Tahiti - Storm On The Lagoon
( Originally Published 1921 )
The storm on the lagoon; Making safe the schooners—A talk on missing ships-A singular coincidence—Arrival of three of crew of the ship-wrecked El Dorado—The Dutchman's story—Easter Island.
IT blew a gale all one day and night from the north, and at break of the second day, when I went down the rue de Rivoli from the Tiare Hotel to the quay, the lagoon was a wild scene. Squall after squall had dashed the rain upon my verandas during the night, and I could faintly hear the voices of the men on the schooners as they strove to fend their vessels from the coral embankment, or hauled at anchor-ropes to get more sea-room.
The sun did not rise, but a gray sky showed the flying scud tearing at the trees and riggings, and the boom of the surf on the reef was like the roaring of a great steel-mill at full blast. The roadway was littered with branches and the crimson leaves of the flamboyants. The people were hurrying to and from market in vehicles and on foot, soaked and anxious-looking as they struggled against the wind and rain. I walked the length of the built-up waterfront. The little boats were being pulled out from the shore by the several launches, and were making fast to buoys or putting down two and three anchors a hundred fathoms away from the quays.
The storm increased all the morning, and at noon, when I looked at the barometer in the Cercle Bougainville it was 29.51, the lowest, the skippers said, in seven years. The William Olsen, a San Francisco barkertine, kedged out into the lagoon as fast as possible, and through the tearing sheets of rain I glimpsed other vessels reaching for a holding-ground. The Fetia Taiao had made an anchorage a thousand feet toward the reef. The waves were hammering against the quays, and the lagoon was white with fury.
In the club, after all had been made secure, the skippers and managers of trading houses gathered to discuss the weather. Tahiti is not so subject to disastrous storms as are the Paumotu Islands and the waters to-ward China and Japan, yet every decade or two a tidal wave sweeps the lowlands and does great injury. Though this occurs but seldom, when the barometer falls low, the hearts of the owners of property and of the people who have experienced a disaster of this kind sink. The tides in this group of islands are different from anywhere else in the world I know of in that they ebb and flow with unchanging regularity, never varying in time from one year's end to another.
Full tide comes at noon and midnight, and ebb at six in the morning and six in the evening, and the sun rises and sets between half past five and half past six o'clock. There is hardly any twilight, because of the earth's fast rotation in the tropics. This is a fixity, observed by whites for more than a century, and. told the first seamen here by the natives as a condition existing always. Another oddity of the tides is that they are almost inappreciable, the difference between high and low tide hardly ever exceeding two feet. But every six months or so a roaring tide rolls in from far at sea, and, sweeping with violence over the reef, breaks on the beach. Now was due such a wave, and its possibilities of height and destruction caused lively argument between the traders and the old salts. More than a dozen retired seamen, mostly-Frenchmen, found their Snug Harbor in the Cercle Bougainville, where liberty, equality, and fraternity had their home, and where Joseph bounded when orders for the figurative splicing of the main brace came from the tables.
George Goeltz, a sea-rover, who had cast his anchor in the club after fifty years of equatorial voyaging, was, on account of his seniority, knowledge of wind and reef, and, most of all, his never-failing bonhommie, keeper of barometer, thermometer, telescopes, charts, and records. When I had my jorum of the eminent physician's Samoan prescription before me, I harkened to the wisdom of the mariners.
Captain. William Pincher, who had at my first meeting informed me he was known as Lying Bill, explained to me that some ignorant landsmen stated that this tidal regularity was caused by the steady drift of the trade winds at certain hours of the day.
"That don't go," said he, "for the tides are the same whether there 's a gale o' wind or a calm. I 've seen the tide 'ighest 'ere in Papeete when there was n't wind to fill a jib, and right 'ere on the leeward side of the bloody island, sheltered from the breeze. How about it at night, too, when the trade quits? The bleedin' tide rises and falls just the same at just the same time. Those trades don't even push the tidal waves because they always come from the west'ard, and the trades are from the east."
"I can look out of the veranda of this Cercle Bougainville and tell you what time it is to a quarter of an hour any day in the year just by looking at the shore or the reef and seein' where the water is," said Goeltz. "You can't do that any place on the globe except in this group."
A beneficent nature has considered the white visitor in this concern, for he can go upon the reef to look for its treasures at low tide, at sun-up or sunfall, when it is cool.
We fell to talking about missing ships, and Goeltz insisted on Lying Bill telling of his own masterful exploit in bringing back a schooner from South America after the captain had run away with it and a woman. Pincher was mate of the schooner, which traded from Tahiti, and the skipper was a handsome fellow who thought his job well lost for love. He became enamored of the wife of another captain. One night when by desperate scheming he had gotten her aboard, he suddenly gave orders to up anchor and away. The schooner was full of cargo, copra and pearl-shell and pearls, and was due to return to Papeete to discharge. But this amative mariner filled his jibs on another tack, and before his crew knew whither they were bound was well on his long traverse to Peru.
Lying Bill was the only other white man aboard, and he took orders, as he had to by law and by the might of the swashbuckler captain. The lady lived in the only cabin—a tiny corner of the cuddy walled off—and ate her meals with her lover while Pincher commanded on deck. At a port in Peru the pirate sold the cargo, and taking his mistress ashore, he disappeared for good and all from the ken of the mate and of the South Seas.
"Now, said Captain George Goeltz, "Bill here could 'a' followed suit and sold the vessel. Of course they had no papers except for the French group, but in South America twenty-five years ago a piaster was a piaster. Bill was square then, as he is now, and he borrows enough money to buy grub, and he steers right back to Papeete. Gott im Himmel! Were the owners glad to see that schooner again? They had given her up as gone for good when the husband told them his wife had run away with the captain. That 's how Bill got his certificate to command vessels in this archipelago, which only Frenchmen can have."
Goeltz picked up the "Daily Commercial News" of San Francisco, and idly read out the list of missing ships. There was only one in the Pacific of recent date whose fate was utterly unknown. She was the schooner El Dorado, which had left Oregon months before for Chile, and had not been sighted in all that time. The shipping paper said :
What has become of the El Dorado, it is, of course, impossible to say with any degree of accuracy, but one thing is almost certain, and that is that the likelihood of her ever being heard of again is now practically without the range of possibility. Nevertheless she may still be afloat though in a waterlogged condition and drifting about in the trackless wastes of the South Pacific. Then again she may have struck one of the countless reefs that infest that portion of the globe, some entirely invisible and others just about awash. She is now one hundred and eighty-nine days out, and the voyage has rarely taken one hundred days. She was reported in lat. 35: 40 N., long. 126:30 W., 174 days ago.
"There 'll be no salvage on her," said Captain Pincher, "because if she 's still afloat, she ain't likely to get in the track of any bloody steamer. I 've heard of those derelic's wanderin' roun' a bloody lifetime, especially if they 're loaded with lumber. They end up usually on some reef."
This casual conversation was the prelude to the strangest coincidence of my life. When I awoke the next morning, I found that the big sea had not come and that the sun was shining. My head full of the romance of wrecks and piracy, I climbed the hill behind the Tiare Hotel to the signal station. There I examined the semaphore, which showed a great white ball when the mail-steamships appeared, and other symbols for the arrivals of different kinds of craft, men-of-war, barks, and schooners. There was a cozy house for the lookout and his family, and, as everywhere in Tahiti, a garden of flowers and fruit-trees. I could see Point Venus to the right, with its lighthouse, and the bare tops of the masts of the ships at the quays. Gray and red roofs of houses peeped from the foliage below, and a red spire of a church stood up high.
The storms had ceased in the few hours since dawn, and the sun was high and brilliant. Moorea, four leagues away, loomed like a mammoth battle-ship, sable and grim, her turrets in the lowering clouds on the horizon, her anchors a thousand fathoms deep. The sun was drinking water through luminous pipes. The harbor was a gleaming surface, and the reef from this height was a rainbow of color. All hues were in the water, emerald and turquoise, palest blue and gold. I sat down and closed my eyes to recall old Walt's lines of beauty about the -World below the brine.
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves. Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seed. The thick tangle, . . . and pink turf.
When I looked again at the reef I espied a small boat, almost a speck outside the coral barrier. She was too small for an inter-island cutter, and smaller than those do not venture beyond the reef. She was downing her single sail, and the sun glinted on the wet can-vas. I called to the guardian of the semaphore, and when he pointed his telescope at the object, he shouted out:
"Mail, c'est curieux! Et ees a schmall vessel, a sheep's boat!"
I waited for no more, but with .all sorts of conjectures racing through my mind, I hurried down the hill. Under the club balcony I called up to Captain Goeltz, who already had his glass fixed. He answered:
"She's a ship's boat, with three men, a jury rig, and barrels and boxes. She's from a wreck, that's sure."
He came rolling down the narrow stairway, and together we stood at the quai du Commerce as the mysterious boat drew nearer. We saw that the oarsmen were rowing fairly strongly against the slight breeze, and our fears of the common concomitants of wrecks,—starvation and corpses—disappeared as we made out their faces through the glasses. They stood out bronzed and hearty. The boat came up along the embankment, one of the three steering, with as matter of fact an air as if they had returned from a trip within the lagoon. There was a heap of things in the boat, the sail, a tank, a barrel, cracker-boxes, blankets, and some clothing.
The men were bearded like the pard, and in tattered garments, their feet bare. The one at the helm was evidently an officer, for neither of the others made a move until he gave the order:
"Throw that line ashore!"
Goeltz seized it and made fast to a ring-bolt, and then only at another command did the two stand up. We seized their hands and pulled them up on the wall. They were as rugged as lions in the open, burned as brown as Moros, their hair and beards long and ragged, and their powerful, lean bodies showing through their rags.
"What ship are you from?" I inquired eagerly.
The steersman regarded me narrowly, his eyes squinting, and then said taciturnly, "Schooner El Dorado." He said it almost angrily, as if he were forced to confess a crime. Then I saw the name on the boat, "El Dorado S. F."
"Didn't I tell you so?" asked Lying Bill, who was in the crowd now gathered. "George, did n't I say the El Dorado would turn up?"
He glared at Goeltz for a sign of assent, but the re-tired salt sought kudos for himself.
"I saw her first," he replied. "I was having a Doctor Funk when I looked toward the pass, and saw at once that it was a queer one."
The shipwrecked trio shook themselves like dogs out of the water. They were stiff in the legs. The two rowers smiled, and when I handed each of them a cigar, they grinned, but one said:
"After we've e't. Our holds are empty. We've come thirty-six hundred miles in that dinghy."
"I'm captain N. P. Benson of the schooner El Dorado," vouchsafed the third. "Where 's the American
Coming? 'I led theme, few hundred feet to the office of Dentist Williams, who was acting as consul for the United States. He had a. keen love of adventure, and twenty years in the tropics had not dimmed his interest in the marvelous sea. He left his patient and closeted himself with the trio, while I returned to their boat to inspect it more closely.
All the workers and loafers of the waterfront were about it, but Goeltz would let none enter it, he believing it might be needed untouched as evidence of some sort. There are no wharf thieves and no fences in Tahiti, so there was no danger of loss, and, really, there was nothing worth stealing but the boat itself.
Captain Benson and his companions hastened from the dentist's to Lovaina's, where they were given a table on the veranda, alone. They remained an hour secluded after Iromea and Atupu had piled their table with dishes. They drank quarts of coffee, and ate a beefsteak each, dozens of eggs, and many slices of fried ham, with scores of hot biscuits. They never spoke during the meal. A customs-officer had accompanied them to the Tiare Hotel, for the French Government wisely made itself certain that they might not be an unknown kind of smugglers, pirates, or runaways. Their boat had been taken in charge by the customs bureau, and the men were free to do what they would.
When they came from their gorging to the garden, they picked flowers, smelled the many kinds of blossoms, and then the sailors lighted their cigars. This pair were Steve Drinkwater, a Dutchman; and Alex Simoneau, a French-Canadian of Attleboro, Massachusetts.
"Where 's the El Dorado?" I asked of the captain.
Again he looked at me, suspiciously.
"She went down in thirty-one degrees: two minutes, south and one hundred twenty-one: thirty-seven west," he said curtly, and turned away. There was pride and sorrow in his Scandinavian voice, and a reticence not quite explicable. The three, as they stood a moment before they walked off, made a striking group. Their sturdy figures, in their worn and torn clothes, their hairy chests, their faces framed in bushes of hair, their bronzed skins, and their general air of fighters who had won a battle in which it was pitch and toss if they would survive, made me proud of the race of seamen the world over. They are to-day almost the only followers of a primeval calling, tainted little by the dirt of profit-seeking. They risk their lives daily in the hazards of the ocean, the victims of cold-blooded insurance gamblers and of niggardly owners, and rewarded with only a seat in the poorhouse or a niche in Davy Jones's Locker. I was once of their trade, and I longed to know the happenings of their fated voyage.
Next morning the three were quite ordinary-looking. They were shorn and shaved and scrubbed, and rigged out in Schlyter's white drill trousers and coats. They had rooms under mine in the animal-yard. They were to await the first steamship for the United States, to which country they would be sent as shipwrecked mariners by the American consulate. This vessel would not arrive for some weeks. The captain sat outside his door on the balcony, and expanded his log into a story of his experiences. He had determined to turn author, and to recoup his losses as much as possible by the sale of his manuscript. With a stumpy pencil in hand, he scratched his head, pursed his mouth, and wrote slowly. He would not confide in me. He said he had had sufferings enough to make money out of them, and would talk only to magazine editors.
"There 's Easter Island," he told me. "Those curiosities there are worth writing about, too. I 've put down a hundred sheets already. I 'm sorry, but I can't talk to any one. I 'm going to take the boat with me, and exhibit it in a museum and speak a piece."
He was serious about his silence, and as my inquisitiveness was now beyond restraint, I tried the sailors. They would have no log, but their memories might be good.
Alex Simoneau, being of French descent, and speaking the Gallic tongue, was not to be found at the Tigre. He was at the Paris, or other cafe, surrounded by gaping Frenchmen, who pressed upon him Pernoud, rum, and the delicate wines of France. So great was his absorption in his new friends, and so unbounded their hospitality, that M. Lontane laid him by the heels to rest him. Simoneau was wiry, talking the slang of the New York waterfront, swearing that he would "hike for Attleboro, and hoe potatoes until he died." I was forced to seek Steve Drinkwater. Short, pillow-like, as red-cheeked as a winter apple, and yellow-haired, he was a Dutchman, unafraid of anything, stolid, powerful, but not resourceful. I called Steve to my room above Captain Benson's, and set before him a bottle of schnapps, in a square-faced bottle, and a box of cigars.
"Steve," I said, "that squarehead of a skipper of yours won't tell me anything about the El Dorado's sinking and your great trip in the boat. He said he 's going to write it up in the papers, and make speeches about it in a museum. He wants to make money out of it."
"Vere do ve gat oop on dat?" asked the Hollander, sorely. "Ve vas Jere mit 'im, and vas ve in de museum, py damage? Dot shkvarehet be'n't de only wrider?''
I shuddered at the possible good fortune. I transfixed him with a sharp eye.
"Steve," I asked gently, "did you keep a log? Pour yourself a considerable modicum of the Hollands and smoke another cigar."
"Veil," said the seaman, after obeying instructions, "I yoost had vun hell of a time, and he make a long rest in de land, I do py dammage! I keep a leedle book from off de day ve shtart ouid."
I heard the measured pace of the brave "shkvarehet" below as he racked his brains for words. I would have loved to aid him, to do all I could to make widely known his and his crew's achievements and gain him fortune. However, he would sow his ink and reap his gold harvest, and I must, by master or by man, hear and record for myself the wonderful incidents of the El Dorado's wreck. The insurance was doubtless long since paid on her, and masses said for the repose of the soul of Alex Simoneau. The world would not know of their being saved, or her owners of the manner of her sinking, until these three arrived in San Francisco, or until a few days before, when the steamship wireless might inform them.
Steve came back with a memorandum book in which he had kept day by day the history of the voyage. But it was in Dutch, and I could not read it. I made him comfortable in a deep-bottomed rocker, and I jotted down my understanding of the honest sailor's Rotterdam English as he himself translated his ample notes in his native tongue. I pieced these out with answers to my questions, for often Steve's English was more puzzling than pre-Chaucer poetry.
The El Dorado was a five-masted schooner, twelve years old, and left Astoria, Oregon, for Antofagasta, Chile, on a Friday, more than seven months before, with a crew of eleven all told : the captain, two mates, a Japanese cook, and seven men before the mast. She was a man-killer, as sailors term sailing ships poorly equipped and undermanned. The crew were of all sorts, the usual waterfront unemployed, wretchedly paid and badly treated. The niggardliness of owners of ships caused them to pick up their crews at haphazard by paying crimps to herd them from lodging-houses and saloons an hour or two before sailing to save a day's wages. Once aboard, they were virtual slaves, subject to the whims and brutality of the officers, and forfeiting liberty and even life if they refused to submit to all conditions imposed by these petty bosses.
Often the crimps brought aboard as sailors men who had never set foot on a vessel. On the El Dorado few were accustomed mariners, and the first few weeks were passed in adjusting crew and officers to one another, and to the routine of the overloaded schooner. When they were fifteen days out they spoke a vessel, which reported them, and after that they saw no other. The mate was a bucko, a slugger, according to Steve, and was hated by all, for most of them during the throes of seasickness had had a taste of his fists.
On the seventy-second day out the El Dorado was twenty-seven hundred miles off the coast of Chile, having run a swelling semicircle to get the benefit of the southeast trades, and being far south of Antofagasta. That was the way of the wind, which forced a ship from Oregon to Chile to swing far out from the coast, and make a deep southward dip before catching the south-west trades, which would likely stay by her to her port of discharge.
They had sailed on a Friday, and on Wednesday, the eleventh of the third month following, their real troubles began. Steve's diary, as interpreted by him, after the foregoing, was substantially as follows, the color being all his:
"From the day we sailed we were at the pumps for two weeks to bale the old tub out. Then she swelled, and the seams became tight. There was bad weather from the time we crossed the Astoria bar. The old man would carry on because he was in a hurry to make a good run. The mate used to beat us, and it 's a won-der we did n't kill him. We used to lie awake in our watch below and think of what we 'd do to him when we got him ashore. All the men were sore on him. He cursed us all the time, and the captain said nothing. You can't hit back, you know. He would strike us and kick us for fun. I felt sure he 'd be murdered ; but when we got into difficulty and could have tossed him over, we never made a motion.
"On the seventy-third day out, came the terror. The wind is from the southeast. There is little light. The sea is high, and everything is in a smother. We took down the topsails and furled the spanker. The wind was getting up, and the call came for all hands on deck. We had watch and watch until then. That 's four hours off and four hours on. When the watch below left their bunks, that was the last of our sleep on the El Dorado. A gale was blowing by midnight. We were working all the time, taking in sail and making all snug. There was plenty of water on deck. Schooner was bumping hard on the waves and making water through her seams. We took the pumps for a spell.
"We had no sleep next day. In the morning we set all sails in a lull, but took them down again quickly, because the wind shifted to the northwest, and a big gale came on. Now began trouble with the cargo. We had the hold filled with lumber, planks and such, and on the deck we had a terrible load of big logs. These were to hold up the walls and roofs in the mines of Chile. Many of them were thirty-six feet long, and very big around. They were the trunks of very big trees. They were piled very high, and the whole of them was fastened by chains to keep them from rolling or being broken loose by seas. In moving about the ship we had to walk on this rough heap of logs, which lifted above the rails. They were hard to walk on in a perfectly smooth sea, and with the way the El Dorado rolled and pitched, we could hardly keep from being thrown into the ocean.
"This second day of the big storm, with the wind from the northeast, the El Dorado began to leak badly again. All hands took spells at the pumps. We were at work every minute. We left the ropes for the pumps and the pumps for the ropes. We double-reefed the mizzen, and in the wind this was a terrible job. It nearly killed us. At eight o'clock to-night we could not see five feet ahead of us. It was black as hell, and the schooner rolled fearfully. The deck-load then shifted eight inches to starboard. This made a list that frightened us. We were all soaking wet now for days. The after-house separated from the main-deck, and the water became six feet deep in the cabin.
"We had no sun at all during the day, and at midnight a hurricane came out of the dark. All night we were pulling and hauling, running along the great logs in danger always of being washed away. We had to lash the lumber, tightening the chains, and trying to stop the logs from smashing the ship to pieces. It did not seem that we could get through the night.
"This is Friday. When a little of daylight came, we saw that everything was awash. The sea was white as snow, all foam and spindrift. It did not seem that we could last much longer. The small boat that had been hanging over the stern was gone. It had been smashed by the combers. We should have had it in-board, and the mate was to blame. Now we took the other boat, the only one left, and lashed it upright to the spanker-stays. In this way it was above the logs and had a chance to remain unbroken.
"We sounded the well, and the captain ordered us again to the pumps. These were on deck between the logs, which were crashing about. We could n't work the pumps, as there was seven feet of water in there on deck. The second mate spoke to the captain that it would be best to start the steam pump. The smoke-stack and the rest of the steam fittings were under the foc's'le head. It took a long time to get them out, and then the steam pump would not work. The water gained on us all the time now, and the captain ordered us to throw the deck-load overboard. We were nearly dead, we were so tired and sleepy and sore. This morning, the cook served coffee and bread when daylight came at six o'clock. That was the last bit of food or drink we had on the El Dorado.
"The taking off of the great chain was a murderous job. When we loosened it, the huge seas would sweep over the logs and us while we tried to get them over-board. It was touch and go. We had to use capstan-bars to pry the big logs over and over. We tried to push them with the rolling of the ship. One wave would carry a mass of the logs away, and the next wave would bring them back, crashing into the vessel, catching in the rigging, and nearly pulling it down, and the masts with it. Dodging those big logs was awful work, and if you were hit by one, you were gone. They would come dancing over the side ,on the tops of the waves and be left on the very spot from which we had lifted them overboard. The old man should have thrown the deck-load over two days before. The water now grew deeper all the time, and the ship wallowed like a waterlogged raft. The fo'c's'le was full of water. The El Dorado was drowning with us aboard.
"We were all on deck because we had nowhere else to go. There was nothing in the cabin or the fo'c's'le but water. The sea was now like mountains, but it stopped breaking, so that there was a chance to get away. We were hanging on to stays and anything fixed.
"The captain now gave up hope, as we had long ago. He ordered all hands to make ready to lower the one boat we had left, and to desert the ship. We had a hard time to get this boat loose from the spanker-stay, and we lowered it with the spanker-tackle. Just while we were doing that, a tremendous wave swept the poop, with a battering-ram of logs that had returned. Luckily, the boat we were lowering escaped being smashed, or we had all been dead men now.
"We filled a tank with twenty-five gallons of water from the scuttle-butts and carried it to the boat. The old man ordered the cook and the boy to get some grub he had in a locker in his cabin, high up, where he had put it away from the flood. The cook and the boy were scared stiff, and when they went into the cabin, a sea came racing in, and all saved was twenty pounds of soda crackers, twelve one-pound tins of salt beef, three of tongue, thirty-two cans of milk, thirty-eight of soup, and four of jam.
"We went into the boat with nothing but what we wore, and that was little. Some of us had no coats, and some no hats, and others were without any shoes. We were in rags from the terrible fight with the logs and the sea. The old man went below to get his medicine-chest. He threw away the medicine, and put his log and the ship's papers in it. He took up his chronometer to bring it, when a wave like that which got the cook and the boy knocked the skipper over and lost the chronometer. All he got away with was his sextant and compass and his watch, which was as good as a chronometer.
"We got into the boat at four o'clock. The boat had been put into the water under the stern and made fast by a rope to the taffrail. We climbed out the spanker-boom and slid down another rope. The seas were terrific, and it was a mercy that we did not fall in. We had to take a chance and jump when the boat came under us. Last came the old man, and took the tiller. He had the oars manned, and gave the order to let go. That was a terrible moment for all of us, to cast loose from the schooner, bad as she was. There we were all alone in the middle of the ocean, bruised from the struggle on deck, and almost dying from exhaustion and al-ready hungry as wolves. In twenty-four hours we had had only a cup of coffee and a biscuit.
"It was very dark, and we had no light. We were, however, glad to leave the El Dorado, because our suffering on her for weeks had been as much as we could bear. The last I saw of the schooner she was just a huge, black lump on the black waters. We rose on a swell, and she sank into a valley out of sight.
"The captain spoke to us now: `We have a good chance for life,' he said. I have looked over the chart, and it shows that Easter Island is about nine hundred miles northeast by east. If we are all together in trying, we may reach there.'
"None of us had ever been to Easter Island, and hardly any of us had ever heard of it. It looked like a long pull there. All night the captain and the mate took turns in steering, while we, in turn, pulled at the oars. We did not dare put a rag of canvas on her, for the wind was big still. The old man said that as we had both latitude and longitude to run, we would run out the latitude first, and then hope for a slant to the land. We were then, he said, in latitude 31° south, and longitude 121° west. That being so, we had about three hundred miles to go south and about six hundred east. He said that Pitcairn Island was but six hundred miles away, but that the prevailing winds would not let us sail there. We set the course, then, for Easter Island. We wondered whether Easter Island had a place to land, and whether there were any people on it. There might be savages and cannibals.
"It rained steady all night, and the sea spilled into the boat now and then. Two of us had to bale all the time to keep the boat afloat. We were soaked to the skin with fresh and salt water, weak from the days of exposure and hunger, and we were barely able to keep from being thrown out of the boat by its terrible rocking and pitching, and yet we all felt like singing a song. All but the Japanese cook. Iwata had almost gone mad, and was praying to his joss whenever anything new happened. During that night a wave knocked him over and crushed one of his feet against the tank of drinking water. The salt water got into the wound and swelled it, and he was soon unable to move.
"The second day in the small boat was the captain's forty-eighth birthday. The old man spoke of it in a hearty way, hoping that when he was forty-nine he would be on the deck of some good ship. There was no sign of the El Dorado that morning. But with wind and sea as they were, we could not have seen the ship very far, and we had made some distance under oar-power during the night. We put up our little sail at nine o'clock, though the wind was strong. The skipper said that we could not expect anything but rough weather, and that we had to make the best of every hour, considering what we had to eat and that we were eleven in the boat. The wind was now from the southwest, and we steered northeast. We had to steer without compass because it was dark, and we had no light.
"We had our first bite to eat about noon of this second day out. We had then been nearly three months at sea, or, to be exact, it was seventy-eight days since we had left port. It was thirty hours after the coffee and biscuit on the El Dorado, and God knows how much longer since we had had a whole meal, and now we did n't have much. The old man bossed it. He took a half-bucket of fresh water, and into this he put a can of soup. This he served, and gave each man two soda crackers and his share of a pound of corned beef. We dipped the crackers into the bucket. (I tell you it was better than the ham and eggs we had at the hotel when we landed.) We had this kind of a meal twice a day, and no more.
"The next day the wind was again very strong, with thunder and lightning, and we ran dead before the wind with no more sail than a handkerchief. The sea began to break over the boat, and our old man said that we could not live through it unless we could rig up a sea-anchor. We were sure we would drown. We made one by rolling four blankets together tightly and tying around them a long rope with which our boat was made fast to the ship when we embarked. This we let drag astern about ninety-feet. It held the boat fairly steady, and kept the boat's head to the seas. We fastened it to the ring in the stern. We used this sea-anchor many times 'throughout our voyage, and without it we would have gone down sure. Of course we took in a great deal of water, anyhow; but we could keep her baled out, and the sea-anchor prevented her from swamping.
"The nights were frightful, and many times all of us had terrible dreams, and sometimes thought we were on shore. Men would cry out about things they thought they saw, and other men would have to tell them they were not so. We were always up and down on top of the swells, and our bodies ached so terribly from the sitting-down position and from the joggling of the motion that we would cry with pain. The salt water got in all of our bruises and cracked our hands and feet, but there was no help for us, and we had to grin and bear it. A shark took hold of our sea-anchor and we were afraid that he would tear it to pieces.
"Every day the captain took an observation when he could, and told us where we were. We made about a hundred miles a day, but very often we steered out of our course because we had no matches or lantern.
"On the eighteenth we were in latitude 26° 53' South, and the captain said that Easter Island was in, the 27th degree, so after all we had steered pretty well.
"On the night of the nineteenth, we had a fearful storm. It seemed worse than the hurricane we had on the El Dorado. All night long we thought that every minute would end us, and we lay huddled in misery, not caring much whether we went down or not. But the next morning, we set part of the sail again, and at noon that day the captain took a sight and found that we were in latitude 27° 8' south. Easter Island is 27° 10' south. And now we began to fear that we might run past Easter Island. If we did, we knew we could never get back with the wind. We had squall after squall now, but we felt sure that soon we must see land. Our soup was all gone, and we were living on the soda crackers mixed with water and milk. Each of us got a cupful of this stuff once a day.
"On the twenty-second, when we were nine days out, I saw the land at ten o'clock in the morning, thirty miles away. We felt pretty good over that, and had two cupfuls of the mixture, because we felt we were nearly safe. My God! what we felt when we saw the rise of that land ! The captain said it was Easter Island for certain, but that it was not a place that any merchant ships ever went, as there was no trade there. Once we saw the land we could not get any nearer to it. We tried to row toward it, but the wind was against us. Two days we hung about the back of that island, just outside the line of breakers. We were afraid to risk a landing, for the coast was rocky. On the eleventh day we saw a spot where the rocks looked white, and we rowed in to-ward it with great pains and much fear. A big sea threw us right upon a smooth boulder, and we leaped from the boat and tried to run ashore. We were weak and fell down many times. Finally we got a hold and we carried everything out of the boat, and after hours hauled it up out of reach of the breakers.
"There was a cliff that went right up straight from the rocks, and we could not climb it, we were so weak from hunger and the cramped position we had had to keep in the boat. We laid down a while, and then it was decided that the first and second mates should have a good feed and try to get up the precipice. We were taking risks, because we had very little grub left. It was about a hundred feet up, and we watched them closely as they went slowly up. They did not come back, and we were much afraid of what they might find. We did not know but there might be savages there. During the day the other sailors also got up, leaving the old man and me to watch the boat.
"Help arrived for us. The mates had walked all night, and at daybreak they reached the house of the head man, employed by the owner of Easter Island. It was a sheep and horse island. The mates were fed, and then they went on to the house of the manager. Horses were gotten out, and bananas and poi sent to us. The water just came in time, because we were all out. They brought horses for all of us then, and after we had started the people of the island went ahead and came back with water and milk, which did us a world of good. At the house of the governor we had a mess of brown beans, and then we all fell asleep on the floor. God knows how long we slept, but when we waked up we were like wolves again. We then had beans with fresh killed mutton, and that made us all deathly sick be-cause our stomachs were weak."
Underneath us, while the red-cheeked and golden-haired Steve uttered his puzzling sentences in English, I heard from time to time the heavy tread of Captain Benson. He was, doubtless, living over again the hours of terror and resolution on the El Dorado and in the boat, and seeking to find words to amplify his log by his memories. I heard him sit down and get up more than once; while opposite me in an easy-chair, with his glass of Schiedam schnapps beside him, was the virile Dutchman, hammering in his breast-swelling story of danger and courage, of starvation and storm. I sighed for a dictaphone in which the original Dutch-English might be recorded for the delight of others.
Alex Simoneau came back after a night of the hospitality of M. Lontane, and soon was joyous again, telling his wondrous epic of the main to the beachcombers in the pare de Bougainville or in the Paris saloon, where the brown and white toilers of land and sea make merry.
"A man that goes to sea is a fool," he said, with a bang of his fist on the table that made the schnapps dance in its heavy bottle. "My people in Massachusetts are all right, and like a crazy man I will go to sea when I could work in a mill or on a farm. They must think I 'm dead by now."
Alex was corroborative of all that Steve said, but I could not pin him down to hours or days. He was too exalted by his present happy fate—penniless, jobless, family in mourning, but healthy, safe, and full-stomached, not to omit an ebullience of spirits incited by the continuing wonder of each new listener and the praise for his deeds and by the conviviality of his admirers.
Alex was sure of one point, and that was that the El Dorado was overloaded.
"Dose shkvarehet shkippers vould dake a cheese-box to sea mit a cargo of le't," commented Steve. "All dey care for is de havin' de yob. De owner he don't care if de vessel sink mit de insurance."
When Alex had shuffled out of the cottage, I gave the Dutchman the course of his narrative again.
"You were safe on Easter Island, and ill from stuffing yourself with fresh mutton," I prompted. "And now what?"
Steve spat over the rail.
"Ram, lam', sheep, and muddon for a hundred and fife days. Dere vas noding odder. Dot 's a kveer place, dot Easter Island, mit shtone gotts lyin' round and det fulcanoes, and noding good to eat. Ve liffed in a house de English manager gif us. Dere 's a Chile meat gompany owns de island, and grows sheep. Aboud a gouple of hundred kanakas chase de sheep. Ve vas dreaded vell mit de vimmen makin' luff and the kanakas glad mit it. Dere vas noding else to do. De manager he say no ship come for six months, and he vanted us to blant bodadoes, and ve had no tobacco. He say de bodadoes get ripe in eight months, and I dink if I shtay dere eight months I go grazy. Ve vas ragged, and efery day ve go and look for a vessel. Ve gould see dem a long vay ouid, and ve made signals and big fires, but no ship efer shtopped. De shkipper made a kvarrel mit de mates, and de old man he say he go away in de boat, and he bick Alex and me because ve was de bestest sailormen. Ve vas dere nearly four months ven ve shtart ouid. De oder men dey vas sore, but dey vanted de old man to bromise to gif dem big money, and ve go for noding. Ve fix oop de boat and ve kvit."
Steve went on to describe how they fixed up the boat for the voyage by making guards of canvas about the sides, and an awning which they could raise and lower.
They took a ten-gallon steel oil-drum and made a stove out of it. They cut it in two at the middle and kept the bottom half. They then made a place for holding a pot, with pieces of scrap-iron fixed to the side of the drum, so that they could make a fire under the pot with-out setting fire to the boat. Then the captain set them to learning to make fire by rubbing sticks, and after many days they learned it. The manager had a steer killed, and they jerked the meat and loaded up their boat beside with sweet potatoes, taro, white potatoes, five dozen eggs, and twenty gallons of water in their tank, with twenty-five more in a barrel.
Then bidding good-by to everybody who gathered to see them off, they steered for Pitcairn Island. They soon found that the prevailing wind would not permit them to make that course, and so they laid for Mangareva in 23° south and 134° west, sixteen hundred miles distant. They had to go from 28° south and 110° west, 5° of latitude and 24° of longitude. Again they were at the mercy of the sea, but now they had only three men in the boat, and had enough food for many days, rough as it was. In the latitude of Pitcairn, the island so famous because to it fled the mutineers of the Bounty, they all but perished. For two days a severe storm nearly overwhelmed them. The boat was more buoyant, and with the sea-anchor trailing, they came through the trial without injury. Steve said the lightning was "yoost like a leedle bid of hell." It circled them about, hissed in the water, and finally struck their mast repeatedly, so that the wise captain took it down. The entire heavens were a mass of coruscating electricity, and they could feel the air alive with it. They were shocked by the very atmosphere, said Steve, and feared for their lives every moment. The sea piled up, the wind blew a gale, and death was close at hand. They wished they had not left Easter Island, and en-vied those who had remained there.
But they rode it out, with their pile of blankets a-trail, and with helm and oars alert to keep the boat afloat.
The gale amended after several days, and on the sixteenth day from their departure they reached Mangareva. That island is in the Gambier group, and a number of Europeans live there. The castaways were received generously, and were informed that a schooner was expected in a fortnight, which might carry them to some port on their way home. But the old man said they must push on. He had to report to his owners the loss of the El Dorado; he had to see his family. They had come twenty-six hundred miles since deserting the schooner, and the thousand miles more to Tahiti was not a serious undertaking. He persuaded Steve and Alex to his manner of thinking, and with the boat stocked with provisions they took the wave again, after a couple of days at Mangareva.
Now the bad weather was over. The sea was comparatively smooth, and the breeze favorable. But fate still had frowns for them, as if to keep them in terror. Sharks and swordfish, as though resenting the intrusion of their tiny craft in waters where boats were seldom seen, attacked them furiously. Five times a giant shark launched himself at their boat, head on, and drove them frantic with his menace of sinking them. They were so filled with this dread that they fastened a marlinespike in the spar, and despite probability of provoking the shark to more desperate onslaughts, manceuvered so that they were able to kill him with a blow.
The next day a swordfish of alarming size played about them, approaching and retreating, eying them and acting in such a manner that they felt sure he was challenging the boat as a strange fish whose might he disputed. One thrust of his bony weapon, and they might be robbed of their chance for life. They shouted and banged on the gunwales, and escaped.
Steve hurried through this part of his diary. So near to safety then, he had had not much thought for a record. There was little more to tell, for after the lightning, the sharks, and the swordfish, they had had no unusual experiences. They had made the voyage of nearly four thousand miles from the pit of water in which they had left the El Dorado, and were glad that they had not stayed behind on Easter Island. Steve had only good words for the skipper's skill as a seaman, but now that they were there, he would like to be assured of his wages. The captain said he did not know what the owners would do about paying Steve for the time since the El Dorado sank. He was sure she had gone down immediately, for, he said, he would not have left his ship had he not been certain she could not stay on the surface. He contrasted his arrival in Papeete with his coming years before in the brig Lurline, when he brought the first phonograph to the South Seas. Crowds had flocked to the quay to hear it, and it was taken in a carriage all about the island.
The superb courage of these men, their marvelous seamanship, and their survival of all the perils of their thousands of miles' voyage were not lessened in interest or admiration by their personality. But one realized daily, as one saw them chewing their quids, devouring rudely the courses served by Lovaina, or talking childishly of their future, that heroes are the creatures of opportunity. It is true Steve and Alex were picked of all the crew for their sea knowledge and experience, their nerve and willingness, by the sturdy captain, and that he, too, was a man big in the primitive qualities, a viking, a companion for a Columbus; but—they were peculiarly of their sept; types molded by the wind-swept spaces of the vasty deep, chiseled by the stress of storm and calm, of burning, glassy oceans, and the chilling, killing berg; men set apart from all the creeping children of the solid earth, and trained to seize the winds from heaven for their wings, to meet with grim con-tempt the embattled powers of sky and wave, and then, alas! on land to become the puny sport of merchant, crimp, and money-changer, and rum and trull.
Goeltz, Lying Bill, Llewellyn, and McHenry sat in the Cercle Bougainville with eager looks as I read them the diary of Steve Drinkwater. The seamen held opinions of the failure of Captain Benson's seamanship at certain points, and all knew the waters through which he had come.
"Many of the people of Mangareva came from Easter Island, said Lying Bill. "There was a French missionary brought a gang of them there. 'E was Pere Roussel, and 'e ran away with 'em because Llewellyn's bloody crowd 'ere tried to steal 'em and sell 'em. They lived at Mangareva with 'im till he died a few years ago, and they never went back."
Llewellyn lifted his dour eyes. There was never such a dule countenance as his, dark naturally with his Welsh and Tahitian blood, and shaded by the gloom of his soul. He looked regretfully at Captain Pincher.
"You are only repeating the untruthful assertion of that clergyman," he said accusingly. "He put it in a pamphlet in French. My people have had to do with Easter Island for forty years. I lived there several years and, as you know, I made that island what it is now, a cattle and sheep ranch. It is the strangest place, with the strangest history in the world. If we knew who settled it originally and carved those stone gods the Dutch sailor spoke of, we would know more about the human race and its wanderings.
"The Peruvians murdered and stole the Easter Islanders. Just before we took hold there, a gang of blackbirders from Peru went there and killed and took away many hundreds of them. They sold them to the guano diggings in the Chincha Islands. Only those escaped death or capture who hid in the dark caverns. Nearly all those taken away died soon. We then made contracts with some of those left, and took them to Tahiti to work. It is true they died, too, most of them, but some you can find where McHenry lives half a mile from here at Patutoa. We sold off the stock to Chileans, and that country owns the island now.
"I think the island had a superior race once. There are immense platforms of stone, like the paepaes of the Marquesas, only bigger, and the stones are all fitted together without cement. They built them on promontories facing the sea. Some are three hundred feet long, and the walls thirty feet high. On these platforms there were huge stone gods that have been thrown down; some were thirty-seven feet high, and they had redstone crowns, ten feet in diameter. There were stone houses one hundred feet long, with walls five feet thick. How they moved the stones no one knows, for, of course, these people there now were not the builders. Some race of whom they knew nothing was there before them.
"They are one of the greatest mysteries in the world. Easter is the queerest of all the Maori islands. They had nothing like the other Maoris had in any of these islands, but they had plenty of stone, their lances were tipped with obsidian, and they were terrible fighters among themselves. They had no trees, and so no canoes; and they depended on driftwood and the hibiscus for weapons. They are all done for now."
Captain Benson was still busied with his log when the steamship from New Zealand arrived to take the shipwrecked men away. The El Dorado's boat was stowed carefully on the deck of the liner. I saw the skipper watching it as the deck-hands put chocks under it and made it fast against the rolling of the ship. That boat deserved well of him, for its stanchness had stood between him and the maws of the sharks many days and nights.
I bade him and the two seamen good-by on the wharf. The old man was full of his plan to exhibit the boat in a museum and of selling his account of his adventures to a magazine.
The crew left on Easter Island were rescued sooner than they had expected. A British tramp, the Knight of the Garter, put into Easter Island for emergency repairs, having broken down. The castaways left with her for Sydney, Australia, and from there reached San Francisco by the steamship Ventura, ten months after they had sailed away on the El Dorado. That schooner was never sighted again.