Jerry of the Islands
Part 3 out of 4
Toward the last the basket had hovered constantly close to his hand,
and, at the last, he made one final dip. It was at the moment when
the Mary's axe, on deck, had struck Borckman down and when Tambi
loosed the first shot at her from his Lee-Enfield. And Bashti's
withered ancient hand, the back of it netted with a complex of large
up-standing veins from which the flesh had shrunk away, dipped out a
huge pistol of such remote vintage that one of Cromwell's round-
heads might well have carried it or that it might well have voyaged
with Quiros or La Perouse. It was a flint-lock, as long as a man's
forearm, and it had been loaded that afternoon by no less a person
than Bashti himself.
Quick as Bashti had been, Van Horn was almost as quick, but not
quite quick enough. Even as his hand leapt to the modern automatic
lying out of it's holster and loose on his knees, the pistol of the
centuries went off. Loaded with two slugs and a round bullet, its
effect was that of a sawed-off shotgun. And Van Horn knew the blaze
and the black of death, even as "Gott fer dang!" died unuttered on
his lips and as his fingers relaxed from the part-lifted automatic,
dropping it to the floor.
Surcharged with black powder, the ancient weapon had other effect.
It burst in Bashti's hand. While Aora, with a knife produced
apparently from nowhere, proceeded to hack off the white master's
head, Bashti looked quizzically at his right forefinger dangling by
a strip of skin. He seized it with his left hand, with a quick pull
and twist wrenched it off, and grinningly tossed it, as a joke, into
the pandanus basket which still his wife with one hand held before
him while with the other she clutched her forehead bleeding from a
flying fragment of pistol.
Collaterally with this, three of the young recruits, joined by their
fathers and uncles, had downed, and were finishing off the only one
of the boat's crew that was below. Bashti, who had lived so long
that he was a philosopher who minded pain little and the loss of a
finger less, chuckled and chirped his satisfaction and pride of
achievement in the outcome, while his three old wives, who lived
only at the nod of his head, fawned under him on the floor in the
abjectness of servile congratulation and worship. Long had they
lived, and they had lived long only by his kingly whim. They
floundered and gibbered and mowed at his feet, lord of life and
death that he was, infinitely wise as he had so often proved
himself, as he had this time proved himself again.
And the lean, fear-stricken girl, like a frightened rabbit in the
mouth of its burrow, on hands and knees peered forth upon the scene
from the lazarette and knew that the cooking-pot and the end of time
had come for her.
What happened aboard the Arangi Jerry never knew. He did know that
it was a world destroyed, for he saw it destroyed. The boy who had
knocked him on the head with the paddle, tied his legs securely and
tossed him out on the beach ere he forgot him in the excitement of
looting the Arangi.
With great shouting and song, the pretty teak-built yacht was towed
in by the long canoes and beached close to where Jerry lay just
beyond the confines of the coral-stone walls. Fires blazed on the
beach, lanterns were lighted on board, and, amid a great feasting,
the Arangi was gutted and stripped. Everything portable was taken
ashore, from her pigs of iron ballast to her running gear and sails.
No one in Somo slept that night. Even the tiniest of children
toddled about the feasting fires or sprawled surfeited on the sands.
At two in the morning, at Bashti's command, the shell of the boat
was fired. And Jerry, thirsting for water, having whimpered and
wailed himself to exhaustion, lying helpless, leg-tied, on his side,
saw the floating world he had known so short a time go up in flame
And by the light of her burning, old Bashti apportioned the loot.
No one of the tribe was too mean to receive nothing. Even the
wretched bush-slaves, who had trembled through all the time of their
captivity from fear of being eaten, received each a clay pipe and
several sticks of tobacco. The main bulk of the trade goods, which
was not distributed, Bashti had carried up to his own large grass
house. All the wealth of gear was stored in the several canoe
houses. While in the devil devil houses the devil devil doctors set
to work curing the many heads over slow smudges; for, along with the
boat's crew there were a round dozen of No-ola return boys and
several Malu boys which Van Horn had not yet delivered.
Not all these had been slain, however. Bashti had issued stern
injunctions against wholesale slaughter. But this was not because
his heart was kind. Rather was it because his head was shrewd.
Slain they would all be in the end. Bashti had never seen ice, did
not know it existed, and was unversed in the science of
refrigeration. The only way he knew to keep meat was to keep it
alive. And in the biggest canoe house, the club house of the stags,
where no Mary might come under penalty of death by torture, the
captives were stored.
Tied or trussed like fowls or pigs, they were tumbled on the hard-
packed earthen floor, beneath which, shallowly buried, lay the
remains of ancient chiefs, while, overhead, in wrappings of grass
mats, swung all that was left of several of Bashti's immediate
predecessors, his father latest among them and so swinging for two
full generations. Here, too, since she was to be eaten and since
the taboo had no bearing upon one condemned to be cooked, the thin
little Mary from the lazarette was tumbled trussed upon the floor
among the many blacks who had teased and mocked her for being
fattened by Van Horn for the eating.
And to this canoe house Jerry was also brought to join the others on
the floor. Agno, chief of the devil devil doctors, had stumbled
across him on the beach, and, despite the protestations of the boy
who claimed him as personal trove, had ordered him to the canoe
house. Carried past the fires of the feasting, his keen nostrils
had told him of what the feast consisted. And, new as the
experience was, he had bristled and snarled and struggled against
his bonds to be free. Likewise, at first, tossed down in the canoe
house, he had bristled and snarled at his fellow captives, not
realizing their plight, and, since always he had been trained to
look upon niggers as the eternal enemy, considering them responsible
for the catastrophe to the Arangi and to Skipper.
For Jerry was only a little dog, with a dog's limitations, and very
young in the world. But not for long did he throat his rage at
them. In vague ways it was borne in upon him that they, too, were
not happy. Some had been cruelly wounded, and kept up a moaning and
groaning. Without any clearness of concept, nevertheless Jerry had
a realization that they were as painfully circumstanced as himself.
And painful indeed was his own circumstance. He lay on his side,
the cords that bound his legs so tight as to bite into his tender
flesh and shut off the circulation. Also, he was perishing for
water, and panted, dry-tongued, dry-mouthed, in the stagnant heat.
A dolorous place it was, this canoe house, filled with groans and
sighs, corpses beneath the floor and composing the floor, creatures
soon to be corpses upon the floor, corpses swinging in aerial
sepulchre overhead, long black canoes, high-ended like beaked
predatory monsters, dimly looming in the light of a slow fire where
sat an ancient of the tribe of Somo at his interminable task of
smoke-curing a bushman's head. He was withered, and blind, and
senile, gibbering and mowing like some huge ape as ever he turned
and twisted, and twisted back again, the suspended head in the
pungent smoke, and handful by handful added rotten punk of wood to
the smudge fire.
Sixty feet in the clear, the dim fire occasionally lighted, through
shadowy cross-beams, the ridge-pole that was covered with sennit of
coconut that was braided in barbaric designs of black and white and
that was stained by the smoke of years almost to a monochrome of
dirty brown. From the lofty cross-beams, on long sennit strings,
hung the heads of enemies taken aforetime in jungle raid and sea
foray. The place breathed the very atmosphere of decay and death,
and the imbecile ancient, curing in the smoke the token of death,
was himself palsiedly shaking into the disintegration of the grave.
Toward daylight, with great shouting and heaving and pull and haul,
scores of Somo men brought in another of the big war canoes. They
made way with foot and hand, kicking and thrusting dragging and
shoving, the bound captives to either side of the space which the
canoe was to occupy. They were anything but gentle to the meat with
which they had been favoured by good fortune and the wisdom of
For a time they sat about, all pulling at clay pipes and chirruping
and laughing in queer thin falsettos at the events of the night and
the previous afternoon. Now one and now another stretched out and
slept without covering; for so, directly under the path of the sun,
had they slept nakedly from the time they were born.
Remained awake, as dawn paled the dark, only the grievously wounded
or the too-tightly bound, and the decrepit ancient who was not so
old as Bashti. When the boy who had stunned Jerry with his paddle-
blade and who claimed him as his own stole into the canoe house, the
ancient did not hear him. Being blind, he did not see him. He
continued gibbering and chuckling dementedly, to twist the bushman's
head back and forth and to feed the smudge with punk-wood. This was
no night-task for any man, nor even for him who had forgotten how to
do aught else. But the excitement of cutting out the Arangi had
been communicated to his addled brain, and, with vague reminiscent
flashes of the strength of life triumphant, he shared deliriously in
this triumph of Somo by applying himself to the curing of the head
that was in itself the concrete expression of triumph.
But the twelve-year-old lad who stole in and cautiously stepped over
the sleepers and threaded his way among the captives, did so with
his heart in his mouth. He knew what taboos he was violating. Not
old enough even to leave his father's grass roof and sleep in the
youths' canoe house, much less to sleep with the young bachelors in
their canoe house, he knew that he took his life, with all of its
dimly guessed mysteries and arrogances, in his hand thus to trespass
into the sacred precinct of the full-made, full-realized, full-
statured men of Somo.
But he wanted Jerry and he got him. Only the lean little Mary,
trussed for the cooking, staring through her wide eyes of fear, saw
the boy pick Jerry up by his tied legs and carry him out and away
from the booty of meat of which she was part. Jerry's heroic little
heart of courage would have made him snarl and resent such treatment
of handling had he not been too exhausted and had not his mouth and
throat been too dry for sound. As it was, miserably and helplessly,
not half himself, a puppet dreamer in a half-nightmare, he knew, as
a restless sleeper awakening between vexing dreams, that he was
being transported head-downward out of the canoe house that stank of
death, through the village that was only less noisome, and up a path
under lofty, wide-spreading trees that were beginning languidly to
stir with the first breathings of the morning wind.
The boy's name, as Jerry was to learn, was Lamai, and to Lamai's
house Jerry was carried. It was not much of a house, even as
cannibal grass-houses go. On an earthen floor, hard-packed of the
filth of years, lived Lamai's father and mother and a spawn of four
younger brothers and sisters. A thatched roof that leaked in every
heavy shower leaned to a wabbly ridge-pole over the floor. The
walls were even more pervious to a driving rain. In fact, the house
of Lamai, who was the father of Lumai, was the most miserable house
in all Somo.
Lumai, the house-master and family head, unlike most Malaitans, was
fat. And of his fatness it would seem had been begotten his good
nature with its allied laziness. But as the fly in his ointment of
jovial irresponsibility was his wife, Lenerengo--the prize shrew of
Somo, who was as lean about the middle and all the rest of her as
her husband was rotund; who was as remarkably sharp-spoken as he was
soft-spoken; who was as ceaselessly energetic as he was unceasingly
idle; and who had been born with a taste for the world as sour in
her mouth as it was sweet in his.
The boy merely peered into the house as he passed around it to the
rear, and he saw his father and mother, at opposite corners,
sleeping without covering, and, in the middle of the floor, his four
naked brothers and sisters curled together in a tangle like a litter
of puppies. All about the house, which in truth was scarcely more
than an animal lair, was an earthly paradise. The air was spicily
and sweetly heavy with the scents of wild aromatic plants and
gorgeous tropic blooms. Overhead three breadfruit trees interlaced
their noble branches. Banana and plantain trees were burdened with
great bunches of ripening fruit. And huge, golden melons of the
papaia, ready for the eating, globuled directly from the slender-
trunked trees not one-tenth the girth of the fruits they bore. And,
for Jerry, most delightful of all, there was the gurgle and plash of
a brooklet that pursued its invisible way over mossy stones under a
garmenture of tender and delicate ferns. No conservatory of a king
could compare with this wild wantonness of sun-generous vegetation.
Maddened by the sound of the water, Jerry had first to endure an
embracing and hugging from the boy, who, squatted on his hams,
rocked back and forth and mumbled a strange little crooning song.
And Jerry, lacking articulate speech, had no way of telling him of
the thirst of which he was perishing.
Next, Lamai tied him securely with a sennit cord about the neck and
untied the cords that bit into his legs. So numb was Jerry from
lack of circulation, and so weak from lack of water through part of
a tropic day and all of a tropic night, that he stood up, tottered
and fell, and, time and again, essaying to stand, floundered and
fell. And Lamai understood, or tentatively guessed. He caught up a
coconut calabash attached to the end of a stick of bamboo, dipped
into the greenery of ferns, and presented to Jerry the calabash
brimming with the precious water.
Jerry lay on his side at first as he drank, until, with the
moisture, life flowed back into the parched channels of him, so
that, soon, still weak and shaky, he was up and braced on all his
four wide-spread legs and still eagerly lapping. The boy chuckled
and chirped his delight in the spectacle, and Jerry found surcease
and easement sufficient to enable him to speak with his tongue after
the heart-eloquent manner of dogs. He took his nose out of the
calabash and with his rose-ribbon strip of tongue licked Lamai's
hand. And Lamai, in ecstasy over this establishment of common
speech, urged the calabash back under Jerry's nose, and Jerry drank
He continued to drink. He drank until his sun-shrunken sides stood
out like the walls of a balloon, although longer were the intervals
from the drinking in which, with his tongue of gratefulness, he
spoke against the black skin of Lamai's hand. And all went well,
and would have continued to go well, had not Lamai's mother,
Lenerengo, just awakened, stepped across her black litter of progeny
and raised her voice in shrill protest against her eldest born's
introducing of one more mouth and much more nuisance into the
A squabble of human speech followed, of which Jerry knew no word but
of which he sensed the significance. Lamai was with him and for
him. Lamai's mother was against him. She shrilled and shrewed her
firm conviction that her son was a fool and worse because he had
neither the consideration nor the silly sense of a fool's solicitude
for a hard-worked mother. She appealed to the sleeping Lumai, who
awoke heavily and fatly, who muttered and mumbled easy terms of Somo
dialect to the effect that it was a most decent world, that all
puppy dogs and eldest-born sons were right delightful things to
possess, that he had never yet starved to death, and that peace and
sleep were the finest things that ever befell the lot of mortal man-
-and, in token thereof, back into the peace of sleep, he snuggled
his nose into the biceps of his arm for a pillow and proceeded to
But Lamai, eyes stubbornly sullen, with mutinous foot-stampings and
a perfect knowledge that all was clear behind him to leap and flee
away if his mother rushed upon him, persisted in retaining his puppy
dog. In the end, after an harangue upon the worthlessness of
Lamai's father, she went back to sleep.
Ideas beget ideas. Lamai had learned how astonishingly thirsty
Jerry had been. This engendered the idea that he might be equally
hungry. So he applied dry branches of wood to the smouldering coals
he dug out of the ashes of the cooking-fire, and builded a large
fire. Into this, as it gained strength, he placed many stones from
a convenient pile, each fire-blackened in token that it had been
similarly used many times. Next, hidden under the water of the
brook in a netted hand-bag, he brought to light the carcass of a fat
wood-pigeon he had snared the previous day. He wrapped the pigeon
in green leaves, and, surrounding it with the hot stones from the
fire, covered pigeon and stones with earth.
When, after a time, he removed the pigeon and stripped from it the
scorched wrappings of leaves, it gave forth a scent so savoury as to
prick up Jerry's ears and set his nostrils to quivering. When the
boy had torn the steaming carcass across and cooled it, Jerry's meal
began; nor did the meal cease till the last sliver of meat had been
stripped and tongued from the bones and the bones crunched and
crackled to fragments and swallowed. And throughout the meal Lamai
made love to Jerry, crooning over and over his little song, and
patting and caressing him.
On the other hand, refreshed by the water and the meat, Jerry did
not reciprocate so heartily in the love-making. He was polite, and
received his petting with soft-shining eyes, tail-waggings and the
customary body-wrigglings; but he was restless, and continually
listened to distant sounds and yearned away to be gone. This was
not lost upon the boy, who, before he curled himself down to sleep,
securely tied to a tree the end of the cord that was about Jerry's
After straining against the cord for a time, Jerry surrendered and
slept. But not for long. Skipper was too much with him. He knew,
and yet he did not know, the irretrievable ultimate disaster to
Skipper. So it was, after low whinings and whimperings, that he
applied his sharp first-teeth to the sennit cord and chewed upon it
till it parted.
Free, like a homing pigeon, he headed blindly and directly for the
beach and the salt sea over which had floated the Arangi, on her
deck Skipper in command. Somo was largely deserted, and those that
were in it were sunk in sleep. So no one vexed him as he trotted
through the winding pathways between the many houses and past the
obscene kingposts of totemic heraldry, where the forms of men,
carved from single tree trunks, were seated in the gaping jaws of
carved sharks. For Somo, tracing back to Somo its founder,
worshipped the shark-god and the salt-water deities as well as the
deities of the bush and swamp and mountain.
Turning to the right until he was past the sea-wall, Jerry came on
down to the beach. No Arangi was to be seen on the placid surface
of the lagoon. All about him was the debris of the feast, and he
scented the smouldering odours of dying fires and burnt meat. Many
of the feasters had not troubled to return to their houses, but lay
about on the sand, in the mid-morning sunshine, men, women, and
children and entire families, wherever they had yielded to slumber.
Down by the water's edge, so close that his fore-feet rested in the
water, Jerry sat down, his heart bursting for Skipper, thrust his
nose heavenward at the sun, and wailed his woe as dogs have ever
wailed since they came in from the wild woods to the fires of men.
And here Lamai found him, hushed his grief against his breast with
cuddling arms, and carried him back to the grass house by the brook.
Water he offered, but Jerry could drink no more. Love he offered,
but Jerry could not forget his torment of desire for Skipper. In
the end, disgusted with so unreasonable a puppy, Lamai forgot his
love in his boyish savageness, clouted Jerry over the head, right
side and left, and tied him as few whites men's dogs have ever been
tied. For, in his way, Lamai was a genius. He had never seen the
thing done with any dog, yet he devised, on the spur of the moment,
the invention of tying Jerry with a stick. The stick was of bamboo,
four feet long. One end he tied shortly to Jerry's neck, the other
end, just as shortly to a tree. All that Jerry's teeth could reach
was the stick, and dry and seasoned bamboo can defy the teeth of any
For many days, tied by the stick, Jerry remained Lamai's prisoner.
It was not a happy time, for the house of Lumai was a house of
perpetual bickering and quarrelling. Lamai fought pitched battles
with his brothers and sisters for teasing Jerry, and these battles
invariably culminated in Lenerengo taking a hand and impartially
punishing all her progeny.
After that, as a matter of course and on general principles, she
would have it out with Lumai, whose soft voice always was for quiet
and repose, and who always, at the end of a tongue-lashing, took
himself off to the canoe house for a couple of days. Here,
Lenerengo was helpless. Into the canoe house of the stags no Mary
might venture. Lenerengo had never forgotten the fate of the last
Mary who had broken the taboo. It had occurred many years before,
when she was a girl, and the recollection was ever vivid of the
unfortunate woman hanging up in the sun by one arm for all of a day,
and for all of a second day by the other arm. After that she had
been feasted upon by the stags of the canoe house, and for long
afterward all women had talked softly before their husbands.
Jerry did discover liking for Lamai, but it was not strong nor
passionate. Rather was it out of gratitude, for only Lamai saw to
it that he received food and water. Yet this boy was no Skipper, no
Mister Haggin. Nor was he even a Derby or a Bob. He was that
inferior man-creature, a nigger, and Jerry had been thoroughly
trained all his brief days to the law that the white men were the
superior two-legged gods.
He did not fail to recognize, however, the intelligence and power
that resided in the niggers. He did not reason it out. He accepted
it. They had power of command over other objects, could propel
sticks and stones through the air, could even tie him a prisoner to
a stick that rendered him helpless. Inferior as they might be to
the white-gods, still they were gods of a sort.
It was the first time in his life that Jerry had been tied up, and
he did not like it. Vainly he hurt his teeth, some of which were
loosening under the pressure of the second teeth rising underneath.
The stick was stronger than he. Although he did not forget Skipper,
the poignancy of his loss faded with the passage of time, until
uppermost in his mind was the desire to be free.
But when the day came that he was freed, he failed to take advantage
of it and scuttle away for the beach. It chanced that Lenerengo
released him. She did it deliberately, desiring to be quit of him.
But when she untied Jerry, he stopped to thank her, wagging his tail
and smiling up at her with his hazel-brown eyes. She stamped her
foot at him to be gone, and uttered a harsh and intimidating cry.
This Jerry did not understand, and so unused was he to fear that he
could not be frightened into running away. He ceased wagging his
tail, and, though he continued to look up at her, his eyes no longer
smiled. Her action and noise he identified as unfriendly, and he
became alert and watchful, prepared for whatever hostile act she
might next commit.
Again she cried out and stamped her foot. The only effect on Jerry
was to make him transfer his watchfulness to the foot. This
slowness in getting away, now that she had released him, was too
much for her short temper. She launched the kick, and Jerry,
avoiding it, slashed her ankle.
War broke on the instant, and that she might have killed Jerry in
her rage was highly probable had not Lamai appeared on the scene.
The stick untied from Jerry's neck told the tale of her perfidy and
incensed Lamai, who sprang between and deflected the blow with a
stone poi-pounder that might have brained Jerry.
Lamai was now the one in danger of grievous damage, and his mother
had just knocked him down with a clout alongside the head when poor
Lumai, roused from sleep by the uproar, ventured out to make peace.
Lenerengo, as usual, forgot everything else in the fiercer pleasure
of berating her spouse.
The conclusion of the affair was harmless enough. The children
stopped their crying, Lamai retied Jerry with the stick, Lenerengo
harangued herself breathless, and Lumai departed with hurt feelings
for the canoe house where stags could sleep in peace and Marys
That night, in the circle of his fellow stags, Lumai recited his
sorrows and told the cause of them--the puppy dog which had come on
the Arangi. It chanced that Agno, chief of the devil devil doctors,
or high priest, heard the tale, and recollected that he had sent
Jerry to the canoe house along with the rest of the captives. Half
an hour later he was having it out with Lamai. Beyond doubt, the
boy had broken the taboos, and privily he told him so, until Lamai
trembled and wept and squirmed abjectly at his feet, for the penalty
It was too good an opportunity to get a hold over the boy for Agno
to misplay it. A dead boy was worth nothing to him, but a living
boy whose life he carried in his hand would serve him well. Since
no one else knew of the broken taboo, he could afford to keep quiet.
So he ordered Lamai forthright down to live in the youths' canoe
house, there to begin his novitiate in the long series of tasks,
tests and ceremonies that would graduate him into the bachelors'
canoe house and half way along toward being a recognized man.
In the morning, obeying the devil devil doctor's commands, Lenerengo
tied Jerry's feet together, not without a struggle in which his head
was banged about and her hands were scratched. Then she carried him
down through the village on the way to deliver him at Agno's house.
On the way, in the open centre of the village where stood the
kingposts, she left him lying on the ground in order to join in the
hilarity of the population.
Not only was old Bashti a stern law-giver, but he was a unique one.
He had selected this day at the one time to administer punishment to
two quarrelling women, to give a lesson to all other women, and to
make all his subjects glad once again that they had him for ruler.
Tiha and Wiwau, the two women, were squat and stout and young, and
had long been a scandal because of their incessant quarrelling.
Bashti had set them a race to run. But such a race. It was side-
splitting. Men, women, and children, beholding, howled with
delight. Even elderly matrons and greybeards with a foot in the
grave screeched and shrilled their joy in the spectacle.
The half-mile course lay the length of the village, through its
heart, from the beach where the Arangi had been burned to the beach
at the other end of the sea-wall. It had to be covered once in each
direction by Tiha and Wiwau, in each case one of them urging speed
on the other and the other desiring speed that was unattainable.
Only the mind of Bashti could have devised the show. First, two
round coral stones, weighing fully forty pounds each, were placed in
Tiha's arms. She was compelled to clasp them tightly against her
sides in order that they might not roll to the ground. Behind her,
Bashti placed Wiwau, who was armed with a bristle of bamboo splints
mounted on a light long shaft of bamboo. The splints were sharp as
needles, being indeed the needles used in tattooing, and on the end
of the pole they were intended to be applied to Tiha's back in the
same way that men apply ox-goads to oxen. No serious damage, but
much pain, could be inflicted, which was just what Bashti had
Wiwau prodded with the goad, and Tiha stumbled and wabbled in
gymnastic efforts to make speed. Since, when the farther beach had
been reached, the positions would be reversed and Wiwau would carry
the stones back while Tiha prodded, and since Wiwau knew that for
what she gave Tiha would then try to give more, Wiwau exerted
herself to give the utmost while yet she could. The perspiration
ran down both their faces. Each had her partisans in the crowd, who
encouraged and heaped ridicule with every prod.
Ludicrous as it was, behind it lay iron savage law. The two stones
were to be carried the entire course. The woman who prodded must do
so with conviction and dispatch. The woman who was prodded must not
lose her temper and fight her tormentor. As they had been duly
forewarned by Bashti, the penalty for infraction of the rules he had
laid down was staking out on the reef at low tide to be eaten by the
As the contestants came opposite where Bashti and Aora his prime
minister stood, they redoubled their efforts, Wiwau goading
enthusiastically, Tiha jumping with every thrust to the imminent
danger of dropping the stones. At their heels trooped the children
of the village and all the village dogs, whooping and yelping with
"Long time you fella Tiha no sit 'm along canoe," Aora bawled to the
victim and set Bashti cackling again.
At an unusually urgent prod, Tiha dropped a stone and was duly
goaded while she sank to her knees and with one arm scooped it in
against her side, regained her feet, and waddled on.
Once, in stark mutiny at so much pain, she deliberately stopped and
addressed her tormentor.
"Me cross along you too much," she told Wiwau. "Bime by, close--"
But she never completed the threat. A warmly administered prod
broke through her stoicism and started her tottering along.
The shouting of the rabble ebbed away as the queer race ran on
toward the beach. But in a few minutes it could be heard flooding
back, this time Wiwau panting with the weight of coral stone and
Tiha, a-smart with what she had endured, trying more than to even
Opposite Bashti, Wiwau lost one of the stones, and, in the effort to
recover it, lost the other, which rolled a dozen feet away from the
first. Tiha became a whirlwind of avenging fury. And all Somo went
wild. Bashti held his lean sides with merriment while tears of
purest joy ran down his prodigiously wrinkled cheeks.
And when all was over, quoth Bashti to his people: "Thus shall all
women fight when they desire over much to fight."
Only he did not say it in this way. Nor did he say it in the Somo
tongue. What he did say was in beche-de-mer, and his words were:
"Any fella Mary he like 'm fight, all fella Mary along Somo fight 'm
this fella way."
For some time after the conclusion of the race, Bashti stood talking
with his head men, Agno among them. Lenerengo was similarly engaged
with several old cronies. As Jerry lay off to one side where she
had forgotten him, the wild-dog he had bullied on the Arangi came up
and sniffed at him. At first he sniffed at a distance, ready for
instant flight. Then he drew cautiously closer. Jerry watched him
with smouldering eyes. At the moment wild-dog's nose touched him,
he uttered a warning growl. Wild-dog sprang back and whirled away
in headlong flight for a score of yards before he learned that he
was not pursued.
Again he came back cautiously, as it was the instinct in him to
stalk wild game, crouching so close to the ground that almost his
belly touched. He lifted and dropped his feet with the lithe
softness of a cat, and from time to time glanced to right and to
left as if in apprehension of some flank attack. A noisy outburst
of boys' laughter in the distance caused him to crouch suddenly
down, his claws thrust into the ground for purchase, his muscles
tense springs for the leap he knew not in what direction, from the
danger he knew not what that might threaten him. Then he identified
the noise, know that no harm impended, and resumed his stealthy
advance on the Irish terrier.
What might have happened there is no telling, for at that moment
Bashti's eyes chanced to rest on the golden puppy for the first time
since the capture of the Arangi. In the rush of events Bashti had
forgotten the puppy.
"What name that fella dog?" he cried out sharply, causing wild-dog
to crouch down again and attracting Lenerengo's attention.
She cringed in fear to the ground before the terrible old chief and
quavered a recital of the facts. Her good-for-nothing boy Lamai had
picked the dog from the water. It had been the cause of much
trouble in her house. But now Lamai had gone to live with the
youths, and she was carrying the dog to Agno's house at Agno's
"What name that dog stop along you?" Bashti demanded directly of
"Me kai-kai along him," came the answer. "Him fat fella dog. Him
good fella dog kai-kai."
Into Bashti's alert old brain flashed an idea that had been long
"Him good fella dog too much," he announced. "Better you eat 'm
bush fella dog," he advised, pointing at wild-dog.
Agno shook his head. "Bush fella dog no good kai-kai."
"Bush fella dog no good too much," was Bashti's judgment. "Bush
fella dog too much fright. Plenty fella bush dog too much fright.
White marster's dog no fright. Bush dog no fight. White marster's
dog fight like hell. Bush dog run like hell. You look 'm eye
belong you, you see."
Bashti stepped over to Jerry and cut the cords that tied his legs.
And Jerry, upon his feet in a surge, was for once in too great haste
to pause to give thanks. He hurled himself after wild-dog, caught
him in mid-flight, and rolled him over and over in a cloud of dust.
Ever wild-dog strove to escape, and ever Jerry cornered him, rolled
him, and bit him, while Bashti applauded and called on his head men
By this time Jerry had become a raging little demon. Fired by all
his wrongs, from the bloody day on the Arangi and the loss of
Skipper down to this latest tying of his legs, he was avenging
himself on wild-dog for everything. The owner of wild-dog, a return
boy, made the mistake of trying to kick Jerry away. Jerry was upon
him in a flash scratching his calves with his teeth, in the
suddenness of his onslaught getting between the black's legs and
tumbling him to the ground.
"What name!" Bashti cried in a rage at the offender, who lay fear-
stricken where he had fallen, trembling for what next words might
fall from his chief's lips.
But Bashti was already doubling with laughter at sight of wild-dog
running for his life down the street with Jerry a hundred feet
behind and tearing up the dust.
As they disappeared, Bashti expounded his idea. If men planted
banana trees, it ran, what they would get would be bananas. If they
planted yams, yams would be produced, not sweet potatoes or
plantains, but yams, nothing but yams. The same with dogs. Since
all black men's dogs were cowards, all the breeding of all black
men's dogs would produce cowards. White men's dogs were courageous
fighters. When they were bred they produced courageous fighters.
Very well, and to the conclusion, namely, here was a white man's dog
in their possession. The height of foolishness would be to eat it
and to destroy for all time the courage that resided in it. The
wise thing to do was to regard it as a seed dog, to keep it alive,
so that in the coming generations of Somo dogs its courage would be
repeated over and over and spread until all Somo dogs would be
strong and brave.
Further, Bashti commanded his chief devil devil doctor to take
charge of Jerry and guard him well. Also, he sent his word forth to
all the tribe that Jerry was taboo. No man, woman, or child was to
throw spear or stone at him, strike him with club or tomahawk, or
hurt him in any way.
Thenceforth, and until Jerry himself violated one of the greatest of
taboos, he had a happy time in Agno's gloomy grass house. For
Bashti, unlike most chiefs, ruled his devil devil doctors with an
iron hand. Other chiefs, even Nau-hau of Langa-Langa, were ruled by
their devil devil doctors. For that matter, the population of Somo
believed that Bashti was so ruled. But the Somo folk did not know
what went on behind the scenes, when Bashti, a sheer infidel, talked
alone now with one doctor and now with another.
In these private talks he demonstrated that he knew their game as
well as they did, and that he was no slave to the dark superstitions
and gross impostures with which they kept the people in submission.
Also, he exposited the theory, as ancient as priests and rulers,
that priests and rulers must work together in the orderly governance
of the people. He was content that the people should believe that
the gods, and the priests who were the mouth-pieces of the gods, had
the last word, but he would have the priests know that in private
the last word was his. Little as they believed in their trickery,
he told them, he believed less.
He knew taboo, and the truth behind taboo. He explained his
personal taboos, and how they came to be. Never must he eat clam-
meat, he told Agno. It was so selected by himself because he did
not like clam-meat. It was old Nino, high priest before Agno, with
an ear open to the voice of the shark-god, who had so laid the
taboo. But, he, Bashti, had privily commanded Nino to lay the taboo
against clam-meat upon him, because he, Bashti, did not like clam-
meat and had never liked clam-meat.
Still further, since he had lived longer than the oldest priest of
them, his had been the appointing of every one of them. He knew
them, had made them, had placed them, and they lived by his
pleasure. And they would continue to take program from him, as they
had always taken it, or else they would swiftly and suddenly pass.
He had but to remind them of the passing of Kori, the devil devil
doctor who had believed himself stronger than his chief, and who,
for his mistake, had screamed in pain for a week ere what composed
him had ceased to scream and for ever ceased to scream.
In Agno's large grass house was little light and much mystery.
There was no mystery there for Jerry, who merely knew things, or did
not know things, and who never bothered about what he did not know.
Dried heads and other cured and mouldy portions of human carcasses
impressed him no more than the dried alligators and dried fish that
contributed to the festooning of Agno's dark abode.
Jerry found himself well cared for. No children nor wives cluttered
the devil devil doctor's house. Several old women, a fly-flapping
girl of eleven, and two young men who had graduated from the canoe
house of the youths and who were studying priestcraft under the
master, composed the household and waited upon Jerry. Food of the
choicest was his. After Agno had eaten first-cut of pig, Jerry was
served second. Even the two acolytes and the fly-flapping maid ate
after him, leaving the debris for the several old women. And,
unlike the mere bush dogs, who stole shelter from the rain under
overhanging eaves, Jerry was given a dry place under the roof where
the heads of bushmen and of forgotten sandalwood traders hung down
from above in the midst of a dusty confusion of dried viscera of
sharks, crocodile skulls, and skeletons of Solomons rats that
measured two-thirds of a yard in length from bone-tip of nose to
bone-tip of tail.
A number of times, all freedom being his, Jerry stole away across
the village to the house of Lumai. But never did he find Lamai,
who, since Skipper, was the only human he had met that had placed a
bid to his heart. Jerry never appeared openly, but from the thick
fern of the brookside observed the house and scented out its
occupants. No scent of Lamai did he ever obtain, and, after a time,
he gave up his vain visits and accepted the devil devil doctor's
house as his home and the devil devil doctor as his master.
But he bore no love for this master. Agno, who had ruled by fear so
long in his house of mystery, did not know love. Nor was affection
any part of him, nor was geniality. He had no sense of humour, and
was as frostily cruel as an icicle. Next to Bashti he stood in
power, and all his days had been embittered in that he was not first
in power. He had no softness for Jerry. Because he feared Bashti
he feared to harm Jerry.
The months passed, and Jerry got his firm, massive second teeth and
increased in weight and size. He came as near to being spoiled as
is possible for a dog. Himself taboo, he quickly learned to lord it
over the Somo folk and to have his way and will in all matters. No
one dared to dispute with him with stick or stone. Agno hated him--
he knew that; but also he gleaned the knowledge that Agno feared him
and would not dare to hurt him. But Agno was a chill-blooded
philosopher and bided his time, being different from Jerry in that
he possessed human prevision and could adjust his actions to remote
From the edge of the lagoon, into the waters of which, remembering
the crocodile taboo he had learned on Meringe, he never ventured,
Jerry ranged to the outlying bush villages of Bashti's domain. All
made way for him. All fed him when he desired food. For the taboo
was upon him, and he might unchidden invade their sleeping-mats or
food calabashes. He might bully as he pleased, and be arrogant
beyond decency, and there was no one to say him nay. Even had
Bashti's word gone forth that if Jerry were attacked by the full-
grown bush dogs, it was the duty of the Somo folk to take his part
and kick and stone and beat the bush dogs. And thus his own four-
legged cousins came painfully to know that he was taboo.
And Jerry prospered. Fat to stupidity he might well have become,
had it not been for his high-strung nerves and his insatiable, eager
curiosity. With the freedom of all Somo his, he was ever a-foot
over it, learning its metes and bounds and the ways of the wild
creatures that inhabited its swamps and forests and that did not
acknowledge his taboo.
Many were his adventures. He fought two battles with the wood-rats
that were almost of his size, and that, being mature and wild and
cornered, fought him as he had never been fought before. The first
he had killed, unaware that it was an old and feeble rat. The
second, in prime of vigour, had so punished him that he crawled
back, weak and sick to the devil devil doctor's house, where, for a
week, under the dried emblems of death, he licked his wounds and
slowly came back to life and health.
He stole upon the dugong and joyed to stampede that silly timid
creature by sudden ferocious onslaughts which he knew himself to be
all sound and fury, but which tickled him and made him laugh with
the consciousness of playing a successful joke. He chased the
unmigratory tropi-ducks from their shrewd-hidden nests, walked
circumspectly among the crocodiles hauled out of water for slumber,
and crept under the jungle-roof and spied upon the snow-white saucy
cockatoos, the fierce ospreys, the heavy-flighted buzzards, the
lories and kingfishers, and the absurdly garrulous little pygmy
Thrice, beyond the boundaries of Somo, he encountered the little
black bushmen who were more like ghosts than men, so noiseless and
unperceivable were they, and who, guarding the wild-pig runways of
the jungle, missed spearing him on the three memorable occasions.
As the wood-rats had taught him discretion, so did these two-legged
lurkers in the jungle twilight. He had not fought with them,
although they tried to spear him. He quickly came to know that
these were other folk than Somo folk, that his taboo did not extend
to them, and that, even of a sort, they were two-legged gods who
carried flying death in their hands that reached farther than their
hands and bridged distance.
As he ran the jungle, so Jerry ran the village. No place was sacred
to him. In the devil devil houses, where, before the face of
mystery men and women crawled in fear and trembling, he walked
stiff-legged and bristling; for fresh heads were suspended there--
heads his eyes and keen nostrils identified as those of once living
blacks he had known on board the Arangi. In the biggest devil devil
house he encountered the head of Borckman, and snarled at it,
without receiving response, in recollection of the fight he had
fought with the schnapps-addled mate on the deck of the Arangi.
Once, however, in Bashti's house, he chanced upon all that remained
on earth of Skipper. Bashti had lived very long, had lived most
wisely and thought much, and was thoroughly aware that, having lived
far beyond the span of man his own span was very short. And he was
curious about it all--the meaning and purpose of life. He loved the
world and life, into which he had been fortunately born, both as to
constitution and to place, which latter, for him, had been the high
place over hie priests and people. He was not afraid to die, but he
wondered if he might live again. He discounted the silly views of
the tricky priests, and he was very much alone in the chaos of the
For he had lived so long, and so luckily, that he had watched the
waning to extinction of all the vigorous appetites and desires. He
had known wives and children, and the keen-edge of youthful hunger.
He had seen his children grow to manhood and womanhood and become
fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers. But having
known woman, and love, and fatherhood, and the belly-delights of
eating, he had passed on beyond. Food? Scarcely did he know its
meaning, so little did he eat. Hunger, that bit him like a spur
when he was young and lusty, had long since ceased to stir and prod
him. He ate out of a sense of necessity and duty, and cared little
for what he ate, save for one thing: the eggs of the megapodes that
were, in season, laid in his private, personal, strictly tabooed
megapode laying-yard. Here was left to him his last lingering flesh
thrill. As for the rest, he lived in his intellect, ruling his
people, seeking out data from which to induce laws that would make
his people stronger and rivet his people's clinch upon life.
But he realized clearly the difference between that abstract thing,
the tribe, and that most concrete of things, the individual. The
tribe persisted. Its members passed. The tribe was a memory of the
history and habits of all previous members, which the living members
carried on until they passed and became history and memory in the
intangible sum that was the tribe. He, as a member, soon or late,
and late was very near, must pass. But pass to what? There was the
rub. And so it was, on occasion, that he ordered all forth from his
big grass house, and, alone with his problem, lowered from the roof-
beams the matting-wrapped parcels of heads of men he had once seen
live and who had passed into the mysterious nothingness of death.
Not as a miser had he collected these heads, and not as a miser
counting his secret hoard did he ponder these heads, unwrapped, held
in his two hands or lying on his knees. He wanted to know. He
wanted to know what he guessed they might know, now that they had
long since gone into the darkness that rounds the end of life.
Various were the heads Bashti thus interrogated--in his hands, on
his knees, in his dim-lighted grasshouse, while the overhead sun
blazed down and the fading south-east sighed through the palm-fronds
and breadfruit branches. There was the head of a Japanese--the only
one he had ever seen or heard of. Before he was born it had been
taken by his father. Ill-cured it was, and battered and marred with
ancientness and rough usage. Yet he studied its features, decided
that it had once had two lips as live as his own and a mouth as
vocal and hungry as his had often been in the past. Two eyes and a
nose it had, a thatched crown of roof, and a pair of ears like to
his own. Two legs and a body it must once have had, and desires and
lusts. Heats of wrath and of love, so he decided, had also been its
once on a time when it never thought to die.
A head that amazed him much, whose history went back before his
father's and grandfather's time, was the head of a Frenchman,
although Bashti knew it not. Nor did he know it was the head of La
Perouse, the doughty old navigator, who had left his bones, the
bones of his crews, and the bones of his two frigates, the Astrolabe
and the Boussole, on the shores of the cannibal Solomons. Another
head--for Bashti was a confirmed head-collector--went back two
centuries before La Perouse to Alvaro de Mendana, the Spaniard. It
was the head of one of Mendana's armourers, lost in a beach
scrimmage to one of Bashti's remote ancestors.
Still another head, the history of which was vague, was a white
woman's head. What wife of what navigator there was no telling.
But earrings of gold and emerald still clung to the withered ears,
and the hair, two-thirds of a fathom long, a shimmering silk of
golden floss, flowed from the scalp that covered what had once been
the wit and will of her that Bashti reasoned had in her ancient time
been quick with love in the arms of man.
Ordinary heads, of bushmen and salt-water men, and even of schnapps-
drinking white men like Borckman, he relegated to the canoe houses
and devil devil houses. For he was a connoisseur in the matter of
heads. There was a strange head of a German that lured him much.
Red-bearded it was, and red-haired, but even in dried death there
was an ironness of feature and a massive brow that hinted to him of
mastery of secrets beyond his ken. No more than did he know it once
had been a German, did he know it was a German professor's head, an
astronomer's head, a head that in its time had carried within its
content profound knowledge of the stars in the vasty heavens, of the
way of star-directed ships upon the sea, and of the way of the earth
on its starry course through space that was a myriad million times
beyond the slight concept of space that he possessed.
Last of all, sharpest of bite in his thought, was the head of Van
Horn. And it was the head of Van Horn that lay on his knees under
his contemplation when Jerry, who possessed the freedom of Somo,
trotted into Bashti's grass house, scented and identified the mortal
remnant of Skipper, wailed first in woe over it, then bristled into
Bashti did not notice at first, for he was deep in interrogation of
Van Horn's head. Only short months before this head had been alive,
he pondered, quick with wit, attached to a two-legged body that
stood erect and that swaggered about, a loincloth and a belted
automatic around its middle, more powerful, therefrom, than Bashti,
but with less wit, for had not he, Bashti, with an ancient pistol,
put darkness inside that skull where wit resided, and removed that
skull from the soddenly relaxed framework of flesh and bone on which
it had been supported to tread the earth and the deck of the Arangi?
What had become of that wit? Had that wit been all of the arrogant,
upstanding Van Horn, and had it gone out as the flickering flame of
a splinter of wood goes out when it is quite burnt to a powder-fluff
of ash? Had all that made Van Horn passed like the flame of the
splinter? Had he passed into the darkness for ever into which the
beast passed, into which passed the speared crocodile, the hooked
bonita, the netted mullet, the slain pig that was fat to eat? Was
Van Horn's darkness as the darkness of the blue-bottle fly that his
fly-flapping maid smashed and disrupted in mid-flight of the air?--
as the darkness into which passed the mosquito that knew the secret
of flying, and that, despite its perfectness of flight, with almost
an unthought action, he squashed with the flat of his hand against
the back of his neck when it bit him?
What was true of this white man's head, so recently alive and
erectly dominant, Bashti knew was true of himself. What had
happened to this white man, after going through the dark gate of
death, would happen to him. Wherefore he questioned the head, as if
its dumb lips might speak to him from out of the mystery and tell
him the meaning of life, and the meaning of death that inevitably
laid life by the heels.
Jerry's long-drawn howl of woe at sight and scent of all that was
left of Skipper, roused Bashti from his reverie. He looked at the
sturdy, golden-brown puppy, and immediately included it in his
reverie. It was alive. It was like man. It knew hunger, and pain,
anger and love. It had blood in its veins, like man, that a thrust
of a knife could make redly gush forth and denude it to death. Like
the race of man it loved its kind, and birthed and breast-nourished
its young. And passed. Ay, it passed; for many a dog, as well as a
human, had he, Bashti, devoured in his hey-dey of appetite and
youth, when he knew only motion and strength, and fed motion and
strength out of the calabashes of feasting.
But from woe Jerry went on into anger. He stalked stiff-legged,
with a snarl writhen on his lips, and with recurrent waves of hair-
bristling along his back and up his shoulders and neck. And he
stalked not the head of Skipper, where rested his love, but Bashti,
who held the head on his knees. As the wild wolf in the upland
pasture stalks the mare mother with her newly delivered colt, so
Jerry stalked Bashti. And Bashti, who had never feared death all
his long life and who had laughed a joke with his forefinger blown
off by the bursting flint-lock pistol, smiled gleefully to himself,
for his glee was intellectual and in admiration of this half-grown
puppy whom he rapped on the nose with a short, hardwood stick and
compelled to keep distance. No matter how often and fiercely Jerry
rushed him, he met the rush with the stick, and chuckled aloud,
understanding the puppy's courage, marvelling at the stupidity of
life that impelled him continually to thrust his nose to the hurt of
the stick, and that drove him, by passion of remembrance of a dead
man to dare the pain of the stick again and again.
This, too, was life, Bashti meditated, as he deftly rapped the
screaming puppy away from him. Four-legged life it was, young and
silly and hot, heart-prompted, that was like any young man making
love to his woman in the twilight, or like any young man fighting to
the death with any other young man over a matter of passion, hurt
pride, or thwarted desire. As much as in the dead head of Van Horn
or of any man, he realized that in this live puppy might reside the
clue to existence, the solution of the riddle.
So he continued to rap Jerry on the nose away from him, and to
marvel at the persistence of the vital something within him that
impelled him to leap forward always to the stick that hurt him and
made him recoil. The valour and motion, the strength and the
unreasoning of youth he knew it to be, and he admired it sadly, and
envied it, willing to exchange for it all his lean grey wisdom if
only he could find the way.
"Some dog, that dog, sure some dog," he might have uttered in Van
Horn's fashion of speech. Instead, in beche-de-mer, which was as
habitual to him as his own Somo speech, he thought:
"My word, that fella dog no fright along me."
But age wearied sooner of the play, and Bashti put an end to it by
rapping Jerry heavily behind the ear and stretching him out stunned.
The spectacle of the puppy, so alive and raging the moment before,
and, the moment after, lying as if dead, caught Bashti's speculative
fancy. The stick, with a single sharp rap of it, had effected the
change. Where had gone the anger and wit of the puppy? Was that
all it was, the flame of the splinter that could be quenched by any
chance gust of air? One instant Jerry had raged and suffered,
snarled and leaped, willed and directed his actions. The next
instant he lay limp and crumpled in the little death of
unconsciousness. In a brief space, Bashti knew, consciousness,
sensation, motion, and direction would flow back into the wilted
little carcass. But where, in the meanwhile, at the impact of the
stick, had gone all the consciousness, and sensitiveness, and will?
Bashti sighed wearily, and wearily wrapped the heads in their grass-
mat coverings--all but Van Horn's; and hoisted them up in the air to
hang from the roof-beams--to hang as he debated, long after he was
dead and out if it, even as some of them had so hung from long
before his father's and his grandfather's time. The head of Van
Horn he left lying on the floor, while he stole out himself to peer
in through a crack and see what next the puppy might do.
Jerry quivered at first, and in the matter of a minute struggled
feebly to his feet where he stood swaying and dizzy; and thus
Bashti, his eye to the crack, saw the miracle of life flow back
through the channels of the inert body and stiffen the legs to
upstanding, and saw consciousness, the mystery of mysteries, flood
back inside the head of bone that was covered with hair, smoulder
and glow in the opening eyes, and direct the lips to writhe away
from the teeth and the throat to vibrate to the snarl that had been
interrupted when the stick smashed him down into darkness.
And more Bashti saw. At first, Jerry looked about for his enemy,
growling and bristling his neck hair. Next, in lieu of his enemy,
he saw Skipper's head, and crept to it and loved it, kissing with
his tongue the hard cheeks, the closed lids of the eyes that his
love could not open, the immobile lips that would not utter one of
the love-words they had been used to utter to the little dog.
Next, in profound desolation, Jerry set down before Skipper's head,
pointed his nose toward the lofty ridge-pole, and howled mournfully
and long. Finally, sick and subdued, he crept out of the house and
away to the house of his devil devil master, where, for the round of
twenty-four hours, he waked and slept and dreamed centuries of
For ever after in Somo, Jerry feared that grass house of Bashti. He
was not in fear of Bashti. His fear was indescribable and
unthinkable. In that house was the nothingness of what once was
Skipper. It was the token of the ultimate catastrophe to life that
was wrapped and twisted into every fibre of his heredity. One step
advanced beyond this, Jerry's uttermost, the folk of Somo, from the
contemplation of death, had achieved concepts of the spirits of the
dead still living in immaterial and supersensuous realms.
And thereafter Jerry hated Bashti intensely, as a lord of life who
possessed and laid on his knees the nothingness of Skipper. Not
that Jerry reasoned it out. All dim and vague it was, a sensation,
an emotion, a feeling, an instinct, an intuition, name it mistily as
one will in the misty nomenclature of speech wherein words cheat
with the impression of definiteness and lie to the brain an
understanding which the brain does not possess.
Three months more passed; the north-west monsoon, after its half-
year of breath, had given way to the south-east trade; and Jerry
still continued to live in the house of Agno and to have the run of
the village. He had put on weight, increased in size, and,
protected by the taboo, had become self-confident almost to
lordliness. But he had found no master. Agno had never won a
heart-throb from him. For that matter, Agno had never tried to win
him. Nor, in his cold-blooded way, had he ever betrayed his hatred
Not even the several old women, the two acolytes, and the fly-
flapping maid in Agno's house dreamed that the devil devil doctor
hated Jerry. Nor did Jerry dream it. To him Agno was a neutral
sort of person, a person who did not count. Those of the household
Jerry recognized as slaves or servants to Agno, and he knew when
they fed him that the food he ate proceeded from Agno and was Agno's
food. Save himself, taboo protected, all of them feared Agno, and
his house was truly a house of fear in which could bloom no love for
a stray puppy dog. The eleven-years' maid might have placed a bid
for Jerry's affection, had she not been deterred at the start by
Agno, who reprimanded her sternly for presuming to touch or fondle a
dog of such high taboo.
What delayed Agno's plot against Jerry for the half-year of the
monsoon was the fact that the season of egg-laying for the megapodes
in Bashti's private laying-yard did not begin until the period of
the south-east trades. And Agno, having early conceived his plot,
with the patience that was characteristic of him was content to wait
Now the megapode of the Solomons is a distant cousin to the brush
turkey of Australia. No larger than a large pigeon, it lays an egg
the size of a domestic duck's. The megapode, with no sense of fear,
is so silly that it would have been annihilated hundreds of
centuries before had it not been preserved by the taboos of the
chiefs and priests. As it was, the chiefs were compelled to keep
cleared patches of sand for it, and to fence out the dogs. It
buried its eggs two feet deep, depending on the heat of the sun for
the hatching. And it would dig and lay, and continue to dig and
lay, while a black dug out its eggs within two or three feet of it.
The laying-yard was Bashti's. During the season, he lived almost
entirely on megapode eggs. On rare occasion he even had megapodes
that were near to finishing their laying killed for his kai-kai.
This was no more than a whim, however, prompted by pride in such
exclusiveness of diet only possible to one in such high place. In
truth, he cared no more for megapode meat than for any other meat.
All meat tasted alike to him, for his taste for meat was one of the
vanished pleasures in the limbo of memory.
But the eggs! He liked to eat them. They were the only article of
food he liked to eat, They gave him reminiscent thrills of the
ancient food-desires of his youth. Actually was he hungry when he
had megapode eggs, and the well-nigh dried founts of saliva and of
internal digestive juices were stimulated to flow again at
contemplation of a megapode egg prepared for the eating. Wherefore,
he alone of all Somo, barred rigidly by taboo, ate megapode eggs.
And, since the taboo was essentially religious, to Agno was deputed
the ecclesiastical task of guarding and cherishing and caring for
the royal laying-yard.
But Agno was no longer young. The acid bite of belly desire had
long since deserted him, and he, too, ate from a sense of duty, all
meat tasting alike to him. Megapode eggs only stung his taste alive
and stimulated the flow of his juices. Thus it was that he broke
the taboos he imposed, and, privily, before the eyes of no man,
woman, or child ate the eggs he stole from Bashti's private
So it was, as the laying season began, and when both Bashti and Agno
were acutely egg-yearning after six months of abstinence, that Agno
led Jerry along the taboo path through the mangroves, where they
stepped from root to root above the muck that ever steamed and stank
in the stagnant air where the wind never penetrated.
The path, which was not an ordinary path and which consisted, for a
man, in wide strides from root to root, and for a dog in four-legged
leaps and plunges, was new to Jerry. In all his ranging of Somo,
because it was so unusual a path, he had never discovered it. The
unbending of Agno, thus to lead him, was a surprise and a delight to
Jerry, who, without reasoning about it, in a vague way felt the
preliminary sensations that possibly Agno, in a small way, might
prove the master which his dog's soul continually sought.
Emerging from the swamp of mangroves, abruptly they came upon a
patch of sand, still so salt and inhospitable from the sea's deposit
that no great trees rooted and interposed their branches between it
and the sun's heat. A primitive gate gave entrance, but Agno did
not take Jerry through it. Instead, with weird little chirrupings
of encouragement and excitation, he persuaded Jerry to dig a tunnel
beneath the rude palisade of fence. He helped with his own hands,
dragging out the sand in quantities, but imposing on Jerry the
leaving of the indubitable marks of a dog's paws and claws.
And, when Jerry was inside, Agno, passing through the gate, enticed
and seduced him into digging out the eggs. But Jerry had no taste
of the eggs. Eight of them Agno sucked raw, and two of them he
tucked whole into his arm-pits to take back to his house of the
devil devils. The shells of the eight he sucked he broke to
fragments as a dog might break them, and, to build the picture he
had long visioned, of the eighth egg he reserved a tiny portion
which he spread, not on Jerry's jowls where his tongue could have
erased it, but high up about his eyes and above them, where it would
remain and stand witness against him according to the plot he had
Even worse, in high priestly sacrilege, he encouraged Jerry to
attack a megapode hen in the act of laying. And, while Jerry slew
it, knowing that the lust of killing, once started, would lead him
to continue killing the silly birds, Agno left the laying-yard to
hot-foot it through the mangrove swamp and present to Bashti an
ecclesiastical quandary. The taboo of the dog, as he expounded it,
had prevented him from interfering with the taboo dog when it ate
the taboo egg-layers. Which taboo might be the greater was beyond
him. And Bashti, who had not tasted a megapode egg in half a year,
and who was keen for the one recrudescent thrill of remote youth
still left to him, led the way back across the mangrove swamp at so
prodigious a pace as quite to wind his high priest who was many
years younger than he.
And he arrived at the laying-yard and caught Jerry, red-pawed and
red-mouthed, in the midst of his fourth kill of an egg-layer, the
raw yellow yolk of the portion of one egg, plastered by Agno to
represent many eggs, still about his eyes and above his eyes to the
bulge of his forehead. In vain Bashti looked about for one egg, the
six months' hunger stronger than ever upon him in the thick of the
disaster. And Jerry, under the consent and encouragement of Agno,
wagged his tail to Bashti in a bid for recognition, of prowess, and
laughed with his red-dripping jowls and yellow plastered eyes.
Bashti did not rage as he would have done had he been alone. Before
the eyes of his chief priest he disdained to lower himself to such
commonness of humanity. Thus it is always with those in the high
places, ever temporising with their natural desires, ever masking
their ordinariness under a show of disinterest. So it was that
Bashti displayed no vexation at the disappointment to his appetite.
Agno was a shade less controlled, for he could not quite chase away
the eager light in his eyes. Bashti glimpsed it and mistook it for
simple curiosity of observation not guessing its real nature. Which
goes to show two things of those in the high place: one, that they
may fool those beneath them; the other, that they may be fooled by
those beneath them.
Bashti regarded Jerry quizzically, as if the matter were a joke, and
shot a careless side glance to note the disappointment in his
priest's eyes. Ah, ha, thought Bashti; I have fooled him.
"Which is the high taboo?" Agno queried in the Somo tongue.
"As you should ask. Of a surety, the megapode."
"And the dog?" was Agno's next query.
"Must pay for breaking the taboo. It is a high taboo. It is my
taboo. It was so placed by Somo, the ancient father and first ruler
of all of us, and it has been ever since the taboo of the chiefs.
The dog must die."
He paused and considered the matter, while Jerry returned to digging
the sand where the scent was auspicious. Agno made to stop him, but
"Let be," he said. "Let the dog convict himself before my eyes."
And Jerry did, uncovering two eggs, breaking them and lapping that
portion of their precious contents which was not spilled and wasted
in the sand. Bashti's eyes were quite lack-lustre as he asked
"The feast of dogs for the men is to-day?"
"To-morrow, at midday," Agno answered. "Already are the dogs coming
in. There will be at least fifty of them."
"Fifty and one," was Bashti's verdict, as he nodded at Jerry.
The priest made a quick movement of impulse to capture Jerry.
"Why now?" the chief demanded. "You will but have to carry him
through the swamp. Let him trot back on his own legs, and when he
is before the canoe house tie his legs there."
Across the swamp and approaching the canoe house, Jerry, trotting
happily at the heels of the two men, heard the wailing and sorrowing
of many dogs that spelt unmistakable woe and pain. He developed
instant suspicion that was, however, without direct apprehension for
himself. And at that moment, his ears cocked forward and his nose
questing for further information in the matter, Bashti seized him by
the nape of the neck and held him in the air while Agno proceeded to
tie his legs.
No whimper, nor sound, nor sign of fear, came from Jerry--only
choking growls of ferociousness, intermingled with snarls of anger,
and a belligerent up-clawing of hind-legs. But a dog, clutched by
the neck from the back, can never be a match for two men, gifted
with the intelligence and deftness of men, each of them two-handed
with four fingers and an opposable thumb to each hand.
His fore-legs and hind-legs tied lengthwise and crosswise, he was
carried head-downward the short distance to the place of slaughter
and cooking, and flung to the earth in the midst of the score or
more of dogs similarly tied and helpless. Although it was mid-
afternoon, a number of them had so lain since early morning in the
hot sun. They were all bush dogs or wild-dogs, and so small was
their courage that their thirst and physical pain from cords drawn
too tight across veins and arteries, and their dim apprehension of
the fate such treatment foreboded, led them to whimper and wail and
howl their despair and suffering.
The next thirty hours were bad hours for Jerry. The word had gone
forth immediately that the taboo on him had been removed, and of the
men and boys none was so low as to do him reverence. About him,
till night-fall, persisted a circle of teasers and tormenters. They
harangued him for his fall, sneered and jeered at him, rooted him
about contemptuously with their feet, made a hollow in the sand out
of which he could not roll and desposited him in it on his back, his
four tied legs sticking ignominiously in the air above him.
And all he could do was growl and rage his helplessness. For,
unlike the other dogs, he would not howl or whimper his pain. A
year old now, the last six months had gone far toward maturing him,
and it was the nature of his breed to be fearless and stoical. And,
much as he had been taught by his white masters to hate and despise
niggers, he learned in the course of these thirty hours an
especially bitter and undying hatred.
His torturers stopped at nothing. Even they brought wild-dog and
set him upon Jerry. But it was contrary to wild-dog's nature to
attack an enemy that could not move, even if the enemy was Jerry who
had so often bullied him and rolled him on the deck. Had Jerry,
with a broken leg or so, still retained power of movement, then he
would have mauled him, perhaps to death. But this utter
helplessness was different. So the expected show proved a failure.
When Jerry snarled and growled, wild-dog snarled and growled back
and strutted and bullied around him, him to persuasion of the blacks
could induce but no sink his teeth into Jerry.
The killing-ground before the canoe house was a bedlam of horror.
From time to time more bound dogs were brought in and flung down.
There was a continuous howling, especially contributed to by those
which had lain in the sun since early morning and had no water. At
times, all joined in, the control of the quietest breaking down
before the wave of excitement and fear that swept spasmodically over
all of them. This howling, rising and falling, but never ceasing,
continued throughout the night, and by morning all were suffering
from the intolerable thirst.
The sun blazing down upon them in the white sand and almost
parboiling them, brought anything but relief. The circle of
torturers formed about Jerry again, and again was wreaked upon him
all abusive contempt for having lost his taboo. What drove Jerry
the maddest were not the blows and physical torment, but the
laughter. No dog enjoys being laughed at, and Jerry, least of all,
could restrain his wrath when they jeered him and cackled close in
Although he had not howled once, his snarling and growling, combined
with his thirst, had hoarsened his throat and dried the mucous
membranes of his mouth so that he was incapable, except under the
sheerest provocation, of further sound. His tongue hung out of his
mouth, and the eight o'clock sun began slowly to burn it.
It was at this time that one of the boys cruelly outraged him. He
rolled Jerry out of the hollow in which he had lain all night on his
back, turned him over on his side, and presented to him a small
calabash filled with water. Jerry lapped it so fanatically that not
for half a minute did he become aware that the boy had squeezed into
it many hot seeds of ripe red peppers. The circle shrieked with
glee, and what Jerry's thirst had been before was as nothing
compared with this new thirst to which had been added the stinging
agony of pepper.
Next in event, and a most important event it was to prove, came
Nalasu. Nalasu was an old man of three-score years, and he was
blind, walking with a large staff with which he prodded his path.
In his free hand he carried a small pig by its tied legs.
"They say the white master's dog is to be eaten," he said in the
Somo speech. "Where is the white master's dog? Show him to me."
Agno, who had just arrived, stood beside him as he bent over Jerry
and examined him with his fingers. Nor did Jerry offer to snarl or
bite, although the blind man's hands came within reach of his teeth
more than once. For Jerry sensed no enmity in the fingers that
passed so softly over him. Next, Nalasu felt over the pig, and
several times, as if calculating, alternated between Jerry and the
Nalasu stood up and voiced judgment:
"The pig is as small as the dog. They are of a size, but the pig
has more meat on it for the eating. Take the pig and I shall take
"Nay," said Agno. "The white master's dog has broken the taboo. It
must be eaten. Take any other dog and leave the pig. Take a big
"I will have the white master's dog," Nalasu persisted. "Only the
white master's dog and no other."
The matter was at a deadlock when Bashti chanced upon the scene and
"Take the dog, Nalasu," he said finally. "It is a good pig, and I
shall myself eat it."
"But he has broken the taboo, your great taboo of the laying-yard,
and must go to the eating," Agno interposed quickly.
Too quickly, Bashti thought, while a vague suspicion arose in his
mind of he knew not what.
"The taboo must be paid in blood and cooking," Agno continued.
"Very well," said Bashti. "I shall eat the small pig. Let its
throat be cut and its body know the fire."
"I but speak the law of the taboo. Life must pay for the breaking."
"There is another law," Bashti grinned. "Long has it been since
ever Somo built these walls that life may buy life."
"But of life of man and life of woman," Agno qualified.
"I know the law," Bashti held steadily on. "Somo made the law.
Never has it been said that animal life may not buy animal life."
"It has never been practised," was the devil devil doctor's fling.
"And for reason enough," the old chief retorted. "Never before has
a man been fool enough to give a pig for a dog. It is a young pig,
and it is fat and tender. Take the dog, Nalasu. Take the dog now."
But the devil devil doctor was not satisfied.
"As you said, O Bashti, in your very great wisdom, he is the seed
dog of strength and courage. Let him be slain. When he comes from
the fire, his body shall be divided into many small pieces so that
every man may eat of him and thereby get his portion of strength and
courage. Better is it for Somo that its men be strong and brave
rather than its dogs."
But Bashti held no anger against Jerry. He had lived too long and
too philosophically to lay blame on a dog for breaking a taboo which
it did not know. Of course, dogs often were slain for breaking the
taboos. But he allowed this to be done because the dogs themselves
in nowise interested him, and because their deaths emphasized the
sacredness of the taboo. Further, Jerry had more than slightly
interested him. Often, since, Jerry had attacked him because of Van
Horn's head, he had pondered the incident. Baffling as it was, as
all manifestations of life were baffling, it had given him food for
thought. Then there was his admiration for Jerry's courage and that
inexplicable something in him that prevented him crying out from the
pain of the stick. And, without thinking of it as beauty, the
beauty of line and colour of Jerry had insensibly penetrated him
with a sense of pleasantness. It was good to look upon.
There was another angle to Bashti's conduct. He wondered why his
devil devil doctor so earnestly desired a mere dog's death. There
were many dogs. Then why this particular dog? That the weight of
something was on the other's mind was patent, although what it was
Bashti could not gauge, guess--unless it might be revenge incubated
the day he had prevented Agno from eating the dog. If such were the
case, it was a state of mind he could not tolerate in any of his
tribespeople. But whatever was the motive, guarding as he always
did against the unknown, he thought it well to discipline his priest
and demonstrate once again whose word was the last word in Somo.
Wherefore Bashti replied:
"I have lived long and eaten many pigs. What man may dare say that
the many pigs have entered into me and made me a pig?"
He paused and cast a challenging eye around the circle of his
audience; but no man spoke. Instead, some men grinned sheepishly
and were restless on their feet, while Agno's expression advertised
sturdy unbelief that there was anything pig-like about his chief.
"I have eaten much fish," Bashti continued. "Never has one scale of
a fish grown out on my skin. Never has a gill appeared on my
throat. As you all know, by the looking, never have I sprouted one
fin out of my backbone.--Nalasu, take the dog.--Aga, carry the pig
to my house. I shall eat it to-day.--Agno, let the killing of the
dogs begin so that the canoe-men shall eat at due time."
Then, as he turned to go, he lapsed into beche-de-mer English and
flung sternly over his shoulder, "My word, you make 'm me cross
As blind Nalasu slowly plodded away, with one hand tapping the path
before him and with the other carrying Jerry head-downward suspended
by his tied legs, Jerry heard a sudden increase in the wild howling
of the dogs as the killing began and they realized that death was
But, unlike the boy Lamai, who had known no better, the old man did
not carry Jerry all the way to his house. At the first stream
pouring down between the low hills of the rising land, he paused and
put Jerry down to drink. And Jerry knew only the delight of the wet
coolness on his tongue, all about his mouth, and down his throat.
Nevertheless, in his subconsciousness was being planted the
impression that, kinder than Lamai, than Agno, than Bashti, this was
the kindest black he had encountered in Somo.
When he had drunk till for the moment he could drink no more, he
thanked Nalasu with his tongue--not warmly nor ecstatically as had
it been Skipper's hand, but with due gratefulness for the life-
giving draught. The old man chuckled in a pleased way, rolled
Jerry's parched body into the water, and, keeping his head above the
surface, rubbed the water into his dry skin and let him lie there
for long blissful minutes.
From the stream to Nalasu's house, a goodly distance, Nalasu still
carried him with bound legs, although not head-downward but clasped
in one arm against his chest. His idea was to love the dog to him.
For Nalasu, having sat in the lonely dark for many years, had
thought far more about the world around him and knew it far better
than had he been able to see it. For his own special purpose he had
need of a dog. Several bush dogs he had tried, but they had shown
little appreciation of his kindness and had invariably run away.
The last had remained longest because he had treated it with the
greatest kindness, but run away it had before he had trained it to
his purpose. But the white master's dog, he had heard, was
different. It never ran away in fear, while it was said to be more
intelligent than the dogs of Somo.
The invention Lamai had made of tying Jerry with a stick had been
noised abroad in the village, and by a stick, in Nalasu's house,
Jerry found himself again tied. But with a difference. Never once
was the blind man impatient, while he spent hours each day in
squatting on his hams and petting Jerry. Yet, had he not done this,
Jerry, who ate his food and who was growing accustomed to changing
his masters, would have accepted Nalasu for master. Further, it was
fairly definite in Jerry's mind, after the devil devil doctor's
tying him and flinging him amongst the other helpless dogs on the
killing-ground, that all mastership of Agno had ceased. And Jerry,
who had never been without a master since his first days in the
world, felt the imperative need of a master.
So it was, when the day came that the stick was untied from him,
that Jerry remained, voluntarily in Nalasu's house. When the old
man was satisfied there would be no running away, he began Jerry's
training. By slow degrees he advanced the training until hours a
day were devoted to it.
First of all Jerry learned a new name for himself, which was Bao,
and he was taught to respond to it from an ever-increasing distance
no matter how softly it was uttered, and Nalasu continued to utter
it more softly until it no longer was a spoken word, but a whisper.
Jerry's ears were keen, but Nalasu's, from long use, were almost as
Further, Jerry's own hearing was trained to still greater acuteness.
Hours at a time, sitting by Nalasu or standing apart from him, he
was taught to catch the slightest sounds or rustlings from the bush.
Still further, he was taught to differentiate between the bush
noises and between the ways he growled warnings to Nalasu. If a
rustle took place that Jerry identified as a pig or a chicken, he
did not growl at all. If he did not identify the noise, he growled
fairly softly. But if the noise were made by a man or boy who moved
softly and therefore suspiciously, Jerry learned to growl loudly; if
the noise were loud and careless, then Jerry's growl was soft.
It never entered Jerry's mind to question why he was taught all
this. He merely did it because it was this latest master's desire
that he should. All this, and much more, at a cost of interminable
time and patience, Nalasu taught him, and much more he taught him,
increasing his vocabulary so that, at a distance, they could hold
quick and sharply definite conversations.
Thus, at fifty feet away, Jerry would "Whuff!" softly the
information that there was a noise he did not know; and Nalasu, with
different sibilances, would hiss to him to stand still, to whuff
more softly, or to keep silent, or to come to him noiselessly, or to
go into the bush and investigate the source of the strange noise,
or, barking loudly, to rush and attack it.
Perhaps, if from the opposite direction Nalasu's sharp ears alone
caught a strange sound, he would ask Jerry if he had heard it. And
Jerry, alert to his toes to listen, by an alteration in the quantity
or quality of his whuff, would tell Nalasu that he did not hear;
next, that he did hear; and, perhaps finally, that it was a strange
dog, or a wood-rat, or a man, or a boy--all in the softest of sounds
that were scarcely more than breath-exhalations, all monosyllables,
a veritable shorthand of speech.
Nalasu was a strange old man. He lived by himself in a small grass
house on the edge of the village. The nearest house was quite a
distance away, while his own stood in a clearing in the thick jungle
which approached no where nearer than sixty feet. Also, this
cleared space he kept continually free from the fast-growing
vegetation. Apparently he had no friends. At least no visitors
ever came to his dwelling. Years had passed since he discouraged
the last. Further, he had no kindred. His wife was long since
dead, and his three sons, not yet married, in a foray behind the
bounds of Somo had lost their heads in the jungle runways of the
higher hills and been devoured by their bushman slayers.
For a blind man he was very busy. He asked favour of no one and was
self-supporting. In his house-clearing he grew yams, sweet
potatoes, and taro. In another clearing--because it was his policy
to have no trees close to his house--he had plantains, bananas, and
half a dozen coconut palms. Fruits and vegetables he exchanged down
in the village for meat and fish and tobacco.
He spent a good portion of his time on Jerry's education, and, on
occasion, would make bows and arrows that were so esteemed by his
tribespeople as to command a steady sale. Scarcely a day passed in
which he did not himself practise with bow and arrow. He shot only
by direction of sound; and whenever a noise or rustle was heard in
the jungle, and when Jerry had informed him of its nature, he would
shoot an arrow at it. Then it was Jerry's duty cautiously to
retrieve the arrow had it missed the mark.
A curious thing about Nalasu was that he slept no more than three
hours in the twenty-four, that he never slept at night, and that his
brief daylight sleep never took place in the house. Hidden in the
thickest part of the neighbouring jungle was a sort of nest to which
led no path. He never entered nor left by the same way, so that the
tropic growth on the rich soil, being so rarely trod upon, ever
obliterated the slightest sign of his having passed that way.
Whenever he slept, Jerry was trained to remain on guard and never to
go to sleep.
Reason enough there was and to spare for Nalasu's infinite
precaution. The oldest of his three sons had slain one, Ao, in a
quarrel. Ao had been one of six brothers of the family of Anno
which dwelt in one of the upper villages. According to Somo law,
the Anno family was privileged to collect the blood-debt from the
Nalasu family, but had been balked of it by the deaths of Nalasu's
three sons in the bush. And, since the Somo code was a life for a
life, and since Nalasu alone remained alive of his family, it was
well known throughout the tribe that the Annos would never be
content until they had taken the blind man's life.
But Nalasu had been famous as a great fighter, as well as having
been the progenitor of three such warlike sons. Twice had the Annos
sought to collect, the first time while Nalasu still retained his
eyesight. Nalasu had discovered their trap, circled about it, and
in the rear encountered and slain Anno himself, the father, thus
doubling the blood-debt.
Then had come his accident. While refilling many-times used Snider
cartridges, an explosion of black powder put out both his eyes.
Immediately thereafter, while he sat nursing his wounds, the Annos
had descended upon him--just what he had expected. And for which he
had made due preparation. That night two uncles and another brother
stepped on poisoned thorns and died horribly. Thus the sum of lives
owing the Annos had increased to five, with only a blind man from
whom to collect.
Thenceforth the Annos had feared the thorns too greatly to dare
again, although ever their vindictiveness smouldered and they lived
in hope of the day when Nalasu's head should adorn their ridgepole.
In the meantime the state of affairs was not that of a truce but of
a stalemate. The old man could not proceed against them, and they
were afraid to proceed against him. Nor did the day come until
after Jerry's adoption, when one of the Annos made an invention the
like of which had never been known in all Malaita.
Meanwhile the months slipped by, the south-east trade blew itself
out, the monsoon had begun to breathe, and Jerry added to himself
six months of time, weight, stature, and thickness of bone. An easy
time his half-year with the blind man had been, despite the fact
that Nalasu was a rigid disciplinarian who insisted on training
Jerry for longer hours, day in and day out, than falls to the lot of
most dogs. Never did Jerry receive from him a blow, never a harsh
word. This man, who had slain four of the Annos, three of them
after he had gone blind, who had slain still more men in his savage
youth, never raised his voice in anger to Jerry and ruled him by
nothing severer than the gentlest of chidings.
Mentally, the persistent education Jerry received, in this period of
late puppyhood, fixed in him increased brain power for all his life.
Possibly no dog in all the world had ever been so vocal as he, and
for three reasons: his own intelligence, the genius for teaching
that was Nalasu's, and the long hours devoted to the teaching.
His shorthand vocabulary, for a dog, was prodigious. Almost might
it be said that he and the man could talk by the hour, although few
and simple were the abstractions they could talk; very little of the
immediate concrete past, and scarcely anything of the immediate
concrete future, entered into their conversations. Jerry could no
more tell him of Meringe, nor of the Arangi, than could he tell him
of the great love he had borne Skipper, or of his reason for hating
Bashti. By the same token, Nalasu could not tell Jerry of the
blood-feud with the Annos, nor of how he had lost his eyesight.
Practically all their conversation was confined to the instant
present, although they could compass a little of the very immediate
past. Nalasu would give Jerry a series of instructions, such as,
going on a scout by himself, to go to the nest, then circle about it
widely, to continue to the other clearing where were the fruit
trees, to cross the jungle to the main path, to proceed down the
main path toward the village till he came to the great banyan tree,
and then to return along the small path to Nalasu and Nalasu's
house. All of which Jerry would carry out to the letter, and,
arrived back, would make report. As, thus: at the nest nothing
unusual save that a buzzard was near it; in the other clearing three
coconuts had fallen to the ground--for Jerry could count unerringly
up to five; between the other clearing and the main path were four
pigs; along the main path he had passed a dog, more than five women,
and two children; and on the small path home he had noted a cockatoo
and two boys.
But he could not tell Nalasu his states of mind and heart that
prevented him from being fully contented in his present situation.
For Nalasu was not a white-god, but only a mere nigger god. And
Jerry hated and despised all niggers save for the two exceptions of
Lamai and Nalasu. He tolerated them, and, for Nalasu, had even
developed a placid and sweet affection. Love him he did not and
At the best, they were only second-rate gods, and he could not
forget the great white-gods such as Skipper and Mister Haggin, and,
of the same breed, Derby and Bob. They were something else,
something other, something better than all this black savagery in
which he lived. They were above and beyond, in an unattainable
paradise which he vividly remembered, for which he yearned, but to
which he did not know the way, and which, dimly sensing the ending
that comes to all things, might have passed into the ultimate
nothingness which had already overtaken Skipper and the Arangi.
In vain did the old man play to gain Jerry's heart of love. He
could not bid against Jerry's many reservations and memories,
although he did win absolute faithfulness and loyalty. Not
passionately, as he would have fought to the death for Skipper, but
devotedly would he have fought to the death for Nalasu. And the old
man never dreamed but what he had won all of Jerry's heart.
Came the day of the Annos, when one of them made the invention,
which was thick-plaited sandals to armour the soles of their feet
against the poisoned thorns with which Nalasu had taken three of
their lives. The day, in truth, was the night, a black night, a
night so black under a cloud-palled sky that a tree-trunk could not
be seen an eighth of an inch beyond one's nose. And the Annos
descended on Nalasu's clearing, a dozen of them, armed with Sniders,
horse pistols, tomahawks and war clubs, walking gingerly, despite
their thick sandals, because of fear of the thorns which Nalasu no
Jerry, sitting between Nalasu's knees and nodding sleepily, gave the
first warning to Nalasu, who sat outside his door, wide-eyed, ear-
strung, as he had sat through all the nights of the many years. He
listened still more tensely through long minutes in which he heard
nothing, at the same time whispering to Jerry for information and
commanding him to be soft-spoken; and Jerry, with whuffs and whiffs
and all the short-hand breath-exhalations of speech he had been
taught, told him that men approached, many men, more men than five.
Nalasu reached the bow beside him, strung an arrow, and waited. At
last his own ears caught the slightest of rustlings, now here, now
there, advancing upon him in the circle of the compass. Still
speaking for softness, he demanded verification from Jerry, whose
neck hair rose bristling under Nalasu's sensitive fingers, and who,
by this time, was reading the night air with his nose as well as his
ears. And Jerry, as softly as Nalasu, informed him again that it
was men, many men, more men than five.
With the patience of age Nalasu sat on without movement, until,
close at hand, on the very edge of the jungle, sixty feet away, he
located a particular noise of a particular man. He stretched his
bow, loosed the arrow, and was rewarded by a gasp and a groan
strangely commingled. First he restrained Jerry from retrieving the
arrow, which he knew had gone home; and next he fitted a fresh arrow
to the bow string.
Fifteen minutes of silence passed, the blind man as if carven of
stone, the dog, trembling with eagerness under the articulate touch
of his fingers, obeying the bidding to make no sound. For Jerry, as
well as Nalasu, knew that death rustled and lurked in the encircling
dark. Again came a softness of movement, nearer than before; but
the sped arrow missed. They heard its impact against a tree trunk
beyond and a confusion of small sounds caused by the target's hasty
retreat. Next, after a time of silence, Nalasu told Jerry silently
to retrieve the arrow. He had been well trained and long trained,
for with no sound even to Nalasu's ears keener than seeing men's
ears, he followed the direction of the arrow's impact against the
tree and brought the arrow back in his mouth.
Again Nalasu waited, until the rustlings of a fresh drawing-in of
the circle could be heard, whereupon Nalasu, Jerry accompanying him,
picked up all his arrows and moved soundlessly half-way around the
circle. Even as they moved, a Snider exploded that was aimed in the
general direction of the spot just vacated.
And the blind man and the dog, from midnight to dawn, successfully
fought off twelve men equipped with the thunder of gunpowder and the
wide-spreading, deep-penetrating, mushroom bullets of soft lead.
And the blind man defended himself only with a bow and a hundred
arrows. He discharged many hundreds of arrows which Jerry retrieved
for him and which he discharged over and over. But Jerry aided
valiantly and well, adding to Nalasu's acute hearing his own acuter
hearing, circling noiselessly about the house and reporting where
the attack pressed closest.
Much of their precious powder the Annos wasted, for the affair was
like a game of invisible ghosts. Never was anything seen save the
flashes of the rifles. Never did they see Jerry, although they
became quickly aware of his movements close to them as he searched
out the arrows. Once, as one of them felt for an arrow which had
narrowly missed him, he encountered Jerry's back with his hand and
acknowledged the sharp slash of Jerry's teeth with a wild yell of
terror. They tried firing at the twang of Nalasu's bowstring, but
every time Nalasu fired he instantly changed position. Several
times, warned of Jerry's nearness, they fired at him, and, once
even, was his nose slightly powder burned.
When day broke, in the quick tropic grey that marks the leap from
dark to sun, the Annos retreated, while Nalasu, withdrawn from the
light into his house, still possessed eighty arrows, thanks to
Jerry. The net result to Nalasu was one dead man and no telling how
many arrow-pricked wounded men who dragged themselves away.
And half the day Nalasu crouched over Jerry, fondling and caressing
him for what he had done. Then he went abroad, Jerry with him, and
told of the battle. Bashti paid him a visit ere the day was done,
and talked with him earnestly.
"As an old man to an old man, I talk," was Bashti's beginning. "I
am older than you, O Nalasu; I have ever been unafraid. Yet never
have I been braver than you. I would that every man of the tribe
were as brave as you. Yet do you give me great sorrow. Of what
worth are your courage and cunning, when you have no seed to make
your courage and cunning live again?"
"I am an old man," Nalasu began.
"Not so old as I am," Bashti interrupted. "Not too old to marry so
that your seed will add strength to the tribe."
"I was married, and long married, and I fathered three brave sons.
But they are dead. I shall not live so long as you. I think of my
young days as pleasant dreams remembered after sleep. More I think
of death, and the end. Of marriage I think not at all. I am too
old to marry. I am old enough to make ready to die, and a great
curiousness have I about what will happen to me when I am dead.
Will I be for ever dead? Will I live again in a land of dreams--a
shadow of a dream myself that will still remember the days when I
lived in the warm world, the quick juices of hunger in my mouth, in
the chest of the body of me the love of woman?"
Bashti shrugged his shoulders.
"I too, have thought much on the matter," he said. "Yet do I arrive
nowhere. I do not know. You do not know. We will not know until
we are dead, if it happens that we know anything when what we are we
no longer are. But this we know, you and I: the tribe lives. The
tribe never dies. Wherefore, if there be meaning at all to our
living, we must make the tribe strong. Your work in the tribe is
not done. You must marry so that your cunning and your courage live
after you. I have a wife for you--nay, two wives, for your days are
short and I shall surely live to see you hang with my fathers from
the canoe-house ridgepole."
"I will not pay for a wife," Nalasu protested. "I will not pay for
any wife. I would not pay a stick of tobacco or a cracked coconut
for the best woman in Somo."
"Worry not," Bashti went on placidly. "I shall pay you for the
price of the wife, of the two wives. There is Bubu. For half a
case of tobacco shall I buy her for you. She is broad and square,
round-legged, broad-hipped, with generous breasts of richness.
There is Nena. Her father sets a stiff price upon her--a whole case
of tobacco. I will buy her for you as well. Your time is short.
We must hurry."
"I will not marry," the old blind man proclaimed hysterically.
"You will. I have spoken."
"No, I say, and say again, no, no, no, no. Wives are nuisances.
They are young things, and their heads are filled with foolishness.
Their tongues are loose with idleness of speech. I am old, I am
quiet in my ways, the fires of life have departed from me, I prefer
to sit alone in the dark and think. Chattering young things about
me, with nothing but foam and spume in their heads, on their
tongues, would drive me mad. Of a surety they would drive me mad--
so mad that I will spit into every clam shell, make faces at the
moon, and bite my veins and howl."
"And if you do, what of it? So long as your seed does not perish.
I shall pay for the wives to their fathers and send them to you in
"I will have nothing to do with them," Nalasu asserted wildly.
"You will," Bashti insisted calmly. "Because if you do not you will
have to pay me. It will be a sore, hard debt. I will have every
joint of you unhinged so that you will be like a jelly-fish, like a
fat pig with the bones removed, and I will then stake you out in the
midmost centre of the dog-killing ground to swell in pain under the
sun. And what is left of you I shall fling to the dogs to eat.
Your seed shall not perish out of Somo. I, Bashti, so tell you. In
three days I shall send to you your two wives. . . . "
He paused, and a long silence fell upon them.
"Well?" Bashti reiterated. "It is wives or staking out unhinged in
the sun. You choose, but think well before you choose the
"At my age, with all the vexations of youngness so far behind me!"
"Choose. You will find there is vexation, and liveliness and much
of it, in the centre of the dog-killing yard when the sun cooks your
sore joints till the grease of the leanness of you bubbles like the
tender fat of a cooked sucking-pig."
"Then send me the wives," Nalasu managed to utter after a long
pause. "But send them in three days, not in two, nor to-morrow."
"It is well," Bashti nodded gravely. "You have lived at all only
because of those before you, now long in the dark, who worked so
that the tribe might live and you might come to be. You are. They
paid the price for you. It is your debt. You came into being with
this debt upon you. You will pay the debt before you pass out of
being. It is the law. It is very well."
And had Bashti hastened delivery of the wives by one day, or by even
two days, Nalasu would have entered the feared, purgatory of
matrimony. But Bashti kept his word, and on the third day was too
busy, with a more momentous problem, to deliver Bubu and Nena to the
blind old man who apprehensively waited their coming. For the
morning of the third day all the summits of leeward Malaita smoked
into speech. A warship was on the coast--so the tale ran; a big
warship that was heading in through the reef islands at Langa-Langa.
The tale grew. The warship was not stopping at Langa-Langa. The
warship was not stopping at Binu. It was directing its course
Nalasu, blind, could not see this smoke speech written in the air.
Because of the isolation of his house, no one came and told him.
His first warning was when shrill voices of women, cries of
children, and wailings of babes in nameless fear came to him from
the main path that led from the village to the upland boundaries of
Somo. He read only fear and panic from the sounds, deduced that the
village was fleeing to its mountain fastnesses, but did not know the
cause of the flight.
He called Jerry to him and instructed him to scout to the great
banyan tree, where Nalasu's path and the main path joined, and to
observe and report. And Jerry sat under the banyan tree and
observed the flight of all Somo. Men, women, and children, the
young and the aged, babes at breast and patriarchs leaning on sticks
and staffs passed before his eyes, betraying the greatest haste and
alarm. The village dogs were as frightened, whimpering and whining
as they ran. And the contagion of terror was strong upon Jerry. He
knew the prod of impulse to join in this rush away from some
unthinkably catastrophic event that impended and that stirred his
intuitive apprehensions of death. But he mastered the impulse with
his sense of loyalty to the blind man who had fed him and caressed
him for a long six months.
Back with Nalasu, sitting between his knees, he made his report. It
was impossible for him to count more than five, although he knew the
fleeing population numbered many times more than five. So he
signified five men, and more; five women, and more five children,
and more; five babies, and more; five dogs, and more--even of pigs
did he announce five and more. Nalasu's ears told him that it was
many, many times more, and he asked for names. Jerry know the names
of Bashti, of Agno, and of Lamai, and Lumai. He did not pronounce
them with the slightest of resemblance to their customary soundings,
but pronounced them in the whiff-whuff of shorthand speech that
Nalasu had taught him.
Nalasu named over many other names that Jerry knew by ear but could
not himself evoke in sound, and he answered yes to most of them by
simultaneously nodding his head and advancing his right paw. To
some names he remained without movement in token that he did not
know them. And to other names, which he recognized, but the owners
of which he had not seen, he answered no by advancing his left paw.
And Nalasu, beyond knowing that something terrible was impending--
something horribly more terrible than any foray of neighbouring
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