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A short story by Louis Becke

"Flash Harry" Of Savait

Title:     "Flash Harry" Of Savait
Author: Louis Becke [More Titles by Becke]

Nearly thirty years ago, when the late King Malietoa of Samoa was quietly arming his own adherents and conciliating his rebel chiefs in order to combine against the persistent encroachments of the Germans, I was running a small trading cutter between Upolu and Savaii, the two principal islands of the group.

One day I arrived in Apia Harbour with a cargo of yams which I was selling to an American man-of-war, the _Resacca_. I went alongside at once, had the yams weighed and received my money from the paymaster, and then went ashore for a bathe in the Vaisigago River, a lovely little stream which, taking its rise in the mountains, debouches into Apia Harbour. Here I was joined by an old friend, Captain Hamilton, the local pilot, who, stripping off his clothes, plunged into the water beside me.

As we were laughing and chatting and thoroughly enjoying ourselves, a party of natives--young men and boys--emerged from the trees on the opposite bank, and casting off their scanty garments, boisterously entered the water and began disporting themselves, and then to my surprise I saw that their leader was a white man, tattoed in every respect, like a Samoan. He appeared to be about thirty years of age, was clean-shaven, and had bright red hair.

"Who is that fellow?" I inquired.

"One of the biggest scoundrels in the Pacific," replied my companion, "'Flash Harry' from Savaii. He deserted from either the _Brisk_ (or the _Zealous_) British man-of-war, about seven years ago, and although the commanders of several other British warships have tried to get him, they have failed. He is the pet _protege_ of one of the most powerful chiefs in Savaii, and laughs at all attempts to catch him. To my knowledge he has committed four atrocious murders, and, in addition to that, he is a drunken, foul-mouthed blackguard. He only comes to Apia occasionally--when there is no British man-of-war about--and paints the town red, for although he is merely a loafing beachcomber, he is liberally supplied with money by his chief, and possesses an extensive harem as well. He simply terrorises the town when he breaks out, and insults every timid European, male and female, whom he meets."

"Why doesn't some one put a bullet through him?"

"Ah, now you're asking! Why? Porter" (a respectable Samoan trader) "told him that he would riddle him if he came inside his fence, and the scoundrel knows _me_ well enough not to come into my place with anything but a civil word on his foul tongue; but then you see, Porter and I are Americans. If either or both of us shot the man no commander of an American man-of-war would do more than publicly reprimand us for taking the law into our own hands; but if you or any other Englishman killed the vermin, you would be taken to Fiji by the first man-of-war that called here, put on your trial for murder, and, if you escaped hanging, get a pretty turn of penal servitude in Fiji gaol."

We finished our bathe, dressed, and set out for Hamilton's house on Matautu Point, for he had asked me to have supper with him. On our way thither we met the master of a German barque, then in port, and were chatting with him in the middle of the road, when Mr. "Flash Harry" and his retinue of _manaia_ (young bucks) overtook us.

The path being rather narrow we drew aside a few paces to let them pass, but at a sign from their leader they stopped. He nodded to Hamilton and the German captain (neither of whom took any notice of him) then fixed his eyes insolently on me and held out his hand.

"How do yer do, Mister. You're a nice sort of a cove not to come and see me when you pass my place in your cutter"--then with sudden fury as I put my hands in my pockets--"you, you young cock-a-hoopy swine, do you mean to say you don't mean to shake hands with a white man?"

"Not with you, anyway," I answered.

"Then the next time I see you I'll pull your ------ arm out of the socket," he said, with an oath, and turning on his heel he went off with his following of bucks. All of them were armed with rifles and the long beheading knives called _Nifa oti_ (death-knife), and as we three had nothing but our fists we should have had a bad time had they attacked us, for we were in an unfrequented part of the beach and would have been half murdered before assistance came. But in Samoa in those days street brawls were common.

"The next time you _do_ meet him," said Hamilton as we resumed our walk, "don't give him a chance. Drill a hole through him as soon as he gets within ten paces, and then clear out of Samoa as quick as you can."

* * * * *

Quite a month after this I had to visit the little port of Asaua on the Island of Savaii; and as I was aware that "Flash Harry" was in the vicinity of the place on a _malaga_, or pleasure trip, I kept a sharp lookout for him, and always carried with me in my jumper pocket a small but heavy Derringer, the bullet of which was as big as that of a Snider rifle. I did not want to have my arm pulled out of the socket, and knew that "Flash Harry," being twice my weight almost, would give me a sad time if he could once get within hitting distance of me, for like most men-of-war's men he was very smart with his hands, and I was but a stripling--not yet twenty.

I had come to Asaua with a load of timber to be used in the construction of a church for the French Mission, and in the evening went to the resident priest to obtain a receipt for delivery. As he could not speak English and I could not speak French we had to struggle along in Samoan--to our mutual amusement. However, we got along very well, and I was about to accept his hospitable offer to remain and have sapper with him when a young chief whom I knew, named Ulofanua ("Top of a High Tree") came in hurriedly and told us that "Flash Harry" and ten or fifteen young men, all more or less drunk, were coming to the village that night with the avowed intention of boarding the cutter under the pretence of trading, seizing all the liquor and giving me a father of a beating--the latter to avenge the insult of a month before.

Laughingly telling the priest that under the circumstances discretion was the better part of valour, I bade him goodbye, walked down to my boat, which was lying on the beach, and with two native sailors pulling, we started for the cutter, a mile away. The night was beautifully calm, but dark, and as I was not well acquainted with the inner part of Asaua Harbour and could not see my way, I several times ran the boat on to submerged coral boulders; and, finally, lost the narrow channel altogether.

Then I told one of my men, a sturdy, splendid specimen of a native of the Gilbert Islands named Te Manu Uraura ("Bed Bird") to come aft and take the steer oar, knowing that his eyesight, like that of all Polynesians, was better than that of any white man.

"Come here, Te Manu, and steer, I'll take your oar. Your eyes are better than mine."

The poor fellow laughed good-naturedly, and I little thought that this simple request of mine would be the cause of his being a cripple for life. He came aft, took the steer oar from me, and I, seating myself on the after thwart, began to pull. We were at this time about thirty yards from the beach, and between it and the inner reef of the harbour. We sent the boat along for two or three hundred yards without a hitch, and I was thinking of what my cook would have for my supper, when we suddenly plumped into a patch of dead coral and stuck hard and fast.

Knowing that the tide was falling, we all jumped out, and pushed the boat off into deeper water as quickly as possible, just as half a dozen bright torches of coco-nut leaves flared up on the shore and revealed the boat dimly to those who were holding them.

At first I imagined that the chief of the village had sent some of his people to help us through the channel, but I was quickly undeceived when I heard "Flash Harry's" voice.

"I've got you now, my saucy young quarter-deck-style-of-pup. Slew round and come ashore, or I'll blow your head off."

One glance ashore showed me that we were in a desperate position. "Flash Harry," who was all but stark-naked--he had only a girdle of _ti_ tree leaves round his waist--was covering the boat with his Winchester rifle, and his followers, armed with other guns, were ready to fire a volley into us, although most of them were pretty well drunk.

"They can't hit us, Te Manu," I cried to the Gilbert Islander, whose inborn fighting proclivities were showing in his gleaming eyes and short, panting breaths, "most of them have no cartridges in their guns, and they are all too drunk to shoot straight. Let us go on!"

Te Manu gripped the haft of the steer oar and swung the boat's head round, and then I and the other native at the bow oar--a mere boy of sixteen--pulled for all we were worth just as "Flash Harry" dropped on one knee and fired.

Poor Te Manu swayed to and fro for a few moments and then cried out, "He has broken my hand, sir! But go on, pull, pull hard!"

Under a spattering fire from the beachcomber's drunken companions we pulled out into deeper water and safety, and then, shipping my oar, I sprang to Te Manu's aid. The bullet had struck him in the back of the right hand and literally cut off three of the poor fellow's knuckles. I did what I could to stop the loss of blood, and told him to sit down, but he refused, and although suffering intense pain, insisted on steering with his left hand. As soon as we reached the cutter I at once hove up anchor and stood along the coast before a strong breeze to Matautu Harbour, where I was able to have the man's hand properly attended to. He never recovered the use of it again except in a slight degree.

I never saw "Flash Harry" again, for a few months later I left Samoa for the Caroline Group, and when I returned a year afterwards I was told that he had at last found the country too hot for him and had left the island in a German "blackbirder" bound to the Solomon Islands.


Quite six years had passed, and then I learnt, in a somewhat curious manner, what became of him. One day in Sydney, New South Wales, three captains and myself met for lunch at the Paragon Hotel, on Circular Quay. We were all engaged in the South Sea trade, and one of the company, who was a stranger to me, had just returned from the Solomon Islands, with which group and its murderous, cannibal people he was very familiar. (He was himself destined to be killed there with his ship's company in 1884.) He was a young man who had had some very narrow escapes and some very thrilling experiences, some of which he narrated.

We were talking of the massacre of Captain Ferguson and the crew of the Sydney trading steamer _Ripple_, by the natives of Bougainville Island in the Solomon Group, when our friend remarked--

"Ah, poor Ferguson ought to have been more careful. Why, the very chief of that village at Numa Numa--the man who cut him down with a tomahawk--had killed two other white men. Ferguson knew that, and yet would allow him to come aboard time after time with hundreds of his people, and gave him and them the run of his ship. I knew the fellow well. He told me to my face, the first time I met him, that he had killed and eaten two white men."

"Who were they?" I asked.

"One was a man trading for Captain MacLeod of New Caledonia; the other chap was some beachcombing fellow who had been kicked ashore at Numa Numa by his skipper. I heard he came from Samoa originally. Anyway the chief told me that as soon as the ship that had put the man ashore had sailed, he was speared through the back as he was drinking a coco-nut.

"When they stripped off his clothes to make him ready for the oven, they found he was tattoed, Samoan fashion, from the waist to the knees. Then, as he had red hair, they cut off his head and smoke-dried it, instead of eating it with the rest of the body; they kept it as an ornament for the stem of a big canoe. A white man's head is a great thing at any time for a canoe's figurehead in the Solomons, but a white man's head with red hair is a great _mana_" (mascotte).

Then I told him that I had known the man, and gave him his antecedents.

"Ah," he said, "I daresay if you had been there you would have felt as if you could have eaten a bit of the beggar yourself."

"I certainly do feel pleased that he's settled," I replied, as I thought of poor Red Bird's hand.

[The end]
Louis Becke's short story: "Flash Harry" Of Savait