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The Tapu Of Banderah

Louis Becke

  Produced by David Widger


  By Louis Becke

  C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.



  As the rising sun had just begun to pierce the misty tropic haze ofearly dawn, a small, white-painted schooner of ninety or a hundred tonsburden was bearing down upon the low, densely-wooded island of Mayou,which lies between the coast of south-east New Guinea and the murderousSolomon Group--the grave of the white man in Melanesia.

  The white population of Mayou was not large, for it consisted only ofan English missionary and his wife--who was, of course, a white woman--aGerman trader named Peter Schwartzkoff and his native wife; an Englishtrader named Charlie Blount, with his two half-caste sons and daughters;and an American trader and ex-whaler, named Nathaniel Burrowes, with hiswives.

  Although the island is of large extent, and of amazing fertility, thenative population was at this time comparatively small, numbering onlysome three thousand souls. They nearly all lived at the south-west endof the island, the rendezvous of the few trading ships that visited theplace. Occasionally a surveying vessel, and, at longer intervals still,a labour-recruiting ship from Hawaii or Fiji, would call. At such timesthe monotony of the lives of the white residents of Mayou was pleasantlybroken. Once a year, too, a missionary vessel would drop anchor in thelittle reef-bound port, but her visit was of moment only to the Rev. Mr.Deighton, his wife, and their native converts, and the mission ship'spresence in the harbour was taken no notice of by the three whitetraders; for a missionary ship is not always regarded by the averagetrader in the South Seas as a welcome visitor.

  Almost with the rising of the sun the vessel had been sighted from theshore by a party of natives, who were fishing off the south end of theisland, and in a few minutes their loud cries reached other natives onshore, and by them was passed on from house to house along the beachtill it reached the town itself. From there, presently, came a deepsonorous shout, "_Evaka! Evaka!_" ("A ship! A ship!"), and then theyswarmed out of their thatched dwellings like bees from a hive andran, laughing and shouting together, down to the beach in front of thevillage.

  As the clamour increased, the Rev. Wilfrid Deighton opened the door ofhis study and stepped out upon the shady verandah of the mission house,which stood upon a gentle, palm-covered rise about five hundred yardsfrom the thickly clustering houses of the native village. He was a tall,thin man with a scanty brown beard, and his face wore a wearied, anxiousexpression. His long, lean body, coarse, toil-worn hands, and shabbyclothing indicated, too, that the lines of the Rev. Wilfrid had not beencast in a pleasant place when he chose the wild, unhealthy island ofMayou as the field of his labours. But if he showed bodily traces of thehard, continuous toil he had undergone during the seven years' residenceamong the people of Mayou, his eye was still full of the fire of thatnoble missionary spirit which animated the souls of such earnest menas Moffat and Livingstone, and Williams of Erromanga, and Gordon ofKhartoum. For he was an enthusiast, who believed in his work; and so didhis wife, a pretty, faded little woman of thirty, with a great yearningto save souls, though at times she longed to return to the comfortsand good dinners of semi-civilisation in other island groups nearer theoutside world she had been away from so long.

  The missionary stepped out on the verandah, and shaded his eyes fromthe glare with his rough, sun-tanned hands, as he looked seaward at theadvancing vessel. Soon his wife followed him and placed her hand on hisshoulder.

  "What is it, Wilfrid? Surely not the _John Hunt_. She is not due formonths yet."

  "Not her, certainly, Alice," he answered, "and not a trading vesseleither, I should think. She looks more like a yacht Perhaps she may be anew man-of-war schooner. However, we will soon see. Put on your hat, mydear, and let us go down to the beach. Already Blount, Schwartzkoff, andBurrowes have gone; and it certainly would not do for me to remain inthe background when the newcomers land."

  Mrs. Deighton, her pale face flushing with gentle excitement at theprospect of meeting Europeans, quickly retired to her room, and makinga rapid toilette, rejoined her husband, who, white umbrella in hand,awaited her at the gate.

  * * * * *

  "Good morning, gentlemen," said the reverend gentleman, a few minuteslater, as, accompanied by Mrs. Deighton, he joined the three whitetraders, "what vessel is it? Have you any idea?"

  "None at all," answered Blount, with a short nod to Mr. Deighton, butlifting his leaf hat to his wife, "we were just wondering ourselves.Doesn't look like a trader--more like a gunboat."

  Meantime the schooner had worked her way in through the passage, and,surrounded by a fleet of canoes, soon brought up and anchored. Hersails were very quickly handled, then almost as soon as she swung to heranchor a smart, white-painted boat was lowered, and the people on shoresaw the crew haul her up to the gangway ladder.

  Presently a white man, who, by his dress, was an officer of the ship,followed by another person in a light tweed suit and straw hat, enteredthe boat, which then pushed off and was headed for the shore. As sheapproached nearer, the traders and the missionary could see that thecrew were light-skinned Polynesians, dressed in blue cotton jumpers,white duck pants, and straw hats. The officer--who steered with asteer-oar--wore a brass-bound cap and brass-buttoned jacket, and everynow and then turned to speak to the man in the tweed suit, who satsmoking a cigar beside him.

  "By jingo! she's a yacht, I believe," said Charlie Blount, who hadbeen keenly watching the approaching boat; "I'm off. I don't want tobe bothered with people of that sort--glorified London drapers, who ask'Have you--ah--got good shooting heah?'"

  Then turning on his heel, he raised his hat to Mrs. Deighton, nodded tothe other white men, and sauntered along the beach to his house.

  "I guess Blount's kinder set again meetin' people like these," saidBurrowes, nodding in the direction of the boat and addressing himself toMr. and Mrs. Deighton. "Reckon they might be some all-powerful Britishswells he knew when he was one himself. Guess they won't scare _me_ acent's worth."

  "Id was brober dadt he should veel so," remarked the German; "if someYerman shentle-mans vas to come here und zee me dresd like vom dirtysailor mans, den I too vould get me home to mein house und say nodings."

  "My friends," said Mr. Deighton, speaking reproachfully, yet secretlypleased at Blount's departure, "no man need feel ashamed at meeting hiscountrymen on account of the poverty of his attire; I am sure thatthe sight of an English gentleman is a very welcome one to me and Mrs.Deighton."

  "Wal," said Burrowes with easy but not offensive familiarity, "I guess,parson, thet you and Mrs. Deighton hed better form yourselves intera committee of welcome, and tell them so; I ain't much in the politespeechifying line myself, neither is 'Schneider' here," nodding at theGerman, "and you can sling in somethin' ornymental 'bout me bein' therepresentative of the United States--a gentleman a-recrootin' ofhis health in the South Sea Islands doorin' a perlitercal crisis inWashington."

  By this time the boat had run her bows up on to the white, sandy beach,and the straw-hatted, tweed-suited gentleman jumped lightly out Takingoff his hat with a graceful, circular sweep, which included every one onthe beach, white and native, he said with languid politeness--

  "Good-day, gentlemen; I scarcely hoped to have the pleasure of meetingEuropeans at this place--and certainly never imagined that pleasurewould be enhanced by the presence of a lady," he added as he caughtsight of Mrs. Deighton standing apart some little distance from theothers.

  "I am pleased to meet you, sir," said the missionary, constitutinghimself spokesman for the others; "you are welcome, sir, very welcome toMayou, and to anything that it lies in our power to furnish you withfor your--schooner, or should I say yacht, for such, by her
handsomeappearance, I presume she is."

  The visitor, who was a handsome, fair-haired man, with a blondemoustache and blue eyes, bowed his thanks, and then said, "May I havethe honour to introduce myself. My name is De Vere."

  "And I am the Rev. Wilfrid Deighton, missionary in charge of thisisland. My two----" (here he hesitated a moment before the next word)"friends are Mr. Peter Schwartzkoff and Mr. Nathaniel Burrowes."

  "Delighted to meet you," said Mr. de Vere, bowing politely to the lady,but extending a white, shapely hand to the men; "and now I must tell youthat I shall be very glad to avail myself, Mr. Deighton, of your kindoffer. We are in want of water, and anything in the way of vegetables,etcetera, that we can get. We intend, however, to stay here a few daysand refit. Having been in very bad weather coming through the southernpart of the Solomon Group we must effect repairs."

  "Might I inquire, mister," asked Burrowes, "ef your vessel is a trader,or jest a pleasure schooner, as the parson here says?"

  "Mr. Deighton is quite correct," said Mr. de Vere, with another gracefulbow; "the _Starlight_ is a yacht I can quite understand your not beingable to make her out She was originally built for the navy as a gunboat,but was sold in Sydney, after some years' service. I bought her and hadher altered into a yacht to cruise about these delightful and beautifulSouth Sea Islands. My friend, the Honourable John Morcombe-Lycett,accompanies me. Our English yachting experience had much to do with ourdetermination to make a cruise down here. In fact," and here Mr. de Vereshowed his white, even teeth in a smile, and stroked his drooping blondemoustache, "we left London with the intention of chartering a vessel inSydney for a cruise among the islands. Mr. Morcombe-Lycett is, however,very unwell to-day, and so has not landed, but here am I; and I am veryhappy indeed to make your acquaintance."

  Then, turning towards the boat, he called out to the officer who hadbrought him, "Come ashore for me at dinner-time, Captain Sykes."