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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 6
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    Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as
    if she had laid an asteroid.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    WEDNESDAY, Sept. 11. In this world we often make mistakes of judgment.
    We do not as a rule get out of them sound and whole, but sometimes we do.
    At dinner yesterday evening-present, a mixture of Scotch, English,
    American, Canadian, and Australasian folk--a discussion broke out about
    the pronunciation of certain Scottish words. This was private ground,
    and the non-Scotch nationalities, with one exception, discreetly kept
    still. But I am not discreet, and I took a hand. I didn't know anything
    about the subject, but I took a hand just to have something to do. At
    that moment the word in dispute was the word three. One Scotchman was
    claiming that the peasantry of Scotland pronounced it three, his
    adversaries claimed that they didn't--that they pronounced it 'thraw'.
    The solitary Scot was having a sultry time of it, so I thought I would
    enrich him with my help. In my position I was necessarily quite
    impartial, and was equally as well and as ill equipped to fight on the
    one side as on the other. So I spoke up and said the peasantry
    pronounced the word three, not thraw. It was an error of judgment.
    There was a moment of astonished and ominous silence, then weather
    ensued. The storm rose and spread in a surprising way, and I was snowed
    under in a very few minutes. It was a bad defeat for me--a kind of
    Waterloo. It promised to remain so, and I wished I had had better sense
    than to enter upon such a forlorn enterprise. But just then I had a
    saving thought--at least a thought that offered a chance. While the
    storm was still raging, I made up a Scotch couplet, and then spoke up and
    said:

    "Very well, don't say any more. I confess defeat. I thought I knew, but
    I see my mistake. I was deceived by one of your Scotch poets."

    "A Scotch poet! O come! Name him."

    "Robert Burns."

    It is wonderful the power of that name. These men looked doubtful--but
    paralyzed, all the same. They were quite silent for a moment; then one
    of them said--with the reverence in his voice which is always present in
    a Scotchman's tone when he utters the name.

    "Does Robbie Burns say--what does he say?"

    "This is what he says:

    'There were nae bairns but only three
    --Ane at the breast, twa at the knee.'"

    It ended the discussion. There was no man there profane enough, disloyal
    enough, to say any word against a thing which Robert Burns had settled.
    I shall always honor that great name for the salvation it brought me in
    this time of my sore need.

    It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with
    confidence, stands a good chance to deceive. There are people who think
    that honesty is always the best policy. This is a superstition; there
    are times when the appearance of it is worth six of it.

    We are moving steadily southward-getting further and further down under
    the projecting paunch of the globe. Yesterday evening we saw the Big
    Dipper and the north star sink below the horizon and disappear from our
    world. No, not "we," but they. They saw it--somebody saw it--and told
    me about it. But it is no matter, I was not caring for those things, I
    am tired of them, any way. I think they are well enough, but one doesn't
    want them always hanging around. My interest was all in the Southern
    Cross. I had never seen that. I had heard about it all my life, and it
    was but natural that I should be burning to see it. No other
    constellation makes so much talk. I had nothing against the Big Dipper
    --and naturally couldn't have anything against it, since it is a citizen of
    our own sky, and the property of the United States--but I did want it to
    move out of the way and give this foreigner a chance. Judging by the
    size of the talk which the Southern Cross had made, I supposed it would
    need a sky all to itself.

    But that was a mistake. We saw the Cross to-night, and it is not large.
    Not large, and not strikingly bright. But it was low down toward the
    horizon, and it may improve when it gets up higher in the sky. It is
    ingeniously named, for it looks just as a cross would look if it looked
    like something else. But that description does not describe; it is too
    vague, too general, too indefinite. It does after a fashion suggest a
    cross across that is out of repair--or out of drawing; not correctly
    shaped. It is long, with a short cross-bar, and the cross-bar is canted
    out of the straight line.

    It consists of four large stars and one little one. The little one is
    out of line and further damages the shape. It should have been placed at
    the intersection of the stem and the cross-bar. If you do not draw an
    imaginary line from star to star it does not suggest a cross--nor
    anything in particular.

    One must ignore the little star, and leave it out of the combination--it
    confuses everything. If you leave it out, then you can make out of the
    four stars a sort of cross--out of true; or a sort of kite--out of true;
    or a sort of coffin-out of true.

    Constellations have always been troublesome things to name. If you give
    one of them a fanciful name, it will always refuse to live up to it; it
    will always persist in not resembling the thing it has been named for.
    Ultimately, to satisfy the public, the fanciful name has to be discarded
    for a common-sense one, a manifestly descriptive one. The Great Bear
    remained the Great Bear--and unrecognizable as such--for thousands of
    years; and people complained about it all the time, and quite properly;
    but as soon as it became the property of the United States, Congress
    changed it to the Big Dipper, and now every body is satisfied, and there
    is no more talk about riots. I would not change the Southern Cross to
    the Southern Coffin, I would change it to the Southern Kite; for up there
    in the general emptiness is the proper home of a kite, but not for
    coffins and crosses and dippers. In a little while, now--I cannot
    tell exactly how long it will be--the globe will belong to the
    English-speaking race; and of course the skies also. Then the
    constellations will be re-organized, and polished up, and re-named--the
    most of them "Victoria," I reckon, but this one will sail thereafter as
    the Southern Kite, or go out of business. Several towns and things, here
    and there, have been named for Her Majesty already.

    In these past few days we are plowing through a mighty Milky Way of
    islands. They are so thick on the map that one would hardly expect to
    find room between them for a canoe; yet we seldom glimpse one. Once we
    saw the dim bulk of a couple of them, far away, spectral and dreamy
    things; members of the Horne-Alofa and Fortuna. On the larger one are
    two rival native kings--and they have a time together. They are
    Catholics; so are their people. The missionaries there are French
    priests.

    From the multitudinous islands in these regions the "recruits" for the
    Queensland plantations were formerly drawn; are still drawn from them, I
    believe. Vessels fitted up like old-time slavers came here and carried
    off the natives to serve as laborers in the great Australian province.
    In the beginning it was plain, simple man-stealing, as per testimony of
    the missionaries. This has been denied, but not disproven. Afterward it
    was forbidden by law to "recruit" a native without his consent, and
    governmental agents were sent in all recruiting vessels to see that the
    law was obeyed--which they did, according to the recruiting people; and
    which they sometimes didn't, according to the missionaries. A man could
    be lawfully recruited for a three-years term of service; he could
    volunteer for another term if he so chose; when his time was up he could
    return to his island. And would also have the means to do it; for the
    government required the employer to put money in its hands for this
    purpose before the recruit was delivered to him.

    Captain Wawn was a recruiting ship-master during many years. From his
    pleasant book one gets the idea that the recruiting business was quite
    popular with the islanders, as a rule. And yet that did not make the
    business wholly dull and uninteresting; for one finds rather frequent
    little breaks in the monotony of it--like this, for instance:

    "The afternoon of our arrival at Leper Island the schooner was lying
    almost becalmed under the lee of the lofty central portion of the
    island, about three-quarters of a mile from the shore. The boats
    were in sight at some distance. The recruiter-boat had run into a
    small nook on the rocky coast, under a high bank, above which stood
    a solitary hut backed by dense forest. The government agent and
    mate in the second boat lay about 400 yards to the westward.

    "Suddenly we heard the sound of firing, followed by yells from the
    natives on shore, and then we saw the recruiter-boat push out with a
    seemingly diminished crew. The mate's boat pulled quickly up, took
    her in tow, and presently brought her alongside, all her own crew
    being more or less hurt. It seems the natives had called them into
    the place on pretence of friendship. A crowd gathered about the
    stern of the boat, and several fellows even got into her. All of a
    sudden our men were attacked with clubs and tomahawks. The
    recruiter escaped the first blows aimed at him, making play with his
    fists until he had an opportunity to draw his revolver. 'Tom
    Sayers,' a Mare man, received a tomahawk blow on the head which laid
    the scalp open but did not penetrate his skull, fortunately. 'Bobby
    Towns,' another Mare boatman, had both his thumbs cut in warding off
    blows, one of them being so nearly severed from the hand that the
    doctors had to finish the operation. Lihu, a Lifu boy, the
    recruiter's special attendant, was cut and pricked in various
    places, but nowhere seriously. Jack, an unlucky Tanna recruit, who
    had been engaged to act as boatman, received an arrow through his
    forearm, the head of which--apiece of bone seven or eight inches
    long--was still in the limb, protruding from both sides, when the
    boats returned. The recruiter himself would have got off scot-free
    had not an arrow pinned one of his fingers to the loom of the
    steering-oar just as they were getting off. The fight had been
    short but sharp. The enemy lost two men, both shot dead."

    The truth is, Captain Wawn furnishes such a crowd of instances of fatal
    encounters between natives and French and English recruiting-crews (for
    the French are in the business for the plantations of New Caledonia),
    that one is almost persuaded that recruiting is not thoroughly popular
    among the islanders; else why this bristling string of attacks and
    bloodcurdling slaughter? The captain lays it all to "Exeter Hall
    influence." But for the meddling philanthropists, the native fathers and
    mothers would be fond of seeing their children carted into exile and now
    and then the grave, instead of weeping about it and trying to kill the
    kind recruiters.
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    Chapter 6
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