Louis Becke's

Deschard of Oneaka

I.

     Among the Gilbert Group - that chain of low-lying sandy atolls annexed by the British Government two years ago1 - there is one island that may be said to be both fertile and beautiful; yet for all this Kuria - for so it is called by the natives of the group generally - has remained almost uninhabited for the past forty years. Together with the lagoon island of Aranuka, from which it is distant about six miles, it belongs to the present King of Apamama,2 a large and densely populated atoll situated half a degree to the eastward. Thirty years ago, however, the grandfather of the lad who is now the ruler of Apamama had cause to quarrel with the Kurians, and settled the dispute by invading their island and utterly destroying them, root and branch. To-day it is tenanted only by the young king's slaves.

     Of all the many groups and archipelagoes that stud the North and South Pacific from the rocky, jungle-covered Bonins3 to Juan Fernandez,4 the islands of the Gilbert Group are - save for this Kuria - the most uninviting and monotonous in appearance. They are for the most part but narrow strips of sandy soil, densely clothed, it is true, with countless thousands of stately cocoanut palms varied with groves of pandanus5 and occasional patches of stunted scrub, but flat and unpleasing to the eye. Seldom exceeding two miles in width - although, as is the case at Drummond's Island, or Taputeouea, they sometimes reach forty in the length of their sweeping curve - but few present a continuous and unbroken stretch of land, for the greater number consist of perhaps two or three score of small islands, divided only by narrow and shallow channels, through which at high water the tide sweeps in from the ocean to the calm waters of the lagoons with amazing velocity. These strips of land, whether broken or continuous, form the eastern or windward boundaries of the lagoons; on the western or lee side lie barrier reefs, between whose jagged coral walls there are, at intervals widely apart, passages sufficiently deep for a thousand-ton ship to pass through in safety, and anchor in the transparent depths of the lagoon within its protecting arms.

•      •      •      •      •

     Years ago, in the days when the whaleships from Nantucket, and Salem, and Martha's Vineyard, and New Bedford cruised northward towards the cold seas of Japan and Tchantar Bay,6 and the smoky glare of their tryworks7 lit up the ocean at night, the Gilberts were a wild place, and many a murderous scene was enacted on white beach and shady palm grove. Time after time some whaler, lying to in fancied security outside the passage of a lagoon, with half her crew ashore intoxicated with sour toddy,8 and the other half on board unsuspicious of danger, would be attacked by the ferocious brown people. Swimming off at night-time, with knives held between their teeth, a desperate attempt would be made to cut off the ship. Sometimes the attempt succeeded; and then canoe after canoe would put out from the shore, and the wild people, swarming up the ship's side, would tramp about her ensanguined9 decks and into the cabins seeking for plunder and fiery New England rum. Then, after she had been gutted of everything of value to her captors, as the last canoe pushed off, smoke and then flames would arise, and the burning ship would drift away with the westerly current, and the tragedy of her fate, save to the natives of the island, and perhaps some renegade white man who had stirred them to the deed, would never be known.

•      •      •      •      •

     In those days - long ere the advent of the first missionary to the isolated equatorial atolls of Polynesia and Melanesia - there were many white men scattered throughout the various islands of the Ellice,10 Gilbert, and Marshall11 groups. Men, these, with a past that they cared not to speak of to the few strangers that they might chance to meet in their savage retreats. Many were escaped convicts from Van Diemen's Land12 and New South Wales,13 living, not in dread of their wild native associates, but in secret terror of recapture by a man-of-war and a return to the horrors of that dreadful past. Casting away the garb of civilisation and tying around their loins the airiri or grass girdle of the Gilbert Islanders, they soon became in appearance, manners, language, and thoughts pure natives. For them the outside world meant a life of degradation, possibly a shameful death. And as the years went by and the bitter memories of the black days of old, resonant with the clank of fetters and the warder's harsh cry, became dulled and faint, so died away that once for-ever-haunting fear of discovery and recapture. In Teaké, the bronzed, half-naked savage chief of Maiana,14 or Mési, the desperate leader of the natives that cut off the barque Addie Passmore at Marakei,14 the identity of such men as "Nuggety" Jack West and Macy O'Shea, once of Van Diemen's Land or Norfolk Island,15 was lost forever.

•      •      •      •      •

II.

     On Kuria, the one beautiful island of the Gilberts, there lived four such white men as those I speak of. Whence they came they alone knew. Two of them - a Portuguese deserter from a whaler and a man named Corton - had been some years on the island when they were joined by two others who came over from Apamama in a boat. One was called Tamu (Tom) by the natives, and from the ease with which he spoke the Gilbert Island dialect and his familiarity with native customs, he had plainly lived many years among the natives; the other was a tall, dark-skinned, and morose-looking man of nearly fifty. He was known as Hari to the natives - once, in that outer world from which some crime had dissevered him forever, he was Henry Deschard.

     Although not familiar with either the language or the customs of the ferocious inhabitants of the Gilbert Group, it was soon seen by the ease with which he acquired both that Hari had spent long years roaming about the islands of the Pacific. In colour he was darker than the Kurians themselves; in his love of the bloodshed and slaughter that so often ran riot in native quarrels he surpassed even the fiercest native; and as he eagerly espoused the cause of any Kurian chief who sought his aid he rapidly became a man of note on the island, and dreaded by the natives elsewhere in the group.

     There were then over a thousand people living on Kuria - or rather, on Kuria and Oneaka, for the island is divided by one of those narrow channels before mentioned; and at Oneaka Tamu and Deschard lived, while the Portuguese and the man Corton had long held sway with the native chief of Kuria.

     During the time the four renegades had lived on the island two vessels that had touched there had had narrow escapes from seizure by the natives. The first of these, a small Hawaiian whaling brig, was attacked when she was lying becalmed between Kuria and Aranuka. A breeze springing up, she escaped after the loss of a boat's crew, who were entrapped on the latter island. In this affair Deschard and Tamu had taken part; in the next - an attempt to capture a sandalwooding16 barque17 bound to China - he was leader, with Corton as his associate. The sandalwooder, however, carried a large and well-armed crew, and the treacherous surprise so elaborately planned came to ignominious failure. Deschard accused his fellow-beachcomber of cowardice at a critical moment. The two men became bitter enemies, and for years never spoke to each other.

III.

     But one afternoon a sail was sighted standing in for the island, and in their hateful bond of villainy the two men became reconciled, and agreed with Pedro and Tamu and some hundreds of natives to try to decoy the vessel to an anchor and cut her off. The beachcombers, who were tired of living on Kuria, were anxious to get away; the natives desired the plunder to be obtained from the prize. A compact was then made that the ship, after the natives had done with her, was not to be burnt, but was to be handed over to the white men, who were to lead the enterprise.

•      •      •      •      •

     Sailing slowly along till she came within a mile of the reef, the vessel hove to and lowered a boat. She was a large brigantine,18 and the murderous beings who watched her from the shore saw with cruel pleasure that she did not appear to carry a large crew.

     It had been agreed upon that Corton, who had special aptitude for such work, should meet the boat and endeavor to lure the crew into the interior, under the promise of giving them a quantity of fresh-water fish from the artificial ponds belonging to the chief, while Deschard and the other two, with their body of native allies, should remain at the village on Oneaka, and at the proper moment attack the ship.

     As the boat drew near, the officer who was in charge saw that although there were numbers of natives clustered together on the beach, the greater portion were women and children. He had with him five men, all armed with muskets and cutlasses, and although extremely anxious to avoid a collision, he was not at all alarmed. The natives meanwhile preserved a passive attitude, and when the men in the boat, at a word from the officer, stopped rowing, backed her in stern first, and then lay on their oars, they nearly all sat down on the sand and waited for him to speak.

     Standing up in the boat, the officer hailed-

     "Hallo there, ashore! Any white men living here?"

     For a minute or so there was no answer, and the eyes of the natives turned in the direction of one of their number who kept well in the background.

     Again the seaman hailed, and then a man, seemingly a native, stout and muscular, with hair falling down in thick masses upon his reddish-brown shoulders, walked slowly out from the others, and folding his brawny arms across his naked chest, he answered-

     "Yes; there's some white men here."

     The officer, who was the mate of the brigantine, then spoke for a few minutes to a young man who pulled bow oar, and who from his dress was not one of the crew, and said finally, "Well, let us make sure that there is no danger first, Maurice."

     The young man nodded, and then the mate addressed the seeming native again :

     "There's a young fellow here wants to come ashore; he wants to see one of the white men here. Can he come ashore?"

     "Of course he can. D'ye think we're a lot o' cannibals here? I'm a white man myself," and he laughed coarsely; then added quickly, "Who does he want to see?"

     The man who pulled the bow oar sprang to his feet.

     "I want to see Henry Deschard!"

     "Do you?" was the sneering response. "Well, I don't know as you can. This isn't his day at home, like; besides that, he's a good long way from here just now."

     "I've got good news for him," urged the man called Maurice.

     The beachcomber meditated a few seconds; then he walked down to the boat.

     "Look here," he said, "I'm telling the exac' truth. Deschard's place is a long way from here, in the bush too, so you can't go there in the boat; but look here, why can't you chaps come along with me? I'll show you the way, and you'll have a good look at the island. There's nothin' to be afraid of, I can tell you. Why, these natives is scared of all them guns there that you won't see 'em for dust when you come with me; an' the chief says as you chaps can drag one of his fish-ponds."

     The mate was tempted; but his orders were to allow only the man Maurice to land, and to make haste back as soon as his mission was accomplished. Shaking his head to the renegade's wily suggestion, he, however, told Maurice that he could go and endeavor to communicate with Deschard. In the meantime he would return to the ship, and tell the captain - "and the other" (these last words with a look full of meaning at the young man) that everything was going on all right.

     Foiled in his plan of inducing all the men to come ashore, Corton assumed a careless manner, and told Maurice that he was still willing to conduct him to Deschard, but that he would not be able to return to the ship that night, as the distance was too great.

     The mate was agreeable to this, and bidding the beachcomber and his victim good-day, he returned to the ship.

     Holding the young man's hand in his, the burly renegade passed through the crowd of silent natives, and spoke to them in their own tongue.

     "Hide well thy spears and clubs, my children; 'tis not yet time to act."

     Still clasping the hand of his companion, he led the way through the native town, and then into the narrow bush track that led to Oneaka, and in another five minutes they were alone, or apparently so, for nought could be heard in the fast gathering darkness but their own footsteps as they trod the leafy path, and the sound of the breaching surf long miles away.

     Suddenly the beachcomber stopped, and in a harsh voice said-

     "What is the good news for Deschard?"

     "That I cannot tell you," answered the stripling, firmly, though the grim visage, tattooed body, and now threatening aspect of his questioner might well have intimidated even a bolder man, and instinctively he thrust his hand into the bosom of his shirt and grasped a letter he carried there.

     "Then neither shall Deschard know it," said the man savagely, and throwing himself upon the young man he bore him to the ground, while shadowy, naked figures glided out from the blackness of the forest and bound and gagged him without a sound. The carrying him away from the path the natives placed him, without roughness, under the shelter of an empty house, and then left him.

     The agony of mind endured by the helpless prisoner may be imagined when, unable to speak or move, he saw the beachcomber and his savage followers vanish into the darkness; for the letter which he carried had been written only a few hours before by the wife of the man Deschard, telling him of her loving quest, and of her and her children's presence on board the brigantine.

IV.

     At daylight next morning some native women, passing by the deserted house on their way to work in the puraka19 plantations of Oneaka, saw the figure of the messenger lying dead. One of the women, named Niapó, in placing her hand upon his bosom to feel if he yet breathed, found the letter which had cost him his life. For nearly twenty years she kept possession of it, doubtless from some superstitious motive, and then it was bought from her by a white trader from Apamama, named Randall,20 by whom it was sent to the Rev. Mr. Damon,21 the "Sailor's Friend," a well-known missionary in Honolulu. This was the letter: -

     MY DEAR HUSBAND, - It is nearly three years since I got your letter, but I dared no risk writing to you, even if I had know of a ship leaving for the South Seas or the whale fishery. None of the sandalwooding people in Sydney seemed even to know the name of this island (Courier?). My dear husband, I have enough money now, thank God, to end all our troubles. Your letter was brought to me at Parramatta22 by a sailor - an American, I think. He gave it first to Maurice. I would have rewarded him, but before I could speak to him he had gone. For ten years I have waited and prayed to God to bring us together again. We came to Sydney in the same ship as Major D--, of the 77th. He has always been so good to us, and so has his wife. Nell is sixteen now, Laura eighteen. God grant that I will see you in a few hours. The captain says that he will land us all at one of the places in the Dutch East Indies.23 I have paid him £100, and am to pay him £100 when you are safely on board. I have been so miserable for the past year, as Major D-- had heard that a man-of-war was searching the islands, and I was in such terrible fear that we would never meet again. Come quickly and God bless you, my dear husband. Maurice insisted and begged to be allowed to take this to you. He is nineteen years old now, but will not live long - has been a faithful and good lad. Laura is eighteen and Nell nearly sixteen now. We are now close to Courier,I and should see you ere long. - Your loving and now joyful wife, - ANNA DESCHARD.

•      •      •      •      •

     In the big maniapa, or council house, on Oneaka, two hundred armed and naked savages were sitting awaiting the arrival of Corton and his warriors from Kuria. A little apart from the muttering, excited natives, and seated together, were the man Deschard and the two other beachcombers, Pedro and Tamu.

     As Corton and his men filed across the gravelled pathway that led to the maniapa, Deschard, followed by the two other white men, at once came out, and the former with a fierce curse, demanded of Corton what had kept him.

     "Couldn't manage to get them ashore," answered the other, sulkily. The he proceeded to impart the information he had gained as to the ship, her crew, and armament.

     "Nine men and one native boy!" said Deschard, contemptuously. He was a tall, lean-looking, black-bearded man, with even a more terrifying and savage appearance than any of his ruffianly partners in crime, tattooed as he was from the back of his neck to his heels in broad, perpendicular lines. As he fixed his keen eyes upon the countenance of Corton his white teeth showed in a cruel smile through his tangled, unkempt moustache.

     Calling out the leading chiefs of the cutting-out party, the four desperadoes consulted with them upon their plan of action for the attack upon the brigantine, and then arranged for each man's work and share of the plunder. The white men were to have the ship, but everything that was of value to the natives and not necessary to the working of the ship was to be given to the natives. The muskets, powder, and ball were to be evenly divided between the whites and their allies.

     Six of the native chiefs then swore by the names of their deified ancestors to faithfully observe the murderous compact. After the ship was taken they were to help the white men if the ship had anchored to get her under way again.

     It was the intention of Deschard and his mates to make for the East Indies, where they would have no trouble in selling the ship to one of the native potentates of that archipelago.

•      •      •      •      •

     At daylight the brigantine, which had been kept under easy sail during the night, was seen to be about four miles from the land, and standing in. Shortly after, two or three canoes, with only a few men in each, put off from the beach at Oneaka and paddled out leisurely towards the ship. When about a mile or so from the shore they ceased paddling, and the captain of the brigantine saw by his glass that they were engaged in fishing.

     This was merely a device to inspire confidence in those on board the ship.

     In another hour the brigantine passed close to one of the canoes, and a native, well tutored by past masters in the art of treachery in the part he had to play, stood up in the canoe and held up a large fish, and in broken English said it was a present for the captain.

     Pleased at such a friendly overture, the captain put the helm down24 for the canoe to come alongside. Handing the fish up over the side, the giver clambered up himself. The three other natives in the canoe then paddled quietly away as if under no alarm for the safety of their comrade, and resumed their fishing.

     As the ship drew into the land the mate called the captain's attention to some eight or ten more natives who were swimming off to the ship.

     "No danger from these people, sir," he remarked; "they are more frightened of us then we of them, I believe; and then look at the women and girls fishing on the reef. When the women come out like that, fearless and open-like, there isn't much to be afraid of."

     One by one the natives who were swimming reached the ship, and apparently encouraged by the presence of the man who had boarded the ship from the fishing canoe, they eagerly clambered up on deck, and were soon on the most friendly terms with the crew, especially with one of their own colour, a half-caste native boy from the island of Ambrym,25 in the New Hebrides,26 named Maru.

     This Maru was the sole survivor of the tragedy that followed, and appeared to be well acquainted with the captain's object in calling at Kuria - to pick up the man named Deschard. More than twenty years afterwards, when speaking of the events here narrated, his eyes filled with tears when he told of the "white lady and her two daughters" who were passengers, and who had sat on the poop the previous day awaiting the return of the mate's boat, and for tidings of him whom they had come so far to find.

•      •      •      •      •

V.

     The timid and respectful manner of the islanders had now so impressed the master of the brigantine that in a fatal moment he decided to anchor. Telling the mate to range the cable and clear all ready, he descended to the cabin and tapped at the door of a state-room.

     "I am going to anchor, Mrs. Deschard, but as there are a lot of rather curious-looking natives on board, you and the young ladies had better keep to your cabin."

     The door opened, and a girl of seventeen or eighteen appeared, and, taking the captain's hand, she whispered-

     "She is asleep, captain. She kept awake till daylight, hoping that my father would come in the night. Do you think that anything has happened either to him or Maurice?"

     Maru, the Ambrym cabin-boy, said that the captain "patted the girl's hand and told her to have no fear - that her father was on the island "sure enough," and that Maurice would return with him by breakfast time.

     

     The brigantine anchored close in to the shore, between Kuria and Oneaka, and in a few minutes the long boat was lowered to proceed on shore and bring off Maurice and Deschard. Four hands got into her and then the mate. Just as he was about to cast off, the English-speaking native begged the captain to allow him and the rest of his countrymen to go ashore in the boat. Unsuspicious of treachery from unarmed natives, the captain consented, and they immediately slipped over the side into the boat.

     There were thus but four white men left on board - the captain, second mate, two A.B.'s - and the half-caste boy Maru. Arms and ammunition, sufficient for treble the crew the brigantine carried, were on board. In those days the humblest merchant brig27 voyaging to the East Indies and China coast carried, in addition to small arms, either two or four guns (generally 6-pounders) in case of an attack by pirates. The brigantine was armed with two 6-pounders, and these, so the Ambrym half-caste said, were still loaded with "bags of bullets" when she came to an anchor. Both of the guns were on the main deck amidships.

•      •      •      •      •

     Contrary to the wishes of the mate, who appeared to have the most unbounded confidence in the peaceableness of the natives, the captain had insisted upon his boat's crew taking their arms with them.

     No sooner had the boat left the vessel then the English-speaking native desired the mate to pull round to the east side of Oneaka, where, he said, the principal village was situated, and whither Maurice had gone to seek Deschard. It must be remembered that this native and those with him were all members of Corton's clientèle at Kuria, and were therefore well aware of his treachery in seizing the messenger to Deschard, and that Maurice had been seized and bound the previous night.

     In half an hour, when the boat was hidden from the view of those on board the brigantine, the natives, who outnumbered the whites two to one, at a signal from their leader suddenly threw themselves upon the unsuspecting seamen who were rowing and threw every one of them overboard. The mate, a small, active man, managed to draw a heavy horse pistol from his belt, , but ere he could pull the trigger he was dealt a crushing blow with a musket stock. As he fell a native thrust him through and through with one of the seamen's cutlasses. As for the unfortunate seamen, they were killed one by one as they struggled in the water. That part of the fell28 work accomplished, the natives pulled the boat in towards Oneaka, where some ten or fifteen large native double-ended boats and canoes, all filled with savages lusting for blood and rapine, awaited them.

     Deschard, a man of the most savage courage, was in command of some twenty or thirty of the most noted of the Oneaka warriors; and on learning from Tebarian (the native who spoke English and who was Corton's brown familiar) that the two guns were in the waist of the ship, he instructed his white comrades to follow in the wake of his boat, and, once they got alongside, board the ship wherever their fancy dictated.

     There was a muttered E rairai! (Good!) of approval from the listening natives, and then in intuitive silence and perfect discipline the paddles struck the water, and the boat and canoes, with their naked, savage crews, sped away on their mission of death.

VI.

     But, long before they imagined, they had been discovered, and their purpose divined from the ship. Maru, the keen-eyed half-caste, who was the first to notice their approach, knew from the manner in which the canoes kept together that something unusual was about to occur, and instantly called the captain. Glass in hand, the latter ascended the main rigging for a dozen ratlins29 or so and looked at the advancing flotilla. A very brief glance told him that the boy had good cause for alarm - the natives intended to cut off the ship, and the captain, whom Maru described as "an old man with a white head," at once set about to make such a defence as the critical state of affairs rendered possible.

     Calling his men to him and giving them muskets, he posted two of them on top of the deckhouse, and with the remainder of his poor force stationed himself upon the poop.30 With a faint hope that they might yet be intimidated from attacking, he fired a musket shot in the direction of the leading boat. No notice was taken; so, descending to the main deck with his men, he ran out one of the 6-pounders and fired it. The roar of the heavily-charged gun was answered by a shrill yell of defiance from two hundred throats.

     "Then," said Maru, "the captain go below and say good-bye to women and girls, and shut and lock cabin door."

     Returning to the deck, the brave old man and his second mate and two men picked up their muskets and began to fire at the black mass of boats and men that were now well within range. As they fired, the boy Maru loaded spare muskets for them as fast as his trembling hands would permit.

     Once only, as the brigantine swung to the current, the captain brought the gun on the port side to bear on them again, and fired; and again there came back the same appalling yell of defiance, for the shower of bullets only made a wide slat of foam a hundred yards short of the leading boat.

     By the time the gun was reloaded the brigantine had swung round head to shore again; and then, as the despairing but courageous seamen were trying to drag it forward again, Deschard and his savages in the leading boat had gained the ship, and the wild figure of the all but naked beachcomber sprang on deck, followed by his own crew and nearly two hundred other fiends well nigh as bloodthirsty and cruel as himself. Some two or three of them had been killed by the musketry fire from the ship, and their fellows needed no incentive from their white leaders to slay and spare not.

     Abandoning the gun, the captain and his three men and the boy Maru succeeded in fighting their way through Deschard's savages and reaching one of the cabin doors, which, situated under the break of the high poop, opened to the main deck. Ere they could all gain the shelter of the cabin and secure the door the second mate and one of the seamen were cut down and ruthlessly slaughtered, and of the three that did, one - the remaining seaman - was mortally wounded and dying fast.

     Even at such a moment as this, hardened and merciless as were their natures and blood-stained their past, it cannot be thought that had Deschard and his co-pirates known that white women were on board the brigantine they would have permitted their last dreadful deed. In his recital of the final scene in the cabin Maru spoke of the white woman and the two girls coming out of their state-room and kneeling down and praying with their arms clasped around each other's waists. surely the sound of their dying prayers could never have been heard by Deschard when, in the native tongue, he called out for one of the guns to be run aft.

•      •      •      •      •

     "By and by," said Maru, "woman and girl come to captain and sailor-man Charlie and me and cry and say good-bye, and then captain he pray too. Then he get up and take cutlass, and sailor-man Charlie he take cutlass too, but he too weak and fall down; so captain say, 'Never mind, Charlie, you and me die now like men.'"

     Then, cutlass in hand, the white-haired old skipper stood over the kneeling figures of the three women and waited for the end. And now the silence was broken by a rumbling sound, and then came a rush of naked feet along the deck.

     "It is the gun," said Maru to the captain, and in a agony of terror he lifted up the hatch of the lazarette31 under the cabin table and jumped below. And then Deschard's voice was heard.

     "Ta mai te ae" (Give me the fire).

     A blinding flash, a deafening roar, and splintering and crashing of timber followed, and as the heavy pall of smoke lifted, Deschard and the others looked at their bloody work, shuddered, and turned away.

     Pedro, the Portuguese, his dark features turned to a ghastly pallor, was the only one of the four men who had courage enough to assist some of the natives in removing from the cabin the bodies of the three poor creatures who, but a short time before, were full of happiness and hope. Deschard and the three others, after that one shuddering glance, had kept away from the vicinity of the shot-torn cabin.

•      •      •      •      •

VII.

     The conditions of the cutting off of the brigantine were faithfully observed by the contracting parties, and long ere night fell the last boatload of plunder had been taken ashore. Tebarau, chief of Oneaka, had with his warriors helped to heave up anchor, and the vessel, under short canvas, was already a mile or two away from the land, and in his hiding-place in the gloomy lazarette the half-caste boy heard Corton and Deschard laying plans for the future.

     Only these two were present in the cabin; Pedro was at the wheel, and Tamu somewhere on deck. Presently Corton brought out the dead captain's despatch box,32 which they had claimed from the natives, and the two began to examine the contents. There was a considerable amount of money in gold and silver, as well as the usual ship's papers, &c. Corton, who could scarcely read, passed these over to his companion, and then ran his fingers gloatingly through the heap of money before him.

     With a hoarse, choking cry and horror-stricken eyes Deschard sprang to his feet, and with shaking hand held out a paper to Corton.

     "My God! my God!" exclaimed the unhappy wretch, and sinking down again he buried his face in his hands.

     Slowly and laboriously his fellow ex-convict read the document through to the end. It was an agreement to pay the captain of the brigantine the sum of one hundred pounds sterling provided that Henry Deschard was taken on board the brigantine at Woodle's Island (the name Kuria was known by to whaleships and others), the said sum to be increased to two hundred pounds "provided that Henry Deschard, myself, and my two daughters are landed at Batavia33 or any other East India port within sixty days from leaving the said island," and was signed ANNA DESCHARD.

     Staggering to his feet, the man sought in the ruined and plundered state-room for further evidence. Almost the first objects that he saw were two hanging pockets made of duck - evidently the work of some seaman - bearing upon them the names of "Helen" and "Laura."

•      •      •      •      •

     Peering up from his hiding-place in the lazarette, where he had lain hidden under a heap of old jute bagging and other debris, Maru saw Deschard return to the cabin and take up a loaded musket. Sitting in the captain's chair, and leaning back, he placed the muzzle to his throat, and touched the trigger with his naked foot. As the loud report rang out, and the cabin filled with smoke, the boy crawled from his dark retreat, and, stepping over the prostrate figure of Deschard, he reached the deck and sprang overboard.

     For hours the boy swam through the darkness towards the land, guided by the lights of the fires that in the Gilbert and other equatorial islands are kindled at night-time on every beach. He was picked up by a fishing party, and probably on account of his youth and exhausted condition his life was spared.

     That night as he lay sleeping under a mat in the big maniapa on Kuria he was awakened by loud cries, and looking seaward he saw a bright glare away to the westward.

     It was the brigantine on fire.

     Launching their canoes, the natives went out to her, and were soon close enough to see that she was burning fiercely from for'ard to amidships, and that her three boats were all on board - two hanging to the davits and one on the deckhouse. But of the four beachcombers there was no sign.

     Knowing well that no other ship had been near the island, and that therefore the white men could not have escaped by that means without being seen from the shore, the natives, surmising that they were in a drunken sleep, called loudly to them to awake; but only the roaring of the flames broke the silence of the ocean. Not daring to go nearer, the natives remained in the vicinity till the brigantine was nothing but a mastless, glowing mass of fire.

     Towards midnight she sank; and the last of the beachcombers of Kuria sank with her.


I The native pronunciation of Kuria is like "Courier." - L.B.
Notes

1A British Protectorate was proclaimed over the Gilbert Islands by Commanding Officer H.M. Davis of H.M.S. Royalist, on behalf of Queen Victoria, at Abemama, on 27th May, 1892. This places the narration of the story in 1894, and the action at least some fifty years earlier, early mid-19th century.

2King of Apamama: see: Robert Louis Stevenson's "The King of Apemama" in "In The South Seas" and H.E. Maude's "Baiteke and Binoka of Abemama" in Davidson & Scarr's "Pacific Islands Protraits", A.H. & A.W. Reed, Auckland, 1970.

3Bonin Islands: The Japanese Ogasawara Islands, some 30 islands, 1,000 km south of Tokyo, discovered by Ogasawara in 1593.

4Juan Fernandez Islands: Three small islands of Chile, 667 km and more west of Valparaiso, discovered by Juan Fernandez in 1574.

5pandanus: A tree or shrub of the genus so called, belonging to the family Pandanaceæ, native to Malaysia, tropical Africa, or Australia, and distinguished by forked trunks with thick aerial roots, long, narrow, prickly leaves arranged in spiral tufts, and large, sometimes edible fruits resembling a pineapple.

6Tchantar Bay: Where is this?

7tryworks: try-works, the apparatus used for 'trying' [extracting] oil from blubber.

8sour toddy: toddy, the sap obtained from the incised spathes [the large bracts or sheathing-leaves enveloping the inflorescence of certain plants] of various species of palm, esp. Caryota urens, the wild date, the coco-nut, and the palmyra, used as a beverage in tropical countries; also, the intoxicating liquor produced by its fermentation. In Gilbertese, toddy is karewe, fermented, or sour toddy, kamanging.

9ensanguined: blood-stained, bloody.

10Ellice Islands: Tuvalu, formerly part of the Gilbert & Ellice Islands Colony, the Polynesian island chain south of Kiribati.

11The Marshall Islands, Micronesian island chain north of Kiribati.

12Van Diemen's Land: The southeastern Australian island colony that became the commonwealth state of Tasmania. Named for Anthony van Diemen, governor general of the Dutch East Indies, discovered and named in 1642 by Abel J. Tasman.

13New South Wales: Originally, the name applied to the entire eastern third of Australia after Cook claimed the territory for the British in 1770. New South Wales was gradually reduced to its present area as new territories were carved out: Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland (proclaimed in the 19th century), and the Australian Capital Territory. First settlement of the eastern coast consisted strictly of convicts and their jailers. By about 1815 other settlers had begun to arrive, attracted by the prospect of pastoral industry.

14Maiana and Marakei, two islands of northern Kiribati.

15 Norfolk Island: External territory of Australia, in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 1,041 miles (1,676 km) northeast of Sydney. Discovered by Cook in 1774, it became the second British possession in the Pacific when it was claimed by the Australian colony of New South Wales in 1788 and settled by a small party, including 15 convicts. After 26 years as a British penal colony, with a maximum of 1,100 convicts and free settlers, the island was abandoned in 1814 and the population removed mostly to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). Reestablished as a penitentiary (1825-55) for the reception of the most desperate criminals from the British convict settlements in Australia, Norfolk Island became notorious as a place of merciless discipline and punishment. The evacuation again of all convicts to Tasmania resulted as much from the difficulty of supervising administrators as from the difficulty of supervising the prisoners. In 1856 the population of Pitcairn Island, descendants of the mutineers from the HMS Bounty, was resettled on Norfolk.

16sandalwood: Both tree and roots contain a yellow aromatic oil, called sandalwood oil, the odour of which persists for years in such articles as ornamental boxes, furniture, and fans made of the white sapwood. Commercial interest began with the discovery of sandalwood in the Fiji Islands group at the beginning of the 19th century, When the supply of sandalwood was depleted in Fiji by 1813, the traders then found it in Hawaii in the 1820s, in the New Hebrides in 1825, and in New Caledonia in 1840.

17barque (bark): sailing ship of three or more masts, the rear (mizzenmast) being rigged for a fore-and-aft rather than a square sail. Until fore-and-aft rigs were applied to large ships to reduce crew sizes, the term was often used for any small sailing vessel. In poetic use, a bark can be any sailing ship or boat.

18brigantine: two-masted sailing ship with square rigging on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigging on the mainmast. The term originated with the two-masted ships, also powered by oars, on which pirates, or sea brigands, terrorized the Mediterranean in the 16th century.

19puraka: "puraka" is derived from Tuvaluan "pulaka" = b'ab'ai, Cyrtosperma chamissonis, giant swamp taro. Pulaka as a word is reasonably well known to I-Kiribati who worked with Tuvaluans in the civil service prior to 1977 - but unlikely to have been current in the Gilberts in Becke's day for that reason!
I believe it may have gained some currency in the Southern Gilberts when Samoan was in fashion - but I believe Becke also spent some time in the Ellice Islands and may have got confused (e.g. "rairai" for "raoiri" earlier in the story). (Tuvalu also has taro which is borrowed into Kiribati as, I think, "taororo." Taro is known but rare in Kiribati.) [note by Jonathan Willis-Richards].

20Randall: Probably Richard Randell: "The first resident traders to commence operations on any of the Central Pacific islands were Richard Randell and George Durant, who set up their trading establishment on Butaritari. ... From other records we know that the two traders landed together, in March, 1846." H.E. Maude, Of Islands and Men (1968), p.245.

21Rev. Damon: Samuel Chenery Damon, 1815-1885. (biography: Damon, Ethel Moseley (1883-1965): "Samuel Chenery Damon: chaplain and friend of seamen, historian, traveler, diplomat, doctor of divinity, journalist, genial companion, genealogist." Honolulu: Hawaiian Mission Children's Society, 1966. and Cooper, George, comp. "Seamen's Chaplain: reflections on the life of Samuel C. Damon, Under the direction of the Damon Family. Including Centennial Reflections and Damon Memorial by Samuel C. Damon. Honolulu: Signature Publishing, 1992.)

22Parramatta: A city within the Sydney metropolitan area, New South Wales, Australia. It lies along the 15-mile-(24-kilometre-)long Parramatta River (which enters Port Jackson harbour). Founded in 1788 by Governor Arthur Phillip as a western agricultural outlying farm colony of Sydney and called Rose Hill, it was renamed Parramatta, an Aboriginal word meaning "plenty of eels" and "head of river," the year after it was proclaimed a town in 1790. In its early years it was larger and of greater importance than Sydney. Incorporated as a municipality in 1861, it is the second oldest European settlement in Australia (after Sydney).

23Dutch East Indies: also called Netherlands East Indies, Dutch Nederlands Oost-Indië, or Nederlandsch-Indië, one of the overseas territories of The Netherlands until December 1949, now Indonesia.

24put the helm down: to place the helm (the handle or tiller, in large ships the wheel, by which the rudder is managed) so as to bring the rudder to windward.

25Ambrym: also spelled Ambrim, island of Vanuatu, southwestern Pacific Ocean. It has an area of 257 sq mi (665 sq km) and is known for its two active volcanoes. The island produces copra. Pop. (1979) 6,311.

26New Hebrides (Fr. Nouvelles-Hébrides): former name of Republic of Vanuatu, (Bislama: Ripablik Blong Vanuatu, French: République de Vanuatu), republic consisting of a chain of 13 principal and many smaller islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, 500 miles (800 km) west of Fiji and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) east of Australia.

27brig: two-masted sailing ship with square rigging on both masts. Brigs were used for both naval and mercantile purposes. As merchant vessels, they plied mostly coastal trading routes, but oceanic voyages were not uncommon; some brigs were even used for whaling and sealing.

28fell: adj. Of animals and men, their actions and attributes: Fierce, savage; cruel, ruthless; dreadful, terrible. Also in cruel and fell, fierce and fell. Now only poet. or rhetorical. (1864 Burton, Scot Abr. I.iii.118: "With all the fell ferocity of men falling on their bitterest feudal enemy.")

29ratlins: the small lines fastened horizontally on the shrouds of a vessel, and serving as steps by which to go up and down the rigging.

30poop: The aftermost part of a ship; the stern; also, the aftermost and highest deck, often forming the roof of the cabin built in the stern.

31lazarette: lazaretto, 'A place parted off at the fore part of the 'tween decks, in some merchantmen, for stowing provisions and stores in' (Adm. Smyth 1867).

32despatch box: dispatch box. Webster, 1864: Dispatch-box, a box for carrying dispatches; a box for papers and other conveniences of a gentleman when travelling.

33Batavia: Jakarta. The Dutch captured and razed the city of Jacatra in 1619, after which the capital of the Dutch East Indies - a walled township named Batavia - was established on the site. The colonial era ended with the entry of Japan into World War II, when Indonesia was occupied by Japanese forces. After the war the city was briefly occupied by the Allies and then was returned to the Dutch. During the Japanese occupation and again after Indonesian nationalists declared independence on August 17, 1945, the city was renamed Djakarta. The Dutch name Batavia remained the internationally recognized name until full Indonesian independence was achieved and Djakarta was officially proclaimed the national capital (and its present name recognized) on December 27, 1949.


* Many of these notes are based on articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica and the Oxford English Dictionary.