Page:Colymbia (1873).djvu/36

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"I see, sir, you are a stranger; shipwrecked, I presume, on our protecting reef?"

I related, to him the particulars of my shipwreck, which interested him much, and he expressed his surprise that apparently I alone, of all the crew, was good enough swimmer to avail myself of the means of escape offered by the life-boat. He said that all who led a seafaring life or even went a sea voyage should be taught to be as much at home in the water as on dry land.

On my expressing doubts as to the practicability of this, he said, "Well, I think you will alter your ideas on that point before you have lived long among us."

He informed me that he was one of a staff appointed by Government to instruct strangers, who might come to their country, in all things that were requisite in order to enable them to become good and useful citizens.

The number of strangers who came hither was not great. Formerly the annual amount was something considerable, but that was in the days of sailing vessels. Since the very general introduction of steam, wrecks had been much rarer; and as these islands were not on any of the great lines of traffic, it was sometimes years before a wreck occurred.

"Do none visit you except the shipwrecked?" I inquired.

"Rarely," he replied; "and it comes to the same thing as though they had been wrecked, for we take care that their ship shall never carry them away again. All that is useful we take possession of, and then blow up the ship."

"Then do I understand," I asked in alarm, "that I am to be detained here a prisoner for life?"