Page:Paine--Lost ships and lonely seas.djvu/235

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than a mile outside the barrier reef. In his log he noted that natives appeared to be attempting to communicate with him by means of smoke signals. Captain Edwards was a brave, but stupid, officer of the Royal Navy, and it failed to occur to him that the natives of this little island, which had been undiscovered until then, would be most unlikely to try to talk to him in this manner. In the light of later information there is every probability that this smoke was made by survivors of La Pérouse's party, and they were still marooned on Vanikoro several years after their shipwreck. Their emotions must have been profoundly melancholy when they saw the tall British frigate glide past unheeding and drop from their wistful vision.

It was not until 1813 that the first thread of this tangled skein of mystery was disclosed. La Pérouse had vanished a quarter of a century before, and his ships were long since listed on the sadly eloquent roll of "missing with all hands." It is hard to astonish a deep-water sailor, because nothing is too strange to happen at sea. The British merchantman Hunter, on a voyage from Calcutta to New South Wales and Canton, stopped at the Fiji Islands to pick up some sandalwood and bêche-de-mer by way of turning over a few dollars in trade. Already the beach-comber had begun to