The Naked Truth and Other Stories by J.D. Newsom
Five stories of head hunters in the South Pacific and the Europeans who try to stay out of their ways and keep their heads attached to their bodies.
The Naked Truth and Other Stories – Five stories of head hunters in the South Pacific and the Europeans who try to stay out of their ways and keep their heads attached to their bodies.
The Naked Truth (1922) – New Caledonia— captured by head-hunters.
The Magician of Ombakura (1923) – The South Seas— Three white men besieged by savages.
The Red Road (1922) – New Caledonia— a blood-trail through the wilds.
The Blunderer (1923) – New Caledonia— “Tomorrow I shall hear you scream,” said Mbwaga.
Tapu (1923) – New Caledonia— concerning a deal in troca.
John Dimmock Newsom (??-1954) was born in Shanghai, China. Brought up in France and educated at Cambridge University, Newsom worked as an anthropologist in Melanesia and later spent time in Morocco. He served as a captain in the British Army in France in World War I and as a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy in World War II. He was the author of several novels about the French Foreign Legion. Newsom was about 60 years old when he died in 1954.
The Naked Truth and Other Stories has 42 illustrations.
New Caledonia— concerning a deal in troca.
THERE was mild reproof in Grenier’s eyes as he looked across the table at his companion, a thickset, bullet-headed man dressed in a stained suit of blue serge.
“You say you get the troca for me, Burchen,” he complained. “One month, two months I wait. Always you come back—same story. Old chief will not sell, you say. Bien! I believe, but it make not my factory go. I mus’ have troca shell at once or I mus’ close. That is bad. I give one more chance, then I change traders. It becomes impossible, this!”
He rubbed his long hands together as he spoke and the cigaret in the corner of his mouth jumped up and down, punctuating each word with a puff of smoke.
“You sit here in Noumea and grumble,” Burchen retorted. “Don’t I know you want the shell? I’ve been after old Na’o for six months—each trip it’s the same thing. Doesn’t want to sell for some fool reason, and he’s got a hundred and fifty tons of the stuff at least! But I’ve fixed his feet. I’ll get it next time I go up.”
“You have told me that—how many times?” queried Grenier, sipping his absinthe.
“How the — do I know?” growled Burchen.
He was not pleasant to behold, his weather-beaten countenance was coarse and thick, his small eyes were blood-shot, he talked in a harsh voice out of the corner of his mouth, but Grenier had seen traders come and traders go, and his stock of raw material was running low.
“Very well,” he murmured placidly. “You do not know? I explain again—”
THEY were sitting beneath the awning of the Café Cussac, facing the Square of the Coconut Trees, where a fountain, surmounted by a scabrous statue of a lightly clad young woman supposed to represent the French Republic, sent a thin jet of water up into the hot, still air.
Noumea within its girdle of hills lay panting and desolate in the grip of the noontide sun. What life there was in all New Caledonia seemed to be concentrated beneath the awning of the Cafe Cussac where officials, soldiers and traders were chattering over their aperitifs.
Grenier felt quite safe, at ease, surrounded as he was by acquaintances and he went to great lengths to make clear Burchen’s sins of omission. It gave him intense pleasure to watch the trader’s sullen face twitch with anger as he drove home each barbed shaft, speaking slowly and distinctly that their neighbors might know how he treated such ruffians.
He did not like Burchen, but the latter, unfortunately, virtually monopolized the trade of Motlowa and of most of the other islands in the Banks group. He had driven off his competitors and spread terror among the Kanakas, a gin bottle in one hand, a whip in the other. Natives called him the Whip Man, and his word was law. Not even the missionaries could overcome his hold on the people, but in Noumea conditions were different—there were police and tribunals and prisons, all sorts of restrictions for the barbarian.
A silence settled over the Café Cussac as Grenier talked, there were covert smiles and nods and winks. Grenier was establishing a noteworthy precedent.
“Ah,” he was saying, “but the Kanakas they laugh at you, my good monsieur. You must not allow the Kanakas to laugh. It is bad for the prestige, is it not? One hundred and fifty tons of troca shell! It is fantastic! You see, you touch, you smell— and you leave it behind because a chief, he have the religious scruples!”
“Yes, and a hundred spears. You try it,” suggested Burchen very red in the face.
“That is not my business. I am the buyer. You say, ‘Wait until next trip, I got him feexed.’ Bien! I wait. You come back with bananas for Sydney and copra for Sydney and much cheap cargo. But troca shell—no. Next time, always you got him feexed.”
“But I tell you I have!” suddenly bellowed Burchen, so loud that Grenier sat back as if he had been struck in the face. “I’ve got Na’o where I want him. In a month you’ll have the stuff. Now give us a rest, savvy, Mr. Grenier, or I’ll take the shell to Sydney.”
“Ha! The good joke! First catch the troca.”
Burchen leaned across the table.
“Listen here,” he said softly. “Stop that talk or I’ll wring your neck. You get that straight.”
“The threat is no good. You wring nobody’s neck in Noumea.” Grenier nonchalantly tapped the ash off his cigaret. “It is not my fault you made promise, but it is great shame you have Motlowa to yourself. Competition it is stimulating.”
“Once more—will you stop it?” Burchen’s eyes were blood-shot and his lips moved stiffly. His hands seemed to be creeping across the intervening space toward Grenier.
A minute trickled by slowly, painfully, while the Café Cussac held its breath. Grenier had gone too far, ran the unspoken verdict. One tormented a bull when one stood on the other side of the hedge, but one was careful to see that the field where the bull snorted was empty. If Burchen gave battle somebody would surely be injured. Three soldiers sitting near by loosened their leather belts with careful, noiseless movements.
Excerpt From: J.D. Newsom. “The Naked Truth and Other Stories.”
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