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And to her Peoplemy True and Streadfast Friendswho never wavered in their confidence or attachmentand to whom I owe the Preservation of my Life. Early life—Leaving home—I meet Jensen—I go pearling—Daily routine—Submarine beauties—A fortune in pearls—Seized by an octopus—Shark-killing extraordinary—Trading with the natives—Impending trouble—Preparing for the attack—Baffling the savages.
I was born in or near Paris, in the year My father was a fairly prosperous man of business—a general merchant, to be precise, who dealt largely in shoes; but when I was about ten years old, my mother, in consequence of certain domestic differences, took me to live with her at Montreux, and other places in Switzerland, where I was educated. The whole of the time I was at school I mixed extensively with English boys on of their language and sports, both of which attracted me. Boys soon begin to display their bent, and mine, curiously enough, was in the direction of geology.
I was constantly bringing home pieces of stone and minerals picked up in the streets and on the mountains, and asking questions about their origin and history. My dear mother encouraged me in this, and later on I frequently went to Freiburg, in the Black Forest, to get a practical insight into smelting.
When I was about nineteen, however, a message arrived from my father, directing me to return to France and report myself as a conscript; but against this my mother resolutely set her face. She and I had many talks about my future, and she at length advised me to take a trip to the East, and see what the experience of travel would do for me.
Neither of us had any definite project in view, but at length my mother gave me about francs and I set out for Cairo, intending eventually to visit and make myself acquainted with the French possessions in the Far East.
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My mother was of the opinion that if I saw a bit of the world in this way I would be more inclined to settle down at home with her at the end of my wanderings. The primary cause of my going away was a Curious-couple rougemont. Whilst at Montreux I fell in love with a charming young lady at a boarding-school near my home. She was the daughter of some high personage in the court of Russia—but exactly what position he held I cannot say.
My mother was quite charmed with the young lady and viewed our attachment with delight. But when my father heard of the matter he raised a decided objection to it, and ordered me to return to France and the army. He had, as I have ly intimated, made Curious-couple rougemont.
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I never quite knew how he got to hear of my love affair, but I conclude that my mother must have mentioned it to him. I only stayed a few days in the wonderful metropolis of Egypt; its noises, its cosmopolitanism, its crowds—these, and many other considerations, drove me from the city, and I set out for Singapore. I had not been many days in that place when, chancing to make inquiries at a store kept by a Mr. Shakespeare, I was casually introduced to a Dutch pearl-fisher named Peter Jensen.
Although I describe him as a Dutch pearler I am somewhat uncertain as to his exact nationality. If a man hailed from Holland, Sweden, Norway, or any neighbouring country, he was always referred to as a Dutchman. This was in We grew quite friendly, Jensen and I, and he told me he had a small forty-ton schooner at Batavia, in which sturdy little craft he used to go on his pearling expeditions. This hint I took, and I offered to him. He once agreed, and we commenced our preparations without delay—in Batavia. Now when a pearler engaged a crew of native divers there in those days, he had to deposit beforehand with the Dutch Government a certain sum for each man entering his service, this money being a guarantee that the man would get his wages.
Strange to say, he did not tell me that his ship was named the Veielland until we had arrived at Batavia. Here the contract was duly drawn up, and the vessel fitted out for the voyage. I fancy this was the first time Jensen had embarked on a pearling expedition on a craft of the size of the Veiellandhis trips having been undertaken on much smaller vessels, say of about ten tons.
Although the fitting out of the ship was left entirely in his hands, I insisted upon having a supply of certain stores for myself put aboard—things he would never have thought about. He demurred at first about buying them, but I told him I would not go until we had the biscuits aboard. Jensen was a very bluff, enigmatic sort of fellow, as I afterwards found out. He was of a sullen, morose nature, and I could never get much out of him about his past.
He would not speak about himself under Curious-couple rougemont. He was very hard upon the sailors under him, and was much addicted to the use of strong language. He was very fond of schnapps, whilst I hated the smell of the stuff. Moreover, he was a great smoker, and here again our tastes differed. Our preparations in Batavia complete, we next went over to the islands of the Dutch Archipelago, and engaged forty experienced Malay divers to accompany us.
Jensen Curious-couple rougemont. The way he tested them prior to actually engaging them was to make each dive after a bright tin object thrown into so many fathoms of water. Altogether he spent several weeks choosing his crew. He had engaged a couple of Malays at Batavia to help in the work of navigating the ship, but besides being sailors these men were also good divers.
The majority of the other Malays were only useful as divers, and took no part in the working of the ship. He was also required to have a smattering of generally.
Above all, he had to be able to assert authority over the other divers; and in all these respects our serang was thoroughly proficient. I may here explain that shortly after leaving Batavia the captain had the ship repainted a greyish-white colour all over. I never troubled to look for her name, but one day I saw Jensen painting the word Veielland on her.
There was a totally different name on the Curious-couple rougemont. Once out at sea, however, they would be absolutely at the mercy of the captain, and he could treat them just as he pleased. The first thing they did before coming aboard was to look at the name for themselves. No doubt they knew the reputation of every pearler. Jensen did on one occasion exercise his authority to the extent of transferring some of his own Malay divers to another ship when we were out at sea.
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At last everything was ready, Curious-couple rougemont. This dog, which played so important—nay, so vitally important—a part in my strange afterlife, was given to Jensen at Batavia by a Captain Cadell, a well-known Australian seaman, who had gained some notoriety by navigating the Murray River for the first time. Cadell, who was a great friend of Jensen, was himself a pearler. But he met with a sad end.
He was in a pearling expedition in the neighbourhood of Thursday Island, and among his crew were some of the very Australian Blacks who in after years proved so friendly to me. Cadell treated these men very badly, keeping them at work long after the time for their return home had expired, and one day they mutinied and murdered him whilst he was asleep. As you may suppose, my knowledge of seamanship was very limited indeed, but Jensen interested himself in me, so that I soon began to pick up a good deal of useful knowledge.
He taught me how to take the sun, I using his old instruments; but I could never grasp the taking of the lunars. On our voyage out I had no duties to perform on board, but I found much to interest myself in the beautiful tropical islands among which we threaded our way; and I took quite ish delight in everything I saw. It was really a grand time for me. I constantly wrote home to my mother, the last letter I forwarded to her being from Koopang.
We then set sail for the coast of New Guinea. The voyage thence was accomplished without the slightest hitch, the divers spending most of their time in singing and playing like little children,—all in the best of good spirits. Their favourite form of amusement was to sit round a large fire, either telling stories of the girls they had left behind, or singing love melodies.
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When the weather was at all cold, they would make a fire in a rather shallow tub, the sides of which were lined with a layer of sand. They were a wonderfully light-hearted Curious-couple rougemont. The Veielland only drew between seven feet and eight feet of water, so that we were able to Curious-couple rougemont. At length, about a month after starting, we reached a likely spot where the captain thought that the precious shells might be found; here we anchored, and the divers quickly got to work. The comings and goings of the various pearling expeditions were of course regulated by the weather and the state of the tide.
The captain himself went out first of all in the whale-boat, and from it prospected for shells at the bottom of the crystal sea. The water was marvellously transparent, and leaning over the side of the boat, Jensen peered eagerly into his sea-telescope, which is simply a metal cylinder with a lens of ordinary glass at the bottom. Some of the sea-telescopes would even be without this lens, being simply a metal cylinder open at both ends. Although they did not bring the objects looked at nearer the vision, yet they enabled the prospector to see below the ruffled surface of the water.
The big whale-boat was followed at a respectful distance by the flotilla of smaller boats, each containing from four to six Malays.
When Jensen discerned a likely spot through his peculiar telescope, he gave the al for a halt, and before you could realise what was going to happen, the native divers had tumbled out of their boats, and were swimming in a weird way down to the bottom of the translucent sea.
As a rule, one man was left in each little boat to follow the movements of the divers as they returned to the surface. All they carried was a small sheath-knife hung from the waist by a piece of string. The water for the most part was only two or three fathoms deep, but sometimes it would be as much as eight fathoms,—which was the greatest depth to which the men cared to go.
When he reached the bottom, the diver would grope about for shells, and generally return to the surface with a couple, held in his left hand and hugged against his breast; the right hand was kept free and directed his movements in swimming. As fast as each man brought his shells into the boat, they were put into a separate Curious-couple rougemont. The bed of the sea at these pearling grounds is usually coral, with innumerable holes of different depths and sizes dotted all over it.