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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cruise Of The Dainty - Chapter 8
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The Cruise Of The Dainty - Chapter 8 Post by :65587 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1400

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The Cruise Of The Dainty - Chapter 8

CHAPTER EIGHT.

We were now bound on a cruise among the islands of Melanesia, inhabited by a dark-skinned race, differing very greatly from the people we had previously visited. We hoped, however, to obtain a supply of sandal-wood, and to establish friendly relations at different spots, so that the schooner might return for another cargo, and bring back any natives who might be willing to engage as labourers in Queensland. Had time allowed, we should have been glad to touch at Fiji, the inhabitants of which were by that time no longer to be dreaded--many, with their old king, Thakombau, once a cannibal, having been converted to Christianity, and partially civilised--but Harry was anxious to conclude the voyage, which had already been longer than he had at first intended.

We had been some days at sea when we came in sight of Cherry Island, rising some three hundred feet above the surface of the ocean, and thickly covered with vegetation, but only two miles and a half in circumference. It appeared truly a little gem in the midst of the world of waters. As there were no dangers off it, we were able to stand close enough in to observe the fine sandy beach extending round it for a considerable distance. Along the shore we saw no canoes, but a number of natives appeared, waving green branches--emblems of peace. As we watched them through our telescopes, we saw that they were of the Polynesian, or brown race--fine-looking fellows, unlike the Papuans, who inhabit the islands we were about to visit. As it was not likely that they could supply us with either cocoanut oil or sandal-wood, we did not communicate with them, but continued our course westward.

The first island we made after leaving Cherry Island, was Varikoro, one of the Santa Cruz group, but, as we were bound northward, we did not heave to till we came off the small island of Lom-lom, where we saw a number of canoes paddling towards us. The natives who manned them wore rings in their ears and noses. Though their object was to trade, as they brought off only a few bows and arrows, and a fruit in appearance and taste resembling an apple, we soon concluded our transactions with them.

Thence standing on, and passing several other islands, the next day but one we reached that of Nukapu, which has a melancholy interest, as it was here that the excellent Bishop Patteson lost his life. The island itself appeared to be about a couple of miles in circumference, and is surrounded by a coral reef, extending, on its south-west side, as far as a mile and a half from the shore, but in other places much nearer. The island was covered with a dense bush, growing down to within a few feet of the water's edge. As we were not aware at the time of the treacherous character of the natives, while the schooner was hove to, Charlie and I, with four men as a crew, pulled off in the gig, hoping to open up an intercourse with them. We were well armed with muskets, pistols, and boarding-pikes, in case we should be attacked. On approaching the reef, we saw a number of canoes floating in the lagoon, each containing three men. We found, however, that we could not get over the reef, but we saw the people on the beach waving green branches, inviting us to come on shore. We accordingly pulled in, believing that we should meet with a friendly reception. As, however, we got near, the savages commenced yelling and dancing in a curious fashion.

"They wish to do us honour, I suppose," said Charlie. "It will be wise, however, not to trust them too much."

We pulled on till we got to within a hundred yards of the beach.

"Look out; they mean mischief!" I shouted; and scarcely were the words out of my mouth when a flight of arrows came whistling towards us, though, fortunately, they fell short of our boat. In vain we tried to make the natives understand that our object was peaceable, by waving white handkerchiefs, and holding up our hands without exhibiting our weapons. This only made them yell and dance more furiously than before. We might have shot down a number of the natives, but we did not for a moment think of doing that, and therefore at once returned to the schooner.

We now continued our course until, towards evening, we came in sight of a lofty mountain, rising in a conical form out of the ocean. On turning our glasses towards its summit, we could see dense volumes of smoke and flame issuing forth, and as it lay in our course, and the wind was fair, we passed close to it. When darkness came on, the whole summit of the mountain appeared to be a mass of fire. Harry summoned Mary and Fanny, who had gone below, on deck to enjoy the magnificent spectacle. Now flames would shoot forth, rising high in the air; and then the incandescent lava, flowing over the edge of the crater, would come rushing down the slope of the mountain, finally to disappear in the sea. Then again all was tolerably quiet. Now we heard a loud rumbling noise, and presently the lava bubbled up once more, to plunge as before down the mountain-side.

"I'm very glad we are no nearer," observed Nat. "Suppose we were to be driven by a gale of wind against it, we should run the double chance of being burnt up by the lava or drowned among the breakers."

"We'll take good care to keep away from it, then," said Harry, laughing.

The following day we came off the island of Santa Cruz, the largest of the group. When even several miles from the shore, a number of canoes approached us, each generally containing three people, all of whom showed an anxiety to trade. We stood into a small harbour, where we brought up, when immediately more than a hundred canoes came around us, loaded with mats, bows and arrows, and cocoanuts, which the islanders willingly gave for bottles, pipes and tobacco, and for articles of clothing. Whenever a shirt or a pair of trousers were to be had, the islanders immediately slipped them on, not always as they were intended to be worn, several putting the hind part before. They were an ugly race--their skins nearly black, and their foreheads low and receding, with high cheekbones and broad faces, their noses flat and mouths large, while their heads were like black, curly mops. I cannot exactly say that they were dressed, their only garment being a sort of apron, fastened by a string tightly round the waist; but they wore tortoise-shell rings hanging from their ears down to their shoulders, and one large ring through the nose, which gave a most hideous expression to their countenances. Some had on necklaces of human teeth, and armlets of shells. Their habitations were low, small, and dirty huts of a circular form, roofed with the leaf of the cocoanut tree, and destitute of every description of furniture. They were altogether the most ugly and diminutive race we had hitherto met with.

As usual, Harry would only allow a dozen on board at a time, while a strict watch was kept on all their movements, but as far as we could judge, they had no treacherous intentions. As evening approached, we made them understand that we wished to be left in quiet, though it was somewhat difficult, without giving them offence, to get them into their canoes. They then paddled on shore, promising the next day to return with the sort of wood we required, of which we showed them a specimen. We, of course, kept a strict watch during the night, and were ready at any moment to defend ourselves; but not a single canoe was seen floating on the surface of the harbour; we therefore supposed that the natives had retired to their huts to sleep.

Next day a chief came off, the distinguishing mark of his rank being a breastplate of white shells, about nine inches in diameter. He brought with him several large bundles of sandal-wood, and promised, if we would come again some time afterwards, to procure for us as much as we required. Savage as these people were, they seemed willing enough to trade, and there is no reason to doubt that the blessings of Christianity might be introduced among them. Such is the task undertaken by the Melanesian Mission, about which Charlie Tilston often talked to me.

We soon after this came off Sugar-Loaf, or Mota Island, which is the head-quarters of the Melanesian Mission; and, as Harry thought the missionaries would be glad of an opportunity of sending letters by us, he ordered a boat to be got ready to go on shore, while the schooner was hove to. I went in her, with Charlie and Dick, Jack Lizard, Tom Tubb, Jackie Potts, and Sam Pest. On approaching the beach, we found it was rocky and rugged, while so heavy a surf was seething on it, that we were afraid to attempt landing; we therefore pulled round, hoping to reach a part where we might get on shore without danger. Rounding a point, we lost sight of the schooner, and after going some distance, succeeded in finding a sheltered nook, into which we ran the boat.

Leaving Dick in charge of her, Charlie and I proceeded on foot in search of the missionaries' houses. The walk was a much longer one than we had expected, but we at last found them, and were courteously received. They expressed themselves very grateful for the attention Harry had shown them, and immediately set to work to write letters, while their wives prepared some refreshments for us. They also insisted upon sending some down to the boat. We in the mean time walked out to a spot whence we expected to see the schooner, but when we got there, great was our dismay at not being able to discover her. A dark cloud, sending down a deluge of rain, was sweeping over the ocean, driven evidently by a heavy squall.

"We shall see her when it has passed over," observed Charlie; "for she will then stand back should she have been driven away from the land."

"I trust so," I said. "Harry is always cautious, and would have shortened sail in time; otherwise the squall has strength enough to capsize her or whip the masts overboard."

"You should not allow such a fancy to enter your head," he observed, wishing to comfort me, as I felt fearfully anxious.

We kept watching the spot where the schooner ought to have been, entirely forgetting the repast prepared for us. The cloud seemed to increase in size, the rain grew thicker and thicker.

"If the schooner is still afloat, she must be in the very midst of it," I at length observed, with a groan.

"Of course she is," said Charlie, "and running before it. She could not possibly beat back in the teeth of such a squall. We shall see her when it has passed."

When we looked back landward, we saw, however, that the sun was already sinking below the tree-crowned heights, and in that latitude darkness comes on almost immediately after the sun has gone down. Still, we could not tear ourselves from the spot.

We were standing thus when we heard a voice saying, "I have been searching for you, my friends, for a long time, and could not conceive where you had gone."

Charlie explained the cause of our anxiety, for I was too much agitated to speak.

"Trust in God's mercy, my friends," said the missionary. "We must hope that your vessel has not suffered material damage, though you do not see her. If she has been dismasted, which is possible, you would scarcely discern her at the distance she must be off by this time. Her captain must undoubtedly have perceived the squall coming, and would be prepared to encounter it."

All he could say, however, did not relieve my anxiety. He waited with us till the gloom of evening, stealing over the eastern ocean, made us abandon all hope of discerning the vessel. We then returned with him to his house, where we were thankful to take the refreshment his wife had prepared. We hurried it over, as we wished to get back as soon as possible to the boat.

"I have sent to say that you are delayed," remarked the missionary, "and I must urge you not to attempt to put to sea till the morning. You would very probably miss your vessel in the dark, whereas she is sure to stand back to look for you at daylight. I must advise you to wait till then. Have your boat hauled on shore, and let your people come up here to pass the night, as this elevated position is more healthy than on the lower ground; and I will take care that an efficient guard is placed to protect her."

This advice was so good that we were fain to accept it. We therefore returned with the missionary to his house, while he despatched a New Zealander, who spoke English, to bring up Dick and the men. Having a guide, they were much less time reaching the station than we had been, and soon arrived. Of course, Dick was very much grieved to hear of our anxiety about the schooner. The missionaries and their wives did their best to draw our thoughts away from our friends, by describing the progress of the work they had undertaken. Their object was, they told us, to collect young and intelligent natives from the different islands, and to endeavour to instruct them in the truths of Christianity. When their education was completed, if they exhibited a right missionary spirit, they were sent back to diffuse the truths of Christianity among their fellow-islanders.

It was deeply interesting to see a number of natives brought from among the most savage races, gentle and civilised, and apparently imbued with true Christian principles. They were all clothed in shirts and trousers, and looked as different as possible to the savages we had met with, though of the same race, and a few years ago were exactly like them.

We sat up for some time, hoping against hope that we might hear a gun fired from the schooner, as a signal to us that she was in the offing. Several times we looked out over the ocean, now sleeping in calm repose, but no sign of the schooner could be discovered.

At last the missionary advised us to take some rest. He had a guest-room in which, he said, beds were prepared for Charlie, Dick, and me, while some shake-downs of leaves and grass were made up in an outhouse for the crew of our boat. I kept continually starting up, fancying that I heard a gun fire. Again when I slept I pictured to myself vividly the schooner struck by the squall, and going down beneath the surface.

As soon as morning broke we were all on foot, and hurried to the look-out place, whence we earnestly hoped that we might see the schooner; but not a sail was in sight above the distant horizon. The Christian converts were gathered for prayer, and we joined them, though unable to understand what was said. When our early breakfast was over, I again hurried out to look for the schooner. Still, as far as eye could reach, there was no appearance of her. I felt that, as I was in command of the boat, I must decide what was to be done, though I wished to consult my companions and have their opinion. I proposed that we should, without loss of time, proceed in the boat to some of the neighbouring islands to search for her, believing it possible that she had been compelled to take shelter in one of their harbours. I told Charlie what I thought of doing.

"Dick and I will be ready to accompany you, whatever you may decide," he answered.

"Then let us go at once," I said. "We have a sail in the boat, and, though the distance between the islands is considerable, we may cross in a few hours from one to the other."

When we told the missionary what we intended to do, he strongly urged us to remain with him for a day or two, in the hope that the schooner might in the mean time return.

"The vessel may be on one side of the island, and you may be passing on the other and thus miss her," he observed.

I thanked him very much, but still told him that I was too anxious to commence our search to delay a moment longer than necessary. As the schooner carried another gig, my brother was certain to send on shore, should we miss each other, to inquire for us, and we agreed to return should we fail to find him.

"If you insist on going, I must beg you to allow me to supply you with provisions and water," said our kind friend, "and I must advise you to be very cautious in attempting to land on any of the islands. You must remember that they are inhabited by treacherous races, on whom no dependence can be placed. It will be better to endure hunger and thirst than to run the risk of being clubbed, should you land among hostile natives."

I again thanked him heartily for his kindness, and assured him that we would be as cautious as necessary. Bidding him and his companion and their wives farewell, we went down to the boat, accompanied by a number of natives carrying the provisions with which we had been furnished. Our boat was launched, and we put to sea.

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