NEAR a month went by without much doing. The same night of our marriage Galoshes called round, and made himself mighty civil, and got into a habit of dropping in about dark and smoking his pipe with the family. He could talk to Uma, of course, and started to teach me native and French at the same time. He was a kind old buffer, though the dirtiest you would wish to see, and he muddled me up with foreign languages worse than the tower of Babel.
That was one employment we had, and it made me feel less lonesome; but there was no profit in the thing, for though the priest came and sat and yarned, none of his folks could be enticed into my store; and if it hadn’t been for the other occupation I struck out, there wouldn’t have been a pound of copra in the house. This was the idea: Fa’avao (Uma’s mother) had a score of bearing trees. Of course we could get no labour, being all as good as tabooed, and the two women and I turned to and made copra with our own hands. It was copra to make your mouth water when it was done — I never understood how much the natives cheated me till I had made that four hundred pounds of my own hand — and it weighed so light I felt inclined to take and water it myself.
When we were at the job a good many Kanakas used to put in the best of the day looking on, and once that nigger turned up. He stood back with the natives and laughed and did the big don and the funny dog, till I began to get riled.
“Here, you nigger!” says I.
“I don’t address myself to you, Sah,” says the nigger. “Only speak to gen’le’um.”
“I know,” says I, “but it happens I was addressing myself to you, Mr. Black Jack. And all I want to know is just this: did you see Case’s figurehead about a week ago?”
“No, Sah,” says he.
“That’s all right, then,” says I; “for I’ll show you the own brother to it, only black, in the inside of about two minutes.”
And I began to walk towards him, quite slow, and my hands down; only there was trouble in my eye, if anybody took the pains to look.
“You’re a low, obstropulous fellow, Sab,” says he.
“You bet!” says I.
By that time he thought I was about as near as convenient, and lit out so it would have done your heart good to see him travel. And that was all I saw of that precious gang until what I am about to tell you.
It was one of my chief employments these days to go pot-hunting in the woods, which I found (as Case had told me) very rich in game. I have spoken of the cape which shut up the village and my station from the east. A path went about the end of it, and led into the next bay. A strong wind blew here daily, and as the line of the barrier reef stopped at the end of the cape, a heavy surf ran on the shores of the bay. A little cliffy hill cut the valley in two parts, and stood close on the beach; and at high water the sea broke right on the face of it, so that all passage was stopped. Woody mountains hemmed the place all round; the barrier to the east was particularly steep and leafy, the lower parts of it, along the sea, falling in sheer black cliffs streaked with cinnabar; the upper part lumpy with the tops of the great trees. Some of the trees were bright green, and some red, and the sand of the beach as black as your shoes. Many birds hovered round the bay, some of them snow-white; and the flying-fox (or vampire) flew there in broad daylight, gnashing its teeth.
For a long while I came as far as this shooting, and went no farther. There was no sign of any path beyond, and the cocoa-palms in the front of the foot of the valley were the last this way. For the whole “eye” of the island, as natives call the windward end, lay desert. From Falesa round about to Papa-malulu, there was neither house, nor man, nor planted fruit-tree; and the reef being mostly absent, and the shores bluff, the sea beat direct among crags, and there was scarce a landing-place.
I should tell you that after I began to go in the woods, although no one offered to come near my store, I found people willing enough to pass the time of day with me where nobody could see them; and as I had begun to pick up native, and most of them had a word or two of English, I began to hold little odds and ends of conversation, not to much purpose to be sure, but they took off the worst of the feeling, for it’s a miserable thing to be made a leper of.
It chanced one day towards the end of the month, that I was sitting in this bay in the edge of the bush, looking east, with a Kanaka. I had given him a fill of tobacco, and we were making out to talk as best we could; indeed, he had more English than most.
I asked him if there was no road going eastward.
“One time one road,” said he. “Now he dead.”
“Nobody he go there?” I asked.
“No good,” said he. “Too much devil he stop there.”
“Oho!” says I, “got-um plenty devil, that bush?”
“Man devil, woman devil; too much devil,” said my friend. “Stop there all-e-time. Man he go there, no come back.”
I thought if this fellow was so well posted on devils and spoke of them so free, which is not common, I had better fish for a little information about myself and Uma.
“You think me one devil?” I asked.
“No think devil,” said he soothingly. “Think all-e-same fool.”
“Uma, she devil?” I asked again.
“No, no; no devil. Devil stop bush,” said the young man.
I was looking in front of me across the bay, and I saw the hanging front of the woods pushed suddenly open, and Case, with a gun in his hand, step forth into the sunshine on the black beach. He was got up in light pyjamas, near white, his gun sparkled, he looked mighty conspicuous; and the land-crabs scuttled from all round him to their holes.
“Hullo, my friend!” says I, “you no talk all-e-same true. Ese he go, he come back.”
“Ese no all-e-same; Ese TIAPOLO,” says my friend; and, with a “Good-bye,” slunk off among the trees.
I watched Case all round the beach, where the tide was low; and let him pass me on the homeward way to Falesa. He was in deep thought, and the birds seemed to know it, trotting quite near him on the sand, or wheeling and calling in his ears. When he passed me I could see by the working of his lips that he was talking to himself, and what pleased me mightily, he had still my trade mark on his brow, I tell you the plain truth: I had a mind to give him a gunful in his ugly mug, but I thought better of it.
All this time, and all the time I was following home, I kept repeating that native word, which I remembered by “Polly, put the kettle on and make us all some tea,” tea-a-pollo.
“Uma,” says I, when I got back, “what does TIAPOLO mean?”
“Devil,” says she.
“I thought AITU was the word for that,” I said.
“AITU ‘nother kind of devil,” said she; “stop bush, eat Kanaka. Tiapolo big chief devil, stop home; all-e-same Christian devil.”
“Well then,” said I, “I’m no farther forward. How can Case be Tiapolo?”
“No all-e-same,” said she. “Ese belong Tiapolo; Tiapolo too much like; Ese all-e-same his son. Suppose Ese he wish something, Tiapolo he make him.”
“That’s mighty convenient for Ese,” says I. “And what kind of things does he make for him?”
Well, out came a rigmarole of all sorts of stories, many of which (like the dollar he took from Mr. Tarleton’s head) were plain enough to me, but others I could make nothing of; and the thing that most surprised the Kanakas was what surprised me least — namely, that he would go in the desert among all the AITUS. Some of the boldest, however, had accompanied him, and had heard him speak with the dead and give them orders, and, safe in his protection, had returned unscathed. Some said he had a church there, where he worshipped Tiapolo, and Tiapolo appeared to him; others swore that there was no sorcery at all, that he performed his miracles by the power of prayer, and the church was no church, but a prison, in which he had confined a dangerous AITU. Namu had been in the bush with him once, and returned glorifying God for these wonders. Altogether, I began to have a glimmer of the man’s position, and the means by which he had acquired it, and, though I saw he was a tough nut to crack, I was noways cast down.
“Very well,” said I, “I’ll have a look at Master Case’s place of worship myself, and we’ll see about the glorifying.”
At this Uma fell in a terrible taking; if I went in the high bush I should never return; none could go there but by the protection of Tiapolo.
“I’ll chance it on God’s,” said I. “I’m a good sort of a fellow, Uma, as fellows go, and I guess God’ll con me through.”
She was silent for a while. “I think,” said she, mighty solemn — and then, presently — “Victoreea, he big chief?”
“You bet!” said I.
“He like you too much?” she asked again.
I told her, with a grin, I believed the old lady was rather partial to me.
“All right,” said she. “Victoreea he big chief, like you too much. No can help you here in Falesa; no can do — too far off. Maea he small chief — stop here. Suppose he like you — make you all right. All-e-same God and Tiapolo. God he big chief — got too much work. Tiapolo he small chief — he like too much make-see, work very hard.”
“I’ll have to hand you over to Mr. Tarleton,” said I. “Your theology’s out of its bearings, Uma.”
However, we stuck to this business all the evening, and, with the stories she told me of the desert and its dangers, she came near frightening herself into a fit. I don’t remember half a quarter of them, of course, for I paid little heed; but two come back to me kind of clear.
About six miles up the coast there is a sheltered cove they call FANGA-ANAANA— “the haven full of caves.” I’ve seen it from the sea myself, as near as I could get my boys to venture in; and it’s a little strip of yellow sand. Black cliffs overhang it, full of the black mouths of caves; great trees overhang the cliffs, and dangle-down lianas; and in one place, about the middle, a big brook pours over in a cascade. Well, there was a boat going by here, with six young men of Falesa, “all very pretty,” Uma said, which was the loss of them. It blew strong, there was a heavy head sea, and by the time they opened Fanga-anaana, and saw the white cascade and the shady beach, they were all tired and thirsty, and their water had run out. One proposed to land and get a drink, and, being reckless fellows, they were all of the same mind except the youngest. Lotu was his name; he was a very good young gentleman, and very wise; and he held out that they were crazy, telling them the place was given over to spirits and devils and the dead, and there were no living folk nearer than six miles the one way, and maybe twelve the other. But they laughed at his words, and, being five to one, pulled in, beached the boat, and landed. It was a wonderful pleasant place, Lotu said, and the water excellent. They walked round the beach, but could see nowhere any way to mount the cliffs, which made them easier in their mind; and at last they sat down to make a meal on the food they had brought with them. They were scarce set, when there came out of the mouth of one of the black caves six of the most beautiful ladies ever seen: they had flowers in their hair, and the most beautiful breasts, and necklaces of scarlet seeds; and began to jest with these young gentlemen, and the young gentlemen to jest back with them, all but Lotu. As for Lotu, he saw there could be no living woman in such a place, and ran, and flung himself in the bottom of the boat, and covered his face, and prayed. All the time the business lasted Lotu made one clean break of prayer, and that was all he knew of it, until his friends came back, and made him sit up, and they put to sea again out of the bay, which was now quite desert, and no word of the six ladies. But, what frightened Lotu most, not one of the five remembered anything of what had passed, but they were all like drunken men, and sang and laughed in the boat, and skylarked. The wind freshened and came squally, and the sea rose extraordinary high; it was such weather as any man in the islands would have turned his back to and fled home to Falesa; but these five were like crazy folk, and cracked on all sail and drove their boat into the seas. Lotu went to the bailing; none of the others thought to help him, but sang and skylarked and carried on, and spoke singular things beyond a man’s comprehension, and laughed out loud when they said them. So the rest of the day Lotu bailed for his life in the bottom of the boat, and was all drenched with sweat and cold sea- water; and none heeded him. Against all expectation, they came safe in a dreadful tempest to Papa-malulu, where the palms were singing out, and the cocoa-nuts flying like cannon-balls about the village green; and the same night the five young gentlemen sickened, and spoke never a reasonable word until they died.
“And do you mean to tell me you can swallow a yarn like that?” I asked.
She told me the thing was well known, and with handsome young men alone it was even common; but this was the only case where five had been slain the same day and in a company by the love of the women- devils; and it had made a great stir in the island, and she would be crazy if she doubted.
“Well, anyway,” says I, “you needn’t be frightened about me. I’ve no use for the women-devils. You’re all the women I want, and all the devil too, old lady.”
To this she answered there were other sorts, and she had seen one with her own eyes. She had gone one day alone to the next bay, and, perhaps, got too near the margin of the bad place. The boughs of the high bush overshadowed her from the cant of the hill, but she herself was outside on a flat place, very stony and growing full of young mummy-apples four and five feet high. It was a dark day in the rainy season, and now there came squalls that tore off the leaves and sent them flying, and now it was all still as in a house. It was in one of these still times that a whole gang of birds and flying foxes came pegging out of the bush like creatures frightened. Presently after she heard a rustle nearer hand, and saw, coming out of the margin of the trees, among the mummy-apples, the appearance of a lean grey old boar. It seemed to think as it came, like a person; and all of a sudden, as she looked at it coming, she was aware it was no boar but a thing that was a man with a man’s thoughts. At that she ran, and the pig after her, and as the pig ran it holla’d aloud, so that the place rang with it.
“I wish I had been there with my gun,” said I. “I guess that pig would have holla’d so as to surprise himself.”
But she told me a gun was of no use with the like of these, which were the spirits of the dead.
Well, this kind of talk put in the evening, which was the best of it; but of course it didn’t change my notion, and the next day, with my gun and a good knife, I set off upon a voyage of discovery. I made, as near as I could, for the place where I had seen Case come out; for if it was true he had some kind of establishment in the bush I reckoned I should find a path. The beginning of the desert was marked off by a wall, to call it so, for it was more of a long mound of stones. They say it reaches right across the island, but how they know it is another question, for I doubt if anyone has made the journey in a hundred years, the natives sticking chiefly to the sea and their little colonies along the coast, and that part being mortal high and steep and full of cliffs. Up to the west side of the wall, the ground has been cleared, and there are cocoa palms and mummy-apples and guavas, and lots of sensitive plants. Just across, the bush begins outright; high bush at that, trees going up like the masts of ships, and ropes of liana hanging down like a ship’s rigging, and nasty orchids growing in the forks like funguses. The ground where there was no underwood looked to be a heap of boulders. I saw many green pigeons which I might have shot, only I was there with a different idea. A number of butterflies flopped up and down along the ground like dead leaves; sometimes I would hear a bird calling, sometimes the wind overhead, and always the sea along the coast.
But the queerness of the place it’s more difficult to tell of, unless to one who has been alone in the high bush himself. The brightest kind of a day it is always dim down there. A man can see to the end of nothing; whichever way he looks the wood shuts up, one bough folding with another like the fingers of your hand; and whenever he listens he hears always something new — men talking, children laughing, the strokes of an axe a far way ahead of him, and sometimes a sort of a quick, stealthy scurry near at hand that makes him jump and look to his weapons. It’s all very well for him to tell himself that he’s alone, bar trees and birds; he can’t make out to believe it; whichever way he turns the whole place seems to be alive and looking on. Don’t think it was Uma’s yarns that put me out; I don’t value native talk a fourpenny-piece; it’s a thing that’s natural in the bush, and that’s the end of it.
As I got near the top of the hill, for the ground of the wood goes up in this place steep as a ladder, the wind began to sound straight on, and the leaves to toss and switch open and let in the sun. This suited me better; it was the same noise all the time, and nothing to startle. Well, I had got to a place where there was an underwood of what they wild cocoanut — mighty pretty with its scarlet fruit — when there came a sound of singing in the wind that I thought I had never heard the like of. It was all very fine to tell myself it was the branches; I knew better. It was all very fine to tell myself it was a bird; I knew never a bird that sang like that. It rose and swelled, and died away and swelled again; and now I thought it was like someone weeping, only prettier; and now I thought it was like harps; and there was one thing I made sure of, it was a sight too sweet to be wholesome in a place like that. You may laugh if you like; but I declare I called to mind the six young ladies that came, with their scarlet necklaces, out of the cave at Fanga-anaana, and wondered if they sang like that. We laugh at the natives and their superstitions; but see how many traders take them up, splendidly educated white men, that have been book-keepers (some of them) and clerks in the old country. It’s my belief a superstition grows up in a place like the different kind of weeds; and as I stood there and listened to that wailing I twittered in my shoes.
You may call me a coward to be frightened; I thought myself brave enough to go on ahead. But I went mighty carefully, with my gun cocked, spying all about me like a hunter, fully expecting to see a handsome young woman sitting somewhere in the bush, and fully determined (if I did) to try her with a charge of duck-shot. And sure enough, I had not gone far when I met with a queer thing. The wind came on the top of the wood in a strong puff, the leaves in front of me burst open, and I saw for a second something hanging in a tree. It was gone in a wink, the puff blowing by and the leaves closing. I tell you the truth: I had made up my mind to see an AITU; and if the thing had looked like a pig or a woman, it wouldn’t have given me the same turn. The trouble was that it seemed kind of square, and the idea of a square thing that was alive and sang knocked me sick and silly. I must have stood quite a while; and I made pretty certain it was right out of the same tree that the singing came. Then I began to come to myself a bit.
“Well,” says I, “if this is really so, if this is a place where there are square things that sing, I’m gone up anyway. Let’s have my fun for my money.”
But I thought I might as well take the off chance of a prayer being any good; so I plumped on my knees and prayed out loud; and all the time I was praying the strange sounds came out of the tree, and went up and down, and changed, for all the world like music, only you could see it wasn’t human — there was nothing there that you could whistle.
As soon as I had made an end in proper style, I laid down my gun, stuck my knife between my teeth, walked right up to that tree, and began to climb. I tell you my heart was like ice. But presently, as I went up, I caught another glimpse of the thing, and that relieved me, for I thought it seemed like a box; and when I had got right up to it I near fell out of the tree with laughing.
A box it was, sure enough, and a candle-box at that, with the brand upon the side of it; and it had banjo strings stretched so as to sound when the wind blew. I believe they call the thing a Tyrolean 3 harp, whatever that may mean.
“Well, Mr. Case,” said I, “you’ve frightened me once, but I defy you to frighten me again,” I says, and slipped down the tree, and set out again to find my enemy’s head office, which I guessed would not be far away.
The undergrowth was thick in this part; I couldn’t see before my nose, and must burst my way through by main force and ply the knife as I went, slicing the cords of the lianas and slashing down whole trees at a blow. I call them trees for the bigness, but in truth they were just big weeds, and sappy to cut through like carrot. From all this crowd and kind of vegetation, I was just thinking to myself, the place might have once been cleared, when I came on my nose over a pile of stones, and saw in a moment it was some kind of a work of man. The Lord knows when it was made or when deserted, for this part of the island has lain undisturbed since long before the whites came. A few steps beyond I hit into the path I had been always looking for. It was narrow, but well beaten, and I saw that Case had plenty of disciples. It seems, indeed, it was a piece of fashionable boldness to venture up here with the trader, and a young man scarce reckoned himself grown till he had got his breech tattooed, for one thing, and seen Case’s devils for another. This is mighty like Kanakas; but, if you look at it another way, it’s mighty like white folks too.
A bit along the path I was brought to a clear stand, and had to rub my eyes. There was a wall in front of me, the path passing it by a gap; it was tumbledown and plainly very old, but built of big stones very well laid; and there is no native alive to-day upon that island that could dream of such a piece of building. Along all the top of it was a line of queer figures, idols or scarecrows, or what not. They had carved and painted faces ugly to view, their eyes and teeth were of shell, their hair and their bright clothes blew in the wind, and some of them worked with the tugging. There are islands up west where they make these kind of figures till to- day; but if ever they were made in this island, the practice and the very recollection of it are now long forgotten. And the singular thing was that all these bogies were as fresh as toys out of a shop.
Then it came in my mind that Case had let out to me the first day that he was a good forger of island curiosities, a thing by which so many traders turn an honest penny. And with that I saw the whole business, and how this display served the man a double purpose: first of all, to season his curiosities, and then to frighten those that came to visit him.
But I should tell you (what made the thing more curious) that all the time the Tyrolean harps were harping round me in the trees, and even while I looked, a green-and-yellow bird (that, I suppose, was building) began to tear the hair off the head of one of the figures.
A little farther on I found the best curiosity of the museum. The first I saw of it was a longish mound of earth with a twist to it. Digging off the earth with my hands, I found underneath tarpaulin stretched on boards, so that this was plainly the roof of a cellar. It stood right on the top of the hill, and the entrance was on the far side, between two rocks, like the entrance to a cave. I went as far in as the bend, and, looking round the corner, saw a shining face. It was big and ugly, like a pantomime mask, and the brightness of it waxed and dwindled, and at times it smoked.
“Oho!” says I, “luminous paint!”
And I must say I rather admired the man’s ingenuity. With a box of tools and a few mighty simple contrivances he had made out to have a devil of a temple. Any poor Kanaka brought up here in the dark, with the harps whining all round him, and shown that smoking face in the bottom of a hole, would make no kind of doubt but he had seen and heard enough devils for a lifetime. It’s easy to find out what Kanakas think. Just go back to yourself any way round from ten to fifteen years old, and there’s an average Kanaka. There are some pious, just as there are pious boys; and the most of them, like the boys again, are middling honest and yet think it rather larks to steal, and are easy scared and rather like to be so. I remember a boy I was at school with at home who played the Case business. He didn’t know anything, that boy; he couldn’t do anything; he had no luminous paint and no Tyrolean harps; he just boldly said he was a sorcerer, and frightened us out of our boots, and we loved it. And then it came in my mind how the master had once flogged that boy, and the surprise we were all in to see the sorcerer catch it and bum like anybody else. Thinks I to myself, “I must find some way of fixing it so for Master Case.” And the next moment I had my idea.
I went back by the path, which, when once you had found it, was quite plain and easy walking; and when I stepped out on the black sands, who should I see but Master Case himself. I cocked my gun and held it handy, and we marched up and passed without a word, each keeping the tail of his eye on the other; and no sooner had we passed than we each wheeled round like fellows drilling, and stood face to face. We had each taken the same notion in his head, you see, that the other fellow might give him the load of his gun in the stern.
“You’ve shot nothing,” says Case.
“I’m not on the shoot to-day,” said I.
“Well, the devil go with you for me,” says he.
“The same to you,” says I.
But we stuck just the way we were; no fear of either of us moving.
Case laughed. “We can’t stop here all day, though,” said he.
“Don’t let me detain you,” says I.
He laughed again. “Look here, Wiltshire, do you think me a fool?” he asked.
“More of a knave, if you want to know,” says I.
“Well, do you think it would better me to shoot you here, on this open beach?” said he. “Because I don’t. Folks come fishing every day. There may be a score of them up the valley now, making copra; there might be half a dozen on the hill behind you, after pigeons; they might be watching us this minute, and I shouldn’t wonder. I give you my word I don’t want to shoot you. Why should I? You don’t hinder me any. You haven’t got one pound of copra but what you made with your own hands, like a negro slave. You’re vegetating — that’s what I call it — and I don’t care where you vegetate, nor yet how long. Give me your word you don’t mean to shoot me, and I’ll give you a lead and walk away.”
“Well,” said I, “You’re frank and pleasant, ain’t you? And I’ll be the same. I don’t mean to shoot you to-day. Why should I? This business is beginning; it ain’t done yet, Mr. Case. I’ve given you one turn already; I can see the marks of my knuckles on your head to this blooming hour, and I’ve more cooking for you. I’m not a paralee, like Underhill. My name ain’t Adams, and it ain’t Vigours; and I mean to show you that you’ve met your match.”
“This is a silly way to talk,” said he. “This is not the talk to make me move on with.”
“All right,” said I, “stay where you are. I ain’t in any hurry, and you know it. I can put in a day on this beach and never mind. I ain’t got any copra to bother with. I ain’t got any luminous paint to see to.”
I was sorry I said that last, but it whipped out before I knew. I could see it took the wind out of his sails, and he stood and stared at me with his brow drawn up. Then I suppose he made up his mind he must get to the bottom of this.
“I take you at your word,” says he, and turned his back, and walked right into the devil’s bush.
I let him go, of course, for I had passed my word. But I watched him as long as he was in sight, and after he was gone lit out for cover as lively as you would want to see, and went the rest of the way home under the bush, for I didn’t trust him sixpence-worth. One thing I saw, I had been ass enough to give him warning, and that which I meant to do I must do at once.
You would think I had had about enough excitement for one morning, but there was another turn waiting me. As soon as I got far enough round the cape to see my house I made out there were strangers there; a little farther, and no doubt about it. There was a couple of armed sentinels squatting at my door. I could only suppose the trouble about Uma must have come to a head, and the station been seized. For aught I could think, Uma was taken up already, and these armed men were waiting to do the like with me.
However, as I came nearer, which I did at top speed, I saw there was a third native sitting on the verandah like a guest, and Uma was talking with him like a hostess. Nearer still I made out it was the big young chief, Maea, and that he was smiling away and smoking. And what was he smoking? None of your European cigarettes fit for a cat, not even the genuine big, knock-me-down native article that a fellow can really put in the time with if his pipe is broke — but a cigar, and one of my Mexicans at that, that I could swear to. At sight of this my heart started beating, and I took a wild hope in my head that the trouble was over, and Maea had come round.
Uma pointed me out to him as I came up, and he met me at the head of my own stairs like a thorough gentleman.
“Vilivili,” said he, which was the best they could make of my name, “I pleased.”
There is no doubt when an island chief wants to be civil he can do it. I saw the way things were from the word go. There was no call for Uma to say to me: “He no ‘fraid Ese now, come bring copra.” I tell you I shook hands with that Kanaka like as if he was the best white man in Europe.
The fact was, Case and he had got after the same girl; or Maea suspected it, and concluded to make hay of the trader on the chance. He had dressed himself up, got a couple of his retainers cleaned and armed to kind of make the thing more public, and, just waiting till Case was clear of the village, came round to put the whole of his business my way. He was rich as well as powerful. I suppose that man was worth fifty thousand nuts per annum. I gave him the price of the beach and a quarter cent better, and as for credit, I would have advanced him the inside of the store and the fittings besides, I was so pleased to see him. I must say he bought like a gentleman: rice and tins and biscuits enough for a week’s feast, and stuffs by the bolt. He was agreeable besides; he had plenty fun to him; and we cracked jests together, mostly through the interpreter, because he had mighty little English, and my native was still off colour. One thing I made out: he could never really have thought much harm of Uma; he could never have been really frightened, and must just have made believe from dodginess, and because he thought Case had a strong pull in the village and could help him on.
This set me thinking that both he and I were in a tightish place. What he had done was to fly in the face of the whole village, and the thing might cost him his authority. More than that, after my talk with Case on the beach, I thought it might very well cost me my life. Case had as good as said he would pot me if ever I got any copra; he would come home to find the best business in the village had changed hands; and the best thing I thought I could do was to get in first with the potting.
“See here, Uma,” says I, “tell him I’m sorry I made him wait, but I was up looking at Case’s Tiapolo store in the bush.”
“He want savvy if you no ‘fraid?” translated Uma.
I laughed out. “Not much!” says I. “Tell him the place is a blooming toy-shop! Tell him in England we give these things to the kids to play with.”
“He want savvy if you hear devil sing?” she asked next.
“Look here,” I said, “I can’t do it now because I’ve got no banjo- strings in stock; but the next time the ship comes round I’ll have one of these same contraptions right here in my verandah, and he can see for himself how much devil there is to it. Tell him, as soon as I can get the strings I’ll make one for his picaninnies. The name of the concern is a Tyrolean harp; and you can tell him the name means in English that nobody but dam-fools give a cent for it.”
This time he was so pleased he had to try his English again. “You talk true?” says he.
“Rather!” said I. “Talk all-e-same Bible. Bring out a Bible here, Uma, if you’ve got such a thing, and I’ll kiss it. Or, I’ll tell you what’s better still,” says I, taking a header, “ask him if he’s afraid to go up there himself by day.”
It appeared he wasn’t; he could venture as far as that by day and in company.
“That’s the ticket, then!” said I. “Tell him the man’s a fraud and the place foolishness, and if he’ll go up there to-morrow he’ll see all that’s left of it. But tell him this, Uma, and mind he understands it: If he gets talking, it’s bound to come to Case, and I’m a dead man! I’m playing his game, tell him, and if he says one word my blood will be at his door and be the damnation of him here and after.”
She told him, and he shook hands with me up to the hilt, and, says he: “No talk. Go up to-morrow. You my friend?”
“No sir,” says I, “no such foolishness. I’ve come here to trade, tell him, and not to make friends. But, as to Case, I’ll send that man to glory!”
So off Maea went, pretty well pleased, as I could see.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00