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The Security Of The High Seas
by [?]

Things had been dull in Apia before the arrival of Captain Satterlee in the Southern Belle. Not business alone–which was, of course, only to be expected, what with the civil war being just over and the Kanakas driven to eat their cocoanuts instead of selling them to traders in the form of copra–but, socially speaking, the little capital of the Samoan group had been next door to dead. Picnics had been few; a heavy dust had settled on the floor of the public hall–a galvanized iron barn which social leaders could rent for six Chile dollars a night, lights included; the butcher’s wedding, contrary to all expectation, had been strictly private, and might almost have slipped by unnoticed had it not been for a friendly editorial in the Samoa Weekly Times ; and with the exception of an auction, a funeral, and a billiard tournament at the International Hotel, a general lethargy had overtaken Apia and the handful of whites who made it their home.

As Mr. Skiddy, the boyish American consul, expressed himself, “You can’t get anybody to do anything these days.”

Possibly this long spell of monotony contributed to Captain Satterlee’s pronounced and instant success. The topsails of the Southern Belle had hardly more than appeared over the horizon, when people began to wake up and realize that stagnation had too long held them in its thrall. Satterlee was not at all the ordinary kind of sea captain, to which the Beach (as Apia always alluded to itself) was more than well acquainted. Gin had no attractions for Captain Satterlee, nor did he surround himself with dusky impropriety. He played a straight social game, and lived up to the rules, even to party calls, and finger bowls on his cabin table. He was a tall, thin American of about forty-five, with floorwalker manners, grayish mutton-chop whiskers, and a roving eye. The general verdict of Apia was that he was “very superior.” His superiority was apparent in his gentlemanly baldness, his openwork socks, his well-turned references to current events, his kindly and indulgent attitude toward all things Samoan. He deplored the rivalry of the three contending nationalities, German, English, and American, whose official representatives quarreled fiercely among themselves and mismanaged the affairs of this unfortunate little South Sea kingdom, and whose unofficial representatives sold guns and cartridges indiscriminately to the warring native factions. Satterlee let it be inferred that the role of peacemaker had informally settled upon himself.

“In a little place everybody ought to pull together,” he would say, his bland tolerance falling like balm from heaven, and he would clinch the remark by passing round forty-cent cigars.

The Southern Belle was a showy little vessel of about ninety tons, with the usual trade room in the after part of the ship, where the captain himself would wait on you behind a counter, and sell you anything from a bottle of trade scent to a keg of dynamite. He never was so charming as when engaged in this exchange of commodities for coin, and it accorded so piquantly with his evident superiority that the purchaser had a pleasant sense of doing business with a gentleman.

“Of course, I might run her as a yacht, and play the heavy swell,” he would remark. “But, candidly, I like this kind of thing; it puts me on a level with the others, you know; and then it’s handy for buying supplies, and keeping one in touch with the people.” With this he would give you such a warming smile, and perhaps throw in free a handful of fishhooks, or a packet of safety matches, or a toothbrush. Indeed, apart from this invariable prodigality, his scale of prices was ridiculously low, and if you were a lady you could buy out the ship at half price. As for young Skiddy, the American consul, the bars in his case were lowered even more, and he was just asked to help himself; which young Skiddy did, though sparingly. Captain Satterlee took an immense fancy to this youthful representative of their common country, and treated him with an engaging mixture of respect and paternalism; and Skiddy, not to be behindhand, and dazzled, besides, by his elder’s marked regard and friendship, threw wide the consular door, and constantly pressed on Satterlee the hospitality of a cot on the back veranda.