|(Continued entry of 11 January, 1935; including backdated 9th &
It was as a somewhat hushed group that we left the Sanatarium,
and returned towards the water taxi. Certainly, the Gunboat Wars
feature in the general history books written in Europe, but only as a very
minor affair – considering that each of the combatants saw it as a small
skirmish involving a squadron at most of their own Fleet, except the Spontoonies
who suffered the full effect of all of them !
Helen looked quite serious, as I noticed when she carefully watched
the workers and figures on the dock as if looking for someone. When
we returned to South Island and had some time alone while the Hoele’toemis
talked with the water taxi lady, she confessed to being unsure just how
we had “gotten off the hook so darn easy”, to use her quaint turn of phrase.
She pointed out that we were lucky indeed to have already been in the affections
of a prominent Native family – and not to have tried to brazen it out against
whatever Organisation strongly disapproved of our surveying work. I recalled
the elder mentioning that if we had refused to cooperate, we would be cut
off – and at the time, I thought he merely meant cut off from friendly
contact with the locals. Helen’s interpretation of “cut off” is more
on the lines of “cut off tragically in the bloom of youth”, as the newspaper
obituaries phrase it.
Despite all this, our spirits rose as the sun came out, and we
were invited to join a fishing expedition. We agreed immediately, having
seen few fishing fleets close-to in Term time – Jirry explained that Eastern
Island is too near Casino Island, the waters around which become less than
healthy in Tourist Season. One of the advertised features of the “Waterworks
Project” will be to fix that problem in the years to come: it seems that
some combinations of wind and tide have already left tourist beaches looking
(and smelling) rather more like the Thames shore downstream of London,
than unspoiled Tahiti.
The boats we were shown around were sailing outrigger canoes,
not particularly decorated except for a carved figurehead at the bow. Helen
looked a little nervous still, though whether at the prospect of her stomach
letting her down again on the choppy waters, or of being “taken for a ride”
as Molly would put it, I scarcely liked to inquire. Still, folk would hardly
have spent the time and trouble to tell us their semi-secret History if
they had not intended us to make some use of it – that would be as unbelievable
as a villain in a film telling a Secret Agent his plans for world conquest
before he “bumps him off” .
With a stiff Easterly breeze we almost flew out of North Bay,
heading out around the West coast to the channel between there and Main
Island, where the tidal currents must have been adding a good ten
knots to our speed. (I know the strait is half a mile wide, and even without
a stopwatch and notebook, all the stiff Navigation lessons we took last
term seem to have sunk in.) A splendid afternoon indeed, with the excitement
of landing sea bass and tunny by hand. Tourist fishing boats have specially
reinforced seats like barber-shop chairs with the rods secured to them,
but Jirry showed me how to wrap myself around the mast and brace the fishing
rod against the cleats for much the same effect. The other fishermen
were all lizard-types, which the books assure me are the islands’
earliest inhabitants, their portraits being carved on the impressively
Cyclopaean masonry that graces the park on Casino Island. There is
a nice statue of a great green water-lizard in the square of Meeting Island,
that looks as if it has been here since the year dot, if not longer.
The tide took us round the Southern tip of the island, to within
sight of the reefs that ring the main Spontoon group. Being low tide, some
of the reefs were exposed, and I spotted definite movement out there –
indeed, I could have sworn someone waved to us before slipping into the
waves with a very oddly flowing motion. Strange indeed – there was certainly
no boat to be seen, and with the currents fairly roaring along as the tide
turned, it was hardly possible for anyone but a fish to have swum out there.
I wonder exactly what Jirry’s Aunt Millini meant by her hints about the
Spontoonies being helped by Natives who were from “no island at all”?
To add to the mystery, the steersman sent us towards the reef
a fair way before pulling us up into its shelter – when Jonni in the next
boat stood up in the bows and with great ceremony threw a large and perfectly
good sea bass back into the water by the reef. It floated for a few seconds
and then sank – though it looked somehow more as if it had been dragged
underwater, rather than sinking in the regular way. I might have thought
there were sharks about, but there was no sign of the fins breaking the
As the sun began to set, we stowed our catches and headed back,
not to North Bay indeed but towards Ranganoa Beach on the Southerly side
of the island. Being used to returning rented boats to the park-keeper
(my main boating experiences having been on the Upper Thames before coming
out here) it seemed a little strange, until I realised that with
a boat and a good wind, the Natives can literally go where their fancy
and the currents take them. Even our fishing vessel was liberally supplied
with at least a dozen gallon cans of water, should an unexpected squall
blow us out into the open Ocean.
Landing through the surf proved Interesting – with the ocean
breakers coming in through a break in the reef, the beach was a mass of
white roaring surf, decidely not for casual bathing in. Yet the six Native
fishermen plus Jirry and Jonni paddled hard for the shore – and somehow
caught the wave quite perfectly to have it drive up the beach rather than
founder in foam. One suspects they have been practicing this.
Helen seemed very grateful to be on “terra firma” again – hopefully
she is exaggerating the dangers of our poking around the Spontoonies’ secret
projects. After all, there are Embassies of at least a dozen countries
that I have noticed on Casino Island – and some of them surely have professional
Agents on call to do such explorations. I confided as much to her,
pointing out that anything we could discover is surely common knowledge
to anyone who really cares to look – after all, the Waterworks Project
is mentioned most weeks in the local newspaper, the “Daily ‘Elele” in some
aspect or another.
Helen’s response was a somewhat gloomy one, pointing out that
if the Spontoonies knew their cover was truly “blown” (as they say in the
talkies), they would hardly be carrying on with such a hugely costly project,
depending as it does on secrecy to have any chance against a modern invader.
She tells me she has noticed in the local papers a tendency for off-season
visitors and the like to have “tragic swimming accidents”, something that
very rarely seems to affect the Natives, despite their being exposed to
the same risks of sharks, currents etc far more often. Possibly we might
be seeing the fate of those same Agents – a “chilling” prospect in more
ways than one.
Still, for the time being we seem to have got away with it, and
our luck is holding up despite occasional creaking as of walking on thin
ice (NOT a substance to trust in this climate, true enough.) Even Helen
cheered up when we reached Haio village, carrying our nets of fish, to
be greeted very warmly by the Haio’Toemi family and their neighbours.
Moeli was there with her sister, and seemed quite impressed – of course,
being of the feline persuasion one expects us to enjoy fish, though not
necessarily the soaking to the skin involved in catching it. Our freshly
oiled fur, as it happens, now feels comfortable ten minutes after being
saturated, and perfectly dry in half an hour. Quite an innovation – though
I fear it would not go well in “polite Society” back Home.
While the fish was being cooked, Moeli came and chatted, quite
keen on showing us round the village, almost like an Estate Agent eager
to make a binding sale. I blushed indeed when she recounted to Saimmi my
skill with weaving, fishing and the like – all the domestic Virtues that
seem in great demand around here. Spotting her brother, she called him
over and then left us alone, just at the edge of the fire light – having
first whispered to remind me of the improvements I had asked her about
As the meal would certainly take some time to cook, Jirri and
I went for a stroll under the bright Winter moonlight – and I mentioned
that I admired Moeli’s figure, and would like one just like it. Which was
a perfectly innocent question, as Moeli had provided us with a greatly
improved fur condition for the climate – I thought she must be referring
to Jirry being able to supply some exotic local ingredients from the bottom
of the reef, or somewhere Moeli felt uncomfortable in going. Jirry’s response
was very odd – he kissed me quite uncharacteristically boldly, looked into
my eyes with a kind of worried sincerity, and asked me if I truly wanted
that. Rather puzzled, I agreed – at which he embraced me closely, and confided
that his Family would certainly approve, though I should make sure my own
people would not object.
Most puzzling! One wonders if there is some sort of taboo on
cosmetic improvements around here. We returned to the firelight just as
the scent announced to that side of the island that the fish was ready.
A lively evening followed, with the neighbours bringing out their
flutes, drums and guitars. Despite all the marvelous Starkness of Futurist
music, there is something very stirring about this Island music. It would
be hard to automate, unless one produced a Flute and Treble machine.
One of the Neighbours asked me if I missed the songs of my Homeland
– which indeed I suppose I would, after a few years with no radio or gramophones
to carry it to this side of the globe. Alas, in the Spontari Guest House
this holiday, most of the music from England emanates from Soppy Forsythe’s
supercharged gramophone – and is inflicted on us by the fiendish comic
Lancastrian Ukelele player, George Formless. (Some of the Senior
girls have been irritating Soppy by insisting that George Formless is actually
a fictional character invented by the War Department to deter invasion.
The Chinese Water-Torture is a delight compared with the Lancastrian Ukelele
especially from a singer who can play, sing and grin alarmingly at the
After an excellent meal and a glass of palm wine, Helen and I
retired to the women’s hut, where five of the neighbours and their relations
seem to be spending the weekend. One of them, Namoeta, is visiting
from the distant Orpington Island, some two day’s sail away with a fair
wind. I recall it from the charts, as just out of range of our Tiger Moths
with full fuel tanks, a three hour flight. Definitely, air travel is making
the world a smaller place.
The next morning (January 10th), we were awakened as usual
by the combined crowing-power of what sounded like ten reinforced squadrons
of chickens. I was sleepily remarking to Helen on the adjoining mat that
it was a shame that such an alarm clock could not be turned off when to
my amazement – the crowing stopped abruptly. Namoeta walked in, looking
pleased – Helen asked her jokingly if she spoke Chicken language – and
was amazed when Namoeta claimed that she was learning to do so from her
Great-Aunt, who was famous for her abilities. Truth is certainly
stranger than fiction around here – I must ask Ethyl if any of her lurid
issues of the “Weird Tails” pulp magazine feature heroes or villains with
amazing poultry control powers ?
After breakfast, Saimmi took me for a stroll around the village,
pointing out the various native shrines. Many of the longhouses have shrines,
not under their roofs at all but some little distance into the jungle,
along beach-sand paths decorated with shells. Certainly, this seemed
a charming view into the local culture – and very like my native Barsetshire,
where even in hearing range of the church bells, one can often come across
an ancient rural shrine in the deep woodland, with evidence of authentic
folk rituals sometimes still smouldering.
Saimmi appears to speak perfectly good English when she chooses
to, though with a rather odd accent. We arrived at a cluster of longhouses
that must have been near the crashed Poll Giant Triplane, at which Saimmi
was obviously well known and very welcome. She talked for a few minutes
in her own language with some of the folk there, and then gestured towards
a family hut, with six quite adorable kittens at play. One thing that struck
me was their fur markings, some of which were quite different from the
other villagers there. I commented as much, and Saimmi seemed pleased that
I had spotted it so soon.
It seems, from what she told me, that although Casino Island
has examples of most Institutions found in Europe, one thing that it has
no need of is an orphanage. The tradition seemed to have begun with
the Gunboat Wars, with many orphans and bereaved parents following the
civilian massacres – and the Natives living more “Traditional” lives deeper
in the jungles decided to turn none away, but rather to adopt and raise
them as their own. Some of the traditions have evidently been expanded
over the years – one adorable half-Persian girl I was told had been born
on the island, her Mother having been a tourist who had visited and greatly
enjoyed an earlier vacation. Saimmi pointed out some others with similar
histories, remarking that only the local priesthood keep track of such
things for geneological reasons – to the villagers, they are simply Family.
Saimmi commented that in all circumstances, the children
of islanders are looked after, and that every year some more arrive in
unusual circumstances. Quite a forward-thinking attitude, indeed, and one
that some of the more “civilised” nations would do well to adopt.
I told her as much, and she added that several of her own family over the
years had been “holiday presents”, whatever that may mean.
On our return to the Hoele’toemi huts, I joined Helen for a wash,
and recounted my conversations with Jirri and his sisters, remarking how
very strange they seemed all of a sudden. As if to match, Helen’s complexion
went a very strange colour, and she stared at me quite aghast as if I had
grown an extra tail. I quite failed to dodge her first playful swats
with the wet towel, but managed to keep in front as she chased me round
the hut, seeming half in shock and half bent double with laughter. Eventually
she cornered me, gasping for breath and pinning me securely against a roof
pillar as she asked if I really had no idea of Moeli’s Condition, which
was responsible for her figure changing. I must have looked rather
blank, and so she spelled out in extremely short and simple words exactly
what she meant – and what Jirry and the rest of his family had been assuming
I had wanted to do.
(Dear Diary – I think my ears must be still blushing even now,
a day later – it would have been bad enough if it was just Helen who had
spotted my misunderstanding, but what on earth am I going to tell the Hoele’toemis
Just as Helen released me and we went outside, there was a roar
of engines and a big Caproni floatplane circled overhead. From the neat
hatchet and firewood-bundle “fasces” insignia on its wings, it was a military
transport – and for an instant I am sure we both wondered if the Spontoonies
would have to put their defences to the test today. But then Helen laughed
and gestured, pointing out that Maria would have to be arriving soon –
and though term is two days from starting, having a day to spare is certainly
good planning when travelling all the way from Italy. Though we are very
keen to see her again and the rest of the class, it was a stern reminder
that we have very little time left – despite the Songmark uniform being
neat and comfortable, we have got quite accustomed to getting by on far
Around Noon, Jirri returned from a fishing trip, with his brother
Marti (much to Helen’s delight.) They mentioned a trip to Main Island,
as they have to deliver some small freight to one of the Polynesian villages
there – after which the rest of the day is all their own. Looking across
the treetops to Main Island, one obvious attraction stood out – Mount Kiribatori,
the highest peak on the Spontoon group, easily six thousand feet high.
When I suggested it as a worthy final expedition of the holidays, Marti
mentioned that he had climbed it before – but if we were to attempt it
today, we had best start right away.
Quite a scurrying took place for supplies and equipment – even
the Hoele’toemis wear sandals on rough territory, and we filled our bark
satchels with enough food for a night out. Then down to the beach, load
up the canoes and off in a steady Easterly wind and around the reef. Though
we looked (and I had brought along my binoculars in preparation) there
were no strange figures visible on the reef – beyond which the waters drop
sheer away into the deep ocean, according to the sailing charts. As Jirry
has not mentioned the “natives of no island” that I think we saw yesterday,
I will not be asking him too many questions, but keep my eyes and ears
The weather turned brilliantly clear as we swung out into the
straits, feeling the tugging of the currents. Marti commented that although
the distance is little over a mile, very few people have ever swam it,
and that depended on picking the exact time and tide. We fairly shot across
to the far side, landing at Munorabte Village, one we have often
looked at from South Island – where the brothers’ business was quickly
completed, and we set off into the jungle along a very steep and narrow
It was fortunate indeed that Marti had taken this way before,
guiding some of the more adventurous visitors to the summit – maps would
have been useless, as we could rarely see more than ten yards along the
trail. But from the slope of the ground, I guessed the route went almost
straight West across the backbone of the island, before starting to zig-zag
steeply up from the Western side. The distance was only a few miles,
but even lightly laden as we were, five hours very strenuous climbing only
saw us to where the jungle thinned out enough to permit a view through
breaks in the trees.
The sun was getting quite low by the time we left the jungle
behind, emerging into an unexpected territory of short but very green scrub
and grass, almost like a Swiss alpine meadow. The summit still towered
above us, but even after such a climb, we made good time and arrived on
the summit of Mount Kiribatori just as the sun touched the ocean rim behind
us. Quite a view indeed! The mountain shadow stretched far out, partly
touching Casino Island – and the windows of the hotels shone brightly reflecting
its last rays. I could see the runway lights of Eastern Island just coming
on as we watched, an aircraft approaching from the East with its navigation
lights flashing cheerily. It was quite a contrast – standing there in our
home-made Costume, with the brothers beside us, looking out over distant
classrooms and hangars where some of our classmates should already be waiting.
I could certainly imagine Miss Devinski instructing the senior years to
start enforcing the curfew on those of us who had arrived early – certainly,
despite term not having started, none of them will be heading out to celebrate
on Casino Island without hard-earned Passes.
Marti, meanwhile, had explored the Eastern side of the summit.
Although it ended at a sheer precipice, easily twelve hundred feet of naked
rock, there was a ledge a good twenty yards wide, carpeted with soft grass
and sheltered from the wind by lorry-sized boulders. He suggested
it as a camping spot – Helen and I looked at each other and very eagerly
agreed, being very keen on at least one completely free evening before
having to return to the rules and restrictions of the Academy.
Jirry had been carrying two close-woven pandanus palm mats tightly
rolled, as had his brother – it turns out that they make a basic but quite
effective tent, one mat acting as a groundsheet and the other arching over
as a roof. Hardly waterproof, but the stars were coming out brilliantly,
and the mats proved perfectly windproof. We all sat outside the “tents”
for an hour and more, talking quietly, as the night fell across the island
chain below us. At last Helen and Marti retired to their shelter, and I
was left with Jirry as the stars came out over the islands.
Though I had been somewhat dreading how to open the subject,
I certainly had to explain the misunderstanding of last night – I had no
idea that Moeli was expecting a kitten in late Summer, and my own plans
had not really included one of my own, at least not while I am still at
Songmark! Let alone what my Family might say, I could hardly think of facing
Miss Devinski and confessing to being the one who ignored advice and broke
the Academy’s (currently spotless, at least in public) reputation. Jirry
was very understanding, though for an instant looked a little troubled.
I discovered why, when I suggested we retire out of the wind – having accepted
what he thought was my invitation to add to the Hoele’toemi clan, naturally
he had brought nothing to Prevent him doing so! Judging by the sounds from
the next shelter, it seemed a poor time to ask Marti if he had any to spare
(and knowing Helen, it seemed an unlikely bet).
Still – it was a very pleasant Experience, just to share the
shelter, looking out over the starlit islands, with such excellent company.
I assume that his Family had given approval for this evening out, as at
his home village the domestic arrangements are officially quite “respectably”
segregated, as we might say at home. Again, I was hardly looking forward
to making my excuses to them the next day, after they had been so supportive
of me. I fell asleep, dreaming in his most welcome embrace.
And then – Dear Diary, I hardly know how to confess this. I awoke
to a quite perfect dawn, our mountaintop the only piece of land in the
light for a few minutes while the sun rose above the far horizons. Jirry
was fast asleep still, and appeared to be having a most pleasant dream
- I had been breathing his very clean and healthy scent all night, which
is perhaps a factor but hardly an excuse. For I confess to having
being very – Unladylike indeed, and utterly throwing caution to the winds.
Not what I had planned at all ! Neither had Jirry, but at the time I confess
to being in a wholly unreasonable mood and in no mood to argue. Poor Jirry
ended up somewhat tattered, with some tufts of fur missing (by MY claws
– how Could I ?) and I felt indeed most gloriously sleek and relaxed afterwards.
Breakfast was a rather subdued affair, with Helen and Marti in a
most spirited mood by contrast – Helen somewhat bitten on the ear and the
scruff of her neck, and Marti looking as if he had been wrestling with
a briar bush, but neither of them seem to mind in the slightest.
How on earth I am going to explain all this, I have no idea at all – and
I could have done without Helen’s comment that even at Songmark, only a
few of us would be truly fit and healthy enough to make this climb with
so much energy to spare. We packed and were on the trail in a few
minutes, heading into the shadows behind the summit. The only direct way
down the East face of Mount Kiribatori would involve a good run-up and
perfect judgement with steering the parachute away from the cliff face
– though the idea of parachutes reminded me too much of other safety equipment
we were not carrying for this trip…
I let Marti and Helen lead the way on the trail, dropping back
to have a quiet conversation with Jirry, who seems as shaken as I am (and
rather more scratched.) I have decided to look on the bright side – should
anything Happen, his family at least will be very pleased with me. And
if not, I will be spared an embarassing interview with Miss Devinski and
an even more embarassing letter home. Until then – I refuse to worry
till I know there is anything to worry about!
We arrived back at Munorabte Village around noon, with the weather
changing to look quite threatening – the mountain behind us was already
quite hidden in rolling clouds. Embarking on the boats, we saw the
rest of the fishermen heading home in a hurry, with dark squalls hanging
ominously above Eastern Island. Getting back proved a challenge, as we
had to tack back and forth half way to Casino Island in the gusting wind
before rounding the curving tip of land into North Bay. Not where
we had intended landing, but one look at the breakers crashing over the
reefs had been enough to persuade us to take whatever harbour we could
reach. The four of us managed to pull the outrigger canoe right up
the beach and secure her to a mooring ring, before the curtain of rain
arrived, soaking us to the fur in scarcely half a minute. A damp end to
an eventful trip, indeed! Just how eventful, I will avoid mentioning to
Helen, who is looking so pleased with herself it would be a shame to worry
her and spoil her mood.
With a glance up at the hillside to the East towards the Spontari
Guest House, we took the coral road back through the dripping woods to
Haio Village, arriving just in time to dry out before a late luncheon.
It was rather a strain to tear ourselves away from the Hoele’toemis, and
set our minds towards classes and lectures, after this holiday. But all
good things come to an end, and after a lingering farewell with Jirry,
I set out on the long and damp road back towards the hotel “strip” and
the Guest House. In the circumstances, I said nothing to Jirry’s family,
and accepted a most affectionate hug from Moeli in the spirit in which
it was intended.
(Later). At last, I am up to date, Dear Diary. It is evening,
and Mrs. Tanoaho is calling for “lights-out” in half an hour. The first
thing we did on arrival was to take a long, hot bath with powerful soap
– it has probably quite spoiled our waterproofing, but afterwards we looked
and smelt rather more like young ladies of the Academy than we have done
for weeks. Our Songmark shirts and slacks are pressed and ironed all ready
for tomorrow – we will have to try and get back into a “civilised” frame
of mind somehow. The cringe-making tones of George Formless and his dreaded
Ukelele are filtering through the door from “Soppy” Forsythe’s room across
the corridor – so as Helen says, reminding ourselves how fine Civilisation
is might be quite a struggle. She will be wearing her hat tomorrow to hide
her bitten ear (which she swears she hardly felt at the time) from casual
view, and even now she is grooming it in the mirror with evident pride.
I finally understand how the students at Heldelberg and other argumentative
places can take pride in duelling scars, which I always thought an extremely
And so to bed – with four walls and a roof around us, and a curfew
keeping us in. One thing I know we will be learning next term – advanced
methods of getting out of Songmark Academy, whatever the tutors and the
Senior years may put in our way. Possibly Molly and Maria are there already
– with their stories and souvenirs from their holiday. We two will have
our excellent fur condition to show, after all the fresh air and salt water
in the past weeks. Helen will no doubt show off her bitten ear, gained
in “fair and honourable combat” as Father’s wound medals describe it. As
for myself – whether or not I end up with a souvenir of my own, the next
weeks will be definitely Interesting until I find out!