home | authors | books | about

Home -> Jack London -> The Heathen

The Heathen

Short Stories

A Curious Fragment

A Day's lodging

A Nose for the king

A Piece of Steak

A Wicked Woman

All Gold Canyon

Brown Wolf

Created He Them

Four Horses and a Sailor

Just Meat

Love of life

Make Westing

Nam-Bok the Unveracious

Negore, the coward

Nothing That Ever Came to Anything

Semper Idem

Small-Boat Sailing

That Dead Men Rise Up Never

That spot

The "Francis Spaight"

The Apostate

The Chinago

The Heathen

The Hobo and the Fairy

The Human Drift

The story of Keesh

The Sun-Dog Trail

The Unexpected

The white man's way


When God Laughs

Yellow Handkerchief

I met him first in a hurricane; and though we had gone through the
hurricane on the same schooner, it was not until the schooner had gone
to pieces under us that I first laid eyes on him. Without doubt I had
seen him with the rest of the kanaka crew on board, but I had not
consciously been aware of his existence, for the _Petite Jeanne_ was
rather overcrowded. In addition to her eight or ten kanaka seamen, her
white captain, mate, and supercargo, and her six cabin passengers, she
sailed from Rangiroa with something like eighty-five deck
passengers--Paumotans and Tahitians, men, women, and children each with
a trade box, to say nothing of sleeping-mats, blankets, and

The pearling season in the Paumotus was over, and all hands were
returning to Tahiti. The six of us cabin passengers were pearl-buyers.
Two were Americans, one was Ah Choon (the whitest Chinese I have ever
known), one was a German, one was a Polish Jew, and I completed the half

It had been a prosperous season. Not one of us had cause for complaint,
nor one of the eighty-five deck passengers either. All had done well,
and all were looking forward to a rest-off and a good time in Papeete.

Of course, the _Petite Jeanne_ was overloaded. She was only seventy
tons, and she had no right to carry a tithe of the mob she had on board.
Beneath her hatches she was crammed and jammed with pearl-shell and
copra. Even the trade room was packed full of shell. It was a miracle
that the sailors could work her. There was no moving about the decks.
They simply climbed back and forth along the rails.

In the night-time they walked upon the sleepers, who carpeted the deck,
I'll swear, two deep. Oh! and there were pigs and chickens on deck, and
sacks of yams, while every conceivable place was festooned with strings
of drinking cocoanuts and bunches of bananas. On both sides, between the
fore and main shrouds, guys had been stretched, just low enough for the
foreboom to swing clear; and from each of these guys at least fifty
bunches of bananas were suspended.

It promised to be a messy passage, even if we did make it in the two or
three days that would have been required if the southeast trades had
been blowing fresh. But they weren't blowing fresh. After the first five
hours the trade died away in a dozen or so gasping fans. The calm
continued all that night and the next day--one of those glaring, glassy
calms, when the very thought of opening one's eyes to look at it is
sufficient to cause a headache.

The second day a man died--an Easter Islander, one of the best divers
that season in the lagoon. Smallpox--that is what it was; though how
smallpox could come on board, when there had been no known cases ashore
when we left Rangiroa, is beyond me. There it was, though--smallpox, a
man dead, and three others down on their backs.

There was nothing to be done. We could not segregate the sick, nor could
we care for them. We were packed like sardines. There was nothing to do
but rot or die--that is, there was nothing to do after the night that
followed the first death. On that night, the mate, the supercargo, the
Polish Jew, and four native divers sneaked away in the large whale-boat.
They were never heard of again. In the morning the captain promptly
scuttled the remaining boats, and there we were.

That day there were two deaths; the following day three; then it jumped
to eight. It was curious to see how we took it. The natives, for
instance, fell into a condition of dumb, stolid fear. The
captain--Oudouse, his name was, a Frenchman--became very nervous and
voluble. He actually got the twitches. He was a large, fleshy man,
weighing at least two hundred pounds, and he quickly became a faithful
representation of a quivering jelly-mountain of fat.

The German, the two Americans, and myself bought up all the Scotch
whiskey, and proceeded to stay drunk. The theory was beautiful--namely,
if we kept ourselves soaked in alcohol, every smallpox germ that came
into contact with us would immediately be scorched to a cinder. And the
theory worked, though I must confess that neither Captain Oudouse nor Ah
Choon were attacked by the disease either. The Frenchman did not drink
at all, while Ah Choon restricted himself to one drink daily.

It was a pretty time. The sun, going into northern declination, was
straight overhead. There was no wind, except for frequent squalls, which
blew fiercely for from five minutes to half an hour, and wound up by
deluging us with rain. After each squall, the awful sun would come out,
drawing clouds of steam from the soaked decks.

The steam was not nice. It was the vapor of death, freighted with
millions and millions of germs. We always took another drink when we saw
it going up from the dead and dying, and usually we took two or three
more drinks, mixing them exceptionally stiff. Also, we made it a rule to
take an additional several each time they hove the dead over to the
sharks that swarmed about us.

We had a week of it, and then the whiskey gave out. It is just as well,
or I shouldn't be alive now. It took a sober man to pull through what
followed, as you will see when I mention the little fact that only two
men did pull through. The other man was the heathen--at least, that was
what I heard Captain Oudouse call him at the moment I first became
aware of the heathen's existence. But to come back.

It was at the end of the week, with the whiskey gone, and the
pearl-buyers sober, that I happened to glance at the barometer that hung
in the cabin companionway. Its normal register in the Paumotus was
29.90, and it was quite customary to see it vacillate between 29.85 and
30.00, or even 30.05; but to see it as I saw it, down to 29.62, was
sufficient to sober the most drunken pearl-buyer that ever incinerated
smallpox microbes in Scotch whiskey.

I called Captain Oudouse's attention to it, only to be informed that he
had watched it going down for several hours. There was little to do, but
that little he did very well, considering the circumstances. He took off
the light sails, shortened right down to storm canvas, spread
life-lines, and waited for the wind. His mistake lay in what he did
after the wind came. He hove to on the port tack, which was the right
thing to do south of the Equator, if--and there was the rub--_if_ one
were _not_ in the direct path of the hurricane.

We were in the direct path. I could see that by the steady increase of
the wind and the equally steady fall of the barometer. I wanted him to
turn and run with the wind on the port quarter until the barometer
ceased falling, and then to heave to. We argued till he was reduced to
hysteria, but budge he would not. The worst of it was that I could not
get the rest of the pearl-buyers to back me up. Who was I, anyway, to
know more about the sea and its ways than a properly qualified captain?
was what was in their minds, I knew.

Of course the sea rose with the wind frightfully; and I shall never
forget the first three seas the _Petite Jeanne_ shipped. She had fallen
off, as vessels do at times when hove to, and the first sea made a clean
breach. The life-lines were only for the strong and well, and little
good were they even for them when the women and children, the bananas
and cocoanuts, the pigs and trade boxes, the sick and the dying, were
swept along in a solid, screeching, groaning mass.

The second sea filled the _Petite Jeanne's_ decks flush with the rails;
and, as her stern sank down and her bow tossed skyward, all the
miserable dunnage of life and luggage poured aft. It was a human
torrent. They came head-first, feet-first, sidewise, rolling over and
over, twisting, squirming, writhing, and crumpling up. Now and again one
caught a grip on a stanchion or a rope; but the weight of the bodies
behind tore such grips loose.

One man I noticed fetch up, head on and square on, with the
starboard-bitt. His head cracked like an egg. I saw what was coming,
sprang on top of the cabin, and from there into the mainsail itself. Ah
Choon and one of the Americans tried to follow me, but I was one jump
ahead of them. The American was swept away and over the stern like a
piece of chaff. Ah Choon caught a spoke of the wheel, and swung in
behind it. But a strapping Raratonga vahine (woman)--she must have
weighed two hundred and fifty--brought up against him, and got an arm
around his neck. He clutched the kanaka steersman with his other hand;
and just at that moment the schooner flung down to starboard.

The rush of bodies and sea that was coming along the port runway between
the cabin and the rail turned abruptly and poured to starboard. Away
they went--vahine, Ah Choon, and steersman: and I swear I saw Ah Choon
grin at me with philosophic resignation as he cleared the rail and went

The third sea--the biggest of the three--did not do so much damage. By
the time it arrived nearly everybody was in the rigging. On deck perhaps
a dozen gasping, half-drowned, and half-stunned wretches were rolling
about or attempting to crawl into safety. They went by the board, as did
the wreckage of the two remaining boats. The other pearl-buyers and
myself, between seas, managed to get about fifteen women and children
into the cabin, and battened down. Little good it did the poor creatures
in the end.

Wind? Out of all my experience I could not have believed it possible for
the wind to blow as it did. There is no describing it. How can one
describe a nightmare? It was the same way with that wind. It tore the
clothes off our bodies. I say _tore them off_, and I mean it. I am not
asking you to believe it. I am merely telling something that I saw and
felt. There are times when I do not believe it myself. I went through
it, and that is enough. One could not face that wind and live. It was a
monstrous thing, and the most monstrous thing about it was that it
increased and continued to increase.

Imagine countless millions and billions of tons of sand. Imagine this
sand tearing along at ninety, a hundred, a hundred and twenty, or any
other number of miles per hour. Imagine, further, this sand to be
invisible, impalpable, yet to retain all the weight and density of sand.
Do all this, and you may get a vague inkling of what that wind was like.

Perhaps sand is not the right comparison. Consider it mud, invisible,
impalpable, but heavy as mud. Nay, it goes beyond that. Consider every
molecule of air to be a mud-bank in itself. Then try to imagine the
multitudinous impact of mud-banks. No; it is beyond me. Language may be
adequate to express the ordinary conditions of life, but it cannot
possibly express any of the conditions of so enormous a blast of wind.
It would have been better had I stuck by my original intention of not
attempting a description.

I will say this much: The sea, which had risen at first, was beaten down
by that wind. More: it seemed as if the whole ocean had been sucked up
in the maw of the hurricane, and hurled on through that portion of
space which previously had been occupied by the air.

Of course, our canvas had gone long before. But Captain Oudouse had on
the _Petite Jeanne_ something I had never before seen on a South Sea
schooner--a sea-anchor. It was a conical canvas bag, the mouth of which
was kept open by a huge hoop of iron. The sea-anchor was bridled
something like a kite, so that it bit into the water as a kite bites
into the air, but with a difference. The sea-anchor remained just under
the surface of the ocean in a perpendicular position. A long line, in
turn, connected it with the schooner. As a result, the _Petite Jeanne_
rode bow on to the wind and to what sea there was.

The situation really would have been favorable had we not been in the
path of the storm. True, the wind itself tore our canvas out of the
gaskets, jerked out our topmasts, and made a raffle of our running-gear,
but still we would have come through nicely had we not been square in
front of the advancing storm-centre. That was what fixed us. I was in a
state of stunned, numbed, paralyzed collapse from enduring the impact
of the wind, and I think I was just about ready to give up and die when
the centre smote us. The blow we received was an absolute lull. There
was not a breath of air. The effect on one was sickening.

Remember that for hours we had been at terrific muscular tension,
withstanding the awful pressure of that wind. And then, suddenly, the
pressure was removed. I know that I felt as though I was about to
expand, to fly apart in all directions. It seemed as if every atom
composing my body was repelling every other atom and was on the verge of
rushing off irresistibly into space. But that lasted only for a moment.
Destruction was upon us.

In the absence of the wind and pressure the sea rose. It jumped, it
leaped, it soared straight toward the clouds. Remember, from every point
of the compass that inconceivable wind was blowing in toward the centre
of calm. The result was that the seas sprang up from every point of the
compass. There was no wind to check them. They popped up like corks
released from the bottom of a pail of water. There was no system to
them, no stability. They were hollow, maniacal seas. They were eighty
feet high at the least. They were not seas at all. They resembled no sea
a man had ever seen.

They were splashes, monstrous splashes--that is all. Splashes that were
eighty feet high. Eighty! They were more than eighty. They went over our
mastheads. They were spouts, explosions. They were drunken. They fell
anywhere, anyhow. They jostled one another; they collided. They rushed
together and collapsed upon one another, or fell apart like a thousand
waterfalls all at once. It was no ocean any man had ever dreamed of,
that hurricane centre. It was confusion thrice confounded. It was
anarchy. It was a hell-pit of sea-water gone mad.

The _Petite Jeanne_? I don't know. The heathen told me afterward that he
did not know. She was literally torn apart, ripped wide open, beaten
into a pulp, smashed into kindling wood, annihilated. When I came to I
was in the water, swimming automatically, though I was about two-thirds
drowned. How I got there I had no recollection. I remembered seeing the
_Petite Jeanne_ fly to pieces at what must have been the instant that my
own consciousness was buffetted out of me. But there I was, with
nothing to do but make the best of it, and in that best there was little
promise. The wind was blowing again, the sea was much smaller and more
regular, and I knew that I had passed through the centre. Fortunately,
there were no sharks about. The hurricane had dissipated the ravenous
horde that had surrounded the death ship and fed off the dead.

It was about midday when the _Petite Jeanne_ went to pieces, and it must
have been two hours afterward when I picked up with one of her
hatch-covers. Thick rain was driving at the time; and it was the merest
chance that flung me and the hatch-cover together. A short length of
line was trailing from the rope handle; and I knew that I was good for a
day, at least, if the sharks did not return. Three hours later, possibly
a little longer, sticking close to the cover, and, with closed eyes,
concentrating my whole soul upon the task of breathing in enough air to
keep me going and at the same time of avoiding breathing in enough water
to drown me, it seemed to me that I heard voices. The rain had ceased,
and wind and sea were easing marvellously. Not twenty feet away from me
on another hatch-cover, were Captain Oudouse and the heathen. They were
fighting over the possession of the cover--at least, the Frenchman was.

"_Paien noir_!" I heard him scream, and at the same time I saw him kick
the kanaka.

Now, Captain Oudouse had lost all his clothes, except his shoes, and
they were heavy brogans. It was a cruel blow, for it caught the heathen
on the mouth and the point of the chin, half stunning him. I looked for
him to retaliate, but he contented himself with swimming about forlornly
a safe ten feet away. Whenever a fling of the sea threw him closer, the
Frenchman, hanging on with his hands, kicked out at him with both feet.
Also, at the moment of delivering each kick, he called the kanaka a
black heathen.

"For two centimes I'd come over there and drown you, you white beast!" I

The only reason I did not go was that I felt too tired. The very thought
of the effort to swim over was nauseating. So I called to the kanaka to
come to me, and proceeded to share the hatch-cover with him. Otoo, he
told me his name was (pronounced o-to-o); also, he told me that he was
a native of Bora Bora, the most westerly of the Society Group. As I
learned afterward, he had got the hatch-cover first, and, after some
time, encountering Captain Oudouse, had offered to share it with him,
and had been kicked off for his pains.

And that was how Otoo and I first came together. He was no fighter. He
was all sweetness and gentleness, a love-creature, though he stood
nearly six feet tall and was muscled like a gladiator. He was no
fighter, but he was also no coward. He had the heart of a lion; and in
the years that followed I have seen him run risks that I would never
dream of taking. What I mean is that while he was no fighter, and while
he always avoided precipitating a row, he never ran away from trouble
when it started. And it was "'Ware shoal!" when once Otoo went into
action. I shall never forget what he did to Bill King. It occurred in
German Samoa. Bill King was hailed the champion heavyweight of the
American Navy. He was a big brute of a man, a veritable gorilla, one of
those hard-hitting, rough-housing chaps, and clever with his fists as
well. He picked the quarrel, and he kicked Otoo twice and struck him
once before Otoo felt it to be necessary to fight. I don't think it
lasted four minutes, at the end of which time Bill King was the unhappy
possessor of four broken ribs, a broken forearm, and a dislocated
shoulder-blade. Otoo knew nothing of scientific boxing. He was merely a
manhandler; and Bill King was something like three months in recovering
from the bit of manhandling he received that afternoon on Apia beach.

But I am running ahead of my yarn. We shared the hatch-cover between us.
We took turn and turn about, one lying flat on the cover and resting,
while the other, submerged to the neck, merely held on with his hands.
For two days and nights, spell and spell, on the cover and in the water,
we drifted over the ocean. Toward the last I was delirious most of the
time; and there were times, too, when I heard Otoo babbling and raving
in his native tongue. Our continuous immersion prevented us from dying
of thirst, though the sea-water and the sunshine gave us the prettiest
imaginable combination of salt pickle and sunburn.

In the end, Otoo saved my life; for I came to lying on the beach twenty
feet from the water, sheltered from the sun by a couple of cocoanut
leaves. No one but Otoo could have dragged me there and stuck up the
leaves for shade. He was lying beside me. I went off again; and the next
time I came round, it was cool and starry night, and Otoo was pressing a
drinking cocoanut to my lips.

We were the sole survivors of the _Petite Jeanne._ Captain Oudouse must
have succumbed to exhaustion, for several days later his hatch-cover
drifted ashore without him. Otoo and I lived with the natives of the
atoll for a week, when we were rescued by a French cruiser and taken to
Tahiti. In the meantime, however, we had performed the ceremony of
exchanging names. In the South Seas such a ceremony binds two men closer
together than blood-brothership. The initiative had been mine; and Otoo
was rapturously delighted when I suggested it.

"It is well," he said, in Tahitian. "For we have been mates together for
two days on the lips of Death."

"But Death stuttered." I smiled.

"It was a brave deed you did, master," he replied, "and Death was not
vile enough to speak."

"Why do you 'master' me?" I demanded, with a show of hurt feelings. "We
have exchanged names. To you I am Otoo. To me you are Charley. And
between you and me, forever and forever, you shall be Charley, and I
shall be Otoo. It is the way of the custom. And when we die, if it does
happen that we live again somewhere beyond the stars and the sky, still
shall you be Charley to me, and I Otoo to you."

"Yes, master," he answered, his eyes luminous and soft with joy.

"There you go!" I cried indignantly.

"What does it matter what my lips utter?" he argued. "They are only my
lips. But I shall think Otoo always. Whenever I think of myself, I shall
think of you. Whenever men call me by name, I shall think of you. And
beyond the sky and beyond the stars, always and forever, you shall be
Otoo to me. Is it well, master?"

I hid my smile, and answered that it was well.

We parted at Papeete. I remained ashore to recuperate; and he went on
in a cutter to his own island, Bora Bora. Six weeks later he was back. I
was surprised, for he had told me of his wife, and said that he was
returning to her, and would give over sailing on far voyages.

"Where do you go, master?" he asked after our first greetings.

I shrugged my shoulders. It was a hard question.

"All the world," was my answer--"all the world, all the sea, and all the
islands that are in the sea."

"I will go with you," he said simply. "My wife is dead."

I never had a brother; but from what I have seen of other men's
brothers, I doubt if any man ever had a brother that was to him what
Otoo was to me. He was brother and father and mother as well. And this I
know: I lived a straighter and better man because of Otoo. I cared
little for other men, but I had to live straight in Otoo's eyes. Because
of him I dared not tarnish myself. He made me his ideal, compounding me,
I fear, chiefly out of his own love and worship; and there were times
when I stood close to the steep pitch of Hades, and would have taken
the plunge had not the thought of Otoo restrained me. His pride in me
entered into me, until it became one of the major rules in my personal
code to do nothing that would diminish that pride of his.

Naturally, I did not learn right away what his feelings were toward me.
He never criticised, never censured; and slowly the exalted place I held
in his eyes dawned upon me, and slowly I grew to comprehend the hurt I
could inflict upon him by being anything less than my best.

For seventeen years we were together; for seventeen years he was at my
shoulder, watching while I slept, nursing me through fever and
wounds--ay, and receiving wounds in fighting for me. He signed on the
same ships with me; and together we ranged the Pacific from Hawaii to
Sydney Head, and from Torres Straits to the Galapagos. We blackbirded
from the New Hebrides and the Line Islands over to the westward clear
through the Louisades, New Britain, New Ireland, and New Hanover. We
were wrecked three times--in the Gilberts, in the Santa Cruz group, and
in the Fijis. And we traded and salved wherever a dollar promised in
the way of pearl and pearl-shell, copra, beche-de-mer, hawkbill
turtle-shell, and stranded wrecks.

It began in Papeete, immediately after his announcement that he was
going with me over all the sea, and the islands in the midst thereof.
There was a club in those days in Papeete, where the pearlers, traders,
captains, and riffraff of South Sea adventurers foregathered. The play
ran high, and the drink ran high; and I am very much afraid that I kept
later hours than were becoming or proper. No matter what the hour was
when I left the club, there was Otoo waiting to see me safely home.

At first I smiled; next I chided him. Then I told him flatly that I
stood in need of no wet-nursing. After that I did not see him when I
came out of the club. Quite by accident, a week or so later, I
discovered that he still saw me home, lurking across the street among
the shadows of the mango-trees. What could I do? I know what I did do.

Insensibly I began to keep better hours. On wet and stormy nights, in
the thick of the folly and the fun, the thought would persist in coming
to me of Otoo keeping his dreary vigil under the dripping mangoes.
Truly, he had made a better man of me. Yet he was not strait-laced. And
he knew nothing of common Christian morality. All the people on Bora
Bora were Christians; but he was a heathen, the only unbeliever on the
island, a gross materialist, who believed that when he died he was dead.
He believed merely in fair play and square dealing. Petty meanness, in
his code, was almost as serious as wanton homicide; and I do believe
that he respected a murderer more than a man given to small practices.

Otoo had my welfare always at heart. He thought ahead for me, weighed my
plans, and took a greater interest in them than I did myself. At first,
when I was unaware of this interest of his in my affairs, he had to
divine my intentions, as, for instance, at Papeete, when I contemplated
going partners with a knavish fellow-countryman on a guano venture. I
did not know he was a knave. Nor did any white man in Papeete. Neither
did Otoo know, but he saw how thick we were getting, and found out for
me, and without my asking him. Native sailors from the ends of the seas
knock about on the beach in Tahiti; and Otoo, suspicious merely, went
among them till he had gathered sufficient data to justify his
suspicions. Oh, it was a nice history, that of Randolph Waters. I
couldn't believe it when Otoo first narrated it; but when I sheeted it
home to Waters he gave in without a murmur, and got away on the first
steamer to Aukland.

At first, I am free to confess, I couldn't help resenting Otoo's poking
his nose into my business. But I knew that he was wholly unselfish; and
soon I had to acknowledge his wisdom and discretion. He had his eyes
open always to my main chance, and he was both keen-sighted and
far-sighted. In time he became my counsellor, until he knew more of my
business than I did myself. He really had my interest at heart more than
I did. Mine was the magnificent carelessness of youth, for I preferred
romance to dollars, and adventure to a comfortable billet with all night
in. So it was well that I had some one to look out for me. I know that
if it had not been for Otoo, I should not be here to-day.

Of numerous instances, let me give one. I had had some experience in
blackbirding before I went pearling in the Paumotus. Otoo and I were in
Samoa--we really were on the beach and hard aground--when my chance came
to go as recruiter on a blackbird brig. Otoo signed on before the mast;
and for the next half-dozen years, in as many ships, we knocked about
the wildest portions of Melanesia. Otoo saw to it that he always pulled
stroke-oar in my boat. Our custom in recruiting labor was to land the
recruiter on the beach. The covering boat always lay on its oars several
hundred feet off shore, while the recruiter's boat, also lying on its
oars, kept afloat on the edge of the beach. When I landed with my
trade-goods, leaving my steering sweep apeak, Otoo left his stroke
position and came into the stern-sheets, where a Winchester lay ready to
hand under a flap of canvas. The boat's crew was also armed, the Sniders
concealed under canvas flaps that ran the length of the gunwales. While
I was busy arguing and persuading the woolly-headed cannibals to come
and labor on the Queensland plantations Otoo kept watch. And often and
often his low voice warned me of suspicious actions and impending
treachery. Sometimes it was the quick shot from his rifle, knocking a
savage over, that was the first warning I received. And in my rush to
the boat his hand was always there to jerk me flying aboard. Once, I
remember, on _Santa Anna_, the boat grounded just as the trouble began.
The covering boat was dashing to our assistance, but the several score
of savages would have wiped us out before it arrived. Otoo took a flying
leap ashore, dug both hands into the trade-goods, and scattered tobacco,
beads, tomahawks, knives, and calicoes in all directions.

This was too much for the woolly-heads. While they scrambled for the
treasures, the boat was shoved clear, and we were aboard and forty feet
away. And I got thirty recruits off that very beach in the next four

The particular instance I have in mind was on Malaita, the most savage
island in the easterly Solomons. The natives had been remarkably
friendly; and how were we to know that the whole village had been taking
up a collection for over two years with which to buy a white man's head?
The beggars are all head-hunters, and they especially esteem a white
man's head. The fellow who captured the head would receive the whole
collection. As I say, they appeared very friendly; and on this day I
was fully a hundred yards down the beach from the boat. Otoo had
cautioned me; and, as usual when I did not heed him, I came to grief.

The first I knew, a cloud of spears sailed out of the mangrove swamp at
me. At least a dozen were sticking into me. I started to run, but
tripped over one that was fast in my calf, and went down. The
woolly-heads made a run for me, each with a long-handled, fantail
tomahawk with which to hack off my head. They were so eager for the
prize that they got in one another's way. In the confusion, I avoided
several hacks by throwing myself right and left on the sand.

Then Otoo arrived--Otoo the manhandler. In some way he had got hold of a
heavy war club, and at close quarters it was a far more efficient weapon
than a rifle. He was right in the thick of them, so that they could not
spear him, while their tomahawks seemed worse than useless. He was
fighting for me, and he was in a true Berserker rage. The way he handled
that club was amazing. Their skulls squashed like overripe oranges. It
was not until he had driven them back, picked me up in his arms, and
started to run, that he received his first wounds. He arrived in the
boat with four spear thrusts, got his Winchester, and with it got a man
for every shot. Then we pulled aboard the schooner and doctored up.

Seventeen years we were together. He made me. I should to-day be a
supercargo, a recruiter, or a memory, if it had not been for him.

"You spend your money, and you go out and get more," he said one day.
"It is easy to get money now. But when you get old, your money will be
spent, and you will not be able to go out and get more. I know, master.
I have studied the way of white men. On the beaches are many old men who
were young once, and who could get money just like you. Now they are
old, and they have nothing, and they wait about for the young men like
you to come ashore and buy drinks for them.

"The black boy is a slave on the plantations. He gets twenty dollars a
year. He works hard. The overseer does not work hard. He rides a horse
and watches the black boy work. He gets twelve hundred dollars a year. I
am a sailor on the schooner. I get fifteen dollars a month. That is
because I am a good sailor. I work hard. The captain has a double
awning, and drinks beer out of long bottles. I have never seen him haul
a rope or pull an oar. He gets one hundred and fifty dollars a month. I
am a sailor. He is a navigator. Master, I think it would be very good
for you to know navigation."

Otoo spurred me on to it. He sailed with me as second mate on my first
schooner, and he was far prouder of my command than I was myself. Later
on it was:

"The captain is well paid, master; but the ship is in his keeping, and
he is never free from the burden. It is the owner who is better
paid--the owner who sits ashore with many servants and turns his money

"True, but a schooner costs five thousand dollars--an old schooner at
that," I objected. "I should be an old man before I saved five thousand

"There be short ways for white men to make money," he went on, pointing
ashore at the cocoanut-fringed beach.

We were in the Solomons at the time, picking up a cargo of ivory-nuts
along the east coast of Guadalcanar.

"Between this river mouth and the next it is two miles," he said. "The
flat land runs far back. It is worth nothing now. Next year--who
knows?--or the year after, men will pay much money for that land. The
anchorage is good. Big steamers can lie close up. You can buy the land
four miles deep from the old chief for ten thousand sticks of tobacco,
ten bottles of square-face, and a Snider, which will cost you, maybe,
one hundred dollars. Then you place the deed with the commissioner; and
the next year, or the year after, you sell and become the owner of a

I followed his lead, and his words came true, though in three years,
instead of two. Next came the grasslands deal on Guadalcanar--twenty
thousand acres, on a governmental nine hundred and ninety-nine years'
lease at a nominal sum. I owned the lease for precisely ninety days,
when I sold it to a company for half a fortune. Always it was Otoo who
looked ahead and saw the opportunity. He was responsible for the salving
of the _Doncaster_--bought in at auction for a hundred pounds, and
clearing three thousand after every expense was paid. He led me into the
Savaii plantation and the cocoa venture on Upolu.

We did not go seafaring so much as in the old days. I was too well off.
I married, and my standard of living rose; but Otoo remained the same
old-time Otoo, moving about the house or trailing through the office,
his wooden pipe in his mouth, a shilling undershirt on his back, and a
four-shilling lava-lava about his loins. I could not get him to spend
money. There was no way of repaying him except with love, and God knows
he got that in full measure from all of us. The children worshipped him;
and if he had been spoilable, my wife would surely have been his

The children! He really was the one who showed them the way of their
feet in the world practical. He began by teaching them to walk. He sat
up with them when they were sick. One by one, when they were scarcely
toddlers, he took them down to the lagoon, and made them into
amphibians. He taught them more than I ever knew of the habits of fish
and the ways of catching them. In the bush it was the same thing. At
seven, Tom knew more woodcraft than I ever dreamed existed. At six, Mary
went over the Sliding Rock without a quiver, and I have seen strong men
balk at that feat. And when Frank had just turned six he could bring up
shillings from the bottom in three fathoms.

"My people in Bora Bora do not like heathen--they are all Christians;
and I do not like Bora Bora Christians," he said one day, when I, with
the idea of getting him to spend some of the money that was rightfully
his, had been trying to persuade him to make a visit to his own island
in one of our schooners--a special voyage which I had hoped to make a
record breaker in the matter of prodigal expense.

I say one of _our_ schooners, though legally at the time they belonged
to me. I struggled long with him to enter into partnership.

"We have been partners from the day the _Petite Jeanne_ went down," he
said at last. "But if your heart so wishes, then shall we become
partners by the law. I have no work to do, yet are my expenses large. I
drink and eat and smoke in plenty--it costs much, I know. I do not pay
for the playing of billiards, for I play on your table; but still the
money goes. Fishing on the reef is only a rich man's pleasure. It is
shocking, the cost of hooks and cotton line. Yes; it is necessary that
we be partners by the law. I need the money. I shall get it from the
head clerk in the office."

So the papers were made out and recorded. A year later I was compelled
to complain.

"Charley," said I, "you are a wicked old fraud, a miserly skinflint, a
miserable land-crab. Behold, your share for the year in all our
partnership has been thousands of dollars. The head clerk has given me
this paper. It says that in the year you have drawn just eighty-seven
dollars and twenty cents."

"Is there any owing me?" he asked anxiously.

"I tell you thousands and thousands," I answered.

His face brightened, as with an immense relief.

"It is well," he said. "See that the head clerk keeps good account of
it. When I want it, I shall want it, and there must not be a cent

"If there is," he added fiercely, after a pause, "it must come out of
the clerk's wages."

And all the time, as I afterward learned, his will, drawn up by
Carruthers, and making me sole beneficiary, lay in the American consul's

But the end came, as the end must come to all human associations. It
occurred in the Solomons, where our wildest work had been done in the
wild young days, and where we were once more--principally on a holiday,
incidentally to look after our holdings on Florida Island and to look
over the pearling possibilities of the Mboli Pass. We were lying at
Savo, having run in to trade for curios.

Now, Savo is alive with sharks. The custom of the woolly-heads of
burying their dead in the sea did not tend to discourage the sharks from
making the adjacent waters a hang-out. It was my luck to be coming
aboard in a tiny, overloaded, native canoe, when the thing capsized.
There were four woolly-heads and myself in it, or, rather, hanging to
it. The schooner was a hundred yards away. I was just hailing for a boat
when one of the woolly-heads began to scream. Holding on to the end of
the canoe, both he and that portion of the canoe were dragged under
several times. Then he loosed his clutch and disappeared. A shark had
got him.

The three remaining savages tried to climb out of the water upon the
bottom of the canoe. I yelled and struck at the nearest with my fist,
but it was no use. They were in a blind funk. The canoe could barely
have supported one of them. Under the three it upended and rolled
sidewise, throwing them back into the water.

I abandoned the canoe and started to swim toward the schooner, expecting
to be picked up by the boat before I got there. One of the savages
elected to come with me, and we swam along silently, side by side, now
and again putting our faces into the water and peering about for sharks.
The screams of the man who stayed by the canoe informed us that he was
taken. I was peering into the water when I saw a big shark pass directly
beneath me. He was fully sixteen feet in length. I saw the whole thing.
He got the woolly-head by the middle, and away he went, the poor devil,
head, shoulders, and arms out of water all the time, screeching in a
heartrending way. He was carried along in this fashion for several
hundred feet, when he was dragged beneath the surface.

I swam doggedly on, hoping that that was the last unattached shark. But
there was another. Whether it was the one that had attacked the natives
earlier, or whether it was one that had made a good meal elsewhere, I do
not know. At any rate, he was not in such haste as the others. I could
not swim so rapidly now, for a large part of my effort was devoted to
keeping track of him. I was watching him when he made his first attack.
By good luck I got both hands on his nose, and, though his momentum
nearly shoved me under, I managed to keep him off. He veered clear, and
began circling about again. A second time I escaped him by the same
maneuver. The third rush was a miss on both sides. He sheered at the
moment my hands should have landed on his nose, but his sandpaper hide
(I had on a sleeveless undershirt) scraped the skin off one arm from
elbow to shoulder.

By this time I was played out, and gave up hope. The schooner was still
two hundred feet away. My face was in the water, and I was watching him
maneuver for another attempt, when I saw a brown body pass between us.
It was Otoo.

"Swim for the schooner, master!" he said. And he spoke gayly, as though
the affair was a mere lark. "I know sharks. The shark is my brother."

I obeyed, swimming slowly on, while Otoo swam about me, keeping always
between me and the shark, foiling his rushes and encouraging me.

"The davit tackle carried away, and they are rigging the falls," he
explained, a minute or so later, and then went under to head off another

By the time the schooner was thirty feet away I was about done for. I
could scarcely move. They were heaving lines at us from on board, but
they continually fell short. The shark, finding that it was receiving no
hurt, had become bolder. Several times it nearly got me, but each time
Otoo was there just the moment before it was too late. Of course, Otoo
could have saved himself any time. But he stuck by me.

"Good-bye, Charley! I'm finished!" I just managed to gasp.

I knew that the end had come, and that the next moment I should throw
up my hands and go down.

But Otoo laughed in my face, saying:

"I will show you a new trick. I will make that shark feel sick!"

He dropped in behind me, where the shark was preparing to come at me.

"A little more to the left!" he next called out. "There is a line there
on the water. To the left, master--to the left!"

I changed my course and struck out blindly. I was by that time barely
conscious. As my hand closed on the line I heard an exclamation from on
board. I turned and looked. There was no sign of Otoo. The next instant
he broke surface. Both hands were off at the wrist, the stumps spouting

"Otoo!" he called softly. And I could see in his gaze the love that
thrilled in his voice.

Then, and then only, at the very last of all our years, he called me by
that name.

"Good-by, Otoo!" he called.

Then he was dragged under, and I was hauled aboard, where I fainted in
the captain's arms.

And so passed Otoo, who saved me and made me a man, and who saved me in
the end. We met in the maw of a hurricane, and parted in the maw of a
shark, with seventeen intervening years of comradeship, the like of
which I dare to assert has never befallen two men, the one brown and the
other white. If Jehovah be from His high place watching every sparrow
fall, not least in His kingdom shall be Otoo, the one heathen of Bora

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary