Read CHAPTER VII of Two Years with the Natives in the Western Pacific , free online book, by Felix Speiser, on ReadCentral.com.

SANTO

There are hardly any natives left in the south of the Bay of St. Philip and St. James, generally called Big Bay. Only to the north of Talamacco there are a few villages, in which the remnants of a once numerous population, mostly converts of the Presbyterian mission, have collected. It is a very mixed crowd, without other organization than that which the mission has created, and that is not much. There are a few chiefs, but they have even less authority than elsewhere, and the feeling of solidarity is lacking entirely, so that I have hardly ever found a colony where there was so much intrigue, immorality and quarrelling. A few years ago the population had been kept in order by a Presbyterian missionary of the stern and cruel type; but he had been recalled, and his place was taken by a man quite unable to cope with the lawlessness of the natives, so that every vice developed freely, and murders were more frequent than in heathen districts. Matters were not improved by the antagonism between the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian missions and the traders; each worked against the others, offering the natives the best of opportunities to fish in troubled waters. The result of all this was a rapid decrease of the population and frequent artificial sterility. The primitive population has disappeared completely in some places, and is only to be found in any numbers far inland among the western mountains. The situation is a little better in the north, where we find a number of flourishing villages along the coast around Cape Cumberland.

The nearest village to Talamacco was Tapapa. Sanitary conditions there were most disheartening, as at least half of the inhabitants were leprous, and most of them suffered from tuberculosis or elephantiasis. I saw hardly any children, so that the village will shortly disappear, like so many others.

Native customs along the coast are much the same as at Port Olry, but less primitive, and the houses are better built. There is wood-carving, or was. I found the doorposts of old gamals beautifully carved, and plates prettily decorated; but these were all antiques, and nothing of the kind is made at the present day.

The race, however, is quite different from that around Port Olry. There are two distinct types: one, Melanesian, dark, tall or short, thin, curly-haired, with a broad nose and a brutal expression; and one that shows distinct traces of Polynesian blood in its finer face, a larger body, which is sometimes fat, light skin and frequently straight hair. Just where this Polynesian element comes from it is hard to say, but the islands in general are very favourable to race-mixture along the coasts. As I said before, the Melanesian type shows two distinct varieties, a tall dark one, and a short light one. At first I did not realize the significance of the latter until I became aware of the existence of a negroid element, of which I saw clear traces. The two varieties, however, are much intermingled, and the resulting blends have mixed with the Polynesian-Melanesian type, so that the number of types is most confusing, and it will be hard to determine the properties of the original one.

Finding little of interest in the immediate surroundings of Talamacco, I determined to make an excursion into the interior of the island. Mr. F. put his foreman, or moli, at my disposal, and he engaged my bearers, made himself useful during the trip in superintending the boys, and proved valuable in every way, as he was never afraid, and was known to nearly all the inland chiefs.

After a rainy spell of six weeks we had a clear day at last; and although the weather could not be taken into consideration when making my plans, still, the bright sunshine created that happy and expectant sensation which belongs to the beginning of a journey. The monthly steamer had arrived the day before, had shipped a little coprah, and brought some provisions for the trader and myself. I had completed my preparations, engaged my boys and was ready to start.

In the white glare of a damp morning we pulled from the western shore of Big Bay to the mouth of the Jordan River. The boat was cramped and overloaded, and we were all glad to jump ashore after a row of several hours. The boys carried the luggage ashore and pulled the boat up into the bush with much noise and laughter. Then we settled down in the shade for our first meal, cooking being an occupation of which the boys are surprisingly fond. Their rations are rice and tea, with a tin of meat for every four. This discussed, we packed up, and began our march inland.

The road leads through a thin bush, over rough coral boulders and gravel deposited by the river. We leave the Jordan to our right, and march south-east. After about an hour we come to a swampy plain, covered with tall reed-grass. Grassy plains are an unusual sight in Santo; the wide expanse of yellowish green is surrounded by dark walls of she-oak, in the branches of which hang thousands of flying-foxes. At a dirty pond we fill our kettles with greenish water, for our night camp will be on the mountain slope ahead of us, far from any spring. Even the moli has to carry a load of water, as I can hardly ask the boys to take any more. He feels rather humiliated, as a moli usually carries nothing but a gun, but he is good enough to see the necessity of the case, and condescends to carry a small kettle.

Straight ahead are the high coral plateaux across which our road lies. While we tackle the ascent, the sky has become overcast, the gay aspect of the landscape has changed to sad loneliness and a heavy shower soaks us to the skin. The walk through the jungle is trying, and even the moli loses the way now and again. Towards nightfall we enter a high forest with but little underbrush, and work our way slowly up a steep and slippery slope to an overhanging coral rock, where we decide to camp. We have lost our way, but as night is closing in fast, we cannot venture any farther.

The loads are thrown to the ground in disorder, and the boys drop down comfortably; strong language on my part is needed before they make up their minds to pile up the luggage, collect wood and begin to cook. Meanwhile my own servant has prepared my bed and dried my clothes. Soon it is quite dark, the boys gather round the fires, and do not dare to go into the yawning darkness any more, for fear of ghosts.

The rain has ceased, and the soft damp night air hangs in the trees. The firelight is absorbed by the darkness, and only the nearest surroundings shine in its red glare; the boys are stretched out in queer attitudes round the fire on the hard rocks. Soon I turn out the lamp and lie listening to the night, where vague life and movement creeps through the trunks. Sometimes a breath of wind shivers through the trees, shaking heavy drops from the leaves. A wild pig grunts, moths and insects circle round the fires, and thousands of mosquitoes hum about my net and sing me to sleep. Once in a while I am roused by the breaking of a rotten tree, or a mournful cry from one of the dreaming boys; or one of them wakes up, stirs the fire, turns over and snores on. Long before daybreak a glorious concert of birds welcomes the new day. Half asleep, I watch the light creep across the sky, while the bush is still in utter darkness; suddenly, like a bugle-call, the first sunbeams strike the trees and it is broad day.

Chilly and stiff, the boys get up and crowd round the fires. As we have no more water there is no tea, and breakfast is reduced to dry biscuits. The moli has found the lost trail by this time, and we continue the ascent. On the plateau we again strike nearly impenetrable bush, and lose the trail again, so that after a few hours’ hard work with the knives we have to retrace our steps for quite a distance. It is a monotonous climb, varied only by an occasional shot at a wild pig and fair sport with pigeons. Happily for the thirsty boys, we strike a group of bamboos, which yield plenty of water. All that is needed is to cut the joint of the stems, and out of each section flows a pint of clear water, which the boys collect by holding their huge mouths under the opening. Their clothes are soaked, but their thirst is satisfied and our kettles filled for the midday meal.

Presently we pass a native “camp” under an overhanging rock: it consists of a few parallel sticks, on which the native sleeps as well as any European on a spring-mattress, and a hollow in the ground, with a number of cooking-stones.

After a stiff climb we stop for our meal, then follow a path which gradually widens and improves, a sign that we are nearing a village. Towards evening we come to some gardens, where the natives plant their yam and taro. At the entrance of the village I make my boys close up ranks; although the natives are not supposed to be hostile, my people show signs of uneasiness, keeping close together and carrying the few weapons we have very conspicuously.

We cross the village square to the gamal, a simple place, as they all are, with a door about a yard from the ground, in order to keep out the pigs which roam all over the village. In line with the front of the house is a row of tall bamboo posts, wound with vines; their hollow interior is filled with yam and taro, the remains of a great feast. The village seems quite deserted, and we peep cautiously into the interior of the gamal, where, after a while, we discern a man, lying on the damp and dirty ground, who stares at us in silent fright. He gets up and comes slowly out, and we can see that he has lost half of one foot from leprosy. From him the moli learns that the two chiefs are away at a great “sing-sing,” and the rest of the men in the fields or in their wives’ houses. There is nothing for us to do but sit down and wait, and be sniffed at by pigs, barked at by dogs and annoyed by fowls. The moli beats vigorously on one of the wooden drums that lie in the mud in front of the house. He has his own signal, which most of the natives know, so that all the country round is soon informed of his arrival.

One by one the men arrive, strolling towards the gamal as if unconscious of our presence; some of them greet one or the other of my boys whom they have met when visiting at the shore. Nearly all of them are sick with leprosy or elephantiasis or tuberculosis, and after the long rainy period they all have colds and coughs and suffer from rheumatism; altogether they present a sad picture of degeneration and misery, and there are few healthy men to be seen.

My luggage is taken into the gamal, and I order the boys to buy and prepare food, whereupon the natives hurry away and fetch a quantity of supplies: pigs, fowls, yam, taro, of which I buy a large stock, paying in matches and tobacco. There are also eggs, which, I am assured, are delicious; but this is according to native taste, which likes eggs best when half hatched. While the boys are cooking, I spend the time in measuring the villagers. At first they are afraid of the shiny, pointed instruments, but the tobacco they receive, after submitting to the operation, dispels their fears. The crowd sits round us on the ground, increasing the uneasiness of my victims by sarcastic remarks.

Meanwhile, the women have arrived, and crouch in two groups at the end of the square, which they are forbidden to enter. There are about twenty of them, not many for nearly fifty men, but I see only three or four babies, and many faded figures and old-looking girls of coarse and virile shape, the consequence of premature abuse and artificial sterility. But they chat away quite cheerfully, giggle, wonder, clap their hands, and laugh, taking hold of each other, and rocking to and fro.

At last the two chiefs arrive, surprisingly tall and well-built men, with long beards carefully groomed, and big mops of hair. Like all the men, they are dressed in a piece of calico that hangs down in front, and a branch of croton behind. They have big bracelets, and wear the curved tusks of pigs on their wrists. There is just time before nightfall to take their measures and photographs, then I retire into the gamal for my supper, during which I am closely observed by the entire male population. They make remarks about the spoons and the Worcester sauce, and when I put sugar into my tea, they whisper to each other, “Salt!” which idea is almost enough to spoil one’s appetite, only the delicious roast sucking-pig is too tempting.

My toilet for the night is watched with the same attention; then, while I am still reading on my bed, the men seek their couches in the long, low house. They stir up all the fires, which smoke terribly, then they lie down on their bamboo beds, my boys among them, and talk and talk till they fall asleep, a houseful of leprous and consumptive men, who cough and groan all night.

In front of me, near the entrance, is the chiefs place. He spends a long time in preparing his kava, and drinks it noisily. Kava is a root which is ground with a piece of sharp coral; the fibres are then mixed with water, which is contained in a long bamboo, and mashed to a soft pulp; the liquid is then squeezed out, strained through a piece of cocoa-nut bark into a cocoa-nut bowl and drunk. The liquid has a muddy, thick appearance, tastes like soapy water, stings like peppermint and acts as a sleeping-draught. In Santo only chiefs are allowed to drink kava.

At first, innumerable dogs disturbed my sleep, and towards morning it grew very cold. When I came out of the hut, the morning sun was just getting the better of the mist, and spreading a cheery light over the square, which had looked dismal enough under a grey, rainy sky. I made all the women gather on the outskirts of the square to be measured and photographed. They were very bashful, and I almost pitied them, for the whole male population sat around making cruel remarks about them; indeed, if it had not been for the chiefs explicit orders, they would all have run away. They were not a very pleasant spectacle, on the whole. I was struck by the tired, suffering expression of even the young girls, a hopeless and uninterested look, in contradiction with their lively behaviour when unobserved. For they are natural and happy only when among themselves, and in the presence of the men they feel that they are under the eye of their master, often a brutal master, whose property they are. Probably they are hardly conscious of this, and take their position and destiny as a matter of course; but they are constrained in the presence of their owners, knowing that at any moment they may be displeased or angry, for any reason or for none, and may ill-treat or even kill them. Aside from these considerations their frightened awkwardness was extremely funny, especially when posing before the camera. Some could not stand straight, others twisted their arms and legs into impossible positions. The idea of a profile view seemed particularly strange to them, and they always presented either their back or their front view. The poor things got more and more nervous, the men roared, I was desperate, altogether it was rather unsatisfactory.

I was in need of more bearers to carry the provisions I had bought, and the chiefs were quite willing to supply them; but their orders had absolutely no effect on the men, who were too lazy, and I should have been in an awkward position had not one of the chiefs hit on the expedient of employing his women. They obeyed without a moment’s hesitation; each took a heavy load of yam, all but the favourite wife, the only pretty one of the number; her load was small, but she had to clear the trail, walking at the head of the procession.

The women led the way, chatting and giggling, patient and steady as mules, and as sure-footed and supple. Nothing stops them; with a heavy load on their heads they walk over fallen trunks, wade through ditches, twist through vines, putting out a hand every now and then to feel whether the bunch of leaves at their back is in place. They were certainly no beauties, but there was a charm in their light, soft step, in the swaying of their hips, in the dainty poise of their slim ankles and feet, and the softness and harmony of all their movements. And the light playing on their dark, velvety, shining bodies increased this charm, until one almost forgot the many defects, the dirt, the sores, the disease. This pleasant walk in the cool, dewy forest, under the bright leaves, did not last long, and after two hours’ tramp we reached our destination.

At the edge of the square the women sat down beside their loads, and were soon joined by the women of the village. Our hostesses were at once informed of every detail of our outfit, our food and our doings, and several dozen pairs of big dark eyes followed our every movement. The women were all quite sure that I was a great doctor and magician, and altogether a dangerous man, and this belief was not at all favourable to my purposes.

We men soon withdrew to the gamal, where the men likewise had to be informed of everything relating to our doings and character. The gamal was low and dirty, and the state of health of the inhabitants still worse than in the first village, but at least there were a few more babies than elsewhere. The chief suffered from a horrible boil in his loin, which he poulticed with chewed leaves, and the odour was so unbearable that I had to leave the house and sit down outside, where I was surrounded by many lepers, without toes or even feet, a very dismal sight.

I now paid my carriers the wages agreed upon, but they claimed that I ought to pay the men extra, although their services had been included in the price. I took this for one of the tricks by which the natives try to get the better of a good-natured foreigner, and refused flatly, whereupon the whole crowd sat down in front of the house and waited in defiant silence. I left them there for half an hour, during which they whispered and deliberated in rather an uncomfortable way. I finally told them that I would not pay any more, and that they had better go away at once. The interpreter said they were waiting for the chiefs to get through with something they had to talk over, and they stayed on a while longer. My refusal may have been a mistake, and there may really have been a misunderstanding, at any rate, I had to suffer for my unyielding way, inasmuch as the behaviour of our hosts immediately changed from talkative hospitality and childish curiosity to dull silence and suspicious reticence. The people sat around us, sullen and silent, and would not help us in any way, refused to bring firewood or show us the water-hole, and seemed most anxious to get rid of us. Under these circumstances it was useless to try to do any of my regular work, and I had to spend an idle and unpleasant afternoon. At last I induced a young fellow to show me the way to a high plateau near by, from which I had a beautiful view across trees to the east coast of the island, with the sea in a blue mist far away. As my guide, consumptive like all the others, was quite out of breath with our short walk, I soon had to return, and I paid him well. This immediately changed the attitude of all the rest. Their sullenness disappeared, they came closer, began to talk, and at last we spent the afternoon in comparative friendship, and I could attend to my business.

But the consequences of my short visit to the gamal became very noticeable. In my hat I found a flourishing colony of horrid bug-like insects; my pockets were alive, my camera was full of them, they had crawled into my shoes, my books, my luggage, they were crawling, flying, dancing everywhere. Perfectly disgusted, I threw off all my clothes, and had my boys shake and clean out every piece. For a week I had to have everything cleaned at least once a day, and even then I found the loathsome creatures in every fold, under straps, in pouches.

On that afternoon I had a great success as an artist. My drawings of pigs, trees and men went the rounds and were quite immoderately admired, and preserved as we would a sketch of Holbein’s. These drawings have to be done as simply as possible and fairly large, else the natives do not understand them. They consider every line essential, and do not understand shadows or any impressionistic treatment. We must remember that in our civilized art we work with many symbols, some of which have but a vague resemblance to the object they represent, whose meaning we know, while the savage does not. This was the reason why I had often no success at all with what I considered masterpieces, while the natives went into raptures over drawings I thought utter failures. At any rate, they made me quite a popular person.

The sick chief complained to me that a late wife of his had been poisoned, and as he took me for a great “witch-doctor,” he asked me to find out the murderer. To the native, sickness or death is not natural, but always the consequence of witchcraft, either on the part of enemies or spirits. The terribly high death-rate in the last years makes it seem all the more probable that mysterious influences are at work, and the native suspects enemies everywhere, whom he tries to render harmless by killing them. This leads to endless murders and vendettas, which decimate the population nearly as much as the diseases do. The natives know probably something about poisons, but they are always poisons that have to be mixed with food, and this is not an easy thing to do, as every native prepares his food himself. Most of the dreaded poisons are therefore simply charms, stones or other objects, which would be quite harmless in themselves, but become capable of killing by the mere terror they inspire in the victim. If the belief in these charms could be destroyed, a great deal of the so-called poisoning would cease, and it may be a good policy to deny the existence of poison, even at the risk of letting a murderer go unpunished. I therefore felt justified in playing a little comedy, all the more, as I was sure that the woman had died of consumption, and I promised the chief my assistance for the next morning.

I had my bed made in the open air; even the boys would not enter the dirty house any more, and we slept well under the open sky, in spite of the pigs that grunted around us and the dew that fell like rain.

Next day the chief called all the men together; he was convinced that I could see through every one of them and tell who had done any wrong. So he made them all sit round me, and I looked very solemnly at each through the finder of my camera, the chief watching carefully to see that I did not omit any one. The men felt uneasy, but did not quite know what to make of the whole performance. I naturally could not find anything wrong, and told the chief so, but he was not satisfied, and shook his head doubtfully. Then I talked to him seriously and tried to convince him that everyone had to die once, and that sickness was something natural, especially considering the filth in which they lived; but I do not think my speech made much impression.

The men had now become very suspicious, the women were away, and I had great trouble in finding bearers and guides to the next village. A pleasant march brought us to this settlement, whose houses were close together in a big clearing. We were received very coolly by the chief and a few men. My bearers and guides would not be induced to accompany us farther, so that I had to ask for boys here; but the chief said he had not a single able-bodied man, which I felt to be mere excuse. I also noticed that my own boys were very dissatisfied and sullen, and that something was in the wind. In order to raise their spirits, and not to leave our yam provisions behind, I had them cook the midday meal, but the sullen, threatening atmosphere remained the same. When it was time to continue our march, I heard them grumble and complain about their loads, and it all looked like rising mutiny. I was ahead with the chief, who had consented to show us the way, when the moli came after me and informed me that the boys were unwilling to go on, that they were afraid to go farther inland and were ready to throw their loads away. Later on I learned that two of the boys had tried to bribe some natives to show them the road back to the coast and leave me alone with the moli. I assembled the boys and made them a speech, saying that their loads were not too heavy nor the marches too long, that they were all free to return home, but would have to take the consequences, and that I and the moli would go on without them. If they liked, I said, they could throw away their tinned meats, I did not care, and the two bottles of grog were not meant for me, and we could easily spare those. I grasped the bottles and offered to smash them, but that was too much for the boys; half crying, they begged me not to do that: the bottles were not too heavy, and they would gladly carry them as far as I liked. Hesitatingly I allowed myself to be persuaded, and kindly desisted from the work of destruction. I had won, but I had lost confidence in my boys, and was careful not to put their patience and fidelity to any more tests, conscious as I was of how much depended on their goodwill. After this episode they accomplished a long and tiresome march, up and down through thick bush on slippery clay, quite willingly. In the evening we reached a few huts in a clearing at a height of about 1200 feet, and went into camp for the night.

While cooking, we heard dismal howling and weeping from a neighbouring hut; it was a woman mourning her husband, who had been dead ninety-nine days. To-morrow, on the hundredth day, there was to be a death-feast, to which all the neighbours were invited. Of course, this man, too, had been poisoned.

The fire of revolt was smouldering in my boys. They sat round the camp-fire in groups, whispering and plotting, grumbling and undecided; but I felt safe enough, as they were evidently divided into two parties, one faithful and the other mutinous, and the former seemed rather more influential. They proved their goodwill to me by delightful servility, and took excellent care of me.

Next morning we were wakened by the howls of the unhappy widow, and soon the guests appeared, some from far off, and all bringing contributions to the feast. They killed several pigs, and while the men cut them up in a manner rather more clever than appetizing, the women prepared the fires by lighting large quantities of wood to heat the cooking-stones. This lasted several hours. Meanwhile, every person present received his share of a half-rotten smoked pig, of the freshly killed pigs, yam, taro and sweet potatoes. The women took the entrails of the pigs, squeezed them out, rolled them up in banana leaves, and made them ready for cooking. When the fire was burnt down they took out half of the stones with forks of split bamboo, and then piled up the food in the hole, first the fruit, then the meat, so that the grease should run over the fruit; then the hole was covered with banana leaves, the hot stones piled on top and covered with more leaves. Food cooked in this way is done in three or four hours, so that the “stoves” are usually opened in the afternoon, and enormous quantities eaten on the spot, while the rest is put in baskets to take home. The amount a native can eat at one sitting is tremendous, and one can actually watch their stomachs swell as the meal proceeds. Violent indigestion is generally the consequence of such a feast. On the whole, no one seemed to be thinking much of the dead man in whose honour it was given, such things are said to happen in civilized countries as well.

I stayed in this village for another day, and many chiefs from the neighbourhood came to consult me, always complaining of the one thing poison. Each secretly accused the others, each wanted me to try my glass on all the others. I did not like my reputation of being a magician at all, as it made the people still more suspicious of me and more afraid of my instruments and my camera.

These so-called chiefs were rather more intelligent than the average. Most of them had worked for whites at one time, and learned to speak pidgin-English; but they were as superstitious as anyone else, and certainly greater rogues. They were naked and dirty, but some had retained some traces of civilization, one, for instance, always took off his old felt hat very politely, and made quite a civilized bow; he must have been in Nouméa in former days.

There was no leprosy or elephantiasis here, but a great deal of tuberculosis, and very few children, and nearly all the men complained that their women were unwilling to have any more children.

From the next village I had a glimpse of the wild mountains of western Santo. I decided to spend the night here, left the boys behind, and went southward with the moli and a few natives. This was evidently the region where the volcanic and coral formations meet, for the character of the landscape suddenly changed, and instead of flat plateaux we found a wild, irregular country, with lofty hills and deep, narrow gullies. Walking became dangerous, though the path was fair. On top of a hill I found an apparently abandoned village, from which I could overlook all central Santo. To the west were the rugged, dark-looking mountains round Santo Peak, with white clouds floating on the summit, and a confusion of deep blue valleys and steep peaks; northward lay the wild Jordan valley, and far away I could distinguish the silver mirror of Big Bay. All around us rose the silent, stern, lonely forest imposing, unapproachable.

On our way back to camp we rested beside a fresh creek which gaily squeezed its way through rocks and rich vegetation. A little tea and a tin of sardines were all the menu, but we enjoyed a delightful bath in the cool water, and had as good a wash as we could without soap. It was a great luxury after the hot days in the coral country without any water. While our things were drying in the bright sun, we lay in the moss near the rushing stream, and it was like a summer day at home in the mountains. The water sounded familiar, the soft, cool breeze was the same, and while I lay watching the white clouds through the bright foliage I dreamt of home. At home I had dreamt of travel, and thus one wish follows the other and the soul is preserved from lazy content. I almost fancied I heard the sound of bells and the far-away lowing of cattle. And again the reality seemed like a dream when I roused myself and saw the dark figures crouching on the rocks, with their frizzy mops of hair and their Sniders on their knees.

The village turned out to be too dirty to spend the night in, and I decided to go to one which seemed quite near, just across a gully. Had I known what an undertaking it would be, I would not have started, for the ravine was very deep and the sides unpleasantly steep; but my boys managed the descent, over rocks and fallen trees, with their usual cleverness. At the bottom we were rewarded by a beautiful sight. Beneath us, in a narrow cut it had eaten through the rock, roared a river, foaming out of the depths of the dark wilderness. It was like one of the celebrated gorges in the Alps, only the tropical vegetation which hung in marvellous richness and variety over the abyss gave a fairy-like aspect to the scene. The boys did not seem to appreciate it in the least, and prepared, sighing, for the steep ascent. A simple bridge led across the gully; it was made of a few trees, and even provided with a railing in the shape of a vine. The existence of this bridge surprised me very much; for, considering the thoughtless egotism with which the natives pass through life, I had thought them incapable of any work of public utility. They rarely think of repairing a road or cutting a vine, nor do they remove trees that may have fallen across the path, but always rely on others to see to it.

The second village was not much cleaner than the first, but we camped there, and the next day I went with the moli and a few of my boys to the western mountains. The natives warned us, saying that the people were “no good” and would kill us. But, for one thing, I could not see that they themselves were particularly “good,” and, for another, I knew that all natives consider other tribes especially dangerous; so I stuck to my intention, only we hung all our available weapons about us, leaving the rest of the boys defenceless.

This turned out one of the most strenuous days I ever had in the islands, as the road and what a road! constantly led up and down the steepest slopes. It seemed to me we were climbing perpendicular mountains all day long, and I had many an opportunity of admiring the agility of my companions. I am a fair walker myself, but I had to crawl on my hands and knees in many spots where they jumped from a stone to a root, taking firm hold with their toes, never using their hands, never slipping, and always with a loaded and cocked rifle on their shoulders. My boys from the coast, good pedestrians though they were, always remained far behind.

First we reached well-tended taro fields, then a few scattered huts. The natives received us very kindly, and more men kept joining us, till we formed a big, jolly crowd. The population here seemed very primitive, and evidently had but little contact with the shore, but they were clean and comparatively healthy and flourishing, and I found them rather more frank, childlike and confiding than others I had seen.

We roasted our yam, and while we were enjoying our frugal but delicious meal, I witnessed rather an amusing episode. A bushman, painted black for mourning, suddenly called to one of my boys, and wanted to shake hands with him. My boy, a respectable “schoolboy,” was visibly annoyed by the idea of having anything to do with a naked “man-bush,” and behaved with icy reserve; but he could not long resist the rural cordiality of the other, and presently resigned himself to his fate, and made friends. It turned out that they had once worked together in Vila, and one had become an elegant young swell, while the other returned to simple country life.

On the way back we rested by the river-bank, amusing ourselves by shooting pigeons with pistols and guns, feeling quite peaceful and happy. But the sound of our shots had an unexpected effect in the village where I had left the rest of my boys. All the natives jumped to their feet, shouting, “Did we not tell you that they would kill your master? Now you have heard them; he is dead, and now we will see what you have in your boxes and divide it among ourselves.”

They approached my boys threateningly, whereupon they all ran away, with the exception of the ringleader of the mutineers of the last few days, who sat down on the box containing the trading-stock and said they had better go and see whether I was really dead before plundering my luggage. The situation must have grown rather strained, until some one had the good sense to go and look out for us, whereupon he saw us sitting peacefully near the river below. This calmed the natives, they withdrew, much disappointed, and my boys returned and prepared everything for my arrival with remarkable zeal. I found dry clothes ready, and tea boiling, and was quite touched by so much thoughtfulness. I was not told of the day’s occurrence till after my return to the coast, and perhaps it was just as well.

By this time I had seen a good part of south-east Santo, and I was eager to visit the south-west, with Santo Peak. But without guides and with marked symptoms of home-sickness on the part of my boys, I decided it would not be wise to attempt it. The news that we were going to start for home revived the boys at once. With enormous alacrity they packed up next day and raced homeward with astonishing speed and endurance; I had had to drag them along before, now I could hardly keep up with them. In two days we had reached the plain of the Jordan, had a delightful swim and a jolly last night in camp, free from pigs, dogs, fowls, fleas and bugs, but not from mosquitoes!

The last day we strolled in and along the river, through the forest swarming with wild pigs and pigeons, while a huge colony of flying-foxes circled in the air, forming an actual cloud, and then we came to the shore, with the wide expanse of Big Bay peaceful in the evening sun. A painful walk on the sharp pebbles of the beach brought us home towards nightfall.