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The Call Of The South 1908   By: (1855-1913)

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By Louis Becke

London, John Milne, 1908


"Feeling any better to day, Paul?"

"Guess I'm getting round," and the big, bronzed faced man raised his eyes to mine as he lay under the awning on the after deck of his pearling lugger. I sat down beside him and began to talk.

A mile away the white beach of a little, land locked bay shimmered under the morning sun, and the drooping fronds of the cocos hung listless and silent, waiting for the rising of the south east trade.

"Paul," I said, "it is very hot here. Come on shore with me to the native village, where it is cooler, and I will make you a big drink of lime juice."

I helped him to rise for he was weak from a bad attack of New Guinea fever and two of our native crew assisted him over the side into my whaleboat. A quarter of an hour later we were seated on mats under the shade of a great wild mango tree, drinking lime juice and listening to the lazy hum of the surf upon the reef, and the soft croo, croo of many "crested" pigeons in the branches above.

The place was a little bay in Callie Harbour on Admiralty Island in the South Pacific; and Paul Fremont was one of our European divers. I was in charge of the supply schooner which was tender to our fleet of pearling luggers, and was the one man among us to whom the silent, taciturn Paul would talk sometimes.

And only sometimes, for usually Paul was too much occupied in his work to say more than "Good morning, boss," or "Good night," when, after he had been disencumbered of his diving gear, he went aft to rest and smoke his pipe. But one day, however, he went down in twenty six fathoms, stayed too long, and was brought up unconscious. The mate and I saw the signals go up for assistance, hurried on board his lugger, and were just in time to save his life.

Two days later he came on board the tender, shook hands in his silent, undemonstrative way, and held out for my acceptance an old octagon American fifty dollar gold piece.

"Got a gal, boss?" "I admitted that I had.

"Pure white, I mean. One thet you like well enough to marry?"

"I mean to try, Paul."

"In Samoa?"

"No Australia."

"Guess I'd like you to give her this 'slug' I got it outer the wreck of a ship that was sunk off Galveston in the 'sixties,' in the war."

It would have hurt him had I declined the gift. So I thanked him, and he nodded silently, filled his pipe and went back to the Montiara .

Nearly a year passed before we met again, for his lugger and six others went to New Guinea; and our next meeting was at Callie Harbour, where I found him down with malarial fever. Again I became his doctor, and ordered him to lie up.

He nodded.

"Guess I'll have ter, boss. But I jest hate loafin' around and seein' the other divers bringin' up shell in easy water." For he was receiving eighty pounds per month wages diving or no diving and hated to be idle.

"Paul," I said, as we lay stretched out under the wild mango tree, "would you mind telling me about that turn up you had with the niggers at New Ireland, six years ago."

"Ef you like, boss." Then he added that he did not care about talking much at any time, as he was a mighty poor hand at the jaw tackle.

"We were startin' tryin' some new ground between New Hanover and the North Cape of New Ireland. There were only two luggers, and we had for our store ship a thirty ton cutter. There were two white divers besides me and one Manila man, and our crews were all natives of some sort or another Tokelaus, Manahikians and Hawaiians. The skipper of the storeship was a Dutchman a chicken hearted swab, who turned green at the sight of a nigger with a bunch of spears, or a club in his hand. He used to turn in with a brace of pistols in his belt and a Winchester lying on the cabin table. At sea he would lose his funk, but whenever we dropped anchor and natives came aboard his teeth would begin to chatter, and he would just jump at his own shadder... Continue reading book >>

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