To our shame we had a very pleasant
supper that night off the grilled fish, which was
excellent, and some tinned meat. I say to our
shame, in a sense, for on our companions the sharks
were supping and by rights we should have been sunk
in woe. I suppose that the sense of our own escape
intoxicated us. Also, notwithstanding his joviality,
none of us had cared much for the captain, and his
policy had been to keep us somewhat apart from the
crew, of whom therefore we knew but little. It
is true that Bastin held services on Sundays, for
such as would attend, and Bickley had doctored a few
of them for minor ailments, but there, except for
a little casual conversation, our intercourse began
Now the sad fact is that it is hard
to be overwhelmed with grief for those with whom we
are not intimate. We were very sorry and that
is all that can be said, except that Bastin, being
High Church, announced in a matter-of-fact way that
he meant to put up some petitions for the welfare
of their souls. To this Bickley retorted that
from what he had seen of their bodies he was sure
they needed them.
Yes, it was a pleasant supper, not
made less so by a bottle of champagne which Bickley
and I shared. Bastin stuck to his tea, not because
he did not like champagne, but because, as he explained,
having now come in contact with the heathen it would
never do for him to set them an example in the use
of spirituous liquors.
“However much we may differ,
Bastin, I respect you for that sentiment,” commented
“I don’t know why you
should,” answered Bastin; “but if so, you
might follow my example.”
That night we slept like logs, trusting
to our teak door which we barricaded, and to Tommy,
who was a most excellent watch-dog, to guard us against
surprise. At any rate we took the risk. As
a matter of fact, nothing happened, though before
dawn Tommy did growl a good deal, for I heard him,
but as he sank into slumber again on my bed, I did
not get up. In the morning I found from fresh
footprints that two or three men had been prowling
about the ship, though at a little distance.
We rose early, and taking the necessary
precautions, bathed in the pool. Then we breakfasted,
and having filled every available receptacle with
water, which took us a long time as these included
a large tank that supplied the bath, so that we might
have at least a week’s supply in case of siege,
we went on deck and debated what we should do.
In the end we determined to stop where we were and
await events, because, as I pointed out, it was necessary
that we should discover whether these natives were
hostile or friendly. In the former event we could
hold our own on the ship, whereas away from it we
must be overwhelmed; in the latter there was always
time to move inland.
About ten o’clock when we were
seated on stools smoking, with our guns by our side for
here, owing to the overhanging cliff in which it will
be remembered the prow of the ship was buried, we could
not be reached by missiles thrown from above we
saw numbers of the islanders advancing upon us along
the beach on either side. They were preceded as
before by women who bore food on platters and in baskets.
These people, all talking excitedly and laughing after
their fashion, stopped at a distance, so we took no
notice of them. Presently Marama, clad in his
feather cloak, and again accompanied by priests or
medicine-men, appeared walking down the path on the
cliff face, and, standing below, made salutations
and entered into a conversation with us of which I
give the substance that is, so far as we
could understand it.
He reproached us for not having come
to him as he expected we would do. We replied
that we preferred to remain where we were until we
were sure of our greeting and asked him what was the
position. He explained that only once before,
in the time of his grandfather, had any people reached
their shores, also during a great storm as we had done.
They were dark-skinned men like themselves, three
of them, but whence they came was never known, since
they were at once seized and sacrificed to the god
Oro, which was the right thing to do in such a case.
We asked whether he would consider
it right to sacrifice us. He replied:
Certainly, unless we were too strong,
being gods ourselves, or unless an arrangement could
be concluded. We asked what arrangement?
He replied that we must make them gifts; also that
we must do what we had promised and cure him the
chief of the disease which had tormented
him for years. In that event everything would
be at our disposal and we, with all our belongings,
should become taboo, holy, not to be touched.
None would attempt to harm us, nothing should be stolen
under penalty of death.
We asked him to come up on the deck
with only one companion that his sickness might be
ascertained, and after much hesitation he consented
to do so. Bickley made an examination of the
growth and announced that he believed it could be
removed with perfect safety as the attachment to the
neck was very slight, but of course there was always
a risk. This was explained to him with difficulty,
and much talk followed between him and his followers
who gathered on the beach beneath the ship. They
seemed adverse to the experiment, till Marama grew
furious with them and at last burst into tears saying
that he could no longer drag this terrible burden
about with him, and he touched the growth. He
would rather die. Then they gave way.
I will tell the rest as shortly as I can.
A hideous wooden idol was brought
on board, wrapped in leaves and feathers, and upon
it the chief and his head people swore safety to us
whether he lived or died, making us the guests of their
land. There were, however, two provisos made,
or as such we understood them. These seemed to
be that we should offer no insult or injury to their
god, and secondly, that we should not set foot on
the island in the lake. It was not till afterwards
that it occurred to me that this must refer to the
mountain top which appeared in the inland sheet of
water. To those stipulations we made no answer.
Indeed, the Orofenans did all the talking. Finally,
they ratified their oaths by a man who, I suppose,
was a head priest, cutting his arm and rubbing the
blood from it on the lips of the idol; also upon those
of the chief. I should add that Bastin had retired
as soon as he saw that false god appear, of which I
was glad, since I felt sure that he would make a scene.
The operation took place that afternoon
and on the ship, for when once Marama had made up
his mind to trust us he did so very thoroughly.
It was performed on deck in the presence of an awed
multitude who watched from the shore, and when they
saw Bickley appear in a clean nightshirt and wash
his hands, uttered a groan of wonder. Evidently
they considered it a magical and religious ceremony;
indeed ever afterwards they called Bickley the Great
Priest, or sometimes the Great Healer in later days.
This was a grievance to Bastin who considered that
he had been robbed of his proper title, especially
when he learned that among themselves he was only
known as “the Bellower,” because of the
loud voice in which he addressed them. Nor did
Bickley particularly appreciate the compliment.
With my help he administered the chloroform,
which was done under shelter of a sail for fear lest
the people should think that we were smothering their
chief. Then the operation went on to a satisfactory
conclusion. I omit the details, but an electric
battery and a red-hot wire came into play.
“There,” said Bickley
triumphantly when he had finished tying the vessels
and made everything neat and tidy with bandages, “I
was afraid he might bleed to death, but I don’t
think there is any fear of that now, for I have made
a real job of it.” Then advancing with the
horrid tumour in his hands he showed it in triumph
to the crowd beneath, who groaned again and threw
themselves on to their faces. Doubtless now it
is the most sacred relic of Orofena.
When Marama came out of the anesthetic,
Bickley gave him something which sent him to sleep
for twelve hours, during all which time his people
waited beneath. This was our dangerous period,
for our difficulty was to persuade them that he was
not dead, although Bickley had assured them that he
would sleep for a time while the magic worked.
Still, I was very glad when he woke up on the following
morning, and two or three of his leading men could
see that he was alive. The rest was lengthy but
simple, consisting merely in keeping him quiet and
on a suitable diet until there was no fear of the
wound opening. We achieved it somehow with the
help of an intelligent native woman who, I suppose,
was one of his wives, and five days later were enabled
to present him healed, though rather tottery, to his
It was a great scene, which may be
imagined. They bore him away in a litter with
the native woman to watch him and another to carry
the relic preserved in a basket, and us they acclaimed
as gods. Thenceforward we had nothing to fear
in Orofena except Bastin, though this we
did not know at the time.
All this while we had been living
on our ship and growing very bored there, although
we employed the empty hours in conversation with selected
natives, thereby improving our knowledge of the language.
Bickley had the best of it, since already patients
began to arrive which occupied him. One of the
first was that man whom Tommy had bitten. He
was carried to us in an almost comatose state, suffering
apparently from the symptoms of snake poisoning.
Afterward it turned out that he conceived
Tommy to be a divine but most venomous lizard that
could make a very horrible noise, and began to suffer
as one might do from the bite of such a creature.
Nothing that Bickley could do was enough to save him
and ultimately he died in convulsions, a circumstance
that enormously enhanced Tommy’s reputation.
To tell the truth, we took advantage of it to explain
that Tommy was in fact a supernatural animal, a sort
of tame demon which only harmed people who had malevolent
intentions towards those he served or who tried to
steal any of their possessions or to intrude upon them
at inconvenient hours, especially in the dark.
So terrible was he, indeed, that even the skill of
the Great Priest, i.e., Bickley, could not avail
to save any whom once he had bitten in his rage.
Even to be barked at by him was dangerous and conveyed
a curse that might last for generations.
All this we set out when Bastin was
not there. He had wandered off, as he said, to
look for shells, but as we knew, to practise religious
orations in the Polynesian tongue with the waves for
audience, as Demosthenes is said to have done to perfect
himself as a political orator. Personally I admit
that I relied more on the terrors of Tommy to safeguard
us from theft and other troubles than I did upon those
of the native taboo and the priestly oaths.
The end of it all was that we left
our ship, having padlocked up the door (the padlock,
we explained, was a magical instrument that bit worse
than Tommy), and moved inland in a kind of triumphal
procession, priests and singers going before (the
Orofenans sang extremely well) and minstrels following
after playing upon instruments like flutes, while
behind came the bearers carrying such goods as we needed.
They took us to a beautiful place in a grove of palms
on a ridge where grew many breadfruit trees, that
commanded a view of the ocean upon one side and of
the lake with the strange brown mountain top on the
other. Here in the midst of the native gardens
we found that a fine house had been built for us of
a kind of mud brick and thatched with palm leaves,
surrounded by a fenced courtyard of beaten earth and
having wide overhanging verandahs; a very comfortable
place indeed in that delicious climate. In it
we took up our abode, visiting the ship occasionally
to see that all was well there, and awaiting events.
For Bickley these soon began to happen
in the shape of an ever-increasing stream of patients.
The population of the island was considerable, anything
between five and ten thousand, so far as we could
judge, and among these of course there were a number
of sick. Ophthalmia, for instance, was a prevalent
disease, as were the growths such as Marama had suffered
from, to say nothing of surgical cases and those resulting
from accident or from nervous ailments. With all
of these Bickley was called upon to deal, which he
did with remarkable success by help of his books on
Tropical Diseases and his ample supplies of medical
At first he enjoyed it very much,
but when we had been established in the house for
about three weeks he remarked, after putting in a solid
ten hours of work, that for all the holiday he was
getting he might as well be back at his old practice,
with the difference that there he was earning several
thousands a year. Just then a poor woman arrived
with a baby in convulsions to whose necessities he
was obliged to sacrifice his supper, after which came
a man who had fallen from a palm tree and broken his
Nor did I escape, since having somehow
or other established a reputation for wisdom, as soon
as I had mastered sufficient of the language, every
kind of knotty case was laid before me for decision.
In short, I became a sort of Chief Justice not
an easy office as it involved the acquirement of the
native law which was intricate and peculiar, especially
in matrimonial cases.
At these oppressive activities Bastin
looked on with a gloomy eye.
“You fellows seem very busy,”
he said one evening; “but I can find nothing
to do. They don’t seem to want me, and merely
to set a good example by drinking water or tea while
you swallow whisky and their palm wine, or whatever
it is, is very negative kind of work, especially as
I am getting tired of planting things in the garden
and playing policeman round the wreck which nobody
goes near. Even Tommy is better off, for at least
he can bark and hunt rats.”
“You see,” said Bickley,
“we are following our trades. Arbuthnot
is a lawyer and acts as a judge. I am a surgeon
and I may add a general a very general practitioner
and work at medicine in an enormous and much-neglected
practice. Therefore, you, being a clergyman, should
go and do likewise. There are some ten thousand
people here, but I do not observe that as yet you
have converted a single one.”
Thus spoke Bickley in a light and
unguarded moment with his usual object of what is
known as “getting a rise” out of Bastin.
Little did he guess what he was doing.
Bastin thought a while ponderously, then said:
“It is very strange from what
peculiar sources Providence sometimes sends inspirations.
If wisdom flows from babes and sucklings, why should
it not do so from the well of agnostics and mockers?”
“There is no reason which I
can see,” scoffed Bickley, “except that
as a rule wells do not flow.”
“Your jest is ill-timed and
I may add foolish,” continued Bastin. “What
I was about to add was that you have given me an idea,
as it was no doubt intended that you should do.
I will, metaphorically speaking, gird up my loins
and try to bear the light into all this heathen blackness.”
“Then it is one of the first
you ever had, old fellow. But what’s the
need of girding up your loins in this hot climate?”
inquired Bickley with innocence. “Pyjamas
and that white and green umbrella of yours would do
just as well.”
Bastin vouchsafed no reply and sat
for the rest of that evening plunged in deep thought.
On the following morning he approached
Marama and asked his leave to teach the people about
the gods. The chief readily granted this, thinking,
I believe, that he alluded to ourselves, and orders
were issued accordingly. They were to the effect
that Bastin was to be allowed to go everywhere unmolested
and to talk to whom he would about what he would,
to which all must listen with respect.
Thus he began his missionary career
in Orofena, working at it, good and earnest man that
he was, in a way that excited even the admiration of
Bickley. He started a school for children, which
was held under a fine, spreading tree. These
listened well, and being of exceedingly quick intellect
soon began to pick up the elements of knowledge.
But when he tried to persuade them to clothe their
little naked bodies his failure was complete, although
after much supplication some of the bigger girls did
arrive with a chaplet of flowers round their
Also he preached to the adults, and
here again was very successful in a way, especially
after he became more familiar with the language.
They listened; to a certain extent they understood;
they argued and put to poor Bastin the most awful
questions such as the whole Bench of Bishops could
not have answered. Still he did answer them somehow,
and they politely accepted his interpretation of their
theological riddles. I observed that he got on
best when he was telling them stories out of the Old
Testament, such as the account of the creation of the
world and of human beings, also of the Deluge, etc.
Indeed one of their elders said Yes, this
was quite true. They had heard it all before from
their fathers, and that once the Deluge had taken place
round Orofena, swallowing up great countries, but
sparing them because they were so good.
Bastin, surprised, asked them who
had caused the deluge. They replied, Oro which
was the name of their god, Oro who dwelt yonder on
the mountain in the lake, and whose representation
they worshipped in idols. He said that God dwelt
in Heaven, to which they replied with calm certainty:
“No, no, he dwells on the mountain
in the lake,” which was why they never dared
to approach that mountain.
Indeed it was only by giving the name
Oro to the Divinity and admitting that He might dwell
in the mountain as well as everywhere else, that Bastin
was able to make progress. Having conceded this,
not without scruples, however, he did make considerable
progress, so much, in fact, that I perceived that
the priests of Oro were beginning to grow very jealous
of him and of his increasing authority with the people.
Bastin was naturally triumphant, and even exclaimed
exultingly that within a year he would have half of
the population baptised.
“Within a year, my dear fellow,”
said Bickley, “you will have your throat cut
as a sacrifice, and probably ours also. It is
a pity, too, as within that time I should have stamped
out ophthalmia and some other diseases in the island.”
Here, leaving Bastin and his good
work aside for a while, I will say a little about
the country. From information which I gathered
on some journeys that I made and by inquiries from
the chief Marama, who had become devoted to us, I
found that Orofena was quite a large place. In
shape the island was circular, a broad band of territory
surrounding the great lake of which I have spoken,
that in its turn surrounded a smaller island from
which rose the mountain top. No other land was
known to be near the shores of Orofena, which had
never been visited by anyone except the strangers
a hundred years ago or so, who were sacrificed and
eaten. Most of the island was covered with forest
which the inhabitants lacked the energy, and indeed
had no tools, to fell. They were an extremely
lazy people and would only cultivate enough bananas
and other food to satisfy their immediate needs.
In truth they lived mostly upon breadfruit and other
products of the wild trees.
Thus it came about that in years of
scarcity through drought or climatic causes, which
prevented the forest trees from bearing, they suffered
very much from hunger. In such years hundreds
of them would perish and the remainder resorted to
the dreadful expedient of cannibalism. Sometimes,
too, the shoals of fish avoided their shores, reducing
them to great misery. Their only domestic animal
was the pig which roamed about half wild and in no
great numbers, for they had never taken the trouble
to breed it in captivity. Their resources, therefore,
were limited, which accounted for the comparative smallness
of the population, further reduced as it was by a
wicked habit of infanticide practised in order to
lighten the burden of bringing up children.
They had no traditions as to how they
reached this land, their belief being that they had
always been there but that their forefathers were
much greater than they. They were poetical, and
sang songs in a language which themselves they could
not understand; they said that it was the tongue their
forefathers had spoken. Also they had several
strange customs of which they did not know the origin.
My own opinion, which Bickley shared, was that they
were in fact a shrunken and deteriorated remnant of
some high race now coming to its end through age and
inter-breeding. About them indeed, notwithstanding
their primitive savagery which in its qualities much
resembled that of other Polynesians, there was a very
curious air of antiquity. One felt that they
had known the older world and its mysteries, though
now both were forgotten. Also their language,
which in time we came to speak perfectly, was copious,
musical, and expressive in its idioms.
One circumstance I must mention.
In walking about the country I observed all over it
enormous holes, some of them measuring as much as a
hundred yards across, with a depth of fifty feet or
more, and this not on alluvial lands although there
traces of them existed also, but in solid rock.
What this rock was I do not know as none of us were
geologists, but it seemed to me to partake of the
nature of granite. Certainly it was not coral
like that on and about the coast, but of a primeval
When I asked Marama what caused these
holes, he only shrugged his shoulders and said he
did not know, but their fathers had declared that
they were made by stones falling from heaven.
This, of course, suggested meteorites to my mind.
I submitted the idea to Bickley, who, in one of his
rare intervals of leisure, came with me to make an
“If they were meteorites,”
he said, “of which a shower struck the earth
in some past geological age, all life must have been
destroyed by them and their remains ought to exist
at the bottom of the holes. To me they look more
like the effect of high explosives, but that, of course,
is impossible, though I don’t know what else
could have caused such craters.”
Then he went back to his work, for
nothing that had to do with antiquity interested Bickley
very much. The present and its problems were enough
for him, he would say, who neither had lived in the
past nor expected to have any share in the future.
As I remained curious I made an opportunity
to scramble to the bottom of one of these craters,
taking with me some of the natives with their wooden
tools. Here I found a good deal of soil either
washed down from the surface or resulting from the
decomposition of the rock, though oddly enough in
it nothing grew. I directed them to dig.
After a while to my astonishment there appeared a
corner of a great worked stone quite unlike that of
the crater, indeed it seemed to me to be a marble.
Further examination showed that this block was most
beautifully carved in bas-relief, apparently with
a design of leaves and flowers. In the disturbed
soil also I picked up a life-sized marble hand of a
woman exquisitely finished and apparently broken from
a statue that might have been the work of one of the
great Greek sculptors. Moreover, on the third
finger of this hand was a representation of a ring
whereof, unfortunately, the bezel had been destroyed.
I put the hand in my pocket, but as
darkness was coming on, I could not pursue the research
and disinter the block. When I wished to return
the next day, I was informed politely by Marama that
it would not be safe for me to do so as the priests
of Oro declared that if I sought to meddle with the
“buried things the god would grow angry and bring
disaster on me.”
When I persisted he said that at least
I must go alone since no native would accompany me,
and added earnestly that he prayed me not to go.
So to my great regret and disappointment I was obliged
to give up the idea.