ruru,” flinging the
coins loudly into a china plate. So the procession went on, until the
gifts were all bestowed, the bride meanwhile standing behind a kind of
counter, and rapidly handing out rolls of stuff, tins of food, ribbons,
gimcracks of various kinds, to her guests as they passed by. When all is
added up, the amusement seems to be about all that any one really clears
out of the whole proceeding.

The Cook Islanders are among the most musical of Pacific races. They
have no musical instruments, unless “trade” mouth-organs, accordions,
and jew’s harps may be classed as such, but they need none, in their
choral singing, which is indescribably grand and impressive. Here as
elsewhere in the islands, one traces distinctly the influence of the two
dominant sounds of the island world--the low droning of the reef, and
the high soft murmur of the trade wind in the palms. The boom of the
breakers finds a marvellously close echo in the splendid volume of
the men’s voices, which are bass for the most part, and very much more
powerful and sonorous than anything one hears in the country of the
“superior” race. The women’s voices are somewhat shrill, but they sound
well enough as one usually hears them, wandering wildly in and out of
the massive harmonies of the basses.

A Philharmonic conductor from the isles of the North would surely think
himself in heaven, if suddenly transported to these southern isles of
melody and song. The Pacific native is born with harmony in his throat,
and time in his very pulses. It is as natural to him to sing as to
breathe; and he simply cannot go out of time if he tries. Solo singing
does not attract him at all; music is above all things a social
function, in his opinion, and if he can get a few others--or better
still, a few score others--to sit down with him on the ground, and begin
a chorus, he is happy for hours, and so are they.

To the Pacific traveller, this endless chanting is as much a part of the
island atmosphere as the palms and the reef and the snowy coral strand
themselves. One comes, in time, to notice it hardly more than the
choral song of beating breaker and long trade wind, to which it is so
wonderfully akin. But at the first, wonder is continually awakened
by the incomparable volume of the voices, and the curious booming
sound--like the echo that follows the striking of some gigantic
bell--which characterises the bass register of island men’s singing. The
swing and entrain of the whole performance are intoxicating--the chorus,
be it ten or a thousand voices, sweeps onward as resistlessly as a
cataract, and the beat of the measure is like the pulse of Father Time
himself. There are several parts as a rule, but they wander in and out
of one another at will, and every now and then a single voice will break
away, and embroider a little improvisation upon the melody that is like
a sudden scatter of spray from the crest of a rolling breaker. Then
the chorus takes it up and answers it, and the whole mass of the voices
hurls itself upon the tune like the breaker falling and bursting upon
the shore.

It is very wonderful, and very lovely; yet there are times--at one in
the morning, let us say, when the moon has crept round from one side of
the mosquito curtain to the other since one lay down, and the bats have
finished quarrelling and gone home, and the comparative chill of the
small hours is frosting the great green flags of the bananas outside
the window with glimmering dew--when the white traveller, musical or
unmusical, may turn over on an uneasy couch, and curse the native love
of melody, wondering the while if the people in the little brown houses
down the road ever sleep at all?

What are the subjects of the songs? That is more than the natives
themselves can tell you, very often, and certainly much more than a
wandering traveller, here to-day, and gone next month, could say. Many
of the chants are traditional, so old that the customs they refer to are
not half remembered, and full of words that have passed out of use. A
good number now-a-days are religious, consisting of hymns and psalms
taught by the missionaries, and improved on, as to harmony and setting,
by the native. The island love of choral singing must be an immense
assistance to the church services, since it turns these latter into
a treat, instead of a mere duty, and the native can never get enough
church, so long as there is plenty of singing for him to do. Some of the
secular songs are understood to refer to the deeds of ancestors; some
are amatory; some--and those the most easily understood by white people
who know the native languages--are in the nature of a kind of society
journal, recording the important events of the last few days, and making
comments, often of a very free nature, on friends and enemies, and the
white people of the island. Most of these latter are not good enough
scholars to understand the chants, even if they can talk a little
native, which is just as well, when oratorios of this kind are to be
heard every evening among the “rau” roofed huts:

          “Big-Nose who lives in the white house has got a new

                   suit of clothes.”

          Chorus. “A new suit of clothes, a new suit, suit, suit of


          “Big-Nose cannot fasten the coat, he is so fat, ai! ai,

                   fat like a pig fit for killing!”

          Chorus. “Ai, Ai! a pig for killing, like a pig for killing,

                   Big-Nose is like a pig fit for killing!”

          “Big-Nose had a quarrel with his wife to-day, a quarrel,

               a great quarrel, Big-Nose drank wisiki, much wisiki.”

          (All together, excitedly.) “A quarrel, a great quarrel,

               much wisiki Big-Nose drank, Big-Nose!”

          “The wife of Big-Nose of the white house has long hair,

               though she is very old, long hair that came to her in

               a box by the sitima (steamer)!”

          Chorus. “Long hair, long hair, long hair, in a box on the

               steamer. A box on the steamer, on the steamer,

               long hair for the wife of Big-Nose who lives in the

               white house.”

A resident who really understood the natives and their music once or
twice translated choruses for me that were quite as personal as the
above. I have never since then wondered, as I used to wonder, where on
earth the merry peasants of opera, with their extraordinary knowledge
of the principals’ affairs, and their tireless energy in singing about
them, were originally sketched.

(Scholars will probably trace a resemblance to the Greek chorus here. I
leave it to them to work out the wherefore, which makes me giddy even
to think of, considering the geographical elements involved in the

But now enough of Raratonga, for the schooner _Duchess_ is waiting
to carry me away to the other islands of the group, and, after many
thousands of miles travelled by steamer upon “all the seas of all the
world,” I am at last to learn what going to sea really is.


_The Schooner at last--White Wings versus Black Funnels--Not according
to Clark Russell--The Marvellous White Woman--The Song of the Surf--Why
not?--Delightful Aitutaki--Into an Atoll--A Night in the House of
a Chieftainess--The Scarlet Devil--Nothing to wear--How to tickle a
Shark--The Fairy Islets--A Chance for Robinson Crusoe._

THE schooner _Duchess_ was in at last.

                   Of their bones are coral made.

We were almost growing anxious about her in Raratonga--almost, not
quite; for after all, she was only a fortnight overdue, and that is not
much for an island schooner, even when she is run by white officers.
When the easy-going native runs her, no one ever knows when she will
leave any port, and no one would venture to predict that she will ever
arrive at all. There are generally a good many native-owned schooners
about the South Eastern Pacific, but, though all the numbers keep up,
the identity varies, and if you return after a few years and ask for the
ships you used to know, the answer will be, I have not space to tell you
here of the native schooner that started from one of the Cook Islands,
not so very long ago, to visit another island less than two hundred
miles away, but, because of the wild and weird navigation of her owners,
went instead to somewhere over a thousand miles off; toured half the
Pacific; stayed away six months; and finally came back to her own little
island by a happy chance, without ever having reached the place she set
out for after all. But it has a good deal of local colour in it.

The _Duchess_, however, was not a native schooner, being owned by
whites, and run by a British captain, mate, and boatswain, assisted
by eight island seamen. There was, therefore, a reasonable prospect
of getting somewhere, sometime, if I travelled in her; so I took my
passage, and, for the first time, literally “sailed away”--to see the
outer islands of the Cook Group, and later on, solitary Savage Island,
Penrhyn, Malden, Rakahanga, and Manahiki.

For more than four months afterwards, with a single break, the little
_Duchess_ of 175 tons was my home. Little she seemed at first, but
before long she assumed the proportions of quite a majestic vessel.
There was no schooner in those waters that could touch her, either
for speed, size, or (alas!) for pitching and rolling, in any and every
weather. Her ninety-five foot masts made a brave show, when clothed with
shining canvas; her white hull, with its scarlet encircling band,
and the sun-coloured copper glimmering at the water-line, stood out
splendidly on the blazing blue of the great Pacific. “A three-masted
topsail schooner” was her official designation. The unofficial names she
was called in a calm, when the great Pacific swell brought out her full
rolling powers, are best left unreported.

I cannot honestly advise the elderly round-the-world-tourist, doing
the Pacific in orthodox style, to desert steam for sail, and try the
experience of voyaging “off the track” among the islands never visited
by liners. But the true traveller, who wanders for the joy of wandering,
and is not afraid or unwilling to “rough it” a good deal, will find a
sailing trip in the Pacific among the most fascinating of experiences.
Beyond the radius of the belching funnel a great peace reigns; an
absence of time, a pleasant carelessness about all the weighty and
tiresome things that may be happening outside the magic circle of still
blue ocean. There is no “let-her-slide” spirit in the whole world to
compare with that which blossoms spontaneously on the sun-white decks of
a Pacific schooner.

Looking back upon all the island boats that I have known, I may say
that there was not so much discipline among the lot as would have run a
single cross-channel boat at home, that every one was satisfied if
the officers refrained from “jamborees” between ports; if some one was
sometimes at the wheel, and if the native crew knew enough of the ropes
to work the ship reasonably well, in the intervals of line-fishing and
chorus-singing. And in one and all, whatever might happen to passengers,
cargo, ship, or crew, “take things as they come,” was the grand general

* * * * *

“This is your cabin,” said the cheerful little pirate of a captain. He
was celebrated as the “hardest case” in the South Pacific, and looked
not quite unworthy of his reputation, though he was dressed as if for
Bond Street in the afternoon, and mannered (on that occasion) as if for
an evening party.

What I wanted to say, was “Good God!” What I did say was: “Oh, really!
very nice indeed.” For I saw at once that I must lie, and it seemed as
well to obtain the fullest possible advantage from the sin. There was no
use mincing words, or morals, in such a case.

The cabin had a floor exactly the size of my smallest flat box, which
filled it so neatly that I had to stand on the lid all the time I was in
my room. It had a bunk about as large as a tight fit in coffins, and a
small parrot-perch at one side, which was not meant for parrots, but for
me, to perch on, if I wanted to lace my boots without committing suicide
when the ship was rolling. On the perch stood a tin basin, to do duty as
a washstand. There was a biscuit-tin full of water underneath.

This was all that the cabin contained, except smells. The latter,
however, crowded it to its fullest capacity. It had some mysterious
communication with the hold, which perfumed it strongly with the
oppressive, oily stench of ancient copra, and it had also a small door
leading into the companion that went down to the engine-hole (one
could not call it a room), in which lived the tiny oil engine that was
supposed to start instantaneously, and work us out of danger, in case of
any sudden need. (I say supposed, because---- But that comes after.)

This engine-hole had a smell of its own, a good deal stronger than the
engine (but that is not saying much)--compounded of dirt, bilge-water,
and benzolene. The smell joined in a sort of chorus with the copra odour
of the hold, and both were picked out and accentuated by a sharp note of
cockroach. It was the most symphonic odour that I had ever encountered.
As for the port, that, I saw, would be screwed down most of the time
owing to the position of the cabin, low down on the main deck.

“Very nice,” I repeated, smiling a smile of which I am proud to this
day. “Such a dear little cabin!”

“I’m glad you like it,” said the captain, evidently relieved. “You see,
there’s four Government officials coming round this trip, and that takes
our only other cabin. I chucked the bo’sun out of this; he’s sleeping
anywhere. Anything else you’d like?” he continued, looking at the
biscuit-tin and the shiny basin with so much satisfaction that I guessed
at once they were a startling novelty--the bo’sun having probably
performed his toilet on deck. “We don’t have lady passengers on these
trips as we aren’t a Union liner exactly, but we’re always ready to do
what we can to please every one.”

“I want first of all a new mattress, and sheets that haven’t been washed
in salt water, and then I want some air and light, and thirty or forty
cubic feet more space, and I think, a new cabin, and I’m almost sure,
another ship,” I said to myself. Aloud I added: “Nothing whatever, thank
you; it is charming,” and then I went in and shut the door, and sat
down on my bunk, and said things, that would not have passed muster in a
Sunday-School, for quite ten minutes.

What I had expected I don’t know. Something in the Clark Russell line,
I fear--a sparkling little sea-parlour, smelling of rope and brine,
looking out on a deck “as white as a peeled almond,” and fitted with
stern windows that overhung half the horizon. It was borne in upon me,
as I sat there among the smells and ants and beetles, that I was in for
something as un-Clark-Russelly as possible. “Well,” I thought, “it will
at least be all the newer. And there is certainly no getting out of it.”

So we spread our white wings, and fluttered away like a great
sea-butterfly, from underneath the green and purple peaks of Raratonga,
far out on the wide Pacific. And thereupon, because the rollers rolled,
and the ship was small, I went into my cabin, and for two days, like
the heroine of an Early Victorian romance, “closed my eyes, and knew no

On the third day I was better, and in the afternoon Mitiaro, one of the
outer Cook Islands, rose on the horizon. By three o’clock our boat had
landed us--the official party, the captain, and myself--on a beach
of foam-white coral sand, crowded with laughing, excited natives,
all intensely eager to see the “wahiné papa,” or foreign woman. White
men--traders, missionaries, the Resident Commissioner of the group--had
visited the island now and again, but never a white woman before; and
though many had been away and seen such wonders, more had not.

The officials went away to hold a court of justice; the captain and
myself, before we had walked half across the beach, being captured by
an excited band of jolly brown men and women, all in their Sunday
best shirts and pareos, and long trailing gowns. They seized us by our
elbows, and literally ran us up to the house of the principal chief,
singing triumphantly. Along the neatest of coral sand paths we went,
among groves of palm and banana, up to a real native house, built with
a high “rau” roof, and airy birdcage walls. About half the island was
collected here, drinking cocoanuts, eating bananas, staring, talking,
laughing. In spite of their excitement, however, they were exceedingly
courteous, offering me the best seat in the house--a real European
chair, used as a sort of throne by the chief himself--fanning myself
and my guide industriously as we sat, pressing everything eatable in
the house on us, and doing their best, bare-footed brown savages as they
were, to make us enjoy our visit.

All islanders are not courteous and considerate, but the huge majority
certainly are. You shall look many a day and many a week among the
sea-countries of the Pacific, before you meet with as much rudeness,
selfishness, or unkindness, as you may meet any day without looking at
all, on any railway platform of any town of civilised white England. And
not from one end of the South Seas to the other, shall you hear anything
like the harsh, loud, unmusical voice of the dominant race, in a
native mouth. Soft and gentle always is the island speech, musical and
kind--the speech of a race that knows neither hurry nor greed, and for
whom the days are long and sweet, and “always afternoon.”

When we went out to see the island, it was at the head of a gay
procession of men, women, and children, singing ceaselessly, in loud
metallic chants and choruses. Shy of the strange white apparition at
first, the women grew bolder by degrees, and hung long necklaces of
flowers and leaves and scented berries round my neck. They took my hat
away, and returned it covered with feathery reva-reva plumes, made from
the inner crown of the palm-tree. They produced a native dancing kilt,
like a little crinoline, made of arrowroot fibre, dyed pink, and tied it
round my waist, over my tailor skirt, explaining the while (through the
captain, who interpreted), that the knot of the girdle was fastened in
such a way as to cast a spell on me, and that I should inevitably be
obliged to return to the island. (It is perhaps worthy of note that I
did, though at the time of my first visit there seemed no chance of the
ship calling again.) Decked out after this fashion, I had a _suces_; on
my return to the schooner, and was greeted with howls of delight on the
part of my fellow-passengers, who had managed to escape adornment, being
less of a novelty. It was of course impossible to remove the ornaments
without offending the givers.

More houses, and more hosts, standing like Lewis Carroll’s crocodile
on their thresholds, to welcome me in “with gently smiling jaws.” We
visited till we were tired of visiting, and then strolled about the
town. Cool, fresh, and clean are the houses of little Mitiaro, dotted
about its three miles’ length. Their high deep-gabled roofs of plaited
pandanus leaf keep out the heat of the staring sun; through their walls
of smoothed and fitted canes the sea-wind blows and the green lagoon
gleams dimly: the snowy coral pebbles that carpet all the floor reflect
a softly pleasant light into the dusk, unwindowed dwelling. Outside, the
palm-trees rustle endlessly, and the surf sings on the reef the long,
low, perilous sweet song of the dreamy South Sea world--the song that
has lured so many away into these lonely coral lands, to remember
their Northern loves and homes no more--the song that, once heard, will
whisper through the inmost chambers of the heart, across the years, and
across the world till death.

Yet--why not?

Why not? The thought followed me as ceaselessly as the trampling of the
surf (now, in the open, loud and triumphant, like the galloping of a
victorious army) while I wandered over the little island, up and down
the coral sand paths that led through groves of feathery ironwood,
through quaintly regular, low, rich green shrubberies, starred with pale
pink blossoms among wild grey pinnacles of fantastic rock, clothed in
trailing vines--always towards the open sky and the limitless blue sea.
Why not? In England, even yet,

                   We are not cotton-spinners all,

nor are we all old, blood-chilled by the frost of conventionality, dyed
ingrain with the conviction that there is nothing but vagabondage and
ne’er-do-well-ism away from the ring of the professions, or an office
desk in the E.C. district. For the young and adventurous, the South Seas
hold as fair prospects as any other semi-civilised portion of the globe.
For those who have seen and have lived, and are wearied to death of the
life and cities and competition, the island world offers remoteness,
beauty, rest, and peace, unmatched in the round of the swinging
earth. And to all alike it offers that most savoury morsel of life’s
banquet--freedom. Freedom and a biscuit taste better to many a
young Anglo-Saxon than stalled ox seasoned with the bitter herbs of
dependence; but the one is always at hand, and the other very far away.

Well, the gulf can be spanned; but he who cannot do the spanning, and
must long and dream unsatisfied all his life, had best take comfort:
it had not been for his good. The Islands are for the man of resource;
again, of resource; and once more, of resource. Look among the lowest
huts of the lowest quarters that cling to towns in the big islands, and
there, gone native, and lost to his race, you shall find the man who was
an excellent fellow--once--but who in emergency or difficulty, “didn’t
know what to do.”

If there is a lesson in the above, he who needs it will find it.


Mitiaro is the island, already referred to, where dried bananas are
prepared. The natives make up their fruit in this way for market,
because steamers never call, and sailing vessels only come at long and
irregular intervals. A very small quantity goes down in this way to
Auckland, and I heard, in a general way, that there were supposed to
be one or two other islands here and there about the Pacific, where the
same trade was carried on. One cannot, however, buy preserved bananas in
the colonies, unless by a special chance, so the purchasing public knows
nothing of them, and is unaware what it misses. In the opinion of most
who have tried them, the fruit, dried and compressed in the Mitiaro
way, is superior to dried figs. It is not only a substitute for fresh
bananas, but a dainty in itself. The whaling ships pick up an occasional
consignment in out-of-the-way places, and are therefore familiar with
them, but one never sees them on a steamer. There may be useful hints,
for intending settlers, in these stray facts.

We lay over-night at Mitiaro, and got off in the morning. Aitutaki was
our next place of call, and we reached it in about a day. It is, next
to Raratonga, the most important island of the group, possessing a large
mission station, a Government agent, and a post-office. It enjoys a
call once a month from the Union steamer, and is therefore a much more
sophisticated place than Mitiaro. In size, it is inferior to Raratonga
and Atiu, being only seven square miles in extent. Its population is
officially returned as 1,170. These are almost all natives, the white
population including only the Government agent, two or three
missionaries, and a couple of traders.

[Illustration: 0185]

It is bright morning when we make Aitutaki, and the sea is so vividly
blue, as we push off in the boat, that I wonder my fingers do not come
out sapphire-coloured when I dip them in. And I think, as the eight
brown arms pull us vigorously shoreward, that no one in the temperate
climes knows, or ever can know, what these sea-colours of the tropics
are like, because the North has no words that express them. How, indeed,
should it have?

We are rowing, as fast as we can go, towards a great white ruffle of
foam ruled like a line across the blue, blue sea. Inside this line
there lies, to all appearance, an immense raised plain of green jade or
aquamarine, with a palmy, plumy island, cinctured by a pearly beach, far
away in the middle. Other islands, smaller and farther away, stand
out upon the surface of this strange green circle here and there, all
enclosed within the magic ring of tumbling foam, more than five miles
across, that sets them apart from the wide blue sea. It is only a lagoon
of atoll formation, but it looks like a piece of enamelled jewel-work,
done by the hand of some ocean giant, so great that the huge sea-serpent
itself should be only a bracelet for his arm. The raised appearance of
the lagoon is one of the strangest things I have yet seen, though it is
merely an optical delusion, created by contrast in colour.

We are fortunate, too, in seeing what every one does not see--a distinct
green shade in the few white clouds that overhang the surface of the
lagoon. Here in Aitutaki a great part of the sky is sometimes coloured
green by the reflections from the water, and it is a sight worth

Through an opening in the reef we enter--the boatmen pulling hard
against the outward rush of the tide, which runs here like a cataract at
times--and glide easily across the mile or so of shallow water that
lies between us and the shore. One or two splendid whale-boats pass
us, manned by native crews, and the other passengers tell me that these
boats are all made by the Aitutakians themselves, who are excellent

There is a very decent little wharf to land on, and of course, the
usual excited, decorated crowd to receive us, and follow us about. I
am getting quite used now to going round at the head of a continual
procession, to being hung over with chains of flowers and berries,
and ceaselessly fed with bananas and cocoanuts, so the crowd does not
interfere with my enjoyment of the new island. We are going to stop a
day or two here, and there will be time to see everything.

When you sleep as a rule in a bunk possessing every attribute of a
coffin (except the restfulness which one is led to expect in a bed of
that nature), you do not require much pressing to accept an invitation
to “dine and sleep” on shore. Tau Ariki (which means Chieftainess, or
Countess, or Duchess, Tau) lives in Aitutaki, and she had met me in
Raratonga, so she sent me a hearty invitation to spend the night at her
house, and I accepted it.

Tau is not by any means as great a personage as Makea, or even as great
as Tinomana, the lesser queen. She is an Ariki all the same, however,
and owns a good deal of land in Aitutaki. Also, she is gloriously
married to a white ex-schooner mate, who can teach even the Aitutakians
something about boat-building, and she is travelled and finished, having
been a trip to Auckland--the ambition of every Cook Islander. So Tau
Ariki is a person of importance in her own small circle, and was
allowed by the natives of the town to have the undoubted first right to
entertain the white woman.

Tau’s house, in the middle of the rambling, jungly, green street of the
little town, proved to be a wooden bungalow with a verandah and a tin
roof, very ugly, but very fine to native eyes. There were tables and
chairs in the “parlour”; and the inevitable boiled fowl that takes the
place of the fatted calf, in Pacific cookery, was served up on a china
plate. A rich woman, Tau, and one who knew how the “tangata papa” (white
folk) should be entertained!

She gave me a bedroom all to myself, with a smile that showed complete
understanding of the foolish fads of the “wahiné papa.” It had a large
“imported” glass window, giving on the main street of the town, and
offering, through its lack of blinds, such a fine, free show for the
interested populace, that I was obliged to go to bed in the dark. There
was a real bed in the room, covered with a patchwork quilt of a unique
and striking design, representing a very realistic scarlet devil some
four feet long. It seemed to me the kind of quilt that would need a good
conscience and a blameless record, on the part of the sleeper reposing
under it. To wake in the middle of the night unexpectedly, with the
moonlight streaming in, forget for the moment where you were, and,
looking round to find a landmark, drop your startled eyes upon that
scarlet fiend, sprawling all over your chest---- Well, I had a good
conscience, or none--I do not know which--so I felt the red devil would
not disturb my slumbers, and he did not.

[Illustration: 0191]

There was nothing else in the room, except a new, gold-laced, steamship
officer’s cap, whereto there seemed neither history nor owner, reposing
on the pillow. If there was any mystery about the cap, I never knew it.

I put it out on the windowsill, and a hen laid an egg in it next
morning, and no doubt the hen lived happily ever after, and I hope the
officer did, and that is all. It seems pathetic, but I do not know why.

There was nothing to wash in, but Tau knew her manners, and was quite
aware that I might have a prejudice against sitting in a washing-tub
on either the front or the back verandah, to have buckets emptied on my
head in the morning. So she made haste to leave a kerosene tin full of
water, before going to her camphorwood chest, and extracting a pink silk
dress trimmed with yellow lace, for me to sleep in.

“I’m afraid that won’t do; it’s too--too good to sleep in,” I remarked.

“Nothing too good for you, you too much good self!” was the amiable

“But I could not sleep in it, Tau. There’s--there’s too much of it,” I
objected, not knowing how to word my refusal without impoliteness.

“All right,” commented my hostess, throwing a glance at the purple gloom
of the torrid hot-season night outside. “He plenty hot. I get you pareo,
all same mine.” And she disinterred a brief cotton kilt of red and
yellow, considerably smaller than a Highlander’s.

“That’s too little,” objected the exacting guest, rather to poor Tau’s
perplexity. How was one to please such a visitor? At last, however,
after refusing a figured muslin robe that was as transparent as a
dancing-robe of classic Ionia (there are other analogies between those
robes, if one might go into the subject; but I fear the British public
must not be told about them), and a pink shirt belonging to the white
husband, a neat cotton day gown was discovered, offered, and accepted,
and peace reigned once more in the exceedingly public guest-chamber of
Tau Ariki’s house.

Concerning quilts, by the way, one may here add a short note. Patchwork
is the delight of the Cook Island women, and has been so, ever since
that absorbing pastime was first introduced to them by the missionaries’
wives. They are extremely clever at it, and often invent their own
patterns. Sometimes, however, they copy any startling device that
they may chance to see--the more original, the better. A really good
patchwork quilt is considered a possession of great value, and (one is
sorry to say) often preferred to the fine, beautifully hand-woven mats
in which the islanders used to excel. They still make mats in large
numbers, but the patchwork quilt has spoilt their taste for the finer
mats, and these latter are getting scarce.

In the morning, shark-catching was the order of the day. Aitutaki is
celebrated for this sport all over Australasia, and I was very glad to
get a chance of joining in it. One does not catch sharks, in Aitutaki,
after the usual island fashion, which is much like the way familiar to
all sea-faring folk--hook and line, and a lump of bad pork, and tow the
monster to the shore when you have got him. No, there is something more
exciting in store for the visitor-who goes a-fishing in Aitutaki lagoon.
The water is very shallow for the most part, and heats up quickly with
the sun, especially when the day is dead calm, and there is not a ripple
to break the force of the rays. By noon, the lagoon is unbearably warm
in all the shallow parts, and the sharks which inhabit it in large
numbers, begin to feel uncomfortable. Some of them make for the opening
in the reef, and get out into the cooler sea beyond. Others, one will
suppose, are lazy, and do not want to be troubled to swim so far. So
they head for the coral patches here and there, and lie on the sand in
the shelter of the rocks, their bodies thrust as far into the clefts
and crannies of the coral as they can manage to get. This is the
Aitutakian’s opportunity. He is perfectly fearless in the water, and he
knows that the shark is, after all, a stupid brute. So he arms himself
with a knife, takes a strong rope, noosed in a slip-knot at one end,
in his hand, and dives from his whale-boat into the warm green water,
where he has marked the latter end of a shark sticking out from a patch
of coral, some three or four fathoms underneath the surface.

The shark, being head in, does not see anything, but by-and-by he
becomes aware of a delicate tickling all along his massive ribs, and
as he rather likes this, he stays-quite still, and enjoys it. It is the
Aitutakian, tickling him as boys tickle a trout in a stream at home, and
for exactly the same reason. He has got the noose in his left hand,
and his aim is to slip it over the shark’s tail, while he distracts the
brute’s attention by pleasantly tickling with the other hand. Perhaps he
manages this at the first attempt--perhaps he is obliged to rise to the
surface, and take a breath of air, going down again to have a second
try. But, in any case, he is pretty sure to get the noose on before
the shark suspects anything. Once that is accomplished, he rises to the
surface like a shooting air-bubble, swings himself into the boat, and
gives the order to “haul in!”

The men in the boat lay hold of the rope, tighten with a sharp jerk, and
tail on. Now the shark begins to realise that something has happened;
and realises it still more fully in another minute or two, when he finds
himself fighting for his life on the gunwale of a rocking boat, against
half a dozen islanders armed with knives and axes. The battle is short
the great brute is soon disabled by a smashing blow on the tail, and in
another hour or two the village is feeding fat on his meat, and his fins
are drying in the sun, to be sold to the trader by-and-by, for export to
China. No dinner-party in China is complete without a dish of daintily
dressed shark’s fins, and a good proportion of the supply comes from the

This is shark-fishing, as practised in Aitutaki. But I was not destined
to see it at its best, for the day turned out breezy, and there was such
a ripple, upon the water that the natives declared the sharks would be
extremely difficult to see or capture. Nevertheless, the captain and
I decided to go, as there was a chance, though a faint one. We hired a
boat, and took with us, as well as the rowers, Oki, a diver of renown.
If Oki could not raise a shark for us, it was certain that no one could.

The captain of the missionary steamer _John Williams_ had told me about
the fishing some weeks before, and added that he had seen a shark caught
himself, and tried to photograph it, but the photo was not a success,
because, as he put it, “the shark moved!”

This story wandered about in my mind as we shot across the lagoon to the
fishing grounds, and the boat began to look uncomfortably small. “What
does the shark do when you get it in the boat?” I inquired rather

“Makes the devil of a row, and the devil of a mess,” said our own
captain cheerfully. “But don’t you mind him. Let sharks alone, and
they’ll let you alone; that’s always been my experience.”

Conscious that I was never unkind to animals, not even tigers or sharks,
I tried to feel at ease. But I did not quite succeed, until we got to
the coral beds, and Oki put everything else out of my head by going head
first overboard, and starting out among the rocks below (it was calmer
here, and we could see him pretty plainly) to look for a shark.

His thin brown body showed up shadowy and wavering, upon the sands
at the bottom, as he glided like a fish all along the patch of reef,
inspecting every cave or crack where a shark might hide. He did not
seem to be incommoded in the least by the three or four fathoms of
water above him, but moved about as quietly and easily as if he had been
swimming on the surface. I felt sure he must be at the point of death,
as the seconds flew by, and he still glided in and out of the rocks
with nothing but the gleam of his white pareo to show his whereabouts,
whenever he slipped into the shadow of one of the many clefts in which a
shark might lie hidden. But Oki knew very well what he was about, and he
did not seem at all exhausted when he shot to the surface again, after
rather more than two minutes’ absence, and told us gloomily that “No
shark stop!”

We tried again, and again. Oki took the slip knot down with him every
time and every time he brought it up in his hand, unused. Melancholy,
deep and silent, settled upon the boat. But at last the luck changed;
our diver came up, and announced with a smile, that there was a shark
down there, very far into the coral, and if he could only reach the
animal’s tail, it would be all right.

One of the boatmen at this went to help him, and together they swam down
to the bottom, and began fumbling interminably in the shadow. It was
clear that they were making every effort to tempt the shark out, for
one could see Oki straining wildly with his arm in the cleft, “tickling”
 industriously, while the other hovered head downwards outside, trailing
the noose like a loop of seaweed in his hand. But all proved vain.
Exhausted, the men rose at last, and gave it up. The shark was too far
in, they said, and the noose could not be got on. If we remembered, they
had told us it was not a good day, and they hoped we thought enough had
been done. As for themselves, they were very tired doing our pleasure,
and their lungs were sore, but they thought some plug tobacco--the
black, sticky kind, and a good deal of it--would set them all right

This was outside the letter of the agreement, which had included a good
price for the boat and nothing else; but we promised some tobacco, when
the stores should be reached, and asked for some more particulars about
the fishing.

“Do you ever find the shark head out, instead of tail out?” I queried.

“Yes, sometime he come head out,” said Oki, reversing a green cocoanut
on his nose, and swallowing in great gulps.

I waited till he had finished before I asked: “What happens then?”

“Shark he fight, and we fight too,” said Oki simply.

“And which wins?”

“All the time the Aitutaki boy he win, but sometime the shark he win
too,” was the cryptic reply.


Shark fins, I was told, sell for about six shillings a pound. Some of
the traders in the islands further north, where sharks are abundant,
make a good deal of money taking the fish on a hook and line, and drying
the fins for sale. It should be a fairly profitable industry, as the
fins of a medium shark appear to weigh a good deal--not less than three
or four pounds, at a guess.

It was on my second visit to Aitutaki that I went out to the lesser
islands of the lagoon; but the tale of that expedition may well come

These islets are of various sizes, from a mere rock with a couple of
palms on it, to a fertile piece of land over a mile long, richly grown
and wooded. They all lie within the great lagoon, and are therefore
sheltered by a natural breakwater of the reef from the violence of the
storms that occur in the rainy season. The nearest is about three miles
from the mainland. All are quite uninhabited, and no particular value is
set on them by anybody. They belong to the various chief families of the
big island, but any one who wished to rent one in perpetuity (the New
Zealand Government laws, which rule here, do not permit outright sale)
could probably secure it for a few pounds a year.

I was anxious to see them, for it seemed to me that islands suited to
the realisation of Robinson Crusoe dreams could hardly be found the wide
Pacific over. A desolate isle five hundred miles from anywhere, sounds
well in a story, but the romance of such a spot is apt to wear very thin
indeed after a few months, if one may believe the experiences of those
who have tried it. Practical details are seldom considered by would-be
Crusoes; they have, however, a knack of thrusting themselves into the
foreground just when retreat is impossible. If you elect to live on a
remote island, how are you going to keep up communication with the outer
world? You will want at least a few commodities of civilisation from
time to time, and they cannot swim across half the great South Seas,
from Auckland or ’Frisco, up to your front verandah unaided. You will
want mails, newspapers, and letters, unless haply you are a criminal
flying from the near neighbourhood of the black cap and the drop--and
how are these to come? Trading schooners will not call at your island
unless you have plenty of cargo for them, and even then, you may not see
them twice a year. Steamers, of course, you must not expect. If you keep
a small vessel of your own, you must be thoroughly sea-trained to run
and navigate her, and you will need to bring a few island men to your
kingdom as crew, and they will want to go home again, and make trouble,
and finally run off with your ship some dark night, and maroon you there
for good. No, the “desert” island idea is best left to the shelves of
the school library.

But at Aitutaki, and in some similar collections of atoll islands
Robinson Crusoe’s way is made easy and pleasant--or so it seemed to me,
crossing the lagoon that afternoon on my way to the islets that were
lying waste and uninhabited out on its broad expanse. From three to five
miles away from the mainland, these islets are sufficiently isolated
for any one who has not quarrelled with the whole human race. There is a
steamer once a month, at the little pier near the settlement. There are
one or two stores on the main island, where common provisions, cotton
stuffs, spades, and knives, and such simple things, can be purchased.
The lagoon is usually so calm that a native canoe would serve all
ordinary needs of communication, for any one living on an islet. A house
could be built in a few days, of the native type: and a good concrete
bungalow could be put up with native help, in a very few weeks. Why
should any one want to live in such a spot? Well, it is not necessary to
argue out that question, because I have found by experience that quite
a remarkable number of people do. It was for those people that I crossed
the lagoon that day, and I know I shall have their thanks.

A whale-boat and a crew were necessary for the trip. I engaged both in
the village, and went down to the wharf followed by a “tail” of
seven stalwart islanders, dressed in white and crimson pareos, berry
necklaces, and a curiously representative collection of steamship caps
and jerseys. The Aitutakian is an inveterate traveller, and all these
men had been away in a steamer somewhere as deck hands--or else their
friends had, and they had begged a steamer cap and jersey or two here
and there: it was all the same to them. The P. & O.--the Union S.S.
Co. of New Zealand--the Shaw, Savill, and Albion--the Orient--Burns
Philp--were all represented (so far as caps and jerseys went) by my
boat’s crew, and very well pleased with themselves and their poached
attire they evidently were.

Provisions had to be purchased, they declared, as we should not be back
before afternoon. So into the big store the whole party went to see me
victual the ship. I bought biscuits and meat, exactly half what they
asked, and they were so uplifted with joy at the amount of the supplies
that they sang all the way down to the boat; and, once in it, treated
me to an exhibition of rowing, the like of which I never expect to see
again. The Aitutaki man is the smartest boatman, and the best hand with
an oar, in the Southern Pacific. Never a man-of-war comes round the Cook
group that her men do not try conclusions with the Aitutakians, and
if report speaks truth, the result is not always flattering to British
pride. Nor is this astonishing, to any one who has seen these islanders
row. We had six miles of a pull, and every inch was against a strong
head wind, and through a decidedly choppy sea. Yet, in spite of these
handicaps, the men rowed the whole way at racing pace, oars springing,
spray flying, the great whale-boat tearing through the water as though
a mortal enemy were in pursuit. The coxswain, in the stern, kept slyly
urging the rowers on to let the foreign woman see what they could do,
and they pulled “all out”--or what looked extremely like it--from start
to finish. I do not think any white crew that ever held an oar could
have lived with that splendid six-mile rush. And when we neared the
first island and gradually slacked speed, there was not one among those
seven mighty chests that heaved faster than at the start. Truly, I
thought, they had earned their picnic.

But the islets! If Raratonga was the realisation of a childish dream,
this was the embodiment of a vision of fairyland. There can surely be
nothing on earth more lovely than the islet constellation enclosed by
Aitutaki reef. The water, shallow, sun-jewelled, and spread out over
a bed of spotless coral sand, is coloured with a brilliance that is
simply incredible. Emerald and jade and sapphire--yes, one expects
these, in the hues of tropic seas. But when it comes to whole tracts of
glancing heliotrope and hyacinth, shot with unnamable shades of melted
turquoise and silver, and all a-quiver with pulsations of flashing
greens, for which there is no name in any language under the pallid
northern or burning southern sun--then, the thing becomes indescribable,
and one can only say:

“There is something in that little corner of earth beyond the touch
of words, so you will never know anything about it, unless you too go
there, and see it for yourself. And when you have seen, you will come
away burning to describe, as I was--but you will not be able.”

In the midst of this magical sea, rise the islets themselves--fairyland
every one. Their little beaches are sparkling white, as only a coral
beach can be; palm-trees, heavyheaded with their loads of huge green
nuts, cluster thick along the shores; coral-trees drop their blood-red
flowers into the glass-like water of the lagoon; ripe oranges swing
their glowing lamps among the darker green of the woods that rise
behind. Big white clams with goffered shells, each holding meat enough
for one man’s dinner, gleam along the edges of the shore; large,
long-legged crabs wander rustling and rattling among the stones. The
murmur of the barrier reef is very far away; its thin white line of foam
gleams out a long way off, under a low horizon, sky shot strangely with
lilac blue--a lonely, lovely, exquisite place, the like of which one
might seek the world all over, and never find again.

We landed on the sand, and I set about exploring, while the men knocked
down cocoanuts, and squatted in the shade to drink them, and suck fresh
oranges. The island on which we had landed was one of the smaller ones,
not more than an acre or two in extent. It rose to a high point in the
centre, and was so thickly wooded all over, that I could hardly make my
way through. There was no sign of life or habitation, and the ripe fruit
was everywhere rotting on the ground.

I pictured the little islet with a high brown roof peeping out among its
palms, a neatly kept pathway cut through the bush, and a snug boathouse
on the shore, covering a fine whaleboat, while a graceful native canoe
lay on the sand, ready for any one to lift down into the water at any
minute. I wonder, will the picture ever body itself out in real, for
some tired-out soul, weary of cities and competition, or some pair of
lovers, who find the world well lost in each other, here among the far
islands of the sweet Southern Seas? I shall never know, for the
“sea-bird’s feather” was in the pillow on which I slept my first baby
sleep, and I wander always on. But it may be that these words will be
read by some to whom they are, or shall be, a part of fife’s own

We did not get to the other islands that day, partly because I wasted so
much time looking for shells, and partly because the largest were still
some miles away, and the wind was stronger than ever. One, I heard,
had ground enough for a paying plantation, and was already fairly well
supplied with cocoanuts. All are perfectly healthy and free from fevers
of any kind, and though mosquitoes are present in rather large numbers,
careful clearing of their breeding grounds would in time drive them


In case author, or publishers, should be inundated with inquiries about
South Sea Islands, it may be as well to say that all over the Pacific,
the Governors, Commissioners, and Resident Agents of the various groups
are always ready to furnish information to honest inquirers.


_Jumping a Coral Reef--The Great Wall of the Makatea--Makaia’s Wonderful
Staircases--A Clothing Club of the Pacific--Cool Costumes in Atiu--The
Lands that lie waste--Mystery of a Vanished Tribe--Fashions in
Hair-Dressing--The Sign-Language of the Sex--Invited to a Feast._

MANGAIA, where we next stopped, proved quite an exciting place. You
cannot land upon Mangaia in the ordinary way: the reef that surrounds it
is unbroken, and girdles the whole island in a fortress moat of its own.
The only way to land is to get into one of the numberless native canoes
that crowd about the ship, and let the copper-coloured owner take you
over the reef in his own way, which is the determined and decisive way
of a steeplechaser at a fence. It is most excellent fun and a new thing
in sensations. As the little dug-out--made of nothing more elaborate
than a hollowed mango log, with an outrigger at one side--rushes
shoreward on the crest of a foaming roller, you watch with rather
anxious interest the movements of the dusky boatman, who poises his
paddle in the air, waits, looks, and strikes the water, always at
exactly the right moment--usually when you are just beginning to think
of kicking off your shoes.

There is the reef right in front, a pearly shadow in the blue, with
up-springing spears of ivory, bared like the teeth of a tiger, when the
wave rolls back. Are we going to jump that? We are indeed. The boatman
lifts his paddle--we sweep upwards on the sloping blue satin neck of a
curling wave. No no, that will not do--not this time. He backs water--we
hang on the crest of the wave--but we are not going to be drowned, or
snapped up by the sharks that haunt the reefs, because the boatman is
a born islander, and what he does not know about canoeing over a reef,
neither you nor I need attempt to teach him. Another wave, a monster
this time, swinging us up into the air as if we were a couple of
grasshoppers out paddling in a walnut shell. That will do: here she
goes! The wave roars with us; the wicked white fangs gleam on either
hand: our rough thick keel scrapes agonisingly on the coral, and there
is a smother of foam and tumbling blue and bursting green all about the
cranky little craft. Bump! we have struck--we strike again, but it does
not seem to matter in the least: over we go, and we are in the smooth,
safe, shallow green water inside, and across the reef. And here are a
dozen men of Mangaia, splashing’ about in the lagoon, ready to pick up
the visitor in their powerful arms as soon as the canoe grounds in the
shallow* water, and carry her ashore.

That is how one lands on Mangaia.

[Illustration: 0209]

This island is of a good size, being some thirty mile» in circumference.
Its formation is very notable, being indeed rather celebrated among
geologists. It is supposed to be of volcanic origin, like most of the
“high” islands. From the sea, it looks much like any other place of
the same size. But, going inland, one is astonished to find that a mere
strip of land close round the coast terminates the ground available for
walking on. A high irregular cliff wall, from fifty to a hundred feet in
height, encloses the whole interior of the island, which thus resembles
in shape a very large cup set on a very small saucer. Within the cup lie
all fertile lands, the taro beds, the yam fields, the pineapple patches,
the tangled bush, where cotton used to be grown in the days of the
American war, the low green shrubberies that produce the finest
coffee in the Cook Islands. To reach them, there is only one way--that
furnished by a really wonderful rocky staircase, built in prehistoric
times by the ancestors of the present natives. If one were to find such
a work in any other of the Cook Islands one might regard it as proof
positive of the existence of an older and more industrious race, in the
days before the New Zealand Maori took possession of these lands, and
grew effeminate and idle in the occupying.

But the people of Mangaia, though identical in descent with incurably
indolent and sensual Aitutakians and Raratongans, have been moulded by
their environment to a degree that amounts to an actual difference in
character. The barrier reef has always prevented the free communication
enjoyed by other islands, so that they were able to develop along their
own lines of character, without modification from outside. With an
island that possessed only a limited amount of fertile land, a matchless
fortress in the interior, and a complete barrier about the exterior, it
was a foregone conclusion that the Mangaians should become inhospitable,
reserved, and hard-working, as compared with the prodigally generous
and idle folk of the open and fertile islands. They did so. In the
days before the missions, some sixty years ago, the Mangaians were the
fiercest cannibals in the group, and determinedly hostile to strangers:
nor were they ever as pleasure-loving as the other Cook Islanders.
To-day they are harder in character than the folk of the other islands;
kindly to strangers, but hardly gushing in their reception of them,
and so much more industrious than the Aitutakians or Raratongans that
Mangaian men are sought as servants all over the group.

There is, therefore, no difficulty in understanding how the people of
Mangaia found energy and time to construct the staircases that span the
great wall of “Makatea,” enclosing the inner part of the island. Being
obliged day after day to climb with infinite pains the sharp rocky
heights of the cliff, in order to get from the fishing grounds to the
plantations, they would certainly not be long in devising some means of
lessening this inconvenience. The staircases which are the result
must have taken many years and much labour in constructing, and it is
difficult to understand how a people unacquainted with the use of any
mechanical contrivance could have placed so many large blocks of
stone in the positions which they occupy. The steps are very high and
irregular, and on an extremely torrid afternoon it is not exactly the
walk one would choose for pure enjoyment. However, our time in Mangaia
was short, so I explained to a native girl that I wanted to see
the Makatea, and she at once called up half the village to join the

Attended, therefore, by my young guide and the inevitable following, I
went up the mighty stairs, and across the tract of level land lying at
the top. It is nearly a mile before one comes upon the cup-like valley
in the centre of the island, so it must be allowed that the rim of the
cup is a thick one. After a pleasant walk through groves of cocoanut and
guava, we came upon the inner side of the wall, and stood on the edge
of a great grey circular cliff, spiked, spired, and towered with
extraordinary eccentricity, and splendidly garlanded with falling
masses of sea-green creeper. At one point, a huge split in the rock
had evidently provided a foundation for the second staircase, which was
rougher than the first, made of great blocks of stone irregularly laid
here and there so as to fill up the split in part, and give a foothold
to the climber. Still, it was a big piece of work, and must have taken
a good many years--generations, perhaps--to complete. Down in the valley
below, which seemed to be two or three miles across, were all the native
plantations and gardens, and as we jumped down from block to block,
we met hard-faced muscular women toiling upwards with heavy loads of
vegetables and fruit. In the taro fields, terraced so as to let a little
stream trickle through and create an artificial swamp, the workers
seemed to be women only. They dug and scraped in the thick mud under the
burning sun, leaving off their tasks long enough to stare and question
a little, and then setting stolidly to work again. The men were probably
out fishing or pigeon shooting. In spite of Christianity, the island
woman always carries the heavy end of the load, where there is one
to carry; the man is the hunter, the woman the labourer and beast of
burden, as in the cannibal times of long ago.

There are some remarkable caves in the island, and I went into them for
a mile or so, in company with the local missionary, who kindly offered
to act as guide.

Caves, however--as most people will allow--are much alike in all parts
of the earth, and there is nothing to differentiate the long, dark,
dripping passages, half-glimpsed halls, gloomy crevasses, and dimly
sparkling stalactite candelabra of a South Sea Island cave, from those
of a cave near Brighton or the Land’s End. There is no need, therefore,
to describe the caves of Mangaia further than to say that they were
quite up to the usual pattern, and that at all events, they gave a touch
of “Swiss Family Robinson” to the island atmosphere that was pleasing to
the imagination.

It had, of course, nothing to do with Mangaia, but I wondered as we
walked back from the caves towards the top of Makatea, how it was that
the interesting shipwrecked people who live in caves as described in
fiction, never seem to be troubled with damp? I have, personally, never
seen a cave--out of a book--that was not first cousin to a showerbath,
and I should be surprised if any One else had. Who ever saw a genuine
cave roof that was not covered with stalactites, large or small? and
what makes stalactites but endless drip? If I were a shipwrecked person,
I should certainly prefer the temporary house the “useful” character
always puts up in half an hour with the aid of four growing trees and
the ship’s mainsail, to the cave that is invariably discovered in
the second chapter. I should know for certain that the former was the
driest--even when it rained.

I cannot leave the subject of the strange Makatea, without telling yet a
little more about it, for it has not often been described or mentioned.
Geologists say that it is the product of a double volcanic upheaval. The
first convulsion threw up the island itself, and, in the course of ages,
the usual encircling reef of coral was built up round it by the busy
coral insects, working under the water. Then came a second upheaval, and
the island and reef together were cast up two hundred feet. The Makatea
is thus the ancient reef that once surrounded the original small island
which is represented by a crown of heights in the middle of the cup of
the crater, and by the sunk-down valley about it. The narrow strip of
land that edges the beach to-day is a later formation.

One cannot mistake the character of the great coral cliff, which is
quite unlike any kind of stone, or indeed anything but itself. The
passing ages have turned it to rock, but to rock which is hollowed in
every direction with caves, small and great, and filled with fossil
shells as a pudding is filled with plums. No unprotected foot can tread
the surface of these heights, which are simply a mass of serried grey
spears, sharp and cruel as the top of a wall protected by broken glass.
The natives, if convenience leads them to cross any part of the Makatea
other than the staircases, usually protect their feet with thick sandals
of woven coir fastened on with cords. One can imagine how much this
peculiar protection must have added to the safety of the interior of the
island, in the old predatory days.

The caves were often used for burying places in time gone by, and it is
only a few years since a “find” of skulls of a type differing in several
particulars from those of the present day, was made in one of the
largest caves by a schooner captain. Rumour says that he sold them for a
good price, but the purchasers were not known.

Another use of the coral caves in the old days (over fifty years ago)
was a shelter for fugitives of various kinds. The Mangaians were not a
pleasant people, in those times, either to strangers or each other.
The outsider was cooked and eaten for the mere offence of presuming to
exist. The Mangaian was never sure that some one who had a spite against
him would not murder him--probably by poison, in the use of which
these people were as expert as the Borgias themselves. Under these
circumstances, the caves were never without their occupants, living in
secret, and creeping out at night to pick up a little food. Many and
romantic are the stories told by the missionaries and traders of these
stirring times, if I had space to relate them.

Mangaia is a beautiful island, but that goes without saying, in the
exquisite Cook Group. It has about half a dozen white people, and the
native population is said to number something under two thousand.

Though a pleasant island and a healthy one, it cannot be recommended
to planters, as there is not an inch of land available for rent. The
natives themselves are keen traders and bargainers, and export much
of their fruit and copra direct to Auckland. Most of what they make is
spent in trade-finery, for which they have an uncontrollable passion.
On Sundays, the churches are a very flower-garden of frippery, the men
turning out in the most brilliant of shirts, ties, and suits, the women
decking themselves in long loose robes of muslin, sateen, or cheap silk,
coloured in the most screaming hues--pea-green, royal blue, scarlet, and
orange being all strong favourites. Their hats, made by themselves out
of silky arrowroot fibre, are often trimmed with the costliest ribbons
and artificial flowers, and even with ostrich plumes to the value of
two or three pounds. It is somewhat puzzling, I was told, to see several
entire families got up in the same extraordinary style, unless you know
the reason, which is, that these various households have joined together
in a club, putting all the money they have made into one purse, and
sending it down to Auckland on their own account for a bale of gorgeous
clothing, all alike. Thus you will see twenty or thirty women, on a
Sunday morning, dressed alike in robes of vermilion satinette, and
wearing huge hats, crowned by three ostrich feathers, red, yellow, and
blue, arranged after the fashion of the Prince of Wales’s crest.

This is one of the clubs, and there are sure to be others that vie with
them in startling attire. Such are the weaknesses--after all, venial
ones indeed--of the sturdy-souled Mangaian.

Atiu was our next stop, and here the reef-jumping process had to be
repeated in another form. The ship’s whale-boat, steered by our captain,
who was the cleverest hand at the big sixteen-foot steer-oar of any
white man I have ever seen, approached the edge of the reef, and danced
about in front of it, until the passengers found an opportunity of
leaping out on to it. Then, rather wetfooted (but no one minded that, in
a temperature like the hot room of a Turkish bath) we were picked up
by natives waiting on the shallow side, and carried through the lagoon,
which was not more than a foot or two deep.

[Illustration: 0217]

On landing, we found a number of the men standing on the shore ready to
receive the Commissioner. They had been fishing, and were clad simply
and coolly in a rag and a feather apiece--the latter worn in the hair,
over one ear. Their dress, however, did not seem to embarrass them
at all, and they came forward and shook hands with every one,’ quite
politely. All the Cook islanders are supposed to be Christianised and
civilised, but in some parts of the group the civilisation, at all
events, seems to be wearing very thin, and this is notably the case
in Atiu, an island rather larger than Raratonga, which has no resident
missionary, save a very conceited and upsetting young native teacher.
The Atiuans were of old a wilder and fiercer race than even the
Mangaians, and such determined cannibals that they used to make raids on
the surrounding islands for the simple purpose of filling their cooking
ovens, and enjoying a mighty feast. Great war canoes, laden with gory
corpses, have many a time been’ drawn up on the very stretch of sand
where we landed, and the grandfathers of the men who greeted us have
sung and danced in fierce exultation to see the fat limbs and well-fed
bodies of their enemies laid in ghastly heaps upon the snowy beach,
ready for the cooking pits that since early morning had been glowing
with flame in anticipation of the banquet.

“Meek-faced Atiuans” was the nickname bestowed upon these islanders, in
derision, by those who knew their wiliness and treachery. There is not
much that is meekfaced about them to-day. They certainly look rougher
and less amiable than any others of the Cook Islanders, and they are by
no means so amiable and easy-going as the Raratongans, Aitutakians, and
people of Mitiaro and Mauke. However, it cannot be said that they are
in any way dangerous, and the stray white people who have lived in the
island (there was only one at the time of my visit) have always got on
well with them. Rough, as I said before, they certainly are. A ring I
wore on my hand attracted the attention of one or two of the men,
and they crowded round, fingered it, and actually tried to snatch--an
attempt very shortly put an end to by the Commissioner, who ordered them
off peremptorily. The incident, although small, illustrates a standard
of manners that one would certainly not encounter in any other part
of the group, or indeed in any one of the Southern or Eastern Pacific
groups that I afterwards saw.

There was a good deal of native-manufactured lime-juice to be got away
here, and the people (most of them more completely dressed than the
party that had received us on the shore) were busy rolling down the
casks into the water, where the out-going tide took them, and floated
them across the reef to the schooner. It seemed a strange way of taking
on cargo, but I learned, afterwards, that it is not uncommon in islands
surrounded by a dangerous reef.

[Illustration: 0225]

The walk up to the settlement proved to be a good three miles, Atiu
being one of the very few islands whose natives do not live down on the
shore. The scenery was fine--wide rich plains covered with low scrub, or
clothed with thick herbage, alternating with heavy forest. There is no
better soil in the islands than that of Atiu. Guavas are a common weed;
pumpkins run wild, trailing their long green vines and heavy fruit
right across the track, mangoes, chestnuts, Pacific cherries, and othér
fruits, grow without care or cultivation. Any tropical product can
be raised, and land is exceedingly cheap. The reef has always been a
handicap to the island; but I heard that a part had been blown up to
admit of a boat passage, some time after my visit, also that the Union
steamers had begun to call for cargoes--an important event in the
history of any island, and one likely to do much for its future.

The people are few in number--only nine hundred--and do not attempt to
use more than a very small portion of the thirty-two square miles of
their territory. Much is available for letting, and every inch of the
island is worth cultivating, although to a stranger’s eye it is hardly
as fertile in appearance as other portions of the Cook Group that are
much less valuable. Coffee, copra, oranges, bananas, sweet potatoes,
could be profitably grown for export. The climate is good and healthy.

The people have not dwindled down to their present small numbers through
natural decay. Like another more famous island, Atiu is “swarming with
absentees.” In the Society Islands, and here and there in other groups,
whole villages full of Atiuans are to-day to be seen, who emigrated from
their native country twenty or thirty years ago, owing to difficulties
with the missionaries, and went to seek an asylum in lands where
strings were drawn somewhat less tightly than they were at home. They
never returned, though the island, when I saw it, had no resident white
missionary at all, and in consequence their lands have lain idle ever
since. The ill wind has blown good to planters and settlers, however, so
one need not quarrel with it.

Like Mangaia, Atiu has a cave--only a much larger one, and it has a
mystery connected with the cave, which no one has yet attempted to

Sixty years ago or more (I was told--I do not swear to the truth of
this or any other island story that I have not had the opportunity of
investigating in person), an invading tribe came to Atiu, and in the
course of several battles, defeated and put to rout one of the lesser
tribes of the island. The vanquished ones, fearing that they would be
killed and eaten, plucked up courage to try a desperate expedient, and
hid themselves in the cave, into whose dark recesses no native had ever
before ventured, for fear of offending the evil spirits that were said
to live therein. After waiting for a day or two, the enemies gave up the
contest, and went away again. It was now safe for the hunted tribe to
come forth, and the other inhabitants of the island looked to see them
return--for after all, it did not seem likely that the evil spirits
would destroy so many. They waited in vain. From the unknown depths of
the cave--unknown, in its innermost recesses, to the present day--no
sign, no message reached them; no living soul ever came forth of the
many men, women, and children who had braved the dangers of that dark
portal. Lost they were, lost they remained.

What happened to them? No one knows. It is not easy to destroy a whole
tribe, and leave no sign. But the one white man who partly explored the
cave some years ago, found nothing to hint at the nature of the tragedy.
It is true that his candles gave out, and the cord that served him for
a guide back among the endless windings of the place came to an end,
so that he never knew quite how far the place went, or how many
ramifications it had. Still, it is strange enough that not so much as a
single human bone was to be seen. If the tribe had lost their way, and
perished of hunger, some traces would certainly have been visible--a
spear, a shell ornament, perhaps a skeleton. If they had fallen in a
body over some treacherous inner precipice, the dangerous place would
have been discoverable. Perhaps some new explorer will unravel the
mystery, one of these days. It will not be a steamer passenger, however,
for the Union boats on their rare calls do not stay long enough for any
one to land, and the cave requires two clear days to reach and see.

As we were not even stopping overnight ourselves, I had no opportunity
of making an exploration on my own account. Thus the mystery rests
unsolved--unless some one may have come to the island in a stray trading
schooner since my visit, and found time enough to explore the unknown
parts of the haunted cavern. The natives of Atiu, needless to say, put
down the whole thing simply and solely to the revenge of the “local

The people of the settlement, when we reached it, greeted our party
with boisterous cheerfulness. The officials went to hold their court, as
usual, and I, being as usual quite uninterested in the details of native
boundary disputes conducted in an unknown tongue, amused myself with the
women of the village. It might be more correct to say that they amused
themselves with me. I do not think any white woman had been up to the
settlement before I visited it, and the curiosity of the girls was
uncontrollable. They crowded round me, they slyly felt my hair to see
if the coils were attached to my head in Nature’s own way (by which I
conclude that the wearing of false hair is not unknown to themselves),
they rubbed my dress material in their fingers, they poked me all over
to see if I was real, and conducted such searching investigations into
the quantity and style of my clothing, that I was obliged to speak to
one or two as sharply as I knew how (the tongue was alien, but the tone
was understood) and make them desist. Withal, they were not ill-natured,
though certainly a little ill-mannered. They did not forget the duties
of hospitality, but pressed fruit and cocoanut water on me, and one
woman insisted on giving me a bottle full of honey to take away--a gift
that was much appreciated by my fellow-passengers on the schooner, later

I gratified them extremely by loosening the hair of one or two, and
putting it up in the latest fashionable style, which proved so popular
that the whole feminine half of the island set to hair-dressing at once,
and before I left the island that day, a general and complete revolution
in coiffure had taken place. We had a good deal of feminine talk among
ourselves, before the men came out again: the fact that I did not know
anything of the language, save perhaps half a dozen words, was no bar to
a certain amount of thought-interchange. How was it done? Signs, for the
most part: scraps, guesses, hints, stray native words made to do double
and treble duty. Could I have talked to the husbands and brothers of
the women in the same way? No, certainly not. All through my wanderings
among the uncivilised folk of the island world, I was constantly
interested and amused to see how quick the women were in the language of
signs and makeshifts, how very uncomprehending the men. If I wanted to
make a request of any kind, on an island where I did not know any of the
language, I instinctively sought for a woman to interpret my signs for a
boat, a guide, a trader’s or missionary’s house, and so forth; and found
that the women understood, almost as surely as the men, under the same
circumstances, did not. Psychologists may make what they like of the
fact. Women, who have talked the “sign-language” to each other, many
and many a time, over the innocent thick heads of their unsuspecting
better-halves, friends, or brothers, will never doubt it. We are not as
clever as men--let the equality brigade shriek if they like, “it’s as
true as turnips is, as true as taxes”--but neither are we as stupid. God

I had practically the whole day to put in somehow, so, after the
delights of hair-dressing had palled, and the afternoon was passing on,
I accepted the invitation of a cheerful, though rather rough-looking
pair of girls, whom I found crushing limes for lime juice in a very
primitive sort of hand press, and followed them in to dinner in one of
the native houses.

There was a distinguished guest to be entertained--a woman of Atiu who
had been away from the island with her husband for many months, and had
now returned in the _Duchess_, quite civilised and chic and modern, with
the up-to-dateness of far-away Auckland. This celebrity, regarded as a
very Isabella Bird among the island women, scarce any of whom had ever
seen the other side of their own reef, was seated on the mats when I
entered, her legs folded under her, native fashion; not without evident
discomfort, for the heels of very high-heeled, pointed boots are painful
under such circumstances, and corsets laced to bursting point are
absolutely deadly. Ritia’s dark face was ominously empurpled, and
perspiration due as much to agony as to the heat (which was undeniable)
streamed over her forehead and down, her nose, from under the brim of
her incredible picture hat. But pride upheld her, for who among the
other women of the island owned such magnificent clothes?

The people of the house received me with exultation. Now, the feast
was indeed a gorgeous one, and the sea-green envy sure to be the lot of
every housewife in settlement with whom I had not dined, shed additional
lustre on the triumph. The food was just coming in as I entered and
folded myself up on the mats--roast sucking-pig, smelling very good;
a fat boiled fowl; some fish from the lagoon, baked like the pig in a
ground oven, and done to a turn; arrowroot jelly; young green cocoanuts,
with the meat still unset, clinging to the thin shell like transparent
blanc-mange; breadfruit, smoking and floury; baked pumpkins; bananas,
roasted in their skins; sweet potatoes; chestnuts. A large cocoanut,
picked at the right stage for drinking, stood at each guest’s right
hand, and in the middle was a big bowl of milky cocoanut cream, into
which each guest was supposed to dip his food as he ate.

Plates there were none, but I have never thought clean, fresh, green
leaves, a foot or two across, unpleasant substitutes for delf or china,
which is handled and used by hundreds of eaters, and must be washed in
greasy hot water at the end of every meal. There is a good deal to
be said for the native custom, whether the point of view be that of
convenience, cleanliness, or simple beauty.

I, as the principal guest, was offered everything first, which obviated
any unpleasantness that might have arisen from the entire absence of
knives and forks. There is no hardship in eating with your fingers, if
yours are the first to plunge into every dish, and you have your nice
fresh leaf to yourself. The little pig I did not touch, because no one
who has lived as much as a week in the islands will venture on native
pork, good as it looks and smells. When an unfortunate beast is killed
by strangulation, and never bled, and when you know that it has lived at
its gipsy will, and fed more abominably than a land-crab, you are apt
to find you are “not hungry” when its crackling little carcase comes to
table in cerements of green leaves, and you ask for the breadfruit and
the fish instead.

The feast seemed likely to go on all afternoon, since no native thinks
he has eaten enough, on such an occasion, until he is as gorged and as
comatose as a stuffed anaconda. There is no obligation to stay longer
than one likes, however, so I washed my hands and withdrew, as soon as
it seemed good to me to do so.

And by the way, if we of the civilised countries think that we invented
fingerbowls, either in form, or in use, we are mistaken. The South
Seas invented them, a few hundred years before we found out they were
necessary to our own delicate refinement. A bowl full of water is handed
round to every diner in a South Sea house. The water is from the river,
pure and fresh; the bowl is of a mould more perfect than the most
exquisite models of ancient Greece, delicately hued with pale brown in
the inner part, and deep sienna brown outside. It is half a cocoanut
shell--beautiful, useful, practically unbreakable, yet not of sufficient
worth to prevent its being thrown away to-morrow and replaced by a fresh
one from the nearest palm. Fresh plates and cups for one’s food are a
refinement that our refined civilisation has not attained to yet. You
must go to savages to look for them.

I thanked my hosts for their entertainment, in good English, when I
left. They understood the words and tone almost as clearly as if I had
spoken in their own language, and gave me a ringing salutation that
followed me down the road. That a number of Atiuan men, coming up from
the shore, burst out laughing when they saw me, and held on to each
other in convulsions of merriment at the sight of my absurd white face
and ridiculous clothes, did not detract from the real kindliness of
the reception the island had given me. The manners of the Atiuan would
certainly throw a Tahitian or a courtly Samoan into a fit; but for
all that, he is not at bottom a bad sort, and could certainly be made
something of with training.

One of the Arikas of Atiu--a woman again: there seemed to be very few
male chiefs in the islands--was pointed out to me as I went down to
the shore, and I photographed her sitting in her chair. She looked
dignified, and her long descent was visible in the pose of her small
head, and the delicacy of her hands, but she did not possess much claim
to beauty.

[Illustration: 0249]

The _Duchess_ was standing off and on outside the reef when I came out
on the beach again, and the barrels were merrily floating out, rolled
down into the water by the hands of bu§y brown men and women. It was a
pretty scene in the low yellow sunlight of the waning afternoon,’ and
I carried it away with me, long after we had sailed; as a pleasant
recollection of Atiu.


_Islands and Adventures--What about the Missionary?--The Lotus
Eaters--How to hunt the Robber-Crab--The Ship that would not
sail--Proper Place of a Passenger--One Way to get wrecked--The Pirate
and the Pearls._

MAUKE, Manuwai, and Takutea still remained to be seen, before the
_Duchess_ could spread her wings for Raratonga again. We sailed from one
to another in the course of a few days. There was no hurry, and a day
wasted here or there troubled none of us.

Sometimes the “trades,” which are very fickle about here, came up and
caught our towering canvas in a cool embrace; then the great hollows of
the sails hummed with the music that the ocean wanderer loves, and the
_Duchess_ skimmed the rolling blue hills like a flying-fish. Sometimes
the wind fell, and the booms swung and creaked lazily above the burning
deck; then we trolled for albacore and bonito, shrieking with savage joy
when our bit of long-desired fresh food came flapping and fighting over
the rail; or we watched the crew hook devil-faced grey sharks, which,
“took charge” of the deck when captured, hitting terrible blows with
their tails, and snapping stout ropes with their savage teeth; or we got
out boats, and rowed them for miles between the double furnaces of the
blazing sun and the glowing sea, coming back to the ship scorched into
cinders, stiff with exertion, but happy. At night the Southern Cross
burned white in the velvet sky, and the coral rocks about the lagoons
showed in shimmering pale blue underneath fifty feet or more of clear,
moonlit water. Lying on the poop, like seals on sand, the little knot
of passengers, captain, and mate, “yarned” for hour after hour--strange,
wild tales of frontier life in new lands; of adventures in unknown seas;
of fights, and more fights, and fights yet again--literature in the
rough, a very gallery of vivid pictures wasted unseen... and yet, what
should any man who had the rich reality care about its pale shadow,
Story? “Do you care much for reading?” “Well, no,” answers the
bare-footed officer lying with his head in a coil of rope; “books
aren’t very interesting, are they?”

I, watching the mizzen truck swing among the stars, look back over the
long, long trail--long both in distance and in time--that separates this
small heaving deck in the midst of the tropic seas from the rush of the
wintry Strand, Nights in islands of ill reputation, when I slept with
“one eye open” and one hand within touch of my revolver (for there are
incidents of my wanderings that I have not told, and only those who know
the Eastern Pacific may guess at them); days when only a fifty-to-one
chance kept the little schooner from piling her bones on a spouting
coral reef in mid-ocean--rough fare, hard lodging, and long fatigue,
sometimes, all to be “eaten as helped,” without comment or complaint,
for that is the rule of island life--the pungent taste of danger, now
and then, gratefully slaking some deep, half-conscious thirst derived
from fiercer centuries; the sight of many lands and many peoples--these,
and other pictures, painted themselves among the little gold stars swept
by the rocking masts, as I lay^ remembering. I thought of the pile of
untouched “shockers” in my cabin; of grey London and its pyramids of
books and armies of writers; of the mirror that they hold up to life,
and the “magic web of colours gay” they weave, always looking, like
the Lady of Shalott, in the mirror, and seldom joining the merry
rout outside, where no one cares a pin for coloured tapestries, and
looking-glasses are left to half-grown girls. No, truly; “books are not
interesting,” when you can have life instead.

Upon which some one proposed “Consequences” in the cabin, and I made
haste to climb down.

Another day, gold and blue as are almost all the days of the “winter”
 season, and another island, burning white and blazing green, and another
tumbling reef to jump, with the help of a powerful boat-holder, who
stands in the midst of the surf, and drags the dinghy forward at the
right moment. This is Mauke: we are getting on with the group, and begin
to realise that some time or other, even in these timeless regions, will
actually see us back at Raratonga.

Mauke proves to be a pretty little place, some six miles in
circumference, “low” in type, but park-like and gardenlike and dainty
enough to wake covetous desires in the heart of almost any traveller. It
has the finest oranges in the group--growing completely wild--and we
are greeted on the shore by the usual crowd of flower-wreathed natives,
bearing splendid branches of rich yellow fruit, which they present
to every one with eager generosity. There are only three hundred and
seventy natives in the island, and much of the land lies waste, though
it is exceedingly fertile. The Mauke folk take things easy on the whole,
and are not keen on trading. They export some oranges, some copra, a few
bunches of dried bananas, and they buy a fair amount of cotton cloth,
and shirts, and cutlery, from the white trader’s store. But no one, so
far, has grown fat on what Mauke makes or buys.

There were, at the time of my visit, only one or two whites in the
place. The greater portion of the land available for planting lay
unused. Probable rents, on long leases, were quoted to me as a shilling
or so an acre.

The call at Mauke was short, and I saw little of the island. The natives
insisted, however, that I should come up to the village and look at
their church, of which they are very proud, so I headed the inevitable
procession through the orange and lime and guava groves, to the little
group of houses, partly thatch and reed, partly whitewashed concrete,
that made up the settlement. The church was, of course, much the least
interesting thing in the island. South Sea churches, with one or two
happy exceptions, are blots in a world of beauty, monuments of bad
taste, extravagance, and folly, that do very little credit to the
religions they represent. In the days when most of them were built, the
one idea of the missionary was the assimilation of the native to
white men’s ways and customs, as far as was possible, by any means
conceivable--wise, or otherwise. In building churches for the new
converts, the pattern followed was that set by Europeans for use in
a cold climate, on sites that had a distinct money value per yard.
Consequently, while South Sea houses, for coolness, are made almost all
window and door, or else built, native fashion, in such a way that
the air blows through the walls, South Sea churches are almost without
ventilation, and (because the style of architecture selected is that of
the whitewashed barn description) quite without beauty of any kind.
In most cases, they have cost the islands appalling sums to build, and
continue to demand a good deal to keep them in repair. There are happy
exceptions here and there. Niué, of which place I have more to say later
on, possesses a church built with exquisite taste and perfect regard to
convenience, and the Catholic cathedral in Samoa is designed with much
consideration as to climate, and appearance as well.

Mauke’s church, however, is not one of the exceptions, being exceedingly
bald and ugly, and it is furthermore disfigured by the most horrible
lapse of taste to be seen in almost any island church--the decoration of
the pulpit and communion rails with silver dollars nailed on in rows. I
told the crowd of natives, eager to hear the praises of their wonderful
church, that I had never seen anything like it in my life--which seemed
to afford them much gratification. I did not add what I thought--that I
sincerely hoped I might never see anything like it again.

A statement made only once or twice is fairly sure to miss the
observation of the average reader, so I make no apology for saying here,
as I have said in other parts of this book, that I am not one of those
people who are opposed to mission work, or indifferent to religion;
neither am I inclined to minimise the effects of the work done by
missionaries in converting and civilising the Pacific generally. That
the missionaries are infallible and always wise, however, in their
methods of dealing with the natives, I do deny--which is only equivalent
to saying that they are human, like the people at home. Nor do I think
that, in these days, the missionary who takes up work in the Southern
and Eastern Pacific has any need to wear the martyr aureole which is so
persistently fitted on to the heads of all who go to “labour” in the
island world. We are not in the days of Cook: cannibalism, over most of
the Pacific, is dead and forgotten, violence to white people of any kind
is unheard of, the climates are usually excellent, the islands
beautiful, fertile, and happy, and the missionary’s work is much the
same as that of any country clergyman at home, save for the fact that
his congregation are infinitely more submissive than whites would be,
and incline to regard their teacher as a sovereign, not only spiritual,
but temporal. The mission house is always much the finest building on
the island, and the best furnished and provided. The missionary’s
children are usually sent away to be educated at good home or colonial
boarding schools, and afterwards return to take up their parents’ work,
or possibly to settle in the islands in other capacities. The life,
though busy, is devoid of all stress and strain, and there is no
apparent difficulty in “making both ends meet”--and overlap. In the
Southern and Eastern Pacific, the missionaries are conveyed from group
to group in a mission steamer that is little inferior to the yacht of a
millionaire, for comfort and elegance. They are constantly assisted by
gifts of all kinds, and treated with consideration wherever they go, and
in most cases enjoy a social position much better than that originally
possessed at home. It is hard to see why a profession, which is so
pleasant and profitable, should be exalted over the work of thousands of
struggling pastors and clergymen at home, who too often know the pinch
of actual want, and are in many cases obliged to lead lives of the
greyest and narrowest monotony.

What is the moral? That one should not give money to missions? Certainly
not. But if I were a millionaire, and had thousands to give in such
a cause, I would give them carefully, with inquiry, directed to more
sources than one, and would distribute them so that they should be used,
if possible, in adding to the numbers of the Christian Church, rather
than in teaching geography and English grammar and dressmaking to
amiable brown people who are, and have been for generations, a good deal
more Christian than ninety in a hundred whites. I believe firmly that
most of the older missions in the Pacific could be continued perfectly
well with the aid of native teachers, at one-twentieth the present
cost--much as the teaching of outlying far-away islands, where residence
is unpleasant for white families, is carried on to-day, with the aid
of a yearly visit or so. That the present system will ever be modified,
however, I do not believe. The reasons for such a conclusion are too
obvious to need discussion.

I have wandered a good way from the church at Mauke. But there are many
points on this subject of island missions, nevertheless, on which I have
not touched.

Some of the men of Mauke were very busy on the shore, when our party
passed down again to the boat. They made a bright picture, in their gay
pareos of scarlet and yellow, and the snowy coronets of scented island
flowers that they had twined about their heads. But the most picturesque
thing about them was their occupation, which was neither more nor less
than sand-castle building! There they sat, those big grown men, with
never a child among them to make excuse for their play, building up
churches and houses of the milk-white coral sand, scooping dark windows
in the edifices, training green creepers up them, and planting out odd
little gardens of branching coral twigs off the reef, in the surrounding
pleasances. They had bundles of good things tied up in green leaves,
lying somewhere in the shade of the guava bushes, and they had brought a
pile of husked cocoanuts down to the shore with them, to drink when they
pleased. They may have been waiting for a native boat, or they may have
been simply making a day of it. In any case, they were sublimely happy.

_(Cold rain on the miry road; faint gold sunset fading to stormy grey;
wet leaves a-shiver in the dusk--and the long, long way before the tired
feet. A day of toil, a comfortless night. A handful of coppers in the
pocket; food and fire that must be bought with silver; freedom, rest,
enjoyment, that cost unattainable gold. The sacred right of labour;
a white man’s freedom. O, brown half-naked islanders, playing at
sand-castles on your sun-bathed shore, with unbought food lying among
the unpurchased fruits beside you, what would you give to be one of the
master race?)_

Takutea we did not call at, since it was uninhabited, but the _Duchess_,
under her daring little pirate of a captain, made no bones about running
as close to anything, anywhere, as her passengers might desire, so we
saw the fascinating place at fairly close quarters. In 1904, when I saw
it, it was a real “desolate island,” being twelve miles out in the open
sea from the nearest land (Atiu), and totally uninhabited. Its extent
is four or five hundred acres; it is thickly wooded with cocoanuts-, and
has a good spring of water. The beautiful “bo’sun bird,” whose long red
and white tail feathers have a considerable commercial value, is common
on the island. No one had visited it for a long time when we sailed by;
the wide white beach was empty, the cocoanut palms dropped their nuts
unheeded into earth that received them gladly, and set them forth
again in fountain-like sprays of green. The surf crumbled softly on
the irregular fringing reef; the ripples of the lagoon laid their ridgy
footsteps along the empty strand, and no Man Friday came to trample
them out-with a step of awful significance. I wanted Takutea very badly
indeed, all for myself; but I shall not have it now, neither will the
reader, for some one else has bought it, and it is to be turned into a
cocoanut plantation.

Manuwai, better known as Hervey Island, is not many miles away, but we
took a day or more to reach it, partly because the winds were contrary,
partly because (with apologies to the Admiralty Surveys) it was wrongly
charted, and could not be found, at first, in a slight sea-fog. Manuwai
has changed its ownership and its use, of late, but in 1904 it was a
penal settlement and a copra plantation combined, being used as a
place of punishment for sinful Cook Islanders, who were compulsorily
let out as labourers to the Company renting the two islets of which this
so-called group is composed.

The islands between them cover about fifteen hundred acres, according
to the estimate given me. They have no permanent inhabitants, and when
first taken up for planting, were quite desolate of life. A far-away,
melancholy little place looked Manuwai, under the rays of the declining
sun, as we came up to the reef. The two low islands, with their thick
pluming of palms, are enclosed in the same lagoon, sheltered by a reef
of oval form. There were a couple of drying-huts on the beach, and some
heaps of oily smelling copra, when our boat pulled in. About twenty men,
some convicts, some hired labourers, were gathered on the shore, fairly
dancing with excitement, and the rest of the population--one white
overseer, and one half-caste--were waiting on the very edge of the
water, hardly less agitated. No ships ever called except the _Duchess_,
and she was long overdue.

I stepped on shore, and was immediately shaken hands with, and
congratulated on being the first white woman to set foot on the island.
Then we all went for a walk, while the native crew fell into the arms of
the labourers, and with cries of joy began exchanging gossip, tobacco,
hats, and shirts, bartering oranges from the ship for cocoanut crabs
from the island, and eagerly discussing the question of who was going
home in the _Duchess_, and who would have to stop over till her next
call, perhaps six months hence.

Manuwai is not one of the most beautiful of the islands, but anything
in the way of solid ground was welcome after the gymnastics of the
too-lively _Duchess_. The cocoa-nut plantations, and the new clearings,
where the bush was being burned away, interested the officials from
Raratonga, and the “boulevard” planted by the overseer--a handsome
double row of palms, composing an avenue that facetiously began in
nothing, and led to nowhere, received due admiration. We heard a
good deal about the depredations of the cocoanut crabs, and as these
creatures are among the strangest things that ever furnished food for
travellers’ tales, I shall give their history as I gathered it, both in
Manuwai and other places.

One must not, by the way, believe all that one hears, or even half,
among the “sunny isles of Eden.” Flowers of the imagination flourish
quite as freely as flowers and fruits of the earth, and are much less
satisfactory in kind. Also, it is a recognised sport to “spin yarns” to
a newcomer, with the pious object of seeing how much he--or she--will
swallow; and where so much is strange, bizarre, and almost incredible,
among undoubted facts, it is hard to sift out the fictions of the
playful resident.

However, the cocoanut crab is an undeniable fact, with which many a
planter has had to wrestle, much to his loss. It must be confessed that
I had expected something very exciting indeed, when I heard in Tahiti
that cocoanut or robber crabs were still to be found in some parts of
the Cook Group. One of the most grisly bugbears of my youth had been
the descriptions of the terrible cocoanut crab that attacked the “Swiss
Family Robinson” on their wonderful island. It was described, if my
memory serves me, as “about the size of a turtle.” and was dark blue in
colour; it descended rapidly backwards down a tree, and immediately went
to the attack of a Robinson youth, who repulsed it at the peril of his
life.... On the whole, I thought it would make things interesting, if it
really was in the Cook Group.

I never was more disappointed in my life than when I really saw one. It
was dead, and cured in formalin, and only brought down from an island
house as a show, but that was not the trouble. It was not more than two
and a half feet long, lobster tail and all; it was not in the least like
a turtle, and any small boy armed with a good stick could have faced it
without fear, at its worst. No, decidedly the terrible crab was not up
to the travellers’ tales that had been told about it.

Still, it was worth seeing, for it was like nothing on the earth or in
the sea that I had ever encountered. It had been excellently preserved,
and looked wonderfully alive, when laid on the sand at the foot of a
cocoanut palm. Its colour, as in life, was a gay mixture of red and
blue. It had a long body like a colossal lobster, and two claws, one
slight and thin, the other big enough to crack the ankle-bone of a man.
It was an ugly and a wicked-looking thing, and I was not surprised to
hear that it fights fiercely, if caught away from its hole, sitting up
and threatening man or beast with its formidable claw, and showing no
fear whatever.

In the daylight, however, it is very seldom seen abroad. We walked
through groves that were riddled with its holes that afternoon,
but never even heard the scuffle of a claw. The creature lives in
rabbit-like burrows at the foot of palm-trees, and the natives can
always tell the size of the inmate by a glance at the diameter of the
hole by which it enters its burrow. At night it comes out, climbs the
nearest palm, and gets in among the raffle of young and old leaves,
fibre, stalks, and nuts, in the crown, there it selects a good nut, nips
the stalk in two with its claw, and lets the booty drop with a thump
to the earth, seventy or eighty feel below. Then the marauder backs
cautiously down the tree, finds the nut, and proceeds to rip and rend
the tough husk until the nut as we know it at home is laid bare. A
cocoanut shell is no easy thing to crack, as most people know, but the
robber crab with its huge claws makes nothing more of it than we should
make of an egg, and in a minute the rich oily meat is at the mercy
of the thief, and another fraction of a ton of copra is lost to the
planter. It goes without saying that any stray nuts lying on the ground
have been opened and destroyed, before the crab will trouble itself to

Cocoanut crab is very good eating, and as it is mostly found in barren
coral islands where little or nothing will grow but palms, the natives
are always keen on hunting the “robber.” Sometimes he is secured by
thrusting a lighted torch down a hole which possesses two exits--the
crab hurrying out at the unopposed side as soon as the flame invades his
dwelling. Sometimes the islanders secure him by the simple process of
feeling for him in his burrow, and stabbing him at the end of it with
a knife. This is decidedly risky, however, and may result in a smashed
hand or wrist for the invader. A favourite plan is the following: Slip
out in the dark, barefoot and silent, and hide yourself in a cocoanut
grove till you see or hear a crab making his way up a tree. Wait till
he is up at the top, and then climb half-way up, and tie a band of grass
round the trunk. Now hurry down and pile a heap of rough coral stones
from the beach at the foot of the tree. Slip away into the shadow again,
and wait. The crab will start to come down presently, backing carefully,
tail first, for he has a bare and unprotected end to his armoured body,
and uses it to inform himself of his arrival on the safe ground below.
Half-way down the tree he touches your cunning band of grass. “Down so
soon?” he remarks to himself, and lets go. Crack! he has shot down forty
feet through air, and landed smashingly on the pile of stones that you
carefully prepared for his reception.

He is badly injured, ten to one, and you will have little trouble in
finishing him off with your knife, and carrying home a savoury supper
that is well worth the’ waiting for. That is the native way of hunting
robber crabs.

When one lives on a cocoanut plantation, on an island that contains
practically nothing else, one comes in time to know everything that is
to be known about cocoanuts in general. But even the manager of Manuwai
could not solve for me a problem that had been perplexing me ever since
I had first seen a cocoanut palm--a problem, indeed, that after several
more years of island travel, remains unanswered yet.

Why is no one ever killed by a cocoanut?

The question seems an idle one, if one thinks of cocoa-nuts as they are
seen in British shops--small brown ovals of little weight or size--and
if one has never seen them growing, or heard them fall. But when one
knows that, the smallest nuts alone reach England (since they are sold
by number, not by weight) and that the ordinary nut, in its husk and on
its native tree, is as big as one’s own head, and as heavy as a solid
lump of hard wood--that most trees bear seventy or eighty nuts a year,
and that every one of those nuts has the height of a four-storey house
to drop before it reaches the ground--that native houses are usually
placed in the middle of a palm grove, and that every one in the islands,
brown or white, walks underneath hundreds of laden cocoanut trees every
day in the year--it then becomes a miracle of the largest kind that no
one is ever killed, and very rarely injured, by the fall of the nuts.
Nor can the reason be sought in the fact that the nuts cannot hurt. One
is sure to see them fall from time to time, and they shoot down from
the crown of the palm like flying bomb-shells, making a most portentous
thump as they reach the earth. So extremely rare are accidents, however,
that in nearly three years I did not hear of any mishap, past or
present, save the single case of a man who was struck by a falling nut
in the Cook Islands, and knocked insensible for an hour or two. This is
certainly not a bad record for a tour extending over so many thousand
miles, and including most of the important island groups--every one
of which grows cocoanut palms by the thousand, in some cases, by the
hundred thousand.

Travellers are often a little nervous at first, when riding or walking
all day long through woods of palm, heavily laden with ponderous nuts.
But the feeling never lasts more than a few days. One does not know
why one is never hit by these cannon-balls of Nature--but one never is,
neither is anybody else, so all uneasiness dies out very quickly, and
one acquiesces placidly in the universal miracle.

Planters say that most of the nuts fall at night, when the dew has
relaxed the fibres of the stalks. This would be an excellent reason,
but for the fact that the nuts don’t fall any more at night than in the
daytime, if one takes the trouble to observe, and that damp, or dew,
tightens up fibres of all kind, instead of relaxing them. If one asks
the natives, the usual answer is: “It just happens that way”; and I
fancy that is as near as any one is likely to get to a solution.

Manuwai, since I saw it, has been purchased outright by a couple of
adventurous young Englishmen, who are working it as a copra plantation.
Takutea has, therefore, a neighbour in the Robinson Crusoe business, and
is not likely to be quite so solitary as in times past.

The tour of the group was now ended, and the Government officials were
conveyed back to Raratonga with all possible despatch--which is not
saying very much, after all. There followed a luxurious interval of real
beds and real meals, and similar Capuan delights, in the pretty island
bungalow where my lot for the time had been cast. Then the _Duchess_
began to start again, and peace was over. A sailing vessel does not
start in the same way as a steamer. She gives out that she will leave
on such a day, at such an hour, quite like the steamer; but there the
resemblance ends. When you pack your cabin trunk, and have it taken
down at 11 a.m., you find there is no wind, so you take it back and call
again next day. There is a wind now, but from the one quarter that makes
it practically impossible to get out of port.’ You are told you had
better leave your trunk, in case of the breeze shifting. You do, and
go back for the second time to the hostess from whom you have already
parted twice. The verandah (every one lives on verandahs, in the
islands) is convulsed to see you come back, and tells you this is the
way the ship always does “get off.” You spend a quiet evening, and go
to bed. At twelve o’clock, just as you are in the very heart of your
soundest sleep, a native boy comes running up to the house to say that
the captain has sent for the passenger to come down at once, for the
wind is getting up, and he will sail in a quarter of an hour! You
scramble into your clothes, run down to the quay, get rowed out to
the ship, and finish your sleep in your cabin to the accompaniment of
stamping feet and the flapping sails; and behold, at eight o’clock, the
bo’sun thunders on your door, and tells you that breakfast is in, but
the breeze is away again, and the ship still in harbour! After breakfast
you sneak up the well-known avenue again, feeling very much as if you
had run away from school, and were coming back in disgrace. This time,
the verandah shrieks until the natives run to the avenue gate to see
what is the matter with the man “papalangis,” and then console you with
the prophecy that the schooner won’t get away for another week.

She does, though. In the middle of the afternoon tea, the captain
himself arrives, declines to have a cup, and says it is really business
this time, and he is away. You go down that eternal avenue again,
followed by cheerful cries of “No goodbye! we’ll keep your place at
dinner,” and in half an hour the green and purple hills of lovely
Raratonga are separated from you by a widening plain of wind-ruffled
blue waves, and the _Duchess_ is fairly away to Savage Island.

“Miss G--------, have you nearly done your book?”

“Pretty nearly--why?” I ask, looking up from the pages of “John

We are a day or two out from Raratonga, but not even one hundred of the
six hundred miles that lie between the Cook Group and lonely Niué is
compassed as yet. The winds have been lightest of the light, and from
the wrong quarter too, until this morning, when we have “got a slant” at
last. Now the _Duchess_ is rolling along in her usual tipsy fashion
at seven or eight knots an hour, and the china-blue sea is ruffled and
frilled with snow. It is hot, but not oppressively so, and I have
been enjoying myself most of the morning lounging on a pile of locker
cushions against the deck-house, alternately reading, and humming to
myself something from Kipling about:

          Sailing south on the old trail, our own trail, the out trail,

          Sliding south on the long trail, the trail that is always new.

The pirate captain has been at the wheel for the last two hours, but I
have not taken much note of the fact. Our only mate left us in the Cook
Group, for a reason not absolutely new in the history of the world (a
pretty little reason she was, too); and our bo’sun, who has been giddily
promoted to a rank that he describes as “chief officer,” is not exactly
a host in himself, though he is a white man. In consequence, the pirate
and he have been keeping watch and watch since we sailed--four hours on
and four hours off--and, as one or two of our best A.B.s declined to go
down to Niué, and most of the others are bad helmsmen, the two whites
have been at the wheel during the greater part of their watches.

I have grown quite accustomed to seeing one or other standing aft of
the little companion that leads down to the cabin, lightly shifting the
spokes in his hands hour after hour. It never occurred to me, however,
that I was personally interested in the matter.

But we are in the South Pacific, and I have still a good many things to
find out about the “way they do things at sea,” here where the ocean is
the ocean, and no playground for globe-trotting tourists.

“Are you nearly done?” asks the pirate again, shifting half a point, and
throwing a glance at the clouds on the windward side. They are harmless
little clouds, and only suggest a steady breeze.

“I have about half an hour’s reading left,” I answer.

“Then you’d better chuck the book into your cabin, for it’s almost eight
bells, and that begins your trick at the wheel,” says the pirate calmly.

“My _what?_”

“Your trick. Your turn. Time you have to steer, see?”

“But, good heavens! I never had a wheel in my hand in my life--I don’t
know how!”

“That’s your misfortune, not your fault,” says the pirate kindly.
“You’ll never have to say that again.. There’s eight bells now--come
along. J------ and I have had too much of the wheel, and now we’re well
away from land is your time to learn.”

And from thenceforth until we made the rocky coast of Niué, more than a
week later, I spent a portion of every day with the polished spokes of
the wheel in my hands, straining my eyes on the “lubber’s point,” or
anxiously watching the swelling curves of the sails aloft in the windy
blue, ready to put the wheel up the instant an ominous wrinkle began
to flap and writhe upon the marble smoothness of the leaning canvas. At
night, the smallest slatting of sail upon the mast would start me out of
my sleep, with an uneasy fear that I was steering, and had let her get
too, close to the wind; and I deposed most of my prayers in favour of
an evening litany that began: “North, north by east, nor’-nor’-east,
nor’-east by north, nor’-east,” and turned round upon itself to go
backward in the end, like a spell said upside down to raise a storm.

Withal, the good ship left many a wake that would have broken the back
of a snake, for the first day or two of my lessons, and the native A.B.s
used to come and stand behind me when an occasional sea made the wheel
kick, under the evident impression that they would be wanted before
long. But I learned to steer--somehow--before we got to Niué, and I
learned to lower away boats, and to manage a sixteen foot steer-oar,
when we got becalmed, and spent the day rowing about among the
mountainous swells, out of sheer boredom. And for exercise and sport,
I learned to go up into the cross-trees and come down again by the
ratlines or the back-stay, whichever seemed the handiest, wearing the
flannel gymnasium dress I had brought for mountaineering excursions.
It was very pleasant up there on a bright, salt-windy morning, when the
_Duchess_ swung steadily on her way with a light favouring breeze, her
little white deck lying below me like a tea-tray covered with walking
dolls, her masts at times leaning to leeward until my airy seat was
swung far out across the water. Having a good head, I was never troubled
with giddiness, and used to do a good deal of photographing from
aloft, when the ship was steady enough to allow of it. That was seldom,
however, for the _Duchess_ had been built in New Zealand, where the good
schooners do not come from, and had no more hold on the water than
a floating egg. More than one sailing vessel turned out by the same
builders had vanished off the face of the ocean, in ways not explained,
by reason of the absence of survivors, but dimly guessed at, all the
same; and I cannot allow that the pirate captain had any just cause
of annoyance--even allowing for a master’s pride in his ship--when I
recommended him to have the schooner’s name painted legibly on her keel
before he should leave Auckland on his next northward journey, just “in

We were about a hundred and fifty miles off Niué, when the pirate came
to me one windy morning, and asked me if I wanted to see something that
had only been once seen before.

There was, of course, only one reply possible.

“Then keep a look-out, and you’ll see it,” said the pirate. “We’re going
to run right by Beveridge Reef, and it’s been only once sighted. What’s
more, it’s wrong charted, and I’m going to set it right. You’ve no idea
what a lot of wrecks there have been on that d-------- that dangerous
place. Not a soul ever got away from one of them to tell what happened,
either. They’d only know when things began drifting down to Niué, weeks
after--timber and cargo, and so on--why, a lot of the houses in Niué
are built out of wreckage--and then people would say that there’d been
another wreck on Beveridge Reef. Some fool reported it as a coral island
two miles across, once upon a time, but I’ll bet he never saw it. If it
had been, it wouldn’t have been as destructive as it is.”

Late in the day we sighted it. The pirate was aloft, swinging between
heaven and earth, with a glass in his hand, calling out observations to
the chief-officer-boatswain below. The crew were attending exclusively
to the horizon, and letting the ship look after herself, according to
the amiable way of Maories when there is anything interesting afoot. The
weather was darkening down, and heavy squalls of rain swept the sea now
and then. But there it was, clearly enough to be seen in the intervals
of the squalls, a circle of white foam enclosing an inner patch of livid
green, clearly marked off from the grey of the surrounding ocean. Here
and there a small black tooth of rock projected from the deadly ring of
surf, and--significant and cruel sight--two ships’ anchors were plainly
to be seen through the glass, as we neared the reef, lying fixed among
the rock, so low in the water as only to be visible at intervals.

“A wicked place,” said the captain, who had come down from his eyrie,
and was giving orders for the preparation of a boat. “Couldn’t see a bit
of it at night--couldn’t see it in broad daylight, if there was a big
sea on. And wrong charted too. Think of the last minutes of those poor
chaps the anchors belonged to!”

The sea and sky were really beginning to look nasty, and I did not want
to think of it. But the pirate went discoursing pleasantly of deaths and
wrecks, while the men were putting various things into the whaleboat,
and getting ready to lower away. He did not often have a passenger, but
when he did, he evidently thought it his duty to keep her entertained.

We were very near to the reef now--so close that I was able to take a
photograph of it, a little marred by the rainy weather. Meantime,
the boat was being swung out, and the men were getting in. And now
“a strange thing happened.” Out of nowhere at all eight sharks
appeared--large ones, too--and began to cruise hungrily about the
_Duchess’s_ hull, their lithe yellowish bodies sharply outlined in the
dark blue water, their evil eyes fixed on me, as I overhung the rail to
look at them. “If only!” they said as plainly as possible, with those
hideously intelligent green orbs. “If only------”

“What has brought those horrible brutes about us?” I asked.

“Those? oh, they’re waiting to be fed, I suppose. Pretty much all the
ships that came this way before us have given them a good dinner. I bet
they say grace before meat now every time they see a sail, which isn’t
often. Here, you Oki, put in that keg of beef.”

“Where are you going?” I demanded with considerable interest, for the
pirate captain never did things like any one else, and I scented an

“Going to find out what the inside of that lagoon is really like. No
one ever put a boat into it yet. No, you can’t be in it this time: very
sorry, but----”


“Well, you see, one isn’t absolutely sure of getting back again, in a
place like this. Didn’t you see me put in grub and water and a compass?
I don’t think you’d like a boat voyage down to Niué, if we happened to
miss the train. The mate has the course, and could take her on, if I
came to grief. No, it isn’t any use asking, I just can’t. Lower away.”

They lowered and------

Well, if the pirate had been a shade less determined about the number in
the boat, there would have been a pretty little tragedy of the sea, that
gusty afternoon. One more in the boat had certainly turned the scale.
For the wind was continually getting up, and the wretched _Duchess_ was
rolling like a buoy, and the boat as she touched the water, with the
captain and three men in her, was caught by the top of a wave, and
dashed against the side of the ship. In a flash she was overturned,
with a badly damaged thwart, and was washing about helplessly among the
waves, with the four men clinging to her keel. The sea took her past the
schooner like a rag. I had only time to run to the stern, before she was
swept out of hearing, but I heard the pirate call as he disappeared in
the trough of a wave, “Get out your camera, here’s the chance of your
life!” Then the boat was gone, and for a moment the mate and I thought
it was all over. “The sharks will have ’em if they don’t sink!”
 declared that officer, straining over the rail, while the Maori crew ran
aimlessly about the deck, shouting with excitement.

What happened during the next half-hour has never been very clear in my
memory. The wind kept rising, and the afternoon grew late and dark. The
overturned boat, with the four heads visible about her keel, drifted
helplessly in the trough of the seas, at the mercy of waves and sharks.
(I heard, afterwards, that the men had all kicked ceaselessly to keep
them away, and that they expected to be seized any moment.) The wind
screamed in the rigging, and drifts of foam flew up on deck, and the
Maories ran about and shouted, and got in each other’s way, and tried
to heave ropes, and missed, and tried to launch a boat under the mate’s
direction, and somehow did not--I cannot tell why. And right in the
middle of the play, when we seemed to be making some attempt to bear
down upon the drifting wreck, a grey old man who had come on with us
from the Cook Islands, but had kept to his berth through illness most
of the time, burst out on deck with an astonishing explosion of sea
language, and told us that we were nearly on to the reef. Which, it
seems, every one had forgotten!

After that, things grew so lively on the poop that I got up on the top
of the deck-house to keep out of the way, and reflect upon my sins. It
seemed a suitable occasion for devotional exercises. The white teeth
of the reef were unpleasantly near, the water was growing shoal. “Put a
leadsman in the chains this minute!” yelled the grizzled passenger (who
had been at sea in his time, and knew something of what was likely to
happen when you got a nasty reef on your lee side, with the wind working
up). The auxiliary engine, meant for use on just such occasions, had
been sick for some time. There was a very strong tide running, the wind
had shifted while the ship’s company were intent on the fate of the
boat, and on the whole it looked very much as if the decorations already
possessed by the notorious reef were likely to be increased by another
pair of best quality British made anchors--_ours_.

A good many things happen on sailing ships--Pacific ships
especially--that one does not describe in detail, unless one happens to
be writing fiction. This is not fiction, so the occurrences of the next
quarter of an hour must be passed over lightly. The ancient passenger
took command of the ship. We got away from the reef by an unpleasantly
close shave and bore down upon the boat, which the pirate captain had
impossibly contrived to right by this time, paddling it along with one
oar, while the men baled constantly. We got the captain and the men
and the damaged boat on board, and a few “free opinions, freely
expressed”--as a certain famous lady novelist would put it--were
exchanged. Then the pirate, who was quite fresh, and very lively,
demanded the second boat, and said he was bound to get into that place
anyhow, and wouldn’t leave till he did.

I rather think we mutinied at this juncture. I am sure I did, because
I had been thinking over my sins for some time, and had come to the
conclusion that there really were not many of them, and that I wanted a
chance to accumulate a few more, preferably of an agreeable kind, before
I faced the probability of decorating any Pacific coral reef with my
unadorned and unburied skeleton. The grey-haired passenger and the mate
mutinied too, upon my example, and the pirate, seeing that we were
three to one, and moreover, that it was growing dusk, made a virtue of
necessity, and went off for a shift of clothes, giving orders to make
all sail at once. And so we left the reef in the growing dusk, and no
man has to this day disturbed the virgin surface of its stormy little
lagoon with profanely invading oar.

Was there a fortune lying concealed beneath those pale green waves
within the foaming jaws of the reef? I never heard. But there were some
among our native crew who came from the far-off island of Penrhyn, where
the pearl fisheries are, and they were strong in asserting their belief
that the pirate might have been well paid for his exploration. It was
just that sort of reef, said the pearl-island men, that most often
contained good shell, and produced the biggest pearls, the first time
of looking. An old, undisturbed atoll, where no one had ever thought of
looking for shell, was the place where big pearls got a chance to grow.
The first comer scooped in the prizes; afterwards, the shell itself and
the smaller pearls were all that any one was likely to get.

However that might be, the talk, on the rest of the way down to Niué,
ran much on pearls and pearl-shell, and I learned a good deal about
these gold-mines of the Pacific--always making allowance for the
inevitable Pacific exaggeration. Any man who can live a year among the
islands, and restrain himself, in the latter part of his stay, from
lying as naturally and freely as he breathes, deserves a D.S.O.

Stripped of flowers of fiction, the romance of the pearling trade was
still interesting and fascinating enough. Pearls, in the Pacific, are
obtained from a large bivalve that has a good deal of value in itself,
being the material from which mother-o’-pearl is made. Prices,
of course, fluctuate very much, as the shell is used in so many
manufactures that depend on the vagaries of fashion; but the value
may run to £200 a ton or over. When it gets down to £40 or less, it is
hardly worth the expense of lifting and carrying. For the most part,
however, it is worth a good deal more than this, and when it is at the
highest, fortunes can be, and have been, made out of small beginnings,
in a very short time. The pearls are an “extra,” and not to be relied
upon. There may be almost none in a big take of shell, there may be a
few small ones, there may be a number of fine ones that will make the
fortune of the lucky fisher. It is all a gamble, and perhaps none the
less fascinating for that. Much of the best shell and the finest pearls
in the Pacific, come from the Paumotus, which are French. Thursday
Island, off the north of Queensland, was the great centre of the
fishery, until lately, but it has been almost fished out. The Solomons
were reported to have a good deal of shell, and a rush took place to
that part not long ago, but the yield was much exaggerated. There are
a good many atolls about the Central Pacific in general, which contain
more or less shell, and are generally owned and fished by Australian
syndicates. Outlying reefs and islets, where no one goes, now and then
turn out to be valuable. The news of a find travels apparently on
the wings of the seagulls from group to group, for no such place ever
remains secret for more than a very short time, and then, if the owner’s
title is not secure (a thing that may easily happen, in the case of an
island that does not lie within the geographical limits of any of the
annexed groups) there is sometimes trouble. Pearl-poaching is easy and
profitable, if not very safe; and who is to tell ugly tales, a thousand
miles from anywhere, out in the far Pacific?

_(The swift-winged schooner and the racing seas: decks foam-white
beneath a burning sky: salt wind on the lips, and the fairy-voiced
enchantress Adventure singing ever from beyond the prow! “O dreamers in
the man-stifled town,” do you hear the wide world calling?)_

And so the pirate captain brought us up to Niué, and left me there, and
sailed away with the ship to Auckland, where he gave over the command,
and went (so it was said) to aid in the instruction of sea-going youth,
somewhere further south. The Cook Islands shrieked with joyous amusement
when they heard of the pirate’s new rôle as the guide and mentor of
tender boyhood--but I do not know, after all. The pirate was as full of
mischief as an egg is full of meat, as full of fight as a sparrow-hawk,
gifted with an uncanny faculty for plunging into every kind of risk
that the wide seas of the earth could hold, and coming out unscathed and
asking for more. He was assuredly not to be numbered among the company
of the saints, but neither is the average “glorious human boy”--and on
the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief, the pirate’s new rôle
may well have turned out a success.

We came up to Niué graced by a last touch of the piratical spirit.
There was some blusterous weather as we neared the great island with its
iron-bound, rocky coasts, towards which we had been making for so many
days, but we swept up towards the land with every rag of canvas set,
for that was the pirate captain’s custom, and he would not break
it. By-and-by, as I was standing on the main deck, holding on to the
deckhouse, while I looked at the looming mass of blue ahead, the main
square-sail gave way with a report like a gun, and began to thrash the
foremast with streamers of tattered canvas. The pirate had it down in a
twinkling, and got the men to bend on a new sail immediately. It went
up to the sound of yelling Maori chants (for the crew liked this sort of
excitement), and once more the ship fled on towards Niué with every
sail straining against the gusty wind. Half-an-hour, and crack!--the
new square-sail was gone too, and half of it away to leeward like a huge
grey bird in a very great hurry. And the pirate, as we began to draw
inshore, raged up and down the deck, like a lion baulked of its prey. To
come up to Niué without every sail set was a disgrace that he had never
yet encountered, and it evidently hit him hard that he had not another
sail in the locker, and was forced to “carry on” as best he could
without it.

Niué, or Savage Island, is no joke to approach. It is about forty miles
round, and almost every yard of the whole forty is unapproachable, by
reason of the precipitous cliffs, guarded by iron spears of coral rock,
that surround it on every side. There are one or two places where an
approach can be made, in suitable weather, with care, but it is quite a
common thing for sailing vessels to beat on and off as much as a week,
before they succeed in landing passengers and goods. We came up on a
very gusty day, with the blow-holes in the cliffs spouting like whales
as we went by, but the pirate captain ran us into the anchorage below
Alofi as easily as if it had been perfect weather and an excellent
harbour, and we put out a boat to land our goods, including myself. The
pirate had not an ounce of caution in his body, but, as an old Irishman
on one of the islands declared: “The divil takes care of his own, let
him alone for that, and it’s not the Pirate that he’s goin’ to let into
any houle till he lets him into the biggest wan of all--mind that!”


_How not to see the Islands--Lonely Niué--A Heathen Quarantine
Board--The King and the Parliament--The Great Question of Gifts--Is
it Chief-like?--The New Woman in Niué--Devil-fish and Water-Snakes--An
Island of Ghosts--How the Witch-Doctor died--The Life of a Trader._

LANDINGS on Pacific islands are not usually easy, but there are few
approaches as bad as that of Niué, the solitary outlier of Polynesia. It
is a difficult task to get within reasonable distance of the land in the
first place, and when the ship has succeeded in manoeuvring safely up
to the neighbourhood of the cruel cliffs, the trouble is only beginning.
There are no harbours worth the name on the island, although the cliffs
show an occasional crack through which a boat may be brought down to
the sea, and the circling reef is broken here and there. The best that a
ship can do is to lie off at a safe distance, put out a boat, and trust
to the skill of the crew to effect a landing on the wharf. In anything
but really calm weather, communication is impossible. However, there are
very many calm days in this part of the Pacific, so chances are fairly

It was not at all as calm as one could have wished when the _Duchess_
put out her whaleboat to bring me ashore. But the pirate trusted to his
luck, and was, as usual, justified. The boat passage proved to be a mere
crack in the reef, through which the sea rushed with extreme violence,
dancing us up and down like a cork. It was not difficult for our smart
Maori crew to fend us off the knife-edged coral walls with their oars,
as we manoeuvred down towards the spider-legged little iron ladder
standing up in the surf, and pretending to be a wharf. But when we got
within an oar’s length of the ladder, and the boat was leaping wildly on
every swell, things got more exciting. The only way of landing on Niué
is to watch your time at the foot of the ladder, while the men fend
the boat off the coral, and jump on to the rungs at the right moment. A
native standing on the platform at the top takes you by the arms as
you rise, and snatches you into the air as the eagle snatched Endymion.
Only, instead of going all the way to heaven, you land on the pier--or
what passes for it--and find yourselves upon the soil of Niué.

Behind the pier rises a little pathway cut in the face of the rock, and
leading up to the main street of the capital. Once up the path, we are
fairly arrived in Savage Island.

It is not a place known to the globe-trotting tourist, as yet. Much
of the Pacific has been “discovered” by the tripper element of recent
years, but Niué is still almost inviolate. Once here, if one seeks the
true spirit of the South Seas, one still may find it.

Travellers go in scores by every steamer to Samoa, to Fiji, to Honolulu,
which are on the beaten track of “round-the-world.” They drive up to
Stevenson’s villa, they make excursions to Nuuanu Pali, they see a
sugar plantation here, and a kava drinking there, and a native dance,
specially composed to suit tourists’ tastes, somewhere else. They stay
a week in a fine modern hotel, drink green cocoanuts (and other things
that are stronger), take photographs of island girls wearing imported
Parisian or Sydney costumes, and think they have seen the life of the
islands. Never was there a greater mistake. The sweet South Seas do
not so easily yield up their secret and their charm. The spell that for
three hundred years has drawn the wandering hearts of the world across
the ocean ploughed by the keels of Drake and Hawkins and Cook, of
Dampier, Bougainville, and Bligh, will not unfold itself save to him who
will pay the price. And the price to-day is the same in kind, though
not in degree, as that paid by those old explorers and adventurers--hard
travel, scanty food, loneliness, loss of money and time, forgetting the
cities and civilisation. To know the heart of the South Seas, all these
things must be encountered willingly, with a love of the very hardship
they may bring, strong as the seabird’s love of the tossing waters and
thunderwaking storm.

The typical British tourist--yes, even he--hears from far off, at times,
the mysterious call of the island world, and tells himself that he will
listen to it a little nearer, and enjoy the siren song sung to so many
long before him. Hence his visits to the great Pacific ports that can
be reached by liner; hence, in most cases, his gradually acquired
conviction that the islands are, after all, very much like any other
place in the tropics--beautiful, interesting, but---- Well, writer
fellows always exaggerate: every one knows that.

Hotel dinners, big liners, shops, hired carriages, guides, and picture
postcards--these things are death to the spirit of the South Seas. This
is the first lesson that the island wanderer must learn. Where every one
goes the bloom is off the peach. Leave the great ports and the steamers;
disregard the advice of every one who knows anything (most people in the
island towns know everything, but you must not listen to them, for the
jingling of the trade dollar has long since deafened their ears to the
song of the mermaids on the coral beaches); take ship on a schooner, it
does not much matter where; live in a little bungalow under the palms
for weeks or months; ride and swim and feast with the brown people of
the coral countries, as one of themselves; learn, if you do not already
know, how to live on what you can get, and cook what you catch or pick
or shoot, to sleep on a mat and wash in a stream, do without newspapers
and posts, forget that there ever was a war anywhere, or an election, or
that there will ever be a “season” anywhere again; and so perhaps, the
charm of the island world will whisper itself in your waiting ear. What
then? What happened to the men who ate the enchanted fruit of the lotus
long ago? Well, no one ever said that the sweetness of the fruit was not
worth all that it cost.

There are about five thousand native inhabitants on Niué, and generally
a score or so of whites--almost all traders. Alofi, the capital,
possesses a few hundred of the former, and nearly all the latter. It is
a winsome little spot, and I loved it the moment the wide grassy street
first broke upon my view, as I climbed the narrow pathway from the

The houses stand down one side, as is the invariable custom of South
Sea towns. They are whitewashed concrete for the most part, built by
the natives out of materials furnished by the coral reef. The roofs are
plaited pandanus thatch, high and steep. The doors are mostly windows,
or the windows doors--it would be hard to say which. They are simply
long openings filled in with wooden slats, which can be sloped to suit
the wind and weather. Mats and cooking pots and the inevitable Chinese
camphor-wood box, for keeping clothes in, are all the furniture.
Round the doorways grow palms and gay hibiscus, and cerise-flowered
poinsettia, and here and there a native will have set up an odd
decoration of glittering stalactites from the caves on the shore, to
sparkle in the sun by his doorstep. The white men’s houses have grass
compounds in front for the most part, and many have iron roofs, glass
windows, and other luxuries.

All these houses look the one way--across the wide, empty grassy street,
between the stems of the leaning palms, to the sunset and the still blue
sea. It is a lonely sea, this great empty plain lying below the little
town. The _Duchess_ calls twice a year, the mission steamer once, a
trade steamer, ancient and worn out, limps across from Tonga, about
three hundred miles away, every ten or twelve months. That is all. The
island itself owns nothing bigger than a whaleboat, and cannot as a rule
communicate with any other place in case of emergency. Some few months
before my visit, a trader had very urgent need to send a letter to
Australia. After waiting in vain for something to call, he sighted
an American timber brig on her way to Sydney, far out on the horizon.
Hastily launching a native canoe, and filling it with fruit, he paddled
three or four miles out to sea, in the hope of being seen by the ship.
His signals were perceived, and the brig hove to, when the trader
paddled up to her, offered his fruit as a gift, and begged the captain
to take his letter. This the sailor willingly did, and still more
willingly accepted the excellent Niué bananas and oranges that went with
the missive. And so the post was caught--Niué fashion.

There is no doctor on the island as a rule, and if you want to die
during the intervals between ships, you may do so unopposed. I am almost
afraid to state how healthy the people of Niué are as a rule, in spite
of--or can it be in consequence of?--this deprivation.

The “bush” overflows the town, after the charming way of bush, in this
island world. Big lilies, bell-shaped, snowy petalled, and as long as
your hand, spill over into the main street from the bordering scrub. The
grass on the top of the cliff, the day I landed, was blazing with great
drifts of fiery salvia, and starred with pink and yellow marigolds.
About the houses were clumps of wild “foliage plants,” claret and
crimson leaved, looking like a nurseryman’s bedding-out corner. The coco
palm that I knew so well had a sister palm here, of a kind new to me--an
exceedingly graceful tree twenty to thirty feet high, bearing small
inedible berry-like fruits, and splendid fan-shaped leaves, of the shape
and size once so familiar in the “artistic type of drawing-room” at
home. Pinnacles of fantastic grey rock, all spiked and spired, started
up unexpectedly in the midst of the riotous green, and every pinnacle
was garlanded cunningly with wreaths and fronds of flowering vines.
There were mammee-apples and bananas beside most of the houses: yellow
oranges hung as thickly in the scrub as ornaments on a Christmas tree,
and one or two verandahs were decorated with the creeping trailers of
the delicious granadilla. A land of peace and plenty, it looked in the
golden rays of the declining sun, that windy blue afternoon. It proved
alas, to be nothing of the kind: its soil is fertile, but so thinly
scraped over the coral rock for foundation, that very little in the way
of nutritious food will grow--it has no water save what can be gathered
from deep clefts in the rocks, the bananas are scanty, the mammee-apples
unsatisfying, and the “oranges” are for the most part citrons,
drinkable, as lemons are, but little use for anything else. Indeed,
Niué is a useless place altogether, and nobody makes fortunes there
now-a-days, though one or two did well out of the “first skim” of its
trading, a generation ago. Nor does any one grow fat there, upon a
diet of tinned meats, biscuit, and fruit. Nor are there any marvellous
“sights,” like the volcanoes of Hawaii, or the tribe dancing and
firewalking of Fiji. Still I loved Niué, and love it yet.

It was so very far away, to begin with. In other islands, with regular
steamers, people concerned themselves to some degree about the doings of
the outer world, and used to wonder how things were getting on, beyond
the still blue bar of sea. Newspapers arrived, people came and went,
things were done at set times, more or less. One was still in touch with
the world, though out of sight.

But in Niué, the isolation was complete. There was no come and go. We
were on the road to nowhere. Nobody knew when any communication
with anywhere would be possible, so nobody troubled, and save for an
occasional delirious day when a ship really did come in, and waked us
all from our enchanted slumber for just So long as you might turn round
and look about you before dropping off into dreams again, we were asleep
to all that lay beyond the long horizon line below the seaward-leaning
palms. Niué was the world. The rest was a cloudy dream.

I rented a little cottage in the heart of a palm-grove, when I settled
down to wait for the problematic return of the _Duchess_, and see the
life of Niué. It belonged to a native couple, Kuru and Vekia, who were
well-to-do, and had saved money selling copra. The Niuéan, unlike every
other Polynesian, is always willing and anxious to make a bargain or do
a deal of any kind, and Kuru and his wife were as delighted to get the
chance of a “let” as any seaside landlady. They moved their small goods
out of the house most readily, and left me in full possession of the
two rooms and the verandah and the innumerable doors and windows, with
everything else to find for myself.

A general collection of furniture, taken up by a friendly white
resident, resulted in the loan of a bed and a box and a table, three
chairs, some cups and cutlery, and a jug and basin. These, with a
saucepan lent by my landlady (who, as I have said, was rich, and
possessed many superfluities of civilisation), made up the whole of my
household goods. For two months I occupied the little house among the
palms, and was happy. “Can a man be more than happy?” runs the Irish
proverb, and answer there is none.

There were never, in all my island wanderings, such shadows or such
sunsets, as I saw in lonely Niué. The little house was far away from
others, and the palms stood up round it close to the very door. In the
white, white moonlight, silver-clear and still as snow, I used to stay
for half a night on my verandah, sitting crosslegged in the darkness of
the eaves, and watching the wonderful great stars of shadow drawn out,
as if in ink, round the foot of every palm-tree. The perfect circle
of tenderly curving rays lay for the most part still as some wonderful
drawing about the foot of the tree; but at rare intervals, when the hour
was very late, and even the whisper of the surf upon the reef seemed to
have grown tired and dim and far away, the night would turn and sigh in
its sleep for just a moment, and all the palm-tree fronds would begin to
sway and shiver up in the sparkling moon-rays, glancing like burnished
silver in the light. Then the star at the foot would dance and sway as
well, and weave itself into forms of indescribable beauty, as if the
spirit of Giotto of the marvellous circles were hovering unseen in the
warm air of this alien country that he never knew, and pencilling forms
more lovely than his mortal fingers ever drew on earth.... Yes, it was
worth losing one’s sleep for, in those magic island nights.

In the daytime, I rode and walked a good deal about the island, which
is very fairly provided with roads, and tried to find out what I could
about the people and their ways. There is not a more interesting island
in the Pacific than Niué, from an ethnological point of view; but my
scientific knowledge was too contemptibly small to enable me to make use
of my opportunities. This I regretted, for the place is full of strange
survivals of ancient customs and characteristics, such as are seldom to
be found among Christianised natives. The people are somewhat rude
and rough in character; indeed until about forty years ago, they
were actually dangerous. Their island is one of the finest of natural
fortresses, and they used it as such, declining to admit strangers on
any pretext. Captain Cook attempted to land in 1777, but was beaten
off before he had succeeded in putting his boat’s crew ashore. Other
travellers for the most part gave the place a wide berth.

When men of the island wandered away to other places (the Niuéan is a
gipsy by nature) they received no kindly welcome on attempting to come
home. The Niuéan had an exceeding fear of imported diseases, and to
protect himself against them, he thought out a system of sanitary
precaution, all on his own account, which was surely the completest
the world has ever seen. There was no weak link in the chain: no break
through which measles, or cholera, or worse could creep, during the
absence of an official, or owing to the carelessness of an inspector.
Every person attempting to land on Niué, be he sick or well, stranger,
or native, was promptly killed! That was Niué’s rule. You might go away
from the island freely, but if you did, you had better not attempt to
come back again, for the “sanitary officers” would knock your brains
out on the shore. It was without doubt the simplest and best system of
quarantine conceivable. Possibly as a result of this Draconian law, the
people of Niué are remarkably strong and hardy to-day, though since the
relaxation of the ancient rule, a certain amount of disease has crept

The people, though warlike and fierce, were never cannibals here at the
worst. They did not even eat their enemies when slain in battle. They
enjoyed a fight very much, however, when they got the chance of one,
and still remembered the Waterloo victory of their history, against the
fierce Tongans, about two hundred years ago. The Tongans, until within
the last half-century, seem to have been the Danes of the Pacific,
always hunting and harrying some other maritime people, and always a
name of terror to weak races. Tonga is the nearest land to Niué, being
about three hundred miles away, so it was not to be expected that the
Niuéans would escape invasion, and they were fully prepared for the
Tongan attack when it did come. They did not attempt to meet force by
force. There was one place they knew where the Tongans might succeed in
landing, and near to this they laid a cunning plan for defence.

A trader took me down to see the spot one Sunday afternoon. It is one
of the numerous caves of Niué, with a top open for the most part to the
sky. The cave runs underneath the greenery and the creeping flowers
of the bush--a long black gash just showing here and there among the
leaves. The drop is forty or fifty feet, and an unwary foot might very
easily stumble over its edge, even now.

On the day when the Tongan war canoes broke the level line of the sea
horizon, the Niué men hastened to the shore, and prepared the cave in
such a way as to set a fatal and most effective trap for their enemies.
They cut down a mass of slight branches and leafy twigs, and covered
the gulf completely, so that nothing was to be seen except the ordinary
surface of the low-growing bush. When the enemies landed, the Niué men
showed themselves on the farther side of the cave, as if fleeing into
the woods. The Tongans, with yells of joy, rushed in pursuit, straight
over the gulf--and in another moment were lying in crushed and dying
heaps at the foot of the pit, while the men of Niué, dashing out of
ambush on every side, ran down into the cave from its shallow end and
butchered their enemies as they lay.

After this, it is said that the Tongans left Niué alone.

Because of the loneliness and inaccessibility of the place, the Savage
Islanders have always been different from the rest of the Pacific. The
typical “Kanaka” is straight-haired, light brown in colour, mild and
gentle and generous in disposition, ready to welcome strangers and feast
them hospitably. He is aristocratic to the backbone in his ideas, and
almost always has a native class of nobles and princes, culminating in a
hereditary king.

The Savage Islander is often frizzy-haired, and generally a darkish
brown in colour. His manners are rather brusque, and he gives nothing
without obtaining a heavy price for it. He has no chiefs, nobles, or
princes, and does not want any. There is always a head of the State, who
enjoys a certain amount of mild dignity, and may be called the King
for want of a better name. The office is not hereditary, however, the
monarch being elected by the natives who form the island Parliament.
Meetings of this Parliament are held at irregular intervals; and
the King, together with the British Resident Commissioner, takes an
important part in the debates.

These are very formal affairs. The brown M.P.s who live, each in his
own village, in the utmost simplicity of manners and attire, dress
themselves up for the day in full suits of European clothing, very heavy
and hot, instead of the light and comfortable cotton kilt they generally
wear. They travel into Alofi and join the local members on the green
before the public hall--generally used as a school-house. King Tongia
joins them, the British Resident comes also, and for hour after hour,
inside the great, cool hall, with its matted floor and many open
window-embrasures, the talk goes on. This road is to be made, that
banyan tree is to be removed, regulation pigsties are to be built in
such a village, petitions are to be sent up to New Zealand about the tax
on tobacco--and so on, and so on. The king is a tough old man; he has
his say on most questions, and it is not considered generally good for
health or business to oppose him too much; but of royal dignity he has,
and asks for, none.

There is something quite American in the history of Tongia’s elevation,
some seven years ago. He had acted as Prime Minister to the late head of
the State; and when the latter died he calmly assumed the reins without
going through the formality of an election. This was not the usual
custom, and some of the members remonstrated. Tongia told them, however,
that he was in the right, and meant to stay on. When the captain of a
ship died on a voyage, did not his chief mate take over command? The
cases were exactly parallel, to his mind. This argument pleased the
members, who had most of them been to sea, and Tongia was allowed to
retain his seat, the objectors calming themselves with the thought of
the sovereign’s age--he was well over eighty at that time. “He is only
the stump of a torch,” they said; “he will soon burn out.” But the stump
is burning yet, and shows no symptoms of extinction. Tongia married a
pretty young girl soon after his “election,” settled down in the royal
palace--a whitewashed cottage with a palm-thatch roof--and seems likely
to outlast many of his former opponents.

The powers of the king, limited as they are, have lessened since 1902,
when New Zealand annexed Niué--a proceeding that had its humorous side,
if one examines the map, for Niué is something like a thousand miles
from Auckland. The Resident Commissioner who is responsible for the
well-being of the island lives in a house much more like a palace than
Tongia’s modest hut, and is in truth the real ruler of the place. His
work, however, is not overpowering. He is supposed to be judge and
lawgiver, among many other duties, but in Niué no one ever seems to do
anything that requires punishment. There is nothing in the shape of a
prison, if any one did. Innocent little crimes, such as chicken stealing
with extenuating circumstances, or allowing pigs to trespass into
somebody’s garden, occasionally blot the fair pages of the island
records, but a little weeding, or a day’s work on the road is considered
sufficient punishment for these. At the time of my stay, which lasted
nearly two months, such a wave of goodness seemed to be passing over the
island that the Resident complained he could not find enough crime in
the place to keep his garden weeded, and declared that he really wished
somebody would do something, and do it quick, or all his imported
flowers would be spoiled! Since the forties, missionaries have been busy
in Savage Island, and there is no doubt that they have done their work
effectively. The early traders, who arrived near the same time, also
helped considerably in the civilisation of the natives. Drink has never
been a trouble on Niué, and at the present date, no native ever tastes
it, and strict regulations govern importation by the whites, for their
own use. The natives are healthy, although European diseases are by no
means unknown. Skin diseases are so troublesome that many of the traders
wash the money they get from the bush towns, before handling, and the
new-comer’s first days in the island are sure to be harassed by the
difficulties of avoiding miscellaneous hand-shaking. Knowing what one
knows about the prevalence of skin-troubles, one does not care to run
risks; but the Niuéan, like all islanders, has unfortunately learned the
habit of continual hand-shaking from his earliest teachers, and is never
likely to unlearn it. So the visitor who does not want to encounter
disappointed faces and puzzled inquiries, looks out old gloves to go
a-walking with, and burns them, once he or she is settled in the place,
and no longer a novelty.

There are manners in Niué--of a sort. “Fanagé fei!” is the greeting
to any one met on the road, and it must not be left out, or the Savage
Islanders will say you have no manners. It means, “Where are you going?”
 and it is not at all an empty inquiry, for you must mention the name
of your destination in reply, and then repeat the inquiry on your own
account, and listen for the answer. Riding across the island day by day,
I used to pass in a perfect whirlwind of “Where-are-you-goings?”
 callings out hastily, as the horse cantered over the grassy road,
“Avatele,” or “Mutelau,” (names of villages) or “Misi Nicolasi” (Mrs.
Nicholas, a trader’s wife), and adding as I passed on: “Fanagé fei?” to
the man or woman who had greeted me. There was generally a long story in
reply, but I fear I was usually out of hearing before it was ended. My
manners, out riding, must have struck Niué as decidedly vulgar.

It was during the first few days of my stay that I attained a
distinction that I had never hoped to see, and that I am not at all
likely to see again. I was made a headline; in a copybook! If that is
not fame, what is?

The native school-teacher--a brown, black-eyed and bearded man of middle
age and dignified presence--had called at my house shortly after my
arrival, to display his English and his importance, and welcome the
stranger. He wanted, among a great many other things, to know what my
name was, and how it was spelt. I wrote it down for him, and he
carried it away, studying it the while. Next day, the copies set in the
principal school for the youth of Niué consisted of my name in full,
heading the following legend: “While this lady is in Niué, we must all
be very good.” Evidently a case of “Après moi le déluge!”

Sitting on a box in my cool little shady house of a morning, writing
on my knee, with the whisper of the palms about the door, and the
empty changeless blue sea lying below, I used to receive visitor after
visitor, calling on different errands--some to sit on the verandah
and look at me in silence; some to come in, squat on the floor, and
discourse fluently for half an hour in a language I did not understand
(they never seemed distressed by the absence of replies); some to sell
curios; some to give dinners!

You give dinners in Niué in a strictly literal sense. Instead of
bringing the guest to the dinner, you take the dinner to the guests and
then wait to see it eaten. It generally consists of a baked fish wrapped
in leaves, several lumps of yam, hot and moist, and as heavy as iron, a
pudding made of mashed pumpkin and breadfruit, another made of bananas,
sugarcane, and cocoanut, some arrowroot boiled to jelly, and the
inevitable taro top and cocoanut cream--about which I must confess I was
rather greedy. The rest of the dinner I used to accept politely, as
it was set out on the floor, eat a morsel or two here and there, and
afterwards hand over the remainder to Kuru and his wife, who were always
ready to dispose of it. At the beginning, I used to offer gifts in
return, which were always refused. Then, acting on the advice of old
residents, I reserved the gift for a day or two, and presented it at the
first suitable opportunity. It was always readily accepted, when offered
after this fashion, and thus I learned one more lesson as to island

“You’ll see a lot of stuff in travel books,” said an old resident to
me, “about the wonderful generosity of the island people, all over the
Pacific--how they press gifts of every kind on travellers, and won’t
take any return. Well, that’s true, and it’s not true. All the island
people love strangers, and are new-fangled with every fresh face, and
they do come along with presents, but as to not wanting a return, why,
that isn’t quite the case. They won’t take payment, mostly, and there’s
very few places where they’ll even take a present, right off. But they
always expect something back, some time. I know that isn’t what the
books say, but books are mostly wrong about anything you’ve got to go
below the top of things to see--and the traveller likes that pretty
idea, of getting presents for nothing, too much to give it up easily.
Still, you may take my word for it that the natives _will_ take a return
for anything and everything they give you, here and everywhere else,
unless it’s a drink of cocoanut, or a bit of fruit they offer you on
the road, or maybe a bit of dinner, if you’d drop in on them at meals.
Set presents you’ve got to pay for, and more than their value too, if
you take them. I don’t myself, I find native presents too expensive.”

What do you want to give? Oh, well, if a woman brings you in a dinner
or two, give her a trade silk handkerchief, one of those shilling ones,
some day. Or if they bring you baskets of fruit, give them a couple of
sticks of tobacco. They’ll take payment for fruit here, in that way, at
any time. You’ll need to give some things when you’re going away, to the
people you’ve seen most of--a few yards of cotton, or something of
that kind. White people are expected to give presents, all over the
island--it needn’t be dear things, but it ought to be something.

If the lords and folk who have been round the Pacific in their yachts
only heard what the natives say of them, because they didn’t know that,
they’d take care to bring a case or two of cheap stuff for presents next
time. ‘Not chief-like,’ is what the natives say--and I ask you yourself,
it isn’t ‘chief-like,’ is it, to take all you can get, and give not a
stick of niggerhead or an inch of ribbon in return?

I’d think they’d be too proud--but then, I’m not a tourist trotting
round the globe, I’m only a man who works for his living.

“As for yourself, you take my advice, and say right out you don’t want
the dinners, when they bring them. Yes, it’ll offend them, but you must
either do that, or pay for stuff you don’t want three days out of seven,
or six days, more likely, if they think you’re liberal-minded. You’ll
get no end of presents when you’re going away, pretty things enough, and
those will have to be paid for in presents, too. Better make it as cheap
as you can, meantime.

“But those people who go travelling like princes, and load their cabins
up with spears and clubs and tappa-cloths and shells the natives have
given them everywhere they went--and not a farthing, or a farthing’s
worth, do they let it cost them from end to end--I tell you, they’re a
disgrace to England,” concluded my informant hotly.

[Illustration: 0259]

“I am quite sure it is simply because they do not know--how should
they?” I asked, trying to defend the absent globe-trotters.

“Decent feeling ought to teach them!” declared the critic of manners,
who was evidently not to be pacified.

I had my dinner to cook, so I went away, and left him still revolving
the iniquities of travelling milords in his memory. But I did not forget
the conversation, for it seemed to me that the facts about this matter
of present-giving and taking ought to be known as widely as possible. In
nearly two years of island travel that followed after those days, I had
full opportunity of proving the truth of the statements made by my Niué
acquaintance, and every experience only served to confirm them.

Travellers who visit the islands should note this fact, and lay in a
stock of suitable goods at Sydney, which is the starting point for most
Pacific travel. There are various firms who make a speciality of island
trade, and these will usually sell any reasonable quantity at wholesale
prices. The natives of the Pacific, in general, are not to be put off
with worthless trifles as presents, nor do they care for beads, unless
in the few groups still remaining uncivilised. They like best the sort
of goods with which they are already familiar, and do not care for
“imported” novelties. Silk handkerchiefs are liked everywhere, and
they are easy to carry. Cotton or silk stuff is much valued. Imitation
jewellery--brooches, pins, etc.--is valued quite as much as real, except
in Niué, where the natives seem to have a natural craving and liking
for precious metals. Tinned foods of all kinds, and sweets, are perhaps
better appreciated than anything else. Tinned salmon in especial, is
the safest kind of “tip” than can be given to any native, from a lordly
Samoan chief, down to a wild “bushie” from the Solomons.

Withal, one must not take away the character of the island world for
hospitality, because of its childlike fancy for presents. Many and many
a destitute white man can tell of the true generosity and ungrudging
kindness he has met with at the hands of the gentle brown men and women,
when luck was hard and the whites would have none of him. They are not
fair-weather friends, in the European sense of the word. True, when the
weather is sunny with you, they will come round and bask in the warmth,
and share your good luck. But when the rainy days come, they will share
all they have with you, just as freely, and they will not look for
presents, then.

The industries of the island filled up many a pleasant morning. Niué
is supposed to be the most hard-working of all the Pacific islands, and
certainly its people do not seem to eat the bread of idleness. Here,
there is no lounging and dreaming and lotus-eating on the sounding coral
shore--perhaps there isn’t much shore anyway; perhaps because the Savage
Islander is not made that way. The food of the people consists largely
of yams, and in a country which has hardly any depth of soil, these are
hard to grow, and need care. The bananas are grown in the most wonderful
way in the clefts of the coral rocks, so that they actually appear to be
springing out of the stone. Copra is made in fair quantity, and many
of the people spend the greater part of their time collecting a certain
kind of fungus which is exported to Sydney, and used (or so report
declares) for making an imitation of birds’ nest soup in China.

[Illustration: 0267]

The proportion of women on the island is very large, because there
are always at least a thousand men, out of a total population of five
thousand souls, away working elsewhere. The Niuéan is a bit of a miser,
and will do anything for money. He engages, therefore, as a labourer in
the plantations of Samoa, where the natives will not do any work they
can avoid, or goes up to Malden Island to the guano pits, or takes a
year or two at sea on an island schooner, or goes away as fireman on the
missionary steamer--anything to make money. Meantime his women-kind stay
at home and keep themselves. They work about the white people’s houses,
they act as stevedores to the ships, they fetch and carry all over the
island. When I wanted two heavy trunks conveyed a distance of six miles
one day, four sturdy Niué girls came to do the work; slung the trunks
on two poles, trotted away with them, and reached the end of the journey
before my lazy horse had managed to carry me to my destination. They do
an immense amount of plaiting work--mats, fans, baskets, and above all,
hats, of which the annual export runs into thousands of dozens. These
hats are made of fine strips of dried and split pandanus leaf; they much
resemble the coarser kind of Panama, and give excellent shade and wear.
They are worn over the whole Pacific, and a great part of New Zealand,
and, I strongly suspect, are exported to England under the name, and at
the price of second-grade Panamas. A clever worker will finish one in
a day. Much of the plaiting is done in caves in the hot season, as the
material must be kept fairly cool and moist.

[Illustration: 0276]

When the Niué folks are not working, they idle a little at times,
but not very much. They sing in chorus occasionally, but it is not
an absorbing occupation with them, and they do not dance a great deal
either, since the advent of missionary rule. Their chief amusement is
an odd one--walking round the island. You can scarcely take a long ride
without encountering a stray picnic party of natives, mostly women,
striding along at a good round pace, and heavily laden with fruit,
food, and mats. They always complete the journey--forty miles--in a
day, picknicking on the roadside for meals, and seem to enjoy themselves
thoroughly. The strenuous life, exemplified after this fashion, is
certainly the last thing one would expect to find in the Pacific. But
then, the great fascination of the island world lies in the fact that
here, as nowhere else, “only the unexpected happens.”


It is a day of molten gold, with a sea coloured like a sheet of sapphire
glass in a cathedral window. I am busy washing up my breakfast things
at the door (there is no false shame about the performance of domestic
duties in the capital city of Niué) when a couple of native girls appear
on the grass pathway, their wavy hair loose and flowing, their white
muslin dresses kilted up high over strong brown limbs. Each carries
a clean “pareo” in her hand. They are going for a swim, one of them
informs me in broken English: will I come too?

Of course I will. I get out my own bathing dress, and follow the pair
down the cliff, scrambling perilously from crag to crag, until we reach
a point where it is possible to get down on to the narrow rocky ledge at
the verge of the sea. Within the reef here there is a splendid stretch
of protected water, peacock-blue in colour, immensely deep, and almost
cold. There are no sharks about here, the girls tell me, and it is an
excellent place for a swim.

[Illustration: 0288]

Oh, for a Royal Academician to paint the picture made by the younger
girl, as she stands on the edge of the rocks ready to leap in, dressed
in a bright blue scarf that is wound round and round her graceful bronze
body from shoulder to knee, and parting her full wavy hair aside with
slender dark fingers! Beauty of form did not die out with the ancient
Greeks: the Diana of the Louvre and the Medici Venus may be seen any day
of any year, on the shores of the far-away islands, by those who know
lovely line when they see it, and have not given over their senses,
bound and blinded, to the traditions of the schools. If there is any man
in the world to-day who can handle a hammer and chisel as Phidias did,
let him come to the South Sea Islands and look there for the models
that made the ancient Greek immortal. The sculptor who can mould a young
island girl, Tahitian for the Venus type, Samoan for the Diana, or
a young island chief, like Mercury, in bronze, will give the world
something as exquisite and as immortal as any marvel from the hand of
Phidias or Praxiteles.

My beautiful Niué girl was an exception, so far as her own island went.
Niué women are strong and well made, but not lovely as a rule. Her
companion was as sturdy as a cart-horse, but as plain as a pig. She
smoked a huge pipe, chewed plug tobacco, and laughed like a hyena. They
were truly a well-contrasted pair.

The reef was a good way off, so we all struck out for that, when we
came up panting and blowing from our dive. The girls gave me a fine
exhibition of under-water swimming now and then, slipping easily
underneath the gleaming surface, and disappearing from view below, for
so long a time that one became quite nervous. My pretty little friend
persuaded me to accompany her once, and though I did not like it among
the ugly-looking coral caves, I dived for a short time, and endeavoured
to follow her flying heels.

Under water among the coral reefs! It sounds romantic, but it was not
pleasant. Five feet beneath the surface, the light was as clear as day,
and one could see all about one, far too much, for the things that were
visible were disquieting. I knew extremely well that coral reefs are the
haunt of every kind of unpleasant sea-beast, and I fancied Victor Hugo’s
“pieuvre” at the very least, within the gloomy arch of every cave. There
were far too many fish also, and they were much too impertinent, and a
fish in one’s hair, even if harmless, is not nice. I had not gone down
much over a fathom, when I turned, and began to beat upwards again
looking eagerly at the light. And then I saw a thing that as nearly as
possible made me open my mouth and drown myself.

It was merely a bunch of black waving trailers, coming out of the dark
of the rocks, and spreading between me and the pale-green light of day.
I did not know what it was, and I do not know, to this day. And, like
the runaway soldier in the poem, “I don’t know where I went to, for I
didn’t stop to see.” I was on the top of the water, twenty yards away,
and swimming at racing speed, when I realised the fact that I was still
alive, some moments later. And on the surface I stayed, for the rest
of the swim. The native girls were exceedingly amused, for the islander
fears nothing that is in the water or under it; but I did not mind their

One of them then, as she swam along, began laying her mouth to the
surface of the water, and blowing bubbles, laughing all the time. She
insisted that I should do it too, and I imitated her, at which she
seemed delighted. “That what we doing, suppose some shark come,” she
explained, “shark he plenty frighten, no like that.”

We practised this useful accomplishment for some time, and then
went ashore again. I regret to say that I roused the amusement of my
companions yet again, before we landed, by making hasty exclamations,
and dodging rapidly away from the embraces of a black-and-white banded
snake, about four feet long, that suddenly appeared from nowhere in
particular, moving very swiftly, and seemed disposed to argue the right
of way. The lagoon at Raratonga had not prepared me for the Zoological
Garden in which one had to bathe at Niué.

“Snake he no harm,” said my Venus Anadyomene, as she stood on the rock,
with her bathing scarf in her hand, wringing it out in the calmest
manner in the world.

“Plenty-plenty snake stop there.”

There were indeed plenty of snakes. One could see them any fine day from
the top of the cliffs, gliding through the water below, or lying on
the rocks in family parties of a score or two, conspicuous at a great
distance, because of their handsome black-and-white banded skins. As
to there being no harm--well, I never heard of any one in Niué
being injured. But a boy in Fiji trod on one of these checkerboarded
creatures, about that time, and died in half an hour from its bite. I am
strongly inclined to think that the Niué snake is poisonous, like almost
all sea-snakes, though it does not seem at all ready to attack.

What was it I saw under water? I never knew, but I guessed as much as
I wanted, a day or two later, when I saw a native, fishing on the
reef near my bathing-place, draw up a big devil-fish, with eight limp
dangling arms’ over six feet long, and carry it away. A trader told me
that he had once pulled up one himself, while out fishing in a light
canoe, and that it seized hold of the little boat, and made such a fight
that he barely escaped with his life. It is the pleasant habit of this
fish, when attacked by a human being, to fling its hideous tentacles
over his head and face, and force them up into eyes, nostrils, and
mouth, so as to suffocate him, if he cannot master the creature.

“Do you think there were any sharks about the day I bathed?” I inquired.

“Well, if the girls were blowing, I should say there must have been.
They wouldn’t do it for fun altogether,” he replied.

“Surely they wouldn’t bathe, if they knew there were any about?”

“Oh, wouldn’t they, though! _They_ don’t mind them. No native is afraid
of anything in the sea.”

I believed this with reservations, until a day came in another island,
when I nearly furnished a dinner for a shark myself, and thenceforth
gave up bathing in unprotected tropical waters, for good. It was in
Rakahanga, many hundreds of miles nearer the Line, and I had left the
schooner to enjoy a walk and a bathe. A native Rakahangan girl, who had
never seen a white woman before, and was wildly excited at the thought
of going bathing with this unknown wonder, found a boat for me, and
allowed me to pick my own place in the inner lagoon of the island. I
chose a spot where the lagoon narrowed into a bottle-neck communicating
with the sea, and we-started our swim. The girl, however, much to my
surprise, would not go more than a few yards from the boat, and declined
to follow me when I struck out for the open water. I had been assured
by her, so far as my scanty knowledge of Maori allowed me to understand,
that there were no sharks, so her conduct seemed incomprehensible until
a stealthy black fin, shaped like the mainsail of a schooner, rose out
of the water a few score yards away, and began making for me!

The native girl was first into the boat, but I was assuredly not long
after her. The back fin did not follow, once I was out of the water. But
the heat of that burning day far up towards the Line, was hardly enough
to warm me, for half an hour afterwards.

I found, on asking the question that I should have asked first of all,
that the bottle-neck entrance of the lagoon was a perfect death-trap of
sharks, and that more than one native had been eaten there.

“Why on earth did the girl tell me there were none, and why did she
venture into such a place herself?” I asked.

“Well,” said the only white man on the island, “I should think she knew
that any shark will take a white person, and leave a native, if there’s
a choice. And if you had that red bathing-dress on that you’re carrying,
why, you were simply making bait of yourself!”

“But why should she want to see me killed?”

“Oh, she didn’t. She only wanted to have the fun of a bathe with a white
woman, and just took the chances!”

So much about bathing, in the “sunny isles of Eden.” One is sorry to
be obliged to say that it is one of the disappointments of the Pacific.
Warm, brilliant water, snowy coral sands, and glancing fish of rainbow
hues, are charming accompaniments to a bath, no doubt, but they are too
dearly paid for when snakes, sharks, sting-rays, and devil-fish have to
be counted into the party.


Nothing in curious Niué is quite so curious as the native fancies about
ghosts and devils. In spite of their Christianity, they still hold fast
to all their ancient superstitions about the powers of evil.

Every Savage Islander believes, quite as a matter of course, that ghosts
walk the roads and patrol the lonely bush, all night long. Some are
harmless spirits, many are malignant devils. After dark has fallen,
about six o’clock, no one dares to leave his house except for some very
important errand; and if it is necessary to go out so late as nine
or ten o’clock, a large party will go together--this even in the town
itself. Every native has a dog or two, of a good barking watchdog breed,
not to protect property, for theft is unknown, but to drive away ghosts
at night! Devil possession is believed in firmly. When a man, takes
sick, his neighbours try, in a friendly manner, to “drive the devil out
of him.” Perhaps they hang him up by his thumbs; possibly they put his
feet in boiling water, causing fearful scalds; or they may drive sharks’
teeth into him here and there. But the most popular method is plain and
simple squeezing, to squeeze the devil out! This often results in broken
ribs, and occasionally in death. It is a curious fact, in connection
with this “squeezing,” that the natives are remarkably expert
“masseurs,” and can “drive the devil” out of a sprain, or a headache, or
an attack of neuralgia, by what seems to be a clever combination of the
“pétrissage” and “screw” movement of massage. This, they say, annoys
the devil so much that he goes away. Applied to the trunk, however,
and carried out with the utmost strength of two or three powerful men,
Savage Islander massage is-(as above stated) often fatal--and small

When a man has died, from natural or unnatural causes, a great feast
is held of baked pig and fowl, yams, taro, fish, and cocoanuts. Presents
are given to the dead man’s relatives, as at a wedding, and other
presents are returned by them to the men who dig the grave. The corpse
is placed in a shallow hole, wrapped in costly mats; and then begins
the ghostly life of the once-loved husband or father, who now becomes a
haunting terror to those of his own household. Over his grave they erect
a massive tomb of concrete and lime, meant to discourage him, so far
as possible, from coming out to revisit the upper world. They gather
together roots of the splendid scarlet poinsettia, gorgeous hibiscus,
and graceful wine-coloured foliage plants, and place them about his
tomb, to make it attractive to him. They collect his most cherished
possessions--his “papalangi” (white man’s) bowler hat, which he used to
wear on Sundays at the five long services in the native church; his best
trousers; his orange-coloured singlet with pink bindings; his tin mug
and plate--and place them on the grave. Savage Island folk are very
avaricious and greedy; yet not a soul will dare to touch these valuable
goods; they lie on the grave, in sun and storm, until rotted or
broken. If it is a woman’s grave, you may even see her little hand
sewing-machine (almost every island in the Pacific possesses scores
of these) placed on the tomb, to amuse the ghost in its leisure hours.
There will be a bottle of cocoanut hair-oil, too, scented with “tieré”
 flowers, and perhaps a little looking-glass or comb--so that we can
picture the spirit of the dark-eyed island girls, like mermaids, coming
forth at night to sit in the moonlight and dress their glossy hair--if
ghosts indeed have hair like mortal girls!

[Illustration: 0296]

Mosquito-curtains, somewhat tattered by the wind, can be seen on many
graves, carefully stretched over the tomb on the regulation uprights
and cross-pieces, as over a bed. This is, no doubt, intended to help the
ghost to lie quiet, lest the mosquitoes should annoy it so much that it
be driven to get up and walk about. Certainly, if a Savage Island ghost
does walk, it is not because every care is not taken to make it (as the
Americans would say) “stay put.”

There are no graveyards on the island. Every man is buried on his own
land, very often alongside the road, or close to his house. The thrifty
islanders plant onions and pumpkins on the earth close about the tomb,
and enjoy the excellent flavour imparted to these vegetables by the
essence of dead ancestor which they suck up through the soil. In odd
contradiction to this economical plan, a “tapu” is placed upon all the
cocoanut trees owned by the deceased; and for a year or more valuable
nuts are allowed to lie where they fall, sprouting into young plants,
and losing many tons of copra annually to the island. Groups of palms
unhealthily crowded together, bear witness everywhere to the antiquity
of this strange practice.

The main, and indeed the only good road, across the island, owns a
spot of fearsome reputation. On a solitary tableland, swept by salt
sea-winds, stand certain groups of clustered cocoa-palms, sprung from
tapu’s nuts on dead men’s lands. Here the natives say, the ghosts and
devils have great power, and it is dangerous to walk there at night
alone, even for white men, who take little account of native spirits.
Many of the white traders of the island are shy of the spot; and some
say that when riding in parties across the island at night, their horses
shy and bolt passing the place, and exhibit unaccountable fear. Only a
year or two ago, a terrible thing happened in this desolate spot, as
if to prove the truth of local traditions. There was one native of the
island, a “witch-doctor,” learned in charms and spells, who professed
not to be afraid of the devils. He could manage them, he said; and to
prove it, he used sometimes to walk alone across the island at night.
One morning, he did not return from an excursion of this nature. The
villagers set out in a body to look for him in the broad light of the
tropical sun. They found him, at the haunted spot, lying on the ground
dead. His face was black and his body horribly contorted. The devils
had fought him, and conquered him--so the natives said. And now no gold
would induce a Savage Islander to pass the fatal spot after dark.

I asked the white missionary doctor resident at the time of my visit on
the island, if he could account for the death. He said that he had not
held a post-mortem and therefore could not say what the cause might be;
but the appearance of the corpse was undoubtedly as described by the

Being anxious to investigate the truth of these stories, I determined
to spend a night on the spot, and see what happened. The natives were
horrified beyond measure at the idea; and when an accident on a coral
reef laid me up from walking exercise until just before the schooner
called again at the island to take me away--thus preventing me from
carrying out the plan--they were one and all convinced that the fall
was the work of devils, anxious to prevent me from meddling with their

The problem, then, remained unsolved, and rests open to any other
traveller to investigate. But as Savage Island lies far off the track
of the wandering tourist, its ghosts are likely to remain undisturbed in
their happy hunting-grounds for the present.

Mrs. Joe Gargery would certainly have liked Niué, for it is a place
where there is none of the “pompeying” so obnoxious to her Spartan soul.
And yet, if you stay there long, you will find out that Savage Island
practises certain of the early Christian virtues, if it has dropped a
few of its luxuries manufactured by civilisation. If you want a horse to
ride across the island--a gentle, native creature that goes off at both
ends, like a fire-cracker, when you try to mount, biting and kicking
simultaneously, and, when mounted, converts your ride into a sandwich of
jibbing and bolting, you will call in at the nearest trader’s, and tell
him you want his horse and his neighbour’s saddle and whip. All these
will appear at your door, with a couple of kindly messages, in half an
hour. You will time your arrival at the different villages so as to hit
off some one’s meal-hours, walk in, ask for a help of the inevitable
curried tin, and carry off a loaf of bread or a lump of cake, if your
host happens to have baked that morning and you have not. When a ship
comes in--perhaps the bi-yearly steamer from Samoa, with real mutton
and beef in her ice-chest--and the capital gorges for two days, you,
the stranger within their gates, will meet hot chops walking up to your
verandah between two hot plates, and find confectioners’ paper bags full
of priceless New Zealand potatoes, sitting on your doorstep. You will
learn to shed tears of genuine emotion at the sight of a rasher of
bacon, and to accept with modest reluctance the almost too valuable gift
of one real onion. Hospitality among the white folk of Savage Island
is hospitality, and no mistake, and its real generosity can only be
appreciated by those who know the supreme importance assumed by “daily
bread,” when the latter is dependent upon the rare and irregular calls
of passing ships.

For, like a good many Pacific Islands, this coral land is more beautiful
than fertile. Its wild fantastic rocks, which make up the whole surface
of the island, produce in their clefts and hollows enough yam, taro,
banana, and papaw to feed the natives; but the white man wants more.
Tins are his only resource--tins and biscuits, for flour does not keep
long, and bread is often unattainable. Fowls or eggs can seldom be
bought, for the reason that some one imported a number of cats many
years ago; these were allowed to run wild in the bush, and have now
become wild in earnest, devouring fowls, and even attacking dogs and
young pigs at times. Why, then, if the island is valueless to Europeans,
and the life hard, do white men live in Savage Island and many similar
places? For the reason that fortunes have been piled up, in past years,
by trading in such isolated spots, and that there is still money to
be made, though not so much as of old. Trading in the Pacific is a
double-barrelled sort of business. You settle down on an island where
there is a good supply of copra (dried cocoa-nut kernel, manufactured
by the natives). You buy the copra from the islanders at about £8 a
ton, store it away in your copra-house until the schooner or the steamer
calls, and then ship it off to Sydney, where it sells at £13 to £14 a
ton. Freight and labour in storing and getting on board, eat into the
profits. But, in addition to buying, the trader sells. He has a store,
where cheap prints, violent perfumes, gaudy jewellery, tapes and buttons
and pins and needles, tins of beef, shoes, etc., are sold to the
natives at a price which leaves a very good profit on their cost down in

The laws of all the Pacific Colonies forbid the white trader to buy from
the natives, except with cash; but, as the cash comes back to him before
long over the counter of the store, it comes to much the same in the end
as the old barter system of the early days, out of which money used to
be, quickly and easily made. Sometimes the trader, if in a small way
of business, sells his copra to captains of calling ships at a smaller
price than the Auckland value. But nowadays so many stores are owned by
big Auckland and Sydney firms that most of the stuff is shipped off for
sale in New Zealand or Australia. “Panama” hats, already mentioned,
are a very important article of commerce here. Every island has some
speciality of its own besides the inevitable copra; and the trader
deals in all he can get. The trader’s life is, as a rule, a pleasant
one enough. Savage Island is one of the worst places where he could find
himself; and yet the days pass happily enough in that solitary outlier
of civilisation. There is not much work to do; the climate is never
inconveniently hot; the scenery, especially among the up-country
primaeval forests, is very lovely. There is a good deal of riding and
bathing, a little shooting, and a myriad of wild and fantastic caves to
explore when the spirit moves one. The native canoes are easy to manage
and excellent to fish from.

[Illustration: 0303]

It is traditional in Savage Island for the few white people--almost all
rival traders--to hang together, and live in as friendly a manner as a
great family party. If the great world is shut out, its cares are shut
away, and life sits lightly on all. No one can be extravagant; no
one can “keep up appearances” at the cost of comfort; no one is
over-anxious, or worried, or excited over anything’--except when the
rare, the long-expected ship comes in, and the natives rend the air with
yells of joy, and the girls cocoanut-oil their hair, and the white men
rush for clean duck suits and fresh hats, and the mails come in, and the
news is distributed, and cargoes go out, and every one feasts from dawn
till dusk, and all the island is in a state of frantic ebullition for at
least three days. Then, indeed, Niué is alive.

We were all getting hungry when the _Duchess_ came in again, after
nearly two months’ absence, for provisions were short, and most of
us had come down to eating little green parrots out of the bush, and
enjoying them, for want of anything better. It was certainly tantalising
to see the ship off the island beating about for three days and more,
before she was able to approach, but that is an usual incident in Niué.
She came up at last, and I got my traps on board, and paid my bills, and
carried away the model canoes and shell necklaces, and plaited hats and
baskets, that were brought me as parting presents, and gave-a number of
yards of cotton cloth, and a good many silk handkerchiefs, in return.
And so the big sails were hoisted once more with a merry rattling and
flapping, and away we went, northward a thousand miles, to desolate,
burning Penrhyn and Malden Island.


_A Life on the Ocean Wave--Where They kept the Dynamite--How far from
an Iced Drink?--The Peacefulness of a Pacific Calm--A Golden Dust
Heap--Among the Rookeries--Sailing on the Land--All about Guano._

THE pirate captain was gone when the schooner reappeared off Niué, and
a certain ancient mariner had taken his place. Things were not quite
so exciting on the _Duchess_ under the new régime, but the order which
reigned on board was something awful; for the ancient mariner had been a
whaling captain in his day, and on whaling ships it is more than on any
others a case of “Growl you may, but go you must,” for all the crew.
The ancient mariner was as salty a salt as ever sailed the ocean. He had
never been on anything with steam in it, he was as tough as ship-yard
teak, and as strong as a bear, though he was a grandfather of some
years’ standing, and he was full of strange wild stories about the
whaling grounds, and odd happenings in out-of-the-way comers of the
Pacific--most of which he seemed to consider the merest commonplaces of
a prosaic existence.

We suffered many things from the cook, in the course of that long
burning voyage towards the Line. The _Duchess’s_ stores were none of
the best, and the cook dealt with them after a fashion that made me
understand once for all the sailor saying: “God sends meat, and the
devil sends cooks.” Pea-soup, salt pork and beef, plum duff, ship’s
biscuit, sea-pie--this was the sort of food that, in the days before
I set foot on the _Duchess_, I had supposed to form the usual table of
sailing vessels. I fear it was a case of sea-story-books, over again.
What we did get was “tinned rag” of a peculiarly damp and viscous
quality, tea that usually tasted of cockroaches, biscuit that was so
full of copra bugs we had to hammer it on the table before eating it, an
occasional tin of tasteless fruit (it ran out very soon), and bread that
was a nightmare, for the flour went musty before we were out a week,
and the unspeakable cook tried to disguise its taste with sugar.
Board-of-trade limejuice, which is a nauseous dose at best, we were
obliged, by law to carry, and I think we must have run rather near
scurvy in the course of that long trip, for the amount of the oily,
drug-flavoured liquid that the mates and myself used to drink at times,
seemed to argue a special craving of nature. But _à la guerre comme à
la guerre_--and one does not take ship on a Pacific windjammer expecting
the luxuries of a P. and O.

We were not going direct to Malden, having to call first at Samoa and
Mangaia. Three days of rough rolling weather saw us in Apia, about
which I have nothing to say at present, since I paid a longer visit to
Stevenson’s country later on. We had about forty native passengers to
take on here for the Cook Islands and Malden. There was nowhere to put
them, but in the South Seas such small inconveniences trouble nobody.

I am very strongly tempted here to tell about the big-gale that caught
us the first night out, carried away our lifeboat, topsail, topgallant,
and main gaff, swamped the unlucky passengers’ cabin, and caused
the Cingalese steward to compose and chant all night long a litany
containing three mournful versicles: “O my God, this is too much
terrible! O my#God, why I ever go to sea! O my God, I never go to sea
again!” But in the Pacific one soon learns that sea etiquette makes
light of such matters. So the wonderful and terrible sights which I saw
once or twice that night, clinging precariously to anything solid near
the door of my cabin, and hoping that the captain would not catch me out
on deck, must remain undescribed.

Nearly seven weeks were occupied by this northern trip--time for a mail
steamer to go out from London to New Zealand, and get well started on
the way home again. We were, of course, entirely isolated from news and
letters; indeed, the mails and papers that we carried conveyed the very
latest intelligence to islands that had not had a word from the outer
world for many months. Our native passengers, who were mostly going up
to Malden Island guano works as paid labourers, evidently considered
the trip one wild scene of excitement and luxury. The South Sea Islander
loves nothing more than change, and every new island we touched at was
a Paris or an Ostend to these (mostly) untravelled natives. Their
accommodation on the ship was not unlike that complained of by the
waiter in “David Copperfield.” They “lived on broken wittles and they
slept on the coals.” The _Duchess_ carried benzoline tins for the
feeding of the futile little motor that worked her in and out of port,
and the native sleeping place was merely the hold, on top of the tins.

[Illustration: 0325]

“Do you mind the dynamite remaining under your bunk?” asked the ancient
mariner, shortly after we left Samoa.

“_Under my bunk?_”

“Yes--didn’t you know it was there? The explosives safe is let into the
deck just beneath the deck cabin. I’ll move it if you’re nervous about
it--I thought I’d tell you, anyways. But it’s the best place for it to
be, you see, right amidships.” And the ancient mariner, leaning his six
foot two across the rail, turned his quid, and spat into the deep.

“What do we want with dynamite, anyhow?” asked the bewildered passenger,
confronted with this new and startling streak of local colour.

“_We_ don’t want none. The Cook Islands wants it for reefs.”

“Oh, leave it where it is--I suppose it’s all the same in the end where
it starts from, if it did blow up,” says the passenger resignedly. “What
about the benzoline in the hold, though?”

“Every one’s got to take chances at sea,” says the captain, easily.
“The mates have orders to keep the natives from smokin’ in the hold at

And at midnight, when I slip out of my bunk to look on and see what
the weather is like (it has been threatening all day), a faint but
unmistakable odour of island tobacco greets my nose, from the opening
of the main hatch! Benzoline, dynamite, natives smoking in the hold,
one big boat smashed, one small one left, forty native passengers, five
whites, and three hundred miles to the nearest land!

Well, _à la guerre comme à la guerre_, and one must not tell tales at
sea. So I don’t tell any, though tempted. But I am very glad, a week
later, to see the Cook Islands rising up out of the empty blue again.
We have had head winds, we have been allowanced as to water, we are all
pleased to have a chance of taking in some fruit before we start on the
thousand miles’ run to Malden--and above all, we leave that dynamite
here, which is a good thing; for really we have been putting rather too
much strain on the good nature of the “Sweet little cherub that sits up
aloft, to keep guard o’er the life of poor Jack,” this last week or two.

If proof were wanted that the cherub’s patience is about at an end, our
arrival at Mangaia furnishes it--for we do take fire after all, just a
couple of hundred yards from shore!

It does not matter now, since half the natives of the island are about
the ship, and the case of explosives has just been rowed off in our only
boat, and the blaze is put out without much trouble. But, two days ago!

Well, the sweet little cherub certainly deserved a rest.


Now the _Duchess’s_ bowsprit was pointed northwards, and we set out on
a thousand miles’ unbroken run up to Malden Island, only four degrees
south of the Line. For nine days we ploughed across the same monotonous
plain of lonely sea, growing a little duller every day, as our stores of
reading matter dwindled away, and our fruit and vegetables ran out,
and the memory of our last fresh mess became only a haunting, far-off
regret. Squatting or lying about the white-hot poop in the merciless
sun--which burnt through our duck and cotton clothing, and scorched the
skin underneath, but was at least a degree better than the choking Hades
of a cabin below--we used to torture each other with reminiscences
and speculations, such as “They have real salt beef and sea-pie and
lobscouse and pea-soup, and things like that, every day on Robinson’s
schooner; no tinned rag and musty flour”; or “How many thousand miles
are we now from an iced drink?” This last problem occupied the mates and
myself for half a morning, and made us all a great deal hotter than we
were before. Auckland was about 2,300 miles away, San Francisco about
3,000 as far as we could guess. We decided for Auckland, and discussed
the best place to buy the drink, being somewhat limited in choice by
the passenger’s selfish insistence on a place where she could get really
good iced coffee. By the time this was settled, the captain joined in,
and informed us that we could get all we wanted, and fresh limes into
the bargain, only a thousand miles away, at Tahiti, which every one had
somehow overlooked. Only a thousand! It seemed nothing, and we all felt
(illogically) cheered up at the thought.

Late in the afternoon we came near attaining our wish for a temperature
of thirty-two degrees in rather an unexpected way. The bottom of the
Pacific generally hovers about this figure, some miles below the burning
surface, which often reaches the temperature of an ordinary warm bath;
and the _Duchess_ had a fairly narrow escape of going down to look for
a cool spot without a return ticket. A giant waterspout suddenly formed
out of the low-hanging, angry sky that had replaced the clear heat of
the morning. First of all, a black trunk like an elephant’s began to
feel blindly about in mid-air, hanging from a cloud. It came nearer and
nearer with uncanny speed, drawing up to itself as it came a colossal
cone of turbulent sea, until the two joined together in one enormous
black pillar, some quarter of a mile broad at the base, and probably a
good thousand feet high, uniting as it did the clouds and the sea
below. Across the darkening sea, against the threatening, copper-crimson
sunset, came this gigantic horror, waltzing over leagues of torn-up
water in a veritable dance of death, like something blind, but mad and
cruel, trying to find and shatter our fragile little ship. Happily, the
dark was only coming, not yet come; happily, too, the wind favoured
us, and we were able to tack about and keep out of the way, dodging the
strangely human rushes and advances of the water-giant with smartness
and skill. At one time it came so close that the elephant trunk--now
separately visible again--seemed feeling about over our heads, although
the captain afterwards said it had been more than three hundred yards
away--and the immense maelstrom underneath showed us the great wall of
whirling spindrift that edged its deadly circle, as plain as the foam
about our own bows. Every one was quiet, cool, and ready; but no one
was sorry when the threatening monster finally spun, away to leeward and
melted into air once more. A waterspout of this enormous size, striking
a small vessel, would snap off her masts like sticks of candy, kill any
one who happened to be on deck, and most probably sink the ship with the
very impact of the terrible shock.

“One doesn’t hear much about ships being sunk by waterspouts,” objected
the sceptical passenger to this last statement.

“Ships that’s sunk by waterspouts doesn’t come back to tell the
newspapers about it,” said the captain darkly.

Life on a South Sea schooner is not all romance. For the officers of
the ship it is a very hard life indeed. Native crews are the rule in
the South Seas, and native crews make work for every one, including
themselves. Absolutely fearless is the Kanaka, active as a monkey aloft,
good-natured and jolly to the last degree, but perfectly unreliable in
any matter requiring an ounce of thought or a pennyworth of discretion,
and, moreover, given to shirk work in a variety of ingenious ways
that pass the wit of the white man to circumvent. Constant and keen
supervision while at sea, unremitting hurry and drive in port, are the
duties of a South Sea mate, coupled with plenty of actual hard work on
his own account. I have known a case where a small schooner was leaking
badly, many days from port, and almost constant pumping was required.
The pump broke while in use; and the watch, delighted to be released,
turned in at eight bells without having done their spell, and without
reporting the accident. The water gained steadily, but that did not
trouble them; and when the mate discovered the accident, and set them to
mend the pump at once, they were both surprised and grieved!

“Watch and watch” is the rule on small sailing-vessels: four hours on
and four hours off, day and night, except for the “dog watches,” four
to six and six to eight in the evening, which create a daily shift in
order that each man may be on watch at a different time on successive
days. Always provided, of course, that the ship has any watches at all!
I _have_ sailed in a Pacific schooner where the crew spent most of their
time playing the accordion and the Jew’s harp, and slept peacefully all
night. In the daytime there was generally some one at the wheel; but at
night it was usually lashed, and the ship was let run, with all sails
set, taking her chances of what might come, every soul on board being
asleep. One night the cook came out of his bunk to get a drink from the
tank, and found the vessel taken aback. The whole spirit of South
Sea life breathes from the sequel. He told nobody! The galley was his
department, not the sails; so he simply went back to his bunk. In the
morning we fetched up off the northern side of an island we had intended
to «approach from the south; having, strange to say, somehow escaped
piling our bones on the encircling reef, and also avoided the misfortune
of losing our masts and getting sunk.

If there is a good deal of hard work on most schooners, and something
of risk on all, there is also plenty of adventure and romance, for those
who care about it. One seldom meets an island skipper whose life would
not furnish materials for a dozen exciting books. Being cut off and
attacked by cannibals down in the dangerous western groups; swimming for
dear life away from a boat just bitten in two by an infuriated whale;
driving one native king off his throne, putting another on, and acting
as prime minister to the nation; hunting up a rumour of a splendid pearl
among the pearling islands, and tracking down the gem, until found
and coaxed away from its careless owner at one-tenth Sydney market
prices--these are incidents that the typical schooner captain regards
as merely the ordinary kind of break to be expected in his rather
monotonous life. He does not think them very interesting as a rule, and
dismisses them somewhat briefly, in a yarn. What does excite him, cause
him to raise his voice and gesticulate freely, and induce him to “yarn”
 relentlessly for half a watch, is the recital of some thrilling incident
connected with the price of cargo or the claims made for damaged stuff
by some abandoned villain of a trader. There is something worth relating
in a tale like that, to his mind!

The passenger on an island schooner learns very early to cultivate a
humble frame of mind. On a great steam liner he is all in all. It is for
him almost entirely that the ships are built and run; his favour is
life or death to the company. He is handled like eggs, and petted like a
canary bird. Every one runs to do his bidding; he is one of a small but
precious aristocracy waited on hand and foot by the humblest of serfs.
On a schooner, however, he is ousted from his pride of place most
completely by the cargo, which takes precedence of him at every point;
so that he rapidly learns he is not of nearly so much value as a fat
sack of copra, and he becomes lowlier in mind than he ever was before.
There is no special accommodation for him, as a rule; he must go where
he can, and take what he gets. If he can make himself useful about the
ship, so much the better; every one will think more of him, and he will
get some useful exercise by working his passage in addition to paying
for it.

Here is a typical day on the _Duchess_.

At eight bells (8 a.m.) breakfast is served in the cabin. The
passenger’s own cabin is a small deck-house placed amidships on the main
deck. The deck is filled up with masses of cargo, interposing a perfect
Himalayan chain of mountains between the main deck and the poop. It is
pouring with tropical rain, but the big main hatch yawns half open on
one side, because of the native passengers in the hold. On the other
side foams a squally sea, unguarded by either rail or bulwark, since the
cargo is almost overflowing out of the ship. The _Duchess_ is rolling
like a porpoise, and the passenger’s hands are full of mackintosh and
hat-brim. It seems impossible to reach the poop alive; but the verb
“have to” is in constant use on a sailing-ship, and it does not fail
of its magical effect on this occasion. Clawing like a parrot, the
passenger reaches the cabin, and finds the bare-armed, barefooted mates
and the captain engaged on the inevitable “tin” and biscuits. There is
no tea this morning, because the cockroaches have managed to get into
and flavour the brew; and the cabin will none of it. The captain has
sent word by the native steward that he will “learn” the cook--a strange
threat that usually brings about at least a temporary reform--and is
now engaged in knocking the copra-bugs out of a piece of biscuit and
brushing a colony of ants off his plate. Our cargo is copra, and
in consequence the ship resembles an entomological museum more than
anything else. No centipedes have been found this trip so far; but the
mate-stabbed a big scorpion with a sail-needle yesterday, as it was
walking across the deck; and the cockroaches--as large as mice, and much
bolder--have fairly “taken charge.” The captain says he does not know
whether he is sleeping in the cockroaches’ bunk, or they in his, but he
rather thinks the former, since the brutes made a determined effort to
throw him out on the deck last night, and nearly succeeded!

It grows very warm after breakfast, for we are far within the tropics,
and the _Duchess_ has no awnings to protect her deck. The rail is almost
hot enough to blister an unwary hand, and the great sails cast little
shade, as the sun climbs higher to the zenith. The pitch does not,
however, bubble in the seams of the deck, after the well-known fashion
of stories, because the _Duchess_, like most other tropical ships, has
her decks caulked with putty. A calm has fallen--a Pacific calm, which
is not as highly distinguished for calmness as the stay-at-home reader
might suppose. There is no wind, and the island we are trying to reach
remains tantalisingly perched on the extreme edge of the horizon, like a
little blue flower on the rim of a crystal dish. But there is plenty
of sea--long glittering hills of water, rising and falling, smooth and
foamless, under the ship, which they fling from side to side with cruel
violence. The great booms swing and slam, the blocks clatter, the masts
creak. Everything loose in the cabins toboggans wildly up and down the
floor. At dinner, the soup which the cook has struggled to produce,
lest he should be “learned,” has to be drunk out of tin mugs for safety.
Every one is sad and silent, for the sailor hates a calm even more than
a gale.

Bonitos come round the ship in a glittering shoal by-and-by, and there
is a rush for hooks and lines. One of our native A.B.s produces a huge
pearl hook, unbaited, and begins to skim it lightly along the water at
the end of its line, mimicking the exact motions of a flying-fish with
a cleverness that no white man can approach. Hurrah! a catch! A mass of
sparkling silver, blue, and green, nearly twenty pounds weight, is swung
through the air, and tumbled on deck. Another and another follows; we
have over a hundred pounds weight of fish in half an hour. The crew
shout and sing for delight. There are only seven of them and five of us,
but there-will not be a scrap of that fish left by to-morrow, for all
the forecastle hands will turn to and cook and eat without ceasing until
it is gone; after which they will probably dance for an hour or two.

To every one’s delight, the weather begins to cloud over again after
this, and we are soon spinning before a ten-knot breeze towards the
island, within sight of which we have been aimlessly beating about
for some days, unable to get up. Our crew begin to make preparations.
Tapitua, who is a great dandy, puts two gold earrings in one ear, and
fastens a wreath of cock’s feathers about his hat. Koddi (christened
George) gets into a thick blue woollen jersey (very suitable for
Antarctic weather), a scarlet and yellow pareo or kilt, and a pair
of English shoes, which make him limp terribly; but they are splendid
squeakers, so Koddi is happy. (The Pacific islander always picks out
squeaking shoes if he can get them, and some manufacturers even put
special squeakers into goods meant for the island trade.) Ta puts on
three different singlets--a pink, a blue, and a yellow--turning up the
edges carefully, so as to present a fine display of layered colours,
like a Neapolitan ice; and gums the gaudy label off a jam tin about his
bare brown arm, thus christening himself with the imposing title of “Our
Real Raspberry.” Neo is wearing two hats and three neck-handkerchiefs;
Oki has a cap with a “P. & O.” ribbon, and Union Steamship Company’s
jersey, besides a threepenny-piece in the hollow of each ear. Truly we
are a gay party, by the time every one is ready to land.

And now after our thousand mile run, we have arrived at Malden.

Malden Island lies on the border of the Southern Pacific, only four
degrees south of the equator. It is beyond the verge of the great
Polynesian archipelago, and stands out by itself in a lonely stretch of
still blue sea, very seldom visited by ships of any kind. Approaching it
one is struck from far away by the glaring barrenness of the big island,
which is thirty-three miles in circumference, and does not possess a
single height or solitary tree, save one small clump of recently planted
cocoanuts. Nothing more unlike the typical South Sea island could be
imagined. Instead of the violet mountain peaks, wreathed with flying
vapour, the lowlands rich with pineapple, banana, orange, and mango, the
picturesque beach bordered by groves of feathery cocoanuts and quaint
heavy-fruited pandanus trees, that one finds in such groups as the
Society, Navigator’s, Hawaiian, and Cook Islands, Malden consists simply
of an immense white beach, a little settlement fronted by a big wooden
pier, and a desolate plain of low greyish-green herbage, relieved here
and there by small bushes bearing insignificant yellow flowers. Water
is provided by great condensers. Food is all imported, save for pig
and goat flesh. Shade, coolness, refreshing fruit, pleasant sights and
sounds, there are none. For those who live on the island, it is the
scene of an exile which has to be endured somehow or other, but which
drags away with incredible slowness and soul-deadening monotony.

Why does any one live in such a spot? More especially, why should it
be tenanted by five or six whites and a couple of hundred Kanakas, when
many beautiful and fertile islands cannot show nearly so many of either
race; quite a large number, indeed, being altogether uninhabited? One
need never look far for an answer in such a case. If there is no
comfort on Malden Island, there is something that men value more than
comfort--money. For fifty-six years it has been one of the most valuable
properties in the Pacific. Out of Malden Island have come horses and
carriages, fine houses, and gorgeous jewellery, rich eating, delicate
wines, handsome entertainments, university education and expensive
finishing governesses, trips to the Continent, swift white schooners,
high places in Society, and all the other desirables of wealth, for two
generations of fortunate owners and their families. Half-a-million hard
cash has been made out of it in the last thirty years, and it is good
for another thirty. All this from a barren rock in mid-ocean! The
solution of the problem will at once suggest itself to any reader who
has ever sailed the Southern Seas--guano!

This is indeed the secret of Malden Island’s riches. Better by far
than the discovery of a pirate’s treasure-cave, that favourite dream
of romantic youth, is the discovery of a guano island. There are few
genuine treasure romances in the Pacific, but many exciting tales that
deal with the finding and disposing of these unromantic mines of wealth.
Malden Island itself has had an interesting history enough. In 1848,
Captain Chapman, an American whaling captain who still lives in
Honolulu, happened to discover Malden during the course of a long
cruise. He landed on the island, found nothing for himself and his crew
in the way of fruit or vegetables, but discovered the guano beds, and
made up his mind to sell the valuable knowledge as soon as his cruise
was over. Then he put to sea again, and did not reach San Francisco for
the best part of a year. Meantime, another American, Captain English,
had found the island and its treasure. Wiser than Captain Chapman, he
abandoned his cruise, and hurried at once to Sydney, where he sold the
island for a big price to the trading firm who have owned it ever since.

This is the history of Malden Island’s discovery. Time, in the island,
has slipped along since the days of the Crimea with never a change.
There is a row of little tin-roofed, one-storeyed houses above the
beach, tenanted by the half-dozen white men who act as managers; there
are big, barn-like shelters for the native labourers. Every three years
the managers end their term of service, and joyfully return to
the Company’s great offices in Sydney, where there is life and
companionship, pleasant things to see, good things to eat, newspapers
every day, and no prison bar of blue relentless ocean cutting off all
the outer world. Once or twice in the year one of the pretty white
island schooners sails up to Malden, greeted with shrieks and war-dances
of joy; discharges her freight of forty or fifty newly indentured
labourers, and takes away as many others whose time of one year on the
island has expired. On Malden itself nothing changes. Close up to the
equator, and devoid of mountains or even heights which could attract
rain, its climate is unaltered by the passing season. No fruits or
flowers mark the year by their ripening and blossoming, no rainy season
changes the face of the land. News from the outer world comes rarely;
and when it does come, it is so old as to have lost its savour. Life on
Malden Island for managers and labourers alike, is work, work, all day
long; in the evening, the bare verandah and the copper-crimson sunset,
and the empty prisoning sea. That is all.

The guano beds cover practically the whole of the island. The surface on
which one walks is hard, white, and rocky. This must be broken through
before the guano, which lies a foot or two underneath, is reached. The
labourers break away the stony crust with picks, and shovel out the
fine, dry, earth-coloured guano that lies beneath, in a stratum varying
from one to three feet in thickness. This is piled in great heaps, and
sifted through large wire, screens. The sifted guano--exactly resembling
common sand--is now spread out in small heaps, and left to dry
thoroughly in the fierce sun. There must not be any trace of moisture
left that can possibly be dispersed; for the price of the guano depends
on its absolute purity and extreme concentration, and purchasers
generally make careful chemical tests of the stuff they buy.

When dried, the guano is stored away in an immense shed near the
settlement. If it has been obtained from the pits at the other side of
the island, eight miles away, it will be brought down to the storehouse
by means of one of the oddest little railways in the world. The Malden
Island railway is worked, not by steam, electricity, or petrol, but by
sail! The S.E. trade-wind blows practically all the year round on
this island; so the Company keep a little fleet of land-vessels,
cross-rigged, with fine large sails, to convey the guano down to
the settlement. The empty carriages are pushed up to the pits by the
workmen, and loaded there. At evening, the labourers climb on the top of
the load, set the great sails, and fly down to the settlement as fast
as an average train could go. These “land-ships” of Malden are a bit
unmanageable at times, and have been known to jump the rails when
travelling at high speed, thus causing unpleasant accidents. But the
Kanaka labourers do not mind a trifle of that kind, and not even in a
S.E. gale would they condescend to take a reef in the sails.

As it is necessary to push these railway ships on the outward trip, the
managers generally travel on a small railway tricycle of the pattern
familiar at home. This can be driven at a fair speed, by means of arm
levers. Across the desolate inland plain one clatters, the centre of a
disk of shadowless grey-green, drenched clear of drawing and colour by
the merciless flood of white fire from above. The sky is of the very
thinnest pale blue; the dark, deep sea is out of sight. The world is
all dead stillness and smiting sun, with only the thin rattle of our
labouring car, and the vibration of distant dark specks above the
rookeries, for relief.

The dark specks grow nearer and more numerous, filling the whole sky
at last with the sweep of rushing wings and the screams of angry bird
voices. We leave the tricycle on the rails and walk across the
thin, coarse grass, tangled with barilla plants, and low-growing
yellow-flowered shrubs, towards the spot where the wings flutter
thickest, covering many acres of the unlovely, barren land with a
perfect canopy of feathered life. This is the bird by which the fortunes
of Malden have been made--the smaller man-o’-war bird. It is about the
size of a duck, though much lighter in build. The back is black, the
breast white, the bill long and hooked. The bird has an extraordinarily
rapid and powerful flight. It might more appropriately be called the
“pirate” than the “man-o’-war” or “frigate” bird, since it uses, its
superior speed to deprive other seabirds of the fish they catch, very
seldom indeed exerting itself to make an honest capture on its own
account. Strange to say, however, this daring buccaneer is the meekest
and most long-suffering of birds where human beings are concerned. It
will allow you to walk all through its rookeries, and even to handle
the young birds and eggs, without making any remonstrance other than a
petulant squeal. The parents fly about the visitors’ heads in a perfect
cloud, sweeping their wings within an inch of our faces, screaming
harshly, and looking exceedingly fierce, with their ugly hooked bills
and sparkling black eyes. But that is their ordinary way of occupying
themselves; they wheel and scream above the rookery all day long,
visited or let alone. Even if you capture one, by a happy snatch (not
at all an impossible feat), you will not alarm the others, and your
prisoner will not show much fight.

The eggs lie all over the ground in a mass of broken shells, feathers,
and clawed-up earth. Those birds never build nests, and only sit upon
one egg, which is dirty white, with brown spots. The native labourers
consider frigate-bird eggs good to eat, and devour large numbers, but
the white men find them too strong. The birds are also eaten by the
labourers, but only on the sly, as this practice is strictly forbidden,
for the reason that illness generally follows. The frigate-bird, it
seems, is not very wholesome eating.

It is not in the insignificant deposits of these modern rookeries that
the wealth of the island lies, but in the prehistoric strata underlying
the stony surface crust already mentioned. There are three strata
composing the island--first the coral rock, secondly the guano, lastly
the surface crust. At one time, the island must have been the home of
innumerable myriads of frigate-birds, nesting all over its circumference
of thirty-three miles. The birds now nest only in certain places, and,
though exceedingly thick to an unaccustomed eye, cannot compare with
their ancestors in number.

The schooner called on a Sunday, and so I could not see the men at work.
One of the managers, however, showed me over the labourers’ quarters,
and told me all about their life. There is certainly none of the
“black-birding” business about Malden. Kidnapping natives for plantation
work, under conditions which amount to slavery, is unfortunately still
common enough in some parts of the Pacific. But in the Cook Group,
and Savage Island, where most of the labourers come from, there is no
difficulty in obtaining as many genuine volunteers for Malden as its
owners want. The men sign for a year’s work, at ten shillings a week,
and board and lodging. Their food consists of rice, biscuits, yams,
tinned beef, and tea, with a few cocoanuts for those who may fall sick.
This is “the hoigth of good ’atin” for a Polynesian, who lives when
at home on yams, taro root, and bananas, with an occasional mouthful of
fish, and fowl or pig only on high festival days.

The labourers’ quarters are large, bare, shady buildings fitted with
wide shelves, on which the men spread their mats and pillows to sleep.
A Polynesian is never to be divorced from his bedding; he always carries
it with him when travelling, and the Malden labourers each come to the
island provided with beautifully plaited pandanus mats, and cushions
stuffed with the down of the silk-cotton tree. The cushions have covers
of “trade” cottons, rudely embroidered by the owner’s sweetheart or wife
with decorative designs, and affectionate mottoes.

From 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. are the hours of work, with an hour and
three-quarters off for meals. There is nothing unpleasant about the
work, as Malden Island guano is absolutely without odour, and apparently
so dry and fine when taken from the pits, that one wonders at the
necessity for further sifting and drying. Occasionally, however, one of
the workers develops a peculiar intestinal trouble which is said to be
caused by the fine dust of the pits. It is nearly always fatal, by slow
degrees. Our schooner carried away one of these unfortunates--a Savage
Island man who had come up to Malden in full health and strength only
a few months before. He was the merest shadow or sketch of a human
being--a bundle of bones clad in loose brown skin, with a skull-like
face, all teeth and eye-sockets--he could not stand or walk, only creep
along the deck; and he was very obviously dying. Poor fellow! he longed
for his own home above everything---the cool green island, sixteen
hundred miles away, where there were fruit and flowers in the shady
valleys, and women’s and children’s voices sounding pleasantly about the
grassy village streets, and his own little pandanus-thatched cottage,
with his “fafiné” and the babies at the door, among the palms and
oranges above the sea. But the schooner had a two months’ voyage to
make yet among the Cook and other groups, before Savage Island could be
reached; and Death was already lifting his spear to strike. We left
the poor fellow as a last chance on Penrhyn Island, a couple of hundred
miles away, hoping that the unlimited cocoanuts he could obtain there
might do him some good, and that by some fortunate chance he might
recover sufficiently to take another ship, and reach Niué at last.

The guano of Malden Island is supposed to be the best in the world. It
is extremely rich in superphosphates, and needs no “doctoring” whatever,
being ready to apply to the land just as taken from the island. As the
company are obliged to guarantee the purity of what they sell, and give
an exact analysis of the constituents of every lot, they keep a skilled
chemist on the island, and place a fine laboratory at his disposal.
These analyses are tedious to make, and require great accuracy, as a
mistake might cause a refusal of payment on the part of the purchaser.
The post of official chemist, therefore, is no sinecure, especially
as it includes the duties of dispenser as well, and not a little
rough-and-ready doctoring at times.

The temperature of the island is not so high as might be expected from
the latitude. It seldom goes above 90° in the shade, and is generally
rendered quite endurable, in spite of the merciless glare and total
absence of shade, by the persistent trade-wind. Mosquitoes are unknown,
and flies not troublesome. There are no centipedes, scorpions, or other
venomous creatures, although the neighbouring islands (“neighbouring,”
 in the Pacific, means anything within three or four hundred miles) have
plenty of these unpleasant inhabitants. The white men live on tinned
food of various kinds, also bread, rice, fowls, pork, goat, and goat’s
milk. Vegetables or fruit are a rare and precious luxury, for the
nearest island producing either lies a thousand miles away. Big yams,
weighing a stone or two apiece and whitewashed to prevent decay, are
sent up from the Cook Islands now and then; but the want of really
fresh, vegetable food is one of the trials of the island. It is not
astonishing to hear that the salaries of the Malden officials are very
high. A year or two on the island is a good way of accumulating some
capital, since it is impossible to spend a penny.

The native labourers generally leave the island with the greatest joy,
glad beyond expression to return to their sweet do-nothing lives at
home. Why they undertake the work at all is one of the many puzzles
presented by the Polynesian character. They have enough to eat and
enough to wear, without doing any work to speak of, while they are at
home. Usually the motive for going to Malden is the desire of making
twenty-five pounds or so in a lump, to buy a bicycle (all South Sea
Islanders have bicycles, and ride them splendidly) or to build a stone
house. But in most cases the money is “spreed” away in the first two
or three days at home, giving presents to everybody, and buying fine
clothes at the trader’s store.

So the product of the year’s exile and hard work is simply a tour among
the islands--in itself a strong attraction--a horribly hot suit of
shoddy serge, with a stiff white shirt, red socks, and red tie, bought
up in Malden from the company out of the labourer’s wages, and proudly
worn on the day the schooner brings the wanderer home to his lightly
clad relatives--a bicycle, perhaps, which soon becomes a scrap-heap;
or, possibly, a stone house which is never lived in. The company has the
labour that it wants, and the money that the labour produces. Every one
is satisfied with the bargain, doubtless; and the faraway British farmer
and market-gardener are the people who are ultimately benefited.


_Pearl-fishing at Penrhyn--The Beautiful Golden-Edge--Perils of the
Pearl Diver--A Fight for Life--Visit to a Leper Island--A God-forsaken
Place--How they kept the Corpses--The Woman who sinned--A Nameless
Grave--On to Merry Manahiki--The Island of Dance and Song--Story of the
Leper and his Bird--Good-bye to the Duchess._

A DAY or two after leaving Malden we sighted Penrhyn, lying five
degrees further south, but for some unexplained reason a very much
hotter place than Malden. Penrhyn is an island that is famous all over
the South Sea world, and not unknown even in Europe. Its pearl-shell and
pearls, its strange, wild, semi-amphibious natives, and its melancholy
leper station, make it a marked spot upon the Pacific map; and a certain
rather fictitious value attaching to its stamps has made the name of the
island familiar to all stamp collectors at home. The general impression
conveyed to the voyager from kinder and fairer islands is that Penrhyn
is a place “at the back of God-speed,” a lonely, sultry, windy, eerie
spot, desolate and remote beyond description.

It is an atoll island, consisting merely of a strip of land some couple
of hundred yards in width, enclosing a splendid lagoon nine miles long.
The land is white coral gravel; nothing grows on it but cocoanut and
pandanus and a few insignificant creepers. Fruit, vegetables, flowers,
there are none. The natives live entirely on cocoanut and fish. They
are nominally Christianised, but the veneer of Christianity is wearing
uncommonly thin in places. They are reckless and daring to a degree,
notable even among Pacific Islanders. Any Penrhyn man will attack a
shark single-handed in its own element, and kill it with the big knife
he usually carries. They are, beyond comparison, the finest swimmers in
the world; it is almost impossible to drown a Penrhyn Islander. He
will swim all day as easily as he will walk. You may often meet him out
fishing, miles from shore, without a boat, pushing in front of him a
small plank that carries his bait, lines, and catch. Some of the fish
he most fancies seldom come to the surface. To catch these he baits his
line, dives, and swims about underneath the water for a minute or two at
a time, trailing the bait after him, and rising to the surface as often
as a fish takes it.

[Illustration: 0339]

Of his pearl-diving exploits I shall speak later. The deadly surf that
breaks upon the outer reef has no terrors for him. Among the small boys
of the island there is a favourite feat known as “crossing a hundred
waves,” which consists in diving through ninety-nine great rollers, just
as they are about to break, and rushing triumphantly to shore on the
back of the hundredth. The old warlike, quarrelsome character of the
islanders--no doubt originally due to scarcity of food--still lurks
concealed under an outward show of civility. Penrhyn was the only South
Pacific Island I have visited where I did not care to walk alone in the
bush without my little American revolver. The four or five white traders
all keep firearms ready to hand in their stores. There has been no
actual trouble of recent years, but there are narrow escapes from a
free fight every now and then, and every man must hold himself ready for
emergencies. It is only eight years since there was such an outbreak of
hostilities in Penrhyn that a man-of-war had to be sent up to protect
the traders.

I was kindly offered the use of a house during the week the _Duchess_
spent in Penrhyn lagoon repairing sails and rigging, and generally
refitting after the stormy weather that we had experienced on several
occasions. But Penrhyn is rotten with undeclared leprosy, the water
is not above suspicion, and flies abound in myriads. So I slept on the
ship, and by day wandered about the desolate, thin, sun-smitten woods
of the island, or flew over the green lagoon in one of the marvellously
speedy pearling sloops of the traders. These boats are about a couple
of tons each, with a boom as big, in proportion, as a grasshopper’s leg.
They are as manageable as a motor car, and faster than most yachts.
It is a wonderful sight to see them taking cargo out to the schooners,
speeding like gulls over the water, and turning round in their tracks to
fly back again as easily as any gull might do. Pearling was almost “off”
 at the time of the _Duchess’s_ visit, since a good part of the lagoon
was tabooed to allow the beds to recover.

The pearls are rather a minor consideration at Penrhyn. The shell is of
beautiful quality, large and thick, with the much-valued golden edge;
but pearls are not plentiful in it, and they are generally of moderate
size. Some very fine ones have been found, however; and gems of ordinary
value can always be picked up fairly cheaply from the divers. The
Penrhyn lagoon is the property of the natives themselves, who sell the
shell and the pearls to white traders. Christmas Island and some other
Pacific pearling grounds are privately owned, and in these places there
is a great deal of poaching done by the divers. The great buyers of
pearls are the schooner captains. There are three or four schooners that
call at Penrhyn now and then for cargo; and every captain has a nose for
pearls like that of a trained hound for truffles. In the Paumotus, about
Penrhyn, Christmas Island, and the Scillies (the Pacific Scillies, not
those that are so familiarly known to English readers), they flit from
island to island, following up the vagrant rumours of a fine pearl with
infinite tact and patience, until they run it to ground at last, and
(perhaps) clear a year’s income in a day by a lucky deal. San Francisco
and Sydney are always ready to buy, and the typical Pacific captain, if
he is just a bit of a buccaneer, is also a very keen man of business in
the most modern sense of the word, and not at all likely to be cheated.
Three native divers, famous for their deepwater feats, came out in a
pearling sloop with us one afternoon, and gave a fine exhibition.

The bed over which we halted was about ninety feet under the surface.
Our three divers stripped to a “pareo” apiece, and then, squatting down
on the gunwale of the boat with their hands hanging over their knees,
appeared to meditate. They were “taking their wind,” the white steersman
informed me. After about five minutes of perfect stillness they suddenly
got up and dived off the thwart. The rest of us fidgeted up and down the
tiny deck, talked, speculated, and passed away the time for what seemed
an extraordinarily long period. No one, unfortunately, had brought a
watch; but the traders and schooner captains all agree in saying that
the Penrhyn diver can stay under water for full three minutes; and it
was quite evident that our men were showing off for the benefit of that
almost unknown bird, the “wahiné papa.” At last, one after another, the
dark heads popped up again, and the divers, each carrying a shell or
two, swam back to the boat, got on board, and presented their catch to
me with the easy grace and high-bred courtesy that are the birthright of
all Pacific islanders--not at all embarrassed by the fact that all the
clothes they wore would hardly have sufficed to make a Sunday suit for
an equal number of pigeons.

As a general rule, the divers carry baskets, and fill them before coming
up. Each man opens his own catch at once, and hunts through the shell
for pearls. Usually he does not find any; now and then he gets a small
grey pearl, 01 a decent white one, or a big irregular “baroque” pearl of
the “new art” variety, and once in a month of Sundays he is rewarded
by a large gleaming gem worth several hundred pounds, for which he will
probably get only twenty or thirty.

Diving dresses are sometimes used in Penrhyn; but in such an irregular
and risky manner that they are really more dangerous than the ordinary
method. The suit is nothing but a helmet and jumper. No boots are worn,
no clothing whatever on the legs, and there are no weights to
preserve the diver’s balance. It sometimes happens--though wonderfully
seldom--that the diver trips, falls, and turns upside down, the heavy
helmet keeping him head-downwards until the air all rushes out under
the jumper, and he is miserably suffocated. The air pump above is often
carelessly worked in any case, and there is no recognised system of
signals, except the jerk that means “Pull up.”

“They’re the most reckless devils on the face of the earth,” said a
local trader. “Once let a man strike a good bed of shell, and he won’t
leave go of it, not for Father Peter. He’ll stick down there all day,
grabbin’ away in twenty fathom or more till he feels paralysis cornin’


“Yes--they gets it, lots of’em. If you was to go down in twenty
fathom--they can do five and twenty, but anything over is touch and
go--and stay ’alf the day, you’d come up ’owling like anything, and
not able to move. That’s the way it catches them; and then they must get
some one to come and rub them with sea water all night long, and maybe
they dies, and maybe they’re all right by morning. So then down they
goes again, just the same as ever. Sometimes a man’ll be pulled up dead
at the end of a day. How does that happen? Well, I allow it’s because
he’s been workin’ at a big depth all day, and feels all right; and then,
do you see, he’ll find somethin’ a bit extra below of him, in a holler
like, and down he’ll go after it; and the extra fathom or two does the

“Sharks? Well, I’ve seen you poppin’ at them from the deck of the
_Duchess_, so you know as well as I do how many there are. Didn’t ’it
them, even when the fin was up? That’s because you ’aven’t greased
your bullet, I suppose. You want to, if the water isn’t to turn it
aside. But about the divers? Oh! they don’t mind sharks, none of them,
when they’ve got the dress on. Sharks is easy scared. You’ve only got to
pull up your jumper a bit, and the air bubbles out and frightens them
to fits. If you meet a big sting-ray, it’ll run its spine into you, and
send the dress all to--I mean, spoil the dress, so’s the water comes
in, and maybe it’ll stick the diver too. And the big devilfish is nasty;
he’ll ’old you down to a rock but you can use your knife on him. The
kara mauaa is the worst; the divers don’t like him. He’s not as big as
a shark, but he’s downright wicked, and he’s a mouth on him as big as
’alf his body. If one comes along, he’ll bite an arm or leg off
the man anyways, and eat ’im outright if he’s big enough to do it.
Swordfish? Well, they don’t often come into the lagoon; it’s the fishing
canoes outside they’ll go for. Yes, they’ll run a canoe and a man
through at a blow easy enough: but they don’t often do it. If you wants
a canoe, I’ll get you one; and you needn’t mind about the swordfish. As
like as not they’ll never come near you.

“About the divin’?--well, I think the naked divin’ is very near as safe
as the machine, takin’ all things. Worst of it is, if a kara mauaa comes
along, the diver can’t wait his time till it goes. No, he doesn’t stab
it--not inside the lagoon, because there’s too many of them there, and
the blood would bring a whole pack about. He gets under a ledge of rock,
and ’opes it’ll go away before his wind gives out. If he doesn’t, he
gets eat.”

Did Schiller, or Edgar Allan Poe ever conjure up a picture more ghastly
than that of a Penrhyn diver, caught like a rat in a trap by some huge,
man-eating shark, or fierce kara mauaa--crouching in a cleft of the
overhanging coral, under the dark green gloom of a hundred feet of
water, with bursting lungs and cracking eyeballs, while the threatening
bulk of his terrible enemy looms dark and steady, full in the road to
life and air? A minute or more has been spent in the downward journey;
another minute has passed in the agonised wait under the rock. Has he
been seen? Will the creature move away now, while there is still time to
return? The diver knows to a second how much time has passed; the third
minute is on its way; but one goes up quicker than one comes down, and
there is still hope. Two minutes and a half; it is barely possible
now, but------ The sentinel of death glides forward; his cruel eyes,
phosphorescent in the gloom, look right into the cleft where the
wretched creature is crouching, with almost twenty seconds of life still
left, but now not a shred of hope. A few more beats of the labouring
pulse, a gasp from the tortured lungs, a sudden rush of silvery air
bubbles, and the brown limbs collapse down out of the cleft like wreaths
of seaweed. The shark has his own.

There is a “Molokai,” or Leper Island, some two miles out in the
lagoon, where natives afflicted with leprosy are confined. The Resident
Agent--one of the traders--broke the rigid quarantine of the Molokai one
day so far as to let me land upon the island, although he did not allow
me to approach nearer than ten or twelve yards to the lepers, or to
leave the beach and go inland to the houses that were visible in the
distance. Our boatmen ran the sloop close inshore, and carried the
captain and myself through the shallow water, carefully setting us down
on dry stones, but remaining in the sea themselves. A little dog that
had come with the party sprang overboard, and began swimming to the
shore. It was hurriedly seized by the scruff of its neck, and flung
back into the boat. If it had set paw on the beach it could never have
returned, but would have had to stay on the island for good.

Very lovely is the Molokai of Penrhyn; sadly beautiful this spot where
so many wretched creatures have passed away from death in life to life
in death. As we landed, the low golden rays of the afternoon sun were
slanting through the pillared palm stems and quaintly beautiful pandanus
fronds, across the snowy beach, and its trailing gold-flowered vines.
The water of the lagoon, coloured like the gems in the gates of the
Heavenly City, lapped softly on the shore; the perpetual trade wind
poured through the swaying trees, shaking silvery gleams from the
lacquered crests of the palms. In the distance, shadowed by a heavy
pandanus grove, stood a few low brown huts. From the direction of these
there came, hurrying down to the beach as we landed, four figures--three
men and a woman. They had put on their best clothes when they saw the
sloop making for the island. The woman wore a gaudy scarlet cotton
frock; two of the men had white shirts and sailor’s trousers of blue
dungaree--relics of a happier day, these, telling their own melancholy
tale of bygone years of freedom on the wide Pacific. The third man wore
a shirt and scarlet “pareo,” or kilt. Every face was lit up with
delight at the sight of strangers from the schooner; above all, at the
marvellous view of the wonderful “wahiné papa.” Why, even the men who
lived free and happy on Penrhyn mainland did not get the chance of
seeing such a show once in a lifetime! There she was, with two arms, and
two legs, and a head, and a funny gown fastened in about the middle, and
the most remarkable yellow shoes, and a ring, and a watch, which showed
her to be extraordinarily wealthy, and a pale smooth face, not at
all like a man’s, and hair that was brown, not black--how odd! It was
evidently as good as a theatre, to the lonely prisoners!

Bright as all the faces of the lepers were at that exciting moment, one
could not mistake the traces left by a more habitual expression of heavy
sadness. The terrible disease, too, had set its well-known marks upon
every countenance. None of those who came out to see us had lost any
feature; but all the faces had the gross, thickened, unhuman look that
leprosy stamps upon its victims. The woman kept her arm up over her
head, to hide some sad disfigurement about her neck. One of the men
walked slowly and painfully, through an affection of the hip and leg.
There were nine lepers in all upon the island; but the other five either
could not, or did not, wish to leave their huts, and the agent refused
to break the quarantine any further than he had already done. What care
the wretched creatures are able to give one another, therefore, what
their homes are like, and how their lives are passed, I cannot tell.
Three of the lepers were accompanied by their faithful dogs. They are
all fond of pets, and must have either a dog or a cat. Of course the
animals never leave the island. We exchanged a few remarks at the top of
our voices, left a case of oranges (brought up from the Cook Islands, a
thousand miles away), and returned to our boat. The case of oranges was
eagerly seized upon, and conveyed into the bush.

“They will eat them up at once,” I said.

“Not they,” said one of our white men. “They’ll make them into orange
beer to-night, and get jolly well drunk for once in their miserable
lives. Glad to see the poor devils get a chance, say I.” And so--most
immorally, no doubt--said the “wahiné papa” as well.

The lepers are fed from stores furnished by a small Government fund;
and the trader who fulfils the very light duties of Resident Government
Agent generally sends them over a share of any little luxury, in the way
of oranges, limes, or yams, that may reach the island. None the less,
their condition is most miserable, and one cannot but regard it as a
crying scandal upon the great missionary organisations of the Pacific
that nothing whatever is done for the lepers of these northern groups.
The noble example of the late Father Damien, of Hawaii, and of the
Franciscan Sisters who still live upon the Hawaiian Molokai, courting a
martyr’s death to serve the victims of this terrible disease, seems to
find no imitators in the islands evangelised by British missionaries.
Godless, hopeless, and friendless, the lepers live and die alone. That
their lives are immoral in the last degree, their religion, in spite of
early teaching, almost a dead letter, is only to be expected. Penrhyn
is not alone in this terrible scourge. Rakahanga, Manahiki, and
Palmerston--all in the same part of the Pacific--are seriously affected
by the disease. Palmerston I did not see; but I heard that there is one
whole family of lepers there, and some stray cases as well.

The island belongs to the half-caste descendants (about 150 in number)
of Masters, a “beachcomber” of the early days, who died a few years ago.
These people are much alarmed at the appearance of leprosy, and have
segregated the lepers on an island in the lagoon. They are anxious
to have them removed to the Molokai at Penrhyn, since the family came
originally from that island; but no schooner will undertake to carry
them. In Rakahanga, the lepers are not quarantined in any way, but
wander about among the people. There are only a few cases as yet; but
the number will certainly increase. This may also be said of Manahiki,
for although very serious cases are isolated there, the lepers are
allowed, in the earlier stages, to mix freely with every one else, and
even to prepare the food of a whole family. The New Zealand Government,
it is believed, will shortly pass a law compelling the removal of all
these cases to the Molokai at Penrhyn. No Government, however, can
alleviate the wretched condition of these unfortunate prisoners, once
sent to the island. That remains for private charity and devotion.

A God-forsaken, God-forgotten-looking place is Penrhyn, all in all. When
sunset falls upon the great desolate lagoon, and the tall cocoanuts
of the island stand up jet black against the stormy yellow sky in one
unbroken rampart of tossing spears, and the endless sweep of shadowy
beach is empty of all human life, and clear of every sound save the
long, monotonous, never-ceasing cry of the trade wind in the trees, it
needs but little imagination to fancy strange creatures creeping through
the gloom of the forest--strange, ghastly stories of murder and despair
whispering in the gathering night. Death in every form is always near
to Penrhyn; death in the dark waters of the lagoon, death from the white
terror of leprosy, and death at the hands of men but quarter civilised,
whose fingers are always itching for the ready knife. And at the lonely
sunset hour, when old memories of the life and light of great cities,
of welcoming windows shining red and warm through grey, cold northern
gloamings come back to the wanderer’s mind in vivid contrast, the very
wings of the “Shadow cloaked from head to foot” seem to shake in full
sight above these desolate shores. Yet, perhaps, the intolerable blaze
of full noon upon the windward beaches strikes a note of even deeper
loneliness and distance. The windward side of Penrhyn is uninhabited;
the sea that breaks in blinding white foam upon the untrodden strand,
wreathed with trailing vines of vivid green, is never broken by a sail.
The sun beats down through the palm and pandanus leaves so fiercely that
the whole of the seaward bush is but a shadeless blaze of green fire.
Nothing stirs, nothing cries; the earth is silent, the sea empty; and a
barrier of thousands of long sea miles, steadily built up, day by day,
through many weeks, and only to be passed again by the slow demolishing,
brick by brick, of the same great wall, lies between us and the world
where people live. Here there is no life, only an endless dream; not as
in the happy southern islands, a gentle sunrise dream of such surpassing
sweetness that the sleeper asks nothing more than to dream on thus
forever; but a dark-hour dream of loneliness, desolation, and utter
remoteness, from which the dreamer cannot awaken, even if he would. Why
do men--white men, with some ability and some education--live in these
faraway infertile islands? There is no answer to the problem, even from
the men themselves. They came, they stayed, they do not go away--why?
they do not know. That is all.

The land extent of Penrhyn is only three square miles, though the
enclosed lagoon is a hundred. The population is little over four hundred
souls; there are three or four white traders, as a rule. There is no
resident white missionary. The island is one of those that have been
annexed by New Zealand, and is therefore British property. It is
governed by the Resident Commissioner of the Cook group, who visits it
about once a year.

Until two or three years ago, the Penrhyn Islanders used to keep their
dead in the houses, hanging up the corpse, wrapped in matting, until it
was completely decayed. This hideous practice was put an end to by the
Representatives of British Government, much to the grief of the natives,
who found it hard to part with the bodies of their friends, and leave
them away in the graveyard they were bidden to choose. As the best
substitute for the old practice, they now build little houses, some four
feet high, over the tombs of their friends, and live in these houses for
many months after a death, sitting and sleeping and even eating on the
tomb that is covered by the thatch or iron roof of the grave-house. The
graveyard is in consequence a strange and picturesque sight, almost like
a village of some pigmy folk. A few plain concrete graves stand above
the remains of white men who have died in the island, and one headstone
is carved with the initials--not the name--of a woman. There is a story
about that lonely grave; it was told to me as I lingered in the little
“God’s Acre” at sunset, with the light falling low between the palms and
the lonely evening wind beginning to wail from the sea.

The woman was the wife of a schooner captain, a man of good family and
connections, who liked the wild roving life of the Pacific, yet managed
to retain a number of acquaintances of his own class in Auckland and
Tahiti. His wife was young and handsome, and had many friends of her
own. On one of the schooner’s visits to Penrhyn, the man was taken
suddenly ill, and died in a very short time, leaving his wife alone. It
seems that at first she was bewildered by her loss, and stayed on in the
island, not knowing what to do, but before many months she had solved
the problem after a fashion that horrified all the whites--she married a
Penrhyn native! good-looking and attractive, but three-quarters savage,
and left the island with him.

Several children were born to the pair, but they were given to the
husband’s people. At last he took a native partner, and deserted his
English wife. She left the islands, and went down to Auckland; but her
story had travelled before her, and Auckland society closed its doors.
To Tahiti, where morals are easy, and no one frowns upon the union,
temporary or permanent, of the white man and the brown woman, she went,
hoping to be received as in former days. But even Papeete, “the sink of
the Pacific,” would have none of the white woman who had married a brown
man. Northwards once more, to lonely Penrhyn, the broken-hearted woman
went, wishing only to die, far from the eyes of her own world that had
driven her out. A schooner captain, who called there now and then,
cast eyes upon her--for she was still young and retained much of her
beauty--and asked her, at last, if she would become his wife, and so
redeem in some degree her position; but she had neither heart nor wish
to live longer, so she sent the kindly sailor away, and soon afterwards
closed her eyes for ever on the blue Pacific and the burning sands, the
brown lover who had betrayed her, and the white lover who came too late.
The traders buried her, and kindly left her grave without a name; only
the initials of that which she had borne in her first marriage, and
the date of her death. So, quiet and forgotten at last, lies in lonely
Penrhyn the woman who sinned against her race and found no forgiveness.

It was a relief to leave Penrhyn, with all its gloomy associations, and
see the schooner’s head set for the open sea and merry Manahiki. But
we seemed to have brought ill-luck away with us, for there was what the
captain called “mean weather” before we came within hail of land again,
and the _Duchess_ got some more knocking about.

It was on account of this that Neo, our native bo’sun, hit an innocent
A.B. over the head with a belaying-pin one afternoon, and offered to
perform the same service for any of the rest of the crew who might
require it. The men had been singing mission hymns as they ran about the
deck pulling and hauling--not exactly out of sheer piety, but because
some of the hymns, with good rousing choruses, made excellent chanties.
They were hauling to the tune of “Pull for the shore, brothers!” when
a squall hit the ship, and out of the fifteen agitated minutes that
followed, the _Duchess emerged minus her jib-boom_. When things had
quieted down, Neo started to work with the belaying-, pin, until he was
stopped, when he offered, as a sufficient explanation, the following:

“Those men, they sing something made bad luck, I think, jib-boom he
break. Suppose they sing, ‘Pull for ‘em shore’ some other time, I break
their head, that I telling them!”

The next time a chanty was wanted, “Hold the Fort!” took the place of
the obnoxious tune, and Neo’s lessons were not called for.

And so, in a day or two we came to Rakahanga and Manahiki (Reirson and
Humphrey Islands), and stopped there for another day or two, before we
spread our wings like the swallows, to fleet southward again.

[Illustration: 0351]

It was certainly globe-trotting, not proper travelling. To flit from
group to group, taking in cargo, and then hurrying off again, is the way
not to understand the places one sees, and I was more than half inclined
to leave the _Duchess_ here, and stop over for a month or two on the
chance of another schooner turning up. But the dinner that the solitary
trader ate when he came on board made me change my mind. He looked like
a man half-famished, and he certainly acted like one. There was hardly
a thing on the island to eat at present, he said; the natives had only
enough fish for themselves, and the turtle weren’t coming and his stores
were almost out, and he had been living on biscuit and cocoanuts for
weeks. There was leprosy in both islands, and one did not dare to touch
native pork or fowl. On the whole, I thought I would be contented to
“globe-trot,” on this occasion, and see what I could in a day or two.

The islands are about twenty-five miles apart, and very much like
one another. They each own an area of about two square miles, and a
population of some four hundred natives. And there is nothing in the
whole Pacific prettier.

Coming up to Manahiki, one sees first of all a snowy shore and a belt
of green tossing palms, just like any other island. As the ship coasts
along, however, making for the village, the palm-trees break and open
out here and there, and through the break one sees--paradise! There is
a great sheet of turquoise-green water inside, and on the water an
archipelago of the most exquisite little plumy, palmy islets, each
ringed round with its own pearly girdle of coral sand. Every gap in the
trees frames in a picture more lovely than the last--and, as we approach
the village, the dainty little brown island canoes that all the Pacific
wanderers know so well, begin to dot the jewel-bright surface of the
inner lake, and gleams of white and rose and scarlet dresses, worn by
the rowers of the tiny craft, sparkle on the water like gems. At last
the vessel comes to anchor before a wide white, sloping beach, with
brown-roofed huts clustering behind, and we reached merry Manahiki.

The island has long enjoyed a reputation for peculiar innocence and
simplicity, coupled with piety of a marked description. Well, one
does not care to destroy any one’s illusions, so the less said about
Manahiki’s innocence and simplicity the better. The islanders are,
at all events, a kindly and a cheerful people, and their home is the
neatest and best kept island in the Pacific. A palm-bordered road of
finest white sand, beautifully kept, and four miles long, runs without
a bend or break from one end of the island to the other--this portion of
the atoll forming a separate island, and containing most of the scanty
population. The village stands about midway--a collection of quaint
little houses deeply thatched with plaited pan-danus leaf, and walled
with small, straight saplings set side by side and admitting a good deal
of light and air. The houses are unwindowed as a rule. Rakahanga, the
sister island, is extremely like Manahiki in formation and architecture.
It, however, enjoys the additional advantage of a jail, which is built
of crossed saplings, looks much like a huge bird-cage, and certainly
could not confine any one who made the smallest attempt to get out.
But, as criminals are unknown in these islands, and petty offences are
visited by fine instead of imprisonment, the jail is not expected to
do real service, being merely a bit of “swagger,” like the white-washed
stone houses possessed by one or two wealthy natives, who, Pacific
fashion, never think of living in them.

Within, the ordinary houses are extremely simple. The floor of white
coral gravel reflects and intensifies the soft diffused light that
enters through the walls. There may be a native bedstead, laced across
with, “sinnet”--plaited cocoanut fibre--and provided with a gay
patchwork quilt, and a few large soft mats of pandanus leaf,
ingeniously split, dried, and plaited. There will certainly be a pile of
camphor-wood trunks, containing the clothes of the household; a dozen
or so cocoanut shells, for drinking and eating purposes; a few
sheath-knives, and a small quantity of much-cherished crockery. In a
corner, you may find a heap of flying-fish ready cleaned for baking in
the oven-pit outside, and a number of green, unhusked cocoanuts, for
drinking. You may possibly see some ship’s biscuits, too, bought from
the one white resident of the island, a trader and there will also be
some lumps of white, soft pith, shaped like large buns--the “sponge” or
kernel of the old cocoanut, which grows and fills up the shell after the
water has dried away, and the nut commenced to sprout. But there will be
no bananas, no oranges, no mangoes, granadillas, pineapples, yam, taro
or ti root, bread-fruit or maupei chestnuts, as in the fertile volcanic
islands. Manahiki is a coral island, pure and simple, and has no soil at
all, nothing but sand and white gravel, out of which the cocoa-palm
and a few small timber trees spring, in a manner that seems almost
miraculous to those accustomed to the rich, fertile soil of Raratonga or
Tahiti. Cocoanut and fish are the food of the Manahikian, varied by an
occasional gorge of turtle-meat, and a feast of pig and fowl on very
great occasions. There is, therefore, not much work to do in the island,
and there are few distractions from the outside world, since trading
schooners only call two or three times a year at best. Some copra-drying
is done and a few toy canoes, baskets, and other curiosities are made,
to find a precarious sale when a schooner comes in and the captain is
inclined to speculate.

But time never hangs heavy on the Manahikian’s hands. He is the most
accomplished dancer and singer in the whole South Pacific, and the
island is inordinately vain of this distinction. All South Sea islanders
sing constantly, but in Manahiki, the tunes are much sweeter and more
definite than in most other islands; and the impromptu variations of the
“seconds” are really wonderful. The voices, too, are exceptionally good.
The women’s are rather hard and piercing, but those of the men are often
magnificent. The time is as perfect as if beaten out by a metronome, and
false notes are almost unknown.

[Illustration: 0359]

Men and women alike seem incapable of fatigue when singing. The mere
white man will feel tired and husky after going through the choruses
of _The Messiah_ or _The Creation_. A Manahikian, if he were acquainted
with oratorio music, would run through both, and then “take on”
 _Tannhauser_, following up with another Wagnerian opera, and perhaps a
cantata thrown in. By this time, it would be dusk, and the chorus would
probably stop to eat a cartload of cocoanuts before beginning on the
whole _Nibelungen Ring_ cycle for the night. About midnight the Resident
Agent, a clever half-caste, who has European ideas about the value of
sleep, would probably send out the village policeman with a stick to
induce the singers to go to bed; and, quite unfatigued, they would rise
up from their cross-legged squatting posture on the ground, and go,
remonstrant, but compelled.

[Illustration: 0360]

Happily for the Resident Agent and the trader, however, European music
is not known in Manahiki, and when a singing fit seizes the people, they
can generally be stopped after about a day, unless somebody has composed
something very new and very screaming. If the two ends of the village
have begun one of their musical competitions, there may also be
difficulty in bringing it to a period; for the rival choruses will sing
against each other with cracking throats and swelling veins, hour after
hour, till both sides are completely exhausted.

Dancing, however, is the Manahikian’s chief reason for existing.
The Manahikian dances are infinitely superior to those of most other
islands, which consist almost altogether of a wriggle belonging to the
_danse du ventre_ family, and a little waving of the arms. The Manahiki
dance has the wriggle for its groundwork, but there are many steps
and variations. Some of the steps are so rapid that the eye can hardly
follow them, and a camera shutter which works up to 1/100 of a second
does not give a sharp result. The men are ranged in a long row, with the
women opposite; there is a good deal of wheeling and turning about in
brisk military style, advancing, retreating, and spinning round. The men
dance very much on the extreme tips of their toes (they are, of course,
barefooted) and keep up this painful posture for an extraordinary
length of time. Every muscle in the whole body seems to be worked in the
“fancy” steps; and there is a remarkable effect of general dislocation,
due to turning the knees and elbows violently out and in.

The women, like Miss Mercy Pecksniff, seem chiefly to favour the “shape
and skip” style of locomotion. There is a good deal of both these, a
great deal of wriggle, and plenty of arm action, about their dancing.
They manoeuvre their long, loose robes about, not at all ungracefully,
and do some neat step-dancing, rather inferior, however, to that of the

Both men and women dress specially for the dance, so the festival that
was organised to greet our arrivals took some time to get up, as all the
beaux and belles of the village had to hurry home and dress. The women
put on fresh cotton loose gowns, of brilliant pink, purple, yellow,
white and green, oiled their hair with cocoanut oil scented with the
fragrant white tieré flower, and hung long chains of red and yellow
berries about their necks. About their waists they tied the dancing
girdle, never worn except on these occasions, and made of twisted green
ferns. The men took off their cool, easy everyday costume, of a short
cotton kilt and gay coloured singlet, and attired themselves in shirts
and heavy stuff trousers (bought from the trader at enormous expense,
and considered the acme of smartness). Both sexes crowned themselves
with the curious dancing headdress, which looks exactly like the
long-rayed halo of a saint, and is made by splitting a palm frond down
the middle, and fastening it in a half-circle about the back of the

The music then struck up and the dancers began to assemble. The
band consisted of two youths, one of whom clicked a couple of sticks
together, while the other beat a drum. This does not sound attractive;
but as a matter of fact, the Manahiki castanet and drum music is
curiously weird and thrilling, and arouses a desire for dancing even
in the prosaic European. On board our schooner, lying half a mile from
shore, the sound of the measured click and throb used to set every foot
beating time on deck, while the native crew frankly dropped whatever
they were at, and began to caper wildly. Close at hand, the music
is even more impressive; no swinging waltz thundered out by a whole
Hungarian band gets “into the feet” more effectively than the Manahiki

A much-cherished possession is this drum. It is carved and ornamented
with sinnet, and topped with a piece of bladder; it seems to have been
hollowed out of a big log, with considerable labour. The skill of the
drummers is really remarkable. No drumsticks are used, only fingers, yet
the sound carries for miles. While drumming, the hands rise and fall so
fast as to lose all outline to the eye; the drummer nods and beats with
his foot in an ecstasy of delight at his own performance; the air is
full of the throbbing, rhythmical, intensely savage notes. The dancers
at first hesitate, begin and stop, and begin again, laugh and retreat
and come forward undecidedly. By-and-by the dancing fervour seizes one
or two; they commence to twirl and to stamp wildly, winnowing the
air with their arms. Others join in, the two rows are completed, and
Manahiki is fairly started for the day. Hour after hour they dance,
streaming with perspiration in the burning sun, laughing and singing and
skipping. The green fern girdles wither into shreds of crackling brown,
the palm haloes droop, the berry necklaces break and scatter, but on
they go. The children join in the dance now and then, but their small
frames weary soon; the parents are indefatigable.

Perhaps both ends of the settlement are dancing; if that is so, the
competitive element is sure to come in sooner or later, for the feeling
between the two is very like that between the collegers and oppidans at
Eton, each despising the other heartily, and ready on all occasions
to find a cause for a fight. They will dance against each other now,
striving with every muscle to twinkle the feet quicker, stand higher on
the tips of the toes, wriggle more snakily, than their rivals. Evening
comes, and they are still dancing. With the night, the dance degenerates
into something very like an orgy, and before dawn, to avoid scandal, a
powerful hint from the native pastor and the agent causes the ball to
break up.

Do the dancers go to bed now, lie down on their piled up sleeping
mats, and compose themselves to slumber? By no means. Most of them get
torches, and go out on the reef in the dark to spear fish. Cooking fires
are lighted, and there is a hurried gorge in the houses; everywhere,
in the breaking dawn, one hears the chuck-chuck of the husking-stick
preparing cocoanuts, and smells the savoury odour of cooking fish. The
dancers have not eaten for at least twenty-four hours, perhaps more. But
this feast does not last long, for just as the sun begins to shoot long
scarlet rays up through the palm trees, some one begins to beat the drum
again. Immediately the whole village pours out into the open, and the
dance is all on again, as energetic as ever. The trading schooner is
three weeks over-due, and the copra on which the island income depends
is not half dried; there is not a fancy basket or a pandanus hat ready
for the trader; the washing of every house is hopelessly behind, and
nobody has had a decent meal since the day before yesterday. No matter:
the Manahikians are dancing, and it would take an earthquake to stop

Late in the second day, they will probably give out and take a night’s
rest. But it is about even chances that they begin again the next
morning. In any case, no day passes in Manahiki or Rakahanga without a
dance in the evening. Regularly at sunset the drum begins to beat, the
fern girdles are tied on (relics, these, of heathen days when girdles
of grass or fern were all that the dancers wore), and palm haloes are
twisted about the glossy black hair, and the island gives itself up to
enjoyment for the evening.

There is a dancing-master in Manahiki, a most important potentate, who
does nothing whatever but invent new dances, and teach the youth of the
village both the old dances and the new.

We stopped overnight at the island, so I had time for a good walk along
the beautiful coral avenue, which is indeed one of the loveliest things
in the island world. It was Sunday, and all the natives were worshipping
in the exceedingly ugly and stuffy concrete church, under the guidance
of the native pastor, so I had the place almost to myself. Far away from
everywhere, sitting in a ruinous little hut under the trees by the inner
lagoon, I found a lonely old man, crippled and unable to walk. He was
waiting until the others came back from church, staring solemnly into
the lagoon the while, and playing with a heap of cocoanut shells.
By-and-by he would probably rouse up, drag himself into the hut, and
busy himself getting ready the dinner for the family against their
return home, for he was an industrious old man, and liked to make
himself useful so far as he could, and his relatives were very glad of
what small services he could render in washing and cooking.

What was the matter with the poor old man? He was a leper!

That is the way of the islands, and no white rule can altogether put a
stop to it. The half-caste who acts as agent for the Government of New
Zealand had hunted out a very bad case of leprosy a year or two before,
and insisted on quarantining it in a lonely part of the bush. This was
all very well, but the leper had a pet cock, which he wanted to take
with him, and the agent’s heart was not hard enough to refuse. Now the
leper, being fed without working, and having nothing to do, found the
time hanging heavy on his hands, so he taught the cock to dance--report
says, to dance the real Manahiki dances--and the fame of the wondrous
bird spread all over the island, and as far as Rakahanga, so that
the natives made continual parties to see the creature perform, and
quarantine became a dead letter. Still the agent had not the heart
to take the cock away, but when he saw the leper’s end was near, he
watched, and as soon as he heard the man was dead, he hurried to the
quarantined hut, set it on fire, and immediately slaughtered the cock.
An hour later, half the island was out at the hut, looking for the
bird--but they came too late.


We have been two days at merry Manahiki, and the cargo is in, and the
Captain has ordered the _Duchess_--looking shockingly cock-nosed without
her great jib-boom--to be put under sail again. As the booms begin to
rattle, and the sails to rise against the splendid rose and daffodil of
the Pacific sunset, Shalli, our Cingalese steward, leans sadly over the
rail, listening to the thrilling beat of the drum that is just beginning
to throb across the still waters of the lagoon, now that evening and its
merrymaking are coming on once more.

“He plenty good place, that,” says Shalli mournfully. “All the time
dancing, singing, eating, no working--he all same place as heaven. O my
God, I plenty wish I stopping there, I no wanting any heaven then!”

With this pious aspiration in our ears, we spread our white wings
once more--for the last time. Raratonga lies before us now, and from
Raratonga the steamers go, and the mails and tourists come, and the
doors of the great world open for us again. So, good-bye to the life of
the schooner.


_The Last of the Island Kingdoms--Fashions in Nukualofa--The King
who was shy--His Majesty’s Love Story--Who got the Wedding-Cake?--The
Chancellor goes to Jail--Bungalow Housekeeping--The Wood of the
Sacred Bats--By the Tombs of the Tui-Tongas--A “Chief” Kava-party--The
Waits!--Mariner’s Cave--The Cave of the Swallows--To Samoa._

SOME weeks afterwards, after a round of three thousand miles, I found
myself in Tonga, better known as the Friendly Islands. The distance from
the Cook Group was only one thousand or less, as the crow flies, but
the steamers flew down to Auckland, and then back again, which naturally
added to the journey. Pacific travel is a series of compromises. The
British Resident of Niué, which is only three hundred miles from Tonga,
wanted to get to the latter place about that time, and when I met him
at Nukualofa, the Tongan capital, he had had to travel two thousand
four hundred miles to reach it! But no one is ever in a hurry, under the
shade of the cocoanut tree.

Who has heard of Tongatabu? who knows where the “Friendly Islands” are?
You will not find them very readily in the map, but they are to be
found nevertheless, about one thousand miles to the north-east of New
Zealand. And if you take the steamer that runs every month from Auckland
to Sydney, touching at the “Friendly” or Tongan Group, on the way, you
will find yourself, in four days, set down on the wharf of Nukualofa,
the capital of the island of Tongatabu, and the seat of the oddest, most
comic-opera-like monarchy that the world ever knew.

Thirty years ago--even twenty--the Great South Seas were scattered over
with independent island states, ruled by monarchs who displayed every
degree of civilisation, from the bloodthirsty monster, Thakomban of Fiji
and Jibberik, the half-crazy tyrant of Majuro, up to such Elizabeths of
the Pacific as Liluokalani of Hawaii, and Queen Pomaré of Tahiti. Now
there is but one island kingdom left; but one native sovereign, who
still sits on his throne unembarrassed by the presence of a British
Resident, who is ruler in all but name. Hawaii has fallen to America;
France has taken the Marquesas and Tahiti; England has annexed the Cook
Islands and dethroned the famous Queen Makea; Germany and America have
partitioned Samoa between them; the rich archipelago of Fiji has been
added to the British Colonies. This accounts for almost all of the
larger and richer island groups, distinguished by a certain amount
of original civilisation, and leaves only one unseized--Tonga, or the
Friendly Islands, over which England has maintained a protectorate since

The Tongan Archipelago was discovered by Captain Cook in 1777, and by
him named the “Friendly Islands,” on account of the apparently friendly
disposition of the natives. He sailed away from the group unaware that
beneath their seemingly genial reception, the Tongans had been maturing
a plot to murder him and seize his ship. Treachery, it is true, has
never been an essential part of the Tongan character; but they are,
and always have been, the most warlike of all Pacific races, and it
is probable that they thought the character of the deed excused by the
necessities of a military race who feared injury from a superior power.

After Cook’s visit the world heard very little of Tonga until 1816, when
Mariner’s “Tonga Islands,” the history of a young sailor’s captivity
among the natives of the group, fairly took the reading world by storm.
It is still a classic among works of travel and adventure. Since
the islands were converted to Christianity their history has been
uneventful. One king--George Tubou I.--reigned for seventy years, and
only died at last, aged ninety-seven, of a chill contracted from his
invariable custom of bathing in the sea at dawn! His great-grandson,
George Tubou II. succeeded, inheriting through his mother’s side, as the
Tongan succession follows the matriarchal plan. It is this king--aged
thirty-four, six feet four in height, and about twenty-seven stone
weight--who now sits upon the last throne of the Island Kings, and rules
over the only independent state left in the Pacific.

When Britain, assumed a Protectorate over Tonga in 1900, it was done
simply to prevent any other nation annexing the rich and fertile group,
with its splendid harbour of Vavau which lay so dangerously near Fiji.
The Germans, who had maintained a kind of half-and-half Protectorate for
some time, ceded their rights in exchange for those possessed by England
in Samoa, and Tonga then became safe from the incursions of any foreign
nation whose interests, trading and territorial, might be hostile to
those of Britain.

Perhaps as a consequence of all those negotiations, the Tongans have
a high opinion of their own importance. When the war between China and
Japan broke out, Tonga politely sent word to Great Britain that she
intended to remain neutral, and not take any part in the affair. Great
Britain’s reply, I regret to say, is not recorded.

The Tongans are a Christianised and partially civilised, if a coloured,
race, numbering about 20,000. They are of a warm brown in hue, with
dense black, wiry hair (usually dyed golden red with lime juice), tall,
well-made frames, and immense muscular development. As a nation, they
are handsome, with intelligent faces, and a dignity of pose and movement
that is sometimes unkindly called the “Tongan swagger.” In education,
many of them would compare favourably with the average white man, so far
as mere attainments go; although a course of instruction at the local
schools and colleges, amounting to very nearly the standard of an
English “matriculations,” does not prevent its recipient from believing
firmly in the holiness of the sacred Tongan bats, feeding himself with
his fingers, and walking about his native village naked as Adam, save
for a cotton kilt. There is not only a King in Tonga, but a real palace,
guards of honour, a Parliament, a Prime Minister, a Chancellor of the
Exchequer, and a large number of public officials. All these are
Tongan natives. The king’s guards are apt to make an especially vivid
impression upon the newcomer, as he walks up the wharf, and sees the
scarlet-coated sentry pacing up and down opposite the guard-room, with
his fellows, also smartly uniformed, lounging inside. If the stranger,
however, could have witnessed the scene on the wharf as soon as the
steamer was signalled---the sudden running up of a dozen or two of
guards who had been amusing themselves about the town in undress uniform
(navy-blue kilt, red sash, buff singlet), the scrambling and dressing
_coram publico_ on the grass, getting into trousers, boots, shirt,
tunic, forage cap, and the hurried scuffle to get ready in time, and
make a fine appearance to the steamer folk--he might think rather
less of Tonga’s military discipline. Beyond the wharf lies the town,
straggling over a good mile of space, and consisting of a few main
streets and one or two side alleys, bordered by pretty verandahed,
flowery houses. The pavement is the same throughout--green grass,
kept short by the constant passing of bare feet. There are a good many
trading stores, filled with wares suited to native tastes--gaudy prints,
strong perfumes, cutlery, crockery, Brummagem jewellery. The streets are
busy to-day--busy for Nukualofa, that is. Every now and then a native
passes, flying by on a galloping, barebacked horse, or striding along
the grass with the inimitable Tongan strut; for it is steamer day,
and the monthly Union steamer boat is the theatre, the newspaper, the
society entertainment; the luxury-provider of all the archipelago. On
the other twenty-nine or thirty days of the month, you may stand in the
middle of a main street for half an hour at a time, and not see a single
passer-by, but steamer day galvanises the whole island into life.

[Illustration: 0376]

The sand of the beach beside the wharf is as white as snow; it is
pulverised coral from the reef, nothing else. Great fluted clam-shells,
a foot long and more, lie about the strand, among the trailing
pink-flowered convolvulus vines that wreathe the shore of every South
Sea island. Unkempt pandanus trees, mounted on quaint high wooden
stilts, overhang the green water; among the taller and more graceful
cocoa-palms, Norfolk Island pines, odd, formal, and suggestive of
hairbrushes, stand among feathery ironwoods and spreading-avavas
about the palace of the king. Quite close to the wharf this latter is
placed--a handsome two-storeyed building, with wide verandahs and a
tower. Scarlet-coated sentries march up and down all day at its gates;
it is surrounded by a wall, and carefully guarded from intruders. George
Tubou II. is among the shyest of monarchs and hates nothing so much as
being stared at; so on steamer days there is little sign of life to be
seen about the palace.

I happened to arrive in Tonga at an interesting historical crisis, and
was promised an audience with the retiring monarch.

After a week or two, however, the promise was suddenly recalled, and the
visitor informed that the king declined to see her, then or at any other
time. A little investigation revealed the cause. The High Commissioner
of the Western Pacific had recently come over from Fiji; to remonstrate
with the Tongan monarchy concerning certain unconstitutional behaviour,
and a British man-of-war had accompanied him. I, being the only other
person on the island from “Home,” had naturally been seeing a good deal
of the formidable stranger. This was enough for the king. There was a
plot to deprive him of his throne, he was certain; and it was obvious
that I was in it, whatever I might choose to say to the contrary. There
was no knowing what crime I might not be capable of, once admitted to
the Royal Palace. George Tubou II. is six feet four, and twenty-seven
stone weight, but he is distinctly of a nervous temperament; and his
fears of Guy Fawkesism kept possession of his mind during the whole of
my stay; so that the carefully averted face of a fat, copper-coloured
sort of Joe Sedley, driving very fast in a buggy, was all I saw of
Tonga’s king.

There is no one, surely, in the world who quite comes up to George of
Tonga for a “guid conceit o’ himsel’.” When he wished to provide himself
with a queen, some six or seven years ago, he first applied to
the Emperor of Germany, to know if there was a German Princess of
marriageable age whom he could have! The Kaiser politely replied in the
negative. King George then sent proposals to a princess of Hawaii who
was as well educated as any white lady, and used to diplomatic society
in Washington. This also failing, he turned his attentions to his own
country; and then began the most extraordinary love-story ever told
under the Southern Cross--a story that could have happened nowhere on
the globe, except in the comic-opera country of Tonga.

There were two eligible princesses of the royal line of Tonga--Princess
Ofa and Princess Lavinia. The king appears to have proposed to them
both, and then found himself unable to decide between the two. They were
both of high rank, both good-looking after the portly Tongan fashion,
and both very willing to be queen, reign over the fine palace, order
lots of silk dresses from Auckland, wear the queen’s crown of Tonga
(supposed to be gold, but rather inclined to suspicious outbreaks of
verdigris), and see the natives get off their horses and kneel on the
ground, when the royal state carriage drove by.

But the king kept both princesses in the agonies of suspense ever
present, and hope constantly deferred for months--until the wedding-day
was fixed, the wedding-cake (ordered three years before from a New
Zealand confectioner, for the German Princess who was not to be had)
patched up and fresh coloured, the wedding-dress provided, at the
expense of the Government of Tonga (according to custom) and actually
made! Not till the very night before the wedding did his dilatory
Majesty at last declare his intentions, and fix upon the princess he
had last proposed to, whom nobody expected him to take--Lavinia. It is
a sober fact that the wedding invitation cards, sent out at the last
minute, were printed with a blank for the bride’s name, which was
added with a pen! Lavinia, overjoyed at her good luck, got into the
Governmentally provided wedding dress next day, and (as the fairy tales
say) “the wedding was celebrated with great pomp!” There is no sense of
humour in Tonga. If there had been, the king could hardly have selected
the means of consolation for Ofa’s disappointment that he actually did
choose, in sending her the bottom half of his wedding cake, as soon as
the ceremony was over. Princess Ofa was not proud; she had been beating
her head on the floor-mats all morning and pulling out handfuls of her
long black hair, but when the consolatory cake arrived, she accepted it
promptly and ate it.

There are generally illuminations on the night of a royal wedding. Tonga
was not behind-hand in this matter, but the illuminations were of rather
an unusual kind, being nothing less than numbers of burning native
houses, set on fire by the indignant friends of the jilted Princess Ofa.
The friends of the new queen retaliated in kind; and for nearly a week,
arson became the recognised sport of the island. This excess of party
feeling soon died down, however, and the newly married couple were left
to honeymoon in peace.

An infant princess was born in due time, and not very long after, Queen
Lavinia died. Here was Princess Ofa’s chance, if Fate had permitted;
but Ofa herself was dead, leaving no eligible princess to console the
widowed king.

For more than five years the monarch (who is still only thirty-four) has
lived alone, a mark for every husband-hunting princess in the Pacific. A
princess related to an ancient island monarchy, invited herself to stay
in the palace one recent Christmas. King George received her pleasantly,
entertained her for some weeks, and then sent her home with a big
packet of fine tobacco and a barrel of spirits, to console her for the
non-success of her visit--which may be accounted for by the fact that
she is rather older than the king himself, and by no means so lovely as
she was. A favoured candidate is a certain princess of the royal family
of Tahiti. She has been described to the king as handsome, and at least
sixteen stone weight, both of which claims are quite correct. King
George really wants a European princess, but as soon as he has been
convinced for the second time that this is impossible, it is hoped that
he will decide on the Tahitian princess, and elevate her to the Tongan
throne, since he admires fat women exceedingly.

One of the most remarkable things in this remarkable country is the
Parliament. It would take too long to record the history of this
assembly’s birth and development; but the chapter has been a notable one
in Tongan history. The Parliament usually consists of the King and Prime
Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Justice, and a
score or two of important chiefs, some of whom inherit by birth, while
others are returned by their native villages. At the time of my visit,
there were a couple of vacancies in this remarkable assembly, since the
High Commissioner of the Western Pacific (Governor of Fiji) had just
deported the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Fiji,
on account of certain proceedings which resulted in emptying Tonga’s
public treasury and leaving nothing to show for it.

Their absence did not greatly matter, however, as it is a rule of the
Tongan Constitution, that Parliament shall not meet oftener than once in
three years. An excellent and practical reason lies at the root of this
seemingly peculiar law. Tongatabu is a small island, only twenty miles
long; and when the Members of Parliament,--dressed in new cotton
kilts, with smart large floor-mats tied round their waists with sinnet
(cocoanut fibre plait), and violet, sea-green, or lemon silk shirts
on their brown backs--arrive from the outer villages and islands in
Nukualofa with all their relatives, for the beginning of the session,
something very like a famine sets in. The whole Parliament, also its
sisters, aunts, and grandpapas, has to be fed at public expense, while
it stays in the capital arranging the affairs of the nation; and as the
length of its sitting is always regulated by the amount of provisions
available, and never ends until the last yam, the last skinny chicken,
the last sack of pineapples, is eaten up, it is easy to understand why
the capital does not care to undergo such a strain any oftener than it
can help.

A new Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer were appointed
before long, and it was made a condition of the latter office, that the
Chancellor should understand a reasonable amount of arithmetic.
There was also a rigid rule made about the keeping of the key of the
Government safe in some suitable place. A good deal of trouble was
caused by the last Chancellor’s losing it, one day when he was out
fishing on the coral reef! There was a duplicate, but the Chancellor had
carefully locked it up in the safe, to make sure it should not be lost!
The poor old gentleman nearly get sunstroke hunting about the coral
reef for the key until he found it. If it had been carried, away by the
tides, the safe must have remained closed until an expert from Auckland
could be brought up to open it. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer did
not know how much he had in it, or how much he had spent in the last
quarter, it can readily be understood that the public accounts acquired
an entirely superfluous extra tangle or two during the absence of the
lost key.

Tonga enjoys one of the finest climates in the Pacific. The heat is
never excessive, and the air is generally bright and invigorating.
Fevers are unheard of, and the few white residents of the islands enjoy
splendid health. As for the Tongans themselves, they dispute with the
Fijians the palm of being physically the finest and strongest people
in the whole Pacific; and no one has ever thought of challenging their
claim to be the most intellectual of all the brown island races. Their
carriage is superb, though only its extreme _aplomb_ and ease save it
from degenerating into an actual swagger. Their dress displays the most
perfect taste in the South Seas. It consists, among the men, of a short
tunic (“vala”) of fine cashmere or silk, occasionally of cotton, on
working days--draped with all the grace of an antique statue, and worn
with a wide sash, and a thin, close-fitting singlet or shirt. The
Tongan woman generally wears a garment that is suggestive of the Greek
_chiton_--a loose sleeveless dress reaching to a point midway between
waist and knee. Underneath is seen a tunic similar to that of the men,
but a little longer. The colours chosen by both sexes are exquisite. No
artist could design more beautiful combinations than those I have often
seen flitting about the grassy streets of Nukualofa, Tonga’s capital. A
finely made giant strides by, in a navy-blue vala, cream-coloured silk
shirt, and vivid sea-green sash. Another wears a pale blue vala and
shirt, and a sash of royal blue. A third is in white and lemon colour
girdled with orange; another wears a white vala, a pale green shirt, and
a sash of violet silk. A tall, self-possessed young woman, her hair dyed
golden red with lime, and worn coiffed high above the forehead, with a
fall of natural curls down her back, has a scarlet and yellow vala under
her short brown silk gown, while her companion--smaller and merrier
faced, with the melting black eyes of “The Islands”--wears and looks
charming in, a pale-blue gown over a vala of daffodil yellow. These are
the fashions of Tonga; and they offer a feast for artistic souls and
pencils, that cannot be matched under the Southern Cross.

Tonga is very seldom visited by travellers, except for an hour or two
during the steamer’s stay in port, and it is hardly ever seen by British
tourists. I could not discover that any English lady had ever made a
stay there, except myself, and the wife of a local Church dignitary.
There are, of course, a few Colonial residents. But the English
traveller leaves Tonga out altogether, which is really a pity--for his
sake. As for the islands, they can do very well without tourists, and
would not be the better for them.

There was no hotel save a plain and simple public-house, at the time
of my stay, though I understand this defect has been remedied. I had
therefore to set up housekeeping on my own account. The tiny bungalow I
took for my stay of four weeks in the island, was a real South Sea home.
It stood almost on the white coral sand of the beach, and close to
the cool green waters of the lagoon; it was shaded by palms and
scarlet-blossomed “flamboyant” trees, and it was nearly all door and
window and verandah. Its carpets were plaited pandanus-leaf mats; the
ornaments in the sitting-room were foot-long fluted clam-shells off
the beach, filled with wild red and yellow hibiscus flowers, poignantly
perfumed frangipani stars, and the sweet pink blossoms of the South Sea
oleander. The back kitchen had generally a bunch of bananas hanging from
the roof, a pile of green cocoanuts for drinking, under the window, a
mound of yellow papaws, or tree-melons, in a corner, some custard-apples
and mangoes, and a big basket of pineapples, bought at the door for
fourteen a shilling, or picked by myself during a drive through the

There was not much else, besides bread and tea. I almost lived on
fruit, and could not help wondering what the inhabitants of temperate
latitudes, who fear ill consequences from a dozen plums or a double
handful of strawberries, would have thought of my uncounted mangoes,
and bananas, and five or six pineapples a day. Only children, at home
in England, really know how much fruit can safely be undertaken by the
human digestive organs. Wise children! and foolish elders, who have
forgotten so soon.

The transparent waters of the lagoon outside, lapping idly under the
leaves of overhanging palm and pandanus, were not so cool as they
looked, under the hot midday sun; and if one did not want a tepid
sea-bath, it was best to wait till night. Then, what a luxury it was,
after the heat of the day (for Tonga, though cool for the tropics, is
nevertheless tropical), to float about in the dim lagoon, under a glow
of stars that fit up the sky almost as brightly as an English moon, the
dark shining water bearing one to and fro with the swell from the reef,
the land growing farther and farther away, the palms on the thin pale
shoreline standing out small and black, like Indian ink sketches,
against the lurid purple of the midnight sky! Willingly indeed one would
have passed the whole night out there, swimming, and floating in a warm
dark sea of stars--stars above and stars below--if nature had not given
out after an hour or two, and demanded a return to the solid earth.
Sharks? Well, they had “hardly ever” been seen inside the reef.
Stingarees, with their immense ugly bodies buried in the sand at the
bottom, and their cruel barbed tails ready to strike? Yes, they had been
seen, but not often; and in tropic waters you learn to take the
chances like every one else, and enjoy yourself without thinking of the

[Illustration: 0382]

It was the hot season, but not too hot for riding or driving, and I
spent many mornings exploring about the island. To the Wood of the
Bats, about eleven miles from Nukualofa, one drives in a springy little
colonial buggy, driving over mile after mile of rather uneven grass
road, along avenues of blossoming orange trees, through groves of
bananas and breadfruit and tall mango trees, past straggling native
villages with neat little fancy-work houses made of woven reeds and
thatch, until, in the distance, one begins to hear a loud screaming,
squeaking, and chattering noise. This is the Wood of the Bats that we
are coming to, and that is some of their usual conversation. Under
the trees--there are over twenty of them, avavas, like great cedars,
ironwoods, mangoes; all big forest trees, and all covered with bats as
thick as a currant bush with currants--the squeaking and squealing
grows almost deafening, Thousands of great flying-foxes, with dark furry
bodies as big as cats, big spreading wings (now folded tightly up) and
sharp, keen fox-like heads, hang upside down on every tree, waiting
for the night to come, and whiling away the time by quarrelling and
swearing. They are all bad, these bats; they axe ugly, dirty, vicious,
destructive and greedy--yet they are strictly tabooed by the natives,
and no one dares to kill a single one. It is believed that the
prosperity of Tonga is inextricably associated with the bats, and that,
if they ever deserted the wood, the country would fall. They are sacred,
and must not be touched.

Every evening, punctually at five o’clock, the bats take wing, and
rise from the trees like a screaming cloud of evil spirits. The sky is
blackened with their bodies as they go, and scattered all over with the
long streaming flights of separate bats that divide away from the main
body. They are off to feed--to feed all night upon the bananas and
pineapples and mangoes of the unhappy islanders, who lose thousands
of pounds’ worth of fruit and trade every year, but dare not revenge
themselves. Just at dawn, they will return, screaming and shoving rudely
as they settle down in the trees once more, squabbling for upper
berths, and trying to push into a nice comfortable place amidships of a
particular bough, by biting the occupant’s toes until he lets go. They
may have flown forty or fifty miles in the night, visited islands more
than twenty miles away, and devastated the plantations of Tonga from end
to end. They have worked hard for their suppers, and now they will doze
and squabble all day, once more, until evening.

A few miles from the Wood of Bats, in the midst of exquisite scenery,
stands a famous avava known as Captain Cook’s Tree. It was under this
tree that the great explorer called together all the natives, on his
discovery of the islands in 1777, and addressed them by means of an
interpreter. The account of this will be found in “Cook’s Voyages.” The
tree is still in splendid condition, in spite of its age, which must
amount to many hundred years. Pigs were brought to Tonga by Cook in this
same year, and a few of the original breed are still to be seen in the
island--tall, gaunt, hump-backed creatures with immense heads and long
noses, contrasting oddly with the smaller and fatter kinds introduced by
later voyagers.

The burial-place of the Tui Tongans made an object for another drive.
Before the introduction of Christianity, in early Victorian days, the
Tongans had two kings, an ordinary earthly king, who did all the hard
work of governing, and a heavenly king, the Tui Tonga, who was
supposed to be of divine descent, and was worshipped as a god. For many
centuries, the Tui Tongas were buried in great oblong raised enclosures,
three-terraced, and built of rough-hewn, closely fitted slabs from the
coral reef. Two of these great tombs still remain, hidden in tangled
thickets of low bush, and considerably worn by age. I had no means
of measurement, but judged the larger one to be about fifty yards by
thirty, the smaller somewhat less. The state of the coral slabs, and the
great trees that have grown up rooted among them, suggest that the tombs
are extremely old. Tradition among the natives takes them back beyond
the recollection of any of their ancestors; they cannot say when or why
they were built. The construction--a double terrace, each step about
five feet high--and the carefully arranged oblong shape, seem to point
to some special significance long since forgotten. There is also a
“trilithon” erection of three large blocks of stone, some miles away,
concerning which island traditions are silent. It could not have been
constructed by hand labour alone; some mechanical device must have been
employed to raise the centre stone to its present position. The ancient
Tongans, however, knew nothing of mechanics, and an interesting problem
is therefore set for antiquarians to solve. The height of the side
supports is about twenty feet, and the centre cross-piece, which rests
in a socket on each side, is a little less in length.

The beautiful and interesting sea-caves--some swarming with birds,
others celebrated for their lovely colouring and formation--which are
found in the windward side of the island, I was unable to see, owing to
the bad weather of the rainy season, during which my visit was made.

A “Chief” kava-party, however, got up for my benefit, consoled me for
the loss of the caves. Kava is the great national drink of Tonga, as of
many other South Sea islands. It is made from the hard woody root of
the Piper methysticum and is exhilarating and cooling, but not actually
intoxicating. In taste, it is extremely unpleasant till one gets used
to it, being peppery, soapy, and dish-watery as to flavour. I had
drunk kava before, however, and learned to recognise its pleasanter
properties; also, the old custom of chewing the kava-root, before
infusing it, which still obtains in some parts of Samoa, has been quite
given up in Tonga, and the pounding is done with stones.

The scene was weird and strange in the last degree. I was the only white
person present. We all squatted on the mats in the chief’s house, the
natives in their valas and loose short gowns, with white scented flowers
in their hair; I in a smart demi-toilette evening dress, because I was
the special guest, and the chief’s family would expect me to honour them
by “dressing the part.” The only light was a ship’s hurricane lantern,
placed on the floor, where it threw the most Rembrandtesque of shadows
upon the silent circle of brown, glittering-eyed faces, and upon the
rapt ecstatic countenances of the kava-makers, as they went through all
the details of what was evidently an ancient religious ceremony, very
savage, very native, and not at all “missionary,” despite the church
membership of all the performers. There were loud sonorous chants and
responses, elaborate gymnastics, with the great twist of hibiscus fibre
that was used to strain the kava after it was pounded, and water poured
on; something very like incantations, and finally, a wild religious
ecstasy on the part of the kava-maker, who worked himself almost into a
fit, and at last sank back utterly exhausted, with the bowl of prepared
kava before him. This bowl was a standing vessel as big as a round
sponge bath, carved, legs and all, from one block of a huge forest
tree-trunk, and exquisitely polished and enamelled, by many years of
kava-holding. Its value was beyond price.

The calling of names now began--first the chief’s, then mine, then the
other guests. There is great ceremony observed at kava-drinkings, and an
order of precedence as strict as that of a German Court. As my name was
called, I clapped my hands once, took the cocoanut bowl from the girl
who was serving it, and swallowed the contents at a draught. The next
name was then called, and the next drinker drank as I did. It is very
bad manners to act otherwise. The girl who served the kava walked round
our squatting circle in a doubled-up posture that must surely have made
her back ache; but custom forbade her to stand erect while serving.

After the long ceremony was ended, the dignified white-haired chief held
a conversation with me, by means of an interpreter; and told me that
there were four ways of kava-drinking, each with its appropriate

That which I had seen was the most important and elaborate of the four,
very seldom used, and only permitted to chiefs. We exchanged a good
many stately compliments through the interpreter, and I then took my

It is near the end of my visit, and in a few more days, the steamer
takes me on to Haapai and Vavau and beautiful, steamy-hot Samoa. But
this is Christmas morning, and one can think of nothing else.

Nothing? Well, those who know what it is to spend that day of days under
a burning tropic sky, with palms and poinsettia for Christmas garlandry,
instead of holly and mistletoe, know just what thoughts fly homewards
across twelve thousand miles of sea, and how far they are concerned with
the sunny, lonely Christmas of the present--how far with the dark and
stormy Christmases of the past, when snow and winter reigned outside,
but summer, more brilliant than all the splendours of southern world,
was within, and in the heart. But it is of the Tongan Christmas day that
I have to tell.

I was awakened very early by--the waits! Whatever one expects under the
Southern Cross, one certainly does not expect that, and yet there they
were, a score of boys and youths playing merry tunes under my window,
and pausing now and then to see if I was not awake to come out and give
them their Christmas “tip.”

[Illustration: 0388]

I dressed hastily, and came on to the verandah. The music of the band,
which had puzzled me a good deal, now turned out to be produced solely
by mouth-organs, blown by a number of youths dressed exactly alike in
black valas, white linen jackets, and white uniform caps. The soul of
the Tongan loves a uniform above everything, and all the bands in the
islands--of whom there are an astonishing number--wear specially made
costumes of a rather military type.

It was frightfully hot, for Christmas is midsummer here, and the day was
exceptionally warm in any case.

But the “waits,” standing out in the burning sun, did not seem to feel
the heat at all. They blew lustily away at their mouth-organs, playing
English dance music, Tongan songs, missionary hymns, in wonderful time
and harmony, and with the inimitable Tongan verve and swing, poor though
the instruments were. The performance was quite worth the gift they
expected, I listened as long as they cared to play. Then they collected
their dues, and went off to serenade a white trader, who, I strongly
suspected, had been celebrating Christmas Eve after a fashion that would
not tend to make him grateful for an early call.

For me, Christmas had begun on the previous evening when I went to the
midnight Mass at the church upon the shore, among the palms and
the feathery ironwood trees. In the crystal-clear moonlight, what a
brilliant scene it was! Even outside the church, the decorations could
be seen for miles, since they consisted of thousands and thousands of
half-cocoanut-shells, filled with cocoanut oil, and provided with a wick
of twisted fibre, which when lit, burnt with a clear ray like a star,
illuminating the walls of the churchyard, the outlines of the doors and
the ridges of the roof--even the winding walks about the building, too,
and the low-growing trees--with a perfect Milky Way of dancing light.

Within, all the colours of a coral reef (which includes every hue of
a rainbow, and many more) were in full blaze about the tremendous,
unbroken floor, where the natives stood or sat cross-legged, dressed in
all their gayest finery. There was a heavy scent of perfumed cocoanut
oil, orange-blossom, and frangipani flowers and a rich glow of lights;
and the waves of gorgeous melody that burst forth now and again with the
progress of the service were like the billows of Time breaking upon
the shores of Eternity. Of all the choral singing that I heard in the
Pacific, that of Tonga was incomparably the fullest, the most splendid,
and most majestic. The singers of Manahiki are sweeter and stranger,
those of the Cook Islands more varied and soft, but the Tongan music is,
for sheer magnificence and volume, unsurpassable.

The women, in their graceful tunics, with their elaborately dressed
hair, and their fine, dignified presence, were all unlike the soft,
sensuous, languorous syrens of Tahiti and Raratonga, They do not
encourage familiarity, even from white women, and their moral character
is much higher than that of their sisters in the far Eastern Pacific.
Women are treated with more respect in Tonga than in any part of the
Pacific. They have little to do in the way of household work, and
almost no field work. The men save them most of the hard labour, on the
undeniable ground that hard work makes a woman ugly, and they do not
care for ugly wives!

Nearly every one wore a mat tied round the waist, partly concealing the
gay dress--in spite of the extreme heat of the night. Some of the mats
were new and clean, but most were old, ragged, and dirty. This curious
custom is a relic of ancient heathen days in Tonga, when a handsome
dress of any kind, worn by a commoner, was apt to arouse the dangerous
envy of a chief, and in consequence, a native who was wearing his “best”
 generally tied the dirtiest old mat that he could get over all, so that
he might not look too rich! The reason has long since vanished, but
the custom remains in a modified form. A mat, tied round the waist with
strong sinnet cord, is considered a correct finish to the gayest of
festival costume in Tonga of to-day, and, as far as I was able to
ascertain, its absence, on occasions of ceremony, is considered rather

The service was enlivened by the presence of a very large and extremely
loud brass band. Brass is a passion with the Tongan musician, and
he certainly makes the most of it. The effects produced are a little
monotonous to a European ear, but, none the less, impressive and fine.

After the midnight mass, I went home in the bright moonlight, the gentle
stir of the trade-wind, the soft rustle of the ironwood trees, falling
with a pleasantly soothing effect upon ears a little strained and tired
by the strenuous character of the Tongan music. Next morning came the
waits, and in the afternoon there were games and sports of a rather too
familiar Sunday-school pattern, at the various mission stations. I did
not trouble to attend any of them, as the Pacific native is certainly
least interesting when most intent on copying the ways and fashions of
the white man. The cricket matches which came off at various intervals
during the few weeks of my stay, were well worth seeing, however, for
the Tongan is a magnificent cricketer, and has often inflicted bitter
defeat on the best teams that visiting men-of-war could put in the field
against him.

The politically disturbed state of the island was interesting in one
way, but a serious disadvantage in another, since it prevented my
obtaining much information about many interesting native customs that
I should have been glad to investigate. I am afraid that I deserved the
worst that scientifically minded travellers could say of me, in Tonga,
for I merely spent the time enjoying myself after the pleasant island
fashion, and not in research or geographical note-taking, even so far as
was possible. Yet, after all, what are the islands, if not a Garden
of Indolence, a lotus-land, a place where one dreams, and wanders, and
listens to the murmuring reef-song, and sleeps under the shade of a
palm, and wakes but to dream again? Does one degenerate, in such a life?
Why, yes, of course--constantly, surely, and most delightfully.

“_Be good, and you will be happy, but you won’t have a good time_,” says
“Pudd’nhead Wilson,” one of the wisest of modern philosophers. In the
islands, one is not good, in the ordinary Dr. Wattian sense of the term,
and perhaps one is not happy--though if so, one never finds it out. But
the good time one does have, and it is very good indeed. And if you do
not believe me, dear sensible reader, never be tempted to go and try,
for it is very likely that the good time and your own goodness would
mutually cancel one another, and you would be unvirtuous and bored
all in one. The islands are not for all, and the gateway to the
“Tir-na’n-Oge” is now, as ever, hard to find.

The big Union steamer, with her ice, and her “cuisine” (cooking is never
cooking, on board a passenger vessel), and her dainty little blue and
white cabins, and her large cool saloon glittering with crystal and
gilding, came in in due time, and I went away with her to Samoa. The
three days’ run was broken by two calls in the Tongan group--one at
Haapai, and one at Vavau.

Of Haapai, a long, low, wooded island, with a few hundred native
inhabitants, and one or two whites, we saw nothing but the king’s
palace--a great, square, two-storeyed, verandahed building, which is
never lived in--and the Wesleyan chapel, which has some of the
finest sinnet work in the Pacific to show. This sinnet work is quite
distinctive of the islands, and is very beautiful and artistic. It
is not one of the “curios” known to the markets and collections of
civilisation, because it is always done _in situ_, and cannot be
removed. At first sight, it looks like remarkably, good chip carving,
done on the capitals of pillars, and about the centres of supports
and beams, in various shades of red, black, brown, and yellow. Looking
closer, one sees that it is much more remarkable than carving, being a
solid mass of interwoven sinnet plait, as fine as very thin twine, wound
and twisted into raised patterns by the clever fingers of the natives.
In the church at Haapai, the sinnet plaiting is very fine and elaborate,
and certainly well worth seeing. The captain of the steamer, who acted
as our guide, made sure we had all seen it, and then took us a wild,
hot, hurried walk across the island, to the coral beach at the other
side, and past the palace, and along an endless cocoanut avenue, which
was very pretty, but----

We wanted our afternoon tea, and we mutinied at that point, and insisted
on going back to the ship. This grieved our commander, who conceived
that his duties to the Company required he should ensure every passenger
saw everything that was to be seen on the whole voyage, and shirked
nothing--but we threatened to overpower and maroon him, if he did not
take us back, so he returned, lecturing learnedly about the cutting off
of the “Port-au-Prince,” in Haapai, by the natives, in seventeen hundred
and I-forget-when. We ought to have been listening--but we wanted our
tea, and we weren’t.

We reached Vavau just before dark, barely in time to admire the
wonderful windings and fiords, the long blue arms and bright green
islets, of this Helen among island harbours. Vavau is celebrated for its
beauty through all the South Sea world, and its loveliness has not been
one whit exaggerated.

In the early morning--at half-past five, to be precise--the energetic
captain routed all the passengers out of their bunks, and compelled
them, by sheer force of character, to follow him, groaning and puffing,
up a hill five hundred feet high, and exceedingly precipitous--a mere
crag, in fact--that overlooked the harbour. We did not want to go, but
none of us were sorry we had been compelled, when we did get to the top
and saw that matchless harbour lying extended at our feet, mile after
mile of land-locked fiord and palmy headland and exquisite green island,
all set in a stainless mirror of flaming blue, and jewelled, where the
shallows lightened to the shore, with flashes of marvellous colour shot
up from the coral reef lying underneath. Rose and amethyst and violet,
and malachite green and tawny yellow--they were all there, painting
the splendid sweep of the harbour waters with hues that no mortal brush
could reproduce, or pen describe. We stayed there long, and even the
thought of breakfast, generally a moving call, did not hurry us away.

In the afternoon, the captain had business to attend to, so he turned
out one of the officers to act as guide, and sent us all off to see
the Cave of the Swallows, and Mariner’s Cave, on the other side of the

If the Cave of the Swallows were situated on any European coast, it
would be as tourist-ridden a spot as the Blue Grotto of Capri, or
any other of the thousand famous caves through which holiday-making
travellers are dragged each summer season--and would consequently be
despoiled of half its loveliness. But it is very far away, in the South
Sea Islands, and though a passenger steamer does visit Vavau once a
month there are usually no tourists--only a missionary and a trader or
two. So the lovely place lies undisturbed almost all the time, and you
shall not find, when you row across the harbour to see it, that you
have to wait your turn in a crowd of other boats, full of romping and
larking trippers, with the guide of every party keeping a sharp look-out
to see that no one takes longer than he ought going over the “sight”--so
long as his charges remain outside.

Instead of this, we glide silently under a noble archway some fifty feet
high, and enter a great, still, ocean sanctuary, that looks as if no
wandering oar had ever profaned its peace, since first the white man
came to these far-off isles. Outside, the water is Prussian blue in
colour, and over a thousand feet deep, but within the arch of the cave
the bottom shoots up till it is within a hundred feet of the glass-clear
surface on which we float, hanging above the silver-coloured coral reefs
of the deep sea-bed, like birds hanging in air. The roof and walls of
the cave are brilliant verdigris green, the water-floor, that curves so.
closely in and out of the numerous arches and recesses, where mysterious
shadows creep, is sapphire shot with fire. At one side of the cave there
is a dark winding corridor leading to depths unknown. We glide down
this a little way, and there before us opens out--surely, a temple and
a shrine! The water-floor spreads and broadens here into the carpet of
a high, still, secret inner cave, in the centre of which springs up a
splintered pedestal--shattered, one fancies, by the blow that broke the
image that must surely once have stood in this strange sea-shrine. From
an unseen rift in the roof, far above, a white ray of sun strikes down
into the cave, and falls like a blast from an offended heaven upon the
broken pedestal.

There is a geological explanation, no doubt, but we shall not look for
it, for this is a wonder that would have delighted Victor Hugo himself,
who drew the scenery of the “Toilers of the Sea.” And Victor Hugo’s pen
would be needed by any one who would adequately describe the spot.

There is a rock in the outer cave, that sounds like a church bell when
struck with an oar, and this delights the boatmen greatly, though they
have heard it every time the steamer came up to Vavau. It is, indeed, a
solemn and beautiful sound, and well suited to the place.

Going back to the ship, we are shown the spot where the famous Mariner’s
Cave opens out, under water. There is nothing whatever to be seen, since
the entrance is six feet under water at low tide. The story was first
told to the world in Mariner’s “Tonga,” published 1802, and was utilised
by Byron in his poem of “The Island.” A young chief, it was said, was
chasing a turtle one day, and saw the creature dive. He followed it, and
was surprised to find that, on rising after his dive, he had reached an
under-water cave of considerable size, to which there was no outlet save
the one by which he had come in. Giving up the turtle, he dived again,
returned to the surface, and did not trouble himself about the cave
until, some months later, it occurred to him as an excellent place for
an elopement--the parents of the girl he loved having refused to
give her to him. So it came about that the young chief’s sweetheart
disappeared, and no one knew what had become of her until one day a
boating party, to their intense amazement, saw what appeared to be the
ghost of the girl rising from the heart of the waves. The apparition
stared round, saw the intruders, and immediately disappeared. She was
seen no more, but the story caused so much talk, that in the end the
true secret came out, and it was discovered that the chief had hidden
his lady-love in the cave, diving down with food to her day by day,
and even bringing torches, safely wrapped in leaves. The stem parents,
touched by so much devotion, relented, and the chief triumphantly
brought home his bride at last in full day.

Mariner, who was interested in the ancient tale, succeeded in reaching
the cave himself, and found it as represented. He surmised that there
was an air supply, passing through invisible cracks in the rock above,
for the air seemed to keep fresh. There was something like a rough couch
of stone at one end, where the imprisoned girl had made her bed. No
light whatever penetrated the cavern.

Since Mariner’s time, very few Europeans have succeeded in entering the
cave, which is extremely difficult to get into, owing to the length of
the passage under water, and the currents of the tides. About thirty
years ago, Captain Luce, of H.M.S. _Esk_, succeeded in entering the
cave, but rose too soon on going out, and lacerated his back so badly
against the coral spears under water, that he died in a few days. Since
then, I heard that one white man had gone safely in and returned, but no
one seemed to know who, or when. None of our party, at all events, felt
tempted to make the trial.

The steamer was ready to start when we got back, so we hurried on board,
and started away for Samoa. There was much more to see in Vavau, but
the only way of seeing it was to stop over for a month and remain in the
village. For this no one had time. I was giving a month to each group
of islands, which is little enough in the Pacific--but I knew very well
that, unless I had had a vessel of my own, or a year or two extra to
spend, it was impossible to see all that could be seen.

Tofoa, for instance, one of the Tongan Group, which is an active
volcano, and, naturally, not inhabited--what could be more interesting
than a call there? But uninhabited volcanoes do not furnish cargo for
steamship companies, so all we could see was a smear of smoke in the
far distance, as we steamed on our way to Apia, the capital of the
“Navigators” Group, better known, since the days of Stevenson, as Samoa.


_Stevenson’s Samoa--What happened when it rained--Life in a Native
Village--The Albino Chief--A Samoan “Bee”--The Tyranny of Time--Fishing
at Midnight--Throwing the Presents--My Friend Fangati--The Taupo
Dances--Down the sliding Rock--“Good-bye, my Flennie!”_

WHEN I woke up in the morning, the ship was still, and the familiar
chatter of island tongues, and splashing of island paddles, audible
outside the ports, told that we had reached Apia.

Dressing is always a rush, under such circumstances. I hurried out on
the deck in even quicker time than usual, and hastened to enjoy a good
look at the little island that has been made famous the wide world over,
by the genius of the great writer who passed his latest years in exile
among those palmy hills.

Upolu, Stevenson’s island, is the second largest in the Samoan Group,
being forty miles by eight. Savaii is a little wider. Tutuila is
smaller. The six other islands are of little importance.

Apia and Stevenson’s home have been written about and described, by
almost every tourist who ever passed through on the way to Sydney. There
is little therefore to say that has not been said before. Every one
knows that Apia is a fair-sized, highly civilised place, with hotels
and shops and band promenades, and that Vailima, Stevenson’s villa, is
a mile or two outside. Every one has heard of the beautiful harbour of
Apia itself, with the blue overhanging hills, and the dark wooded peak
rising above all, on the summit of which the famous Scotsman’s tomb
gleams out like a tiny pearl--“under the wide and starry sky.” Since
the disturbances of 1899, most people have been aware that England
has absolutely relinquished any rights she had in Samoa, and that the
islands are now divided between Germany and America--Upolu being among
the possessions of the former.

Perhaps some people have forgotten that Samoa is a fairly recent
discovery, having been first sighted by Bougainville in 1768. It is
supposed that the natives originally came from Sumatra. During the last
six hundred years, they were frequently at war with the Tongans
and Fijians, and from the latter learned the horrible practice of
cannibalism--which, however, they abandoned of their own accord a good
while before the coming of the first missionaries in 1833.

They are a singularly beautiful race, and most amiable in character.
They are all Christianised, and a great number can read and write.
Tourists have done their best to spoil them, but outside the towns there
is much of the ancient simplicity and patriarchal character still to be

About two dozen Samoan gentlemen--I call them gentlemen, because in
manners and demeanour they really deserved the name, and many were
actual chiefs--had come on board the steamer, and were walking about the
deck when I came out. The air was like hot water, and there was not a
breath of wind. All the same, the Samoan gentlemen were quite cool, for
they wore nothing at all but a British bath-towel with red edges, tied
round the waist in the universal kilt style of the Pacific. In the Cook
Group, the garment is called a pareo, and is made of figured cotton.
In Tonga, it is a vala, and is usually cashmere. In Samoa the name
is changed to lava-lava, and the thing may be either a piece of plain
coloured cotton, or the bath-towel above mentioned, which is considered
a good deal smarter--but the costume itself is the same all through.

Most of the men had their short-cut hair plastered snow-white with
lime, because it was Saturday. Almost every Samoan limes his hair on
Saturdays, partly to keep up the yellow colour produced by previous
applications, partly for hygienic reasons that had better be left to the

[Illustration: 0404]

All the visitors displayed an incomparable self-possession and dignity
of bearing, not at all like the “Tongan swagger,” but much more akin to
the manner of what is known in society as “really good people.” Coupled
to the almost complete absence of clothes, and the copper skins, it was
enough to make one perfectly giddy at first. But afterwards, one grew
used to it, and even came to compare the average white man’s manner
disadvantageously with the unsurpassable self-possession and calm of the
unclothed native.

Then came boats and landing and hotels, and the usual one-sided South
Sea town, with little green parrakeets tweedling cheerfully among the
scarlet flowers of the flamboyant trees, and looking very much as if
they had escaped from somewhere. And behold, as we were making our way
to the hotel, a heavy waterspout of hot-season rain came on, whereupon
the street immediately became a transformation scene of the most
startling character.

The roadway had been full of natives in their best clothes, come down
to see the passengers--some in bath-towels, like the visitors to the
steamer, but many in the cleanest of shirts and cotton tunics, and
scores of pretty Samoan girls in civilised gowns of starched and laced
muslin, trimmed hats, and gay silk ribbons. The rain began to spout, as
only tropical rain can, and immediately things commenced to happen
that made me wonder if I were really awake. Under the eaves of houses,
beneath umbrellas, out in the street without any shelter at all,
the Samoans rapidly began undressing. Smart white shirts, frilled
petticoats, lacy dresses, all came off in a twinkling, and were rolled
up into tight bundles, and stowed away under their owners’ arms, to
protect the precious garments from the rain. Then down the street, with
bare brown legs twinkling as they ran, and bodies covered merely by the
“lava-lava,” scurried the bronze ladies and gentlemen who had looked
so smart and dressy a few brief seconds before. Some of the girls, who
could not get an inch of shelter under which to undress, merely pulled
their fine frocks up under their arms, and ran down the street looking
like very gay but draggled tulips set on two long brown stalks. It was
the oddest transformation scene that I had ever been privileged to look
on at, and it sent the passengers of the ship into such screaming fits
of laughter that they forgot all about keeping themselves dry, and
landed in the hotel in the condition of wet seaweed tossed up by the
waves. So we arrived in Samoa.

There is no use in relating at length how I drove out to see Stevenson’s
much described villa at Vailima--now in the possession of a wealthy
German merchant, and much altered and spoiled--and how I did _not_ climb
the two thousand feet up to his tomb above the harbour, and was sorry
ever after. Rather let me tell how, tired of the civilised section of
the island, I took ship one day in an ugly little oil-_launch_, and
sailed away to see the life of a native village, down at Falepunu.
There is not much real native life now to be seen in the capital; for,
although the “faa Samoa” (ancient Samoan custom) is very strong all over
the islands, in Apia it is at a minimum, and the influence of the white
man has much increased since Stevenson’s day. Besides, how can one study
native customs, dining at a _table d’hôte_ and living in a great gilt
and glass hotel, situated in the midst of a busy street?

So it was very gladly that I saw the wide blue harbour of Apia open out
before me, and melt into the great Pacific, the “league long rollers”
 tossing our little cockle shell about remorselessly as we headed out
beyond the reef, and began to slant along the coast, Upolu’s rich blue
and green mountains unfolding in a splendid panorama of tropic glory,
as we crept along against the wind towards Falefa, our destined port,
nearly twenty miles away. Here and there, white threads of falling water
gleamed out against the dark mountain steeps; and the nearer hills,
smooth and rich and palmy, and green as a basket of moss, parted now
and then in unexpected gateways, to show brief glimpses of the wildly
tumbled lilac peaks of far-away, rugged inner ranges. A day of gold
and glitter, of steady, smiting heat, of beauty that was almost^ too
beautiful, as hour after hour went by, and found the glorious panorama
still unrolling before eyes that were well-nigh wearied, and bodies that
wanted shelter and food.

But even a little oil-launch cannot take all day to cover twenty miles;
so it was still early in the afternoon when we glided into the harbour
of Falefa, and came to a stop in the very heart of Paradise.

How to picture Falefa, to the dwellers in the far grey north! how to
paint the jewel-green of the water, the snow white of the sand, the
overhanging palms that lean all day to look at their own loveliness in
the unruffled mirror below; the emerald peaks above, the hyacinth peaks
beyond, the strangely fashioned out-rigged canoes, with their merry
brown rowers, skimming like long-limbed water-flies about the bay;
the far-away sweetness and stillness and unlikeness of it all! And the
waterfall, dropping down seventy feet of black precipitous rock right
into the sea’s blue bosom--and the winding, shady fiords, where the
water is glass-green with reflections of shimmering leaves--and the
little secluded brown houses, domed and pillared after the Samoan
fashion, that ramble about among the long avenues of palm--surely, even
in all the lovely South Sea Islands, there never was a lovelier spot
than this harbour of Falefa!

We three--a half-caste Samoan lady, a New Zealand girl, and
myself--landed on the beach and gave over our things to a native boy, to
carry up to the great guesthouse at Falepunu, a mile further on. Every
Samoan village has its guest-house, for the free accommodation of
passing travellers, but few have anything that can compare with the
house where we were to stay--my companions for the night only, myself
for a week.

A Samoan house, owing to the heat of the climate, is a roof and nothing
more, the walls being omitted, save for the posts necessary to support
the great dome of the roof. It is worth well looking at and admiring all
the same. Fine ribs made of strong flexible branches run diagonally from
eaves to crown, only an inch or two apart, and curved with exquisite
skill to form the arching dome. Over these, at an acute angle, are laid
similar ribs in a second layer, forming a strong, flexible ‘lattice. At
just the right intervals, narrow, curved beams cross behind these, and
hold them firm. The centre of the house displays three splendid pillars,
made from the trunks of three tall trees; these support the roof-tree,
and are connected with the sides of the dome by several tiers of slender
beams, beautifully graded in size and length. The guest-house of
Falepunu belongs to a high chief, and is in consequence exceptionally
handsome. Its roof-tree is fifty feet from the floor, and the width of
the house, on the floor-level, is the same. Forty wooden pillars, each
seven feet high, support this handsome dome, every inch of which is
laced and latticed and tied together with the finest of plaited cocoanut
fibre, stained black, red, and yellow, and woven into pattern like
elaborate chip carving.

There is not a nail used in the construction of the house. One wet
afternoon I attempted to count the number of thousand yards of sinnet
(plaited cocoanut fibre) that must have been used in this colossal work,
and gave it up in despair. The number of the mats used in forming
the blinds was more calculable. Each opening between the pillars was
surmounted by seven plaited cocoanut-leaf mats, fastened up under the
eaves into a neat little packet. These could be dropped like a Venetian
blind, whenever rain or wind proved troublesome. The total number of
mats was two hundred and seventy-three.

The floor of a Samoan house consists of a circular terrace, raised some
two feet above the level of the ground. It is surrounded by a shallow
ditch, and it is made of large and small stones, closely fitted
together, and covered with a final layer of small white coral pebbles
from the beach. This forms the carpet of the house, and is known as
“Samoan feathers,” from the fact that it also forms everybody’s bed at
night, covered with a mat or two.

The chief, Pula-Ulu, and his wife, Iva, who were in charge of the
guest-house, in the absence of its owner, received us joyfully, and
proceeded to make a feast for us at once. Fowls were killed, baked
bread-fruit and taro brought from the ovens outside (which were simply
pits dug in the ground, and filled with hot stones), and oranges and
pineapples plucked from the nearest grove. We sat crosslegged on the
mats, and ate till we could eat no more; then, “faa Samoa,” we lay down
where we were to rest and doze away the hot hours, of the afternoon.

In the evening, Iva lit a big ship’s hurricane lamp, and set it on the
floor; and half Falepunu came in to call. In rows and rows they sat on
the floor-mats, their brown, handsome faces lit up with interest and
excitement, fanning themselves ceaselessly as they sat, and asking
endless questions of the half-caste lady, who interpreted for the
others. I, as coming from London, was the heroine of the hour, for the
Samoans are all greatly interested in “Beritania” (Britain) and, in
spite of the German annexation, still prefer the English to any other

The inevitable question: “Where was my husband?” followed by: “Why had I
not got one?”--in a tone of reproachful astonishment--was put by almost
every new-comer. The half-caste visitor explained volubly; but the
villagers still looked a little puzzled. The Samoans have in almost
every village a “taupo” or “Maid of the Village,” whose office it is to
receive guests, and take a prominent part in all public ceremonies and
festivals. But she only holds office for a very few years, until she
marries, and she is always surrounded, when travelling, by a train of
elderly attendants. An unmarried woman who had money of her own, who
wandered about alone, who held office in no village, here or at home,
this was decidedly a puzzle to the Falepunu folk, whose own women all
marry at about fourteen. They had seen white women; travelling with
their husbands, but never one who had ventured from Beritania all alone!

There was evidently some difficulty, at first, in “placing” me according
to Samoan etiquette, which is both complex and peculiar. A white women
with her husband presents no difficulty, since the “faa Samoa” always
gives the superior honour to the man, and therefore the woman must only
receive second-class ceremony. In my case, the question was solved later
on, by classing me as a male chief! I was addressed as “Tamaite” (lady),
but officially considered as a man; therefore I was always offered kava
(the national drink of Samoa, never given to their own women, and not
usually to white women), and the young chiefs of the district came
almost every evening to call upon me in due form, sitting in formal
rows, and conversing, through an interpreter, in a well-bred, gracious
manner, that was oddly reminiscent of a London drawing-room. The women
did not visit me officially, although I had many a pleasant bathing and
fishing excursion in their company.

On the first evening the callers stayed a long time--so long, that we
all grew very weary, and yearned for sleep. But they kept on coming, one
after another; and by-and-by half-a-dozen young men appeared, dressed in
kilts of coloured bark-strips; adorned with necklaces of scarlet berries
and red hibiscus flowers, and liberally cocoanut-oiled. In the centre
of the group was the most extraordinary figure I had ever seen--a white
man, his skin burned to an unwholesome pink by exposure, his hair pure
gold, extremely fine and silky, and so thick as to make a huge halo
round his face when shaken out. His eyes were weak, and half shut, and I
was not surprised to hear that he was not really of white descent, being
simply a Samoan albino, born of brown parents. This man, being the son
of a chief, took the principal figure in the dance that was now got
up for our amusement. The seven men danced on the floor-mats,
close together, the albino in the centre, all performing figures of
extraordinary agility, and not a little grace. The music was furnished
by the other spectators, who rolled up a mat or two, and beat time on
these improvised drums, others clapping their hands, and chanting a
loud, sonorous, measured song.

At the end of the dance the performers, streaming with perspiration (for
the night was very hot) and all out of breath, paused for our applause.
We gave it liberally, and added a tin or two of salmon, which was
joyfully received, and eaten at once. All Samoans love tinned salmon,
which, by an odd perversion, they call “peasoupo.” No doubt the first
tinned goods seen in the islands were simply tinned peasoup. This would
account for the extraordinary confusion of names mentioned above.

By this time we were so utterly weary that we lay down on the mats where
we were, and almost slept. Iva, seeing this, chased most of the callers
out with small ceremony, and got up the calico mosquito curtain that was
to shelter the slumbers of all three travellers. It enclosed a space of
some eight feet by six. Within, plaited pandanus-leaf mats were laid,
two thick, upon the white pebble floor, and Samoan pillows offered us.

A Samoan pillow is just like a large fire-dog, being simply a length of
bamboo supported on two small pairs of legs. If you are a Samoan, you
lay your cheek on this neck-breaking arrangement, and sleep without
moving till the daylight. We preferred our cloaks rolled up under our

The invaluable little mosquito tent served as dressing-room to all
of us, and very glad we were of it, for there were still a good many
visitors, dotted about the floor of the great guest-house, smoking
and chattering; and none of them had any idea that a white woman
could object to performing her evening toilet in public, any more than
a-Samoan girl, who simply takes her “pillow” down from the rafters,
spreads her mat, and lies down just, as she is.

No-bed-clothes were needed, for the heat was severe. We fidgeted about
on our stony couch, elbowed each other a good deal, slept occasionally,
and woke again to hear the eternal chatter still going on outside
our tent, and see the light still glowing through the calico. It was
exactly, like going to bed in the-middle of a bazaar, after making a
couch out of one of the stalls.

At last, however, the light went out; Iva, Pula-Ulu, and their saucy
little handmaiden and relative, Kafi, got under their mosquito curtains,
quite, a little walk away, at the other side of the dome, all the guests
departed, and there was peace.

Next, morning my friends went away and I was left to study the fife of
a Samoan village alone, with only such aid as old Iva’s very few English
words could give me, since I did not know above half-a-dozen; sentences
of the Samoan tongue. There were no great feasts, no ceremonies or
festivals while I was in Falepunu, only the ordinary, everyday fife of
the village, which has changed extremely little since the coming of the
white men, although that event is three generations old.

Perhaps the greatest change is in the native treatment of guests.
Hospitable, polite and pleasant the Samoans have always been and still
are; but in these days, when a white visitor stays in a native house, he
is expected to give presents when parting, that fully cover the value of
his stay. This is contrary to the original Samoan laws of hospitality,
which still hold good in the case of natives. No Samoan ever thinks of
paying for accommodation in another’s house, no matter how long his stay
may be; nor is there the least hesitation in taking or giving whatever
food a traveller may want on his way. But the white visitors who have
stayed in Samoa have been so liberal with their gifts, that the native
now expects presents as a right. He would still scorn to take money for
his hospitality, but money’s worth is quite another matter.

Otherwise, the “faa Samoa” holds with astonishing completeness. Natives
who have boxes full of trade prints, bought from the lonely little
European store that every island owns, will dress themselves on
ceremonial occasions in finely plaited mats, or silky brown tappa cloth.
Houses on the verge of Apia, the European capital, are built precisely
as houses were in the days of Captain Cook; though perhaps an
incongruous bicycle or sewing-machine, standing up against the central
pillars, may strike a jarring note. Men and women who have been to
school, and can tell you the geographical boundaries of Montenegro, and
why Charles I.’s head was cut off--who know all about the Russo-Japanese
war, wear full European dress when you ask them to your house, and sing
“In the Gloaming” or “Sail away” to your piano--will take part in a
native “si va” or dancing festival, dressed in a necklace, a kilt, and
unlimited cocoanut-oil, and may be heard of, when the chiefs are
out fighting, roaming round the mountains potting their enemies with
illegally acquired Winchesters, and cutting off the victims’ heads
afterwards. The “faa Samoa” holds the Samoan, old and young, educated or
primitive, through life and to death.

[Illustration: 0392]

Uneventful, yet very happy, was the little week that time allowed me
among the pleasant folk of Falepunu. When the low, yellow rays of
the rising sun hot under the wide eaves of the great guest-house,
and striped the white coral floor with gold, and the little green
parrakeets began to twitter in the trees outside, and the long sleepy
murmur of the surf on the reef, blown landward by the sunrise wind,
swelled to a deep-throated choral song--then, I used to slip into my
clothes, come out from my mosquito tent, and see the beauty of the new
young day. Dawn on a South Sea Island! The rainbow fancies of childhood
painted out in real--the

               Dreams of youth come back again,

               Dropping on the ripened grain

               As once upon the flower.

Iva, Pula-Ulu, and Kafi would be awake also, and moving about. No minute
of daylight is ever wasted in these tropical islands; where all the year
round the dawn lingers till after five, and the dark comes down long
before seven. None of my house-mates had much toilet to make. They
simply got up from their mats, hung up the pillows, put the mosquito
nets away, and walked forth; clad in the cotton lava-lavas of yesterday,
which they had not taken off when they lay down. Taking soap and bundles
of cocoanut fibre off the ever useful rafters they went to bathe in the
nearest river. Before long they came back, fresh and clean, and wearing
a new lava-lava, yesterday’s hanging limp and wet from their hands--the
Samoan generally washes his garments at the same time as himself. Then
Iva boiled water for my tea, and produced cold baked bread-fruit and
stewed fish, and I breakfasted, taking care to leave a good share of
tea, butter, and any tinned food I might open, for the family to enjoy
afterwards. It is a positive crime in Samoa to eat up any delicacy all
by yourself--an offence indeed, which produces about the same impression
on the Samoan mind as cheating at cards does upon the well-bred
European. The natives themselves usually eat twice a day, about noon,
and some time in the evening; but a Samoan is always ready to eat at any
hour, provided there is something nice to be got. Good old Iva enjoyed
my tea and tinned milk extremely, and so did her pet cronies. They used
to call in now and then, in the hope of getting some--a hope liberally
fulfilled by Iva, who distributed my goods among them with charming
courtesy, and a total innocence of any possible objection on my part,
which disarmed all criticism. I might have taken anything she had, from
her Sunday lava-lava to her fattest fowl, and kept it or given it away;
equally without remonstrance. Such is the “faa Samoa.” That any one
continues to retain anything worth having; under such circumstances,
speaks well for the natural unselfishness of the people. They may be a
little greedy with the whites--much as we ourselves should no doubt be
greedy if half-a-dozen millionaires were to quarter themselves in
our modest mansions, or come to stay in our quiet suburbs--but among
themselves they are wonderfully self-’ restrained, and at the same time
faultlessly generous.

After my breakfast, following the agreeable Samoan custom, I lay down
on a mat and dozed a little, to feel the wind blowing over my face from
the sea, as I wandered half in and half out of the lands of dreams,
and saw with semi-closed eyes the sun of the hot morning hours turn the
green of the bush into a girdle of burning emerald-gold, clasped round
the pleasant gloom of the dark over-circling roof. Pula-Ulu was out on
“ploys” of his own; Kafi had gone to fish, or to flirt; Iva, pulling a
fly-cover over her body, slept like a sheeted corpse on her own mat,
off the other side of the central pillars.

After an hour or two--there was never any time in Falepunu--I would
rise, and call for Kafi, and we would walk slowly through the smiting
sun, to a fairylike spot in the lovely bay of Falefa--a terrace of grey
rock clothed with ferns, and shaded by thick-growing palms and chestnut
and mango trees. The great white waterfall, cool as nothing else is cool
in this burning land, thundered within fifty yards of us, turning the
salt waters of the bay to brackish freshness, and spraying the hot air
with its own delicious cold. Here we swam and dived for hours at a time,
getting an old canoe sometimes, and paddling it up under the very spray
of the fall--upsetting it perhaps, and tumbling out While Kafi yelled as
if she could not swim a stroke, and anticipated immediate death (being,
of course, absolutely amphibious). A pretty little minx was Kafi, small
and black-eyed and piquante, always with a scarlet hibiscus bloom, or a
yellow and white frangipani flower, stuck behind her ear; always tossing
her head, and swaying her beautiful olive arms, and patting her small
arched foot on the ground, when she stood waiting for me under the
palms, as if she could not keep her elastic little frame, from dancing
of itself. Pretty, saucy, mischievous little Kafi, she gave me many a
bad moment wickedly calling out, “S’ark!” when we were swimming far from
land, in places where it was just conceivable that a shark might be; but
I forgive her everything, for the sake of that unique and charming small
personality of hers. Not even Fangati, the languorous sweet-eyed Taupo
of Apia, can compete with her in my memories of fascinating island girls
and pleasant companions.

One morning--it must have been somewhere near the middle of the day--Iva
and Kafi and I were walking back from Falefa, tired out and very hungry
(at least, I will answer for myself), when we were hailed from the house
of a chief, and asked to come in. We did so, all saying, as we bowed our
heads to step under the low eaves: “Talofa!” (my love to you), and being
answered with a loud chorus: “Talofa, tamaite! (lady); Talofa, I va;
Talofa, Kafi.” I took my seat cross-legged on the mats, and looked about
me. All round the house in a Circle were seated a number of men, about
a dozen, each with a bundle of cleaned and carded cocoanut husk fibre,
called sinnet, beside him, and a slender plait of sinnet in his hand, to
which every minute added on an inch or so of length. It was evidently
a “bee” for making sinnet plait, and it solved a problem that had
perplexed me a good deal--namely, how all the thousands of sinnet
used instead of nails in building Samoan houses, were ever obtained.
Afterwards I learned that Samoan men occupy much of their unlimited
leisure time in plaiting sinnet. The bundle of husk and the-neat-little
coil of plait are to a Samoan man what her needle and stockings are to
a Scotch housewife; he works away mechanically with them in many an odd
moment, all going to swell the big roll that is gradually widening and
fattening up among the rafters; Some of the sinnet thus made is as fine
as fine twine, yet enormously strong....

My hosts, it seemed, were just going to knock, off work for the
present, and have some kava, and I was not sorry to join them, for kava
is a wonderfully refreshing drink, among these tropical islands, and
wholesome besides. It was made Tongan fashion, by pounding the dry
woody’ root with stones, pouring water over the crushed fragments,
and straining the latter out with a wisp of hibiscus fibre. A handsome
wooden bowl was used, circular in form, and supported on; a number of
legs--the whole being carved out of one solid block of wood. The ancient
Samoan way of preparation was to chew the kava root, and deposit the
chewed, lamps in, the bowl, afterwards pouring on the water; but this
practice has died out, in many parts of Samoa, though in some of the
islands it is still kept up.

My kava On this occasion was not chewed, and I was thankful, as it is
unmannerly to refuse it under any circumstances.

The kava made, the highest chief present called the names, according, to
etiquette, as in Tonga, in a loud resounding voice. I answered to my
own (which came first, as a foreign, chief) by clapping my hands, in the
correct fashion, and drained the cocoanut bowl that was handed me. Kava,
as I had already learned, quenches thirst; removes fatigue, clears the
brain, and is exceedingly cooling. If drunk in excess it produces a
temporary paralysis of the legs, without affecting the head; but very
few natives and hardly any whites do drink more than is good for them.

After the kava, two young men came running in from the bush, carrying
between them an immense black wooden bowl, spoon-shaped, three-legged,
and filled with something exactly like bread-and-milk, which they had
been concocting at the cooking-pits. It was raining now, and the thrifty
youths had taken off their clothes, for fear of spoiling them, yet
they were dressed with perfect decency, and much picturesqueness. Their
attire consisted of thick fringed kilts, made of pieces of green banana
leaves (a banana leaf is often nine or ten feet long, and two or three
wide), and something like a feather boa, hung round the neck, of the
same material. Clad in these rain-proof garments, they ran laughing
through the downpour, their bowl covered with another leaf, and
deposited it on the floor, safe and hot.

A section of banana-leaf was now placed on the mat beside each person,
also a skewer, made from the midrib of the cocoanut leaf. Then the
servers dipped both hands generously into the food, and filled each leaf
with the bread-and-milk, or “tafolo,” which turned out to be lumps of
bread-fruit stewed in thick white cream expressed from the meat of
the cocoanut. Better eating no epicure could desire; and the food is
exceedingly nourishing. We ate with the cocoanut skewers, on which
each creamy lump was speared; and when all was done we folded the
leaf-plates into a cone, and drank the remaining cream. Afterwards, Iva
and Kafi and I took our leave, and I hurried back to Falepunu, feeling
that my hunger and fatigue had been magically removed, and that I
was ready for anything more in the way of exercise that the day might

I had no watch or clock with me, and this was certainly an advantage,
since it compelled me to measure time in the pleasant island fashion,
which simply marks out the day vaguely by hot hours and cool hours, and
the recurring calls of hunger. No one who has not tried it can conceive
the limitless freedom and leisure that comes of this custom. Time is
simply wiped out. One discovers-all of a sudden, that one has been
groaning under an unbearable and unnecessary tyranny all one’s
life--whence all the hurry-scurry of civilisation? why do people rush
to catch trains and omnibuses, and hasten to make and keep appointments,
and have meals at rigidly fixed times, whether they are hungry or not?
These are the things that make life short. It is inimitably long, and
curiously sweet and simple, in the island world. At first one finds it
hard to realise that no one is ever waiting for dinner, or wanting to go
to bed--that eating and sleeping are the-impulse of a moment, and not a
set task--but once realised, the sense of emancipation is exquisite and

The Samoan does what he wants, when he wishes, and if he does not wish a
thing, does not do it at all. According, to the theology of our youthful
days, he ought in consequence to become a fiend in human shape; but he
does nothing of the kind. He is the most amiable creature on earth’s
round ball. Angry voices, loud tones even, are never heard in a Samoan
house. Husbands never come home drunk in the evening and ill-use their
wives; wives never nag at their husbands; no one screams at children, or
snaps at house-mates and neighbours. Houses are never dirty; clothes are
always kept clean; nothing is untidy, nothing superfluous or ugly.
There is therefore no striking ground for ill-temper or peevishness;
and amiability and courtesy reign supreme. The Samoan has his
faults--sensuality, indolence, a certain bluntness of perception as to
the white man’s laws of property--but they are slight indeed compared
with the faults of the ordinary European. And, concerning the tendency
to exploit the latter person, which has been already mentioned, it must
not be forgotten that if a white man is known to be destitute and in
want, the very people who would have eagerly sought for presents from
him while he was thought to be rich, will take him in, feed and-lodge
him; without a thought of payment, and will never turn him out if he
does not choose to go.

Sometimes, in the long, lazy, golden afternoons, a woman or two would
drop in, and bring with her some little dainty as a present for the
stranger. “Palusani” was the favourite, made, as in Niué, of taro-tops
and cocoanut; the cook grating down the meat of the nuts, and straining
water through the oily mass thus produced. The cream is very cleverly
wrapped up inside the leaves, and these are again enveloped in larger
and tougher leaves. While baking, the cream thickens and condenses, and
permeates the taro-tops completely. The resulting dish is a spinachlike
mixture of dark green and white, odd to look at, but very rich and
dainty to eat.

Another present was a sort of sweetmeat, also made from cocoanut cream,
which was baked into small brown balls like chocolates, each containing
a lump of thickened cream inside. These were generally brought tied up
in tiny square packets of green banana leaf. Small dumpy round puddings,
made of native arrowroot, bananas, cocoanut, and sugar-cane juice, used
also to be brought, tied up in the inevitable banana-leaf; and
baked wild pigeon, tender and juicy, was another offering not at all
unacceptable. As a typical millionaire, possessed of several dresses,
change for some sovereigns, and countless tins of salmon, I was expected
to give an occasional _quid pro quo_, which usually took the form of
tinned fish or meat, and was much appreciated.

I do not know how late it was, one night--the moon had been up for many
hours, but no one seemed to want to go to bed--when I heard a sound of
splashing and laughing from the brightly silvered lagoon beyond the belt
of palms. I went out, and saw thirty or forty of the native women wading
about in the shallow water inside the reef, catching fish. It looked
interesting, so I shed an outer skirt or two, kilted up what remained,
and ran down the white shelving beach, all pencilled with the feathery
shadows of tossing palms, into the glassy knee-deep water. How warm it
was! as hot as a tepid bath at home--how the gorgeous moonlight flashed
back from the still lagoon, as from a huge silver shield! The whole
place was as light as day; not as a Samoan day, which is too like the
glare from an open furnace to be pleasant at all times, but at least,
as light as a grey English afternoon.

The girls, wearing only a small lava-lava, were wading in the water,
some carrying a big, wide net made out of fine fibres beaten from the
bark of a Samoan tree; others trailing two long fringes of plaited palm
leaves, about a yard deep, and twenty or thirty yards long. These were
drawn through the water about twenty yards apart, the girls walking
along for a few minutes in two parallel rows, and then quickly bringing
the ends of the palm fringes together in an open V shape. The net was
placed across the narrow end of the V, and from the wide end two or
three splashed noisily down the enclosed space, driving before them into
the net all the little silvery fish who had been gathered together by
the sudden closing in of the palm-leaf fringes. Then there was laughing
and crying out,-and the moon shone down on a cluster of beautiful
gold-bronze figures, graceful as statues, stretching out their small
pretty hands and wild curly heads, diamond-gemmed with scattered drops
of water, over the gathered-in net, now sparkling and quivering with
imprisoned life. The captured fish were dropped into a plaited palm-leaf
basket; and then the two lines of girls separated once more, and marched
on through the warm silvery water, singing as they went.

I think, though I do not know, that this simple sport (which was, after
all, a necessary task as well) went on nearly all the night. The Samoan
is not easily bored, and no one minds losing a night’s rest, when there
is all the hot day to doze on the mats. I gave up an hour or so, and
returned to the guest-house, loaded with presents of fish. It was quite
absurd, but I wanted to go to bed, silly inferior white person that I
was! so I crept under my calico tent, and “turned in,” feeling amid the
stir and chatter, the singing and wandering to and fro, of those moonlit
small hours, exceedingly like a child that has to follow nurse and go to
sleep, while all the grown-ups are still enjoying themselves downstairs.

The night before I left for Apia once more, I bought my farewell
presents at the solitary little store that was marooned away down on
the beach at Falefa, and bore on its house front the mysterious
legend--“MISIMOA”--all in one word--translatable as “Mr. Moore!” Advised
by the trader’s native wife, I got several lava-lavas for the old chief
and his wife, also a “Sunday frock” piece of white muslin, and some
lace, for Iva herself. Poor old Iva! she could not afford herself many
clothes, being only a caretaker in the great house; and I had felt sorry
for her when I saw her missionary-meeting frock--only an old blue print.
All the Samoan women love to turn out in trade finery on Sundays, and a
white muslin, with lace, made exactly like a British nightdress, is the
height of elegance and good form. I gave Pula-Ulu, furthermore, a yellow
shirt spotted with red horses; and as a final gift for Iva, I selected a
large white English bath-towel, with crimson stripes and edge. This last
I knew would certainly be Iva’s best week-day visiting costume for some
time to come.

All these splendours I tied up in a brown paper parcel, and left on
my portmanteau. Samoan etiquette is very strict about the giving and
receiving of presents, and prescribes absolute ignorance, on the part
of the recipient, of any such intention being about; but Iva could not
resist pinching the parcel, and whispering--“Misi! what ‘sat?”

“Ki-ki, Iva,” (food), I answered.

“You lie!” said Iva delightedly, poking me in the ribs. She had no idea
that she was not expressing herself with the most perfect elegance and
courtesy; the Samoan tongue has no really rude words, and Samoans often
do not realise the quality of our verbal unpolitenesses.

Next morning, however, when my “solofanua” (animal that runs along the
ground-->horse) was standing out under the bread-fruit trees, and all my
goods had been tied about the saddle, till the venerable animal
looked like nothing on earth but the White Knight’s own horse--Iva and
Pula-Ulu, bidding me good-bye with the utmost dignity, did not even
glance at the parcels which I threw across the house, at their heads,
narrowly escaping hitting their old grey hair. This was etiquette. In
Samoa, a formal gift must be thrown high in the air at the recipient, so
as to fall at his feet; and he must not pick it up at once, but simply
say “Fafekai” (thank you) with a cold and unmoved accent, waiting until
the giver is gone to examine the present. The inner meaning of the
custom is the supposed worthlessness of the gift, when compared with
the recipient’s merits--it is mere rubbish, to be cast away--and the
demeanour of the recipient himself is intended to suggest that in any
case he is not eager for gifts.

A long, hot ride of twenty miles back to Apia and civilisation filled up
the day. The pendulum of Time, held back for a whole dreamy, lazy week,
had begun to swing once more; and all day I worried about the hour I
should get in. I was late for _table d’hote_; I was met by a “little
bill”; and the mail had come in since I left. Thus Apia welcomed me; and
thus I “took up the white man’s burden” once again.


“Talofa!” says a gentle yet insistent voice.

It is only half-past six, and I am exceedingly sleepy, so I bury my face
in the pillow, and try not to hear.

“Talofa!” (How do you do?), repeats the voice, a little louder, and my
basket armchair creaks to the sudden drop of a substantial weight. I
open my eyes, and see, through the dim mist of the mosquito-curtains,
the taupo, Fangati, sitting beside my bed.

Fangati is my “flennie,” and that means a good deal more in Samoa than
the cold English word “friend,” from which if is derived. She attached
herself to me upon my arrival in Apia, some weeks ago, and has ever
since continued to indicate, in the gentle Samoan way, that she prefers
my company to that of any other white woman on the island. There is
nothing contrary to Samoan etiquette in her calling upon me at 6.30
a.m., for Samoa knows not times or seasons, save such as are pleasing to
itself for the moment. If I were suffering from sleeplessness and went
to call on Fangati at midnight, she would certainly awake, get up off
her mat, take a fan in her hands, sit down cross-legged on the floor,
ready to talk or yarn for the rest of the night--without the smallest
surprise or discomposure. So, aspiring after the ideal of Samoan
politeness, I feel bound to shake myself awake, and talk.

Fangati is very much “got up” this morning. She is a chief’s daughter,
of high rank, and her wardrobe is an extensive one. To-day she has a
short tunic of tappa (native cloth, beaten out of the bark of a paper
mulberry tree), satiny brown in colour, and immensely pinked and
fringed. This is worn over a lava-lava, or kilt, of purple trade print,
reaching a little below her knees. Her beautiful pale brown arms (all
Samoan women have exquisitely shaped arms) and small arched brown feet
are bare. In her thick, wavy hair she has placed one large scarlet
hibiscus flower, and there are three or four long necklaces round her
neck, made of the crimson rind of a big scented berry, cut into curly
strips. One of these, as a matter of common courtesy, she flings over
my nightdress as we talk, and smiles sweetly at the brilliant effect

“Ni--ice!” says Fangati. She can speak quite a good deal of English, but
she smooths and trims it prettily to suit her own taste, and the harsh
language of the black North loses all its roughness on her lips.

She has come to tell me that there will be dancing at the village of
Mulinuu this afternoon, as it is the German Emperor’s birthday, and a
great many kegs of salt beef and boxes of biscuit have been given to the
villages by the Government, to celebrate the day. (Not such a bad method
of encouraging loyalty in a newly acquired colony, either.) There
are to be some taupo dances, and Fangati will take a leading part.
Therefore I must be certain to come and see my “flennie” perform. This
matter settled, Fangati gets up and drifts to the washstand, tastes my
cold cream and makes a face over it, points to a jug of cold tea and
says “You give?” shares the luxury with her ancient chaperon, who is
sitting on the doormat, and then melts away down the verandah, dreamily
smoking a native-made cigarette.

It is now time to explain what a taupo is, and why the dances to-day
will be especially attractive. .

Most Samoan villages possess a taupo, or mistress of the ceremonies,
who has many duties, and many privileges as well. She is always young,
pretty, and well-born, being usually the daughter of a high chief. She
remains unmarried during her term of office, which may last for many
years, or for only a few months. The propriety of her conduct is
guaranteed by the constant presence of certain old women, who always
accompany her on visits or journeys. Sometimes her train is increased by
the addition of a dwarf or a cripple, who seems to act a part somewhat
similar to that of a mediaeval court fool. Her duties oblige her to
receive and entertain all guests or travellers who pass through her
village; to make kava (the universal drink of the Pacific islands) for
them, welcome them to the guest-house, which is a part of every Samoan
settlement, and dance for their amusement. She is treated with royal
honours by the villagers, always handsomely clothed, and luxuriously fed
on pig and chicken, and never required to do any hard work, while the
other girls have to be content with taro-root and bread-fruit, and are
obliged to work in the fields, carry water, and fish on the reef in the
burning tropic sun. When there is a festival, she takes the principal
part in the dances; and when the tribes are at war (as occasionally
happens even to-day) the taupo, dressed as a warrior, marches out with
the ceremonial parade of the troops, and acts as a _vivandière_ during
the fight, carrying water to the soldiers, and bringing ammunition when
required. This duty is not one of the safest, for, although no Samoan
warrior knowingly fires on any woman, much less on a taupo, stray
bullets take no account of persons, and many a beautiful young “Maid of
the Village,” in times past, has justified her warrior dress by meeting
with a soldier’s death.

Well-mannered as all Samoan women are, the taupo is especially noted for
the elegance of her demeanour. My “flennie’s” bearing reminds me oddly
at times of the manner of a London great lady, accustomed to constant
receiving, and become in consequence almost mechanically “gracious.”
 She never moves abruptly; her speech is calm and self-possessed, and her
accent soft and _traînant_. There are, however, taupos and taupos. Vao,
who lives just across the way, is by way of being an “advanced woman.”
 She plays native cricket in a man’s singlet and a kilt, dances a knife
dance that tries the nerves of every one that looks on, wears her hair
short and is exceedingly independent, and a little scornful. Vao does
not want to marry she says; but I have an idea, all the same, that
if just the right sort of young chief came along, with just the
irresistible number of baskets of food (these take the place of bouquets
and chocolate boxes among Samoan wooers), Vao would renounce her dignity
of taupo just as readily as other Maids of the Village have done when
Mr. Right appeared. On her wedding day she would dance her last dance
for the villagers, according to immemorial custom, and thenceforward
live the quiet home-life of the Samoan wife and mother, all the
footlights out, all the admiring audience gone, and only the little
coral-carpeted, brown-roofed cottage with its small home duties and
quiet home affections left.

Then there is the taupo Fuamoa--but of her more anon, as the Victorian
novelist used to say.

Early in the afternoon, when the sun was at its very hottest--and what
that heat can be, at 130 south, in the height of the hot season, let
Pacific travellers say--I made my way down to Mulinuu under a big
umbrella, and took my place on the mats laid to accommodate the
spectators. The dancing was in full swing. A long row of young men,
dressed in short kilts of many-coloured bark strips--red, pink, green,
yellow, purple--and decked out with anklets of green creepers and
necklaces of big scarlet berries, which looked just like enormous coral
beads, were twirling and pirouetting, retreating, advancing, and waving
their arms, in wonderfully perfect time. The Samoan, man or woman, is
born with a metronome concealed somewhere in his or her works, to all
appearance. Certainly the exquisite sense of time and movement displayed
in children’s games, grown-up dances, and all the songs of the people,
seems almost supernatural, as the result of unaided impulse.

The arms and hands play a remarkable part in the dance. Every finger is
made a means of expression, and the simultaneous fluttering and waving
of the arms of an entire _corps-de-ballet_ can be compared to nothing
but the petals of a bed of flowers, sent hither and thither by a
capricious wind.

There is no instrumental music, for the Samoans--strange to say, for a
music-loving people--have no instruments at all, unless one may count
the occasional British mouth-organ. But the sonorous, full-voiced
chanting of the chorus that sits cross-legged on the grass at a little
distance, leaves nothing to be desired in the way of orchestra. A
favourite tune, which one is sure to hear at every Samoan dance-meeting
or “siva” is the following, commenced with a loud “Ai, ai!”

It is first sung very slowly, and gradually increased in speed until the
dancers give up in despair.’ ‘The faster they have danced before giving
in, the louder is the applause.

[Illustration: 0312]

By-and-by the men conclude their dance, and retire, loudly clapped,
and followed by cries of “Malo! malo!” (well done). A short interval
follows. The many-coloured crowd seated on the grass fans itself, smokes
cigarettes, and chatters; the dry palm-fronds rustle in the burning sky
overhead, harshly mimicking the cool whisper of forest leaves in gentler
climes. Suddenly six handsome young men, splendidly decorated, their
brown skins satiny with’ rubbing of perfumed cocoanut-oil, rush into
the middle of the green, and in the midst comes a seventh, smaller,
slighter, and handsomer than the rest. What a beautiful youth! almost
too young, one would have thought, for the smart black moustache that
curves above his upper lip--wonderfully active, supple, and alive in
every movement--a skin like brown Lyons silk, limbs---- Why, it is
a girl! the taupo Fuâmoa, dressed (or rather undressed) as a Samoan
warrior, and full to the brim of mischief, sparkle, and fun. She wears
a fringe of coloured bark-strips round her waist, and a very big kilt
of scarlet and white striped cotton underneath. The rest of her attire
consists of a necklace of whale’s teeth inestimably valuable, a
string of red berries, and a tall helmet, or busby, apparently made of
brilliant yellow fur. Her exquisitely moulded figure is as Nature made
it, save for a rubbing of cocoanut-oil, that only serves to bring out
the full beauty of every curving line. Strange to say, the black-painted
moustache is wonderfully becoming, so too is the imposing helmet;
and does not Fuamoa know it? and is not she saucy, and dainty, and
kitten-like, as she frisks and plays in the centre of the dance, making
the prettiest of eyes at the audience, and flashing her white teeth
delightedly under the wicked little black moustache? She is a celebrated
dancer, being only surpassed on the island by one other taupo--Vao, who
is not appearing to-day. You would never think, as her little brown feet
twinkle over the grass, and her statuesque brown arms wave above her
head, while the merry smile ceaselessly comes and goes, that Fuamoa is
suffering positive agonies all the time, from the splendid war-helmet
that adorns her head; yet that is the truth. One must indeed suffer to
be beautiful, as a Samoan taupo. Before the helmet is put on, the girl’s
long thick hair is drawn up to the top of her head, and twisted as
tightly as strong arms can twist it, so that her very eyebrows are
pulled out of place, and every hair is a separate torture. Then the
great helmet is fastened on as firmly as a rock, with countless tight
cords, and the dancer is ready for her part, with a scalp on fire and
a torturing headache, which will certainly last until she can take the
cruel decoration off.

[Illustration: 0315]

There are several taupo dances this afternoon, but only two of the
girls have the courage to wear the helmet. Fangati, my little “flennie,”
 frankly confesses that she cannot stand it. “He made me cly-y-y!
too much!” she says, and shows me the pretty wreath of crimson berry
peelings and green leaves that is to adorn her own curly head.

These helmets, it may be noted, are not made of fur, as one might
suppose at a first glance. The material is human hair, cut from the head
of a Samoan girl, and dyed bright yellow with lime. In time of war, it
is a common thing for a girl to offer up her beautiful tresses to make
a helmet for father, husband, or lover; and the wearer of such a gift is
as proud as a knight of Arthur’s Round Table may have been, bearing on
his crest his lady’s little pearl-broidered glove.

It is Fangati’s turn to dance now, and out she trips, wearing a valuable
mat of the finest plait, her pretty wreath, countless scarlet necklaces,
and a modest girdle of coloured silk. Fangati has the prettiest foot
and hand in Apia, and she is a dainty little dancer--not so marvellously
agile and spirited as Fuamoa, and with much less of “devil” in her
composition, but a pretty and a pleasant creature to watch. She has
reached the twenties, and gone nearly half-way through them, so that she
is in a fair way to become an old maid, according to Samoan ideas; but
she still retains her maiden state, and declares she will not marry, in
spite of good offers from several chiefs. It is said in Apia that she is
proud, and wishes to marry a white man--which is much as if a charming
English country girl should determine to mate with nothing less than
a duke. Country lasses do marry dukes, but not often; and there is
not much more chance of my “flennie’s” attaining her ambition, unless
Providence is very kind.

[Illustration: 0433]

[Illustration: 0438]

The ordinary Samoan is obliged to do a little work now and then, since
yam patches must be cultivated, breadfruit plucked and cooked, banana
and arrowroot puddings made, fish caught, nets woven, houses built and
repaired. But all in all there is not much to do, and the real business
of life in Samoa is amusement. _Le monde où l’on s’amuse_, for most
people means a certain circle of London and Paris; but for all who have
travelled in the South Seas, it means, once and for all, Samoa.

The taupo is of course at the head and front of every diversion, for,
little as the other people have to do, she has less, having nothing at
all. A day at Papaseea is one of her favourite delights. During my stay
in Samoa one of these pleasant native picnics was organised for me, and
I set off on a lovely morning for the “Sliding Rock,” accompanied by
fifteen native and half-caste girls, stowed away in six buggies. It
was a long drive in the burning sun, and afterwards a long rough
walk through the bush, among wild pineapples, scarlet hibiscus, tall,
creamy-flowered, pungent, scented ginger-bushes, red-fruited cacao,
quaint mammee-apple trees, mangoes, Pacific chestnuts, and countless
other strange tropic growths. Hot and tired as we all were, the Papaseea
rock, when we reached it, seemed a perfect Paradise.

Imagine a deep gorge in the heart of green, heavily-wooded hills; at
the bottom, a narrow channel shaded by overhanging trees, where the pure
mountain water runs clear and cold and deep, amber-brown pools quiver
at the foot of white plunging falls--one only some seven feet high, the
other a good thirty. This last was the Sliding Rock, over which we were
all going to fling ourselves _à la_ Sappho by-and-by, only with less
melancholy consequences. It looked formidable enough, and when Pangati
and the others, with cries of delight, pulled off their dresses, wound
white and pink and green cotton lava-lavas over one shoulder, and
round from waist to knee, crowned themselves picturesquely with woven
fern-leaves, and plunged shrieking over the fall, I began to wish I had
not come, or coming, had not promised to “slide.” However, there was no
help for it, so I got into my English bathing-dress, which excited
peals of merry laughter, because of its “continuations,” waded down the
stream, and sitting in the rush of the water, held tightly on to a rock
at each side, and looked over my own toes at the foaming, roaring thirty
feet drop.

It was all over in a minute. Just an unclasping of unwilling hands
from the safe black rocks, a fierce tug from the tearing stream, an
exceedingly unpleasant instant when one realised that there was no going
back now at any price, and that the solid earth had slipped away as it
does in the ghastly drop of a nightmare dream; then nothing in the world
but a long loud roar, and a desperate holding of the breath, while the
helpless body shot down to the bottom of the deep brown pool and up
again--and at last, the warm air of heaven filling one’s grateful lungs
in big gasps, as one reached the surface, and swam across to the other
side of the pool, firmly resolved on no account to do it again, now that
it was over.

It was pleasant, afterwards, to sit among the rocks above the fall, and
watch one after another of the native and half-caste girls--including a
very charming and highly educated half-American, who had been to college
in San Francisco, and to smart society dances in Samoa--rush madly over
the fall, leaving behind them as they went a long, loud yell, like the
whistle of a train going into a tunnel. One native girl daringly went
down head first; another, standing incautiously near the edge of the
fall, lost her balance, and simply sat down on the pool below, dropping
through the air with arms and legs outspread like a starfish. Fangati
seized a friend in her arms and tumbled over the verge with her, in
a perfect Catherine wheel of revolving limbs. It was hours before the
riotous party grew tired, and even then, only the sight of large green
leaves being laid out on the stones, and palm-leaf baskets being opened,
brought them out of the water, and got them into their little
sleeveless tunics and gracefully draped kilts. By this time, the pretty
Samoan-American’s mother had laid out the “ki-ki”--baked fowl and pig,
taro-root, yams, bananas, pineapples, guavas, European delicacies
such as cake and pies, and native dainties, including the delicious
_palusami_, of which I have spoken before. The drinking cocoanuts had
been husked and opened by the boy who brought the food, and there they
stood among the stones, rows of rough ivory cups, lined with smooth
ivory jelly of the young soft meat, and filled with fresh sweet water,
such as is never to be tasted out of the cocoanut-land. Our plates were
sections of green banana-leaf; our forks were our fingers. And when
every one had fed, and felt happy and lazy, we all lay among the rocks
above the fall, in the green shadow of the trees, and did nothing
whatever till evening. Then we climbed back to the road, and drove
home, six buggies full of laughing brown and white humanity, crowned
and wreathed with green ferns, and singing the sweet, sad song of
Samoa--“Good-bye, my flennie”--the song that was written by a native
only a few years ago, and has already become famous over the whole
Pacific. It is the farewell song of every island lover, the melody
that soars above the melancholy rattling of the anchor chains on every
outward-bound schooner that spreads her white wings upon the breast
of the great South Seas. And for those who have known the moonlight
nights of those enchanted shores, have smelt the frangipani flower, and
listened to the soft singing girls in the endless, golden afternoons,
and watched the sun go down upon an empty, sailless sea, behind the
weird pandanus and drooping palms--the sweet song of the islands will
ring in the heart for ever. In London rush and rain and gloom, in the
dust and glitter of fevered Paris, in the dewy cold green woods of
English country homes, the Samoan air will whisper, calling, calling,
calling--back to the murmur of the palms, and’ the singing of the coral
reef, and the purple tropic night once more.


(Song, with Samoan words, English beginning to each verse.)

[Illustration: 0317]


_Southward to New Zealand--Into the Hot-Water Country--Coaching Days
come back--The Early Victorian Inn--The Fire and Snow of Ruapehu--A
Hotel run wild--Hot Lakes and Steaming Rivers--The Devil’s Trumpet--The
Valley of the Burning Fountains--Waking up the Champagne Lake._

OF the other island groups that I visited during that pleasant year or
two of wandering--strange Fiji, exquisite Norfolk Island, the wicked,
unknown New Hebrides--I have told elsewhere. But before the great P. &
O. liner carried me away from Sydney on the well-known track across the
seas to England and home, I had a journey through New Zealand that
was second to nothing in the world, for pure enjoyment, but the
unsurpassable Islands themselves.

New Zealand is not yet fully opened up--that was what the geography
books said in my school days. The saying, like most geography-book
information, slipped through my mind easily, and did not create any
marked impression. The marked impression came later, when I went half
round the world to see New Zealand, and discovered that I could not take
train to just anywhere I chose. It seemed incredible, in a country as
highly civilised as France or Germany, that coaches--not the ornamental
tourist brand, run as an accompaniment to railways, but real Early
Victorian coaches, with “no frills on them” of any sort or kind--were
the only means of transit, save boats, to a great part of the famous hot
lake and river district of the North Island. One could go to Rotorua,
the most remarkable collection of geysers and hot lakes, direct by rail
from Auckland. But the lovely Wanganui River, the beautiful up-country
bush, and whole duchies of hot-water and mud-volcano land, could only be
“done” by coach and boat.

[Illustration: 0447]

This made the journey more interesting, on the whole, though it was a
little amazing at first to leave the railway far behind, and strike
out right into the early nineteenth century. One should have worn
side-curls, a spencer, and a poke bonnet, instead of the ordinary
tourist coat and skirt and useful straw hat, to feel quite in character
with the mud-splashed coach, its six insides, two outsides, and four
struggling, straining horses; the days of wind and shower, the hurried
meals eaten at lonely little wayside inns, and the nights spent in
strange barrack-like, barn-like places, where the stable was of more
importance than the house, and every one always arose and fled like a
ghost at the early dawn of day.

But first, after the railway town and railway hotel were left behind,
came Wanganui River, a whole day of it; nearly sixty miles of exquisite
loveliness, viewed in perfect comfort from the canopied deck of a river
steamer. The Wanganui has been called New Zealand’s Rhine, but it no
more resembles the Rhine than it resembles a garden-party or an ostrich
farm. It has nothing whatever in common with Germany’s great historic
river but its beauty; and the beauty of the Wanganui is of an order very
far indeed removed from that of the ancient castle-crowned streams of
Europe, which are strewn with records of dead and decaying æons of human
life. Solitude, stillness, absolute, deathly loneliness are the keynotes
of Wanganui scenery. Shut in by fold on fold of great green mountain
peaks, scarp on scarp of fern-wreathed precipice, one can almost fancy
that the swift little paddle-steamer is churning her way for the first
time into solitudes never seen of man. Now and then a Maori dug-out
canoe, long and thin and upturned at the ends, may be sighted riding
under the willows, or gliding down-stream to the swift paddle-strokes
of its dusky-faced occupant. At rare intervals, too, the spell of silent
lonelinesses broken by the sight of some tiny river-side settlement
perched on a great green height--half a dozen wooden houses, and a
tin-roofed church; the whole being labelled, with some extraordinarily
pretentious name. One of our passengers that day got in at London, and
went on to Jerusalem; another was booked from Nazareth to Athens!

All New Zealanders are _not_ Maories, despite the hazy ideas as to
colour which exist at home. There is a little trifle of nine hundred
thousand full-blooded white settlers, to compare with the few thousand
native Maories still left, in the land they once owned from sea, to sea.
Still, the Maori in New Zealand is an unmistakable fact, and a most
picturesque fact into the bargain. To see a family taking deck passage
on the boat--handsome dark-eyed women, with rosy cheeks in spite of
their olive skins, and beautifully waved black hair; bright elfish
little children; dogs and cats and a sack or two for luggage--: is
an interesting spot in the day’s experience, especially when some
patronising passenger, accustomed to “natives” in other countries, gets
one of the delightful set-downs the Maori can give so effectively.
For all their shapeless clothing and heavy blankets, hatless heads and
tattooed lips and chins, the New Zealand Maories are very much “all
there”; and when the patronising saloon passenger struts up to one, and
remarks: “Tenakoe (good-day), Polly! You got ums nicey little fellow
there, eh?”

“Polly” will probably reply in excellent English: “My name happens to
be Te Rangi, not Polly; and as for the child you are referring to, I
believe it belongs to the lady in the yellow plaid sitting aft!”

At the end of the day comes an hotel, standing on a wooded cliff above
the river, and looking down upon a long lovely stretch of winding water
and high-piled forest. The night is spent here, and in the morning
comes the coach, with its team of four fine satin-skinned bays, its
many-coated driver, its portmanteaux on the roof, mysterious little
parcels in the “boot,” and confidential letters in coachman’s hat, for
all the world like something in Charles Dickens. There is no bugle and
no guard, and the coach itself is a high, long-legged, spidery thing
enough, not even painted red, and though it is “Merry Christmas” time, it
is a warm summer day, with some prospect of thundery rain, but not
the faintest of any typical Dickensesque Christmas weather. Still, the
sentiment is there, so one may as well make the most of it.

All day, muddy roads and straining horses; all day, a long pull up-hill;
half the day rain in the wet lovely bush, starring and sparkling the
exquisite tree ferns, those fine ladies of the forest; crystal-dropping
the thick coat of ferns that tapestries the tall cliffs, shutting in our
road. Beneath the wheel curve innumerable black-green gorges, deep
and dark as Hades, gurgling in their mysterious depths with unseen
full-throated streams and half-glimpsed waterfalls. About and above
us rises the impenetrable “bush”--tall green trees, feathery, cedary,
ferny, flowery, set as close together as the spires of moss on a
velvet-cushioned stone, shutting out half the sky; marking off an
unmistakable frontier between the territory of still unconquered Nature
and the regions wrested from her by toiling Man. Wood-pigeons flash
their blue-grey wings across the valleys; the merry mournful _tui_
flutes “piercing sweet by the river,” undisturbed by our rattling
wheels. There are wild creatures in plenty, further back in the
bush--wild boars, wild cattle, wild cats, and “dingoes” or dogs--all
originally escaped from civilisation, but now as wild as their own
savage ancestors. The feathery bracken, that carpets all the banks by
the wayside, was, and indeed still is, a staple food of the Maories.
Its young roots are excellent eating, being rather like asparagus,
and reasonably nourishing when nothing better can be had--and the
white-flowered tea-tree--one of the tree-heath family---has often
furnished a “colourable imitation” of China tea, to the benighted
bush-wanderer run out of the genuine leaf. This bush about us is all
Maori land. Maories alone can find their way easily and safely through
its pathless mysteries. No, there is no avoiding the Maori, anywhere in
the North Island!

Dinner, warm and grateful and unspeakably comforting, is met with at
a little inn in a little settlement whose name (of course) begins with
Wai. The towns in North New Zealand that do not begin with Wai begin
with Roto. There are a few others, but they hardly count. We are all
amazingly cheerful when we issue forth warmed and fed; and the cold
wind that is beginning to blow down from the icy mountain peaks just
out of sight, is encountered’ without any British-tourist grumbling.
The driver explains that the wind ought not to be so cold--never is
in December (the New Zealand June); but somehow, this is “a most
exceptional season,” and there has been a lot of rain and cold that they
don’t generally have. Across twelve thousand miles of sea my mind leaps
back to home; I feel the raspy air of the English spring nipping my
face, and hear the familiar music of the sweet old English lie about
the weather. It is a dear home-like lie, and makes me feel that New
Zealand is indeed what it claims to be--the Britain of the Southern

The effect of dinner is wearing off, and the insides are saying things
about the weather that make a lonely wanderer like myself long to clasp
the speakers warmly by the hand--because they sound so English. Now I
understand what puzzled me a good deal at first--the difference between
the Americanised, Continentalised Australians and the perfectly British
New Zealander. The Briton cannot retain his peculiar characteristic in
a climate like that of Australia; deprived of his natural and national
grumble about the changeable weather, he is like a dog without a
bark--an utterly anomalous being, But the New Zealand climate is windy
and showery, given to casting autumn in the lap of spring and throwing
winter into the warm, unexpecting arms of summer. So the Briton of the
South, settled among his familiar weather “samples,” remains like the
Briton of the North; and the travelling Englishman or Englishwoman,
visiting New Zealand, feels more entirely at home than in any other
quarter of the globe. It is only fair to New Zealand, however, to add
that the average summer, beginning in December, is at worst very much
warmer and pleasanter than the English spring or winter, and at best, a
season of real delight.

Late and dark and cold is the evening when we rattle up to the
accommodation house planted in a strange desert spot, where the night is
to be passed. Another coach comes in and discharges its load by-and-by.
The Dickensonian flavour increases, as we of the earlier coach sit round
the great ingle-nook fire of blazing logs in the coffee-room, silently
surveying the new comers, while they shed their many wraps and crowd
about the blaze. To how many Early Victorian tales--Dickens, Bulwer
Lytton, G. P. R. James--have not the lonely inn and the late arriving
guest been the familiar commencement!

But the three Maories, man and two women, alighting from the coach
and taking their place in the warm room, break through the illusion
of Victorian romance at a touch, as a passing figure breaks through a
gossamer cobweb stretched across a furzy path. Even G. P. R. could have
had no dealings with those tall bundled-up, black-eyed, self-possessed
beings from the bush. He would have turned them out in despair,
or turned himself out, and gone back to his mysterious,
Spanish-complexioned gentlemen in furred riding-cloaks.

A nipping early morning sees us off at seven o’clock; the discontented
innkeeper, with (apparently) a dark crime on his conscience, seeing
us go with obvious relief. It is too evident that like rather many
backwoods hotelkeepers, he regards the harmless necessary traveller in
the unflattering light of “the pig that pays the rint.”

Ruapehu’s giant cone, covered with dazzling snow, soars 3,000 feet into
heaven above us. We are high up ourselves, for we pass the 4,000 foot
level later on, rather cold and cross, and inclined to regard the little
flag of hot smoke creeping out of the crest of Ngaurhoe, a smaller
volcano ahead, as the most desirable thing in nature. Brumbies (wild
horses) skim the plains below us, quick-moving little dots of black
against the buff-colour of river valleys and fiats of sand. “There’s a
fellow hunting those at present,” volunteers the driver--“catches and
breaks them, and gets thirty shillings apiece for them for youngsters to
ride to school. The kids must have something, you know, and the brumbies
are wiry little brutes.”

No one walks on two legs in New Zealand, apparently. I recollect
a picture that the coach passed only yesterday evening--a man on
horseback, and two dogs, fetching home a cow and her calf from a pasture
a quarter of a mile away from the homestead. In England the whole outfit
of man, horse, and dogs would have been represented by one small child
with a pinafore and a stick. Other countries, other manners.

One o’clock, forty-two miles out, with a stop for a fresh team; and we
now enter a valley where we are met by the strange sight of a puff of
steam rising from a bushy dell, and a little river that glides along
with smoky vapours curling up from its surface. We are in the hot-water
country at last; this is Tokaanu, and from here to Rotorua, ninety miles
away, the earth is dotted, every now and then, with boiling springs,
erupting geysers, hot lakes, and warm rivers. In all this country you
need never light a fire to cook, unless you choose; never heat water to
wash your pots and pans, or to bath yourself. The Maories, and many of
the whites, steam all their food instead of boiling or baking it; and as
for hot baths, an army might enjoy them all day long.

The valley is warm and pleasant; Lake Taupo lies before us, thirty miles
long, wide and blue and beautiful as the sea, sentinelled by tall peaks
of dazzling white and purest turquoise, and all embroidered about the
shores with gold braiding of splendid _Planta Genista_ scattered in
groves and hedges of surpassing richness. Three hours in a tiny steamer
brings us, To the othér side; and here, the sights of the hot-water
country fairly begin.

The Spa Hotel, at Taupo (where one passes the night and as many days as
one has time for), is a museum; an exhibition, and very-good joke, all
in itself. One might fairly describe it as hashed hotel, served up with
excellent sauce. You find bits of it lost in a wilderness of rose and
rhododendron, at the end of a garden path; half a dozen bedrooms,
run away all along among the honeysuckles to play hide-and-seek;
a drawing-room isolated like a lighthouse in a sea of greenery; a
dining-room that was once a Maori assembly-house, and is a miracle of
wildly grotesque carvings, representing, the weirdest of six-foot goblin
figures, eyed and toothed; with pearl-shell, and carved in the highest
of alto relievo, all down the walls. White sand pathways, run, between,
the various fragments of the hotel; a hot stream, breathing curly vapour
as it goes, meanders, about the grounds, captured here and there in deep
wooden ponds, under rustic roofs, or hemmed in by walls and concealing
trees, to make the most attractive of baths. There is sulphur, and soda
and free sulphuric acid in these, waters; one spring, welling up all
by itself, has iodine. For rheumatism, skin diseases, and many blood
diseases, these constantly running pools are almost a certain cure. It
seems a shocking waste of golden opportunities to let this chance go by
without being healed of something; but I can only collect, a cold in the
head, a grazed ankle, and a cracked lip, to meet the occasion--of all
which evils the baths at once relieve me, offering in their place
an appetite which must seriously impair my popularity with the
proprietress, though I am bound to say she hides her feelings nobly.

There is a celebrated “porridge pot,” or mud volcano, near this hotel.
I have not time to see it; therefore I leave it with gentle reproaches
ringing in my ears, and hints to the effect that I shall be haunted on
my deathbed by unavailing regret. But I meet the Waikato River directly
after, and at once forget everything else. Never anywhere on this earth,
except in the hues of a peacock’s breast shining in the sun, have I
seen such a marvellous blue-green colour as that of this deep, gem-like,
splendid stream. And the golden broom on its banks, the golden broom
on the heights, the golden broom everywhere--bushes eight and ten feet
high, all one molten flame of burning colour, with never a leaf to be
seen under the conflagration of riotous blossom--what is the English
broom, or the English gorse, compared to this?

All the six miles to Wairakei, we follow the Waikato River; watch it
sink into a deep green gorge; break into splendid foam and spray down
a magnificent fall, that alone might make the fortune of any hotel in a
less richly dowered country; wind underneath colossal tree-clad cliffs,
in coils and streaks of the strange emerald-blue that is the glory of
the river, and finally bend away towards the Arateatea Rapids. Another
hotel built after the charming fashion of the Taupo hostelry, receives
the coach occupants. The style of architecture sets one thinking.
Where, twenty years ago, did out-of-the-way New Zealand light upon the
“pavilion” system, that is the very latest fancy of all modern-built
sanatoria? Has the liability to occasional small earthquake tremors
anything to do with it? Whatever the cause may be, the result is that
the fresh-air system is in full swing in nearly all the New Zealand
thermal resorts; that doors and windows are always open, paths take the
place of passages, and everybody acquires the complexion of a milkmaid
and the appetite of a second-mate.

The hot outdoor swimming bath is a toy with which one really cannot stop
playing. It is something so new and so amusing to dive into a bath 90
feet long and 102 deg. Fahrenheit as to heat; swim about like marigolds
in broth, in a temperature that would cook an egg in a few minutes, and
all the time see the exquisite weeping willows wave overhead, the tall
grasses stand on the bank, the wild clematis tremble in the trees above
the pool. After the hot dip, one steps over a partition into another
bathful of cool spring water, only 68° in heat, to cool down; and then
comes dressing in a little bath-box (shut off from the grounds, like all
the bath, by a high board fence), followed by a two minutes’ walk back
to the house. But again, when night comes on, and the moon silvers the
weeping willows to the semblance of pale frost-foliage on an icy pane,
and the dim wraith-like vapours of the pool float up in ghostly shapes
and shadows about the darkness of the inner boughs, one is tempted to
come down once more, gliding hurriedly through the chill night air to
the pool, locking the door, and floating for an hour or more in the
dim, warm, drowsy waters. Cold? No one ever gets cold from the thermal
waters, even if the cool dip is left out. That is one of their chiefest

With the morning, I am informed that life will not be worth living to me
any more, if I do not see the Geyser Canon. Some one declares that it
is the most beautiful sight in New Zealand; some one else says that it
frightens you most delightfully, in the safest possible way; and “one
low churl, compact of thankless earth,” says that it is extremely
instructive. This last calumny I must at once deny. Interesting, to the
deepest degree, the Wairakei Geysers are; suggestive also beyond any
other geological phenomena in New Zealand; but instructive, after the
tedious scientific-evenings fashion of our childhood, they are not. They
are too beautiful for that, and too fascinating. One ought, no doubt,
to absorb a great deal of geological information during the tour of the
valley, but one is so busy having a good time that one doesn’t. Which is
exactly as it should be.

Coming round the corner of the path that leads to the geysers, one sees
a column of white steam rising over the shoulder of the hill, among the
greenery of tea-tree and willow, exactly like the blowing-off steam of
some railway engine, waiting at a station. It is indeed an engine that
is blowing off steam; but the engine is rather a big one--nothing less,
indeed, than that admirable piece of work, Mother Earth herself. Ingle,
the guide, now comes out of a tin-roofed cottage at the entrance to the
valley, and starts to show us the wonders of the place.

Now be it known that Mr. Ingle is a very remarkable character, and
second only to the geysers themselves, as a phenomenon of singular
interest. He is one of the very few men in the world who know all about
geysers, and quite the only one who can literally handle and work’ them.
Ingle knows how to doctor a sick geyser as well as any stableman can
doctor a horse; he can induce it to erupt, keep it from doing so, or
make it erupt after his fashion, and not after its own. He is the author
of at least two scientific discoveries of some importance, combining
the effects of steam pressure on rocks and the incidence of volcanoes
along certain thermal lines. In fact, what Ingle does not know about the
interior of the earth, and the doings down there, is not worth knowing;
and he tells us much of it as he takes us over the canon. Instructive?
Certainly not. It is all gossip about volcanoes and geysers--personal,
interesting, slightly scandalous gossip (because the behaviour of
some of them, at times, and the tempers they exhibit, _are_ simply
scandalous); but not “instructive”; assuredly not.

The average tourist likes to have every sight named--romantically or
comically named, if possible--and his tastes have been fully considered
in the Geyser Canon. I am not going to quote the guide-book titles of
the dozen or two thermal wonders exhibited by Ingle. Staircases of
pink silica, with hot water running down them; boiling pools of white
fuller’s earth, with miniature volcanoes and geysers pock-marked all
over them: sapphire-coloured ponds, where one can see fifty feet of
scalding depths; the great Wairakei Geyser, casting up huge fountains of
boiling steam and spray every seven minutes; twin geysers living in one
pool of exquisite creamy stalactites, and erupting every four minutes
with the punctuality of a watch; geysers that throb exactly like the
paddles of a steamer, or beat like the pulse of an engine; geysers
that throw up great white balls of steam through crystal funnels of hot
water; geysers that cast themselves bodily out of their beds at regular
intervals, leaving you with exactly nine minutes in which to scramble
down the hot wet rock of the funnel, stagger through the blinding steam
that rises from the rents and fissures at the bottom, and climb up the
other side again, into coolness and safety, to wait and watch the
roaring water burst up through the rock once more; geysers that make
blue-green pools oh the lip of milky and ruddy terrace of carven silica;
that explode like watery cannon, in definite rows, one after another;
that build themselves nests like birds, send boiling streams under
rustic bridges, scatter hot spray and steam over’ richly drooping ferns,
and plant rainbow haloes on a scalding cloud of mist, high above the
clustering trees of the valley--these are the sights of the canon, and
they need no childish names to make them interesting. When a visitor
gets into the Geyser Canon he is like a fly in a spider’s web. He
cannot get away from this colossal variety entertainment. He runs from a
nine-minute geyser to see a four-minute geyser do its little “turn,” and
by this time the number is up for the seven-minute performance of the
great star, so he hurries there; and after that he must just go back
and see the twin geysers do another four-minute trick, and then there is
quite another, which will do a splendid “turn” in twenty-seven minutes’
time, if he only waits--and so half a day is gone, without any
one noticing the flight of time, until the sudden occurrence of a
“passionate vacancy,” not at all connected with the geysers or their
beds, informs the traveller that another meal-time has, unperceived,
come round.

The Arateatea Rapids fill in the afternoon. From the high road where the
open coach stands waiting, down through a pretty woodland of greenery
and shadow and thick soundless moss, one follows a narrow pathway
towards an ever-increasing sound of rushing, tumbling, and thundering,
out, at last, on to a projecting point where one stands right over a
rocky canon filled almost to the brim with a smother of white rolling
foam, woven through with surprising lights of clear jade green and
trembling gold. And here, on the brink of this half-mile of rapids, over
the roaring water, I give it up. I do not attempt to describe it. When
you take a great river, exceptionally deep and swift, and throw it
over half a mile of sloping cliff, things are bound to happen that are
somewhat beyond the power of pen and ink to render. Who has ever read a
description of a waterfall, anywhere, written by any one that conveyed
an impression worth a rotten nut? Every one who goes to see Arateatea
must manufacture his own sensations on the spot. Sheer fright will
certainly be one of them; not at anything the innocent rapids are doing
to the beholder, but at the bare notion of what they might do, one foot
nearer--one step lower down--one---- Let me have a couple of trees to
hold on to, please. Thank you, that is better.

Many years ago, a party of twenty Maories had a narrow escape from the
cruel embraces of snow-white Arateatea. They were canoeing on the upper
river; and, partly because the trout in the Waikato are the biggest
trout in the world, partly because some of the rowers had had too much
fun at a “tangi,” or wailing party, the night before, and were not very
clear-headed, they forgot to think of the current until it had them
fairly in its clutch, whirling them along only a mile or two above the
terrible rapids. They could not reach the shore, and they dared not
swim. One would have supposed that nothing could save them from being
beaten to pieces against the cruel rocks in the rapids--yet they escaped
that fate.

They went over the Huka Falls, which come a mile or two above the rapids
(the Maories had forgotten all about that) and were decently drowned

I am sorry that the above is not a better story; but the fact is, that
tourists are not very plentiful about Wairakei, and the natives have not
yet learned to invent the proper tourist tale. That is about the best
they can do as yet.

It will hardly be credited, but there is not even a Lover’s Leap in the
whole valley; not a story of an obstinate father who got opportunely
boiled in a geyser, while his daughter eloped down a scalding river in a
motor-boat worked by the steam from the surface--nor a tale of a flying
criminal pursued by executioners, who leaped from side to side of a
gorge some thirty feet across and got away. This is certainly remiss of
the authorities; but I have no doubt the Government Tourist Department
would take the matter up, and supply the necessary fiction, if suitably

[Illustration: 0470]

In the meantime travellers must be satisfied with the rather bald and
uninteresting tale of a Maori maiden named Karapiti, who jumped into the
steam blow-hole bearing her name, because her _fiancé_ did not meet her
there on Sunday afternoon as arranged to take her to afternoon tea at
the Wairakei Hotel. At least, that is one version of the tale, and it is
quite enough for the Smith family from London, and other representative

“You should have given yourself more time.”

“Whatever you are going to do later on, this place really requires at
least a week.”

“You cannot possibly miss so-and-so, or this and that!” Such are
the reproaches that haunt the hasty traveller through the Hot-Water
Country--reproaches fully deserved in nearly every case, for very few
tourists who journey to New Zealand realise the amount of time that
should be spent in seeing the miracles of the volcanic zone, if nothing
really good is to be omitted.

It results in an unsatisfactory compromise as a rule--some “sights”
 being seen; many passed over. There is always something fascinating just
ahead, calling the traveller on, and something wonderful close at hand,
which demands the sacrifice of yet another day, before moving. Such a
superfluity of beautiful and wonderful sights can assuredly be found
nowhere else on earth. Iceland is far inferior; the famous Yellowstone
Park of America has only a stepmother’s helping of what might be New
Zealand’s “left-overs.” The lovely, lamented Pink and White Terraces
are by many supposed to have been the only great thermal wonder of the
country. This is so far from being the truth that only a good-sized
volume could fairly state the other side of the question. I have never
met any traveller through the thermal districts who had succeeded in
seeing everything of interest. All whom I saw were as hard at work as
the very coach-horses themselves--walking, driving, climbing, scrambling
each hour of every day, and often thoroughly overdoing themselves,
in the plucky attempt to carry away as much as possible from this
over-richly spread banquet of Nature’s wonders.

I squeezed out an afternoon for Karapiti (the “Devil’s Trumpet”) and
the Valley of the Coloured Lakes. By this time I was a little jaded with
sight-seeing, disposed to talk in a hold-cheap tone of anything that
was not absolutely amazing, and to taste all these weirdly impressive
marvels with a very discriminating palate. Karapiti, however, is cayenne
to any jaded taste. It is known as the “Safety-Valve of New Zealand,”
 and the term is peculiarly fitting. The whole of the Hot-Water Country
is only one plank removed from the infernal regions; it almost floats
upon the scalding brow of molten rock, liquid mineral, and vaporised
water, that composes the earth interior immediately below. That it
is perfectly safe to live in (a constant wonder to outsiders) is very
largely due to just those steam blow-holes and geysers which excite the
fears of the nervous-minded--and the colossal dragon-throat of Karapiti
is the most important safety-valve of all.

Walking up the hill’ to the blow-hole, many hundred yards off, one hears
its loud unvarying roar, like the steam-thunder that comes from an ocean
liner’s huge funnel, when the ship is ready to cast loose from shore.
The ground as one gets nearer is jutted and uneven, and perceptibly warm
in certain spots. Rounding a corner, one comes suddenly upon the Devil’s
Trumpet, a funnel-shaped opening, ten feet across at the lip, in the
bottom of a cupshaped hollow. A fierce jet of steam rushes out from the
Trumpet, thick and white as a great marble column, and roaring horribly
as it comes forth. The pressure is no less than 180 lb. to one square
inch, and the rush of this gigantic waste-pipe never slackens or ceases,
night or day; nor has it done so within the memory of man.

“If it did, I’d look for another situation pretty sharp, for it wouldn’t
be ’ealthy to stay around Wairakei no more,” observes one guide, who
is showing off the monster to us by throwing a kerosene can into the
jet, and catching it as it is violently flung back to him, many yards
away. “I can throw a penny the same,” he says, and does so, getting back
the coin promptly, a good deal hotter than it went in.

One of the ladies of our party is nearly reduced to tears by the
sinister aspect, the menacing horror of the spot. She begs to be taken
away, because she knows she will dream about it. She does dream about
it; I know that, because I do myself, that night; and the dreams are
not nice. Still, I would face them again for another look at roaring
Karapiti. It is a wonder of wonders, a horror of horrors, unlike
anything else in the world. On the whole, I am glad of that last fact.
Too much Karapiti would certainly get on one’s nerves.

There have never been any accidents to travellers here. No one could
fall down the hole, because the funnel narrows rapidly, and is only
about two feet across in the inner part. All the same, one cannot safely
approach very near, for there is an in-rush as well as an out-rush,
and if any one did fall victim to it, and stumble into the funnel, the
highly condensed steam would strip the flesh from his bones as quickly
as a cherry is shelled off its stone.

The Valley of the Coloured Lakes came next. I wonder what the
inhabitants of Brighton or Bath would do--how they would advertise, how
they would cry for visitors--if they had a valley at their very
gates which contained a scalding hot river, tumbling over pink and
cream-coloured cascades of china-like silica, in clouds of steamy
spray--a great round pond, set deep in richest forest, and coloured
vivid orange, with red rocks round the brim; another, crude Reckitt’s
blue; another, staring verdigris green; another, raspberry pink; others
still, yellow as custard and white as starch! All these ponds are hot;
they are coloured by the various minerals they hold In solution, but
they have not yet been chemically analysed, so it is only possible
to speculate as to the exact cause of the colours. Seen from a height
above, the ponds resemble nothing so much as a number of paint-pots;
and that, indeed, is one of the names by which the valley is generally

Leaving behind me, unlooked at, still more than I had seen, I took coach
again next morning for Rotorua. It was an early and a chilly start, for
we had over thirty miles to do before lunch. The light, springy coach,
with its leather-curtain sides, was filled with a cheerful party, all
young, all enjoying themselves heartily, and all full of the genial good
spirits that come of much open air and a holiday frame of mind. _New_
New Zealand at its best was represented there, much as Old New Zealand
was represented by the silent bearded men, with the lonely-looking eyes,
who travelled in the Pipiriki and Waiouru stages of the journey.

How fast the spanking team swings in along the road! How lovely the
changing panorama of the encircling hills, now velvet-brown with rich
green dells and valleys, now far-off pansy-purple, now palest grey,
seamed with crimson streaks of hematite! The air is very clear to-day,
with that strange New Zealand clearness that changes every-distance to
sea-blue crystal, and pencils every shadow sharp and square.

We have left the royal gold broom behind us; but the beautiful manuka
scrub of the valleys is in full blossom, exquisitely tipped and touched
with white lace-like blossoms. It is almost as if a heavy hoar-froat had
misted over every delicate green bough with finest touches of silver.
Arum lilies bloom in the ditches; the Maori flax, like tall iris leaves,
wanders wildly over hill and valley; great fields of Pampas grass wave
their creamy plumes over the shot green satin of thick-growing leaves.
Wild horses, as the coach goes by, look warily out from behind some
woody knoll, or canter away across the plains with their long-legged
foals. Some of them are fine creatures, too, worth catching and
breaking, and many are taken there from time to time. What a happy land,
where a man can go out and pick a fine horse in a mountain meadow, much
as you pick a daisy at home!

Lunch-time befalls at another of the inevitable Wais--Waiotapu, this
time--and before the coach starts on the last stretch of eighteen
miles to Rotorua, I go across the road to see the only one of Waiotapu’s
sights for which I have time--the Champagne Pool and Alum Cliffs.

These are to be found on a most extraordinary milk-coloured plain, which
looks exactly as if a careless giant had been mixing colours and trying
brushes on it, and left everything lying about. The rocks and heights,
the deep dells with boiling pools and grumbling geysers at the bottom,
the narrow pathways leading here and there, are spotted and streaked
with carmine, rose madder, scarlet, primrose, bright yellow, and amber.
The “Cliffs” are a succession of rocky heights composed of something
very like cream fondant, which is mostly alum. At their feet opens out
a fascinating succession of bays and inlets full of variously
coloured water, at which I can only glance as I pass. There are two
mustard-coloured pools, and one pale green, among them. Close at hand
the overflow from the Champagne Pool rushes, steaming fiercely, over a
fall of rocks which appear to have been very newly and stickily painted
in palest primrose colour. Alum, sulphur, and hematite are responsible,
I am told, for most of these strange hues. Sulphur and arsenic have
coloured the Champagne Pool itself--a great green lake, almost boiling,
and of a most amazing colour--something between the green of a peridot
and that of Chartreuse. It has never been bottomed; the line ran out at
900 feet when tried. The edge of all the lake is most delicately wrought
into a coralline border of ornamental knobs and branches, canary yellow
in colour. Its name is derived from the curious effect produced in the
depths of the pond by a handful of sand. The water begins to cream and
froth at once, like champagne or lemonade, and continues to do so in
places for at least half an hour.

[Illustration: 0476]

And now we hurry back to the coach once more, and on to Rotorua, wonder
of wonders, and thermal temple of every healing water known to the
medical world.

[Illustration: 0488]


_From Heaven to Hades--Gay Rotorua--Where One lives on a Pie crust--The
Birth of a River--Horrible Tikitere--In the Track of the Great
Eruption--Where are the Pink and White Terraces?--A Fountain fifteen
hundred feet high--Foolhardy Feat of a Guide--How the Tourists were
killed--A Maori Village--Soaping a Geyser--The End._

RED roofs and white verandahs; straight sandy streets of immense width,
planted with green trees, and spindling away into unnaturally bright
blue distances; omnibuses, phaetons, motor-cars, and four-in-hands
passing at long intervals towards the shining lakes that lie beside
the town; puffs of white steam rising up among green gardens and open
fields; a ring of amethyst-coloured hills surrounding the whole bright
scene, bathed in such a white, pure, crystalline sun as never shines on
misty England. That is Rotorua, a half-day’s journey from Auckland, and
the centre of the wonderful geyser region of New Zealand.

Every one now-a-days knows that New Zealand possesses wonderful geysers,
but not quite everybody knows what a geyser is; and certainly very
few are aware of the extraordinary richness and variety of the geyser
country. Geysers are intermittent fountains of boiling water, in height
from a couple of feet up to fifteen hundred--the enormous altitude
reached by Waimangu the Terrible, greatest geyser of the whole world.
They consist of a shaft reaching down from the surface of the earth to
deep, very highly heated reservoirs of steam and boiling water below;
and (usually) of a siliceous basin surrounding the shaft-opening,
and full of hot water. Some geysers open in the centre of a cone of
siliceous sinter, built up by the deposits from the water, and have no

[Illustration: 0492]

The periodic explosions of active geysers are due to the following
facts--water under heavy pressure requires a much higher temperature
to boil than water free from pressure. While the water high up in the
geyser pipe may be a little under 212 degrees, that in the lower levels
may be standing at 50 or 60 degrees higher, and only kept from expanding
into steam by the weight of the column above it. If anything lessens
that weight or increases the temperature of the lower water, this latter
will explode into steam, and drive the upper waters high into air with
the force of its exit from the shaft. This, briefly, is the theory of
geyser action.

Rotorua itself, the great focus of the healing forces of Nature in the
geyser district, is simply a crust over a mass of hot springs, charged
with various minerals. Three feet under earth you will find hot water,
in nearly any part of the town. There are hundreds of hot springs in the
neighbourhood that have never been analysed. Of the many that are in use
in the Government Sanatorium, the “Priest’s Water” and “Rachel Water”
 are the most famous. The former cures rheumatism, gout, and blood
diseases, while “Rachel” makes her patrons “beautiful for ever” by
curing all forms of skin trouble, and bestowing a lovely complexion, not
to speak of the remarkable effects of the spring on nervous affections.
There are also wonderful hot swimming baths, much patronised by the
casual tourist; baths of hot volcanic mud, and baths of hot sulphur
vapour rising direct from the burning caverns under the earth.

But for people who are in good health, it is the “sights” of Rotorua
that are the chief attractions, and these are very many. One of the
loveliest, and a welcome change from the countless hot-water springs,
is Hamurana, surely the most beautiful river source in the world. It is
reached by a journey across one of the lakes in a steamer. All the way
the great lake ripples purest turquoise under a high, clear, cloudless
sky; green islands rise bright and cool from its shining surface,
sharply peaked and shadowed mountains, on the distant shores, stand out
in strange hues of crystalline hyacinth unknown to our northern climes.
By-and-by the little steamer leaves us on a green wooded shore, and we
take boat up a fairy river to a region of enchanted beauty. Blossoming
trees line the sun-steeped banks; the water is of the strangest
colours--jade-green, clear molten sapphire, silver/ emerald, and
transparent as a great highway of rock crystal. Enormous trout, weighing
up to twenty pounds, rush from under our keel; grass-green and rose-red
water weeds quiver far beneath the oar. Wild fuchsias, wild cherries,
loaded with scarlet fruit, snowy-flowered tea-tree, arum lilies, yellow
broom, and pink dog-roses, hang out over the water. But a few hundred
yards, and the big lovely river comes to a sudden end, walled in
by blossoming bushes, and apparently cut short in the strangest’ of
culs-de-sac. In reality it is the source we have reached; here the whole
Hamurana stream springs full-grown from the earth. A great rift in the
bed of the glassy river is visible, where the water wells up under our
keel in wavering masses of amber, aquamarine, and deep blue, shot with
glancing arrows of prismatic light. Five million gallons are poured
forth from this deep cold cavern every twenty-four hours--each drop as
clear as a diamond, and as pure. The force of the upspringing stream
is so great that pennies can be thrown in from the boat without sinking,
to the bottom of the cavern--the water sends them back, and casts them
out into the shallows about the edge of the rift. Sometimes a small
silver coin will slip down into depths, and lie glittering many fathoms
below, magnified conspicuously by the transparent water. The Maori
natives, who are marvellous divers, have tried time and again to
reach-this tempting store of treasure; but no man can stem the uprushing
torrent of water, and if the coins were gold, they would be as safe
as they are now from being taken by human hands. The most determined
suicide could not drown himself in the Hamurana River source, for the
stream about the source is shallow, and the cavern water itself would
not permit him to sink, however willing he might be.

The Valley of Tikitere, some ten miles from Rotorua, is the greatest
contrast that could possibly be conceived to Hamurana’s enchanted
loveliness. Enchanted indeed this valley also plight be, but by a spell
of evil. It is the nearest possible approach to the familiar conception
of hell. A stretch of white siliceous soil, streaked here and there with
the blood-coloured stains of hematite, or the livid yellow of sulphur,
is pitted all over with lakes, pools, and small deep pot-holes of
boiling mud, sometimes thick, sometimes thin, but always scalding,
bubbling, spirting, and threatening. Chief of all the horrors is the
well-named lake, “Gates of Hell.” Standing upon a bank of white earth
that is warm underfoot, and seamed with steaming cracks, one looks down
upon a ghastly hellhole of a seething cauldron, slimy black in colour,
and veiled with stinging mists that only now and then lift sufficiently
to show the hideous surface of the lake. The foul broth of which it is
composed bubbles and lifts ceaselessly, now and then rising into ominous
heights and waves that seem about to break upon the banks above. The
heat reaches our faces, as we stand half-stifled on the pathway. Just
beside us, a large pool of bubbling mud, which stands constantly at 2120
Fahrenheit--ordinary boiling point--seems almost cool in comparison.
Little wonder that is so; for the “Gates of Hell” is largely composed of
sulphuric acid, and its surface temperature is 232°.

[Illustration: 0463]

Beyond lies a perfect wilderness of boiling mud-holes of every kind.
Here, there is a pond of mud as thick as porridge; there, one fluid as
cream. Here, the deadly, scalding surface lies innocently smooth and
unrippled; there, it leaps and thunders like a young volcano in action.

At one corner we come suddenly upon an ugly black archway, leading to
no inviting interior; nothing can be seen within; but the loud gurglings
and chokings of the seething depths inside restrain any desire for
closer observation, “The Heavenly Twins,” derisively so-named, are two
boiling mud-lioles not a foot apart, but quite unconnected; one boils
the thickest of brews, while its twin concocts the thinnest.

One must follow the guide closely and carefully about these ghastly
wonders. One step off the pathway, and a horrible death awaits the
careless walker. Even the path itself is only cool and solid on the
outside skin. The guide stops now and then to dig his stick into the
whitey-brown earth for a couple of inches, and turn up a clod all
glittering on the under-side with fresh crystals of sulphur. This
under-side is so hot that one can hardly touch it with the unprotected

From one deep mud-hole, of a comparatively reasonable temperature, mud
is taken out for medical uses. It is wonderfully effective as a bath,
for soothing pain and curing sleeplessness. Further on, on safe ground,
one can see a hot waterfall about twenty feet high, in temperature about
100°, which is used as a douche bath by invalids of many kinds, with
remarkable results.

On the edges of the valley, I see for the first time in detail exactly
how the “fumarole,” or steam blow-hole, is used for cooking purposes.
Over the opening of a small manageable blow-hole, an inch or two across,
is placed a box without a bottom. The food to be cooked is placed in the
box, either in a pot, or wrapped in leaves. The lid is then put on, and
covered with clay. In an hour or so the meat or stew is done to a
turn; and even if left too long, it cannot be burned. One blow-hole,
in constant use by the Maories, is not steam at all, but hot sulphur
vapour, which deposits a crust of sulphur on everything it touches. This
does not trouble the Maori, however; he eats his food quite contentedly,
with a strong sulphurous flavour added to its natural taste, and says
it does him good. Certainly, the natives living about Tikitere are
unusually strong and hearty in appearance, and never troubled with any
kind of illness.

People of middle age will doubtless remember vividly the impression
created all over the world in 1886 by the eruption of the great volcano
Tarawera, and the destruction of New Zealand’s most cherished natural
wonder--the peerless Pink and White Terraces of Rotomahana. Count-, less
marvels have been left, and one new one that far outstrips the Terraces
in sheer wonder and magnificence--Waimangu, the greatest geyser in the
world; but New Zealand still laments her beautiful Terraces, and shows
the spot where they lie deep, buried under ninety feet of volcanic
débris, as though pointing out the grave of something loved and lost.

A day of wonderful interest is that spent in seeing the track of the
great eruption. Leaving Rotorua early in the morning, I saw, as the
coach wound up the hilly road outside the town, many traces of that
awful night and day of darkness, thunder, and terror, eighteen years
ago. Although Rotorua is fifteen miles or more from the site of the
Terraces, the sky was dark all the day of the eruption, and only three
or four miles from the town black volcanic dust fell so densely as to
leave a stratum several inches thick over the country. This is clearly
visible in the cuttings at the side of the road, where the black stratum
can be seen underlying the more recent layer of ordinary soil. Where the
great coach-road to Rotomahana once ran, a chasm some sixty feet deep
scars the mountain side, caused by the fearful rush of water that took
place down the road-track. An earthquake crack, thirty feet deep, runs
close to the road for a long distance. All the way up to the buried
village of Wairoa, similar traces can be seen. But before the village
is reached, two gems of scenic loveliness are passed--the Blue and
Green Lakes, lying side by side, each enclosed by steep rugged hills,
reflected clearly on its glassy surface. One is of the strangest, most
delicate Sèvres blue--a colour, not depending on any reflection from
above, for I saw it on a grey and cloudy day--the other is a bright
verdigris green. “Chemicals in the water” is the very vague reason given
by inhabitants of the district for these remarkable beauties of colour.

I must note here that in no case have I succeeded in obtaining any
satisfactory reason for the remarkable blues and greens so common in
both the cold and hot waters of the thermal district. The Waikato River,
a great cold stream, full of immense trout; Taupo Lake (cold); the
coloured lakes of Wairakei and Waiotapu (hot); Hamurana Springs (cold),
and many others, display these remarkable tints, under every sky and
in every depth of water. Varying reasons are given, but none seem
satisfactory. The beauty of the colouring is, at all events, certain,
and the cause may safely be left to geologists.

Wairoa Village is now a green, silent waste of young forest and rich
grass, broken only by the ruins of the old hotel that stood there before
the eruption, and by a few scattered traces of other human occupation--a
fragment of wall, the rusty skeleton of an iron bedstead, lying in a
gully; the remains of a shattered buggy. In 1886 it occupied the place
now held by Rotorua, and was visited by numbers of tourists, all anxious
to see the Terraces, which lay not far away at the other end of the
chain of lakes now united in one, and called Rotomahana. On the day of
the eruption, the roof of the hotel was broken in by red-hot falling
stones and mud, and eleven people were killed. Some, who escaped, ran
out and took refuge in a native “warry” or hut, which, strange to say,
remained uninjured. Over a hundred people in all--mostly Maories--were
killed by the eruption, which destroyed millions of acres of good land,
swept away several native villages, and utterly altered the face of the
whole country.

Lake Tarawera, which must be crossed to see the site of the lost
terraces, lies under the shadow of the great volcanic cone of Tarawera,
8,000 feet high, from which much of the molten rock and burning ashes
came. It is as lovely, in its own strange way, as the famous lakes of
Italy and Switzerland. The water is intensely blue, and the high hills
closing it in are of a colour unknown to most other scenery in the
world--a strange pale barren grey, so nearly white as to be slightly
suggestive of snow. Like snow, too, is the distribution of this coloured
matter; it lies on the crests and projections of the hills, and is
streaked thinly down the sides. It is ash, volcanic ash, cast out by
the surrounding craters on that fatal night of June, 1886, and lying
unchanged on the hills about the lake ever since. Tarawera itself towers
above the lake, grim and dark and ominous; a mountain hot yet tamed
by any means, and still hot, though not molten, in the interior of the

On the shores of the lake, as the launch carries us past, can be seen,
at one spot, the whitened bones of some of the natives who perished in
the eruption. The name and titles of one, who was a great chief, are
painted on a rock that overhangs the shore.

Rotomahana, the second lake, is also surrounded by ash-whitened hills.
At the far end, as our second oil-launch starts to cross, we can see
thick columns of steam rising against the grey of the cliffs. These are
the gravestones of the lost Pink Terrace; these tall pillars of cloud
alone mark the spot where one half of the world’s greatest wonder once
stood. Just where the launch starts, the White Terrace was buried,
under a hundred feet of earth and mud, deep in the bed of the lake.

What were the Terraces like? New Zealand has many oil paintings of them,
so that a clear idea of their loveliness can be formed even to-day.
They consisted of two immense terraced slopes, formed by the action of
downward dropping hot water heavily loaded with silicon. Every terrace
was a succession of fairy-like baths and basins, filled with bright blue
water. One was pure ivory-white, the other, tinged with hematite,
was bright pink., The exquisite natural carvings and flutings of the
silicon, the beautiful tints of the terraces, the blue sky above and
blue lakes below, together formed a picture the like of which does not
exist on earth to-day.

Our oil-launch, sailing now over water which is actually boiling, close
in shore, though the main body of the lake is cold, allows us to land on
the very spot where the Pink Terrace once stood. It is a dangerous task,
even with the aid of a guide, to pick one’s way about this stretch of
ground, for it is nothing but a crumbling honey-comb of boiling-water
ponds, and narrow ridges as brittle as piecrust. Over these latter we
take our perilous way, planting each footstep slowly and carefully,
but never standing still, for the ground is so exceedingly hot that the
soles of one’s boots are scorched, if planted long in one place. The
earth is choked and clouded with steam, the ponds roar and bubble about
our feet, the blow-holes rumble. The ground is full of raw cracks, old
and new, and as our small party steps over one of these, on the way
back, it is seen to be visibly wider than it was on the previous coming!
To-morrow the whole of this narrow ridge may have crumbled in and
disappeared. No one is sorry to reach the launch again, and glide away
from those threatening shores.

A little further on, where we land for the walk up to Waimangu Geyser,
there is a hot iodine spring, unique among medical waters, and most
useful in many diseases. Arrangements are now being made to have the
water collected and sent to Rotorua; up to the present, it has only been
used by the Maories.

All the three-mile walk up to the geyser is crowded with tokens of the
great eruption. Mud cliffs a hundred feet in height were created by the
terrible outburst, and for miles about the whole country was covered
yards deep with the boiling slimy mass. Not only Tarawera, but three
other craters (all visible in the high distance above the lake) were
erupting together, for a night and a day. The eruptions took place
without the least warning of any kind, about ten o’clock at night. The
chain of lakes about Tarawera’s foot suddenly exploded like colossal
bombs, blowing their entire contents, and all the mud from their
bottoms, over the whole country-side. Tarawera and the neighbouring
craters cast out huge jets of flame, and scattered burning masses of
rock, ashes, and scoriæ, for many miles. The noise was terrible, and the
sky for twenty miles around was dark at noonday. It is supposed that the
eruption was caused by the falling in of the lake bottom, which allowed
the water to drop into the underlying fires, and exploded the lakes
instantly into steam.

Up a great earthquake chasm, among deep volcano craters that were formed
at the time of the eruption, we climb towards the Great Geyser. These
craters are for the most part still in a more or less heated state,
though grass and ferns grow in the interior of nearly all, and no
apprehension is felt as to future outbursts. One has a hot mudpool at
the bottom; a second spits steam from many cracks and blow-holes; a
third, the largest of all, erupted slightly in August 1904, and threw a
quantity of hot mud and stones out over the top.

Waimangu Geyser itself, which is really more a volcano than a geyser,
is supposed to have been formed at the time of the eruption. It did not,
however, commence its present activity until 1900, when an enormously
high “shot” was seen by one or two explorers camping in the
neighbourhood, and the source at once investigated. It became apparent
that New Zealand, in the place of the lost Terraces, had acquired the
largest and most magnificent geyser in the whole world. The exchange is
by no means a bad one. Waimangu attracts hundreds of travellers to the
pretty little hotel planted on a cliff not far from the crater; and
those who have been fortunate enough to see the geyser play, one and
all utterly lose themselves in attempting to express the extraordinary
majesty, wonder, and terror of the sight.

The geyser is somewhat irregular in action, but generally plays every
day or so. The water in the huge basin heaves and lifts; then an
enormous cloud of steam rushes up, and then a column of black water,
charged with mud and stones, flings itself upward in repeated leaps or
“shots” through the steam, to an almost incredible height--at times as
high as fifteen hundred feet. More than a quarter of a mile in sheer
height is Waimangu’s biggest “shot.” On such occasions, the sky is
darkened by the tremendous spread of the leaping waters, the earth
trembles with the concussion, and the watching spectators, perched high
above the crater by the shelter hut, feel as though the terrors of the
Last Day itself were falling upon them, unprepared.

In the summer of 1903 two girls and a guide were killed during the
explosion of the geyser. The girls had been repeatedly warned, even
entreated, not to stand near the crater, as it was momentarily expected
to “play”; but they hovered close by the verge, anxious to secure a
photograph. Without warning, Waimangu suddenly rose and hurled itself
bodily skyward out of its bed. The enormous backfall of the boiling
water caught and swept away the luckless three, and they were carried
down the outflow valley in the flood that succeeds every eruption. When
found, the bodies were terribly mutilated, and stripped of all clothing.
The mother of the girls, standing higher up, saw the whole awful
disaster, and had to be forcibly held back from rushing into the crater,
in a wild effort to save her children. Since that melancholy day, the
geyser basin has been railed off, in such a manner that no one can
approach near enough to incur the slightest danger. Warbrick, the head
guide of the district, was present, and nearly lost his life in a daring
attempt to save the girls and the guide, who was his own brother. He
rushed into the midst of the falling stones and water, to try and drag
the luckless victims back, but was too late to save them, and narrowly
escaped being carried away himself.

Warbrick is the best-known guide in New Zealand, and a character
of considerable interest. He is a halfcaste Maori, decidedly more
intelligent than the average white man, and speaking English perfectly.
In company with a sailor, he lately made what was probably the most
daring boat-trip ever attempted on earth--nothing less than a voyage
over Waimangu’s boiling basin, undertaken with the object of sounding
the depths of the geyser. The monster often erupts without the least
warning, sending the whole contents of its huge basin bodily skyward; so
that the feat was one likely to shake the strongest nerve. Warbrick took
a lead line with him, and noted the various depths of the crater basin.
In the centre, where the great throat of the geyser opens up, no bottom
could be found. The boat came safely to shore, after some minutes spent,
in performing one of the most perilous feats ever attempted, even by a

Visitors generally stay at the Government accommodation house near the
geyser for a day or two, on the chance of seeing a good “shot,” and they
seldom go away unrewarded. It is well worth while to cut short one’s
stay in some other place by a couple of days, to have a chance of seeing
the world’s greatest thermal wonder in full action, for Waimangu, when
playing, is the sight of a lifetime. I was not fortunate enough to see
the geyser in action, as it was undergoing a period of “sulks” at the
time of my visit; but if it had been playing as it played some weeks
after I left, nothing would have tempted me away from its neighbourhood
until I had seen an eruption.

One, of the great charms of the geyser country about Rotorua is its
absolute unlikeness to anything that can be found on the other side of
the Line. To the much-travelled wanderer, nearly all famous show-places,
after a time, display a distressing similarity. The two or three leading
types of peasant to be found on the Continent of Europe, grow familiar
by-and-by. Giuseppe of Italy is not very novel to the traveller who
still remembers Ignacio of Spain; German Wilhelm recalls Dutch
Jan; Belgian Françoise is sister to French Mathilde. As for the
“sights”--well, one waterfall is very like another, and lakes and ruined
castles pall, taken in bulk. Even if the traveller wanders further
away, he does not find much in Egypt, India, or Japan, that has not been
greatly spoiled for him beforehand, by the countless descriptions he
has heard and read ever since childhood. It seems almost as though the
illimitable flood of sight-seers, past and present, rushing through all
the famous beauty-spots of the old world, had washed away something of
their charm--as if the air about such places were drained dry of the
ozone of fresh delight which every lovely and wonderful spot should
give, leaving only an atmosphere of feeling that is stale and used-up in
the last degree.

New Zealand’s “sights,” however, are (to vary the metaphor) new gems in
a new setting. Not even the most experienced traveller can look on the
wonders of the thermal region with an eye dulled and indifferent by
other experiences, since there is hardly anything similar the whole
world over. And the setting of the gems---the strange, unfamiliar
country, oddly reversed seasons, and wild brown Maori folk, taking the
place of European peasantry, is perhaps the greatest charm of all.

For myself, the carefully revived native dances of the Maories,
performed for money, in civilised concert halls the “haka” or war
dance, done by children on the roads for pennies, and the modern native
carvings, done with English tools, which are all among the most striking
features of daily life in Rotorua, were not the real attractions of the
place. Those lay in the common features of ordinary Maori existence,
seen here, there, and everywhere, without pose or preparation. When one
strolls out along the country roads near the town, it is an adventure to
meet a party of wild-eyed, brown-faced men and women, galloping madly up
and down hill on their rough “brumbies” (wild-horses, broken in)--both
sexes alike wrapped in heavy blankets, and sitting astride. Wandering
about on a bicycle, it pleasantly increases the “go-abroady” feeling
that most travellers welcome, to coma upon a woman taking a fat fowl out
of the steam-hole cooker, that Nature has provided just at the door
of her thatch-roofed, reed-built “warry,” and to stop and talk for an
interesting quarter of an hour with a barefooted, half-clad savage, who
speaks English as good as one’s own, reads the daily papers and has his
opinions on Mr. Seddon’s fiscal policy. The Maori guides and hangers on,
about the best-known sights, are naturally more or less spoiled by the
visitors. But the real Maori, of whom one gets an occasional sight, even
about such a civilised town as Rotorua, is attractive enough to make
one fully understand the strong regard that most New Zealanders have
for their native friends. Dignity, pride, and the manners of an exiled
royalty are his natural heritage. His mind is as keen as the white,
man’s, though perhaps somewhat narrower in scope; he has a vivid sense
of humour, strong feelings about honour and faithfulness, the courage of
a bull-dog, and the reckless daring of an Irish dragoon. Worth knowing,
and well worth liking when known, are the brown men and women of North
New Zealand.

The little village of Ohinemutu, less than a mile from Rotorua, is
astonishingly Maori still, in spite of the development of the district
for tourist travel. Go down towards the shores of the lake at the back
of the big hotel, and you step at once into a native “pah,” built in the
haphazard fashion peculiar to Maori settlements. There are no streets,
and no definite beginnings or endings. The houses face every way, and
are of many fashions; here a reed-built warry, there a house with a
front splendidly carved and painted in old native fashion, further on
a wooden dwelling about as large as a bathing-box, with a full-sized
bay-window fastened on to it. Most are wooden huts with iron roofs--a
compromise between native and European styles.

Everywhere one goes, there are steaming pools with newly washed clothes
drying on the edge, or small brown bodies happily disporting themselves
in the water. Cooking-boxes are erected over countless steam-holes;
and every here and there, one meets a tall brown man or woman, looking
extremely clean and damp, and wrapped in a big coloured blanket and
nothing else, stalking house-wards from a refreshing bath. Try to take
a photograph, and if the Maori is accustomed to tourists, he will ask a
shilling for the labour of posing; but if he has recently come down from
the wilds, and is still unspoiled, he will reject an offer of coin with
quiet dignity. Taken as nature made him, the Maori is not greedy of
money. It is only a very few months since the Maories of the King
country (a wild, half-claimed district in the “back blocks”) have
allowed gold prospectors to pass through their lands. Until recently
they admitted tourists and sportsmen freely, but refused to allow any
one to look for gold, giving as a reason their belief, that the finding
of gold did no country any good.

Whakarewarewa, a couple of miles outside the town of Rotorua, has a very
interesting model of a typical Maori fortified “pah,” lately completed
by the Government. The large space of grass enclosed by the fort is
guarded by high earth breastworks and a deep ditch. Beyond the ditch is
an open wooden paling, apparently more for ornament than use, on which
are placed at intervals carved wooden figures of a threatening and
terrifying character. All of them are native work, but of modern date.

The geysers of Whakarewarewa are many and famous. The most famous of all
was the great twin geyser Waikite, whose double throat opens at the top
of a high terraced cone, built up of siliceous sinter, deposited by
the geyser water during long ages of action. Waikite has ceased to play
since 1886, when the railway from Auckland to Rotorua was completed. On
the day when the line was opened for traffic, the geyser ceased playing,
and its fountains have never ascended since.

Wairoa (Maori, “Long Water”) is now the lion of Whakarewarewa. It
plays very seldom of its own accord, but on special occasions the local
authorities permit it to be dosed with soap, which always produces an
eruption. A geyser constantly physicked in this manner often gives up
playing altogether in the end; so careful restrictions hedge round
the operation, in the case of Wairoa. It is first necessary to procure
consent from the Government Tourist Department in Wellington, and then
to arrange a day and give notice to the town. The Government authorities
in Wellington were kind enough to send an order to Rotorua to have
Wairoa soaped for me during my stay; and I took advantage of the
opportunity to enjoy the novel sensation of starting the geyser myself.

On a Sunday afternoon of December 1904, all Rotorua assembled in a black
crowd at “Whaka” to see Wairoa play. Rows of cameras were placed upon
the hillocks commanding the spot; bets were freely made about the height
and quality of the coming performance, and every one scuffled politely
for a front place when the ceremony began. The caretaker of the grounds
and the head guide solemnly removed the wooden cover (pierced to allow
the escape of steam) which is padlocked over the geyser’s stony lips,
and handed me a bag containing three bars of soap, cut up into small
pieces. I stood on the edge of the geyser-mouth, looking down a great
black well full of steam, and rumbling with deep, groaning murmurs from
below, until the guide gave the word, and then emptied the bag down
Wairoa’s throat.

[Illustration: 501]

Almost immediately, white lather began to form in the depths of the
well, and rose rapidly to the verge. The guide now ordered me away from
the geyser; for, although Wairoa generally takes some minutes to play
after being soaped, one can never be absolutely certain that it will
not respond with inconvenient swiftness. I went back to a neighbouring
hillock from which an excellent view could be obtained, and waited with
the eager crowd. Every now and then a small rush of water lifted over
the geyser rim, and once or twice the fountain seemed about to start;
but it was not until seventeen minutes after I had put in the soap
that Wairoa choked, gurgled, and finally broke into a roar like a
ten thousand ton liner throwing off steam. In another instant, still
roaring, the geyser shot up silvery white water, dissolving at the top,
full 140 feet above ground, into a crest of delicate streamy feathers
all sparkling in the sun. The display lasted about a couple of minutes,
and then sank gradually away; but for long afterwards, Wairoa mumbled
and grumbled and frothed at the mouth, not settling down into quiet for
at least an hour.

Of Auckland--“last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart,” as Kipling
has called it--thus compelling all later travellers to see, or at least
pretend to see, exquisite loveliness in prosaic Queen Street, and go
a-hunting for poetic solitudes along the quays--I have nothing to say.
Great ports are all alike, the wide world over, and hotel is as like
unto hotel as pebble unto pebble. And when the story is done, why

I have set forth to tell something of Britain of the South Seas, and
such as it is, my say has been said.


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