THE INEVITABLE WHITE MAN
by Jack London
"The black will never understand the white,
nor the white the black, as long as black is
black and white is white."
So said Captain Woodward. We sat in the parlor
of Charley Roberts' pub in Apia, drinking long
Abu Hameds compounded and shared with us by
the aforesaid Charley Roberts, who claimed the
recipe direct from Stevens, famous for having
invented the Abu Hamed at a time when he was
spurred on by Nile thirst -- the Stevens who was
responsible for "With Kitchener to Kartoun,"
and who passed out at the siege of Ladysmith.
Captain Woodward, short and squat, elderly,
burned by forty years of tropic sun, and with
the most beautiful liquid brown eyes I ever
saw in a man, spoke from a vast experience.
The crisscross of scars on his bald pate
bespoke a tomahawk intimacy with the black,
and of equal intimacy was the advertisement,
front and rear, on the right side of his
neck, where an arrow had at one time entered
and been pulled clean through. As he explained,
he had been in a hurry on that occasion -- the
arrow impeded his running -- and he felt that
he could not take the time to break off the
head and pull out the shaft the way it had
come in. At the present moment he was commander
of the Savaii, the big steamer that recruited
labor from the westward for the German
plantations on Samoa.
"Half the trouble is the stupidity of the
whites," said Roberts, pausing to take a swig
from his glass and to curse the Samoan bar-boy
in affectionate terms. "If the white man would
lay himself out a bit to understand the
workings of the black man's mind, most of the
messes would be avoided."
"I've seen a few who claimed they understood
niggers," Captain Woodward retorted, "and I
always took notice that they were the first to
be kai-kai'd (eaten). Look at the missionaries
in New Guinea and the New Hebrides -- the martyr
isle of Erromanga and all the rest. Look at
the Austrian expedition that was cut to pieces
in the Solomons, in the bush of Guadalcanar.
And look at the traders themselves, with a
score of years' experience, making their brag
that no nigger would ever get them, and whose
heads to this day are ornamenting the rafters
of the canoe houses. There was old Johnny
Simons -- twenty-six years on the raw edges of
Melanesia, swore he knew the niggers like a
book and that they'd never do for him, and he
passed out at Marovo Lagoon, New Georgia, had
his head sawed off by a black Mary (woman) and
an old nigger with only one leg, having left
the other leg in the mouth of a shark while
diving for dynamited fish. There was Billy Watts,
horrible reputation as a nigger killer, a man
to scare the devil. I remember lying at Cape
Little, New Ireland you know, when the niggers
stole half a case of trade-tobacco -- cost him
about three dollars and a half. In retaliation
he turned out, shot six niggers, smashed up
their war canoes and burned two villages. And
it was at Cape Little, four years afterward,
that he was jumped along with fifty Buku boys
he had with him fishing beche-de-mer. In five
minutes they were all dead, with the exception
of three boys who got away in a canoe. Don't
talk to me about understanding the nigger.
The white man's mission is to farm the world,
and it's a big enough job cut out for him.
What time has he got left to understand niggers
"Just so," said Roberts. "And somehow it doesn't
seem necessary, after all, to understand the
niggers. In direct proportion to the white man's
stupidity is his success in farming the world --"
"And putting the fear of God into the nigger's
heart," Captain Woodward blurted out. "Perhaps
you're right, Roberts. Perhaps it's his stupidity
that makes him succeed, and surely one phase of
his stupidity is his inability to understand the
niggers. But there's one thing sure, the white
has to run the niggers whether he understands
them or not. It's inevitable. It's fate."
"And of course the white man is inevitable -- it's
the niggers' fate," Roberts broke in. "Tell the
white man there's pearl-shell in some lagoon
infested by ten-thousand howling cannibals, and
he'll head there all by his lonely, with half a
dozen kanaka divers and a tin alarm clock for
chronometer, all packed like sardines on a
commodious, five-ton ketch. Whisper that there's
a gold strike at the North Pole, and that same
inevitable white-skinned creature will set out
at once, armed with pick and shovel, a side of
bacon, and the latest patent rocker -- and what's
more, he'll get there. Tip it off to him that
there's diamonds on the red-hot ramparts of
hell, and Mr. White Man will storm the ramparts
and set old Satan himself to pick-and-shovel
work. That's what comes of being stupid and
"But I wonder what the black man must think of
the -- the inevitableness," I said.
Captain Woodward broke into quiet laughter. His
eyes had a reminiscent gleam.
"I'm just wondering what the niggers of Malu
thought and still must be thinking of the one
inevitable white man we had on board when we
visited them in the Duchess," he explained.
Roberts mixed three more Abu Hameds.
"That was twenty years ago. Saxtorph was his
name. He was certainly the most stupid man I
ever saw, but he was as inevitable as death.
There was only one thing that chap could do,
and that was shoot. I remember the first time
I ran into him -- right here in Apia, twenty
years ago. That was before your time, Roberts.
I was sleeping at Dutch Henry's hotel, down
where the market is now. Ever heard of him?
He made a tidy stake smuggling arms in to the
rebels, sold out his hotel, and was killed in
Sydney just six weeks afterward in a saloon
"But Saxtorph. One night I'd just got to
sleep, when a couple of cats began to sing
in the courtyard. It was out of bed and up
window, water jug in hand. But just then I
heard the window of the next room go up.
Two shots were fired, and the window was
closed. I fail to impress you with the
celerity of the transaction. Ten seconds
at the outside. Up went the window, bang
bang went the revolver, and down went the
window. Whoever it was, he had never stopped
to see the effect of his shots. He knew.
Do you follow me? -- he knew. There was no
more cat-concert, and in the morning there
lay the two offenders, stone-dead. It was
marvellous to me. It still is marvellous.
First, it was starlight, and Saxtorph shot
without drawing a bead; next, he shot so
rapidly that the two reports were like a
double report; and finally, he knew he
had hit his marks without looking to see.
"Two days afterward he came on board to
see me. I was mate, then, on the Duchess,
a whacking big one-hundred-and fifty-ton
schooner, a blackbirder. And let me tell
you that blackbirders were blackbirders in
those days. There weren't any government
inspectors, and no government protection
for us, either. It was rough work, give
and take, if we were finished, and nothing
said, and we ran niggers from every
south sea island they didn't kick us off
from. Well, Saxtorph came on board, John
Saxtorph was the name he gave. He was a
sandy little man, hair sandy, complexion
sandy, and eyes sandy, too. Nothing striking
about him. His soul was as neutral as his
color scheme. He said he was strapped and
wanted to ship on board. Would go cabin-boy,
cook, supercargo, or common sailor. Didn't
know anything about any of the billets, but
said that he was willing to learn. I didn't
want him, but his shooting had so impressed
me that I took him as common sailor, wages
three pounds per month.
"He was willing to learn all right, I'll say
that much. But he was constitutionally unable
to learn anything. He could no more box the
compass than I could mix drinks like Roberts
here. And as for steering, he gave me my
first gray hairs. I never dared risk him at
the wheel when we were running in a big sea,
while full-and-by and close-and-by were
insoluble mysteries. Couldn't ever tell the
difference between a sheet and a tackle,
simply couldn't. The fore-throat-jig and the
jib-jig were all one to him. Tell him to
slack off the mainsheet, and before you know
it, he'd drop the peak. He fell overboard
three times, and he couldn't swim. But he
was always cheerful, never seasick, and he
was the most willing man I ever knew. He
was an uncommunicative soul. Never talked
about himself. His history, so far as we
were concerned, began the day he signed on
the Duchess. Where he learned to shoot, the
stars alone can tell. He was a Yankee -- that
much we knew from the twang in his speech.
And that was all we ever did know.
"And now we begin to get to the point. We
had bad luck in the New Hebrides, only fourteen
boys for five weeks, and we ran up before the
southeast for the Solomons. Malaita, then as
now, was good recruiting ground, and we ran
into Malu, on the northwestern corner. There's
a shore reef and an outer reef, and a mighty
nervous anchorage; but we made it all right
and fired off our dynamite as a signal to the
niggers to come down and be recruited. In three
days we got not a boy. The niggers came off to
us in their canoes by hundreds, but they only
laughed when we showed them beads and calico
and hatchets and talked of the delights of
plantation work in Samoa.
"On the fourth day there came a change. Fifty-odd
boys signed on and were billeted in the main-hold,
with the freedom of the deck, of course. And
of course, looking back, this wholesale signing
on was suspicious, but at the time we thought
some powerful chief had removed the ban against
recruiting. The morning of the fifth day our
two boats went ashore as usual -- one to cover
the other, you know, in case of trouble. And,
as usual, the fifty niggers on board were on
deck, loafing, talking, smoking, and sleeping.
Saxtorph and myself, along with four other
sailors, were all that were left on board. The
two boats were manned with Gilbert Islanders.
In the one were the captain, the supercargo,
and the recruiter. In the other, which was
the covering boat and which lay off shore a
hundred yards, was the second mate. Both boats
were well-armed, though trouble was little
"Four of the sailors, including Saxtorph, were
scraping the poop rail. The fifth sailor, rifle
in hand, was standing guard by the water-tank
just for'ard of the mainmast. I was for'ard,
putting in the finishing licks on a new jaw
for the fore-gaff. I was just reaching for my
pipe where I had laid it down, when I heard a
shot from shore. I straightened up to look.
Something struck me on the back of the head,
partially stunning me and knocking me to the
deck. My first thought was that something had
carried away aloft; but even as I went down,
and before I struck the deck, I heard the
devil's own tattoo of rifles from the boats,
and, twisting sidewise, I caught a glimpse of
the sailor who was standing guard. Two big
niggers were holding his arms, and a third
nigger, from behind, was braining him with a
"I can see it now, the water-tank, the mainmast,
the gang hanging on to him, the hatchet
descending on the back of his head, and all
under the blazing sunlight. I was fascinated
by that growing vision of death. The tomahawk
seemed to take a horribly long time to come
down. I saw it land, and the man's legs give
under him as he crumpled. The niggers held
him up by sheer strength while he was hacked
a couple of times more. Then I got two more
hacks on the head and decided that I was dead.
So did the brute that was hacking me. I was
too helpless to move, and I lay there and
watched them removing the sentry's head. I
must say they did it slick enough. They were
old hands at the business.
"The riflefiring from the boats had ceased,
and I made no doubt that they were finished
off and that the end had come to everything.
It was only a matter of moments when they
would return for my head. They were evidently
taking the heads from the sailors aft. Heads
are valuable on Malaita, especially white
heads. They have the place of honor in the
canoe houses of the salt-water natives. What
particular decorative effect the bushmen get
out of them I didn't know, but they prize
them just as much as the salt-water crowd.
"I had a dim notion of escaping, and I crawled
on hands and knees to the winch, where I
managed to drag myself to my feet. From there
I could look aft and see three heads on top
the cabin -- the heads of three sailors I had
given orders to for months. The niggers saw
me standing, and started for me. I reached
for my revolver, and found they had taken it.
I can't say that I was scared. I've been near
to death several times, but it never seemed
easier than right then. I was half-stunned,
and nothing seemed to matter.
"The leading nigger had armed himself with a
cleaver from the galley, and he grimaced like
an ape as he prepared to slice me down. But
the slice was never made. He went down on the
deck all of a heap, and I saw the blood gush
from his mouth. In a dim way I heard a rifle
go off and continue to go off. Nigger after
nigger went down. My senses began to clear,
and I noted that there was never a miss. Every
time that rifle went off a nigger dropped. I
sat down on deck beside the winch and looked
up. Perched in the crosstrees was Saxtorph.
How he had managed it I can't imagine, for he
had carried up with him two Winchesters and I
don't know how many bandoliers of ammunition;
and he was now doing the one only thing in
this world that he was fitted to do.
"I've seen shooting and slaughter, but I never
saw anything like that. I sat by the winch and
watched the show. I was weak and faint, and
it seemed to be all a dream. Bang, bang, bang,
bang, went his rifle, and thud, thud, thud,
thud, went the niggers to the deck. It was
amazing to see them go down. After their first
rush to get me, when about a dozen had dropped,
they seemed paralyzed; but he never left off
pumping his gun. By this time canoes and the
two boats arrived from shore, armed with
Sniders, and with Winchesters which they had
captured in the boats. The fusillade they
let loose on Saxtorph was tremendous. Luckily
for him the niggers are only good at close
range. They are not used to putting the gun
to their shoulders. They wait until they are
right on top of a man, and then they shoot
from the hip. When his rifle got too hot,
Saxtorph changed off. That had been his
idea when he carried two rifles up with him.
"The astounding thing was the rapidity of
his fire. Also, he never made a miss. If ever
anything was inevitable, that man was. It was
the swiftness of it that made the slaughter
so appalling. The niggers did not have time
to think. When they did manage to think,
they went over the side in a rush, capsizing
the canoes of course. Saxtorph never let up.
The water was covered with them, and plump,
plump, plump, he dropped his bullets into
them. Not a single miss, and I could hear
distinctly the thud of every bullet as it
buried in human flesh.
"The niggers spread out and headed for the
shore, swimming. The water was carpeted
with bobbing heads, and I stood up, as in
a dream, and watched it all -- the bobbing
heads and the heads that ceased to bob.
Some of the long shots were magnificent.
Only one man reached the beach, but as he
stood up to wade ashore, Saxtorph got him.
It was beautiful. And when a couple of
niggers ran down to drag him out of the
water, Saxtorph got them, too.
"I thought everything was over then, when
I heard the rifle go off again. A nigger
had come out of the cabin companion on the
run for the rail and gone down in the middle
of it. The cabin must have been full of
them. I counted twenty. They came up one
at a time and jumped for the rail. But they
never got there. It reminded me of trapshooting.
A black body would pop out of the companion,
bang would go Saxtorph's rifle, and down
would go the black body. Of course, those
below did not know what was happening on
deck, so they continued to pop out until
the last one was finished off.
"Saxtorph waited a while to make sure, and
then came down on deck. He and I were all
that were left of the Duchess's complement,
and I was pretty well to the bad, while he
was helpless now that the shooting was
over. Under my direction he washed out my
scalp-wounds and sewed them up. A big drink
of whiskey braced me to make an effort to
get out. There was nothing else to do. All
the rest were dead. We tried to get up sail,
Saxtorph hoisting and I holding the turn.
He was once more the stupid lubber. He
couldn't hoist worth a cent, and when I
fell in a faint, it looked all up with us.
"When I came to, Saxtorph was sitting
helplessly on the rail, waiting to ask me
what he should do. I told him to overhaul
the wounded and see if there were any able
to crawl. He gathered together six. One, I
remember, had a broken leg; but Saxtorph
said his arms were all right. I lay in the
shade, brushing the flies off and directing
operations, while Saxtorph bossed his
hospital gang. I'll be blessed if he didn't
make those poor niggers heave at every rope
on the pin-rails before he found the halyards.
One of them let go the rope in the midst of
the hoisting and slipped down to the deck
dead; but Saxtorph hammered the others and
made them stick by the job. When the fore
and main were up, I told him to knock the
shackle out of the anchor chain and let her
go. I had had myself helped aft to the wheel,
where I was going to make a shift at steering.
I can't guess how he did it, but instead of
knocking the shackle out, down went the second
anchor, and there we were doubly moored.
"In the end he managed to knock both shackles
out and raise the staysail and jib, and the
Duchess filled away for the entrance. Our
decks were a spectacle. Dead and dying niggers
were everywhere. They were wedged away some
of them in the most inconceivable places. The
cabin was full of them where they had crawled
off the deck and cashed in. I put Saxtorph
and his graveyard gang to work heaving them
overside, and over they went, the living and
the dead. The sharks had fat pickings that
day. Of course our four murdered sailors went
the same way. Their heads, however, we put in
a sack with weights, so that by no chance
should they drift on the beach and fall into
the hands of the niggers.
"Our five prisoners I decided to use as crew,
but they decided otherwise. They watched their
opportunity and went over the side. Saxtorph
got two in mid-air with his revolver, and would
have shot the other three in the water if I
hadn't stopped him. I was sick of the slaughter,
you see, and besides, they'd helped work the
schooner out. But it was mercy thrown away,
for the sharks got the three of them.
"I had brain fever or something after we got
clear of the land. Anyway, the Duchess lay
hove to for three weeks, when I pulled myself
together and we jogged on with her to Sydney.
Anyway those niggers of Malu learned the
everlasting lesson that it is not good to
monkey with a white man. In their case,
Saxtorph was certainly inevitable."
Charley Roberts emitted a long whistle and
"Well I should say so. But whatever became of
"He drifted into seal hunting and became a
crackerjack. For six years he was high line
of both the Victoria and San Francisco fleets.
The seventh year his schooner was seized in
Bering Sea by a Russian cruiser, and all hands,
so the talk went, were slammed into the
Siberian salt mines. At least I've never
heard of him since."
"Farming the world," Roberts muttered.
"Farming the world. Well here's to them.
Somebody's got to do it -- farm the world,
Captain Woodward rubbed the criss-crosses
on his bald head.
"I've done my share of it," he said. "Forty
years now. This will be my last trip. Then
I'm going home to stay."
"I'll wager the wine you don't," Roberts
challenged. "You'll die in the harness,
not at home."
Captain Woodward promptly accepted the bet,
but personally I think Charley Roberts has
the best of it.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~