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The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton 1902   By: (1855-1913)

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By Louis Becke



[Illustration: titlepage 010]


The night was close and stifling, and the dulled bellowing of the surf on the weather side of the island told me that the calm was about to break at last, and in another hour or so the thirsty, sandy soil would be drenched with the long expected rain, and the drooping palms and pandanus trees wave their wearied branches to the cooling trade wind once more.

I rose from my rough bed of cane work and mats, and, lighting my pipe, went outside, walked down to the beach, and seating myself on a canoe, looked out upon the wide expanse of ocean, heaving under a dark and lowering sky, and wondered moodily why I was ever such an idiot as to take charge of a trading station on such a God forsaken place as Tarawa Island in the Gilbert Group.

My house or rather the collection of thatched huts which formed the trading station stood quite apart from the native village, but not so far that I could not hear the murmur of voices talking in their deep, hoarse, guttural tongue, and see, moving to and fro on the beach, the figures of women and children sent out to see that the fleet of canoes lying on the beach was safe beyond the reach of the waves which the coming storm would send in sweeping, endless lines across the outer reef to the foot of the coco palms fringing the low lying, monotonous shore.

The day had been a more than usually depressing one with me; and I had had many depressing days for the last four months. First of all, ever since I had landed on the island, nearly half a year before, I had suffered from bad health. Malarial fever, contracted in the gloomy, rain soaked forests of New Ireland and New Britain, had poisoned my blood, soured my temper, and all but made me an old man at seven and twenty years of age. Violent attacks of ague, recurring with persistent and diabolical regularity every week for many months, had so weakened me, that although I was able to attend to my business and do justice to my employers, I felt that I should never live to see the end of my two years' engagement unless I either shook off the fever or was enabled to leave the torrid regions of the Equatorial Pacific for a cooler climate such as Samoa or the Marquesas or Society Islands. The knowledge, moreover, of the fact that the fever was slowly but surely killing me, and that there was no prospect of my being relieved by my employers and sent elsewhere for I had neither money, friends, nor influence was an additional factor towards sending me into such a morbid condition of mind that I had often contemplated the idea weak and ill as I was of leaving the island alone in my whaleboat, and setting sail for Fiji or Samoa, more than a thousand miles distant.

Most people may, perhaps, think that such an idea could only emanate in the brain of a lunatic; but such things had been done, time and time again, in my own knowledge in the Pacific, and as the fever racked my bones and tortured my brain, and the fear of death upon this lonely island assailed me in the long, long hours of night as I lay groaning and sweltering, or shaking with ague upon my couch of mats, the thought of the whale boat so constantly recurred to me even in my more cheerful moments, when I was free from pain, that eventually I half formed a resolution to make the attempt.

For at the root of the despondency that ever overpowered me after a violent attack of ague there was a potent and never dormant agent urging me to action which kept me alive; and that was my personal vanity and desire to distinguish myself before I died, or when I died.

For ten years I had sailed in the South Seas, and had had my full share of adventure and exciting episode, young as I was, as befell those who, in the "sixties" and "seventies," ranged the Western and North Western Pacific. But though I had been thrice through the murderous Solomon Group as "recruiter" for a Fijian labour vessel "blackbirders" or "slavers" these craft are designated by good people who know nothing of the subject, and judge the Pacific Islands labour trade by two or three dreadful massacres perpetrated by Englishmen in the past I had "never done anything... Continue reading book >>

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