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Title: A Vagabond's Odyssey - being further reminiscences of a wandering sailor-troubadour - in many lands
Author: Safroni-Middleton, Arnold
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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                          A VAGABOND’S ODYSSEY



------------------------------------------------------------------------



[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR]



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              A VAGABOND’S
                                ODYSSEY

               BEING FURTHER REMINISCENCES OF A WANDERING
                    SAILOR-TROUBADOUR IN MANY LANDS

                                   BY

                          A. SAFRONI-MIDDLETON

                               AUTHOR OF
                        “SAILOR AND BEACHCOMBER”

                                   ❦

                      _WITH SIXTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS
                           FROM PHOTOGRAPHS_

                                NEW YORK
                         DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
                                  1916


------------------------------------------------------------------------



        PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY THE RIVERSIDE PRESS LIMITED
                               EDINBURGH



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   TO

                     THE MEMORY OF MY DEAR COMRADE

                                  OMAR

                  WHOM I BURIED IN THE AUSTRALIAN BUSH

                          NORTHERN QUEENSLAND

                                ALSO TO

                          D. RAELTOA OF SAMOA

                    AND TO MY MEMORIES OF MELODY AND

                        MIRTH IN THE SOUTH SEAS



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                FOREWORD

           “The path to hell is paved with good intentions.”


LOOKING reflectively over this second instalment of my autobiography, I
perceive that I am such a genuine vagabond that I have even travelled
along in my reminiscences without caring for the material niceties of
recognised literary method; so I have gone back over the whole track and
tried earnestly to polish my efforts.

It seems quite unnecessary for vagabonds to wear (metaphorically
speaking) old trousers with fringed ends to the legs, penniless pockets,
dusty boots, an unshaven face and dirty collar, or to give vent to the
devil-may-care utterances and all the ungrammatical “politeness” of the
phraseology of the grog shanty and bush hotels, when they attempt to
live over again on paper the tale of their wandering life. I cannot
reform the world into a population of convivial beachcombers, nor would
I if I could, out of consideration for future vagabonds, who naturally
want the outer spaces of the world for their special province. Neither
can I make you believe I could have done better in a literary sense if I
had taken more trouble with my book. But I can to some extent reform
myself, and at least strive to compete with the literary aristocrats on
the slopes of their own cultivated ground. I am sure they will make good
company if I succeed, and they will have been my best friends. Yes, I
half believe in jumping out of bed on a cold night to hold a candle to
the devil! I know that sometimes while you stand shivering you discover
that he’s really not such a bad fellow, and the candlelight is likely to
give you a glimpse of some faint resemblance in his wrinkled face, some
far-off expression of that beautiful old life that he lived ere he
sinned, became respectable and fell—banished from heaven.

Life is a terrible contradiction; we are dead because we are born alive.
Our very creed is based on the sad fact that the cemetery tablets record
the dates of the true beginning of life everlasting. The thundering city
is a necropolis wherein multitudes of wandering corpses breathe, with
inert souls and thoughts that are like night bats flitting through the
sepulchres of our death, with dead eyes and dead mouths that open to
cough and even sometimes laugh! My book of reminiscences is (to me at
least) like those silent, moss-grey tablets of immortality; but even
more wonderful and true (as far as I know), for, while I am dead, I can
see my long ago. I can lift the stone slab from the grave in the silent
night and gaze on the dead boy’s face, and in a way make the dead eyes
laugh and the voiceless mouth mutter and sing in a hollow voice old,
far-away songs of love, romance and its comrade, grief. Yes, you and I
can see such things. Oh, how ineffably sad to some of us!

You may wonder what all this has to do with the preface to a book of
reminiscences. It has a lot to do with the matter, because I am a born
vagabond, and the world is incorrigibly respectable!

There are about one hundred pages missing from this book—pages that
should have told of the inevitable details of stern existence: those
things that all men who are vagabonds experience, such as the
stomach-rumbles of hunger, monstrous hopes and misgivings, hospitals and
illnesses, and cold nights sleeping out under the coco-palms and
gum-trees when the wind suddenly shifts to a shivering quarter. Evil
thoughts, heartaches, the tenderest wishes, passionate drums, longings,
and memories in the night of a woman’s eyes, the fall before great
temptation, atheistical thoughts, curses and religious remorses you will
look for in vain. For, after all, I am not brave enough to tell the
truth! I might have done so if I had had the friendly, courageous
publisher who would not cut them out of the original manuscript. But
where is the publisher who would let me hide behind his influential bulk
as he risked all and published the truth? Yes, those things which would
make the reader recognise the truth by his own responsive thrills.

Well, I will risk my reputation on the opinions of those critics who
will be able to read the hundred pages I have left out. For real
scallawags do not always leave the worst out only. Moreover, I may be
lucky enough to find sympathy, for even critics are sometimes at heart
genuine vagabonds, and they may realise that I have turned into the
light of other days, the stars, the blue tropical skies, moonlit seas by
coral reefs and palm-clad isles, and into the heart of intense dreams,
to paint faithfully all that I tell.

Before my North American experiences, which I have recorded in the
opening chapters of this book, I had shipped before the mast of a
sailing ship, the _S——p_, at Sydney, N.S.W., intending to go with her
round the Horn, and so home to England. But, being unable to tolerate
the bullying chief mate and the offal-flavoured fo’c’sle food, I left
the boat at ’Frisco and again shipped on an American tramp that was
chartered for trading purposes to go cruising in the South Seas, where
once more I had many ups and downs, and settled for a few months in the
Fiji group and elsewhere. My reminiscences, and many of the incidents of
that time, I have told in the second part of the present volume, which
opens with “The Charity Organization of the South Seas.”

My South Sea Island legends and fairy tales have never been told
elsewhere. I have written them as nearly as possible in the manner in
which they were told me by the Samoan children and natives who were my
friends. The mythology of the South Seas is unfortunately becoming
almost completely forgotten by the natives, who now live under such
different conditions, and seem only interested in the creeds, legends
and mythology of the Western world.

These experiences of mine are written from memory, and I have as nearly
as possible kept them in the order that I lived them; and if they seem
far-flung for one as young as I was, let me assure you that hundreds of
English boys have had my experiences and could tell this tale.

I am from a family of rovers. My uncles were travellers and explorers.
My brothers out of the spirit of adventure all went to sea, and achieved
success on sea and land through perseverance. My grandfather in his
boyhood went to sea. (I believe he was born at sea. His mother was a
lady of the Italian Court, noted for her beauty and an accomplished
musician.) He was a direct descendant of Charles, the second Earl of
Middleton, whose estates were eventually confiscated by creditors—an
evil destiny that has survived right down to the present, it having
cropped up in the author’s own affairs.

I hope to follow this volume with another one, wherein I shall tell of
my life when I settled for a while among civilised peoples and became
respectable, and my serious troubles commenced.

I have to thank Messrs Boosey & Company, of London, for permission to
use certain extracts from my military band Entr’actes, Marches, etc.,
which they have published.

                                                                A. S.-M.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


         CHAPTER                                           PAGE
             I. IN BOSTON                                   17

            II. UNITED STATES MILITARY MUSIC                23

            II. I TRAVEL AND SELL BUG POWDER                27

            IV. MY BROTHER’S RETURN                         35

             V. HOME                                        45

            VI. CHANGES IN SAMOA                            55

           VII. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON                      69

          VIII. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AND HIS FRIENDS      83

            IX. HONOLULU                                    96

             X. AN INLAND MARCH                            110

            XI. AT SEA                                     130

           XII. CIRCULAR QUAY                              140

          XIII. MATENE-TE-NGA                              155

           XIV. MEMORIES AND REFLECTION                    173

            XV. THE LECTURER                               182

           XVI. HOMESICK                                   191

          XVII. A NEGRO VIOLINIST                          213

         XVIII. MY MANY PROFESSIONS                        220

           XIX. YOKOHAMA                                   230

            XX. BOMBAY                                     241

           XXI. AT SEA IN DREAMS                           249

          XXII. I ARRIVE AT THE ORGANIZATION               261

         XXIII. FATHER ANSTER                              276

          XXIV. BACK AT THE CHARITY ORGANIZATION           289

           XXV. AT NUKA HIVA                               305

          XXVI. A DECK-HAND ON BOARD THE “ELDORADO”        311

         XXVII. MY ENGLAND                                 325


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


             Portrait of the Author                   _Frontispiece_

             Hongis Track, Rotorua, N.Z.                 58

             Whangarei Falls, North Auckland, N.Z.       70

             Wanganui River, N.Z.                        92

             A River Wharf, West Africa                 118

             Kawieri, N.Z.                              142

             Whakarewarewa, Rotorua, N.Z.               148

             Old Maori, said to be 105 years old        152

             Half-Caste Maori Girls                     160

             Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island, N.Z.       176

             Settler’s Home, Gold Coast                 194

             The First Motor-Car in a Gold Coast        204
               Village

             River Scene, West Africa                   216

             Botanical Gardens, Ballarat                238

             River Scene in New Zealand                 246

             Dart Valley, Lake Wakatipu, N.Z.           272


_The New Zealand photographs are by Mr F. G. Radclife, Whangarei, New
Zealand._


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER I

In Boston—Song-composing—Looking for a Publisher—How I secured him—I
   visit Providence—I play in the Military Band—Hard up


IN those old days of my youth an atmosphere of romance gathered from old
novels and dreams still sparkled in my head. I am going to tell of the
adventures that followed directly on my boyhood, when before the mast I
had crossed the seas with eyes athirst for romance, looking for the
wonderful, the beautiful in distant lands, in men and in women, and for
that opportunity to perform those mighty, world-thrilling deeds that,
alas, I have not even yet performed!

After much wandering in search of wealth and fame, following desperate
trouble owing to schemes that failed in Australia and the South Sea
Islands, I at length caught typhoid fever in San Francisco. With many
misgivings I recovered. At last I found myself sitting in a top attic in
North America. It was a humble little room, the atmosphere and
surroundings the very thing to feed the fire of my aspiring mind, to
force one to do better. Its one window-pane was broken; the furniture
consisted of an old table, a box chair, a candlestick and my
extemporised bed on the floor! I was in Boston, “the Hub of the
Universe”! My sea-chest and best suit were in pawn in San Francisco. My
money had almost all gone, and my latest grand passion had faded. I had
been practising the violin furiously day and night, for I hoped to
become the world’s greatest violinist. Yet at heart I still felt
triumphant. The world seemed especially mine! One thing only existence
lacked—a kindred spirit to stand shoulder to shoulder by my side on some
quest for glorious violence, adventurous thrills, voyaging across the
uncharted seas of imagination. O too brief, splendid madness of youth!

Far below, outside my window, over the city’s stone-slabbed streets,
rattled vehicles, and the hurried, endless battalions of Yankee citizens
passed by, seeking fortune or the grave. Gold seemed the incentive to
all thrills; human passion, hope and ambition seemed congealed into a
mechanical state of steam, electric locomotion, and all that the
almighty silver dollars would clink against. I also seemed to have
frozen and become a part of the machine which is called civilisation.
The songs of sails aloft, the noise of forest winds and soundings across
deep waters, had faded from my dreams into a wail of selfishness.
Imagination is the soul of the Universe, and grief is its Bible; but,
alas, I felt a gross craving for food.

So my ambition to outrival Paganini on the violin had subsided from its
state of enthusiastic fire and had left in my heart a dull callousness.
One intense wish survived: to get a sound pair of boots and a new suit!
Winter snows were only just melting, and much privation had considerably
thinned me. I had done many things which I feel remain best untold.
Necessity had inspired me with many original and desperate schemes, the
latest of which was a determination to compose songs. Music hall hits
come, have their day, are whistled and sung by the élite and by the
street-arab, and suddenly I thought, why should not I supply the public
with those rotten melodies? I would do it on original lines and give the
American public something new. Did they not hail as brand-new old
melodies that Wellington’s soldiers sung at Waterloo and antiquated
strains brought over by the passengers of the _Mayflower_ with one bar
reversed and the title altered.

I would jump from my bed at night and, throwing off my “blanket,” which
consisted of half-a-dozen old overcoats which my landlady had lent me,
write down inspired strains and next day put them to suitable words,
words with those sentimental and lascivious suggestions in them that
suit the public taste—for the artist in me had sorrowed and become
temporarily gross. I sought money more than the applause of musical
critics. Boston publishers became familiar with my handwriting. I had
about fifty rejected manuscripts with specially printed forms, notices
that offered me “their appreciation of my favours, and the editor’s
sincere compliments, and by the same post with many regrets they were
returning the MSS.” At length I thought my name was getting too well
known: I was obliged to seek a _nom de plume_. With characteristic
family cautiousness I hit on a name that was already famous in New York
musical circles. My youthful innocence had almost passed, and I vaguely
felt that to compete with the world I must deliberately stain myself
with its contagion. Often my heart bristled with schemes as
multitudinous as quills on a hedgehog’s hide.

I had composed an attractive melody and had placed suitable words to it,
but, notwithstanding my famous _nom de plume_, “Muller,” I had had my
manuscripts returned, torn in the post, the editor’s marks indelibly
damaging it, and too often a dark stain across the first page that
looked suspiciously like editorial tobacco juice.

Things began to look serious. I became, if possible, even thinner. My
landlady’s politeness became gross; she thumped the door for rent. I was
starving and only had a cake of common yellow soap. With the superhuman
energy and pluck of aspiring youth I tried again, imitated the latest
hit and sent the manuscript to “D—— & Co.,” of Boston, a small
publishing firm in a side street off 6th Avenue. I signed it with my
_nom de plume_; the initials differed by one letter from those of the
original owner—I thought this necessary to save legal trouble.

I waited three days. The post brought me no letter, so I wrote to the
publisher and said:

    “DEAR SIRS,—I am an Englishman on tour, and a member of the Carl
    Rosa Opera Company’s orchestra. I may have to leave Boston at
    any moment, so, much against my wish, I must worry you for
    speedy consideration of my manuscript song, _Dreams of
    Eldorado_, which I can get publicly performed in London town
    when I arrive back.”

Two days later, to my great delight, I received a letter asking me to
call on D—— & Co. _re_ my manuscript. The very thought of my song
reaching engraving and print thrilled me; that I should be published in
America at another man’s expense seemed impossible! A Vanderbilt-like
feeling pervaded my being. I pawned my violin, paid my landlady a week’s
rent and gave the little blue-eyed daughter twenty-five cents to buy
sweets with. I could have sung with joy. Next morning at ten-thirty I
was to be at the publisher’s office. By night the reaction set in. I
became suspicious. Suppose it was all a ruse! For had I not borrowed a
famous name? A thousand thoughts haunted me; my musical ability seemed
nil. I had no talent. I hummed my melodies over; they seemed
ridiculously tuneless. There was no doubt about it: the Boston
publishers had seen through my scheme, had held a solemn council, and
most probably would be waiting in that office to pounce upon me and
charge me with my duplicity, and then God knows what they might do. On
the floor all night the old overcoats moved and moved as I restlessly
turned in my bed. I was numbed with awful suspicions and possible
contingencies. I rose haggard and wretched, and against all my usual
instincts sought a saloon and drank twenty-five cents’ worth of rum.
With renewed courage I prepared to risk all. At ten o’clock I walked
past a brass-plated door with D—— & Co. on it. Three times I passed it
and then, walking crabwise, I went in. A little man with a skull-cap on
got up and welcomed me. I hurriedly glanced round; the ambushed
publishers of my imagination faded as the girl typewriter yawned and
clicked away. My erstwhile gloom blossomed to monstrous hopes.
Negotiations commenced. “What did I usually ask for my work?” he
demanded. I blushed and hastily wiped my nose. “Will fifty dollars do?”
I answered. I eventually got five dollars for the song as a preliminary
payment on royalties to come. Such royalties! One cent on each copy sold
after the first ten thousand advertisement copies had been given away
and the second one thousand had repaid the actual expenses of the
publication and engraving. Afterwards, too, I found out that to engrave
a song of four plates cost the publisher five dollars. I trembled as I
clutched the green five-dollar bill. “Will he alter his mind?” was my
chief thought. “Does he think I am the great Muller?” The publisher
broke in on my thoughts. “Place your name there,” he said, and I signed
the imposing agreement, four times the length of my manuscript song.

Readjusting his skull-cap and wiping his spectacles, he began to examine
my signature. The weather was cold, but I started to perspire. Was he
comparing my signature with Muller’s? It was an awful thought, and with
a sickly farewell I bolted!

Hurrying down the main street, I longed to get out of sight with the
dollars, but I heard a shout behind me; my assumed name was loudly
called: I turned; my heart sank. I nearly fainted: the publisher was
running after me. I clutched my money, determined to resist. The new
greatness thrust upon me by the sale of my song still remained with me.
I could not humiliate my pride and run, though I longed to do so. With
his little skull-cap askew, he stood puffing in front of me! I gave one
glance to warn him not to get too near my person, and heard him saying:
“Oh, excuse me, Mr Muller, I suppose you will be in Boston long enough
to correct the proof?”

In a dream I reached my room, packed up my brush and comb, got my violin
out of pawn and left Boston for Providence, where my brother lived, who
had left England years before. To my great regret I found, when I
arrived, that he was away in California. No one seemed to know when he
would return. I could not force my way into his bachelor rooms, and so I
was once more on the rocks.

I became acquainted with a young Swede who was musical and played the
clarionet. Together we fixed up a small orchestra, went out to play at
dances and so just managed to exist. We hired a large room in a hall
near the Hoyle Buildings in Westminster Street; made our own furniture
out of meat tubs and our beds of old overcoats. My violin, with coats
doubled on it, made an excellent pillow. With our heads side by side on
it we slept as soundly as though we were in the Australian bush. I spent
hours each day, and sometimes worked far into the night, practising my
violin and reading the lives of great musicians and writers.

My brother, a crack violinist and a well-known journalist in the States,
did not return for four or five months, and in the meantime our
orchestra failed. My friend and I lived for a time on the free lunches
of the grog saloons. North American saloon owners do not allow their
customers to starve while they supply them with alcoholic poison, which
is, however, fifty per cent. better than English spirit. For Americans
are both humane and practical. They know that dead men do not buy rum,
so the bars at luncheon hours steam with hot Frankforts, plates of cold
meat, cheese and biscuits, provided without any charge to their
customers. The honesty of Providence is illustrated by one fact alone—if
you buy ten cents’ worth of whisky they hand you a glass and the bottle,
that you may help yourself. In London, Australia and the South Seas the
grog-keeper would be ruined in a week if he ran his business on those
lines! You seldom see a woman in a grog saloon, and never drunk in the
streets.

Eventually I secured several jobs at concert halls. The pay was small,
but, though other work was to be had, my temperament strongly objected
to anything that needed muscular power. To tell the truth, I was
ambitious. I longed to raise myself out of the ordinary ruck of things.
However, when my Swedish friend got a job out at Pawtucket, digging
post-holes, the high wages tempted me and I too started work there.
Together we toiled for three weeks. Then once more I started composing,
and had several pieces of dance music accepted in my own name. I
arranged them as pianoforte solos, and one or two for the violin and
piano.

When the weather got warm I sometimes went out to Fort Hill, on the
Seekonk river. The prairie-land of Rhode Island survives in variegated
patches of miles of beautiful scenery, with rushing rivers, and
landscapes dotted by wooden homesteads that remind one of New Zealand
and the Australian bush-land.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER II

United States Military Music—The Roger Williams Park—Indians—Rhode
   Island Scenery and Amusements—Yankees—Experiences—A Miner from
   California


IN Providence I made friends with a military band conductor. He was a
jolly customer, hard up but good-natured and humorous, a real American
bandmaster of the old convivial school, kind at heart and fond of good
whisky. His greatest virtue was a commonplace one: he would always pay
you back anything he borrowed, but unfortunately he was hard up and
could not do so. He had every excuse for this, for, as elsewhere,
bandsmen, indeed musicians in general, were supposed to be able to live
on melody and royalties that might arrive in some remote future. I
worked for him, borrowed my comrade’s clarionet and secured a position
in the military band. It played in Roger Williams Park, performing on
the usual holidays and on sunshiny evenings.

American conductors believe in vigour and fire when they perform, and
sacrifice artistic pianissimo to force and go: on the march the bands
lift you off your feet through the lilt of the music. The characteristic
go-ahead of the Yankees is finely illustrated by the music they perform,
and the military bands swing the population along as they march down the
streets: men, women and children instinctively fall into line. A
Pied-Piper-of-Hamelin fever seizes hold of the citizens; the whole
population is suddenly on the march as the band goes by. I played in the
band on the Fourth of July, a day celebrated by fireworks and
gun-firing. Americans go mad on that date, wear masks and do other
hideous things; it’s a kind of Guy Fawkes celebration.

The Roger Williams Park is partly wild and partly cultivated, and
artistically laid out with gardens and miniature landscapes that in
summer-time are a paradise of flowers. Various kinds of tropical-looking
trees abound, in scattered clumps that are haunted at sunset with
bright, roving eyes: for springing from bough to bough jump swarms of
big, wild, grey squirrels; their brush tails, a foot long, stick up as
they jump. The children are their boon companions, and come miles with
lumps of cake and bread to feed their tiny, soft playmates; for they are
as tame as white mice, spring down from bough to bough and sneak a
peanut off your hand, turn, brush your face with their tails and are
gone! In a second they are sitting on a skyward twig nibbling away at
your gift, safe against the blue sky. I found a nest of them at
Pawtucket Falls, a wild, beautiful spot near Rhodes. As I was looking at
the fluffy youngsters the mother arrived and, to my astonishment, chased
me away.

At Pawtucket Falls, too, I met a group of travelling Indians, menagerie
people I think, _en route_ for somewhere. Fenimore Cooper and other
Indian tales still interested me, so I talked to them and spoke to “Bull
Face,” a grave-looking chief, tawny and wrinkled with years, and clothed
in a heavy brown blanket which swarmed with fleas. He spoke English as
well as I did; but the South Sea Island breeds are far removed from the
Indian tribes, both by blood and habit. I never sought his tribe again.
I also saw Indians camping at Ochee Springs; real Indians they were,
with squaws attending to their wants as they blinked their eyes and
gazed scornfully on the onlookers. Smoking their calamets, dressed in
tribal fashion, they inspired me with curiosity. I cannot say that the
women were as handsome as I expected, for they had stolid, broad,
reddish-brown faces and expectorated frequently as they sucked clay
pipes. A pretty little papoose tugged at its mother’s breast, and did
not look unlike a South Sea Island baby, excepting that its forehead was
high and receding, and it had an impertinent European look. The women
carry their suckling babes in a basket on their back: when the babe
finishes pulling at the breast it crawls into the basket behind and goes
to sleep until the next meal. I saw the papooses of another tribe too;
the children looked like little wrinkled old men, and you might have
thought that they were small authors sitting on their bundles of
unaccepted manuscript, so worried did they look.

Providence is a spacious city; English towns are in the shade compared
to it, and seem overcrowded and gloomy. The streets are wide; terraced
store buildings on each side tower to the skies. Piazzas shade the
pavements and the citizens from scorching sunlight and rain. America has
built her cities on the improved plans of the Old World, and so has an
advantage over London and our provincial towns. Room to breathe in is
the natural birthright of America. Extensive parks, rushing rivers, and
relics of primeval scenery surround the city, and divide the suburbs for
miles and miles.

No sign of poverty is betrayed by the well-dressed crowds that chatter
cheerfully up and down the main streets; street-arabs are unknown. A
Mile End woman of London town in rags, with bruised nose and eyes,
walking down the street would create a sensation in Providence, and
their weekly papers would devote an article to the distressing incident.

Brilliantly lit saloons shine in the evening streets, and regiments of
laughing youths and girls hurry to the various depots, bound for the
ferry-boats on moonlight trips down the rivers. The bars are closed on
Sunday, but men trust men, and more sly rum is drunk on Sunday than
weekdays. Niggers with ebony faces mingle with the white population,
wearing white collars which support their ears: a shabby nigger has
never been seen in Providence. If you shoot a nigger and do not kill him
you are in danger of getting six months in the State prison for wasting
shot and powder!

Many of the characters you meet in American cities remind you of
Englishmen, but you can never really forget that you are in America. No
true Yankee with self-respect allows you to quash his opinion. Nothing
on earth can beat Providence, Boston, or any state you happen to be in.
They will argue for ever; and if you at length say anything that has
indisputable conviction in it, a true Yankee will squirt a stream of
tobacco juice with the deliberate intention of not missing you.

Things of this kind worry you for a while, but you soon fall into their
ways, and if you are smart can outrival them on their own ground; but
you have got to be smart. To tell the truth, Americans have good reason
to be proud of their states, and really have plenty to blow about.

Literary critics have hinted that Bret Harte discovered his characters
in his own imagination. I can on oath dispute that fact. Grim Mr Billy
Goat Whiskers, who fought in the North and South wars, draws his
munificent pension, chews tobacco and dwells in Providence to-day. You
do not meet him everywhere, but he is to be met.

In the grog saloons old miners from California told me their
experiences, drew from their pockets photographs of gold nuggets and of
gold claims that revealed small white dots in the far background—the
tombstones of men who had thwarted them! They were innocent-looking
enough, these men scarred with wounds, tropic heat and bad rum. They
followed the various occupations that suited aged heroes. One old miner
from Alaska suddenly arrived in Providence quite penniless. His name was
Cargo. Walking down Z—— Street, he spied the name of Cargo over a
sign-writer’s shop, walked straight in, spat on the floor, called the
“boss,” and tried to make him believe he was the ancestor of the family
of Cargo, and the rightful owner of the business. He was immovable. They
expostulated with him; he would not go, so they gave him a job and thus
saved legal proceedings in the High Courts of the state, and the expense
of regiments of lawyers who would dispute the true owner’s claim to his
business.

Providence is full of reminiscent men who tell of adventures that are
wide and wonderful.

If you are disinclined to go to the theatre you can always go into a bar
and in peace and comfort sit within earshot of some grog-nosed hero of
the old school, and find subject matter to outrival the romance of
fiction. You must take good care not to let the old fellow know you are
listening, otherwise he leaves facts alone and, with ill-concealed
pride, makes your blood congeal with vivid descriptions of old days,
murder and despair, or your mouth water for a breath of the fortunes
that knocked around ere you were born.


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                              CHAPTER III

I travel and sell Bug Powder—Seeking my Wages—Pork and
   Beans—Reminiscences of Sarasate—I strive to outrival
   Paganini—Practising the Violin—I am presented with a Round Robin—My
   Blasted Ambitions


AS the hot months came round my money gave out. Work was plentiful in
the numerous factories that throb and thunder with machinery in
Providence, but such work was not congenial to my temperament, and would
ruin my fingers for violin-playing, as the post-digging job did.
Nevertheless I should have availed myself of the opportunity had no
alternative appealed to me. But my friend the conductor was a crank who
was always producing some new scheme or invention that would assist him
financially and augment his moderate musician’s salary.

One night he came to my diggings beaming with enthusiasm over a plan to
make us both rich. He had invented a new bug powder: our fortunes were
made; all we had to do was to let the Providence public know the
catastrophe that we had ready for these insects. Suburban houses in the
States are generally made of wood that is specially suitable for the bug
state. So the population of Rhode Island all have one secret; and on
dark nights in hot weather candle gleams and shadowy figures can be seen
dodging on the windows of the tenements, as restless folk in their
nightshirts smash bugs on the wooden walls. I write from experience.
They creep down the walls in regiments, and while you sleep eat your
eyelids; if you wink they seek crevices, dart into your ears, and
prepare for the next attack! Closing your toes together swiftly at night
in bed, you can be sure that you have squashed three or four American
bugs. I have carelessly glanced at skeletons which I thought were
ancient dead bugs on the walls in the room of my new lodgings, and then
at midnight I have lit the candle, and down the walls were marching
battalions of old bug-skins! They had smelt me, and the regiments on the
frontier of my bedstead were already full blown with my blood.

So it is obvious that a good insect powder would be a blessing in
Providence.

Well, my Swedish friend and I threw our musical instruments aside, and
started on the bug powder business, full of hope. I had several musical
compositions that I was ambitious to publish on my own account. I felt
that Providence bugs had presented the tide in my affairs which I should
take at the flood.

With our pockets stuffed with a thousand bills, advertisements bearing
testimonials from American presidents and English royalties who had
stayed in America, my comrade and I tramped along with our hearts
singing the excelsior song of happiness. We really lived in a paradise
of ignorance and youth. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
is a true phrase, and happy, though selling bug powder, was equally true
of us.

We marched, singing, on the dusty, white track to Narragansett. In the
suburban gardens that led to the front doors grew gorgeous flowers. I
can still dream that I smell their fragrance, and see the dancing
blossoms in the brilliant sunshine. Strange things darted over us,
hovered near the blooms and moaned like big humble bees. They were
humming-birds, glittering and flashing their vivid colours, outrivalling
the flowers with their brilliant feathery garment. The sky was blue as a
girl’s eyes, and nearly as beautiful. We delivered the thousand bills
and spent the rest of the day by a river. Wild fowl swam across it, and
fresh from the eggs, with frightened eyes gleaming, the little ones
paddled behind them. For miles the country was strewn with trees and
houses, many of them made of wood, and at these especially we left three
or four bills and at length disposed of the lot.

When we called on my friend the conductor for a first instalment of
twenty dollars for our services we found him out, but after several
visits we caught him. He was pleased to hear that we had worked a full
week and left five thousand advertisements, but he put off the payment
of our wages and borrowed my last five dollars! We haunted him for days;
he was seldom home. My comrade and I sweated for miles and miles,
seeking him at his various musical engagements; but the man seemed
gifted with second sight, for as we knocked at the front entrance he
hurried off from the back and vanished. The bug business failed and he
moved. Still we demanded our wages by post; for he had left no address,
and we hoped that the postal authorities would forward our pleading
request. At last we found him. The sound of martial music came down D——
Street: a military band was leading a funeral procession, of some old
soldier I suppose. There at the head of the band he blew solo cornet. We
dared not approach him, but in our excitement we waved our hands. He
winked in a friendly way as he passed on, and the strains of Chopin’s
_Funeral March_ faded with our hopes.

Eventually we caught him in a cul-de-sac, got ten dollars out of him and
lived on pork and beans for a fortnight. Providence would be indeed
stricken without pork and beans. As a rule they are not cooked, or
rather baked, at home, but bought in jars, hot from the baker’s oven,
ten and twenty-five cents a jar. Crime is scarce in Providence, capital
punishment abolished. If a citizen sat down to his meal and discovered
no pork and beans, and slew the waiter, he would get off on extenuating
circumstances. Well, to revert to the bug powder business, like all my
commercial enterprises, it ceased on my receiving the ten dollars, and
my employer the bandmaster told me, when I met him a month after, that I
had made five dollars more out of the enterprise than he did.

This brings me to another friend, a Sioux Indian, who was married and
lived in the next rooms to my own. His wife, a white woman, took in
washing and kept him. I used to sit in the evening and listen to his
opinion of the States. His whole soul hated the Yankees. I once praised
the Americans and their cities. He was down on me in a flash. “I am the
true American,” he growled, “and the day will come when we shall get our
country back.” I did not argue the point with him; his old wife kept
him, and he showed base ingratitude by his opinions. He was educated and
well dressed, and revealed to me, by all his conversation, the same kind
of spite for the foreigner that I had noticed in the South Seas.
Notwithstanding that the States had been peopled by whites so long,
still the Yankee was an interloper and the robber of his country. He was
not a bad old Indian, and was a friend to me during my stay at his
tenement.

Just before I took his rooms I went to Boston to hear H——, a celebrated
violinist who was performing there; I was anxious to hear if he was as
wonderful as the review notices made him. I do not think I have ever
heard such fine playing equalled even. He played Mendelssohn’s concerto,
and swayed the legato strain out till it sang like a rivulet of silver
song as the deeper notes mellowed to a golden strain as perfect in
quality as the sunset lyre-bird of Australia. I have heard Sarasate,
Ysaye, Joachim and many others, but no one with a better tone and
intonation, except Sarasate, who played like some inspired magician off
the concert stage. I heard him play at his villa in Biarritz, where I
had the pleasure of receiving a gratuitous lesson from the celebrated
_maestro_. “No, like this,” he said, as I played one of his own
compositions: then he lifted his violin to his chin, and looked out of
the villa’s latticed window as he played and rippled out a sparkling
chain of diamond-pure notes and then literally swooned into the adagio.

I never had the courage to play that particular piece after.

After hearing that violin virtuoso at Boston I became enthusiastic and
returned to Providence. The fever was on me. Again I determined to be
the world’s greatest violinist! I almost wept at my wasted life on sea
and shore. What might I not have been now, thought I, had I been
practising the violin all those thousands of days instead of making
sailors and South Sea Island savages my comrades? I went to the music
stores and purchased the American editions of Petrie’s _Studies_, and
Paganini’s _Twenty-four Etudes-Caprices_.

In my room, over the old Indian’s, I commenced. At daybreak I jumped
each morning off my trestle bed and started practising. At first I
tackled the Caprice which is double-stopping throughout. In a week I had
got it off. I had long fingers, otherwise I should think it an
impossibility. All day I bowed away. My furniture consisted of a
music-stand, the _Etudes_, my bed and me! When I look back and think of
my wonderful perseverance, it seems almost incredible. True and
wonderful is the energy and happiness that aspiration brings to youth!
Day after day I worked away at the studies with almost demon-like fury.
Soon my chin had a great scab on it where the violin rested as I ground
out the double-stopping sweeps, arpeggios and staccatos. I became thin
and haggard-looking. I greedily devoured the lives of great violinists,
among them Paganini and Ole Bull; also, after long intervals, pork and
beans, as the old Indian below-stairs cooked them. He soon looked upon
me as a sad kind of madman. I would gulp down the beans, look at his old
grandfather clock and rush upstairs, then once more grind away,
determined to make up for lost years. I saw the mighty crowds at
concerts TO BE, applauding my wonderful playing! I was a new Paganini.
Ah! how I remember it all. Through excessive playing the corns on my
finger-tips became so hard that I could not feel the strings! My nervous
system was soon wrecked, and my brain became ethereal with dreams—music
was the all in all of life. People who did not play the violin were
insanely ignorant.

Inspired, I extemporised melodies as I bowed and toiled away during the
night hours: the day was not sufficient. The doors of the next tenement
would suddenly bang, and strange tappings sound on the walls. I opened
the window at midnight. I thought my double-stopping assuredly entranced
the neighbours. It was hot weather, their windows were open too. In my
imagination I thought I was playing to crowded houses. I heard the
applause. Do you think I exaggerate? Believe me, I could never write
down the depth, the magnificence, of those enthusiastic dreams. Only
those who have felt as I felt, and were once inspired with ambition as I
was inspired, will know exactly all that I felt, and all that I dreamed.

One day ten solemn-looking American citizens appeared outside the door
of the Indian’s tenement; they wanted to see me. My name was called. I
laid the violin down. I had no friends. Had my brother arrived? Strange
thoughts flitted through my brain. Had people come as a special convoy
to praise my extraordinarily fine playing? I opened the door and,
white-faced and tremulous, I stared at a grey-bearded, solemn-looking
old man who acted as spokesman. He presented me with a round robin.
Fierce faces were looking over his shoulders! Two or three hundred
signatures were there, the landlord’s signature looked the boldest! I
was either to stop playing the violin or give up the premises and move
at once. This was a terrible blow to me. I should lose a day’s practice
if I had to tramp about looking for another room. I hated the world. Men
were hard and mercenary. Only violinists and musicians had souls. I
looked at my violin; it was my dear, abused comrade, and I clung to its
reputation more than ever. No mother on earth ever leaned over her child
with thoughts that outdid the tenderness of mine as I leaned over my
tiny, responsive comrade, silent in its coffin-shaped bed. The dead
child of my musical aspirations it seemed to me, for they were gone, and
my mighty ambition lay a dead failure. Oh, you aspirants, you musicians
and poets of this world, all you who love art for art’s sake, for you,
and you alone, I write this. You will understand; you are my brothers. I
can wish you more success, but no greater happiness than the delirium,
the ecstatic joy that was mine when I sought to become the world’s
greatest violinist.

I became melancholy: my incessant practice and irregular meals had, for
the time being, destroyed my nerves. I thought of my schooldays and my
life at sea, and longed for my boyhood’s days in the Australian bush. I
remembered the kingly stockman and his wife, and the surrounding bush
loneliness; the leafy gum clumps and the parrots roosting in them; and
the hours when I sat on the dead log by the scented wattles in the
hollows and watched the fleets of cockatoos like tiny canoes fade away
in the sunset. I heard in dreams the laughter of the romping bush
children as I raced them down the scrub-covered slopes, and I longed for
those ambitionless days to come again.


                                MEMORIES

                I can still see the forest trees
                  All waving in the dusk,
                As scents drift on the wandering breeze,
                  From wattle-blooms and musk;
                And o’er the mountains far away
                  Where home the parrots flock,
                Roams through the sunset’s crimson ray
                  The drover with his stock.

                The old bush homestead by the sea
                  Still stands, the front door swings
                As on the tall, gaunt, dead gum-tree
                  The magpie sits and sings.
                There, by the door, the stockman sits
                  And smokes; as on her rug
                His pale wife sits just by and knits—
                  His beard three children tug!

                And as I stand and, dreaming, gaze,
                  The years have taken wing,
                And from my heart out of old days
                  Comes this sad song I sing.
                That garden where those children ran,
                  Raced me, laughed, screamed with joy,
                Is overgrown—and I, a man,
                  Have overgrown the boy.

                I know the redwood’s forest height
                  Of branches thrilled with words,
                All laden with God’s golden light—
                  Songs of soft, bright-winged birds—
                Has blazed to ash in homestead fires
                  Of cities o’er the plains;
                Of all those woods and sweet desires
                  This poem now remains.

                Sweet Ellen, curled hair and brown eyes,
                  I loved her pretty ways;
                And as I dream sad heart-mists rise
                  From those wild boyhood days.
                My love was half a passion then,
                  That pure love God earth gave—
                It comes in after years to men
                  For someone in a grave.

                Their shanty where I sweetly slept
                  And heard the night-birds’ screams—
                As thro’ the scrub the dingo crept—
                  Has rotted into dreams.
                Now thro’ the hills the echoes fly
                  Of hearts o’er shining rails—
                The night express fast thundering by
                  That brings the English mails!

                Yet often I go back again
                  To where the homestead stands;
                I gaze in eyes thro’ mists of pain
                  And clasp old shadow hands;
                Kiss Ellen, Bertha and Lurline:
                  Those pretty children three
                May some day read these lines of mine
                  And all remember me.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IV

My Brother’s Return—Scenery—Old Providence—Robert Louis Stevenson—New
   York—At Sea—The Change


IN August that year I at last received a letter from my brother, telling
me he had left California and would arrive in Providence in a few days.
I was delighted, for I was then completely on the rocks, having spent
all my earnings on buying a violin bow and a stock of music! My comrade
the Swede promised to come with me to meet my relative at the station.

The next day we stood on the platform together at eleven o’clock. The
telegram said 12.30 P.M., but we were young and eager. We rubbed our
hands with joyful anticipation as we stood there anxiously watching. Our
funds were low and my brother had performed a miracle—he was a poet and
journalist, and had made money out of his profession. When the train
steamed in and the saloon car door opened I recognised at a glance the
characteristic contour of the family face, though I had not seen my
brother since we were children. I rushed forward overjoyed, and the
welcome of brotherhood smiled in his expression. Six feet in height, and
correspondingly athletic in appearance, he was well able to carry his
own portmanteau, but privations and thoughts of affluence from his
exchequer inspired me. Impulsively I seized it!

Years of residence in the States seemed to have changed his original
nationality and the accent of his speech. He stood smiling before me, a
Yankee of the aristocratic type. His keen grey eyes stared at my shabby
clothes: the situation was evident to him at a glance. In a store by the
civic centre, with an entrance that looked like the south nave of the
Crystal Palace, my comrade and I were measured for new suits. Words
could not express my gratitude.

With this lightening of my financial cares I felt the dim delirium, the
exuberance, the faint revival of my old romantic glamour return; the
world seemed beautiful after all.

My Swedish friend was delighted too, and smiled from ear to ear. I can
still see his tall, lanky figure, and his merry round blue eyes as he
puffs and tootles away on his beloved clarionet. Ah, how happy we were,
marching on, carelessly unfulfilling the great promise of youth while we
were yet youthful! Yet what is the good of promise fulfilled when youth
is gone, when the glamour has faded, and you look through the grim
spectacles of reality at the rouged cheeks of blushing truth and beauty?
Oh, to remould this scheme of life, and be born old! To travel with Time
and grim experiences down the years towards cheerful, glorious youth,
back, back to the innocence and beauty of childhood’s dreams! To die
full of hope and fond beliefs—and let the true believers travel the
other way!

I know not where we went or why we went. I only know that my brother
embraced the occasion and caught the vagabond fever; and that our valet,
an old Turk (who kept swearing that he wasn’t an Armenian), sang jovial
songs that were musically reminiscent of his harem days as he stumbled
and struggled behind us, carrying our bundles of fruit, new suits,
bouquets of flowers, and my long-wanted expensive copyright _Etudes_,
Petrie’s _Violin Studies_, and all that sudden and unexpected affluence
inspired us to buy.

I recall, too, how we were walking up the brilliantly lighted main
street when a negro, who was anxiously watching for the editor of a
Providence journal (that had criticised his lodging-house and the lady
lodgers who kept such late hours), suddenly whipped out a revolver and
fired. The editor had appeared at his door and received a bullet in his
face, but he too had a revolver—probably he had been expecting the
negro’s compliments—and he fired back and blew all the negro’s front
teeth out. The next bullet from the negro’s revolver went through the
_Violin Studies_ which I held by my side, and but for the fortunate
ricochetting of the bullet I should not now be able to write my
reminiscences! I think the negro recovered from his wound and the editor
was severely reprimanded for not hitting a vital spot. For the sins of
negroes are dwelt upon like the sins of the poor relation, and I must
admit that negroes are sometimes almost as bad as white men. There were
no moving pictures in those days to perpetuate the episode, but still it
is flashed vividly before my mind’s eye. I see the three races of good
fellowship, my tall brother and myself, between us my lanky Swede
comrade, and, just behind us, straight-nosed Turkey struggling along on
bandy legs. Equipped with argosies of youthful dreams, pitching the moon
and stars and sun from hand to hand, with rollicking song on our lips we
fade away down the uncharted seas of Westminster Street, Providence!—to
awaken on dim shores of cold daybreak as once more I kneel and take the
sacrament before the grim, mock-eyed old priest—Reality! When I was
twenty years and one month old—how long ago it seems!

We visited most of the fashionable places of interest, went almost
everywhere, through the Open Sesame of my brother’s liberality. And that
is saying a good deal, for theatres and palatial halls of amusement
abound. There’s “The Gaiety,” “The Colonial,” “Hippodrome,” “Sans
Souci,” “Bijou,” and heaven knows how many more, wherein the cheerful
multitudes of R.I. folk scream with laughter and weep over unreal
dramas.

I no longer played the monotonous second fiddle in the orchestra of the
music hall; we sat, a happy trio, the smiling occupants of orchestral
stalls, where I saw the Indian squaw fade to a shadow and die rather
than sell her honour; and the American missionary weep over the grave of
the half-caste Zulu in Timbuctoo who had died sooner than he would drink
rum! Here was no painting of true life, no dramatic, realistic scene
showing the besotted derelict who died far away in the isolation of some
alien land—the man from nowhere, who took the wrong turning twenty years
before, being hurried into his roughly made coffin: then his two lonely
comrades watching the sunrise gleam in his dead eyes, and the
half-boyish smile on the silent lips, as they place the coffin lid on,
and creep along at daybreak, carrying him under the mahogany-trees to
the hole by the swamp. They say a prayer and murmur: “Pity, Bill, that
we left the bottle of whisky by his bed. Didn’t he rave about someone in
the old country? Wonder what ’twas all about. The weather’s hot. Buried
him rather quick, eh? Here’s the cross: ‘Bill.’ No name. ‘Died of Fever,
Remembered by Us.’”

Moonlight ferry trips, picnics, concerts and songs are as characteristic
of Providence as of the South Sea islanders of Samoa and Tonga. One
difference divides the Providence population from the islanders—the
natives of Providence wear clothes; but the Yankee mechanics outdo the
Savaii and Fiji islanders in tobacco-chewing, and can spit over their
shoulders with even swifter certitude than my sailor comrades of San
Francisco, whom I told you about in my first book of South Sea
reminiscences. Boating is an essential feature in their amusements.
Rhodes-on-the-Pawtucket is crammed with boats. On sunshiny days
thousands of youths and girls paddle and sing away, and never reflect on
the time when Red Indian canoes darted in the moonlight over those same
waters.

My comrade was still with me, and we got several engagements to play at
dances and concerts. My brother was in the ring, so to speak, and so we
were received with an enthusiasm that we had greatly missed when we
really wanted it. My friend eventually, however, went off to Alaska to
some relations. He promised to write to me, but I never heard of him
again.

My brother owned, and still owns, I hope, estates called Cranston
Heights, an elevated, breezy place. On the hottest day a sleepy wind
creeps about them. From that spot you can gaze down into the valleys and
see a wall of cliffs about an eighth of a mile long, rising a hundred
feet high. There on a large boulder, known as Middleton’s Rock, my
brother and I would sit reflectively smoking long Yankee corn-cob pipes,
as we reclined, shaded by umbrellas of green-leafed trees from the hot
sunlight. We sat there talking and dreaming of years ago when the
Indians camped on Cranston Heights. I think my brother could outrival
Fenimore Cooper and Cody in his knowledge of Indian history and the
legends of the original tribes that owned America. Stone arrow-heads and
Indian pottery to this day are often found there, and my brother showed
me several relics which were dug out of his estate.

Rhode Island was of course originally an Indian settlement. Forests grew
by the rushing rivers, and on the prairie landscapes stood native
villages. The dominion was under a King Philip, and the island is
sometimes called, for poetical purposes, “Land of King Philip.” The
forests have succumbed to the woodman’s axe, though still patches of
woods and prairie-land are left, and it was in that clump that I sat and
played my violin and dreamed sometimes. Still the beautiful rivers run
across the landscapes like veins of silver and gold fluid, glittering
under the leafy clumps of beech, maple, hickory and many varieties of
trees that resemble tropical types. The waters of those old rivers, like
the coming and passing of singing humanity, have long since slipped into
the distant seas, but still other waters flow on and are known by the
ancient Indian names. The Seekonk river winds through Providence and
throws its liquid mass into Narragansett Bay. From Cranston Heights you
can see the exquisite scenery that is characteristic of the
neighbourhood of Providence; across the valleys the hills fade before
the eyes into dreamy distances as sunset floods the horizon. If you are
poetical you can see the ghostly camp fires and dead Indian riders
galloping and fading into the arched sunset of blood fire. The view
reminded me of a South Sea modern shore village, for here and there were
dotted bungalows, fenced by trees and green shrub and flowers. Things
have altered a good deal since those days, for I have recently visited
Providence.

Mr J——, whose palatial bungalow was among them, is one of Rhode Island’s
greatest business men, and his commercial success is deserved, through
his unassuming philanthropy. He has given a great deal of land, parks
and drives to Providence. I think it was in Meshanticut Park, one of his
gifts to the city, that I met with an adventure. The weather was hot,
and I spied a small lake by some trees. Immediately I undressed and,
though my brother expostulated, I dived into the water: the park
officials came and arrested me, but my brother explained and I got off
with a caution. Years of wild life in the South Seas had taught me to
bathe where and when I liked, and I had yet to learn that park lakes in
Providence were not as lagoons on the isles of the wild South Seas,
wherein the whole population bathe without even the modest fig leaf,
gossip, mention the weather and go their ways.

Oaklawn is another pretty spot. I stayed there with some of my brother’s
friends, at Wilbur Avenue, I think. There is a little wooden bridge
thereabouts, not far from an old stone mill. Near this spot in the old
days a great Indian battle was fought, and there by that little bridge
my brother would sit for hours, writing his articles for the provincial
and New York papers.

It was at Oaklawn Bridge that I sat and told my brother of my various
boyish experiences in the South Seas, of the island chiefs, and of my
reminiscences of Robert Louis Stevenson, whom I had met at Apia and on
ships at sea. My brother was deeply interested in all I told him. He was
a great admirer of Stevenson’s work and his perfect literary style. We
talked of Stevenson’s easy and careless manner that seemed such a
contrast to his perfection and polish in writing. How he did not care a
tinker’s curse for the opinion of the conventional world, and loved to
shock visitors to Samoa by appearing before them suddenly in old
clothes, bare-headed and bootless. I saw him come aboard a ship dressed
in that way; and I recalled how, on another occasion, I met him coming
down the track inland from Saluafata, the native village. “Hello,
youngster,” he said; and, as I was going his way, off we tramped along
the track together as he hummed beside me. Then, with the sunset, out
came the native children rushing from the forest. Like tiny ghosts they
glided, begging, in the shadows at our legs as we strode alone; and as
Robert Louis Stevenson threw brass buttons to them, they raced after
them, and then, half frightened that he might want to reclaim the
prizes, they suddenly disappeared, racing back into the forest. The
sunset died behind our backs and the stars crept over the Vaea Mountain
top and the dark-branched coco-palms each side of the track; the shadows
thickened as the stars brightened. So well do I remember that night that
even now I seem to see my companion striding onward beside me, his loose
neck-cloth fluttering in the wind that drifts in from the sea, stirring
the coco-palms and pungent-smelling forest flowers as it passes. Still I
see his ghost-like shadow, the clear eyes, the thin, æsthetic face;
still he is humming a folk-song, while his right hand beats the moonlit
bush with a stick—and yet he has lain there many years on the top of the
Vaea Mountain—his rugged island tomb railed by the dim sky-lines of
surrounding tropical seas, his vaulted roof the everlasting sky, studded
with the brightest stars, as he lies with his stricken aspirations like
some dead Christ of the lost children of the wild, solitary South.

A critic in _The Times_, reviewing my first book, _Sailor and
Beachcomber_, after writing a column of critical appreciation, finished
up by saying: “Mr Safroni-Middleton prides himself on having known
Robert Louis Stevenson in the South Seas.” My book has three hundred and
four pages: on three of them I spoke of Stevenson; but I fail to see why
I should pride myself on knowing him, except in this sense, that I am
proud to have met him and to count him among the many men who followed
after my own heart.

If he had not died before I returned, a little older, to Samoa, he would
have welcomed me as I should have welcomed him; for he had several times
expressed a wish that I should call on him and take my violin, but in
the foolishness of a boy’s thoughtlessness I did not go. Worldly
greatness did not appeal to him, nor did my letters of introduction, for
I had none, and he was, I am quite sure, aware of the fact.

Well, to return to my experiences in North America. After a time I left
Providence, and then went down the Hudson river bound for New York.
There I stayed in a temperance hotel close to the Bowery, and I cannot
forget the scene.

Along winding avenues that divide the towering wooden buildings rushed
battalions of hurrying legs. The noise of car bells and gongs and the
babble of shouting voices assailed my ears. All the races under the sun
seemed to have emigrated to that spot to fight in scheming regiments for
the almighty dollar. White men, Chinamen, black men, tawny men, yellow
men, Armenians, Turks, Germans with thick necks—all were there. Over my
head rushed express trains. No space seemed wasted. Indeed the Yankees
in their commercial search for gold peg out claims in the sky, claim
square miles of stars, as up go their buildings to the heavens. By the
second-storey windows on elevated railway tracks crash along the trains.
In those days they ran by steam, and the coal-dust showered down your
neck and in your eyes as you moved along with the thick crowd below; a
crowd so dense that you could shut your eyes, make no effort, and still
be propelled along in the mighty rush, as you dreamed of other days of
peace and solitude! I went across Brooklyn Bridge by night: swung on
mighty steel cables, it dangles in space and has several divisions for
vehicles and pedestrians. Below rushed the ferry-boats on the Hudson
river, their port-holes ablaze with light, and the sound of music on
deck fading as they passed underneath. Across the bridge hurried
electric cars, racing along by the mechanical genius of man’s brain, the
light of the Universe—the stars switched on to wheels!

I only stayed one week in New York, for I met an old shipmate whom I had
sailed with from Sydney. He was on a tramp steamer. One of the
deck-hands had gone into hospital, so I yielded to my friend’s
persuasion, went on board, secured the job and signed on. For the rest,
it is all like a dream now: I can hear the rattle of the rusty chain as
they haul the anchor up, and the uncouth, shrill calls of the pulling
crew rising above the clamour of the steam winches, just before the
tramp steamer moves away from the wharf to put to sea. New York and its
babble of voices with their nasal twang, its vast drama of scheming
existence in a feverish hurry, fades away and becomes a memory of some
monstrous “magic shadow show” lit by the sun far off somewhere across
the lone sea miles astern.

The sea routine has commenced: deep down in the stokehold firemen with
cadaverous faces turned to the furnace blaze are toiling away. They look
like shadows in the flame-lit gloom, like dead men working out their
penance in hell. Attired in pants and a sweater only, with their hairy
chests steaming with running perspiration, they work furiously. Their
conversation is made up chiefly of oaths and forcible criticism on the
lack of generosity they found in Bill or Jim, who only stood them ten
drinks ashore, after all they had treated them to on that first spree
night of the last trip. They are not bad men, and as they spit out the
coal-dust in a thick mass from their stained lips, and take a gulp of
condensed water to quench their thirst, I feel deeply sorry for them,
and realise that they are the unsung heroes of the sea. I look at the
row of unshaved faces thrust forward to the roaring fires, and at their
shrivelled hands and big arms moving the long steel stoking bars, and
wonder at the marvellous strength and virtue of the hard-working ship’s
firemen.

On deck, like iced wine to my lips, I drink in the fresh sea breeze. It
is dark. I cannot turn in, for I should not sleep, so I go into the
fo’c’sle and watch the sailors playing cards, then return on deck and
look over the ship’s side. Under the pendulous, curved moon—for it seems
to sway to the roll of the rigging—the mate’s form moves to and fro as
he tramps the bridge. The sailing ship that we sighted on the
weather-side at sunset is now only a tiny travelling star low down on
the ocean darkness far astern, where her mast head-light shines.

The weariness of the sea’s monotony is on me; we have been to sea long
enough to be half-way across the Atlantic. The weather is much colder.
The moon is large and low, and looks like a ghostly arch to the south,
for it seems half submerged far away on the edge of the ocean, that
seems shivering for miles with silver mystery. Just over the side I
watch the mirrored masts and rigging glide along with us as though a
ghostly ship is following; and the hours fly and dawn breaks greyly, and
once more the tramp steamer is surrounded by blue sky-lines, till sunset
sinks to a wild blaze in the western arch of the sky. The sailors go on
watch. The cook washes his pots and pans ere he cuts his corns and turns
into his bunk.

The wind’s voice murmurs mournfully in the rigging and round the bridge
awnings; as the night grows older it swells to a tremendous voice that
is really me! for it is the re-echo of my own hearing and dreaming
consciousness. I fancy I hear the hounds of death racing across the wild
sea moors as shadows dropping from the flying clouds go running over the
moonlit sea, and now, as though a door in the sky is opened, the stars
and moon are driven and shut away in the outer Universe. For a mighty
sheet of storm-cloud slides across the heavens. The world is changed to
an infinity of dark and wind, and the one dim figure of the look-out man
on the fo’c’sle head. The thundering seas slowly rise with their white
crests glowing in the ebon darkness as the brave old tramp steamer, like
a frightened thing, stays her way a moment, and shivers as seas strike
the weather bow. Then again she pitches onward, as wonderful little men,
with bony, haggard faces with weary eyes in them, stare into the furnace
fires of the steamer’s bowels, and shovel and stoke to sustain an honest
existence, and drink tank water. No wonder they drink beer when they get
the chance. I am quite sure I should.

A week later we sighted the cliffs of England, and soon after the sea
tramp touched the wharf at Liverpool with a jerk and a shiver, and went
to sleep among a forest of masts and funnels till her next trip.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER V

Home—On an Orient Liner—The Orchestra—A Sailing Ship—Paganini—Port
   Said—Honolulu


AGAIN I am home and meet familiar faces, and enjoy the sweet security of
home life and respectability; but soon the flight of time brings its
inevitable changes both to my feelings and to those around me. I am no
longer the prodigal son and a romantic novelty to the many who welcomed
me at my arrival in the monotonous suburb; but nevertheless we are all
moody companions in the sad drama of respectability. I had made up my
mind to go travelling no more, but my good resolutions have faded away,
and my whole soul is centred on inventing the best excuse for my not
being able to accept the good position in London that will make me, at
last, the respected son of a respected father.

Well, I feel a bit ashamed of my incorrigible personality, and yet how
much my soul is burdened with the thought that I must aspire to higher
things, and go off to the city each day like Mr W.’s son does, to sit on
a stool. I can never be the pride and joy of the family, and as I sit
alone and dream I am miserable with dim forebodings. On the back of the
chair is my very high white collar and the smart tweed suit, and by my
washstand my beloved fiddle. Just over it, on a peg by my bed, is my
big-rimmed Australian hat. Alas! that hat speaks of tropical sunshine
and coco-palms. I can hear the arguing voices of bushmen in the grog
shanty by “Bummer’s Creek,” and the trade wind in the shore banyans as
the beachcomber laughs and nudges his pal in the ribs.

I cannot sleep, for the parrots are flying and muttering across the sky
of my dreams; I hear the crack of the stock-whips on the slopes as the
scampering, flying sheep go racing across my bedroom floor. I close my
eyes, and the natives start singing in the Fijian village, and the drums
are beating the sunset out ere I am wide awake, through the civilised
jingle of the milkman’s cans in the cold, windy street below.

The last dark wintry morning arrives. It has all been settled. I have
signed on for a voyage as violinist and assistant purser on the Orient
liner the _Britannia_. I am to catch the 4 A.M. train to London Bridge.
How dark and cold it is as I get up and dress, then go up the next
flight to kiss my three sisters a last good-bye. They lift their sleepy
heads and put their arms around my neck. “Good-bye, Tiggy,” they say
once again, as I gently close their bedroom door and go downstairs. My
father helps me on with my overcoat, and says very kind words. I try to
answer, but my voice sounds husky and I keep placing the wrong arm in my
overcoat sleeves. Now comes the greatest task of all, a task that will
tax all my courage. I strive to hide my weakness and make a joke about
the bad penny turning up again soon, and then neither of us speak, and
once again I kiss her lips, the lips of the most beautiful woman this
world ever gave me. I hurry down the streets. I am glad it’s dark, for
my eyes feel weak, and the windy light of the lamp-posts seem to swim
about the street spaces. I am haunted by her face all down the Channel
that night, for she caught my soul adrift among the stars ere I was
born, and my heart still sings a sad song for the woman who was my
mother.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There is a deal of sameness on a large liner’s trip to the colonies. But
for the complication of characters among the passengers and crew, and
the ports that we put into on the voyage out, the passage would be
extremely monotonous.

Forward, near the fo’c’sle, was the glory hole, between decks, wherein
slept the crowd of stewards and cooks. They were a jolly lot of men, and
when the steerage and fore-cabin passengers had finished their evening
meal they would sit on their sea-chests yarning or playing cards far
into the night. Sometimes they would sing songs, accompanied by the
twang and tinkling of the assistant cook’s banjo; and older men, who
were tired out, thrust their fierce faces out of their bunks and swore
at being kept awake, as once more the wild chorus of _I owe Ten
Shillings to O’Grady_ re-echoed through the “glory hole.” Sleepless
passengers up on deck clapped their hands with pleasure to hear the
monotony broken, as the big pistons in the engine-rooms throbbed out
their incessant pom-pe-te-pom, and the screws thrashed the racing liner
across the world. In the morning at four-thirty the men would be dead to
the world in their bunks as the second steward started shouting: “Now
then, you sleepers! Now then, you sleepers, rise and shine!” or “Come
out of it, you young b——!” and so on, as sleepy heads lifted up in the
rows of bunks and then dropped helplessly again. Some were romantic boys
who had read autobiographies, and some middle-aged men who had sickened
of the workman’s train and drifted to sea.

In the evenings I played the violin in the saloon and deck concerts aft,
beyond the dividing rope which was the boundary line that told the
fore-cabin passengers that they must not approach the élite in the first
saloon.

Our orchestra consisted of three violins, ’cello, bass, and the usual
brass and wind. I had an easy time, and often till midnight would stand
on deck watching the stars and the world of waters below, and listening
to the voices of passengers on deck outward bound for Australia, to find
fame and fortune—or ill fame.

I became very friendly with a member of our ship’s band, the solo cornet
player. He was a quiet, elderly man, turning grey, and had once been a
player in the orchestra of the Lyceum Theatre. A fine all-round musician
he was too. He would sit on deck after dark, put a mute on his
instrument, and extemporise melody and make it sound like a sweet-voiced
girl singing softly to herself. He had the real temperament, and had
received a first-class musical education.

Nothing reveals character, the intellectual calibre of the instrumental
player, so much as the type of composition that makes up his private
repertoire. For in that he only plays the compositions which appeal to
him. Some are devoid of personality and only perform the stock pieces
that are fashionable. Others revel in melody that tells of the light
side of life, its gaiety, or the pathos of dramatic existence on the
stage, the tragedian’s mock grief before the footlights ere the curtain
falls. Others find their musical heaven vaguely expressed by playing
those pieces that seem to murmur, as a sea-shell murmurs of the ocean,
that indefinable note of poetry, the voice of the unknown, the intense
inner life of our existence. My friend was one of the latter kind. He
gave me many useful hints which I profited by, (as I often did in my
travels), and so received a free musical education, the only music
lessons I ever really had.

But for the throb of the engines and thrashing screw, the vessel’s
motion, and the stewards’ sea-legs aslant to the deck’s list as they
walk the saloons and cabin alley-ways, you could half think you were in
some subterannean hotel. Travel on a liner, and the wild poetry of the
sailing ships swerving to the swell of travelling seas, the climbing
sailors aloft singing their chanteys among the storm-beaten sails, the
flying clouds overhead that race the moon, all seem to be something that
you dreamed of, or lived through ages ago.

Sea-boots and oilskins seem mythical things that faintly recall your
yellow-backed old buccaneer novels, or the days when Drake sailed down
the seas.

Officers on the P. & O. liners speak with university polish. “Ay, ay”,
“Hold hard!”, “Look out, you son of a sea-cook!”, “Holy Moses!”, “Up she
comes”, “All together!”, “Let go!”, “Haul the mainsail up!”. This is all
changed now to “Make haste, Mr Pye-Smith” and “Yes, sir, I beg your
pardon. What a draught!”. Or a bell tinkles down in the engine-room, and
the mammoth liner, like a mighty iron beast, slows obediently to
half-speed, stops, or slashes her tail and goes full speed astern,
without one song or oath.

The stormy night and head-wind, the huddled group of sailors in oilskins
singing their wild chantey, _O, O, for Rio Grande_, on deck in the windy
dark as they bend together and pull while the vast monotone of the ocean
becomes the orchestral accompaniment to voices from strong, open,
bearded mouths, and your world of stars suddenly veers as the dark
canvas sails and yards swerve round; the chief mate shouting, “What the
blazing hell—— Ay, there!” as on the wind comes faintly back, “Ay, ay,
sir, all clear!”: this smacks more of the sea. Why, on a sailing ship,
the very sea-cook at the galley door, amidships, clutching his pans,
gazing across the wild, lonely waters, where the leaping, white-bearded
waves seem like old misers’ hands plucking at the sunset’s gold, is
sheer downright poetry compared with the electric-lighted saloon crowded
with munching, over-fed men and women with moving mouths and pince-nez
on their respectable noses.

The sailing ship has its rough, uncomfortable side, for well I remember
my last trip from ’Frisco round the Horn, when I stood on deck at night,
with deadly cramp gripping my legs, my eyebrows frozen together, my nose
pinched and blue with cold, the decks awash and our sea-chests afloat in
the fo’c’sle and deck-house. I recollect the cook holding on to his pots
and pans and swearing as only an old-time boatswain, and that cook,
could swear as we begged for a pannikin of hot coffee: stuff that tasted
like heaven-sent life-blood to our frozen lips as we two boys drank it.
The weather-beaten boatswain in his oilskins and sea-boots went by us in
the dark, as great seas came over, singing a song to himself as though
he was soliloquising in some quiet bar off the Mile End Road instead of
experiencing the wildest weather I have ever seen, or ever want to see.

How I admired those old seafarers! “Fetch that, matey,” they’d say, and
off I’d rush, eager to please and obey the orders of Horatio Nelson and
Sir Francis Drake, for such men they seemed to me.

In the fo’c’sle at night they’d say: “Get that fiddle out and play to
us.” A thrill of boyish pride would go through me to notice their
attention and respect as I played my best. Presently they would join in
as I played the chanteys they had taught me, _Sailing down to Rio_ or
_Blow the Man Down_. Without removing their pipes or chewing quids,
their cracked, hoarse-throated voices would join in.

Deep bass voices two or three had, and as they sat round me on their old
sea-chests, and I scraped away to the tuneless, yelling, bearded mouths
beneath the dim light of the fo’c’sle oil lamp, I drank in the last
breath of the winds of sea romance. I see them now as I dream. There
they sit on their sea-chests, oilskins and sea-boots on, with curios
from other lands fastened over their bunks around them, as they open
their big bearded mouths and sing. How ghost-like their eyes look by the
light of the dim lamp, as the hazy tobacco smoke curls thickly to the
low roof! Then their hollow voices fade and the visionary “Old Hands”
vanish as the last breath of wind blows them like cobweb-fine things
through the fo’c’sle door, along the moonlit deck, away seaward for ever
as I dream.

How I recall these lonely nights and the sailors moving across the deck
in the dark, or climbing aloft like shadows back to the sky. I used to
stand alone and gaze over the ship’s side and suddenly feel the
intensity of living, as my thoughts half clung hopefully to the stars,
like lost, migrating swallows that cling to the rigging of ships far out
at sea; and the mighty, moving water all around me seemed to break with
its monotone against eternity. I remember lying in my bunk, and by the
oil lamp’s light watching the ship’s cockroaches go filing across the
photographs of my parents and relatives which I had tacked on my bunk
side to remind me of home, though I required no such reminder. Those
silent faces intensified the difference between reality and my boyhood’s
dream; as a cold breath out of the grave of my beloved, who slept in the
seas outside, blew through the door across my face as I dreamed of
her—my beautiful dead romance!

Truly, sailing ships have their rough side as well as a wildly romantic
one. Rolling down south, with gales behind bringing the seas up like
majestic travelling hills as under the poop they go, and she rolls and
swerves as the masts sweep across the sky, is the motion of sea poetry.
If you are aloft you look down and could swear that she must turn
turtle. Telling you this calls back my feelings when I first went aloft
as a boy of fourteen years.

The ship was rolling heavily, and as I looked down on deck something
seemed to have happened (I turned pale, I’m sure): she was turning right
over. I clung on with might and main as the masts and yards went over;
death seemed to stare me in the face: like a wild beast I hooked on with
fingers, toes and teeth, prepared for the final plunge into the heaving
ocean below, when lo! to the mysterious equal pull of gravity she slowly
swerved and rose, the rigging jerked and rattled, the jib-boom lifted
and the figure-head at the bows lifted her face from the weather-side
and went right over to peep at the lee-side. Overjoyed, I looked over my
shoulder astern and saw the chief mate yawning on the poop and the man
at the wheel quite unconcerned, when I had instinctively thought they
were clinging to anything movable, prepared to dive into the ocean when
the ship turned clean over. That bronzed, broad-shouldered mate grinned
when I stood on the poop. He asked me how I had felt. He was a good
sort. He’s dead now and under the sea, missing these many years; and the
red-bearded Scotch skipper, who was like a father to me, is worse off,
for the last I heard of him was that he was still alive and
missing—mentally. “But this won’t buy the baby a frock,” as they say at
sea when you go off dreaming and leave your work to yarn. So I must
return to the P. & O. liner as she races across the Mediterranean, bound
for Suez.

We had called in at Naples, where we had taken on board a batch of
passengers. I remember one of them especially; he was a distinguished
old Italian and his profile recalled to my mind the pictures I had seen
of Dante. He wore a loose cloak and a cavalier hat, and carried a
violin-case. His eyes were eagle-like, yet bilious-looking, for he was
suffering from some kind of yellow jaundice and slow circulation. On the
hottest nights his teeth chattered with the cold. When we were crossing
the Red Sea and the passengers brought their beds on deck to sleep,
hoping to get a whiff of air, he went into his cabin in the usual way,
with his teeth chattering with the cold, crawled into his bunk and got
into his bed-clothes—a large canvas sack heavily lined with wadding;
bodily into this he would go and tie the tapes at the head of the sack
tightly round his neck, so that no air could possibly get into the sack
and give him a chill. The very sight of it all made me perspire and gasp
in that stifling hot weather. I felt sorry for him, and I cannot imagine
now that he could have lived very long after getting to Australia, where
he was going for his health’s sake. He was a splendid violin-player, but
did not perform. I used to talk to him on deck, and discovered that he
was a Genoese. I was greatly interested to hear that his father, who was
also a musician, had known intimately the celebrated violin _maestro_,
Paganini, and had had violin lessons from him. From broken English, and
Italian gesticulations, I learnt that the great violinist had peculiar
ways. He had stayed for a few days at my friend’s childhood home and
while there had upset the quiet routine of the family, for he was
extremely superstitious and restless, and walked about the house all
night. He declared that a ghostly woman stood with her face at his
window whenever he played a certain melody that had come to him in his
dreams. Beyond his family’s enthusiastic reminiscences over Paganini’s
violin-playing, that is the only incident that vividly impressed me. My
friend was a remarkable character and, though he was ill, extremely
vivacious and always talking excitably. Sometimes he would sit on deck
after dark, and plucking the strings of his violin, pizzicato, guitar
style, would sing softly to himself in Italian with a clear, sweet,
musical voice that was very effective.

I went with him ashore at Port Said. It was fearfully hot, but as my
friend walked down the gangway with me he was well swathed in scarves,
and wrapped up in shirts under his large fur-lined cloak. He seemed to
have plenty of money and was anything but mean with it. It was a treat
to get away from the hubbub of the natives coaling the steamer. I only
have a dim, dream-like recollection of that particular visit ashore at
Port Said. I remember the town with the white buildings and palm-trees
dimly outlined under the stars, and the begging, dark-faced descendants
of the Egyptian Pharaohs who rushed forth out of alley-ways and sought
our patronage. Signor Niccolo was terribly thirsty, and the English
restaurant was so crowded with passengers from the boats that we both
went off and sought elsewhere for refreshments. We went up a dark
alleyway, directed there by a swarthy man who evidently misunderstood
our requirements. In the darkness it seemed like some subterranean
passage to an Egyptian ghost-land as we walked along and heard the
uncouth voices of the inhabitants issuing from the little barred windows
that were let in in the high walls on each side. Shuffling by us went
the sandalled feet of black men with white turbans on that looked like
towels swathed about their heads. Presently we arrived at a tunnel-like
entrance that led into a suspicious, dimly lit little restaurant. As we
sat at one of the small tables and sniffed peculiar odours, that smelt
like scented tea and aromatic herbs, four dusky beauties came through a
little secret door and laughingly revealed their teeth, then asked in
broken English what we would like to drink. Signor Niccolo called for
wine and I had coffee. Off rushed the dark female attendants to execute
our orders. “Funny plaze and funny girlees, eh?” said Signor Niccolo to
me. “Seems so,” I answered, for the waitresses were only dressed in
little singlets, with a loose piece hanging to their knees and a scarf
swathed about their bosoms for modesty’s sake, which was the only
modesty that we saw there, as they lifted their scanty robes to dust the
furniture. We drank our refreshment and hurriedly escaped from the
place.

I do not think there are any missionaries at Port Said; possibly the
English and American officials look upon it as hopeless. Port Said was a
veritable hell of iniquity in those days, and still is. Passengers often
went ashore and lost the boat, or disappeared altogether. After we left
a Yankee saloon passenger sat on the settee and told us of his
experiences there. He had gone into an isolated restaurant at the north
end of the town and called for a drink. In his button-hole he wore a
large red camellia blossom which, though he did not know it, was a kind
of Masonic sign. So directly he had ordered his whisky and sat down in
the large arm-chair, the attendant, who was an old black Arab mute with
a heavy grey beard, suddenly touched a spring in the wall, and lo! up
went a partition on each side and he was shut in a little room, staring
with surprise at the old mute, who, to his astonishment, now spoke in a
musical voice. The old man’s beard and eyebrows dropped off and with the
old cloak fell rustling to the floor, and there, with shining dark eyes
and pouting lips, a dusky harem beauty stood before him! Even the sedate
P. & O. chief officer smiled behind his napkin as the Yankee told us
that yarn, and we tried to keep straight faces over all the details
which I have left out!

Three or four weeks later I arrived in Melbourne, where I stayed a week
in Collins Street and at length succeeded in getting a berth on a boat
that was bound for the Islands. Eventually I arrived at Honolulu, where
I had some luck with my violin-playing which enabled me to take a cheap
passage to Apia, where I had lived before.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER VI

Changes in Samoa—Curios—A Moonlit Scene—Saints and Fakirs—Indians—Apia
   Town—Vailima—The Chief Mataaga—A Forest Ballroom—The Wandering
   Scribe—A Legend of Samoa—An old Shellback’s Yarns—Tuputa and the
   Sinless Lands—A Tribal Waltz


IT was some time since I had left Samoa. Things there seemed to have
considerably changed. Many of my friends, both natives and white men,
had gone away to another island. I went up to Mulinuu village, expecting
to see my friend Raeltoa, the Samoan, and to my great regret learnt that
his wife had died of consumption and that he had gone away to the Line
Islands, in the Equatorial Group. Robert Louis Stevenson had died some
months before, and was at rest on the top of Vaea Mountain. Indeed with
his death the old Samoa seemed to have passed away.

I felt rather depressed for a time, but I met an American tourist,
staying at the German hotel in Apia, who was very eccentric, and he
cheered me up considerably. He was a collector of native curios, and his
whole life seemed to be centred on his strange hobby. He invited me into
his apartments, and I could hardly move for the lumber and his large
crates of native pottery, old breech-loading weapons, cutlasses,
mummified human heads, dried native feet cut off at the ankles,
war-clubs, human teeth and skeletons, native musical instruments and
barbarian furniture. He talked of nothing else but his gruesome
collection. He had a high, bald head and beak-like nose, whereon he was
eternally fingering his pince-nez, which kept falling off whilst he
enthusiastically held up relics for my inspection. His passion for
getting curios seemed never satisfied. We dined at a native’s house
together; suddenly he lifted the cloth and saw that the table was a
rough, native-made table of platted cane and bamboo. Immediately he
bargained for it, and to the native’s delight purchased it, and off we
went with it. How he got them all away from the hotel I don’t know, for
he had a regular cargo of stuff, but eventually he got his curios on
board a steamer and went off to San Francisco.

I stayed on in Apia for several weeks, joining a party of tourists, and
with them I visited the various scenes and islands of the group. As I
write, in a dream I see the slopes rising from the sea, lying silent in
the moonlight. The curling smoke from the camp fires steals above the
still coco-palms that shelter the huts of the native villages. The big,
hive-shaped houses are musical with humming melody and the jabbering
voices of rough-haired native girls and women. Some squat cross-legged
by door-holes, whence emerge tiny, brown, naked children, to turn head
over heels, or race like joyful puppies after each other round the dens.
Big full-blooded Samoan chiefs smile and show their white teeth as they
roll banana-leaf cigarettes between their dusky fingers. Across the flat
lies Apia town with its one main street; beyond the inland plateaux
rise, and far off you can see the moonlit waves breaking into patches
like white moss on the level ocean plains.

By the copra and coco plantations are the emigrant settlements, where
tired coolies, most of them Malay Indians, rest after their toil. Native
women linger near them, for they are generous men those coolies, and
give the velvet-skinned native girls sham jewellery. The Indian _sadhu_
(saint) sits by the line of dens and stores under the palms; he looks
like some carved holy image as he stares with bright, unblinking eyes.
The natives’ wooden idols have long since been smashed, or have rotted
away, and that living idol of the East is one from many cargoes that
have arrived to take the place of the old deaf South Sea idols. The new
idols are real; they have live tongues and eyes that lure on true
believers, converts to Allah, to do monstrous things. The deaf, dumb
wooden gods of heathen times were sanctified compared with these new
immigrant idols that breathe!

That old fakir, with outstretched withered arm that brings him reverence
and cash, represents Hinduism, or Buddha. His thick beard is almost
solid with filth, where-from at intervals, out to the hot sky, buzz big
blow-flies. Just across the track is the bazaar, wooden cabins under the
mangroves and coco-palms, where the Indians sell jewellery, the Koran,
and richly coloured dress materials to the Samoan women. The Indians
appear fine-looking men when dressed, with their dark, brilliant eyes
and curly, close-cropped beards. They swear to all things by the holy
prophet Mahomet, and wear a poetic smile that enlarges when you are not
looking to a sardonic grin! Native women meet them at dark under the
coco-palms, stroke their beards and gaze secretly up into their faces
with passionate admiration.

That pretty Samoan girl, with staring, romantic eyes and rough,
bronze-coloured hair, who only a week ago gave herself body and soul to
some Indian, the scum of the East, sits alone under the dark mangroves
by the lagoon and thinks and thinks of the day before her fall. A red,
decorated loin-cloth reaches to her waist, the forest winds kiss the
maiden curves of her brown, flower-like bosom. She is very young: her
childhood’s dolls are still unbroken, and are being loved and nursed by
her little sisters who live on the neighbouring Savaii Isle. Her father
was eaten by a shark last year, and her mother is married to a white man
who is never sober.

Not far away sit a group of Indian women, dark and evil-looking, with
round faces. Dressed in gorgeous garments of rich yellow and crimson,
they are certainly attractive; earrings dangle from their ears and some
of them have a silver hoop through the nose. They loll under the
coco-palms, whisper viciousness, and mortally hate the handsome Samoan
girls.

The mail steamer arrived in Apia harbour a few hours ago. Along the
white, dusty, inland track goes the fair, handsome white woman, Maria
Mandy. She is off to her bungalow up the hill, a secluded, romantic
spot. Her round, pretty face is getting quite sunburnt and brown. By her
side walks an aristocratic-looking tourist; he wears pince-nez, is
deeply religious and in a great hurry! Maria is dressed up to “the
nines,” is scented and looks fine and sweet: the “light o’ Love” of a
score of German naval officers and men of respectable repute, she has
grown wealthy and intends to go soon to Sydney. With her wit and courtly
polish she will get on well in Australia, and will probably get into
Government House society, be extremely virtuous and so shocked that she
will suggest the removal from the select clique of such suspicious
characters as old Colonel B——, who will foam at the mouth and wonder why
he is snubbed. Mrs S. A. and Lady H. B. will go into hysterics, weep,
grind their delicate white teeth, look at the ceiling of their bedroom
and ask heaven who could possibly have guessed about those intrigues;
and they will never dream of the knowing Apia harlot—handsome Maria
Mandy.

That fat, thick-necked German official, who likes Samoa better than the
Berlin suburbs, is out walking alone; he is just off to see Salvao Marva
and gaze upon her through those big-rimmed, academic spectacles. He is
nearly sixty, and pretty Marva is nearly fifteen years old! No one knows
about it though. He is a good man at home, plays the Austrian zither
perfectly, and sings in a deep religious bass voice folk-songs of the
Fatherland. Romantic Marva loves those songs, and knows them all by
heart; she has a voice like a wild bird, and you do not feel so hard
upon the in-auspicious fall of German culture. He is due back in Berlin
soon, for his time is up in six months, so he is quite safe, and poor
Marva can place the parental responsibility for her baby on to the back
of the beachcomber, Bill Grimes, who will say, “Well I’m blowed, if this
ain’t all right,” then accept the position and make his home in the
South Seas after all.


[Illustration: HONGIS TRACK, ROTORUA, N.Z.]


Maria Mandy is not the only lady who will become respectable and make
the devil rub his hands and chuckle with delight. On the beach stroll
other white women, and droves of pretty half-caste girls who will
eventually get jobs as “ladies’ maids” to touring families that call at
Apia on the homeward voyage to New York and London. They have fine times
those girls with the German and English sailors, or with “perfect
gentlemen,” and sometimes a black-sheep missionary who has been
dismissed from the L.M.S. Off they go on the spree and forget themselves
and do things that make even the beachcomber Bill Grimes rub his eyes
and stare; for, after all, he’s not so bad; he _can_ some day, in that
“far-off event of perfect good,” buy a new suit of clothes; but the
beachcombers that loaf and eat the fruit of frailty in this Eden of the
South Seas can never buy another soul.

Hark! the harbour is musical with voices, for this is fair Italy of the
Southern Seas, where natives paddle their canoes and sing their weird
melodies as naturally as men breathe. You can hear the splash of the
paddles and oars as they cut the thickly star-mirrored water. The native
boats are bringing sailors ashore from the ships that arrived at
twilight. The moonlit shore and the palm-clad slopes look like fairyland
to the silent ships lying out in the harbour. The men step ashore, pay
one shilling, or one mark, each, then off go the canoes back to the
ships for other crews, as the groups of sailors go up to Apia town.
Before they get there dusky guides offer their services, and they see
the sights—such sights too! No missionaries could ever reform such
creatures as they see. One of them, she is one of many, wears almost
nothing, the curved, thick lips in her wide mouth murmur forth alluring
Samoan speech. Her girth is enormous, and her brown bosom heaves with
simulated professional passion, like a wave on the treacherous deep dark
ocean of sensuality—whereon so often travelling men are shipwrecked. Her
eyes are large, the pupils widely encircled with white, and warm with
the sunlight gleam of downright wickedness; she has been taught her art
in the vast university of experience with white men in the foremost
ranks of civilisation’s pioneer tramp! Paid vice was never known in
Samoa till the white men came; but now she lures to her velvety brown
arms the unwary innocence of fragile sailormen and tourists who come
from London on the civilised Thames; where the missionaries hail from,
who in our land of purity, of course, cannot exert and bring into play
their noble efforts, and so through innocence, O England, my England,
your children fall before the lure of the wicked South!

Low-caste Samoan women are not all hideous; some have large, innocent
eyes alive with wonder; half angel and half devil they look as they
stand before the camera and, answering the stern voice of the operator,
strive to look modest and sweet.

By the edge of the small lagoon, under those tall coco-nut-trees sit
four little naked baby girls. It is dark, but their brown faces imaged
in the water can be seen by the brilliant moonlight; they look like
truant cherubims from Paradise out on the spree, as they sit side by
side whispering musical Samoan baby words, and kissing the rag doll that
was made in Germany. Their Samoan father is away in a far village on a
visit to a wedding feast; if you listen you can hear the far-off sounds
of tom-toms and cymbal-clanging coming across on the drifting forest
wind that brings with it odours of wild, decaying flowers and fruit.
Their mother is fast asleep by the door of their native home close by;
she sleeps soundly, and the mongrel dog’s snout is couched softly on her
bare, warm, brown breast. It looks a mystical, beautiful world, like
some spiritual land beyond the stars, as the bright eyes of those tiny
faces peep through the wind-blown palm leaves; and I watch them in my
dreams to-night, though long since those little girls are women and now
meet the eyes of Indian, Chinese and European men.

Civilisation’s iron foot is on the hills, and along the tracks that lead
inland where mission schools and churches stand, to collect on weekdays
and Sundays the high-class native folk who live in comfortable
Polynesian homes. The night is hot, starry and almost windless, and
handsome Samoan youths attired in the _lava-lava_ (loin-cloth) patter
swift-footed along the tracks under the coco-nut and tropical trees that
shelter the primitive homes of the South Sea paradise. Samoan girls with
wild, bright eyes, round, plump, brown faces, and curved figures as
perfect as sculptural art, pass and repass up the forest tracks. They
are singing Samoan songs that intensify the romantic, dream-like
atmosphere of the tropical night—an atmosphere not even to be dispelled
by the wailing cry of the native babies, who give short, wild, smothered
screams as they lose and then suddenly recover the breasts of sleeping
mothers in those thatched homes by the palms and banana groves. The vast
night sky, agleam with stars, shines like a mighty mirror. You can see
the red glow of the reflection from the volcanic crater miles away on
Savaii’s Isle.

If you go up the slope and stand on the plateau, away inland, when dawn
is stealing in grey tints along the ocean horizon, awakening the birds
on Vaea Mountain, and the native homes are astir, you can distinctly see
afar something that looks like a cow-shed by coco-palms and thick jungle
growth. It is Vailima, the home of Robert Louis Stevenson. One light
gleams in the large shed-room, and the intellectual, sensitive face of
the poet-author moves there in the gloom. He has come back from Apia
town and is tired, yet secretly as pleased as the two old shellbacks who
have carried his curios back, and who hitch up their trousers and cough
respectfully as the world-famous author sneaks them in and gives each a
bumping glass of the best brand. How quietly his keen eyes gaze upon
them as they drink! On a shelf the large clock ticks warningly. He
glances at it now and again as the belated sailors yarn on, grow more
and more garrulous and continue their strange experiences, that cling to
the wonderful, distilling brain of the listener as moonlight clings to
deep, dark waters. At last, with intellectual delicacy, they are
hurriedly slipped off; for soon the respectable folk, whom he gave the
slip to early in the evening, will return, and he must not be seen in
such company again. The old shellbacks grip the extended, thin, delicate
hand, look into the keen eyes and wipe their mouths as they go down the
narrow track. “He’s a gentleman ’e is, d——d if ’e ain’t,” they say to
each other, as the silent, lonely man they have just left sits and
dreams on alone, and thinks and feels those things that no book ever
did, or ever can, tell.

A few miles away lives the great high chief Mataafa; he knows Tusitala,
the writer of tales. Mataafa is the old King of Samoa: his warriors have
charged up those slopes and the sound of the guns from the enemy’s
warships echoed and re-echoed across the bay. It is all like some
far-off dream to me that in my boyhood I should have met and fiddled to
the Napoleon of the South Seas, for Mataafa was exiled, though there the
similarity ends. I can still see the handsome, intelligent face and
remember the quick, kind eyes of Samoa’s dethroned king. I did not know,
or at least realise, who Mataafa was, as he sat on a chest in the
schooner’s cabin in Apia harbour. I knew he was someone important by the
skipper’s behaviour and respectful attention. Only long after did I
clearly realise that I was in at the death at one of the most tragic
periods of Samoa’s history. I helped row the exiled king ashore and went
with him to Mulinuu village, where I stayed the night, and then rowed
him back in the ship’s boat again. Had I known the truth I would have
clung to the old king with all the romantic vigour of my soul. The
opportunity of my boyish dreams had presented itself, but I knew it not.
How I would have striven to lean on that chieftain’s right arm, helping
in some tragical drama of war and intrigue that would have given me the
fame that my boyish aspirations yearned for as I read the novels of
Alexandre Dumas. Alas! I can only remember a sad, aged face in a South
Sea forest homestead, in a schooner’s dingy cabin, or earnestly talking
under the forest trees by night to loyal chiefs ere he returned to the
ship. I saw him three or four times ashore, and entertained him in the
refuge where he lived with his faithful chiefs. Also I played the violin
to him several times, while he smiled gravely and the garrulous skipper
drank whisky and sang out of tune, or read out loudly snatches from _The
Samoan Times_, which was a paper something after the style in size of
_The Dead Bird_, published in Sydney, but suppressed and issued again as
_The Bird of Freedom_.

Behind the stores in Apia’s street is the primeval ballroom where I
played the violin to the Samoan grandees, and to tripping, white-shoed
German officials, while five half-caste girls in pink frocks, with
crimson ribbons in their forests of hair, went through the Siva dances.
Robert Louis Stevenson gazed on, or argued with the crusty German
official, who was red in the face as Stevenson expressed his opinions on
Samoan politics. Just below too, down the street, is the bar-room, where
I played the violin with the manager’s wife, who was a good pianist. I
only performed there once: a trader was half-seas over and was arguing
with a German official; suddenly he picked my violin up and hit the
German over the head with it. There was a great scene and the trader was
thrown out. Everyone laughed to see the look on my face as I scanned the
fiddle to see if it had been damaged; even the manager and his wife put
their fists in their mouths to hide a noisy smile. The German shouted:
“Mein Gott! I vill see that this mans be arrested! Mein Gott! Mein
Gott!”

It’s a lively place, this Samoan isle. There sits an aged, tattooed
native from Motootua village. He is a wandering scribe, a poet and
author of the South Seas, and well beloved by all his critics, who
mostly wear no clothes! He does not write on paper, but engraves on the
brains of his audiences his memories, impromptu poems and
improvisations; or he tells of Samoan history and poetic lore. He wears
the primitive _ridi_ to his bony knees and a large shawl of native
tappu-cloth round his brown shoulders; tall and majestic-looking, with
strong, imaginative face, when he stands quite still and lifts one arm
to heaven he looks like an exiled scapegrace god.

With eyes shining brilliantly he tells you the tale of creation, how
man- and woman-kind came on earth. Ages ago a giant turtle, like a fish
that walked on a thousand legs, came up from the bottom of the ocean and
saw the blue sky for the first time, and far away the coral reefs and
forest-clad shores of Samoa. Full of excitement, it slashed its tail,
swam to the isle and crept ashore. Once on dry land it could not move
and get back to its native ocean again. The sun blazed on its tremendous
back as it crouched and died, and underneath its vast shell a plot of
tiny crimson and blue flowers trembled with fear in the sudden darkness
that had fallen over them. When the giant turtle was dead its crumbling
flesh fed the flowers with moisture, while they cried bitterly at being
hidden from the beautiful golden sunlight. When only the shell was left,
and the sun was shining beautifully, the flowers peeped out and saw the
green hills and coco-palms, and found that they were able to move: out
they all ran and tripped up the shore, a delighted flock of laughing
faces, and climbed the coco-nut and palm trees—they were Samoan girls!

That same night a cloud was leisurely travelling across the clear skies
with a cargo of male stars asleep on its breast; and as it passed right
over the very spot where the new girls were climbing and clinging to the
trees, the high chief of the stars, who was old and grey, looked over
the side of the cloud and was astonished, for he saw the girls and at
once called loudly to the youthful, sleeping stars, who rubbed their
eyes and jumped up. They were beautiful youths with bright faces. “Look
down there,” said the old, grey star, and all the young stars looked and
saw the Samoan maidens climbing about the tree-tops. “Oh, what shall we
do to get down to them?” they all wailed, and the old, grey star said,
“Ah, you were happy till I awoke you from sleep, but now your passions
are awake and you cry aloud for sorrow.” Then they all became impatient
and fierce, and cried out: “Stop the cloud, stop the cloud”; and the
old, grey-bearded star sighed and said: “So shall it be.” The moon at
once shone out in the sky and the old leader put his hand up to the orb
and filled his arms with beautiful moonlight ere he struck the cloud
with his magic breath and the thick, dark mist dissolving fell as
sparkling rain softly to the isle far below. The bright moonlight
clinging to the falling drops made ropes of moonbeams dangle to the
forest tree-tops, on which the laughing stars slid as they went down,
down—as beautiful youths, to fall into the outstretched arms of the
surprised maidens. And that’s how man and woman first came to the Samoan
Isles!

Many more were the strange but really poetic tales told by him and by
other wandering authors, but their memories and the children of their
poetic imaginations are forgotten for ever. I do not think many of the
old-time South Sea legends have ever been collected and translated, and
so they only survive in the biographical writing of men who visited the
islands and happened to have retentive memories for such things as
poetic lore, and so preserved some of those old fragments of Samoan
stories, as I have attempted to do from my recollection of many of them.

The lore of the South Seas has faded and has been replaced by tragic
human drama and rumour. Subject matter for three-volume novels is
plentiful in Samoa; indeed throughout the whole of the South Seas you
could draw and never drain dry the living fountains of human drama.

Peaceful-looking homesteads, clean, religious and happy, abound, but
some are tense with passion. By the mission room down at Mulinuu lives
pretty Lavo; she is only sixteen and deeply religious. She loves the
handsome white missionary with all her soul, but dares not speak out or
confess. Eventually he goes away back to his own country, and a few days
later they find poor Lavo’s body in the lagoon. She looks beautiful even
in death, as she still clutches the photograph of the homeward-bound
missionary. Her native relatives wring their hands and wail; they lay
her in the native cemetery just by the plateau, and sing sadly of her
childhood till she is forgotten.

A white man was found with the side of his head blown off last night; he
arrived at Apia a week ago, looking worried and haggard. All evidence of
his identity had been destroyed by him, excepting a torn,
half-obliterated letter which reads like this:

    “MY OWN DEAR R——. Yes, I still love you, and will not believe
    you did that. I read the full account in this morning’s
    _Chronicle_. My heart is heavy, dear; give yourself up and face
    it. Oh, my darling, don’t leave the country. I love you, and
    will die, I am sure, if you go away. Meet me to-night at same
    place. I long to see your poor dear face. God watch over you.
    Yours ever,

                                                               E——.”

The German High Commissioner kept the revolver that was found by the
dead man’s side, and his fat old wife took possession of the photograph
that was found on him. She has tacked it up on her bedroom wall; it’s
such a nice, happy-looking, girlish face. They buried the suicide in the
whites’ cemetery, at the far end, among the “no-name graves.”

On the slopes around Apia a few emigrants from far-off countries live in
comfortable bungalows. They are happy with their wives and children.
Their memory of the cities and turmoil of the old country is sweeter for
the dreaming distance; they were a bit homesick at first, but now they
have become contented and love the new peaceful surroundings, and look
forward to the arrival of the mails. They still suffer, though, with the
unrestful disease of the far-away suburban towns of advanced
civilisation, and so cannot sleep for wondering who the strange couple
are who rent the solitary bungalow on the edge of the forest up in the
hills. It is quite evident that the new-comer is a gentleman, for he
speaks well and has polished ways, but his wife talks like a
servant-girl; she’s pretty, though. They arrived suddenly in Apia, and
three months after the baby was born. He seems very fond of the baby,
and the mother too, but he often gets very despondent. He’s a handsome
man and does not look a bit practical; indeed he looks as though for the
sake of affection and his word he would sacrifice all ambition and leave
the world behind him. He seems to hate respectable people, and only goes
down to the Apia bar-rooms to mix with old sailors and traders and the
remnants of the beach; he stands treat and is a godsend to them, for he
seems to have plenty of cash. One old shellback entertains him for hours
with wonderful tales of other days, and his comrades sit by and silently
smoke and drink as the bar becomes hazy with tobacco smoke. The lights
grow dim as the old sailor’s yarn rolls the world back, and in the now
romantic atmosphere of the bar shades of old pioneers dance ghostly
wise; old schooners and slave galleons are anchored in the harbour; you
can hear the laughter and song of dead sailors and traders. They are
dancing jigs, their sea-boots shuffle, under the coco-palms just outside
the bar-room, the bright eyes of dark native girls shine as they whirl
clinging to their arms: how they welcome the white men from the far-away
Western world—the men whose ships long ago died down the seaward
sunsets, and faded away beyond the sky-line into Time’s silent sea ere
our generation was born.

Out on the promontory sits the high chief Tuputo in his homestead. He
has a noble, wrinkled, tattooed face, and, though he belongs to the old
school, he wears glasses. The lizard slips across his moonlit floor, and
through his door he can see the silvered waves and the wind-stirred
coco-nut trees twinkling by the barrier reefs; the waves are breaking
and wailing as they wailed and broke in his childhood. He has been a
sailor in the South Seas; he remembers tribal wars in Fiji and Samoa and
has refused many invitations to secret cannibalistic festivals. Now he
sits reading the English newspapers, for long ago they taught him to
read English, and he is a staunch Catholic. Often he reads and wonders
over the terrible crimes that are reported in the police news of his
late-dated London newspapers. He had once, long ago, thought that
England and New York were sinless lands ethereal with Christian dreams,
imparadised cities, their spires glittering in the sunlight of the
Golden Age. If not, why did missionaries leave them to come across the
big seas to Samoa, and all the isles of the Southern Seas?

The great world war has not commenced yet, but even now his withered
hands itch to clutch his disused war-club and sally forth to take
revenge on those white men who laugh at his majestic bearing; those men
who stole his isles and brought rum and vice to contaminate the virtue
of his race. How spiteful will he feel when he wipes his spectacles,
and, astonished, reads the truth! But then he will cool down, look at
his innocent old war-club on his homestead wall and offer his humble
services for the vast tribalistic war clash in the white man’s lands,
while Thakambau and Tano, the cannibal kings, and Ritova and King
Naulivan, who never heard the word culture, sigh and turn in their
graves to think that they are dead, while the very world is trembling
with glorious, bloodthirsty battle. Ah, well, their children’s children
are coming to help us: may the old Thakambau spirit still be alive in
their blood to help the advance of culture—the civilisation of sad
humanity. Let us hope, too, that our semi-savage Allies will not eat the
fallen foe! But I must proceed with my own wanderings, for I have a long
way to travel yet.

Samoa still rises silently in moonlight out of the sea of my dreams. I
can hear the barbarian orchestra clanging away down in the native
village, as Samoan girls and youths, and two or three white men, waltz
under the palms just below the plateau, where groves of orange-trees
hang their golden fruit amongst dark leaves. As I play the violin the
semi-savage people whirl to the wild rhythm of the forest ballroom music
of a tribal waltz.

[Music: TRIBAL WALTZ. (_Barbarian._)

Composed by A. S. M.

_Tempo di Valse._

_Con delicatezza._

etc.

_Ped._

_espress._

_mf_

etc.]


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VII

Robert Louis Stevenson—Bohemian Incidents—I lead a Tribal Orchestra—The
   Big Drum—Robert Louis Stevenson at a Tribal Wedding—Robert Louis
   Stevenson in the Grog Shanty—Mr and Mrs Stevenson—The Last Man-eater
   of the Marquesan Group


I NOTICED that the brief incidents in my first book, _Sailor and
Beachcomber_, concerning my personal recollections of Robert Louis
Stevenson were received with an interest which I had not expected. Had I
anticipated this, or had he struck me as an adventurous old shellback of
crime and sea-lore, I should have dwelt more on the subject, but so much
has been written about Stevenson’s life in the South Seas, by men who
have devoted volumes to their reminiscences of that novelist, that I
deliberately left the matter alone.

As far as Stevenson the literary man is concerned I, of course, have
nothing whatever to add, excepting, perhaps, that Stevenson’s books
dealing with the South Seas did not strike me as being as realistic and
breezy as I had expected them to be, coming from such fresh experience
and so able a pen. But having often seen him in Samoa and elsewhere, out
of the limelight and under circumstances that have never, as far as I
know, been written about before, I feel that I may as well tell at
length the few incidents that I think may be of interest. I cannot do
this better than by pursuing my own reminiscences, and so I will revert
to my first visits to Samoa when I was a lad of about sixteen years of
age.

Stevenson was at that time residing at Vailima, Upulo. I had met him
several times in Apia and at sea, for at that time I was always cruising
on the trading schooners and visited most of the chief islands in the
North and South Pacific. I eventually got on a schooner that ran between
Samoa and Suva (Fiji), and it was on these return trips to Apia, and
during my sojourns there, that I saw Stevenson frequently, which was
natural enough, since he lived there and hundreds of men became
acquainted with him in that isolated paradise, where conventionality, as
it is known in Western civilisation, was completely dropped, and all men
became hail-fellow-well-met as soon as they sighted each other. Even
missionaries practised this outward appearance of brotherhood.

I recall how I was sitting in a German store in April one afternoon when
a Samoan, who knew me well, approached me and asked me if I would like
to come that same evening to a grand tribal wedding festival that was to
be held five miles off, round the coast. “And will you bring your
violin?” he inquired. I accepted, and my companion, a young American
sailor who had a banjo, agreed to go with me. I was well known among the
chiefs and natives as an obliging violinist, for I seldom refused to
perform at native ceremonies; the scenes that I witnessed, indeed the
novelty and romance of it all, amply repaid me for all the trouble I was
ever put to, though that is saying a good deal, for my troubles were
sometimes serious ones.

That same afternoon my friend and I tuned our instruments up and made
ourselves look as smart as possible, for the chief who was giving the
ball was one of high standing, and a well-known follower of Mataafa, the
ex-King of Samoa.

In high spirits we started off to tramp the five miles which had to be
covered before we reached our destination. We had not walked more than
three hundred yards from Apia’s main street when suddenly Stevenson
appeared with several of his acquaintances, coming across the slopes
carrying fish which they had purchased from the natives down by the
beach.


[Illustration: WHANGAREI FALLS, NORTH AUCKLAND, N.Z.]


Stevenson turned and saw us, and noticing that we were carrying musical
instruments, he came up and said in a jocular way: “Where are you
hurrying off to? The Lyceum Orchestra?” Whereupon I told him our
destination and he immediately became interested. “Are you in a hurry? I
should like to come,” he said quickly. I assured him that we were in no
hurry, and told him we would wait; but as his friends were becoming
impatient he said that he would come on later, and so off we went
without him.

When we arrived at the coast village where the ball was to be given, my
friend and I sat down under the palms exhausted, for the walk was a long
one and the heat terrific. Just before us was the native village, groups
of conical, shed-like houses, sheltered by coco-palms growing to the
shore’s edge.

As we sat wiping the perspiration from our brows, the village was all
astir with excitement over the approaching festival. Native girls,
dressed in picturesque style, passed by us along the track: they were
jabbering excitedly to each other over the beauty of the bride who had
been married that day, and who was to appear at the feast that evening
to dance and reveal her manifold beauties to the village maids and
youths ere she went off on the honeymoon to the bridegroom’s home.

The shadows were falling over the palm-clad shores of the wild coast and
village of Samoa as the sun dropped seaward. So my friend and I started
off once more and arrived at Kalofa’s distinguished residence. Kalofa
was the bride’s father, and a wealthy man for a native. We were greeted
with loud cries in joyous Samoan phrases as we arrived, carrying the
violin and banjo under our arms. As we entered the large primitive
ballroom, a shed that held about two hundred people, an old Samoan at
once started crashing away at a monster wooden drum, and another
drum-player inside the shed did likewise. The noise was deafening, and
the more so because the ballroom instrument was a large European drum
that had been purchased from one of the American warships that had come
into Apia harbour. This drum was lent out at a high charge on special
occasions by the chiefs. I forget who was the original owner, but I know
that he was quite a wealthy man through the money he received from his
drum receipts, and I often regretted that I had not known the tastes of
Samoans, or I should have arrived at Samoa with a cargo of old army
drums and made a fortune.

Well, as we entered the ballroom Kalofa himself rushed forward and
greeted us affectionately before all the chiefs as though he had known
us for many years. I had only seen him once before, and my cheerful
companion the banjoist had never seen him till that moment. Nevertheless
we met him as though we were the oldest friends, and bowed respectfully
as the whole audience arose and waved their dark hands as they cheered
us. It was a wonderful sight that we saw round us, for right to the far
end of the large, low room sat in half circles the élite of the native
village, dressed in all the colours and grotesque garments imaginable.
Handsome Samoan girls, half dressed and quarter dressed, were squatting
amongst old tattooed chiefs who wore the ridi only, while lines of old
women sat with the handsome youths, who glanced behind them at the girls
who, I suppose, were being looked after by the chiefs. The code of
morals in Samoa was becoming very strict, so many maids having been
tempted by the amorous youths to do things which they ought not to do.
In the centre of the throng was the barbaric orchestra. I have led and
conducted many orchestras and bands during my time, but never such a
deliberately planned inharmonious ear-torturing lot of musicians as I
led that night. I think the instrumentation was chiefly strings and
wind; the former consisted of wires strung across gourds and the latter
of bamboo flutes, old coppers and the drum which I have previously
mentioned.

I sat down in the middle of the orchestral players, squatting, with my
comrade by my side, on a mat, and all the native musicians around me
gazed with great curiosity as I started to tune the violin, and my
comrade to pink-ee-tee-ponk on his banjo; indeed, so great was their
curiosity that they arose from their mats and poked their faces against
our instruments. Hitting my violin with the bow, so—tap-tap, I made a
sign to them to take their seats, and then the overture commenced! My
comrade and I tore away at the strings. I forget what we had proposed to
play, but as soon as we started and the members of the orchestra heard
the violin wailing, they went completely mad with delight, and then
tried to outdo us; so placing their flutes to their dusky mouths they
all started to blow terrifically, and the drums started off and the
stringed gourds twanged! In a moment I realised that to keep up our
musical reputation we must outdo the barbarian music, so I signed to my
comrade, who looked at me as though he had gone mad, and then started to
grind away at all my violin strings at once! I believe we both caught
the primitive, barbarian fever, for though the row was terrible my
memory of it all is one of some far-off event of supreme musical
delight! Not Wagner’s wildest dreams, no Futurist’s idea of harmony
could have outdone the reality of that tribal music. Then suddenly it
all changed from thunder to weird sweetness, minor melodies of sad,
forgotten loves and dreams, for on a little elevated bamboo platform the
bride stood before us. She was a dusky, tender-limbed maiden of about
sixteen years of age. Dressed in a blue frock that went no higher than
her brown bosom, fastened on by a red sash, her thick hair bedecked with
tropical blossoms, she looked like the beautiful dusky princess from a
South Sea novel. Her husband, a fine-looking Samoan of about thirty,
stood beside her as she gazed up into his admiring eyes and sang a
tender song of love. It was a really beautiful melody and I at once
caught the spirit of it, and as she sang on sweetly I extemporised a
delicate accompaniment on my violin, interspersed with minor pizzicatos.
As soon as she ceased her song a tiny child stepped forth, and kissing
her feet handed her a large bouquet of richly coloured forest flowers;
then the bridegroom stooped and kissed the child on the brow as all the
audience solemnly murmured “O whey—O whey” three times. This child was a
relative of the bride’s, and not her own child; though, to tell the
truth, this was often the case in tribal weddings at which I had
officiated as violinist, where often the custom was that the bride’s
first-born came as chief witness to the altar, and sometimes was old
enough to toddle all the way!

When she had sung one more island ditty to her delighted husband the
Siva dance commenced. Through a little door behind the stage came about
a dozen girls clad only in flowers and grass, and when they had squatted
in a circle on the stage they started to beat their bare limbs with
their hands as they chanted, and the orchestra went tootle-tootle on the
bamboo flutes.

As the time passed the audience increased; chiefs, half-castes and many
high-caste natives were there. Robert Louis Stevenson arrived, with his
face wreathed with smiles, and stood just inside the door, watching and
talking to the natives. The old ex-King Mataafa, who was at that time
residing at Malie with his faithful followers, was also there and stood
talking to our host, who was, I believe, related to Samoan royalty.
Mataafa was a very intelligent-looking old man, well dressed and with a
majestic walk. About that time there was a deal of trouble brewing
between the subjects of Mataafa and those who stood by King Malietoa,
and possibly the old king was travelling incognito, for he hardly
revealed himself, but stopped in the shadows.

Stevenson went round behind the audience to him and was greeted very
warmly; they evidently knew each other well.

As the festival proceeded, and the bowl of kava was handed round, the
chiefs and women-folk became excited, while outside under the moonlit
coco-palms the girls and youths started to dance and caper about. My
friend and I took the first opportunity to get outside, for the heat was
stifling inside “the hall.”

When we arrived in the fresh air Stevenson was standing by the doorway
smoking. “Hallo! there you are; I’m sorry, but I was too late to see the
beginning,” he said, and then added: “That bride was a beautiful girl,
wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” I answered, as several native girls came up to us, and, laughing,
seized us and invited us to dance. The girl who had gripped hold of
Stevenson was a very wild but good-looking maid, and gazing up into his
face she started to make eyes at him. Stevenson looked round laughingly
and then accepted the invitation of the girl to dance with her, and so
off they went! As far as I can remember the novelist was a good dancer
and looked at his ease as he held the Samoan beauty in his arms and
gently whirled with her under the coco-palms.

All the time that Stevenson and I were dancing the native orchestra was
booming and shrieking away in the festival shed, and often we heard the
old native drum-conductor cry out “O Le Sivo,” and then came a terrible
crash as he struck the old army drum with a war-club!

Stevenson seemed delighted with himself for a little while, and then we
got too hot and, much to the disgust of the maids, stopped. They were
cool enough in their scanty attire, but we were bathed in perspiration
and fairly steamed in the moonlight as we suddenly stood still.

Now I am coming to the comical part of it all, for Stevenson’s partner
proceeded to make violent love to him, and the look on his face made it
quite obvious that he was beginning to feel uncomfortable, for he
eventually walked off and she at once followed him! He made several
attempts to get rid of her by talking to a native who stood by, but
still the girl persisted, till he suddenly walked up to me and said, “I
say, for God’s sake get her away somewhere; dance with her, do anything
to attract her attention.” I at once went to the rescue and asked her to
dance. I was not much of a dancer, but as a lover I have always been
passable! Stevenson seemed very grateful, but only expressed it by
walking off in great haste as I clutched the girl tightly.

No sooner had Stevenson got out of sight than she started on me, threw
her arms about my neck and began to say loving things about my beauty, I
suppose, in her own language. Several natives were standing under the
trees, shaking with laughter as they watched us: one of them touched his
forehead significantly and then I realised that the girl was not quite
right in the head! “I say, Hill,” I said, as I quickly turned to my
comrade, “she wants you to dance with her; do take her, old fellow.”
“Right you are,” he answered, for he was an obliging fellow in that way,
and then I also bolted and went off, toward the chief’s Fale-Faipule
(the head residence), to get my violin, which I had left in his care for
safety. As I approached the bamboo door I saw Stevenson peeping through
a chink! “Has she gone?” he said. “Yes, I’ve got rid of her; she is a
bit wrong in the head,” I answered. Then, as Stevenson came out into the
open, ready to start away home, to our astonishment the girl we were
talking about ran across the grass and embraced him once more! “Well I’m
d——d!” he said, and at that moment two natives came across the track and
collared her. I think they were her parents; anyway they took her off,
and Stevenson hurried off also, for the hour was late and the code of
morals strict in the Vailima domestic establishment.

My friend and I got back to Apia soon after. I slept soundly and dreamed
of dusky brides and mad lovers. So ended that wedding as far as I was
concerned.

A few days after the preceding events I saw Stevenson again. It was in
the daytime, and I and my friend were busy packing up cases of tinned
food, which had just arrived from Sydney on the s.s. _Lubeck_, which
generally called at Apia every month. Adjoining the stateroom—where we
were assisting in packing the cases—was a grog shanty’s bar-room. The
reputation that this shanty had was an evil one, for it was only visited
by the beach fraternity who lived solely on rum, and by Samoan women who
welcomed German sailors to their dusky arms after dark. In broad
daylight it was a _bona-fide_ beach hotel, frequented by traders who had
no reputation to lose, yet who seemed the happiest of men as they told
fearless tales to their rough comrades, squirted tobacco juice in
endless streams through the open door and drank fiery rum.

Well, suddenly Stevenson walked into the bar, and placing a coin on the
counter called for drinks. He seemed full of glee, and laughed heartily
as his two companions told him something that was evidently humorous.
These two men, whom Stevenson had most probably just met, and who
interested him, were shellbacks of the roughest type. One was positively
comical-looking with dissipation, and had a warty grog-nose; the other
seldom spoke, but simply nodded his head, as an umpire of truth, when
his companion told Stevenson the wonders of the South Seas. They were
telling him about earlier black-birding days, when native men and girls
were lured on to the schooners and carried off to slavery and worse. I
cannot remember the things that they told him, but I distinctly remember
Stevenson’s deep interest as he stood by them, with his head nearly
touching the low roof of the shanty, and called for more rum for his
companions, though he did not drink himself.

The convivial old rogues were delighted with Stevenson’s generosity, and
seeing that he listened eagerly to their yarns the chief speaker became
more garrulous and dramatic than ever as he lifted his hands up to the
roof and said: “Sir, them things that I tells you is nothing to what I
could tell you.” Meanwhile the novelist listened and looked out of the
grog shanty door, to see that no one was about who would carry the news
to Vailima that Robert Louis Stevenson was full of glee, treating old
rogues to rum, in a grog-house of mystery and lurking crime.

There was a native woman in the bar, whom the barkeeper called Frizzy.
She had a large mop of frizzly hair and I suppose got her name from
that. She was one of the abandoned class, had four half-caste children
and was a half-widow, for the father of the children, a German official,
had gone back to Berlin.

Whilst Stevenson was listening to his newly acquired friends this woman
approached him with her ghastly smile, at the same time offering for
sale her little plaited baskets of red coral. Stevenson shook his head,
and as she was still persistent one of the old shellbacks pushed her
away as though she was a mangy dog. Stevenson looked at him with
disapproval, for, though he was naturally opposed to women of her class,
he was a champion for the unfortunates who had been lured to their mode
of life by white men. He then called the woman, who had walked away, and
asking her the price of the coral bought two baskets, though I am sure
he did not want them.

At that moment a white man came into the bar and gave a start at seeing
Stevenson standing there. It was a “new chum” from Sydney, and the last
man you would have expected to see in that place. Looking up at
Stevenson, he said: “Well, who would have ever thought of seeing you
here!” On which the other responded in a surprised voice: “Who on earth
expected to see you here!” Then they both laughed, and Stevenson said
something about being a writer of books and seeking inspiration from
natural sources, and with intense amusement in his eyes he introduced
the two grimy reprobates to his friend, who shook them heartily by the
hand and asked them what they drank.

At this moment a Samoan youth rushed in at the bar door very excited,
and before we could understand his gesticulations a native girl came in
behind him, snatched a large mug from the counter and gave the youth a
crack over the head! As she made another rush to repeat the attack
Stevenson gripped her tightly, and she turned on him furiously, and
then, as quickly, calmed down and relented. She seemed to regret
bitterly her attack on her lover, for such he was, though he had been
paying attention to another maid. The youth had a gash on his forehead,
and though it was not a deep cut the large flow of blood made a
serious-looking affair of it all. Out of the native’s home, not far off,
the children and women came rushing to see what the row was about, for,
unfortunately, the jealous girl had screamed out when she struck him. A
German patrol came running across, and had not Stevenson expostulated,
and got on the right side of him, the girl would have been arrested. The
whole affair would have been in _The Samoan Times_, Stevenson and his
friend would have been brought forward as witnesses, and though
Stevenson was perfectly innocent a lot of scandal would have been the
result.

                  *       *       *       *       *

About eight miles from Apia, in one of the coast villages, lived a
Marquesan who had married a Samoan woman, whom I knew, as she had
resided in Satuafata village. One day, when I was walking along in Apia
town, I was suddenly greeted by her cheery laugh, and she invited me out
to their home, an invitation which I at once accepted, and so the next
day I started off alone. The weather was beautiful and the sky cloudless
as I passed under the coco-palms, and heard the green doves cooing in
the branches around me, as the _katafa_ (frigate-bird) sailed across the
sky bound seaward. Through the trees I could see the Pacific, bright
under the hot sun, and in Apia harbour the hanging canvas sails of a few
anchored schooners. As I walked along I felt perfectly happy in the
company of my own thoughts, which were only disturbed as I passed the
native homesteads and returned the hand-waves and salutations of
“Kaoha!” from the pretty native girls who stood at the doors. Samoan
girls were, as I have told you, born flirts, and longed for the romantic
white youth who would love them and make them “Te boomte Matan,”[1] as
they had read maids were loved in the South Sea novels which they bought
from the old store shops in Apia. Far away along the coast I saw droves
of native children standing knee-deep in the shaded lagoon waters that
joined the ocean just outside.

Footnote 1:

  Wife of a white man.

I passed a beautiful spot where I had often stood at night, when the
island was asleep and the moon hung over the water, and the view
appeared like some mighty painting done in silver and mystic colours,
framed by the starlit skies. The palms perfectly still, stretching to
the slopes of the Vaea Mountains, stood all round, only a wave gently
breaking over the far-off barrier reefs, or the wavering smoke from the
moonlit village huts, destroyed the impression of something dream-like
and unreal around me as the wind came and moaned in the palm-tops,
humming beautifully, till it seemed the chiming of the starry worlds
across the sky could be faintly heard.

About three miles from Apia I left the track to cut across a plantation
towards the coast, when I was suddenly surprised to see two white people
some distance off coming toward the village that I was making for.
Ambushed in the thick scrub, I peered up the track to see what they
might be, and was again surprised to see that it was Stevenson and his
wife. Stevenson had a large bamboo rod in his hand, and was waving it
about violently and seemed very excited. Indeed I thought they were
quarrelling, but as they approached a group of village homesteads just
near the track I saw that he was gesticulating, and pointing with
pleasure at the surrounding scenery, which was extremely beautiful
there. They did not notice me, and so I remained unobserved. Stevenson
was dressed in white trousers and had an old cheesecutter cap on. As
they approached the native homes a lot of children came rushing across
the clearing to welcome them. Mrs Stevenson picked one of them up in her
arms and kissed it, while her husband in fun ran after the rest with his
bamboo stick, and they all scampered away in delight.

At the far end of the plantation, wherein grew coco-nuts, yams and
pine-apples, was the home of my native friends. I crossed the space and
passing between the lines of white native houses arrived at my
destination. Mrs Laota and her husband gave me an enthusiastic welcome,
with the usual hospitality of Samoans, and in a very short space of time
I sat down before an appetising meal of poi-poi, taro, bread-fruit,[2]
yams and boiled fowl. There were two families living in the homestead,
and the native children climbed over me as I sat down to eat, and,
though I am fond of children, at that moment they were a fearful pest.
However, as in England, I had to put up with it and assume a happiness
which I was far from feeling, while the delighted eyes of the parents
gazed upon me and on their children; but they were semi-savages and, of
course, it was all excusable.

Footnote 2:

  Bread-fruit is baked in the red-hot ash, like baked potatoes. When it
  is cooked properly the outer rind cracks and falls off.

After I had finished my meal I stood at the door, smoking and talking to
my host, who seemed a very intelligent native. He was a Marquesan, and
his father, an old chief, was also in our company. It was just at this
moment that Stevenson, whose wife was still visiting in the village,
came strolling along; he had evidently been to the village before,
because my host and his wife at once called him and he came across and
greeted us all with a cheery laugh, accepting a slice of pine-apple from
the children and sitting down on the bench with us.

Well, Koro, the old Marquesan chief, had lived in the stirring times
when his tribe had suffered from the ravages of cannibalism, and he
started off yarning almost directly Stevenson sat down. From his lips we
were told many things that seemed almost unbelievable. Koro even darkly
hinted that Samoans up till very recently had been addicted to the awful
appetite, which was probable; but, being an intellectual race and
superior in every way to the other races of the Pacific, Samoans had not
allowed the stain of cannibalism to rest on the history of their people,
letting the memory of it die out with the custom. Stevenson was alert
with interest as the old chief told us of past cannibalistic orgies of
his islands, and, as the old man yarned on in pidgin-English, kept
saying “Well now, really me!” for very surprise at the things we heard.
One tale he told us was so bloodthirsty and cruel, and the truth so
evident from the manner in which it was told, that I must repeat it
here.

It appeared that in the Marquesa Group, on Hiva-oa, at a period not
distant from the time that I am telling you of, there was a ferocious
cannibal who was the last survivor of a tribe which had ravaged the
surrounding villages and preyed on the flesh of the people. In Koro’s
time this hated man-eater lurked in the forest, and the village was
obliged to have sentinels on watch each night. For the terrible cannibal
had a passion for the flesh of their children, and often by night the
whole village was awakened by hearing the screams of one of their little
ones, who had been seized whilst asleep, and was being carried off into
the forest. The method of this monster was to crawl on his belly through
the thickets and watch the village for hours, and once or twice a girl
had been carried off in broad daylight to be strangled and eaten. Many
of the things the old chief told us were too terrible to write down
here; it is enough to say that he did not strangle his female victims at
once, but kept them lashed in his hiding-place to be killed and eaten at
leisure. The people knew this, because a native girl had managed to
escape, after being a prisoner of the monster’s for several days. It is
impossible to describe here Koro’s dramatic attitude, and his wonderful
way of telling the story. The listening children in the hut crept closer
to us for fright, and Stevenson laughed almost hysterically and said
“Good Lord!” as the old fellow continued. “Well, Marser Stesson, one
night Chief Swae, who had just got married, had a great dance, and we
all be happy and dance; and that night when the moon was getting old we
all did sleep and Swae’s bride did sleep beside him, for the night was
very hot and we did all sleep in the open under the _fifis_ (palms).
Suddenly we were all awake and jumping about in the village, for Swae
was shouting out with a great voice: ‘The man-eater has stolen my wife.’
In one moment we had all seized our war-clubs, old cutlasses and muskets
and rushed off into the forest, Swae the bridegroom leading the way.
Presently we did hear a far-off scream coming from the direction of the
sea. Swiftly we turned and went toward the shore, and it was then that
we all looked through the mangroves and saw the great man-eater holding
Swae’s bride in his arms as though she was a caught bird. He was leaning
against a tree and had stopped because she did cling to one of his legs;
he was a mighty big fellow of great strength, and his face was very,
very dark and wrinkled with wickedness. Swae ran with all his might
round the shore and got behind the cannibal, and, creeping up behind
him, with one sweep of his cutlass cut his head from his shoulders. It
fell to the forest floor and the body still stood upright, while the
cannibal’s head lay on the ground with the mouth still half laughing at
the thought of what he would do with Swae’s wife! When we got up to the
bride she lay as one dead, still clinging to the man-eater’s leg. Then
Swae called her softly by her name and she opened her eyes and sprang
into his eager arms. We cooked the body of the cannibal and gave it to
our grunting swine. No one of my tribe would eat the swine after that,
so we sold them to the white sailors who came in on the big ships and
they were much pleased that they were so cheap!” And saying this the old
chief gave a chuckle in his wrinkled throat, being hardly able to
disguise his inward delight. Stevenson, too, saw the grim humour of it
and also smiled and said: “Well now!”

As Koro finished Mrs Stevenson arrived on the scene, carrying a large
bunch of flowers, and when Stevenson told her that which we had been
listening to she said: “Ugh, I am glad I wasn’t here to listen; you love
gruesome things, I know.” Stevenson grinned like a schoolboy as he
started mischievously to tell her some of the most gruesome details
which we had just heard.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VIII

Robert Louis Stevenson and his Friends—Stevenson as a
   Roadmaker—Timbo—Stevenson on the Schooner—The Skipper—“Tusitala” and
   the Natives—Conventionality—A Visit to King Malietoa—Stevenson’s Love
   of Adventure—Stevenson the Writer—Genius in the Southern
   Seas—Socialism


I SAW Stevenson several times after that at society balls and concerts
in Apia, where sometimes he seemed full of merriment and indeed the life
of the party, and again at other times strangely silent, revealing the
man of moods. I have never heard that he was fond of being alone, but I
can vouch for it that he was as often alone in his wanderings over the
islands as he was with friends; indeed I think I saw him more often
alone than otherwise. I met Mr Strong twice, I think, when he was with
Stevenson. Mr Moore too, who wrote _With Stevenson in Samoa_, was a
pleasant man, and Robert Louis Stevenson and he were as familiar as
brothers.

Almost the last time I saw Stevenson was at the Tivoli in Apia; he was
with Mr Moore and several other men whom I cannot recall. They were all
taking refreshments and talking. Stevenson was flushed a bit, his eyes
were very bright, and with his hat off, revealing a lofty, pale brow, he
looked unlike the ordinary run of men. He was in an excellent mood, and
Mr Moore and another member of the party were so intensely amused at
what he was saying that they almost upset their glasses and spluttered
as they laughed; which gave Stevenson very obviously great pleasure, for
he was as fond of a joke as any of them.

On that special occasion I was in the company of the chief mate of a
large schooner which was leaving Apia the next day for Honolulu.
Stevenson, or one of the party, called us across and offered us drinks
and cigars. Soon after my companion, who had to get on board his ship,
left and I went with him; and as we got outside we still heard the
jovial exclamations of Stevenson and his friends as they yarned on,
their voices fading behind us as we walked away into the moonlight and
shadows of the coco-palms many years ago.

Stevenson would often tackle rough work, such as tree-chopping and
digging; and was often to be seen perspiring and covered with grime as
he helped the natives to make tracks across the rough jungle and forest
land that surrounded Vailima. Bare-footed, dressed in old clothes and a
seaman’s cast-off cap, he looked like some vagabond dust-man. His manner
to the natives who worked for him was jovial enough; he would shout: “Go
it, Sambo, that’s right, te rom and te pakea[3] if you work hard”; and
then with a twinkle in his eyes he’d stand and watch them lugging the
wheelbarrows up the slope as they jabbered like school-children and
worked their hardest. Several of Stevenson’s friends also worked with
him: one of them would be cutting the trees down as the novelist smoked,
and jocularly criticising him, telling him to “keep moving and not be
such a loafer.” Mrs Stevenson arrived on the scene of hard work once and
chided him for exerting himself. “Don’t do that, dear, or you will be
ill again,” she would say; and the novelist would look up and then work
harder than ever.

Footnote 3:

  Meaning rum, refreshments and tobacco.

He was to be found in all the out-of-the-way places and would go miles
alone, usually on foot; though he had an old horse or ass, I forget
which, he seldom rode it.

One day I was walking along near the coast when a little native boy of
about six years of age, came limping out of the jungle scrub just by the
track. I picked the little fellow up and discovered he had trodden on
some glass, and had a deep gash in his foot. As I was carrying him down
to the shore to wash his wound, Stevenson and a boy came strolling by.
Stevenson, who was always very kind to children, examined the wound,
took out his pocket-handkerchief and bound the foot up, after we had
well bathed it: his manner to the little outcast was one of extreme
tenderness.

I was living with two kindly disposed old natives at that time, so I
picked the child up and carried him home. We found out the next day that
the poor little fellow’s parents had been drowned by the upsetting of a
canoe in a typhoon off Apia harbour. He was very thin and looked ill, so
I gave my hosts some money and told them to feed him up, which they did.
I became very fond of him; he had thick curls all over his head, and his
cheery little brown face was lit up by a pair of beautiful brown eyes.
He slept near me, and every morning he would jump off his bed-mat and
caper about like a puppy and would insist in helping me put my boots on.
He heard me play the violin and was deeply interested in it. I was
always catching him looking at my violin, and each time he looked up at
me artfully, as much as to say: “I must not touch your wonderful music.
Oh no, I’m not that kind of Samoan baby!”

I only chided him once, when I caught the little dark tinker unscrewing
all my violin pegs. He gave a terrified shriek as I ran after him, and
was off like a frightened rabbit. When I at length caught him, and
regained my property, he looked up at me with pleading eyes, gave a
baby-like cry, and in musical, infantile Samoan phrases asked to be
forgiven. So I at once placed him on my shoulder and gave him a ride to
his heart’s delight; and after that he stood guard over my violin, and
came rushing up to me if even the dog went near it. I let him sleep with
me sometimes, and he placed his arms about my neck as though I were some
sweet-bosomed mother; and so in that way fell asleep the little brown
savage in the arms of Western civilisation.

Of course this is not telling you much of Robert Louis Stevenson, but to
me, and in my memory of it all, it’s just as important, perhaps even
more so. The old Samoan wife became very fond of Timbo, as I called him,
and he became quite plump. So I secured a good home for him for life, or
till he grew up, and therefore you will see that I have also done good
mission work in the South Seas!

I heard when I came home afterwards that Stevenson had seen Timbo and
given him some presents, including a box of tin German soldiers. Timbo
gave me half of them. I was obliged to accept them to please him. If
he’s alive still he must be a fine young fellow, for he was affectionate
and plucky even as a tiny child. I remember how I once took him for a
canoe ride, and his delight as I rocked the small craft in the shallow
water till he fell overside, for he could swim like a fish. Once I took
him out in Apia harbour and we went aboard a schooner that had
encountered a typhoon; she was being overhauled, for her deck was almost
washed clean, the rigging was a mass of tangle and the galley had been
washed away. The skipper was a pleasant enough man; he hailed from San
Francisco and had a voice that could compete with the wildest gale’s
thunder, but nevertheless his heart was in the right place when whisky
was scarce. I had met him ashore and, hearing that I came from Sydney,
and had lived near his home in San Francisco, he got into conversation
with me and hinted that there was a chance of a berth aboard for me, if
I felt inclined to take it.

While I was on this schooner one afternoon suddenly Stevenson and his
wife came on board; they had been brought out in one of the small native
canoes that were always hovering by the beach, awaiting passengers
wanting to visit the anchored crafts in the harbour. The novelist was in
high spirits and helped Mrs Stevenson up the rope ladder in great mirth.
Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson was an excellent sailor and made no fuss
about the ascent, as she clambered up and leapt on the deck with a
bounce!

The skipper knew them well and was very polite to them. A young American
or Australian lady, I forget which, was also visiting on board, and the
skipper introduced her to Mr and Mrs Stevenson. She devoted all her
attention to the novelist, and as they were having lunch together in the
schooner’s cuddy Stevenson’s misery, as she plied him with questions and
reiterated her flattering approval of his books, was very evident. “Oh,
I think your books most delightful; how do you think of such things? Was
it really true about that rich uncle and the derelict piano? Have you
read _Lady Audley’s Secret_?” So she rattled on. Stevenson looked
appealingly at his wife, in an attempt to get her to engage the girl’s
attention, but still she persisted in reiterating those things which she
thought were music to the novelist’s ears. Suddenly Stevenson looked up,
and with his fine eyes alive with satire said something to the effect
that “he did not write books for ladies to read,” punctuating the remark
with a look that made the garrulous visitor immediately retire into her
shell.

The convivial equilibrium was not restored till the skipper sat down at
the cuddy’s harmonium and, with his feet pedalling away at full speed,
started to sing with his thunderous voice:

                   “Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,
                    Yo! Ho! Ho! for a bottle of rum!”

The young lady who had so annoyed Stevenson joined in, and revealed the
fact that her voice as a musical medium was a deal more pleasant than
when it tried to flatter a writer of books. Stevenson seemed delighted
to find such an opportunity insidiously to apologise for his previous
irritability, and so at once started to applaud the lady’s singing in an
almost exaggerated fashion.

A bottle of whisky was opened, and the skipper drank half-a-tumblerful,
just to sample it and see if he had really opened the special brand
which he had been recommending to his visitors. Finding there was no
mistake, with all the liberality of a sailor, he allotted to each a due
portion; whereby the dimly lit cabin festival was immensely enhanced.
Stevenson’s mirth was frequently stimulated by the drunken mate, who
repeatedly poked his head into the cuddy door and, with a
half-apologetic leer at the ladies, looked at the skipper and said:
“All’s well, sir. I’m going ashore.” The skipper, who was half-seas-over
himself, looked at him contemptuously and said: “Clear out of it.” “Ay,
ay, sir,” responded the mate, and in a few minutes he was back again,
and out came the same information, “All’s well, sir. I’m off ashore.”

Suddenly the skipper arose and went on deck and a loud argument
commenced, interspersed with those maritime epithets which enforce sea
law and are not to be found in navigation books. After a brief interval
of silence the skipper could be heard shouting out oaths as he shook his
fist to the mate, who was being rowed away ashore by the natives who
always haunted the gangways of anchored ships.

At sunset the party left the schooner, and the skipper went with them,
and we heard their laughter fading away over the darkening waters as the
singing natives paddled them away to Apia’s island town.

That same night I also went ashore with the sailors. Timbo sat in the
middle of the ship’s boat; he had been entertained by the hands in the
forecastle. As soon as I arrived on the beach I made my way to my
friendly natives’ home, for the hour was late and I wanted to get Timbo
off to bed. I was deep in thought, and as he toddled beside me I held
his hand. Suddenly I was startled by hearing the child make throaty
gurgles as though he wanted to be sick, his little brown face wrinkling
up as he made fearful grimaces. “What’s the matter, Timbo?” I said,
somewhat alarmed, and for answer he looked up at me helplessly and
dropped several objects in the scrub. I picked them up and found that he
had been sucking away at a large, rank meerschaum pipe, which I at once
recognised as belonging to the boatswain of the schooner which we had
just left. The boy had also stolen a purse with a few coppers in it and
a small leather belt purse full of brass buttons. I felt pretty wild
with the little fellow at first, because it meant that I had to go back
to the schooner and return the things.

Taking Timbo up, I sat on a log and laid him across my knees, ready to
give him a good spanking, for it was not his first misdemeanour; indeed,
he had done many things which I have left untold. As I laid him face
downwards, so that I might administer chastisement, he twisted his
little curly head round and looked appealingly up at me with his big
brown eyes: as if to say: “Oh, noble white man from the far-off moral
integrity of Western civilisation, may I beg of you to overlook the sad
indiscretion of a Samoan child?” That part whereon I was about to
administer justice looked so small and helpless that I did that which I
should have liked to have been done to me in my earlier years, for I
relented and stood Timbo on his feet. Then I said: “Timbo, for that
which you have done you will be arrested and taken to Mulinuu Jail,
where the wicked chiefs are imprisoned.” Hearing this, he clung to me
and sobbed, and large tears rolled down his cheeks and splashed on to
his small mahogany-coloured toes. So I said: “Timbo, I forgive you.” For
I knew, deep down in my heart, that, though I was white, I had in my
childish days committed several little indiscretions very similar to
Timbo’s. He was only a tiny fellow, and I thought of English babies who
at his age were still in arms and busy sucking dummies; and I knew that
civilisation itself was a monstrous baby, devoid of wit, sucking away at
the dry, windy dummy and soothing itself with the thought that it was
swallowing kindly feeding milk. As I thought I looked at Timbo, and the
expression of gratitude on his little half-wild face, as he stood on his
head and waved his feet to the skies, seemed to applaud my mild
philosophy.

In all that I recall of Robert Louis Stevenson—his manner to strangers,
his ever-ready attention to those who would earnestly tell him
something, his kindness to the natives and to all who were in a
conventional sense beneath him—was revealed a large mind with a
sympathetic, human outlook.

Often little actions, something done on the impulse of the moment, told
of simplicity and tenderness and the greatness which reveals a spirit
that sees the link of fellowship between men, no matter what their caste
or position in human affairs.

At times he might have appeared theatrical to those around him; but it
was the expression of an intellectual, dramatic instinct, not for the
stage, but for the drama played by men of this world, as though he were
ever gazing critically on mortals before the limelight of existence and
saying, half to himself: “There you are! I told you so. What would you
say to all that you’ve just heard if you read it in a book? You wouldn’t
believe it, I’ll be bound.”

His manner to Mrs Stevenson revealed an affectionate, confiding nature
that loved attention. I should think it was the affection of a boy’s
heart, with the strong strain of a discerning man who knew the nature of
women. He would always treat native women with the same deference that
he showed to the women of his own race; a deference always delicately
courteous, excepting on those occasions when women might court his
criticism by criticising him, or by casting aside the delicate armour of
their sex and assuming man’s rôle.

His kindness and the trouble he took on behalf of the Samoans is well
known, and the natives earnestly expressed their gratitude by listening
to and following the advice of “Tusitala,” as they called him, and when
he died they loudly bewailed his death. The poet-author’s coffin was
borne on the strong shoulders of Samoan chiefs, and the sound of their
wailing, as they carried the coffin onwards up the slopes, with slow
footsteps, to the grave on Vaea’s sea-girt height, was his funeral
chant.

I saw Robert Louis Stevenson in many places and in many moods, and
looking back, as I now can, the perspective clearly shows me that he was
a religious man in the true sense of that term. In no wise bigoted, he
often fell into the ranks of Christianity and beat time, with a smile on
his lips, as though he wished to set an example to those around him, in
his knowledge that the example was better than his own half-sad, hopeful
smile. At times, too, he would fall out of the ranks and become a
harum-scarum renegade, and at such moments he seemed to have no idea of
the existence of the barrier-lines that men, before the public, draw
between the jovial rogue and the respectable citizen. “Well, captain,
how goes it? Got an eye-opener aboard?” he would say as he jumped aboard
the schooner’s deck; and then he would turn to the sailor who might be
cleaning brass close by and offer him a cigarette, or walk into the
forecastle and chum with the crew, or look over the ship’s side and shy
a copper to the swimming natives who haunted the bay, with the
sea-birds, looking for a living. Such was Stevenson’s manner in the
isles of Samoa, where, notwithstanding the wildness and the proximity to
primitive life, many of the emigrant citizens still did things, or did
not do things, because of the standard set by a majority.

It does not matter where you go, or how remote from civilisation your
dwelling-place may be, you are sure to have some living illustration
before you to tell you that the chains of conventionality are forged
from the natures of men. I believe that if we could come back to this
world a myriad years hence, when the sun has cooled down to a ghostly
moon, when the seas are frozen and swinging to the tideless desolation
that precedes the final crashing of the planetary system, and the human
race has dwindled to a camp of twelve shivering mortals wrapped in
bearskins, we should find them sitting over the last log fire without
wood, with gloomy faces, anxiously awaiting Monday—because it is Sunday!

Mrs Stevenson was as much a Bohemian as her husband. She accompanied him
on his short visits to Apia town, and on those occasions she was
generally to be seen hurriedly rushing back to get, or inquire for, that
which had been left behind. The novelist walked ahead and, as he went on
dreaming, forgot that his wife was out with him till the domestic voice
came again. Mrs Stevenson was very pleasant to talk to; she invited me
to Vailima, but I was not able to go. Indeed, I was only a lad and, not
being a lady’s man, would have run twenty miles to escape Vailima
fashion.

I recall many men who were acquaintances of Robert Louis Stevenson, and
whom I have never heard of since. I remember one old man in particular
whom Stevenson was always glad to meet. Indeed, the novelist’s face lit
up directly he saw him. His name was Callard, and he was a bit of a
scallawag, was a character and had plenty of spare cash. He was never
silent, but talked all day long and nearly all night, and always had
some new trouble to relate. I slept in his room one night with two other
men and he kept on and on about some friend who had swindled him out of
five dollars in San Francisco, for that was his native place. “Yes, he
did me, by heaven he did”; and saying this he would start reckoning up
on a bit of paper, and sit on the side of the bed swearing till my
friend and I said: “If you won’t worry any more about it we’ll give you
the five dollars.” About a week after he took a passage on the ’Frisco
mail-boat. I really believe that he hurried home and spent five hundred
dollars to ease his mind about that five dollars, and would have spent a
thousand dollars sooner than be done. I am rather like that myself, but
I do not let such losses prey on my mind, for if I did, and tried to get
even with the culprit, I should be incessantly travelling off somewhere
or other.

Well, Stevenson often met Callard, and the old chap treated him as
though he was a boy, told the novelist jokes, spun yarns and repeatedly
nudged him in the ribs; and the two would finally end up by retiring to
the bar and standing each other treat.

Callard’s great ambition at that time was to see King Malietoa Laupepa
at Mulinuu. I went off with him, and with the assistance of some
Malietoans got him an introduction at the royal court. Callard behaved
with great propriety, indeed, bowed to almost all the native servants of
the court retinue! I played the violin to the King, who was a most
agreeable gentleman, and carried himself with a deal more importance
than Mataafa did. Callard spoke day and night of the King’s handshake,
and chuckled in his very sleep at the thought of what his friends in
America would think when they heard of Callard and the King of Samoa
together. He went especially to Vailima to tell Stevenson about King
Malietoa, and kept the novelist amused the whole evening.

Callard’s eyebrows were about half-an-inch long and they stuck straight
out, and as he spoke his eyelids kept closing as though he was in deep
thought; and what with that and his high, bald head, he was a
cheerful-looking man. He always drank whisky, and Stevenson tucked him
up to sleep on his couch at Vailima when he was too full of it to walk
back to his lodgings! I am quite sure if Stevenson had lived the world
would have heard of Callard.


[Illustration: WANGANUI RIVER, N.Z.]


Stevenson had a sneaking regard for vagabonds, and his eyes twinkled
with delight in their company. He was very credulous and believed a deal
that he heard. I think he would have gone off exploring for some new
country, or a treasure island, in five minutes, if he had been
encouraged by some of the fearless adventurers whom he mixed with
through his love of vagabondage and adventure. The questions he used to
ask men of the seafaring class revealed how implicitly he believed that
which they were telling him, yet at other times he seemed alert with
suspicion and in a mood to disbelieve actual facts.

Though I heard Stevenson make several attempts to play the violin, and
also heard him pedalling at the harmonium, I cannot recall that he
accomplished anything that struck me as showing musical talent—that is,
talent revealing a quick ear to distinguish the scales and intervals of
mechanical music. Indeed the pedals made more noise and sounded more
rhythmical than the time he played; and he looked like some careworn
priest toiling away on the treadmill of penance to save his soul. But
still I can say that Stevenson had a gift that was something much
greater than an ear for light melody. He was a great tone poet! His mind
was a shell that caught echoes from the vastness of creation, and the
murmurs of humanity in all its joy, passion and sorrow. Otherwise he
could never have even noticed, let alone described as he did, for not in
all literature will you find another who describes _sound_ so perfectly
at one stroke as Stevenson did. You can _hear_ Nature’s moods, in all
her wild grandeur of seas and the winds in the mountain forests, as you
read his books. The seas beating over the barrier reefs, the vast
silence of the tropical night, the starlit coco-palms and the coughing
derelict beachcomber sleeping beneath them, become realities that haunt
your mind, because they are made and played by a great musician who was
an artist in Nature’s great orchestra.

I think if Stevenson had been able to cast aside all thought of the
critical inspection of lovers of polite literature, and the mechanical
niceties of phrase and thought, and had written his reminiscences down
in a book, the characters therein would have walked, talked and laughed
with cinema realism. Down in the magical world of words, before the
mind’s eye and ear, we should have seen the vast tropical Pacific, and
the stars over it reflected in the lagoons of the far-scattered isles
clad with coco-palms as if painted by the magical silver oils of
moonlight. We should have heard the cry of the traders and seen the
beachcombers’ ragged clothes fluttering by tossing waters, and paddled
canoes filled with the swarthy faces of wild men, on the waves that were
breaking over the shores of his wonderful pages.

But, unfortunately, it was not to be, because of the great truth that we
cannot do differently from that which we do. We are born in the chains
of grim conventionality that become inevitably a part of us. Indeed he
who professes to be utterly free from it, and to have no regard for it
in his work, has his published book as strong evidence against his
sincerity.

I’ve met far greater geniuses than Robert Louis Stevenson in the
Southern Seas—geniuses so intense with pathos, wit, insight and heroic
courage that though they had never even read a book, or learnt to write,
their minds were gold mines of truth and experience and all that men
have ever attempted to tell in polite phrase. Could they, by some
magical means, have turned a handle and so written down in a book their
reminiscences, and their thoughts on human affairs, modern literature
would not have to bewail the loss of its Golden Age, but would be
absorbed with delight, filled with ecstatic charm over the pathos and
the wonderful touches of truth, in what would be the great classic, the
new Odyssey of modern times.

But to return to Stevenson. I once heard him arguing violently on board
a ship, when he was at dinner in the saloon. At the time I was busily
cleaning the brass door handle. It grieves me to have to confess to this
humble occupation while I was seeking fame and fortune in far countries,
but it was the execution of this little detail of one of my many
professions that gave me the opportunity of hearing the celebrated
author’s opinion on Socialism.

One of the diners, who sat opposite Robert Louis Stevenson, was a big
red-faced man, weighing about sixteen stone, a quantity of heavy
jewellery which adorned his clothing being included. He breathed
violently as he ate and kept insisting on the wonderful virtues of
Socialism. Stevenson combated with him in fine style, winning every
point. All I can remember of the conversation was that the author said:
“Socialism is based on ideas of equality and the freedom of the
individual; yet its principal aim in practice would be to destroy
individuality and freedom, and the equality would be a system producing
nothing else but a nation of slaves.”

I think Stevenson was right, for I have noticed that socialists are not
continually busy in giving away anything. Indeed, socialists have so
developed the instinct of commercial grab that they can always perceive,
“by the cut of your jib” (a socialistic phrase), how much you are worth
and whether you would part with it without the use of muscular force. I
am not well read in the ethics of Socialism, because I cannot waste my
time. If a burglar broke into my house, and I caught him stealing my
goods as his fair share, I should not want to read his private
correspondence and hear his views on human affairs, or wish to know if
he had a clean shirt on ere I threw him out of the window or fetched the
police. Socialists do not like sharing their property with others any
more than I do.

I have striven to tell in the brief foregoing details my impressions and
experiences of Robert Louis Stevenson. I hope they may be interesting.
In the books that deal with his life in the South Seas it is little
short of marvellous how tamely his life there is painted, especially
when one thinks that his island home was overrun by semi-civilised
natives and a white population of the most mixed and adventurous people
the world could well place together; and certainly Stevenson was not the
kind of man to travel to the South Seas and seek no other excitement
beyond an afternoon walk or a fashionable dance in an Apia ballroom.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was somewhere about the period which I am dealing with that a
discussion was going on concerning Father Damien, the celebrated
Catholic priest who had sacrificed his life for the sake of the lepers
at the dread lazaretto on the Isle of Molokai. In my first book of
reminiscences in the South Seas I touched briefly on the few incidents
which I heard from a native friend of mine, Raeltoa the Samoan. And
before I proceed with my later reminiscences of Samoa and elsewhere I
will tell you all I heard about Father Damien whilst I was in Honolulu.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IX

Honolulu—King Lunalilo—Chinese Leprosy—Kooma’s Reminiscences of Father
   Damien—Molokai—The Leper-Hunters—Father Damien at Molokai—Robert
   Stevenson’s Open Letter to Dr C. M. Hyde


AFTER Samoa I think the Sandwich Isles are the most attractive islands
in the Pacific. They are mountainous and the summits of
Hawaii—pronounced Ha-wy-ee—rise to fourteen or fifteen thousand feet.
All the islands of the group are volcanic, and rich both in live and
extinct craters. I should not be surprised if some day the bowels of the
Sandwich Group suddenly exploded and blew the isles to smithereens!

When, from the sea, you sight the coast, its promontories covered with
coco-palms and gorgeous tropical trees, waving over slopes that lead
down to lazy, shore-curling waves, you think of the Biblical Garden of
Paradise. Native hut homes, conical-shaped, with tiny verandahs, peep
out of the bamboo and clumps of bananas beneath mighty bread-fruit
trees.

I stayed several weeks in the Sandwich Group. The natives are mirthful
and well dressed, far in advance of the Marquesan and Solomon islanders.
They are all Christians, but decidedly immoral according to European
codes. Honolulu is a well-shaded city, with the spires of advanced
civilisation rising. Missionaries are there in plenty, and possibly they
feel thankful that barbarian ideas of virtue have given them a
profession on islands of tropical beauty, whereon they can live in
extreme comfort while they work among, and are kind to, the natives.

While there I saw the palace of the Hawaiian queen, who I think was the
widow of King Kale-Conalain. She was as polished as a Parisian prima
donna. I also saw the new king, Lunalilo, a fine-looking Hawaiian, six
feet high, full-lipped and very majestic-looking. He was dressed in a
frock-coat and fashionable felt hat. As he appeared before the people
and stood on the palace steps, the crowds waved and cheered as the
British do to their King and Queen.

The Hawaiian climate is healthy; but Chinese leprosy attacks the natives
and the white population, which consists of French, English, Kanakas
negroes, Chinamen and ex-convicts. Swarms of mosquitoes find the
Sandwich Isles a happy hunting ground for their race, and are one of its
drawbacks.

I toured on the island steamer _Kilanea_ to all the various isles, and
then stopped near Honolulu with Kooma, who was a Hawaiian. He was an old
man, yet straight figured, well tattooed and with intelligent eyes. His
high brow denoted intellectual qualities which were usually conspicuous
through their absence from the heads of his race. Hawaiians are like all
the South Sea Islanders, and have a deeply rooted hatred for work. As
they have embraced Christianity, heathen songs have ceased, and now,
like caged birds on the polished perches of civilisation, they sit and
quote, parrot-like, all that the missionaries teach them.

Kooma at that time had no calling. He was aged, and had reared up a
large family, and his athletic sons, who worked on shipping wharves at
Honolulu, repaid Kooma for his past kindness. He had several married
daughters also. I was not very well off at the time and gladly accepted
the old Hawaiian’s offer to let me occupy rooms in his home at a charge
that nicely suited the state of my exchequer.

Kooma had known Father Damien[4] intimately, that heroic leper priest
who had devoted his life to combating heathenism and nursing the lepers
on the Isle of Molokai, and had, a year or so before, died of the
dreaded disease. So I was fortunately able to hear, directly from him,
details of deep interest to me concerning the life and character of the
celebrated priest, who had emigrated from Louvain as a missionary to
Honolulu, and after a strenuous life of self-sacrifice lay in his grave
near his stricken children on the lonely lazaretto isle, Molokai.

Footnote 4:

  Joseph Damien de Veuster was born at Tremeloo, a small peasant village
  near Louvain, in 1840; and in peaceful scenes that are now ravaged by
  the relentless tramp of materialistic battalions he, as a boy, dreamed
  and fed his imagination and intense genius for helping humanity. He
  died on 15th April 1889.

It appeared that my friend had known Damien many years before he went to
Molokai; had officiated as his servant, and helped the missionary build
some of the extemporised churches and homes at Kohala and elsewhere.

Sitting by his side, by the window of his humble homestead, while native
children romped under the palms out in the hot sunlight, I talked to
Kooma of many things, and hearing that he had known Father Damien I at
once plied him with questions. “Was Damien a kind and good man, Kooma?”
I asked, and then, with much pride that he was able to give me
information concerning such a popular white man, he blew whiffs of
tobacco through his thin, wrinkled lips and answered: “I have cut wood
and dug hundreds of post-holes for the great white priest, and he no pay
me.”

“Did not pay you?” I said, astonished.

“No,” he answered. “I knew that he was poor and had no money, and so I
work for no wages.” After many questions and replies which dealt chiefly
with the Hawaiian’s own character and importance, I gathered that Kooma
had collected firewood for the lonely priest, and had done many services
for him, both as a friend and a servant, out of a good heart, for it
appeared that Damien was not by any means an austere man or master, but
one who worked with those around him in a spirit of good comradeship.

If anyone imposed upon the natives and Damien heard of it, he would
hotly resent the imposition, and with flashing eyes shout and fight for
their rights as though they were his own children.

Years before Damien went to Molokai a handsome Hawaiian girl, who lived
at Kahalo, loved a Society Island youth who had, with his parents,
emigrated to the Sandwich Islands. The father of the maid disliked the
youth, who was an idle, good-for-nothing fellow, and so would not
encourage the lad’s attentions to his daughter. For some time the lovers
met in secret, for love laughs at locksmiths in Hawaii as well as
elsewhere. One night, as Damien sat by his fireside in his lonely hut
having his humble meal, the love-sick maid appeared at his door.
Crossing her hands on her breast, she bowed, half frightened, and after
much hesitation pleaded to the Catholic Father on the youth’s behalf,
begging him to help her, for she was in great distress; and knowing that
Damien was a great missionary and priest of the white God, she suddenly
fell on her knees and confessed all. She was in trouble through the lad,
and, telling Damien this, she laid her head on his knee and cried
bitterly; for the kindness of his eyes soothed her and made her feel
like a little child. Gently bidding her to rise, the Father told her to
cease from troubling, and said: “Go, my child, home; tell thy father
all; also that thou hast told this thing to me, and I will come and see
him.”

The priest did all that he promised; and the next evening the sinful
youth who had brought sorrow to Ramao, for that was her name, appeared
before the hut door wherein lived Father Damien and, shamefaced, hung
his head for a long while. Kooma, who sat telling me all this, added:
“And the great white Father put the spirit of Christ in Juno’s (the
lad’s) heart; for he became good, and worked hard, and was forgiven for
that which he did, and they were happy and had many children; and I
learnt to love Juno in his manhood, for he was a good father and kind to
the maid who was my daughter!” And, saying all this, he pushed the
window higher up and pointed to a tall maid who, in her ridi robe, came
singing down the track by the jungle ferns. On her bare shoulders she
humped baskets of live fish which had been just caught below in the sea.
“She,” Kooma said, “is my granddaughter, and was the unborn child of the
fallen maid whom Father Damien was kind to”; and there she stood in the
doorway and gazed on us both with laughing, sparkling eyes, bare from
the waist upwards, excepting for a thread of beads hanging at her breast
and a Catholic cross, with a tiny figure of the Virgin Mary, swinging
below. I looked at her with deep interest, and thought of the kindness
of the missionary priest, dead in his grave at Molokai.

Kooma showed me a Bible which had been given him by Father Damien. It
was well thumb-marked, torn, and pencilled by the priest at those pages
where he had made my friend memorise different passages. On the front
leaf was Damien’s signature. On my handing the sacred gift back to the
Hawaiian he carefully placed it at the bottom of his chest; and I knew
that it would be no use my attempting to get it from him, however much I
might want the book. Many interesting things did I learn from my stay at
this native’s house, for night after night I would get him in a
reminiscent mood. It appeared that as time wore on the young priest, who
was a handsome, healthy-looking man, became somewhat subdued and
saddened, and aged considerably in the space of three or four years. At
times he was morose and unapproachable, though afterwards he would gaze
with kindly eyes on those whom he might have spoken to in anger.

“Did he ever go away?” I asked Kooma, and he answered: “Sometimes he
would go for one or two days, and often at night-time go off wandering
alone in the forestlands about his house; and night after night at
sunset he would sit with his chin on his hands and gaze toward the
seaward sunset, with eyes that saw far away.” And then Kooma added: “And
I would say, ‘Master, shall I get thee more firewood?’ and he would not
answer, but would steadily gaze on, and I could see the tears in his
eyes, and I knew that he sorrowed over that which I knew not of.” So
earnest was Kooma’s manner that, as he told me these things, I saw the
past, the lonely hut home and the exiled priest gazing into the sunset,
sick at heart as he dreamed of his childhood’s home across the world. I
wondered somewhat, and thought over the stories Raeltoa of Samoa had
told me, which I have written about in my earlier book of reminiscences.
For Raeltoa the Samoan had also known Father Damien, as, of course,
hundreds of natives did, and had told me, unasked, of his kindness and
heart-felt sorrow for those who hid from the leper captors as they
searched for the stricken people.

For leprosy had wiped out thousands of the natives of the Sandwich
Islands and elsewhere. When once the victims revealed the
purplish-yellow patch on their bodies they were doomed, for no cure was,
or is, known for the scourge of leprosy.

In Kooma’s house dwelt a chief who lived in Oahu. He had elephantiasis,
which had swelled his legs to three times their normal size. He used to
sit under the pandanus-trees reading his Bible as I talked with Kooma,
and I was extremely pleased to hear, on inquiring, that his complaint
was not contagious; for when he squatted with his knees up in front of
him, so swollen were his limbs that his body and head were hidden from
view.

But to go back to Kooma’s reminiscences. “What happened before Father
Damien went away to the Leper Isle of Molokai?” I asked, and Kooma
answered: “He became most sad, and then wished many of my people who had
the leper patch good-bye, and promised to go one day and see them, and
made them happier with smiles and promises; and often he would go a long
way off to comfort those whose relatives had been taken to the dreaded
lazaretto.”

“Did you see Father Damien after he had gone to the lazaretto?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied; “and he looked most sad and very, very much older:
and I asked him of my sister, whom he had seen at Molokai, for she was
stricken with the plague, and he said, ‘Kooma, your sister is happy; the
spirit is well, though the flesh, which is nothing, is ill.’”

Then Kooma told me much of the doings of the Flemish priest: how he had
toiled incessantly for the welfare of his native children, ministering
to their souls; and how his influence had soothed their hearts, hearts
that still half nursed the old traditions; for the Hawaiians were
originally a wild race, and still their songs told of heathen mythology,
of mighty warriors, of love and ravishment, and of cannibalistic times,
so Damien’s task of reforming them was no easy one.

For many years the dreadful scourge had crept, with its fatal grip, over
the whole of the Sandwich Group, and as time went on it became so
prevalent that the Hawaiian Government decided that the best step to
take to stay the horror of fetid rot which was annihilating the race was
to isolate all those afflicted with the disease and send them to
Molokai.

Molokai was a lonely, half-barren isle surrounded by rough, beaten
shores of crag and fortress reef that for ever withstood the charges of
the seas as eternally they clashed, broke and moaned through the caves
of the death-stricken isle, echoing and mingling with the moan of
memories and deathly cries that faded on the dying lips of the
plague-stricken men, women and children who rotted till they became
lipless skeletons, still alive in their tomb—the grey, gloomy lazaretto
of the Leper Isle. Terrible was the grief of the natives as those
employed to separate the lepers sought out all those who were spotted
with the livid leper patch. Father Damien’s heart was sick within him as
he heard the lamentations of forced farewells, as, standing by their
captors, helpless men and women, gazing over their shoulders, looked
into the eyes of those they loved and went away for ever!

Father Damien, who had devotedly administered comfort to the stricken
ones who were scattered over the isle, saw and felt deeply the grief of
those around him; but he was powerless to help the unhappy people; he
knew the enforced separation was decreed by the authorities, and was for
the best.

It was well known that many of the unfortunate victims were hidden away
in the forest-lands, or in caves by the shores: maidens secreting their
lovers, and lovers hiding the pleading maids, husbands their wives, and
wives their children. Often in the night, as the dread inquisition
discovered some trembling, hidden victim, a scream would break the
silence of the jungle as the victim was muffled, gagged and taken away;
for the leper-hunters were not the tenderest and most poetical of men.
Money was their reward for all the lepers they captured, and the men
hired for the job were chosen for their evil reputations and the
expression of brutality on their dark faces. Father Damien’s heart was
indeed wretched over the fate of his children.

As Kooma the Hawaiian sat telling me all this, and the shadows fell and
the island nightingale sang up in the pandanus-trees, I watched his
earnest face and listened attentively, for I knew that I was hearing the
truth of much that was hidden from the world. I learnt that the sad
priest would sit at night for hours under the coco-palms, deep in
thought, and have no sleep, so troubled was he over the fate of the
flock that he loved; and many times did he help the afflicted ones, and
long and deeply did he hesitate ere he told the authorities that which
he had to tell, and which his tender heart stayed him from telling. As
Kooma told me this I saw that his memories of the priest were sincere
and loving enough. Then he called out “Pooline! Pooline!” and a native
girl came and poked her head in at the doorway; it was his
granddaughter, whom Father Damien had christened. They had called her
after Damien’s sister Pauline (which they pronounced Pooline); for the
priest often spoke of his sister in Flanders, and told Kooma that some
day she would come out to him to share his work and help him in it, and
several times he wrote home and asked her to think the matter over.

Few were surprised when at length Father Damien volunteered to go to
Molokai and administer faith and comfort to his lost children in exile.
He taught them to be patient as he walked amongst them and crept by the
lazaretto huts of death, knitting their shrouds and gazing with kind
eyes on their faces till they ceased to see and feel, and he buried
them. Lonely indeed those nights must have been as, alone with grief and
silence, his bent form hammered and hammered, beating out the muffled
notes that drove in coffin nails: for he made the last beds of his dead
children, digging their graves and burying with his own hands many
scores of the stricken dead, until he at last succumbed to the scourge
himself. He lies buried with those he died for, and has, let us hope,
found a reward for his self-sacrifice in heaven.

From Kooma I heard much of Damien’s true character, his love of justice
and his impulsiveness in hastening to help the weak, regardless of all
consequences. Once, while Father Damien was eating his supper, a
Hawaiian appeared at the door and said, “Master, trouble has befallen me
and my home”; and then told the priest of a tragedy that had occurred. A
native girl through jealousy had stabbed another who had sought her
lover, and was either hiding in the forest or shore caves or had killed
herself. All night the native and Father Damien searched, and at length
the girl was found almost lifeless, covered in blood, on the shore reefs
seaward from Kilanea, her body lying half on the sands and half in the
waves. She had slashed herself and had nearly bled to death. Damien
carried the girl for miles in his arms, bandaged her and saved her life;
also the life of the girl she had stabbed so viciously in her jealousy.
When they were both well again he brought them together, made them
embrace each other and swear to forget all, with the result that they
became greater friends through being erstwhile enemies. Each secured a
lover to her liking, and ever blessed the great Father who had
befriended them instead of handing them over to the authorities at
Honolulu—authorities whom Damien hated, for they moved on material lines
and looked upon cruel force as the best means of discouraging crime, and
on kindness as insanity more dangerous than the crime it forgave.

In a corner of Father Damien’s lonely little homestead he kept the
cherished letters that arrived from his homeland across the sea. Night
after night he would take those letters out and read them through again,
and then tenderly place them in a small pot and hide them beneath his
trestle bed. They were letters from his sister Pauline and other
relatives in Flanders.

One night he sought them and they were missing. Great was Father
Damien’s grief, and even rage flushed his face as he demanded of Kooma
if he knew of their whereabouts. For hours he searched, “and never was
the Master in so great a temper; he look much fierce and his eyes fire
and then cry,” said Kooma, as I listened. “What did he do then?” I
asked. “Did he find the letters?” “Yes,” said Kooma, “he did find
letters: a dog that Father Damien had been kind to had smelt and pawed
them up and run off with the pot, which we found in the scrub. The great
Father was then good to us and did ask me to forgive him for that which
he said; which I did do; and the dog too he forgave; and Father Damien
once more smiled, stroked the shaggy thief, and it sat up, looked at the
Father’s eyes, wagged its tail and was happy.”

I often heard a lot of discussion about Father Damien’s life and work,
sometimes between rough island traders, and sometimes between men of the
conventional middle class. A few of the former had met Father Damien, or
knew those who were acquainted with him, but most of them expressed
opinions from hearsay and the low or high order of their own instincts.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s celebrated open letter to Dr Hyde had much to
do with the popular nature of the controversy and the growing enthusiasm
for the self-sacrifice of the dead priest.

For those who may not know the exact facts I relate them here.

After Father Damien’s death Robert Louis Stevenson, whilst cruising in
the South Seas, happened to read a paper that contained a letter written
by Dr Hyde, of Honolulu, to the Rev. Mr Gage, of Sydney, who in turn
sent it to _The Sydney Presbyterian_ for publication. Here is the
letter:

    _To The Rev._ H. B. GAGE.

                                        HONOLULU, _2nd August 1889_.

    DEAR BROTHER,—In answer to your inquiries about Father Damien, I
    can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the
    extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly
    philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man,
    headstrong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went
    there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement
    before he became one himself, but circulated freely over the
    whole island (less than half the island is devoted to lepers),
    and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and
    improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of
    Health, as occasion required and means were provided. The
    leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and
    carelessness.

    Others having done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the
    Government physicians and so forth, but never with the Catholic
    idea of meriting eternal life. Yours, etc.,

                                                         C. M. HYDE.

(Published in _The Sydney Presbyterian_, 26th October 1889.)

When Robert Louis Stevenson read the above letter, and the comments upon
it, he was deeply incensed, and wrote a defence of the priest about
which the world knows.

Mr Melville, whom I met at Apia, told me an interesting story about
Robert Louis Stevenson and his championship of Father Damien. While Mr
Melville was a passenger on a ship, the _Lubeck_, I think, he sat near
Stevenson, who was dining in the saloon. The conversation touched on
Father Damien and Dr Hyde’s letter, and when a passenger revealed by his
remarks that he was half willing to believe Hyde, Stevenson almost
shouted and insulted him. The passenger, irritated, persevered with his
opinions and said something further, whereupon Stevenson said: “Some of
you men still make one think of the danger of Christ’s mission and His
risks on earth,” or something to that effect. On this the passenger
answered: “Mr Stevenson, you forget yourself,” and Stevenson immediately
replied: “I would to God that some of you fellows would forget
yourselves and remember the virtues of others.”

When Mr Melville told me this I smiled, for from my own personal
recollections of Robert Louis Stevenson I knew that he did not need a
battalion of supporters to help him maintain his own opinion when he
felt that he upheld a noble purpose: for Stevenson was a fearless,
though gentle soul, even apart from his literary life and work. Indeed
Damien found in him a kindred and worthy champion. Not always are men
able so well to express outwardly that which they beautifully write and
feel.

As I have said, much rumour and discussion followed both Dr Hyde’s
letter and Stevenson’s powerful retaliation, and it was not uncommon for
Catholic and Protestant divines engaged in arguments on the matter to
come even to blows. Now all men admit that Dr Hyde’s letter of
denunciation was indirectly one incentive that drew the attention and
praise of the world at large to the heroism of the martyr priest, and
was responsible for Robert Louis Stevenson’s reply and vindication of
him. Personally I do not think Dr Hyde was as deliberately hypocritical
as Rumour has painted him. Of course this does not imply that Robert
Louis Stevenson’s counter-denunciation of Hyde’s epistle was unjust or
too fierce; he wrote as the first champion voice, and wrote from the
white-hot intensity of indignation over what he felt was a deadly wrong
done to the memory of a great man. This can, too, in the consciousness
of man’s fallibility, be applied to motive on the other side, for Dr
Hyde, of Honolulu, also wrote to his friend, the Rev. Mr Gage, from a
firm belief in his heart that rumour was truth and Father Damien’s
memory was not deserving of “extravagant laudation.” Many others of his
own denomination had devoted their lives to the lepers, both on the
islands and at the lazaretto at Molokai, and so Dr Hyde’s great sin was
in believing that which he was told and remembering the self-sacrifice
of his own brethren who had also toiled on behalf of the lepers.

The voice of Rumour has many forked tongues of envy and the carelessness
of thoughtless scandal. Our religion is founded on the sorrow and
disastrous result of its tongue, for did not Christ suffer crucifixion
through this weakness in mankind? Through doubt and envy to this day
some nations believe one side, and others the other; and are there not
millions now who do not believe in that which our religion is founded
on? Was Dr Hyde so wicked? I for one do not think so. Do we know what he
thought after he had written that mighty atom of a letter? What were his
reflections, misgivings and regrets over his first belief and hasty
conclusions, and over that celebrated blazing challenge of Stevenson’s
to the world, revealing in words of fire the complete vindication of
Damien’s life, work and Christ-like heroic virtue? We can imagine what
he felt like, for we all make mistakes, but not with such drastic
results.

The stern note of intense application to a set purpose reveals in
Stevenson’s letter the fact that he felt that Damien needed an immediate
champion. Stevenson was at heart a Christian man, in the full, true
sense of the word, and I have not the slightest doubt that after his
open letter had fulfilled the purpose which he intended it to fulfil,
and the first heat of his just indignation had cooled down, he himself
would have withdrawn it from publication, if he could have done so, and
let the whole matter slumber; for he of all men would not have wished
vindictive roots to spread and twine about the hearts of men who thus
would strangely nourish the very thoughts that their creed specially
preaches against.

Stevenson well knew man’s weakness, and the bigotry of men who differ on
religious subjects and are opposed to each other by the difference of
creed. Certainly the imputations of undeserved praise which were
suddenly hurled at the self-exiled priest’s reputation only served one
end: to bring out, if possible in brighter relief, the splendid heroism
of Father Damien’s life, both before and after his going back to
Molokai. Even had it been bitterly proved that the Flemish missionary
was not a spiritual saint, but fallible flesh and blood flowing through
earthly channels, which resisted, but did not always overthrow,
temptation, still he would stand before us a beautiful man (and he was a
man); and to do all that he did, and still have the weaknesses of
mankind, makes the martyr stand out greater to our eyes than if he did
his wonderful life’s work through some effortless, inborn virtue of
heavenly inheritance.

The sad peasant priest of Louvain has been dead these many years; he
lived and died without ambition, and only in heaven may know the earthly
fame he achieved. Well may we believe how beautifully he would smile,
forgive and touch with his lips the brows of his erring detractors, with
the same spirit that made him live and die for his fellow-men with the
certainty of one final reward—a stricken leper’s grave in far away
Kalawao, on Molokai Isle.

         Out of grey crags by warder-seas they creep
         With wailing voices as the stars steal by;
         Dead men—fast rotting on dark shores of sleep,
         Their earthly eyes still shape the shadowed sky!
         Poor skeletons, they moan, laugh, grin and weep;
         In loathsome amorous arms some still lie.
           Entombed, they curse the sun—Time’s cruel dial
           Above that vault—the South Sea Leper Isle.

         Hark to the midnight scream! Then silence after
         Of desolation voiced by waves that leap
         By sepulchres—damp huts of sheltered rafter,
         Where dreaming dead men shout thro’ shroudless sleep!
         As windy trees wail dreams of long-dead laughter;
         As o’er each wattle hut the night winds sweep,
           And dying eyes watch ships out o’er the night,
           Pass shores of death with port-holes gleaming bright!

         ’Twas on that Charnel-isle, with watching eyes
         He toiled for dead men who still heard the waves
         Beat shoreward: saw the South Sea white moonrise
         Bathe their-to-be forgotten flowerless graves!
         Exiled pale hero-priest! Full oft their cries
         Smote his sad listening ears; like unto caves
           That voice the mournful tone of ocean’s roll,
           Infinity entombed sang in his soul.

         Lonely as God, he sat: enthroned o’er pain
         Brave music made of desolation’s sorrow,
         Christ-like gazed on the deathless, crying slain!
         His eyes breathed light—foretelling some bright morrow
         Till from their tombs they rose—the dead again!
         Dark skeletons of woe, they rose to borrow
           Life from Molokai’s hero:—men denied
           That leper-priest—like Christ—when Damien died.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER X

An Inland March—The Great Chief—A Siva Dance—A Sailor’s Party—Nina’s
   Samoan Fairy Tale—Death—The Golden Horn—Idols—A Marquesan Village—We
   ship as Stowaways


I EASILY recall to mind my farewell days in Samoa, and the native trader
with whom I lodged. His homestead was a comfortable bungalow, sheltered
by coco-palms, and not far from Saluafata village. I had not much money
at that time, and my friendly native only charged me just what I could
afford to give him, which was, unfortunately, very little. He had three
daughters and two grown-up sons who were just about my age; they spoke
good English, were good companions, and we had merry times together. I
gave the eldest daughter music lessons during my short stay. Her father
purchased a cheap German violin down in the stores at Apia, and the
Samoan’s daughter made rapid progress. I taught her to play by ear. Her
relatives came in from the districts to hear her play her first Samoan
hymn. I have never been so complimented for my teaching ability in my
life as I was over that dusky girl’s progress. I felt well repaid by
their gratitude. They fed me up, for I had been ill for a fortnight with
a severe cold and was getting thin. I went off almost every evening with
the sons fishing, and lived in real native style. I enjoyed the various
native dishes, for Mrs Pompo, my host’s wife, was a clever cook, and
served up the cooked fish with stewed yams and many more island
delicacies. Poi-poi was a favourite dish: a mixture of taro,
bread-fruit, yams and wild bananas.

My host had several wealthy relatives living inland, and at last the
sons, young Pompy and Tango, succeeded in persuading me to go off to the
inland villages with my violin to visit them. I well remember the long,
hot march they gave me, as I tramped between them for miles and miles
along tracks just by the coast, and then inland across paths by the
coco-palms. Some of the journey was over rough jungle country beautiful
with tropical trees and flowers. Merrily my comrades sang as I plucked
the fiddle strings, banjo fashion, marching along far away, with the
civilised cities thousands of miles behind.

We slept out the first night, as indeed I often did in my travels. Pompy
and Tango lay asleep on each side of me as, sleepless, I looked round my
bedroom floor and saw my palm-trees standing windless and still and my
bright stars over me flashing in the midnight skies.

Next day we passed across thick island jungle and then suddenly emerged
on to a large clearing, where by a river stood several isolated huts.
Through the doors came rushing brown-faced native girls, with delight
and wonder shining in their dark eyes at hearing the music of the
fiddle! Like little dark devils bare-footed children came running behind
us, and then, just as we were passing close by the half-open hut door,
out came the picturesque bigger girls for the second time, for they had
seen my white face and had rushed indoors with haste, all screaming out,
“Papalangi!” They had forgotten their fig-leaf, so to speak. At the very
most, natives, boys and girls who lived inland, wore little dress beyond
the primitive ridi, and if they wore more than usual it was some remnant
of European clothes, given them in exchange for curios, or as wages by
artful traders.

On the green, scrubby slope, under a palm-tree by her hut door, stood a
full-figured, dark Samoan mother, showing her white teeth as she smiled.
She looked like some grotesque statue as she stood there quite still
beneath the blue tropical sky, for she wore a delicate undergarment as a
robe, which just covered half of her bronzed figure—a present, possibly,
from some trader’s wife.

As the native girls came down and walked by me, gazing sideways with
great curiosity, the tall grass brushed their bare knees and their eyes
shone as they revealed their pearly rows of teeth and laughed, calling
out to each other, “Arika pakea!”[5] Samoan girls are great flirts, yet
I felt that I trod some enchanted land where vice was unknown. The faint
inland wind stirred their loose, bronze-coloured hair, wherein they had
stuck white and crimson hibiscus blossoms or grass. Several little
mites, with tiny wild faces, came close up to us and stood with boastful
bravery a moment in front of me, their little demon-like eyes anxiously
striving to examine my violin, and when I suddenly struck all the
strings together—r-h-r-r-r-r-r-r r-r-n-k—off they rushed back to the hut
doors and gave a frightened scream. Out poked the frizzy heads of all
the mothers to see what the hullabaloo was about. When they saw me they
waved their dark hands and shouted, “Kaoha!” or “How do you do?” as I
tramped by between my two comrades.

Footnote 5:

  White man.

About a mile farther on we came across another small group of huts, not
far from a grove of orange-trees, where we picked the golden fruit out
of the deep grass; it tasted like pine-apples and oranges mixed. Only
two old native women were in sight. They were very busy, it was their
washing day, and one of them stooped over an old salt pork ship’s
barrel, washing the village clothes: on a line hard by, stretched
between two coco-nut trees, hung a row of newly washed ridis, steaming
in the hot sun. As we approached, Pompy and Tango intimated that it was
the abode of one of their great relatives. On the ground beneath a clump
of bamboos, stretched out flat, was an old Samoan chief. “O Le Tula!”
Pompy shouted, and the old fellow slowly lifted his wrinkled face and
welcomed us. My comrades, his grandsons, jabbered away to him in native
lingo, and introduced me with pride, telling me that I was gazing on one
of the past great chiefs who had been King Malietoa’s special favourite.
He had a classical profile that was slightly spoilt, for one of his ears
was missing; it had been blown off by a gun-shot in a tribal battle some
years before. As I gazed upon him with reverence his eyes looked
straight in front of him and he pulled himself up majestically. His
large frame was well tattooed. Suddenly he signed to me and said
something over and over again in broken English. When I at last
understood I forced a smile to my lips and handed him my last shilling.
I could not very well refuse, as I had walked many miles to see him. He
grabbed the coin, and his face went into a mass of wrinkles as he
grunted out “Mitar.” On a slope about five hundred yards off was a
tin-roofed mission room, and a missionary’s homestead close by. There
was only a half-caste assistant there; “the Boss” had gone off to Apia.
The half-caste seemed a decent fellow, and gave us a cup of German tea;
for Malietoa’s old chief had bolted off to the nearest rum shop, miles
away probably, directly he had got possession of my shilling, to get _te
rom_.[6]

Footnote 6:

  Gin or rum.

That night I witnessed a native dance, resembling in character the
dances which I have already described in my first book of reminiscences.
But this dance slightly differed from the dance scenes of my previous
experience. It was more rhythmical and, instead of being grotesque, was
a weirdly beautiful sight; for as the large, low moon, half submerged by
the distant hill, sent a flood of light through the coco-palms and
banyan-trees, it lit up the moving, dark faces on the forest stage
floor, which was a cleared patch. A picturesque Samoan girl stood
swathed in a girdle of festival flowers and sang, while the squatting
Siva dancers rocked their bodies to and fro and clapped their hands. I
stood close by and played on my violin a minor melody; and its silvery
wails were accompanied by the full orchestral moan of the whole forest
of giant moonlit trees as the wind blew fitfully through them. Then came
the wild chorus, as the circle of girls rose and, like a crowd of wood
nymphs made of moonshine, embraced each other and then divided, whirling
and waving their arms fantastically in the glimpsing moonlight that
poured through the palms. As for me, I stood in the middle of the
dancers playing my violin and firing away double forte, and presto
velocity, to keep in with the barbarian tempo. About a mile off was the
spot to which I had been dragged by a tribe of natives, who had forced
me to play at a cannibalistic feast during my previous sojourn in Samoa.

After the forest ball had closed, and the performers were dispersing and
going off to their homes, a well-dressed native, who had known me when I
was in Samoa before, recognised me, and I was extremely pleased to see
him. He was a trader and an intimate friend of Hornecastle’s—my
convivial old friend of earlier days. I learnt from him that Hornecastle
had gone away to the Gilbert Group, or to the Solomon Isles, I forget
which. The trader invited us to his house, where we spent the night. We
had no sooner got under the shelter of his welcome roof than clouds slid
over the sky and a terrific storm came on. It lasted well into the night
and nearly blew me off my sleeping-mat, for the Samoan’s house was open
all round. To ease my restlessness I rose and looked out on to the
sleeping village. The rain had ceased and the moon, low on the ranges of
Vaea Mountain, looked like a globe lamp wedged between the sky and the
earth. Space was quite clear for miles, but far away was a travelling
wreck of foaming cloud that looked like a serried line of mighty
breakers silently charging across a shore of starlit blue. I well recall
this particular night, for I was greatly impressed by a sad sight. Under
some coco-palms just below I saw a light glimmering in one of the
natives’ shed-like huts, and I heard native voices. Going down the
slope, I spoke to a Samoan who was standing by the door, and from him I
understood that a native youth was dying. He had been ailing for some
time and had been suddenly taken worse. The relatives had fetched the
priest, who was kneeling by the bed-mat giving the last benediction. I
saw the outline of the sick boy’s face and the half-conscious smile of
faith on his quivering lips ere he died. I will draw a veil over the
rest, which would make very uncheerful reading.

The following day, on our way back, we met a crowd of English sailors
going inland. They had several natives with them who had been drinking
rather heavily down in Apia. As we approached, the sailors, spying me
and my violin, shouted out: “Hallo! matey, where did you get that hat?
Any girls round these parts?”, and then all started to do a double
shuffle. Not far off was a small village, and when I offered to go there
with them Pompy and Tango jumped about and laughed with delight; and the
eldest seaman of the crowd, the boatswain, I think, smacked me genially
on the back with such force that I looked up at him a bit wildly at
first; but I quickly recovered as he gleefully gave me another nudge in
the ribs, saying, as he winked with good fellowship: “Don’t kill me,
youngster.”

As they approached the village, loudly singing the latest London hit,
and emerged from the thickets of bamboo, a covey of native boys and
girls came running down the slope, from a group of native huts, to
welcome the jolly white men: two of the wild crew were blowing their
hardest, mouth organs at their lips, and the eldest, who had goatee
whiskers, and wore a Tam o’ Shanter kind of seaman’s cap, sang lustily,
with wide opened mouth, just behind them; at intervals he stumbled
slightly through being half-seas-over.

Sunset was fading on the horizon out seaward and touching the coco-palms
and the distant mountain range with golden light as the shadows fell
over the island. From the hut doors the naked children peeped and
clapped their hands with delight. The primitive town fairly buzzed with
excitement when, under the palms, Samoan maids whirled around, clasped
in the arms of the joyful sailors, who made the wild island country echo
to their singing voices. A crowd of stalwart Samoan men left their work
on the banana plantation close by and came to watch the sailors ashore.
Dressed in their ridis only they stood, with their white teeth shining
and their eyes sparkling merrily to see the novel sight. The pretty
Samoan girls screamed with laughter, and their long brown legs went up
and swung across the grass and fern-carpeted floor of the primitive
ballroom, as they twirled round and round in the sailors’ arms, and
looked over their brown shoulders at a corpulent, fat native woman, who
hailed from the Solomon Isles. For she imitated the drunken boatswain’s
high kicks and fell down, purposely, on her heavy bareness, to the
shrieking delight of the whole onlooking village, as I played the
fiddle. “Birds of a feather flock together” is a true saying; and I must
confess I enjoyed myself seeing my countrymen so happy.

At the far end of the village was a native store, run by a half-caste
who sold kava and terrible stuff called the “finest whisky.” When the
first dance was over, with their bashful partners on their arms, dark
eyes looking up admiringly into blue ones, they all went across the
slope to get refreshments. The sailors had money and treated the
natives, who were all on their own, for the missionaries were away on
the coast somewhere, attending a festival. So the mission rooms were
deserted, and the lotu songs unsung that night, and the sailors were
welcomed by them all as missionaries had never been. Pompy, Tango and I
followed the crew about and they treated us to lime-juice drinks; we
refused the whisky. When they were all primed up again with native
spirit, and the stars flashed over the windless palms, they had another
dance, and six native women, who did not care a “tinker’s cuss” for
anyone on earth when the missionaries were away, stood opposite the
sailormen all in a row, mimicking them in a jig, the hibiscus blossoms
stuck in their thick hair tossing about.

The missionaries somehow got to hear of it all and there was an awful
row. Some of the women were taken before the _fakali_, or native judge,
and fined a dollar, one month’s wages, and they sat with shamed faces
for hours in the mission room, counting their beads (about the only
dress they had worn that night), doing penance, while the real culprits
went on to their ship out in the bay.

When we got back, in the early hours of the morning, old Pompo jumped
off his sleeping-mat and started bellowing at his two sons for
overstaying their leave. I took all the blame, and explained that the
old grandfather, the late high chief Tuloa, had been so pleased to see
us that we had been compelled, through sheer courtesy, after his
enthusiastic welcome, to accept his invitation to stay on. Hearing this,
the old chap toned down, and we went to bed and slept soundly.

I went on the tramp steamer _S——_ next day and applied for a berth. The
chief mate promised me a job; so I went back to my friend the Samoan’s
home and stayed there till the matter was settled.

Nina, the youngest daughter of my host, who was about twelve years of
age, was an extremely pretty girl, and very romantic. A day or two
before I left Samoa I came across her sitting by the shore holding a
sea-shell to her ear, listening attentively to its murmur and singing to
herself.

“Why do you listen to the shell’s voice, Nina?” I asked.

“They are singing to me,” she said, as she looked up into my face with
earnest, wondering eyes.

“Who is singing to you, Nina?” I responded, rather surprised at her
remark and the assurance in her manner that someone was singing to her
in the shell. Then I heard from her lips an example of the poetical
_Arabian Nights_ of the South Seas. Crossing her legs, she arranged her
pretty yellow frock, then put her finger up as though to tell me a great
secret, and as I sat by her on the rock she told me the following
story:—“There still lives an old heathen god deep down under the sea.
His home is a large cavern, so big that its roof is the floor of all the
ocean. In this big cavern is a beautiful country, lit up by the light of
all the sunsets that have ever sunk down into the great waters out in
the west. For it is in the west, deep down in the sea, where the old
grey-bearded god’s door is. Every night, just as the days are going to
bed, the lonely god stands by his door, with his big watching eyes
gazing up through the waters, as the sun sinks slowly down into the sea.
For he knows it is on the sunset fires that he will catch the shadows of
dead Samoan sailors who have been drowned by the upsetting of their
canoes when the great storms blow. For when they die their shadows swim
away to the sun directly it commences to sink, and then, clinging to the
golden light, they go down, down, and are caught by the big god as he
stands by his door under the sea, pulling the sunset in as a fisherman
does his nets.”

“And what does the god do with them, Nina?” I said, as she sat
hesitating and looking up at me with her pretty brown eyes.

“Well,” she continued, as she put her finger to her lips and dabbled her
little brown feet in the waves that crept up the shore in foamy curls,
“for thousands and thousands of years he has been watching and catching
the dead sailors, and all those who are drowned in the storms; and as he
stalks along through his wonderful countries, his endless forests under
the sea, moving through the light of yesterday’s sunsets, all the
shadows of the dead sailors follow behind him, singing, and begging him
to catch also the dead girls and women who have been drowned. But in a
deep voice that echoes, and is the thunder you hear when the storms
blow, he says: ‘_Mia fantoes_’ (my children), ‘you must only love me and
not love mere women.’ But still the shadows follow him, imploring and
singing, ‘Oh, bring us the beautiful dead girls and women’; and their
voices, for ever echoing through the cavern roof, come up to the top of
the ocean shores and caves, and you can hear them, though they are far
away, faintly calling, calling to the big god under the sea. So all the
girls and women come down to the shore and, if they have no one to love
them, they put the shells to their ears and listen to the calling voices
of the dead sailormen.”

“Do you believe that, Nina?” I said, as I looked at her.

Then she nodded her pretty head with absolute conviction; and I too
listened to the shell’s murmur and pretended to be astonished and
convinced. “Nina, and what becomes of the dead girls who are drowned?”

For answer she looked up at me sorrowfully for a while, then said: “The
big sea-god is jealous of women, so he takes them out of his nets of
sunset and throws them back into the waters, just as a fisherman does
with the fish that are of no use to him.”

“And what becomes of them then, Nina?”

“They turn to _ruios_” (sea-swallows), “and you can see them very early
after dawn flying away into the fire of the rising sun, whence all that
is beautiful comes”; and saying that she looked up at me with her pretty
eyes staring thoughtfully.

“Who told you all those beautiful things, Nina?” I said.


[Illustration: A RIVER WHARF, WEST AFRICA]


Then she looked up and told me that when she went to see her
grandfather, who was that old chief, “O Le Tula,” he told her many
wonderful things about the sea-gods, and the old heathen gods who once
lived in the clouds and the forest of Samoa. So I tell you that which
Nina told me, though I could never infuse into her beautiful, simple
story the earnestness of her pretty eyes, the note of certitude in her
innocent voice, or the poetry of her childish imagination.

I liked that little Samoan maid. “Good-bye, Nina,” I said, after bidding
the others farewell.

“You go away on _te kaibuke_[7] and never come again?”

Footnote 7:

  A ship.

“I may come back some day,” I answered. I saw the tears in her eyes as I
left her. She’s a woman now. I wonder if she remembers me.

Before I proceed I must relate an adventure I had while passing along a
forest track after playing at a native dance. It was a beautiful
evening; the coco-palms, mangroves and dark orange and lime trees were
bathed in the sunset’s light, and the soft wind from seaward drifted
sweet scents to my nostrils. I was hurrying towards Apia town before
dark came on. Suddenly I heard a scream! The knight-errant fever of
other days leapt like lightning to my eyes: a woman was in distress. I
stood still and cursed inwardly, for I had only my violin as a weapon. I
threw my shoulders back, looked swiftly at the skies, then rushed up to
the slope’s top. A white man stood under an orange-tree; in front of him
was a beautiful Samoan girl. He seemed to be a large-framed, well-knit
man, and I felt a tiny thrill of hesitation; but in the forest shadows
just behind me my old heroes, with dauntless eyes, seemed to be
shouting: “Forward to the rescue of distressed loveliness—onward!”

The white man had once more gripped the native girl and was shaking her.
Her eyes looked around appealingly. The supreme moment to do or die
thrilled me. I dropped my violin-case and, longing for a comrade, with a
bound I was on him! For a moment we wrestled silently. “Ach Gott!” and
“D—n!” the villainous seducer muttered as I gripped him by the throat!
Crash! On my head came a blow—the Samoan girl had struck me on the back
of the head with my violin-case! I heard the fiddle within hum
trr-err-rh, as the four strings vibrated to the blow. They were jealous,
quarrelling lovers, and the girl, seeing that I was getting the better
of the German, had suddenly relented. I had a thundering headache all
night and have never rescued a woman since.

I saw an old Mataafan chief die of old age in Saluafata village. I shall
never forget the sight, or my feelings at the time. He lifted his aged,
shrivelled face from the sleeping-mat, whereon he died, and begged the
heavens to save him. Around him wailed his children and grandchildren;
he was well loved, for all seemed earnest in their grief. I saw his
eyelids close; I heard him murmur in Samoan a prayer to the gods of old,
for the child’s belief revives at death. His dying frame tried to sit
up; the tattoo engraving on his breast, of warriors and weapons, went
out of shape as his skin wrinkled in agony, and then his eyelids closed
for ever. His death forced me to wonder on the mysterious cruelty of the
Universe. Theologies give death a divine intention, but that sight
affected a sense in my innermost soul, and death did not appear to me as
a boon.

Soon after I joined the ship in Apia harbour. We stayed in port a few
days, and then I shipped on the _Golden Horn_, bound for the Marquesas
Islands. I had been there a year or two before and had a fancy that I
should like to see the old spots once more. The schooner’s crew were
mostly Samoans, the cook being a German. The skipper, Alfred Richardson,
an Englishman, was not more than thirty years of age. I slept in the
cuddy. The “Old Man” took a fancy to me, or at least to my
violin-playing, so he, the English mate and I had a fine time together.

The weather was squally for a week and kept the crew busy, and then a
calm fell and we hardly moved. The boat was a splendid sailer and ran
like a hound with the yards almost squared. I remember the beautiful,
calm nights as the sails half filled and flopped and the rigging
rattled. The ocean about us was drenched with mirrored stars; so calm
and bright was the water that we could look over the side and see the
shadow of our ship and all the silent heavens over it, and the mirrored,
beautiful _katafa_ (frigate-bird) sail across the sky on silent wings.

The Samoan sailors squatted on deck and sang weird ditties; I played the
violin, and even the skipper joined in in good fellowship. Sometimes we
fished and caught bonito, a beautifully coloured fish. Soon the wind
sprang up again, and we made rapid headway across the wonderful world of
waters. One moonlight night I was standing on the starboard side
thinking, and gazing at the sky-lines, ghostly bright in the moonlight
for miles around us, when the great ocean silence was broken by a
complaining monotone, such as you hear when you place a sea-shell to
your ear. I instinctively gazed over the side and saw far off, opposite
the weather-side of the moonlit sky-line, curling and tossing breakers,
where liquid masses soared and dissolved on the coral reefs of an
enchanted isle; for enchanted it looked to me as the tiny wind drifted
us onward. Slowly the inland palm-clad mountain ranges rose, and the
groves of coco-palms and dark-leafed tropical trees, and out of the
creeks and bay came native canoes filled with paddling, singing savages!
Presently we saw their dusky faces as they raced across the moonlit
water, bringing their bargains of fruit, pine-apples, wild bananas and
corals; and alas, two or three of them, who had no wares to sell, were
accompanied by their immoral wives!

Up the side they came, clambering like savage mermen out of the ocean
depths. Their frizzly, wet heads came above the rails and, puff! they
leapt on deck and pattered about on naked feet. They were pleasant,
bright-eyed, shaggy fellows and the world’s greatest talkers: they
jabbered and jabbered till sunrise burst over the ocean, and before us,
over the bows, half-a-mile away, lay Hiva-oa.

I asked the skipper to give me a long leave of absence ashore. “Very
well, Middleton, we are not going for a fortnight. You can go off; and
mind you behave yourself and bring that fiddle back.”

“All right, sir, and thank you,” I said gratefully, for he really did
treat me as though I were a passenger. I had played cards with him and
taught him melodies by ear on the fiddle.

“Come on, Sam Slick,” I said to my comrade, who was an American fellow
and came from ’Frisco. I was reading _Sam Slick the Clock-maker_, and so
gave him that name, for he was a kind of Slick. He was about twenty-six
years old, but as boyish as I was; a merry-looking fellow, with a little
straw-coloured moustache, grey, kind eyes, thin lips, good-natured and
determined, and his long legs balanced on enormous feet. We went off,
and I had not gone far before I met a Frenchman who had known me on my
previous visit. I understood from him that a lot of the people I had
been friendly with before were still living there.

Slick, who had not been to the Marquesas before, was enraptured with the
sights we saw. I made him go up to Turoa village and see the natives _en
déshabillé_. He made a splendid pioneer forest breaker, as his boots
crashed down and levelled the jungle scrub, and I followed cautiously in
the track he left behind him. The heat was terrific when we arrived, at
last emerging from the thick tropical scrub and dust into the native
town’s open space.

There was a store erected by the village, a new wooden, one-roomed shed.
We fairly steamed as we loosened our shirts and stood drinking native
toddy, and the little wind blew through the pandanus and dark spreading
palm leaves on to our bare breasts. Out from their beehive-shaped huts
came the Marquesan girls, dressed in their undraped beauty. Their fine
dark eyes shone and their somewhat sensual lips, laughing, revealed
their pearl-like teeth. The Marquesan girls are slightly darker skinned
than the Samoans, and do their hair very attractively, almost with a
Parisian effect. Some of the youths also bunch their hair up, and it is
impossible at times to tell the difference between the youths and the
maids till they stand in the grass smiling before one, and one sees the
straight limbs of the males and the feminine curves of the dusky,
smiling Eves. Sam Slick’s eyes twinkled with curiosity and very evident
pleasure as they spoke to him in pidgin-English and by signs. One pretty
girl, about fourteen years old, held her own baby up for our inspection.
Slick held it in his hands. It was not much larger than a green
coco-nut. Its skin was a pretty red-tinted brown colour. I held it on
one hand and, to please the admiring mother, kissed its tiny bald head.
Then all the little native children, who had crept up to us and were
watching our white faces with childish interest, rushed back under the
forest palms, screaming with delight. Off they went to tell the whole
village population that the big white man had kissed Temarioa’s _fantoe_
(child) on the head. I gave the girls a coin each, and they clapped
their hands and said: “Yuranah!”[8]

Footnote 8:

  Thank you.

Man’s imagination could never picture a paradise to outrival the beauty
of that Marquesan village. But on we tramped, and as we turned up the
winding tracks we sighted the sea, and the waves breaking in the hot
sunlight over the reefs by the palm-clad shores, and far away we saw the
masts of our schooner, the _Golden Horn_. We got hold of a half-caste,
who took us off to the various tribal districts and then left us. In the
solitude of the bush-land, sheltered by an enormous tree, we saw a large
wooden god. As we approached, and our feet snapped the twigs, a
frightened Marquesan girl, who was kneeling before the hideous,
one-eyed, grimy wooden god, rose and fled like a frightened rabbit. We
saw her hair flying in the wind over her bare shoulders as she faded
away in the forest glooms, just looking over her shoulder once with
awestruck eyes as she ran, and then disappeared!

Slick and I were quite impressed by the sight of the running wild girl,
and then we stood and looked up at the heathen idol. It was about eight
feet high, broad shouldered, and the acme of ugliness. It was
considerably decayed, for one eye was gone, and swarms of large
white-bodied ants filed in and out of the curved wooden lips. “Fancy
praying to that thing,” said Slick. “Yes, seems strange,” I responded.
My comrade caught hold of a large bough, and standing a little way off
swung it back; and then crash! he smashed the old heathen deity’s head
in! Then we stood and gazed upon it, and across the forest silence came
a low wail of anguish, as once more we saw the heathen girl run across a
cleared patch, running so fast that we could only just see the twinkle
of her bare legs as she fled in terrible fright at seeing us crash her
god’s skull in, and yet both stand unharmed!

Slick wasn’t anything of a poet, or even of a reflective temperament,
but the silence of that spot, the broken god and the poor,
terror-stricken girl made him say: “Well now, did you ever, mate!”;
while I too looked round half frightened and said, “No, I never; but I’m
off.” When I explained to him that the girl would rush and tell some
more of her tribe, who were Christianised but worshipped idols on the
sly, and that they would come into the forest and get their own back,
probably by strangling us and serving us up at the next cannibalistic
feast, he too agreed. Just as we turned away, and I had carefully placed
the god’s eye in my pocket as a valuable curio, we heard a noise and
looked over our shoulders. About twenty stalwart Marquesan savages were
leaping towards us, not half-a-mile away! I am tall, and to this day I
thank God that my legs are long. I know not what my primitive ancestors
were, or what deeds they were capable of, or what barbarian strain they
have infused into my blood, but I always feel thankful that they gave me
the capacity for fast running! I never knew that Sam Slick could show
such swift movement either, as simultaneously we made an unprintable
remark and like two race-horses, chin by chin and neck by neck, we
bolted off. I had been to the Marquesas before, and I knew that the
inland tribes still nursed old cannibalistic appetites, and an intense
hatred for those who hurt their gods, and that knowledge electrified my
feet. Only the mechanical pumping of our breath could be heard as we
raced across the slopes. Presently I saw that I was gaining in the
flight; my nose was moving through space just about one inch beyond
Slick’s nose! The savages were shouting behind us! I distinctly heard
the wild, savage wails, and looking back I saw their dark faces coming
through the forest of palms. Slick’s face had gone white; mine, I think,
had turned ashen-grey! The sound of running in the forest just behind us
grew louder. If we did not reach the village before they overtook us we
should have to fight for our lives. I had by then gained the courage of
resignation, and turning slightly I gazed back through the great beads
of perspiration dripping from my eyebrows. I told Slick to
“P-p-pp-ick—up—sti-ick—as—you—r-run.” Each word came out in jerks, for
at that time we were almost tumbling down a steep slope. As we rushed up
the next incline I spied some stout branches, and together we stooped
and gripped one each. “I’m done, Slick,” I muttered. “So am I,” he
breathed out, as we stood on the top of the slope and entrenched
ourselves behind a lot of bush, prepared to sell our lives dearly. We
both felt nearly dead as we leaned against each other and prepared to
give battle to the semi-savage men who were rushing down the opposite
slope.

Then the strangest thing happened, but one which I believe happens to
most men. When we found that we _had_ to fight a splendid delirium
thrilled us. We piled the dead logs up, gripped our weapons and waited
with a grim feeling of exultation at our hearts: we would go down to the
festive board game!

Slick stood by my side, a real brick. “Let ’em come, the brutes,” he
said. Up came a stalwart fellow and almost leapt over our branch
parapet. I lifted my club and down it came, crash! on Slick’s head! I
shall never forget that terrible miss of mine, or poor old Slick’s cry
as I fell, and the savage buried his teeth in my leg, while with both my
hands clutching his hair I called loudly to Slick to help me. Down came
my chum’s club on to the foe’s shoulder, and in a moment we had him up
bodily and between us swung him and hurled him over the dead wood; and
down the slope he went rolling!

All this had only taken a minute to happen, and the remaining members of
the horde were all standing at the bottom of the slope to see the result
of their leader’s attack. When we returned their chief to them half dead
they stood perfectly still, hesitating, and looking up to us tried to
call a truce.

“Got any tobacco plug with you, Slick?” I said quickly. To my delight my
comrade pulled out two plugs of ship’s tobacco. I broke it into four
pieces and holding it up in my hand I said, “Tobac! tobac!” and made
friendly signs. In a moment the grim, savage faces of the foe were lit
up with smiles. All the dusky lips grinned and, incredible as it may
seem, they came rushing up the slope with outstretched hands. I at once
made signs to them not to come too near, and then called the
best-natured-looking one; and, as he came close up to me, I stretched
forth my hand and said: “I give you te pakea.”[9] Then I put a bit of
tobacco plug in his dark fingers and signed to him that if they all went
away I would give him a lot more. Upon which he went back; and presently
all his companions went away up the slope opposite us, and standing at
the top of the hill watched the truce-bearer return to us for the
promised tobacco.

Footnote 9:

  Tobacco.

“Don’t you give it him till they go another mile off,” said Slick; and
after parleying again we got them out of sight, and then, to make doubly
sure, gave them only half of the remaining tobacco. As soon as the
truce-bearer went off with it to his companions we took to our heels and
did not stop running till we arrived at the village where we had left
the half-caste guide. Outside the guide’s homestead we lay and rested
for two or three hours before we recovered from our exertion in the sun,
and the fright. We told the guide about the idol, and he said that if we
told the authorities they would go and arrest the Marquesans. Then he
asked us if we would be witnesses and not say that he had anything to do
with giving them away. I at once declined, and so did Slick: we did not
want the whole tribe to swear a vendetta and seek our lives.

We made ourselves comfortable and happy in the village. Many of the old
chiefs lolled about by the huts, pretty little homes made of twisted
bamboo, elevated on crossed palm stems. Scarred with old wounds which
they had received in tribalistic battles, they looked grim, wonderful
warriors. Some were tattooed extensively and had large hairy warts on
their cheeks and ears. They loved to talk of the good old days ere the
bloated whites came across the seas and the Marquesan Rome fell. Sly old
native women, hideous and wonderful looking, peeped at us, then sighed,
and went on chewing their tobacco or betel-nut. Pretty girls, with hats
made of palm leaves and clad in a _mumu_[10] trimmed with flowers,
passed along the tracks that lead from village to village.

Footnote 10:

  A tappu-cloth chemise that reached to the knees.

As we went on after resting we heard the confusion of noises in the
native huts. In some the occupants were singing happily and in others
shouting with hot rage in family squabbles. Often a youth or a girl
suddenly rushed forth from the den door, flying for dear life, as the
old chief’s gnarled, tattooed face peered forth, ablaze with anger that
his own children should dare argue with him and say the heathen gods
were only wood and stone! Sometimes babies disappeared in a mysterious
way, and the native mothers wandered about the villages beating their
hands together and wailing most mournfully. Terrible rumours floated
about in those days, for some of the old chiefs had a taste for “sucking
long pig”: no man who had any respect for his soul would swear by it
that the grizzly old chiefs, and old concubines, did not sit by the
festive fires far away inland and gnaw the bones of those very missing
children!

Slick and I bathed in a lagoon and felt greatly refreshed. I rubbed the
bruise that my club had given him with palm-oil, and though he moaned a
bit the lump soon went down. Next day we went to our schooner and slept
on board. The skipper was away for a week, so we once more went off
wandering, and when we returned to go aboard, to our surprise the
_Golden Horn_ had gone! She had been originally chartered to take a
cargo of tinned meats and foodstuffs to Papeete and many of the isles
and groups scattered about, and had suddenly received orders to sail.
The skipper had sent off to try and find us, and then left word that he
would probably be back in three weeks. Three days later, being stranded,
we went aboard a trading steamer and asked for a job. She was bound for
the Carolines, and then across to Samoa and Tonga. They did not want any
hands, so at dusk, just before she sailed, Slick and I went down in the
hold and stowed away. They put the hatch on about ten minutes after we
had got below and we were then imprisoned in darkness. We lay side by
side against some barrels and bunches of green bananas and unripe
oranges, which are always plucked green for cargo purposes. We had a
terrible time together. The days and nights became a blank. We lived on
the bananas and green orange juice. At last in our desperation we
climbed up over the barrels and thumped the decks, but no one heard us.
As we lay down, trying to sleep, large hairy ship rats jumped at us and
squeaked. I struck at them with my violin-case and smashed it, and as I
lay half asleep I felt their soft snouts poke and sniff in my ears.
Slick swore that they were flying rats, because they seemed everywhere
and flapped about. We found out after that large island cockroaches were
flying about us and the rats were leaping at them!

Slick became as downhearted as I did, though he was a good fellow and
brave too. “I’d sooner have stopped in Hiva-oa for years than go through
this, mate,” he said. One night, when the steamer was rolling and
pitching, I sat on the barrel by Slick’s side and played the violin
furiously. “Perhaps they will hear that,” I said. “Go on, scrape the
d——d thing,” said my comrade, and I tore away at full speed. “It’s no
good, Slick. It’s blowing hard. Can’t you feel her rolling? We must wait
till it’s calm.”

Next day, or night, it was silent, and we only heard the screw-shaft
revolving, so I got the violin out and started scraping again. I must
have torn away for two hours. Suddenly a stream of light flooded over
us! The man-hatch had been lifted off! And the crew of astonished
sailors, and the skipper, mate and chief engineer, were looking down!

“God d—n it! I wonder what next is going to happen on this old packet!”
shouted the astonished skipper. “Come up, you men.” Slick went up the
iron ladder first and I followed after, while the chief mate looked
grimly down at the bare banana stems and at heaps of green orange peel.
They had heard the violin through the storm, during the first night’s
orchestral appeal for help, and had come to the conclusion that a ghost
was aboard. For, as the mate told me afterwards, it was only a wail that
sounded faint and far off above the storm. The skipper forgave us and we
were treated well—considering our sins. I was placed in the stokehold
and Slick was put to coal-trimming. When we arrived at Upolu (Samoa)
Slick made up his mind to stay and go off with her to Honolulu. I left.
Nina, Pompo and all my old native friends were delighted to see me
again, and took me straight off on a fishing excursion round the coast.

I never saw Slick again; but if ever he chances to gaze upon these
reminiscences he will see I have remembered him, and still feel that I
could not have found a better comrade the world over for the escapades
that we went through together.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XI

At Sea—A Fo’c’sle Argument—A Native’s Confession—Sydney Harbour


THERE was a steamer in Apia harbour and I was lucky enough to get a
berth aboard her. I think I had only been in Apia two days when she got
steam up to leave for Fiji and New South Wales. I berthed forward in the
forecastle. She was a tramp steamer and carried sail to help the
decrepit engines and take the vessel to port when they broke down. Just
before we left we took on a cargo of natives bound for somewhere! They
were a mixed lot, most of them Samoans or Malay-Polynesians, and among
them some Solomon Islanders who had arrived in Apia a week before,
waiting to be transhipped. They were berthed forward between decks. Most
of them were dressed in dead men’s clothes, collected in the South Sea
Island morgues, after the first occupants had no further use for them:
dead sailors, beachcombers, coolies, suicides; indeed all the derelict
corpses of life’s drama who lay in their final resting-place in the
unvisited cemeteries of the Pacific Islands.

These natives were a cheerful, indifferent lot of people—at least when
they got over the first pang of parting from their relatives. But that
grief was soon over, for they each believed that they were leaving their
native isle to return some day with fortunes from the promised El
Dorado: hope is as intense in natives of the South Seas as it is in
white people. Next day they started to sing cheerfully, and came up on
deck in shoals to cadge from the galley, and get the cook to bake their
bread-fruit[11] and yams. Some had their wives with them, big fat women
with glittering eyes. They were supposed to keep down below after dark,
but they came up on deck and went pattering by us as we stood by the
fore-peak hatchway smoking with the sailors. About three days after we
left Apia, bound for Suva (Fiji), a hurricane came on, and the boat
rolled and pitched till we thought she would turn a somersault, or turn
turtle. The natives between decks were shut down; we heard their yells
as the mass of clinging arms and bodies were hurled about as the boat
rolled and shipped seas over the bows.

Footnote 11:

  The name bread-fruit is more poetical than the flavour of the fruit,
  which tasted to the writer like sweet turnips.

At midday next morning the wind suddenly ceased and the sun burst out.
Only those who had experienced the howling chaos of mountainous seas,
blackness and wind would have believed what the weather had really been
a few hours before.

The boatswain and the carpenter were interesting characters, both
typical shellbacks of the island trading type. The boatswain looked like
a priest: his face was weather-beaten and his nose twisted; he had no
hair on his face, head or neck, and wore a cap to hide his polished
skull. His chum the carpenter fairly wallowed in hair, had bristly
eyebrows, a bristly beard, head and neck, and a vast moustache; you
could only see his fierce, twinkling eyes as he sat arguing in the
forecastle with the boatswain. Those two never agreed on any subject,
but were inseparable companions. The boatswain, I believe, loved to be
contradicted by his shipmate, and if no sudden response was made to any
assertion he might make, he at once looked round fiercely and said that
silence was equivalent to disbelief, and they might as well call him a
liar and be done with it.

I recall how he sat by his bunk on his sea-chest and said: “Remember
’im? I should think I does. Very old man. He had been a skipper on the
trader between the Samoan and Marquesas Group; a nice old fellow; he was
blind, quite blind in both eyes.” At this the argument commenced
immediately, as the carpenter looked up and said: “Of course he was
blind in both eyes; he wouldn’t be blind if he could still see with one
eye, would he?” Then, as he hammered at the hinge of the sea-chest he
was mending, the boatswain shouted: “Stow yer gab, yer clever son of a
nigger, d—n yer. Isn’t a man blind if he’s blind in his eye?”

“Course ’e ain’t, he’s only lost one hye!”

“Yer d——d swab! To h—— with yer! If ’e’s lost his eye, ain’t ’e blind in
it?”

At this the carpenter’s unshaved face fairly steamed with heat as he
appealed to the sailor standing by: “A man ain’t blind if he’s lost ’is
one eye, is ’e?”

“Well,” slowly answered the sailor solemnly, “if he couldn’t see out of
the eye that was blind, I should say that he was blind in it.”

At this the boatswain spat on the deck, the carpenter thrust his bearded
chin forward, and they started to bet heavily on the matter; and the
Norwegian cook, who had come in to see what the shouting was about,
wiped his mouth with his dirty sack apron and said:

“Mein tear frients, vich eye was the mans vlind in?”

“Yer son of a German sea-cook, I said the man was stone blind in both
eyes, so, d—n yer, he hadn’t any eyes at all!” roared the infuriated
boatswain.

“Vell, now,” said the sea-cook, as he stroked his short Vandyke beard
and looked astonished, “he vash not vlind then; he haf no eyes to be
vlind in at all; for how cans a man be vlind in zee eyes if he haf no
eyes?”

The boatswain turned purple, spluttered out “Yer God-d——d cheeky,” then
suddenly lost his temper, made a run and pushed the cook, who nearly
fell to the deck.

“I vill show you vat a vlind eye is,” shouted the enraged Norwegian
sea-cook.

“Bear witness,” shouted the boatswain, looking at the sailors and
members of the black squad, who were all standing around to see fair
play. “The cook has insulted me by saying that a blind man has no eyes.”
Then the Norwegian made a rush at the old boatswain. It gave the whole
crew a lot of trouble to separate them. Then the boatswain cooled down
and said it was his own fault for not simply saying the man was blind,
and saying nothing whatever about his eyes if he hadn’t got any. Then
they all had a drop of rum together, and were good friends till the next
argument cropped up and they took sides once more.

At other times they would sit yarning, and as I listened, sitting on my
sea-chest, I heard many terrible and indescribable things: true enough
too, I have not the slightest doubt, but only fit to be told here after
considerable prunings from the facts. There was an old Solomon Island
native just by us, down in the fore-peak. He was a kind of overseer, and
had to look after the natives in the hold, and separate the various
tribal characters if they fought, which they often did. Now this
overseer was a garrulous chap, and though he was hideous enough it was
interesting to hear what he said. He was over fifty years of age, and we
gathered from what he let out that he had eaten “long pig” in his youth.
One calm, hot night, when the engines were clanking steadily away, while
the skipper walked the poop and the steward slept, we were all sitting
in the forecastle; some of the sailors were in their bunks, and a few
others smoking and playing cards beneath the dim oil lamp. The garrulous
native overseer was talking away for all he was worth, when suddenly the
boatswain leaned over his bunk and said: “Shut up, yer son of a
cannibal.”

“Me no heathen, I good Christian man. Once long ago I eat ‘long pig’;
but since then I have saved white sailor from being eaten, and been
friend to white girl.”

“Eh?” said the boatswain, as he pricked his ears up; the carpenter said,
“Gor blimey, you’ve eaten——”; quickly a sailor nudged him, so that we
might hear all about it, and one of the crew who had been playing cards
shuffled the pack and said quietly: “Tell us all about it.” The
grim-looking, half-naked savage nodded his head and started off.

“Many years ago now a terrible hurricane was blowing off the Solomon
Isle of Bourka, when the islanders suddenly sighted a full-rigged
sailing ship in distress. Sunset blazed behind her, and they could see
the torn sails and the decks taking the seas over, as she helplessly
drifted before the gale that was bringing her shoreward. That night,
when the stars were flashing through rifts in the clouds, which had
broken up and left pools of blue in the sky, they saw the great ship
within a mile of the shore, with walls of living waters breaking over
her. One or two sailors were just discernible, clinging to the spars
aloft; and then suddenly a mountain of water rose and the masts
disappeared.

“In the early morning the natives gathered the bodies of the dead
sailors together, put them in old salt-beef ship’s barrels and hid them
on the sands just under the water near the shore. For the bloodthirsty
tribe who found them were cannibals. Four of the crew were still
alive—the boatswain, the chief mate, the cook and the ship’s doctor; and
a girl, who was the skipper’s daughter.” The boatswain dropped his pipe
on the floor, the sailors all looked round and left their cards, and one
or two went phew! then listened, and the half-savage native continued to
this effect:

“They took the four living men up the shore and put them in a cave, and
hid them so that a rival tribe they had lately been fighting with should
not get hold of them before they could eat them. The chief of the tribe
claimed the pretty white girl; she was not more than seventeen years
old. They took her up to the stronghold, made a big festival fire and
had a feast from one of the dead sailors who had been washed ashore.

“While the whole tribe sat squatting in a circle, watching and waiting
while the flames of the fire flickered and hissed, the white girl, tied
to a coco-palm by the hands, looked round at them all with staring,
frightened eyes. Then the hideous cannibal chief caught hold of her and
told her that if she would be his wife he would save the four white men
who were alive in the cave. For a while they could not stop her
screaming, and then she looked up at the chief and said: ‘Bring me the
white men first’; and he shook his head and said, ‘No.’ Later, when they
were eating, and dancing wildly round the terrible fire, another chief,
of a tribe inland, came suddenly out of the forest close by and joined
in the feast. When he saw the white girl staring, tied to a palm just
behind them, he looked at her longingly, and offered to buy her from the
first chief.

“I was a young man then, about twenty years old, and I had been a
servant off and on to the white missionaries who lived twenty miles away
round the coast. I made up my mind to steal away at daybreak and tell
them about the white girl and the four sailors in the cave. For that old
chief who had come and tried to buy the white girl was a bloodthirsty
cannibal, and he only wanted to buy the girl so that he could eat her.
It was well known by all the tribe that he loved the flesh of women, and
would risk his life to eat a white girl’s breasts.

“In the shadows by the trees she still sat, with her wildly staring
eyes, appealing to the glittering eyes of the chief and to dumb heaven.
Most of the tribe squatted or lay at full length round the dying fire,
their hideous appetites satisfied and their bellies distended. I saw the
two powerful chiefs stand arguing; and then the chief who longed for the
white girl turned away from the other and looked with fierce, hungry
eyes at the shivering girl a moment, ere his dark, naked limbs strode
away into the forest. My heart leapt with joy as I saw his big form go.
I felt that I could now easily save the white girl; for I knew that
white men were brave and would come directly I arrived before them and
told them all that had happened. Walking as near as I dared to the white
girl, I spoke to her in English. I said four words only: ‘I see white
men.’ I could not see her glance, as I dared not look her way; for the
chief sat close by, rubbing his chin and grunting sleepily. I sat myself
down by a tree and slept, thinking to go off and get help before the day
broke. Suddenly I was awakened by a great noise of shouting and running.
I jumped to my feet. The tribal chief was lifting his war-club and
dashing it to the ground to ease his terrible rage; and then crash! he
smashed the sentinel’s skull; it cracked like an egg-shell. The man had
slept instead of watching; the white girl had gone! At first I was
delighted, for I thought she had escaped; but instead of that she had
been carried off by the great girl-eating chief!”

Directly he said that all the forecastle swallowed their tobacco smoke
and said, “Well, I’m——”; the boatswain muttered, “Holy heaven!”; and
then one of the sailors said, “How did you know the stinking swine of a
chief had her?”

We all somehow listened hopefully; for the overseer looked so earnest,
and we did not want to think we were hearing the truth. A yarn was all
right, but this made the hands restive and the eyes blaze. However, he
continued:

“Some of the tribe, who were camping by a lagoon not far inland, were
suddenly awakened by an agonised scream. Looking through the jungle,
they saw several canoes being rapidly paddled across the moonlit waters,
and in the foremost canoe they recognised the feared, bloodthirsty
cannibal chief, Torao. He was a giant of a fellow, nearly seven feet in
height and of tremendous girth, and so there was no mistaking him. He
was paddling with one arm, and held the white girl under the other as
you would hold a strangled rabbit.”

“Lummy!” said one sailor; as one or two others wiped their perspiring
faces with their red handkerchiefs, listening as they held on to the
stanchion in the middle of the forecastle, while the tramp steamer
rolled and pitched along across the Pacific, heaving at intervals to the
heavy cross-swell.

“Vell, vell now,” muttered the Norwegian cook, as he sat on the side of
his bunk taking his trousers off. The Solomon Islander continued:

“I was young then and could run with the swiftness of a horse, and,
knowing that there was no time to lose, I never stopped once as I ran
across country and round the coast for miles. At length, about midday, I
arrived at Tooka village, which is on the coast, rushed up the shore and
thumped at the door of the first white man’s bungalow that I saw. They
all came rushing from their houses when they heard what I had to say.
Directly they heard all they rushed back to their homes and got their
guns and revolvers, and in no time were all astride on horseback
galloping across the country.

“At sunset we arrived at the village where the caves were. I was brave,
for I knew the white men would protect me, so I led the way at once to
the caves; but we were too late; they were deserted; the sailors had
been taken away. At once the leader of the white men, who was a big man
with a heavy grey moustache, shouted to me that I should take them to
the spot where they had eaten the sailor. Quickly I ran on in front, and
they all came behind, their faces stern and white-looking. When we
reached the place they said nothing, but all quietly tightened the reins
of the horses and then, dismounting, crept together to the edge of the
forest. The white man who led them made a terrible oath when they all
peeped through the bamboos; for the savages had just clubbed two of the
sailors and a great fire was blazing in the middle of the cleared patch
by the huts; and not far off from the dead bodies stood the chief mate,
bound hand and foot, waiting to be clubbed too. The white men hesitated
one moment, then rushed across the cleared patch, firing their
revolvers. Several of the natives fell dead as the tribe scampered off
into the forest. They only saved the chief mate out of the four men who
had survived that shipwreck. They burnt the village to the ground and
buried the bodies of the boatswain and the cook. Not far from where the
fire had been they found some shrivelled clothes and a small peaked cap;
in the pockets were some little medicine phials, and, close by, the
ship’s doctor’s feet—still in his boots! I told them about the ship’s
salt-beef barrels hidden under the shore sand. They dug them all up and
took the bodies miles away and buried them. The skipper’s daughter was
never heard of any more. About two years after that high chief Torao,
who stole the white girl, became a Christian, and taught the native
children lotu songs in the mission rooms. I went and lived with the
white men at Tooka; they gave me good clothes, and I was their servant,
and found them good and kind masters.”

“Clear out of this fo’c’sle, yer God-d——d son of a cannibal!” shouted
the boatswain directly the overseer had finished; and though he had
befriended our countrymen we too felt a bit disgusted, and knew how the
boatswain felt as we looked up at the thick-lipped Solomon Islander’s
face.

The foregoing is as much as I can tell you of the main facts of the
native’s story. I have left out all the gruesome embellishments and the
heart-rending cruelty of the native’s description of the white girl’s
grief in the hands of the cannibal monsters. Let us hope it was not
true; but I must admit many things made my heart thump as I listened to
all that seemed too true. The boatswain and his shipmate never argued
over that tale. The Norwegian cook at last pulled his trousers right off
and said, “Vell now, it’s too terrible to tink of,” and swung his legs
round into his bunk. I turned in also, just opposite him, and said:
“Let’s keep the lamp on; I don’t feel sleepy to-night.”

Next day we dropped anchor in Suva harbour and stayed there two days. I
had previously been to the Fiji Group and stayed there for a
considerable time, having various experiences with the natives and
traders, experiences which will appear in the second half of these
reminiscences.

The crew went ashore and had a fly round, walked the parade and visited
all the drinking establishments. The boatswain and his mate came back
arm in arm, arguing at the top of their voices; they had been drinking
rather heavily. When they got on board the boatswain sighted the natives
poking their heads out of the fore-peak hatchway, and, thinking of the
tale the overseer had told us, he shouted at them, “Get down below, yer
d——d cannibals,” and then made a rush for them. We were obliged to hold
on to him to keep him from going down between decks. At last we got him
into his bunk; but none of us had any sleep, for he shouted about
cannibals all night and swore that we had got thousands of them on
board.

Next day, just before we left Suva, a passenger came on board. He was an
old gentleman with bristly eyebrows, who wore a monocle. He carried two
large portmanteaux and came puffing up the gangway, and directly he got
on deck he started shouting: “Stew-ard! Stew-ard!” Spying the boatswain
by the main hatch, he mistook him for the steward, and, looking through
his eyeglass, said: “Where’s the saloon?” At the same time he handed him
the largest of the portmanteaux. With disgust wrinkling his florid
nut-cracker face, the boatswain pointed forward. Off went the old man,
muttering something under his breath about the discourteous behaviour of
sailors. “Down there,” shouted the boatswain, as the passenger got up
against the fore-peak and called once more: “Steward!” Then down the
fore-peak he went. In a few seconds we heard a wild yell, and up came
the old fellow, hatless, with his face pallid with fright. He had landed
in the middle of the huddled natives below.

“Help, help!” he shouted. I told him it was all right, put his hat on
for him and went down quickly and fetched up his portmanteau, which he
had dropped in his fright. He was “all of a-tremble”; his hand shook
visibly as he clutched his property. The German steward came hurrying
forward and, when he sighted the old gentleman’s massive gold chain and
jewelled fingers, almost fell forward on his face, bowing and scraping
in his apologies.

When the old fellow recovered he swore he’d sue the boatswain, in
Sydney, for damages.

We had a fairly fine passage across to New South Wales and in a week
sighted Sydney Heads.

We dropped anchor out in the stream, and the old passenger went off in a
tender. He had got over his adventure, and shook his umbrella
good-naturedly at the boatswain, who grinned at him over the fo’c’sle
head.

I was pleased to see the lovely shores of Sydney harbour again. That
same night I stood on deck and saw the beautiful sea-board city rising
grandly, with her spires and walls, as moonlight crept over the horizon.

Sydney by night is a sight that makes you easily understand the
Cornstalks’ pride in their beloved city. Next day we berthed by Circular
Quay. It was fearfully hot, real dog-day weather. Hospitality abounds in
Sydney, and one never need feel lonely, for on stepping on to the wharf
I was once more enthusiastically welcomed by an immense crowd of
mosquitoes! We can joke after, but I did not see life then as I do now.

How I recall it all, my beautiful youth—aye, as a woman’s heart secretly
remembers her first love, and gazing back feels the old passion, sees
the rosy horizon of dreams, the absolute certitude of old vows, spoken
by that voice that expressed all the happy Universe! Yes, so do I
remember the sleepless, hungry nights under the stars that shone over
the trees, nights radiant with dreams!


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XII

Circular Quay—Figure-heads—A Derelict’s Night—The World’s Worst Men—Off
   to New Zealand—A Violin Prodigy—In the New Zealand Bush—My Maori
   Girl—A Pied Piper—A Recipe for the Happy Vagabond—The Philosophical
   Sun-downer


I HAD lived in Sydney five or six years before, when I had run away from
a ship in Brisbane and had come across to Sydney full of dreams and
hope. I was then only fourteen years of age. How vividly I recall those
days and nights.

Once more I stand on old Circular Quay and seem again to breathe through
my dreams the turbulent poetry of emigrant sin and sorrow; for ah! how
many cargoes of human lives have been brought across the world and then
dumped down on the quay. I dream on, and see the silent wool
clipper-ships lying alongside the wharfs, the tall masts and long yards
at rest beneath the sky. The fine carved figure-heads look alive, their
grand, allegorical faces gazing, their outstretched arms pointing,
towards Sydney’s silent streets. They seem to express dimly to me some
substance of great poetic thought, as though I stood on the mysterious
shores of the heaven whence those spiritual minds that conceived them
drew their inspiration, when with creating brain and moving fingers they
carved such sad, wonderful faces; faces destined to be exiled for years
on voyages across wild oceans.

I am a boy again, and am thrilled with such a feeling as a poet has when
he treads visionary worlds and forgets his sad reality. How happy I feel
as I move along in the white moonlight from wharf to wharf, gazing on
each wooden ship and wondering on their past voyages, what seas they
crossed ere I was born, and what the seaports looked like when they came
sailing down, with weather-beaten sailors staring from the fo’c’sle
head.

How distinctly I remember it all! I cannot move from one ship’s side:
the figure-head is that of some beautiful goddess with a crown of
bronzed hair, wherein a dove flutters. Her face represents, exactly, my
romantic ideal of all the tender beauty of woman as I dreamed of it in
my early boyhood. It is a beautiful face. I gaze from the wharf at it
with fascinated eyes: all is silent except for the plomp of the waters
against the ship’s side as the tide ebbs. Still I gaze at her praying
hands, as with wide-opened eyelids she stares across the moonlit quay at
the sleeping city.

I went back to my room and dreamed of that perfect face. So strangely
was I impressed by its beauty that I felt a longing to find some living
type resembling it. The next day I walked up the Sydney streets and
earnestly scanned the faces of the Colonial girls. None of them seemed
to me as beautiful as the thought of the artist who had fashioned the
perfect outlines of my figure-head. The next night I went down to the
quay and gazed once more at her, and then again the following night; but
when I arrived on the wharf to my great sorrow I found her gone. She had
left her beauty in my soul, and though she was only an insensate
figure-head, the memory of her features and expression stirred and fired
some devotional dream within me, and gave me a poetic reverence for
womanhood, a gift from out the great strangeness of things, that I have
ever cherished. Often in seaports, on my travels from land to land, my
comrades wondered why I stood a moment and gazed at the silent sailing
ships by the wharf. But, though I searched, I never saw that figure-head
again. I suppose they have broken those old wooden ships up now and
burnt them on the hearth fires of the cities, and by them other boys
have probably dreamed of strange lands, and lovers gazed in the curling
flames with shining eyes. Ah! little did they dream what their log of
firewood had meant to me; and while they kissed with clinging lips the
substance of my boyhood dreams, those features that lived spiritually in
my imagination fell to ash as the flames faded in the homestead hearth
fire.

The poetry of Sydney harbour, with its sights and turmoil of sound,
lives in my memory as though to-day is far-off yesterday. I even
remember, and feel again, my strange romantic loneliness as I watch the
silent ships lying out in the bay. Night, like life, is on the deep,
tide-moving waters; in the dark depths the fixed mirrored stars shine
steadfastly like Eternity, while over them the waters ebb seaward or
flow towards the shore. The outline of North Shore, like another
continent, rises across the wide harbour, and exactly opposite are the
spires of the grand, silent, sea-board city. Some drunken sailor’s song
floats across the bay from the wind-jammer that is lying at anchor out
in the stream. Several lights are twinkling across by Miller’s Point.
The Orient liner, the giant aristocrat of the quay, is agleam with
shining port-holes; her funnels belch forth smoke that ascends to the
silence. We creep by—three homeless men and a boy—looking for a place to
sleep! Our shadows suddenly hurry on with us, as in the moon’s gleam we
spy the quartermaster on watch at the gangway. No hope there for us, we
think, so we go round to the anchored ferry-boats and leave the great
liner behind. She’s off for England to-morrow, dear old England! O
magical word to how many exiles in the sleeping city, and especially to
us, with our stomachs rumbling with emptiness. The big Manly Beach
ferry-boat is moored by the wharf; our frightened eyes look carefully
around, then down on board we go to seek the cushioned settees of the
saloon. We slept there last night. Again we creep into the saloon, four
of us: Roberts, the ship’s stoker, villainous-looking, old, with
unshaved face; Ross, the son of the Right Honourable, and the third man,
who is a late schoolmaster from a school of great distinction. He is a
pessimistic-looking chap, perhaps because he lent Ross his last ten
shillings on the promise of five hundred per cent. interest when Ross
got an expected cheque from England. “Ah, woeful when!” The night is
getting old and cold; how comfortably the warmth of the dim saloon
strikes us as we four derelicts creep across. The moonlight is streaming
through the port-holes. Ross smothers a note of irresistible exultation,
for he has spotted a large bunch of bananas on the saloon table! Such
sudden unexpected affluence is too much for me, and even as I wonder why
the saloon smells so strongly of fresh tobacco smoke, I sit down plomp!
on the stomach of the ferry-boat’s night watchman, who is asleep on the
settee!


[Illustration: KAWIERI, N.Z.]


A terrible yell of pain escapes the official’s lips; like four shadows
in one headlong leap we cross the saloon and rush up the gangway. How we
scampered across the quay space and then rescued poor old Roberts, the
stoker, as he puffed behind and stumbled on the kerb-side and fell with
a crash! Under the trees in the domain he sat swearing terrifically, but
calmed down as we held his blood-splashed face up and examined it by
moonlight. The schoolmaster lent his handkerchief of other days to
stanch the blood-flow. Ross promised another fifteen shillings when the
cheque came. Then, under the big-leafed tree, with our heads pillowed on
our coats or caps, we lay with our faces side by side to sleep. I can
still see the many huddled derelicts under the gum-trees of Sydney’s
Hyde Park, disreputable old men, and young men, good and bad. I watch by
my chums on our big bedroom floor and hear the far cry of the wild
animals in the Botanical Gardens Zoo, and smell the dew-damp leaves and
domain grass, as dawn steals over the windless trees away back beyond
the horizon of more years than I like to count.

Some inexplicable kind of sadness comes over me as I look back to the
lost splendour of my derelict days. How wealthy I was with all my
youthful unfulfilled promises, and what security I found in the hopeful,
manly eyes of men who went down to the sea in ships. How I stuck to them
as they yarned together, or sang till the shore cave echoed. The shanty
was a paradise, filled with men of mighty deeds, as I gazed with the
eyes of boyish inexperience at the stalwart, unshaved men from ’Frisco
and London, and listened to the stories of sad self-sacrifice, or great
deeds on land and sea, performed in the valiant imagination of those
wonderful brains of the world’s worst men.

I often wonder what I have missed through the inherited taint of
vagabondage that is in my blood. Should I have been happier and gained
some wealth had I gone ashore in some far country, scorning vagabonds
and marching down the track on honest feet, like some Dick Whittington,
looking for the lights of some distant city, with my violin slung beside
me? I doubt it. If one is really honest, one is sure, some day, to trust
the wrong man through not being dishonest oneself. But to go back to my
reminiscences at the moment when I arrived in Sydney from Samoa.

I did not stay in Sydney very long. I had three or four pounds in my
pocket and did not want to get stranded, so once more I looked around
and was lucky enough to secure a berth on a steamer that was going to
New Zealand for a cargo of meat, and from there to London. I got a job
down in the engine-room as a kind of snowman to look after the
refrigerators. The chief engineer was a terrible pig; he was a Dutchman,
and gave me no peace, but made me paint the lower-deck iron roof. We
eventually had a fight, and I received a black eye which took a
considerable time to cure itself. I made up my mind to leave at the
first opportunity.

I smelt the freshness of the sea-water and tar when we dropped anchor in
Oriental Bay. After the first old loafer who is always waiting in every
Colonial seaport to say “This is God’s own country” had said it, I
looked about. Oh! the splendour of those days, the glorious homelessness
and the thrilling uncertainty of everything! I stood on the wharf with
my violin in my hand, and, though I was almost penniless, I felt like a
monarch gazing on his multitude of toiling subjects. Ships of many
nationalities lay alongside discharging their cargoes, and the crews
mingled with the crowds of embarking or disembarking passengers,
arriving from, or bound for, Australia, China, Japan, India; in fact
everywhere wealth and poverty massed together. I saw white faces, black
faces, yellowish faces, mahogany faces; glittering eyes, blue eyes,
black eyes, bilious eyes; Dantesque profiles, turbaned heads, thick,
black lips, expressing carelessness and humour, and thin, cynical lips;
also self-exiled, broken-down, sardonic-looking poets, authors and
musicians from the British Isles. It seemed that the drama of life was
being enacted on that wharf, with its hubbub of uncouth voices: Hindu
men, and women with rings in their ears, multitudes from the Far East,
South and West. A kind of miniature parade of existence, ere Time’s hand
swept the whole lot like pawns off the board, it seemed to me as I
watched them embark on the ships to go seaward.

I eventually secured a position as violinist in the orchestra of the
opera house in Wellington, and I had comfortable diggings with an
English family. I think I should have settled down there, but, just as I
got to like my landlady and her family, the old father made up his mind
to go back to England again. This unsettled me, and I started off on my
wanderings again. I got to know a man who hired concert halls. I played
at many of his shows, performing Paganini’s _Carnaval de Venise_, also
De Bériot’s and Spohr’s concertos. I was received very well indeed, and
I should have stopped on at the game, but I was very unfortunate. I
could not live on the applause which I received through being billed as
“The Sailor Violinist.” I wore a cheesecutter cap, at the request of my
employer, who indeed tried to go on the same lines as in London, where
foreign prodigies of twenty, with baby collars on, appear! I barely got
any wages; my employer secured the profits.

I never knew a man who could promise so much and give so little as that
particular employer of mine did. And what he _did_ give he gave with
such an air of munificence, as though he was conferring a favour on me
that I had never expected, or earned, that for the moment I was
completely disarmed and my protest died on my lips.

So one day I started off with my violin “up country.” The turmoil of the
crowded city streets, and my commercial inability, had sickened me of
trying to do well. When I got on the lonely roads the old knight-errant
fever gripped me. As I stood on the bush track I saw the primeval forest
trees all brightening in the sunlight, while singing winds, bending
their tops, blew through them, and wings glittered where, overhead,
flocks of cockatoos sped across the sky.

At midday, tired out, I came across a small bush town. It was by a river
where, on the banks, Maoris camped. I stopped there only for a day and
night, and I lodged with two old men who lived in a small wooden house
by a paddock. They were grizzled, retired shellbacks, not from the sea,
but from the trackless bush-lands. I unfortunately paid them for my
lodging in advance, and they at once bought some rum and sat at their
little wooden bench table yarning away till their mumbling voices seemed
deep down in their dirty beards.

As the rum fumes got more and more to their brains they ceased telling
me their experiences, grew argumentative, and, with fierce eyes, glared
at each other till they fell asleep at two o’clock in the morning. The
next day I heard from the farmer who lived in a shack just across the
flat that they were always drunk, and that the whole bush town thought I
was some relative of theirs who had come from abroad to see them,
otherwise they could not think anyone would lodge with them. Once more I
tramped off, and after doing about ten miles I “put up” at a homestead
in which an Irishman and his wife lived. I was getting short of cash and
was half inclined to sleep out; but though it was very hot by day, a
cold wind had blown for several nights. I have quite forgotten the name
of that little bush village, but I easily recall the picturesque Maoris
who lived by a creek in their _pah_ (stronghold), a beautiful spot,
sheltered by karri trees.

I played the violin to them; and two old Maori chiefs, aged and
wrinkled, squatted, with delight beaming in their deep eyes, listening
to me. They were tattooed with dark blue curves from their lips to their
eyebrows, and some of the girls were also decorated with tattoo. The
Maori women were very cheerful, and brought me food, fresh water, fish
and vegetables. An extremely beautiful Maori girl, dressed in
picturesque Maori style, sat on the grass beside me and sang as I played
the violin. The surroundings were wildly romantic, and I must confess
that I almost fell in love with her. I kept thinking of her eyes as I
lay sleeplessly on the extemporised bed that the Irishman’s wife had
made up for me in a shed adjoining their homestead. I went across to
that pah several times; indeed I stopped at the Irishman’s all the next
day and night. When I went my Maori girl bade me good-bye, and then,
with some little Maori children, she came to see me off, and crept by my
side along the track till the pah was almost out of sight. Her eyes
gazed earnestly into mine as she looked up to me; the wind fluttered her
blue frock; in her wealth of hair were stuck crimson and white flowers.
I seemed to live once again in the romance of my faded dreams of
boyhood. How beautiful she looked as sunset deepened the mystery of her
eyes. Gallantly I kissed her and then, on the top of the hill, waved my
hand back to her, and she faded away, and mad Don Quixote, carrying his
violin, faded away also.

Before it was quite dark I sat down on the bush grass and played the
song she had sung to me on my violin. I half wished I was a Maori and
lived in the old days. I am sure I should have gone with a tribe of
warriors and attacked that pah and ridden off into the forest with that
pretty Maori girl!

I slept out that night. I did not fall asleep till midnight, but I made
a small fire in my forest bedroom and managed to keep warm; for I opened
my violin-case out and with some bush grass made a good shelter, though
the slight trade wind on the weather-side blew cold. In the morning I
got up without bother as I had slept “all standing,” had a wash in the
stream just down by the gullies, and then tramped across the hills to
where the smoke arose from a group of homesteads. I counted my money; I
hadn’t much, I know; but people in the New Zealand bush proved as
generous to me as I had found them in the Australian bush a year or so
before.

As I emerged from under the gum-trees I saw that the village was a
decent-sized place of some fifty houses. A main road separated wooden
shop buildings, and just behind were the small homes of the population.
I had slept late, and the sun was blazing over the forest trees and
shining on the tin roofs of the township.

As I went across the paddocks the cows lifted their heads, stared at me,
slashed their tails and moved off. I heard the voices of romping
children running about in the scrub of their fenceless gardens. Summing
up my courage, I took up a position in the centre of the silent main
street. Only one or two shops had their shutters down as I stood erect
and started to play the violin! I was a good player, and before the
first strain of the sentimental operatic selection wailed to a close the
doors of all the shops and houses around me suddenly opened, and out
came rushing the children, rosy girls and boys, and women and men, who
gazed at me in astonishment.

I felt like some Pied Piper of Hamelin; but the Mayor did not turn blue
“to pay a sum to a wandering fellow with a gipsy coat of red and yellow”
as I fiddled away. The bushmen and the whole population grinned, as
though with one mouth of delight, and sunburnt little children rushed up
to me with shillings and half-crowns as I moved along and they scampered
behind me.

I was well dressed; my grey suit was still new looking and my collar
passably clean. I appeared outwardly to have a social standing that
outrivalled that of my delighted audience. The vagrancy in my blood made
me perfectly happy; and when the old storekeeper tapped me on the
shoulder and invited me in, I accepted with alacrity and without a blush
the breakfast he gave me. The little children’s bonny brown faces looked
in at the open door as I ate like a horse; then they all screamed with
delight as I tossed the cat to the wooden ceiling and caught it with one
hand. By midday I practically owned the township; for I played in the
houses and the children invited me to stop. When I went away and passed
up the track the whole population came to the end of the main street to
see me go! They all waved their hands as I faded along the bush path.

One never forgets those few hours in life when one has been really
happy, and so I have never forgotten that bush township.


[Illustration: WHAKAREWAREWA, ROTORUA, N.Z.]


To the thousands of literary and commercial vagabonds living under the
guise of respectability I give a recipe—how to be happy in vagabondage.
First, you must have a firm belief in God and be able to keep the belief
to yourself. This belief will help you when each great scheme
unexpectedly fails; for if you be a true vagabond your schemes will only
benefit others. Ere you go to sleep on the grass look upon the forest
about you as your bedroom; examine the moon as though it were your lamp,
trim it so that the shadows fall glimmering through the trees on to your
face, and keep saying to yourself: “I am better off than anyone else;
the world is certainly mine.” In time you will believe this, and people
will see the belief in your eyes and respect you. Be kind to little
children you meet on the tramp, and write on your brain the wisdom they
speak, for they are the cheeriest of vagabonds! Avoid luggage, and throw
away your conscience with all your unpaid bills. When you have cast your
socks into the bush, place palm or banana leaves in your boots as
substitutes: they are cool. I’ve walked for miles quite happily in
banana-leaf socks. If you can possibly play a musical instrument, well,
take it with you; at the worst you can pawn it. Never worry; and when
you have no money keep saying to yourself: “There was no money in the
world for millions of years before money was invented.” Have plenty of
tobacco with you; and when you sit under the trees by your camp fire
recall pleasant memories only; then the birds will serenade you
cheerfully; and if you have a good comrade by your side you will be as
two kings, your sentinels the stars, your domain extending to the
sky-lines around you. Remember that when beggars die, before they put
them to bed they wash their feet and place half-crowns on their eyelids
so as to keep them closed in deep sleep. If they do that for the dead,
what will they do for the living?

As I tramped along the sun blazed down, and I left the track for the
shade of some majestic trees. Across the gullies I saw a camp fire
burning and a man cooking food on it. I had run across a New Zealand
sundowner!

“Hallo, matey, how goes it?” he said as I approached.

“All right,” I answered cheerfully, as he looked at my violin and then
up at me and said: “Want some tucker?” I accepted a lump of damper and,
as his old dog greeted me affectionately and licked my hand, I sat down
beside him. We tramped along together all that day and slept in a gully
off the track. He was an experienced bushman, and made up two splendid
soft mattresses of leaves and moss, and with the dog’s soft muzzle
crouched to the ground, its sentinel eyes agleam between us, we slept,
and I dreamed of the Maori girl.

My companion did not seem extremely gifted, but he was a philosophical
and kind companion and never argued, only listened. He had little
thought of the morrow; dead yesterday was the land of his dreams, for he
was generally retrospective in his conversation. Nevertheless he was
agreeable, and though I understood little of what he said, the note of
the mumble in his beard sounded pleasant. I gathered that he had been
tramping for several years, and was off to see some friends who lived up
country on a farm of their own. We had a sad misfortune together: about
an hour after we had left a cattle yard that was just off the track, we
were tramping along, and the old fellow was mumbling, when suddenly his
dog ran in front of us and started to whimper and yelp, and then fell
down. It had evidently eaten something that was poisonous. Before sunset
it died in great agony. My friend, indeed both of us, were very much
upset. The poor dog had travelled with him for some years. Before it got
dark we went into the forest under the gum-trees, and I dug a hole at
the foot of a large blue gum, then covered our silent sentinel over, as
possums leapt overhead in the trees. I did everything, for my companion
was too upset. I also cut its name, “Bill,” on the tree trunk. He lent
me his knife, and when he spoke his voice sounded husky. “I’m a bit of a
fool,” he mumbled. “No, you’re not; I understand,” I said. Next day I
gave him a large tobacco plug and some money; but still he walked along
by my side, looking in front and never even speaking, as the flocks of
parakeets shrieked across the sky.

We came to a river with rushing falls, and a lagoon beside it caused by
the overflow when torrential rain fell in the mountains, which rose
miles away, brightening behind us in the sunset. I bathed my feet in the
cool water. The bushman looked on, and when I asked him to bathe also he
mumbled out that he had bathed like that once before and was afraid.
That same evening we came across a deserted Maori stronghold. The
_whares_ (huts) were in ruins and overgrown. Where the garden had once
been, among the tall grass and crowds of everlasting flowers, blossoms
like vividly coloured crimson and yellow parchment, still grew rock
melons, tomatoes and other fruit and vegetables, which the Maoris had
cultivated. The silent old bushman, to my astonishment, joined me in my
reflections as I stood and gazed on the relic of the once prosperous
pah. “I guess we’ll camp here to-night, for it’s not too warm these
times,” he said; and so we went into the one hut that had withstood the
rotting encroaching of time and still had a roof on. The floor was
carpeted with weeds and flowers; even the hollow that had served for a
fireplace had burst into bloom; and as my quiet old comrade, bending by
the door, gathered dead scrub and gum wood to make a fire to boil the
billy-can water, the wind moaned fitfully through the forest boughs
overhead: I fancied I heard the dead Maoris’ voices calling and echoing
in the forest depths, and the laughter of girls who were long-ago
dead.[12]

Footnote 12:

  I was told by my comrade that it was the ruins of a pah stronghold
  that had been attacked by an enemy tribe, all of the defenders having
  been killed.

As the shadows closed, and sunset left a gleam out westward, we sat
together. In the corner of the whare the sundowner had made our beds, so
placed by the bushman’s instinct that they were completely sheltered
from the draughty weather-side. My comrade, who was so methodical in his
habits, and had the night before pulled his boots off and “turned in”
punctually at sunset, seemed wakeful and started talking to me. I
understood all he said, for I had got used to his pronunciation, odd
though it sounded, owing to his having lost all his teeth. I had been
playing the violin to him, and as he sat intently listening, with his
bearded chin on his hands, I played on, very pleased to find that he
appreciated music. First I had played a commonplace jig, thinking that
it would appeal to his uncultivated mind more than direct melody. But
when I played a melody from some operatic selection he at once lifted
his half-closed eyelids and said approvingly: “That’s right.” I inwardly
said to myself: “He’s an ignorant, low old fellow, but there’s something
in him; he’s got feeling anyway,” and I thought of his manner when I
buried his dog. I had been reading a little book—I forget the name of
it—but it quoted the philosophers a good deal, and dealt in such
subjects as the human mind and the Universe as it appeared to the
senses. As I looked up at the stars I pondered, and, half in earnest and
half with an idea of showing the old bushman how clever I was, I said,
“All those stars out there are other worlds”; and then I used such
phrases as “infinite extension”—a lot of high-toned phrases that I did
not understand myself. He listened silently, and that was sufficient. I
felt that, though he had no imagination, he would look upon me with
wonder in his eyes and think “how clever this youth is.” So I rattled on
with enthusiasm about the vastness of things and how, but for man’s
consciousness, there would be no big or little, sight, sound or time,
and how the immensity of space was a mighty ocean of nothingness, a
fungoid growth, wherein like jelly-fish universes floated in the eternal
waters of darkness, and as they twirled and flashed, their sparkles were
the stars!

Still he listened; and with pride I again delightedly attacked his
profound inferiority, striving to explain that all material and
immaterial things were chimeras of the mind’s madness, that crept on
shadowy feet through a vast Nothing, which was the Universe! I told him
that he was not then listening to me by the camp fire, but was as the
image of myself, an image that I saw at that moment in his wide-open
eyes, as he suddenly looked up at me and said: “That’ll do; if there’s
nothing, then your opinions, and those of all the philosophers, are
nothing!” My hearing seemed to have gone wrong. He mumbled off a Latin
phrase! I knew it was Latin, but that’s about all I did know. His grey,
deep-set eyes looked steadfastly at me. The lightning rapidity of
intuition telegraphed to my brain a startling message, which in human
speech would go this way: “Tick! tick! your old bushman, whom you think
you are teaching, knows more than you think he does!” Two feelings
struggled within me; one mockingly laughed at my discomfiture at being
such a fool, and the other smiled with pleasure to find my old man was
not one. I quickly recovered, and in my heart thanked the “fungoid
universe” that it was dark, so that the old man could not see my blush
as I dropped my pipe and groped for it in the shadows. And then I
received another shock; for he quietly picked my violin up and very
quietly started to play! His fingers were stiff, and the bow once slid
over the bridge, but it was very evident that somewhere, back in the
past, my mumbling old bushman had been a decent violin-player. Removing
the fiddle from the depths of his dirty beard, he said quietly: “That’s
a French-made fiddle; not a bad tone either; you can tell that by the
curve of the back and the shape. _Savez?_” Then he held it up in the
moonlight and, moving his wrinkled finger along the fine curves of my
violin, laid it down beside me. “You’ve been a good violin-player in
your time,” I replied.


[Illustration: OLD MAORI, SAID TO BE 105 YEARS OLD]


“Yes,” he said, and not a word more did I get out of him, except, as he
knocked the ash from his corn-cob pipe, “It’s getting late, chappie”;
then with a sigh he lay down in the corner on his bed and almost
immediately went off to sleep. He snored vigorously as I lay beside him,
quite sleepless. I looked at the outline of his sleeping face, which I
could just distinguish by the stream of moonlight that came through the
broken wall opposite us. Whether it was because of my just acquired
knowledge that he was not an uneducated derelict I don’t know, but I
fancied the outline of his face looked decidedly refined,
notwithstanding the grey, unkempt beard and sweaty grime.

Next morning we rose early, and the bushman cooked the breakfast on a
fire which he built by the deserted whare’s doorless passage; and as he
poured hot tea into a mug from his big billy can, and handed it to me,
he placed in it the last remaining bit of sugar, going without sugar
himself.

I noticed this; but when I remonstrated he simply said: “Never you mind,
chappie; you’re not as hardened as I am.” I tried to learn something of
his history, but to all my interrogations he was either silent or
evasive. One thing I did learn, and that was that he was by birth an
Englishman. That same day, after crossing some very rough but wildly
beautiful country, we arrived at a homestead where there were several
outhouses being built. It turned out to be my comrade’s destination. The
owners gave him a great welcome, took us both inside and in no time had
a table laid ready and a good feed of meat and pumpkin for us. They also
were emigrant English folk. As we sat at that grand table d’hôte a
venerable old blind man, who had been a sailor, sat at the shanty door,
secured from the blazing sun by the shade of the thickly clustered grape
vines, and sang: “Oh, ho! Rio! We’re bound for Rio Grande.”

He had retired, in England, from the sea many years before, and was the
father of our host, who had sent home for him and paid his passage out
to New Zealand. He was a jolly old fellow and, though over eighty years
of age, danced a hornpipe and sang, in spite of being quite blind. How
his white whiskers and red beak nose tossed as I played the fiddle and
he shuffled his feet and sang, and the boys from the next homestead, a
mile over the slopes, watched with delighted eyes.

“Avast there! Turn to!” he would say, as he asked for a bit more of
anything at the table to eat; and he loved to say that his rheumatism
had given him a twinge on his weather-side, or on his starboard-side or
his stern, as he moved his sightless eyes about and swayed, as though he
walked a rolling deck, across the shanty floor.

The last I saw of my travelling comrade the bushman was when he was
sawing poles in two and carefully measuring them with his little rule.
Several new outhouses were being built, and his friends gave him a job
for a few days. When the job was finished I have no doubt he went off
once more on the track, with his home on his back. I never heard why he
lived that life, or who he had been away back in the “has been” past,
but I took good care after my experience with him not to try and talk
philosophy or teach shabby-looking old men.

Very soon after I bade the New Zealand “bush-faller” good-bye I went off
visiting various townships with my violin and became a wandering
troubadour. I grew so well off that I was able to go on, devoid of all
worries, and see a great deal of New Zealand’s romantic scenery.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIII

Matene-Te-Nga—A “Bush-faller’s” Camp—A Maori Village—The Canoe
   Dance—Song of the Night—Mochau’s Tale—An Open-air Concert—Violin
   Solos—The Brown-eyed Girl—Boyhood—Onward to the Past!


I VISITED many places during my wanderings in New Zealand, among them
the beautiful Bay of Akaroa, and many other romantic scenes. The New
Zealand bush is wild and grand enough, and the Maoris deeply interested
me. I visited one aged Maori warrior, called Matene-Te-Nga. Samoan
tattooing was nothing compared to the engraving on his big frame. He
spoke English perfectly, but said little. He had kind, deep-set eyes and
a wrinkled face that was also deeply carved; indeed he looked like a
stalwart bit of brownish Greek sculptural work, covered with
hieroglyphics, when he moved with majestic precision. Curves of artistic
tattooing joined his stern, straight nose to his chin and upward to his
eyebrows. He was the one surviving warrior of a time when New Zealand
was a real Maori land, when the beautiful legendary lore of to-day was
poetical reality to the land’s original race. Matene had fought with the
tribes while fleets of canoes were ambushed in the gulf.

At Rotorua too I interviewed Maoris in their native pah. They wore but
few clothes. The girls and women had good-looking, stoical faces.

The Maoris strongly resemble the islanders of the Samoan and Tongan
Groups; indeed so pronounced is the likeness that one cannot help
thinking that the two races are allied by blood ties, and probably
drifted from New Zealand to the Pacific Isles, or vice versa, ages ago.
For several weeks I went off on my wanderings, accompanied by my beloved
comrade—my violin. I had still a pound or so in my possession, which I
intended to keep for the rainy day that would be sure to darken the blue
sky of glorious vagabondage. So, while the skies were bright, I made my
bed in the bush, and by the light of the moon read Byron’s _Poems_. I
had bought a paper-covered edition of them in Wellington and carried
them in my violin-case. Oh! the romantic splendour of those days and
nights, when I drank in the Byronic atmosphere. The glorious illusion of
youth, the rosy glamour that is not what it seems and seems what it’s
not, hung about me, as I sat under the giant karri-trees by the track,
or approached the Maori stronghold with Don Juan sparkling in my eyes.

On the west coast ranges, North Island, I came across a “bush-faller’s”
camp. I walked across the slope and introduced myself to the solitary
occupant, an old Irishman. He turned out to be an interesting and
congenial member of the wandering species. His camp was pitched by a
creek that led to a lake, the banks of which were surrounded by
beautiful ferns, eucalyptus and trees covered with fiery blossoms
musical with the moan of bees. As we sat together and sunset touched the
lake waters with fire, and primeval silence brooded over the forest,
broken only by the weird note of birds, I could easily have imagined
that I and my comrade occupied a new continent alone. Parakeets went
shrieking across the forest and over the lake; we only saw their shadows
in the still water and heard the tuneless beaks scream as they passed
overhead and left a deeper silence behind. I stopped with the
“bush-faller” one night. “Good-bye, mate,” he said, as he looked up to
me with his grateful, round blue eyes and placed my gift in his pocket.
He had told me where there was a Maori pah several miles away, and had
come stumbling with me through the undergrowth for a long way, to direct
me to the track that led to the main road.

That same evening I came across several old whares by a sheet of water,
at the foot of a tremendous range of hills that rolled to the southward.
It was extremely hot weather, and, as I followed the track round by the
water’s edge, I saw the little Maori children paddling by the lake
shores as the native women were fishing. On the other side of the lake
were several wooden homesteads where some whites lived.

I walked into the Maori village and the children stared stolidly at me
as they stood by the shed doors. Presently I came across an old Maori
chief sitting under a mangrove. He looked very aged, possibly more so
through his face being carved with dark blue tattoo. He spoke English
well, and as I approached he welcomed me and said: “Play me your music.”
I at once sat down by him and began to talk. As we were speaking a crowd
of Maori girls came round us, and some men, who wanted to hear me play
the violin. The old chief took me into his dwelling. It was strikingly
clean. I saw his wife squatting in the corner, reading a book printed in
the Maori language. She was a very ugly old woman and when she smiled
revealed bare gums that seemed to reach to her ears. Her hideousness
intensified the youthful beauty of the Maori girls, who came rushing
into the pah while I was speaking to the old man. They were beautiful
girls, with the usual fine eyes, and a marvellous wealth of hair that
glistened over their bare shoulders and fell to their bosoms. The sight
of them reminded me of my pretty Maori girl, who had long haunted my
dreams.

I stayed near that settlement for several days and attended the
rehearsal of a canoe dance. The weird beauty of that scene in many ways
recalled memories of the fantastic sights I had seen in the South Sea
Islands. One night, when the moon was shining over the lake and forest,
the Maori girls came forth from the pah, attired in scanty robes of
woven grass and flowers reaching to their knees. Across the forest patch
in front of the pah they ran with bare feet, waving their arms and
singing a chant in their native language. Then lying down in a row,
prone, in the deep grass, they moved their bodies and arms as though to
imitate canoe-paddling, all the time chanting a Maori melody. It was an
unforgettable sight, the moonlight glimpsing over their bodies as the
night wind lifted their luxuriant hair. They looked like mermaids
paddling in seaweed at the bottom of an ocean of moonlight. All the
while the Maori men gazed with admiring eyes.

I heard many Maori songs. They struck me as being full of a wild, poetic
atmosphere that suggested tribal battles and the legendary sadness of
far-off deeds of passion and love.

I give here a few bars of melody which may faintly express my memory of
their music:

[Music: HUMMING CHORUS, or Whistle, _ad lib_. A.S.M.

1st VOICE. Andante moderato. 1st voice. Espressivo.

2nd VOICE. (Hum, with closed lips.)

etc.]

I recall the solemn grandeur of the New Zealand bush, the cry of the
melancholy curlew in the forest as I tramped along the wild tracks to
Rotorua. I had my violin with me, and in the strange perspective of
memory I still hear and see the romping, sunburnt bush children rushing
out by the bush homesteads to welcome the troubadour who had suddenly
appeared. Once or twice I got pretty hard up and had to resort to my
violin’s appealing voice for help.

Not far from a little bush township, by a range of hills that rolled to
the westward, I came across another pah, where my fiddle and I were
welcomed by the old Maori chiefs, whose blinking eyes lit up their
tattooed faces. I remember I was warmly received by that primitive
community. It seemed hard to believe that they were descendants of
bloodthirsty cannibals as I sat among them and accompanied their songs,
songs that breathed tenderness and poetry. The character of their music
strikingly resembled Samoan melodies I had heard sung by the Siva chorus
girls in the South Sea villages. The following suggests the atmosphere
of Samoan or Maori music:—

[Music: SONG OF THE NIGHT. (_Samoan Entr’acte._)

Composed by A. S. M.

Moderato.

Con anima. Ped.

Ped. a piacere. etc.

Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. Boosey & Co., London, W.]

I will tell you a native fairy tale, as nearly as I can remember just as
the pretty mouth of Mochau, the Maori girl, told it to me. One evening
she was singing sweetly while I strummed a tinkling accompaniment on my
violin. The shadows were falling over the forest karri-trees and across
the slanting roofs of the whares, and the sunset fire blazed the lake
waters until they seemed a mighty burnished mirror that reflected the
Maori village, with its sloping roofs and the romping children on the
banks. “Good-bye, Mochau, I must go home now,” I said at last, and the
old chief, Mochau’s father, looked up as he squatted with his back
against a tree and said, his tattooed, wrinkled face smiling: “You stay
in pah till to-morrow?”

“All right,” I replied; and then Mochau’s eyes shone with pleasure, and
her bunched hair flew out in the soft forest breeze as she ran across
the patch into the whare to peel the potatoes and boil corn-cobs for
supper. After supper the kind old chief and his pretty daughter sat by
me on the slope; the moon shone over the lake and was reflected in the
still water, wherein the gum-trees stood upside down in a shadow world.


[Illustration: HALF-CASTE MAORI GIRLS]


Sitting on the grass, with her chin on her knees and her romantic eyes
staring straight in front of her, Mochau started to chant to herself.
“Come on, Mochau,” I said, “tell me some more fairy tales.” She laughed,
then grew very earnest, for she always imagined she was the heroine of
the tales she told. Then, facing me and looking into my eyes, she began:

“Long, long ago out of the sea rose the head of a beautiful youth,
Takaroa. His eyes were two stars, which he had stolen one night out of
the sky. Running up the shore, he looked on the land and clapped his
hands with delight to see the beautiful trees and all _horahia te
marino_” (so peaceful); “and as he stood looking, the water dripping
from his body in the golden sunlight, he said: ‘Where is she? Where is
she?’ Then all the warri flowers on the big trees suddenly heard and
looked down, for they had turned into the faces of beautiful girls, and
they opened their mouths and cried together: ‘I am she! I am she!’ Then
the beautiful youth of the sea looked up at them closely with his
wide-open eyes, and said: ‘You are not beautiful enough, not any of you;
she whom I love has eyes made out of the sunsets, and the stars all
shine in the dark night of her hair; so go away, go away.’ And all these
beautiful girls cried bitterly, and shrank up and were only flowers
again. Then the boy from the sea, Takaroa, shouted once more: ‘Where is
she? Where is she?’ and all the caverns along the shores and the
mountains echoed back sadly to him: ‘Where is she? Where is she?’ Then
Takaroa lay on the shore in the deep grass and cried to himself and fell
asleep.

“In the morning, when the great sunrise was shining over the sea, and
all the mountains inland were on fire with golden light, he was awake,
and, jumping up, he lifted his hands to the sky. ‘O god of the sky,
where is she? Where is she?’ And at once a little hihi bird came flying
across the forest sky and, sitting on the pohutukawa tree just above the
beautiful youth, started to sing sweetly on its twig. Takaroa listened,
and looked up and said: ‘Are you my love?’ And the little bird started
at once to swell, its feathers all puffed out, and it grew and grew;
then lo! out jumped a beautiful girl!

“Oh, so lovely she was,” said Mochau, as she stopped and looked at her
imaged face in the moonlit lake; for, as I told you, she always would
believe that she was the beautiful heroine; then she continued: “Her
hair was like the tangled forest with the stars shining in it, and her
eyes more beautiful than the sunset. ‘Oh, oh, you are my love, you are
my love; sing to me, sing to me,’ the immortal youth said; and side by
side they sang together. Then he plucked a bamboo cane and made a magic
flute, and she sang and danced. ‘Oh, how beautiful you are,’ he said as
he looked upon her lovely body. And she said: ‘Do you love _me_,
Takaroa, or my body?’ And he said: ‘Oh, Tamo mi Werie, I love you, not
your body, but your beautiful eyelight.’ Then all day they danced and
sang together.

“Then night came, and he made a lovely soft bed for her, and she lay
down on the grey moss and curled up her warm limbs. The beautiful youth
lay down beside her and kissed her red coral lips and said: ‘Oh, my
love, place your arms round me.’ And she said: ‘I dare not, oh, I dare
not.’ But still he pleaded, and he was as beautiful as was his voice, so
she relented and put her arms out and sighed; and he clasped—a little
bird! Oh! how he cried, and cried, for in the grey moss was still the
impression of the beautiful girl’s body; and though the little bird had
flown away, he still kept looking down at the grey moss bed and crying
out: ‘Oh, come back to me.’ But the little bird came not back, and he
was alone with the silent night; and all around him the old giant trees,
with gnarled trunks, sighed and moaned in the moonlight with deep, windy
voices as the wind blew through them; for they were the stalwart
warriors, the long dead tattooed chiefs who had once lived in the world
of love and grief.”

Then Mochau looked once more into the lake water at herself, and the
tears were in her eyes; and the old tattooed chief’s eyes blinked in the
moonlight as we sat together and looked at each other. I cannot show you
the surrounding forest and the deep stillness of the waters, or paint
the moon that shone over the lake, or Mochau the Maori girl’s romantic
eyes and face.

Presently Mochau looked up into her father’s face and said, “Parro, tell
us a tale also”; and immediately the old chief, who longed to outrival
his daughter, for the Maoris seem to live chiefly that they may dream of
far-off battles and tell weird legends, began and told me how this world
got into our Universe.

“Before the very beginning of things a mighty god was walking across the
clouds in the sky. He had not slept for thousands and thousands of
years. So he put his giant feet against some stars that twinkled between
his toes and, with his head pillowed on the roaming cloud, sat and
rested; and his shadow moved across the sky like a mountain-man wherever
the cloud moved along, and obscured the fixed stars in its passage. On
and on he went for thousands of years, resting, which to the mighty god
was only like a tiny rest of one minute. Then he suddenly said: ‘Oh, I
do feel tired’; and as he slowly rose to his feet and obscured all the
Milky Way he yawned, and lo! out of his mouth, to the mighty god’s own
surprise, jumped thousands of tiny boys and girls. Round and round the
god they swam in space, with gleaming eyes and laughing voices; and
then, suddenly growing tired, they too cried: ‘We are tired, give us
something to sit upon.’ The old god sighed, and on his breath came all
the stars of the lower firmament; and he shed tears at the thought that
he had become sleepy and yawned, and made boys and girls come, and those
tears made the great seas beneath him! Then, as the children cried
again, the great earth heaved up silently under him also, and he threw
the moon into the sky. Still the children cried out: ‘Oh, we are so
cold!’ So he tore out one of his eyes and threw it into the sky, and lo!
the great sun shone and warmed them! Then they said: ‘Oh, dear god, we
are hungry.’ And the god sighed again and touched a fleecy cloud, and
out jumped thousands of woolly sheep; and from his new clouds of
moonlight he plucked bunches of glittering wings; and birds soared,
singing across the new sky. Still they cried: ‘Oh, dear god, we want
something else, and then something else.’ And the great god became
terribly fierce and shouted the thunder; then the rain fell! Still the
children were unsatisfied, and the god said: ‘All right, you shall grow
old and ugly’; and when they understood what that meant they cried
loudly to the god for forgiveness. So he relented and said: ‘Though you
must grow old and ugly, you shall have little children to take your
place.’ And they clapped their hands for joy. But still they were
unsatisfied; and he got fierce again and said: ‘You shall fall asleep,
and your bodies turn to flowers, and trees, and dust.’ And then at last
they felt a little more satisfied; because, when they found that they
had to leave the beautiful world for ever, the stars, the flowers, the
trees, the ocean and the sunsets became sad and seemed more beautiful to
look upon: and so the first old Maori men and women got very ugly and
crept into the earth to die quite satisfied!” Thus finishing, the old
chief licked his dry lips and sang me a chant, as he lived on in some
past age; and Mochau looked at him tenderly and sang softly with him.
They looked like two children together, and not father and daughter at
all. They lived in a dreamland and cared for nothing else, for they
lived within themselves.

Eventually I bade the Maori world farewell, and arrived at Christchurch,
where I was forced to stay for two or three weeks, for whilst gazing at
a derrick that was hauling up a huge coping-stone I slipped and sprained
my ankle, and was laid up for a week, and thereby got into low water.

In the house in which I was lodging there was also staying a retired
actor, who was, like me, _in extremis_ through the lack of the essential
wherewithal. This old actor was an amusing man, always cheerful and a
good companion. He was a man of about sixty years of age; and when I sat
on the side of my bed and played my violin to him one evening his eyes
gleamed with intense pleasure. “Bravo, youngster!” he said, and in his
extreme delight his clean-shaved face wrinkled up with happy thought.
“Fancy you talking about being hard up when you can play the fiddle like
that.” Immediately he unfolded a plan, which was to give concerts in
public without any preliminary expenses; in common parlance, we agreed
on the spot to go “buskin.”

The idea of playing in the streets of a city was not congenial. It
lacked all the romantic troubadour element of my previous experiences in
the little bush towns up country. But nevertheless my companion’s
cheerfulness and optimism gave me courage. He had a remarkably good
voice, and in our room we rehearsed all the songs that he knew. Together
next night, with our wild harps slung behind us, we sallied forth. My
comrade had brushed his antiquated tall hat up till it shone with
renewed prosperity. He had also cut out of paper a pair of new white
cuffs, for he had a great belief in looking respectable. “My boy,” he
said, “we must let them see that we are not allied in any way to common
plebeian street players. How do I look?” Then he gazed at himself in our
looking-glass with pride, while I told him that he looked the last kind
of man to be singing in the street. I meant what I said too, for he had
a very distinguished look, and his speech had the intonation of bygone
polish in it.

In the heart of the city, by the kerb-side, we started the first
open-air concert. It was after dark, and the well-lit street was
thronged with people, who generously dropped coins into my partner’s
tall hat; for as soon as he had finished singing he went into the crowd,
as I played on. Whether it was my comrade’s melodious voice, or my
violin-playing, or our respectable appearance, I know not, but I was
astounded at the money he collected. After each “pitch” we retired into
a bar and counted out the proceeds and shared alike.

My comrade smacked me on the back with delight as he continually had
another drink. “Don’t you think we had better finish now?” I said, as I
noticed that he was getting a bit excited; but he would not hear of such
a thing. At the next pitch, by the arcade, he started to shout out,
going through his old parts; he even opened his mouth and went through
Hamlet! The vast crowd that collected to watch his antics stopped the
traffic, and the police moved him on. “We had better get off,” I said to
him, and to my great relief he agreed.

Just as we were turning a corner an aristocratic-looking old gentleman
came up to us and, touching me on the back and saying, “You play the
violin rather well for the streets,” got into conversation with us. He
invited us up to his residence, where we had a good supper, and my
friend entertained our host with reminiscences of better days. We were
invited to stay the night, and left next morning as guests. I did not go
out with my friend any more, but at once sought for a post.

I eventually secured a good orchestral job as violinist. I also got into
“society,” and played drawing-room solos at a residence where the
hostess was a person of very high standing in Christchurch. One day
while I was playing a violin solo to her daughters in the drawing-room
the door suddenly opened and a loud-voiced lady swept into the room,
bringing a pungent odour of scent with her. She looked at me hard for a
moment, then put on her pince-nez and once more surveyed me critically,
saying: “Dear me, how you do resemble the young man who was playing a
violin in Queen Street with _another_ awful man!” I do not recommend
violinists to go “buskin” if they can do better and wish to rise from
the vagabond state. If they do they will be recognised long after they
have forgotten the incident themselves.

To have even your ability recognised is sometimes distressing. I
remember being awarded the first prize in an amateur violin solo
competition at Bathurst, in New South Wales. I played Paganini’s _Le
Streghe_ and his violin concerto in D. I was awarded the first prize by
the adjudicator; then someone recognised me as a professional and I was
immediately disqualified. I remonstrated, but an old programme was
produced, whereon it was stated that I had been special Court violinist
to the kings, queens and high chiefs of the South Sea Islands! I think
that is the only time in my career that my position as first violinist
and composer to royalty has ever been recognised! also the only occasion
when the musical and critical ability of the royal houses of the
Southern Seas, through choosing me as their Court violinist, has ever
been acknowledged.

Many things happened during my New Zealand wanderings, and one incident
stands out in stronger, yet sadder, relief than many of the others as I
dive and grope back, deep down in the silent waters for my dead sea
fruit.

You will admit, I am sure, that I have not gone into rhapsodies over my
virtues, but verily I believe the worst of us are better than we seem!

One day I was resting against a tree by the track. I was on my way to
Wellington, to reply personally to an advertisement that offered a good
salary to a violin dance player. It was a long, weary road and I was
very tired, but happy, for I had about a sovereign in my possession. I
had been reading my Byron and Keats’s _Ode to a Nightingale_, to which I
had written music, notwithstanding that the ode was the utterance of
music itself, for when we are young we rush forward to paint the cheeks
of the gods and teach wise old “bush-fallers” philosophy. I was feeling
lonely and poetical, which, in the worldly sense, means slightly insane.
The world seemed to have a glamour of poetry about it after all. The
grandeur of the sombre forest bush seemed a part of me as the old
gnarled giant trees stood silently in the gloom, like wise old friends
staring at me, who would protect my homelessness if they could. The sun
was blazing hot, and, just as I was thinking that I only had the silent
butterflies for companions in a magic world of bright flowers and wise
old trees, a tired-looking girl came round the bend of the track. As she
was passing me she looked quietly into my face and smiled. I had never
seen her before, so you may guess a good deal about that smile, and not
be far wrong in thinking that Mrs Grundy’s unprivate opinion is a
correct one.

It was a wan smile, and as weary looking as the feet of the owner of the
smile as they dragged along the dusty bush track as though they cared
not where they led the wretched body. I looked up and returned the
smile, for the eyes of the girl were brown and earnest-looking. She came
straight up at once and sat down beside me! “I suppose you haven’t a
shilling or so to spare, sir?”

I looked at her kindly, I am sure, and, with the quick intuition of her
sex, her manner immediately changed. She saw that I returned the smile
in a spirit of woeful fellowship only. She was a good-looking girl,
about twenty-four, two or three years older than I. Her hair was glossy
and thick, and to this day I remember her fine brow and the look that
lighted up her face. She had a pretty, yet weak, mouth, but the star
shone on the dim horizons of her eyes. As she looked long and earnestly
at me, I got up and said: “I’m off; I’ve got to get to Wellington”; and
away we went along the track side by side. I asked her a lot of
questions about herself and she answered me truthfully, telling me that
she was a three-quarter caste Maori girl. I should never have noticed it
if she had not told me so. Her father was an engineer and had been
killed in an accident, and her mother had taken to drink and gone to the
devil. I saw by her manner and by all she said that she wanted to
impress me with the disadvantages she had had in her brief career; also
that she regretted that first familiar tell-tale smile. I looked much
older than I was, for I was tall, well made, with thick bronzed hair,
grey eyes and sensitive, curved nostrils and lips. Indeed I possessed
all those physiological defects that have made me what I am! For to get
on in this world one should have square nostrils and a protruding,
bull-dog jaw, and eyes with a mental squint that can scan north, south
east and west of one’s world of prospects all at once.

Yet I was happy enough, untrammelled, and out of the grip of
conventionality—that relentless old man of the sea could not cling to
me. My soul roamed at will, like a riderless wild horse, across the
plains of life. And as I was romantic, and the glamour of Byron’s
gallant corsairs sparkled in my head, attuned to the tenderness of
Keats, I spoke of the beautiful sunset and the goodness of God, and
gazed down on the frail derelict beside me trudging along in her
dilapidated shoes. How I remember her earnest eyes as she looked up at
me! Most assuredly the great poets are really the sad, truthful Bibles
of this world. For the tenderness, the atmosphere, of their inspired
minds still sighed out of their graves into my heart, like the scent of
the flowers growing over them. Her voice became soft and sighed with
mine, and, God knows it’s true enough, I was never so proud and
religiously happy as when that “bad woman’s” eyes gazed up into mine
with admiration—my eyes indeed! Oh, we men, who write as though _she_
would do that which we would never do!

Presently we saw the wooden houses of a township ahead, and as we
entered the little main street, ignoring the curious looks of the
stragglers who were leaning against the verandahs of the few shops,
sheltered by their big-rimmed bush hats, I took her into an
eating-house, where we ate together. She became very silent, and when we
started off again, down the main road, I noticed that tone of respect in
her voice that we give to those who we think we realise are better than
ourselves. So I started to sing cheerily and made her laugh.

We arrived at the outskirts of Wellington at dusk and stood under a
lamp-post. I gave her several shillings; she refused to take them at
first, until I said: “That’s all right, I lend it to you.” She clutched
my hand, looked up at me quickly and then hung her head and cried like a
child. I soon cheered her up and made her promise to write to me,
saying: “I am a musician and can make plenty of money!” “I thought you
were something great like that; you’ve got the look in your face,” and
she looked at me as though I was some wonderful being. We were standing
outside a third-rate theatre, and I asked her if she would like to see
the play. As she said she would, we went in, the “loose street woman”
and I.

When we came out I said good-bye to her, and she got on a car to go to
some friends. She seemed so happy as she looked back at me. She did
write to me, and I gathered that she had obtained a situation in a boot
factory. They were neatly written letters, and ah! how I recall the
soul, the woman part of those letters, and what they really meant; but
suddenly they ceased. How I pray that her life after that was a happier
one than that of the gallant corsair she met on the bush track in New
Zealand long ago.

As I look back I see again the weary face of that neglected girl; her
eyes are looking at me. I did not love her then, but, strange as it may
seem, I love her passionately now. Her shabby skirts and the bit of
dirty coloured blue ribbon round her throat are sacred memories to me,
and the old dilapidated shoes are shuffling a dusty song on the weary
track, a song so unutterably sad that I think Christ must have composed
it. I think God gathers all His beauty from grief; that, enthroned in
loneliness, He gazes eternally across His stars and across His dark
infinities and sees some Long Ago! For not in the vastness of things, or
the mighty ocean of space, can we see or feel so much of Infinity as we
can see in the derelict eyes of the friendless; as I saw, and see now,
in the tramping Maori girl of my spiritual passion.

Ah! how I love the memory of those imaginative boyish days. I often
wonder if many boys were, and are, as I was, and see the strange things
that I saw. My earliest recollection is of the little bedroom at the top
of the house where I slept when I was six or seven years of age. On
moonlight nights I could see the poplar-trees swaying to the wind
outside my window as I lay alone in bed. Just beyond the trees was a
stable, and its chimney had a large cowl on it. That cowl was shaped
like a helmet and had ribbed marks on it, like deep wrinkles on an old
man’s throat, and as the wind blew it turned slowly and majestically
round. I used to peep from the sheets out on the moonlight night with
frightened, awestruck eyes; for my childish brain firmly believed that
it was God’s head moving against the sky—watching me whenever it turned
towards my window!

I told my mother about it, and they all assured me that it was only a
chimney cowl, but still I did not like the look of it, and I was
delighted when they shifted my bed into another room. At another time I
stole some green apples off a tree in our garden and got very sick and
ill. My dear mother made me promise to steal apples no more; and she
said to me: “Though I cannot always see you, God can, for He is always
walking about everywhere.”

“What is He like?” I asked, and then she described Him.

Not long after that I was going up a lonely lane near our house when I
suddenly spied some green gooseberries in a long front garden. Being a
born vagabond, I opened the gate and crept in, and kneeling down by the
bushes I stole a pocketful of the unripe gooseberries. Just as I was
bolting off an old gentleman with a long white beard, who held a
walking-stick to help him along, quietly opened the gate, walked in and
looked at me with solemn eyes. I stood before him trembling like a leaf,
quite certain that God stood before me! I hung my head with shame and
said: “Oh, God, I am so sorry, please forgive me”; and then I saw a kind
look in God’s eyes. I promised never to steal again. He let me out of
the gate; and I rushed off home, thrilled with excitement. I almost
burst the door open and, rushing up to my mother, shouted: “I’ve seen
God! He’s such a kind old man. He’s given me a penny!” Sometimes now I
think that God is dead, that He has died of sheer loneliness and grief
over the sad lot of His lost children.

I have often wondered what I have lost through embracing scallawagism
with its visionary splendours. Probably, were it not for that, I should
be the proud possessor of a brick house in a decorous suburb, and oh!
vast ambition, wear a white collar and cuffs. And, who knows, be pushing
my lawn-mower, hiding my sarcastic grin over its ostentatious hum—as I
watch my envious neighbour cut his grass with shears!

Even so, I think the greater prize is in being able to sit over the
hearth fire or the camp fire with one’s comrades, revelling in the
realism of the “Not Permissible,” turning the Universe the other way and
singing the reminiscent vagabond’s Excelsior—Onward to the Past! Ever
back to some happy past, back to the miser hoards from the glorious Past
to the loaded wine cellars of dreamland’s infinity. To uncork the
bottled dead sunsets, foaming champagnes of forgotten forest moonlights
and blazing camp fires, bubbling laughter and friendly eyes. Drink
deeply to her lips of other days, renew the old vows, clasp her tightly,
gaze in her eyes ere the desert wind blow her from your arms—as
scattered dust! And, if she be old, if her face, her loveliness, be
changed to the wrinkled map, the sad parchment whereon Time’s hand ever
toils to write creation’s grief, kiss her passionately, dip her in the
bath of old cleansing imagination, rewhiten her limbs and make her
beautiful! Watch her happiness! Make the only future man ever knew, or
ever will know; gladden and become rich with life’s old wine of the
beautifully unreal! Friend, shut your eyes and look at the past; see
sunsets and sunrises, the mirrored blue days of silent skies, soaring
birds, ancient cities, nations and their histories, empires of splendid
chaotic violence, laughter, love and intense tragical drama. Now shut
your eyes and look at the future—can you see one moment of its reality?
No, you cannot. So make your spiritual creed some dim, long-ago
remembrance of your own happiness, and cherish and make the old the new!
Make yesterday, and to-day, and to-morrow shining planets that came, and
are coming from the illimitable past to swim into the happy skies of
your ken. And let the lawn-mower’s triumphant, respectable humming go
by!

Probably we vagabonds are mad, and the great majority who laugh at
sentiment are the really sane ones. How strange indeed if, after all,
the poets are wrong, and the great and glorious aim and end of the
Universe is—affluence, with flabbiness, grand pianofortes, Brussels
carpets, retinues of wooden servants and gold! Gold! Indeed, for all
those things we vagabonds must hold the candle to the devil. For alas!
the body cannot live on sunsets and the memory of sad derelicts, dead
sailors and forgotten heroes. But mentally we are wealthy. We have
explored the gold-fields of the universe and struck a rich vein. It is
rough gold, truly, but perhaps our Creator never meant it to be reforged
and rehallmarked after He scattered it among the stars. Certainly it has
always appealed to me in the rough state, more so than in the polish of
strange, unmusical voices, high collars and a great lack of appreciation
for shabby men. We vagabonds are not conscientious judges of worldly
greatness. We are strangely biassed in favour of those lost outcasts who
drift on the waters of infinity, singing chanteys to the wandering
stars, and not caring so long as “God’s in His heaven—all’s right with
the world!” What matters if men are happy? Yes, even though “they fall
by the roadside and die,” with no obituary notice and the “cause of
little crape,” as one of my critics said. He and I, I think, would tramp
the world together if we had a chance to live our life over again. We
may live again; I sometimes think I have lived before. And what greater
truth is there in the hearts of men than their own belief in all that
they believe?


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                              CHAPTER XIV

Memories and Reflection—A Picture of Robert Louis Stevenson—German
   Appreciation—Of Norman Descent—A Cannibal’s Execution—An Australian
   Sundowner—A Voltaire of the Southern Seas—Types


DREAMING over New Zealand days and the many types and characters I have
met destroys the continuity of actual events: my thoughts digress for a
moment to various experiences and pictures which my memory has recorded.
Memories, in the perspective of dead Time, vary with our moods.
Sometimes the figures and events stand out vividly, and at other times
are illusive, and seem some sad, intangible thing far away in the
background of life.

The old bushman’s red beard and twinkling eyes; the squatting savages by
their huts; the sensitive mouths and wondering eyes of the native girls;
old scallawags; beachcombers; the noise of sailors on ships in the bay;
Horncastle’s jovial face aglow with joy and drink; the palm-clad shores,
and Apia’s primitive town, seem far-off dreams. I can still see Robert
Louis Stevenson in Samoa; his tall, bony form, attired in white
trousers, shirt and old shoes only, stands on the beach. His hand is
arched over his watching eyes, his loose scarf blows out behind him to
the gusty trade wind, as he stares seaward at the fading schooner that
takes some friend away for ever. He looks like some memorial figure, the
statue of a half poet, half pioneer gazing with aching eyes across the
sea. The wind stirs the wisp of dark hair on the high, pale brow; the
head is hatless and perfectly still, but the fine eyes are alive and
full of far-away thoughts. Now he moves away and goes up the shore, and
does not even see the smile of recognition on the face of the trading
ship’s skipper, who passes with a Samoan sailor and one other. Like the
memory of some tragical living picture it all flashes across my mind. I
could think it all unreal, some far-off rocky, beautiful unknown isle,
set in the seas of my imagination, as I paint the stars, the skies, the
breaking waves, the ships and the sailors coming into the harbour, or
once more going seaward. At other times Samoa’s Isles come back vividly,
and just as a sailor, far away at sea, stands on the fo’c’sle head and
watches the big clouds shift on the horizon as they break and suddenly
reveal blue tropical skies over the outstretched, unknown continent’s
shores of singing waves and palm forests, so I see the past, and the
figures move. The winds stir the trees, and the magical, musical voices
of savage men and women sing and laugh, in a world that is now _The
Arabian Nights’ Entertainments_ of my boyhood.

As you can imagine, I have met many strange types of men and women in my
travels, types both good and bad. I tramped many, many weary miles in
the Australian bush when I was fifteen years of age. Often I tramped
alone, when I could not get a congenial comrade. I was sometimes very
lucky; and my reminiscences of those good comrades are the lights that
shine down the dark tracks far away as I remember their eyes. One was a
man of about thirty years of age. He was exceedingly cheerful and full
of song and devilment. I can still see his refined face aglow as he sits
under the scorched gum-trees smashing swamp mosquitoes on his hand or
singing his favourite songs in a quiet, manly voice. We stayed together
for two or three days at a sheep station, where the boss was a German.
He was all right. But there were two German women and a son there too.
When I played the violin to them, and turned around for the welcome and
expected applause, they said: “Vell, dat vash little nize”; and then
they shook their Teutonic square heads and, with their eyes and hands
lifted to the shanty roof, said: “But, O-ez! you shoulds hear zem play
that tunezz in Germanhy—O-o-o-o-e-z-z-z-z-z ze diff-er-enze!”

Then my boyish blood warmed up and I said: “Germans can’t play the
violin. Paganini wasn’t a German. No German ever played except by
science.”

“Mein Gott! Mein Gott! O, haves you never vash heards Vons
Kriessburgh? He play that same tuenz vich you just now play
so—phoo!”—here they shrugged their shoulders with disgust at my
performance—“like dis,” and the two German women, who had faces like
pasty pumpkins with glass eyes stuck in them, and the son, with his
big moustache twirled at the ends, lifted their hands and eyes to the
roof to express the ecstatic memory of the German’s violin-playing.
Their mouths went “O, o-ez-e-z-z-z-z-z-z-ez,” emitting a strange sound
that faded away in complete exhaustion as they sank down on to the
three chairs like three puppets. Not only violin-playing, but
everything, was wonderful in German art. If one said, “What a nice
picture,” or “What nice butter,” they’d raise their eyebrows and sigh
out that old crescendo, “O, O-e-z-z-z,” and say: “Have yous _never,
never_ tasted German butter?” It was the same with eggs, beef, pork,
men, boots, girls or any d——d thing!

My congenial comrade went off to New Zealand, and I ran across another
one, who was most uncongenial for a time. We were tramping across the
bush-lands, looking for work on stations and secretly hoping that we
were not wanted. My friend was a short, thick-set, thick-necked fellow
about two years older than I, with a slightly elevated, protruding chin
and a mouth that talked from morn till night about his ancestry. I
forget now whether he said they were descendants of Julius Cæsar’s
invading horde or of William the Conqueror. Anyway our friendship was
one incessant argument.

I was just on six feet high, full of health and independent strength,
and I found that I was supposed to walk beside him with my head hanging
for shame because I was only a “common Englishman.” We were on a lonely
bush track; ragged gum-trees fenced the broken sky-lines for miles and
miles around us. The only onlookers were parrots and cockatoos, like
vividly coloured leaves overhead. There was no sight or sound of human
habitation in that vast, sombre solitude as we tramped along together. A
feeling of grim exultation seemed to suddenly seize me. Once more I
swallowed another pill of insult, and I looked down sideways at my
blue-blooded companion. I thought of my ancestral forefathers, and
wondered if _his_ ancestors had robbed my ancestors, and ravaged their
lands and castles—my possible birthright!

He did not know what I was thinking of as he talked away. His short legs
strutted along the track with the toes turned up, his nose and chin also
inclined skyward, as once more he reminded me of my plebeian origin.
Suddenly!—— Well, I’ll not tell you all, for why should we be proud of
the animalistic strain that sometimes dominates our natures? Why be
proud that suddenly a bolt seemed to fall from the blue, and one of the
reputed descendants of the first Kaiser Bill got his deserts, and lay
with his back in the dust, his Imperial nose and semi-conscious eyes
staring half vacantly up at the Australian sky, while plebeian, old
pioneer England, with a swag on his back, tramped away and faded on the
horizon—triumphant—alone!

Ere sunset darkened the sky I lay ambushed in a clump of wattles by the
forest, then peeped and saw my comrade coming slowly down the track with
his toes turned down. I repented and thought: “Even if it’s true, he
cannot help being the descendant of bloodthirsty ravishers, who killed
old men and robbed my country’s churches. No, even he cannot help
himself.” So I crept out and told him I repented, and once more we
tramped along as comrades. So silent was he about William the Conqueror
that you would have thought such a man had never lived. He admitted that
night, as we sat by the camp fire, when I had explained my feelings to
him, that his descent was only a family rumour. Hearing that, I truly
forgave him, and we lifted the billy can of cold tea and drank a united
toast to the memory of Caractacus and Boadicea, and death to all
descendants of the first great bloated Kaiser Bill who dare prove to us
their murderous, cowardly ancestry!


[Illustration: LAKE ROTORUA AND MOKOIA ISLAND, N.Z.]


I met yet another gentleman of ancient emigrant blood in Tahiti. He was
a gigantic old chap, a chief. I slept in his hut with four American
runaway sailors, who were waiting with me for the next boat to call, so
that we could clear out. Night after night that old chief would sit and
tell us of the wonderful earlier days, when he was the great king of the
inland dominions, loved by all the tribes for his bravery and justice,
and had had a special envoy sent out by Queen Victoria to represent her
appreciation to the one true Christian monarch of the Southern Seas.

He had fine eyes, and they flashed as he told of these old days, and his
tattooed frame swelled majestically over many a wild memory. He even
shed tears as he sang to us old far-off songs of dead heroes, mighty
chiefs and tender maids he had eaten at the cannibalistic festive board.
One night we returned to the hut and found that the great monarch had
bolted off with all our possessions; even my last shirt had gone! Two
weeks later he was caught by the gendarmes; then we heard that he was a
ferocious cannibal of low origin, and that they had been trying to catch
him for twelve months. He had killed a native boy, strangled him in the
forest, and eaten him. Before we left we heard that he had been shot by
the French Commissioners. About six weeks after, while I was walking
along the beach at Apia, I met him. He ran for his life, before my
friend and I got a chance to recover from our astonishment and run in
the opposite direction. The hired native sharpshooters had deliberately
missed him, and the old scoundrel had fallen dead till nightfall only!

Another time I met an old dilapidated sundowner, a real specimen of the
Australian bush-lands. It was miles up country where I first met him,
sitting under his gum-trees by a creek making his billy boil. He gave me
a hot drink and I gave him a tobacco plug; and as the billy boiled up
again he said: “Where yer bound for?” “Anywhere,” I answered. “Wall, yer
better come with me to Coomiranta Creek, ten miles off the western
track, by Wangarris Yards; we can get plenty tucker there; and then on
to the Sandy Hills and across Dead Girl’s Flat into Hompy Bom, that
leads across Gum Creek into Dead Crow’s Paddock, two miles or more from
Dead Man’s Hollow. Then strike the gullies by Riley’s ranch, and there
we can get another stock of tucker. He’s a real all right ’un Riley is,
and not too bad either.”

And so he rambled on, as he wiped his grizzly grey beard, a beard so
thick with spittle and tobacco juice that it acted as a kind of
fly-catcher for him; the buzzing insects flapped their wings and
struggled with their tangled feet in that awful hairy web till they were
swept into Eternity by his brushing hand. Indeed his companionship was
greatly esteemed by me, for as we tramped along under the sweltering sun
I walked beside him untormented by the mosquitoes and the myriads of
hissing flies that like a swarm of honeybees kept on his side, following
his monstrous bushy beard as we travelled south.

His whole life was centred on the various stations by the known tracks
and the grades of generosity in the hearts of the overseers and
stockmen. These sundowners arrive at the stations at sunset and appeal
for work just as the day’s work is finished and bolt off at daybreak
into the bush, with their old brown blanket on their backs. Stolid old
men some of them, they are real derelicts of the old days. They look
like grey-bearded figure-heads of ships, fixed on weary, ragged bodies,
as with their pipes in their mouths they pass and fade across the oceans
of scrub, spinifex and sand, buccaneers on the high seas of Australian
bush. My old sundowner hardly ever spoke as we wandered along under the
gum-trees, as the magpies sat on the twigs and chuckled, and bees moaned
in the bush flowers of the hollows. We arrived in a bush town of about
twenty wooden houses and two shops that sold all humanity requires. I
played the violin, and he was delighted when I gave him all the money
which he collected in his vast broad-rimmed hat.

“I say, matey, chum up with me,” he said, as his long-sleeping
commercial eye opened and stared at the money. But I didn’t chum up with
him; I was not built for a sundowner. I recall how he always said his
prayers after he had tucked his blanket around his body and laid his
head on the heaped bush grass. He was old then. I suppose he’s long been
dead now, and lies somewhere in those far-away bush-lands.

I’ve seen some strange types in my time; but what are those types
compared to the normal tribes I’ve seen and played to, laughed, loved
and squabbled with. Little brown children clothed only in moonlight and
sunlight, singing cheerfully by the South Sea breakers under the
dark-fingered coco-palms. Sad little faces, some like deserted baby
angels, looking up into my face—my children! Dishevelled, strange old
bush mothers, crooning to their buds of humanity, tiny brown clinging
hands and moving mouths at their kind, softly feeding brown breasts—my
mothers! Old tattooed chiefs and grim-looking kings; rough-haired
semi-savage girls; and youths jabbering in strange tongues, with hushed,
secret voices, over the terrible white plague that had entered and
stricken their primitive city of huts; the white-faced, fierce-looking
invaders from across the seas. Ravishers of their maidens! The scum of
the Western cities prowling about the villages that had become the
hot-beds of lust and sin’s terrible paradise. Missionaries, with
melancholy, hollow voices, who seldom knew anything of the intense inner
life of humanity and the great philosophy of happiness. Superstitious,
bigoted old chiefs cursing the white man’s Bible. Philosophical old
brown men with high brows and keen dark eyes reflectively nodding their
heads. South Sea Oldenburgs striving to convince grim South Sea
Spinozas. Stalwart, dark tattooed Schopenhauers shouting about
wind-baggery.

I can see again the ironical heathen chief sitting by his palatial hut.
He is clever, a Voltaire of the Southern Seas. His strong face is
tattooed; grim-looking are his little eyes as he grins and looks at the
Marquesan coat-of-arms which he has invented and placed at his door—a
large empty rum barrel and on top of it a Christian Bible!

I see the pretty Samoan girl, Millancoo, with lovely dreaming eyes and
thick bronzed hair, with a red and white hibiscus flower stuck in at
each side. Her brown limbs and figure are the perfection of graceful
beauty, dressed only in a little blue chemise. She eloped with a “noble
white man” to the Gilbert Isles, and committed suicide when he left her,
ere her first-born could creep to her bosom and taste the only milk of
human kindness it would most probably have ever known.

Earnest-faced Tippo, her sister, sits on the slope. Happy as night with
its stars is she, with six little dark, plump children with demon-like
eyes romping all round her. She has married an uncivilised nigger from
Timbuctoo! O happy girl! How the natives chided and sneered at her at
first for not marrying a great white lord as her sister did!

Beautiful women, and men also, I have met in strange places. I have
found them in the hovels and among the scum of life, and sometimes in
the palatial home of affluence. Convicts of New Caledonia in the
calaboose or toiling in chains, breathing, yet as dead as dust, with
hollow, sad eyes, corpses from La Belle France—my poor brothers! Old men
and women begging by the kerb-side in the far-away civilised Isle of the
Western Seas! The old man in rags, a skeleton on tottering feet,
shivering, going down the cold, windy, main road of the lighted suburb,
singing, with a palsied old mouth, some song that God composed ere
Christ came. He is my beloved comrade; bury me with him, so that the
flowers over us may twine in our dead dust and find mutual sympathy.

I have seen multitudes of commercial burglars, wealthy villains, who
fought so valiantly to save their own lives that they have received the
commercial V.C. for valour—and penniless, profligate angels, fighting
side by side in the battle of nations—that battle wherein the bullets
cause mortal wounds, though many years pass before they send the
bloodless corpses to heaven—or hell.

I have seen old, ragged, hideous, long-dead women still sitting by the
attic’s hearth fire, sipping the gin bottle—sweet-fumed opium for their
spectral dreams. As they stare at the embers burning in the red glow
they see their own girlhood faces smile once more back into their
bleared eyes, with remembered beauty, happiness and glorious faith. Old
_roués_ too dream somewhere—the men who made the vows to those drunken
old women and never kept them—may they sleep well, but never wake!

I have heard the majestic cathedral organ thunder its rolling music to
the roof as the beggar passed by the massive, nail-studded door on
swollen feet, rubbed his cold skeleton hands together and spat
viciously. No food in his body, and his soul—well, why should he worry
about his soul?

I have seen the great shocked multitude open their eyes aghast, and
heard the tremendous crash, the clatter of the hail of stones, when the
voice said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a
stone at her.” O wonderful goodness! O icy, stony virtue.

Ah! not only in the wild Australasian bush or in the Southern Seas is
the great drama of life enacted; the great drama that makes your heart
cold, and the old warm belief become encrusted with icicles, as you
dream over the strange lot of the wandering, lost children.

          I’ve laid me down deep in the bush to sleep,
          And wrapt my body in the sunset’s blaze.
          Then wondered why He made sad wings for days
          To fly away—and all our world to weep.

          Like to a myriad birds blown round sunset
          In song, I thought I watched God’s careworn Face
          Brushed by bright wings—the unborn human race
          Who did not want their mortal birth—just yet!

          I heard the growing flowers cry in the night,
          And trees—that whisper of old cherished things.
          And still the startled, hurried rush of wings—
          It was the stars sighed out—upon their flight.

          O Troubadours, O Stars, what sing you of?
          O wandering minstrels, is it to God’s plan
          You sing?—or to the exiled heart of man
          Who pays with death’s blind eyes and cherished love?

          But still the children cry upon the plain
          Beside a grave; and still the cheerful king
          Grows fat; and sad old men say: “Anything,
          O God, except to live this life again!”


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                               CHAPTER XV

The Lecturer—The Italian Virtuoso—Disillusioned


Before I left New Zealand I secured an engagement to play the violin at
a concert hall where the district assembled to applaud the talent of
youthful pianoforte players and maidens who had cultivated voices. I was
engaged to play violin solos, accompanied by the piano, and to perform
suitable tripping melodies for old feet when the parents danced after
the entertainment.

One night, when I was hurrying back to my rooms after the dance, sick at
heart (for, believe me, I do not tell you of my many aspirations and the
disappointments of those days), I heard a wheezy voice behind me call:
“Hi! you, Mr Violinist.” I immediately turned, and an old gentleman with
a benevolent, cheerful face stood puffing and smiling at me. “Pray
excuse my interruption,” he said as he bowed; then he continued: “Ah, my
dear boy, you are a real musician and play your instrument as though you
have a soul; you remind me of my own youthful days, when I played the
violin, by special command, to Queen Victoria.” Hearing this, I at once
became inwardly attentive. I had several manuscript songs that I wanted
to get published, and no publisher in New Zealand or Australia would
look at them unless I paid for the expense of engraving, so, not knowing
what influence the old fellow might have, I speedily got into
conversation with him—not from ambitious motives only, for he seemed a
kind-hearted and intellectual old man, and therefore commanded my
respect as well as my hopes. Inviting me into an hotel, he offered me a
drink, and seemed very much surprised when I asked for “shandy gaff,”
which is a mixture of ginger-beer and light ale. I flushed slightly and
reordered whisky at his suggestion, and, though it tasted like kava and
paraffin oil mixed, I bravely took sips of it, while the old chap told
me of his violin engagements and the praise accorded him by the musical
critic of _The Times_ and by personages in the royal courts of Europe.
As I listened, and nodded approval and surprise, I observed him
carefully.

He was innocent looking, with a cheery round face and eyes that were
small, but vivacious and blue; his hat was neither a tall hat nor a
bowler: it had a small rim, which gave it that clerical contour which
seems to be worn especially to allay any suspicion that might fall on
its owner. I would not reflect upon the appearance of this gentleman so
much if it were not that his appearance helped him enormously. I am not
going to be hard upon him either; notwithstanding his sins, he was at
heart a kindly man; but Nature had mixed his dough with too much yeast,
so that his aspirations to do well rose far beyond the range of his
intellect and solid, commercial honesty. This was a fact that helped me
considerably; for this commonplace failing of our race, shown in him,
put me on my guard in the future and saved me much pain and many
misfortunes in after days. I do not mean to be sarcastic in the
foregoing remarks, though it may sound like it. I only intend to convey
to those who have not experienced much the fact that all individual
types of good and bad men you meet in civilised lands are just teachers
in the university; that you must face, if you are not blessed with
wealth, and go off to seek it. They give you experience, and make you a
critic of your race, so that you can know and appreciate goodness, if in
your lifetime you are fortunate enough to meet it. They also teach you
to be lenient in your judgment of others, and by comparisons and
pondering over their sins you will recognise your own.

Though the old fellow tried to impress me with his greatness, and
praised my many virtues, I instinctively felt that I did not possess
them. I also noticed that, though he told me that he had just arrived at
Christchurch to give lectures to increase the funds for orphanage
children, his fancy waistcoat had been brushed to death and looked
shabby. This fact damped both my hopes and vanity; for I perceived that
his praise of my violin-playing was inspired by very much the same
feeling that made me repeatedly nod polite approval over his erstwhile
fame in the royal courts and concerts of Great Britain. In short, we
were both hard up for something that we needed, and saw that we could
help each other by being polite and awaiting events.

I was young, and he was grey and old, and possibly had been a really
good man in his day, till the soulful melody of heart-beats, called
life, had gradually resolved itself into a minor key, and that drama of
grey hairs and a wheezy voice that praised my youthful melodies in that
saloon bar off the main road in Christchurch, New Zealand. He fingered
about in his pocket, and I at once ordered him another drink, and
inspired with bravery, through his shabby waistcoat, I boldly called for
shandy gaff and pushed the whisky aside. We were now, by observation of
each other’s deficiencies, brothers, and though Queen Victoria’s praise
of his talent still lingered in my memory, I noticed that he gave a sigh
of relief as I paid for the next drink, and at once I felt that we were
at last equals. I will not weary you with any more details, but on the
way home that night he walked beside me, and I agreed to be the solo
violinist at the lectures which he was about to give in various halls
that he was hiring. I was not to get a specified salary, but was to
receive, which was better still, he said, shares in the collection and
in the tickets sold, after the bulk of the proceeds had been put by for
the New Zealand orphanages.

Next morning he called at my rooms at the time appointed. By daylight my
clothes did not look as affluent as they did by gaslight. In a moment he
noticed this and without any overture said: “Put your hat on, my boy,
and come to my tailor’s and get fitted out.” I was astonished to hear
him say this, and, not thinking my prospective abilities in his service
might deserve such kindness, my best instincts got the momentary upper
hand of those inclinations which are usually the strongest in men who
have endeavoured to earn their livelihood by musical accomplishments. So
I at first demurred, and then, overjoyed, went with him to his tailor,
who lived not a half-mile off. He even bought me india-rubber cuffs, and
the day before the first lecture came off I looked as well dressed as
anyone in the district.

On the morning before the first lecture at the Suburban Hall I strolled
down the main road and to my astonishment saw my name in large type on
big white bills. If I remember aright, this is how the advertisement
went: “Signor Safroni, the celebrated Italian violin virtuoso, has
kindly consented to perform at the Orphanage Fund lectures”; and then
followed an account of the lecturer’s philanthropic and stirring
speeches on behalf of helpless children. At first I felt annoyed at this
being done without my permission, for I had a kind of suspicion that the
old lecturer thought more of himself than of the orphan children, and I
did not want to be mixed up with anything that was likely to look shady,
both for my own self-respect and my youthful principles. I at once
sought my new employer and told him, as delicately as possible, that I
did not care to be billed as a celebrated violinist from Italy, and,
moreover, not so very far off was the very place where I had been
playing. “My dear, dear boy,” he said, opening his eyes as though with
amazement, “you call yourself a violin-player and are afraid to be
billed; you must be mad!”

“Well,” I answered, considerably mollified by the force of his
arguments, “your bill says: ‘The Right Honourable S. Middleton will take
the chair.’ How can I be both? And I know nothing about taking chairs
either.” “Leave it all to me; all you’ve got to do is to play the violin
and make money,” he said; and I went off, feeling a little guilty of
ingratitude, for I certainly had a good suit of clothes on, and my
expectations, financially, seemed very good.

Before the concert night my employer canvassed the streets, and indeed
the whole district, and sold some hundreds of tickets. Girls even stood
at the mission rooms and church doors and sold his tickets; they were
given special permission by the clergy, because of the noble cause which
my employer lectured upon.

When I arrived at the hall at the opening hour I saw a vast crowd
waiting by the door. The old lecturer was with me and rubbed his hands
as we went round to the back entrance to prepare for the concert. His
personality was of the masterful kind, but, mustering up my courage, I
at last said to him: “Shall I have to take the chair and make a
speech?”—for I was still a little suspicious of my dual personality as
an Italian violin virtuoso and the Right Honourable S. Middleton.

To my intense relief he patted me on the back and said: “Play the violin
as well as you are able and I will do all the rest.” My feelings were
relieved, and the thought of how much I should get from the shares of
tickets sold cheered me up considerably. Before I proceed I may as well
tell you that though he professed to lecture for the benefit of little
children and was deeply “religious,” for he prayed so fervently before
meals that I also prayed, out of sheer respect for his religious
earnestness, as far as I knew he never paid one cent to any fund;
neither did he pay for the halls that he hired, nor for the printing of
his preposterous bills, nor for anything that became his.

There was a special dressing-room in this hall; it was like a box, and
just at the side of the stage door. When the old lecturer was ready he
gave the little door-boy twopence and told him to open the entrance to
the hall and let the crowd in at the front; while the professor at the
back groomed himself before his little pocket mirror and I combed my
hair.

My heart began to beat a little faster than usual, for I heard the
audience starting to stamp and cheer with impatience just behind the
small door in front of me. The old rogue said hastily: “Go in and take
the chair and I will walk in behind you.” “Perhaps you had better go
first,” I said, and stepped aside. “No, no,” he responded quickly, in
his masterful voice, and, not wishing to appear nervous the first night,
I took a bold plunge and suddenly appeared before the vast crowd of
bronzed faces that made up that New Zealand audience. Had it been an
ordinary solo engagement I should have had something to do and so have
been completely at my ease. But when the vast crowd rose in a body and
cheered me, thinking that I had appeared first to make a preliminary
speech, ere the great philanthropist lectured about cruelty to orphan
children, and all the other lies on his bill, I felt very ill at ease,
and could only bow repeatedly and gaze at the little door, hoping my
employer would step on the stage. He did not appear, and I think I must
have bowed several times after the last clapping hand had ceased among
the smiling ladies in the front seats, who were gazing upon me with
evident approval, and at last, bewildered, I stooped to open my
violin-case. I was about to let the lecture go to the winds and start a
solo when suddenly the door opened at the side of me and the professor
stood bowing to the audience. They rose _en masse_ and cheered him, as I
nearly tumbled over my violin and sat in the little chair which was the
only furniture of the platform.

I felt like one in a dream as I sat there twirling my fingers, watching
the old fellow as his arms swayed and lifted with his grey head toward
the ceiling, and in fervent tones he told the audience that the Right
Honourable S. Middleton had been suddenly taken ill, and that I had
kindly consented to take the chair, as well as perform solos on the
violin. I have found out since that this ruse is a commonplace excuse
for a one-man lecture and entertainment; it saves expenses, and is
practised at lectures and concerts throughout the world. He was really a
clever professional liar, and the way he held his arms aloft and
passionately pleaded for the helpless children touched the audience as
though it throbbed with one large heart. It is a memory that I think
would make the most credulous nature become sceptical when listening to
shabbily dressed men who appeal for charity beyond their own immediate
requirements. Though he had bought me a new suit—on credit I found out
afterwards—he did not trouble much about his own clothes, but depended
on the pathos of his voice and his grey hairs. I felt suspicious of the
genuineness of his orphanage appeals, but as I sat there listening to
him a sense of intense shame came over me, for I, as well as the whole
audience, was touched by the pathos of his phrases and the descriptive
figures which he gave of poor little starving orphans that had appealed
for bread. Then, with his hands lifted to the ceiling, he held the whole
crowd spellbound as he described a dying child’s last look and words in
a London workhouse.

As he finished a great sigh echoed through the hall, as though it was
one sound from a thousand hearts that were bursting with emotion. His
voice ceased and he turned to me, and as I lifted the glass of water to
his lips I noticed that he had tears in his eyes; for his imagination
had carried him out of himself and touched him as well as me. Then I
stood up and played a solo, after which I extemporised an accompaniment
to a sacred song which he sang; for though he was old and sinful his
voice was mellow and sweet.

He told me he was the last living member of the Old Christy Minstrels of
London, and from his manner and general conversation I still believe
that assertion of his was a true one. I asked him once to play the
violin, but he would not do so, though he could play the banjo well.

I have never been so cheered by an audience as I was that night. I was
called and recalled. I do not believe it was so much for my playing, or
for the opinion of Italian royalty and the Queen of England on my
“wonderful” playing—it was on the programme—as for my being thought a
friend of that old lecturer on dying orphan children. For before we
played the National Anthem he told them that I had consented to go with
him through New Zealand and play solos purely for the sake of helping
unhappy children, and that I was to receive no salary. I did not know
how true it was when he said that, but I often think how fortunate I was
not to have been arrested with him; for, though I was quite innocent, I
believe that we were both liable to penal servitude for giving those
charitable concerts.

Before the audience dispersed the lecturer made an extra collection,
notwithstanding the fact that each member of the audience had paid one
or two shillings for admittance, and given sixpence for a programme!

At the hall door, after all was over, he interviewed many of the ladies
who sought a personal introduction; we also received many invitations to
call at their homes, and my old employer seemed quite touched by the
many sympathetic phrases they poured in his ears. When we were alone he
stood under a lamp-post and counted out the collection, and though I
lounged by him, and gave many hints, he did not offer me a portion, so I
asked him for my share straight out. He had promised me some money just
before the lecture. “I dare not give it to you,” he said. “I must first
pay for the hall, the printing and the amount due to the orphanage;
then, rest assured, my boy, you shall get your share.”

Next day he got fearfully drunk, and I became convinced that he was not
genuine, though the night before I had left him thinking that I must be
mistaken in my suspicions. The very boldness of his bills and his plans
would have disarmed older men, and I was then only about twenty-one
years of age. I had given my other job up and so, for the time being, I
was compelled to stick to him. He rebuked me for not saying grace before
my meals, and I discovered that he really was religious in the common
sense of the term; we even had arguments together because I would not
agree with all he said. He was extremely happy and sang to himself all
day, rose at five o’clock every morning and splashed water all over the
room as he washed, while I complained and begged for another hour’s
rest. I felt envious and yet sorry for him, and myself too. When a man
dimly realises his abjectness in the flesh he has begun to realise his
divinity; the night of his mind, that was dark, becomes unclouded, and
the stars glimmer forth only to sadden him. He does not feel any longer
so ready to criticise the dark of his neighbour’s mind, which is still
happy in that night of intellectual blindness which is such a blessing
to men who inherit the heavens through an acute squint. My swindling old
employer rejoiced in this squint to an abnormal degree; he really did
believe that he was a pious and good-living man. When I refused to work
for him, and told him he was a rogue, he was so shocked that I even
relented a little, and took his proffered hand when I said good-bye. He
seemed to value my opinions, though he did not agree with them, and I
honestly believe that, had he not had his religious aspirations to fall
back upon, he would have fallen back upon himself and been a really good
man.

When he left the district his creditors came down on me, and I had a lot
of trouble to prevent myself being arrested. The tailor who had supplied
my suit of clothes stopped me in the street; I lost my temper, and we
nearly came to blows, and I was almost locked up. Next morning I called
upon the tailor and told him the truth; he apologised for his remarks
and refused to take more than half the money due for the clothes, which
I paid him. I never saw the lecturer on orphanages again; and as it was
years ago, and he was old then, I feel that he must have given his last
lecture, closed his stage door for ever and gone away.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVI

Homesick—Off to England—At Colombo—The Stowaway—Home Again—The Wandering
   Fever returns—Reflections—Outbound for West Africa—On the West
   Coast—King Lobenguela—A Native Chief speaks—The Jungle—King Buloa and
   the Native Ceremony—An African Caprice—Music—A White Man among Wild
   Men—Nigeria—A Native Funeral—Night in the Jungle—Gold Mines—The
   African Drum


ABOUT this time I became homesick and tried to find a berth on one of
the homebound boats. I eventually secured a job on a tramp steamer, the
s.s. _P——_. There was nothing exceptional on the trip except the
monotony of the ship’s routine. We called at Hobart, Tasmania, and after
experiencing stiflingly hot weather crossing the Indian Ocean eventually
arrived at Colombo. The natives came clambering on board and attempted
to take possession of all our portable property. They are a dark
mahogany-coloured people, a cheerful-looking folk. All their actions
seem to be guided by a strong commercial instinct. Loaded with bunches
of bananas, and baskets of oranges and limes, they ran about the decks,
bargaining for old shirts and cast-off clothing. Over the vessel’s side
floated their outrigger catamarans, swarming with dark, almost nude men
and women. Swimming in the sea were their children, shouting, “I dive, I
dive,” as they looked up to the passengers on deck, who threw pennies
into the sea. As the coin reached the water down went their heads and up
their legs, as like frogs they all dived down into the depths in a mad
race to secure the coveted coin, which is never lost. At the moment when
it seems impossible for them to live so long under the water the calm
surface of the sea trembles at the spot where the coin was thrown in and
up come a score of frizzly heads from the ocean’s depth, and the winner
holds the prize between his teeth.

About a week or so after leaving Colombo we entered the Suez Canal. It
was night. As the boats enter the canal a searchlight is fixed on to the
fo’c’sle head to illumine the narrow waterway that flows ninety miles
across the desert. It must be an impressive sight from the desert, the
steamer going across like some mammoth beast, with a monster eye in
front and the port-holes pulsing light in the iron sides as the steamer
moves along.

I remember one incident that happened before we passed the canal that
night. I was standing by the starboard alleyway dreaming, and watching
the stars glittering over the desert, as the engines took the steamer
along at about four knots an hour, when a rustling noise behind some
barrels startled me. It was quite dark, and the decks were silent, for
most of the passengers were asleep. Wondering what on earth could be
stirring in the gloom, I leaned forward and saw two bright eyes looking
out between some casks, and a soft voice crying out said something to me
in a language which I did not understand. It was a pretty little Arab
maid, a stowaway, who had crept on board at Ismailia, where we had
stopped for one hour. I lifted her up tenderly; she was as black-skinned
as night and only wore a tiny loin-cloth. She raised her bright eyes and
was crying; but I took her along the alleyway and down below, and by
kindness reassured her. We gave her a good feed and then, tired out, she
fell asleep in my bunk, and I slept on the sea-chests in the cabin. In
the morning she danced to us in our berth and caused us great merriment.
We sneaked her ashore at Port Said, where she had friends; she had
stowed away so as to reach them. We gave her plenty of food to take off
with her, and we were sorry to see her go; she was only about seven
years old!

                  *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks after leaving Port Said we arrived in England and berthed at
Tilbury Docks. The atmosphere of primeval lands, shining under tropic
suns and glorious stars, faded to a far-off dream as the dull, drab-grey
of English skies drenched the wharves and the shouting dock labourers.

As the days wore on once again the roaming fever turned my thoughts to
the sea, with all the splendour of its grand uncertainty, its devilish
irony and vicissitudes. Though the glamour of romance had faded, yet my
wanderings and turbulent experiences had completely unsettled me; indeed
they had unfitted me for the humdrum commercial existence which I should
have had to follow had I made up my mind to settle in my own country,
assume respectability, and hide, as beneath a cloak, my inherent
vagabond nature. The feathered quill pen at the desk would have
fluttered to fly, held by my sympathetic hand.

The old wandering fever still gripped me. I was always wanting to be off
into the uncertainty, to be buffeting round the capes of unknown seas,
exploring for the marvellous unexpected, standing on the decks of
imagination, under the flying moonlit sails of glorious illusion,
singing wild, mad chanteys over wonderful argosies of schemes that could
never be realised!

Yes, to be ashore on some far-away isle, clasping the savage maid in
your arms by the coco-palms, gazing in the delicious orbs of the
Universe—infinity in beams of eyelight. To breathe the present, yet be
alive in the past, far away down the centuries of the modern dark ages!
To walk by primeval forest and tumbling moonlit seas where they break
over coral reefs. To rest by camp fires and huts, talking with bush
women and men, and girls with sparkling eyes, eyes clear as heaven with
her moon and stars. To be back in the splendid aboriginal darkness of—as
it was in the beginning.

Yet alas! as I dream the faint, immodest blush of dawn tints the distant
sky-line. It is the birth of grief and beauty; awakening sunrise is
agleam in her warm eyes; her sandals are dipped in fire and the stars
are in her hair. Onward she creeps, in the beauty of her maiden
nakedness, cloaked in glorious, unreal tinsel and grief. Blushing like a
goddess she comes, treading the sky! The glorious, wonderful
harlot—Civilisation!

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a grey day when I next found myself outbound, going down Channel
on a tramp steamer for the Canary Isles and Sierra Leone. I had often
wished to go to West Africa, and so, when the opportunity came, I did
not hesitate.

I will not dwell at any length on the events that preceded my arrival on
the West Coast, but will briefly give my impression of things as they
appeared to me in those days.

You cannot, however imaginative you may be, imagine you are elsewhere
than on the Gold Coast. The atmosphere of the moist jungle, the
barbarian hubbub of excited native voices, the beating of the tom-toms
in the far-off villages, the toiling natives, driven by the loud-voiced
white overseer of the gold mines, continually remind you that you are in
the barbarian paradise of unconventionality.

For miles and miles the primeval jungle stretches; and standing on the
hill-tops you can see the far-off native huts looking like groups of
peg-tops against the sunset.

On the higher slopes, by the gold mines, stand the bungalows of the
white men. They are comfortable inside and well furnished, sheltered
from the blazing sunlight by mahogany and palm trees. The white men who
are employed on the mines loaf about near them and the Gold Coast
natives supply their wants. For a brass ring, or a piece of sham
jewellery, they can purchase native labour, and for a pound or so buy
dusky female slaves, whom they call “Mammies.” Virtue is not the most
prominent characteristic of Gold Coast natives.

As the white men sit in those bungalows by night they can hear the
native drums beating far away, and watch the lizards and scorpions
slipping across the moonlight of their bedroom walls, and, maybe, hear
their comrade in the next bungalow raving in the delirium of fever.
Malaria, black-water fever and other things often end the exile’s
career. At night the living can dream and think of home, and watch from
their bungalow doors the little white stones and crosses glimmering in
the African moonlight in the hollows where the homesick dead white men
lie asleep.


[Illustration: SETTLER’S HOME, GOLD COAST]


Though the gold mines lay all round, gold was not the essential
requirement. A bottle of English beer, placed on a post by a bungalow or
graveyard, would make a dead white man sit up and grasp it. Missionaries
had been on the Gold Coast for years trying to reform the natives, who
many of them had embraced Christianity. They often asked us mysterious
questions about the white man’s land, as though they were puzzled and
could not fathom the meaning of it all. They had a faint idea that
England was a land of some beautiful Golden Age, where sin was unknown;
otherwise, why did the white men come across the seas to preach to them
when the natives were so contented with their lot, and wished the
missionaries to hell? So spoke King Lobenguela. He was a powerful fellow
and when he walked looked very majestic, as he trailed his heavy blanket
behind him. He lived in a palatial kraal and had a multitude of slaves,
who washed his feet continually. He had embraced Christianity, and went
off across the jungle to the mission room three times daily, and all day
on Sunday. He was a typical specimen of African aristocrat and spoke
fairly good English. His one intense wish was to see English royalty,
and confer some honourable degree upon them for bringing to his dominion
salvation and Sacramental rum, which he drank by the barrel. The one
ambition of the chiefs seemed to be to take the Sacrament. There they
are out there, with all the old instincts very much the same,
notwithstanding the introduction of Christianity. When the white races
have educated them, and equipped them with scientific weapons of
warfare, who knows? They may assert their individuality, and strive to
get their stolen countries back again. The truth is often spoken in
earnest! It is as well to remember that in those vast African
territories many millions of fine native men dwell, with a muscular
power and patriotism equal to that of the peoples of civilised lands.
The moving finger of Destiny has always suddenly pointed to the hour of
mighty events, with an ironical grin at our unprepared consternation.

The West African bush-land is the wildest under the sun. Nothing but
short bush jungle and vast forests meets your gaze as you wander on from
sky-line to sky-line in your caravan, and, as a ship passes islands on
the trackless South Seas, often you pass a native village and hear the
tom-toms beating away at their mysterious sound codes.

In those isolated villages, far beyond the outposts of civilisation, you
will sometimes come across a white man who dwells alone with his
memories. Sunk to a semi-barbarian state, they live with the natives,
who have a deep reverence for them and their superior knowledge. They
live on mealie broth and nut milk, and dress in the native style. When
the white stranger from far off is seen approaching the native village
he is carefully scanned through a telescope by the white exile ere the
latter shows himself outside the native kraals.

Men of the civilised Western cities do not dream of the sad dramas of
life that are hidden away from their knowledge far beyond the outposts
of advanced civilisation. London audiences cheer and weep in the
theatres as the curtain drops before the footlights over the mock-hero’s
grief. But oh! if they knew of the great unknown, the sorrowful dramas
behind the awful curtain of reality.

While I was on the coast I made the acquaintance of an elderly tourist
who was gathering material for a book of experiences. He was extremely
fond of music, cheerful, and a keen observer of character. When he
proposed to me that I should accompany him on his travels I was very
delighted and at once agreed. We went by boat round the coast—he paid
all my expenses—and visited a host of villages, finally going as far as
Bamban and Krue, and many places whose names I have now forgotten.

I remember many incidents of those early days, especially a
white-whiskered old chief whose name was Tamban. He was about seventy
years of age, and had a wrinkled, wise-looking face and a bald pate. He
loved to sit by his kraal, wrapped in his big brown blanket, and speak
native wisdom.

He was dead against the white men, and at heart was a genuine old
heathen, and no fool either. Though he professed to have embraced
Christianity, and possessed a Bible, he had sold many square miles of
his dominion to white men, over and over again signing the documentary
deeds, with many expressions of loyalty and blessings on the great white
Queen. It was afterwards found out that he had sold the same land to
scores of different white speculators, who opened syndicates in London
and sold shares to the unwary.

When he was in liquor he would reveal the true thoughts that burnt
silently within him and longed for utterance. “Heathen, me! forsooth,
ah! ah! measly, white-faced goat!” he would shout when the missionary
approached him. “Bring forth the mealie broth and rum, that I may toast
these white skunks speedily to their hell!” And saying that he would
turn his dark, wrinkled face to the blue tropical sky and lift his
war-club, and off rushed his womenkind from the kraal to do his bidding.

Then he would turn to the white missionary, who stood with his
broad-brimmed Panama hat tilted forward to hide the grin on his lips,
and thunder forth, his big black lips fairly flopping with drunken
passion: “Who is this white God that you prate about? Liar! Show me this
one shadow that is better than my fifty gods! Show me Him, and I will
crush Him as I do this struggling flea!” and saying this he pulled his
dirty blanket the tighter round him and then held up to our gaze a flea
between his thumb and forefinger. Then, with a sneer on his lips and
much blasphemy, he would continue: “Give up my fifty gods and trust to
one indeed!” and then down he would crash his club, as all his old
wives, squatting by the kraal, quivered in their skins. “Ah! ah!” he
said, and his bright eyes winked humorously at the harem queen, a dusky
beauty as black and bare as starlit night swathed in a wisp of vapour;
“pass me the bowl full, filled to the rim, mind you.” Then he would
smack his big lips together and mutter: “Tribesmen, the white man’s rum
speaks more truth than his God of lies.” The foregoing gives a pretty
fair example of the real character of those old native chiefs and kings,
who still cling to their old beliefs and yet profess Christianity in
much the same manner as they do in the islands of the South Seas.

My friend and I were always on the move, sometimes riding and at other
times walking. We tramped along jungle track for many miles and often
passed natives who came by us in their primitive caravans. We would wave
our hands to them and watch them go out of sight; for the tracks wind
along by deep gullies, swamps and impenetrable forest lands.

We hired two hammock boys. I was pleased, for they carried my violin and
my friend’s camera; also a load of photo plates and curios. South Sea
Island heat is wintery compared to the dense, muggy atmosphere of the
West Coast. By night a white mist creeps out of the primeval jungle
glooms; and at dawn the sunrise looks ghostly, as it gleams across the
glimmering slopes and gullies, and sparkles a blaze of forked chameleon
light on the jungle world. Far away the natives are beating the tom-toms
in the hidden villages as you walk along like a man asleep and scratch
yourself; for each night was a nightmare of restlessness: though we
wrapped our feet up and sealed all the holes in our mosquito nets, we
did so in vain. The mosquitoes got at us somehow, and their bodies were
bloated with our blood long before dawn. Ants, too, abound, and they are
as big as half-a-walnut shell, and go moving along in vast battalions,
attacking friend and foe alike. There are centipedes also, and when one
rises from one’s extemporised bed they rush off on a thousand legs to
hide from the sudden blaze of light.

Thick grass ten feet high, and fern-trees a foot higher, grow on the
jungle slopes, and at dusk they are afire with crimson and yellowish
blooms, tropical orchids and flowers one has never seen before.

One evening at dusk we arrived at a village called, I think, Kafolo.
King Buloa ruled the dominion, and the priests consulted Ju-Jus. The
Ju-Ju is a hideous idol, carved to satisfy the heathenish ideas of the
African natives, who still worship wood and stone, as the Islanders did
in the South Seas years ago. Polynesian Islanders are educated gentlemen
compared with the usual run of West Coast and Nigerian natives.

As we crossed the river by a bridge of logs that divided the village
from the jungle, we sighted a tiny city of huts. We waved our hands and
approached slowly, with a little apprehension. The King (or high chief),
dressed in an old pink striped shirt, came out of his kraal and welcomed
us. His face looked like a black, gnarled tree trunk carved into human
shape, till his thick-lipped mouth opened with a smile revealing three
or four remaining teeth. He held over his frizzly head a large white
umbrella, a present from some trader, which intensified his dusky shade.
Out of the huts under the jungle palms came the ebony-coloured
population—good-humoured-looking men, women, girls and piccaninnies. The
King invited us into his palace. The skulls of fallen foes ornamented
the door. We stepped inside the royal kraal and were somewhat surprised
by the comfortable surroundings. Native tapestry, made of fibre and
woven grass of various hues, covered the walls, and the floor of the
first apartment was hidden by thick matting, on which squatted several
ebony-coloured females, who belonged to the royal harem. As we entered
they started jabbering and rolling their dark eyes. Chairs and tables
covered with matting made up quite a decent amount of furniture,
evidently purchased from traders. A Ju-Ju, surrounded by empty gin
bottles, stood in the doorway of the next room. It had fierce-looking
glass eyes and a face that looked half human and half crocodile. We
expressed delight at all we saw, for we were alone there and felt that
by being friendly with the chief we were keeping on the safe side. Then
the old high chief stood erect and had his photograph taken; he was as
pleased as a child with our attentions. I played the violin to him, and
he was greatly delighted as I scraped away; his eyes glittered with
pleasure and curiosity. I made him hold the violin, and he made several
scrapes; his fat lips widened with fright until they reached his ears
when the strings wailed. That night, as sunset smudged with a yellowish
gleam the misty, heat-laden horizon, and a myriad creeping insects came
forth to hum and buzz, Mr T—— and I graciously accepted King Buloa’s
invitation to attend a village ceremony. He made signs to us and said,
“Much good you like see,” wrapped a large brown blanket, red striped,
about him, the very sight of which made us perspire, for the heat was
terrific, and majestically slinging one end over his shoulder walked in
front of us, to lead the way to the jungle ballroom.

I saw a sight that night which outdid, in grotesqueness and lewdness,
anything which I had seen in the South Seas. The royal opera box was a
square-rigged set of bamboo poles lashed together with strong native
fibre. Mats slung over the cross-bars made comfortable seats, elevated
about six feet, whereon Mr T—— and I sat, and the chief with crossed
legs in the middle.

Four native girls had just reached maidenhood and had been sold to four
respective husbands for so many bullocks. It was the custom to confer on
such maidens an honour which, to Western civilisation, was one of great
degradation and shame. Afterwards the girls were brought forth to stand
in the middle of the cleared jungle, so that the whole tribe could gaze
upon them as the festival dancers whirled round them. There they stood
before us, revealing a similar timidness to that seen in a young bride
at an English wedding. The King started the applause by striking a huge
bamboo rod on the side of the primitive opera box as he drank large
bowls of palm wine. He was soon drunk, reeled and shouted: “Fu Fu, Ki
Ki!” The glimpsing moonlight streamed through the palms on to the
maidens’ faces and on to the dark hordes of shrieking natives who
whirled around them. Those erstwhile maids stood embracing each other,
then unclasped, chanted and clapped their hands in rhythmic motion, and
then, to the delight of the assembly, imitated every gross gesture.

My friend kept close to me and I to him as the besotted King slipped off
his seat and fell on to the next rung, still shouting: “Ki Ki!” One of
the maidens was really handsome for a negress; she had fine eyes, full
lips and a well-rounded figure of light mahogany colour; the curves of
her body resembled a Grecian bronze. She stood for a moment perfectly
still in the moonlight, with one knee timidly crossing the other, ere
she turned to show her comeliness to the admiring audience! As they sang
the native orchestra crashed away on tom-toms and wooden drums. Some
plucked strings that were stretched across gourds; others blew, with
their big black lips, at bamboo flutes. They played out of tune, but the
tempo of the primitive strains suited the dance exactly. “Mvu! Mvu!”
shouted the King, and then he made signs that I should play. Without a
moment’s hesitation I held the violin to my chin and played like a happy
barbarian, though my heart thumped with apprehension.

Again they danced as I played on, and through my brain flashed
reminiscences of my tribal solos in Samoa and elsewhere. Suddenly the
circling ring opened and from a hut close by came the dancers for the
second act. By the throne they ran, dressed in grotesque festival
costume, painted in hideous lines of white from head to foot. They
looked like hordes of skeletons from the tribal cemetery jumping round
living maidens. So rhythmically did they whirl, and so fantastic was the
sight, that they seemed monstrous puppets strung on wires pulled by some
mysterious hand in the dark jungle; for often they would stop perfectly
still, and then in the moonlight once more whirl away. How the audience
of men, women and children stared and clapped as they squatted on their
haunches on mats; and they encored just as they do in the music halls of
London town when the ladies in tights whirl and jump before fascinated
audiences.

There I sat with T——, gasping with curiosity as the King thumped, and
playing on, far happier than when, dressed in an evening suit and tight,
high collar, I fiddled in city orchestras, playing every night the
accompaniments of the poor hits of the day to affected stage voices.

Notwithstanding the apparent lewdness, their innocence almost sanctified
the smiling scene of dark faces, and I realised that it was but a custom
truthfully expressing primeval man’s original idea of the beautiful. So
we were not shocked, though we drank deep from the whisky flask to
steady our nerves ere the head chief sucked at it.

The tribe encored me, and I played again. To my surprise they got hold
of the wild chorus of the Scotch reels and whirled around, shrieking it!
They had musical voices and, I believe, good ears. The melodies they
sang resembled wild laughter in song; the tom-toms banged and the flutes
screamed between. This is the mirth music as I memorised it: [Music:
AFRICAN CAPRICE.

Laughter. A. S. M.

_f_ _Vivace._ _ff_ Tom-Toms.

Tom-Toms. etc.

Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. F. PITMAN HART & CO., Ltd.,
London, E.C.]

Next day we were taken round the village and entered many of the native
homes. They were snug enough, with sleeping-mats and bamboo furniture,
and many boxes with little mats on them. In the corners were maize,
yams, kolanuts and gin bottles; the chief ornaments were the skulls of
dead relatives. Comfortable kraals they were, though the furniture
seemed scanty and reminded me of the homes of struggling authors, poets
and musicians in the large cities of the world. But these were happier
homes; for the heads of the families were unambitious, save that they
prayed for copious rains to fall on their yams and mealie patches. The
richer natives wore ornamental garments and had honours conferred on
them, such as foot-washer or mosquito-squasher to the King. Real poverty
seemed unknown, and decrepitude and the complainings of old age ceased
with the blow of a war-club.

Artists engraved pottery, and musicians were much appreciated. Poets
were applauded, and in all the villages I came across were looked upon
as exiled gods. When they spoke their wisdom and native lore were
listened to with rapt attention, as though the great god Abassi had
spoken: a strong contrast to the neglected poets of civilised lands,
where poetic voices cry in the wilderness to deaf ears. William Watson,
Robert Bridges, Chesterton, Blakemore, and all the other voices of
modern music would have found a large measure of appreciation in that
land, had they been born there; for it was an El Dorado for poets. As
for John Masefield and Kipling, they would have stood on stumps and sung
till all the coast villagers, through sheer poetic delirium, put out to
sea for other lands and wild, poetic adventure.

Lovers of Wagner would have rejoiced to hear the strange primeval music,
music that expressed the true barbarian note of joyous or wailing
humanity; and after hearing that which I heard they would more easily
have understood the deeper meaning of the celebrated _maestro’s_
compositions.

I played several solos to the King next day as he sat in his hut-room,
and he touched me with a dead king’s thigh-bone on the neck, and so gave
me the equivalent to a British knighthood. We were taken before the
favourite harem queens; they blushed and smiled, showing their white
teeth, as T—— and I bowed and gesticulated our appreciation of their
dusky beauty.

With all their apparent sins they seemed deeply religious. We knew not
what their creeds expressed, or on what mythology they were founded. We
only knew that Abassi and Sowoko were great gods, and their subjects
were life and death, as in all creeds they must be. Their Ju-Jus were
hideous enough to express the agony and ultimate end of all we know and
all that is born of flesh. The Ju-Jus they knelt before were as deaf to
their appeals as the images of the Virgin Mary and other idols of
Catholic and Protestant high churches are.

When we left King Buloa we wandered on mile after mile and continually
entered other countries; for you cross frontier lines at every river and
swamp, and come across tribes who speak a different dialect and worship
off-shoot gods: the Akanaka tribe, Egbosh, Apiaongs and many others. On
the rivers sailed dug-out canoes, long enough to hold from twelve to
fifteen natives, and smaller canoes wherein ebony youths paddled their
sweethearts and sang the latest tribal hits.

All the villages were familiar with white men, for traders came long
distances, from Sierra Leone or the Gold Coast, and from Calabar, to
bargain for copra and palm-nuts and many other things.

Slavery was in vogue, and rich chiefs bought young girls and youths and
took them into their homes. I saw a witch scene, much like the scenes I
had seen in Fiji; hideous old women and men consulted the Ju-Ju, then
haunted the credulous natives with lying stories and prophecies of good
and bad things.

I played the violin to several tribes, with the special idea of seeing
how my music appealed to them. Some were curious only, and others seemed
to enjoy the melodies. A native girl from Sierra Leone sang as I played,
and had a really fine voice, with an earnest note in it. I think the
West African natives, on the whole, have good, musical ears and a
genuine love for music, greater than that of the English people. I have
heard native military bands perform, and heard no difference in the
playing when compared, of course, with amateur bands in Great Britain.


[Illustration: THE FIRST MOTOR-CAR IN A GOLD COAST VILLAGE]


In one native village we discovered a white man living. He was about
fifty years of age, and very grey and sunburnt. At first he was
reticent, but T—— got him on some interesting topic, and I played the
fiddle, and then he opened out. I cannot tell his name or what he said.
He was not hiding, but was sick of life and wished to end his days out
there with those wild men. I can still see his blue eyes gazing at us,
among the black ones, as the natives stood by their village huts and
waved good-bye as we tramped off.

The population of Ashanti was very mixed. Moors, Mohammedans, negroes,
Arabs and many more, who had emigrated across the Sahara to the West
Coast in ages past, had left their types in the blood of the natives.

We went to Accra, Akamabu and Sekondi, where we stayed with an old chief
who was about eighty or ninety years of age. He had white whiskers, and
was shrivelled up like a mummy, but he was a most interesting man and
spoke good English. He had fought under King Osae Tutu, the Ashanti king
who in 1822 defeated the British, who in turn revenged themselves in
1826 on the Pra river.

Finally T—— and I took boat for Lagos and arrived on the coast of
Nigeria, where we saw native life and tropical bush that differed very
little from that which I have already described. All the villages were
similar, and their semi-barbarian population lived under their old
customs, modified to suit the requirements of the British Commissioners.
The natives all seemed prosperous and fat; rent and clothes did not
trouble them, so they traded, and kept the proceeds for their immediate
requirements. The bush was dotted with mahogany, ebony, camwood and
yellow-wood trees; rubber and oil-palm were cultivated.

Long stretches of dry weather prevailed, and then a thunder-storm came
along and seemed to shake the very mountains; the natives put their
gourds and calabashes out and the deluge filled them in five minutes.
Rivers that were tiny brooks rose in half-an-hour and tore along in
foaming, swirling torrents, washing a village away. T—— and I saved the
life of a native child as it passed us on the thundering flood; it was
still in its sleeping-basket and looked up and yawned, only that moment
wakened from sleep, as we grabbed it and pulled it ashore. The naked
mother came flying towards us, waving her arms; when she saw her baby,
and realised we had saved it, she embraced us and wailed with gratitude.
We blushed, and after the storm T—— got his camera ready and took her
photograph. She was extremely self-possessed; indeed semi-savage African
women lack the virtue that white women have—their colour does not reveal
their blushes.

One day we saw a native funeral; I think it was at a village called
Awakar. We were walking along a jungle track some miles from Ediba, on
the Cross river, when we came to the village. It was the evening, in
drought weather, and we smelt the village as we approached the clearing.
The village orchestra was in full swing. Drums, native pipes, clappers,
tom-toms and bamboo rattlers, horns made of elephant tusks, all were
being used, and made, as you can imagine, a weirdly impressive
combination of sounds. A chief was being carried to his last
resting-place. We were deeply interested in the scene that met our
curious gaze. Wailing old men carried the coffin slowly along, and kept
spitting, for the weather was muggy and hot. The chief had been dead
some days; the coffin lid was unfastened, and we could see the dark,
frizzly hair of the dead chief’s head at one end and the toes at the
other. Myriads of winged insects and flies buzzed above the body and the
procession as it moved along. The head chief, who was just behind, kept
drinking _tumbo_ (palm wine), which an ebony girl handed to him; and
they followed him with a large calabash full to supply his thirst. T——
and I kept to the windward of the procession, and puffed vigorously at
our pipes, and holding our noses we walked just by the side of the
native military band, that played the death march behind the group.
Right ahead of the procession, just in front of the hearse of wailing
natives, walked eight elderly, stalwart chiefs, who carried a monstrous
Ju-Ju. Its hideous, half-human face, with big glass eyes, stared
backwards at the coffin and the procession as the whole group moved
along. “Give me a pull at your flask, T——,” I said; immediately he
handed it to me and then took a gulp himself. Presently the procession
stopped at the far end of the village before a large hut. We made
inquiries, and found it was the corpse’s late homestead: the custom was
to bury him under the floor.

As they stopped, the sweating hearse of twenty mouths spat, and they
lowered their grim burden before the hut-tomb. All the mourners
commenced a weird monotone of melody, a melody that had bars in it
resembling an English hymn. As we stood at the end of the village
watching that heathenish burial, and the high priest lifted his hands
and chin up to the big Ju-Ju’s wooden face in earnest supplication to
the gods for that dead man of his diocese, the scent of the jungle
blooms came in whiffs to our nostrils. Sunset was fading, and as the
coffin disappeared in the doorway, and darkness drifted over the whole
scene, I seemed to be standing in the dark ages, alone in some vast
dream of life’s sad drama. But the jungle bird in the mahogany-tree
started to sing sweetly, and then reality stole over the village, and I
heard the wails of the mourners sorrowing over the blight of creation;
real sorrow it was, and for all its grotesqueness the same as the sorrow
of the civilised races. Still the bird sang over my head; it was a
jungle nightingale passionately pouring forth melody as the native
voices afar died away; and I dreamed on till T—— touched me on the arm,
for it was getting late and we did not wish to stay on in that
particular village.

We slept that night in another village called, I think, Eko. I shall
always remember it because of the look on my friend’s face as I shaved
him. We only had one razor between us, and that was rusty. T—— was
terribly scrubby and he said: “Can you shave, Middleton?” “Yes,” I said;
and I lathered his smiling face with a mixture of fat and swamp water
for twenty minutes, to make up for the razor’s bluntness, and then
started on him. He was a handsome fellow, but as I pulled the hairs out
in batches his face twisted and contorted till he looked like a Ju-Ju,
and the tiny black piccaninnies of the native village jumped and
screamed with joy to see the white man’s terrible grimaces. “Be brave,”
I said, and away came the skin of his chin. Then he performed on me; but
I was younger, and only suffered half as much as he had done as he
scraped the down from my cheeks.

A few weeks later we bade each other good-bye. I promised to write to
him but lost his address. I never saw him again, but I have not
forgotten him, as he will see if ever he reads this. I have seldom had a
more cheerful or intellectual comrade in my travels than T—— was, and I
am sure he created fame by his facial contortions among the village
children in the African village Eko years ago.

You are never really lonely in the African bush, for as you tramp along
the bush tracks with your swag—a flask of whisky and insect powder
wrapped up in your mosquito net—strange things follow you, singing and
blowing tiny flutes in your ears as they circle round your head, a
dancing ring of tiny bodies on wings. Some of them hum at sunset, and if
you feel poetical you can fancy you are out on the lonely track, with
all the stars singing round you, as like some burdened creator you
mumble to yourself and move along with your myriad satellites following
you. At night you are not companionless, for the festering heat makes
you feverish and imaginative. As you lie down to sleep, after closely
fortifying yourself from all living, creeping things, the African moon
steals up the sky and noises sound in your ears. The hideous Ju-Ju faces
that you saw yesterday in the native village emerge, grinning, from the
jungle, to peep and dance all round you; some of them bend over you, put
their wooden mouths to your ears and whisper: “Englishman, Englishman,
go home to your people before you are dead.” The fat lizards, gliding up
and down the moonlit mahogany tree trunks, swell to a monstrous size as
you watch, and jump right through your head; but pale shadow faces creep
out of the jungle, faces with blue, kind eyes, and you recognise your
own memories as caressing fingers, made of homeland dreams, touch your
brow and at last you fall asleep.

I have often rested by the track in the lonely bush while birds puffed
their throats and sang to me some sweet refrain that winged my heart
overseas to England; and often at sunset a bird would sing a strange
song that made me feel as though I had been dead for ages, and the
sounds of the native drums in the distant village came from ghostly
battalions of the Pharaohs, calling me across hills of sleep. My dreams
have made me one of the wealthiest travellers on earth. If I can take my
best dreams to my grave I shall be happy enough, for I shall own my own
heaven and the memory of life’s hell will pass away.

I remember once when I was tramping the Australian bush alone I fell
asleep in a hollow, and my dead brother, who was lost overboard at sea
whilst going out as a sailor to Australia, crept out of the gum clumps
just by my camp bed and lay beside me. I was happy, and put my arm round
him all night long; but I felt very miserable when I awoke and tramped
on alone at daybreak. I tell you how I felt, because men feel as well as
see when they travel the world.

If we could only creep across the years, and gather in a harvest of our
boyish dreams, and live them all again, how happy some of us would be;
now our days rush away like the waters of the rivers to the sea: we
still call the rivers by the old names, but the singing waters of
yesterday have gone for ever.

Our dreams are spiritual and beautify our brief existence. When we cease
to dream we are truly dead; the memory of yesterday’s dream gilds the
hollowness of to-day as flowers sadly beautify old graves. I have often
met the dead walking the streets, avaricious skeletons without real
eyes, and have touched their cold hands and felt the chill of death. I
have also met the living where I least expected it—in savage huts, in
wild lands, where the inhabitants gave me their primitive food, with
brotherhood or sisterhood breathing through their kind eyes, and then
cried and sang as I played my violin to them. A bird singing at sunset,
up in the banyans or coco-palms, would appeal to their wild brains; its
tuneful throat expressed the voice of some infant goddess of their
innocent mythologies: the winds stirring the forests, the noise of
waves, all were voices calling to them from shadow-land. When the
forests of those isles have disappeared, and the spires of the cities
rise everywhere, the thundering wail and crash of the Fijian cathedral
organ will fail to do that which the small bird did with its tiny,
tuneful throat.

I have written of the seamy side of native life, both on the Gold Coast
and elsewhere, but as in everything else the bright side of the sorrow
is also there. Years have changed many things and the advancement of
time has swept much of the dross away. The name of “The White Man’s
Grave” now sounds as primitive as “King of the Cannibal Isle” in Fiji.
Where once the swamp mist lay yellowish in the hollows, sparkling
atmosphere now shines; drainage is plentiful, so the evils have
departed. The gold mines are run on advanced scientific and medical
lines; forty miles from the coast are the Abbontiakoon Mines, and the
Abosso, Broomassie, Anglo Ashanti Gold-Fields, and many others. Right up
to Nigeria, with its tin mines, all is now healthy and cheerful.
Elevated bungalows stud the heights round the mines; they are well
drained, and as you enter the tent door of those dwellings, half hidden
by jungle bananas and palm, you see the white man living in comfort and
cleanliness that would often outrival the homes of his native country.
The mine-owners pay excellent wages to the whites, and the natives are
ruled by fines and kindness; to whip a native, or to strike one, is a
dangerous offence.

The gold mines are a blessing to the West Coast natives. The wages they
receive provide them with plenty for their primitive requirements; but
they have to be strictly watched as they dig, for they hate work and
will try all possible subterfuges to save digging to the proper depth.

Gold is found almost everywhere, but not in payable working quantities.
The country is chiefly owned by native kings, who sell their territory
to the whites who go that way prospecting. I have met men in London who
owned large tracts of jungle-land in West Africa, wherein gold, four
ounces to the ton, lay. They showed me the deeds, signed by the native
king. But the next day I have met another man who owned the very same
land and did not know the other owner; for those artful native kings
sell the same tract of land to every white man who wants to buy it. So
it is well to be careful in buying shares in Gold Coast mines, though
the mines I have mentioned are equal to any in the world, and are
equipped with the latest machinery. The managers from London go out
there at frequent intervals, and the whole business is worked by
educated white men. But for the black-faced natives and the surrounding
jungle and bungalows it might be in London’s highest commercial centre.
Indeed men employed by them are better off than in London, for they give
splendid wages, palatial bungalows and medical attention, as well as
paying fares out to the coast, and home again when their employee’s time
is up.

The bungalows are all on elevated country and are consequently healthy,
and now, wherever mines exist on the Gold Coast and in Southern Nigeria,
you come across smiling Englishmen enjoying the wild jungle life and
smoking by the bungalow doors, while natives rush about waiting on the
Gold Coast potentates—for such they are. Often they go motoring, and the
delighted natives go with them in the white man’s wonderful train. When
they reach the outlying villages the whole population rushes forth to
see the car tear along the jungle track, and if the hooter sounds their
black bodies fly off into the jungle in all directions, the piccaninnies
too, all frightened out of their lives.

Often one hears the tom-toms and native orchestra playing in the
distance. The music drifting on the hot night wind across the jungle is
impressively weird and carries one away back, back to the barbaric ages.

The African natives for centuries have had a kind of mysterious wireless
code. Warnings of the approaching enemy are drifted on the winds, from
tribe to tribe, travelling through the medium of drum sounds, a tone
code of quick taps and slow booms, for hundreds of miles down the coast
and across country. If a great chief dies mysterious drums beat and are
heard miles away in the next village, where the villagers beat their
drums in turn and pass the sounds on; and so it goes onward, to fade
with the sunset into the last friendly kraal of the dominion. [Music:
TRIBAL DANCE.

_Mysterioso._ A. S. M.

_p_

etc.

[From the Author’s Military Band Entr’acte, _Night in the Samoan
Forests_.]]


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVII

A Negro Violinist—Sierra Leone—Some Violinists—Wagner—A Sea Chantey—Old
   Memories


WHEN I got back to Sierra Leone I was glad of a rest and stayed at the
English hotel for a couple of weeks. At Freetown I heard a negro play
the violin really well. He held the fiddle to his breast, instead of to
his chin, and played Raff’s _Cavatina_ and _La Serenata_, very
expressively. I complimented him on his playing, and discovered that a
Hungarian violin-player had given him a course of lessons. He played
African dances and melodies wonderfully well. We had a glorious time,
that negro violinist and I.

In an old bungalow by a native village where soldiers and white men
congregated we gave concerts night after night. The men came from far
and near and joined in the sing-songs; our small, extemporised orchestra
played homeland songs; the exiles shouted themselves hoarse. We made up
part songs and put our own words to them, and the natives came from the
village and peeped into our bungalow with delighted eyes and ears as we
scraped away. It was there that I wrote the melody that is now the trio
of my military march, _Sierra Leone_. This is how it went in the
original setting; a few years later I made a military march trio of the
strain and sold it to a London publisher. I heard it performed by
Sousa’s Band at several commemoration festivals in New York city.
[Music: SIERRA LEONE.

[EXTRACT] (_Military March._) A. S. M.

We’ll all go march - ing back to Sier-ra Le -

_ff_

- one, Sier-ra Le - one,......... Sier - ra Le - one,......... etc.

_p_

TRIO

      _p_ _f_ _ff_ Sier-ra Le - one belle, Sier-ra Le-one belle,

......... un-der your palm - trees I would dw - ell......... _ff_ etc.

Reproduced by kind permission of Messrs. BOOSEY & CO., London, W.]

I have heard many violinists, among them Joachim, whom I heard when I
was a boy. While on a ship in the East India Docks I obtained leave from
the skipper for a Saturday afternoon off, and full of excitement went to
Sydenham and heard the great violinist perform at the Crystal Palace. To
tell the truth, I was disappointed. He played a Viotti concerto, stood
like a statue, and his fingers and arms moved with the ease of
machinery. His bearded face was raised toward the ceiling the whole
time, as though he saw some beautiful sight in the sky above the palace
roof. It struck me as a very refined and intellectual-looking face. His
playing revealed perfection in the trained artistic sense, but lacked
the fire and emotion born of the singing stars.

I heard Sarasate play at his villa near Biarritz. His nostrils dilated
and pinched in as he played, and he had all that Joachim lacked (when
Joachim played in public), for he was a spiritual player; you could have
thought that the angels were wailing and fingering his own
heart-strings. M. Ysaye played rather like Sarasate, but seemed more
conscious of his own ability, which destroyed the atmosphere of the
public performance which I happened to hear.

Kubelik I have heard twice, at Bournemouth and in New South Wales. He
performed with Joachim’s machinery-like ease; his double-stopping
revealed the perfection of the performer’s ear and the dexterity of the
fingers that seemed to outdo the player’s own heart; but it struck me as
cold playing, as if the player’s command over technique was greater than
his musical temperament.

I have often heard it said that the marvellous technique of Paganini is
to-day the technical equipment of all violin virtuosos. I doubt it.
Certainly they are not mentally equipped with his way of playing. When
you look at Paganini’s compositions you see something that is the
outcome of _one_ personality, the white heat of genius who first
discovered the musical gold mines in the depths of the violin. What must
the man have been whose genius was so intense that he invented that
which all others imitate and call their equipment? Paganini could not
leave his playing to posterity, but a true critic can look at those
individual compositions and dream of the tremendous passion that
inspired the _maestro_ to leave us those fugitive echoes of his playing,
for that is all they are. Paganini played like an inspired, deep-feeling
barbarian; his style was not artifice and did not represent, by artistic
bowing and phrasing, the niceties of polite emotion and the artistries
of civilisation. We have no compositions as he played them. He stood
before his awestruck audience and extemporised melodies, chords,
sparkling arpeggios and staccato and cadenzas, that were all half
forgotten when the intense musical fury of his heart ceased and the
magic fingers were silent; and so we have only hints of his style. His
imitators scrape out phonographic records of his published compositions
and say they are equipped with Paganini’s art.

I heard an English violinist, Henley, in London. I was off to Jamaica
next morning and only heard him by accident. A friend of mine said:
“Come in this hall.” We went in, and I was astonished. I thought at
first that the violinist whom I saw playing, with Joachim’s ease and
Sarasate’s passion, must be some foreigner; but he was an Englishman.
His double-stopping was superb, with a passionate fire in it alien to
Kubelik’s temperament, I should think. Altogether he was really the most
artistic and passionate player I ever heard, Sarasate excepted. While he
played I realised that note that tells of genius, which makes you feel
that the performer’s violin and fingers are imperfect instruments, are
not as great as the heart that is trying to express its depth of feeling
upon strings.

I went abroad after that. I have not heard since of Henley the wonderful
violinist. He was English, and I suppose London’s fashionable musical
world positively refused to go mad about an Englishman when so many
German and Austrian violinists were about.

I heard “King Billy,” the Australian Aboriginal King, play the violin by
the kerb-side in Sydney. He was the world’s worst “great violinist,”
made a squeaking row and thought more of the cash the Colonials dropped
in his tin pot than of the melody which he performed.


[Illustration: RIVER SCENE, WEST AFRICA]


An artistic public performance on the violin is widely divided from the
poetry of violin-playing in solitude, out of sheer love to express the
performer’s feelings and relieve the tension of sorrow and joy that is
oppressing him. When I was a boy, staying at Leichardt, in Sydney, I
heard someone playing the violin and accompanying his playing with his
own voice. The sound came from a little wooden house on a flat. I stood
still and listened. It was dusk. On the window was a bit of scribbled
paper: “Room to let, cheap.” That gave me a good excuse, for I was
intensely curious to see the man who played and sang so beautifully. I
knocked at the door and was asked in, and I got in conversation with the
player. He was a Norwegian with a handsome face, but unshaved and
worried-looking. His wife was about thirty years older than he was, and
as he played to me she sat near and her old wrinkled face beamed with
delight as I praised his playing. He played by ear and was self-taught.
I could easily see that. But he was a great violinist. He expressed his
very soul as he played, in a weird, peculiar style, Norwegian melodies.
I felt greatly drawn toward him as he played and sang to me, looking
past me with steady, dreaming eyes as he extemporised sweet strains. He
had hard, rough hands, through working on the roads. I saw him night
after night. I thought at first that his wife was his mother, and I
said, “Your son is a real musician.” When he smiled at me and said, “My
wife, not mother,” I felt very uncomfortable. He took her old wrinkled
hand and led her into the little kitchen and kissed her tenderly. I
suppose Norwegian women age quickly, or they had fallen in love with
each other when he was quite a lad; but it was beautiful to see their
sincere, sweetheart-like affection for each other.

He secured a job on the Broken Hill Silver Mines, packed up and went off
to Melbourne. I never saw him again. I often think of him and his
clever, handsome face as he sat breathing heavily and playing and
singing to me. He would have been better than Joachim and Kubelik if he
had had their technical equipment and no road stones to break and ruin
his hands. I cannot remember any special feelings when I heard the great
violinists, Joachim, Kubelik and Kreisler, except curiosity and
momentary admiration, but the memory of the stone-breaking Norwegian’s
playing is as vivid to-day as then; and when I think of it all the
poetic atmosphere of his playing still haunts me. So if it’s true that
Time is the great critic of poetry and music, then assuredly, as far as
I am concerned, my Norwegian friend was the greatest violinist I ever
heard.

It is difficult to define art. I suppose anything that appeals to the
best emotions in men and women is art. A good deal of what is known as
art to-day will soon be cast on the rubbish heap of the mediæval ages
with the old ideals and idols. People move in the realms of art as they
do in frock-coats; it must be just _so_, and must have three buttons on
the front only; if it has four buttons it’s not art. Art should be
natural and oblivious of fashion, and, like true religion, beautiful in
rags and tatters, pale-faced, walking the streets of humanity, singing
with the birds and stars, and looked down upon by affluence.

Do the thousands who hear Wagner understand the depth and meaning of the
music as Wagner thought they would understand? Do they hear the
barbarian note in his music that tells so well of the savagery of the
German people, the barbarian shriek, the exultation over the fallen and
the tramp of bloodthirsty warriors driving the helpless victims of the
fallen cities before them? I do not think so. It’s fashionable, and to
have heard Wagner is to be in the fashion, and so off people go and hear
and see “Wagner.” Most of them would more thoroughly understand and
enjoy a phonographic record of a Solomon Islander’s cannibalistic dance,
accompanied by living pictures of the scantily clad native men and
women, beating their drums and whirling round the blushing bride, clad
in half a coco-nut shell and her hair only. Their funerals are conducted
with the same austere art that makes them all go and see Wagner.

I like Beethoven and Mendelssohn’s concertos, also Schubert’s music,
indeed all the really good classical compositions, but my memory of the
old chantey, _Blow the Man Down_, as I heard it sung, and sang it
myself, with crooked-nosed old sailors as we rounded Cape Horn, with
seas crashing over the decks and the flying scud racing the moon, the
old skipper on the poop shouting, muffled to the teeth in oilskins, his
grey beard swinging sideways to the wind as the full-rigged ship dipped
and rolled homeward bound, is something of music, singing and haunting
my soul, that will only die when my memory dies. I can still see the
crew climbing aloft and along the yards, their shadows falling softly
through the moonlit grey sails and yards on to the decks. Melodies from
the sails aloft, gliding under the stars, still sing beautifully to me
as I watch the sleeping sailors, far out at sea, in their tossing bunks.
Then they stand by the galley door, with their mugs for the hot coffee,
while the chief mate tramps away the night to and fro on the poop,
humming _Soon we’ll be in London Town_. Then, as I dream, the sails
crumble in the moonlight, the decks are awash, sink and disappear;
sailors are struggling in the moonlit waters. Their white hands are
tossed up as they sink, one by one; and now daybreak steals over the
sky-lines that fence that vast grave of wandering waters.

Often memories play on the strings of my heart as I stand listening to
the great orchestra of the winds fingering the giant forest boughs, or
to the noise of seas on the moonlit shores.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XVIII

My many Professions—I turn Poet—On a Tramp Steamer—“Shivering
   Timbers”—Modern Seamen—Struck by Lightning—I leave the Ship


I HAVE been almost everything in my travels. Stow-away, sailor before
the mast, bandmaster on a mail steamer, wet-nurse to Samoan twins,[13]
bushman, boundary rider, woodcutter, sundowner, post-digger,
snow-sweeper in North America, painter, deck-hand, “shilling-a-monther”
in a liner’s stokehold, messroom steward, native overseer, private
grave-digger, author, violinist to South Sea kings and chiefs, solo
violinist and orchestral violinist in the large cities of the world,
music teacher, song-writer, cornet-player, composer of music for
military bands, actor and singer, trader, canvasser for crank patents
and medicine, banana planter in Jamaica, nut planter in the South Sea
Islands, gold miner in Australia, violinist to Geisha girls in Japan,
and the leader of numerous splendid schemes that mostly failed. Glorious
schemes they were; but you can never be sure of anything except that you
will be certain to attend your own funeral.

Footnote 13:

  Their mother, a native woman, was drowned by the upsetting of a canoe.
  A Norwegian sailor and I found the infants, screaming, in a hut on the
  coast. We secured a ripe coco-nut, and opening the eye-hole in the
  shell, we placed it in turns at the mouths. They both tugged away and
  pressed the shell with their hands as though they were at the breast!
  and soon went off fast asleep. In the morning we gave them into the
  charge of a native girl, who took them both away to the dead mother’s
  relations.

I have also been a poet. I wrote a little volume of Australian lyrics
which are all burnt now. I was so pleased with the first proofs that I
put them on my bedroom mantelpiece, so that I could see them ere I slept
and directly I awoke at daybreak. The reviews in the newspapers and
journals thrilled me. “Full of sincerity, spirit and impulse.”
“Marvellous descriptive ability.” “A real barbarian poet of the South
Seas.” I thought my fortune was made, and I could not sleep through
thinking of coming fame and fortune. I thought surely such reviews in
the newspapers will sell thousands of copies of my book, and I was very
happy over my bright outlook. It was summer-time. I became restless, and
with the reviews in my pocket I went off, walking very fast in my
excitement. I soon arrived in the country at a beautiful spot.

A windmill on the hill-top whirled its big black hands as though trying
to catch the winged music of skylarks in the deep blue morning sky. By
the lane-side stood a cottage for sale. The very place for me, I
thought. I will buy it and write there. What glorious poems of Australia
and the South Seas they will be! The bird singing in a clump of firs
just by my future front door rippled out notes as though its little body
would burst with joy. I took an old envelope from my pocket and started
to write a lyric—how happy I was—even the lyric was good!

A month later I wrote to the publisher and said:

    “DEAR SIR—Will you kindly send me a cheque in settlement for
    copies of my _Australian Lyrics_ sold. I would not trouble you
    before the quarter, but unexpected calls on my purse have
    arrived at an inopportune moment.”

Two weeks later I received this reply:

    “DEAR SIR—In reply to yours of the 16th, no copies of your book
    have been sold, and we would call your kind attention to balance
    of £2, 10s. overdue for binding, and £1, 18s. for corrections in
    proof, etc., and 9s. 4d. for postage in sending out review
    copies.”

So ended my volume of poetry, though I must add that the publisher
turned out a good sort. I would sooner deal with publishers, some of
them, than with stokehold bosses and concert managers. Music and book
publishers cannot publish authors’ inspirations that do not sell and
keep the author as well. I wish they could. As for the reviewers of my
poetry, they made me feel the happiest of aspirants for four weeks, and
I feel grateful for that four weeks of greatness.

I think it was after a voyage to the Cape that I stayed in London for a
week, and then secured a berth on board the s.s. _Port Adelaide_, a
tramp steamer. We called at Las Palmas, and then went slap, bang across
the world for Sydney. It was a monotonous voyage. We had a stowaway on
board; they sent him down into the stokehold. He had been a London
street arab and street singer, was a jolly youth and sang _The Ivy and
the Myrtle were in Bloom_. Then he came round with the hat and got
tobacco from the amused crew. The sailors encouraged him to tell his
experiences and were delighted to hear how he carried parcels for
passengers at the railway stations, and often bolted with the parcel if
it looked valuable! He would finish, and then take his tin whistle out
and blow it, do a jig and sing some mournful street prayer.

We had very bad weather after rounding the Cape, “running the Easter
down.” There were four passengers on board, and one died of consumption.
He lay on the hatchway for two days and nights: the weather was so bad
that we couldn’t stop the ship and decently bury “It.” He was canvassed
up and weighted with lead, and seas came over the body all night long;
we crept by it on deck like frightened shadows. When it was calmer the
captain said the burial service, and then all the crew, standing round
the tied canvas length, said “Amen.” Then gently, with the chief mate, I
pushed it forward into the grave of wandering waters and heard the awful
plomp as it touched the sea. At once the bell in the engine-room rang
full speed ahead, the engines started banging and we were off again.

About a week after that we sighted a full-rigged sailing ship bound for
New Zealand, a Shaw Saville boat painted with white squares. She was
doing about twelve knots and coming right across our bows. The main-mast
was snapped off by the main-yard and two of the boats were gone; she had
been through some terrible weather. She came dipping and rolling by, so
close that as we looked over the side we saw the apprentices wave their
hands; we all waved back as she passed by, dipping her flag to us, and
we saluted back with ours. I felt a choky feeling as I watched her pass,
with her broken spars and torn sails, flying away towards the mist of
the sunset, the figure-head with hands stretched in prayer at the bows.
The white-crested, curling waves lifted their arms and plucked at her
sides as she went rolling and pitching by. There was something in the
sight of that beaten ship that inspired me with more tenderness than
anything I have ever seen at sea.

I would often sit in the dim, oil-lit fo’c’sle as we swayed and dipped
along. The tiny round port-holes lifted to the fall and rise of the
bows, revealing the tossing blue moonlit seas outside. In that roaming
home of merchant sailormen, at regular intervals, came the steady-drawn,
thundering music of the steamer’s onward plunge as the screw urged her
across the world. From the middle of the deck roof swung the oil lamp,
its faint beams showing the outlines of the huddled sea-chests on the
deck floor and, all around, the narrow coffin-sized bunks wherein lay
the sleeping or wakeful crew. Some snored, their bearded mouths wide
open; others smoked and made ribald remarks, as Jim English the
boatswain, a typical sailor of the old school, yarned of long-ago
voyages on windjammers. A real old shellback he was, and the only sailor
whom I ever heard use the expressions “Shiver my timbers!” and “Avast
there!” I had voyaged in many sailing ships and tramp steamers, and
mixed with many crews in foreign seaports, but never till then had I
heard a living mouth utter those ancient nautical phrases so familiar to
me in my old sea novels. “Stow yer gab,” “Holy Moses,” “Who the hell?”,
“Gawd lummy” and “Gorblimy” were almost the only typical remarks in
which sailors of my experience expressed their various moods.

This old shellback, Jim English, was about sixty-five years of age, and
had sailed the seas before most of the crew were born. Sitting on his
huge brown sea-chest, he would half close his eyelids as I played.

“Give us that again, matey; my old mother sang that to me when I was a
nipper,” he would say as I scraped some old melody out of the
carpenter’s cheap fiddle, and his thin, wrinkled lips smiled as though
he dreamed pleasantly in sleep. I never tired of listening to his yarns
as he sat and took bites from his tobacco plug, his kind grey eyes
moving quickly as he brought his fist down with a crash to emphasise the
main facts of his wonderful tales. At night, when the wind was blowing
and you could only just see the outlined forms of the watch tramping to
and fro on the bridge, he would sit and tell us eerie things—how he had
seen the phantom ship off the Cape on moonlight nights, dead shipmates
climbing aloft among the grey sails, singing chanteys.

“Chummy,” he would say, “my wife’s been dead these ’ere twenty years,
but often at night she sits on that old sack by my bunk there, looks at
me in the old way and sez: ‘Jim, keep off the booze, and don’t make the
round trip a dead ’orse.’ And never a drop have I touched these ten
years; and the old girl comes with me and sits there and looks at me
with her laughing grey eyes on every trip now.”

So earnest was he that our heads instinctively turned as we looked at
the sack in the dark corner. We half expected to see his dead wife
sitting there staring. He believed implicitly in dreams, for all the
dire disasters of his life had been foretold in them. He was a kind of
old priest of the sea; he wore an oilskin skull-cap and looked upon all
of us as mere children; and we felt like children as we listened to his
advice and experiences. He had cures for all our ailments, and was most
superstitious. Once while he was yarning and sewing his socks he put one
of them on inside out. Suddenly discovering it, he whipped it off, then
turned almost purple to the centre of his bald head and said: “Now I’ve
done it, mates! Some cursed thing’s sure to happen before the trip’s
over. I’ve lost four shipmates overboard and all through them putting
their socks on inside out!” As he said this anguish wrinkled his
sea-beaten face, and I too almost cursed the unfortunate mistake. The
sailors shuffling cards at the fo’c’sle table looked over their
shoulders through wreaths of tobacco smoke and wondered. As for me, I
believed all he said. My awestruck eyes watched him as he yarned on and
fed my imagination till I was a child again. His personality filled me
with admiration; I almost worshipped him. I really think if he had
mutinied, and secured the old tramp steamer, I should have followed him,
as a son his father, and thrown in my lot with him.

Nor do I exaggerate in saying this, for his weird personality took me
out of myself and away back. He refired the magic blaze, the still
smouldering embers of my boyhood’s romance, and I was romantic, almost
to madness, as a boy. Old bearded heroes, with unflinching eyes, stared
through my memories, and fell, striking that last brave blow for right!
Beautiful women, running by the magic moonlit sea-foams of undiscovered
shores, stretched their arms seaward as the wooden galleons with reefed
topsails stood inland for the shore. Forlorn, lovelit eyes shone like
stars through the dead sunsets on the sky-lines of vanished yesterdays,
till I heard the windy poplar-trees wailing in the lanes outside my
bedroom window and the robin singing on the leafless apple-tree. Once
more the stolen candle shone, and the light never seen on sea or land
blazed through my eyes as I travelled across magic seas and enchanted
distant lands, lands peopled with warriors and the beautiful creations
of the torn novel by my bedside.

That old sea priest loved hymns. He was truly religious, and often sat
turning the leaves of his well-fingered Bible. _Abide with me, fast
falls the eventide_ was a favourite hymn of his. I think I must have
played it to him a hundred times, so that now the melody to me suggests
ships far out at sea; and the old shellback, whom I loved, used to sit
on his sea-chest telling us boys of the wooden ships that went down the
seas and came back from other lands laden with scented cargoes, and that
have faded away into the romantic dreams of this generation.

The remainder of the crew were a mixed lot, not very different from the
usual run of sailors on tramp steamers. They were quiet men, and had
little to do with the firemen and trimmers, who inhabited that
half-fo’c’sle that was portioned off for them. I remember one of them
was a “shilling-a-monther,” working his passage to the Colonies for his
health. He was a fine, broad-chested fellow, but in consumption, and
whenever he was off duty he seemed to be busy rubbing his chest with
oils. He had quite a dozen bottles at the foot of his bunk, which he had
purchased in London from quacks: each bottle held oil that was a certain
cure for consumption! We were very friendly with each other. I often
helped him and, following his instructions, rubbed his back with the
oils till the flesh was red. His little hacking cough would disappear
for several days and he would be quite cheerful; then the cough would
return and blood-spitting follow, and I felt very sorry for him,
especially as, when he felt better, he would hit his chest with his fist
and show me that he was at last cured.

Playing cards or dominoes, sleeping and smoking were the usual
excitements of the crew. On duty, they washed the decks down with the
hose, tramped their watches, rolled ropes, cleaned brass work, and
followed the most monotonous life under the sun. After rounding the Cape
to run the Easter down they became busy with the sails, which helped the
engines, when the wind was fair, to urge the vessel on the lonely
voyage. A trip across the world on a sailing ship is very different from
a voyage on a tramp steamer. She rides the waves and seeks the winds,
and like a mammoth bird thing, with men singing chanteys climbing along
the bones of her spread wings, she races the clouds that fly overhead,
and seems to sway the moon, stars or sun as she rolls and pitches along.

The crews of sailing ships when I was a boy were a different type of men
from the crews of tramp boats. They were real sailors, or young fellows
who had taken to sea life to learn to be sailors. A few of the old-time
men among them, with their weather-beaten faces and old sea ways, gave
that atmosphere to the fo’c’sle that has now gone for ever.

It must have been the romantic dreamer’s paradise to go down to the sea
in sailing ships before the world was worldly. I can imagine those old
sailors, uneducated and superstitious, on the great ocean waters,
watching the sky-lines and the dying sunsets as they dreamed of
undiscovered shores, or by night on deck fancied they could hear the
breakers beating against the starlit sky-line where loomed the shores of
Eternity. Time and science have swept all that away from the sea for
ever. To-day the seaman stands on the deck and thinks of the latest
trade union grievance.

The ways of the ocean no longer suggest eternity behind the stars, or
undiscovered lands afar inhabited by strange peoples. To him the ocean
tracks are simply the main highways to New York, London and the Colonial
cities, and to ports that are like railway stations of the high seas.
Passengers get off at Suez, Colombo, Sydney or Apia and catch the next
boat or train as the quartermaster shouts: “All aboard! Make haste,
ladies and gentlemen.” Rich puffing ladies and gentlemen with their
daughters reship with their touring luggage for the next port, and they
drag their deck-chairs and pet poodles behind them.

Old-time romance of thought has hardened and petrified into our stone
carved, grey terraced cities; but the blue horizons of dreams sparkle on
for ever! Yet withal, I have enjoyed two blessings in life. One is to
have been born civilised, for I have never wanted to hurt a man or do
anything really outrageous. The other is to have been born in civilised
times that have enabled me to wander the world unarmed and safe; to have
sniffed the tropical winds, seas and flowers of far-off countries, and
gazed across primeval plains or on the mountain peaks of lonely isles;
to have heard the mighty silence of vast forests and peered into the
eyes of semi-savage peoples.

The cook of that tramp steamer was a strange old seaman, who drank gin
and seldom spoke. He had a gnarled, stolid-looking face and
expressionless eyes, very deep set. The green and flower of his youth
had left him for ever; not a sentimental leaf or faded flower lingered
in his memory.

He reminded me of the mummified, blackened face of an old native I saw
once, who still stood erect, just as he had died, in the hollow of a
huge tree trunk in a forest of New Caledonia, a tree wherein he had
taken shelter just before it was struck by lightning! Heat had blistered
the dead face till it resembled gnarled bark. There was still a glassy
gleam deep in the eye-sockets, for though the eyes had gone ants had
eaten the back of the head away, and so light crept through from behind,
where there was a small decayed hole in the tree trunk. It was very
faint though, and as I stood a little way off that awful facial
expression reminded me of some hideous living mortal, whose soul slept,
mole-like, in the cold, winter sleep of age, dead, yet still alive long
after the real owner had committed suicide by strangling all his
passions.

It is strange how such sights impress us and cling to our memory, for we
meet dead men daily, whose faculties are fungus growths; we see their
moving lips, shake their dead hands and wonder on the stony expression
of their eyes, eyes that have not even the light of heaven behind them,
as it lit up that Caledonia mummy’s eye-sockets.

Our captain was a Naval Reserve man who carried himself with incurable
haughtiness. He saw life’s great drama and the light of creation only by
being awestruck at himself and measuring all vastness from the soles of
his feet to the crown of his head. The chief engineer was a jolly
Scotsman, who tipped the convivial chief steward and so always had a
bottle of whisky under his bunk. When he was “half-seas-over” he sang
_Ye Banks and Braes_ and _Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?_ as the engines
thumped and the tramp steamer rolled and pitched along the highway of
the world. We ran into terrifically bad weather, and with the sails set,
for the wind was fair, the old engines crashed away as she pitched and
the screw blades bobbed up behind.

I have never followed the sea directly as a profession, but I have lived
and communed with the hearts of sailors, held their hands in warm
comradeship, as well as shared their hardships at sea and ashore. And so
I have read them as they cannot read the sea or themselves. To the
majority of sailors to have been to sea, say for twenty years, simply
means to them, “I’ve been to sea for twenty years,” and means nothing
more. To have been able to go to sea mentally, as well as physically,
and to have been thrilled by the wild poetry of the wind’s songs and the
romance of the sea, is to be in a strong sense a sailor of sailors.
While the average sailor can still chew tobacco and tell you the names
of ropes, women and grog shanties in distant seaports, I cannot even
chew tobacco; but I can sit in my little room and watch the thundering
seas tossing by my bedside, ablaze with the true light of sea romance,
while sailing ships, with their crews aloft singing chanteys full of
joy, pass and repass through my bedroom door, outbound for the seaports
of the world.

About a week later the albatross that sailed the winds with restless
eyes behind us night and day wheeled round and put out for the open sea,
for we were nearing the coast of Australia. I went ashore in Adelaide
and got two shillings’ worth of tomatoes for a treat. The man on the
wharf helped my chum carry them. They gave me half-a-hundredweight for
two shillings!

Adelaide is a real old Colonial seaboard town. I bought a good violin
there and a lot of strings. We left next day for Melbourne, and I played
the violin the whole way. In Melbourne the stowaway bolted, and the
donkeyman swore all the way to Sydney, for the careful London arab
started life in the new land with his “go-ashore boots” and shirts, as
well as taking, in case of emergency, about forty plugs of the crew’s
allowance tobacco. We did not feel sorry for the stowaway in his venture
in a new life; he had the annexing instincts of the old British stock,
and we all felt he would do well in Australia.

I very seldom made a round trip and so, bidding the old boatswain
good-bye, after taking him ashore to hear him mutter for the last time
“Shiver my timbers,” I left the ship.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIX

Yokohama—A Japanese Family—Pretty Sarawana—A Tea-house Festival—A Geisha
   Orchestra—Sun Worship—Stowaways in the Stokehold—Reflections—The Kind
   Skipper


I STAYED in Sydney for a few weeks and finally got on a Japanese ship,
the _Maru_, and eventually arrived at Yokohama. I had never been to
Japan before, and after tea I hurried ashore. On the wharf stood rows of
Japanese low-caste women, dressed like guys. They had black teeth, and
faces that looked as though they were carved out of yellow wood, and
voices that went “honk-ki-hong-ki-ko koo ko,” as though they had an
orange in their throats. Their toes turned inward and their eyes
outward, and Japanese flies built their hives in their thick, matted
hair. It was hot, muggy weather. I was very disappointed at first, but
when I got up into the city and found myself walking among crowds of
fascinating Japanese people, all jabbering and shuffling along in clogs,
I became interested. I had some dim expectation of seeing bamboo
dwellings and Oriental fairyland trees, with Japanese lanterns hanging
on them. Instead of which I saw fine buildings, well-lit streets and
beautiful parks with lakes in them, surrounded by maple and
cherry-trees. Boats were being paddled on the lake by Japanese girls
dressed in pale blue kimonos and with hibiscus and cherry blossom in
their hair. You can never forget that you are in Japan because of the
strange language that hums in your ears as you pass along, dreaming you
hear the sandalled, shuffling feet of some old ghostly Assyrian city and
the hubbub of the population talking across the silent ages.

Next day I went to Tokio; it was only a few miles away, about twenty, I
think. There I saw real old Japan, and went off into the Oriental dark
ages. I saw painted, red-lipped beauties with slit-shaped dark eyes and
faces like dolls, being carried in sedan-chairs in copper-lid-shaped
hats. Fanning themselves, they passed by and were carried to the
palm-house and down corridors to their mats. I made the acquaintance of
a Japanese sailor; he was a genuine fellow, and took a lot of trouble to
satisfy my curiosity. I was introduced to his family; they lived at
Suraka, if I remember the name aright. I went into their house, a wicker
bungalow, and was greeted with, “O Hayo!”[14] Two daughters in kimonos,
pink and orange-yellow, waited on me, bowing and curtseying in Eastern
style. The old mother was intelligent-looking; she had a face like a
South Sea idol, with kind, dove-like eyes. The room was covered with
soft mats, and the walls, of matted panels, were carved with Oriental
designs. I felt exceedingly happy as I sat by the Oriental maidens and
ate savoury rice and fowl and drank saki. The daughters screamed with
laughter as I used chopsticks instead of the fork which they gave me. I
slept there that night and went with the family next day to see the
sights, among them the Asakusa Temple, where they worshipped the goddess
Kwannon. Beautiful green lands surrounded the Oriental city. Sarawana,
my Japanese sailor’s sister, shuffled beside me, chatting away in
Japanese as hard as her tongue could go, and pointing to the cherry and
plum trees in full bloom; the quaint old mother and the others came on
behind. They think a great deal of their cherry and plum trees, but as I
gazed at them I thought of dear old England. I did not hear the
blackbird singing in those cherry-trees; I only saw large crimson
butterflies flitting over the boughs, and, on the fair slopes, strange
bamboo-fenced bungalows, instead of the country cottages and smoking
chimneys of Kent.

Footnote 14:

  Glad to see you.

They enticed me to a tea-room festival, where I had a large bowl of tea,
the national beverage. I sat cross-legged on a little mat by Sarawana,
whose bright eyes sparkled and whose red lips often parted in a cheery
laugh, revealing her pearly teeth. Geisha girls played samisens and
biwas, and danced in Oriental curves round us. They were mostly pretty
maidens, with small white teeth and eyes that peeped beneath their
pencilled brows like the frightened eyes of squirrels. They had
beautiful hair too, with a bit of the national cherry blossom stuck into
it. As they sang and strummed on their stringed, lyre-like instruments
they seemed perfectly oblivious of all around them; their oblique eyes
seemed to gaze on something miles away.

Sarawana had been a Geisha girl and played for her living as I had, and
so we became comrades. Next day I took her and her sister down by the
river. It was a beautiful spot; the banks were smothered with cherry and
plum trees, camphor woods and bamboos. “Why are you so sad, Sarawana?” I
said as I sat by her side. Her sister sat with a Japanese lad among the
bamboos just by. “Me litee Samaro, and he dead”; and then she sang a
little Japanese song, after wiping her eyes with the big sleeve of her
blue kimono. We were quite alone, only the little yellow birds twittered
in the plum boughs overhead. “What does that song mean, Sarawana?” I
said, and then she told me, in pidgin-English, its meaning.

         “Unblown the cherry blossom blooms
          Are hid in the cold of dead lips, weeping to blossom,
          And crescent moons of coming springs
          Are pale for ever in thine eyes—O my love,
          Kwannon sits on her throne, Samaro,
          Pale as chrysanthemums waiting thee
          As camphor trees sigh over thy grave,
          O my Samaro.”

“Did you love him much, Sarawana?”

“Me litee him as the birds the boughs; the river cry of him: ‘O my
Samaro!’” Then I tried to comfort her. “Laugh and be happy, and come on
the river in a pleasure junk,” for as I spoke a Japanese boatman
beckoned us, laid his rowing-poles down and started to bargain with me.
Then Sarawana answered: “Me litee you-ee; Geisha girl want be ap-pee
little while.”

“Of course,” I replied; and then she said: “Samaro dead, but he know me
good-ee and white man know-ee too!” Then she lifted her pale blue kimono
and revealed her tiny, clogged feet and ankles as she stepped into the
junk; and by my side, singing melody and words that I could not
understand, she went down the river. I thoroughly enjoyed myself,
sympathised with the sad little Geisha girl, and admired her modesty and
poetic tenderness for the dead youth that she loved.

I saw many Geisha girls and Japanese women of all classes, but they were
not all like Sarawana, and so I tell you of her. Japanese men and women
are very much like the white races; just one difference marks their
characters with a ray of spiritual light: the girls, boys, women and men
of Japan are poetic, everything about them is a symbol. A butterfly sat
on Sarawana’s hand: it was a kiss of her dead lover, and when it flew
away it went back to his grave to kiss the flowers and make him happy.

The birds in the plum trees sing old love vows; their wings fading in
the sunset are the beautiful thoughts of the dead or the living flying
home to heaven again. Japanese eyes shine with tears of joy as they
think of those things at which English girls and boys would toss their
heads back and scream with laughter.

I did not return to my ship, but stayed at Tokio till my money had all
gone. For a while I stopped with my Japanese sailor friend; he was a
generous fellow, and invited me to stay with him and his people as long
as I wished. I taught Sarawana to play some easy melodies on my violin,
and I was surprised at the quick way she picked up fiddle-playing. She
taught me to play one or two Japanese tunes, and I sat outside her
bamboo bungalow and played as she sang, and the cherry blossoms dropped
on us from the branches overhead.

I will not tell you all my experiences at Tokio, but I made a bold bid
to get a living out of my violin and secured several good pupils. A
Japanese lady of note was one of them; she was connected with the
Mikado’s Court and had relatives in Tokio. She paid me well, and I made
good headway with her, and she was exceedingly kind to me. I also had a
few Englishwomen as pupils, and went to Yokohama to give two of them
lessons daily.

Sarawana persuaded me to get up a kind of Geisha orchestra. She played
second fiddle and the cymbals. I ventured forth to a grand festival with
my Japanese Geisha troupe. When it became known that I was friendly with
the Geisha girls I lost my best pupils, though there was no harm in
anything that I did. Sarawana’s mother was pleased with our venture, and
was delighted when she saw her daughters dressed up in brilliant kimonos
and decked out in sashes of rich yellow and blue, with red flowers in
their hair! I thought more of the novelty of it than I did of the money
I might make. How romantic it all seemed as we marched along, laughing,
under the white-blossomed cherry-trees in far-off Japan. I did not know
that professors and teachers of English ladies should not go about with
Geisha girls. However, I enjoyed myself, and my memory of Sarawana and
Tince, her sister, as I called her, and her Geisha friends is sweeter to
me than the memory of those pupils I lost.

My Geisha troupe failed, and I secured an engagement as violinist at a
missionary hall. Sarawana and her family attended the meetings. I worked
there for about three weeks and received a good salary; it was easy, but
unmusical, work. I had to play the mission harmonium twice a day, on
Sundays three times. The hall was always crammed with converts: old men,
young men and girls, some of them dressed in Japanese costume and others
in European. Some wore tall hats and white collars; they sang English
hymns, though the words were translated into Japanese. The old men and
women sang very much out of tune, but looked very earnest; their wooden
mouths opened and shut as I scraped away. The mission was conducted by
English women missionaries, as well as by men. The Japanese women were
very decent people, and when I left they made a collection for me and
handed me quite a considerable sum. I composed a hymn and dedicated it
to the society, but whether they ever published it or not I do not know;
they said they would. When I bade my Japanese friends good-bye they
seemed sorry to see me go, especially Sarawana and my sailor comrade. He
had a wooden-looking face that smiled eternally, like a carved idol.
When he was fast asleep on his mat beside me he still smiled, and so he
was a good comrade, for I was subject to fits of depression, and when
the little Japanese maid would play her lament and sing of her dead
lover I used to wish she was not so faithful.

I was then about twenty-two years of age and had seen much of the world.
Very often I would lie awake for hours thinking of things that should
have happened, considering the great faith I had in them.

I sometimes thought of going back to England and settling down as a
violinist, but then the thought of my country’s terrible decorum quashed
my longing. I had been a good deal in Queensland and had several good
friends there; sad memories, too, of a bush girl’s grave by the swamp
oak gullies. Sometimes I longed for Australian bush scenes as a lad
longs for his own country. I had been to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and
Brisbane several times since I first saw them, but things even in one
short absence were rapidly changing. As the ships came in crammed with
emigrants from all parts of the world the surrounding bush-land of the
seaboard cities and towns was cut down and up went thousands of wooden
houses. And so old spots disappeared with the bush-land which the
Australian hates. If you say to a Colonial “I have been across hundreds
of miles of your bush-land with my swag, camping out,” he hangs his head
with shame, blushes and says: “I know, I know; but we hope soon to cut
it all down. I suppose you’ve seen our towns?”

There is no doubt about it, the majority of Australians born are ashamed
of the wild bush-lands, and love the streets and spires and walls of
bricks and mortar. Up country it’s all emigrant Englishmen, and a few
Australians who were born there and so could not help themselves. As for
me, I loved the bush and my memories of the bush, and when I went to the
old spots and saw wooden homesteads standing on the slopes where I
camped by my bush fire I felt sad about it, even world-weary and old as
I looked across the few years and saw the hollows and far-off forest
trees waving in the moonlight dusk for miles and miles along the shores
of my memory.

So I began to think of Australia again as I lay in bed at the Grand
Hotel, Yokohama, and dreamt of my old days there. I could not go back to
Tokio, at least anywhere near the mission folk, for I had told them I
was going straight back to England. I had really intended doing so, but
I thought I could get a berth on a ship and save my few pounds instead
of paying for my passage. In the end I was left almost penniless and
stranded in Yokohama. I lodged for a while at a European’s house. He had
married a Japanese woman and kept a kind of sailors’ lodging-home. I had
some strange companions in my rooms; I think they were Moslem, Buddhist
and Brahmin men. They were fierce-looking fellows, wore white turbans
and had swarthy faces with curly, close-cropped beards. They knelt on
little mats and prayed and chanted day and night. I found out after that
one or two of them were Mohammedans. Their ancient-looking faces wore an
Omar-Khayyám-like expression; from them I heard about Astoreth and
Osiris, Allah, Mahomet, and a lot more about Oriental and Eastern
creeds. I noticed that they were all very earnest in their prayers, and
when I walked suddenly into my room to fetch my violin one evening two
of them were kneeling in prayer at the window, worshipping the sunset.
They never turned a hair at my interruption, but went on pouring forth
solemn, strange words to the dying fires of Japan’s horizon. It seemed
to me then and now that all the so-called creeds were but one vast
monotheistic cry in various dialects, each creed a different expression
only, all of them instruments in the vast orchestra of life’s drama,
playing for the same end—universal, hopeful harmony. The stars vary in
magnitude and position, but they are all singing the same earnest
melody; for they too are finite, and sing on as those strange men did in
the Japanese doss-house at Yokohama.

I strolled along the wharfs at Yokohama harbour with a young English
sailor whom I met at the lodging-home. We were both extremely hard up.
Alongside the wharf lay the s.s. _Port Piree_, and we resolved to make a
dash for it and stow away. She was due to leave at sunset. The funnel
was belching forth smoke; the sailors were standing with their friends
on deck. With my violin in my hand I walked straight up the gangway, my
comrade just behind me. I was well dressed, and the quartermaster bowed
as I slipped on deck and asked to see the skipper. “He’s in his cabin, I
think, sir!” “All right,” I said, and beckoning my friend as though he
were my valet, I walked across the deck and along the starboard
alleyway. We stood by the stokehold entrance and waited our chance. The
hatchway to the coal bunkers was open. “Now!” I said. In a moment we had
taken the final plunge and disappeared in the ship’s bowels. Scrambling
across the coal, we huddled close together and waited. It seemed ages
before she went, and then we heard the rattling, rusty chain of the
anchor coming up and the throb of the winches, and the engines started;
we were off. My dear old comrade beside me, breathing in the darkness,
was worth his weight in gold. “We’re off now, Jack,” I said, and he
answered: “God knows where to, I don’t!” and laughed. We had some boiled
eggs and a cooked fowl, so we ate something and then slept. When we
awoke the boat was rolling heavily; it was dark, though possibly
daylight up on deck. I curled up by my chum and slept again. Three days
after we emerged, starving and sweating, choked with coal-dust and
looking like two dissipated negroes.

The chief mate said “Hello?” and we gave a grim smile as he said: “I
shall have to take you fellows up to the skipper.” Up we went and stood
on the bridge. The skipper gazed at us through the hot sunshine for a
moment sternly. No land in sight as the boat cut across the Pacific at
twelve knots. “Put them in the stokehold,” he said, and then turned on
his heel and started tramping the bridge once more.

By heavens! I was not built for stokehold work. For a week we shovelled
coal, and became like skeletons, sweating all our vigour away. Then I
played the violin to the engineers, and their chief got the head steward
to appeal for my services in the saloon. My comrade had to work still in
the stokehold, but I took care that he had good food. I commandeered
tins of stewed Californian pears and meat, and built his strength up. He
swallowed them down with coal-dust and repaid me with grateful eyes.

For out at sea with sailors a fellowship exists that is almost unknown
in the cities of the world. I suppose a ray of the illimitable gets into
their brains. The vastness of the ocean, its endless sky-lines, and the
ships appearing through them with singing sailors aloft, then passing
away, just as stars pass singing something in the uncounted ages of God:
these things unconsciously influence their souls and they become
children again, forgetting the respectability of civilisation and
feeling the humanity that makes men die for each other in the desert
spaces and oceans of the world.

Men slumbering in affluence and the tribal pride of some dubious
ancestry often appear soulless. Suddenly stricken with some grief or
poverty, they reveal something really decent in their natures, something
that longed for recognition when the body waxed fat on food and
pride—pride in the barbarian deeds of their ancestors, deeds which done
now would get the doer ten years in Sing Sing or Wormwood Scrubbs.
There’s nothing like living on “hard tack” in a tramp steamer’s
fo’c’sle, or on crab-apples in the Australian bush, or in cities by
playing the violin, to bring out the best or worst in men. Sorrow writes
the true Bible of the universe and expresses all the poetry of
existence.


[Illustration: BOTANICAL GARDENS, BALLARAT, N.S.W.]


Though I have seen much of the world and had many downfalls, the
atmosphere of my boyhood and its ideals remains. I still have deep faith
in God’s merciful Providence, in the friendship of men, and in the
earnest love of women. The old heroes of my dreaming boyhood still move
with me as I travel on; the kindly eyes of earnest men and women shine
through the mists of my memories and sweeten with light my dreaming
existence; not till I die will they die. I love to hear the laughter of
children; their innocent voices and little wails of grief express to me
cries from the great heart of music, till I fancy I can see the flowers
growing over their inevitable graves. In that feeling I love all men and
women; and those who have sinned have my unknown sympathy as well as my
unknown love.

Could I have my own way I would lead a vast army to demolish the mighty
cathedrals and churches of Europe, and to rob the wealth of the altars,
selling the debris and giving the proceeds of the glorious battle in the
cause of true religion to the thousands of starving little city
children, providing covering for their tiny emaciated bodies. God would
be my best friend in fighting for his helpless family and providing
comfort for deserted women and fallen men. There is more true unselfish
religion in saving a butterfly’s life than in moaning for many years in
a cathedral pew about your next lease of life.

But to return to my travels and troubles.

I well remember that stowaway trip. The boat was bound for Sydney. We
had beautiful weather, and when I was a legitimate member of the crew I
did not regret my headlong dip into the stokehold. My comrade and I were
treated well, and my violin brought me respect and applause when I
played in the saloon concert. My fiddle has always been a dear friend,
and wailed passionately on my behalf when I have been in disgrace. I
don’t think I could find a more trustful and soulful companion if I
started off to tramp the world again to-morrow.

As we were flying through Sydney Heads we received a message from the
captain. He wanted to see my comrade and me on the bridge. He was an
elderly, short-bearded man with kind eyes. “Well,” he said, “I shall
have to hand you two over to the authorities when we get in. Have you
anything to say for yourselves?”

“No, sir,” I said; “only we are sorry for stowing away, and wish to
thank you for your kindness to us under such circumstances.”

He said “Um,” and then stopped walking to and fro to say: “Have you got
any money?”

“Yes, sir,” I said. “We’ll go ashore and clear as soon as we get
alongside.”

“I’ll let you off this time.”

We both thanked him, and half-an-hour after the chief mate came up to
us, and saying, “Here you are,” handed us ten shillings each. They do
not always do that when you stowaway, but that was my lucky experience.
I can assure you that seafaring men are the bravest and kindest in the
world; they know it and its ways by instinct. Whenever I hear of a
captain going down with his ship a lump comes up in my throat.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XX

Bombay—My Brother’s Grave—London Streets—Outward Bound—I play at
   Government House—Ballarat—Mosquitoes—Sightseeing in New Zealand—A
   Maori Dance


MY next trip took me to Bombay, where I stayed for a few days at the
English hotel by Fort Hill. The tropical scenery struck me as very
similar to that which I had seen at Colombo, and the heat as terrific,
though feathery tamarisks and palms shaded the tracks. The white
population were waited on by the natives. My father was correspondent
for _The Indian Times_ and my parents had lived in Bombay before I was
born. They knew a great many people there. In my pocket I had a letter
from home. “If you go to Bombay do go and see Mr and Mrs C——, and
whatever you do, dear, be well dressed.” I had heard a lot about those
great people when I was a schoolboy, so I did as I was bid and dressed
up like a prince. When I arrived at the aristocratic, verandahed
building I carefully dusted my boots with my handkerchief and knocked.
When the door opened, and I gave my name to the native servants, an old
man, the great C—— himself, came forward. He was polite to me, and I was
the best-dressed man in the house, so I did not begrudge the money I had
paid for the loan of the suit at the Bombay tailor’s!

Before I left Bombay I went to see my little brother’s grave, Gerald
Massey S. Middleton. He was buried at Colabba Point, and I discovered
his grave at last. A tamarisk tree was growing on it and a few strange
flowers. I felt the kinship of that little grave in a strange land; the
earth did not hide from imagination’s eyes the little dust beneath,
which would have been my big brother if he had lived. I remembered my
mother and father saying how they had felt when their ship went by
Colabba Point, homeward bound for England, and they stood on deck and
gazed inland and thought of their child being left behind. I knew how
they must have felt as I stood there alone and gazed upon the little
stone set between two large vaults. I felt intensely lonely. The Indian
bees moaned in the flowers and palms. I saw my mother, a girl in years
that day, standing weeping by her lost child; she still stood there in
the sunset and shadow as I dreamed. I kissed her, picked a flower and
then walked away, the one solitary mourner that had come after many
years, and probably the last.

Next day I joined my ship and arrived in London six weeks later, only
again to get a berth and go seaward, for the grim respectability of the
city soon haunted me with its stony, nightmare eyes. The very atmosphere
seemed to whisper: “Englishman, Englishman, are you respectable? Where’s
your Bible, your rent-book and your marriage certificate?” I seemed to
hear that humming in my ears as I walked through London’s streets,
miserably cold. I shivered, and jumped into a cab at Waterloo and rushed
off to Poplar. There was a man who lived there, in Abbot’s Road, who was
a crack hand at getting berths on the ships for us.

In a week I was off down Channel, on a Shaw-Saville boat, bound for New
Zealand and Australia, as happy as a swallow flying South. The music of
the sails, bellowing out and flopping to rest, the rattling rigging, the
sailors talking and singing on deck, made me feel intensely happy, and
yet half miserable as I thought of the ship sailing across the world to
a civilised port. I stood on deck wishing there were undiscovered shores
where waves sang, never seen by human eyes, and dreaming of old pioneers
and heroes of far-off ages. I seemed to realise at a very early age that
the light of the Universe, the sun and stars were my religion, and their
mystery my unfathomable mistress with divine eyes.

When the tramp steamer, after toiling along for weeks at sea, sighted
land I stood on her deck the longest, as the far-off shores shaped
themselves, and fancied I could see the old wooden pioneer ships and
galleons that discovered them still hugging the misty shore as sunset
died. Often when far out at sea I would stand on the poop by night for
hours, gazing astern, watching the star-like eyes of the albatrosses,
flitting on the restless winds, till they seemed old heroes, my comrades
out of their graves, on beautiful wings following the new ships. Then
the mate would touch me on the shoulder and say: “Now then, young man,
you didn’t come to sea to dream.” The crew holystoned the decks, the
cook swore in the galley as only a sea-cook can swear, and the
cabin-boy, who had never been to sea before, said, “Is that New
Zealand?” and pointed shoreward. As we rolled along, with all sails set,
he stood on his head as soon as my back was turned, for I saw him in the
glass of the saloon port-holes. I knew how he felt.

I returned to England on the same ship and then got a berth on the
_Seneska_ and went to America. A few years later, and I was again in
Australia, on the P. & O. liner _Britannia_.

A strike was on, and we lay out in Sydney Harbour for two weeks and used
to go ashore in a tender every evening. One night I went ashore and
played at a private concert out at Pott’s Point, and stayed the night as
well. It was a wedding festival, and my host and hostess were kind,
Bohemian folk, relations of Sir Henry Parkes. I cannot remember their
name. They used their influence and secured me a position to play at the
Government House balls in Sydney. I did so well that I got my box off my
ship and left.

At Government House I played as a solo my own composition, _The Monk’s
Dream_, which I had arranged for violin and pianoforte, and _A Soldier’s
Dream Waltz_, with variations. Among the audience was the present
Lieutenant James Ord Hume, who was on a tour through Australia, as
adjudicator for the great military and brass band contests of Australia
and New Zealand. Hearing me play, and finding that the solo was my own
composition, he complimented me, and asked me to go to see him at the
Occidental Hotel. I had a very good time there, for he was most
hospitable. He was then about to leave Sydney for Ballarat. “Would you
like to come on a trip with us?” he said. “Certainly,” I answered, for I
had a considerable amount of money just then and felt that a holiday
would do me good. Mr Hume had not been to Ballarat before and was
delighted with the scenery passing over the Blue Mountains.

In Ballarat we had various experiences, and I worked, digging for gold,
down the chief gold mine, the War-Hoop Mine. We went outside the town
and got into the bush too; for though Ballarat is a beautiful town, with
splendid buildings, one can walk in a very short time right into the
bush and see scenery equal to the Queensland landscape. The Botanical
Gardens are also very beautiful and reveal patches of primeval
Australia. We took snapshots of the Wendowee lakelet, because of the
pretty little plump Colonial girls standing by the banks; they were
nut-brown with the sun.

Mr Ord Hume went out to see a friend who lived in the bush, but we only
stayed two nights. There was a stable and swamp near our bedroom window,
and when, after enjoying the squatter’s hospitality and a musical
evening, we went to bed, though we rubbed ourselves with kerosene oil
and smoked, the mosquitoes charged down on our feet and faces in Hunnish
regiments. At midnight we called our host, and he came to our door in
his nightshirt and told us to rub some whisky on our faces and on our
feet, and gave us a full bottle of the best brand. Directly he had gone
we closed the door, wiped the sweat from our perspiring brows and drew
the cork to rub our ravaged bodies.

“Don’t you think if we took the stuff internally and then smoked that
our breath full of the fumes would keep the cursed mosquitoes off?” I
suggested. Mr Hume quite agreed with my suggestion, which eventually
turned out to be a most disastrous one for the mosquitoes, for we drank
the whole bottle and then went to sleep, and never felt one mosquito
bite the night through, nor did we wake till long after sunrise.

I think it was four days before the great band contest, which Mr Ord
Hume was in Ballarat to adjudicate on, came off. The whole of Ballarat
came to it. It was at that contest that I first became enthusiastic over
bands. I felt the fire and go in the Australians’ performances; their
bands cannot be beaten the world over.

We saw a good deal of life in Australia together before I left
Lieutenant J. Ord Hume, a few weeks after the Ballarat concert,
arranging to see him later in New Zealand, where he was going to
adjudicate at other band contests.

I went as a passenger on a boat to New Zealand, and when I had been a
few days in Auckland I saw by the newspapers that Mr Hume had arrived to
judge the great New Zealand band competitions at Masterton and
elsewhere. I managed to be there. The weather was glorious, also the
applause of the New Zealanders as the bands marched by.

I travelled with Mr Hume by train over the Rimnatuka Mountain from
Wellington to Masterton. It took three engines to take the train over
the rocky ledges and slopes. The grade is one in fifteen in many places.
The bush-land and mountain scenery is equal to anything in Australia,
for the scenery of New Zealand is wildly magnificent.

After Mr Ord Hume had judged and conducted the massed band performances
at Auckland he kindly invited me to join him, and we went off
sight-seeing, visiting bush-lands, rivers and hot springs, old tribal
battle spots and Maoris in their pahs. Maori guides led us up mountains
and across volcanic chasms, and took a great deal of trouble on our
behalf. They knew that Mr Ord Hume had specially come across the world
to judge the bands, and so they took us everywhere as their guests.

Things had altered a good deal since my New Zealand visit of a year or
so before. We went across the bush, on the way to Wanganuis river, and
passed through thick, jungle-like forest and scenery that made us forget
the world behind. I remember we came across one Maori pah where we got
the Maoris to stand and have their photographs taken. I played the
violin again, as the thick-haired Maori girls chanted and danced. They
have many kinds of dances, and the rhythmical movement of their bodies
is equal to the weird beauty of the South Sea Island Siva dances.

Some of the Maori girls are exceedingly handsome, but they fade at an
early age. I remember one girl who was both handsome and
intellectual-looking; her features were delicate and soft, refined
through not being too perfect. She had a clear voice, and I extemporised
an obbligato on my violin as she sang in the pah. The chiefs and women
were enthusiastic in their applause. One ancient chief was thickly
tattooed in engraved, ornamental lines and looked exceedingly majestic.
He spoke English perfectly, and I was deeply interested in the many
things he told us of his younger days. He was a prince by blood and,
like the old chief whom I told you of in a preceding chapter, remembered
the days when the rival tribes met in battle, or his tribe resented the
white man’s encroachment on the tribal lands.

I visited North and South Island and saw many of the geysers. Waimana
Geyser is often in eruption and throws up volcanic steam and matter nine
hundred feet, and then quiets down. I tramped along in tourist fashion
with my gay companion; helped take snapshots, and spoilt a good many! We
saw, too, the Waimango Basin, the hot springs and the “Devil’s Frying
Pan,” where one could stand up to one’s ankles in fire. We stopped with
a guide called Warbuck and had a fine time. From there we travelled
everywhere, and camped out for several nights, just for the romance and
fun of it. We cooked our potatoes and boiled eggs in the hot springs of
the Kerern Geyser, Rotorua.

After that I secured a position as violinist in an orchestra at Auckland
and bade Mr Ord Hume good-bye, for soon after he left New Zealand.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I will now return once more to my old Bohemian days. Away from
respectability that whitewashes men, back away from the mighty orchestra
of moving cogs and wheels, and from the crowds of cold eyes, thirsting
for the gold which is necessary to keep them warm in white-collared
respectability, back over the seas to the forests of Maori land, to the
cry of the curlew and huja in the trees, by the old pahs of Orakan,
where Herowera, the old-time warrior, sat by the rushing river waters.
His tattooed, engraved face is alive with memories. Once again he tells
me of the mighty Rewi Maniapoto and the _esprit de corps_ that bound the
tribes together in their fierce battles, when Maoris fought as bravely
for their rights as the old Britons still do. Still I fancy I hear
pretty Rewaro, the Maori maid, singing her chant as she listens to the
old chief’s reminiscences of mighty deeds and battles of yore. In the
birch and eucalyptus trees sigh old winds, and from the mysterious gloom
of moonlit Arcadia come soft, weird sounds of Maori musical instruments.
I could write chapters about the Maoris and their habits, and their
wonderful poetic legends of dead chiefs singing in the forest, and
maidens made of sea-foam brightly dancing in the glimpsing moonlight of
forest rivers. I have seen Maoris stare down the main streets of
Masterton and swear that they could see the rivers rushing along in the
moonlight, and the canoes bearing the tribes over the swirling falls,
while Maori maids, with their beautiful hair lifting in the winds,
danced on ghostly, primeval waters.


[Illustration: RIVER SCENE IN NEW ZEALAND]


I have felt as they feel when they see the city spires rising over their
enchanted lands, for I can dream as they dream and awake to the same
reality. Were I to rise, as a man in a dream, and go back across the
years and pitch my tent on the old spot in Queensland where I camped, I
should be moved on for obstructing the tramcars, and yet I am still a
young man, so you will see how great is the change in a few years. I
remember my self-made hut home, fashioned by my own hands, my comrade
pulling the thick bush grass and boughs for the walls. How happy we were
in that little room as the river sang, travelling onward. Just below we
picked the ripe yellow oranges from the deep grass under the scented
trees, where often my parrot raced me across the slope and flew by me
sideways with its cut wing and won the race as I let it pass. I remember
how, before the parrot died, it walked up our cabin walls screaming,
with its tongue hanging from its beak; how great was my grief as its
tiny jewel eyes opened and closed for the last time. That death was the
great sorrow of our hut life, and we buried the poor bird, as parents do
a beloved child, by the riverside. We went that same night over the
slopes to the camp of aborigines, who cheered us up as they danced the
corrobboree, while I played the fiddle under the moonlit gums. The old
women were as black as ebony, and they also jumped and beat their hands
on their skinny thighs, while old and young men, almost naked, whirled
round the smouldering camp fire, with their ribs painted white, looking
like hideous, screaming skeletons. We gave them cakes of plug tobacco,
and in return they would dance. Sometimes they would just begin and then
stop and say: “Me no dance, want more baccy first.” I used to answer:
“You no dance? Then me no play music.” Then their thick lips would flop
together, as they all grinned, and off they would start, whirling round
in the old brown Government blankets which they wore over their
shoulders something after the cavalier fashion of romantic ages. One old
fellow had a tremendous head and was the tribal musician; he played a
bone flute, the thigh-bone of some ancestor. He blew four notes on it
and played them repeatedly; and the dusky forms chanted and jumped round
him, beating their black breasts with their hands. This is how the
thigh-bone wailed to the lips of its posterity: [Music: _Aboriginal._]
Those wild black men had creeds and poetic legends of their bush world,
much the same as the wild white men. For some historic ancestor’s deed
with the boomerang filthy old men and women were waited on by the
low-caste tribe, who gazed upon their aboriginal gentry with awestruck
eyes, and pushed hot, cooked white grubs and eel-like snakes into the
big black lips of the aristocrats, who sat by the camp fire and opened
their huge mouths in a listless way, their black, protruding bellies
heaving in the bloated affluence of their high lineage.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXI

At Sea in Dreams—In London Town—Off to Bordeaux—Our Chateau—In
   Biarritz—Old Madrid—I am a Spanish Troubadour—Mercedes—My old Comrade
   ceases to sing


                I am a rolling, rolling stone;
                  Stern-fashioned in the mould
                Wherein God recasts sand and bone,
                  I glitter with pure gold—
                His workmanship, of course, not mine.
                  So still I roll along,
                A sad old stone, half gem-divine,
                  Gathering moss and song.

                God made me; yet I am weak throughout—
                  I feel this as I roll,
                By deep wild waters knocked about,
                  But like my friend the mole,
                Hid ’neath the earth and flowers, I peep
                  Up through a crack and spy
                Another world, from darkness deep
                  I see a great blue sky.

                So on I’ll roll and roll; until
                  On some wild torrent’s leap
                I fall into the mighty mill,
                  Sink in the ocean’s deep.
                To lie quite still as ages fly
                  ’Neath stars up o’er the main,
                Till, brought up by the Diver, I
                  Go rolling on again!

FROM those wild bush-lands I passed away into the cities and on to
ships, then again back to the cities and seaports of the world.

I have often thought of the old crews that I sailed with as a boy. I’ve
met them sometimes in grog saloons and sailors’ homes in seaport towns
of far-away countries; only some of them though—for many went down to
the sea in ships and never returned. I have stood alone at night, in the
far-off seaport’s little street, and heard the drunken laughter of
sailormen by their ships at the wharves below as I gazed into the
windows of the second-hand slop-shop at the relics. Old binoculars,
compasses, oilskin caps and big sea-boots hanging on pegs, in rows, for
sale. As I looked a mist crept under the rotting rafters of the dingy,
musty, oil-lit room, the old oilskins swelled, and bearded wraiths of
dead sailors danced. The big sea-boots tumbled about in a jig by the
broken window as I watched, and sounds of long-dead laughter echoed in
my ears. Then up the little seaport street, from the bay, came a gust of
wind and blew me into the fo’c’sle of a ship far away at sea. I played
the fiddle to the dancing dead men and climbed aloft as their hollow
voices shouted a muffled, windy chantey. The old skipper, with his hand
arched beneath his oilskin sou’wester, looked up aloft and shouted, and
we all echoed back: “Aye, aye, sir,” and my comrade touched me on the
shoulder and said: “Come on, Middleton, you don’t want to buy any of
those d——d old oilskins.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Once more I found myself off, homeward bound round the Horn, crashing
and rolling along, the howling sails aloft singing to the humming winds
that we loved to hear, for the harder they blew the sooner we should be
in England.

When I arrived in London the autumn rains were falling, and the
population of the mighty city of pavements and stone walls moved along
under a myriad umbrellas, as old St Paul’s at flying intervals voiced
forth from its mellow, iron throat the flight of Time.

Some musical friends in the city had suggested to me that I should do a
wise thing if I went to the fashionable winter resorts in France. The
idea struck me as a very good one. I was told that instrumental players
had gone to France, Spain and Italy and come back wealthy. I had seen a
good deal of the world, at its outposts, and had not succeeded in making
even a portion of a fortune, so I resolved to get out of England without
delay. Before I went I felt that I must have a comrade. The thought of
old age with its boon companion, decrepitude, had always filled me with
a strange horror, as something worse than death, and so for old age I
always felt a commiseration and tenderness which gave me confidence in
grey hairs, which often got me into trouble, but more often brought
advice and sensible comradeship.

When in London, a year or so before, I had made friends with a gentleman
whose name was Bonnivard. He had been educated in France, was a clever
man and could speak French, Spanish and Italian. It struck me that if I
could find out his whereabouts I might persuade him to come with me, for
he was a jovial man, and his knowledge of French would help me in my
travels. To tell you the truth, too, I was rather short of money and
thought perhaps he might even lend me a little towards the expenses of
the trip. I was getting older, and experience had taught me that too
much money was not so inconvenient as too little. I went off to his
villa in the suburbs; the old place had “To Let” in the window. No one
in the district knew of his whereabouts, but at last, just as I was
almost disheartened and giving up the thought of finding him, I met a
gentleman who had known him. He at once gave me his address—inmate,
Homerton Workhouse, Hackney! I was very much upset. I knew too well what
trials, insults and sufferings my friend must have experienced before he
sought a haven of rest in that terrible inquisition, the English
workhouse.

I went to Homerton. The officials treated me most politely directly they
discovered the reason of my visit. When I told my old comrade I wanted
to take him to France, as my guest and interpreter, I was considerably
affected by his delight. He had aged since I had last seen him; the old
stiff military moustachios had turned white and had lost their
aristocratic, upward twirls. Next day they were once more alert and
alive with renewed majesty, and the handsome old face, though deeply
wrinkled, was boyish-looking with delight. He was a new being in his
frock-coat and tall hat, which I purchased remarkably cheaply at a
pawnbroker’s shop. The gloss of his hat was perfection, and as he
smoothed it with his sleeve, in the old way, he laughed almost
hysterically, with a schoolboy’s laughter, but my ear detected the
wizened, high note of age in it, and it made him more pathetic than
ever.

The next day, with his dead wife’s photograph and his travelling kit in
my box, as steerage passengers we went down the Thames together, both
happy, on board the s.s. _Albatross_, bound for Bordeaux.

Arriving at Bordeaux, we found it advisable, owing to the state of our
exchequer, to live outside in the suburbs, so we rented a pretty little
chateau in the Rue V——, Cauderon. The weather was bitterly cold, and we
spent a good portion of the day in trying to make our coke fire burn.
Every night we walked into Bordeaux and got a good feed in a restaurant;
one franc fifty centimes secured us several courses, with a bottle of
wine each included. I wandered about Bordeaux a good deal, and went down
the leafy pathways of the Botanical Gardens, but could not appreciate
anything owing to the cold winds. I had thought to visit spots
associated with the old French philosopher, Montaigne, who doubtless in
his day wandered over the historic streets where I now walked looking
for violin engagements. In my sea-chest at our chateau I had Montaigne’s
Essays, and I satisfied myself by lying in my bed and reading the deep,
innocent wisdom of the great Frenchman. Near where we lived there was a
wine merchant and many residents who, I think, worked in the vineyards.
From the merchant we got credit, and things eventually became so bad
that we lived for some time on wine and haricot beans. At last I secured
a course of concert engagements at English and French clubs and
concerts.

My comrade and I invited the wine-seller and several Frenchmen to supper
every night, and the little chateau with “Zee Engleise gentlemen” in it
rang with song as a French harp-player and I played. Long after midnight
the noise went on: they all lifted their arms and opened their mouths,
while Mr Bonnivard told those chivalrous Frenchmen of his experiences in
the Siege of Paris. They were delighted with my comrade’s yarns, and he
went on spinning them vigorously. I could not speak French, so I could
only watch their faces expressing horror or surprise as he fired away.

About two weeks later the smash came. The rent of the chateau was a
hundred francs a month and was due; we also owed the wine-seller for
about a hundred bottles of red and white wine. It was cheap enough,
fourpence a litre.

We could not possibly pay the rent, but we held a hurried and private
council and resolved to give our friend the wine-seller fifty francs and
send the remainder after we arrived at Biarritz. We dared not give him
more, otherwise we should not have our fare. We intended sending the
rent to the agent, who was a little Frenchman and lived round the
corner, directly we had some luck, and we did do so.

Before we went away we invited them all to a grand supper, which ended
at midnight with the stirring _Marseillaise_. We had to be at the Midi
station by ten o’clock next morning. The cab arrived; we first went to
the agent to tell him we were obliged to leave for the English season at
Biarritz and would send the rent on, but he was out, so off we drove. We
had no sooner turned the corner of the street than the agent passed us
in a small chaise and spied us and our boxes. About five minutes after
we saw him chasing after us, about a quarter of a mile behind, shouting
at the top of his voice. “Hadn’t we better stop and explain?” I said to
my companion. But he would not do so; a whole regiment of gendarmes with
drawn swords behind us would not have disturbed him, but would have
simply supplied more excitement to the splendour of his “La Belle
France.” He compared everything that happened around him to his life in
the Homerton Workhouse, and so rubbed his hands with delight, and
shouted in French to the driver, who at once whipped up the horse, and
away we rumbled at full speed. I painfully felt that we were not in the
South Seas, and began to feel uncomfortable when I noticed that the
little agent was gaining upon us. I had come to France to make my
fortune, and the prospect did not appear much better than it did when I
was seeking wealth in the Australian gold-fields a few years before. I
stood up and shouted “Two francs more” in the driver’s ear. He seemed to
understand, and gave the poor horse another slash, and as we flew by the
French people rushed from their villas and shops, thinking a fire engine
was passing through the maze of Bordeaux’s streets. We eventually lost
sight of the agent, caught the train and arrived in due course at
Biarritz.

In Biarritz I did well: played at the Casino and gave private concerts
at the different clubs and hotels where the wealthy English visitors
stayed, the Hôtel de Paris, Hôtel d’Angleterre and Hôtel du Prince. The
British residents consisted of titled folk: high chiefs, princes and
princesses, descendants of old tribes of blue-blooded lineage. My
comrade was worth his weight in gold; his engaging manner enabled him to
take liberties with old colonels and the austere English “set” which
would have been strongly resented if perpetrated by anyone else. I saw
aristocratic old gentlemen flush and clutch their falling eyeglass with
astonishment as he smacked them on the back, but they recovered and were
amused by his manner, for his appearance and address revealed a
personality and intellectual quality equal to their own.

We also went to Bayonne, an old-fashioned city surrounded by crumbling
ramparts. They had a splendid military band there and played
brilliantly. My companion was so delighted with the change in his
affairs that he sang my songs and no one else’s as he walked and hummed
by my side.

Before we left Biarritz we stayed for a week at the Hôtel St Julien. Mr
Morrison, who ran it, gave a farewell concert on our behalf and refused
to accept anything for our stay in his hotel. My comrade loved singing,
but had no voice for expressing the love. Mrs Morrison heroically
presided at the piano as he sang, over and over again, the one song
which he sang other than my compositions. It was _The Heart bowed down
with Weight of Woe_. Mr Morrison would clench his teeth and drink a
stiff glass of cognac, and then, as the old fellow bowed in a courtly
way, encore him! Our host was a clever literary man, and had all the
kindness and sincerity of a true Bohemian gentleman. My old friend and I
were sorry to bid him and his kind wife good-bye. They made us up a
hamper of savoury food and told us to write to them if we ever got into
a tight corner.

With about five hundred francs in our possession we crossed the
Pyrenees, and after a month’s travelling, playing at various concerts
and Spanish festivals, we arrived at Madrid. We secured apartments in
the old Moorish quarter, then sallied forth and mingled with the swarthy
population. The avenues and parks were alive with youths and beautiful
dark girls with Arab eyes and glorious dark or bronze hair. Groups of
roystering men stood about smoking cigarettes. They looked like a
mixture of Italian, Moor, Turk and Arab, so reminiscent were they of
those races. We wandered by the Puerta de Sol and in the crowded streets
near by, and aristocratic, sharp-bearded hidalgos, with large-brimmed
sombreros on the heads and cloaks thrown over their shoulders, passed us
like cavaliers of the mediæval ages. Till I became used to the scene
round me I felt that we walked the streets of some old, lost city; that
the sailors of the Spanish Armada still had lovers among the Spanish
beauties who sang in groups as they passed us, wearing short, ornamental
skirts and coloured kerchiefs loosely swathing their heads of thick dark
hair. The Spaniards gazed over their mantled shoulders with admiring
eyes, and the laughing, flattered Spanish maidens reciprocated their
gallant attention by gazing back with amorous eyes at their handsome
figures, with black velvet breeches, slashed at the sides to reveal pink
drawers and frills. The _fajas_ (sashes) of the men vied in vividness of
colour with the gay swathing of the fair, bronzed maids.

We strolled on the banks of the Manzanares river by moonlight and seemed
to walk through fairyland, though by day hundreds of Spanish women used
the river as a washing-tub, and forests of clothes props and stretched
lines blossomed forth with delicate and beautiful undergarments of silk
material. The hildagos’ velvet breeches and the maids’ fajas fluttered
cheerfully side by side in the winds among the chestnut groves, and
often the cavaliers and dark-eyed maids that owned them lay tucked in
bed till the laundress brought them home, so poor were they.

My comrade could speak Spanish fairly well, and kept excitedly telling
me so many things that I remembered none of them. In the cheap quarter
of the town, where touring violinists and poets generally reside,
mysterious smells of garlic and cooking steams killed the romance that
hovered about the beautiful terraced architecture of Madrid.

I looked in vain for a position as violinist, but it was not to be had,
or the salary was only sufficient to enable one to live on garlic. So I
was forced to become a Spanish troubadour and go off serenading affluent
hidalgos. Fortunately I very soon replenished our dwindling exchequer.
My comrade, having been educated in France, could bow as royally as the
Spanish señores, and conducted all the financial part of the business.
We went into partnership with our landlady’s daughters, who played the
guitar and mandoline, and I conducted the troupe. When the festival
carnivals began a week later we had a glorious time and made enough
money to enable us to live comfortably. I played my Samoan waltz,
arranging it for two violins, guitar and mandolines, and the wild
barbarian note of the strain was very popular. Maidens, who looked like
Arab girls with shining eyes, whirled and swayed in the arms of their
Don Juans, as under the Spanish moon my cheerful troupe tinkled away and
I played the violin. Except for their artistic gowns and the sashes
flapping as they danced, I saw the South Sea Islanders dancing before
me; the same abandonment was there. Their musical voices, as they sang
the refrain, brought back to me wild tribal dances of the South Sea
forest, where a few years before I had conducted the banging war-drums
and wedding music for cannibals, high chiefs, dethroned kings and
discarded queens.

Pretty Mercedes and Mary, her sister, sang minor melodies in duet style
as I extemporised an obbligato on my violin. They then danced the Jota
Aragonesa and other dances, and little children romped about and
imitated bull-fights, singing wildly all the time.

After the carnival was over my comrade and I strolled about the sleeping
city, and visited the old quarter of alleyways and gloomy buildings and
hidden dens where suspicious characters met and loose lovers played
guitars and mandolines. We watched old priests shuffling along to visit
the sick señores, who had fed on garlic and walnuts, and lived in
Madrid’s East End, but dressed in the blue, open days in majestic
splendour and vivid colour.

We went to the many temples of Madrid. They are seldom silent, for up
their aisles creep gentle Spanish girls, who come in, cross themselves
and kneel in prayer to Jesus and the Holy Virgin. The earnestness of it
all would soften the hardest cynic. Old priests abound, and revel in the
confessions of those innocent girls as they bow their heads with shame
and confess that they have thought more during the week of Don Juan’s
stalwart, lithe figure than of the Holy Virgin. As they pass one sees
them crossing themselves and murmuring their prayers. At the doors
wrinkled old women pester one with little boxes of wax matches, walnuts
and photographs of Madrid and the Blessed Virgin. If one buys a cent’s
worth of anything from them they follow on for three hundred yards,
calling down the blessing of God, Jesus and the Virgin on one’s head.

At night-time, when the moon is high and the olive-trees and palms are
windless and still, down the white-terraced avenue goes Don Quixote
astride his ass, twirling his moustachios, till far away, with Sancho
Panza by his side, he fades under the moonlit chestnut groves. From the
forests of alleyways steal appealing figures, with eyes that beg for an
admiring glance, and in strange, soft tones wail of sorrows and no food
or place to lay their weary heads. Give them a coin and pass on, they
cross themselves and mention the Holy Virgin’s name, and you realise
there is something wrong with the world, for the cry of the Virgin’s
name sounds sincere. All the cities have that frail woman begging the
world to be her husband, because she never secured one good man to love
her and rear those bonny boys and girls who wail to be born in the
infinite shadows behind her. It is a sorrow that has even spread across
the world and reached the island tribes of the South Seas.

Standing on the garden roof of our house in Madrid we could see the
country round, a barren country, and looking like the Australian
Never-Never Land in a civilised state. It is dotted with dusty tracks
and old isolated inns; herds of goats and mules fade far across the
tracks, looking like droves of rats in the desert distance.

There are beautiful spots in Madrid, on the banks of the Manzanares, and
firs, beeches and chestnuts shade the waters and the slopes by the Royal
Gardens.

At night I used to lie in my attic room and listen to the nightingales
singing in the chestnut-tree outside my window, its mate piping back
approval from another tree at regular intervals. My old comrade lay fast
asleep on the next trestle bed, for the Spanish hidalgos gave him
cognac, and on the way home from the festival concerts he would clutch
me tightly by the arm, as little Mercedes and Mary laughed by my side.
In the morning he used to say: “Dear boy, whatever was it that overcame
me last night? It’s that wretched garlic.”

Sometimes when we were short of money we lay on our beds smoking, and he
would tell me of the Siege of Paris, his terrible experiences there, and
how he ate his share of the elephant and lion steaks from the Zoo.
Becoming philosophical, he would tell me of his boyish aspirations, the
happiness he got out of them and the worry from the events that never
happened. I would say: “Supposing we run right out of money, what about
food and a bed?” Then he would cheer me up by saying: “My dear boy,
all’s sure to be well; we are certain to be _somewhere_ and sleep
_somewhere_ whatever happens.” Then, as was his wont, he would lick his
thumb and push the old cigar stump into his pipe and hum my last
melody—a melody that no publisher would buy—till I, secure in his
philosophical comradeship, fell asleep. He never professed or spoke on
religious matters, but each night he knelt by his bed before he got in
and lit his pipe.

We were very happy in the house of Señora Dolores; she treated us as
though we were dear relatives. In her little attic room I spent the
happiest hours of my Continental travels. I lay half the night reading
my beloved Montaigne’s essays. The old French Shakespeare was my best
dead learned friend. If ever I was worried and could not sleep for
thinking I went to my sea-chest and brought him out. I read some of his
essays over twenty times, but they were always fresh, wise and sincere,
and I still read them. In that little room I also read poetry’s
legitimate child, Keats. As my dear comrade slept on I fell in love with
Madeline and roamed with Endymion, Lamia and Hyperion. The nightingale
singing outside

              “Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
               Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn”

as the moonlight glimmered through my little room. I have read somewhere
that Keats was earthly. I think if he had lived his intense genius would
have fought for the sorrows of humanity, and his marvellous mind made
literature and our country even better than it is. It may be centuries
before earth, capable of bringing forth such spiritual flowers as his
earthliness did, will be born again.

Poor little Mercedes! She crossed herself and murmured the Holy Virgin’s
name many times as we bade her and her sister good-bye, and I thought of
Madeline, and felt sad that the days of gallant knights and amorous
warriors were gone for ever. I can still see their eyes shining through
sorrow as we said farewell; even the old mother’s wrinkled face blushed
as we kissed the three.

We went from Madrid to Valencia, where we stayed for three weeks, and
then left by boat for Marseilles, and then on to Nice, and finally to
Genoa. My comrade was the happiest of men as he tramped beside me; he
loved to carry my violin. We started to write an opera together,
entitled _The Siege of Paris_. He was delighted as he gave me thrilling,
realistic details of all he had witnessed. I tried to place them in
lyrical form and wrote suitable melodies round the tragic events. He
knew as much about authorship as I did, but I believe, with the help of
his clever head and earnestness, we should have amply made up for our
artistic deficiencies and lack of literary method.

The manuscript still remains unfinished, as we left it, for not long
after he ceased singing my songs. The brief sunlight between the
workhouse and the grave faded and disappeared. When I turned away from
his last resting-place I was the only mourner, and as I went away into
our mysterious world once more I felt very lonely.

So end the intimate reminiscences of my wanderings, most of them
experiences up to my twenty-second birthday. Whether I have succeeded in
giving the reader an insight into the personality of the writer, such a
glimpse as an autobiography is supposed to give, I do not know.
Personally, I think it is a hard thing to do in a thorough sense,
especially for a vagabond at heart. Each individual is a multitude of
struggling ancestral strains, and real active life is manifested in the
fight, the fierce hunt to find ourselves; which we can never do, for we
die every moment that we live. So all we can attempt in a book is to
tell truthfully those things that impressed us deeply at different
periods of our life, so deeply that they still remain imprinted on the
mind. Also to tell of our experiences for better or worse in this life
of ours, where one footstep taken out of the track that we have known
and write about would have altered the whole book of our life to another
colour.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXII

I arrive at the Organization—Bones and his Officials—Mabau, the
   Maid—Chief Kaifa—Mabau in trouble—I advise her—Thakambau’s
   Harem—Chief Kaifa on Christianity—Enoch—Escaped
   Convicts—Music—Witchcraft—The Hermit Missionary


                              ... While sweetly some
                Play on soft flutes and lyres, I, by gum!
                Beat with delight the big barbarian drum
                Before this drama of the great Limelight
                Of stars—and dancing shadows infinite.

THE best part of truth is hidden in the heart of humanity. How different
is that which we reveal from that which we think of in silence. Our
outward demeanour is civilisation; our hidden inward cravings are
barbarism. To some extent these pages will deal with the savage
instincts of the natives of tropical isles, and with men who have found
refuge in those lands far from the cities of the Western world.

To tell you of the semi-heathen is much akin to telling you of
ourselves, for are not the barbarian instincts which we all have within
us our own tiny, savage, dusky children? We chide them for their
waywardness, but do we not encourage them in secret, as the savage
outwardly does, expressing joyously that which we are ashamed of? One
has the virtue of truth and the other of polished deceit.
Notwithstanding this, I think civilisation the best of all possible
things. Truly, however, civilisation is built on a quicksand, and now
that the Fijian forest battles and cannibalistic feasts have become
fierce and gruesome history the great tribalistic clash of nations, in
full swing as I write, reveals more than words the relentless link that
binds white and brown men together.

Once when I was wandering in the Marquesan Group I suddenly came across
the ruins of an old cannibalistic amphitheatre standing lonely by the
forest palms. The stone cooling-shelves, whereon once lay the dead men
and women in hot weather, were still intact, but thickly overgrown with
moss and sheltered by bamboos; the festival arena and its surroundings
of artistic savagery were all gone; the barbarian log walls had fallen.
Wild tropical vines, smothered with wild flowers, thickly covered all
that tomb-like place, where savages once ate their foes and whirled in
the cannibalistic dance, revealing the shapes of the stone edifice, the
_pae-pae_,[15] the turrets and log walls. The savage tribes with their
sighs and laughter lay dead, silent dust in the forest hard by. I looked
up through that amphitheatre-shaped growth. It was night; I saw the
stars glimmering through the dark palms as the trade wind stirred them.
Now I think those vanished walls were as civilisation, and the green
clinging boughs remaining and revealing the amphitheatre’s shape sad
humanity clinging to the best it has left.

Footnote 15:

  Altar.

The simile may not be perfect, but neither is anything that is human.
But I must ramble on my way, for I am now well on the road to my
reminiscences of Fiji.

Years ago, just off the Rewa river, which is navigable fifty or sixty
miles inland, there was a wooden shanty. It had two compartments; the
walls were made of coco-palm stems tied strongly together with wild
hemp. Situated at a lonely spot, surrounded by primeval vegetation,
coco-palms, backa-trees and wild, tropical, twining vines, it was
eminently suitable for the purpose for which it was used, for in its
snug rooms lived the men who were members of the Charity Organization of
the South Seas! The officials did not run the place on Western lines,
for it was a true home for the fallen: no questions were asked when
suddenly the hunted, haggard, unshaved face appeared; to be hunted was a
sufficient reference to enable the applicant to be at once enrolled as a
member. Twelve fierce-eyed, rough-looking men, attired in big-brimmed
hats and belted trousers, would greet the new arrival, and with the
instinct of bloodhounds stare, and reckon up the new visitor’s pedigree.
If he looked sufficiently villainous and haggard, and pathetically told
the woe of some criminal ambition that had been frustrated by the
vigilant eye of civilisation, he was immediately given the first grade
diploma, a tin mug of the best Fijian rum! If he still possessed any
part of the spoil he could have an extra mugful, for the Organization
was not a rich one. A little off-side room was artistically arranged; a
small looking-glass, brush and comb, and all those things that tell of
gentleness and frailness completed its furniture. There it was, silent,
clean, tenantless and ready, for often from other lands, with the spoil,
the missing man would arrive with the cause of his downfall weeping
beside him, and in there she slept!

No one could tell the individual histories of these men. It will be
sufficient to say that they were there.

Ere I proceed I must tell you that when I speak of the Organization’s
whereabouts I mislead you in the name only; the true vicinity
characteristically resembles my description. It is obvious that to be
faithful to those who befriended me I must be secretive in some of the
details which tell of this isle of the South Seas, where men sought, and
probably still seek, a harbour of refuge safe from the stern law of
civilised cities. To-day this institution exists and still carries on
its varied work of extreme humanity. The low-roofed den, the old bench
surrounded by the swarthy, unshaved faces of the secretive crew, like
bending shadows in tobacco smoke, breathing oaths as the cards are
shuffled, has disappeared; but still the game is carried on, though in
more magnificent style, for as the cities rise the aristocracy of crime
fortifies itself, becoming more guarded and respectable in outward
appearance. Be assured that I dip my pen in stern experience for that
which I tell you.

When you see these headlines in your daily paper, “Bank Manager
Disappears. Officials in the Dock”, “Mayor and Vicar Missing,” be sure
that the head of the Charity Organization of the South Seas has read the
Colonial cable in _The Marquesa News_ or _Apia Times_, and has rubbed
his hands with delighted expectation, and that his agents are watching
at the warden gates of the high sea ports of the tropic world. Forest
lands, caves and mountain fastnesses and unknown isles of security are
fast disappearing from the world as it becomes polite.

Where the bokai feast roared and revelled, and the Fijian war dancers in
the moonlight of other years whirled, in bloodthirsty revelry, by the
Rewa river, now rise the church spires! Where the ambushed tribe once
watched from the jungle with gleaming eyes pass austere university men
clad in gowns, with Bibles in their hands, to lecture on Christianity to
open-mouthed natives. So things have changed, and the heathenish creeds
of the old days faded, and it is my wish to give you one glimpse of that
which has been.

It was my lot to stay in the Organization I speak of. A mile off was a
small native village, where Mabau, a Fijian maid who helped Bones, the
Organization overseer, to keep the rooms clean and tidy, lived. Bones
was the descendant of one of those old Botany Bay convicts who, escaping
in a boat, put to sea, and eventually drifting ashore in Fiji, made
their homes there, and inculcated in the islanders’ minds the first
contempt for the white race: contempt which, by an age of vigorous
striving, missionaries have at last removed. Bones told me much of his
convict ancestor, who had been transported from England for stealing a
hammer, and so Bones was born in the South Seas. He had a firm, open
face, grey, English eyes and a Fijian mouth. He was a fairly
well-educated man, and though he looked rough, at heart was kind; he
kissed Mabau’s pretty face as though she were his own child. In fact
Bones in every way struck me as being most suitable for his job of
running a South Sea Charity Organization, which was run upon exactly
opposite lines to the charity organizations of the Western seas, where
the officials have stony eyes and steel-trap mouths. As I have told you,
Bones had neither; and as I sat by him and a strange bird in the
coco-tree sang to the sunset, I felt drawn to him, and told him more
than I would tell most men. It was a beautiful night; most of Bones’s
friends were away, some at work and some at sea on trading schooners.
Bones played the banjo and I the fiddle, and after indulging in some
European and native folk-songs he lit his pipe and I strolled off under
the palms.

It was on this night that I met Mabau again. Now Mabau was a Fijian maid
of rare beauty. She had shining dark eyes and a thick mop of hair; the
graceful curves of her bare brown body as she glided ’neath the sunlit
palms made many Fijian youths gaze enviously upon her. The Chief Kaifa,
her father, sat by his hut door; he had been one of the high chiefs of
Thakambau, the last of the Fijian kings. Kaifa was a majestic-looking
man; in spite of his thick lips he had fine features, with earnest eyes,
and was straight-figured as a coco-palm. As he sat there, dressed in his
native sulu, he smiled as I spoke to his daughter Mabau. I knew more of
her doings than he thought. She was a true daughter of Eve, for her
glance gave no hint whatever that we had met before.

For in my forest wanderings, about two days before the evening I have
mentioned, I had met Mabau. She did not know at first that I had
perceived her in a lonely spot. She knelt on her knees before a rotting,
cast-off wooden idol. Sunset had fired with red and gold the tops of the
coco-palms and forest trees; overhead a few birds were still whistling.
As I approached, and the dead scrub cracked beneath my feet, the
heathen-hearted little maid looked hastily over her bare shoulder and,
seeing me, arose swiftly, as though for flight. My voice must have had a
note in it that appealed to and reassured the guilty forest child, for I
called softly, and then smiled to let her know that from me no harm
should befall her. “Why do you pray to that wooden thing?” I said, and
then I gave the monstrous effigy a kick. With a frightened sigh she
looked up at me and said: “O Papalangi, I love Vituo the half-caste.”
Then with a blush she told me all, and it seemed that the soul of
innocence peered through her eyes and asked for mercy as she looked down
at herself and then up to me again, one hand resting on her brown
breast. I gazed silently and knew all. The perfidious Vituo had stolen
her heart.

“Me killee Vituo; your white God no help me, will he?” she said. I gazed
awhile and said: “Yes, He will, Mabau.” I would not have told this
thundering lie but for the fact that her appealing eyes awoke the best
that was in me, and it was my earnest wish to attempt to stay her from
inflicting any vengeance on her sinful lover which might bring sorrow to
her afterwards.

Encouraged by my kindness, and misunderstanding my gestures as I
endeavoured to explain that she should pray to the Christian God instead
of to the gods of her fathers, she suddenly lifted her arms and started
to chant into the wooden ears of the old idol again. On her knees she
went, swaying her body and arms gently all the while in the mystic,
Mebete charms. She sang on earnestly, and I gazed, astonished to see the
heathen age before my eyes and to feel my ear-drums vibrating to the
primeval lore of the South Seas. Through the forest boughs just overhead
crept the lingering rays of the dying sunset, and two golden streaks
fell slantwise over the praying maid’s brown body, glimmering in her
thick dark hair as her head moved to and fro while she chanted her
despair.

“Mabau,” I said, “where does Vituo live? Why not go and find him, tell
him of your love and offer your forgiveness; he will doubtless take you
to his arms.” In truth I felt this might be, for she was a comely and
pretty maid. At my saying this she answered in this wise: “O white mans,
I long die and go to Nedengi, or Mburanto the great goddess, who love
deceived maids and make gods of children.” Then, with a fierce look on
her dark face, and with heaving bosom, she continued: “Mburanto will
blow the breath of the big wind that will kill him, the wicked Vituo,
and then him once dead will love me again, for good is his soul, though
his body is whitish and wicked.” I saw the depth of her love flame in
her eyes, and I answered: “Mabau, go home, and I will pray to the white
God for you, and will see what can be done to bring this treacherous
Vituo back to you again.” At this, with delight, she rose to her feet,
her eyes and face shining and expressing pleasure at my promise; her
sulu-cloth of woven coco-nut fibre revealed her trembling thighs as,
with the impulsiveness of the Fijian temperament, she started to sing
and do the equivalent of a step-dance.

As I stood there, and the shadows of night thickened, I heard a voice,
and Mr Bones suddenly stepped from a clump of tall fern growth into the
clearing where we stood. “What’s up?” he said, and I knew then that he
had been watching the whole performance. Mabau, who knew him well,
started off, with feminine vivacity, to tell him all her trouble. He
knew her language, and so she was able swiftly to tell her tale. Now
Bones, as I have said before, was a decent fellow, and he listened
attentively all the while that she spoke. Then he turned towards me and
said: “Vituo is a treacherous skunk, and if he plays her false I will
see to it that he gets his deserts. Go home, Mabau, for old Kaifa will
be suspicious of your being out this late hour.” Off she went, and I had
not seen her again till this meeting by her parent Kaifa’s home, when I
digressed to tell you that, notwithstanding her greeting me as though I
were a stranger, nevertheless all that I have told you had happened
between us.

The chief, as I said, gave me a friendly greeting. I had seen him once
before, when he had called at Bones’s homestead and borrowed a mugful of
rum. He was a genuine survival of the old cannibalistic days: though he
had embraced Christianity as best calculated to serve his interests and
requirements, for the Protestant and Roman Catholic ecclesiastics were
very kind to him—he had embraced both the creeds—he still, deep in his
heart, clung tenaciously to old memories and the heathen mythologies of
his tribal ancestors.

By his side sat Mabau, busily weaving a new fringed sulu gown, with
varied patterns decorating its scantiness; for it was the Fiji fashion
to reveal as much as possible of the maid without her being accused of
being absolutely nude. His only surviving wife was a full-blooded
Fijian, and as I sat by his side she squatted on her haunches, busily
blowing, with her thick-lipped mouth, the embers of a tiny fire that
flickered into a thousand stars, to be scattered by her breath, as the
evening meal spluttered.

Chief Kaifa could speak excellent English, and as I stayed on, and the
hour became late, he told me many things of the old days, of dark
beliefs and also of the mighty cannibalistic warrior, Thakambau. As he
spoke, and the moon rose and lit the forest, his eyes brightened as the
old splendour thrilled him, and Mabau, who sat by us alone, for the old
wife had gone to bed in the hut near by, rested her chin on her hand and
looked up with sparkling eyes, listening eagerly, and I saw who
encouraged her and why she had prayed so earnestly to the old forest
idol.

“O white mans,” he said, lifting his dusky arms as he spoke, “the old
gods watch me to-night, and when I pass into shadow-land I shall be
great chief, for am I not still faithful to them? Do I not cling to
those who watched over my birth and gave me life?” As he spoke a strange
bird screamed afar off in the forest palms, and with his dark finger to
his lips he said: “Woi! Vanaka! the dead speak! and they who were
unfaithful to men and maids are being punished by the gods”; for ere he
finished many screams came to our ears, as a flock of migrating wings
flapped under the moon that was right overhead.

Mabau, who had heard this, clapped her hands with delight, and I knew
then that she had but little faith in Vituo’s promises; for I understood
from Bones that he had seen Vituo, and he had pledged his faithfulness
to poor Mabau. I say “poor Mabau” because this is no romance that I tell
you of, but simply an incident in the sad drama of life that came about
through Vituo’s unfaithfulness.

Much that Chief Kaifa told me that night, and on following nights that I
spent in his interesting company, still lives vividly in my memory, and
I think it will be interesting to tell here some things I heard
concerning the monstrous deeds of Thakambau ere the awful royal cannibal
embraced Christianity.

It appeared that Thakambau had six Fijian maids, who were kept in the
royal huts, sheltered and closely guarded by his high chiefs; and though
the missionaries had landed in the Fijian Group, and had even made homes
on the isle, he managed to keep all that which the old chief told me a
close secret. For some time these six maids formed his harem, and they
were proud of the royal favour. In time two of them became mothers, and
when the babies were six months old the high chiefs came in the dead of
night and took them away. As time wore on, and Thakambau sickened of the
secret tribal harem, the mothers disappeared one by one also—only a
scream disturbed the forest silence. Then the bokai ovens, wherein the
dead were roasted, were made hot, and great were the rejoicings of the
cannibalistic natives and the tribal grandees who were favoured by being
admitted and presented at the Court functions.

At last of the six erstwhile maids two only were left, and one night
they too disappeared and ceased to weep, and the harem huts were silent.

Nedengi, the great Fiji god, blessed all those who had joined in the
grand festival whereat the maids had been sacrificed; and as the
assembled tribe sat in the terrible forest arena, drinking kava and
gorging the dead, the Mebete spirits could be heard running, as their
shadow-feet sped across the midnight moonlit forest that surrounded the
bokai ovens; and the cannibals looked affrighted over their shoulders as
they heard the wailing cries of the souls of the dead mothers and maids
whom they were eating being pursued by the souls of dead warriors and
lustful old gods, who hungered after the shadows of beautiful dead
women!

“How terrible!” I suddenly gasped, being unable to control my utterance
as the old chief told me these things. Quickly he looked up at me, and
swiftly I recognised my mistake, for he was very proud of his dead king
and all the horror I have told you. Continuing, I said: “Thakambau was a
great warrior, and the mighty Nedengi approved of his doings, and
sanctioned them, as the white God does ours.”

Though I said that, the old fellow seemed to understand my feelings, and
looking at me half kindly and half fiercely, said: “Nedengi did not
sacrifice his own son! Nor does he send the helpless, blind souls of his
children to the bokai ovens of hell fires to burn in agony for eternity;
nor did he hide in the dark of ages. Why did your mighty one God not
come before? Why did He send you cursed whites to our isles to shout
lies, ravish our maids and steal our lands? Wao! Wao! Why smash our
idols? Show me this great white God! Where, where is this Thing you
prate about? Where?” Saying this, he lifted his eyes to the skies, and
so vehemently did he rattle on, and so many things did he say that
smacked of the truth, that for a moment I hung my head and felt as
though I were the heathen and he the Christian.

Bidding the fierce old fellow good-night, I went swiftly across the
flats, crept into the Home of the Fallen, by Rewa river, and slept.

It was the next day that I met the treacherous Vituo. Bones introduced
me to him, and as I nodded my friend gave me a wink and so I assumed
more politeness. I was much surprised by Vituo’s appearance, for though
he was a half-caste his complexion was almost European. Certainly he was
of a type which would appear handsome to Fijian womenkind, and from his
manner I saw at a glance that he was a mixture of the swashbuckler and
cavalier. I pitied little Mabau exceedingly, for she would, night after
night, come over to see us, and I knew that she came full of hope that
she might meet Vituo, who often came down the Rewa to help the traders,
and to take up cargoes of copra and many other things that grew on the
plantations which were cultivated and toiled over by the natives.

I stayed with Bones for some days; he was extremely kind to me, and I
was glad of the opportunity of getting a rest, and, moreover, the men
who lived with him were strange characters and extremely interesting.
Often new arrivals came, some with heavy beards and some clean shaven,
ostensibly for the purpose of disguise.

One old man, whose name was Enoch, was a quaint old chap and fondly
loved rum. I do not know what he had done in his native land—which I
believe was Australia—but at night he would shout in his sleep and,
suddenly awaking, sit up and gasp, and gaze with relief on the bunks
around him, wherein slept the weary heads of the fallen. Now Enoch was
very artful, for he found out that I was the rum-keeper and so it was my
duty to share out, and night after night I was obliged to get out of my
bed and give him tots of rum to allay the awful pain which a toothache
was giving him. For several nights this kind of thing went on. I advised
him at length to go to Suva and get the offensive molar pulled out, but
no, he would not hear of it. At last, after a wretched week of nights
disturbed by his groans and appeals for rum, I happened to tell him a
joke, and as he opened his mouth wide with laughter I saw to my disgust
that he was toothless!

Often I went out into the forest and, placing my music in the fork of a
tree, stood and practised my violin. The native children would hear, and
come peeping through the tall fern and grass to listen. They became my
little friends. I taught them to dance around me, and they screamed with
delight!

Several times Mabau came to see us, but Vituo did not keep his promises.
She would stand at the Organization door for hours watching the sunset
fade over the hills, and then with staring eyes look down the long white
track, where once he had so eagerly come singing, to fall into her arms.
Bones and I, and even old Enoch, would strive to cheer her up. I used to
play the violin and get her to sing with her soft, plaintive voice some
of the lotu hymns, and so in this way divert her mind from thinking of
her faithless lover. For, to tell the truth, Vituo was now only
interested in a white woman who was staying at Suva. Bones knew of this,
and told me all about it, and so we all felt deeply sorry for Mabau. In
my heart I hated the treacherous half-caste for his heartless behaviour.
Time was going on, and Mabau’s open disgrace fast approaching, and, as
Bones said, it would not be well for her, or Vituo either, when the
truth was out. The old chief, her father, still had a huge war-club
which was the equivalent of Fijian law, and there was no telling what
might happen when her condition was no longer a secret. Poor Mabau! I
still remember her melancholy as I made her sing while I played the low
notes on the violin, for she could follow easily the chords on the G
string, but as the bow travelled up the scale to the higher notes her
ear seemed to fail her. It was interesting to listen to her wild voice,
which so easily sang melodies in the minor key, though as soon as I
played in the major key her voice seemed to grip hold of the notes and
slowly drift the strain from the major to the minor.

One night we were suddenly surprised by one of our companions appearing
at the Organization door with two new members. They were dark-looking
men; one was extremely handsome and very polite, indeed almost courtly
in his salutations as he gently brushed the mug’s rim and swallowed the
proffered rum. Enoch, Mabau and I, sitting on our tubs, watched them
intently as they stood side by side and spoke in broken English to
Bones, who seemed quite satisfied with their credentials, for they were
escaped convicts from Numea. They were unshaved and very
disreputable-looking, but after a wash, shave and brush-up were
considerably changed for the better, and I discovered that they were as
gentle and intelligent as they looked. Reviere, the younger—that was not
his real name—had, in a fit of jealousy, shot a rival in Paris, and so
had been transported to New Caledonia, the French penal settlement, from
where convicts often escaped to live exiled lives in the islands or
Australian cities.

Reviere fell in love with Mabau. He and I became very good friends, and
though I told him of Vituo and all the trouble, still he gazed upon
Mabau as she softly sang with eyes that seemed never to tire of gazing
in her direction.

Reviere had been exiled in a convict prison for over five years, and
Mabau being the first woman whom he had spoken to since he escaped from
incarceration, his infatuation for the Fijian maid was not so surprising
as it would have been under normal circumstances. Alas, though Mabau
approved of his tenderness to her, and seemed somewhat flattered at his
admiring gaze, she did not encourage him; for, notwithstanding the
undress costume of the islanders and the looseness of the sexes in the
native villages, Fijian maids were as modest as, and if anything more
faithful to their lovers than, the maids of civilised lands sometimes
are.


[Illustration: DART VALLEY, LAKE WAKATIPU, N.Z.]


For two nights Mabau disappeared, and Bones being away on a trading
trip, Reviere and I left the Organization officials playing dominoes and
drinking rum and went off south of the Rewa river exploring; for we had
heard that the natives were having high sprees inland and that the Meke
festival dances were in full swing.

It was nearly dusk as we wandered along by the tropical palms and fern
that grew thickly by the tiny track which we followed. Going across a
pine-apple plantation we once more got on to the native road, and before
the stars in heaven were at their brightest we emerged from the thick
bush growth and entered a clearing that extended to the native village
homesteads that stood under the palms and banyans across the flat.

It was a wonderful sight that appeared before us; for the old
chieftains, and native women also, were dressed in war costume, their
bodies swathed in bandages of grass and flowers, and as they danced
wildly they made the scene impressively weird. The general musical
effect sounded like a Wagnerian orchestra being played out of tempo and
tune, but the legendary atmosphere was perfect. It also possessed the
barbarian note of Wagnerian music, which so wonderfully expresses the
German nature and shows that Wagner was a genius for true expression and
anticipation.

The moon came up and intensified the barbaric atmosphere that pervaded
the excited village. From the hut doors peeped the tiny dark faces of
the native children, who applauded with vigour the escapades of their
old grandmother or grandfather, who, back once again in the revived
memories of heathen days, threw their skinny legs skyward and did many
grotesque movements that seemed impossible to old age and the stern
decorum which those little children had erstwhile been used to from
their august parents. Round the space, to the primitive music of thumped
wooden drums (_lais_) and the hooting of bamboo reeds, they whirled; and
then suddenly the vigorous antics would cease and all would start
walking round in a circle, as the maids, almost nude, except for a
blossom or a little grass tied about them, joined in, opened their
thick-lipped mouths in unison and chanted some old strain that smacked
more of heathenism than of the Christianity which most of them were
supposed to have embraced. Under the coco-palms hard by sat several old
women who dealt in South Sea witchcraft. I never saw such pathetically
hideous old hags as they were. Their faces wrinkled up to a
breathing-map of sin and vice as they put their fingers to their
shrivelled lips and warned the innocent girls of sorrows to come,
foretelling dire disaster, or the reverse, to those who appealed to them
for prophecies.

Many of the maidens from the surrounding villages came running up the
bush track and delightedly joined in the circling ring of dancers. A few
of the latter, who belonged to the low-caste toiling natives, availed
themselves of the opportunity to show their figures off, and though the
majority of the dancers were innocent enough, in their way, these looser
ones swayed about and went through preposterous antics, endeavouring to
please the eyes of the semi-savage native men who squatted round as
sightseers. Great was their applause at frequent intervals, and deep the
pleasure of those women who eagerly sought to please the eyes of
prospective husbands.

Reviere and I stood watching this scene; neither of us spoke, so deeply
were we interested in all about us. Then I touched Reviere, and told him
to look behind him; there sat Mabau at the feet of a villainous-looking
old witch who, responding to her pleadings, was doubtless telling Mabau
how to win back Vituo’s love. There she sat, that artless, deceived
maid, rubbing together the magic sticks and repeating word for word all
that the old witch told her. It sounded in this wise: “O wao, we wao,
wai wai, O mio mio, mio mi”; and so on, over and over again. Poor little
Mabau, how fast she rubbed the magic sticks as, unperceived, Reviere and
I watched her from the shadows and the old crony picked her two black
front teeth with a bone skewer and thought over some new phrase for
Mabau and the other maids to repeat after her. Many maids appealed to
her and rubbed the sticks, some crossways and some downways, as they
thought of the bonny promised babies that would be theirs. Two ugly old
divorced wives, who had been foretold new husbands and children if they
rubbed the magic sticks the right way, rubbed and rubbed so hard that
their dark bodies were steaming with perspiration in the moonlight!

Neither of us approached Mabau as we watched; we saw why she had been
absent from us for two nights. We had no doubt that each night she had
sat at the black crone’s feet, listening to her prophecies and doing all
she told her to do with those bits of stick, while Vituo, away in Suva,
made love to the young white woman and thought no more of Mabau, who was
to bring down vengeance on his head for his sins.

Next night Mabau watched at the trysting-place for the old witch’s
prophecies to be fulfilled, but found that Vituo did not come as had
been foretold, so as she knew of an old and lonely missionary who lived
some eight miles from the spot where Reviere and I witnessed the native
fête, she told us that she would go and visit the good white man and see
if he could help her in her sorrow. Finding out from Bones where the
recluse lived, I, being deeply interested, went off the following
afternoon to see him. After four hours’ hard walking I inquired from
some natives, and following a track which was thickly covered with
thangi-thangi and drala growth, arrived at Naraundrau, which was
situated south-east of the Rewa river and not far from the seashore.
There in a secluded spot close by a stream was a small, neatly thatched
homestead. As I approached all seemed silent, deserted and overgrown;
the trees that shaded the hut-like home were heavy with thick,
human-hand-shaped leaves, which intensified the gloom and isolation. I
coughed purposely; the door opened, and there, framed in the doorway,
stood a tall, stooping, grey-bearded man of about seventy or
seventy-five years of age.

“Welcome, my son,” he said as I introduced myself, and he noticed that I
was tired, for the heat of the sun had been terrific and I was parched
with thirst. I had brought my violin with me for companionship and
safety; though I had great faith in the Organization officials, I did
not wish to tempt their integrity by leaving my instrument behind.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XXIII

Father Anster—Fijian Legendary Lore—Forest Graves—The Blind
   Chief—Mythology and Love-making—Falling Stars—The Change—A Drove of
   Native Children—The Village Missionary—A Native Supper—An Old Chief’s
   Reminiscences—Fijian Poets and Musicians—A Tribute to the Humbug of
   Civilisation


I SAT and gazed round that little lonely homestead by the shore-side at
Naraundrau. The scent of the jungle blooms and dead grass crept into my
nostrils as soft winds came up from the sea, blew in at the small
doorway and fell asleep in the leafy hollows. Opposite the doorway, by
his broken coloured-glass window, sat the missionary to whom Mabau had
appealed. He had already given her his advice.

He was a venerable-looking old man, with earnest, sunken grey eyes. As
his aged, bearded lips moved, and he spoke in a sensitive, musical
voice, I at once felt a liking for him, and I seemed to be back in the
days of an age that had long since passed away. For this lonely old
missionary was the sole survivor of the first white men who had exiled
themselves from their native lands with the one intense motive only in
their hearts—to endeavour to preach the word of Christ and better the
conditions of heathen lands. No ambition in his mind had craved for
recognition; he had done his day’s work, and there, weighed down with
years, he waited sadly, yet patiently, the last act of life’s drama, the
call of his Creator, to whose service he had devoted his earnest
existence. He died, quite unknown to men on earth, for if men do not
strive for fame it seldom will come to them, unless they do not deserve
it.

“My son, what brings you this way?” he said, and his grey eyes gazed
kindly at me.

“Father,” I said respectfully, “I heard of you from Mabau, the native
girl who sorrows over her faithless lover, and since hearing of you it
has been my wish to meet you, and here I am.”

Hearing my answer, the old man looked intently at me, and to my great
pleasure I saw that I had impressed him favourably. “Art thou hungry,
lad?” he said. “No, not hungry, but I am exceedingly thirsty, Father,” I
answered; and at that he at once brought out, from a little wooden
cupboard by his side two coco-nuts, and with trembling fingers pierced
the holes with a screw. Very thankful I was as I drank off a tin
pannikin full to the brim of the refreshing fruit milk. After that I
felt much refreshed and more at my ease, as I talked to my host.

At his bidding I took my violin from its case and played the _Ah che la
morte_ from _Il Trovatore_ to him. As the strain died away, and silently
I laid the fiddle down, he crossed his hands over his breast and sat in
the gloom, for night was falling fast. He looked like an old,
grey-bearded apostle carved in stone as he sat there.

“My son, thou playest well, and I am thankful for thy visit,” he
murmured; and I was touched and highly pleased, for deep in my heart I
suddenly felt a tenderness for the lonely old missionary. I saw by the
way he crossed his hands that he was a Roman Catholic. I am a Protestant
by birthright, but his sincerity made me feel more attached to his
denomination than my own.

As night fell and the stars came out he became more talkative and
unburdened himself to me, a fact which I always remember with pride, for
he would not have done so if he had not felt instinctively that my heart
was in sympathy with his.

Rising and lighting an old oil lamp, he stood it on the window-shelf,
and its faint flicker lit up his room. In the corner was a sleeping-mat,
for he slept on the floor in native fashion. His furniture consisted of
two wooden stools, a small bench table and a few cooking utensils.
Outside the door in a cage was a large grey parrot; it looked as old as
its master, was almost featherless and seldom spoke. But now and again
it would gaze sideways at me and without opening its tuneless beak say
in a sepulchral voice, “Good-bye, good-bye,” as though it were jealous
of my conversation with its lonely master. It was a wise old bird,
mistrusted strangers and realised that old age could be tempted and led
away from old friendships by the voice of youth.

As we sat there together the moon came out and shone brilliantly over
the sea, outdoing the dimness of his oil lamp; so brightly did it shine
over the palms that one could easily have read ordinary print.

Taking an old flute down, he started to play upon it, and then with a
sigh laid it back on the shelf and asked me if I should care to stay the
night. “Yes,” I immediately answered. We went out and strolled in the
moonlight, and he told me much of Fiji in the old days. Though he was a
poor and aged man, with only the moonlit forest flowers as his friends,
flowers that would some day blossom over his fast-dissolving dust, the
largess of his sincere heart, all that he told me, has been vast wealth
to my memories through the years, and his dead voice has haunted my
dreams at times.

He too told me of Thakambau; he had known him in his worst days, and
spoke with the famous warrior king when he had at length, after many
councils with his chiefs, decided to embrace Christianity.

As we strolled under the straight-stemmed palms the silvered moonlit
waves splashed over the coral reefs below, and across the waters, like a
weird shadow, passed a canoe filled with singing natives.

“Who sleeps there?” I asked him as we passed a mound of earth whereon
was a cross half hidden in drala weed. He told me that it was the grave
of a white man who had left a ship at Viti Levu and had become attached
to the wife of a notable chief. The chief discovered them together by
the shore, and after a terrible battle, the white man with a rifle-butt
and the chief with a club, the white man fell mortally wounded. In the
struggle the native wife was shot dead, and her spirit, the natives say,
was carried on wings of fire up through the trees towards the stars that
light the shores of that heathen land which was ruled by Mburotu. The
missionary told me that he crept through the forest and with his own
hands dug a grave under the pandanus palms for the slain body of the
white man, and night after night he came and prayed fervently over the
man of his race, asking God to forgive and grant to his soul salvation.

I was much impressed as he told me these things, and also by seeing how,
as we walked along, he would tenderly bend and touch the tall flowers
with his lips. “Under them sleeps the child I loved, or the chief who
fell in some bloody tribal fight,” he would say; and he told me also
that often in the Fijian wilds men, women and children were buried in
spots known only to those who loved and buried them.

That same night as we walked along the narrow track by the shore-side at
Naraundrau the aged missionary took me gently by the arm and, turning up
the inland track, we stood by a native’s conical-shaped hut. In it sat
an old, almost blind chief, the half-brother of Vakambau, a great
warrior who was dead. It appeared that he loved the missionary, and
though he would not give up his heathen faith had, owing to the
supplications of my host, half embraced Christianity.

It was the habit of the Father to call night after night and pray with
the old heathen chief before he slept. I felt very strange as I stood
watching the white man and the old Fijian kneeling side by side praying,
while three old women squatting in the corner of the den gazed on
silently, as though they were carved stone images. They were his
servants; being of Fijian royal blood, he would not move himself. Often
as he sat there he imperiously pointed to a stone flask wherein was some
_yangona_,[16] and at once the slaves of royalty, with machine-like
swiftness, filled a stone bowl and held it to his lips. Suddenly
starting up, he rushed to the den door and gazed up at the trees,
shouting, “Wai, wai, taho mi,” then waved his arms, lifted his chin
towards the stars and called to the memory of dead warriors and comrades
dead with heathen gods. As the Pacific wind sighed softly through the
giant backa-trees he bowed his head reverently, for to him so answered
the gods.

Footnote 16:

  Native wine made from a root.

I stayed that night with the missionary, and the next day and night
also, and heard many strange things. Beautiful were some of the legends
of the forest children that my host told me. The stars were the eyes of
the fiercer gods, and the falling stars the bright tears of the powerful
Muburto and Nedengi’s warriors. Fijian maidens and youths prayed to the
eyes of shadow-land, and if, as their impassioned lips met, a star fell
and arched over them in the vault of night, great was their sorrow, for
a god had shed a tear over the grief that would befall the life of the
first-born. But if, ere the lovers said farewell, more stars fell, great
was their rejoicing, for it was a sign that other gods were pleading to
the greater god to stay the evil that was predestined by the first star
that burst out of the dark soul of evil Destiny. So, notwithstanding
heathenism and the gruesome cannibalistic customs of the old times, much
innocence and poetry softened the hearts of the wild native children of
those dim lands. It was a common sight by night in the shade of the
coco-palms to see love-sick maids in the arms of the Fijian youths,
gazing at the skies, yearning for the sight of the vast gods shedding
starry tears on their behalf, and often great was their delight to find
the foretold grief to their first-born overthrown by the power of other
gods. Then the innocent maids gave themselves, body and soul, to the
infatuated, delighted youths, and fell with the falling of the stars!
When the stars on windy nights twinkled fiercely through the wailing
boughs of the bending forest giants, lovers gazed heavenward anxiously,
for to them the glimmering stars were the tiny bright legs of their
unborn children running happily across the fields of paradise. Often,
too, sorrowing mothers would peer up for hours on those windy, starlit
nights, as they watched their dead children’s bright legs twinkling as
they ran laughing over the forest trees in the far-off fields of
shadow-land.

As I heard these beliefs of the forest I thought of Mabau, and wondered
whether, while she was in the arms of Vituo, the stars had fallen, and
in her poetic faith she had given herself to him; and I saw that though
the native legends were beautiful, it was sad for the maids; for the
stars foretold many things that did not come to pass, and mythology,
when applied to morals, brought much sorrow to those that loved.

The aged missionary spoke the language like a native and so, through
mixing with the remnants of his old flock for years, isolated as he was,
knew all their ways and their passions and aspirations. He told me that
the mythology and religions of the South Seas revealed, through their
poetic, heathen expression, much that was “new thought” in modern
Europe, and that all those things which the great minds of my country
had discussed and the nobleness they had overthrown by their doctrine of
the “survival of the fittest,” a doctrine bringing the whole creed of
self-sacrifice and bravery down to selfish motives, had been discussed
and expressed in mythology and heathen song by the cannibalistic bards
and philosophical savages at the bokai feasts of those heathen lands.

Lands where maidens gave their lives for their lovers, and wives for
their husbands, for it had been the custom that when a chief died his
wife should be buried alive with him; and so strong was the faith of
these people that they met their terrible end bravely, and sang death
songs, which could be heard faint and muffled as the tombstone closed
over them. It was even then the custom of maids to die and be buried
with their dead lovers, their belief being that they appeared before the
gods as they died. Those who thought themselves young and beautiful
sacrificed themselves, so that in spirit-land they might be ever young
and fortunate in their love affairs. Often I saw skeletons in caves,
which were the remains of old age; they had been strangled by their
relatives to avoid further trouble from the complainings of their
infirmities.

On the night preceding my last day with the old missionary Mabau, the
native girl, came to him as sunset was fading over the seas. As the
shadows crept and thickened around the hermit’s home a noise of naked
feet in the jungle grass disturbed us. A gentle tap at the door revealed
Mabau’s dusky face. I understood little that she said, for she spoke in
her own language to my host, but I saw by her eyes and trembling lips
that she was sorely troubled. After hearing the Father’s advice she
became calmer, and falling on her knees kissed his extended hand and
bearded face as a child would kiss its father; then, without speaking a
word, she ran off swiftly into the forest.

The old missionary asked me many questions as to where I was staying,
upon which I told him of Mr Bones. Hearing this, he gravely shook his
head and scanned me solemnly. “You look an honest lad and well able to
take care of yourself,” he said; and then I explained to him how I had
left my ship at S—— because I could not stand a drunken crew, and that
was the true reason for my accepting the Organization’s hospitality.
From him I heard that a week or so before I arrived a fugitive had
appeared at the Organization and the second day after had shot himself.
Bones had hastily called on the Father, who delivered the Sacrament to
the dying man, who, ere his breath ceased, made his confession. The
Father did not reveal the facts to me, but I heard them from the lips of
a high-caste Fijian with whom I stayed between my visits to the
Organization’s shanty. For after the first few days I only called upon
Mr Bones as a visitor, taken there through my adventurous spirit, and
for the novelty of associating with old villains and seeing the sad
fugitives who arrived from the far-off cities of the world.

That night as I lay by my hermit host I watched him as he quietly slept
on his sleeping-mat; moonlight streamed through the tiny window hole and
revealed his careworn, bearded face. Still as death he lay as the breeze
crept into the open door and stirred the few grey hairs above his lofty
brow. The beating of the seas on the shore sounded at intervals and died
away; the shadow leaves of the palms outside moved gently over the
wooden moonlit walls, over his grey-bearded face and crossed hands. I
felt that I was back in the Middle Ages, in some mysterious mediæval
monastery, instead of in that heathen land of dying crime and
bloodthirsty cannibalism, where but a few years before Thakambau, the
warrior king, who now lay in the grave not far off at Bau, sailed forth
from the creeks below to give battle to rival kings, accompanied by his
armada of outrigged canoes. As I dreamed I heard the restless seas
below, I saw those primitive fleets of canoes fading in the sunset,
filled with dark, savage, patriotic faces, and the stalwart cannibal
king leaning on his war-club and gazing proudly as he stood eyeing the
canoes of his warriors paddling along to meet the tribal foe. It was
almost unbelievable how swiftly change, through the coming of the white
men, had overthrown the cannibalistic festivals and heathen customs: at
Levuka, Viti Levu and Suva church spires were rising where the bokai
feast and fierce songs once broke the silence; from native homes now
come the strumming of cheap German pianos and lotu songs sung by mouths
that a few years before had eaten those they had loved.

At daybreak Father Anster, the old missionary, rose and prepared
breakfast, after which he took his flute from the shelf and played one
tune over and over again continually; and the old featherless parrot in
the cage tried desperately to repeat the notes through its tuneless beak
and, to tell the truth, made as much mess of the melody as my host did;
for though he had music in his soul, his lips were unable to express it.
There he sat, holding the flute to his aged lips and blowing away; and
though I know he must now be dead, hallowed dust somewhere near that
spot where I saw him years ago, still I can see him sitting by his
little doorway, and see the kind look in his eyes as I bade him farewell
and passed away into the forest, with the thought and promise to see him
again in a few days.

As I strolled along under the palms and big tropical trees I fell into
deep thought; everything was silent, except a few birds singing to the
sunset, which they could spy from the topmost boughs whereon they sat.
Suddenly I was startled by hearing a noise, and crossing the gullies I
went down a steep slope and peeped through the jungle thickets of bamboo
beneath the coco-palms to see what was about, and there, romping in the
deep fern grass, was a flock of naked native children, tiny wild faces,
boys and girls. As I watched my foot slipped. In a moment they all
looked up and their bright eyes spied me. Like a drove of rabbits off
they bolted, their little brown shoulders and tossing heads of frizzly
hair just reaching the fern-tops as they raced away and faded in the
distant forest gloom, frightened out of their lives. A stream of sunset
out seaward crept through the wind-blown forest boughs and glinted over
them as they ran, till they looked like tiny wood-elves racing across
fairyland! I never saw such a pretty sight. In fun I ran after them, and
two little stragglers left behind, seeing me run, screamed; then through
the bushes in front of me suddenly poked the heads of mop-haired mothers
and fierce dark men. I had come across a native village!

At first I felt a bit frightened; but as soon as those wild-blooded
parents saw my white face and youthful look they smiled, for their
instincts are swift and true. I stepped into the village, and soon we
were all good comrades. It was there that I met a missionary who lived
not far off, and was adviser and preacher to the native village. He was
a good man at heart, but extremely bigoted, and when I asked him about
Father Anster he yawned and evaded my questions, told me that he was
considered a mild kind of lunatic. I did not argue the point, but
nevertheless I saw the way the wind blew and thought a good deal. I
realised there was no love lost between my old host and the new
missionaries, who did not care for hermits who toiled and lived
completely by themselves.

The hot season was at its height, and not till the sun had set and the
sea winds gently blew over the isle did I feel comfortable. One is
forcibly reminded when travelling in the South Sea Isles that the
natives in complete undress are utilising their own skins to the best
advantage: often I envied them their scanty _sulu_ (loin-cloth), as my
white duck trousers and shirt flopped and steamed with perspiration as I
sweated onwards. I stayed for several hours at the village I had
stumbled across. Round the native huts the evening fires blazed as
squatting by stone bowls the families ate their supper; dipping their
fingers into the steaming mixture, they pushed worm-like stuff into
their dark mouths. The toothless old chiefs and mothers were waited on
by the children, who often sulkily helped them, hastily pushing what
looked like long white worms, that hung from the aged mouths, in between
the mumbling lips.

Close by, in one of the conical, thatched dens, loudly wailed a windy
harmonium, played by a young aspirant for musical fame. The selling of
harmoniums in the South Seas in those days was a paying business: a
native would work for three years on a plantation, without wages, to
possess one of those instruments of torture, and a family that possessed
one obtained a social distinction equal to the Order of the Bath in
Great Britain. It was the celebrated High Chief Volka who owned this
particular terrible thing.

While the huddled natives chattered and gorged over their calabashes of
hot mystery this chief led me round and proudly showed me the sights.
Sunset had died, and the stars were beginning to peep through the dusky
velvet blue skies that could be seen in many patches above the scattered
waveless palms and banyan-trees. Chief Volka was a true survival of the
barbaric age, six feet in height, scarred and tattooed from his brow to
his knees. He had lost one eye in battle, and the other, through double
use, bulged considerably. Leading me into his ancestral halls—three
thatched rooms—he stood beside me, as his mop-head touched the low roof,
and pointed to a ponderous war-club that hung on the wooden wall. Round
it was a grim collection of spear-headed weapons. Standing by my side,
with his shoulders majestically lifted and his chest blown out, he
proudly told me of the wounds that implement had inflicted, and of the
many lives it had, with sudden force, sent hastily to heathen-land. His
one eye flashed with revived memories, and then that old veteran of some
past Fijian Waterloo told me how his civilised tribe had exterminated
the uncivilised foe in a mighty battle, and of the benefit the great
victory had conferred upon humanity. For did not the victory overthrow
tribal men who ate their wounded on holy days?—thus angering the gods by
not keeping them in pickle till the Fijian Lent had passed!

He stood there, drawn up to his full height, his shrivelled but
erstwhile muscular arm outstretched, as he told me of the overthrow of
tribes on neighbouring isles who had aspired to dominate the whole
Fijian Group by militarism. With forgivable pride he took down the huge
club that had brought the ambitious leader of the hated hordes to the
earth with a smashed skull. It was a mighty weapon, and the bare-skinned
youth beside him gazed upon it with awestruck eyes as I said: “And what
happened after that victory?” “We had ten years of great peace, many
feasts and many wives, and our gods were pleased till came your race and
overthrew them.” And then he continued in this wise: “Alas, our great
civilisation has passed away; revered customs, creeds and mighty
histories of my race are forgotten with the old winds. Ah, your white
race tramples on our old dynasty of supreme goodness!”

I gazed silently as he spoke and wondered much, for I knew that the
foundation of civilisation, and all that is called best, is built on
man’s attempt to ward off impending disaster. As I thought I wondered
how much wisdom lay in his natural vanity, for the warriors of old had
died out and the new race looked cute, flabby, and quite devoid of
energy. Outside old men and youths smacked their lips and grunted as
they nibbled coco-nuts and chewed tobacco; the grandees drank new rum,
and the old women and maids of fashion whispered scandal and scratched
their mop-heads delicately with one outstretched finger.

Brilliantly the moon shone through the forest trees as I strolled from
scene to scene of that South Sea village. By tiny camp fires sat the
elder members of the various households; the little children were fast
asleep by them on small mats. Some gazed into the fire ash, spat and
chewed, others chatted, and on the hill-side sat several groups singing
softly so as not to awaken the sleepers. They were strange, weird
melodies that I listened to; and as I stood alone in the shadows I knew
that I heard in those primeval wails of joy and sorrow the youthful
voice of music and poetry as it was ere it attained the artificial
development expressed in Europe, tricked out and dressed in all the
artistries to suit applauding conventionality. Old women wailed songs
that told of dead children, dead husbands or lovers, and all the many
griefs that flesh is heir to. I think the sad old missionary with whom I
had stayed had awakened in me a note of deeper thought than was usual in
my reflection. On my memory are still vividly engraved the scenes of
that night; the moonlight over the trees, the stars and the squatting
groups of the village natives are all still mine, and the atmosphere is
as clear as, yet somewhat sadder than, of yore, like a melody heard
again, after many years, in another country. I seemed to know that the
wild life and scenery round me was similar to the embryo life of modern
civilisation; and there was something real and innocent in that Fijian
Arabian night that made the modern world of life look intensely vapid. I
still see the women of Fijian fashion, with their legs outstretched
before the dying fires, each attired in some sailor’s cast-off
undershirt or a portion of a white woman’s garment. Some strutted under
the palms and gazed almost disdainfully upon maidens and mothers who
only wore the native grass-weaved sulu. I knew that I gazed upon the
first leaders of Fijian fashionable society, society that has reached
the zenith of vanity in Europe. I saw budding knighthoods fanning flies
and mosquitoes from the high chief’s oily body. His eyelids blinked
approval as the aspirants to royal favour lifted his fat feet, which
rested on a little mat, and blew their cooling breath on them.

Poor relations carried refuse in large stone bowls to the village
cesspool. Pet mongrel dogs snapped at the hovering ring of flies and
sniffed at the stench as they passed it, whilst the rich relations
lolled under the sunlit tropic palms. At the far end of the village, on
a stump, stood the fanatic, shouting in Fijian, “Taho-ai-Oa,” and
shrieking and stamping to entice the straggling villagers to come to his
special mission class. Swarthy Solomon Islanders and Indians with
brilliant dark eyes gazed at the maids. Under the palms sat the
full-lipped youth, Lota-Mio; oblivious of all around him, he toiled on
with his rusty nail, carving on a sea-shell the outlines of a maiden’s
face; the work revealed wonderful talent. Maidens and youths embraced
and gazed with shining eyes at each other as the shaggy-headed Fijian
poet pointed to the evening star imaged in the still lagoon, for it
shone in the fairyland of still waters. They peered over the water’s
brink and wondered to see their dark faces under the imaged trees that
were upside down; then the branches stirred as the mirrored winds blew
in the water and their imaged faces broke up and disappeared!

I got the old chief to see me safely on the road home; for though I
trusted the Fijians, I did not like the look of the imported Indians,
who crept about the village selling sham jewellery and tempting the
maids with trifles and trinkets. They were stealthy-looking men, dark
and masterful in appearance. Their creeds were slowly overthrowing
Christianity, for the natives were weak, and Mohammedanism was more in
harmony with their secret cravings and requirements. Also the colour of
the turbaned teachers matched their own skins. White men can hardly
blame the childish Fijians for embracing Mohammedanism as readily as
they turned to Christianity, for in London town the Islamic creed is
being preached and is finding numerous adherents, gathered from the
so-called high-class Christians, who gain greater comfort from Mahomet
than from the sorrow of Calvary.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXIV

Back at the Charity Organization—Mabau—A Fugitive Bank Manager
   arrives—How the Organization secured Funds—English
   Refugees—Departure—Native Burial—A New Sect—With Bones again—Another
   Fugitive and his Experiences—Galloway’s Tall Hat—The Death of
   Mabau—The Haunted Wreck


I RETURNED once more to the Organization rooms, so tired that I fell
asleep without delay, and not until next morning was I introduced to
several members whom I had not seen before. My toothless friend was
mumbling away to an old “shellback,” who in turn was striving to outdo
his comrade’s experiences on land and sea. “Glad to see yer,” said the
old salt, as Bones introduced me. I returned the compliment and shook
his extended hand warmly. He was the life of the place, and not pleasant
life either, for he had an old cornet, and in the middle of the night
would lift his face to the low roof and blow some wretched tune on it
over and over again. One night there was a fight, for as he played and
sang and rolled his eyes to the ceiling a boot struck him behind the
ear; one of the members had lost his temper and thrown it. The incident
caused a fearful hubbub, the cornet got smashed to bits and one or two
of the bunks broken down. Bones came in, pointed a revolver at the
fighters and threatened to shoot, and I believe he would have done so if
they had not quieted down. They were a rough crew, and I made up my mind
to get away from the place at the first opportunity. Many strange things
I heard, some of which I will tell you.

Next day as I sat alone reflecting in the Organization’s gloomy room I
heard Mabau just outside wailing a native chant of love-sickness. She
had peeled the “spuds” and finished the domestic duties, for which Bones
gave her ample wages.

“What did the kind white missionary say, Mabau?” I whispered softly to
her, as Bones and two scrubby-faced villains puffed their pipes and
shuffled a pack of cards on the bench.

Looking up with affectionate eyes that gazed at me steadily for a little
time and then dropped as she sighed, she answered: “He say pray to white
God; go to your people, and if your Vituo no love you quickly find him
who will love you.” And as she said this to me she gazed into my eyes in
an appealing way that made me sorry for her.

“Come this way, Mabau,” I said, and she followed me like a little child,
till out of earshot she sat under the coco-palms behind the Organization
hut. I took her there because I wanted to be alone with her to advise
her for her own sake. I liked Mabau exceedingly, for I saw in her
something deeper than I had noticed in most native girls. Sitting by me
in the jungle fern, with her chin on her knees, she lifted her eyes to
me and sang a weird love chant. “Wail O—Wa—O, Mio” it sounded, as she
sang tenderly her beseeching plaint.

“Why do you sing, Mabau?” I asked. “Is it the wicked Vituo that makes
you so sad?”

“Vituo I hate,” she answered fiercely. “I will kill him, and the white
man will be my friend.” But I shook my head and told her not to kill
Vituo, but go to her own people, and as I spoke I pointed to the forest.
Obediently as a child she rose, and before moving away gave me a shell
comb from her hair. I accepted it and smiled kindly at her, for I felt
sorry for the brown, forlorn girl. Then with pattering bare feet she
went down the forest track, wailing. I went back to the Organization
room and practised my violin, as I always did for several hours every
day, both on land and sea.

I think it was that same night that a portly gentleman looking like a
bank manager came down the river from Suva and hastily entered the door,
talking hurriedly to Mr Bones. Opening a little bag he gave him a bundle
of what appeared to be banknotes, and so placed himself under the
protection of the Organization flag. He was fashionably dressed in a
tall hat and frock-coat, the tail of which had a singed hole in it, as
though he had been shot at at close quarters. Rubbing his hands
genially, as though with great relief, he looked round the secluded room
and then asked me if I were English, and inquired if many of my
countrymen resided in those parts. My reply allayed his anxiety on that
point. He had a big, round, clean-shaven, red face; grey locks protruded
from beneath the rim of his tall hat, and fitted his brow and neck so
nicely that it was easy to see that he wore a wig. His expression was
like his hair, false; his was a face that could look jolly and
lascivious, or sedate, at will, or even appear deeply thoughtful and
religious should occasion require. Intensely preoccupied, he sat looking
at newspaper cuttings, and with a vacant stare said “Em—em,” as I spoke
to him. The natives and the scenery round had no interest for him; some
life-and-death business had hastened him our way. He stopped only two
nights and then left by the next ’Frisco steamer, bound for some port
outside the reach of the extradition treaty. I was glad to see him go.
Every time anyone opened the door he started so that it got on my
nerves. Once when Bones suddenly opened the door with a crash, on
purpose, I believe, he gave a leap and lifted the lid of the emergency
barrel, upsetting the mugs of rum and causing the whole Organization to
swear as one man. As he jumped in I quickly put the lid on before he
could lower his shoulders and head, and crash went his tall hat, while I
heard a muffled oath beneath the lid. The emergency barrel was a huge
ship’s beef-barrel, which stood behind the door, and in it new members
of the Organization hid when the overseas police arrived. A cave beneath
the floor was a secret known to old members only.

It was a mystery to me how these preoccupied fugitives from justice got
to know of Bones’s establishment. My mystification was dispelled by one
of the old officials, who let me into the secret, telling me more than
he should have done, as he swallowed rum and became loquacious. It
appeared that Bones boarded the boats as they arrived at Suva, Vanu Levu
or Lakemba, interviewed passengers and spotted likely customers. With
years of research and experience he had developed a bloodhound’s
instinct for twigging uneasy fugitives, and by devious artifices managed
to give them the hint and let them know that he was the man who
understood difficult positions, and was willing to be a faithful friend
to all those who yearned to remain unknown.

I also learnt that Bones was not above the ruse of getting a confederate
on board the boat, who would pose as a detective and suddenly turn round
and scrutinise any suspicious passenger, and so deliberately frighten
him into hurriedly leaving the ship. By a prearranged signal, when the
native canoes brought the flying fugitive ashore, the Organization
officials arrested him! Those who confessed offhand were given the
straight hint that their captors were not beyond accepting a bribe and
letting the prisoner escape. If they had no money Bones behaved well to
them, put them up for a time, then shipped them off at the first chance.

Those who had managed to bring wealth with them gave Bones a liberal
bribe, and you can imagine it was no hard job to get it out of them. Men
from all parts of the world sought the South Seas as a hiding-place;
some came to save their necks, many to escape penal servitude. The
Charity Organization of the South Seas was not far behind its namesakes
in Europe. It was a paying concern, and though the method on which it
was conducted was risky and strange, it was run on lines of truth and
charity; stolen money only was accepted, the guilty were punished by
being robbed, and help was given to the fallen, who were taken in, fed,
and finally guided on the road to seclusion and security. Assuredly it
did not reverse its creed, as the organizations of Western seas do,
where bent old men on tottering feet tap at the door of charity and,
apologising for being old, start to earn the crust of charity by lifting
the pick-axe and breaking stones—stones as hard as the hearts of the
British officials who waddle with fatness and the wealth screwed out of
insane charity-givers.

I could tell many distressing details of that South Sea hospitality;
fiction pales into insignificance beside the realities, the tragic
dramas of life that came to that old shanty. I could tell you how men
fell through the lure of gold, and the temptation to appear wealthy and
respectable, in the cities of a civilisation that so often defeats its
own purpose; for how often men fall in their ambition to gain the good
opinion of those who only _appear_ better than themselves.

The unpractical passion of love also brought much wealth to the South
Sea Organization’s exchequer. I remember one middle-aged gentleman whose
manner brought to that degraded forest homestead a flavour of English
society. With him, in the tastefully laid-out little room, wept a girl,
obviously brought up in English respectability. She was a pretty,
blue-eyed girl, but her face had aged with grief and remorse and the
thought of motherhood. Mabau was her ever-tender maid and companion. The
bond of sympathy that linked the brown and the white woman together
expressed something that had an intense note of poetry in it. Mabau’s
wild intuition read the girl’s sorrow and remorse. The two women, so far
removed from each other by blood and education, through mutual grief and
instinct became equal. Softly Mabau stroked her white sister’s face, and
she in turn caressed the brown girl, who also was fast approaching
motherhood.

I asked no questions of her male companion as he and I together strolled
across the landscape. I led him to the native villages, and did my best
to interest him and take him out of himself during the three days that
he stayed with Bones. We conceived a mutual liking for each other, and
he took me sufficiently into his confidence to let me know that they
were on the way to South America.

I saw them both off by the s.s. —— from Suva. Mabau carried the white
girl’s things to the boat. As they stood on the ship’s deck they waved
their hands to us, and we stood watching the frail girl, clinging to the
man’s arm, as the vessel moved away and the tropical sunset flooded the
seas. We stared till the ship was a speck on the waste of waters. So
disappeared those outcasts on the horizon, together with their passion
and its fruits, bound for another land, fading from our sight for ever.
Mabau cried bitterly. I felt very sad also as we went down the river,
and the hut looked more lonely than ever to me after they left.

I only stayed with Bones as a visitor, and several times went off to
Lakemba and the various isles of the group, visiting Thombo and the
Eastern Isles, also Yasawa, Kandavu and the native villages inland from
Vana Levu, in the Bua district. Some of the natives owned profitable
plantations, planted chiefly with coco-palms for the produce of copra
and food for domestic use.

I often roamed those barbaric lands quite alone, and used to stand and
reflect as I gazed through the wooded landscape; the solitude seemed so
peaceful, but my dreams would conjure up pictures of the hot-footed,
bloodthirsty tribes on the warpath long ago. Swarthy bodies and
mop-heads moving through those glooms to charge the ambushed rival
tribe, finally bringing their victims to the ovens that fizzled the
“long pig.”

Where now the cattle roam at leisure, nibbling the covatu grass and
milk-fern of the cleared pastures, once towered thickly wooded forest
slopes of tropic fern and coco-palms. Patches of those forests still
remain. In those old glooms I roamed and spent many happy and exciting
times, for among them still stood native villages of semi-savage
peoples; many of them clung to old heathen beliefs and sneered as they
passed the den wherein moaned the wailing harmonium. Fierce fights often
raged among the population, for they were a mixed party, many of them
being emigrant islanders from the Gilbert, Ellice and Samoan Groups.

I used to wander about those old native villages, undecided whether to
go to Australia or to get a berth on one of the trading-boats bound for
Honolulu, and so make my way to San Francisco. The weather was very hot,
the thermometer reaching 95°. As I sat in the shade beneath the trees,
above my head chuckled peculiar, migratory birds, pruning their wings
and whistling to the infinite blue above their topmost bough, which
swayed gently to the welcome sea breeze that blew inland. It was there
that I saw a native funeral; a Fijian girl had died. I watched the
thatched den’s door open, as swarthy men, with bowed, lamenting heads,
bore on their shoulders the square-shaped coffin. It was sunset and the
burying-hour. The whole village started wailing, beating their breasts
and naked thighs as they moved on in the grotesque but sad procession.
One old woman, the great-grandmother, I think, led the way to the native
cemetery. It was a mournful sight, and a novel one for Western eyes, for
their grief seemed real! By a lonely forest track the procession
stopped, and there, in the shade of a mighty group of banyan-trees, was
the grave. Loudly the mourners started to wail, and the old woman and
the girls fell flat on their faces and grovelled on the forest turf,
wailing a Fijian lament, while the male mourners drank kava from little
pots to keep their spirits up. To my astonishment the old woman was
lowered into the grave first. She stretched her body out, feigning death
so well that her naked limbs and corpulent, brown frame looked stiff
with _rigor mortis_. Four powerful chiefs, two at her head and two at
the middle, slowly lowered her into the tomb.

Then came forward one who I presumed was the high priest and, standing
on the brink of the grave, he lifted his hands towards the skies and
called on the gods to take the living spirit of the old woman into the
land of death to look after the soul of the dead girl. As the high
priest yawned and finished his speech he walked away, and maidens cast
flowers on to the living body below. For a moment I thought that the old
woman was to be buried alive, but to my relief I saw her dark, skinny
fingers hastily emerge and cling to the grave’s brink, as up came her
head and she leapt out on all-fours.

Then the lid of the coffin, wherein lay the dead girl, was lifted, and
the mourners each in turn gazed upon the face and wailed. I did not
look, for the sight depressed me, and I hurried away. This method of
burial, and the ceremony which I have described, was an old custom
modified, a method employed by a new sect, a creed which was based half
on heathenism and half on Christianity, similar to the many crank
offspring creeds of Europe to-day.

After staying in Suva for two or three days, idling and boarding the few
trading schooners in the harbour, I went back to the Den of Mystery
presided over by Mr Bones. As I entered the Organization door I saw,
through the wreaths of tobacco smoke, the villainous, unshaved profiles
of the gay officials, as bending over the long bench they shuffled
cards, swore and drank rum. As they welcomed me their fierce,
suspicious, wrinkled brows smoothed out again. I had left my violin with
them and, though I had been absent several days, it stood on the shelf
over their heads as I had left it. They called on me for a solo as I sat
down and smoked, but when I responded to their wish a terrible discord
began, for the player of the smashed cornet joined in and put my ear
out; his time and tune faculties were nil. When I stopped he still blew
on, puffing out tunelessness. As the night advanced yarns began, and I
heard experiences of those rough men, and truly truth is stranger than
fiction. Much that I heard is unprintable, not so much because of its
subject and expressive thought as from the fact that in Bones’s
hospitable establishment I received trust that once betrayed would bring
dire disaster on fugitives who are still hiding, or have relatives of
high standing in England and elsewhere.

Among others there was one weird-faced fellow there at that time. He
looked thin and ill, but had been handsome in his day, and often through
his rough accent came a different utterance, that of an educated man.
Over his bunk were the photographs of a girl and of two old people.
Something in his life had played havoc with him, for secret grief had
prematurely wrinkled his brow and face. His eyes were clear, blue and
earnest-looking. All the men took to him, for he was willing enough, and
when they chaffed him he smiled good-naturedly and revealed the
expression that had lit his face up as a boy.

Bones had picked him up adrift at sea whilst he was on a trip to Tonga
in a schooner. The man had stowed away on a boat at Sydney that was
bound for South America. The detectives had got wind of his being
aboard; he had hidden himself between decks among the massed cargo,
bales of wool. After the second day at sea the detectives, who were
aboard, came down into the hold to see if they could discover his
whereabouts. Without water, and with only a few biscuits to nibble at in
his huddled confinement, he suffered agonies. It was almost stifling up
on deck under the tropical sun, but down deep in the ship’s hold he was
almost suffocated, and the droves of hungry ship rats smelt his sweating
body and viciously attacked him in the inky darkness.

“Often I had half a mind to give myself up,” said he, “for the cursed
vermin bit at my legs as I beat with my hands to keep them from eating
at my face. I dared not sleep; indeed, as I dozed off once or twice I
felt them pushing along under the legs of my trousers, and their rough
tongues, like tiny saws, licked at the beads of cold sweat that broke
out all over me.” As he continued, the game of cards along the bench
ceased; all hands became still with interest. Mabau, who crouched near
my feet, gave a deepening blush as I gazed at her squatting on the floor
beside me. She was gazing at Vituo’s photograph, which he had had taken
in Suva.

Proceeding with his story, as we puffed our pipes silently he continued:
“Suddenly I heard a creaking noise forward; the bulk-head doors were
opening! Peeping between the bales of cargo, I saw the flash of a
bull’s-eye lantern; they were crawling over the cargo searching for me!
The human bloodhounds nearly trod on my body as they flashed their
lanterns over the gloom and crept past me in the dark. In a second I saw
my chance. I noiselessly worked my body backwards, as they were
searching the cargo right ahead. Half dead I got through the bulkhead
door and stood on deck.

“It was night; the stars lit the skies overhead and the funnel belched
out reddened smoke that rolled astern. She was cutting across the
Pacific at fourteen knots. How I drank in the fresh air as I crept up by
the stokehold grating. Hiding myself by the funnel, I gazed up; there
was the bridge, and to and fro walked the captain and chief mate.
Presently I heard voices on deck; they were back from their search.
“He’s not down there,” one of them shouted. The skipper leaned over the
bridge rails. “You are on the wrong tack, I guess,” he shouted back. “I
wish they were,” thought I, and at that moment I heard their footsteps
coming up the gangway towards me.

“I held my breath; they flashed their lanterns about; one of them nearly
brushed against me as I watched. A pain shot through my head; my God, I
was done for! I clapped my hand to my mouth to save myself and muffle
the sound. With a smothering throb it came; I gave forth a tremendous
sneeze! It betrayed me. In an instant I seized the wooden grating by the
bridge gangway and leapt to the lower deck. I heard the crashing and
throbbing of the engines, as for a moment I stood by the galley
port-hole and resolved on the next step. Gripping the grating tightly, I
clambered on to the bulwark and dived into the Pacific! I felt the
thunder and swirl of the screw as the revolving blades just missed me,
and I was sucked down by the churning waters. Still clutching the
grating I came up to the surface and, resting my arms on it, gazed at
the ship. She was still thundering on, fading under the stars; I saw her
go, racing away. Evidently they had not dreamed that I had jumped
overboard.

“The cool waters refreshed me considerably. For a long while I could see
the mast-head light of the ship, and then I was alone at sea. Daybreak
crept over the world of waters and like a flood of fire the sunrise
burst up through the sky; like a speck I bobbed about. Flocks of
sea-birds sighted me and hovered overhead, then came down, their legs
hanging loosely, as they tried to peek my eyes out! I beat about with my
hands. As I got on to the grating, seeing that I was alive, they
shrieked and wheeled away.

“The hot sun rose; I became delirious with thirst and, unable to help
myself, drank sea-water. At sunset I half fell asleep as I lay on the
grating, my legs in the water. I cursed that sneeze that had placed me
in such a plight. In the night the moon rose. I was raving with
delirium; somehow that sneeze became embodied in human shape; my
delirious imagination saw it! There in the shivering moonlit water it
swam round me! Nearer and nearer its grinning, demon face came; it
seemed frog-like and half human. Dressed in a small red plush coat it
hissed at the grating and peeped at me with blue, human eyes! I watched;
the Universe crashed overhead. I waited my opportunity. It came. I
seized that sneeze by the throat, tripped and squeezed the life out of
its vile body, then flung it back into the moonlit waters. Once again it
turned and came swimming back towards me, climbed up and grinned at me!
Once more I gripped it and threw it over the side. It disappeared, and
the dark fin of a grey-nosed shark slowly rose. Reality crept into my
brain. I pulled my legs up on to the grating, which was awash with my
weight. I waited for death and shouted. I knew that fin was real enough
and only a miracle could save me; and it did, for my cry was heard. A
passing schooner spotted me across the night, and Bones there threw the
rope that saved me.”

“Right enough,” said Bones, as he knocked the ash from his pipe. Then
all the hands filled their mugs with rum and clinked them together, and
the contents, with one swallow, disappeared.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Such were some of the various experiences I heard from the lips of those
men. Almost everything connected with the Organization had an exciting
history attached to it; aye, from pretty Mabau to the tall hat that hung
on a peg by the emergency barrel. I think I will tell you the history of
that hat just as I heard it from Bones.

It appeared that in earlier days, before Bones had made the hiding
profession into a fine art, and one which easily amassed wealth, his
means of running the show and replenishing the food and rum casks were
not as kindly and humane as the arresting scheme, with the final relief
of the victim on getting his bribe accepted—a bribe that often
astonished Bones by its generosity, for the shabbiest fugitives were
generally the richest and the guiltiest.

Well, to proceed. That immaculate tall hat had brought the Organization
in much money. When trading-ships called in at Suva and the surrounding
isles Bones would go aboard and negotiate for the part purchase of the
general cargo; and he did well; for, though he or his representative had
no ready money, they would manage to dupe the skipper or supercargo by
giving them a false bill or an I.O.U. from some firm of repute, who knew
nothing whatever of Bones and his clever crew. Attired in a frock-coat
and that tall hat, they commanded the necessary trust and respect.

Galloway, the Yankee who worked the business personally, managed to get
a surprising amount of credit. Scores of harmoniums, musical-boxes and
miscellaneous clothes were got hold of through the Yankee’s smartness.
The whole business was run on fine, strategic lines. After a good deal
Galloway would lie low and lend the hat and frock-coat to a confederate.
Soon, however, in spite of their care, a breath of suspicion blew across
the South Seas. Skippers told each other to look out.

“You see that hole in the rim of the hat,” said Bones, pointing his
thumb to what looked like a bullet hole; “that d——d place cost me a cool
thousand pounds.” Then: “You see that ’ole, don’t you? Well, when
Galloway’s pal went aboard a schooner in Lakemba he stands on deck and
makes a deal for five hundred clocks—natives would give their souls for
a clock—and a thousand tins of meat stuff; in fact almost everything
that we wanted. Well, he gives the skipper his I.O.U., seemingly made
out and signed by a settler who was well known for his wealth and
integrity in Fiji; but, as he stood on deck and signalled to the natives
overside to bring the boats alongside to take the first load of stuff
away, the skipper, who had previously been done, spied the same hole in
that tall hat which he had noticed when Galloway duped him. So he says:
‘Before you take the stuff away have a whisky?’ and then says,
sudden-like: ‘You’ve got your pal’s old hat on; what’s become of him?
I’ve still got his I.O.U.’ Galloway’s pal at this looked uncomfortable,
and the skipper kept the ball rolling, for he whips a revolver out of
his pocket, and as H—— bolts over the side the old curse fires, bang!
H——'s ear was blown off. So ended the I.O.U. trade, and H—— left those
parts with his ear missing. Then he made a fortune through kidnapping
native girls in the Solomon and Marquesan Groups, and got on so well
that he purchased a schooner, and ten years ago called this way and
invited us on board. As we drank in the saloon aft we heard the general
cargo of naked native girls and youths wailing under the floor decks as
they called for grub! I took mercy on half-a-dozen girls next morning as
H—— got them on deck and paraded them for my inspection. I bought them
and sold three to the sailors of a German man-o’-war, and their
missionary gave me a good price for the other three.”

So Bones rambled on, telling me much which I have left out as being
unprintable and, worse—too true to enlarge upon! The traffic in native
girls for immoral purposes was common in the early days, and still is
to-day, but it is carried on now by more disguised methods; indeed, most
of the crimes that were rampant in the old days are worse than ever, for
they are carried on with deeper guile, as missionaries, earnest men
enough, leave the sorrow and sin of their own lands to spread hypocrisy
over the South Seas. For the natives are clever, and with education
simply learn the duplicity of the white race; loudly they sing the lotu
hymns as they grin in their hearts over the change in things for the
better!

Now I am approaching the end of my stay in Fiji. I had my few belongings
packed, for I had been promised a berth aboard the _Frigate Bird_, that
lay in Suva harbour and was due to leave in a few days. It had been a
swelteringly hot day. I had told Mabau that I was going away, and from
her learnt that Vituo had completely thrown her over and was much in
love with the white woman who had stayed at Suva. Tears gleamed in her
eyes as she realised that I should soon be going, and as I sat and
played the violin to the men who had befriended me while I was hard up
she looked up at me like a whipped dog, with beseeching eyes, and I felt
very sorry for her.

At sunset I walked with Bones under the coco-palms down by the river. It
was to be my last night. The smell of the decaying ferns and rotting
oranges in the jungle grass came in sweet, damp drifts as the cool
evening breeze sprang up. In the trees a few birds sang, and from
far-off came the sound of the tribal drums beating the sunset out, and
the stars to the skies, over the native village a mile away. I had the
night before been to Naraundrau to bid farewell to the old missionary.
He had crossed his hands on his breast and blessed me, then laid his
hands on my shoulders, gazed into my face and said: “Farewell, my son;
the blessing of God be with you.” I left him as a son would a father,
with sadness in my soul for his age, and in my sorrow I seemed to hear a
noise beating in my heart—like toiling shovels that day by day deepened
his grave.

As I stood by the river slope with Bones we heard the paddling of a
canoe, and round the bend came Mabau to wish me farewell. She appeared
very excited as she jumped ashore. Early moonrise bathed the pool waters
as she stood beneath the palms and to our surprise said: “Vituo is dead;
I kill him.” As she told us this she lifted her hands to the sky and
wailed. We tried to calm her, but it was no use; we only gathered that
Vituo, her faithless lover, had died by her hand. Still I can see her
figure, mirrored in the water of the moonlit pool, as she wailed,
swaying her blood-stained hands and singing a death chant that sounded
like this when translated:

                    “O winds of night I call, I call,
                     Across the hills of sleep;
                     Let Mabau to silence fall
                     For ever into sleep.”

Then gazing over her shoulder she rushed off into the jungle, and Bones
and I hurried after her. Through the trees we saw her running. Then she
reached the sea. “What’s she up to?” said Bones, as we sighted the
shore. Out on the edge of the promontory, like some carved goddess, she
stood, appealing to the skies with lifted arms as she wailed a primitive
note of sorrow. Moonlight revealed her stricken, dusky face. Up went her
arms for a moment in perfect stillness, then she dived! Bones and I
rushed over the reefs; neither of us had time to think that she might
take her own life. Stumbling into the shallow water by the rocks, we
reached the promontory and the spot where she went in. I dived and Bones
followed me. Round and round we swam, moving the liquid depths, as the
imaged stars twinkled and faded. “Mabau! Mabau!” we called, then we each
dived, scrambled and felt for her. No sight or sign of life appeared;
the dark waters had taken her young life away.

An hour later Bones and I crept back to the den, wretched and sad. We
did not speak; we still had a faint hope that she might have swum round
the promontory point, eluded us and be still alive. I could not sleep,
and at daybreak we started off together. As we reached the fatal spot
sunrise was creeping over the Pacific. Out on the extreme edge of the
promontory we stood side by side and looked down into the clear depths,
searching; for on the water floated her ridi, made from a pretty piece
of coloured silk, a present to her from the white girl who had stayed at
the Organization room. I knew it had been worn to please Vituo, whose
despicable conduct had caused his own death and that of Mabau.

Suddenly Bones said: “Look!” and pointed for a moment. I hardly dared to
gaze at the spot where he pointed, and then in perfect silence we
looked. On the sandy bottom, deep down in the water, by a boulder of red
and white coral, was Mabau, her eyelids apart as she stared fixedly up
through the clear, crystal depth. The first sunbeams stained the water
by her brown figure. The South Seas wild blackbird sang joyously in the
coco-palms, and the sails of the outbound schooner that caught the tide
faded on the horizon.

At sunset next day I bade Bones good-bye and sailed on the _Frigate
Bird_.

                  *       *       *       *       *

For three months I sailed among the islands in a trading schooner and
then left it at Hiva-oa, where I stayed for three weeks. I was a bit
downcast, and employed my time by hard study on the violin. There was an
old wrecked schooner on the reefs, and at night I used to creep down
into her hold and practise. I was ambitious to be a great violinist. For
a while I was in my element in that ship’s hold, and then the natives
heard my fiddle wailing and were frightened out of their lives, thinking
that the wreck was haunted by evil spirits. I was innocent enough of it
all as I played away night after night, until, looking through the
port-hole in the bright moonlight, I heard a jabbering noise and saw
hordes of natives on the beach, watching and creeping about as I played!

Then a man came aboard the wreck and shouted down the hold: “Halloa
there!” and told me that all his hired natives were packing up and
leaving for other islands, as they all thought when my violin wailed
that the old wreck was haunted by spirits of heathen gods. So I lost my
chance of being alone with my aspirations in the South Seas and once
more got a schooner and went off to Honolulu and other islands.

I managed, by being careful, to save some money from my ship and musical
engagements, for I was abstemious, and devoted my spare time to music
and reading. I made several acquaintances among the crews of the ships
that traded among the islands, many of whom were young Englishmen who
had left the mail-boats and the deep-sea liners to earn more money on
trading-boats and see the islands and the Australian cities. I also got
to know many German and Colonial sailors. The North German Lloyd
mail-ships arrived in Sydney weekly, and the hands would leave and get
jobs on the small boats running to Samoa and elsewhere in the Pacific
Isles.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XXV

At Nuka Hiva—Gilbert the Astronomer—The Grog Shanty—The Astronomer’s
   Audience—Ah Foo, the Chinaman—Other Worlds than Ours—The Reformed
   Traders—The Death of Gilbert


ABOUT a month after the foregoing incidents took place, and while I was
in the Marquesas Group, I came across an old man who was one of those
characters which are often to be met with in the wild, outer spaces of
the world. He lived not far from the shore-side, at Nuka Hiva, and was
an enthusiastic astronomer. His lone homestead was by the lowest peak of
some hills, and so situated that it was eminently suitable for the
purposes for which he required it, which were rest, reading and quiet,
and unobserved observation of the starry skies; whereat for hours, with
hopeful eye fixed at the telescope, he would gaze on cloudless nights.

Night after night, while the traders and natives slept, the solitary old
man would sleeplessly follow his hobby. The wild poetry of primeval
nature surrounded his hut home; the swinging seas thundered or softly
broke over the reefs below, and clumps of pandanus-trees and coco-palms,
like æolian harps, caught the wandering winds and wailed mournfully.
They were and are wild places, and the scattered isles were as oases on
the vast Sahara of the Pacific Ocean. Tao-o-hae was the nearest
primitive capital, where strange races mingled and traded. Inland lived
the old tribes, the survivors of cannibalistic days. Those old tattooed
Marquesan chiefs sat by their conical dens, chewed modern plug tobacco
and smoked opium, and looked upon the calaboose as the final
resting-place for reflective age. In the villages the natives grew copra
and tropical fruits and sold them to the French, who formed the greater
part of the white population. They wore the ridi, and still encouraged
old tribal customs, and the native women and girls, though modest and
virtuous, were often ruined, body and soul, by the Chinamen who sold
them opium and did many other things.

Why old Gilbert—for that was the name we knew the astronomer by—had left
his native land and lived this lonely life was a mystery that no one
bothered about; one thing was certain—he was no myth and was there. We
all liked him. Originally he must have been a tall man, but age had bent
his backbone and reduced his height by about two inches. His unkempt
grey beard gave him a patriarchal aspect, and his deep-set clear grey
eyes, fine, lofty brow and kind expression revealed no hint of inward
vice. The native Marquesan servant who tidied his one room once a week
was old and wrinkled, being over seventy years of age. Photographs
pinned on the wooden wall of his bedroom imaged the refined faces of
relatives, one of them a sad-faced young girl.

“Solitary Gilbert” was respected by the white community of the district,
a community which chiefly consisted of traders and cast-ashore sailors
of various nations, and represented the adventurous stock of England,
Scotland, and France, one or two Mongolian niggers, and a full-blooded
celestial who did their washing and spent the proceeds on Marquesan
ladies, who wore few clothes, worked on the various plantations, chatted
and chewed.

The traders used to congregate in the grog shanty, which was run by a
jovial _libre_ from Numea, the convict settlement, tell their various
experiences and argue over the latest Marquesan politics or murders, and
also express their various views of the local missionaries, who had long
since given them up as hopeless atheists. Drinking beer till their teeth
floated seemed to be the height of their ambition, though a few hoped to
realise by trading enough money to go back to their native land. They
were jovial men; some had sailed the seven seas, and some had hurriedly
emigrated direct to the South Seas, and only thought of their country in
troublous dreams; but all of them positively refused to give up their
wild ways, listen to the missionaries and live a sweet and beerless
life. Only one man had a magnetic influence for good over them, and that
man was the mysterious old astronomer, Gilbert.

I came to know the lonely star-watcher well. Often while I was sitting
in the grog shanty, listening to the traders arguing, he would walk in,
and talk and lecture them; and they listened with profound respect. When
excited by the thrilling subject of his conversation—the stars—his aged
lips trembled and revealed the sensitive temperament of a lofty
imagination. Something in his manner and in his earnest voice made us
all lift our eyes and attention to him.

Every night he would bring his telescope under his arm and, perching it
outside on a beer barrel, get the traders, each in turn, to fix their
eyes to the lens and gaze at the heavens. We all liked the wise old man,
and from him I learnt all that I know of the stars and their travels
through space.

Once the old fellow was laid up with a chill and lay for two or three
days in bed. I did my best for him as he sat up in his bunk, attired in
a red nightshirt, looking ill and solemn, and passing the time by
talking philosophy. Schopenhauer was his pet subject when he could not
gaze at the stars. He gave me his books, but though I made a great
mental effort I only succeeded, after reading the books, in discovering
that I knew nothing, that life was nothing, that creation was a
tremendous black nothing wherein human eyes continually opened and
shaped all that Is! That stars flashed out of the same human
consciousness that imagined pain, passion and all the arts and emotions
which beautify the imagined Universe. As I knew little at that time of
philosophy, old Gilbert found me an appreciative and quiet listener, who
did not argue on any point; indeed, I became fond of him and so, through
respect for his memory, I am now attempting a short biographical note of
his existence.

Music he loved, and I would play the violin to him; old and staid as he
was, when I played softly and tenderly some old melody his voice would
join tremulously in and, though pathetically toneless, outrivalled a
master voice by its sincerity. Poetry he liked, and beyond his table and
one old chair and bunk bed his furniture consisted of two long shelves
of classical books. Through him my mind was enlarged, till I realised
that pianissimo, legato and staccato cadenza and music’s mysterious
charm, vaguely expressed, but did not fathom, the serious ideals of
life; were only as a wailing, wandering wind of the mind, stirring the
soul and the flowers of memory, as they sighed through the emotions, a
breath on the deep waters of thought.

Yes, that solitary old astronomer friend of my youth, though I did not
realise it then, revealed to me that literature and poetry were great
and beautiful music fused in the white heat of thought’s spiritual
flame, and for that alone his memory is ever dear to me.

Notwithstanding his virtues, the missionaries looked upon him as an old
madman, and he in turn gazed upon them with intense pity. The
storekeeper hard by, who sold everything from a needle to tinned meat,
was a “deeply religious” man and trusted everyone but Gilbert. I
remember him well; he was determined to be just and right, spoke often
about God and divinity, with a voice that rang with the note of justness
and sounded like the clink of Government scale-weights. He did well in
his store shop, and I think he would have weighed a gift of the widow’s
mite carefully before she left his premises.

One night he was discovered dead, and Ah Foo, the Chinaman, suddenly
left the district; though the crack in the storekeeper’s head was put
down to a fall, we had our suspicions. The traders cursed the
storekeeper’s death, because Ah Foo did their washing and they had now
to fall back on the native girls, who only wore ridis and grass and
could not resist the temptation of such finery, and so often they wore
our shirts and collars and under-pants for weeks before returning them,
and if they secured admirers they sometimes eloped into the forest with
them, and our washing was seen no more! So though the islands were made
a paradise by coco-palms, tropical fruit trees, sea-beaten reefs and
inland mountains, they had their drawbacks.

Gilbert used suddenly to appear in the grog shanty, quietly sit on a
tub, look round, critically scan the rough, unshaved faces of the
traders and then say: “Boys, beer may be well, and doubtless has its
advantages, but do you ever think of the skies, the vastness of space,
with its myriads of worlds, endless sunsets and sunrises sparkling
through infinite gloom?” At this they would wipe their mouths with the
back of their hands and gaze awestruck at one another, each seeking to
hear a reply from the other, for the word “infinity” had something in it
that outwitted their comprehension. The oldest and biggest scoundrel of
the lot would look the most earnest and, after placing his quart pot on
the shanty bench, slowly wipe his bearded mouth and say: “Professor, we
do think of them ’ere marvellous things; nights and nights they worries
us when we thinks of the vast abscess” (abyss) “called Space.” Then old
Gilbert, encouraged, would once more proceed and say: “Like unto Thee,
space hath no end; and the stars, which are as the dust of heaven,
eternally roll out blue days and sunsets for endless myriads of worlds
that are sparkling through infinite space. Yet, O men, are thy souls
immersed in no more than the fumes of beer!” At this the trader would
get argumentative and say: “What’s the end of space, and if yer go to
the end where would yer fall if yer fell over?”

“O man of beer,” old Gilbert answered, delighted to have got up a
controversy over his pet hobby, “your thoughts cannot out-travel the
range of your intellect; you but surmise an end, because your intellect
hath an end; thou art finite and the heavens infinite,” and after saying
this, which was Greek to them all, he brought forth his telescope from
under his coat. Each one outside under the clear tropical skies would
glue his curious eye to the end of the tube and gaze at the orbs of
space; and so the professor spent his time and gradually induced in the
rough traders a genuine love of astronomy.

They all got really to like him and listened eagerly to all he said, and
often they ceased their drinking bouts and saved their money when their
trading-ships came in from the scattered isles of the North and South
Pacific. Many nights down the slopes they went like obedient children,
following old Gilbert in single file, as they walked along looking up at
the stars, towards Gilbert’s observatory. They surrounded him; in a
ring, on the lonely hill at midnight, they listened to his lecture,
gazed through his old Herschelian telescope at the seaward stars and the
moon, and then looked into each other’s eyes astonished, saying:
“Wonderful, mates, all them ’ere worlds, like this ’ere, and the
professor’s found ’em!”

Gilbert would stand on the beach, proudly gazing upon his sinful, rough
pupils, as the sea-winds stirred his grey beard, and his deep-set eyes
shone as they probed him with questions, not to please him, but from
intellectual curiosity. Afterwards he granted them all one final drink
of rum!

When he died he was buried in the little railed-in plateau, where also
lay the dust of exiled white men and a few Marquesan chiefs of the old
times, who slept quietly in that silent cemetery by the mountains. When
the traders stood by old Gilbert’s grave, and slowly lowered the coffin
down, tears were in the eyes of even the worst of them. He had made them
better men, and through his little telescope tube, which pointed to the
heavens, he had put into their hearts thoughts on the grandeur of
creation and reverence for God’s wonderful work.

So Gilbert lived, toiled and died, the sincerest and most successful
missionary of the far South Seas.


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                              CHAPTER XXVI

A Deck-hand on Board the _Eldorado_—A Socialist—A Fo’c’sle Fight—Buying
   an Island—Apemama—King Tembinok—The _Eldorado_ sails—Tembinok’s
   Palace—Seeking the Enemy—The captured Chief—The Hurricane


IN Sydney long ago I shipped as deck-hand on board the _Eldorado_, a
schooner bound for Fiji and the Gilbert Groups. The first night out we
squared the yards; the wind was aft and the canvas bellied out steadily
as we dipped along under the stars at a good eight knots.

On board, as saloon passenger, was a Mr Milburn, a socialistic crank of
the theorist school. He was aboard on the outlook for an island which he
could buy and which would suit a socialistic colony, and he had got it
into his head that Apemama was a likely spot to start his scheme. The
skipper, a Yankee with long face and billygoat whiskers, was mostly
drunk, and would stand on the poop aft, telling Milburn that the King of
Apemama was an old pal of his and he knew for a positive fact that he
wanted to sell his dominion. Milburn’s blue eyes shone with delight as
the skipper listened to him and kept saying: “The very thing, the very
spot! I guess you’ll be glad yer shipped aboard here when yer see the
isles,” and then he would smack Milburn on the back, for they were
having high jinks in the cabin aft. Milburn had plenty of money and gave
it freely to the skipper, who could hardly conceal his satisfaction as
he opened bottle after bottle of whisky and gave us cigars.

We arrived in due course at Suva, Fiji. Milburn went ashore and looked
around and was delighted with all he saw. The skipper kept close to him
and said: “I guess if you like this d——d place you’ll go daft with joy
when you see Apemama.” We only stayed two days at Fiji and then left for
the group of islands of which Apemama was one. With fair winds we made a
quick trip and soon dropped anchor off the lagoon isle. Milburn, through
a telescope, gazed enthusiastically across the lagoon and on to the
atolls and groves of distant waving coco-palms; the skipper stood beside
him and, as Milburn gazed, smacked him on the back and nudged him in the
ribs, saying: “I guess that’ll suit you right enough, eh?” He told
Milburn to leave the purchasing to him and the isle would soon be
Milburn Isle, the socialistic El Dorado of the South Seas.

I instinctively knew that the skipper was on some scheme, and I had
discovered that he was the biggest liar on earth and sea, so when he
said that he knew that Milburn could purchase Apemama I had my own
doubts; but Milburn was a bit soft, treated the skipper with drink and
money in advance and had positive faith in his promises.

Later Milburn and I sat on the cabin settee and had a whisky each. We
liked each other, for, to tell the truth, we were the only respectable
members of polite society on board, for the crew was made up of two or
three Americans or negroes, three Polynesians, a half-blood, a lascar
and a Dutch American. I felt a bit out of sorts, for the night before
there had been a terrible row in the fo’c’sle while the crew were
sitting around their bench, shuffling and playing cards by the oil
fo’c’sle lamp.

I was standing smoking and watching, when suddenly I was astonished to
see them all jump off their feet and start a regular tribalistic battle;
one had been caught cheating and they took sides. You never saw such a
jumbled sight of struggling figures as the shadows of knives danced on
the walls. A white man fell on top of a half-blood, who fastened his
yellowish teeth into his opponent’s ear; he wouldn’t let go, and the
white pounded away at his face with his clenched fists, as the
half-blood tugged and chewed away at his ear. As the American punched
him he cried out: “Yer-rrrr-rr-ip! Yerrr-rr-ip!” and the white man
shouted: “You d——d —— —— ——,” and many more things, only to be described
in dashes. A Chinaman who was shouting: “Kee-Honk! Chow k-rrr—Chrry!”
suddenly fell, as an empty hundred-pound beef tub hit him behind the
ear. He was buried overboard that same night; and what with one thing
and another, as I said before, I was a bit out of sorts and glad of a
little whisky for medicinal purposes. Milburn also was a bit shaky. The
skipper had shot the tip of the half-blood’s chin off and then the
matter ended, and all I got out of it was a lost tooth and the knowledge
that white men in a passion get purply red in the neck and foamy at the
mouth, and that the eyes of the savage races turn yellowish and their
brown lips whitish.

The skipper, who had gone on shore, returned at sunset with four canoes
crammed with natives, and a solemn-looking old chap with a large,
flattish nose, wide nostrils and a wrinkled face expressing chimpanzee
astuteness. He was introduced to Milburn, as his half-naked form
clambered up the rope gangway and he leapt on deck. To my surprise I
heard that he was King Tembinok.

With a retinue of dusky courtiers, dressed in cast-off shirts, in Indian
file behind him, he strutted along the deck, gazed almost scornfully at
the crew, who were specially mustered to pay respect to royalty, and
then looked us all up and down as though we were a menagerie group on
show. Royally did he carry himself, demanding little attentions from his
retinue, who obeyed his every wish with alacrity. He swung a huge
war-club to and fro, as though his whole being itched to find fault and
brain the first native who might, to his intense relief, mistake his
hurried orders.

“You Misser Milbur, who want to buy island?” he said, gazing up at
Milburn, who looked slightly embarrassed as he bowed, while the skipper
rubbed his hands together and smiled with inward satisfaction. “Yes,
your Majesty, such is my wish, if your dominion is for sale.” At this
the King bowed graciously and said: “Good isles, much land, plenty
houses and coco-palms, but me sell to white man if the money ’nough.” “I
have come specially from Australia to buy an island, and your land is
most suitable, and I have the money to buy it,” Milburn answered. King
Tembinok bowed once more, till the royal robe of tappu-cloth touched the
deck in front of his feet and revealed his bare legs behind him. His
beady, intelligent eyes rolled with delight, and somewhat destroyed his
majestic bearing, as the skipper bowed him and Milburn into the dining
saloon. He turned his head, spat in the tiny calabash that his orderly
ever held behind him, and disappeared.

I don’t know the exact details of what passed in the cabin, but the King
eventually came out on deck blind drunk, with four bottles of whisky and
rum, two bottles under each arm. His retinue tied ropes round him, and
his big dark lips slobbered and grinned as they slowly lowered his royal
carcass down into the boat. The skipper leaned over the side and
shouted, telling them to clear off ashore.

It appeared that Milburn had bought the island and given the King a
large amount in cash as a deposit, and had also given a hundred pounds
to the skipper as commission and for his kindness and help in the
transaction.

The sun had set, and Milburn was a bit the worse for whisky, and anxious
to get ashore and see the island, which was only natural. The skipper
looked a bit uneasy and tried to persuade him to go to bed and go ashore
on the morrow, but he was determined, and as the skipper went into his
cabin Milburn called the native occupants of a canoe that was hovering
by the ship’s bows and bargained with them to take him ashore. He begged
me to go with him, and at last I accepted the offer, for I also was
eager to have a look round, and in a tick I slid down the rope and off
we went towards the shore.

With a jerk the canoe touched the reef and we jumped ashore. Before us
lay groves of moonlit coco-palms, pandanus and island pines; behind us
the silvered breakers were charging and curling over the lines of coral
reefs as we tramped together up the shore. Milburn’s mouth opened with
excitement and pleasure. “Dear, dear,” he said, as his eyes gleamed with
delight about the bargain he had made. Side by side we stood on the
plateau and gazed on the glimmering island landscape, looking at the
natives and their children moving about near their den-like homes. I,
too, felt some of Milburn’s enthusiasm, for the isle seemed a very
paradise of peace and quiet. I almost envied the socialist colonist,
who, I thought, would soon live at Apemama, and I made up my mind to
stick to Mr Milburn, for I saw that he would soon be the reigning
monarch and my influential friend.

Not far off glimmered the whitish terraced stockade of the King’s
palace. “Come on,” said Milburn, “we will go and see the King; he’s a
good fellow and by now will be sober.” Saying this he led the way, and
the natives, who had answered our inquiries with awestruck eyes,
followed us as we passed by the palms and kicked the sand up with our
boots, our monstrous shadows gliding across the still moonlit lagoon as
we went by. Little native children came with their dark mothers from the
native homes among the palm-trees and looked at us with awestruck eyes.

As we strode on Milburn’s walk became almost majestic, as he thought of
his kingship over that island, and I must admit I felt a bit swaggery
too over my prospects. It was excusable, though, in me, for I had had
many ups and downs, and all the bread I had cast on the waters had
returned to me after many days, buttered with phosphorus paste, so to
speak.

Soon we were asking the high chiefs if we could see the King. At first
they demurred, and held a council by the stockade gate. Milburn tried to
explain to them that the island was now his. “You no savee,” he said, as
they guarded the entrance and looked at him fiercely and curiously. “No
see King,” they replied, but Milburn put a silver coin into the hand of
the head vassal, and then at once, with much ceremony, we entered
through the stockades of coral rock and bamboo posts and went up by the
palisade that led to his Majesty’s palace bungalows. Four high chiefs
accompanied us, with ponderous war-clubs that enforced the laws of
Apemama. At the end of the winding pathway, shaded by palms, they all
stopped and said: “You want see King Tembinok?” “Yes,” said Milburn,
showing great irritation at the delay and absurd ceremony that we had to
go through to seek the King’s presence; for had not the King a few hours
before embraced him and departed from the _Eldorado’s_ decks very drunk?
Again we all moved on. Walking through a narrow archway we entered the
royal waiting chamber; it was high-roofed for a South Sea palace, and
thick tappu-cloth curtains divided it from the room wherein King
Tembinok sat. “He does things in style,” said Milburn, as we looked
round and listened to four Apemama females who sat by the royal doorway,
twanged strings fastened across gourds and sang songs that told of love
and the mighty deeds of Tembinok’s ancestors. “I wonder if he’s sober,”
I muttered, thinking to myself how different and austere all looked from
what I had anticipated. Suddenly the leading chief, who was in front of
us, said: “Tereoaka” (“white man”). Then we watched, for he turned and
said something to us that intimated that the King was approaching. The
thick tapestry curtain suddenly divided; my heart beat rapidly. King
Tembinok stood before us! At first Milburn instinctively looked over and
beyond the King’s shoulder, for we had not yet realised that he was the
King; then in a moment I saw it all; the old liar of a skipper had
brought a dummy king on to the ship and Milburn had been done! Milburn
seemed dazed, then once more loudly demanded to see the King! Tembinok
stared fiercely at him. I gave Milburn a nudge, but he seemed to lose
his head and shouted once again: “Where the hell’s the King?” The King,
thinking he was mad, in a loud voice shouted a command in his own
language; at once all the chiefs raised their clubs and the royal
serenading of the palace harem suddenly ceased! I lifted my hands and
made rapid signs, and in my fright pointed to my own head, to intimate
that Milburn was insane. I thought it the only thing to do, for his sake
and mine also. Tembinok seemed to understand me, but he stood before us
wrinkling and frowning fiercely at Milburn’s manner. He had been
disturbed from his sleep. His tall form was robed in a discarded
man-o’-war’s uniform and his corpulence bulged it considerably. His
sleepy eyes still looked fierce as he gazed upon us, and then Milburn
shouted: “I’ve bought this island! Where’s the late King?” Tembinok
could understand a little English, and on hearing this stared speechless
with amazement, then lifted his hand as though to give Milburn a clout.
Milburn was a fool, but no coward, and I really believe he would have
gone for Tembinok if I had not hurriedly grasped him and shouted: “You
blind ass, the skipper’s done you. This _is_ King Tembinok.” Not till I
said that did Milburn see the whole situation, and then, to my great
relief, he breathed out: “Well, I’m d——d.” Then, by gesticulations and
pidgin-English, we told Tembinok all, at which he became most courteous
and invited us to come ashore on the morrow and look round the palace.

Milburn was almost mad with rage and itching to get back to the ship to
have a reckoning with the Yankee skipper. I saw that he was, after all,
not the kind of man to be done, and that he believed in getting his
money’s worth and being boss in his own line, notwithstanding his
theories on socialism. We both grasped Tembinok’s hand and accepted his
kind invitation to call at the palace the next day; and then the high
chiefs, wondering at the whole business, rolled their banana-leaf
cigarettes between their fingers, bowed and led us out of the royal
presence and through the gates of the palace stockades.

We hurried down to the shore; all was silent except a few natives
singing as they took a moonlight bathe in the waves. We looked across
the lagoon and both stared; the ship was gone! Seaward, like a bird with
many wings, fast disappearing under the brilliant moon, we saw afar the
_Eldorado_ taking advantage of the breeze; for the skipper was crowding
on all sail. He had flown!

I will not tell you what Milburn and I said. Heaven will forgive us; it
was unprintable. All our belongings were on board too! We were both
stranded, and the skipper had made the most profitable voyage of his
life. We told the natives to keep a lookout for the next trading-boat
and, side by side, without saying a word, but deep in thought, we went
back to the palace.

Tembinok had been thinking the matter over in our absence and was in a
great rage at being impersonated. He was a wonderful-looking old fellow,
with bright eyes, a keen yet half-humorous expression and slightly full
lips. He carried himself as though he was the one and only king on
earth. He at once invited us to stop till a boat came and gave us a
chance to go away. It was well for the skipper that he had gone, for I
really believe the ship would have been bombarded that same night by the
native King’s battalions, so great was the royal rage. We gave Tembinok
a description of the sham king, and then some natives, who had come
aboard, accepted a bribe and told all; he was a Marquesan chief who then
lived on the neighbouring Isle Kuria and was a deadly enemy of Tembinok.
A war council was held and things began to look much brighter than I
expected for Milburn, who promised to give me a hundred pounds if I
stuck to him and helped him get some of his deposit back, and also a bit
of his own back off that fraudulent king.

That night we stopped at the palace. Poor old Milburn looked pale and
almost cried when he thought of how he had been done, and I could see
that he had set his heart on getting the island. Tembinok turned out a
good sort; the fierce expression of his countenance had changed to one
of majestic benevolence, as he gazed upon us and we humbly sat on mats
before him. “You buy island?” he said, and then with a most conspicuous
attempt at concealing his cynical amusement solemnly gave orders to his
head wives, who sang to him and fanned off the droves of mosquitoes that
attacked his eyes and face.

The palace contained many rooms, through which crept barefooted native
girls busily attending to the numerous requirements of the head queen.
She was a fat, oily-looking woman, of about forty years of age, who put
on terrible side and blinked her eyes as we surveyed her respectfully.
Two eunuchs kept blowing cooling breath on to her perspiring body, for
the little wind that blew was extremely hot.

We slept nearly all next day and then went to see the neighbouring
villages; the natives had comfortable wooden homes (_maniaps_) built on
posts, open at the sides to let the wind in. We soon tired, and again
returned that night to the palace and were then allowed, for the first
time, to go over the various rooms. I was astonished at all we saw, for
it was furnished well with native and European furniture. It seemed hard
to believe that the memory of the King could go back to cannibalism and
strangulating festivals; indeed, such things were still practised in
moderation. On the walls hung clubs, muzzle-loading rifles and many
murderous weapons of savage warfare and law.

A pretty maid blew weird music through a bone flute, serenading the
queen, who moved her fat lips in lisping murmurs of melody, while six
squatting maidens waved their long arms and sang. On the wooden walls
the shadows of the pandanus and palms waved in the brilliant moonlight
that lit the palace glooms.

No king in the South Seas lived in such royal state as Tembinok; he
reigned supreme in his terraced seraglio and lived a life of luxury and
command, a life that to Western minds would seem one of selfish
debauchery and fiery lust, but by the code of South Sea morals was one
of extreme virtue and moderation amounting to self-sacrifice.

Milburn gasped with horror as a Samoan attendant told us of Tembinok and
his ancestors. With their own hands they had strangled wives and
concubines who had given elsewhere that which was destined for the royal
favour only. In some of the bed-chambers still lay the bones of the
victims who had been sharers in the offence, for they were buried under
the floor matting. They were generally chiefs who had met their end,
through some slight suspicion, from the club of Tembinok or his
ancestors who reigned before him. They would creep by night into the
supposed culprit’s sleeping-room and crash his skull in while he slept.
Often down those very corridors, where Milburn and I sat listening,
crept, in the dead of night, files of harem wives, stealthily moving
towards the woman who it was suspected had given herself up to other
than the king. With exultation alight in their eyes they would do
Tembinok’s bidding, for jealousy of each other was their one pronounced
virtue, and seldom was more than one stifled scream heard, as they
clutched the sleeping victim on her bed-mat, all their hands struggling
in rivalship together to strangle the sleeping concubine who had
betrayed their master. As the Samoan from Apia, who was employed at the
palace, told us all this, Milburn and I felt a bit uncomfortable about
our own presence, and I looked carefully at the revolver which I always
carried with me. Then I had several drinks from Milburn’s flask, and
that and the thought of the hundred pounds he had promised me stifled my
qualms; we went off to our allotted apartments, slept close together
and, to our great satisfaction, survived the night.

Fortunately I had several plugs of ship’s tobacco and so secured the
friendship of chiefs of high ancestral standing. I held the plugs
tightly in my hand and they each in turn bit off the allowance I
allotted them. They seemed very proud men and kept saying, “Me great
chief,” and giving details of their ancestry, for having no _Peerage_ or
_Who’s Who_ they were obliged to remind people, to keep the old names
going.

It was a beautiful isle, and next morning I felt glad to be with Milburn
there and felt extremely happy; birds sang up in the pandanus-trees,
sunlight danced on coral-floored waters, the very fish seemed happy as
they leapt in the still lagoons. Milburn said he would like to stay
there all his life, and for a while he forgot his sorrows; and well he
might, for I knew that if he persevered in trying to get his money back
he would have plenty of trouble in store for him. “When I get my deposit
back I’ll stop and go cruising these seas,” he said, and I agreed to go
with him.

On the slopes by Tembinok’s palace romped the native children, while the
Apemama maids sewed dress material into new designs, for the fashion
changed and the ridis would be increased by one inch, or reduced, or an
extra tassel added. The chief characteristic of Apemama ladies was not
modesty, but the bareness of their curved figures served as steel armour
to protect their loose virtue; for the rumours of punishments that had
been dealt out for amorous crimes made white men and brown men alike
regard the maiden bareness with horror.

That day Tembinok and his war council decided to go with a fleet of
canoes to Kuria and seek the chief who had aided our skipper in his
cruel duplicity. Milburn heard this decision with delight, but, to tell
the truth, I must confess that my joy was considerably damped when the
council added that we also should go with them to seek and attack the
enemy. We did not like to appear afraid, so we asked for a little time
to decide, and finally told the high chief to tell Tembinok that we
would follow the fleet of canoes in a boat some distance behind!

During the day the sun shone down on the isle in dazzling tropic flame;
the whole town lazily lolled and snoozed in the shades of the palms or
by the piazzas of their homes, by groves of bananas and pandanus. In the
afternoon, to kill time, we went for a row in a native boat across the
lagoon and up and down the creeks and shallows of the atolls. The water
was as clear as crystal, and we could look over the boat’s side and see
numerous brightly coloured fish darting and hovering among the
scintillating seaweeds that waved gently over floors of sparkling
corals; and as we watched it seemed that we looked through a vast
magnifying-glass at forests or worlds far away, as branches shone with
rich crimson, green, indigo or blue deep down in those depths that shone
like some magic world blazed up by rainbows.

To our delight and relief, for we were both deep in thought over the
coming battle, before sunset the sails of a schooner came through the
sky-line, and before the stars hung in the darkening blue over the sea
she was ploughing toward us, within five miles of the immense island
lagoon.

It had been arranged that the High Chief Taku and fifty warriors should
put off at dusk to seek the enemy. It all seemed like a dream to me; I
had to shake myself to realise the position, for it seemed more like
some tale from fiction than reality. But it was real enough, for there
stood Milburn in the flesh before me, talking to the natives. I found
that their great incentive to help us was Milburn offering to buy cargo
for them all as soon as the next trading ship called at Apemama. The
cargoes consisted chiefly of trifles, ornaments, old tickless clocks,
muzzle-loaders, tobacco and artificial jewellery; the latter adorned the
bodies of the whole tribe and was the chief dress of marriageable maids.
“What’s the good of this game, Mr Milburn?” I said, as darkness fell and
I saw the natives filling their canoes with ammunition—war-clubs, and
old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifles. “Are you determined to go?” “Most
decidedly,” he replied, “and after I have settled with this case I’ll
settle with your skipper.” “Right you are,” I answered.

At dusk the canoes shoved off the silver sands and put to sea. Milburn
and I, armed to the teeth, in an old ship’s boat, bravely crept behind.
It was a clear, starlit night; so bright were the stars that they looked
like flowers of flame in the deep, dark blue vault; our shadows glided
through the waters that mirrored the heavens as we paddled by. As we
passed the schooner, that had anchored at sunset, out came a boat to
meet us, and then I saw that Milburn was a careful man and also why he
was so brave. He had been aboard and told the skipper all, and arranged
for them to watch for us and come and convey our boat across to Kuria. I
dare say they all got a good tip from him.

When at length we arrived the natives crept by a lagoon; Milburn and I
sat in the boat silent with excitement, as we smoked, kept a sharp
outlook and waited results. Taku knew where the enemy lived. The whole
horde crept to his hut and discovered him fast asleep, blind drunk; he
had just finished up the remaining rum that Milburn had given him on the
ship.

As we watched from the boat we saw our army on the shore, struggling
along, bearing a burden with them. It was the fictitious king bound and
lashed hands and feet. Milburn surveyed him, at first with rage and then
with curiosity, and I felt rather sorry for him: he looked so different
to what he did when he had scornfully gazed at us on the decks of the
_Eldorado_. He rolled his eyes, slowly realised his position and hung
his head, looking extremely pathetic as he blinked his eyes like a
whipped dog and looked at us appealingly for mercy. Milburn and I went
to his hut, discovered nearly all the cash and came back quickly to the
boat. “You killee me?” he said, and looked steadily at us. “I say,
Milburn,” I said, “if you take him back to Apemama Tembinok will club
him, and you must remember he’s only a native, and after all the
skipper’s to blame.” “I know that,” said Milburn; and then I added: “To
tell you the truth, I rather admire this old chief, when I think of the
clever way he simulated kingship and took us all in.” Milburn relented;
indeed I think he would have done so without my saying anything. “Unbind
him,” he said. For a while the astonished natives stared, and then they
unbound him, and Milburn said: “You can go.” For a moment the chief
looked as though he did not understand, then gave us both a glance of
real gratitude and walked off majestically, but rather fast, in case we
changed our minds.

The natives got their cargo from the schooner in the bay and I received
my hundred pounds. Tembinok saw us off; we booked as passengers on the
_Bella_, for that was the name of the schooner that came in the nick of
time to relieve our minds for the night attack. We eventually arrived at
Honolulu.

Twelve months after I met Milburn again in Sydney and he turned out a
good friend to me. He never saw the skipper of the _Eldorado_ again, for
the man left his ship and went off to South America, I think.

I heard of Milburn a little later on as going off to Paraguay on the
s.s. _R——_, which was especially fitted out for taking a modern
_Mayflower_ crew to start a socialistic republic, soon started and soon
ended, for the colony turned out as miserable a failure as when Milburn
bought Apemama.

Milburn was not my friend’s real name; it seems wiser not to give that
here, in this account of our experiences together in the South Seas. One
name he deserved, that of a brave comrade and a gentleman.

After my adventures with Milburn I left Honolulu in a large schooner
which was bound for Suva. We had only been out three days when a
hurricane struck us. A Cape Horn slasher was nothing compared to the
weather we experienced. I was standing on deck smoking with several of
the crew; some of them were natives. A soft breeze came up and increased
till the elements moaned with a steady hum, as the sails bellied out
like drums and the foamy manes of white horses tossed away in the
sunset; then with a thundering moan the hurricane’s breath struck us.
The skipper yelled to us. “Aye, aye, sir,” we shouted back, for a
half-blood and I were aloft taking sail in; suddenly the boat lay over
and the rigging to leeward nearly touched the wave-crests.

Darkness slid over the ocean sky, tremendous seas came up, and the
schooner backed and shivered like a frightened mammoth thing as the
mountains of water jumped down on her deck. I fell forward on my face
beneath the liquid mass and gripped the deck with my fingers and teeth!
Crash! Crash! the boats were carried away. I heard my chum gasping and
spitting sea-water beside me. The sea cleared and the wind shot up my
legs—r-r-r—r-r-i-p—r-r—r-r-r-i-p! and my trousers split and nearly blew
away. We scrambled to our feet and clung to the ropes. “Hold on, lads,”
shouted the skipper, and we did hold on too! Scud was flying across the
sky and the moon travelling like a yellow racing balloon as the wrack of
mist flew under it. The phosphorescent blaze that lit the tossing foam
of the travelling mountains of water around us made it all look like a
ghostly scene of chaos ere creation; the winds cut the hissing wave-tops
off as though invisible giant swords flashed across the ghostly ocean
darkness. Then another sea came over, crash! right over the galley. The
cook was washed through the door, still clutching the pots that he had
been trying to keep on the galley stove. His rapid exit knocked us over
as he was washed by, and we all clutched each other and bravely held on,
each to the other, to save our own lives. The man at the wheel was
washed from the poop and joined us; the skipper took his place. No one
was lost; some miracle saved the boat and all of us; the wind howled and
rushed away as quickly as it arrived.

The skipper was a good sort; he had sailed in the black-birding days
with cargoes of natives to the Isles of Mystery. Now he gave us rum, and
we were the happiest crew on the high seas in our new lease of life, for
that is how we all felt. Only experience could paint to you the wildness
of a South Sea hurricane, and what we sailors felt as we slid along the
vessel’s deck holding on to each other’s legs and hair to prevent
ourselves being clutched and torn away into the infinite waters.

We put into Palmyra Isle and made things ship-shape, and then left for
Apia and Fiji, where I left the boat and took a steamer for New South
Wales.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             CHAPTER XXVII

My England—Its Chief Stronghold—The Island Race—Barbaric Customs—Their
   Code of Morals—A Tribalistic Clash—An English Spring


THIS chapter is written for the benefit of those natives who may come
across my book in the South Sea Islands and elsewhere. Of course I know
England well, because I am an Englishman. I escaped from my birthplace
at an early age, shipped before the mast of a sailing ship and roamed
the world. England is always the dear old Homeland to me, and so it
might interest my readers if I include reminiscences of my own country
in this book.

My England is an island surrounded by open sea and Channel. The climate
is variable; Atlantic winds blow over it and copious rains drench the
population at frequent intervals. The “survival of the fittest” theory
is finely illustrated by the athletic appearance of the native stock;
the climate kills all weaklings at birth.

London is the chief stronghold; battalions of pale-faced native warriors
tramp the tracks that divide the mighty forests of gloomy walls. They
are a brave tribe, and ever on the warpath as they glide along, passing
under historic arches and over the bridges that rib their old river,
which is called the Thames. At night, when the stars are out and the
moon is high in the sky, you can stand on those bridges and see the
monuments that have been erected to commemorate old tribal heroes. The
spires of the vast city for miles and miles point to the heavens, under
the pale, glittering stars, like outstretched fingers on the vast hands
of Pride.

The island race is a happy one, and hope springs eternal in the native
breast. If no sun shines this summer, still they hope on till the next
summer.

The common papalangi or serf class are warrior-like and cheerful folk,
and not unlike the South Sea Island races in their habits. On tribal
holidays they go off to various resorts, drink toddy and do war dances;
many appear next morning before the high chiefs, who hear with solemn
countenance of their misdeeds as they lean on the official war-club and
fine them five dollars.

The aristocrats are similar to Fijian and Solomon Islanders of royal
blood, for they are cannibalistic; they do not eat human flesh, but they
live on the blue blood that runs in their veins and on the vigour of the
flesh of the common natives. Their ancestry is similar to that of the
South Sea Islanders—through some mighty deed, that when tested by the
code of morals appears dubious, their line is famous for ever. They have
a _Peerage_ and _Who’s Who_, which are genealogical and tell of the
first high chief in the family, what he did and what they do now. Their
chief aim is to forget all else and produce sons, so as to keep the
tribal name going. The camp fires have disappeared and the tribal den is
now a mighty residence made of stone; on the walls hang ancestral
weapons. These grandees sit beneath them, eat and drink well and no
longer dye their bodies with woad.

They have a dreadful inquisition called _respectability_; once in its
clutches the common natives lose their intellectual equilibrium, become
hollow-throated and cough with a windy soullessness.

Old tribal customs are fast disappearing, and the high chiefs losing
their power and influence over the natives, who are becoming well
educated and will soon own the country. Human nature will still be the
same, so there will be sixty or seventy million kings, as many kings as
the population amounts to, and only God knows what will happen then.

The native women are white and have beautiful blue eyes, like the blue
of your skies. They wear ridis that reach to their ankles. Their morals
are excellent, but, like their sisters in the far South Seas, some of
them still retain the old instincts and fall before the temptation of
the white man, and the fallen maid takes all the blame.

If one stops a chief or his wife on the forest track and says, “Aloha!
Mitai Chipi,” and grasps their hand in true friendship, one is liable to
be taken before the high chief and fined five hundred dollars.

The forest idols are gone, but the natives still kneel in amphitheatres,
before stone images, where they hold festivals, and their old high
priest accepts confessional bribes and then forgives them their
sins—which are many.

The old-time convivial spirit has passed away; you cannot jump in the
island lagoons unless fully dressed. Many of the old barbaric customs
are still in vogue, but are practised in secret. They have wild
festivals, still play tom-toms, big drums and reeds, and whirl round and
round in the old tribalistic Siva dance, clinging to each other’s bodies
and gazing lasciviously into each other’s blue eyes. Their
_fantoes_,[17] instead of being carried on their mothers’ backs in the
old primitive basket, are wheeled along in vehicles to an advanced age;
and dominate the native villages and the lives of the chiefs. There is
no camping out now; free dens have disappeared. For camping in the
forest as of old, one is liable to get fastened up between stone walls
for six months. One cannot pick coco-nuts, yams and bread-fruit if one
is hungry.

Footnote 17:

  Children.

There is an organization for starving natives, presided over by high
chiefs with cheerless, glassy eyes. The elder natives have to apologise
for being old when they go there; but most of them when they are hungry
run for their lives, and starve to death sooner than approach the
organization’s cave kindness. The poor-class natives drink a mysterious
concoction made from a herb called the hop, and the high chiefs drink
stuff called kava, or whisky. When those high chiefs are sober, they
become solemn; and hold councils for putting down the drinking of
hop-toddy. All the native girls aspire to marry chiefs. The code of
morals is so peculiar that thousands of them die childless and mateless.

They are withal a brave, warrior-like race; and at present are engaged
in one of their old tribalistic clashes with another tribe, of a group
that lies not far from their own isle; a bloodthirsty race that are at
heart still cannibalistic. The king of this other tribe is somewhat like
old Thakambau, the late Fijian Emperor of the Cannibal Isles; he
pretends to have embraced Christianity, but his real god is the high
chief Krupp. I feel sorry for him, for the islanders are sure to get
hold of him and he will wish he had embraced their creed. Several other
warrior tribes are crashing away with the island natives; they charge
well and sing fine old war-songs. It is much safer at present to live in
the Solomon Isles.

The island country is very beautiful. In the springtime the landscapes
and valleys are dotted with yellow things called primroses; other wild
flowers grow on the hedgerow banks. Little birds sing in old trees to
the sunsets; the grass grows, and grows high ere they cut it down. The
woods smell of peat; the native homesteads in the villages burn wood,
and you can smell its delightful odour along the lanes as you tramp by.
It is a beautiful country; but violin-playing, music and poetry are not
appreciated by the natives as they are appreciated in the South Seas.

But still I love the memory of the hedgerows, wild flowers and far-off
hills, and the remains of the old forests wherein long ago their
ancestors camped; by old hills where the young lambs bleat in the
springtime and wild birds sing in leafy woods and hollows. I hope in the
end I shall be buried somewhere near where the wind and the wild
blackbird sing; and not very far from the shores of the sea, where their
ships go down Channel with sailors outbound for distant lands.


              -------------------------------------------

   PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY THE RIVERSIDE PRESS LIMITED, EDINBURGH


------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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