When the World Shook by H. Rider Haggard - HTML preview
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More than thirty years ago you tried to protect me, then a stranger to you, from one of the falsest and most malignant accusations ever made against a writer.
So complete was your exposure of the methods of those at work to blacken a person whom they knew to be innocent, that, as you will remember, they refused to publish your analysis which destroyed their charges and, incidentally, revealed their motives.
Although for this reason vindication came otherwise, your kindness is one that I have never forgotten, since, whatever the immediate issue of any effort, in the end it is the intention that avails.
Therefore in gratitude and memory I ask you to accept this romance, as I know that you do not disdain the study of romance in the intervals of your Imperial work.
The application of its parable to our state and possibilities-beneath or beyond these glimpses of the moon--I leave to your discernment.
Ever sincerely yours, H. RIDER HAGGARD.
Arbuthnot Describes Himself I suppose that I, Humphrey Arbuthnot, should begin this history in which Destiny has caused me to play so prominent a part, with some short account of myself and of my circumstances.
I was born forty years ago in this very Devonshire village in which I write, but not in the same house. Now I live in the Priory, an ancient place and a fine one in its way, with its panelled rooms, its beautiful gardens where, in this mild climate, in addition to our own, flourish so many plants which one would only expect to find in countries that lie nearer to the sun, and its green, undulating park studded with great timber trees. The view, too, is perfect; behind and around the rich Devonshire landscape with its hills and valleys and its scarped faces of red sandstone, and at a distance in front, the sea. There are little towns quite near too, that live for the most part on visitors, but these are so hidden away by the contours of the ground that from the Priory one cannot see them. Such is Fulcombe where I live, though for obvious reasons I do not give it its real name.
Many years ago my father, the Rev. Humphrey Arbuthnot, whose only child I am, after whom also I am named Humphrey, was the vicar of this place with which our family is said to have some rather vague hereditary connection. If so, it was severed in the Carolian times because my ancestors fought on the side of Parliament.
My father was a recluse, and a widower, for my mother, a Scotswoman, died at or shortly after my birth. Being very High Church for those days he was not popular with the family that owned the Priory before me. Indeed its head, a somewhat vulgar person of the name of Enfield who had made money in trade, almost persecuted him, as he was in a position to do, being the local magnate and the owner of the rectorial tithes.
I mention this fact because owing to it as a boy I made up my mind that one day I would buy that place and sit in his seat, a wild enough idea at the time. Yet it became engrained in me, as do such aspirations of our youth, and when the opportunity arose in after years I carried it out. Poor old Enfield! He fell on evil fortunes, for in trying to bolster up a favourite son who was a gambler, a spendthrift, and an ungrateful scamp, in the end he was practically ruined and when the bad times came, was forced to sell the Fulcombe estate. I think of him kindly now, for after all he was good to me and gave me many a day's shooting and leave to fish for trout in the river.
By the poor people, however, of all the district round, for the parish itself is very small, my father was much beloved, although he did practise confession, wear vestments and set lighted candles on the altar, and was even said to have openly expressed the wish, to which however he never attained, that he could see a censer swinging in the chancel. Indeed the church which, as monks built it, is very large and fine, was always full on Sundays, though many of the worshippers came from far away, some of them doubtless out of curiosity because of its papistical repute, also because, in a learned fashion, my father's preaching was very good indeed.
For my part I feel that I owe much to these High-Church views. They opened certain doors to me and taught me something of the mysteries which lie at the back of all religions and therefore have their home in the inspired soul of man whence religions are born. Only the pity is that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he never discovers, never even guesses at that entombed aspiration, never sinks a shaft down on to this secret but most precious vein of ore.
I have said that my father was learned; but this is a mild description, for never did I know anyone quite so learned. He was one of those men who is so good all round that he became pre-eminent in nothing. A classic of the first water, a very respectable mathematician, an expert in theology, a student of sundry foreign languages and literature in his lighter moments, an inquirer into sociology, a theoretical musician though his playing of the organ excruciated most people because it was too correct, a really first-class authority upon flint instruments and the best grower of garden vegetables in the county, also of apples--such were some of his attainments. That was what made his sermons so popular, since at times one or the other of these subjects would break out into them, his theory being that God spoke to us through all of these things.
But if I began to drift into an analysis of my father's
abilities, I should never stop. It would take a book to describe them. And yet mark this, with them all his name is as dead to the world to-day as though he had never been. Light reflected from a hundred facets dissipates itself in space and is lost; that concentrated in one tremendous ray pierces to the stars.
Now I am going to be frank about myself, for without frankness what is the value of such a record as this? Then it becomes simply another convention, or rather conventional method of expressing the octoroon kind of truths with which the highly civilised races feed themselves, as fastidious ladies eat cakes and bread from which all but the smallest particle of nourishment has been extracted.
The fact is, therefore, that I inherited most of my father's abilities, except his love for flint instruments which always bored me to distraction, because although they are by association really the most human of things, somehow to me they never convey any idea of humanity. In addition I have a practical side which he lacked; had he possessed it surely he must have become an archbishop instead of dying the vicar of an unknown parish. Also I have a spiritual sense, mayhap mystical would be a better term, which with all this religion was missing from my father's nature.
For I think that notwithstanding his charity and devotion he never quite got away from the shell of things, never cracked it and set his teeth in the kernel which alone can feed our souls. His keen intellect, to take an example, recognised every one of the difficulties of our faith and flashed hither and thither in the darkness, seeking explanation, seeking light, trying to reconcile, to explain. He was not great enough to put all this aside and go straight to the informing Soul beneath that strives to express itself everywhere, even through those husks which are called the World, the Flesh and the Devil, and as yet does not always quite succeed.
It is this boggling over exteriors, this peering into pitfalls, this desire to prove that what such senses as we have tell us is impossible, is in fact possible, which causes the overthrow of many an earnest, seeking heart and renders its work, conducted on false lines, quite nugatory. These will trust to themselves and their own intelligence and not be content to spring from the cliffs of human experience into the everlasting arms of that Infinite which are stretched out to receive them and to give them rest and the keys of knowledge. When will man learn what was taught to him of old, that faith is the only plank wherewith he can float upon this sea and that his miserable works avail him nothing; also that it is a plank made of many sorts of wood, perhaps to suit our different weights?
So to be honest, in a sense I believe myself to be my father's superior, and I know that he agreed with me. Perhaps this is owing to the blood of my Scotch mother which mixed well with his own; perhaps because the essential spirit given to me, though cast in his mould, was in fact quite different--or of another alloy. Do we, I wonder, really understand that there are millions and billions of these alloys, so many indeed that Nature, or whatever is behind Nature, never uses the same twice over? That is why no two human beings are or ever will be quite identical. Their flesh, the body of their humiliation, is identical in all, any chemist will prove it to you, but that which animates the flesh is distinct and different because it comes from the home of that infinite variety which is necessary to the ultimate evolution of the good and bad that we symbolise as heaven and hell.
Further, I had and to a certain extent still have another advantage over my father, which certainly came to me from my mother, who was, as I judge from all descriptions and such likenesses as remain of her, an extremely handsome woman. I was born much better looking. He was small and dark, a little man with deep-set eyes and beetling brows. I am also dark, but tall above the average, and well made. I do not know that I need say more about my personal appearance, to me not a very attractive subject, but the fact remains that they called me "handsome Humphrey" at the University, and I was the captain of my college boat and won many prizes at athletic sports when I had time to train for them.
Until I went up to Oxford my father educated me, partly because he knew that he could do it better than anyone else, and partly to save school expenses. The experiment was very successful, as my love of all outdoor sports and of any small hazardous adventure that came to my hand, also of associating with fisherfolk whom the dangers of the deep make men among men, saved me from becoming a milksop. For the rest I learned more from my father, whom I always desired to please because I loved him, than I should have done at the best and most costly of schools. This was shown when at last I went to college with a scholarship, for there I did very well indeed, as search would still reveal.
Here I had better set out some of my shortcomings, which in their sum have made a failure of me. Yes, a failure in the highest sense, though I trust what Stevenson calls "a faithful failure." These have their root in fastidiousness and that lack of perseverance, which really means a lack of faith, again using the word in its higher and wider sense. For if one had real faith one would always persevere, knowing that in every work undertaken with high aim, there is an element of nobility, however humble and unrecognised that work may seem to be. God after all is the God of Work, it is written large upon the face of the Universe. I will not expand upon the thought; it would lead me too far afield, but those who have understanding will know what I mean.
As regards what I interpret as fastidiousness, this is not very easy to express. Perhaps a definition will help. I am like a man with an over-developed sense of smell, who when walking through a foreign city, however clean and well kept, can always catch the evil savours that are inseparable from such cities. More, his keen perception of them interferes with all other perceptions and spoils his walks. The result is that in after years, whenever he thinks of that beautiful city, he remembers, not its historic buildings or its wide boulevards, or whatever it has to boast, but rather its ancient, fish-like smell. At least he remembers that first owing to this defect in his temperament.
So it is with everything. A lovely woman is spoiled for such a one because she eats too much or has too high a voice; he does not care for his shooting because the scenery is flat, or for his fishing because the gnats bite as well as the trout. In short he is out of tune with the world as it is. Moreover, this is a quality which, where it exists, cannot be overcome; it affects day-labourers as well as gentlemen at large. It is bred in the bone.
Probably the second failure-breeding fault, lack of
perseverance, has its roots in the first, at any rate in my case. At least on leaving college with some reputation, I was called to the Bar where, owing to certain solicitor and other connections, I had a good opening. Also, owing to the excellence of my memory and powers of work, I began very well, making money even during my first year. Then, as it happened, a certain case came my way and, my leader falling ill suddenly after it was opened, was left in my hands. The man whose cause I was pleading was, I think, one of the biggest scoundrels it is possible to conceive. It was a will case and if he won, the effect would be to beggar two most estimable middle-aged women who were justly entitled to the property, to which end personally I am convinced he had committed forgery; the perjury that accompanied it I do not even mention.
Well, he did win, thanks to me, and the estimable middle-aged ladies were beggared, and as I heard afterwards, driven to such extremities that one of them died of her misery and the other became a lodging-house keeper. The details do not matter, but I may explain that these ladies were unattractive in appearance and manner and broke down beneath my cross-examination which made them appear to be telling falsehoods, whereas they were only completely confused. Further, I invented an ingenious theory of the facts which, although the judge regarded it with suspicion, convinced an unusually stupid jury who gave me their verdict.
Everybody congratulated me and at the time I was triumphant, especially as my leader had declared that our case was impossible. Afterwards, however, my conscience smote me sorely, so much so that arguing from the false premise of this business, I came to the conclusion that the practice of the Law was not suited to an honest man. I did not take the large view that such matters average themselves up and that if I had done harm in this instance, I might live to do good in many others, and perhaps become a just judge, even a great judge. Here I may mention that in after years, when I grew rich, I rescued that surviving old lady from her lodging-house, although to this day she does not know the name of her anonymous friend. So by degrees, without saying anything, for I kept on my chambers, I slipped out of practice, to the great disappointment of everybody connected with me, and took to authorship.
A marvel came to pass, my first book was an enormous success. The whole world talked of it. A leading journal, delighted to have discovered someone, wrote it up; other journals followed suit to be in the movement. One of them, I remember, which had already dismissed it with three or four sneering lines, came out with a second and two-column notice. It sold like wildfire and I suppose had some merits, for it is still read, though few know that I wrote it, since fortunately it was published under a pseudonym.
Again I was much elated and set to work to write another and, as I believe, a much better book. But jealousies had been excited by this leaping into fame of a totally unknown person, which were, moreover, accentuated through a foolish article that I published in answer to some criticisms, wherein I spoke my mind with an insane freedom and biting sarcasm. Indeed I was even mad enough to quote names and to give the example of the very powerful journal which at first carped at my work and then gushed over it when it became the fashion. All of this made me many bitter enemies, as I found out when my next book appeared.
It was torn to shreds, it was reviled as subversive of morality and religion, good arrows in those days. It was called puerile, half-educated stuff--I half-educated! More, an utterly false charge of plagiarism was cooked up against me and so well and venomously run that vast numbers of people concluded that I was a thief of the lowest order. Lastly, my father, from whom the secret could no longer be kept, sternly disapproved of both these books which I admit were written from a very radical and somewhat anti-church point of view. The result was our first quarrel and before it was made up, he died suddenly.
Now again fastidiousness and my lack of perseverance did their work, and solemnly I swore that I would never write another book, an oath which I have kept till this moment, at least so far as publication is concerned, and now break only because I consider it my duty so to do and am not animated by any pecuniary object.
Thus came to an end my second attempt at carving out a career. By now I had grown savage and cynical, rather revengeful also, I fear. Knowing myself to possess considerable abilities in sundry directions, I sat down, as it were, to think things over and digest my past experiences. Then it was that the truth of a very ancient adage struck upon my mind, namely, that money is power. Had I sufficient money I could laugh at unjust critics for example; indeed they or their papers would scarcely dare to criticise me for fear lest it should be in my power to do them a bad turn. Again I could follow my own ideas in life and perhaps work good in the world, and live in such surroundings as commended themselves to me. It was as clear as daylight, but--how to make the money?
I had some capital as the result of my father's death, about £8,000 in all, plus a little more that my two books had brought in. In what way could I employ it to the best advantage? I remembered that a cousin of my father and therefore my own, was a successful stock-broker, also that there had been some affection between them. I went to him, he was a good, easy-natured man who was frankly glad to see me, and offered to put £5,000 into his business, for I was not minded to risk every thing I had, if he would give me a share in the profits. He laughed heartily at my audacity.
"Why, my boy," he said, "being totally inexperienced at this game, you might lose us more than that in a month. But I like your courage, I like your courage, and the truth is that I do want help. I will think it over and write to you."He thought it over and in the end offered to try me for a year at a fixed salary with a promise of some kind of a partnership if I suited him. Meanwhile my £5,000 remained in my pocket.
I accepted, not without reluctance since with the impatience of youth I wanted everything at once. I worked hard in that office and soon mastered the business, for my knowledge of figures--I had taken a first-class mathematical degree at college--came to my aid, as in a way did my acquaintance with Law and Literature. Moreover I had a certain aptitude for what is called high finance. Further, Fortune, as usual, showed me a favourable face.
In one year I got the partnership with a small share in the large profits of the business. In two the partner above me retired, and I took his place with a third share of the firm. In three my cousin, satisfied that it was in able hands, began to cease his attendance at the office and betook himself to gardening which was his hobby. In four I paid him out altogether, although to do this I had to borrow money on our credit, for by agreement the title of the firm was continued. Then came that extraordinary time of boom which many will remember to their cost. I made a bold stroke and won. On a certain Saturday when the books were made up, I found that after discharging all liabilities, I should not be worth more than £20,000. On the following Saturday but two when the books were made up, I was worth £153,000! L'appetit vient en mangeant. It seemed nothing to me when so many were worth millions.
For the next year I worked as few have done, and when I struck a balance at the end of it, I found that on the most conservative estimate I was the owner of a million and a half in hard cash, or its equivalent. I was so tired out that I remember this discovery did not excite me at all. I felt utterly weary of all wealthhunting and of the City and its ways. Moreover my old fastidiousness and lack of perseverance re-asserted themselves. I reflected, rather late in the day perhaps, on the ruin that this speculation was bringing to thousands, of which some lamentable instances had recently come to my notice, and once more considered whether it were a suitable career for an upright man. I had wealth; why should I not take it and enjoy life?
Also--and here my business acumen came in, I was sure that these times could not last. It is easy to make money on a rising market, but when it is falling the matter is very different. In five minutes I made up my mind. I sent for my junior partners, for I had taken in two, and told them that I intended to retire at once. They were dismayed both at my loss, for really I was the firm, and because, as they pointed out, if I withdrew all my capital, there would not be sufficient left to enable them to carry on.
One of them, a blunt and honest man, said to my face that it would be dishonourable of me to do so. I was inclined to answer him sharply, then remembered that his words were true.
"Very well," I said, "I will leave you £600,000 on which you shall pay me five per cent interest, but no share of the profits."
On these terms we dissolved the partnership and in a year they had lost the £600,000, for the slump came with a vengeance. It saved them, however, and to-day they are earning a reasonable income. But I have never asked them for that £600,000.Chapter II Bastin and Bickley
Behold me once more a man without an occupation, but now the possessor of about £900,000. It was a very considerable fortune, if not a large one in England; nothing like the millions of which I had dreamed, but still enough. To make the most of it and to be sure that it remained, I invested it very well, mostly in large mortgages at four per cent which, if the security is good, do not depreciate in capital value. Never again did I touch a single speculative stock, who desired to think no more about money. It was at this time that I bought the Fulcombe property. It cost me about £120,000 of my capital, or with alterations, repairs, etc., say £150,000, on which sum it may pay a net two and a half per cent, not more.
This £3,700 odd I have always devoted to the upkeep of the place, which is therefore in first-rate order. The rest I live on, or save.
These arrangements, with the beautifying and furnishing of the house and the restoration of the church in memory of my father, occupied and amused me for a year or so, but when they were finished time began to hang heavy on my hands. What was the use of possessing about £20,000 a year when there was nothing upon which it could be spent? For after all my own wants were few and simple and the acquisition of valuable pictures and costly furniture is limited by space. Oh! in my small way I was like the weary King Ecclesiast. For I too made me great works and had possessions of great and small cattle (I tried farming and lost money over it!) and gathered me silver and gold and the peculiar treasure of kings, which I presume means whatever a man in authority chiefly desires, and so forth. But "behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
So, notwithstanding my wealth and health and the deference which is the rich man's portion, especially when the limit of his riches is not known, it came about that I too "hated life," and this when I was not much over thirty. I did not know what to do; for Society as the word is generally understood, I had no taste; it bored me; horse-racing and cards I loathed, who had already gambled too much on a big scale. The killing of creatures under the name of sport palled upon me, indeed I began to doubt if it were right, while the office of a junior county magistrate in a place where there was no crime, only occupied me an hour or two a month.
Lastly my neighbours were few and with all due deference to them, extremely dull. At least I could not understand them because in them there did not seem to be anything to understand, and I am quite certain that they did not understand me. More, when they came to learn that I was radical in my views and had written certain "dreadful" and somewhat socialistic books in the form of fiction, they both feared and mistrusted me as an enemy to their particular section of the race. As I had not married and showed no inclination to do so, their womenkind also, out of their intimate knowledge, proclaimed that I led an immoral life, though a little reflection would have shown them that there was no one in the neighbourhood which for a time I seldom left, who could possibly have tempted an educated creature to such courses.
Terrible is the lot of a man who, while still young and possessing the intellect necessary to achievement, is deprived of all ambition. And I had none at all. I did not even wish to purchase a peerage or a baronetcy in this fashion or in that, and, as in my father's case, my tastes were so many and so catholic that I could not lose myself in any one of them. They never became more than diversions to me. A hobby is only really amusing when it becomes an obsession.
At length my lonesome friendlessness oppressed me so much that I took steps to mitigate it. In my college life I had two particular friends whom I think I must have selected because they were so absolutely different from myself.
They were named Bastin and Bickley. Bastin--Basil was his Christian name--was an uncouth, shock-headed, flat-footed person of large, rugged frame and equally rugged honesty, with a mind almost incredibly simple. Nothing surprised him because he lacked the faculty of surprise. He was like that kind of fish which lies at the bottom of the sea and takes every kind of food into its great maw without distinguishing its flavour. Metaphorically speaking, heavenly manna and decayed cabbage were just the same to Bastin. He was not fastidious and both were mental pabulum--of a sort--together with whatever lay between these extremes. Yet he was good, so painfully good that one felt that without exertion to himself he had booked a first-class ticket straight to Heaven; indeed that his guardian angel had tied it round his neck at birth lest he should lose it, already numbered and dated like an identification disc.
I am bound to add that Bastin never went wrong because he never felt the slightest temptation to do so. This I suppose
constitutes real virtue, since, in view of certain Bible sayings, the person who is tempted and would like to yield to the temptation, is equally a sinner with the person who does yield. To be truly good one should be too good to be tempted, or too weak to make the effort worth the tempter's while--in short not deserving of his powder and shot.
I need hardly add that Bastin went into the Church; indeed, he could not have gone anywhere else; it absorbed him naturally, as doubtless Heaven will do in due course. Only I think it likely that until they get to know him he will bore the angels so much that they will continually move him up higher. Also if they have any susceptibilities left, probably he will tread upon their toes--an art in which I never knew his equal. However, I always loved Bastin, perhaps because no one else did, a fact of which he remained totally unconscious, or perhaps because of his brutal way of telling one what he conceived to be the truth, which, as he had less imagination than a dormouse, generally it was not. For if the truth is a jewel, it is one coloured and veiled by many different lights and atmospheres.
It only remains to add that he was learned in his theological fashion and that among his further peculiarities were the slow, monotonous voice in which he uttered his views in long sentences, and his total indifference to adverse argument however sound and convincing.
My other friend, Bickley, was a person of a quite different character. Like Bastin, he was learned, but his tendencies faced another way. If Bastin's omnivorous throat could swallow a camel, especially a theological camel, Bickley's would strain at the smallest gnat, especially a theological gnat. The very best and most upright of men, yet he believed in nothing that he could not taste, see or handle. He was convinced, for instance, that man is a brute-descended accident and no more, that what we call the soul or the mind is produced by a certain action of the grey matter of the brain; that everything apparently inexplicable has a perfectly mundane explanation, if only one could find it; that miracles certainly never did happen, and never will; that all religions are the fruit of human hopes and fears and the most convincing proof of human weakness; that notwithstanding our infinite variations we are the subjects of Nature's single law and the victims of blind, black and brutal chance.
Such was Bickley with his clever, well-cut face that always reminded me of a cameo, and thoughtful brow; his strong, capable hands and his rather steely mouth, the mere set of which suggested controversy of an uncompromising kind. Naturally as the Church had claimed Bastin, so medicine claimed Bickley.
Now as it happened the man who succeeded my father as vicar of Fulcombe was given a better living and went away shortly after I had purchased the place and with it the advowson. Just at this time also I received a letter written in the large, sprawling hand of Bastin from whom I had not heard for years. It went straight to the point, saying that he, Bastin, had seen in a Church paper that the last incumbent had resigned the living of Fulcombe which was in my gift. He would therefore be obliged if I would give it to him as the place he was at in Yorkshire did not suit his wife's health.
Here I may state that afterwards I learned that what did not suit Mrs. Bastin was the organist, who was pretty. She was by nature a woman with a temperament so insanely jealous that actually she managed to be suspicious of Bastin, whom she had captured in an unguarded moment when he was thinking of something else and who would as soon have thought of even looking at any woman as he would of worshipping Baal. As a matter of fact it took him months to know one female from another. Except as possible providers of subscriptions and props of Mothers' Meetings, women had no interest for him.
To return--with that engaging honesty which I have mentioned-Bastin's letter went on to set out all his own disabilities, which, he added, would probably render him unsuitable for the place he desired to fill. He was a High Churchman, a fact which would certainly offend many; he had no claims to being a preacher although he was extraordinarily well acquainted with the writings of the Early Fathers. (What on earth had that to do with the question, I wondered.) On the other hand he had generally been considered a good visitor and was fond of walking (he meant to call on distant parishioners, but did not say so).
Then followed a page and a half on the evils of the existing system of the presentation to livings by private persons, ending with the suggestion that I had probably committed a sin in buying this particular advowson in order to increase my local authority, that is, if I had bought it, a point on which he was ignorant. Finally he informed me that as he had to christen a sick baby five miles away on a certain moor and it was too wet for him to ride his bicycle, he must stop. And he stopped.There was, however, a P.S. to the letter, which ran as follows:
"Someone told me that you were dead a few years ago, and of course it may be another man of the same name who owns Fulcombe. If so, no doubt the Post Office will send back this letter."
That was his only allusion to my humble self in all those diffuse pages. It was a long while since I had received an epistle which made me laugh so much, and of course I gave him the living by return of post, and even informed him that I would increase its stipend to a sum which I considered suitable to the position.
About ten days later I received another letter from Bastin which, as a scrawl on the flap of the envelope informed me, he had carried for a week in his pocket and forgotten to post. Except by inference it returned no thanks for my intended benefits. What it did say, however, was that he thought it wrong of me to have settled a matter of such spiritual importance in so great a hurry, though he had observed that rich men were nearly always selfish where their time was concerned. Moreover, he considered that I ought first to have made inquiries as to his present character and attainments, etc., etc.
To this epistle I replied by telegraph to the effect that I
should as soon think of making inquiries about the character of an archangel, or that of one of his High Church saints. This telegram, he told me afterwards, he considered unseemly and even ribald, especially as it had given great offence to the
postmaster, who was one of the sidesmen in his church.
Thus it came about that I appointed the Rev. Basil Bastin to the living of Fulcombe, feeling sure that he would provide me with endless amusement and act as a moral tonic and discipline. Also I appreciated the man's blunt candour. In due course he arrived, and I confess that after a few Sundays of experience I began to have doubts as to the wisdom of my choice, glad as I was to see him personally. His sermons at once bored me, and, when they did not send me to sleep, excited in me a desire for debate. How could he be so profoundly acquainted with mysteries before which the world had stood amazed for ages? Was there nothing too hot or too heavy in the spiritual way for him to dismiss in a few blundering and casual words, as he might any ordinary incident of every-day life, I wondered? Also his idea of High Church observances was not mine, or, I imagine, that of anybody else. But I will not attempt to set it out.
His peculiarities, however, were easy to excuse and entirely swallowed up by the innate goodness of his nature which soon made him beloved of everyone in the place, for although he thought that probably most things were sins, I never knew him to discover a sin which he considered to be beyond the reach of forgiveness. Bastin was indeed a most charitable man and in his way wide-minded.
The person whom I could not tolerate, however, was his wife, who, to my fancy, more resembled a vessel, a very unattractive vessel, full of vinegar than a woman. Her name was Sarah and she was small, plain, flat, sandy-haired and odious, quite obsessed, moreover, with her jealousies of the Rev. Basil, at whom it pleased her to suppose that every woman in the countryside under fifty was throwing herself.
Here I will confess that to the best of my ability I took care that they did in outward seeming, that is, whenever she was present, instructing them to sit aside with him in darkened corners, to present him with flowers, and so forth. Several of them easily fell into the humour of the thing, and I have seen him depart from a dinner-party followed by that glowering Sarah, with a handful of rosebuds and violets, to say nothing of the traditional offerings of slippers, embroidered markers and the like. Well, it was my only way of coming even with her, which I think she knew, for she hated me poisonously.
So much for Basil Bastin. Now for Bickley. Him I had met on several occasions since our college days, and after I was settled at the Priory from time to time I asked him to stay with me. At length he came, and I found out that he was not at all comfortable in his London practice which was of a nature uncongenial to him; further, that he did not get on with his partners. Then, after reflection, I made a suggestion to him. I pointed out that, owing to its popularity amongst seaside visitors, the neighbourhood of Fulcombe was a rising one, and that although there were doctors in it, there was no really first-class surgeon for miles.
Now Bickley was a first-class surgeon, having held very high hospital appointments, and indeed still holding them. Why, I asked, should he not come and set up here on his own? I would appoint him doctor to the estate and also give him charge of a cottage hospital which I was endowing, with liberty to build and arrange it as he liked. Further, as I considered that it would be of great advantage to me to have a man of real ability within reach, I would guarantee for three years whatever income he was earning in London.
He thanked me warmly and in the end acted on the idea, with startling results so far as his prospects were concerned. Very soon his really remarkable skill became known and he was earning more money than as an unmarried man he could possibly want. Indeed, scarcely a big operation took place at any town within twenty miles, and even much farther away, at which he was not called in to assist.
Needless to say his advent was a great boon to me, for as he lived in a house I let him quite near by, whenever he had a spare evening he would drop in to dinner, and from our absolutely opposite standpoints we discussed all things human and divine. Thus I was enabled to sharpen my wits upon the hard steel of his clear intellect which was yet, in a sense, so limited.
I must add that I never converted him to my way of thinking and he never converted me to his, any more than he converted Bastin, for whom, queerly enough, he had a liking. They pounded away at each other, Bickley frequently getting the best of it in the argument, and when at last Bastin rose to go, he generally made the same remark. It was:
"It really is sad, my dear Bickley, to find a man of your intellect so utterly wrongheaded and misguided. I have convicted you of error at least half a dozen times, and not to confess it is mere pigheadedness. Good night. I am sure that Sarah will be sitting up for me."
"Silly old idiot!" Bickley would say, shaking his fist after him. "The only way to get him to see the truth would be to saw his head open and pour it in."Then we would both laugh.
Such were my two most intimate friends, although I admit it was rather like the equator cultivating close relationships with the north and south poles. Certainly Bastin was as far from Bickley as those points of the earth are apart, while I. as it were, sat equally distant between the two. However, we were all very happy together, since in certain characters, there are few things that bind men more closely than profound differences of opinion.
Now I must turn to my more personal affairs. After all, it is impossible for a man to satisfy his soul, if he has anything of the sort about him which in the remotest degree answers to that description, with the husks of wealth, luxury and indolence, supplemented by occasional theological and other arguments between his friends; Becoming profoundly convinced of this truth, I searched round for something to do and, like Noah's dove on the waste of waters, found nothing. Then I asked Bickley and Bastin for their opinions as to my best future course. Bickley proved a barren draw. He rubbed his nose and feebly suggested that I might go in for "research work," which, of course, only represented his own ambitions. I asked him indignantly how I could do such a thing without any scientific qualifications whatever. He admitted the difficulty, but replied that I might endow others who had the qualifications."In short, become a mulch cow for sucking scientists," I replied, and broke off the conversation.
Bastin's idea was, first, that I should teach in a Sunday School; secondly, that if this career did not satisfy all my aspirations, I might be ordained and become a missionary. On my rejection of this brilliant advice, he remarked that the only other thing he could think of was that I should get married and have a large family, which might possibly advantage the nation and ultimately enrich the Kingdom of Heaven, though of such things no one could be quite sure. At any rate, he was certain that at present I was in practice neglecting my duty, whatever it might be, and in fact one of those cumberers of the earth who, he observed in the newspaper he took in and read when he had time, were "very happily named--the idle rich."
"Which reminds me," he added, "that the clothing-club finances are in a perfectly scandalous condition; in fact, it is £25 in debt, an amount that as the squire of the parish I consider it incumbent on you to make good, not as a charity but as an obligation."
"Look here, my friend," I said, ignoring all the rest, "will you answer me a plain question? Have you found marriage such a success that you consider it your duty to recommend it to others? And if you have, why have you not got the large family of which you speak?"
"Of course not," he replied with his usual frankness. "Indeed, it is in many ways so disagreeable that I am convinced it must be right and for the good of all concerned. As regards the family I am sure I do not know, but Sarah never liked babies, which perhaps has something to do with it."Then he sighed, adding, "You see, Arbuthnot, we have to take things as we find them in this world and hope for a better."
"Which is just what I am trying to do, you unilluminating old donkey!" I exclaimed, and left him there shaking his head over matters in general, but I think principally over Sarah.
By the way, I think that the villagers recognised this good lady's vinegary nature. At least, they used to call her "Sour Sal."Chapter III
Natalie Now what Bastin had said about marriage stuck in my mind as his blundering remarks had a way of doing, perhaps because of the grain of honest truth with which they were often permeated. Probably in my position it was more or less my duty to marry. But here came the rub; I had never experienced any leanings that way. I was as much a man as others, more so than many are, perhaps, and I liked women, but at the same time they repelled me.
My old fastidiousness came in; to my taste there was always something wrong about them. While they attracted one part of my nature they revolted another part, and on the whole I preferred to do without their intimate society, rather than work violence to this second and higher part of me. Moreover, quite at the beginning of my career I had concluded from observation that a man gets on better in life alone, rather than with another to drag at his side, or by whom perhaps he must be dragged. Still true marriage, such as most men and some women have dreamed of in their youth, had always been one of my ideals; indeed it was on and around this vision that I wrote that first book of mine which was so successful. Since I knew this to be unattainable in our imperfect conditions, however, notwithstanding Bastin's
strictures, again I dismissed the whole matter from my mind as a vain imagination.
As an alternative I reflected upon a parliamentary career which I was not too old to begin, and even toyed with one or two opportunities that offered themselves, as these do to men of wealth and advanced views. They never came to anything, for in the end I decided that Party politics were so hateful and so dishonest, that I could not bring myself to put my neck beneath their yoke. I was sure that if I tried to do so, I should fail more completely than I had done at the Bar and in Literature. Here, too, I am quite certain that I was right.
The upshot of it all was that I sought refuge in that last expedient of weary Englishmen, travel, not as a globe-trotter, but leisurely and with an inquiring mind, learning much but again finding, like the ancient writer whom I have quoted already, that there is no new thing under the sun; that with certain variations it is the same thing over and over again.
No, I will make an exception, the East did interest me enormously. There it was, at Benares, that I came into touch with certain thinkers who opened my eyes to a great deal. They released some hidden spring in my nature which hitherto had always been striving to break through the crust of our conventions and inherited ideas. I know now that what I was seeking was nothing less than the Infinite; that I had "immortal longings in me." I listened to all their solemn talk of epochs and years measureless to man, and reflected with a thrill that after all man might have his part in every one of them. Yes, that bird of passage as he seemed to be, flying out of darkness into darkness, still he might have spread his wings in the light of other suns millions upon millions of years ago, and might still spread them, grown radiant and glorious, millions upon millions of years hence in a time unborn.
If only I could know the truth. Was Life (according to Bickley) merely a short activity bounded by nothingness before and behind; or (according to Bastin) a conventional golden-harped and haloed immortality, a word of which he did not in the least understand the meaning?
Or was it something quite different from either of these, something vast and splendid beyond the reach of vision, something God-sent, beginning and ending in the Eternal Absolute and at last partaking of His attributes and nature and from aeon to aeon shot through with His light? And how was the truth to be learned? I asked my Eastern friends, and they talked vaguely of long ascetic preparation, of years upon years of learning, from whom I could not quite discover. I was sure it could not be from them, because clearly they did not know; they only passed on what they had heard elsewhere, when or how they either could not or would not explain. So at length I gave it up, having satisfied myself that all this was but an effort of Oriental imagination called into life by the sweet influences of the Eastern stars.
I gave it up and went away, thinking that I should forget. But I did not forget. I was quick with a new hope, or at any rate with a new aspiration, and that secret child of holy desire grew and grew within my soul, till at length it flashed upon me that this soul of mine was itself the hidden Master from which I must learn my lesson. No wonder that those Eastern friends could not give his name, seeing that whatever they really knew, as distinguished from what they had heard, and it was little enough, each of them had learned from the teaching of his own soul.
Thus, then, I too became a dreamer with only one longing, the longing for wisdom, for that spirit touch which should open my eyes and enable me to see.
Yet now it happened strangely enough that when I seemed within myself to have little further interest in the things of the world, and least of all in women, I, who had taken another guest to dwell with me, those things of the world came back to me and in the shape of Woman the Inevitable. Probably it was so decreed since is it not written that no man can live to himself alone, or lose himself in watching and nurturing the growth of his own soul?
It happened thus. I went to Rome on my way home from India, and stayed there a while. On the day after my arrival I wrote my name in the book of our Minister to Italy at that time, Sir Alfred Upton, not because I wished him to ask me to dinner, but for the reason that I had heard of him as a man of archeological tastes and thought that he might enable me to see things which otherwise I should not see.
As it chanced he knew about me through some of my Devonshire neighbours who were friends of his, and did ask me to dinner on the following night. I accepted and found myself one of a considerable party, some of them distinguished English people who wore Orders, as is customary when one dines with the representative of our Sovereign. Seeing these, and this shows that in the best of us vanity is only latent, for the first time in my life I was sorry that I had none and was only plain Mr. Arbuthnot who, as Sir Alfred explained to me politely, must go in to dinner last, because all the rest had titles, and without even a lady as there was not one to spare.
Nor was my lot bettered when I got there, as I found myself seated between an Italian countess and a Russian prince, neither of whom could talk English, while, alas, I knew no foreign language, not even French in which they addressed me, seeming surprised that I did not understand them. I was humiliated at my own ignorance, although in fact I was not ignorant, only my education had been classical. Indeed I was a good classic and had kept up my knowledge more or less, especially since I became an idle man. In my confusion it occurred to me that the Italian countess might know Latin from which her own language was derived, and addressed her in that tongue. She stared, and Sir Alfred, who was not far off and overheard me (he also knew Latin), burst into laughter and proceeded to explain the joke in a loud voice, first in French and then in English, to the assembled company, who all became infected with merriment and also stared at me as a curiosity.
Then it was that for the first time I saw Natalie, for owing to a mistake of my driver I had arrived rather late and had not been introduced to her. As her father's only daughter, her mother being dead, she was seated at the end of the table behind a fan-like arrangement of white Madonna lilies, and she had bent forward and, like the others, was looking at me, but in such a fashion that her head from that distance seemed as though it were surrounded and crowned with lilies. Indeed the greatest art could not have produced a more beautiful effect which was, however, really one of naked accident.
An angel looking down upon earth through the lilies of Heaven--that was the rather absurd thought which flashed into my mind. I did not quite realise her face at first except that it seemed to be both dark and fair; as a fact her waving hair which grew rather low upon her forehead, was dark, and her large, soft eyes were grey. I did not know, and to this moment I do not know if she was really beautiful, but certainly the light that shone through those eyes of hers and seemed to be reflected upon her delicate features, was beauty itself. It was like that glowing through a thin vase of the purest alabaster within which a lamp is placed, and I felt this effect to arise from no chance, like that of the lily-setting, but, as it were, from the lamp of the spirit within.
Our eyes met, and I suppose that she saw the wonder and admiration in mine. At any rate her amused smile faded, leaving the face rather serious, though still sweetly serious, and a tinge of colour crept over it as the first hue of dawn creeps into a pearly sky. Then she withdrew herself behind the screen of lilies and for the rest of that dinner which I thought was never coming to an end, practically I saw her no more. Only I noted as she passed out that although not tall, she was rounded and graceful in shape and that her hands were peculiarly delicate.Afterwards in the drawing-room her father, with whom I had talked at the table, introduced me to her, saying: "My daughter is the real archaeologist, Mr. Arbuthnot, and I think if you ask her, she may be able to help you." Then he bustled away to speak to some of his important guests, from whom I think he was seeking political information. "My father exaggerates," she said in a soft and very sympathetic voice, "but perhaps"--and she motioned me to a seat at her side.
Then we talked of the places and things that I more
particularly desired to see and, well, the end of it was that I went back to my hotel in love with Natalie; and as she afterwards confessed, she went to bed in love with me.
It was a curious business, more like meeting a very old friend from whom one had been separated by circumstances for a score of years or so than anything else. We were, so to speak, intimate from the first; we knew all about each other, although here and there was something new, something different which we could not remember, lines of thought, veins of memory which we did not possess in common. On one point I am absolutely clear: it was not solely the everyday and ancient appeal of woman to man and man to woman which drew us together, though doubtless this had its part in our attachment as under our human conditions it must do, seeing that it is Nature's bait to ensure the continuance of the race. It was something more, something quite beyond that elementary impulse.
At any rate we loved, and one evening in the shelter of the solemn walls of the great Coliseum at Rome, which at that hour were shut to all except ourselves, we confessed our love. I really think we must have chosen the spot by tacit but mutual consent because we felt it to be fitting. It was so old, so impregnated with every human experience, from the direst crime of the tyrant who thought himself a god, to the sublimest sacrifice of the martyr who already was half a god; with every vice and virtue also which lies between these extremes, that it seemed to be the most fitting altar whereon to offer our hearts and all that caused them to beat, each to the other.
So Natalie and I were betrothed within a month of our first meeting. Within three we were married, for what was there to prevent or delay? Naturally Sir Alfred was delighted, seeing that he possessed but small private resources and I was able to make ample provision for his daughter who had hitherto shown herself somewhat difficult in this business of matrimony and now was bordering on her twenty-seventh year. Everybody was delighted, everything went smoothly as a sledge sliding down a slope of frozen snow and the mists of time hid whatever might be at the end of that slope. Probably a plain; at the worst the upward rise of ordinary life.
That is what we thought, if we thought at all. Certainly we never dreamed of a precipice. Why should we, who were young, by comparison, quite healthy and very rich? Who thinks of precipices under such circumstances, when disaster seems to be eliminated and death is yet a long way off?
And yet we ought to have done so, because we should have known that smooth surfaces without impediment to the runners often end in something of the kind.
I am bound to say that when we returned home to Fulcombe, where of course we met with a great reception, including the ringing (out of tune) of the new peal of bells that I had given to the church, Bastin made haste to point this out.
"Your wife seems a very nice and beautiful lady, Arbuthnot," he reflected aloud after dinner, when Mrs. Bastin, glowering as usual, though what at I do not know, had been escorted from the room by Natalie, "and really, when I come to think of it, you are an unusually fortunate person. You possess a great deal of money, much more than you have any right to; which you seem to have done very little to earn and do not spend quite as I should like you to do, and this nice property, that ought to be owned by a great number of people, as, according to the views you express, I should have thought you would acknowledge, and everything else that a man can want. It is very strange that you should be so favoured and not because of any particular merits of your own which one can see. However, I have no doubt it will all come even in the end and you will get your share of troubles, like others. Perhaps Mrs. Arbuthnot will have no children as there is so much for them to take. Or perhaps you will lose all your money and have to work for your living, which might be good for you. Or," he added, still thinking aloud after his fashion, "perhaps she will die young--she has that kind of face, although, of course, I hope she won't," he added, waking up.
I do not know why, but his wandering words struck me cold; the proverbial funeral bell at the marriage feast was nothing to them. I suppose it was because in a flash of intuition I knew that they would come true and that he was an appointed Cassandra. Perhaps this uncanny knowledge overcame my natural indignation at such super-gaucherie of which no one but Bastin could have been capable, and even prevented me from replying at all, so that I merely sat still and looked at him.
But Bickley did reply with some vigour. "Forgive me for saying so, Bastin," he said, bristling all over as it were, "but your remarks, which may or may not be in accordance with the principles of your religion, seem to me to be in singularly bad taste. They would have turned the stomachs of a gathering of early Christians, who appear to have been the worst mannered people in the world, and at any decent heathen feast your neck would have been wrung as that of a bird of ill omen.""Why?" asked Bastin blankly. "I only said what I thought to be the truth. The truth is better than what you call good taste."
"Then I will say what I think also to be the truth," replied Bickley, growing furious. "It is that you use your Christianity as a cloak for bad manners. It teaches consideration and sympathy for others of which you seem to have none. Moreover, since you talk of the death of people's wives, I will tell you something about your own, as a doctor, which I can do as I never attended her. It is highly probable, in my opinion, that she will die before Mrs. Arbuthnot, who is quite a healthy person with a good prospect of life."
"Perhaps," said Bastin. "If so, it will be God's will and I shall not complain" (here Bickley snorted), "though I do not see what you can know about it. But why should you cast reflections on the early Christians who were people of strong principle living in rough times, and had to wage war against an established devil-worship? I know you are angry because they smashed up the statues of Venus and so forth, but had I been in their place I should have done the same."
"Of course you would, who doubts it? But as for the early Christians and their iconoclastic performances--well, curse them, that's all!" and he sprang up and left the room.I followed him.
Let it not be supposed from the above scene that there was any ill-feeling between Bastin and Bickley. On the contrary they were much attached to each other, and this kind of quarrel meant no more than the strong expression of their individual views to which they were accustomed from their college days. For instance Bastin was always talking about the early Christians and missionaries, while Bickley loathed both, the early Christians because of the destruction which they had wrought in Egypt, Italy, Greece and elsewhere, of all that was beautiful; and the missionaries because, as he said, they were degrading and spoiling the native races and by inducing them to wear clothes, rendering them liable to disease. Bastin would answer that their souls were more important than their bodies, to which Bickley replied that as there was no such thing as a soul except in the stupid imagination of priests, he differed entirely on the point. As it was quite impossible for either to convince the other, there the conversation would end, or drift into something in which they were mutually interested, such as natural history and the hygiene of the neighbourhood.
Here I may state that Bickley's keen professional eye was not mistaken when he diagnosed Mrs. Bastin's state of health as dangerous. As a matter of fact she was suffering from heart disease that a doctor can often recognise by the colour of the lips, etc., which brought about her death under the following circumstances:
Her husband attended some ecclesiastical function at a town over twenty miles away and was to have returned by a train which would have brought him home about five o'clock. As he did not arrive she waited at the station for him until the last train came in about seven o'clock--without the beloved Basil. Then, on a winter's night she tore up to the Priory and begged me to lend her a dog-cart in which to drive to the said town to look for him. I expostulated against the folly of such a proceeding, saying that no doubt Basil was safe enough but had forgotten to telegraph, or thought that he would save the sixpence which the wire cost.
Then it came out, to Natalie's and my intense amusement, that all this was the result of her jealous nature of which I have spoken. She said she had never slept a night away from her husband since they were married and with so many "designing persons" about she could not say what might happen if she did so, especially as he was "such a favourite and so handsome." (Bastin was a fine looking man in his rugged way.)I suggested that she might have a little confidence in him, to which she replied darkly that she had no confidence in anybody.
The end of it was that I lent her the cart with a fast horse and a good driver, and off she went. Reaching the town in question some two and a half hours later, she searched high and low through wind and sleet, but found no Basil. He, it appeared, had gone on to Exeter, to look at the cathedral where some building was being done, and missing the last train had there slept the night.
About one in the morning, after being nearly locked up as a mad woman, she drove back to the Vicarage, again to find no Basil. Even then she did not go to bed but raged about the house in her wet clothes, until she fell down utterly exhausted. When her husband did return on the following morning, full of information about the cathedral, she was dangerously ill, and actually passed away while uttering a violent tirade against him for his supposed suspicious proceedings.That was the end of this truly odious British matron.
In after days Bastin, by some peculiar mental process, canonised her in his imagination as a kind of saint. "So loving," he would say, "such a devoted wife! Why, my dear Humphrey, I can assure you that even in the midst of her death-struggle her last thoughts were of me," words that caused Bickley to snort with more than usual vigour, until I kicked him to silence beneath the table.Chapter IV Death and Departure Now I must tell of my own terrible sorrow, which turned my life to bitterness and my hopes to ashes.
Never were a man and a woman happier together than I and Natalie. Mentally, physically, spiritually we were perfectly mated, and we loved each other dearly. Truly we were as one. Yet there was something about her which filled me with vague fears, especially after she found that she was to become a mother. I would talk to her of the child, but she would sigh and shake her head, her eyes filling with tears, and say that we must not count on the continuance of such happiness as ours, for it was too great.
I tried to laugh away her doubts, though whenever I did so I seemed to hear Bastin's slow voice remarking casually that she might die, as he might have commented on the quality of the claret. At last, however, I grew terrified and asked her bluntly what she meant.
"I don't quite know, dearest," she replied, "especially as I am wonderfully well. But--but--"
"I want to say this," she added quickly, "that if such a thing should happen, as it happens every day, I implore you, dearest Humphrey, not to be too much distressed, since I am sure that you will find me again. No, I can't explain how or when or where, because I do not know. I have prayed for light, but it has not come to me. All I know is that I am not talking of reunion in Mr. Bastin's kind of conventional heaven, which he speaks about as though to reach it one stumbled through darkness for a minute into a fine new house next door, where excellent servants had made everything ready for your arrival and all the lights were turned up. It is something quite different from that and very much more real."
Then she bent down ostensibly to pat the head of a little black cocker spaniel called Tommy which had been given to her as a puppy, a highly intelligent and affectionate animal that we both adored and that loved her as only a dog can love. Really, I knew, it was to hide her tears, and fled from the room lest she should see mine.
As I went I heard the dog whimpering in a peculiar way, as though some sympathetic knowledge had been communicated to its wonderful animal intelligence.
That night I spoke to Bickley about the matter, repeating exactly what had passed. As I expected, he smiled in his grave, rather sarcastic way, and made light of it.
"My dear Humphrey," he said, "don't torment yourself about such fancies. They are of everyday occurrence among women in your wife's condition. Sometimes they take one form, sometimes another. When she has got her baby you will hear no more of them."I tried to be comforted but in vain.
The days and weeks went by like a long nightmare and in due course the event happened. Bickley was not attending the case; it was not in his line, he said, and he preferred that where a friend's wife was concerned, somebody else should be called in. So it was put in charge of a very good local man with a large experience in such domestic matters.
How am I to tell of it? Everything went wrong; as for the details, let them be. Ultimately Bickley did operate, and if surpassing skill could have saved her, it would have been done. But the other man had misjudged the conditions; it was too late, nothing could help either mother or child, a little girl who died shortly after she was born but not before she had been christened, also by the name of Natalie.I was called in to say farewell to my wife and found her radiant, triumphant even in her weakness.
"I know now," she whispered in a faint voice. "I understood as the chloroform passed away, but I cannot tell you. Everything is quite well, my darling. Go where you seem called to go, far away. Oh! the wonderful place in which you will find me, not knowing that you have found me. Good-bye for a little while; only for a little while, my own, my own!"
Then she died. And for a time I too seemed to die, but could not. I buried her and the child here at Fulcombe; or rather I buried their ashes since I could not endure that her beloved body should see corruption.
Afterwards, when all was over, I spoke of these last words of Natalie's with both Bickley and Bastin, for somehow I seemed to wish to learn their separate views.
The latter I may explain, had been present at the end in his spiritual capacity, but I do not think that he in the least understood the nature of the drama which was passing before his eyes. His prayers and the christening absorbed all his attention, and he never was a man who could think of more than one thing at a time.
When I told him exactly what had happened and repeated the words that Natalie spoke, he was much interested in his own nebulous way, and said that it was delightful to meet with an example of a good Christian, such as my wife had been, who actually saw something of Heaven before she had gone there. His own faith was, he thanked God, fairly robust, but still an undoubted occurrence of the sort acted as a refreshment, "like rain on a pasture when it is rather dry, you know," he added, breaking into simile.
I remarked that she had not seemed to speak in the sense he indicated, but appeared to allude to something quite near at hand and more or less immediate.
"I don't know that there is anything nearer at hand than the Hereafter," he answered. "I expect she meant that you will probably soon die and join her in Paradise, if you are worthy to do so. But of course it is not wise to put too much reliance upon words spoken by people at the last, because often they don't quite know what they are saying. Indeed sometimes I think this was so in the case of my own wife, who really seemed to me to talk a good deal of rubbish. Good-bye, I promised to see Widow Jenkins this afternoon about having her varicose veins cut out, and I mustn't stop here wasting time in pleasant conversation. She thinks just as much of her varicose veins as we do of the loss of our wives."
I wonder what Bastin's ideas of unpleasant conversation may be, thought I to myself, as I watched him depart already
wool-gathering on some other subject, probably the heresy of one of those "early fathers" who occupied most of his thoughts.
Bickley listened to my tale in sympathetic silence, as a doctor does to a patient. When he was obliged to speak, he said that it was interesting as an example of a tendency of certain minds towards romantic vision which sometimes asserts itself, even in the throes of death.
"You know," he added, "that I put faith in none of these things. I wish that I could, but reason and science both show me that they lack foundation. The world on the whole is a sad place, where we arrive through the passions of others implanted in them by Nature, which, although it cares nothing for individual death, is tender towards the impulse of races of every sort to preserve their collective life. Indeed the impulse is Nature, or at least its chief manifestation. Consequently, whether we be gnats or elephants, or anything between and beyond, even stars for aught I know, we must make the best of things as they are, taking the good and the evil as they come and getting all we can out of life until it leaves us, after which we need not trouble. You had a good time for a little while and were happy in it; now you are having a bad time and are wretched. Perhaps in the future, when your mental balance has re-asserted itself, you will have other good times in the afternoon of your days, and then follow twilight and the dark. That is all there is to hope for, and we may as well look the thing in the face. Only I confess, my dear fellow, that your experience convinces me that marriage should be avoided at whatever inconvenience. Indeed I have long wondered that anyone can take the responsibility of bringing a child into the world. But probably nobody does in cold blood, except misguided idiots like Bastin," he added. "He would have twenty, had not his luck intervened.""Then you believe in nothing, Friend," I said. "Nothing, I am sorry to say, except what I see and my five senses appreciate." "You reject all possibility of miracle, for instance?"
"That depends on what you mean by miracle. Science shows us all kinds of wonders which our great grandfathers would have called miracles, but these are nothing but laws that we are beginning to understand. Give me an instance.""Well," I replied at hazard, "if you were assured by someone that a man could live for a thousand years?" "I should tell him that he was a fool or a liar, that is all. It is impossible."
"Or that the same identity, spirit, animating principle--call it what you will--can flit from body to body, say in successive ages? Or that the dead can communicate with the living?"
"Convince me of any of these things, Arbuthnot, and mind you I desire to be convinced, and I will take back every word I have said and walk through Fulcombe in a white sheet proclaiming myself the fool. Now, I must get off to the Cottage Hospital to cut out Widow Jenkins's varicose veins. They are tangible and real at any rate; about the largest I ever saw, indeed. Give up dreams, old boy, and take to something useful. You might go back to your fiction writing; you seem to have leanings that way, and you know you need not publish the stories, except privately for the edification of your friends."With this Parthian shaft Bickley took his departure to make a job of Widow Jenkins's legs.
I took his advice. During the next few months I did write something which occupied my thoughts for a while, more or less. It lies in my safe to this minute, for somehow I have never been able to make up my mind to burn what cost me so much physical and mental toil.
When it was finished my melancholy returned to me with added force. Everything in the house took a tongue and cried to me of past days. Its walls echoed a voice that I could never hear again; in the very looking-glasses I saw the reflection of a lost presence. Although I had moved myself for the purposes of sleep to a little room at the further end of the building, footsteps seemed to creep about my bed at night and I heard the rustle of a remembered dress without the door. The place grew hateful to me. I felt that I must get away from it or I should go mad.
One afternoon Bastin arrived carrying a book and in a state of high indignation. This work, written, as he said, by some ribald traveller, grossly traduced the character of missionaries to the South Sea Islands, especially of those of the Society to which he subscribed, and he threw it on the table in his righteous wrath. Bickley picked it up and opened it at a photograph of a very pretty South Sea Island girl clad in a few flowers and nothing else, which he held towards Bastin, saying:
"Is it to this child of Nature that you object? I call her distinctly attractive, though perhaps she does wear her hibiscus blooms with a difference to our women--a little lower down."
"The devil is always attractive," replied Bastin gloomily. "Child of Nature indeed! I call her Child of Sin. That photograph is enough to make my poor Sarah turn in her grave."
"Why?" asked Bickley; "seeing that wide seas roll between you and this dusky Venus. Also I thought that according to your Hebrew legend sin came in with bark garments."
"You should search the Scriptures, Bickley," I broke in, "and cultivate accuracy. It was fig-leaves that symbolised its arrival. The garments, which I think were of skin, developed later."
"Perhaps," went on Bickley, who had turned the page, "she" (he referred to the late Mrs. Bastin) "would have preferred her thus," and he held up another illustration of the same woman.
In this the native belle appeared after conversion, clad in broken-down stays--I suppose they were stays--out of which she seemed to bulge and flow in every direction, a dirty white dress several sizes too small, a kind of Salvation Army bonnet without a crown and a prayer-book which she held pressed to her middle; the general effect being hideous, and in some curious way, improper.
"Certainly," said Bastin, "though I admit her clothes do not seem to fit and she has not buttoned them up as she ought. But it is not of the pictures so much as of the letterpress with its false and scandalous accusations, that I complain."
"Why do you complain?" asked Bickley. "Probably it is quite true, though that we could never ascertain without visiting the lady's home."
"If I could afford it," exclaimed Bastin with rising anger, "I should like to go there and expose this vile traducer of my cloth."
"So should I," answered Bickley, "and expose these introducers of consumption, measles and other European diseases, to say nothing of gin, among an innocent and Arcadian people.""How can you call them innocent, Bickley, when they murder and eat missionaries?"
"I dare say we should all eat a missionary, Bastin, if we were hungry enough," was the answer, after which something occurred to change the conversation.
But I kept the book and read it as a neutral observer, and came to the conclusion that these South Sea Islands, a land where it was always afternoon, must be a charming place, in which perhaps the stars of the Tropics and the scent of the flowers might enable one to forget a little, or at least take the edge off memory. Why should I not visit them and escape another long and dreary English winter? No, I could not do so alone. If Bastin and Bickley were there, their eternal arguments might amuse me. Well, why should they not come also? When one has money things can always be arranged.
The idea, which had its root in this absurd conversation, took a curious hold on me. I thought of it all the evening, being alone, and that night it re-arose in my dreams. I dreamed that my lost Natalie appeared to me and showed me a picture. It was of a long, low land, a curving shore of which the ends were out of the picture, whereon grew tall palms, and where great combers broke upon gleaming sand.
Then the picture seemed to become a reality and I saw Natalie herself, strangely changeful in her aspect, strangely varying in face and figure, strangely bright, standing in the mouth of a pass whereof the little bordering cliffs were covered with bushes and low trees, whose green was almost hid in lovely flowers. There in my dream she stood, smiling mysteriously, and stretched out her arms towards me.
As I awoke I seemed to hear her voice, repeating her dying words: "Go where you seem called to go, far away. Oh! the wonderful place in which you will find me, not knowing that you have found me."
With some variations this dream visited me twice that night. In the morning I woke up quite determined that I would go to the South Sea Islands, even if I must do so alone. On that same evening Bastin and Bickley dined with me. I said nothing to them about my dream, for Bastin never dreamed and Bickley would have set it down to indigestion. But when the cloth had been cleared away and we were drinking our glass of port--both Bastin and Bickley only took one, the former because he considered port a sinful indulgence of the flesh, the latter because he feared it would give him gout--I remarked casually that they both looked very run down and as though they wanted a rest. They agreed, at least each of them said he had noticed it in the other. Indeed Bastin added that the damp and the cold in the church, in which he held daily services to no congregation except the old woman who cleaned it, had given him rheumatism, which prevented him from sleeping.
"Do call things by their proper names," interrupted Bickley. "I told you yesterday that what you are suffering from is neuritis in your right arm, which will become chronic if you neglect it much longer. I have the same thing myself, so I ought to know, and unless I can stop operating for a while I believe my fingers will become useless. Also something is affecting my sight, overstrain, I suppose, so that I am obliged to wear stronger and stronger glasses. I think I shall have to leave Ogden" (his partner) "in charge for a while, and get away into the sun. There is none here before June.""I would if I could pay a locum tenens and were quite sure it isn't wrong," said Bastin.
"I am glad you both think like that," I remarked, "as I have a suggestion to make to you. I want to go to the South Seas about which we were talking yesterday, to get the thorough change that Bickley has been advising for me, and I should be very grateful if you would both come as my guests. You, Bickley, make so much money out of cutting people about, that you can arrange your own affairs during your absence. But as for you, Bastin, I will see to the wherewithal for the locum tenens, and everything else."
"You are very kind," said Bastin, "and certainly I should like to expose that misguided author, who probably published his offensive work without thinking that what he wrote might affect the subscriptions to the missionary societies, also to show Bickley that he is not always right, as he seems to think. But I could never dream of accepting without the full approval of the Bishop."
"You might get that of your nurse also, if she happens to be still alive," mocked Bickley. "As for his Lordship, I don't think he will raise any objection when he sees the certificate I will give you about the state of your health. He is a great believer in me ever since I took that carbuncle out of his neck which he got because he will not eat enough. As for me, I mean to come if only to show you how continually and persistently you are wrong. But, Arbuthnot, how do you mean to go?""I don't know. In a mail steamer, I suppose." "If you can run to it, a yacht would be much better."
"That's a good idea, for one could get out of the beaten tracks and see the places that are never, or seldom, visited. I will make some inquiries. And now, to celebrate the occasion, let us all have another glass of port and drink a toast."
They hesitated and were lost, Bastin murmuring something about doing without his stout next day as a penance. Then they both asked what was the toast, each of them, after thought, suggesting that it should be the utter confusion of the other.
I shook my head, whereon as a result of further cogitation, Bastin submitted that the Unknown would be suitable. Bickley said that he thought this a foolish idea as everything worth knowing was already known, and what was the good of drinking to the rest? A toast to the Truth would be better.A notion came to me. "Let us combine them," I said, "and drink to the Unknown Truth." So we did, though Bastin grumbled that the performance made him feel like Pilate. "We are all Pilates in our way," I replied with a sigh. "That is what I think every time I diagnose a case," exclaimed Bickley.
As for me I laughed and for some unknown reason felt happier than I had done for months. Oh! if only the writer of that tourist tale of the South Sea Islands could have guessed what fruit his light-thrown seed would yield to us and to the world!
I made my inquiries through a London agency which hired out yachts or sold them to the idle rich. As I expected, there were plenty to be had, at a price, but wealthy as I was, the figure asked of the buyer of any suitable craft, staggered me. In the end, however, I chartered one for six months certain and at so much per month for as long as I liked afterwards. The owners paid insurance and everything else on condition that they appointed the captain and first mate, also the engineer, for this yacht, which was named Star of the South, could steam at about ten knots as well as sail.
I know nothing about yachts, and therefore shall not attempt to describe her, further than to say that she was of five hundred and fifty tons burden, very well constructed, and smart to look at, as well she might be, seeing that a deceased millionaire from whose executors I hired her had spent a fortune in building and equipping her in the best possible style. In all, her crew consisted of thirty-two hands. A peculiarity of the vessel was that owing to some fancy of the late owner, the passenger accommodation, which was splendid, lay forward of the bridge, this with the ship's store-rooms, refrigerating chamber, etc., being almost in the bows. It was owing to these arrangements, which were unusual, that the executors found it impossible to sell, and were therefore glad to accept such an offer as mine in order to save expenses. Perhaps they hoped that she might go to the bottom, being heavily insured. If so, the Fates did not disappoint them.
The captain, named Astley, was a jovial person who held every kind of certificate. He seemed so extraordinarily able at his business that personally I suspected him of having made mistakes in the course of his career, not unconnected with the worship of Bacchus. In this I believe I was right; otherwise a man of such attainments would have been commanding something bigger than a private yacht. The first mate, Jacobsen, was a melancholy Dane, a spiritualist who played the concertina, and seemed to be able to do without sleep. The crew were a mixed lot, good men for the most part and quite unobjectionable, more than half of them being Scandinavian. I think that is all I need say about the Star of the South.
The arrangement was that the Star of the South should proceed through the Straits of Gibraltar to Marseilles, where we would join her, and thence travel via the Suez Canal, to Australia and on to the South Seas, returning home as our fancy or convenience might dictate.All the first part of the plan we carried out to the letter. Of the remainder I say nothing at present.
The Star of the South was amply provided with every kind of store. Among them were medicines and surgical instruments, selected by Bickley, and a case of Bibles and other religious works in sundry languages of the South Seas, selected by Bastin, whose bishop, when he understood the pious objects of his journey, had rather encouraged than hindered his departure on sick leave, and a large number of novels, books of reference, etc., laid in by myself. She duly sailed from the Thames and reached Marseilles after a safe and easy passage, where all three of us boarded her.
I forgot to add that she had another passenger, the little spaniel, Tommy. I had intended to leave him behind, but while I was packing up he followed me about with such evident understanding of my purpose that my heart was touched. When I entered the motor to drive to the station he escaped from the hands of the servant, whimpering, and took refuge on my knee. After this I felt that Destiny intended him to be our companion. Moreover, was he not linked with my dead past, and, had I but known it, with my living future also?
We enjoyed our voyage exceedingly. In Egypt, a land I was glad to revisit, we only stopped a week while the Star of the South, which we rejoined at Suez, coaled and went through the Canal. This, however, gave us time to spend a few days in Cairo, visit the Pyramids and Sakkara which Bastin and Bickley had never seen before, and inspect the great Museum. The journey up the Nile was postponed until our return. It was a pleasant break and gave Bickley, a most omnivorous reader who was well acquainted with Egyptian history and theology, the opportunity of trying to prove to Bastin that Christianity was a mere development of the ancient Egyptian faith. The arguments that ensued may be imagined. It never seemed to occur to either of them that all faiths may be and indeed probably are progressive; in short, different rays of light thrown from the various facets of the same crystal, as in turn these are shone upon by the sun of Truth.
Our passage down the Red Sea was cool and agreeable. Thence we shaped our course for Ceylon. Here again we stopped a little while to run up to Kandy and to visit the ruined city of
Anarajapura with its great Buddhist topes that once again gave rise to religious argument between my two friends. Leaving Ceylon we struck across the Indian Ocean for Perth in Western Australia.
It was a long voyage, since to save our coal we made most of it under canvas. However, we were not dull as Captain Astley was a good companion, and even out of the melancholy Dane, Jacobsen, we had entertainment. He insisted on holding seances in the cabin, at which the usual phenomena occurred. The table twisted about, voices were heard and Jacobsen's accordion wailed out tunes above our heads. These happenings drove Bickley to a kind of madness, for here were events which he could not explain. He was convinced that someone was playing tricks upon him, and devised the most elaborate snares to detect the rogue, entirely without result.
First he accused Jacobsen, who was very indignant, and then me, who laughed. In the end Jacobsen and I left the "circle" and the cabin, which was locked behind us; only Bastin and Bickley remaining there in the dark. Presently we heard sounds of altercation, and Bickley emerged looking very red in the face, followed by Bastin, who was saying:
"Can I help it if something pulled your nose and snatched off your eyeglasses, which anyhow are quite useless to you when there is no light? Again, is it possible for me, sitting on the other side of that table, to have placed the concertina on your head and made it play the National Anthem, a thing that I have not the slightest idea how to do?"
"Please do not try to explain," snapped Bickley. "I am
perfectly aware that you deceived me somehow, which no doubt you think a good joke."
"I think," said Bastin, "that this is an unholy business and that we are both deceived by the devil. I will have no more to do with it," and he departed to his cabin, probably to say some appropriate prayers.
After this the seances were given up but Jacobsen produced an instrument called a planchette and with difficulty persuaded Bickley to try it, which he did after many precautions. The thing, a heart-shaped piece of wood mounted on wheels and with a pencil stuck at its narrow end, cantered about the sheet of paper on which it was placed, Bickley, whose hands rested upon it, staring at the roof of the cabin. Then it began to scribble and after a while stopped still.
"Will the Doctor look?" said Jacobsen. "Perhaps the spirits have told him something."
"Oh! curse all this silly talk about spirits," exclaimed
Bickley, as he arranged his eyeglasses and held up the paper to the light, for it was after dinner.
He stared, then with an exclamation which I will not repeat, and a glance of savage suspicion at the poor Dane and the rest of us, threw it down and left the cabin. I picked it up and next moment was screaming with laughter. There on the top of the sheet was a rough but entirely recognizable portrait of Bickley with the accordion on his head, and underneath, written in a delicate, Italian female hand, absolutely different from his own, were these words taken from one of St. Paul's Epistles--"Oppositions of science falsely so called." Underneath them again in a scrawling, schoolboy fist, very like Bastin's, was inscribed, "Tell us how this is done, you silly doctor, who think yourself so clever."
"It seems that the devil really can quote Scripture," was Bastin's only comment, while Jacobsen stared before him and smiled.
Bickley never alluded to the matter, but for days afterwards I saw him experimenting with paper and chemicals, evidently trying to discover a form of invisible ink which would appear upon the application of the hand. As he never said anything about it, I fear that he failed.
This planchette business had a somewhat curious ending. A few nights later Jacobsen was working it and asked me to put a question. To oblige him I inquired on what day we should reach Fremantle, the port of Perth. It wrote an answer which, I may remark, subsequently proved to be quite correct."That is not a good question," said Jacobsen, "since as a sailor I might guess the reply. Try again, Mr. Arbuthnot." "Will anything remarkable happen on our voyage to the South Seas?" I inquired casually.
The planchette hesitated a while then wrote rapidly and stopped. Jacobsen took up the paper and began to read the answer aloud--"To A, B the D, and B the C, the most remarkable things will happen that have happened to men living in the world.""That must mean me, Bickley the doctor and Bastin the clergyman," I said, laughing.
Jacobsen paid no attention, for he was reading what followed. As he did so I saw his face turn white and his eyes begin to start from his head. Then suddenly he tore the paper in pieces which he thrust into his pocket. Lifting his great fist he uttered some Danish oath and with a single blow smashed the planchette to fragments, after which he strode away, leaving me astonished and somewhat disturbed. When I met him the next morning I asked him what was on the paper.
"Oh!" he said quietly, "something I should not like you tooproper English gentlemens to see. Something not nice. You understand. Those spirits not always good; they do that kind of thing sometimes. That's why I broke up this planchette."Then he began to talk of something else and there the matter ended.
I should have said that, principally with a view to putting themselves in a position to confute each other, ever since we had started from Marseilles both Bastin and Bickley spent a number of hours each day in assiduous study of the language of the South Sea Islands. It became a kind of competition between them as to which could learn the most. Now Bastin, although simple and even stupid in some ways, was a good scholar, and as I knew at college, had quite a faculty for acquiring languages in which he had taken high marks at examinations. Bickley, too, was an extraordinarily able person with an excellent memory, especially when he was on his mettle. The result was that before we ever reached a South Sea island they had a good working knowledge of the local tongues.
As it chanced, too, at Perth we picked up a Samoan and his wife who, under some of the "white Australia" regulations, were not allowed to remain in the country and offered to work as servants in return for a passage to Apia where we proposed to call some time or other. With these people Bastin and Bickley talked all day long till really they became fairly proficient in their soft and beautiful dialect. They wished me to learn also, but I said that with two such excellent interpreters and the natives while they remained with us, it seemed quite unnecessary. Still, I picked up a good deal in a quiet way, as much as they did perhaps.
At length, travelling on and on as a voyager to the planet Mars might do, we sighted the low shores of Australia and that same evening were towed, for our coal was quite exhausted, to the wharf at Fremantle. Here we spent a few days exploring the beautiful town of Perth and its neighbourhood where it was very hot just then, and eating peaches and grapes till we made ourselves ill, as a visitor often does who is unaware that fruit should not be taken in quantity in Australia while the sun is high. Then we departed for Melbourne almost before our arrival was generally known, since I did not wish to advertise our presence or the object of our journey.
We crossed the Great Australian Bight, of evil reputation, in the most perfect weather; indeed it might have been a mill pond, and after a short stay at Melbourne, went on to Sydney, where we coaled again and laid in supplies.
Then our real journey began. The plan we laid out was to sail to Suva in Fiji, about 1,700 miles away, and after a stay there, on to Hawaii or the Sandwich Islands, stopping perhaps at the Phoenix Islands and the Central Polynesian Sporades, such as Christmas and Fanning Isles. Then we proposed to turn south again through the Marshall Archipelago and the Caroline Islands, and so on to New Guinea and the Coral Sea. Particularly did we wish to visit Easter Island on account of its marvelous sculptures that are supposed to be the relics of a pre-historic race. In truth, however, we had no fixed plan except to go wherever circumstance and chance might take us. Chance, I may add, or something else, took full advantage of its opportunities.
We came to Suva in safety and spent a while in exploring the beautiful Fiji Isles where both Bastin and Bickley made full inquiries about the work of the missionaries, each of them drawing exactly opposite conclusions from the same set of admitted facts. Thence we steamed to Samoa and put our two natives ashore at Apia, where we procured some coal. We did not stay long enough in these islands to investigate them, however, because persons of experience there assured us from certain familiar signs that one of the terrible hurricanes with which they are afflicted, was due to arrive shortly and that we should do well to put ourselves beyond its reach. So having coaled and watered we departed in a hurry.
Up to this time I should state we had met with the most wonderful good fortune in the matter of weather, so good indeed that never on one occasion since we left Marseilles, had we been obliged to put the fiddles on the tables. With the superstition of a sailor Captain Astley, when I alluded to the matter, shook his head saying that doubtless we should pay for it later on, since "luck never goes all the way" and cyclones were reported to be about.
Here I must tell that after we were clear of Apia, it was discovered that the Danish mate who was believed to be in his cabin unwell from something he had eaten, was missing. The question arose whether we should put back to find him, as we supposed that he had made a trip inland and met with an accident, or been otherwise delayed. I was in favour of doing so though the captain, thinking of the threatened hurricane, shook his head and said that Jacobsen was a queer fellow who might just as well have gone overboard as anywhere else, if he thought he heard "the spirits, of whom he was so fond," calling him. While the matter was still in suspense I happened to go into my own stateroom and there, stuck in the looking-glass, saw an envelope in the Dane's handwriting addressed to myself. On opening it I found another sealed letter, unaddressed, also a note that ran as follows:"Honoured Sir,
"You will think very badly of me for leaving you, but the enclosed which I implore you not to open until you have seen the last of the Star of the South, will explain my reason and I hope clear my reputation. I thank you again and again for all your kindness and pray that the Spirits who rule the world may bless and preserve you, also the Doctor and Mr. Bastin."
This letter, which left the fate of Jacobsen quite unsolved, for it might mean either that he had deserted or drowned himself, I put away with the enclosure in my pocket. Of course there was no obligation on me to refrain from opening the letter, but I shrank from doing so both from some kind of sense of honour and, to tell the truth, for fear of what it might contain. I felt that this would be disagreeable; also, although there was nothing to connect them together, I bethought me of the scene when Jacobsen had smashed the planchette.
On my return to the deck I said nothing whatsoever about the discovery of the letter, but only remarked that on reflection I had changed my mind and agreed with the captain that it would be unwise to attempt to return in order to look for Jacobsen. So the boatswain, a capable individual who had seen better days, was promoted to take his watches and we went on as before. How curiously things come about in the world! For nautical reasons that were explained to me, but which I will not trouble to set down, if indeed I could remember them, I believe that if we had returned to Apia we should have missed the great gale and subsequent cyclone, and with these much else. But it was not so fated.
It was on the fourth day, when we were roughly seven hundred miles or more north of Samoa, that we met the edge of this gale about sundown. The captain put on steam in the hope of pushing through it, but that night we dined for the first time with the fiddles on, and by eleven o'clock it was as much as one could do to stand in the cabin, while the water was washing freely over the deck. Fortunately, however, the wind veered more aft of us, so that by putting about her head a little (seamen must forgive me if I talk of these matters as a landlubber) we ran almost before the wind, though not quite in the direction that we wished to go.
When the light came it was blowing very hard indeed, and the sky was utterly overcast, so that we got no glimpse of the sun, or of the stars on the following night. Unfortunately, there was no moon visible; indeed, if there had been I do not suppose that it would have helped us because of the thick pall of clouds. For quite seventy-two hours we ran on beneath bare poles before that gale. The little vessel behaved splendidly, riding the seas like a duck, but I could see that Captain Astley was growing alarmed. When I said something complimentary to him about the conduct of the Star of the South, he replied that she was forging ahead all right, but the question was--where to? He had been unable to take an observation of any sort since we left Samoa; both his patent logs had been carried away, so that now only the compass remained, and he had not the slightest idea where we were in that great ocean studded with atolls and islands.
I asked him whether we could not steam back to our proper course, but he answered that to do so he would have to travel dead in the eye of the gale, and he doubted whether the engines would stand it. Also there was the question of coal to be considered. However, he had kept the fires going and would do what he could if the weather moderated.
That night during dinner which now consisted of tinned foods and whisky and water, for the seas had got to the galley fire, suddenly the gale dropped, whereat we rejoiced exceedingly. The captain came down into the saloon very white and shaken, I thought, and I asked him to have a nip of whisky to warm him up, and to celebrate our good fortune in having run out of the wind. He took the bottle and, to my alarm, poured out a full half tumbler of spirit, which he swallowed undiluted in two or three gulps.
"That's better!" he said with a hoarse laugh. "But man, what is it you are saying about having run out of the wind? Look at the glass!"
"We have," said Bastin, "and it is wonderfully steady. About 29 degrees or a little over, which it has been for the last three days."Again Astley laughed in a mirthless fashion, as he answered:
"Oh, that thing! That's the passengers' glass. I told the steward to put it out of gear so that you might not be frightened; it is an old trick. Look at this," and he produced one of the portable variety out of his pocket.We looked, and it stood somewhere between 27 degrees and 28 degrees.
"That's the lowest glass I ever saw in the Polynesian or any other seas during thirty years. It's right, too, for I have tested it by three others," he said."What does it mean?" I asked rather anxiously.
"South Sea cyclone of the worst breed," he replied. "That cursed Dane knew it was coming and that's why he left the ship. Pray as you never prayed before," and again he stretched out his hand towards the whisky bottle. But I stepped between him and it, shaking my head. Thereon he laughed for the third time and left the cabin. Though I saw him once or twice afterwards, these were really the last words of intelligible conversation that I ever had with Captain Astley.
"It seems that we are in some danger," said Bastin, in an unmoved kind of way. "I think that was a good idea of the captain's, to put up a petition, I mean, but as Bickley will scarcely care to join in it I will go into the cabin and do so myself."
Bickley snorted, then said: "Confound that captain! Why did he play such a trick upon us about the barometer? Humphrey, I believe he had been drinking."
"So do I," I said, looking at the whisky bottle. "Otherwise, after taking those precautions to keep us in the dark, he would not have let on like that."
"Well," said Bickley, "he can't get to the liquor, except through this saloon, as it is locked up forward with the other stores.""That's nothing," I replied, "as doubtless he has a supply of his own; rum, I expect. We must take our chance."
Bickley nodded, and suggested that we should go on deck to see what was happening. So we went. Not a breath of wind was stirring, and even the sea seemed to be settling down a little. At least, so we judged from the motion, for we could not see either it or the sky; everything was as black as pitch. We heard the sailors, however, engaged in rigging guide ropes fore and aft, and battening down the hatches with extra tarpaulins by the light of lanterns. Also they were putting ropes round the boats and doing something to the spars and topmasts.Presently Bastin joined us, having, I suppose, finished his devotions. "Really, it is quite pleasant here," he said. "One never knows how disagreeable so much wind is until it stops." I lit my pipe, making no answer, and the match burned quite steadily there in the open air.
"What is that?" exclaimed Bickley, staring at something which now I saw for the first time. It looked like a line of white approaching through the gloom. With it came a hissing sound, and although there was still no wind, the rigging began to moan mysteriously like a thing in pain. A big drop of water also fell from the sides into my pipe and put it out. Then one of the sailors cried in a hoarse voice:"Get down below, governors, unless you want to go out to sea!"
"Why?" inquired Bastin. "Why? Becos the 'urricane is coming, that's all. Coming as though the devil had kicked it out of 'ell."
Bastin seemed inclined to remonstrate at this sort of language, but we pushed him down the companion and followed, propelling the spaniel Tommy in front of us. Next moment I heard the sailors battening the hatch with hurried blows, and when this was done to their satisfaction, heard their feet also as they ran into
Another instant and we were all lying in a heap on the cabin floor with poor Tommy on top of us. The cyclone had struck the ship! Above the wash of water and the screaming of the gale we heard other mysterious sounds, which doubtless were caused by the yards hitting the seas, for the yacht was lying on her side. I thought that all was over, but presently there came a rending, crashing noise. The masts, or one of them, had gone, and by degrees we righted."Near thing!" said Bickley. "Good heavens, what's that?"
I listened, for the electric light had temporarily gone out, owing, I suppose, to the dynamo having stopped for a moment. A most unholy and hollow sound was rising from the cabin floor. It might have been caused by a bullock with its windpipe cut, trying to get its breath and groaning. Then the light came on again and we saw Bastin lying at full length on the carpet."He's broken his neck or something," I said. Bickley crept to him and having looked, sang out: "It's all right! He's only sea-sick. I thought it would come to that if he drank so much tea." "Sea-sick," I said faintly--"sea-sick?"
"That's all," said Bickley. "The nerves of the stomach acting on the brain or vice-versa--that is, if Bastin has a brain," he added sotto voce."Oh!" groaned the prostrate clergyman. "I wish that I were dead!"
"Don't trouble about that," answered Bickley. "I expect you soon will be. Here, drink some whisky, you donkey." Bastin sat up and obeyed, out of the bottle, for it was impossible to pour anything into a glass, with results too dreadful to narrate."I call that a dirty trick," he said presently, in a feeble voice, glowering at Bickley. "I expect I shall have to play you a dirtier before long, for you are a pretty bad case, old fellow."
As a matter of fact he had, for once Bastin had begun really we thought that he was going to die. Somehow we got him into his cabin, which opened off the saloon, and as he could drink nothing more, Bickley managed to inject morphia or some other compound into him, which made him insensible for a long while.
"He must be in a poor way," he said, "for the needle went more than a quarter of an inch into him, and he never cried out or stirred. Couldn't help it in that rolling."
But now I could hear the engines working, and I think that the bow of the vessel was got head on to the seas, for instead of rolling we pitched, or rather the ship stood first upon one end and then upon the other. This continued for a while until the first burst of the cyclone had gone by. Then suddenly the engines stopped; I suppose that they had broken down, but I never learned, and we seemed to veer about, nearly sinking in the process, and to run before the hurricane at terrific speed.
"I wonder where we are going to?" I said to Bickley. "To the land of sleep, Humphrey, I imagine," he replied in a more gentle voice than I had often heard him use, adding: "Good-bye, old boy, we have been real friends, haven't we, notwithstanding my peculiarities? I only wish that I could think that there was anything in Bastin's views. But I can't, I can't. It's good night for us poor creatures!"Chapter VI Land
At last the electric light really went out. I had looked at my watch just before this happened and wound it up, which, Bickley remarked, was superfluous and a waste of energy. It then marked 3.20 in the morning. We had wedged Bastin, who was now snoring comfortably, into his berth, with pillows, and managed to tie a cord over him--no, it was a large bath towel, fixing one end of it to the little rack over his bed and the other to its
framework. As for ourselves, we lay down on the floor between the table legs, which, of course, were screwed, and the settee, protecting ourselves as best we were able by help of the cushions, etc., between two of which we thrust the terrified Tommy who had been sliding up and down the cabin floor. Thus we remained, expecting death every moment till the light of day, a very dim light, struggling through a port-hole of which the iron cover had somehow been wrenched off. Or perhaps it was never shut, I do not remember.
About this time there came a lull in the hellish, howling hurricane; the fact being, I suppose, that we had reached the centre of the cyclone. I suggested that we should try to go on deck and see what was happening. So we started, only to find the entrance to the companion so faithfully secured that we could not by any means get out. We knocked and shouted, but no one answered. My belief is that at this time everyone on the yacht except ourselves had been washed away and drowned.
Then we returned to the saloon, which, except for a little water trickling about the floor, was marvelously dry, and, being hungry, retrieved some bits of food and biscuit from its corners and ate. At this moment the cyclone began to blow again worse than ever, but it seemed to us, from another direction, and before it sped our poor derelict barque. It blew all day till for my part I grew utterly weary and even longed for the inevitable end. If my views were not quite those of Bastin, certainly they were not those of Bickley. I had believed from my youth up that the individuality of man, the ego, so to speak, does not die when life goes out of his poor body, and this faith did not desert me then. Therefore, I wished to have it over and learn what there might be upon the other side.
We could not speak much because of the howling of the wind, but Bickley did manage to shout to me something to the effect that his partners would, in his opinion, make an end of their great practice within two years, which, he added, was a pity. I nodded my head, not caring twopence what happened to Bickley's partners or their business, or to my own property, or to anything else. When death is at hand most of us do not think much of such things because then we realise how small they are. Indeed I was wondering whether within a few minutes or hours I should or should not see Natalie again, and if this were the end to which she had seemed to beckon me in that dream.
On we sped, and on. About four in the afternoon we heard sounds from Bastin's cabin which faintly reminded me of some tune. I crept to the door and listened. Evidently he had awakened and was singing or trying to sing, for music was not one of his strong points, "For those in peril on the sea." Devoutly did I wish that it might be heard. Presently it ceased, so I suppose he went to sleep again.
The darkness gathered once more. Then of a sudden something fearful happened. There were stupendous noises of a kind I had never heard; there were convulsions. It seemed to us that the ship was flung right up into the air a hundred feet or more."Tidal wave, I expect," shouted Bickley.
Almost as he spoke she came down with the most appalling crash on to something hard and nearly jarred the senses out of us. Next the saloon was whirling round and round and yet being carried forward, and we felt air blowing upon us. Then our senses left us. As I clasped Tommy to my side, whimpering and licking my face, my last thought was that all was over, and that presently I should learn everything or nothing.
I woke up feeling very bruised and sore and perceived that light was flowing into the saloon. The door was still shut, but it had been wrenched off its hinges, and that was where the light came in; also some of the teak planks of the decking, jagged and splintered, were sticking up through the carpet. The table had broken from its fastenings and lay upon its side. Everything else was one confusion. I looked at Bickley. Apparently he had not awakened. He was stretched out still wedged in with his cushions and bleeding from a wound in his head. I crept to him in terror and listened. He was not dead, for his breathing was regular and natural. The whisky bottle which had been corked was upon the floor unbroken and about a third full. I took a good pull at the spirit; to me it tasted like nectar from the gods. Then I tried to force some down Bickley's throat but could not, so I poured a little upon the cut on his head. The smart of it woke him in a hurry.
"Where are we now?" he exclaimed. "You don't mean to tell me that Bastin is right after all and that we live again somewhere else? Oh! I could never bear that ignominy."
"I don't know about living somewhere else," I said, "although my opinions on that matter differ from yours. But I do know that you and I are still on earth in what remains of the saloon of the Star of the South.""Thank God for that! Let's go and look for old Bastin," said Bickley. "I do pray that he is all right also."
"It is most illogical of you, Bickley, and indeed wrong," groaned a deep voice from the other side of the cabin door, "to thank a God in Whom you do not believe, and to talk of praying for one of the worst and most inefficient of His servants when you have no faith in prayer.""Got you there, my friend," I said. Bickley murmured something about force of habit, and looked smaller than I had ever seen him do before.
Somehow we forced that door open; it was not easy because it had jammed. Within the cabin, hanging on either side of the bath towel which had stood the strain nobly, something like a damp garment over a linen line, was Bastin most of whose bunk seemed to have disappeared. Yes--Bastin, pale and dishevelled and looking shrunk, with his hair touzled and his beard apparently growing all ways, but still Bastin alive, if very weak.Bickley ran at him and made a cursory examination with his fingers. "Nothing broken," he said triumphantly. "He's all right."
"If you had hung over a towel for many hours in most violent weather you would not say that," groaned Bastin. "My inside is a pulp. But perhaps you would be kind enough to untie me."
"Bosh!" said Bickley as he obeyed. "All you want is something to eat. Meanwhile, drink this," and he handed him the remains of the whisky.
Bastin swallowed it every drop, murmuring something about taking a little wine for his stomach's sake, "one of the Pauline injunctions, you know," after which he was much more cheerful. Then we hunted about and found some more of the biscuits and other food with which we filled ourselves after a fashion.
"I wonder what has happened," said Bastin. "I suppose that, thanks to the skill of the captain, we have after all reached the haven where we would be."
Here he stopped, rubbed his eyes and looked towards the saloon door which, as I have said, had been wrenched off its hinges, but appeared to have opened wider than when I observed it last. Also Tommy, who was recovering his spirits, uttered a series of low growls.
"It is a most curious thing," he went on, "and I suppose I must be suffering from hallucinations, but I could swear that just now I saw looking through that door the same improper young woman clothed in a few flowers and nothing else, whose photograph in that abominable and libellous book was indirectly the cause of our tempestuous voyage."
"Indeed!" replied Bickley. "Well, so long as she has not got on the broken-down stays and the Salvation Army bonnet without a crown, which you may remember she wore after she had fallen into the hands of your fraternity, I am sure I do not mind. In fact I should be delighted to see anything so pleasant."
At this moment a distinct sound of female tittering arose from beyond the door. Tommy barked and Bickley stepped towards it, but I called to him."Look out! Where there are women there are sure to be men. Let us be ready against accidents." So we armed ourselves with pistols, that is Bickley and I did, Bastin being fortified solely with a Bible.
Then we advanced, a remarkable and dilapidated trio, and dragged the door wide. Instantly there was a scurry and we caught sight of women's forms wearing only flowers, and but few of these, running over white sand towards groups of men armed with odd-looking clubs, some of which were fashioned to the shapes of swords and spears. To make an impression I fired two shots with my revolver into the air, whereupon both men and women fled into groves of trees and vanished.
"They don't seem to be accustomed to white people," said Bickley. "Is it possible that we have found a shore upon which no missionary has set a foot?"
We stood still and looked about us. This was what we saw. All the after part of the ship from forward of the bridge had vanished utterly; there was not a trace of it; she had as it were been cut in two. More, we were some considerable distance from the sea which was still raging over a quarter of a mile away where great white combers struck upon a reef and spouted into the air. Behind us was a cliff, apparently of rock but covered with earth and vegetation, and against this cliff, in which the prow of the ship was buried, she, or what remained of her, had come to anchor for the last time."You see what has happened," I said. "A great tidal wave has carried us up here and retreated."
"That's it," exclaimed Bickley. "Look at the debris," and he pointed to torn-up palms, bushes and seaweed piled into heaps which still ran salt water; also to a number of dead fish that lay about among them, adding, "Well, we are saved anyhow.""And yet there are people like you who say that there is no Providence!" ejaculated Bastin. "I wonder what the views of Captain Astley and the crew are, or rather were, upon that matter," interrupted Bickley.
"I don't know," answered Bastin, looking about him vaguely. "It is true that I can't see any of them, but if they are drowned no doubt it is because their period of usefulness in this world had ended.""Let's get down and look about us," I remarked, being anxious to avoid further argument.
So we scrambled from the remnant of the ship, like Noah descending out of the ark, as Bastin said, on to the beach beneath, where Tommy rushed to and fro, gambolling for joy. Here we discovered a path which ran diagonally up the side of a cliff which was nowhere more than fifty or sixty feet in height, and possibly had once formed the shore of this land, or perhaps that of a lake. Up this path we went, following the tracks of many human feet, and reaching the crest of the cliff, looked about us, basking as we did so in the beautiful morning sun, for the sky was now clear of clouds and with that last awful effort, which destroyed our ship, the cyclone had passed away.
We were standing on a plain down which ran a little stream of good water whereof Tommy drank greedily, we following his example. To the right and left of this plain, further than we could see, stretched bushland over which towered many palms, rather ragged now because of the lashing of the gale. Looking inland we perceived that the ground sloped gently downwards, ending at a distance of some miles in a large lake. Far out in this lake something like the top of a mountain of a brown colour rose above the water, and on the edge of it was what from that distance appeared to be a tumbled ruin."This is all very interesting," I said to Bickley. "What do you make of it?"
"I don't quite know. At first sight I should say that we are standing on the lip of a crater of some vast extinct volcano. Look how it curves to north and south and at the slope running down to the lake."I nodded.
"Lucky that the tidal wave did not get over the cliff," I said. "If it had the people here would have all been drowned out. I wonder where they have gone?"
As I spoke Bastin pointed to the edge of the bush some hundreds of yards away, where we perceived brown figures slipping about among the trees. I suggested that we should go back to the mouth of our path, so as to have a line of retreat open in case of necessity, and await events. So we did and there stood still. By degrees the brown figures emerged on to the plain to the number of some hundreds, and we saw that they were both male and female. The women were clothed in nothing except flowers and a little girdle; the men were all armed with wooden weapons and also wore a girdle but no flowers. The children, of whom there were many, were quite naked.
Among these people we observed a tall person clothed in what seemed to be a magnificent feather cloak, and, walking around and about him, a number of grotesque forms adorned with hideous masks and basket-like head-dresses that were surmounted by plumes."The king or chief and his priests or medicine-men! This is splendid," said Bickley triumphantly. Bastin also contemplated them with enthusiasm as raw material upon which he hoped to get to work.
By degrees and very cautiously they approached us. To our joy, we perceived that behind them walked several young women who bore wooden trays of food or fruit."That looks well," I said. "They would not make offerings unless they were friendly." "The food may be poisoned," remarked Bickley suspiciously.
The crowd advanced, we standing quite still looking as dignified as we could, I as the tallest in the middle, with Tommy sitting at my feet. When they were about five and twenty yards away, however, that wretched little dog caught sight of the masked priests. He growled and then rushed at them barking, his long black ears flapping as he went.
The effect was instantaneous. One and all they turned and fled precipitately, who evidently had never before seen a dog and looked upon it as a deadly creature. Yes, even the tall chief and his masked medicine-men fled like hares pursued by Tommy, who bit one of them in the leg, evoking a terrific howl. I called him back and took him into my arms. Seeing that he was safe for a while the crowd reformed and once again advanced.
As they came we noted that they were a wonderfully handsome people, tall and straight with regularly shaped features and nothing of the negro about them. Some of the young women might even be called beautiful, though those who were elderly had become corpulent. The feather-clothed chief, however, was much disfigured by a huge growth with a narrow stalk to it that hung from his neck and rested on his shoulder.
"I'll have that off him before he is a week older," said Bickley, surveying this deformity with great professional interest.
On they came, the girls with the platters walking ahead. On one of these were what looked like joints of baked pork, on another some plantains and pear-shaped fruits. They knelt down and offered these to us. We contemplated them for a while. Then Bickley shook his head and began to rub his stomach with appropriate contortions. Clearly they were quick-minded enough for they saw the point. At some words the girls brought the platters to the chief and others, who took from them portions of the food at hazard and ate them to show that it was not poisoned, we watching their throats the while to make sure that it was swallowed. Then they returned again and we took some of the food though only Bickley ate, because, as I pointed out to him, being a doctor who understood the use of antidotes; clearly he should make the experiment. However, nothing happened; indeed he said that it was very good.
After this there came a pause. Then suddenly Bastin took up his parable in the Polynesian tongue which--to a certain extent--he had acquired with so much pains."What is this place called?" he asked slowly and distinctly, pausing between each word.
His audience shook their heads and he tried again, putting the accents on different syllables. Behold! some bright spirit understood him and answered:"Orofena." "That means a hill, or an island, or a hill in an island," whispered Bickley to me. "Who is your God?" asked Bastin again. The point seemed one upon which they were a little doubtful, but at last the chief answered, "Oro. He who fights." "In other words, Mars," said Bickley. "I will give you a better one," said Bastin in the same slow fashion.
Thinking that he referred to himself these children of Nature contemplated his angular form doubtfully and shook their heads. Then for the first time one of the men who was wearing a mask and a wicker crate on his head, spoke in a hollow voice, saying:
"If you try Oro will eat you up." "Head priest!" said Bickley, nudging me. "Old Bastin had better be careful or he will get his teeth into him and call them Oro's."Another pause, after which the man in a feather cloak with the growth on his neck that a servant was supporting, said:
"I am Marama, the chief of Orofena. We have never seen men like you before, if you are men. What brought you here and with you that fierce and terrible animal, or evil spirit which makes a noise and bites?"
Now Bickley pretended to consult me who stood brooding and majestic, that is if I can be majestic. I whispered something and he answered:"The gods of the wind and the sea." "What nonsense," ejaculated Bastin, "there are no such things." "Shut up," I said, "we must use similes here," to which he replied: "I don't like similes that tamper with the truth." "Remember Neptune and Aeolus," I suggested, and he lapsed into consideration of the point.
"We knew that you were coming," said Marama. "Our doctors told us all about you a moon ago. But we wish that you would come more gently, as you nearly washed away our country."After looking at me Bickley replied: "How thankful should you be that in our kindness we have spared you." "What do you come to do?" inquired Marama again. After the usual formula of consulting me Bickley answered:
"We come to take that mountain (he meant lump) off your neck and make you beautiful; also to cure all the sickness among your people."
"And I come," broke in Bastin, "to give you new hearts." These announcements evidently caused great excitement. After consultation Marama answered:
"We do not want new hearts as the old ones are good, but we wish to be rid of lumps and sicknesses. If you can do this we will make you gods and worship you and give you many wives." (Here Bastin held up his hands in horror.) "When will you begin to take away the lumps?""To-morrow," said Bickley. "But learn that if you try to harm us we will bring another wave which will drown all your country."
Nobody seemed to doubt our capacities in this direction, but one inquiring spirit in a wicker crate did ask how it came about that if we controlled the ocean we had arrived in half a canoe instead of a whole one.
Bickley replied to the effect that it was because the gods always travelled in half-canoes to show their higher nature, which seemed to satisfy everyone. Then we announced that we had seen enough of them for that day and would retire to think. Meanwhile we should be obliged if they would build us a house and keep us supplied with whatever food they had."Do the gods eat?" asked the sceptic again. "That fellow is a confounded radical," I whispered to Bickley. "Tell him that they do when they come to Orofena." He did so, whereon the chief said: "Would the gods like a nice young girl cooked?"
At this point Bastin retired down the path, realising that he had to do with cannibals. We said that we preferred to look at the girls alive and would meet them again to-morrow morning, when we hoped that the house would be ready.So our first interview with the inhabitants of Orofena came to an end, on which we congratulated ourselves.
On reaching the remains of the Star of the South we set to work to take stock of what was left to us. Fortunately it proved to be a very great deal. As I think I mentioned, all the passenger part of the yacht lay forward of the bridge, just in front of which the vessel had been broken in two, almost as cleanly as though she were severed by a gigantic knife. Further our stores were forward and practically everything else that belonged to us, even down to Bickley's instruments and medicines and Bastin's religious works, to say nothing of a great quantity of tinned food and groceries. Lastly on the deck above the saloon had stood two large lifeboats. Although these were amply secured at the commencement of the gale one of them, that on the port side, was smashed to smithers; probably some spar had fallen upon it. The starboard boat, however, remained intact and so far as we could judge, seaworthy, although the bulwarks were broken by the waves."There's something we can get away in if necessary," I said.
"Where to?" remarked Bastin. "We don't know where we are or if there is any other land within a thousand miles. I think we had better stop here as Providence seems to have intended, especially when there is so much work to my hand."
"Be careful," answered Bickley, "that the work to your hand does not end in the cutting of all our throats. It is an awkward thing interfering with the religion of savages, and I believe that these untutored children of Nature sometimes eat missionaries."
"Yes, I have heard that," said Bastin; "they bake them first as they do pigs. But I don't know that they would care to eat me," and he glanced at his bony limbs, "especially when you are much plumper. Anyhow one can't stop for a risk of that sort."
Deigning no reply, Bickley walked away to fetch some fine fish which had been washed up by the tidal wave and were still flapping about in a little pool of salt water. Then we took counsel as to how to make the best of our circumstances, and as a result set to work to tidy up the saloon and cabins, which was not difficult as what remained of the ship lay on an even keel. Also we got out some necessary stores, including paraffin for the swinging lamps with which the ship was fitted in case of accident to the electric light, candles, and the guns we had brought with us so that they might be handy in the event of attack. This done, by the aid of the tools that were in the storerooms, Bickley, who was an excellent carpenter, repaired the saloon door, all that was necessary to keep us private, as the bulkhead still remained.
"Now," he said triumphantly when he had finished and got the lock and bolts to work to his satisfaction, "we can stand a siege if needed, for as the ship is iron built they can't even burn us out and that teak door would take some forcing. Also we can shore it up.""How about something to eat? I want my tea," said Bastin.
"Then, my reverend friend," replied Bickley, "take a couple of the fire buckets and fetch some water from the stream. Also collect driftwood of which there is plenty about, clean those fish and grill them over the saloon stove.""I'll try," said Bastin, "but I never did any cooking before." "No," replied Bickley, "on second thoughts I will see to that myself, but you can get the fish ready."
So, with due precautions, Bastin and I fetched water from the stream which we found flowed over the edge of the cliff quite close at hand into a beautiful coral basin that might have been designed for a bath of the nymphs. Indeed one at a time, while the other watched, we undressed and plunged into it, and never was a tub more welcome than after our long days of tempest. Then we returned to find that Bickley had already set the table and was engaged in frying the fish very skilfully on the saloon stove, which proved to be well adapted to the purpose. He was cross, however, when he found that we had bathed and that it was now too late for him to do likewise.
While he was cleaning himself as well as he could in his cabin basin and Bastin was boiling water for tea, suddenly I remembered the letter from the Danish mate Jacobsen. Concluding that it might now be opened as we had certainly parted with most of the Star of the South for the last time, I read it. It was as
"The reason, honoured Sir, that I am leaving the ship is that on the night I tore up the paper, the spirit controlling the planchette wrote these words: 'After leaving Samoa the Star of the South will be wrecked in a hurricane and everybody on board drowned except A. B. and B. Get out of her! Get out of her! Don't be a fool, Jacob, unless you want to come over here at once. Take our advice and get out of her and you will live to be old.-SKOLL."
"Sir, I am not a coward but I know that this will happen, for that spirit which signs itself Skoll never tells a lie. I did try to give the captain a hint to stop at Apia, but he had been drinking and openly cursed me and called me a sneaking cheat. So I am going to run away, of which I am very much ashamed. But I do not wish to be drowned yet as there is a girl whom I want to marry, and my mother I support. You will be safe and I hope you will not think too badly of me.--JACOB JACOBSEN.
"I think," chimed in Bastin, "that the devil knows how to look after his own at any rate for a little while. I dare say it would have been much better for him to be drowned.""At least he is a deserter and failed in his duty. I never wish to hear of him again," I said. As a matter of fact I never have. But the incident remains quite unexplained either by Bickley or Bastin. Chapter VII The Orofenans
To our shame we had a very pleasant supper that night off the grilled fish, which was excellent, and some tinned meat. I say to our shame, in a sense, for on our companions the sharks were supping and by rights we should have been sunk in woe. I suppose that the sense of our own escape intoxicated us. Also, notwithstanding his joviality, none of us had cared much for the captain, and his policy had been to keep us somewhat apart from the crew, of whom therefore we knew but little. It is true that Bastin held services on Sundays, for such as would attend, and Bickley had doctored a few of them for minor ailments, but there, except for a little casual conversation, our intercourse began and ended.
Now the sad fact is that it is hard to be overwhelmed with grief for those with whom we are not intimate. We were very sorry and that is all that can be said, except that Bastin, being High Church, announced in a matter-of-fact way that he meant to put up some petitions for the welfare of their souls. To this Bickley retorted that from what he had seen of their bodies he was sure they needed them.
Yes, it was a pleasant supper, not made less so by a bottle of champagne which Bickley and I shared. Bastin stuck to his tea, not because he did not like champagne, but because, as he explained, having now come in contact with the heathen it would never do for him to set them an example in the use of spirituous liquors."However much we may differ, Bastin, I respect you for that sentiment," commented Bickley. "I don't know why you should," answered Bastin; "but if so, you might follow my example."
That night we slept like logs, trusting to our teak door which we barricaded, and to Tommy, who was a most excellent watch-dog, to guard us against surprise. At any rate we took the risk. As a matter of fact, nothing happened, though before dawn Tommy did growl a good deal, for I heard him, but as he sank into slumber again on my bed, I did not get up. In the morning I found from fresh footprints that two or three men had been prowling about the ship, though at a little distance.
We rose early, and taking the necessary precautions, bathed in the pool. Then we breakfasted, and having filled every available receptacle with water, which took us a long time as these included a large tank that supplied the bath, so that we might have at least a week's supply in case of siege, we went on deck and debated what we should do. In the end we determined to stop where we were and await events, because, as I pointed out, it was necessary that we should discover whether these natives were hostile or friendly. In the former event we could hold our own on the ship, whereas away from it we must be overwhelmed; in the latter there was always time to move inland.
About ten o'clock when we were seated on stools smoking, with our guns by our side--for here, owing to the overhanging cliff in which it will be remembered the prow of the ship was buried, we could not be reached by missiles thrown from above--we saw numbers of the islanders advancing upon us along the beach on either side. They were preceded as before by women who bore food on platters and in baskets. These people, all talking excitedly and laughing after their fashion, stopped at a distance, so we took no notice of them. Presently Marama, clad in his feather cloak, and again accompanied by priests or medicine-men, appeared walking down the path on the cliff face, and, standing below, made salutations and entered into a conversation with us of which I give the substance--that is, so far as we could understand it.
He reproached us for not having come to him as he expected we would do. We replied that we preferred to remain where we were until we were sure of our greeting and asked him what was the position. He explained that only once before, in the time of his grandfather, had any people reached their shores, also during a great storm as we had done. They were dark-skinned men like themselves, three of them, but whence they came was never known, since they were at once seized and sacrificed to the god Oro, which was the right thing to do in such a case.We asked whether he would consider it right to sacrifice us. He replied:
Certainly, unless we were too strong, being gods ourselves, or unless an arrangement could be concluded. We asked--what arrangement? He replied that we must make them gifts; also that we must do what we had promised and cure him--the chief--of the disease which had tormented him for years. In that event everything would be at our disposal and we, with all our belongings, should become taboo, holy, not to be touched. None would attempt to harm us, nothing should be stolen under penalty of death.
We asked him to come up on the deck with only one companion that his sickness might be ascertained, and after much hesitation he consented to do so. Bickley made an examination of the growth and announced that he believed it could be removed with perfect safety as the attachment to the neck was very slight, but of course there was always a risk. This was explained to him with difficulty, and much talk followed between him and his followers who gathered on the beach beneath the ship. They seemed adverse to the experiment, till Marama grew furious with them and at last burst into tears saying that he could no longer drag this terrible burden about with him, and he touched the growth. He would rather die. Then they gave way.I will tell the rest as shortly as I can.
A hideous wooden idol was brought on board, wrapped in leaves and feathers, and upon it the chief and his head people swore safety to us whether he lived or died, making us the guests of their land. There were, however, two provisos made, or as such we understood them. These seemed to be that we should offer no insult or injury to their god, and secondly, that we should not set foot on the island in the lake. It was not till afterwards that it occurred to me that this must refer to the mountain top which appeared in the inland sheet of water. To those stipulations we made no answer. Indeed, the Orofenans did all the talking. Finally, they ratified their oaths by a man who, I suppose, was a head priest, cutting his arm and rubbing the blood from it on the lips of the idol; also upon those of the chief. I should add that Bastin had retired as soon as he saw that false god appear, of which I was glad, since I felt sure that he would make a scene.
The operation took place that afternoon and on the ship, for when once Marama had made up his mind to trust us he did so very thoroughly. It was performed on deck in the presence of an awed multitude who watched from the shore, and when they saw Bickley appear in a clean nightshirt and wash his hands, uttered a groan of wonder. Evidently they considered it a magical and religious ceremony; indeed ever afterwards they called Bickley the Great Priest, or sometimes the Great Healer in later days. This was a grievance to Bastin who considered that he had been robbed of his proper title, especially when he learned that among themselves he was only known as "the Bellower," because of the loud voice in which he addressed them. Nor did Bickley particularly appreciate the compliment.
With my help he administered the chloroform, which was done under shelter of a sail for fear lest the people should think that we were smothering their chief. Then the operation went on to a satisfactory conclusion. I omit the details, but an electric battery and a red-hot wire came into play.
"There," said Bickley triumphantly when he had finished tying the vessels and made everything neat and tidy with bandages, "I was afraid he might bleed to death, but I don't think there is any fear of that now, for I have made a real job of it." Then advancing with the horrid tumour in his hands he showed it in triumph to the crowd beneath, who groaned again and threw themselves on to their faces. Doubtless now it is the most sacred relic of Orofena.
When Marama came out of the anesthetic, Bickley gave him something which sent him to sleep for twelve hours, during all which time his people waited beneath. This was our dangerous period, for our difficulty was to persuade them that he was not dead, although Bickley had assured them that he would sleep for a time while the magic worked. Still, I was very glad when he woke up on the following morning, and two or three of his leading men could see that he was alive. The rest was lengthy but simple, consisting merely in keeping him quiet and on a suitable diet until there was no fear of the wound opening. We achieved it somehow with the help of an intelligent native woman who, I suppose, was one of his wives, and five days later were enabled to present him healed, though rather tottery, to his affectionate subjects.
It was a great scene, which may be imagined. They bore him away in a litter with the native woman to watch him and another to carry the relic preserved in a basket, and us they acclaimed as gods. Thenceforward we had nothing to fear in Orofena--except Bastin, though this we did not know at the time.
All this while we had been living on our ship and growing very bored there, although we employed the empty hours in conversation with selected natives, thereby improving our knowledge of the language. Bickley had the best of it, since already patients began to arrive which occupied him. One of the first was that man whom Tommy had bitten. He was carried to us in an almost comatose state, suffering apparently from the symptoms of snake poisoning.
Afterward it turned out that he conceived Tommy to be a divine but most venomous lizard that could make a very horrible noise, and began to suffer as one might do from the bite of such a creature. Nothing that Bickley could do was enough to save him and ultimately he died in convulsions, a circumstance that enormously enhanced Tommy's reputation. To tell the truth, we took advantage of it to explain that Tommy was in fact a supernatural animal, a sort of tame demon which only harmed people who had malevolent intentions towards those he served or who tried to steal any of their possessions or to intrude upon them at inconvenient hours, especially in the dark. So terrible was he, indeed, that even the skill of the Great Priest, i.e., Bickley, could not avail to save any whom once he had bitten in his rage. Even to be barked at by him was dangerous and conveyed a curse that might last for generations.
All this we set out when Bastin was not there. He had wandered off, as he said, to look for shells, but as we knew, to practise religious orations in the Polynesian tongue with the waves for audience, as Demosthenes is said to have done to perfect himself as a political orator. Personally I admit that I relied more on the terrors of Tommy to safeguard us from theft and other troubles than I did upon those of the native taboo and the priestly oaths.
The end of it all was that we left our ship, having padlocked up the door (the padlock, we explained, was a magical instrument that bit worse than Tommy), and moved inland in a kind of triumphal procession, priests and singers going before (the Orofenans sang extremely well) and minstrels following after playing upon instruments like flutes, while behind came the bearers carrying such goods as we needed. They took us to a beautiful place in a grove of palms on a ridge where grew many breadfruit trees, that commanded a view of the ocean upon one side and of the lake with the strange brown mountain top on the other. Here in the midst of the native gardens we found that a fine house had been built for us of a kind of mud brick and thatched with palm leaves, surrounded by a fenced courtyard of beaten earth and having wide overhanging verandahs; a very comfortable place indeed in that delicious climate. In it we took up our abode, visiting the ship occasionally to see that all was well there, and awaiting events.
For Bickley these soon began to happen in the shape of an ever-increasing stream of patients. The population of the island was considerable, anything between five and ten thousand, so far as we could judge, and among these of course there were a number of sick. Ophthalmia, for instance, was a prevalent disease, as were the growths such as Marama had suffered from, to say nothing of surgical cases and those resulting from accident or from nervous ailments. With all of these Bickley was called upon to deal, which he did with remarkable success by help of his books on Tropical Diseases and his ample supplies of medical necessaries.
At first he enjoyed it very much, but when we had been established in the house for about three weeks he remarked, after putting in a solid ten hours of work, that for all the holiday he was getting he might as well be back at his old practice, with the difference that there he was earning several thousands a year. Just then a poor woman arrived with a baby in convulsions to whose necessities he was obliged to sacrifice his supper, after which came a man who had fallen from a palm tree and broken his leg.
Nor did I escape, since having somehow or other established a reputation for wisdom, as soon as I had mastered sufficient of the language, every kind of knotty case was laid before me for decision. In short, I became a sort of Chief Justice--not an easy office as it involved the acquirement of the native law which was intricate and peculiar, especially in matrimonial cases.At these oppressive activities Bastin looked on with a gloomy eye.
"You fellows seem very busy," he said one evening; "but I can find nothing to do. They don't seem to want me, and merely to set a good example by drinking water or tea while you swallow whisky and their palm wine, or whatever it is, is very negative kind of work, especially as I am getting tired of planting things in the garden and playing policeman round the wreck which nobody goes near. Even Tommy is better off, for at least he can bark and hunt rats."
"You see," said Bickley, "we are following our trades.
Arbuthnot is a lawyer and acts as a judge. I am a surgeon and I may add a general--a very general--practitioner and work at medicine in an enormous and much-neglected practice. Therefore, you, being a clergyman, should go and do likewise. There are some ten thousand people here, but I do not observe that as yet you have converted a single one."
Thus spoke Bickley in a light and unguarded moment with his usual object of what is known as "getting a rise" out of Bastin. Little did he guess what he was doing.Bastin thought a while ponderously, then said:
"It is very strange from what peculiar sources Providence sometimes sends inspirations. If wisdom flows from babes and sucklings, why should it not do so from the well of agnostics and mockers?"
"There is no reason which I can see," scoffed Bickley, "except that as a rule wells do not flow."
"Your jest is ill-timed and I may add foolish," continued Bastin. "What I was about to add was that you have given me an idea, as it was no doubt intended that you should do. I will, metaphorically speaking, gird up my loins and try to bear the light into all this heathen blackness."
"Then it is one of the first you ever had, old fellow. But what's the need of girding up your loins in this hot climate?" inquired Bickley with innocence. "Pyjamas and that white and green umbrella of yours would do just as well."Bastin vouchsafed no reply and sat for the rest of that evening plunged in deep thought.
On the following morning he approached Marama and asked his leave to teach the people about the gods. The chief readily granted this, thinking, I believe, that he alluded to ourselves, and orders were issued accordingly. They were to the effect that Bastin was to be allowed to go everywhere unmolested and to talk to whom he would about what he would, to which all must listen with respect.
Thus he began his missionary career in Orofena, working at it, good and earnest man that he was, in a way that excited even the admiration of Bickley. He started a school for children, which was held under a fine, spreading tree. These listened well, and being of exceedingly quick intellect soon began to pick up the elements of knowledge. But when he tried to persuade them to clothe their little naked bodies his failure was complete, although after much supplication some of the bigger girls did arrive with a chaplet of flowers--round their necks!
Also he preached to the adults, and here again was very successful in a way, especially after he became more familiar with the language. They listened; to a certain extent they understood; they argued and put to poor Bastin the most awful questions such as the whole Bench of Bishops could not have answered. Still he did answer them somehow, and they politely accepted his interpretation of their theological riddles. I observed that he got on best when he was telling them stories out of the Old Testament, such as the account of the creation of the world and of human beings, also of the Deluge, etc. Indeed one of their elders said--Yes, this was quite true. They had heard it all before from their fathers, and that once the Deluge had taken place round Orofena, swallowing up great countries, but sparing them because they were so good.
Bastin, surprised, asked them who had caused the deluge. They replied, Oro which was the name of their god, Oro who dwelt yonder on the mountain in the lake, and whose representation they worshipped in idols. He said that God dwelt in Heaven, to which they replied with calm certainty:"No, no, he dwells on the mountain in the lake," which was why they never dared to approach that mountain.
Indeed it was only by giving the name Oro to the Divinity and admitting that He might dwell in the mountain as well as everywhere else, that Bastin was able to make progress. Having conceded this, not without scruples, however, he did make considerable progress, so much, in fact, that I perceived that the priests of Oro were beginning to grow very jealous of him and of his increasing authority with the people. Bastin was naturally triumphant, and even exclaimed exultingly that within a year he would have half of the population baptised.
"Within a year, my dear fellow," said Bickley, "you will have your throat cut as a sacrifice, and probably ours also. It is a pity, too, as within that time I should have stamped out ophthalmia and some other diseases in the island."
Here, leaving Bastin and his good work aside for a while, I will say a little about the country. From information which I gathered on some journeys that I made and by inquiries from the chief Marama, who had become devoted to us, I found that Orofena was quite a large place. In shape the island was circular, a broad band of territory surrounding the great lake of which I have spoken, that in its turn surrounded a smaller island from which rose the mountain top. No other land was known to be near the shores of Orofena, which had never been visited by anyone except the strangers a hundred years ago or so, who were sacrificed and eaten. Most of the island was covered with forest which the inhabitants lacked the energy, and indeed had no tools, to fell. They were an extremely lazy people and would only cultivate enough bananas and other food to satisfy their immediate needs. In truth they lived mostly upon breadfruit and other products of the wild trees.
Thus it came about that in years of scarcity through drought or climatic causes, which prevented the forest trees from bearing, they suffered very much from hunger. In such years hundreds of them would perish and the remainder resorted to the dreadful expedient of cannibalism. Sometimes, too, the shoals of fish avoided their shores, reducing them to great misery. Their only domestic animal was the pig which roamed about half wild and in no great numbers, for they had never taken the trouble to breed it in captivity. Their resources, therefore, were limited, which accounted for the comparative smallness of the population, further reduced as it was by a wicked habit of infanticide practised in order to lighten the burden of bringing up children.
They had no traditions as to how they reached this land, their belief being that they had always been there but that their forefathers were much greater than they. They were poetical, and sang songs in a language which themselves they could not understand; they said that it was the tongue their forefathers had spoken. Also they had several strange customs of which they did not know the origin. My own opinion, which Bickley shared, was that they were in fact a shrunken and deteriorated remnant of some high race now coming to its end through age and inter-breeding. About them indeed, notwithstanding their primitive savagery which in its qualities much resembled that of other Polynesians, there was a very curious air of antiquity. One felt that they had known the older world and its mysteries, though now both were forgotten. Also their language, which in time we came to speak perfectly, was copious, musical, and expressive in its idioms.
One circumstance I must mention. In walking about the country I observed all over it enormous holes, some of them measuring as much as a hundred yards across, with a depth of fifty feet or more, and this not on alluvial lands although there traces of them existed also, but in solid rock. What this rock was I do not know as none of us were geologists, but it seemed to me to partake of the nature of granite. Certainly it was not coral like that on and about the coast, but of a primeval formation.
When I asked Marama what caused these holes, he only shrugged his shoulders and said he did not know, but their fathers had declared that they were made by stones falling from heaven. This, of course, suggested meteorites to my mind. I submitted the idea to Bickley, who, in one of his rare intervals of leisure, came with me to make an examination.
"If they were meteorites," he said, "of which a shower struck the earth in some past geological age, all life must have been destroyed by them and their remains ought to exist at the bottom of the holes. To me they look more like the effect of high explosives, but that, of course, is impossible, though I don't know what else could have caused such craters."
Then he went back to his work, for nothing that had to do with antiquity interested Bickley very much. The present and its problems were enough for him, he would say, who neither had lived in the past nor expected to have any share in the future.
As I remained curious I made an opportunity to scramble to the bottom of one of these craters, taking with me some of the natives with their wooden tools. Here I found a good deal of soil either washed down from the surface or resulting from the decomposition of the rock, though oddly enough in it nothing grew. I directed them to dig. After a while to my astonishment there appeared a corner of a great worked stone quite unlike that of the crater, indeed it seemed to me to be a marble. Further examination showed that this block was most beautifully carved in bas-relief, apparently with a design of leaves and flowers. In the disturbed soil also I picked up a life-sized marble hand of a woman exquisitely finished and apparently broken from a statue that might have been the work of one of the great Greek sculptors. Moreover, on the third finger of this hand was a representation of a ring whereof, unfortunately, the bezel had been destroyed.
I put the hand in my pocket, but as darkness was coming on, I could not pursue the research and disinter the block. When I wished to return the next day, I was informed politely by Marama that it would not be safe for me to do so as the priests of Oro declared that if I sought to meddle with the "buried things the god would grow angry and bring disaster on me."
When I persisted he said that at least I must go alone since no native would accompany me, and added earnestly that he prayed me not to go. So to my great regret and disappointment I was obliged to give up the idea.Chapter VIII
Bastin Attempts the Martyr's Crown That carved stone and the marble hand took a great hold of my imagination. What did they mean? How could they have come to the bottom of that hole, unless indeed they were part of some building and its ornaments which had been destroyed in the neighbourhood? The stone of which we had only uncovered a corner seemed far too big to have been carried there from any ship; it must have weighed several tons. Besides, ships do not carry such things about the world, and none had visited this island during the last two centuries at any rate, or local tradition would have recorded so wonderful a fact. Were there, then, once edifices covered with elegant carving standing on this place, and were they adorned with lovely statues that would not have disgraced the best period of Greek art? The thing was incredible except on the supposition that these were relics of an utterly lost
Bickley was as much puzzled as myself. All he could say was that the world was infinitely old and many things might have happened in it whereof we had no record. Even Bastin was excited for a little while, but as his imagination was represented by zero, all he could say was:"I suppose someone left them there, and anyhow it doesn't matter much, does it?"
But I, who have certain leanings towards the ancient and mysterious, could not be put off in this fashion. I remembered that unapproachable mountain in the midst of the lake and that on it appeared to be something which looked like ruins as seen from the top of the cliff through glasses. At any rate this was a point, that I might clear up.
Saying nothing to anybody, one morning I slipped away and walked to the edge of the lake, a distance of five or six miles over rough country. Having arrived there I perceived that the cone-shaped mountain in the centre, which was about a mile from the lake shore, was much larger than I had thought, quite three hundred feet high indeed, and with a very large circumference. Further, its sides evidently once had been terraced, and it was on one of these broad terraces, half-way up and facing towards the rising sun, that the ruin-like remains were heaped. I
examined them through my glasses. Undoubtedly it was a cyclopean ruin built of great blocks of coloured stone which seemed to have been shattered by earthquake or explosion. There were the pillars of a mighty gateway and the remains of walls.
I trembled with excitement as I stared and stared. Could I not get to the place and see for myself? I observed that from the flat bush-clad land at the foot of the mountain, ran out what seemed to be the residue of a stone pier which ended in a large table-topped rock between two and three hundred feet across. But even this was too far to reach by swimming, besides for aught I knew there might be alligators in that lake. I walked up and down its borders, till presently I came to a path which led into a patch of some variety of cotton palm.
Following this path I discovered a boat-house thatched over with palm leaves. Inside it were two good canoes with their paddles, floating and tied to the stumps of trees by fibre ropes. Instantly I made up my mind that I would paddle to the island and investigate. Just as I was about to step into one of the canoes the light was cut off. Looking up I saw that a man was crouching in the door-place of the boat-house in order to enter, and paused guiltily.
"Friend-from-the-Sea" (that was the name that these islanders had given to me), said the voice of Marama, "say--what are you doing here?""I am about to take a row on the lake, Chief," I answered carelessly. "Indeed, Friend. Have we then treated you so badly that you are tired of life?" "What do you mean?" I asked. "Come out into the sunlight, Friend, and I will explain to you." I hesitated till I saw Marama lifting the heavy wooden spear he carried and remembered that I was unarmed. Then I came out. "What does all this mean, Chief?" I asked angrily when we were clear of the patch of cotton palm.
"I mean, Friend, that you have been very near to making a longer journey than you thought. Have patience now and listen to me. I saw you leaving the village this morning and followed, suspecting your purpose. Yes, I followed alone, saying nothing to the priests of Oro who fortunately were away watching the Bellower for their own reasons. I saw you searching out the secrets of the mountain with those magic tubes that make things big that are small, and things that are far off come near, and I followed you to the canoes.""All that is plain enough, Marama. But why?"
"Have I not told you, Friend-from-the-Sea, that yonder hill which is called Orofena, whence this island takes its name, is sacred?""You said so, but what of it?"
"This: to set foot thereon is to die and, I suppose, great as you are, you, too, can die like others. At least, although I love you, had you not come away from that canoe I was about to discover whether this is so.""Then for what are the canoes used?" I asked with irritation.
"You see that flat rock, Friend, with the hole beyond, which is the mouth of a cave that appeared only in the great storm that brought you to our land? They are used to convey offerings which are laid upon the rock. Beyond it no man may go, and since the beginning no man has ever gone.""Offerings to whom?" "To the Oromatuas, the spirits of the great dead who live there." "Oromatuas? Oro! It is always something to do with Oro. Who and what is Oro?"
"Oro is a god, Friend, though it is true that the priests say that above him there is a greater god called Degai, the Creator, the Fate who made all things and directs all things."
"Very well, but why do you suppose that Oro, the servant of Degai, lives in that mountain? I thought that he lived in a grove yonder where your priests, as I am told, have an image of him."
"I do not know, Friend-from-the-Sea, but so it has been held from the beginning. The image in the grove is only visited by his spirit from time to time. Now, I pray you, come back and before the priests discover that you have been here, and forget that there are any canoes upon this lake."
So, thinking it wisest, I turned the matter with a laugh and walked away with him to the village. On our road I tried to extract some more information but without success. He did not know who built the ruin upon the mountain, or who destroyed it. He did not know how the terraces came there. All he knew was that during the convulsion of Nature which resulted in the tidal wave that had thrown our ship upon the island, the mountain had been seen to quiver like a tree in the wind as though within it great forces were at work. Then it was observed to have risen a good many more feet above the surface of the lake, as might be noted by the water mark upon the shore, and then also the mouth of the cave had appeared. The priests said that all this was because the Oromatuas who dwelt there were stirring, which portended great things. Indeed great things had happened--for had we not arrived in their land?
I thanked him for what he had told me, and, as there was nothing more to be learned, dropped the subject which was never mentioned between us again, at least not for a long while. But in my heart I determined that I would reach that mountain even though to do so I must risk my life. Something seemed to call me to the place; it was as though I were being drawn by a magnet.
As it happened, before so very long I did go to the mountain, not of my own will but because I was obliged. It came about thus. One night I asked Bastin how he was getting on with his missionary work. He replied: Very well indeed, but there was one great obstacle in his path, the idol in the Grove. Were it not for this accursed image he believed that the whole island would become Christian. I asked him to be more plain. He explained that all his work was thwarted by this idol, since his converts declared that they did not dare to be baptised while it sat there in the Grove. If they did, the spirit that was in it would bewitch them and perhaps steal out at night and murder them."The spirit being our friends the sorcerers," I suggested.
"That's it, Arbuthnot. Do you know, I believe those devilish men sometimes offer human sacrifices to this satanic fetish, when there is a drought or anything of that sort."
"I can quite believe it," I answered, "but as they will scarcely remove their god and with it their own livelihood and authority, I am afraid that as we don't want to be sacrificed, there is nothing to be done."
At this moment I was called away. As I went I heard Bastin muttering something about martyrs, but paid no attention. Little did I guess what was going on in his pious but obstinate mind. In effect it was this--that if no one else would remove that idol he was quite ready to do it himself.
However, he was very cunning over that business, almost Jesuitical indeed. Not one word did he breathe of his dark plans to me, and still less to Bickley. He just went on with his teaching, lamenting from time to time the stumbling-block of the idol and expressing wonder as to how it might be circumvented by a change in the hearts of the islanders, or otherwise. Sad as it is to record, in fact, dear old Bastin went as near to telling a fib in connection with this matter as I suppose he had ever done in his life. It happened thus. One day Bickley's sharp eye caught sight of Bastin walking about with what looked like a bottle of whisky in his pocket.
"Hallo, old fellow," he said, "has the self-denying ordinance broken down? I didn't know that you took pegs on the sly," and he pointed to the bottle.
"If you are insinuating, Bickley, that I absorb spirits surreptitiously, you are more mistaken than usual, which is saying a good deal. This bottle contains, not Scotch whisky but paraffin, although I admit that its label may have misled you, unintentionally, so far as I am concerned.""What are you going to do with the paraffin?" asked Bickley. Bastin coloured through his tan and replied awkwardly:
"Paraffin is very good to keep away mosquitoes if one can stand the smell of it upon one's skin. Not that I have brought it here with that sole object. The truth is that I am anxious to experiment with a lamp of my own design made--um--of native wood," and he departed in a hurry.
"When next old Bastin wants to tell a lie," commented Bickley, "he should make up his mind as to what it is to be, and stick to it. I wonder what he is after with that paraffin? Not going to dose any of my patients with it, I hope. He was arguing the other day that it is a great remedy taken internally, being quite unaware that the lamp variety is not used for that purpose." "Perhaps he means to swallow some himself, just to show that he is right," I suggested."The stomach-pump is at hand," said Bickley, and the matter dropped.
Next morning I got up before it was light. Having some
elementary knowledge of the main facts of astronomy, which remained with me from boyhood when I had attended lectures on the subject, which I had tried to refresh by help of an encyclopedia I had brought from the ship, I wished to attempt to obtain an idea of our position by help of the stars. In this endeavour, I may say, I failed absolutely, as I did not know how to take a stellar or any other observation.
On my way out of our native house I observed, by the lantern I carried, that the compartment of it occupied by Bastin was empty, and wondered whither he had gone at that hour. On arriving at my observation-post, a rocky eminence on open ground, where, with Tommy at my side, I took my seat with a telescope, I was astonished to see or rather to hear a great number of the natives walking past the base of the mound towards the bush. Then I remembered that some one, Marama, I think, had informed me that there was to be a great sacrifice to Oro at dawn on that day. After this I thought no more of the matter but occupied myself in a futile study of the heavenly bodies. At length the dawn broke and put a period to my labours.
Glancing round me before I descended from the little hill, I saw a flame of light appear suddenly about half a mile or more away among those trees which I knew concealed the image of Oro. On this personally I had never had the curiosity to look, as I knew that it was only a hideous idol stuck over with feathers and other bedizenments. The flame shot suddenly straight into the still air and was followed a few seconds later by the sound of a dull explosion, after which it went out. Also it was followed by something else--a scream of rage from an infuriated mob.
At the foot of the hill I stopped to wonder what these sounds might mean. Then of a sudden appeared Bickley, who had been attending some urgent case, and asked me who was exploding gunpowder. I told him that I had no idea."Then I have," he answered. "It is that ass Bastin up to some game. Now I guess why he wanted that paraffin. Listen to the row. What are they after?" "Sacrificing Bastin, perhaps," I replied, half in jest. "Have you your revolver?" He nodded. We always wore our pistols if we went out during the dark hours. "Then perhaps we had better go to see."
We started, and had not covered a hundred yards before a girl, whom I recognised as one of Bastin's converts, came flying towards us and screaming out, "Help! Help! They kill the Bellower with fire! They cook him like a pig!""Just what I expected," said Bickley.
Then we ran hard, as evidently there was no time to lose. While we went I extracted from the terrified girl, whom we forced to show us the way, that as the sacrifice was about to be offered Bastin had appeared, and, "making fire," applied it to the god Oro, who instantly burst into flame. Then he ran back, calling out that the devil was dead. As he did so there was a loud explosion and Oro flew into pieces. His burning head went a long way into the air and, falling on to one of the priests, killed him. Thereon the other priests and the people seized the Bellower and made him fast. Now they were engaged in heating an oven in which to put him to cook. When it was ready they would eat him in honour of Oro.
"And serve him right too!" gasped Bickley, who, being stout, was not a good runner. "Why can't he leave other people's gods alone instead of blowing them up with gunpowder?""Don't know," I answered. "Hope we shall get there in time!" "To be cooked and eaten with Bastin!" wheezed Bickley, after which his breath gave out.
As it chanced we did, for these stone ovens take a long time to heat. There by the edge of his fiery grave with his hands and legs bound in palm-fibre shackles, stood Bastin, quite unmoved, smiling indeed, in a sort of seraphic way which irritated us both extremely. Round him danced the infuriated priests of Oro, and round them, shrieking and howling with rage, was most of the population of Orofena. We rushed up so suddenly that none tried to stop us, and took our stand on either side of him, producing our pistols as we did so.
"Thank you for coming," said Bastin in the silence which followed; "though I don't think it is the least use. I cannot recall that any of the early martyrs were ever roasted and eaten, though, of course, throwing them into boiling oil or water was fairly common. I take it that the rite is sacrificial and even in a low sense, sacramental, not merely one of common cannibalism."I stared at him, and Bickley gasped out: "If you are to be eaten, what does it matter why you are eaten?"
"Oh!" replied Bastin; "there is all the difference in the world, though it is one that I cannot expect you to appreciate. And now please be quiet as I wish to say my prayers. I imagine that those stones will be hot enough to do their office within twenty minutes or so, which is not very long."
At that moment Marama appeared, evidently in a state of great perturbation. With him were some of the priests or sorcerers who were dancing about as I imagine the priests of Baal must have done, and filled with fury. They rolled their eyes, they stuck out their tongues, they uttered weird cries and shook their wooden knives at the placid Bastin."What is the matter?" I asked sternly of the chief.
"This, Friend-from-the-Sea. The Bellower there, when the sacrifice was about to be offered to Oro at the dawn, rushed forward, and having thrust something between the legs of the image of the god, poured yellow water over it, and with fire caused it to burst into fierce flame. Then he ran away and mocked the god who presently, with a loud report, flew into pieces and killed that man. Therefore the Bellower must be sacrificed."
"What to?" I asked. "The image has gone and the piece of it that ascended fell not upon the Bellower, as would have happened if the god had been angry with him, but on one of its own priests, whom it killed. Therefore, having been sacrificed by the god itself, he it is that should be eaten, not the Bellower, who merely did what his Spirit bade him."This ingenious argument seemed to produce some effect upon Marama, but to the priests it did not at all appeal. "Eat them all!" these cried. "They are the enemies of Oro and have worked sacrilege!"
Moreover, to judge from their demeanour, the bulk of the people seemed to agree with them. Things began to look very ugly. The priests rushed forward, threatening us with their wooden weapons, and one of them even aimed a blow at Bickley, which only missed him by an inch or two.
"Look here, my friend," called the doctor whose temper was rising, "you name me the Great Priest or Great Healer, do you not? Well, be careful, lest I should show you that I can kill as well as heal!"
Not in the least intimidated by this threat the man, a great bedizened fellow who literally was foaming at the mouth with rage, rushed forward again, his club raised, apparently with the object of dashing out Bickley's brains.
Suddenly Bickley lifted his revolver and fired. The man, shot through the heart, sprang into the air and fell upon his face-stone dead. There was consternation, for these people had never seen us shoot anything before, and were quite unacquainted with the properties of firearms, which they supposed to be merely instruments for making a noise. They stared, they gasped in fear and astonishment, and then they fled, pursued by Tommy, barking, leaving us alone with the two dead men.
"It was time to teach them a lesson," said Bickley as he replaced the empty cartridge, and, seizing the dead man, rolled him into the burning pit."Yes," I answered; "but presently, when they have got over their fright, they will come back to teach us one." Bastin said nothing; he seemed too dazed at the turn events had taken. "What do you suggest?" asked Bickley. "Flight," I answered.
"Where to--the ship? We might hold that." "No; that is what they expect. Look! They are cutting off our road there. To the island in the lake where they dare not follow us, for it is holy ground.""How are we going to live on the island?" asked Bickley. "I don't know," I replied; "but I am quite certain that if we stay here we shall die." "Very well," he said; "let us try it."
While we were speaking I was cutting Bastin's bonds. "Thank you," he said. "It is a great relief to stretch one's arms after they have been compressed with cords. But at the same time, I do not know that I am really grateful. The martyr's crown was hanging above me, so to speak, and now it has vanished into the pit, like that man whom Bickley murdered."
"Look here," exclaimed the exasperated Bickley, "if you say much more, Bastin, I'll chuck you into the pit too, to look for your martyr's crown, for I think you have done enough mischief for one morning.""If you are trying to shift the responsibility for that unfortunate man's destruction on to me--" "Oh! shut it and trot," broke in Bickley. "Those infernal savages are coming with your blessed converts leading the van."