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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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Transcriber's Note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

  "kspok" on page 141 should possibly be "kapok" as on page 148.



     Faery Lands
     Of the South Seas

     [Illustration]



     [Illustration: See p. 241

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



     JAMES NORMAN HALL.
     CHARLES BERNARD NORDHOFF.

     FAERY LANDS OF THE
     SOUTH SEAS

       [Illustration: THE STAR SERIES]

     GARDEN CITY PUBLISHING CO., INC.
     GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK



     COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY HARPER & BROTHERS.
     ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. PRINTED IN THE
     UNITED STATES AT THE COUNTRY LIFE
     PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N. Y.



  [Illustration]



CONTENTS


     CHAP.                                  PAGE

            PREFACE                           ix

     I.     A LEISURELY APPROACH               3

     II.    IN THE CLOUD OF ISLANDS           20

     III.   MAROONED ON MATAORA               47

     IV.    THE LAND OF AHU AHU               65

     V.     A MEMORY OF MAUKÉ                 86

     VI.    RUTIARO                          107

     VII.   A DEBTOR OF MOY LING             132

     VIII.  AN ADVENTURE IN SOLITUDE         148

     IX.    THE STARRY THRESHOLD             171

     X.     COSTLY HOSPITALITY               196

     XI.    HIS MOTHER'S PEOPLE              207

     XII.   IN THE COOK GROUP                230

     XIII.  AT THE HOUSE OF TARI             251

     XIV.   IN THE VALLEY OF VAITIA          277

     XV.    TAHITIAN TALES                   303

     XVI.   ANCHORED OFF THE REEF            321

     XVII.  THE ENGLISHMAN'S STORY           328

     XVIII. ABOARD THE "POTII RAVARAVA"      343



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]



Faery Lands Of the South Seas

  [Illustration]



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 fault 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 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, feeblemindedness,
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. After 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 harmonies 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]



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
aërial 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 ironwoods. 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 into 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]



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. Étienne_, 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 gone. 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, "_Aue!_" 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'œuvre_, 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 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 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 hand-clapping 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'œuvre_.
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 flies. 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-maché 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, "_É 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 Huirai 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 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 aërial 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 Huirai 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 5, 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, "_Mama-faaamu_" 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
appetites? 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 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]



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 him--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 things,
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 antennæ 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 beach 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 inaudibly 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 attract 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'œuvre_ 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 beaches 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 school-house
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, Malden, 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, graybearded, 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 _varua 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 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 hind-quarter 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 cliffs--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 gain, 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 Mōo, 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_, Vahinetua 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 northeast. 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 must rise at
daybreak. Now let us sleep."



Becalmed at Pinaki

  [Illustration]



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 northwesterly 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 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]

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]



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 all 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
or 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 demijohn, 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 lochs 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.





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