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Tessa 1901   By: (1855-1913)

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By Louis Becke

Unwin Brothers 1901


A small, squat and dirty looking trading steamer, with the name Motutapu painted in yellow letters on her bows and stern, lay at anchor off the native village of Utiroa on Drummond's Island in the Equatorial Pacific. She was about 800 tons burden, and her stained and rusty sides made her appear as if she had been out of port for two years instead of scarcely four months.

At this present moment four of her five boats were alongside, each one piled high over the gunwales with bags of copra, which the steam winch was hoisting in as quickly as possible, for night was drawing on and Captain Louis Hendry, who was then ashore, had given orders to the mate, a burly Yorkshireman named Oliver, to be ready to heave up at six o'clock.

The day had been intensely hot and windless, the sea lay sweltering, leaden hued and misty, and the smoke from the native houses in Utiroa village hung low down amid the groves of coco palms which encompassed it on three sides.

On the after deck of the steamer, under the awning, a man was lying on a bed of mats, with a water bottle and a plate of bananas beside him. Seated cross legged beside him was a native boy, about fifteen years of age, who kept fanning his master's face, and driving away the pestering flies. It was easy to see that the man was suffering from fever. His deeply bronzed cheeks had yellowed and were thin and hollow, and his eyes dull and apathetic. He looked like a man of fifty, though he was in reality not more than thirty two. Every now and then he drank, then lay back again with a groan of pain. Piled up on the skylight was a heap of rugs and blankets, for use when the violent chilling attack of ague would follow on the burning, bone racking heat of fever.

Presently the mate, accompanied by the chief engineer, came aft. Both men were very hot and very dirty, and their faces were streaming with perspiration. They sat down on deck chairs beside the sick man, called to the steward for a bottle of beer, and asked him how he felt.

Carr made a sudden effort and sat up.

"D bad, Oliver! I have about six hundred and forty nine pains all over me, and no two of them in the same place. I've swilled enough water to float a battleship; and, look here! you must give me some beer: a bottle two bottles a gallon a cask! Beer I will have if I perish like a beast in the field. I can't drink water like that it's as hot as "

Morrison, the Scotch engineer, smiled. "Don't swear, Carr. Ye shall have just one long drink of beer. 'Twill do ye no great harm on such a roasting day as this."

The steward brought two bottles of lager beer, and Carr eagerly extended his thin, brown hand for the creamy, tempting liquid poured out for him by the mate. He drank it off and then laid down again.

"When are we getting out of this beastly hole, Oliver?" he asked.

"To night, I expect that is, if the skipper comes aboard fairly sober. He doesn't often get too much grog aboard, but this island is one of the places where he is bound to get loaded up. The two traders ashore are countrymen of his, I believe, though they call themselves Britishers."

Carr nodded. "Dutchmen of some kind, eh?"

"Yes, like himself. He's a Dane, though if you told him so he'd get nasty over it."

"He's a nasty brute, anyway," said Carr wearily. "I don't like that shifty eye of his. And I think he's a bit of a sneak."

"You needn't think it; you can be sure of it. I'll prove it to you in a minute," said the mate. "Both he and that fat beast of a supercargo are a pair of sneaks, and they hate you like poison. What have you done to offend them?"

"Nothing that I know of. But I have always suspected that neither of them are too fond of me. Hendry I consider a low lived scoundrel. I met his wife and daughters in Sydney a year ago went to his house with him. They think he's a perfect saint, and at the time I thought so too, considering he's been in the island trade for ten years... Continue reading book >>

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