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Becke, Louis / By Rock and Pool on an Austral Shore, and Other Stories
Produced by David McLachlan and PG Distributed Proofreaders

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* * * * *

On An Austral Shore



New Amsterdam Book Company
















* * * * *


_By Rock and Pool on an Austral Shore_

The quaint, old-fashioned little town faces eastward to the blue
Pacific, whose billows, when the wind blows from any point between north
and east, come tumbling in across the shallow bar in ceaseless lines of
foaming white, to meet, when the tide is on the ebb, the swift current
of a tidal river as broad as the Thames at Westminster Bridge. On the
south side of the bar, from the sleepy town itself to the pilot station
on the Signal Hill, there rises a series of smooth grassy bluffs, whose
seaward bases touch the fringe of many small beaches, or start sheer
upward from the water when the tide is high, and the noisy swish and
swirl of the eager river current has ceased.

As you stand on the Signal Hill, and look along the coast, you see a
long, long monotonous line of beach, trending northward ten miles from
end to end, forming a great curve from the sandspit on the north side of
the treacherous bar to the blue loom of a headland in shape like the
figure of a couchant lion. Back from the shore-line, a narrow littoral
of dense scrub, impervious to the rays of the sun, and unbroken in its
solitude except by the cries of birds, or the heavy footfall of wild
cattle upon the thick carpet of fallen leaves; and then, far to the
west, the dimmed, shadowy outline of the main coastal range.

* * * * *

It is a keen, frosty morning in June--the midwinter of Australia--and as
the red sun bursts through the sea-rim, a gentle land breeze creeps
softly down from the mountain forest of gums and iron-barks, and blows
away the mists that, all through a night of cloudless calm, have laid
heavily upon the surface of the sleeping ocean. One by one the doors of
the five little white-painted, weather-boarded houses which form the
quarters of the pilot-boat's crew open, and five brown, hairy-faced men,
each smoking a pipe, issue forth, and, hands in pockets, scan the
surface of the sea from north to south, for perchance a schooner, trying
to make the port, may have been carried along by the current from the
southward, and is within signalling distance to tell her whether the bar
is passable or not. For the bar of the Port is as changeable in its
moods as the heart of a giddy maid to her lovers--to-day it may invite
you to come in and take possession of its placid waters in the harbour
beyond; to-morrow it may roar and snarl with boiling surf and savage,
eddying currents, and whirlpools slapping fiercely against the grim,
black rocks of the southern shore.

Look at the five men as they stand or saunter about on the smooth,
frosty grass. They are sailormen--one and all--as you can see by their
walk and hear by their talk; rough, ready, and sturdy, though not so
sturdy nor so square-built as your solid men of brave old Deal; but a
long way better in appearance and character than the sponging,
tip-seeking, loafing fraternity of slouching, lazy robbers who on the
parades of Brighton, Hastings, and Eastbourne, and other fashionable
seaside resorts in this country, lean against lamp-posts with "Licensed
Boatman" writ on their hat-bands, and call themselves fishermen, though
they seldom handle a herring or cod that does not come from a
fishmonger's shop. These Australians of British blood are leaner in
face, leaner in limb than the Kentish men, and drink whiskey instead of
coffee or tea at early morn. But see them at work in the face of danger
and death on that bar, when the surf is leaping high and a schooner lies
broadside on and helpless to the sweeping rollers, and you will say that
a more undaunted crew never gripped an oar to rescue a fellow-sailorman
from the hungry sea.

One of them, a grey-haired, deeply-bronzed man of sixty, with his neck
and hands tatooed in strange markings, imprinted thereon by the hands of
the wild natives of Tucopia, in the South Seas, with whom he has lived
forty years before as one of themselves, is mine own particular friend
and crony, for his two sons have been playmates with my brothers and
myself, who were all born in this quaint old-time seaport of the first
colony in Australia; this forgotten remnant of the dread days of the
awful convict system, when the clank of horrible gyves sounded on the
now deserted and grass-grown streets, and the swish of the hateful and
ever active "cat" was heard within the walls of the huge red-brick
prison on the bluff facing the sea. Oh, the old, old memories of those
hideous times! How little they wounded or troubled our boyish minds, as
we, bent on some fishing or hunting venture along the coast, walked
along a road which had been first soddened by tears and then dried by
the panting, anguished breathings of beings fashioned in the image of
their Creator, as they toiled and died under the brutal hands of their
savage task-masters--the civilian officials of that cruel "System"
which, by the irony of fate, the far-seeing, gentle, and tender-hearted
Arthur Phillip, the founder of Australia, was first appointed to

But away with such memories for the moment. Over the lee side with them
into the Sea of the Past, together with the clank of the fetters and the
hum of the cat and the merciless laws of the time; sink them all
together with the names of the military rum-selling traducers of the
good Phillip, and of ill-tempered, passionate sailor Bligh of the
_Bounty_--honest, brave, irascible, vindictive; destroyer of his ship's
company on that fateful adventure to Tahiti, hero of the most famous
boat-voyage the world has ever known; sea-bully and petty "hazer" of
hapless Fletcher Christian and his comrades, gallant officer in battle
and thanked by Nelson at Copenhagen; conscientious governor of a
starveling colony gasping under the hands of unscrupulous military
money-makers, William Bligh deserves to be remembered by all men of
English blood who are proud of the annals of the most glorious navy in
the world.

* * * * *

But ere we descend to the beach to wander by rock and pool in this
glowing Australian sun, the warm, loving rays of which are fast drying
the frost-coated grass, let us look at these square, old-time monuments
to the dead, placed on the Barrack Hill, and overlooking the sea. There
are four in all, but around them are many low, sunken headstones of
lichen-covered slabs, the inscriptions on which, like many of those on
the stones in the cemetery by the reedy creek, have long since vanished.

There, indeed, if you care to brave the snake-haunted place you will
discover a word, or the part of a word--"Talav----," "Torre----Vedras,"
"Vimiera," or "Badaj----," or "Fuentes de On----," and you know that
underneath lies the dust of men who served their country well when the
Iron Duke was rescuing Europe from the grip of the bloodstained
Corsican. On one, which for seventy years has faced the rising sun and
the salty breath of the ocean breeze, there remains but the one glorious
word, "Aboukir!" every indented letter thickly filled with grey moss and
lichen, though the name of he who fought there has disappeared, and
being but that of some humble seaman, is unrecorded and unknown in the
annals of his country. How strange it seems! but yet how fitting that
this one word alone should be preserved by loving Nature from the
decaying touch of Time. Perhaps the very hand of the convict mason who
held the chisel to the stone struck deeper as he carved the letters of
the name of the glorious victory.

But let us away from here; for in the hot summer months amid these
neglected and decaying memorials of the dead, creeping and crawling in
and out of the crumbling masonry of the tombs, gliding among the long,
reedy grass, or lying basking in the sun upon the fallen headstones, are
deadly black and brown snakes. They have made this old, time-forgotten
cemetery their own favourite haunting place; for the waters of the creek
are near, and on its margin they find their prey. Once, so the shaky old
wharfinger will tell you, a naval lieutenant, who had been badly wounded
in the first Maori war, died in the commandant's house. He was buried
here on the bank of the creek, and one day his young wife who had come
from England to nurse him and found him dead, sat down on his grave and
went to sleep. When she awoke, a great black snake was lying on her
knees. She died that day from the shock.

The largest of these four monuments on the bluff stands nearest to the
sea, and the inscription on the heavy flat slab of sandstone which
covers it is fairly legible:--

Sacred to the Memory of
Who was a Private in Captain
Fraser Allan's Company
of the 40th Regiment,
Who died on the 24th November, 1823,
of a Gunshot Wound Received
on the 20th Day of the Month,
when in Pursuit of a
Runaway Convict.
Aged 25 years.

The others record the names of the "infant son and daughters of Mr. G.
Smith, Commissariat Storekeeper," and of "Edward Marvin, who died 4th
July, 1821, aged 21 years."

Many other sunken headstones denote the last resting-places of soldiers
and sailors, and civilian officials, who died between 1821 and 1830,
when the little port was a thriving place, and when, as the old gossips
will tell you, it made a "rare show, when the Governor came here, and
Major Innes--him as brought that cussed lantana plant from the
Peninsula--sent ninety mounted men to escort him to Lake Innes."

* * * * *

The tide is low, and the flat _congewoi_-covered ledges of reef on the
southern side of the bar lie bare and exposed to the sun. Here and there
in the crystal pools among the rocks, fish have been left by the tide,
and as you step over the _congewoi_, whose teats spurt out jets of
water to the pressure of your foot, large silvery bream and gaily-hued
parrot-fish rush off and hide themselves from view. But tear off a piece
of _congewoi,_ open it, and throw the sanguinary-coloured delicacy into
the water, and presently you will see the parrot-fish dart out eagerly,
and begin to tear it asunder with their long, irregular, and needle-like
teeth, whilst the more cautious and lordly bream, with wary eye and
gentle, undulating tail, watch from underneath a ledge for a favourable
moment to dash out and secure a morsel.

In some of the wider and shallower ponds are countless thousands of
small mullet, each about three or four inches in length, and swimming
closely together in separated but compact battalions. Some, as the sound
of a human footstep warns them of danger, rush for safety among the
submerged clefts and crevices of their temporary retreat, only to be
mercilessly and fatally enveloped by the snaky, viscous tentacles of the
ever-lurking octopus, for every hole and pool among the rocks contains
one or more of these hideously repulsive creatures.

Sometimes you will see one crawling over the _congewoi_, changing from
one pool to another in search of prey; its greeny-grey eyes regard you
with defiant malevolence. Strike it heavily with a stick, or thrust it
through with a spear, and in an instant its colour, which a moment
before was either a dark mottled brown or a mingled reddish-black,
changes to a ghastly, horrible, marbled grey; the horrid tentacles
writhe and cling to the weapon, or spread out and adhere to the
surrounding points of rock, a black, inky fluid is ejected from the
soft, pulpy, and slimy body; and then, after raining blow after blow
upon it, it lies unable to crawl away, but still twisting and turning,
and showing its red and white suckers--a thing of horror indeed, the
embodiment of all that is hateful, wicked, and malignant in nature.

Some idea of the numbers of these crafty and savage denizens of the
limpid pools may be obtained by dropping a baited fishing line in one of
the deeper spots. First you will see one, and then another, thin end of
a tentacle come waveringly out from underneath a ledge of rock, and
point towards the bait, then the rest of the ugly creature follows, and
gathering itself together, darts upon the hook, for the possession of
which half a dozen more of its fellows are already advancing, either
swimming or by drawing themselves over the sandy bottom of the pool.
Deep buried in the sand itself is another, a brute which may weigh ten
or fifteen pounds, and which would take all the strength of a strong man
to overcome were its loathsome tentacles clasped round his limbs in
their horrid embrace. Only part of the head and the half-closed,
tigerish eyes are visible, and even these portions are coated over with
fine sand so as to render them almost undistinguishable from the bed in
which it lies awaiting for some careless crab or fish to come within
striking distance. How us boys delighted to destroy these big fellows
when we came across one thus hidden in the sand or _débris_ on the
bottom! A quick thrust of the spear through the tough, elongated head,
a vision of whirling, outspread, red and black snaky tentacles, and then
the thing is dragged out by main strength and dashed down upon the
rocks, to be struck with waddies or stones until the spear can be
withdrawn. Everything, it is said, has its use in this world, and the
octopus is eminently useful to the Australian line fisherman, for the
bream, trevally, flathead, jew-fish, and the noble schnapper dearly love
its tough, white flesh, especially after the creature has been held over
a flame for a few minutes, so that the mottled skin may be peeled off.

But treacherous and murderous Thug of the Sea as he is, the octopus has
one dreaded foe before whom he flees in terror, and compresses his body
into the narrowest and most inaccessible cleft or endeavours to bury
himself in the loose, soft sand--and that foe is the orange-coloured or
sage-green rock eel. Never do you see one of these eels in the open
water; they lie deep under the stones or twine their lithe, slippery
bodies among the waving kelp or seaweed. Always hungry, savage-eyed, and
vicious, they know no fear of any living thing, and seizing an octopus
and biting off tentacle after tentacle with their closely-set,
needle-like teeth and swallowing it whole is a matter of no more moment
to them than the bolting of a tender young mullet or bream. In vain does
the Sea Thug endeavour to enwrap himself round and round the body of one
of these sinuous, scaleless sea-snakes and fasten on to it with his
terrible cupping apparatus of suckers--the eel slips in and out and
"wolfs" and worries his enemy without the slightest harm to itself.
Some of them are large--especially the orange-coloured variety--three or
four feet in length, and often one will raise his snaky head apparently
out of solid rock and regard you steadily for a moment. Then he
disappears. You advance cautiously to the spot and find a hole no larger
than the circumference of an afternoon tea cup, communicating with the
water beneath. Lower a baited hook with a strong wire snooding, and
"Yellowskin" will open wide his jaws and swallow it without your feeling
the slightest movement of the line. But you must be quick and strong of
hand then, or you will never drag him forth, for slippery as he is he
can coil his length around a projecting bit of rock and defy you for
perhaps five or ten minutes; and then when you do succeed in tearing him
away and pull him out with the hook buried deep in his loose, pendulous,
wrinkled and corduroyed throat, he instantly resolves himself into a
quivering Gordian knot, winding the line in and about his coils and
knotting it into such knots that can never be unravelled.

Here and there you will see lying buried deep in the growing coral, or
covered with black masses of _congewoi_ such things as iron and copper
bolts, or heavy pieces of squared timber, the relics of the many wrecks
that have occurred on the bar--some recent, some in years long gone by.
Out there, lying wedged in between the weed and kelp-covered boulders,
only visible at low water, are two of the guns of the ill-fated
_Wanderer_, a ship, like her owner, famous in the history of the
colony. She was the property of a Mr. Benjamin Boyd, a man of flocks and
herds and wealth, who founded a town and a great whaling station on the
shores of Twofold Bay, where he employed some hundreds of men, bond and
free. He was of an adventurous and restless disposition, and after
making several voyages to the South Seas, was cruelly cut off and
murdered by the cannibal natives of Guadalcanar in the Solomon Islands,
in the "fifties." The captain, after beating off the savages, who,
having killed poor Boyd on shore, made a determined attempt to capture
the ship, set sail for Australia, and in endeavouring to cross in over
the bar went ashore and became a total wreck. Here is a description
written by Judge McFarland of the _Wanderer_ as she was in those days
when Boyd dreamed a dream of founding a Republic in the South Sea
Islands with his wild crew of Polynesians and a few white fellow

"She was of 240 tons burthen; very fleet, and had a flush deck; and her
cabins were fitted up with every possible attention to convenience, and
with great elegance; and had she been intended as a war craft, she could
scarcely have been more powerfully armed, for she carried four brass
deck-guns--two six-pounders and two four-pounders--mounted on carriages
resembling dolphins, four two-pounder rail guns--two on each side--and
one brass twelve-pounder traversing gun (which had seen service at
Waterloo)--in all thirteen serviceable guns. Besides these, there were
two small, highly-ornamented guns used for firing signals, which were
said to have been obtained from the wreck of the _Royal George_ at
Spithead. There were also provided ample stores of round shot and grape
for the guns, and a due proportion of small arms, boarding pikes,
tomahawks, &c."

Half a mile further on, and we are under the Signal Hill, and standing
on one side of a wide, flat rock, through which a boat passage has been
cut by convict hands, when first the white tents of the soldiers were
seen on the Barrack Hill. And here, at this same spot, more than a
hundred years ago, and thirty before the sound of the axe was first
heard amid the forest or tallow-woods and red gum, there once landed a
strange party of sea-worn, haggard-faced beings--six men, one woman, and
two infant children. They were the unfortunate Bryant party--whose
wonderful and daring voyage from Sydney to Timor in a wretched,
ill-equipped boat, ranks second only to that of Bligh himself. For Will
Bryant, an ex-smuggler who was leader, had heard of Bligh's voyage in
the boat belonging to the _Bounty_; and fired with the desire to escape
with his wife and children from the famine-stricken community on the
shores of Port Jackson, he and his companions in servitude stole a small
fishing-boat and boldly put to sea to face a journey of more that three
thousand miles over an unknown and dangerous ocean. A few weeks after
leaving Sydney they had sighted this little nook when seeking refuge
from a fierce north-easterly gale, and here they remained for many days,
so that the woman and children might gain strength and the seams of the
leaking boat be payed with tallow--their only substitute for oakum.
Then onward they sailed or rowed, for long, long weary weeks, landing
here and there on the coast to seek for water and shell-fish, harried
and chased by cannibal savages, suffering all the agonies that could be
suffered on such a wild venture, until they reached Timor, only by a
strange and unhappy fate to fall into the hands of the brutal and
infamous Edwards of the _Pandora_ frigate, who with his wrecked ship's
company, and the surviving and manacled mutineers of the _Bounty_, who
had surrendered to him, soon afterwards appeared at the Dutch port.
Bryant, the daring leader, was so fortunate as to die of fever, and so
escaped the fate in store for his comrades. 'Tis a strange story indeed.

* * * * *

At the end of the point of brown, rugged rocks which form a natural
breakwater to this tiny boat harbour, the water is deep, showing a pale
transparent green at their base, and deep inpenetrable blue ten fathoms
beyond. To-day, because it is mid-winter, and the wind blows from the
west, the sea is clearer than ever, and far down below will be discerned
lazily swimming to and fro great reddish-brown or bright blue groper,
watching the dripping sides of the rock in hope that some of the active,
gaily-hued crabs which scurry downwards as you approach may fall in--for
the blue groper is a _gourmet_, disdaining to eat of his own tribe, and
caring only for crabs or the larger and more luscious crayfish. Stand
here when the tide is high and the surf is sweeping in creamy sheets
over the lower ledges of rocks; and as the water pours off torrent-like
from the surface and leaves them bare, you may oft behold a huge
fish--aye, or two or three--lying kicking on its side with a young
crayfish in its thick, fleshy jaws, calmly waiting for the next sea to
set him afloat again. Brave fellows are these gropers--forty, fifty, up
to seventy pounds sometimes, and dangerous fish to hook in such a place
as this, where a false step may send a man headlong into the surf below
with his line tangled round his feet or arms. But on such a morning as
this one might fall overboard and come to no harm, for the sea is
smooth, and the kelp sways but gently to the soft rise and fall of the
water, and seldom in these cold days of June does Jack Shark cruise in
under the lee of the rocks. It is in November, hot, sweltering November,
when the clinking sand of the shining beach is burning to the booted
foot, and the countless myriads of terrified sea salmon come swarming in
over the bar on their way to spawn in the river beyond, that he and his
fellows and the bony-snouted saw-fish rush to and fro in the shallow
waters, driving their prey before them, and gorging as they drive, till
the clear waters of the bar are turned into a bloodied froth. At such a
time as this it might be bad to fall overboard, though some of the local
youths give but little more heed to the tigers of the sea than they do
to the accompanying drove of harmless porpoises, which join in the
onslaught on the hapless salmon.

A mile eastward from the shore there rises stark and clear a great
dome-shaped rock, the haunt and resting-place of thousands of
snow-white gulls and brown-plumaged boobies. The breeding-place of the
former is within rifle-shot--over there on that long stretch of
banked-up sand on the north side of the bar, where, amid the shelter of
the coarse, tufted grass the delicate, graceful creatures will sit three
months hence on their fragile white and purple-splashed eggs. The
boobies are but visitors, for their breeding-places are on the bleak,
savage islands far to the south, amid the snows and storms of black
Antarctic seas. But here they dwell together, in unison with the gulls,
and were the wind not westerly you could hear their shrill cries and
hoarse croaking as they wheel and eddy and circle above the lonely rock,
on the highest pinnacle of which a great fish-eagle, with neck thrown
back upon his shoulders and eyes fixed eastward to the sun, stands
oblivious of their clamour, as creatures beneath his notice.

Once round the southern side of the Signal Hill the noise of the bar is
lost. Between the hill and the next point--a wild, stern-looking
precipice of black-trap rock--there lies a half a mile or more of
shingly strand, just such as you would see at Pevensey Bay or Deal, but
backed up at high-water mark with piles of drift timber--great dead
trees that have floated from the far northern rivers, their mighty
branches and netted roots bleached white by the sun and wind of many
years, and smelling sweet of the salty sea air. Mingled with the lighter
bits of driftwood and heaps of seaweed are the shells of hundreds of
crayfish--some of the largest are newly cast up by the sea, and the
carapace is yellow and blue; others are burnt red by exposure to the
sun; while almost at every step you crush into the thin backs and
armoured tails of young ones about a foot in length, the flesh of which,
by some mysterious process of nature, has vanished, leaving the skin,
muscles, and beautiful fan-like tail just as fresh as if the crustaceans
were alive. Just here, out among those kelp-covered rocks, you may, on a
moonlight night, catch as many crayfish as you wish--three of them will
be as much as any one would care to carry a mile, for a large,
full-grown "lobster," as they are called locally, will weigh a good ten

Once round the precipice we come to a new phase of coastal scenery. From
the high land above us green scrub-covered spur after spur shoots
downward to the shore, enclosing numerous little beaches of coarse sand
and many coloured spiral shells--"Reddies" we boys called them--with
here and there a rare and beautiful cowrie of banded jet black and
pearly white. The sea-wall of rock has here but few pools, being split
up into long, deep, and narrow chasms, into which the gentle ocean swell
comes with strange gurglings and hissings, and groan-like sounds, and
tiny jets of spray spout up from hundreds of air-holes through the
hollow crust of rock. Here for the first time since the town was left,
are heard the cries of land birds; for in the wild apple and rugged
honeysuckle trees which grow on the rich, red soil of the spurs they are
there in plenty--crocketts, king parrots, leatherheads, "butcher" and
"bell" birds, and the beautiful bronze-wing pigeon--while deep within
the silent gullies you constantly hear the little black scrub wallabies
leaping through the undergrowth and fallen leaves, to hide in still
darker forest recesses above.

There are snakes here, too. Everywhere their sinuous tracks are visible
on the sand, criss-crossing with the more defined scratchy markings of
those of iguanas. The latter we know come down to carry off any dead
fish cast ashore by the waves, or to seize any live ones which may be
imprisoned in a shallow pool; but what brings the deadly brown and black
snakes down to the edge of _salt_ water at night time?

Point after point, tiny bay after bay, and then we come to a wider
expanse of clear, stoneless beach, at the farther end of which a huge
boulder of jagged, yellow rock, covered on the summit with a thick
mantle of a pale green, fleshly-leaved creeper, bearing a pink flower.
It stands in a deep pool about a hundred yards in circumference, and as
like as not we shall find the surface of the water covered by thousands
of green-backed, red-billed garfish and silvery mullet, whose very
numbers prevent them from escaping. Scores of them leap out upon the
sand, and lie there with panting gill and flapping tail. It is a great
place for us boys, for here at low tides in the winter we strip off, and
with naked hands catch the mullet and gars and silvery-sided trumpeters,
and throw them out on the beach, to be grilled later on over a fire of
glowing honeysuckle cobs, and eaten without salt. What boy does care
about such a thing as salt at such times, when his eye is bright and his
skin glows with the flush of health, and the soft murmuring of the sea
is mingling in his ears with the thrilling call of the birds, and the
rustling hum of the bush; and the yellow sun shines down from a glorious
sky of cloudless blue, and dries the sand upon his naked feet; and the
very joy of being alive, and away from school, is happiness enough in

For here, by rock and pool on this lonely Austral beach, it is good and
sweet for man or boy to be, and, if but in utter idleness, to watch and
listen--and think.


The last strokes of the bell for evening service had scarce died away
when I heard a footstep on the pebbly path, and old Pâkía, staff in hand
and pipe dangling from his pendulous ear-lobe, walked quietly up the
steps and sat down cross-legged on the verandah. All my own people had
gone to church and the house was very quiet.

"Good evening, Pâkía," I said in English, "how are you, old man?"

A smile lit up the brown, old, wrinkled face as he heard my voice--for I
was lying down in the sitting-room, smoking my after-supper pipe--as he
answered in the island dialect that he was well, but that his house was
in darkness and he, being lonely, had come over to sit with me awhile.

"That is well, Pâkía, for I too am lonely, and who so good as thee to
talk with when the mind is heavy and the days are long, and no sail
cometh up from the sea-rim? Come, sit here within the doorway, for the
night wind is chill; and fill thy pipe."

He came inside as I rose and turned up the lamp so that its light shone
full on his bald, bronzed head and deeply tatooed arms and shoulders.
Laying down his polished staff of _temana_ wood, he came over to me,
placed his hand on my arm, patted it gently, and then his kindly old
eyes sought mine.

"Be not dull of heart, _taka taina_.[1] A ship will soon come--it may be
to-morrow; it must be soon; for twice have I heard the cocks crow at
midnight since I was last here, three days ago. And when the cocks crow
at night-time a ship is near."

"May it be so, Pâkía, for I am weary of waiting. Ten months have come
and gone since I first put foot on this land of Nukufetau, and a ship
was to have come here in four."

He filled his pipe, then drawing a small mat near my lounge, he squatted
on the floor, and we smoked in silence, listening to the gentle lapping
of the lagoon waters upon the inner beach and the beating, never-ceasing
hum of the surf on the reef beyond. Overhead the branches of the palms
swayed and rustled to the night-breeze.

Presently, as I turned to look seaward, I caught the old man's dark eyes
fixed upon my face, and in them I read a sympathy that at that time and
place was grateful to me.

"Six months is long for one who waits, Pâkía," I said. "I came here but
to stay four months and trade for copra; then the ship was to call and
take me to Ponapé, in the far north-west. And Ponapé is a great land to
such a man as me."

"_Etonu! Etonu!_ I know it. Thrice have I been there when I sailed in
the whaleships. A great land truly, like the island called Juan
Fernandez, of which I have told thee, with high mountains green to the
summits with trees, and deep, dark valleys wherein the sound of the sea
is never heard but when the surf beats hard upon the reef. Ah! a fine
land--better than this poor _motu_, which is as but a ring of sand set
in the midst of the deep sea. Would that I were young to go there with
thee! Tell me, dost know the two small, high islands in the _ava_[2]
which is called Jakoits? Hast seen the graves of two white men there?"

"I know the islands well; but I have never seen the graves of any white
men there. Who were they, and when did they die?"

"Ah, I am a foolish old man. I forget how old I am. Perhaps, when thou
wert a child in thy mother's arms, the graves stood up out of the
greensward at the foot of the high cliff which faces to the south. Tell
me, is there not a high wall of rock a little way back from the landing
beach?... Aye!... that is the place ... and the bones of the men are
there, though now great trees may grow over the place. They were both
good men--good to look at, tall and strong; and they fought and died
there just under the cliff. I saw them die, for I was there with the
captain of my ship. We, and others with us, saw it all."

"Who were they, Pâkía, and how came they to fight?"

"One was a trader, whose name was Preston; he lived on the mainland of
Ponapé, where he had a great house and oil store and many servants. The
name of the other man was Frank. They fought because of a woman."

"Tell me the story, Pâkía. Thou hast seen many lands and many strange
things. And when ye come and sit and talk to me the dulness goeth away
from me and I no longer think of the ship; for of all the people on this
_motu_, to thee and Temana my servant alone do I talk freely. And Temana
is now at church."

The old man chuckled. "Aye, he is at church because Malepa, his wife, is
so jealous of him that she fears to leave him alone. Better would it
please him to be sitting here with us."

I drew the mat curtain across the sitting-room window so that we could
not be seen by prying eyes, and put two cups, a gourd of water, and some
brandy on the table. Except my own man, Temana, the rest of the natives
were intensely jealous of the poor old ex-sailor and wanderer in many
lands, and they very much resented his frequent visits to me--partly on
account of the occasional glass of grog which I gave him, and partly
because he was suspected of still being a _tagata po-uriuri, i.e._, a
heathen. This, however, he vigorously denied, and though Maréko, the
Samoan teacher, was a kind-hearted and tolerant man for a native
minister, the deacons delighted in persecuting and harassing the ancient
upon every possible opportunity, and upon one pretext or another had
succeeded in robbing him of his land and dividing it among his
relatives; so that now in his extreme old age he was dependent upon one
of his daughters, a woman who herself must have been past sixty.

I poured some brandy into the cups; we clicked them together and said,
"May you be lucky" to each other. Then he told me of Solepa.

* * * * *

"There were many whaleships came to anchor in the three harbours of
Ponapé in those days. They came there for wood and water and fresh
provisions, before they sailed to the cold, icy seas of the south. I was
then a boat-steerer in an English ship--a good and lucky ship with a
good captain. When we came to Ponapé we found there six other
whaleships, all anchored close together under the shelter of the two
islets. All the captains were friends, and the few white men who lived
on shore were friends with them, and every night there was much singing
and dancing on board the ships, for, as was the custom, every one on
board had been given a Ponapé girl for wife as long as his ship stayed
there; and sometimes a ship would be there a long time--a month perhaps.

"The trader who lived in the big house was one of the first to come on
board our ship; for the captain and he were good friends. They talked
together on the poop deck, and I heard the trader say that he had been
away to Honolulu for nearly a year and had brought back with him a young

"'Good,' said my captain, 'to-night I shall come ashore and drink
_manuia!_[3] to ye both.'

"The trader was pleased, and said that some of the other captains could
come also, and that he had sent a letter to the other trader, Frank, who
lived on the other side of the island, bidding him to come and greet the
new wife. At these words the face of Stacey--that was my captain's name,
became dark, and he said--

"'You are foolish. Such a man as he is, is better away from thy
house--and thy wife. He is a _manaia_, an _ulavale_[4]. Take heed of my
words and have no dealings with him.'

"But the man Preston only laughed. He was a fool in this though he was
so clever in many other things. He was a big man, broad in the shoulders
with the bright eye and the merry laugh of a boy. He had been a sailor,
but had wearied of the life, and so he bought land in Ponapé and became
a trader. He was a fair-dealing man with the people there, and so in
three or four years he became rich, and bought more land and built a
schooner which he sent away to far distant islands to trade for
pearl-shell and _loli_ (beche-de-mer). Then it was that he went to
Honolulu and came back with a wife.

"That day ere it became dark I went on shore with my captain; some of
the other captains went with us. The white man met them on the beach,
surrounded by many of his servants, male and female. Some were of
Ponapé, some from Tahiti, some from Oahu, and some from the place which
you call Savage Island and we call Niué. As soon as the captains had
stepped out upon the beach and I had bidden the four sailors who were
with me to push off to return to the ship, the trader, seeing the
tatooing on my arms, gave a shout.

"'Ho,' he cried, turning to my captain, 'whence comes that boat-steerer
of thine? By the markings on his arms and chest he should be from the
isles of the Tokelau.'

"My captain laughed. 'He comes from near there. He is of Nukufetau.'

"Then let him stay on shore to-night, for there are here with me a man
and a woman from Nanomaga; they can talk together. And my wife Solepa,
too, will be well pleased to see him, for her mother was a Samoan, and
this man can talk to her in her mother's tongue.'

"'So I too went up to the house with the white men, but would not enter
with them, for I was stripped to the waist and could not go into the
presence of the lady. Presently the man and woman from Nanomaga sought
me out and embraced me and made much of me and took me into another part
of the house, where I waited till one of my shipmates returned from the
ship bringing my jumper and trousers of white duck and a new Panama hat.
Ta|pa|! I was a fine-looking man in those days, and women looked at
me from the corner of the eye. And now--look at me now! I am like a
blind fish which is swept hither and thither by the current against the
rocks and sandbanks. Give me some more grog, dear friend; when I talk of
the days of my youth my belly yearns for it, and I am not ashamed to

"Presently, after I had dressed myself, I was taken by the Nanomea man
into the big room where Solepa, the white man's wife, was sitting with
the white men. She came to me and took my hand, and said to me in Samoan
_'Talofa, Pâkía, e ma|lolo| ea oe?'_[5] and my heart was glad; for
it was long since I heard any one speak in a tongue which is akin to
mine own.... Was she beautiful? you ask. Ta|pa|! All women are
beautiful when they are young, and their eyes are full and clear and
their voices are soft and their bosoms are round and smooth! All I can
remember of her is that she was very young, with a white, fair skin, and
dressed like the _papalagi_[6] women I have seen in Peretania and
Ita|lia and in Chili and in Sydney.

"As I stood before her, hat in hand and with my eyes looking downward,
which is proper and correct for a modest man to do when a high lady
speaks to him before many people, a white man who had been sitting at
the far end of the room came over to me and said some words of greeting
to me. This was Franka[7]--he whom my captain said was a _manaia_. He
was better clothed than any other of the white men, and was proud and
overbearing in his manner. He had brought with him more than a score of
young Ponapé men, all of whom carried rifles and had cutlasses strapped
to their waists.

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