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A Son Of Empire
by [?]

Raka-hanga is a dot of an island in the mid-Pacific, and so far from anywhere that it doesn’t belong to a group–as most islands do–but is all by its lonesome in the heave and roll of the emptiest ocean in the world. In my time it was just big enough to support two traders, not counting old man Fosby, who had sort of retired and laid down life’s burden in a Kanaka shack, where if he did anything at all it was making bonito hooks for his half-caste family or playing the accordion with his trembly old fingers.

It was me and Stanley Hicks that divided the trade of the place, which was poor to middling, with maybe a couple of hundred tons of copra a year and as much pearl shell as the natives cared to get. It was deep shell, you understand, and sometimes a diver went down and never came up, and you could see him shimmering down below like the back of a shark, as dead as a doornail. Nobody would dive after that, and a whole year might pass with the Kanakas still holding back unless there was a church assessment or a call for something special like a sewing machine or a new boat. It averaged anywhere from five tons to sixty, and often, as I said, nothing at all.

I had got rooted in Raka-hanga, and so had Stanley Hicks, and though we both had ideas of getting away and often talked of it, we never did–being like people half asleep in a feather bed, with life drifting on unnoticed, and the wind rustling in the palms, and one summer day so like another that you lost count of time altogether.

You would have to go far to see a prettier island than Raka-hanga, or nicer, friendlier, finer-looking people; and when I say they never watered their copra on us, nor worked any of those heartbreaking boycotts to bring prices down, you can realize how much out of the beaten track it was and how little they had yet learned of civilization. They were too simple and easy-going for their own good and that’s a fact, for they allowed David, the Tongan pastor, to walk all over them, which he did right royal with his great, fat, naked feet; and when anything didn’t please this here David nor the deacons, they stuck him or her in the coral jail and locked the door on him–or her–as the case might be and usually was.

We were what might be called a republic, having no king and being supposed to be ruled by the old men, who met from time to time in a wickerwork building that looked more like a giant clothes-basket than anything resembling a house. Yes, Raka-hanga was an independent country, and no flag floated over us but our own–or would have if we had had one, which we hadn’t. Of course Stanley and I knew it could not last like this forever, and even the natives weren’t unprepared for our being annexed some day by a passing man-of-war–though all hoped it would go on as it was, with nobody interfering with us nor pasting proclamations on trees. It is all very fine to see “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” or “VIVE LA REPUBLIQUE” at the bottom of a proclamation, but Stanley and I knew it meant taxes and licenses and penal servitude if you did this or failed to do that, and all those other blessings that are served out to a Pacific island when one of the great powers suddenly discovers it on the map.

Our republic was more in name than anything else, for old David, the missionary, ruled the island with a rod of iron, and was so crotchety and tyrannical that no Kanaka could call his soul his own. Every night at nine he stood out in front of his house and rang a hand bell, and then woe betide any one who didn’t go to bed instanter and shut up, no matter if it were in the full of the moon and they in the middle of a game of cards or yarning sociable on an upturned boat.