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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 3/11 -


Slowly we came nearer to the island. MacGregor was not at all sure where it was, but guessed it might be one of the Solomon Islands. When within a few miles of it Blithelygo unfeelingly remarked that its population might be cannibalistic. MacGregor said it was very likely; but we'd have to be fattened first, and that would give us time to turn round. The American said that the Stars and Stripes and the Coliseum had brought us luck so far, and he'd take the risk if we would.

The shore was crowded with natives, and as we entered the bay we saw hundreds take to the water in what seemed fearfully like war-canoes. We were all armed with revolvers, and we had half a dozen rifles handy. As the islanders approached we could see that they also were armed; and a brawny race they looked, and particularly bloodthirsty. In the largest canoe stood a splendid-looking fellow, evidently a chief. On the shore near a large palm-thatched house a great group was gathered, and the American, levelling his glass, said: "Say, it's a she-queen or something over there."

At that moment the canoes drew alongside, and while MacGregor adjured us to show no fear, he beckoned the chief to come aboard. An instant, and a score of savages, armed with spears and nulla-nullas were on deck. MacGregor made signs that we were hungry, Blithelygo that we were thirsty, and the American, smoking all the while, offered the chief a cigar. The cigar was refused, but the headman ordered a couple of natives ashore, and in five minutes we had wild bananas and fish to eat, and water to drink. But that five minutes of waiting were filled with awkward incidents. Blithelygo, meaning to be hospitable, had brought up a tumbler of claret for the headman. With violent language, MacGregor stopped its presentation; upon which the poison of suspicion evidently entered the mind of the savage, and he grasped his spear threateningly. Van Blaricom, who wore a long gold watch-chain, now took it off and offered it to the chief, motioning him to put it round his neck. The hand was loosened on the spear, and the Chicagonian stepped forward and put the chain over the head of the native. As he did so the chief suddenly thrust his nose forward and sniffed violently at the American.

What little things decide the fate of nations and men! This was a race whose salutation was not nose-rubbing, but smelling, and the American had not in our worst straits failed to keep his hair sleek with hair-oil, verbena scented, and to perfume himself daily with new-mown hay or heliotrope. Thus was he of goodly savour to the chief, and the eyes of the savage grew bright. At that moment the food and drink came. During the repast the chief chuckled in his own strange way, and, when we slackened in our eating, he still motioned to us to go on.

Van Blaricom, who had been smiling, suddenly looked grave. "By the great horn-spoons," he said, "they have begun already! They're fattening us!"

MacGregor nodded affirmatively, and then Van Blaricom's eyes wandered wildly from the chief to that group on the shore where he thought he had seen the "she-queen." At that moment the headman came forward again, again sniffed at him, and again chuckled, and all the natives as they looked on us chuckled also. It was most unpleasant. Suddenly I saw the American start. He got up, turned to us, and said: "I've got an idea. MacGregor, get U. S. and Bob Lee." Then he quietly disappeared, the eyes of the savages suspiciously following him. In a moment he came back, bearing in his arms a mirror, a bottle of hair-oil, a couple of bottles of perfume, a comb and brush, some variegated bath towels, and an American flag. First he let the chief sniff at the bottles, and then, pointing to the group on the shore, motioned to be taken over. In a few moments he and MacGregor were being conveyed towards the shore in the gathering dusk.

Four hours passed. It was midnight. There was noise of drums and shouting on the shore, which did not relieve our suspense. Suddenly there was a commotion in the canoes that still remained near the Wilderness. The headman appeared before us, and beckoned to Blithelygo and myself to come. The beckoning was friendly, and we hoped that affairs had taken a more promising turn.

In a space surrounded with palms and ti-trees a great fire was burning. There was a monotonous roll of the savage tom-tom and a noise of shouting and laughter. Yes, we were safe, and the American had done it. The Coliseum was open, MacGregor was ring-master, and U. S. and Bob Lee were at work. This show, with other influences, had conquered Pango Wango. The American flag was hoisted on a staff, and on a mighty stump there sat Van Blaricom, almost innocent of garments, I grieve to say, with one whom we came to know as Totimalu, Queen of Pango Wango, a half circle of savages behind them. Van Blaricom and MacGregor had been naturalised by having their shoulders lanced with a spear-point, and then rubbed against the lanced shoulders of the chiefs. The taking of Pango Wango had not been, I fear, a moral victory. Van Blaricom was smoking a cigar, and was writing on a piece of paper, using the back of a Pango Wango man as a desk. The Queen's garments were chiefly variegated bath-towels, and she was rubbing her beaming countenance and ample bosom with hair-oil and essence of new-mown hay.

Van Blaricom nodded to us nonchalantly, saying: "It's all right--she's Totimalu, the Queen. Sign here, Queen," and he motioned for the obese beauty to hold the pencil. She did so, and then he stood up, and, while the cock-fight still went on, he read, with a fine Chicago fluency, what proved to be a proclamation. As will be seen, it was full of ellipses and was fragmentary in its character, though completely effective in fact:

Know all men by these Presents, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Seeing that all men are born free and equal (vide United States Constitution), et cetera. We, Jude Van Blaricom, of the city of Chicago, with and by the consent of Queen Totimalu, do, in the name of George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, and the State of Illinois, and by the Grace of Heaven, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, hereby annex the Kingdom of Pango Wango to be of the territory of the American Union, to have and to hold from this day forth (vide Constitution of the United States), et cetera.

Signed, JUDE VAN BLARICOM, TOTIMALU X (her mark).

"Beat the drums, you niggers!" he cried, and patted Totimalu's shoulder. "Come and join the royal party, gentlemen, and pay your respects. Shake! That's right."

Thus was Pango Wango annexed.

AN AMIABLE REVENGE

Whenever any one says to me that civilisation is a failure, I refer him to certain records of Tonga, and tell him the story of an amiable revenge. He is invariably convinced that savages can learn easily the forms of convention and the arts of government--and other things. The Tongans once had a rough and coarsely effective means for preserving order and morality, but the whole scheme was too absurdly simple. Now, with a Constitution and a Sacred Majesty, and two Houses of Parliament, and a native Magistracy, they show that they are capable of becoming European in its most pregnant meaning. As the machinery has increased the grist for the mill has grown. There was a time when a breach of the Seventh Commandment was punished in Tonga with death, and it was therefore rarely committed. It is no rarity now--so does law and civilisation provide opportunities for proving their existence.

On landing at Nukalofa, the capital of Tonga, some years ago, I naturally directed my steps towards the residence of the British consul. The route lay along an arc of emerald and opal shore, the swaying cocoa-palms overhead, and native huts and missionary conventicles hidden away in coverts of ti-trees, hibiscus bushes, and limes; the sensuous, perfume- ladened air pervading all. I had seen the British flag from the coral- bulwarked harbour, but could not find it now. Leaving the indolent village behind, I passed the Palace, where I beheld the sacred majesty of Tonga on the veranda sleepily flapping the flies from his aged calves, and I could not find that flag. Had I passed it? Was it yet to come? I leaned against a bread-fruit tree and thought upon it. The shore was deserted. Nobody had taken any notice of me; even the German steamer Lubeck had not brought a handful of the population to the Quay.

I was about to make up my mind to go back to the Lubeck and sulk, when a native issued from the grove at my left and blandly gazed upon me as he passed. He wore a flesh-coloured vala about the loins, a red pandanus flower in his ear, and a lia-lia of hibiscus blossoms about his neck. That was all. Evidently he was not interested in me, for he walked on. I choked back my feelings of hurt pride, and asked him in an off-hand kind of way, and in a sort of pigeon English, if he could tell me where the British consul lived. The stalwart subject of King George Tabou looked at me gravely for an instant, then turned and motioned down the road. I walked on beside him, improperly offended by his dignified airs, his coolness of body and manner, and what I considered the insolent plumpness and form of his chest and limbs.

He was a harmony in brown and red. Even his hair was brown. I had to admit to myself that in point of comeliness I could not stand the same scrutiny in the same amount of costume. Perhaps that made me a little imperious, a little superior in manner. Reducing my English to his comprehension as I measured it--he bowed when I asked him if he understood--I explained to him many things necessary for the good of his country. Remembering where I was, I expressed myself in terms that were gentle though austere regarding the King, and reproved the supineness and stupidity of the Crown Prince. Lamenting the departed puissance of the sons of Tongatabu, I warmed to my subject, telling this savage who looked at me with so neutral a countenance how much I deplored the decadence of his race. I bade him think of the time when the Tongans, in token of magnanimous amity, rubbed noses with the white man, and of where those noses were now--between the fingers of the Caucasian. He appeared becomingly attentive, and did me the honour before I began my peroration to change the pandanus flower from the ear next to me to the other.

I had just rounded off my last sentence when he pointed to a house, half- native, half-European, in front of which was a staff bearing the British flag. With the generosity which marks the Englishman away from home I felt in my pockets and found a sixpence. I handed it to my companion; and with a "Talofa" the only Tongan I knew--I passed into the garden of the consulate. The consul himself came to the door when I knocked on the lintel. After glancing at my card he shook me by the hand, and then paused. His eyes were intently directed along the road by which I had come. I looked back, and there stood the stalwart Tongan where I had left him, gazing at the sixpence I had placed in his hand. There was a kind of stupefaction in his attitude. Presently the consul said somewhat tartly: "Ah, you've been to the Palace--the Crown Prince has brought you over!"

It was not without a thrill of nervousness that I saw my royal guide flip the sixpence into his mouth--he had no pocket--and walk back towards the royal abode.

I told the consul just how it was. In turn he told his daughter, the daughter told the native servants, and in three minutes the place was echoing with languid but appreciative laughter. Natives came to the door to look at me, and after wide-eyed smiling at me for a minute gave place


Cumner & South Sea Folk, v4 - 3/11

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