The Madman and the Pirate
by R.M. Ballantyne
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It would be difficult to paint the general disappointment at this sudden collapse of the experiment. A united groan burst from the party, including the patient, for it at once became apparent that a man with a wooden leg—to say nothing of two—could only walk on a hard beaten path, and as there were few such in the island, Rosco's chance of a long ramble seemed to vanish. But Zeppa and his son were not men to be easily beaten. They set to work to construct feet for the legs, which should be broad enough to support their friend on softish ground, and these were so arranged with a sort of ball-and-socket joint, that the feet could be moved up and down. In theory this worked admirably; in practice it failed, for after a staggering step or two, the toes having been once raised refused to go down, and thus was produced the curious effect of a man stumping about on his heels! To overcome this difficulty the heels of the feet were made to project almost as much behind as the toes did in front somewhat after the pattern of Ebony's pedal arrangements, as Rosco remarked when they were being fitted on for another trial. At last, by dint of perseverance, the wooden legs were perfected, and Rosco re-acquired the art of walking to such perfection, that he was to be seen, almost at all times and in all weathers, stumping about the village, his chief difficulty being that when he chanced to fall, which he often did, he was obliged either to get some one to help him up, or to crawl home; for, being unable to get his knees to the ground when the legs were on, he was obliged to unstrap them if no one was within hail.

Now, during all this time, Betsy Waroonga remained quite inconsolable about her husband.

"But my dear, you know he is quite safe," her friend Marie Zeppa would say to her, "for he is doing the Master's work among Christian men."

"I knows that," Betsy would reply, "an' I'm comforted a leetle when I think so; but what for not Zeppa git a canoe ready an' take me to him? A missionary not worth nothing without hees wife."

Marie sympathised heartily with this sentiment, but pointed out that it was too long and dangerous a voyage to be undertaken in a canoe, and that it was probable the mission ship would revisit Ratinga ere long, in which case the voyage could be undertaken in comfort and safety.

But Betsy did not believe in the danger of a canoe voyage, nor in the speedy arrival of the mission ship. In fact she believed in nothing at that time, save in her own grief and the hardness of her case. She shook her head, and the effect on the coal-scuttle, which had now become quite palsied with age and hard service, was something amazing, insomuch that Marie's sympathy merged irresistibly into mirth.

The good woman's want of faith, however, received a rebuke not many weeks later.

She was hastening, one afternoon, to an outlying field to gather vegetables in company with Zariffa, who had by that time grown into a goodly-sized girl.

The pace induced silence, also considerable agitation in both bonnets. When they had cleared the village, and reached Rosco's hut near the entrance to the palm-grove, they went up to the open door and looked in, but no one was there.

"He's hoed out to walk," observed Zariffa with a light laugh; "awful fond o' walkin' since he got the 'ooden legs!"

"What was you want with him?" asked Betsy, as they resumed their walk.

"Want to ask 'bout the Bibil lesson for to-morrow. Some things me no can understan', an' Rosco great at the Bibil now."

"Yes," murmured Betsy with a nod, "there's many things in the Bibil not easy to understand. Takes a deal o' study, Ziffa, to make him out. Your father always say that. But Rosco's fuss-rate at 'splainin' of 'em. Fuss-rate—so your father say. Him was born for a mis'nary."

At that moment a cry was heard in the distance. They had been ascending a winding path leading to the field to which they were bound.

"Sounds like man in distress," said Betsy, breaking into a run with that eager alacrity which usually characterises the sympathetic.

Zariffa replied not, but followed her mother. The cry was repeated, and at once recognised as being uttered by the man who was "born for a mis'nary," but had mistaken his profession when he became a pirate! When they reached the spot whence it had apparently issued, the mis'nary, or ex-pirate, was nowhere to be seen.

"Hooroo! whar' is you?" shouted Betsy, looking round.

"Here!" cried a half-smothered voice from somewhere in the earth.

"Oh! look!" exclaimed Zariffa in a sort of squeal as she ran towards a spot where two strange plants seemed to have sprung up.

"Rosco's legs!" said Betsy, aghast.

And she was right. The venturesome man had, with his accustomed hardihood, attempted that day to scale the mountain side, and had fallen into a hole by the side of the track, from which he could by no means extricate himself, because of its being a tightish fit, his head being down and his legs were in the air.

"Oh, Betsy, pull me out lass! I'm half-choked already," gasped the unfortunate man.

But Betsy could not move him, much less pull him out, although heartily assisted by her daughter.

"Run, Ziffa, run an' fetch men!"

Ziffa ran like a hunted deer, so anxious was she for the deliverance of her Bible instructor. On turning sharp round a bend in the track, she plunged into the bosom of Ebony.

"Ho! hi! busted I am; why, what's de matter, Ziffa? you travel like a cannon-ball!"

As he spoke, Zeppa and his son, who had been walking behind Ebony, came up. The panting child only replied, "Rosco—queek!" and ran before them to the fatal spot. Need we say that in a few moments the "born mis'nary" was drawn like a cork out of a bottle, and set down right end up? Then they carried him to a clear space, whence the sea was visible, condoling with him as they went; but here all thought of the accident and of everything else was banished, for the moment by the sight of a ship on the horizon!

It turned out to be the mission-vessel with supplies, and with a young native missionary, or Bible-reader; and thus, in a few days, not only Betsy Waroonga, but Ongoloo and Wapoota, with Lippy and her mother and Orlando, were enabled to return to Sugar-loaf Island.

The joy of the Sugarlovians at the return of their chiefs and friends is not to be described, for, despite the assurances of Waroonga, they had begun to grow uneasy. Neither is it possible to describe the condition of the coal-scuttle bonnet after it had been crushed in the reckless embrace of Betsy's spouse, nor the delight of the uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews of Lippy, when they got her safe back again, though awfully disguised by the miniature coal-scuttle and flaming petticoat.

By that time the Mountain-men and the Raturans had rubbed noses, intermingled, intermarried, broken bows and spears, buried the war-hatchet and otherwise made up their minds, like sane creatures, to dwell in peace; for savages come to this condition sometimes—civilised nations never do! Great, therefore, was their satisfaction when their mourning, at the prospect of losing Waroonga, was turned into joy by the decision of the young native teacher, who volunteered to take his place and remain with them as their permanent instructor in the way of Righteousness.

A dance was proposed by some of the chiefs as an appropriate way of expressing their joy and getting rid of superfluous energy; but as their only dance was a war-dance, it was thought better to celebrate the occasion by a grand feast which, being preceded by games—wrestling, jumping, and running, etcetera—served the purpose equally well—if not better.

Thus was an island won from heathenism in those far off southern seas!

And now, what shall we say in conclusion? Time and space would fail us, were we to continue the history of Ratinga island down to the present time. We can only add that Waroonga and Betsy returned home, that a stalwart son of Tomeo went in after years, to Sugar-loaf Island, and carried off Lippy as his bride, along with her mother; that a handsome son of Ongoloo took revenge by carrying Zariffa away from Ratinga, without her mother; that regular and frequent intercourse was set up between the two islands by means of a little schooner; that Ebony stuck to his master and mistress through thick and thin to a good old age; that Orlando went to England, studied medicine, and returned again to Ratinga with a fair daughter of that favoured land; that Wapoota's morals improved by degrees; that Buttchee became more reconciled to European dress as he grew older; and that the inhabitants of the two islands generally became wiser and happier—though of course not perfect—through the benign influence of that Gospel which teaches man to do to others as he would have others do to him.

Time, as usual, continued to work his marvellous changes as the years flew by, but of all the transformations he wrought none was so striking as that produced in two men of Ratinga, who daily sat down, side by side, in front of their cottage by the sea, to watch a host of children of all ages, sizes, and complexions, which gambolled merrily on the sands. These men were old and somewhat feeble, with hair like the driven snow, but their gentle expressions and ready smiles told of eternal youth within. As the one sat with his colossal frame still erect though spare, talking softly to his comrade, and the other sat slightly bent, with eyes gazing sometimes at the children, and sometimes at his wooden toes, how difficult how almost impossible, to believe that, in former days, the one had been the madman, and the other the pirate!


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