In the South Seas
Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 4 out of 5

When he came to lie, without issue, on the bed of death, he
summoned his next brother, Nanteitei, made him a discourse on royal
policy, and warned him he was too weak to reign. The warning was
taken to heart, and for some while the government moved on the
model of Nakaeia's. Nanteitei dispensed with guards, and walked
abroad alone with a revolver in a leather mail-bag. To conceal his
weakness he affected a rude silence; you might talk to him all day;
advice, reproof, appeal, and menace alike remained unanswered.

The number of his wives was seventeen, many of them heiresses; for
the royal house is poor, and marriage was in these days a chief
means of buttressing the throne. Nakaeia kept his harem busy for
himself; Nanteitei hired it out to others. In his days, for
instance, Messrs. Wightman built a pier with a verandah at the
north end of the town. The masonry was the work of the seventeen
queens, who toiled and waded there like fisher lasses; but the man
who was to do the roofing durst not begin till they had finished,
lest by chance he should look down and see them.

It was perhaps the last appearance of the harem gang. For some
time already Hawaiian missionaries had been seated at Butaritari--
Maka and Kanoa, two brave childlike men. Nakaeia would none of
their doctrine; he was perhaps jealous of their presence; being
human, he had some affection for their persons. In the house,
before the eyes of Kanoa, he slew with his own hand three sailors
of Oahu, crouching on their backs to knife them, and menacing the
missionary if he interfered; yet he not only spared him at the
moment, but recalled him afterwards (when he had fled) with some
expressions of respect. Nanteitei, the weaker man, fell more
completely under the spell. Maka, a light-hearted, lovable, yet in
his own trade very rigorous man, gained and improved an influence
on the king which soon grew paramount. Nanteitei, with the royal
house, was publicly converted; and, with a severity which liberal
missionaries disavow, the harem was at once reduced. It was a
compendious act. The throne was thus impoverished, its influence
shaken, the queen's relatives mortified, and sixteen chief women
(some of great possessions) cast in a body on the market. I have
been shipmates with a Hawaiian sailor who was successively married
to two of these impromptu widows, and successively divorced by both
for misconduct. That two great and rich ladies (for both of these
were rich) should have married 'a man from another island' marks
the dissolution of society. The laws besides were wholly
remodelled, not always for the better. I love Maka as a man; as a
legislator he has two defects: weak in the punishment of crime,
stern to repress innocent pleasures.

War and revolution are the common successors of reform; yet
Nanteitei died (of an overdose of chloroform), in quiet possession
of the throne, and it was in the reign of the third brother,
Nabakatokia, a man brave in body and feeble of character, that the
storm burst. The rule of the high chiefs and notables seems to
have always underlain and perhaps alternated with monarchy. The
Old Men (as they were called) have a right to sit with the king in
the Speak House and debate: and the king's chief superiority is a
form of closure--'The Speaking is over.' After the long monocracy
of Nakaeia and the changes of Nanteitei, the Old Men were doubtless
grown impatient of obscurity, and they were beyond question jealous
of the influence of Maka. Calumny, or rather caricature, was
called in use; a spoken cartoon ran round society; Maka was
reported to have said in church that the king was the first man in
the island and himself the second; and, stung by the supposed
affront, the chiefs broke into rebellion and armed gatherings. In
the space of one forenoon the throne of Nakaeia was humbled in the
dust. The king sat in the maniap' before the palace gate expecting
his recruits; Maka by his side, both anxious men; and meanwhile, in
the door of a house at the north entry of the town, a chief had
taken post and diverted the succours as they came. They came
singly or in groups, each with his gun or pistol slung about his
neck. 'Where are you going?' asked the chief. 'The king called
us,' they would reply. 'Here is your place. Sit down,' returned
the chief. With incredible disloyalty, all obeyed; and sufficient
force being thus got together from both sides, Nabakatokia was
summoned and surrendered. About this period, in almost every part
of the group, the kings were murdered; and on Tapituea, the
skeleton of the last hangs to this day in the chief Speak House of
the isle, a menace to ambition. Nabakatokia was more fortunate;
his life and the royal style were spared to him, but he was
stripped of power. The Old Men enjoyed a festival of public
speaking; the laws were continually changed, never enforced; the
commons had an opportunity to regret the merits of Nakaeia; and the
king, denied the resource of rich marriages and the service of a
troop of wives, fell not only in disconsideration but in debt.

He died some months before my arrival on the islands, and no one
regretted him; rather all looked hopefully to his successor. This
was by repute the hero of the family. Alone of the four brothers,
he had issue, a grown son, Natiata, and a daughter three years old;
it was to him, in the hour of the revolution, that Nabakatokia
turned too late for help; and in earlier days he had been the right
hand of the vigorous Nakaeia. Nontemat', Mr. Corpse, was his
appalling nickname, and he had earned it well. Again and again, at
the command of Nakaeia, he had surrounded houses in the dead of
night, cut down the mosquito bars and butchered families. Here was
the hand of iron; here was Nakaeia redux. He came, summoned from
the tributary rule of Little Makin: he was installed, he proved a
puppet and a trembler, the unwieldy shuttlecock of orators; and the
reader has seen the remains of him in his summer parlour under the
name of Tebureimoa.

The change in the man's character was much commented on in the
island, and variously explained by opium and Christianity. To my
eyes, there seemed no change at all, rather an extreme consistency.
Mr. Corpse was afraid of his brother: King Tebureimoa is afraid of
the Old Men. Terror of the first nerved him for deeds of
desperation; fear of the second disables him for the least act of
government. He played his part of bravo in the past, following the
line of least resistance, butchering others in his own defence:
to-day, grown elderly and heavy, a convert, a reader of the Bible,
perhaps a penitent, conscious at least of accumulated hatreds, and
his memory charged with images of violence and blood, he
capitulates to the Old Men, fuddles himself with opium, and sits
among his guards in dreadful expectation. The same cowardice that
put into his hand the knife of the assassin deprives him of the
sceptre of a king.

A tale that I was told, a trifling incident that fell in my
observation, depicts him in his two capacities. A chief in Little
Makin asked, in an hour of lightness, 'Who is Kaeia?' A bird
carried the saying; and Nakaeia placed the matter in the hands of a
committee of three. Mr. Corpse was chairman; the second
commissioner died before my arrival; the third was yet alive and
green, and presented so venerable an appearance that we gave him
the name of Abou ben Adhem. Mr. Corpse was troubled with a
scruple; the man from Little Makin was his adopted brother; in such
a case it was not very delicate to appear at all, to strike the
blow (which it seems was otherwise expected of him) would be worse
than awkward. 'I will strike the blow,' said the venerable Abou;
and Mr. Corpse (surely with a sigh) accepted the compromise. The
quarry was decoyed into the bush; he was set to carrying a log; and
while his arms were raised Abou ripped up his belly at a blow.
Justice being thus done, the commission, in a childish horror,
turned to flee. But their victim recalled them to his side. 'You
need not run away now,' he said. 'You have done this thing to me.
Stay.' He was some twenty minutes dying, and his murderers sat
with him the while: a scene for Shakespeare. All the stages of a
violent death, the blood, the failing voice, the decomposing
features, the changed hue, are thus present in the memory of Mr.
Corpse; and since he studied them in the brother he betrayed, he
has some reason to reflect on the possibilities of treachery. I
was never more sure of anything than the tragic quality of the
king's thoughts; and yet I had but the one sight of him at
unawares. I had once an errand for his ear. It was once more the
hour of the siesta; but there were loiterers abroad, and these
directed us to a closed house on the bank of the canal where
Tebureimoa lay unguarded. We entered without ceremony, being in
some haste. He lay on the floor upon a bed of mats, reading in his
Gilbert Island Bible with compunction. On our sudden entrance the
unwieldy man reared himself half-sitting so that the Bible rolled
on the floor, stared on us a moment with blank eyes, and, having
recognised his visitors, sank again upon the mats. So Eglon looked
on Ehud.

The justice of facts is strange, and strangely just; Nakaeia, the
author of these deeds, died at peace discoursing on the craft of
kings; his tool suffers daily death for his enforced complicity.
Not the nature, but the congruity of men's deeds and circumstances
damn and save them; and Tebureimoa from the first has been
incongruously placed. At home, in a quiet bystreet of a village,
the man had been a worthy carpenter, and, even bedevilled as he is,
he shows some private virtues. He has no lands, only the use of
such as are impignorate for fines; he cannot enrich himself in the
old way by marriages; thrift is the chief pillar of his future, and
he knows and uses it. Eleven foreign traders pay him a patent of a
hundred dollars, some two thousand subjects pay capitation at the
rate of a dollar for a man, half a dollar for a woman, and a
shilling for a child: allowing for the exchange, perhaps a total
of three hundred pounds a year. He had been some nine months on
the throne: had bought his wife a silk dress and hat, figure
unknown, and himself a uniform at three hundred dollars; had sent
his brother's photograph to be enlarged in San Francisco at two
hundred and fifty dollars; had greatly reduced that brother's
legacy of debt and had still sovereigns in his pocket. An
affectionate brother, a good economist; he was besides a handy
carpenter, and cobbled occasionally on the woodwork of the palace.
It is not wonderful that Mr. Corpse has virtues; that Tebureimoa
should have a diversion filled me with surprise.


When we left the palace we were still but seafarers ashore; and
within the hour we had installed our goods in one of the six
foreign houses of Butaritari, namely, that usually occupied by
Maka, the Hawaiian missionary. Two San Francisco firms are here
established, Messrs. Crawford and Messrs. Wightman Brothers; the
first hard by the palace of the mid town, the second at the north
entry; each with a store and bar-room. Our house was in the
Wightman compound, betwixt the store and bar, within a fenced
enclosure. Across the road a few native houses nestled in the
margin of the bush, and the green wall of palms rose solid,
shutting out the breeze. A little sandy cove of the lagoon ran in
behind, sheltered by a verandah pier, the labour of queens' hands.
Here, when the tide was high, sailed boats lay to be loaded; when
the tide was low, the boats took ground some half a mile away, and
an endless series of natives descended the pier stair, tailed
across the sand in strings and clusters, waded to the waist with
the bags of copra, and loitered backward to renew their charge.
The mystery of the copra trade tormented me, as I sat and watched
the profits drip on the stair and the sands.

In front, from shortly after four in the morning until nine at
night, the folk of the town streamed by us intermittingly along the
road: families going up the island to make copra on their lands;
women bound for the bush to gather flowers against the evening
toilet; and, twice a day, the toddy-cutters, each with his knife
and shell. In the first grey of the morning, and again late in the
afternoon, these would straggle past about their tree-top business,
strike off here and there into the bush, and vanish from the face
of the earth. At about the same hour, if the tide be low in the
lagoon, you are likely to be bound yourself across the island for a
bath, and may enter close at their heels alleys of the palm wood.
Right in front, although the sun is not yet risen, the east is
already lighted with preparatory fires, and the huge accumulations
of the trade-wind cloud glow with and heliograph the coming day.
The breeze is in your face; overhead in the tops of the palms, its
playthings, it maintains a lively bustle; look where you will,
above or below, there is no human presence, only the earth and
shaken forest. And right overhead the song of an invisible singer
breaks from the thick leaves; from farther on a second tree-top
answers; and beyond again, in the bosom of the woods, a still more
distant minstrel perches and sways and sings. So, all round the
isle, the toddy-cutters sit on high, and are rocked by the trade,
and have a view far to seaward, where they keep watch for sails,
and like huge birds utter their songs in the morning. They sing
with a certain lustiness and Bacchic glee; the volume of sound and
the articulate melody fall unexpected from the tree-top, whence we
anticipate the chattering of fowls. And yet in a sense these songs
also are but chatter; the words are ancient, obsolete, and sacred;
few comprehend them, perhaps no one perfectly; but it was
understood the cutters 'prayed to have good toddy, and sang of
their old wars.' The prayer is at least answered; and when the
foaming shell is brought to your door, you have a beverage well
'worthy of a grace.' All forenoon you may return and taste; it
only sparkles, and sharpens, and grows to be a new drink, not less
delicious; but with the progress of the day the fermentation
quickens and grows acid; in twelve hours it will be yeast for
bread, in two days more a devilish intoxicant, the counsellor of

The men are of a marked Arabian cast of features, often bearded and
mustached, often gaily dressed, some with bracelets and anklets,
all stalking hidalgo-like, and accepting salutations with a haughty
lip. The hair (with the dandies of either sex) is worn turban-wise
in a frizzled bush; and like the daggers of the Japanese a pointed
stick (used for a comb) is thrust gallantly among the curls. The
women from this bush of hair look forth enticingly: the race
cannot be compared with the Tahitian for female beauty; I doubt
even if the average be high; but some of the prettiest girls, and
one of the handsomest women I ever saw, were Gilbertines.
Butaritari, being the commercial centre of the group, is
Europeanised; the coloured sacque or the white shift are common
wear, the latter for the evening; the trade hat, loaded with
flowers, fruit, and ribbons, is unfortunately not unknown; and the
characteristic female dress of the Gilberts no longer universal.
The ridi is its name: a cutty petticoat or fringe of the smoked
fibre of cocoa-nut leaf, not unlike tarry string: the lower edge
not reaching the mid-thigh, the upper adjusted so low upon the
haunches that it seems to cling by accident. A sneeze, you think,
and the lady must surely be left destitute. 'The perilous,
hairbreadth ridi' was our word for it; and in the conflict that
rages over women's dress it has the misfortune to please neither
side, the prudish condemning it as insufficient, the more frivolous
finding it unlovely in itself. Yet if a pretty Gilbertine would
look her best, that must be her costume. In that and naked
otherwise, she moves with an incomparable liberty and grace and
life, that marks the poetry of Micronesia. Bundle her in a gown,
the charm is fled, and she wriggles like an Englishwoman.

Towards dusk the passers-by became more gorgeous. The men broke
out in all the colours of the rainbow--or at least of the trade-
room,--and both men and women began to be adorned and scented with
new flowers. A small white blossom is the favourite, sometimes
sown singly in a woman's hair like little stars, now composed in a
thick wreath. With the night, the crowd sometimes thickened in the
road, and the padding and brushing of bare feet became continuous;
the promenades mostly grave, the silence only interrupted by some
giggling and scampering of girls; even the children quiet. At
nine, bed-time struck on a bell from the cathedral, and the life of
the town ceased. At four the next morning the signal is repeated
in the darkness, and the innocent prisoners set free; but for seven
hours all must lie--I was about to say within doors, of a place
where doors, and even walls, are an exception--housed, at least,
under their airy roofs and clustered in the tents of the mosquito-
nets. Suppose a necessary errand to occur, suppose it imperative
to send abroad, the messenger must then go openly, advertising
himself to the police with a huge brand of cocoa-nut, which flares
from house to house like a moving bonfire. Only the police
themselves go darkling, and grope in the night for misdemeanants.
I used to hate their treacherous presence; their captain in
particular, a crafty old man in white, lurked nightly about my
premises till I could have found it in my heart to beat him. But
the rogue was privileged.

Not one of the eleven resident traders came to town, no captain
cast anchor in the lagoon, but we saw him ere the hour was out.
This was owing to our position between the store and the bar--the
Sans Souci, as the last was called. Mr. Rick was not only Messrs.
Wightman's manager, but consular agent for the States; Mrs. Rick
was the only white woman on the island, and one of the only two in
the archipelago; their house besides, with its cool verandahs, its
bookshelves, its comfortable furniture, could not be rivalled
nearer than Jaluit or Honolulu. Every one called in consequence,
save such as might be prosecuting a South Sea quarrel, hingeing on
the price of copra and the odd cent, or perhaps a difference about
poultry. Even these, if they did not appear upon the north, would
be presently visible to the southward, the Sans Souci drawing them
as with cords. In an island with a total population of twelve
white persons, one of the two drinking-shops might seem
superfluous: but every bullet has its billet, and the double
accommodation of Butaritari is found in practice highly convenient
by the captains and the crews of ships: The Land we Live in being
tacitly resigned to the forecastle, the Sans Souci tacitly reserved
for the afterguard. So aristocratic were my habits, so commanding
was my fear of Mr. Williams, that I have never visited the first;
but in the other, which was the club or rather the casino of the
island, I regularly passed my evenings. It was small, but neatly
fitted, and at night (when the lamp was lit) sparkled with glass
and glowed with coloured pictures like a theatre at Christmas. The
pictures were advertisements, the glass coarse enough, the
carpentry amateur; but the effect, in that incongruous isle, was of
unbridled luxury and inestimable expense. Here songs were sung,
tales told, tricks performed, games played. The Ricks, ourselves,
Norwegian Tom the bar-keeper, a captain or two from the ships, and
perhaps three or four traders come down the island in their boats
or by the road on foot, made up the usual company. The traders,
all bred to the sea, take a humorous pride in their new business;
'South Sea Merchants' is the title they prefer. 'We are all
sailors here'--'Merchants, if you please'--'South Sea Merchants,'--
was a piece of conversation endlessly repeated, that never seemed
to lose in savour. We found them at all times simple, genial, gay,
gallant, and obliging; and, across some interval of time, recall
with pleasure the traders of Butaritari. There was one black sheep
indeed. I tell of him here where he lived, against my rule; for in
this case I have no measure to preserve, and the man is typical of
a class of ruffians that once disgraced the whole field of the
South Seas, and still linger in the rarely visited isles of
Micronesia. He had the name on the beach of 'a perfect gentleman
when sober,' but I never saw him otherwise than drunk. The few
shocking and savage traits of the Micronesian he has singled out
with the skill of a collector, and planted in the soil of his
original baseness. He has been accused and acquitted of a
treacherous murder; and has since boastfully owned it, which
inclines me to suppose him innocent. His daughter is defaced by
his erroneous cruelty, for it was his wife he had intended to
disfigure, and in the darkness of the night and the frenzy of coco-
brandy, fastened on the wrong victim. The wife has since fled and
harbours in the bush with natives; and the husband still demands
from deaf ears her forcible restoration. The best of his business
is to make natives drink, and then advance the money for the fine
upon a lucrative mortgage. 'Respect for whites' is the man's word:
'What is the matter with this island is the want of respect for
whites.' On his way to Butaritari, while I was there, he spied his
wife in the bush with certain natives and made a dash to capture
her; whereupon one of her companions drew a knife and the husband
retreated: 'Do you call that proper respect for whites?' he cried.
At an early stage of the acquaintance we proved our respect for his
kind of white by forbidding him our enclosure under pain of death.
Thenceforth he lingered often in the neighbourhood with I knew not
what sense of envy or design of mischief; his white, handsome face
(which I beheld with loathing) looked in upon us at all hours
across the fence; and once, from a safe distance, he avenged
himself by shouting a recondite island insult, to us quite
inoffensive, on his English lips incredibly incongruous.

Our enclosure, round which this composite of degradations wandered,
was of some extent. In one corner was a trellis with a long table
of rough boards. Here the Fourth of July feast had been held not
long before with memorable consequences, yet to be set forth; here
we took our meals; here entertained to a dinner the king and
notables of Makin. In the midst was the house, with a verandah
front and back, and three is rooms within. In the verandah we
slung our man-of-war hammocks, worked there by day, and slept at
night. Within were beds, chairs, a round table, a fine hanging
lamp, and portraits of the royal family of Hawaii. Queen Victoria
proves nothing; Kalakaua and Mrs. Bishop are diagnostic; and the
truth is we were the stealthy tenants of the parsonage. On the day
of our arrival Maka was away; faithless trustees unlocked his
doors; and the dear rigorous man, the sworn foe of liquor and
tobacco, returned to find his verandah littered with cigarettes and
his parlour horrible with bottles. He made but one condition--on
the round table, which he used in the celebration of the
sacraments, he begged us to refrain from setting liquor; in all
else he bowed to the accomplished fact, refused rent, retired
across the way into a native house, and, plying in his boat, beat
the remotest quarters of the isle for provender. He found us pigs-
-I could not fancy where--no other pigs were visible; he brought us
fowls and taro; when we gave our feast to the monarch and gentry,
it was he who supplied the wherewithal, he who superintended the
cooking, he who asked grace at table, and when the king's health
was proposed, he also started the cheering with an English hip-hip-
hip. There was never a more fortunate conception; the heart of the
fatted king exulted in his bosom at the sound.

Take him for all in all, I have never known a more engaging
creature than this parson of Butaritari: his mirth, his kindness,
his noble, friendly feelings, brimmed from the man in speech and
gesture. He loved to exaggerate, to act and overact the momentary
part, to exercise his lungs and muscles, and to speak and laugh
with his whole body. He had the morning cheerfulness of birds and
healthy children; and his humour was infectious. We were next
neighbours and met daily, yet our salutations lasted minutes at a
stretch--shaking hands, slapping shoulders, capering like a pair of
Merry-Andrews, laughing to split our sides upon some pleasantry
that would scarce raise a titter in an infant-school. It might be
five in the morning, the toddy-cutters just gone by, the road
empty, the shade of the island lying far on the lagoon: and the
ebullition cheered me for the day.

Yet I always suspected Maka of a secret melancholy--these jubilant
extremes could scarce be constantly maintained. He was besides
long, and lean, and lined, and corded, and a trifle grizzled; and
his Sabbath countenance was even saturnine. On that day we made a
procession to the church, or (as I must always call it) the
cathedral: Maka (a blot on the hot landscape) in tall hat, black
frock-coat, black trousers; under his arm the hymn-book and the
Bible; in his face, a reverent gravity:- beside him Mary his wife,
a quiet, wise, and handsome elderly lady, seriously attired:-
myself following with singular and moving thoughts. Long before,
to the sound of bells and streams and birds, through a green
Lothian glen, I had accompanied Sunday by Sunday a minister in
whose house I lodged; and the likeness, and the difference, and the
series of years and deaths, profoundly touched me. In the great,
dusky, palm-tree cathedral the congregation rarely numbered thirty:
the men on one side, the women on the other, myself posted (for a
privilege) amongst the women, and the small missionary contingent
gathered close around the platform, we were lost in that round
vault. The lessons were read antiphonally, the flock was
catechised, a blind youth repeated weekly a long string of psalms,
hymns were sung--I never heard worse singing,--and the sermon
followed. To say I understood nothing were untrue; there were
points that I learned to expect with certainty; the name of
Honolulu, that of Kalakaua, the word Cap'n-man-o'-wa', the word
ship, and a description of a storm at sea, infallibly occurred; and
I was not seldom rewarded with the name of my own Sovereign in the
bargain. The rest was but sound to the ears, silence for the mind:
a plain expanse of tedium, rendered unbearable by heat, a hard
chair, and the sight through the wide doors of the more happy
heathen on the green. Sleep breathed on my joints and eyelids,
sleep hummed in my ears; it reigned in the dim cathedral. The
congregation stirred and stretched; they moaned, they groaned
aloud; they yawned upon a singing note, as you may sometimes hear a
dog when he has reached the tragic bitterest of boredom. In vain
the preacher thumped the table; in vain he singled and addressed by
name particular hearers. I was myself perhaps a more effective
excitant; and at least to one old gentleman the spectacle of my
successful struggles against sleep--and I hope they were
successful--cheered the flight of time. He, when he was not
catching flies or playing tricks upon his neighbours, gloated with
a fixed, truculent eye upon the stages of my agony; and once, when
the service was drawing towards a close, he winked at me across the

I write of the service with a smile; yet I was always there--always
with respect for Maka, always with admiration for his deep
seriousness, his burning energy, the fire of his roused eye, the
sincere and various accents of his voice. To see him weekly
flogging a dead horse and blowing a cold fire was a lesson in
fortitude and constancy. It may be a question whether if the
mission were fully supported, and he was set free from business
avocations, more might not result; I think otherwise myself; I
think not neglect but rigour has reduced his flock, that rigour
which has once provoked a revolution, and which to-day, in a man so
lively and engaging, amazes the beholder. No song, no dance, no
tobacco, no liquor, no alleviative of life--only toil and church-
going; so says a voice from his face; and the face is the face of
the Polynesian Esau, but the voice is the voice of a Jacob from a
different world. And a Polynesian at the best makes a singular
missionary in the Gilberts, coming from a country recklessly
unchaste to one conspicuously strict; from a race hag-ridden with
bogies to one comparatively bold against the terrors of the dark.
The thought was stamped one morning in my mind, when I chanced to
be abroad by moonlight, and saw all the town lightless, but the
lamp faithfully burning by the missionary's bed. It requires no
law, no fire, and no scouting police, to withhold Maka and his
countrymen from wandering in the night unlighted.


On the morrow of our arrival (Sunday, 14th July 1889) our
photographers were early stirring. Once more we traversed a silent
town; many were yet abed and asleep; some sat drowsily in their
open houses; there was no sound of intercourse or business. In
that hour before the shadows, the quarter of the palace and canal
seemed like a landing-place in the Arabian Nights or from the
classic poets; here were the fit destination of some 'faery
frigot,' here some adventurous prince might step ashore among new
characters and incidents; and the island prison, where it floated
on the luminous face of the lagoon, might have passed for the
repository of the Grail. In such a scene, and at such an hour, the
impression received was not so much of foreign travel--rather of
past ages; it seemed not so much degrees of latitude that we had
crossed, as centuries of time that we had re-ascended; leaving, by
the same steps, home and to-day. A few children followed us,
mostly nude, all silent; in the clear, weedy waters of the canal
some silent damsels waded, baring their brown thighs; and to one of
the maniap's before the palace gate we were attracted by a low but
stirring hum of speech.

The oval shed was full of men sitting cross-legged. The king was
there in striped pyjamas, his rear protected by four guards with
Winchesters, his air and bearing marked by unwonted spirit and
decision; tumblers and black bottles went the round; and the talk,
throughout loud, was general and animated. I was inclined at first
to view this scene with suspicion. But the hour appeared
unsuitable for a carouse; drink was besides forbidden equally by
the law of the land and the canons of the church; and while I was
yet hesitating, the king's rigorous attitude disposed of my last
doubt. We had come, thinking to photograph him surrounded by his
guards, and at the first word of the design his piety revolted. We
were reminded of the day--the Sabbath, in which thou shalt take no
photographs--and returned with a flea in our ear, bearing the
rejected camera.

At church, a little later, I was struck to find the throne
unoccupied. So nice a Sabbatarian might have found the means to be
present; perhaps my doubts revived; and before I got home they were
transformed to certainties. Tom, the bar-keeper of the Sans Souci,
was in conversation with two emissaries from the court. The
'keen,' they said, wanted 'din,' failing which 'perandi.' No din,
was Tom's reply, and no perandi; but 'pira' if they pleased. It
seems they had no use for beer, and departed sorrowing.

'Why, what is the meaning of all this?' I asked. 'Is the island on
the spree?'

Such was the fact. On the 4th of July a feast had been made, and
the king, at the suggestion of the whites, had raised the tapu
against liquor. There is a proverb about horses; it scarce applies
to the superior animal, of whom it may be rather said, that any one
can start him drinking, not any twenty can prevail on him to stop.
The tapu, raised ten days before, was not yet re-imposed; for ten
days the town had been passing the bottle or lying (as we had seen
it the afternoon before) in hoggish sleep; and the king, moved by
the Old Men and his own appetites, continued to maintain the
liberty, to squander his savings on liquor, and to join in and lead
the debauch. The whites were the authors of this crisis; it was
upon their own proposal that the freedom had been granted at the
first; and for a while, in the interests of trade, they were
doubtless pleased it should continue. That pleasure had now
sometime ceased; the bout had been prolonged (it was conceded)
unduly; and it now began to be a question how it might conclude.
Hence Tom's refusal. Yet that refusal was avowedly only for the
moment, and it was avowedly unavailing; the king's foragers, denied
by Tom at the Sans Souci, would be supplied at The Land we Live in
by the gobbling Mr. Williams.

The degree of the peril was not easy to measure at the time, and I
am inclined to think now it was easy to exaggerate. Yet the
conduct of drunkards even at home is always matter for anxiety; and
at home our populations are not armed from the highest to the
lowest with revolvers and repeating rifles, neither do we go on a
debauch by the whole townful--and I might rather say, by the whole
polity--king, magistrates, police, and army joining in one common
scene of drunkenness. It must be thought besides that we were here
in barbarous islands, rarely visited, lately and partly civilised.
First and last, a really considerable number of whites have
perished in the Gilberts, chiefly through their own misconduct; and
the natives have displayed in at least one instance a disposition
to conceal an accident under a butchery, and leave nothing but dumb
bones. This last was the chief consideration against a sudden
closing of the bars; the bar-keepers stood in the immediate breach
and dealt direct with madmen; too surly a refusal might at any
moment precipitate a blow, and the blow might prove the signal for
a massacre.

Monday, 15th.--At the same hour we returned to the same muniap'.
Kummel (of all drinks) was served in tumblers; in the midst sat the
crown prince, a fatted youth, surrounded by fresh bottles and
busily plying the corkscrew; and king, chief, and commons showed
the loose mouth, the uncertain joints, and the blurred and animated
eye of the early drinker. It was plain we were impatiently
expected; the king retired with alacrity to dress, the guards were
despatched after their uniforms; and we were left to await the
issue of these preparations with a shedful of tipsy natives. The
orgie had proceeded further than on Sunday. The day promised to be
of great heat; it was already sultry, the courtiers were already
fuddled; and still the kummel continued to go round, and the crown
prince to play butler. Flemish freedom followed upon Flemish
excess; and a funny dog, a handsome fellow, gaily dressed, and with
a full turban of frizzed hair, delighted the company with a
humorous courtship of a lady in a manner not to be described. It
was our diversion, in this time of waiting, to observe the
gathering of the guards. They have European arms, European
uniforms, and (to their sorrow) European shoes. We saw one warrior
(like Mars) in the article of being armed; two men and a stalwart
woman were scarce strong enough to boot him; and after a single
appearance on parade the army is crippled for a week.

At last, the gates under the king's house opened; the army issued,
one behind another, with guns and epaulettes; the colours stooped
under the gateway; majesty followed in his uniform bedizened with
gold lace; majesty's wife came next in a hat and feathers, and an
ample trained silk gown; the royal imps succeeded; there stood the
pageantry of Makin marshalled on its chosen theatre. Dickens might
have told how serious they were; how tipsy; how the king melted and
streamed under his cocked hat; how he took station by the larger of
his two cannons--austere, majestic, but not truly vertical; how the
troops huddled, and were straightened out, and clubbed again; how
they and their firelocks raked at various inclinations like the
masts of ships; and how an amateur photographer reviewed, arrayed,
and adjusted them, to see his dispositions change before he reached
the camera.

The business was funny to see; I do not know that it is graceful to
laugh at; and our report of these transactions was received on our
return with the shaking of grave heads.

The day had begun ill; eleven hours divided us from sunset; and at
any moment, on the most trifling chance, the trouble might begin.
The Wightman compound was in a military sense untenable, commanded
on three sides by houses and thick bush; the town was computed to
contain over a thousand stand of excellent new arms; and retreat to
the ships, in the case of an alert, was a recourse not to be
thought of. Our talk that morning must have closely reproduced the
talk in English garrisons before the Sepoy mutiny; the sturdy doubt
that any mischief was in prospect, the sure belief that (should any
come) there was nothing left but to go down fighting, the half-
amused, half-anxious attitude of mind in which we were awaiting
fresh developments.

The kummel soon ran out; we were scarce returned before the king
had followed us in quest of more. Mr. Corpse was now divested of
his more awful attitude, the lawless bulk of him again encased in
striped pyjamas; a guardsman brought up the rear with his rifle at
the trail: and his majesty was further accompanied by a Rarotongan
whalerman and the playful courtier with the turban of frizzed hair.
There was never a more lively deputation. The whalerman was
gapingly, tearfully tipsy: the courtier walked on air; the king
himself was even sportive. Seated in a chair in the Ricks'
sitting-room, he bore the brunt of our prayers and menaces unmoved.
He was even rated, plied with historic instances, threatened with
the men-of-war, ordered to restore the tapu on the spot--and
nothing in the least affected him. It should be done to-morrow, he
said; to-day it was beyond his power, to-day he durst not. 'Is
that royal?' cried indignant Mr. Rick. No, it was not royal; had
the king been of a royal character we should ourselves have held a
different language; and royal or not, he had the best of the
dispute. The terms indeed were hardly equal; for the king was the
only man who could restore the tapu, but the Ricks were not the
only people who sold drink. He had but to hold his ground on the
first question, and they were sure to weaken on the second. A
little struggle they still made for the fashion's sake; and then
one exceedingly tipsy deputation departed, greatly rejoicing, a
case of brandy wheeling beside them in a barrow. The Rarotongan
(whom I had never seen before) wrung me by the hand like a man
bound on a far voyage. 'My dear frien'!' he cried, 'good-bye, my
dear frien'!'--tears of kummel standing in his eyes; the king
lurched as he went, the courtier ambled,--a strange party of
intoxicated children to be entrusted with that barrowful of

You could never say the town was quiet; all morning there was a
ferment in the air, an aimless movement and congregation of natives
in the street. But it was not before half-past one that a sudden
hubbub of voices called us from the house, to find the whole white
colony already gathered on the spot as by concerted signal. The
Sans Souci was overrun with rabble, the stair and verandah
thronged. From all these throats an inarticulate babbling cry went
up incessantly; it sounded like the bleating of young lambs, but
angrier. In the road his royal highness (whom I had seen so lately
in the part of butler) stood crying upon Tom; on the top step,
tossed in the hurly-burly, Tom was shouting to the prince. Yet a
while the pack swayed about the bar, vociferous. Then came a
brutal impulse; the mob reeled, and returned, and was rejected; the
stair showed a stream of heads; and there shot into view, through
the disbanding ranks, three men violently dragging in their midst a
fourth. By his hair and his hands, his head forced as low as his
knees, his face concealed, he was wrenched from the verandah and
whisked along the road into the village, howling as he disappeared.
Had his face been raised, we should have seen it bloodied, and the
blood was not his own. The courtier with the turban of frizzed
hair had paid the costs of this disturbance with the lower part of
one ear.

So the brawl passed with no other casualty than might seem comic to
the inhumane. Yet we looked round on serious faces and--a fact
that spoke volumes--Tom was putting up the shutters on the bar.
Custom might go elsewhere, Mr. Williams might profit as he pleased,
but Tom had had enough of bar-keeping for that day. Indeed the
event had hung on a hair. A man had sought to draw a revolver--on
what quarrel I could never learn, and perhaps he himself could not
have told; one shot, when the room was so crowded, could scarce
have failed to take effect; where many were armed and all tipsy, it
could scarce have failed to draw others; and the woman who spied
the weapon and the man who seized it may very well have saved the
white community.

The mob insensibly melted from the scene; and for the rest of the
day our neighbourhood was left in peace and a good deal in
solitude. But the tranquillity was only local; din and perandi
still flowed in other quarters: and we had one more sight of
Gilbert Island violence. In the church, where we had wandered
photographing, we were startled by a sudden piercing outcry. The
scene, looking forth from the doors of that great hall of shadow,
was unforgettable. The palms, the quaint and scattered houses, the
flag of the island streaming from its tall staff, glowed with
intolerable sunshine. In the midst two women rolled fighting on
the grass. The combatants were the more easy to be distinguished,
because the one was stripped to the ridi and the other wore a
holoku (sacque) of some lively colour. The first was uppermost,
her teeth locked in her adversary's face, shaking her like a dog;
the other impotently fought and scratched. So for a moment we saw
them wallow and grapple there like vermin; then the mob closed and
shut them in.

It was a serious question that night if we should sleep ashore.
But we were travellers, folk that had come far in quest of the
adventurous; on the first sign of an adventure it would have been a
singular inconsistency to have withdrawn; and we sent on board
instead for our revolvers. Mindful of Taahauku, Mr. Rick, Mr.
Osbourne, and Mrs. Stevenson held an assault of arms on the public
highway, and fired at bottles to the admiration of the natives.
Captain Reid of the Equator stayed on shore with us to be at hand
in case of trouble, and we retired to bed at the accustomed hour,
agreeably excited by the day's events. The night was exquisite,
the silence enchanting; yet as I lay in my hammock looking on the
strong moonshine and the quiescent palms, one ugly picture haunted
me of the two women, the naked and the clad, locked in that hostile
embrace. The harm done was probably not much, yet I could have
looked on death and massacre with less revolt. The return to these
primeval weapons, the vision of man's beastliness, of his ferality,
shocked in me a deeper sense than that with which we count the cost
of battles. There are elements in our state and history which it
is a pleasure to forget, which it is perhaps the better wisdom not
to dwell on. Crime, pestilence, and death are in the day's work;
the imagination readily accepts them. It instinctively rejects, on
the contrary, whatever shall call up the image of our race upon its
lowest terms, as the partner of beasts, beastly itself, dwelling
pell-mell and hugger-mugger, hairy man with hairy woman, in the
caves of old. And yet to be just to barbarous islanders we must
not forget the slums and dens of our cities; I must not forget that
I have passed dinnerward through Soho, and seen that which cured me
of my dinner.


Tuesday, July 16.--It rained in the night, sudden and loud, in
Gilbert Island fashion. Before the day, the crowing of a cock
aroused me and I wandered in the compound and along the street.
The squall was blown by, the moon shone with incomparable lustre,
the air lay dead as in a room, and yet all the isle sounded as
under a strong shower, the eaves thickly pattering, the lofty palms
dripping at larger intervals and with a louder note. In this bold
nocturnal light the interior of the houses lay inscrutable, one
lump of blackness, save when the moon glinted under the roof, and
made a belt of silver, and drew the slanting shadows of the pillars
on the floor. Nowhere in all the town was any lamp or ember; not a
creature stirred; I thought I was alone to be awake; but the police
were faithful to their duty; secretly vigilant, keeping account of
time; and a little later, the watchman struck slowly and repeatedly
on the cathedral bell; four o'clock, the warning signal. It seemed
strange that, in a town resigned to drunkenness and tumult, curfew
and reveille should still be sounded and still obeyed.

The day came, and brought little change. The place still lay
silent; the people slept, the town slept. Even the few who were
awake, mostly women and children, held their peace and kept within
under the strong shadow of the thatch, where you must stop and peer
to see them. Through the deserted streets, and past the sleeping
houses, a deputation took its way at an early hour to the palace;
the king was suddenly awakened, and must listen (probably with a
headache) to unpalatable truths. Mrs. Rick, being a sufficient
mistress of that difficult tongue, was spokeswoman; she explained
to the sick monarch that I was an intimate personal friend of Queen
Victoria's; that immediately on my return I should make her a
report upon Butaritari; and that if my house should have been again
invaded by natives, a man-of-war would be despatched to make
reprisals. It was scarce the fact--rather a just and necessary
parable of the fact, corrected for latitude; and it certainly told
upon the king. He was much affected; he had conceived the notion
(he said) that I was a man of some importance, but not dreamed it
was as bad as this; and the missionary house was tapu'd under a
fine of fifty dollars.

So much was announced on the return of the deputation; not any
more; and I gathered subsequently that much more had passed. The
protection gained was welcome. It had been the most annoying and
not the least alarming feature of the day before, that our house
was periodically filled with tipsy natives, twenty or thirty at a
time, begging drink, fingering our goods, hard to be dislodged,
awkward to quarrel with. Queen Victoria's friend (who was soon
promoted to be her son) was free from these intrusions. Not only
my house, but my neighbourhood as well, was left in peace; even on
our walks abroad we were guarded and prepared for; and, like great
persons visiting a hospital, saw only the fair side. For the
matter of a week we were thus suffered to go out and in and live in
a fool's paradise, supposing the king to have kept his word, the
tapu to be revived and the island once more sober.

Tuesday, July 23.--We dined under a bare trellis erected for the
Fourth of July; and here we used to linger by lamplight over coffee
and tobacco. In that climate evening approaches without sensible
chill; the wind dies out before sunset; heaven glows a while and
fades, and darkens into the blueness of the tropical night; swiftly
and insensibly the shadows thicken, the stars multiply their
number; you look around you and the day is gone. It was then that
we would see our Chinaman draw near across the compound in a
lurching sphere of light, divided by his shadows; and with the
coming of the lamp the night closed about the table. The faces of
the company, the spars of the trellis, stood out suddenly bright on
a ground of blue and silver, faintly designed with palm-tops and
the peaked roofs of houses. Here and there the gloss upon a leaf,
or the fracture of a stone, returned an isolated sparkle. All else
had vanished. We hung there, illuminated like a galaxy of stars in
vacuo; we sat, manifest and blind, amid the general ambush of the
darkness; and the islanders, passing with light footfalls and low
voices in the sand of the road, lingered to observe us, unseen.

On Tuesday the dusk had fallen, the lamp had just been brought,
when a missile struck the table with a rattling smack and rebounded
past my ear. Three inches to one side and this page had never been
written; for the thing travelled like a cannon ball. It was
supposed at the time to be a nut, though even at the time I thought
it seemed a small one and fell strangely.

Wednesday, July 24.--The dusk had fallen once more, and the lamp
been just brought out, when the same business was repeated. And
again the missile whistled past my ear. One nut I had been willing
to accept; a second, I rejected utterly. A cocoa-nut does not come
slinging along on a windless evening, making an angle of about
fifteen degrees with the horizon; cocoa-nuts do not fall on
successive nights at the same hour and spot; in both cases,
besides, a specific moment seemed to have been chosen, that when
the lamp was just carried out, a specific person threatened, and
that the head of the family. I may have been right or wrong, but I
believed I was the mark of some intimidation; believed the missile
was a stone, aimed not to hit, but to frighten.

No idea makes a man more angry. I ran into the road, where the
natives were as usual promenading in the dark; Maka joined me with
a lantern; and I ran from one to another, glared in quite innocent
faces, put useless questions, and proffered idle threats. Thence I
carried my wrath (which was worthy the son of any queen in history)
to the Ricks. They heard me with depression, assured me this trick
of throwing a stone into a family dinner was not new; that it meant
mischief, and was of a piece with the alarming disposition of the
natives. And then the truth, so long concealed from us, came out.
The king had broken his promise, he had defied the deputation; the
tapu was still dormant, The Land we Live in still selling drink,
and that quarter of the town disturbed and menaced by perpetual
broils. But there was worse ahead: a feast was now preparing for
the birthday of the little princess; and the tributary chiefs of
Kuma and Little Makin were expected daily. Strong in a following
of numerous and somewhat savage clansmen, each of these was
believed, like a Douglas of old, to be of doubtful loyalty. Kuma
(a little pot-bellied fellow) never visited the palace, never
entered the town, but sat on the beach on a mat, his gun across his
knees, parading his mistrust and scorn; Karaiti of Makin, although
he was more bold, was not supposed to be more friendly; and not
only were these vassals jealous of the throne, but the followers on
either side shared in the animosity. Brawls had already taken
place; blows had passed which might at any moment be repaid in
blood. Some of the strangers were already here and already
drinking; if the debauch continued after the bulk of them had come,
a collision, perhaps a revolution, was to be expected.

The sale of drink is in this group a measure of the jealousy of
traders; one begins, the others are constrained to follow; and to
him who has the most gin, and sells it the most recklessly, the
lion's share of copra is assured. It is felt by all to be an
extreme expedient, neither safe, decent, nor dignified. A trader
on Tarawa, heated by an eager rivalry, brought many cases of gin.
He told me he sat afterwards day and night in his house till it was
finished, not daring to arrest the sale, not venturing to go forth,
the bush all round him filled with howling drunkards. At night,
above all, when he was afraid to sleep, and heard shots and voices
about him in the darkness, his remorse was black.

'My God!' he reflected, 'if I was to lose my life on such a
wretched business!' Often and often, in the story of the Gilberts,
this scene has been repeated; and the remorseful trader sat beside
his lamp, longing for the day, listening with agony for the sound
of murder, registering resolutions for the future. For the
business is easy to begin, but hazardous to stop. The natives are
in their way a just and law-abiding people, mindful of their debts,
docile to the voice of their own institutions; when the tapu is re-
enforced they will cease drinking; but the white who seeks to
antedate the movement by refusing liquor does so at his peril.

Hence, in some degree, the anxiety and helplessness of Mr. Rick.
He and Tom, alarmed by the rabblement of the Sans Souci, had
stopped the sale; they had done so without danger, because The Land
we Live in still continued selling; it was claimed, besides, that
they had been the first to begin. What step could be taken? Could
Mr. Rick visit Mr. Muller (with whom he was not on terms) and
address him thus: 'I was getting ahead of you, now you are getting
ahead of me, and I ask you to forego your profit. I got my place
closed in safety, thanks to your continuing; but now I think you
have continued long enough. I begin to be alarmed; and because I
am afraid I ask you to confront a certain danger'? It was not to
be thought of. Something else had to be found; and there was one
person at one end of the town who was at least not interested in
copra. There was little else to be said in favour of myself as an
ambassador. I had arrived in the Wightman schooner, I was living
in the Wightman compound, I was the daily associate of the Wightman
coterie. It was egregious enough that I should now intrude unasked
in the private affairs of Crawford's agent, and press upon him the
sacrifice of his interests and the venture of his life. But bad as
I might be, there was none better; since the affair of the stone I
was, besides, sharp-set to be doing, the idea of a delicate
interview attracted me, and I thought it policy to show myself

The night was very dark. There was service in the church, and the
building glimmered through all its crevices like a dim Kirk
Allowa'. I saw few other lights, but was indistinctly aware of
many people stirring in the darkness, and a hum and sputter of low
talk that sounded stealthy. I believe (in the old phrase) my beard
was sometimes on my shoulder as I went. Muller's was but partly
lighted, and quite silent, and the gate was fastened. I could by
no means manage to undo the latch. No wonder, since I found it
afterwards to be four or five feet long--a fortification in itself.
As I still fumbled, a dog came on the inside and sniffed
suspiciously at my hands, so that I was reduced to calling 'House
ahoy!' Mr. Muller came down and put his chin across the paling in
the dark. 'Who is that?' said he, like one who has no mind to
welcome strangers.

'My name is Stevenson,' said I.

'O, Mr. Stevens! I didn't know you. Come inside.' We stepped
into the dark store, when I leaned upon the counter and he against
the wall. All the light came from the sleeping-room, where I saw
his family being put to bed; it struck full in my face, but Mr.
Muller stood in shadow. No doubt he expected what was Coming, and
sought the advantage of position; but for a man who wished to
persuade and had nothing to conceal, mine was the preferable.

'Look here,' I began, 'I hear you are selling to the natives.'

'Others have done that before me,' he returned pointedly.

'No doubt,' said I, 'and I have nothing to do with the past, but
the future. I want you to promise you will handle these spirits

'Now what is your motive in this?' he asked, and then, with a
sneer, 'Are you afraid of your life?'

'That is nothing to the purpose,' I replied. 'I know, and you
know, these spirits ought not to be used at all.'

'Tom and Mr. Rick have sold them before.'

'I have nothing to do with Tom and Mr. Rick. All I know is I have
heard them both refuse.'

'No, I suppose you have nothing to do with them. Then you are just
afraid of your life.'

'Come now,' I cried, being perhaps a little stung, 'you know in
your heart I am asking a reasonable thing. I don't ask you to lose
your profit--though I would prefer to see no spirits brought here,
as you would--'

'I don't say I wouldn't. I didn't begin this,' he interjected.

'No, I don't suppose you did,' said I. 'And I don't ask you to
lose; I ask you to give me your word, man to man, that you will
make no native drunk.'

Up to now Mr. Muller had maintained an attitude very trying to my
temper; but he had maintained it with difficulty, his sentiment
being all upon my side; and here he changed ground for the worse.
'It isn't me that sells,' said he.

'No, it's that nigger,' I agreed. 'But he's yours to buy and sell;
you have your hand on the nape of his neck; and I ask you--I have
my wife here--to use the authority you have.'

He hastily returned to his old ward. 'I don't deny I could if I
wanted,' said he. 'But there's no danger, the natives are all
quiet. You're just afraid of your life.'

I do not like to be called a coward, even by implication; and here
I lost my temper and propounded an untimely ultimatum. 'You had
better put it plain,' I cried. 'Do you mean to refuse me what I

'I don't want either to refuse it or grant it,' he replied.

'You'll find you have to do the one thing or the other, and right
now!' I cried, and then, striking into a happier vein, 'Come,' said
I, 'you're a better sort than that. I see what's wrong with you--
you think I came from the opposite camp. I see the sort of man you
are, and you know that what I ask is right.'

Again he changed ground. 'If the natives get any drink, it isn't
safe to stop them,' he objected.

'I'll be answerable for the bar,' I said. 'We are three men and
four revolvers; we'll come at a word, and hold the place against
the village.'

'You don't know what you're talking about; it's too dangerous!' he

'Look here,' said I, 'I don't mind much about losing that life you
talk so much of; but I mean to lose it the way I want to, and that
is, putting a stop to all this beastliness.'

He talked a while about his duty to the firm; I minded not at all,
I was secure of victory. He was but waiting to capitulate, and
looked about for any potent to relieve the strain. In the gush of
light from the bedroom door I spied a cigar-holder on the desk.
'That is well coloured,' said I.

'Will you take a cigar?' said he.

I took it and held it up unlighted. 'Now,' said I, 'you promise

'I promise you you won't have any trouble from natives that have
drunk at my place,' he replied.

'That is all I ask,' said I, and showed it was not by immediately
offering to try his stock.

So far as it was anyway critical our interview here ended. Mr.
Muller had thenceforth ceased to regard me as an emissary from his
rivals, dropped his defensive attitude, and spoke as he believed.
I could make out that he would already, had he dared, have stopped
the sale himself. Not quite daring, it may be imagined how he
resented the idea of interference from those who had (by his own
statement) first led him on, then deserted him in the breach, and
now (sitting themselves in safety) egged him on to a new peril,
which was all gain to them, all loss to him! I asked him what he
thought of the danger from the feast.

'I think worse of it than any of you,' he answered. 'They were
shooting around here last night, and I heard the balls too. I said
to myself, "That's bad." What gets me is why you should be making
this row up at your end. I should be the first to go.'

It was a thoughtless wonder. The consolation of being second is
not great; the fact, not the order of going--there was our concern.

Scott talks moderately of looking forward to a time of fighting
'with a feeling that resembled pleasure.' The resemblance seems
rather an identity. In modern life, contact is ended; man grows
impatient of endless manoeuvres; and to approach the fact, to find
ourselves where we can push an advantage home, and stand a fair
risk, and see at last what we are made of, stirs the blood. It was
so at least with all my family, who bubbled with delight at the
approach of trouble; and we sat deep into the night like a pack of
schoolboys, preparing the revolvers and arranging plans against the
morrow. It promised certainly to be a busy and eventful day. The
Old Men were to be summoned to confront me on the question of the
tapu; Muller might call us at any moment to garrison his bar; and
suppose Muller to fail, we decided in a family council to take that
matter into our own hands, The Land we Live in at the pistol's
mouth, and with the polysyllabic Williams, dance to a new tune. As
I recall our humour I think it would have gone hard with the

Wednesday, July 24.--It was as well, and yet it was disappointing
that these thunder-clouds rolled off in silence. Whether the Old
Men recoiled from an interview with Queen Victoria's son, whether
Muller had secretly intervened, or whether the step flowed
naturally from the fears of the king and the nearness of the feast,
the tapu was early that morning re-enforced; not a day too soon,
from the manner the boats began to arrive thickly, and the town was
filled with the big rowdy vassals of Karaiti.

The effect lingered for some time on the minds of the traders; it
was with the approval of all present that I helped to draw up a
petition to the United States, praying for a law against the liquor
trade in the Gilberts; and it was at this request that I added,
under my own name, a brief testimony of what had passed;--useless
pains; since the whole reposes, probably unread and possibly
unopened, in a pigeon-hole at Washington.

Sunday, July 28.--This day we had the afterpiece of the debauch.
The king and queen, in European clothes, and followed by armed
guards, attended church for the first time, and sat perched aloft
in a precarious dignity under the barrel-hoops. Before sermon his
majesty clambered from the dais, stood lopsidedly upon the gravel
floor, and in a few words abjured drinking. The queen followed
suit with a yet briefer allocution. All the men in church were
next addressed in turn; each held up his right hand, and the affair
was over--throne and church were reconciled.


Thursday, July 25.--The street was this day much enlivened by the
presence of the men from Little Makin; they average taller than
Butaritarians, and being on a holiday, went wreathed with yellow
leaves and gorgeous in vivid colours. They are said to be more
savage, and to be proud of the distinction. Indeed, it seemed to
us they swaggered in the town, like plaided Highlanders upon the
streets of Inverness, conscious of barbaric virtues.

In the afternoon the summer parlour was observed to be packed with
people; others standing outside and stooping to peer under the
eaves, like children at home about a circus. It was the Makin
company, rehearsing for the day of competition. Karaiti sat in the
front row close to the singers, where we were summoned (I suppose
in honour of Queen Victoria) to join him. A strong breathless heat
reigned under the iron roof, and the air was heavy with the scent
of wreaths. The singers, with fine mats about their loins, cocoa-
nut feathers set in rings upon their fingers, and their heads
crowned with yellow leaves, sat on the floor by companies. A
varying number of soloists stood up for different songs; and these
bore the chief part in the music. But the full force of the
companies, even when not singing, contributed continuously to the
effect, and marked the ictus of the measure, mimicking, grimacing,
casting up their heads and eyes, fluttering the feathers on their
fingers, clapping hands, or beating (loud as a kettledrum) on the
left breast; the time was exquisite, the music barbarous, but full
of conscious art. I noted some devices constantly employed. A
sudden change would be introduced (I think of key) with no break of
the measure, but emphasised by a sudden dramatic heightening of the
voice and a swinging, general gesticulation. The voices of the
soloists would begin far apart in a rude discord, and gradually
draw together to a unison; which, when, they had reached, they were
joined and drowned by the full chorus. The ordinary, hurried,
barking unmelodious movement of the voices would at times be broken
and glorified by a psalm-like strain of melody, often well
constructed, or seeming so by contrast. There was much variety of
measure, and towards the end of each piece, when the fun became
fast and furious, a recourse to this figure -

[Musical notation which cannot be produced. It means two/four time
with quaver, quaver, crotchet repeated for three bars.]

It is difficult to conceive what fire and devilry they get into
these hammering finales; all go together, voices, hands, eyes,
leaves, and fluttering finger-rings; the chorus swings to the eye,
the song throbs on the ear; the faces are convulsed with enthusiasm
and effort.

Presently the troop stood up in a body, the drums forming a half-
circle for the soloists, who were sometimes five or even more in
number. The songs that followed were highly dramatic; though I had
none to give me any explanation, I would at times make out some
shadowy but decisive outline of a plot; and I was continually
reminded of certain quarrelsome concerted scenes in grand operas at
home; just so the single voices issue from and fall again into the
general volume; just so do the performers separate and crowd
together, brandish the raised hand, and roll the eye to heaven--or
the gallery. Already this is beyond the Thespian model; the art of
this people is already past the embryo: song, dance, drums,
quartette and solo--it is the drama full developed although still
in miniature. Of all so-called dancing in the South Seas, that
which I saw in Butaritari stands easily the first. The hula, as it
may be viewed by the speedy globe-trotter in Honolulu, is surely
the most dull of man's inventions, and the spectator yawns under
its length as at a college lecture or a parliamentary debate. But
the Gilbert Island dance leads on the mind; it thrills, rouses,
subjugates; it has the essence of all art, an unexplored imminent
significance. Where so many are engaged, and where all must make
(at a given moment) the same swift, elaborate, and often arbitrary
movement, the toil of rehearsal is of course extreme. But they
begin as children. A child and a man may often be seen together in
a maniap': the man sings and gesticulates, the child stands before
him with streaming tears and tremulously copies him in act and
sound; it is the Gilbert Island artist learning (as all artists
must) his art in sorrow.

I may seem to praise too much; here is a passage from my wife's
diary, which proves that I was not alone in being moved, and
completes the picture:- 'The conductor gave the cue, and all the
dancers, waving their arms, swaying their bodies, and clapping
their breasts in perfect time, opened with an introductory. The
performers remained seated, except two, and once three, and twice a
single soloist. These stood in the group, making a slight movement
with the feet and rhythmical quiver of the body as they sang.
There was a pause after the introductory, and then the real
business of the opera--for it was no less--began; an opera where
every singer was an accomplished actor. The leading man, in an
impassioned ecstasy which possessed him from head to foot, seemed
transfigured; once it was as though a strong wind had swept over
the stage--their arms, their feathered fingers thrilling with an
emotion that shook my nerves as well: heads and bodies followed
like a field of grain before a gust. My blood came hot and cold,
tears pricked my eyes, my head whirled, I felt an almost
irresistible impulse to join the dancers. One drama, I think, I
very nearly understood. A fierce and savage old man took the solo
part. He sang of the birth of a prince, and how he was tenderly
rocked in his mother's arms; of his boyhood, when he excelled his
fellows in swimming, climbing, and all athletic sports; of his
youth, when he went out to sea with his boat and fished; of his
manhood, when he married a wife who cradled a son of his own in her
arms. Then came the alarm of war, and a great battle, of which for
a time the issue was doubtful; but the hero conquered, as he always
does, and with a tremendous burst of the victors the piece closed.
There were also comic pieces, which caused great amusement. During
one, an old man behind me clutched me by the arm, shook his finger
in my face with a roguish smile, and said something with a chuckle,
which I took to be the equivalent of "O, you women, you women; it
is true of you all!" I fear it was not complimentary. At no time
was there the least sign of the ugly indecency of the eastern
islands. All was poetry pure and simple. The music itself was as
complex as our own, though constructed on an entirely different
basis; once or twice I was startled by a bit of something very like
the best English sacred music, but it was only for an instant. At
last there was a longer pause, and this time the dancers were all
on their feet. As the drama went on, the interest grew. The
performers appealed to each other, to the audience, to the heaven
above; they took counsel with each other, the conspirators drew
together in a knot; it was just an opera, the drums coming in at
proper intervals, the tenor, baritone, and bass all where they
should be--except that the voices were all of the same calibre. A
woman once sang from the back row with a very fine contralto voice
spoilt by being made artificially nasal; I notice all the women
affect that unpleasantness. At one time a boy of angelic beauty
was the soloist; and at another, a child of six or eight, doubtless
an infant phenomenon being trained, was placed in the centre. The
little fellow was desperately frightened and embarrassed at first,
but towards the close warmed up to his work and showed much
dramatic talent. The changing expressions on the faces of the
dancers were so speaking, that it seemed a great stupidity not to
understand them.'

Our neighbour at this performance, Karaiti, somewhat favours his
Butaritarian majesty in shape and feature, being, like him, portly,
bearded, and Oriental. In character he seems the reverse: alert,
smiling, jovial, jocular, industrious. At home in his own island,
he labours himself like a slave, and makes his people labour like a
slave-driver. He takes an interest in ideas. George the trader
told him about flying-machines. 'Is that true, George?' he asked.
'It is in the papers,' replied George. 'Well,' said Karaiti, 'if
that man can do it with machinery, I can do it without'; and he
designed and made a pair of wings, strapped them on his shoulders,
went to the end of a pier, launched himself into space, and fell
bulkily into the sea. His wives fished him out, for his wings
hindered him in swimming. 'George,' said he, pausing as he went up
to change, 'George, you lie.' He had eight wives, for his small
realm still follows ancient customs; but he showed embarrassment
when this was mentioned to my wife. 'Tell her I have only brought
one here,' he said anxiously. Altogether the Black Douglas pleased
us much; and as we heard fresh details of the king's uneasiness,
and saw for ourselves that all the weapons in the summer parlour
had been hid, we watched with the more admiration the cause of all
this anxiety rolling on his big legs, with his big smiling face,
apparently unarmed, and certainly unattended, through the hostile
town. The Red Douglas, pot-bellied Kuma, having perhaps heard word
of the debauch, remained upon his fief; his vassals thus came
uncommanded to the feast, and swelled the following of Karaiti.

Friday, July 26.--At night in the dark, the singers of Makin
paraded in the road before our house and sang the song of the
princess. 'This is the day; she was born to-day; Nei Kamaunave was
born to-day--a beautiful princess, Queen of Butaritari.' So I was
told it went in endless iteration. The song was of course out of
season, and the performance only a rehearsal. But it was a
serenade besides; a delicate attention to ourselves from our new
friend, Karaiti.

Saturday, July 27.--We had announced a performance of the magic
lantern to-night in church; and this brought the king to visit us.
In honour of the Black Douglas (I suppose) his usual two guardsmen
were now increased to four; and the squad made an outlandish figure
as they straggled after him, in straw hats, kilts and jackets.
Three carried their arms reversed, the butts over their shoulders,
the muzzles menacing the king's plump back; the fourth had passed
his weapon behind his neck, and held it there with arms extended
like a backboard. The visit was extraordinarily long. The king,
no longer galvanised with gin, said and did nothing. He sat
collapsed in a chair and let a cigar go out. It was hot, it was
sleepy, it was cruel dull; there was no resource but to spy in the
countenance of Tebureimoa for some remaining trait of Mr. Corpse
the butcher. His hawk nose, crudely depressed and flattened at the
point, did truly seem to us to smell of midnight murder. When he
took his leave, Maka bade me observe him going down the stair (or
rather ladder) from the verandah. 'Old man,' said Maka. 'Yes,'
said I, 'and yet I suppose not old man.' 'Young man,' returned
Maka, 'perhaps fo'ty.' And I have heard since he is most likely

While the magic lantern was showing, I skulked without in the dark.
The voice of Maka, excitedly explaining the Scripture slides,
seemed to fill not the church only, but the neighbourhood. All
else was silent. Presently a distant sound of singing arose and
approached; and a procession drew near along the road, the hot
clean smell of the men and women striking in my face delightfully.
At the corner, arrested by the voice of Maka and the lightening and
darkening of the church, they paused. They had no mind to go
nearer, that was plain. They were Makin people, I believe,
probably staunch heathens, contemners of the missionary and his
works. Of a sudden, however, a man broke from their company, took
to his heels, and fled into the church; next moment three had
followed him; the next it was a covey of near upon a score, all
pelting for their lives. So the little band of the heathen paused
irresolute at the corner, and melted before the attractions of a
magic lantern, like a glacier in spring. The more staunch vainly
taunted the deserters; three fled in a guilty silence, but still
fled; and when at length the leader found the wit or the authority
to get his troop in motion and revive the singing, it was with much
diminished forces that they passed musically on up the dark road.

Meanwhile inside the luminous pictures brightened and faded. I
stood for some while unobserved in the rear of the spectators, when
I could hear just in front of me a pair of lovers following the
show with interest, the male playing the part of interpreter and
(like Adam) mingling caresses with his lecture. The wild animals,
a tiger in particular, and that old school-treat favourite, the
sleeper and the mouse, were hailed with joy; but the chief marvel
and delight was in the gospel series. Maka, in the opinion of his
aggrieved wife, did not properly rise to the occasion. 'What is
the matter with the man? Why can't he talk?' she cried. The
matter with the man, I think, was the greatness of the opportunity;
he reeled under his good fortune; and whether he did ill or well,
the exposure of these pious 'phantoms' did as a matter of fact
silence in all that part of the island the voice of the scoffer.
'Why then,' the word went round, 'why then, the Bible is true!'
And on our return afterwards we were told the impression was yet
lively, and those who had seen might be heard telling those who had
not, 'O yes, it is all true; these things all happened, we have
seen the pictures.' The argument is not so childish as it seems;
for I doubt if these islanders are acquainted with any other mode
of representation but photography; so that the picture of an event
(on the old melodrama principle that 'the camera cannot lie,
Joseph,') would appear strong proof of its occurrence. The fact
amused us the more because our slides were some of them ludicrously
silly, and one (Christ before Pilate) was received with shouts of
merriment, in which even Maka was constrained to join.

Sunday, July 28.--Karaiti came to ask for a repetition of the
'phantoms'--this was the accepted word--and, having received a
promise, turned and left my humble roof without the shadow of a
salutation. I felt it impolite to have the least appearance of
pocketing a slight; the times had been too difficult, and were
still too doubtful; and Queen Victoria's son was bound to maintain
the honour of his house. Karaiti was accordingly summoned that
evening to the Ricks, where Mrs. Rick fell foul of him in words,
and Queen Victoria's son assailed him with indignant looks. I was
the ass with the lion's skin; I could not roar in the language of
the Gilbert Islands; but I could stare. Karaiti declared he had
meant no offence; apologised in a sound, hearty, gentlemanly
manner; and became at once at his ease. He had in a dagger to
examine, and announced he would come to price it on the morrow, to-
day being Sunday; this nicety in a heathen with eight wives
surprised me. The dagger was 'good for killing fish,' he said
roguishly; and was supposed to have his eye upon fish upon two
legs. It is at least odd that in Eastern Polynesia fish was the
accepted euphemism for the human sacrifice. Asked as to the
population of his island, Karaiti called out to his vassals who sat
waiting him outside the door, and they put it at four hundred and
fifty; but (added Karaiti jovially) there will soon be plenty more,
for all the women are in the family way. Long before we separated
I had quite forgotten his offence. He, however, still bore it in
mind; and with a very courteous inspiration returned early on the
next day, paid us a long visit, and punctiliously said farewell
when he departed.

Monday, July 29.--The great day came round at last. In the first
hours the night was startled by the sound of clapping hands and the
chant of Nei Kamaunava; its melancholy, slow, and somewhat menacing
measures broken at intervals by a formidable shout. The little
morsel of humanity thus celebrated in the dark hours was observed
at midday playing on the green entirely naked, and equally
unobserved and unconcerned.

The summer parlour on its artificial islet, relieved against the
shimmering lagoon, and shimmering itself with sun and tinned iron,
was all day crowded about by eager men and women. Within, it was
boxed full of islanders, of any age and size, and in every degree
of nudity and finery. So close we squatted, that at one time I had
a mighty handsome woman on my knees, two little naked urchins
having their feet against my back. There might be a dame in full
attire of holoku and hat and flowers; and her next neighbour might
the next moment strip some little rag of a shift from her fat
shoulders and come out a monument of flesh, painted rather than
covered by the hairbreadth ridi. Little ladies who thought
themselves too great to appear undraped upon so high a festival
were seen to pause outside in the bright sunshine, their miniature
ridis in their hand; a moment more and they were full-dressed and
entered the concert-room.

At either end stood up to sing, or sat down to rest, the alternate
companies of singers; Kuma and Little Makin on the north,
Butaritari and its conjunct hamlets on the south; both groups
conspicuous in barbaric bravery. In the midst, between these rival
camps of troubadours, a bench was placed; and here the king and
queen throned it, some two or three feet above the crowded audience
on the floor--Tebureimoa as usual in his striped pyjamas with a
satchel strapped across one shoulder, doubtless (in the island
fashion) to contain his pistols; the queen in a purple holoku, her
abundant hair let down, a fan in her hand. The bench was turned
facing to the strangers, a piece of well-considered civility; and
when it was the turn of Butaritari to sing, the pair must twist
round on the bench, lean their elbows on the rail, and turn to us
the spectacle of their broad backs. The royal couple occasionally
solaced themselves with a clay pipe; and the pomp of state was
further heightened by the rifles of a picket of the guard.

With this kingly countenance, and ourselves squatted on the ground,
we heard several songs from one side or the other. Then royalty
and its guards withdrew, and Queen Victoria's son and daughter-in-
law were summoned by acclamation to the vacant throne. Our pride
was perhaps a little modified when we were joined on our high
places by a certain thriftless loafer of a white; and yet I was
glad too, for the man had a smattering of native, and could give me
some idea of the subject of the songs. One was patriotic, and
dared Tembinok' of Apemama, the terror of the group, to an
invasion. One mixed the planting of taro and the harvest-home.
Some were historical, and commemorated kings and the illustrious
chances of their time, such as a bout of drinking or a war. One,
at least, was a drama of domestic interest, excellently played by
the troop from Makin. It told the story of a man who has lost his
wife, at first bewails her loss, then seeks another: the earlier
strains (or acts) are played exclusively by men; but towards the
end a woman appears, who has just lost her husband; and I suppose
the pair console each other, for the finale seemed of happy omen.
Of some of the songs my informant told me briefly they were 'like
about the weemen'; this I could have guessed myself. Each side (I
should have said) was strengthened by one or two women. They were
all soloists, did not very often join in the performance, but stood
disengaged at the back part of the stage, and looked (in ridi,
necklace, and dressed hair) for all the world like European ballet-
dancers. When the song was anyway broad these ladies came
particularly to the front; and it was singular to see that, after
each entry, the premiere danseuse pretended to be overcome by
shame, as though led on beyond what she had meant, and her male
assistants made a feint of driving her away like one who had
disgraced herself. Similar affectations accompany certain truly
obscene dances of Samoa, where they are very well in place. Here
it was different. The words, perhaps, in this free-spoken world,
were gross enough to make a carter blush; and the most suggestive
feature was this feint of shame. For such parts the women showed
some disposition; they were pert, they were neat, they were
acrobatic, they were at times really amusing, and some of them were
pretty. But this is not the artist's field; there is the whole
width of heaven between such capering and ogling, and the strange
rhythmic gestures, and strange, rapturous, frenzied faces with
which the best of the male dancers held us spellbound through a
Gilbert Island ballet.

Almost from the first it was apparent that the people of the city
were defeated. I might have thought them even good, only I had the
other troop before my eyes to correct my standard, and remind me
continually of 'the little more, and how much it is.' Perceiving
themselves worsted, the choir of Butaritari grew confused,
blundered, and broke down; amid this hubbub of unfamiliar intervals
I should not myself have recognised the slip, but the audience were
quick to catch it, and to jeer. To crown all, the Makin company
began a dance of truly superlative merit. I know not what it was
about, I was too much absorbed to ask. In one act a part of the
chorus, squealing in some strange falsetto, produced very much the
effect of our orchestra; in another, the dancers, leaping like
jumping-jacks, with arms extended, passed through and through each
other's ranks with extraordinary speed, neatness, and humour. A
more laughable effect I never saw; in any European theatre it would
have brought the house down, and the island audience roared with
laughter and applause. This filled up the measure for the rival
company, and they forgot themselves and decency. After each act or
figure of the ballet, the performers pause a moment standing, and
the next is introduced by the clapping of hands in triplets. Not
until the end of the whole ballet do they sit down, which is the
signal for the rivals to stand up. But now all rules were to be
broken. During the interval following on this great applause, the
company of Butaritari leaped suddenly to their feet and most
unhandsomely began a performance of their own. It was strange to
see the men of Makin staring; I have seen a tenor in Europe stare
with the same blank dignity into a hissing theatre; but presently,
to my surprise, they sobered down, gave up the unsung remainder of
their ballet, resumed their seats, and suffered their ungallant
adversaries to go on and finish. Nothing would suffice. Again, at
the first interval, Butaritari unhandsomely cut in; Makin,
irritated in turn, followed the example; and the two companies of
dancers remained permanently standing, continuously clapping hands,
and regularly cutting across each other at each pause. I expected
blows to begin with any moment; and our position in the midst was
highly unstrategical. But the Makin people had a better thought;
and upon a fresh interruption turned and trooped out of the house.
We followed them, first because these were the artists, second
because they were guests and had been scurvily ill-used. A large
population of our neighbours did the same, so that the causeway was
filled from end to end by the procession of deserters; and the
Butaritari choir was left to sing for its own pleasure in an empty
house, having gained the point and lost the audience. It was
surely fortunate that there was no one drunk; but, drunk or sober,
where else would a scene so irritating have concluded without

The last stage and glory of this auspicious day was of our own
providing--the second and positively the last appearance of the
phantoms. All round the church, groups sat outside, in the night,
where they could see nothing; perhaps ashamed to enter, certainly
finding some shadowy pleasure in the mere proximity. Within, about
one-half of the great shed was densely packed with people. In the
midst, on the royal dais, the lantern luminously smoked; chance
rays of light struck out the earnest countenance of our Chinaman
grinding the hand-organ; a fainter glimmer showed off the rafters
and their shadows in the hollow of the roof; the pictures shone and
vanished on the screen; and as each appeared, there would run a
hush, a whisper, a strong shuddering rustle, and a chorus of small
cries among the crowd. There sat by me the mate of a wrecked
schooner. 'They would think this a strange sight in Europe or the
States,' said he, 'going on in a building like this, all tied with
bits of string.'


The trader accustomed to the manners of Eastern Polynesia has a
lesson to learn among the Gilberts. The ridi is but a spare
attire; as late as thirty years back the women went naked until
marriage; within ten years the custom lingered; and these facts,
above all when heard in description, conveyed a very false idea of
the manners of the group. A very intelligent missionary described
it (in its former state) as a 'Paradise of naked women' for the
resident whites. It was at least a platonic Paradise, where
Lothario ventured at his peril. Since 1860, fourteen whites have
perished on a single island, all for the same cause, all found
where they had no business, and speared by some indignant father of
a family; the figure was given me by one of their contemporaries
who had been more prudent and survived. The strange persistence of
these fourteen martyrs might seem to point to monomania or a series
of romantic passions; gin is the more likely key. The poor
buzzards sat alone in their houses by an open case; they drank;
their brain was fired; they stumbled towards the nearest houses on
chance; and the dart went through their liver. In place of a
Paradise the trader found an archipelago of fierce husbands and of
virtuous women. 'Of course if you wish to make love to them, it's
the same as anywhere else,' observed a trader innocently; but he
and his companions rarely so choose.

The trader must be credited with a virtue: he often makes a kind
and loyal husband. Some of the worst beachcombers in the Pacific,
some of the last of the old school, have fallen in my path, and
some of them were admirable to their native wives, and one made a
despairing widower. The position of a trader's wife in the
Gilberts is, besides, unusually enviable. She shares the
immunities of her husband. Curfew in Butaritari sounds for her in
vain. Long after the bell is rung and the great island ladies are
confined for the night to their own roof, this chartered libertine
may scamper and giggle through the deserted streets or go down to
bathe in the dark. The resources of the store are at her hand; she
goes arrayed like a queen, and feasts delicately everyday upon
tinned meats. And she who was perhaps of no regard or station
among natives sits with captains, and is entertained on board of
schooners. Five of these privileged dames were some time our
neighbours. Four were handsome skittish lasses, gamesome like
children, and like children liable to fits of pouting. They wore
dresses by day, but there was a tendency after dark to strip these
lendings and to career and squall about the compound in the
aboriginal ridi. Games of cards were continually played, with
shells for counters; their course was much marred by cheating; and
the end of a round (above all if a man was of the party) resolved
itself into a scrimmage for the counters. The fifth was a matron.
It was a picture to see her sail to church on a Sunday, a parasol
in hand, a nursemaid following, and the baby buried in a trade hat
and armed with a patent feeding-bottle. The service was enlivened
by her continual supervision and correction of the maid. It was
impossible not to fancy the baby was a doll, and the church some
European playroom. All these women were legitimately married. It
is true that the certificate of one, when she proudly showed it,
proved to run thus, that she was 'married for one night,' and her
gracious partner was at liberty to 'send her to hell' the next
morning; but she was none the wiser or the worse for the dastardly
trick. Another, I heard, was married on a work of mine in a
pirated edition; it answered the purpose as well as a Hall Bible.
Notwithstanding all these allurements of social distinction, rare
food and raiment, a comparative vacation from toil, and legitimate
marriage contracted on a pirated edition, the trader must sometimes
seek long before he can be mated. While I was in the group one had
been eight months on the quest, and he was still a bachelor.

Within strictly native society the old laws and practices were
harsh, but not without a certain stamp of high-mindedness.
Stealthy adultery was punished with death; open elopement was
properly considered virtue in comparison, and compounded for a fine
in land. The male adulterer alone seems to have been punished. It
is correct manners for a jealous man to hang himself; a jealous
woman has a different remedy--she bites her rival. Ten or twenty
years ago it was a capital offence to raise a woman's ridi; to this
day it is still punished with a heavy fine; and the garment itself
is still symbolically sacred. Suppose a piece of land to be
disputed in Butaritari, the claimant who shall first hang a ridi on
the tapu-post has gained his cause, since no one can remove or
touch it but himself.

The ridi was the badge not of the woman but the wife, the mark not
of her sex but of her station. It was the collar on the slave's
neck, the brand on merchandise. The adulterous woman seems to have
been spared; were the husband offended, it would be a poor
consolation to send his draught cattle to the shambles. Karaiti,
to this day, calls his eight wives 'his horses,' some trader having
explained to him the employment of these animals on farms; and
Nanteitei hired out his wives to do mason-work. Husbands, at least
when of high rank, had the power of life and death; even whites
seem to have possessed it; and their wives, when they had
transgressed beyond forgiveness, made haste to pronounce the
formula of deprecation--I KANA KIM. This form of words had so much
virtue that a condemned criminal repeating it on a particular day
to the king who had condemned him, must be instantly released. It
is an offer of abasement, and, strangely enough, the reverse--the
imitation--is a common vulgar insult in Great Britain to this day.
I give a scene between a trader and his Gilbert Island wife, as it
was told me by the husband, now one of the oldest residents, but
then a freshman in the group.

'Go and light a fire,' said the trader, 'and when I have brought
this oil I will cook some fish.' The woman grunted at him, island
fashion. 'I am not a pig that you should grunt at me,' said he.

'I know you are not a pig,' said the woman, 'neither am I your

'To be sure you are not my slave, and if you do not care to stop
with me, you had better go home to your people,' said he. 'But in
the mean time go and light the fire; and when I have brought this
oil I will cook some fish.'

She went as if to obey; and presently when the trader looked she
had built a fire so big that the cook-house was catching in flames.

'I Kana Kim!' she cried, as she saw him coming; but he recked not,
and hit her with a cooking-pot. The leg pierced her skull, blood
spouted, it was thought she was a dead woman, and the natives
surrounded the house in a menacing expectation. Another white was
present, a man of older experience. 'You will have us both killed
if you go on like this,' he cried. 'She had said I Kana Kim!' If
she had not said I Kana Kim he might have struck her with a
caldron. It was not the blow that made the crime, but the
disregard of an accepted formula.

Polygamy, the particular sacredness of wives, their semi-servile
state, their seclusion in kings' harems, even their privilege of
biting, all would seem to indicate a Mohammedan society and the
opinion of the soullessness of woman. And not so in the least. It
is a mere appearance. After you have studied these extremes in one
house, you may go to the next and find all reversed, the woman the
mistress, the man only the first of her thralls. The authority is
not with the husband as such, nor the wife as such. It resides in
the chief or the chief-woman; in him or her who has inherited the
lands of the clan, and stands to the clansman in the place of
parent, exacting their service, answerable for their fines. There
is but the one source of power and the one ground of dignity--rank.
The king married a chief-woman; she became his menial, and must
work with her hands on Messrs. Wightman's pier. The king divorced
her; she regained at once her former state and power. She married
the Hawaiian sailor, and behold the man is her flunkey and can be
shown the door at pleasure. Nay, and such low-born lords are even
corrected physically, and, like grown but dutiful children, must
endure the discipline.

We were intimate in one such household, that of Nei Takauti and Nan
Tok'; I put the lady first of necessity. During one week of fool's
paradise, Mrs. Stevenson had gone alone to the sea-side of the
island after shells. I am very sure the proceeding was unsafe; and
she soon perceived a man and woman watching her. Do what she
would, her guardians held her steadily in view; and when the
afternoon began to fall, and they thought she had stayed long
enough, took her in charge, and by signs and broken English ordered
her home. On the way the lady drew from her earring-hole a clay
pipe, the husband lighted it, and it was handed to my unfortunate
wife, who knew not how to refuse the incommodious favour; and when
they were all come to our house, the pair sat down beside her on
the floor, and improved the occasion with prayer. From that day
they were our family friends; bringing thrice a day the beautiful
island garlands of white flowers, visiting us any evening, and
frequently carrying us down to their own maniap' in return, the
woman leading Mrs. Stevenson by the hand like one child with

Nan Tok', the husband, was young, extremely handsome, of the most
approved good humour, and suffering in his precarious station from
suppressed high spirits. Nei Takauti, the wife, was getting old;
her grown son by a former marriage had just hanged himself before
his mother's eyes in despair at a well-merited rebuke. Perhaps she
had never been beautiful, but her face was full of character, her
eye of sombre fire. She was a high chief-woman, but by a strange
exception for a person of her rank, was small, spare, and sinewy,
with lean small hands and corded neck. Her full dress of an
evening was invariably a white chemise--and for adornment, green
leaves (or sometimes white blossoms) stuck in her hair and thrust
through her huge earring-holes. The husband on the contrary
changed to view like a kaleidoscope. Whatever pretty thing my wife
might have given to Nei Takauti--a string of beads, a ribbon, a
piece of bright fabric--appeared the next evening on the person of
Nan Tok'. It was plain he was a clothes-horse; that he wore
livery; that, in a word, he was his wife's wife. They reversed the
parts indeed, down to the least particular; it was the husband who
showed himself the ministering angel in the hour of pain, while the
wife displayed the apathy and heartlessness of the proverbial man.

When Nei Takauti had a headache Nan Tok' was full of attention and
concern. When the husband had a cold and a racking toothache the
wife heeded not, except to jeer. It is always the woman's part to
fill and light the pipe; Nei Takauti handed hers in silence to the
wedded page; but she carried it herself, as though the page were
not entirely trusted. Thus she kept the money, but it was he who
ran the errands, anxiously sedulous. A cloud on her face dimmed
instantly his beaming looks; on an early visit to their maniap' my
wife saw he had cause to be wary. Nan Tok' had a friend with him,
a giddy young thing, of his own age and sex; and they had worked
themselves into that stage of jocularity when consequences are too
often disregarded. Nei Takauti mentioned her own name. Instantly
Nan Tok' held up two fingers, his friend did likewise, both in an
ecstasy of slyness. It was plain the lady had two names; and from
the nature of their merriment, and the wrath that gathered on her
brow, there must be something ticklish in the second. The husband
pronounced it; a well-directed cocoa-nut from the hand of his wife
caught him on the side of the head, and the voices and the mirth of
these indiscreet young gentlemen ceased for the day.

The people of Eastern Polynesia are never at a loss; their
etiquette is absolute and plenary; in every circumstance it tells
them what to do and how to do it. The Gilbertines are seemingly
more free, and pay for their freedom (like ourselves) in frequent
perplexity. This was often the case with the topsy-turvy couple.
We had once supplied them during a visit with a pipe and tobacco;
and when they had smoked and were about to leave, they found
themselves confronted with a problem: should they take or leave
what remained of the tobacco? The piece of plug was taken up, it
was laid down again, it was handed back and forth, and argued over,
till the wife began to look haggard and the husband elderly. They
ended by taking it, and I wager were not yet clear of the compound
before they were sure they had decided wrong. Another time they
had been given each a liberal cup of coffee, and Nan Tok' with
difficulty and disaffection made an end of his. Nei Takauti had
taken some, she had no mind for more, plainly conceived it would be
a breach of manners to set down the cup unfinished, and ordered her
wedded retainer to dispose of what was left. 'I have swallowed all
I can, I cannot swallow more, it is a physical impossibility,' he
seemed to say; and his stern officer reiterated her commands with
secret imperative signals. Luckless dog! but in mere humanity we
came to the rescue and removed the cup.

I cannot but smile over this funny household; yet I remember the
good souls with affection and respect. Their attention to
ourselves was surprising. The garlands are much esteemed, the
blossoms must be sought far and wide; and though they had many
retainers to call to their aid, we often saw themselves passing
afield after the blossoms, and the wife engaged with her own in
putting them together. It was no want of only that disregard so
incident to husbands, that made Nei Takauti despise the sufferings
of Nan Tok'. When my wife was unwell she proved a diligent and
kindly nurse; and the pair, to the extreme embarrassment of the
sufferer, became fixtures in the sick-room. This rugged, capable,
imperious old dame, with the wild eyes, had deep and tender
qualities: her pride in her young husband it seemed that she
dissembled, fearing possibly to spoil him; and when she spoke of
her dead son there came something tragic in her face. But I seemed
to trace in the Gilbertines a virility of sense and sentiment which
distinguishes them (like their harsh and uncouth language) from
their brother islanders in the east.



There is one great personage in the Gilberts: Tembinok' of
Apemama: solely conspicuous, the hero of song, the butt of gossip.
Through the rest of the group the kings are slain or fallen in
tutelage: Tembinok' alone remains, the last tyrant, the last erect
vestige of a dead society. The white man is everywhere else,
building his houses, drinking his gin, getting in and out of
trouble with the weak native governments. There is only one white
on Apemama, and he on sufferance, living far from court, and
hearkening and watching his conduct like a mouse in a cat's ear.
Through all the other islands a stream of native visitors comes and
goes, travelling by families, spending years on the grand tour.
Apemama alone is left upon one side, the tourist dreading to risk
himself within the clutch of Tembinok'. And fear of the same
Gorgon follows and troubles them at home. Maiana once paid him
tribute; he once fell upon and seized Nonuti: first steps to the
empire of the archipelago. A British warship coming on the scene,
the conqueror was driven to disgorge, his career checked in the
outset, his dear-bought armoury sunk in his own lagoon. But the
impression had been made; periodical fear of him still shakes the
islands; rumour depicts him mustering his canoes for a fresh
onfall; rumour can name his destination; and Tembinok' figures in
the patriotic war-songs of the Gilberts like Napoleon in those of
our grandfathers.

We were at sea, bound from Mariki to Nonuti and Tapituea, when the
wind came suddenly fair for Apemama. The course was at once
changed; all hands were turned-to to clean ship, the decks holy-
stoned, all the cabin washed, the trade-room overhauled. In all
our cruising we never saw the Equator so smart as she was made for
Tembinok'. Nor was Captain Reid alone in these coquetries; for,
another schooner chancing to arrive during my stay in Apemama, I
found that she also was dandified for the occasion. And the two
cases stand alone in my experience of South Sea traders.

We had on board a family of native tourists, from the grandsire to
the babe in arms, trying (against an extraordinary series of ill-
luck) to regain their native island of Peru. Five times already
they had paid their fare and taken ship; five times they had been
disappointed, dropped penniless upon strange islands, or carried
back to Butaritari, whence they sailed. This last attempt had been
no better-starred; their provisions were exhausted. Peru was
beyond hope, and they had cheerfully made up their minds to a fresh
stage of exile in Tapituea or Nonuti. With this slant of wind
their random destination became once more changed; and like the
Calendar's pilot, when the 'black mountains' hove in view, they
changed colour and beat upon their breasts. Their camp, which was
on deck in the ship's waist, resounded with complaint. They would
be set to work, they must become slaves, escape was hopeless, they
must live and toil and die in Apemama, in the tyrant's den. With
this sort of talk they so greatly terrified their children, that
one (a big hulking boy) must at last be torn screaming from the
schooner's side. And their fears were wholly groundless. I have
little doubt they were not suffered to be idle; but I can vouch for
it that they were kindly and generously used. For, the matter of a
year later, I was once more shipmate with these inconsistent
wanderers on board the Janet Nicoll. Their fare was paid by
Tembinok'; they who had gone ashore from the Equator destitute,
reappeared upon the Janet with new clothes, laden with mats and
presents, and bringing with them a magazine of food, on which they
lived like fighting-cocks throughout the voyage; I saw them at
length repatriated, and I must say they showed more concern on
quitting Apemama than delight at reaching home.

We entered by the north passage (Sunday, September 1st), dodging
among shoals. It was a day of fierce equatorial sunshine; but the
breeze was strong and chill; and the mate, who conned the schooner
from the cross-trees, returned shivering to the deck. The lagoon
was thick with many-tinted wavelets; a continuous roaring of the
outer sea overhung the anchorage; and the long, hollow crescent of
palm ruffled and sparkled in the wind. Opposite our berth the
beach was seen to be surmounted for some distance by a terrace of
white coral seven or eight feet high and crowned in turn by the
scattered and incongruous buildings of the palace. The village
adjoins on the south, a cluster of high-roofed maniap's. And
village and palace seemed deserted.

We were scarce yet moored, however, before distant and busy figures
appeared upon the beach, a boat was launched, and a crew pulled out
to us bringing the king's ladder. Tembinok' had once an accident;
has feared ever since to entrust his person to the rotten chandlery
of South Sea traders; and devised in consequence a frame of wood,
which is brought on board a ship as soon as she appears, and
remains lashed to her side until she leave. The boat's crew,
having applied this engine, returned at once to shore. They might
not come on board; neither might we land, or not without danger of
offence; the king giving pratique in person. An interval followed,
during which dinner was delayed for the great man--the prelude of
the ladder, giving us some notion of his weighty body and sensible,
ingenious character, had highly whetted our curiosity; and it was
with something like excitement that we saw the beach and terrace
suddenly blacken with attendant vassals, the king and party embark,
the boat (a man-of-war gig) come flying towards us dead before the
wind, and the royal coxswain lay us cleverly aboard, mount the
ladder with a jealous diffidence, and descend heavily on deck.

Not long ago he was overgrown with fat, obscured to view, and a
burthen to himself. Captains visiting the island advised him to
walk; and though it broke the habits of a life and the traditions
of his rank, he practised the remedy with benefit. His corpulence
is now portable; you would call him lusty rather than fat; but his
gait is still dull, stumbling, and elephantine. He neither stops
nor hastens, but goes about his business with an implacable
deliberation. We could never see him and not be struck with his
extraordinary natural means for the theatre: a beaked profile like
Dante's in the mask, a mane of long black hair, the eye brilliant,
imperious, and inquiring: for certain parts, and to one who could
have used it, the face was a fortune. His voice matched it well,
being shrill, powerful, and uncanny, with a note like a sea-bird's.
Where there are no fashions, none to set them, few to follow them
if they were set, and none to criticise, he dresses--as Sir Charles
Grandison lived--'to his own heart.' Now he wears a woman's frock,
now a naval uniform; now (and more usually) figures in a masquerade
costume of his own design: trousers and a singular jacket with
shirt tails, the cut and fit wonderful for island workmanship, the
material always handsome, sometimes green velvet, sometimes
cardinal red silk. This masquerade becomes him admirably. In the
woman's frock he looks ominous and weird beyond belief. I see him
now come pacing towards me in the cruel sun, solitary, a figure out
of Hoffmann.

A visit on board ship, such as that at which we now assisted, makes
a chief part and by far the chief diversion of the life of
Tembinok'. He is not only the sole ruler, he is the sole merchant
of his triple kingdom, Apemama, Aranuka, and Kuria, well-planted
islands. The taro goes to the chiefs, who divide as they please
among their immediate adherents; but certain fish, turtles--which
abound in Kuria,--and the whole produce of the coco-palm, belong
exclusively to Tembinok'. 'A' cobra berong me,' observed his
majesty with a wave of his hand; and he counts and sells it by the
houseful. 'You got copra, king?' I have heard a trader ask. 'I
got two, three outches,' his majesty replied: 'I think three.'
Hence the commercial importance of Apemama, the trade of three
islands being centred there in a single hand; hence it is that so
many whites have tried in vain to gain or to preserve a footing;
hence ships are adorned, cooks have special orders, and captains
array themselves in smiles, to greet the king. If he be pleased
with his welcome and the fare he may pass days on board, and, every
day, and sometimes every hour, will be of profit to the ship. He
oscillates between the cabin, where he is entertained with strange
meats, and the trade-room, where he enjoys the pleasures of
shopping on a scale to match his person. A few obsequious
attendants squat by the house door, awaiting his least signal. In
the boat, which has been suffered to drop astern, one or two of his
wives lie covered from the sun under mats, tossed by the short sea
of the lagoon, and enduring agonies of heat and tedium. This
severity is now and then relaxed and the wives allowed on board.
Three or four were thus favoured on the day of our arrival:
substantial ladies airily attired in ridis. Each had a share of
copra, her peculium, to dispose of for herself. The display in the
trade-room--hats, ribbbons, dresses, scents, tins of salmon--the
pride of the eye and the lust of the flesh--tempted them in vain.
They had but the one idea--tobacco, the island currency, tantamount
to minted gold; returned to shore with it, burthened but rejoicing;
and late into the night, on the royal terrace, were to be seen
counting the sticks by lamplight in the open air.

The king is no such economist. He is greedy of things new and
foreign. House after house, chest after chest, in the palace
precinct, is already crammed with clocks, musical boxes, blue
spectacles, umbrellas, knitted waistcoats, bolts of stuff, tools,
rifles, fowling-pieces, medicines, European foods, sewing-machines,
and, what is more extraordinary, stoves: all that ever caught his
eye, tickled his appetite, pleased him for its use, or puzzled him
with its apparent inutility. And still his lust is unabated. He
is possessed by the seven devils of the collector. He hears a
thing spoken of, and a shadow comes on his face. 'I think I no got
him,' he will say; and the treasures he has seem worthless in
comparison. If a ship be bound for Apemama, the merchant racks his
brain to hit upon some novelty. This he leaves carelessly in the
main cabin or partly conceals in his own berth, so that the king
shall spy it for himself. 'How much you want?' inquires Tembinok',
passing and pointing. 'No, king; that too dear,' returns the
trader. 'I think I like him,' says the king. This was a bowl of
gold-fish. On another occasion it was scented soap. 'No, king;
that cost too much,' said the trader; 'too good for a Kanaka.'
'How much you got? I take him all,' replied his majesty, and
became the lord of seventeen boxes at two dollars a cake. Or
again, the merchant feigns the article is not for sale, is private
property, an heirloom or a gift; and the trick infallibly succeeds.
Thwart the king and you hold him. His autocratic nature rears at
the affront of opposition. He accepts it for a challenge; sets his
teeth like a hunter going at a fence; and with no mark of emotion,
scarce even of interest, stolidly piles up the price. Thus, for
our sins, he took a fancy to my wife's dressing-bag, a thing
entirely useless to the man, and sadly battered by years of
service. Early one forenoon he came to our house, sat down, and
abruptly offered to purchase it. I told him I sold nothing, and
the bag at any rate was a present from a friend; but he was
acquainted with these pretexts from of old, and knew what they were
worth and how to meet them. Adopting what I believe is called 'the
object method,' he drew out a bag of English gold, sovereigns and
half-sovereigns, and began to lay them one by one in silence on the
table; at each fresh piece reading our faces with a look. In vain
I continued to protest I was no trader; he deigned not to reply.
There must have been twenty pounds on the table, he was still going
on, and irritation had begun to mingle with our embarrassment, when
a happy idea came to our delivery. Since his majesty thought so
much of the bag, we said, we must beg him to accept it as a
present. It was the most surprising turn in Tembinok's experience.
He perceived too late that his persistence was unmannerly; hung his
head a while in silence; then, lifting up a sheepish countenance,
'I 'shamed,' said the tyrant. It was the first and the last time
we heard him own to a flaw in his behaviour. Half an hour after he
sent us a camphor-wood chest worth only a few dollars--but then
heaven knows what Tembinok' had paid for it.

Cunning by nature, and versed for forty years in the government of
men, it must not be supposed that he is cheated blindly, or has
resigned himself without resistance to be the milch-cow of the
passing trader. His efforts have been even heroic. Like Nakaeia
of Makin, he has owned schooners. More fortunate than Nakaeia, he
has found captains. Ships of his have sailed as far as to the
colonies. He has trafficked direct, in his own bottoms, with New
Zealand. And even so, even there, the world-enveloping dishonesty
of the white man prevented him; his profit melted, his ship
returned in debt, the money for the insurance was embezzled, and
when the Coronet came to be lost, he was astonished to find he had
lost all. At this he dropped his weapons; owned he might as
hopefully wrestle with the winds of heaven; and like an experienced
sheep, submitted his fleece thenceforward to the shearers. He is
the last man in the world to waste anger on the incurable; accepts
it with cynical composure; asks no more in those he deals with than
a certain decency of moderation; drives as good a bargain as he
can; and when he considers he is more than usually swindled, writes
it in his memory against the merchant's name. He once ran over to
me a list of captains and supercargoes with whom he had done
business, classing them under three heads: 'He cheat a litty'--'He
cheat plenty'--and 'I think he cheat too much.' For the first two
classes he expressed perfect toleration; sometimes, but not always,


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