South Sea Tales
Part 1 out of 3
This e-text was typed by Theresa Armao, Albany, New York.
SOUTH SEA TALES
by Jack London
The House of Mapuhi
The Whale Tooth
"Yah! Yah! Yah!"
The Terrible Solomons
The Inevitable White Man
The Seed of McCoy
THE HOUSE OF MAPUHI
Despite the heavy clumsiness of her lines, the Aorai handled easily in
the light breeze, and her captain ran her well in before he hove to
just outside the suck of the surf. The atoll of Hikueru lay low on the
water, a circle of pounded coral sand a hundred yards wide, twenty
miles in circumference, and from three to five feet above high-water
mark. On the bottom of the huge and glassy lagoon was much pearl
shell, and from the deck of the schooner, across the slender ring of
the atoll, the divers could be seen at work. But the lagoon had no
entrance for even a trading schooner. With a favoring breeze cutters
could win in through the tortuous and shallow channel, but the
schooners lay off and on outside and sent in their small boats.
The Aorai swung out a boat smartly, into which sprang half a dozen
brown-skinned sailors clad only in scarlet loincloths. They took the
oars, while in the stern sheets, at the steering sweep, stood a young
man garbed in the tropic white that marks the European. The golden
strain of Polynesia betrayed itself in the sun-gilt of his fair skin
and cast up golden sheens and lights through the glimmering blue of
his eyes. Raoul he was, Alexandre Raoul, youngest son of Marie Raoul,
the wealthy quarter-caste, who owned and managed half a dozen trading
schooners similar to the Aorai. Across an eddy just outside the
entrance, and in and through and over a boiling tide-rip, the boat
fought its way to the mirrored calm of the lagoon. Young Raoul leaped
out upon the white sand and shook hands with a tall native. The man's
chest and shoulders were magnificent, but the stump of a right arm,
beyond the flesh of which the age-whitened bone projected several
inches, attested the encounter with a shark that had put an end to his
diving days and made him a fawner and an intriguer for small favors.
"Have you heard, Alec?" were his first words. "Mapuhi has found a
pearl--such a pearl. Never was there one like it ever fished up in
Hikueru, nor in all the Paumotus, nor in all the world. Buy it from
him. He has it now. And remember that I told you first. He is a fool
and you can get it cheap. Have you any tobacco?"
Straight up the beach to a shack under a pandanus tree Raoul headed.
He was his mother's supercargo, and his business was to comb all the
Paumotus for the wealth of copra, shell, and pearls that they yielded
He was a young supercargo, it was his second voyage in such capacity,
and he suffered much secret worry from his lack of experience in
pricing pearls. But when Mapuhi exposed the pearl to his sight he
managed to suppress the startle it gave him, and to maintain a
careless, commercial expression on his face. For the pearl had struck
him a blow. It was large as a pigeon egg, a perfect sphere, of a
whiteness that reflected opalescent lights from all colors about it.
It was alive. Never had he seen anything like it. When Mapuhi dropped
it into his hand he was surprised by the weight of it. That showed
that it was a good pearl. He examined it closely, through a pocket
magnifying glass. It was without flaw or blemish. The purity of it
seemed almost to melt into the atmosphere out of his hand. In the
shade it was softly luminous, gleaming like a tender moon. So
translucently white was it, that when he dropped it into a glass of
water he had difficulty in finding it. So straight and swiftly had it
sunk to the bottom that he knew its weight was excellent.
"Well, what do you want for it?" he asked, with a fine assumption of
"I want--" Mapuhi began, and behind him, framing his own dark face,
the dark faces of two women and a girl nodded concurrence in what he
wanted. Their heads were bent forward, they were animated by a
suppressed eagerness, their eyes flashed avariciously.
"I want a house," Mapuhi went on. "It must have a roof of galvanized
iron and an octagon-drop-clock. It must be six fathoms long with a
porch all around. A big room must be in the centre, with a round table
in the middle of it and the octagon-drop-clock on the wall. There must
be four bedrooms, two on each side of the big room, and in each
bedroom must be an iron bed, two chairs, and a washstand. And back of
the house must be a kitchen, a good kitchen, with pots and pans and a
stove. And you must build the house on my island, which is Fakarava."
"Is that all?" Raoul asked incredulously.
"There must be a sewing machine," spoke up Tefara, Mapuhi's wife.
"Not forgetting the octagon-drop-clock," added Nauri, Mapuhi's mother.
"Yes, that is all," said Mapuhi.
Young Raoul laughed. He laughed long and heartily. But while he
laughed he secretly performed problems in mental arithmetic. He had
never built a house in his life, and his notions concerning house
building were hazy. While he laughed, he calculated the cost of the
voyage to Tahiti for materials, of the materials themselves, of the
voyage back again to Fakarava, and the cost of landing the materials
and of building the house. It would come to four thousand French
dollars, allowing a margin for safety--four thousand French dollars
were equivalent to twenty thousand francs. It was impossible. How was
he to know the value of such a pearl? Twenty thousand francs was a lot
of money--and of his mother's money at that.
"Mapuhi," he said, "you are a big fool. Set a money price."
But Mapuhi shook his head, and the three heads behind him shook with
"I want the house," he said. "It must be six fathoms long with a porch
"Yes, yes," Raoul interrupted. "I know all about your house, but it
won't do. I'll give you a thousand Chili dollars."
The four heads chorused a silent negative.
"And a hundred Chili dollars in trade."
"I want the house," Mapuhi began.
"What good will the house do you?" Raoul demanded. "The first
hurricane that comes along will wash it away. You ought to know."
"Captain Raffy says it looks like a hurricane right now."
"Not on Fakarava," said Mapuhi. "The land is much higher there. On
this island, yes. Any hurricane can sweep Hikueru. I will have the
house on Fakarava. It must be six fathoms long with a porch all
And Raoul listened again to the tale of the house. Several hours he
spent in the endeavor to hammer the house obsession out of Mapuhi's
mind; but Mapuhi's mother and wife, and Ngakura, Mapuhi's daughter,
bolstered him in his resolve for the house. Through the open doorway,
while he listened for the twentieth time to the detailed description
of the house that was wanted, Raoul saw his schooner's second boat
draw up on the beach. The sailors rested on the oars, advertising
haste to be gone. The first mate of the Aorai sprang ashore, exchanged
a word with the one-armed native, then hurried toward Raoul. The day
grew suddenly dark, as a squall obscured the face of the sun. Across
the lagoon Raoul could see approaching the ominous line of the puff of
"Captain Raffy says you've got to get to hell outa here," was the
mate's greeting. "If there's any shell, we've got to run the risk of
picking it up later on--so he says. The barometer's dropped to
The gust of wind struck the pandanus tree overhead and tore through
the palms beyond, flinging half a dozen ripe cocoanuts with heavy
thuds to the ground. Then came the rain out of the distance, advancing
with the roar of a gale of wind and causing the water of the lagoon to
smoke in driven windrows. The sharp rattle of the first drops was on
the leaves when Raoul sprang to his feet.
"A thousand Chili dollars, cash down, Mapuhi," he said. "And two
hundred Chili dollars in trade."
"I want a house--" the other began.
"Mapuhi!" Raoul yelled, in order to make himself heard. "You are a
He flung out of the house, and, side by side with the mate, fought his
way down the beach toward the boat. They could not see the boat. The
tropic rain sheeted about them so that they could see only the beach
under their feet and the spiteful little waves from the lagoon that
snapped and bit at the sand. A figure appeared through the deluge. It
was Huru-Huru, the man with the one arm.
"Did you get the pearl?" he yelled in Raoul's ear.
"Mapuhi is a fool!" was the answering yell, and the next moment they
were lost to each other in the descending water.
Half an hour later, Huru-Huru, watching from the seaward side of the
atoll, saw the two boats hoisted in and the Aorai pointing her nose
out to sea. And near her, just come in from the sea on the wings of
the squall, he saw another schooner hove to and dropping a boat into
the water. He knew her. It was the OROHENA, owned by Toriki, the
half-caste trader, who served as his own supercargo and who
doubtlessly was even then in the stern sheets of the boat. Huru-Huru
chuckled. He knew that Mapuhi owed Toriki for trade goods advanced the
The squall had passed. The hot sun was blazing down, and the lagoon
was once more a mirror. But the air was sticky like mucilage, and the
weight of it seemed to burden the lungs and make breathing difficult.
"Have you heard the news, Toriki?" Huru-Huru asked. "Mapuhi has found
a pearl. Never was there a pearl like it ever fished up in Hikueru,
nor anywhere in the Paumotus, nor anywhere in all the world. Mapuhi is
a fool. Besides, he owes you money. Remember that I told you first.
Have you any tobacco?"
And to the grass shack of Mapuhi went Toriki. He was a masterful man,
withal a fairly stupid one. Carelessly he glanced at the wonderful
pearl--glanced for a moment only; and carelessly he dropped it into
"You are lucky," he said. "It is a nice pearl. I will give you credit
on the books."
"I want a house," Mapuhi began, in consternation. "It must be six
"Six fathoms your grandmother!" was the trader's retort. "You want to
pay up your debts, that's what you want. You owed me twelve hundred
dollars Chili. Very well; you owe them no longer. The amount is
squared. Besides, I will give you credit for two hundred Chili. If,
when I get to Tahiti, the pearl sells well, I will give you credit for
another hundred--that will make three hundred. But mind, only if the
pearl sells well. I may even lose money on it."
Mapuhi folded his arms in sorrow and sat with bowed head. He had been
robbed of his pearl. In place of the house, he had paid a debt. There
was nothing to show for the pearl.
"You are a fool," said Tefara.
"You are a fool," said Nauri, his mother. "Why did you let the pearl
into his hand?"
"What was I to do?" Mapuhi protested. "I owed him the money. He knew I
had the pearl. You heard him yourself ask to see it. I had not told
him. He knew. Somebody else told him. And I owed him the money."
"Mapuhi is a fool," mimicked Ngakura.
She was twelve years old and did not know any better. Mapuhi relieved
his feelings by sending her reeling from a box on the ear; while
Tefara and Nauri burst into tears and continued to upbraid him after
the manner of women.
Huru-Huru, watching on the beach, saw a third schooner that he knew
heave to outside the entrance and drop a boat. It was the Hira, well
named, for she was owned by Levy, the German Jew, the greatest pearl
buyer of them all, and, as was well known, Hira was the Tahitian god
of fishermen and thieves.
"Have you heard the news?" Huru-Huru asked, as Levy, a fat man with
massive asymmetrical features, stepped out upon the beach. "Mapuhi has
found a pearl. There was never a pearl like it in Hikueru, in all the
Paumotus, in all the world. Mapuhi is a fool. He has sold it to Toriki
for fourteen hundred Chili--I listened outside and heard. Toriki is
likewise a fool. You can buy it from him cheap. Remember that I told
you first. Have you any tobacco?"
"Where is Toriki?"
"In the house of Captain Lynch, drinking absinthe. He has been there
And while Levy and Toriki drank absinthe and chaffered over the pearl,
Huru-Huru listened and heard the stupendous price of twenty-five
thousand francs agreed upon.
It was at this time that both the OROHENA and the Hira, running in
close to the shore, began firing guns and signalling frantically. The
three men stepped outside in time to see the two schooners go hastily
about and head off shore, dropping mainsails and flying jibs on the
run in the teeth of the squall that heeled them far over on the
whitened water. Then the rain blotted them out.
"They'll be back after it's over," said Toriki. "We'd better be
getting out of here."
"I reckon the glass has fallen some more," said Captain Lynch.
He was a white-bearded sea-captain, too old for service, who had
learned that the only way to live on comfortable terms with his asthma
was on Hikueru. He went inside to look at the barometer.
"Great God!" they heard him exclaim, and rushed in to join him at
staring at a dial, which marked twenty-nine-twenty.
Again they came out, this time anxiously to consult sea and sky. The
squall had cleared away, but the sky remained overcast. The two
schooners, under all sail and joined by a third, could be seen making
back. A veer in the wind induced them to slack off sheets, and five
minutes afterward a sudden veer from the opposite quarter caught all
three schooners aback, and those on shore could see the boom-tackles
being slacked away or cast off on the jump. The sound of the surf was
loud, hollow, and menacing, and a heavy swell was setting in. A
terrible sheet of lightning burst before their eyes, illuminating the
dark day, and the thunder rolled wildly about them.
Toriki and Levy broke into a run for their boats, the latter ambling
along like a panic-stricken hippopotamus. As their two boats swept out
the entrance, they passed the boat of the Aorai coming in. In the
stern sheets, encouraging the rowers, was Raoul. Unable to shake the
vision of the pearl from his mind, he was returning to accept Mapuhi's
price of a house.
He landed on the beach in the midst of a driving thunder squall that
was so dense that he collided with Huru-Huru before he saw him.
"Too late," yelled Huru-Huru. "Mapuhi sold it to Toriki for fourteen
hundred Chili, and Toriki sold it to Levy for twenty-five thousand
francs. And Levy will sell it in France for a hundred thousand francs.
Have you any tobacco?"
Raoul felt relieved. His troubles about the pearl were over. He need
not worry any more, even if he had not got the pearl. But he did not
believe Huru-Huru. Mapuhi might well have sold it for fourteen hundred
Chili, but that Levy, who knew pearls, should have paid twenty-five
thousand francs was too wide a stretch. Raoul decided to interview
Captain Lynch on the subject, but when he arrived at that ancient
mariner's house, he found him looking wide-eyed at the barometer.
"What do you read it?" Captain Lynch asked anxiously, rubbing his
spectacles and staring again at the instrument.
"Twenty-nine-ten," said Raoul. "I have never seen it so low before."
"I should say not!" snorted the captain. "Fifty years boy and man on
all the seas, and I've never seen it go down to that. Listen!"
They stood for a moment, while the surf rumbled and shook the house.
Then they went outside. The squall had passed. They could see the
Aorai lying becalmed a mile away and pitching and tossing madly in the
tremendous seas that rolled in stately procession down out of the
northeast and flung themselves furiously upon the coral shore. One of
the sailors from the boat pointed at the mouth of the passage and
shook his head. Raoul looked and saw a white anarchy of foam and
"I guess I'll stay with you tonight, Captain," he said; then turned to
the sailor and told him to haul the boat out and to find shelter for
himself and fellows.
"Twenty-nine flat," Captain Lynch reported, coming out from another
look at the barometer, a chair in his hand.
He sat down and stared at the spectacle of the sea. The sun came out,
increasing the sultriness of the day, while the dead calm still held.
The seas continued to increase in magnitude.
"What makes that sea is what gets me," Raoul muttered petulantly.
"There is no wind, yet look at it, look at that fellow there!"
Miles in length, carrying tens of thousands of tons in weight, its
impact shook the frail atoll like an earthquake. Captain Lynch was
"Gracious!" he bellowed, half rising from his chair, then sinking
"But there is no wind," Raoul persisted. "I could understand it if
there was wind along with it."
"You'll get the wind soon enough without worryin' for it," was the
The two men sat on in silence. The sweat stood out on their skin in
myriads of tiny drops that ran together, forming blotches of moisture,
which, in turn, coalesced into rivulets that dripped to the ground.
They panted for breath, the old man's efforts being especially
painful. A sea swept up the beach, licking around the trunks of the
cocoanuts and subsiding almost at their feet.
"Way past high water mark," Captain Lynch remarked; "and I've been
here eleven years." He looked at his watch. "It is three o'clock."
A man and woman, at their heels a motley following of brats and curs,
trailed disconsolately by. They came to a halt beyond the house, and,
after much irresolution, sat down in the sand. A few minutes later
another family trailed in from the opposite direction, the men and
women carrying a heterogeneous assortment of possessions. And soon
several hundred persons of all ages and sexes were congregated about
the captain's dwelling. He called to one new arrival, a woman with a
nursing babe in her arms, and in answer received the information that
her house had just been swept into the lagoon.
This was the highest spot of land in miles, and already, in many
places on either hand, the great seas were making a clean breach of
the slender ring of the atoll and surging into the lagoon. Twenty
miles around stretched the ring of the atoll, and in no place was it
more than fifty fathoms wide. It was the height of the diving season,
and from all the islands around, even as far as Tahiti, the natives
"There are twelve hundred men, women, and children here," said Captain
Lynch. "I wonder how many will be here tomorrow morning."
"But why don't it blow?--that's what I want to know," Raoul demanded.
"Don't worry, young man, don't worry; you'll get your troubles fast
Even as Captain Lynch spoke, a great watery mass smote the atoll.
The sea water churned about them three inches deep under the chairs. A
low wail of fear went up from the many women. The children, with
clasped hands, stared at the immense rollers and cried piteously.
Chickens and cats, wading perturbedly in the water, as by common
consent, with flight and scramble took refuge on the roof of the
captain's house. A Paumotan, with a litter of new-born puppies in a
basket, climbed into a cocoanut tree and twenty feet above the ground
made the basket fast. The mother floundered about in the water
beneath, whining and yelping.
And still the sun shone brightly and the dead calm continued. They
sat and watched the seas and the insane pitching of the Aorai. Captain
Lynch gazed at the huge mountains of water sweeping in until he could
gaze no more. He covered his face with his hands to shut out the
sight; then went into the house.
"Twenty-eight-sixty," he said quietly when he returned.
In his arm was a coil of small rope. He cut it into two-fathom
lengths, giving one to Raoul and, retaining one for himself,
distributed the remainder among the women with the advice to pick out
a tree and climb.
A light air began to blow out of the northeast, and the fan of it on
his cheek seemed to cheer Raoul up. He could see the Aorai trimming
her sheets and heading off shore, and he regretted that he was not on
her. She would get away at any rate, but as for the atoll--A sea
breached across, almost sweeping him off his feet, and he selected a
tree. Then he remembered the barometer and ran back to the house. He
encountered Captain Lynch on the same errand and together they went
"Twenty-eight-twenty," said the old mariner. "It's going to be fair
hell around here--what was that?"
The air seemed filled with the rush of something. The house quivered
and vibrated, and they heard the thrumming of a mighty note of sound.
The windows rattled. Two panes crashed; a draught of wind tore in,
striking them and making them stagger. The door opposite banged shut,
shattering the latch. The white door knob crumbled in fragments to the
floor. The room's walls bulged like a gas balloon in the process of
sudden inflation. Then came a new sound like the rattle of musketry,
as the spray from a sea struck the wall of the house. Captain Lynch
looked at his watch. It was four o'clock. He put on a coat of pilot
cloth, unhooked the barometer, and stowed it away in a capacious
pocket. Again a sea struck the house, with a heavy thud, and the light
building tilted, twisted, quarter around on its foundation, and sank
down, its floor at an angle of ten degrees.
Raoul went out first. The wind caught him and whirled him away. He
noted that it had hauled around to the east. With a great effort he
threw himself on the sand, crouching and holding his own. Captain
Lynch, driven like a wisp of straw, sprawled over him. Two of the
Aorai's sailors, leaving a cocoanut tree to which they had been
clinging, came to their aid, leaning against the wind at impossible
angles and fighting and clawing every inch of the way.
The old man's joints were stiff and he could not climb, so the
sailors, by means of short ends of rope tied together, hoisted him up
the trunk, a few feet at a time, till they could make him fast, at the
top of the tree, fifty feet from the ground. Raoul passed his length
of rope around the base of an adjacent tree and stood looking on. The
wind was frightful. He had never dreamed it could blow so hard. A sea
breached across the atoll, wetting him to the knees ere it subsided
into the lagoon. The sun had disappeared, and a lead-colored twilight
settled down. A few drops of rain, driving horizontally, struck him.
The impact was like that of leaden pellets. A splash of salt spray
struck his face. It was like the slap of a man's hand. His cheeks
stung, and involuntary tears of pain were in his smarting eyes.
Several hundred natives had taken to the trees, and he could have
laughed at the bunches of human fruit clustering in the tops. Then,
being Tahitian-born, he doubled his body at the waist, clasped the
trunk of his tree with his hands, pressed the soles of his feet
against the near surface of the trunk, and began to walk up the tree.
At the top he found two women, two children, and a man. One little
girl clasped a housecat in her arms.
From his eyrie he waved his hand to Captain Lynch, and that doughty
patriarch waved back. Raoul was appalled at the sky. It had approached
much nearer--in fact, it seemed just over his head; and it had turned
from lead to black. Many people were still on the ground grouped about
the bases of the trees and holding on. Several such clusters were
praying, and in one the Mormon missionary was exhorting. A weird
sound, rhythmical, faint as the faintest chirp of a far cricket,
enduring but for a moment, but in the moment suggesting to him vaguely
the thought of heaven and celestial music, came to his ear. He glanced
about him and saw, at the base of another tree, a large cluster of
people holding on by ropes and by one another. He could see their
faces working and their lips moving in unison. No sound came to him,
but he knew that they were singing hymns.
Still the wind continued to blow harder. By no conscious process could
he measure it, for it had long since passed beyond all his experience
of wind; but he knew somehow, nevertheless, that it was blowing
harder. Not far away a tree was uprooted, flinging its load of human
beings to the ground. A sea washed across the strip of sand, and they
were gone. Things were happening quickly. He saw a brown shoulder and
a black head silhouetted against the churning white of the lagoon. The
next instant that, too, had vanished. Other trees were going, falling
and criss-crossing like matches. He was amazed at the power of the
wind. His own tree was swaying perilously, one woman was wailing and
clutching the little girl, who in turn still hung on to the cat.
The man, holding the other child, touched Raoul's arm and pointed. He
looked and saw the Mormon church careering drunkenly a hundred feet
away. It had been torn from its foundations, and wind and sea were
heaving and shoving it toward the lagoon. A frightful wall of water
caught it, tilted it, and flung it against half a dozen cocoanut
trees. The bunches of human fruit fell like ripe cocoanuts. The
subsiding wave showed them on the ground, some lying motionless,
others squirming and writhing. They reminded him strangely of ants. He
was not shocked. He had risen above horror. Quite as a matter of
course he noted the succeeding wave sweep the sand clean of the human
wreckage. A third wave, more colossal than any he had yet seen, hurled
the church into the lagoon, where it floated off into the obscurity to
leeward, half-submerged, reminding him for all the world of a Noah's
He looked for Captain Lynch's house, and was surprised to find it
gone. Things certainly were happening quickly. He noticed that many of
the people in the trees that still held had descended to the ground.
The wind had yet again increased. His own tree showed that. It no
longer swayed or bent over and back. Instead, it remained practically
stationary, curved in a rigid angle from the wind and merely
vibrating. But the vibration was sickening. It was like that of a
tuning-fork or the tongue of a jew's-harp. It was the rapidity of the
vibration that made it so bad. Even though its roots held, it could
not stand the strain for long. Something would have to break.
Ah, there was one that had gone. He had not seen it go, but there it
stood, the remnant, broken off half-way up the trunk. One did not know
what happened unless he saw it. The mere crashing of trees and wails
of human despair occupied no place in that mighty volume of sound. He
chanced to be looking in Captain Lynch's direction when it happened.
He saw the trunk of the tree, half-way up, splinter and part without
noise. The head of the tree, with three sailors of the Aorai and the
old captain sailed off over the lagoon. It did not fall to the ground,
but drove through the air like a piece of chaff. For a hundred yards
he followed its flight, when it struck the water. He strained his
eyes, and was sure that he saw Captain Lynch wave farewell.
Raoul did not wait for anything more. He touched the native and made
signs to descend to the ground. The man was willing, but his women
were paralyzed from terror, and he elected to remain with them. Raoul
passed his rope around the tree and slid down. A rush of salt water
went over his head. He held his breath and clung desperately to the
rope. The water subsided, and in the shelter of the trunk he breathed
once more. He fastened the rope more securely, and then was put under
by another sea. One of the women slid down and joined him, the native
remaining by the other woman, the two children, and the cat.
The supercargo had noticed how the groups clinging at the bases of the
other trees continually diminished. Now he saw the process work out
alongside him. It required all his strength to hold on, and the woman
who had joined him was growing weaker. Each time he emerged from a sea
he was surprised to find himself still there, and next, surprised to
find the woman still there. At last he emerged to find himself alone.
He looked up. The top of the tree had gone as well. At half its
original height, a splintered end vibrated. He was safe. The roots
still held, while the tree had been shorn of its windage. He began to
climb up. He was so weak that he went slowly, and sea after sea caught
him before he was above them. Then he tied himself to the trunk and
stiffened his soul to face the night and he knew not what.
He felt very lonely in the darkness. At times it seemed to him that it
was the end of the world and that he was the last one left alive.
Still the wind increased. Hour after hour it increased. By what he
calculated was eleven o'clock, the wind had become unbelievable. It
was a horrible, monstrous thing, a screaming fury, a wall that smote
and passed on but that continued to smite and pass on--a wall without
end. It seemed to him that he had become light and ethereal; that it
was he that was in motion; that he was being driven with inconceivable
velocity through unending solidness. The wind was no longer air in
motion. It had become substantial as water or quicksilver. He had a
feeling that he could reach into it and tear it out in chunks as one
might do with the meat in the carcass of a steer; that he could seize
hold of the wind and hang on to it as a man might hang on to the face
of a cliff.
The wind strangled him. He could not face it and breathe, for it
rushed in through his mouth and nostrils, distending his lungs like
bladders. At such moments it seemed to him that his body was being
packed and swollen with solid earth. Only by pressing his lips to the
trunk of the tree could he breathe. Also, the ceaseless impact of the
wind exhausted him. Body and brain became wearied. He no longer
observed, no longer thought, and was but semiconscious. One idea
constituted his consciousness: SO THIS WAS A HURRICANE. That one idea
persisted irregularly. It was like a feeble flame that flickered
occasionally. From a state of stupor he would return to it--SO THIS
WAS A HURRICANE. Then he would go off into another stupor.
The height of the hurricane endured from eleven at night till three in
the morning, and it was at eleven that the tree in which clung Mapuhi
and his women snapped off. Mapuhi rose to the surface of the lagoon,
still clutching his daughter Ngakura. Only a South Sea islander could
have lived in such a driving smother. The pandanus tree, to which he
attached himself, turned over and over in the froth and churn; and it
was only by holding on at times and waiting, and at other times
shifting his grips rapidly, that he was able to get his head and
Ngakura's to the surface at intervals sufficiently near together to
keep the breath in them. But the air was mostly water, what with
flying spray and sheeted rain that poured along at right angles to the
It was ten miles across the lagoon to the farther ring of sand. Here,
tossing tree trunks, timbers, wrecks of cutters, and wreckage of
houses, killed nine out of ten of the miserable beings who survived
the passage of the lagoon. Half-drowned, exhausted, they were hurled
into this mad mortar of the elements and battered into formless flesh.
But Mapuhi was fortunate. His chance was the one in ten; it fell to
him by the freakage of fate. He emerged upon the sand, bleeding from a
score of wounds.
Ngakura's left arm was broken; the fingers of her right hand were
crushed; and cheek and forehead were laid open to the bone. He
clutched a tree that yet stood, and clung on, holding the girl and
sobbing for air, while the waters of the lagoon washed by knee-high
and at times waist-high.
At three in the morning the backbone of the hurricane broke. By five
no more than a stiff breeze was blowing. And by six it was dead calm
and the sun was shining. The sea had gone down. On the yet restless
edge of the lagoon, Mapuhi saw the broken bodies of those that had
failed in the landing. Undoubtedly Tefara and Nauri were among them.
He went along the beach examining them, and came upon his wife, lying
half in and half out of the water. He sat down and wept, making harsh
animal noises after the manner of primitive grief. Then she stirred
uneasily, and groaned. He looked more closely. Not only was she alive,
but she was uninjured. She was merely sleeping. Hers also had been the
one chance in ten.
Of the twelve hundred alive the night before but three hundred
remained. The Mormon missionary and a gendarme made the census. The
lagoon was cluttered with corpses. Not a house nor a hut was standing.
In the whole atoll not two stones remained one upon another. One in
fifty of the cocoanut palms still stood, and they were wrecks, while
on not one of them remained a single nut.
There was no fresh water. The shallow wells that caught the surface
seepage of the rain were filled with salt. Out of the lagoon a few
soaked bags of flour were recovered. The survivors cut the hearts out
of the fallen cocoanut trees and ate them. Here and there they crawled
into tiny hutches, made by hollowing out the sand and covering over
with fragments of metal roofing. The missionary made a crude still,
but he could not distill water for three hundred persons. By the end
of the second day, Raoul, taking a bath in the lagoon, discovered that
his thirst was somewhat relieved. He cried out the news, and thereupon
three hundred men, women, and children could have been seen, standing
up to their necks in the lagoon and trying to drink water in through
their skins. Their dead floated about them, or were stepped upon where
they still lay upon the bottom. On the third day the people buried
their dead and sat down to wait for the rescue steamers.
In the meantime, Nauri, torn from her family by the hurricane, had
been swept away on an adventure of her own. Clinging to a rough plank
that wounded and bruised her and that filled her body with splinters,
she was thrown clear over the atoll and carried away to sea. Here,
under the amazing buffets of mountains of water, she lost her plank.
She was an old woman nearly sixty; but she was Paumotan-born, and she
had never been out of sight of the sea in her life. Swimming in the
darkness, strangling, suffocating, fighting for air, she was struck a
heavy blow on the shoulder by a cocoanut. On the instant her plan was
formed, and she seized the nut. In the next hour she captured seven
more. Tied together, they formed a life-buoy that preserved her life
while at the same time it threatened to pound her to a jelly. She was
a fat woman, and she bruised easily; but she had had experience of
hurricanes, and while she prayed to her shark god for protection from
sharks, she waited for the wind to break. But at three o'clock she was
in such a stupor that she did not know. Nor did she know at six
o'clock when the dead calm settled down. She was shocked into
consciousness when she was thrown upon the sand. She dug in with raw
and bleeding hands and feet and clawed against the backwash until she
was beyond the reach of the waves.
She knew where she was. This land could be no other than the tiny
islet of Takokota. It had no lagoon. No one lived upon it.
Hikueru was fifteen miles away. She could not see Hikueru, but she
knew that it lay to the south. The days went by, and she lived on the
cocoanuts that had kept her afloat. They supplied her with drinking
water and with food. But she did not drink all she wanted, nor eat all
she wanted. Rescue was problematical. She saw the smoke of the rescue
steamers on the horizon, but what steamer could be expected to come to
lonely, uninhabited Takokota?
From the first she was tormented by corpses. The sea persisted in
flinging them upon her bit of sand, and she persisted, until her
strength failed, in thrusting them back into the sea where the sharks
tore at them and devoured them. When her strength failed, the bodies
festooned her beach with ghastly horror, and she withdrew from them as
far as she could, which was not far.
By the tenth day her last cocoanut was gone, and she was shrivelling
from thirst. She dragged herself along the sand, looking for
cocoanuts. It was strange that so many bodies floated up, and no nuts.
Surely, there were more cocoanuts afloat than dead men! She gave up at
last, and lay exhausted. The end had come. Nothing remained but to
wait for death.
Coming out of a stupor, she became slowly aware that she was gazing at
a patch of sandy-red hair on the head of a corpse. The sea flung the
body toward her, then drew it back. It turned over, and she saw that
it had no face. Yet there was something familiar about that patch of
sandy-red hair. An hour passed. She did not exert herself to make the
identification. She was waiting to die, and it mattered little to her
what man that thing of horror once might have been.
But at the end of the hour she sat up slowly and stared at the corpse.
An unusually large wave had thrown it beyond the reach of the lesser
waves. Yes, she was right; that patch of red hair could belong to but
one man in the Paumotus. It was Levy, the German Jew, the man who had
bought the pearl and carried it away on the Hira. Well, one thing was
evident: The Hira had been lost. The pearl buyer's god of fishermen
and thieves had gone back on him.
She crawled down to the dead man. His shirt had been torn away, and
she could see the leather money belt about his waist. She held her
breath and tugged at the buckles. They gave easier than she had
expected, and she crawled hurriedly away across the sand, dragging the
belt after her. Pocket after pocket she unbuckled in the belt and
found empty. Where could he have put it? In the last pocket of all she
found it, the first and only pearl he had bought on the voyage. She
crawled a few feet farther, to escape the pestilence of the belt, and
examined the pearl. It was the one Mapuhi had found and been robbed of
by Toriki. She weighed it in her hand and rolled it back and forth
caressingly. But in it she saw no intrinsic beauty. What she did see
was the house Mapuhi and Tefara and she had builded so carefully in
their minds. Each time she looked at the pearl she saw the house in
all its details, including the octagon-drop-clock on the wall. That
was something to live for.
She tore a strip from her ahu and tied the pearl securely about her
neck. Then she went on along the beach, panting and groaning, but
resolutely seeking for cocoanuts. Quickly she found one, and, as she
glanced around, a second. She broke one, drinking its water, which was
mildewy, and eating the last particle of the meat. A little later she
found a shattered dugout. Its outrigger was gone, but she was hopeful,
and, before the day was out, she found the outrigger. Every find was
an augury. The pearl was a talisman. Late in the afternoon she saw a
wooden box floating low in the water. When she dragged it out on the
beach its contents rattled, and inside she found ten tins of salmon.
She opened one by hammering it on the canoe. When a leak was started,
she drained the tin. After that she spent several hours in extracting
the salmon, hammering and squeezing it out a morsel at a time.
Eight days longer she waited for rescue. In the meantime she fastened
the outrigger back on the canoe, using for lashings all the cocoanut
fibre she could find, and also what remained of her ahu. The canoe was
badly cracked, and she could not make it water-tight; but a calabash
made from a cocoanut she stored on board for a bailer. She was hard
put for a paddle. With a piece of tin she sawed off all her hair close
to the scalp. Out of the hair she braided a cord; and by means of the
cord she lashed a three-foot piece of broom handle to a board from the
She gnawed wedges with her teeth and with them wedged the lashing.
On the eighteenth day, at midnight, she launched the canoe through the
surf and started back for Hikueru. She was an old woman. Hardship had
stripped her fat from her till scarcely more than bones and skin and a
few stringy muscles remained. The canoe was large and should have been
paddled by three strong men.
But she did it alone, with a make-shift paddle. Also, the canoe leaked
badly, and one-third of her time was devoted to bailing. By clear
daylight she looked vainly for Hikueru. Astern, Takokota had sunk
beneath the sea rim. The sun blazed down on her nakedness, compelling
her body to surrender its moisture. Two tins of salmon were left, and
in the course of the day she battered holes in them and drained the
liquid. She had no time to waste in extracting the meat. A current was
setting to the westward, she made westing whether she made southing or
In the early afternoon, standing upright in the canoe, she sighted
Hikueru. Its wealth of cocoanut palms was gone. Only here and there, at
wide intervals, could she see the ragged remnants of trees. The sight
cheered her. She was nearer than she had thought. The current was
setting her to the westward. She bore up against it and paddled on.
The wedges in the paddle lashing worked loose, and she lost much time,
at frequent intervals, in driving them tight. Then there was the
bailing. One hour in three she had to cease paddling in order to bail.
And all the time she drifted to the westward.
By sunset Hikueru bore southeast from her, three miles away. There
was a full moon, and by eight o'clock the land was due east and two
miles away. She struggled on for another hour, but the land was as far
away as ever. She was in the main grip of the current; the canoe was
too large; the paddle was too inadequate; and too much of her time and
strength was wasted in bailing. Besides, she was very weak and growing
weaker. Despite her efforts, the canoe was drifting off to the
She breathed a prayer to her shark god, slipped over the side, and
began to swim. She was actually refreshed by the water, and quickly
left the canoe astern. At the end of an hour the land was perceptibly
nearer. Then came her fright. Right before her eyes, not twenty feet
away, a large fin cut the water. She swam steadily toward it, and
slowly it glided away, curving off toward the right and circling
around her. She kept her eyes on the fin and swam on. When the fin
disappeared, she lay face downward in the water and watched. When the
fin reappeared she resumed her swimming. The monster was lazy--she
could see that. Without doubt he had been well fed since the
hurricane. Had he been very hungry, she knew he would not have
hesitated from making a dash for her. He was fifteen feet long, and
one bite, she knew, could cut her in half.
But she did not have any time to waste on him. Whether she swam or
not, the current drew away from the land just the same. A half hour
went by, and the shark began to grow bolder. Seeing no harm in her he
drew closer, in narrowing circles, cocking his eyes at her impudently
as he slid past. Sooner or later, she knew well enough, he would get
up sufficient courage to dash at her. She resolved to play first. It
was a desperate act she meditated. She was an old woman, alone in the
sea and weak from starvation and hardship; and yet she, in the face of
this sea tiger, must anticipate his dash by herself dashing at him.
She swam on, waiting her chance. At last he passed languidly by,
barely eight feet away. She rushed at him suddenly, feigning that she
was attacking him. He gave a wild flirt of his tail as he fled away,
and his sandpaper hide, striking her, took off her skin from elbow to
shoulder. He swam rapidly, in a widening circle, and at last
In the hole in the sand, covered over by fragments of metal roofing,
Mapuhi and Tefara lay disputing.
"If you had done as I said," charged Tefara, for the thousandth time,
"and hidden the pearl and told no one, you would have it now."
"But Huru-Huru was with me when I opened the shell--have I not told
you so times and times and times without end?"
"And now we shall have no house. Raoul told me today that if you had
not sold the pearl to Toriki--"
"I did not sell it. Toriki robbed me."
"--that if you had not sold the pearl, he would give you five thousand
French dollars, which is ten thousand Chili."
"He has been talking to his mother," Mapuhi explained. "She has an eye
for a pearl."
"And now the pearl is lost," Tefara complained.
"It paid my debt with Toriki. That is twelve hundred I have made,
"Toriki is dead," she cried. "They have heard no word of his schooner.
She was lost along with the Aorai and the Hira. Will Toriki pay you
the three hundred credit he promised? No, because Toriki is dead. And
had you found no pearl, would you today owe Toriki the twelve hundred?
No, because Toriki is dead, and you cannot pay dead men."
"But Levy did not pay Toriki," Mapuhi said. "He gave him a piece of
paper that was good for the money in Papeete; and now Levy is dead and
cannot pay; and Toriki is dead and the paper lost with him, and the
pearl is lost with Levy. You are right, Tefara. I have lost the pearl,
and got nothing for it. Now let us sleep."
He held up his hand suddenly and listened. From without came a noise,
as of one who breathed heavily and with pain. A hand fumbled against
the mat that served for a door.
"Who is there?" Mapuhi cried.
"Nauri," came the answer. "Can you tell me where is my son, Mapuhi?"
Tefara screamed and gripped her husband's arm.
"A ghost!" she chattered. "A ghost!"
Mapuhi's face was a ghastly yellow. He clung weakly to his wife.
"Good woman," he said in faltering tones, striving to disguise his
vice, "I know your son well. He is living on the east side of the
From without came the sound of a sigh. Mapuhi began to feel elated. He
had fooled the ghost.
"But where do you come from, old woman?" he asked.
"From the sea," was the dejected answer.
"I knew it! I knew it!" screamed Tefara, rocking to and fro.
"Since when has Tefara bedded in a strange house?" came Nauri's voice
through the matting.
Mapuhi looked fear and reproach at his wife. It was her voice that had
"And since when has Mapuhi, my son, denied his old mother?" the voice
"No, no, I have not--Mapuhi has not denied you," he cried. "I am not
Mapuhi. He is on the east end of the lagoon, I tell you."
Ngakura sat up in bed and began to cry. The matting started to shake.
"What are you doing?" Mapuhi demanded.
"I am coming in," said the voice of Nauri.
One end of the matting lifted. Tefara tried to dive under the
blankets, but Mapuhi held on to her. He had to hold on to something.
Together, struggling with each other, with shivering bodies and
chattering teeth, they gazed with protruding eyes at the lifting mat.
They saw Nauri, dripping with sea water, without her ahu, creep in.
They rolled over backward from her and fought for Ngakura's blanket
with which to cover their heads.
"You might give your old mother a drink of water," the ghost said
"Give her a drink of water," Tefara commanded in a shaking voice.
"Give her a drink of water," Mapuhi passed on the command to Ngakura.
And together they kicked out Ngakura from under the blanket. A minute
later, peeping, Mapuhi saw the ghost drinking. When it reached out a
shaking hand and laid it on his, he felt the weight of it and was
convinced that it was no ghost. Then he emerged, dragging Tefara after
him, and in a few minutes all were listening to Nauri's tale. And when
she told of Levy, and dropped the pearl into Tefara's hand, even she
was reconciled to the reality of her mother-in-law.
"In the morning," said Tefara, "you will sell the pearl to Raoul for
five thousand French."
"The house?" objected Nauri.
"He will build the house," Tefara answered. "He ways it will cost four
thousand French. Also will he give one thousand French in credit,
which is two thousand Chili."
"And it will be six fathoms long?" Nauri queried.
"Ay," answered Mapuhi, "six fathoms."
"And in the middle room will be the octagon-drop-clock?"
"Ay, and the round table as well."
"Then give me something to eat, for I am hungry," said Nauri,
complacently. "And after that we will sleep, for I am weary. And
tomorrow we will have more talk about the house before we sell the
pearl. It will be better if we take the thousand French in cash. Money
is ever better than credit in buying goods from the traders."
THE WHALE TOOTH
It was in the early days in Fiji, when John Starhurst arose in the
mission house at Rewa Village and announced his intention of carrying
the gospel throughout all Viti Levu. Now Viti Levu means the "Great
Land," it being the largest island in a group composed of many large
islands, to say nothing of hundreds of small ones. Here and there on
the coasts, living by most precarious tenure, was a sprinkling of
missionaries, traders, bÍche-de-mer fishers, and whaleship deserters.
The smoke of the hot ovens arose under their windows, and the bodies
of the slain were dragged by their doors on the way to the feasting.
The Lotu, or the Worship, was progressing slowly, and, often, in
crablike fashion. Chiefs, who announced themselves Christians and were
welcomed into the body of the chapel, had a distressing habit of
backsliding in order to partake of the flesh of some favorite enemy.
Eat or be eaten had been the law of the land; and eat or be eaten
promised to remain the law of the land for a long time to come. There
were chiefs, such as Tanoa, Tuiveikoso, and Tuikilakila, who had
literally eaten hundreds of their fellow men. But among these gluttons
Ra Undreundre ranked highest. Ra Undreundre lived at Takiraki. He kept
a register of his gustatory exploits. A row of stones outside his
house marked the bodies he had eaten. This row was two hundred and
thirty paces long, and the stones in it numbered eight hundred and
seventy-two. Each stone represented a body. The row of stones might
have been longer, had not Ra Undreundre unfortunately received a spear
in the small of his back in a bush skirmish on Somo Somo and been
served up on the table of Naungavuli, whose mediocre string of stones
numbered only forty-eight.
The hard-worked, fever-stricken missionaries stuck doggedly to their
task, at times despairing, and looking forward for some special
manifestation, some outburst of Pentecostal fire that would bring a
glorious harvest of souls. But cannibal Fiji had remained obdurate.
The frizzle-headed man-eaters were loath to leave their fleshpots so
long as the harvest of human carcases was plentiful. Sometimes, when
the harvest was too plentiful, they imposed on the missionaries by
letting the word slip out that on such a day there would be a killing
and a barbecue. Promptly the missionaries would buy the lives of the
victims with stick tobacco, fathoms of calico, and quarts of trade
beads. Natheless the chiefs drove a handsome trade in thus disposing
of their surplus live meat. Also, they could always go out and catch
It was at this juncture that John Starhurst proclaimed that he would
carry the Gospel from coast to coast of the Great Land, and that he
would begin by penetrating the mountain fastnesses of the headwaters
of the Rewa River. His words were received with consternation.
The native teachers wept softly. His two fellow missionaries strove to
dissuade him. The King of Rewa warned him that the mountain dwellers
would surely kai-kai him--kai-kai meaning "to eat"--and that he, the
King of Rewa, having become Lotu, would be put to the necessity of
going to war with the mountain dwellers. That he could not conquer
them he was perfectly aware. That they might come down the river and
sack Rewa Village he was likewise perfectly aware. But what was he to
do? If John Starhurst persisted in going out and being eaten, there
would be a war that would cost hundreds of lives.
Later in the day a deputation of Rewa chiefs waited upon John
Starhurst. He heard them patiently, and argued patiently with them,
though he abated not a whit from his purpose. To his fellow
missionaries he explained that he was not bent upon martyrdom; that
the call had come for him to carry the Gospel into Viti Levu, and that
he was merely obeying the Lord's wish.
To the traders who came and objected most strenuously of all, he said:
"Your objections are valueless. They consist merely of the damage that
may be done your businesses. You are interested in making money, but I
am interested in saving souls. The heathen of this dark land must be
John Starhurst was not a fanatic. He would have been the first man to
deny the imputation. He was eminently sane and practical.
He was sure that his mission would result in good, and he had private
visions of igniting the Pentecostal spark in the souls of the
mountaineers and of inaugurating a revival that would sweep down out
of the mountains and across the length and breadth of the Great Land
from sea to sea and to the isles in the midst of the sea. There were
no wild lights in his mild gray eyes, but only calm resolution and an
unfaltering trust in the Higher Power that was guiding him.
One man only he found who approved of his project, and that was Ra
Vatu, who secretly encouraged him and offered to lend him guides to
the first foothills. John Starhurst, in turn, was greatly pleased by
Ra Vatu's conduct. From an incorrigible heathen, with a heart as black
as his practices, Ra Vatu was beginning to emanate light. He even
spoke of becoming Lotu. True, three years before he had expressed a
similar intention, and would have entered the church had not John
Starhurst entered objection to his bringing his four wives along with
him. Ra Vatu had had economic and ethical objections to monogamy.
Besides, the missionary's hair-splitting objection had offended him;
and, to prove that he was a free agent and a man of honor, he had
swung his huge war club over Starhurst's head. Starhurst had escaped
by rushing in under the club and holding on to him until help arrived.
But all that was now forgiven and forgotten. Ra Vatu was coming into
the church, not merely as a converted heathen, but as a converted
polygamist as well. He was only waiting, he assured Starhurst, until
his oldest wife, who was very sick, should die.
John Starhurst journeyed up the sluggish Rewa in one of Ra Vatu's
canoes. This canoe was to carry him for two days, when, the head of
navigation reached, it would return. Far in the distance, lifted into
the sky, could be seen the great smoky mountains that marked the
backbone of the Great Land. All day John Starhurst gazed at them with
Sometimes he prayed silently. At other times he was joined in prayer
by Narau, a native teacher, who for seven years had been Lotu, ever
since the day he had been saved from the hot oven by Dr. James Ellery
Brown at the trifling expense of one hundred sticks of tobacco, two
cotton blankets, and a large bottle of painkiller. At the last moment,
after twenty hours of solitary supplication and prayer, Narau's ears
had heard the call to go forth with John Starhurst on the mission to
"Master, I will surely go with thee," he had announced.
John Starhurst had hailed him with sober delight. Truly, the Lord was
with him thus to spur on so broken-spirited a creature as Narau.
"I am indeed without spirit, the weakest of the Lord's vessels," Narau
explained, the first day in the canoe.
"You should have faith, stronger faith," the missionary chided him.
Another canoe journeyed up the Rewa that day. But it journeyed an hour
astern, and it took care not to be seen. This canoe was also the
property of Ra Vatu. In it was Erirola, Ra Vatu's first cousin and
trusted henchman; and in the small basket that never left his hand was
a whale tooth. It was a magnificent tooth, fully six inches long,
beautifully proportioned, the ivory turned yellow and purple with age.
This tooth was likewise the property of Ra Vatu; and in Fiji, when
such a tooth goes forth, things usually happen. For this is the virtue
of the whale tooth: Whoever accepts it cannot refuse the request that
may accompany it or follow it. The request may be anything from a
human life to a tribal alliance, and no Fijian is so dead to honor as
to deny the request when once the tooth has been accepted. Sometimes
the request hangs fire, or the fulfilment is delayed, with untoward
High up the Rewa, at the village of a chief, Mongondro by name, John
Starhurst rested at the end of the second day of the journey. In the
morning, attended by Narau, he expected to start on foot for the smoky
mountains that were now green and velvety with nearness. Mongondro was
a sweet-tempered, mild-mannered little old chief, short-sighted and
afflicted with elephantiasis, and no longer inclined toward the
turbulence of war. He received the missionary with warm hospitality,
gave him food from his own table, and even discussed religious matters
with him. Mongondro was of an inquiring bent of mind, and pleased John
Starhurst greatly by asking him to account for the existence and
beginning of things. When the missionary had finished his summary of
the Creation according to Genesis, he saw that Mongondro was deeply
affected. The little old chief smoked silently for some time. Then he
took the pipe from his mouth and shook his head sadly.
"It cannot be," he said. "I, Mongondro, in my youth, was a good
workman with the adze. Yet three months did it take me to make a
canoe--a small canoe, a very small canoe. And you say that all this
land and water was made by one man--"
"Nay, was made by one God, the only true God," the missionary
"It is the same thing," Mongondro went on, "that all the land and all
the water, the trees, the fish, and bush and mountains, the sun, the
moon, and the stars, were made in six days! No, no. I tell you that in
my youth I was an able man, yet did it require me three months for one
small canoe. It is a story to frighten children with; but no man can
"I am a man," the missionary said.
"True, you are a man. But it is not given to my dark understanding to
know what you believe."
"I tell you, I do believe that everything was made in six days."
"So you say, so you say," the old cannibal murmured soothingly.
It was not until after John Starhurst and Narau had gone off to bed
that Erirola crept into the chief's house, and, after diplomatic
speech, handed the whale tooth to Mongondro.
The old chief held the tooth in his hands for a long time. It was a
beautiful tooth, and he yearned for it. Also, he divined the request
that must accompany it. "No, no; whale teeth were beautiful," and his
mouth watered for it, but he passed it back to Erirola with many
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In the early dawn John Starhurst was afoot, striding along the bush
trail in his big leather boots, at his heels the faithful Narau,
himself at the heels of a naked guide lent him by Mongondro to show
the way to the next village, which was reached by midday. Here a new
guide showed the way. A mile in the rear plodded Erirola, the whale
tooth in the basket slung on his shoulder. For two days more he
brought up the missionary's rear, offering the tooth to the village
chiefs. But village after village refused the tooth. It followed so
quickly the missionary's advent that they divined the request that
would be made, and would have none of it.
They were getting deep into the mountains, and Erirola took a secret
trail, cut in ahead of the missionary, and reached the stronghold of
the Buli of Gatoka. Now the Buli was unaware of John Starhurst's
imminent arrival. Also, the tooth was beautiful--an extraordinary
specimen, while the coloring of it was of the rarest order. The tooth
was presented publicly. The Buli of Gatoka, seated on his best mat,
surrounded by his chief men, three busy fly-brushers at his back,
deigned to receive from the hand of his herald the whale tooth
presented by Ra Vatu and carried into the mountains by his cousin,
Erirola. A clapping of hands went up at the acceptance of the present,
the assembled headman, heralds, and fly-brushers crying aloud in
"A! woi! woi! woi! A! woi! woi! woi! A tabua levu! woi! woi! A mudua,
"Soon will come a man, a white man," Erirola began, after the proper
pause. "He is a missionary man, and he will come today. Ra Vatu is
pleased to desire his boots. He wishes to present them to his good
friend, Mongondro, and it is in his mind to send them with the feet
along in them, for Mongondro is an old man and his teeth are not good.
Be sure, O Buli, that the feet go along in the boots. As for the rest
of him, it may stop here."
The delight in the whale tooth faded out of the Buli's eyes, and he
glanced about him dubiously. Yet had he already accepted the tooth.
"A little thing like a missionary does not matter," Erirola prompted.
"No, a little thing like a missionary does not matter," the Buli
answered, himself again. "Mongondro shall have the boots. Go, you
young men, some three or four of you, and meet the missionary on the
trail. Be sure you bring back the boots as well."
"It is too late," said Erirola. "Listen! He comes now."
Breaking through the thicket of brush, John Starhurst, with Narau
close on his heels, strode upon the scene. The famous boots, having
filled in wading the stream, squirted fine jets of water at every
step. Starhurst looked about him with flashing eyes. Upborne by an
unwavering trust, untouched by doubt or fear, he exulted in all he
saw. He knew that since the beginning of time he was the first white
man ever to tread the mountain stronghold of Gatoka.
The grass houses clung to the steep mountain side or overhung the
rushing Rewa. On either side towered a mighty precipice. At the best,
three hours of sunlight penetrated that narrow gorge. No cocoanuts nor
bananas were to be seen, though dense, tropic vegetation overran
everything, dripping in airy festoons from the sheer lips of the
precipices and running riot in all the crannied ledges. At the far end
of the gorge the Rewa leaped eight hundred feet in a single span,
while the atmosphere of the rock fortress pulsed to the rhythmic
thunder of the fall.
From the Buli's house, John Starhurst saw emerging the Buli and his
"I bring you good tidings," was the missionary's greeting.
"Who has sent you?" the Buli rejoined quietly.
"It is a new name in Viti Levu," the Buli grinned. "Of what islands,
villages, or passes may he be chief?"
"He is the chief over all islands, all villages, all passes," John
Starhurst answered solemnly. "He is the Lord over heaven and earth,
and I am come to bring His word to you."
"Has he sent whale teeth?" was the insolent query.
"No, but more precious than whale teeth is the--"
"It is the custom, between chiefs, to send whale teeth," the Buli
"Your chief is either a niggard, or you are a fool, to come
empty-handed into the mountains. Behold, a more generous than you is
So saying, he showed the whale tooth he had received from Erirola.
"It is the whale tooth of Ra Vatu," he whispered to Starhurst. "I
know it well. Now are we undone."
"A gracious thing," the missionary answered, passing his hand through
his long beard and adjusting his glasses. "Ra Vatu has arranged that
we should be well received."
But Narau groaned again, and backed away from the heels he had dogged
"Ra Vatu is soon to become Lotu," Starhurst explained, "and I have
come bringing the Lotu to you."
"I want none of your Lotu," said the Buli, proudly. "And it is in my
mind that you will be clubbed this day."
The Buli nodded to one of his big mountaineers, who stepped forward,
swinging a club. Narau bolted into the nearest house, seeking to hide
among the woman and mats; but John Starhurst sprang in under the club
and threw his arms around his executioner's neck. From this point of
vantage he proceeded to argue. He was arguing for his life, and he
knew it; but he was neither excited nor afraid.
"It would be an evil thing for you to kill me," he told the man. "I
have done you no wrong, nor have I done the Buli wrong."
So well did he cling to the neck of the one man that they dared not
strike with their clubs. And he continued to cling and to dispute for
his life with those who clamored for his death.
"I am John Starhurst," he went on calmly. "I have labored in Fiji for
three years, and I have done it for no profit. I am here among you for
good. Why should any man kill me? To kill me will not profit any man."
The Buli stole a look at the whale tooth. He was well paid for the
The missionary was surrounded by a mass of naked savages, all
struggling to get at him. The death song, which is the song of the
oven, was raised, and his expostulations could no longer be heard. But
so cunningly did he twine and wreathe his body about his captor's that
the death blow could not be struck. Erirola smiled, and the Buli grew
"Away with you!" he cried. "A nice story to go back to the coast--a
dozen of you and one missionary, without weapons, weak as a woman,
overcoming all of you."
"Wait, O Buli," John Starhurst called out from the thick of the
scuffle, "and I will overcome even you. For my weapons are Truth and
Right, and no man can withstand them."
"Come to me, then," the Buli answered, "for my weapon is only a poor
miserable club, and, as you say, it cannot withstand you."
The group separated from him, and John Starhurst stood alone, facing
the Buli, who was leaning on an enormous, knotted warclub.
"Come to me, missionary man, and overcome me," the Buli challenged.
"Even so will I come to you and overcome you," John Starhurst made
answer, first wiping his spectacles and settling them properly, then
beginning his advance.
The Buli raised the club and waited.
"In the first place, my death will profit you nothing," began the
"I leave the answer to my club," was the Buli's reply.
And to every point he made the same reply, at the same time watching
the missionary closely in order to forestall that cunning run-in under
the lifted club. Then, and for the first time, John Starhurst knew
that his death was at hand. He made no attempt to run in. Bareheaded,
he stood in the sun and prayed aloud--the mysterious figure of the
inevitable white man, who, with Bible, bullet, or rum bottle, has
confronted the amazed savage in his every stronghold. Even so stood
John Starhurst in the rock fortress of the Buli of Gatoka.
"Forgive them, for they know not what they do," he prayed. "O Lord!
Have mercy upon Fiji. Have compassion for Fiji. O Jehovah, hear us for
His sake, Thy Son, whom Thou didst give that through Him all men might
also become Thy children. From Thee we came, and our mind is that to
Thee we may return. The land is dark, O Lord, the land is dark. But
Thou art mighty to save. Reach out Thy hand, O Lord, and save Fiji,
poor cannibal Fiji."
The Buli grew impatient.
"Now will I answer thee," he muttered, at the same time swinging his
club with both hands.
Narau, hiding among the women and the mats, heard the impact of the
blow and shuddered. Then the death song arose, and he knew his beloved
missionary's body was being dragged to the oven as he heard the words:
"Drag me gently. Drag me gently."
"For I am the champion of my land."
"Give thanks! Give thanks! Give thanks!"
Next, a single voice arose out of the din, asking:
"Where is the brave man?"
A hundred voices bellowed the answer:
"Gone to be dragged into the oven and cooked."
"Where is the coward?" the single voice demanded.
"Gone to report!" the hundred voices bellowed back. "Gone to report!
Gone to report!"
Narau groaned in anguish of spirit. The words of the old song were
true. He was the coward, and nothing remained to him but to go and
He weighed one hundred and ten pounds. His hair was kinky and negroid,
and he was black. He was peculiarly black. He was neither blue-black
nor purple-black, but plum-black. His name was Mauki, and he was the
son of a chief. He had three tambos. Tambo is Melanesian for taboo,
and is first cousin to that Polynesian word. Mauki's three tambos were
as follows: First, he must never shake hands with a woman, nor have a
woman's hand touch him or any of his personal belongings; secondly, he
must never eat clams nor any food from a fire in which clams had been
cooked; thirdly, he must never touch a crocodile, nor travel in a
canoe that carried any part of a crocodile even if as large as a
Of a different black were his teeth, which were deep black, or,
perhaps better, LAMP-black. They had been made so in a single night,
by his mother, who had compressed about them a powdered mineral which
was dug from the landslide back of Port Adams. Port Adams is a
salt-water village on Malaita, and Malaita is the most savage island
in the Solomons--so savage that no traders or planters have yet gained
a foothold on it; while, from the time of the earliest bÍche-de-mer
fishers and sandalwood traders down to the latest labor recruiters
equipped with automatic rifles and gasolene engines, scores of white
adventurers have been passed out by tomahawks and soft-nosed Snider
bullets. So Malaita remains today, in the twentieth century, the
stamping ground of the labor recruiters, who farm its coasts for
laborers who engage and contract themselves to toil on the plantations
of the neighboring and more civilized islands for a wage of thirty
dollars a year. The natives of those neighboring and more civilized
islands have themselves become too civilized to work on plantations.
Mauki's ears were pierced, not in one place, nor two places, but in a
couple of dozen places. In one of the smaller holes he carried a clay
pipe. The larger holes were too large for such use. The bowl of the
pipe would have fallen through. In fact, in the largest hole in each
ear he habitually wore round wooden plugs that were an even four
inches in diameter. Roughly speaking, the circumference of said holes
was twelve and one-half inches. Mauki was catholic in his tastes. In
the various smaller holes he carried such things as empty rifle
cartridges, horseshoe nails, copper screws, pieces of string, braids
of sennit, strips of green leaf, and, in the cool of the day, scarlet
hibiscus flowers. From which it will be seen that pockets were not
necessary to his well-being. Besides, pockets were impossible, for his
only wearing apparel consisted of a piece of calico several inches
wide. A pocket knife he wore in his hair, the blade snapped down on a
kinky lock. His most prized possession was the handle of a china cup,
which he suspended from a ring of turtle-shell, which, in turn, was
passed through the partition-cartilage of his nose.
But in spite of embellishments, Mauki had a nice face. It was really a
pretty face, viewed by any standard, and for a Melanesian it was a
remarkably good-looking face. Its one fault was its lack of strength.
It was softly effeminate, almost girlish. The features were small,
regular, and delicate. The chin was weak, and the mouth was weak.
There was no strength nor character in the jaws, forehead, and nose.
In the eyes only could be caught any hint of the unknown quantities
that were so large a part of his make-up and that other persons could
not understand. These unknown quantities were pluck, pertinacity,
fearlessness, imagination, and cunning; and when they found expression
in some consistent and striking action, those about him were
Mauki's father was chief over the village at Port Adams, and thus, by
birth a salt-water man, Mauki was half amphibian. He knew the way of
the fishes and oysters, and the reef was an open book to him. Canoes,
also, he knew. He learned to swim when he was a year old. At seven
years he could hold his breath a full minute and swim straight down to
bottom through thirty feet of water. And at seven years he was stolen
by the bushmen, who cannot even swim and who are afraid of salt water.
Thereafter Mauki saw the sea only from a distance, through rifts in
the jungle and from open spaces on the high mountain sides. He became
the slave of old Fanfoa, head chief over a score of scattered
bush-villages on the range-lips of Malaita, the smoke of which, on
calm mornings, is about the only evidence the seafaring white men have
of the teeming interior population. For the whites do not penetrate
Malaita. They tried it once, in the days when the search was on for
gold, but they always left their heads behind to grin from the smoky
rafters of the bushmen's huts.
When Mauki was a young man of seventeen, Fanfoa got out of tobacco. He
got dreadfully out of tobacco. It was hard times in all his villages.
He had been guilty of a mistake. Suo was a harbor so small that a
large schooner could not swing at anchor in it. It was surrounded by
mangroves that overhung the deep water. It was a trap, and into the
trap sailed two white men in a small ketch. They were after recruits,
and they possessed much tobacco and trade goods, to say nothing of
three rifles and plenty of ammunition. Now there were no salt-water
men living at Suo, and it was there that the bushmen could come down
to the sea. The ketch did a splendid traffic. It signed on twenty
recruits the first day. Even old Fanfoa signed on. And that same day
the score of new recruits chopped off the two white men's head, killed
the boat's crew, and burned the ketch. Thereafter, and for three
months, there was tobacco and trade goods in plenty and to spare in
all the bush villages. Then came the man-of-war that threw shells for
miles into the hills, frightening the people out of their villages and
into the deeper bush. Next the man-of-war sent landing parties ashore.
The villages were all burned, along with the tobacco and trade stuff.
The cocoanuts and bananas were chopped down, the taro gardens
uprooted, and the pigs and chickens killed.
It taught Fanfoa a lesson, but in the meantime he was out of tobacco.
Also, his young men were too frightened to sign on with the recruiting
vessels. That was why Fanfoa ordered his slave, Mauki, to be carried
down and signed on for half a case of tobacco advance, along with
knives, axes, calico, and beads, which he would pay for with his toil
on the plantations. Mauki was sorely frightened when they brought him
on board the schooner. He was a lamb led to the slaughter. White men
were ferocious creatures. They had to be, or else they would not make
a practice of venturing along the Malaita coast and into all harbors,
two on a schooner, when each schooner carried from fifteen to twenty
blacks as boat's crew, and often as high as sixty or seventy black
recruits. In addition to this, there was always the danger of the
shore population, the sudden attack and the cutting off of the
schooner and all hands. Truly, white men must be terrible. Besides,
they were possessed of such devil-devils--rifles that shot very
rapidly many times, things of iron and brass that made the schooners
go when there was no wind, and boxes that talked and laughed just as
men talked and laughed.
Ay, and he had heard of one white man whose particular devil-devil was
so powerful that he could take out all his teeth and put them back at
Down into the cabin they took Mauki. On deck, the one white man kept
guard with two revolvers in his belt. In the cabin the other white man
sat with a book before him, in which he inscribed strange marks and
lines. He looked at Mauki as though he had been a pig or a fowl,
glanced under the hollows of his arms, and wrote in the book. Then he
held out the writing stick and Mauki just barely touched it with his
hand, in so doing pledging himself to toil for three years on the
plantations of the Moongleam Soap Company. It was not explained to him
that the will of the ferocious white men would be used to enforce the
pledge, and that, behind all, for the same use, was all the power and
all the warships of Great Britain.
Other blacks there were on board, from unheard-of far places, and when
the white man spoke to them, they tore the long feather from Mauki's
hair, cut that same hair short, and wrapped about his waist a
lava-lava of bright yellow calico.
After many days on the schooner, and after beholding more land and
islands than he had ever dreamed of, he was landed on New Georgia, and
put to work in the field clearing jungle and cutting cane grass. For
the first time he knew what work was. Even as a slave to Fanfoa he had
not worked like this. And he did not like work. It was up at dawn and
in at dark, on two meals a day. And the food was tiresome. For weeks
at a time they were given nothing but sweet potatoes to eat, and for
weeks at a time it would be nothing but rice. He cut out the cocoanut
from the shells day after day; and for long days and weeks he fed the
fires that smoked the copra, till his eyes got sore and he was set to
felling trees. He was a good axe-man, and later he was put in the
bridge-building gang. Once, he was punished by being put in the
road-building gang. At times he served as boat's crew in the whale
boats, when they brought in copra from distant beaches or when the
white men went out to dynamite fish.
Among other things he learned beche-de-mer English, with which he
could talk with all white men, and with all recruits who otherwise
would have talked in a thousand different dialects. Also, he learned
certain things about the white men, principally that they kept their
word. If they told a boy he was going to receive a stick of tobacco,
he got it. If they told a boy they would knock seven bells out of him
if he did a certain thing, when he did that thing, seven bells
invariably were knocked out of him. Mauki did not know what seven
bells were, but they occurred in beche-de-mer, and he imagined them to
be the blood and teeth that sometimes accompanied the process of
knocking out seven bells. One other thing he learned: no boy was
struck or punished unless he did wrong. Even when the white men were
drunk, as they were frequently, they never struck unless a rule had
Mauki did not like the plantation. He hated work, and he was the son
of a chief. Furthermore, it was ten years since he had been stolen
from Port Adams by Fanfoa, and he was homesick. He was even homesick
for the slavery under Fanfoa. So he ran away. He struck back into the
bush, with the idea of working southward to the beach and stealing a
canoe in which to go home to Port Adams.
But the fever got him, and he was captured and brought back more dead
A second time he ran away, in the company of two Malaita boys. They
got down the coast twenty miles, and were hidden in the hut of a
Malaita freeman, who dwelt in that village. But in the dead of night
two white men came, who were not afraid of all the village people and
who knocked seven bells out of the three runaways, tied them like
pigs, and tossed them into the whale boat. But the man in whose house
they had hidden--seven times seven bells must have been knocked out of
him from the way the hair, skin, and teeth flew, and he was
discouraged for the rest of his natural life from harboring runaway
For a year Mauki toiled on. Then he was made a house-boy, and had good
food and easy times, with light work in keeping the house clean and
serving the white men with whiskey and beer at all hours of the day
and most hours of the night. He liked it, but he liked Port Adams
more. He had two years longer to serve, but two years were too long
for him in the throes of homesickness. He had grown wiser with his
year of service, and, being now a house-boy, he had opportunity. He
had the cleaning of the rifles, and he knew where the key to the store
room was hung. He planned to escape, and one night ten Malaita boys
and one boy from San Cristoval sneaked from the barracks and dragged
one of the whale boats down to the beach. It was Mauki who supplied
the key that opened the padlock on the boat, and it was Mauki who
equipped the boat with a dozen Winchesters, an immense amount of
ammunition, a case of dynamite with detonators and fuse, and ten cases
The northwest monsoon was blowing, and they fled south in the night
time, hiding by day on detached and uninhabited islets, or dragging
their whale boat into the bush on the large islands. Thus they gained
Guadalcanar, skirted halfway along it, and crossed the Indispensable
Straits to Florida Island. It was here that they killed the San
Cristoval boy, saving his head and cooking and eating the rest of him.
The Malaita coast was only twenty miles away, but the last night a
strong current and baffling winds prevented them from gaining across.
Daylight found them still several miles from their goal. But daylight
brought a cutter, in which were two white men, who were not afraid of
eleven Malaita men armed with twelve rifles. Mauki and his companions
were carried back to Tulagi, where lived the great white master of all
the white men. And the great white master held a court, after which,
one by one, the runaways were tied up and given twenty lashes each,
and sentenced to a fine of fifteen dollars. They were sent back to New
Georgia, where the white men knocked seven bells out of them all
around and put them to work. But Mauki was no longer house-boy. He was
put in the road-making gang. The fine of fifteen dollars had been paid
by the white men from whom he had run away, and he was told that he
would have to work it out, which meant six months' additional toil.
Further, his share of the stolen tobacco earned him another year of
Port Adams was now three years and a half away, so he stole a canoe
one night, hid on the islets in Manning Straits, passed through the
Straits, and began working along the eastern coast of Ysabel, only to
be captured, two-thirds of the way along, by the white men on Meringe
Lagoon. After a week, he escaped from them and took to the bush. There
were no bush natives on Ysabel, only salt-water men, who were all
Christians. The white men put up a reward of five-hundred sticks of
tobacco, and every time Mauki ventured down to the sea to steal a
canoe he was chased by the salt-water men. Four months of this passed,
when, the reward having been raised to a thousand sticks, he was
caught and sent back to New Georgia and the road-building gang. Now a
thousand sticks are worth fifty dollars, and Mauki had to pay the
reward himself, which required a year and eight months' labor. So Port
Adams was now five years away.
His homesickness was greater than ever, and it did not appeal to him
to settle down and be good, work out his four years, and go home. The
next time, he was caught in the very act of running away. His case was
brought before Mr. Haveby, the island manager of the Moongleam Soap
Company, who adjudged him an incorrigible. The Company had plantations
on the Santa Cruz Islands, hundreds of miles across the sea, and there
it sent its Solomon Islands' incorrigibles. And there Mauki was sent,
though he never arrived. The schooner stopped at Santa Anna, and in
the night Mauki swam ashore, where he stole two rifles and a case of
tobacco from the trader and got away in a canoe to Cristoval. Malaita
was now to the north, fifty or sixty miles away. But when he attempted
the passage, he was caught by a light gale and driven back to Santa
Anna, where the trader clapped him in irons and held him against the
return of the schooner from Santa Cruz. The two rifles the trader
recovered, but the case of tobacco was charged up to Mauki at the rate
of another year. The sum of years he now owed the Company was six.
On the way back to New Georgia, the schooner dropped anchor in Marau
Sound, which lies at the southeastern extremity of Guadalcanar. Mauki
swam ashore with handcuffs on his wrists and got away to the bush. The
schooner went on, but the Moongleam trader ashore offered a thousand
sticks, and to him Mauki was brought by the bushmen with a year and
eight months tacked on to his account. Again, and before the schooner
called in, he got away, this time in a whale boat accompanied by a
case of the trader's tobacco. But a northwest gale wrecked him upon
Ugi, where the Christian natives stole his tobacco and turned him over
to the Moongleam trader who resided there. The tobacco the natives
stole meant another year for him, and the tale was now eight years and
"We'll send him to Lord Howe," said Mr. Haveby. "Bunster is there, and
we'll let them settle it between them. It will be a case, I imagine,
of Mauki getting Bunster, or Bunster getting Mauki, and good riddance
in either event."
If one leaves Meringe Lagoon, on Ysabel, and steers a course due
north, magnetic, at the end of one hundred and fifty miles he will
lift the pounded coral beaches of Lord Howe above the sea. Lord Howe
is a ring of land some one hundred and fifty miles in circumference,
several hundred yards wide at its widest, and towering in places to a
height of ten feet above sea level. Inside this ring of sand is a
mighty lagoon studded with coral patches. Lord Howe belongs to the
Solomons neither geographically nor ethnologically. It is an atoll,
while the Solomons are high islands; and its people and language are
Polynesian, while the inhabitants of the Solomons are Melanesian.
Lord Howe has been populated by the westward Polynesian drift which
continues to this day, big outrigger canoes being washed upon its
beaches by the southeast trade. That there has been a slight
Melanesian drift in the period of the northwest monsoon, is also
Nobody ever comes to Lord Howe, or Ontong-Java as it is sometimes
called. Thomas Cook & Son do not sell tickets to it, and tourists do
not dream of its existence. Not even a white missionary has landed on
its shore. Its five thousand natives are as peaceable as they are
primitive. Yet they were not always peaceable. The Sailing Directions
speak of them as hostile and treacherous. But the men who compile the
Sailing Directions have never heard of the change that was worked in
the hearts of the inhabitants, who, not many years ago, cut off a big
bark and killed all hands with the exception of the second mate. The
survivor carried the news to his brothers. The captains of three
trading schooners returned with him to Lord Howe. They sailed their
vessels right into the lagoon and proceeded to preach the white man's
gospel that only white men shall kill white men and that the lesser
breeds must keep hands off. The schooners sailed up and down the
lagoon, harrying and destroying. There was no escape from the narrow
sand-circle, no bush to which to flee. The men were shot down at
sight, and there was no avoiding being sighted. The villages were
burned, the canoes smashed, the chickens and pigs killed, and the
precious cocoanut trees chopped down. For a month this continued, when
the schooner sailed away; but the fear of the white man had been
seared into the souls of the islanders and never again were they rash
enough to harm one.
Max Bunster was the one white man on Lord Howe, trading in the pay of
the ubiquitous Moongleam Soap Company. And the Company billeted him on
Lord Howe, because, next to getting rid of him, it was the most
out-of-the-way place to be found. That the Company did not get rid of
him was due to the difficulty of finding another man to take his
place. He was a strapping big German, with something wrong in his
brain. Semi-madness would be a charitable statement of his condition.
He was a bully and a coward, and a thrice-bigger savage than any
savage on the island.
Being a coward, his brutality was of the cowardly order. When he first
went into the Company's employ, he was stationed on Savo. When a
consumptive colonial was sent to take his place, he beat him up with
his fists and sent him off a wreck in the schooner that brought him.
Mr. Haveby next selected a young Yorkshire giant to relieve Bunster.
The Yorkshire man had a reputation as a bruiser and preferred fighting
to eating. But Bunster wouldn't fight. He was a regular little
lamb--for ten days, at the end of which time the Yorkshire man was
prostrated by a combined attack of dysentery and fever. Then Bunster
went for him, among other things getting him down and jumping on him a
score or so of times. Afraid of what would happen when his victim
recovered. Bunster fled away in a cutter to Guvutu, where he
signalized himself by beating up a young Englishman already crippled
by a Boer bullet through both hips.
Then it was that Mr. Haveby sent Bunster to Lord Howe, the falling-off
place. He celebrated his landing by mopping up half a case of gin and
by thrashing the elderly and wheezy mate of the schooner which had
brought him. When the schooner departed, he called the kanakas down to
the beach and challenged them to throw him in a wrestling bout,
promising a case of tobacco to the one who succeeded. Three kanakas he
threw, but was promptly thrown by a fourth, who, instead of receiving
the tobacco, got a bullet through his lungs.
And so began Bunster's reign on Lord Howe. Three thousand people lived
in the principal village; but it was deserted, even in broad day, when
he passed through. Men, women, and children fled before him. Even the
dogs and pigs got out of the way, while the king was not above hiding
under a mat. The two prime ministers lived in terror of Bunster, who
never discussed any moot subject, but struck out with his fists
And to Lord Howe came Mauki, to toil for Bunster for eight long years
and a half. There was no escaping from Lord Howe. For better or worse,
Bunster and he were tied together. Bunster weighed two hundred pounds.
Mauki weighed one hundred and ten. Bunster was a degenerate brute. But
Mauki was a primitive savage. While both had wills and ways of their
Mauki had no idea of the sort of master he was to work for. He had had
no warnings, and he had concluded as a matter of course that Bunster
would be like other white men, a drinker of much whiskey, a ruler and
a lawgiver who always kept his word and who never struck a boy
undeserved. Bunster had the advantage. He knew all about Mauki, and
gloated over the coming into possession of him. The last cook was
suffering from a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder, so Bunster made
Mauki cook and general house-boy.
And Mauki soon learned that there were white men and white men. On
the very day the schooner departed he was ordered to buy a chicken
from Samisee, the native Tongan missionary. But Samisee had sailed
across the lagoon and would not be back for three days. Mauki returned
with the information. He climbed the steep stairway (the house stood
on piles twelve feet above the sand), and entered the living room to
report. The trader demanded the chicken. Mauki opened his mouth to
explain the missionary's absence. But Bunster did not care for
explanations. He struck out with his fist. The blow caught Mauki on
the mouth and lifted him into the air. Clear through the doorway he
flew, across the narrow veranda, breaking the top railing, and down to
His lips were a contused, shapeless mass, and his mouth was full of
blood and broken teeth.
"That'll teach you that back talk don't go with me," the trader
shouted, purple with rage, peering down at him over the broken
Mauki had never met a white man like this, and he resolved to walk
small and never offend. He saw the boat boys knocked about, and one of
them put in irons for three days with nothing to eat for the crime of
breaking a rowlock while pulling. Then, too, he heard the gossip of
the village and learned why Bunster had taken a third wife--by force,
as was well known. The first and second wives lay in the graveyard,
under the white coral sand, with slabs of coral rock at head and feet.
They had died, it was said, from beatings he had given them. The third
wife was certainly ill-used, as Mauki could see for himself.
But there was no way by which to avoid offending the white man who
seemed offended with life. When Mauki kept silent, he was struck and
called a sullen brute. When he spoke, he was struck for giving back
talk. When he was grave, Bunster accused him of plotting and gave him
a thrashing in advance; and when he strove to be cheerful and to
smile, he was charged with sneering at his lord and master and given a
taste of stick. Bunster was a devil.
The village would have done for him, had it not remembered the lesson
of the three schooners. It might have done for him anyway, if there
had been a bush to which to flee. As it was, the murder of the white
men, of any white man, would bring a man-of-war that would kill the
offenders and chop down the precious cocoanut trees. Then there were
the boat boys, with minds fully made up to drown him by accident at
the first opportunity to capsize the cutter. Only Bunster saw to it
that the boat did not capsize.
Mauki was of a different breed, and escape being impossible while
Bunster lived, he was resolved to get the white man. The trouble was
that he could never find a chance. Bunster was always on guard. Day
and night his revolvers were ready to hand. He permitted nobody to
pass behind his back, as Mauki learned after having been knocked down
several times. Bunster knew that he had more to fear from the
good-natured, even sweet-faced, Malaita boy than from the entire
population of Lord Howe; and it gave added zest to the programme of
torment he was carrying out. And Mauki walked small, accepted his
punishments, and waited.
All other white men had respected his tambos, but not so Bunster.
Mauki's weekly allowance of tobacco was two sticks. Bunster passed
them to his woman and ordered Mauki to receive them from her hand. But
this could not be, and Mauki went without his tobacco. In the same way
he was made to miss many a meal, and to go hungry many a day. He was
ordered to make chowder out of the big clams that grew in the lagoon.
This he could not do, for clams were tambo. Six times in succession he
refused to touch the clams, and six times he was knocked senseless.
Bunster knew that the boy would die first, but called his refusal
mutiny, and would have killed him had there been another cook to take
One of the trader's favorite tricks was to catch Mauki's kinky locks
and bat his head against the wall. Another trick was to catch Mauki
unawares and thrust the live end of a cigar against his flesh. This
Bunster called vaccination, and Mauki was vaccinated a number of times
a week. Once, in a rage, Bunster ripped the cup handle from Mauki's
nose, tearing the hole clear out of the cartilage.
"Oh, what a mug!" was his comment, when he surveyed the damage he had
The skin of a shark is like sandpaper, but the skin of a ray fish is
like a rasp. In the South Seas the natives use it as a wood file in
smoothing down canoes and paddles. Bunster had a mitten made of ray
fish skin. The first time he tried it on Mauki, with one sweep of the
hand it fetched the skin off his back from neck to armpit. Bunster was
delighted. He gave his wife a taste of the mitten, and tried it out
thoroughly on the boat boys. The prime ministers came in for a stroke
each, and they had to grin and take it for a joke.
"Laugh, damn you, laugh!" was the cue he gave.
Mauki came in for the largest share of the mitten. Never a day passed
without a caress from it. There were times when the loss of so much
cuticle kept him awake at night, and often the half-healed surface was
raked raw afresh by the facetious Mr. Bunster. Mauki continued his
patient wait, secure in the knowledge that sooner or later his time
would come. And he knew just what he was going to do, down to the
smallest detail, when the time did come.
One morning Bunster got up in a mood for knocking seven bells out of
the universe. He began on Mauki, and wound up on Mauki, in the
interval knocking down his wife and hammering all the boat boys. At
breakfast he called the coffee slops and threw the scalding contents
of the cup into Mauki's face. By ten o'clock Bunster was shivering
with ague, and half an hour later he was burning with fever. It was no
ordinary attack. It quickly became pernicious, and developed into
black-water fever. The days passed, and he grew weaker and weaker,
never leaving his bed. Mauki waited and watched, the while his skin
grew intact once more. He ordered the boys to beach the cutter, scrub
her bottom, and give her a general overhauling. They thought the order
emanated from Bunster, and they obeyed. But Bunster at the time was
lying unconscious and giving no orders. This was Mauki's chance, but
still he waited.
When the worst was past, and Bunster lay convalescent and conscious,
but weak as a baby, Mauki packed his few trinkets, including the china
cup handle, into his trade box. Then he went over to the village and
interviewed the king and his two prime ministers.
"This fella Bunster, him good fella you like too much?" he asked.
They explained in one voice that they liked the trader not at all. The
ministers poured forth a recital of all the indignities and wrongs
that had been heaped upon them. The king broke down and wept. Mauki
"You savve me--me big fella marster my country. You no like 'm this
fella white marster. Me no like 'm. Plenty good you put hundred
cocoanut, two hundred cocoanut, three hundred cocoanut along cutter.
Him finish, you go sleep 'm good fella. Altogether kanaka sleep m good
fella. Bime by big fella noise along house, you no savve hear 'm that
fella noise. You altogether sleep strong fella too much."
In like manner Mauki interviewed the boat boys. Then he ordered
Bunster's wife to return to her family house. Had she refused, he
would have been in a quandary, for his tambo would not have permitted
him to lay hands on her.
The house deserted, he entered the sleeping room, where the trader lay
in a doze. Mauki first removed the revolvers, then placed the ray fish
mitten on his hand. Bunster's first warning was a stroke of the mitten
that removed the skin the full length of his nose.
"Good fella, eh?" Mauki grinned, between two strokes, one of which
swept the forehead bare and the other of which cleaned off one side of
his face. "Laugh, damn you, laugh."
Mauki did his work throughly, and the kanakas, hiding in their houses,
heard the "big fella noise" that Bunster made and continued to make
for an hour or more.
When Mauki was done, he carried the boat compass and all the rifles
and ammunition down to the cutter, which he proceeded to ballast with
cases of tobacco. It was while engaged in this that a hideous,
skinless thing came out of the house and ran screaming down the beach
till it fell in the sand and mowed and gibbered under the scorching
sun. Mauki looked toward it and hesitated. Then he went over and
removed the head, which he wrapped in a mat and stowed in the stern
locker of the cutter.
So soundly did the kanakas sleep through that long hot day that they
did not see the cutter run out through the passage and head south,
close-hauled on the southeast trade. Nor was the cutter ever sighted
on that long tack to the shores of Ysabel, and during the tedious
head-beat from there to Malaita. He landed at Port Adams with a wealth
of rifles and tobacco such as no one man had ever possessed before.
But he did not stop there. He had taken a white man's head, and only
the bush could shelter him. So back he went to the bush villages,
where he shot old Fanfoa and half a dozen of the chief men, and made
himself the chief over all the villages. When his father died, Mauki's
brother ruled in Port Adams, and joined together, salt-water men and
bushmen, the resulting combination was the strongest of the ten score
fighting tribes of Malaita.
More than his fear of the British government was Mauki's fear of the
all-powerful Moongleam Soap Company; and one day a message came up to
him in the bush, reminding him that he owed the Company eight and
one-half years of labor. He sent back a favorable answer, and then
appeared the inevitable white man, the captain of the schooner, the
only white man during Mauki's reign, who ventured the bush and came
out alive. This man not only came out, but he brought with him seven
hundred and fifty dollars in gold sovereigns--the money price of eight
years and a half of labor plus the cost price of certain rifles and
cases of tobacco.
Mauki no longer weighs one hundred and ten pounds. His stomach is
three times its former girth, and he has four wives. He has many other
things--rifles and revolvers, the handle of a china cup, and an
excellent collection of bushmen's heads. But more precious than the
entire collection is another head, perfectly dried and cured, with
sandy hair and a yellowish beard, which is kept wrapped in the finest
of fibre lava-lavas. When Mauki goes to war with villages beyond his
realm, he invariably gets out this head, and alone in his grass
palace, contemplates it long and solemnly. At such times the hush of
death falls on the village, and not even a pickaninny dares make a
noise. The head is esteemed the most powerful devil-devil on Malaita,
and to the possession of it is ascribed all of Mauki's greatness.
"YAH! YAH! YAH!"
He was a whiskey-guzzling Scotchman, and he downed his whiskey neat,
beginning with his first tot punctually at six in the morning, and
thereafter repeating it at regular intervals throughout the day till
bedtime, which was usually midnight. He slept but five hours out of
the twenty-four, and for the remaining nineteen hours he was quietly
and decently drunk. During the eight weeks I spent with him on Oolong
Atoll, I never saw him draw a sober breath. In fact, his sleep was so
short that he never had time to sober up. It was the most beautiful
and orderly perennial drunk I have ever observed.
McAllister was his name. He was an old man, and very shaky on his
pins. His hand trembled as with a palsy, especially noticeable when he
poured his whiskey, though I never knew him to spill a drop. He had
been twenty-eight years in Melanesia, ranging from German New Guinea
to the German Solomons, and so thoroughly had he become identified
with that portion of the world, that he habitually spoke in that
bastard lingo called "bech-de-mer." Thus, in conversation with me, SUN
HE COME UP meant sunrise; KAI-KAI HE STOP meant that dinner was
served; and BELLY BELONG ME WALK ABOUT meant that he was sick at his
stomach. He was a small man, and a withered one, burned inside and
outside by ardent spirits and ardent sun. He was a cinder, a bit of a
clinker of a man, a little animated clinker, not yet quite cold, that
moved stiffly and by starts and jerks like an automaton. A gust of
wind would have blown him away. He weighed ninety pounds.
But the immense thing about him was the power with which he ruled.
Oolong Atoll was one hundred and forty miles in circumference. One
steered by compass course in its lagoon. It was populated by five
thousand Polynesians, all strapping men and women, many of them
standing six feet in height and weighing a couple of hundred pounds.
Oolong was two hundred and fifty miles from the nearest land. Twice a
year a little schooner called to collect copra. The one white man on
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