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"Martin of Nitendi"; and The River of Dreams (1901)
Louis Becke




"MARTIN OF NITENDI"

Half-way up the side of the mountain which overlooked the waters of
the little land-locked harbour there was a space clear of timber. Huge,
jagged rocks, whose surfaces were covered with creepers and grey moss,
protruded from the soil, and on the highest of these a man was lying at
full length, looking at the gunboat anchored half a mile away. He was
clothed in a girdle of _ti_ leaves only; his feet were bare, cut, and
bleeding; round his waist was strapped a leather belt with an empty
cartridge pouch; his brawny right hand grasped a Snider rifle; his
head-covering was a roughly made cap of coconut-nut leaf, with a
projecting peak, designed to shield his blood-shot, savage eyes from
the sun. Yet he had been a White Man. For nearly an hour he had been
watching, ever since the dawn had broken. Far below him, thin, wavering
curls of pale blue smoke were arising from the site of the native
village, fired by the bluejackets on the previous evening. The ruins of
his own house he could discern by the low stone wall surrounding it;
as for the native huts which, the day before, had clustered so thickly
around his own dwelling, there was now no trace save heaps of grey
ashes.

A boat put off from the ship, and as the yellow-bladed oars flashed in
the sunlight the man drew his rifle close up to his side and his eyes
gleamed with a deadly hatred.

"Officers' shootin' party," he muttered, as he watched the boat ground
on the beach and three men, carrying guns, step out and walk up the
beach--"officer's shootin' party. Christ A'mighty! I'd like to pot every
one o' the swine. An' I could do it, too, I could do it. But wot's the
use o' bein' a blarsted fool for nothin'?"

The boat's crew got out and walked about the smouldering remains of the
village, seeking for curios which had escaped the fire, pausing awhile
to look at a large mound of sand, under which lay seven of the natives
killed by the landing-party on the preceding day. Then, satisfied that
there was nothing to be had, the coxswain grumblingly ordered the men
back to the boat, which pushed off and returned to the ship.

The wild, naked creature lying upon the boulder saw the boat pull off
with a sigh of satisfaction. There was, under the ashes of his house,
and buried still further under the soil, a 50-lb. beef barrel filled
with Chilian and Mexican dollars. And he had feared that the bluejackets
might rake about the ashes and find it.

He rose and stepped down the jagged boulder to where, at the base,
the thick carpet of dead leaves, fallen from the giant trees which
encompassed it, silenced even the tread of his naked feet. Seated
against the bole of a many-buttressed _vi_-tree was a native woman,
whose right arm, shattered by a bullet and bound up in the spathe of a
coconut-palm, was suspended from her neck by a strip of soft bark. She
looked at him inquiringly.

"A boat has come ashore," he said in the native tongue, "but none of the
white men are seeking for my money."

"Thy money!" The woman's eyes blazed with a deadly fury. "What is thy
money to me? Is thy money more to us than the blood of our child? O,
thou coward heart!"

Grasping his Snider by the tip of the barrel the man looked at his wife
with sullen, dulled ferocity.

"I am no coward, Nuta. Thou dost not understand. I wish to save the
money, but I wish for revenge as well. Yet what can I do? I am but one
man, and have but one cartridge left."

* * * * *

This naked, sun-tanned being was one of the most desperate and
blood-stained beachcombers that had ever cursed the fair isles of the
South Pacific, and in those days there were many, notably on Pleasant
Island and in the Gilbert Group. Put ashore at Nitendi from a Hobart
Town whaler for mutinous conduct, he had disassociated himself for ever
from civilisation. Perhaps the convict strain in his blood had something
to do with his vicious nature, for both his father and mother had "left
their country for their country's good," and his early training had been
given him under the shadow of the gallows and within the swishing sound
of the "cat" as it lacerated the backs of the wretched beings doomed to
suffer under the awful convict system.

From the simple, loafing beachcomber stage of life to that of a leader
of the natives in their tribal wars was a simple but natural transition,
and Jim Martin, son of a convict father and mother whose forbears were
of the scum of Liverpool, and knew the precincts of a prison better than
the open air, followed the path ordained for him by Fate.

The man's reckless courage won him undoubted respect from his
associates; the head chief of the village alone possessed a greater
influence. A house was built for him, and a wife and land given him; and
within a year of his arrival on the island he signalised himself by a
desperate attempt to cut-off a barque bound from Hobart to China as
she lay becalmed off the island. The attempt failed, and many of his
followers lost their lives. A few months later, however, he was more
successful with a Fijian trading cutter, which, anchoring off the
village, was carried during the night, plundered of her cargo of trade
goods (much of which was firearms), and then burnt. This established his
reputation.

Five years passed. But few vessels touched at the island now, for it had
a bad name, and those which did call were well armed and able to beat
off an attack. Then one day, two years before the opening of this story,
a trading schooner called off the village, and Martin, now more a savage
native than a white man, was tempted by her defenceless condition, and
by the money which the captain carried for trading purposes, to capture
her, with the aid of the wild, savage people among whom he had cast
his lot. Of what use the money would be to him he knew not. He was an
outcast from civilisation, he was quickly forgetting his mother tongue;
but his criminal instincts, and his desire to be a "big man" with the
savages among whom he had lived for so long, led him to perpetrate this
one particular crime. In the dead of night he led a party of natives
on board the schooner, and massacred every one of her crew, save one
Fijian, who, jumping overboard, swam to the shore, and was spared. A few
months later this man escaped to a passing whaler, and the story of the
massacre of the captain and crew of the _Fedora_ was made known to
the commodore of the Australian station, who despatched a gunboat "to
apprehend the murderers and bring them to Sydney for trial." Failing the
apprehension of the murderers, the commander was instructed "to burn
the village, and inflict such other punitive methods upon the people
generally" as he deemed fit.

So Commander Lempriere, of H.M. gunboat _Terrier_, went to work with
a will. He meant to catch the murderers of the crew of the _Fedora_ if
they possibly could be caught, and set to work in a manner that would
have shocked the commodore. Instead of steaming into the bay on which
the village was situated--and so giving the natives ample time to clear
out into the mountains--he brought-to at dusk, when the ship was twenty
miles from the land, and sent away the landing party in three boats. The
Fijian--he who had escaped from the massacre of the _Fedora_--was the
guide.

"You know what to do, Chester," said Commander Lempriere to his first
lieutenant as the boatswain's whistles piped the landing party away;
"land on the north point, about two miles from the village, and surround
it, and then wait till daylight. You can do it easily enough with thirty
men, as it lies at the foot of the mountain, and there is no escape
for the beggars unless they break through you and get into the bush. Be
guided by the Fiji boy; and, as the Yankees say, 'no one wants a brass
band with him when he's going duck-hunting,' so try and surround the
village as quietly as possible. I'll see that none of them get away in
their canoes. I'll work up abreast of the harbour by daylight."

Guided by the boy, Lieutenant Chester and the landing party succeeded in
getting ashore without being seen, and then made a long detour along the
side of the mountain, so as to approach the village from behind. Then
they waited till daylight, and all would have gone well had not his
second in command, just as the order was given to advance, accidentally
discharged his revolver. In an instant the village was alarmed, and some
hundreds of natives, many of them armed with rifles, and led by Martin,
sprang from their huts and made a short but determined resistance. Then,
followed by their women and children, they broke through the bluejackets
and escaped into the dense mountain jungle, where they were safe from
pursuit. But the fire of the seamen had been deadly, for seven
bodies were found; among them was a boy of about ten, whom the Fijian
recognised as the renegade's son--a stray bullet had pierced his body
as he sat crouching in terror in his father's house, and another
had wounded his mother as she fled up the mountainside, for in the
excitement and in the dim morning light it was impossible for the
attacking party to tell women from men.

Then by the commander's orders the village and fleet of canoes was
fired, and a dozen or so of rockets went screaming and spitting
among the thick mountain jungle, doing no damage to the natives, but
terrifying them more than a heavy shell fire. *****

"Let us away from here, Nuta," said Martin, "'tis not safe. In the hut
by the side of the big pool we can rest till the ship has gone and our
people return. And I shall bind thy arm up anew."

The woman obeyed him silently, and in a few minutes they were skirting
the side of the mountain by a narrow leaf-strewn path, taking the
opposite direction to that followed by the two officers and bluejackets.
Half an hour's walk brought them to the river bank, which was clothed
with tall spear-grass. Still following the path, they presently emerged
out into the open before a deep, spacious pool, at the further end of
which was a dilapidated and deserted hut. Here the woman, faint with the
pain of her wound, sank down, and Martin brought her water to drink, and
then proceeded to re-examine and properly set her broken arm.

*****

The two officers--the second lieutenant and a ruddy-faced, fair-haired
midshipman named Walters--had hardly proceeded a hundred yards along the
beach, when the boy stopped.

"Oh, Mr. Grayling, let us turn back and go the other way. There's a big
river runs into the next bay, with a sort of a lake about a mile up; I
saw it in the plan of the island, this morning. We might get a duck or
two there, sir."

"Any way you like," replied the officer, turning about, "and walking
along the beach will be better than climbing up the mountain in the
beastly heat for the sake of a few tough pigeons."

Followed by the three bluejackets, who were armed with rifles, they set
off along the hard white sand. In a few minutes they had rounded the
headland on the north side and were out of sight of the ship. For quite
a mile they tramped over the sand, till they came to the mouth of the
river, which flowed swiftly and noisily over a shallow bar. A short
search revealed a narrow path leading up along the bank, first through
low thicket scrub, and then through high spear-grass. Further back, amid
the dense forest, they could hear the deep notes of the wild pigeons,
but as young Walters was intent on getting a duck they took no heed, but
pressed steadily on.

"By jove! what a jolly fine sheet of water!" whispered the midshipman as
they emerged out from the long grass and saw the deep, placid pool lying
before them; then he added disappointedly, "but not a sign of a duck."

"Never mind," said Grayling consolingly, as he sat down on the bank and
wiped his heated face, "we'll get plenty of pigeons, anyway. But first
of all I'm going to have something to eat and drink. Open that bag,
Williams, and you, Morris and Jones, keep your ears cocked and your
eyes skinned. It's lovely and quiet here, but I wouldn't like to get a
poisoned arrow into my back whilst drinking bottled beer."

"I'm going to have a swim before I eat anything," said Walters, with a
laugh. "Won't you, sir?" he asked, as he began undressing.

"Looks very tempting," replied the officer, "but I'm too hot. Take my
advice and wait a bit till you're cooler."

The youngster only laughed, and, having stripped, took a header from
the bank, and then swam out into the centre of the pool where it was
deepest.

"Oh, do come in, sir," he cried; "it's just splendid. There's a bit of a
current here and the water is delightfully cool."

*****

Martin was aroused from his sleep by the sound or voices. He seized his
rifle, bent over his wife, and whispered to her to awake; then crawling
on his hands and knees from the hut he reached the bank and looked out,
just as young Walters dived into the water.

Hardened murderer as he was, he felt a thrill of horror, for he knew
that the pool was a noted haunt of alligators, and to attempt to swim
across it meant certain death.

His wife touched his arm, and crouching beside him, her black eyes
filled with a deadly hatred, she showed her white teeth and gave a low,
hissing laugh.

"Before one can count ten he will be in the jaws," she said, with savage
joy.

"Nuta," whispered Martin hoarsely, "'tis but a boy," and the veins stood
out on his bronzed forehead as his hand closed tighter around his rifle.

"What wouldst thou do, fool?" said the woman fiercely as she seized the
weapon by the barrel; "think of thy son who died but yesterday... ah!
ah! look! look!"

Tearing the rifle from her grasp he followed the direction of her eyes;
a swiftly-moving black snout showed less than thirty yards from the
unconscious bather, who was now swimming leisurely to the bank.

"He must not die," he muttered; "'tis but a boy!" Then turning to the
woman he spoke aloud. "Quick! run to the forest; I shall follow."

Again she sought to stay his hand; he dashed her aside, raised the rifle
to his shoulder and took a quick but steady aim; a second later the loud
report rang out, and the monster, struck on his bony head by the heavy
bullet, sank in alarm; and then, ere Martin turned to run, two other
shots disturbed the silence and he pitched forward on his face into the
long grass.

* * * * *

"We just saw the beggar in time, sir," cried Jones. "I happened to look
across and caught sight of him just as he fired at Mr. Walters. Me and
Morris fired together."

Grayling had sprung to his feet. "Are you hit, Walters?" he shouted.

"No," replied the boy as he clambered up the bank; "what the deuce is
the matter?"

"A nigger took a pot-shot at you! Get under cover as quick as you can.
Never mind your clothes!"

Ten minutes passed. No sound broke the deathly stillness of the place;
and then, cautiously creeping through the grass, the officer and Morris
crawled round to where the latter had seen the man fall. They came upon
him suddenly. He was lying partly on his face, with his eyes looking
into theirs. Morris sprang up and covered him with his rifle.

"I'm done for," Martin said quietly "my back is broken. Did the
crocodile get the boy?"

"Crocodile!" said Grayling in astonishment. "Did you fire at a
crocodile? Who are you? Are you a white man?"

"Never mind who I am," he gasped; "let me lie here. Look," and he
pointed to a bullet-hole in his stomach; "it's gone clean through me and
smashed my backbone. Let me stay as I am."

He never spoke again, and died whilst a litter was being made to carry
him down to the beach.





THE RIVER OF DREAMS




I

There is a river I know which begins its life in a dark, sunless canyon
high up amid the thick forest-clad spurs of the range which traverses
the island from east to west. Here, lying deep and silent, is a pool,
almost encompassed by huge boulders of smooth, black rock, piled
confusedly together, yet preserving a certain continuity of outline
where their bases touch the water's edge. Standing far up on the
mountainside you can, from one certain spot alone, discern it two
hundred feet below, and a thick mass of tangled vine and creepers
stretching across its western side, through which the water flows on its
journey to the sea.

A narrow native path, used only by hunters of the wild pigs haunting the
depths of the gloomy mountain forest, led me to it one close, steaming
afternoon. I had been pigeon shooting along the crests of the ridges,
and having shot as many birds as I could carry, I decided to make a
short cut down to the level ground, where I was sure of finding water,
resting awhile and then making my way home along the beach to the
village.

I had descended scarcely more than fifty yards when I struck the path--a
thin, red line of sticky, clay soil, criss-crossed by countless roots of
the great forest trees. A brief examination showed me that it had been
trodden by the feet of natives quite recently; their footprints led
downward. I followed, and presently came to a cleared space on the
mountainside, a spot which had evidently been used by a party of hunters
who had stayed there to cook some food, for the ashes of a fire lay in
the ground-oven they had made. Laying down my gun, I went to the edge
and peered cautiously over, and there far below I could see the pool,
revealed by a shaft of sunlight which pierced down through the leafy
canopy.

Feeling sure that the track would lead me to the water, where I should
have the satisfaction of a long drink, I set out again, and after
narrowly escaping pitching down headlong, I at last reached the bottom,
and, with a sigh of relief, threw down my gun and birds, and in another
moment was drinking eagerly of the ice-cold, crystal water in one of the
many minor pools which lay everywhere amid the boulders.

After a few minutes' rest I collected some dead wood and lit a fire,
being hungry as well as thirsty; then leaving it to burn down, I
climbed one of the highest boulders to get a good view, and sighed with
admiration at the scene--there lay before me a deep, almost circular
sheet or water, about thirty yards across. Directly beneath me I could
see the rocky bottom; fifty feet further out towards the centre it was
of unfathomable blueness. On the opposite side a tree of enormous girth
had fallen, long years before, yet it was still growing, for some of its
mighty roots were embedded in the rich red soil of the mountain-side.

As I looked, a fish, and then another, splashed just beside the fallen
tree. Slipping down from the boulder, I made my way round, just in time
to see scores of beautiful silvery fish, exactly like English grayling
in shape, dart away from under the tree out into the deep water. In
other streams of the island I had caught many of these fish, but had
never seen any so high up inland; and, elated at the prospect of much
future sport, I went on with my explorations.

I was about to climb over the tree, when I discovered that I could pass
underneath, for here and there it was supported on boulders standing
out two or three feet above the water. On the other side a tiny stream
trickled over a flat ledge of rock, to fall into a second but much
smaller pool ten or fifteen feet below; beyond that lay a long, narrow
but shallow stretch of crystal water, running between highly verdured
banks, and further away in the distance I could hear the murmur of a
waterfall.

Turning over a stone with my foot, a crayfish darted off and tried
to hide. There were scores, hundreds of them, everywhere--fine, fat,
luscious fellows, and in ten minutes I had a dozen of the largest in my
bag, to roast on the now glowing fire beside a juicy pigeon. Salt I had
none, but I did possess a ship biscuit and a piece of cold baked taro,
and with pigeon and crayfish, what more could a hungry man desire?

The intense solitude of the place, too, was enchanting. Now and then
the booming note of a pigeon, or the soft _coo-coo_ of a ringdove, would
break the silence; overhead there was a sky of spotless blue; an hour
before I had sweltered under a brazen sun; here, under the mountain
shade, though there was not a breath of wind to stir a leaf, it was
surprisingly cool.

To lean against the soft white moss clothing the buttresses of a giant
maruhia-tree and smoke a pipe, was delightful after a tramp of six
or eight miles through a mountain forest; and to know that the return
journey would be through easy country along the banks of a new river was
better still.

I set off with a feeling of joyful expectancy, taking a last glance at
the beautiful little lake--I meant to return with some native friends to
fish it on the morrow--ere I struck into the forest once more to pick up
the path.

Every now and then I caught glimpses of the river, now gradually
widening as it was joined by other streamlets on either side. Some of
these I had to wade through, others I crossed on stones or fallen trees.

Half-way to the beach I came to a broad stretch of shallow water covered
with purple water-lilies; three small ducks, with alarmed quacking, shot
upward from where they had been resting or feeding under the bank, and
vanished over the tree-tops; and a sudden commotion in the water showed
me that there were many fish. Its beautiful clearness tempted me to
strip off and swim about the floating garden resting on its bosom, and
I was just about to undress when I heard a shot quite near. The moment
after, I fired in return, and gave a loud hail; then the high reedy cane
grass on the other side parted, and a man and a woman came out, stared
at me, and then laughed in welcome. They were one Nalik and his wife,
people living in my own village. The man carried a long single-barrelled
German shot-gun, the woman a basket of pigeons. Stepping down the bank,
they waded across and joined me.

"How came ye here?" they asked, as we sat down together to smoke.

I told them, and then learnt that the river ran into the sea through the
mangroves at a spot many miles from the village. Then I asked about the
big pool. Nalik nodded.

"Ay, 'tis deep, very deep, and hath many fish in it. But it is a place
of _jelon_ (haunted) and we always pass to one side. But here where we
now sit is a fine place for fish. And there are many wild pigs in the
forest."

"Let us come here to-morrow. Let us start ere the sun is up, and stay
here and fish and shoot till the day be gone."

"Why not?" said Sivi his wife, puffing her cigarette, "and sleep
here when night comes, for under the banks are many thousand _unkar_
(crayfish), and I and some other women shall catch them by torchlight."

And that was how I began to learn this island river and its ways, so
that now it has become the river ot my dreams.




II

But with the dawn there came disappointment keen and bitter, for in the
night the north-east trade had died away, and now wild, swooping rain
squalls pelted and drenched the island from the westward, following each
other in quick succession, and whipping the smooth water inside the
reef into a blurred and churning sheet of foam, and then roaring away up
through the mountain passes and canyons.

With my gear all ready beside me, I sat on the matted floor of the
hut in which I lived, smoking my pipe and listening to the fury of the
squalls as the force of the wind bent and swayed the thatched roof, and
made the cinnet-tied rafters and girders creak and work to and fro under
the strain. Suddenly the wicker-work door on the lee side was opened,
and Nalik jumped in, dripping with rain, but smiling good-naturedly as
usual.

"_Woa!_" he said, taking his long, straight black hair in his hands and
squeezing out the water, "'tis no day for us."

I ventured an opinion that it might clear off soon. He shook his head as
he held out his brown hand for a stiff tot of Hollands, tossed it off,
and then sat down to open a small bundle he carried, and which contained
a dry jumper and pair of dungaree pants.

Then quickly divesting himself of the soddened girdle of grass around
his loins, he put on the European garments, filled his pipe, and began
to talk.

"The wind will soon cease, for these squalls from the westward last not
long at this time of the year; but when the wind ceases, then comes rain
for two days sometimes--not heavy rain such as this, but soft rain as
fine as hair, and all the forest is wetted and the mountain paths are
dangerous even to our bare feet, and the pigeons give no note, and the
sun is dead. So we cannot go to the river to-day. To-morrow perhaps it
may be fine; therefore let us sit and be content."

So we sat and were content, remaining indoors in my own house, or
visiting those of our neighbours, eating, drinking, smoking, and
talking. I was the only white man on the island, and during my three
months' residence had got to know every man, woman, child, and dog
in the village. And my acquaintance with the dogs was very extensive,
inasmuch as every one of the thirty-four families owned at least ten
dogs, all of which had taken kindly to me from the very first. They were
the veriest mongrels that ever were seen in canine form, but in spite of
that were full of pluck when pig hunting. (I once saw seven or eight of
them tackle a lean, savage old wild boar in a dried-up taro swamp; two
of them were ripped up, the rest hung on to him by his ears and neck,
and were dragged along as if they were as light as feathers, until a
native drove a heavy ironwood spear clean through the creature's loins.)

During the evening my native friends, in response to my inquiries about
the river, told me that it certainly took its rise from the deep pool I
have before described, and that had I made a more careful examination I
should have seen several tiny rivulets, hidden by the dense undergrowth,
flowing into it from both sides of the gorge. During severe rains an
immense volume of muddy water would rush down; yet, strangely enough,
the two kinds of fish which inhabited it were just as plentiful as ever
as soon as the water cleared.

About four o'clock in the morning, when I was sound in slumber, a voice
called to me to awaken. It was Nalik.

"Come out and look."

I lifted (not opened) my Venetian-sashed door of pandanus leaf, and
stepped out.

What a glorious change! The rain had ceased, and the shore and sea lay
bright and clear under a myriad-starred sky of deepest blue; the white
line of surf tumbling on the barrier reef a mile away seemed almost
within stone-throw. A gentle breeze swayed the fronds of the coco-palms
above us, and already the countless thousands of sea birds, whose
"rookery" was on two small islets within the reef and near the village,
were awake, and filling the air with their clamour as they, like us,
prepared to start off for their day's fishing.

Our party consisted of--

(1) Nalik, his wife and five dogs.

(2) Three young women, each with several dogs.

(3) Old Sru, chief of the district, with numerous dogs.

(4) Two boys and three girls, who carried baskets of food, crayfish
nets, boar-spears, &c. Large number of dogs, male and female.

(5) The white man, to whom, as soon as he appeared, the whole of the
dogs immediately attached themselves.

(6) Small boy of ten, named Toka, the terror of the village for
his illimitable impudence and unsurpassed devilry. But as he was a
particular friend of the white man (and could not be prevented) he was
allowed to come. He had three dogs.


Before we started old Sru, Nalik, and myself had some Hollands, two
bottles of which were also placed in the care of Nalik's wife. The
"devil," as Toka was called, mimicked us as we drank, smacked his lips
and rubbed one hand up and down his stomach. One of the big girls cuffed
him for being saucy. He retaliated by darting between her legs and
throwing her down upon the sand.

Presently we started, the women and children going ahead, with the
exception of the "devil," who stuck close to me, and carried my Snider
in one hand and my double-barrel muzzle-loader in the other.

For the first two or three miles our way lay along the hard, white
beach, whose sands were covered everywhere by millions of tiny,
blue-backed, red-legged soldier crabs, moving to and fro in companies,
regiments, and divisions, hastening to burrow before the daylight
revealed their presence to their dreaded enemies--the golden-winged sand
plovers and the greedy sooty terns, who yet knew how to find them by the
myriad small nodules of sand they left to betray their hiding-place.

Oh, the sweet, sweet smell of the forest as it is borne down from the
mountains and carried seaward, to gladden, it may be, the heart of some
hard-worked, broken-spirited sailor, who, in a passing ship, sees from
aloft this fair, fair island with its smiling green of lear, and soft,
heaving valleys, above the long lines of curving beach, showing white
and bright in the morning sun! And, as you walk, the surf upon the reef
for ever calls and calk; sometimes loudly with a deep, resonant boom,
but mostly with a soft, faint murmur like the low-breathed sigh of a
woman when she lies her cheek upon her lover's breast and looks upward
to his face with eyes aglow and lips trembling for his kiss.

Far, far above a feint note. 'Tis but a snow-white tropic bird,
suspended in mid-air on motionless wing, his long scarlet pendrices
almost invisible at such a height. Presently, as he discerns you, he
lets his aerial, slender form sink and sink, without apparent motion,
till he is within fifty feet, and then he turns his graceful head from
side to side, and inquiringly surveys you with his full, soft black eye.
For a moment or two he flutters his white wings gently and noiselessly,
and you can imagine you hear his timid heart-beats; then, satisfied with
his scrutiny, his fairy, graceful form floats upward into space again,
and is lost to view.

Leaving the beach and the sound of the droning surf behind us we turned
to the starboard hand, and struck through the narrow strip of littoral
towards the mountains. For the first mile or so our way was through a
grove of pandanus-palms, nearly every one of which was in full fruit; on
the branches were sitting hundreds of small sooty terns, who watched
our progress beneath with the calm indifference borne of the utter
confidence of immunity of danger from any human being.

Once through the sandy stretch on which the pandanus loves to grow,
we came to the outlier of the mountain lands--low, gently undulating
ridges, covered on both sides of the narrow track with dense thickets
of pineapples, every plant bearing a fruit half-matured, which, when
ripened, was never touched by the hand of man, for the whole island was,
in places, covered with thickets such as this, and the wild pig only
revelled among them.

"They grow thickly," I said to Nalik.

"Ay, _tahina_* they grow thickly and wild," he replied, with some
inflection of sadness in his voice; "long, long ago, before my father's
father lived, there was a great town here. That was long before we of
this land had ever seen a white man. And now we who are left are but as
dead leaves."

     * Friend.

"How came it so to be?"

He shook his head. "I cannot tell. I only know that once we of this land
numbered many, many thousands, and now we are but hundreds. Here, where
we now walk, was once a great town of houses with stone foundations; if
ye cut away the _fara_ (pineapples) thou wilt see the lower stones lying
in the ground."

We pressed onward and upward into the deeper forest, then turned
downwards along a narrow path, carpeted thick with fallen leaves, damp
and soft to the foot, for the sun's rays never pierced through the dense
foliage overhead. And then we came out upon a fair, green sward with
nine stately coco-palms clustered, their branches drooping over the
river of my dreams, which lay before us with open, waiting bosom.




III

Under the shade of the nine cocos we made our camp, and old Sru and the
women and children at once set to work to build a "house" to protect us
in case it rained during the nights. Very quickly was the house built.
The "devil" was sent up the cocos to lop off branches, which, as they
fell, were woven into thatch by the deft, eager hands of the women, who
were supervised by Sivi, Nalik's handsome wife, amid much chatter and
laughter, each one trying to outvie the other in speed, and all anxious
to follow Nalik and myself to the river.

The place was well chosen. For nearly a hundred yards there was a clear
stretch of water flowing between low, grassy banks on which were growing
a few scattered pandanus-palms--the screw pine. Half a mile distant, a
jagged, irregular mountain-peak raised high its emerald-hued head in the
clear sunshine, and from every lofty tree on both sides of the stream
there came the continuous call of the gentle wood-doves and the great
grey pigeons.

With Nalik and myself there came old Sru and the imp Toka, who at once
set to work and found us some small crayfish for bait. Our rods were
slender bamboos, about twelve feet long, with lines of the same length
made of twisted banana fibre as fine as silk, and equally as strong. My
hook was an ordinary flatted Kirby, about half the size of an English
whiting hook; Nalik preferred one of his own manufacture, made from a
strip of tortoise-shell, barbless and highly polished.

Taking our stand at a place where the softly-flowing current eddied and
curled around some black boulders of rock whose surfaces were but a few
inches above the clear, crystal stream, we quickly baited our hooks and
cast together, the old chief and the boy throwing in some crushed-up
crayfish shells at the same time. Before five seconds had passed my
brown-skinned comrade laughed as his thin line tautened out suddenly,
and in another instant he swung out a quivering streak of shining blue
and silver, and deftly caught it with his left hand; almost at the
same moment my rod was strained hard by a larger fish, which darted in
towards the bank.

"First to thee, Nalik; but biggest to the _rebelli_"* cried old Sru,
as with some difficulty--for my rod was too slight for such a fish--I
landed a lovely four-pounder on the grass.

     * White man.

Nalik laughed again, and before I had cleared my hook from the jaw of
my prize he had taken another and then a third, catching each one in his
left hand with incredible swiftness and throwing them to the boy. The
women and girls on the opposite bank laughed and chaffed me, and urged
me to hasten, or Nalik would catch five ere I landed another. But the
_rebelli_ took no heed of their merriment, for he was quite content to
let a few minutes go whilst he examined the glistening beauty which lay
quivering and gasping on the sward. It was nearly eighteen inches in
length, its back from the tip of the upper jaw to the tail a brilliant
dark blue flecked with tiny specks of red, the sides a burnished silver,
changing, as the belly was reached, to a glistening white. The pectoral
and lower fins were a pale blue, flecked with somewhat larger spots
of brighter red than those on the back, and the tail showed the same
colouring. In shape it was much like a grayling, particularly about
the head; and altogether a more beautiful fresh-water fish I have never
seen.

We fished for an hour or more, and caught three or four dozen of this
particular fish as well as eight or nine dark-scaled, stodgy bream,
which haunted the centre of the pool where the water was deep. Then as
the sun grew fiercer they ceased to bite, and we ceased to tempt them;
so we lay down and rested and smoked, whilst the women and children made
a ground-oven and prepared some of the fish for cooking. Putting aside
the largest--which was reserved for the old chief and myself--Nalik's
kindly, gentle-voiced wife, watched the children roll each fish up in
a wrapper of green coconut leaf and lay them carefully upon the glowing
bed of stones in the oven, together with some scores of long, slender
green bananas, to serve as a vegetable in place of taro or yams, which
would take a much longer time to cook. On the top of all was placed the
largest fish, and then the entire oven was rapidly covered up with wild
banana leaves in the shape of a mound.

The moment Nalik and I had laid down our rods, and whilst the oven was
being prepared, Toka and the two other boys sprang into the water at
one end of the pool and began to disturb the bottom with their feet. The
young girls and women, each carrying a small finely-meshed scoop-net,
joined them, and in a tew minutes they had filled a basket with
crayfish, some of which were ten inches in length, and weighed over a
pound, their tails especially being very large and fleshy.

"Shall we boil or bake them?" asked Nalik as the basketful was brought
up to me for examination.

"Boil them," I replied, for I had brought with me several pounds of
coarse salt taken from our wrecked ship's harness cask and carefully
dried in the sun, and a boiled crayfish or crab is better than one
baked--and spoiled.

A tall, graceful girl, named Seia, came forward with a large wooden
bowl, nearly eighteen inches in diameter at the top, and two feet in
depth--no light weight even to lift, for at its rim it was over an inch
thick. Placing it on the ground in front of Sru and myself, she motioned
to the other girls to bring water. They brought her about two gallons
in buckets made of the looped-up leaves of the taro plant, and poured it
into the vessel; then Nalik and old Sru, with rough tongs formed of the
midrib of a coconut branch, whipped up eight or ten large red-hot stones
from a fire near by, and dropped them into the vessel, the water in
which at once began to boil and send up a volume of steam as Seia tipped
the entire basketful of crustacean delicacies into the bowl, together
with some handfuls of salt. Then a closely-woven mat was placed over the
top and tied round it so as to keep in the heat--that is the way they
boil food in the South Seas with a wooden pot!

From time to time during the next quarter of an hour more red-hot stones
were dropped into the bowl until old Sru pronounced the contents to be
_tunua_, _i.e._, well and truly cooked, and then whilst the now bright
red crayfish were laid out to cool upon platters of green woven coconut
leaf, the first oven of fish and bananas was opened.

What a delightful meal it was! The fat, luscious fish, cooked in their
own juices, each one deftly ridden of its compact coating of silvery
scales by the quick hands of the women, and then turned out hot and
smoking upon a platter of leaf, with half a dozen green, baked bananas
for bread! Such fish, and so cooked, surely fall to the lot of few. Your
City professional diner who loves to instruct us in the daily papers
about "how to dine" cannot know anything about the real enjoyment of
eating. He is _blasÚ_ he regulates his stomach to his costume and to
the season, and he eats as fashion dictates he should eat, and fills
his long-suffering stomach with nickety, tin-pot, poisonous "delicacies"
which he believes are excellent because they are expensive and are
prepared by a _chef_ whose income is ten times as much as his own.

So we ate our fish and bananas, and then followed on with the crayfish,
the women and children shelling them for us as fast as we could eat, the
largest and fittest being placed before the old chief and the white man.
And then for dessert we had a basket of red-ripe wild mangoes, with a
great smooth-leaved pineapple as big as a big man's head, and showing
red and green and yellow, and smelling fresh and sweet with the rain of
the previous night. Near by where we sat was a pile of freshly-husked
young coconuts, which a smiling-faced young girl opened for us as we
wanted a drink, carefully pouring out upon the ground all the liquid
that remained after Sru and myself had drank, and then putting the empty
shells, with their delicate lining of alabaster flesh, into the fire to
be consumed, for no one not of chiefly rank must partake even of that
which is cast aside by a chief or his guests.

Our first meal of the day finished, we--that is, Nalik, Sru, and
myself--lay down under the shade or the newly-built thatched roof and
smoked our pipes in content, whilst the women and children, attended by
the dogs, bathed in the deepest part of the pool, shouting, laughing,
and splashing and diving till they were tired. The dogs, mongrel as they
were, enjoyed the fun as much as their masters, biting and worrying each
other playfully as they swam round and round, and then crawling out upon
the bank, they ran to and fro upon the grassy sward till they too were
glad to rest under the shade of the clump of coco-palms.

In the afternoon--leaving the rest of our party to amuse themselves by
catching crayfish and to make traps for wild pigs--Sru, Nalik, Toka, and
myself set out towards _the_ pool at the head of the river, where, I
was assured, we were sure to get a pig or two by nightfall. The dogs
evidently were equally as certain of this as Nalik and Sru, for the
moment they saw the two men pick up their heavy hunting-spears they
sprang to their feet and began howling and yelping in concert till they
were beaten into silence by the women. I brought with me a short Snider
carbine--the best and handiest weapon to stop a wild pig at a short
range--and a double-barrelled muzzle-loading shot-gun. The latter I gave
to the "devil" to carry, and promised him that he should fire at least
five shots from it at pigeons or mountain fowl before we returned to the
village.

Following a narrow footpath which led along the right bank of the
stream, we struck directly into the heart of the mountain forest, and in
a few minutes the voices, shouts, and laughter of our companions sounded
as if they were miles and miles away. Now and then as we got deeper
into the dark, cool shade caused by the leafed dome above, we heard
the shrill cry of the long-legged mountain cock--a cry which I can
only describe as an attempt at the ordinary barnyard rooster's
"cock-a-doodle-do" combined with the scream of a cat when its tail is
trodden upon by a heavy-booted foot. Here in these silent, darkened
aisles of the forest it sounded weird and uncanny in the extreme, and
aroused an intense desire to knock the creature over; but I forebore to
fire, although we once had a view of a fine bird, attended by a hen and
chicks, scurrying across the leaf-strewn ground not fifty feet away.
Everywhere around us the great grey pigeons were sounding their booming
notes from the branches overhead, but of these too we took no heed, for
a shot would have alarmed every wild pig within a mile of us.

An hour's march brought us to the crest of a spur covered with a species
of white cedar, whose branches were literally swarming with doves and
pigeons, feeding upon small, sweet-scented berries about the size of
English haws. Here we rested awhile, the dogs behaving splendidly by
lying down quietly and scarcely moving as they watched me taking off my
boots and putting on a pair of cinnet (coir fibre) sandals. Just beneath
us was a deep canyon, at the bottom of which, so Nalik said, was a tiny
rivulet which ran through banks covered with wild yams and _ti_ plants.

"There be nothing so sweet to the mouth of the mountain pig as the thick
roots of the _ti_," said Nalik to me in a low voice. "They come here
to root them up at this time of the year, before the wild yams are well
grown, and the _ti_ both fattens and sweetens. Let us start."

At a sign from Sru, Nalilc and the boy Toka, followed by the dogs, went
off towards the head of the canyon, so as to drive down to the old man
and myself any pigs which might be feeding above, whilst we slipped
quietly down the side of the spur to the bank of the rivulet. Sru
carried my gun (which I had loaded with ball) as well as his spear. I
had my Snider.

We had not long to wait, for presently we heard the dogs give cry, and
the silence of the forest was broken by the demoniac yells of Nalik and
the "devil," who had started a party of two boars and half a dozen
sows with their half-grown progeny, which were lying down around the
buttressed sides of a great tika-tree. They (the pigs) came down the
side of the rivulet with a tremendous rush, right on top of us in fact.
I fired at the leader--a great yellow, razorbacked boar with enormous
tusks--missed him, but hit a young sow who was running on his port side.
Sru, with truer aim, fired both barrels of his gun in quick succession,
and the second boar dropped with a bullet through both shoulders, and a
dear little black and yellow striped four-months'-old porker went under
to the other barrel with a broken spine. Then in another three or four
minutes we were kicking and "belting" about half of the dogs, who,
maddened by the smell of blood from the wounded animals, sprang upon
them and tried to tear them to pieces; the rest of the pack (Heaven save
the term!) had followed the flying swine down the canyon; they turned up
at the camp some three or four hours later with bloodied jaws and gorged
to distension.

The boar which Sru had shot was lean enough in all conscience, but
the young sow and the four-months'-old porker were as round-bodied as
barrels, and as fat as only pigs can be fat. After disembowelling them,
we hoisted the carcasses up under the branch of a tree out of the reach
of the dogs, and sent Toka back to the camp to tell the women to come
and carry them away.

Then, as we had still another hour or two of daylight, and I longed to
see the deep, deep pool at the head of the river, even if it were but
for a few moments, the old chief Nalik and I started off.

It lay before us with many, many bars of golden sunlight striking down
through the trees and trying to penetrate its calm, placid bosom with
their warm, loving rays. Far below the sound of the waterfall sung to
the dying day, and, as we listened, there came to us the dulled, distant
murmur of the combing breakers upon the reef five miles away.

"'Tis a fair, good place this, is it not?" whispered Nalik, as he sat
beside me--"a fair, good place, though it be haunted by the spirits."

"Aye, a fair, sweet place indeed," I answered, "and this pool aid the
river below shall for ever be in my dreams when I am far away from
here."



THE END





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