South Sea Fairylands: A Kanaka Voyage

January 9. — We arrived at the atoll of Manihiki this morning, and Captain Thomson went ashore to see our trader, Henry McDonald. There are heavy seas on the reef which surrounds this island, fifty yards or so from shore. The combers rise fully twenty feet to crash down with a deafening roar, flinging spray high in the air, and forming a cloud of mist between us and the land. To cross such a reef is hazardous even with the best of boatmen; with an inexperienced boat’s crew it would mean certain death. To-day Captain Thomson had to wait in the offing nearly an hour before there was a momentary lull sufficient to let him get across.

Manihiki is a lonely little island with as gentle and pretty a people as there is in Polynesia. The women are soft little creatures with fawning, voluptuous manners; the men a happygo-lucky set who have much tolerance for the weaknesses of their women — weaknesses for which they are responsible. From the offing we can see, through a cloud of reef spray, the white coral church, the schoolhouse, and the government building with their bright red roofs breaking the monotony of blue sea and green islet. Behind the big buildings are the wattle-and-thatch huts of the Manihikians, with here and there a brightly painted European house, merging into the coconut groves until they are lost among the shadows. But down lanes cut across the island we can catch glimpses, far across the land, of the lagoon, dotted with islets, sparkling in the midday sun.

Toward evening the seas on the reef had increased to such an extent that I knew it would be impossible for the Captain to leave the shore on this side of the island, so I sailed the schooner around to the lee side, and lay off and on close to the reef. Soon I saw, between two islets, a sailing canoe crossing the lagoon. It beached on a bank of sand and a few moments later I made out the Captain crossing the shallows to the reef. I sent the ship’s boat off and brought him aboard.

He told me that I might go ashore, and as this was my first chance to stretch my legs since leaving Rarotonga, I dressed and climbed into the boat. Food and Second-Return went with me. They are Manihiki boys, as is Ropes, who went ashore in the morning with the Captain.

We landed on the reef and waded through the shallows from one tiny islet to another, and soon came to the main islet. There we followed the lagoon beach, watching the schools of mullet leap out of the water as they finned away, their silver bodies flashing in the evening light. They moved with marvelous coördination, a hundred fish leaving the water at the same instant and returning to it with a single splash. It was dusk by the time we reached the outskirts of the village. There the sailors left me while I walked to Dan Ellis’s little thatch house near the lagoon beach.

Dan is one of the traders in the village of Tauhunu, while his brother, Ben Ellis, is the principal trader in Tukau Village, five miles across the lagoon. Dan is a fine specimen of a man, about six feet two, and with two hundred and thirty pounds of bone and muscle. He and his wife, a Manihiki girl, welcomed me as an old friend.

On entering the house I found Henry McDonald sprawled in a steamer chair. Henry has always reminded me of the Dutchmen Rip Van Winkle met in the Catskills. He has the same pointed ears, long and bulbous nose, wily lift to his eyebrows, and short crooked limbs. His skin, as dry as parchment, is deeply wrinkled around green eyes that are both malignant and cunning. All he needs to fill his gnomish part is a skullcap with a tassel, a green doublet, thigh boots, and a lantern hooked to his belt. Though Henry is cunning, his tricks are evident. He has little imagination, and he could not have succeeded in his rascalities anywhere except among credulous natives. In one breath he admits that he is a rascal and in the next brags about his honesty, and how such respectable merchants as Bunkley and Charlie Brown of Papeete put absolute confidence in his integrity.

He met me with a servile leer and immediately started talking about himself — how he was getting most of the copra on the island, obtaining fabulous prices for his goods, making thousands buying pi-pi pearls. Dan poured us a few glasses of raisin wine and tried to get a word in edgewise; but it was useless. Soon Henry started to lament the recent death of McLeod of Atiu. He swore that he, Henry McDonald, was the best friend McLeod ever had, and he told us how he had decided to adopt McLeod’s infant son — the one who had come north with us.

’It’s a thankless job, adopting these half-caste brats,’ Henry whined.

Dan, a half-caste of the finest type, a thousand times more credit to the white race than Henry, flushed, but said nothing.

Henry went on: ‘But I’ll do it in memory of my dear old friend McLeod. I’d do anything for Mac, I would; he could have the shirt off my back! This brat that I’m adopting will steal everything I’ve got, and desert me when I need him most; but I’ll put up with it for dear old Mac’s memory!’

I was furious, for I knew that McLeod had despised the little rascal as much as do all the traders in these islands. I said, with no attempt at a friendly tone: ‘Of course, Ben Ellis will be fool enough to let you have his grandson. He won’t think that you are after the Ellis and McLeod properties, for of course Ben does n’t realize that McLeod’s boy is the only male descendant in both families. You are a poor schemer, Henry; your crooked little plans are too evident. Imagine any respectable man trusting his son with you!’

It is impossible to insult Henry McDonald; he glories in his depravity. Now he smiled fatuously while muttering something about how all white men should stick together.

I turned to Dan and asked him to take a turn through the village with me; we left Henry without any ceremony. A few yards from the house we stepped into the deep shadows under a tamanu tree, and waited for Henry to leave. We could see him in the house, emptying the raisin-wine bottle and gulping its contents down. I glanced at him with amusement, for Henry drinking is always a comical sight. He stood close to the lamp, in full view through the open door. We could see his long nose penetrating far into the glass; one eye was closed and the other cocked open until it was quite round, with the eyebrow arched nearly to the scalp. His long pointed ears added to the drollery of the sight, as did his Adam’s apple, which is abnormally large and oscillates mightily when he swallows.

When he had finished the wine, his little green eyes pried about the room until they discovered a cigar lying on top of the cupboard; a moment later he left the house smoking the cigar. He passed within a few feet of Dan and me, but he could not see us because it was quite dark, and there is no moon to-night.

Dan and I returned and had supper. Afterward the big man bid me goodnight and left. He is sleeping in a little house on the end of the wharf where his store is situated, and has left the main house entirely to me.

I sit on the roofless verandah under the stars, smoke a cigarette, and write my journal. The wind blows against me delightfully. It is a caress; it is like the soft fine hair of a woman. I can hear the little waves splashing against the coral wharf and jingling the gravel on the beach. There is a susurration among the leaves overhead, and from somewhere inland comes the strange harmony of the himené singers. Never have I enjoyed an atoll evening as I do this one. Perhaps it is because I am a sailor again, working hard, eating poorly, breathing the stench of a cockroach schooner, and never lying down without the disquieting knowledge that in less than four hours I shall be called to go on deck. This gives me something with which I can contrast the fascination of a still night by an atoll lagoon.

Some figures have broken from the shadows to the left of the house. I shall call them in.

Later. — They were two boys and two girls, eight to twelve years old. One of the boys carried a ukulele. They sat on the floor beside me and, without any sign of embarrassment, started an animated conversation, telling me all kinds of gossip about husbands who had been unfaithful to their mistresses, and so forth. Then the boy with the ukulele struck a few chords, and with a volatile rush of spirits they started singing: —

’Titoutou mai te vaine Manihiki
Mei te manu rai pitate.
Pitate, pitate, pitate, -tate, -tale.’
(Graceful is the Manihiki maiden
Like the great bird, a peacock.
A peacock, a peacock, a peacock, peacock, peacock.)

The two girls and one of the boys jumped to their feet, and as the ukulele player strummed the strings they danced with the peculiar abandon of the Manihikians.

Abruptly the player struck up another rhythm. The boy dancer leaped in front of the two girls, and as he knocked his knees together and moved his hips and shoulders in time with the music all the children sang: —

’Te vaine roa ei!
Te vaine poto ei!
Te is ra oe, te vaine poto?
Uka, uka, teterevete;
Paru, paru, teterevete, ah!
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah — ah!'
(Oh, the little short girl, ah!
Oh, the great big tall girl, ah!
Where can be my sweet little short girl?
Pliant, pliant, like the velvet;
Supple, supple, like the velvet, ah!
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah — ah!)

The older of the two girls danced with exulting abandon, giving one the impression that there was something ritual in each movement of her body. There was not the effect of effort that one usually notices in young dancers; she danced as she would play, as though it were the most natural thing in the world — as though, perhaps, there were something more profound, a magic or an enchantment, in her movements. Presently the other two children sat before her, and as the ukulele player warmed to his music the little girl danced alone, unaware of her audience, oblivious of everything but the rhythm of music and graceful motion.

As I watched her it was difficult to believe that the same world held sailing ships, brutality, sickness, scheming traders; yet, only a few hundred yards from this strange and beautiful creature, born by mistake into a sordid world, lived Henry McDonald with his schemes to acquire the McLeod and Ellis properties by adopting the half-caste brat’; with his plans to cheat his customers out of another penny a tin on boiled beef, to gain a ton by sprinkling his copra with salt water. And out on the ship was the brutal life forced upon one by grim necessity; while farther away was civilization, where the fundamental beauties of life were lost ages ago.

It was after midnight when the dancers departed. I went into the house and, throwing a mat on the floor, slept with my head at the doorway; and I dreamt that all the beauty of Manihiki was real and not the dream that it appeared in waking hours.

January 10. — Captain Thomson came ashore in the afternoon. He told me that we must both be aboard tonight, for the barometer is dropping, and there may be a blow from the north.

When I said good-bye to Dan I asked him what I could bring him from America. He rubbed his hands together, glancing down at me with great satisfaction. ‘A pair of shoes,’ he said. ‘Yellow ones with bulldog toes — light-yellow ones with flashy caps and broad shoe laces and big eyes. Size twelve and a half, extra wide!’

Midnight. — On reaching the ship, Andy decided to sail to Rakahanga, twenty-two miles to windward, where he believes he can boat copra over the reef on the south side. We are beating against a head wind now; the sky is overcast with ragged clouds that tell of high winds raging above us.

January 11. — We came up to the reef on the south side of Rakahanga at six this morning, and went to work landing cargo for our trader, Tommy Eustace.

In the evening, after we had washed down decks and were through for the day, a boat came off with a note from the Captain saying that he would stay ashore for the night and telling me to sail well away from the island.

The heat, the work, and the gallons of water I have consumed have given me a burning acid stomach, with the consequent nervousness. The barometer is falling rapidly, and is now three tenths below normal; the wind has shifted to the north, and there is a sinister bank of clouds rising above the horizon. I may be in for three or four days of stormy weather. If the masts were sound this would be a relief, as I could heave to the schooner and rest; but I do not like to be aboard this old wreck alone in stormy weather, for if anything goes wrong the blame will naturally be put on me.

Ten o’clock.—At seven I put the schooner on the starboard tack with reefed sails, and started beating up to windward. A long rain squall is screaming over the schooner now, and the wind is shifting to the northwest, the worst quarter for storms. I cannot for a moment forget that two rotten masts are hanging over me. Well, if they go to-night, any of us who are killed by their crashing down may be saved a worse death in the North Atlantic. The more I think of it, the more impossible it seems that we shall ever make the coast of California!

January 12. — There was no sleep for any of us last night. By midnight the wind had increased to such a gale that I had to turn out both watches to take in the jib and double reef the fore and main sails. When I went forward to wake Ropes, the fat little Manihikian refused to get up, saying that this was his watch below. Ropes is inclined to be cheeky. As this is the first time I have been in charge of the schooner, I thought it would be a fine opportunity to establish my authority. I caught hold of him by the shoulders and jerked him out of his berth, letting him fall as hard as possible on the floor, four feet below. Jumping to his feet with a sputter of Manihiki profanity, he drew back his fist. I did not give him time to strike, but whirled him around and sent him flying out of the forecastle! After that he was quite willing to help with the sails. I do not look for any further trouble from him.

This may appear to be unnecessary brutality, but it is not. Many a time in the course of a voyage a moment’s delay will mean the loss of the ship and all hands; and when a sailor believes he can ignore the orders of his officers, he has at that moment put the ship in jeopardy. Also, it is much kinder to teach a lesson once and well than continually to nag a sailor.

We worked nearly three hours on the sails. Several of the boys being ashore, it was a heartless job getting in the reefs, but by three in the morning it was done; then we went to work putting lashings on the reef boat and a number of empty gasoline drums that were rolling about in the waist. By the time everything was shipshape morning had come. I then brought the ship on the other tack, using the engine to come about, and sailed back toward Rakahanga. By evening we sighted the island, so I tacked again, and am now standing out to sea.

The wind is milder to-night, but still it blows a gale. The old ship labors heavily without a good cloud of canvas to steady her. I can give her no more, for even now, at each lurch and roll, I feel my muscles tighten with the expectation of the masts coming down on our heads.

Sunday, January 13. — This morning the sky was clear and the wind back in its proper quarter in the northeast. At daybreak the island was about five miles to windward, so I told Pepe to start the engine and we steamed up to the southwest reef, where we lay off and on for the rest of the day.

I slept most of the morning, but during the afternoon watch I lay in my berth reading Cyrano de Bergerac for the fiftieth time. Sometimes, setting the book to one side, I watched the reef islets from my porthole as we sailed slowly past them. Of all the islands in the South Seas, Puka-Puka and Rakahanga are my favorites. They are both atolls, and, though most of the traders favor the high islands, they have no fascination for me. The beauty of a mountain is more than I can grasp; I stare at it and turn away dazed, retaining no concrete impression of its beauty. But an atoll is within my grasp; I can glance at it and understand it, afterward holding a palpable impression of what I have seen. I wonder if it is not the same with most people, and they are only dazed or confused when they think they are thrilled with the beauty of a mountainous prospect?

Night.—This evening the Captain came aboard with a number of passengers for Manihiki. He told me that he was quite at ease during the blow, knowing that I would do everything in my power for the safety of the ship. We are now on our way back to Manihiki, and as the wind is fair we expect to be off the reef shortly after midnight.

January 16 (Manihiki). — Captain Thomson returned from a visit ashore this morning with a worried expression. ‘Poor old Henry!’ he said when I met him on deck. ‘He’s about gone! His heart is giving out and he is lying back on his bed unable to move!'

Andy was silent as we entered the cabin. Then he said: ‘Ropati, I feel like a dog when I think of all the mean things I have said about him. After all, he has been one of us up here in the Line Islands — one of the oldest traders. He has seen his days of plenty and his hard times, and he’s done all of us many a good turn. He said to me, “Andy, I’ve lived my life and I’ve got no regrets. I’ve been a rascal and that’s what people will remember about me; but I’ve been a good friend too, though nobody will think about that when I’m gone. I’m dying, Andy,” he gasped, “and there ain’t a soul will weep a tear except my old Tahitian girl, and her tears will dry pretty quick when she finds that I have n’t left her as much as she expected!”’

I found myself remarkably cold. I wanted to say something about his death being a good riddance; but I could not when I noticed the genuine concern on Andy’s wholesome face.

January 17. — This morning we landed two boatloads of trade goods, but by nine o’clock the reef had become too rough to work. Captain Thomson went ashore and found Henry still alive and possibly a little better. He begged the Captain to take him away, claiming that if he could get to Penrhyn Island and catch the Tiare with Dr. Christie aboard there might be some hope of his reaching Tahiti alive, and there he could die in peace.

’For God’s sake, Andy!' he pleaded. ‘I’m an old man and my time is at hand, and it’s terrible to think of dying on this God-forsaken island. In Tahiti I have friends who will plant me out with the rest of the boys in the Teperuae Cemetery; here I’ll be stuck in the sand with the Kanakas. If you’ve any humanity, Andy, take me away!’

Andy was deeply affected. He asked me what I thought he should do.

‘Leave him,’ I answered promptly. ‘If you take him away without a proper stock-taking, and let him slip away to Tahiti, he will steal everything he can lay his hands on; and when you return to Rarotonga and McKegg finds you have done this on your own initiative he will discharge you.’

‘Henry is too far gone to think of stealing now.’

‘Don’t you believe it. He may be sick, but Henry is never too sick to steal.’

‘Then what am I going to do?' Andy asked in an irritated tone. ‘I can’t refuse the last request of a dying man; it would be on my conscience for the rest of my days.’

We dropped the subject, but later in the day the Captain decided to return to Rakahanga and get Tommy Eustace to relieve Henry.

To make a long story short, it turned out, as Dan Ellis told us, that Henry was malingering. When we sailed to Rakahanga for his relief he was foolish enough to jump out of bed, drink a bottle of gin, and brag to some of his cronies about how he would buy pearls in Penrhyn and start a big hotel in Tahiti with the proceeds. Of course that settled the Henry McDonald problem.

January 24. — Back in Rakahanga again. In the evening two Rakahanga girls came off with their luggage and paid their passage to Penrhyn Island. We had our copra stowed by dark, and at last cleared away for Penrhyn Island, our last port of call this side of San Francisco.

The girl passengers sat on the midshiphouse deck to-night. One played a guitar while the other sang and danced. About ten o’clock a squall came down upon us, pelting us with a volley of rain and driving the passengers below. It is raining and blowing hard as I write this, at midnight.

January 25 (Lat. 9.55 S.; Long. 160.15 W.) — We have been beating against a head wind since leaving Rakahanga, making about thirty miles a day toward Penrhyn Island. Captain Thomson has turned the schooner over to me, to get me in shape for the long run north, I suppose. He seems quite at ease, comfortably established in his berth most of the time, reading my two volumes of Don Quixote. At meals he often quotes some striking passage.

Everything that Noel does comes to grief, especially his stews and curries. Each day his cooking becomes worse, in spite of our threats and entreaties. Last night Six-Seas told me that the food he gives the sailors is nauseating — half-cooked or burnt rice, and tinned beef that he has not bothered to warm. Andy threatens to thrash him and I have asked him to give me notice when it takes place.

January 29 (Lat. 9.35 S.; Long. 157.59 W.) — I hope to make land tomorrow. I am sailing on short tacks of twelve hours each, for the wind shifts a point to the east during the day and a point to the north at night.

This schooner is as bad as a steamer. Ten times a day the lady passengers ask when we shall make land, and, as I give them vague replies, they are beginning to believe that I do not know, which is quite true. Last night I told them that we have missed the island, and are beating back and forth hunting for it. They are quite dismayed.

January 30. — At 10 A.M., having taken double chronometer sights, I found that we had worked to windward forty-two miles since yesterday noon! There must be a favorable current helping us. When I told Captain Thomson that he should sight land at two this afternoon, he replied that I had made a mistake in working out my sights.

At noon, as I was taking a meridian altitude for latitude to check up my other observations, land was sighted from the masthead. A few moments later the Captain came on deck and took charge, telling me that he had no fault to find with the way I handled the ship, except that I had been two hours in error in my calculation as to when we should sight Penrhyn. I replied that I had calculated on sighting land from the deck; but he paid no attention to this excuse, only wagging his head and muttering that many a ship has been piled high and dry because of less error.

He sent Pepe below to start the engine, and with all canvas close-hauled we were able to make the lee of the land.

At two o’clock, in sweating up the main purchase, the block aloft came adrift and the mainsail fell. Captain Thomson was on deck at the time with Food and the cook. He jumped under the main boom and Food ran to the windward side of the ship. Noel, being a landsman, did not realize the danger. The block struck him a glancing blow on the skull, cutting a gash to the bone four inches long. He fell, while the block, completing its downward course, struck his thumb and amputated it except for a little of the skin.

When I came on deck I found Ropes kneeling over the cook and staring at him stupidly. I put a tourniquet on Noel’s arm and asked the Captain, who had been forward for water, to bring me his razor. With it I cut off the rest of Noel’s thumb and threw it overboard. This shocked greasy little Ropes, who said that I should have kept it until we arrived in Penrhyn, when the missionary would have given it a Christian burial. He annoyed me so much I chased him forward and called Six-Seas to help me. A half hour later I had the cook bandaged and in his berth.

Captain Thomson kept well out of the way, for the sight of blood or suffering sickens him. He will delay killing a pig because of his dread of hearing the creature’s final squeal to the departing world. Only fish can he see bleed and die without agitation.

When we entered the lagoon we made out, over the low fringe of bush on the passage islet, the masts of the Tiare Taporo where she was tied up at the stone wharf before A. B. Donald, Ltd.’s trading station. This relieved us, for we knew that Dr. Christie, the Cook Island’s medical officer, was aboard and would take Noel off our hands.

I am afraid that the Captain and I showed inordinate brutality while William Ford, the pilot, was conning us through the reefs and coral heads to our anchorage.

‘Well,’ the Captain said, looking straight ahead of him, his face immobile, ‘what do you think about this accident? I suppose we won’t be able to take Noel with us to San Francisco.'

‘No; thank goodness!’ I replied, without glancing at the Captain.

‘Poor lad!’ Andy said coldly. ‘I feel sorry now for all the hazing I gave him on the voyage north.’

‘Do you really?’

The Captain smiled slightly; then his face resumed its impenetrable bluntness.

I ventured: ‘When I saw him stretched out on deck I could not help thinking that now we should be able to sign on a new cook.’

Andy became more confidential than usual. ‘To tell you the truth,’ he said. ‘I thought exactly the same thing.’

We dropped our anchor near the wharf, threw lines ashore and warped in until the Tagua lay directly astern of the Tiare Taporo. The shore was nearly deserted; an old woman sat on the Donald trading-station verandah that fronted the lagoon, and Prendergast and Harrison, traders of Penrhyn and Rakahanga respectively, were on the after deck of the Tiare. They could not help glancing at me superciliously when they saw my filthy clothes and the sweat running down my face as I worked with the sailors on the winch. I understood what they meant as well as though they had said: ‘See what the Puka-Puka trader has fallen to! He thought he was a big man in PukaPuka, writing stories and trading for A. B. Donald; but now that he’s left the firm he has to work with a set of Kanaka sailors!’

When the schooner was safely berthed we went ashore and met Prendergast and Harrison.

January 31. — Dr. Christie arrived at midnight. He examined and sewed the gash in Noel’s scalp, but left his thumb until this morning. After breakfast I acted as surgeon’s nurse while it was trimmed and sewed up. When the cook was neatly swathed in bandages the Doctor suggested that we stroll to Phillip Woonton’s house, which we did. We found all the whites back from Tautua and on his verandah. There were nine of us, including Prendergast and Harrison; Willson, the Resident Agent, a man who was wrecked here forty-odd years ago and has lived here ever since; Captain Viggo of the Tiare, the most loved and most influential man in the Line Islands; Dr. Christie; Verenreth, a retired sea captain who is now the Resident Agent of Aitutaki and is visiting the northern islands during his vacation; Andy, myself, and Phillip Woonton, our trader. Phillip has lived on the island most of his life, and his father was one of the first white men to land here.

I sat next to Captain Viggo and we talked of old times, for Viggo was a father as well as an employer to me during my four years’ trading on PukaPuka. Before long Phillip brought out a bottle of rum and soon the conversation became general and meaningless. Later Andy and I dined with Phillip. We had a real atoll meal of raw milk mullet in coconut sauce, roast suckling pig, puraka, and baked bananas.

February 13. — For some days I have been wondering why Captain Thomson does not go aloft to examine our broken mainmast. On the voyage north we could see it wobbling above the hounds, and recently it has had a permanent list to starboard. We know what this means, but avoid speaking about it, as a condemned man would avoid discussing various types of homicidal machines. I now discover that the Captain did not want to find anything the matter with it while Viggo and the Tiare passengers were in port. He dreaded their comments and advice.

This morning he went aloft and was on the crosstrees more than an hour, sitting there most of the time in a brown study, only occasionally looking at the mast. He came down for lunch, sat at the table for a few moments without eating, then went into his cabin and laydown. In the evening I made some clam chowder and asked Phillip aboard to share it. Andy ate a little, and when Phillip and I had finished and we had gone on deck for a smoke Andy said: ‘Well, Ropati, you and I will never see San Francisco at this rate. The mast is broken clean through and there is nothing keeping the part above the hounds from falling overboard except the four-by-six brace that was bolted on in Tahiti last year. How it has held this long is a mystery; I could wobble it with my hands.'

He made a wry face and I thought I could detect a shudder passing over him.

‘I was lucky to have weathered that gale off Rakahanga,’I said, half to myself; and the Captain elucidated the matter by muttering, ‘Fool’s luck!'

Phillip opened his eyes wide, but said nothing. Presently we rose by common impulse and walked to his house. There, under the influence of a bottle of home-brew, we cheered up and started discussing the possibility of repairing the mast. There were plenty of ideas, but none seemed feasible.

February 14. — Andy was worried. He and Phillip talked over ways and means most of the day, but to no effect. After dinner we sat on deck as usual while they continued their discussion on how to strengthen the mast. I did not listen to them. Suddenly the voyage had become interesting.

‘There will be danger now and I can prove myself indifferent to it,’ I thought.

This intrigued me so much that I fairly purred with gratification. On the voyage north, with only hard work and winds tempered to the shorn condition of our ship, the voyage had palled on me, and I had wondered what silly notion could have induced me to go to sea and become an ordinary drudge of a sailor when I might enjoy a more interesting life ashore. Several times, while here at Penrhyn, I had been tempted to board the Tiare and sail to Tahiti, and I believe that it was only the fear of someone saying I had been afraid to sail on that had kept me from deserting. But now, with a fine chance of being dismasted at sea, the voyage became interesting.

As I lay on deck my eyes turned to one of the topmasts lashed along the midshiphouse rail. Only vaguely aware of what I was saying, I muttered: ‘Why don’t you take this topmast and lash it alongside the broken mainmast so it will run up to the truck and down ten feet or so below the hounds? Drive a couple of bolts through both masts and lash them together. They will never give way, even though they do look odd.’

Andy jumped to his feet and cried: ‘There you are! I said not to hurry, but to let things soak in our heads for a while. Curse of Satan on me! That’s the very thing!'

Though it was quite dark, the Captain got out his rule, and with a flashlight started measuring and planning. In an hour’s time the technical points were worked out, and his gloom had given way to high spirits. Before turning in he glanced at me with a whimsical smile. ‘Out of the mouths of babes and fools comes wisdom!’ he misquoted.

By to-morrow he will have forgotten that I made the suggestion.

February 15. — Phillip and the Captain have been working all day on the topmast fittings. They have made their own bolts and nuts, and are forging iron strops out of old chain plates. These strops will nearly encircle the mainmast with its topmast brace, the remainder of the circumference to be taken up by turn-buckles with which to draw the two masts tightly together. There will be four iron strops and two bolts to go through both masts. Also, the topmast will be wedged into its collar at the hounds, and rope seizings put on in two or three places.

Pepe, our engineer, sailed away on the Tiare, too craven to continue the voyage. I am glad I have stayed by the ship; it would be mortifying to know that South Sea gossips are whispering that the mate also turned back.

This morning when I went into the engine room to start the confounded thing I found that I am not nearly as brave as I thought. It is the first time I have tackled the machine alone, and mechanical things frighten me. There is something cruel and impassive about a revolver, a man-o’-war, an automobile engine, or anything made of steel; and in my worst nightmares I imagine I am being transformed into a metallic substance. Iron things kill a man without sentiment, in a detached, feelingless manner. Being murdered by a man who is prompted by blind hate would be more tolerable; or to be poisoned by a wife who might shed a few tears of remorse — but to be killed outright by a machine is terrifying in the extreme. I have a superstitious dread of these machines; something will go wrong, some part blow off and transfix me, or the whole thing go up in smoke and flames and the screaming of dismembered victims. Ugh! I wish Pepe were back to take charge of his cursed engine! An engineer should be a man without imagination; but I, unfortunately, suffer from an imagination.

After the first two or three turns of the flywheel, to my intense satisfaction the thing would not go. I felt tempted to leave it, telling Andy that Pepe, in a malicious fit of jealousy that someone else should be handling his machine, had broken some indispensable part — taken off the carburetors, removed the crank case, or bored holes in the cylinders. Something of the kind — neither Andy nor I would know the difference.

I sat on the workbench and pitied myself: ‘You have enough to do without being an engineer,’I soliloquized. ‘The Captain is taking advantage of you. You must stand up for your rights! Here you are, mate, standing your watches day and night, four hours on and four hours off, with never more than three hours’ sleep at a time. Also, you are steward, taking charge of supplies and swallowing the opprobrium of both the cook and the skipper. Either you get ugly glances from the cook because you work him too hard and have food that the skipper will eat without a growl, or else you gain the cook’s tolerance by letting him boil rice and open a tin of beef for dinner, and hear the skipper cursing all cooks and mates to Gehenna. Besides this, you have to navigate, which breaks up your morning watches below; and you have to sailorize when you should be pacing the deck, admiring the billowy ocean, and enjoying yourself as a chief officer should!’

Feeling much better after this, I gave the flywheel another turn, flipped the spark-plug gadget with my index finger, and to my surprise and consternation the thing started off with a terrible explosion of backfiring. With my heart in my mouth I jumped to the switch and turned it off. Then I climbed out of the engine room as nonchalantly as possible to tell the Captain that I had just tuned up the machine and left it in fine running order.

‘I heard you bombarding the settlement,’ Andy replied curtly, and returned to his work on the topmast gear.

February 17. — I felt miserable this Sunday morning; tired, bilious, exhausted by the heat and the hard work. During the morning I took six sights of the sun to rate our two chronometers. The sun was twenty-five degrees above a break between two coral islets, eight miles across the lagoon. As I brought it down to the horizon, and through the telescope on my sextant saw the two clumps of palms and the dark red ball of fire between them, a strong desire came to leave this cramped little settlement — to walk far around the reef to an uninhabited islet where I could camp, alone! As I worked out my sights, the desire increased. Deciding to go, I left my results on Andy’s table with a note; then went to Phillip’s house to borrow his shotgun. With it, a knife, some matches, tobacco, and a length of fishline, I struck out through the village.

I met the native parson before I was clear of the settlement. He glanced at my gun, scowled, turned his head away with an intolerant jerk, and, tucking his Bible under his arm, hurried on. How well the missionaries teach their native satellites to be as bigoted and intolerant as themselves!

A quarter of a mile along the lagoon beach the trail lost itself in a tangle of brush and fallen fronds, for the Penrhyn Islanders have paid little attention to their coconut lands since the pearl boom of five years ago. From the end of the trail I followed the beach, shooting a plover or a curlew when it came within range, and stopping every mile or so to climb a coconut tree and bring down a drinking nut. The curlews were little balls of fat. As I trudged along, plucking their feathers, my weariness and biliousness disappeared with the anticipation of the fine meal ahead, of the pleasure of being away from the village and the ship for a night.

Presently, coming to the ruins of an old village, I recognized it as the one Lamont wrote about in his Wild Life in the South Seas. No one has lived here for forty-five years; it is inexpressibly lonely with the vestiges of its former life. There are coral foundations for houses, paths with stone borders half lost in the undergrowth, and a few hard-wood posts scattered among the coconut trees that mark the sites of the common people’s houses. Set apart from the other ruins, near the outer beach, stand the high roofless walls of Penrhyn’s first church, reflecting white patches of sunlight through a thicket of pandanus; an ano tree grows within its walls, showering the gaunt skeleton with fragrant blossoms. On the lagoon side the water is cut off by causeways that enclose a dozen fishponds, where schools of bonefish and milk mullet bask on the sand bottom; when one approaches they leap out of the water with flashes of silver and gray.

By five o’clock I was far around the reef on the long islet of Mangarongaro.

Across a stretch of shallow water a hundred yards from the lagoon beach was a sand bank with two coconut trees and some low brush. There someone had built a lean-to of fronds, and I decided to make it my shelter.

The first thing was to get my drinking nuts for the night. All the trees thereabouts appeared unusually high; but after walking a quarter of a mile along the beach I found a low tree leaning over the water. I made a strop out of my belt, put my feet into it so the strop crossed the instep, and jumped on to the tree in the native fashion. Thus my feet were on either side of the bole, while the belt held them firmly against it. I climbed by raising my feet as I clung to the tree with my hands, then gripped it with my feet while I straightened up to take another hold with my hands farther up the tree.

There were ten nuts the right age for drinking. These I threw into the water and, climbing down, brought them ashore. When I husked them on a pointed stick braced in a crab hole, the shells of two were broken. I drank them, scraped out the tender flesh and ate it. Next I gathered a bundle of dry coconut spathes to be used as firewood and carried them, with the nuts, to the sand bank.

It was dark by now, but a fire of spathes and husks broke the gloom on the sand bank, touching the lagoon ripples with aurorean lights. The islet was strewn with halved shells of coconuts, the last inhabitant having made his copra here. I gathered about a hundred, and fitted one shell into another, making a long line of them from the fire outward. Soon the shell closest to the fire started to burn with its peculiar white flame, so when the cooking fire had died down to a few coals I still had sufficient light to prepare my meal. Such a line of coconut shells will keep burning for an hour or more, one shell igniting the next by slow degrees down the line.

The birds were picked. Spitted on sticks, I held them close over the coals to grill, then laid three green coconuts on the edge of the fire to boil — these would be my tea. As the birds browned, drops of fat fell from them on to the coals until they sputtered, filling the air with an appetizing odor. I cooked the birds until they were a deep, rich brown, then thrust the spits into the sand so they would keep warm a foot or so above the coals. The coconuts took longer. When the shells on one side had burned they required turning. Finally little spouts of steam whistled out of broken places in each of them, so I took them from the coals and put them to one side to cool.

There is unalloyed satisfaction in forgetting one’s duties, conventions, habits — in reverting to savagery. To-night I sank my teeth in the birds with barbaric pleasure; I felt tempted to growl and crunch the bones. I ate six birds and drank the water from all three coconuts.

The wind has sprung up with the setting sun; now it blows over megently. The ngangei bushes spread their gnarled and grotesque branches over my head, rustling faintly and sibilantly like the distant buzz of night insects. At my feet the lagoon ripples lightly, jingling the coral gravel with the tintinnabulation of tiny bells; there is not a human sound to jar upon my ears. Across the lagoon, in the sky above the farthest islet, a sombre cloud has risen; it reminds me of a sitting Buddha. The new moon is casting dim shadows across it with her sad yellow light. It seems as though I were in an ancient temple where a candle burns before the idol of a pagan god. As the idol crumbles among the stars I fall asleep.

Another night on the islet, and early Tuesday morning I started back for the ship, in fine health and spirits, singing as I left the miles behind me. Fourteen plovers and curlews met their fate this morning; they were for Andy, to mollify his rage over my desertion. But Andy understood; he is glad I took the holiday.

February 19. — The day has been fogged in a cloud of perspiration. The wind is dead and the thermometer close to one hundred; with the extreme humidity, work is murderous. But work we must, the Captain and Phillip on the broken mast, and myself with the cargo and in the engine room. I am beginning to find that that place requires a great deal of attention in the way of rusting iron and brass-polishing. To-day we bent on all the sails and stowed the last of the firewood and the gasoline drums full of water. There have been a hundred jobs to attend to, for we put to sea to-morrow!

After my bath this evening, I sat on Phillip’s verandah and fell asleep immediately. The Captain woke me at eleven; he had been sitting beside me talking with Phillip for three hours!

I rose greatly refreshed. ‘We put to sea to-morrow,’ I muttered to myself; and Andy, hearing me, said with a laugh, ‘Curse of Satan on me! Have you just woke up to the fact?’

‘No,’ I replied; ‘but I have been dreaming that going to sea will mean one of two things: that I shall see a civilized land after nine years in the wilds, or that we shall be lost at sea! I know it sounds absurd, but both these alternatives frighten me.’

(The next stage of Mr. Frisbie’s voyage will be called ‘Full and By’)