« PreviousContinue »
"Garia !" called one of the whites.
The demon stopped his capers instantly, and came out of the dance, painted, perspiring, panting. He brought his right hand up to the salute, and stood at attention.
"You wanting the boat to-night, sir ?" he inquired with deference. "I left my watch in my house, did not know the time. I go fetch the crew?"
It was Garia, the coxswain of the Governor's boat's crew, whom we had seen in the afternoon uniformed, grave, and responsible, handing the white visitors in and out of the boat with the air of a manof-war officer.
"No, you're not wanted to-night," he was told. "We only wish you to show the ladies those feathers of yours, and your drum. Where did you get it?"
"I made him myself, when I was quite little boy," answered the coxswain, handing over the drum—an hour-glass-shaped instrument of dark wood, hollowed out and carved, and covered at the top with iguana skin, which is thin, semi-translucent, and rather like parchment.
The drum was admired and returned, and the party once more prepared to start.
"You want anything else, sir?" asked the coxswain.
"No, you can go."
With a long howl like a wild beast he leaped back into the dance and into savagery again at once, shaking and beating his drum, flinging his nodding plumes
GEOGRAPHICAL FACTS 53
in the air, and showing his betel-stained teeth in a grin of fierce delight, as the capering squadron closed round him and drew him into the whirl once more.
Enough of the Port Moresby native. He is interesting in his own way, but one tires of him soon. The truth is that, in spite of his superficial quickness, he has less intellect and less character than many other of the Papuan races. And of the country about Port Moresby one soon sees enough. It is beautiful as to colouring—here, as everywhere throughout the Territory, sea, sky, and earth are painted with a palette of gems and fire—but the soil is barren, and there are no plantations. Now, it is the new plantation life that is the real attraction in Papua of today; and to see that we must go up into the mountains.
Anyone who has ever read geography for pleasure or of necessity must have noticed the peculiar deadness of facts as embedded—interred one might rather say—in geographical works. Nothing seems surprising; little is even interesting. ..." This neighbourhood exhibits much volcanic activity at times, resulting in serious destruction of property."— "Metalliferous tracts of value abound."—" The river here precipitates itself into the valley of the . . ., down a perpendicular descent of several hundred feet." . . . Burning mountains that overflow vineyards and villages—gold-mines where one makes a fortune in a day—huge waterfalls dropping in smoke and spume down half a mountain side—these things may be objects of interest outside the covers of an educational work, but inside one merely yawns over them. So, in reading about Papua, one sees without emotion the statement that the main range of the country ascends rapidly from the coast, and reaches a height of thirteen thousand feet. It does not seem a thing to laugh or weep over, anyhow.
Yet here, as always, "things seen are mightier than things heard." That thirteen - thousand - foot range becomes a matter of extreme personal interest when once one has realised what it means. When one has ridden twenty miles from scorching Port Moresby up to the little bungalow at Warirata, nearly three thousand feet higher, and felt the cold of nights that demand warm rugs on the bed, and mornings when one must wear a serge coat till breakfast-time—when one listens to the complaints of the native mailcarriers coming down from the Kokoda track twenty miles further back, of the bitter chill and frost at the eight-thousand-foot gap—when one looks out on the long rises of Mount Victoria, lifting pale violet curve after pale violet curve up to the dim faint blues of a far-off summit near as high as the Jungfrau, and sees climate after climate—torrid, tropic, temperate, cold, from Calcutta to Shetland—spread out before one's very eyes—then one realises that the bald geographical fact one noted with so little emotion is really " something to make a song about," after all.