Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LV, No 1 (Jan 1882)
pp. 50-57.

50 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.



      Some years ago the ship to which I belonged was condemned as unseaworthy, in the port of Melbourne, Australia, and it was my fortune, or misfortune, to remain adrift there for several weeks before getting a berth for a new voyage. During this time I boarded in a public-house which was known by the old name of the Blueskin. The sign – for every English tavern or inn must have an emblematic device of some sort – represented a huge eel painted in blue on a light ground, with Blueskin in large capitals, and below this the passer-by was informed in smaller lettering that Alexander Stuart was duly licensed to sell wine, liquors, and so forth, and was ready at all hours to furnish entertainment for man and beast. I had been recommended by some other American seamen to take up my quarters at this inn, and I found everything very pleasant and home-like there, but the old symbol and name of the house puzzled me exceedingly, and I resolved, if opportunity offered, to ask an explanation thereof.

      Alexander, or "Sandy," Stuart, as he was more generally called, was an elderly man of strong, brawny make, evidently of Scotch birth, and like most of that race, thrifty, shrewd and intelligent. He was of fair complexion with light brown hair which seemed to have preserved its original color, although he must have been then entering upon his seventh decade, at least. His wife was a blonde, buxom Irish woman, who might well have been a beauty in her younger days. There was a daughter of perhaps twenty, fair to look upon, and bearing a strong resemblance to her mother, but there was also a son who must have been nearly forty years old and had a family of his own, but living hard by, and often in and out, making himself quite at home. Qualan Stuart, as he was called, bore some faint resemblance to the old landlord, but the strong, Scotch features were much softened and rounded down, and he was swarthy in complexion, with very fine dark eyes and hair which must have been of jetty blackness in youth, and already showing a tinge of gray. I set him down as having been the issue of a previous marriage, for it was scarcely possible Sandy and his Irish wife could both be his parents.

      One warm evening, when the tide of custom at the bar seemed to have ceased to flow for that night, and old Stuart was about closing up the shutters, I stood in the doorway, and glancing up at the hanging sign I remarked to him, –

      "That's an odd idea, isn't it?"

      "What is?" he asked.

      "That serpentine symbol on your sign, and the name of your house too: I've been quite unable to see the fitness of it."

      "Ah, indeed! Perhaps not, but thereby hangs a tale, as old Will Shakspere says. You may have observed that my son has an odd name, too, – Qualan Stuart. Can you put that and that together now?" he asked. "Yes," I answered, after thinking a moment. "Qualan is the name sometimes applied to Strong's Island, one of the Caroline Group, which I have visited two or three times in my life, and I have heard those people talk about Blueskin, or at least a word which had that sound, as the name of their god or Great Spirit."

      "Just so," answered Sandy, with an approving smile.

      "I thought it likely that in the course of your whaling voyages you had cruised down that way, and so you'll better comprehend the story that I'm going to tell you. It's a quiet time now," he added, as he pushed the last bolt of the door, and we can enjoy a pipe and a taste of something good while I spin out the yarn."

      I had only touched among the Caroline Islands for a few days at a time, and was not really much acquainted with the habits and customs or the superstitions of the natives. But the little that I knew prepared me to listen to more from the old man, who had lived among those people, and broken bread-fruit with them. But I will let him tell his tale in his own way, premising that the more the reader knows of the locality and its inhabitants, the more readily he will credit the whole narrative of old Sandy Stuart.

      I was a strapping, happy-go-lucky young fellow, when I shipped at Hobart Town, for a trading voyage down among the Groups, in the brig Newcastle. I was only an able seaman, though I ought to have been, even then, at least chief mate if not master of some vessel, for I had been well educated in old Scotland, and was competent enough both in seamanship and navigation, but my reckless intemperate habits had been against me, and kept me in the background. However, that is all over since I have grown older and wiser, though the wisdom did not

The Charm of Blueskin. 51

come until it was too late to rise in my profession. Things have turned out more comfortable for me in my old age than I had a right to expect, but still I feel always that mine is a life of disappointment, for I ought to have done better than bring up in a public at the close of the voyage. However, I won't tire you any more with moralizing over wasted opportunities.

      We had knocked about for some months among the savages at the Mulgraves and the King's Mills, driving a trade for shells and cocoa-nut oil, and anything that he thought could be sold again in the colonial ports, but the Newcastle was a venerably old castle, and plagued us much at the pumps, especially after we had rasped her on a coral reef one night through the carelessness of the lookout. The usage was none of the best, and I determined to cut and run as soon as a good opportunity offered. So when we were lying in the weather harbor of Qualan, or Strong's Island, as you call it, I made a secret bargain with one of the chiefs, who stowed me away so snugly that the captain, after exhausting all his arguments in the way of persuasion, threats and bribery, was compelled to put to sea one hand short.

      He left word that he meant to come back to the island in a few days to get his lost man, but of course he did not come. The object was merely to scare and annoy me, and I knew well enough that if he had really intended to come back, he would have kept secret about it.

      So as soon as the Newcastle's royals had sunk below the horizon, I came out of my retirement, and made myself as free of the island as the authorities would allow. Although the Strongs-Islanders seem to be a very mild, inoffensive people, they are treacherous in their dealings with whites, and have many barbarous customs among themseves[sic], which would seem hardly credible to a casual visitor. More than one vessel has been cut off and destroyed in those harbors, the crew being all put to death, upon the safe principle that dead men tell no tales.

      There was only one white man residing among them when I landed, – an Irishman, known simply as Larry, who had been there many years, and was quite as much of a savage as any of the natives. The young woman, Saysa, to whom I had attached myself, was a sister of the chief who had helped me to desert, and as she had become very fond of me, I had powerful friends in her and her brother. But as you know the government there is despotic in the highest degree, and the power of etiquette and deference to superior rank exceeds anything in that way to be found among the islanders of the Pacific, Not only I myself, but my friends Selic and Saysa, would have to be very careful not to offend the chiefs of higher grade, and especially to keep the right side of the king, who seems to hold the lives of all inferiors quite at the mercy of his arbitrary will. The Irishman Larry had acquired a good deal of Influence, and as he understood the language I found it would be necessary to conciliate him on all occasions at least for the present, but I perceived that with my superior intelligence, I would soon know more than he did, and get ahead of him in the king's favor.

      But I had been only a few days among these people when an unfortunate accident was near putting an end to all my plans and prospects. My friend Selic, the chief, was the owner of a shot-gun, and lent it to me to go into the woods to shoot tropical pigeons. A young native – one of Selic's vassals, he might be called, a rather weak-minded fellow, but alert of eye and swift of foot – was sent with me, to act as guide and also to carry the game which I might be lucky enough to kill. At a moment when poor Arlik was running a little in advance of me, and looking back, my gun, catching at a twig, unfortunately went off, and one of the small shot spoiled one of his eyes forever. Of course I was horror stricken at this mishap, and I at once led the poor fellow home, telling every one honestly just what had occurred, and how it happened. I was much surprised at the looks of sadness that I met with from Selic and others of my best friends, for their feeling of concern appearred[sic] to be not so much for the poor sufferer as for myself, and the anguish of my bright-eyed Saysa was piteous to behold. A crowd was soon drawn together by the news, and on the arrival of the king a few solemn words spoken to him by one of the higher chiefs, who went down on his knees while speaking, appeared to arouse in him something which was not so much anger as a certain sternness, like that of the Roman father, as if he had a duty to perform at any sacrifice. At a signal from him I was seized by three or four stalwart men, who used no more violence than was necessary to make me their prisoner, and started off toward the great-council-house. I felt that my best policy would be to offer no resistance and to face boldly any and all investigation into the facts of the case.

      I looked round for Larry, the Irish beachcomber, who of all men could best befriend me in this instance.

      "Larry," said I, "surely you will explain the facts to the king. You know I wouldn't have hurt that poor lad for the world, and it was entirely an accident."

      "I know it, of course," answered Larry, "but I can only say that the case is so much the worse for you. You don't know the law

52 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

and customs here, or you wouldn't have been so ready to tell the whole truth. If you could have made out that you and Arlik had quarreled, and you had put his eye out intentionally, it wouldn't have gone very hard with you. But, as it is, I hardly dare tell you what the punishment is likely to be."

      And, truly rough fellow as he was, he seemed quite overcome, as with the thought of something too horrible to talk about.

      "Speak out, Larry!" I cried, "and tell me just what you mean. Walk along side of us, within hearing, and let me know the whole at once. Say, what is to be done with me?"

      "Can you bear the whole truth?" he asked.

      "Yes, yes, anything better than to be in the dark," I said. "Out with it!"

      "In the dark," he repeated. "Ah! that's it. You'll be in the dark in less than half an hour. They'll put out both your eyes, as sure as you've a living man!"

      You may try to imagine, if you can, the effect of Larry's announcement upon me, a young man, full of life and vigor. I had certainly a full share of courage, as compared with my fellow-men, but here was a fate to be met that seemed far more horrible than instant death. As soon as the first shock was over, my mind was made up to sell my life as dearly as possible, when the final moment came. I would never submit to be blinded, but would fight to the last breath, and die with my eyes wide open.

      I kept up the talk with the beach-comber, plying him with questions to learn anything that might possibly be of service to me, but all was dark and terrible enough. I now learned, for the first time, that the immutable law of Qualan was far more severe upon accidents like this than upon any case of injury intentionally done. A quarrel might be fought out, and each combatant take his chance in the duel, but in case of accident, the reparation must be, as nearly as possible, double the original debt, and as the regal authorities always took the matter in hand, the injured person had no voice in it. It was not simply "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," but the lex talionis required two for one in every case. If a man by accident knocked out the tooth of another, he must lose two teeth; if he broke his neighbor's arm, both his own arms must be broken in a similar manner; and if a finger were crushed, he must lose the same finger from each hand. As I had darkened one of Arlik's eyes, I was, of course, doomed to life-long darkness. The operation would be performed, he said, with a powerful vegetable acid, which would destroy the sight at once, but would leave no other injuries, and affect no other part. Larry had only seen this process performed once during all the years he had lived at Qualan, but had witnessed many other applications of the law of double retribution, even to the breaking of both legs.

      "And can you do nothing to save or help me, Larry?"

      "Nothing," he answered. "I would if I could, but it would be more than my own life is worth to interfere. The law must take its course."

      I looked around upon the faces of the dense crowd. There was no expression of anger or ill-will against me, nor, on the other hand, could I perceive a shade of pity on a single countenance. All were set with an air of stern determination and of pride in their unanimous respect for the law. I missed the face of my Saysa, whom I wished so much to look upon for the last time, but to beg any favors of my escort would have been an idle waste of breath. I nerved myself for the death-struggle that was to come, set my teeth firmly, and moved on. We entered the great council-house, the crowd of men, women and children following, though in good order, and without noisy demonstrations.

      The king and chief led the way, and his majesty motioned my conductors to lead me to one of the rude benches, and seat me there. I had hoped for at least a glance of pity from Selic, but he stood calm and immovable like all the other officials. When I was seated, they were about to bind my hands together behind my back, but I resisted this stoutly, and Larry, coming to my aid, explained to the king that I knew what my fate was to be, and was prepared to meet it like a man.

      There was a murmur of admiration at what they considered my heroic courage, and the royal command was given to my keeper to refrain from any violence, merely standing upon their guard to seize me at a moment's warning, should it be found necessary. They fell back a little, and now their attention had been centred upon an old woman who was entering the door at the further end of the great temple, bearing a calabash, which I felt must be the vessel containing the fatal essence to be applied to my eyes. At this instant there was a quick light step on the bamboo floor behind me, the lightest touch of a soft hand, and something rough, cold and clammy passed round my throat.

      A yell broke from those who saw it, joined in and swelled by the voices of the whole assembly; but any movement was too late, – the deft little fingers of my faithful Saysa had fastened the something, whatever it might be, at the back of my neck, for with a side glance I had recognized her, and now heard her clear voice utter a scream of tri-

The Charm of Blueskin. 53

umph. The whole crowd, even to the king himself, dropped as with one accord upon their knees, and the cry of "Blueskin! Blueskin!" shook the rafters of the council-house.

      "Keep the collar on, Sandy," roared Larry. "You are safe with that on your neck, and no man dare lay hands on you."

      Scarcely knowing what I did, I rose to my feet, the crowd made way for me, and I walked out into the air a free man. My Saysa pressed close to my side, and put her hand in mine, so full of joy that she had no power of speech. To my astonishment no violence was offered to her, and as to myself I wanted to fall on my knees and worship her, as an angel from heaven.

      Now you are wondering what all this meant, and I must tell you before I go on with my adventures. The enchanted necklace was simply the skin of a certain peculiar species of eel, such as I have never seen elsewhere, and which even at Qualan is very rare, and is never met with except in a certain little cove or inlet way up at the head of the lagoon. This eel is especially sacred to the great deity, Blueskin, and its skin, worn on the person, operates as the most powerful of all the forms of taboo. So long as this charm encircled my neck, I was safe, for in its presence even human law was suspended in its operation, and not royalty itself dare lay violent hands upon the wearer.

      It was employed only in great and special emergencies, and instances of its use in this way to save the condemned from punishment were exceedingly rare. In such cases, if applied by the hands of a woman, it was instantly acknowledged as the special act of Blueskin himself, acting through her as his agent.

      My person was now looked upon as sacred, and the crowd dispersed to their several pursuits. It was nightfall when we arrived at the house of my preserver, and then while I held her to my heart, she told me how to conduct myself, so as to be safe from all harm.

      You know that those Strong's-Islanders, especially the females, are wonderfully quick at picking up English, and Saysa was one of the brightest specimens among them all. What she could not say in words, she made me understand by the most expressive pantomime and gestures, so that Larry himself could add very little to my knowledge of the taboo mysteries when I again met him the next day.

      I must now wear the eel-skin necklace night and day, never venturing to remove it for a moment, until a period of three moons had elapsed. No person would dare to take it off, except in one particular manner, and this would be by passing the end of another skin of the same sort through mine, between it and my neck, and then pulling upon it. If any one could succeed in doing this, and thus breaking my collar, I should be at the mercy cf the law, and my faithful Saysa hardly suffered me to stir abroad alone, going with me wherever I went, keeping watch and guard upon all who approached me, and I knew that she had another skin always concealed upon her person in the hope that she might be able to replace mine in case of loss or accident. Only one attempt was made to break my necklace, and this came near being successful. I had fallen asleep one afternoon in the house, and my preserver had left me only a few minutes, when I was awakened by a strangling sensation, and striking out wildly I knocked over an old man who was trying to pull my precious collar apart with another eel-skin which he had slyly passed through it while I was napping. In spite of my blow, he hung on to his own eel-skin and gave another desperate tug. For a minute, it was doubtful whether I should be choked or have my neck dislocated, but luckily his own Blueskin proved the weaker of the two, for it parted in his hands, and he fell over backward. He was on his feet again like a cat, and fled in terror from the hut to relate the story of his failure to his comrades, who were waiting outside. Had he succeeded I should have been seized on the instant, and the human would have got the better of the divine law.

      You may be sure that after this Saysa and I were doubly cautious, but no further attempts were made. I never knew where Saysa managed to obtain the two dried skins; for the rolkan – as he said eel is called, when they dare to name it at all – is exceedingly rare, only a single one is met with at a time, and one may lay in wait many days and nights in the little cove without meeting with even one. Then not only is it difficult to capture, but the destruction of it is limited by royal decrees which are received as having something of divine origin. But Saysa, who was wonderfully gifted with strong common sense, could make the most of the superstitions of others, while in her own mind she cared but little either for the royal edicts or for the terrible Blueskin himself.

      Her religion was that of humanity and love, and I am satisfied that she never believed in anything like a personal God, either according to the Qualan or the Christian idea of deity.

      At the expiration of the appointed period of three moons, Saysa joyfully took off my uncomfortable cravat, and I was not sorry to go abroad free from the incumbrance, and safe from the pursuit of the law, at least for the present. I was now entirely relieved from that kind of social ban under which I

54 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

had lived for three months, and went about my business like a native of the island

      I was married to my Saysa with all due ceremonies, according to the custom of her people, and felt myself settled down to become a savage. I was called into the royal presence, and informed from the kings own mouth that I should never be allowed to go on board any ship, or even to communicate with the crew of any vessel that might arrive. This was a hard condition to submit to, but I had no choice in the matter, and the fiat of the great Blueskin thus announced from the throne was strictly enforced ever after. When any vessel was seen approaching, I was ordered away into the interior, and confined there in a sort of guard-house or calaboose, which was carefully watched day and night.

      I was well treated, and my wife was always at my side; but my life would have been the forfeit if I had strayed beyond certain limits.

      As soon as the vessel departed all restrictions were removed, and I was free to go about my business as before.

      The Irishman Larry was drowned by the upsetting of his canoe a few months after I landed, and no one was suffered to be discharged from any vessel, while I heard that several deserters had been promptly caught and carried back to bondage.

      I was the only white man residing on Qualan during the period of fifteen years after the death of Larry. I seemed to have nearly forgotten my native language, and should have done so perhaps, but for the eagerness of the Strong's-Islanders to acquire English, which kept me most of the time in the capacity of a teacher of that tongue.

      I was not told by the king or chiefs the reason for my thus being forbidden to leave their country, and it was a long time before I could get the whole truth from my wife. But as I became more and more master of the language I picked up many things which were not intended for my ears or understanding, and having gathered a part of the truth I prevailed upon Saysa to make the whole clear to me. And here comes in the strangest part of the strange superstitious belief of Qualan.

      One who has been saved from the law by a woman having invested him with the skin of the rolkan, and has succeeded in wearing it for three moons, is safe from immediate punishment, as you have already seen. But the operation of the law is only suspended: penalty is laid up not only against him if he outlives his victim, but against his posterity if otherwise. I was safe during the life of Arlik; but, instantly on his decease, I should be held to account for the maiming, and the old penalty rigidly enforced, the operation of destroying my eyes to be performed on the day and hour set apart for Arlik's funeral. It was believed that only in this way could Arlik find favor with the great Blueskin, and get what one might call his ticket of admission to the happy home beyond.

      But this was not all, and not even the worst feature of the terrible possibilities. Under the infernal ingenuity of the Qualan law, if I myself chanced to die before Arlik the penalty of my accident was to be visited upon my innocent boy! To appease Blueskin, my eldest born must be blinded with the infernal liquid, and if I left no issue the nearest relative or connection must suffer, which in this case would be my true and tender wife, Saysa, who had thus placed herself in the line of danger when she had thus saved me and married me. And in neither case could the rolkan be brought into play to stay the divine wrath. The power of the eel-skin taboo extended only during a single life, and this the shorter of the two. From the summons of Blueskin at the death of either party there could be no earthly appeal.

      You may try to imagine, if you can, the effect upon my mind when I got a clear understanding of all the devilish requirements of this strange religion. I could no longer be easy for a moment, but felt that I was like one standing upon a gunpowder line. At any moment Arlik might suddenly die, or worse yet I might die myself, and the fiendish retribution be visited upon my boy, or even upon Saysa, who was dearer to me in those days than any other human being. There was no escape for me unless indeed I tried my fortune upon the sea, running the risk of drowning or of starvation. The chances of the future were never refered to by any one in my presence, but my perfect isolation from all white men continued, and I knew that I was being kept for the sacrifice.

      The laws of the Medes and Persians were not more immutable than those of Qualan, nor were they based upon any such infernal theology.

      As I before intimated, it was several years before I found out and understood the whole truth. The great cause of Saysa's unwillingness to enlighten me was the fear that I would make an attempt to escape, abandoning her and my children. But as she came in time to understand me better, she no longer had any fears on that score, and indeed she need have had none. My escape from the island would have had the same legal effect as my death, entailing blindness upon my son, and if I took the boy with me, she herself must suffer in like manner.

      Indeed, when I came to comprehend all the contingencies, I had no longer any desire to escape, unless my family went with

The Charm of Blueskin. 55

me. We felt that we must live or die together, and from that time the understanding was perfect between Saysa and me, and I felt that nothing could shake her absolute faith in me.

      The boy, of course, knew nothing of the fearful burden which his parents were forced to carry, sustained only by their love for each other.

      Thus the years wore on until Qualan Stuart had grown to a stout boy of thirteen, when my poor friend Arlik fell sick of a slow, intermittent fever, and I was called to attend him. As I had taken a partial course of study in anatomy and medicine when a youth, in old Scotland, I really knew something of the matter, and from my successful handling of many similar cases I had acquired quite a reputation as a medicine man. Arlik and I had always been fast friends, and well the worthy fellow knew that no human being had a more direct interest in his recovery than I had. His death would be more than death to me, and you may depend that I employed my best skill and care upon his case.

      But a study of his symptoms for a few days satisfied me that he would never recover. At each recurrence of the fever he grew weaker, and it was evident that he had not vitality enough to work a cure. His death would not be immediate or sudden, but Arlik was surely doomed.

      I made light of the case, however, and expressed the most perfect conviction of my ability to complete a cure. In the intervals when he was stronger, I made the most of the fact, and assured the king and every one else, excepting my faithful wife, that he was gaining rapidly, and would soon be well again. But while I thus disarmed suspicion, there was the most perfect understanding with Saysa, and we knew that there was no time to be lost. We must take the chances of the ocean, carrying our boy with us, and live or die together.

      I had my own small canoe, in which I was accustomed to go outside the reef, torching for flying-fish, and it was quite a matter of course for our wives to accompany us on these cruises. Of late I had often taken my boy too, as he was now getting stout enough to be of service, and to begin learning the duties of a man.

      One day when Arlik was unusually bright, and my predictions of his speedy recovery louder than ever before, I gave the secret word to Saysa, for that evening, if ever, was to be our time. At dusk, having just paid a visit to my friend, who was in high spirits, and honestly so, while I was only feigning the same happy condition, I went from the sick-room directly to the beach, where my wife and boy awaited me, with the canoe in readiness for pushing off.

      There were several other canoes going out, and some which started earlier were already on the fishing grounds with their torches blazing away merrily. We lagged a little in the rear of the consorts, and were among the last to arrive, taking up our station at the lee end of the line.

      You know something yourself of the manner of taking flying-fish. The canoes lie to close on a wind with their great sails of matting stretched taut; and the flying-fish, attracted by the light of the blazing torches, fly against the sail, and drop into the bottom of the canoe.

      Taking our places at the lee end of the fleet, I allowed the canoe gradually to sag off, widening the distance between us and our neighbors, and when the proper moment seemed to have arrived, I swung her off with a free sheet, dropping my torch as if by accident into the sea. There was nothing for it now but make the utmost speed, and we plied our paddles with all the muscle we possessed. Under the united power of the paddles and the sail, with a brisk trade-wind blowing, our progress was very swift, and we were soon looking back upon the torchlights like dim sparks in the distance. We detected no signs of their having taken the alarm, and now felt sure of getting a good start of any pursuit.

      We had arms in the canoe, and were determined never to be carried back alive. My jewel of a wife had taken care to smuggle in an extra supply of bread-fruit and other provisions, and, above all, several calabashes of fresh water.

      Shaping my course to the west-northwest, as well as I could by the stars and the wind, we plied the paddles steadily for several hours, and Saysa insisted upon exerting herself even after I was exhausted, and our dear boy had sunk down from drowsiness.

      When day broke the high land of Qualan loomed dimly in the background like a faint cloud; but, after a brief rest, we renewed our labors, our hearts trembling with the fear of pursuit. I knew that as soon as our departure was made certain, large canoes, strongly manned, would be sent out in chase, and would gain rapidly upon us; but I put my trust in the thought that the ocean is wide, and the old saying that a stern chase is a long one. My hope was to reach the island of Ponapi or Ascension, knowing that it was high land, visible at a great distance, and if I could keep the same general course I should hardly go amiss of it. We saw nothing to break the clear horizon until late the next afternoon, when the sharp eyes of my wife spied a sail nearly ahead, and we out-did ourselves in our eagerness to draw nearer to her.

      When the sun dipped below the ocean

56 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

we had approached so that I could see her lower sails or courses nearly down to her hull, but my anxiety was great as to whether they had seen us. If she was a whaler, as I hoped, it was possible that her lookouts at the mast-head might catch sight of our sail, when they took their last look round the horizon before descending from their stations at sundown, but this was only a chance and an uncertainty. I was delighted to observe a few minutes later, that she was taking in her topgallant-sails, for this made me certain that she was a whaler, shortening sail for the night, as is common on cruising grounds.

      We strained every nerve and muscle to our paddles, for every inch seemed important, as increasing the chance of our being seen while the men were aloft, furling sails. We gained so much during the short twilight, that as we rose on the wave, I could see a thin line of her black hull. But our attention had been so absorbed with the ship, that we had neglected to look astern, and my heart sank within me when suddenly my boy uttered a little sharp cry, and touched me on the shoulder. I turned round, and there, looming in the last shimmer of the twilight, was the head of a great leg-of-mutton sail, such as was carried by :he big war-canoes of Qualan!

      My brave Saysa also looked and took in the situation, but the determination in her eye was only more fierce, and her bare, rounded arm appeared to gather new strength of muscle, as she faced round again to her work at th paddle.

      I quickly rallied my courage, and reflected that although our pursuers must have seen the ship, it was quite possible they might not yet have seen our sail, which was comparatively small, for as they were low down near the surface of the sea, their range of vision was not to be compared with that of the mast-head-man on board the whaler. I wanted then to let my sail drop, hoping to dodge our pursuers in the dark, but, on the other hand, I wanted every inch I could gain by its power, for the ship might go away from us, all unconscious of our desperate fate, if we had not been seen by her.

      On the ship depended my salvation, for if I could only communicate with her, my dangers were all over. I must keep up the power of both sails and paddles, and if I could only shape my course direct enough in the dark, I might well be able to overhaul her now that she was under easy sail.

      We exchanged not a word for an hour, but I could hear the beating of the faithful heart at my side as we plied our paddle-strokes for dear life. Now and then I gave an anxious glance to windward, but the darkness had shut down upon our pursuers, as well as upon the ship to which we were looking for deliverance.

      Again my keen-eyed boy uttered his short, sharp cry, pointing with his hand away off the port bow. His mother missed her regular paddle dip, and also pointed with her hand.

      "Light, ho!" I shouted instinctively, for the old sailor impulse was yet strong within me, and my hopes went up so high, that for a moment I was reckless of the danger of making a noise. If the ship kept a light set, I could easily reach her, for I should have a guide to steer by. I did not know why she should set a light, and was not prepared for the full joy and happiness that so soon awaited me.

      For a few minutes' toil at the paddles made it plain, as we and the light neared each other so rapidly, that the ship had tacked soon after dark, and was now heading, up toward us with her signal lanterns aloft in full swing. Our sail had been seen then before night had closed in, and the ship had manoeuvred accordingly.

      As we answered her hail, she swung her head yards in aback, and in a few minutes more we were on the deck of the colonial whaler Brutus of Sydney, and telling our tale to a score of British seamen. My canoe was pushed adrift, and left to her fate, as soon as we had jumped out of her, and the ship at once lowered her signal lanterns, but still lay aback. We heard the Strong's Islanders in the great canoe off our weather beam, hovering around us so as to see, but not be seen, heard their cries when they first discovered my drifting canoe, and heard their yells of baffled rage when they were certain she was empty.

      But they did not venture to approach the ship any nearer, and as we filled away on our course, I wished them joy of their job in beating back to the island, which I hope they reached in safety.

      It all seemed like a dream to me, who had had not been on board a ship or seen the features of a white man for nearly fifteen years. I had been so long an outcast that although it was five months before the Brutus returned to her home port, I had scarcely even then acquired the ways and customs of civilized men.

      But we were lucky in obtaining a good fare of sperm oil, and as I did a seaman's duty to the best of my ability I was allowed a lay of the catchings, and many little presents were made to my wife and boy by our shipmates, so that we were not quite penniless when we steped[sic] ashore in Australia. I soon found employment, for I could not think of going to sea again, and leaving Saysa in what was to her a strange land.

      We were in a fair way to prosper, and I should have been very happy but for the

"One of the Name is Good as the Same." 57

failing health of my wife, who had been so true and loving to me through all our changes and trials.

      But Saysa was a child of the tropics, and the new climate was too much for her. She continued steadily to droop, and no medical skill could reach the case. Within a year I was a widower, and but for the son who was left to me, I should have felt that I was alone in the world. I was too wise now ever to fall into the habits of dissipation, and I persevered in the steady, upright course, doing my whole duty by the boy, and rearing him up to an honorable manhood.

      Time healed the old wound, and when Qualan had himself taken a wife, and built up his home, I married my present companion, who had been left a widow with one little daughter, and this public-house business on her hands, though the premises were under mortgage for half their value. But with my savings, I was able to clear away all that burden, and starting fair in the world, we have been as fortunate as we have any right to expect. The house used to be known as the King George, but I took a fancy to re-christen it, and though you might think that the eel is not a very attractive sign, you can judge what associations I have in connection with it, and whether the whim was an excusable one.

      It is rather a joke spelling Blueskin on the sign, for I must tell you that the rolkan is not blue at all, but of an ugly gray color, and not half as respectable looking as the one represented by the artist. But it is getting very late, and so, with a parting sip to the memory of Saysa, who I am sure has found the great reward, whether professing the Christian faith or otherwise, we will turn in for the night.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: The Charm of Blue Skin.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 55, No 1 (Jan 1882)
Pages: 50-57