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PAGE 2

A Son Of Empire
by [?]

One had to get up just as military and autocratic–and as for dancing, why the word itself could hardly be said, let alone the actual thing, which meant the jail every time and a dose of the pastor’s whip thrown in extra. It was a crime to miss church, and a crime to flirt or make love, and the biggest crime of all was not to come up handsome with church offerings when they were demanded. If you will believe me it was a crime to grieve too much if somebody died–if the dead person were married that is, and if you were of the opposite sex and not closely related!

As I said before, the natives were so easy-going that they took it all lying down, and allowed this here David to swell into a regular despot, though there must have been coming on two thousand of them, and him with nothing but his bell and his whip and his big roaring voice. Naturally he did not dare interfere with us white men, though Stanley and I toed the line more than we liked for the sake of business and keeping clear of his ill will. The only one who wasn’t scared of the old Tartar, and stood right up to him, was a hulking big Fijian, named Peter Jones. Nobody knew how he came by that name for there wasn’t a white drop in his body, he being unusually dark and powerful and full of the Old Nick, and with a mop of hair on him like you never saw, it was that thick and long and stood out on end all round his head which was the Fiji fashion of wearing it.

Peter could lick his weight in wildcats, as the saying goes, and was always ready to do it at the fall of a hat. He was a bullying, overbearing individual and had terrorized his way into a family and married their daughter, helping himself promiscuous, besides, to anything he fancied, with nobody daring to cross him nor complain. Stanley and I were afraid of him and that’s the truth, and gave him a little credit for peace and quietness’ sake, which was well worth an occasional can of beef or a fathom or two of Turkey cotton.

Once, when there was a ship in, he got most outrageously drunk, and rolled about the village, singing and yelling–swigging from the bottle he carried and stumbling after the girls, trying to hug them. If ever there was a scandal in Raka-hanga it was the sight of this six-foot-three of raving, roaring savage, rough-housing the place upside down and bellowing insults at the top of his lungs. But nothing was done to stop him till the liquor took its course, and then old David, he gathered the Parliament about him, and ran him into the jail with a one-two-three like a sack of oats.

But Peter Jones was none of your stand-up-at-the-altar-and-repent-boys, being a white man by training, if not by blood, and after he had sobered up, what if his wife didn’t smuggle him in a knife, and what if he didn’t dig his way out! Yes, sir, that’s what Peter Jones did–dug through the gravel floor and tunneled out, rising from the grave, so to speak, to the general uproar and hullabaloo of the entire settlement. Then–no one stopping him–he armed himself with an old Springfield rifle and an ax and a crowbar, and the cry went up he was going to murder the pastor, with the children running along in front and the women screaming.

But Peter wasn’t gunning for any missionary, which even in Raka-hanga might have had a nasty comeback–the natives being mild but not cowards, and beginning to buzz like hornets and reach for their shark-tooth spears. No, what Peter was inflamed against was the coral jail, which he set at most ferocious with crowbar and ax until it was nothing but a heap of rubbish. Then he shot holes through the galvanized roofing, and burned it in a blazing fire along of the iron-studded door and window framing. By this time the missionary was trying to raise the multitude against Peter, but they were none too fond of the coral jail themselves and did nothing but hoot and shout like a pack of boys at a circus, which indeed it was and enough to make you split your sides laughing. After that Peter was let alone and nobody dared cross him, no matter what he did.