The Wayback Machine -

An Island to Oneself

Suvarov, Cook Islands

Alone At Last

Now I was alone on my island I began to take stock. since Anchorage is roughly tongue-shaped, and measures only three hundred yards at its widest point, I could take most of it in at a glance as I stood on the beach watching the Mahurangi disappear.

From the broken-down pier, where I had waved good-bye, I could see stretching back from the beach a profusion of coconuts, pandanus trees, vines and a mass of tauhunu - a shrub which has a habit of shooting up to twenty feet or more into an impenetrable bush. Dwarfing them all were five huge tamanu trees whose ponderous limbs jutted out from massive trunks twenty feet or more above my head. The trunks were forked and twisted like any ancient English oak, and it must have been one of these trees to which Frisbie had lashed his children during the hurricane. They certainly looked tough enough to withstand any storm.

Driven by a sudden impulse I decided that before doing anything else, I would walk right round the island, either along the beach or in the shallow waters of the fringe reef. It was not meant to be a pleasure stroll. I wanted to see something of the island, find out where the best coconuts were growing, discover the whereabouts of the best topsoil for my garden, examine the shallows with an eye to the best pools for fishing.

It was a beautiful morning, so leaving the old pier behind me, I set off up the coast - the lagoon side - for the northern tip of my new home, walking at first along a beach so white and blinding that it almost hurt my eyes. I hadn't gone far before I came upon a clump of coconuts shading the beach like a canopy, their slender trunks bent by the prevailing wind so that they leaned over at an angle of about forty-five degrees. It was not their beauty, however, which struck me, but the more prosaic fact that the height of the trees did not look too intimidating for climbing. I could see there were plenty of nuts, many of them low enough to be got at with the short pole which, in my mind, was already equipped with an iron hook.

Behind them, the ground rose to fifteen feet, the highest point of the island, and here the trees were taller. Moreover, a mass of tauhunu, which thrives on sandy atoll soil (and shares the coconut's gift for withstanding the salt driven in from the sea), looked so thick that I knew it would be difficult getting near many of the nuts. There was a lot of pandanus about, too; a thin-leafed ;palm looking quite different from a coconut tree, and which Frisbie once described as "gawky-limbed."

This was the only hill n my island, and it was not very large, and as I walked slowly towards the northern tip, the ground slopes down until it was barely three feet above sea level. At times I was able to walk along a stretch of beach but at others the coral gave way to rock and I would paddle through the shallows as I skirted some miniature "headland." It was a very clear day and along the reef stretching north of Anchorage I could see several of the lagoon's islets - Whale, Brushwood and One Tree Island, with its single palm like a toy tree stuck on a piece of cardboard placed on a sheet of glass.

It had taken only a few minutes to walk from the pier, half-way up the west coast, to the northern tip of the island, for the distance was hardly more than four hundred yards. Now I turned back and made my way along the white sandy beach of the east coast which stretched ahead in a series of gentle curves for half a mile to the sound end of the island. I could see no evidence of bees or insects, no reptiles; nothing more dangerous than the coconut crabs, and an occasional rat.

Some fifteen-foot miki-miki trees were growing almost out of the bare rock at the water's edge, and I made a mental note about them; I would find their hard branches invaluable, for they make the best sticks in the world for husking coconuts. A few yards father on I spied some young paw-paws fifty yards inland and decided to give them a closer look. I had almost reached them when a violent flurry in the undergrowth scared the wits out of me. Almost before I realised what had happened, I had a glimpse of a wild pit lumbering away with astonished speed. By my me momentary fear quickly be way to anger when I realised I had disturbed the brute in the very act of tearing out the green young shoots of some paw-par - one of the fruits on which I would have to depend. Those pigs presented a real problem.

The rest of the paw-paws appeared to be flourishing, but nearby some old banana tress seemed to be in a sorry condition, and I could see that if I wanted any bananas I might well have to rely on the two suckers I had brought with me - and devise a means of protective fencing to keep the pigs out.

Skirting the overgrown bush, I followed the curving beach until I reached a point half-way down the east coast. Here I re-discovered a little cover, marked on the charts as Pylades Bay, where I had swum on my first visit.

This natural bathing pool was deep, and the water was blue, clear and enticing. Pylades Bay would certainly be my private swimming pool. Behind it, the ground was covered with hibiscus trees and densely matted tauhunu, and from the beach I could see several uprooted coconut trees, the long, slender, dead-straight trunks lying just where they had crashed. I remembered Frisbie telling me, "The most awesome thing in the hurricane was watching, actually watching, the wind take an old coconut tree eighty feet tall and tear it out of the ground."

These must have been the ones he had referred to when describing the hurricane of '42. I scrambled towards them, making my way past the impenetrable tauhunu along the patches of gravel here and there - some carpeted with fallen hibiscus blossoms, others bare, but covered with bird droppings, which delighted me, for I knew what that meant. This must be a nesting place for terns, which prefer to lay their eggs on bare rock in November and December. I could see the prospect of scrambled tern eggs for tea when they started to lay in three or four month's time.

The fallen coconuts were big fellows, and the way they had been strewn haphazardly made me think incongruously of a giant spilling a box of matches. They were overgrown with vines, and I some cases the roots had been torn out of the ground in their entirety.

Looking idly around, I saw a vaguely familiar object embedded in one enormous, spreading, upturned root, and with some difficulty I managed to dislodge it. It was a brick, apparently made from fire clay and in perfect condition. As far as I could see, it had never been used, and must have lain buried under the coconut palm for fifty years or more. No doubt it had been left there from the days when Lever Brothers were growing copra on the island. I tucked it under my arm, for everything can have a use of an uninhabited island.   

The southern part of the island had obviously fared worst in the hurricane, and I had only to look around me to see the reason why, for though the northern end was protected by the barrier reef, the gigantic waves which had pored through the pass must have hit the south end of the island with their full force, so that near the southern tip a depression sliced its way across ht island where heavy seas had swept right over "Anchorage. This savage onslaught had eon some good, however, for it was here that I now discovered a large amount of topsoil. Picking up a handful, I felt its gritty, fine sand and knew it was exactly what I wanted - though at this stage I did not even contemplate how I would transport it to the garden, a quarter of a mile away.

The day was so clear that looking across the lagoon I could even see Motu Tuo, where Andy and I had picnicked, and I remember on that first warm morning that hardly a breeze was stirring the coloured patchwork of the lagoon. And I can remember, too, standing ankle-deep in the shallows, looking at my own palm-tree skyline of Suvarov and saying to myself "Well, Neale, here you are after all these years - and it's all yours."

During the next few days I was so busy getting straight that I never seemed to have time to cook or even think about meals. But this didn't worry me because I knew a more settled time was coming when I had established a routine. And meantime I just seemed to sink naturally into this new island life. After all, I had had more than half a lifetime of preparation. My succession of jobs in the engine rooms of a dozen different island vessels had taught me how to handle tools. Indeed, I was used to coping with any practical problem that turned up, whilst my jobs on share - clearing bush, planting bananas, even storekeeping - had taught me the hard way of fending for myself. I was the handyman incarnate. I knew four different ways to thatch a roof; I could spear fish; I was able to light a fire with a magnifying glass - not that I ever needed this trick for by now I knew exactly the kind of wood which smouldered but never burst into flame, so that I was able to keep a fire dormant all through the night.

I was immensely happy during those first few days. Before starting to unpack everything, I cleaned out the shack thoroughly, scrubbing the floors and washing down the walls. Then I spent three or four days hard at work tearing down the creepers and vines from the roof of the shack and hacking them away from the shed with my machete. I finished plaiting the veranda roof and had to nail up two of the shutt3ers which had become loose. There seemed no end to the work, but before long I had made a shelf in the bath-house and then I fixed up a clothes line between two hibiscus trees at the bottom of the yard, and high enough to hang out my bed linen.

All this took a long time for I had to fish for the cats (and myself!) and though I did very little cooking at first, I had to make a fire and this meant collecting firewood from all over the island. But I was determined to clean up the place before I did anything else, and only when this was done did I set about sorting out my supplies.

One of the first tasks I had to tackle was unpacking my sack of sugar and storing the contents before it became damp in the empty screw-top jars I had brought along with me. I put these jars with the rest of my bulk food in the old refrigerator, except for the few items I knew I would need daily.

The old fridge was a real blessing for I decided my kai room was one place that must be both spotless and tidy. I suppose it is a relic of my Navy days that I like to stow things away in their proper places and keep them shipshape. One of the first things I did, just to remind me that dirty plates had no place on an idyllic island, was to fetch a length of wire and two nails and string up a line above the kai bench for my dishcloths and teacloths. I can tell you that from that moment on I always washed up in hot water and invariably kept a spare teacloth in reserve. And when I sat down to my meals I laid out my plates and cutlery - or maybe some large green leaves instead of plates - on the table linoleum I had brought for just this purpose.

From the day I unpacked, I used the top shelf of the food safe for storing the food I knew I would require daily - a jar of sugar, a tin of jam, a little tea and coffee, and so on - while on the middle shelf I kept my plates and cutlery. The bottom shelf was reserved for the small tins of cooking aids like salt, curry powder and my coffee-grinder.

I was equally meticulous about my tools. I unpacked the smaller ones - saws, chisels, hammer and so on - into a convenient box which I kept on the veranda where I could get at them easily. The bigger ones and my pick and shovel I stored in the shed in the yard, where I also had a shelf for my packages of nails, screws and bits of wire. The cook-house did not present much of a problem, and though I dumped my volcanic stones in a corner, there was no time yet for the laborious business of making a native oven, and I contented myself at first with finding two suitably shaped stones on which to rest my bars of iron for simple cooking over an open fire. In another corner I kept a box of wooden chips and some kindling wood.

The only thing I missed was a good, wood-burning stove, like the one on which I had cooked in Moorea. They are simple to use, economical with wood, and make it much easier to keep the cookhouse tidy. I knew, almost as soon as I settled in, that this was one purchase I should have made in Rarotonga, even if it had meant sacrificing some luxury. Had there been any good volcanic stones on the island, I might have built a stone fireplace of sorts, but there were none.

Once I had unpacked, firewood was one of my top priorities, for I wanted the shed filled with a good six months' supply. In a few weeks the hurricane season would start, and that could mean a spell of heavy rainy weather. I had no intention of being caught without dry firewood. It was a hard job. Some of the shrubs and trees had dead limbs which could be severed with a couple of strokes of the axe. But otherwise it was a business of solid, backbreaking sawing, and I relegated all other priority jobs until I had accumulated an impressive woodpile. It took me nearly two weeks to fill my shed with wood, but later, when the rainy season came, it was to prove a boon.

Kindling wood I kept separate, mainly relying on tauhunu which, when more or less rotten, would smoulder happily on my fire. I always had a couple of pieces quietly smoking on the fire in the cook-house, and found them thoroughly reliable because when I wanted to get a blaze going it was only necessary to push two smouldering ends together, pile on a few chips from the box I kept handy, and in no time at all there would be a splendid blaze going. Indeed, this system worked so well that it was very seldom that I had to use a match, and as time went by it became almost a point of honour never to have to reach for the box.

Almost without noticing it, I slipped into the routine that was to become my life. Early morning had a familiar sound for I was regularly awakened by a rooster just before dawn. I would lie there relaxed for a little, thinking how lucky I was to look forward to a day which was going to bring me nothing but satisfaction. And then, as it grew light, I would get up and fill the cast-iron kettle and light a fire. Usually the embers were still warm. Once the kettle was on and the fire going, I invariably made for the "House of Meditation" for I have always been a creature of regular habits.

Close at hand was an old tin with the top cut off. Filled with ashes, it served as a practical alternative to modern plumbing. Then off I went for a quick wash before breakfast; only a cat's lick since I reserved my "shower" for the end of the day after hard work in the hot sun. Back in the kai room the kettle would be boiling and the cats impatient for their fish (which I had saved from the night before). And whilst they ate I would get down a pound jar of coffee which I had ground from my supply of beans and brew myself a couple of cups to accompany a Suva biscuit or two, with butter and jam - though later, when I was more settled, I baked scones and, later still, would often have eggs for breakfast.

I rarely ate a substantial lunch. During those first months there was so much to do that I could not bear to waste time on cooking until the evening. I could easily find drinking nuts, and if I felt a pang of hunger around midday, I would chew some uto - the inside of a young sprouting coconut, which can be eaten either cooked or raw. (I shall have more to say about uto later on.)

My dislike of cooking (only because it wasted time) amounted almost to a phobia at first, because I could not really adjust myself to the tempo of this new life, to the fact that I did not really need to hurry. Instinctively I wanted to get any job done as quickly as possible, and at times I would be spurred on by melancholy thoughts that I would never get my garden started or build a run and raise the fowl population. After work, I would catch some fish in the early evening, cook it and then, if the weather were fine, take a bowl of tea down to the beach and sit there on a box-chair which I had made so I could watch the sun go down - one of my favourite "pastimes."

Then I would "explore" something very different from my daytime activities - the books left by the coast watchers. These wee a mixed bag, I must admit, and if I describe my own taste in literature as catholic, I don't know what denomination to use in describing theirs! I decided that half of them were not worth reading at all - a decision I reversed after a year when I was only too glad to read anything. But there were some gems among the trash, including several books of which I had never heard.

During the first weeks the problems of settling in occupied most of my time, but I did make a tentative start on some of the more long-term projects I had in mind. Though the prospect of eggs for breakfast seemed remote, I tried to cajole the fowls by scattering grated coconut at the far end of the yard. I had plans to tame them and collect them all into one run and after the first couple of weeks I noticed they were a lot less hesitant about approaching the shack. Unfortunately, my gifts of grated coconut also attracted the wild pigs; five large and destructive animals whose feverish passion for uprooting everything in sight made me acutely conscious that my plans for a garden were not likely to come to fruition with these menaces about. 

Nonetheless, the garden was a necessity. What was left of it was about forty feet long, and eventually I knew I would have to fence it in. But since I certainly could not cope with this task just then, I contented myself meantime with trying to preserve the breadfruit tree which stood near the cook-house. I managed this by sawing off four equal lengths of coconut log from some fallen trees and with them I constructed a sort of frame around its roots. Every day after this I tipped in a mixture of old leaves and scraps of food, fish the cats had left and even fishbones, all stirred up to make humus which would nourish the roots and ensure me a regular and invaluable supply of breadfruit for my table.

At one end of what was left of the garden I planted the two banana suckers I had brought. Although I tended them in just the same way, there was a year to wait before I enjoyed my first bunch of bananas. Once the trees had started, however, they never looked back. I managed to fit in these jobs between my daily routine and I was lucky in that the weather contrived to remain almost perfect during those first few weeks. so much so that the first month went past so rapidly I could hardly believe it when I came to enter up my diary for November 6, and discovered this was my birthday. I see from my journal that I noted this Friday "a beautiful warm day, the breadfruit tree is doing fine. Took my tea down to the beach after catching fish for the cats. Cooked them on the beach just before dusk and watched the night fall on the lagoon." And then, because the date took me back into an existence I had half forgotten, I found myself adding, "Fifty-one years ago today my mother was having a tough time."

I found it difficult to believe I had actually spent a whole month on the island. Does this sound impossible? Believe me, it did not seem so to me. Every day had been so full, what with my simple endeavours to get my roots down and establish myself on the island, that the time just seemed to have disappeared and I was sometimes so busy I would even forget my resolution to shave every Wednesday and Sunday, or boil my bed linen once a week. And now here I was in November with the hurricane season due any moment, so that suddenly I had to turn-to and get down to definite measures which would ensure my survival.

Since the shack was why my home, its preservation became my first thought. I knew I had to evolve a scheme which was going to make it stand up to whatever the winds could do, so I decided to pet it down with guy ropes made from the wire left by the coast-watchers. I started by digging three holes on each side of the shack, holes designed to anchor the wire I planned to rig right over the roof. T thing was to make good strong "anchors" for the guy ropes as any normal method of pegging would never stand up to a big wind. For each of the six holes I had dug, I dragged up fifty-pound squarish lumps of coral, dumped them on the edge and wound them round and round with wire, leaving a big loop of wire sticking out from each one.

Then I lowered the stones into the holes, and filled them up so that only the loops remained above ground. Next I cut three long lengths of wire off the roll and slung them right over the roof of the shack. All I had to do now was fasten the two ends of each length through the loops on either side of the shack and tighten the wires by twisting them with my pliers. This major job took me quite a few days but when it was completed I felt much more secure - though I didn't flatter myself that my efforts would outlast a hurricane of the calibre of '42. But for ordinary storms, I reckoned I could hold my own.

There was one final precaution: I dug a hole about five feet long and three feet wide in the shed to hold my survival kit which consisted of my box of tools, to which I added three boxes of matches in a tin sealed with sticking plaster and a spare pair of rubber shoes. And from now on I practised a "drill." Whenever my barometer indicated a severe storm coming up, my box went straight into that hole. Without it, I knew there was little chance of my survival.


Miraculously, the storms left us alone. There were sudden squalls which blotted out everything five yards from the shack but these were shortlived and indeed were welcome, for they not only cooled the island but replenished my water tanks. *I did not count them as "bad weather," however, and during the first autumn there were no signs of the hurricanes I had feared.

It was just as well, for during he next few months I began to work harder than I had ever done before in my life. and yet this was something I never resented because everything that cropped up seemed to come as a challenge and every time I managed to find the answer, it was a new step forward that seemed tremendously worthwhile. Often after a hard day I would imagine myself back in Rarotonga, where I might have been waiting impatiently for Friday's pay-packet. But here mundane things like that had no significance. Instead, I would relax in the evening and, if the weather were fine, I would brew myself a bowl of tea and carry it down to the beach. There I would sit with the faint sigh of the trade winds rustling the palms which bent like a canopy over my head. Sometimes I would light a small fire to cook the cats' supper, and later Mr. Tom-Tom or Mrs. Thievery would jump up on my lap and purr contentedly.   

On some evenings the air would be so still I could hear my own breath; at others, my little world would be filled with the screams and sounds of birds wheeling above me, mostly the terns (which I watched patiently, for I knew they would soon start to lay) and frigate birds, which nested on the islets in their thousands, knowing they had no humans to fear. I never ceased to be fascinated by these ugly brutes with a wing span of up to eight feet and scarlet ouches below their bills. They are born bullies. Four or five would start chasing one poor little tern until they had forced it to disgorge the fish it had just caught, and then, with an incredible dexterity on the wing, would invariably catch the fish before it struck the water. 

At least they provided drams during those moments between day and night - made all the more inviting by the absence of mosquitoes or flies. Night fell around us with starting tropical swiftness, so that one moment the lagoon would resemble a patch-work quilt of colours and the next would become a black satin bedspread - yes, that is what it looked like, a giant's bedspread, with he white foam of the reef like the tops of the sheets and pillows. I was entirely content. Nothing cold seem more perfect, and as the embers of my fire died down, the cats came closer to me, as though reminding me that this particular day was over, and now it was time to sleep and gather strength for the new day ahead.

And when the new day dawned, there were always two vital necessities which seemed to dominate every other plan I had in mind. They were fishing and cooking and it did not take me long to discover the most likely spots where my staple food was waiting to be hooked or speared, for the pools in th3e shallows along the reef abounded (and I use the overworked word deliberately) in all kinds of fish. It was only a question of choosing between the small ku, parrot fish, eels, cod or crayfish. Nor was I worried by sharks, barracuda or other dangerous fish, which rarely penetrated as far as these shallow waters (though I did have two encounters with sharks later on).

One of the simplest fish to catch - and one of the tastiest - were cray, on the barrier reef at night on a rising tide. Often I could see their feelers sticking out of a crevice, and since a cray invariably faces outwards from the hole in which it hides, I was able to catch hold of the feelers with my right hand, slide my left into the crevice, grab him and start pulling. The cray is quite difficult to dislodge and I had to keep up a steady strain. Once he tired, however, it was easy. When I got him out, I would give the tail a quick twist to kill him. Quite by chance, I discovered a crayfish "reservoir." Walking along the reef one morning I came on a pool about eighteen inches deep with a white coral lining showing clearly through the water. At that very moment a cray scuttled like a flash from one crevice to another.

I thought I had spotted where it had taken refuge and poked after it with the shaft of my spear. For a few moments nothing happened and I supposed I had stuck the shaft into the wrong crevice, but just as I was about to pull the spear out, I felt a curious vibration in my hand. And that meant a cray was hiding in the hole, for long ago in Moorea I had learned from the native fishermen that if you happen to touch a hidden cray a vibration travels up the pole. The cray doesn't actually move - at least, I don't think it does; it must be the fishy equivalent of a shudder of apprehension! Whatever it is, the vibration is so marked that I could always feel it if I were holding the spear shaft in my hand. Once I had got this one out, I tried another crevice and sure enough there was a vibration. I want on poking around until the whole pool seemed alive with cray. Indeed, it proved a fertile larder and I came back to the pool for weeks until I had exhausted the entire natural supply.

If the crayfish ;panicked out of sight, the parrot fish ;panicked in full view. Vivid blue or light reddish in colour, they lay in the small pools or depressions along the reef. Sometimes I would walk into a pool and disturb several of them - each between a foot and eighteen inches long - and then they would dart about frantically until finally, ostrich-like, they would make for some cranny in the coral and hide their heads so that I could spear their bodies easily. The parrot is a fleshy fish from which I could usually cut a good fat fillet, and I dined on them in the early days because they taste best when eaten raw, and I was in no mood to waste time on too much cooking. Since the days when I lived on Moorea, I had become used to eating them in the Tahitian style, raw and marinated in lime juice, but as there were no limes on Suvarov, I soaked them in a little vinegar and chopped onion, which could be used over and over again.

If I did feel like cooking, then I would fish for ku, some six to nine inches long, with a delicate flavour not unlike mullet. I could easily catch half a dozen in a few minutes, using a hook which I usually baited with a feather. I used to fry them straight away, with the heads and scales still on and once they were cooked the skin would peel off easily. Since they have a lot of bones, I seldom ate them on a plate. Instead, I used fleshy leaves from the breadfruit or paw-;paw tree, which were as big as plates and obviated the necessity of washing up since I simply scanted the remnants around the roots of my breadfruit and banana trees. 

My only worry when frying ku was that my supply of dripping was strictly limited, so before long I decided that I must cook them in a native oven, a process which involved spending much more time in the cook-house, as every meal entailed building an individual oven from volcanic stones. There was just no escape from this chore because a native oven has no permanence in the sense one thinks about ovens in a civilised world. One meal - however delicious - and you've got to start rebuilding your cooking stove all over again. It's no a job I would recommend to the average housewife anxious to produce a tasty "little something" within a few minutes.

Let me tell you how I went about it. First I made a shallow hole in one corner of my cook-house, with my pile of volcanic stones handy nearby. In the hole - little more than a depression - I lit a fire, and once it was going well ringed it with the larger stones and then carefully covered the fire by building up a sort of pyramid of the smaller stones over the burning wood, rather like putting coal on a fire started with chips. As the fire burned down to embers, the stones soon absorbed the heat so that after an hour or so the inner ones were glowing dull red. When the fire had finally burned itself out, I levelled the stones with the butt end of a palm frond and my oven was ready. I knew the stones would retain their heat for hours and I had ready several dozen fat green leaves picked from the breadfruit tree and tied in bundles of then. These were to form the "lid" and could be used over and over again.

Whilst the stones had been heating, I had got the fish ready, well wrapped in leaves and now I laid them on the stones gently covering them with a top layer of more clean leaves. On top of this I placed the breadfruit "lid" which I now finally covered with old mats and sacks weighted down at the edges with stones. Does it sound complicated? I can assure you that the result was really delicious and, what's more, I could leave my meal cooking slowly there for hours. Indeed, I would often go away on another task and return much later, confident that when I lifted the lid my dinner would be awaiting me cooked to a turn whatever time I came in.

But as the weeks went on, the actual time spent in "creating" each individual oven began to irk me. "This may seem strange on a desert island where time is generally supposed to have no significance, but for me every moment lost in cooking was time wasted for more vital projects. Yet I could cook ku no other way without losing my precious dripping. (I was secretly saving it to fry my first eggs!) Ku were too small to be boiled and they were too tender and bony to make a fish stew. How I missed a real stove! I could have kicked myself for not having brought one, but then each new week brought fresh evidence of my lack of foresight when shopping in Rarotonga. I had really believed my list was complete, that after all the experience gained during my years of batching, nothing had been left to chance; and I often reflected ruefully on the remarks of the salesman when I was buying my rubber shoes: "Let's face it, you've always been near a store."

Well, there were no stores on Suvarov and this was only one of many problems I faced, including another when I used the multiple barbed spear which a friend in Rarotonga had given me, for it tore the flesh of small fish so badly that after a few weeks of trying to eat torn and mangled fish, I decided I would have to set about constructing a single-pronged spear from one of the eighteen-inch lengths of round iron I had brought with me. I needed an anvil to fashion my new spear and fortunately there was an old piece of ballast I had discovered on the beach which must have weighed fifty pounds. I knew that in order to sharpen the tip I would first have to heat the iron bar over a fire, then hammer it to a point on the anvil, but only now did I realise I had never thought of buying a pair of blacksmith's tongs with which to grasp it when the heat from the tip began to creep up the bar.

To get over this, I wrapped the end I had to hold in layer after layer of the large cloth-like dead leaves which you always find attached to the base of a coconut palm frond. They are brown in colour, and very soft and pliable, and in fact look and feel rather like sacking, so they suited my purpose very well. Once I had got a good fire going in the cook-house, I found it fairly easy to hammer the iron to a point, and when it had called off I filed the ;point down with my coarse file until it was really sharp. Then I heated it again until it was bright red, and plunged it into water several times to harden it. After I had picked out a suitable sapling for a shaft, I cut a slot four inches deep in one end, fitted the spearhead into it, then bound the whole with wire. Though fishing and cooking - and, I suppose, improvising - occupied a great deal of time, I had to do something about the fowls and the garden. The fowl fun which I hoped to build could wait, for more and more terns were wheeling overhead by now, and I knew that it would not be long before they started to lay. On the other hand, a garden was an absolute necessity. I could start to make a fence but my real problem lay in transporting the topsoil I had discovered by the depression at the southern end of the island.

I set off on several occasions, armed with a shovel and a sugar sack, but it would take me an entire morning to carry one sackful to the garden. I did make a start by sifting out three sackfuls which I put into shallow boxes so that I could at least start growing seeds, though whether I would ever be able to transplant them was another matter. My first attempts at separating the fine soil took me several days - simply because I had not thought to buy a sieve in Rarotonga. I did, however, have a small tea strainer, and I sieved enough fine soil for six seed-boxes, using only this wretchedly small implement.

How I missed a boat! I would look wistfully at the wide cracks in the upturned boat on the veranda, gaping at me as though to say, "I'll sink like a stone." Why hadn't I brought some caulking material? Then I could have mended her, hauled her through the shallows, loaded her up and pulled her back. but the boat looked impossible to repair - unless I could think of something; and I seemed to have so many other things to think about. During this time when there was no chance of ever tasting an egg, I lived almost exclusively on fish, breadfruit, paw-paw - and uto, without doubt the most nutritious of all indigenous foods on Suvarov. Uto is formed when a coconut has fallen from a tree and is left on the ground until it starts sprouting. At this moment nature begins a fascinating metamorphosis. Miniature coconut leaves sprout out, while inside the nut milk and meat are gradually transformed into a white spongy substance. this is uto, and you can eat it either cooked or uncooked, though over-indulgence in the latter leads to indigestion.

I discovered there was plenty of uto on the island, but once again I ran into cooking problems. In fact, it seemed as though every time I tasted a new fruit or caught a different kind of fish, I had to devise a new way to cook it. I started by cooking uto on a native oven but it was unsatisfactory because you can't easily regulate the heat and overcooked uto is uneatable. I wasted so much time that I would find myself eating it raw to save the work of building the oven - and that, I knew, would in the end lead to stomach trouble. It did. I had such a bad bout of indigestion I vowed never to eat raw uto again. But neither did I want the chore of making a native oven. I looked around for a way out, and eventually decided to tray and make a special cooker for uto.

The coast-watchers had left several empty forty-gallon drums on the island. I rolled one up to the shack, and first of all cut about eighteen inches off the bottom of one so the drum resembled a giant cake tin. (It proved too tough for my tin snips and I spent two laborious days working on it with my cold chisel.) I made a hole deep enough to take the tin in a corner of the cook-house so that the top stuck out six inches or so above the ground. Next, I made a lid from the other end of the drum, though I had some difficulty as it would not fit over the top of the "cake tin" because, of course, it was exactly the same size. However, I cut slots with my hacksaw every nine inches around the edge of the lid making it just pliable enough to bend outwards a little, so that it would fit over the other section. I punched two holes in the lid and made a handle from a piece of wire.

I lit a fire inside the "cake tin" and when it was going well, threw in some volcanic stones. As soon as these grew hot, I popped in a couple of dozen husked uto nuts, with the eye-end carefully turned down - a necessity because there is little meat near the eye-end, so the uto cooks more quickly. I jammed the lid on, covered the cooker with old sacks and let the uto cook between three and four hours, timing the operation carefully. This, by the way, was virtually the only time I ever used by clock on Suvarov.

My cooker worked perfectly, and once the uto was cooked I kept it in a special box and often ate it cold with coconut cream for breakfast. It tastes remarkably like a coconut scone, and has a consistency which resembles Yorkshire pudding. It is very sustaining. If I were suddenly hungry I would go to my store, break open a cooked nut and eat the uto as one might eat an apple or a piece of cake between meals. My basic diet, however, still continued to be fish especially as I was hoarding my "special" supplies like a miser; I suppose instinctively I was guarding against a rainy day - literally a rainy ay - when fishing might be impossible, or I could be confined to my shack. 

Sometimes I would eat one of the coconut crabs which I found in small numbers on Suvarov. But I never rally cared for them. They were ugly, brutal creatures, at least a foot long, with a pair of claws strong enough to crush a finger. Some of the islanders I had known considered their tails to be a great delicacy, but I found them too rich. Besides, coconut crabs are scavengers who will eat anything. They would have eaten me had I died! I roasted one occasionally when I really felt a need for a change of diet. Their claws were good, but my dislike for these repugnant creatures tended to spoil my appetite, so that when the cats and I got heartily sick of ku or raw parrot fish, and were desperate for a change of flavour, I preferred to go after larger fish. 

Trevally, a predatory fish weighing six pounds or more, prefer live bait, but having none I constructed a lure of white feathers backed up with a strip of red material from an old pareu. Quite often I would hook a trevally with the first cast from my big rod and as a great treat I would use a little dripping and have a couple of well-fried fillets for supper, though more often - especially if I caught a bigger one with coarser flesh - I would stem the had, stirring some coc9onut cream into the water. If cooked properly, it made a really good fish soup.

Every fish in the lagoon seemed to queue up for my table (except, curiously, turtles, which were rare). Perhaps the easiest to catch was the reef cod which lay motionless in the pools as I approached. They never even moved until my spear was within six inches of them, and once I had them quivering on shore, I carried them back to the shack and steamed them in salt water in my aluminium pan over a fire beneath a piece of flattened old iron roofing. Both trevally and cod had to be cooked over the open fire which I kept going under my firebars resting on two lumps of coral. but more and more I was wondering how I could build myself a proper fireplace as the substitute for the stove I so sorely missed. The coastwatchers had left so much junk behind - like the fuel drums which had been so useful for making my uto cooker - that I searched everywhere in the hope of finding other things I might turn to good account. I also searched along the beach, for flotsam of one sort or another was always being washed ashore.

I collected it all. Once I found a child's ball. Empty bottles were washed up regularly, and one day I found several flat, yellowish blocks, nearly a foot square and three inches thick. As I picked up the nearest piece, I noticed some small stones partially embedded in its underside. These stones puzzled me until I realized that the substance must have softened under a hot sun and then hardened again. And then I thought of the paraffin wax my mother always used to seal the top of her jam jars. It was an odd find and in all there were half a dozen chunks of wax, weighing about twenty pounds.

This might have been of little value but nonetheless, I carried it all back to the shed in the yard - and then forgot about it, for my mind was still fixed on building a stove or fireplace. Since the beach yielded nothing, I next turned to the fuel drums left by the coast-watchers and tried to flatten one, thinking that I might possibly build a stove out of sheet metal, but Id did not have the tools. I even toyed with the idea of trying to dislodge a large slab of concrete embedded in the ground near the shack, which the coast-watchers had used as a platform for their generator - but that too proved impracticable and I left it where it was. How infuriating to consider that one clue to building a fireplace remained right under my nose for weeks without my realising it - until one morning I went to the woodshed to get my broom which I had made out of palm fronds.

I wasn't thinking as I stepped inside the shack, and then yelled with pain as I stubbed my bare to on a large stone. Angrily I bent down to pick it up and throw it out - and my hand grasped not a stone but the brick I had dug out of the coconut root on my first day alone on the island. A brick! If only I had some bricks I could build the world's finest fireplace. I didn't give another thought to sweeping out my bedroom. That brick had been left by Lever Brothers fifty years ago. Why on earth would they leave just one unused brick? Might there not be some more somewhere near the spot?

Instead of the broom, I grabbed my pick and shovel, called in at the shack for a cooked uto - which, with a drinking nut, would have to suffice for lunch - and set off to do a day's digging. I spent five whole days - in which I abandoned every other activity but fishing - one of my most back-breaking jobs; but my hunch was right and in the end I was rewarded by unearthing twenty-one bricks. I knew exactly how I was going to use them, and I carried them back to my cook-house where my couple of firebars were still resting across two large stones. This was my normal cooking spot when I did not feel inclined to build a native oven; two ordinary stones which, now I had the bricks, looked so thoroughly outdated that I hurled them outside. Soon I was building a proper fireplace with a base of bricks and two sides so that I could place the firebars across them. It was neater, more serviceable and more economical than anything I had had before, and I found myself casting an almost contemptuous glance at my old friends, the volcanic stones heaped in a corner. 

By December - while I was still waiting for the rains, which were unaccountably late that year - I had my first omelette since I landed on Suvarov. Thousands of terns had arrived on the island by now and the time came when they started flying around in circles, making a terrific noise. Once I saw this, I knew that they were about to start laying - and I know, too, that those eggs would be laid in spot where there was little or no undergrowth, or even on the bare rock.

The tern is as big as a pigeon, though its black and white body is of slighter build and its food comes exclusively from the sea. Despite this, as I knew from experience, their eggs never taste fishy - in direct contrast to hens which, when fed with fish, produce very fish-tasting eggs. Before long, they were laying in their thousands, and terns seem to lay again and again, like fowls. Knowing their habits and being anxious to secure fresh eggs, I constructed a sort of egg trap by clearing a patch of scrub. It worked, and soon I was collecting eggs there every day. Just to make sure, I dipped them one by one into water, knowing that if the egg were fit to eat it would lie on its side at the bottom of the glass. It is an old trick. Once incubation had begun an egg will stand on end, whilst an old one can soon be spotted since it simply floats to the top.

For a month I had eggs every day, and fed the rest of my daily haul to the cats who loved them, or as sure "bait" in my gradual struggle to tame the fowls. as a matter of fact, the hens loved them, especially after I had hard-boiled them and mashed them up with the shells still on. It is amazing how almost any bird or animal appreciates a change of diet. Not to mention myself. I used to eat them ten at a time, sometimes hard-boiled, sometimes in a very gaily coloured omelette, for tern eggs have slightly pink yolks.

They were the best omelettes I ever tasted.   

The Killing of Wild Pigs ---------------)
Gardening - and a Chicken "Farm") These two Chapters are to be included here shortly...

My First Visitors

On August 4, 1953-ten months after I had landed - I welcomed my first visitors. It was unexpected because I had long since stopped wondering whether one day I would wake up to discover a strange yacht or schooner anchored in the lagoon. I rarely gave a thought to the outside world.

They were very happy days. I was never lonely, though now and again I would walk along the reef wishing somebody could be with me - not because I wanted company but just because all this beauty seemed too perfect to keep to myself. That August day happened to be particularly beautiful. A light easterly breeze was blowing and around two in the afternoon I took my spear and sauntered out along the reef not really to catch fish, but more for the walk. After I had strolled a little way, the day struck me as so especially calm and perfect that I stopped and turned round to look along the shoreline.

There, in the shimmering distance, was a sail. I stared in momentary disbelief, but there it was, one of the most beautiful sights the Pacific can ever offer - a ship in full sail edging her way through the blue waters. She was plainly making for the entrance to the lagoon. It was so long since I had seen a sail that it took an appreciable time for the reality to sink in, for me to realise that in an hour or two I would actually be talking to other people; men, perhaps women; talking to them, instead of to myself.    

Once I was over the initial surprise and excitement, a practical but prosaic thought came into my mind. It was not "I wonder who they can be?" nor "Will they be planning to stay?" On the contrary, as I walked back to the shack, the slender link still tethering me to civilisation had grown suddenly stouter and tighter so that I thought "I wonder if they've come from Rarotonga and if they've brought any mail?"

Before I reached the shack, the vessel had lowered her sail and was entering the passage under auxiliary power. I hurried inside to change my strip of pareu for a pair of shorts in case there were ladies aboard. By the time I had come out again she had dropped anchor in thirty feet of water about a hundred yards off the old pier, and I remember how another thought suddenly struck me - that the pier which had been smashed up in the 1942 hurricane was an eyesore, and it was high time I tidied up.
I could see now that the vessel was a single-masted forty-foot yacht, but I resisted the temptation to wave or shout and rush down the beach to meet my visitors. I decided to give them a little while to settle down before rowing out in the Ruptured Duckling. As I pushed the Duckling off the beach and into the water, I could see four people crowding the rails of the yacht. They waved, but of course as soon as I began rowing across the lagoon my back was turned towards them so I did not really see them until a few moments later when I came alongside, and two men were helping me to make fast the dinghy whilst two women looked on. Then I was aboard - and within a few minutes was drinking tea brewed by somebody else for the first time in ten months. And with milk in it!
The elder of the two held out a hand. "My name's Tom Worth." He was approaching middle age, looked very fit, without a spare ounce of flesh. "And I'm Mrs. Worth," said a slender lady who looked very pleasant.
"I'm Tom Neale," I replied, wondering whether Dr. Livingstone had felt as tongue-toed when Stanley introduced himself, for I had often pictured this precise moment - the exact moment of meeting strangers - and I had contemplated it with a certain nervousness. After all, what could one say to strangers? Especially as they would probably regard me with the suspicion normally reserved for a mental case.
"Oh yes!" He laughed cheerfully. "We know all about you!" He turned to his two younger passengers, and introduced them as Mr. and Mrs. Taylor.
Whilst Mrs. Worth poured out the tea I asked how they had come to find out about me being here. "The British Consul in Tahiti told me," Tom Worth explained, "I believe he's an old friend of yours. You know what he said? Call in at Suvarov and see whether or not Tom Neale has kicked what remains of the island into the sea with those big boots of his." Those boots! I remember the day the British Consul in Pepeete asked why I wore such big boots in such a hot climate. It was in order to strengthen a weak ankle after an accident, but these boots became a stock joke between us from that moment onwards,
"Would you like some more tea, Mr. Neale?" Mrs. Worth's casual question jerked me from my memories of Tahiti into reality - if this were reality. For how incongruous it all seemed! Surreptitiously I watched this slim, good-looking woman pouring tea, while Mrs. Taylor, with a smile, proffered the milk (out of a jug!) and sugar. We might have been a thousand miles from Suvarov. I liked Worth and his wife immediately. He was one of those easy-going individuals whom you automatically think of in Christian name terms, and before long we were Tom to each other. The younger Taylors were also delightful. I gathered that they were friends who had come along for the trip, and Taylor was soon asking me "Is the fishing good? Any chance of going out together?" I promised him we would go out with spears the following day. 
After my third cup, Mrs. Worth asked, with a diffidence I found most pleasing, "We don't want to disturb you, but we'd love to see your island before it gets dark." It was the way she slightly accented your island that made me jump up full of apologies for my lack of hospitality. Soon we were all rowing ashore. They seemed fascinated, and it was a pleasant feeling as I showed them round the shack and the yard, to realise that they seemed to be enjoying my company as much as I was enjoying theirs. Mrs. Worth particularly was intrigued. She examined the cook-house with all its various contraptions, and when I wrapped some ku in banana leaves, and put them in the hearth to cook in time for tomorrow's breakfast, she called her husband.
"Why can't you do that at home?" she laughed.  The ladies insisted on examining every corner of the shack. Mrs. Taylor seemed to be a great reader and was soon thumbing through my books. "Did you choose all these?" She pointed to the motley selection of paperbacks on my office shelf and when I shook my head, she added, "I thought not. They don't look you - not all of them, anyway." So I had to explain how the boast-watchers had left them, and then while the men went for a swim, they looked over my kai room, opened the refrigerator and the food safe, and I think it was the sight of the dry tea and dishcloths hanging on the line - and perhaps my glasses which I polished with care - that made Mrs. Worth cry spontaneously, "Mr. Neale, I'm astounded that any man can keep a place as clean and tidy as you do."  
When Worth and Taylor returned from the beach I asked them how long they had taken to sail from Papeete. "We didn't come directly from Papeete," answered Tom, "but from Maupiti." This is a small island a hundred in fifty miles west of Pepeete. "It took us seven days."
"Perhaps you'd all like a shower?" I suggested.
"A bath! My God!" cried Tom Worth. "I've been dreaming of a bath for a week."
I had long since rigged up a bucket in the bath-house so that I could sluice water all over myself at the end of each day, and the ladies had the first bath after I had provided them with dry, clean towels.
"you do think of everything, don't you?" said Mrs. Worth.
"You're an astounding bloke," said Tom as we sat waiting on the veranda, smoking his cigarettes. "The Consul in Papeete said you were quite a character - but I never thought you'd be quite like this. I don't know - I'd rather expected --"
"A hermit with a long beard?" I laughed.
"In a way - yes." He spoke seriously.
Taylor clipped in, "What staggers me is the way you've got everything fixed up. It all looks so easy!" 
I recorded every detail I could remember of that afternoon in my diary and that night I had supper with them on board the Beyond, although there was quite a sea running in the lagoon so that I had some difficulty getting alongside the Ruptured Duckling; but once I was on board and Mrs. worth had gone into the galley to start cooking dinner, Tom brought out a bottle of excellent rum, held it up and said, "How about a drink?"
Now it was ten months since I had tasted alcohol, and never once during that time had I even so much as thought about it. I never miss drinking - but that doesn't mean to say that I don't enjoy a drink or two, particularly rum, and I looked at the bottle in Tom Worth's hand, almost afraid of the effect it might have on me. He must have noticed my hesitation for he refrained from pouring a drink for himself until finally I said, "Thanks! I'd love one."
He poured out a more than generous measure, handed me the glass and asked, "Water?" Water! No fear! This was much too good to dilute. We followed the first rum with a second. Cigarettes were handed round. What a wonderful feeling it was, sitting back in the cockpit, yarning, while somebody else cooked my supper! Tom and his friend lost no time in telling me the latest news from the outside world. I remember thinking, doubtless after the second rum, "Neale, are you sure it's really you sitting here?" It all seemed so unreal, so impossible. Only a few hours previously I had been perfectly happy entirely alone on the island - and now here I was, a member of a yachting party. It was too much to take in that first night, and sometimes I could hardly believe I was really there. I might have been watching a film. I didn't seem to be me sitting there, sipping rum. The impact of meeting four strangers after ten months during which I had not spoken to a soul, the excitement of actually talking and listening, was a far more potent intoxicant than the rum.
Suddenly I shivered. I felt quite chilly, for I had rowed out in my singlet and shorts. It must have been the nervous excitement, or perhaps the breeze was stronger a hundred yards out in the lagoon. tom Worth fetched me a cardigan so that I should be warm enough to enjoy my supper. I don't suppose I shall ever forget that supper as long as I live. I dare say other people living in conditions of hardship have reached similar conclusions to mine: I had long since accepted my rather monotonous diet as part of life hardly worth a second thought. I had enough to eat and that was what mattered. But now Mrs. Worth called out cheerfully to her husband from the galley, "Tom! Supper's ready."
We started with vegetable soup, good thick vegetable soup, and then, while we waited for the next course, Tom poured me a glass of ice-cold beer, then his wife handed me a plate of beautifully cooked meat from the Beyond's refrigerator. I remember, too, there was something else I hadn't tasted for a long time - real roast potatoes in thick gravy, and bread thickly spread with tinned butter. It was not just the change of food I found so exciting; what amazed me was my host's casual attitude to quantity. "Would you like some more potatoes?" - "Sure you've got enough gravy?" And on top of it here I was eating bread and butter with meat. For a moment I became quite worried lest they run short, forgetting that within a week the Beyond would be lying off some port, and Tom Worth would be able to go ashore and in half an hour re-stock his larder. It seemed inconceivable to me and I felt a twinge of guilt as the meat was followed by lavish portions of tinned fruit, with real tinned cream - for once not coconut cream.  
As I rowed back to the shack later that night I found myself, to say the least, slightly happy - in more senses than one. The following morning, I decided the time had come to reciprocate and entertain my guests to lunch. For though I myself was more than a little bored with island produce, I could well imagine that after seven days at sea, fresh fish or eggs would prove as exciting to my guests to their tinned soup had been to me. Good fresh fish seemed the answer, especially as the Taylors had asked if they could go fishing. So I went on the reef with them to catch enough lunch for five. I lent them spears but they were unable to catch a single fish. It was almost pathetic to watch their efforts. One forgets how easy fishing becomes when you live in the islands, and I think they were puzzled that I was able to catch six cod and parrot fish and three crayfish in such a short time.
Overhead as we fished the air was alive with birds that seemed to have been drawn to Anchorage from the other motus - perhaps disturbed by the arrival of the Beyond. Terns by the hundreds wheeled smoothly in the air, perpetually frightened of the frigate birds - nature's bullies with whom the smaller terns were destined to live from birth to death. As we slowly walked, searching for fish, towards the north end, we came across rows of frigate birds watching us unblinkingly. "Ugh! Horrible, revolting creatures," cried Mrs. Taylor, and then asked me, "You must have read Frisbie's Island of Desire? Do you remember his description of the frigates?" She certainly knew her books, for nobody ever described frigate birds better than Frisbie did; how they sat in row upon row, watching Frisbie "with cold objectivity, snobbishly", ugly, brutal, shiny, black birds with their big red wattles.
"They give me the creeps," added Mrs. Taylor. "Yes, I remember Frisbie's description," I replied and then surprised her by quoting, "'Eyes red and utterly cruel, birds as emblematic of evil as the raven'."
Back in the shack I cooked the cray, but despite my good intentions, Tom Worth insisted that we lunch on the Beyond. I think that Mrs. Worth felt I deserved a day off from housekeeping. Luckily my spring onions were flourishing at this time, so I collected a large bunch and presented them with these, together with a few eggs. These were a great success, and after lunch on board I spent most of the rest of the afternoon yarning and chatting, unashamedly enjoying the opportunity to listen to human voices. They were due to leave early the next morning for Samoa and Fiji, and I cannot remember feeling any apprehension about their impending departure. Often when I was on my own I had wondered whether I should feel homesick for civilisation once by visitors had gone. I had envisaged a sudden longing, brought on my this unexpected human contact and had even imagined myself begging a passage beck to the nearest inhabited island.
None of this happened. From the moment they arrived, it seemed perfectly natural that they should anchor in the lagoon. It seemed natural, too, that we should greet each other in an almost casual way, even though I soon became excited by all they had to tell me. But once it seemed natural for them to arrive, I had to accept the fact that logically it was equally natural that sooner or later they would have to leave. So on this second evening, although I wrote half a dozen letters which they had kindly promised to post, I cannot remember after turning in, feeling really sad at the prospect of their departure.
The following morning, they all rowed ashore for a last bath, and, as I recorded in my journal, "I gave them some more spring onions, eggs, melons, fish, which they said they appreciated very much. They gave me some tea, sugar, a jar of Scotch blackcurrant jelly and a little flour." And then just before the Beyond sailed, with a strong south-easterly wind to blow her on her way, Tom Worth came back to the shack with a final gift - a bottle of rum. This touched me very much, and as the Beyond sailed out towards the pass, I did in actual fact experience a queer feeling of loss. I remember thinking, too, how vastly different their lives were going to be from mine once their pleasant cruise was over. Even when they reached Apia in Samoa there would be bright lights (of a sort), cars, busy streets, cinemas, hotels; so-called luxuries which, however desirable, exacted their own price in tensions, problems, congested humanity.
It was a price I had long ago decided I was not interested in paying. So now I stood by the edge of the old pier watching their sail disappear round the end of the island from whence they would head for the channel and the open sea. It would soon be dusk, the end of another, but this time an unusual, day on my island. So unusual that I watched for a little longer because this had been a happy time. But once the Beyond was though the pass and heading out to sea, I turned my back on the lagoon and strode up the coral path of the shack. The first thing I did was take off my shorts and put on my strip of pareu again.  
Down with Fever
Once my visitors were gone and life had returned to normal routine, I became involved in a new task which was to have far-reaching effects on my health. Of course I never suspected this at the time. But I was preoccupied with doing something about the one eyesore which spoils my beautiful island. This was the remains of the ancient pier constructed from coral blocks in the old copra days. In '42 the same hurricane which had caught Frisbie had wrecked and devastated it. The pier had never been are built, since copra, having lost its value, was no longer produced. As a result the wreckage had lain scattered now for ten or eleven years; a tumbled mass of heavy blocks just as the hurricane had hurled them all over the beach that fatal night.
I had been so ashamed of the mess when the Worths arrived that I felt I had no alternative but to rebuild the pier and use it for fishing. Had I guessed the amount of work that was going to be involved - and the time it would take - I would never have started. But at first, when I cheerfully began lugging the chunks of coral into place, the job looked so simple, a matter of a few weeks at the most. The original pier must have been about seventy yards long, stretching right out of the reef. The foundations were still in place on the fringe reef beneath the shallow water, but that was literally all, and my "rebuilding" consisted of lifting, pushing or rolling the irregularly shaped coral stones into the water from the beach or the edge of the undergrowth, where the storm had tossed them, and back on to the foundations. Sometimes I had to prise the large blocks out of the sand and gravel with my pick or crowbar.
By the end of August, although I had been working three hours a day for nearly a month, I seemed to have made no headway. This was not surprising, for, since I had no rope or tackle, it sometimes took me an entire morning to push one coral block along the beach. In order to move others, I would leave them until high tide, as they were lighter to move under water. Often I had to abandon work for several days because the tips of my fingers were raw from the many sharp edges of the coral, which was as difficult to handle as a hedgehog. And as I knew from hard experience, once a scratch became infected, fever might follow within a few hours.
It was a long, touch task. Each time, I had trundled half a dozen of these "hedgehog" blocks into position, I had to "pack" them. I remembered reading years ago an article describing the way the Derbyshire men in England build their dry stone walls, and my technique must have been similar. The blocks by themselves looked solid enough, but I knew it was the small stones, laboriously collected on the beach, and then painstakingly pushed into every cranny, like a sort of dry cement, that would give the pier its real strength. It was hot and dry and beautiful that summer and the days seemed to fly by. There was so much to do. The wild duck had to be looked after, the fowls had to be fed - and that meant hunting for uto. The garden had to be tended and regularly supplied with new topsoil each time a brief storm washed some of it away. Whenever this happened, I would have to get my shovel, row the Ruptured Duckling to the far end of the island, load her up with dirt and then row back, or sometimes pull her through the shallow water close to the beach, until we arrived opposite the shack, from where I would carry the sacks of dirt to the garden and spread it out - to last until the next storm.
Evening did not bring much rest or repose, for, even if there was nothing else to do, I had to fish for the cats - and this must have become an increasingly annoying chore for I find that about this time I referred frequently in my journal to "caught fish for the damn' cats." Yes I would not have been without them for the world. I was very contented and happy that summer, for by now the garden was producing a supply of vegetables, and though the stores I had brought from Rarotonga were rapidly diminishing, and I was having to use the same tea five or six times to make it spin out, I had eggs, the weekly rooster, fruit and vegetables, as well as unlimited fish. There seemed no reason not to be happy. True there was a great deal of work, for unexpected problems were always arising; a bit of roof would need to be rethatched; I discovered the kai room floorboards needed replacing; the cook-house walls required strengthening; it was necessary to hack back the dense tropical undergrowth which always threatened to crowd the path to the shack out of existence. 
All these chores took up a considerable time, but I always found an hour or two to work on the pier each day, though progress in those summer and autumn months was so grindingly slow that sometimes I despaired. Yes, even if I were occasionally empted to abandon the project, I felt in a serious way that Suvarov had given me so much happiness I owed the island something in return, so that rebuilding the pier became synonymous in my mind with repaying a debt. Perhaps it all seems a little foolish now, looking back, but then - alone and happy and my own master - it was a very real and honest emotion. There was another reason, I must admit. So far I had succeeded in completing each task I had set out to do. I had rebuilt the cook-house, even made my own new stove. I had repaired the shack, and built a neat path leading up to it. I had built a fowl run, and was getting as many eggs as I needed; I had made a garden out of a wilderness, and the vegetables which grew there now were helping to sustain me. I had even tamed the wild duck. I just could not give up the pier. I wanted to succeed in everything.
I had, however, so far given no thought to one serious problem - my diet. Eggs, fish, coconuts and vegetables seemed more than enough to keep me going in the ordinary way, but three or four hours a day of extra hard physical work on the pier began to make me feel more tired than I had ever felt when doing similar work back in Raro or Moorea. And yet I was not overworking by normal standards - that is, if you apply the standards of a man who fills his belly with at least one good meat meal a day. But that was just what I was not getting. And, though it took me some time to realise it, this lack eventually made itself plain. for though my actual health remained magnificent, I never seemed to have sufficient energy. Just about this time too, the fowls stopped laying, and for a while I was faced with a shortage of eggs. Nor had I any tomatoes, for though the plants were as tall as I am, the blossom still did not always turn to fruit. 
Soon I was forced to begin taking long rests in the middle of the day, something I had never done before in my life. Next I developed an insatiable craving for meat; in other words for the single, solitary tin of bully beef which was now all that was left, but which I was determined to keep for Christmas Day. It sounds ridiculous, but day after day I now had to fight lonely battles over that one tin. I would go into the kai room, look at it greedily, handle it lovingly and say to myself, "Neale, you fool - eat it! for all you know a yacht may come in tomorrow and help you out."
Once I even got out the opener and had almost punctured the top when I suddenly realised that I had to keep that one tin for Christmas. It became a point of honour; more, a test of self-discipline. I threw the tin down on the kitchen table, and, like a man who has had a furious quarrel with his wife, stalked out of the shack, and walked up and down the beach in moody, sullen anger until it was dark. And that night, after yet another meal of fish, I wrote in my journal, "Made a fool of myself today. That tine of bully stays unopened till Christmas Day. Will compromise tomorrow with a rooster, but fowls don't seem to satisfy me and I hate the messy business of preparing them." I must have been reading a book by Frisbie that evening, for I find that in my journal I added "I know how hungry Frisbie must have felt when he wrote, 'I would sell my soul for a tin of bully beef, an onion, a cup of tea and a slice of bread plastered with butter and jam!' "  
to make matters worse, I was struck down with fever. This proved to be the worst bout so far, and came just at a moment when my resistance was at its lowest. I had been depressed before but this seemed the final straw. The symptoms were unmistakable - chattering teeth, hot flushes (so that I never really knew whether I was hot or cold) and the feeling that my legs were going to buckle under me. I managed to gather a few drinking nuts around my bed and lay down to sweat it out for thirty-six hours. Maybe it was lucky I had no idea the bout was going to last for nearly four days. I hate now to think of the dizzy heights to which my temperature must have soared. Yet the curious thing is that I can remember almost every detail of those four days - and those four never-ending nights.
The fever engulfed me in waves, and looking back, I always associate it with the pounding on the reef and the pier. I suppose it was the only sound I could hear as I unwillingly hovered between moments when my brain was clear and that other semi-delirious dream world which always seemed to be reaching out for me. Each time I felt myself slipping down there, I struggled to hold on to the real world, and as I struggled, the pounding in my head (or out on the reef) would increase, so that it began to seem, in a way, like drowning. I can remember those fits of fever now (or so I like to think) with a complete, crystal clarity. I can remember being suddenly afraid at the height of one bout that I had forgotten to bury my cache of tools, and managing to struggle out of bed and walk shakily towards the door. (But I begin to wonder now if I really did this, or if it was only a dream so vivid that I really believe it happened.)
The sweating was the worst. I would fall asleep, and then wake to find the bed soaked, and I would congratulate myself that I had at least slept soundly. I felt so alert and fresh whenever I awoke like this that I believed I must have slept for hours. Then I would look at the clock, only to discover that I had been asleep for less than five or ten minutes. This freshness quickly vanished an soon, as I lay dazed and soaked and shivering on my bed, the dreadful ague would reach out and take me. Every bone in my skinny frame seemed to rattle, and though I would double the blanket and drag it over me, it make no difference, I seemed to shake for hours, and then as it reluctantly relented, a dry throbbing fever took over. My head ached and burned and seemed to swell to such a size that I seemed to live somewhere inside it in my dream world, but couldn't imagine this huge, echoing, throbbing space could possibly belong to me.
Looking back, I cannot remember which moment of the fever was the most unbearable. I only know that whichever stage I was passing through seemed the worst. When I was sweating I longed for the ague. When I had the shakes, I would wait almost impatiently for the headache I knew must follow, and when that came and my head felt as though it were going to explode, the only thing I wanted was the intolerable sweating back again. A period of startling awareness followed each bout. For a time I was suddenly back again in my own little world and vividly conscious of what must be done to safeguard it. The cats had to be fed, uto had to be collected for the fowls, the eggs needed searching out. All these urgent necessities crowded in on me, but there was nothing I could do until the fever passed.   
When the fever finally left me after four days and nights, I somehow managed to get up and totter to the edge of the beach, where I lay down in the warm water. Then, as I recorded in my journal, "Felt very weak, but managed to collect some eggs and had ten for tea." But it was another week before I could gather the strength to work again on the pier.  
The Pier - and the Great Storm
Despite the setbacks brought about by fever and my lack of meat, slowly, very slowly the pier was beginning to take shape. As the end of the year approached, its completion had become an obsession with me, so that somehow or other I still managed to put in an hour or two each day despite my enforced midday rests which were becoming ever more frequent, for by now I was having to go farther field in search of small packing stones. Around November my tobacco ran out. I am not a heavy smoker and had only been smoking one home-made cigarette each evening, and had always kept the butts to re-roll. Nonetheless I was startled at my real sense of dismay when I dug into the tin and found I had only enough to roll one more cigarette. I smoked slowly, savouring each puff of the thinly rolled tube, and when I could smoke no more without burning my lips, I stubbed the butt out and emptied the fragments of tobacco back into the tin.
I did not realise immediately how deeply this was to affect me, but the next morning, for the very first time, I suddenly felt desperately lonely. I would have given anything for the sight of a yacht. During the next few days my depression became worse; although the pier was coming on splendidly, I no longer seemed to have the heart to do any more work. And on top of this, my appetite seemed to disappear and for several days I suffered from bad stomach trouble. I realised now the root cause of all this trouble. Every evening after a dispirited supper, the craving for a smoke became terrible. I had learned to do without meat but somehow no cigarettes drained away all my energy and resolve. I became very thin. And then a miracle occurred. I was sitting in my office reading Conrad's The Nigger of the Narcissus when Mrs. Thievery jumped up on the table, half missed her footing, and in one wild scramble, knocked over a pile of books and magazines I had stacked up neatly against the wall. I cursed her as they fell to the floor. The thud of the falling books made Mrs. Thievery - unused to unexpected noises on Suvarov - jump clean into the air.
"These damned cats!" I growled, and was about to lean down to pick up the books when something stopped me. There, lying on the table, as though produced from a conjurer's hat, was a packet of cigarettes. At first I hardly dared to touch it. Then I grabbed the packet, ripped it open and pulled out one of those beautiful, white, smooth cylinders.
Savouring the moment of anticipation in case it vanished before my eyes, I lit up. Then in a glow of relaxation, I recalled that when the Mahurangi left, the skipper had given me a few packets of cigarettes and I had carefully stored them away in my office. One of them must have slipped between the books. If Mrs. Thievery hadn't lost her footing, I might never have found them. "Had my first cigarette for a month," I wrote in my journal. "It tasted like something of this world, and feel so much better that I celebrated with six eggs properly fried for dinner, and as a reward gave my companions extra large portions of an eel which I had caught on the reef. All hands very contented tonight but tomorrow will unwrap the 19 cigarettes left and remake them, two out of each one."
Next morning I awoke feeling an entirely different person. One of the first things I did was to break open each cigarette into my tobacco tin so that before long I was able to increase the number to thirty-eight cigarettes sparingly rolled in my own papers. I determined to make them last over a month, and planned to smoke the last one on Christmas Day after I had eaten my bully beef. Alas, for human intentions. I, who had previously never smoked very much, now entered into a fit of madness and smoked all thirty-eight within five days. I knew it was mad but I could not help it, and after they were gone the craving returned and tortured me far worse than before. I felt I could do no work. For days I lazed around, waiting, waiting for Christmas Day - and my tin of bully beef. The craving for cigarettes was bad enough, but now I knew there was not a shred of tobacco on the island some of my longing seemed to become transmitted into a hankering after meat, a slice of bread and butter or, from time to time, a bar of chocolate. The craving for meat tortured me worst of all. Possibly I was still suffering from a touch of fever, for sometimes I woke in the night sweating with anticipation and, when I had dropped back into disappointed sleep I would dream of home, and my mother lavishly spreading thick hunks of bread with butter. Visions of hogget, a famous New Zealand meat (half-way between lamb and mutton) invaded my subconscious thoughts, and even after I awoke I seemed to see big pot roasts of hoggett in front of me, at the foot of the bed, or on the shelf where I kept my few books.
And then my dreams took a new and horrifying turn. Until now they had always centred on plain but hugely satisfying dishes. One night, however, there was a startling change. No longer did I crave hoggett, nor even bread and butter; only one mouth-watering dish. there, on a great silver platter with, I remember, a highly ornate carving knife and fork, and surrounded by a mound of exotic vegetables, was the wild duck. I woke up shivering. The impact was as terrifying as if a head waiter had lifted a silver cover to reveal the elaborately cooked head of my best friend. Even though it was the middle of the night I jumped out of bed and rushed down to the beach to await the dawn and make sure the wild duck was still alive. How long I had to wait I don't remember, but soon after first light I was relieved to see her flying in. Only then did I go back to bed. I fell asleep instantly and did not wake again until nearly noon.
With the bright sunshine of another beautiful day morning the dream receded and became almost ridiculous, and that evening I could laugh at it as I fed the wild duck and she followed me around; indeed, I forgot about it ... until the dream recurred. And it went on recurring. Night after night, hungry, miserable and fed up with fish, I turned in - and each night there she was, cooked to a turn on a silver salver. Of course, I was passing through a highly emotional phase at this time - emotional, that is, for a man who rather prides himself on being matter-of-fact. I realise now it was caused by the total lack of tobacco, complicated by my hunger for meat and the rather worrying knowledge that I could no longer stand the taste of fish nor stomach the thought of another rooster. But dreams have curious repercussions. I began to discover that, having dreamed about this delicious meal night after night (and indeed, this dream plagued me for well over a fortnight), I was now somehow seeing my beloved duck through different eyes. The dream and the reality had somehow treacherously merged. I was horrified to discover that I was now questioning my reluctance even to think about cooking the wild duck. After all I was desperately in need of a change of diet, so surely there could be nothing wrong in simply ensuring my survival. Perhaps my duck might even feel there was a certain rightness in sacrificing herself to save a friend? Slowly but surely the murderous longing began to suffocate my last remaining scruples, so that when she waddled up to eat out of my hand I found myself thinking how easy it would be to grab her and wring her neck. Surely there was nothing lovable about a slightly ancient and tatty duck? Each evening she came to me, waiting to be killed. I must be mad not to oblige her.
But still I hesitated. It sounds ridiculous now, the inner struggle I endured. I didn't then - I never will - credit birds and animals with human feelings, but somehow that duck seemed to have crept into a rather different category. It was the only living thing which had come to the island and had become a friend during my stay. I had worked for weeks to gain her trust, and now at last she did trust me completely. I am not a sentimental man, and don't want to over-dramatise the situation but gradually it was borne in on me that I just couldn't bring myself to betray that trust. Each day she waddled after me; each day she came to be fed; each evening she flew off to Whale Islet. And still each day these murderous thoughts continued to torment me until one morning the temptation became so great that I almost put a hand around her neck. I was sweating. One twist and she would be ready for the pot. And then she gave one trusting innocent quack. It was enough. My hands fell to my sides. After this experience, I determined not to feed her by hand again. She came as usual next evening and I laid out her uto and the can of water. But that wasn't her recognise routine any more and so she waited for me to stretch out a handful of food towards her. I felt bad about her - but I wasn't going to risk her life again.
From that moment on I refused to feed her and she in turn declined to eat. This struggle between us lasted for a week, during which time I felt perhaps at my lowest ebb. Then one day she failed to fly in. I waited until noon, but when there was no sign of her I almost panicked. Without hesitation I pushed the Ruptured Duckling out into the midst of a rough chop and rowed over to Whale Islet. I thought she might be hurt, but there was no sign of here either. I searched the motu from one end to the other. She had gone, and I never saw her again. I must confess that after this my life seemed to become infinitely stale and dreary. I must have been feeling very low and disconsolate for there are gaps in my journal right up until Christmas Eve. but on this day everything changed with one amazing stroke of good fortune. I discovered a turtle on the beach. it was the first time I had seen one since I landed on Suvarov over a year previously, and as she made her painfully slow way along the beach, I could see that she was enormous, and must have weighed three hundred pounds. I ran towards her - for her was the meat for which I longed so desperately - I but I had great difficulty in turning her over on to her back which was at least three feet broad. But having done this - and it's the only way to make a turtle helpless - I was not certain about the next step. For despite all my years in the islands, I had never seen a turtle killed. I touched the underneath of the thick, leathery neck and she immediately withdrew her head close to the shell. After some thought I returned to the shack, and collected my hammer. Then I went back to the beach and gave the turtle one terrific blow on the head. It seemed to kill her, for her head and neck relaxed, which enabled me to cut off her head - a hateful, difficult job. But as I worked, cutting through the leathery skin and panting with exhaustion in the hot sun beating down on the beach, I kept on saying, "Neale, this is meat - you've got to do it if you want to keep going."
There was no shade and it took me over a couple of hours, using my sharpest knife, to cut off the giant shell. When I had prised off the shell, I found that some of the meat was greenish in colour, some red. I knew that natives eat the green meat, but hungry though I was, I couldn't face it. So I cut away the red meat which looked just like beef, and heaped it up to carry back to my larder. After cleaning the shell, which I kept, I buried everything else, including the green meat and the intestines, in the sand. I celebrated Christmas Day with an outsized turtle steak - it seemed the finest meat dish I had ever tasted - and because I was afraid the rest would go bad, I cut it up into chunks and stewed it with some spring onions. After this feast I decided to keep my last tin of bully beef for New Year's Eve - by which time I reckoned the turtle would be finished. That one week of good eating worked wonders. With plenty of good, nourishing turtle meals each day, I discovered that not only my health but my whole outlook was taking a turn for the better. I am certain the meat helped to cure my craving for cigarettes, for suddenly everything looked brighter. Indeed, I felt so much better that I (almost) forgot I had no tobacco. My loneliness and depression vanished and I even forgot about the wild duck. Starting on New Year's Day, I began to work five hours each day again on the pier. And I found myself tackling this work in a totally different frame of mine, for now the blocks I had piled up stretching out from the beach no longer struck me as a pathetic monument to a task whose vast scope had hitherto simply mocked my puny efforts.
Well fed, cheerful, and full of new heart, those same blocks of coral now looked a remarkable - even magnificent - achievement, whose completion only needed one last spurt of effort. It took me six weeks of hard labour, but in the end I had the pier completed. Every block was in place, every niche had been carefully packed. By the middle of February I had not only rebuilt the famous pier of Anchorage - having rolled, carried or trundled every single stone of it myself - but at the far end I had also built a small platform with a thatched roof which would be cosy for fishing on nights when the weather was bad. I surveyed my handiwork with considerable pride. It looked solid enough. For I had - often with great difficulty - placed the blocks dead square on the natural foundations of the fringe reef so that the top of the pier was almost as smooth as a paved road, with every crack between the differently shaped blocks carefully packed with smaller stones or even gravel from the beach. I could walk on it without rubber shoes. It had taken over six months to build and suddenly as I looked at it, I remembered when I had first decided to work on it. It was the day the Beyond had sailed out of the lagoon. And as soon as she left for Apia I had hauled my first block of coral into position.
Six months! As I walked along the pier, testing my weight, looking for any loose cracks, I was thinking what an eventful period it had been - fever, hunger, tobacco craving, even the strange episode of the wild duck. And yet, despite all the problems, the pier was finished. Now the strain and the sweat were ended, and when I stepped back on the beach and looked at the pier from a distance, I reflected that in New Zealand a gang of men, armed with a block and tackle or bulldozer, would have charged a small fortune to build it. I could hardly believe my temerity in starting such an enormous task single-handed. Six long, hard months. And yet it seemed as though it was only yesterday when Tom Worth had presented me with the farewell bottle of rum, and I had thought how shabby the pier looked. A celebration of some sort was needed, so when I had secured the last piece of coconut thatch on the roof of my new fishing hut, I declared a holiday to commemorate the official opening. I must have had a touch of the sun that day for I described a long imaginative scene in my journal.
"Amidst scenes of great enthusiasm the new wharf was officially opened by the president of the island council, Mr. tom-Tom. The trans-lagoon vessel Ruptured Duckling berthed at the end of the wharf while the band played, 'Oh, for a Slice of Bread and Cheese!'
"In his speech, Mr. Tom-Tom paid tribute to the contractor and his staff, who in the face of numerous difficulties successfully completed the colossal undertaking. He went on to say that with the great depth of twelve inches at the end of the wharf at low tide, the largest vessel could now berth with safety and that in the future we could hope to see many more vessels use this port.
"Afternoon tea was served by Mrs. Thievery and her able assistants. In the evening a dance was held at the pavilion after a fine supper of fish guts and rats' tails. Young Mr. Sparrow occasioned much amusement by his humorous song 'Uto for Breakfast, Uto for Lunch.' Dancing continued until the small hours and was concluded by the singing of the Suvarov national anthem, 'We Ain't Had a Ship in Years'."
Well, I had done it. It had been a near thing and once the task had nearly beaten me. But in the end I had succeeded in completing what I had set out to do - and that pleased me very much.
I was only just in time. Within twenty-four hours of our "public holiday" the barometer started falling with alarming speed. Though the next morning dawned perfectly calm, the flat, still sea was the colour of lead, and Anchorage was blanketed by a stifling, suffocating heat. Nothing moved - not a palm frond, not a spiky pandanus leaf - and when I walked over to the east coast and looked out from Pylades Bay to the sea beyond the reef, even its calm held the hidden menace of a disguise, as though it were hoping to trap the unwary by its seemingly placid surface. I knew the portents only too well (that trite old phrase about the calm before the storm) and stroke back to the shack. There was no immediate hurry - but equally there was no doubt that serious trouble was on the way. Before doing anything else, I checked my survival cache of tools, making sure my extra matches in their sealed tin were dry, and then took the box over to the "burial hole" in the outhouse. Next I lit a good fire on my brick hearth, and while it was burning, went out with my spear for a concentrated hour of fishing. It seemed provident to lay in some emergency rations, for there was no telling with a big storm; it could last a few hours or a few days. I had plenty of cooked uto, but I foraged around for a couple of dozen more, which I cooked, and then I laid out double rations for the fowls. Next - as the first puffs of wind ruffled the palms - I inspected the garden for any ripe fruit which would be mercilessly blown off the plants when the inevitable storm broke.
By noon the calm had given way to the white horses that caused Conrad to write that the whole sea resembled "a floor of foaming crests" and the palm fronds were no longer still. The first winds had reached Anchorage, after travelling hundreds of miles from some great storm far away to the north. By the time I had tested the wire guy-ropes lashing down my shack, I felt there was nothing more I could do in the way of preparation. A dozen or more ku wrapped in breadfruit leaves were slowly baking on the hearth. A couple of reef cod were in the stewpot. I had sufficient uto to withstand a siege of several days - and in a way it was rather like preparing for a siege against an implacable foe. In the outhouse I had a plentiful supply of wood, and in the kai room a good stock of arrowroot, plenty of fresh vegetables including yams, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach and onions. A dozen drinking nuts, a couple of ripe breadfruit and a stem of bananas completed by emergency rations.
By mid-afternoon gigantic seas were visible breaking all along the reef to the north, and before sunset, when the storm was beginning to reach its height, seas more huge than I had ever seen before began breaking right across the half-mile width of the entrance to the passage. The rolling mass of water surged on through and over the passage, only gradually losing its massive force as it lost impetus in the great stretch of water inside the lagoon. I remember saying to myself, "Neale! This could be another 'forty-two." The wind had now risen in tremendous force, and the last thing I did outside before seeking the sanctuary of my shack was to struggle a couple of hundred yards to the highest point of the island. This was only fifteen feet above normal sea-level, but already from vantage point it seemed as though Anchorage was beginning to shrink as waves came rolling through the gap in the barrier reef to engulf the beaches and creep up more and more greedily every minute. Just behind the beach and not far from the pier the first coconut tree fell with a crash, torn out by the roots, as though giant fingers were already starting to loot the island. Waves pounded right over the pier and as I looked north, I could see more gigantic waves tearing through the half-mile stretch of fringing reef separating Anchorage from Whale Islet, surging into the lagoon, by now rapidly becoming an immense waste of boiling seas.
For a few minutes more I stood clinging to one of the five tamanu trees. I don't think I was physically frightened; I was more fascinated, even overawed by the inevitability of it all, by the relentless march forward of the seas until the beach seemed to vanish before my eyes, and the white foam of the waves boomed and crashed into the very jungle itself, then trickled out over the roots of trees like soapy water, only to be met by the next great wave. Anchorage seemed so puny, so fragile against this stream-roller; yes, that was the word Frisbie had used, "Anchorage is damn' fragile", and as I stood there, soaked and blinded with a mixture of salt spray and the rain already starting to pelt down, I could understand another of Frisbie's descriptions of the wind "shrieking", for this is what it actually did. It shrieked through the palm fronds with an almost animal wail. For a few moments I stood watching, fascinated, listening as the noise was punctuated by the crash of another big tree falling. There was nothing I could do. Somehow I struggled back to the shack, fighting my way across the yard, already littered with the smashed branches of trees. When I reached the veranda and opened the door to my office, the wind in a sudden burst of ferocity caught it, almost dragging me back, so that I had to struggle to get inside.
I managed to slam the door and secure it. I had already battened down all the shutters, but the wind threw itself against the tiny shack with such malevolent fury that it seemed it was deliberately trying to tear it from its flimsy foundations. The shack suddenly seemed filled with draughts; the doors and shutters rattled angrily for the first time I realised I was cold and stiff. My limbs aches with the effort of reaching the shack, and when I lit the lantern - for the shuttered room was in darkness - and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the bedroom wall I hardly recognised my own face, bright red and still glistening from the wind and the sting of the spray and rain. I rubbed myself down briskly before making a cup of tea. Though it was not, of course, blowing so hard as when Frisbie had been caught on the island, the storm was spectacular enough for me. More coconut palms were falling, nuts started flying through the air, and the tin roof vibrated like a buzz-saw. For it was the sound of the storm that was so incredible. I had weathered many a storm at sea, but there the sounds had been different and I had grown accustomed to them, but now the only resemblance to the wind whistling through the rigging came when the guy ropes twanged with each sudden gust. The wind was so strong that it blotted out almost all other sounds, though every now and then, I could hear the crash of another tree falling. At any moment I expected the roof of the shack to be torn away. (It certainly would have been had it not been for the guy ropes.) As the night were on, coconuts falling on the roof were to make sleep virtually impossible, and though I made another cup of tea before turning in, I was almost afraid to remain too long in the cook-house which was more flimsily built than the shack. 
For hours I stayed sleepless, almost deafened by the storm, keeping my lamp burning all night, since I didn't want the roof crashing in on me in the dark, but the wind attacked each shutter crack with such persistence that it gave only a miserable light and there was no possibility of reading. All I could do was sit on the edge of the bed, tensed and waiting. Sometime during the night I must have dozed off, for without warning the biggest crash of all seemed to burst almost on top of me. I ran to the office door, stumbling over a heap of paperback books strewn all over the floor. Wrenching at the door, I tried to push it open against the howling wind. It refused to budge. I put my shoulder to it and pushed with all my strength. Still I could not move it. This was no wind wedging the door ageist me - and yet the shack seemed secure. I could tell that because of the steady hammering of rain on the tin roof. Only now did I realise what had happened - the veranda roof must have gone. I lit the hurricane lamp, managed to open one of the shutters, and clambered through on to what was left of the veranda, dreading what I would find. Heavy rain hit me in the fact and in a second I was drenched, but I remember that, even before I looked around me, I realised that the wind had eased a bit, and I could tell immediately that it had backed to the north-west. That, I knew, meant that the worst of the storm was over. 
No wonder I had not been able to force open the office door. One end of the veranda roof, and the strong pole supporting it, had crashed down. but thank God the kai room was safe. When the coast-watchers had enclosed one end of the veranda, they must have reinforced it, but that part of the veranda roof thatched by the natives from the Mahurangi had been torn away. Beaten by a pitiless rain, I stumbled through the wreckage. It would take weeks to mend the veranda but there was nothing to do now except scramble back into the shack and close the shutter behind me. In the office I put the books back on the shelf, and then looked at the barometer. It had started to go up. As I returned to my bedroom and extinguished the hurricane lamp, the distant thunder which had growled for hours came closer and burst directly overhead. Almost continuous lightning seemed to penetrate every crack in the house. Within a few moments the original rhythm of rain drumming on the roof seemed to change; now sheets of rain came down, solid sheets. 
The storm was nearly spent. I heaved a sight of relief and went to bed, first yelling into the night, "Go on Huey! Bang those drums!" The cats curled up at my feet and I slept fitfully.
Next morning I woke to discover the sun bursting through a tracery of the palms just as though nothing eventful had happened. It felt good to be alive. I must have slept late for the cats were demanding food. I got up, stretched, then walked outside - and stopped in utter dismay. Four old trees had crashed across the yard. Half the fowl-run fence looked as though it had been torn up by a giant's fingers. One banana tree had been uprooted, the roots sticking into the air. I could have kicked over the garden fence without any effort. Miraculously, the shed and bath house were still standing, but the veranda was a wreck. Piles of brushwood, blown from other parts of the island, had turned the place into a mess where before I had pride myself on keeping it spick and span. I could have cried. There was little I could do immediately, however, and so I walked down the coral path, fighting my way through a tangle of smashed branches and uprooted trees, and often being forced to climb over scored of palm fronds snapped off the cotton threads. Finally I reached the beach.
My pier was gone. I just stood and stared. Six months of backbreaking labour had vanished in six hours. The massive blocks which had torn my hands and fingers and brought me so much fever had been hurled back in chaos towards the beach, and now by more or less all jumped up where I had found them. One glance was enough to explain how it had happened. It had not been the heavy seas bursting through the pass which had demolished the whole wharf (for these had simple gone cascading on into the centre of the lagoon before spending themselves). The gap between Whale Islet and the northern tip of Anchorage provided answer. For through that mill-race thousands of tons of water had been hurled straight at the pier.
"I was so downhearted," I wrote in my journal, "that I didn't even use any bad language, but walked slowly back to the house." 
Saved by a Miracle
Over three months had passed since the great storm. Six weeks or more had been required to repair the damage and clean up the mess, though I never again attempted to rebuild the pier. On this Saturday morning - it was May 22, 1954 - I had seldom felt better in my life. The hurricane season was now behind me, having left hardly another storm worth noting in my journal, and now calm weather had arrived and the garden had never looked or yielded better. For once there was hardly a real care to worry me. Everything was perfect. It was a beautiful morning with not a thing to warn me that within a couple of hours I should be virtually paralysed, and trembling with fear and in agonising pain. I had made a good breakfast off some ku which I had left overnight wrapped in leaves to cook on the hot bricks, fed the cats, and after washing up the dishes, I pushed the Ruptured Duckling into the lagoon and started to row her over the One Tree Island where I had decided to plant a few sprouting coconuts.
This coconut planting had recently developed into a sort of hobby. It started almost by accident when, on an easy day with no uto or firewood to collect, I suddenly fancied a change of scenery and rowed over to one of the motus. I had picked a fine day, but subconsciously I suppose I needed to persuade myself there was a reason for going. Coconut planting seemed the perfect answer, and in an odd way this pastime soon gave me an extraordinary sense of achievement, because every time I did it I had a feeling I was cheating evolution by a hundred years. On this particular morning I took my time rowing across the lagoon. I remember there was a slight headwind and that I reached the motu by seven a.m., pulled my unwieldy boat almost up to the edge of the coral beach, and without thinking lifted out the iron weight which served as my anchor and hurled it on to the beach. Then it happened. A searing sensation shot across my back and as I doubled up in agony, I cried out in sudden pain.
At that first moment on the beach I was more astonished than frightened. I kept absolutely still, the sweat running down my body. Then I gingerly tried to move - and cried out aloud involuntarily, as the pain seemed to lock me into immobility. I waited - it might have been a few minutes, but I have no recollection of how long I stood there. I do remember I was trembling all over. When I stood still I felt no pain, but the instant I tried to move, the smallest action sent spasms galloping through every muscle. I was in no doubt as to what must have happened. I was certain I had dislocated my back, and remember telling myself, "Neale, if you give in, this is the end." By now the early morning haze had lifted, and already the sun was beating down harshly on my bare and ruined back. From where I crouched I could see the palm tree skyline of Anchorage shimmering across the lagoon. Because of the water, the distance looked deceptively close - hardly more than a quarter of a mile away. Yet in reality the flimsy shelter of my shack was over three miles away, and in my crippled state I was horribly aware that the chances of getting back there were infinitely remote. Nor did I even think I could possibly make the ten yards to the Raptured Duckling.
I could see her floating in shallow water, and because I knew I had somehow to reach her, made an effort, but could not even turn in her direction. The pain was so intense at the slightest movement that it literally made me sweat all over. I could turn my head - but nothing more. Now that I think back, the curious thing was that I, who was normally able to bear pain, did not dare to invite even a brief spasm of pain by any movement. And yet I could not stand there like a lonely statue until I dropped of fatigue. At last I decided to try and reach the boat on all fours. I let myself subside gently on to the beach near the anchor weight, and crouched there gasping until a little strength returned. Somehow I regained touch of confidence, but I did not dare to lie down (though I longed to ease myself into a more bearable position) I would never be able to get up again on my own. As a result, I simply stayed where I was, crouching in the hot sun for what must have been the best part of an hour, trying to summon sufficient courage to make a move. I almost tried several times, but at the last moment instinct, or terror of the pain I knew any movement must bring, stopped me. I just could not face it. As the moments dragged on, sweat streamed off me as though I had stepped out of my bucket shower.
I find it impossible now to describe how, or exactly why, I brought myself to make a final effort. I was horribly, almost petrifyingly aware of the desperate fix I was in. Here I was, virtually paralysed, two hundred miles away from the nearest human being. Nor was there any reason why a boat should unexpectedly call at Suvarov. Entirely alone, I would die on One Tree like a dog, gasping in the sun, unless I made some supreme effort to help myself. At this moment, it struck me I was probably likely to die anyway, but looking back on that moment now, I am sure that what fired me into agonising effort was not so much an instinctive sense of self-preservation, as a desperate craving to reach my shack. It was my only home and I had to reach it. And even if I were doomed to die in total isolation, at least it would be on my own bed. This longing to reach Anchorage, this overwhelming instinct to be on my own island, gathered such strength in my mind that at last I made one supreme effort. It was incredibly difficult, and I must have made a dozen false starts; stopping and sweating profusely each time as though a powerful hand were preventing me from moving. Since then I've heard that a man with a stiff neck is totally unable to force himself to turn his head suddenly. This was my predicament, complicated almost beyond endurance since my whole body seemed clamped in one vast, torturing vice.
I still do not know how I did it. I simply cannot recall exactly how I summoned the energy and determination which enabled me to crawl the ten yards to the boat. I have no idea how long it took, because each crab-like movement forward brought on an excruciating pain which necessitated a pause to stop and rest. But somehow, through a haze of pain, crawling and slithering in the warm, shallow water, I managed to reach her. And curiously enough, when I did and had half-raised myself to grab the gunwale, the pain decreased. It was as though the act of clutching at solid support, even the reassuring familiar sway of the Raptured Duckling, induced some mental balm. I rested on the thwart, gasping and endeavouring to keep as still as possible, feeling terribly lonely and helpless. Months ago back in Raro I had never envisaged a moment like this, never dreamt that a single, unthinking action could plunge me into a situation where even the natural instinct to hope seemed presumptuous. For - sweating and gasping, hardly daring to breathe - it wasn't this moment of pathetic achievement which worried me, it wasn't even the pain. What stared me unblinkingly in the face was the bleak, hopeless future. For what chance had I to survive? How could I feed myself unless I could move about? Such thoughts, whose frightening implications were hardly crystallising clearly in my pain-dulled brain, were still infinitely more disturbing than the physical pain. Often before on the island I had felt lonely or even physically low. Fever had left me like a dish-rag, but at least once I had pulled out of it, I had never been helpless. Now for the first time I was facing the one situation I had never imagined possible; the moment when I found myself forced to admit, "Neale, now there's nothing you can do." 
That moment was on me. And I was down to the last and only refuge I had - which was to reach Anchorage, even if I died in the attempt. fortunately, on my way over I had not unfurled the sails sine I had faced a headwind when coming over to One Tree Island. I reckoned I could count on the breeze and current to help me drift back. but first I had to clamber aboard. The slow crab-crawl across the beach had exhausted me, but half-lying, half-crouching there, I sensed that the only way to get into the boat was a painful progression through small stages. Eventually I managed to stand upright, though I was so terrified of moving my back that I stayed in one position for about ten minutes. Then I gingerly lifted one leg from the knee. Providing I didn't twist my pelvis, it didn't hurt too much. I tried the other leg - successfully. Inch by inch I turned my fee, edging round, until I faced the boat. The sweat poured down me, off my head and into my eyes. I couldn't even lift an arm to wipe it away. After a short rest I lifted one leg again, bending the knew until I could just about step over the side of the Duckling. The slight movement of the water made it tricky, but I managed to inch one leg over, and then the other. After that I carefully lowered myself on to the seat, sitting stiffly upright.   
Once I was there, the pain seemed a little less agonising; or, maybe, as one gradually comes to recognise in life, the human body has a capacity for coming to terms with suffering. Fortunately I had left my machete in the boat and I had a long painter, so I was able to gather up some of the rope into a sort of coil in front of me, and then with one agonising swipe I managed to cut through the nearest section and so free the anchor. Almost immediately I could feel the Duckling beginning to drift away from the beach. Looking back, I must have spent the next four hours in a daze of pain. Somehow or other, with the wind behind me, the Duckling started to make erratic progress back towards the island. I cannot tell the story of that frightful trip in detail, nor even coherently, for the simple reason that I can only recall it in an episodic sort of fashion. I remember I had to sit bolt upright; it was the only safe way. The sun, which I normally regarded as an ally, now seemed to have become my most pitiless enemy, because at the moment of clambering into the boat, my hat had fallen off, and I could not reach it - nor, had I been able to do so, could I have placed it on my head. Fortunately, I was able to move my arms backwards and forwards - so long as I did not raise them, or move my back. So, by sitting as still as possible, I slowly inched my hands towards the two oars, and managed to get them into position. I was facing the way we were going and did not have the courage to try and turn round, but I was able, from time to time, to make short "reverse" strokes, in the way a boatman can push a boat while facing his objective. They helped to keep the Duckling on a fairly straight course. 
Ahead of me I could see Anchorage, and without doubt the most agonising thing of all was the manner in which the island seemed so tantalisingly close, yet frustratingly never seemed to come any nearer. I realised, for the first time in my life, what men dying of thirst must feel at the sight of a mirage. The island looked close enough for a couple of puffs of wind to carry the Duckling on to the beach. I could clearly see the palms moving - the palms that Stevenson described as the "giraffe of vegetables" - yet an hour later, two hours later, the skyline seemed just as near - and just as distant. Every instinct told me that I must be moving towards her, yet at times my dulled mind refused to accept the truth, and I would sit, the sun beating down on a head that was normally covered, terrified to make a false movement, and wonder if, in fact, I was really making for Anchorage. I almost gave up hope so many times. The hours of agony seemed interminable. The shimmer and sheen of the water dancing in front of me seemed to cause yet another pain that bored into my eyes and brain. Once or twice I made a false movement. Then, after painfully righting myself, I could do nothing for a few moments except sit still and upright, sweating and trembling with the memory of the sudden, jerking pain. 
At last I arrived off the beach, moving in very, very slowly, and now I suddenly became desperately preoccupied with how I was going to beach the boat. Looking back, I think I must have now decided that life was worth living, or maybe the pain was a little more bearable, for I no longer felt quite so lonely and helpless. I was nearly home - but I was terrified at the prospect of not being able to beach the Duckling. Although the anchor had vanished when I had cut the painter to get free from One Tree Island, there was still a considerable length of rope left in the bottom of the boat. This rope was in every sense literally my last sheet anchor. And it worried me into a state of impotent frenzy. On the one hand, I certainly did not possess the strength to use it to drag the boat up the beach. On the other, I dare not lose hold of it, because otherwise I would lose the boat, and without her life on the island would be virtually impossible. I am still hazy about what actually happened, but through my clouded memory I recall the whole problem being solved by a providential wave, which hit us without warning. All I remember is a sensation of being lifted, I lost my balance and yelped with the sudden stab of pain. When I opened my eyes, the Ruptured Duckling was aground on the edge of the beach, so close to my boxwood chair that I might have placed her there myself. She had half keeled over so that I was able to roll out of her, crawl up the beach with the severed rope and tie her to the nearest palm. 
It was now midday, and a fierce and uncompromising sun made me painfully aware I must reach the shelter of my shack as quickly as I could. After a brief rest, I managed to regain my crab-crawl position, and started to make my way up the coral path towards the front porch. Only a confused recollection remains of the ensuing moments of that journey. I presume my slow and agonising progress must have been stretched over a very long time, but I know that at last I managed to roll into my bed, talking with me two coconuts which I discovered in the kitchen, a glass, a machete and my home-made calendar. I remember I knew I simply had to have calendar, because it had suddenly become more important to me than food and drink. Living entirely alone tends to make one highly aware of all the awful things which can descend on one when one is helpless, and now a sudden fear had gripped me - that I might be doomed to lie in bed, eventually recover, and yet remain entirely ignorant of how many days, or weeks, or even months had passed. It would be like losing one's whole grip on time, like having part of one's life irretrievably lost. As I rolled on to the bed, clutching my paper calendar pad, I remember thinking that as my clock was working, and I would be bound to wake from time to time, I would then be able to mark my calendar as the days passed. This marking of the calendar was to become a complete and consuming obsession. 
I must already have begun to calculate - or perhaps dream is a better description of my state at that moment - that I was somehow or other bound to recover in the course of a week or so, and already this comforting prospect had become so confused with the real state of affairs that it seemed quite natural for me to envisage lying on my back for weeks, without even bothering to wonder how I would be able to exist without food and water. I was so relieved and so happy, just being on my own bed with the cats purring close at hand, that I never somehow gave a thought to such vital necessities as food and drink. I remember one mundane thought, however. As I lay there, groaning, I recollect thinking I would give everything in the world - yes, even the Ruptured Duckling - for a cigarette. Just one cigarette, or if that were asking too much, then just one stub which would be sufficient for a couple of whiffs. I must have dozed off from time to time, for I can remember almost nothing of the days and nights that followed. Strangely enough I have no recollection of opening my drinking nuts, though later my rescuers were to discover they had been opened and the glass had been used (as I planned) to prevent me wetting the bed. but the possibility of rescue never for a moment entered my mind. The chance was too remote and absurd. I would just have to stick it out and hope the jammed muscles would unlock. that was as near to a miracle as I could expect. 
I remember I could roll my head and move my arms, so I suppose I must have held up the nuts while lying on my back, and clumsily opened them with my machete. When I wanted to urinate I used the glass, then emptied it on the floor. But all this I was to learn later from my rescuers who arrived with such miraculous timing that, if this were a work of fiction, I would be blamed for contriving the clumsiest of long-armed coincidences. And I must admit that even now, when I think back, it all seems to have been too ridiculously "pat," as though I were guilty of exaggeration; and then I turn to the book Man and his Island which one of my rescuers wrote about his trip in the south Pacific, and there in black and white is the chapter describing what happened.   
I don't suppose I shall ever forget that day. I was awake, lying on my back, when I distinctly thought I heard voices, a sort of low hum like two-men talking. Not being a religious man, I hadn't thought much about miracles and at first I imagined it must be a dream. And, of course, it had to be a dream, however real the voices sounded, because the only other alternative must that I was going mad. I opened my eyes. Every object in my bedroom became clearly visible. Then I heard the voices again, followed by footsteps - and suddenly, wildly excited, I knew that this was no dream and that those voices must belong to fishermen who had landed on the island from Manihiki. I tried to shout, but though I could feel the muscles moving in my throat, no sound came out. The voices suddenly changed from a low incomprehensible jumble of sound into a distinct clear cough - the sort of apologetic cough a man makes when he enters a room unbidden - followed by two simple words, startlingly clear:
"Anybody home?"
"Who is it?" I managed to croak.
"Two fellows off a boat," cried the unknown voice.
"Come in, come in," I gasped.
In retrospect the delicacy displayed by my unknown visitors over entering my bedroom seems almost ludicrous. Two men now entered the room. My field of vision was limited, because I was unable to lift my head, but I was relieved to see quite clearly two brown, bearded faces - brown, yet the sunburned brown of white men. They stared at my face for a moment, and I noticed their eyes travel down to my chest, my pareu covering my loins. Then, in a surprised voice, one of them said, "Christ! He's a white man!"
"My name's Tom Neale." I gasped again. "Dislocated my back. You'll have to help me up. What day is it?"
"Wednesday," They were still staring at me. 
"What's the date?" I asked
"The twenty-sixth."
I still couldn't believe it. "I must have been lying here four days," I said. "Trying to summon the nerve to sit up."
"Good God!" The stranger nearest to me looked really concerned. "You must be starved. What can I cook you?"
"I sure would like a cup of tea, thanks." (Later they told me I even managed to grin.)
"Where shall I brew it?" he asked, glancing round my simple room.
I told him he could make a fire out in the cook-house, and this amazing man (whose name I was very soon to discover was Peb) briskly told his friend, "Go and make some tea, Bob, and I'll see if I can manoeuvre him into a sitting position."
From his accent I had already guessed he was an American, and as he bent over me now, his black beard brushing my face, I recognised the type - enormously strong, an inborn longing for adventure, undoubtedly a good sailor, all these obvious qualities concealing an inner capacity for gentleness and kindness. 
"Don't worry, Tom," he told me as he did one strong arm under my shoulders, "it'll hurt once - but only once."
It hurt like hell, but now it hardly seemed to matter. I gritted my teeth and in one movement he had me sitting up. As he had said, once it was over, it was over.
"It's made you sweat," he said gently. "Here, let me help you." He vanished into the kai room, came back with a teacloth and began to wipe the seat off my back and shoulders.
"I'll be all right in a minute," I said. I could hear his companion calling from the cook-house that the fire was going.
"What you need," replied Peb, "is a good meal. Every single rib you've got is showing. Hang on for a little while. I'll row back to my boat for some supplies."
Then, almost as an afterthought, "Do you use cigarettes?"
There was nothing I craved more in the world, but somehow that American accent with its curious expression, "Do you use cigarettes?" coming on top of the shock of relief and the certainty I was not dreaming, produced a ridiculous reaction. I started laughing. I don't really know why, but I think I must suddenly have remembered a Western I had read one evening in the shack. Sitting alone, I'd laughed then over a line when someone posed a question to the sheriff, and he had replied, "You're darned well right I do." I had an uncontrollable impulse to answer Peb with the same phrase until I saw the concern on his face. "You all right, Tom?" he asked anxiously.  
"A smoke would be really something now," I compromised.
That night I ate my finest meal for many a month - a bowl of good thick vegetable soup, a tin of meat and some tinned fruit. There were other miraculous things which Peb had brought over from his yacht. A stiff tot or rum - my first drink since I had finished the bottle Tom Worth had given me - a carton of cigarettes and, almost more important, a bottle of liniment with which my two new friends took it in turn to massage my back.
That massage did me a world of good, so much so that by that evening I was even able to sit up on one of my box chairs - so long as I remained bolt upright - whilst Peb and Bob tole me the story of how it was they had come to arrive on Suvarov at such an amazing and providential moment. "Peb" was the nickname for James Rockefeller. He lived in Maine, and had come to the Pacific some months ago in his boat, the Mandalay, accompanied by his friend Bob Grant. They had spent the time sailing from island to island, "Which," as Peb explained, "is the perfect way to learn about the South Pacific." Peb was making notes and taking photographs for a book - which he was later to publish - and I have the impression that they had enough money to last them for some months. Over the years I had met several young, adventurous Americans who had saved hard, then thrown up their jobs to make a trip of this sort before settling down, and they fitted into the mould. Having left Tahiti nearly eight hundred miles astern, they had set course for Samoa when Peb, who had been looking through the Pilot Directions had come across what he described to me as "one magic phrase." It was: "Suvarov is uninhabited."  
They decided to spend a couple of weeks on a desert island. "As soon as I read the word 'Suvarov I remembered all about the place," Peb told me that evening. "I'd read how treasure had been found on the island, and of course I'd read my Frisbie before I left the States. When I glanced through Pilot directions I just felt an impelling urge to see what it was like." Not for a moment had it ever entered their heads there might be someone living on the island. Peb told me they had both stared unsuspectingly at the deserted beach through their binoculars until something suddenly riveted their attention. It was my boat pulled up on the sand and, next to it under the palms, my special chair. They anchored and rowed ashore. "One of the things that struck us was that the name 'Raptured Duckling' had been painted on your boat with a very shaky hand," said Peb. Once on the beach they discovered the path I had made and walked up it towards the shack. It must have been an eerie sensation - the Ruptured Ducking, the chair - and yet no sign of life. "It reminded;me a bit of the Marie Celeste," Bob told me. On reaching the porch, they had both shouted loudly. But although their voices must have been forceful enough to have been heard all over Anchorage, there had been nothing but a strange, uncanny silence. There seemed nothing to do but go inside the shack. "The first room I looked into seemed to be a sort of study or office," Peb told me. "I could see books on the shelves and the desk piled high with papers and magazines. Then I looked into the second room - your bedroom. It was a bit dark and at first I couldn't see anything except the lower end of your wooden bed with its white sheet; then by God, I saw two feet on that sheet. We were so astounded that Bob whispered to me that we ought to have knocked, and he coughed, hoping you might hear us. I had a horrible fear that a dead man lay in that room. It was then that I called out, 'Anybody home?' boy! Was I glad when I heard your voice!"
My visitors stayed two weeks with me on Suvarov, nursing me back to life with wonderful care and gentleness and building me up with good solid tinned food from the Mandalay. It was the sort of food I had not eaten for months, and it was borne in on me once again that the human body needs meat of some sort to sustain it, especially when there is heavy manual labour to be done. Swapping our food worked very well, for they were delighted to eat fresh fish, eggs, fowls, vegetables and fruit, while I wallowed in tinned pork and beef, and cooked wonderful fresh bread with their flour. In those two very happy weeks, my back seemed to improve with an almost incredible speed, though, as I noted in my journal, I was unable to use both hands to wash my face until June 8 - nearly two weeks after the seizure. Twice a day Peb or Bob rubbed me down with liniment and soon I was able to walk fairly easily and even take an occasional dip in Pylades Bay. Every now and then, however, a twinge doubled me up as it stabbed its way right across my back, and reminded me vividly that things were far from right just yet. Although each spasm passed comparatively quickly, it was clear there was some lasting damage. 

"Don't think you've licked it," Peb tole me towards the end of their stay. "You'll never lick it till you see a doc." Not unnaturally, I had been giving a great deal of thought to the future, for I was really frightened about the state of my back. The memory of that morning on One Tree motu still disturbed me as vividly as the occasional twinge of pain, and I knew Peb was right. I would never recover until I had some sort of medical attention. I might be able to carry on for a few months if I were careful, but what sort of a life would it be for a man hundreds of miles from any sort of help, perpetually forced to walk gingerly, think twice before daring to lift a spade or chop down a nut? I was in no doubt now that it was exertion that brought on the crippling pain; a sudden jerk, the quick instinctive tensing of muscles even before the message had passed from brain to limb. A disability like this was obviously an impossibility on an island where physical effort was vital in order to keep alive. I had to face it. This serious weakness would not only make life impossible, but little short of suicidal into the bargain. Had I had a companion, a Man Friday, I might have been tempted to remain, for Peb's constant help had proved that a companion could quickly get me into a sitting position, and unlock the muscles I would have been powerless to free alone. But there was no companion, and soon even Peb would be on his way.     

"I suppose I'll have to leave," I remember saying as we walked slowly along the beach just as dusk was falling, the time of the day I like best of all. "I hate the idea, but I'm scared of my back - and I want to live a little longer. Peb was sympathy itself. Tactfully he offered me passage to Pago Pago although he did not have much room on the Mandalay. I refused, however, for two reasons. Were he to land me in Samoa, I would be left with no prospect but to borrow or work for the money necessary for a passage back to Raro on the infrequent boats that plied between the port and Pago Pago. If I had to return to Raro, then I wanted to go there directly. And secondly, something else held me back, something that inhibited me from travelling away from my island with Peb and Bob, wonderful fellows though they were. They could never grasp just what leaving the island was going to mean to me. There was no reason why these two young, intelligent men "doing" the Pacific should understand. I admired their courage and eagerness to discover what life was like amongst the islands in the real tough way (rather than on a conducted tour), but I knew too that for them the experience would never have nostalgic memory related around the fireside to their children, brought alive with albums of photos so that they could relive the great adventure of their youth. 
To me, in sharp contrast, the island was not an adventure, it was something infinitely bigger . . . a whole way of life; and so, if I had to leave Suvarov, I knew it was vital I would spend my last few weeks alone on the island. I have seldom ever felt anything more strongly and I think Peb understood this, for he did not attempt to persuade me to change my mind, but merely nodded at my attempt to explain my feeling, and agreed to my suggestion that when he reached Pago Pago he should send a cable to the Commissioner in Raro, telling him I was ill, and asking him to instruct the next schooner for Manihiki to pick me up on her way back. The commissioner would probably be angry since this sort of thing cost Government money, but in my present mood I was not unduly over-sensitive over the risk of incurring a little official wrath. And so on our last night together we had a farewell party, and I cannot do better than quote from my journal on Sunday, June 6: "Killed another rooster for the last meal my friends will share with me here, since they are due to leave tomorrow provided the weather is suitable. We had a wonderful meal with a bottle of champagne chilled in a wet bag hung in the shade in the breeze and finishing off with chocolate cake (iced and cooked on the boat) and some good coffee. The best meal I've yet had here."
After our meal, a tot or two of rum kept us yarning halfway through the night which was clear and filled with stars. I was very moved because I liked these two boys immensely, and could not escape a gently melancholy (eased by the rum) knowing that, life being what it is, this was probably the last time I would ever see and talk to the two men whom chance had sent to save my life. Just as I anticipated that night, I never have seen Peb or Bob again, though we have corresponded, and I hear Peb had married and settled down. The morning of their departure, Peb asked me over to the Mandalay there, ready for me, were some stores, a good supply of cigarettes, and a couple of bottles of rum.
"They'll tide your over until the island schooner comes to pick you up-" Peb gave me a final handshake - "and for God's sake be careful."
"See you one of these days!" cried Bob, and then in no time, it seemed, Bob was winding up the anchor and almost before I realised what was happening, the Mandalay was slowly moving as the first wind caught her sail. I stood by the broken-down pier for a long time watching her slowly getting smaller. When the yacht was almost out of sight, I turned and walked up the coral-edged path to the shack and brewed myself a cup of tea. It was an important moment. During the last two weeks the three of us had proved conclusively that three can be good company. Never for one moment had we exchanged a cross word, never experienced a moment of discord. They had proved staunch friends, the sort of friends one does not often meet in a lifetime. Yet when the kettle started to hiss, and I warmed the pot, and put a larger spoonful in for good luck, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Two weeks were to elapse before the ship called to pick me up. Looking back, although I had to be very careful about moving around and was always conscious of my back, these were the happiest weeks of my life.  

Farewell to the Island 

Long before I could set eyes on her, I knew it must the Manihiki schooner. That smudge dusting the horizon where the sea met the sky could only mark her arrival, for no other schooner would be so far off the trade routes. And though I had been anxiously scanning the horizon for days, worried about my back, a sudden thought now hit me like a blow between the eyes, a truth I had stubbornly refused to admit until now. Within a few hours I was going to be aboard that schooner. And once there I might never see Suvarov again. I can never forget that moment. I sat down on my beach chair to steady myself, and sliced open a drinking nut as I watched the sail take shape. An emotion closely bordering on panic and taking hold of me; not only apprehension at having to meet the people on the schooner, nor even the prospect of enduring a life I disliked in Raro. It was something much more profoundly disturbing than that. I just didn't want to leave. I knew, with a dull feeling of despair, that the last thing I ever wanted to do in life was to leave. Mr. Tom-Tom came out of the coconut palms and leapt as lightly as a coiled spring on to my lap. As I automatically stroked him I realised, as I had never realised before, that I had never wanted anything more from life than moments such as these. 
The impact of seeing that tiny smudge, the realisation that there was now no way of postponing my departure, brought a sudden forlorn portent of loneliness welling up in my mind. the urge to stay became so strong that the most ridiculous subterfuges flashed through my mind. Perhaps I could hide! If the landing party failed to find me, they might presume I had died on another motu, and so go away and leave me in peace. There might even be time to sail to another motu and hide there. I wondered (only for a moment, though) if I could stage my "death" - by leaving a few clothes on the beach as though I had been drowned. Once pain recedes, one forgets it so readily, and as I sat there I was assuring myself that even though the back pains did return, I would be touch enough to service. They did not seem too bad now, but, as I sat there, gingerly shifting round, I remembered with an illuminating flash of clarity that brought me right back to reality something Peb had said to me as we sat drinking rum on the porch one evening: "It's one thing to be killed or drowned in a hurricane or storm - in a way, it's a sort of end that's suit you, Tom. But it's something else to lie on your back, unable to move, all alone, slowly starving to death, alive but paralysed, knowing there's more food than you can eat just ten yards away."
He was right, of course. There was no escape. With a sigh I rose and stretched, tumbling a protesting Mr. Tom-Tom on to the beach. There was still a little while left before the ship reached the store. During those moments I walked back to the shack and started to pack my old battered leather suitcase, putting in the clothes I had not worn for eighteen months, two or three shirts, my "best" shoes. I kept out my only pair of respectable shorts and one shirt. I would dress up in these in the last few minutes. but before that I wanted to wash up for the last time, in the kitchen I had virtually created myself. I spent a little while there and was careful to leave everything spick and span, for sooner or later a yachtsman would pass this way.
Then I went for a last look round my garden, so spruce now, and so different from the wilderness it had been before I had killed all the wild pigs. The tomato plants came almost level with my head. Involuntarily I started to hack back some of the Indian spinach with my machete. Then I suddenly stopped, blinking in the sun, Why bother? The whole garden would be suffocated in less than a month. I went on to the chicken-run, opened the door and made it fast. The roosters and hens must run wild now, for without me and my familiar dinner gong they would starve. Like me, they didn't appear anxious to abandon their home, but stayed inside the confines of the wire door just scratching around, whilst I collected seven eggs. I thought I would give these to the captain of the schooner; fresh eggs always make a welcome change at sea. On a last impulse I caught and tied up four of the fattest clucking hens which might just as well go to the captain too. They wouldn't be of value to anybody now, running wild on Suvarov. I got out the cats' box which I had kept, for I had known I'd never leave them alone. They would be snug enough in that during the trip back to Raro. If I let them loose on the schooner, I would probably never see them again. some people hate cats and I could remember seeing a man throw one overboard in a fit of rage. 
I was packed and ready long before the ship came through the pass, for I knew from experience that when vessels deviate to lonely atolls, they do not like to linger. As she came slowly into the lagoon I recognised her. She was an ugly 300-ton twin-screwed boat called the Rannah, and I felt a pang of disappointment, for I suppose I had been hoping that it might have been Andy in the Tiare Taporo. It would have helped a lot to see Andy at this moment of my life. By the time the anchor chain had rattled down, I had carried my suitcase, Gladstone, my tools, the fowls and the cats' box down to the pier, and I stood there, watching as the ship's boat was lowered to pick me up. Then a couple of Cook Islanders splashed ashore and greeted me cheerfully. I knew them for both had served with me on other vessels. I tried to be polite, but I could not force the words as I climbed carefully into the boat and sat there, upright, while two men rowed me to the schooner. I had a bit of a job getting aboard, for the Rannah, which carried a crew of twelve and half a dozen cabin passengers (plus innumerable deck passengers!) rode high in the water. but everybody seemed anxious to help, and then I saw the skipper, John Blakelock, an old friend, giving me a welcoming wave from the top deck. 
Blakelock must have been in his fifties, a powerfully built man who had seen the world - in all sorts of jobs. He had been policeman, planter, trader, as well as sailor. I waved back as best I could, but I don't know whether he saw me, for like everybody else he was in a hurry. Everybody seemed in a bewildering rush, and in a few moments we were moving again, and I was leaning over the Rannah's stern watching the atoll recede into the blue-grey distance. It was June 24, 1954. One or two passengers came up to me, and tentatively started asking questions; but I didn't feel like talking. It was one thing to talk to chance visitors to Suvarov, but that was very different from being accosted by strangers who did not even bother to introduce themselves, but were patently only anxious to be able to tell their families they had actually met and spoken with a crazy hermit who had been living on a desert island. My daydreaming was rudely shattered by John Blakelock's voice behind me, crying, "Come on down, Tom, and let's have a shot!" I know he meant it kindly, but how was he to tell, how could he realise, that this was the one moment in my life when I most wanted to be alone. I am not ashamed to admit there were tears in my eyes as the smudge that had been my home for twenty-one months grew smaller and smaller, paler and paler, until finally it merged into the horizon and I could see it no more. Vainly I tried to shut my ears to the jarring sounds around me the native passengers laughing and giggling, the shouts of the crew, with an occasional expletive thrown in for good measure. 
I thought back to the happy evenings I had spent on the beach with the cats purring as the sun went down, to the undisturbed rhythm of a life that none of these people around me could ever remotely imagine, to the day I caulked the boat, the evening I made the candles, the morning I discovered the brick. And now it was all gone, receding into a sort of dream as rapidly as the island had receded before my eyes. I remember standing there, and suddenly shivering as the captain yelled again for me to join him in a drink. It was not the cold that caused the shiver, but the sudden recollection of an old Tahitian proverb I had heard years ago. "The coral waxes, the palm grows, but man departs." 

Six Frustrating Years

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