National Geographic : 1921 Jan
THE DREAM SHIP Ship headed for Palmerston Island, a mere speck on the chart, 6oo miles dis tant. LIZARD MEN LIVED ON MUREAA On the way, we called in for water, at Murea, a fairy isle of fantastic volcanic peaks and fertile valleys, where legends still live. There were lizard men on Murea in the old days, it appears-an agile race of dwarfs, who lived on the inaccessible ledges of the mountain range and descended periodically on the coast dwellers, bearing off their wives and other valuables. They carried a short staff in either hand, giving them the ap pearance of lizards, as they scrambled back to their fastnesses where none could follow. To prove his words, the urean na tive of today will point out uniform rows of banana plants growing in clefts of rock among the clouds, the crops of the lizard men ! How otherwise came they to be there? He would be a wise man who could find the answer. Leaving ilurea, the Dream Ship passed close to the wreck of a French gunboat piled high on the reef (page 50) as a warning to others not to tamper with coral, and stood away for Palmerston. December to April is the hurricane sea son in this part of the Pacific, when the schooner skippers from Rarotonga and other places in the direct path of the cyclonic disturbance flee to the compara tive safety of Papeete, and the Dream Ship left in April. Luckily we escaped hurricanes, but for three days violent wind and rain squalls burst upon us, with no warning from the barometer, and we experienced the first real discomforts of the voyage. A DELEGATION FROM "MISTER MASTERS" Palmerston Island was a welcome sight, as welcome as it was unique. It is doubt ful if such another gem adorns the earth. Neither atoll nor island, it is a perfect combination of both, a natural necklace of surf-pounded coral strung with six, equidistant, verdant islets, the whole in closing a shallow lagoon slashed with unbelievable color. Such was Palmerston as we approached it before a stiff southeast "trade," to be welcomed by a fleet of amazingly fast luggers and their astonished crews. "Vho were we? Where had we sprung from? Had we any matches?" To our own astonishment, the ques tions were fired at us in English and, what was more, English of a vaguely familiar pattern. It is a strange thing to hear one's own tongue fluently bandied among a brown-skinned people on an isolated speck of earth in mid-Pacific. But there was no opportunity of solving the riddle just then. "Let go ! "She's set." "Lower the peak; lower the main !" The Dream Ship had come to anchor on the northwest side of the reef, well sheltered from the almost eternal south east "trades" of these latitudes, and the pilot, a six-foot figure of bronze sketeiiily attired in a converted flour sack, was ad dressing us with a courtesy as unusual as it was refreshing. "With our permission, he would take us ashore at once. Mister. Masters him self had given instructions." I'AIMIRSTON ISLAND, TIHE PLACID' TO WAI' FOR TIHE END The "Mister Masters himself" settled it. We tumbled into one of the luggers, tumbled out at the reef, and stood knee deep in swirling waters, while the pilot and his crew towed their craft against a ten-knot current through a tortuous boat passage. Then aboard once more, and away at an eight-knot clip through a maze of coral mushrooms, bumping. grazing, ricochetting, until finally sliding to rest on a glistening coral beach. "Mister Masters himself," a dignified old gentleman with a flowing white beard and the general air of a patriarch, met us at the veranda steps of his spacious home, and inside of ten minutes we were sitting down to a meal of meals. I have Palmerston Island securely pigeonholed in my own mind as the spot of all others in which, when the time comes, to sit down and wait for the end. The outside world, in the shape of a schooner from the Cook group, intrudes itself but once a year. The lagoon and the neighborhood islets are a mine of interest to the naturalist or sportsman, and the people have a simple charm that is all their own.