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"Old Mary" (1901)
Louis Becke




I

Early one morning, just as the trade wind began to lift the white
mountain mist which enveloped the dark valleys and mountain slopes of
the island, Denison, the supercargo of the trading schooner _Palestine_,
put off from her side and was pulled ashore to the house of the
one white trader. The man's name was Handle, and as he heard the
supercargo's footstep he came to the door and bade him good morning.

"How are you, Randle?" said the young man, shaking hands with the
quiet-voiced, white-haired old trader, and following him inside. "I'm
going for a day's shooting while I have the chance. Can you come?"

Randle shook his head. "Would like to, but can't spare the time to-day;
but Harry and the girls will be delighted to go with you. Wait a minute,
and have a cup of coffee first. They'll be here presently."

Denison put down his gun and took a seat in the cool,
comfortable-looking sitting-room, and in a few minutes Hester and Kate
Randle and their brother came in. The two girls were both over twenty
years of age. Hester, the elder, was remarkably handsome, and much
resembled her father in voice and manner. Kate was of much smaller
build, full of vivacity, and her big, merry brown eyes matched the
dimples on her soft, sun-tanned cheeks. Harry, who was Randle's youngest
child, was a heavily-built, somewhat sullen-faced youth of eighteen, and
the native blood in his veins showed much more strongly than it did with
his sisters. They were all pleased to see the supercargo, and at once
set about making preparations, Harry getting their guns ready and the
two girls packing a basket with cold food.

"You'll get any amount of pigeons about two miles from here," said the
old trader, "and very likely a pig or two. The girls know the way, and
if two of you take the right branch of the river and two the left you'll
have some fine sport."

"Father," said the elder girl, in her pretty, halting English, as she
picked up her gun, "don' you think Mr. Denison would like to see ol'
Mary? We hav' been tell him so much about her. Don' you think we might
stop there and let Mr. Denison have some talk with her?"

"Ay, ay, my girl. Yes; go and see the poor old thing. I'm sure she'll be
delighted. You'll like her, Mr. Denison. She's as fine an old woman as
ever breathed. But don't take that basket of food with you, Kate. She'd
feel awfully insulted if you did not eat in her house."

The girls obeyed, much to their brother's satisfaction, inasmuch as the
basket was rather heavy, and also awkward to carry through the mountain
forest. In a few minutes the four started, and Hester, as she stepped
out beside Denison, said that she was glad he was visiting old Mary.
"You see," she said, "she hav' not good eyesight now, and so she cannot
now come an' see us as she do plenty times before."

"I'm glad I shall see her," said the young man; "she must be a good old
soul."

"Oh, yes," broke in Kate, "she _is_ good and brave, an' we all love her.
Every one _mus_' love her. She hav' known us since we were born, and
when our mother died in Samoa ten years ago old Mary was jus' like a
second mother to us. An' my father tried so hard to get her to come and
live with us; but no, she would not, not even fo' us. So she went back
to her house in the mountain, because she says she wants to die there.
Ah, you will like her... and she will tell you how she saved the ship
when her husband was killed, and about many, many things."

*****

Two hours later Denison and his friends emerged out upon cultivated
ground at the foot of the mountain, on which stood three or four native
houses, all neatly enclosed by low stone walls formed of coral slabs.
In front of the village a crystal stream poured swiftly and noisily over
its rocky bed on its way seaward, and on each thickly wooded bank the
stately boles of some scores of graceful coco-palms rose high above the
surrounding foliage. Except for the hum of the brawling stream and the
cries of birds, the silence was unbroken, and only two or three small
children, who were playing under the shade of a breadfruit-tree, were
visible. But these, as they heard the sound of the visitors' voices,
came towards them shouting out to their elders within the huts that
"four white people with guns" had come. In a moment some grown people of
both sexes came out and shook hands with the party.

"This is Mary's house," said Hester to Denison, pointing out the
largest; "let us go there at once. Ah, see, there she is at the door
waiting for us."

"Come, come inside," cried the old woman in a firm yet pleasant voice,
and Denison, looking to the right, saw that "Mary," in spite of her
years and blindness, was still robust and active-looking. She was
dressed in a blue print gown and blouse, and her grey hair was neatly
dressed in the island fashion. In her smooth, brown right hand she
grasped the handle of a polished walking-stick, her left arm she held
across her bosom--the hand was missing from the wrist.

"How do you do, sir?" she said in clear English, as, giving her stick to
Kate Randle, she held out her hand to the supercargo. "I am so glad
that you have come to see me. You are Mr. Denison, I know. Is Captain
Packenham quite well? Come, Kitty, see to your friend. There, that cane
lounge is the most comfortable. Harry, please shoot a couple of chickens
at once, and then tell my people to get some taro, and make an oven."

"Oh, that is just like you, Mary," said Kate, laughing, "before we have
spoken three words to you you begin cooking things for us."

The old woman turned her sunburnt face towards the girl and shook her
stick warningly, and said in the native tongue--

"Leave me to rule in mine own house, saucy," and then Denison had an
effort to restrain his gravity as Mary, unaware that he had a very fair
knowledge of the dialect in which she spoke, asked the two girls if
either of them had thought of him as a husband. Kate put her hand over
Mary's mouth and whispered to her to cease. She drew the girl to her and
hugged her.

Whilst the meal was being prepared Denison was studying the house and
its contents. Exteriorly the place bore no difference to the usual
native house, but within it was plainly but yet comfortably furnished
in European fashion, and the tables, chairs, and sideboard had evidently
been a portion of a ship's cabin fittings. From the sitting-room--the
floor of which was covered by white China matting--he could see a
bedroom opposite, a bed with snowy white mosquito curtains, and two
mahogany chairs draped with old-fashioned antimacassars. The sight of
these simple furnishings first made him smile, then sigh--he had not
seen such things since he had left his own home nearly six years before.
Hung upon the walls of the sitting-room were half a dozen old and faded
engravings, and on a side-table were a sextant and chronometer case,
each containing instruments so clumsy and obsolete that a modern seaman
would have looked upon them as veritable curiosities.

From the surroundings within the room Denison's eyes wandered to the
placid beauty of the scene without, where the plumes of the coco-palms
overhanging the swift waters of the tiny stream scarce stirred to the
light air that blew softly up the valley from the sea, and when they did
move narrow shafts of light from the now high-mounted sun would glint
and shine through upon the pale green foliage of the scrub beneath.
Then once again his attention was directed to their hostess, who was
now talking quietly to the two Randle girls, her calm, peaceful features
seeming to him to derive an added but yet consistent dignity from the
harmonies of Nature around her.

What was the story of her infancy? he wondered. That she did not know it
herself he had been told by old Randle, who yet knew more of her history
and the tragedy of her later life than any one else. Both young Denison,
the supercargo of five-and-twenty, and Randle, the grizzled wanderer and
veteran of sixty-five, had known many tragedies during their career in
the Pacific; but the story of this half-blind, crippled old woman, when
he learnt it in full, appealed strongly to the younger man, and was
never forgotten in his after life.

*****

They had had a merry midday meal, during which Mary Eury--for that was
her name--promised Denison that she would tell him all about herself
after he and the Randles came back from shooting, "but," she added, with
her soft, tremulous laugh, "only on one condition, Mr. Denison--only
on one condition. You must bring Captain Packenham to see me before the
_Palestine_ sails. I am an old woman-now, and would like to see him. I
knew him many years ago when he was a lad of nineteen. Ah, it is so long
ago! That was in Samoa. Has he never spoken of me?"

"Often, Mrs. Eury----"

"Don't call me Mrs. Eury, Mr. Denison. Call me 'Mary,' as do these dear
friends of mine. 'Mary'--'old' Mary if you like. Every one who knew me
and my dear husband in those far, far back days used to call me 'Mary'
and my husband 'Bob Eury' instead of 'Mrs. Eury' and 'Captain Eury.' And
now, so many, many years have gone... and now I am 'Old Mary'... and I
think I like it better than Mrs. Eury. And so Captain Packenham has not
forgotten me?"

Denison hastened to explain. "Indeed he has not. He remembers you very
well, and would have come with me, but he is putting the schooner on the
beach to-day to clean her. And I am sure he will be delighted to come
and see you to-morrow."

"Of course he must. Surely every English and American in the South Seas
should come and see me; for my husband was ever a good friend to every
sailor that ever sailed in the island trade--from Fiji to the Bonins.
There now, I won't chatter any more, or else you will be too frightened
to come back to such a garrulous old creature. Ah, if God had but spared
to me my eyesight I should come with you into the mountains. I love
the solitude, and the sweet call of the pigeons, and the sound of
the waterfall at the side of Taomaunga. And I know every inch of
the country, and blind as I am, I could yet find my way along the
mountain-side. Kate, and you, Harry, do not keep Mr. Denison out too
late."

By sunset the shooting party had returned, and after a bathe in the cool
waters of the mountain stream Denison returned to the house. Kate Handle
and her sister, assisted by some native women, were plucking pigeons for
the evening meal. Harry was lying down on the broad of his back on the
grassy sward with closed eyes, smoking, and their hostess was sitting on
a wide cane bench outside the house. She heard the young man's footstep,
and beckoned him to seat himself beside her. And then she told him her
story.




II

"I don't know where I was born--for, as I daresay Randle has told you,
I was only five years of age when I was picked up at sea in a boat,
the only other occupant of which was a Swedish seaman. The vessel which
rescued us was one of the transports used for conveying convicts to New
South Wales, and was named the _Britannia_, but when she sighted the
boat she was on a voyage to Tahiti in the Society Islands. I imagine
this was sometime about 1805, so I must now be about seventy years of
age.

"The Swedish sailor told the captain of the _Britannia_ that he and I
were the only survivors of a party of six--among whom were my father and
mother--belonging to a small London barque named the _Winifred_, She was
employed in the trade between China and Valparaiso, and my father was
owner as well as captain. On the voyage from Canton, and when within
fifty miles of Tahiti, and in sight of land, she took fire, and the
Chinese crew, when they saw that there was no hope of the ship being
saved, seized the longboat, which had been prepared, and was well
provisioned, and made off, although the cowardly creatures knew that the
second boat was barely seaworthy. My father--whose name the Swede did
not know--implored them to return, and at least take my mother and
myself and an officer to navigate their boat to land. But they refused
to listen to his pleadings, and rowed off. The second boat was hurriedly
provisioned by my father and his officers, and they, with my mother and
myself and the Swede--all the Europeans on board--left the burning ship
at sundown. A course was steered for the eastern shore of Tahiti, which,
although the wind was right ahead, we hoped to reach on the evening of
the following day. But within a few hours after leaving the barque the
trade wind died away, and fierce, heavy squalls burst from the westward
upon the boat, which was only kept afloat by constant bailing. About
dawn the sea had become so dangerous, and the wind had so increased in
violence, that an attempt was made to put out a sea-anchor. Whilst this
was being done a heavy sea struck the boat and capsized her. The night
was pitchy dark, and when the Swede--who was a good swimmer--came to
the surface he could neither see nor hear any of the others, though he
shouted loudly. But at the same moment, as his foot touched the line
to which the sea anchor was bent, he heard the mate's voice calling for
assistance.

"'I have the child,' he cried. 'Be quick, for I'm done.'

"In another minute the brave fellow had taken me from him; then the poor
mate sank, never to rise again. Whether I was alive or dead my rescuer
could not tell, but being a man of great physical strength, he not only
kept me above water with one hand, but succeeded in reaching first the
sea-anchor-four oars lashed together--and then the boat, which had been
righted by another sea.

"How this brave man kept me alive in such a terrible situation I do not
know. By sunrise the wind had died away, the sea had gone down, and he
was able to free the boat of water. In the stern-sheet locker he found
one single tin of preserved potatoes, which had been jammed into a
corner when the boat capsized--all the rest of the provisions, with the
water-breakers as well, were lost. On this tin of potatoes we lived--so
he told the master of the _Britannia_--for five days, constantly in
sight of the land around which we were drifting, sometimes coming
to within a distance of thirty miles of it. All this time, by God's
providence, we had frequent heavy rain squalls, and the potato tin,
which was about eighteen inches square, and was perfectly water-tight,
proved our salvation, for the potatoes were so very salt that we would
have perished of thirst had we been unable to save water. Ohlsen cut
down one of his high sea-boots, and into this he would put two handfuls
of the dried potatoes, and then fill it up with water. It made a good
sustaining food after it had been softened by the water and kneaded into
a pulp.

"An hour before dawn, on the sixth day, Ohlsen, who was lying on the
bottom boards of the boat, was awakened by hearing me crying for my
mother. The poor fellow, who had stripped off his woollen shirt to
protect my little body from the cold, at once sat up and tried to
comfort me. The sea was as smooth as glass, and only a light air was
blowing. Drawing me to his bare chest--for I was chilled with the keen
morning air--he was about to lie down again, when he heard the creaking
of blocks and then a voice say, 'Ay, ay, sir!' and there, quite near us,
was a large ship! In a moment he sprang to his feet, and hailed with all
his strength; he was at once answered, the ship was brought to the wind,
a boat lowered, and in less than a quarter of an hour we were on board
the _Britannia_.

"On that dear old ship I remained for five years or more, for the
captain had his wife on board, and although she had two young children
of her own, she cared for and loved me as if I had been her own
daughter. Most of this time was spent among the Pacific Islands, and
then there came to me another tragedy, of one of which I have a most
vivid remembrance, for I was quite eleven years old at the time.

"The _Britannia_, like many South Seamen of those times, was a letter of
marque, and carried nine guns, for although we were, I think, at peace
with Spain, we were at war with France, and there were plenty of French
privateers cruising on the South American coast, with whom our ships
were frequently engaged. But none had ever been seen so far eastward
as the Galapagos Islands, and so we one day sailed without fear into a
small bay on the north-west side of Charles Island to wood and water.

"On the following morning the captain, whose name was Rossiter, ordered
my old friend Ohlsen, who was now gunner on the _Britannia_, to take
four hands and endeavour to capture some of the huge land tortoises
which abound on the islands of the group. I was allowed to go with them.
Little did I think I should never again see his kindly face when I took
my seat in the boat and was rowed ashore. Besides Ohlsen and myself,
there were two English seamen, a negro named King and a Tahitian native.
The youngest of the English sailors was named Robert Eury; he was about
twenty-two years of age, and a great favourite of the captain who knew
his family in Dorset, England.

"We hauled the boat up on a small sandy beach, and then started off into
the country, and by noon we had caught three large tortoises which we
found feeding on cactus plants. Then, as we were resting and eating, we
suddenly heard the report of a heavy gun, and then another and another.
We clambered up the side of a rugged hill, from the summit of which we
could see the harbour, a mile distant, and there was the _Britannia_
lying at anchor, and being attacked by two vessels! As we watched the
fight we saw one of the strange ships, which were both under sail, fire
a broadside at our vessel, and the second, putting about, did the same.
These two broadsides, we afterwards heard, were terribly disastrous,
for the captain and three men were killed, and nine wounded. The crew,
however, under the mate, still continued to work her guns with the
utmost bravery and refused to surrender. Then a lucky shot from one
of her 9-pounders disabled the rudder of the largest Frenchmen, which,
fearing to anchor so near to such a determined enemy, at once lowered
her boats and began to tow out, followed by her consort. At the entrance
to the bay, however, the smaller of the two again brought-to and began
firing at our poor ship with a 24-pounder, or other long-range gun, and
every shot struck. It was then that the mate and his crew, enraged at
the death of the captain, and finding that the ship was likely to be
pounded to pieces, determined to get under weigh and come to close
quarters with the enemy, for the _Britannia_ was a wonderfully fast
ship, and carried a crew of fifty-seven men. But first of all he sent
ashore Mrs. Rossiter, her two children, a coloured steward, and all the
money and other valuables in case he should be worsted. His name was
Skinner, and he was a man of the most undaunted resolution, and had at
one time commanded a London privateer called the _Lucy_, which had
made so many captures that Skinner was quite a famous man. But his
intemperate habits caused him to lose his command, and he had had
to ship on the _Britannia_ as chief mate. He was, however, a great
favourite with the men, who now urged him to lead them on and avenge the
loss of the captain; so the moment the boat returned from landing Mrs.
Rossiter he slipped his cable, and stood out to meet the enemy.

"We, from the hill, watched all this with the greatest interest and
excitement, and then Ohlsen turned to the others and said, 'Let us get
back to the boat at once. The captain has got under weigh to chase those
fellows, and we should be with him.'

"So we descended to the beach, where we met the poor lady and her
children, and heard that her husband was dead. She begged Ohlsen not
to leave her, but he said his duty lay with his shipmates; then
she besought him to at least leave Robert Eury with her, as she was
terrified at the idea of having to spend the night on such a wild island
with no one but the coloured steward to protect her and her children.
At this time--although we could not see them--we knew the ships were
heavily engaged, for the roar of the cannon was continuous. So, much to
his anger, young Eury was bidden to remain with the captain's wife,
her son aged twelve, her daughter Ann, who was three years younger, the
coloured steward, and myself. Then, bidding us goodbye, Ohlsen and his
three men went off in the boat, and were soon out of sight.

"Young as he was, Robert Eury had good sense and judgment. He was angry
at Mr. Skinner venturing out to attack such well-armed vessels with
our poor 9-pounders, and although he had been most anxious to join
his shipmates, he was, he afterwards told me, pretty sure that the
_Britannia_ would have to strike or be sunk. The first thing he did,
however, was to make all of our party comfortable. At the head of the
bay there was an empty house, which had been built by the crews of the
whaleships frequenting the Galapagos as a sort of rest-house for the men
sent to catch tortoises. To this place he took us, and set the steward
to work to get us something to eat, for Mr. Skinner had sent provisions
and wine ashore. Then he took the ship's money, which amounted to about
thirteen hundred pounds, and buried it a little distance away from the
house. I helped him, and when the bags were safely covered up he turned
to me with a smile lighting up his brown face.

"'There, Molly. That's done, and if Mr. Skinner has to strike, and the
Frenchmen come here, they'll get nothing but ourselves.'

"By this time it was well on towards the afternoon, and we only heard
a cannon shot now and then. Then the sound of the firing ceased
altogether. We got back to the house and waited--we knew not for what.
Poor Mrs. Rossiter, who was a very big, stout woman, had sobbed herself
into a state of exhaustion, but she tried to brace herself up when she
saw us, and when Robert Eury told her that he had buried the money, she
thanked him.

"'Try and save it for my children, Robert I fear I shall not be long
with them. And if I am taken away suddenly I want you to bear witness
that it was my husband's wish, and is mine now, that Mary here is to
share alike with my son Fred and my daughter Ann. Would to God I had
means here to write.'

"Robert tried to comfort her with the assurance that all would be well,
when as he spoke we saw a sight at which I, girl of twelve as I was,
was struck with terror--the two French ships appeared round the headland
with the _Britannia_ following with French colours at her peak. The
three came in together very slowly, and then dropped anchor within a
cable's length of the beach. The captain's wife looked at them wildly
for a moment, and then fell forward on her face. She died that night.

"The two French captains treated us very kindly, and they told Robert,
who spoke French well, that Mr. Skinner had made a most determined
attempt to board the larger of the two vessels, but was killed by a
musket-shot, and that only after thirty of the _Britannia's_ crew had
been killed and wounded, and the ship herself was but little more than a
wreck, did Ohlsen, who was himself terribly wounded by a splinter in
the side, haul down his flag. Then the elder of the two Frenchmen asked
Robert which was the child named 'Marie.'

"'This is the child, sir,' said Eury, pointing to me.

"'Then let her come with me and see the gunner of our prize,' said he;
'he is dying, and has asked to see her.'

"I was taken on board the Britannia, over her bloodstained decks, and
into the main cabin, where poor Ohlsen was lying breathing his last. His
face lit up when he saw me, and he drew me to his bosom just as he had
done years before in the open boat off Tahiti. I stayed with him till
the last, then one of the French privateer officers led me away.

"In the morning Mrs. Rossiter was buried; the French captains allowing
some of the surviving members of the crew of the _Britannia_ to carry
her body to her grave. There was a young Spanish woman--the wife of the
older captain--on board the larger of the privateers, and she took care
of us three children. I cannot remember her name, but I do remember that
she was a very beautiful woman and very kind to us, and told us through
an interpreter that we should be well cared for, and some day go home to
England; and when she learned my own particular story she took me in her
arms, kissed, and made much of me.

"About noon the crew of the _Britannia_ were ranged on deck, and the
elder of the two French captains called on Robert Eury to step out.

"'This man here,' he said in English, indicating the coloured steward,
tells me that you have buried some money belonging to the prize. Where
is it?'

"'I cannot tell you,' replied Robert; 'the captain's wife told me it
belonged to her children and to the little girl Mary.'

"The Frenchman laughed. 'It belongs to us now; it is prize money, my
good boy.'

"Eury looked at him steadily, but made no answer.

"' Come,' said the captain impatiently, 'where is it?'

"'I cannot tell you.'

"The younger of the captains laughed savagely, and stepped up to him,
pistol in hand.

"'I give you ten seconds to tell.'

"'Five will do, monsieur,' replied Robert, in French, 'and then you will
be losing five seconds of your time. I shall not tell you. But I should
like to say goodbye to my dead captain's children.'

"'The young Frenchmen's face purpled with fury. 'Very well then, you
fool!' and he raised his pistol to murder the young man, when the older
captain seized his arm.

"'Shame, Pellatier, shame! Would you kill such a brave man in cold
blood? Let us be satisfied with getting such a good ship. Surely you
would not shoot him for the sake of a few hundred dollars?'

"'There may be thousands. How can we tell?' replied Pellatier.

"Robert laughed, and then raised his hand in salute to the elder
captain.

"'Captain Pellatier is right, sir. Madame Melville told me that there
were thirteen hundred pounds in the bags which I have buried. And on
certain conditions I will tell you where to find it.'

"'Name them.'

"'The money is fair prize money. That I admit. But you will never see
it, unless you agree to my conditions, and pledge me your word of honour
to observe them honourably. I am not afraid to die, gentlemen.'

"'You are a bold fellow, and ought to have been a Frenchman--but be
quick, name the conditions.'

"'Half of the money to be given to these orphan children, whose pitiable
condition should appeal to you. And promise me on your honour as men
that you will land them at Valparaiso, or some other civilised place,
from where they may reach England. If you will not make this promise,
you can shoot me now.'

"'And what of yourself?' said Pellatier, who was a little dark man
with very ugly monkey-like features; 'you would be the guardian of this
money, no doubt, my clever fellow.'

"The insulting manner in which he spoke exasperated Eury beyond
endurance, and he made as if he would strike the man; but he stopped
suddenly, and looking contemptuously at the Frenchman uttered the one
word--

"'_Babouin!_'

"It nearly cost him his life, for Pellatier, stung to fury by the loud
laughter of his fellow-captain, again levelled his pistol at the young
man, and again the older captain seized his arm.

"'By Heaven, you shall not harm him!' he cried, amid a murmur of
applause from the crew. Then addressing Eury he said. I give you my
promise. The children and yourself are under my protection, and when we
reach Valparaiso I will put you all on shore.' Then he ordered one of
his officers to escort Robert ashore and get the money.

"Eury thanked him quietly, and then he turned to Pellatier, and said he
was sorry he used an offensive word to him; but Pellatier received his
apology with a scowl, and turned away. In half an hour Eury returned
with the officer, carrying the money. It was counted and divided, and
it was easy to see that Dupuis, the elder captain, was very pleased
when the young man asked him to take charge of the half of the money
belonging to the Rossiter children and myself.

"The three ships sailed in company for South America a week later. I
remained on board the _Britannia_ together with Robert Eury and six
others of her original crew, the Rossiter children being taken by
the Spanish lady on board the larger of the privateers, the second
lieutenant of which, with about twenty men, were drafted to the prize.
After keeping in close company for four or five days we lost sight of
the privateers, much to the annoyance of our captain, who was a very
indifferent navigator, as he soon showed by altering his course to E. by
S. so as to pick up the coast of South America as soon as possible.
This was a most fortunate thing for us, for at daylight on the following
morning two sail were seen, not five miles distant, and to our intense
delight proved to be English letters of marque--the barque _Centurion_
of Bristol and the barque _Gratitude_ of London. They at once closed in
upon and engaged us, and although the Frenchmen made a good fight,
they had to strike after a quarter of an hour's engagement, for the
_Centurion_ was a very heavily armed ship.

"Her captain was a very old man named Richard Glass. He came on board
the _Britannia_ and spoke very good-humouredly to the French lieutenant,
for on neither side had any one been killed, and he saw that the
_Britannia_ was a fine ship. He told the Frenchmen to take the longboat,
and as much provisions and water as they liked, and make for the coast,
which was less than seventy miles distant. This was soon done, and
our former captors parted from us very good friends, every one of
them coming up and shaking hands with Robert Eury and calling him _bon
camarade_.

"Captain Glass put his own chief officer in charge of the _Britannia_
(with Robert as his mate) and ordered him to proceed to Port Jackson and
await the arrival there of the _Centurion_ and her consort. We arrived
at our destination safely, and as soon as my story was known many kind
people wanted to adopt me; but the agent of the _Britannia_ took me
to his own home, where I lived for many happy years as a member of his
family. Robert Eury was then appointed mate of a vessel in the China
trade, but I saw him every year. Then when I was seventeen years of age
he asked me to marry him, and I did so gladly, for he was always present
in my thoughts when he was away, and I knew he loved me."




III

"My husband invested his savings in a small schooner, which he named the
_Taunton_ and within a month of our marriage we were at sea, bound on
a trading voyage to Tahiti and the Paumotus. This first venture proved
very successful, so did the two following voyages; and then, as he
determined to found a business of his own in the South Seas, he bought a
large piece of land on this island from the natives, with whom he was
on very friendly terms. His reasons for choosing this particular island
were, firstly, because of its excellent situation--midway between Port
Jackson and the Spanish settlements on the South American coast, which
were good markets; secondly, because great numbers of the American
whaling ships would make it a place of call to refresh if there was
a reputable white man living on the island; and thirdly, because he
intended to go into sperm whaling himself, for it was an immensely
profitable business, and he could, if he wished, sell the oil to the
American ships instead of taking it to Port Jackson. The natives here in
those days were a very wild set, but they really had a great friendship
and respect for my husband; and when they learnt that he intended to
settle among them permanently they were delighted beyond measure. They
at once set to work and built us a house, and the chief and my husband
exchanged names in the usual manner.

"My first child was born on the island whilst my husband was away on a
voyage to Port Jackson, and, indeed, of my four children three were born
here. When Robert returned in the _Taunton_ he brought with him a cargo
of European stores and comforts for our new home, and in a few months
we were fairly settled down. From the first American whaleships that
visited us he bought two fine whaleboats and all the necessary gear,
and then later on engaged one of the best whalemen in the South Seas to
superintend the business. In the first season we killed no less than six
sperm whales, and could have taken more, but were short of barrels. The
whaling station was at the end of the south point of the harbour, and
when a whale was towed in to be cut in and tried out the place presented
a scene of great activity and bustle, for we had quite two hundred
natives to help. Alas, there is scarcely a trace of it left now! The
great iron try-pots, built up in furnaces of coral lime, were overgrown
by the green jungle thirty years ago, and it would be difficult even to
find them now.

"The natives, as I have said, were very wild, savage, and warlike; but
as time went on their friendship for my husband and myself and children
deepened, and so when Robert made a voyage to Port Jackson or to any of
the surrounding islands I never felt in the least alarmed. I must tell
you that we--my husband and myself--were actually the first white people
that had landed to live on the island since the time of the _Bounty_
mutiny, when Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers tried to settle
here. They brought the _Bounty_ in, and anchored her just where your own
schooner is now lying--opposite Randle's house. But the natives attacked
Christian and his men so fiercely, and so repeatedly, though with
terrible loss to themselves, that at last Christian and Edward Young
abandoned the attempt to found a settlement, and the _Bounty_ went
back to Tahiti, and finally to Afitâ, as the people here call Pitcairn
Islands.

"Four years passed by. My husband was making money fast, not only as
a trader among the Paumotus and the Society Islands, where he had two
small vessels constantly employed, but from his whale fishery. Then came
a time of sorrow and misfortune. A South Seaman, named the _Stirling
Castle_, touched here for provisions, and introduced small-pox, and
every one of my poor children contracted the disease and died; many
hundreds of the natives perished as well. My husband at this time was
away in one of his vessels at Fakarava Lagoon in the Paumotu Group,
and I spent a very lonely and unhappy seven months before he returned.
Almost every morning, accompanied by one or two of my native women
servants, I would ascend that rugged peak about two miles from here,
from where we had a complete view of the horizon all round the island,
and watch for a sail. Twice my heart gladdened, only to be disappointed
again, for the ships on both occasions were Nantucket whalers. And then,
as the months went by, I began to imagine that something dreadful
had happened to my husband and his ship among the wild people of the
Paumotus, for when he sailed he did not expect to be away more than
three months.

"At last, however, when I was quite worn out and ill with anxiety, he
returned. I was asleep when he arrived, for it was late at night, and
his vessel had not entered the harbour, though he had come ashore in a
boat. He awakened me very gently, and then, before I could speak to him
and tell him of our loss, he said--

"'Don't tell me, Molly. I have heard it all just now. But, there, I'm
home again, dear; and I shall never stay away so long again, now that
our children have been taken and you and I are alone.'

"After another year had passed, and when I was well and strong again,
the whaleship _Chalice_ of Sag Harbour, Captain Freeman, touched
here, and the master came on shore. He was an old acquaintance of my
husband's, and told us that he had come ashore purposely to warn us of
a piratical vessel which had made her appearance in these seas a few
months before, and had seized two or three English and American ships,
and murdered every living soul of their crews. She hailed from Coquimbo,
and her captain was said to be a Frenchman, whilst her crew was composed
of the worst ruffians to be found on the coast of South America--men
whose presence on shore would not be tolerated even by the authorities
at any of the Spanish settlements from Panama to Valdivia. Sailing
under French colours, and professing to be a privateer, she had actually
attacked a French merchant brig within fifty miles of Coquimbo Roads,
the captain and the crew of which were slaughtered and the vessel
plundered and then burnt. Since then she had been seen by several
vessels in the Paumoto archipelago, where her crew had been guilty of
the most fearful crimes, perpetrated on the natives.

"My husband thanked Freeman for his information; but said that if the
pirate vessel came into Tubuai Lagoon she would never get out again,
except under British colours. This was no idle boast, for not only
were my husband's two vessels--which were then both at anchor in the
lagoon--well armed, but they were manned by English or English-blooded
half-caste seamen, who would have only been too delighted to fight a
Frenchman, or a Spaniard, or a Dutchman.

"Ah, 'tis so long ago, but what brave, rough fellows they were! Some
of them, we well knew, had been transported as convicts, and were, when
opportunity offered, drunken and dissolute, but to my husband and myself
they were good and loyal men. Two of them had seen Trafalgar day in the
_Royal Sovereign_ under Collingwood when that ship had closed with the
_Santa Anna_ and made her strike. Their names--as given to us--were
James Watts and Thomas Godwin. After the fleet returned to England
they got into mischief, and were transported for being concerned in a
smuggling transaction at Deal, in Kent, in which a preventive officer
was either killed or seriously wounded--I forget which. Their exemplary
conduct, however, had gained them a remission of their sentences, and
the Governor of New South Wales, who was most anxious to open up the
South Sea Island trade, had recommended them to my husband as good men,
Godwin having been brought up to the boatbuilding trade at Lowestoft in
England, and Watts as a gunsmith.

"About ten days after the visit of the _Chalice_ my husband left in one
of his vessels for Vavitao--only a day's sail from here. He wanted me
to go with him, but I was too much interested in a large box of English
seeds, and some young fruit trees which the Governor of New South Wales
had sent to us, and so I said I would stay and watch our garden, in
which I took a great pride. He laughed and said that I must not forget
to look out for 'Freeman's pirate' as well as for my garden. He never
for one moment imagined that the French vessel would turn up at Tubuai.

"He took with him Thomas Godwin and William Myson, leaving Watts, who
was master of the other vessel, with me, to attend to the whaling.

"A week after he had sailed I set out to walk to the north end of the
island, where my children were buried. I had with me an active native
boy named Tati--who was carrying some plants and seeds which I intended
planting on and about the children's graves--and two young women. We
started early in the morning, for I intended staying at the north end
till late in the afternoon, whilst the two girls went crayfishing on the
reef.

"About noon I had finished my labours, and then, as it was a beautifully
bright day, I climbed a hill near by, called 'The White Man's Lookout,'
which commanded a clear view of the sea all round the island. It had
been given this name by the natives, who said that Fletcher Christian
and his fellow-mutineer, Edward Young, had often ascended the hill and
gazed out upon the ocean, for they were fearful that at any moment a
King's ship might appear in pursuit of their comrades and themselves.

"I was again feeling somewhat anxious on account of my husband. He
should have returned a week before, for there had been no bad weather,
and I knew that his business at Vavitao should have kept him there only
a day at the most. But the moment I gained the summit of the hill my
heart leapt with joy, for there were two vessels in sight, one of which
I at once recognised as my husband's. They were about a mile distant,
and were running before the wind for the harbour. The strange
vessel, which was a brigantine, was following close astern of our own
schooner--evidently, I thought, my husband is showing her the way into
the lagoon.

"Just as I was preparing to descend the hill my little companion, the
native boy, Tati, drew my attention to four canoes which, in company
with a boat from Captain Watts' schooner, were approaching the vessels.

"'Ah,' I thought, 'Watts has seen the vessels from the whaling station,
and is going out to meet them.'

"But presently something occurred which filled me with terror. When the
boat and canoes were quite close to the vessels, they both luffed,
and fired broadsides into them; the boat and two canoes were evidently
destroyed, and the two remaining canoes at once turned round and headed
for the shore, the brigantine firing at them with guns which I knew to
be long twenty-fours by the sharp sound they made. In a moment I knew
what had happened--my husband's ship had been captured by the French
privateer of which Captain Freeman had told us, and the Frenchmen were
now coming to seize our other selves lying anchored in the lagoon.

"Tati looked at me inquiringly.

"'Run,' I said, 'run and tell Uasi (for so the natives called Captain
Watts) that the master and his ship have been captured by an enemy, who
will be upon him very quickly, for the boat and two of the canoes he has
sent out have been destroyed, and every one in them killed. Tell him I
am coming.'

"The boy darted away in a moment, and I followed him as quickly as I
could; but Tati reached the harbour and was on board Watts' schooner
quite half an hour before me, and when I went on board I found the
vessel was prepared to defend the entrance to the harbour. Captain
Watts had swung her broadside on to the entrance, boarding nettings were
already triced up from stem to stern, and on the schooner's decks were
fifty determined natives, in addition to the usual crew of twenty men,
all armed with muskets and cutlasses. The four 6-pounders which she
carried, two on each side, were now all on the port side, loaded with
grape-shot, and in fact every preparation had been made to fight the
ship to the last. Watts met me as soon as I stepped on board, and told
me that before my messenger Tati had arrived to warn him he had heard
the sound of the firing at sea, and at once surmised that something was
wrong.

"'Soon after you left the house, Mrs. Eury, some natives sighted the two
vessels to the north-east and I sent the boatswain and four men off in
one of the whale-boats, little thinking that I was sending them to their
death. Four canoes went with the boat. Just now two of the canoes came
back with half of their number dead or wounded, and the survivors told
me that as soon as they were within musket-shot both the ships opened
fire on them, sunk the boat and two of the canoes with grape-shot, and
then began a heavy musketry fire. I fear, madam, that Captain Eury and
his ship----'

"'Your fears are mine, Watts,' I said, 'but whether my husband is alive
or dead, let us at least try and save this vessel.'

"'Ay, ay, madam. And if we have to give up the ship, we can beat them
off on shore. There are a hundred or more natives lying hidden at the
back of the oil shed, and if the Frenchmen capture this vessel they will
cover our retreat ashore. They are all armed with muskets.'

"We waited anxiously for the two ships to appear; but the wind had
gradually died away until it fell a dead calm. Then a native runner
hailed us from the shore, and said that both vessels had anchored off
the reef, and were manning their boats.

"'All the better for us,* said Watts grimly;'we'll smash them up quick
enough if they try boarding. If they had sailed in, the Frenchman's long
guns would have sunk us easily, and our wretched guns could not have
done him much harm.' Then he went round the decks, and saw that the crew
and their native allies were all at their proper stations.

"Presently he saw the boats--five of them--come round the point. Two
of them we recognised as belonging to my husband's vessel, though they
were, of course, manned by Frenchmen. They rowed leisurely in through
the entrance till they were within musket-shot, and then the foremost
one ceased rowing, and hoisted a white flag.

"'They want us to surrender without a fight,' said Watts, 'or are
meditating some treachery,' and taking a musket from one of the crew he
levelled it and fired in defiance. The bullet struck the water within
a foot of the boat. The white flag, however, was held up higher by the
officer in the stern. Watts seized a second musket, and this time his
bullet went plump into the crowded boat, and either killed or wounded
some one, for there was a momentary confusion. Then the white flag was
lowered, and with loud cheers the five boats made a dash towards us.
Telling the gunners to reserve their fire of grape until he gave the
word, Watts and the natives now began a heavy musketry fire on the
advancing boats, and although they suffered heavily the Frenchmen came
on most gallantly. Then when the first two boats, which were pulling
abreast, were within fifty yards' distance, Watts and a white seaman
sprang to two of the guns and themselves trained them, just as I heard
a native near me cry out that in the bows of each boat he could see a
man--my husband and his chief mate, who were both bound. Before I could
utter a warning cry to Watts, both of the guns belched out their volleys
of grape, and with awful effect. The boats were literally torn to
pieces, and their mangled occupants sank under the smooth waters of the
lagoon; only two or three seemed to have escaped unwounded, and as
they clung to pieces of wreckage our savage allies, with yells of fury,
picked them off with their muskets; for the same native who had seen my
husband bound in the boat had seen him sink.

"'No quarter to any one of them!' roared Watts when he heard this; 'the
cowards lashed Captain Eury and poor Mr. Myson to the bows of the boats,
and our own fire has killed them.'

"He sprang to the third gun, the white seaman to the fourth, and waited
for the other three boats, which, undaunted by the dreadful slaughter,
were dashing on bravely. Again the guns were fired, and again a united
yell of delight broke from our crew when one of the boats was swept
from stern to stern with the deadly grape and filled and sank. The two
others, however, escaped, and in another moment were alongside, and
the officer in command, followed by his men, sprang at the boarding
nettings, and began hacking and slashing at them with their cutlasses,
only to be thrust back, dead or dying, by our valiant crew, and the now
blood-maddened natives. Nine or ten of them did succeed in gaining a
foothold on the deck, by clambering up the bobstay on to the bowsprit,
and led by a mere boy of sixteen, made a determined charge; a native
armed with a club sprang at the youth and dashed out his brains, though
at the same moment a Frenchman thrust him through the body with his
cutlass. But the boarding party were simply overwhelmed by numbers, and
in less than five minutes every one of those who had reached the deck
were slaughtered with but a loss of three men on our side. Those still
remaining in the boats alongside then tried to draw off, but Watts, who
was now more like a mad animal than a human being, calling to some of
the crew to help him, himself cut down the boarding netting, and lifting
one of the 6-pounders, hurled it bodily into one of the boats, smashing
a large hole through it. Then a score of naked natives leapt into the
remaining one, and cut and stabbed the crew till not a living soul
remained. Some indeed had tried to swim to the shore a few minutes
earlier, but these poor wretches were met by canoes, and their brains
beaten out with clubs. The memory of that awful day of carnage will be
with me if I live to be a hundred.

"As soon as possible Watts and the carpenter restored some order among
our native allies, who, according to their custom, were beheading and
otherwise mutilating the bodies of the enemy. We found that we had lost
four killed and had about thirteen wounded. Of those killed two were
white men.

"Then taking with me half a dozen natives, I went off in one of our own
boats to the spot where our grape-shot had sunk the boat in which the
native had said he had seen my husband. The water was only about four
fathoms deep, and we could clearly see numbers of bodies lying on the
white sandy bottom. One by one they were raised to the surface and
examined, and the fifth one raised was that of my poor husband. His arms
were bound behind his back, and his chest and face were shattered by
grape-shot.

"A wild fury took possession of me, but I could not speak. I could only
point to the ship. We went back on board, and my husband's body was laid
on deck for the crew to see.

"I hardly know what I did or said, but I do remember that Watts swore to
me that I should be revenged, and in a few minutes I was seated beside
him in one of our own boats with a pistol in my hand, and we, in company
with thirty or forty canoes, were on our way to the ships anchored
outside.

"What followed I cannot remember, but Watts told me that I was the first
to spring up the side of the French brigantine, and that the captain,
as I fired my pistol at him, struck off my hand with his sword, and
was then himself cut down by the carpenter. There were but nine men on
board, and these were soon disposed of by our men, who gave no quarter.
My husband's vessel was in charge of but three of the enemy, and from
them, when they surrendered, we heard that every one of her crew, except
the mate Myson and my husband, had been cruelly slaughtered at Vavitao
a few days previously. Watts tried to save the lives of these three men,
but in vain; the natives killed them, in spite of all his efforts. They
died bravely enough, poor wretches.

"Watts and the carpenter succeeded in saving my life, and the stump of
my arm healed up very quickly, for I was always a strong and vigorous
woman. When they came to search the cabin of the French brigantine
they found that her captain--the man who had cut off my hand--was Louis
Pellatier, the very same man who, years before, had attempted to shoot
my poor husband at the Galapagos Islands.

"I sailed with Watts to Port Jackson a few months later in the French
brigantine, which was sold as a prize, and remained there for nearly two
years. Then the loneliness of my life began to affect my health, and so
I returned here to live and die. And here on this island have I lived
for nearly fifty years in peace and happiness, for since Randle and his
family came here I have been very happy, and now I only await the last
call of all--that call which will summon me to stand before the throne,
side by side with my dear husband."



THE END





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