Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

the cat of the Belle Frances had borrowed, for personal reasons, all the fish, leaving, of course, the tin as security. In this matter of hair-breadth escapes and strange perils I have been in a fashion luckily un. fortunate. I never seem to have got into any adventure worthy of the name—perhaps an upset boat or two near a coral reef, and a very painful rescue (how humane persons intent on saving life can hurt you!), and being on one occasion very nearly in a railway accident in Kansas, sums up my tragic career as yet, and I am perfectly willing to give my share of such things to any poor person who likes them. How different it is with some people! They stop a week at San Francisco, and the first respectable bar-room they enter, one man has just been shot, while everybody around is preparing to shoot everybody else. Again, at sea, if not happily wrecked they are always within an ace of foundering; masts and sails go by the board ; their normal condition of ocean travel is on the ship's beam-ends ; the saloon is always full of water, and they never eat anything for days.

Jackson had had a miner's experience in addition to his strange journeys in the Pacific, but his adventures had been generally of the comic description; though with a few Papuan islanders as with miners he had had occasion, like myself, to hold his own by a show of bis revolver, but these were very extreme cases.

Islands rich in agricultural wealth and of exquisite beauty, which are generally supposed by most Englishmen to be the home of bloodthirsty cannibals, have been inhabited by docile Christians for years; and these are the places chiefly visited by Jackson

14

VOL. II.

and others like him. There are, of course, still existing dangerous groups in the Pacific; and, in regard to these, it is always necessary to go unostentatiously armed, and ascertain if possible, before attempting to land, the temper of the inhabitants. However, if a man goes to London he need not all the time reside in Bluegate Fields, Shadwell; and it would be quite possible to commence a large business in the Pacific without, at any rate for the first year or so, interfering with the somewhat ill-conditioned Papuans of some of the islands to the west of the New Hebrides.

* That's Niufau,' said Jackson, one morning as we were taking a little deck-exercise before breakfast, pointing to a somewhat distant blue island.

• Have you ever been there?' I inquired.

'Yes, some time ago with Sterndale. It has no harbour, and is just the lip of a great crater which smokes at times and deposits large quantities of sulphur. The fertility of the soil is astonishing. Cocoa-nuts are in immense quantity and of extraordinary size, each shell being upon an average equal in capacity to a gallon measure. I owing to the heat of the soil. By the way, the same cocoa-nuts are found in the adjacent islands of Fotuna and Alofa, which lie over there to the west of us. The people of those islands are a pattern lot of Catholics now, industrious and hospitable. A few years ago they were such determined cannibals that they used to steal their neighbours' children for food, though they had plenty of hogs, vegetables, and fish.

' If we can get rid of the copra and other things

suppose this is

at Levuka, into a Sydney craft, I think after all I shall

go

for an all-round cruise; and if you care to come you can act as supercargo—that is, if we get any—but I am almost certain we shall, because I have been a precious long time away.'

I readily assented, and asked no question as to what I was to get per month.

The powerful grasp of Jackson's intellect made a great impression on me; nothing was too small, nothing was too big for his all-incorporating mind, and my readers can but faintly imagine how quickly the time passed in my dead friend's company.

In due time we reached Kandavu ; the drugs, and pearls, and despatches were sent off to 'Frisco and London, while we had to beat up for Levuka, where the Bhering was on the berth for Sydney. This enabled Jackson to get rid of his copra and pearl-shell to one of the local merchants, through the intervention of my friend Mr. Otty Cudlip, the auctioneer (I have pleasant reminiscences of a musical evening or two at Mr. Cudlip's house), and after purchasing “trade' sufficient almost to fill the Belle Frances, we exchanged some little courtesies with Mr. Smart, the Collector of Customs, and Mr. Drury, the United States Consul, and prepared to leave Levuka for an all-round cruise

among

other
groups

than those of Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.

In the chapter that follows I do not give any detail of personal travel, nor do I dwell on scenes which, though interesting enough at the time, can hardly be called adventures ; nor, again, do I adhere exactly to the track followed by the Belle Frances. It is true she went from island unto island,' but the order in which these islands were taken is a secondary question.

Every day we tubbed in the morning, breakfasted, lunched, and dined ; some days it was scorchingly hot, with little wind ; on others we sped along under a generally.cloudy sky, while bursts of refreshing tropical rain alternated with fitful gleams of tropical sunshine. It is perhaps a well-known fact, but not so well known as it might be, that the rising and falling of the waters of the Pacific are influenced in a very small degree only by the moon. The variations of the height to which the water rises amount to only a few inches in the course of the year, and it is rarely elevated more than perhaps eighteen inches. During the whole of the year the water is lowest about six in the morning and at the same hour in the evening, and it is highest at noon and at midnight, high water and midnight being throughout Coral Lands synonymous terms.

Jackson being perfectly well known on the islands we called at, some big chief or local trader would at once board our schooner ; samples were soon exhibited, and sales effected without much haggling. In a majority of cases copra, bêche-de-mer, or pearl-shell was waiting for us. In some localities the arrival of the Belle Frances was a perfect godsend to the white beachcombers, of whom we saw some very good and very bad specimens. As a strange bit of Pacific experience of my own,

I will just state the following. Our schooner was making the best of a very light wind through a channel dividing two large-sized atolls, which shall

be nameless in this book, when a row-boat came alongside, steered by a youngish-looking white man, of course as brown as a berry, and clad in shirt and trousers only. Telling the boys to keep alongside, he came up our side, and after purchasing some tobacco, and other odds and ends (he was a local trader), I asked him to accept the hospitality of our cabin, over some sardines and biscuit, washed down with bottled ale. He suddenly turned round on me and asked if I had seen the So-and-so's lately? mentioning the names of old schoolfellows of mine, and most intimate friends. He had recognised his old class-mate, but I failed at first sight to see in the bronzed stockingless waif of the Pacific, trading in a most remote cluster of atolls, the same fellow who fifteen years before used to help me considerably over the correct rendering of some puzzling Greek authors.

My readers can understand the afternoon that followed. Jackson's customer in tobacco was a New Zealand parallel to himself, but, unlike our skipper, had not yet gone through his 'bad time.'

What yarns of Taranaki, of pah-taking in the wars of 1864-5, of Te Kooti and the West Coast ; what endless gossip over the old days at Chatham House, of the sixth-form bullies and the fourth-form sneaks ; what comparisons between the particular forms of dishonesty respectively favoured by the miners of Australia and California ; what a string of questions on both sides, and how passingly strange the place of all these references to the past !

The trader's boys,' plentifully supplied from our

« ForrigeFortsæt »