- The Man Who Was King
- The Johns Hopkins University Press and Faber & Faber Ltd
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6 ] The Man Who Was King1 Smith Academy Record, 8 (June 1905) -3 Cap’n Jimmy Magruder, retired A. B. mariner, and at present engaged in lobster-trawling and skippering summer visitors, is famous in his own country for his genius at telling stories of his adventures at sea. There is one in particular of his brief experience as a king, of which he is particularly fond. I have heard him tell it many times, and always with different and more wonderful incidents. The main facts, however, which he includes in every edition, are like this. One cruise he was on a sealing vessel in Polynesia. The ship, an old one, went to pieces in a storm, about latitude 22 degrees, south. I never could find out any thing certain about this shipwreck, but it is certain that after the boat went down the captain found himself clinging to a spar, with nothing in sight but a low-lying island about half a mile away, and the reef, boiling with breakers, on which the ship had split. To this island he slowly made his way, holding onto the gaff, and was finally flung half-drowned upon the long sandy beach. This island, he found out afterwards, was Matahiva, in the Paumota group. Not long after the captain was there, the French got hold of it and built a post there. They educated the natives to wear clothes on Sunday and go to church, so that now they are quite civilized and uninteresting. But till the day when the captain was thrown on the beach, a white man had never been there, which was the reason he was received with so much honor.2 The captain crept into a dense thicket of tari-bushes and fell sound asleep. It was several hours before he awoke, to find himself in a rather unusual position. He was being borne on a kind of a litter by two of the islanders, and formed a part of a procession. First marched along the path two natives, who seemed to be priests, by their having more clothes than the rest, and carrying bowls filled with smoking incense, which had a most unpleasant odor. Next came the two menwiththelitterandafterthatalittlemobofmenbeatingbhghons(asortof cross between tin pan and gong) and chanting monotonously. The captain of course did not understand all this, but learned it afterwards. Itappearsthatthekinghadjustdied,andthatwhiletheywerecastingaboutfor a new one, somebody discovered the captain asleep on the shore. As he was [ 7 The Man Who Was King strangely dressed and moreover, of a whitish color, they straightaway concluded that the gods had dropped him down for the purpose of ruling over them, and were now triumphantly bearing him to the village to inaugurate him. The captain soon found out that instead of being about to be roasted for the consumption of his hosts, he had attained a position of greater importance than he had ever aspired to reach. He succeeded to all the possessions of the late monarch, including the royal palace, which was about the size of a large woodshed, and was considered something remarkable by his subjects ; the royal harem, and the royal fishing boat, which was at least two feet longer than any other on the island. Life consisted of fishing, bathing, feasting, and getting drunk on wine made of the madu-nut. He ruled in this way for several months, and would have stayed there until theendofhislife,hadnotarebellionarisen.Thecausewasthis,theformerking had been in the custom of performing magic at the public festivals, such as breathing fire, holding a red-hot iron, or vanishing into the air on an endless rope, thereby earning great respect and admiration of his subjects. The captain could do none of these things: at feasts he only got drunk, which was not a remarkable enough feat to excite applause. Of this plot against him he was informed by a trusty slave, who crept into his palace in the night. No time could be lost. He at once went down to the shore and stocking his boat with provisions, set out without delay. His objective point was Tahiti, which is about three hundred miles away. Having a fair breeze, and good weather all the way, he reached Tahiti in about two weeks from the time of setting out. T. E. ’05 Notes 1. The title and plot of this story echo “The Man Who Would Be King” (1888) by Rudyard Kipling, on whose stories TSE was to write an undergraduate essay in...