The other day I commented on a Facebook post by Ricky Garduno, who does the excellent (and often disturbing) webcomic 1930 Nightmare Theater on Dumm Comics, that “pictures like this [from WWI] haunt me” (“and speaking of trench rats… something for your nightmares“)
Today, I wrote: “maybe it was those posts about WWI, but I remembered something nightmarish and thought I’d share it with you. It’s from a quite awesome book from 1927 called Count Luckner the Sea Devil which recounts the true story of Felix von Luckner and especially his participation in WWI, but the part I want to mention is on pages 35-37:”
In Honolulu I came upon a mystery, a fantastic mystery. It sounds unbelievable. I, myself, cannot explain it. Someday I hope to meet someone who can. One of the cabin boys aboard the Golden Shore was a German named Nauke. He was a violin maker by trade who had lost all his money and put to sea. We became fast friends. At Honolulu, Nauke invited me to go ashore with him. He brought along a can of condensed milk, a delicacy he knew I liked. We went sightseeing, and one of the sights was that of royalty. We stood outside of the palace grounds and watched the Hawaiian potentate while he had tea. He sat in a reed chair, and a couple of his wives stood beside him. A well-dressed gentleman who seemed to be on a stroll came up to us and began to talk to us in English.
“Don’t waste your time on anything like that,” he said. “Why not see the hula-hula dance?”
Nauke and I said all right, because the hula-hula was just what we did want to see.
The gentleman asked whether we had any better clothes to wear, to which we responded that we had not.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I will provide you with a suit each.”
He took us to a carriage drawn by four mules, and we all got in. I remarked to Nauke that the gentleman seemed to be a man of means. The gentleman turned his head.
“You mustn’t talk so much,” he said in German.
We came to a sugar plantation outside the town. The carriage stopped. Our host led us to a field path, until finally we came to a European house that had an air of distinction. Young colts grazed within a fence. Through the large windows of the stately villa I saw a row of large black tables such as are used in Germany, in a lecture room. Our host told Nauke to wait outside, and got a piece of cake for him. I whispered to Nauke not to go away.
I felt very strange on entering the house. The man showed me into a room next to the hall with the many tables. He was about to lock the door. I asked him not to. In the room was a long black table like those I had seen in the other room. The man said he was going upstairs to get a measuring tape. While he was gone, I noticed that under the table were two long narrow boxes with heavy locks on both sides. What if I should end up in one of those boxes! But I was confident. What had I learned boxing for?
The stranger returned with a tape. He measured my arm. Unlike a tailor, he measured from wrist to shoulder instead of from shoulder to wrist.
“Thirty,” he announced, repeated it once, and muttered several other numbers between his teeth.
He pulled my coat halfway down my back, thus hindering my arms. He remarked that the light was poor, and turned me so that my back was toward the outer door. I could hear a creaking that told me that someone was moving behind that door. I noticed on the floor below the lower part of the table a disorderly pile of old clothes which looked as though they might be sailors’ togs. The gentleman took off my belt and laid it on the table. Attached to the belt was my knife case. It was empty. I wondered where my knife might be. I remembered having it that morning. I had peeled potatoes with it. My blood froze as between empty bottles on the window sill I saw a chopped off human thumb with a long sinew attached. The gentleman was about to let down my trousers, which would have kept me from running.
I jerked my coat back into place, knocked the man down with a heavy blow, grabbed my empty knife case from the table, kicked open the nearest door to the open, and jumped out, shouting for Nauke. He appeared, still munching his piece of cake. We ran out into the plantation and threw ourselves down among the cane. There was the sound of a whistle and of galloping horses and running men. They were hunting for us along the roads. We groped our way among the fields, and, after losing our way several times, finally reached the beach.
We looked up an English-speaking policeman and told him our story. He shrugged his shoulders and said it would take a special force of detectives to discover how many sailors had mysteriously disappeared on the islands. Our captain merely remarked that we deserved a good thrashing for going ashore. We sailors on the ship laid a plan to take the plantation by storm on the following Sunday. But on Friday a quarantine was proclaimed, due to some infectious disease that was spreading, and the raid was off. In later times, I often inquired about the strange circumstance, and heard tales of white sailors disappearing on the islands, but never a solution of the mystery.