Martin Of Nitendi
by Louis Becke
THE RIVER OF
MARTIN OF NITENDI; and THE RIVER OF DREAMS
By Louis Becke
T. Fisher Unwin, 1901
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
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 beachofficer'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
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
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
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 situatedand so giving the natives
ample time to clear out into the mountainshe brought-to at dusk, when
the ship was twenty miles from the land, and sent away the landing
party in three boats. The Fijianhe who had escaped from the massacre
of the Fedorawas 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
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 sona 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 officersthe second lieutenant and a ruddy-faced,
fair-haired midshipman named Waltershad 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
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,
Before one can count ten he will be in the jaws, she said, with
Nuta, whispered Martin hoarsely, 'tis but a boy, and the veins
stood out on his bronzed forehead as his hand closed tighter around his
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
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
I had descended scarcely more than fifty yards when I struck the
patha 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 scenethere 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
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, everywherefine, 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 lakeI meant to return with some native
friends to fish it on the morrowere 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
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.
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 sometimesnot 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
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
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 enemiesthe 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
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 landslow, 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
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.
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-palmsthe 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 difficultyfor my rod was too slight for such a
fishI 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 largestwhich was reserved for the old chief and
myselfNalik'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
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
depthno 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 heatthat
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
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 blasé 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, wethat is, Nalik, Sru, and
myselflay 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
In the afternoonleaving the rest of our party to amuse themselves
by catching crayfish and to make traps for wild pigsSru, 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 carbinethe best and handiest weapon to stop a wild pig at a
short rangeand 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 cocka 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
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 leadera great yellow, razorbacked boar with enormous
tusksmissed 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 mea fair, good place, though it be haunted by the
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