Willis the Pilot by Johanna Spyri
Eighteen Hundred and Twelve--The Mary--Count Ugolino--The Sources of Rivers--The Alps demolished--No more Pyrenees--The First Ship--Admiral Noah--Fleets of the Israelites--The Compass--Printing--Gunpowder--Actium and Salamis--Dido and Ĉolus--Steam--Don Garay and Roger Bacon--Melchthal, Furst, and William Tell--Going a-pleasuring--Upset versus blown up--A Dead Calm--The Log--Willis's Archipelago--The Island of Sophia--The Bread Fruit-tree--Natives of Polynesia--Striped Trowsers--Abduction of Willis--Is he to be Roasted or Boiled?--When the Wine is poured out, we must Drink it.
At the date of the events narrated in the preceeding chapter, comparatively little was known of Oceania, that is, of the islands and continents that are scattered about the Pacific Ocean. Most of them had been discovered, named, and marked correctly enough in the charts, but beyond this all was supposition, hypothesis, and mystery. The mighty empire of England in the east was then only in its infancy, Sutteeism and Thuggism were still rampant on the banks of the Ganges, but the power of the descendants of the Great Mogul was on the wane. California was only known as the hunting-ground of a savage race of wild Indians. The now rich and flourishing colonies of Australia were represented by the convict settlement of Sydney. The Dutch had asserted that the territory of New Holland was utterly uninhabitable, and this was still the belief of the civilized world; nor was it without considerable opposition on the part of soi-disant philanthropists that the English government succeeded in establishing a prison depot on what at the time was considered the sole spot in that vast territory susceptible of cultivation. At the present time, these formerly-despised regions send one hundred tons of pure gold to England. The political state of Europe itself had at this time assumed a singular aspect. Napoleon had made himself master of nearly all the continental states; Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, and a part of Germany were at his feet; and, by the Peace of Tilsit, he had secured the cooperation of Alexander, Emperor of Russia, in his schemes to ruin the trade and commerce of Great Britain. England, by her opportune seizure of the Danish fleet, broke up the first great northern confederacy that was formed against her. This act, though much impugned by the politicians of the day, is now known not only to have been perfectly justifiable, but also highly creditable to the political foresight of Canning and Castlereagh, by whom it was suggested, to say nothing of the daring and boldness that Nelson displayed in executing the manoeuvre. When news of this event reached the Russian Emperor it threw him into a paroxysm of rage, and he declared war against England in violent language. He had the insolence to make peace with France the sina qua non of his friendship. At the distance of nearly half a century, the actual language employed has a peculiar flavor. The emperor, after detailing his grievances, declares that henceforth there shall be no connection between the two countries, and calls on his Britannic Majesty to dismiss his ministers, and conclude a peace forthwith. The British Government replied to this by ordering Nelson to set sail forthwith for the mouth of the Neva. A bitter and scorching manifesto was at the time forwarded to the emperor. It accused him flatly of duplicity, and boldly defied him and all his legions. The whole document is well worthy of perusal in these lackadaisical times. It is dated Westminister, December 18, 1807. It sets forth anew the principles of maritime war, which England had then rigidly in force. Napoleon had declared the whole of the British Islands in a state of blockade. The British Government replied by blockading de facto the whole of Europe. This was done by those celebrated orders in council, which, more than anything else, precipitated the downfall of Napoleon. They threw the trade of the world into the hands of England. Of course, Russia was deeply affected, so was Spain and all the other maritime states; and they were all, one way or another, in open hostility with this country. But England laughed all their threats to scorn; and in the whole history of the country, there was not a more brilliant period in her eventful history. She stood alone against the world in arms. Even the blusterings of the United States were unheeded, and in no degree disturbed her stern equanimity. She saw the road to victory, and resolved to pursue it. But England then had great statesmen, and, of them all, Lord Castlereagh was the greatest, although he served a Prince Regent who cared no more for England or the English people, than the Irish member, who, when reproached for selling his country, thanked God that he had a country to sell.
At length the ill-will of the Americans resolved itself into open warfare, and the United States was numbered with the overt enemies of England. This resulted in British troops marching up to Washington and burning the Capitol, or Congress House, about the ears of the members who had stirred up the strife. Meanwhile, all the islands of France in the east and west had been taken possession of; the British flag waved on the Spanish island of Cuba, and in the no less valuable possessions of Holland, in Java. Everywhere on the ocean England held undisputed sway. This state of things gave rise to one great evil--the sea swarmed with cruisers and privateers, English, French, and American; so that no vessel, unless sailing under convoy, heavily armed, or a very swift sailer, but ran risk of capture.
The Mary--for so Fritz now called the pinnace--had been ten days at sea, the wind had died away, and for some time scarcely a zephyr had ruffled the surface of the water, the sails were lazily flapping against the mast, and but for the currents, the voyagers would have been almost stationary. It may readily be supposed that, under such circumstances, their progress was somewhat slow, and, as Jack observed, to judge from their actual rate of sailing, they ought to have started when very young, in order to arrive at the termination of the voyage before they became bald-headed old men.
They prayed for a breeze, a gale, or even a storm; their fresh water was beginning to get sour, and they reflected that, if the calm continued any length of time, their provisions would eventually run short, and the ordinary resource of eating one another would stare them in the face. Jack, being the youngest, would probably disappear first, next Fritz, then Willis would be left to eat himself, in order to avoid dying of hunger, just as the unfortunate Count Ugolino devoured his own children to save them from orphanage.
As yet, however, there were no symptoms of such a dire disaster; they were in excellent health and tolerable spirits; they had provisions enough to last them for six months at least, and consequently had not as yet, at all events, the slightest occasion to manifest a tendency to anthropophagism.
"I can understand the sea," remarked Jack, "as I understand the land and the sky; God created them, that is enough; but I cannot understand how a mighty river like the Nile or the Ganges can continue eternally discharging immense deluges of water into the sea without becoming exhausted. From what fathomless reservoirs do the Amazon and the Mississippi receive their endless torrents?"
"The reservoirs of the greatest rivers," replied Fritz, "are nothing more than drops of water that fall from the crevice of some rock on or near the summit of a hill; these are collected together in a pool or hollow, from which they issue in the form of a slender rivulet. At first, the smallest pebble is sufficient to arrest the course of this thread of water; but it turns upon itself, gathers strength, finally surmounts the obstacle, dashes over it, unites itself with other rivulets, reaches the plain, scoops out a bed, and goes on, as you say, for ever emptying its waters into the sea."
"Yes; but it is the source of these sources that I want to know the origin of. You speak of hills, whilst we know that water naturally, by reason of its weight and fluidity; seeks to secrete itself in the lowest beds of the earth."
"It is scarcely necessary for me to observe that water may come down a hill, although it never goes up. Rain, snow, dew, and generally all the vapors that fall from the atmosphere, furnish the enormous masses of water that are constantly flowing into the sea. The vapor alone that is absorbed in the air from the sea is more than sufficient to feed all the rivers on the face of the earth. Mountains, by their formation, arrest these vapors, collect them in a hole here and in a cavern there, and permit them to filter by a million of threads from rock to rock, fertilizing the land and nourishing the rivers that intersect it. If, therefore, you were to suppress the Alps that rise between France and Italy, you would, at the same time, extinguish the Rhone and the Po."
"It would be a pity to do that," said Jack; "there was a time though when there were no Pyrenees."
"That must have been, then, at a period prior to the formation of granite, which is esteemed the oldest of rocks."
"No such thing," insisted Jack; "it was so late as 1713, when, by the peace of Utrecht, the crown of Spain was secured to the Duke of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV."
"Howsomever," remarked Willis, "all the mariners in the French fleet could not convince me that the Pyrenean mountains are only a hundred years old."
"My brother is only speaking metaphorically," said Fritz; "when the crown of Spain was assigned to the Duke of Anjou, his grandfather said--Qu il n'y avait plus de Pyrenees. He meant by that simply, that France and Spain being governed by the same prince, the moral barrier between them existed no longer. The formidable mountains still stood for all that, and he who removes them would certainly be possessed of extraordinary power."
"I am always putting my foot in it," said Willis, "when the yarn is about the land; let us talk of the sea for a bit. Who built the first ship?"
"Well," replied Fritz, "I should say that the first ship was the ark."
"Whence we may infer," added Jack, "that Noah was the first admiral."
"We learn from the Scriptures," continued Fritz, "that the first navigators were the children of Noah, and it appears from profane history that the earliest attempts at navigation were manifested near where the ark rested; consequently, we may fairly presume that the art of ship-building arose from the traditions of the deluge and the ark."
"In that case, the art in question dates very far back."
"Yes, since it dates from 2348 years before the birth of Christ; but the human race degenerated, the traditions were forgotten, and navigation was confined to planks, rafts, bark canoes, or the trunk of a tree hollowed out by fire."
"That is the sort of craft used by the inhabitants of Polynesia at the present day," remarked Willis.
"It appears, however, by the Book of Job, that pirates existed in those days, and that they went to sea in ships and captured merchantmen, which proves, to a certain extent, that there were merchantmen to conquer. We know also that David and Solomon equipped large fleets, and even fought battles on sea."
"Whether an ancient or modern, a Jew or a Gentile," said Willis, "he must have been a brave fellow who launched the first ship, and risked himself and his goods at sea in it."
"True," continued Fritz; "but when once the equilibrium of a floating body was known, there would be no longer any risk; as soon as it came to be understood that any solid body would float if it were lighter than its bulk of water, the matter was simple enough."
"Very good," interrupted Jack; "but the words 'when' and 'as soon as' imply a great deal; when, or as soon as, we know anything, the mystery of course disappears. But before! there is the difficulty. Particles of water do not cohere--how is it, then, that a ship of war, that often weighs two millions of pounds, does not sink through them, and go to the bottom? Individuals, like myself for example, who are not members of a learned society, may be pardoned for not knowing how water bears the weight of a seventy-four."
"The seventy-four would, most undoubtedly, sink if it were heavier than the weight of water it displaced; but this is not the case; wood is generally lighter than water."
"The wood, yes; but the cannon, the cargo, and the crew?"
"You forget the cabooses, the cockpits, and the cabins, that do not weigh anything. Allowing for everything, the weight of a ship, cargo and all, is much lighter than its bulk of water, and consequently it cannot sink."
"But how is it, then, that the immense bulk of a seventy-four moves so easily in the water? One would think that its prodigious weight would make it stick fast, and continue immoveable."
"When the seventy-four in question has displaced its weight of water, its own weight is substituted for the water, and is in consequence virtually annihilated; it does not, in point of fact, weigh anything at all, and therefore is easily impelled by the wind."
"When there is any, understood," added Jack.
"And a yard or so of canvas," suggested Willis.
"True," continued Fritz, "a sail or two would be very desirable; these instruments of propulsion do not appear, however, to have been used by the ancients. We first hear of a sail being employed at the time when Isis went in search of her husband Osiris, who was killed by his brother Typhon, and whose quarters were scattered in the Nile. This lady, it seems, took off the veil that covered her head, and fastened it to an upright shaft stuck in the middle of the boat, and, much to her astonishment, it impelled her onwards at a marvellous speed."
"A clever young woman that," said Willis; "but I doubt whether veils would answer the purpose on board a seventy-four, particularly as regards the mainsail and mizentops."
"The Phoenicians were the most enterprising of the early navigators. They appeared to have sailed round Africa without a compass, for they embarked on the Red Sea and reappeared at the mouth of the Nile, and the compass was not invented till the fourteenth century."
"And who was the inventor of the compass?" inquired Willis.
"According to some authorities, it was invented by a Neapolitan named Jean Goya; according to others, the inventor was a certain Hugues de Bercy."
"Then," said Jack, "you do not admit the claims of the Chinese and Hindoos, who assert priority in the discovery?"
"I neither deny nor admit their claims, because I do not know the grounds upon which they are founded; like the invention of gunpowder and printing, the discovery of the compass has many rival claimants."
"I am of opinion," said Jack, "that Guttenberg is entitled to the honor of discovering printing, and that Berthold Schwartz invented gunpowder."
"Perhaps you are right; but there is scarcely any invention of importance that has not two or three names fastened to it as inventors; they stick to it like barnacles, and there is no way to shake any of them off. So, in the case of illustrious men, nations dispute the honor of giving them birth; there are six or seven towns in Asia Minor that claim to be the birth-place of Homer. National vanities justly desire to possess the largest amount of genius; hence, no sooner does anything useful make its appearance in the world, than half a dozen nations or individuals start up to claim it as their offspring. The wisest course, under such circumstances, is to side with the best accredited opinion, which I have done in the case of the compass."
"It was no joke," said Willis, "to circumnavigate Africa without a compass."
"You are quite right, Willis, if you judge the navigation of those days by the modern standard; but it is to be borne in mind that the ancients never lost sight of the coast. They steered from cape to promontory, and from promontory to cape, dropping their anchor every night and remaining well in-shore till morning. If by accident they were driven out into the open sea, and the stars happened to be hidden by fog or clouds, they were lost beyond recovery, even though within a day's sail of a harbor; because, whilst supposing they were making for the coast, they might, in all probability, be steering in precisely the opposite direction."
"It is certainly marvellous," said Jack, "that a piece of iron stuck upon a board should be a safe and sure guide to the mariner through the trackless ocean, even when the stars are enveloped in obscurity and darkness!"
"It is a symbol of faith," remarked Willis, "that supplies the doubts and incertitudes of reason."
"As for the ships, or rather galleys, of the ancients," continued Fritz, "with the exception of the ambitious fleets of the Greeks and Romans that fought at Salamis and Actium, one of the modern ships of war could sweep them all out of the sea with its rudder."
"Yes," said Jack, "at the period of which you speak, the ancients possessed a great advantage over us. The winds in those days were personages, and were very well known; they were called Aeolus, Boreas, and so forth. They were to be found in caves or islands, and, if treated with civility, were remarkably condescending. Queen Dido, through one of these potentates, obtained contrary winds, to prevent Aeneas from leaving her."
"By the way," said Willis, "there is, or at least was, in one of the Scottish rivers, a ship without either oars or sails."
"Yes, very likely; but it did not move."
"It did though, and, what is more, against both wind and tide."
"I wish we had your wonderful ship here just now, it is just the thing to suit us under present circumstances," said Jack.
"So it would, Master Jack, for it sails against currents, up rivers, and the crew care no more about the wind than I do about the color of the clouds when I am lighting my pipe."
"You don't happen to mean that the Flying Dutchman has appeared on the Scotch coast, do you, Willis?"
"Not a bit of it, I mean just exactly what I say. It is a real ship, with a real stern and a real figure-head, but manned by blacksmiths instead of mariners."
"Well, but how does it move? Does somebody go behind and push it, or is it dragged in front by sea-horses and water-kelpies?"
"No, it moves by steam."
"Aye, there lies the mystery. The affair has often been discussed by us sailors on board ship; some have suggested one way and some another."
"Neither of which throws much light on the subject," observed Jack; "at least, in so far as we are concerned."
"All I can tell you," said Willis, "is, that the steam is obtained by boiling water in a large cauldron, and that the power so obtained is very powerful."
"That it certainly is, if it could be controlled, for steam occupies seventeen or eighteen hundred times the space of the water in its liquid state; but then, if the vessel that contains the boiling water has no outlet, the steam will burst it."
"It appears that it can be prevented doing that, though," replied Willis, "even though additional heat be applied to the vapor itself."
"By heating the steam, the vapor may acquire a volume forty thousand times greater than that of the water; all that is well known; but as soon as it comes in contact with the air, nothing is left of it but a cloud, which collapses again into a few drops of water."
"That may be all very true, Master Fritz, if the steam were allowed to escape into the air; but it is only permitted to do that after it has done duty on board ship. It appears that steam is very elastic, and may be compressed like India-rubber, but has a tendency to resist the pressure and set itself free. Imagine, for example, a headstrong young man, for a long time kept in restraint by parental control, suddenly let loose, and allowed scope to follow the bent of his own inclinations."
"Very good, Willis; for argument's sake, let us take your headstrong young man, or rather the steam, for granted, and let us admit that it is as elastic as ever you please--but what then?"
"Then you must imagine a piston in a cylinder, forced upwards when the steam is heated, and falling downwards when the steam is cooled. Next fancy this upward and downward motion regulated by a number of wheels and cranks that turn two wheels on each side of the ship, keeping up a constant jangling and clanking, the wheels or paddles splashing in the water, and then you may form a slight idea of the thing."
"Oh!" cried Jack, "we invented a machine of that kind for our canoe, with a turnspit. Do you recollect it, Fritz?"
"Yes, I recollect it well enough; and I also recollect that the canoe went much better without than with it."
"You spoke just now," continued Willis, "of rival nations, who pounce like birds of prey upon every new invention; and so it is with the steamship. An American, named Fulton, made a trial in the Hudson with one in 1807--that is about five years ago--and I believe the Yankees, in consequence, are laying claim to the invention."
"Now that you bring the thing to my recollection," said Fritz, "the idea of applying steam in the arts is by no means new, although, I must candidly admit, I never heard of it being used in propelling ships before. The Spaniards assert that a captain of one of their vessels, named Don Blas de Garay, discovered, as early as the sixteenth century, the art of making steam a motive power."
"I don't believe that," said Jack.
"Because a real Spaniard has never less than thirty-six words in his name. If you had said that the steam engine was discovered by Don Pedrillo y Alvares y Toledo y Concha y Alonzo y Martinez y Xacarillo, or something of that sort, then I could believe the man to have been a genuine Spaniard, but not otherwise."
"Spaniard or no Spaniard, the Spanish claim the discovery of steam through Don Blas; the Italians likewise claim the discovery for a mechanician, named Bianca; the Germans assign its discovery to Solomon de Causs; the French urge Denis Papin; and the English claim the invention for Roger Bacon."
"You have forgotten the Swiss," said Jack.
"The Swiss," replied Fritz, with an air of dignity, "put forward no candidate: steam and vapor and smoke are not much in their line. They discovered something infinitely better--the world is indebted to them for the invention of liberty. I mean rational, intelligent, and true liberty--not the savagery and mob tyranny of red republicanism. The three discoverers of this noble invention were Melchthal, Furst, and William Tell."
"You can have no idea," continued Willis, "of the stir that steam was creating in Europe the last time I was there. Of course there were plenty of incredulous people who said that it was no good; that it would never be of any use; and that if it were, it would not pay for the fuel consumed. On the other hand, the enthusiasts held that, eventually, it would be used for everything; that in the air we should have steam balloons; on the sea, steam ships, steam guns, and perhaps steam men to work them; that on land there would be steam coaches driven by steam horses. Journeys, say they, will be performed in no time, that is, as soon as you start for a place you arrive at it, just like an arrow, that no sooner leaves the bow than you see it stuck in the bull's eye."
"In that case," observed Jack, "it will be necessary to do away with respiration, as well as horses."
"A Londoner will be able to say to his wife, My dear, I am going to Birmingham to-day, but I will be back to dinner; and if a Parisian lights his cigar at Paris, it will burn till he arrives at Bordeaux."
"Holloa, Willis, you have fairly converted Fritz and me into marines at last."
"I am only speaking of what will be, not of what is--that makes all the difference you know. It is expected that there will be steam coaches on every turnpike-road; so that, instead of hiring a post-chaise, you will have to order a locomotive, and instead of postboys, you will to engage an engineer and stoker."
"Then, instead of saying, Put the horses to," remarked Jack, "we shall have to say, Get the steam up."
"Exactly; and when you go on a pleasure excursion, you will be whisked from one point to another without having time to see whether you pass through a desert or a flower-garden."
"What, then, is to become of adventures by the way, road-side inns, and banditti?"
"All to be suppressed."
"So it appears," said Jack; "men are to be carried about from place to place like flocks of sheep; perhaps they will invent steam dogs as well to run after stragglers, and bring them into the fold by the calf of the leg. Your new mode of going a-pleasuring may be a very excellent thing in its way, Willis; but it would not suit my taste."
"Probably not; nor mine either, for the matter of that, Master Jack."
"At all events," said Fritz, "you would run no danger of being upset on the road."
"No; but, by way of compensation, you may be blown up."
"True, I forgot that."
"This conversation has carried us along another knot," said Jack, opening the log, which he had been appointed to keep; "and now, by your leave, I will read over some of my entries to refresh your memories as to our proceedings.
"March 9th.--Wind fair and fresh--steered to north-west--a flock of seals under our lee bow--feel rather squeamish.
"10th.--No wind--fall in with a largish island and four little ones, give them the name of Willis's Archipelago.
"11th.--A dead calm--sea smooth as a mirror--all of us dull and sleepy.
"12th.--Heat 90 deg.--shot a boobie, roasted and ate him, rather fishy--passed the night amongst some reefs.
"13th.--Same as the 12th, but no boobie.
"14th.--Same as the 13th.
"Dreadfully tiresome, is it not," said Jack; "no wonder they call this ocean the Pacific."
"Alas!" sighed Willis, thinking of the Nelson, "it does not always justify the name."
"15th.--Hailed a low island, surrounded with breakers, named it Sophia's Island."
"But all these islands have been named half a dozen times already," said Willis.
"Oh, never mind that, another name or two will not break their backs."
"16th.--Current bearing us rapidly to westward--caught a sea cow, and had it converted into pemican.
"17th.--Shot another boobie, which we put in the pot to remind us that we were no worse off than the subjects of Henry IV. No wind--sea blazing like a furnace."
"You will have to turn over a new leaf in your log by-and-by," said Willis, "or I am very much mistaken."
"Well, I hope you are not mistaken, Willis, for I am tired of this sort of thing."
A red haze now began to shroud the sun, the heat of the air became almost stifling, but the muffled roar of distant thunder and bright flashes of light warned the voyagers to prepare for a change. Willis reefed the canvas close to the mast, and suggested that everything likely to spoil should be put under hatches. This was scarcely done before the storm had reached them, and they were soon in the midst of a tropical deluge. At first, a light breeze sprung up, blowing towards the south-east, which continued till midnight, when it chopped round. Towards morning, it blew a heavy gale from east to east-south-east, with a heavy sea running. In the meantime, the pinnace labored heavily, and several seas broke over her. Willis now saw that their only chance of safety lay in altering their course. All the canvas was already braced up except the jib, which was necessary to give the craft headway, and with this sail alone they were soon after speeding at a rapid rate in the direction of the Polynesian Islands. The gale continued almost without intermission for three weeks, during which period Willis considered they must have been driven some hundreds, of miles to the north-west.
The gale at length ceased, the sea resumed its tranquility, and the wind became favorable. The pinnace had, however, been a good deal battered by the storm, and their fresh water was getting low, and it was decided they should still keep a westerly course till they reached an island where they could refit before resuming their voyage.
"The gale has not done us much good," said Jack, sadly; "if it had blown the other way, we might have been in the Indian Ocean by this time."
"Cheer up," said Willis, taking the glass from his eye, "I see land about three miles to leeward, and the landing appears easy."
"But the savages?" inquired Jack.
"The islands of this latitude are not all inhabited," replied Fritz; "besides, under our present circumstances, we have no alternative but to take our chance with them."
"Well, I do not know that," objected Jack; "it would be better for us to do without fresh water than to run the risk of being eaten."
"What a beautiful coast!" cried Willis, who still kept the telescope at his eye. "Near the shore the land is flat, and appears cultivated; but behind, it rises gradually, and is closed in with a range of hills, covered with trees. There is a beautiful bay in front of us, which appears to invite us ashore. But the place is inhabited; the shore is strewn with huts, and I can see clumps of the bread-fruit tree growing near them."
"What sort of vegetable is the bread-fruit?" inquired Fritz.
"It is a very excellent thing, and supplies the natives with bread without the intervention of grain, flour-mills, or bakers. It can be eaten either raw, or baked, or boiled; either way, it is palatable. The tree itself is like our apple trees; but the fruit is as large as a pine-apple--when it is ripe, it is yellow and soft. The natives, however, generally gather it before it is ripe; it is then cooked in an oven; the skin is burnt or peeled off--the inside is tender and white, like the crumb of bread or the flour of the potato."
"Let me have the telescope an instant," said Fritz; "I should like to see what the natives are like. Ah, I see a troop of them collecting on shore; some of them seem to be covered with a kind of wrought-steel armor."
"Perhaps the descendants of the Crusaders," remarked Jack, "returning from the Holy Land by way of the Pacific Ocean!"
"Others wear striped pantaloons," continued Fritz.
"That is to say," observed Willis, "the whole lot of them are as naked as posts. What you suppose to be cuirasses and pantaloons, are their tabooed breasts and legs."
"Are you sure of that, Willis?"
"Not a doubt about it."
"Such garments are both durable and economical," remarked Jack; "but I scarcely think they are suitable for stormy weather. But do you think it is safe to land amongst such a set of barebacked rascals, Willis?"
"I should not like to take the responsibility of guaranteeing our safety; but I do not see what other course we can adopt."
They had now approached within musket-shot of the shore. They could see that a venerable-looking old man stood a few paces in front of the group of natives. He held a green branch in one hand, and pressed with the other a long flowing white beard to his breast.
"According to universal grammar," said Jack, "these signs should mean peace and amity."
"Yes," replied the Pilot; "the more so that the rear-guard are pouring water on their heads, which is the greatest mark of courtesy the natives of Polynesia can show to strangers."
"Gentlemen," cried Jack, taking off his cap and making a low bow, "we are your most obedient servants."
"We must be on our guard," said Willis; "these savages are very deceitful, and sometimes let fly their arrows under a show of friendship. I will go on shore alone, whilst you keep at a little distance off, ready to fire to cover my retreat, if need be."
The young men objected to Willis incurring danger that they did not share; but on this point Willis was inexorable, so they were obliged to suffer him to depart alone. By good chance, they had shipped a small cask of glass beads on board the pinnace. The Pilot took a few of these with him, and, placing a cask and a couple of calabashes in the canoe, he rowed ashore.
The natives were evidently in great commotion; there was an immense amount of running backwards and forwards. Something important was, obviously enough, going forward; but, whether the excitement was caused by curiosity or admiration, it was hard to say. They might be preparing a friendly reception for the stranger, or they might be preparing to eat him--which of the two was an interesting question that Willis did not care about probing too deeply at that particular moment.
Fritz and Jack anxiously watched the operations of the natives from the bay. They could not with safety abandon the pinnace; but to leave Willis to the mercy of the sinister-looking people on shore was not to be thought of either. The Mary was, therefore, run in as close as possible, and Jack leaped on the sands a few minutes after the Pilot.
Willis marched boldly on towards the natives, and when he arrived beside the old man, the crowd opened up and formed an avenue through which a chief advanced, followed by a number of men, seemingly priests, who carried a grotesque-looking figure that Jack presumed to be an idol. The figure was made up of wicker-work--was of colossal height--the features, which represented nothing on earth beneath nor heaven above, were inconceivably hideous--the eyes were discs of mother-of-pearl, with a nut in the centre--the teeth were apparently those of a shark, and the body was covered with a mantle of red feathers.
At the command of the chief, some of the natives advanced and placed a quantity of bananas, bread-fruits, and other vegetables at the Pilot's feet; the priests then came forward and knelt down before him, and seemed to worship after the fashion of the ancients when they paid their devotions to the Eleusinian goddess, or the statue of Apollo. Meanwhile, Jack, on his side, was likewise surrounded by the natives, who was treated with much less ceremony than Willis. Instead of falling down on their knees, each of them, one after the other, rubbed their noses against his, and then danced round him with every demonstration of savage joy.
Jack had now an opportunity of observing the personages about him more in detail. They were mostly tall and well-formed; their features bore some resemblance to those of a negro, their nose being flat and their lips thick; on the other hand, they had the high cheek-bones of the North American Indian and the forehead of the Malay. Nearly all of them were entirely naked, but wore a necklace and bracelets of shells. They were armed with a sort of spear and an axe of hard wood edged with stone. Their skins were tattooed all over with lines and circles, and painted; these decorations, in some instances, exhibiting careful execution and no inconsiderable degree of artistic skill. These observations made, Jack pushed his way to the spot where Willis was receiving the homage of the priests.
"What! you here?" said the Pilot.
"Yes, Willis, I have come to see what detained you. By the way, is there anything the matter with my nose?"
"Nothing that I can see; but the natives of New Zealand rub their noses against each other, and probably the same usage is fashion here."
"Why, then, do they make you an exception?"
"I have not the remotest idea."
The priests at length rose, and the chief advanced. This dignitary addressed a long discourse to Willis in a sing-song tone, which lasted nearly half an hour. After this, he stood aside, and looked at Willis, as if he expected a reply.
"Illustrious chief, king, prince, or nabob," said Willis, "I am highly flattered by all the fine things you have just said to me. It is true, I have not understood a single word, but the fruits you have placed before me speak a language that I can understand. Howsomever, most mighty potentate, we are not in want of provisions; but if you can show us a spring of good water, you will confer upon us an everlasting favor."
"You might just as well ask him to show you what o'clock it is by the dial of his cathedral," said Jack.
"They would only point to the sun if I did."
"But suppose the sun invisible."
"Then they would be in the same position as we are when we forget to wind up our watches. Gentlemen savages," he said, turning to the natives and handing them the glass beads, "accept these trifles as a token of our esteem."
The natives required no pressing, but accepted the proffered gifts with great good-will. The dancing and singing then recommenced with redoubled fury, and poor Jack's nose was almost obliterated by the constant rubbing it underwent.
Suddenly the hubbub ceased, and a profound silence reigned throughout the assembly. The oldest of the priests brought a mantle of red feathers, similar to the one that covered the idol. This was thrown over the Pilot's shoulders; a tuft of feathers, something resembling a funeral plume, was placed upon his head, and a large semi-circular fan was thrust into his hand. Thus equipped, a procession was formed, one half before and the other half behind him. The cortege began to move slowly in the direction of the interior, but the operation was disconcerted by Willis, who remained stock-still.
"Thank you," he said, "I would rather not go far away from the shore."
As soon as the natives saw clearly that Willis was not disposed to move, the chief issued a mandate, and four stout fellows immediately removed the idol from its position, and Willis was placed upon the vacant pedestal.
The kind of adoration with which all these proceedings were accompanied greatly perplexed the voyagers. What could it all mean? Was this a common mode of welcoming strangers? It occurred to Jack that the Romans were accustomed to decorate with flowers the victims they designed as sacrifices to the altars of their gods before immolating them. This reminiscence made his flesh creep with horror, and filled him with the utmost dismay.
"Willis!" he cried to the Pilot, whom they were now leading off in triumph, "let us try the effects of our rifles on this rabble; you jump over the heads of your worshippers, and we will charge through them to shore. I will shoot the first man that pursues us, and signal Fritz to discharge the four-pounder amongst them."
"Impossible," replied Willis; "we should both be stuck all over with arrows and lances before we could reach the pinnace. Did I not tell you not to come ashore?"
"True, Willis, but did you suppose I had no heart? How could I look on quietly whilst you were surrounded by a mob of ferocious-looking men?"
"Well, well, Master Jack, say no more about it; I do not suppose they mean to do me any harm; but there would be danger in rousing the passions of such a multitude of people. They seem, luckily, to direct their attentions exclusively to me, so you had better go back and look after the canoe."
"No; I shall follow you wherever you go, Willis, even into the soup-kettles of the wretches."
"In that case," said Willis, "the wine is poured out, and, such as it is, we must drink it."