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Chapter 7

Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

From Diary:--For a day or two we have been plowing among an invisible
vast wilderness of islands, catching now and then a shadowy glimpse of a
member of it. There does seem to be a prodigious lot of islands this
year; the map of this region is freckled and fly-specked all over with
them. Their number would seem to be uncountable. We are moving among
the Fijis now--224 islands and islets in the group. In front of us, to
the west, the wilderness stretches toward Australia, then curves upward
to New Guinea, and still up and up to Japan; behind us, to the east, the
wilderness stretches sixty degrees across the wastes of the Pacific;
south of us is New Zealand. Somewhere or other among these myriads Samoa
is concealed, and not discoverable on the map. Still, if you wish to go
there, you will have no trouble about finding it if you follow the
directions given by Robert Louis Stevenson to Dr. Conan Doyle and to Mr.
J. M. Barrie. "You go to America, cross the continent to San Francisco,
and then it's the second turning to the left." To get the full flavor of
the joke one must take a glance at the map.

Wednesday, September 11.--Yesterday we passed close to an island or so,
and recognized the published Fiji characteristics: a broad belt of clean
white coral sand around the island; back of it a graceful fringe of
leaning palms, with native huts nestling cosily among the shrubbery at
their bases; back of these a stretch of level land clothed in tropic
vegetation; back of that, rugged and picturesque mountains. A detail
of the immediate foreground: a mouldering ship perched high up on a
reef-bench. This completes the composition, and makes the picture
artistically perfect.

In the afternoon we sighted Suva, the capital of the group, and threaded
our way into the secluded little harbor--a placid basin of brilliant blue
and green water tucked snugly in among the sheltering hills. A few ships
rode at anchor in it--one of them a sailing vessel flying the American
flag; and they said she came from Duluth! There's a journey! Duluth is
several thousand miles from the sea, and yet she is entitled to the proud
name of Mistress of the Commercial Marine of the United States of
America. There is only one free, independent, unsubsidized American ship
sailing the foreign seas, and Duluth owns it. All by itself that ship is
the American fleet. All by itself it causes the American name and power
to be respected in the far regions of the globe. All by itself it
certifies to the world that the most populous civilized nation, in the
earth has a just pride in her stupendous stretch of sea-front, and is
determined to assert and maintain her rightful place as one of the Great
Maritime Powers of the Planet. All by itself it is making foreign eyes
familiar with a Flag which they have not seen before for forty years,
outside of the museum. For what Duluth has done, in building, equipping,
and maintaining at her sole expense the American Foreign Commercial
Fleet, and in thus rescuing the American name from shame and lifting it
high for the homage of the nations, we owe her a debt of gratitude which
our hearts shall confess with quickened beats whenever her name is named
henceforth. Many national toasts will die in the lapse of time, but
while the flag flies and the Republic survives, they who live under their
shelter will still drink this one, standing and uncovered: Health and
prosperity to Thee, O Duluth, American Queen of the Alien Seas!

Row-boats began to flock from the shore; their crews were the first
natives we had seen. These men carried no overplus of clothing, and this
was wise, for the weather was hot. Handsome, great dusky men they were,
muscular, clean-limbed, and with faces full of character and
intelligence. It would be hard to find their superiors anywhere among
the dark races, I should think.

Everybody went ashore to look around, and spy out the land, and have that
luxury of luxuries to sea-voyagers--a land-dinner. And there we saw more
natives: Wrinkled old women, with their flat mammals flung over their
shoulders, or hanging down in front like the cold-weather drip from the
molasses-faucet; plump and smily young girls, blithe and content, easy
and graceful, a pleasure to look at; young matrons, tall, straight,
comely, nobly built, sweeping by with chin up, and a gait incomparable
for unconscious stateliness and dignity; majestic young men athletes for
build and muscle clothed in a loose arrangement of dazzling white, with
bronze breast and bronze legs naked, and the head a cannon-swab of solid
hair combed straight out from the skull and dyed a rich brick-red. Only
sixty years ago they were sunk in darkness; now they have the bicycle.
We strolled about the streets of the white folks' little town, and around
over the hills by paths and roads among European dwellings and gardens
and plantations, and past clumps of hibiscus that made a body blink, the
great blossoms were so intensely red; and by and by we stopped to ask an
elderly English colonist a question or two, and to sympathize with him
concerning the torrid weather; but he was surprised, and said:

"This? This is not hot. You ought to be here in the summer time once."

"We supposed that this was summer; it has the ear-marks of it. You could
take it to almost any country and deceive people with it. But if it
isn't summer, what does it lack?"

"It lacks half a year. This is mid-winter."

I had been suffering from colds for several months, and a sudden change
of season, like this, could hardly fail to do me hurt. It brought on
another cold. It is odd, these sudden jumps from season to season. A
fortnight ago we left America in mid-summer, now it is midwinter; about a
week hence we shall arrive in Australia in the spring.

After dinner I found in the billiard-room a resident whom I had known
somewhere else in the world, and presently made, some new friends and
drove with them out into the country to visit his Excellency the head of
the State, who was occupying his country residence, to escape the rigors
of the winter weather, I suppose, for it was on breezy high ground and
much more comfortable than the lower regions, where the town is, and
where the winter has full swing, and often sets a person's hair afire
when he takes off his hat to bow. There is a noble and beautiful view of
ocean and islands and castellated peaks from the governor's high-placed
house, and its immediate surroundings lie drowsing in that dreamy repose
and serenity which are the charm of life in the Pacific Islands.

One of the new friends who went out there with me was a large man, and I
had been admiring his size all the way. I was still admiring it as he
stood by the governor on the veranda, talking; then the Fijian butler
stepped out there to announce tea, and dwarfed him. Maybe he did not
quite dwarf him, but at any rate the contrast was quite striking.
Perhaps that dark giant was a king in a condition of political
suspension. I think that in the talk there on the veranda it was said
that in Fiji, as in the Sandwich Islands, native kings and chiefs are of
much grander size and build than the commoners. This man was clothed in
flowing white vestments, and they were just the thing for him; they
comported well with his great stature and his kingly port and dignity.
European clothes would have degraded him and made him commonplace. I
know that, because they do that with everybody that wears them.

It was said that the old-time devotion to chiefs and reverence for their
persons still survive in the native commoner, and in great force. The
educated young gentleman who is chief of the tribe that live in the
region about the capital dresses in the fashion of high-class European
gentlemen, but even his clothes cannot damn him in the reverence of his
people. Their pride in his lofty rank and ancient lineage lives on, in
spite of his lost authority and the evil magic of his tailor. He has no
need to defile himself with work, or trouble his heart with the sordid
cares of life; the tribe will see to it that he shall not want, and that
he shall hold up his head and live like a gentleman. I had a glimpse of
him down in the town. Perhaps he is a descendant of the last king--the
king with the difficult name whose memory is preserved by a notable
monument of cut-stone which one sees in the enclosure in the middle of
the town. Thakombau--I remember, now; that is the name. It is easier to
preserve it on a granite block than in your head.

Fiji was ceded to England by this king in 1858. One of the gentlemen
present at the governor's quoted a remark made by the king at the time of
the session--a neat retort, and with a touch of pathos in it, too. The
English Commissioner had offered a crumb of comfort to Thakombau by
saying that the transfer of the kingdom to Great Britain was merely "a
sort of hermit-crab formality, you know." "Yes," said poor Thakombau,
"but with this difference--the crab moves into an unoccupied shell, but
mine isn't."

However, as far as I can make out from the books, the King was between
the devil and the deep sea at the time, and hadn't much choice. He owed
the United States a large debt--a debt which he could pay if allowed
time, but time was denied him. He must pay up right away or the warships
would be upon him. To protect his people from this disaster he ceded his
country to Britain, with a clause in the contract providing for the
ultimate payment of the American debt.

In old times the Fijians were fierce fighters; they were very religious,
and worshiped idols; the big chiefs were proud and haughty, and they were
men of great style in many ways; all chiefs had several wives, the
biggest chiefs sometimes had as many as fifty; when a chief was dead and
ready for burial, four or five of his wives were strangled and put into
the grave with him. In 1804 twenty-seven British convicts escaped from
Australia to Fiji, and brought guns and ammunition with them. Consider
what a power they were, armed like that, and what an opportunity they
had. If they had been energetic men and sober, and had had brains and
known how to use them, they could have achieved the sovereignty of the
archipelago twenty-seven kings and each with eight or nine islands under
his scepter. But nothing came of this chance. They lived worthless
lives of sin and luxury, and died without honor--in most cases by
violence. Only one of them had any ambition; he was an Irishman named
Connor. He tried to raise a family of fifty children, and scored
forty-eight. He died lamenting his failure. It was a foolish sort
of avarice. Many a father would have been rich enough with forty.

It is a fine race, the Fijians, with brains in their heads, and an
inquiring turn of mind. It appears that their savage ancestors had a
doctrine of immortality in their scheme of religion--with limitations.
That is to say, their dead friend would go to a happy hereafter if he
could be accumulated, but not otherwise. They drew the line; they
thought that the missionary's doctrine was too sweeping, too
comprehensive. They called his attention to certain facts. For
instance, many of their friends had been devoured by sharks; the sharks,
in their turn, were caught and eaten by other men; later, these men were
captured in war, and eaten by the enemy. The original persons had
entered into the composition of the sharks; next, they and the sharks had
become part of the flesh and blood and bone of the cannibals. How, then,
could the particles of the original men be searched out from the final
conglomerate and put together again? The inquirers were full of doubts,
and considered that the missionary had not examined the matter with--the
gravity and attention which so serious a thing deserved.

The missionary taught these exacting savages many valuable things, and
got from them one--a very dainty and poetical idea: Those wild and
ignorant poor children of Nature believed that the flowers, after they
perish, rise on the winds and float away to the fair fields of heaven,
and flourish there forever in immortal beauty!

Mark Twain