It is a misfortune to some fiction-writers that fiction and unveracity
in the average person’s mind mean one and the same thing.
Several years ago I published a South Sea novel. The action was
placed in the Solomon Islands. The action was praised by the critics
and reviewers as a highly creditable effort of the imagination.
As regards reality—they said there wasn’t any. Of
course, as every one knew, kinky-haired cannibals no longer obtained
on the earth’s surface, much less ran around with nothing on,
chopping off one another’s heads, and, on occasion, a white man’s
head as well.
Now listen. I am writing these lines in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Yesterday, on the beach at Waikiki, a stranger spoke to me. He
mentioned a mutual friend, Captain Kellar. When I was wrecked
in the Solomons on the blackbirder, the Minota, it was Captain
Kellar, master of the blackbirder, the Eugénie, who rescued
me. The blacks had taken Captain Kellar’s head, the stranger
told me. He knew. He had represented Captain Kellar’s
mother in settling up the estate.
Listen. I received a letter the other day from Mr. C. M. Woodford,
Resident Commissioner of the British Solomons. He was back at
his post, after a long furlough to England, where he had entered his
son into Oxford. A search of the shelves of almost any public
library will bring to light a book entitled, “A Naturalist Among
the Head Hunters.” Mr. C. M. Woodford is the naturalist.
He wrote the book.
To return to his letter. In the course of the day’s work
he casually and briefly mentioned a particular job he had just got off
his hands. His absence in England had been the cause of delay.
The job had been to make a punitive expedition to a neighbouring island,
and, incidentally, to recover the heads of some mutual friends of ours—a
white-trader, his white wife and children, and his white clerk.
The expedition was successful, and Mr. Woodford concluded his account
of the episode with a statement to the effect: “What especially
struck me was the absence of pain and terror in their faces, which seemed
to express, rather, serenity and repose”—this, mind you,
of men and women of his own race whom he knew well and who had sat at
dinner with him in his own house.
Other friends, with whom I have sat at dinner in the brave, rollicking
days in the Solomons have since passed out—by the same way.
My goodness! I sailed in the teak-built ketch, the Minota,
on a blackbirding cruise to Malaita, and I took my wife along.
The hatchet-marks were still raw on the door of our tiny stateroom advertising
an event of a few months before. The event was the taking of Captain
Mackenzie’s head, Captain Mackenzie, at that time, being master
of the Minota. As we sailed in to Langa-Langa, the British cruiser,
the Cambrian, steamed out from the shelling of a village.
It is not expedient to burden this preliminary to my story with further
details, which I do make asseveration I possess a-plenty. I hope
I have given some assurance that the adventures of my dog hero in this
novel are real adventures in a very real cannibal world. Bless
you!—when I took my wife along on the cruise of the Minota,
we found on board a nigger-chasing, adorable Irish terrier puppy, who
was smooth-coated like Jerry, and whose name was Peggy. Had it
not been for Peggy, this book would never have been written. She
was the chattel of the Minota’s splendid skipper.
So much did Mrs. London and I come to love her, that Mrs. London, after
the wreck of the Minota, deliberately and shamelessly stole her
from the Minota’s skipper. I do further admit that
I did, deliberately and shamelessly, compound my wife’s felony.
We loved Peggy so! Dear royal, glorious little dog, buried at
sea off the east coast of Australia!
I must add that Peggy, like Jerry, was born at Meringe Lagoon, on
Meringe Plantation, which is of the Island of Ysabel, said Ysabel Island
lying next north of Florida Island, where is the seat of government
and where dwells the Resident Commissioner, Mr. C. M. Woodford.
Still further and finally, I knew Peggy’s mother and father well,
and have often known the warm surge in the heart of me at the sight
of that faithful couple running side by side along the beach.
Terrence was his real name. Her name was Biddy.
HONOLULU, OAHU, T.H.
June 5, 1915