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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Cruise of the Snark17 > CHAPTER XV CRUISING IN THE SOLOMONS
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 “Why not come along now?” said Captain Jansen to us, at Penduffryn, on the island of Guadalcanar.  
Charmian and I looked at each other and debated silently for half a minute.  Then we nodded our heads .  It is a way we have of making up our minds to do things; and a very good way it is when one has no temperamental tears to shed over the last tin-of condensed milk when it has capsized.  (We are living on tinned goods these days, and since mind is to be an emanation of matter, our are naturally of the packing-house variety.)
“You’d better bring your revolvers along, and a couple of rifles,” said Captain Jansen.  “I’ve got five rifles aboard, though the one Mauser is without .  Have you a few rounds to spare?”
We brought our rifles on board, several handfuls of Mauser , and Wada and Nakata, the Snark’s cook and cabin-boy respectively.  Wada and Nakata were in a bit of a funk.  To say the least, they were not enthusiastic, though never did Nakata show the white feather in the face of danger.  The Solomon Islands had not dealt with them.  In the first place, both had suffered from Solomon sores.  So had the rest of us (at the time, I was nursing two fresh ones on a diet of ); but the two Japanese had had more than their share.  And the sores are not nice.  They may be described as excessively active .  A mosquito bite, a cut, or the slightest , serves for lodgment of the poison with which the air seems to be filled.  Immediately the commences to eat.  It eats in every direction, consuming skin and muscle with rapidity.  The pin-point ulcer of the first day is the size of a by the second day, and by the end of the week a silver dollar will not cover it.
Worse than the sores, the two Japanese had been with Solomon Island fever.  Each had been down repeatedly with it, and in their weak, convalescent moments they were to together on the portion of the Snark that happened to be nearest to faraway Japan, and to gaze in that direction.
But worst of all, they were now brought on board the Minota for a recruiting cruise along the coast of Malaita.  Wada, who had the worse funk, was sure that he would never see Japan again, and with , lack-lustre eyes he watched our rifles and ammunition going on board the Minota.  He knew about the Minota and her Malaita cruises.  He knew that she had been captured six months before on the Malaita coast, that her captain had been chopped to pieces with tomahawks, and that, according to the sense of on that sweet , she owed two more heads.  Also, a labourer on Penduffryn , a Malaita boy, had just died of dysentery, and Wada knew that Penduffryn had been put in the debt of Malaita by one more head.  Furthermore, in stowing our luggage away in the skipper’s tiny cabin, he saw the on the door where the bushmen had cut their way in.  And, finally, the stove was without a pipe—said pipe having been part of the loot.
The Minota was a teak-built, Australian yacht, ketch-rigged, long and lean, with a deep -keel, and designed for harbour rather than for recruiting blacks.  When Charmian and I came on board, we found her crowded.  Her double boat’s crew, including substitutes, was fifteen, and she had a score and more of “return” boys, whose time on the was served and who were bound back to their bush villages.  To look at, they were certainly true head-hunting cannibals.  Their perforated were thrust through with bone and wooden bodkins the size of lead-pencils.  Numbers of them had the extreme meaty point of the nose, from which , straight out, of turtle-shell or of strung on stiff wire.  A few had further punctured their noses with rows of holes following the curves of the nostrils from lip to point.  Each ear of every man had from two to a dozen holes in it—holes large enough to carry wooden plugs three inches in diameter down to tiny holes in which were carried clay-pipes and similar trifles.  In fact, so many holes did they possess that they lacked to fill them; and when, the following day, as we neared Malaita, we tried out our rifles to see that they were in working order, there was a general for the empty cartridges, which were thrust forthwith into the many aching voids in our passengers’ ears.
At the time we tried out our rifles we put up our barbed wire railings.  The Minota, crown-decked, without any house, and with a rail six inches high, was too accessible to boarders.  So stanchions were screwed into the rail and a double row of barbed wire stretched around her from stem to stern and back again.  Which was all very well as a protection from , but it was uncomfortable to those on board when the Minota took to jumping and in a sea-way.  When one dislikes sliding down upon the lee-rail barbed wire, and when he dares not catch hold of the weather-rail barbed wire to save himself from sliding, and when, with these various disinclinations, he finds himself on a smooth flush-deck that is heeled over at an angle of forty-five degrees, some of the delights of Solomon Islands cruising may be comprehended.  Also, it must be remembered, the penalty of a fall into the barbed wire is more than the scratches, for each scratch is practically certain to become a venomous ulcer.  That caution will not save one from the wire was evidenced one fine morning when we were running along the Malaita coast with the breeze on our quarter.  The wind was fresh, and a tidy sea was making.  A black boy was at the wheel.  Captain Jansen, Mr. Jacobsen (the mate), Charmian, and I had just sat down on deck to breakfast.  Three unusually large seas caught us.  The boy at the wheel lost his head.  Three times the Minota was swept.  The breakfast was rushed over the lee-rail.  The knives and forks went through the scuppers; a boy aft went clean overboard and was dragged back; and our skipper lay half inboard and half out, jammed in the barbed wire.  After that, for the rest of the cruise, our use of the several remaining eating was a splendid example of communism.  On the Eugenie, however, it was even worse, for we had but one among four of us—but the Eugenie is another story.
Our first port was Su’u on the west coast of Malaita.  The Solomon Islands are on the fringe of things.  It is difficult enough sailing on dark nights through reef-spiked channels and across currents where there are no lights to guide (from northwest to southeast the Solomons extend across a thousand miles of sea, and on all the thousands of miles of coasts there is not one lighthouse); but the difficulty is seriously enhanced by the fact that the land itself is not correctly charted.  Su’u is an example.  On the Admiralty chart of Malaita the coast at this point runs a straight, unbroken line.  Yet across this straight, unbroken line the Minota sailed in twenty of water.  Where the land was to be, was a deep indentation.  Into this we sailed, the mangroves closing about us, till we dropped anchor in a mirrored pond.  Captain Jansen did not like the anchorage.  It was the first time he had been there, and Su’u had a bad reputation.  There was no wind with which to get away in case of attack, while the crew could be bushwhacked to a man if they attempted to tow out in the whale-boat.  It was a pretty trap, if trouble blew up.
“Suppose the Minota went —what would you do?” I asked.
“She’s not going ashore,” was Captain Jansen’s answer.
“But just in case she did?” I insisted.  He considered for a moment and shifted his glance from the mate on a revolver to the boat’s crew climbing into the whale-boat each man with a rifle.
“We’d get into the whale-boat, and get out of here as fast as God’d let us,” came the skipper’s delayed reply.
He explained at length that no white man was sure of his Malaita crew in a tight place; that the bushmen looked upon all as their personal property; that the bushmen plenty of Snider rifles; and that he had on board a dozen “return” boys for Su’u who were certain to join in with their friends and relatives ashore when it came to looting the Minota.
The first work of the whale-boat was to take the “return” boys and their trade-boxes ashore.  Thus one danger was removed.  While this was being done, a canoe came alongside manned by three naked savages.  And when I say naked, I mean naked.  Not one of clothing did they have on, unless nose-rings, ear-plugs, and shell armlets be accounted clothing.  The head man in the canoe was an old chief, one-eyed, reputed to be friendly, and so dirty that a boat-scraper would have lost its edge on him.  His mission was to warn the skipper against allowing any of his people to go ashore.  The old fellow repeated the warning again that night.
In vain did the whale-boat about the shores of the bay in quest of recruits.  The bush was full of armed natives; all willing enough to talk with the recruiter, but not one would engage to sign on for three years’ plantation labour at six pounds per year.  Yet they were anxious enough to get our people ashore.  On the second day they raised a smoke on the beach at the head of the bay.  This being the customary signal of men desiring to recruit, the boat was sent.  But nothing resulted.  No one recruited, nor were any of our men ashore.  A little later we caught glimpses of a number of armed natives moving about on the beach.
Outside of these rare glimpses, there was no telling how many might be in the bush.  There was no that primeval jungle with the eye.  In the afternoon, Captain Jansen, Charmian, and I went fish.  Each one of the boat’s crew carried a Lee-Enfield.  “Johnny,” the native recruiter, had a Winchester beside him at the sweep.  We rowed in close to a portion of the shore that looked .  Here the boat was turned around and backed in; in case of attack, the boat would be ready to dash away.  In all the time I was on Malaita I never saw a boat land bow on.  In fact, the recruiting use two boats—one to go in on the beach, armed, of course, and the other to lie off several hundred feet and “cover” the first boat.  The Minota, however, being a small , did not carry a covering boat.
We were close in to the shore and working in closer, stern-first, when a school of fish was sighted.  The fuse was ignited and the stick of thrown.  With the explosion, the surface of the water was broken by the flash of leaping fish.  At the same instant the woods broke into life.  A score of naked savages, armed with bows and arrows, spears, and Sniders, burst out upon the shore.  At the same moment our boat’s crew lifted their rifles.  And thus the opposing parties faced each other, while our extra boys dived over after the fish.
Three fruitless days were spent at Su’u.  The Minota got no recruits from the bush, and the bushmen got no heads from the Minota.  In fact, the only one who got anything was Wada, and his was a nice dose of fever.  We towed out with the whale-boat, and ran along the coast to Langa Langa, a large village of salt-water people, built with labour on a sand-bank— built up, an artificial island reared as a refuge from the blood-thirsty bushmen.  Here, also, on the shore side of the lagoon, was Binu, the place where the Minota was captured half a year and her captain killed by the bushmen.  As we sailed in through the narrow entrance, a canoe came alongside with the news that the man-of-war had just left that morning after having burned three villages, killed some thirty pigs, and drowned a baby.  This was the Cambrian, Captain Lewes commanding.  He and I had first met in Korea during the Japanese-Russian War, and we had been crossing each other’s trail ever since without ever a meeting.  The day the Snark sailed into Suva, in the Fijis, we made out the Cambrian going out.  At Vila, in the New Hebrides, we missed each other by one day.  We passed each other in the night-time off the island of Santo.  And the day the Cambrian arrived at Tulagi, we sailed from Penduffryn, a dozen miles away.  And here at Langa Langa we had missed by several hours.
The Cambrian had come to punish the murderers of the Minota’s captain, but what she had succeeded in doing we did not learn until later in the day, when a Mr. Abbot, a , came alongside in his whale-boat.  The villages had been burned and the pigs killed.  But the natives had escaped personal harm.  The murderers had not been captured, though the Minota’s flag and other of her gear had been recovered.  The drowning of the baby had come about through a misunderstanding.  Chief Johnny, of Binu, had declined to guide the landing party into the bush, nor could any of his men be induced to perform that office.  Whereupon Captain Lewes, righteously indignant, had told Chief Johnny that he deserved to have his village burned.  Johnny’s bêche de mer English did not include the word “deserve.”  So his understanding of it was that his village was to be burned anyway.  The stampede of the inhabitants was so hurried that the baby was dropped into the water.  In the meantime Chief Johnny hastened to Mr. Abbot.  Into his hand he put fourteen sovereigns and requested him to go on board the Cambrian and buy Captain Lewes off.  Johnny’s village was not burned.  Nor did Captain Lewes get the fourteen sovereigns, for I saw them later in Johnny’s possession when he boarded the Minota.  The excuse Johnny gave me for not guiding the landing party was a big boil which he proudly revealed.  His real reason, however, and a one, though he did not state it, was fear of revenge on the part of the bushmen.  Had he, or any of his men, guided the marines, he could have looked for as soon as the Cambrian weighed anchor.
As an illustration of conditions in the Solomons, Johnny’s business on board was to turn over, for a tobacco consideration, the sprit, mainsail, and jib of a whale-boat.  Later in the day, a Chief Billy came on board and turned over, for a tobacco consideration, the mast and boom.  This gear belonged to a whale-boat which Captain Jansen had recovered the previous trip of the Minota.  The whale-boat belonged to Meringe Plantation on the island of Ysabel.  Eleven contract labourers, Malaita men and bushmen at that, had to run away.  Being bushmen, they knew nothing of salt water nor of the way of a boat in the sea.  So they persuaded two natives of San Cristoval, salt-water men, to run away with them.  It served the San Cristoval men right.  They should have known better.  When they had safely the stolen boat to Malaita, they had their heads off for their pains.  It was this boat and gear that Captain Jansen had recovered.
Not for nothing have I journeyed all the way to the Solomons.  At last I have seen Charmian’s proud spirit and her imperious queendom of femininity dragged in the dust.  It happened at Langa Langa, ashore, on the manufactured island which one cannot see for the houses.  Here, surrounded by hundreds of unblushing naked men, women, and children, we wandered about and saw the sights.  We had our revolvers on, and the boat’s crew, armed, lay at the , stern in; but the lesson of the man-of-war was too recent for us to trouble.  We walked about everywhere and saw everything until at last we approached a large tree trunk that served as a bridge across a shallow .  The blacks formed a wall in front of us and refused to let us pass.  We wanted to know why we were stopped.  The blacks said we could go on.  We misunderstood, and started.  Explanations became more definite.  Captain Jansen and I, being men, could go on.  But no Mary was allowed to around that bridge, much less cross it.  “Mary” is bêche de mer for woman.  Charmian was a Mary.  To her the bridge was tambo, which is the native for .  Ah, how my chest expanded!  At last my manhood was .  In truth I belonged to the lordly sex.  Charmian could trapse along at our heels, but we were MEN, and we could go right over that bridge while she would have to go around by whale-boat.
Now I should not care to be misunderstood by what follows; but it is a matter of common knowledge in the Solomons that attacks of fever are often brought on by shock.  Inside half an hour after Charmian had been refused the right of way, she was being rushed aboard the Minota, packed in blankets, and dosed with quinine.  I don’t know what kind of shock had happened to Wada and Nakata, but at any rate they were down with fever as well.  The Solomons might be healthfuller.
Also, during the attack of fever, Charmian developed a Solomon sore.  It was the last straw.  Every one on the Snark had been afflicted except her.  I had thought that I was going to lose my foot at the ankle by one exceptionally boring ulcer.  Henry and Tehei, the Tahitian sailors, had had numbers of them.  Wada had been able to count his by the score.  Nakata had had single ones three inches in length.  Martin had been quite certain that necrosis of his shinbone had set in from the roots of the amazing colony he elected to cultivate in that locality.  But Charmian had escaped.  Out of her long had been bred contempt for the rest of us.  Her was flattered to such an extent that one day she shyly informed me that it was all a matter of pureness of blood.  Since all the rest of us cultivated the sores, and since she did not—well, anyway, hers was the size of a silver dollar, and the pureness of her blood enabled her to cure it after several weeks of nursing.  She pins her faith to corrosive sublimate.  Martin swears by iodoform.  Henry uses lime-juice undiluted.  And I believe that when corrosive sublimate is slow in taking hold, alternate of peroxide of hydrogen are just the thing.  There are white men in the Solomons who stake all upon boracic acid, and others who are prejudiced in favour of lysol.  I also have the weakness of a .  It is California.  I defy any man to get a Solomon Island sore in California.
We ran down the lagoon from Langa Langa, between swamps, through passages scarcely wider than the Minota, and past the reef villages of Kaloka and Auki.  Like the of Venice, these salt-water men were originally refugees from the mainland.  Too weak to hold their own in the bush, of village , they fled to the sand-banks of the lagoon.  These sand-banks they built up into islands.  They were compelled to seek their from the sea, and in time they became salt-water men.  They learned the ways of the fish and the shellfish, and they invented hooks and lines, nets and fish-............
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