The Coral Island
Here are two short extracts from the original novel, 'The Coral Island' by R.M. Ballantyne to introduce my story. The first is from the preface and the second from Chapter 2:
"I was a boy when I went through the wonderful adventures herein set down. With the memory of my boyish feelings strong upon me, I present my book specially to boys, in the earnest hope that they may derive valuable information, much pleasure, great profit, and unbounded amusement from its pages.
One word more. If there is any boy or man who loves to be melancholy and morose, and who cannot enter with kindly sympathy into the regions of fun, let me seriously advise him to shut my book and put it away. It is not meant for him.
"There were a number of boys in the ship, but two of them were my special favourites. Jack Martin was a tall, strapping, broad-shouldered youth of eighteen, with a handsome, good-humoured, firm face. He had had a good education, was clever and hearty and lion-like in his actions, but mild and quiet in disposition. Jack was a general favourite, and had a peculiar fondness for me. My other companion was Peterkin Gay. He was little, quick, funny, decidedly mischievous, and about sixteen years old. But Peterkin's mischief was almost always harmless, else he could not have been so much beloved as he was."
He and I and Peterkin afterwards became the best and staunchest friends that ever tossed together on the stormy waves.
Well, with a start like that, written in all innocence, I'm sure, how could I do anything but write my own version? I've started basically at a similar point to 'the Master' after the storm and loss of the ship but from then on my own imagination has done the rest.
* * * * * *
I came round to find myself lying on what felt like a sandy shore. To my left I could hear the soft thud of waves, overhead the cry of gulls and someone repeatedly saying my name.
I opened my eyes to find Peterkin's anxious face just above mine, his hair a curly blond halo with the sunshine behind it. As our eyes met, his anxious expression cleared to be replaced by a clear smile which enlivened his dear face. He turned aside and spoke to someone I could not see at the moment.
"See, Jack, you was wrong. He ain't dead after all."
A figure swam into my vision and I made out the handsome features of Jack Martin, his face frowning with concern. Then I noticed that he had lost his shirt and his brawny chest was bare to the elements. What shocked me worst of all though was when I could see all of him and I realised that he was without his trousers and underclothes also. He was as naked as the day he was born, though mightily bigger of course, and his todger hung fat and long between his legs.
"Gracious, Jack," I said. "Where are your clothes?"
"Wet from the sea," he said laughing, "so I spread them to dry on the rocks. Same as I done with yours."
I looked down and found, to my embarrassment, that I too was naked and exposed on the sand. Peterkin clad, I was pleased to see in some undergarment, pranced around laughing at my discomfiture, a big smile on his face. In spite of my protests, though, Jack seemed to find pleasure in his nakedness for he made no effort to put on his clothing and behaved like a savage, glorying in the display of his parts. And I saw that this was having no good effect on young Peterkin whom I observed casting sidelong glances at Jack.
I of course insisted that my own clothes, being dry should be donned and felt more comfortable, even though somewhat hot, when I was suitably clothed like a Christian. I told Peterkin to put on his shirt and britches which he did with some bad grace but soon recovered his good humour for he is not a lad who long sulks. Jack, though insisted on parading himself in his nakedness. I have often noticed that he is a young man who tends to touch himself in his privates and, seeing that we were now no longer restricted by the observation and censure of others aboard ship, his lewdness knew no bounds. All of this I had to ignore though I sent up a prayer to the Good Lord that Jack might be less ostentatious in his actions.
But we had other things to think on, having now fully recovered my senses and remembered the terrible storm in which our boat had foundered with, presumably, the loss of all hands. Also there was our almost miraculous escape by clutching an oar and leaping overboard before the ship struck a rock. Now Jack and Peterkin filled me in with the details of how a wave had bashed my head against the oar just before we had been washed up on the sandy shore where we now were.
First there was food and water to be considered, but these were, with God's Providence, already in abundance, there being a stream of fresh water running from the forest in the higher part of the island if island it indeed was and numerous coconut palms some of which had dropped their shells and whose tender white meat we could eat. So, for the time being we ate and drank our fill and I endeavoured to ignore Jack's nakedness. Though as he sprawled across from us, legs apart, it was difficult so to do, and I noticed Peterkin's eyes often strayed in his direction and once I observed his licking his lips as he did so, though this may have been to clear some coconut milk from his mouth.
Clearly though I would have to have a good long talk to Jack when I could get him alone, for I did not want young Peterkin's senses inflamed and turned to lustful thoughts.
The opportunity though did not come my way as after we had eaten, we had to think of some shelter for the night. There were plenty of fallen branches and fronds from the coconut palms and these we hauled and propped against a sturdy tree thus making a sort of circular refuge which we hoped would keep out any wandering animals. We protected the entrance with some thorn bushes. Jack continued with his nakedness and his bending and lifting he certainly was no slouch in helping with the constructions of our shelter displayed his most private parts to us at all angles and positions. Peterkin, I noticed, seemed fascinated by the exhibition, and often moved closer to Jack allowing his hand to brush his body, and I was therefore glad when a thorn pierced Jack's calf and he decided that it would be better to put on his britches and shoes. By this time though the sun was setting and the heat of the day was gone so we all were thankful for our civilised clothing.
It was then that we made a list of everything that we had about our persons which might be useful. Unfortunately they were not many as we had had little or no time to grab anything before we had been plunged into the sea. Jack, the usually resourceful one, had a penknife in his pocket though it was only a small one and did not look as if it would cut through anything of any toughness. Peterkin had nothing except that his britches were held up by a piece of stout twine which might or might not be of use. When I asked him about it, he seemed ready to untie it but his britches being rather too large for him, I feared that without the tie, he would again be trouserless, so I made a mental note rather than actually examining it.
There was nothing in my pockets either but Jack said that, when he had laid my britches out to dry, a rather battered object had rolled out. When we went to look at the rocks he had been using as a drying area, we found my old telescope. Unfortunately the eyepiece had been shattered, presumably by the action of the waves, and thus it was no use whatsoever. It was indeed a poor selection of objects therefore that we surveyed on that first evening but at least we were saved and we prepared ourselves for sleep.
Before we retired, I insisted on us kneeling and making a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for our safe delivery from the sea and the storm, and was pleased that Peterkin joined in with almost too hearty a response, though Ralph, I fear, seemed unenthusiastic.
Dusk is almost non-existent in these latitudes. The sun seems to fall over the horizon and within moments, we were in darkness. Night-time in the tropics has a darkness which is never experienced in the civilised northern world where there is always some sort of artificial light. Here though, as there was no moon at that time of the month, the only lights were the stars which flared with an almost incandescent intensity.
After observing these celestial orbs for a while and feeling suitable chastened, we crawled into our 'hut' and tried to sleep. Our beds were the solid ground and our covers merely the clothes we had on. We hadn't realised that even near the equator, it becomes very cold at night. A wind had arisen and there were so many gaps in our hut that it swept straight through. Soon we were shivering.
"I be so cold," I heard Peterkin say through chattering teeth.
I was at a loss to know what to suggest but Jack said, "Huddle up side of me, little friend, and Ralph can lie on your other side. At least then you will be warmed both ways and we can take it in turns to warm us-selves front or back."
I must admit I was not too happy about this arrangement but Peterkin was so obviously in discomfort that I turned my back against his and agreed that he and Jack could huddle up close though I insisted that Jack also turn his back. Peterkin, I was sure would just get the warmth without coming into contact with Jack's private parts. Gradually his shivers ceased and I heard his breathing become slow and deep and assumed he was sleeping. Only then did I allow myself to drift off, though the activities of the day had made me exhausted as I assumed they had done to the others.
I was awakened some time later it was not yet daylight by slight and regular movements from Peterkin. He appeared to be moving his hips forward and back and at the same time I heard some groans from Jack. What was happening I had no idea but I assumed they were having a dream. The sounds from Jack seemed to indicate it could not have been a pleasant one so I coughed loudly to wake them up. Instantly all movement ceased and Peterkin gave a sigh presumably glad that he had been awoken.
I was wide awake now and decided that we should make a plan for the day. The other two grumbled and seemed to want to settle down again, though I wasn't quite sure why, but I insisted and told them that, at the moment, food was the most important aspect.
"There are plenty of coconut palms," said Jack.
"We cannot live off coconuts," I said. "We must explore the forest and see what other fruits and nuts are available. There may also be animals that we can eat."
"We'll have need of a fire in that case," said Peterkin. "I do not fancy the eating of raw meat."
"Fire is easy to make," I said. "It's just a question of making friction, of rubbing something against something else until it gets hot."
Peterkin gave a snort of laughter which I did not understand and so ignored.
At that moment, the first rays of daylight pierced the fronds of our roof and so I decided it was time to get out and start our exploration. Peterkin bounded up fastening his britches as he did so, though I couldn't quite understand why they were undone. Jack also moved but then expressed a loud groan.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"My legs are burning," he said, and ripped off the material to expose his legs which were a fiery red. He also showed everything from his waist downwards and everything was the same angry colour.
Though I sympathised, I must confess I had to laugh. So much for such exposure in the sun yesterday. That would teach him and certainly it looked painful enough.
"Go and get some coconuts so that we can break our fast," I said to Peterkin who appeared to be taking an over-enthusiastic interest in Jack's sunburnt appendages.
Somewhat reluctantly he went out and I went with him to give him a hand. There were plenty of fruits lying around, blown down by that same wind that had kept us awake the previous night, some of them broken open when they had hit the ground. The meat was exposed, sweet, white and oily, and there was milk still in some of the half shells.
"Take these back to the shelter," I told Peterkin. "I'll just have a look at the edge of the forest and see whether I can find anything else."
The sand was white and clean and untouched by any of our footsteps as we hadn't been up here yesterday. The waves crashed onto the beach providing a constant background noise. At the top of the beach line the sand was abruptly cut off by the thick tangle of jungle and the palm trees were replaced by other species of trees which I didn't recognise. I was immediately attracted to the sound of chattering monkeys which were leaping about a tree with huge leaves marked by serrated edges and thick ridges. But what I did see were the fruit large bunches of instantly recognisable bananas. Most were still green but many were turning ripe and these were the ones the monkeys were after. I gave a shout and the monkeys fled allowing me to pick a dozen or so and take them back.
As I reached the hut, I heard Peterkin's laugh which was unmistakable and Jack giving a sort of moaning groan. I crept nearer and peered through a gap in the fronds. I was faced with an unexpected sight. Jack was standing in the middle of the hut, totally naked while Peterkin rubbed his sunburn with the oil he had presumably squeezed from the coconut meat. My worst suspicions were confirmed when I saw that Peterkin had included in his rubbing Jack's todger with the obvious result.
Peterkin's merriment was apparent and Jack's excitement equally so mixed with the discomfort of his reddened flesh. What was I to do? I could have burst in and berated the pair for their sexual impropriety but I was sure that, whatever Jack was feeling, Peterkin's actions were innocent. I decided that I would announce my arrival by a shout and hope that they would stop their carnal play.
I withdrew a few yards and then shouted, "Breakfast is ready."
When I arrived, they were in a state of flushed propriety but at least Peterkin was only attending to Jack's ankles and feet. I was though worried about what our relationship was turning into. It was not manly. It was not Christian. I hoped Jack was not leading young Peterkin into vicious ways.
Having broken our fasts, Peterkin was anxious to explore, and even Jack, despite wincing as his britches rubbed against his burns, confessed that the oil had made things easier, and was eager to be off. The stuff of the adventurer exists in all us three even though with Jack it is occasionally overcome with other preoccupations.
As soon as we entered the forest the sound of waves, which by now we had got used to, was replaced by other sounds, the screech of brilliantly coloured parrots as they flew from tree to tree, the chatter of monkeys up in the canopy, the buzz of innumerable insects. Under the trees the sunlight was cut off and reduced to a gloomy green which coloured our skins and made us look sickly. The smell of dampness and rot was concentrated under a pall of mist except for spaces where a tree had fallen and the sun's rays penetrated. In glades like these there were trees with fruit, some brilliantly coloured.
"What are they?" I wondered, "and how can we tell if they are poisonous or not?"
"If the monkeys eat them," said Peterkin, "then they are probably all right. Monkeys are surely only little men."
I had a feeling that that was blasphemy, after all we alone are created in God's image, but I was sure that Peterkin had not meant it so, so I remained silent. Indeed Peterkin started capering about and leaping onto the lower branches of the trees so that he looked just like a monkey himself. He even imitated their calls so that, in a little while, the monkeys themselves became curious and came closer to observe. Though obviously not related to us in any way, their little hands which clasped the branches, pulled off the fruits and peeled the skin did look very human, as did the expressions on their faces as they peered through the leaves at us, sometimes worried, at others amused.
I busied myself picking fruit but Jack and Peterkin went from tree to tree trying to identify other sorts. "Look." I heard Peterkin say, "here's oranges."
"And surely this is a grapefruit," said Jack.
"Pineapple that's a real luxury."
Their voices faded but I was busy myself and didn't notice in which direction they went. Suddenly I was aware that I hadn't heard their voices for some time and at the same time, I did hear a strange grunting and snuffling sound coming from somewhere in the distance. What were they doing?
Dropping the fruit I had picked, I ran off in the direction of the noise, dodging round the trunks of trees and almost tripping over roots and stems. The noise grew louder and I saw Jack and Peterkin standing together at the edge of a glade, Jack's arm around the boy's shoulders and both were shirtless. They were standing still and staring off between the trees.
I gave a shout. "What are you doing?"
Jack turned, his finger to his mouth and the shout died on my lips. Neither of them was making the noise which was becoming louder and suddenly a herd of pigs burst into the clearing. They were led by a large boar with vicious looking tusks, then some others, presumably sows and finally some piglets whose sides were marked with horizontal stripes.
We watched them as they scuffled out of the clearing, rooting in the ground as they went, and disappeared into the trees on he other side.
"Roast suckling pig," said Jack, already sounding as if he was salivating.
"Crisp crackling and sweet tender meat," said Peterkin. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"But what are you doing without your shirts?" I asked. "You know full well, Jack, what happened yesterday."
"There's no sun in the forest," said Jack. "And we needed something to carry the fruits in." He indicated the garments which both he and Peterkin carried and which they'd filled with food. "And where is your fruit?" he asked me.
I remembered with some degree of embarrassment how I'd let mine fall when I'd heard the strange grunting sounds and to my shame imagined the worst.
"We'll pick them up on the way back," I said, but when we got to the original clearing all we saw and disturbed was the group of monkeys who were finishing off the ripe fruits I'd picked. They took one look at us and disappeared into the trees, chattering furiously and almost seeming to laugh at my shaken fist.
"Never mind," said Jack presumably to console me, "at least we have those that Peterkin and I gathered." But it did not make things any better and I continued to feel ashamed.
That evening we made the hut walls stronger, aiming to eliminate the gaps which had proved so uncomfortable the previous night and then we tried to make fire. After last night we needed one, even though we'd nothing to cook, because of the cold. I remembered my facile explanation of the night before - just a question of making friction, of rubbing something against something else until it gets hot. It sounded easy, but when we got down to the practical details, it was not.
Jack whittled a piece of stick into a point with his penknife and we found a piece of softer wood which we could use as a base on which we could spin the stick.
"Tinder," I said. "We need tinder to catch fire."
"And kindling," said Jack.
We despatched Peterkin to find some dry grasses and also some small twigs.
"Must be dry," I said.
Peterkin went off in high spirits. "I'll be back shortly," he said.
Then Jack and I tried rotating the stick between the palms of our hands. taking it in turns. It seemed that the only things that got hot were our hands, and soon the heat was displaced by soreness and blisters.
Peterkin returned with dry grass and some twigs and small branches. I think he expected we'd have a roaring fire and looked disappointed when he saw us looking disparagingly at our palms.
"Where's the fire you promised?" he asked.
Jack frowned at him and said, "You try." He showed him what to do and Peterkin started willingly enough but before long he gave up, spitting on his hands to cool them down.
We sat down in a disappointed circle. Then I observed Jack looking at Peterkin britches with an appraising glance. I sighed and was about to remonstrate when Jack suddenly pounced on Peterkin, struggling with what passed for his belt, the piece of twine I had observed before which kept his britches up.
After a gasp of surprise, Peterkin thought it was a game and started giggling, defending himself but Jack's persistence and greater strength soon got the better of him. He held him down and untied the rope. Peterkin seemed to find this even more fun and when Jack had taken the twine away, he stood up and his britches slid down to his ankles.
"Oh Jack," said Peterkin. "You only had to ask," and he kicked off his britches and danced in front of Jack provocatively.
"What are you doing?" I demanded.
"Just an idea," said Jack. He ignored us and rummaged through the bundle of branches that Peterkin had brought back eventually finding one which caught his fancy. He tied one end of the twine to the top and the other to the bottom.
"It was only fun," said Peterkin. "You don't have to stop."
Jack ignored him, though cast a glance in my direction. "It's a bow drill," he said. Certainly it looked like a rather ramshackle bow, though it wouldn't have propelled an arrow far. It wasn't nearly taut enough and the branch hardly looked that strong.
"Now," said Jack. "If I wind the string round our pointed stick and then move it back and forth, see it rotates the stick much faster than we could with our hands - and without burning them."
Indeed it did so. He took another piece of wood to hold the top of the stick and commenced moving the drill back and forward. Soon smoke drifted up from the bottom piece of wood. "Quick, Peterkin," he said. "Put some of the tinder round the end."
Immediately he did so, the grass started to glow and smoke. "Blow on it, lad, but gently."
The tinder burst into flame. "Now add some kindling. Quick before it is all consumed."
Soon we had a fire going and when we piled the branches and logs on it became quite a blaze and gave out a good deal of heat.
Peterkin, who was as near naked as possible began to dance around the fire like a savage and then Jack stripped off his clothing and joined him. I disapproved though I did feel the excitement myself and almost made a few capers around, though keeping my clothing on of course. They cavorted around for a while and the sun sank. Their bodies were painted orange by the flames. The screeches of the parrots provided savage background music for the dance.
"You are somewhat priggish," said Jack. I did not reply for that was the way I had been brought up but I watched the two of them and saw how they imitated each other's movements. I felt somewhat left out.
Eventually they sank down exhausted and we ate the fruit and nuts we had picked and drank the water from the stream before banking up the fire and retiring for the night.
With the fire outside and the improvements we had made to the hut, we slept much better but I noticed, when I woke up, that Jack and Peterkin had somehow got close and were entwined with each other in a sort of embrace.
I coughed loudly and they disentangled themselves though with no signs of embarrassment so I assumed it was all innocent and they had rolled together in their sleep.
"What do we do today?" asked Peterkin after we'd blown the fire into life and sat around it eating our fruits.
"What about a hunt?" suggested Jack. "What say you to roast sucking piglet?"
Peterkin jumped up and down with excitement which caused his britches to fall and occasioned again a sort of play with Jack leaping at him and Peterkin giggling uncontrollably. But I soon had them serious and, unfastening the twine from the bow drill, made Peterkin fasten his belt.
We sat down on the sand and began to plan.
"The best way would be to dig a trap and catch one that way," said Jack.
"What would we dig it with?" I asked.
"How would we kill it if we caught one?" wondered Peterkin.
These were questions to which I had no answer. In the end we decided to walk along the shore line and see if anything useful had been washed up by the recent tides. The nearer the equator, the less difference there is between high and low tides, but the wind from the previous night had whipped the waves and washed up quite a lot of flotsam and jetsam along the shore line, perhaps from our own wrecked ship. I hoped we would not find any bodies of our old shipmates.
Peterkin ran on ahead, investigating any object or clump of seaweed or dried jellyfish. Jack smiled. "He is such an innocent child," he said.
"And must remain so," I said meaningfully.
Jack would have answered but there was a shout from Peterkin who was waving something in the air. He was holding up some sort of implement with a wooden handle and a flat piece of metal fastened on the end at right angles.
"What is it?" I asked.
"A mattock," said Jack. "God's Boddikins. you've found us a mattock." He flung his arms round Peterkin and hugged him with what I thought was unnecessary enthusiasm.
I disapproved of the blasphemy but my curiosity outweighed my reproof. "What is a mattock?" I asked.
"Heavens, Ralph," said Jack, "surely you've met a mattock before. It's a digging implement, just what we needed to make a pit to catch a pig."
I almost blushed to have to admit that, having received a somewhat sheltered upbringing before going to sea, I had never met such a tool before. But then in extenuation I would say that I was a city boy.
We found little else except a spar with a sharp end which might come in useful, perhaps indeed in the killing of an animal so we returned 'home', on the way making plans.
"Perhaps where we saw the pigs is their regular route and therefore it is there we should dig the pit."
"It must not be too deep," said Jack as we tramped back along the sand, Peterkin paddling his way through the wavelets, "for we do not want to battle with the boar. He has lethal tusks."
"And sows," I added, "are needed to provide piglets in the future."
"Do you think then," said Peterkin, suddenly serious, "that we may be here for a long time, that no one will ever rescue us?"
Jack put his arm round Peterkin's shoulder and I said cheerfully, "Of course we will soon be rescued."
Peterkin seemed more encouraged by Jack's physical embrace than by my comment. "Perhaps not too soon," he said and looked as if he was enjoying huddling against Jack's brawny frame.
We put our plan into practice immediately we arrived back at our base or at least when we found the clearing in the forest which wasn't too easy as it seemed further in than it had yesterday. However we found what we thought was the glade which was marked by the footsteps of the sounder and started digging, taking it in turns, though the ground was soft and it wasn't a hard job.
Fairly soon we had dug a pit about three feet deep and were dripping with sweat, the atmosphere under the forest canopy being humid and sultry. So hot it was indeed that soon enough both Jack and Peterkin had divested themselves of their shirts and it was only with difficulty that I restrained them from removing their britches. We then disguised the pit with branches laid across and covered with leaves and grasses. To me it looked suspicious but Jack assured me that the pigs had not enough brain to see anything amiss.
We then retired into the trees to watch and wait. It was hot and nothing happened for a long time. Eventually we all got bored and Jack and Peterkin started playing around. They were crouched together behind a bush a little out of my sight, and I think Jack began to tickle Peterkin. At any rate there was a certain amount of giggling from the boy though Jack was very quiet and there was just rustling in the leaves.
"What are you doing?" I asked in a whisper.
"Nothing," said Jack.
"He's doing the most dreadful things," said Peterkin in a tone which was half strangulated snigger and half shriek, though he did not sound overly upset.
"Stop it, you two," I said but my order didn't seem to have much effect until there was a noise from the other side of the clearing and instantly they fell silent. We watched through the leaves expecting to see the snouts of the pigs led by the tusks of the boar emerge.
Instead three tall natives appeared carrying spears and wearing little more than skimpy loin cloths, if you discount the bands of teeth around their necks. The tallest of the three, and presumably the leader, for he was the one who issued orders, first beckoning them back and then motioning them onwards when he saw there was no one in the clearing, was a handsome fellow. He was wearing some brilliant coloured feathers in his hair which looked a little like a crown.
Dark he may have been but his features were aquiline and noble and in other circumstances, and with a few more garments of a genteel sort, he might have graced any English gentleman's social gathering. He had a magnificent figure with a broad chest and narrow hips on sturdy, well-shaped legs. He presented, I thought, in every way a manly appearance.
All three were carrying long spears with lethal-looking points.
There was no way we could disappear from our hiding place without drawing attention so we stayed as still as possible and watched the three men walk across the glade. To us our pit looked obvious with its crude covering of leaves and sticks but they didn't seem to notice and walked firmly forward.
Then, just as they were feet away from the edge, Jack suddenly stood up and shouted a warning.
"Look out," he called, "you are walking into a trap."
I thought at the time how stupid to address them in English though the shout itself would have given a warning. Certainly it alarmed the men who immediately aimed their spears at Jack and also frightened a flock of parrots which screeched away into the canopy.
Then there was another surprise for the leader of the natives stood and spoke. "Thank you, gentlemen, for your warning," he said in perfect English. He looked down. "It is perfectly obvious now you point it out. What is it intended to be?"
"A pig trap," said Jack "We needed meat."
"Interesting," said the man, poking with his spear at the leaves and revealing part of our pit. "I doubt though whether it would catch anything, not for long anyway."
"We thought the piglets wouldn't be able to get out," I said, feeling that Jack was bearing the brunt of the conversation.
"Allow me to introduce myself," said the man. "I am Arateo, of the Urutani tribe, and these," indicating the other two "are Torango and Rakoto, my brothers."
"And I am Ralph Rover," I said, "and these are Jack Martin and Peterkin Gay."
"Are they your brothers?" asked Arateo.
"Well, no," I said. "They are my friends and shipmates but we are not family related."
Arateo looked as if he was going to query my statement but instead he changed the subject. "How is it that you are on the island?" he asked. So it was an island.
I was about to explain that we'd been shipwrecked when yet another interruption occurred. The pigs suddenly appeared, rushing out into the glade and pulling up short when they saw humans standing around. But they were too late, though they turned and tried to escape, Arateo and his brothers had their spears in their hands and they hurled them at the piglets. Two reached their targets and the piglets fell squealing. The rest of the family disappeared in a panic but we had our supper.
That evening the six of us had a feast. The piglets had been spiked on a stick from mouth to anus and roasted over a fire. They dripped fat and the crackling was sweet and crisp while the meat underneath was mouth-wateringly tasty. We hadn't eaten meat for days and fresh meat for months and we salivated at the smell and taste.
We sat, legs crossed, around the fire and over the meal we told our stories. The great mystery of how Arateo and his two 'brothers' spoke such excellent English was explained. They were from a neighbouring island where the education of the young was carried out by missionaries who had taught them the language.
"You were well-taught," I said. "Your English is perfect. The missionaries must be good teachers."
But at this Arateo's expression darkened. The firelight shone on his face and for a moment he looked fierce and very savage. He frowned. "Maybe," he said, "but they try to destroy our customs and culture. They tell us we must replace our gods of life and joy with a dead god."
"A dead god?" asked Jack.
"One who died on a tree."
"That is what they call him. But I do not believe it. How can men kill a god? It is the god that kills man if he misbehaves."
For a moment I was quite shocked and did not know how to answer him, but Jack wasn't at all put down. "And your gods, who are they?"
"As I said they are gods of life and joy. They provide the food for us to eat - like these pigs here and the fruit and the nuts. They give us the pleasures of love, as they do with me and my brothers." To emphasis this last he touched himself in his privates. "But the missionary says this is bad. And we must give up the ancient customs and practices of our tribe."
"Do your gods have names?" asked Jack with what I thought unnecessary curiosity.
"Certainly," said Arateo. "The god of men is called, Hundar. "I noticed,as he said the name that all three of them touched their persons under their loincloths. "He supports us in the hunt, and in war, and when the brothers pleasure each other."
He paused for a while then went on. "The god of women is Vala, and she looks after them in their pursuits. And then there is Tlaloc." As he said the name all three of them covered their faces briefly with their hands. "He is the God of misfortune and death but he can only act if you have upset Hundar or Vala."
"So," I said, "there are three gods."
"The same as the missionary says. And in the same way the three are one, so we believed when the missionaries told us of their 'Trinity' and thought that our gods were the same but just had different names."
I could see this was a blasphemy and was about to tell him so but Jack seemed more interested in something Arateo had said earlier.
"You mentioned the brothers' pleasures. What are they?"
"The brothers' pleasures are the brothers," said Arateo simply. "Brothers for pleasure, women for children."
The sun sank below the horizon and we were lit only by the flames from the fire. For a moment I couldn't understand what Arateo meant but when I did I was taken aback. If these were the customs of the Urutani, no wonder the missionaries disapproved. In fact 'disapproved' must be a mild word for what they felt. Appalled! Disgusted! How could anyone, apart from the most depraved savage, subscribe to such practices. Yet, looking at his face, I did not see degradation, rather a handsome nobility. I had been about to let loose a stream of condemnation but I held my tongue and it was Jack who replied.
"Now that's a tradition I could subscribe to," he said. "Eh, 'brother' Peterkin?"
And Peterkin in the shadows giggled and I saw the two shapes draw closer together until they were just one. On the other side of the fire Torango and Rakoto were also in an embrace, their arms round each other. Only Arateo and I were alone, staring across the remains of the feast and the flickering flames at each other.
"You do not approve," said Arateo.
"It is not natural," I said.
"Have you never felt love for another man - brotherly love?"
"That is entirely different," I said. "Of course I have felt love for a friend. Christian brotherhood and Christian love."
"And how did you show it?" asked Arateo.
"Show it?" I echoed. I had to think. How had I shown my love for my friends Jack and Peterkin? Not in any physical way certainly. By being happy in their company. By being kind and considerate. By helping them in their tasks, By being sympathetic in their troubles. And then I thought, by disapproving of their own physical actions. Somehow it seemed mean and dispiriting. I said nothing.
"Haven't you even put your arm round their shoulders, given them an embrace?"
I remembered seeing Jack's arm round Peterkin and how I had disapproved. "No," I said and felt ashamed. I glanced across to where I had last seen them but they were no longer there, nor were Torango and Rakoto and I realised that they must have gone into the hut - all four of them - and were no doubt celebrating 'brotherhood'. I wanted to go in and remonstrate but I was held by Arateo's gaze across the fire. It made me feel uncomfortable and yet at the same time it was hypnotic - and, in some strange way, attractive.
I wanted to change the subject. "Why are you on this island?" I asked. "Where are the rest of your tribe?"
For a moment Arateo didn't answer. When he did his voice hold a tone of sadness. I couldn't see his face as it had become so dark and the fire was now just embers. "The missionary, may Tlaloc take him if Hundar wishes " I could just see the movement as he touched himself " persuaded my tribe against our old customs."
I tried to look into his eyes but it was so dark that they were just shadowy depths.
"And," I said.
"So those that weren't persuaded decided to leave. At the moment there are just we three though I am sure more will become disillusioned in the course of time and will join us."
"What will you do then?"
"Return and take back my tribe."
"Your tribe?" I asked not understanding.
"I am the chief," said Arateo. "The tribe is mine." He stood, proud and tall, and I recognised his authority. I was drawn to him and stood also.
He held out his hand, but the trench with the glowing embers was between us. Then he did something I could scarcely believe. Fixing me with those shadowy depths, he took a step towards me, the first on the sand but the next was in the pit of glowing cinders. I nearly shouted but he didn't himself cry out, nor were the following steps hurried. Four more steps he took and the fifth took him onto the sand on my side.
I gasped. Why wasn't he dancing with pain. "Your feet,"I said.
Arateo smiled. He sat on the ground and lifted his feet to me. They were covered with ash but when I took one in my hand and brushed it clear the sole was undamaged. There were no blisters, no scarred skin. "How?" Was all I managed to say.
Again Arateo smiled. "It is something we do," he said. "Partly it is because we wear no shoes and thus our feet become hard, but also because we know we cannot be burned. Our spirit tells us so."
I peered at the foot in my hand but it was as he said; no imperfection marred the smoothness of his sole. I gazed down and suddenly noticed, from the angle I was holding his limb that I could see along his leg and into his groin where his loincloth lay aside and revealed his parts, his todger, long and thick, and a full sack underneath. I should have dropped his foot straight away but I stared at it fascinated, and, as I stared, it moved, lengthened, hardened. Not knowing what I was doing, with my other hand, the one not holding Arateo's foot, I reached down and touched his todger, held it in my fist, felt the softness of the skin around the hard central stalk.
I heard a whisper. "My brother," said Arateo.
Instantly I was aware of what I was doing. I let go of foot and todger and backed away. I wanted to run into the hut but realised that in there things were happening which I could only condemn. I stood irresolute while Arateo stood up next to me.
"You are not ready," he said. "I understand and will not try to persuade you against your will."
"Where can I go?" I asked.
"We will find a place in the forest," he said.
I trusted him and we walked into the inky darkness under the trees, his arm around my shoulders.
The days passed.
In twos and threes we were joined by others from the tribe who had become disillusioned by the missionary's autocratic ways, or perhaps just missed their own rightful chief, Arateo. They arrived in dugout canoes and each one he greeted affectionately and spent some time with.
Our meagre hut was deemed unfit as it would neither keep out the wind or weather should it rain so others were built. One was a large 'long hut' in which, Arateo said, meetings would be held. There were other small ones for 'brothers', Jack and Peterkin having one and in fact Arateo and I also had one built for us though we never went through the 'brotherly ritual' and he and I slept apart though on one cold night I was moved to snuggle up close together. I had my back to him and I could feel his warmth against mine. In his sleep he had laid his arm across my body and his palm was against my chest. While I lay awake he moved slightly and his hand slipped so that it was flat against my stomach. Nothing further occurred though I must admit I did feel a hardening of my member and I wondered what I would have done had his hand gone further down.
My feelings towards this noble savage were changing and I had some difficulty in analysing them. I felt we were becoming closer and closer as friends, and yet there seemed to be more. I would walk into the forest with the rest of our companions and I would want to walk next to Arateo. If our arms brushed, I would feel a strange sense of was it pleasure? Certainly I did not want to spring apart as if the actual touching of his skin against mine in company was in some way wrong. I liked to look at his animated face as he explained some point or gave an order, and when I looked into them, his deep brown eyes were clear and bright.
Jack and Peterkin were always together too and usually Jack had his arm around the shoulders of his young companion and this I did not find distasteful either but was pleased at their friendship. What they did in their hut, I never enquired but Peterkin's face expressed deep joy when he looked at his friend and Jack's was calm and contented.
The life seemed idyllic but we knew it couldn't last. The island was small and could not support our growing band already we had consumed the piglets and though Arateo forbade the killing of the boar and the sows so that they could produce another family in the course of time we could not live off the growing depletion of fruit. We tried monkeys and parrots for the tribesmen were expert archers and could manufacture bows and arrows from the forest wood and vines thus saving Peterkin's rudimentary modesty, never his strong point, but the birds were stringy and tasteless while the monkeys, once stripped of their fur, looked so much like little homunculi that they upset us. "They look like dead babies," Peterkin exclaimed with a cry. "We ain't cannibals yet."
I noticed Arateo give a stern glance towards Torango and Rakoto as if to warn them not to say anything and indeed they kept silent.
Something had to be done and Arateo, perhaps seeing in me a kindred spirit, broached a plan. He called a meeting in the long hut. There we sat in the cool afternoon shade after the sun had passed over its zenith and was going down on the other side of the island. There were nineteen brown natives sitting around the walls with the three of us, Jack, Peterkin and I, almost indistinguishable from the others from our continual bronzing in the sunshine. In the centre squatted Arateo holding his spear and looking every inch a chief, wearing just his loin cloth, parrot feathers in his hair and a necklace of shark's teeth.
And it was there in the green shadows of the afternoon that he raised his spear and all conversation died. Then he asked his question. At first he used the language of his tribe because some of them were not so conversant with English, not being as subservient perhaps to the missionaries' teachings. As he finished, a great shout went up and they all banged their spears on the ground in front of them.
Then he spoke in English. "I asked them what they thought of this," he said. "There are nineteen of us, twenty-two with Ralph, Jack and Peterkin. Our ancestral home has been taken over by those who do not know our ways and insist that we worship strange gods and carry out foreign practices. We can no longer stay here on this tiny island so something must be done."
"Who will come with me to take back our homeland?"
Again his people stamped and shouted and this time I noticed Jack and Peterkin joined in.
Though I had always been brought up to respect and admire those God-fearing people who risked their lives to spread the word, my days spent with Arateo had given me some understanding of his feelings. I realised now how the taking away of his customs and beliefs had affected him. What rights, I was surprised to find myself asking, had these foreigners as they were to Arateo to interfere.
I stamped and joined in the cheering. Arateo looked at me and smiled and I felt a sudden rush of warmth and affection for him. I would follow him wherever he led.
And that night in our hut, I joined him as a 'brother', lying with him, both of us naked, feeling the warmth and smoothness of his skin against mine, the hardness of his todger competing against mine, our hands, mouths and noses exploring our bodies so that no parts of us were unknown to the other. Gently he introduced me to practices I had perhaps never thought of before but that night seemed natural and an expression of love.
In between our physical bouts he told me of what we would be facing. Our little band of course would be vastly outnumbered there were hundreds of Urutani on the mainland and all under the influence of the missionary who was called the Rev. Obadiah Proudfoot. Somehow even the name made me shiver. It sounded arrogant and proud but in a wrong way. Arateo was proud of his position but he was noble. In the darkness we cleaved together and the sweat of our skins allowed us to slide against each other in a sensual way.
"If you want," whispered Arateo, "we can do together the last act of submission and dominance, but only if you wish."
I seemed to know what he meant and he slid into me and I felt him as part of me. When his essences filled me I knew in some way we were almost as one.
"Now you must do it to me," he said. And as I did so, we were truly one.
In the morning, in spite of our excesses I felt neither degraded nor exhausted. As the sun rose over the horizon we went to the water's edge and there, in the clear cold sea we washed each other and soon we were joined by Jack and Peterkin and the others so that the bathing became almost a ritual.
The canoes were lined up along the shore, dug out tree trunks with painted animals or birds on the prows. There were seven of them, three men in each, except for Arateo's which took Jack, Peterkin and me. Powered by four paddles we drew ahead of the rest and led the way. At first, within the shelter of the coral reef, the going was easy but once out of its protection, the sea was choppy and the paddling difficult. But it was good being at sea again even though the motion of the canoe was mightily different from that of our old ship.
For the first time since the storm which had been the cause of our arrival on the island, the clouds began to mass and gather turning dark grey and then black. The wind from the north-west helped to push us along but it also whipped the waves into peaks and troughs which slowed us down.
The four of us were beginning to find it difficult to paddle smoothly as often the blades went either too deep in the water or skimmed the surface. I noticed other canoes were also having difficulty and suddenly the one with Torango and Rakoto and the other native turned sideways to the swell and then overturned. The three men were thrown overboard and we saw them struggling in the water.
"They cannot swim," said Arateo.
Paddling as fast as we could towards the upturned boat, Ralph and I stripped off our clothes and prepared to jump in. Arateo and Peterkin also, but I knew Peterkin was not a strong swimmer.
"Stay with him," I said to Arateo. "Jack and I will do what we can."
We plunged in, even though there were now no signs of the three men. Then an arm broke the surface and we headed for it though with difficulty as the waves were breaking over our heads. I grabbed hold of the arm just as it was about to disappear below the surface and Jack felt below and caught his body. We pulled him into the air. He didn't seem to be breathing but we dragged him to our canoe and Arateo hoisted him in where he lay as if dead at the bottom.
"Can you see either of the others?" Jack asked but Arateo shook his head. Apart from the upturned canoe there were no signs of anyone else. Other canoes circled the spot but no more was seen. "Tlaloc has taken them," said Arateo fatalistically.
We turned our attention to the survivor in the bottom of our boat. Turning him over, we saw it was Torango.
"Is he dead?" asked Jack.
Certainly it seemed that he was not breathing but I had seen a technique where the rhythmic pressing of a seemingly drowned person's chest had resulted in the expelling of water from the lungs and miraculously the dead one come alive. There was just space enough for me to kneel astride Torango's body and work on him.
For a while nothing happened and I was just about to give up when he gave a sudden cough and a quantity of water rushed from his mouth. Almost immediately his eyes fluttered open and he stared up at me. His lips framed a word and I heard him say, "Rakoto".
"Now he has no brother," said Arateo and I knew the strength of the loss.
"Help him," I said and watched as Arateo held his body, warming the chilled flesh, rocking him as if he were a child while Torango wept.
We prepared to do battle again with the waves but then, as if it had done its worst, the storm quietened and we continued our journey, much subdued, my shoulders aching from the constant bend, dig and pull.
"How much further?" asked Jack after some hours of the backbreaking toil.
In answer Arateo pointed to the horizon where we could just make out a dark band just above the level of the sea. "That is my land," he said.
The sight seemed to give a renewed impetus to our efforts and gradually the band grew bigger until we could make out a shore and waving palm trees. We gained landfall as the sun sank over the horizon. It seemed we landed unobserved but then who would be expecting our arrival?
There was a rustling of leaves as the branches of the palm trees were agitated by the evening breeze. A three-quarter moon lit the shore as we made a sort of camp for the night. Arateo, taking Torango with him, made the decision to go into the village to find out any news as to who was with us and who against. I asked whether I could accompany them and Arateo agreed.
As quietly as possible we crept through the edge of the forest. Not far in, there was a wide clearing with many huts in a circle. A few people sat around fires and we kept to the edges as far as possible out of sight. Arateo led the way towards one of the huts where, he said, there lived someone who was likely to be sympathetic to the return of the old ways. He sent off Torango on a similar mission to other huts.
The family appeared to be overjoyed to see Arateo, the man and his sons, kneeling before him and grasping his legs though the women, in the background, looked with something like alarm at me, presumably wondering if I was one of the missionaries. Arateo quickly reassured them and the menfolk were sent out to pass the word around that the chief had returned and those who supported him should gather on the shore. So the word was passed around.
It was a long night.
In ones and twos, then threes and fours, Arateo's supporters appeared like dark shadows from the edge of the trees and our group grew and grew. But it did not go all our way. Towards dawn someone came down, but this one didn't walk but dragged himself, one leg trailing behind. He was swiftly assisted and found to have a long gash in his leg.
"I thought my cousin was on our side," he said, "but he supported the white men. He attacked me with a machete."
"He will have told Proudfoot of our arrival," said Arateo.
"He won't," said the man. "I killed him, but others may well have passed the message." Then he saw our faces standing round and watching, and his eyes widened.
"Fear not," said Arateo. "We have white men on our side too." He spoke to the rest of us. "This means that a battle is inevitable and there will be casualties." He instructed the man's wound to be dressed and they used leaves with curative properties to bind the gash.
Towards dawn Arateo drew me to him. "Only the gods know what the outcome will be," he said. "This may be our last time." In the pale light of dawn we found a secret place and there again consummated our brotherhood. It was a gentle, caring experience which, though joyful, was also tinged with sadness and uncertainty.
Tenderly I touched his body and all the intimate parts of it. I had never realised I would feel like this about another man and somehow I felt that this was the last time we would be so close. I tried to shrug the feeling away but it persisted and we held each other close as if to show whichever god there was in charge of the human condition that surely what we had was good and true and should not be destroyed.
Eventually, as the sun's disc rose above the horizon, we parted and he deployed his troops through the forest to form up into a circle to surround the village. Torango had not returned and I knew Arateo was worried.
There was a mist which clung to the trunks of the forest so that we seemed like wraiths as we quietly surrounded the village but as the sun got higher, the mist burnt off and from my side, where I stood with Jack and Peterkin, it was possible to catch the occasional glimpse of a body amongst the trees opposite. I had a spear as had Jack also. Peterkin, whose only practice with one had resulted in his tripping over it, had decided on a slingshot, with which, he said, he was an expert, and a bag of smooth stones rounded by the waves and found on the beach.
We waited, looking at the clearing in the forest where the huts stood. Suddenly, out of the largest one stepped a man, a white man, tall and thin with a bush of grey hair which stood up high so that it looked almost like a hat. He was dressed in a long black garment and he was dragging behind him the slumped figure of a man, unconscious or dead, I did not know.
The man, Obadiah Proudfoot, I assumed, called out. His voice was deep and commanding. "Arateo! Arateo! You have returned. Though it seems not in an attitude of humility."
From the trees opposite stepped Arateo. "I have come to regain my inheritance," he said and held up his spear.
"Though some backsliders may have joined you," said Obadiah. "The true believers remain with me. Come out." And, as he shouted, men and women emerged from the huts and there were many, too many to count.
Arateo, though, was not dismayed. "Many of my people are only held to you by fear," he said. They will come back to me to the old ways, once YOU are gone."
As he said this he pointed at Proudfoot and, at the same time, the sunlight came over the trees and fell on him like a golden glow, shining off the sweat on his body so that he was encased in light.
Some of the people from the village gasped with awe and even Proudfoot seemed disconcerted.
He shouted to rally his troops. "Clear him and his traitors off the land." Then repeated it in the language of the people.
Immediately some of then advanced on Arateo, but we were all around and many didn't know which way to go, to run down the chief or to attack the surrounding forces.
Sensing their indecision Proudfoot held up his arm and showed that he had a knife in his hand. Then he pulled the body he had at his feet and showed us who it was. The face was that of Torango and we could also see that his body had been cut in many places.
I could not believe that a so-called Man of God had done this, or allowed this to be done. At last I realised that this man was evil. He wanted power and would do anything to keep hold of it.
"Get him," said Proudfoot, pointing to Arateo.
Instantly there was turmoil. Proudfoot's supporters advanced on us. Some women in the crowd unwittingly got in the way. There was confusion, disorder, chaos, a hubbub of shrieks and cries as innocent bystanders got pushed, kicked, even wounded by the spears of the men. Arateo and the rest of us drew our own weapons though Peterkin's slingshot was not much use at close range and he had to stand helplessly by. Jack turned with his bow but in the melee of figures he could not find a clear enough target to shoot. Hand to hand fighting, cursing, swearing, clubbing, plunging, stabbing, the clash of weapon upon weapon. Many of the crowd drew back leaving a clear space but, as is the way with crowds, stayed to watch. The battle continued.
I was faced by a short, thickset man whose skill with the club was obvious. I defended myself as well as I could but then I tripped over a fallen body, whether friend or enemy I did not know. My opponent raised his club and prepared to bring it down onto my head. My spear was lost in the fall so I had nothing to defend myself with. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the final impact. But what I felt was not the crushing stroke of a club but the dull heavy thud of a body falling astride me. I opened my eyes and saw above the trunk of the native lying on top of me, the figure of Peterkin, a machete in his hand, which he had obviously taken from a fallen warrior and effectively used. The native gasped in agony and I wriggled my way out from beneath him.
"I owe you my life," I said to Peterkin, and thought 'but you have forfeited your innocence'.
I had no idea how the battle was progressing until there was a mighty shout from somewhere in the middle of the melee. Instantly the men around us fell silent and, though there were still a bit of half-hearted fighting going on, most stopped, allowing their weapons to lower, to fall to the ground. I saw Arateo stand in the centre, waving his spear, shouting to all to stop fighting, that Proudfoot had been defeated, that he was chief again. There was a moment's silence and then everyone shouted and struck with their weapons on the ground so that a hollow drumming sound filled the air.
Peterkin and I pushed our way through the throng towards Arateo, on the way finding Jack who has a small scratch on his leg but was otherwise unhurt.
Arateo greeted us formally but gave me a special greeting. pressing himself against my body so that I could feel all of his. He was excited I noticed as if the fighting had aroused him, and the sweat of his activities made his skin slippery.
"Where is Proudfoot?" I asked.
He would not meet my eye but he answered calmly enough. "He has fled," he answered. "And those that stayed with him also."
I looked around and could see no bodies. "What about Torango?"
Arateo's eyes grew fierce. "He will recover," he said shortly. "He is being attended to."
That night we had a special feast. There would be a meal, it was announced, with food that was only cooked for the most important of celebrations. We would be included though normally it was only for native Urutani. It was impressed on us that it would be a great honour.
We sat around a mighty fire and were served a savoury stew that had been prepared by the women. I was not sure what the meat was but it was tender and seemed something between pork and chicken. I asked Arateo but he merely said, "Only for special occasions. It is a great honour." And with that we had to be satisfied.
There was dancing and drinking - some very strong and sweet drink, the ingredients of which were also secret. I feared the worst when I saw people who had drunk this, pissing into pots which then seemed to be added to the brew again. "Different people, different customs," said Jack who also noticed.
I decided not to drink any more but Jack didn't seem perturbed.
Towards the end I noticed people disappearing into the forest in twos and threes. Sometimes they were men together, or men and women, or women in pairs. "Do they not fear that Proudfoot's men may come back and catch them."
"He will never come back," said Arateo, and I wondered at his certainty.
Then we too went together into the forest and finding a clearing, lay down together and embraced. As we had done before, we performed the acts of submission and dominance and were together as one, two bodies joined so that they became a single one, joined by pleasure and comradeship and 'brotherhood'.
Then, when all was over, Arateo said, "My brother, though we are as one, though we have joined together, fought together, eaten of the sacred meal together, we are not the same. I must remain here with my people and you will have to return to yours. Every few months a ship calls to trade and you and Jack and Peterkin will go with them back to your own country."
There was sadness in his voice and in mine also when I said, "Can I not remain with you?"
"Our customs are different." he said. "Though some you have become used to and obviously enjoy, there are others that you may find appalling if you knew of them. It will be best if you remain ignorant. Take Jack and Peterkin with you back to your cold country in the north and leave us to our customs."
"But you are my brother," I said.
"Torango is my brother also. He has no one now that Rakoto is dead. But he will recover from his wounds and he and I shall reinforce the bond between us."
It was as he said.
Some time later a ship arrived and took us on board, setting sail for northern climes. Just as we passed through the channel in the reef the natives gave us a loud cheer; and we heard the single word "Farewell" borne faintly over the sea.
The captain of the ship looked at us strangely. "And you say you've lived with the Urutani for moths," he said. "You're lucky to escape. It is generally known that the Urutani are cannibals."
That night, as we sat on the taffrail, gazing out upon the wide sea and up into the starry firmament, a thrill of joy, strangely mixed with sadness, passed through our hearts, - for we were at length "homeward bound," and were gradually leaving far behind us the beautiful, bright, green, coral islands of the Pacific Ocean.
Date started: Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Today's date: Friday, August 4, 2006 17:32
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