FIVE days and nights, if I remember right, we were aboard the frigate. On the afternoon of the fifth, we were told that the next morning she sailed for Valparaiso. Rejoiced at this, we prayed for a speedy passage. But, as it turned out, the consul had no idea of letting us off so easily. To our no small surprise, an officer came along toward night, and ordered us out of irons. Being then mustered in the gangway, we were escorted into a cutter alongside, and pulled ashore.
Accosted by Wilson as we struck the beach, he delivered us up to a numerous guard of natives, who at once conducted us to a house near by. Here we were made to sit down under a shade without; and the consul and two elderly European residents passed by us, and entered.
After some delay, during which we were much diverted by the hilarious good-nature of our guardone of our number was called out for, followed by an order for him to enter the house alone.
On returning a moment after, he told us we had little to encounter. It had simply been asked whether he still continued of the same mind; on replying yes, something was put down upon a piece of paper, and he was waved outside. All being summoned in rotation, my own turn came at last.
Within, Wilson and his two friends were seated magisterially at a tablean inkstand, a pen, and a sheet of paper lending quite a business-like air to the apartment. These three gentlemen, being arrayed in coats and pantaloons, looked respectable, at least in a country where complete suits of garments are so seldom met with. One present essayed a solemn aspect; but having a short neck and full face, only made out to look stupid.
It was this individual who condescended to take a paternal interest in myself. After declaring my resolution with respect to the ship unalterable, I was proceeding to withdraw, in compliance with a sign from the consul, when the stranger turned round to him, saying, "Wait a minute, if you please, Mr. Wilson; let me talk to that youth. Come here, my young friend: I'm extremely sorry to see you associated with these bad men; do you know what it will end in?"
"Oh, that's the lad that wrote the Round Robin," interposed the consul. "He and that rascally doctor are at the bottom of the whole affairgo outside, sir."
I retired as from the presence of royalty; backing out with many bows.
The evident prejudice of Wilson against both the doctor and myself was by no means inexplicable. A man of any education before the mast is always looked upon with dislike by his captain; and, never mind how peaceable he may be, should any disturbance arise, from his intellectual superiority, he is deemed to exert an underhand influence against the officers.
Little as I had seen of Captain Guy, the few glances cast upon me after being on board a week or so were sufficient to reveal his enmitya feeling quickened by my undisguised companionship with Long Ghost, whom he both feared and cordially hated. Guy's relations with the consul readily explains the latter's hostility.
The examination over, Wilson and his friends advanced to the doorway; when the former, assuming a severe expression, pronounced our perverseness infatuation in the extreme. Nor was there any hope left: our last chance for pardon was gone. Even were we to become contrite and crave permission to return to duty, it would not now be permitted.
"Oh! get along with your gammon, counsellor," exclaimed Black Dan, absolutely indignant that his understanding should be thus insulted.
Quite enraged, Wilson bade him hold his peace; and then, summoning a fat old native to his side, addressed him in Tahitian, giving directions for leading us away to a place of safe keeping.
Hereupon, being marshalled in order, with the old man at our head, we were put in motion, with loud shouts, along a fine pathway, running far on through wide groves of the cocoa-nut and bread-fruit.
The rest of our escort trotted on beside us in high good-humour; jabbering broken English, and in a hundred ways giving us to understand that Wilson was no favourite of theirs, and that we were prime, good fellows for holding out as we did. They seemed to know our whole history.
The scenery around was delightful. The tropical day was fast drawing to a close; and from where we were, the sun looked like a vast red fire burning in the woodlandsits rays falling aslant through the endless ranks of trees, and every leaf fringed with flame. Escaped from the confined decks of the frigate, the air breathed spices to us; streams were heard flowing; green boughs were rocking; and far inland, all sunset flushed, rose the still, steep peaks of the island.
As we proceeded, I was more and more struck by the picturesqueness of the wide, shaded road. In several places, durable bridges of wood were thrown over large water-courses; others were spanned by a single arch of stone. In any part of the road, three horsemen might have ridden abreast.
This beautiful avenueby far the best thing which civilization has done for the islandis called by foreigners "the Broom Road," though for what reason I do not know. Originally planned for the convenience of the missionaries journeying from one station to another, it almost completely encompasses the larger peninsula; skirting for a distance of at least sixty miles along the low, fertile lands bordering the sea. But on the side next Taiarboo, or the lesser peninsula, it sweeps through a narrow, secluded valley, and thus crosses the island in that direction.
The uninhabited interior, being almost impenetrable from the densely-wooded glens, frightful precipices, and sharp mountain ridges absolutely inaccessible, is but little known, even to the natives themselves; and so, instead of striking directly across from one village to another, they follow the Broom Road round and round.
It is by no means, however, altogether travelled on foot; horses being now quite plentiful. They were introduced from Chili; and possessing all the gaiety, fleetness, and docility of the Spanish breed, are admirably adapted to the tastes of the higher classes, who as equestrians have become very expert. The missionaries and chiefs never think of journeying except in the saddle; and at all hours of the day you see the latter galloping along at full speed. Like the Sandwich Islanders, they ride like Pawnee-Loups.
For miles and miles I have travelled the Broom Road, and never wearied of the continual change of scenery. But wherever it leads youwhether through level woods, across grassy glens, or over hills waving with palmsthe bright blue sea on one side, and the green mountain pinnacles on the other, are always in sight.
Omoo Chapter 30