The recollections, illustrations and photographs on this Web site are from The Venture Book by Elinor Mordaunt, published by the Bodley Head, London, 1926.
I am writing now from the minute island of Mbau, the native metropolis of Fiji - for Suva is altogether European, the Putney of the Pacific - by far the most romance haunted of all the islands; the centre of all that was dreadful in the wild days of the old Fiji; the home of kings and chiefs, the shrine of cannibalism - Mbau the beautiful, Mbau the terrible. Ratu Pope, the premier chief of Fiji, invited me to stay here, an invitation received through the introduction of a young Fellow of the royal Geographical society with whom I have made friends, and who is, for the time being, teaching in the principal boarding-school for the sons of chiefs. For in Fiji, all the chiefs send their sons to a boarding-school as we do in England, receiving them home but once a year.
Ratu Pope, Seniloli - "Na Gone Turanga ni Vanivalu - Child of the Root of War" - himself came down to the water's edge to meet us, as we embarked from the canoe which he had sent across to the main coast for us - navigated by a host of small boys, who perched like birds along the wide spreading winglike bows of the outrigger - as fine an aristocrat, though he is in some disfavour with the English, as Fiji can show; a land where at a single glance, though they all dress alike, one can discriminate between the noble and the commoner; where the aristocracy is so fiercely maintained that any young noble might as well cut his own throat as marry the daughter of a commoner.
We have come to the guest house, which Ratu Pope has prepared for us, past the council House which now stands in the place of one of the old temples, upon the same terrace of great blocks of stone - many of them as much as ten feet in height and more than half that width across - which were brought to Mbau bay canoe during the days of its grandeur; while there, also, are the great and sacred gate-posts stolen from Kadavu and brought to Mbau, stolen again by the men of Rewa and brought back again, stolen and brought back again, and yet again, with God only knows what bloodshed; gate-posts between which unnumbered British sailors, lured to the island and sacrificed upon the terraces, were dragged; past the site of the Temple of the Human Being Fishermen, with its two gigantic, hoary banyan trees, still so sacred that no single twig can be cut from them without a great feasting and offering up of roast pigs; with the same sort of terraces as those of the other temple, less than sixty years ago soaked with blood.
If only I could put it all into words which could adequately picture it, give my whole impression of it, this, actually infinitesimal, spiritually immense kingdom of Mbau, with its immemorial customs; the atmosphere of something powerful, great, and dreadful which still hangs round it, so that the sighing of the wind among the trees, the whisper of the waves along the shore, are like the sighing and the whispering of those who once knew themselves about to perish upon it; a place where still ghosts walk, and sigh, and whisper, throughout the entire night: a place inhabited by hundreds who without seeing one can well feel about one.
At home in England, men stand to attention before their superiors; but here, as we walk along the narrow strip of coast and through the village edging the sea, men and women alike squat upon their haunches, for it is forbidden to stand upright before a chief; while at lunch the man and two girls who wait upon us, in general magnificently erect - one of the girls, Maopa Tui Rewa, the daughter of a chief, and a lady-in-waiting to Ratu Pope's wife, I have already seen crossing a glade with the swiftness and swing of a panther - move crouching, bent almost double round the table kneel to serve their chief, and in asking him any question, kneel behind his chair whispering: not because the thing is secret, but because one must not raise one's voice in the presence of the Great One. Even the boy that takes away my we shoes to dry and clean brings them back to me crouching and kneels as he hands them to me.
I have a house to myself, with a sitting-room, and large bedroom with a wooden bed, spread with finely woven mats fringed with scarlet and bright green and black wool. there are two doors to it and two windows, the one window and one door opening on to a yard-wide strip of grass, with the low sea wall beneath it the other giving into a large sitting-room in which we all take our meals; that is, the chief and his little son of twelve, Ratu George Kadavulevu, or Prince Kadavu, myself, and my companion - for the women of the family do not in general dine with the men - while in addition to this is another building where my travelling companion and George sleep, and a separate kitchen. there is, indeed, nothing it is possible to think of that has not been done for our comfort and entertainment, nothing which we could possibly fancy to eat which is not offered to us; as is only natural in this part of a country where there are special invocations made over a child immediately after birth to save it from that worst of all vices - stinginess.
Each night during those faint and mysterious hours, when the strength of man is at its lowest, the chief gets up and walks round his island, then goes back to bed until five or six o'clock. And the island is like this. It is half a mile in circumference, within the middle of it a flat-topped hill like hay-stack with the graves of chiefs upon it. Upon three sides there is nothing more than a narrow strip of land between the hill and the sea; on the fourth is a stretch of smooth open green in front of the old temples, and a few sacred trees; with, at the farther side of it, the village which runs along the edge of the sea, stretching from the green to the enclosure of the house of the chief; who is not only Lord of Mbau, but Lord of all the Isles; while, although the island is so small, there are twelve wells upon it with fresh water in them as close as six feet from the edge of the sea.
The widowed sister of Ratu Pope lives in the village. Almost the first thing he asked us upon our arrival was that we should go and call upon her, and this evening I have been spending an hour and more sitting in her house talking to her; a woman whom one must realize at a single glance as the sister and child of a chief, with her pride of bearing, her fine, slender, quiet hands, her grave and sincere gaze. In every way Ratu pope thanks of and for his sister, Adi - the Princess - Cakobau, with the greatest devotion and tenderness; but he cannot speak to his own sister, for that is forbidden to any man of high rank in Fiji; nor can he enter her house, for that also is against the etiquette of a country which is ruled by etiquette. And yet, if this sister of his had a son and Ratu Pope a daughter, these would inevitably, in the old days, have been husband and wife without the necessity of any ceremony; though if Ratu had a son, it would be an abomination for him to mate with his cousin, the daughter of his father's sister.
Loma Lomo view, 1910 Fiji
Ratu Pope's own house consists of one immense sitting-room and a small bedroom; all the pillars and beams in the large room decorated with geometric patterns, formed by the black and russet-brown and pale biscuit-coloured twine which holds them together, for no nails are used. There are many beams and many pillars, for the roof is high, so that, sitting at one end of the house, one looks down an elaborate vista and not two patterns alike, while the entire floor is covered with one immense mat of white woven pandanus leaf, patterned in black.
Seated at the doorway of my house with Adi Torika, Ratu Pope's wife, and the girl, Tui Rewa, I have been telling them of the sciatica or arthritis or whatever it is torturing my left leg, which has been twice broken; while they, in their turn, immensely concerned, have tendered me a great deal of advice as to the use of certain leaves, the co-operation of the fairies, gravely doubtful as to whether dwarfs - whom they picture as we have always pictured them - squat, malevolent creatures with bald heads and long grey beards - may not have something to do with it.
Making Tapa Cloth, Fiji
"Or an enemy," suggests Tui Rewa, gazing at me with her great shining dark eyes so full of life and intelligence. "If you can find your money, Marama, and cut a little piece off his dress, or the mat he has been sitting upon, then roll it up with earth and grass and seaweed, so as to make a little figure of him and get the magic man to say magic words over it; then take your enemy's water bottle and put the image in it and bury it in the ground, it is certain that your enemy will die, Marama, and the pain in your leg be better." Adi Torika, has a sad face; as Tui Rewa chatters on, she sits with her hands folded in her lap, gazing out at sea through the open door. "Adi Torika," I say to her, "What will you do when your son goes back to school; you will be very lonely without him. You, Adi Torika, and Ratu ole, ought to have more children so that the world may know how fine a thing the children of chiefs can be; what is one son to people like you?" The moment the words were out of my stupid mouth, I could have bitten off my tongue, for the tears came into her eyes and she turned her head aside.
"Is she angry?" I questioned Tui Rewa. But Rewa shook her head, and Adi, herself, flashing me a reassuring smile, turned to Rewa and laying her hand upon her knee, spoke to her in her own language. "The Princess Torika wants me to tell you," said Rewa, "that she can have no more children, for she and her husband, Ratu ope, broke all the laws of etiquette and propriety by not going to stay a month with her father and mother after Ratu George Seniloli was born. And that is why she is always sad; for, seeing that they refused this homage to her parents, it is forbidden to them to have more children, and day and night she dreams of them and longs for them. Of all the people in the island of Mbau, the one I have most longed to meet is the Chief of the Tribe of Human Fishermen, or rather, "Fishermen for Human Beings"; but that has been hard to come by, for very, very early each morning he goes out fishing alone in his canoe, remains out for hours on end; then when he comes back and I go to his house, I am told that he is eating, or sleeping, and he sleeps much, for he is a hundred years old. To day in the "Small Morning" - those hours between four and six, I saw him push off from the shore, an intrepid figure - in that pale and brilliant moonlight seen immediately before sunrise and at that time alone - lean and upright, with a thatch of white hair, standing erect in the teeth of a wild gale, paddling his canoe towards the mainland.
Local dance, Fiji
Soon after nine o'clock he came back to sleep, but now it is The Afternoon is Near - the three hours which lie between twelve and three o'clock - and, answering the summons of his over lord, he has come to talk to me, sitting on the floor before me, an old man with an eagle-keen face, large hooked nose, the sort of profile which might belong to any old and distinguished general at home in England.
The Chief of the Fishers for Humans has eaten human flesh, remembers the wild and bloody rituals at the temple of his tribe, when the brains of the captured were dashed out against the great stones which still support the terraces; tells me too - this handsome old patriarch, so keenly smiling, bright-eyed, and courteous - that he did not like the taste of the flesh of white people, even when most delicately cooked, with Mboro Ndina, or the true spinach, used only with human flesh, any more than he liked the flesh of the people of the Carpenter Tribe, both alike being touch and tasteless. He tells me, also, so vividly that I seem to see it, of the strangling of the widows after the death of the father of the old King Cakobau; how he saw them being led by other women along the green margin of the island between the hill and the sea; oiled and garlanded and wrapped in their finest tapu; peeping out at them from a hiding place he had contrived for himself, so as to escape having his finger cut with an axe, as was done with all the male members of the tribes at the death of the king.
He tells me, too, while Ratu Pope translates for me, his still strong voice sing-songing out his tale like a saga, in soft rounded syllables - and in Fijian every syllable ends in a vowel - of the revolt of the people of Kaba; of the carrying off of the women of Mbau; of the coming of the first Tongans, with the first missionary - who offered to help them if they would become Christians, for this was in the reign of King Cakobau, during the latter part of the reign of King George of Tonga - of their return with ten great canoes and of the review of the united troops upon the reef, the island being too small for the vast number of men gathered together to spread out upon it. He told, too, of how the men of the Lasekau Tribe had been sent on to the reef before them, toiling slave-like by hundreds across it, to cut away all the sharp points of coral, throw aside all the poisonous fish stranded there, lest the warriors should have their feet injured, and so be unable, not so much to march as to pursue: told of the favourable augury of the Ghost of the Sacred Trees of the Fishers of Human Beings, which had been given to them before they went; of their great victories and the pursuit of their enemy with their war-cry of "W-we ... W-we ... Uway - Uway-y-y-y."
It is our last night in Mbau, and I wander backwards and forwards through the village, overcome by a feeling of utter misery, weighed down by the inevitability of that fate which forces me for ever to leave the thing that I most love. The preparations for a great feast are going on in the kitchen of the chief's house, overlooked by Adi Torika, Ratu Pope's wife, and her maidens, who are cooking and stuffing chickens; while just outside the kitchen there is a hole in the ground where among hot stones - covered with many layers of leaves - fish and bread-fruit and pigeons are roasting. There are altogether in the kitchen three women and a youth. When they are tired or when there is any interval in their labour, they spread mats and lie down upon the floor to rest; for no one drives anyone to work in this country, and there is no pretence of being busy when one is not busy.
I have come to my room, for the feast is over, and all the ceremonies and good-byes past. this night, in our special honour, one of the most stringest rules of etiquette has been relaxed, and Adi Cakobau, the princess, and her sister-in-law, Ratu Pope's wife, have dined with us, sitting in a circle upon the floor; with the old Chief of the Human Fishers and the Buli, or lesser ruler, for the village a little distance away. At the end of the feast, which began with oysters, we have drunk healths; drunk the king's health, sitting, as a mark of the highest possible respect, drunk the health of all we loved. there were two lamps on the floor, but the room was large and full of shadows; the sound of wind and sea seemed almost deafening. "and now," said Ratu Pope, "we will drink the health of Marama, the lady - Dauvolavola" - (the one who is always writing); "drink to the health of Vavalagi" - the foreigner; "drink ot the health of The One Who is Always Sleeping."
This last with a sly glance at my companion who has passed the entire afternoon in slumber, to which he responds, jumping to his feet with his glass in his hand:
"And to the health of Dauboge, the one who is always walking about at night, the one who is always up to some mischief or other."
"And still there are more healths to be drunk," said Ratu Pope, when the laughter which followed upon this sally had died away. "We will drink to the health of the son of the Marama, and to the health of the captain of the ship who brought her here. We will, indeed, drink to the health of every one we know; of all whom we can think of without knowing." When the feast was over there were good-byes to be said, for we were leaving at dawn next morning, and, going out into the fresh air which cleared our heads a little, we made the round of the village, sitting for a long time in Adi Cakobau's house, overcome by sadness; hung round - at once depressed and gladdened - by the kindness and courtesy of our hostess and of her guests; men in white sulus - akin to the lava-lava of the Samoans - and girls in white gowns, who sat round and sang to us. there were so many matas on the floor that it was soft to lie upon, being high above the ground, and we lay on our sides with white pillows under our heads, smoking. Tua Rewa having brought us fire for our cigarettes; a smouldering stick of wood cut at one end to the shape of a halved triangle, of which the lower half can be laid on the ground, and the upper point lighted without fear of its catching fire to anything; our cigarettes being of native tobacco rolled in a thin shred of pandanus leaf.
There was one lantern on the ground at the back of us; for the rest, the great house was in darkness, the figures of the singers, shadowy, the sound of their songs far away and melancholy, mingling with the wind, which to-night is sweeping in like a cannonade of great guns from the sea, bringing with it tearing sheets of rain. Adi Cakobau was wearing a blouse like a man's tennis shirt open at the neck and a dark skirt. From where I was lying, I could see her fine face and head edged with the light, dark against the golden brown walls of her house while the men and girls sung hymns, "Abide with Me" and "Lead, Kindly Light," when with a splendid sort of gusto, rolling it out, "Onward, 'Christian soldiers." I and my companion gave one of the girls some money, so that kava might be drunk and matches bought at one of the ridiculous little stores of the metropolis; and when the kava had been brewed, the whole company gathered close around it, and drank to our health.
I came back to my house soon after eleven and went to bed and to sleep. But a little after two I was awakened by the silence, for the storm had suddenly dropped: then came a great splashing against the sea wall immediately beneath my window, and, when I got up and went outside found the moon clear and full in a sea of light, mid islands of umber clouds; while the great bull of the island with two heifers and a cow and tiny calf were walking round this small jutting point of sea wall to the next strip of sloping shore. The water was high and the cow and the calf walked together in front of the heifers with the bull leading. At one spot, however, quite close to my house the water was so deep, the waves so high, that the tiny creature refused to go farther and stood pressing against the wall; upon which the cow mooed to the bull, attracting his attention, so that he returned, and pushing the cow aside, placing his own solid body between the waves and the youngster; coaxed him on with delicate touches of his shining wet muzzle against his neck. I cannot sleep and am sitting writing. With a sudden fierce slap in the face of the island, the wind has again risen; a cloud slams across the moon, and the rain is driven forward in a solid sheet straight at us; a bad look-out for to-morrow, when we have to go out in a canoe and flag the little steamer which passes on its way to the north of the main island somewhere about dawn.
We have actually made the steamer. It was very cold coming out to her. There was a wild wind blowing, the sky was heavy and leaden with great-clouds, the grey sea torn with white topped waves. But Ratu Pope had lent us his heaviest canoe and his strongest boys to paddle us. As we came away from the island - looking back, seeing our host and his son and wife waving to us, with his sister standing farther away in the green street of the village - my heart ached as it had never ached since I saw my own son go away from me, and I was glad that the day was grey, that the rain, having ceased to fall in sheets, as it did last night, wept solitary spots, heavy as tears. I was very much concerned as to how I should ever get on board the steamer when I saw it come, ploughing its way through the deep troughs of the sea, while we went to meet it, our own canoe like a leaf upon the water, for I am no good whatever at anything like a jump. Luckily, the lower deck of the steamer was very low, and with hoisting from below and pullings from above I tumbled on to her. She is twenty-five tons and there are close upon two hundred passengers aboard her, crowded upon the upper and lower decks, so closely that it seems as though, should one of them sneeze, the greatest number must go overboard, for it has no rail; while the width of the deck round the deck-house is no more than four feet in width.
We go north, close in against the coast, with its interminable mountains, peaked and jagged mountains showing that queer twist at the top of them which I have seen nowhere save in Fiji; rounded hills, and steep cliffs as much as three hundred feet in height, hung with long creepers falling like green waterfalls in unbroken streams from top to bottom of them; and innumerable bays, the names of half of which are unknown to the captain, though, if any of the passengers wish to go on shore at any one of them, he is obliged to turn the steamer in and send off the boat which we drag behind us; while the little steamer itself - more like a stage property vessel than anything I have ever seen before - spins and twists like a leaf in the wind; this process being repeated every half-hour or so during our passage from Mbau to Viti8 Levu Bay, a distance of but sixty four miles, and costing each of us thirty shillings; surely the most expensive sea voyage per mile in the whole world, though maybe the charges are in relation to the nine hours which it takes.
When we at last reached our journey's end, Epeli Gavui Cavui Ganilou, Roku Tui of Ra, and Buli of Viti Levu Bay, came down on the shore to meet us, out of sheer courtesy, as he would have come to meet any stranger, and I handed him a letter of introduction from the colonial Secretary. He seemed, however, to think very small beer of that, looked at us proudly and distantly; but when my companion followed it up with a note from Ratu Pope his whole demeanour changed, and it seemed that he could not do enough for us, sending messengers on up the hill to his house with our luggage, telling them to ask his wife to make ready for us. We are staying with Ratu Epeli now, in his house high on a terraced hill above the village, looking down on the great sweeping Viti Levu Bay with its island, and, landward at higher side, range upon range of mountains, betwixt every two peaks a paler and more distant range; and between these yet other ranges, swept and hung with veils of mist crossed with the continual broken area of rainbows; while the fresh cool air is filled with the scent of honeysuckle, falling in thick wreaths from the trees around the wide smooth grass terrace in front of the house, which is more European than Ratu Pope's, with a wide veranda, a central sitting-room, and two bedrooms. In the larger room I sleep with Ratu Epeli's wife and baby, while my fellow-traveller of much the same age as my own son, and amazingly wise in all the ways of the Fijians, wise and grave as only the very young can be - the most perfect companion in that he is the quietest - shares the other bedroom with our host, with whom in the quiet of the evening we have great talks and discussions.
The Labour Government is in power in England, and Ratu Epeli, who takes a keen interest in European politics - a chief and the son of a chief, of an unbroken line of chiefs, an aristocrat to his backbone - is entirely amazed that we should submit to such a thing; for to his mind it seems incredible that warriors and chiefs should sink so low, or so he regards it, as to allow themselves to be dictated to by commoners.
I got up very early this morning, and walked round the garden; am now sitting in the veranda writing. The moon is still up and it is very cold, but the wind has ceased and the bay lies like a sheet of glass beneath me. The ground falling away from the terraces dip so sharply that there is no slope to be seen, nothing beyond the feathery tops of iron bark and coco-nut palms, and one large bush of coral hibiscus, its deeply serrated petals, its long streamers, and tasselled pistil, hung with dew; while far below me I look down into the brown-rooted village where the fires are beginning to be lighted, thankful to think that we have settled to stay here for this entire day, waiting for the horses which the one Englishman in the district, running a cattle ranch some fifteen miles away, is sending over to meet us.
An old man, with but two teeth left in his head, has been sitting on the veranda recounting to me, in a sing-song voice, one of those interminable epics of great fights which have all the swing of pages straight out of Homer. "For all the wars there are five sorts of men needed: first, The Vunivalu, or Jui, the Root of War, and Chief of the Ruling Tribe; secondly, The Santuraga - those who see to it that reverence is paid to the Chiefs; thirdly, the Bete or Priest - the priests being of the tribe of those who are all priests - with their long beards; fourthly, the Matanivanua, or spokesmen; fifthly, the Bati, or Warriors. Before the people make war they must lay their purpose before the Bete, meeting him if possible upon the Nakauvadra, or Sacred Mountain. "In the war between Natauyha and Nalawa, Marama, many were killed. the chief of the Naroko, he also was killed; I myself saw it - The fighting swept up the hill here, swept up it like a raging sea, and many men were killed, for Ratu Pope's grand-father had sent a boat bringing rifles and powder; many also of the Sesse were killed. those who were captured were put in a house, and the house was burned, and they burnt with it; I myself saw it, Marama. . . ."
For a moment or so the old man broke off, puffing at his cigarette, a black ribbon of tobacco and twisted pandanus leaf, gazing out before him with fierce old eyes, re-hearing God only knows what sounds, re-seeing, re-tasting. "The people that were burnt in the house were eaten, Marama, for it was in the bad old days, when there were cannibals." He gave me a sly sidelong glance as he said this, speaking of the bad days, though I could almost swear that the old villain licked his lips as he said it. "There was another fight later on, Marama, a small and unconsidered fight, with the people up the coast. We brought back one of them bound hand and foot, and slew him, we took off his legs and his arms and took out his entrails - for these were in the bad days. Marama, the days before we were educated - and filled him up with taro, and baked him in hot stones for two hours, and cut him up and ate him."
Ratu Epeli and my friend and companion are on the veranda with me, we have a bowl of kava in front of us and other men of high caste gather round it: all together they talk of witchcraft, and the Luve-Ni-Wai, the practice of which is now forbidden, any man found practising it being punished and liable to six months in gaol. We speak in a low voice almost whispering, not because we are afraid of being overheard, but for the reason that terror and mystery hang about the very name of Luve-Ni-Wai - "Child of Water," a devil no more than three feet in height and yet so powerful that all alike tremble before him, even the Dau Vakadrauni Eua, or witch doctor, into whom the Luve-Ni-Wai himself enters, and who is fated to die if he fails in the least iota to follow all the rules set out for him.
"If you wish to practise the ritual of Luve-Ni-Wai, you must go into the bush, taking a kava bowl and a cup made out of Ai-bo with you." said Ratu Epeli.
"That is what you must do," repeated the others, "and find the banyan tree."
"Yes, you must find the banyan tree," said Ratu Epeli;"a wide spreading banyan tree in an open space, in a wild and secret place. Then having prepared your Yagona - kava - you must make a litany to Luve-Ni-Wai, a Kerekere, or request, that he will be good enough to allow two or more to be chosen to help you. "At this, if Luve-Ni-Wai approves, he will take possession of two of your companions; if he enters into them by the feet, their feet will tremble so that it is with difficulty they can keep upright on the ground; while if he enters into their heads, their heads will tremble so that it seems as if they would shake off from their bodies; after which, Luve-Ni-Wai himself begins to speak; expounding the rules."
Up to this we have all sat perfectly silent, almost breathless, weighed down by the oppressive sense of something dreadful, drawing close to us, listening to what we are saying, hanging over us with a hot, fetid breath; for the wind has ceased and there is not the slightest stir among the trees, while the almost full moon bangs right above us, ringed and distorted by some queer twist of clouds. Ratu Epeli, as though half forgetful of what he was saying, or frightened of saying more, sitting with his hand pressed down against his knees, drops to silence, while the old man takes up the tale. "Every night after this, the one who is being initiated he with The Desire, and his two companions, must take themselves to this lonely spot .
"During this time he must touch no woman nor must he drink any strong drink. But once that the devil has appeared to him and spoken to him he has this power. He can take any woman and no one will know; he can go into a house or a store and steal anything he wishes, and though it is full of people no one will see him.
"If during this time," said the old cannibal weightily, nodding his head, "anybody cuts off his head, the Luve-Nio-Wai will put it on again, and there will be no harm done to him."
The talk went on from tale to tale. Ratu Epeli told me of Koro, the island where you can go up on to a high cliff and call three times to the Turtle Ghost, who will come up and answer you. "If he does not answer you at first yo9u call to the bush, for he may be planting, and upon that he will come down into the water where his attendants are waiting for him, with the big shirk which is his guard, and, rising to the surface, listen to what you have to say to him, answering your question."
"Some say," put in the old cannibal, who seemed to act as a sort of Greek chorus to all that Ratu Epeli told us, "that at one time some men caught the 'turtle Ghost and made a fire with stones in a hole in the ground and put him in there to cook him; but when they opened the fire they found nothing there but one stone. And these are the words they call to the 'Turtle when they wish him to come to them, 'Tui Naikasi, Ko iko ha Vie Vici, vio iko na eguege.'"
He ran on and on with the soft syllabled Fijian words in a sort of chant which might, indeed, have conjured the fish out of the water; so that I seemed to see them ranging up in rows, as St. Francis saw them, around the magic turtle.
* * * * * *
We have, indeed, had the most monstrous day. this morning soon after nine o'clock, the Englishman who owns the cattle ranch, half-way between where I am now writing and Ratu Epeli's village, sent over two horses for us. It was pouring with rain, had been raining all night - coming down in solid sheets as it can in this country where it has been known to rain just under a yard in twenty-four hours - and I can imagine nothing worse than the road, or rather bridle-path through the bush, which we had to follow; for in some places the soil was washed away from either side, running off in an almost perpendicular slope, leaving it like a sharp knife-edge of soapstone, upon which it would have been impossible for the horses to keep their footing at all had they been shod, while in the dips of the path, though the actual foothold was better, the water was again and again up to our saddle girths.
Some years ago I had malaria so badly that I was paralysed down one side, and since then I have broken the leg on that side twice over. Quite gaily I had planned the first twenty miles or so if our ride from Ratu Epeli's, but I had not been on a horse for more years than I can say and could never have imagined what agony the sitting astride could be; while my horse, which was a perfect wonder and as agile as a cat, had a trick of jumping every place which was at all jumpable, with a sharp jerk, which pained me so that I thought I should have fainted. the first part of our ride lay through flat country with myrtles and tree ferns and crimson ginger, growing like gigantic gladioli, upon either side of us to a height above my knew, while every tree was hung with long trails of creepers and lichen; though my companion who led the way kept on looking back and assuring me - with the rain running down my back, soaking through my mackintosh cape, sopping the bath towel which was, as usual, elegantly draped round my neck - that the vegetation was very poor, owing to the fact that we were on the "dry side of the island!"
The Englishman, the one other white person we had seen for ten days or more, or were likely to see for another ten, lived upon the top of a hill which was like the side of a house; so step and slippery that, as our horses plunged up through the fern and undergrowth, the only thing for it was to leave the reins absolutely loose and fling ourselves forw3ard upon their necks, hanging on by their manes to keep ourselves from slipping off backwards; the hillside being by no means improved, as we heard a little later, by the fact that three hundred head of cattle had been driven down it only the day before. It is wonderful how horses are left to fend for themselves in this country; for when we died at last reach the e3state house the saddles and bridles were simply taken off these fine, well-bred creatures which were left out to graze while we went in to lunch; staggering up the veranda steps, feeling like nothing on earth, absolutely drenched to the skin, the water streaming off us as though we had been dipped in a river; while I hardly gave myself time to greet my host before demanding dry closes; "Anything on earth so long as they are dry."
Of course, there were no women's things, but he showed me into an empty room, and as I threw out my wet clothes threw me in a set of flannel pyjamas; and never, never have I been so thankful for anything as for the touch of that coarse, dry flannel against my skin; though Heaven only knows what I must have looked like when, having thrown a sheet round my shoulders for the sake of extra warmth - for it was very high up and bitterly cold - I entered the dining-room; bare-footed, for my shoes had been full of water and were in the kitchen with everything else drying. We started off again at four o'clock that afternoon; for, though I would have given anything on earth to stay, our boys had gone on to our next stopping-place with our packs; besides, there was only one bed, and nowhere could I see any extra blankets. I clung to the pyjama jacket, for my own jumper was still sopping wet, wearing my own skirt, which was warm though not dry, and wrapping the pyjamas trousers tightly round my waist under everything else, so that I might have the prospect of at least one dry garment at the of the day's journey; while, having become accustomed to some such decoration, my treasured bath towel being perfectly hopeless, I bore off the sheet also, swearing to post it back with the rest of the things - wearing it draped over my shoulders under the mackintosh cloak which I had bought to Suva, and which leaked like a sieve.
The first part of this second lap of our journey was nothing to make any fuss about, and we were extremely gay after our good meal, a great deal of hot tea well laced with brandy, which in our old hunting days used to be known as "brown cream." Very soon, however, the path ran into a more swamp through which the horses plunged up to their girths in mud, so that it was with the very greatest difficulty that we could get them on at all; while the darkness gathered more and more thickly, and the rain, which had ceased for a time, poured down as though a sluice had been opened in the heaves above us; the climax being reached when, in almost complete darkness, I saw my companion, who was riding in front of me, drop out of sight. When I myself got on a little farth3r, I found that his horse, half the time on its tail, was sliding down a steep bank at least sixty feet in height, and so thick with scrub that one could see no ground whatever, though a wide lead coloured streak in the darkness beneath me, the loud roar of a river in flood, told me, and no doubt about it either, what was in store for us.
I didn't know that I was so much frightened as rebellious at this. We had come so far, I was so wet and cold, in such an agony of pain, that I could have sobbed; at the same time actually afraid that I might faint and fall off my horse. Though all that was nothing to my indignation at the thought that my companion, hard as all young people are, could ride on ahead without so much as a word of pity or encouragement, without so much as a glace back at me, stuck there on the top of the hill: for there was no need to draw rain, my horse being fully as terrified as I was.
"Look here, we must stop here. It's impossible to go on - I can't face it. I'm scared to death - I simply can't face it," I shrieked down after him; though all the while - despite these laments - something in me more courageous than myself compelled me to kick my heels into my horse's side, force him over the brink of the hill, cliff rather; press him, slithering down, with the thorny undergrowth, tearing at my legs; reaching the bottom just in time to see my companion drive his own horse into the river; get it across - drifting and struggling and swimming - somehow or other to the farther bank; then drive it u a slope every bit as step as that down which we had come. With death in my heart and yet with more of rage than death; furious with him, with the state of the river, most of all with the pitiless and exasperating rain, I pushed my own horse into the water; felt him lose his footing again and again underneath me, swimming a little, catching a sort of foothold upon higher ground and swimming again - near to beaten by the current, which ran like a wild animal against us, high above my knees - until we at last reached the opposite shore and, leaning forward, lying flat along his neck, I caught my fingers in his mane and somehow or other drove him up such an ascent I should have thought impossible for any horse; finding any comparison at the top dismounted, and with his hat off, wiping the sweat from his face, realized him in the chill twilight as every bit as white and sheepish as I myself.
"You might at least have looked back," I remarked bitterly, conscious that I was trembling from head to foot; upon which he turned and grinned rather shakily. "If I had once looked back you would never have dared to come on," he said, showing an amazing knowledge of feminine nature, for one so young, an instinct for managing women which may stand him well in the years to come; though the next moment he himself confessed that he had never been in such a funk in his life, and scarcely thought it was possible for us to get through. "Though," he added gravely, "we couldn't have gone back, you know."
To which I agreed, for of all deadly things in life, far worse than death itself, is, for me at least, anything in the nature of a going back. The man with whom we had lunched has sent one of his boys on with us to bring back the horses next day; and after a pause this boy also got through the river, and came struggling up the bank, trembling and shivering; trotting close at our heels as we turned, determined not to be left alone in such a spot. Another five miles, going at the slowest possible pace - for our horses were absolutely exhausted and there was no road of track of any sort to be seen - and we heard in front of us the loud incessant roar of yet another river, to which the sound of the last had been nothing more than the cry of a pulling child; a roar so deafening that while we were yet about half a mile away it seemed as though we must be at the very edge of it. When we did reach the margin - for it ran flat through high marshland - we realized that here we were at last beaten; for it was in wide flood, the water flecked with yellow foam, running like a mill race, filled with the trunks of trees and broken boughs, swirling round and round in it.
It was impossible even to think of crossing upon horseback, and queerly enough my one feeling was that of an intense relief; for by this time I had reached a state of mind akin to that of Sir Roland upon first sight of his Round Tower, thankful for any sort of an end; while, as I slipped from my horse and plumped down upon the swampy ground, the mere fact of being out of the saddle, of even a momentary cessation from the stab of pain in my leg, was all I asked for; though, goodness knows, that - by this time - the outlook was dark enough, dark as the fading day, for it was as impossible for us to turn back as it was for us to go on. The moon had by now risen, appearing and disappearing between scuds of clouds, and the rain had ceased. Not that that mattered, not that anything on earth mattered, for by this time I had no inclination for life left, felt a little contemptuous of my companion and the black boy, who took on the edge of the river - which we now knew to be the Wai-ni-buka - with their hands rounded to their mouths, endeavouring, childishly as it seemed, to me to shout down the flood, pitch their voices towards the unseen village, which the native boy declared to be Little Nausori, lying within a fold of the hill, almost immediately opposite to us.
So altogether fatalistic was my attitude of mind, indeed, that I could scarcely believe my ears when loud shouts were returned to us, and looking far up the stream we saw men pushing off in two large canoes; guiding them with their paddles and allowing them to drift down to where we stood out upon a spit of land; having dully and indifferently enough taken the saddles and bridles off our horses, tethered them and left them where they were when we saw the canoes coming - two beautiful well-bred and well-trained horses whose owner must have known that this was the only way in which they could pass the night, after a long day with two complete strangers who might well have broken their knees or given them a sore back. And here, indeed, you have an epitome of the most complete hospitality in the whole world, the hospitality of the horsy man willing to lend his horses. As my companion and I crossed the river in one canoe, and the native boy who was to take back the two horses the next morning in the other, they spun like leaves upon the water, whirling round and round as the stream drove them, making land upon the far side close upon half a mile farther down, so that we had all that distance to scramble back through the bush; while I for my part made my way up the steep hill to the village - and all Fijian villages are, if possible, built upon hills, to keep them clear of the flood - more or less upon my hands and knees; for the moon was already hidden behind clouds, such a path as there was no more than a steep slide of mud.
When we did at last reach the village we found to our surprise that it was in complete darkness, while the people who came out to stare at us, holding their lanterns high, peering into our faces, plainly had no idea who we were or whence we came. Directly the Buli came out of his house to welcome us, however, wed discovered why; for the note sent on by our boys from Ratu Epeli had been so sopped with rain that it was unreadable, so that he had no idea who the baggage belonged to, from which direction the owners of it were coming, or when they were to be expected - not that this greatly mattered, for in any case we would have been given the best which the village afforded. I am writing now in the village council chamber, the biggest native house I have ever seen; I have just stepped, and make a roughly seventy feet in length. Large fires had been lighted and new mats laid down. The Buli himself has carried off my companion to his own house to change into such dry clothes as he can lay hands upon; while the Buli's wife and some of the other women have helped to get me out of my dripping garments, clinging round me like an eelskin, and into an old jumper which I have found dry in the heart of my pack, while I unwound the pyjama trousers, still mercifully dry from my waist and got into them to the surprise of the feminine community; raising their hands and their eyes, glancing from one to another with loud clucks of astonishment - though they have never seen a white woman here before, apart from the fourteen-year-old daughter of a doctor who once passed through here with her father, were thrown into transports of amusement and fear when I drew off my sopping gloves and threw them on the ground, running towards them, touching them with the very tips of their fingers or toes, running away again, clinging together, laughing and screaming - they realized at once that my costume was not at all what it should be; describing me among themselves with all sorts of curious conjectures as to my being half a woman and half a man - christening me at once as: "The One With Shells In Her Ears," on account of the small stud pearl earrings which I always wear.
My travelling mate and I are sitting on the floor now beside the fire upon which fowl and yams are being cooked for our supper; or rather I am sitting cross-legged with my writing-pad on my knee and he is lying upon his side smoking. At the back of us, far away ih the dim distance, I have hung up my mosquito curtain over the little platform which is to serve as a bed, while my pillow is propped up in front of the fire to dry; and all our clothes hung on strings across the room. It is close upon ten o'clock and I am drunk with sleep; but as yet there is no prospect of supper, for the fowls here take an inordinately long time cooking - and even then one can, in general, only drink the broth in which they are stewed, mingling it with the yams - while a Meke is in progress, especially arranged in our honour. there is one lant3rn on the ground at my side and the red twinkle of the fire beneath the cooking-pot. In addition to this there is the buke (fire) for our cigarettes twinkling like a small red eye between us. For the rest the vast room is in darkness, though every now and then as the fire springs up one realizes from the flash of white teeth, the turning white of eye, that the walls are lined with people silently watching us, spellbound and scarcely breathing.
Immediately in front of us and not more than four yards away a line of young girls, almost naked, wreathed with green creepers - which hang round their bodies, are braceleted round their wrists in long steamers like ribbons - their bodies freshly oiled and shining, are seated, swaying to and fro, moving their bodies as though dancing, with expressive Egyptian-like gestures of their hands, the mimicry of paddling a canoe, of beckoning, of embracing, of repulsing. As they dance they turn their heads from side to side, throwing them back so that one sees no more than a line of smooth throats in the oasis of gold and amber light cast by the hurricane lantern immediately before them; enwrapped in the rapture of a dance in which they never once rise to their feet; in which the hands and bodies, arms, neck, and head, alone are occupied. and all the time that they dance they make songs for us; songs of Russia and France - these girls who have never been away from their own village, who have never before seen a white woman - songs of the war and of Germany; songs of battleships and steamers coming and going; songs of the climbing of mountains and the swimming of rivers and the passage of rapids in canoes: one after another starting upon a fresh theme; while the whole party of girls catch it and carry it on, tossing it as though it were a ball, from one to another, throwing it over their shoulders, their heads thrown back, to the long line of men who kneel to their dancing behind them.
The Buli sits by my companion's side and talks to him; he cannot understand how we have even crossed the mountains and rivers to come so far in such weather, along such a terrible road; above all he is overcome with what he calls my courage. He himself is a young man, thirty at most, but with the utmost gallantry - glancing sidewards at me as I sit nodding over my writing-pad, looking like nothing on earth - he remarks:
"I am an old, old man, and she is but a child." It seems to me that the Meke will go on and on for ever. It is, indeed, a day of eternitied, the ride itself was an eternity, it is more than an eternity since we left the shelter of Ratu Epeli's house, and it seems to me that now we have, indeed, reached a point of which nothing ever ends; that the fire will go on burning for ever and the food cooking, the Meke dancers swaying to and fro in dreadful monotony; while an added note of inevitability is to be found in the fact that the rest of the audience, who at first gathered around the walls, are now ringed around us, line upon line of them, lying flat upon their stomachs with their elbows on the ground, their chins cupped in their hands, perfectly immovable.
A sort of end has at last come, but only a sort. We have eaten the yams soaked in broth, and drank all that remained over; the great house is cleared of men, and my companion has gone off to the Buli's own private dwelling, while I myself am lying with half the mats on my bed pulled over me - for the blanket in my pack is still sopping wet - shivering with cold and trying to sleep, with but poor success; for though all the men have been tu5rned out of the room, the women and children are still here, talking - talking, and talking and talking - as the Fijians can, and do, talk throughout the entire night; while the rats rustle and squeal in the loose straw beneath my bed; and a horse crops the grass so close against my head that I can hear its heavy breathing, catch an occasional puff of warm breath through the openwork bamboo wall.
At last I can beat it all no longer, and rising in all my majesty of very large borrowed pyjamas walk the length of the room towards the starring women; and demonstrating by every possible sign that is known to me that I am longing for sleep, that it seems a good thing that they also should rest, seem to have reduced them to, at least, temporary silence.
The night has passed; it is five o'clock, and the rain has ceased; but the mountains and valleys around us, the river below us, still yellow and turbulent, is hung in a veil of light silvery mist. This village with its goldly-brown thatched roofs is set upon a series of very smooth green sugar-cane like hills. The children and grown people come and go around me bringing in wood, carrying up water from the river; taking very little notice of me sitting on the doorstep writing; seeming to have got entirely used to me as well they might; for throughout the entire night - after I was supposed to have settled to sleep, did, indeed, sleep in short, heavy spells - it seemed as though the whole village came and went through the great room, men and women, boys and children, for I was conscious of a continual whispering and rustling, apart from the rats; the flicker of a little taper floating upon oil, breaking through the sleep into which I sank back and back, as though drugged; while every now and then some small portion of me was picked up between the finger and thumb by some more daring explorer, determined to find out whether I was altogether real or not; a liberty which I was too dead with sleep to resent by anything more than a grunt, a half-hearted twist aside.
* * * * * *
We have said good-bye to every one at Little Nausori, for it seemed that the entire village flocked down to the water's edge to see us off; shaking hands till my hands are so swollen that I can scarcely hold a pencil. Now, for hours and hours, as it seems, we have been sitting in a canoe, with a deafening swirl and thunder of water in our ears, shooting innumerable rapids. to begin with, my heart was up in my throat as we rushed towards what seemed like inevitable destruction against the jagged sides of great rocks; but I am now completely at my ease; realizing that the two men standing at the bow and stern of the canoe, with poles or paddles, will manage somehow or other to steer clear.
How far it is to Wainimala nobody can tell us, for "Only the white man knows that," is what they say; not that it greatly matters so long as we get there some time to-night, or to-morrow night, or the night after; for the sun is shining; chill mists melting, rising in light wisps to the tops of the trees - orange trees and myrtles, immense plumed bamboos, and innumerable, unknown forest trees, springing up from a thick undergrowth of tree ferns and wild bananas; while - although Wainimala is the nearest village where there is a Buli, or anything definite in the way of accommodation certain - there are plenty of lesser villages at either side of us, perched high on green hills down which the people run with that polite questioning, that interest in the doings of others, without which the Fijians would look upon themselves with disgust, as a mannerless and uneducated people.
"Sa lako evei? Sa lako evei?" - Where are you going? - following u their salute with all sorts of scraps of news which seem to them - immersed in their own little world - as the news of the universe itself. In front of one village we are hung up for quite a long time to listen to every intimate detail of the death of a man "with something bad in his stomach"; while the women washing clothes, the men bathing, the small naked boys astride upon logs of trees, or in rickety canoes - the many more streaming I from every direction, over the hill and down the rifer - are all agog to the see the Valagi.
We are a day late, but we have at last reached Vainimala, just before sunset; toiling up a steep hill to the little village with, at the farther side of it, a deep ravine filled with tree ferns and myrtles, edged with brilliant crimson and yellow, green and spotted crotans; with more cone-like little hills around it, each with its cluster of three or four pale brown houses, a few wind-twisted coco-nut trees; while beyond and below these is the river valley, and mountains of every shade, the more distant a clear pale gold against the clear pale gold sky. We have come steadily downhill during our journey not only actually but socially; starting with the highest Chief in Fiji, going on to a lesser Chief, then to the most important Buli, then to a lesser Buli - for it is always to the Buli's house that any visitors, whether expected or not, are shown: new mats are laid out, or the best the village owns in the way of mats, a fire lighted and water and yam boiled upon the very first sight of any newcomer - now to a man who is in reality a commoner; while, though he has not yet appeared, the difference in his house shows plainly enough the lowness of his rank.
There are a great many girls in the village, and they gather round us as we sit on a bench at the gate of the Buli's house, openly wooing m companion; making eyes at him, laughing and joking; tall, finely developed girls with clean, smooth, brown skins, very white teeth, wearing skirts of different colours and thin muslin bodices, very negligently open in front, and in any case showing every curve. The Buli and his wife are very late coming back from the fields where they are planting out their yams and we have our supper, yams and tea, and the remains of a tin of salmon, out upon the bench, with an almost full moon, deep gold like the apricot, rising almost immediately above us. It is close upon ten o'clock before our host and hostess get back. They do their best for us, but there is no spare house in the village, and so, for the first time, I have to sleep with the entire family, though they hang u a mat to screen me as much as they can from the public gaze. Bed, however, is out of the question - for the present at least - for it seems that the Buli, rather surly peasant, having penetrated as far as Suva some months back, has returned with a sewing-machine for his wife; a machine which he must have imagined to be passed of some gnome-like quality of doing everything that was required of it without any human aid whatever, for neither he nor anyone else in the village has the faintest idea of how to work it. thus, half dead with sleep, I am required to lie flat on the front of myself upon the none too clean mat, tinkering with the wretched thing b the light of one miserable lamp, half blinded with the smoke, for the Buli's wife is cooking the supper for herself and her family inside the house itself, which is hardly ever done.
It has been a perfectly horrible night. there was an open doorway just opposite the end of my platformed bed. When I shut it I was almost choked by the smoke and the smell of the many people, talking and eating and drinking throughout the entire night, crowded together in the hut; while, leaving it open, I was chilled to death by the damp, cold most which drifted I so that even m hair was wet. Indeed I thought I should have died until the idea came to me of getting under the two upper mats of my bed instead of lying on them. though upon getting up this morning I bitterly regretted not having taken my clothes in with me, for when I dressed between five and six I could have wrung the damp out of them. However, the sun is now shining, growing every moment hotter and hotter so that I and my companion send out great puffs of steam; while our boatmen who were grey with cold - dulled and colourless, as all bronze men when they are not feeling well, or are depressed - glow and darken and shine, breaking into songs.
The sun is immediately overhead, the river like molten lead, colourless and shining; all the moisture has gone out of both us and our clothes, and I feel as though I might literally crackle with dryness. We have finished all the water we brought with us and all our food save for a few cold yams, morsels of which I turn round and round in my mouth finding myself unable to swallow; for it is ridiculous for anyone to say that when you are really hungry you can eat anything, the fact being that you get to a stage when, without fat or any form of grease, you find such food as yams - so like moist wood - impossible to swallow. It seems now as though we have been travelling for half of lifetime. I am not unhappy, I don't want to go back, and not for one single moment do I wish that I hadn't come; but for all that I've reached a state where time is absolutely non-existent, and I rather wonder if other people are like that, losing all sense of time, realization of place - at least any place apart from that in which they happen to be at the moment, seeing even that through a haze - when they are really hungry or altogether exhausted.
I am altogether myself again for I have eaten and drunken. A couple of hours ago a twist in the river showed us a small red brick house, with outhouses and grazing cattle, on the top of a bank a quarter of a mile or so above us. As the ground at the edge of the river was a swamp; of black mud my companion volunteered to go up to the house and see what he could get. But he seemed to be so long gone, and I was so frantic with hunger and thirst, that I tumbled out of the canoe, plumping into the mud over the tops of my shoes; and clambering up the hill - for the most part on my hands and knees, too completely done to battle with the achieved habits of humanity - flung myself down upon the veranda of the strange house, with no explanation whatever to the owner of the place - an elderly, one-eyed Dane who came round from the back and stood over me, stolidly staring down at me - nothing on earth beyond a hoarse and piteous beggar's whine: "For the Lord's sake give me some bread."
For this is what it had come to after days and days without the staff of life, the very thought of bread blocking out the sky, smothering my horizon; no other idea in my mind, no other desire in my heart. Now we have had bread and coffee and cheese - hard, yellow cheese, of which I have eaten what would at any other time have seemed an impossible quantity - with lashings of fresh butter, for by some happy accident we have chanced upon a dairy farm, and are sitting waiting for a letter over which the Dane is labouring, and which he wishes to send on by us to meet the launch which we shall pick up in a few hours; while his only companion, a half-caste Maori, one of the most completely villainous creatures I have ever seen - just the sort of man who might have stepped right out of one of Joseph Conrad's books, and fully capable, to judge by the look of him, of murdering his white companion - sits and brags to us, with a living stream of lies.
I am back again in the hotel at Suva. A very gay and cheerful Suva, for the fleet is in and the whole town on fete: while this morning I have had an experience I would not have missed for anything. For all the Fijian chiefs sent out their war canoes to meet the incoming ships - canoes so large that it takes twenty men to launch them - and Ratu Pope allowed me to go out on his, the greatest and leading canoe - wo9th George Seniloli and his chief boatmen - the only European apart from a couple of boys in the whole flotilla. These canoes have one great three-cornered sail made of mats, woven out of palm leaves and sewn together. There is a mast and a swinging boom, and another boom down the farther bunt of the sail - at least that is the only way that I can find to express it - the junction of these two booms being held jambed against the small cross beam on the tall-rail, either at the stern or bows. When the sail is shifted, one of the boatmen - and it must be a feat which calls for the greatest strengths - lifts this juncture of the two booms; and taking the whole weight of the sail with it, runs it along the extreme edge of the canoe and drops it into the V-shaped junction of the two curved beams against the ledge of the opposite side/; the whole canoe being balanced by an immense outrigger - formed of long slender beams running at right angles out from the canoe to what is practically the trunk of a tree - across which we all had to hurl ourselves when the wind heeled over the canoe, bringing it down with a slap upon the water.
Al these mat sails are a pale golden brown, and what the fleet of canoes must have looked like from the land I cannot say. but leading as we were - and though we started last we very soon shot ahead - looking back at them, they seemed to me like nothing more than a fleet of shining brown butterflies, driven sideways by the wind, not in the water at all, but just scudding over it, light as air.
* * * * * * *
What a queer thing the spirit of adventure is - and for once it seems that the word "spirit" is used rightly. It is not of the soul, which is religion; though it also is a religion - the religion of those who are for ever searching after the best in beauty and keenness of perception. It is not of the mind, for, though the mind evolves it, it is most often without reason; common sense has nothing, whatever to do with it; gain has less than nothing to do with it; it is as unreasoning as the upward flight of the lark. It is untouched by the elements, revels in them indeed. You cannot call it bravery, for it does not know fear; is, indeed, of the spirit - that spirit which is like a bright and shining fountain rising above the clay of the body; a flashing sword, clean from its sheath. All this to explain why, having returned to Suva thinking that there was nothing on earth I wished for more than to remain in a comfortable hotel, within easy reach of a hot bath; to eat well-served, well-cooked meals; sleep in a comfortable bed - for I am subject to the delusion that I would like to try the lap of luxury before being hurtled on to Abraham's bosom - I found after three days that there was nothing I desired less; the very desire itself being no more than the soft, overripe fruit of an immense fatigue. thus it is that I now find myself, driven by that ruling spirit, living in the greatest possible discomfort out of Navua; for no other reason than that it is from this place alone that there seems to be the faintest chance of getting to Bega, the one island in the group which I was most earnestly warned against visiting without some companion or other; Bega itself being only fifteen miles from Suva - and that shows what travelling in this part of the world means.
I came here upon a shockingly overcrowded little steam-launch, for there are no roads, having caught her by the skin of my teeth; for though she usually leaves three-quarters of an hour after the scheduled time, she chose upon this occasion, for some whimsy or other, to leave a quarter of an hour earlier than she should have done; so that I only just managed to scramble on board her as she was leaving the wharf. She was a shallowly built abomination, but for all that the water in the reef was so shallow that we continually stuck upon the coral, so that all the passengers had to herd upon one side or the other, back into the stern or forward into the bows, to clear her; while once in the open sea the waves broke clean over her at every forward plunge. Not for one single moment during the whole trip - which took rather over four hours - did it cease to pour with rain, so that it was impossible to remain on deck, and I was forced to languish, half suffocated, down in what was grandiloquently called "The First Saloon!" separated from the second and third by nothing more than the back of a seat, over which a large number of the vociferously and dramatically seasick Indians, with whom it was packed, draped themselves.
I have now been three days in Navua and the rain has never for a single moment ceased; falling with a maddening monotony upon the iron roof of the dreary and desolate hotel in which I am staying with such a deafening din that one has to shout at the top of one's voice if one wants to be heard. Not that there is anyone to talk to, for the immense and shapeless woman who manages it - and who at first sight I imagined must be pleasant and kind because she is so fat, though I wonder now, bitterly enough, how I ever came to cherish such a delusion, seeing that she has an eye like an old, ill-tempered elephant - cares nothing for anything or anyone, apart from those few dazed and desiccated individuals who frequent the bar. Navua, itself, stands upon a point of land sprinting out into the sea; to one side of it runs a river now in flood, and a more depressing place could scarcely be imagined: a place of swamps and rive fields, degenerate Indians, mosquitoes, and rain; the only gleam of light in the whole district - or falling across my own mood of abysmal depression - being afforded by the nearness of a very delightful District Magistrate and his wife.
I dined with this couple last night, finding myself immensely entertain3ed by certain items in the laws for the government of the natives, more particularly the Indians, which they recounted to me; the most engaging of all being the sentence of six months imprisonment with hard labour for adultery, flashing through my mind, as it did, a bizarre picture of an almost deserted Bond Street; a desolate and weed-grown Leicester Square; sudden wide gaps in society where no one ever quite dared to ask where anyone else might happen to be.
Day after day, I have worn my soul out hoping for a passage to Bega, but here has been a strong wind blowing in from the sea, and even if the chief did get over with his cutter - and he is the only person from whom I can expect anything - he would never be able to get back again. Yesterday evening, however, the district Magistrate, who is also Provincial commissioner and Police Magistrate - there used to be all three of them and a doctor too, until the Fiji government bled to death a sugar company which had started large operations here - came up to see me; and finding me in despair suggested, as there was no sign of the wind abating, that I should fill in the time by going up the river next day, starting at six o'clock in the morning, staying at a native village twenty miles away for a couple of nights and then coming back again to see what had happened here meanwhile. All last night it rained as though the bottom had fallen out of a tank immediately above us, so that hardly thought that the pole-men for the boat would have the courage to put in an appearance, for there is nothing that a Fijian dislikes more than getting wet; but less than an hour late, which is nothing to be accounted of here, we started off with a fierce current against us, making close upon three miles in as many hours, I myself sitting in the centre of the canoe endeavouring to keep my entire person, including my feet, dry upon a kerosene box; with an enormous umbrella with twenty ribs - which I bought at the Chinaman's store here for five rupees - open over me, and the four men, two at the bow and two at the stern, alternatively polling and paddling.
When we reached the first rapids, however, we found the thick yellow water so swollen by rain, with waves as big as the sea, thick with tree trunks, hurtling down or whirling round and round in circles - the whole face of the river being carpeted by millions upon millions of dead grasshoppers - that my men, try as they would, were absolutely helpless, not only to make any way, but to prevent us from being driven back by the current; so that we were at last reluctantly forced to turns, rave down stream to Navua, reaching there close upon midnight, terribly depressed. As I streamed into the hotel I encountered the District Magistrate, who told me that the Ratu, or chief, of Bega, had actually got over, was now lying round a turn of the river in a new cutter with an auxiliary engine. He was starting back to his island this afternoon and had been prevailed upon to take me with him: though in telling me emphatically too, that however sick or however frightened I might be, I should not blame him.
We start at two o'clock, and now, moderately dry, very moderately fed, I am sitting in the veranda scribbling. It is not necessary to state that it is still raining; for that must be understood to run like a Greek chorus through the greater part of the recital.
Another day was dawned - rather to my surprise and I am sitting writing upon the sea-whitened trunk of a tree washed up upon the white sands of Bega. yesterday I wrote what I did write about the rain, because it seemed impossible to believe that it could ever stop, but to-day it is fine. Later on the sun may come out, for it is, as yet, scarcely five in the morning, and everything has improved; as it well may do, for yesterday, take it all in all was about as bad a day as I have ever yet chanced upon. the chief's cutter is very small. He is proud of it having an auxiliary engine, but as it broke down before e reached the mouth of the river, refused to come to, however much the Fijian engineer hammered at it - and a Fijian's one idea of engineering is hammering - it was not of much use to us; though we sailed out of the lagoon in great style; and, taking some very bad seas, tacking a good deal, got within about three-quarters of a mile of Bega at four-thirty. It was bitterly cold, the rain icy and sleet-like. Inside the cutter the engine, stinking horribly, took up what room there was, and I, myself, sat by the helm on an upturned kerosene box - more than four months now since I left England, and never for more than a few days at a time have I have been divorced from a kerosene box, or a bath towel to keep the blazing sun or pelting rain off my back.
The chief is quite a young man, handsome and finely grown as all these Fijian chiefs are. With him there are two young men and another whom he calls the captain, hideously distorted by elephantiasis; but even with these four the sail thrashed so whenever we tackled that I myself took the helm; a bar of iron so heavy that I was obliged to lash myself round, with a rope fastened to the hatch of the companion way, to keep myself from being flung overboard or swept off by the waves. Close upon Bega the wind dropped, or was shut away from us by the mountain, so that tack and tack as we might, it seemed as though we should never make land at all. After a while the darkness fell quite suddenly, like a black curtain; then it cleared a little though there was no moon, and I could see no reason for it. The chief took the helm, and lying down upon the deck I sprawled by arms across my kerosene box, laying my head upon them every inch of me arching from the strain of holding on and steering, while the two younger men disappeared into the bowels of the cutter; and the captain, a monstrous and pathetic figure - reminding one somehow of Watt's picture of the Minolaur - remained stationery in the bows, silhouetted out against the pale sky, staring towards the mountainous mass of land as though by staring he could bring it nearer.
For close upon a couple of hours scarcely a breath of air came to us, and the sails hung fretting against the mast. Then the darkness fell again, so thickly that I had a feeling as though I could taste it, smell it, while a little wind arose, just sufficient to take us within a quarter of a mile of the shore. Here the dingy, which we had been dragging behind us, was pulled up level with the cutter, so full of water that as I dropped into it in the darkness I made sure that I had dropped into the sea; while even then we struck the coral so far out from shore that I had to be carried. And this was the beginning of the first panic which has seized me since I left England. Picture it like this. I was in the arms of a chief of whom I knew nothing whatever, disembarking by night upon an island where he was absolute ruler. I was not even going into his own village where his wife and family lived, for we were unable to make it on account of the wind, but to a lonely place of which I had heard nothing but ill; for even then, as he carried me, all that I had heard of Bega flashed through my mind, with the realization that there was no other single white person nearer to us than Navua, to which it was perfectly impossible to return; my return anywhere, indeed, hanging upon the will and the word of the man who carried me, high up in his arms as though I had been a baby while it was no better when he put me down upon the soft sand in the velvety blackness of that teeming wet and moonless night; with the breathing of many people who must have seen its coming, flocked down to the shore to meet us - were then gathered, without a word, without a single sound save that soft sibilant breath - all about us; parting as I moved, so that however close they might be, nobody touched me.
The chief himself spoke to nobody apart from his men who came splashing on shore after us, bidding them go on to the nearest village and tell the villagers that we were coming, while he and I went up to a little shop, which he declared to be close by us in the bush, to see if it were possible to buy any food. When he turned and said "Come" I followed him, stretching out one hand in front of me, just touching him to make sure of not loosing him. though my nerves were so on edge that I had no confidence in him, and was only more afraid of the people I had not yet seen than I was of him: scarcely believing that there was any shop. After a while, however, though there was no light showing, we reached a door - at least I knew it was a door by the chief's knocking upon it and by the variety of snores that came from behind it, lost in the blackness; by the peremptory calls to open. After a long delay a glint of light showed the door opened and in we went; finding ourselves in a small and very dirty hovel with an Indian man and woman and half a dozen naked children. Here we bought hard biscuits and tinned salmon, for I myself had tea and sugar in my pack. All the while I was in the place the Indian woman grinned, the children stared; while after I had paid for what we bought the man - catching hold of the chief's sleeve with a sidelong glance in my direction - made some facetious whispering remark which I could not catch, and could not have understood if I had done, though as I was, than anything has ever done before; for the chief giggled as he moved away, beckoning me to follow. And only those who are acquainted with the almost unvarying gravity of the aristocratic Fijians, their proud aloofness in all their dealing with white women, can realize what this giggle meant to me; though there was, of course, nothing left to do but to follow him, the very thought of a night spent with the Indian family, filthy and low classed as they were, being out of the question.
We had borrowed the Indian a lantern, and making our way down to the shore again I followed the chief along it without the very slightest idea as to how far we had to go. By this time, the sands, so far as I could see, were deserted, but looking down upon them in the light of the lantern I found them padded over by innumerable footprints; footsteps among which, at that moment, I would have given almost anything on earth to have discovered the impress of a boot or shoe. After what seemed little more than a quarter of an hour we came to a village, lying on a narrow strip of land between the shore and high cliffs, hung with creepers and loud with the trickle of innumerable small waterfalls. Here the people flocked openly around us, leading us to the Buli's house, where the three men from off the cutter were already gathered; the figure of the captain throwing grotesque shadows across the walls as he leant above the fire; poking at it, setting an iron pot of yams to boil over it. The room was dirty, not very big and crowded with men, littered with spades and axes and fishing gear, the floor without mats.
It is always very difficult for me not to be smiling and friendly, often enough out of sheer nervousness. but last night, feeling very much alone, I kept my mouth set like a rat-trap; and walking past the men as though they did not exist, moved to the place of honour at the top of the room and sat down on the platform-like bed. The chief came up to me and asked where I wanted to change my things. When I said that I would change my shoes and stockings, which were soaking wet, he ordered one of the men of the village to give me a clean lava-lava, so that I could spread it over my knees to hide myself as I did so; while he himself opening my pack and handing me clean shoes and stockings from out of a calico bag, very polite and ingratiating, awed, I think, by my silence and my set face. I sat on the bed without moving until the food was cooked; then I moved forward into the room, and, sitting upon the floor, the chief and I eat together, passing on what remained of the food to the crew and the other men; who in their turn tossed on the scraps to a couple of women who came in and out of the hut, replenishing the fire.
After we had all finished eating the women disappeared with the pots and pans, but the men remained. The chief came up to me, and, asking me if I wished to sleep, himself spread my mat and hung up my mosquito curtain, told me to lie down and rest. I had often slept in a room full of people before, but I did not dare to do it there in that strange place and telling the chief that the room must be emptied before I would lie down. I went out and walked up and down the shore a little so as to give the men time to discuss matters and finish their smokes. The shore was absolutely deserted and so was the village, not so much as a glint of alight was to be seen, the sound of voice heard, anywhere. but the rain had ceased, there was a deliciously fresh clean wind blowing, and the moon had risen so nothing seemed altogether so desolate as it had done. When I went back into the house it was evident that the chief had been talking to the men, for they immediately rose and went out of the hut, while the chief, himself, walked round it; fastening the shutters and arranging the fire so that the ashes would not blow about if a sudden gust of wind arose. I myself walked to the end of the room and sitting upon the edge of the bed watching him for a moment or two, curiously uneasy. When I spoke, however, saying, very decidedly, "I must have the room to myself before I can sleep, and nobody must come near me until morning," he wished me good night and went out without a word, closing the door behind him.
For a long while I lay uneasily on the hard plank bed, unable to sleep. for I am so accustomed to have every door and window open that I felt stifled; while the room was so dirty, with corners heaped with rubbish into which I dared not pry, that it smelt horrible, and a skeleton of a white dog kept on getting in between the lintel and the door, licking some of the empty pots which the women had left behind them, and the rats rustled and squealed continually. At last I could bear it all no longer, and thinking that I could hear people whispering round the house got up and went out. The moment I was in the fresh air, however, all my fears were gone, for I found that the sounds I had heard were nothing more than the trickle of running water down the cliff behind me, the rustle of the palms, the pat of small placid waves lapping upon the shore; while my nerves were so soothed that after a quiet half-hour, sitting, half dreaming, on a heap of drift wood, white as skeletons in the moonlight, I went back to bed and slept until close upon five o'clock this morning, equally forgetful of the dog, of the close air, of the chief's giggle.
It is a divine morning, so exquisitely fresh that it might be the very first that the world has ever known. As I sit upon the shore writing, a great tree above me, which the natives here call Futu, is dropping down masses of bright rose-coloured stamens from a creamy white flower - of which each petal is tipped with rose-pink - so thickly that they lie like a velvet carpet upon the sand beneath it, mantle my shoulders with pink. at the back of me the black cliff is hung with ferns - asparagus, and maidenhair, and dozens of others of which I do not know the name; while the smooth golden sands are spread with fragile and beautiful shells thick as though it were the counter of a shell shop; punctuated by the small, upright, and bronze figures of the native children, with their long lavender grey shadows, who run in and out of the sea; come to me with what they call "eye-shell," the rounded portion of a shell precisely like the porcelain of an artificial eye. The people out of the village come round me and talk to me. They are more primitive than any Fijians I have yet seen, but they are smiling and pleasant, and I cannot for the life of me imagine why I had such a sinister impression of them and their village last night. The chief, too, is quiet and dignified, and very polite sitting on the floor of the hut counting out small piles of money to pay for a load of bananas which he took into Navua. The cutter is still hung far out in the bay and, as there is not enough wind for sailing, the chief is going to take me up the coast and round the island in his long boat with six pairs of oars directly he has finished his business.
We are at sea again. Just because we do not particularly want it a stiff wind has risen, the sky is a clear dark blue, piled with silver-white cumulus clouds, the sun is shining. As the men bend to their ours, the chief sits in the stern of the boat just behind me and tells me tales.
"There is a tree on the shore called the Fau Ceva Tree - you can see it there with bent boughs and a bent trunk, like an old, old man. If you cut a bough of that tree you will not be able to go to sea, because of the wind which will arise and last for eight days. If you want the wind to cease all you can do is to go to the wise man of Dakuni, who will make a bow and arrow, and shoot at the wind so that it drops dead."
All the chief's stories are of the ways of the wind and the sea, and of magic which is used in the controlling of them. When he ceases telling stories he starts to sing, a long-drawn monotonous song, a sort of saga of the ways of a boat and of the sails and the helm; of boat-building, and of battles at sea. From this he goes on to sing of me, myself, calling me by the same name as they gave me in Mbau, Dauvola-vola - the one who is always writing. the men who are rowing the boat are not his own men, but come from Dakuibeqa; and after he has told them of my writing, in a song with a chorus where they pick up the last line of every verse - repeat it gain and again in a swinging chant to which they keep time with their oars - he starts off upon another song in which he tells them how I steered the cutter over from Navua, tying myself with a rope so that I should not be washed overboard; tells how the wind stormed and the waves washed over and the rain fell, finding a new and very complimentary name for me -" The one who is never afraid."
towards the middle of the day the wind rises so that the rowers are unable to make any way against it, and we turn into a little bay, where the men carry me on shore to a village. Here we go into the Buli's house, and as the men bring my pack on shore make some tea, while women give us fresh oranges. All the village seems busied over the making of dancing skirts out of long streamers of the fine, silvery inner bark of trees, so beaten and polished that they are as thin and shining as ribbons, dyeing them every sort of colour, pink and blue and magenta and purple, yellow, brown, and russet with vegetable dyes hanging them across strings from tree to tree to dry.
* * * * * * *
We arrived at the chief's house close upon three o'clock yesterday, having taken over twenty-four hours in getting here, and found that his wife, having already heard that I was coming - in the way in which one does hear everything in these islands - had a delicious boiled fowl and fried bananas all ready for us; that the guest house was already prepared, a large exquisitely clean room, and wooden bed with piles of fringed mats; upon which, the moment I finished my meal I flung myself down and slept the sleep of the just - with every door flung wide open, the sea wind blowing clean over me, and no sort of doubt or fear in my mind - until well into the afternoon; lulled by the sound of the sea no more than a yard away from my head. And Heaven only knows how I shall ever again live or sleep in the close room of a London flat. The chief himself prepares my meals and takes them with me, while his wife waits upon us. so long as we are actually eating he sits upon a chair; but he is so manifestly uncomfortable that the moment he has finished he stretches himself out upon the floor and plays with his little boy. he is very polite to me, very punctilious about helping me first; but I wonder what he really thinks about civilized women, for his own wife never even eats with him. She is a plain-looking woman with white, and very regular, teeth. When I admire them he says, rather sulkily that mine are better, and I find it difficult to stiffen gravely instead of laughing. This is his fourth wife. He tells me in his native, boyish way that the other three were lazy and dirty, and no good for anything, so he sent them back home at the end of their month - which had a classic sort of sound to my mind, so long accustomed to the erratic ways of English servants.
Bega is all mountains and deep valleys and thick and luxurious vegetation. Sitting on a bank this morning I counted what I took to be sixteen different ferns within reach of my hand at either side without moving. When I brought them home, however, and showed them to the chief he laid them out upon the table and separated them out into pairs, pointing out to me that nearly all of them were male and female, so that there were only nine or ten of them altogether different. "And that is the way with everything," he said, "there are always men and women among the trees, and the flowers, the birds and the fish in the sea - no one is altogether alone." Last evening he took me a walk through the village which lies in an amphitheatre of hills, all alike crowned to the very top with forests; excepting for one single sugar-cane hill half a mile away, which is smooth green, like a field, with a fringe of dark trees running up one side of it and down the other. From the village we mounted a steep hill high above to the right of it, with a wonderful view of jutting bays, and here he showed me the schools which he is building for the boys of Bega; four large native houses in which there are already forty boys and three teachers. In time, however, he intends to make it large enough for one hundred and forty, being determined that the boys of his island should be well educated - And yet what is education? He himself had never been to school, never learnt to read and yet he could tell me what he had done about the ferns; only imagine any uneducated man at home being able to differentiate between the male and female of the same species.
We went into one of the school houses, really a boarding-house, and sat upon the bed - one long platform running the whole length of the room, and divided into sections by the different boys' mats, with their vividly coloured woollen fringes. Here there was, as in most houses, a clearing made in the coarser mats which covered the floor, and a large wood fire burning, over which some of the boys were paring and cooking a vast pot full of taro for their evening meal, while others came and went with wood and water. At that height the air was fresh and sweet with the scent of burning wood. From where I sat the coast with its three bays enwrapped a trefoil of smooth sea, reflecting as in glass the pale daffodil sky above it; while the fire in the corner of the room was red and gold flickering upon the dark faces of the boys, dividing their attention between their cooking and us: boys with shining bronze skins, bright dark eyes and white teeth, wearing nothing more than the whitest of sulus.
The chief began to sing - the song of the ship-building and the sailing, the song of the fighting men in their canoes, and the song which he had made about me; while his small son of three years old, who sat upon my lap, beat upon my chest with his hands in time to the music, and his mother, sitting upon the floor beside him, smiled pensively. As we toiled up the steep path to the school she had carried the child on her back; but as we walked down it he walked like a little chief by the father's side, holding his hand, while the mother followed behind us.
This island of Bega is different from all the other islands, because here the men have the gift of being able to walk over red-hot stone without being burnt. To-day the chief took me to see the immense amphitheatre where this ceremony takes place, the burnt ground, the ashes and charred wood, the blacked stones; while the marks of fire upon the trees all around it show how intense the heat must be on such occasions. But as it is a great performance and requires a great deal of time to get ready it could not be done for one person alone; or at any rate, without several days' warning, so that it is impossible for me to see it. Whenever we are walking about the village the chief walks in front of me. I want anything carried when we first start he calls a man to follow with it; but if I take off my coat and carry the waits till we are well away out of sight of everyone, then he takes it from me. Very often when I am sitting sketching he will fan me with a large leaf to keep away the mosquitoes and flies; but if anyone passes he drops it at once, like a shy, proud schoolboy, terribly embarrassed.
I keep on trying to settle when, and how, to get back to Navua; but he wants me to stay and teach him more English, threatens to cut off a bough of the Fau Ceva tree so that I shall not be able to get away: promising me that if I stay he will take me over to the other side of the island, show me, there, upon the coast, a great rock; a rock so sacred that if you lay your hands upon it three great waves will come sweeping u out of the sea one after the other, and it will be a wonder if you escape with your life. Across many of the paths here are creepers with thick twisted stems like ropes. I persuaded the chief to attempt to measure one for me to-day; but after measuring it to the length of sixty-two fathoms it lost itself among the other trees and he was obliged to give it up. he had not, indeed, much liked touching it at all, for it, also, is sacred, and if any man cuts it he will die within the month.
I am back again in Navua, where it is still raining, though thank Heaven I am leaving this afternoon, having crossed over from Bega yesterday - a Sunday. And in this lay the root of all my trouble, for the Fijians do not like starting upon any enterprise upon that day, though it did not seem to see that the captain of the cutter had any religious scruples about going as far as he wished, which was to the second village along the coast, where he happened to have wife. the chief, himself, was not able to come over with me and put me in charge of this captain, the man with elephantiasis and two younger men. From the very beginning everything went wrong. The engine would not work and the wind was so light and fitful that it seemed as though we should never get out of the land-locked bay. Then when we did get out of it, the men kept so close into the coast that we lost what wind there was; while it was useless to expostulate with them for they knew scarcely any English, were sulky and obstinately fixed in their own way. At the first village the cutter was run into a bay, and one of the men going on shore sent out a young boy in his place.
Coming over we had had the so-called captain, the chief, and two other men; now there were only three counting the boy; and though I steered I did not know enough about the coast, the opening in the reefs, to take the matter entirely into my own hands. As the wind rose still more the youth whom we had started with, and whom we had originally brought over from Navua, went below and starting tinkering with the engine; while the captain and the new boy talked together, shaking their hands and saying that it was impossible that we could ever reach Navua that night, that the winds were against us and the time wrongly chosen, plainly performing for my benefit; though it was only when we got level with the village, where we had stayed the night we came over, that the trouble really began; for here the captain took the tiller out of my hand, and, shouting to the boy to shift the sails, ran the cutter right up into the bay. At this I was furiously angry, going for the captain so fiercely that he went below into some mysterious little cubby-hole in the bows and shut the hatch over himself, leaving the tiller to me. At first I was glad enough to be rid of him. But after we had passed the Bega Passage out of the reef the wind got up, and blew so heavily, in such fierce gusts, with blinding torrents of rain, that it seemed impossible for us to manage the sails, and I sent first one boy and then another to tell the captain to come on deck; cursing my own trust in the Fijian character; for if I had only taken a revolver with me I could have frightened him to his post.
All this while the seas grew higher and higher, and the pull upon the tiller was such that I had to hold it with my legs flung over it at my knees, as well as my hands; lashing myself round with a rope to keep from being washed overboard. Still for all our difficulties, short handed as we were, we succeeded in running across to the mainland reef; and made the passage and got through it, were a good three-quarters of a mile on the landward side, when the captain came up on deck and said that he would steer. So great was my distrust of him, however, that I would not let him touch the tiller; and turning away he went and stood in the bows of the cutter, on the steps of the tiny hold, with his head just out of the hatch, a monstrous and sinister figure wrapped round with mist and rain. The Navua boy, Mau, said that he must try to persuade the auxiliary motor - at which he had been hammering on and off throughout the whole passage - to go, or else we should not be able to get up the river. As he disappeared below the Bega boy, who had never stopped grumbling about the wet and cold, followed him; leaving me alone on deck to manage the butter which had taken four men on the voyage over; but though I shouted down the hold, furiously telling him to come up on deck again, he took no notice whatever, while the captain remained immobile in the bows.
Then, quite suddenly things began to happen. The captain clambered up on deck and ran aft, calling to the Bega boy, who came shouting up out of the cabin. For a moment or so they bellowed furiously at each other; over-shouting the wind, the thresh of canvas; then, before I knew what they were about, the captain came towards me, wrenched the tiller out of my hand, and unshipped the rudder; while the boy ran down the sail leaving it loose and flapping, with the boom swinging on that it was with the greatest difficulty that I could keep myself from being swept overboard. At this I was strung up into such a rage as I think I have never been in before. It is impossible that the men could have understood the language that I used - and, indeed, I was amazed at myself, at the sound of my voice hurtling it out - but something in the way I used it or the look of me - for I always get a dead white when I am really angry - frightened them so that they ran forward and began to hoist the sail; or rather pretend to hoist it, getting it all twisted in a way that no Fijian who had not some ulterior motive of his own, would ever do, for these people are the most wonderful seamen in the world. Hanging on as best I could, I picked u the tiller which had dropped upon the deck beside me, and was trying to fix it into its socket when, happening to glance round, I saw, to my horror, that we had drifted back within half a dozen yards of the reef, white with foam, overhung with thick clouds of spray.
At this I gave up all idea of steering, and crawling to the little mouth of the engine-room shrieked down it to the boy Mau, who ran up on deck, took the loose iron bar of the tiller out of my hand, and then - realizing how hopeless it was, for, of course, we had no steering-way on us - called to me, bellowing through the wind, the roar of the wave, and the loud flapping of the sails, with his hands to his mouth, though it was no more than a yard away; "Marama, come sway with me in little boat. These men very bad men, me row Marama." The dingy trailing behind us was more than half full of water; but pulling her up a little he took a running jump into her, drew her level with the cutter which had now swung round so that she had her nose almost on the reef. I made the other boy and the captain, who by now looked thoroughly frightened, throw in my suitcase and bundle of bedding - for I knew I could not trust them once I was out of the cutter - then scrambled overboard as best I could; horribly hampered by my lame leg and the tossing of the little dingy, for the sea ran like a mad mill race through the opening in the reef, spreading out all fan ways beyond it.
By this time it must have been six o'clock, and was almost altogether dark, while the rain fell in torrents which no words can describe. The boy, Mau, said that it was only three miles to the mouth of the river, two or more up it; but while it might have been no more but it seemed endless, seemed, indeed - after the first hour's battling with wind and tide against us - impossible that we should ever even reach the shore. The water in the dingy was half-way up to my knees and deadly cold. I baled the whole time but it was impossible to lessen it; while when we did reach the river mouth we found - hearing and feeling it, for by now it was too dark to see anything - that the river was running in just such a flood as it had been when I had left; while the mangrove swamps and rive fields were so flooded upon either side, that it was only by the rush of water that we could judge where its right course lay. Ultimately we did, however, reach the hotel at Navua between eight and nine; though for the last mile or so I had to keep the boy, Mau - who was utterly exhausted - going by a running series of questions and promises; my own voice, hoarse as a crow's, sounding oddly far away to myself.
When he told me that he was about to be married, I drew a vivid fancy picture of his future happy state, and the family which he would have; told him of my own son in Africa and how there were lions and elephants, and heaven only knows what, there; while the poor fellow's voice sank to a hoarse whisper over the oft-repeated words, like a sort of desperate chorus: "Me get Marama to Navua - me get Marama there"; and he kept missing strokes so I thought that every moment he must collapse. Never in my life have I been so glad of anything as I was when I saw the lights of that so-called hotel, inhospitable as it proved. For when I streamed up into the veranda - with the water literally sluicing off me - the few wastrels gathered there, stared at me without the slightest movement to help me with the baggage which I was pulling after me; for by this time Mau was so utterly exhausted that it was all he could do to drag himself up the river bank and through the hick belt of scrub to the hotel.
In the one sitting-room the landlady, playing cards with two of her male boarders, glanced up at me sullenly. When I asked her for food for Mau, who was my first thought, she answered: "We don't serve niggers here," and went on dealing without a second glance at me; while the two men in dirty and bedraggled white clothes, with unshaven faces and bloodshot eyes - one of them, to his shame, an English Public School boy - stared stupidly without so much as rising to their feet. As I rapped out an order for whisky, however, the landlady hoisted herself out of her chair, slopped with bare slippered feet into the bar; measure out two tots - of which I gave one to Mau, though it is altogether against the law - then returned to her cards, licking her thumb as she dealt. And if Somerset Maugham could have only seen that room and that party - the dirty, flaming lamp, its blackened chimney hung round with insects; the flying ants lying among their own fallen wings upon the spotted tablecloth; the filthy cards; the derelict specimens of civilization playing at some unknown game with that shapeless woman; been deafened by the deluge which poured down unceasingly upon the tin roof, he would have realized afresh the frightful truth of his own masterpiece, "Rain."
I asked her, quietly enough, if I could have anything to eat. But when she grunted out sullenly that it was too late, saying: "There is no night service here," my short patience came to a sudden end and I flung round at her savagely, declaring that if she did not find something for me at once that I would go off and complain to the Resident Magistrate; then - making out some sort of acquiescence, more like a grunt than human speech - went up into my room and changed my things; feeling that I would give anything on earth for some hot water to put my feet in, or, best of all, a hot-water bottle and bed; pottering about miserably for a good half-hour, trying to get my hair dry, thinking that I would give the slut downstairs time to prepare something for me to eat. Though, when I did get down again I found her still at her cards; got in the end, nothing, beyond a plate of half-raw cold meat with pickles, some sodden bread for my upper - and this from one white woman to another in a far-away country! Throughout the better part of that night I lay awake, too chilled to sleep - for my rug was sopping wet, like everything else I have taken over to Bega with me - listening to the persistent thrash of rain upon the iron roof, the torturing drip - drip - drip where it soaked through the weak laces and splashed down on to the floor.
Once more I am back in the hotel in Suva, wallowing in hot baths and linen sheets; telling myself that there is nothing more on earth that I could wish for. Though, even now, I am perfectly aware, at the back of my mind, that in less than another twenty-four hours I shall be mad to be off on the trail again. I hear from the Magistrate at Navua that from all he hears that rascally captain from Bega got up his sails in ship-shape, and raced back to his own island directly I was out of sight. As for Mau, he is enshrined for ever in my memory, together with all the hospitable and courteous Fijians I have known; while goodness only knows what would have happened to me if it had not been for him, as nothing on earth would have persuaded me to give into the captain's demands; while it would have been by no means a pleasant night to have spent at sea with no choice between the open deck and the one tiny hold used to carry bananas, shared with that swollen parody of a man.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I have come over to Auckland on one of the New Zealand company's boats with the idea of going on down to Wellington, picking up a French boat there, and so over to New Caledonia. Now, however, I find that if I do go to New Caledonia I shall not only have to stay there a great deal longer than I want to, but from there shall have to go on to Fiji again; for, though boats run there from Wellington, there are no boats that run back direct here.
I am now waiting for a Chinese boat by which I have a fancy for journeying upon up to Sydney, from whence I shall be able to get on to British New guinea; though it is all rather a waste of time, for New Zealand has been too much written about for me to tackle it, and the time is too short to get farther afield than Rotorua, where I have spent an altogether fascinating week. Meanwhile I have been thrilled by meeting an Irishman, who is on his way round the world in a twelve-ton ketch, built under his own eyes out of Irish oak in Cork, during the time that the rebellion was going on: with every sort of wildness knocked into her by the men who were continually throwing down their tools to go and fight for the republicans or Irish Free State; leaving the prospective owner to carry on with odd jobs as best he could; that is when he himself was not treading upon the tail of somebody else's coat. for in those days he was a fierce Republican; as he may be now; for all I know, though we had no time or thoughts for politics, gathered round the table in the saloon - a saloon so tiny, that from any one of the settees, which run three sides of it, one may lean forward and rest one's arms upon the table - talking, talking, talking, by the light of three candles set in heavy brass candlesticks, dimmed by a thick haze of cigarette smoke.
And what talk it was! I remember a man once saying to me "Wine and women I love, but talk is the breath of my nostrils"; and I myself feel much the same way; for there is nothing upon the whole face of the earth that I delight in so much as the sort of talk which we had then - the owner of the ketch, myself, and a man who is with him: talk of the ways of ships with the wind, and the ways of the sea; of strange and dangerous coasts, of alarms and excursions; of the strange places we have been in, of the queer things we have seen; while never shall I forget the faces of the two men.
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