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  ― 153 ―

Caught on the Beach.

IN the spring of '81, I was in Greymouth, M.L. For a young man just freed from the heat of North Queensland there was plenty to see and to do. The town is inconsiderable, but there is a noble river for bathing and boating. The bush-clad hills and narrow limestone caves are delightful; while to walk out along the mile-long breakwater, and watch the giant breakers rush surging in, gives an experience not easily to be paralleled elsewhere.

One day old Tainui, the Maori “odd man” at my hotel, started out for Point Elizabeth, a rocky headland some six miles up the north coast, to try a new lobster-pot he had made out of green supplejacks. We crossed to Cobden, an obsolete township on the north side of the Grey River, and here I foolishly gave old Tainui half-a-crown to get some rum. He got the rum and carried it, walking just behind me; and, after half-an-hour or so, he calmly lay down by the roadside, handing over to me with Maori gravity the empty rum bottle and the lobster-pot and bait.

Mentally cursing the old fellow, I pushed on. I had never been to Point Elizabeth, but it had been indicated to me from the steamer's deck, so I knew I was right when, after a couple of hours' tramp, I arrived at a rocky island surmounted at one end by a natural tower of rocks crowned with some tough bushes. The tide was just low enough for me to reach the fishing pools on the island, and in a few minutes I had baited my trap, moored it securely in a nice deep pool, and was quietly sitting down eating the lunch I had brought.

I had no lack of luck. Lobsters, or rather crayfish, were plentiful; and my first haul was three beauties. I had forgotten to take the bag from old Tainui; but I tipped them into a securely


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isolated pool in the table of rock from which I was fishing. Soon I had a couple of dozen crayfish in my extemporised aquarium, fighting and tumbling over each other; and, growing tired of such easy sport, I started to explore the rest of the little island.

Just then I discovered a curious thing. The pool I had my crayfish in was at the foot of a little wall of smooth rock some twelve feet high. Extending to within an inch of this wall, and in such a position as to half cover the pool I was using, was a huge flat piece of detached rock which, as I clambered upon it, I found to be just on the balance. It was, in fact, a “rocking stone.”

Here was a discovery. The mass was some ten or fifteen feet across; and, by shifting my weight some two or three feet on each side of the centre, I found I could rock the stone to and fro in a novel kind of see-saw. The rocking-stone sloped sharply down where it approached the little wall; and, going over to examine that side of it, my foot slipped from under me and I came bang against the wall. The impact momentarily released the rocking-stone; my right foot slipped in between the stone and the wall; and, as I took the weight of my body on my left, down came the stone again and I was a prisoner!

I could not take my weight off the rocking-stone, for there was no crevice in the smooth wall above me to which I could cling. I could not spring up to relieve the stone of my weight, for my right foot was jammed, and my left, being between it and the wall, was rendered useless—even if the stone, instead of sloping sharply down, had been flat enough to get a footing for a jump.

The pain, too, was intolerable. The space between the cliff and the stone was less than two inches, and I had the prospect of being slowly drowned as the tide rose.

Execrating my luck, I considered possible means of escape. I had my knife, and if I could cut away my boot I thought surely I could wrench my foot free. I got out the knife, and, after a lot of trouble, cut away my boot and sock. Then I got as good a purchase as I could with my free foot, and tugged and wrenched


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and tried to spring. No use; the harder I pressed with my free foot the greater the pressure on the rocking-stone and the tighter the jamb.

So I waited and waited. My foot was, of course, torn and bleeding, but so tightly compressed as to be almost without pain. By-and-by the tide began to come in, and I found myself stupidly wondering how long it would be before it reached my mouth; and whether Tainui would recover his senses and liberate me—or my remains. I pictured to myself my skeleton, and wondered whether my head would fall off first, or if I would float off from where I was jammed.

Then I fell into a kind of dozing stupor, and some hours must have passed, for presently I woke to find the spray dashing over my face. Then I discovered that feeling had come back to my foot. Slowly I grew conscious of a cutting, pinching sensation, and, looking through the crevices, I saw—the crayfish were grappling and beginning to eat my toes!

The agony of that time! I yelled idiotically at the brutes, forgetting they could not hear. I tried to stamp with my free foot, and then, the horror of the thing overcoming me, I cursed and yelled like a maniac.

Suddenly, during a lull in the booming of the surf, the echo of my despairing coo-ee came back to me from the foothills. Fool that I was not to have called out before, I thought; there might be someone within range. I had lungs like leather, and, quickened by hope and maddened by the attacks of the lobsters, I sent out a succession of coo-ees that fairly lacerated the atmosphere.

Just as I was on the point of desisting, a figure appeared on the beach. I thought of Tainui, but no! the figure was a woman's, and my heart sank as I reflected that she would be powerless to help. By this time the spray from the breakers was flying over my head incessantly. No sooner, however, had the woman made out for certain that there was someone on the rock than she set about


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rescue. Quickly she discarded her short and scanty costume and entered the surf. Cleverly she breasted the rollers, taking full advantage of the undertow and diving through the worst of the breakers, until she gained the rock and came stepping along its slippery surface.

As she neared me, I wondered. She was nearly full-grown, her body and limbs displaying the perfection of athletic womanly grace. She could not be a Maori—or a half-caste, even—she was too light. And she surely was not a European, for she betrayed no token of shame at standing thus nude before a man.

Quickly she learned my plight, and like a Trojan set herself to free me. She ran to the opposite end of the stone, and, though the breakers were now beating on it, tried to bear it down so that my end would tilt up and release me. Her weight was not enough, but as active mentally as she was physically, she sang out, “Hang out as well as you can while I go for a sapling.”

Though every second seemed like a minute to me, the novelty of this turn in the adventure took my mind off the pain sufficiently to let me admire the girl's strength and agility. Lord, how she swam! Sometimes I would see her on the curl of a breaker, side-arming ahead like a steam-engine. Then, as the wave broke, I would catch sight of her head as she shook her long hair back and gamely breasted the undertow. Soon she gained the shore and, wet and bare as she was, ran along the beach out of my sight. When she reappeared she had in her hand a tomahawk, and made across the shingle bank into the scrub that bounds the beach. She soon returned with a long, stout sapling.

How she lugged this heavy green stick through the surf over to the island where I was; how she inserted the end in the crevice alongside my foot and prized away that dreadful rock, must be imagined, for I cannot describe it. What I know is that she got me ashore just after dark, and, my foot being fearfully injured (the crayfish took part of two of my toes—old Dr. Morrice took the rest), she extemporised a pair of crutches and took me home to her father's hut.




  ― 157 ―

Here, in exchange for my own, I learned his history, which included, of course, that of his half-wild girl. His name was Tregarthen—a Cornishman; had been a miner; was a beachcomber on the seventeen-mile beach. She had grown up what Mrs. Grundy would call a regular heathen; till in her seventeenth year, though she could neither read, write, sew, nor dress herself decently, and knew no more of religion or civilisation than a troglodyte, she could shoot, fell a tree, “wash” the black-sand, dig in the garden, and swim like an otter.

I stayed at the house until the packer brought out a horse to carry me into town and to the hospital. And now … now my plain-spoken friends tell me that it was all a scheme, that I went fishing for lobsters and caught something that holds a good deal tighter even than a lobster—a wife. However, as the same friends rave about the beauty of my wife's face and figure, I am satisfied, because I, who first saw her shining like a water-goddess on the rocks at Point Elizabeth, know that their praise is true.

BROGDEN.

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