The End of Phaeacia by Andrew Lang
The Rev. Thomas Gowles, well known in Colonial circles where the
Truth is valued, as “the Boanerges of the Pacific,” departed
this life at Hackney Wick, on the 6th of March, 1885. The Laodiceans
in our midst have ventured to affirm that the world at large has been
a more restful place since Mr. Gowles was taken from his corner of the
vineyard. The Boanerges of the Pacific was, indeed, one of those
rarely-gifted souls, souls like a Luther or a Knox, who can tolerate
no contradiction, and will palter with no compromise, where the Truth
is concerned. Papists, Puseyites, Presbyterians, and Pagans alike,
found in Mr. Gowles an opponent whose convictions were firm as a rock,
and whose method of proclaiming the Truth was as the sound of a trumpet.
Examples of his singular courage and daring in the work of the ministry
abound in the following narrative. Born and brought up in the
Bungletonian communion, himself collaterally connected, by a sister’s
marriage, with Jedediah Bungleton, the revered founder of the Very Particular
People, Gowles was inaccessible to the scepticism of the age.
His youth, it is true, had been stormy, like that of many a brand
afterwards promoted to being a vessel. His worldly education was
of the most elementary and indeed eleemosynary description, consequently
he despised secular learning, and science “falsely so called.”
It is recorded of him that he had almost a distaste for those difficult
chapters of the Epistles in which St. Paul mentions by name his Greek
friends and converts. In a controversy with an Oxford scholar,
conducted in the open air, under the Martyrs’ Memorial in that
centre of careless professors, Gowles had spoken of “Nicodĕmus,”
“Eubŭlus,” and “Stephānas.”
His unmannerly antagonist jeering at these slips of pronunciation, Gowles
uttered his celebrated and crushing retort, “Did Paul know Greek?”
The young man, his opponent, went away, silenced if not convinced.
Such a man was the Rev. Thomas Gowles in his home ministry.
Circumstances called him to that wider field of usefulness, the Pacific,
in which so many millions of our dusky brethren either worship owls,
butterflies, sharks, and lizards, or are led away captive by the seductive
pomps of the Scarlet Woman, or lapse languidly into the lap of a bloated
and Erastian establishment, ignorant of the Truth as possessed by our
community. Against all these forms of soul-destroying error the
Rev. Thomas Gowles thundered nobly, “passing,” as an admirer
said, “like an evangelical cyclone, from the New Hebrides to the
Aleutian Islands.” It was during one of his missionary voyages,
in a labour vessel, the Blackbird, that the following singular
events occurred, events which Mr. Gowles faithfully recorded, as will
be seen, in his missionary narrative. We omit, as of purely secular
interest, the description of the storm which wrecked the Blackbird,
the account of the destruction of the steamer with all hands (not, let
us try to hope, with all souls) on board, and everything that transpired
till Mr. Gowles found himself alone, the sole survivor, and bestriding
the mast in the midst of a tempestuous sea. What follows is from
the record kept on pieces of skin, shards of pottery, plates of metal,
papyrus leaves, and other strange substitutes for paper, used by Mr.
Gowles during his captivity.
II. NARRATIVE OF MR. GOWLES.
“I must now, though in sore straits for writing materials,
and having entirely lost count of time, post up my diary, or rather
commence my narrative. So far as I can learn from the jargon of
the strange and lost people among whom Providence has cast me, this
is, in their speech, the last of the month, Thargeelyun, as near
as I can imitate the sound in English. Being in doubt as to the
true time, I am resolved to regard to-morrow, and every seventh day
in succession, as the Sabbath. The very natives, I have observed
with great interest, keep one day at fixed intervals sacred to the Sun-god,
whom they call Apollon, perhaps the same word as Apollyon. On
this day they do no manner of work, but that is hardly an exception
to their usual habits. A less industrious people (slaves and all)
I never met, even in the Pacific. As to being more than common
idle on one day out of seven, whether they have been taught so much
of what is essential by some earlier missionary, or whether they
may be the corrupted descendants of the Lost Tribes (whom they do not,
however, at all resemble outwardly, being, I must admit, of prepossessing
appearance), I can only conjecture. This Apollon of theirs, in
his graven images (of which there are many), carries a bow and arrows,
fiery darts of the wicked, another point in common between him
and Apollyon, in the Pilgrim’s Progress. May I, like
Christian, turn aside and quench his artillery!
To return to my narrative. When I recovered consciousness,
after the sinking of the Blackbird, I found myself alone, clinging
to the mast. Now was I tossed on the crest of the wave, now the
waters opened beneath me, and I sank down in the valleys of the sea.
Cold, numbed, and all but lifeless, I had given up hope of earthly existence,
and was nearly insensible, when I began to revive beneath the rays of
The sea, though still moved by a swell, was now much smoother, and,
but for a strange vision, I might have believed that I was recovering
my strength. I must, however, have been delirious or dreaming,
for it appeared to me that a foreign female, of prepossessing exterior,
though somewhat indelicately dressed, arose out of the waters close
by my side, as lightly as if she had been a sea-gull on the wing.
About her head there was wreathed a kind of muslin scarf, which she
unwound and offered to me, indicating that I was to tie it about my
waist, and it would preserve me from harm. So weak and exhausted
was I that, without thinking, I did her bidding, and then lost sight
of the female. Presently, as it seemed (but I was so drowsy that
the time may have been longer than I fancied), I caught sight of land
from the crest of a wave. Steep blue cliffs arose far away out
of a white cloud of surf, and, though a strong swimmer, I had little
hope of reaching the shore in safety.
Fortunately, or rather, I should say, providentially, the current
and tide-rip carried me to the mouth of a river, and, with a great effort,
I got into the shoal-water, and finally staggered out on shore.
There was a wood hard by, and thither I dragged myself. The sun
was in mid heavens and very warm, and I managed to dry my clothes.
I am always most particular to wear the dress of my calling, observing
that it has a peculiar and gratifying effect on the minds of the natives.
I soon dried my tall hat, which, during the storm, I had attached to
my button-hole by a string, and, though it was a good deal battered,
I was not without hopes of partially restoring its gloss and air of
British respectability. As will be seen, this precaution was,
curiously enough, the human means of preserving my life. My hat,
my black clothes, my white neck-tie, and the hymn-book I carry would,
I was convinced, secure for me a favourable reception among the natives
(if of the gentle brown Polynesian type), whom I expected to find on
Exhausted by my sufferings, I now fell asleep, but was soon wakened
by loud cries of anguish uttered at no great distance. I started
to my feet, and beheld an extraordinary spectacle, which at once assured
me that I had fallen among natives of the worst and lowest type.
The dark places of the earth are, indeed, full of horrid cruelty.
The first cries which had roused me must have been comparatively
distant, though piercing, and even now they reached me confused in the
notes of a melancholy chant or hymn. But the shrieks grew more
shrill, and I thought I could distinguish the screams of a woman in
pain or dread from the groans drawn with more difficulty from a man.
I leaped up, and, climbing a high part of the river bank, I beheld,
within a couple of hundred yards, an extraordinary procession coming
from the inner country towards the mouth of the stream.
At first I had only a confused view of bright stuffs—white,
blue, and red—and the shining of metal objects, in the midst of
a crowd partly concealed by the dust they raised on their way.
Very much to my surprise I found that they were advancing along a wide
road, paved in a peculiar manner, for I had never seen anything of this
kind among the heathen tribes of the Pacific. Their dresses, too,
though for the most part mere wraps, as it were, of coloured stuff,
thrown round them, pinned with brooches, and often clinging in a very
improper way to the figure, did not remind me of the costume (what there
is of it) of Samoans, Fijians, or other natives among whom I have been
privileged to labour.
But these observations give a more minute impression of what I saw
than, for the moment, I had time to take in. The foremost part
of the procession consisted of boys, many of them almost naked.
Their hands were full of branches, wreathed in a curious manner with
strips of white or coloured wools. They were all singing, and
were led by a woman carrying in her arms a mis-shapen wooden idol, not
much unlike those which are too frequent spectacles all over the Pacific.
Behind the boys I could now distinctly behold a man and woman of the
Polynesian type, naked to the waist, and staggering with bent backs
beneath showers of blows. The people behind them, who were almost
as light in colour as ourselves, were cruelly flogging them with cutting
branches of trees. Round the necks of the unfortunate victims—criminals
I presumed—were hung chains of white and black figs, and in their
hands they held certain herbs, figs, and cheese, for what purpose I
was, and remain, unable to conjecture. Whenever their cries were
still for a moment, the woman who carried the idol turned round, and
lifted it in her arms with words which I was unable to understand, urging
on the tormentors to ply their switches with more severity.
Naturally I was alarmed by the strangeness and ferocity of the natives,
so I concealed myself hastily in some brushwood behind a large tree.
Much to my horror I found that the screams, groans, and singing only
drew nearer and nearer. The procession then passed me so close
that I could see blood on the backs of the victims, and on their faces
an awful dread and apprehension. Finally, the crowd reached the
mouth of the river, at the very place where I had escaped from the sea.
By aid of a small pocket-glass I could make out that the men were piling
great faggots of green wood, which I had noticed that some of them carried,
on a spot beneath the wash of high tide. When the pile had reached
a considerable height, the two victims were placed in the middle.
Then, by some means, which I was too far off to detect, fire was produced,
and applied to the wild wood in which the unhappy man and woman were
enveloped. Soon, fortunately, a thick turbid smoke, in which but
little flame appeared, swept all over the beach. I endeavoured
to stop my ears, and turned my head away that I might neither see nor
hear more of this spectacle, which I now perceived to be a human sacrifice
more cruel than is customary even among the Fijians.
When I next ventured to look up, the last trails of smoke were vanishing
away across the sea; the sun gazed down on the bright, many-coloured
throng, who were now singing another of their hymns, while some of the
number were gathering up ashes (human ashes!) from a blackened spot
on the sand, and were throwing them into the salt water. The wind
tossed back a soft grey dust in their faces, mixed with the surf and
spray. It was dark before the crowd swept by me again, now chanting
in what appeared to be a mirthful manner, and with faces so smiling
and happy that I could scarcely believe they had just taken part in
such abominable cruelty. On the other hand, a weight seemed to
have been removed from their consciences. So deceitful are the
wiles of Satan, who deludes the heathen most in their very religion!
Tired and almost starved as I was, these reflections forced themselves
upon me, even while I was pondering on the dreadful position in which
I found myself. Way of escape from the island (obviously a very
large one) there was none. But, if I remained all night in the
wood, I must almost perish of cold and hunger. I had therefore
no choice but to approach the barbarous people, though, from my acquaintance
with natives, I knew well that they were likely either to kill and eat
me, or to worship me as a god. Either event was too dreadful to
bear reflection. I was certain, however, that, owing to the dress
of my sacred calling, I could not be mistaken for a mere beach-comber
or labour-hunter, and I considered that I might easily destroy the impression
(natural among savages on first seeing a European) that I was a god.
I therefore followed the throng from a distance, taking advantage for
concealment of turns in the way, and of trees and underwood beside the
road. Some four miles’ walking, for which I was very unfit,
brought us across a neck of land, and from high ground in the middle
I again beheld the sea. Very much to my surprise the cape on which
I looked down, safe in the rear of the descending multitude, was occupied
by a kind of city.
The houses were not the mere huts of South Sea Islanders, but, though
built for the most part of carved and painted wood, had white stone
foundations, and were of considerable height. On a rock in the
centre of the bay were some stone edifices which I took to be temples
or public buildings. The crowd gradually broke up, turning into
their own dwellings on the shore, where, by the way, some large masted
vessels were drawn up in little docks. But, while the general
public, if I may say so, slowly withdrew, the woman with the idol in
her arms, accompanied by some elderly men of serious aspect, climbed
the road up to the central public buildings.
Moved by some impulse which I could hardly explain, I stealthily
followed them, and at last found myself on a rocky platform, a kind
of public square, open on one side to the sea, and shut in on either
hand, and at the back, by large houses with smooth round pillars, and
decorated with odd coloured carvings. There was in the open centre
of the square an object which I recognized as an altar, with a fire
burning on it. Some men came out of the chief building, dragging
a sheep, with chains of flowers round its neck. Another man threw
something on the fire, which burned with a curious smell. At once
I recognized the savour of incense, against which (as employed illegally
by the Puseyites) I had often firmly protested in old days at home.
The spirit of a soldier of the Truth entered into me; weary as I was,
I rushed from the dusky corner where I had been hidden in the twilight,
ran to the altar, and held up my hand with my hymn-book as I began to
repeat an address that had often silenced the papistic mummers in England.
Before I had uttered half a dozen words, the men who were dragging the
sheep flew at me, and tried to seize me, while one of them offered a
strange-looking knife at my throat. I thought my last hour had
come, and the old Adam awakening in me, I delivered such a blow with
my right on the eye of the man with the knife, that he reeled and fell
heavily against the altar. Then assuming an attitude of self-defence
(such as was, alas! too familiar to me in my unregenerate days), I awaited
They were coming on in a body when the veil of the large edifice
in front was lifted, and a flash of light streamed out on the dusky
square, as an old man dressed in red hurried to the scene of struggle.
He wore a long white beard, had green leaves twisted in his hair, and
carried in his hand a gilded staff curiously wreathed with wool.
When they saw him approaching, my assailants fell back, each of them
kissing his own hand and bowing slightly in the direction of the temple,
as I rightly supposed it to be. The old man, who was followed
by attendants carrying torches burning, was now close to us, and on
beholding me, he exhibited unusual emotions.
My appearance, no doubt, was at that moment peculiar, and little
creditable, as I have since thought, to a minister, however humble.
My hat was thrust on the back of my head, my coat was torn, my shirt
open, my neck-tie twisted round under my ear, and my whole attitude
was not one generally associated with the peaceful delivery of the message.
Still, I had never conceived that any spectacle, however strange and
unbecoming, could have produced such an effect on the native mind, especially
in a person who was manifestly a chief, or high-priest of some heathen
god. Seeing him pause, and turn pale, I dropped my hands, and
rearranged my dress as best I might. The old Tohunga, as my New
Zealand flock used to call their priest, now lifted his eyes to heaven
with an air of devotion, and remained for some moments like one absorbed
in prayer or meditation. He then rapidly uttered some words, which,
of course, I could not understand, whereon his attendants approached
me gently, with signs of respect and friendship. Not to appear
lacking in courtesy, or inferior in politeness to savages, I turned
and raised my hat, which seemed still more to alarm the old priest.
He spoke to one of his attendants, who instantly ran across the square,
and entered the courtyard of a large house, surrounded by a garden,
of which the tall trees looked over the wall, and wooden palisade.
The old man then withdrew into the temple, and I distinctly saw him
scatter, with the leafy bough of a tree, some water round him as he
entered, from a vessel beside the door. This convinced me that
some of the emissaries of the Scarlet Woman had already been busy among
the benighted people, a conjecture, however, which proved to be erroneous.
I was now left standing by the altar, the attendants observing me
with respect which I feared might at any moment take the blasphemous
form of worship. Nor could I see how I was to check their adoration,
and turn it into the proper channel, if, as happened to Captain Cook,
and has frequently occurred since, these darkened idolaters mistook
me for one of their own deities. I might spurn them, indeed; but
when Nicholson adopted that course, and beat the Fakirs who worshipped
him during the Indian Mutiny, his conduct, as I have read, only redoubled
their enthusiasm. However, as events proved, they never at any
time were inclined to substitute me for their heathen divinities; very
far from it indeed, though their peculiar conduct was calculated to
foster in my breast this melancholy delusion.
I had not been left long to my own thoughts when I marked lights
wandering in the garden or courtyard whither the messenger had been
sent by the old priest. Presently there came forth from the court
a man of remarkable stature, and with an air of seriousness and responsibility.
In his hand he carried a short staff, or baton, with gold knobs, and
he wore a thin golden circlet in his hair. As he drew near, the
veil of the temple was again lifted, and the aged priest came forward,
bearing in his arms a singular casket of wood, ornamented with alternate
bands of gold and ivory, carved with outlandish figures. The torch-bearers
crowded about us in the darkness, and it was a strange spectacle to
behold the smoky, fiery light shining on the men’s faces and the
rich coloured dresses, or lighting up the white idol of Apollon, which
stood among the laurel trees at the entrance of the temple.
III. THE PROPHECY.
The priest and the man with the gold circlet, whom I took to be a
chief, now met, and, fixing their eyes on me, held a conversation of
which, naturally, I understood nothing. I maintained an unmoved
demeanour, and, by way of showing my indifference, and also of impressing
the natives with the superiority of our civilization, I took out and
wound up my watch, which, I was glad to find, had not been utterly ruined
by the salt water. Meanwhile the priest was fumbling in his casket,
whence he produced a bundle of very ragged and smoky old bits of parchment
and scraps of potsherds. These he placed in the hands of his attendants,
who received them kneeling. From the very bottom of the casket
he extracted some thin plates of a greyish metal, lead, I believe, all
mouldy, stained, and ragged. Over these he pored and puzzled for
some time, trying, as I guessed, to make out something inscribed on
this curious substitute for writing-paper. I had now recovered
my presence of mind, and, thinking at once to astonish and propitiate,
I drew from my pocket, wiped, and presented to him my spectacles, indicating,
by example, the manner of their employment. No sooner did he behold
these common articles of every-day use, than the priest’s knees
began to knock together, and his old hands trembled so that he could
scarcely fix the spectacles on his nose. When he had managed this
it was plain that he found much less difficulty with his documents.
He now turned them rapidly over, and presently discovered one thin sheet
of lead, from which he began to read, or rather chant, in a slow measured
tone, every now and then pausing and pointing to me, to my hat, and
to the spectacles which he himself wore at the moment. The chief
listened to him gravely, and with an expression of melancholy that grew
deeper and sadder till the end. It was a strange scene.
I afterwards heard the matter of the prophecy, as it proved to be,
which was thus delivered. I have written it down in the language
of the natives, spelling it as best I might, and I give the translation
which I made when I became more or less acquainted with their very difficult
It will be seen that the prophecy, whatever its origin, was strangely
fulfilled. Perhaps the gods of this people were not mere idols,
but evil spirits, permitted, for some wise purpose, to delude their
This, doubtless, they might best do by occasionally telling the truth,
as in my instance. But this theory—namely, that the gods
of the heathen are perhaps evil and wandering spirits—is, for
reasons which will afterwards appear, very painful to me, personally
reminding me that I may have sinned as few have done since the days
of the early Christians. But I trust this will not be made a reproach
to me in our Connection, especially as I have been the humble instrument
of so blessed a change in the land of the heathen, there being no more
of them left. But, to return to the prophecy, it is given roughly
here in English. It ran thus:—“But when a man, having
a chimney pot on his head, and four eyes, appears, and when a sail-less
ship also comes, sailing without wind and breathing smoke, then will
destruction fall upon the Scherian island.” Perhaps, from
this and other expressions to be offered in a later chapter, the learned
will be able to determine whether the speech is of the Polynesian or
the Papuan family, or whether, as I sometimes suspect, it is of neither,
but of a character quite isolated and peculiar.
The effect produced on the mind of the chief by the prophecy amazed
me, as he looked, for a native, quite a superior and intelligent person.
None of them, however, as I found, escaped the influence of their baneful
superstitions. Approaching me, he closely examined myself, my
dress, and the spectacles which the old priest now held in his hands.
The two men then had a hurried discussion, and I have afterwards seen
reason to suppose that the chief was pointing out the absence of certain
important elements in the fulfilment of the prophecy. Here was
I, doubtless, “a man bearing a chimney on his head” (for
in this light they regarded my hat), and having “four eyes,”
that is, including my spectacles, a convenience with which they had
hitherto been unacquainted. It was undeniable that a prophecy
written by a person not accustomed to the resources of civilization,
could not more accurately have described me and my appearance.
But the “ship without sails” was still lacking to the completion
of what had been foretold, as the chief seemed to indicate by waving
his hand towards the sea. For the present, therefore, they might
hope that the worst would not come to the worst. Probably this
conclusion brought a ray of hope into the melancholy face of the chief,
and the old priest himself left off trembling. They even smiled,
and, in their conversation, which assumed a lighter tone, I caught and
recorded in pencil on my shirt-cuff, for future explanation, words which
sounded like aiskistos aneer, farmakos, catharma,
Finally the aged priest hobbled back into his temple, and the chief,
beckoning me to follow, passed within the courtyard of his house.
IV. AT THE CHIEF’S HOUSE.
The chief leading the way, I followed through the open entrance of
the courtyard. The yard was very spacious, and under the dark
shade of the trees I could see a light here and there in the windows
of small huts along the walls, where, as I found later, the slaves and
the young men of the family slept. In the middle of the space
there was another altar, I am sorry to say; indeed, there were altars
everywhere. I never heard of a people so religious, in their own
darkened way, as these islanders. At the further end of the court
was a really large and even stately house, with no windows but a clerestory,
indicated by the line of light from within, flickering between the top
of the wall and the beginning of the high-pitched roof. Light
was also streaming through the wide doorway, from which came the sound
of many voices. The house was obviously full of people, and, just
before we reached the deep verandah, a roofed space open to the air
in front, they began to come out, some of them singing. They had
flowers in their hair, and torches in their hands. The chief,
giving me a sign to be silent, drew me apart within the shadow of a
plane tree, and we waited there till the crowd dispersed, and went,
I presume, to their own houses. There were no women among them,
and the men carried no spears nor other weapons. When the court
was empty, we walked up the broad stone steps and stood within the doorway.
I was certainly much surprised at what I saw. There was a rude
magnificence about this house such as I had never expected to find in
the South Sea Islands. Nay, though I am not unacquainted with
the abodes of opulence at home, and have been a favoured guest of some
of our merchant princes (including Messrs. Bunton, the eminent haberdashers,
whose light is so generously bestowed on our Connection), I admit that
I had never looked on a more spacious reception-room, furnished, of
course, in a somewhat savage manner, but, obviously, regardless of expense.
The very threshold between the court and the reception-room, to which
you descended by steps, was made of some dark metal, inlaid curiously
with figures of beasts and birds, also in metal (gold, as I afterwards
learned), of various shades of colour and brightness.
At first I had some difficulty in making out the details of the vast
apartment which lay beyond. I was almost dizzy with hunger and
fatigue, and my view was further obscured by a fragrant blue smoke,
which rose in soft clouds from an open fireplace in the middle of the
room. Singular to say, there was no chimney, merely a hole in
the lofty roof, through which most of the smoke escaped. The ceiling
itself, which was supported by carved rafters, was in places quite black
with the vapour of many years. The smoke, however, was thin, and
as the fuel on the fire, and on the braziers, was of dry cedar and sandal-wood,
the perfume, though heavy, was not unpleasant. The room was partly
illuminated by the fire itself, partly by braziers full of blazing branches
of trees; but, what was most remarkable, there were rows of metal images
of young men (naked, I am sorry to say), with burning torches in their
hands, ranged all along the side walls.
A good deal of taste, in one sense, had been expended in making these
images, and money had clearly been no object. I might have been
somewhat dazzled by the general effect, had I not reflected that, in
my own country, gas is within reach of the poorest purse, while the
electric light itself may be enjoyed by the very beggar in the street.
Here, on the contrary, the dripping of the wax from the torches, the
black smoke on the roof, the noisy crackling of the sandal-wood in the
braziers, all combined to prove that these natives, though ingenious
enough in their way, were far indeed below the level of modern civilization.
The abominable ceremony of the afternoon would have proved as much,
and now the absence of true comfort, even in the dwelling of
a chief, made me think once more of the hardships of a missionary’s
But I must endeavour to complete the picture of domestic life in
the island, which I now witnessed for the first time, and which will
never be seen again by Europeans. The walls themselves were of
some dark but glittering metal, on which designs in lighter metal were
inlaid. There were views of the chief going to the chase, his
bow in his hand; of the chief sacrificing to idols; of men and young
women engaged in the soul-destroying practice of promiscuous dancing;
there were wild beasts, lions among others; rivers, with fish in them;
mountains, trees, the sun and moon, and stars, all not by any means
ill designed, for the work of natives. The pictures, indeed, reminded
me a good deal of the ugly Assyrian curiosities in the British Museum,
as I have seen them when conducting the children of the Bungletonian
Band of Hope through the rooms devoted to the remains of Bible peoples,
such as the Egyptians, Hittites, and others.
Red or blue curtains, strangely embroidered, hung over the doors,
and trophies of swords, shields, and spears, not of steel, but of some
darker metal, were fixed on the tall pillars that helped to prop the
roof. At the top of the wall, just beneath the open unglazed spaces,
which admitted light and air in the daytime, and wind and rain in bad
weather, was a kind of frieze, or coping, of some deep blue material. All along
the sides of the hall ran carved seats, covered with pretty light embroidered
cloths, not very different from modern Oriental fabrics. The carpets
and rugs were precisely like those of India and Persia, and I supposed
that they must have been obtained through commerce. But I afterwards
learned that they were, beyond doubt, of native manufacture.
At the further end of the room was a kind of platform, or daïs,
on which tables were set with fruit and wine. But much more curious
than the furniture of the hall was the group of women sitting by the
fire in the centre. There sat in two rows some twenty girls, all
busily weaving, and throwing the shuttle from hand to hand, laughing
and chattering in low voices. In the midst of them, on a high
chair of cedar-wood, decorated with ivory, and with an ivory footstool,
sat a person whom, in a civilized country, one must have looked on with
respect as a lady of high rank. She, like her husband the chief,
had a golden circlet twisted in her hair, which was still brown and
copious, and she wore an appearance of command.
At her feet, on a stool, reclined a girl who was, I must confess,
of singular beauty. Doto had long fair hair, a feature most unusual
among these natives. She had blue eyes, and an appearance of singular
innocence and frankness. She was, at the moment, embroidering
a piece of work intended, as I afterwards learned with deep pain, for
the covering of one of their idols, to whose service the benighted young
woman was devoted. Often in after days, I saw Doto stooping above
her embroidery and deftly interweaving the green and golden threads
into the patterns of beasts and flowers. Often my heart went out
to this poor child of pagan tribe, and I even pleased myself with the
hope that some day, a reclaimed and enlightened character, she might
employ her skill in embroidering slippers and braces for a humble vessel.
I seemed to see her, a helpmate meet for me, holding Mothers’
Meetings, playing hymn-tunes on the lyre, or the double pipes, the native
instruments, and, above all, winning the islanders from their cruel
and abominable custom of exposing their infant children on the mountains.
How differently have all things been arranged.
But I am wandering from my story. When we reached the group
by the fireside, who had at first been unaware of our entrance, the
chief’s wife gave a slight start, alarmed doubtless by my appearance.
She could never have seen, nor even dreamed of, such a spectacle as
I must have presented, haggard, ragged, faint with hunger, and worn
with fatigue as I was. The chief motioned to me that I should
kneel at his wife’s feet, and kiss her hand, but I merely bowed,
not considering this a fit moment to protest otherwise against such
sacrilegious mummeries. But the woman—her name I learned
later was Ocyale—did not take my attitude in bad part. The
startled expression of her face changed to a look of pity, and, with
a movement of her hand, she directed Doto to bring a large golden cup
from the table at the upper end of the room. Into this cup she
ladled some dark liquid from a bowl which was placed on a small three-legged
stand, or dumb waiter, close to her side. Next she spilt a little
of the wine on the polished floor, with an appearance of gravity which
I did not understand. It appears that this spilling of wine is
a drink offering to their idols. She then offered me the cup,
which I was about to taste, when I perceived that the liquor was indubitably
A total abstainer, I had, I am thankful to say, strength enough to
resist the temptation thus adroitly thrust upon me. Setting down
the cup, I pointed to the badge of blue ribbon, which, though damp and
colourless, remained faithful to my button-hole. I also made signs
I was hungry, and would be glad of something to eat. My gestures,
as far as the blue ribbon went, must have been thrown away, of course,
but any one could understand that I was fainting from hunger.
The mistress of the house called to one of the spinning girls, who rose
and went within the door opening from the platform at the upper end
of the room. She presently returned with an old woman, a housekeeper,
as we would say, and obviously a faithful and familiar servant.
After some conversation, of which I was probably the topic, the old
woman hobbled off, laughing. She soon came back, bringing, to
my extreme delight, a basket with cakes and goat cheese, and some cold
pork in a dish.
I ought, perhaps, to say here that, in spite of the luxury of their
appointments, and their extraordinary habit of “eating and drinking
all day to the going down of the sun” (as one of their own poets
says), these islanders are by no means good cooks. I have tasted
of more savoury meats, dressed in coverings of leaves on hot stones,
in Maori pahs, or in New Caledonian villages, than among the
comparatively civilized natives of the country where I now found myself.
Among the common people, especially, there was no notion of hanging
or keeping meat. Often have I seen a man kill a hog on the floor
of his house, cut it up, toast it, as one may say, at the fire, and
then offer the grilled and frequently under-done flesh to his guests.
Invariably the guests are obliged to witness the slaughter of the animal
which is to supply their dinner. This slaughter is performed as
a kind of sacrifice; the legs of the beast are the portions of the gods,
and are laid, with bits of fat, upon the altars. Then chops, or
rather kabobs, of meat are hacked off, spitted, and grilled or roasted
at the fire. Consequently all the meat tasted in this island is
actually “meat offered to idols.”
When I made this discovery the shock was very great, and I feared
I was repeating a sin denounced from the earliest ages. But what
was I to do? Not the meat only, but the vegetables, the fruit,
the grain, the very fish (which the natives never eat except under stress
of great hunger), were sacred to one or other of their innumerable idols.
I must eat, or starve myself to death—a form of suicide.
I therefore made up my mind to eat without scruple, remembering that
the gods of the nations are nothing at all, but the fancies of vain
dreamers, and the invention of greedy and self-seeking priests.
These scruples were of later growth, after I had learned that their
meals were invariably preceded by a sacrifice, partly to provide the
food, partly as grace before meat. On the present occasion I made
an excellent supper, though put to a good deal of inconvenience by the
want of forks, which were entirely unknown on the island. Finding
that I would not taste the alcoholic liquor, which the natives always
mixed with a large proportion of water, Doto rose, went out, and returned
with a great bowl of ivy-wood, curiously carved, and full of milk.
In this permitted beverage, as my spirits were rising, I drank the young
lady’s health, indicating my gratitude as well as I could.
She bowed gracefully, and returned to her task of embroidery.
Meanwhile her father and mother were deep in conversation, and paid
no attention to me, obviously understanding that my chief need was food.
I could not but see that the face of the chief’s wife was overclouded,
probably with anxiety caused by the prophecy of which I was, or was
taken for, the subject.
When my hunger was satisfied, I fell, it seems, into a kind of doze,
from which I was wakened by the noise of people rising, moving, and
pushing back chairs. I collected my senses, and perceived that
the room was almost dark, most of the inmates had gone, and the chief
was lighting a torch at one of the braziers. This torch he placed
in my hand, indicating, as I understood, that I was to put myself under
the guidance of two of the young women who had been spinning.
At this I was somewhat perplexed, but followed where they went before
me, each of them holding a burning torch. The light flared and
the smoke drifted among the corridors, till we came within sound of
running water. In a lofty green chamber was a large bath of polished
marble, carved with shapes of men armed with pitchforks, and employed
in spearing fish. The bath was full of clear water, of somewhat
higher than tepid heat, and the stream, welling up in one part, flowed
out in another, not splashing or spilling. The young women now
brought flasks of oil, large sponges, such as are common in these seas,
and such articles of dress as are worn by the men among the natives.
But, to my astonishment, the girls showed no intention of going away,
and it soon became evident that they meant to assist me in my toilet!
I had some difficulty in getting them to understand the indecorum of
their conduct, or rather (for I doubt if they understood it after all)
in prevailing on them to leave me. I afterwards learned that this
custom, shocking as it appears to Europeans, is regarded as entirely
right and usual even by the better class of islanders; nor, to do them
justice, have I ever heard any imputations on the morality of their
women. Except among the shepherds and shepherdesses in the rural
districts, whose conduct was very regardless, a high standard of modesty
prevailed among the female natives. In this, I need not say, they
were a notable exception among Polynesian races.
Left to my own devices by the retreat of the young women, I revelled
in the pleasures of the bath, and then the question arose, How was I
to be clothed?
I had, of course, but one shirt with me, and that somewhat frayed
and worn. My boots, too, were almost useless from their prolonged
immersion in salt water. Yet I could not bring myself to adopt
the peculiar dress of the natives, though the young persons had left
in the bath-room changes of raiment such as are worn by the men of rank.
These garments were simple, and not uncomfortable, but, as they showed
the legs from the knees downwards, like kilts, I felt that they would
be unbecoming to one in my position.
Almost the chief distinction between civilized man and the savage,
is the wearing of trousers. When a missionary in Tongo, and prime
minister of King Haui Ha there, I made the absence of breeches in the
males an offence punishable by imprisonment. Could I, on my very
first appearance among the islanders to-morrow, fly, as it were, in
the face of my own rules, and prove false to my well-known and often
expressed convictions? I felt that such backsliding was impossible.
On mature consideration, therefore, I made the following arrangement.
The garments of the natives, when they condescended to wear any,
were but two in number. First, there was a long linen or woollen
shirt or smock, without sleeves, which fell from the neck to some distance
below the knees. This shirt I put on. A belt is generally
worn, into which the folds of the smock can be drawn up or “kilted,”
when the wearer wishes to have his limbs free for active exercise.
The other garment is simply a large square piece of stuff, silken or
woollen as it happens in accordance with the weather, and the rank of
the wearer. In this a man swathes himself, somewhat as a Highlander
does in his plaid, pinning it over the shoulder and leaving the arms
free. When one is accustomed to it, this kind of dress is not
uncomfortable, and many of the younger braves carried it with a good
deal of grace, showing some fancy and originality in the dispositions
of the folds. Though attired in this barbarous guise, I did not,
of course, dispense with my trousers, which, being black, contrasted
somewhat oddly with my primrose-coloured ki ton, as they call
the smock, and the dark violet clamis, or plaid. When the
natives do not go bareheaded, they usually wear a kind of light, soft
wideawake, but this. I discarded in favour of my hat, which had
already produced so remarkable an effect on their superstitious minds.
Now I was dressed, as fittingly as possible in the circumstances,
but I felt that my chief need was a bed to lie down upon. I did
not wish to sleep in the bath-room, so, taking my torch from the stand
in which I had placed it, I sallied forth into the corridors, attired
as I have described, and carrying my coat under my arm. A distant
light, and the noise of females giggling, which increased most indecorously
as I drew near, attracted my attention. Walking in the direction
of the sounds, I soon discovered the two young women to whose charge
I had been committed by the chief. They appeared to be in high
spirits, and, seizing my arms before I could offer any resistance, they
dragged me at a great pace down the passage and out into the verandah.
Here the air was very fragrant and balmy, and a kind of comfortable
“shakedown” of mattresses, covered with coloured blankets,
had been laid for me in a corner. I lay down as soon as the sound
of the young women’s merriment died out in the distance, and after
the extraordinary events of the night, I was soon sleeping as soundly
as if I had been in my father’s house at Hackney Wick.
V. A STRANGER ARRIVES.
When I wakened next morning, wonderfully refreshed by sleep and the
purity of the air, I had some difficulty in remembering where I was
and how I came there in such a peculiar costume. But the voices
of the servants in the house, and the general stir of people going to
and fro, convinced me that I had better be up and ready to put my sickle
into this harvest of heathen darkness. Little did I think how
soon the heathen darkness would be trying to put the sickle into me!
I made my way with little difficulty, being guided by the sound of the
running water, to the bath-room, and thence into the gardens.
These were large and remarkably well arranged in beds and plots of flowers
and fruit-trees. I particularly admired a fountain in the middle,
which watered the garden, and supplied both the chief’s house
and the town. Returning by way of the hall, I met the chief, who,
saluting me gravely, motioned me to one of many small tables on which
was set a bowl of milk, some cakes, and some roasted kid’s flesh.
After I had done justice to this breakfast, he directed me to follow
him, and, walking before me with his gold-knobbed staff in his hand,
passed out of the shady court into the public square. Here we
found a number of aged men seated on unpleasantly smooth and cold polished
stones in a curious circle of masonry. They were surrounded by
a crowd of younger men, shouting, laughing, and behaving with all the
thoughtless levity and merriment of a Polynesian mob. They became
silent as the chief approached, and the old men rose from their places
till he had taken a kind of rude throne in the circle.
For my part, I was obliged to stand alone in their midst, and it
seemed that they were debating about myself and my future treatment.
First the old priest, whom I had seen on the night before, got up, and,
as I fancied, his harangue was very unfavourable to me. He pointed
at the inevitable flower-crowned altar which, of course, was in the
centre of the market-place, and from the way he shook a sickle he held
in his hand I believe that he was proposing to sacrifice me on the spot.
In the midst of his oration two vultures, black with white breasts,
flew high over our heads, chasing a dove, which they caught and killed
right above the market-place, so that the feathers fell down on the
altar. The islanders, as I afterwards discovered, are full of
childish superstitions about the flight of birds, from which they derive
omens as to future events. The old priest manifestly attempted
to make political capital against me out of the interesting occurrence
in natural history which we had just observed. He hurried to the
altar, caught up a handful of the bleeding feathers, and, with sickle
in hand, was rushing towards me, when he tripped over the head of a
bullock that had lately been sacrificed, and fell flat on his face,
while the sickle flew far out of his hand.
On this the young men, who were very frivolous, like most of the
islanders, laughed aloud, and even the elders smiled. The chief
now rose with his staff in his grasp, and, pointing first to me and
then to the sky, was, I imagined, propounding a different interpretation
of the omen from that advanced by the old priest. Meantime the
latter, with a sulky expression of indifference, sat nursing his knees,
which had been a good deal damaged by his unseemly sprawl on the ground.
When the chief sat down, a very quiet, absent-minded old gentleman arose.
Elatreus was his name, as I learned later; his family had a curious
history, and he himself afterwards came to an unhappy and terrible end,
as will be shown in a subsequent part of my narrative.
I felt quite at home, as if I had been at some vestry-meeting, or
some committee in the old country, when Elatreus got up. He was
stout, very bald, and had a way of thrusting his arm behind him, and
of humming and hawing, which vividly brought back to mind the oratory
of my native land. He had also, plainly enough, the trick of forgetting
what he intended to say, and of running off after new ideas, a trick
very uncommon among these natives, who are born public speakers.
I flattered myself that this orator was in favour of leniency towards
me, but nobody was paying much attention to him, when a shout was heard
from the bottom of the hill on which the square is built. Everybody
turned round, the elders jumped up with some alacrity for the sake of
a better view on the polished stones where they had been sitting, and
so much was the business before the meeting forgotten in the new excitement,
that I might have run away unnoticed, had there been anywhere to run
to. But flight was out of the question, unless I could get a boat
and some provisions, and I had neither. I was pleased, however,
to see that I was so lightly and laxly guarded.
The cause of the disturbance was soon apparent. A number of
brown, half-naked, sturdy sailors, with red caps, not unlike fezzes,
on their heads, appeared, bawling and making for the centre of the square.
They were apparently carrying or dragging some person with them, some
person who offered a good deal of resistance. Among the foreign
and unintelligible cries and howls which rang through the market-place,
my heart leaped up, in natural though unsanctified pleasure, as I heard
the too well-known but unexpected accents of British profanity.
“Where the (somewhere) are you blooming sons of beach-combers
dragging a Bri’sh shailor? Shtand off, you ragged set of
whitewashed Christy Minstrels, you! Where’s the Bri’sh
Conshul’s? Take me, you longshore sons of sharks, to the
Bri’sh Conshul’s! If there’s one white man among
you let him stand out and hit a chap his own weight.”
“Hullo!” suddenly cried the speaker, whom I had recognized
as William Bludger, one of the most depraved and regardless of the whole
wicked crew of the Blackbird,—“hullo, if here isn’t
old Captain Hymn-book!”—a foolish nickname the sailors had
He was obviously more than half-drunk, and carried in his hand a
black rum-bottle, probably (from all I knew of him) not nearly full.
His shirt and trousers were torn and dripping; apparently he had been
washed ashore, like myself, after the storm, and had been found and
brought into the town by some of the fishing population.
What a blow to all my hopes was the wholly unlooked-for arrival of
this tipsy, irreclaimable seaman, this unawakened Bill Bludger!
I had framed an ideal of what my own behaviour, in my trying circumstances,
ought to be. Often had I read how these islanders possess a tradition
that a wonderful white man, a being all sweetness and lucidity, landed
in their midst, taught them the knowledge of the arts, converted them
to peace and good manners, and at last mysteriously departed, promising
that he would return again. I had hopes—such things have
happened—that the islanders might take me for this wonderful white
man of their traditions, come back according to his promise. If
this delusion should occur, I would not at once undeceive them, but
take advantage of the situation, and so bring them all into the Bungletonian
fold. I knew there was no time to waste. Lutheran, French,
or Church of England schemers, in schooners, might even now be approaching
the island, with their erroneous and deplorable tenets. Again,
I had reckoned, if my hopes proved false, on attaining, not without
dignity, the crown of the proto-martyr of my Connection. Beyond
occasional confinement in police cells, consequent on the strategic
manœuvres of the Salvation Army, none of us had ever known what
it was to suffer in the cause. If I were to be the first to testify
with my blood, on this unknown soil, at least I could meet my doom with
dignity. In any case, I should be remembered, I had reckoned,
in the island traditions, either as an isolated and mysterious benefactor,
the child of an otherwise unknown race, or as a solitary martyr from
All these vain hopes of spiritual pride were now blown to the wind
by Bill Bludger’s unexpected appearance and characteristic conduct.
No delusions about a divine white stranger from afar could survive the
appearance and behaviour of so compromising an acquaintance as William.
He was one white stranger too many. There he was, still struggling,
shouting, swearing, smelling of rum, and making frantic attempts to
reach me and shake hands with me.
“Let bygones be bygones, Captain Hymn-book, your Reverence,”
he screamed; “here’s your jolly good health and song,”
and he put his horrible black bottle to his unchastened lips.
“Here we are, Captain, two Englishmen agin a lot o’ blooming
Kanekas; let’s clear out their whole blessed town, and steer for
But, perceiving that I did not intend to recognize or carouse with
him, William Bludger now changed his tone; “Yah, you lily-livered
Bible-reader,” he exclaimed, “what are you going about in
that toggery for: copying Mr. Toole in Paw Claudian?
You call yourself a missionary? Jove, you’re more
like a blooming play hactor in a penny gaff! Easy, then, my hearties,”
he added, seeing that the fishermen were approaching him again, with
ropes in their hands. “Avast! stow your handcuffs.”
In spite of his oaths and struggles, the inebriated mariner was firmly
bound, hand and foot, and placed in the centre of the assembly.
I only wished that the natives had also gagged him, for his language,
though, of course, unintelligible to them, was profane, and highly painful
Before returning to business, the chiefs carefully inspected the
black bottle, of which they had dispossessed William Bludger.
A golden vase was produced—they had always plenty of them
handy—and the dark fluid was poured into this princely receptacle,
diffusing a strong odour of rum. Each chief carefully tasted the
stuff, and I was pained, on gathering, from the expression of their
countenances, that they obviously relished the “fire-water”
which has been the ruin of so many peoples in these beautiful but benighted
seas. However, there was not enough left to go round, and it was
manifestly unlikely that William Bludger had succeeded in conveying
larger supplies from the wreck.
The meeting now assumed its former air of earnestness, and it was
not hard to see that the arrival of my unhappy and degraded fellow-countryman
had introduced a new element into the debate. Man after man spoke,
and finally the chief rose, as I had little doubt, to sum up the discussion.
He pointed to myself, and to William Bludger alternately, and the words
which I had already noted, Thargeelyah, and farmakoi,
frequently recurred in his speech. His ideas seemed to meet with
general approval; even the old priest laid aside his sickle, and beat
applause with his hands. He next rose, and, taking two garlands
of beautiful flowers from the horns of the altar, placed one wreath
on the head of the drunken sailor, who had fallen asleep by this time.
He then drew near me, and I had little doubt that he meant to make me
also wear a garland, like some woman of rank and fashion at a giddy
secular entertainment. Whatever his motive might be I was determined
to wear nothing of the kind. But here some attendants grappled
and held me, my hat was lifted from my brows, and the circlet of blossoms
was carefully entwined all round my hat. The head-covering was
then replaced, the whole assembly, forming a circle, danced around me
and the unconscious Bludger, and, finally, the old priest, turning his
face alternately to me and to the sun, intoned a hymn, the audience
joining in at intervals.
My worst fears were, apparently, being realized. In spite of
the compromising appearance and conduct of Bludger, it seemed beyond
doubt that we were both regarded as, in some degree, divine and sacred.
Resistance on my part was, it will be seen, impossible. I could
not escape from the hands of my tormentors, and I was so wholly ignorant,
at that time, of their tongue, that I knew not how to disclaim the honours
thus blasphemously thrust upon me. I did my best, shouting, in
English, “I am no Thargeelyah. I am no farmakos”
supposing those words to be the native terms for one or other of their
gods. On this the whole assembly, even the gravest, burst out
laughing, each man poking his neighbour in the ribs, and uttering what
I took to be jests at my expense. Their behaviour in this juncture,
and frequently afterwards, when I attempted to make them tell me the
meaning of the unknown words, and of catharma (another expression
the chief had used), greatly perplexed me. I had afterwards too
good reason to estimate their dreadful lack of the ordinary feelings
of humanity at its true value.
However, nothing but laughter (most unfitting the occasion) could
be got out of the assembled natives. They now began to return
to their homes, and Bludger, crowned with flowers that became him but
ill, was carried off, not, as it seemed to me, without even a reverential
demeanour on the part of his escort. Those who surrounded me,
a kind of body-guard of six young men, had entirely recovered their
composure, and behaved to me with a deference that was astonishing,
but reassuring. From this time, I ought to say, though permitted
to go where I would, and allowed to observe even their most secret rites,
enjoying opportunities such as will never fall to another European,
I was never, but once, entirely alone. My worshippers, as they
might almost be called, so humble was their demeanour, still kept watchful
eyes upon me, as if I were a being so precious that they were jealous
of my every movement. It was now made plain to me, by signs, that
I must wait for some little space before being conveyed to my appointed
VI. A BACKSLIDER. A WARNING.
We had not remained long by ourselves in the square, when the most
extraordinary procession which I had ever beheld began to climb into
the open space from the town beneath. I do not know if I have
made it sufficiently clear that the square, on the crest of the isolated
hill above the sea, was occupied only by public buildings, such as the
temple, the house of the chief, and a large edifice used as a kind of
town hall, so to speak. The natives in general lived in much smaller
houses, many of them little better than huts, and divided by extremely
narrow and filthy streets, on the slopes, and along the shores of the
It was from these houses and from all the country round that the
procession, with persons who fell into its ranks as they came, was now
making its way. Almost all the parties concerned were young, boys
and girls, or very young men and women, and though their dress was much
scantier and less decent than what our ideas of delicacy require, it
must be admitted that the general aspect of the procession was far from
unpleasing. The clothes and wraps which the men and women wore
were of various gay colours, and were, in most cases, embroidered quite
skilfully with representations of flowers, fruits, wild beasts, and
individuals of grotesque appearance. Every one was crowned with
either flowers or feathers.
But, most remarkable of all, there was scarcely a person in this
large gathering who did not bring or lead some wild bird or beast.
The girls carried young wild doves, young rooks, or the nestlings of
such small fowls as sparrows and finches. It was a pretty sight
to see these poor uninstructed young women, flushed with the exertion
of climbing, and merry, flocking into the square, each with her pet
(as I supposed, but the tender mercies of the heathen are cruel) half
hidden in the folds of her gown. Of the young men, some carried
hawks, some chained eagles, some young vultures. Many were struggling,
too, with wild stags and wild goats, which they compelled with the utmost
difficulty to march in the ranks of the procession. A number of
young persons merely bore in their hands such fruits as were in season,
obviously fine specimens, of which they had reason to be proud.
Others, again, were carrying little young bears, all woolly, comfortable-looking
creatures, while the parent bears, adult bears at any rate, were brought
along, chained, in the rear. My guards, or adorers, or whatever
the young men who looked after me really were, led me forward, and made
signs to me that I was to bring up the rear of the procession—behind
the bears, which made no attempt (as in the case of the prophet) to
take the part of a Minister of the Bungletonian Connection. What
a position for one who would fain have been opening the eyes of this
darkened people to better things! But, till I had acquired some
knowledge of their language, I felt my only chance was to acquiesce
in everything not positively sinful. The entrance of a menagerie
and horticultural exhibition into the town—for thus I explained
to myself what was going on before my eyes—could not be severely
censured by the harshest critic, and I prepared to show my affability
by joining in an innocent diversion and popular entertainment.
Soon I found that, after all, I was not to be absolutely last in
the advance of this miscellaneous exhibition, nor were the intentions
of the people so harmless as I had imagined. This was no affair
of cottage window gardens, and a distribution of prizes.
The crowd which had collected in front of the chief’s house
opened suddenly, and, in the throng of people, I detected a movement
of excitement and alarm. Next I saw the horns of animals mixed
with the heads and shoulders of the multitude, and then an extraordinary
spectacle burst, at full speed, upon my gaze. Four great wild
stags, plunging, rearing, and kicking, rushed by, dragging a small vehicle
of unusual shape, in which stood, to my horror, the chief’s beautiful
daughter, Doto. The vehicle passed me like a flash of horns, in
spite of the attempts of four resolute men, who clung at the stags’
heads to restrain the impetuosity of these coursers. The car,
I should explain—though I can hardly expect to be believed—was
not unlike the floor of a hansom cab, from which the seat, the roof,
the driver’s perch, and everything else should have been removed,
except the basis, the wheels, and the splashboard, the part on which
we generally find the advertisements of Messrs. Mappin and Webb.
On this floor, then, Doto stood erect, holding the reins; her yellow
hair had become unbound, and was floating like a flag behind her, and
her beautiful face, far from displaying any alarm, was flushed with
pleasure and pride. She was dressed in splendid and glittering
attire, over which was fastened—so strange were the manners of
these islanders—the newly-stripped skin of a great black bear.
Thus dragged by the wild deer, Doto passed like a flash through the
midst of the men and women, her stags being maddened to fresh excitement
by the sight and smell of the bears, and other wild animals. But,
eager as were the brutes that dragged the precarious carriage, they
were somewhat tamed by the great steepness of the ascent, up which they
bounded, to the heights at the back of the town. Up this path,
often narrow and excessively dangerous, we all took our way, and finally,
after passing through various perilous defiles and skirting many cliffs,
we arrived at a level space in front of an ancient temple of one of
their heathen gods. It was built like the others in the settlement
below, but the white stone had become brown and yellow with time and
weather, and the colours, chiefly red and blue, with which the graven
images, in contempt of the second commandment, were painted, had faded,
and grown very dim.
On the broad platform in front of this home of evil spirits had been
piled a great mound of turf, sloping very gradually and smoothly, like
the terrace of a well-kept lawn, to the summit, which itself was, perhaps,
a hundred feet in circumference. On this was erected a kind of
breastwork of trunks of trees, each tree some fifteen feet in length,
and in the centre of the circular breastwork was an altar, as usual,
under which blazed a fire of great fierceness. From the temple
came a very aged woman, dressed in bear skins, who carried a torch.
This torch she lit at the blaze under the altar, and a number of the
young men, lighting their torches at hers, set fire to the outer breastwork,
in which certain open spaces or entrances had been purposely left.
No sooner had the trees begun to catch fire, which they did slowly,
being of green wood, than the multitude outside, with the most horrible
and piercing outcries, began to drive the animals which they had brought
with them into the midst of the flames.
The spectacle was one of the most terrible I ever beheld, even among
this cruel and outlandish people, whose abominable inventions contrasted
so strangely with the mildness of their demeanour where their religion
was not concerned. It was pitiful to see the young birds, many
of them not yet able to fly, flutter into the flames and the stifling
smoke, and then fall, scorched, and twittering miserably. The
young lambs and other domesticated animals were forced in without much
resistance, but the great difficulty was to urge the wolves, antelopes,
and other wild creatures, into the blaze. The cries of the multitude,
who bounded about like maniacs, armed with clubs and torches, rose madly
over the strange unusual screams and howls uttered by the wild beasts
in their pain and terror. Ever and anon some animal would burst
through the crowd, perhaps half burned, and with its fur on fire, and
would be pursued to a certain distance, after which it was allowed to
escape by the sacrificers. As I was watching, with all my hopes
enlisted on its side, the efforts of an antelope to escape, I heard
a roar which was horrible even in that babel of abominable sights and
A great black bear, its pelt one sheet of flame, its whole appearance
(if I may be permitted to say so) like that of a fiend from the pit,
forced its way through the throng, and, bounding madly to the spot where
Doto’s car stood at a little distance, rose erect on its hind
feet, and fixed its claws in the flank of one of the stags, the off-leader.
Instantly the team of stags, escaping from the hands of the strong men
who stood at their heads, plunged violently down the narrow and dangerous
path which led to the city. I shouted to Doto to leap out, but
she did not hear or did not understand me.
With a fixed look of horror on her white face, she dropped the useless
reins, and the vehicle passed out of sight round a corner of the cliff.
I had but a moment in which to reflect on what might be done to rescue
her. In that moment I providentially spied a double-edged axe
which lay beside me on the grass, having fallen from the hands of one
of the natives. Snatching up this weapon, I rushed to the edge
of the cliff, and looked down. It was almost a sheer precipice,
broken only by narrow shelves and clefts, on some of which grass grew,
while on others a slight mountain-ash or a young birch just managed
to find foothold.
Far, far beneath, hundreds of feet below, I could trace the windings
of the path up which we had climbed.
Instantly my plan was conceived. I would descend the cliff,
risking my life, of course, but that was now of small value in this
hopelessly heathen land, and endeavour to save the benighted Doto from
the destruction to which she was hastening. Her car must pass
along that portion of the path which lay, like a ribbon, in the depth
below me, unless, as seemed too probable, it chanced to be upset before
reaching the spot. To pursue it from behind was manifestly hopeless.
These thoughts flashed through my brain more rapidly than even the
flight of the maddened red deer; and scarcely less swiftly, I began
scrambling down the face of the cliff. It was really a series
of almost hopeless leaps to which I was committed, and the axe, to which
I clung, rather impeded than aided me as I let myself drop from one
rocky shelf to another, catching at the boughs and roots of trees to
break my fall. At last I reached the last ledge before the sheer
wall of rock, which hung above the path. As I let myself down,
feeling with my feet for any shelf or crack in the wall, I heard the
blare of the stags, and the rattle of the wheels. Half intentionally,
half against my will, I left my hold of a tree-root, and slid, bumping
and scratching myself terribly, down the slippery and slatey face of
the rocky wall, till I fell in a mass on the narrow road. In a
moment I was on my feet, the axe I had thrown in front of me, and I
grasped it instinctively as I rose. It was not too soon.
The deer were almost on me. Stepping to the side of the way, where
a rock gave some shelter, I dealt a blow at the nearest stag, under
which he reeled and fell to the ground, his companion stumbling over
him. In the mad group of rearing beasts I smote right and left
at the harness, which gave way beneath my strokes, and the unhurt stags
sped down the glen, and then rushed into separate corries of the hills.
The car was upset, and Doto lay pale and bleeding among the hoofs of
the stricken deer.
I dragged her out of the danger to the side of the path. I
felt her pulse, which still fluttered. I brought her, in my hat,
water from the stream; and, finally, had the pleasure of seeing her
return to life before the first of her friends came, wailing and lamenting,
and tearing their hair, down the path.
When they found the girl unwounded, though still weak and faint,
their joy knew no bounds, though I too plainly perceived that they were
returning thanks to the heathen goddess whose priestess Doto was.
As for me, they once more crowned me in the most elaborate, and, I think,
unbecoming manner, with purple pandanus flowers. Then, having
laid Doto on a litter, they returned in procession to the town, where
the girl was taken into the chiefs house. As we parted, she held
out her hand to me, but instantly withdrew it with a deep sigh.
I closely watched her. She was weeping. I had noticed before
that all the natives, as much as possible, avoided personal contact
with me. This fact, coupled with the reverence which they displayed
towards me, confirmed my impression that they regarded me as something
supernatural, not of this world, and divine.
To remove this belief was most certainly my duty, but how was it
to be done? Alas! I must now admit that I yielded to a subtle
temptation, and was led into conduct unworthy of a vessel. Sad
to say, as I search the rewards of my own heart, I am compelled to confess
that my real desire was not so much to undeceive the people—for
in their bewildering myriads of foolish beliefs one more or less was
of small importance—as to recommend myself to Doto. This
young woman, though not a member of our Connection, and wholly ignorant
of saving Truths, had begun to find favour in my eyes, and I hoped to
lead her to the altar; altars, for that matter, being plentiful enough
in this darkened land. I should have remembered the words once
spoken by a very gracious young woman, the daughter of a pious farmer.
“Mother,” said she, “I have made up my mind never
to let loose my affections upon any man as is not pious, and in good
circumstances.” Doto was, for an islander, in good circumstances,
but who, ah! who, could call her pious?
I endeavoured, it is true, to convert her, but, ah! did I go to work
in the right way? Did I draw, in awful colours, the certain consequences
of ignorance of the Truth? Did I endeavour to strike a salutary
terror into her heathen heart?
No; such would have been a proper course of conduct, but such was
not mine! I weakly adopted the opposite plan—that used by
the Jesuits in their dealings with the Chinese and other darkened peoples.
I attempted, meanly attempted (but, as may be guessed, with but limited
success), to give an orthodox Nonconformist character to the observances
of Doto’s religion. For example, instead of thundering,
as was my duty, at her worldly diversions of promiscuous dancing, and
ball play, I took a part in these secular pursuits, fondly persuading
myself that my presence discouraged levity, and was a check upon unseemly
Thus, among the young native men and maidens, in the windings of
the mazy dance, might have been seen disporting himself, a person of
stalwart form, whose attire still somewhat faintly indicated his European
origin and sacred functions. A hymn-book in my hand instead of
a rattle (used by the natives), I capered gaily through their midst.
Often and often I led the music, instructing my festive flock in English
hymns, which, however, I adapted to gay and artless melodies, such as
“There’s some one in de house wid Dinah!” or “Old
Joe kicking up behind and afore!”
This kind of entertainment was entirely new to the natives, who heartily
preferred it to their own dull music, resembling what are called, I
believe, “Gregorians,” by a bloated and Erastian establishment.
So far, then, I may perchance trust that my efforts were not altogether
vain, and the seed thus sown may, in one or two cases, have fallen on
ground not absolutely stony. But, alas! I have little room
I pursued my career of unblushing “economy”—as
the Jesuits say, meaning, alas! economy of plain truth speaking—and
of heathen dissipation. Few were the dances in which I did not
take a part, sinking so low as occasionally to oblige with a hornpipe.
My blue ribbon had long ago worn out, and with it my strict views on
Temperance. I acquired a liking for the strange drink of the islanders—a
thick wine and water, sometimes mixed with cheese and honey. In
fact, I was sliding back—like the unfortunate Fanti missionary,
John Greedy, M.A., whose case, as reported by precious Mr. Grant Allen,
so painfully moved serious circles—I was sliding back to the level
of the savagery around me. May these confessions be accepted in
the same spirit as they are offered; may it partly palliate my guilt
that I had apparently no chance of escape from the island, and no hope
beyond that of converting the natives and marrying Doto. I trusted
to do it, not (as of old) by open and fearless denunciation, but by
slowly winning hearts, in a secular and sportive capacity, before gaining
Even so have I seen young priests of the prelatical Establishment
aim at popularity by playing cricket with liberal coal-miners of sectarian
persuasions. They told me they were “in the mission field,”
and one observed that his favourite post in the field was third man.
I know not what he meant. But to return to the island.
My career of soul-destroying “amusement” (ah, how hollow!)
was not uninterrupted by warnings. Every now and again the mask
was raised, and I saw clearly the unspeakable horrors of heathen existence.
For example, in an earlier part of this narrative, I have mentioned
an old heathen called Elatreus, a good-natured, dull, absent-minded
man, who reminded me of a respectable British citizen. How awful
was his end, how trebly awful when I reflect how nearly I—but
let me not anticipate. Elatreus was the head, and eldest surviving
member of a family which had a singular history. I never could
make out what the story was, but, in consequence of some ancient crime,
the chief of the family was never allowed to enter the town hall.
The penalty, if he infringed the law, was terrible. Now it chanced
one day that I was wandering down the street, my hands full of rare
flowers which I had gathered for Doto, and with four young doves in
my hat. It was spring, and at that season the young persons of
the island expected to receive such gifts from their admirers.
I was also followed by eleven little fawns, which I had tamed for her,
and four young whelps of the bear. At the same time, in the lightness
of my foolish heart, I was singing a native song, all about one Lityerses,
to the tune of “Barbara Allen.”
At this moment, I observed, coming out of a side street, old Elatreus.
He was doddering along, his hands behind his back, and his nose in the
air, followed by a small but increasing crowd of the natives, who crept
stealthily behind at a considerable distance. I paused to watch
what was happening.
Elatreus entered the main street, and lounged along till he came
opposite the town hall, on which some repairs were being made.
The door stood wide open. He gazed at it, in a vacant but interested
way, and went up the steps, where he stood staring in an absent-minded,
vacant kind of fashion. I could see that the crowd watching him
from the corner of the side street was vastly excited.
Elatreus now passed his hand across his brow, seemed vastly puzzled,
and yawned. Then he slowly entered the town hall. With a
wild yell of savage triumph the mob rushed in after him, and in a few
moments came forth again, with Elatreus bound and manacled. Some
one sped away, and brought the old priest, who carried the sickle.
He appeared full of joy, and lustily intoned—for they have this
Popish custom of intoning—an unintelligible hymn. By this
time Elatreus had been wreathed and crowned with flowers, and the rude
multitude for this purpose seized the interesting orchids which I had
gathered for my Doto. They then dragged the old man, pitifully
lamenting, to the largest altar in the centre of the square.
Need I say what followed? The scene was too awful. With
a horrible expression of joy the priest laid the poor wretch on the
great stone altar, and with his keen sickle—but it is too horrible!
. . . This was the penalty for a harmless act, forbidden by a
senseless law, which Elatreus—a most respectable man for an idolater—had
broken in mere innocent absence of mind.
Alas! among such a people, how could I ever hope, alone and unaided,
to effect any truly regenerating work?
Yet I was not wholly discouraged; indeed, my infatuation for
Doto made me overlook much profligate behaviour that I do not care to
mention in a tract which may fall into the hands of the young.
One other example of the native barbarity, however, I must narrate.
A respected couple in the vicinity had long been childless.
At length their wishes were crowned with success, and a little baby
girl was born to them. But the priest, who had curious ideas of
his own, insisted on consulting, as to this child, a certain witch,
a woman who dwelt apart in a cave where there was a sulphurous hot-water
spring, surrounded by laurel bushes, regarded as sacred by the benighted
islanders. This spring, or the fumes that arose from it, was supposed
to confer on the dweller in the cave the gift of prophecy. She
was the servant of Apollon, and was credited with possessing a spirit
of divination. The woman, after undergoing, or simulating, an
epileptic attack, declared, in rhythmical language, that the babe must
not be allowed to live. She averred that it would “bring
destruction on Scheria,” the native name for the island, which
I have styled Boothland, in honour of the Salvation Army. This
was enough for the priests, who did not actually slay the infant, but
exposed it on the side of a mountain, where the beasts and birds were
likely to have their way with it.
Now it chanced that I had climbed the hill-top that day to watch
for a sail, for I never quite lost hope of being taken away by some
British or continental vessel. My attendants, for a wonder, were
all absent at some feast—Carneia, I think they called it—of
their heathen gods. The time was early summer; it only wanted
a fortnight of the date, as far as I could reckon, at which I had first
been cast on the island, a year before.
As I descended the hillside, pleased, I must own, by the warm blight
sunlight, the colour of the sea, and the smell of the aromatic herbs,—pleased,
and half forgetful of the horrid heathenism that surrounded me, I heard
a low wail as of an infant. I searched about, in surprise, and
came on a beautiful baby, in rich swaddling bands, with a gold signet
ring tied round its neck. Such an occurrence was not very unusual,
as the natives, like most savages, were in the habit of keeping down
the surplus population, by thus exposing their little ones. The
history of the island was full of legends of exposed children, picked
up by the charitable (there was, oddly enough, no prohibition against
this), and afterwards recognized and welcomed by their families.
As any Englishman would have done, I lifted the dear little thing in
my arms, and, a happy thought occurring to me, carried it off as a present
to Doto, who doted on babies, as all girls do. The gift proved
to be the most welcome that I had ever offered, though Doto, as usual,
would not accept it from my hands, but made me lay it down beside the
hearth, which they regarded as a sacred place. Even if an enemy
reached the hearth of his foe, he would, thenceforth, be quite safe
in his house. Doto then picked up the child, warmed and caressed
it, sent for milk for its entertainment, and was full of pleasure in
her new pet.
She was a dear good girl, Doto, in spite of her heathen training.
Strangely enough, as I thought at the time, she burst out weeping
when I took my leave of her, and seemed almost as if she had some secret
to impart to me. This, at least, showed an interest in me, and
I walked to my home with high presumptuous thoughts.
As I passed a certain group of rocks, in a lonely uncultivated district,
while the grey of evening was falling, I heard a low whistle.
The place had a bad reputation, being thought to be haunted. Perhaps
I had unconsciously imbibed some of the superstitions of the natives,
for I started in alarm.
Then I heard an unmistakably British voice cry, in a suppressed tone,
The underwood rustled, and I beheld, to my astonishment, the form,
the crawling and abject form, of William Bludger!
Since the day of his landing we had never once met, William having
been sent off to a distant part of the island.
“Hi!” he said again, and when I exclaimed, naturally,
“Hullo!” he put his finger on his lips, and beckoned to
me to join him. This I did, and found that he was lurking in a
cavern under the group of grey weather-worn stones.
When I entered the cave, Bludger fell a-trembling so violently that
he could not speak. He seemed in the utmost alarm, his face quite
ashen with terror.
“What is the matter, William Bludger?” I asked; “have
you had a Call, or why do you thrust yourself on me?”
“Have you sich a thing as a chaw about ye?” he
asked in tremulous accents. “I’m that done;
never a drop has passed my lips for three days, strike me dead; and
I’d give anything for a chaw o’ tobacco. A sup of
drink you have not got, Capt’n Hymn-book, axing your pardon
for the liberty?”
“William,” I said, “even in this benighted island,
you set a pitiful example. You have been drinking, sir; you are
reaping what you have sown; and only temperance, strict, undeviating
total abstinence rather, can restore your health.”
“So help me!” cried the wretched man, “except a
drop of Pramneian
I took, the morning I cut and run,—and that was three days ago,—nothing
stronger than castor-oil berries have crossed my lips. It ain’t
that, sir; it ain’t the drink. It’s—it’s
the Thargeelyah. Next week, sir, they are going to roast
us—you and me—flog us first, and roast us after. Oh
Lord! Oh Lord!”
“Flog us first, and roast us afterwards.” I repeated
mechanically the words of William Bludger. “Why, you must
be mad; they are more likely to fall down and worship us,—me
at any rate.”
“No, Capt’n,” replied William; “that’s
your mistake. They say we’re both Catharmata; that’s
what they call us; and you’re no better than me.”
“And what are Catharmata?” I inquired, remembering
that this word, or something like it, had been constantly used by the
natives in my hearing.
“Well, Capt’n, it means, first and foremost, just the
off-scourings of creation, the very dust and sweepings of the shop,”
answered Bludger, who had somehow regained his confidence. To
have a fellow-sufferer, and to see the pallor which, doubtless, overspread
my features, was a source of comfort to this hardened man. At
the same time I confess that, if William Bludger alone had been destined
to suffer, I could have contemplated the decree with Christian resignation.
“I speak the beggars’ patter pretty well now,”
Bludger went on; “and I see Catharmata means more than
just mere dirt. It means two unlucky devils.”
“William?” I exclaimed.
“It means, saving your presence, two poor coves, as has no
luck, like you and me, and that can be got rid of once a year, at an
entertainment they call the Thargeelyah, I dunno why, a kind
o’ friendly lead. They choose fellows as either behaves
ill, or has no friends to make a fuss about them, and they gives them
three dozen, or more, and takes them down to the beach, and burns them
alive over a slow fire. And then they toss the ashes out to sea,
and think all the bad luck goes away with the tide. Oh, I never
was in such a hole as this!”
Bludger’s words made me shudder. I had never forgotten
the hideous sacrifice, doubtless the Thargeelyah, as they called
it, that greeted me when I was first cast ashore on the island.
To think that I had only been saved that I might figure as a victim
of some of their heathen gods!
Oh, now the thought came back to me with a bitter repentance, that
if I had only converted all the islanders, they would never have dreamed
of sacrificing me in honour of a mere idol! Why had I been so
lukewarm, why had I backslidden, why had I endeavoured to make myself
agreeable by joining in promiscuous dances, when I should have been
thundering against Pagan idolatry, holy water, idols, sacrifices and
the whole abominable system of life on the island? True, I might
have goaded them into slaying me; I might have suffered as a martyr;
but, at the least, I would have deserved the martyr’s crown.
And now I was to perish at the stake, without even the precious consolation
of being a real martyr, and was to be flogged into the bargain.
I gave a hollow groan as these reflections passed through my mind,
and this appeared to afford William Bludger some consolation.
“You don’t seem to like it yourself, Capt’n; what’s
your advice? We’re both in the same boat; leastways I wish
we were in a boat; anyhow we’re both in the same hole.”
There was no denying this, and it was high time to mature some plan
of escape. Already I must have been missed by my attendants, my
gaolers rather, who would have returned from their festival, and would
be looking for me everywhere.
I bitterly turned over in my mind the facts of our situation; “ours,”
for, as a just punishment of my remissness, I was in the same quandary
as a drunken, dissipated sailor before the mast.
If William had but possessed a sweet and tuneful voice (often a gift
found in the most depraved natures), and if I had been able to borrow
a harmonium on wheels, I would not, even now, have despaired of converting
the whole island in the course of the week. As remarkable feats
have been performed, with equal alacrity, by precious Messrs. Moody
and Sankey, and I am informed that expeditious conversions are by no
means infrequent among politicians. But it was vain to think of
this resource, as William had no voice, and knew no hymns, while I had
no means of access to a perambulating harmonium.
“I’ll tell you what it is, sir,” said Bludger;
“I have a notion.”
“Name it, William,” I replied, my heart and manner softened
by community in suffering and terror.
“Well, if I were you, sir, I would not go home to-night at
all; I’d stop where you are. The beggars won’t find
you, let them hunt as they like; they daren’t come near this place,
bless you, it’s an ’Arnt;” by which he meant that
it was haunted.
“Well,” said I, “but how should we be any better
off to-morrow morning?”
“That’s just it, sir,” said Bludger. “We’ll
be up with the first stroke of dawn, nip down to the harbour, get on
board a boat, and be off before any of them are stirring.”
“But, even if we manage to secure a boat,” I said, “what
about provisions, and where are we to sail for?”
“Oh, never mind that,” said Bill; “we can’t
be worse off than we are, and I’ll slip out to-night, and lay
in some prog in the town. Also some grog, if I can lay my hands
on it,” he added, with an unholy smile.
“No, William,” I murmured; “no grog; our lives
depend on our sobriety.”
“Always a-preaching, the old tub-thumper,” I heard William
say to himself; but he made no further reference to the subject.
It was now quite dark, and we lay whispering, in the damp hollow
under the great stone. Our plan was to crawl away at the first
blush of dawn, when men generally sleep most soundly; that William should
enter one of the unguarded houses (for these people never stole, and
did not know the meaning of the word “thief”), that he should
help himself to provisions, and that meanwhile I should have a boat
ready to start in the harbour.
This larcenous but inevitable programme we carried out, after waiting
through dreadful hours of cold and shivering anxiety. Every cry
of a night bird from the marsh or the wood sent my heart into my mouth.
I felt inconceivably mean and remorseful, my vanity having received
a dreadful shock from the discovery that, far from being a god, I was
to be a kind of burnt-offering.
At last the east grew faintly grey, and we started, not keeping together,
but Bludger marching cautiously in my rear, at a considerable distance.
We only met one person, a dissipated young man, who, I greatly fear,
had been paying his court to a shepherdess in the hills. When
he shouted a challenge, I replied, Erastes eimi, which means,
I am sorry to say, “I am a lover,” and implied that I, also,
had been engaged in low intrigue. “Farewell, with good fortune,”
he replied, and went on his way, singing some catch about Amaryllis,
who, I presume, was the object of his unhallowed attentions.
We slipped into the silent town, unwalled and unguarded as it was,
for as one of their own poets had said, “We dwell by the wash
of the waves, far off from toilsome men, and with us are no folk conversant.”
They were a race that knew war only by a vague tradition, that they
had dwelt, at some former age, in an island, perhaps New Zealand, where
they were subject to constant annoyance from Giants,—a likely
story. Thence they had migrated to their present home, where only
one white man had ever been cast away—one Odysseus, so their traditions
declared—before our arrival. Him, however, they had treated
hospitably, very unlike their contemplated behaviour to Bludger and
I am obliged to make this historical digression that the reader may
understand how it happened, under Providence, that we were not detected
in passing through the town, and how Bludger successfully accomplished
what, I fear, was by no means his first burglary.
We parted at the chief’s house, Bill to secure provisions,
and I to unmoor a boat, and bring her round to a lonely bay on the coast,
where my companion was to join me.
I accomplished my task without the slightest difficulty, selected
a light craft,—they did not use canoes, but rowed boats like coracles,—and
was lying at anchor, moored with a heavy stone, in the bay.
The dawn was now breaking in the most beautiful colours—gold,
purple, crimson, and green—across the sea. All nature was
still, save for the first pipe of awakening birds.
There was a delicate fragrance in the air, which was at once soft
and keen, and, as I watched the red sunlight on the high cliffs, and
on the smooth trunks of the palm trees, I felt, strange to say, a kind
of reluctance to leave the island.
The people, apart from their cruel and abominable religion, were
the gentlest and most peaceful I have ever known. They were beautiful
to look upon, so finely made and shapely that I have never seen their
like. Their language was exquisitely sweet and melodious, and
though, except hymns, I do not care for poetry, yet I must admit that
some of their compositions in verse were extremely pleasing, though
they were ignorant of the art of rhyme. All about them was beautifully
made, and they were ignorant of poverty. I never saw a beggar
on the island; and Christians, unhappily, do not share their goods with
each other, and with the poor, so freely as did these benighted heathens.
Often have I laboured to make them understand what our Pauper Question
means, but they could not comprehend me.
“How can a man lack home, and food, and fire?” they would
say; “do people not love each other in your country?”
I explained that we love each other as Christians, but this
did not seem to enlighten their benighted minds. On the other
hand, it is true that they settle their population question by strangling
or exposing the majority of their infant daughters.
Rocked on the smooth green swell of the sea, beneath the white rocks,
I was brooding over these and many other matters, when I heard sudden
and violent movements in the deep vegetation on the hillside.
The laurel groves were stirred, and Bill Bludger, with a basket in his
hand, bounded down the slope, and swam for dear life to the boat.
“They’re after me,” he cried; and at that moment
an arrow quivered in the side of the boat.
I helped William on board as well as I might, under a shower of arrows
from the hill-top, most of which, owing to the distance, were ill directed
and fell short, or went wide.
Into the boat, at last, I got him, and thrusting an oar in his direction,
I said, “Pull for your life,” and began rowing. To
my horror, the boat made no way, but kept spinning round. A glance
in the bow showed me what was the matter: William Bludger was hopelessly
intoxicated! He had got at the jars of wine in the chief’s
cellar,—thalamos, they call it,—and had not taken
the precaution of mixing the liquor with water, as the natives invariably
do when they drink. The excitement of running had sent the alcoholic
fumes direct to his brain, and now he lay, a useless and embarrassing
cargo, in the bows. Meanwhile, the shouts of the natives rang
nearer and louder, and I knew that boats would soon be launched for
our capture. I thought of throwing Bludger overboard, and sculling,
but determined not to stain what might be my last moments with an act
of selfishness. I therefore pulled hard for the open sea, but
to no avail. On every side boats crowded round me, and I should
probably have been shot, or speared, but for the old priest, who, erect
in the bows of the largest vessel, kept yelling that we were to be taken
Alas! I well knew the secret of his cruel mercies.
He meant to reserve us for the sacrifice.
Why should I linger over the sufferings of the miserable week that
followed our capture? Hauled back to my former home, I was again
made the object of the mocking reverence of my captors. Ah, how
often, in my reckless youth, have my serious aunts warned me that I
“would be a goat at the last”! Too true, too true;
now I was to be a scapegoat, to be driven forth, as these ignorant and
strangely perverted people believed, with the sins of the community
on my head, those sins which would, according to their miserable
superstition, be expiated by the death, and consumed away by the
burning, of myself and William Bludger!
The week went by, as all weeks must, and at length came the solemn
day which they call Thargeelyah, the day more sacred than any
other to their idol, Apollon. Long before sunrise the natives
were astir; indeed, I do not think they went to bed at all, but spent
the night in hideous orgies. I know that, tossing sleepless through
the weary hours, I heard the voices of young men and women singing on
the hillsides, and among the myrtle groves which are holy to the most
disreputable of their deities, a female, named Aphrodighty.
Harps were twanging too, and I heard the refrain of one of the native
songs, “To-night they love who never loved before; to-night let
him who loves love all the more.” The words have unconsciously
arranged themselves, even in English, as poetry; those who know Thomas
Gowles best, best know how unlikely it is that he would willingly dabble
in the worldly art of verse-fashioning. Think of my reflections
with a painful, shameful, and, above all, undeserved death before
me, while all the fragrant air was ringing with lascivious merriment.
My impression is that, as all the sins of the year were, in their opinion,
to be got rid of next day, and tossed into the sea with the ashes of
Bludger and myself, the natives had made up their minds—an eligible
opportunity now presenting itself—to be as wicked as they knew
how. Alas! though I have not dwelt on this painful aspect
of their character, they “knew how” only too well.
The sun rose at last, and flooded the island, when I perceived that,
from every side, crowds of revellers were pressing together to the place
where I lay in fetters. They had a wild, dissipated air, flowers
were wreathed and twisted in their wet and dewy locks, which floated
on the morning wind. Many of the young men were merely dressed—if
“dressed” it could be called—in the skins of leopards,
panthers, bears, goats, and deer, tossed over their shoulders.
In their hands they all held wet, dripping branches of fragrant trees,
many of them tipped with pine cones, and wreathed with tendrils of the
vine. Others carried switches, of which I divined the use only
too clearly, and the women were waving over their heads tame serpents,
which writhed and wriggled hideously. It was an awful spectacle!
I was dragged forth by these revellers; many of them were intoxicated,
and, in a moment—I blush even now to think of it—I was stripped
naked! Nothing was left to me but my hat and spectacles, which,
for some religious reason I presume, I was, fortunately, allowed to
retain. Then I was driven with blows, which hurt a great deal,
into the market-place, and up to the great altar, where William Bludger,
also naked, was lying more dead than alive.
“William,” I said solemnly, “what cheer?”
He did not answer me. Even in that supreme moment it was not difficult
to discern that William had been looking on the wine when it was red,
and had not confined himself to mere ocular observation. I tried
to make him remember he was an Englishman, that the honour of our country
was in our hands, and that we should die with the courage and dignity
befitting our race. These were strange consolations and exhortations
for me to offer in such an extremity, but, now it had come to
the last pass, it is curious what mere worldly thoughts hurried through
My words were wasted: the natives seized William and forced him to
his feet. Then, while a hymn was sung, they put chains of black
and white figs round our necks, and thrust into our hands pieces of
cheese, figs, and certain peculiar herbs. This formed part of
what may well be called the “Ritual” of this cruel race.
May Ritualists heed my words, and turn from the errors of their ways!
Too well I knew all that now awaited us. All that I had seen
and shuddered at, on the day of my landing on the island, was now practised
on self and partner. We had to tread the long paved way to the
distant cove at the river’s mouth; we had to endure the lashes
from the switches of wild fig. The priestess, carrying the wooden
idol, walked hard by us, and cried out, whenever the blows fell fewer
or lighter, that the idol was waxing too heavy for her to bear.
Then they redoubled their cruelties.
It was a wonderfully lovely day. In the blue heaven there was
not a cloud. We had reached the river’s mouth, and were
fast approaching the stakes that had already been fixed in the sands
for our execution; nay, the piles of green wood were already being heaped
up by the young men. There was, there could be, no hope, and,
weary and wounded, I almost welcomed the prospect of death, however
Suddenly the blows ceased to shower on me, and I heard a cry from
the lips of the old priest, and, turning about, I saw that the eyes
of all the assembled multitude were fixed on a point on the horizon.
Looking automatically in the direction towards which they were gazing,
I beheld—oh joy, oh wonder!—I beheld a long trail of cloud
floating level with the sea! It was the smoke of a steamer!
“Too late, too late,” I thought, and bitterly reflected
that, had the vessel appeared but an hour earlier, the attention of
my cruel captors might have been diverted to such a spectacle as they
had never seen before.
But it was not too late.
Perched on a little hillock, and straining his gaze to the south,
the old priest was speaking loudly and excitedly. The crowd deserted
us, and gathered about him.
I threw myself on the sand, weary, hopeless, parched with thirst,
and racked with pain. Bludger was already lying in a crumpled
mass at my feet. I think he had fainted.
I retained consciousness, but that was all. The fierceness
of the sun beat upon me, the sky and sea and shore swam before me in
a mist. Presently I heard the voice of the priest, raised in the
cadences which he favoured when he was reading texts out of their sacred
books, if books they could be called. I looked at him with a faint
curiosity, and perceived that he held in his hands the wooden casket,
adorned with strangely carved bands of gold and ivory, which I had seen
on the night of my arrival on the island.
From this he had selected the old grey scraps of metal, scratched,
as I was well aware, with what they conceived to be ancient prophecies.
I was now sufficiently acquainted with the language to understand
the verses which he was chanting, and which I had already heard, without
comprehending them. They ran thus in English:
“But when a man, having a chimney pot on his head, and four
eyes, appears in Scheria, and when a ship without sails also comes,
sailing without wind, and breathing smoke, then shall destruction fall
on the island.”
He had not ended when it was plain, even to those ignorant people,
that the prophecy was about to be fulfilled. From the long, narrow,
black line of the steamer, which had approached us with astonishing
speed, “sailing without wind, and breathing smoke,” there
burst six flashes of fire, followed by a peal like thunder, and six
tall fountains, as the natives fancied, of sea-water rose and fell in
the bay, where the shells had lighted.
It was plain that the commander of the vessel, finding himself in
unknown seas, and hard by an unvisited country, was determined to strike
terror and command respect by this salute.
The noise of the broadside had scarcely died away, when the natives
fled, disappeared like magic, leaving many of their garments behind
They were making for their town, which was concealed from the view
of the rapidly nearing steamer. From her mast I could now see,
flaunting the slight breeze, the dear old Union Jack, and the banner
of the Salvation Navy!
My resolution was taken in a moment. Bludger had now recovered
consciousness, and was picking up heart. I thrust into his hands
one of the branches with which we had been flogged, fastened to it a
cloak of one of the natives, bade him keep waving it from a rocky promontory,
and, rushing down to the sea, I leaped in, and swam with all my strength
towards the vessel. Weak as I was, my new hopes gave me strength,
and presently, from the crest of a wave, I saw that the people of the
steamer were lowering a boat, and rowing towards me.
In a few minutes they had reached me, my countrymen’s hands
were in mine. They dragged me on board; they pulled back to their
vessel; and I stood, entirely undressed, on the deck of a British ship!
So long had I lived among people heedless of modesty that I was rushing,
with open arms, towards the officer on the quarter-deck, who was dressed
as a bishop, when I heard a scream of horror. I turned round in
time to see the bishop’s wife fleeing precipitately to the cabin,
and driving her children and governess in front of her.
Then all the horror of the situation flooded my heart and brain,
and I fell fainting on the quarter-deck.
When I recovered my consciousness, I found myself plainly but comfortably
dressed in the ordinary costume, except the hat, which lay beside me,
of a dean in the Church of England. My wounds had been carefully
attended to, William Bludger had been taken on board, and I was surrounded
by the kind faces of my benefactors, including the bishop’s consort.
My apologies for my somewhat sudden and unceremonious intrusion were
cut short by the arrival of tea and a slight collation suitable for
an invalid. In an hour I was walking the quarter-deck with the
bishop in command of the William Wilberforce, armed steam yacht,
of North Shields, fitted out for the purposes of the Salvation Navy.
From the worthy prelate in command of the William Wilberforce,
I learned much concerning his own past career and the nature of his
enterprise, as I directed the navigation of the vessel through the shoals
and reefs which lay about the harbour of the island.
The bishop (a purely brevet title) would refresh his memory, now
and then, from a penny biography of himself with which he was provided,
and the following, in brief, is a record of his life and adventures:—
Thomas Sloggins (that was his name), from his earliest infancy, had
been possessed with a passion for doing good to others, a passion,
alas! but too rarely reciprocated. I pass over many affecting
details of his adventures as a ministering child: how he endeavoured
to win his father from tobacco by breaking his favourite pipes; how
he strove to wean his elder brother from cruel field-sports, by stuffing
the joints of his fishing-rod with gravel; with many other touching
Being almost entirely uneducated, young Sloggins, when he reached
man’s estate, conceived that he would most benefit his fellow-creatures
by combining the professions of the pulpit and the press—by preaching
on Sundays and at odd times, while he acted as outdoor reporter to The
Rowdy Puritan on every lawful day. Being a man of great earnestness
and enterprise, he soon rose in the ranks of the Salvation Navy; and
at one time commanded an evangelical barge on the benighted canals of
our country. Finally, he made England almost too hot to hold him,
by the original forms of his benevolence, while, at the same time, he
acquired the utmost esteem and confidence of many wealthy philanthropists
and excellent, if impulsive, ladies. These good people provided
him with that well-equipped and armed steam yacht, the William Wilberforce,
which he manned with a crew of converted characters (they certainly
looked as if they must have needed a great deal of converting), and
he had now for months been cruising in the South Pacific. A local
cyclone had driven the William Wilberforce out of her reckoning,
and hence the appearance of that vessel in the very nick of time to
achieve my rescue.
When the bishop had finished his story, I briefly recapitulated to
him my own adventures, and we agreed that the conversion of the island
must be our earliest task. To begin with, we steered into the
harbour, where a vast multitude of the natives were assembled in arms,
and awaited our approach with a threatening demeanour. Our landing
was opposed, but a few well-directed volleys from a Gardiner gun (which
did not jam) caused the hostile force to disperse, and we landed in
great state. Marching on the chief’s house, we were received
with an abject submission that I had scarcely expected. The people
were absolutely cowed, more by the fulfilment of the prophecy, I think,
than even by the execution done by our Gardiner machine gun. At
the bishop’s request, I delivered a harangue in the native tongue,
declaring that we only required the British flag to be hoisted on the
palace, and the immediate disendowment of the heathen church as in those
parts established. I was listened to in uneasy silence; but my
demand for lodgings in the palace was acceded to; and, in a few hours,
the bishop, with his wife and children, were sumptuously housed under
the roof of the chief. The ladies of the chief’s family
showed great curiosity in watching and endeavouring to converse with
our friends. I was amused to see how soon the light-hearted islanders
appeared to forget their troubles and apprehensions. Doto, in
particular, became quite devoted to the prelate’s elder daughter
(the youngest of the bishop’s family was suffering from measles),
and would never be out of her company. Thus all seemed to fare
merrily; presents were brought to us—flowers, fruit, the feathers
of rare birds, and ornaments of native gold were literally showered
upon the ladies of the party. The chief promised to call a meeting
of his counsellors on the morrow, and all seemed going on well, when,
alas! measles broke out in the palace. The infant whom I had presented
to Doto—the infant whom I had found on the mountain side—was
the first sufferer. Then Doto caught the disease herself, then
her mother, then the chief. In vain we attempted to nurse and
tend them; in vain we expended the contents of the ship’s medicine
chest on the invalids. The malady having, as it were, an entirely
new field to work upon, raged like the most awful pestilence.
Through all ranks of the people it spread like wild-fire; many died,
none could be induced to take the most ordinary precautions. The
natives became, as it were, mad under the torments of fever and the
burning heat of the unaccustomed malady; they rushed about, quite unclad,
for the sake of the deceptive coolness, and hundreds of them cast themselves
into the sea and into the river.
It was my sad lot to see my dear Doto die—the first of the
sufferers in the palace to succumb to the disease. Meanwhile,
the bishop and myself being entirely absorbed in attendance on the sick,
the crew of the William Wilberforce, I deeply regret to say,
escaped from all restraint, and forgot what was due to themselves and
their profession. They revelled with the most abandoned of the
natives, and disease and drink ravaged the once peaceful island.
Every sign of government and order vanished. The old priest built
a huge pile of firewood, and laying himself there with the images of
the gods, set fire to the whole, and perished with his own false religion.
After this event, the island ceased to be a safe residence for ourselves.
Among the mountains, as I learned, where the pestilence had not yet
penetrated, the shepherds and the wilder tribes were gathering in arms.
One night we stole on board the William Wilberforce, leaving
the city desolate, filled with the smoke of funeral pyres, and the wailing
of men and women. There was a dreadful sultry stillness in the
air, and all day long wild beasts had been dashing madly into the sea,
and the sky had been obscured by flights of birds. On all the
crests of the circle of surrounding hills we saw, in the growing darkness,
the beacons and camp fires of the insurgents from the interior.
Just before the dawn the William Wilberforce was attacked by
the whole mass of the natives in boats and rafts. But we had not
been unprepared for this movement, nor were the resources of science
unequal to the occasion. We had surrounded the William Wilberforce
with a belt, or cordon, of torpedoes, and as each of the assaulting
boats touched the boom, a terrible explosion shook the water into fountains
of foam, and the waves were strewn with scalded, wounded, and mutilated
men. Meanwhile, we bombarded the city and the harbour, and the
night passed amid the most awful sounds and sights—fire, smoke,
yells of anger and pain, cries of the native leaders encouraging their
men, and shouts from our own people, who had to repel the boarders,
when the boom was at last forced, with pikes and cutlasses. Just
before the dawn a strange thing happened. A great glowing coal,
as it seemed, fell with a hissing crash on the deck of the William
Wilberforce, and others dropped, with a strange sound and a dreadful
odour of burning, in the water all around us. Had the natives
discovered some mode of retaliating on our use of firearms?
I looked in the direction of their burning city, and beheld, on the
sharp peak of the highest mountain (now visible in the grey morning
light), an object like a gigantic pine-tree of fire. The blazing
trunk rose, slim and straight, from the mountain crest, and, at a vast
height, developed a wilderness of burning branches. Fearful hollow
sounds came from the hill, its sides were seamed with racing cataracts
of living lava, of coursing and leaping flames, which rolled down with
incredible swiftness and speed towards the doomed city. Then the
waters of the harbour were smitten and shaken, and the William Wilberforce
rocked and heaved as in the most appalling storm, though all the winds
were silent, while a mighty wave swept far inland towards the streams
of fire. There was no room for doubt; a volcanic eruption was
occurring, and a submarine earthquake, as not uncommonly happens, had
also taken place. Our only hope was in immediate flight.
Presently steam was got up, and we steamed away into the light of the
glowing east, leaving behind us only a burning island, and a fire like
an ugly dawn flaring in the western sky.
When we returned in the evening, Boothland—as I may now indeed
call it, for Scheria has ceased to be—was one black smoking cinder.
Hardly a tree or a recognizable rock remained to show that this had
once been a peaceful home of men. The oracle, or prophecy of the
old priest, had been horribly, though, of course, quite accidentally,
* * * * *
Little remains to be told. On my return home, I chanced to
visit the British Museum, and there, much to my surprise, observed an
old piece of stone, chipped with the characters, or letters, in use
among the natives of Scheria.
“Why,” said I, reading the words aloud, “these
are the characters which the natives employed on my island.”
“These?” said the worthy official who accompanied me.
“Why, these are the most archaic Greek letters which have yet
been discovered: inscriptions from beneath the lava beds of Santorin.”
“I can’t help that,” I said. “The Polynesians
used them too; and you see I can read them easily, though I don’t
I then told him the whole story of my connection with the island,
and of the unfortunate results of the contact between these poor people
and our superior modern civilization.
I have rarely seen a man more affected by any recital than was the
head of the classical department of the Museum by my artless narrative.
When I described the sacrifice I saw on landing in the island, he exclaimed,
“Great Heavens! the Attic Thargelia.” He grew more
and more excited as I went on, and producing a Greek book, “Pausanias,”
he showed me that the sacrifice of wild beasts was practised sixteen
hundred years ago in honour of Artemis Elaphria. The killing of
old Elatreus for entering the town hall reminded him of a custom in
Achæa Pthiotis. When I had finished my tale, he burst out
into violent and libellous language. “You have destroyed,”
he said, “with your miserable modern measles and Gardiner guns,
the last remaining city of the ancient Greeks. The winds cast
you on the shore of Phæacia, the island sung by Homer; and, in
your brutal ignorance, you never knew it. You have ruined a happy,
harmless, and peaceful people, and deprived archæology of an opportunity
that can never, never return!”
I do not know about archæology, but as for “harmless
and peaceful people,” I leave it to my readers to say whether
the islanders were anything of the sort.
I learn that the Government has just refused to give the Museum a
grant of five thousand pounds to be employed in what are called “Excavations
in Ancient Phæacia,” diggings, that is, in Boothland.
With so many darkened people still ignorant of our enlightened civilization,
I think the grant would be a shameful waste of public money.
* * * * *
We publish the original text of the prophecy repeatedly alluded to
by Mr. Gowles. The learned say that no equivalent occurs for the
line about his “four eyes,” and it is insinuated, in a literary
journal of eminence, that Mr. Gowles pilfered the notion from Good’s
glass eye, in a secular romance, called King Solomon’s Mines,
which Mr. Gowles, we are sure, never heard of in his life.—ED.
εχων περι κραατος
και νηυς πυριπεμπτος
ιξεται εις ’Απιην
χερσον δια λαιτμα
δη τοτε πουλυβοτειραν
επι χθονα λοιμος
ξυν δε τε τω πτολεμος,
τοτε δη θεοι
εξ εδρανων, τατ’