: 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,"
"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.