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Title: Faery Lands of the South Seas
Author: Nordhoff, Charles Bernard, Hall, James Norman
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover art]



                              *Faery Lands
                           Of the South Seas*



[Illustration: Woodcut]



[Illustration: These lagoons swarm with strange forms of life unknown in
northern waters]



                              *FAERY LANDS
                           OF THE SOUTH SEAS*


                                  _By_
                           James Norman Hall
                                 _and_
                        Charles Bernard Nordhoff



                      Harper & Brothers Publishers
                          New York and London



                     FAERY LANDS OF THE SOUTH SEAS

                 Copyright, 1921, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America
                                  C-K



[Illustration: Contents headpiece]


                               *CONTENTS*

CHAP.

Preface

      I. A Leisurely Approach
     II. In the Cloud of Islands
    III. Marooned on Mataora
     IV. The Land of Ahu Ahu
      V. A Memory of Mauké
     VI. Rutiaro
    VII. A Debtor of Moy Ling
   VIII. An Adventure in Solitude
     IX. The Starry Threshold
      X. Costly Hospitality
     XI. His Mother’s People
    XII. In the Cook Group
   XIII. At the House of Tari
    XIV. In the Valley of Vaitia
     XV. Tahitian Tales
    XVI. Anchored off the Reef
   XVII. The Englishman’s Story
  XVIII. Aboard the "Potii Ravarava"



                               *PREFACE*

The islands of the South Seas are places of an interest curiously
limited.  The ethnological problem presented by the native is
interesting only to men of science, commerce is negligible, there is
little real agriculture, and no industry at all.  There remains the
charm of living among people whose outlook upon life is basically
different from our own; of living with a simplicity foreign to anything
in one’s experience, amid surroundings of a beauty unreal both in
actuality and in retrospect.

It is impossible to write of the islands as one would write of France or
Mexico or Japan—the accepted viewpoint of the traveler is not applicable
here.  A simple attempt to impart information would prove singularly
monotonous, and one is driven to essay a different task; to pry into the
life of the mingling races, hoping to catch something of its
significance and atmosphere.  In making such an attempt it is necessary
at times to dig deeper than would be consistent with good taste if names
were mentioned, and for this reason—in the case of certain small
islands—the ancient Polynesian names have been used instead of those
given on the chart.  All of the islands described are to be found in the
Paumotu, Society, and Hervey groups.

J.N.H.
C.B.N.

TAHITI, _April 10, 1921_.



                               *Landfall*



[Illustration: Woodcut]



                              *Faery Lands
                           Of the South Seas*


                              *CHAPTER  I*

                         *A Leisurely Approach*


I don’t remember precisely when it was that Nordhoff and I first talked
of this adventure.  The idea had grown upon us, one might say, with the
gradual splendor of a tropical sunrise.  We were far removed from the
tropics at that time.  We were, in fact, in Paris and had behind us the
greatest adventure we shall ever know.  On the Place de la Concorde and
along the Champs-Élysées stood rank on rank of German cannon, silent
enough now, but still menacing, their muzzles tilted skyward at that
ominous slant one came to know so well.  For a month we had seen them
so, children perched astride them on sunny afternoons, rolling pebbles
down their smooth black throats; veterans in soiled and faded horizon
blue, with the joy of this new quiet world bright on their faces,
opening breech-blocks, examining mechanism with the skill of long use at
such employment; with a kind of wondering hesitation in their movements
too, as though at any moment they expected those sinister monsters in
the fantastic colors of Harlequin to spring into life again.

Those were glorious days!  Never again, I think, will there be such a
happy time as that in Paris.  The boulevards were crowded, the tables
filled under every awning in front of the cafés; and yet there seemed to
be a deep silence everywhere, a silence intensified by the faint
rustling of autumn leaves and the tramping of innumerable feet.  One
heard the sound of voices, of laughter, of singing, the subdued,
continuous rumble of traffic; but not a harsh cry, not a discordant
note. All the world seemed to be making holiday at the passing of a
solemn, happy festival.

Well, we had kept it with the others—Nordhoff and I—and have the memory
of it now, to be enjoyed over and over again as the years pass.  But
there was danger that we might outstay the freshness of that period.  We
were anxious to avoid that for the sake of our memories, if for nothing
else.  While we were not yet free to order our movements as we chose, we
pretended that we were, and so one rainy evening in the December
following the armistice we decided to call that chapter of experience
closed and to go forward with the making of new plans.

For we meant to have further adventure of one kind or another—adventure
in the sense of unexpected incident rather than of hazardous activity.
That had been a settled thing between us for a long time.  We had no
craving for excitement, but turned to plans for uneventful wanderings
which we had sketched in broad outlines months before.  They had been
left, of necessity, vague; but now that any of them might be made
realities, now that we had leisure and a reasonable hope for the
fulfillment of plans—well, we had cause for a contentment which was
something deeper than happiness.

The best of it was that the close of the war found us with nothing to
prevent our doing pretty much as we chose.  We might have had houses or
lands to anchor us, or promising careers to drag us back into the
bewilderments of modern civilization; but, fortunately or unfortunately,
there were none of these things.  The chance of war had given us a
freedom far beyond anyone’s desert.  We had some misgivings about
accepting so splendid a gift, which the event sometimes proves to be the
most doubtful of benefits.  Viewed in the light of our longings,
however, our capacity for it seemed incalculable, and so, by degrees, we
allowed our minds to turn to an old allurement—the South Pacific. It
became irresistible the more we talked of it, longing as we then were
for the solitude of islands.  The objection to this choice was that the
groups of islands which we meant to visit have been endowed with an
atmosphere of pseudoromance displeasing to the fastidious mind.

But there was not the slightest chance of our being pioneers wherever we
might go.  We could not hope to see with the eyes of the old explorers
who first came upon those far-off places.  We must expect great changes.
But much as we might regret for the purposes of this adventure that we
had not been born two hundred years earlier, comfort was not wanting to
our situation.  Had we been contemporaries and fellow-explorers with De
Quiros, or Cook, or Bougainville we should have missed the Great War.

We came within view of Tahiti one windless February morning—such a view
as Pedro Fernandez de Quiros himself must have had more than three
hundred years before.  The sky to the west was still bright with stars
and but barely touched with the very ghost of light, giving it the
appearance of a great water, with a few clouds, like islands,
immeasurably distant.  Half an hour later the islands themselves lay in
full sunlight, jagged peaks falling away in steep ridges to the sea.
Against sheer walls still in shadow in upland valleys one could see a
few terns; but there was no other movement, no sound, nor any sign of a
human habitation—nothing to shatter the illusion of primitive
loveliness. It was illusion, of course, but the reality was nothing like
so disappointing as I had feared it would be. Outwardly, two hundred
years of progress have wrought no great amount of havoc.  There is a
little port, a busy place on boat days.  But when the steamer has
emptied the town of her passengers, the silence flows down again from
the hills.  Off the main harbor-front thoroughfare streets lie empty to
the eye for half hours at a time.  Chinese merchants sit at the doorways
of their shops, waiting for trade.  Now and then broad pools of sunlight
flow over the gayly flowered dresses of a group of native women,
scarcely to be seen otherwise as they move slowly through tunnels of
moist green gloom; or a small schooner, like a detail gifted with sudden
mobility in a picture, will back away from shore, cross the harbor,
bright with the reflections of clouds, and stand out to sea.  In the
stillness of the noon siesta one hears at infrequent intervals the
resounding thud of ripe fruits as they tear their way to the ground
through barriers of foliage; and at night the melancholy thunder of the
surf on the reef outside the harbor, and the slithering of bare feet in
the moonlit streets.

Coming from a populous exile, doubly attracted for that reason by the
lure of unpeopled places, Nordhoff and I sought here an indication of
what we might find later elsewhere.  The few thousands of natives,
whites, Orientals, half-castes, live in a charmed circle of low land
fronting the sea, conscious of their mountains, no doubt, but the whites
without curiosity, the Orientals without desire, the natives without
remembrance. There must have been a maze of trails in the old days,
leading down from the rich valleys.  Now they are overgrown, untraveled,
lost.  Since the old life is no more than a memory, one is glad for the
desolation, and grateful to the French lack of enterprise which surely
is the only way to account for it.

No, we couldn’t have chosen a better jumping-off place for our
unpremeditated wanderings.  We had the whole expanse of the Pacific
before us, or, better, around us, and there was, as I have said, a
harbor full of shipping.  Boats with pleasing names, like the
_Curieuse_, the _Avarua_, the _Potii Ravarava_, the _Kaeo_, the
_Liane_—and self-confident, seagoing aspect.  Some tidy and smart with
new paint and rigging; others with decks warped and sides blistered,
bottoms foul with the accumulation of a six months’ cruise, reeking with
the warm odor of copra.  Boats newly arrived from remote islands, with
crowds of bare-legged natives on their decks, their eyes beaming with
pleasure in anticipation of the delights of the great capital;
outward-bound to the Marquesas, the Australs, the Cooks, the Low
Archipelago, despite the fact that it was the middle of the hurricane
season.  Among these latter there was one whose name was like a friendly
hail from Gloucester, or Portland, Maine.  But it was not this which
attracted me to her, for all its assurance of Yankee hospitality.  She
was off to the Paumotus, the Cloud of Islands, and a longing to go there
persisted in the face of a number of vague discouragements.  There were
no practical difficulties.  Easy enough to get passage by one schooner
or another.  Paumotu copra is famous throughout the Southern Pacific.
There is a good deal of competition for it, boats racing one another for
cargo to the richer islands.  The discouragements weren’t so vague,
either, now that I think of them. They came from men kindly disposed,
interested in the islands in their own way.  But their concerns were
purely commercial.  I heard a deal of talk about copra—in kilos, in
tons, in shiploads; its market value in Papeete, in San Francisco, in
Marseilles, until the stately trees which gave it lost for a time their
old significance.  Talk, too, of coconut oil and its richness in
butter-fat.  Butter-fat!  There was a word to bring one back to a
workaday world.  To meet it at the outset of a long-dreamed-of journey
was disheartening. It followed me with the shrill insistence of a
creamery whistle, and I came very near giving up my plans altogether.
Nordhoff did change his.  He said that it was silly, no doubt, but he
didn’t like the idea of wandering, however lonely, in a cloud of
butter-fat islands.  Therefore we said good-by, having arranged for a
rendezvous at a distant date, and set out on diverging paths.

I ought to leave Crichton, the English planter, out of this story
altogether.  He doesn’t belong in a commonplace record of travel such as
this one set out to be.  He had very little to do with the voyage of the
_Caleb S. Winship_ among the atolls.  But when I think of that vessel he
comes inevitably into mind.  I see him sitting on the cabin deck with
his freckled brown hands clasped about his knees, looking across a
solitude of waters; and in my mental concept of the Low Archipelago he
is always somewhere in the background, standing on the sun-stricken reef
of a tiny atoll, his back to the sea, almost as much a part of the
lonely picture as the sea itself.

But one can’t be wholly matter of fact in writing of these islands.
They are not real in the ordinary sense, but belong, rather, to the
realm of the imagination.  And it is only in the imagination that you
can conceive of your ever having been there, once you are back again in
a well-plowed sea track.  As for the people, whether native or alien, in
order to focus them in a world of reality it is necessary to remember
what they said or did; what they ate; what sort of clothing they wore.
Otherwise they elude you just as the islands do.

This point of view isn’t, perhaps, commonly held among the few white men
who know them—captains of small schooners, managers of trading
companies, resident agents, whose interest, as I have said, is in what
they produce rather than in what they are.  As one old skipper of my
acquaintance put it, in speaking of the atolls, "Take them by and large,
they are as much alike as the reef-points on that sail."  Findlay’s
_South Pacific Directory_, a supposedly competent authority, bears him
out in this: "They are all of similar character," adding, for emphasis,
no doubt, "and they exhibit very great sameness in their features."  He
does, however, make certain slight concessions to what may be his own
private conception of their peculiar fascination, "This vast collection
of coral islands; one of the wonders of the Pacific," and later, in his
account of them, "The native name, ’Paumotu,’ signifies a Cloud of
Islands, an expressive term."  But he doesn’t forget that he is writing
for practical-minded mariners who want facts and not fancies, however
truthful these may be to reality.

"Now, there’s Tikehau," one of them said to me before I had been out
there.  "That’s a round atoll; and Rahiroa is sort o’ square like, an’
so on.  Some with passes and a good anchorage inside the lagoon. Others
you got to lay outside an’ take your cargo off the reef in a small
boat."

But, to go back to Crichton, no one knew who he was or where he came
from.  The manager of the Inter-Island Trading Company had lived in
Papeete for years and had never seen him until the day when he turned up
at the water front trundling a wheelbarrow loaded with four crates of
chickens and an odd lot of plantation tools and fishing tackle.
Following him were two native boys carrying a weather-blackened sea
chest, and an old woman with an enormous roll of bedding tied loosely in
a pandanus mat.  That was about an hour before the schooner weighed
anchor.  He stacked his gear neatly on the beach and then went on board,
asking for passage to Tanao.

"No, sir," the manager said, in telling about it afterward, "I never
laid eyes on him until that moment, and I don’t know anyone who had.
Where’s he been hiding himself?  And why in the name of common sense
does he want to go to Tanao?  There’s no copra or pearl shell there—not
enough, anyway, to make it worth a man’s while going after it."

Tino, the supercargo, was equally puzzled.

"I know Tanao from the sea," he said.  "Passed it once coming down from
the Marquesas when I was supercargo of the _Tiare Tahiti_.  We were
blown out of our course by a young hurricane.  Didn’t land. There’s no
one on the God-forsaken place.  Now here’s this Englishman, or Dane, or
Norwegian—whatever he is—asking to be set down there with four crates of
chickens and an old Kanaka woman for company!"  He shook his head with a
give-it-up expression, adding a moment later: "Well, you meet some queer
people down in this part of the world.  I don’t believe in asking them
their business, but it beats me sometimes, trying to figure out what
their business is."

He was not able to figure it out in this case.  The old woman was
talkative; but the information he gathered from her only stimulated his
curiosity the more.  She owned Tanao, an atom of an atoll miles out of
the beaten track even of the Paumotu schooners.  There had never been
more than a score of people living on it, she said, and now there was no
one.  Crichton had taken a long lease on it, and was going out there—as
he told me afterward—"to do my writing and thinking undisturbed."

I didn’t know this until later, however.  When I first heard him spoken
of we were only a few hours out from Papeete.  We had left the harbor
with a light breeze, but at four in the afternoon the schooner was lying
about fifteen miles offshore, lazy jacks flapping against idle sails
with a mellow, crusty sound. After a good deal of fretting at the
fickleness of land breezes, talk had turned to Crichton, who was up
forward somewhere looking after his chickens.  I didn’t pay much
attention then to what was being said, for I had just had one of those
moments which come rarely enough in a lifetime, but which make up for
all the arid stretches of experience.  They give no forewarning. There
comes a flood of happiness which brings tears to the eyes, the sense of
it is so keen.  The sad part of it is that one refuses to accept it as a
moment.  You say, "By Jove!  I’m not going to let this pass!" and it has
gone as unaccountably as it came, half lost through foreboding of its
end.  One prepares for it unknowingly, I suppose, through months,
sometimes years, of longing for something remote and beautiful—such as
these islands, for example.  And when you have your islands, the moment
comes, sooner or later, and you see them in the light which never was,
as the saying goes, but which is the light of truth for all that. Brief
as it is, no one can say that the reward isn’t ample.  And it leaves an
afterglow in the memory, tempering regret, fading very slowly; which one
never wholly loses since it takes on the color of memory itself,
becoming a part of that dim world of worth-while illusions.

All of which has very little to do with what was passing aboard the
_Caleb S. Winship_, except that I was prevented from taking an immediate
interest in my fellow passengers; but this being my first near view of a
Polynesian trading schooner, the scene on deck had all the charm of the
unusual.  Our skipper was a Paumotuan, a former pearl diver, and the
sailors—six of them, including the mate—Tahitian boys.  In addition to
these there were Crichton, the planter; the supercargo, master of three
major languages and half a dozen Polynesian dialects; the manager of the
Inter-Island Trading Company; William, the engineer; Oro, the cabin boy;
a Chinese cook and two Chinese storekeepers—evidence of the leisurely,
persistent Oriental invasion of French Polynesia; thirty native
passengers; a horse in an improvised stall amidships; a monkey perched
in the mainmast rigging; Crichton’s four crates of chickens, and five
pigs.  In addition to the passengers and live stock, we were carrying
out a cargo of lumber, corrugated iron, flour, rice, sugar, canned
goods, clothing, and dry goods.  Each of the native passengers brought
with him as much dunnage as an Englishman carries when he goes
traveling, and his food for the voyage—limes, oranges, bananas,
breadfruit, mangoes, canned meat.  With all of this, a two months’
supply of gasoline for the engines, and fresh water and green coconuts
for both passengers and crew, we made a snug fit.  Even the space under
the patient little native horse was used to stow his fodder for the long
journey.

The women, with one exception, were barefooted, bareheaded, but
otherwise conventionally dressed according to European or American
standards.  This, I suppose, is an outrageous betrayal of a trade
secret, if one may say that writers of South Sea narratives belong to a
trade.  Those seriously interested in the islands have, of course, known
the truth about them for years; but I believe it is still a popular
misconception that the women who inhabit them—no one seems to be
interested in the men—are even to this day half-savage, unself-conscious
creatures who display their charms to the general gaze with naïve
indifference. Half-savage they may still be, but not unself-conscious in
the old sense.  There are a few, to be sure, who, by means of the bribes
or the entreaties of itinerant journalists and photographers, may be
persuaded to disrobe before the camera for a moment’s space; and in this
way the primitive legend is preserved to the outside world.  But, as I
told Nordhoff, although we are itinerant, we may as well be occasionally
truthful and so gain, perhaps, a certain amount of begrudged credit.

The one exception was a girl of about nineteen. She came on board
balancing unsteadily on high French heels, her brown legs darkening the
sheen of her white-cotton stockings.  I had seen her the day before as
she passed below the veranda of Le Cercle Bougainville, the everyman’s
club of the port.  She walked with the same air of precarious balance,
and her broad-brimmed straw hat was set at the jaunty angle American
women affect.

"_Voilà!  L’indigène d’aujourd’hui_," my French companion said.  Then,
breaking into English: "The old Polynesia is dead.  Yes, one may say
that it is quite, quite dead."  A memory he called it.  "_Maintenant je
vous assure, monsieur, ce n’est rien que ça_."  He rang changes on the
word, in a soft voice, with an air of enforced liveliness.

I was rather saddened at the time, picturing in my mind the scene on the
shore of that bright lagoon two hundred years ago, before any of these
people had been forced to accept the blessings of an alien civilization.
But the girl with the French heels wasn’t a good illustration of
_l’indigène d’aujourd’hui_, even in the matter of surface changes.  Most
of the women dress much more simply and sensibly, and it was amusing as
well as comforting to see how quickly she got rid of her unaccustomed
clothing once we had left the harbor.  She disappeared behind a row of
water casks and came out a moment later in a dress of bright-red
material, barefooted and bareheaded like the rest of them.  She had a
single hibiscus flower in her hair, which hung in a loose braid.  I
don’t believe she had ever worn shoes before.  At any rate, as she sat
on a box, husking a coconut with her teeth, I could see her ankle
calluses glinting in the sun like disks of polished metal.

There was another girl sitting on the deck not far from me, with an
illustrated supplement of an American paper spread out before her.  It
was an ancient copy. There were pictures of battlefields in France; of
soldiers marching down Fifth Avenue; a tennis tournament at Longwood;
aeroplanes in flight; motor races at Indianapolis; actresses, society
women, dressmakers’ models making a display of corsets and other women’s
equipment—pictures out of the welter of modern life. The little
Paumotuan girl appeared to be deeply interested.  With her chin resting
on her hands and her elbows braced against her knees, she went from
picture to picture, but looked longest at those of the women who smiled
or posed self-consciously, or looked disdainfully at her from the pages.
I would have given a good deal to know what, if anything, was passing in
her mind.  All at once she gave a little sigh, crumpled the paper into a
ball, and threw it at the monkey, who caught it and began tearing it in
pieces.  She laughed and clapped her hands at this, called the attention
of the others, and in a moment men, women, and children had gathered
round, laughing and shouting, throwing bits of coconut shell, mango
seeds, banana skins, faster than the monkey could catch them.

The spontaneity of the merriment did one’s heart good.  Even the old men
and women laughed, not in the indulgent manner of parents or
grandparents, but as heartily as the children themselves.  Unconscious
of the uproar, one of the Chinese merchants was lying on a thin mattress
against the cabin skylight.  Although he was sound asleep, his teeth
were bare in a grin of ghastly suavity, and his left eye was partly
open, giving him an air of constant watchfulness.  He was dreaming, I
suppose, of copra, of pearl shell—in kilos, tons, shiploads; of its
market value in Papeete, in San Francisco, in Marseilles, etc.  Well,
the whites get their share of these commodities and the Chinamen theirs;
but the natives have a commodity of laughter which is vastly more
precious, and as long as they do have it one need not feel very sorry
for them.

Dusk gathered rapidly while I was thinking of these things.  Heavy
clouds hung over Tahiti and Moorea, clinging about the shoulders of the
mountains whose peaks, rising above them, were still faintly visible
against the somber glory of the sky.  They seemed islands of sheer
fancy, looked at from the sea.  It would have been worth all that one
could give to have seen them then as De Quiros saw them, or Cook, or the
early missionaries; to have added to one’s own sense of their majesty,
the solemn and more childlike awe of the old explorers, born of their
feeling of utter isolation from their kind with the presence of the
unknown on every hand.  It is this feeling of awe rarely to be known by
travelers in these modern days, which pervades many of the old tales of
wanderings in remote places; which one senses in looking at old sketches
made from the decks of ships, of the shores of heathen lands.

The wind freshened, then came a deluge of cool water, blotting out the
rugged outlines against the sky. When it had passed it was deep night.
The forward deck was a huddle of shelters made of mats and bits of
canvas, but these were being taken down now that the rain had stopped.
I saw an old woman sitting near the companionway, her head in clear
relief against a shaft of yellow light.  She was wet through and the
mild misfortune broke the ice between us, if one may use a metaphor very
inapt for the tropics.  With her face half in shadow she reminded me of
the typical, Anglo-Saxon grandmother, although no grandmother of my
acquaintance would have sat unperturbed through that squall and
indifferent to her wet clothing afterward.  She didn’t appear to mind it
in the least, and now that it was over fished a paper of tobacco and a
strip of pandanus leaf out of the bundle on which she was sitting.  She
rolled a pinch of tobacco in the leaf, twisting it into a tight
corkscrew, and lit it at the first attempt.  Then she began talking in a
deep, resonant voice, and by a simplicity and an extraordinary lucidity
of gesture conveyed the greater part of her meaning even to an alien
like myself.  It was not, alas! a typical accomplishment.  I have not
since found others similarly gifted.

She was Crichton’s landlady, the owner of Tanao. "Pupure" she called
him, because of his fair hair.  I couldn’t make out what she was driving
at for a little while.  I understood at last that she wanted to know
about his family—where his father was, and his mother.  I suppose she
thought I must know him, being a white man.  They have queer ideas of
the size of our world.  He was young.  He must have people somewhere.
She, too, couldn’t understand his wanting to go to Tanao; and I gathered
from her perplexity that he hadn’t confided his purposes to her to any
extent.  I couldn’t enlighten her, of course, and at length, realizing
this, she wrapped herself in her mat to preserve the damp warmth of her
body, and dozed off to sleep.

I went below for a blanket and some dry clothing, for the night air was
uncomfortably cool after the rain. The cabin floor was strewn with
sleeping forms.  Three children were curled up in a corner like puppies
in a box of sawdust.  Little brown babies lay snugly bedded on bundles
of clothing, the mothers themselves sleeping in the careless, trustful
attitudes of children.  The light from a swinging lamp threw leaping
shadows on the walls; flowed smoothly over brown arms and legs; was
caught in faint gleams in masses of loose black hair.  And to complete
the picture and make it wholly true to fact, cockroaches of the enormous
winged variety ran with incredible speed over the oilcloth of the cabin
table, or made sudden flying sallies out of dark corners to the food
lockers and back again.

On deck no one was awake except Maui at the wheel. There was very little
unoccupied space, but I found a strip against the engine-room ventilator
where I could stretch out at full length.  By that time the moon was up
and it was almost as light as day.  I was not at all sleepy, and my
thoughts went forward to the Paumotus, the Cloud of Islands.  We ought
to be making our first landfall within thirty-six hours. I didn’t go
beyond that in anticipation, although in the mind’s eye I had seen them
for months, first one island and then another.  I had pictured them at
dawn, rising out of the sea against a far horizon; or at night, under
the wan light of stars, lonely beyond one’s happiest dreams of
isolation; unspoiled, unchanged, because of their very remoteness.
Well, I was soon to know whether or not they fulfilled my hopeful
expectations.

Some one came aft, walking along the rail in his bare feet.  It was Oro,
the cabin boy, who is taken with an enviable kind of madness at the full
of the moon. He looked carefully around to make sure that everyone was
asleep, then stood clasping and unclasping his hands in ecstasy,
carrying on a one-sided conversation in a confidential undertone.  Now
and then he would smile and straightway become serious again, gazing
with rapt, listening attention at the world of pure light; nodding his
head at intervals in vigorous confirmation of some occult confidence.
At length his figure receded, blurred, took on the quality of the
moonlight, and I saw him no more.


[Illustration: Chapter I tailpiece]



                              *CHAPTER II*

                       *In the Cloud of Islands*


Ruau, the old Paumotuan woman, and the owner of Tanao, was the last of
her family.  There were relatives by marriage, but none of them would
consent to live on so poor an atoll; and the original population, never
large, had diminished, through death and migration, until at last she
was left alone, living in her memories of other days, awed by the
companionship of spirits present to her in strange and terrible shapes.
At last she felt that she could endure it no longer; but it was many
months before the smoke of one of her signal fires was seen by a passing
schooner.  She returned with it to Tahiti, and if she had been lonely
before, she was tenfold lonelier there, so far from the graves of her
husband and children. It was at this time that Crichton met her.  He had
been living at Tahiti for more than a year, on the lookout for just such
an opportunity as Ruau offered him.  Although only twenty-eight, he was
in the tenth year of his wanderings, and had almost despaired of finding
the place he had so long dreamed of and searched for.  During that
period he had been moving slowly eastward, through Borneo, New Guinea,
the Solomons, the New Hebrides, the Tongas, the Cook Group.  In some of
these islands the climate was too powerful an enemy for a white man to
contend with; in others there was no land available, or they lacked the
solitude he wanted.  This latter embarrassment was the one he had met at
Tahiti.  The fact is an illuminating commentary on his character.  Most
men would find exceptional opportunities for seclusion there; not on the
seaboard but in the mountains; in the valleys winding deeply among them,
where no one goes from year’s end to year’s end.  Even those leading out
to the sea are but little frequented in their upward reaches.  But
Crichton was very exacting in his requirements in this respect.  He was
one of those men who make few or no friends—one of those lonely spirits
without the ties or the kindly human associations which make life
pleasant to most of us.  They wander the thinly peopled places of the
earth, interested in a large way at what they see from afar or faintly
hear, but looking on with quiet eyes; taking no part, being blessed or
cursed by nature with a love of silence, of the unchanging peace of
great solitudes.  One reads of them now and then in fiction, and if they
live in fiction it is because of men like Crichton, their prototypes in
reality, seen for a moment as they slip apprehensively across some
by-path leading from the outside world.

He had a little place at Tahiti, a walk of two hours and a quarter, he
said, from the government offices in the port.  He had to go there
sometimes to attend to the usual formalities, and I have no doubt that
he knew within ten seconds the length of the journey which would be a
very distasteful one to him.  I can imagine his uneasiness at what he
saw and heard on those infrequent visits.  An after-the-war renewal of
activity, talk of trade, development, progress, would startle him into a
waiting, listening attitude. Returning home, maps and charts would be
got out and plans made against the day when it would be necessary for
him to move on.  He told me of his accidental meeting with Ruau, as he
called the old Paumotuan woman.  It came only a few days after the
arrival from San Francisco of one of the monthly steamers.  A crowd of
tourists—stop-over passengers of a day—had somehow discovered the dim
trail leading to his house.  "They were much pleased with it," he said,
adding, with restraint: "They took a good many pictures.  I was rather
annoyed at this, although, of course, I said nothing."  No doubt they
made the usual remarks: "Charming!  So quaint!" etc.

It was the last straw for Crichton.  So he made another visit to the
government offices where he had his passport viséed.  He meant to go to
Maketea, a high phosphate island which stands like a gateway at the
northwestern approach to the Low Archipelago. The phosphate would be
worked out in time and the place abandoned, as other islands of that
nature had been, to the seabirds.  But on that same evening, while he
was having dinner at a Chinaman’s shop in town, he overheard Ruau trying
to persuade some of her relatives to return with her to Tanao.  He knew
of the island.  He is one of the few men who would know of it.  He had
often looked at it on his charts, being attracted by its isolated
position.  The very place for him!  And the old woman, he said, when she
learned that he wanted to go there, that he wanted to stay always—all
his life—gripped his hands in both of hers and held them, crying softly,
without saying anything more.  The relatives made some objections to the
arrangement at first.  But the island being remote, poverty-stricken,
haunted, they were soon persuaded to consent to a ten years’ lease, with
the option of renewal.  Crichton promised, of course, to take care of
Ruau as long as she lived, and at her death to bury her decently beside
her husband.

He proceeded at once with his altered plans.  There were government
regulations to be complied with and these had taken some time.  On the
day when he was at last free to start he learned that the _Caleb S.
Winship_ was about to sail on a three months’ voyage in the Low
Archipelago.  He had no time to ask for passage beforehand.  He had to
chance the possibility of getting it at the last moment.  It is not to
be supposed that either the manager of the Inter-Island Trading Company
or the supercargo of the _Winship_ would have consented to carry him to
such an out-of-the-way destination had they known his reason for wanting
to be set down there.  It amuses me now to think of those two
hard-headed traders, men without a trace of sentiment, going one hundred
and fifty miles off their course merely to carry the least gregarious of
wanderers on the last leg of his long journey to an ideal solitude.  It
was their curiosity which gained him his end.  They believed he had some
secret purpose, some reason of purely material self-interest in view.
They had both seen Tanao from a distance and knew that it had never been
worth visiting either for pearl shell or copra.  It is hard to
understand what miracle they believed might have taken place in the
meantime.  During the voyage I often heard them talking about the atoll,
about Crichton—wondering, conjecturing, and always miles off the track.
It was plain that he was a good deal disturbed by their hints and
furtive questionings.  He seemed to be afraid that mere talk about Tanao
on the part of an outsider might sully the purity of its loneliness.  He
may have been a little selfish in his attitude, but if that is a fault
in a man of his temperament it is one easily forgiven.  And what could
he have said to those traders? It was much better to keep silent and let
them believe what they liked.

It must not be thought that Crichton poured out his confidences to me
like a schoolgirl.  On the contrary, he had a very likable reserve,
although a good half of it, I should say, was shyness.  Then, too, he
had almost forgotten how to talk except in the native dialects of
several groups of widely scattered islands. In English he had a tendency
to prolong his vowels and to omit consonants, which gave his speech a
peculiar exotic sound.  He made no advances for some time. Neither did
I.  For more than three weeks we lived together on shipboard, went
ashore together at islands where we had put in for copra, and all that
while we did not exchange above two hundred words in conversation.
There was so little talk that I can remember the whole of it, almost
word for word.  Once while we were walking on the outer beach at Raraka,
an atoll of thirty-five inhabitants, he said to me:

"I wish I had come out here years ago.  They appeal to the imagination,
don’t you think, all these islands?"

His volubility startled me.  It was a shock to the senses, like the
crash of a coconut on a tin roof heard in the profound stillness of an
island night.  There was my opportunity to throw off reserve and I lost
it through my surprise.  I merely said, "Yes, very much."  An hour later
we saw the captain, no larger than a penny doll, at the end of a long
vista of empty beach, beckoning us to come back.  We went aboard without
having spoken again.  It was an odd sort of relationship for two white
men thrown into close contact on a small trading schooner in the
loneliest ocean in the world, as Nordhoff put it.  We were no more
companionable in the ordinary sense than a pair of hermit crabs.

But the need for talking drops away from men under such circumstances
and neither of us found the long silences embarrassing.  The spell of
the islands was upon us both.  I can understand Crichton’s speaking of
their appeal to the imagination while we were in the midst of them; for
our presence there seemed an illusion—a dream more radiant than any
reality could be.  In fact, my only hold upon reality during that voyage
was the _Caleb S. Winship_, and sometimes even that substantial old
vessel suffered sea changes; was metamorphosed in a moment; and it was
hard to believe that she was a boat built by men’s hands.  Often as she
lay at anchor in a lagoon of dreamlike beauty I paddled out from shore
in a small canoe, and, making fast under her stern, spent an afternoon
watching the upward play of the reflections from the water and the blue
shadows underneath, rippling out and vanishing in the light like flames
of fire.  For me her homely, rugged New England name was a pleasant link
with the past.  I liked to read the print of it.  The word "Boston," her
old home port, was still faintly legible through a coat of white paint.
It brought to mind old memories and the faces of old friends, hard to
visualize in those surroundings without such practical help. Far below
lay the floor of the lagoon where all the rainbows of the world have
authentic end.  The water was so clear, and the sunlight streamed
through it with so little loss in brightness that one seemed to be
suspended in mid-air above the forests of branching coral, the deep,
cool valleys, and the wide, sandy plains of that strange continent.

Crichton, I believe, was beyond the desire to keep in touch with the
world he had left so many years before.  His experiences there may have
been bitter ones.  At any rate, he never spoke of them, and I doubt if
he thought of them often.  People had little interest for him, not even
those of the atolls which we visited.  When on shore I usually found him
on the outer beaches, away from the villages which lie along the lagoon.
In most of the atolls the distance from beach to beach is only a few
hundred yards, but the ocean side is unfrequented and solitary.  On calm
days when the tide begins to ebb the silence there is unearthly.  The
wide shore, hot and glaring in the sun, stretches away as far as the eye
can reach, empty of life except for thousands of small hermit crabs
moving into the shade of the palms.  They snap into their shells at your
approach and make fast the door as their houses fall, with a sound like
the tinkling of hailstones, among heaps of broken coral.  We waded along
the shallows at low tide.  When the wind was onshore and a heavy surf
breaking over the outer edge of the reef, we sat as close to it as we
could, watching the seas gathering far out, rising in sheer walls
fringed with wind-whipped spray, which seemed higher than the island
itself as they approached.  It was a fascinating sight—the reef hidden
in many places in a perpetual smoke of sunlight-filtered mist, through
which the oncoming breakers could be seen dimly as they swept forward,
curled, and fell.  But one could not avoid a feeling of uneasiness, of
insecurity, thinking of what had happened in those islands—most of them
only a meter or two above sea level—in the hurricanes of the past; and
of what would happen again at the coming of the next great storm.

We made landfalls at dawn, in midafternoon, late at night—saw the
islands in aspects of beauty exceeding one’s strangest imaginings.  We
penetrated farther and farther into a thousand-mile area of atoll-dotted
ocean, discharging our cargo of lumber and corrugated iron, rice and
flour and canned goods; taking on copra; carrying native passengers from
one place to another. Sometimes we were out of sight of land for several
days, beating into head winds under a slowly moving pageantry of clouds
which alone gave assurance of the rotundity of the earth.  When at last
land appeared it seemed inaccessibly remote, at the summit of a long
slope of water which we would never be able to climb. Sometimes for as
long a period we skirted the shore line of a single atoll, the water
deepening and shoaling under our keel in splotches of vague or vivid
coloring. From a vantage point in the rigging one could see a segment of
a vast circle of islands strung at haphazard on a thread of reef which
showed a thin, clear line of changing red and white under the incessant
battering of the surf.  Several times upon going ashore we found the
villages deserted, the inhabitants having gone to distant parts of the
atoll for the copra-making season.  In one village we came upon an old
man too feeble to go with the others, apparently, sitting in the shade
playing a phonograph.  He had but three records: "Away to the Forest,"
"The Dance of the Nymphs Schottische," and "Just a Song at Twilight."
The disks were as old as the instrument itself, no doubt, and the
needles so badly worn that one could barely hear the music above the
rasping of the mechanism. There was a groove on the vocal record where
the needle caught, and the singer, a woman with a high, quavery voice,
repeated the same phrase, "when the lights are low," over and over
again.  I can still hear it, even at this distance of time and place,
and recall vividly to mind the silent houses, the wide, vacant street
bright with fugitive sunshine, the lagoon at the end of it mottled with
the shadows of clouds.

The sense of our remoteness grew upon me as the weeks and months passed.
Once, rounding a point of land, we came upon two schooners lying inside
the reef of a small atoll.  One of them had left Papeete only a short
while before.  Her skipper gave us a bundle of old newspapers.  Glancing
through them that evening, I heard as in a dream the far-off clamor of
the outside world—the shrieking of whistles, the roar of trains, the
strident warnings of motors; but there was no reality, no allurement in
the sound.  I saw men carrying trivial burdens with an air of immense
effort, of grotesque self-importance; scurrying in breathless haste on
useless errands; gorging food without relish; sleeping without
refreshment; taking their leisure without enjoyment; living without the
knowledge of content; dying without ever having lived.  The pictures
which came to mind as I read were distorted, untrue, no doubt; for by
that time I was almost as much attracted by the lonely life of the
islands as my friend Crichton.  My old feeling of restlessness was gone.
In its place had come a certitude of happiness, a sense of well-being
for which I can find no parallel this side of boyhood.

It was largely the result of living among people who are as permanently
happy, I believe, as it is possible for humankind to be.  And the more
remote the island, the more slender the thread of communication with
civilization as we know it, the happier they were. It was not in my
imagination that I found this true, or that I had determined beforehand
to see only so much of their life as might be agreeable and pleasant to
me.  On the contrary, if I had any bias at first, it was on the other
side.  Disillusionment is a sad experience and I had no desire to lay
myself open to it. Therefore I listened willingly to the less favorable
stories of native character which the traders, and others who know them,
had to tell.  But summed up dispassionately later, in the light of my
own observations, it seemed to me that the faults of character of which
they were accused were more like the natural shortcomings of children.
In many respects the Paumotuans, like other divisions of the Polynesian
family, are children who have never grown up, and one can’t blame them
for a lack of the artificial virtues which come only with maturity.
They are without guile.  They have little of the shrewdness or
craftiness of some primitive peoples.  At least so it appeared to me,
making as careful a judgment of them as I could. I have often noticed
how like children they are in their amazing trustfulness, their
impulsive generosity, and in the intensity and briefness of their
emotions.

The more I saw of their life, the more desirable it seemed that they
might continue to escape any serious encroachments of European or
American civilization. They have no doctors, because illness is almost
unknown in their islands.  Crime, insanity, feeble-mindedness, evils all
too common with us, are of such rare occurrence that one may say they do
not exist. It may be said, too, without overstatement, that their
community life very nearly approaches perfection. Every atoll is a
little world to itself with a population varying from twenty-five to
perhaps three hundred inhabitants.  The chief, who is chosen informally
by the men, serves for a period of four years under the sanction of the
French government.  He has very little to do in the exercise of his
authority, for the people govern themselves, are law-abiding without
law.

When I first learned that there are no schools throughout the islands I
thought the French guilty of criminal neglect, but later I reversed this
opinion. Alter all, why should they have schools?  No education of ours
could make them more generous, more kindly disposed to one another, more
hospitable and courteous toward strangers, happier than they are now.
Certainly it could not make them less selfish, covetous, rapacious, for
most of them are as innocent of those vices as their own children.  In a
few of the richer, more accessible islands they are slowly changing in
these respects, owing to the example set them by men of our own race.
In another fifty years, perhaps, they may have learned to believe that
material wealth is the only thing worth striving for.  Then will come
pride in their possessions, envy of those who have greater, contempt and
suspicion for those who have less, and so an end to their happiness.

I had never before seen children growing up in a state of nature and I
made full use of the rare opportunity. I spent most of my time with
them; played on shore with them; went fishing and swimming with them;
and found in the experience something better than a renewal of boyhood
because of a keener sense of beauty, a more conscious, mature
appreciation of the happiness one has in the simplest kinds of
pleasures.  Sometimes we started on our excursions at dawn; sometimes we
made them by moonlight.  I became a collector of shells in order to give
some purpose to our expeditions along the reef.  I couldn’t have chosen
a better interest, for they knew all about shells, where and when to
find the best ones, and they could indulge their love of giving to a
limitless extent.  In the afternoons we went swimming in the lagoon.
There I saw them at their best and happiest, in an element as necessary
and familiar to them as it is to their parents.  It is always a pleasure
to watch children at play in the water, but those Paumotuan youngsters
with their natural grace at swimming and diving put one under an
enchantment.  Many of the boys had water glasses and small spears of
their own and went far from shore, catching fish.  They lay face down on
the surface of the water, swimming easily, with a great economy of
motion, turning their heads now and then for a breath of air; and when
they saw their prey they dived after it as skillfully as their fathers
do and with nearly as much success.  Seen against the bright floor of
the lagoon, with swarms of brilliantly colored fish scattering before
them, they seemed doubtfully human, the children of some forsaken merman
rather than creatures who have need of air to breathe and solid earth to
stand on.  If education is the suitable preparation for life, the
children of the atolls have it at its best and happiest without knowing
that it is education.  They are skillful in the pursuits and learned in
the interests which touch their lives, and one can wish them no better
fortune than that they may remain in ignorance of those which do not.

Their parents, as I have said, are but children of mature stature, with
the same gift of frank, generous laughter, the same delight in the new
and strange. Very little is required to amuse them.  I had a mandolin
which I used to take ashore with me at various atolls, after I had
become convinced that their enjoyment of my music was not feigned.  At
first I was suspicious, for I had no illusions about my virtuosity, and
even when I thought of it in the most flattering way their pleasure
seemed out of all proportion to the quality of the performance.  But
there was no doubting the genuineness of it.  The whole village would
assemble to hear me play.  I had a limited repertoire, but that seemed
to matter very little.  They liked to hear the same tunes played over
and over again.  I learned some of the old missionary hymns which they
knew: "From Greenland’s Icy Mountains," "Oh, Happy Day," "We’re Marching
to Zion," and others.

It was strange to find those songs, belonging, fortunately, to a bygone
period in English and American life, living still in that remote part of
the world, not because of anything universal in their appeal, but merely
because they had been carried there years ago by representatives of the
missionary societies.  Many eccentric changes had been made in both the
rhythm and melody, greatly to the improvement of both, but no amount of
changing could make them other than what they are—the uncouth expression
of a narrow and ugly kind of religious sentiment.  I don’t think the
Paumotuans care much for them, either.  They always seemed glad to turn
from them to their own songs, which have nothing either of modern or
old-time missionary feeling.  A woman usually began the singing, in a
high-pitched, nasal, or throaty voice, which she modulated in an
extraordinary way. Immediately other women joined in, then several men
whose voices were of tenor quality, followed by other men in basses and
barytones, chanting in two or three tones which, for rhythm and tone,
quality, were like the beating of kettledrums.  The weird blending of
harmonics was unlike anything I had ever heard before.  There is nothing
in our music which even remotely resembles theirs, so that it is
impossible to describe the effect of the full chorus.  Some of the songs
make a strong appeal to savage instincts.  The less resolute of the
early missionaries, hearing them, must have thrown up their hands in
despair at the thought of the long, difficult task of conversion
awaiting them.  But if there were any irresolute missionaries, they were
evidently overruled by their sterner brothers and sisters.

On nearly every island there is now a church, either Protestant or
Catholic.  In the Protestant ones the native population practice the
only true faith, largely to the accompaniment of this old barbaric
music. Those unsightly little structures rock to the sound of exultant
choruses which ought never to be sung withindoors.  The Paumotuans
themselves know best the natural setting for their songs—the lagoon
beach with a great fire of coconut husks blazing in the center of the
group of singers.  I liked to hear them from a distance where I could
get their full effect; to look on from the schooner lying a few hundred
yards offshore. All the inhabitants of the village would be gathered
within the circle of the firelight, which brought their figures and the
white, straight stems of the coconut palms into clear relief against a
background of deep shadow.  The singing continued far into the night, so
that I often fell asleep while listening, and heard the music dying
away, mingling at last with the interminable booming of the surf.

By degrees we worked slowly through the heart of the archipelago,
pursuing a general southeasterly course, the islands becoming more and
more scattered, until we had before us an expanse of ocean almost
unbroken to the coast of South America.  But Tanao lay at the edge of
it, and at length, on a lowering April day, we set out on that last leg
of our outward journey. The _Caleb S. Winship_ lay very low in the
water.  By that time she had a full cargo of copra, one hundred tons in
the hold and twelve, sacked, on deck.  A portion of the deck cargo was
lost that same afternoon, during a gale of wind and rain which burst
upon us with fury and followed us with a seeming malignity of intent.
We ran before it, far out of our course, for three hours.  To me the
weight of air was something incredible, an unusually vigorous flourish
of the departing hurricane season.  Water spouted out of the scuppers in
a continuous stream, and loose articles were swept clear of the ship,
disappearing at once in a cloud of blinding rain.  There was a fearful
racket in the cabin of rolling biscuit tins and smashing crockery. Then
an eight-hundred-pound safe broke loose and started to imitate Victor
Hugo’s cannon.  Luckily it hadn’t much scope and no smooth runway, so
that it was soon brought to a halt by Ruau, the old Paumotuan woman, who
was the only one below at the time. She made an effective barricade of
copra sacks and bedding, dodging the plunging monster with an agility
surprising in a woman of sixty.  But what I remember best was Tané, a
monkey belonging to one of the sailors, skidding along the cabin deck
until he was blown against the engine-room whistle, which rose just
clear of the forward end of it.  He wrapped arms and legs around it in
his terror, opening the valve in some way, and the shrill blast rose
high above the mighty roar of wind, like the voice of man lifted with
awe-inspiring impudence in defiance of the mindless anger of nature.

The storm blew itself out toward sundown and the night fell clear—a
night for stars to make one wary of thought; but the moon rose about
nine, softening the pitiless distances, throwing a veil of mild light
across the black voids in the Milky Way, seen so clearly in those
latitudes.  The schooner was riding a heavy swell, and, burdened as she
was, rose clumsily to it, sticking her nose into the slope of every sea.
Ruau was at her accustomed place against the cabin ventilator, unmindful
of the showers of spray, maintaining her position on the slanting deck
with the skill of three months’ practice.  The thought that I must soon
bid her good-by saddened me, for I knew there was small chance that I
should ever meet her again.  I envied Crichton his opportunity for
friendship with that noble old woman, so proud of her race, so true to
her own beliefs, to her own way of living.  Her type is none too common
among Polynesians in these days. One gets all too frequently an
impression of a consciousness of inferiority on their part, a sense of
shame because of their simple way of living as compared with ours.  Ruau
was not guilty of it.  She never could be, I think, under any
circumstances.  I learned afterward of an attempt which had been made to
convert her to Christianity during her stay at Tahiti. Evidently she had
not been at all convinced by the priest’s arguments, and when he made
some slighting remark about the ghosts and spirits which were so real to
her, she refused to listen any longer.  Frightened though she was of
spirits, she was not willing that they should be ridiculed.

We sighted her atoll at dawn, such a dawn as one rarely sees outside the
tropics.  The sky was overcast at a great height with a film of luminous
mist through which the sun shone wanly, throwing a sheen like a dust of
gold on the sea.  Masses of slate-colored cloud billowed out from the
high canopy, overhanging a black fringe of land which lay just below the
line of the horizon.  The atoll was elliptical in shape, about eight
miles long by five broad.  There were seven widely separated islands on
the circle of reef and one small motu in the lagoon.  We came into the
wind about a half mile offshore and put off in the whaleboat.  The sea
was still running fairly high, and the roar of the surf came across the
water with a sound as soothing as the fall of spring rain; but it
increased in volume as we drew in until the ears were stunned by the
crash of tremendous combers which toppled and fell sheer, over the ledge
of the reef.  It was by far the most dangerous-looking landing place we
had seen on the journey.  There was no break in the reef; only a few
narrow indentations where the surf spouted up in clouds of spray.
Between the breaking of one sea and the gathering of the next, the water
poured back over a jagged wall of rock bared for an instant to an
appalling depth.  Only a native crew could have managed that landing.
We rode comber after comber, the sailors backing on their oars, awaiting
the word of the boat steerer, who stood with his feet braced on the
gunwales, his head turned over his shoulder, watching the following
seas.  All at once he began shouting at the top of his voice.  I looked
back in time to see a wall of water, on the point of breaking, rising
high above us.  It fell just after it passed under us, and we were
carried forward across the edge of the reef, through the inner shallows
to the beach.

The two traders started off at once on a tour of inspection and we saw
nothing more of them until late in the evening.  Meanwhile I went with
Ruau and Crichton across the island to the lagoon beach where her house
was.  As in most of the atolls, the ground was nearly free from
undergrowth, the soil affording nourishment only to the trees and a few
hardy shrubs.  Coconuts and dead fronds were scattered everywhere.  A
few half-wild pigs, feeding on the shoots of sprouted nuts, gazed up
with an odd air of incredulity, of amazement as we approached, then
galloped off at top speed and disappeared far in the distance.  Ruau
stopped when we were about halfway across and held up her hand for
silence.  A bird was singing somewhere, a melodious varied song like
that of the hermit thrush.  I had heard it before and had once seen the
bird, a shy, solitary little thing, one of the few species of land birds
found on the atolls.

While we were standing there, listening to the faint music, Crichton
took me by the arm.  He said nothing, and in a moment withdrew his hand.
I was deeply moved by that manifestation of friendliness, an unusual one
for him to make.  He had some unaccountable defect in his character
which kept him aloof from any relationship approaching real intimacy.  I
believe he was constantly aware of it, that he had made many futile
attempts to overcome it.  It may have been that which first set him on
his wanderings, now happily at an end.  It was plain to me the moment we
set foot on shore that he would have to seek no farther for asylum.
Tanao is one of the undoubted ends of the earth.  No one would ever
disturb him there.  He himself was not so sure of this.  Once, I
remember, when we were looking at the place on the chart, he spoke of
the island of Pitcairn, the old-time refuge of the Bounty mutineers.
Before the opening of the Panama Canal it had been as far removed from
contact with the outside world as an island could be.  Now it lies not
far off the route through the Canal to New Zealand and is visited from
time to time by the crews of tramp steamers and schooners.  Tanao,
however, is much farther to the north, and there is very slight
possibility that its empty horizons will ever be stained by a smudge of
smoke.  As for an actual visit, one glance at the reef through the
binoculars would convince any skipper of the folly of the attempt.

Even our own crew of natives, skilled at such hazardous work, came to
grief in their second passage over it.  They had gone out to the
schooner for supplies Crichton had ordered—a few sacks of flour, some
canned goods, and kerosene oil; in coming back the boat had been swept,
broadside, against a ledge of rock. It stuck there, just at the edge of
the reef, and the sailors jumped out with the line before the next wave
came, capsizing the boat and carrying it inshore, bottom up.  All the
supplies were swept into deep water by the backwash and lost.  There had
been a similar accident at the other atoll—flour and rice brought so
many thousands of miles having been spoiled within a few yards of their
destination.  I remember the natives plunging into the water at great
risk to themselves to save a few sacks of soggy paste in the hope that a
little of the flour in the center might still be dry; and a Chinese
storekeeper, to whom it was consigned, standing on the shore, wringing
his hands in dumb grief.  It was the first time I had ever seen a
Chinaman make any display of emotion, and the sight brought home to me a
conception of the tragic nature of such accidents to the inhabitants of
those distant islands.

Crichton took his own loss calmly, concealing whatever disappointment he
may have felt.  Ruau was not at all concerned about it, and, while we
were making an examination of the house, went out on the lagoon in a
canoe and caught more than enough fish for supper. Then we found that
all of our matches had been spoiled by sea water, so we could make no
fire.  Judging by the way Crichton brightened up at his discovery, one
would have thought the loss a piece of luck.  He set to work at once to
make an apparatus for kindling fire, but before it was finished Ruau had
the fish cleaned and spread out on a coverlet of green leaves.  We ate
them raw, dipping them first into a sauce of coconut milk, and for
dessert had a salad made of the heart of a tree.  I don’t remember ever
having eaten with heartier appetite, but at the same time I couldn’t
imagine myself enjoying an unrelieved diet of coconuts and fish for a
period of ten years—not for so long as a year, in fact.  Crichton,
however, was used to it, and Ruau had never known any other except
during her three months’ stay at Tahiti, where she had eaten strange hot
food which had not agreed with her at all, she said.

Dusk came on as we sat over our meal.  Ruau sat with her hands on her
knees, leaning back against a tree, talking to Crichton.  I understood
nothing of what she was saying, but it was a pleasure merely to listen
to the music of her voice.  It was a little below the usual register of
women’s voices, strong and clear, but softer even than those of the
Tahitians, and so flexible that I could follow every change in mood. She
was telling Crichton of the tupapaku of her atoll which she dreaded
most, although she knew that it was the spirit of one of her own sons.
It appeared in the form of a dog with legs as long and thick as the stem
of a full-grown coconut tree, and a body proportionally huge.  It could
have picked up her house as an ordinary dog would a basket.  Once it had
stepped lightly over it without offering to harm her in any way.  Her
last son had been drowned while fishing by moonlight on the reef outside
the next island, which lay about two miles distant across the eastern
end of the lagoon.  She had seen the dog three times since his death,
and always at the same phase of the moon. Twice she had come upon it
lying at full length on the lagoon beach, its enormous head resting on
its paws. She was so badly frightened, she said, that she fell to the
ground, incapable of further movement; sick at heart, too, at the
thought that the spirit of the bravest and strongest of all her sons
must appear to her in that shape.  It was clear that she was recognized,
for each time the dog began beating its tail on the ground as soon as it
saw her.  Then it got up, yawned and stretched, took a long drink of
salt water, and started at a lope up the beach.  She could see it very
plainly in the bright moonlight.  Soon it broke into a run, going faster
and faster, gathering tremendous speed by the time it reached the other
end of the island. From there it made a flying spring, and she last saw
it as it passed, high in air, across the face of the moon, its head
outstretched, its legs doubled close under its body.  She believed that
it crossed the two-mile gap of water which separated the islands in one
gigantic leap.

That is the whole of the story as Crichton translated it for me,
although there must have been other details, for Ruau gave her account
of it at great length.  Her earnestness of manner was very convincing;
and left no doubt in my mind of the realness to her of the apparition.
As for myself, if I could have seen ghosts anywhere it would have been
at Tanao.  Late that night, walking alone on the lagoon beach, I found
that I was keeping an uneasy watch behind me.  The distant thunder of
the surf sounded at times like a wild galloping on the hard sand, and
the gentle slapping of little waves near by like the lapping tongue of
the ghostly dog having its fill of sea water.

We left Tanao with a fair wind the following afternoon, having been
delayed in getting away because of the damaged whaleboat, which had to
be repaired on shore.  Tino, the supercargo, insisted on pushing off at
once, the moment the work was finished. Crichton and Ruau were on the
other beach at the time, so that I had no opportunity to say good-by;
but as we were getting under way I saw him emerge from the deep shadow
and stand for a moment, his hand shading his eyes, looking out toward
the schooner.  I waved, but evidently he didn’t see me, for there was no
response.  Then he turned, walked slowly up the beach, and disappeared
among the trees.  For three hours I watched the atoll dwindling and
blurring until at sunset it was lost to view under the rim of the
southern horizon.  Looking back across that space of empty ocean, I
imagined that I could still see it dropping farther and farther away,
down the reverse slope of a smooth curve of water, as though it were
vanishing for all time beyond the knowledge and the concern of men.

My first packet of letters from Nordhoff was brought by the skipper of
the schooner _Alouette_.  He had been carrying it about for many weeks,
and had it in the first place from the supercargo of another vessel, met
at Rurutu, in the Austral group.  The envelope, tattered and
weather-stained, spoke of its long journey in search of me.

Before separating at Papeete we had arranged for a rendezvous, but at
that time we still possessed American ideas of punctuality and
well-ordered travel.  Now we know something of the casual movements of
trading schooners and have learned to regard the timely arrival of a
letter as an event touching on the miraculous—the keeping of a
rendezvous, a possibility too remote for consideration.  One hears
curious tales, in this part of the world, of the outcome of such
temporary leave-takings as ours was meant to be—husbands seeking their
wives and wives their husbands; families scattered among these fragments
of land and striving for many months to reunite.

I witnessed, not long ago, the sequel of one of these unsuccessful
quests.  A native from a distant group of islands set out for one of the
atolls of the Low Archipelago, the home of his sweetheart.  Arrangements
for the marriage had been made long before, but letters had gone astray,
and upon his arrival the young man found that the family of his
prospective father-in-law had gone to another atoll for the diving
season.  With no means of following, he submitted to the inevitable, and
married another girl.  Months later, the woman of his first choice
returned with her second choice of a husband; and the former lovers met,
for the young man had not yet been able to return to his own island.
Neither made any question of the other’s decision—life is too short; and
from the native point of view, it is foolish to spend it in wanderings
which, at the last, may never fulfill their purpose.

Nevertheless, I shall make a search for Nordhoff—a leisurely search,
with some expectation of finding him.  Our islands, like those of Mr.
Conrad’s enchanted Heyst, are bounded by a circle two thousand or more
miles across, and it is likely that neither of us will ever succeed in
breaking through to the outside world—if, indeed, there is an outside
world.  I am beginning to doubt this, for the enchantment is at work.
As for Nordhoff, his letters, which follow, may speak for themselves.



                         *Eaters of the Lotos*


[Illustration: Woodcut]

                             *CHAPTER III*

                         *Marooned on Mataora*


The sun was low when the _Faaite_ steamed out through the pass and
headed for the Cook group, six hundred miles west and south.  Dark
clouds hung over Raiatea—Rangi Atea of Maori tradition, the Land of the
Bright Heavens—but the level sunlight still illuminated the hillsides of
Tahaa, the lovely sister island, protected by the same great oval reef.
Far off to the north, the peak of Bora Bora towered abruptly from the
sea.

It was not yet the season of the Trades, and the northeast breeze which
followed us brought a sweltering heat, intolerable anywhere but on deck.
Worthington was sitting beside me—a lean man, darkly-tanned, with very
bright blue eyes.  His feet were bare; he wore a singlet, trousers of
white drill, and a Manihiki hat—beautifully plaited of bleached pandanus
leaf—a hat not to be bought with money.  The dinner gong sounded.

"I’m not going down," he remarked; "too hot below. I had something to
eat at Uturoa.  How about you?"

I shook my head—it needed more than a normal appetite to drive one to
the dining saloon.  Banks of squall cloud, shading from gray to an
unwholesome violet, were gathering along the horizon, and the air was so
heavy that one inhaled it with an effort.

"This is the worst month of the hurricane season," Worthington went on;
"it was just such an evening as this, last year, that the waterspout
nearly got us—the night we sighted Mataora.  I was five months up there,
you know—marooned when Johnson lost the old _Hatutu_.

"I was pretty well done up last year, and when I heard that the _Hatutu_
was at Avarua I decided to take a vacation and go for a six weeks’
cruise with Johnson. Ordinarily he would have been laid up in Papeete
until after the equinox, but the company had sent for him to make a
special trip to Penrhyn.  We had a wretched passage north—a succession
of squalls and broiling calms.  The schooner was in bad shape, anyway:
rotten sails, rigging falling to pieces, and six inches of grass on her
bottom.  On a hot day she had a bouquet all her own—the sun distilled
from her a blend of cockroaches and mildewed copra that didn’t smell
like a rose garden.  On the thirtieth day the skipper told me we were
two hundred miles from Penrhyn and so close to Mataora that we might
sight the palm tops.  I’d heard a lot about the place (it has an English
name on the chart)—how isolated it was, what a pleasant crowd the
natives were, and how it was the best place in the Pacific to see
old-fashioned island life.

"We had been working to windward against a light, northerly breeze, but
the wind began to drop at noon, and by three o’clock it was glassy calm.
There was a wicked-looking mass of clouds moving toward us from the
west, but the glass was high and Johnson said we were in for nothing
worse than a squall.  As the clouds drew near I could see that they had
a sort of purplish-black heart, broad at the top, pointed at the bottom,
and dropping gradually toward the water.  There was something queer
about it; the mate was pointing, and Johnson’s Kanakas were all standing
up. Suddenly I heard a rushing sound, like a heavy squall passing
through the bush; the point of the funnel had touched the sea three or
four hundred yards away from us—a waterspout!  There wasn’t a breath of
air, and the _Hatutu_ had no engine.  It was moving straight for us, so
slowly that I could watch every detail of its formation.  The boys slid
our boat overboard; the mate sang out something about all hands being
ready to leave the schooner.

"I’ve heard of waterspouts ever since I was a youngster, but I never
expected to see one as close as we did that day.  As the point of cloud
dropped toward the sea it was ragged and ill defined; but when it
touched the water and the noise began I saw its shape change and its
outlines grow hard.  It was now a thin column, four or five feet in
diameter, rising a couple of hundred feet before it swelled in the form
of a flat cone, to join the clouds above.  Curiously enough, it was not
perpendicular, but had a decided sagging curve.  Nearer and nearer it
came, until I could make out the great swirling hole at its base, and
see the vitreous look of this column of solid water, revolving at
amazing speed.  It hadn’t the misty edges of a waterfall.  The outside
was sharply defined as the walls of a tumbler.  I wondered what would
happen when it struck the _Hatutu_.  The mate was shouting again, but
just then the skipper pushed a rifle into my hands.  ’Damned if I leave
the old hooker,’ he swore.  ’Shoot into the thing—maybe we can break it
up.’  And, believe me or not, we did break it up.

"It didn’t come down with a crash, as one might have expected.  When we
had pumped about twenty shots into it, and it was not more than fifty
yards away, it began to dwindle.  The column of water became smaller and
drew itself out to nothing; the rushing noise ceased; the hole in the
sea disappeared in a lazy eddy; the dark funnel rose and blended with
the clouds above.

"A fine southeast breeze sprang up as the clouds dispersed, and we were
reaching away for Penrhyn when a boy up forward gave a shout and pointed
to the northwest.  Sure enough there was a faint line on the horizon—the
palms of Mataora.  A sudden idea came to me.  I was fed up with the
schooner.  Why not ask to be put ashore and picked up on the _Hatutu’s_
return from Penrhyn?  She would be back in a fortnight, and it was only
a few miles out of her way to drop me and pick me up.

"Johnson is a good fellow; his answer to my proposition was to change
his course at once and slack away for the land twelve miles to leeward.
’You’ll have a great time,’ he said; ’I wish I were going with you.  Old
Tari will put you up—I’ll give you a word to him.  Take along two or
three bags of flour and a few presents for the women.’

"At five o’clock we were off the principal village, with canoes all
about us and more coming out through the surf.  The men were a fine,
brawny lot, joking with the crew, and eager for news and small trade. I
lowered my box, some flour, tobacco, and a few bolts of calico, into the
largest canoe, and said good-by to Johnson.

"It was nearly a year before I saw him again; as you know, he lost the
_Hatutu_ on Flying Venus Shoal. They made Penrhyn in the boat and got a
passage to Tahiti two months later.  Everyone knew I was on Mataora, but
it was five months before a schooner could come to take me off.

"There is no pass into the lagoon.  As we drew near the shore I saw that
the easy, deceptive swell reared up to form an ugly surf ahead of us.
At one point, where a crowd of people was gathered, there was a large
irregular fissure in the coral, broad and deep enough to admit the
passage of a small boat, and filled with rushing water each time a
breaker crashed on the reef.  My two paddlers stopped opposite this
fissure and just outside the surf, watching over their shoulders for the
right wave.  They let four or five good-sized ones pass, backing water
gently with their paddles; but at last a proper one came, rearing and
tossing its crest till I thought it would break before it reached us.
My men dug their paddles into the water, shouting exultantly as we
darted forward. The shouts were echoed on shore.  By Jove! it was a
thriller!  Tilting just on the break of the wave, we flew in between
jagged walls of coral, up the fissure, around a turn—and before the
water began to rush back, a dozen men and women had plunged in waist
deep to seize the canoe.

"Mataora is made up of a chain of low islands—all densely covered with
coconut palms—strung together in a rough oval to inclose a lagoon five
miles by three.  Though there is no pass, the surf at high tide breaches
over the gaps between the islands.  The largest island is only a mile
and a half long, and none of them are more than half a mile across.
Dotted about the surface of the lagoon are a number of motu—tiny
islets—each with its flock of sea fowl, its clump of palms, and shining
beach of coral sand.  Set in a lonely stretch of the Pacific, the place
is almost cut off from communication with the outside world; twice or
three times in the course of a year a trading schooner calls to leave
supplies and take off copra.  Undisturbed by contact with civilization,
the life of Mataora flows on—simple, placid, and agreeably
monotonous—very little changed, I fancy, since the old days.  It is true
that they have a native missionary, and use calico, flour, and tobacco
when they can get them; but these are minor things.  The great events in
their annals are the outrage of the Peruvian slavers in eighteen
sixty-two, when many of the people were carried off to labor and die in
the Chinchas Islands, and the hurricane of nineteen thirteen.

"After presenting myself to the missionary and the chief I was escorted
by a crowd of youngsters to the lagoon side of the island, where Tairi
lived, in a spot cooled by the trade wind and pleasantly shaded by
coconuts.  The old chap was a warm friend of Johnson’s and made me
welcome; I soon arranged to put up with him during my stay on the
island.  His house, like all the Mataora houses, was worth a bit of
study.

"Pandanus logs, five or six inches in diameter and set four feet apart,
made the uprights.  On each side of these logs, and extending from top
to bottom a groove was cut.  Thin laths, split from the aerial roots of
the pandanus, were set horizontally into the grooves, making a wall
which permitted the free circulation of air.  At the windward end of the
house, a large shutter of the same material was hung on hinges of bark;
on warm days it could be opened to admit the breeze.  The plates and
rafters were made of the trunks of old coconut palms—a beautiful hard
wood which blackens with age and can be polished like mahogany.  The
roof was thatched with kakao—strips of wood over which were doubled
selected leaves of pandanus, six feet long and four inches across. The
kakao are laid on like shingles, so deeply overlapped that only six
inches of each is exposed, and the result is a cool and perfectly
water-tight roof which lasts for years.

"The floor of Tari’s house was of fine white gravel, covered with mats.
A bed of mats, a few odds and ends of fishing gear, and a Bible in the
Rarotongan language made up the furniture.  The old man had been a pearl
diver for many years; he knew all the lagoons of this part of the
Pacific, and could give the history of every large pearl discovered in
these waters. Twenty fathoms he considered an ordinary depth for the
naked divers—twenty-five, the limit.  One day he went too deep, and
since then he had been a cripple with paralyzed legs, dependent for care
on the kindly people of his island.  He busied himself in carving out
models of the ancient Polynesian sailing canoes, beautifully shaped and
polished, inlaid with shell, and provided with sails of mother-of-pearl.
Now and then he presented a canoe to the captain of a trading schooner
visiting the island, and received in return a bag of flour or a few
sticks of tobacco.

"I had some interesting yarns with Tari—I speak Rarotongan, and the
Mataora language is a good deal the same.  They have three extra
consonants, by the way—the f, l, and h.  What a puzzle these island
dialects are!

"Tairi told me a lot about pearl fishing.  The people had divided their
lagoon into three sections, one of which was fished each year.  In this
way each section got a two years’ rest.  The shell is the object of the
diving—pearls are a secondary issue.  The divers are not much afraid of
sharks, but dread the tonu and the big conger eel.  Some years before,
when Tari was resting in a boat after a spell under water, one of his
companions failed to return to the surface.  Looking through his water
glass, he saw a great tonu lying on the bottom, sixty feet beneath
him—the legs of his comrade hanging from its jaws.  Fancy the ugly
brute, ten feet long and all head, like an overgrown rock cod, with a
man in his mouth.  Tairi and several others seized their spears and were
over the side next moment; they killed the tonu, but too late to save
the life of their companion.

"Conger eels grow to enormous size in the pearl lagoons, and the divers
keep a close watch for them. They lie in holes and crevices of the coral
and dart out their heads to seize a passing fish, or the wrist of a
diver stooping and intent on his task.  When the conger’s jaws close on
wrist or ankle, the diver needs a cool head; no amount of struggling
will pull the eel from his hole.  One must wait quietly, Tairi told me,
until the conger relaxes his jaws preparatory to taking a better grip.
Then a quick wrench, and one is free.

"On an atoll like Mataora, where the food supply is limited to fish and
coconuts, with a chicken or a piece of pork as an occasional treat,
fishing plays a large part in the life of the people.  The men were all
expert fishermen, and used a variety of ingenious methods to catch the
different kinds of fish.  Tairi, of course, was no longer able to go
out; but a friend of his—an old fellow named Tamatoa—used to take me
with him.  He was a fine specimen—six feet tall, muscular and active as
a boy, with clear eyes and thick gray hair.  One day he proposed trying
for koperu, a small variety of mackerel.

"The settlement is on the lee side of the island, where a coral shoal
runs out half a mile to sea, covered with twenty to forty fathoms of
water.  It was early in the morning—a dead calm—when we launched the big
canoe and slipped out through the surf.  About a quarter of a mile
offshore Tamatoa asked me to hold the canoe stationary while he went
about his fishing. Fastening a twenty-foot rope to the thwart, he made a
noose at the other end and passed it under his arms. Then he took a ripe
coconut, split it, and gouged out the meat with his knife.  With the
white pulp in one hand, he slipped overboard and swam down as far as the
rope would let him.  Through my water glass I watched him put pieces of
coconut into his mouth and blow out clouds of the finely chewed stuff,
which drifted and eddied about him in the gentle current.  He seemed to
stay under indefinitely—the lungs of a pearl diver are wonderful things!
Now and then he came to the surface for a fresh supply of chum, and
finally—at first in twos and threes, and then in shoals—the koperu began
to appear from the depths.  Little by little he enticed them close to
the surface, until they swam all about him fearlessly, gobbling the
morsels of coconut.  At last the old man reached up for his fishing
tackle—an eighteen-inch twig, with a bit of doubled sewing cotton and a
tiny barbless hook.  He baited the hook with a particle of coconut and
dangled it under the nose of the nearest koperu.  While he hung on the
shortened rope, just beneath the surface, his right arm broke water in a
series of jerks, and each time it rose a fish tumbled into the canoe
until they lay in the bottom by dozens.

"Though the people of Mataora made sport of their work, they had plenty
of leisure for other things. In the evening, when the tasks of the day
had been completed by lighting the lamps in the roofed-over sleeping
places of the dead, the young people loved to gather for a session of
_akatu talanga_—story telling. They met in some one’s house or brought
mats to spread in the bright moonlight outside; and while the others lay
about, intent on the tale, one after another related the adventures of
some Polynesian hero or the loves of some legendary island
princess—strange fragments from the old days, full of specters and
devils and monstrous heathen gods.  There was a girl named Porima who
told her stories marvelously well—a tall youngster of seventeen, with a
dash of off-island blood; Hawaiian, I think.  She was an artist in her
way; one could imagine in her the pioneer of a literature to come.  Her
broad forehead, the masses of black hair which from time to time, with
an impatient gesture, she shook back over her shoulders, and the
slumberous eyes, with a suggestion of hypnotic power, made her a person
not easily forgotten.  Although she had told them many times, Porima’s
stories never failed to hold her audience; the whispering ceased when
she began, and every head turned toward where she sat, her hands
continually in motion, her voice rising in excitement, or dying away to
a murmur, while the listeners held their breath.  As the hours passed,
both audience and performers used to grow weary and drop off to sleep,
one by one; finally a rooster crowed and one awoke with a start to
realize that it was day.

"One evening, at a story telling, I heard a shout from the beach and
remembered that I had been invited to go after flying fish.  A dozen
canoes were putting out through the surf, each manned by four paddlers.
I made a fourth in the last canoe; we shot out of the opening with a
receding wave, paddled desperately through the surf, and a moment later
were rocking gently beyond the breakers.  The canoes were formed into a
rough line; each stern-man lit a torch of coconut leaves bound with
bark, and a man forward took his place standing—net in hand.  The net is
like a shallow landing net, set on a haft of stiff bamboo, and can be
handled only after years of unconscious training.  My position, paddling
amidships, enabled me to watch how the net was managed—one doesn’t often
see such an exhibition of dexterity and strength.  The art consists in
clapping the net over the fish just at the moment when he is lying at
the surface, hesitating before taking flight; at any instant the netter
may see a fish to port, to starboard, or directly ahead.  Our man swung
his net continually, and each time it passed over the canoe he flipped
it upside-down to drop a fish.  Think of the muscles needed for this
sort of thing; the quickness of eye and hand, where a delicate balance
must be maintained, and one is constantly alert to guard one’s face
against the fish, which whizz past at all angles.  Then remember that it
is a pretty serious matter to capsize in this torch-lit water, swarming
with sharks, where it is imprudent even to trail one’s hand overboard.

"In the bend of a bow-shaped islet at the north end of the lagoon, under
the palms behind a shore of blue water and dazzling sand, lived an old
chap named Ruri, who introduced me to another kind of fishing. Ruri was
close to seventy, but a strong man still; his only complaint was lack of
teeth, which compelled him to live on _varuvaru_—the grated-up meat of
the young coconut, mixed with its own milk.  The ambition of his life
was a trip to Tahiti to get a set of false teeth.  He was not a native
of Mataora—his mother was a Gilbert-Islander and his father a Samoan.
For many years Ruri had followed the sea—cabin boy under Bully Hayes;
deserter (to keep a whole skin) from the famous _Leonora_; blackbirder
in the New Hebrides and Solomon Islands; pearl fisher in Penrhyn and the
lagoons of the Paumotu.  At last, on a black night of storm, his vessel
struck and went to pieces on the coral of Mataora, and Ruri’s days of
wandering were over.  He married a woman of the island, but now she was
dead and the old man lived alone, a mile from the settlement, occupied
with his simple wants and immersed in dreams of the past.  Close beside
his house was the grave of his wife—a tomb of cement inclosed in a neat
building of octagonal shape, with a door and a small curtained window.
A fine lamp, carefully tended and lit every evening at sunset, hung
above the grave, and a few stunted gardenias and frangipanis, brought
from enormous distances, were planted about the door.  Ruri’s little
plantation of coconuts and coarse taro was free from weeds, and the
neatness of his house, shipshape and scrupulously clean, betrayed the
old sailor.

"After a spell of calm weather, when the breaching surf had ceased to
cloud the waters of the lagoon, and the suspended particles of coral
sand had settled to the bottom, Ruri offered to show me how to catch
tenu—a fine fish, inhabiting the lagoon in ten to twenty fathoms of
water—speckled like a trout on a ground of brown and gold, and reaching
a weight of twenty pounds.

"In the absurdly complicated process of obtaining bait, tenu-fishing is
typical of the South Pacific.  The night before, Ruri had spent two
hours with a torch, catching hermit crabs; now, using these crabs for
bait we had to catch some ku ta—a small, prickly fish which alone has
power to interest the tenu.  We set out in Ruri’s leaky canoe and
paddled to a big, coral mushroom, which rose to within a yard of the
surface. Here the old man smashed the shells of his hermit crabs with a
stone, broke off the claws, set the soft bodies to one side, and mashed
the claws to a paste, which he dropped overboard and allowed to drift
into a dark hole in the coral.  Then he produced a short line, baited
the hook with a body of a crab, and let it sink out of sight into the
darkness of the hole. In ten minutes a dozen ku ta were gasping in the
bottom of the canoe—fantastic little fish, colored scarlet and
vermilion, with enormous black eyes and a dorsal fin which seemed to be
carved out of red sealing wax.  We put them in a basket, trailed
overboard to keep them alive, and began the real fishing of the day.  I
paddled slowly, while Ruri—who did not believe in fishing till the fish
was in sight—leaned over the side, scrutinizing the bottom through his
water glass.  Finally he signaled me to stop—his eye had caught the
movement of a tenu among the masses of live coral, forty feet below us.
The rest was simple: one hooked a ku ta under the dorsal fin, tossed him
overboard, and allowed the weight of the hook and line to carry him to
the bottom.  By means of the water glass, one could watch the approach
of the tenu, see him seize the bait, and judge the proper moment to
strike.

"The bonito, which they call atu, is the most important of all fish to
the people of Mataora.  Almost any fine day one could see a fleet of
canoes working offshore, busy at bonito catching, surrounded by a cloud
of the sea birds which guide one to the schools. They use a pretty lure
for this fishing—a sort of jig cut out of mother-of-pearl, equipped with
a tuft of red-dyed coconut husk and a barbless hook of shell. Each
fisherman carries a stiff bamboo rod and half a dozen of these
lures—ranging in color from pale green to black—attached to ten-foot
lengths of line.  The islanders have discovered that the condition of
the water and the variations of light make certain colors more
attractive than others at a given time; and when a school is found they
try one shade after another till they discover which the bonito prefer.
Then the jigs not in use are hooked to a ring at the base of the pole,
and the fisherman begins to pull bonito from the water, heaving them out
by main strength, without a moment’s play.  The barbless hook releases
itself the moment the fish is in the canoe, and the lure goes overboard
without the loss of an instant.

"One day, after a period of low tides, I saw another method of
fishing—rarely practised nowadays—an ora, or fish-poisoning picnic.  You
know the barringtonia, probably—the big tree from which they make their
drums; it grows on all the high islands, and sometimes one finds it on
the richer atolls.  There were a few on Mataora.  Ever notice the
flower?  It is a lovely thing—a tassel of silky cream-colored stamens,
shading to old rose at the ends, and tipped with golden beads.  The
fruit is odd-looking, like a squarish pomegranate, and it has odd
properties, for when pounded up and put into shallow water it seems to
stupefy the fish.

"I was sitting in the shade beside Tari’s house when a boy came through
the settlement, blowing melancholy blasts on a conch shell and
announcing that the chief wanted everyone to be on hand that afternoon
at a certain part of the lagoon, where an ora was to be held.  We set
out at noon, the women carrying the crushed seeds of the barringtonia in
hastily woven baskets of green coconut frond.  A crowd from the other
settlements was awaiting our arrival; and when the babies had been put
to sleep in the shade, with small children stationed beside them to fan
away the flies, the fun began.  A shallow stretch of lagoon lay before
us, half a mile long by a quarter wide, and into this plunged the women
and girls, wading and swimming in all directions, trailing behind them
their baskets of poison.  As time went on, a faint and curious odor
began to rise from the water—a smell which reminded me vaguely of
potassium cyanide. Soon the spearmen were busy—wild brown figures, naked
except for scarlet loin cloths—pursuing the half-stupefied fish among
the crevices of the coral.  Before the effect of the poison wore off and
the reviving fish began to make their escape to deeper water the men
were returning to the beach, the strings of hibiscus bark at their belts
loaded and dragging.

"On another day I joined a party of young people for a picnic across the
lagoon.  It was glassy calm; the water was like a mirror in which the
palms of the wooded islets were reflected with motionless perfection.
The beaches on the far side, invisible on an ordinary day, seemed to
rise far out of water in the mirage. We landed on an uninhabited island,
hauled up our canoes, and set out on a hunt for coconut crabs.

"They are extraordinary creatures, these crabs, enormous, and delicious
to eat.  You will not find many on the high islands; but in a place like
Mataora there are hundreds of them, and they do a lot of damage to the
coconuts.  During the day they hide in their holes, deep among the roots
of some big trees; at night they come out, climb the palms, nip off the
nuts with their powerful claws, descend to the ground, tear off the
husks, break open the shells, and devour the meat.  To catch them, one
can either dig them out or build a fire at the mouth of the hole, which
never fails to draw them.  Fire simply fascinates the brutes.  They must
be handled warily, for their claws can grip like a pair of pipe tongs
and shear off a man’s finger without an effort.

"We lit a fire under the shade of a puka tree and liberated the crabs we
had captured.  It sounds incredible, but they walked into the fire, and
sat down quietly on the embers to roast!  One of the boys climbed a palm
and brought us some coconuts of a variety called nu mangaro, with an
edible husk, sweet and fibrous, like sugar cane.  After lunch we had a
swim in the deep water close inshore and lay about smoking while the
girls wove us wreaths of sweet fern. It was an idyllic sort of a day.

"I spent five months on Mataora.  At first, when the schooner did not
appear, I was worried and used to fret a little; but as time went on I
grew to like the easy-going, dreamy life, and when at last a schooner
came to take me off I didn’t know whether to be glad or sorry—there were
moments when I almost decided to send for a few things and follow the
example of old Ruri.

"During those five months I knew more disinterested kindliness than I
had supposed existed in the world; my heart warmed to the people of
Mataora.

"Finally the day came when the schooner dropped anchor in the lee of the
village—Whitmore’s _Tureia_. Canoe after canoe shot out through the
surf; the women gathered in the shade of the canoe houses on the beach,
awaiting the landing of the boatmen, who would bring news of husbands
diving for shell in distant lagoons, or relatives scattered among
far-off groups of islands.  As I shook hands with Whitmore I heard a
prolonged wailing from the village—the tangi of a new widow.

"When I went to the house to get my things together Tari informed me
that, as the schooner would not leave till next day, the people were
preparing a farewell feast in my honor.  It was held in the assembly
house of the village, decorated with arches of palm frond, garlands of
scented fern, and the scarlet flowers of the hibiscus.  Everyone brought
a gift for the departing stranger—a fan, a hat, a pearl fishhook, a
drinking cup of ornamented coconut shell, a carved paddle of porcupine
wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  I distributed what little I had to
offer, wishing it were a dozen times as much.

"On the beach next morning the people of Mataora gathered for a last
handclasp; smile cynically if you will—there were tears shed; I wasn’t
too happy myself when I heard their plaintive song of farewell floating
out across the water."

Worthington ceased speaking and leaned forward to scratch a match.  The
squall had passed long since; the immense arch of the Milky Way
stretched overhead, and low in the south—beyond Hull Island and
Rimatara, over the loneliest ocean in the world—the Southern Cross was
rising.  Lying on mats behind us, a party of Cook-Islanders spoke in
soft tones, their faces illuminated fitfully by the glow of their
cigarettes.  My companion was lighting his pipe, and in the flare of the
match I could see that he was smiling to himself.

"Some day," he said, "you will hear that I have closed up my affairs and
disappeared.  Don’t worry when that happens; you’ll know I have gone to
Mataora—this time to stop for good."



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                         *The Land of Ahu Ahu*


I might attempt to set down a matter-of-fact description of this place
if only the subject permitted one to be matter-of-fact. Strange and
remote, set in a lonely space of the sea and isolated from the world for
the seven or eight centuries following the decline of Polynesian
navigation, there is no other land like this hollow island of Ahu Ahu.
Week after week, month after month, the watcher on its cliffs may gaze
out toward the horizon and see never a sail nor a distant trail of smoke
to liven the dark-blue desert of the Pacific.  The cliffs themselves are
strange—the reef of an ancient atoll, upraised in some convulsion of the
earth to form a ring of coral limestone—sheer precipices facing the sea,
half a mile of level barren summit, and an inner wall of cliffs,
overlooking the rich lowlands of the interior.  During the unnumbered
years of their occupation, the land has set a stamp upon its people—so
long on Ahu Ahu that they have forgotten whence they came.  Hardy,
hospitable, and turbulent, they are true children of the islands, and
yet a family apart—ruder and less languid than the people of Samoa or
Tahiti, and speaking a harsher tongue.  And, more than any other island
folk, they live in the past, for ghosts walk on Ahu Ahu, and the living
commune nightly with the old dead who lie in the _marae_.

It was an hour before sunset when we sighted the land—the merest blue
irregularity on the horizon, visible from one’s perch in the shrouds
each time the schooner rose to the crest of a sea.  The mellow shout of
landfall brought a score of native passengers to their feet; at such a
moment one realizes the passionate devotion of the islander to his land.
Men sprang into the rigging to gaze ahead with eager exclamations;
mothers held up their babies—born on distant plantations—for a first
glimpse of Ahu Ahu; seasick old women, emerging from disordered heaps of
matting, tottered to the bulwarks with eyes alight. The island had not
been visited for six months, and we carried a cargo of extraordinary
variety—hardware, bolts of calico, soap, lumber, jewelry, iron roofing,
cement, groceries, phonograph records, an unfortunate horse, and several
pigs, those inevitable deck-passengers in the island trade.  There were
scores of cases of bully beef and ship’s biscuit—the staple luxuries of
modern Polynesia, and, most important of all, six heavy bags of mail.

As we drew near the land, toward midnight, I gave up the attempt to
sleep in my berth and went on deck to spread a mat beside Tari, our
supercargo, who lay aft of the mainmast, talking in low tones with his
wife.  It was calm, here in the lee of the island; the schooner slipped
through the water with scarcely a sound, rising and falling on the long
gentle swell. Faint puffs of air came off the land, bringing a scent of
flowers and wood smoke and moist earth.  We had been sighted, for lights
were beginning to appear in the village; now and then, on a flaw of the
breeze, one heard a sigh, long drawn and half inaudible—the voice of the
reef.  A party of natives, seated on the forward hatch, began to sing.
The words were modern and religious, I believe, but the
music—indescribably sad, wild, and stirring—carried one back through the
centuries to the days when man expressed the dim yearnings of his spirit
in communal song.  It was a species of chant, with responses; four girls
did most of the singing, their voices mingling in barbaric harmonies,
each verse ending in a prolonged melodious wail.  Precisely as the last
note died away, in time with the cadence of the chant, the deep voices
of the men took up the response, "_Karé, aué!_" ("No, alas!")  Tari
turned to me.

"They sing well," he said, "these Ahu Ahu people; I like to listen to
them.  That is a hymn, but a stranger would never suspect it—the music
is pure heathen. Look at the torchlights in the village; smell the land
breeze—it would tell you you were in the islands if you were set down
here blindfold from a place ten thousand miles away.  With that singing
in one’s ears, it is not difficult to fancy oneself in a long canoe, at
the end of an old-time voyage, chanting a song of thanksgiving to the
gods who have brought us safely home."

He is by no means the traditional supercargo of a trading schooner, this
Tari; I have wasted a good deal of time speculating as to his origin and
the reasons for his choosing this mode of life.  An Englishman with a
hint of Oxford in his voice—quite obviously what we call a gentleman—a
reader of reviews, the possessor (at his charming place on Nukutere) of
an enviable collection of books on the natural history and ethnology of
the South Seas, he seldom speaks of himself or of his people at home.
For twenty years he has been known in this part of the world—trading on
Penrhyn, Rakahanga, Tupuai, the atolls of the Paumotu.  He speaks a
dozen of the island dialects, can join in the singing of _Utes_, or
bring a roar of applause by his skill in the dances of widely separated
groups. When the war broke out he enlisted as a private in a New Zealand
battalion, and the close of hostilities found him with decorations for
gallantry, the rank of captain, and the scars of honorable wounds.  As a
subject for conversation, the war interests him as little as his own
life, but this evening he had emptied a full bottle of rum, and was in
the mildly mellow state which is his nearest approach to intoxication.

"I never thought I’d see the old country again," he said, "but the war
changed all that.  I got a nasty wound in Gallipoli, you see, and they
sent me home to convalesce.  The family wasn’t meant to know I was hurt,
but they saw a bit of a thing in the paper [an account of the exploit
which won Tari his D.C.M.], and there they were at the dock when the
transport off-loaded.  I hadn’t laid eyes on them for fifteen years....
The old governor—by Jove! he was decent. It was all arranged that I
should stop in England when the war was over; I thought myself it was a
go.  When the job was finished, and I’d got a special dispensation to be
demobbed at home, I stood it for a fortnight and then gave up....

"Home is all very well for a week or two, but for a steady thing I seem
to fit in better down here.  What is it that makes a chap stop in the
islands?  You must have felt it yourself, and yet it is hard to put into
words.  This sort of thing, perhaps [he swept his hand through the soft
darkness] ... the beauty, the sense of remoteness, the vague and
agreeable melancholy of these places.  Then I like the way the years
slip past—the pleasant monotony of life.  My friends at home put up with
a kind of dullness which would drive me mad; but here, where there is
even less to distinguish one day from another, one seems never to grow
fretful or impatient of time.  One’s horizon narrows, of course; I
scarcely look at the newspaper any more.  If you stop here you will find
yourself unconsciously drifting into the native state of mind,
readjusting your sense of values until the great events of the world
seem far off and unreal, and your interests are limited to your own
business, the vital statistics of your island, and the odd kinks of
human nature about you.  Perhaps this is the way we are meant to live;
at any rate, it brings serenity.

"I’ve been here too long to sentimentalize about the natives—they have
their weak points, and plenty of them.  Allowing for these, you’ll find
the Kanakas a good sort to have about—often amusing, always interesting;
at once deep, artful, gay, simple, and childish.  At bottom they are not
very different from ourselves; it is chiefly a matter of environment.
Consider any of the traders who came here as boys—old fellows who will
buttonhole you and spend hours abusing the people—the truth is that they
have become more native than the men they abuse.

"There are places, like Africa, where one can live among a primitive
people and absorb nothing from them; their point of view is too alien,
their position in the scale of humanity too widely separated from our
own.  It is different in the islands.  If one could discover the truth,
it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that these people were distant cousins
of ours.  The scholars—in whose conclusions I haven’t much faith—trace
them back, along the paths of successive migrations, through Indonesia
to northern India or the land of the Cushites.  In any case, I believe
that the blood we term Caucasian flows in their veins, the legacy of
ancestors separated from the parent stock so long ago that mankind had
not yet learned the use of iron. And they are old, these island tribes
who were discovering new lands in the Pacific in the days when our
forefathers wore the horns of bulls upon their heads. Don’t judge them
in the present, or even in the time of Cook; they were a dying people
then, whose decline had begun five or six hundred years before.  It
seems to me that a race, like an individual, grows old, loses heart, and
fades away.  On nearly every island they are dying to-day—a tragedy, an
inevitable one, which the coming of the European has hastened, but not
caused.

"Whether or not it may be accounted for on grounds of a distant kinship,
it is impossible to stop long in the islands without absorbing, to a
certain extent, the native point of view.  Things which seemed rubbish
at first slowly acquire significance; one begins to wonder if, after
all, there may not be varieties of knowledge lost to us in the
complexities of civilization....  I’ve seen some queer things myself.

"My wife’s mother lives on Ahu Ahu, where her ancestors have been
hereditary rulers since Maui fished the island out of the sea.  I’ve
known the family a good many years, and long before I married Apakura
the old lady was kind enough to take a motherly interest in me.  I
always put up with her when we touched at Ahu Ahu.  Once, after I had
been away for several months, I sat down to have a yarn with her, and
was beginning to tell about where I’d been and what I’d done when she
stopped me.  ’No, let me tell you,’ she said, with an odd smile; and,
upon my honor, she did—down to the details!  I got the secret out of her
the same evening.  She is very friendly, it seems, with an ancestor of
hers—a woman named Rakamoana, who lived twenty-eight generations—seven
hundred years—ago, and is buried in the big _marae_ behind the village.
When one of the family is off on a trip, and my mother-in-law suspects
that he is in trouble or not behaving himself, she puts herself into a
kind of trance, calls up old Rakamoana, and gets all the facts.  I hope
the habit won’t come into general use—might prove jolly awkward, eh?
Seriously, though, I can’t account for the things she told me without
accepting her own explanation.  Strange if there were a germ of truth in
the legends of how the old sea-going canoes were navigated—the priests,
in a state of trance, directing the helmsmen which way to steer for
land....

"There is another old woman on Ahu Ahu whose yarns are worth hearing.
Many years ago a Yankee whaling vessel called at the island, and a
Portuguese harpooner, who had had trouble with the captain, deserted and
hid himself in the bush.  The people had taken a fancy to him and
refused to give him up, so finally the captain was obliged to sail away
without his man.  From all accounts this harpooner must have been a good
chap; when he proved that he was no common white waster, the chief gave
him a bit of land and a girl of good family for a wife—now the old lady
of whom I spoke.  I think it was tools he needed, or some sort of gear
for a house he was building; at any rate, when another whaler touched he
told his wife that he was going on a voyage to earn some money and that
he might be gone a year.  There was a kind of agreement, current in the
Pacific in those days, whereby a whaling captain promised to land a man
at the point where he had signed him on.

"Well, the harpooner sailed away, and, as might have been expected, his
wife never saw him again; but here comes the odd part of the story.  The
deserted wife, like so many of the Ahu Ahu women, had an ancestor who
kept her in touch with current events. Being particularly fond of her
husband, she indulged in a trance from time to time, to keep herself
informed as to his welfare.  Several months after his departure the
tragedy occurred—described in detail by the obliging and sympathetic
dweller in the _marae_.  It was a kind of vision, as told to me,
singularly vivid for an effort of pure imagination—the open Pacific,
heaving gently and ruffled by a light air; two boats from rival vessels
pursuing the same whale; the Portuguese harpooner standing in the bows
of one, erect and intent upon the chase, his iron the first, by a second
of time, to strike.  Then came a glimpse of the two boats foaming side
by side in the wake of the whale; the beginning of the dispute; the
lancing and death flurry of an old bull sperm; the rising anger of the
two harpooners, as the boats rocked gently beside the floating carcass;
the treacherous thrust; the long red blade of the lance standing out
between the shoulders of the Portuguese.

"The woman awoke from her trance with a cry of anguish; her husband was
dead—she set up the widow’s _tangi_.  One might have thought it an
excellent tale, concocted to save the face of a deserted wife, if the
same vessel had not called at Ahu Ahu within a year, to bring news of
the husband’s death under the exact circumstances of the vision.

"What is one to believe?  If seeing is believing, then count me a
believer, for my own eyes have seen an incredible thing.  It was on
Aitutaki, in the Cook group.  An old chief, the descendant of a very
ancient family, lay ill in the village.  I had turned in early, as I’d
promised to go fishing on the reef when the tide served, an hour after
midnight.  You know how the spirits of the dead were believed to flee
westward, to Hawaiki, and how their voices might be heard at night,
calling to one another in the sky, as they drove past, high overhead.
Early in the evening, as I lay in bed, a boy came into the next room,
panting with excitement. He had been to a plantation in the hills, it
seemed, and as he returned, just after dusk, had heard the voices of a
shouting multitude passing in the air above him.  I was tired and paid
little attention to his story, but for some reason I found it impossible
to sleep. It was a hot night, very still and sultry, with something in
the air that made one’s nerves twitch every time a coconut frond dropped
in the distance.  I was still lying awake when my fishing companions
came to get me; a little ahead of time, for, like me, they had been
unable to sleep.  We would wait on the reef, they suggested, where it
was sure to be cool, until the tide was right.

"We were sitting on the dry coral, smoking.  I had just looked at my
watch, I remember; it lacked a few minutes to one o’clock.  Our canoes
were hauled up on one side of the Arutunga Passage—the western pass, by
the way.  There was no moon.  Suddenly one of the boys touched me.
’What is that?’ he exclaimed, in a startled voice.  I looked up; the
others were rising to their feet.  Two flaring lights were moving across
the lagoon toward us—together and very swiftly.  Nearer and nearer they
came, until they revealed the outlines of a canoe larger than any built
in the islands nowadays—a canoe of the old time, with a flaming torch
set at prow and stern.  While we stood there, staring in silence, it
drew abreast of us, moving with the rush of a swift motor boat, and
passed on—out to sea.  I was too amazed to think clearly until I heard
one of the boys whisper to another, ’_Kua mate te ariki_—the chief is
dead; the great canoe bears him out to the west.’  We launched our
canoes and crossed the lagoon to the village.  Women were wailing; yes,
the old man was dead—he had drawn his last breath a little before one
o’clock.  Remember that I saw this thing myself....  Perhaps it was a
dream—if so, we all dreamed alike."


It was late.  The singing died away; the lights in the village went out
one by one.  The passage in the Ahu Ahu reef is a bad place by
daylight—the chances were that no canoes would risk it till dawn.  Tari
struck a match for an instant and lay down on the mat beside his wife.
In the little flare of light I saw her sleeping in the unconscious
manner of a child.

I know their story—a pretty one, in pleasant contrast to the usual
ignoble and transitory loves of white and brown.  Apakura is the
daughter of the principal family of this island—her mother and father
for many years the warm friend of Tari.  He had petted the child from
the time she was three; she was always on the beach to meet the canoe
that brought him ashore, and he, for his part, never forgot the small
gifts for which she waited with sparkling eyes.  On his rambles about
the island the little girl followed Tari with the devotion of a dog;
many a time, clambering along the base of the cliffs at dawn, his first
knowledge of her presence came with the shrill cry of, "_Tiaké mai,
Tari!_" and he waited while his small follower managed some difficult
pile of coral in the rear.  Their friendship had only Tari’s two or
three visits a year to feed on, but neither forgot, and in the course of
time, as the child learned to read and write, a correspondence
began—very serious on her side, pleased and amused on his.  When he went
away to the war she was eleven—a slim, dark-eyed child; when he returned
she was sixteen, and a woman, though he did not know it.

On this occasion, in the evening, when the rest of the family had gone
to bed, he sat talking with Apakura’s mother—or, rather, listening while
the old woman told one of her stories of life on Ahu Ahu, equally
fascinating and long drawn out.  It is not difficult to reconstruct the
scene in imagination—Tari comfortable in bare feet and a _pareu_, half
reclining against the wall as he smoked his pipe in absent-minded puffs;
the woman cross-legged on the floor, leaning forward in earnest
speech—her voice rising, falling, and dying to a whisper in the
extraordinary manner of the Polynesian teller of tales; her hands from
time to time falling simultaneously with a loud slap to her knees, in
emphasis of some point in the narrative.  The story ended, little by
little the mother led the conversation to the subject of her daughter.
Tari began to praise the girl.

"What do you think of her," asked the old woman, "now that you have been
away these five years?"

"There is no other girl like her," said Tari.

"Since that is so, take her with you; we shall be pleased, all of us—I
in particular, who look on you as a son.  She is a good girl; she can
sew, she can cook, and the young men say that she is beautiful."

"You propose that I take her as a wife?" exclaimed the astonished Tari,
to whom, in truth, the idea had not occurred.

"Yes.  Why not?  You need a wife, now that the little affair of Tukonini
has blown over."

"But think, mamma—I am forty and the child is sixteen; it is not
fitting."

"Young wives are best if they are faithful; Apakura will never look at
another man."

"I will think it over," said Tari; "let us leave it so. Not this year,
at any rate—she is too young."

As he bade her good night and turned to go to his sleeping place the old
woman spoke again.

"Bear one thing in mind," she said, with a smile; "it will help you to
decide.  Consider, now and then, the thought of my daughter married to
another."

In the end, as is often the case, it was Apakura who settled the matter.
Next morning Tari was busy with some stock taking and did not board the
schooner till the last moment, or notice—in his preoccupation—the
mysterious smiles with which the crew greeted him.  They were a dozen
miles offshore before he folded the last of his papers, lit a pipe, and
went on deck for a breath of air.  The old woman’s last words stuck
unpleasantly in his mind, I fancy, as he stood there smoking, with his
back to the companionway. All at once he saw the helmsman—an Ahu Ahu boy
he had known since childhood—lift his eyes from the binnacle and grin
from ear to ear; at the same moment Tari felt a hand slip into his own,
and heard a small, familiar voice say, "I am here."  It was Apakura—more
serious than usual and a little frightened, but not to be put off
longer.  They were married in Tahiti a fortnight later.

It was Apakura’s voice that awakened me.  She was leaning over the
bulwark in eager conversation with her mother, who had come off in the
first canoe.  The air was fresh with the cool of dawn; in the east the
sky was flushing behind scattered banks of trade-wind clouds, tinted in
wonderfully delicate shades of terra cotta.  A dozen big outrigger
canoes, of the type peculiar to this island, were coming out through the
passage, each paddled by four men, who shouted as their heavy craft
dashed through the breakers.

Little by little, not at all after the manner of traditional dawn in the
tropics, the light increased, until Ahu Ahu lay fully revealed before
us—the smoking reef, the shallow lagoon, and the cliffs, their summits
plumed with coconut palms.  A crowd of islanders was already gathering
on the reef, and I could see others making their way down the steep path
from the settlement.  As the sun rose the colors of the scene grew
stronger—green palms, gray cliffs, white walls of the village, pale blue
of the sky, azure of the sea water. There is no color in the world—that
I have seen—like the blue of the water off the Ahu Ahu reef; so vivid,
so intense, one felt that a tumbler of it, held up to the sun, would be
a mass of sapphire, or that a handkerchief dipped in it would emerge
strongly dyed.

Apakura was going ashore with her mother.  Standing in the narrow canoe,
she directed the stowing of her luggage—a mat, a bright patchwork quilt,
a box of cedar wood.  Tari was awaiting the coming of the traders, for
the schooner was stocked with good Tahiti rum, and the rites of welcome
would take place on board.

"There they are," he said, pointing to two white figures wading gingerly
across the shallow lagoon to the reef; "you’re going to meet a pair of
rare ones—they’ve been hard doers in their time!"

The distant figures reached the edge of the boat passage and I could see
a boy beckoning them into a waiting canoe, but now they stopped and
seemed to argue, with many gestures.  Tari chuckled.

"No use trying to hurry them," he told me; "they are discussing the loss
of the _Esperanza_.  She went ashore here in the late ’nineties—a
full-rigged ship. Peter was one of her crew; Charley had just come here
to trade, and saw the whole thing.  They’ve spent twenty years thrashing
out the question of whether or not the wreck might have been avoided.
Every morning, after breakfast, Charley strolls across to Peter’s house
to smoke a pipe and discuss some of the fine points; every evening,
after tea, Peter returns the visit, and the argument goes on till
bedtime.  Charley’s an American—an old man now, close to seventy. He put
in thirty years on Hiva Oa, in the Marquesas, before he came to Ahu Ahu;
I’d like to have some of his memories.  Notice his arms if he pulls his
sleeves up.  He has sixteen children on Hiva Oa and fourteen here—all
numbered; he says he never can remember their heathen names.  When his
wife died in the north he gave all his land to the children and left on
the first schooner.  She touched at Papeete, but he didn’t go ashore.
Then she made Ahu Ahu, where he landed and established himself a second
time.  He has never seen a motor car, a telephone, or an electric
light."

Presently the canoe came dancing alongside, and the two old men
clambered painfully over the rail—Peter thin, hatchet faced, and
stooping; Charley the ruin of a magnificent man.  He towered above any
of us on the deck—this ancient dweller among cannibals—still erect, his
head still carried proudly, but the flesh hanging loose and withered on
his bones.  It was easy to fancy the admiration he must have inspired
forty years ago among the wild people, in whose eyes physical strength
and perfection were the great qualities of a man.  In the cabin, while
the cook squeezed limes for the first of many rum punches, Charley took
off his tunic of white drill, and as he sat there in his singlet I saw
that his arms and chest, like his face, were tanned to an indelible dull
brown, and that patterns in tattooing ran from wrist to
shoulder—greenish blue and barbaric.

I never learned his history—it must have been a thing to stir the
imagination.  Once, as we sat drinking, Tari mentioned Stevenson, and
the old man’s face brightened.

"_É_," he said, slowly, in native fashion, "I remember him well; he came
to Hiva Oa with the _Casco_.  A funny fellow he was ... thin!  There was
nothing to him but skin and bones.  And questions—he’d ask you a hundred
in a minute!  I didn’t take to him at first, but he was all right.  He
didn’t care how he dressed; one day I saw him walking on the beach with
nothing on but a pair of drawers."

The cook plied back and forth, removing empty glasses and bringing full
ones.  As each tray was set on the table, Peter—typical of a lively and
garrulous old age—seized his glass and held it up.

"Hurrah!" he exclaimed.  "Down she goes," drawled Charley, and Tari
murmured, "Cheerio!"  At the end of two hours Charley’s eyes were
beginning to glaze, and Peter was mumbling vaguely of the _Esperanza_.
Tari rose and beckoned to me.

"Make yourselves at home," he said to the old men; "I’ve got to go
ashore.  Akatara will give you lunch whenever you want it."

As our canoe made for the reef my companion told me there was to be a
feast in his honor, and that his wife wished me to be present.  We shot
into the passage without a wetting; the people crowded about Tari,
laughing, shaking his hand, speaking all at once—an unmistakable warmth
of welcome.

The settlement, reached by a short, steep trail, lies at the base of a
break in the cliffs.  At the door of her mother’s house Apakura met
us—turned out, as becomes a supercargo’s wife, in the choicest of trade
finery.  She wore heavy golden earrings; bands of gold were on her
fingers, and her loose frock was of pale embroidered silk.  Her
mother—the keen-eyed old woman I had seen in the canoe—made me welcome.

In the afternoon, when the feast was over and we rose stiffly, crammed
with fish and taro and baked pig, I asked Tari if he knew a youngster
who would show me the best path to the interior of the island. A boy of
ten was soon at the door—a dark-skinned child with a great shock of
hair, and legs disfigured by the scars of old coral cuts.

A twisting path, cobbled, and wide enough to walk two abreast, led us to
the summit.  The stones were worn smooth by the passage of bare feet,
for, excepting fish, all the food of the village is brought over this
road from the plantations to the sea.  There could be no doubt that the
ring of cliffs on which we stood was an ancient reef; in places one
could recognize the forms of coral, imbedded, with shells of many
varieties, in the metamorphosed rock.  Here and there one found pockets
of a material resembling marble, veined and crystalline—formed from the
coral by processes impossible to surmise.  The bulk of the rock is the
fine-grained white limestone called _makatea_ in the eastern Pacific.
The level summit of the cliffs, over which, in centuries gone by, the
sea had washed and thundered, forms a narrow plain, sparsely wooded and
cultivated in spots where a thin soil has gathered in the hollows.

We halted under the palms crowning the inner brink.  The trail wound
down giddily ahead—so steep in places that ladders had been fastened to
the rock. To right and left of us the cliffs were sheer walls of
limestone, rising from a level little above that of the sea.  The low
hills of the interior, volcanic and fern covered, draining in every
direction toward the foot of the _makatea_, have formed a circling belt
of swamp land, on which all the taro of the island was grown. One could
look down on the beds from where we stood, a mosaic of pale green, laid
out by heathen engineers in days beyond the traditions of men.

Another time, perhaps, I will tell you of that afternoon—how we climbed
down the trail and walked the dikes among the taro; how my escort
increased to a merry company as the people began to come after food for
the evening meal; of a boisterous swim in a pool beneath a waterfall; of
how I found the remains of an ancient house, built of squared stone so
long ago that over one end of it the wooded earth lay two yards deep.

Toward evening, in the bush at the edge of the taro swamps, I came upon
a large house, built of bamboo and pandanus in the native fashion.  A
man was standing framed in the doorway—a tall, white man, dressed in
pajamas of silk.  His gold-rimmed spectacles, gray beard, and expression
of intelligent kindliness were vaguely academic—out of place as the
cultivated voice which invited me to stop.  The boys and girls escorting
me squatted on their heels outside; a brace of pretty children, shy and
half naked, scurried past as I entered the house.  My host waved his
hand toward a mat.  There was only one chair in the room, standing
before a table on which I saw a small typewriter and a disordered heap
of manuscript. Otherwise the place was unfurnished except for books,
ranged in crude bookcases, tier upon tier, stacked here and there in
precarious piles, standing in rows along the floor.

"I am glad to see you," he said, as he offered me a cigarette from a
case of basketwork silver; "it is not often that a European passes my
house."

I shall not give his name, or attempt to disguise him with a fictitious
one; it is enough to say that he is one of the handful of real scholars
who have devoted their lives to Polynesian research.  I had read his
books, published long before, and wondered—more than once—whether he
still lived and where he hid himself.  The years of silence had been
spent (he told me) in a comparative study of the ocean dialects through
which he hoped to solve the riddle of the Pacific—to determine whence
came the brown and straight-haired people of the islands.  Now, with the
material in hand, he had chosen Ahu Ahu as a place of solitude, where he
might complete his task of compilation undisturbed.

"On the whole," he said, with agreeable readiness to speak of his work,
"I am convinced that they came from the west.  The Frenchman’s theory
that the race originated in New Zealand, like the belief that they
migrated westward from the shores of America, is more picturesque, more
stirring to the imagination; but the evidence is too vague.  If one
investigates the possibilities of an eastward migration, on the other
hand, one finds everywhere in the western islands the traces of their
passage.  Far out in the Orient, in isolated groups, off the coast of
Sumatra, about Java and Celebes, and in the Arafura Sea, I can show you
people of the true Polynesian type.  Even in such places, where the last
migration must have passed nearly two thousand years ago, scraps of
evidence remain—a word, a curious custom, the manner of carrying a
basket.  These things might seem coincidences if the trail did not grow
warmer as one travels east.

"Though no trace of their blood is left, New Guinea must at one time
have been a halting place in the migration.  Papua it is called, and one
finds the word current in Polynesia, meaning a garden, a rich land. The
natives of New Guinea are as unlike the people of the eastern Pacific, I
should say, as the average American or Englishman, and yet throughout
New Guinea there is a most curious cropping out of Polynesian words,
pointing to a very ancient intercourse between the races.  Consider the
word for woman among the Polynesians.  In Rarotonga, it is _vaine_; in
Tahiti, _vahine_; in the Marquesas, _vehine_; in Hawaii, _wahine_; in
Samoa, _fafine_.  The same root runs through the dialects of Papua.  In
Motu, woman is _habine_; in Kerepunu, _vavine_; in Aroma, _babine_; and
in Motumotu it is _ua_, which in this part of the Pacific means,
variously, female, seed, and rain.  I could cite you dozens of similar
examples.  Now and then one comes across something that sets one’s
imagination to work ... as you must know, the word for sun in the
islands is _ra_, but in Tahiti they have another word, _mahana_. In New
Guinea, thirty-five hundred miles away, and with all Melanesia between,
the tribes of the South Cape call the sun _mahana_.  What a puzzle it
is!

"Though it may be the merest coincidence, that _ra_ has a flavor of
Egypt.  I wonder if there could be a connection?  I used to know a girl
in Tahiti whose strange and rather beautiful name—hereditary as far back
as the records of her family went—was that of a queen of Egypt who ruled
many hundreds of years before Christ.  But I mustn’t ride my hobby too
fast.

"It is a pity you can’t stop on Ahu Ahu for a time—there are not many
islands so unspoiled.  I’ve grown very fond of the place; I doubt if I
ever leave it permanently.  If you are interested in ghosts, you had
better change your mind.  I have a fine collection here; the house is
built on the site of a tumble-down _marae_.  There is our white rooster,
the spirit of an old chief, which appears during the new moon—perfectly
harmless and friendly, but the people rather dread him.  Then we have a
ghostly pig, very bad indeed; and a pair of malignant women, who walk
about at night with arms and long hair entwined, and are suspected of
ghastly appetites.  I shall not say whether or not I have seen any of
these; perhaps it is living too much alone, but I am not so skeptical as
I was...."

It was not easy to part with such a host, but the sun was low over the
_makatea_, and the prospect of crossing the dikes among the taro and
scaling the cliff by dark drove me at last to take reluctant leave.

Lamps were shining in the village when I returned; in some of the houses
I heard the voice of the father, reading aloud solemnly from the Bible
in the native tongue; in others, the people were assembled to chant
their savage and melancholy hymns.  Tari was alone on the veranda,
smoking in his absent-minded fashion, and motioned me to sit down beside
him.  I told him how I had spent the afternoon.  When I had finished he
puffed on in silence for a time.

"It is a strange place, Ahu Ahu," he said at last "My mother-in-law has
finished her prayers, sung her _himines_, and put away the family Bible.
Now she has gone to the house of one of her pals for a session with old
Rakamoana.  Like the land itself, the people are relics of an elder
time—pure heathen at heart."



                              *CHAPTER V*

                          *A Memory of Mauké*


We sighted Mauké at dawn.  The cabin lamp was still burning when the boy
brought my coffee; I drank it, lit a cigarette, and went on deck in a
_pareu_. The skipper himself was at the wheel; half a dozen men were in
the shrouds; the native passengers were sitting forward, cross-legged in
little groups, munching ship’s biscuit and gazing ahead for the expected
land.

The day broke wild and gray, with clouds scudding low over the sea, and
squalls of rain.  Since we had left Mangaia, the day before, it had
blown heavily from the southeast; a big sea was running, but in spite of
sixty tons of copra the schooner was reeling off the knots in racing
style, running almost free, with the wind well aft of the beam, rising
interminably on the back of each passing sea, and taking the following
slope with a swoop and a rush.  We had no log; it was difficult to guess
our position within a dozen miles; the low driving clouds, surrounding
us like a curtain, made it impossible to see more than a few hundred
yards.  Until an observation could be obtained, the landfall was a
matter of luck and guesswork.  Our course had been laid almost due
north-northeast—to pass a little to the west of Mauké—which gave us the
chance of raising Mitiaro or Atiu if we missed the first island; but
ocean currents are uncertain things, and with a horizon limited to less
than half a mile, nothing would be easier than to slip past the trio of
low islands and into the stretch of lonely ocean beyond.  Every trading
skipper is accustomed to face such situations; one can only maintain a
sharp lookout and hold on one’s course until there is an opportunity to
use the sextant, or until it becomes obvious that the land has been
passed.

A squall of rain drove down on us; for five minutes, while we shivered
and the scuppers ran fresh water, our narrow circle of vision was
blotted out.  Then suddenly, with the effect of a curtain drawn aside,
the clouds broke to the east, flooding the sea with light. A shout went
up.  Close ahead and to starboard, so near that we could see the white
of breakers on the reef, was Mauké—densely wooded to the water’s edge, a
palm top rising here and there above the thick bush of iron woods.  Next
moment the curtain descended; gray clouds and rearing seas surrounded
us; it was as though we had seen a vision of the land, unreal as the
blue lakes seen at midday on the desert.  But the skipper was shouting
orders in harsh Mangaian; the schooner was swinging up into the wind,
the blocks were clicking and purring as half a dozen boys swayed on the
mainsheet.

Presently the land took vague form through the mist of squalls; we were
skirting the reef obliquely, drawing nearer the breakers as the
settlement came in view. A narrow boat passage, into which an ugly surf
was breaching, had been blasted through the hard coral of the reef; a
path led up the sloping land beyond, between a double row of canoe
houses to the bush. A few people were gathering by the canoe houses; it
was evident that we had just been sighted, and that it would be some
time before a boat could put out, if, indeed, the boatmen were willing
to risk the surf. Meanwhile we could only stand off and on until they
came out to us, for the skipper had no intention of risking his ship’s
boat and the lives of his men on such a forbidding shore.  "_Arari!_" he
sang out, dwelling long on the last syllable of this Cook Island version
of "hard alee."  The schooner rounded in to the wind with a ponderous
deliberation calculated to make the nerves of a fair-weather sailor
twitch; she seemed to hesitate, like a fat and fluttering grandmother;
at last, after an age of bobbing and ducking into the head sea, while
boom tackles were made fast and headsails backed, she made up her mind,
and filled away on the port tack.

Riley, the American coconut planter, who was recruiting labor for the
season on his island, turned to me with a wink.  "If this old hooker was
mine," he remarked in a voice meant to reach the skipper’s ears, "I’d
start the engine every time I came about; she can’t sail fast enough to
keep steerageway!"

The skipper sniffed a British sniff; they are old friends.  "If this
damn fine schooner was yours," he observed, without turning his head,
"she’d have been piled up long ago—like as not in broad daylight, on an
island a thousand feet high."

Riley chuckled.  "Too early for an argument," he said.  "Let’s go below
and have a drink."

I have not often run across a more interesting man than Riley.  Thrown
together, as he and I have been, in circumstances which make for an
unusual exchange of confidence, I have learned more of him in two months
than one knows of many an old acquaintance at home.  At thirty-five
years of age he is a living object lesson for those who bewail the old
days of adventure and romance, and wish that their lives had been cast
in other times.  His blood is undiluted Irish; he has the humor, the
imagination, the quick sympathy of the race, without the Irish heritage
of instability. Born in South Boston and reared with only the sketchiest
of educations, he set out to make his way in the world at an age when
most boys are playing marbles and looking forward with dread to the
study of algebra.  For fifteen years he wandered, gathering a varied
background of experience.  He worked in mills; he drifted west and
shipped as cabin boy on vessels plying the Great Lakes; he drifted
farther west to become a rider of the range.  Finally he reached San
Francisco and took to the sea.  He has been a sealer, an Alaska
fisherman, an able-bodied seaman on square-riggers sailing strange seas.
He has seen Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope; he speaks of the ports
of India, China, Africa, the Java Sea, as you would speak of Boston or
New York.

In the days when a line of schooners ran from San Francisco to Tahiti,
touching at the Marquesas on the way, he felt a call to the South Seas,
and shipped for a round trip before the mast.  When he returned to San
Francisco a change seemed to have come over him; the old, wandering life
had lost its charm—had gone flat and stale.  Like many another, he had
eaten of the wild plantain unaware.  The evenings of carousal ashore no
longer tempted him; even the long afternoons of reading (for reading has
always been this curious fellow’s chief delight), stretched on his bed
in a sailor’s boarding house, had lost their flavor—the print blurred
before his eyes, and in its place he saw lands of savage loveliness
rising from a warm blue sea; shadowy and mysterious valleys, strewn with
the relics of a forgotten race; the dark eyes of a girl in Tai-o-Hae.

Remember that Riley was both a sailor and an Irishman—a rough idealist,
keenly susceptible to beauty and the sense of romance.  It is stated
that the men who live romance are seldom aware of it; this may be true,
though I doubt it—certainly in Riley’s case the theory does not work
out.  He is the most modest of men, untainted by a trace of egoism; in
his stories, superbly told with the Irish gift for circumstantial detail
and dramatic effect, the teller’s part is always small.  And yet as one
listens, thrilled by the color and artistry of the tale, one is all the
while aware that this man appraises his memories at their full
value—reviews them with a ripened gusto, an ever-fresh appreciation.  In
short, he is one of those fortunate, or unfortunate, men for whom
realities, as most of us know them, do not exist; men whose eyes are
incapable of seeing drab or gray, who find mystery and fresh beauty in
what we call the commonplace.

It is scarcely necessary to say that Riley was aboard the next schooner
bound south for the islands. Nukuhiva knew him for a time, but the gloom
and tragedy of that land—together with an episode of domestic
infelicity—were overpowering to a man of his temperament.  From the
Marquesas he went to Tahiti, and his wanderings ended in the Cook group,
six hundred miles to the West.  Perhaps the finding of his journey’s end
wrought the change, perhaps it was due to his rather practical Tahitian
wife—in any case, the wanderer ceased to rove, the spendthrift began to
save and plan. In the groups to the eastward he had picked up a
smattering of coconut lore; it was not long before he got a berth as
superintendent of a small plantation.  With a native wife and the
Irishman’s knack for languages, he soon mastered the dialect of his
group; he is one of a very few men who speak it with all the finer
shadings. This accounts in part for his success with labor—the chief
difficulty of the planter throughout Polynesia. To one interested as I
am in the variations of this oceanic tongue, it is a genuine pleasure to
talk with Riley.  In school he learned to read and write; beyond that he
is entirely self-educated.  A good half of his earnings, I should say,
in the days when he followed the sea, were spent on books; a native
intelligence enabled him to criticize and select; he has read
enormously, and what he has read he has remembered. Each time a new
subject attracted him he hastened to the book shops of San Francisco, or
Liverpool, or Singapore, and gathered a little forecastle library of
reference.  Like most intelligent men in this part of the world, he has
grown interested in the subject of Polynesian research; it is odd to
hear him discuss—with a strong accent of South Boston and the manner of
a professor of ethnology—some question of Maori chronology, or the
variations in a causative prefix. Once he made clear to me a matter
often referred to in print, but which I had never properly understood.
He was speaking of the language of Tahiti.

"When you hear a Tahitian talk," he said, "it sounds different, but
really it’s the same as Hawaiian, or Marquesan, or Rarotongan, or New
Zealand Maori. Tahiti is the oldest settled place, and the language has
kind of rotted away there.  Nowadays the Tahitian has lost the strong,
harsh sounds of the old lingo, the _k_ and _ng_; in place of them there
is simply a catch between two vowels.  If you know Rarotongan and
understand the system of change, you can get on all right in Tahiti.
Take our word _akatangi_—to play a musical instrument.  _Tangi_ means
’wail’ or ’weep’; _aka_ is the old causative prefix; the combination
means ’cause to weep.’  Now let’s figure that word out in Tahitian.
First we’ve got to take out the _k_ and _ng_; that leaves a bad start—it
doesn’t sound good, so the Tahitians stick on an _f_ at the beginning.
That’s all there is to it; _fa’ata’i_ is the word.  It makes me laugh to
think of when I first came down here.  I was working in Tahiti, and when
I came home in the evening my girl would look up from her sewing and
sing out, ’O Riley!’  ’For the love of Mike,’ I’d tell her, ’don’t you
know my name yet?  It’s Riley, not O’Riley!’  Finally I caught on; I’d
been fooled on the same proposition as Cook and all the rest of them.
You remember they called the island Otahiti.  That O is simply a special
form of the verb used before personal pronouns and proper nouns.  The
old navigators, when the canoes came out to meet them, pointed to the
land and asked its name.  ’O Tahiti’ said the natives (’It is Tahiti’).
My girl didn’t mean to call me O’Riley at all; she was simply saying,
’It’s Riley.’"

A serious white man, particularly when he is able to recruit and handle
native labor, is always in demand in the islands; it was not long before
Riley’s talents were recognized; now he is manager and part owner of an
entire atoll.  I have listened with a great deal of interest to his
accounts of the life there.  Every year, at about Christmas time, a
schooner comes to load his copra and take his boys back to their
respective islands.  Not a soul is left on the atoll; Riley boards the
schooner with his wife and takes passage to Papeete for a couple of
months of civilization.  When the time is up he makes a tour of the Cook
group to recruit twenty or thirty boys for the new season, and is landed
on his island with a nine months’ supply of medicine, provisions, and
reading matter.  He is the only white man on the atoll; one would
suppose such a life deadly monotonous and lonely, but just now he is
pining to get back.  It is really the pleasantest of lives, he says;
enough routine in keeping the men properly at work, superb fishing when
one desires a touch of sport, plenty of time to read and think, the
healthiest climate in the world, and a bit of trouble now and then to
give the spice a true Irishman needs.

Riley is a man of medium size, with thick brown hair and eyes of Celtic
dark blue, perpetually sparkling with humor.  I have never seen a
stronger or more active man of his weight; on his atoll he spends an
hour every day in exercise, running, jumping, working with dumbbells and
Indian clubs.  From head to foot he is burnt a deep, ruddy brown—a full
shade darker than the tint of his native wife.  Sometimes, he says, he
works himself into such a pink of condition that he aches to pick a
fight with the first comer, but I fancy he finds trouble enough to
satisfy another man.  Once a huge, sullen fellow from the Gambier group
attempted to spear him, and Riley called all of his men in from their
work, appointed the foreman referee, and beat the
two-hundred-and-twenty-pound native fierce and lithe and strong as a
tiger—slowly and scientifically, to a pulp.  On another occasion, a
half-savage boy, from a far-off island of the southern Paumotus, took a
grudge against the manager and bided his time with the cunning of a wild
animal.  The chance came one afternoon when Riley was asleep in the
shade behind his house.  The Paumotan stole up with a club and put him
still sounder asleep with a blow on the head that laid his scalp open
and nearly fractured his skull. Half a dozen kicks from the ball of a
toughened foot stove in the ribs on one side of his chest; with that,
the native left his victim, very likely thinking him dead. Riley’s wife,
from whom I got the story, was asleep in the house at the time; toward
evening she went to look for her husband, and found him stretched out,
bloody and unconscious, on the sand.  In spite of her agitation—her kind
are not much use in a crisis—she managed to get him to the house and
revive him. Riley’s first act was to drink half a tumbler of whisky; his
second, to send for the foreman.  The Paumotan boy had disappeared;
overcome by forebodings of evil, he had taken a canoe and paddled off to
hide himself on an uncleared islet across the lagoon.  Riley gave the
foreman careful instructions; early in the morning he was to take all
the boys and spend the day, if necessary, in running down the fugitive,
who under no circumstances was to be injured or roughly handled.

They brought the boy in at noon—deadly afraid at first, sullen and
relieved when he learned his punishment was no worse than to stand up to
the manager before the assembled plantation hands.  It must have been a
grievous affair; Tetua could scarcely describe it without tears.  Riley
was still sick and dizzy; his ribs were taped so tightly that he could
breathe with only half his lungs, and a two-inch strip of plaster
covered the wound on his head.  The Paumotan was fresh and unhurt; he
outweighed his antagonist by twenty pounds, and fought with confidence
and bitterness.  The Kanaka is certainly among the strongest men of the
world, a formidable adversary in a rough-and-tumble fight.  It went
badly with Riley for a time; the boy nearly threw him, and a blow on his
broken ribs almost made him faint, but in the end—maddened by pain and
the thought of the treacherous attack—he got his man down and might have
killed him if the foreman and half a dozen others had not intervened.

Riley’s island is a true atoll—a broad lagoon inclosed by an oval sweep
of reef along which are scattered islets of varying size.  Many people
must have lived on it in the past; everywhere there are traces of man’s
occupation.  A dozen inhabitants were there within the memory of living
men, but the dead outnumbered the living too heavily—the place became
unbearable to them, and in the end a schooner took them away.

The outlying Cook Islands are places full of interest. I determined,
when I began this letter, to give you a real account of Mauké—the island
itself, its people, the number of tons of copra produced annually, and
other enlightening information.  But somehow, when one begins to write
of this part of the world it seems a hopeless task to stick to a train
of facts—there are too many diverging lines of fancy; too many
intangible stimuli to thought, stirring to the imagination.

Our landing on Mauké was a ticklish business, Like Mangaia, Mitiaro, and
Atiu, this island is of mixed volcanic and raised-coral origin—the
pinnacle of a submerged peak, ringed with millions of tons of coral, and
without any lagoon worthy of the name.  The polyps have built a sort of
platform around the land, low inshore and highest—as seems usually the
case—just before it drops off into the sea.  Breaching across the outer
ridge, the surf fills a narrow belt of shallows between it and the
shore; the result is a miniature edition of a lagoon—a place of rocky
pools where children wade knee-deep, on the lookout for crayfish and
baby octopus.  On the outer edge the reef is steep, too, dropping off
almost at the perpendicular.  It is difficult to realize, when one has
been brought up on the friendly coasts of America, that if a boat
capsizes off these reefs one must swim offshore and wait to be picked
up—that it is wiser to chance the sharks than to attempt a landing in
the surf, for the sea is breaking along the summit of a sunken
cliff—jagged and sharp as broken glass, poisonous as the venom of a
snake.

They came out to us in a whaleboat; Riley, the supercargo, and I were
the first to go ashore.  As we pulled away from the schooner a
high-pitched argument began.  One of the principal men of the island had
come out as a passenger and was sitting beside me.  He insisted that as
they had got off safely from the boat passage it was best to return the
same way. The boat steerer disagreed; it was all very well to put out
from the passage, with a score of men to hold the boat until the moment
came, and launch her out head-on to the breakers, but now the situation
was different; the passage was narrow; it must be entered just so, and a
mishap might have unpleasant consequences in such a surf.  The steersman
had the best of it; he took us a quarter of a mile beyond the passage,
and let his men rest on their oars off a place where the reef seemed a
little lower than elsewhere.

Each time we swung up to the crest of a swell I got a look at the surf,
and the prospect was not reassuring. Once or twice, as the backwash
poured off in a frothy cascade, I caught a glimpse of the
coral—reddish-black, jagged and forbidding.  Little by little we drew
near the land until the boat lay just where the waves began to tower for
the final rush; the oarsmen backed water gently—the boat steerer turned
his head nervously this way and that, glancing at the reef ahead and at
the rearing water behind.  I thought of a day, many years before, when
my father had taken me for a first experience of the "chutes," and our
little boat seemed to pause for an instant at the summit of the tower
before it tilted forward and flew down the steep slope to the
water—infinitely far off and below.  The feeling was the same—fear
mingling with delight, an almost painful exhilaration.

All of us, saving the watchful figure in the stern, were waiting for a
signal which would make the oarsmen leap into activity, the passengers
clench their teeth and grip the rail.  Suddenly it came—a harsh shout.
Six oars struck the water at once; the whaleboat gathered way; a big sea
rose behind us, lifted us gently on its back, and swept us toward the
reef. Next moment I saw that we had started a breath too late.  We were
going like the wind, it was true, but not tilted forward on the crest as
we should have been; the wave was gradually passing beneath us.  Riley
glanced at me and shook his head with a humorous turndown of the mouth.
It was too late to stop—the men were pulling desperately, their long
oars bending at every stroke.  When the sea broke we were slipping down
into the trough behind; as we passed over the edge of the reef the wave
was beginning its backward wash.  There were shouts; I found myself up
to my waist in a foaming rush of water, struggling with might and main
to keep my footing and to hold the boat from slipping off into the sea.
We stopped her just on the brink; her keel grated on the coral; another
sea was coming at us, towering high above our heads.  Riley, the
supercargo, and I leaped aboard in response to a sharp command.  The
boys held her stern-on to the last; as they scrambled over the sides the
sea caught us, half swamping the boat and lifting her stern high in the
air.  She tilted wildly as her bow crashed on the coral, but a rare
piece of luck saved her from turning broadside on.  Next moment we were
over the reef and gliding smoothly into the shallow water beyond. As I
drew a long, satisfying breath I heard Riley chuckle.  "I think I’ll get
a job diving for shell," he remarked.  "I’ll swear I haven’t breathed
for a good three minutes!"

When we stood on the beach a dozen men came forward, smiling, to greet
their friend Rairi.  With a decently pronounceable name—from the native
standpoint—Riley has got off easily; I never tire of wondering what
these people will call a white man.  They seem to prefer the surname if
it can be pronounced; if not, they try the given name, and Charley
becomes Teari, or Johnny, Tioni.  If this fails, or if they take a
dislike to one, the fun begins.  I have a friend who, unless he leaves
the islands, will be called Salt Pork all his life; and I know another
man—a second-rate colonial of the intolerant kind—who goes blissfully
about his business all unaware that hundreds of people know him by no
other name than Pig Dung.  No doubt you have noticed another thing down
here—the deceptive simplicity of address.  In these eastern islands the
humblest speaks to the most powerful without any title of respect, with
nothing corresponding to our "mister" or "sir."  At first one is
inclined to believe that here is the beautiful and ideal democracy—the
realization of the communist’s dream—and there are other things which
lead to the same conclusion. Servants, for one example, are treated with
extraordinary consideration and kindliness; when the feast is over the
mistress of the household is apt as not to dance with the man who feeds
her pigs, or the head of the family to take the arm of the girl who has
been waiting on his guests.  The truth is that this impression of
equality is false; there are not many places in the world where a more
rigid social order exists—not of caste, but of classes.  In the thousand
or fifteen hundred years that they have inhabited the islands the
Polynesians have worked out a system of human relationships nearer the
ultimate, perhaps, than our own idealists would have us believe.  Wealth
counts for little, birth for everything; it is useless for an islander
to think of raising himself in a social way—where he is born he dies,
and his children after him. On the other hand, except for the abstract
pleasure of position, there is little to make the small man envious of
the great; he eats the same food, his dress is the same, he works as
little or as much, and the relations between the two are of the
pleasantest.  There is a really charming lack of ostentation in these
islands, where everything is known about everyone, and it is useless to
pretend to be what one is not.  That is at the root of it all—here is
one place in the world, at least, where every man is sure of himself.

We were strolling up the path between the canoe houses when Riley
stopped me.  "Come and have a look," he said; "this is the only island I
know of where you can see an old-fashioned double canoe."

There were two of them in the shed we entered, under a roof of battered
galvanized iron—long, graceful hulls fashioned from the trunks of trees,
joined in pairs by timbers of ironwood laid across the gunwales and
lashed down with sinnet.  They were beautifully finished—scraped smooth
and decorated with carving. In these craft, my companion told me, the
men of Mauké still voyage to Atiu and Mitiaro, as they had done for
generations before Cook sailed through the group.  There is an ancient
feud between Mauké and Atiu; it is curious how hard such grudges die.
The men of Atiu were the most warlike of all the Cook Islanders; even in
these times of traders and schools and missionaries no firearms are
allowed on the island.  Time after time, in the old days, they raided
Mauké, stealing by night upon the sleeping villages, entering each house
to feel the heads of the sleepers.  When they felt the large head of a
warrior they seized his throat and killed him without noise; the
children and women—the small heads and the heads with long hair—were
taken back alive to Atiu. Terrible scenes have been enacted under the
old ironwoods of Mauké, when the raiders, maddened with the heat of
killing, danced in the firelight about the opened ovens and gorged on
the bodies of the slain; for the Cook-Islanders, excepting perhaps the
people of Aitutaki, were cannibals as fierce as the Maoris of New
Zealand or the tawny savages of the Marquesas.  Why should Aitutaki have
bred a gentler and finer people? The group is not widely scattered as
islands go; there must have been fighting and intermarriage for ages
past. Yet any man who has been here long can tell you at a glance from
which island a native hails; even after my few weeks I am beginning to
have an eye for the differences.  The Mangaian is certainly the most
distinct, recognizable at once by his dark skin, his wide, ugly mouth,
his uncouth and savage manner.  The full-blooded Rarotongan, who will
soon be a rarity, is another type—handsome in a square-cut leonine way,
with less energy and far more dignity of presence. The people of
Aitutaki are different still—fair as the average Tahitian, and pleasing
in features and manner; I have seen girls from that island who would be
called beautiful in any country.  These differences are not easy to
account for, it seems to me, when one considers that the islanders are
all of one race, tracing their ancestry back to common sources and
speaking a common tongue.

The trader, a friend of Riley’s, took us to his house for lunch.  The
day was Sunday and a feast was already preparing, so we were spared the
vocal agonies of the pig.  Times must be changing—I have seen very few
traders of the gin-drinking type one expects to find in the South Seas;
nowadays they seem to be rather quiet, reflective men, who like to read
and play their phonographs in the evening, and drink excellent whisky
with soda from a sparklet bottle.  This one was no exception; I found
him full of intelligence and a dreamy philosophy which kept him content
in this forgotten corner of the world.  He was young and English; there
were cricket bats and blazers in his living room, and shelves filled
with the kind of books one can read over and over again.  He was
pessimistic over Riley’s chances of getting men—the people of Mauké were
growing lazier each year, he said, and seemed to get along with less and
less of the European things for which, at one time, they had worked.  As
for copra, they no longer bothered much with it; the nuts were left to
sprout under the palms.  The taro patches were running down; the coffee
and breadfruit dropped off the trees unpicked; the oranges, which
brought a good price when a vessel came to take them off, were allowed
to drop and rot.

As we sat smoking after lunch, a native boy came in, with a vague air of
conspiracy, to hold a whispered conversation with Riley.  When he had
gone the American winked at our host and turned to me.

"There’s a beer tub going full blast out in the bush," he said.  "I
think I’ll drop in on them and see if I can pick up a man or two.  You’d
better come along."

Liquor is prohibited to the natives throughout the Cook Islands; even
the white man must buy it from the government in quantities regulated by
the judgment of the official in charge.  The manufacture of anything
alcoholic is forbidden, but this latter law is administered with a
certain degree of tolerance. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the art
of making palm toddy has never been introduced; when the Cook-Islander
feels the need of mild exhilaration he takes to the bush and brews a
beverage known as orange beer. The ingredients are sugar, orange juice,
and yeast—the recipe would prove popular, I fancy, in our own
orange-growing states.  The story goes that when the Cook Island boys
went overseas to war they found a great drought prevailing in their
eastern field of action—Palestine, I think it was.  But there were
oranges in plenty, and these untutored islanders soon showed the Tommies
a trick that brought them together like brothers.  I have tasted orange
beer at all stages (even the rare old vintage stuff, bottled two or
three months before) and found it not at all difficult to take; there
are worse varieties of tipple, though this one is apt to lead to
fighting, and leaves its too-enthusiastic devotee with a headache of
unusual severity.

We found fifteen or twenty men assembled under an old utu tree; a dance
ended as we drew near, and the cup was being passed.  Two five-gallon
kerosene tins, with the tops cut off and filled with the bright-yellow
beer, stood in the center of the group.  Women are never present on
these occasions, which correspond, in a way, to Saturday evenings in a
club at home.  A sort of rude ceremonial—a relic, perhaps, of
kava-drinking days—is observed around the beer tub.  The oldest man
present, armed with a heavy stick, is appointed guardian of the peace,
to see that decency and order are preserved; the natives realize, no
doubt, that any serious disturbance might put an end to their fun. The
single cup is filled and passed to each guest in turn; he must empty it
without taking breath.  After every round one of the drinkers is
expected to rise and entertain the company with a dance or a song.

Riley was welcomed with shouts; he was in a gay mood and when we had had
our turns at the cup he stripped off his tunic for a dance.  He is a
famous dancer; unhampered by the native conventions, he went through the
figures of _heiva_, _otea_, and _ura_—first the man’s part, then the
woman’s—while the men of Mauké clapped their hands rhythmically and
choked with laughter.  No wonder Riley gets on with the people; there is
not an ounce of self-consciousness in him—he enters into a bit of fun
with the good-natured abandon of a child.  As for dancing, he is
wonderful; every posture was there, every twist and wriggle and flutter
of the hands—what old Bligh called, with delightful, righteous gusto,
the "wanton gestures" of the _heiva_.

Riley had told his friends on the beach that he was on the lookout for
labor; by this time, probably, the whole island knew he was on his way
to the atoll and that he needed men.  Before we took leave of the
drinkers three of them had agreed to go with my companion.  The sea was
calmer now, and, since Riley’s wife was on the schooner, we decided to
go aboard for dinner.  Four more recruits were waiting by the canoe
houses to sign on—it was odd to see their response to the Irishman’s
casual offer when half the planters of the group declare that labor is
unobtainable.

The whaleboat was waiting in the passage.  It was evening.  The wind had
dropped; the sky overhead was darkening; out to the west the sun had set
behind banks of white cloud rimmed with gold.  The oarsmen took their
places; friendly hands shot us out in a lull between two breakers; we
passed the surf and pulled offshore toward where the schooner was riding
an easy swell, her lights beginning to twinkle in the dusk.



                               *Rutiaro*



[Illustration: Woodcut]



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                               *Rutiaro*


Chance began to move of set purpose in Papeete, on the day I was to sail
with the one-hundred-and-ten-ton schooner, _Caleb S. Winship_, for the
Cloud of Islands.  I was on my way to the water front, and, having
plenty of time, walked leisurely, thinking of the long journey so nearly
at hand, of the strange and lonely islands I was to see, and wondering,
as an Anglo-Saxon must when presented with a piece of good fortune, what
I had done to merit it.  Oro, the cabin boy of the _Winship_, was
following with my luggage. He kept at some distance, a mark of respect,
as I thought, until I saw him sublet his contract to a smaller boy.
Then he retired to spend the unearned increment in watermelon and a
variety of cakes sold at the Chinese stalls along the street.  Not
wanting him to think that I begrudged him his last little fling on
shore, I became interested of a sudden in the contents of a shop window,
and there I saw a boxful of marbles. In a moment Oro was forgotten.
Papeete faded from view, and the warm air, fragrant with the odors of
vanilla and roasting coffee, became more bracing. There was a tang in
it, like that of early April, in Iowa, for example, at the beginning of
the marble-playing season.  Fifteen years dropped lightly from my
shoulders and I was back at the old rendezvous in the imagination,
almost as really as I had ever been in the flesh.  The lumber yard of S.
M. Brown & Son lay on the right hand and the Rock Island Railroad tracks
on the left.  Between, on a stretch of smooth cinder right of way, a
dozen games were in full swing.  There were cries of, "Picks and vents!"
"Bunchers!" "Sneakers!" "Knucks down!" the sharp crack of expert shots;
the crunch of cinders under bare and yet tender feet.  Meadow larks were
singing in a nearby pasture, and from afar I heard the deep whistle of
the Rocky Mountain Limited as it came down the Mitchellville grade.

I bought the marbles—the whole box of them. They cost fifty francs,
about four dollars American, as the exchange was then, but I considered
the investment a good one.  I knew that, no matter where I might be, to
lift the lid of my box was to make an immediate and inexpensive journey
back to one of the pleasantest periods of boyhood.  Oro was awaiting me
at the quay, and carried my small sea chest on board with an air of
spurious fatigue.  I gave him my purchase and told him to stow it away
for me in the cabin, which he did with such care that I did not find it
again until we were within view of Rutiaro.  The _Caleb S. Winship_ was
homeward bound then, from Tanao, where we had left Crichton, the English
planter. Rutiaro lying on our course, it was decided to put in there in
the hope that we might be able to replace our lost deck cargo of copra,
washed overboard in a squall a few days previously.

Neither Findlay’s _South Pacific Directory_ nor the _British Admiralty
Sailing Directions_ had much to say about the atoll.  Both agreed that
the lagoon is nine miles long by five broad, and that on June 29, 1887,
the French surveying vessel, _St. Etienne_, found the tide running
through a narrow pass at two knots per hour, the flood as swift as the
ebb.  It was further stated that in 1889 Her Majesty’s ship, _Prince
Edward_, anchored in eight fathoms, three hundred yards from shore in
front of the village, which is situated on the most westerly island; and
that a few pigs and chickens were purchased at a nominal price from the
inhabitants. With this information I had to be content in so far as my
reading was concerned.  There was nothing of a later date in either
volume, and the impression I had was that the atoll, having been charted
and briefly described, had remained unvisited, almost forgotten, for a
period of thirty-one years.

This, of course, was not the case.  Tinned beef and kerosene oil had
followed the flag there as elsewhere in the world.  Religion, in fact,
had preceded it, leaving a broad wake of Bibles and black
mother-hubbards still in evidence among the older generation. But
skippers of small trading schooners are rarely correspondents of the
hydrographic associations, and the "reports from the field" of itinerant
missionaries are buried in the dusty files of the religious journals, so
that Rutiaro is as little known to the world at large as it has always
been.  Findlay’s general remarks about it were confined to a single
sentence, "A lonely atoll, numbering a population of between
seventy-five and one hundred inhabitants."  It certainly looked lonely
enough on the chart, far out on the westerly fringe of the archipelago,
more than six hundred miles from the nearest steamship route, and that
one infrequently traveled.  I sought further information from
Tino-a-Tino, the supercargo, a three-quarters American despite his
Tahitian name.  He had been trading in the Low Islands for twenty years,
and during that time had created a voluminous literature with reference
to their inhabitants.  But it was all of an occupational nature and
confined to the ledgers of the Inter-Island Trading Company.  I found
him at his usual task in the cabin, where he gave me some specimen
compositions for criticism.

"I wish you’d look them over," he said.  "These copra bugs drive a man
wild.  They get in your eyes, in your liquor, in your mouth—Lord!  What
a life!"

The cabin was filled with unsacked copra to the level of the upper tier
of bunks.  One had to crawl in on hands and knees.  The copra bugs were
something of a nuisance, and the smell and heat oppressive. I had
traveled on more comfortable vessels, with tennis courts on the boat
decks and Roman swimming baths below—but they didn’t touch at Rutiaro.

I went through his accounts, verifying long lists of items, such as:


    To Terii Tuahu, Dr.,
        1 dozen beacon lanterns............at 480 frs....Frs. 480
    To Ohiti Poene, Dr.,
        12 sacks Lily−Dust flour...........at 300 frs....Frs. 3600
    To Low Hung Chin, Dr.,
        1 gross Night−King flash lamps.....at 3600 frs...Frs. 3600


The work of checking up finished, we went out for a breath of air.  The
atoll lay abeam and still far distant; a faint bluish haze lifted a bare
eighth of an inch above the circle of the horizon.  Behind us, rain fell
in a straight wall of water from a single black cloud which cast a deep
shadow over the path we had come.  Elsewhere the sky was clear and the
sea the incredible blue of the tropics.  Tino broke a long silence.

"Look here," he said.  "What is it that interests you in these islands?
I’ve never known anyone to visit them for pleasure before.  Is it the
women, or what?"

Under pressure, I admitted that Nature seemed to have spent her best
effort among the Paumotuans in fashioning the men.

"You’re right," said Tino.  "The women are healthy enough, of course,
but they don’t set your heart beating a hundred to the minute.  They
have fine hands and white teeth, and you won’t find such black hair in
all the world as you find in these atolls.  But that’s the size of it.
You can’t praise them any further for looks.  Maybe you haven’t noticed
their ears, because they always cover them up with their hair; but
they’re large, and their feet and ankles—tough as sole leather and all
scarred over with coral cuts.  That is well enough for the men, but with
the women it’s different.  Makes you lose your enthusiasm, don’t it?"

I had seen a good many striking exceptions in our wanderings, but I
agreed that, in the main, what he said was true.

"Well, if it isn’t the women, what else is there to be interested in?
Not the islands themselves?  Lord! When you’ve seen one you’ve seen the
lot.  Living on one of them is like living aboard ship.  Not room to
stretch your legs.  They’re solid enough, and they don’t sink; but in a
hurricane I’d a heap rather take my chances out to sea with the
_Winship_ than to be lashed to the stoutest coconut tree in the whole
group. Now you take Rutiaro.  It was washed over seventeen years ago and
all but twenty of the people killed. They are back to seventy-five now,
but wait till the next bad blow down that way.  They’ll drown like rats
just as they did before.

"Well, we won’t have to stop long," he added, grouchily.  "I’ll take
what copra they have and get out.  It’s a God-forsaken hole.  They only
make about twenty-five tons a year.  The island could produce three
times that amount under decent management. They’re a lazy, independent
lot, at Rutiaro. You can’t get ’em to stir themselves."

I asked him what they had to gain by stirring themselves.

"Gain?" he said.  "They have everything to gain. There are only two
frame houses on the place.  The rest of them are miserable little
shelters of coconut thatch.  I haven’t sold them enough corrugated iron
in ten years to cover this cockpit.  You remember Takaroa and Niau and
Fakahina?  Well, there’s my idea of islands.  Nice European
furniture—iron beds, center tables, phonographs, bicycles—"

A further catalogue of the comforts and conveniences of civilization
which the inhabitants of Rutiaro might have and didn’t convinced me that
this was the atoll I had been looking for, and I regretted that our stay
there was to be so brief.  I did not begrudge the inhabitants of richer
atolls their phonographs and bicycles.  They got an incredible amount of
amusement out of them; listened with delight to the strange music, and
spent entire evenings taking turns with the bicycles, riding them back
and forth from the lagoon beach to the ocean shore.  But the frame
houses were blots on the landscape, crude, barnlike structures, most of
them, which offend the eye like factory chimneys in a green valley.
Rutiaro had none of these things, and, having no interest in it from the
commercial point of view, I awaited impatiently our arrival there.

At ten o’clock we were three miles to windward of the village island.
It lay at the narrower end of the lagoon, the inner shore line curving
around a broad indentation where the village was.  The land narrowed in
one direction to a ledge of reef.  At the farther end there was a small
_motu_ not more than three hundred yards in length by one hundred broad,
separated from the main island by a strip of shallow water.  Seen from
aloft, the two islands resembled, roughly, in outline, an old-fashioned,
high-pooped vessel with a small boat in tow.  I could see the whole of
the atoll from the mainmast crosstrees, the lagoon, shimmering into
green over the shoals, darkening to an intense blue over unlit valleys
of ocean floor; a solitude of sunlit water, placid as a lake buried in
the depths of inaccessible mountains.  I followed the shore line with my
glasses.  Distant islands, ledges of barren reef, leaped forward with an
effect of magic, as though our atom of a vessel, the only sail which
relieved the emptiness of the sea, had been swept in an instant to
within a few yards of the surf.  Great combers, green and ominous
looking in the sunlight, broke at one rapidly advancing point, toppled
and fell in segments, filling the inner shallows with a smother of foam.
Beyond it lay the broad fringe of white, deserted beach, the narrow
forest of shrub and palm, the empty lagoon, a border of misty islands on
the farther side.  I had seen the same sort of a picture twenty times
before, always with the same keen sense of its desolate beauty, its
allurement, its romantic loveliness.  Tino had said, "When you’ve seen
one you’ve seen them all," and an old skipper once told me that "the
atolls are as much alike as the reef points on that sail."  It is true.
They are as monotonous as the sea itself and as fresh with varying
interest.

The village was hidden among the trees, but I saw the French flag flying
near a break in the reef which marked the landing place for small boats.
Farther back, a little knot of people were gathered, some of them
sitting in the full glare of the sun, others in the deep shade, leaning
against the trees in attitudes of dreamy meditation.  Three girls were
combing their hair, talking and laughing in an animated way.  They were
dressed in all their European finery, gowns of flowered muslin pulled up
around their bare legs to prevent soilure.  A matronly woman in a red
wrapper had thrown the upper covering aside and sat, naked to the waist,
nursing a baby.  I put down my glasses, feeling rather ashamed of my
scrutiny, as though I had been peeping through a window at some intimate
domestic scene.  The island leaped into the distance; the broad circle
of foam and jagged reef narrowed to a thread of white, and the _Caleb S.
Winship_ crept landward again under a light breeze, an atom of a ship on
a vast and empty sea.  Eight bells struck, a tinkling sound, deadened,
scarcely audible in the wide air.  I heard Tino’s voice as though coming
from an immense distance: "Hello, up there!  _Kai-kai’s_ ready!"  I
said: "All right!  I’m coming," and was surprised at the loudness of my
own shout.  But I waited for a moment to indulge myself in a last
reflection: "It is thirty-one years since the _Prince Edward_ put in
here.  Excepting a few traders and missionaries, there isn’t probably
one man in one hundred thousand who has ever heard of this atoll; not
one in a million who has ever seen it or ever will see it.  What a piece
of luck for me!"  Then I saw Oro at the galley door with a huge platter
of boiled beef and sweet potatoes.  The sight of it reminded me that I
was very hungry.  As I climbed down to the deck I was conscious of the
fact that a healthy appetite and a good digestion were a piece of luck,
too, and that as long as one could hold it the lure of islands would
remain, and one’s love of living burn with a clear flame.  Jack, the
monkey, seemed to divine my thought, to agree with it.  As Oro, the food
bearer, passed him, he reached down from his perch in the rigging,
seized the largest sweet potato on the platter, and clambered out of
reach.  Assured of his safety, he fell to greedily, looking out
wistfully toward the land.

The pass was at the farther end of the lagoon, and in order to save time
in getting the work ashore under way, the supercargo and I, with three
of the sailors, put off in the whaleboat, to land on the ocean side of
the village.  Half a dozen men rushed into the surf, seized and held the
boat as the backwash poured down the steep incline at the edge of the
reef.  Among them was the chief, a man of huge frame, six feet two or
three in height.  Like the others who assisted at the landing, he was
clad only in a _pareu_, but he lost none of his dignity through his
nakedness.  He was fifty-five years old, as I afterward learned, and as
he stood bidding us welcome I thought of the strange appearance certain
of the chief men in America or France or England would make under
similar circumstances, deprived of the kindly concealment of clothing.
What a revelation it would be of skinniness or pudginess! What an
exhibition of scrawny necks, fat stomachs, flat chests, flabby arms!  To
be strictly accurate, I had seen some fat stomachs among elderly
Paumotuans, but they were exceptions, and always remarkable for that
reason.  And those who carried them had sturdy legs.  They did not give
one the uneasy feeling, common at home, at the sight of the great
paunches of sedentary men toppling unsteadily along a strip of crimson
carpet, from curb to club doorway.

Wherever one goes in Polynesia one is reminded, by contrast, of the cost
physically to men of our own race of our sheltered way of living.  There
on every hand are men well past middle life, with compact, symmetrical
bodies and the natural grace of healthy children.  One sees them
carrying immense burdens without exertion, swimming in the open sea for
an hour or two at a time while spearing fish, loafing ashore with no
greater apparent effort for yet longer periods.  Sometimes, when they
have it, they eat enormous quantities of food at one sitting, and at
others, under necessity, as sparingly as so many dyspeptics.  It would
be impossible to formulate from their example any rules for rational
living in more civilized communities.  The daily quest for food under
primitive conditions keeps them alert and sound of body, so that,
whether they work or loaf, feast or fast, they seem always to acquire
health by it.

There had been no boats at Rutiaro in five months and the crowd on the
beach was unfeignedly glad to see us.  The arrival of a schooner at that
remote island was an event of great importance; the sight of new faces
lighted their own with pleasure, which warmed the heart toward them at
once.  We had brought ashore a consignment of goods for Moy Ling, the
Chinese storekeeper, and when the handshaking was over they gathered
around it as eagerly as a group of American children at a Christmas
tree.  Even the village constable seemed unconscious of any need for a
show of dignity or authority.  The only badge of his office was a
cigarette-card picture of President Poincaré, fastened with a safety pin
to his old felt hat.  He neglected his duties as a keeper of order, and
was one of the most excited of Moy Ling’s helpers with the cargo.  He
kept patting him affectionately on the back, saying, "_Maitai! maitai!_"
which in that situation may be freely translated as, "You know me, Moy
Ling!"  And the old Chinaman smiled the pleasant, noncommittal smile of
his countrymen the world over.

Tino’s was the only sour face on the beach.  He moved through the crowd,
giving orders, grumbling and growling half to himself and half to me.
"I told you they were a lazy lot," he said.  "They’ve seen us making in
for three hours, and what have they been doing?  Loafing on the beach,
waiting for us instead of getting their copra together!  Moy Ling is the
only one in the village who is ready to do business.  Five tons all
sacked for weighing.  He’s worth a dozen Kanakas.  Well, I’ll set ’em to
work in quick time now.  You watch me!  I’m going to be loaded and out
of here by six o’clock."

But chance, using me as an innocent accomplice, ordered it otherwise.
It was Sir Thomas Browne who said, "Those who hold that all things are
governed by fortune had not erred had they not persisted there."  He may
be right, although I don’t remember now where his own nonpersistence
lay.  But there are some things, some events, which chance or
fortune—whatever one wishes to call it—governs from the outset with an
amazing show of omnipotence.  Tracing them back, one becomes almost
convinced of a fixed intent, a far-sighted, unwavering determination in
its apparently haphazard functioning.  It is clear to me now that,
because I had been fond of playing marbles as a boy, I was to be
marooned, fifteen years later, on a fragment of land, six thousand miles
from the lumber yard of S. M. Brown & Son.  Tino had no more to do with
that result than I did.  He merely lost his temper because chance
disorganized his plans for an early departure; tried to quench his anger
in rum, and became more furious still because he was drunk. Then off he
went in the _Caleb S. Winship_, leaving me stranded ashore.  I can still
hear his parting salutation which he roared at me though a megaphone
across the starlit lagoon, "You can stay—"  But this is anticipating.
The story moves in a more leisurely fashion.

As I have said, my box of marbles came to light again only a few hours
before we reached Rutiaro. I took them ashore with me, thinking they
might amuse the children.  They had a good knowledge of the technic of
shooting, acquired in a two-handed game common among the atolls, which
is played with bits of polished coral.  But theirs had always seemed to
me a tame pastime, lacking the interest of stakes to be won or lost.  I
instructed them in the simple rules of "bull-ring" and "Tom’s-dead,"
which they quickly mastered.  Then I divided the marbles equally among
them and gave them to understand that the winner held his gains,
although marbles, like trade goods, might be bartered for.  I emphasized
that feature of the game because of a recollection remaining from my own
marble-playing days, of the contempt in which boys were held who refused
to hazard their marbles in a test of skill.  They refused to play "for
keeps," and the rest of us had nothing to do with them.  The youngsters
of Rutiaro were not of that stamp.  They took their losses in good part.
When I saw that I left them to themselves and went for a walk through
the village.  I knew—at least I thought I did—that our stay was to be
brief and I wanted to make the most of it.

I followed the street bordering the lagoon, past the freshly thatched
houses with their entryways wide to the sun and wind, and came at length
to a small burying ground which lay in an area of green shadow far from
the village.  There were a dozen or more graves within the inclosure,
some of them neatly mounded over with broken coral and white shell,
others incased in a kind of sarcophagus of native cement to keep more
restless spirits from wandering abroad.  Most of them were unmarked.
Two or three had wooden headboards, one of which was covered with a long
inscription in Chinese.  Beneath this the word "Repose" was printed in
English, as though it had some peculiar talismanic significance for the
Chinaman who had placed it there. It was the grave of a predecessor of
Moy Ling’s.  I fell to thinking of him as I sat there, and of all the
Chinamen I had met in the earlier days, lonely, isolated figures, most
of them, without family or friends or the saving companionship of books.
What was it that kept them going?  What goal were they striving toward
through lives which held so little of the comfort or happiness essential
to the rest of humankind? Repose?  A better end than that, surely.  The
air rang with the sound of the word, the garish sunlight fell pitilessly
on the print of it.  To most men, I believe, with the best of life still
before them, there is something terrible, infamous, in the thought of
the unrelieved blackness of an endless, dreamless sleep. I turned from
the contemplation of it; let my thoughts wander in a mist of dreams, of
half-formed fancies which glimmered through consciousness like streaks
of sunlight in a dusty attic.  These vanished at length and for a time I
was as dead to thought or feeling as Moy Ling’s predecessor, sleeping
beside me.

I was awakened by some one shaking me by the shoulder.  A voice said,
"_Haere i te pai!_" ("Come down to the boat!") and a dark figure ran on
before, turning from time to time to urge me to greater speed.  It was
almost night, although there was still light enough to see by.  I
remembered that Tino had told me to be at the copra sheds at five.  The
tide would serve for getting through the pass until eight, but I
hurried, nevertheless, feeling that something unusual had happened.
Rounding a point of land which cut off the view from the village and the
inner lagoon, I saw the schooner, about three hundred yards off shore,
slim and black against a streak of orange cloud to the northward.  She
was moving slowly out, under power; the whaleboat was being hoisted over
the side, and at the wheel I saw the familiar silhouette of the
supercargo.

I shouted: "Hi!  Tino!  Wait a minute!  You’re not going to leave me
behind, are you?"

A moment of silence followed.  Then came the answer with the odd
deliberation of utterance which I knew meant Tahiti rum:

"You can stay there and play marbles till hell freezes over!  I’m
through with you!"

What had happened, as nearly as I could make out afterward, was this: my
box of marbles which I had brought ashore for the amusement of the
children, interested the grown-ups as well, particularly the hazard of
stakes in the games I had shown them.  Paumotuans have a good deal of
Scotch acquisitiveness in their make-up.  They coveted those
marbles—they were really worth coveting—and it was not long until play
became general, a family affair, the experts in one being pitted against
those in another, regardless of age or sex.  Tino’s threats and
entreaties had been to no purpose.  All work came to an end, and the
only copra which got aboard the _Winship_ was Moy Ling’s five tons,
carried out by the sailors themselves. Evidently Puarei, the chief, had
been one of the most enthusiastic players.  He was not a man to be
bulldozed or browbeaten.  He had great dignity and force of character,
for all his boyish delight in simple amusements.  What right had Tino to
say that he should not play marbles on his own island?  He gave me to
understand, by means of gestures, intonation, and a mixture of French
and Paumotuan, that this was what the supercargo had done.  At last,
apparently, Tino had sent Oro on an unsuccessful search for me.  He
thought, I suppose, that, having been the cause of the marble-playing
mania, I might be able and willing to check it. Balked there, he went on
board in a fit of violent temper and had not been seen again, although
his voice was heard for an hour thereafter.  Of a sudden anchor was
weighed and I was left, as he assured me, to play marbles with the
inhabitants of Rutiaro for an impossibly long time.

Most of these details I gathered afterward.  At the moment I guessed
just enough of the truth not to be wholly mystified.  The watery
sputtering of the _Winship’s_ twenty-five horse-power engine grew faint.
Then, with a ghostly gleam of her mainsail in the starlight, she was
gong.  I was thinking, "By Jove! I wouldn’t have missed this experience
for all the copra in the Cloud of Islands!"  I was glad that there were
still adventures of that sort to be had in a humdrum world.  It was so
absurd, so fantastically unreal as to fit nothing but reality.  And the
event of it was exactly what I had wanted all the time without knowing
it.  There was no reason why I shouldn’t stop at Rutiaro.  To be sure, I
was shortly to have met my friend Nordhoff at Papeete, but our
rendezvous was planned to be broken.  We were wandering in the South
Pacific as opportunity and inclination should direct, which, I take it,
is the only way to wander.

For a few moments I was so deeply occupied with my own thoughts that I
was not conscious of what was taking place around me.  All the village
was gathered there, watching the departing schooner.  As she vanished a
loud murmur ran through the crowd, like a sough of wind through trees—a
long-drawn-out Polynesian, "_Aué!_" indicative of astonishment,
indignation, pity.  Paumotuan sympathies are large, and I had been the
victim of treachery, they thought, and was silently grieving at the
prospect of a long exile.  They gathered around, patting me on the back
in their odd way, expressing their condolences as best they could, but I
soon relieved their minds, on that score.  Then Huirai, the constable
with the cigarette-card insignia, pushed his way through with the first
show of authority I had seen him make.

"I been Frisco," he said, with an odd accent on the last syllable.  He
had made the journey once as a stoker on one of the mail boats.  Then he
added, "You go to hell, me," his eyes shining with pride that he could
be of service as a reminder of home to an exiled American.  He was about
to take charge of me, in view of his knowledge of English, but the chief
waved him away with a gesture of authority.  I was to be his guest, he
said, at any rate for the present.  He began his duties as host by
entertaining me at dinner at Moy Ling’s store.  I was a little surprised
that we did not go to his house for the meal until I remembered that the
Chinaman had received the only consignment of exotic food left by the
_Winship_.  Puarei ordered the feast with the discrimination of a
gourmet and the generosity of a sailor on shore leave for the first time
in months.  We had smoked herring for _hors-d’oeuvre_, followed by soup,
curried chicken and rice, edible birds’ nests flavored with crab meat,
from China, and white bread.  For dessert we had small Chinese pears
preserved in vinegar, which we ate out of the tin—"Woman Brand Pears,"
the label said.  There was a colored picture on it of a white woman, in
old-fashioned puffed sleeves and a long skirt, seated in a garden, while
a Chinaman served her deferentially with pears out of the same kind of a
container.  Underneath was printed in English: "These pears will be
found highly stimulating.  We respectfully submit them to our
customers."  That was the first evidence I had seen of China’s bid for
export trade in tinned fruit. "Stimulating" may not have been just the
word, but I liked the touch of Chinese courtesy which followed it.  It
didn’t seem out of place, even coming from a canning factory.

Puarei gave all his attention to his food, and consumed an enormous
quantity.  My own appetite was a healthy one, but I had not his capacity
of stomach; furthermore, he ate with his fingers, while I was
handicapped from the first with a two-prong fork and a small tin spoon.
I believe they were the only implements of the sort on the island, for
the village had been searched for them before they were found.  It was
another evidence to me of the unfrequented nature of Rutiaro, and of its
slender contact, even with the world of Papeete traders.  At most of the
islands we had visited, knives and forks were common, although rarely
used except in the presence of strangers.  The onlookers at the
feast—about half the village, I should say—watched with interest my
efforts to balance mouthfuls of rice on a two-prong fork.  I could see
that they regarded it as a ridiculous proceeding. They must have thought
Americans a strange folk, checking appetite and worrying digestion with
such doubtful aids.  Finally I decided to follow the chief’s example and
set to with my fingers.  They laughed at that, and Puarei looked up from
his third plate of rice and chicken to nod approval.  It was a strange
meal, reminding me of stories I had read as a boy, of Louis XV dining in
public at Versailles, with a roomful of visitors from foreign courts
looking on; whispering behind fans and lace cuffs; exchanging awestruck
glances at the splendor of the service, the richness of the food, and
the sight of majesty fulfilling a need common to all humankind.  There
was no whispering among the crowd at the Chinaman’s shop, no awestruck
glances other than Moy Ling’s, at the majesty of Puarei’s appetite.  I
felt sorry for him as he trotted back and forth from his outdoor
kitchen, bringing in more food, thinking of his depleted stock, smiling
with an expression of wan and worried amiability. Louis XV would have
given something, I’ll venture, for that old Paumotuan chief’s zest for
food, for the kingly weight of bone and muscle which demanded such a
store of nourishment.  He pushed back his chair at length, with a sign
of satisfaction, and a half-caste girl of seventeen or eighteen removed
the empty dishes.

Paumotuan hospitality is an easy, gracious thing, imposing obligations
on neither host nor guest.  Dinner over, I told Puarei that I wanted to
take a walk, and he believed me.  I was free at once, and I knew that he
would not be worrying meanwhile about my entertainment.  I would not be
searched for presently, and pounced upon with the dreaded: "See here!
I’m afraid you are not having a good time," of the uneasy host.  I was
introduced to no one, dragged nowhere to see anything, free from the
necessity of being amused.  I might do as I liked—rare and glorious
privilege—and I went outside, grateful for it, and for the cloak of
darkness which enabled me to move about unobserved.  It lifted here and
there in the glow of supper fires, or a streak of yellow lamplight from
an open doorway.  I saw family groups gathered around their meals of
fish and coconuts, heard the loud intake of breath as they sucked the
_miti_ sauce from their fingers.  Dogs were splashing about in the
shallows of the lagoon, seeking their own supper of fish.  They are a
strange breed, the dogs of the atolls, like no other that I have ever
seen, a mixture of all breeds one would think, a weird blending of good
blood and bad.  The peculiar environment and the strange diet have
altered them so that they hardly seem dogs at all, but, rather,
semiamphibious animals, more at home in the sea than on land.  They are
gentle-mannered with their masters and with strangers, but fierce
fighters among themselves.  I sat down behind a clump of bushes,
concealed from the light of one of the smoldering supper fires, and
watched a group of Rutiaroan dogs in their search for food.  They had
developed a sort of team work in the business, leaped toward the shore
all together with a porpoise-like curving of their bodies, and were as
quick as a flock of terns to see and to seize their prey.

Returning from my walk, I found the village street deserted and all of
the people assembled back of Moy Ling’s shop.  He was mixing bread at a
table while one of the sons of his strange family piled fresh fuel on
the fire under a long brick oven.  It was a great event, the bread
making, after the long months of dearth, and of interest to everyone.
Mats were spread within the circle of the firelight.  Puarei was there,
with his wife—a mountain of a woman—seated at his side.  She was dressed
in a red-calico wrapper, and her long black hair fell in a pool of
shadow on the mat behind her.  She was a fit wife for a chief, in size,
in energy, in the fire and spirit living in the huge bulk of flesh.  Her
laughter came in a clear stream which it was a delight to hear.  There
was no undertone of foreboding or bitter remembrance, and the flow of
it, as light-hearted as a child’s, heightened the merrymaking mood of
the others.  There was a babble of talk, bursts of song, impromptu
dancing to the accompaniment of an accordion and the clapping of hands.
As I looked on I was minded of an account I had read of the Paumotuans
in which they were described as "a dour people, silent, brooding, and
religious."  Religious some of them assuredly are, despite a good deal
of evidence to the contrary, and they are often silent in the dreamy way
of remote island people whose moods are drawn from the sea, whose minds
lie fallow to the peace and the beauty of it.  But "dour and brooding"
is very far from the truth.

I took a place among them as quietly as possible, for I knew by repeated
experience how curious they are about strangers, and first meetings were
usually embarrassing.  Without long training as a freak with a circus,
it would try any man’s courage to sit for an hour among a group of
Paumotuans while he was being discussed item by item.  There is nothing
consciously brutal or callous in the manner of it, but, rather an
unreflecting frankness like that of children in the presence of
something strange to their experience. I knew little of the language,
although I caught a word here and there which indicated the trend of the
comment.  It was not general, fortunately, but confined to those on
either side of me.  Two old grandmothers started a speculation as to
whether or not I had any children, and from this a discussion rose as to
which of the girls of Rutiaro would be best suited as a wife for me.  I
was growing desperate when Chance, the godfather of all wanderers,
intervened again in my favor.

Moy Ling’s fire was burning brightly and it occurred to several of the
youngsters to resume their marble playing.  I saw Puarei’s face light
with pleasure, and he was on his feet at once with his stake in the
ring. Others followed, and soon all those who had marbles were in the
sport.  I understood clearly then how helpless Tino had been.  I could
easily picture him rushing from group to group, furious at the thought
of his interests being neglected through such childish folly.  Those
marbles were more desirable than his flour and canned goods, which he
stood ready to exchange for copra.  The explanation of this astounding
fact may have been that no one thought he would go off as he did, and
to-morrow would do just as well for getting down to business.  Since he
had gone, there was an end of that.  It was futile to worry about the
lost food.  Certainly it was forgotten during the great tournament which
took place that evening.  Moy Ling worked at his bread making unnoticed.
His fire died down to a heap of coals, but another was built and the
play went on.  Puarei was a splendid shot, in marble playing as in other
respects, the best man of the village; but there was a slip of a girl
who was even better.  During the evening she accumulated nearly half of
the entire marble supply, and at length these two met for a test of
skill.  It was a long-drawn-out game.  I had never seen anything to
equal the interest of both players and spectators; not even at Brown’s
lumber yard when the stakes were a boy’s most precious possessions,
cornelian stone taws.  No one thought of sleep except a few of the old
men and women, who dozed off at intervals with their heads between their
knees.

The lateness of the hour—the bizarre setting for a game so linked with
memories of boyhood, combined to give me an impression of unreality.  I
had the feeling that the island and all the people on it might vanish at
any moment, and the roar of the surf resolve itself into the rumble of
street traffic in some gray city. And, though it were the very city
where marbles are made, where in the length or breadth of it could there
be found anyone who knew the use of them, with either the time or the
inclination to play?  I might search it, street by street, to the
soot-stained suburbs; I might go on to the green country, perhaps; visit
all the old-time marble-playing rendezvous from one coast to the other,
with no better success.  And, though I passed through a thousand
villages of the size of Rutiaro, could an evening’s amusement be
provided in any one of them, for men, women, and children, at an outlay
of four dollars, American?  The possibility would not be worth
considering.  People at home live too fast in these days, and they want
too much.  I could imagine Tino, in a sober mood, giving a grudging
assent to this.  "But, man!" he would have added, "I wish they had more
of their marble-making enthusiasm at Rutiaro.  I would put in here three
times a year and fill the _Winship_ with copra to within an inch of the
main boom every trip."

Moy Ling had enough of it for the whole island, it seemed to me.  His
ovens were opened as the tournament came to an end, and for half an hour
he was kept busy passing out crisp brown loaves and jotting down the
list of creditors in his account book.  It must have been nearly
midnight.  The crowd began to disperse. Puarei joined me, smiling
ruefully, holding out empty hands.  He had lost all of his marbles to a
mite of a girl whom he could have put in his vest pocket had he owned
one.  His wife teased him about it on the way home, laughed heartily at
his explanations and excuses. They discussed the events of the day long
after the other members of the household had retired to their mats on
the veranda.  At last I heard their quiet breathing, and a strip of
light from the last quarter moon revealed them asleep, two massive heads
on the same pillow.  I lay awake for a much longer time, thinking of one
thing and another—of my friend Crichton at Tanao, the loneliest atoll in
the world I should say; of the _Winship_ far out to sea, homeward bound
with one hundred and forty tons of copra in her hold; of Tino with his
fits of temper, and his passion for trade which blinded him to so much
of the beauty and the joy of life.  But, after all, I thought, it is men
like Tino who keep wheels turning and boats traveling the seas.  If he
were to die, his loss would be felt; there would be an eddy in the
current of life around him.  But men like Crichton or myself—we should
go down in our time, and the broad stream would flow over our heads
without a ripple to show where we had been, without a bubble rising to
the surface to carry with it for a moment the memory of our lives.  It
was not a comforting thought, and I tried to evade it; but I realized
that my New England conscience was playing a part in these reflections
and was not to be soothed in any such childish manner.  "How much copra
have you ever produced or carried to market?" it appeared to say.  I
admitted that the amount was negligible.  "How do you mean to justify
your presence here?" was the next question, and before I could think of
a satisfactory answer, "What good will come of this experience, either
to yourself or to anyone else?"  That was a puzzler until I happened to
think of Findlay’s _South Pacific Directory_.  I remembered that his
information about Rutiaro was very scant, the general remarks confined,
as I have already said, to a single sentence, "A lonely atoll, numbering
a population of between seventy-five and one hundred inhabitants."  As a
sop to my conscience, it occurred to me that I might write to the
publishers of that learned work, suggesting that, in the light of recent
investigations, they add to that description, "Fond of playing marbles."


[Illustration: Chapter VI tailpiece]



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                         *A Debtor of Moy Ling*


Puarei’s house stood halfway down the village street at Rutiaro, facing
a broad indentation from the lagoon.  The Catholic church adjoined it on
one side, the Protestant church on the other.  Neither of them was an
imposing structure, but they towered above the small frame dwelling of
the chief with an air of protection, of jealous watchfulness.  On sunny
days they shaded his roof in turn; and, when it rained, poured over it
streams of water, through lead pipes projecting from their own ampler
roofs—a purely utilitarian function, since the drainage from the three
buildings furnished the fresh-water supply of the settlement.  If the
showers were light the overflow from the largess of the rival churches,
plashing on the sheets of corrugated iron, filled the house with a
monotonous murmur, like the drowsy argument of two soft-voiced
missionaries; but during a heavy downpour the senses were stunned by the
incessant thunder, as though one were inclosed in an immense drum,
beaten with nonsectarian vigor by all the Salvation Armies in the world.

It was during such a deluge, one day in early spring, that I lay on the
guest bed in Puarei’s one-room house, watching Poura, his wife, who had
washed my linen with her own hands and was then ironing it.  It was not,
strictly speaking, linen.  The articles were three—a sleeveless gauze
singlet, a cotton handkerchief, and a faded khaki shirt.  A pair of
khaki trousers, a pair of canvas tennis shoes, and a pandanus hat
completed my wardrobe.  Since I needed the whole of it when going abroad
about the island, it was necessary to go to bed on washing day, and to
wait there until the laundering was finished, and such repairs made as
constant wear had caused and further wear demanded.  How to replenish it
and to meet other simple urgent needs gave me cause for some concern,
and I was going over the problem as I lay on Puarei’s guest bed.  It was
toward the end of my second week at Rutiaro, and already I was beginning
to look decidedly shabby.  My shoes were rotted out with sea water, and
both shirt and trousers, which were far from new at the time of my
arrival, gave evidence of early dissolution.  Poura had washed, sewed on
buttons, drawn seams together, but the garments were chronically ailing,
as hopeless of effective repair as an old man far gone in senile decay.
Poura was becoming discouraged about them, and I knew that she must be
wondering why I didn’t buy some fresh ones.  I had a very good reason
for not doing so—I had no money.  I had been left at Rutiaro without so
much as a twenty-five-centime piece, and the Banque de l’Indo-Chine was
six hundred miles away.

It would not occur to either Puarei or his wife that I was in need of
funds.  Theirs was one of the more primitive atolls of the Low
Archipelago, where all white men are regarded as mysteriously affluent.
If, instead of being marooned at Rutiaro through Tino’s fit of temper, I
had been discovered a mile outside the reef, making toward the land clad
only in a pair of swimming trunks, upon reaching it my rescuers would
have expected me, as a matter of course, to take a bulky parcel of
thousand-franc notes from beneath that garment.  I had, in fact, made a
secret inventory of my wealth after the sudden departure of the _Caleb
Winship_, hoping there might be a forgotten bank note in one of my
trousers pockets.  What I found was a cotton handkerchief, a picture
post card of the Woolworth Building, and a small musical instrument
called an _ocharina_, or, more commonly, a sweet-potato whistle.  The
handkerchief I needed; the post card seemed of no practical use as a
means of barter; and, while I might have given up the _ocharina_, it had
but a slight monetary value, and Moy Ling, the Chinese storekeeper of
the village, was not interested in it.  I didn’t offer it to him
outright.  Instead, I played on it, in front of his shop, "The March of
the Black Watch," which I could render with some skill.  Thereafter
every youngster on the island coveted the instrument, but Moy Ling made
no offers and the prospect of a wardrobe was as far away as ever.

His supply of European clothing was limited, but ample to supply my
wants.  He found for me three undershirts, size forty-four, two gingham
outer shirts of less ample proportions, a pair of dungaree overalls, and
a pair of rope-sole shoes.  I asked him to put these articles aside and
went off to reflect upon ways and means of opening a credit account with
the canny Chinaman.  There was one possible method open to me; I might
adopt the _pareu_ as a costume.  I could buy three of them for the price
of one undershirt, and I believed that Moy Ling would trust me to that
extent.  Nearly all of the natives wore _pareus_.  They had put aside
their trousers and shirts and gingham dresses now that I was no longer a
stranger to them, and were much more comfortable in their simple,
knee-length garments, those of the men reaching from the waist, those of
the women twisted tightly under the arms.  Simple and convenient though
it was, I felt that it would be absurd for me to assume that style of
dress, since I was not accustomed to it.  Furthermore, I remembered the
ridiculous appearance of Americans and Europeans I had seen at
Tahiti—queer people from all sorts of queer places, who come and go
through the capital of French Oceania.  They rushed into _pareus_ the
moment of their arrival at Papeete, and before a week had passed were
more primitive in a sophisticated way than the Tahitians themselves.  I
had no desire to join the ranks of the amateur cannibals, even though
there was some excuse for it at Rutiaro; and I knew that the Paumotuans
would have more respect for me if I dressed after the manner of my own
race.

But how obtain clothing without money—without divulging to anyone that I
had no money?  The question dinned through my brain with annoying
persistence, like the thunder of falling water on Puarei’s iron roof.
Would it, after all, be best to confide in the chief?  I could tell him
of my bank account at Papeete, and he knew, of course, that the _Caleb
Winship_ had left me without a word of warning, taking my sea chest with
her.  I was tempted to make a confession of my predicament, but pride or
a kind of childish vanity prevented me.

"No, by Jove!" I said.  "I’ll be hanged if I do! Puarei, his wife—all
the rest of them—expect me to live up to their traditional conceptions
of white men. I am supposed to be mysteriously affluent, and I owe it to
them to preserve that myth in all its romantic glamour."

I had no feeling of guilt in making this decision; rather, a sense of
virtue, like that of an indulgent father upon assuring his children that
there is a Santa Claus. I decided to be not only mysteriously, but
incredibly, affluent.  Therefore, when the rain had passed I put on my
mended garments and went to Moy Ling’s shop.

I found him splitting coconuts in front of his copra shed, and beckoned
to him in a careless way.  He came forward, smiling pleasantly as usual,
but there was a shrewd glitter in his eyes which said, quite as plainly
as words, "Honorable sir, I bow before you, but I expect an adequate
monetary return for the service."  I was not intimidated, however, and
when he brought forth the articles I had selected earlier I waved them
aside—all of them excepting the rope-sole shoes, the only male footgear
of any kind on the island.  I explained that I had not before seen the
bolt of white drill—the most expensive cloth in his shop—and that I
wanted enough of it to make four suits.  I saw at once that I had risen
in his estimation about 75 per cent, and, thus encouraged, I went on
buying lavishly—white-cotton cloth for underwear and shirts; some
pencils and his entire supply of notebooks for my voluminous
observations on the life and character of the Paumotuans; a Night-King
flash lamp; a dozen silk handkerchiefs of Chinese manufacture; a dozen
pairs of earrings and four lockets and chains; ten kilos of flour and
two of coffee; three bottles of perfume in fancy boxes; four large bolts
of ribbon—enough to reach from one end of the village to the other; side
and back combs for women, superbly ornamented with bits of colored
glass; a bolt of mosquito netting; a monkey wrench; two Beacon lanterns;
a pandanus mat; and one bow tie already made up, the kind sold at home
in "gents’ furnishings" shops.

At the beginning I had no thought of going in so recklessly.  But as I
went from article to article the conviction grew upon me that the deeper
I plunged the greater the impression I should make upon Moy Ling, and it
was essential that I should convince him that my mythical wealth was
real.  He became more and more deferential as my heap of purchases
increased in size.  I made no inquiry as to the price of anything,
believing that to be in keeping with the mysteriously affluent
tradition.  At my back I heard a hum of excited conversation.  The shop
was filled with people. I felt the crush behind me, but took no notice
of it and went on with my passionless orgy of spending: two bolts of
women’s dress goods; four pocketknives; a can of green paint and another
of white—but details are tiresome.  It is enough to say that I bought
lavishly, and selected odds and ends of things because Moy’s shop
contained nothing else.  He had a large supply of food, but in other
respects his stock was low, and when I had finished, some of his shelves
were almost bare.  On one there remained only a box of chewing gum.  An
inscription printed on the side of it read: "Chew on, MacDuff!  You
can’t chew out the original mint-leaf flavor" of somebody’s pepsin
gum—words to that effect.  That product of American epicureanism is to
be found, strangely enough, at nearly every Chinaman’s store in the Low
Archipelago.  I bought twenty packages of it, since there were no other
confections to be had, and distributed them among the children.  The
youthful MacDuffs chewed on for some thirty seconds and then swallowed,
believing, in their unenlightened way, that gum is a sort of food.  I
had read of monkeys dying in zoos because of the same practice; but, in
so far as I know, there were no ill effects from it at Rutiaro, either
then or later.

I succeeded very well in impressing Puarei.  He was astonished at the
number of my purchases; and Poura said, "Au-e!" shooed out the
mint-breathed porters who carried them to the house, and sat down in the
doorway, her enormous body completely blocking the entrance.  On the
veranda the conversation crackled and sparkled with conjecture.  I could
hear above the others the voice of Paki, wife of the constable,
enumerating the things I had bought.  It sounded odd in Paumotuan—a
high-pitched recitative of strange words, most of them adapted from the
English since all of the articles were unknown to the natives before the
coming of the traders—_faraoa_ (flour), _ripine_ (ribbon), _peni_
(pencil or pen), _taofe_ (coffee), etc.

I myself was wondering what use I could make of some of my wealth.  The
flour I would give to Puarei, and his ten-ton cutter was badly in need
of paint. Poura would be glad to have the dress goods for herself and
her girls, for the Rutiaroans put aside their _pareus_ on Sunday and
dressed in European costume.  I could also give her the mosquito netting
as a drapery for the guest bed.  I had, in fact, bought it with that end
in mind, for on windless nights, particularly after a rain, the
mosquitoes were a fearful nuisance.  Puarei’s household was used to
them, but I tossed and tumbled, and at last would have to paddle out on
the lagoon and stay there till morning.  The coffee, likewise, was for
my own use, Puarei believing that the drinking of either tea or coffee
was forbidden by his variety of the Christian religion.  Tobacco, too,
was a product of evil, and the use of it made broad the way to hell.  It
is impossible to believe that any missionary would wander so far to
preach such theology.  What had happened, very likely, was that one of
the more austere churchmen who visit Rutiaro at rare intervals had
condemned those white man’s comforts as injurious to health.  He must
have been severe in his denunciation, for Puarei had got the idea that
abstinence from the enjoyment of them was exacted in a sort of amendment
to the Ten Commandments.  I did my best to corrupt him, for breakfast at
his house was to me a cheerless meal.  His faith was not to be shaken,
however, although he admitted that coffee drinking might not damn me,
since I had been taught to believe that it would not.

I was thinking with pleasure of his tolerance and of the comforting
beverage I should have the following morning when I remembered that mine
was green Tahiti coffee which must be taken to Moy Ling for roasting.
His shop was deserted.  I could see it at the end of the sunlit street,
steaming with moisture after the rain.  The open doorway was a square of
black shadow.  It lightened with a misty glimmer as I watched, and
suddenly Moy flashed into view.  He ran quickly down the steps, halted
irresolutely, and stood for a moment, shading his eyes with his hand,
looking in the direction of Puarei’s house.  Then he turned, mounted the
steps again, and vanished slowly in the gloom.  I was uneasy, knowing
what he was thinking; but an island less than three miles long, with an
average width of four hundred yards, offers a poor refuge for a
faint-hearted debtor.  And so, having stowed my other purchases under
the guest bed, I took the bag of coffee and returned to Moy’s store,
hoping that I might quiet his fears by increasing my obligation to him.

When one is without them, clothing, coffee, tobacco, and other such
necessities assume a place of exaggerated importance, which is the
reason why the memories of the earlier part of my stay at Rutiaro are
tinged with the thought of them.  But I had not come to the Low Islands
to spend all of my time and energy in the mere fight for a comfortable
existence.  I could have done that quite as well at home, with greater
results in the development of a more or less Crusoe-like
resourcefulness. At Rutiaro the life was strange and new to me, and I
found the days too short for observing it and the nights for reflecting
upon it.  My first interest, of course, was Puarei’s household—the
chief, his wife, two sons, and three daughters all housed in that
one-room frame building.  The room was commodious, however, about
twenty-five feet by fifteen, and on the lagoon side there was a broad
veranda where Poura and her daughters did much of their work and passed
their hours of leisure.  Behind the house was a large cistern, built of
blocks of cemented coral, and a small outkitchen made of the odds and
ends of packing cases and roofed with thatch.

I wondered at Puarei’s preference for a board box covered with
corrugated iron, to the seemly houses of the other Rutiaroans.  He
thought it a palace, and, being a chief, the richest man of the atoll,
it was in keeping with the later Paumotuan tradition that he should have
a white man’s kind of dwelling.  Unsightly though it was without, the
economy of furnishing gave the interior an air of pleasant spaciousness,
like that of the island itself with its scarcity of plant life and of
trees other than the coconut.  There was no European furniture with the
exception of a sewing machine and the guest bed, an old-fashioned,
slatted affair which looked strange in that environment.  On it was a
mattress of _kspok_ and two immense pillows filled with the same
material.  The linen was immaculate, and the outer coverlet decorated
with hibiscus flowers worked in silk.  I had no hesitation in accepting
the bed, for it would not have held Puarei and his wife. The slats would
have given away at once under their weight, and Poura assured me that
the children preferred sleeping on their mats on the veranda.  The rest
of the furnishings were like those of the other houses—two or three
chests for clothing; pandanus mats for the floor; paddles, fishing
spears, and water glasses stacked in a corner or lying across the
rafters.  An open cabinet of native manufacture held the toilet articles
of the women—a hand mirror, a few combs, and a bottle of unscented
coconut oil, the one cosmetic of the Low Islands, which was used by all
members of the family. There were also several articles of jewelry such
as the traders sell, some fishing hooks of pearl shell, and, on a lower
shelf, a Tahitian Bible.  The walls were hung with branches of curiously
formed coral, hat wreaths and necklaces of shell wrought in beautiful
and intricate designs.  There were no pictures other than the open
windows looking out on the lagoon in one direction, and in the other,
across the level, shaded floor of the island toward the sea.

We spent but little time indoors.  All of the cooking was done in the
open, and we had our food there, sitting cross-legged around a cloth of
green fronds.  The trees around us furnished the dishes.  I had not used
my tin spoon and the two-pronged fork since the evening of my arrival,
and learned to suck the _miti_ sauce from my fingers with as loud a zest
as any of them.  Usually we had two meals a day at Rutiaro, but there
was no regularity about the time of serving them.  We ate when we were
hungry and food was to be had, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon,
and as late as ten in the evening.  That is one reason why I remember so
well the feasts prepared by Poura and her daughters, and served by them,
for they never sat down to their own food until we had finished.  Feasts
of a simple kind, but, by Jove! how good everything tasted after a day
of fishing and swimming in the lagoon or out at sea.  I didn’t tire of
coconuts as quickly as I had feared I should; and the fish were prepared
in a variety of ways—boiled, roasted over hot stones, grilled on the
coals, or we ate them raw with a savor of _miti_ sauce.  Puarei’s dog,
one of the best fishers of the island, was the only member of the family
discriminating in his requirements. He often came up while we were at
dinner, with a live fish in his mouth, which he would lay at Poura’s
feet, looking at her appealingly until she cooked it for him.
Sometimes, to tease him, she threw it away, but he would bring it back,
and, no matter how hungry he might be, refuse to eat it raw.

The sea furnished occasional variety of diet in the way of turtles and
devilfish; and I contributed rice, tinned meat, and other preserved food
which I bought of Moy Ling whenever I imagined his confidence in me was
beginning to falter.  That was a risky procedure, only to be undertaken
on the days when I was so filled with animal spirits that I more than
half believed in my wealth, in my power to draw money or anything else I
wanted out of the clear, dry air of Rutiaro.

One thing I had wanted from the first, above all others—a house.  The
idea of imposing indefinitely upon Puarei’s hospitality was distasteful,
and no boats were expected within five or six months.  I had not, in
years, lived for so long a period at any one place.  Here was an
opportunity I had often dreamed of for having a home of my own.  I
should have to ask the chief for it, and at first thought the request
seemed a large one. Then, too, how could I say to him with any show of
logic: "Puarei, I am not willing to bother you longer by occupying the
guest bed in your house.  Therefore, will you please give me a house to
myself?"  He might think I had peculiar ideas of delicacy.  But further
reflection convinced me that, while I could not ask him for a pair of
trousers—not even for so trifling a thing as a shirt button, since he
would have to purchase it at Moy Ling’s store—I might legitimately
suggest the gift of a house.  It would cost only the labor of making it,
and that was not great.  At Rutiaro houses were built in less time than
was needed to sail across the lagoon and back.  The inhabitants might
reasonably have adopted the early Chinese method of roasting pig by
putting the carcasses in their dwellings and setting fire to the thatch.
It would have been a sensible procedure, employed at times when the old
thatch needed renewal.  Nothing permanent would have been destroyed
except the framework of poles, and that could be replaced as easily as
firewood could be cut for a Maori oven.

The upshot of the matter was that I was given not only a house, but an
island of my own to set it on—I who had lived much of my life up four or
five flights of stairs, in furnished rooms looking out on chimney pots
and brick courts filled with odors and family washings. The site was a
small _motu_ lying at the entrance to the lagoon, four miles from the
village island.  It had a name which meant, "The place where the souls
were eaten."  Once, a man, his wife, and two children went there to fish
on the reef near the pass.  All of them were taken ill of some
mysterious disease, and died on the same day.  As their souls left their
bodies they were seized and eaten by some vindictive human spirits in
the form of sea birds.  The legend was evidently a very ancient one, and
the events which it described had happened so long ago that fear of the
place had largely vanished.  Nevertheless, the chief tried to persuade
me to choose another site; and Poura, when she learned that I wanted to
live on the Soul-Eaters’ Island, was deeply concerned.  Neither of them
could understand why I should want to live away from the village island.
I wince, even now, when I think of the appalling tactlessness of that
request; but the fact is that the Paumotuans themselves, by their
example, had got me into the vicious habit of truth-telling in such
matters.  There is no word in their language for tact.  They believe
that a man has adequate, although sometimes hidden, reasons for doing
what he wants to do, and they understand that it explains seemingly
uncourtly behavior.

I had accepted, almost unconsciously, their own point of view, so that
it didn’t occur to me to invent any polite falsehoods.  But my knowledge
of Paumotuan was more limited than Paurei’s knowledge of French, and how
was I to explain my desire for so lonely a place as the Soul-Eaters’
Island?  The Paumotuans, from their scarcity of numbers, the isolation
of their fragments of land, the dangers of the sea around them, are
drawn together naturally, inevitably. How make clear to them the
unnatural gregariousness of life in great cities?  Suddenly I thought of
my picture post card of the Woolworth Building.  I told them that in
America many people, thousands of them, were cooped together in houses
of that sort.  I had been compelled to spend several years in one and
had got such a horror of the life that I had come all the way to the
Cloud of Islands, searching for a place where I might be occasionally
alone.

While the post card was passing from hand to hand, Huirai, the
constable, loyal friend in every emergency, gave color to my explanation
by describing—for the thousand and first time, I suppose—his adventures
in San Francisco.  Dusk deepened, the last ghostly light faded from the
clouds along the northern horizon, and still he talked on; and the
idlers on the chief’s veranda listened with as keen interest as though
they had never heard the story before.  Poura, who was at work on my new
wardrobe, lit a lamp and placed it on the floor beside her, shading it
from her eyes with a piece of matting.  The light ran smoothly over her
brown hands, and the mountain of shadow behind her blotted out the forms
of the trees.  Now and then she put down her work and gazed intently in
Huirai’s direction.  His voice rose and fell, thrilled with excitement,
died away to a deep whisper of awe as he told of the wonders he had
seen, the street cars, the lofty buildings, the elevators which rose to
an immense height as swiftly as a coconut would fall, the trains, the
motors, the ships, the pictures which were alive.  He imitated sounds
with amazing fidelity, and his gestures, vaguely seen in the gloom, were
vividly pictorial of the marvels he had met with in his travels.

The story ended abruptly and Huirai sat down, conscious of the effect he
had produced.  No one spoke for a long while.  Then the chief, who was
sitting beside me, broke the silence with that strange Polynesian
exclamation of wonder too great for words, "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!" uttered
with distinct, rapid precision, like the staccato of machine-gun fire.
He laid his hand on my knee affectionately, with an air of
possessorship; and at the contact a feeling of pride rose in me, as
though I were the planner of the cities, the magician whose brain had
given birth to the marvels Huirai had described.  But conceit of that
kind may be measurably reduced by a moment of reflection, and I
remembered that the extent of my contribution to my native land was that
I had left it.  Small cause for vanity there. However, I had no mind for
another tussle with my conscience.  I had been the indirect cause of
eloquence in Huirai and of enjoyment in his auditors.  That was enough
for one evening on the credit side.  On the other side, to Puarei, to
Poura, to his children, and to all the kindly, hospitable people of
Rutiaro I was under an obligation which I could never hope to cancel.
But they didn’t expect me to cancel it.  I was not even under the
necessity of showing appreciation.  Just as there is no word in their
language for "tact," there is none approaching our word "gratitude" in
meaning. To a man in my position, owner of Soul-Eaters’ Island, and of a
house to be built there the following day, that was something to be
grateful for.

The Chinese language is richer, I believe, in terms implying obligation.
I was reminded, less pleasantly, of another account on the debit side,
by the flare of a match which lit up for a moment the pensive,
cadaverous face of Moy Ling.


[Illustration: Chapter VII tailpiece]



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                       *An Adventure in Solitude*


I awoke sometime during the latter part of the night with the bemused
presentiment that a longed-for event was approaching or in the process
of happening. Hands had passed lightly over my face—either that or I had
dreamed it—and I heard a faint shout coming from the borderland between
sleeping and waking.  Puarei’s guest bed, with its billowy mattress of
kapok, seemed strangely hard, which led to the discovery that I was not
lying on a bed, but on a mat in the corner of an empty room. The floor
was covered with crushed krora shell which made a faint radiance in the
gloom, and a roof of green thatch was alight with the reflections of
moving water.  I was trying to puzzle out whose house this could be when
I heard the shout again, clearly this time, in a pause of silence
between deafening claps of thunder.  From nearer at hand came the sound
of subdued laughter.  Something elfish, light-hearted in the quality of
it, stirred a dim memory and there flashed into mind the lines of an old
poem:

    Come, dear children, come out and play.
    The moon is shining as bright as day,
    Up the ladder and over the wall—

Raising my head quickly, I saw through the open doorway their perfect
illustration.  The wall was the smooth wall of the sea, with a waning
moon rising just clear of it, sending a path of light to the strip of
white beach in front of the house.  The palm trees bordering the shore
swarmed with children who were throwing down nuts.  One ancient tree,
its stem a fantastic curve, held its foliage far out over the water at a
point where the floor of the narrow outer lagoon shelved steeply toward
the reef some fifty yards distant. Both boys and girls were shinning up
the trunk, one after the other, diving from the plumed top, dropping
feet foremost, jumping with their hands clasped around their knees into
the foaming water—the wreckage of huge combers which broke on the reef
pouring across it into the inner shallows.  A second group had gathered
in the moonlit area just before the doorway.  Several youngsters were
peering intently in my direction.  Others were playing a sort of
handclapping game to the accompaniment of an odd little singsong.  A
small girl, with a baby riding astride her hip, walked past, and I saw
another, of ten or twelve, standing at the edge of the track of
shimmering light, holding a coconut to her lips with both hands. Her
head was bent far back and her hair hung free from her shoulders as she
drained the cool liquid to the last drop.

Imagine coming out of the depths of sleep to the consciousness of such a
scene!  I was hardly more sure of the reality of it than I had been of
the shout, the touch of hands.  It was like a picture out of a book of
fairy tales, but one quick with life, the figures coming and going
against a background of empty sea where the long swell broke in lines of
white fire on a ledge of coral.  I remembered where I was, of course: in
my own house, which stood on the ocean side of a small motu known in the
Paumotuan legend as "The island where the souls were eaten."  The house
had been built for me only the day before by the order of Puarei, chief
of the atoll of Rutiaro; and the motu was one of a dozen uninhabited
islands which lay on the thirty-mile circumference to the lagoons.

It was ordered—by chance, which took me there, perhaps—that I was never
to see the place in the clear light of usual experience, but rather
through a glamour like that of remembered dreams—a long succession of
dreams in which, night after night, events shape themselves according to
the heart’s desire, or even more fantastically, with an airy disregard
for any semblance to reality.  So it was, waking from sleep on the first
night which I spent under my own roof.  I was almost ready to believe
that my presence there was not the result of chance.  Waywardness of
fancy is one of the most godlike of the attributes of that divinity, but
the display of it is as likely as not to be unfriendly.  Here there
seemed to be reasoned kindly action.  "Providence," I said to
myself—"Providence without a doubt; a little repentant, perhaps, because
of questionable gifts in the past."  A whimsical Providence, too, which
delighted in shocking my sense of probability. What could those children
be doing on Soul-Eaters’ Island in the middle of the night?  I, myself,
had left the village island, four miles distant, only a few hours
earlier, and at that time everyone was asleep.  There was not a sound of
human activity in the settlement; not a glimmer of light to be seen
anywhere excepting in Moy Ling’s, the Chinaman’s, shop, and on the
surface of the lagoon where lay the misty reflections of the stars.
"Perhaps," I thought, "these are not earthly children.  Maybe they are
the ghosts of those whose souls were eaten here so many years ago."  I
was more than half serious in thinking of that possibility. Stranger
things had happened on islands not so far removed from the world of men.

I dressed very quietly and went to the door, taking care to keep well in
the shadow so that I might look on for a moment without being seen.  My
doubts vanished at once.  Not only the children had come out to play;
fathers and mothers, as well.  Tamitanga was there and Rikitia and Nahea
and Pohu and Tahere and Hunga; Nui-Tane and Nui-Vahine, Tamataha,
Manono, Havaiki; and I saw old Rangituki, who was at least seventy and a
grandmother several times over, clapping her hands with others of her
generation and swaying from side to side in time to the music of
Kaupia’s accordion.  All the older people were grouped around Puarei,
who was seated in an old deck chair, a sort of throne which was carried
about for him wherever he went.  Poura, his wife, lay on a mat beside
him, her chin propped on her hands. Both greeted me cordially, but
offered no explanation for the reason of the midnight visit.  I was glad
that they didn’t.  I liked the casualness of it, which was quite in
keeping with habits of life at Rutiaro.  But I couldn’t help smiling,
remembering my reflections earlier in the evening.  I believed then that
I was crossing the threshold of what was to be an adventure in solitude,
and was in a mood of absurdly youthful elation at the prospect.  "I was
to delve deeply, for the first time, into my own resources against
loneliness. I had known the solitude of cities, but there one has the
comfortable sense of nearness to others; the refuge of books, pictures,
music—all the distractions which prevent any very searching examination
of one’s capacity for a life of retirement.  At Soul-Eaters’ Island I
would have no books, no pictures, excepting a colored post card of the
Woolworth Building which had won me this opportunity; and for music I
was limited to what I could make for myself with my _ocharina_, my
sweet-potato whistle which had a range of one octave.  Thus scantly
provided with diversions, I was to learn how far my own thoughts would
serve to make a solitary life not only endurable, but pleasant."

So I had dreamed as I paddled down the lagoon, with my island taking
form against the starlit sky to the eastward.  It was one of those
places which set one to dreaming, which seem fashioned by nature for the
enjoyment of a definite kind of experience.  Seeing it, whether by day
or by night, the most gregarious of men, I am sure, would have become
suddenly enamored of his own companionship and the most prosaic would
have discovered a second, meditative self which pleads for indulgence
with gentle obstinacy.  But, alas! my own unsocial nature gained but a
barren victory, being robbed, at the outset, of the fruits of it, by the
seventy-five convivial inhabitants of Rutiaro.  Here within six hours
was half the village at my door, and Puarei told me that the rest of it,
or as many as were provided with canoes, was following.  Evidently he
had suggested the invasion.  My new house needed warming—or the
Paumotuan equivalent to that festival—so they had come to warm it.

Preparations were being made on an elaborate scale. The children were
gathering green nuts for drinking and fronds for the cloth at the feast.
Women and girls were grating the meat of ripe nuts, pressing out the
milk for the _miti haari_; cleaning fish; preparing shells for dishes.
Some of the men and the older boys were building native ovens—eight of
them, each one large enough for roasting a pig.  All of this work was
being carried out under Puarei’s direction and to the accompaniment of
Kaupia’s accordion.  I wish that I might in some way make real to others
the unreal loveliness of the scene.  It must be remembered that it took
place on one of the loneliest of a lonely cloud of islands which lay in
the midmost solitude of an empty ocean.  The moonlight must be
remembered, too, and how it lay in splinters of silver on the motionless
fronds of the palms as though it were of the very texture of their
polished surfaces.  And you must hear Kaupia’s accordion, and the shouts
of the children as they dove into the pool of silvered foam.  The older
ones, out of respect to me, I think, wore wisps of parou cloth about
their loins, but the babies were as naked as on the day they were born.
Tereki was standing among these five-and-six-year-olders, who were too
small for the climb to the diving place, taking them up, sometimes two
at once, and tossing them into the pool among the others, where they
were as much at home as so many minnows.  Watching them, I thought with
regret of my own lost opportunities as a child. I felt a deep pity for
all the children of civilization who must wear clothing and who never
know the joy of playing at midnight, and by moonlight too.  Mothers’
clubs and child-welfare organizations would do well to consider the
advisability of repealing the old "to bed at seven" law, the bugbear of
all children.  Its only merits, if it may be so called, is that it
fosters in children, a certain melancholy intellectual enjoyment in such
poems as, "Up the ladder and over the wall," where the forbidden
pleasures are held out to them as though they were natural ones—which
most of them are, of course—and quite possible of attainment.

I was sorry that Tino, supercargo of the _Caleb S. Winship_, could not
be present to see how blithely the work went forward.  He had called the
people of Rutiaro a lazy lot, and he was right—they were lazy, according
to the standards of temperate climates. But when they worked toward an
end which pleased them their industry was astonishing.  Tino’s belief
was that man was made to labor, whether joyfully or not, in order that
he might increase his wealth, whether he needed it or not, and that of
the world at large. I remember meeting somewhat the same point of view
in reading the lives and memoirs of some of the old missionaries to the
islands.  It seems to have irked them terribly, finding a people who had
never heard that doleful hymn, "Work, for the Night Is Coming."  They,
too, believed that the needs of the Polynesians should be increased, but
for ethical reasons, in order that they should be compelled to cultivate
regular habits of industry in order to satisfy them.  Although I didn’t
agree with it, Tino’s seemed to me the sounder conviction.  The
missionaries might have argued as reasonably for a general distribution
of Job-like boils, in order that the virtues of patience and fortitude
might have wider dissemination.  But neither trade nor religion had
altered to any noticeable extent the habits of life at Rutiaro.  The
people worked, as they had always done, under the press of necessity.
Their simple needs being satisfied, their inertia was a thing to marvel
at.  I have often seen them sitting for hours at a time, moving only
with the shadows which sheltered them. There was something awe-inspiring
in their immobility, in their attitude of profound reverie.  I felt at
times that I was living in a land under a perpetual enchantment of
silence and sleep.  These periods of calm—or, as Tino would say,
laziness—were usually brought to an end by Puarei.  It was a fascinating
thing to watch him throwing off the enchantment, so gradual the process
was and so strange the contrast when he was thoroughly awakened and had
roused the village from its long sleep.  Then would follow a period of
activity—fishing, copra making, canoe building, whatever there was to do
would be done, not speedily, perhaps, but smoothly, and fasts would be
broken—in the case of many of the villagers for the first time in two or
three days.  My house was built during such a period.  I was still
living with Puarei on the village island, wondering when, if ever, I was
to have the promised dwelling.  Then one afternoon, while I was absent
on a shell-gathering expedition, the village set out _en masse_ for
Soul-Eaters’ Island, cut the timbers, branded the fronds, erected,
swept, and garnished my house, and were at the settlement again before I
myself had returned.  That task finished, here they were back for the
warming festival, and the energy spent in preparing for it would have
more than loaded Tino’s schooner with copra.  I couldn’t flatter myself
that all of this was done solely to give me pleasure. They found
pleasure in it too, and, furthermore, I knew that an unusually long
interval of fasting called for compensation in the way of feasting.

Puarei was in a gay mood.  Religion sat rather heavily upon him
sometimes—by virtue of his Papeete schooling, he was the chief elder of
his church; but once he sloughed off his air of Latter Day Saintliness
he made a splendid master of revels; and he threw it aside the moment
the drums began to beat, and led a dozen of the younger men in a dance
which I had not seen before.  It was very much like modern Swedish drill
set to music, except that the movements were as intricate and graceful
as they were exhausting.  Three kinds of drums were used—one, an empty
gasoline tin, upon which the drummer kept up a steady roll while the
dance was in progress.  The rhythm for the movements was indicated by
three others, two of them beating hollowed cylinders of wood, while a
third was provided with an old French army drum of the Napoleonic
period.  The syncopation was extraordinary. Measures were divided in an
amazing variety of ways, and often when the opportunity seemed lost the
fragments joined perfectly just as the next one was at hand.  The music
was a kaleidoscope in sound, made up of unique and startling variations
in tempo, as the dance moved from one figure to the next.

At the close of it Kaupia took up her accordion again, and dancing by
some of the women followed.  At length, Rangituki, grandmother though
she was, could resist the music no longer.  The others gave way to her,
and in a moment she was dancing alone, proudly, with a sort of wistful
abandon, as though she were remembering her youth, throwing a last
defiance in the teeth of Time.  Kaupia sang as she played to an air
which had but four changes in it.  The verse was five words long and
repeated endlessly.

    Tu fra to potta mi,
    Tu fra to potta mi.

Both the words and the air had a familiar sound. They called to mind a
shadowy picture of three tall, thin women in spangled skirts, all of
them beating tambourines in unison and dancing in front of a painted
screen.  I couldn’t account for the strange vision at first.  It
glimmered faintly, far in the depths of subconscious memory, like a
colored newspaper supplement, lying in murky water at the end of a pier.
Suddenly it rose into focus, drawn to the surface by the buoyant
splendor of a name—the Cherry Sisters.  I remembered then a vaudeville
troupe which long ago made sorry capital of its lack of comeliness; and
I saw them again on the island where the souls were eaten as clearly as
ever I had as a youngster, knocking their tambourines on bony elbows,
shaking their curls, and singing

    "Shoe, fly, don’t bother me,"

in shrill, cracked voices.  Kaupia’s version was merely a phonetic
translation of the words.  They meant nothing in the Paumotuan dialect;
and—old woman though she was—Rangituki’s dance, which accompanied the
music, played in faster and faster time, was in striking contrast to the
angular movements of the Cherry Sisters, tripping it in the background,
across the dim footlights of the eighteen nineties.

Other canoes were arriving during this time, and at last a large canoe,
which had put off from the ocean side of the village island, was seen
making in toward the pass.  It was loaded with pigs and chickens, the
most important part of the feast, and had been eagerly awaited for more
than an hour.  Shouts of anticipation went up from the shore as the boat
drew in with its wished-for freight; but these were a little premature.
There was a stretch of ugly, broken water to be passed, where the swift
ebb from the lagoon met the swell of the open sea.  The canoe was badly
jostled in crossing it, and some of the chickens, having worked loose
from their bonds, escaped.  Like the dogs of the atolls, the chickens
are of a wild breed, and they took the air with sturdy wings.  The chase
from the shore began at once, but it was a hopeless one.  Soul-Eaters’
Island is five hundred yards long by three hundred broad, and there is
another, on the opposite side of the pass, which is more than a mile in
extent.  We made frantic efforts to prevent them from reaching it.  We
threw sticks and stones, tried to entice them with broken coconuts, the
meat temptingly accessible.  It was to no purpose.  They had been
enticed before; their crops were full, and several hours of captivity
had made them wary.  Furthermore, like all Polynesian chickens, they
seemed to have a racial memory of what they had been in other times, in
less congenial environments—of the lean days when they had been caught
and eaten at will, chased by dogs, run down by horses.  They were not so
far from all that as to have lost conscious pride in their regained
prerogative of flight.  The last we saw of them they were using it to
splendid advantage over the rapid stream which separated the two
islands. One old hen, alone, remained perched in the top of a coconut
tree on Soul-Eaters’ Island.  She was in no hurry to leave.  She knew
that she could follow the others whenever she liked, and she knew that
we knew it.  She seemed drunk with a sense of freedom and power, and
cackled proudly, as though more than half convinced that the nuts
clustered in the nest of foliage beneath her were eggs which she had
laid.

Knowing the wholesomeness of the Paumotuan appetite, I could understand
why the loss of the chickens was regarded seriously.  A dozen of them
remained, and we had eight pigs weighing from one hundred to one hundred
and fifty pounds each, to say nothing of some fifty pounds of fish.  All
of this was good, in so far as it went, but there was a gloomy shaking
of heads as we returned from our fruitless chase. Not that the
Paumotuans are particularly fond of chicken; on the contrary, they don’t
care greatly for fowl of any sort, but it serves to fill odd corners of
their capacious stomachs.  It was this they were thinking of, and the
possible lack, at the end of the feast, of the feeling of almost painful
satiety which is to them an essential after-dinner sensation.  In this
emergency I contributed four one-pound tins of beef and salmon, my
entire stock of substantial provisions for the adventure in solitude;
but I could see that Puarei, as well as the others, regarded this as a
mere relish—a wholly acceptable but light course of _hors-d’oeuvre_.
Fortunately there was at hand an inexhaustible reservoir of food—the
sea—and we prepared to go there for further supplies.  I never lost an
opportunity to witness those fish-spearing expeditions.  Once I had
tried my hand as a participant and found myself as dangerously out of my
element as a Paumotuan would be at the joy stick of an airplane.  I saw
a great many fish, but I could not have speared one of them if it had
been moored to the bottom, and after a few absurd attempts was myself
fished into the boat, half drowned.  I lay there for a few minutes,
gasping for breath, my ear drums throbbing painfully from the attempt to
reach unaccustomed depths.

The experiment convinced me that fish spearing in the open sea is not an
easily acquired art, but one handed down in its perfection through at
least twenty generations of Low Island ancestors.  It is falling into
disuse in some of the atolls where wealth is accumulating and tinned
food plentiful; but the inhabitants of Rutiaro still follow it with
old-time zest.  They handle their spears affectionately, as anglers
handle and sort their lies.  These are true sportsman’s weapons,
provided with a single unbarbed dart, bound with sinnet to a tapering
shaft from eight to ten feet long.  Their water goggles, like their
spears, they make for themselves.  They are somewhat like an aviator’s
goggles, disks of clear glass fitted in brass rims, with an inner
cushion of rubber which cups closely around the eyes, preventing the
entrance of water.  When adjusted they give the wearer an owlish
appearance, like the horn-rimmed spectacles which used to be affected by
American undergraduates.  Thus equipped, with their _pareus_ girded into
loin cloths, a half dozen of the younger men jumped into the rapid
current which flows past Soul-Eaters’ Island and swam out to sea.

Tohetika, Tehina, Pinga (the boat steerer), and I followed in a canoe.
Dawn was at hand and, looking back, I saw the island, my house, and the
crowd on the beach in the suffused, unreal light of sun and fading moon.
In front of us the swimmers were already approaching the tumbled waters
at the entrance to the pass.  Upon reaching it they disappeared
together, and I next saw them far on the other side, swimming in a
direction parallel to the reef, and some fifty yards beyond the breaking
point of the surf.  When we joined them the sun was above the horizon
and they were already at the sport.  They lay face down on the surface
of the water, turning their heads now and then for a breath of air.
They swam with an easy breast stroke and a barely perceptible movement
of the legs, holding their spears with their toes, near the end of the
long shaft.  Riding the long, smooth swell, it was hard to keep them in
view, and they were diving repeatedly, coming to the surface again at
unexpected places.

Through the clear water I could see every crevice and cranny in the
shelving slope of coral; the mouths of gloomy caverns which undermined
the reef, and swarms of fish, as strangely colored as the coral itself,
passing through them, flashing across sunlit spaces, or hovering in the
shadows of overhanging ledges.  It was a strange world to look down upon
and stranger still to see men moving about in it as though it were their
natural home.  Sometimes they grasped their spears as a poniard would be
held for a downward blow; sometimes with the thumb forward, thrusting
with an underhand movement.  They were marvelously quick and accurate at
striking.  I had a nicer appreciation of their skill after my one
attempt, which had proven to me how difficult it is to judge precisely
the distance, the location of the prey, and the second, for the thrust.
A novice was helpless.  He suffered under the heavy pressure of the
water, and the long holding of his breath cost him agonized effort.
Even though he were comfortable physically he might chase, with as good
result, the dancing reflections of a mirror, turned this way and that in
the sunlight.

As they searched the depths to the seaward side the bodies of the
fishers grew shadowy, vanished altogether, reappeared as they passed
over a lighter background of blue or green which marked an invisible
shoal.  At last they would come clearly into view, the spear held erect,
rising like embodied spirits through an element of matchless purity
which seemed neither air nor water. The whistling noises which they made
as they regained the surface gave the last touch of unreality to the
scene.  I have never understood the reason for this practice which is
universal among the divers and fishers of the Low Islands, unless it is
that their lungs, being famished for air, they breathe it out grudgingly
through half-closed teeth.  Heard against the thunder of the surf, the
sounds, hoarse or shrill, according to the wont of the diver, seemed
anything but human.

We returned in an hour’s time with the canoe half filled with
fish—square-nosed _tinga-tingas_, silvery _tamures_, brown spotted
_kitos, gnareas_; we had more than made good the loss of the chickens.
The preparations for the feast had been completed.  The table was set
or, better, the cloth of green fronds was laid on the ground near the
beach.  At each place there was a tin of my corned beef or salmon; the
half of a coconut shell filled with raw fish, cut into small pieces in a
sauce of _miti haari_—salted coconut milk—and a green coconut for
drinking.  Along the center of the table were great piles of fish, baked
and raw; roast pork and chicken; mounds of bread stacked up like cannon
balls.  The bread was not of Moy Ling’s baking, but made in native
fashion—lumps of boiled dough of the size and weight of large grape
fruit.  One would think that the most optimistic stomach would ache at
the prospect of receiving it, but the Paumotuan stomach is of
ostrichlike hardihood and, as I have said, after long fasting it demands
quantity rather than quality in food.

It was then about half past six, a seasonable hour for the feast, for
the air was still cool and fresh.  The food was steaming on the table,
but we were not yet ready to sit down to it.  Fête days, like Sundays,
required costumes appropriate to the occasion, and everyone retired into
the bush to change clothing.  I thought then that I was to be the only
disreputable banqueter of the lot, and regretted that I had been so
eager to see my new house.  Not expecting visitors, I had come away from
the village with only my supply of food. Fortunately, Puarei had been
thoughtful for me.  I found not only my white clothing, but my other
possessions—bolts of ribbon, perfume, the cheap jewelry, etc., which I
had bought, on credit, of Moy Ling. And the house itself had been
furnished and decorated during the hour when I was out with the fish
spearers. There was a table and a chair, made of bits of old packing
cases, in one corner; and on the sleeping mat a crazy quilt and a pillow
with my name worked in red silk within a border of flowers.  Hanging
from the ceiling was a faded papier-mache bell, the kind one sees in
grocers’ windows at home at Christmas time.  This was originally the
gift of some trader; and the pictures, too, which decorated the walls.
They had been cut from the advertising pages of some American magazine.
One of them represented a man, dressed in a much-advertised brand of
underwear, who was smiling with cool solicitude at two others who were
perspiring heavily and wishing—if the legend printed beneath was
true—that their underwear bore the same stamp as that of their fortunate
comrade.  There was another, in color, of a woman smiling across a table
at her husband, who smiled back while they ate a particular brand of
beans.  The four walls of my house were hung with pictures of this sort,
strung on cords of coconut fiber—Huirai’s work, I was sure, done out of
the kindness of his heart.  He was merely an unconscious agent of the
gods, administering this further reproof for my temerity in seeking
consciously an adventure in solitude.  As I changed my clothing I
pondered the problem as to how I could get rid of the gallery without
giving Huirai offense, and from this I fell to thinking of the people
smiling down at me.  Is our race made up, in large part, of such
out-and-out materialists, whose chief joy in life lies in discovering
some hitherto untried brand of soup or talcum powder? Do they live,
these people?  They looked real enough in the picture.  I seemed to know
many of them, and I remembered their innumerable prototypes I had met in
the world I had left only the year before.  "Well, if they are real," I
thought, "what has become of the old doomsday men and women who used to
stand at street corners with bundles of tracts in their hands, saying to
passers-by, ’My friend, is your soul saved?’?"  No answer came from the
smiling materialists on all sides of me.  They smiled still, as though
in mockery of my attempt to elude them in whatsoever unfrequented corner
of the world; as though life were merely the endless enjoyment of
creature comforts, the endless, effortless use of labor-saving devices.
One man, in his late fifties, who really ought to have been thinking
about his soul, had in his eyes only the light of sensual gratification.
He was in pajamas and half shaven, announcing to me, to the world at
large: "At last! A razor!"

The sight of him offering me his useful little instrument put an end to
my meditation.  I rubbed ruefully a three days’ growth of beard,
thinking of the torture in store for me when I should next go to Pinga
for a shave.  He was the village barber, as well as its most skillful
boat steerer.  His other customers were used to his razor and his
methods, and their faces were inured to pain; for had not their
ancestors, through countless generations, had their beards plucked out
hair by hair?  I, on the other hand, was the creature of my own land of
creature comforts.  The anticipation of a shave was agony, and the
realization—Pinga sitting on my chest, holding my head firm with one
immense hand while he scraped and rasped with his dull razor—that was to
die weekly and to live to die again.  I got what amusement I could from
the thought of the different set of values at Rutiaro.  I had only to
ask for a house, and Puarei had given me one, with an island of my own
to set it on.  He thought no more of the request than if I had asked him
for a drinking coconut. But not all the wealth of the Low Island pearl
fisheries, had it been mine to offer, could have procured for me a
safety razor with a dozen good blades.

I heard Puarei shouting, "_Haere mai ta maa!_" and went out to join the
others, my unshaved beard in woeful contrast to my immaculate white
clothing. But my guests, or hosts, had the native courtesy of many
primitive people, and I was not made conscious of my unreaped chin.
Furthermore, everyone was hungry, and so, after Puarei had said grace
for the Church of Latter Day Saints, and Huirai a second one for the
Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints, and Nui-Tano a third as the
Catholic representative, we fell to without further loss of time.

The enjoyment of food is assuredly one of the great blessings of life,
although it is not a cause for perpetual smiling, as the writers of
advertisements would have one believe.  According to the Low Island way
of thinking, it is not a subject to be talked about at any length.  I
liked their custom of eating in silence, with everyone giving undivided
attention to the business in hand.  It gave one the privilege of doing
likewise, a relief to a man weary of the unnatural dining habits of more
advanced people.  It may be a trifle gross to think of your food while
you are eating it, but it is natural and, if the doctors are to be
believed, an excellent aid to digestion.  Now and then Puarei would say,
"_E mea maitai, tera_" ("A thing good, that"), tapping a haunch of roast
pork with his forefinger. And I would reply, "_É, é mea maitai roa,
tera_" ("Yes, a thing very good, that").  Then we would fall to eating
again.  On my right, Hunga went from fish to pork and from pork to
tinned beef, whipping the _miti haari_ to his lips with his fingers
without the loss of a drop.  Only once he paused for a moment and let
his eyes wander the length of the table.  Shaking his head with a sigh
of satisfaction, he said, "_Katinga ahuru katinga_" ("Food and yet more
food").  There is no phrase sweeter to Paumotuan ears than that one.

Huirai, the constable, was the only one who made any social demands upon
me.  As already related, he had once made a journey from Papeete to San
Francisco as a stoker on one of the mail boats and was immensely proud
of the few English phrases which he had picked up during the voyage.  He
didn’t know the meaning of them, but that made no difference.  He could
put on side before the others, make them believe that he was carrying on
an intelligent conversation.  "What’s the matter?" "Oh yes!" "Never
mind" were among his favorite expressions—unusually mild ones, it seemed
to me, for one who had been associated with a gang of cockney stokers;
and he brought them out apropos of nothing.  He was an exasperating old
hypocrite, but a genial one, and I couldn’t help replying to some of his
feints at conversation.  Once, out of curiosity, wondering what his
reply would be, I said, "Huirai, you’re the worst old four-flusher in
the seventy-two islands, aren’t you?"  He smiled and nodded, and came
back with the most telling of all his phrases, "You go to hell, me."  On
that occasion it was delivered with what seemed something more than mere
parrotlike aptness of reply.

Clipped to his undershirt he wore a fountain pen, which was as much a
part of his costume on those dress occasions as his dungaree trousers
and pandanus hat.  It had a broken point, was always dry, and, although
Huirai read fairly well, he could hardly write his own name.  No matter.
He would no more have forgotten his pen than a French soldier his _Croix
de guerre_.  But he was not alone in his love for these implements of
the _popaa’s_ (white man’s) culture. There was Havaiki, for example, who
owned a small folding camera which he had bought from some trader. The
two men were very jealous of each other.  Huirai had traveled and had a
fountain pen, but Havaiki’s camera was a much more complicated
instrument. There had never been any films for it, but he was quite
satisfied without them.  The camera stood on a shelf at his house, an
ever-present proof of his better title to distinction.  His chief
regret, I believe, was that he couldn’t wear it, as Huarai did his pen.
But he often carried it with him on Sundays and went through the
pretense of taking pictures.  Some of the more sanguine still believed
that he would one day surprise the village by producing a large number
of magnificent photographs.

A further account of the feast at Soul-Eaters’ Island would be nothing
more than a detailed statement of the amount of food consumed, and it
would not be credited as truthful.  It is enough to say that it was a
Latter Day miracle, comparable to the feeding of the five thousand, with
this reversal of the circumstances—that food for approximately that
number was eaten by twenty-two men.  At last Puarei sat back with a
groan of content and said, "_Aué!  Paia ’huru paia to tatou_."  It is
impossible to translate this literally, but the exact meaning is, "We
are all of us full up to the neck."  It was true.  We were.  That is,
all of the men.  The women and children were waiting, and as soon as we
gave them place they set to on the remnants. Fortunately, there was, as
Hunga had said, food and yet more food, so that no one went hungry.  At
the close of the feast I saw old Rangituki take a fragment of coconut
frond and weave it into a neat basket.  Then she gathered into it all of
the fish bones and hung the basket from one of the rafters of my house.
Rangituki was pure heathen, one of the unredeemed of the Rutiaroans, but
I noticed that some of the Catholics and Latter Day Saints, even the
Reformed Saints of the later Latter Day persuasion, all in good standing
in their churches, assisted her in making the collection. I had observed
the same practice at other islands. At the beginning of a meal thanks
were given to the God of Christians for the bounty of the sea; but
fisherman’s luck was a matter of the first importance, and, while the
old gods might be overthrown, there seemed to be a fairly general belief
that it would not do to trifle with immemorial custom.

It was midmorning before the last of the broken meats had been removed
and the beach made tidy. The breeze died away, and the shadows of the
palms moved only with the imperceptible advance of the sun. It was a
time for rest, for quiet meditation, and all of the older people were
gathered in the shade, gazing out over a sea as tranquil as their minds,
as lonely as their lives had always been and would always be.  I knew
that they would remain thus throughout the day, talking a little, after
the refreshment of light slumbers, but for the most part sitting without
speech or movement, their consciousness crossed by vague thoughts which
would stir it scarcely more than the cat’s-paw ruffled the surface of
the water.  No sudden, half-anguished realization of the swift passage
of time would disturb the peace of their reverie; no sense of old loss
to be retrieved would goad them into swift and feverish action.

A land crab moved across a strip of sunlight and sidled into his hole,
pulling his grotesque little shadow after him; and the children,
restless little spirits, splashed and shouted in the shallows of the
lagoon, maneuvering fleets of empty beef and salmon tins reminders of
the strange beginning of my adventure in solitude.


[Illustration: Chapter VIII tailpiece]



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                         *The Starry Threshold*


The only visible reminder which I have now of my residence on "the
island where the souls were eaten" is a pocket notebook of penciled
comment, with a dozen pages, blank and fair, at the back—in themselves a
reminder of the fragmentary nature of that adventure in solitude, of the
blank pages at the close of every chapter of experience, awaiting the
final comment which is never set down.  It is a small notebook of
Chinese manufacture, with a pretty fantasy of flowers woven through the
word "Memoranda," and butterflies with wings of gold-and-blue hovering
over it, meant to suggest, perhaps, that one’s memories, however happy
or however seemingly enduring, are as ephemeral as they and must soon
fade and die. But I am not willing to accept such a suggestion, to
believe that I can ever forget even the most trivial of the events which
took place at Rutiaro or at Soul-Eaters’ Island.  By some peculiar
virtue of their own they stand out with the vividness of portions of
childhood experience which remains fixed in the memory when other more
important happenings have been long forgotten.

The casual reader of the notebook would never guess this from the
comment written there.  Did he know the length and the nature of my
residence at the atoll, he would be surprised, merely, that with so much
leisure for observation there should be such poverty of recorded fact.
I, myself, am surprised and a little appalled when I think how the weeks
slipped by, leaving me nothing to show for them.  I became a spendthrift
of time.  I was under the delusion that my own just share of it had been
immeasurably increased, that in some unaccountable way I had fallen heir
to a legacy of hours and days which could never be exhausted.  The
delusion was of gradual growth, like the habit of reverie which fastens
itself at last upon the most restless of wanderers among the atolls.  In
the beginning I was full of business.  I remember with what earnestness
of purpose I wrote on the first page of the notebook, "Rutiaro:
Observations on Life and Character in the Low Archipelago."  I had
ambitious plans.  I meant to go back and forth between my hermitage and
the village island, notebook in hand saying, "_Eaha tera?_" ("What is
that?"), "_Nafea ia parau Paumotu?_" ("How do you say this in
Paumotuan?").  And when I had learned the language and had completed my
studies of flora and fauna I was to be the Boswell of the atoll,
curious, tireless, not to be rebuked by the wind rustling the fronds of
the palms nor by the voice of the sea when the wind was low, saying,
"Sh-h-h, sh-h-h," on thirty miles of coral reef. But I was rebuked—or so
it seemed to me—and now, I fear, the learned monograph is never to be
written. A faltering purpose is plainly indicated in the notebook.  It
becomes apparent in the first observation on "The Life and Character of
the Paumotuans," which reads:

    Before the starry threshold of Jove’s court
    My mansion is; where those immortal shapes
    Of bright aerial spirits live ensphered
    In regions mild, of calm and serene air.

The president of the Polynesian society would say, and rightly, no
doubt, that this is not germane to the subject.  But at the time I wrote
it it was so accurately descriptive of the place where my house stood
that it might have been embodied with scarcely the exchange of a word in
an exact real-estate announcement of the location of my property.  I set
it down one evening in early summer, the evening of my first day’s
residence at Soul-Eaters’ Island.  The completion of my house had been
celebrated with a feast, and toward midnight I was left alone, watching
the departure of the last of the villagers, who were returning in their
canoes along the ocean side of the atoll.  The sea was as calm as I have
ever seen it, and as they went homeward, dipping their paddles into the
shining tracks of the stars, my guests were singing an old chant.  It
was one of innumerable verses, telling of an evil earth spirit in the
form of a sea bird which was supposed to make its home on the _motu_,
and at the end of each verse the voices of the women rose in the refrain
which I could hear long after the canoes had passed from sight:

    "_Aué!  Aué!_
    _Te nehenehe é!_"
    ("Alas!  Alas!
    How beautiful it is!")

a lament that a spirit so vindictive, so pitiless, should be so fair to
outward seeming.

Standing at the starry threshold, listening to the ghostly refrain, I
translated its application—its meaning, too—from the bird to the island
where, perhaps, I would one day see it in my rambles.  I regretted that
it was so inaccessible, so remote and hidden from the world, as though
that were not more than half the reason for its untarnished beauty.  It
is a maudlin feeling, that of sadness at the thought of loveliness
hidden from appraising eyes; and I am inclined to think that it springs,
not so much from an unselfish desire to share it, as from a vulgar
longing to say to one’s gregarious fellows: "See what I have found! Can
you show me anything to equal it in beauty, you dwellers in cities?"
Whatever its source in this case, I was glad that it passed quickly.  No
tears stained my pillow, even though I knew that Rutiaro could never be
the goal of Sunday excursionists.  But I was not quite easy in mind as I
composed myself for sleep.  I had made a poor beginning as a diarist.
The first entry was fanciful and, furthermore, not my own. What original
contribution to truth or beauty could I make as a result of the day’s
events?  Finally I rose, lit my lamp, and wrote, underneath the Comus
quotation:

"The Paumotuans are very fond of perfume.  This is probably due to the
fact that their islands, being scantly provided with flowers and
sweet-smelling herbs, they take this means of satisfying their craving
for fragrant odors."

    Alas!  Alas!
    How erroneous it was!

that observation.  But I thought when I made it that it was based upon a
careful enough consideration of the facts.  During the afternoon I had
distributed some gifts among my guests, chiefly among the children.  I
had some bolts of ribbon and dress goods, some earrings and bracelets,
thinly washed in gold, which I had bought, on credit, of Moy Ling, the
Chinaman, and I had been saving them for just such an occasion as the
feast at Soul-Eaters’ Island.  I also had a case of perfume which Moy
had been very reluctant to part with—perfume and toilet waters in fancy
bottles, with quaint legends printed on the labels—"June Rose," which
the makers admitted had "as much body as higher-priced perfumes"; "Wild
Violet: Like a faint breath from the forest floor"; "Khiva Bouquet: The
Soul of the Exquisite Orient"; etc.  This gift was greatly coveted.
Pinga immediately took charge of the three bottles I had given his
daughters and packed them carefully in a _pareu_, together with a bottle
of bay rum presented to him by virtue of his office as village barber.
Rangituki went among her grandchildren scolding and rating, until she
had made a similar collection, and in a short time all of the perfume
was in the hands of a few of the older people. This seemed to me rather
high-handed procedure, but it was not my place to interfere with
parental and grandparental authority.  And it was as well, perhaps, that
the children should be restrained. Otherwise they would have saturated
their clothing and their hair, and the atoll would have smelled to
heaven or very near it.

I thought no more of the episode until the following Sunday when I went
to church at the village.  A combined service of Latter Day Saints and
the Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints was being held, an amicable
arrangement which would have scandalized the white missionaries of those
rival denominations. But at Rutiaro Saints and Reformed Saints live
together peaceably enough and, being few in numbers, they often join
forces for greater effect in the _himines_. The meeting was held in the
Reformed church, a sightly structure built entirely of _niau_—the
braided fronds of coconut palms—and the earthern floor was covered with
mats of the same material.  At one end of the room there was a raised
platform and a deal table which served as a pulpit.  The walls
lengthwise were built to prop open outward, giving free circulation to
the air and charming views of the shaded floor of the island and the
blue waters of the lagoon.

The church was full, the men sitting on one side and the women on the
other, according to island custom, and the children playing about on the
floor between the benches.  Many of the older people, too, sat on the
floor with their backs to the posts which supported the roof.  Interest
lagged during the intervals between the singing, and although Huarai was
preaching in his usual forceful, denunciatory manner, I found my own
thoughts wandering on secular paths.  Of a sudden it occurred to me that
June Rose should be discernible among the women of the congregation if
it had as much body as had been claimed for it.  But I could not detect
its presence nor did the faintest breath reach me from the forest floor.
I was conscious only of the penetrating odor of drying copra which came
through the open windows and the not unpleasant smell of coconut oil.

What had become of the perfume, I wondered.  On Sunday, if at all, it
should have been in evidence, for the women were in white dresses and
before coming to church had made their most elaborate toilet of the
week.  But Huirai was warming to his theme and demanded attention, at
least from me, not having heard him preach before.  He had removed his
coat and was perspiring and exhorting in a way which would have pleased
the most devout and gloomy of missionaries. He had a peculiar oratorical
manner.  His face foretold clearly the birth of an idea.  One could read
there the first vague impulse in the brain which gave rise to it; see it
gathering lucidity, glimmering, like heat lightning on a summer evening,
in his cloudy mind, until it was given utterance in a voice of thunder,
which rumbled away to silence as the light of creation died out of his
eyes.  Then he would stand motionless, gazing on vacancy, profoundly
unself-conscious, as though he were merely the passionless mouthpiece of
some higher power.  The abruptness of his outbursts and his ferocious
aspect when delivering them were disconcerting; and it was even worse
when, at intervals, his eyes met mine.  Even though he were in the midst
of a sentence he would pause and his face would beam with a radiant
smile, in striking contrast to the forbidding scowl of the moment
before.  Remembering his mission, he would then proceed in his former
manner. Without understanding his discourse, one would have said that he
was condemning all of his auditors, who had evidently been guilty of the
most frightful sins. But this was not the case.  His sentences were
short and in the periods of silence between them I had time to make a
translation.

"_Ua taparahi Kaina ia Abela_ (Cain killed Abel).... Why did he kill
him? ... Because he was a bad man, a very bad man—(_taata ino roa_)....
He was jealous of Abel, whom God loved because he willingly brought him
gifts from his plantation....  Abel did not keep everything for
himself....  He said to God, ’_Teie te faraoa na Oe_’ (’Here is bread
for you’)....  He gave other things, too, many things, and he was glad
to give them."

Huirai talked at great length on this theme, the members of the
congregation sometimes listening and sometimes conversing among
themselves.  They had no scruples about interrupting the sermon.  While
Huirai was awaiting further inspiration hymns were started by the women
and taken up at once by the others.  Pinga, who sang bass parts, rocked
back and forth to the cadence, one hand cupped over his right ear, the
better to enjoy the effect of the music. Rangituki, who went to the
different churches in turn, because of the _himines_, had one of her
granddaughters in her lap, and while she sang made a careful examination
of the child’s head, in search of a tiny parasite which favored that
nesting place.  Nui-Vahine sat with her breast bare, suckling a
three-months-old baby.  Old men and women and young, even the children,
sang.  Huirai alone was silent, gazing with moody abstraction over the
heads of the congregation as he pondered further the ethical points at
issue in the Cain and Abel story.

I had witnessed many scenes like this during the months spent in
cruising among the atolls on the _Caleb S. Winship_—scenes to interest
one again and again and to furnish food for a great deal of futile
speculation.  How important a thing in the lives of these primitive
people is this religion of ours which has replaced their old beliefs and
superstitions?  It would be absurd to say, "how fundamental," for
religious faith is of slow growth and it was only yesterday, as time is
counted, that the ship _Duff_, carrying the first missionaries who had
ever visited this southern ocean, came to anchor at Tahiti.  One of
Huirai’s remarks called to mind an account I had read of that first
meeting between Christian missionaries and the heathen they had come to
save.  It is to be found in the narrative of the _Duff’s_ three years’
voyage in the south Pacific, published in 1799, by the London Missionary
Society:

_Sunday, March 6, 1797_.

The morning was pleasant, and with a gentle breeze we had, by seven
o’clock, got abreast of the district of Atahooroo, whence we saw several
canoes putting off and paddling toward us with great speed; at the same
time it fell calm, which, being in their favor, we soon counted
seventy-four canoes around us, many of them double ones, containing
about twenty persons each.  Being so numerous, we endeavored to keep
them from crowding on board; but, in spite of all our efforts to prevent
it, there were soon not less than one hundred of them dancing and
capering like frantic persons about our decks, crying, "_Tayo!  Tayo!_"
and a few broken sentences of English were often repeated.  They had no
weapons of any kind among them; however, to keep them in awe, some of
the great guns were ordered to be hoisted out of the hold whilst they,
as free from apprehension as the intention of mischief, cheerfully
assisted to put them on their carriages.  When the first ceremonies were
over, we began to view our new friends with an eye of inquiry; their
wild, disorderly behavior, strong smell of coconut oil, together with
the tricks of the _arreoies_, lessened the favorable opinion we had
formed of them; neither could we see aught of that elegance and beauty
in their women for which they have been so greatly celebrated.  This at
first seemed to depreciate them in the estimation of our brethren; but
the cheerfulness, good nature, and generosity of these kind people soon
removed the momentary prejudices....  They continued to go about the
decks till the transports of their joy gradually subsided, when many of
them left us of their own accord....  Those who remained, in number
about forty, being brought to order, the brethren proposed having divine
service on the quarterdeck. Mr. Cover officiated; he perhaps was the
first that ever mentioned with reverence the Saviour’s name to these
poor heathens.  Such hymns were selected as had the most harmonious
tunes—first, "O’er the Gloomy Hills of Darkness"; then, "Blow Ye the
Trumpet, Blow"; and at the conclusion, "Praise God, from Whom All
Blessings Flow." ... The whole service lasted about an hour and a
quarter.


How clear a picture one has of the scene, described by men whose purity
of faith, whose sincerity of belief, were beyond question.  But one
smiles a little sadly at the thought of their austerity, their total
lack of that other divine attribute—a sense of humor.  "_Tayo! Tayo!_"
("Friend!  Friend!") the Tahitians cried, and the missionaries, to
requite them for their kindly welcome, organized a prayer meeting an
hour and a quarter in length, and sang, "O’er the Gloomy Hills of
Darkness."  It was a prophecy, that song.  The Tahitians and others of
the Polynesian family have gone far on that road since 1797.

Of course one doesn’t blame the missionaries for this; but it seems to
me that the chief benefit resulting from the Christianizing process is
that it has offset some of the evils resulting from the rest of the
civilizing process. This was not the opinion of Tino, supercargo of the
_Caleb S. Winship_, however.  I remember a conversation which I had with
him on the subject, when Rutiaro itself lay within view, but still far
distant.  For the sake of argument I had made some willfully disparaging
remark about traders, and Tino had taken exception to it.

"You’re wrong," he said.  "You know as well as I do—or maybe you
don’t—what these people used to be: cannibals, and not so many years ago
at that.  I don’t suppose you would call it a genteel practice? Well,
what stopped it?  I’ll tell you what stopped it—tinned beef."

That was a new angle of vision to me.  I said nothing, but I thought I
could detect a hint of a smile in his eyes as he waited for the
statement to sink in.

"I have had some fun in my time," he went on, "arguing this out with the
missionaries.  I say tinned beef and they say the four gospels.  Can’t
be proved either way, of course.  But suppose, right now, every trading
schooner in the archipelago was to lay a course for Papeete.  Suppose
not one of them was to go back to the atolls for the next twenty-five
years.  Leave the people to themselves, as you say, and let them have
their missionaries, with the Golden Rule in one hand and the Ten
Commandments in the other.  What chance would they have of dying a
natural death? The missionaries, I mean.  About as much chance as I have
of getting old Maroaki at Taka Raro to pay me the eight hundred francs
he owes me.

"What makes me laugh inside is that the missionaries are so serious
about the influence they have had on the natives.  I could tell them
some things—but what would be the use?  They wouldn’t believe me. Just
before we left Papeete this time I was talking to one of the
Protestants.  He told me that his Church had two thousand converts in
French Oceania, while the Catholics had only around six hundred, I
believe it was.  I said that I knew how he could get that extra six
hundred into his own fold, and probably a good many more if he wanted
to.  All he had to do was to charter my schooner, load her with Tahiti
produce—bananas, mangoes, oranges, breadfruit; he needn’t take a single
gallon of rum unless he wanted to.  Then we would make a tour of the
islands, holding church festivals, with refreshments, at every one; and
at the end of the cruise I would guarantee that there wouldn’t be a
Catholic left in all the Paumotus.  He didn’t take to the plan at all,
and of course it did have one weak point—if the Brothers tried the same
game they would have just the same success, and nobody could tell from
one week to the next which were Protestants and which were Catholics.

"That’s about what happened at Taka Raro the last time I was down there.
The population is supposed to be divided about half and half between the
Latter Day Saints and the Catholics.  There are no missionaries living
on the island.  The head churches in Papeete send their men around when
they can to see how things are going with their flocks.  That is usually
about once a year for each of them.  Boats don’t often put in at Taka
Raro.  I’ve been there only four times in ten years, myself, and the
last time I brought down a young fellow from the Protestant crowd.  He
had been with me the whole cruise, holding services at the islands where
I had put in for copra.  I hadn’t gone to any of them, but at Taka Raro
I felt the need of some religion.  I had spent the whole day chasing
that Maroaki I spoke about.  The old rascal has owed me that eight
hundred francs since nineteen ten.  He is an elder in his church too.
The minute he makes out my schooner standing in toward the pass off he
goes on important business to the far end of the lagoon.  I went after
him that day, with my usual luck.  He wasn’t to be found, and I came
back to the village feeling a bit ruffled up.

"It was just time for the meeting, and I decided that I might as well go
as to loaf around finding that old hypocrite while my copra was being
loaded.  The church was packed when I went in.  There wasn’t a Catholic
in the village that evening.  All of those who had been Catholics were
taking part in the _himine_ and singing the Protestant songs as well as
the Latter Day Saints’.  No one seemed to pay much attention to the
sermon, though.  The young missionary didn’t understand the language
very well, and the preaching was hard for him.  But he seemed to feel
pretty good about the meeting, and when we left, the next day, he went
down to the cabin to write a report of the progress his church had made
at Taka Raro.  He must have had a lot to say, for he was at it all the
morning.  He didn’t know that we passed the Ata just after we got out of
the pass.  That made me feel good, for Louis Germaine, her skipper, has
been a rival of mine for years, and I had every kilo of dry copra there
was on the island.  I got the megaphone and was about to yell, ’Good
luck to you, Louis!’ when I saw that he had a missionary aboard, too—a
priest with a knee-length beard and a black cloak; so I only waved my
hand and Louis shook his fist and shouted something I couldn’t make out.
I was going to the westward, stood close inshore, and passed the village
from the outside an hour later.  The priest hadn’t lost any time getting
his congregation together. Since there was no copra to be bought, I
suppose Louis told him he had to get a move on.  There had been another
religious landslide.  I was sure of that from the singing, which I heard
clear enough, the wind being offshore.  Great singers these Paumotuans,
and it doesn’t make very much difference to them whether the song is
’Happy Day’ or ’Jerusalem, the Golden.’  Of course I didn’t say anything
to my missionary. As the old saying is, ’What you don’t know won’t hurt
you.’"

This conversation with Tino was running through my mind as I strolled
down the village island after the service.  Tino, I decided, was
prejudiced.  His was the typical trader’s point of view.  I had heard
many other incidents which bore him out in his findings, but they came
usually from men interested in exploiting the islands commercially.
Huirai’s exposition of the old biblical story—was that merely the result
of a prolonged tinned-beef crusade?  Remembering the kind of sacrifice
which was discussed, very likely on this very island, in the days of
pure heathendom, such a conclusion seemed fantastical.  No, one must be
fair to the missionaries.  Perhaps they were over-zealous at times,
oversanguine about the results of their efforts—so were all human beings
in whatever line of endeavor; but their accomplishment had been
undeniably great.  Here were people living orderly, quiet lives.  They
didn’t drink, although in the early days of their contact with
civilization—until quite recently, in fact—there had been terrible
orgies of intoxication.  To overcome that was, in itself, a worthwhile
accomplishment on the part of the Church. Only a few weeks before I had
met Monsieur Ferlys, the administrator of the Paumotus, at Taenga.  "The
reign of alcohol is over," he had said to the islanders there—strange
words, coming from the lips of a Frenchman.  There was to be no more rum
nor gin nor wine for any of the Paumotuans.  Henceforth, any trader
found selling it or any native drinking it was to be severely punished.

I continued my walk to the far end of the island and, selecting a shady
spot, sat down to rest.  The pressure of a notebook in my hip pocket
interrupted my examination of the problem, "The missionary versus the
trader as a civilizing influence."  I was reminded that I had made no
recent observations on the life and character of the Paumotuans, and the
recollection was annoying. Was I never to be able to pursue, in
indolence, my unprofitable musings?  Why this persistent feeling that I
must set them down in black and white?  Why sully the fair pages of my
notebook?  Words, words! The world was buried beneath their visible
manifestations, and still the interminable clacking of innumerable
typewriters, the roar of glutted presses. In the mind’s eye I saw
magnificent forests being destroyed to feed this depraved appetite for
words, which were piled mountain high in libraries; which encumbered all
the attics in Christendom.  Words, blowing about the streets and
littering the parks on Sundays; filling the ash carts on Mondays.  "No,"
I thought, "I will no longer be guilty of adding to the sum of words.
I’ll not write my learned monograph."  But that inner voice, which
itself is a creature born of many words—an artificial thing, however
insistent its utterance—spoke out loud and clear: "You idler! You waster
of your inheritance of energy!  You throwback to barbarism—write!"

"But why?" I replied.  "Tell me that!  Why?"

"Sir, because it is your vocation.  And have you no convictions?  Your
grandfather had them, and your great-grandfather, and those missionaries
of the _Duff_ you have been thinking about.  Ah! the decay of
convictions in this age!  The lack of that old sublime belief in
something—anything!  Now then, I have come down to you through a long
line of ancestors, and I don’t mean to die through lack of exercise.
You may not believe in me, but you’ve got to obey me. Write!"

I know that I should have no peace until I did, so I drew forth my
notebook and, in line with my thoughts of a moment before, wrote,
underneath the last observation on perfume: "The sale and consumption of
alcoholic beverages among these islands is now prohibited by law.  It is
strange to find such legislation in territory under French
administration.  Is the prohibition movement to become world-wide, then?
Is the reign of alcohol doomed in all lands?"

Exhausted by the mental effort, but somewhat easier in conscience, I
replaced the notebook in my pocket.  It was pleasant then to let the
mind lie fallow or to occupy it with the reception of mere visual
impressions.  At length, although I didn’t sleep, I was scarcely more
animate then the fluted shell lying close by on the beach or the
_kopapa_ bushes which formed a green inclosure around my resting place.

Something whirled through the air over my head and fell with a light
splash in the water before me.  I sat gazing at it without curiosity,
hardly moved, so slowly does one come out of the depths of dreamless
reverie.  Little waves pushed the object gently shoreward until it lay,
rolling back and forth in a few inches of clear water.  "What!" I
shouted.  I didn’t actually shout—I didn’t open my lips; but the shock
of astonishment seemed vocal—as loud as a blare of trumpets or a clash
of cymbals.  Before me lay a prettily fashioned bottle, half filled with
sea water, and the label on it read, "Khiva Bouquet: The Soul of the
Exquisite Orient."  "Impossible!" I thought. "I am three miles from the
village and no one lives at this end of the island."  Then I heard
voices or, better, one voice which I recognized as that of Rangituki.
She was talking in a low monotone, her most effective manner when
reciting one of her interminable stories of former days.  Cautiously I
pushed aside the bushes and looked through.  Rangituki was sitting about
twenty yards away, in the midst of a company of five.  Pinga was one of
them and Tevai another—both fathers of families and both much concerned,
a few days earlier, lest their children should waste the perfume I had
given them.  Pinga took a pull at a bottle which I identified as
belonging to Wild Violet. He made a wry face as he did it, but he took
another and then another, before he set it down.  The wind was toward
me, and as the corks popped—or, more accurately, as stoppers were
lifted—I was forced to admit that June Rose had body, impalpable,
perhaps, but authentic.

I passed the furtive revelers unnoticed by going along the lagoon beach,
keeping under the screen of kopapa bushes.  Should I tell Puarei, the
chief, of this evasion of the law?  I decided that I would not, for he
was a stern man and would punish the culprits severely. After all, on an
island where there were so few distractions, what was a little perfume
among friends?

All of which proves plainly enough, it seems to me, the folly of keeping
a notebook; at any rate, the folly of jumping hastily to conclusions.

Or perhaps, more important than this, it gives further light on the
vexed question, Does prohibition prohibit?


I find no other observations on Paumotuan life and character, under this
date, unless the word, "_Mamafaaamu_," scribbled on the margin of a
leaf, may be regarded as a discouraged hint at one; a suggestion for a
commentary on a curious Polynesian relationship, when—and only when—I
should have had time to gather all of the available data concerning it.
This relationship has to do with the transfer of a child, or children,
from the original blood parents to another set known as
"feeding-parents."  My interest in the practice dates from the moment
when I made my first notebook reference to it, and it was aroused in a
very casual, leisurely fashion.  For this reason it will be best, I
think, to tell the story of it in a leisurely way.

Returning to the village from the scene of the perfume orgy, I found the
church still occupied, although the service was long over.  The benches
had been stacked in one corner; the mats shaken out and spread again on
the floor, where fifteen or twenty people were reclining at ease or
sitting native fashion—some of them talking, some sleeping, some engaged
in light tasks such as hat weaving and the fashioning of pearl-shell
fish hooks; others in the yet more congenial task of doing nothing at
all.  It was the practice, on Sunday, for the village to gather at the
Reformed church, which they felt at liberty to use for secular as well
as for sacred purposes, for it was a native-built structure, with walls
and roof of thatch, like those of their own houses.  The two other
churches were never so used.  They were frame buildings, in the European
or American style of church architecture, with formal furnishings and
windows of colored glass. To have done any sort of work in either of
them would have been regarded as a serious offense, certain to be
followed by unmistakable evidence of divine displeasure.  As Tuina once
told me, sores, illness, even death might result as a punishment for
such desecration.

I was thinking of this and other primitive reactions to ecclesiastical
furniture, and my hand was faltering toward my notebook pocket when
Huirai’s little daughter, Manava, entered the church, carrying a white
cloth which she spread on the pulpit table. She returned a moment later
with a tin of sardines, some boiled rice on a _kahaia_ leaf, and a bowl
of tea. I was Huirai’s guest for the day, and had been anxiously
awaiting some evidence that food was on the way; but I had not expected
that it would be served in the church.  I had not eaten a church dinner
since boyhood, and, strangely enough, the memory of some of those early
feasts came back to me while Manava was setting the table.  As one scene
is superimposed upon another on a moving-picture screen, I saw an
American village of twenty years ago—a village of board sidewalks and
quiet, shaded streets bright with dandelions, taking ghostly form and
transparency among the palms of Rutiaro.  Two small boys walked briskly
along, ringing hand bells, and shouting, "Dinner at the Pres-by-terian
church ri-i-i-ight awa-a-a-ay."  The G.A.R. band—a fife, two tenor
drums, and one bass—played outside the church where the crowd was
gathering, and horses, attached to buggies and spring wagons, were
pawing the earth around the hitching posts.  Then Mrs. MacGregor
appeared in the doorway, her kindly face beaming the warmest of
welcomes. "Come on in and set down, folks.  Everything’s all ready."
Members of the Ladies’ Relief Corps—mothers of large families, used to
catering for large appetites—hurried back and forth with platters of
roast turkey and chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes of marvelous
smoothness and flakiness—with everything in the way of food which that
hospitable Middle-Western country provides.  I heard the pleasant talk
of homely things, smelled the appetizing odors, saw plates replenished
again and again.  Throughout the length of the tables old-fashioned
gravy boats sailed from cover to cover—but I spared myself further
contemplation of the scene, further shadowy participation in a feast
which cost the affluent but a quarter, and a bell ringer nothing at all.
The vision faded, but before it was quite gone I heard a voice saying:
"Land sakes!  You boys ain’t eating a thing!  Have some more of these
dumplings?  What’s the matter with your appetities?  Ain’t you feelin’
well?"  It seemed a thousand years away, that voice; and no doubt it
was, and is, even farther than that.

Church dinners at Rutiaro were not such sumptuous affairs.  They were
not, in fact, an integral part of the community life.  In so far as I
know, this was the only one ever held there and was the result of
Huirai’s peculiar notions of the hospitality due a white man.  I told
him that I was not accustomed to dining in churches at home, even on
Sunday, and, furthermore, that I liked companionship at table.  But he
was not convinced, and he refused to join me.  He and his family had
already eaten, he said; so I sat on a box at the pulpit table, partaking
of a solitary meal, and got through with it as quickly as possible.

I smiled inwardly at the thought of the inheritance of prestige, granted
me without question, at Rutiaro, merely because I was the sole
representative there of a so-called superior race.  No white wasters had
preceded me at the atoll.  This was fortunate in a way, for it gave me
something to live up to—the ideal Rutiaroan conception of the
_popaa_—white man. Huirai was partly responsible for the fact that it
was ideal.  His tales of San Francisco—which, to the Paumotuan, means
America—had been steadily growing in splendor.  He seemed to have
forgotten whatever he may have seen there of misery or incompetence or
ugliness.  All Americans were divinities of a sort. Their energy was
superhuman; their accomplishment, as exemplified in ships, trains,
buildings, automobiles, moving-picture theaters—beyond all belief unless
one had actually seen those things.  And the meanest of them lived on a
scale of grandeur far surpassing that of the governor of the Paumotus at
Fakavava.  Yes, I had something to live up to at Rutiaro.  The necessity
was flattering, to be sure, but it cost some effort and inconvenience to
meet it.  I didn’t dare look as slack as I often felt, both mentally and
physically.  I could not even sit on the floor, or stretch out at my
ease, when in a native house; and I was compelled, when eating, to
resume the use of my two-pronged fork and the small tin spoon, although
it was much simpler and easier to eat with my fingers as the rest of
them did.

Having finished my meal, I took what comfort prestige permitted by
placing my box by the wall and leaning back against a post.  Takiero, a
woman of barbaric beauty, was sitting near by playing, "Conquer the
North" on my ocharina.  I taught her the air in an unguarded moment and
had been regretting it ever since.  Hunga, her husband, lay at her side,
his strong, fine limbs relaxed in sleep.  I would have given all my
gratuitous prestige as a _popaa_ to have exchanged legs or shoulders or
girth of chest with him. It was at about this time, as I remember it,
that my thoughts turned to the subject of feeding-parents. Nui-Vahine
was present, still—or again—nursing the three months’ old baby.  It
belonged, as I knew, to Takiero, who appeared to be quite capable of
nourishing it herself.  Why had she given it to Nui-Vahine? And why had
Hunga, the father of the child, consented to this seemingly unnatural
gift?  The transfer of parenthood had been made a month earlier, since
which time Takiero and her husband had shown only a slight, proprietary
interest in their offspring.  Takiero sometimes dandled it on her knee,
as any woman might the child of some one else; but no one would have
guessed that she was the mother of it.  Nui-Vahine fed, clothed, and
bathed it, and her husband, Nui-Tane, was as fond of it as she herself.
They kept the child at their house, and between them made as much fuss
over it as though it were their own flesh and blood. What could have
been the origin of this strange practice of parenthood by proxy?  It was
a common one throughout eastern Polynesia.  I had seen a good many
instances of it in the Cook islands, the Marquesas, and the Society
group.  Here was a subject worthy of an important chapter in the Life
and Character monograph, and I decided that I might as well begin my
researches at once.

Takiero reluctantly left off her playing and placed herself in a
receptive mood.  Why, I asked, had she given her child to Nui-Vahine?
Her reply was, because Nui-Vahine had asked for it.  "But, see here,
Takiero," I said, "I should think that you and Hunga would want to keep
your own baby.  It is none of my business, of course.  I ask you only
because I would like to get some information on this feeding-parent
custom. Can’t you feed it yourself?  Is that the reason you gave it
away?"

I blundered atrociously in asking that question. Without meaning to, I
touched her pride as a woman, as a mother.  Takiero looked at me for a
moment without speaking.  Then she tore open her dress and gave me
absolute proof—not that I wanted it—of her ability to nurse her own or
any other child.  Following this, she went over to where Nui-Vahine was
sitting, snatched the baby from her arms, and almost smothered it
against her body.  She fondled it, kissed it, covered it with her
magnificent hair.  I had never before seen such a display of savage and
tender maternal passion.

By that time Nui-Vahine had recovered from her astonishment and came to
the defense of her own. Her month of motherhood gave her claims to the
child, apparently, and she tried to enforce them physically.  Takiero
stood her ground, her black eyes flaming and, holding the baby in one
arm, pushed Nui-Vahine away with the other.  I expected to see hair
flying, but, luckily, both women found their tongues at the same moment.
They were like—they were, in fact—two superb cats, spitting at each
other.  The torrent of words did not flow smoothly.  It came in hot,
short bursts, like salvos of machine-gun fire, and, curiously enough, it
was almost pure Paumotuan, not the hybrid Paumotuan-Tahitian commonly
used in their temperate speech.  It bristled with snarling ng’s, with
flintlike k’s from which fire could be struck in passionate argument.
Other women took sides in the quarrel.  Had I poked an inquisitive
pencil into a wasps’ nest the effect could hardly have been more
disconcerting.  Hunga was awakened by the angry voices and looked on
with sleepy perplexity.  Nui-Tane grinned reassuringly, as much as to
say: "Don’t be upset.  You know what women are."  Finally, Puarei, the
chief, who had been an impassive spectator, bellowed out a command for
silence.  The tumult subsided at once, and the fury of the women with
it. Five minutes later everything was as it had been before. Hunga was
sleeping and Nui-Tane polishing a pearl-shell fish hook; Nui-Vahine had
the baby and Takiero the ocharina.  Neither of them showed the least
resentment, either toward me or toward each other.  In intensity and
briefness the gust of passion which swept through the little church was
precisely like the squalls of wind and rain which darken the seas of the
Low Archipelago in the midst of the hurricane season, which burst almost
from a clear sky and then as suddenly melt into pure sunlight again.

When I left the village to return to Soul-Eaters’ island Takiero was
still playing the old border ballad on my ocharina.  It had once been my
favorite air for that instrument.  I first heard it in northern France
on a blustering winter evening when a brigade of English regiments was
marching, under heavy shell fire, into one of the greatest battles of
the war, to the music of pipes and drums.  Humming the air now, although
I still feel a tightening of the nerves, a quickening of the pulses, it
is not because of the old set of associations.  They have been buried
forever beneath a newer set.  The village at Rutiaro comes into view,
and I see Takiero, clutching a baby against her naked breast, standing
in the midst of a crowd of turbulent women.

Should there be some other Polynesian scholar who wishes to pursue
farther an inquiry into a curious practice of child adoption I would
advise extreme caution at an atoll far on the southeasterly fringe of
the Low Archipelago.

The place may easily be identified; for he will find there a young woman
of barbaric beauty who will be playing "Conquer the North" on an
ocharina.


[Illustration: Chapter IX tailpiece]



                              *CHAPTER X*

                          *Costly Hospitality*


For an authentic test of one’s capacity for solitude—or better, perhaps,
for convincing proof of the lack of it—two conditions are essential:
complete isolation—that goes without saying, of course; and the
assurance that such isolation will not be broken into.  At Soul-Eaters’
Island I expected to find both of these conditions fulfilled.  My house
was four miles from the settlement, but in reality I had no more
seclusion there than a hermit whose retreat is within easy walking
distance of a summer hotel. Visitors came in canoes, in cutters; and as
the pass and the reef on either side of it were a favorite fishing
ground many of them came prepared to spend the day, or the night, or
both.

It is as well, perhaps, that the event fell out as it did. If life is to
keep its fine zest many wished-for experiences must be perpetually
unrealized, and we perpetually following our alluring phantoms until we
tumble headlong out of existence.  Not having been put to the proof, I
may still persuade myself that I am a lover of solitude, gifted for the
enjoyment of it beyond other men.  Meanwhile, at Soul-Eaters’ Island, I
had a further experience with Moy Ling, the Chinese storekeeper, which
convinced me of very definite limitations in another direction.

Some time after I had taken up residence there the village came in a
body to the adjacent island on the other side of the pass.  During the
year they moved in this way from one piece of land to another,
collecting the ripe coconuts and making their copra on the spot. The
land was not owned in common, but they worked it in common; and as house
building was a simple matter, instead of going back and forth from the
village, they erected temporary shelters and remained at each island in
turn until the work there was finished. They were not unremitting
toilers.  After an hour or two of copra making in the cool of the early
morning they were content to call it a day, and spent the rest of the
time at more congenial occupations—swimming, fishing, visiting back and
forth, talking forever of the arrival of the last trading schooner and
the probable date of arrival of the next one.

During all of this time I kept open house, and since I was indebted to
nearly all of my friendly visitors for past hospitalities I felt that it
was necessary to make returns.  Unfortunately, I had nothing to make
returns with, except such supplies of provisions and trade goods as I
was able to purchase on credit of Moy Ling.  Fish were abundant in the
lagoon, and a few minutes of fine sport each day more than supplied my
wants; but I knew that fish was not acceptable to palates long
accustomed to little else.  Furthermore, having accepted, at the time of
my arrival at Rutiaro, the role of the generous, affluent _popaa_, I had
to carry it through.  As previously related, although I had been left at
Rutiaro unexpectedly, the inhabitants took it for granted that I had
plenty of money.  The possession of wealth in the form of banknotes is
regarded there as one of the attributes of a white man, as necessary to
his comfort and convenience and as much a part of him as arms and legs.
Pride prevented my disillusioning them at first when I was in desperate
need of a new wardrobe; but it got me into a devil of a hole with Moy,
and I dug myself in more deeply every day.

Having traded upon the native tradition of the mysterious affluence of
all white men by opening up a credit account with the Chinaman I had to
sustain his confidence in my ability to cancel it at once if I choose;
and, feeling inwardly abject, it was all the more necessary to maintain
a reassuring front in the face of his growing anxiety.  It was growing.
I could see that.  He never actually dunned me, but I escaped the
humiliating experience only by making additional purchases on so vast a
scale, according to island standards, that even Moy seemed to be awed,
for brief periods, into a stupefied acceptance of the mysteriously
affluent myth.  I, myself, was awed when I thought of the size of my
bill.  Trade goods carried across thousands of miles of ocean are more
than usually expensive.  A one-pound tin of bully beef cost nine francs,
and other things were proportionally dear. The worst of it was that
Moy’s stock of supplies was much larger than I had at first supposed.
He had a warehouse adjoining his store which was full of them, and so,
with guests making constant demands upon my hospitality, I was forced to
buy with the greater abandon as his confidence waned.  But I returned
from these encounters with a washed-out feeling, regretting that I had
ever accepted guile as an ally and longing for relief from a state of
affairs which I knew could not continue indefinitely.

Relief came in histrionic, eleventh-hour fashion. Providence saved me
when I thought Pride was riding me to a starry fall.  One evening I
paddled across to the other island for further supplies.  Huirai and his
family had been staying with me for several days. Fishing was better on
my side of the lagoon pass, he said, but I think his real purpose in
coming had been to eat my, or, rather, Moy Ling’s tinned beef.  At any
rate, when they returned I had nothing left.  It was still fairly early,
but no one was abroad in the village street.  There was a light in Moy’s
shop, however, and looking through the open window I saw him sitting at
a table with his adding machine before him.  He was counting aloud in
Chinese, his long, slim fingers playing skilfully over the wooden beads
which slid back and forth on the framework with a soft, clicking sound,
and as he bent over columns of figures the lamp light filled the hollows
of his cheeks and temples with pits of shadow.  In repose his face was
as expressionless as that of a corpse.  I felt my courage going as I
looked at it.  What chance had I of carrying through successfully this
game of beggarman’s bluff?  How long could I hope to maintain the
fiction of affluence before a man wise with the inherited experience of
centuries of shopkeeping ancestors?  I had a moment of panic, and before
I realized what I was doing I had entered the shop and had asked for my
bill.

Moy slip-slopped into his back room and returned with a large packet of
old newspapers.  He was a frugal soul and kept his accounts, as he
ordered his life—with an eye to avoiding unnecessary expense.  The
journals were painted over with Chinese characters—the items of my
various purchases.  He arranged the lists in order, sat down to his
counting machine again, and presently gave me the grand total.  The
amount was something over four thousand francs.

Thank Heaven for righteous anger!  Thank Heaven for anger which is only
moderately righteous.  I knew that I had bought lavishly, but I had kept
a rough estimate of the amount of my purchases, and I also knew that Moy
had added at least 10 per cent to his legitimate profit.  He had
reasoned, no doubt, that a man who bought on mere whim, without asking
the price of anything, would settle his obligation as thoughtlessly as
he had incurred it.  And I would of course. This was necessary if I were
to live up to native tradition in the grand style.  But when I saw how
costly the game had become, and how thoroughly Moy had entered into the
spirit of it, too, I felt indignant; and instead of confessing my
predicament as I meant to do, I ordered another case of tinned beef and
a bag of rice and left the shop without further talk.

This righteous wrath was all very well, but now that I had asked for my
bill, I would have to settle it. How was this to be done?  If only I had
my sea chest which Tino, supercargo of the _Caleb S. Winship_, had
carried away with him when he left me at Rutiaro! My pocketbook was in
it, containing all of my money, more than enough to cancel the debt with
Moy.  I had rather an anxious time during the next few days. I remember
entertaining as usual, but in a faint-hearted way; sleeping badly, and
between times, walking up and down Soul-Eaters’ Island, trying to subdue
my pride to the point of confession.  Then one afternoon, when I was
sitting on the ocean beach, watching the surf piling up on the barrier
reef, I became aware of a vessel, hull-down, on the horizon.  I could
hardly believe my eyes.  It was like a far halloo from a world which I
had almost forgotten existed.  All through the afternoon she beat
steadily to windward until at dusk she was about two miles distant, and
I saw that she was one of the small schooners, without auxiliary power,
which are used by Papeete trading companies for collecting copra at the
less profitable atolls.

All the village came over to Soul-Eaters’ Island, for the anchorage at
this end of the atoll lay just behind it. The schooner was recognized.
It was the _Potii Ravarava_ which visited the atoll about once a year.
She entered the pass with the turn of the tide, lighting her way by the
fire which was burning in a primitive galley, a tin-lined box half
filled with sand.  I could see her native skipper at the wheel, a couple
of sailors preparing to take in sail, and two native women sitting on
the poop, with a great pile of luggage behind them. One of these was
Tepera, daughter of Puarei, chief of the atoll, who had been sent to the
Protestant school at Papeete nearly a year ago.  The other was Tuarava,
her aunt, with whom she had been living there.  The crowd on the beach
waited in deep silence while the schooner anchored and the sails were
being furled.  I remember that I could hear very plainly the far-off
rumbling of the surf on the windward side of the atoll and the hissing
of frying fish, or whatever it was, a native boy was cooking at the
galley fire.  Then the small boat was lowered and the women brought
ashore with their luggage.  Tepera went at once to her father and,
putting her head on his shoulder, began to cry softly.  Not a word was
spoken.  Tuarava and Poura, her sister, squatted on their heels close
by, their arms around each other, moaning in the same softly audible
way.  The women then went in turn among all their relatives, having
their little cry while the rest of the village looked on in sympathetic
silence.  When they had finished, a fire was lit on the beach and
everyone gathered around to hear the news and to examine the schooner’s
cargo which was being put on shore.  More trade goods for Moy Ling, I
thought.  Remembering my debt, I couldn’t summon any great amount of
interest in the scene.  I was about to return to my house when Huirai
came bustling up, carrying my sea chest.  "You like this?" he said.
What he meant was, "Is this yours?" but for once he misused his English
with splendid relevancy.  I sat down weakly on the box, holding a letter
which he had thrust into my hand. No doubt of it.  It was my box, and
the letter was addressed to me in Tino’s familiar handwriting.  It read,
in part, as follows:


We have just met the _Potii Ravarava_ here at Hao.  She is going to
Rutiaro within a few weeks, so I am sending your sea chest by her.
Sorry I left you in that God-forsaken hole; but I was tight that
evening, and pretty mad at the way you upset my plans with your
marble-playing foolishness.  Next morning, when I sobered up, I felt
like going back for you.  But we had a fair wind, and I had my cargo to
think of.  The price of copra is on the down grade, and I’ve got to get
back to Papeete with mine before the bottom falls out of the market.
You said once you wanted to see all you could of life in the Paumotus.
Well, I guess you’ll have your chance at Rutiaro.  If I was you I would
come back on the _Potii Ravarava_.  She only carries twenty-seven tons
cargo, so she’ll probably go direct to Papeete from there.  I am also
sending you an empty three-gallon demijohn.  Fill this with water before
you leave, if you come back on the _P.R_.  Miti, her skipper, is a good
sailor, but all he knows about navigation you could write on a postage
stamp.  I met him once about twenty miles south of Fakahina.  He was
cruising around looking for Angatau, which was seventy miles to the
northeast.  Well, he can’t miss Tahiti if he gets within a hundred miles
of it, so you better take a chance and come back with him.  But don’t
forget to carry your own supply of fresh water.  Sometimes these little
native boats get becalmed, and it’s no joke being thirsty at sea.

Yours, TINO.

P.S.—Miti has a big bunch of letters for you, from your friend Nordhoff.
I saw the packet.  It looks as though it had been traveling some.
Nordhoff, he says, is in Tahiti again.  I’ll probably see him there and
will tell him to wait for you.

Give my regards to all the marble players.


Good old Tino!  He did me nothing but good turns. Late that night when
the rest of the villagers had crossed the pass I pried open the lid of
the chest—having lost the key—and found my belongings just as I had left
them—my camera; my binoculars and charts; and, most important of all, in
the bottom of the chest, wrapped in a pair of trousers, my pocketbook.
I didn’t pay Moy until just before the departure of the schooner, and
staged the final episode at an hour when his shop was filled with
loungers.  I came away with his receipted bill, one hundred and twenty
francs, and the consciousness of having adequately safeguarded
tradition.

We left Rutiaro the following day.  I did not realize until the moment
of leave-taking how painful the farewells would be.  As soon as they
were over I went on board, crawled into the little cabin and, despite
the cockroaches and copra bugs, remained there until the schooner had
left the pass and was well out to sea. After our separation at Papeete,
Nordhoff went on to the southwest.  He wrote me from an island he called
Ahu Ahu, and from there, apparently, he took passage to Rarotonga, the
principal island of the Cook group.  Long before the discovery of New
Zealand Rarotonga was the goal of Polynesian mariners from the north and
west—fearless explorers traveling in their double canoes across hundreds
of leagues of ocean, guided by sun and stars, some of them arriving at
their destination, many others, doubtless, perishing in search of it.

From Samoa—in the early centuries of our era—came the Karika family to
reign in Rarotonga down to the present day; and Samoa is believed to
have been the principal starting point of the voyagers which peopled the
eastern Pacific.  In the language of those old-time voyagers, _tonga_
meant south, and they gave that name to the Friendly Islands.  Farther
to the west and south they came upon the Cook group—in those days, no
doubt, the southernmost ends of the earth—and the high island of this
group, the faint blot on the horizon which led the canoes to land, they
called Rarotonga (Under the South).



                           *Under the South*



[Illustration: Woodcut]



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                         *His Mother’s People*


The hurricane season ended in a fortnight of calm before the trade came
up from the southeast, announcing its arrival with a three days’ gale
that caught our schooner among the outer islands of the group.  It was
by no means a great storm, yet the constant fury of the wind, unbroken
by lull or gust, and the lines of huge breaking seas running under a
cloudless sky impressed me more than anything I have experienced in
ships.  By day we lived in a world of blue-and-white—pale-blue sky; sea
of a dark, angry blue; acres of white foam.  To go on deck by night and
watch the leaping ridges of salt water rear up to windward—formless,
threatening, fringed with wan phosphorescence—was to revise any beliefs
one might have had regarding the friendliness of nature.

On the evening of the second day we were laid-to under a rag of
foresail, riding the seas obliquely, a few points off the wind.  The
schooner took them like an eider duck; it was so thick in the cabin that
I slid back the hatch and squeezed through into the clean turmoil above.
The mood of the Pacific was too impressive for pleasure, but I was glad
at least of the fresh air and able to derive a species of awed enjoyment
from what went on about me.  It may have been fatigue, or carelessness,
or inexperience—at any rate, the man at the wheel suddenly allowed the
schooner to bear off; she was climbing the slope of a sea at the
time—the crest of it caught her weather side with a crash and next
instant a rush of solid water swept the decks.  Thin and faint as the
voices of sea birds above the roaring of the wind, the cries of native
passengers drifted back, "_Aue!  Aue!_"; the hatch slid back abruptly;
the skipper burst on deck—bristling, gesticulating, clad in a
waistcloth—to deliver an address in passionate Mangaian, insulting and
only partially audible.

Under the swinging lamp in the cabin I found Tari—our singular and
philosophic supercargo, whose calm no ordinary gale could
disturb—bending over his books, a bottle and a glass in racks at his
elbow.  A mat was spread on the floor and on it—huddled under a quilt of
bright patchwork—lay Apakura, his young native wife.  Her feet were
bound in a _pareu_ and the quilt pulled over her head, for the
cockroaches were everywhere.  I entered my stateroom to lie down.  A
large cockroach, insolent and richly perfumed, trotted along the springs
of the upper berth and halted just above my face.  Waves of the hand had
no effect on him—I had reasons for not wishing to crush him in his
tracks.  One of his comrades began a tentative nibbling at my
hair—something tickled my foot—I started convulsively.  The sudden rolls
of the schooner flung me against her side; it was useless to try to
sleep.  As I sat down beside him, Tari closed his books and motioned me
to fill a glass.

A faint noise of shouting came from on deck; the engine-room bell
sounded a sudden and peremptory signal.  The hatch opened with a gust of
spray—the head of the skipper appeared dimly in the swaying light.
"_Atitu_," he shouted; "I’m going to run into the lee and stand off and
on till this blows over."  The engine started and Tari and I went on
deck for a glimpse of the land, looming close and vague in the
starlight.  Presently, as we took our seats in the cabin, the schooner
ceased her violent pitching and began to ride a long, easy swell.  Tari
rose, stepped to where his wife lay sleeping, picked up the slender
bundle in the quilt, and disappeared into his stateroom; next moment he
was beside me again, uncorking a fresh bottle of rum.

"She’s had a bad time of it," he said, "with a berth on the weather
side; she was spilled on the floor half a dozen times before she gave up
and came out here. I shouldn’t have let her come along—I had my doubts
of the weather, but it was a chance to see the relatives she’s got
scattered through the group.  They’re constantly visiting one another;
blood means a lot down here where they recognize degrees of
consanguinity absurdly farfetched to our minds.  First cousins are like
brothers, second and third cousins considered members of one’s immediate
family, and so on through the descendants of remote ancestors.  When you
stop to think of it, this respect for ties of blood—in the isolated
communities of Polynesia—rests on a solid base."

I asked him a question concerning the end of these island people—whether
they will fade away and disappear, like our own Narragansett and
Seminole, without leaving their mark on the supplanting race or whether
they will be absorbed gradually, developing in the process of absorption
a new type.  Tari set down his glass.

"One thing is certain," he replied—"if left to themselves they would
soon be extinct.  Wherever you go among the islands you will find couple
after couple of full-blooded natives—young, strong, wholesome, and
childless.  No doubt the white man is partially to blame, but, for
myself, I believe the race is worn out with isolation and old age.  They
are justified in their dread of being childless, but an infusion of
European blood—however small—works a miracle; you must have noticed
this, to me a most striking and significant fact.  It is the cross of
white and brown that is repopulating the islands to-day; one can venture
a glimpse into the future and see the process of absorption complete—the
Polynesian is not fated to disappear without leaving a trace behind ...
and perhaps it will be more than a trace, for half-caste children cling
strongly to the distaff side.

"The question of half-castes is an interesting one, particularly to men
like me—but it is a waste of time to struggle against nature; in the end
the solution is nearly always the same.  Varana’s children furnish the
best example I have run across—you’ve never been to Rimarutu, I fancy;
it is not often visited nowadays; probably you’ve never heard of Varana.
And yet he was an extraordinary man, his life an almost unique study in
extremes.  Like everything real, the story has no beginning, unless one
were able to trace back the strain that gifted the man with his
exceptional temperament; as for an end, that is still working itself out
on Rimarutu.  It is, in fact, no story at all, but a bit of life
itself—unmarked by any dominating situation, haphazard, inconclusive,
grimly logical.  No one can know the whole of it—-the play of motives,
the decisions, the pure chance—but I worked with Varana for years and
have patched his story together after a fashion.  Now and then, when the
mood struck him, he used to speak of himself; sometimes at night when we
were working his schooner from island to island; sometimes by day, as we
lay smoking under the palms of a remote atoll, while the canoes of the
divers dotted the lagoon.  On those occasions I had glimpses of a man
not to be judged by the standards of everyday life—a man actuated by
motives as simple as they were incomprehensible to those about him.  His
death, if he is dead—  But I will speak of that in its place.

"His real name was Warner—a big, blue-eyed man, slow-spoken and a little
dreamy in manner, with an immense blond mustache and a serenity nothing
could disturb.  I never knew him to hesitate in making a decision or to
speak unless he had something to say. All decent men liked him, and the
natives, who were better able than a white man to fathom his simplicity,
took to him from the first.  He had been miserably out of place in
England—squeezed through Cambridge, which he detested, unhappily
married, done out of a fortune by the defaulting brother-in-law whose
last debt he paid, and divorced just before he came out here.

"It is often observed that when an Englishman’s feelings are hurt he
travels, and in this respect Varana was not exceptional.  One day, a
little more than a generation ago, he stepped off the mail boat at
Papeete—a rather typical English tourist, I fancy—dressed in tropical
costumes from Bond Street and accompanied by an extraordinary quantity
of luggage.  At the club he ran across Jackson of the Atoll Trading
Company—the old man liked him from the first and they used to spend the
evenings together, lingering over their glasses, talking a little in low
tones.  A fortnight later Varana left as quietly as he had come—outbound
in one of Jackson’s schooners for a cruise through the Paumotus.

"It was the year of the hurricane at Motutangi. Varana’s boat, commanded
by a native skipper, had drifted through the group in a desultory way,
touching at an island here and there to pick up a few tons of copra or a
bit of shell.  One can imagine the effect on a newcomer of those early
days among the atolls—long sunlit days when gentle breezes filled the
sails of the vessel skirting the shores of the lagoons—waters of
unearthly peace and loveliness, bordered by leagues of green.  And the
nights ashore, when the moon rose at the end of a path of rippling
silver, and the people gathered before their thatched houses to sing....
It was not long before Varana realized that he had found his anodyne.

"At home he had been a yachtsman of sorts; by the time they reached
Motutangi the brown skipper was leaving a good part of the working of
the schooner to his guest.  They were diving in the lagoon that year at
the end of a long _rahui_ on the shell—a sort of closed season,
scrupulously respected by the natives; half a dozen schooners were
anchored off the village, where every house overflowed with people from
the surrounding islands, and by day their canoes blackened the water
above the patches of shell.

"The hurricane gave ample warning of its approach—Varana told me as much
as that.  He had spent the night ashore with a trader, whose old glass
rose and fell spasmodically, sinking always a little lower, until it
stood at a figure which sent the trader off, white and cursing, to break
open a fresh case of gin.  None of the divers went out at daybreak; with
the other people, they stood in little frightened groups before the
houses. The older men were already beginning to hack off the tops of the
stout palms in which they planned to roost. By the time Varana came off
in a canoe the schooners were double anchored, the wind was shifting
uneasily in sharp gusts, and a tremendous surf was thundering on the
outer beach.  The native skipper, like the people ashore, knew perfectly
well what was coming and, like most of his kind, his spirit broke in the
face of a large emergency—before the feeling that the forces of nature
were about to overwhelm him.  Well, I’ve been through one hurricane—I
can’t say that I blame him much!  Varana found him not exactly in a
funk, but in a state of passive resignation, hoping vaguely that his two
anchors would let him ride it out inside. The crew was clustered on the
after deck, exchanging scared whispers.  Varana, who had the instinct of
a deep-water sailor, took in the situation at a glance, and next moment
he had taken command of the schooner.

"Without a word of protest the men reefed, got sail on her, heaved up
one anchor, and cut the other cable. Varana had very little to say about
the rest—how he edged out through the pass and managed to claw off just
as the cyclone struck Motutangi—but afterward the story went the rounds
of every group.  All the other schooners in the lagoon, as well as most
of the people ashore, were lost.  How Varana weathered it, without
piling up his vessel on any one of half a dozen atolls, is a sort of
miracle.

"A week later, when he had sailed his battered schooner—the only
survivor of the disaster at Motutangi—into Papeete harbor, he found
himself famous by nightfall, for the native captain gave him entire
credit for the achievement.  Old Jackson’s imagination was touched, or
perhaps it was the destruction of so many rival schooners in the shell
and copra trade—at any rate, he acted on impulse for once in his life,
sent for Varana, and offered him a remarkably good berth with a fat
screw attached.  But the wanderer only smiled and shook his head—he had
had a taste of the outer islands.  It shakes one’s faith in Providence
to realize that most men die without finding the place in life for which
they were designed.

"It was old Jackson who told him of Rimarutu—probably during one of
their almost silent evenings at the club.  It was a mistake—Jackson
thought—to believe that a man could shut himself off from the world; the
mood would pass in time, but if Varana wished seriously to try it, he
would find no better place than Rimarutu.  There was some copra to be
had and a little shell in the lagoon; the people numbered about two
hundred, a quiet, pleasant lot, not given to wandering from their
island.  Varana had salvaged a few thousand pounds from the wreck of his
affairs at home; Jackson helped him pick up a schooner at a bargain and
load her with what was needed; there was some difficulty about a crew,
but his uncanny gift with the natives got him three men content to
follow his fortunes.  On the morning when he shook hands with the old
man, stepped aboard his boat, and sailed out of the harbor, Varana
severed the last tie with the world he had known.

"I could tell you a good deal about his life on the island—I worked with
him for nearly ten years.  He began by renting a bit of land—for his
store and copra shed—from the chief and setting himself to learn the
language.  The Polynesian is a shrewd judge of character; they saw that
this man was just, kindly, fearless, and to be trusted.  Those who had
traveled a little declared Varana a phenomenon—a white trader who
respected women and never lay on his veranda in a stupor, surrounded by
empty bottles.  He seemed to know instinctively the best way to take
these people, with whom, from the very first, he found himself on terms
of a mutual understanding.  They regarded him with a mixture of liking
and respect, not accorded us, perhaps, as often as we are apt to think;
he worked with them, he played with them, and finally took a daughter of
the island as his wife—yet it was characteristic that he never permitted
himself to run barefoot and that even after twenty years of friendship
the native entering Varana’s house took off his hat.  I remember Tupuna
as a woman of thirty—tall, robust, and grave, with delicate hands and
masses of bright, rippling hair; the years were kind to her—even in
middle life she did not lose a certain quiet charm. Make no mistake—they
were happily mated, this man, turned out by what Englishmen believe the
highest civilization in the world, and the daughter of an island chief
whose father had been a savage and an eater of men.  She was not spoiled
like so many traders’ wives; when they had been on the reef she walked
home behind, carrying the torches and the fish—but he felt for her an
affection deep as it was undemonstrative, a strong attachment, proven at
the end in his own extreme and romantic way.

"During the early years of his life on Rimarutu, Varana had enough to do
with his store, his occasional trips for supplies, and his work for the
betterment of the island people.  He found them living on fish and
coconuts, depending for all their luxuries on a dwindling production of
copra.  He showed them how to thin their palms, how to select nuts for
new plantings, how to dry their copra with a minimum of effort.  The
shell in the lagoon was nearly exhausted; he persuaded the chiefs of the
two villages to forbid diving for a term of years.  After experiments
conducted with Tupuna’s aid he set the men to catching flying fish,
which swarmed in the waters about the island, and taught the women to
split them, rub in salt, and dry them on lines in the sun.  Rimarutu is
high, as atolls go—five or six yards above the sea in spots; he laid out
beds of _puraka taro_, and had pits dug on the high portions of the
island, lined the bottoms with rock to keep the taproots from salt
water, filled them with humus and topsoil—scraped up in handfuls—and
planted breadfruit, mango, and lime, brought from the high islands to
the north.  At long intervals, when in need of something that only
civilization could supply—paint, rigging, or a new set of sails—he went
north with a cargo of copra and dried fish and took on a brief charter
with Jackson.  On these trips he visited scores of islands, and came to
know the people of a thousand miles of ocean.

"It was not until his son was born that Varana began to think seriously
of money.  His daughters had given him no concern; he explained to me
once his peculiar philosophy as to their future.  Perhaps he was right.
With their happiness in mind, he preferred to bring them up as island
girls—without education or knowledge of the outside world and no greater
prospects than those of their full-blooded playmates—rather than give
them the chances of the usual half-caste: half-educated and partially
Europeanized, whose most brilliant hope is marriage with a white man of
the inferior sort.  But the birth of Terii set the father to thinking.

"The child was about ten when I saw him first, a fine strong boy, very
fair for a half-caste, with his father’s eyes, a high carriage of the
head, and skin touched with a faint bloom of the sun.  Tupuna was
immensely proud of him.  I was a youngster then and new to the islands,
but I had heard of Varana before Jackson introduced me to him.  It was
at Jackson’s place, on the upper veranda, that he told me how he had
leased Fatuhina; some one had spoken of my work. I had operated diving
machines?  He needed a man familiar with them, for he had leased an
atoll with some big shell patches in the lagoon, and machines would be
necessary to work the deeper portions.  I was doing nothing at the time.
I liked what I had heard of Varana, and I liked the man better still.
In an hour we had come to an understanding.  I worked with him, off and
on, from that time until the beginning of the war.

"Without caring in the least for wealth, Varana had set out to make
himself rich.  Long before I knew him he had decided the question of his
son: Terii was to have the same chances that his father had had before
nim—was to see both sides and choose for himself.

"Even Varana’s friends spoke of his luck; to my mind his success was
inevitable.  Regarded with an almost superstitious affection by the
people of widely scattered groups, he possessed channels of information
closed forever to the ordinary man.  It was in this way that he learned
of the shell in Fatuhina lagoon; perhaps he did not know that the native
who approached him, one evening on a distant atoll, to speak casually of
the matter and stroll away, had paddled across twelve miles of sea with
no other object than to bring the news to Varana.  When the _Gaviota_
was beached he was the first to learn of it—that affair alone brought
him a neat fortune; and when men had fine pearls to sell they saw him
before they went to the Jews.  By the time his son was twelve Varana was
a rich man.

"I was on Rimarutu when he left to take the boy to England.  Tupuna shed
a few tears, but there was no scene—she knew he would return.  ’I go to
take our son to my own land,’ he told her; ’there will be six moons
before I come.’  Five months later I was waiting with the schooner when
he stepped off the mail boat. That night, as he lay on a mat on the
afterdeck, dressed in a _pareu_ and a pair of slippers, he spoke of
England briefly in the midst of our talk on island matters.  ’Damned
senseless treadmill,’ he remarked; ’I can’t think how I stood it so many
years.’  The ordinary man, who had left home under a cloud of misfortune
to return twenty years later, after wanderings in distant lands, with a
fortune and a beautiful child, would have lingered not without a certain
relish.  But Varana was different; he grudged every moment spent in
civilization and lived only for the day when he would again take the
wheel of his schooner and watch the ridges of Tahiti sink beneath the
horizon.

"The years passed rapidly and tranquilly on Rimarutu.  The days of
Varana’s activity were over; he was no longer young, though he kept his
store and took the schooner out at long intervals for supplies. Then
came the outbreak of the war.

"I was in Gallipoli when the letter reached me, written in the native
language by Varana’s old mate. It told a story fantastically
unreal—incredible from the viewpoint of everyday life—and yet to me who
knew him, as to the people of his island, the end of Varana seemed a
natural thing, in keeping with what had gone before.  Tupuna had fallen
ill (the old man wrote) and had died suddenly and peacefully, as natives
do. Varana stood beside her grave with no great display of grief,
returned to his house and spent three days putting his affairs in order.
On the fourth day he gave the mate a thick envelope of documents, called
together the people of the island and bade each one of them farewell.
When he turned to leave they did not disperse; the women had begun to
sob—they felt already the desolation of a final parting.  It was the
hour of sunset, when the trade wind dies away and the lagoon lies like a
mirror under an opalescent sky....  I can see in imagination those
simple and friendly islanders, standing in little groups before the
settlement—raising no voice in protest, moving no hand in
restraint—while the man they loved walked to the ocean beach, launched a
tiny canoe in the surf, and paddled out to the west.  The nearest land
in that direction is distant six hundred miles.  When he had passed the
breakers—they say—Varana did not once turn his head; the watchers stood
motionless while the sky faded, their eyes fixed on the dot that was his
canoe—a dwindling dot, swallowed up at last in the night."


Tari ceased to speak.  He was sitting propped on the lounge, arms
folded, legs stretched out, eyes staring at the table.  Without seeming
aware of what he did, he filled his glass, raised it to his lips, and
drank. Presently he emerged from his revery to light a pipe.


"In due time," he went on, "I had word from the lawyers, inclosing a
copy of the will and informing me that I had been named executor with
old Jackson, who seemed to have discovered the secret of eternal life.
There was also a letter from Varana, written after Tupuna’s death—a
friendly and casual note, with a mere line at the end, asking me to do
what I could for his boy.  The land Tupuna had brought him was to be
divided equally among his daughters; all the rest was for Terii, saving
his parting gift to me.  Only one condition was attached—Terii must
visit Rimarutu before inheriting the property of his father; once he had
set foot on the island, he would be his own master, free to choose his
path in life.

"The boy was nineteen when the war broke out; he joined up at once as a
cadet in the Flying Corps. During the second year I began to hear of
Lieutenant Warner—he had shot down a German plane near Zeebrugge; he had
been wounded; he had received the Military cross.  Once I saw his
picture in the _Sphere_—a handsome lad, very smart in the old uniform of
the R.F.C., with a jaunty cap over one eye and ribbons on his breast.
This was the little savage whose shrill cries I used to hear at dawn,
when he raced with his half-naked companions on the beach!  At the end
of the war he was Captain Terry Warner, a celebrity in a small way....
I felt a certain pride in him, of course.  We had done our best to meet,
but something always happened to prevent my getting a glimpse of him.

"I ran across him as I was homeward bound, leaving San Francisco for the
islands.  I had already gone aboard and was standing by the rail,
watching the last of the luggage swing over the side in nets, when a
motor drove up to discharge a party of men and women—fashionables of the
city, from their looks. One of them, a lean, tanned boy, with the
overcoat of a British officer over his civilian clothes, was saying
good-by to the others, shaking hands and smiling very attractively.  A
little later, when the lines were being cast off, I saw him close beside
me at the rail.  A girl in blue was standing on the dock, waving up at
him. ’Good-by, Terry!’ she called.  I looked closely; there could be no
doubt—it was the son of Varana.

"We had long talks on the voyage south; the lad had not forgotten me.
The memory of the old life—of the island, of his mother, of his
father—would always be fresh in his mind, but he regarded those days as
a distant and beautiful episode, now forever closed. He was going to
visit Rimarutu for the last time—to bid farewell to those who remembered
him.  He had not forgotten the friends of his boyhood; there were many
little presents in his boxes, and he told me that the schooner—reported
sound as on the day of her launching—would be his gift to Varana’s old
mate. Afterward he would return to San Francisco, where opportunities
had been offered him; he had brought letters to America and had been
well received.

"The schooner was in port when we arrived.  Varana’s mate met us on the
dock; there were tears in the old man’s eyes as he took the boy’s hands
in his own and murmured in a trembling voice, ’_O Terii iti e_.’  The
tourists descending the gangplank looked with interest at the spectacle
of Captain Warner, almost embracing an old barefoot _kanaka_, dressed in
dungarees and a faded shirt, wrinkled brown face working with emotion.
As Terii shook hands with the crew—some of them boys with whom he had
played in childhood—I noticed that a phrase or two of the native came to
his lips—twelve years had not been sufficient to blot out all memory of
his mother’s tongue.

"We had a long passage south, beating against the trade; Varana had
installed an engine in the schooner, but time is cheaper than petrol in
this part of the world.  Terii delighted in handling the boat; there was
salt water in his blood; and his father had seen to his training in
navigation and the ways of the sea. With each new day I perceived
symptoms of a change in the boy.  White suits and canvas slippers gave
way to pajamas and bare feet; finally the pajamas were replaced by a
_pareu_, taken from the trade-room stock.  The summers at home had not
been wasted; I used to watch him at the wheel, working the schooner to
windward, an eye on the canvas aloft, steering with the easy certain
movements of a seaman born.  He was in love with the schooner before we
had been out a week, and he had reason—Frisco-built for the last of the
pelagic sealing, Varana’s boat was the fastest thing of her tonnage in
the South Seas.  More than once in our talks Terii seemed to forget the
plans he had confided to me....  She needed a new foresail; the set of
this one did not please him; he was going to have her copper renewed in
places; she was getting dingy below; the cabin needed a touch of paint.
At times, speaking of these things, he stopped short in the midst of a
sentence and changed the talk to other subjects. The language came back
to him surprisingly; he was able to understand and make himself
understood before we raised the palms of Rimarutu.

"The mate took her in through the pass.  It was late afternoon, cool and
cloudless, with a gentle sea nuzzling at the reef.  The island was like
the memory of a dream—fresh green palms, snowy beaches, cat’s-paws
ruffling the lagoon in long, blue streaks—so beautiful that the sight of
it made one’s heart ache and the breath catch in one’s throat.  A dozen
canoes put out to meet us from the first settlement; there were
greetings from friends and relatives—embraces and tears.  Terii lay
silent, propped on his elbows and staring ahead, as we slipped across
the lagoon; the island people spoke in tones so low that I could hear
the crisp sound of the schooner’s bows parting the landlocked water.
The other village lay beyond the beach ahead of us, Varana’s village,
where Terii had been born—a place of dreams in the mystery of the
evening light.  It was not difficult to guess at the boy’s thoughts—the
moment was one of those which make up the memories of a lifetime.  Every
man has known them—rapture, pain, the enjoyment of supreme beauty, the
flavor of exotic and unrepeatable experience; but not every man is
permitted to taste such contrasts as this boy had known in twenty-four
years of life....  I was a little envious, I think, of the rarity of
that poignant home-coming.

"On the first evening, when we had greeted the people of the village,
Terii was led away by his old aunt, Tupuna’s sister.  Just before
bedtime I saw them at his mother’s grave—a lonely shrine, roofed over in
island fashion, where the light of a lamp shone on stunted bushes of
frangipani.  My eccentricities were not forgotten; they had spread my
mat under the palms before Varana’s house, and toward midnight Terii
came quietly and lay down close by.  I was wakeful in a revery, living
over the old days with my friend, wondering, with the usual idle and
somber doubt, if we were destined to meet again.  Low over the palm tops
a planet glimmered like a shaded lamp; the Milky Way arched overhead
through a sky powdered with fixed stars—remote suns, about which revolve
myriads of worlds like ours....  I rebelled at the thought that the
strong soul of Varana should be snuffed out.  Terii said nothing for a
long time; I thought he had dropped off to sleep, but suddenly I heard
his voice: ’I have the strangest feeling to-night,’ he said,
thoughtfully; ’if my father were here I could believe that I had never
been away, that everything since I left—England, school, my friends, the
war—was no more than a dream.  I can’t explain to you, but somehow this
island seems the most real thing in the world.  I’ve been talking with
my aunt—I’d almost forgotten her name, you know—and I managed to
understand a good bit of what she had to say.... There is no doubt she
believes it herself.  My father comes to her every now and then, she
says, for a talk on family matters; last night he told her we would come
to-day, and that I would stop here to take his old place among the
people.  It seems they are good enough to want me to stay—I almost wish
I could.’ ...

"The drums were going at daybreak—the feast in Terii’s honor was the
greatest the island had known since heathen days.  The entire population
was on hand; the beach black with canoes; dozens of good-humored babies
on mats under the trees, with small brothers and sisters stationed to
fan the flies away. The people sat in long rows in the shade, strings of
shell about their necks, their heads wreathed in hibiscus and sweet
fern.  Terii was placed between the chief of the other village and
Tehina, the chief’s daughter, a full-blooded Rimarutu girl of sixteen,
barefoot, dressed in a white frock, with gold pendants in her ears and a
thick, shining braid of hair.  There is an uncommon charm about the
women of that island—a stamp of refinement, a delicacy of frame and
feature, remarked as long ago as the days of Spanish voyaging in the
Pacific.  Blood counts for something in Polynesia, and one needed only a
glance at Tehina to know that the best blood of the island flowed in her
veins; her ancestor—if tradition may be credited—was in the long canoe
with Penipeni when the god pulled Rimarutu up from the bottom of the
sea.  I like those people, and in spite of the night’s depression I
managed to enjoy the fun—I even danced a bit!  Finally I saw that the
dancers were taking their seats; voices were lowered, heads were turned.

"Tehina was dancing alone to the rhythm of a hundred clapping hands.  In
twenty years of the islands I have never seen a girl step more daintily.
Little by little she moved toward Terii until she stood directly before
him, inviting him to dance, hands fluttering, swaying with an
unconscious grace, smiling into his eyes.  Every head turned; there were
smiles, good-humored chuckles, nudges; they were proud of this girl and
anxious that the son of Varana should dance with her.  They had not long
to wait. Next moment Terii had leaped to his feet and was dancing, with
more enthusiasm than skill, to a long burst of cheers and clapping.

"When the canoes put off at nightfall I noticed that Tehina did not
leave; she had stopped to visit her uncle, the parson of the village
church.  I saw Terii with her often during the days that
followed—fishing on the lagoon, swimming in the cove, lying on mats in
the moonlight where groups of young people were telling their
interminable stories of the past.  He seemed a little shy of me, and no
longer exchanged confidences in the hour which precedes sleep.  One
evening, smoking and strolling alone after dinner, I passed the parson’s
house and became aware of the vague figure of Terii, walking to and fro
impatiently beside the veranda.  He stopped—I heard the rattle of a
coral pebble on the roof.  A moment later Tehina glided like a phantom
around the corner of the house, and they went off arm in arm along the
path to the sea.  I thought to myself that the lad was not doing badly
after his twelve years away from the island, but the blood was in him,
of course—there was instinct in his manner of tossing the pebble and in
the unhesitating way he had led the girl toward the outer beach: the
haunt of dreadful presences, a place no ordinary islander would visit
after dark.  I fancied him sitting there—the rumble of the surf in his
ears, watching the lines of breakers rear up under the moon—with Tehina
beside him, admiring and afraid.  When his eye was not on her she would
glance right and left along the beach and back toward the bush, half
expecting to see some monstrous thing, crouched and watching with fiery
eyes.  As for the boy, one could only guess at the troubled flow of his
thoughts, stirred by cross-currents of ancestry and experience.  In her
own environment Tehina was a girl to make any man look twice; for him,
with his mother’s blood and the memories of his childhood, she must have
possessed a powerful appeal—the touch of her hand; her voice, soft and
low-pitched, murmuring the words of a half-forgotten tongue; her dark
eyes shining in the moonlight; the scent of the strange blossoms in her
hair. It was the test, the final conflict Varana had foreseen. I had my
own opinion of the result, and yet the other life pulled hard.

"The days passed in pleasant island fashion; the loading of the schooner
went on; there was no mention of a change in plans.  The chief came to
take his daughter home, and when she had gone Terii spoke to me, not too
convincingly, of his return to civilization. My trip to Rimarutu was a
matter of pleasure alone; I was already planning to take this berth, and
was not sorry when Terii announced one morning that we would sail north
that afternoon.  One seems perpetually saying good-by down here—these
islands are havens of a brief call, of sad farewells, of lingering and
regretful memory.  Our parting from the people of Rimarutu was more than
usually painful; they had hoped to the last that Terii would leave some
word, some promise; but he remained silent, though I could see that the
leave-taking was not without effect.

"Finally the last canoe put off for shore; the anchor came up, the motor
started, and Terii steered across the lagoon for the pass.  The sails
were still furled, for there was a light head wind.  I watched his face
as he stood in silence at the wheel; there was a look in his eyes which
made me sorry for the boy.  We crossed the lagoon, glided past green
islets, and drew abreast of the other village.  The people lined the
shore, fluttering handkerchiefs, shouting good wishes and farewells.

"Beyond the settlement the pass led out, blue and deep, between sunken
piers of coral, where the surf thundered in patches of white.  All at
once the old mate sang out and pointed—a dot was on the water ahead of
us, a swimmer moving out from land to cut us off.  The son of Varana
turned the wheel; the schooner swung inshore; I heard a quick command
and felt the speed of the engine slacken.

"Terii was staring ahead with a strange intensity—instinct or
premonition was at work.  I looked again as we drew near; a cloud of
dark hair floated behind the swimmer’s head; it was a woman—Tehina!
Terii sprang to the rail.  A moment later she had been lifted over the
side and was standing beside him in the cockpit, dripping, trembling a
little with cold and fear, doing her best to smile.  The mate was
pulling at Terii’s arm and pointing back toward the village.  A
whaleboat had put out from shore and was heading for us at the top speed
of the rowers; it was the chief himself, I believe, who stood in the
stern and whose shouts were beginning to reach our ears.

"At that moment Terii proved that he was his father’s son.  He glanced
back once, and then, without the smallest interval of hesitation, his
arm went about the wet shoulder of Tehina.

"’Full speed ahead,’ he ordered in a cool voice."


Tari poured rum into my glass, and tilted the last of the bottle into
his own.  The schooner was taking it easily with her engine at half
speed, riding a gentle swell.  The ship’s bell rang twice, paused, and
rang again—a sharp and mellow sound.  It was long past midnight.


"If you ever get down to Rimarutu," said Tari, as he rose to go on deck,
"you will find Terii there—he bids fair to leave the island even less
than Varana did."



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                          *In the Cook Group*


I was close to beginning this letter with a little fun at your expense;
you would have been mystified—perhaps convinced that my haunted friends
of Ahu Ahu were just a bit uncanny.  It is really a pity not to do it!
I should have begun with a vivid glimpse of a séance; the quiet
moonlight outside, seen through an open door; the glimmer of a
turned-down lamp in the house, revealing the rapt sightless face of the
medium; the summoning of old Rakamoana from her sleeping place in the
_marae_; the unnatural voice proclaiming the coming of the spirit.

Then I would have told how a message from the visitor was announced—for
the strange white man vouched for by the mother of Apakura.  "I see an
island," the ghostly voice might have gone on—"a little land surrounding
a great lagoon.  It is Nukuhina, in the far-off Sea of Atolls.  A
schooner lies at anchor in the calm water off the settlement; she does
not move, for the lagoon is very still.  A boat is putting off for
shore, and in the stern sits a dear friend of the white man—a slender
man, who gazes eagerly toward the shore with dark eyes like the eyes of
our people. A crowd is gathered on the beach; the girls carry gifts of
necklaces and wreaths; and in the village the old women are preparing a
feast.  The man in the boat believes that this welcome is for the
captain of the schooner, not knowing that this people was once a race of
warriors, and that they are gathered to give him welcome—the first
soldier from the army of France to visit their island since the war.
The keel of the boat grates on the sand; a score of men seize her to
pull her up; the women crowd about the stranger (Aué!  They are good to
look upon these girls of Nukuhina!), to throw their necklaces over his
head and crown him with wreaths of flowers and shell.  His face grows
red; the old men smile; the girls laugh aloud.  One, bolder than the
rest, runs at him suddenly, puts her arms about him, and kisses him
after the fashion of the white man.  His face grows redder still; at
that, the old men, too, laugh aloud.  One after another, pushing and
pulling to be first, the girls scramble to kiss him; he is overwhelmed,
suffocated, and now his face is like fire, but he is not angry, for he
smiles."

Well, what do you think of Ahu Ahu magic?  I really ought to refrain
from telling you the truth, which—like the stuff of most spirit
messages—is simple, unexpected, and disillusioning.  When we got to
Avarua I found S—— there, over from Tahiti to buy cattle; before his
departure the _Alouette_ had turned up from the Paumotus, bringing word
of your reception on Nukuhina.

I fancy you haven’t had much time, in your progress through the Low
Archipelago, for the pursuits of a landsman, so I’ll give you an idea of
how I’ve frittered away the days on Rarotonga.

Soon after our arrival there was a great stir over the coming of a
shipload of parliamentary visitors from New Zealand, making a tour of
the Cook Islands; a feast of welcome was to be given in Avarua, scores
of pigs and hundreds of chickens were set aside for fattening, and the
dancers of each village were to be seen rehearsing in the evenings.  We
drove to Avarua on the appointed day and found the government boat
already anchored in the roadstead off the town—an anchorage dreaded by
skippers, for unless the anchor strikes exactly on the summit of a sharp
submerged peak, it will slide clean off soundings.  Long before we
reached the settlement the air had been vibrant with the sound of drums,
the visitors were coming ashore, the dancing was in full swing.

The performance, of course, was a perfectly sophisticated one—like
Papeete, Avarua is a small ocean metropolis, the capital of a group—but
it interested me to see that the people, in spite of the efforts of the
missionaries to make them ashamed of everything pertaining to heathen
days, were not entirely without pride in the past.  Each village was
represented by a corps of dancers, men and women equally divided, and
had its own drums and drummers, who furnished the sole music of the
dance.  The drums are of three varieties.  The smallest are merely
hollow sticks—six inches in diameter and a yard long—open on one side,
and producing a loud, resonant click when struck with a bit of wood.
There are others of medium size, standing on short legs and beaten with
the hand, but the huge oldtime drums, suspended from the limbs of trees,
interested me most of all.  Imagine a five-foot section of the trunk of
a big _Barringtonia_, carefully hollowed out and smoothed, with the
skins of wild goats stretched over the ends, and sides decorated with
outlandish painting.

The big drums are struck with the heel of the hand—with such furious
energy that the drummer streams perspiration and is soon exhausted.  The
deep pulsing sound of them carries for miles in still air; sometimes at
night, when there was dancing in the villages, I have heard it far and
near, rising, falling, throbbing, from Arorangi, from Titikaveka, and
from Ngatangiia, whence the ancients set out on their thousand-league
voyages to the south.

I wish I could make you feel, as I have felt, the quality of this savage
drumming.  Monotonous and rhythmic sound, reduced almost to its simplest
form, it is the ancestor of all music, toward which, perhaps, our modern
dance music is a reversion.  There is syncopation in it when the big
drum halts at irregular intervals, and the time is carried by the
clicking of hollow wood; but it is solemn and ominous—anything but the
meretricious syncopation of ragtime.  One feels in it an appeal to the
primitive emotions, at once vague and charged with meaning; fear and
madness are there, with cruelty, lust, triumph, and a savage melancholy.

Except in the case of the contingent from Manihiki—an atoll far off to
the north—there was little variation in the dances, for which one can
only say that they showed evidence of careful drilling.  The women
performed a variety of the dance common to all branches of their
race**basically the same whether called _hula_, _hura_, or _ura_—but
their motions were awkward and stiff, without the abandon and graceful
movements of the arms to be seen in Hawaii or the Society Islands. The
men, who carried long staves like spears, were freer in their motions,
leaping, thrusting out their arms, and clattering their sticks in
unison.

The costumes—unfortunately for the eye of a sensitive spectator—were
slipped on over the wearer’s best European clothes; a concession to the
missionary point of view; but the beauty of some of the kilts, tunics
and headdresses, and the trouble evidently taken in braiding them,
showed that the Rarotongans have not wholly forgotten the past.

The dance was followed by speeches, and the speeches by a feast—all very
conventional and uninteresting.  I wonder if you are heartily fed up on
baked pig.  One needs a dash of Island blood to appreciate it after the
twentieth time!  Any other sort of meat would be welcome here where
bully beef and pork are the staples.  The need of a change of diet
drives one to the lagoon; fishing becomes a practical as well as a
sporting proposition.

During the proper phases of the moon we lead a most irregular life, for
the hours from 3 to 5 A.M. are often the ones most profitable to spend
on the reef, and the evenings are occupied with a search for hermit
crabs. You have probably made the acquaintance of the hermit crab, but
in case you have been too busy to give him the notice he deserves, I’ll
venture to dwell for a bit on his eccentricities.  It was not a pure
love of natural history that turned my attention to him; I have been
obliged to study him—at least superficially—by the fact that he is the
dainty preferred by all the fish of this lagoon, and his capture,
therefore, an indispensable preliminary to every fishing expedition.

There must be several varieties of hermit crab—I have counted three
already: the ordinary small brown one called _kakara_, the huge red one
found in deep water, and the black, hairy kind, whose pounded-up body is
mixed with grated coconut to extract the oil.  This latter is called
_unga_; in the old days the lowest class of Rarotonga society was known
by the same name—meaning, I suppose, that all of their property could be
carried on their backs.  The common variety is a good deal like the
robber crab in habits; the natives go so far as to say that it is the
same creature, in different stages of its existence.  I doubt this
theory, for while there are plenty of the little _kakara_ on the
volcanic islands, the robber crab is very rare; he lives on the atolls,
and to my mind it is incredible that he should journey from island to
island, through leagues of deep sea.  Like his formidable relative, the
_kakara_ spends most of his time ashore, frequenting the bush along the
water’s edge, where he lies hidden throughout the day in a hole or under
a pile of leaves.  His first duty of the evening is a trip to salt
water, for he seems to need a thorough wetting once in each twenty-four
hours. After his bath he heads back for the bush to begin his nightly
search for food—nearly any kind of edible refuse—a dead fish on the
beach, the fallen fruit of a pandanus, a coconut, opened by rat or
flying fox, and containing a few shreds of meat.

The size of the _kakara_ can be judged from his shell, which may be as
small as a thimble or as large as an orange.  The creature inside is
marvelously adapted to the life he leads.  His soft and muscular body
curls into the spiral of the shell and is securely anchored by a twist
of the tail.  The fore-end of the crab, which protrudes from the shell
when he is in motion, reminds one of a tiny lobster; the same stalk
eyes, the same legs, the same strong claws.  When alarmed he snaps back
into his mobile fortress, and you perceive that legs and claws fold into
a flat armored barrier, sealing up perfectly the entrance of the shell.
Sit still and watch him; presently the claws unfold cautiously and he
emerges little by little, feelers waving and eyes peering about in a
ludicrously apprehensive manner. Finally he gathers courage and starts
off for the bush at his curious rolling gait.

One might suppose the hermit crab the least social of living tilings,
but in reality he is gregarious and seems to enjoy the company of his
friends.  They wander in little bands; very often one finds two or three
small ones perched on the back of a larger comrade and enjoying an
effortless trip across the beach to the lagoon.  One afternoon I came
upon three of them traveling in single file; the last member of the
party—a frail little chap—crunched under the heel of my boot before I
saw him.  I stopped a moment in regret and saw that the two other crabs
were also stopping—warned, by I know not what obscure sense, that all
was not well with their friend.  They drew together as they halted, and
went through a hasty and obviously anxious exchange of ideas—face to
face, with feelers waving nervously.  One was reminded irresistibly of a
pair of fussy little old gentlemen, halted in the street to decide which
should do an unpleasant errand.  At length one of the two settled
himself to wait, while the other faced about and shambled off briskly to
the rear. A few seconds brought him to what was left of his unfortunate
comrade; his eyes seemed to start from his head as he felt over the
crushed wreck.  A moment later he turned and hastened back even faster
than he had come.  His arrival had an air of palpitating excitement; I
fancied I felt transmitted to me a tiny thrill of horror at the news
about to be communicated. This time the four antennae fairly vibrated—I
imagined the conversation going on an inch above the ground.

"My God!" announced the bearer of ill tidings, breathlessly.  "Poor Bill
is dead!"

"Bill dead!" exclaimed the other, shocked in spite of his incredulity;
"but no, you must be wrong—what could have killed him?"

"I don’t know; he’s dead all the same—crushed and mangled—it upset me
fearfully."

"Come, come—you’ve been seeing things; he must have taken a short cut to
the beach."

"I tell you he’s dead; come and have a look if you don’t believe me."
So off they went together for a look at the corpse, and I left them to
mourn their friend—perhaps to eat him.

If you want to see a curious sight get a hermit crab some day and pick
up half a dozen empty shells of the size to fit him.  Lay the shells on
the sand in a circle a few inches across, extract the crab without
hurting him from his house, and set him down naked among the empty
shells.  To get him out, by the way, is not so easy as it sounds, but
you can do it by taking hold of his claws and maintaining a steady,
gentle pull; in time the muscles of his tail will tire and his grip
relax. You will be amused when you see his first attempts to walk
without his shell, which weighs three or four times as much as the
tenant; it is precisely as a man might act, set down on some planet
where gravity is weaker than on our earth.  Naked, helpless, and
worried—_très, très inquiet_—the crab makes a dash for one of the
shells, gives it a hasty inspection with his feelers, finds something
not quite right, and hobbles off to the next one. Perhaps this suits
him.  He faces about, in goes his tail to take a grip on the whorls, he
snaps in and out a few times as if trying the strategic possibilities of
the new quarters, and next moment you will see him ambling off
blissfully toward the bush.

The chase of the hermit crab is tame sport, no doubt, but not entirely
without interest.  One evening we set out just after dark, bucket and
torch in hand—not the old South Sea torch of coconut leaf, but the
modern tube of galvanized iron, filled with kerosene and plugged with
burlap, which acts as a wick.  The high beach is best at this hour, for
one’s quarry is beginning to emerge from the bush for the evening dip,
and those that have passed will leave spoor in the soft coral sand.
Here is the track of a small one, winding toward the water in eccentric
curves and zigzags; follow it and you find him, motionless in the
torchlight, hoping to escape notice.  He goes into the pail with a
clang—you can hear his feet scratching vainly at the smooth sides.
There were not many about on this stretch of beach; they are uncertain
in their habits and seem to be great wanderers.  Here is the track of a
monster, broad and corrugated like the trail of a miniature Whippet
Tank; the spoor leads to the lagoon—no signs of him at the water’s
edge—he has doubled back.  Lift up that rotten coconut frond ... an
_unga_, black, hairy, armed with a vicious pair of claws; you can hear
him raging in the pail, a noise halfway between a whine and a growl—a
crab with a voice!

A stroll of an hour or two along the btuch usually procures enough bait
for a day’s fishing, and one turns inland to follow the road home.
Sometimes, when the new moon has set behind the Avarua peaks and thick
darkness settles over the bush—when the surf murmurs almost maudibly in
a stillness broken by the plunge of a fish in the lagoon, or the grating
screech of a flying-fox, quarreling with his mates in the palm tops—one
is not sorry when the lights of the plantation begin to glimmer through
the trees.

We went to bed early that evening, for we had to be up long before
daylight to catch the first of the flood tide, but these island nights
are not meant for sleep—I was soon up again, to spend a couple of hours
alone on the veranda.  The feel of the air was like a caress; neither
hot nor cold, and perfumed with the scents of strange flowers—waxen
_Tiaré Tahiti_, sweet and heady frangipani, languorous Queen of the
Night.  In the mango tree behind the house a mynah twittered—a drowsy
overture to one of their abrupt nocturnal choruses.  They are quaint
birds, the mynahs; introduced to the Islands many years ago, they have
increased amazingly in this friendly environment, where they live in a
state of half-domesticated familiarity with mankind.  One sees them
everywhere, hopping fearlessly about the streets of villages, fluttering
to the table to finish the bread crumbs left after a meal, perched on
the backs of cattle in the coconut groves. They are intensely
gregarious, gathering in large flocks at sunset to roost in some
thick-foliaged tree—orange, mango, or alligator pear.  From time to time
during the night, with an abruptness and perfect unison that make one
suspect the presence of a feathered leader of the orchestra, the two or
three hundred members of the colony burst into deafening song—a chorus
which lasts perhaps twenty seconds, and stops as suddenly as it began.

At last I knocked the ashes out of my pipe and turned in; at intervals,
before sleep came, I heard the far-off thud of a ripe coconut, or the
faint slither and crash of an old frond, falling from a palm.  We were
awakened at three o’clock by the cook’s announcement that coffee was
ready; it is a pleasure to live where dressing is only a matter of
slipping on a fresh singlet and hitching the _pareu_ tight about one’s
waist.  Each man carried a pair of old shoes, for even the leathery feet
of a native must be protected before he ventures on the live coral.
Half a dozen plantation boys followed us to the beach, along a path
leading down an avenue of coconuts, the slender boles illuminated by the
glare of torchlight.  In five minutes we were under the dark ironwoods
at the water’s edge, where the canoes are hauled up; without waiting for
us, the boys plunged into the lagoon—-half swimming, half wading toward
the reef—torches held aloft in their left hands.

The tide was very low; we had only a short paddle to the shallow water
on the inner side of the barrier. It was dead calm—ideal weather for the
spear—but there had been a storm somewhere to the south; lines of tall
glassy combers, faintly visible in the starlight, were curling with the
splitting reports of field artillery—crashing down on the reef until the
coral beneath us seemed to tremble at each shock.  The eastern sky had
not yet begun to pale—the constellations glimmered with the soft glow of
the tropics: the Southern Cross, Orion, and the Pleiades.

When the water was only knee-deep we moored the canoe to a coral
mushroom and went overboard in bare legs and tucked-up _pareus_.  Wading
slowly, about twenty feet apart—the lagoon so still and clear that it
was not easy to tell where air ended and water began—nothing moving in
the circle of torchlight could escape notice.  It was necessary to watch
the bottom and walk warily; the reef is a honeycomb of holes and
passages through which the sea boils in at certain tides. Many of these
holes, only a few feet in diameter at the surface, lead deep down and
out into the caverns lining the edges of the pass—the haunts of octopus
and the man-eating rock-cod called _tonu_.  A faint ripple revealed a
big blue parrot fish skulking in the shadow of a bowlder; one of the
native boys slipped his spear close before he thrust with a skill that
needs years to acquire.  He killed the fish with a stab just where the
head joins the body, and strung it on the strip of hibiscus bark at his
waist.

These lagoons swarm with strange forms of life unknown in northern
waters; until one learns one’s way about there is a certain amount of
danger in wading through the shallows along the reef.  A sea scorpion
passed close by us—a wicked-looking thing, all feelers and enormous
fins; a touch of those spines would give you a nasty leg.  An even more
poisonous fish is found here—though fortunately not often: the _noo_,
which lies buried in patches of coral sand.  I have never seen one, and
do not know its name in English, but the spines of its dorsal fin are
said to be hollow like the fangs of a rattlesnake, and to inject a
poison—when stepped on—that is apt to kill or cripple for life.  The
_totara_, or sea porcupine, is another odd creature, but not at all to
be feared; at the approach of danger he blows himself up like a
football, and once inflated, is proof against almost anything—I’ve seen
a man hurl a heavy stone on one a dozen times without being able to
burst him open.  In a different way, the conger eels are nearly as hard
to kill, particularly the big ones, which are no joke to handle when one
is wading barelegged.  One must be on the alert every moment—torch
blazing, spear poised.  One moment you jump on a mushroom of coral to
avoid a pair of sea snakes, long, slender and spotted—active, fearless
creatures whose bite is said to be a serious matter; a moment later you
are slipping and scrambling at top speed to cut off some large fish,
working his way through the shallows.  One of the boys bagged a
_patuki_—a young _tonu_; I was glad to have a look at the ugly little
brute. He was only a foot long—a marvel of protective coloring,
irregularly spotted and blotched so as to be nearly invisible against a
background of coral.  The size of the mouth, the power of the jaws, and
the rows of cruel little teeth, convinced me that the full-grown fish
must deserve the bad name given him by the pearl divers.

The light was gray and the cloud banks along the eastern horizon
flushing pale rose when the boys extinguished their torches and set out
across the lagoon, each one trailing a heavy string of fish.  My host
had had enough sport for once, but I love to be on the water at dawn, so
when I had landed him I paddled out to the pass to fish for _titiara_.
The current was slack and not a breath of wind stirred the lagoon.  The
light grew stronger; the contours of the island developed in sharp
serrations against the sky; presently the sun rose.

I anchored the canoe in a fathom of water at the edge of the pass,
allowing her to swing out over the depths.  Through my water-glass I
could examine the precipitous walls of the channel—fifty feet high,
overhanging in places, seamed, pitted, broken by the dark mouths of
caverns.  Shoals of fish moved leisurely along the face of the
coral—appearing and disappearing like nesting swallows, seen from a
cliff-top: swinish parrot fish, bright blue and long as a man’s arm;
_taputapu_, spangled orange and black—stopping to nibble at the coral;
slender pipefish; swift _nanue_; fish of extraordinary form and
coloring—indescribable, perhaps undescribed.  At last I saw what I was
after—a school of _titiara_, working in from the sea.

I wonder if you know this fish; it is new to me, though I have been told
that it exists in the northern Pacific.  It is of the true game
type—swift and rapacious—with the conformation of a mackerel, and
related, I should say, to the pompano of American waters. The young
ones, eight to ten inches long, and appearing at certain times of year,
in great schools, are called _aturi_.  When medium-sized—running from
two pounds up to twelve—it is known as _titiara_ in the Cook Islands;
_paihere_ in Tahiti and to the east.  The fully grown fish, which
attains a weight of a hundred pounds or more, is called _urua_.  These
different names for stages in the life of the same fish are interesting
to me, for they illustrate the richness, in certain directions, of a
language so poor in others.  We have such terms in English, but they are
rapidly becoming obsolete; I doubt, for example, if the average man at
home knows that a young salmon is called a grilse, and a still younger
one, a parr.

One’s outfit for this kind of fishing consists of a pail of hermit
crabs, a couple of stones for crushing them, a hundred feet of stout
cotton line, a single hook on a length of piano wire, and several dozen
pebbles, to be used as sinkers.  First of all you smash the shells of a
few crabs, tear off the soft bodies for bait, and crush the claws and
legs to a paste.  This chum is thrown overboard little by little to
attrach the fish and keep them about the canoe.  When a glance through
the water-glass shows that the fish you want are gathered beneath you, a
pebble is attached to the line by means of a special hitch, which can be
undone by a jerk.  Now you lower the line over the side until the bait
is in the required position; a sharp pull frees the sinker, and you are
ready for the first client.  The theory of the detachable sinker is that
it enables one to fish at a distance from the boat without having the
hook rest on the bottom, where it is apt to foul in the coral.

On this occasion my sport was ruined by one of those tantalizing
incidents which lend charm to every variety of angling.  I had caught
two fish and was lowering my line to try for a third, when the small fry
gobbling my chum suddenly scattered and disappeared.  Next moment a
monstrous _titiara_—almost in the _urua_ class—loomed up from the
depths, seized my bait, and made off so fast that the line fairly
scorched my fingers.  My tackle was not designed for such game as
this—there was nothing to do but try to play him; but when only a yard
of line remained in my hands I was forced to check the rush.  A powerful
wrench, the line slackened dead, he was off, the light hook had snapped
at the bend—and I had no other!  The old, old story—it is never the
fingerlings that get away.

Cut into filets and soaked for six hours in lime juice, my two fish made
a raw _hors d’oeuvre_ of the most delicate kind.  I took a plate of it
to the house of a neighbor who had asked me to dinner, and this
old-timer in the South Seas pronounced it of the very first order.  You
would enjoy knowing him: he has been in this part of the world since the
’seventies—supercargo, skipper, trader on islands seldom visited even
to-day.  Now he is retired and lives on a small plantation which
represents the savings of a lifetime.  After dinner, as we sat on his
wide veranda with pipes going and glasses on the table between us, he
told me a tale so curious that I cannot resist repeating it to you—the
story of an island far away to the north and west—an island I shall call
_Ariri_.

Atolls are by nature lonely places, but of all atolls in the Pacific,
Ariri is perhaps the loneliest—never visited, far off from any group,
out of the paths of navigation.  Not very many years ago Ariri was a bit
of no man’s land; though marked on the chart, its existence was ignored
by the Powers—it had never been inhabited, no flag had ever been raised
above its benches of dazzling coral sand.  At that time, as for
centuries before, the sea birds nested undisturbed on the islets within
the reef, where all day long the water flashed blue in the sunlight and
the trade wind hummed a song of loneliness among the palm tops.

Then a day came when two Frenchmen—shrewd traders and planters of
coconuts in the Tuamotu—spoke of Ariri.  Here was an island capable of
an annual hundred tons of copra, and claimed by no man; they would plant
it and reap the rewards of enterprise. The chief difficulty was to find
a superintendent to take charge of the project; it needed a white man,
but white men willing to undertake a task of such poignant loneliness
were not to be found every day in Papeete.  As it chanced, their man was
at hand.

The natives called him Tino—perhaps his name had once been King.  Years
among the islands had obliterated whatever stamp of nationality he might
have possessed; it was rumored that he was English by birth, and also
that he had held a commission in the Confederate navy.  Tall, strong,
and of fine presence, with a full blond beard and eyes of reckless blue,
a great singer and dancer—always the merriest at a feast and the idol of
the women, a remarkable linguist and story-teller, drunken, brave,
witty, and unprincipled—Tino was of a type which thrives in Polynesia.

When they offered him the position of superintendent at Ariri the two
Frenchmen were not without misgivings.  He was on the beach at the time,
though the only sign of that condition was an unusual laxity in
returning the favor when a friend invited him to drink. Tino had no
money, but that was his sole limitation; each of a dozen native families
vied for the honor of transferring his mat and camphorwood box to their
house; when evening came he had his choice of a dozen invitations to
dine, and a dozen girls competed for the joy of doing his laundry and
making hats for him. But this easy-going philosophy and lack of worry
over a situation scarcely respectable in the eyes of Papeete’s business
men were calculated to sow distrust.  In the case of Ariri, however, it
was difficult to see how he could go astray; there would be no
liquor—they would see to that—and with no visitors and no means of
leaving the island there seemed little chance of trouble. Tino was a
famous handler of native labor.

The agreement was made and in due time a schooner sailed into the Ariri
lagoon to land Tino and a score of Raiatea boys with their wives.  The
Frenchmen took care to leave no boat capable of putting out to sea, but
as there were houses and sheds to build they left a considerable variety
of tools and gear, in addition to a year’s supply of medicine, food, and
clothing.  A day or two later the schooner sailed away.

The superintendent called his men together and appointed a foreman.  The
main island was to be cleared, rows staked out, and the nuts brought for
seed to be planted in such a manner.  Before this work began, a house
was to be built for each family. That was all, except that Tino needed
five men at once for special work of his own—let them be those most
skilled in woodworking.  With that he seems to have dismissed the
business of planting coconuts from his mind.

There was a certain amount of hibiscus on the island, as well as the
trees called _tou_ and _puka_.  In seven months’ time, with the help of
his men, Tino cut down trees, sawed out timbers and planking, and built
a forty-foot cutter—sturdy, fast, and seaworthy.  Her mast was the
smoothed-down trunk of an old coconut palm; her sails a patchwork of
varied fabrics; her cordage of cinnet, twisted and braided coconut
fiber—the work of women, incredibly skillful and patient. For anchor,
she carried a grooved coral bowlder, and her water tanks were
five-gallon kerosene tins.  At the end of the seventh month this
improbable vessel was launched, rigged, and provisioned.  Tino bade his
men farewell and set sail—promising to return—to the westward, fearless
and alone.  His only instrument was a compass, and yet he made the
passage to Fiji—twelve hundred miles—in fifteen days.

I forgot to say that before his departure he had ordered the top of a
tall palm chopped off, and on this stout flagpole had hoisted a homemade
edition of the Union Jack.  In Fiji he wasted no time.  At the office of
the High Commissioner of the Pacific he announced that he had taken
possession of Ariri in the name of the British Empire, and petitioned
that a fifty years’ lease of the island—at nominal rate—be given him.
The request was granted; a few days later Tino was again at sea, still
alone, and headed for his little kingdom.

The story is that he bought a sextant in Fiji, but at any rate,
something went wrong and he was fifty days without a landfall.  Think of
this extraordinary man, drifting about alone in his absurd
boat—careless, self-confident, and unworried!  Even Captain Slocum, said
to have navigated thousands of miles of ocean with no other chronometer
than a Connecticut alarm clock, performed no madder feat.  Tino fetched
up at a big lagoon island, six or seven hundred miles out of his course.
It is enough to say of his stop there that he spent a week and left,
loaded down with provisions and drinking nuts, and accompanied by five
of the younger and prettier girls of the village.

This time all went smoothly; the plural honeymoon party enjoyed a merry
voyage to Ariri, where Tino established his large and amicable family,
and proceeded to the less diverting business of planting coconuts.  A
year passed; a day came when the schooner from Tahiti rounded to in the
lagoon and sent a boat ashore.  Accompanied by his twenty men, Tino met
the supercargo on the beach.  Copra from the old trees? There was not
much, but what there was belonged to him.  This was a British island,
and he was the lessee; here were the papers to prove it.  He regretted
that as the proprietor he could not allow strangers ashore—demoralize
the labor, you know.  The Frenchmen fumed, but they were too shrewd not
to recognize defeat.

The years passed in peaceful and idyllic fashion; a score of Tino’s
half-savage offspring fished and swam and raced along the beach.  Then
one day Tino fell ill.

While he lay in bed, despondent, and brooding over the unfamiliar
experience, a schooner entered the lagoon and dropped anchor opposite
the settlement.  Her boat—trim and smartly manned as a yacht’s
gig—brought ashore the first missionary to set foot on Ariri. Tino was
difficult in the beginning, but the moment was perhaps the weakest of
his life; when the missionary left he had married the sick man to
Manini—his favorite wife—and received permission to install a native
teacher for the children of the island.

It amuses me to think of Tino’s recovery and probable regret over his
weakness—the thing is so natural, so human; bodily illness and spiritual
reform have always gone hand in hand.  But his word had been given in
good faith; he finished the church and schoolhouse he had promised, and
in due time installed the teacher among his flock.  The supreme irony of
the affair comes at this point, for the native teacher, on the lookout
for a flirtation, was indiscreet enough to select Manini as the object
of his attentions, and ended by being caught with her under
circumstances of the most delicate and compromising nature.  As Tino
said afterward:

"He had a score of women to choose from, beside four of mine who
wouldn’t have mattered—and then he picked on Manini!  Why, damn it all!
man, I was a bit fond of the old girl!"

The teacher paid dearly for his indiscretion.  Tino lashed him to a post
in the sun, where he would probably have died if the missionary schooner
had not appeared just at that time.  Cowed and whimpering, the culprit
was thrown into a canoe by the indignant husband, who pushed off and
paddled angrily alongside the schooner.

"Here’s your bleeding missionary!" he roared out, as he hurled the
struggling native into the lagoon. "I’m through with him—from now on
this island will have to get along with me for teacher and missionary
and king!"

That is all of the story, except that Tino died not long ago—happy, rich
enough, and surrounded by a numerous tribe of grandchildren.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                         *At the House of Tari*


You will not find Ahu Ahu—under that name—on any chart, and it would be
equally useless to search for Nukutere; yet both islands exist, and I
like their ancient names better than the modern ones.  Glance at your
maps and you will see the eastern Pacific dotted with islands bearing
names like Jarvis, Maiden, and Starbuck—names which suggest no more than
the thought of some wandering skipper, immortalizing himself by adding
new dangers to the chart.  Then think of Nukutere—the immemorial name of
an island known wherever the old Polynesians gathered to tell their
tales; Nukutere: The Object of the War Fleet’s Voyage ... it needs a
dull imagination not to feel a stir.

It was on Nukutere that I found that curious fellow, Tari, at home.
Friends often smile at my passion for wild fowl, yet I owe this peaceful
adventure entirely to a duck.  For several days I had been awaiting a
chance to photograph the sky line of the island, and when, one
afternoon, the clouds about the peaks dispersed, I put my camera into a
small outrigger canoe and paddled down the lagoon, on the lookout for
the viewpoint of greatest beauty.  I had gone a number of miles and the
sun was low when I found the view I wanted; though the silhouette of
Nukutere was clear-cut, there were clouds in the west and the light was
not strong enough for an instantaneous picture.  The lagoon is narrow at
this point; there was nothing to do but paddle out to the reef and set
up my tripod in the shallow wash of the sea.  In this manner I made ten
exposures—pretty things they must have been, with the long evening
shadows, the foreshore of dark bush beyond the water, the high profile
of peaks and jagged ridges against the sky.

I folded the steel tripod and stowed the camera in its case; just as I
pushed off to paddle back to the village I heard the whimper of a duck’s
wings in leisurely flight.  I have a very fair acquaintance with the
ducks of the northern hemisphere, which winter in considerable numbers
in Hawaii and occasionally drift down as far as Penrhyn Island, nine
degrees south of the equator; but though it must be well known in
scientific quarters, the odd nonmigratory duck of the South Seas is a
puzzle to me.  It is an unsocial bird, this Polynesian cousin of the
mallard; a lover of solitude, a haunter of thick woods and lonely
valleys; though I have seen them many times in the distance. I have been
unable to obtain a specimen so far.  I used to wonder how they survived
the swarms of bloodthirsty island rats until a friend wrote me from the
Cook group: "On top of the razor-back ridge behind the plantation, the
dogs put up a duck almost under our feet.  I found the nest well hidden
in the fern a beautifully constructed affair, edged with a coaming of
down, curled inward.  There were eight eggs, standing on end and
arranged to occupy the least possible space.  When the ducklings appear
the old bird must carry them down one at a time—a thousand feet or
more—to the swampy feeding grounds."

I could tell by the sound of its wings that the duck approaching me over
the lagoon was closer than any I had seen; in my eagerness for a glimpse
I forgot all about cameras and canoes.  I flung myself around to look,
intent and open-mouthed.  Next moment the outrigger heaved up with the
speed of a rolling porpoise, described a flashing arc through the air,
and smacked heavily into the water closing over my head.  It was a fast
bit of comedy.  The coral anchor and my tripod went to the bottom; I
caught the camera instinctively and rose, sputtering, to the surface,
where I managed to balance it on the flat bottom of the canoe.  Then, as
the water was not deep, and I had on nothing but a singlet and a
_pareu_, I swam down to get the tripod, and started for shore, pushing
the canoe before me. Ahead on the beach two girls and a boy were dancing
and rolling in the sand; as the water left my ears I could hear their
screams of joy.  For the moment I found myself unable to join in the
mirth.  My thoughts dwelt on cameras and on a story I had heard the
night before—how a fisherman, not far from where I was, had felt a tug
at his waist as he swam with face submerged, watching the bottom, and
turned to see a shark of imposing size nip off the largest fish on his
string.

The closer sight of me seemed to redouble the appreciation of my
audience, but it was not until I was splashing in the shallows that I
was able to smile. Then I saw that the elder of the girls was Apakura,
the wife of Tari.  She had been washing clothes at the mouth of a little
stream and came forward, bare-armed and smiling maliciously, to greet
me.

"Ah, you have come to bathe in the sea," she said, as I took her hand,
and at this enormous joke all three fell into such a convulsion of
laughter that they were obliged to sink down on the sand once more.
When she had caught her breath she turned to call her husband: "_E Tari!
E Tari e!  Aere mai ikonei!_"  A moment later he stepped out of the
bush, rubbing from his eyes the sleep of an afternoon nap, and I was
shaking his hand.

I know Tari rather well, and have spent a good deal of time within a few
miles of where he lives, yet I had been in his house only once before.
This is characteristic of the islands.  There is an agreeable
indifference about the relations of white men down here, a careless
friendliness I find pleasanter than the more strained and effusive
sociality of civilized places.  In every part of the world, of course,
this tranquil simplicity—the essence of the finest manner—is to be found
among the few who have studied the art of living, but the average one of
us is neither sure enough of himself nor sufficiently indifferent to the
opinion of others; handicapped by an abnormal sense of obligation, we
permit ourselves both to bore and to be bored.  In certain respects the
native is a very well-bred man; perhaps the white intruder has caught
something of his manner—or it may be that distance from home brings life
into a truer focus; in any case, one deals with the white man of the
islands without consciousness of an effort either to entertain or to
impress.  When you stop at the house of a strange planter he will offer
you a whisky-and-soda—if you refuse, nothing more will be said of the
matter.  At home, with a parching throat, it is quite conceivable that
you might tell your chance host not to bother, looking forward with
hopeful hypocrisy to his persuasion and your own inevitable acceptance.
I think I liked Tari the better for not having asked me to his house;
now that hazard had brought me to the door, he made me feel that I was
really welcome.

The house was set on a little rise of land, with a view of the lagoon at
the end of an avenue of tall coconut palms.  The broad veranda, set with
steamer chairs and scarlet-bordered Aitutaki mats, gave on a garden of
small flowering trees—"Frangipani," "_Tiare Tahiti_," "Maid of Moorea,"
"Queen of the Night."  Tari showed me to a corner room, and mixed a rum
punch while his wife put buttons on a fresh suit of drill.

Dressed in his clothes, I strolled into the living room to wait while he
was changing for dinner.  The place was large, and one might have spent
hours examining the things it contained—the fruit of twenty years in the
South Seas.  There were wreaths of bright-colored shell—the favorite
parting gift of the islands—from the Paumotus, from Raiatea, from
Aitutaki, and Mangaias.  There were fans from Manihiki, woven in
patterns of dyed pandanus, and Savage Island fans, decorated with human
hair.  Ranged on a series of shelves, I found a notable collection of
_penus_—the taro-mashers of eastern Polynesia, implements in which the
culture of each group expresses itself.  I was able to recognize the
pestle of Mangaia, eight-sided and carved with almost geometrical
perfection from a stalactite of pink lime; the Marquesan _penu_ of dark
volcanic stone with its curious phallic handle; the implement of old
Tahiti, gracefully designed and smoothly finished by a people far
removed from savagery; the rare and beautiful _penu_ of
Maupiti—unobtainable to-day—perfect as though turned on a lathe, and
adorned with a fantastic handle of ancient and forgotten significance.
Mother-of-pearl bonito hooks from a dozen groups were there, and on a
table I saw a rare _Toki Tiki_ from Mangaia, an odd thing which, for
want of a better name, might be called a Peace Adze.  It is a slender
little tower of carved wood, set with tiers of windows and surmounted by
a stone adze head, lashed on with wrappings of sennit, above which
extend a pair of pointed ears.  The carving—in the close-grained yellow
wood of the Pua—is exquisitely done; I recognized the standard patterns
of the islands—-the Shark’s Teeth, the Dropping Water, and the intricate
_Tiki Tangata_.  The significance of the Peace Adze was religious and
ceremonial; the story goes that when, at the end of a period of
fighting, two Mangaian clans decided to make peace, the adze played a
leading part in the attendant ceremony.  A handful of earth was dug up
with its head to show that the ground might now be cultivated, and the
people were told that they might come and go unmolested, freely as the
air through the windowlike openings on its sides.  Tari had real adzes
as well—the tools with which trees were chopped down and canoes hollowed
out—stone implements of a perfection I have never seen elsewhere, carved
out of basaltic rock, hard and close as steel, smoothed by processes at
which one can only guess, sharp and symmetrical as the product of modern
machines.

The Marquesan curiosities interested me most of all—relics of those dark
valleys which harbored the most strangely fascinating of all the island
peoples.  There were ornaments of old men’s beards, arranged in little
sennit-bound tufts, crinkled and yellowish white; beaked clubs of
ironwood, elegantly carved and smooth with countless oilings; ear
pendants cut in delicate filigree from the teeth of sperm whales;
grotesque little wooden gods, monstrous and bizarre; ceremonial food
bowls of _Tamanu_, adorned with the rich and graceful designs of a
culture now forever gone. One felt that the spirits of forgotten artists
hovered about the place, beckoning one back to days a century before
Melville set foot in the valley of Taipi, to scenes of a strange beauty
on which mankind will never look again.  Some day—perhaps in a future
less remote than we like to fancy—nature’s careless hand may once more
set the stage for a similar experiment, but the people sequestered in
those gloomy islands will be of another blood, and the result can never
be the same.  The Marquesans themselves—if one is to believe the
students of antique mankind—were the result of a racial retrogression;
their continental forebears knew iron and pottery and the culture of
rice—things lost in the eastward push which brought them to the Nine
Islands of Iva.

One curious trinket—labeled "Fatu Hiva"—caught my eye; a squat little
figure carved in a sawn-off length of yellow ivory.  I examined it
closely; it had the air of being at least a hundred years old, and the
concentric rings of the section showed it to be the tooth or tusk of
some large animal.  Where could the Marquesan carver have obtained such
a lump of ivory on which to exercise his skill?  Could it be possible
that this was the tusk of an elephant, carved not one hundred but many
centuries ago, and preserved by the people of these distant islands—an
immemorial relic of the days when their ancestors left Persia or the
Indian hills?  I looked again; it was large enough to be part of a small
tusk, but the section was flatter than any elephant ivory I had seen.
What could it be? Not the tooth of a hippopotamus—it was too large for
that; not the sword of a narwhal, which shows a betraying spiral twist.
Then I thought of a walrus tusk, and the story seemed clear.
Seventy-five or a hundred years ago some whaling vessel, after a venture
in the northern ice, must have sailed south and put in at Fatu Hiva for
water or wood or fruit.  They had killed walrus off Cape Lisburne or in
the Kotzebue Sound and, as was the habit of whalers, some of the tusks
had been kept for scrimshaw work.  Knowing the Polynesian passion for
ivory (in Tonga it was death for any but those of the highest rank to
take the teeth of a stranded sperm whale) it is not difficult to imagine
the rest—a lantern-jawed Yankee harpooner, perhaps, trading his walrus
tusk for a canoeload of fruit or the favors of an exceptionally pretty
girl.

I was examining a paddle from Manihiki—a graceful, narrow-bladed thing,
carved out of porcupine wood and set with diamonds of
mother-of-pearl—when Tari came in.

"A pretty paddle, isn’t it?" he remarked.  "You won’t find a more
curious one in the Pacific.  Notice the way that reinforcing ridge runs
down the blade from the haft?  Everything has a meaning in primitive
stuff of this sort; the original pattern from which this has descended
probably came from a land of little trees, where the paddles had to be
made in two pieces—blade lashed to handle.  Look at the shape of it—more
like a Zulu _assegai_ than anything else; it is a weapon, primarily; a
thrust of it would kill a naked man. The Manihiki people spend a lot of
their time in canoes on the open sea—after bonito by day and flying-fish
by night—and those waters swarm with sharks. They have developed their
paddle into a weapon of defence.  The Samoans carried a special shark
club for the same purpose."

I asked his opinion on the disputed question of sharks—whether, in
general, the shark is a real menace to the swimmer or the paddler of a
small canoe.

"I’ve heard a lot of loose talk," he said; "how learned societies have
offered rewards for a genuine instance of a shark attacking a man, but I
have seen enough to know that there is no room for argument. Some idiot
goes swimming off a vessel in shark-infested waters, and talks all the
rest of his life, perhaps, of the silly fears of others—never realizing
that he owes his life to the fact that none of the sharks about him
chanced to be more than usually hungry.  The really hungry shark is a
ravening murderer—dangerous as a wounded buffalo, reckless as a mad
dog....  I have seen one tear the paddle from the hand of a man beside
me and sink its teeth, over and over again in a frenzy, in the bottom of
a heavy canoe.  How long do you suppose a swimmer would have lived?  And
it’s not only the big sharks that are dangerous.  I remember one day
when a lot of us were bathing in Penrhyn lagoon.  Suddenly one of the
boys gave a shout and began to struggle with something in the waist-deep
water—clouded with blood by the time I got there. A small tiger shark,
scarcely a yard long, had gouged a piece of flesh out of his leg, and
continued to attack until a big Kanaka seized it by the tail and waded
to the beach, holding the devilish little brute, snapping its jaws and
writhing frantically, at arm’s length.  As he reached the dry sand the
native allowed his arm to relax for an instant; the shark set its teeth
in his side and tore out a mouthful that nearly cost the man his life."

The voice of Apakura was summoning us to eat. "_Kaikai!_" she called:
"_Aere mai korua!_"  Tari’s dining room was a section of the side
veranda, screened off with lattices of bamboo, where we found a table
set for two, fresh with flowers and damask.  Apakura sat cross-legged on
a mat near by; she was weaving a hat of native grass and looked up from
her work now and then to speak to the girl who served us—admonishing,
scolding, and joking in turn.  Tari followed my glance, and smiled as he
caught the eye of his wife.

"It probably strikes you as odd that she doesn’t sit with us," he said
to me.  "I tried to get her into the way of it at first, but it’s no
good.  For generations the women of her family have been forbidden to
eat in the presence of men, and the old _tapu_ dies hard. Then she hates
chairs; when she sits with me she is wretchedly uncomfortable, and bolts
her food in a scared kind of way that puts me off my feed.  It is best
to let them follow their own customs; she likes to sit on the floor
there and order her cousin about; when we’ve finished they’ll adjourn to
the cook house for dinner and discuss you till your ears tingle.
Housekeeping down here is a funny, haphazard business—hopeless if one
demands what one had at home; easy and pleasant if one is willing to
compromise a bit. To a man who understands the natives at all the
servant question does not exist; they will jump at a chance to attach
themselves to your household—the trouble is to keep them away.  It isn’t
wages they are after; I pay these people nothing at all for cooking and
washing and looking after the place.  They like to be where tea and
sugar and ship’s biscuit are in plenty, and they like to be amused.  An
occasional stranger, coming and going like yourself, gives them no end
of food for talk; I have a phonograph I let them play, and a seine I let
them take out for a day’s fishing now and then.  Once a month, perhaps,
I kill a pig and give a bit of a party, and once or twice in a year I
get a bullock and let them invite all their relatives to a real
_umukai_.  In return for all this they look after my fifty acres of
coconuts, make my copra, do my housework, cooking, and laundry, and
provide me with all the native food I can use.  It strikes me as a fair
bargain, from my point of view, at least.  It is understood that they
are not to bother me; unless there is work to do or they want to see me
they never set foot in the house.

"My greatest trouble has been to get some idea of regularity into their
heads.  These people cannot understand why we prefer to eat our dinner
at the same hour every day.  Where contact with the white man has not
changed their habits, they eat whenever they are hungry—at midnight or
at four in the morning, if they chance to be awake.  Even here they
can’t understand my feelings when dinner is an hour or two late."

The cousin of Apakura took away the remnants of a dish of raw fish and
brought us a platter heaped with roast breadfruit, taro, yams, and sweet
potatoes, served with a pitcher of _tai akari_—the sea water and coconut
sauce, worthy of a place on any table.  It is only the uncivilized white
who turns up his nose at native food; the island’s vegetables are both
wholesome and delicious, and cannot be cooked better than in a Maori
oven.  A certain amount of European food is necessary to health, but the
sallow, provincial white man, who takes a sort of racial pride in living
on the contents of tins, need not be surprised that the climate of the
islands does not agree with him.  It is the same type, usually with no
other cause for pride than the fact that he chanced to be born white,
whose voice is most frequently heard declaiming on the subject of color.
Everywhere in the islands, of course, the color line exists—a subtle
barrier between the races, not to be crossed with impunity; but the
better sort of white man is ready to admit that God, who presumably made
him, also made the native, and made of the Polynesian a rather fine
piece of work.  Tari had stepped across with eyes open, counting the
cost, realizing all that he must relinquish.  He is not a man to make
such a decision lightly; in his case the step meant severing the last
material tie with home, giving up forever the Englishman’s dreams of
white children and an old age in the pleasant English countryside.  His
children—if children came to him—would have skins tinted by a hundred
generations of hot sunlight, and look at him with strange, dark eyes,
liquid and shy—the eyes of an elder race, begotten when the world was
young.  His old age would be spent on this remote and forgotten bit of
land, immensely isolated from the ancestral background to which most men
return at last.  As the shadows gathered in the evening of his life
there would be long days of reading and reflection—stretched in a
steamer chair on this same veranda, while the trade hummed through the
palm tops and the sea rumbled softly on the reef.  At night, lying
wakeful as old men do, in a hush broken only by the murmur of a lonely
sea, his thoughts would wander back—a little sadly, as the thoughts of
an old man must—along a hundred winding paths of memory, through scenes
wild and lovely, savage, stern, and gay.  Dimly out of the past would
appear the faces of men and women—long since dead and already only
vaguely remembered—the companions of his youth, once individually
vibrant with the current of life, now moldering alike in forgotten
graves.  They would be a strangely assorted company, Tari’s ghosts: men
of all the races, scholars, soldiers, sportsmen, skippers of trading
vessels, pearl divers of the atolls, nurses of the Red Cross,
Englishwomen of his own station in life, dark-eyed daughters of the
islands, with shining hair and the beauty of sleek, wild
creatures—bewitching and soulless, half bold and half afraid.  Whether
for good or ill, wisely or unwisely, as the case might be, no man could
say that Tari had not lived; I wondered what the verdict would be when,
in the days to come, he cast up the balance of his life....

Apakura ceased her plaiting and began to measure off the narrow braid,
delicately woven in a pattern of black and white, which would eventually
be sewn in spirals to make a hat—my hat, by the way, for it had been
promised to me weeks before.  One fathom, two fathoms, three
fathoms—another two fathoms were needed, work for the odd moments of a
month.  Some day—in an uncertain future and on a distant island,
perhaps—the cabin boy of a schooner would step ashore and present me
with a box containing this same hat, superbly new, decorated with a gay
puggree and lined with satin bearing my initials in silk. Meanwhile,
though I would have given much for a new hat, there was nothing to do
but wait.  Like other things of native make, a hat cannot be bought with
money; the process of manufacture is too laborious to be other than a
matter of good will.  Think of the work that goes into one of these
hats.  First of all—far off in the mountains—the stalks of _aeho_
(_Erianthus floridulus_) must be gathered.  These are split when
thoroughly dry, and the two halves scraped thin as paper before being
split again into tiny strips of fiber less than a sixteenth of an inch
wide.  A certain amount of the _aeho_, depending on the pattern to be
woven, must now be dyed—usually black or in a shade of brown. From a
dozen to twenty of these strands—dyed and undyed—are plaited into the
flexible braid of which the hat is built up—a task requiring
extraordinary patience and skill.  Such hats are made only for relatives
and close friends; if an unmarried girl gives one to a man the gift has
the same significance as the pair of earrings he would give in return.
When a native boy appears with a new and gorgeous hat, the origin of
which is veiled in doubt, village gossip hums until the truth is known;
even the classic sewing circle of New England can show no faster or more
efficient work than these artless brown women, standing knee deep in the
waters of some dashing stream, prattling, laughing, shattering the
reputations of absent sisters, as they pound and wring the soapy
clothes.

When dinner was over and Tari was filling his pipe in the living room I
took up the lamp for a glance at the titles on his shelves of books.
Side by side with the transactions of the Polynesian Society and the
modern works of S. Percy Smith and McMillan Brown, I found Mariner’s
_Tonga_, Abraham Fornander’s _Account of the Polynesian Race: Its Origin
and Migration_, Lieut. William Bligh’s _Voyage to the South Seas for the
Purpose of Conveying the Bread-fruit Tree to the West Indies, in His
Majesty’s Ship the_ "Bounty," and the _Polynesian Researches_ of William
Ellis.  I took down a volume of Ellis; Tari crossed the room to glance
over my shoulder at the quaint title page—it was evident that he loved
his books.

"Tahiti was the most interesting of all the islands," he said, as we sat
down, "and the best accounts of old Tahiti are those of Bligh and Ellis.
Bligh wrote from the standpoint of a worldly man and, though he was
unable to speak the language fluently and stopped only a few months on
the island, he has left an extraordinarily vivid and detailed picture of
the native life before European religion and trade began their work of
change.  Ellis was a missionary of the finest sort—broad-minded as
religious men go, inspired by the purest of motives, a close and
sympathetic observer, and able to appreciate much of the beauty and
interest of the old life.  If you believe that one branch of mankind is
justified in almost forcibly spreading its religion among the other
races, and that trade should follow the Bible, you will enjoy every page
of Ellis.  His point of view concerning temporal matters is summed up in
this volume, at the end of a chapter on Hawaii.  Here it is: ’Their
intercourse with foreigners has taught many of the chiefs to prefer a
bedstead to the ground, and a mattress to a mat; to sit on a chair, eat
at a table, use a knife and fork, etc.  This we think advantageous, not
only to those who visit them for purposes of commerce, but to the
natives themselves, as it increases their wants, and consequently
stimulates to industry.’  There you hear the voice of the mechanical
age, which began a hundred years ago and ended—I rather fancy—when we
fired the last shots of the war.  Increase their wants, advertise, speed
up production—whatever the impalpable cost, make the way smooth for the
swift wheels of progress—those are the germs of a disease from which the
world may need another century to recover.  But the change in these
islands was only the insignificant corollary of a greater change
throughout the world; Ellis and his kind were no more than the
inevitable instruments of a harsh Providence.

"Ellis’s book was published in eighteen thirty-one. During the
eighty-nine years that have passed since that date we have seized the
islands and profited largely by them—as coaling stations, as naval
bases, as sources of valuable raw material, as markets for our surplus
manufactured goods.  What have we done for the natives in return?
Instead of the industrious, piously happy, and increasing communities
foreseen by the missionaries as the result of their efforts, one finds a
depressed and dying people, robbed of their old beliefs and secretly
skeptical of the new.  We who conduct our wars in so humane and
chivalrous a spirit have taught them to abolish human sacrifice and to
stop the savage fighting which horrified the first messengers of
Christianity, but, in the case of the islands of which Ellis wrote, the
benefits of civilization end here. Infanticide is now a punishable crime
and rarely practiced, but perhaps it is as well to have children and to
kill a certain number of them, as to be rendered sterile by imported
disease.  After all, infanticide, repulsive though it may be, is only a
primitive form of the birth control which is making its appearance in
Europe and America, as the continents—the white man’s islands—approach
the limit of population.

"As for true religious faith of the kind which the missionaries
sincerely hoped to instill, that plays in the life of the Kanaka a part
of about the same importance as in the life of the average white man.
Don’t think I am cynical in saying this—I respect and envy men who
possess real faith; they are the ones by whom every great task is
accomplished.  But the religion of the native is less than skin deep;
his observance of the Sabbath day a survival of the old _tapu_; his
churchgoing and singing of hymns—satisfying the social instinct, the
love of gossip, the desire to be seen in fine clothes—replace the
old-time dance, wrestling matches, and exhibitions of the _areoi_.  You
have seen something of the outer islands, where the people are half
savage even to-day, still swayed by what we call heathen superstition.
Now consider Tahiti, where the people for more than a hundred years have
been subjected to exhortations of an intensity almost unparalleled. If
it is possible to inject our religion into their blood, it must have
been accomplished in Tahiti, but in my opinion the efforts of three
generations of missionaries have produced a result surprisingly small on
this island—the most civilized of the South Pacific—where heathen
superstition is far from dead to-day.

"Before the schooners took to Penrhyn Lagoon we used to spend the
hurricane season in Papeete; I never cared much for towns; I usually put
in the time wandering about the more remote districts.  Civilization has
barely scratched the inner life of Tahiti.  Men who wear trousers and go
to church by day would fear to sleep at night unless a lamp burned in
the house to repel the _varua ino_ and ghastly _tupapau_ of their
ancestors. If a girl falls ill the native doctor—a lineal descendant of
the heathen priest—is called in.  ’What have you done during the past
week?’ he asks....  ’You spoke harshly to that old woman?  Ah, I knew
there was a cause!’  He administers a remedy in the form of a certain
bath or a sprinkling with the water of a young coconut, and takes his
leave.  If the girl recovers it is a remarkable instance of the doctor’s
skill; if she dies it is proof that her offense was too grave to be
remedied. Perhaps a ghost walks and the native doctor is again
consulted.  ’It is your wife who comes to trouble you at night?  How was
she buried?’  Eventually the grave is opened and the body found to be
lying face down; when turned on her back and again covered with earth
the lady is content, and ceases her disreputable prowlings.

"I am not convinced that all of these things are absurdity....  I told
you, when we were on the schooner, about some of my curious experiences
in this group. There are happenings fully as strange on Tahiti and
Moorea.  You must have heard of what the natives call _varua ino_—a
vague variety of devil, a sort of earth spirit, quite unhuman and
intensely malignant.  The people are not fond of discussing this
subject, and their beliefs have become so tangled that it is impossible
to get a straightforward story, but as nearly as I can make out, numbers
of these _varua ino_ are thought to lie in wait wherever a man or woman
is dying, struggling fiercely with one another in their effort to catch
and devour the departing human soul.  If the spirit makes its escape the
first time the ravening watchers do not give up hope, but linger about
the body, to which the soul is apt to return from time to time during
the day or two following death.  The human soul, at this stage, is
considered nearly as malignant and dangerous as the _varua ino_—you can
see what a garbled business it is.  Sometimes an earth spirit enters the
corrupted body and walks abroad at night.  On one subject the natives
all agree: the struggles of the preying spirits and the human soul are
apt to be marked by splashes and pools of blood—whose blood I have never
learned to my satisfaction.

"A friend of mine—an educated and skeptical Englishman, in whose word I
have the utmost confidence—was the witness of one of these
blood-splashing affairs.  He lived on Moorea, just across from Tahiti;
Haapiti was the village, I think.  One afternoon he whistled to his fox
terrier and strolled to a near-by house, where the body of a native (an
old fellow he had liked) lay in state, surrounded by mourning relatives.
As he stood on the veranda the dog began to growl furiously, and at the
same moment the oldest man present—a sort of doctor and authority on
spiritual matters—shouted out suddenly that everyone must leave the
house.  The native explained afterward that he had caught a glimpse of
something like a small comet—a shapeless and luminous body, trailing a
fiery tail—rushing horizontally toward the rear of the building. The
people gathered outside in a bit of a panic; the fox terrier seemed to
have gone mad on the porch—alternately cowing and leaping forward with
frenzied growls toward some invisible thing.  All at once there was a
great racket of overturned furniture inside the house, and next moment
the Englishman saw gouts of what looked like blood splashing over the
outer wall and the floor of the veranda.  The dog was covered—it was a
week before his coat was clean.  The net result of the affair was that
the veranda needed a cleaning, a couple of tables were overturned, and
the body of the old man considerably disturbed; but its most curious
feature is the fact that my friend—suspecting native trickery and the
desire to impress a white man—took a specimen of the blood across to
Papeete, where he got the hospital people to examine it.  It was human
blood beyond a doubt.  What do you make of that?

"The other evening, when I was having a yarn with Apakura, she told me
about another kind of _varua ino_, who figures as the villain in the
tale of a Polynesian Cinderella.  It may interest you.  A great many
years ago, on Ahu Ahu, there was a man named Tautu—one of Apakura’s
family—a renowned fighting man, who dabbled in sorcery when there were
no wars to be fought.  Tall, handsome, and famous, it was no wonder that
Tautu was pursued by all the island girls—scheming sisters, in
particular, who went so far as to build a hut near where he lived.
Hoping to catch the eye of the hero, they took their finest ornaments
and robes of tapa and went to live in the hut, accompanied by their
little sister, Titiara, who was to act as a drudge about the house.
Young Titiara had no designs on Tautu, and she possessed no finery to
make herself beautiful in his eyes, but one day, when she was gathering
wood in the bush, he chanced to pass. Stopping to speak with her, he was
struck with her goodness and beauty, and from that time the two met
every day in the forest.  The older sisters, meanwhile, were the victims
of a mischievous earth spirit which haunted the vicinity and visited
them in the guise of Tautu.  They were triumphant—when it was known that
they had won the warrior’s favors all their friends would be wild with
jealousy; they could not resist preening themselves before their little
sister.  ’Tautu loves us,’ they told her; ’he comes every day when you
are off gathering wood.’  ’But that is impossible,’ said Titiara, ’for
Tautu is my lover; he meets me each day in the forest.’  The older girls
laughed scornfully at this, but Titiara said no more until she met her
lover in the evening.  When she told him what her sisters had said, he
laughed.  ’It is a _varua ino_,’ he informed her, ’a mischievous spirit
whose true appearance is that of a hideous old man.  To-morrow I will
prove to your sisters that it is not I who visit them.’  That night
Tautu sat up late, weaving a magic net of hibiscus bark—a net which had
the property of causing a spirit to assume its true shape.  Next
afternoon Tautu and Titiara stole up to the house where the spirit, in
the form of a splendid warrior, was talking and laughing with the two
sisters.  Tautu cast the net; next moment the spirit was howling and
struggling in the magic meshes, unable to escape, moaning as it
shriveled and changed to the appearance of an old man, gray-bearded,
trembling, and hideous.  The two sisters shrank back in loathing and
mortification, while Tautu told them that he had chosen Titiara to be
his wife."

As he finished his story Tari rose, crossed the room to a bookshelf, and
returned to hand me a volume bound in worn yellow leather.

"I’m going to turn in now," he remarked; "we’ll go fishing in the
morning if you will plan to stop over.  Take this to your room if you
are not sleepy; it is worth running over—Bligh’s account of the voyage
of the _Bounty_, published at Dublin in seventeen ninety-two."

Propped up in bed, with a lamp burning on the table beside me, I opened
Bligh’s quaint and earnest account of his voyage.  The mutiny, the
commander’s passage in an open boat from Tonga to Timor, and the
settlement of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island have been made familiar
by a voluminous and sentimental literature, but I had never before come
across the story of Bligh’s residence among the natives of Tahiti, one
hundred and thirty-two years ago.

More than any other Eastern island, perhaps, Tahiti was the cradle of
the oceanic race; called the Lap of God by Kamapiikai, the fabled
Hawaiian voyager, who discovered, in the southern group, the fountain of
eternal youth.  Knowing something of the island as it is to-day, I had
listened with interest when Tari remarked, "Civilization has barely
scratched the inner life of Tahiti."  Bligh was a close observer,
blessed with insight and a pleasant sense of humor; at the time of his
visit the people were untouched by European influence.  It is
interesting to check his observations against what any traveler may see
nowadays—to judge for oneself how deeply the civilization of Europe has
been able to modify the peculiarities of Polynesian character.

The family of Pomare, of which the chief Tu (called Otoo by Cook, Tinah
by Bligh) was the founder, owed its rise to power largely to the
friendship of the English. Bligh often entertained Tinah and his wife,
Iddeah, on board the _Bounty_—they must have been amusing parties.
"Tinah was fed by one of his attendants, who sat by him for that purpose
... and I must do him the justice to say he kept his attendant
constantly employed: there was, indeed, little reason to complain of
want of appetite in any of my guests.  As the women are not allowed to
eat in presence of the men, Iddeah dined with some of her companions
about an hour afterward, in private, except that her husband, Tinah,
favored them with his company and seemed to have entirely forgotten that
he had already dined."  In his rambles about the island Bligh noticed
precisely what strikes one to-day: "In any house that we wished to enter
we always experienced a kind reception and without officiousness.  The
Otaheiteans have the most perfect easiness of manners, equally free from
forwardness and formality.  When they offer refreshments, if they are
not accepted, they do not think of offering them the second time; for
they have not the least idea of that ceremonious kind of refusal which
expects a second invitation."  Bligh was not deceived, like the French
philosophers who read Bougainville’s account of Tahiti, and rhapsodized
about the beauty of a life free from all restraint; he remarked the
deep-rooted system of class inherent in the island race, a system of
which the outward marks are gone, but which is far from dead to-day.
"Among people so free from ostentation as the Otaheiteans, and whose
manners are so simple and natural, the strictness with which the
punctilios of rank are observed is surprising.  I know not if any
action, however meritorious, can elevate a man above the class in which
he was born, unless he were to acquire sufficient power to confer
dignity on himself.  If any woman of the inferior classes has a child by
an Earee it is not suffered to live."

Bligh’s observations on the gay and humorous character of the people and
their extraordinary levity might have been written yesterday.  "Some of
my constant visitors had observed that we always drank His Majesty’s
health as soon as the cloth was removed; but they were by this time
become so fond of wine that they would frequently remind me of the
health in the middle of dinner by calling out, ’King George Earee no
Brittanee’; and would banter me if the glass was not filled to the brim.
Nothing could exceed the mirth and jollity of these people when they met
on board."  One day Tinah told Bligh of an island "to the eastward of
Otaheite four or five days’ sail, and that there were large animals upon
it with eight legs.  The truth of this account he very strenuously
insisted upon and wished me to go thither with him.  I was at a loss to
know whether or not Tinah himself gave credit to this whimsical and
fabulous account; for though they have credulity sufficient to believe
anything, however improbable, they are at the same time so much addicted
to that species of wit which we call humbug that it is frequently
difficult to distinguish whether they are in jest or in earnest."  On
another occasion, while walking near a place of burial, Bligh was
"surprised by a sudden outcry of grief.  As I expressed a desire to see
the distressed person, Tinah took me to the place, where I found a
number of women, one of whom was the mother of a young female child that
lay dead.  On seeing us their mourning not only immediately ceased, but,
to my astonishment, they all burst into an immoderate fit of laughter,
and, while we remained, appeared much diverted at our visit.  I told
Tinah the woman had no sorrow for her child, otherwise her grief would
not have so easily subsided, on which he jocosely told her to cry again:
they did not, however, resume their mourning in our presence.  This
strange behavior would incline us to think them hard-hearted and
unfeeling did we not know that they are fond parents and, in general,
very affectionate: it is therefore to be ascribed to their extreme
levity of disposition; and it is probable that death does not appear to
them with so many terrors as it does to people of a more serious cast."

When the surgeon of the _Bounty_ died and was buried ashore "some of the
chiefs were very inquisitive about what was to be done with the
surgeon’s cabin, on account of apparitions.  They said when a man died
in Otaheite and was carried to the Tupapow that as soon as night came he
was surrounded by spirits, and if any person went there by himself they
would devour him: therefore they said that not less than two people
together should go into the surgeon’s cabin for some time."  I thought
of Tari and his tales of the _varuo ino_ ... four generations of schools
and churches have failed to work a metamorphosis.


I read on till drowsiness overcame me and the pages blurred before my
eyes.  It was late and the night was very calm; a vagrant night breeze,
wandering down from the mountains, rustled gently among the fronds of
the old palms around the house.  When the rustling ceased—so faint as to
be almost inaudible—I could hear the far-off whisper of the sea.  The
world about me was asleep; I roused myself with an effort, adjusted the
mosquito net, and blew out the lamp.


[Illustration: Chapter XIII tailpiece]



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                       *In the Valley of Vaitia*


It is not easy to analyze the magic which cozens every traveler into
believing that he is the first to see Tahiti with clear eyes—one feels
that it is made up of nature in a mood of unearthly loveliness; of a
sense of ancient and unalterable life; of a realization that strange
beliefs persist under a semblance of Christianity; of the lure of a race
whose confidence the white man can never fully gain.  The mail steamers,
the wireless, the traders, the scattering of French officials—these
things are a mere play of shadows on the surface.  Even the churches, I
was tempted to say; but the church plays more than a shadowy part in the
life of the native, whose religion, at the present day, is a singular
blending of Christian doctrine and old heathen belief.  The Tahitian
reads his Bible (he has no other book) and sings loudly every Sunday in
church; but the dead are still things of horror in his mind;
sorcerers—masquerading as doctors—still carry on a brisk trade; and
Tautau, the Great-headed, is still a living presence in the valley of
Punaruu.

When the people of the Society Islands accepted Christianity a century
ago they did so with reservations of which the missionaries, perhaps,
were not aware. Here and there, as at Faatoai on Moorea, there was a
burning of idols, but a great mass of material—old gods and heathen
weapons—was stored in secure hiding places among the hills.  To-day,
after three generations of increasing European influence, hundreds of
natives know of these caves and repair to them for purposes of their
own, yet a white man might spend his life on Tahiti without a glimpse of
a cinnet-bound orooro or a slender ironwood spear.

My friend Airima is typical.  The widow of a Yankee skipper, the owner
of a neat wooden villa in Papeete, where she appears regularly, on her
way to church, in shoes, stockings, and a black-silk gown, she finds it
necessary, from time to time, to cast off the unnatural manners of
Europe and live as she was meant to live; to be herself, an elderly and
delightful savage.  When the mood comes she closes the villa in Papeete,
gathers the willing members of her family, and repairs to her native
house, far off on the peninsula of Taiarapu.

The house of Airima stands on the river bank, shaded by a pair of mango
trees, dark green and immemorially old.  The roof is thatched with
braided fronds of coconut; breezes play through the lofty single room,
bare of furniture and floored with mats spread on white coral gravel,
leveled and packed.  Past the veranda, on which the family sleeps
through the warm hours of the day, the river flows out gently to the
sea; a broad, still water, deep and glassy clear, peopled with darting
shoals of fish—mullet, young pampano, and _nato_, the trout of the South
Seas.  Opposite the river mouth the reef is broken by a pass, through
which the steady lines of combers sweep in to crash and tumble on the
bar.  Morning and afternoon the breakers are alive with naked children,
shouting and glistening brown in the sunlight as they ride the waves.

Inland, the valley marking the river’s course is lost in a maze of
broken and fantastic peaks; seaward, bordering the green and blue of the
lagoon, the snowy line of the reef stretches off endlessly; and beyond a
three-league expanse of bright sea the headlands of Tahiti Nui rise in
vast, swelling curves, up and up to the perpetual clouds which veil the
heights.  Under a bright sun at midday, when the palm tops toss to the
trade which paints the lagoon—in the deep passes and over the patches of
sandy bottom—with ruffled sapphire and emerald, and sets the whitecaps
to dancing beyond the reef, or in the calm of night, with the moon
hanging low over pinnacles of basalt—when the polished surface of the
lagoon is broken by the plunge and swirl of heavy fish, and native
songs, rising and falling in savage cadences, float out across the
water—it is a place not easily forgotten.


It was still dark when we rose—Maruae and I; the brothers of Maruae had
returned from the reef, and the ovens behind the cook house were
smoking, for in these places the hour of the day’s first meal is set by
the return of the fishermen.  I took one shuddering plunge into the
river, dressed myself in a shirt, a waistcloth, and a pair of hobnailed
boots, and squatted with the rest to consume a fresh-caught mackerel and
a section of breadfruit, dipped in the common bowl of sauce.

Maruae sucked his fingers and stood up, calling to the dogs.  Airima
glanced at me over the back of a large fish she was gnawing, holding it
with both hands. "Go, you two," she said.  "You stay," replied Maruae,
as he turned to take the path to the mountains.  The oceanic tongue
possesses no other words of parting.

We followed the river across the flatlands of the coast.  Dawn was
flushing in the east; the profile of lofty ridges, fern clad and
incredibly serrated, grew sharp against the sky.  The mynahs were
awakening; from the thick foliage of orange and mango trees came their
extraordinary morning chorus—a thousand voices, whistling, screaming,
and chattering that it was time the assembly broke up for the foraging
of another day. In one place, where a turn of the path brought us
suddenly to the edge of a still reach of water, a pair of native ducks
(_Anas superciliosa_) rose vertically on beating wings and sped off over
the palm tops.  A little farther on, where volcanic bowlders began to
appear through the alluvial soil and the river leaped and foamed over
the first rapids, a family of Tahitian jungle fowl, led by a splendid
burnished cock, sprang out of the grass and streamed away, in easy,
rapid flight, toward the hills.  The dogs bounded forward and stopped,
whining as they watched the wild chickens dwindle to speeding dots.

The groves of coconut palms and open pasture land were behind us now;
the valley was narrowing, hemmed in by thousand-foot cliffs to which a
tangle of vegetation clung.  The river had become a torrent, boiling and
waist deep—plunging over cataracts, roaring down dark rapids under a
roof of matted trees: giant hibiscus a yard through, too remote to tempt
the ax of the canoe builder; candle nut, Barringtonia, and mapé, the
island chestnut, with boles like fluted columns of a temple.  The trail
wound back and forth, across the river, over the trunks of fallen trees,
around masses of rock tumbled from the cliffs above, mounting higher and
higher into the heart of the island.  Once, as we stopped to rest, I
looked back and caught a glimpse of the sea—a wedge of blue, far behind
us and below.  The dogs had begun to range ahead, for they knew that any
moment we might start a sounder of wild pig.  I was growing tired—it was
not easy to follow Maruae at his own gait.  He walked with the rapid,
springy tread of a mountain man; when he stooped to clear a
low-branching limb or lopped off a section of creeper with an easy swing
of his machete I admired the play of muscles on his back, rippling
powerfully under the smooth, brown skin.  Silken and unblemished—unless
it be by scars—the skin of these people is not like ours, but softer and
closer in texture; seeming, like marble, to glimmer with reflected
light.

The gorge grew narrower; we rounded a buttress of jointed basalt and
came suddenly into the light and open of a lonely valley.  A quarter of
a mile wide and twice as long, set high above the sea, and hemmed in by
untrodden ridges, it lay here uninhabited and forgotten, in a silence
broken only by the roar of savage cataracts and the far-off bellowing of
wild bulls.  Yet man had been here.  Along the base of the cliffs we
found the terraced stone of his dwellings, the blocks of volcanic rock
pried apart by the roots of huge old trees.

Maruae was squatting on his heels beside me, contemplating in silence
these relics of an older time. Finally he turned his head.  "Those
stones are very old," he remarked; "they have been here always, since
the beginning.  Men placed them there and men slept on them, but not the
men of my people."  My thoughts dwelt on the old idle tales I had
heard—of the Lizard men, of the dark-skinned aborigines, the Manahune,
said to have been in possession of the land when the eyes of Polynesian
voyagers first rested on cloudy Orofena.  There were other tales, too,
of a later day; of a tribe of men dwelling in the valleys, neither
tasting fish nor setting foot on the beach except when, at certain
intervals, they were permitted to come down to worship by the sea.  Even
to-day it needs no effort of the imagination to see two distinct types
among the island people: men and women of the kind one considers
typically Polynesian—tall, clean limbed, and light brown, with clear,
dark eyes, straight or waving hair, and heads not differing greatly from
the heads of Europeans; and another kind, of a negroid or Melanesian
cast—short, squat, and many shades darker in complexion, thick-lipped
and apish, with muddy eyes, kinky hair, and flattened, undeveloped
heads.  And, strangely enough, after more than a century of missions and
leveling foreign influence, the dark and awkward people seem still to
fill the humbler walks of life—they are the servants and dependents, the
feeders of pigs, the carriers of wood and water.  Great stature,
physical beauty, and light complexion are still the hall marks of
aristocratic birth.  Writing of the islands a hundred years ago, old
Ellis, the often-quoted, closest observer of them all, remarked: "It is
a singular fact in the physiology of the inhabitants of this part of the
world that the chiefs, and persons of hereditary rank and influence of
the islands, are, almost without exception, as much superior to the
peasantry or common people in stateliness, dignified deportment, and
physical strength as they are in rank and circumstances, although they
are not elected to their station on account of their personal
endowments, but derive their rank and elevation from their ancestry.
This is the case with most of the groups of the Pacific, but peculiarly
so in Tahiti and the adjacent isles.  The father of the late king was
six feet four inches high; Pomare was six feet two.  The present king of
Raiatea is equally tall.... Their limbs are generally well formed, and
the whole figure is proportioned to their height, which renders the
difference between the rulers and their subjects so striking that
Bougainville and some others have supposed they were a distinct race,
the descendants of a superior people, who at a remote period had
conquered the aborigines and perpetuated their supremacy."  There is a
curious inconsistency in the matter of complexion, for in the old days a
dark skin was considered the sign of a strong, warlike, and masterly
man.  Ellis records an extract from an old song: "If dark be the
complexion of the mother, the son will sound the conch shell"; and yet,
on the same page, he observes that "the majority of the reigning family
in Raiatea are not darker than the inhabitants of some parts of southern
Europe."

While Maruae and I rested among the ruins of the ancient settlement the
dogs had been more usefully engaged.  My musings were disturbed by a
sudden burst of squeals, punctuated by excited yelpings. Maruae sprang
to his feet, long knife in hand.  It was only a small pig, a
sixty-pounder, but he was bursting fat, stuffed with Vi apples fallen
from the great tree under which he had been feeding.  The dogs had him
by the ears when we arrived; a thrust of the machete put an end to his
short and idyllic life.  I hung him from a branch and skinned him while
Maruae went off in search of _fei_.  Presently he returned, carrying on
his shoulder a stout pole of hibiscus, from either end of which swung a
bunch of the mountain plantains, like huge, thick bananas, the size of
quart bottles and bright yellowish red.  There was a clump of palms near
by, another sign, perhaps, of man’s former occupation—the relics of
unnumbered vegetable generations; we had coconuts to drink, pork and
_fei_ were at hand, and plenty of fresh-water crayfish to be had in the
river.  In the islands, the obtaining of food is always the signal for a
meal.  Maruae beckoned to me and led the way to the river, where he
readjusted his waistcloth to leave a kind of apron hanging in front and
plunged up to his armpits in the still water. With the apron spread as a
trap for the darting crayfish, he moved slowly along the grassy and
overhanging bank of the stream, stopping every moment or so to hand a
struggling victim up to me.  This little fresh-water lobster is one of
the most delicious shellfish in the world—of the same dimensions as the
French ecrivisse, and not unlike it in flavor.  In fifteen minutes we
had enough, and the work of preparing our meal began.

I gathered wood and started a fire against a face of rock.  Maruae cut a
section of giant bamboo, half filled it with water, threw in the
crayfish, and stood it beside the fire to boil.  Our meal was genuinely
primitive; I had cigarettes, matches, and a paper of salt stowed in the
tuck of my _pareu_—excepting our knives, we had nothing else that the
rudest of savages might not have possessed.  Turning up the earth with
his machete, my companion scraped out a shallow trench—a Maori oven.  He
set a ring of stones about the edge, lined the inside with pebbles, and
filled the whole with coals from our camp-fire.  While the coals glowed,
heating the earth and stones, he cut off a loin and hindquarter of pork,
wrapped the meat carefully in plantain leaves, and selected half a dozen
of the riper plantains for our meal.  Finally, when the oven was
thoroughly hot, he scraped away the coals from the middle, laid in the
leaf-wrapped pork, surrounded by a ring of plantains, pushed the hot
stones close to the food, and covered the whole with a thick layer of
plantain leaves. We ate the crayfish—boiled to a bright scarlet—while
the balance of our meal was cooking.  I added salt to the boiled-down
liquor in the bottom of the bamboo, and dipped in this natural sauce.
The first course whetted our appetites for the tender meat and juicy
plantains which soon came from the oven.

As we lay smoking after our meal I could see that Maruae had something
in his mind and was debating whether or not to speak.  Finally he began,
cautiously and with an air of skeptical restraint at first, but with
more and more assurance as he saw that I listened seriously to his
story.

"The old people say," he remarked, pointing to the head of the valley,
where the cliffs narrowed to a deep crack through which the river
rushed, "that far up in this same valley, beyond the upper gorge you
see, a spirit dwells, one of the heathen spirits which are as old as the
land.  You and I may not believe in these things, but it is good, when
the evenings are long, to listen to the stories of the old men.  The
name of this spirit is Tefatu; some call him _varua ino_, saying that he
dogs the footsteps of the living and preys upon the souls of the newly
dead, but that is not true, for many times in the memory of my fathers
he has been known to aid those in perplexity or distress.  The old men
believe that if a traveler, lost in these mountains at nightfall, calls
on Tefatu for succor, the spirit will appear before him in the likeness
of a pale, moving fire, and lead him in safety down to the sea.  Once in
sight of the sea, the man must cry out in a loud voice, ’You have aided
me, Tefatu, and I am content; stop here and I will go on my way.’  It is
not good to neglect these words of parting.  Sometimes he is seen at
night, flying from ridge to ridge of the mountain—a great glowing head,
trailing a thin body of fire.  Long ago, during the childhood of my
grandmother, Tefatu left this land for a space of years; men said that
he had flown to Hawaii, but now he is returned beyond a doubt.  High up
among the cliffs I found the cave in which he sleeps by day....  These
eyes of mine have seen the Old Lord lying there among the whitened heads
of men—I looked and turned away quickly, for my stomach was cold with
fear.

"I cannot tell you clearly," Maruae went on, in answer to my obvious
question, "for I was greatly afraid.  It seemed to me that he was a
figure of wood, longer and thinner than a man, black with age, covered
with carved patterns, and bound, in places, with close wrappings of
_napé_—the fine sennit my people have forgotten how to make.  The place
was full of bones; scores of men had been slain and their bodies offered
there, as was the custom of our old kings.  Once, not many years ago, a
wise man came here from the islands of Hawaii—an old man, bearded and
wearing spectacles. It was his work to write down the names of our
ancestors, and he spoke our tongue, though haltingly and with a strange
twist.  He lived with us for a time and we grew fond of him, for he was
a simple man, who made us laugh with his jokes and was kind to the
children.  One evening I told him how I had found the place of Tefatu.
As I spoke his eyes grew bright behind their windows of glass, and when
I had done he begged me, in great excitement, to lead him to the
cave—offering a hundred of your dollars if I could prove that I had
spoken true words.  I was younger then, and in need of money, for I was
courting a girl.  We went together into the mountains, but as we drew
near the place something within me made me hesitate and I grew afraid.
In the end I deceived that man who was my friend, telling him that I
could not find the way. He was indeed a wise man; another would have
mocked me for a liar and a teller of idle tales, but he only smiled,
looking at me kindly—he knew that my words were true and that I feared
to betray the sleeping place of the Old Lord."

Maruae rose to his feet with the sigh of a man who has eaten well and is
deprived of his rightful siesta. He shouldered his ponderous load of
_fei_—which I could scarcely raise from the ground—and led the way
toward the sea, while I followed, bearing the remnants of the pig.  It
was noon when we reached the flatlands of the coast.

A quarter of a mile above the house of Airima we stopped to watch a
large canoe, loaded with a mound of seine, gliding up the river,
followed by a fleet of smaller craft.  An old woman stood in the bow,
directing the proceedings with shrill volubility; she was the proprietor
of the net, a village character at once kindly and tyrannical—widow of
one chief and mother of another.  As her canoe drew abreast of us she
gave the command to halt and spread the net. The river at this point is
almost without current, very still and clear; Maruae and I sat on the
high bank, too tired to do more than play the part of spectators.

They grounded the big canoe just below where we sat, putting one end of
the seine ashore and paddling slowly across the river while the net was
laid out in a deep, sagging curve downstream.  One after another the
smaller canoes were beached, and the people, half naked and carrying
spears, ran along the bank to take to the water a few hundred yards
above.  The river was alive with them, splashing and shouting as they
drove the fish toward the trap.  Next moment the bright shoals began to
appear beneath us, the sunlight glinting on burnished sides as they
darted this way and that by hundreds, seeking a way of escape.  A run of
mullet flashed downstream, saw the net, turned, and were headed back
toward the sea.  A series of cries went up—"_Aué!  Aué!_"—as fifty or
sixty of the beautiful silvery fish leaped the line of floats and dashed
away to safety.  The old headwoman, dressed in a Mother Hubbard of
respectable black and a rather handsome hat, was swimming easily in
three fathoms of water; nothing escaped her watchful eye.

"_E ara!_" she shouted, angrily; "the best fish are getting away!
Hurry, you lazy ones—splash the water below the net, or we shall not
have a mullet left! Remember that when the haul is over he who has not
worked shall have no fish."

As the line of beaters drew near, the men in the big canoe paddled
upstream and across behind them, throwing out net as they went, until
the frightened fish and a score of swimmers were encircled.  The two
ends of the seine were now close together on the bank, and half a dozen
men began to haul in with a will, their efforts causing the circle to
narrow slowly and steadily. Looking down from the high bank, one could
see children of ten or twelve, stark naked, and carrying tiny spears in
their hands, swimming like frogs a fathom deep in the clear water,
pursuing the darting fish.  Now and then a youngster came to the surface
with a shrill cry of triumph, holding aloft the toy spear on which was
transfixed a six-inch fish.  The people of the islands, as a rule, are
neither fast nor showy swimmers; one can see prettier swimming any
summer afternoon on the Long Island shore, but the Polynesian is at home
in the water in a way the white man can never match.  I watched an old
woman, all of seventy and wearing a black blouse girded tightly to her
waist with a _pareu_, treading water at the lower end of the net, where
the fish were beginning to concentrate.  She was as much at her ease as
though she had been lying on her veranda exchanging gossip with a
neighbor.  Each time she thought the headwoman’s eyes were turned away
she reached over the net, seized a fish, and stuffed it into her blouse,
until a flapping bulge hung down over her _pareu_.  But old Tinomana’s
eyes were sharp.  "Enough," she cried, half laughing and half in anger,
"_aué, tera vahine e!_ Perhaps she thought to get a string of fish, too,
for that worthless son-in-law of hers!"

At length the seine lay in two great piles on the beach, and only a
bulging pocket, filled with a pulsating mass of silver, remained in the
river.  Under the direction of Tinomana the fish were divided into
little piles, strung on bits of hibiscus bark, and apportioned among the
people, according to the size of their families and the amount of help
they had given in the haul. For herself she reserved a considerable
share, for her household was large, and as the owner of the net she was
entitled to a full half—more than she loaded into the big canoe.

It was early afternoon when we laid down our burdens in the cook house
and stripped for a swim. The others were awakening from their siesta; a
flock of brown children, all vaguely related to the family of Airima,
followed us to the river, carrying miniature surf boards.  Next moment
they were in the water, splashing and shouting as they paddled
downstream toward where the surf broke on the bar.  Tehinatu, the pretty
sister of Maruae, passed us with a rush and leaped feet first from the
high bank.  She rose to the surface thirty yards away, shouting a
challenge to catch her before she could reach the opposite shore. Her
brother and I dove together, raced across the river, and had nearly
overtaken the girl when she went under like a grebe.  I was no match for
her at this game; under water she could swim as fast as I, and was a
hundred times more at home.  I gave up the pursuit and landed for a
sunning among the warm rocks of the point.

Out where the seas reared for the landward rush the black heads of
children appeared and disappeared; I could hear the joyous screams of
others, flattened on their boards and racing toward me, buried in flying
spray.  The old woman I had seen helping herself to fish was coming down
the river, paddling an incredibly small canoe, laden with an enormous
bunch of bananas and four kerosene tins of water.  She lived a mile down
the coast and, like many of her neighbors, braved the surf daily to
supply her house with fresh water from the river.  The gunwale of her
canoe seemed to clear the water by no more than a couple of inches; I
watched with some anxiety, thinking of the feelings of an American
grandmother in the same situation.

She ceased to paddle at the river mouth and watched her chance, while
the frail dugout rose and fell in the wash of half a dozen big seas.
Then in a momentary lull she dug her paddle into the water.  I sat up to
watch; a boy standing in the shallows near by shouted encouragement.  At
first I thought that she had chosen her moment well.  The canoe passed
the white water, topped a little wave without swamping, and was
seemingly out of danger; but suddenly a treacherous sea sprang up from
nowhere, rearing a tossing crest.  It was too late to retreat—certain
disaster lay ahead.  Stoically, without a sign of dismay, the paddler
held her craft bow on; the canoe rose wildly against the foaming wall,
seemed to hang for an instant almost vertically, and then canoe, cargo,
and old woman disappeared in the froth.  The boy screamed in ecstasy as
he galloped through the shallows to lend a hand.  The other children
ceased their play and soon the canoe and its recovered cargo were
brought ashore. They emptied the dugout and filled the tins with fresh
water; I heard the old woman laugh shrilly as she wrung her clothes on
the beach.  Presently, coached by a dozen amused spectators, she made a
second attempt, and passed the surf without a wetting; when I saw her
last she was paddling off steadily to the west.

I was dozing among the rocks when a ringing whistle startled me and I
looked up to see a bird like a large sandpiper alight on the beach and
begin to feed, running briskly after the receding waves or springing
into the air for a short flight when threatened by a rush of water.  It
was a wandering tattler, and no bird was ever better named.  Solitary in
its habits, except in the breeding season, when it resorts to northern
lands so remote that its nest and eggs are still (I believe) unknown, it
travels south at the approach of winter, making lonely passages across
some of the widest stretches of ocean in the world ... to Hawaii, to the
Galapagos, to the Marquesas, and probably to the remote southern islands
of Polynesia.  What obscure sense enables the migrating bird to follow
its course far out of sight of land?  In France, I have flown side by
side with wild geese, heading steadily southward above a sea of clouds.
It seemed to me that—like the pilot of an airplane—they might guide
themselves, in a general way, by the sun, the stars, or the look of the
land below—an idea borne out by the fact that geese become lost and
confused in a fog.  But in considering a bird like the carrier pigeon or
the tattler, all such theorizing comes to an end.  No general sense of
north and south could guide the tattler to the lonely landfalls of the
South Pacific; his wanderings—like the migration of the golden plover,
or the instinct of the shearwater, which sends him unerringly, on the
darkest night of storm, to his individual burrow in the cliff’s—must be
classed among the inexplicable mysteries of nature.


On the road which passes close to the house of Airima I found Tehinatu
in conversation with the driver of a Chinese cart.  She was bargaining
for a watermelon; the Chinaman stood out for three francs—she offered
two. "Enough of talking," she said, firmly; "the melon is the best you
have, but it is green.  I will give two francs."

"_A toru toata_," muttered the proprietor of the melon, indifferently.
("_Toata_" means a franc, but is obviously a corruption of quarter, for
the dollar passed current here long before the money of France.)

"Look at my clothes," pleaded the deceitful girl, changing her tactics
suddenly.  "I am a poor woman who cannot afford to pay the prices you
expect from the chief.  Come, dear _Tinito_, give me the melon for two
francs."

The Chinaman shrugged his shoulders and glanced at me.  The glint in his
narrow eye might have meant, "Ah, these women—what’s the use!"  He
sighed; for a moment, while Tehinatu looked at him pleadingly, he was
silent.

"Take the melon," he said, "and give me two francs; I must be on my way.
But do not think you have deceived me, cunning woman; I know that you
are not poor, for only yesterday your brother sold the copra from your
land."

Without a sign of embarrassment the girl opened her hand and held up a
hundred-franc note.  "Ah, you are rich," remarked the Chinaman, as he
undid an oilcloth wallet and stripped the change from a substantial roll
of bills.  "I knew it.  Are you not ashamed to practice such deceit?"
But Tehinatu only tucked the melon under her arm with a triumphant
smile.

It is a curious study to watch the contact of Chinese and Polynesian,
races separated by the most profound of gulfs, yet possessing the
meeting ground of a common love of bargaining.  All through the French
islands you will find Chinamen, scattered singly or in little
groups—through the windward and leeward Societies; the Marquesas; among
the distant atolls of the Paumotu; in the remote Gambiers; in Tupuai,
Rurutu, and lonely Rimatara.  They are keepers of small stores, for the
most part, where you may see them interrupted at their eternal task of
copra making to exchange a box of matches for a single coconut or to
haggle for a quarter of an hour over a matter of five sous.  Patient,
painstaking, and unobtrusive—existing in inconceivable squalor, without
the common pleasures which enable most of us to tolerate our lives—they
seem to be impelled by motives far more profound than the longing for
material gam, by a species of idealism equally incomprehensible to the
native and to the visitor of European race.  It is not beyond
possibility that in the course of a few more generations it will be the
native islander who lingers here and there, isolated in communities
principally Chinese; for the islanders, superb physically, are the least
prolific of men, while the weedy little _Tinito_, who brings his own
women with him, or succeeds, with his own peculiar knack, in obtaining
women from a population which regards him with amused contempt,
surrounds himself with children in as short a time as nature allows.  I
have sometimes thought that the secret of the Chinaman’s dogged and
self-denying labors might lie here—traceable to his cult of ancestor
worship: to become a revered ancestor one must have children, and in
order to bring up properly a large family of children one must spend
one’s life in unceasing toil.

I doubt that Europeans in large numbers will ever be tempted to make the
islands their home; the life is too alien, the change too great.  As
things are, the relation of Polynesian and Chinese amounts to a subtle
contest for the land—a struggle of which both parties are aware.  The
native, incapable of abstract thought, feels and resents it vaguely; to
the Chinaman, whose days are spent in meditation undisturbed by the
automatic labors of his body, the issue is no doubt clear cut.  The
native is by far the more attractive of the two—clean, kindly, selfish,
jolly, childish, well bred, and pleasing to the eye; but the Chinaman
possesses the less attractive qualities which make for the survival of a
race—the industry, the unselfishness, the capacity to live for an
idea—and in the end, if only by force of numbers, he will win.  Looking
into the future, one can see the Eastern islands populated by Chinese,
as our own islands of Hawaii have been peopled with immigrants from
Japan.  "They are dying, anyway, and they won’t work," the commercial
gentleman will tell you; "here is rich cane land, needing only labor to
produce bountifully—and the world needs sugar."  Perhaps this view is
correct—for myself, I feel that the question is debatable.  There are
certain parts of the world—like our American mountains, deserts, and
lonely stretches of coast—which seem planned for the spiritual
refreshment of mankind; places from which one carries away a new
serenity and the sense of a yearning for beauty satisfied.  Ever since
the days of Cook the islands of the South Sea have charmed the white
man—explorers, naturalists, traders, and the rough crews of whaling
vessels; the strange beauty of these little lands, insignificant so far
as commercial exploitation is concerned, seems worthy of preservation.
And the native, paddling his outlandish canoe or lounging in picturesque
attitudes before his house, is indispensable to the scene.  If the day
comes when his canoe lies rotting on the beach and his house is tenanted
by industrious Chinese—though the same jagged peaks rise against the sky
and the same sea thunders lazily along the reef—when the anchor drops
and the call comes to go ashore, I, for one, shall hesitate.

In the Cook group, six hundred miles west of Tahiti, the prospect is
less depressing, for the British have adopted a policy of exclusion and
made it impossible for the native to sell his land.  The Cook-Islander,
reinforced here and there with a dash of white blood, and undiscouraged
by a competition he is not fitted to meet, seems to be holding his own.
The reason is clear—the native has been little tampered with, left in
possession of his land, and protected rigidly against epidemics like the
influenza of 1918, which ravaged the island populations wherever
infected vessels were permitted to touch.  Imported disease,
exploitation of the land, and coolie immigration—these are the
destroying forces from which the native must be preserved if a shadow of
the old charm is to linger for the enjoyment of future generations of
travelers.

Following Tehinatu toward the house, I thought to myself how wonderfully
the island charm had been preserved here on the peninsula of Taiarapu.
We were within fifty miles of Papeete, where business is carried on, and
steamers call, and perspiring tourists walk briskly about the streets;
yet here, in this lonely settlement by the lagoon, civilization seemed
half a world away.  When I walked abroad the sight of a white man
brought the people to their doors, and bands of children followed me,
staring and bright eyed, with interest.

On the veranda children surrounded us while the girl cut and distributed
thin slices of her melon.  There is a fascination in watching these
youngsters, brought up without clothes and without restraint, in an
environment nearly as friendly as that of the original human pair.  Once
they are weaned from their mothers’ breasts—which often does not occur
until they have reached an age of two and a half or three—the children
of the islands are left practically to shift for themselves; there is
food in the house, a place to sleep, and a scrap of clothing if the
weather be cool—that is the extent of parental responsibility.  The
child eats when it pleases, sleeps when and where it will, amuses itself
with no other resources than its own.  As it grows older certain light
duties are expected of it—gathering fruit, lending a hand with fishing,
cleaning the ground about the house—but the command to work is casually
given and as casually obeyed.  Punishment is scarcely known; yet under a
system which would ruin forever an American or English child the brown
youngster flourishes with astonishingly little friction—sweet tempered,
cheerful, never bored, and seldom quarrelsome. The small boy tugs at the
net or gathers bait for the fishermen, seemingly without a thought of
drudgery; the small girl tends her smaller sister in the spirit of
playing with a doll.  Perhaps the restless and aggressive spirit which
makes discipline necessary in bringing up our own children is the very
quality that has made the white race master of the world; perhaps the
more hostile surroundings of civilization have made necessary the
enforcement of prohibitory laws.

I filled my pipe and lay smoking on a mat, with an eye on the youngsters
at their play.  For the time being, a little girl, at the most
attractive period of childhood, was the center of interest.  One of her
front teeth was loose; she had tied a bit of bark to it and was
summoning up courage for a determined pull. A boy stole up behind her,
reached over her shoulder, and gave the merciful jerk; next moment he
was dancing around her, waving the strip of bark to which the tooth was
still attached.  The owner of the tooth began to sob, holding a hand
over her mouth, but her lamentations ceased when a larger boy shouted,
seriously, "Give her the tooth and let her speak to the rat!"  The small
girl trotted to the edge of the bush, where I heard her repeat a brief
invocation before she flung the tooth into a thicket of hibiscus.  I
knew what she was saying, for I had made inquiries concerning this
children’s custom—probably as old as it is quaint.  It is a sort of
exchange; the baby tooth is thrown among the bushes and the rat is
invoked to replace it with one as white and durable as his own. The
child says:

    "Thy tooth, thy tooth, O rat, give to the man;
    The tooth, the tooth of the man, I give to the rat."


No doubt the games of children everywhere are very much the same; in the
islands, at any rate, an American child would soon find itself at home.
The boys walk on stilts, play tag, blindman’s buff, prisoner’s base, and
a game called _Pere Pana_, like what we called Pewee when I was a
youngster in California—almost exactly as these things are done at home.
The girls play cat’s cradle, hopscotch, jackstones, and jackstraws—often
joining in the rougher games of their brothers. One curious game,
evidently modern, and perhaps originated by the children of
missionaries, is called _Pere Puaa Taehae_ (the Game of the Wild Beast).
The boys and girls, who pretend to be sheep, stand in line one behind
the other, clinging together under the protection of the mother ewe at
the head of the line. Presently the wild beast appears, demanding a
victim to eat.  "You are the wild beast?" the sheep ask. "Yes," he
replies, "and I want a male sheep."  He then waits while the sheep—in
whispers inaudible to him—decide on which boy (for the beast has his
choice of sexes) shall be sacrificed.  When the decision is made the
mother at the head of the line says, "You want a male sheep?"  At that,
all the others chant in unison, "Then take off your hat, and take off
your clothes, and strike the hot iron."  The last word is the signal for
the victim to make a dash for safety; if he can get behind the mother
before the wild beast catches him the performance is repeated until the
beast succeeds in catching another boy or girl, who then becomes the
_Puaa Taehae_.

The twelve-year-old daughter of Maruae—for Airima was a
great-grandmother, not an uncommon thing in this land of rapid
generations—had been talking for several days of piercing her ears in
order to install a pair of earrings to which she had fallen heir.  This
evening she had finally mustered courage for the ordeal; I watched her
hesitating approach and saw her hand Tehinatu the necessary
instruments—a cork, a pair of scissors, and a brace of sharp orange
thorns from which the green bark had been carefully stripped. Whatever
her color, woman’s endurance in the name of vanity is proverbial; the
child made no outcry as the thorn passed through the lobe of her ear,
sank into the cork, and was snipped off, inside and out, close to the
skin—the remaining section to be removed a fortnight later, when the
small wound had healed. As Tehinatu smiled at me and flourished the
scissors, to which clung a drop of blood, I heard a shrill call from the
cook house, "_Haere mai tamaa!_"  It was supper time.

Some of the children, in answer to the call, straggled toward where
Airima squatted beside her oven; others, already stuffed with odds and
ends of fruit, went on with their play.  Maruae beckoned to me as he
passed. The meal was a casual affair; one helped oneself without
ceremony, squatting to exchange conversation between bites, or walked
away, food in hand.  There were pork, cold fish, baked taro, and
sections of cream-colored breadfruit, ripe and delicately cooked.

The sun had set when we finished, and as the sky gave promise of a clear
night I spread a mat on the river bank.  Bedtime in these places comes
when drowsiness sets in; as I fell asleep the clouds veiling the
highlands of Tahiti Nui were still luminous in the afterglow.

It was midnight when I awoke.  In the house, faintly illuminated by the
light of a turned-down lamp, the family of Airima slept.  The air was
warm and scented with the perfume of exotic flowers.  The river was like
a dark mirror reflecting the stars; even the Pacific seemed to sleep,
breathing gently in the sigh of little waves, dallying with the bar.
Presently I became aware of subdued voices—Airima and Tinomana, the
chief’s mother, were seated on the rocks below me, fishing with long
rods of bamboo for the _faia_ which runs in with the night tide.  They
were recalling the past, as old ladies will.

"The women of Tahiti," remarked Tinomana, "are not what they were when I
was young; nowadays you may travel from morning till night without
seeing a really beautiful girl."

"Those are true words," said Airima; "_Aué_, if you had seen my eldest
daughter, who died when she was fifteen!  She was lovely as the
_itatae_, the white tern which hovers above the tree tops.  Her eyes
were brown and laughing, her hair fell in ringlets to her knees, her
teeth were small white pearls, and her laughter like the sound of cool
water running in a shady place. Alas, my Vahinetua!  She was our
first-born; my husband loved her as he loved none of the others.  A
strange, dreamy child....  I used to watch her when she thought herself
alone.  Sometimes, I know not why, the tears came to my eyes as I saw
her gazing into the sky while she chanted under her breath the little
old song the children sing to the tern:

    "O Itatae, sailing above the still forest, where shall
      you fly to-night?
    Downwind across the sea to Tetiaroa, the low island ...


"As she grew older a wasting illness fell on her; the doctors could do
nothing to stop her coughing; my husband even took her to the white
doctor in Papeete—it was on his recommendation that we took her to sea.
We were in Mangareva, far off in the Gambier Islands, when I saw that
the end was near.  My husband was not blind—he headed back for Tahiti at
once, giving up the rest of his trip.  Vahinetua was never more
beautiful than on the last morning of her life—cheeks flushed and eyes
shining soft and clear as the first star of evening.  We were nearly
home—off Maitea, the little island which lies between Tahiti and Anaa;
she died in my arms and I covered her with the bright patchwork
_tifaefae_ her own hands had sewn.  ’Our child is dead,’ I told the
captain, her father, as I came on deck.  He said nothing, but put a hand
on my shoulder and pointed toward the masthead, where I saw a small
white tern hovering above us.  I cannot tell you how, but I knew at once
the soul of my daughter was in that pretty bird.  It flew with us all
day, and at evening, as we entered the harbor of Papeete, it turned back
and disappeared in the night.  For many years thereafter, each time my
husband passed Maitea homeward bound, the white bird was waiting for him
at the place where my daughter had died...."

The voices of the old women murmured on, recalling the joys and sorrows
of other days.  Suddenly, in a mango tree behind the house, a rooster
crowed, answered far and near by others of his kind.  As the last
drawn-out cry died in the silence of the night I yielded to an
overpowering drowsiness and fell asleep.



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                            *Tahitian Tales*


The evening was very warm and still. The sea rumbled faintly on the
reef, half a mile offshore, and behind us—above the vague heights of the
interior—a full moon was rising.  The palms were asleep after their
daily tussle with the trade—fronds drooping and motionless in silhouette
against the sky. We had spread mats on the grass close to the beach;
Tehinatu lay beside me, chin propped in her hands—she had been bathing,
and her dark hair, still damp, hung in a cloud about her face.  Her
grandmother, Airima—the woman of Maupiti—sat facing us, cross-legged in
the position of her people.  Now and then a fish leaped in the lagoon;
once, far down the beach, a ripe nut thudded to the earth.

"If you two like," said old Airima, "I will tell you the story of my
ancestor, the Lizard Woman."

The girl smiled and raised her head in the little gesture which
corresponds to our nod.  "That is a good tale," she declared, "and true,
for I am named after that Lizard Woman who died so many years ago."

The woman of Maupiti lit a match to dry a leaf of black tobacco over the
flame; when she had twisted it in a strip of pandanus and inhaled deeply
of the smoke, she spoke once more.  Her voice was flexible and soft with
a sweet huskiness—an instrument to render the music of the old island
tongue—its cadences measured or rapid, falling or rising with the ebb
and flow of the tale.

"In the old days," Airima began, "so long ago that his name is now
forgotten, there was a king of Papenoo, a just man, successful in war
and beloved by his people. His wife was a daughter of Bora Bora—the most
beautiful woman of that island; she was the delight of his heart, and
they had many children.  When she fell ill and died, a great sadness
came over the king; he could do nothing but brood over his loneliness.
In his dreams he saw the face of his wife; life was hateful to him; even
his children, shouting and playing about the house, grew hateful in his
eyes.  A day came at last when he could endure the sight of them no
longer, and a plan to be rid of them took form in his mind.

"There had been a storm and he knew that the waves would be running high
at a place where there was a break in the reef.  ’Come,’ he said to the
women of his household, ’bring my children to swim—it will hearten me to
see them sporting in the surf.’  But when they came to that beach and
the women saw the great waves thundering in through the pass, they were
afraid, for even a strong swimmer could not live in such a sea.  Then
the king, whose hope was that his children might drown, bade them forget
their fears. One after another the young boys and girls went into the
sea and were swept out by the undertow—fearless and shouting.  The waves
broke over them and at times they disappeared; the women began to cover
their faces, for they thought, ’Those pretty children, so dear to us,
are as good as dead.’

"Then the watchers saw a strange thing—a true thing, told me by my
grandfather, who had learned it from the lips of his ancestors.  Beyond
the breaking of the surf, the children began to sport in the water,
diving and leaping higher and higher into the air. Their skins grew
black and glistened in the sunlight; their arms turned to fins and their
feet became like the tails of fish; the gods of those days had taken
pity on their innocence and made of them the first dolphins—the playful
children of the sea.  And the king was glad, for he saw that his
children would not die, and he knew that they could no longer come to
his house to bring back bitter memories.

"As the years went on, the daughters of many chiefs were brought to the
king, but no woman found favor in his eyes; his heart was always heavy
and no man saw him laugh.  Sometimes he walked alone in the mountains
where men do not go even to-day, for he feared nothing—-neither the
ravening spirits of the dead, nor the Lizard People, who in those days
lived in the interior of the island.  Fifty generations of men have
lived and died since our ancestors came to this island; they found the
Lizard People already in possession of the land.  Ta ’a ta Moo, they
called them—half human, half lizard; able to climb among the cliffs
where no man could follow.  The human warriors were more powerful in
battle, and as time went on the Lizard Folk were driven into the
fastnesses of the mountains.  Now the last of them is dead, but if you
doubt that they once lived, go into the hills and you will see the
remains of their plantain gardens high above cliffs no human creature
could scale.  My own people are traveling the same path—soon the last of
us will also be dead, and the white man will glance at the scattered
stones of our _maraes_ to make sure that once upon a time we lived.

"But I was telling you of the king.  One day, as he wandered alone in
the mountains, a Lizard Woman was lying in the fern beside the trail—a
head woman of her people, skilled in magic and able to read the future.
This king was a tall man, very strong and handsome; as he passed without
looking down, she seized his foot gently.  At that he looked down and
his heart swelled with love of her.  He dwelt with her in the mountains,
and when at last he came down to the sea his people had given him up for
dead.

"In due time a son was born to that Lizard Woman—a strong and beautiful
boy, the image of the king his father; she reared him alone in the
mountains and grew to love him better than her life.  But when she
looked into the future her tears fell.  When the child was twelve years
old she led him to the mouth of her valley and talked long with him,
telling him what he was to do, before she turned away and went back to
her own place, weeping.  Taking thought of her words, the boy went alone
to the village of the king.  His dress was the skin of lizards.

"When he came to that Place he said to those about, ’Take me to the
king, my father.’  But when they repeated his words, the king said, ’It
is false; I have no wife and no child.’  Then the child sent back word
asking the king if he had forgotten walking one day in the mountains
many years before.  With that the king remembered his love for the
Lizard Woman and bade his men bring the boy to him.  And when he saw the
strong, fearless child and heard his people exclaim at the beauty of the
boy and the wondrous likeness to himself his heart softened and he said,
’This is indeed my son!’

"The years passed, and the heart of the Lizard Woman—sad and alone in
the mountains—grew ever more hungry for her son, until at length her
life became intolerable without sight of him.  She stole down from the
hills by night and went softly about the village, weeping and lamenting
because her son was not to be seen; the people trembled at sight of her
in the moonlight and at the sound of her weeping, and the king feared
her, for he knew that she was powerful in magic, and thought that she
had come to take her son away.  In his fear he took canoe with the young
man, and they went down the wind to Tetuaroa, the Low Island, where he
thought to be safe from her.  But the Lizard Woman, by her magic, knew
where they had gone; she looked into the future and saw only sadness and
death for herself.  What must be cannot be avoided.  She leaped into the
sea and swam first to Raiatea, where she had lands and where the bones
of her ancestors lay in the _marae_.  When she came to that shore she
knew that her death was near and that she would die by the hand of her
own son.  Close by the beach she stopped to weep, and the place of her
weeping is still called Tai Nuu Iti (the Little Falling of Tears).
Farther on her path, she stopped again to weep still more bitterly, and
to this day the name of that place is Tai Nuu Rahi (the Great Falling of
Tears).  When she had been to her _marae_, she plunged again into the
ocean and swam to Tetuaroa—in all the islands there was no swimmer like
her; because of his mother, her son was named Au Moana (Swimmer in the
Sea).

"The king and the king’s son saw Tehinatu coming far off—for Tehinatu
was the name of that Lizard Woman—and they felt such fear that they
climbed to the top of a tall palm.  Then, knowing the manner of her
death, she came out of the water—weeping all the while—and began to
climb the palm tree.  The two men trembled with fear of her; they threw
down coconuts, hoping to strike her so that she would fall to the earth.
But though she was bruised and her eyes blinded with tears, she climbed
on until she was just beneath them, clinging to the trunk where the
first fronds begin to branch.  She stopped to rest for a moment, and as
she clung to the palm, allowing her body to relax, her son hurled a
heavy nut which struck her on the breast.  She made no outcry, but her
hands let go their hold and she fell far down to the earth.  But the men
still trembled and were afraid to come down out of the tree, for she
struck in a swampy place and was long in dying; all afternoon she lay
there, weeping and lamenting, until at sunset the spirit left her body.
When she was dead, they took her to Raiatea and buried her in her
_marae_.  After that the two men returned to Papenoo, and when the king
died the son of the Lizard Woman reigned long in his stead, these are
true words, for the blood of Swimmer in the Sea, born of the Lizard
Woman, flows in my veins."

Old Airima ceased to speak.  From the coconut shell at her side she took
a lump of black native tobacco and began to tear off a leaf for a fresh
cigarette.  Her granddaughter turned on one side—head resting on a
folded forearm—and looked at me.

"Aye, those are true words," she said; "for is my name not the same as
that of the Lizard Woman? During a thousand years, perhaps more—_mai
tahito mai_: since the beginning—the women of our family have been
called Tehinatu.  You yourself, though we call you Tehari, have a real
name among us—Au Moana, after her son.  These names belong to us; no
other family does well to use them."

The flare of a match illuminated for an instant the wrinkled and
aquiline face of Airima.  As she tossed the glowing stick aside, the
moonlight smoothed away the lines; I was aware only of her black eyes,
wonderfully alive and young.

"Tell him of Poia," she suggested, "and the dead ones in robes of
flame."

"_Aué_," said the girl; "that is a strange tale, and it came about
because of a name."  She sat up, shaking the hair back over her
shoulders.

"The woman who saw these things," she went on, "was another of our
ancestors.  She was called Poia, a name her grandfather had given.  She
lived at Tai Nuu Iti in Baiatea, where Tehinatu first stopped to weep.

"One day, in midafternoon, Poia was sitting in the house beside her
mother, busy with the weaving of a mat.  All at once a darkness closed
in before her eyes and she felt the spirit struggling to leap from her
body. It was like the pangs of death, but at last her spirit was free
and with its eyes she saw her body lying as if in sleep, and perceived
that there were strangers in the house—two women and a man.  The women
were very lovely, with flowers in their hair and robes of scarlet which
seemed to flicker like fire.  They were Vahinetua and Vivitautua,
ancestors dead many years before, who loved Poia dearly.  The man was
likewise dressed in flaming scarlet, and he wore a tall headdress of red
feathers.  He was Tanetua, another of Poia’s ancestors. The three had
come from the _marae_ to seek Poia, and they spoke to her kindly,
saying, ’Come with us, daughter.’  And though she felt shame when she
looked down at her dull dress and disordered hair, she followed where
they led.

"They took her to the _marae_ of Tai Nuu Rahi, and there Poia saw a huge
woman waiting for them.  The right side of that woman was white, and the
left side black; when she saw them coming she fell on her knees and
began to weep for joy.  ’Is it you, Poia?’ she cried.  ’Then welcome!’
As Poia stood there, marveling, the stone of the _marae_ opened before
her like the door of a great house, and Vahinetua and Vivitautua said to
her, ’Go in.’  The door gave on a chamber of stone—the floor was of
stone, and the ceiling and the walls.  They passed through another door
into a second empty room of stone, and thence into a third, and there
Poia chanced to look down at herself.  She had become lovely as the
others; her hair was dressed with flowers and her robe was scarlet,
seeming to flicker like fire.  While she was looking at herself, no
longer ashamed, the two women said to her: ’You must stay here, for you
belong to us. We are angry with your grandfather because he called you
Poia.  That is not all of your name—your true name is Tetuanui Poia
Terai Mateatea.  That name belongs to us, and you must have it, for you
are our descendant and we love you.’

"She did not know that this was her name; she thought it was only Poia.
In spite of their kindness she was frightened and told them that she
wished to go home.  They took her to the door of her house and left her
there; and she found herself lying with the half-woven mat in her
fingers.  Her mother, who was sitting beside her, only said, ’You have
slept well.’  But Poia, in fear and wonder at what she had seen, said
nothing to her mother, not even when the two went to bathe.

"The next day, in midafternoon, Poia again felt the darkness close in
before her eyes, the pangs of death as her spirit struggled and at last
escaped from the body.  But this time she found herself gloriously
clothed and beautiful at once.  All went as before until they came to
the third chamber of the _marae_; there were leaves spread on the floor
of that place as if for a feast, but the only food was purple flowers.
The others sat down and began to eat, and Poia attempted to do likewise,
but the taste of the flowers was bitter in her mouth.  Again the two
women said, ’You belong to us; you must not be called Poia, but Tetuanui
Poia Terai Mateatea.’  And they coaxed her to stay with them, but she
wept and said that she could not bear to be separated from her husband,
whom she loved.  As before, they were kind to her and took her to her
house, where she awoke as if from sleep, and said nothing.

"It was the same the next day, but this time, when they had come to the
third chamber of the _marae_, Vehinetua and Vivitautua said: ’Now you
must no longer think of returning.  You are ours and we wish you to stay
here with us.’  Poia wept at their words, for she began to think of the
man she loved.  ’I must go,’ she said; ’if I had no husband I would
gladly remain with you here.’  At last, when her tears had fallen for a
long time, the three dwellers in the _marae_ took her home; they bade
her farewell reluctantly, saying that next day she must come to them for
good.

"This time Poia awoke in great fear, and she told the story to her
mother when they went to bathe together.  Her mother went straight to
the grandfather, to tell him what she had seen and ask him if her true
name was Poia, as he had said years before.  Then the old man said that
he had done wrong, for the name was not only Poia, but Tetuanui Poia
Terai Mateatea, a name which belonged to Vahinetua and Tanetua and
Vivitautua.  And these three came no more to get Poia; they were
content, for they loved her and wanted her to have their name."

As she finished her story, Tehinatu lay down once more, resting her head
on her grandmother’s knee. My thoughts were wandering far away—across a
great ocean and a continent—to the quiet streets of New Bedford, set
with old houses in which the descendants of the whalers live out their
ordered lives.  In all probability the girl beside me, Polynesian to the
core and glorying in a long line of ancestors whose outlandish names
fell musically from her lips—had cousins who lived on those quiet
streets; for she was the granddaughter of a New Bedford whaling captain,
the husband of Airima—a Puritan who ate once too often of the _fei_, and
lingered in the islands to turn trader and rear a family of half-caste
children, and finally to die.  The story is an old one, repeated over
and over again in every group: the white cross; the half-white children
at the parting of the ways; their turning aside from the stony path of
the father’s race to the pleasant ways of the mother.  And so in the end
the strain of white, further diluted with each succeeding generation,
shows itself in nothing more than a name ... seldom used and oftentimes
forgotten.  It is Nature at work, and she is not always cruel.

"Is it the same with names in your land?" Airima was asking.  "Are
certain names kept in a family throughout the years?"

"It is somewhat the same," I told her, "though we do not prize names so
highly.  My father and grandfather and his father were all named
Charles, which you call Tehari."

"Among my people," she said, "the possession of a name means much.  As
far back as our stories go, there has been a man named Maruae in each
generation of my father’s family.  Some of these Maruaes were strange
men.  There was Maruae Taura Varua Ino, who fished with a bait of
coconut for the spirits of men drowned in the sea; and another was
Maruae Mata Tofa, who stole a famous shark—the adopted child of a man of
Fariipiti.  That was a good shark; it lived in the lagoon, harming no
one, and every day the man and his wife called it to them with certain
secret words.  But Maruae coveted the shark, and he prepared an
underwater cave in the coral before his house.  Then, when the cave was
ready, he hid in the bushes on the shore of the lagoon while the man was
calling his shark, and in this way Maruae learned the secret words of
summons.  When the man and his wife had gone, Maruae called out the
words; the shark appeared close inshore and followed him to the cave,
where it stayed, well content.  And that night he taught it new words.
Next day the man and his wife called to their shark; and when it did not
come they suspected that Maruae had enticed it away.  After that they
went to the house of Maruae and accused him of the theft; but he said:
’Give the call, if you think I have stolen your shark.  I have a shark,
but it is not yours.’  They called, but the shark did not come, for he
had taught it new words.  Then Maruae called and the shark came at once,
so he said, ’See, it must be my shark, for it obeys me and not you.’  As
he turned away to return to Fariipiti, the other man said, ’I think it
is my shark, but if it will obey you and no other, you may have it.’

"Some days later, a party of fishermen came to Maruae’s cave, where the
shark lived.  They baited a great hook and threw it into the water, and
as it sank into the cave they chanted a magic chant.  Then the shark
seized the bait, and as they hauled him out they laughed with joy and
chanted, ’_E matau maitai puru maumau e anave maitai maea i te rai_.’
This chant is something about a good hook and a good line, but the other
words are dead—what they mean no man knows to-day.  That night there was
feasting in the houses of the fishermen, but next morning, when Maruae
went down to the sea and called his shark, nothing came, though he
stayed by the lagoon, calling, from morning till the sun had set.  After
that he learned that his shark had been killed and eaten, and from that
day none of Maruae’s undertakings prospered; finally he pined away and
died."

Tehinatu stirred and sat up, eyes shining in the moonlight.  The subject
of sharks has for these people a fascination we do not understand, a
significance tinged with the supernatural.

"They did evil to kill that shark," she said, "for all sharks are not
bad.  I remember the tale my mother told me of Viritoa, the long-haired
Paumotuan woman—wife of Maruae Ouma Ati.  Her god was a shark. It was
many years ago, when the vessels of the white men were few in these
islands; Maruae shipped on a schooner going to New Zealand, taking his
wife with him, as was permitted in those days.  That woman was not like
us; she understood ships and had no fear of the sea; as for swimming,
there were few like her. When she came here the women marveled at her
hair; it reached to her ankles, and she wore it coiled about her head in
two great braids, thick as a man’s arm.

"The captain of that schooner was always drinking; most of the time he
lay stupefied in his bed.  As they sailed to the south the sea grew
worse and worse, but the captain was too drunk to take notice.  The men
of the crew were in great fear; they had no confidence in the mate, and
the seas were like mountain ridges all about them.  The morning came
when Viritoa said to Maruae: ’Before nightfall this schooner will be at
the bottom of the sea; let us make ready.  Rub yourself well with
coconut oil, and I will braid my hair and fasten it tightly about my
head.’  Toward midday they were standing together by the shrouds when
Viritoa said, ’Quick, leap into the rigging!’  That woman knew the ways
of the sea; next moment a great wave broke over the schooner.  The decks
gave way, and most of the people—who were below—died the death of rats
at once, but Viritoa and her husband leaped into the sea before the
vessel went down.

"A day and a night they were swimming; there were times when Maruae
would have lost courage if Viritoa had not cheered him.  ’Put your hands
on my shoulders,’ she said, ’and rest; remember that I am a woman of the
Low Islands—we are as much at home in the sea as on land.’  All the
while she was praying to the shark who was her god.  The storm had
abated soon after the schooner went down; next day the sea was blue and
very calm.  Presently, when the sun was high, Viritoa said to her
husband, ’I think my god will soon come to us; put your head beneath the
water and tell me what you see.’  With a hand on her shoulder, he did as
she had told him, gazing long into the depths below.  Finally he raised
his head, dripping, and when he had taken breath he spoke. ’I see
nothing,’ he said; ’naught but the _miti hauriuri_—the blue salt water.’
She prayed a little to her god and told him to look again, and the third
time he raised his head, with fear and wonder on his face. ’Something is
rising in the sea beneath us,’ he said as his breath came fast—’a great
shark large as a ship and bright red like the mountain plantain.  My
stomach is sick with fear.’  ’Now I am content,’ said the Paumotuan
woman, ’for that great red shark is my god.  Have no fear—either he will
eat us and so end our misery, or he will carry us safely to shore.’
Next moment the shark rose beside them, like the hull of a ship floating
bottom up; the fin on his back stood tall as a man.  Then Viritoa and
her husband swam to where he awaited them, and with the last of their
strength they clambered up his rough side and seated themselves one on
each side of the fin, to which they clung.

"For three days and three nights they sat on the back of the shark while
he swam steadily to the north-east.  They might have died of thirst, but
when there were squalls of rain Viritoa unbound her hair and sucked the
water from one long braid, while Maruae drank from the other.  At last,
in the first gray of dawn, they saw land—Mangaia, I think you call it.
The shark took them close to the reef; they sprang into the sea and the
little waves carried them ashore without a scratch.  As they lay resting
on the reef the shark swam to and fro, close in, as though awaiting some
word from them.  When she saw this, Viritoa stood up and cried out in a
loud voice: ’We are content—we owe our lives to thee.  Now go, and we
shall stay here!’  At those words the shark-god turned away and sank
into the sea; to the day of her death Viritoa never saw him again.
After that she and her husband walked to the village, where the people
of Manitia made them welcome; and after a few years they got passage on
a schooner back to Maruae’s own land."

The soft voice of the girl died away—I heard only the murmur of the
reef.  Masses of cloud were gathering about the peaks; above our heads,
the moon was sailing a clear sky, radiant and serene.  The world was all
silver and gray and black—the quiet lagoon, the shadowy land, the palms
like inky lace against the moonlight.  Tehinatu stifled a little yawn
and stretched out on the mat with the abrupt and careless manner of a
child.  Her grandmother tossed away a burnt-down cigarette.

"It is late," said the woman of Maupiti, "and we we must rise at
daybreak.  Now let us sleep."



                          *Becalmed at Pinaki*



[Illustration: Woodcut]



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                        *Anchored off the Reef*


On the third day of the homeward voyage the wind died away, and in the
middle of the afternoon it fell dead calm when we were less than a mile
distant from the atoll of Pinaki.  With the exception of a small group
of Papeete traders, I don’t suppose there are a dozen white men who have
ever heard of the place; and those who have seen it or set foot upon it
must be fewer still.  It lies toward the eastern extremity of the Low
Archipelago, and is one of four small atolls, all within a radius of
thirty miles of one another.  On charts of that segment of the eastern
Pacific these four islands are barely discernible, and Pinaki, the least
of them, appears but little larger than the dot of the "i" in
Whitsunday, its English name.

The current carried us slowly along the north-westerly side of the
island.  It was intensely hot. Teriaa, nephew of Miti, the skipper, was
sluicing the blistered deck, but the water steamed out of the scuppers,
and in a moment the planking was as dry and as hot to the touch as
before.  He soon left off and took refuge in the whaleboat, which he
covered with a piece of canvas.  I crawled in with him, but the
suffocating shade was less endurable than the full glare of the sun.
Tane, the other sailor, a man of fifty, was below.  He had remained
there most of the time since our departure from Rutiaro, sleeping on a
greasy mat, indifferent to the cockroaches—the place was alive with them
by night—or the copra bugs, which were a nuisance at all hours.  The
stench from the little cabin, filled almost to the ceiling with unsacked
copra, was terrible; and it was not much better on deck.  I took shelter
beside Miti, who was sitting in the meager shade of the mainsail.
Presently, pointing casually toward the shore, he said: "You see him?
What he do there?"

I saw the man plainly enough, now that he was pointed out to me,
standing with his arms folded, leaning lightly against a tree.  I was
limited to a hasty glance through my binoculars, for he was looking
toward us; but I saw that he was unmistakably white, although his skin
seemed as dark as that of a native. He was barefoot, naked to the waist,
and for a nether garment wore a pair of trousers chopped off at the
knee.

I, too, wondered what a white man could be doing on an uninhabited
island.  Miti knew no more of the atoll than that it was or had formerly
been uninhabited. It belonged, he said, to the natives of Nukatavake,
which lay nine miles to the northwest.  We could see this other atoll as
we rode to the light swell, a splotch of blue haze a nail’s breadth
wide, vanishing and reappearing against the clear line of the horizon.
In two hours’ time the current had carried us to the lee side of the
island.  It ran swiftly there, but in a more northerly direction, so
that we were forced out of the main stream of it, and drifted gradually
into quiet water near the shore.  An anchor was carried to the reef and
we brought up to within thirty yards of it. With another anchor out
forward, the schooner was safely berthed for the night.

I went ashore with the two sailors for a fresh supply of drinking
coconuts, but I gave no help in collecting them.  A fire was going on
the lagoon beach, and there I found the solitary resident frying some
fish before a small hut built in the native fashion.  He might have been
of any age between thirty-five and forty-five; was powerfully built,
with a body as finely proportioned as a Polynesian’s.  His voice was
pleasant and his manner cordial as he gave me welcome, but a pair of the
coldest blue eyes I have ever seen made me doubt the sincerity of it.  I
felt the need of making apologies for the intrusion, adding, lamely, "I
haven’t seen a white man in three months, and our skipper speaks very
little English."

"I was about to look you up," he said.  "I can’t say that I’m lonely
here.  I manage to get along without much companionship.  But to be
frank, I’m hungry for tobacco.  There’s none left at Nukatavake, and
I’ve been sucking an empty pipe since last November. You haven’t a fill
in your pouch by any chance?"

I would have given something for his relish of the first pipeful, or the
fifth, for that matter.  Finally he said: "I imagine you are in for
several days of Pinaki. You have noticed the sky?  Not a sign of wind.
I can’t offer you much in the way of food; but the fishing is good, and
if you care to you are welcome to stop ashore."

I accepted the invitation gladly; but as I walked back to the schooner
for a few belongings and some more tobacco I questioned the propriety of
my decision. My prospective host was an Englishman by his accent,
although, like my friend Crichton at Tanso, he was evidently long away
from home.  He struck me as being a good deal of the Crichton type,
although he differed greatly from him outwardly.  I remembered that
Crichton, too, had been pleasant and friendly, once the ice was broken
between us; but the prospect of an early parting and the certitude of
our never meeting again had been the basis for the friendship in so far
as he was concerned.  This other Englishman was not living on an
uninhabited atoll because of a liking for companionship.  I was debating
the matter of a return to shore when Tane crawled out of the cabin to
make preparations for supper, and as he was a sufferer from
elephantiasis, the sight of his immense swollen limbs and his greasy,
sweating body decided me.  Papeete was far distant, and I would have
enough of Tane before we reached the end of the journey.

Supper was ready by the time I reached the hut. It consisted of fish
deliciously broiled, coconuts, and hard biscuit.  Over it I gave my host
an account of my stay at Rutiaro and of the unsuccessful experiment in
solitude.

"Yes," he said, "they are rather too sociable, these natives.  The
people of Nukatavake used to bother me a good deal when I first came
here.  I thought nine miles of open sea would keep them away; but they
often came over in sailing canoes—a dozen or two at a time when the wind
favored; and they would stay until it shifted back into the southeast.
I didn’t encourage them.  In fact, I made it quite plain that I
preferred to be alone.  The island is theirs, of course, and I can’t
prevent them from coming during the copra-making season; but they no
longer come at other times.  Nine months out of the year I have the
place to myself.  But they are damnably inquisitive.  I don’t like
Kanakas in the aggregate, although I have one or two good friends among
them."

The dying fire lit us to bed about midnight.  I lay awake for a long
time after my host was sleeping.  We had talked for three hours, chiefly
about the islands. In fact, all that he told me of himself was that he
was fond of fishing.

There was not a hint of a breeze the next day, nor the next, nor the day
after that.  The sea was almost as calm as the lagoon, and the _Potii
Ravarava_ lay motionless at anchor as though frozen in a sheet of clear
ice. Miti and the two sailors remained on board most of the time,
sleeping during the heat of the day under a piece of canvas rigged over
the main beam, and at night fishing over the side in dreamy contentment.
If they came ashore at all it was only for a few moments, and they never
crossed to the lagoon beach. During these three days I remained the
Englishman’s guest, and although I was out of patience with myself for
my curiosity, it grew in spite of me.  What under the sun was the man
doing here?  Evidently he had not come to an atoll, as my friend
Crichton had, to do his writing and thinking undisturbed.  Crichton had
books, a practical interest in planting, and a cultural interest in
Polynesian dialects.  He would muse for hours over a word in one dialect
which might or might not bear a remote resemblance to some other word in
usage a thousand miles away.  The study fascinated him.  As he once told
me, it gave his imagination room to work in.  I have no doubt that he
made up for himself stories of the early Polynesian migrations vastly
better than any romances he might have read. This other Englishman had
no books; not so much as a scrap of writing paper.  At least I saw none
in his house, which was as bare as it was clean.  There was a sleeping
mat in one corner; a chest and some fishing gear against the wall; picks
and shovels in a corner; a few old clothes hanging from nails driven
into the supports, and absolutely nothing else.  How did he put in his
time?  Fishing was a healthy interest, but it was not enough to keep a
man sane for a period of seven years.  He let that bit of information
slip in one conversation I had with him.

He was not a taciturn chap.  After our first evening he talked quite
freely about his earlier adventures. He had spent three years in
northern Australia, prospecting for gold, and he gave me an intensely
interesting account of the aborigines there—of their marvelous skill at
following a trail, no matter over what sort of country.  I had heard
that these people were biologically different from the rest of humankind
and that their blood would not cross with white blood.  This was not the
case, he said.  He had known white men animal enough to take the
Australian blacks for wives, and had seen the children which they had by
them. From Australia he had gone to New Guinea, still prospecting for
gold, although at times he sought relief from the disappointment of it
by making expeditions with the natives in search of bird-of-paradise
feathers. But "gold" was the word that rang through all his talk.
Several times it was on the tip of my tongue to say, "But there’s no
gold at Pinaki."  I was able to resist the temptation, remembering his
remark about the damnable inquisitiveness of the people of Nukatavake.
Then, on the morning of my third day on the island, an incident occurred
which made the situation clear.


[Illustration: Chapter XVI tailpiece]



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                        *The Englishman’s Story*


I rose at dawn, but my host was out before me.  He had left two fish
cleaned and ready for cooking on a plate outside the door.  Having
breakfasted, I started on a walk around the atoll, which I estimated I
could accomplish in about an hour.  I expected to meet the Englishman
somewhere on the way, and I did find him on the opposite side of the
lagoon.  The shore was steep-to there.  He had a steel-tipped rod in his
hand and was diving off a ledge of rock, remaining below for as long as
a full minute. He waved when he saw me, but kept on with his work. In
about a quarter of an hour he came over to where I was standing.

"Tiresome work," he said.  "I need a blow."  Then, "You see, I’ve been
doing a bit of digging here."

I had walked along the lagoon beach and had not noticed before the
series of trenches higher up the land.  I should think he had been
digging!  I inspected the ditches under his guidance.  There were three
at least a quarter of a mile in length each and from three to four feet
deep.  These ran in parallel lines and were about four paces apart.
Fifteen to twenty shorter trenches cut through them at right angles.

The sun was well above the horizon.  We lit our pipes and sat down in
the shade.  After a few moments of silence he said: "I suppose you know
what I’m doing here?  If you have been in Papeete you must have heard.
There is no secret about it—at least not any longer."

I said that I had left Papeete shortly after my arrival.  I had spent
several idle afternoons on the veranda of the Bougainville Club, but in
the talk which went around there I didn’t remember having heard of
Pinaki.

"So much the better," he said.  "Yes, seven years is a long time, and
I’m not keen about feeding gossip; but when I first came down here there
was a clacking of tongues from one end of the group to the other.  I
believe I have since earned the reputation of being rather queer.  I
thought you must know.  The fact is I’m looking for treasure.  Would you
care to hear the story?"

"Very much," I said, "if it won’t bore you to tell it."

"On the contrary, it will be something of a relief. Seven years of
digging, with nothing to show for it, must strike an outsider as a mad
business.  Sometimes I’m half persuaded that I am a complete fool to go
on with the search.  But you can’t possibly know the fascination of it.
It seems only yesterday that I came here.  As you see for yourself, it’s
not much of an island.  And to know that there is a treasure of more
than three million pounds buried somewhere in this tiny circle of scrub
and palm—"

"But do you know it?" I asked.

"I’m as sure of it as that I am smoking your tobacco. That is, I am sure
it was buried here.  Whether it has been removed since, I can’t say, of
course.  The natives at Nukatavake remember a white man whom they called
Luta, who came here about twenty years ago and remained for something
over a month.  One of the four men who stole the gold and brought it to
Pinaki was a man named Luke Barrett, and it may have been he who came
back, although he was supposed to have been killed in Australia forty
years ago.  It is the uncertainty which makes this such killing work at
times.  But when I think of giving it up—you would have to live with the
thought of treasure for seven years, and to dream at night of finding
it, before you could understand."  He rose suddenly.  "If you don’t mind
a short walk, I will show you something rather interesting."

We went along the lagoon beach for several hundred yards, then crossed
toward the ocean side.  Near the center of the island we came upon an
immense block of coral broken from the reef and carried there by some
great storm of the past.  Cut deeply into the face of the rock I saw a
curious design:

[Illustration: design]

I asked what it meant.

"Man, if I knew that!  I believe it’s the key, and I can’t master it!
But we may as well sit down and be comfortable.  If you would really
care to hear the story from the beginning it will take the better part
of an hour.  I’ll not give you all the details; but when I have finished
you will be in a position to judge for yourself whether or not I was mad
in coming here.

"Have you ever read Walker’s book, _Undiscovered Treasure_?  It doesn’t
matter, except that you have missed a very entertaining volume.  It is a
pity that old work is out of print.  Nothing in it but bare facts about
all sorts of treasure supposed to have been buried here and there about
the world.  You might think it would be dry, but I found it better
company than any romance I’ve ever read.  However, that has nothing to
do with this story, except in an indirect way.  I first read the book as
a boy and it started me on my travels.

"To me the facts about this Pinaki treasure are as interesting as any of
Walker’s.  He, of course, knew nothing about it, for it had not been
stolen when his book was published.  Four men had a hand in the
business: a Spaniard named Alvarez; an Irishman named Killorain; and two
others of uncertain nationality, Luke Barrett, whom I spoke of a moment
ago, and Archer Brown.  They were a thieving, murdering lot by all
accounts—adventurers of the worst sort; and in hope of plunder, I
suppose, had joined the Peruvian army during the war with Chile in
eighteen fifty-nine to sixty.  Their hopes were realized beyond all
expectations.  They got wind of some gold buried under the floor of a
church, and the strange thing was that the gold was there and they found
it.  It was in thirty-kilo ingots, contained in seven chests, the whole
lot worth in the neighborhood of three and a half million pounds.  How
they managed to get away with it I don’t know; but I have investigated
the business pretty thoroughly and I have every reason to believe that
they did.  They buried it again in the vicinity of Pisco, and then set
out in search of a vessel. Alvarez was the only one of the four who had
any education.  They had all followed the sea at one time or another,
but he alone knew how to navigate.  The others could hardly write their
own names.  At Panama they signed on as members of the crew of a small
schooner, and as soon as they had put to sea knocked the captain and the
two other sailors in the head and chucked them overboard.  They returned
to Pisco, loaded the gold, and started for Paumotus.

"This was in the autumn of eighteen fifty-nine.  In the December
following they landed at Pinaki, where they buried the treasure.  The
island was uninhabited then as now, and they crossed to Nukatavake to
learn the name of it.  The natives were shy, but they persuaded one man
to approach, and when they had the information they wanted, shot him and
rowed out to their boat.  If you should go to Nukatavake you will find
two old men there who still remember the incident.

"Then they went to Australia, scuttled their vessel not far from
Cooktown, and went ashore with a story of shipwreck.  They had some of
the gold with them—not much in proportion to the amount of the treasure,
but enough to keep four ordinary men in comfort for the rest of their
lives.  It soon went, and the four were next heard of at the Palmer gold
fields.  Alvarez and Barrett were both supposed to have been killed
there in a fight with some blacks.  Brown and Killorain had not mended
their ways to any extent, and both were finally jerked up for
manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years’ penal servitude.  Brown died
in prison, but Killorain served out his term, and finally died in Sydney
hospital in nineteen twelve.

"Most of these facts—if they are facts—I had from Killorain himself the
night before he died.  I met him in a curious way; or, better, the
meeting came as the result of a curious combination of circumstances.
You may have noticed the scar on my side?"

I had noticed it, a broad gash puckered at the edges where the flesh had
healed, tapering to a point in the middle of his back.

"It was not much of a wound," he went on, "but it gave me a deal of
trouble at the time.  I got it in New Guinea in nineteen eleven, when I
was prospecting for gold in the back country.  I was a long way from a
settlement, and one day a nigger took it into his head to stick me with
a spear.  I suppose he wanted my gun and ammunition, for I had little
else excepting my placer outfit.  I let him have one bullet from my Colt
just as he was about to dive into the bush, and for all I know he may be
lying there to this day.  I have that little frizzly headed native to
thank for my knowledge of the Pinaki treasure.  Sometimes I am sorry
that I killed him; but at other times I feel that shooting was
altogether too easy a death for the man really responsible for bringing
me here.  I was in a bad way from the wound.  Infection set in, and I
had to nurse myself somehow and get down to a place where I could have
medical attention.  I managed it, but the ten days’ journey was a
nightmare.  I was nothing but skin and bone when I left the hospital,
and New Guinea not being a likely place for a convalescent, the doctor
recommended me to go to Australia.

"I had a small bag of dust, the result of a year and a half of
heart-breaking work in the mountains.  Most of it went for the hospital
bill, and when I reached Sydney I had very little left.  I was compelled
to put up at the cheapest kind of a boarding house, although the woman
who kept it was quite a decent sort.  Her house was in a poor quarter of
the town and her patrons mostly longshoremen and teamsters.  It was a
wretched life for her, but she had two children to support and was
making the best of a bad job.  I admired her pluck and did what I could
in a small way to help her out.

"One evening I was waiting for supper in the kitchen when some one
rapped.  Before I could go to the door, it opened, and an old man came
stumbling in, asking for something to eat.  I thought he was drunk and
was about to hustle him back the way he came when I noticed that he was
wet through—it was a cold, rainy night—and really suffering from
exposure and lack of food.  I made him remove his coat—he had nothing on
under it—but not without a great deal of trouble, and he insisted on
drying it across his knees. He was a little wizened ape of an Irishman,
about five feet three or four in height, with deep-set blue eyes, bushy
eyebrows, a heavy, discolored mustache, and a thick shock of white
hair—altogether the most frightful-looking little dwarf that ever
escaped out of a picture book.  He was tatooed all over the arms and
chest—Hands Across the Sea, the Union Jack, a naked woman—several other
designs common in waterfront tatooing parlors.

"His body was as shriveled as a withered apple, but his little bloodshot
eyes blazed like bits of live coal. Except for the fire in them, he
might have been a hundred years old and, as a matter of fact, he wasn’t
a great way from it.  Eighty-seven, he told me, and that is about all he
did tell me.  He gorged some food and was all for getting away at once.
But it had set in to rain very hard and I persuaded him to wait until
the worst of it was over.  He was very suspicious at first.  I believe
he expected me to call a policeman. Later he thawed a little, and became
even talkative in a surly way when I told him, with the landlady’s
consent, that he might stay the night if he had no place else to go.
Wouldn’t hear of it, though.  He said he had a job as night watchman at
Rush-cutters’ Bay.  That might or might not have been true.  At any
rate, I went with him to the car line—the boarding house was a good mile
from Rush-cutters’ Bay—and gave him a couple of shillings, as a loan, I
said.  He could return it sometime.  Just before I left him he asked for
my name and address, mumbling something about doing me a bit of good one
of these days.  He was insistent, so I gave it to him, but not at all
willingly.  He had frightened Mrs. Sharpe, the landlady, just by the way
he looked at her, and I didn’t want him coming back.

"He didn’t come back.  That was in May, nineteen twelve, and I heard
nothing more of him until September. I was still at the boarding house,
getting slowly better, but not yet good for anything.  I kept out of
doors as much as possible, took long walks in the country and along the
waterfront looking at ships. When I came in one evening Mrs. Sharpe told
me that an attendant from the Sydney hospital had called twice during
the day.  An old man named Killorain, a patient at the hospital, wanted
to see me.  The name meant nothing to me and I couldn’t imagine who the
man could be.  The attendant called again later in the evening.
Killorain was about to die, he said, and wouldn’t give them any peace
until I was brought to see him.

"It was getting on toward midnight when we reached the hospital.  The
old man was in one of the public wards.  I recognized him at once,
although he had shriveled away to nothing at all.  It was impossible to
forget his eyes, once you had seen them.  He was dying—no doubt of it,
but I could see that he wasn’t going to die until he was ready.

"’Sit down close here,’ he said.  ’I’m glad you came.  You did me a good
turn once and I haven’t forgot it.  Few good turns I’ve had in my life.
Not so many but what I can remember the lot.’  The night nurse had
approached quietly and was standing on the other side of the bed.  All
at once he saw her.  ’Hey, you!’ he said.  ’Grease off out of this!
Stand over there on the other side of the room where I can watch you!’
When she had gone he rose from his pillow and looked cautiously around
the room.  The beds on either side of him were empty.  There was a
patient in the one across the aisle, but he was sleeping. Killorain
watched him for a moment to make sure of this. Then he motioned me with
his finger to come still closer.  ’Listen!’ he said.  ’I’ve cut more
throats in my time than you might think.’  Sounds a bit stagey, doesn’t
it?  But these were his exact words.  Nothing remarkable about them, of
course.  Throat-cutting is still a fairly thriving business.  I waited
for him to go on.  He again looked up and down the room, and then asked
me to hand him the coat which was lying across the foot of the bed.  It
was the same coat he had been wearing in May, when he came to the
boarding house.

"’When they brought me here,’ he said, ’they took my clothes, and I’ve
had some trouble getting this back.’  The attendant had told me as much.
The old man had raised the very devil of a row until it was found. He
asked me to rip open the lining of the right sleeve and to give him the
paper I would find there.  It was a soiled, greasy sheet of foolscap,
pasted on a piece of cloth.  ’Once,’ he went on, ’you gave me two
shillings for car fare to Rush-cutters’ Bay.  It probably wasn’t any
hardship on you, but never mind about that. You said I could pay it back
if I’d a mind to.  Well, I’m going to pay it back with a bit of
interest.  I’m going to give you this paper, and it’s as good as three
million pound notes of the Bank of England.’

"I thought, of course, that he was completely off his chump, and the
fear that I would think so was uppermost in his mind.  He kept repeating
that he was old and worn out, but that his mind was clear.  ’Don’t you
think I’m balmy,’ he said.  ’I know what I’m talking about as well as I
know I’m going to die before morning.’  He gave me a circumstantial
account of the whole affair.  I have outlined it briefly.  There were
many other interesting facts, but it is not worth while to speak of them
here.  As he talked, the conviction grew upon me that he was perfectly
sane and was telling the truth.  He went over the chart with me. It had
been made by Alvarez, the scholar of the party, he said.  There had been
a good deal of quarreling and fighting later for the possession of it.

"Before I left him he made me promise that I would go to Pinaki.  He
wouldn’t rest easy in his grave, he said, unless he knew that I was
looking for the treasure. ’It’s there, and it will always be there if
you’re bloody fool enough to think I’m queer.  It ain’t likely I’d lie
to you on my deathbed.’  Rest easy in his grave! There was an odd
glimpse into his mind.  He wasn’t worrying about his crimes, and there
were enough of them, according to his own confession.  It was the
thought of the gold lying forever forgotten which worried him.  He could
rest quietly if he knew before he died that some one else was fighting
and throat-cutting over it.  I asked him why he hadn’t gone back for it
himself.  He told me that of the fifty-three years since it had been
buried he had spent forty in prison and the rest of the time he was
trying to earn or steal the money to buy a schooner.  I told him that I
would come back to see him the following day.  ’You needn’t bother,’ he
said.  ’I’m finished.’  And it was true. He died three hours later.

"I tried to forget the incident, but it was one of those things which
refuse to be forgotten.  It was always in the back of my head.  I
decided to check up Killorain’s story where I could.  I made inquiries
in Peru, and found that the gold had actually been stolen.  The dates
and circumstances coincided with his account. A friend in the customs at
Cooktown confirmed for me the story of four shipwrecked sailors who
landed in February, eighteen sixty, from a ship called the _Bosun Bird_.
I had a small piece of property on the outskirts of Cooktown which I had
bought years ago.  With the money realized from the sale of it I took
passage for Tahiti on my way to Pinaki.

"That voyage was the longest one I have ever made. By that time the
thought of those seven chests of gold, all in thirty-kilo ingots, was
with me twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four.  Yes, even at night.
I slept very little, and when I did it was to dream of hunting for the
treasure; of finding it.  I became suspicious of a villainous-looking
old man who was traveling third class.  I thought he might be Brown or
Luke Barrett. Perhaps they were not dead, after all.  At Papeete I told
no one of my purpose there, with the exception of one governmental
official.  If the treasure should be found the French government would
have a claim to certain percentage on uncoined gold, and I meant to be
aboveboard in my dealings with it.  This official was sworn to secrecy,
but the business leaked out eventually and created a great deal of
excitement.  I was immensely annoyed, of course, for I had guarded the
secret as well as old Killorain ever had.  However, I had in my pocket
all the necessary papers, drawn up accurately, witnessed, signed, and
sealed.  I went on with my preparations, and finally, in February,
nineteen thirteen, I was put ashore from a small cutter, not four
hundred yards from where we are sitting.

"I started the search before the cutter was two miles on the return
voyage.  For two months I slept in the open—had no time to build a
house—and ate tinned food which I had brought with me.  Killorain’s
chart was of but little use.  It made reference to trees which had long
since rotted away or had been cut down by the natives of Nukatavake.
The marks which I found corresponded precisely with those on the chart,
but several of the most important ones were missing."

The treasure hunter rose.  "Well," he said, "there’s the end of the
story.  You know the rest of it."

"But I don’t know the rest at all!" I said.  "You have left out the most
interesting part.  Tell me something of your life here."

"You have seen three days of it.  It has gone on for seven years in the
same way."

"You were diving just now in the lagoon.  Do you think the gold may have
been buried there or that the land has fallen away?"

"My dear fellow, I’ll not weary you with an account of what I think.
It’s rather warm here.  Shall we go back to the house?"

I was hoping for a week of calm, and when we went to bed that evening
there was reason to believe we might have it.  A few hours later,
however, I was awakened by the Englishman.  "There’s going to be a bit
of a blow presently," he said.  "Your skipper has just sent for you.  He
wants to get away at once."

The stars had been blotted out.  The wind was soughing in the palms, and
the waves slapping briskly on the lagoon beach.  Our farewell was a
brief one.

"When shall you come to Tahiti?" I asked.

"Not until I have found what I’m looking for."

"Well," I said, "I hope that will be soon."

But if he holds fast to his resolve my belief is that it will be never.



                              *Conclusion*



[Illustration: Woodcut]



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                    *Aboard the *_*Potii Ravarava*_


I was awaiting Hall’s arrival in Tahiti, confident that sooner or later
he would keep a vague rendezvous set months before.  I knew that by this
time he must have penetrated far into the sea of atolls, traveling in
the leisurely manner of these latitudes, transferring from one schooner
to the next and stopping over—for weeks at a time, perhaps—in the
tranquil and lonely communities he had grown to love.  Once or
twice—when a dingy Paumotu schooner, deep laden with copra and crowded
with pearl divers eager for a whirl of gayety in the island capital,
crept into the pass—I had word of him, but there was no hint of return.

It was a month of calms: long days when the lagoon, unruffled by the
faintest cat’s-paw, shimmered in the blinding sunlight, while the sea
outside seemed to slumber, stirring gently and drowsily along the reef.
Once, at midday, a three-masted schooner with all sails furled and
Diesel engines going, came in to waken the town with the hoarse clamor
of her exhaust.  An hour later I met her skipper on the street.

"Your friend Hall is homeward bound," he told me.  "I spoke the _Potii
Ravarava_, a bit of a thirty-ton native schooner, off Nukatavake, and he
was aboard of her—she ought to be in some time this week."

The days passed in the rapid and dreamy fashion peculiar to the South
Seas.  From time to time I thought of Hall and his diminutive schooner
drifting about becalmed among the coral islands, or perhaps only a score
of miles off Tahiti, helpless to reach the sighted land.  The _Potii
Ravarava_ was a full week overdue when the calm weather came to an end.
The heat was intense that afternoon, and toward sunset towering masses
of cloud began to pile up along the horizon to the north.  The sky grew
black; there was a tense hush in the air, vibrant with the far-off
rumble of thunder.  When I strolled out along the waterfront the people
were gathering in anxious groups before their houses; I heard snatches
of talk: "Have you noticed the glass?  Things have an ugly look....
Hope it doesn’t mean another cyclone....  The town will catch it if the
sea begins to rise."

I had heard of the hurricane of 1906, when the sea rose and reached
clean into the harbor, driving the population of Papeete to the hills.
On Motu Uta, an islet in the bay, a white man was living with his
Paumotuan wife.  When the angry seas began to race in over the reef
without a pause, sweeping the islet from end to end, the watchers ashore
gave the pair up for lost. But the woman was a Low-Islander, and just
before dawn, when the coconut palm in which she had taken refuge was
swept away, she swam six hundred yards to shore and landed through a
surf a sea otter would have hesitated to attempt.  Next day they found
the drowned and battered body of her husband drifting with dead pigs and
horses and a litter of wreckage from the lower portions of the town.

Possibly Tahiti was in for another hurricane.  When I glanced at my
barometer after dinner, it was falling with ominous rapidity, and at
bedtime the glass stood lower than I had seen it in the South Seas.  In
the small hours of the morning a servant came to waken me.  There was a
new sound in the air—the uproar of surf breaking on the inner shore of
the lagoon.

"The sea is rising," said Tara; "the waves are breaking under the
_purau_ trees, and if you do not come quickly to help me our canoe will
be washed away."

The stars were hidden by black clouds, and though scarcely a breath of
air stirred, the level of the lagoon was four feet above its normal
limit, and the sheltered water, usually so calm, was agitated by a heavy
swell. Then the rain came—drumming a thunderous monotone on my tin
roof—and after the rain the wind.  At dawn, though a seventy-mile gale
was blowing out of the northeast, it was obvious that ali danger of a
hurricane was past.  At midday the glass began to rise and before dark
the wind was falling away perceptibly.

More than once during the night I had thought of Hall out somewhere on
the wild and lonely sea to the east.  The _Potii Ravarava_ was reputed
an able little boat—with proper offing she would probably come through
worse than this.  But she had no engine, and if she had been caught in
the Paumotu—the Dangerous Archipelago, where unknown currents and a maze
of reefs make navigation ticklish in the best of weather—there was cause
for anxiety.

The storm blew itself out in two days’ time, and on the evening of the
third day I was standing on the water front with a group of traders and
schooner captains.  They were speaking of the _Potii Ravarava_, by this
time the object of mild misgivings, when one of the skippers gave a
sudden shout.

"There she is now!" he announced and, looking up, I saw a deeply laden
little schooner, with patched grayish sails, rounding the point of
Fareute.  Presently she turned into the wind, dropped anchor, and sent a
boat ashore—a few moments later I was welcoming Hall—very thin, raggedly
dressed, and brown as a Paumotuan. His eyes were smiling, but they had
in them a look unmistakable when once seen—the expression of a hunger
greater than most of us have known.

"Hello!" he said.  "Come along to the hotel—it must be dinner time.  By
Jove!  I feel as though I could eat a raw shark!"

When he had eaten two dinners complete—from soup to black coffee, and
beginning with soup again—he lit a cigarette and told me the story of
his return from the Low Islands.

"It was all right," he began, "until we left Hao.  The palm tops were
still in sight on the horizon when the breeze died away, and we drifted
for seven whole days in a broiling, glassy calm.  It was a curious
experience, but one I would not care to repeat.

"You’ve seen the schooner—she’s not much bigger than a sea-going canoe.
There were four of us aboard—Miti the skipper, a Paumotuan and a seaman
by instinct, though he knows nothing of latitude of longitude; two
sailors, one of whom has a horrible case of elephantiasis; and myself.
We had a tremendous load of copra for so small a boat; the hold was
crammed with it and the cabin stuffed to the ceiling.  Opposite the
companionway they had left out a few bags at the top, giving a space two
feet high and just wide enough for two men to sleep side by side in case
of rain or bad weather.  Our stove was merely a box of sand in which a
fire could be lighted, set in a little box of a galley tacked to the
forward deck.  If we had had anything to cook, the galley might have
been useful; but Miti had given away nearly all of the ship’s provisions
to his relatives on Hao.  They gave him a feast while some copra was
being loaded, and when the job was finished he gave a feast in return.
The two sailors looked sour while they watched the people opening their
biscuit and salmon and bully-beef, but, after all, the prevailing winds
are fair, and normally the passage to Tahiti wouldn’t take more than ten
days.  Miti overdid the giving-away business, however.  When we took
stock of our _kaikai_ on the first day of the calm I found he had saved
only half a tin of biscuit and a few cans of salmon.  In addition to
this, we had a parting gift of a sack of drinking nuts and a couple of
dozen ripe nuts some one was sending to Tahiti for seed.  I had grown
fed up on the sort of water these schooners carry—stale, and full of
wriggling young mosquitoes—and by great good fortune I had a
three-gallon demi-john, sent by Tino, of the _Winship_, which I filled
with fresh rain water at Hao.

"My demijohn lasted precisely a day and a half. All hands drank out of
it, but I did not complain of their lavishness—there was supposed to be
a barrel of water somewhere below.  Those were thirsty days. We rigged
up an awning with part of an old mainsail; I spent most of my time lying
in the hot shade, reading the one book I had with me—Froissart’s
_Chronicles of England, France, and Spain_.  The days seemed
interminable....  The starlight paled; the sun rose to glare down hour
after hour on the face of a motionless and empty sea, and set at last on
a horizon void of clouds.  Sometimes I dozed; sometimes I watched the
reflections of the bowsprit.  It was painted gray, with a bright-red
tip—and, seen in the faintly heaving water, it looked like a long, gray
snake spitting fire as it writhed in graceful undulations.  The sufferer
from elephantiasis turned out to be an extraordinary man; it was not
worth while to keep watches during the calm, and, as there was no work
of any importance, he retired to the stifling cubby-hole among the copra
sacks and slept—slept from dawn to darkness and from dark to dawn again.
Now and then, at long intervals, he appeared on deck; once I went aft
for a look at him, lying naked except for a _pareu_—mouth open and
swollen limbs sprawled on the uneven surface of the copra.  Miti and
Teriaa showed a different side of native character.  The schooner
belonged to the captain, and keeping her trim gave him the same delight
a man feels in buying pretty clothes for his mistress. The young sailor
was Miti’s nephew, and the pair of them worked tirelessly in the sun,
scraping her rail and topsides in preparation for a fresh coat of paint.
It was strange, when I was deep in Froissart’s sieges and battles and
stories of court life, to glance up from my book and see the vacant rim
of the horizon, the silhouette of the foremast against a hot blue sky,
and the two Kanakas endlessly at work—scrape, scrape, scrape; an
exchange of low-toned remarks; a chuckle as they heard the gentle snores
of the sleeping man below.

"Nearly every day our hopes were raised by deceitful cat’s-paws,
heralded by far-off streaks of blue.  Some died before they reached us;
others, after a preliminary rustle and flutter, filled our sails and set
the schooner to moving gently on her course ... only to die away and
leave the sea glassy as before.

"On the second day the sharks began to gather in their uncanny fashion,
as they always do about a vessel becalmed or in distress.  I spent hours
watching them—ugly blots in the clear blue water, waiting with a grim
and hopeful patience for some happening which would provide them with a
meal.  They circled about the schooner in deliberate zigzags, or lay
motionless in the shadow of her side, attended always by their odd
little striped pilot fish.  I learned to recognize one ponderous old
gray shark; he had a brace of pilot fish, one swimming on each side of
his head—and he wasn’t afraid of us in the least.  Sometimes he lay for
an hour within a yard of the vessel’s side; I could see the texture of
his rough skin and the almost imperceptible motion of fins and tail.  I
can understand now the hatred sharks inspire in men who follow the
sea—it wasn’t long before I decided to try to kill the big, insolent
brute.  We hadn’t as much as a hook and line on board, but finally, with
a file and the point of a rusty boat hook, I improvised a makeshift sort
of spear. Armed with this, I waited by the rail until my victim came in
range, and then lunged down with all my strength.  The spear glanced off
his tough hide; he swam away in a leisurely manner, turned, and a moment
later was again beneath me.  This time I struck him fair on the back,
but it was like trying to kill an elephant with a penknife.  I think the
point of my boat hook punctured him, but he only circled off again and
returned to give me another chance.  In the end I gave up and left him
in possession of the field.

"The nights, when the air had cooled and the stars were blazing
overhead, were so beautiful that one hated to fall asleep.  Reflection
made sky and sea alike—dark backgrounds for the myriad lights of the
constellations.  Lying on deck while the others slept, I used to regret
that I had not learned something of astronomy—the average native sailor
knows more about the stars than I.  Orion I knew; the Pleiades, which
the natives, with a rather pretty fancy, call Matariki, the Little Eyes;
and the Scorpion, believed in heathen times to be the great fish hook of
Maui, flung into the sky by the god, when he had finished pulling up
islands from the bottom of the Pacific. Each night I watched the rising
of the Southern Cross, and low down in the south I saw the Magellanic
clouds, streamers of star dust, like vapor impalpable and remote. In
spite of my companions, sleeping quietly on deck, those nights gave me a
sense of overwhelming loneliness: the languid air; the solitary ship,
immobile on the face of a lifeless sea; the immense expanse of the
universe, ablaze with the light of distant suns....

"When our water gave out I began to prefer the nights to the days.  My
demijohn, as I told you, lasted only a day and a half.  After that we
used the drinking nuts, and not until the last of them was gone did
anyone think of investigating the water cask. There was consternation
when we discovered that it contained only three or four inches of rusty
water—either it leaked or the skipper was remarkably careless. Hoping
all the time for a breeze or a squall of rain, we began on the half sack
of ripe nuts—thin, sharp stuff for drinking, but the lot of them went in
a day. Then we went on rations, dealt out from the barrel with a soup
spoon.  Finally the barrel was dry, and we went two days with nothing of
any kind to drink.  It was no joke—if you’ve ever had a real thirst,
you’ll know what I mean.  The natives stood it wonderfully well; Miti
did not once complain, though he remarked to me that when he got ashore
he was planning to "drink too much coconut"!  The victim of _feefee_
continued his slumberous routine—I wondered if he were dreaming of
rustling palms and shaded, gurgling rivulets.  It was my first
experience of thirst; odd what an utter animal one becomes at such a
time. Waking and sleeping, my head was filled with dreams of water,
brooks, rivers, lakes of cool, fresh water, in which to bury one’s face
and drink.  I dreamed of locks and highland burns in Scotland; of the
gorge of Fautaua on Tahiti, where only a few months before I had stood
in the mist, listening to the roar of the Cataract.

"Well, it wasn’t much fun—another day or two might have been
unendurable.  We had one comfort, at any rate—if you’re thirsty enough,
you don’t worry about eating.  By the time we had finished the salmon
and biscuit we had ceased to bother about food.  On the last night of
the calm none of us slept, unless it was the sailor in his den among the
copra sacks.  At dawn Miti touched my shoulder and pointed to the south,
where the paling stars were obscured by banks of cloud. An hour later
the rain water was streaming out of the scuppers and spouting off one
end of our awning into the barrel, hastily recoopered in case of leaks.
When the squall passed and the sun shone down on a dark-blue leaping sea
we were running before a fine breeze from the southeast.

"Now that our thirst was satisfied and we had plenty of water in reserve
we discovered suddenly that we were starving.  Miti prowled about below
and came on deck with a package of rice, stowed away during some
previous voyage.  It was a valuable find, for we had nothing else to
eat.  There was copra, of course, which the natives will eat in a pinch,
but the rancid smell of the stuff was too much for me.  The wind held,
and finally a day came when the skipper announced that we ought to raise
Tahiti soon.  About midday his nephew, who was perched in the shrouds,
sang out that he had sighted land.  I had a look and saw on the horizon
a flat blur, like the palm tops of a distant atoll.  As we drew near the
land rose higher and higher out of the sea—it was Makatea, and we were
more than a hundred miles north of our course. No meal I have ever eaten
tasted so good as the dinner Miti’s relatives gave us that night!

"We got away next morning, with a liberal stock of provisions and an
additional passenger for Tahiti—a philosophic pig, who traveled lashed
under one of the seats of the ship’s boat.  For three hours we ran
before a fresh northwesterly breeze, but about nine o’clock the wind
dropped and soon the sails were hanging limp in a dead calm.  I began to
suspect that the man with the swollen legs was a Jonah of the first
order. This time, however, the calm was soon over; heavy greenish-black
clouds were drifting down on us from the north; the sunlight gave place
to an evil violet gloom.  Miti and his two men sprang into a sudden
activity; they battened down the forward hatch, put extra lashings on
the boat, double-reefed the foresail, and got in everything else.  Then,
in the breathless calm, a downpour of rain began to lash the sea with a
strange, murmuring sound.  I thought of an ominous old verse:

    "If the wind before the rain,
    Sheet your topsails home again;
    If the rain before the wind,
    Then your topsail halyards mind.


"It was a disagreeable moment.  Even the pig felt it, for when the
sailors moved him to a place in the bow of the dory he refrained from
the usual shrill protest. One detail sticks in my memory—when the
skipper had taken his place at the wheel he gave a sudden order; the man
with the swollen legs shuffled hastily to where the boat was lashed down
and pulled out the plug from its bottom.  Then came the wind.

"It swept down on us from the north-northeast, from the quarter in which
hurricanes begin—and the first furious gust was a mild sample of what
was to come.  When Miti got her laid to, heading at a slight angle into
the seas, I realized the splendid qualities of the little _Potii
Ravarava_.  No small vessel could have kept her decks dry in the sea
that made up within an hour.  The captain never left the wheel, and I
doubt if there’s a finer helmsman in the South Seas, but before noon the
galley—with our entire supply of food was swept clean overboard, and
time after time the lashed-down boat was filled.  The pig had worked
himself free except for one hind leg, tied to a bottom board with a
rough strip of hibiscus bark, and as the water drained out slowly
through the unplugged hole astern the agitated surface would be broken
by his snout, emitting sputtering screams.  He lived through it, by the
way.

"All of us, I believe, thought that we were in for a hurricane.  Every
hour the violence of the wind increased; it was a gale from the
north-northeast—the wind called by the ancient Polynesians the Terrible
Maoake.  It seemed to rush at us in paroxysms of fury, tearing off the
entire crests of waves and hurling solid water about as though it were
spray.  The forward hatch leaked badly; when I think of that storm my
memory is filled with a nightmare of endless pumping.

"A day and a night passed, and dawn found us riding a mountainous sea,
but the wind was abating and our decks were dry.  The victim of
elephantiasis had been taking spells with me at the pump.  He is a man,
that fellow, in spite of his loathsome infirmity.  The pump began to
suck up bubbles and froth.  Miti’s eyes are sharp.

"’Enough pumping,’ he shouted.  ’Go and sleep, you two!’

"We obeyed the order with alacrity.  Sleeping on deck was out of the
question; without an instant of hesitation I crawled in among the copra
sacks beside my repulsive companion.  When I awoke it was evening and we
were running, with a heavy following wind.  Miti was still at the helm;
red eyed from want of sleep, but whirling the spokes dexterously as each
big sea passed beneath us and gazing ahead for the first glimpse of
Tahiti.  The clouds broke just before dark, and we had a glimpse of the
high ridges of Taiarapu, dead ahead.  We got sail on her at that, and
stood off to the northwest, past the Bay of Taravao and the sunken reefs
of Hitiaa.  Toward morning we raised Point Venus Light, but the wind
failed in the lee of the island, and it took us all day to reach Papeete
harbor."


Hall finished his story in the dark.  The last of the diners had gone
long since, and, save for ourselves, the broad veranda was empty.

"What are your plans?" I asked.  "Our year in the South Seas is up.
Where are you going now?"

"I have no plans," he said, "except that I doubt if I shall ever go
north again.  I may be wrong, but I believe I’ve had enough of
civilization to last me the rest of my life.  We are happy here.  Why
should we leave the islands?"

I fancy the South Seas have claimed the pair of us.



                                THE END



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



                   *Faery Lands of the South Pacific*

                         *Drop-capital Letters*


[Illustration: Chapter I - I]

[Illustration: Chapter II - R]

[Illustration: Chapter III - T]

[Illustration: Chapter IV - I]

[Illustration: Chapter V - W]

[Illustration: Chapter VI - C]

[Illustration: Chapter VII - P]

[Illustration: Chapter VIII - I]

[Illustration: Chapter IX - T]

[Illustration: Chapter X - F]

[Illustration: Chapter XI - T]

[Illustration: Chapter XII - I]

[Illustration: Chapter XIII - Y]

[Illustration: Chapter XIV - I]

[Illustration: Chapter XV - T]

[Illustration: Chapter XVI - O]

[Illustration: Chapter XVII - I]

[Illustration: Chapter XIII - I]





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