The Cruise of the Snark
Part 3 out of 4
splendid islanders in the South Seas. The men were described, as
"in almost every instance of lofty stature, scarcely ever less than
six feet in height."
And now all this strength and beauty has departed, and the valley of
Typee is the abode of some dozen wretched creatures, afflicted by
leprosy, elephantiasis, and tuberculosis. Melville estimated the
population at two thousand, not taking into consideration the small
adjoining valley of Ho-o-u-mi. Life has rotted away in this
wonderful garden spot, where the climate is as delightful and
healthful as any to be found in the world. Not alone were the
Typeans physically magnificent; they were pure. Their air did not
contain the bacilli and germs and microbes of disease that fill our
own air. And when the white men imported in their ships these
various micro-organisms or disease, the Typeans crumpled up and went
down before them.
When one considers the situation, one is almost driven to the
conclusion that the white race flourishes on impurity and
corruption. Natural selection, however, gives the explanation. We
of the white race are the survivors and the descendants of the
thousands of generations of survivors in the war with the micro-
organisms. Whenever one of us was born with a constitution
peculiarly receptive to these minute enemies, such a one promptly
died. Only those of us survived who could withstand them. We who
are alive are the immune, the fit--the ones best constituted to live
in a world of hostile micro-organisms. The poor Marquesans had
undergone no such selection. They were not immune. And they, who
had made a custom of eating their enemies, were now eaten by enemies
so microscopic as to be invisible, and against whom no war of dart
and javelin was possible. On the other hand, had there been a few
hundred thousand Marquesans to begin with, there might have been
sufficient survivors to lay the foundation for a new race--a
regenerated race, if a plunge into a festering bath of organic
poison can be called regeneration.
We unsaddled our horses for lunch, and after we had fought the
stallions apart--mine with several fresh chunks bitten out of his
back--and after we had vainly fought the sand-flies, we ate bananas
and tinned meats, washed down by generous draughts of cocoanut milk.
There was little to be seen. The jungle had rushed back and
engulfed the puny works of man. Here and there pai-pais were to be
stumbled upon, but there were no inscriptions, no hieroglyphics, no
clues to the past they attested--only dumb stones, builded and
carved by hands that were forgotten dust. Out of the pai-pais grew
great trees, jealous of the wrought work of man, splitting and
scattering the stones back into the primeval chaos.
We gave up the jungle and sought the stream with the idea of evading
the sand-flies. Vain hope! To go in swimming one must take off his
clothes. The sand-flies are aware of the fact, and they lurk by the
river bank in countless myriads. In the native they are called the
nau-nau, which is pronounced "now-now." They are certainly well
named, for they are the insistent present. There is no past nor
future when they fasten upon one's epidermis, and I am willing to
wager that Omer Khayyam could never have written the Rubaiyat in the
valley of Typee--it would have been psychologically impossible. I
made the strategic mistake of undressing on the edge of a steep bank
where I could dive in but could not climb out. When I was ready to
dress, I had a hundred yards' walk on the bank before I could reach
my clothes. At the first step, fully ten thousand nau-naus landed
upon me. At the second step I was walking in a cloud. By the third
step the sun was dimmed in the sky. After that I don't know what
happened. When I arrived at my clothes, I was a maniac. And here
enters my grand tactical error. There is only one rule of conduct
in dealing with nau-naus. Never swat them. Whatever you do, don't
swat them. They are so vicious that in the instant of annihilation
they eject their last atom of poison into your carcass. You must
pluck them delicately, between thumb and forefinger, and persuade
them gently to remove their proboscides from your quivering flesh.
It is like pulling teeth. But the difficulty was that the teeth
sprouted faster than I could pull them, so I swatted, and, so doing,
filled myself full with their poison. This was a week ago. At the
present moment I resemble a sadly neglected smallpox convalescent.
Ho-o-u-mi is a small valley, separated from Typee by a low ridge,
and thither we started when we had knocked our indomitable and
insatiable riding-animals into submission. As it was, Warren's
mount, after a mile run, selected the most dangerous part of the
trail for an exhibition that kept us all on the anxious seat for
fully five minutes. We rode by the mouth of Typee valley and gazed
down upon the beach from which Melville escaped. There was where
the whale-boat lay on its oars close in to the surf; and there was
where Karakoee, the taboo Kanaka, stood in the water and trafficked
for the sailor's life. There, surely, was where Melville gave
Fayaway the parting embrace ere he dashed for the boat. And there
was the point of land from which Mehevi and Mow-mow and their
following swam off to intercept the boat, only to have their wrists
gashed by sheath-knives when they laid hold of the gunwale, though
it was reserved for Mow-mow to receive the boat-hook full in the
throat from Melville's hands.
We rode on to Ho-o-u-mi. So closely was Melville guarded that he
never dreamed of the existence of this valley, though he must
continually have met its inhabitants, for they belonged to Typee.
We rode through the same abandoned pae-paes, but as we neared the
sea we found a profusion of cocoanuts, breadfruit trees and taro
patches, and fully a dozen grass dwellings. In one of these we
arranged to pass the night, and preparations were immediately put on
foot for a feast. A young pig was promptly despatched, and while he
was being roasted among hot stones, and while chickens were stewing
in cocoanut milk, I persuaded one of the cooks to climb an unusually
tall cocoanut palm. The cluster of nuts at the top was fully one
hundred and twenty-five feet from the ground, but that native strode
up to the tree, seized it in both hands, jack-knived at the waist so
that the soles of his feet rested flatly against the trunk, and then
he walked right straight up without stopping. There were no notches
in the tree. He had no ropes to help him. He merely walked up the
tree, one hundred and twenty-five feet in the air, and cast down the
nuts from the summit. Not every man there had the physical stamina
for such a feat, or the lungs, rather, for most of them were
coughing their lives away. Some of the women kept up a ceaseless
moaning and groaning, so badly were their lungs wasted. Very few of
either sex were full-blooded Marquesans. They were mostly half-
breeds and three-quarter-breeds of French, English, Danish, and
Chinese extraction. At the best, these infusions of fresh blood
merely delayed the passing, and the results led one to wonder
whether it was worth while.
The feast was served on a broad pae-pae, the rear portion of which
was occupied by the house in which we were to sleep. The first
course was raw fish and poi-poi, the latter sharp and more acrid of
taste than the poi of Hawaii, which is made from taro. The poi-poi
of the Marquesas is made from breadfruit. The ripe fruit, after the
core is removed, is placed in a calabash and pounded with a stone
pestle into a stiff, sticky paste. In this stage of the process,
wrapped in leaves, it can be buried in the ground, where it will
keep for years. Before it can be eaten, however, further processes
are necessary. A leaf-covered package is placed among hot stones,
like the pig, and thoroughly baked. After that it is mixed with
cold water and thinned out--not thin enough to run, but thin enough
to be eaten by sticking one's first and second fingers into it. On
close acquaintance it proves a pleasant and most healthful food.
And breadfruit, ripe and well boiled or roasted! It is delicious.
Breadfruit and taro are kingly vegetables, the pair of them, though
the former is patently a misnomer and more resembles a sweet potato
than anything else, though it is not mealy like a sweet potato, nor
is it so sweet.
The feast ended, we watched the moon rise over Typee. The air was
like balm, faintly scented with the breath of flowers. It was a
magic night, deathly still, without the slightest breeze to stir the
foliage; and one caught one's breath and felt the pang that is
almost hurt, so exquisite was the beauty of it. Faint and far could
be heard the thin thunder of the surf upon the beach. There were no
beds; and we drowsed and slept wherever we thought the floor
softest. Near by, a woman panted and moaned in her sleep, and all
about us the dying islanders coughed in the night.
CHAPTER XI--THE NATURE MAN
I first met him on Market Street in San Francisco. It was a wet and
drizzly afternoon, and he was striding along, clad solely in a pair
of abbreviated knee-trousers and an abbreviated shirt, his bare feet
going slick-slick through the pavement-slush. At his heels trooped
a score of excited gamins. Every head--and there were thousands--
turned to glance curiously at him as he went by. And I turned, too.
Never had I seen such lovely sunburn. He was all sunburn, of the
sort a blond takes on when his skin does not peel. His long yellow
hair was burnt, so was his beard, which sprang from a soil
unploughed by any razor. He was a tawny man, a golden-tawny man,
all glowing and radiant with the sun. Another prophet, thought I,
come up to town with a message that will save the world.
A few weeks later I was with some friends in their bungalow in the
Piedmont hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. "We've got him, we've
got him," they barked. "We caught him up a tree; but he's all right
now, he'll feed from the hand. Come on and see him." So I
accompanied them up a dizzy hill, and in a rickety shack in the
midst of a eucalyptus grove found my sunburned prophet of the city
He hastened to meet us, arriving in the whirl and blur of a
handspring. He did not shake hands with us; instead, his greeting
took the form of stunts. He turned more handsprings. He twisted
his body sinuously, like a snake, until, having sufficiently
limbered up, he bent from the hips, and, with legs straight and
knees touching, beat a tattoo on the ground with the palms of his
hands. He whirligigged and pirouetted, dancing and cavorting round
like an inebriated ape. All the sun-warmth of his ardent life
beamed in his face. I am so happy, was the song without words he
He sang it all evening, ringing the changes on it with an endless
variety of stunts. "A fool! a fool! I met a fool in the forest!"
thought I, and a worthy fool he proved. Between handsprings and
whirligigs he delivered his message that would save the world. It
was twofold. First, let suffering humanity strip off its clothing
and run wild in the mountains and valleys; and, second, let the very
miserable world adopt phonetic spelling. I caught a glimpse of the
great social problems being settled by the city populations swarming
naked over the landscape, to the popping of shot-guns, the barking
of ranch-dogs, and countless assaults with pitchforks wielded by
The years passed, and, one sunny morning, the Snark poked her nose
into a narrow opening in a reef that smoked with the crashing impact
of the trade-wind swell, and beat slowly up Papeete harbour. Coming
off to us was a boat, flying a yellow flag. We knew it contained
the port doctor. But quite a distance off, in its wake, was a tiny
out rigger canoe that puzzled us. It was flying a red flag. I
studied it through the glasses, fearing that it marked some hidden
danger to navigation, some recent wreck or some buoy or beacon that
had been swept away. Then the doctor came on board. After he had
examined the state of our health and been assured that we had no
live rats hidden away in the Snark, I asked him the meaning of the
red flag. "Oh, that is Darling," was the answer.
And then Darling, Ernest Darling flying the red flag that is
indicative of the brotherhood of man, hailed us. "Hello, Jack!" he
called. "Hello, Charmian! He paddled swiftly nearer, and I saw
that he was the tawny prophet of the Piedmont hills. He came over
the side, a sun-god clad in a scarlet loin-cloth, with presents of
Arcady and greeting in both his hands--a bottle of golden honey and
a leaf-basket filled WITH great golden mangoes, golden bananas
specked with freckles of deeper gold, golden pine-apples and golden
limes, and juicy oranges minted from the same precious ore of sun
and soil. And in this fashion under the southern sky, I met once
more Darling, the Nature Man.
Tahiti is one of the most beautiful spots in the world, inhabited by
thieves and robbers and liars, also by several honest and truthful
men and women. Wherefore, because of the blight cast upon Tahiti's
wonderful beauty by the spidery human vermin that infest it, I am
minded to write, not of Tahiti, but of the Nature Man. He, at
least, is refreshing and wholesome. The spirit that emanates from
him is so gentle and sweet that it would harm nothing, hurt nobody's
feelings save the feelings of a predatory and plutocratic
"What does this red flag mean?" I asked.
"Socialism, of course."
"Yes, yes, I know that," I went on; "but what does it mean in your
"Why, that I've found my message."
"And that you are delivering it to Tahiti?" I demanded
"Sure," he answered simply; and later on I found that he was, too.
When we dropped anchor, lowered a small boat into the water, and
started ashore, the Nature Man joined us. Now, thought I, I shall
be pestered to death by this crank. Waking or sleeping I shall
never be quit of him until I sail away from here.
But never in my life was I more mistaken. I took a house and went
to live and work in it, and the Nature Man never came near me. He
was waiting for the invitation. In the meantime he went aboard the
Snark and took possession of her library, delighted by the quantity
of scientific books, and shocked, as I learned afterwards, by the
inordinate amount of fiction. The Nature Man never wastes time on
After a week or so, my conscience smote me, and I invited him to
dinner at a downtown hotel.
He arrived, looking unwontedly stiff and uncomfortable in a cotton
jacket. When invited to peel it off, he beamed his gratitude and
joy, and did so, revealing his sun-gold skin, from waist to
shoulder, covered only by a piece of fish-net of coarse twine and
large of mesh. A scarlet loin-cloth completed his costume. I began
my acquaintance with him that night, and during my long stay in
Tahiti that acquaintance ripened into friendship.
"So you write books," he said, one day when, tired and sweaty, I
finished my morning's work.
"I, too, write books," he announced.
Aha, thought I, now at last is he going to pester me with his
literary efforts. My soul was in revolt. I had not come all the
way to the South Seas to be a literary bureau.
"This is the book I write," he explained, smashing himself a
resounding blow on the chest with his clenched fist. "The gorilla
in the African jungle pounds his chest till the noise of it can be
heard half a mile away."
"A pretty good chest," quoth I, admiringly; "it would even make a
And then, and later, I learned the details of the marvellous book
Ernest Darling had written. Twelve years ago he lay close to death.
He weighed but ninety pounds, and was too weak to speak. The
doctors had given him up. His father, a practising physician, had
given him up. Consultations with other physicians had been held
upon him. There was no hope for him. Overstudy (as a school-
teacher and as a university student) and two successive attacks of
pneumonia were responsible for his breakdown. Day by day he was
losing strength. He could extract no nutrition from the heavy foods
they gave him; nor could pellets and powders help his stomach to do
the work of digestion. Not only was he a physical wreck, but he was
a mental wreck. His mind was overwrought. He was sick and tired of
medicine, and he was sick and tired of persons. Human speech jarred
upon him. Human attentions drove him frantic. The thought came to
him that since he was going to die, he might as well die in the
open, away from all the bother and irritation. And behind this idea
lurked a sneaking idea that perhaps he would not die after all if
only he could escape from the heavy foods, the medicines, and the
well-intentioned persons who made him frantic.
So Ernest Darling, a bag of bones and a death's-head, a
perambulating corpse, with just the dimmest flutter of life in it to
make it perambulate, turned his back upon men and the habitations of
men and dragged himself for five miles through the brush, away from
the city of Portland, Oregon. Of course he was crazy. Only a
lunatic would drag himself out of his death-bed.
But in the brush, Darling found what he was looking for--rest.
Nobody bothered him with beefsteaks and pork. No physicians
lacerated his tired nerves by feeling his pulse, nor tormented his
tired stomach with pellets and powders. He began to feel soothed.
The sun was shining warm, and he basked in it. He had the feeling
that the sun shine was an elixir of health. Then it seemed to him
that his whole wasted wreck of a body was crying for the sun. He
stripped off his clothes and bathed in the sunshine. He felt
better. It had done him good--the first relief in weary months of
As he grew better, he sat up and began to take notice. All about
him were the birds fluttering and chirping, the squirrels chattering
and playing. He envied them their health and spirits, their happy,
care-free existence. That he should contrast their condition with
his was inevitable; and that he should question why they were
splendidly vigorous while he was a feeble, dying wraith of a man,
was likewise inevitable. His conclusion was the very obvious one,
namely, that they lived naturally, while he lived most unnaturally
therefore, if he intended to live, he must return to nature.
Alone, there in the brush, he worked out his problem and began to
apply it. He stripped off his clothing and leaped and gambolled
about, running on all fours, climbing trees; in short, doing
physical stunts,--and all the time soaking in the sunshine. He
imitated the animals. He built a nest of dry leaves and grasses in
which to sleep at night, covering it over with bark as a protection
against the early fall rains. "Here is a beautiful exercise," he
told me, once, flapping his arms mightily against his sides; "I
learned it from watching the roosters crow." Another time I
remarked the loud, sucking intake with which he drank cocoanut-milk.
He explained that he had noticed the cows drinking that way and
concluded there must be something in it. He tried it and found it
good, and thereafter he drank only in that fashion.
He noted that the squirrels lived on fruits and nuts. He started on
a fruit-and-nut diet, helped out by bread, and he grew stronger and
put on weight. For three months he continued his primordial
existence in the brush, and then the heavy Oregon rains drove him
back to the habitations of men. Not in three months could a ninety-
pound survivor of two attacks of pneumonia develop sufficient
ruggedness to live through an Oregon winter in the open.
He had accomplished much, but he had been driven in. There was no
place to go but back to his father's house, and there, living in
close rooms with lungs that panted for all the air of the open sky,
he was brought down by a third attack of pneumonia. He grew weaker
even than before. In that tottering tabernacle of flesh, his brain
collapsed. He lay like a corpse, too weak to stand the fatigue of
speaking, too irritated and tired in his miserable brain to care to
listen to the speech of others. The only act of will of which he
was capable was to stick his fingers in his ears and resolutely to
refuse to hear a single word that was spoken to him. They sent for
the insanity experts. He was adjudged insane, and also the verdict
was given that he would not live a month.
By one such mental expert he was carted off to a sanatorium on Mt.
Tabor. Here, when they learned that he was harmless, they gave him
his own way. They no longer dictated as to the food he ate, so he
resumed his fruits and nuts--olive oil, peanut butter, and bananas
the chief articles of his diet. As he regained his strength he made
up his mind to live thenceforth his own life. If he lived like
others, according to social conventions, he would surely die. And
he did not want to die. The fear of death was one of the strongest
factors in the genesis of the Nature Man. To live, he must have a
natural diet, the open air, and the blessed sunshine.
Now an Oregon winter has no inducements for those who wish to return
to Nature, so Darling started out in search of a climate. He
mounted a bicycle and headed south for the sunlands. Stanford
University claimed him for a year. Here he studied and worked his
way, attending lectures in as scant garb as the authorities would
allow and applying as much as possible the principles of living that
he had learned in squirrel-town. His favourite method of study was
to go off in the hills back of the University, and there to strip
off his clothes and lie on the grass, soaking in sunshine and health
at the same time that he soaked in knowledge.
But Central California has her winters, and the quest for a Nature
Man's climate drew him on. He tried Los Angeles and Southern
California, being arrested a few times and brought before the
insanity commissions because, forsooth, his mode of life was not
modelled after the mode of life of his fellow-men. He tried Hawaii,
where, unable to prove him insane, the authorities deported him. It
was not exactly a deportation. He could have remained by serving a
year in prison. They gave him his choice. Now prison is death to
the Nature Man, who thrives only in the open air and in God's
sunshine. The authorities of Hawaii are not to be blamed. Darling
was an undesirable citizen. Any man is undesirable who disagrees
with one. And that any man should disagree to the extent Darling
did in his philosophy of the simple life is ample vindication of the
Hawaiian authorities verdict of his undesirableness.
So Darling went thence in search of a climate which would not only
be desirable, but wherein he would not be undesirable. And he found
it in Tahiti, the garden-spot of garden-spots. And so it was,
according to the narrative as given, that he wrote the pages of his
book. He wears only a loin-cloth and a sleeveless fish-net shirt.
His stripped weight is one hundred and sixty-five pounds. His
health is perfect. His eyesight, that at one time was considered
ruined, is excellent. The lungs that were practically destroyed by
three attacks of pneumonia have not only recovered, but are stronger
than ever before.
I shall never forget the first time, while talking to me, that he
squashed a mosquito. The stinging pest had settled in the middle of
his back between his shoulders. Without interrupting the flow of
conversation, without dropping even a syllable, his clenched fist
shot up in the air, curved backward, and smote his back between the
shoulders, killing the mosquito and making his frame resound like a
bass drum. It reminded me of nothing so much as of horses kicking
the woodwork in their stalls.
"The gorilla in the African jungle pounds his chest until the noise
of it can be heard half a mile away," he will announce suddenly, and
thereat beat a hair-raising, devil's tattoo on his own chest.
One day he noticed a set of boxing-gloves hanging on the wall, and
promptly his eyes brightened.
"Do you box?" I asked.
"I used to give lessons in boxing when I was at Stanford," was the
And there and then we stripped and put on the gloves. Bang! a long,
gorilla arm flashed out, landing the gloved end on my nose. Biff!
he caught me, in a duck, on the side of the head nearly knocking me
over sidewise. I carried the lump raised by that blow for a week.
I ducked under a straight left, and landed a straight right on his
stomach. It was a fearful blow. The whole weight of my body was
behind it, and his body had been met as it lunged forward. I looked
for him to crumple up and go down. Instead of which his face beamed
approval, and he said, "That was beautiful." The next instant I was
covering up and striving to protect myself from a hurricane of
hooks, jolts, and uppercuts. Then I watched my chance and drove in
for the solar plexus. I hit the mark. The Nature Man dropped his
arms, gasped, and sat down suddenly.
"I'll be all right," he said. "Just wait a moment."
And inside thirty seconds he was on his feet--ay, and returning the
compliment, for he hooked me in the solar plexus, and I gasped,
dropped my hands, and sat down just a trifle more suddenly than he
All of which I submit as evidence that the man I boxed with was a
totally different man from the poor, ninety-pound weight of eight
years before, who, given up by physicians and alienists, lay gasping
his life away in a closed room in Portland, Oregon. The book that
Ernest Darling has written is a good book, and the binding is good,
Hawaii has wailed for years her need for desirable immigrants. She
has spent much time, and thought, and money, in importing desirable
citizens, and she has, as yet, nothing much to show for it. Yet
Hawaii deported the Nature Man. She refused to give him a chance.
So it is, to chasten Hawaii's proud spirit, that I take this
opportunity to show her what she has lost in the Nature Man. When
he arrived in Tahiti, he proceeded to seek out a piece of land on
which to grow the food he ate. But land was difficult to find--that
is, inexpensive land. The Nature Man was not rolling in wealth. He
spent weeks in wandering over the steep hills, until, high up the
mountain, where clustered several tiny canyons, he found eighty
acres of brush-jungle which were apparently unrecorded as the
property of any one. The government officials told him that if he
would clear the land and till it for thirty years he would be given
a title for it.
Immediately he set to work. And never was there such work. Nobody
farmed that high up. The land was covered with matted jungle and
overrun by wild pigs and countless rats. The view of Papeete and
the sea was magnificent, but the outlook was not encouraging. He
spent weeks in building a road in order to make the plantation
accessible. The pigs and the rats ate up whatever he planted as
fast as it sprouted. He shot the pigs and trapped the rats. Of the
latter, in two weeks he caught fifteen hundred. Everything had to
be carried up on his back. He usually did his packhorse work at
Gradually he began to win out. A grass-walled house was built. On
the fertile, volcanic soil he had wrested from the jungle and jungle
beasts were growing five hundred cocoanut trees, five hundred papaia
trees, three hundred mango trees, many breadfruit trees and
alligator-pear trees, to say nothing of vines, bushes, and
vegetables. He developed the drip of the hills in the canyons and
worked out an efficient irrigation scheme, ditching the water from
canyon to canyon and paralleling the ditches at different altitudes.
His narrow canyons became botanical gardens. The arid shoulders of
the hills, where formerly the blazing sun had parched the jungle and
beaten it close to earth, blossomed into trees and shrubs and
flowers. Not only had the Nature Man become self-supporting, but he
was now a prosperous agriculturist with produce to sell to the city-
dwellers of Papeete.
Then it was discovered that his land, which the government officials
had informed him was without an owner, really had an owner, and that
deeds, descriptions, etc., were on record. All his work bade fare
to be lost. The land had been valueless when he took it up, and the
owner, a large landholder, was unaware of the extent to which the
Nature Man had developed it. A just price was agreed upon, and
Darling's deed was officially filed.
Next came a more crushing blow. Darling's access to market was
destroyed. The road he had built was fenced across by triple barb-
wire fences. It was one of those jumbles in human affairs that is
so common in this absurdest of social systems. Behind it was the
fine hand of the same conservative element that haled the Nature Man
before the Insanity Commission in Los Angeles and that deported him
from Hawaii. It is so hard for self-satisfied men to understand any
man whose satisfactions are fundamentally different. It seems clear
that the officials have connived with the conservative element, for
to this day the road the Nature Man built is closed; nothing has
been done about it, while an adamant unwillingness to do anything
about it is evidenced on every hand. But the Nature Man dances and
sings along his way. He does not sit up nights thinking about the
wrong which has been done him; he leaves the worrying to the doers
of the wrong. He has no time for bitterness. He believes he is in
the world for the purpose of being happy, and he has not a moment to
waste in any other pursuit.
The road to his plantation is blocked. He cannot build a new road,
for there is no ground on which he can build it. The government has
restricted him to a wild-pig trail which runs precipitously up the
mountain. I climbed the trail with him, and we had to climb with
hands and feet in order to get up. Nor can that wild-pig trail be
made into a road by any amount of toil less than that of an
engineer, a steam-engine, and a steel cable. But what does the
Nature Man care? In his gentle ethics the evil men do him he
requites with goodness. And who shall say he is not happier than
"Never mind their pesky road," he said to me as we dragged ourselves
up a shelf of rock and sat down, panting, to rest. "I'll get an air
machine soon and fool them. I'm clearing a level space for a
landing stage for the airships, and next time you come to Tahiti you
will alight right at my door."
Yes, the Nature Man has some strange ideas besides that of the
gorilla pounding his chest in the African jungle. The Nature Man
has ideas about levitation. "Yes, sir," he said to me, "levitation
is not impossible. And think of the glory of it--lifting one's self
from the ground by an act of will. Think of it! The astronomers
tell us that our whole solar system is dying; that, barring
accidents, it will all be so cold that no life can live upon it.
Very well. In that day all men will be accomplished levitationists,
and they will leave this perishing planet and seek more hospitable
worlds. How can levitation be accomplished? By progressive fasts.
Yes, I have tried them, and toward the end I could feel myself
actually getting lighter."
The man is a maniac, thought I.
"Of course," he added, "these are only theories of mine. I like to
speculate upon the glorious future of man. Levitation may not be
possible, but I like to think of it as possible."
One evening, when he yawned, I asked him how much sleep he allowed
"Seven hours," was the answer. "But in ten years I'll be sleeping
only six hours, and in twenty years only five hours. You see, I
shall cut off an hour's sleep every ten years."
"Then when you are a hundred you won't be sleeping at all," I
"Just that. Exactly that. When I am a hundred I shall not require
sleep. Also, I shall be living on air. There are plants that live
on air, you know."
"But has any man ever succeeded in doing it?"
He shook his head.
"I never heard of him if he did. But it is only a theory of mine,
this living on air. It would be fine, wouldn't it? Of course it
may be impossible--most likely it is. You see, I am not
unpractical. I never forget the present. When I soar ahead into
the future, I always leave a string by which to find my way back
I fear me the Nature Man is a joker. At any rate he lives the
simple life. His laundry bill cannot be large. Up on his
plantation he lives on fruit the labour cost of which, in cash, he
estimates at five cents a day. At present, because of his
obstructed road and because he is head over heels in the propaganda
of socialism, he is living in town, where his expenses, including
rent, are twenty-five cents a day. In order to pay those expenses
he is running a night school for Chinese.
The Nature Man is not bigoted. When there is nothing better to eat
than meat, he eats meat, as, for instance, when in jail or on
shipboard and the nuts and fruits give out. Nor does he seem to
crystallize into anything except sunburn.
"Drop anchor anywhere and the anchor will drag--that is, if your
soul is a limitless, fathomless sea, and not dog-pound," he quoted
to me, then added: "You see, my anchor is always dragging. I live
for human health and progress, and I strive to drag my anchor always
in that direction. To me, the two are identical. Dragging anchor
is what has saved me. My anchor did not hold me to my death-bed. I
dragged anchor into the brush and fooled the doctors. When I
recovered health and strength, I started, by preaching and by
example, to teach the people to become nature men and nature women.
But they had deaf ears. Then, on the steamer coming to Tahiti, a
quarter-master expounded socialism to me. He showed me that an
economic square deal was necessary before men and women could live
naturally. So I dragged anchor once more, and now I am working for
the co-operative commonwealth. When that arrives, it will be easy
to bring about nature living.
"I had a dream last night," he went on thoughtfully, his face slowly
breaking into a glow. "It seemed that twenty-five nature men and
nature women had just arrived on the steamer from California, and
that I was starting to go with them up the wild-pig trail to the
Ah, me, Ernest Darling, sun-worshipper and nature man, there are
times when I am compelled to envy you and your carefree existence.
I see you now, dancing up the steps and cutting antics on the
veranda; your hair dripping from a plunge in the salt sea, your eyes
sparkling, your sun-gilded body flashing, your chest resounding to
the devil's own tattoo as you chant: "The gorilla in the African
jungle pounds his chest until the noise of it can be heard half a
mile away." And I shall see you always as I saw you that last day,
when the Snark poked her nose once more through the passage in the
smoking reef, outward bound, and I waved good-bye to those on shore.
Not least in goodwill and affection was the wave I gave to the
golden sun-god in the scarlet loin-cloth, standing upright in his
tiny outrigger canoe.
CHAPTER XII--THE HIGH SEAT OF ABUNDANCE
On the arrival of strangers, every man endeavoured to obtain one as
a friend and carry him off to his own habitation, where he is
treated with the greatest kindness by the inhabitants of the
district; they place him on a high seat and feed him with abundance
of the finest food.--Polynesian Researches.
The Snark was lying at anchor at Raiatea, just off the village of
Uturoa. She had arrived the night before, after dark, and we were
preparing to pay our first visit ashore. Early in the morning I had
noticed a tiny outrigger canoe, with an impossible spritsail,
skimming the surface of the lagoon. The canoe itself was coffin-
shaped, a mere dugout, fourteen feet long, a scant twelve inches
wide, and maybe twenty-four inches deep. It had no lines, except in
so far that it was sharp at both ends. Its sides were
perpendicular. Shorn of the outrigger, it would have capsized of
itself inside a tenth of a second. It was the outrigger that kept
it right side up.
I have said that the sail was impossible. It was. It was one of
those things, not that you have to see to believe, but that you
cannot believe after you have seen it. The hoist of it and the
length of its boom were sufficiently appalling; but, not content
with that, its artificer had given it a tremendous head. So large
was the head that no common sprit could carry the strain of it in an
ordinary breeze. So a spar had been lashed to the canoe, projecting
aft over the water. To this had been made fast a sprit guy: thus,
the foot of the sail was held by the main-sheet, and the peak by the
guy to the sprit.
It was not a mere boat, not a mere canoe, but a sailing machine.
And the man in it sailed it by his weight and his nerve--principally
by the latter. I watched the canoe beat up from leeward and run in
toward the village, its sole occupant far out on the outrigger and
luffing up and spilling the wind in the puffs.
"Well, I know one thing," I announced; "I don't leave Raiatea till I
have a ride in that canoe."
A few minutes later Warren called down the companionway, "Here's
that canoe you were talking about."
Promptly I dashed on deck and gave greeting to its owner, a tall,
slender Polynesian, ingenuous of face, and with clear, sparkling,
intelligent eyes. He was clad in a scarlet loin-cloth and a straw
hat. In his hands were presents--a fish, a bunch of greens, and
several enormous yams. All of which acknowledged by smiles (which
are coinage still in isolated spots of Polynesia) and by frequent
repetitions of mauruuru (which is the Tahitian "thank you"), I
proceeded to make signs that I desired to go for a sail in his
His face lighted with pleasure and he uttered the single word,
"Tahaa," turning at the same time and pointing to the lofty, cloud-
draped peaks of an island three miles away--the island of Tahaa. It
was fair wind over, but a head-beat back. Now I did not want to go
to Tahaa. I had letters to deliver in Raiatea, and officials to
see, and there was Charmian down below getting ready to go ashore.
By insistent signs I indicated that I desired no more than a short
sail on the lagoon. Quick was the disappointment in his face, yet
smiling was the acquiescence.
"Come on for a sail," I called below to Charmian. "But put on your
swimming suit. It's going to be wet."
It wasn't real. It was a dream. That canoe slid over the water
like a streak of silver. I climbed out on the outrigger and
supplied the weight to hold her down, while Tehei (pronounced
Tayhayee) supplied the nerve. He, too, in the puffs, climbed part
way out on the outrigger, at the same time steering with both hands
on a large paddle and holding the mainsheet with his foot.
"Ready about!" he called.
I carefully shifted my weight inboard in order to maintain the
equilibrium as the sail emptied.
"Hard a-lee!" he called, shooting her into the wind.
I slid out on the opposite side over the water on a spar lashed
across the canoe, and we were full and away on the other tack.
"All right," said Tehei.
Those three phrases, "Ready about," "Hard a-lee," and "All right,"
comprised Tehei's English vocabulary and led me to suspect that at
some time he had been one of a Kanaka crew under an American
captain. Between the puffs I made signs to him and repeatedly and
interrogatively uttered the word SAILOR. Then I tried it in
atrocious French. MARIN conveyed no meaning to him; nor did
MATELOT. Either my French was bad, or else he was not up in it. I
have since concluded that both conjectures were correct. Finally, I
began naming over the adjacent islands. He nodded that he had been
to them. By the time my quest reached Tahiti, he caught my drift.
His thought-processes were almost visible, and it was a joy to watch
him think. He nodded his head vigorously. Yes, he had been to
Tahiti, and he added himself names of islands such as Tikihau,
Rangiroa, and Fakarava, thus proving that he had sailed as far as
the Paumotus--undoubtedly one of the crew of a trading schooner.
After our short sail, when he had returned on board, he by signs
inquired the destination of the Snark, and when I had mentioned
Samoa, Fiji, New Guinea, France, England, and California in their
geographical sequence, he said "Samoa," and by gestures intimated
that he wanted to go along. Whereupon I was hard put to explain
that there was no room for him. "Petit bateau" finally solved it,
and again the disappointment in his face was accompanied by smiling
acquiescence, and promptly came the renewed invitation to accompany
him to Tahaa.
Charmian and I looked at each other. The exhilaration of the ride
we had taken was still upon us. Forgotten were the letters to
Raiatea, the officials we had to visit. Shoes, a shirt, a pair of
trousers, cigarettes matches, and a book to read were hastily
crammed into a biscuit tin and wrapped in a rubber blanket, and we
were over the side and into the canoe.
"When shall we look for you?" Warren called, as the wind filled the
sail and sent Tehei and me scurrying out on the outrigger.
"I don't know," I answered. "When we get back, as near as I can
And away we went. The wind had increased, and with slacked sheets
we ran off before it. The freeboard of the canoe was no more than
two and a half inches, and the little waves continually lapped over
the side. This required bailing. Now bailing is one of the
principal functions of the vahine. Vahine is the Tahitian for
woman, and Charmian being the only vahine aboard, the bailing fell
appropriately to her. Tehei and I could not very well do it, the
both of us being perched part way out on the outrigger and busied
with keeping the canoe bottom-side down. So Charmian bailed, with a
wooden scoop of primitive design, and so well did she do it that
there were occasions when she could rest off almost half the time.
Raiatea and Tahaa are unique in that they lie inside the same
encircling reef. Both are volcanic islands, ragged of sky-line,
with heaven-aspiring peaks and minarets. Since Raiatea is thirty
miles in circumference, and Tahaa fifteen miles, some idea may be
gained of the magnitude of the reef that encloses them. Between
them and the reef stretches from one to two miles of water, forming
a beautiful lagoon. The huge Pacific seas, extending in unbroken
lines sometimes a mile or half as much again in length, hurl
themselves upon the reef, overtowering and falling upon it with
tremendous crashes, and yet the fragile coral structure withstands
the shock and protects the land. Outside lies destruction to the
mightiest ship afloat. Inside reigns the calm of untroubled water,
whereon a canoe like ours can sail with no more than a couple of
inches of free-board.
We flew over the water. And such water!--clear as the clearest
spring-water, and crystalline in its clearness, all intershot with a
maddening pageant of colours and rainbow ribbons more magnificently
gorgeous than any rainbow. Jade green alternated with turquoise,
peacock blue with emerald, while now the canoe skimmed over reddish
purple pools, and again over pools of dazzling, shimmering white
where pounded coral sand lay beneath and upon which oozed monstrous
sea-slugs. One moment we were above wonder-gardens of coral,
wherein coloured fishes disported, fluttering like marine
butterflies; the next moment we were dashing across the dark surface
of deep channels, out of which schools of flying fish lifted their
silvery flight; and a third moment we were above other gardens of
living coral, each more wonderful than the last. And above all was
the tropic, trade-wind sky with its fluffy clouds racing across the
zenith and heaping the horizon with their soft masses.
Before we were aware, we were close in to Tahaa (pronounced Tah-hah-
ah, with equal accents), and Tehei was grinning approval of the
vahine's proficiency at bailing. The canoe grounded on a shallow
shore, twenty feet from land, and we waded out on a soft bottom
where big slugs curled and writhed under our feet and where small
octopuses advertised their existence by their superlative softness
when stepped upon. Close to the beach, amid cocoanut palms and
banana trees, erected on stilts, built of bamboo, with a grass-
thatched roof, was Tehei's house. And out of the house came Tehei's
vahine, a slender mite of a woman, kindly eyed and Mongolian of
feature--when she was not North American Indian. "Bihaura," Tehei
called her, but he did not pronounce it according to English notions
of spelling. Spelled "Bihaura," it sounded like Bee-ah-oo-rah, with
every syllable sharply emphasized.
She took Charmian by the hand and led her into the house, leaving
Tehei and me to follow. Here, by sign-language unmistakable, we
were informed that all they possessed was ours. No hidalgo was ever
more generous in the expression of giving, while I am sure that few
hidalgos were ever as generous in the actual practice. We quickly
discovered that we dare not admire their possessions, for whenever
we did admire a particular object it was immediately presented to
us. The two vahines, according to the way of vahines, got together
in a discussion and examination of feminine fripperies, while Tehei
and I, manlike, went over fishing-tackle and wild-pig-hunting, to
say nothing of the device whereby bonitas are caught on forty-foot
poles from double canoes. Charmian admired a sewing basket--the
best example she had seen of Polynesian basketry; it was hers. I
admired a bonita hook, carved in one piece from a pearl-shell; it
was mine. Charmian was attracted by a fancy braid of straw sennit,
thirty feet of it in a roll, sufficient to make a hat of any design
one wished; the roll of sennit was hers. My gaze lingered upon a
poi-pounder that dated back to the old stone days; it was mine.
Charmian dwelt a moment too long on a wooden poi-bowl, canoe-shaped,
with four legs, all carved in one piece of wood; it was hers. I
glanced a second time at a gigantic cocoanut calabash; it was mine.
Then Charmian and I held a conference in which we resolved to admire
no more--not because it did not pay well enough, but because it paid
too well. Also, we were already racking our brains over the
contents of the Snark for suitable return presents. Christmas is an
easy problem compared with a Polynesian giving-feast.
We sat on the cool porch, on Bihaura's best mats while dinner was
preparing, and at the same time met the villagers. In twos and
threes and groups they strayed along, shaking hands and uttering the
Tahitian word of greeting--Ioarana, pronounced yo-rah-nah. The men,
big strapping fellows, were in loin-cloths, with here and there no
shirt, while the women wore the universal ahu, a sort of adult
pinafore that flows in graceful lines from the shoulders to the
ground. Sad to see was the elephantiasis that afflicted some of
them. Here would be a comely woman of magnificent proportions, with
the port of a queen, yet marred by one arm four times--or a dozen
times--the size of the other. Beside her might stand a six-foot
man, erect, mighty-muscled, bronzed, with the body of a god, yet
with feet and calves so swollen that they ran together, forming
legs, shapeless, monstrous, that were for all the world like
No one seems really to know the cause of the South Sea
elephantiasis. One theory is that it is caused by the drinking of
polluted water. Another theory attributes it to inoculation through
mosquito bites. A third theory charges it to predisposition plus
the process of acclimatization. On the other hand, no one that
stands in finicky dread of it and similar diseases can afford to
travel in the South Seas. There will be occasions when such a one
must drink water. There may be also occasions when the mosquitoes
let up biting. But every precaution of the finicky one will be
useless. If he runs barefoot across the beach to have a swim, he
will tread where an elephantiasis case trod a few minutes before.
If he closets himself in his own house, yet every bit of fresh food
on his table will have been subjected to the contamination, be it
flesh, fish, fowl, or vegetable. In the public market at Papeete
two known lepers run stalls, and heaven alone knows through what
channels arrive at that market the daily supplies of fish, fruit,
meat, and vegetables. The only happy way to go through the South
Seas is with a careless poise, without apprehension, and with a
Christian Science-like faith in the resplendent fortune of your own
particular star. When you see a woman, afflicted with elephantiasis
wringing out cream from cocoanut meat with her naked hands, drink
and reflect how good is the cream, forgetting the hands that pressed
it out. Also, remember that diseases such as elephantiasis and
leprosy do not seem to be caught by contact.
We watched a Raratongan woman, with swollen, distorted limbs,
prepare our cocoanut cream, and then went out to the cook-shed where
Tehei and Bihaura were cooking dinner. And then it was served to us
on a dry-goods box in the house. Our hosts waited until we were
done and then spread their table on the floor. But our table! We
were certainly in the high seat of abundance. First, there was
glorious raw fish, caught several hours before from the sea and
steeped the intervening time in lime-juice diluted with water. Then
came roast chicken. Two cocoanuts, sharply sweet, served for drink.
There were bananas that tasted like strawberries and that melted in
the mouth, and there was banana-poi that made one regret that his
Yankee forebears ever attempted puddings. Then there was boiled
yam, boiled taro, and roasted feis, which last are nothing more or
less than large mealy, juicy, red-coloured cooking bananas. We
marvelled at the abundance, and, even as we marvelled, a pig was
brought on, a whole pig, a sucking pig, swathed in green leaves and
roasted upon the hot stones of a native oven, the most honourable
and triumphant dish in the Polynesian cuisine. And after that came
coffee, black coffee, delicious coffee, native coffee grown on the
hillsides of Tahaa.
Tehei's fishing-tackle fascinated me, and after we arranged to go
fishing, Charmian and I decided to remain all night. Again Tehei
broached Samoa, and again my petit bateau brought the disappointment
and the smile of acquiescence to his face. Bora Bora was my next
port. It was not so far away but that cutters made the passage back
and forth between it and Raiatea. So I invited Tehei to go that far
with us on the Snark. Then I learned that his wife had been born on
Bora Bora and still owned a house there. She likewise was invited,
and immediately came the counter invitation to stay with them in
their house in Born Bora. It was Monday. Tuesday we would go
fishing and return to Raiatea. Wednesday we would sail by Tahaa and
off a certain point, a mile away, pick up Tehei and Bihaura and go
on to Bora Bora. All this we arranged in detail, and talked over
scores of other things as well, and yet Tehei knew three phrases in
English, Charmian and I knew possibly a dozen Tahitian words, and
among the four of us there were a dozen or so French words that all
understood. Of course, such polyglot conversation was slow, but,
eked out with a pad, a lead pencil, the face of a clock Charmian
drew on the back of a pad, and with ten thousand and one gestures,
we managed to get on very nicely.
At the first moment we evidenced an inclination for bed the visiting
natives, with soft Iaoranas, faded away, and Tehei and Bihaura
likewise faded away. The house consisted of one large room, and it
was given over to us, our hosts going elsewhere to sleep. In truth,
their castle was ours. And right here, I want to say that of all
the entertainment I have received in this world at the hands of all
sorts of races in all sorts of places, I have never received
entertainment that equalled this at the hands of this brown-skinned
couple of Tahaa. I do not refer to the presents, the free-handed
generousness, the high abundance, but to the fineness of courtesy
and consideration and tact, and to the sympathy that was real
sympathy in that it was understanding. They did nothing they
thought ought to be done for us, according to their standards, but
they did what they divined we waited to be done for us, while their
divination was most successful. It would be impossible to enumerate
the hundreds of little acts of consideration they performed during
the few days of our intercourse. Let it suffice for me to say that
of all hospitality and entertainment I have known, in no case was
theirs not only not excelled, but in no case was it quite equalled.
Perhaps the most delightful feature of it was that it was due to no
training, to no complex social ideals, but that it was the untutored
and spontaneous outpouring from their hearts.
The next morning we went fishing, that is, Tehei, Charmian, and I
did, in the coffin-shaped canoe; but this time the enormous sail was
left behind. There was no room for sailing and fishing at the same
time in that tiny craft. Several miles away, inside the reef, in a
channel twenty fathoms deep, Tehei dropped his baited hooks and
rock-sinkers. The bait was chunks of octopus flesh, which he bit
out of a live octopus that writhed in the bottom of the canoe. Nine
of these lines he set, each line attached to one end of a short
length of bamboo floating on the surface. When a fish was hooked,
the end of the bamboo was drawn under the water. Naturally, the
other end rose up in the air, bobbing and waving frantically for us
to make haste. And make haste we did, with whoops and yells and
driving paddles, from one signalling bamboo to another, hauling up
from the depths great glistening beauties from two to three feet in
Steadily, to the eastward, an ominous squall had been rising and
blotting out the bright trade-wind sky. And we were three miles to
leeward of home. We started as the first wind-gusts whitened the
water. Then came the rain, such rain as only the tropics afford,
where every tap and main in the sky is open wide, and when, to top
it all, the very reservoir itself spills over in blinding deluge.
Well, Charmian was in a swimming suit, I was in pyjamas, and Tehei
wore only a loin-cloth. Bihaura was on the beach waiting for us,
and she led Charmian into the house in much the same fashion that
the mother leads in the naughty little girl who has been playing in
It was a change of clothes and a dry and quiet smoke while kai-kai
was preparing. Kai-kai, by the way, is the Polynesian for "food" or
"to eat," or, rather, it is one form of the original root, whatever
it may have been, that has been distributed far and wide over the
vast area of the Pacific. It is kai in the Marquesas, Raratonga,
Manahiki, Niue, Fakaafo, Tonga, New Zealand, and Vate. In Tahiti
"to eat" changes to amu, in Hawaii and Samoa to ai, in Ban to kana,
in Nina to kana, in Nongone to kaka, and in New Caledonia to ki.
But by whatsoever sound or symbol, it was welcome to our ears after
that long paddle in the rain. Once more we sat in the high seat of
abundance until we regretted that we had been made unlike the image
of the giraffe and the camel.
Again, when we were preparing to return to the Snark, the sky to
windward turned black and another squall swooped down. But this
time it was little rain and all wind. It blew hour after hour,
moaning and screeching through the palms, tearing and wrenching and
shaking the frail bamboo dwelling, while the outer reef set no a
mighty thundering as it broke the force of the swinging seas.
Inside the reef, the lagoon, sheltered though it was, was white with
fury, and not even Tehei's seamanship could have enabled his slender
canoe to live in such a welter.
By sunset, the back of the squall had broken though it was still too
rough for the canoe. So I had Tehei find a native who was willing
to venture his cutter across to Raiatea for the outrageous sum of
two dollars, Chili, which is equivalent in our money to ninety
cents. Half the village was told off to carry presents, with which
Tehei and Bihaura speeded their parting guests--captive chickens,
fishes dressed and swathed in wrappings of green leaves, great
golden bunches of bananas, leafy baskets spilling over with oranges
and limes, alligator pears (the butter-fruit, also called the
avoca), huge baskets of yams, bunches of taro and cocoanuts, and
last of all, large branches and trunks of trees--firewood for the
While on the way to the cutter we met the only white man on Tahaa,
and of all men, George Lufkin, a native of New England! Eighty-six
years of age he was, sixty-odd of which, he said, he had spent in
the Society Islands, with occasional absences, such as the gold rush
to Eldorado in 'forty-nine and a short period of ranching in
California near Tulare. Given no more than three months by the
doctors to live, he had returned to his South Seas and lived to
eighty-six and to chuckle over the doctors aforesaid, who were all
in their graves. Fee-fee he had, which is the native for
elephantiasis and which is pronounced fay-fay. A quarter of a
century before, the disease had fastened upon him, and it would
remain with him until he died. We asked him about kith and kin.
Beside him sat a sprightly damsel of sixty, his daughter. "She is
all I have," he murmured plaintively, "and she has no children
The cutter was a small, sloop-rigged affair, but large it seemed
alongside Tehei's canoe. On the other hand, when we got out on the
lagoon and were struck by another heavy wind-squall, the cutter
became liliputian, while the Snark, in our imagination, seemed to
promise all the stability and permanence of a continent. They were
good boatmen. Tehei and Bihaura had come along to see us home, and
the latter proved a good boatwoman herself. The cutter was well
ballasted, and we met the squall under full sail. It was getting
dark, the lagoon was full of coral patches, and we were carrying on.
In the height of the squall we had to go about, in order to make a
short leg to windward to pass around a patch of coral no more than a
foot under the surface. As the cutter filled on the other tack, and
while she was in that "dead" condition that precedes gathering way,
she was knocked flat. Jib-sheet and main-sheet were let go, and she
righted into the wind. Three times she was knocked down, and three
times the sheets were flung loose, before she could get away on that
By the time we went about again, darkness had fallen. We were now
to windward of the Snark, and the squall was howling. In came the
jib, and down came the mainsail, all but a patch of it the size of a
pillow-slip. By an accident we missed the Snark, which was riding
it out to two anchors, and drove aground upon the inshore coral.
Running the longest line on the Snark by means of the launch, and
after an hour's hard work, we heaved the cutter off and had her
lying safely astern.
The day we sailed for Bora Bora the wind was light, and we crossed
the lagoon under power to the point where Tehei and Bihaura were to
meet us. As we made in to the land between the coral banks, we
vainly scanned the shore for our friends. There was no sign of
"We can't wait," I said. "This breeze won't fetch us to Bora Bora
by dark, and I don't want to use any more gasolene than I have to."
You see, gasolene in the South Seas is a problem. One never knows
when he will be able to replenish his supply.
But just then Tehei appeared through the trees as he came down to
the water. He had peeled off his shirt and was wildly waving it.
Bihaura apparently was not ready. Once aboard, Tehei informed us by
signs that we must proceed along the land till we got opposite to
his house. He took the wheel and conned the Snark through the
coral, around point after point till we cleared the last point of
all. Cries of welcome went up from the beach, and Bihaura, assisted
by several of the villagers, brought off two canoe-loads of
abundance. There were yams, taro, feis, breadfruit, cocoanuts,
oranges, limes, pineapples, watermelons, alligator pears,
pomegranates, fish, chickens galore crowing and cackling and laying
eggs on our decks, and a live pig that squealed infernally and all
the time in apprehension of imminent slaughter.
Under the rising moon we came in through the perilous passage of the
reef of Bora Bora and dropped anchor off Vaitape village. Bihaura,
with housewifely anxiety, could not get ashore too quickly to her
house to prepare more abundance for us. While the launch was taking
her and Tehei to the little jetty, the sound of music and of singing
drifted across the quiet lagoon. Throughout the Society Islands we
had been continually informed that we would find the Bora Borans
very jolly. Charmian and I went ashore to see, and on the village
green, by forgotten graves on the beach, found the youths and
maidens dancing, flower-garlanded and flower-bedecked, with strange
phosphorescent flowers in their hair that pulsed and dimmed and
glowed in the moonlight. Farther along the beach we came upon a
huge grass house, oval-shaped seventy feet in length, where the
elders of the village were singing himines. They, too, were flower-
garlanded and jolly, and they welcomed us into the fold as little
lost sheep straying along from outer darkness.
Early next morning Tehei was on board, with a string of fresh-caught
fish and an invitation to dinner for that evening. On the way to
dinner, we dropped in at the himine house. The same elders were
singing, with here or there a youth or maiden that we had not seen
the previous night. From all the signs, a feast was in preparation.
Towering up from the floor was a mountain of fruits and vegetables,
flanked on either side by numerous chickens tethered by cocoanut
strips. After several himines had been sung, one of the men arose
and made oration. The oration was made to us, and though it was
Greek to us, we knew that in some way it connected us with that
mountain of provender.
"Can it be that they are presenting us with all that?" Charmian
"Impossible," I muttered back. "Why should they be giving it to us?
Besides, there is no room on the Snark for it. We could not eat a
tithe of it. The rest would spoil. Maybe they are inviting us to
the feast. At any rate, that they should give all that to us is
Nevertheless we found ourselves once more in the high seat of
abundance. The orator, by gestures unmistakable, in detail
presented every item in the mountain to us, and next he presented it
to us in toto. It was an embarrassing moment. What would you do if
you lived in a hall bedroom and a friend gave you a white elephant?
Our Snark was no more than a hall bedroom, and already she was
loaded down with the abundance of Tahaa. This new supply was too
much. We blushed, and stammered, and mauruuru'd. We mauruuru'd
with repeated nui's which conveyed the largeness and
overwhelmingness of our thanks. At the same time, by signs, we
committed the awful breach of etiquette of not accepting the
present. The himine singers' disappointment was plainly betrayed,
and that evening, aided by Tehei, we compromised by accepting one
chicken, one bunch of bananas, one bunch of taro, and so on down the
But there was no escaping the abundance. I bought a dozen chickens
from a native out in the country, and the following day he delivered
thirteen chickens along with a canoe-load of fruit. The French
storekeeper presented us with pomegranates and lent us his finest
horse. The gendarme did likewise, lending us a horse that was the
very apple of his eye. And everybody sent us flowers. The Snark
was a fruit-stand and a greengrocer's shop masquerading under the
guise of a conservatory. We went around flower-garlanded all the
time. When the himine singers came on board to sing, the maidens
kissed us welcome, and the crew, from captain to cabin-boy, lost its
heart to the maidens of Bora Bora. Tehei got up a big fishing
expedition in our honour, to which we went in a double canoe,
paddled by a dozen strapping Amazons. We were relieved that no fish
were caught, else the Snark would have sunk at her moorings.
The days passed, but the abundance did not diminish. On the day of
departure, canoe after canoe put off to us. Tehei brought cucumbers
and a young papaia tree burdened with splendid fruit. Also, for me
he brought a tiny, double canoe with fishing apparatus complete.
Further, he brought fruits and vegetables with the same lavishness
as at Tahaa. Bihaura brought various special presents for Charmian,
such as silk-cotton pillows, fans, and fancy mats. The whole
population brought fruits, flowers, and chickens. And Bihaura added
a live sucking pig. Natives whom I did not remember ever having
seen before strayed over the rail and presented me with such things
as fish-poles, fish-lines, and fish-hooks carved from pearl-shell.
As the Snark sailed out through the reef, she had a cutter in tow.
This was the craft that was to take Bihaura back to Tahaa--but not
Tehei. I had yielded at last, and he was one of the crew of the
Snark. When the cutter cast off and headed east, and the Snark's
bow turned toward the west, Tehei knelt down by the cockpit and
breathed a silent prayer, the tears flowing down his cheeks. A week
later, when Martin got around to developing and printing, he showed
Tehei some of the photographs. And that brown-skinned son of
Polynesia, gazing on the pictured lineaments of his beloved Bihaura
broke down in tears.
But the abundance! There was so much of it. We could not work the
Snark for the fruit that was in the way. She was festooned with
fruit. The life-boat and launch were packed with it. The awning-
guys groaned under their burdens. But once we struck the full
trade-wind sea, the disburdening began. At every roll the Snark
shook overboard a bunch or so of bananas and cocoanuts, or a basket
of limes. A golden flood of limes washed about in the lee-scuppers.
The big baskets of yams burst, and pineapples and pomegranates
rolled back and forth. The chickens had got loose and were
everywhere, roosting on the awnings, fluttering and squawking out on
the jib-boom, and essaying the perilous feat of balancing on the
spinnaker-boom. They were wild chickens, accustomed to flight.
When attempts were made to catch them, they flew out over the ocean,
circled about, and came lack. Sometimes they did not come back.
And in the confusion, unobserved, the little sucking pig got loose
and slipped overboard.
"On the arrival of strangers, every man endeavoured to obtain one as
a friend and carry him off to his own habitation, where he is
treated with the greatest kindness by the inhabitants of the
district: they place him on a high seat and feed him with abundance
of the finest foods."
CHAPTER XIII--THE STONE-FISHING OF BORA BORA
At five in the morning the conches began to blow. From all along
the beach the eerie sounds arose, like the ancient voice of War,
calling to the fishermen to arise and prepare to go forth. We on
the Snark likewise arose, for there could be no sleep in that mad
din of conches. Also, we were going stone-fishing, though our
preparations were few.
Tautai-taora is the name for stone-fishing, tautai meaning a
"fishing instrument." And taora meaning "thrown." But tautai-
taora, in combination, means "stone-fishing," for a stone is the
instrument that is thrown. Stone-fishing is in reality a fish-
drive, similar in principle to a rabbit-drive or a cattle-drive,
though in the latter affairs drivers and driven operate in the same
medium, while in the fish-drive the men must be in the air to
breathe and the fish are driven through the water. It does not
matter if the water is a hundred feet deep, the men, working on the
surface, drive the fish just the same.
This is the way it is done. The canoes form in line, one hundred to
two hundred feet apart. In the bow of each canoe a man wields a
stone, several pounds in weight, which is attached to a short rope.
He merely smites the water with the stone, pulls up the stone, and
smites again. He goes on smiting. In the stern of each canoe
another man paddles, driving the canoe ahead and at the same time
keeping it in the formation. The line of canoes advances to meet a
second line a mile or two away, the ends of the lines hurrying
together to form a circle, the far edge of which is the shore. The
circle begins to contract upon the shore, where the women, standing
in a long row out into the sea, form a fence of legs, which serves
to break any rushes of the frantic fish. At the right moment when
the circle is sufficiently small, a canoe dashes out from shore,
dropping overboard a long screen of cocoanut leaves and encircling
the circle, thus reinforcing the palisade of legs. Of course, the
fishing is always done inside the reef in the lagoon.
"Tres jolie," the gendarme said, after explaining by signs and
gestures that thousands of fish would be caught of all sizes from
minnows to sharks, and that the captured fish would boil up and upon
the very sand of the beach.
It is a most successful method of fishing, while its nature is more
that of an outing festival, rather than of a prosaic, food-getting
task. Such fishing parties take place about once a month at Bora
Bora, and it is a custom that has descended from old time. The man
who originated it is not remembered. They always did this thing.
But one cannot help wondering about that forgotten savage of the
long ago, into whose mind first flashed this scheme of easy fishing,
of catching huge quantities of fish without hook, or net, or spear.
One thing about him we can know: he was a radical. And we can be
sure that he was considered feather-brained and anarchistic by his
conservative tribesmen. His difficulty was much greater than that
of the modern inventor, who has to convince in advance only one or
two capitalists. That early inventor had to convince his whole
tribe in advance, for without the co-operation of the whole tribe
the device could not be tested. One can well imagine the nightly
pow-wow-ings in that primitive island world, when he called his
comrades antiquated moss-backs, and they called him a fool, a freak,
and a crank, and charged him with having come from Kansas. Heaven
alone knows at what cost of grey hairs and expletives he must
finally have succeeded in winning over a sufficient number to give
his idea a trial. At any rate, the experiment succeeded. It stood
the test of truth--it worked! And thereafter, we can be confident,
there was no man to be found who did not know all along that it was
going to work.
Our good friends, Tehei and Bihaura, who were giving the fishing in
our honour, had promised to come for us. We were down below when
the call came from on deck that they were coming. We dashed up the
companionway, to be overwhelmed by the sight of the Polynesian barge
in which we were to ride. It was a long double canoe, the canoes
lashed together by timbers with an interval of water between, and
the whole decorated with flowers and golden grasses. A dozen
flower-crowned Amazons were at the paddles, while at the stern of
each canoe was a strapping steersman. All were garlanded with gold
and crimson and orange flowers, while each wore about the hips a
scarlet pareu. There were flowers everywhere, flowers, flowers,
flowers, without out end. The whole thing was an orgy of colour.
On the platform forward resting on the bows of the canoes, Tehei and
Bihaura were dancing. All voices were raised in a wild song or
Three times they circled the Snark before coming alongside to take
Charmian and me on board. Then it was away for the fishing-grounds,
a five-mile paddle dead to windward. "Everybody is jolly in Bora
Bora," is the saying throughout the Society Islands, and we
certainly found everybody jolly. Canoe songs, shark songs, and
fishing songs were sung to the dipping of the paddles, all joining
in on the swinging choruses. Once in a while the cry Mao! was
raised, whereupon all strained like mad at the paddles. Mao is
shark, and when the deep-sea tigers appear, the natives paddle for
dear life for the shore, knowing full well the danger they run of
having their frail canoes overturned and of being devoured. Of
course, in our case there were no sharks, but the cry of mao was
used to incite them to paddle with as much energy as if a shark were
really after them. "Hoe! Hoe!" was another cry that made us foam
through the water.
On the platform Tehei and Bihaura danced, accompanied by songs and
choruses or by rhythmic hand-clappings. At other times a musical
knocking of the paddles against the sides of the canoes marked the
accent. A young girl dropped her paddle, leaped to the platform,
and danced a hula, in the midst of which, still dancing, she swayed
and bent, and imprinted on our cheeks the kiss of welcome. Some of
the songs, or himines, were religious, and they were especially
beautiful, the deep basses of the men mingling with the altos and
thin sopranos of the women and forming a combination of sound that
irresistibly reminded one of an organ. In fact, "kanaka organ" is
the scoffer's description of the himine. On the other hand, some of
the chants or ballads were very barbaric, having come down from pre-
And so, singing, dancing, paddling, these joyous Polynesians took us
to the fishing. The gendarme, who is the French ruler of Bora Bora,
accompanied us with his family in a double canoe of his own, paddled
by his prisoners; for not only is he gendarme and ruler, but he is
jailer as well, and in this jolly land when anybody goes fishing,
all go fishing. A score of single canoes, with outriggers, paddled
along with us. Around a point a big sailing-canoe appeared, running
beautifully before the wind as it bore down to greet us. Balancing
precariously on the outrigger, three young men saluted us with a
wild rolling of drums.
The next point, half a mile farther on, brought us to the place of
meeting. Here the launch, which had been brought along by Warren
and Martin, attracted much attention. The Bora Borans could not see
what made it go. The canoes were drawn upon the sand, and all hands
went ashore to drink cocoanuts and sing and dance. Here our numbers
were added to by many who arrived on foot from near-by dwellings,
and a pretty sight it was to see the flower-crowned maidens, hand in
hand and two by two, arriving along the sands.
"They usually make a big catch," Allicot, a half-caste trader, told
us. "At the finish the water is fairly alive with fish. It is lots
of fun. Of course you know all the fish will be yours."
"All?" I groaned, for already the Snark was loaded down with lavish
presents, by the canoe-load, of fruits, vegetables, pigs, and
"Yes, every last fish," Allicot answered. "You see, when the
surround is completed, you, being the guest of honour, must take a
harpoon and impale the first one. It is the custom. Then everybody
goes in with their hands and throws the catch out on the sand.
There will be a mountain of them. Then one of the chiefs will make
a speech in which he presents you with the whole kit and boodle.
But you don't have to take them all. You get up and make a speech,
selecting what fish you want for yourself and presenting all the
rest back again. Then everybody says you are very generous."
"But what would be the result if I kept the whole present?" I asked.
"It has never happened," was the answer. "It is the custom to give
and give back again."
The native minister started with a prayer for success in the
fishing, and all heads were bared. Next, the chief fishermen told
off the canoes and allotted them their places. Then it was into the
canoes and away. No women, however, came along, with the exception
of Bihaura and Charmian. In the old days even they would have been
tabooed. The women remained behind to wade out into the water and
form the palisade of legs.
The big double canoe was left on the beech, and we went in the
launch. Half the canoes paddled off to leeward, while we, with the
other half, headed to windward a mile and a half, until the end of
our line was in touch with the reef. The leader of the drive
occupied a canoe midway in our line. He stood erect, a fine figure
of an old man, holding a flag in his hand. He directed the taking
of positions and the forming of the two lines by blowing on a conch.
When all was ready, he waved his flag to the right. With a single
splash the throwers in every canoe on that side struck the water
with their stones. While they were hauling them back--a matter of a
moment, for the stones scarcely sank beneath the surface--the flag
waved to the left, and with admirable precision every stone on that
side struck the water. So it went, back and forth, right and left;
with every wave of the flag a long line of concussion smote the
lagoon. At the same time the paddles drove the canoes forward and
what was being done in our line was being done in the opposing line
of canoes a mile and more away.
On the bow of the launch, Tehei, with eyes fixed on the leader,
worked his stone in unison with the others. Once, the stone slipped
from the rope, and the same instant Tehei went overboard after it.
I do not know whether or not that stone reached the bottom, but I do
know that the next instant Tehei broke surface alongside with the
stone in his hand. I noticed this same accident occur several times
among the near-by canoes, but in each instance the thrower followed
the stone and brought it back.
The reef ends of our lines accelerated, the shore ends lagged, all
under the watchful supervision of the leader, until at the reef the
two lines joined, forming the circle. Then the contraction of the
circle began, the poor frightened fish harried shoreward by the
streaks of concussion that smote the water. In the same fashion
elephants are driven through the jungle by motes of men who crouch
in the long grasses or behind trees and make strange noises.
Already the palisade of legs had been built. We could see the heads
of the women, in a long line, dotting the placid surface of the
lagoon. The tallest women went farthest out, thus, with the
exception of those close inshore, nearly all were up to their necks
in the water.
Still the circle narrowed, till canoes were almost touching. There
was a pause. A long canoe shot out from shore, following the line
of the circle. It went as fast as paddles could drive. In the
stern a man threw overboard the long, continuous screen of cocoanut
leaves. The canoes were no longer needed, and overboard went the
men to reinforce the palisade with their legs. For the screen was
only a screen, and not a net, and the fish could dash through it if
they tried. Hence the need for legs that ever agitated the screen,
and for hands that splashed and throats that yelled. Pandemonium
reigned as the trap tightened.
But no fish broke surface or collided against the hidden legs. At
last the chief fisherman entered the trap. He waded around
everywhere, carefully. But there were no fish boiling up and out
upon the sand. There was not a sardine, not a minnow, not a polly-
wog. Something must have been wrong with that prayer; or else, and
more likely, as one grizzled fellow put it, the wind was not in its
usual quarter and the fish were elsewhere in the lagoon. In fact,
there had been no fish to drive.
"About once in five these drives are failures," Allicot consoled us.
Well, it was the stone-fishing that had brought us to Bora Bora, and
it was our luck to draw the one chance in five. Had it been a
raffle, it would have been the other way about. This is not
pessimism. Nor is it an indictment of the plan of the universe. It
is merely that feeling which is familiar to most fishermen at the
empty end of a hard day.
CHAPTER XIV--THE AMATEUR NAVIGATOR
There are captains and captains, and some mighty fine captains, I
know; but the run of the captains on the Snark has been remarkably
otherwise. My experience with them has been that it is harder to
take care of one captain on a small boat than of two small babies.
Of course, this is no more than is to be expected. The good men
have positions, and are not likely to forsake their one-thousand-to-
fifteen-thousand-ton billets for the Snark with her ten tons net.
The Snark has had to cull her navigators from the beach, and the
navigator on the beach is usually a congenital inefficient--the sort
of man who beats about for a fortnight trying vainly to find an
ocean isle and who returns with his schooner to report the island
sunk with all on board, the sort of man whose temper or thirst for
strong waters works him out of billets faster than he can work into
The Snark has had three captains, and by the grace of God she shall
have no more. The first captain was so senile as to be unable to
give a measurement for a boom-jaw to a carpenter. So utterly agedly
helpless was he, that he was unable to order a sailor to throw a few
buckets of salt water on the Snark's deck. For twelve days, at
anchor, under an overhead tropic sun, the deck lay dry. It was a
new deck. It cost me one hundred and thirty-five dollars to recaulk
it. The second captain was angry. He was born angry. "Papa is
always angry," was the description given him by his half-breed son.
The third captain was so crooked that he couldn't hide behind a
corkscrew. The truth was not in him, common honesty was not in him,
and he was as far away from fair play and square-dealing as he was
from his proper course when he nearly wrecked the Snark on the Ring-
It was at Suva, in the Fijis, that I discharged my third and last
captain and took up gain the role of amateur navigator. I had
essayed it once before, under my first captain, who, out of San
Francisco, jumped the Snark so amazingly over the chart that I
really had to find out what was doing. It was fairly easy to find
out, for we had a run of twenty-one hundred miles before us. I knew
nothing of navigation; but, after several hours of reading up and
half an hour's practice with the sextant, I was able to find the
Snark's latitude by meridian observation and her longitude by the
simple method known as "equal altitudes." This is not a correct
method. It is not even a safe method, but my captain was attempting
to navigate by it, and he was the only one on board who should have
been able to tell me that it was a method to be eschewed. I brought
the Snark to Hawaii, but the conditions favoured me. The sun was in
northern declination and nearly overhead. The legitimate
"chronometer-sight" method of ascertaining the longitude I had not
heard of--yes, I had heard of it. My first captain mentioned it
vaguely, but after one or two attempts at practice of it he
mentioned it no more.
I had time in the Fijis to compare my chronometer with two other
chronometers. Two weeks previous, at Pago Pago, in Samoa, I had
asked my captain to compare our chronometer with the chronometers on
the American cruiser, the Annapolis. This he told me he had done--
of course he had done nothing of the sort; and he told me that the
difference he had ascertained was only a small fraction of a second.
He told it to me with finely simulated joy and with words of praise
for my splendid time-keeper. I repeat it now, with words of praise
for his splendid and unblushing unveracity. For behold, fourteen
days later, in Suva, I compared the chronometer with the one on the
Atua, an Australian steamer, and found that mine was thirty-one
seconds fast. Now thirty-one seconds of time, converted into arc,
equals seven and one-quarter miles. That is to say, if I were
sailing west, in the night-time, and my position, according to my
dead reckoning from my afternoon chronometer sight, was shown to be
seven miles off the land, why, at that very moment I would be
crashing on the reef. Next I compared my chronometer with Captain
Wooley's. Captain Wooley, the harbourmaster, gives the time to
Suva, firing a gun signal at twelve, noon, three times a week.
According to his chronometer mine was fifty-nine seconds fast, which
is to say, that, sailing west, I should be crashing on the reef when
I thought I was fifteen miles off from it.
I compromised by subtracting thirty-one seconds from the total of my
chronometer's losing error, and sailed away for Tanna, in the New
Hebrides, resolved, when nosing around the land on dark nights, to
bear in mind the other seven miles I might be out according to
Captain Wooley's instrument. Tanna lay some six hundred miles west-
southwest from the Fijis, and it was my belief that while covering
that distance I could quite easily knock into my head sufficient
navigation to get me there. Well, I got there, but listen first to
my troubles. Navigation IS easy, I shall always contend that; but
when a man is taking three gasolene engines and a wife around the
world and is writing hard every day to keep the engines supplied
with gasolene and the wife with pearls and volcanoes, he hasn't much
time left in which to study navigation. Also, it is bound to be
easier to study said science ashore, where latitude and longitude
are unchanging, in a house whose position never alters, than it is
to study navigation on a boat that is rushing along day and night
toward land that one is trying to find and which he is liable to
find disastrously at a moment when he least expects it.
To begin with, there are the compasses and the setting of the
courses. We sailed from Suva on Saturday afternoon, June 6, 1908,
and it took us till after dark to run the narrow, reef-ridden
passage between the islands of Viti Levu and Mbengha. The open
ocean lay before me. There was nothing in the way with the
exception of Vatu Leile, a miserable little island that persisted in
poking up through the sea some twenty miles to the west-southwest--
just where I wanted to go. Of course, it seemed quite simple to
avoid it by steering a course that would pass it eight or ten miles
to the north. It was a black night, and we were running before the
wind. The man at the wheel must be told what direction to steer in
order to miss Vatu Leile. But what direction? I turned me to the
navigation books. "True Course" I lighted upon. The very thing!
What I wanted was the true course. I read eagerly on:
"The True Course is the angle made with the meridian by a straight
line on the chart drawn to connect the ship's position with the
place bound to."
Just what I wanted. The Snark's position was at the western
entrance of the passage between Viti Levu and Mbengha. The
immediate place she was bound to was a place on the chart ten miles
north of Vatu Leile. I pricked that place off on the chart with my
dividers, and with my parallel rulers found that west-by-south was
the true course. I had but to give it to the man at the wheel and
the Snark would win her way to the safety of the open sea.
But alas and alack and lucky for me, I read on. I discovered that
the compass, that trusty, everlasting friend of the mariner, was not
given to pointing north. It varied. Sometimes it pointed east of
north, sometimes west of north, and on occasion it even turned tail
on north and pointed south. The variation at the particular spot on
the globe occupied by the Snark was 9 degrees 40 minutes easterly.
Well, that had to be taken in to account before I gave the steering
course to the man at the wheel. I read:
"The Correct Magnetic Course is derived from the True Course by
applying to it the variation."
Therefore, I reasoned, if the compass points 9 degrees 40 minutes
eastward of north, and I wanted to sail due north, I should have to
steer 9 degrees 40 minutes westward of the north indicated by the
compass and which was not north at all. So I added 9 degrees 40
minutes to the left of my west-by-south course, thus getting my
correct Magnetic Course, and was ready once more to run to open sea.
Again alas and alack! The Correct Magnetic Course was not the
Compass Course. There was another sly little devil lying in wait to
trip me up and land me smashing on the reefs of Vatu Leile. This
little devil went by the name of Deviation. I read:
"The Compass Course is the course to steer, and is derived from the
Correct Magnetic Course by applying to it the Deviation."
Now Deviation is the variation in the needle caused by the
distribution of iron on board of ship. This purely local variation
I derived from the deviation card of my standard compass and then
applied to the Correct Magnetic Course. The result was the Compass
Course. And yet, not yet. My standard compass was amidships on the
companionway. My steering compass was aft, in the cockpit, near the
wheel. When the steering compass pointed west-by-south three-
quarters-south (the steering course), the standard compass pointed
west-one-half-north, which was certainly not the steering course. I
kept the Snark up till she was heading west-by-south-three-quarters-
south on the standard compass, which gave, on the steering compass,
The foregoing operations constitute the simple little matter of
setting a course. And the worst of it is that one must perform
every step correctly or else he will hear "Breakers ahead!" some
pleasant night, a nice sea-bath, and be given the delightful
diversion of fighting his way to the shore through a horde of man-
Just as the compass is tricky and strives to fool the mariner by
pointing in all directions except north, so does that guide post of
the sky, the sun, persist in not being where it ought to be at a
given time. This carelessness of the sun is the cause of more
trouble--at least it caused trouble for me. To find out where one
is on the earth's surface, he must know, at precisely the same time,
where the sun is in the heavens. That is to say, the sun, which is
the timekeeper for men, doesn't run on time. When I discovered
this, I fell into deep gloom and all the Cosmos was filled with
doubt. Immutable laws, such as gravitation and the conservation of
energy, became wobbly, and I was prepared to witness their violation
at any moment and to remain unastonished. For see, if the compass
lied and the sun did not keep its engagements, why should not
objects lose their mutual attraction and why should not a few bushel
baskets of force be annihilated? Even perpetual motion became
possible, and I was in a frame of mind prone to purchase Keeley-
Motor stock from the first enterprising agent that landed on the
Snark's deck. And when I discovered that the earth really rotated
on its axis 366 times a year, while there were only 365 sunrises and
sunsets, I was ready to doubt my own identity.
This is the way of the sun. It is so irregular that it is
impossible for man to devise a clock that will keep the sun's time.
The sun accelerates and retards as no clock could be made to
accelerate and retard. The sun is sometimes ahead of its schedule;
at other times it is lagging behind; and at still other times it is
breaking the speed limit in order to overtake itself, or, rather, to
catch up with where it ought to be in the sky. In this last case it
does not slow down quick enough, and, as a result, goes dashing
ahead of where it ought to be. In fact, only four days in a year do
the sun and the place where the sun ought to be happen to coincide.
The remaining 361 days the sun is pothering around all over the
shop. Man, being more perfect than the sun, makes a clock that
keeps regular time. Also, he calculates how far the sun is ahead of
its schedule or behind. The difference between the sun's position
and the position where the sun ought to be if it were a decent,
self-respecting sun, man calls the Equation of Time. Thus, the
navigator endeavouring to find his ship's position on the sea, looks
in his chronometer to see where precisely the sun ought to be
according to the Greenwich custodian of the sun. Then to that
location he applies the Equation of Time and finds out where the sun
ought to be and isn't. This latter location, along with several
other locations, enables him to find out what the man from Kansas
demanded to know some years ago.
The Snark sailed from Fiji on Saturday, June 6, and the next day,
Sunday, on the wide ocean, out of sight of land, I proceeded to
endeavour to find out my position by a chronometer sight for
longitude and by a meridian observation for latitude. The
chronometer sight was taken in the morning when the sun was some 21
degrees above the horizon. I looked in the Nautical Almanac and
found that on that very day, June 7, the sun was behind time 1
minute and 26 seconds, and that it was catching up at a rate of
14.67 seconds per hour. The chronometer said that at the precise
moment of taking the sun's altitude it was twenty-five minutes after
eight o'clock at Greenwich. From this date it would seem a
schoolboy's task to correct the Equation of Time. Unfortunately, I
was not a schoolboy. Obviously, at the middle of the day, at
Greenwich, the sun was 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time. Equally
obviously, if it were eleven o'clock in the morning, the sun would
be 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time plus 14.67 seconds. If it
were ten o'clock in the morning, twice 14.67 seconds would have to
be added. And if it were 8: 25 in the morning, then 3.5 times
14.67 seconds would have to be added. Quite clearly, then, if,
instead of being 8:25 A.M., it were 8:25 P.M., then 8.5 times 14.67
seconds would have to be, not added, but SUBTRACTED; for, if, at
noon, the sun were 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time, and if it
were catching up with where it ought to be at the rate of 14.67
seconds per hour, then at 8.25 P.M. it would be much nearer where it
ought to be than it had been at noon.
So far, so good. But was that 8:25 of the chronometer A.M., or
P.M.? I looked at the Snark's clock. It marked 8:9, and it was
certainly A.M. for I had just finished breakfast. Therefore, if it
was eight in the morning on board the Snark, the eight o'clock of
the chronometer (which was the time of the day at Greenwich) must be
a different eight o'clock from the Snark's eight o'clock. But what
eight o'clock was it? It can't be the eight o'clock of this
morning, I reasoned; therefore, it must be either eight o'clock this
evening or eight o'clock last night.
It was at this juncture that I fell into the bottomless pit of
intellectual chaos. We are in east longitude, I reasoned, therefore
we are ahead of Greenwich. If we are behind Greenwich, then to-day
is yesterday; if we are ahead of Greenwich, then yesterday is to-
day, but if yesterday is to-day, what under the sun is to-day!--to-
morrow? Absurd! Yet it must be correct. When I took the sun this
morning at 8:25, the sun's custodians at Greenwich were just arising
from dinner last night.
"Then correct the Equation of Time for yesterday," says my logical
"But to-day is to-day," my literal mind insists. "I must correct
the sun for to-day and not for yesterday."
"Yet to-day is yesterday," urges my logical mind.
"That's all very well," my literal mind continues, "If I were in
Greenwich I might be in yesterday. Strange things happen in
Greenwich. But I know as sure as I am living that I am here, now,
in to-day, June 7, and that I took the sun here, now, to-day, June
7. Therefore, I must correct the sun here, now, to-day, June 7."
"Bosh!" snaps my logical mind. "Lecky says--"
"Never mind what Lecky says," interrupts my literal mind. "Let me
tell you what the Nautical Almanac says. The Nautical Almanac says
that to-day, June 7, the sun was 1 minute and 26 seconds behind time
and catching up at the rate of 14.67 seconds per hour. It says that
yesterday, June 6, the sun was 1 minute and 36 seconds behind time
and catching up at the rate of 15.66 seconds per hour. You see, it
is preposterous to think of correcting to-day's sun by yesterday's
Back and forth they wrangle until my head is whirling around and I
am ready to believe that I am in the day after the last week before
I remembered a parting caution of the Suva harbour-master: "IN EAST
LONGITUDE TAKE FROM THE NAUTICAL ALMANAC THE ELEMENTS FOR THE
Then a new thought came to me. I corrected the Equation of Time for
Sunday and for Saturday, making two separate operations of it, and
lo, when the results were compared, there was a difference only of
four-tenths of a second. I was a changed man. I had found my way
out of the crypt. The Snark was scarcely big enough to hold me and
my experience. Four-tenths of a second would make a difference of
only one-tenth of a mile--a cable-length!
All went merrily for ten minutes, when I chanced upon the following
rhyme for navigators:
"Greenwich time least
Heavens! The Snark's time was not as good as Greenwich time. When
it was 8 25 at Greenwich, on board the Snark it was only 8:9.
"Greenwich time best, longitude west." There I was. In west
longitude beyond a doubt.
"Silly!" cries my literal mind. "You are 8:9 A.M. and Greenwich is
"Very well," answers my logical mind. "To be correct, 8.25 P.M. is
really twenty hours and twenty-five minutes, and that is certainly
better than eight hours and nine minutes. No, there is no
discussion; you are in west longitude."
Then my literal mind triumphs.
"We sailed from Suva, in the Fijis, didn't we?" it demands, and
logical mind agrees. "And Suva is in east longitude?" Again
logical mind agrees. "And we sailed west (which would take us
deeper into east longitude), didn't we? Therefore, and you can't
escape it, we are in east longitude."
"Greenwich time best, longitude west," chants my logical mind; "and
you must grant that twenty hours and twenty-five minutes is better
than eight hours and nine minutes."
"All right," I break in upon the squabble; "we'll work up the sight
and then we'll see."
And work it up I did, only to find that my longitude was 184 degrees
"I told you so," snorts my logical mind.
I am dumbfounded. So is my literal mind, for several minutes. Then
"But there is no 184 degrees west longitude, nor east longitude, nor
any other longitude. The largest meridian is 180 degrees as you
ought to know very well."
Having got this far, literal mind collapses from the brain strain,
logical mind is dumb flabbergasted; and as for me, I get a bleak and
wintry look in my eyes and go around wondering whether I am sailing
toward the China coast or the Gulf of Darien.
Then a thin small voice, which I do not recognize, coming from
nowhere in particular in my consciousness, says:
"The total number of degrees is 360. Subtract the 184 degrees west
longitude from 360 degrees, and you will get 176 degrees east
"That is sheer speculation," objects literal mind; and logical mind
remonstrates. "There is no rule for it."
"Darn the rules!" I exclaim. "Ain't I here?"
"The thing is self-evident," I continue. "184 degrees west
longitude means a lapping over in east longitude of four degrees.
Besides I have been in east longitude all the time. I sailed from
Fiji, and Fiji is in east longitude. Now I shall chart my position
and prove it by dead reckoning."
But other troubles and doubts awaited me. Here is a sample of one.
In south latitude, when the sun is in northern declination,
chronometer sights may be taken early in the morning. I took mine
at eight o'clock. Now, one of the necessary elements in working up
such a sight is latitude. But one gets latitude at twelve o'clock,
noon, by a meridian observation. It is clear that in order to work
up my eight o'clock chronometer sight I must have my eight o'clock
latitude. Of course, if the Snark were sailing due west at six
knots per hour, for the intervening four hours her latitude would
not change. But if she were sailing due south, her latitude would
change to the tune of twenty-four miles. In which case a simple
addition or subtraction would convert the twelve o'clock latitude
into eight o'clock latitude. But suppose the Snark were sailing
southwest. Then the traverse tables must be consulted.
This is the illustration. At eight A.M. I took my chronometer
sight. At the same moment the distance recorded on the log was
noted. At twelve M., when the sight for latitude was taken. I
again noted the log, which showed me that since eight o'clock the
Snark had run 24 miles. Her true course had been west 0.75 south.
I entered Table I, in the distance column, on the page for 0.75
point courses, and stopped at 24, the number of miles run.
Opposite, in the next two columns, I found that the Snark had made
3.5 miles of southing or latitude, and that she had made 23.7 miles
of westing. To find my eight o'clock' latitude was easy. I had but
to subtract 3.5 miles from my noon latitude. All the elements being
present, I worked up my longitude.
But this was my eight o'clock longitude. Since then, and up till
noon, I had made 23.7 miles of westing. What was my noon longitude?
I followed the rule, turning to Traverse Table No. II. Entering the
table, according to rule, and going through every detail, according
to rule, I found the difference of longitude for the four hours to
be 25 miles. I was aghast. I entered the table again, according to
rule; I entered the table half a dozen times, according to rule, and
every time found that my difference of longitude was 25 miles. I
leave it to you, gentle reader. Suppose you had sailed 24 miles and
that you had covered 3.5 miles of latitude, then how could you have
covered 25 miles of longitude? Even if you had sailed due west 24
miles, and not changed your latitude, how could you have changed
your longitude 25 miles? In the name of human reason, how could you
cover one mile more of longitude than the total number of miles you
It was a reputable traverse table, being none other than Bowditch's.
The rule was simple (as navigators' rules go); I had made no error.
I spent an hour over it, and at the end still faced the glaring
impossibility of having sailed 24 miles, in the course of which I
changed my latitude 3.5 miles and my longitude 25 miles. The worst
of it was that there was nobody to help me out. Neither Charmian
nor Martin knew as much as I knew about navigation. And all the
time the Snark was rushing madly along toward Tanna, in the New
Hebrides. Something had to be done.
How it came to me I know not--call it an inspiration if you will;
but the thought arose in me: if southing is latitude, why isn't
westing longitude? Why should I have to change westing into
longitude? And then the whole beautiful situation dawned upon me.
The meridians of longitude are 60 miles (nautical) apart at the
equator. At the poles they run together. Thus, if I should travel
up the 180 degrees meridian of longitude until I reached the North
Pole, and if the astronomer at Greenwich travelled up the 0 meridian
of longitude to the North Pole, then, at the North Pole, we could
shake hands with each other, though before we started for the North
Pole we had been some thousands of miles apart. Again: if a degree
of longitude was 60 miles wide at the equator, and if the same
degree, at the point of the Pole, had no width, then somewhere
between the Pole and the equator that degree would be half a mile
wide, and at other places a mile wide, two miles wide, ten miles
wide, thirty miles wide, ay, and sixty miles wide.
All was plain again. The Snark was in 19 degrees south latitude.
The world wasn't as big around there as at the equator. Therefore,
every mile of westing at 19 degrees south was more than a minute of
longitude; for sixty miles were sixty miles, but sixty minutes are
sixty miles only at the equator. George Francis Train broke Jules
Verne's record of around the world. But any man that wants can
break George Francis Train's record. Such a man would need only to
go, in a fast steamer, to the latitude of Cape Horn, and sail due
east all the way around. The world is very small in that latitude,
and there is no land in the way to turn him out of his course. If
his steamer maintained sixteen knots, he would circumnavigate the
globe in just about forty days.
But there are compensations. On Wednesday evening, June 10, I
brought up my noon position by dead reckoning to eight P.M. Then I
projected the Snark's course and saw that she would strike Futuna,
one of the easternmost of the New Hebrides, a volcanic cone two
thousand feet high that rose out of the deep ocean. I altered the
course so that the Snark would pass ten miles to the northward.
Then I spoke to Wada, the cook, who had the wheel every morning from
four to six.
"Wada San, to-morrow morning, your watch, you look sharp on weather-
bow you see land."
And then I went to bed. The die was cast. I had staked my
reputation as a navigator. Suppose, just suppose, that at daybreak
there was no land. Then, where would my navigation be? And where
would we be? And how would we ever find ourselves? or find any
land? I caught ghastly visions of the Snark sailing for months
through ocean solitudes and seeking vainly for land while we
consumed our provisions and sat down with haggard faces to stare
cannibalism in the face.
I confess my sleep was not
" . . . like a summer sky
That held the music of a lark."
Rather did "I waken to the voiceless dark," and listen to the
creaking of the bulkheads and the rippling of the sea alongside as
the Snark logged steadily her six knots an hour. I went over my
calculations again and again, striving to find some mistake, until
my brain was in such fever that it discovered dozens of mistakes.
Suppose, instead of being sixty miles off Futuna, that my navigation
was all wrong and that I was only six miles off? In which case my
course would be wrong, too, and for all I knew the Snark might be
running straight at Futuna. For all I knew the Snark might strike
Futuna the next moment. I almost sprang from the bunk at that
thought; and, though I restrained myself, I know that I lay for a
moment, nervous and tense, waiting for the shock.
My sleep was broken by miserable nightmares. Earthquake seemed the
favourite affliction, though there was one man, with a bill, who
persisted in dunning me throughout the night. Also, he wanted to
fight; and Charmian continually persuaded me to let him alone.
Finally, however, the man with the everlasting dun ventured into a
dream from which Charmian was absent. It was my opportunity, and we
went at it, gloriously, all over the sidewalk and street, until he
cried enough. Then I said, "Now how about that bill?" Having
conquered, I was willing to pay. But the man looked at me and
groaned. "It was all a mistake," he said; "the bill is for the
house next door."
That settled him, for he worried my dreams no more; and it settled
me, too, for I woke up chuckling at the episode. It was three in
the morning. I went up on deck. Henry, the Rapa islander, was
steering. I looked at the log. It recorded forty-two miles. The
Snark had not abated her six-knot gait, and she had not struck
Futuna yet. At half-past five I was again on deck. Wada, at the
wheel, had seen no land. I sat on the cockpit rail, a prey to
morbid doubt for a quarter of an hour. Then I saw land, a small,
high piece of land, just where it ought to be, rising from the water
on the weather-bow. At six o'clock I could clearly make it out to
be the beautiful volcanic cone of Futuna. At eight o'clock, when it
was abreast, I took its distance by the sextant and found it to be
9.3 miles away. And I had elected to pass it 10 miles away!
Then, to the south, Aneiteum rose out of the sea, to the north,
Aniwa, and, dead ahead, Tanna. There was no mistaking Tanna, for
the smoke of its volcano was towering high in the sky. It was forty
miles away, and by afternoon, as we drew close, never ceasing to log
our six knots, we saw that it was a mountainous, hazy land, with no
apparent openings in its coast-line. I was looking for Port
Resolution, though I was quite prepared to find that as an
anchorage, it had been destroyed. Volcanic earthquakes had lifted
its bottom during the last forty years, so that where once the
largest ships rode at anchor there was now, by last reports,
scarcely space and depth sufficient for the Snark. And why should
not another convulsion, since the last report, have closed the
I ran in close to the unbroken coast, fringed with rocks awash upon
which the crashing trade-wind sea burst white and high. I searched
with my glasses for miles, but could see no entrance. I took a
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