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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 2/11 -
stood up; and said: "Say you ought to hear my partner in Chicago when he lets out. He's an artist!"
This Man from the West was evidently foreordained to play a part in the destinies of Blithelygo and myself, for during two years of travel he continuously crossed our path. His only becoming quality was his ample extravagance. Perhaps it was the bountiful impetus he gave to the commerce of Honolulu, and the fact that he talked of buying up a portion of one of the Islands for sugar-planting, that induced the King to be gracious to him. However that might be, when Blithelygo and I joined his Majesty at Hilo to visit the extinct volcano of Kilauea, there was the American coolly puffing his cigar and quizzically feeling the limbs and prodding the ribs of the one individual soldier who composed the King's body-guard. He was not interested in our arrival further than to give us a nod. In a pause that followed our greetings, he said to his Majesty, while jerking his thumb towards the soldier: "King, how many of 'em have you got in your army?"
His Majesty blandly but with dignity turned to his aide-de-camp and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. The aide-de-camp answered: "Sixty."
"Then we've got 1/60th of the standing army with us, eh?" drawled Van Blaricom.
The aide-de-camp bowed affirmatively. The King was scanning Mauna Loa. The American winked at us. The King did not see the wink, but he had caught a tone in the voice of the invader, which brought, as I thought, a slight flush to his swarthy cheek. The soldier-his name was Lilikalu --looked from his King to the critic of his King's kingdom and standing army, and there was a glow beneath his long eyelashes which suggested that three-quarters of a century of civilisation had not quite drawn the old savage spirit from the descendants of Lailai, the Hawaiian Eve.
During the journey up the Forty-Mile Track to Kilauea, the American enveloped 1/60th of his Majesty's standing army with his Michigan Avenue and peanut-stand wit, and not always, it was observed, out of the hearing of the King, who nevertheless preserved a marked unconsciousness. Majesty was at a premium with two of us on that journey. Only once was the Chicagonian's wit not stupid as well as offensive. It chanced thus. The afternoon in which we reached the volcano was suffocatingly hot, and the King's bodyguard had discarded all clothing--brief when complete-- save what would not count in any handicap. He was therefore at peace, while the rest of us, Royalty included, were inwardly thinking that after this the orthodox future of the wicked would have no terrors. At a moment when the body-guard appeared to be most ostentatious in his freedom from clothing the American said to his Majesty: "King, do you know what 1/60th of your standing army is?" The reply was a low and frigid: "No."
"It's a vulgar fraction."
There were seven of us walking on the crater of the volcano: great banks of sulphur on the right, dark glaciers of lava on the left, high walls of scoria and volcanic crust enveloping us all about. We were four thousand feet above the level of the sea. We were standing at the door of the House of Pele, the Goddess of Fire. We knocked, but she would not open. The flames were gone from her hearthstone, her smoke was gorging the throat of the suffering earth.
"Say, she was awful sick while she was about it," said the American as he stumbled over the belched masses of lava.
That was one day. But two days after we stood at Pele threshold again. Now red scoria and pumice and sulphur boiled and rolled where the hard lava had frayed our boots. Within thirty-six hours Kilauea has sprung from its flameless sleep into sulphurous life and red roaring grandeur. Though Pele came but slowly, she came; and a lake of fire beat at the lofty sides of the volcanic cup. The ruby spray flashed up to the sky, and geysers of flame hurled long lances at the moon.
"King," said the American, "why don't you turn it into an axe-factory?"
At last the time came when we must leave this scene of marvel and terror, and we retired reluctantly. There were two ways by which we might return to the bridle path that led down the mountain. The American desired to take the one by which we had not come; the rest of us, tired out, preferred to go as we came--the shortest way. A compromise was made by his Majesty sending 1/60th of the standing army with the American, who gaily said he would join us, "horse, foot and cavalry," in the bridle- path. We reached the meeting-point first, but as we looked back we saw with horror that two streams of fire were flowing down the mountain side. We were to the left of them both, and safe; but between them, and approaching us, were Van Blaricom and the native soldier. The two men saw their danger, and pushed swiftly down the mountainside and towards us, but more swiftly still these narrow snake-like streams came on.
Presently the streams veered towards each other and joined. The two men were on an island with a shore of fire. There was one hope--the shore was narrow yet. But in running the American fell, spraining his ankle badly. We were speechless, but the King's lips parted with a moan, as he said: "Lilikalu can jump the stream, but the other--!"
They were now at the margin of that gleaming shore, the American wringing his hands. It was clear to him that unless a miracle happened he would see his beloved Chicago no more; for the stream behind them was rapidly widening.
I think I see that 1/60th of his Majesty's infantry as he looked down upon the slight and cowering form of the American. His moment of vengeance had come. A second passed, marked by the splashing roar of the waves in the hill above us, and then the soldier-naked, all save the boots he wore-seized the other in his arms, stepped back a few paces, and then ran forward and leaped across the barrier of flame. Not quite across! One foot and ankle sank into the molten masses, with a shiver of agony, he let the American fall on the safe ground. An instant later and he lay at our feet, helpless and maimed for many a day; and the standing army of the King was deprived of 1/60th of its strength.
HOW PANGO WANGO WAS ANNEXED
Blithelygo and I were at Levuka, Fiji, languidly waiting for some "trader" or mail-steamer to carry us away anywhere. Just when we were bored beyond endurance and when cigars were running low, a Fijian came to us and said: "That fellow, white fellow, all a-same a-you, long a-shore. Pleni sail. Pleni Melican flag."
We went to the beach, and there was Jude Van Blaricom, our American. We had left him in New Zealand at the Pink Terraces, bidding him an eternal farewell. We wished it so. But we had met him afterwards at Norfolk Island, and again at Sydney, and we knew now that we should never cease to meet him during our sojourn on this earth.
An hour later we were on board his yacht, Wilderness, being introduced to MacGregor, the captain, to Mr. Dagmar Caramel, C.M.G., his guest, and to some freshly made American cocktails. Then we were shown over the Wilderness. She looked as if she had been in the hands of a Universal Provider. Evidently the American had no intention of roughing it. His toilet requisites were a dream. From the dazzling completeness of the snug saloon we were taken aft to see two coops filled with fowls. "Say," said the American, "how's that for fresh meat?" Though a little ashamed of it, we then and there accepted the Chicagonian's invitation to take a cruise with him in the South Pacific. For days the cruise was pleasant enough, and then things began to drag. Fortunately there came a new interest in the daily routine. One day Van Blaricom was seen standing with the cook before the fowl coops deeply interested; and soon after he had triumphantly arranged what he called "The Coliseum." This was an enclosure of canvas chiefly, where we had cock-fights daily. The gladiators were always ready for the arena. One was called U. S., after General U. S. Grant, and the other Bob Lee, after General Robert Lee.
"Go it, U. S. Lift your skewers, you bobtail. Give it to him, you've got him in Andersonville, U. S." Thus, day by day, were the warriors encouraged by Van Blaricom.
There is nothing very elegant or interesting in the record so far, but it all has to do with the annexation of Pango Wango, and, as Blithelygo long afterwards remarked, it shows how nations sometimes acquire territory. Yes, this Coliseum of ours had as much to do with the annexation as had the American's toilet requisites his hair-oil and perfume bottles. In the South Pacific, a thousand miles from land, Van Blaricom was redolent of new-mown hay and heliotrope.
It was tropically hot. We were in the very middle of the hurricane season. The air had no nerve. Even the gladiators were relaxing their ardour; and soon the arena was cleared altogether, for we were in the midst of a hurricane. It was a desperate time, but just when it seemed most desperate the wheel of doom turned backward and we were saved. The hurricane found us fretful with life by reason of the heat, it left us thankful for being let to live at all; though the Wilderness appeared little better than a drifting wreck. Our commissariat was gone, or almost gone, we hadn't any masts or sails to speak of, and the cook informed us that we had but a few gallons of fresh water left; yet, strange to say, the gladiators remained to us. When the peril was over it surprised me to remember that Van Blaricom had been comparatively cool through it all; for I had still before me a certain scene at the volcano of Kilauea. I was to be still more surprised.
We were by no means out of danger. MacGregor did not know where we were; the fresh water was vanishing rapidly, and our patch of sail was hardly enough to warrant a breeze taking any interest in it. We had been saved from immediate destruction, but it certainly seemed like exchanging Tophet for a slow fire. When the heat was greatest and the spiritual gloom thickest the American threw out the sand-bags, as it were, and hope mounted again.
"Say, MacGregor," he said, "run up the American flag. There's luck in the old bandana."
This being done, he added: "Bring along the cigars; we'll have out U. S. and Bob Lee in the saloon."
Our Coliseum was again open to the public at two shillings a head. That had been the price from the beginning. The American was very business- like in the matter, but this admission fee was our only contribution to the expenses of that cruise. Sport could only allay, it could not banish our sufferings. We became as haggard and woe-begone a lot as ever ate provisions impregnated with salt; we turned wistfully from claret to a teaspoonful of water, and had tongues like pieces of blotting-paper. One morning we were sitting at breakfast when we heard a cock-crow, then another and another. MacGregor sprang to his feet crying: "Land!" In a moment we were on deck. There was no land to be seen, but MacGregor maintained that a cock was a better look-out than a human being any time, and in this case he was right. In a few hours we did sight land.
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