The Orofenans

: When The World Shook

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


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


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


"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


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


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.