Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Girl With The Pearl Necklace



Chapter I

In which our hero introduces himself and eats a very strange meal

It was just after three bells when I saw the pink dolphin. Or maybe a porpoise.
It surfaced a few feet from the starboard bow and frolicked winsomely in the bow wave of the Golden Rain.
I was on the poopdeck keeping watch as we sailed through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra.
The air was thick with tropical scents; camphor, sandalwood and gardenia pummelled my nostrils in a giddying olla podrida.
Pinpricks of light showed where the pearl boats were plying their trade. Soon the stars would fade as the dawn broke; I would hand over to Martin Gerritson the surly Dutchman and seek out the comfort of my trusty hammock.
I unwrapped my breakfast parcel and peered suspiciously at the contents. The Fijian cook had told me in broken English that it was "very good tasty fish, yes, we are eating many many time in Fiji, make you happy happy Sah !!"
It did not resemble any aquatic creature of my acquaintace, consisting of three or four slimy green blobs with a pungent odour.
Since this was all the nourishment I could expect until noon I quelled my initial misgivings and swallowed the first blob in one go, trying not to taste it on the way down. Apart from a slight oystery sensation it was not unpleasant and the remaining blobs soon followed.
Gerritson appeared on the companionway and I handed over the watch. He smelt strongly of genever but his speech was no more slurred than usual. "Mr Gotobed, it is time for you to ...Gotobed !!" he said as he always did on these occasions.
After the customary obscenities we parted company and I made my way to the bunkroom next to the hold.
I fell asleep immediately and began to have the strangest dream....


Chapter II

In which our hero dreams of home and has to make a painful decision

In my dream my fiancée Esmeralda was sitting opposite me at the dining table at her parents' home in Chichester. It was Christmas Day and we had just drunk the loyal toast.
One of the new-fangled "Christmas Trees" stood in the corner of the bay window overlooking the neat harbour, festooned with glass baubles. Esmeralda's father was a staunch monarchist and as soon as he heard that the Queen had introduced these trees to Balmoral he followed suit.
We enjoyed the goose which Esmeralda's mother had prepared for us; one of the side dishes was a curious vegetable which her friend Mrs Maltravers had recommended. A small greenish-yellow sphere, alike in size to a golf-ball but to my mind less flavoursome. I forget the name of this delicacy but it may have originated somewhere in the Low Countries.
As was my wont I slipped off my left shoe and began to stroke my beloved's silk-clad leg beneath the table. She reddened and her breathing quickened, although the other diners were unaware of our activities.
I gradually manouevred my foot higher and higher to my darling's evident delight.
By the time the Christmas pudding was brought to the table by the cook Esmeralda was on the brink of love's delirium, but managed to control herself.
"Mama I am feeling a little faint; I would beg your leave to take a turn in the garden" she said.
"I will escort your daughter Mrs Postlethwaite if you will allow me; I fear that Esmeralda has become over-excited".
We slipped into the garden and headed for the secluded summer house where without further ado we cemented our relationship twice in quick succession.
Just as I was about to enter her cave of Venus for a third bout I felt a rough hand on my shoulder and was rudely shaken...
"The Captain requests your presence in his cabin instanter Sir" said the third mate, grinning at the obvious evidence of my recent excitement "if you would be so kind".
Quickly adjusting my garments to hide my unruly dumpendebat I followed him up on deck and we made our way forward to the Captain's quarters.
He was poring over a chart and holding a glass of rum in his hand.
"Ah there you are Gotobed. We will soon be making landfall in Krakatau. I need volunteers to investigate the island with a view to establishing a trading post there."
When the Captain used the word "volunteer" it did not convey the usual sense of choice or the possibility of refusal.
I immediately offered my services as if this were my dearest dream come true.
Hopefully the task would take no more than a day or two. The island, which was just visible to port did not appear unusually large. The main feature seemed to be a conical mountain from the summit of which emerged belches of steam; it brought to mind the delicious pudding from my recent dream.


Chapter III

In which our hero is introduced to the local customs of Krakatau and makes a curious discovery

Our landing party set off in the ship's skiff in the late forenoon. The Golden Rain rode at anchor at a safe distance from the beach where a goodly number of natives were awaiting our arrival. The bo'sun held his musket at the ready in case of a hostile reception.
Fortunately these precautions were unnecessary; the natives were very friendly and took us by the hand to the longhouse or Uma where their chief was sitting on his throne.
As the senior member of the party I addressed the chief in English which was translated by the slave Balan into the local dialect.
"Great chieftain we humbly beseech you to accept these modest offerings on behalf of our Captain and hope that you will kindly assent to our visiting your beautiful island"
Whereupon I placed several trinkets in front of the throne for the chief's inspection.
He seemed especially pleased with the clay tobacco pipe and put it into his mouth where it stayed for the remainder of our meeting.
Balan indicated that our request had been granted and that the village would be holding a feast in our honour that evening.
We bowed deeply and left the Uma. A gaggle of native children followed us down to the beach where we re-embarked in the skiff and rowed back to the ship.
Captain Mulholland was pleased to hear of our successful enterprise and decided to attend the feast with half of the crew, leaving the others to guard our vessel.
The feast was indeed memorable. A wild pig was roasted in a fire-pit. The natives called this arrangement "Bar beku" which Balan explained meant outdoor fire in their tongue.
We were all presented with garlands of purple and yellow flowers by the village maidens.
Each sailor was accompanied by one of these tropical Eves for the duration of the feast and the following night.
My allocated companion was a demure young lady with lustrous black hair down to her waist.
Her garments consisted of a grass skirt and a pair of earrings made from abalone shell.
She sported a white hibiscus flower behind her left ear. Her teeth were very white and she smiled invitingly.
Balan told me that her name was Malakola which meant fruitbat in their tongue.
The delicious wild pork was accompanied by taro, a kind of yam, and breadfruit which were cooked in the embers of the Bar beku.
Copious amounts of kava were imbibed. This is a mildly intoxicating drink produced from the fleshy stems of a certain jungle creeper. The effects include allowing the consumer to dance for hours on end, but in a manner reminiscent of the end of a bell.
Music was provided by drummers and an old man playing a sort of two stringed lute made from a turtle's shell. The hypnotic effect of the tropical rhythms combined with the kava produced unusual sensations in many of the crew, myself included.
At some point I must have lost consciousness, for when I awoke dawn was already well advanced. I appeared to be lying naked in one of the native huts overlooking the beach. Next to me was a beautiful native girl whose charms were equally unveiled as mine. She was definitely not Malakola but was clearly related to her, sharing the same long hair and shy smile. On hearing me stir this youthful Venus spoke in a soft voice; although I did not understand a word of her speech she was clearly asking me to stay abed with her.
It was at this moment that I made an alarming discovery. The previous evening I was the proud owner of a functioning prepuce. Now I saw that the end of my dumpendebat was no longer shrouded in its fleshy hood but exposed in its purple majesty to the elements. Upon closer inspection my organ had clearly been subjected to expert surgery during the night. Apart from an unusual numbness which wore off over the next day there was very little discomfort. Indeed my newly adjusted tackle was soon in action as my delightful companion greedily explored every inch of my person.
Finally I left the hut at the hour of luncheon. Upon returning to the beached skiff I found that the other guests from the feast had also undergone a similar surgical intervention to myself. Except Solomon Samuels who had no need of it.
Captain Mulholland appeared at the door of the longhouse and strode down to the beach.
He had been seeking an explanation from the chief for our recent operations. With the assistance of Balan the chief had admitted that he had authorized the village gulli gulli man to carry out the interventions once the kava had taken effect on the guests.
The removed prepuces were stored in a stoneware jar beneath the chief's throne. The jar bore the familiar emblem of James Keiller & Co Dundee, marmalade makers by appointment.
Clearly the chief had received Caledonian visitors to the island in the past. Upon inspection the Captain discovered that the jar was nearly full of dried foreskins with our own additions still moist on top.
The chief explained that the jar was powerful juju and endowed him with miraculous powers of virility for which the ladies of his tribe were very grateful. "Kee-law-Jah very recommending. Missus chief smile smile too much"
He apologised for the inconvenience and said that he would be happy for us to avail ourselves of the contents of his special jar whilst we were on the island. With that he retrieved one of the dried pieces of skin and put it in his new clay pipe and smoked it contentedly as if it were the finest Latakia.
Captain Mulholland's explanations met with a mixed response; not a few of the party were indignant about their anatomical alterations and averred that they would take revenge... an eye for an eye as it were. Cooler counsel prevailed, however, and it was agreed that no more would be said upon the matter. The chief's generous offer was welcomed by my shipmates and so we bade temporary farewells to our dusky Jezebels who had gathered nervously halfway up the beach, and promised to return in the evening to renew our acquaintance.



Chapter IV

In which our hero finds hidden treasure in an unexpected place and extends his gastronomic horizons

Once the crew had returned to the Golden Rain we were summoned to visit the ship's surgeon Dr Rogers.
He carefully examined our newly shorn appendages for signs of trauma or infection.
To his evident surprise there were no apparent problems. The operations had been conducted with such skill and despatch that apart from the expected slight reddening at the incision site the organs were all in good order.
He instructed the men to refrain from all vigorous activity involving their privities for two weeks in order to speed the healing process.
This order was universally disobeyed that evening when we returned to the village for another evening's entertainment.
This time we were led up a narrow footpath behind the village to the top of a cliff overlooking the bay where the Golden Rain rode at anchor.
The chief was indisposed and sent his regrets, Balan explained.
"Chief him too much jig-a-jig... need big sleep now".
Another Bar beku was under way. This time the spitted creature was larger than the wild pig of our first feast, although the aroma was not dissimilar.
We asked Balan to find out what kind of animal was being prepared for our meal.
He returned and said that it was Orang malang, which was a special kind of monkey.
The tropical sun was setting in a flamboyant show of orange, indigo and acid green as we sat eating the tender meat, using banana leaves as platters.
The throbbing music of the drums and turtle-lute again captivated our senses.
My beautiful companion of the previous night approached diffidently hand-in-hand with Malokola. Clearly they were sisters, as Balan confirmed. He said that the younger girl was called Kejukue which means Evening Star in their tongue.
The girls sat either side of me on the edge of the cliff, taking it in turns to place titbits of meat in my mouth.
The other sailors disappeared one by one with their female companions into the welcoming darkness beyond the firepit. Soon the sounds of carnal joy mingled with the primitive native music.
We in turn wandered off to find a private spot to renew our acquaintance.
Under a spreading banana tree we removed our garments and were soon celebrating the rites of Aphrodite together. Malakola and Kejukue were completely physical creatures, so different from the prim misses back home in Chichester.
I did feel a certain regret concerning my fiancée Esmeralda but knew that her needs were being met by the gardeners at her parents' house. We had come to an arrangement before my departure. The gardener and his assistant were instructed to service Esmeralda on a weekly basis for a fee of one shilling apiece, to be increased to 1/6d if the service were exceptional.
My enthusiastic companions were obviously pleased with the results of my operation, showering kisses on the newly exposed area of my person and introducing it in every possible manner into their own anatomies.
As I entered Kejukue's inviting terowongan once more i felt a hard obstruction barring my way. She grinned at me over her shoulder, knowing what had happened.
The girls laughed wickedly and Malakola fished out the obstruction from her sister;
it was a huge pearl which she popped into her mouth as if it were some tropical gobstopper.
I kissed Malakola vigorously and managed to retrieve the sticky pearl with my tongue.
Upon examination the pearl was slightly larger than a golf ball, or one of those vile Netherlandish vegetables from the Christmas table.
The girls made it clear that I was to keep it as a gift.
I expressed my gratitude abundantly in the next half an hour.
By the time we returned to the Bar beku darkness had fallen and the night sky was studded with coruscating constellations of an aspect unfamiliar to men of northern latitudes.
The Orang malang had been completely stripped of meat. Only a few charred bones lay scattered around the fire-pit. Bones which looked oddly familiar. I picked up the nearest one. It was clearly not from any kind of pig or monkey. It looked not unlike a human femur. With mounting panic I scrabbled around in the remains of the Bar beku and found a jawbone with teeth. One of which gleamed gold in the firelight.
This put the matter beyond doubt; no pigs or apes could have acquired gold teeth on this neglected island.
I sought out Balan and asked him if he knew that we had been eating a fellow human being. His shamefaced countenance left no doubt. I asked him the true meaning of Orang malang.
He shuffled his feet then in an embarrassed voice replied "It mean bad man. The chief enemy. We eat he no bother chief no more".
As I absorbed this disturbing intelligence the great conical mountain behind us gave a great shudder and vast clouds of incandescent steam were belched out, obscuring a large part of the firmament.
The natives chattered nervously and cries of "Gunung marah" pierced the air.
Balan translated this as "mountain he angry".
We all retreated down the narrow path to the relative safety of the village, abandoning the remains of Orang malang to the night creatures.
To our surprise the beach now extended a good cable's length further than when we had left it earlier in the evening. On the exposed seabed various creatures flapped around helplessly; the natives lost no time in scooping up this unexpected largesse.
The gulli gulli man did not join in the celebration. He looked extremely worried and muttered something to Balan. "Gulli gulli man say this happen before in other island. Sea go hide hide and many fish can pick up. But then great wave come and take all village away. We must go quick quick".
I ordered the crew to follow me immediately to the ship, which now lay only a few yards away from the water's edge. We waded waist deep to the Golden Rain and scrambled up the rope ladders which had been slung over the gunwales for us.
The skiff remained on the beach with the villagers, who were examining their bounty of fish and crustaceans.
The chief had emerged from his hammock and was standing with arms outstretched in our direction at the door of the longhouse. The pinprick red glow of his clay pipe was just visible; he was enjoying another of the specimens from the marmalade jar.
The gulli gulli man was squatting at his feet looking utterly miserable.
I could see the two sisters and waved farewell to them. They responded enthusiastically, jumping up and down on the sand. The precious pearl was lodged safely in my waistcoat pocket and I fondled it gently, thinking of its recent location.
The atmosphere was charged with eerie electricity and frequent rumbles were felt rather than heard. At the masthead a faerie display of St Elmo's fire was visible.
Captain Mulholland skilfully manoeuvred the vessel away from the shallows and headed out into the Sunda Strait. The night sky above the island of Krakatau was riven by lightning discharges which appeared to emanate from the volcano itself.
Soon the village was hidden from view. A violent storm erupted from nowhere and a great surge of water tossed our vessel like a child's plaything. The wall of water was headed directly towards the island, just as the gulli gulli man had predicted.
We made slow headway in the battering winds; the Captain decided that the risk to the masts was too great and ordered all sail to be stowed. He dropped a sheet anchor and let the vessel ride out the storm.


Chapter V

In which our hero enjoys an unexpected reunion and is faced with a conundrum

The following day dawned clear and bright. The tremendous typhun had blown itself out and the only evidence of its onslaught were a few splintered planks and ripped shrouds which were being repaired by the hands as I climbed topside.
We were about two miles away from the island of Krakatau. The vulcano was still steaming intermittently but without the violence of the previous night.
The Captain decided that it was safe to return to the harbour to inspect the damage caused by the tidal wave which we had witnessed bearing down on the village.
As we approached it became clear that the village had not been spared.
All that remained of the cluster of huts was scattered rubble amidst which a few desolate figures wandered listlessly.
The longhouse or Uma was completely destroyed. Only the chief's sturdy wooden throne had been spared. We descried a native sitting on the throne. Gerritson was able to ascertain with his spyglass that it was the gulli gulli man.
As we neared our anchorage we passed on our starboard beam the skiff which we had abandoned on the beach the previous night. At first it appeared to be empty but then we saw that there were several figures huddled together in the stern.
To my utter delight I realised that two of the occupants of the drifting skiff were Malakola and Kejukue, whom I had feared perished in the deadly wave.
I stripped off my garments and plunged into the water. Within a minute I was clambering aboard the skiff; to my immense relief the girls were both conscious although exhausted and hungry. They had suffered no more than a few bruises during their ordeal. The other two passengers were the elderly musician, still clutching his precious turtle-lyre and one of the children.
I managed to row the skiff slowly back to the Golden Rain. Fortunately the oars had not been lost in the storm.
The four natives were taken on board and examined by the surgeon. He prescribed them a tonic for exhaustion and they were allowed to rest in the infirmary.
We returned to the village in the skiff with our translator Balan. It became clear that only half a dozen or so inhabitants had survived the Gelombang besar as they referred to the deadly wave. The chief and his wives had all perished. His special marmalade jar had not prevented his doom. The gulli gulli man had managed to scramble up the cliff in time to avoid the disaster. He had tried to warn the other villagers but they were too excited about their miraculous catch of fishes to pay heed to him. Only the two girls believed him and had accompanied him up the narrow path to the cliff top.
The skiff had been carried to the top of the beach and deposited behind the Uma.
In the morning the survivors managed to drag it back to the water; Malakola and Kejukue and the two others were launched and allowed to drift towards the shipping lanes where they might be assisted by a passing vessel. The gulli gulli man remained behind with a few adults to await developments. He retrieved Kee-law-Jah from the ruins of the Uma; the grisly contents had been washed away.
He installed himself on the throne with the empty container on his lap.
I spoke privily to Captain Mulholland in his quarters. I suggested that the girls be allowed to remain on board. They would be able to work their passage to the Spice Islands where they could be disembarked. They would be able to help the Fijian cook and Dr Rogers and no doubt make themselves useful to the crew in other matters. The Captain eventually agreed to the plan and said that the girls could sleep in the poop behind his cabin.
We returned the musician and the remaining child to shore. The ship's carpenter repaired one of the huts and the survivors gathered therein. We told the gulli gulli man that we would report their plight to the authorities in Batavia and that help for their village would arrive in a few weeks. Meanwhile we left various dried rations for them to eat. The gulli gulli man took charge and we departed once more.

Chapter VI

In which our hero is unexpectedly promoted and enjoys the benefits of office

We sailed Eastwards from Krakatau at a steady four or five knots, keeping the Island of Java to starboard. After two days we sighted the bustling port town of Batavia, and were able to moor at the quayside. Captain Mulholland decided we should spend a full day in the town. As Second Officer I was deputed to visit the Dutch authorities to report the recent dreadful events at Krakatau Island.
The Governor-General's office was situated in a pleasant square behind the busy waterfront area. I was welcomed by a native assistant and asked to wait. Refreshments were brought to me by a turbanned servant. A bowl of soup with triangular pieces of meat was accompanied by a glass of mango juice and a fine cigar.
After consuming the soup, which the servant called "Ketupat kandangan" I enquired of the nature of the meat, whose flavour reminded me somewhat of pheasant. The man grinned and made serpentine gestures with his arm and said "Ular besar sahib". I had just partaken of snake broth.
The Governor-General's deputy received me as I was part-way through the cigar; he indicated that I need not extinguish it.
I sat in front of his fine rosewood desk and outlined the tragic events which had transpired during our visit to Krakatau.
The civil servant took detailed notes and thanked me for my trouble. Although a Hollander he spoke excellent English and was most amiable.
He promised to look into the matter and assured me that funds would be made available through the local representative to help the remaining villagers to rebuild their homes.
He said that the services of the repair yards at Onrust Island were at our disposal if we needed them.
I thanked him on behalf of the Captain and took my leave. Before departing he gave me a quart flagon of genever as a token of gratitude.
After returning to the ship I made my report to Mulholland. He insisted on opening the genever and sampling it forthwith. I was able to manage three glasses of the fiery liquor before feeling queasy; the thought of the snake meat lurking in my vitals did not help matters.
I quickly took my leave of the Captain and left him enjoying the Dutch Courage on his own.
My timing was impeccable. I reached the gunwale rail just as my stomach voided itself of the genever, mango juice and snake soup in one polychrome wave.
Fortunately my offering to Poseidon was not witnessed by any of the crew. However I felt a gentle touch on my elbow and turned to see beautiful Kejukue looking anxiously at me.
I mimed the culinary events of the day and she giggled at my description of the snake. The little minx took the liberty of miming a snake at the front of my pantaloons.
Feeling much better with an empty stomach I led Kejukue to her narrow quarters adjacent to the poopdeck. Her sister was already there and we spent the afternoon extending our acquaintance. I retrieved the great pearl from my waistcoat pocket and for the next few hours it was the object of a lusty hide and seek, to our ample enjoyment.
The girls' quarters abutted the Captain's cabin and the sounds of our congress would have been easily audible to him. Malakola in particular was very noisy during our lovemaking, despite my efforts to hush her.
At a certain point we heard a loud crash from next door. I went to see what had transpired and found Mulholland sprawled on the floor with blood leaking from his temple. He appeared to have fallen over under the influence of the genever and struck his head on the edge of the map table.
I sent Malakola to fetch Dr Rogers and did my best to comfort the Captain. He was clearly in a bad way. Rogers arrived a minute or two later and shook his head. "I'm afraid that Captain Mulholland is no longer amongst the living", he said, crossing himself sadly.
As the Second Officer I assumed command of the ship. I made a second visit to the Governor-General's office to report the fatality. I did not mention the part that the Dutch genever had played in his downfall.
It was decided to bury the Captain in the tiny English Cemetery on the outskirts of Batavia. The interment was carried out the next day with myself and the ship's surgeon in attendance. We left a sum of money for the erection of a headstone in due course.
A brief service of remembrance was held on board later for the crew. They expressed their appreciation for the departed and afterwards shared the remainder of the genever. Gerritson was moved to make an impromptu speech in which he declared that for an English D***l the late Captain was not all that bad.
I addressed the crew in my new position as Captain, and outlined the plan for the remainder of our trip. We would continue Eastwards to the Spice Islands, or Molukas as they were known to the natives. Firstly crossing the Java Sea to Borneo and calling at the port of Banjer Massin in the South to pick up coal. Thence we would sail the Flores Sea and reach our destination of Amboyna where we would trade the coal for spices.
The crew seemed to appreciate my address and gave me three hearty cheers.
I moved my belongings to the Captain's cabin and installed the girls there too. They were delighted with the new arrangements which were far more commodious than their previous quarters.
The late incumbents's impedimenta were stowed in the poop which the girls had vacated.
I gave the cook half a guinea and instructed him to prepare a special dinner for our last meal in Batavia. He departed to the market with the girls and returned laden with local delicacies. I had expressly forbidden him to purchase any ophidian comestibles.
As night fell on the chief port of the Dutch East Indies the ship's company was served a splendid feast in the style of a Rijstafel on the main deck. We toasted the late Captain once more and then were entertained by the girls performing a delicate Topeng dance on the poopdeck, using masks which they had fabricated with the help of the carpenter.
We all settled down for our final night ashore before setting sail on the morrow for the Island of Borneo. The girls appreciated their new quarters and were unstinting in the expression of their gratitude.


Chapter VII

In which our hero shews uncommon bravery in the face of deadly danger, and requires the services of the good doctor

Our voyage from Batavia across the Java sea was uneventful. The winds were favourable and we made steady progress in a North-Easterly direction.
The men enjoyed a healthy diet for we had taken on a plentiful supply of fresh meat and vegetables in port, and were able to supplement these with abundant fish which we caught using handlines or merely scooped from the deck in the case of flying fish.
The distance was roughly eight hundred miles and took us a fortnight.
As we approached the coast of Borneo we espied several native craft near the coast.
They were sailing towards us.
Balan explained that these were bandung boats belonging to the Sea Dayak tribes of the coastal region.
I enquired of him if they were pirates of some sort. He said that some of the tribes were hostile but mainly towards other natives. He explained that there was a strong tradition of head hunting which persisted despite the efforts of the colonial administrations of Britain and Holland to stamp it out.
I was somewhat perplexed by this intelligence and instructed the first mate to distribute muskets and ball to the crew as a precaution.
As the first bandung boat drew alongside we could see that the natives were heavily tattoed and armed with large machetes.
Balan greeted them in the Malay tongue and asked them their business.
The Dayaks invited us to visit their village just up the coast where we would be their honoured guests.
I instructed Balan to accept their kind invitation, but made sure that the natives could see that we were heavily armed in case they were minded to add our heads to their tally.
We followed the little flotilla several miles along the coast until we reached the mouth of a large river. The Dayak village was built along the bank and consisted of several substantial longhouses or Liman as they are called in Borneo.
We moored at the mouth of the river and a landing party was ferried ashore by the Dayaks. I left Gerritson in charge of the vessel with instructions to attack the village if we did not send word of our well being before midnight.
He was happy to comply, knowing that the two girls would be available for him during my absence; an arrangement with which they were not displeased. Kejakue informed me that she did not like the smell of the large Hollander, whose daily intake of genever rendered him olfactorily repellent. However she admitted that she was not averse to his attentions, given his unusually large schaambuidel; her sister was of a similar mind.
The girls were gradually learning to speak English; they enjoyed insulting the crew members who responded in kind. They now called me Captain Big Snake to my face.
We were led up the river bank to the nearest longhouse. The village chief was waiting for us at the entrance. He was no more than five feet tall and clearly of considerable age, but physically agile. His body bore extensive tattoes but they were now faded. He wore a leather headband into which toucan feathers were inserted.
The entrance to the longhouse was an ornately carved wooden arch from which hung several straw baskets. Balan explained that these were for gifts. I deposited several small coins and a wad of tobacco in the nearest basket. Our hosts were delighted and brought forth glasses of the local rice wine or tuak for us to sample.
The longhouse was divided up into individual family dwellings or bileks. Each had its own doorway with a curtain made of palm fronds.
A wooden ladder led up to the maiden's quarters below the roof. Balan explained that we would be invited up there after eating to enjoy the girls' hospitality and that refusal would have dire consequences.
The Dayaks cooked fresh river fish and huge freshwater prawns called udang galoh on a firepit adjacent to the longhouse.
We presented their chief with a musket and showed him how to operate it. He was delighted and reciprocated with a fine ironwood blowpipe and darts.
Balan warned me not to touch the business end of the darts because they were loaded with a deadly poison.
Dr Rogers confirmed that this was the case; the sap of the local tree Anitiaris toxicaria was heated inside the leaf of another tree to produce the toxin. The hunters could shoot accurately up to fifty feet using the blowpipes, whereupon the poison would paralyse its target.
I thanked Dr Rogers for this useful information and asked him to inform the crew on board the Golden Rain that we were not in need of rescuing. He flashed the message with a mirror using Morse Code from the river bank.
After the main course was finished the Dayak chief beckoned myself and Rogers to his private chamber at the far end of the longhouse. He indicated that we should look inside a large ceramic jar next to the wall.
We immediately remembered the gruesome marmalade jar from Krakatau.
This time the contents were even more memorable; a collection of several dozen skulls. The chief was evidently very proud of his grisly trophies and considered it quite acceptable to show them off to visitors, much as an English gentleman might display his butterfly collection or postage stamp albums.
I feigned great pleasure in the vile contents of the jar and shook the chief's hand vigorously. He grinned broadly and poured more tuak for us.
After several more rounds of drinks outside Balan whispered to me that the chief was now expecting myself and the doctor to visit the upstairs harem.
The chief was surprisingly nimble for one of his advanced years and scampered up the wooden ladder like a monkey. When we arrived at the top we were greeted by a giggling group of young ladies clad only in embroidered loincloths. On their lower limbs they wore silver metal bands from the knee to the ankle.
The loincloths were quickly discarded on the chief's instructions and eager brown hands removed our own garments. Clearly our European anatomy was of great interest to those present and there was much exclamation and tugging and poking.
The chief indicated two of the females for us. We all lay down on the rattan mat which covered the wooden platform and enjoyed the enthusiastic attentions of our hostesses for the next half hour. The chief himself proved to be exceptionally virile and was still going strong when Rogers and I felt the need to rest. We smoked cigars which we had brought from Batavia, giving one to the Dayak chief. He smoked it for a short while and then decided to see if the girls could smoke it using their kemaluan. To our surprise they were both able to manipulate their pelvic muscles to produce clouds of fragrant smoke from their nether regions. The chief was delighted and retrieved the now slippery stogie and continued to smoke the remaining portion with evident relish.
The evening's entertainment was rounded off by several of the young ladies performing the traditional hornbill dance on the bank of the river.
Their graceful movements transformed them momentarily into the gaudy jungle bird which was worshipped by their tribe.
The end of our visit was marked by the sounding of several small gongs from within the longhouse.
The chief bade us farewell as the young men of his tribe rowed us to the Golden Rain in the long bandung boats. We waved to him and the young ladies who were gathered on the bank.
Gerritson was in an uncharacteristically amiable mood, which left me in no doubt as to how he had passed the previous hours. Malakola and Kejukue looked bashful when they saw me and were reluctant to meet my eye at first.
Normal relations were resumed that night, although my performance was less vigorous than they were accustomed to. Kejukue said "Captain you make jig a jig all day long not true ?"
I could not deny this and admitted that I had been obliged to undertake those duties in the longhouse out of politeness. I assured Kejukue that the recipient of my attentions was an ugly old grandmother with one tooth.
She laughed at my obvious fictions and tweaked my ular besar."Captain Big Snake you are bad bad man. Gerrit-san much bigger than."
I smiled and kissed her on the cheek. "Size is not everything my darling".

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