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The island of Tanakuatua seems like heaven to the 40 people who go there in order to create a utopian society, but soon they start to die in a horrible way and it seems that something strange and deadly is out there in the jungle.
0-14-005338-7 / 978-0-14-005338-8 (UK edition)
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Sensation & perception

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Hoa sen xanh - Đức Phật Và Nàng - tập 2

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Title: Web

Author: John Wyndham

Publisher: Penguin Books

Language: English

ISBN: 0140053387

Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth,

Middlesex, England

Penguin Books, 625 Madison Avenue, New York,

New York 10022, U.S.A.

Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood,

Victoria, Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 2801 John Street,

Markham, Ontario, Canada L3R IB4

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,

Auckland 10, New Zealand

First published by Michael Joseph 1979 Published in Penguin Books 1980

Copyright © Vivian Beynon Harris and Brian Bowcock,

the Executors of the Estate of the late John Beynon Harris, 1979

All rights reserved

Typeset, printed and bound in Great Britain by Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, Aylesbury, Bucks Set in Linotype Plan tin

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Chapter I

The question I find most difficult to answer; the one which always crops up sooner or later when the subject is mentioned, is, approximately:

‘But how on earth did you come to get yourself mixed up in a crazy affair like this, anyway? ’

I don’t resent it - partly, I suppose, because it does carry the implication that I can normally be regarded as a reasonably sane citizen - but I do find it scarcely possible to give a reasonably sane answer.

The nearest I can come to an explanation is that I must have been a little off-balance at the time. This could, I imagine, have been the effect of delayed shock: unnoticeable as an aberration, unsuspected by myself yet a shock deep-seated enough to upset my critical sense, to blunt my perceptions and judgement.

I think that may have been the cause.

Almost a year before I met Tirrie and so became ‘mixed up;  in the affair’ I had a nasty accident.

We were driving - at least, my daughter Mary was actually driving, I was beside her and my wife in the back - along the A272, not far from Etchingham. We were doing, I suppose, about thirty-five when a lorry that must have been travelling at over fifty overtook us. I had a glimpse of it skidding as its back wheels were level with us, another of its enormous load tilting over us …

I came round hazily in bed, a week later. They let two more weeks go by before they told me that my wife and Mary were both dead.

I was in that hospital for two months. I came out of it healed as it seemed to me - but dazed and rudderless, with a feeling of unreality, and an entire lack of purpose. I resigned my post. That, I realize now, was the very thing I ought not to have done

- the work would have helped to get me back on balance more than anything else, but at the time it seemed futile, and to require more effort than I could make. So I gave up, convalesced at my sister’s home near Tonbridge, and continued to drift along there in a purposeless way, with little to occupy my mind.

I am not used to lack of purpose. I suspect that it creates a vacuum which sooner or later has to be filled - and filled with whatever is available when the negative pressure reaches a crucial point.

That is the only way I can account for the undiscriminating enthusiasm which submerged my commonsense, the surge of uncritical idealism which discounted practical difficulties and seemed to reveal to me, finally and undeniably, my life work and my justification when I first heard of Lord Foxfield’s project.

Alas for disillusion. I would like to convey if I could the whole bright prospect as I saw it then. It was such stuff as dreams are made of. But now it is gone, sicklied o’er with the pale cast of cynicism. I look at myself as at someone else moving half-awake … and yet… and yet at times I feel that there was the spark of an idea, an ideal behind it that could have started a flame - had the Fates shown us one touch of benevolence.

The original idea, or the core of the idea, that grew into the Foxfield Project seems to have occurred spontaneously and simultaneously in the minds of his Lordship and Walter Tirrie. The former publicly claims its authorship; the latter was known to claim privately that it was inspired by him. It seems possible that it was a spark thrown off in the course of conversation between them which ignited in both, and was industriously fanned by both minds.

Walter was, by profession, an architect, but perhaps more widely known as an ardent correspondent and persistent setter-right of the world in the columns of several weekly reviews. From this he had graduated to being a moderately familiar figure speaking on platforms devoted to numerous causes. There may even have been some truth in his claim to have introduced the idea to Lord Foxfield, for if one takes the trouble to track back over his letters in the correspondence columns over a few years it is possible to find not only faint inklings of the plan, but also of his feeling that he was the man, Dei gratia, to realize it. Though it would seem that it was only after his meeting with his Lordship that the insubstantial fragments of the idea began to fall into form.

This possibly took place because his Lordship could contribute more than mere form; he could give it expression, endow it with money, put his weight behind it, and pull strings where necessary.

And why was he willing to back it in all these ways?

Well, one can dismiss straight away all the subtle schemes and dubious intentions with which gossip credited him. His motive was quite uncomplicated and ingenuous: he was, quite simply, a man in search of a memorial.

It is a desire that is not even unusual among rich, elderly men. Indeed, to quite a number of them there appears to come a revelatory day when they look at all those comma-spaced triplets of figures, and are suddenly pierced by awareness of their inability to take it with them, whereupon they are seized by the desire to convert those hollow noughts into a tangible, and usually autographed, token of their successes.

This mood has come upon them through the ages, but of late it has become less easy to fulfil - or perhaps one should say to fulfil it with the desirable distinction of benefaction - than it was even in the days of the old tycoons. The State, now so pervasive, tends to abrogate to itself even the function of benefactor. Education is no longer an outlet; it is free, at all levels, for all. The erstwhile poor - now the lower-income brackets - are housed at municipal expense. Playing-fields are provided by the ratepayers. Public, even peripatetic, libraries are subsidized by county councils. The working-man - now the worker - prefers overtime and the telly to Clubs and Institutes.

A man may, it is true, still found a College or two in some University, but this does not entirely suit every donor’s benefactory urge - for one thing, if there is felt to be a need for such a College someone will finance one anyway; for another, in these days of Government interference no intention or stipulation would be safe. Ministerial decision could easily modify one’s intended seat of higher learning into just another spring-board of knowhow, overnight. In fact the field for worthy acts of eleemosynary commemoration has been so sadly reduced that Lord Foxfield spent some two years after the urge struck him in a vain search for a goodwill project which, if he did not undertake it himself, was unlikely to be adopted by any Ministry, Council, Corporation, Institution or Society.

It was a period of great strain for his secretary. Word appeared to have got round, as word will, that, his Lordship was ripening for a good touch, and skilful defences were needed. It took a highly plausible suggestion, or the sanction of a very influential Society, to carry a proponent past the barriers and into the Presence, and remarkably few of the schemes put forward held any interest for his Lordship when he heard them.

‘I have been discovering,’ he is reported to have said, ‘what an astonishing amount of goodwill there is in this age - and that most of it is woolly. People have a noticeably strong sense of duty towards their ancestors - more than ninety per cent of the propositions I receive are interested in conserving for the sake of conservation, which is felt, ipso facto, to be a good thing, and their sense of duty towards their posterity seems to consist solely in preserving the past.

‘Also, they appear to be unbalanced about animals. I should not be in the least surprised if someone were to put up to me tomorrow a thoroughly humane and well-concerned proposal for the rehabilitation on a national scale of old roadside drinking-troughs for horses.’

It would appear, however, that one serious hindrance in his Lordship’s search for an outlet was his own vanity. For Lord Foxfield was an individualist. He had made his own way by exploiting his own abilities according to his own judgement, and done it with a success which rendered it contrary to his nature to submerge himself in, or even to be closely identified with, a conventional Society for good works. Indeed, he had been known to point out from time to time that had certain social achievements been introduced anonymously, or even by corporate sponsors, they would have lacked the character, as well as the weight of example, which names such as Carnegie, Peabody, Ford, Nuffield, Nobel, Gulbenkian among others had given them. And, indeed it was clearly the challenge raised by such exemplars that caused him to seek a medium that would express - and, incidentally be seen to express - his desire to benefit mankind by tidying up some neglected corner of its feckless world.

How he came to make the acquaintance of Walter Tirrie is not recorded. Possibly he sought him out. Walter was almost constantly in a state of inky vendetta with other correspondents upon one or other of our social inadequacies, and it seems not unlikely that some of these exchanges, catching his Lordship’s eye and fancy, may have led to a meeting. At any rate, it is fairly certain that Walter was not among those who queued up with a prepared scheme needing only financial aid. Rather it appears, as I have said, that their purpose simply grew, inkling out of their conversation, enfilading their minds, and establishing itself as the Project.

And, once this stage was reached, all other propositions or organizations lost, from that moment, any chance they may have had of tapping the Foxfield wealth. His Lordship became finally uninterested in proposals to pour money down other people’s drains; he had invented, or discovered, a culvert quite his own.

The intention, though ambitious, was in essence simple - in fact, in essence it was unoriginal. Its difference lay in the intention and the ability to remove it from the ineffective minds of dreamers, and give it practical existence.

It was to set up a free, politically independent community endowed with the opportunity, and the means, to create a new climate of living.

‘The ideal start would consist of a clean slate inscribed with just two words - Knowledge and Reason,’ Lord F is said to have proclaimed. ‘Unfortunately that is a long way from being practicable. The best that can be done is to provide a place where there is freedom to question the axioms, the prejudices, traditions, loyalties, and all those attitudes implanted in us before we could think, which together make us citizens of the world as it is, instead of becoming citizens of the world as it might be. The purpose will be to break the chain we drag behind us linking us perpetually through the generations right back to primitive man and beyond: to throw off the burden of inherited archaic lore.

‘Most of the conflict in the world reflects the conflict in our minds as we strive to move forward while the brakes of false doctrines, superstitions, obsolete standards, and misconceived ambitions are always at work on us. These checks are built-in, we cannot free ourselves from them, but we can loosen them for others.

If we provide the right conditions, as free from contamination as possible, there is hope that in a generation, or in two or more generations, they may cease to bind.’

He went on to envisage the community growing and developing, gaining recognition by gifted men of all races as a haven where one could think and work, untroubled by financial, national or other vested pressures. A new culture would arise there, a culture lit by the knowledge of its own day, with no shadowy lurking-places for the clutch-fingered brain-washing ghosts of the irrational past. In the fresh air of a new uplands minds would have space for unstinted growth in a climate where they could expand into full flower.

From small beginnings there would grow a city; in due course would follow The Enlightened State. Men and women who perceived that the world could not muddle along in the old way for much longer, and that the break with the old thinking must be made before it was too late, would turn towards the new State with hope. To it, with its opportunity to think and work, would flock the future Einsteins, Newtons, Curies, Flemings, Rutherfords, Oppenheimers. One day, perhaps, it could become the mind-powerhouse of the world …

And, naturally, carved into its foundations would be the name of Frederick, First Baron Foxfield…

In the early stages, however, the name of Lord Foxfield was, for various reasons, not associated with the Project. He preferred to use Walter Tirrie as his front-man. Consequently, it was through Walter that I first became acquainted with the scheme.

The introduction was contrived by some friends of mine, out of kindly concern, I believe. They knew that I was unoccupied and without interests, and, possibly prompted by my sister who was also worried by my state, invited me to dinner to meet him.

Walter was at that time already well involved in the preparations. Not the least of his troubles was the recruitment of suitable personnel or, indeed, any personnel. Letters to his usual correspondence columns giving the outline of the plan, with an invitation to any interested persons to write to him for further details had produced disappointing results. Looking back now I am not greatly surprised. It must have seemed an unrealistic proposition, and I have no doubt that had I come across it in the ordinary way I should have dismissed it as a crackpot venture.

Listening to him talking of it with confidence - and the untroubled assurance of adequate backing - gave a different impression. I was, as I have explained, in a susceptible state, and very soon I found myself kindling to his enthusiasm.

During the night that followed the kindling process continued. In fact somewhere in the small hours I was seeing visions of the Enlightened State in being. Unfortunately I cannot recall any of the details now. All that lingers is an impression of a place lit by a golden glow, suffused by a spirit of goodwill, hope and comradeship. (I know it sounds like a show of Russian posters depicting the future of the New Lands, but for all I know the Russians may feel as I felt then.) I was aware of a sense of revelation - as if I had been stumbling along in a half-lit world, and suddenly had been shown a brightly lighted way stretching out before me. I was filled, too, with a sense of incredulity at my own blindness hitherto - at everyone’s blindness. The path was so plain, so obvious. Get away, right away, from all the clinging briars of usage, convention, habit - and, in a clean new place help to build the foundations of a clean new world. Could there be anything better to do with one’s life than that… ?

The next day I rang up Walter, and arranged to meet him again. From that moment I was in it.

Soon I was in it to a privileged extent. I knew that Lord Foxfield was behind it, and Walter took me to see him.

He was not an impressive man - no, that is putting it too badly. He had a side calculated to impress: assured, slightly pompous, a little short-tempered, but that was his public, professional aspect; he donned it like a business-suit. Off-duty, so to speak, he was not afraid of showing, or possibly unconscious of showing, an odd naivety. I could never get used to the changes from one to the other.

It was the executive manner he was wearing when he greeted me. The look he gave me had the appearance of being keen and appraising - whether it really was, or not, I still do not know. But presently, when we got on to the subject of the Project he dropped the businesslike front, and let his genuine enthusiasm take over.

‘Walter, here, will have given you the outline of our plan, Mr Delgrange,’ he said, ‘so you’ll know that the idea is to begin with a pioneer party, to be joined by more recruits later on. It is to my mind extremely important that the original group should start along the right lines, and form the right habits of mind. If the wrong observances, wrong attitudes and outlook are able to establish themselves at the beginning, the task of eradicating them to create the kind of society we have in mind will add greatly to our difficulties.

“Now, I have taken the trouble to find out about you, Mr Delgrange. I know in general the views you are credited with. I know that you have some standing as a social historian, and I have read with interest two of your books. They have shown me that you are an intelligent observer of social trends, and I have come to the conclusion, and I know Walter agrees with me, that your trained observation could be of immense assistance to us, in the early stages at least, in determining the best forms for our institutions, as well as in steering the community towards those forms

- and away from less desirable forms which may tend to arise.’

He continued to embroider this theme at some length, and I ended the evening with the rather dazed realization that I had been given the task of drawing up and submitting for his approval a provisional draft constitution for the Enlightened State - as well as the job of applying it in practice later on.

It kept me busy for some months.

This is no place to go into the details of the organization of the pioneer party. Nor do I know a lot, for it was not my job. I was vaguely aware that Walter was disappointed by the responses to his call for recruits, and felt that he was expecting too much. He seemed surprised to discover the scarcity of intellectuals who were also good practical men. And then, when he had relinquished the thought of finding them combined in the same individual, surprised again that neither type was presenting itself with the readiness he had hoped for.

I did my best to arouse interest in some of my friends, but found invariably that it stopped well short of my desire to take part in the venture. I was much too taken up with the Project at that time to perceive that their chief reaction to my enthusiasm was concern on my behalf, even when they tried, as some of them did, to dissuade me. Anyway, recruitment was Walter’s department, and he was not very expansive about its progress.

It was not long after my introduction to Lord Foxfield that Walter disappeared for a couple of months in search of a suitable site for the Project. I heard nothing from him during this time, nor was he very communicative when he returned. This, he gave me to understand, was for reasons of policy. He would say nothing of the location except that he was satisfied that it was ideal for the purpose. Negotiations for acquiring it were, he explained, going to be delicate; it would be best if as few people as possible were aware of them until they were complete. With that I had to be satisfied.

Still, it was clear that things were moving. He now had an office with a number of staff who always appeared to be furiously busy whenever I called there, and he himself had taken on the manner of the confident executive.

During the nine months that followed Walter’s return I had a number of meetings with Lord Foxfield. I found him easier to get on with than I had anticipated - I had suspected that he would have ideas of his own to put forward, and possibly insist upon. It was pleasant to discover that his views on a workable form of democracy accorded well with my own. The points he took me up on were, for the most part, perceptive, and led to few disagreements, none of them on major considerations, so that I gradually came to realize that his interest lay in being kept informed, rather than in steering. His desire, in fact, was to see his Project started on what appeared to be the right lines. His continual response when we did disagree on details was: ‘All right. Try it. But keep it flexible. You must keep it flexible. It is a changing world. We don’t want to encumber ourselves with something as rigid as the American Constitution. We want a humanist constitution, one that will work without a legislature.’ And in my enthusiasm, I agreed with him: it all seemed so simple, so rational.

Then came an evening when he told me.

‘It’s gone through. We’ve got our site. Signed and sealed today.’

We raised our glasses and drank to a long, successful life for the Project.

‘And now, at last, may I know where it is?’ I asked.

‘It is a place, an island, called Tanakuatua,’ he told me.

It was the first time I heard the name. (And he pronounced it Tanner-kooer-tooer instead of Tanna-kwah-twah, as we came to know it.)

‘Oh,’ I said, rather blankly. ‘Where is it?’

‘Lies south-east of the Midsummers,’ he explained.

Which left me as unknowledgeable as before - except that it suggested somewhere in the other hemisphere.

Thereafter, with a known destination before us, the scheme took on a new reality. The pace of preparations increased. I found myself pressed into assisting Walter, and even sat in on some of his interviews with prospective candidates.

I cannot say I was impressed with the quality of the material that was coming forward to offer itself, but took some consolation that this would be only the pioneer group. Once the Project was established, once there existed a going concern, something one could come to and join, the appeal would be much stronger.

Undoubtedly Walter, and the rest of us, had underestimated the difficulty of assembling any kind of nucleus for such a venture. After all, the fit fit; it is the misfit who is free. The man whose gifts have won him a place in our system, but is prepared to throw it away in order to take a chance on an idealistic whim is understandably rare. So most of the applicants were only too palpably misfits of one kind or another. Not pioneer material -not community material, either. It must have been discouraging for Walter who conducted most of the interviews, but by now he was too deeply immersed in other aspects of the operation to let it weigh on him. He had aimed at a personnel of fifty, but was prepared to content himself with forty-six.

In the meantime, with the purchase of Tanakuatua safely concluded, Lord Foxfield had emerged into the open as the backer of the Project.

Acknowledgement of his sponsorship of the Project had been more or less forced upon him in order to forestall a more unpleasant kind of publicity.

There is an Opposition technique which, though trite, is still tediously employed. One selects an event which is deemed to have a suitable appeal for public indignation, and a slant which harmonizes with the Party’s views. At a dull moment one draws the attention of a national newspaper to it. If it looks promising, and nothing more interesting intervenes, the newspaper adopts it as a Cause, and launches it with a splash. The Party then agrees to one’s putting down a Question, indicating the newspaper articles as evidence of the people’s passionate concern over the Government’s latest iniquity. Thus the newspaper is shown to be the public’s trusty watchdog, one’s Party as its ready champion, and, if all goes well, the Government ought, once again, to be embarrassed.

In the case of the Tanakuatua sale, which was chosen as suitable material for the employment of this technique, there was a hitch. It had been decided that the angle: ‘Outrageous scandal of secret barter of British territory to private interests’ ought to make quite useful trouble-fodder, and the Daily Tidings was not unwilling to oblige. Indeed, its editor was considering how it could most effectively be handled, when he received information drawing his attention to several relevant facts: (a) that Tirrie, the purchaser of Tanakuatua, was a front-man for Lord Foxfield, (b) that there was a long standing friendship between Lord F and his Lordship, the proprietor of the Tidings, (c) that his latter Lordship had, in circumstances that were not dissimilar, himself acquired an island in the Caribbean.

Understandably the Tidings’ interest in the matter then waned. Furthermore, it was allowed to be known that his (Press) Lordship would regard any playing up of the subject by any other newspaper as an unfriendly act. As a consequence, the Opposition turned to fresh woes and scandals new, and Tanakuatua’s change of ownership received no more notice than an occasional factual paragraph here and there.

Lord Foxfield’s interest, however, was now known, and since that fact could no longer affect the price he had paid for the island, he was not unwilling to identify himself as the begetter of the venture.

The press, however, had its revenge, as it always does. The venture got a silly-season write-up. The coverage was slanted to give the impression of an old man’s senile whim, to present the members of the expedition as a bunch of irresponsibles for whom life in a properly ordered society was not good enough - and by implication to make the stay-at-home readers themselves feel sensible and normal. We all had a trying time for a while, and five of the volunteers resigned, bringing our total force down to forty, but when we were no longer a novelty the newspapers’ interest in us waned, to revive only briefly at the time of our departure.

On the eve of that departure we assembled at a hotel in Bloomsbury. Most of us had never met before. There was a noticeable tendency among the members to eye one another with caution, even with misgiving. I must admit that even my enthusiasm felt the strain. Walter and I did our best with introductions to induce something of a party spirit, but it was heavy going. We looked, I imagine, more like a flock of bewildered sheep than a brave band of pioneers-oh. But, we told ourselves, jollity would have been equally out of place. After all, we were embarking on a serious mission…

I myself seem in my recollection to have been in a state of dichotomy. I can recall moments of depression alternating with phases of positive exaltation. In fact I can recall a wondering look in the eyes of some of those I spoke to, as if they found my enthusiasm a little alarming.

Drinks and a good dinner did something to ease and unloosen us, and there were even signs of a sense of team spirit beginning to show, when at the end of it Lord Foxfield rose to give us his valedictory address.

I think I will quote from that. It will give, perhaps, a better impression of his vision for the future than I have conveyed.

‘God,’ began Lord Foxfield, rather surprisingly, for him. ‘God, we have been assured, created man in His own image. His own image - let us consider what that means.’ He did so, at some length, coming to the conclusion that the image meant the true image. He continued:

“Now, it is not for man to select which of the powers latent in that image he will employ, nor which he will reject. To do so would be tantamount to declaring that God had included certain powers by mistake - or that man knew better than God which powers he should employ, a supposition that puts us on a slippery slope indeed. For surely if God had not intended a power to be used, He could have included it only by accident, or for a mischievous purpose - a proposition which, I imagine, few would accept.

‘Thus we must accept that by including certain powers in man’s make-up God implicitly laid upon him the duty not of approving or disapproving of these gifts, but the duty of employing them all, to the best of his ability.

It follows, therefore, since man’s image is God’s, God must have intended man to become like God.

Why else should He give him His own image? He has, after all used countless other images for His less capable creations: consequently, by choosing to use His own image He must - unless He deliberately made a spurious image of Himself - have laid upon man the obligation to become as godlike in manner as in form.

‘Now, this is not a novel deduction. Many rulers, from the earliest times up to the present day, have perceived it - and have, in consequence become aware of, and proclaimed, their personal deification and divine rights. Being, however, strong individualists they have interpreted this divinity as setting themselves apart from, and above, other men. Unfortunately, also, they have tended to model their conduct upon that of the captious God of the Old Testament - with unhappy results for others of their kind.

‘They were not wrong. Their mistake, or blind-spot, if you prefer it, was their failure in logical perception, their inability to see that since mankind was created in the image of God, the destiny and duty of being godlike cannot be restricted to concern simply a few selected persons: it must fall equally upon all who are in the image, which is to say, upon all mankind.

“We have long been aware that man is the mightiest species in the creation. During the recent centuries, and particularly in our time, we have seen spectacular increases in his power. Even now his domination of much of his environment is godlike: and his potentialities are unguessable.

‘Indeed, he may have exceeded divine expectations in some directions already, for, though the ability of God to annihilate Himself is theologically debatable, man has undebatably achieved the ability to destroy himself, and his world as well.

‘This capacity alone should serve to make it clear that the time has now come for us to cease to behave like a lot of irresponsible children letting off fireworks in a crowded hall. It was always stupid; now it has become too dangerous.

“We have now acquired the knowledge and the means to construct for ourselves a rational and mentally healthy form of society. We can adapt much of our environment to our needs - and even, if necessary, much of ourselves to our environment. We have become able, if we wish and so order it, to live not by destruction of, not in conflict with, not as parasites upon the world about us, but in harmony with it, creating a symbiosis with the forces of nature: guiding and directing, but also bestowing as we receive. We have reached a stage where we can - and must, if we are to survive - stop living with the fecklessness of animals, and take charge of our own destiny. If we are afraid to become men like gods - then we shall perish…

That is what this expedition is about. It is not - as the popular press would have people think - a flight from reality. It is not seeking a lotus-land, an Eden, or even a utopia. It is the small seed of a great intention.

“You are setting out to plant that seed in a brave new world. To care for it and coax it until it produces fair, fresh, uncontaminated crops to sustain a new society liberated from superstition, purged of blind faiths and ignorant beliefs, freed at last from the cruelty, misery, and frustration that these things have plagued mankind with from time immemorial…’

There was quite a lot more of it with quite a variety of simile and metaphor - as well as a little confusion, some might have felt, in his angles of approach to his subject. Nevertheless, the gist was clear: “The knowledge and the means to create a sane society exist. Here is your opportunity to use them. Now go to it, and good luck to you.’

And, indeed, Lord F might well have contented himself with some such succinctness, for there were some in his audience who did not find it easy to combine his advocacy of rationalism with the unlooked-for prospect of their apotheosis.

However, it was his Lordship’s day. He had paid a very pretty penny to bring it about, and it would cost him a lot more yet, so he was heard out with patience and occasional applause right to his final exhortation to us to bear in mind the words of Henley: ‘I am the Master of my fate: I am the Captain of my soul’.

There exists a coloured photograph of our party assembled the next day on the deck of the Susannah Dingley, taken shortly before she sailed. We number thirty-eight, having been reduced to that number by a couple of not entirely convincing indispositions developed overnight.

We are not a gathering that the unprompted observer would instantaneously have recognized as the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of a new era. Yet what would be? So many people manage to look unimpressive until they have made their impression.

And, after all, given a fair chance, we might have made it -some of us…

The dominant figure in the photograph is undoubtedly Mrs Brinkley. This is due in part to the prominence of the bulging travel-bag which she clutches, a massive affair decorated with what appears to be a Japanese hunting tartan, but even without it her own broad, beaming, brood-flanked presence would take the eye. One feels that, whatever the ideals and hopes of the rest of us may be, Deborah Brinkley knows just what she wants; it is more babies, and she is ready to go on cheerfully accumulating them on Tanakuatua, or wherever else the tides of life may carry her. This, and the presence of her husband beside her, looking the sturdy, capable farmer he is, has the effect of making her the most confidence-inspiring figure in the picture.

Alicia Hardy, who can be seen close by, talking earnestly to one of the Brinkley children, gives us a touch of distinction.

But there can be no doubt that it is Marilyn Slaight (Mrs Slaight) who thinks she is stealing the picture. In a spectacularly inappropriate going-away outfit, a pose picked up from a fashion magazine, and with a great big smile for all the world, she is clearly self-cast as the belle of the voyage. She stands next to Horace Tupple, his chubby, babyish face already topping a vivid beach-shirt. A more clearly marked life and soul of any party it would be hard to find. I wonder to this day how those two managed to get under Walter’s guard. Horace himself apparently got to wondering the same thing during the following week or two, for he decided to skip the ship at Panama and make his way home. It is remarkable how wise a fool can be.

The small man in the front row frowning at the camera from under his cap is Joe Shuttleshaw. He was a useful carpenter, but, at a glance, a born chip-bearer; beside him is his wife, Diane, as obviously a born husband-bearer. Beyond her Jennifer Felling, the nurse, has rather the effect of a Derain included in a bunch of Matisses. The other Jennifer, Jennifer Deeds, is looking serenely dedicated.

Walter Tirrie is there, of course. He is holding himself a little apart from the rest of us. Something, perhaps the work of preparation, perhaps the angle of the light, has given his face a chiselled look that I had not been aware of before. Also, he has taken on in an undefinable way an air of leadership, and regards the camera with an air of challenge.

Away on the right, Jamie Mclngoe the engineer, wears a slight smile - though whether it is caused by Walter, or by the occasion, or by his own thoughts is hard to tell.

Next to him stands Camilla Cogent. She seems withdrawn into her own reflections, unaware of camera or occasion alike: there, but not with us.

I, Arnold Delgrange, am away on the other side, seen in profile. With my gaze distant, and my expression rapt, I look a little ‘sent’. And at that moment I confess I was. Even now I can catch glimpses of the mood that filled me then. The rest of the party’s feet are planted on the steel deck-plates of the Susannah Dingley

- but mine are treading the planks of a new Argo. The sullied waters of the Thames eddy viscously beneath the others, but I am gazing far beyond them, to a new Aegean, gold and caerulean in the sun. I am setting out to turn a vision into a reality, to see the world’s great age begin anew, to play my part in contriving that:

Another Athens shall arise,

And to remoter time Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,

The splendour of its prime.

In that moment I am seeing even more - a new, distant archipelago in which a whole lost world shall flare, phoenix-like, into re-birth…

Alas for the sweet songs the sirens sang!

There we stand. Tom Conning, Jeremy Brandon, David Kamp, and the rest. All kinds of us, from Arnold Delgrange, the dreamer, to Charles Brinkley, the farmer - and any man’s choice for the title of colonist-most-likely-to-succeed.

It is a saddening photograph. We may not look much, certainly we do not present the appearance of a galaxy of talents, but all of us then were filled with high hopes. And the idea that had brought us together was much greater than ourselves.

Ah, well - it will be tried again, I suppose. Men have been setting out these thousand years and more in search of freedom … Yes, they will try again - and next time I hope the Fates will be with them, not against them…

Chapter II

So we sailed for Tanakuatua.

And this seems an appropriate place to give some account of our destination.

When the Susannah Dingley raised her anchor and set out, all that I or indeed any of us, except Walter who had found the place for us, knew of Tanakuatua was that it was a small, uninhabited island too insignificant to be recorded at all in most general atlases, but discoverable in some of the larger and more conscientious ones as an out-of-scale dot in the large blue spread of the Pacific Ocean, located in the region of 90 N, 170° W.

There were some pictures of it, too, taken at intervals over the last seventy years. These for practical purposes, however, can be considered as one picture since each photographer has been struck by the same scenic quality of precisely the same view. It gives a vista looking north-east as seen from a ship moored in the lagoon. There is a line of curving white beach hedged by undergrowth from which springs a pallisade of palms, thickly backed by more palms and trees of other kinds. It is only the background that distinguishes this aspect from that of a thousand other beaches: the twin hills united by a high saddle that identify it as Tanakuatua.

These hills do not immediately suggest volcanic activity, but both contain craters. The northern one (that on the left in the pictures) is Rara, long choked and overgrown; the other, Monu, hold a pool of boiling mud, and from halfway down its southern side gushes a hot spring of clear water. It is probably a very long time since either of the craters was other than it is now. There are no legends of any activity there.

Indeed, there seem to be few legends of any kind about the island. It is as if it existed in its isolation without a history until less than two centuries ago. Even since then the record is fragmentary, but I have, since my return, been at considerable pains to find out what I can about it from a variety of sources and feel that this is the best place to include the result of my researches. They do at least go some way towards explaining a factor which puzzled some of us from the start of the voyage: that is the availability of an uninhabited, but richly fertile island.

In those atlases which do notice it, Tanakuatua is usually shown as included in the Midsummer Islands group. This was always misleading, and later became inaccurate. In the first place, it lies five hundred miles from the nearest of them, and about one hundred and fifty miles from its nearest, and smaller, neighbour, Oahomu. One suspects that both these islands may well have been brought into the Midsummers’ zone for the sake of tidiness by those who draw those sweeping, territorial dotted lines on maps of the Pacific Ocean, since they are still more remote from any other island group. It is, moreover, not inconceivably the existence of these lines which caused them at one time to become a responsibility of the Midsummers’ administration. Stranger things than that have happened in Colonial history.

In the days of early exploration both islands appear to have been elusive. Unlike most islands in the region they were unnoticed even by Captain Cook, for though, on his second voyage, in 1774, he visited (and named appropriately to the season of his visit) the Midsummers, neither the log of the Resolution, nor that of the Adventure, makes mention of any such outlying islands, though one would have thought one or other of them to lie close enough to his course to be observed.

It is not, however, until twenty years later that the discovery of an island that can scarcely have been other than Tanakuatua is recorded.

In 1794 Captain Sleason, of the Purpose, noted in his journal:

‘7th day of April at six of the clock in the morning, the wind backing and falling to calm, brought upon us a thick fog. In this we continued drifting three days. On the morning of the 10th April came on a strong wind from the West which drove off the fog, but, freshening to a gale, forced us in heavy weather far to eastward of our course. This, likewise, held for three days. In the night of the I3th-14th the gale abated, the morning breaking serene, with the sea fallen again near to calm, and the wind Westerly yet, but now very light.

‘By first light we sighted land at some three leagues distant, bearing E.S.E. Making closer we discovered it to be an Island of no great size, rising in the centre to a mountain of low height having the form of two humps joined by a ridge. The vegetation is abundant, palms and other trees, together with bushes thickly covering all but the upper parts of the Mountain.

‘At our approach, sea birds in great numbers flew out to attend us, and a school of dolphins rode to our bows, but we could perceive no sign of human habitation.

‘The Western side of this Island is set about with a stout reef having a number of islets in it, and also several navigable passages. One of these we sounded and successfully essayed. Having anchored in the lagoon, I sent the cutter ashore, with water kegs.

‘The boat crew found the Island not to be uninhabited, as it had appeared, for, having discovered a stream and followed it up a short way for clear water, they came upon a small clearing. Set about this were seven or eight huts, exceedingly mean and poorly constructed, being in the main of pieces of bark lashed together. The condition of this place was so filthy as to set up a noisome stench. At the centre of the clearing was a pit of ashes, with several large stones of the kind which natives of these parts use for their cooking, lying therein. One of our men, thinking the place long deserted, found this not to be so, and suffered a slightly scorched foot.

‘The boatswain, then coming up, was of the opinion that it had not been deserted above an hour or two, though we had seen no smoke.

‘Some of the huts contained wooden tools of poor workmanship, also some rudely contrived nets which were judged to be for fishing. In one hut was found a human leg bone decorated in part by carving, and a stone knife lying among chips of bone from the work. Also in this hut was a human skull, more recently fresh than the leg bone, and declared by the boatswain, though out of what experience I know not, to have been not above a week severed.

‘After several journeys, our watering then being sufficient, the crew came aboard, having had no sight of any of the natives.’

The general location of this island and the reference to the double-summitted mountain leave little doubt that it was Tanakuatua. Its rediscovery and the true charting of its position, however, had to wait until it was visited by H.M.S. Pertinax in 1820. And in the twenty-six years that had passed since Captain Sleason wrote his account, conditions there seem to have changed.

The Pertinax made a preliminary circumnavigation of the island noting that the eastern and northern coasts were rocky and inhospitable, offering neither convenient landing places, nor good anchorage, and that a strong reef starting from the southernmost point enclosed a lagoon which bounded almost all the west coast. The ship did not attempt a passage of the reef, but dropped anchor just outside it, within sight of a beach on which a number of canoes was drawn up.

A party of about fifty natives, armed with spears, gathered on the beach, in lively conference. They then launched six of the canoes and made across the lagoon towards the Pertinax. A little short of the passage through the reef, however, they paused, and rested their paddles. The canoes came together. There was another, more sober, conference during which heads turned now and then towards the ship. After this exchange of second thoughts they turned back, making energetically for the shore where, after pulling up the canoes, they withdrew into the trees, and disappeared entirely.

A shore-party, landed from the Pertinax, found a village of huts entirely deserted. Among the possessions left behind by the natives they came upon a rusty pistol, several sailors’ knives, four brass belt-buckles, and a number of metal buttons, as well as less surprising objects such as a row of skulls on the lintels of the largest hut, and a number of bone ornaments and barbs.

In course of further exploration they noticed a cross erected upon a small headland further along the coast. This they found to be made of pieces of planking, clearly from some ship, nailed together, set upright, and roughly carved with the letters R.I.P. Digging in front of it in the hope of finding something that would identify the grave, they unearthed, instead of the remains they expected, a bottle containing a folded piece of paper. On this was written in a brown pigment, thought to be blood:


James Bear of London

Edward Timson of Shepton

Henry Davis of Lewes

Here wrekked from the ship Fortitude 10 day of May a.d. 1812.

All et by the cannible savidges May-July a.d. 1812.


signed Sami. Hodges AB

While returning, the Pertinax party suffered an ambush by the natives. One man was nastily wounded by a spear, but three of the attackers fell to the muskets, whereupon the rest fled, leaving two of their number as prisoners.

From these captives the sailors later took the name of the island to be, as nearly as they could pronounce it (and assuming that it was indeed a name, and not some kind of invocation or curse) Tanakuatua. Accordingly it was so entered in the records, and has since remained.

Documents in the Record Office show that a ship named Fortitude did in fact sail from Deptford on the 2nd August 1811 bound for Botany Bay with a cargo of one hundred and forty-two convicts. She never arrived, and was later assumed to be lost at sea. In the list of convicts sentenced to transportation aboard her occur the names:

James Bare, of London, for the forging of a postage frank, value 6 pence.

Edward Timson, of Shepton in Somerset, for combining to maintain the rate of wages.

Henry Davies, of Lewes in Sussex, for theft of a fowl, value 7 pence.

One of the members of the ship’s crew is recorded as Samuel Hodges, of Rye, in Sussex.

The Ship’s last reported port of call was Otaheite (later known as Tahiti). She sailed from there on the 15th April 1812, whereafter all trace of her was lost.

Tanakuatua was now officially in existence on the Admiralty charts, but continued to be rarely visited, and then almost exclusively by ships driven off course, and finding themselves in need of water and fresh vegetables. There was, occasionally, some barter, but as the island had a reputation for treacherous inhabitants addicted to cannibalism, such visits were more usually in the nature of raids.

Thus there had been no exploration, and little more was known of the place than could be seen from the sea before 1848, when a survey party went ashore from H.M.S. Finder. It reported the natives as being ‘painted with patterns, much ornamented with shells and shell-work, and with some small pieces of coarse cloth worn more for decoration than for modesty. Most of the men wear, also, pieces of bone thrust through large slits in their earlobes, and often more slender bone needles through the septum of the nose, frequently projecting several inches on either side. Their faces are tattooed in an unsightly fashion in order to give the appearance of great ferocity.’

When this fierce appearance, accompanied by loud shouts, menacing gestures and a brandishing of spears, failed to deter the approach of the survey party with its escort of marines, the natives seemed at first astonished, and then to suffer loss of heart. And as the marines raised their rifles preparatory to firing an intimidating volley over their heads, they immediately ran away, and hid among the trees where they remained until they were coaxed back by offers of presents.

With formal defiance thus disposed of, the party found them shy and suspicious. The only other hostile incident occurred when half-a-dozen of the party found their path barred by a group of some ten natives. All but one were armed with metal-tipped spears. The exception held a rusty musket. He lifted this unreliable weapon, and pointing it in the general direction of the ship’s party, raised his voice, apparently commanding it to fire. When it did not, he and his companions looked disconcerted. He tried again, and then, with a gesture of disgust, threw it on the ground, and the whole band scampered off into the bushes. Thereafter the survey went peacefully, though it was strictly forbidden for any man to straggle alone.

Tanakuatua was duly mapped. It is, in general, pearshaped, with a length of eight miles and a width slightly over five. A small island, Hinuati, stands about a mile and a half off its southern tip, and has an area of some hundred and fifty acres. Along the reef are a dozen or so smaller islets varying in size from half an acre up to one of twelve acres. The soil is of volcanic origin, rich in mineral salts, productive of good taro crops, bread fruit, coconuts, and a variety of vegetables. The latter were unexpectedly found to include potatoes which were assumed to have been salvaged from a wreck, possibly that of Fortitude, and planted by castaways.

The adult population of Tanakuatua appeared at this time to be fairly small, possibly little more than one hundred and fifty, though deserted village sites suggested that it had recently been larger. The habits, conditions, and practices of the natives were reported as being mean, crude, and sordid to a repulsive degree. The officer in charge of the survey-party considered them to be the most primitive savages he had ever encountered, but in this he differed from the ship’s doctor who maintained that they were an example of degeneration induced by prolonged interbreeding.

The report did not doubt that the island, if intelligently cultivated, was capable of supporting a considerable population as well as producing copra and other trade commodities in useful quantity. Having regard, however, to the necessary amount of preliminary work, the capital required for it, the unsuitability of the natives for such work and the consequent need to import labour, the small size of the crops likely to be produced during several initial years, and, above all, the isolation of Tanakuatua from all usual trade routes, it was very doubtful whether any attempt to exploit the island’s potentialities could prove worthwhile.

Having thus summed up Tanakuatua’s relevance to the nineteenth-century world, H.M.S. Finder then sailed away northwesterly to survey and, in due course, to issue a still less favourable report on the island of Oahomu.

But if Tanakuatua was without importance in the world at large, it did not follow that the converse was true, and although the tempo was slow, the island was to experience more of it in the next sixty years than in some previous thousands.

In or about the year 1852 there was an invasion. Details are sketchy, but it appears to have been conducted by a force some three hundred strong, in a fleet of canoes. Who they were and where they came from - beyond their statement that their ancestral island lay somewhere towards the setting sun - is obscure, but from the fact that they brought with them their wives and families, and even fowls and small livestock houses in huts supported catamaran fashion upon lashed-together canoes, it is clear that they were engaged in purposeful migration.

Hostilities were brief, seemingly about half a day long, whereafter the residents’ resistance, demoralized by the invaders’ prowess and confidence, collapsed entirely, never to revive.

The newcomers brought a superior technology. In place of the groups of filthy bark hovels they built villages of thatched huts. They cleared spaces for taro patches and planted coconut groves; they laid out gardens with several kinds of vegetables, and made it clear in many other ways that they had come to stay.

The two bloods mingled. Occasional ships putting in for one reason or another contributed new strains, too, so that a mere thirty years later the population bore very little resemblance to that recorded by H.M.S. Finder.

It was a confident, more self-reliant people now, with a conscious bent for independence. From the occasional ships, and a few expeditions of their own, Tanakuatuans had learnt a little of the world outside, and preferred their own ways. Towards chance visitors they were rarely hostile, for they liked barter and enjoyed an opportunity for a feast, but towards those Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans and others who came to look at the island with calculating eyes, and sometimes made exploratory suggestions upon the wisdom, in this uncertain world, of entrusting the protection of one’s interests to a benevolent strong power, their manner was cold and their hospitality formal. It was a matter in which the views of successive chiefs and of their subjects were at one.

On several occasions they came nearer to ‘protection’ than they ever knew, but each time the old reasons prevented it from actually taking place. Even with the coming of steamers, prospective exploiters continued to decide that the island, in its remoteness, was too small, and its population too unco-operative, for any venture there to be better than a poor risk. And so, though by margins that were at times very narrow, Tanakuatuan independence survived even the Wonderful Century.

But the world was changing. Half way round the globe from Tanakuatua an old Queen died. She had lived under an imperial sun in its high noon, and seen her subjects dapple the map with red patches, from continental daubs to little stipple spots in distant oceans, but when she went that sun, too, was sinking. The shadows of history were creeping over a great day done. Already a new wind was blowing gusty warnings, gathering strength for the gale that would tatter the Age of Confidence to its last shreds. And when that storm came, not even Tanakuatua, twelve thousand miles from its centre, remained untouched.

In 1916 it occurred to someone in the Admiralty that Tanakuatua and Oahomu both stood a good chance of attracting German attention as bases, or hiding places, suitable for their armed merchant-ship raiders engaged in harassing shipping in the western Pacific. This thought he communicated to the Colonial Office with the suggestion that it might be a useful idea to forestall any such intention.

As a result, the Governor of the Midsummers in due course received instructions to take preventive action there. This led him to dispatch the Frances Williams, an inter-island trader now equipped for the times with a resplendent coat of dazzle-paint and a quick-firing gun, to show the flag. Her arrival at Tanakuatua, after a reassuring call at Oahomu, took place on the 15th September.

As she entered the lagoon after negotiating the passage of the reef, the Captain lowered his glasses, and passed them to the mate.

‘ ’Few ask me, Joe,’ he said. ‘There’s something gorn a bit orf here. Been here afore a couple of times, an’ each time they all come out on the beach an’ start jumpin’ up and down an yellin’ their heads orf. But just take a shufti now.’

The mate swept the glasses along the shore line. He could see no sign of movement. But for the row of canoes drawn up on the beach the place might have been deserted.

The Frances Williams lost her way, and her chain rattled out.

The sound echoed across the lagoon, without rousing response of any kind. Then the mate said :

‘Ah. There’s two or three of ’em, Cap’n. Keeping well back in the trees. Seem to be wavin’ at us.’

As the Captain took his glasses back and turned them where the mate was pointing, four dusky figures broke from cover further along the beach and sprinted towards the water. Almost without pausing, they grabbed one of the drawn-up canoes, and took it with them. They were aboard it and paddling furiously in a matter of seconds. Then, before they had covered more than twenty yards, came the sound of a rifle shot. The bullet fell short of the canoe, throwing up a spurt of water. The paddlers hesitated briefly, and then bent to it again. There was the crack of a second shot. One paddler sprang to his feet. By the time the sound of his howl reached the Frances Williams, the canoe had already overturned, and its crew was striking out for the shore.

The Captain ordered the gun-crew to stations, and none too soon. A fusillade of shots broke out on the shore, but the range was long. A few bullets pattered against the ship’s side, most fell short. A small gun of some kind opened up with a couple of ranging shots, and then put one neatly through the funnel. The Frances Williams’ quick-firer replied.

The battle of Tanakuatua was brief. Since the ship’s gun had hitherto fired only three or four rounds in practice, and none in anger, there may have been an element of beginner’s luck in its marksmanship, but after it had spoken thrice the shore gun was not heard again, and presently a white flag was seen to wave above the bushes close to its position.

Firing ceased. The Captain ordered the boat lowered. The military warrant officer aboard embarked his party, and cast off. Before the boat had covered half the distance there were renewed sounds of rifle fire ashore. Since no bullets came near the boat, it was deducible that the Tanakuatuans, in either contempt for, or non-recognition of, the white flag, had launched an operation of their own. And, it turned out, with some success, for when the landing-party reached the scene they found only four men in German uniforms hemmed into a tight group still defending themselves. The rest of the platoon that had been landed two weeks before as an occupying force was dead.

The Tanakuatuans were delighted.

For one thing, though they had many songs and dances extolling the ferocity, valour, and fortitude of their warriors, these heroes were not, in fact the warriors of the moment, and some fifty years without actual battle experience may have caused them feelings of uncertainty. Thus, to have tradition so notably vindicated, at a cost to themselves of only five or six casualties, gave them an exhilarating sense of being men as good as their grandfathers.

Moreover, they had taken a strong dislike to the German garrison party.

The platoon had landed uninvited on their island, neglecting all proper greetings and formalities. It had then proceeded to erect its tents upon a handy open space - which happened to be clear only because it was a burial-ground. It had fired shots over the heads of a party of elders as they had approached to lodge a protest at the desecration. Thereafter, it had demanded to be supplied with fruit and vegetables, with no suggestions of payment; commandeered a number of young women, irrespective of whether they happened to be wives, or not - also without offers of compensation; killed, rather slowly as a warning to the rest, a young man who had tried to steal one of its rifles; and in general revealed itself as being composed of ill-mannered, offensive persons.

The victory, however, more than compensated the Tanakuatuans for the damage the Germans had done to their pride; it restored their good opinion of themselves. The perfection of the memorable day was spoiled for them only by the warrant officer’s insistence that his men should remove the bodies of the German casualties - a measure he proceeded resolutely to carry out in disregard of all protest that by immemorial custom the only seemly way to deal with a vanquished enemy was to eat him.

Tanakuatua was then formally declared to have been annexed to the administrative territory of the Midsummer Isles, and thus to be under the protection of His Most Gracious Majesty King George the Fifth.

It cannot be said that the Tanakuatuans ever showed any enthusiasm for their changed status, nor any awareness of their relationship to the great family of nations of which, they were assured, they now formed a part. They did, it is true, get along better with the new garrison than they had with the Germans. But they did not disguise their pleasure a couple of years later when, after the cause of the whole disturbance had been settled by a lot of talkers on the other side of the world in a place they had never heard of, the garrison was withdrawn.

With that, island life could become normal once more. Almost the only things that prevented it reverting literally to the status quo ante bellum were the existence of an Agent who was rarely seen, and troubled no one very much when he did come, and, at lengthy intervals, a ceremonial visit from the Governor himself.

On the latter occasions the Tanakuatuans played up tactfully. There was a formal feast followed by a dancing display, in the visitor’s honour. The Governor then responded with a speech of thanks and good wishes, mentioning a day, not too far distant now, he trusted, when it should become administratively possible for the inhabitants of this favoured island to enjoy the same educational and medical facilities which, it was hoped, would shortly be organized on the main islands of the Group. Meanwhile, they could rest assured that he, and, through him, the Colonial Office, were ever mindful of the best interests of this loyal and noble people.

Thereafter, he would be escorted back to his ship by a small fleet of canoes, saluted with shouts and raised paddles, and depart, not to be seen again for another three or four years.

Thus, another generation passed peacefully, with little interruption.

Then, once again, there was a garrison on the island. This time it was more numerous, better armed, and stayed longer. But it was also better behaved, and kept better supplied.

Major Catterman, the Commanding Officer, made a point from the first of treating the Tanakuatuans as the true owners of the island upon which force of circumstances had temporarily placed him. He took the trouble to learn something of their language, attempted to understand their customs, and did his best to respect their ways. His men were strictly forbidden to scrounge. All taros, coconuts, breadfruit, young women, potatoes, et cetera, had to be paid for; so that the islanders acquired a taste for baked beans, bully beef, and chocolate. He even ran a series of elementary classes with the purpose of disseminating some idea of the world beyond the seas. If with this, as with certain other of his projects, there was a discrepancy between intention and achievement, he nevertheless maintained a remarkably harmonious relationship throughout his garrison term.

The C.O., for his part, thoroughly enjoyed his stay. There are only a fortunate few whom the currents of war carry into quiet, congenial backwaters, and he was grateful to be among them. By degrees, he came to think that he had probably been quite a loss to the Colonial Service. But even the ravel of war gets knitted, in time. The guns fell silent; the Japanese went home; Tanakuatua no longer needed protection.

There was a farewell feast with four kinds of baked fish, sliced and flaked taro, roast sucking-pigs, breadfruit fritters, crabs in coconut sauce, curried sea-slugs, prawns in lime-juice, purple sea-snail soup, mango with syrup and coconut cream, bowls of salads, and also rum, which it would have been wasteful for the garrison to take away with them.

The brown beauties Of Tanakuatua danced and sang. The young men danced too. With oiled skins and bone ornaments gleaming in the light of fire and torches they performed a ferocious re-enactment of the great victory of 1916. The Commanding Officer, half-stifled by leis of frangipani, and the Chief Tatake happy with good rum and pride in his people, sat with their arms on one another’s shoulders and swore perpetual brotherhood.

On the following night the island was the islanders’ own once more.

Thereafter, for the next three years nothing much happened except a visit from a new Governor, undertaken to introduce himself to his furthest-flung charges. There was the usual ceremony and an address in which he assured them that they must not think themselves forgotten out here in the ocean. The King was always mindful of their interests and had them very much at heart. In fact, and in due course when the disorganization caused by the war had been tidied up - and that, he was glad to tell them, would not be very long now - they would be able to enjoy all the benefits of education and a medical service to which their loyalty to King and Commonwealth during the years of peril so richly entitled them.

After the customary ceremonies he sailed away. It was thought that, like his predecessor, he might be expected to look in again in two or three years’ time.

To everyone’s surprise he was back within a few weeks. This time to deliver a very different message.

Something, something cataclysmic, he informed the islanders was about to happen. This thing would take place away out in the open sea to the east. Up out of the ocean there would come a great ball of fire, brighter than a hundred suns together, and so hot that even many miles away the bark would be burnt from trees, the skin scorched off men and animals, and the eyes of anyone who saw it, shrivelled up.

It was improbable that the island of Tanakuatua would be harmed in such ways for the fireball would be far away, but after the fireball had flared and died it would leave poison-dust in the sky. This dust would bring an agonizing death to all on whom it fell.

It was hoped, and might very well be so, that none of this dust would ever reach Tanakuatua. If, at the time when the great fire-burst took place, the wind were to be blowing from the west, and if it should continue to blow from the west for several days, the island would escape unharmed …

But no one could control the winds. A man might judge, within limits, how and where they were likely to blow at certain seasons, but nobody could be sure that they would do so. Still less could anyone be sure that they would continue to blow steadily in one direction for several days. Moreover, everyone had seen clouds that seemed to move against the wind, showing that while it blew one way on the ground it could be blowing another way high up in the sky. Nothing in nature was more capricious than the wind …

Wherefore, the King, concerned as always for the welfare of his loyal subjects, had given orders that the inhabitants of Tanakuatua and of Oahomu, too, should, for their own safety, be removed for a short time from their islands to a place where there was no chance of the death-dust falling upon them. He had further decreed that compensation would be paid to them for any losses of crops or property. The evacuation of Tanakuatua by every man, woman, and child of its people would therefore take place in exactly one month’s time.

To the relief of the Governor, who had foreseen long hours of obstinate argument, the pronouncement was received quietly. It did not occur to him that the islanders were too stunned and incredulous to believe they had heard aright.

They were still bemused when the Governor, with a final injunction to make the best of the time granted them for their preparations, re-embarked and sailed off to Oahomu to deliver the same message.

In the evening Tatake called a council of his Elders. The main body of the meeting did not have a great deal to contribute. The older men were vaguely uneasy, but still too bemused to appreciate the reality of the crisis. Consequently the floor was shared almost exclusively between the Chief and Nokiki, the head medicine-man, both operating from hastily prepared positions which they consolidated as the debate developed.

The stands taken by both were clear from the start, however.

‘This interference is outrageous and intolerable,’ proclaimed Nokiki. ‘We must call upon our young men to fight.’

To which Tatake replied flatly:

‘The young men will not fight.’

Nokiki challenged him:

‘The young men are warriors, the descendants of warriors. They are not afraid of death. They will wish to fight - to fight, and score a great victory, as their fathers did,’ he said, and backed this up with a brief, if somewhat biased account of the glorious battle of 1916, as evidence that it could be done.

Tatake explained that no one doubted the valour of the young men; it was good sense that was in question. Everyone had seen the recently departed garrison at shooting practice. What chance had even the most valorous of warriors against rifles and machine guns? The young men would all be slain, to no purpose. Worse than that, the islanders would be weakened, for what future is there for a people that has no young men? A weak people had no rights. The better course would be to stay their hands and preserve their strength in order that their voices should carry weight.

The stronger they remained, the better placed they would be to press for an early return to Tanakuatua when this mysterious cataclysm should be over.

Nokiki gushed scorn. He did not believe in this cataclysm, nor did he accept the talk about a return to Tanakuatua. The whole thing was all lies. A blatant stratagem. This King that the Governors talked about, and no one had ever seen - who was he? The truth of the matter was that the Governor coveted their island for his own purposes, so he had schemed to throw the rightful owners out, and then steal it. It was as simple as that. They were being told to hand over their land, their homes, the bones of their ancestors who had won it for them as a present to the Governor. Better far to lie dead on Tanakuatua than to live as cowards in exile.

Tatake spoke of the compensation and the terms offered for resettlement.

Nokiki spat.

Tatake proclaimed responsibility for the lives of his people. He would not see them thrown away in a futile battle, nor let them be sacrificed in useless defiance of the death-dust.

Nokiki spat again. The death-dust was a myth. A tale invented for the purpose of frightening them out of their homeland. In all legend there was no such threat as this death-dust - lava, cinders, and ash from smoking mountains, yes - but nothing about death-dust. The expectation that they should believe this bogey story for children was an affront in itself. Chief Tatake might be timorously concerned for the lives of the people, but he, Nokiki, put their honour higher. It was for this honour, entrusted to them all by their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers, and their fathers before them, that he was concerned. Tatake, he said, spoke of life, but what sort of a life was it that must be dragged out amid the contempt of the ghosts of their ancestors? And with the knowledge, too, that when their time came to die Nakaa would bar their way to the Land of Shades and fling their unworthy ghosts into the pit of stakes where they would writhe, impaled for all eternity. Better, far better, to die now, and join the ancestors in the land beyond the western sea, with honour.

As the debate wore on, each disputant gained greater certainty of his own conviction, and hammered the palisade of his position more firmly home. Comments came from the elders of the Council only rarely. For the most part they behaved as a silent chorus, turning their heads from one speaker to the other, nodding sagely from time to time in bewildered support of each.

The light waned. The blood-red sun sank into the sea. The sky was pierced with spear-tips of polished steel. The rising moon set carbon shadows creeping. And still, far into the night, the great debate went on…

There was no civil war on Tanakuatua, though only Nokiki’s realization that a waste of warriors now would mean fewer of them to meet the real enemy later on, restrained him from declaring a kind of jehad. He could see nothing in the course Tatake had chosen but decadence and the betrayal of hallowed traditions. Yet, though the temptation to defend the right was strong, his need to conserve his forces was stronger, and he decided with reluctance to postpone the punishment of sacrilege until the pale men should have been dealt with.

The month of grace passed in an uneasy truce between the factions. Roughly three-quarters of the population stood by their Chief, the rest rallied to Nokiki. The discrepancy in numbers, however, was largely offset by the inclusion in the smaller group of most of the young men, and nearly all the fervour.

Thus, though with a certain amount of side-swapping as minds swayed, the matter rode; and thus it was still riding when the Governor returned, this time in a far larger vessel, to preside over the exodus.

He was gratified to find the Tanakuatuans prepared. The two landing-craft were able to run ashore close to the spot where Tatake with his people, and their household goods, and their canoes piled high with fishing nets, and their bales and bundles roped in matting, and the last crops from their gardens, and their squealing pigs tethered by one hind leg, stood glumly awaiting them.

The Governor stepped briskly ashore, greeting the Chief affably. He was agreeably surprised to find the inhabitants of this off-the-map island, with their longstanding reputation for being ‘difficult’, taking it so calmly. He did not know, nor would he ever know, that without the efforts of the wartime garrison’s commander to reach a better understanding with the people and teach them something of the facts of life in the outer world, and more particularly his influence over the Chief, the non-cooperation figure would most likely have been close to a hundred per cent.

As things were, he was able to look round approvingly. (He did not, in fact, approve of much that the islanders intended to take with them. Privately he included the whole lot of it under the comprehensive term ‘cag’, but tact, he had impressed upon himself, must be the watchword for the day.) He nodded:

‘Good work, Chief Tatake. Fine bit of organization. No reason why we shouldn’t start loading at once, eh?’

The people stood staring at the landing-craft. The men aboard called to them encouragingly. There was a long, long moment of hesitation. Tatake said something gently in the island dialect. Reluctantly they began to gather their possessions and carry them aboard.

Tatake, unspeaking, almost unmoving, watched while the craft shuttled between ship and shore. When the job was three-quarters done the Governor strolled over.

‘Gone very smoothly, eh? Had the roll called, Chief? Made quite sure everyone’s here ? ’

‘Nokiki not here,’ Tatake told him.

‘He ought to be. Where is he? Send someone to tell him.’ ‘Nokiki not come. He swear it,’ said Tatake, dropping into his own language, he added: ‘Nokiki has eighty of my people with him. They will stay on Tanakuatua. They swear it.’

‘Eighty! ’ exclaimed the Govemer. “Why didn’t you tell me this before? They must leave. Everyone must leave. I thought you understood that.’

Tatake eyed him dully. He shrugged his big shoulders. ‘Nokiki fight. Men fight,’ he said. And he looked near to regret that he was not with them.

The Governor clicked his tongue impatiently.

‘Lot of damned nonsense. Don’t know why you couldn’t tell me right away. You mean they defied your orders?’

Tatake looked blank. The Governor said impatiently.

‘You say Nokiki come. He not come?’

Tatake nodded.

“Nokiki say fight.’

“Nonsense,’ repeated the Governor. “The order was clear. If they don’t come, they’ll have to be fetched.’

It had been thought desirable to make as little show of force as possible, but the likelihood of some such situation developing had not been overlooked. The Governor conferred with his officers. Presently, one of his younger aides detached himself from the group and made his way up the beach towards the village. Close to the first hut he stopped and surveyed the empty scene. Then he raised a loudhailer, and, in a dialect close enough to the islanders’ own, spoke persuasively to the surrounding trees and bushes. At the end of a two-minute address he lowered the hailer, and awaited a response.

It came. Its form was a spear from an unseen source which struck the ground a yard to his left, and stood there quivering. The young man regarded it with disapproval. He appeared to consider trying more persuasion, and to decide against it. Then he turned, and began to walk back, with carefully unhurried steps. Another spear buried its point a foot behind him.

The Governor scribbled a note, and sent it back to the ship with the landing-craft. Ten minutes later the landing-craft returned bearing an armed and helmeted squad of police. The sergeant in charge spoke for a few moments with the Governor and with the Chief, then, with his men holding their weapons at the ready, moved up the beach and was soon out of sight among the bushes.

Ten minutes or so after they had disappeared the sound of the hailer was heard briefly again. It was followed by an outbreak of shooting; rifles and sub-machine-guns together giving an impressive burst of fire-power. In due course the platoon reappeared escorting forty or so disarmed and frightened-looking islanders. The noise of a group of small arms at close range, and the sensation of bullets ripping leaves and branches to pieces close above one’s head had not been at all what the legend of the glorious victory of 1916 had led them to expect.

The platoon, having handed over its sheepish captives, reformed and went back into the woods to look for more. A number of young women began to drift out of the trees in twos and threes to join the discouraged warriors.

Tatake made a count, and reported that Nokiki probably had no more than twenty supporters with him now.

This time, the platoon pushing inland by a path behind the village, ran into an ambush. The trap was sprung a little too early to be entirely successful. The three leading men were speared before they had time to throw the tear-gas bombs they were holding ready, but their companions threw theirs with precision - and that was, in effect, the end of Tanakuatuan resistance. The police returned to the beach once more with another fifteen lachrymose and woe-begone captives who carried one policeman dead, and two nastily wounded. Nokiki was not among them.

The Governor was angry. He turned to Tatake. For a moment he had it in mind to say what he thought of a Chief who could not control his own people. Wisely he forbore. Instead, he asked sharply:

‘Not more than half a dozen of them left now, Chief?’

Tatake nodded.

The Governor, too, gave a curt nod.

‘Very well. They’ve had their warning. I’m not going to risk any more of my men’s lives just to save a few stubborn oafs. They’ll have to take their chance.’ He turned to board the landing-craft.

Half an hour later, with the passage of the reef safely accomplished, and the Tanakuatuans wistfully crowding the rails, the ship’s engines switched to full ahead …

From the shade of a group of calophyllum trees set on a headland the remnant of the resistance party watched the ship swing round in a wide arc, and then dwindle away towards the northwest.

When she had shrunk to a speck, the rank and file of the group, three men and one woman, grew restless, uncomfortably aware that it was a long time since they had eaten. Presently they slipped quietly away.

Nokiki was unaware of them, present or absent.

Soon there was not even a speck: nothing but the wide, empty ocean.

The birds fell silent. The light went swiftly as the sun dipped.

Fireflies started to flitter among the bushes. The moon rose with a path that trembled like a band of quicksilver set in the water. Still Nokiki sat motionless.

His dark eyes were fixed now on the horizon-point of the moon-path, but they did not see it; the pictures in his mind came from faraway places and long-ago tales. He was seeing the great fleets of canoes and the floating villages of huts that had borne his ancestors over thousands of miles of ocean. He was remembering the names of the islands where they had paused for a few years, for a generation, for two or three generations, until the young men and women had grown restive again, and set out once more on the eternal search for paradise.

He was seeing their great war canoes. Craft that would sweep to a beach with the force of fifty paddles to spill out warriors who carried all before them. The names of the victories, and of the heroes who had won them, were commemorated by dances and in songs that rang in the head of every boy as he grew to manhood. They ran in Nokiki’s head now…

That was his people’s way of life. So it had been ever since Nakaa expelled men and women from the happy land: wandering across the ocean, fighting, travelling on again, searching eternally for the lost paradise.

Even the coming of the white men had made little difference to that way of life to begin with - but later, and soon, with increasing swiftness, they had changed the whole world. With the power of their weapons they had annexed territories as they chose

- and the people who lived in them too. And from that they had gone on to impose their own laws, setting them above tradition, and their own prudish God above the old gods.

Shamefully, people had given in to this. Protests had been feeble and few. Most people had listened to the white men, and become confused by foreign standards. They had allowed their own customs to be derided and brushed away, neglected their observances, lost respect for their totems. Was it a matter for wonder that the offended spirits of their ancestors should have cast them off in disgust and contempt?

Gradually it became clear to Nokiki that it was with the capture of Tanakuatua that the deterioration of his own people had set in. They had arrived there in the traditional style of their migrations, and in their traditional manner they had swept ashore to conquer the island with their usual valour. But that, he saw now, was the last time it would happen: the end of an era …

For one thing since the white man had come and re-ordered the world the old way of life had become impossible. But, worse than that, he sensed an evil in Tanakuatua; an influence which had devitalized his people’s spirit.

Gradually the valour and the virtue had dwindled in them. Only once since they had come there had it flared up briefly to bring them the famous victory of 1916. Thereafter it had withered away again until, little by little, they had been reduced to the craven, timorous creatures he had watched being herded away to the ship today.

The last spark of pride had died. The valour of their ancestors had been spent in vain, their famous victories counted not at all, the voices of their ghosts were unheard, their descendants had surrendered in utter ignominy. It was the end.

The moonlight glistened on Nokiki’s cheeks. It shone on tears of shame and helpless anger: tears of requiem for heroes dead in vain, for a people in decay, for honour in desuetude, for a world that had vanished forever …

In the morning the other four returned. The three men sat down silently at a respectful distance. The woman came close, offering him food on a leaf mat, and water in a carved coconut shell.

Soon after the sun was up all five of them went back to the empty village together. Nokiki was already wearing his finest bone ornaments in his ears and his nose. Now he stood like a statue in his hut while the woman painted his body red and white with the traditional patterns of the tribe. Last of all she drew in red on his chest the spider totem of his clan. When that had been done he put on his necklace of shark’s teeth, his chain of turtle-shell, his strings of beads and threaded shells, and worked a carved comb into his hair. Finally he fastened on his beadwork belt, and pushed the sheath of a long knife into it. Then he strode out of the hut, and led the way towards the twin hills.

Midway along the linking saddle he selected a spot, and marked it with a white stone.

‘Here,’ he told the men, ‘we will build an altar.’ Then he turned to the woman. “Woman,’ he said, ‘go now to the Tree of Death, and weave me a mat of its leaves.’

She looked steadily into his face for some seconds, then she bowed her head to him, and went away. The four men set about collecting stones.

The altar was finished by noon, and they rested. Then Nokiki marked out a plot the size of a grave in front of the altar. There he began to dig. He would not let the others help him, so, presently, they went off to find food.

When the woman returned Nokiki had finished his work. She looked at it, and then at him. He said nothing. She unrolled the mat she had woven out of pandanus leaves, and laid it beside the open grave.

Soon after it was dark the four lay down to sleep, but Nokiki did not sleep. He sat as he had sat the night before, looking out over the ocean, seeing again the great rafts, the floating huts, and the war canoes carrying generation after generation on their intrepid odyssey; watching them turn, into ghosts, and then into nothingness…

While the sky was still grey Nokiki got up. He went to the altar, and laid offerings on it. Then he sat back on his haunches, facing across the altar and the open grave beyond it to the east, waiting for the coming of Au, god of the Rising Sun.

As the first rays lit the high clouds Nokiki began to chant. His voice woke the others, they stirred, sat up, and watched.

The chant finished; Nokiki stood up, extending both arms to the first small arc of the sun, praying aloud for the blessing of Au, and, through him, of the other gods upon what their servant was about to do. He paused as if listening for an answer, then he nodded twice, and began on the work.

In the name of Au, and all lesser gods, he cursed the island of Tanakuatua for the ruin of his people. He cursed it from north to south, and from east to west, from the tops of its twin hills to the edge of its low tide. He cursed its soil and its rocks; its hot springs and its cold springs; its fruits and its trees; all that ran or crawled on it; everything that jumped on it, or flew over it; the roots in its soil, the life in its rock-pools. He cursed it by day, and he cursed it by night; in the dry season, and in the rainy season, in storm, and in calm.

His audience had never heard so comprehensive a curse, and it frightened them greatly.

But Nokiki had not done yet. He appealed above Au to Nakaa himself, Nakaa, the lawgiver, the judge before whom every man and woman must pass as he leaves this world for the land of ghosts.

He besought Nakaa to declare the island of Tanakuatua forever tabu to all men; to decree that if men should try to live on it they should sicken and die, and shrivel up so that their dust would blow away on the wind and there would be nothing of them left; and that when the ghosts of such men should come to be judged they might not go on to the Happy Land, but suffer, as all tabu-breakers do, shrieking on the stakes in the Pits for all eternity.

His plea ended, Nokiki stood perfectly still, arms by his sides. He looked the risen sun full in the eye for nearly a minute. Then, suddenly and swiftly, he snatched the knife from his belt, and drove it deep in his chest. He swayed, his knees sagged, and he fell forward across the altar…

They wrapped Nokiki in the mat of pandamus leaves, and while the men buried him in the grave he had dug, the woman searched until she found a pointed stone. On it she painted the spider totem of Nokiki’s clan, and when the grave had been filled she drove the point of the stone into the trampled earth to mark the place.

The four of them hurried back to the empty village. They paused there only long enough to collect some taros, coconuts, and dried fish, and to fill some gourds with fresh water, before they went on to the beach and launched a canoe.

From time to time as they crossed the lagoon they glanced fearfully back over their shoulders.

There could be no doubt that Nokiki’s plea, validated by his sacrifice, would be accepted, but no one could tell how long it would take Nakaa to declare his judgement, nor, consequently the exact moment when the tabu would become law.

Once they were beyond the reef their fears became less acute, and subsided still more as Tanakuatua dropped slowly astern. Nevertheless, it was not until the twin hilltops were below their horizon that the four could relax and feel that they were safely beyond the range of Nokiki’s terrible curse…

Six months later, the inspection-team which visited Tanakuatua to carry out tests concluded its finding with the summary:

‘The foregoing report makes it clear that the shift of wind-direction at ten thousand feet - which occurred two hours after Test Zero, and lasted for approximately three hours - carried some part of fallout material in a south-westerly direction. The contaminated particles in the course of precipitation were, for the most part, carried back in an easterly direction by the contrary air current at lower level. Consequently, though some contamination did in fact reach the island, as suspected, the precipitation there was extremely light.

‘As the figures of counts show, radioactivity is very slightly above normal on the eastern side, but negligible in the rest of the island. Nowhere, however, does it approach a degree within the definition of a dangerous concentration.

‘Nevertheless, it is not impossible that an exclusive diet of foodstuffs grown in this even lightly contaminated soil might conceivably produce concentrations cumulatively harmful to growing children. This is highly unlikely, but having regard to the circumstances, and bearing in mind the public reaction which could result from any misadventure even remotely attributable to fallout from this test, it might be unwise at this stage to declare the island officially “clean”.

“We would advise against immediate reoccupation of the island, and suggest a further test after an interval of five years. In our view, counts taken then should almost certainly permit classification as completely “clean”.’

It was not, in fact, five years later, but nearer ten that the Tanakuatuans, in their reservation, were told that a ship would soon be sent to take them home. The news was not well received. Indeed, such was the outcry that the District Officer paid them a special visit of enquiry.

Tatake acquainted him with the news that the four refugees had brought. The District Officer, though learning now for the first time of the tabu, recognized the seriousness of the situation. Nevertheless, he felt he could make a suggestion:

It seems to me,’ he said after consideration, ‘that, men being as they are, Nakaa must receive many appeals for the imposition of a tabu. It would clearly be impossible for him to grant them all, or there might be so many that life would become too difficult to five. How is it possible, therefore, to know whether he granted Nokiki’s request for a tabu on Tanakuatua? What is the evidence that he did not refuse it?’

- Tatake shook his head in reproof.

‘No man asks lightly for tabu,’ he said. ‘Tabu is a very serious matter. If he were to ask such a thing from unworthy motives his ghost would be unable to enter the Happy Land, and would suffer for ever in the Pits. Moreover, Nokiki was no ordinary man. He was a devout and honourable man - a great maker of magic. And he surrendered his own life to Nakaa that this thing might be done. Therefore it is clear to us that this thing was done - and is so.

‘As in the beginning Nakaa expelled men and women from the Happy Land, forbidding them to return; so he has now forbidden Tanakuatua to all men. ’

‘This is how you truly believe the matter to stand, O Chief?’ asked the District Officer.

Tatake nodded.

‘It is.’

‘And it is what all your people believe?’

Tatake hesitated.

‘There are some of the young men who doubt it,’ he admitted. ‘Since we have been in this place the Christians have got at them. Now they do not believe anything,’ he explained.

‘Then they, at least, would be willing to return to Tanakuatua?’

The Chief looked doubtful.

‘They might, but even without a tabu what would a score or so of young men do there? For no women would go. No,’ he went on, ‘what they are saying now is that since the tabu cannot be lifted so that we can all go back, we should do as our ancestors would have done - find ourselves a new island, and conquer it.’

The District Officer shook his head.

‘Times are not what they were, Tatake.’

Tatake nodded sadly.

‘But it would be the better way for us’ he said. “Here my people are slowly rotting.’

The District Officer did not deny it. He asked:

“Isn’t there some way - some kind of propitiation, perhaps -of getting the tabu lifted?’

Tatake shrugged.

‘That is what some of the young men ask. They do not understand. It comes of hearing Christian talk about forgiving. Nakaa does not forgive. When he has judged, he has judged, and it is forever. Tabu is tabu.’

‘I see. Then what do you, Chief Tatake, think should be done?’ ‘I think it is the Government’s fault that this thing has happened to our island. I think, therefore, the Government must give us another island instead - a good island - and help us to move there. We have held councils about this. We have decided that if the Government does not agree to do this for us, we must send a man to the Queen to tell her how her servants have cheated us out of our own island of Tanakuatua, and left us in this place to rot.’ It was an impasse that might have lasted much longer than it did but for the fortuitous visit of a travelling Member of Parliament who was also a gadfly member of the Opposition. During his brief stay in the Midsummers he happened to hear of the Tanakuatuan’s complaint, and was much interested, almost to the point of rubbing his hands.

‘Ah,’ he said, after hearing one or two versions of the situation. ‘Very pretty. What it amounts to is that these unfortunate people, who were forcibly removed from their island in the first place because of a bomb test, are still held in a reservation, which they dislike, and the only alternative the Colonial Office offers them is that they should return to that island although the place is known to have suffered contamination from radioactive fallout. Very naturally they refuse to go back there. And who’s to blame them? I wouldn’t want to be sent back there in the circumstances. And I wouldn’t want them sent there, either. Nor would a few million other people if they knew about it… Good stuff for a Question. Got just about all the angles. Very nice indeed.’

The House, however, never heard the Question. The Colonial Office, by hurried arrangement with the Treasury, bought Tanakuatua from its former inhabitants for a very respectable sum, on paper. With this credit, it then negotiated on their behalf the purchase of the island of Imu. The inhabitants of Imu did not receive a great deal in actual cash, but they did get free transport for themselves and their belongings from their remote island to a generous reservation on a larger and more prosperous island -the very reservation, in fact, which the Tanakuatuans had been occupying for the last ten years.

The solution proved fairly satisfactory all round. It is true that a number of Tatake’s more restive young men continued to point out that had the Government not taken their island from them by guile and force the tabu would never have come into existence, but most of his people were disposed to accept it fatalistically as an act of the gods, and prepared to make the best of things on Imu, which was, at least, an island of their own, and not a mere reservation among strangers.

Nor was the Colonial Office displeased with the solution. An awkward Question had been avoided, and now, as ground landlord of geographically inconvenient Tanakuatua (as well as Oahomu, which it had taken the opportunity to purchase at the same time) it could prevent resettlement there. Thus, since they were now uninhabited, it was able to contrive their official severance from the Midsummers Group to whose administration they had never been anything but a geographically inconvenient nuisance.

Thereafter, for a dozen years Tanakuatua reverted to the state of being an almost unvisited dot on the map, forlorn and near forgotten. The taro patches had long gone back to the wild. The coconut palms and the breadfruit trees gradually deteriorated amid choking thickets. The huts of the village collapsed and rotted away until they were overgrown without trace. Almost the only survivals of civilized times were the descendants of a few escaped goats and pigs, free now to live unthwarted lives.

Things could quite easily have been different, however. The multi-sided requirements of science, particularly military science, which may lead to anything from the building of a townlet amid eternal ice to putting a man on the moon, or from cossetting a new virus to herding flocks of electrons, produced a demand for an island. This, though pleasantly inexpensive when compared with the requirements of certain other projects, was more than a matter of allocating funds, for it was stipulated that the island should, among other qualities, be equable in climate, uninhabited, easily patrolled, and well isolated.

The list of available islands, never long, was soon reduced to two, and only the shape of Oahomu, which made its coast line easier to watch and to reach at any point in an emergency, determined that it should be fenced with barbed wire and forbidding notices, and officially designated as a Tracking Station, while Tanakuatua was allowed to drowse quietly on beneath its thickening thickets.

And so it might have remained for many more years had not Walter Tirrie, searching for a suitable location for Lord Foxfield’s Enlightened State Project, chanced to hear of it and had himself flown there to look it over.

The island appealed to him at once by its manageable size, its location, and its climate.

He was not equipped to force his way along the overgrown tracks and make a close survey, but he took soil samples in the area of the lagoon where his plane put down, and photographs of the crowding vegetation as evidence of fertility. Unfortunately more photographs taken in a rapid inspection from the air failed to come out, but they would not in any case have been good since, he reported, much of the east side of the island was obscured by mist or low cloud at the time. He was, however, able to see that there was no lack of vigorous growth anywhere save on the upper slopes of the twin hills and the saddle joining them. Even the inside walls of the two craters were clothed with bushes. Several streams, in addition to the hot spring, looked capable of giving an adequate supply of water.

The place would certainly need a lot of reclamation, but that was no obstacle. In climate, in its location far from steamer tracks, as well as in size, it seemed to him ideally suited for our purpose.

Walter’s inspection was perforce hurried, and he does seem to have felt some astonishment at finding so habitable an island unoccupied and available. Further inquiries at Uijanji explained that entirely to his satisfaction. In fact, in the recommendation he tendered on his return he included the existence of the tabu, and its deterrent effect on visits by unwanted strangers, as an additional asset.

He duly, when it had been determined which of the Offices of State concerned was the veritable holder of the title to Tanakuatua, made an offer - subject to the production of a certificate stating that all traces of abnormal radioactivity had subsided to an extent warranting the official declaration of ‘clean’ - of £20,000 for the island.

The certificate was produced, and negotiations took place.

In due course, the representatives of the Crown, knowing nothing at that stage of Lord Foxfield’s interest, emerged from them not displeased with their success in conveying to Walter Tirrie, Esq. the title to that unprofitable and troublesome parcel of real estate, the Island of Tanakuatua, in the sum of £30,000.

Chapter III

An account of our journey to Tanakuatua would be tedious, if only because it went so smoothly, in both senses.

Almost the only unexpected event was, as I have mentioned, the defection of Horace Tupple at Panama. How Horace came to be among us at all is still a mystery. I can only imagine that Walter, in a misguided moment, thought he would act as a kind of leaven. He did not. The poor response that met his attempts to enliven the voyage, and