HotFreeBooks.com
Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
by Frederick O'Brien
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

We sat down upon its steps, and I removed my coat and was naked to my pareu in the afternoon zephyr.

"That fort," said the princess, "was built by the French in the forties, when they were stealing my country. From it they could command the gorge of Fautaua and that and other valleys. This place was the last stronghold of the Tahitian warriors before the enemy overcame them, and erected the ramparts and the fort. The last man to die fell by the river basin. The band of heroes would have held out longer, but were betrayed by a Tahitian. He led the French troops by night and by secret paths to a hill overlooking them, so that they were shot down from above. The traitor lived to wear the red ribbon of the Legion of Honor and to spend pleasantly the gold the French Government gave him. C'est la vie."

We cast our eyes over the scene. There was a forest of wild ginger, ferns, and dracasna all about. Thousands of roses perfumed the air, and other flowers and strawberries, and feis, green or ripe-red, wondrous clusters of fruit, awaited man's culling. The stream purled about worn rocks, and we came to two gloomy pools, black from the reflection of their bowls, the water bubbling and surging from springs beneath. It was deliciously cold, and we drank it from leaf cups.

"How about the time the French came here with the treasure?" I inquired. "Have we time for that history?"

"Mais, oui!" said Noanoa Tiare. "That is too good for you not to know. You know that the French are excitable, n'est-ce pas? B'en, a French officer, Major Marchand, put up the tricolor in some place called Fashoda in Africa, and the English objected. There was some parleying between the two nations, and the information arrived in Tahiti that England was going to make war on France. The French papers or the American papers said so, and every one was alarmed.

"'The treacherous Anglais might strike at any moment,' said the French, and they were afraid. Then one night some one rode in from near Point Venus and reported to the Governor that two British frigates had been sighted. Mon dieu! what to do? There was only a French transport at Papeete, worth nothing for defense. They tore the trimmings from that vessel and prepared to scuttle her. The guns were rushed to Faere Hill for a last, desperate stand against odds. They could die like Frenchmen! All lights were ordered extinguished, and even the beacon of Point Venus was dark. The enlisted natives were sent to watch on every headland, a cabinet meeting was held,—the apothecary, and the governor, and the secretaries, and the doctor,—and it was determined to save the money of the city and the archives of the Government. The valuables and the papers were put in strong boxes and the governor and all of them made a mad race for this fort."

The princess covered her mouth with her hand to still her laughter.

"Was it not funny? They arrived here at daybreak, and buried the boxes. They were still at it when an officer of marines came hurrying to notify them that the frigates were French schooners from the Paumotus. The whole population had hidden itself away in the meantime. Well, they had many jokes about it and many songs, but the governor built this house on the steps of which we sit as a permanent depository for archives in case of war, and here he used to come for picnics until a few years ago. There was a post-office, with a guard of sailors, here. They planted the garden, the flowers, and strawberries that now run wild. You know our chiefs were always being secretly warned that England, which owns most of the islands in these seas, wanted to seize our island."

Over the Diadem the dark shadows were lengthening. The daring pinnacles of Maiauo were thrust up like the mangled fingers of a black hand against the blue sky.

Noanoa Tiare pointed to them.

"The ahiahi comes. Night is not far off," she said warningly. "If we lingered here much longer, we might have to stay all the night."

"How memorable to me would be a sunrise from here," I replied. "I would never forget it."

She looked at me archly over her shoulder.

"I would like it myself. It would be magnificent, and I have never spent the night just here."

She considered a moment, and my mind took up the matter of arrangements. We could cook feis, and there was plenty of other fruit, with shelter in the house, if we needed that. We could start down early and be at Lovaina's for the first dejeuner. Zeus! to pass the night in such a solitude! To hear in the pitch darkness the mysterious voices of po, the tenebrae of the Tahitian gods; the boom of the cascade in the abyss; the deep bass of the river in the rocky chute; the sigh of the wind in the trees; the murmur of the stream near by; the fantasia and dirge of the lofty night in the tropics. What a setting for her telling some old legend or fairy-tale of Tahiti!

Fragrance of the Jasmine ended my reverie. She slapped her thigh.

"I dine and dance to-night at eight o'clock," she said. "A rohi! We must go! Besides, Maru, it would be too cold without blankets. The mercury here goes to sixty of your thermometer."

We descended by the route we had come, picking up her shoes and stockings and our hats by our couch, and with the princess leading, hurrying along the obscuring trail. We passed a Tahitian youth who had been gathering feis, probably near the tarn, and who was bringing them to the market of the next morning. He was burdened with more than a hundred pounds of fruit, which he carried balanced on a pole over his shoulder, and with this he was to go seven or eight miles from their place of growth. He was a pillar of strength, handsome, glowing with effort, clad in a gorgeous pareu of red, and as we went by him, he smiled and said, "Ia ora na! I hea! Vaimato?" Greeting! Where have you been? The waterfall?"

"E, hitahita. Yes, we are hurrying back," the princess called vivaciously.

"Those are our real men, not the Papeete dolts," she said. "If we had time, we would catch shrimp in the river. I love to do that."

When we came to where the habitations began and the road became passable for vehicles, Noanoa Tiare sat down on a stone. She put on her pale-blue silk stockings and her shoes, and asked me for the package she had given me at starting. She unfolded it, and it was an aahu, a gown, for which she exchanged, behind a banana-plant, her soiled and drenched tunic. The new one was of the finest silk, diaphanous, and thus to be worn only at night. The sun was down, and the lagoon a purple lake when we were again at the bust of Bougainville.

I thanked her at parting.

"Noanoa Tiare," I said, "this day has a heavenly blue page in my record. It has made Tahiti a different island for me."

"Maru, mon ami, you are sympathetic to my race. We shall be dear friends. I will send you the note to Tetuanui, the chief of Mataiea, to-morrow. Au revoir and happy dreams."



Chapter XIII

The beach-combers of Papeete—The consuls tell their troubles—A bogus lord—The American boot-blacks—The cowboy in the hospital—Ormsby, the supercargo—The death of Tahia—The Christchurch Kid—The Nature men—Ivan Stroganoff's desire for a new gland.

I played badminton some afternoons at the British consulate. The old wooden bungalow, with broad verandas, stood in a small garden a dozen yards from the lagoon, where the Broom Road narrowed as it left the business portion of Papeete and began its round of the island. There was just room enough on the salt grass for the shuttlecock to fall out of bounds, and for the battledores to swing free of the branches of the trees. The consul, though he wore a monocle, was without the pretense of officialdom except to other officials and, of course, at receptions, dinners, and formal gatherings. After the games, with tea on the veranda, I heard many stories of island life, of official amenities, and the compound of nationalities in our little world.

Half a dozen intimates of the consul dropped in about four, Willi, the rich dentist and acting American consul; Stevens, the London broker; Hobson, who closed an eye for the Moorean, McTavish; and others. All were British except me, but our home tongue and customs drew us closer together than to Frenchmen, and we could speak with some freedom on local affairs. If no woman was present other than the cosmopolitan wife of the consul, born in Persia, we were quite at ease.

Both consuls were usually worried because of the refusals of crews of vessels flying their flags to leave Tahiti, complaints of the police of the misconduct of their nationals, or appeals for assistance from impecunious or spendthrift tourists. It was an every-week happening for sailors of American vessels and of the New Zealand steamships to flee to the distant districts or to Moorea, to live in a breadfruit grove with dryads who asked no vows, or to escape the grind of work and discipline at sea.

They must be pursued by the French gendarmes, under the warrant of their own flag, caught, and sent in irons aboard their ships, with fees paid by their furious captains. Many times the chase was futile, so well did the dryads secrete them, and the natives of the district abet the offense. To a Tahitian an amorous adventure, either as principal or aid, is half of life, and he would risk his liberty and property to thwart, in his opinion, hard and stupid officials who wanted to separate loving hearts.

We talked about the kinds of men, other than these sailors, who made Tahiti their playground, to the annoyance of their consuls. Crime among the Tahitians was almost unknown. A petty theft rarely happened. They were never paupers, for their own people cared for them, and unless absolutely mat-ridden, they could find food on the trees about them. The whites—and not the French whites either—caused the trouble, and but for them M. Lontane might have left off his revolver and club.

"There is a type of Britisher," said the consul, "who thinks Tahiti is his oyster, to be opened with false pretenses, and a pearl found. This type has two varieties, impecunious, but well-educated, youths, younger sons, maybe; and valets and varlets. These scoundrels afflict me dreadfully, because they all ultimately claim the protection of the British flag or are reported by the police for skullduggery. There is a fellow now on my hands who is threatenin' suicide. I wish to Gog and Magog that he would take to the reef or find a stick of dynamite. Monsieur Lontane, that busy French gendarme, found him tryin' to borrow a revolver or a stiletto, and thought he was going to kill a Frenchman. He put him in the calaboose and brought his effects to me. They consisted of a book of poems and a letter, but not a ha'penny."

"What does the bounder look like?" asked Stevens.

"He looks like a beadle in a dissentin' church, with a long, skinny neck, a pasty face, and a cockney accent. I went to see him, and he talked like an underdone curate who had had a bad night. When he got off the ship, where he owed everybody, includin' the smokin'-room, he came to see me with some crazy papers for me to sign. He said then he had not a shillin', and I advised him to go to work. He said there wasn't any work; so knowin' Llewellyn was badly in need of people, I sent him to his vanilla plantation out Mataiea way. You know here they haven't the bees or whatever it is that transfers the pollen from the stigma to the anther or what-d 'ye-call-it, and so they do it by hand with a piece of bamboo or a stem of grass. The girls do it mostly, but I thought this jackpuddin' could make an honest pound or two. He came tearin' back to me sayin' I'd insulted him with the work, askin' him, a nobleman, to pander in the vegetable kingdom."

"I know him. He was at Lovaina's," I interposed. "He was at the bar all the time, quoting Pope and Dryden and himself. He said he was going around the globe on a wager of a fortune. He was a poisonous bore, and always popped up for a drink. By the way, he wears a monocle."

"You've named him," went on the consul. "That's more of the cockney's pretense. Here's the poem he wrote in the calaboose. He did it on his shirt-front because the economical French gave him no paper. Lontane thought it might be his will or a plot, and brought the shirt here, and I copied the accursed thing for my record, as I am compelled to by the rules of the august devils of Downing Street."

THE HOME-LAND CALL

Why wilt thou torture me with unripe call, Bringing these visions of the dear old land? Dost think 't is sweet to let thy mock'ry fall? For me to hear forgotten noises in the Strand? Insidious voice that will not grant my plea, The mem'ry of thy pleasures dost remain: Oxonian-Cantabs club; blue-lit Gaiety!'

"What he needs is a permanent permit to patronize the opium den the Government runs here for the Chinese," said Hobson. "He's off his dope."

"Just a minute," continued the consul. "He claims to be a lord and a millionaire. Here's the letter. He needs no opium to have nightmares:"

Tuesday.

Of course, I will be called coward now, but the same people who call me this are those who have caused me to seek death, for they branded me liar and wastrel, simply on an untrue report appearing in an American newspaper. Chief among these people are that most despicable cad Hallman, and secondly, the British Consul. Even had I been guilty of all that has been said, why were they not manly and generous enough to give or find me congenial employment? They are not blind and could see how anxious and willing I was to obtain this. No, they only gloated over my starving and pitiable condition. Well, they spring from the proletariat class and not much else could be expected.

God only knows how much I want to live and how I dread having to take my own life, but only for the sake of my people. If I could only see them again it would be easier. How did I ever fall so low! God help me! Is there nothing else for me but this ignominious death? But I must save my people from knowing. I am not using my correct name here, so it will be useless for any one to make inquiries. A volume of poems will be found in my pocket. I wonder if the Bishop would kindly post these to Miss B. Wilmer, Broken Hill, West Australia, but only telling her I died here, without particulars, and saying I have written these since leaving home. Oh, why did I ever leave there, where love and all that is good and pure was lavished on me?

If it is possible, could I be buried in the sea? Just placed in a coffin and dropped into the peaceful ocean, peace that I have not known for four years. Please have this done for me.

I do not think I am committing suicide, rather I am being murdered by men who have none of the nobler feelings, ungenerous, unsympathetic and cruelly unkind. The fact of my death will not affect one of those who ruined my reputation here, who deprived me of obtaining food, and a room to sleep in. They have no more conscience so cannot feel remorse. I will not sign my true name but only part of it.

Gordon Innes.

"He's off his onion," Stevens commented. "The bally fool needs hard labor and raw feis."

The consul grinned.

"Wait till you hear me read the document with the suicide note. It's as good as Marie Corelli."

"All right, old thing," answered Stevens. "Fire the whole broadside!"

"No, no; I'm goin' to spare you the whole official document. It pretends to be a formal instruction to this beef-headed flunky, from his guardian, of a test to prove his mettle and gain experience to fit him for the highest posts of the diplomatic service by going round the bally world and doin' other people in for their tin. It is a yard long, and was undoubtedly written by the same dish-washer who wrote that doggerel on his shirt. It promises him half a million sterling when he comes back to London after visiting Australasia, China, India, and other countries, and pickin' up his tucker free as he goes. Also, the shark is permitted to send back for coin at this date, and he must get married to a Tahitian. He probably fixes it different in every country. It's signed, 'Your affectionate guardian, James Kitson, Baron Airedale of Gledhow.'"

"Whew!" spluttered Hobson, "the blighter has no limits. Do you mean to tell me he gets away with that folderol?"

"For months he has lived at Lovaina's, Fanny's, and even on the Chinese. He has borrowed thousands of francs, and spent it for drink and often for champagne. He did old Lovaina up for money as well as board. She believes in him yet, and calls him Lord Innes or Sir Gordon, but says she has no more to risk. He promised to build her a big hotel where the Annexe is. He's got many of the Tahitian girls and their mothers mad over his style and his prospects. Finally, he was warned by me to leave the island, and the result was his tryin' to borrow the lethal weapon, the poem and the letter. The Baron Airedale document he showed me when he first landed, to try to get my indorsement. There's no Burke in the South Seas, and there probably is no such bloomin' baron. Sounds more like a dog." The consul chuckled.

"Those lairds are as plentiful as brands of Scotch whisky made in England," Stevens said derisively. "What will you do to uphold the honor of the British crown? Is the Scotch bastard to go on with his fairy-tale and do brown the colonials?"

"I am going to have the diplomat repair the roads of Tahiti for two months, and then ship him third-class to New Zealand, where he has to go to carry out his blasted fate," the consul declared, and ordered all glasses filled.

We discussed the sudden and abnormal appearance of boot-blacks. One had set up an ornate stand on the rue de Rivoli. He was an American, Tom Wilkins, and the first ever known to practise his profession in the South Seas. He had come like a non-periodic comet, and suddenly flashed his brass-tagged platform and arm-chair upon the gaping natives. Most of them being barefooted, one would have thought his customers not many; but the novelty of a white man doing anything for them was irresistible to all who had shoes. He did not lower himself in their estimation. It is noteworthy that the Tahitian does not distinguish between what we call menial labor and other work. Nor did we until recently. The kings and nobles of Europe were actually served by the lords of the bedchamber and the maids in waiting. The American boot-black was really a boot-white, as all wore white canvas shoes except preachers and sailors.

The boot-white called out, "Shine!" and the word, unpronounceable by the native, entered a himene as tina. Within a week he had his Tahitian consort doing the shining most of the time while he loafed in the Paris saloon. He lived at the Annexe, and told me that he was not really a boot-cleaner, but was going around the world on a wager of twenty thousand dollars, "without a cent." He, too, had a credulous circle, who paid him often five francs for a shine to help him win his bet by arriving at the New York City Hall on a fixed date with a certain sum of money earned by his hands. He raised the American flag over his stand, and referred to Uncle Sam as if he were a blood relation to whom he could appeal for anything at any time.

All the foregoing was brought out in our conversation at the British consul's. Willi, temporarily conducting American affairs in French Oceanie, gave a denouement.

"The shine isn't a bad fellow," he said, "but he's serious about the twenty thousand dollars. His statement was doubted to-day by an English sailor, who called him 'a blarsted Hamerican liar,' and the shine took off his own rubber leg, and knocked the sailor down. He could move faster on his one leg than the other on two, and Monsieur Lontane had to summon two assistants to take him to the calaboose. He wouldn't resume his rubber leg. I saw him being led and pulled by my office, calling out, 'Tell the 'Merican consul a good American is in the grip of the frogs.'"

Within a month of the rubber-legged shiner's debut, there were two other boot-blacks on the streets. A madness possessed the people, Tahitians and French, who all their lives had cleaned their own shoes, to sit on the throne-like chairs, and women and girls waited their turns. John Conroy and a negro from Mississippi were the additions to the profession, and during the incarceration of the premier artist, his sweetheart, a former hula danseuse, remained faithful to his brushes. When a shoeless man or woman regarded the new-fangled importations interestedly, the proprietors offered to beautify their naked feet, and, ridiculous as it may seem, attempted it.

Although I heard odd tales at the consulate, it was at the parc de Bougainville that I met the gentleman of the beach intimately.

There I often sat and talked with whomever loafed. Natives frequented the parc hardly ever, but beach-combers, tourists, and sailors, or casual residents in from the districts, awaited there the opening of the stores or the post-office, or idled. The little park, or wooded strip of green, named after the admiral, and containing his monument, skirted the quay, and was between the establishment of Emile Levy, the pearl-trader, and the artificial pool of fresh water where the native women and sailors off the ships washed their clothes. From one's bench one had a view of all the harbor and of the passers-by on the Broom Road.

In the morning the pool was thronged with the laundresses, and one heard their paddles chunking as they beat the clothes. The French warship, the Zelee, was moored close by, and often the linen of its crew hung upon lines in the parc, and the French sailors came and went upon their duties, or sat on the coral wall and smoked and sang chansons. In the afternoon horses were brought down to bathe, and guests of the Annexe swam in the lagoon. People afoot, driving carts or carriages, on bicycles and in automobiles, went by on the thoroughfare about the island, the Frenchmen always talking as if excited over cosmic affairs, and the natives laughing or calling to one another.

If there happened to be a shoal of fish near the quays, I was sure to see Joseph, to whom the wise Dr. Funk had confided his precious concoction. He would desert the Cercle Bougainville, but still within hail of a stentorious skipper whose coppers were dry, and with a dozen other native men and women, boys and girls, lure the fish with hooks baited with bits of salted shrimp. Joseph was as skilful with his rod as with a shaker, and he would catch twenty ature, four or five inches long, in half an hour.

The water, about fifteen feet deep near the made embankment, was alive with the tiny fish, squirming in a mass as they were pursued by larger fish. The son of Prince Hinoe, a round-shouldered lout, very tall, awkward, and merry, held a bamboo pole. His white suit was soiled and ragged, and he whistled "All Coons Look alike to Me!" The peanut-vender had brought a rod, and was fishing with difficulty and mostly by feel. He could keep one eye open only, as one hand was occupied, but he pulled in many ature.

The parc was the occasional assembling-place for the drifting whites made thoughtful by trolling the jolly, brown bowl, and by those to whom lack of francs denied the trolling. It was there I first met Ivan Stroganoff, the aged Russian philosopher, and it was from there I took Wilfrid Baillon to the hospital. Baillon was a very handsome cow-boy from British Columbia, and was housed in Papeete with a giant Scandinavian who owned a cattle ranch in South America. He was generally called the Great Dane, and was the person meant in the charge for three cocktails at Lovaina's: "Germani to Fany, 3 feathers."

The cow-boy became ill. I prescribed castor-oil, and Mme. Fanny, half a tumbler of Martinique rum, with the juice of a lime in it. She was famous for this remedy for all internal troubles, and I took one with the cowboy as a prophylactic, as I might have been exposed to the same germs. He did not improve, though he followed Fanny's regimen exactly. He was sitting dejectedly in the parc, looking pale and thin, when I broached the subject.

"As the Fanny physic fails to straighten you out," I said to him, "why not try the hospital?"

He recoiled.

"Have you ever lamped it?" he asked. "It looks like a calaboose."

"It ain't so bad," said Kelly, the I.W.W., who was proselyting as usual among the flotsam and jetsam of the waterfront. "I 've been in worse joints in the United States."

The cow-boy yielding, I escorted him to the institution, carrying his bag, as what with his disease and his antidote he was weak. The hospital was a block away from the lagoon. It was surrounded by a high stone wall, and as it was built by the military, it was ugly and had the ridiculous effrontery of the army and all its lack of common sense. The iron gate was shut, and a sign said, "Sonnez s'il vous plait!" A toothless French portiere of thirty years let us in. All the doctors of Tahiti had left the island for a few days on an excursion, and the gay scientist who opened the champagne in his pockets at the Tiare Hotel New Year's eve was in command. He sat in an arm-chair in a littered office and was smoking a pipe. His beard had a diameter of a foot, and obviated any need of collar or shirt-band, for it grew from his shoulder-blades up, so that his forehead, eyes, nose, and lips were white islands in a black sea, and even his nose was not bare, for he had been debited by Lovaina for his champagne as "Hair on nose."

He was reading a novel, and asked gruffly what we were there for. I told him, and Baillon was assigned a room at twelve francs a day, and was required to pay for ten days in advance.

The next morning I visited him. He could speak no French, so I questioned Blackbeard in his office, where we had an aperitif. He was voluble.

"He has amoeban dysentery," said he. "It is contagious and infectious, specifically, and it is fortunate your friend is attended by me. I have had that disease and know what's what."

I, too, had had it in the Philippine Islands, and I was amazed that it was infectious. How could he have got it?

"Alors," replied the physician, "where has he taken meals?"

"Lovaina's, Fanny's, and some with the Chinese."

The Frenchman threw his arms around the door in mock horror. He gagged and spat, exciting the cowboy into a fever.

"Oh! la! la!" he shouted. "Les Chinois! Certainement, he is ill. He has eaten dog. Amoeban dysentery! Mais, monsieur, it is a dispensation of the bon dieu that he has not hydrophobia or the leprosy. Les Chinois! Sacre nom de chien!"

Lovaina had often accused her rivals, the Chinese restaurateurs, of serving dog meat for beef or lamb. Perhaps it was so, for in China more than five millions of dogs are sold for food in the market every year, and in Tahiti I knew that the Chinese ate the larvae of wasps, and M. Martin had mountain rats caught for his table.

The cow-boy's room was bare and cheerless, but two Tahitian girls of fourteen or fifteen years of age were in it. One was sitting on his bed, holding his hand, and the other was in a rocking-chair. They were very pretty and were dressed in their fete gowns. The girl on the bed was almost white, but her sister fairly brown. Probably they had different fathers. They told me that they had seen Baillon on the streets, had fallen in love with him, and though they had never spoken to him, wanted to comfort him now that he was sick. Jealousy did not rankle in their hearts, apparently. That absence often shocked non-Polynesians. Brothers shared wives, and sisters shared husbands all over old Polynesia.

This pair of love-lorn maidens had never exchanged a word with Baillon, for he spoke only English. The whiter girl wore a delicate satin gown, a red ribbon, and fine pearls in her hair. The cow-boy lay quietly, while she sat with her bare feet curled under her on the counterpane, looking actually unutterable passion.

"Shucks!" said he to me, safe in their ignorance of his tongue, "this is getting serious. They mean business, and I was foolin'. I got a little girl in the good ol' United States that would skin her alive if she saw her sittin' like that on my sheets. A man's takin' chances here that bats his eye at one o' these T'itian fairies. Do you know, their mother came here with them this morning?"

"They mean to have you in their family," I said. "That mother may have had a white husband or lover, and aids in the pursuit of you for auld lang syne."

Wilfrid Baillon was out of the hospital in just ten days. His release, as cured by the doctor, coincided curiously with his payment in advance. I saw him off for New Zealand by the steamship leaving the next day.

"Those people were awful good to me," he said in farewell. "It hurts me to treat those girls this way, but I'm scairt o' them. They're too strong in their feelings."

He ran away from a mess of love pottage that many men would have gone across seas to gain.

Ormsby, an Englishman in his early twenties, good-looking and courteous, with an air of accustomedness to luxury, but of being roughened by his environment, was sitting on a bench one morning with a girl. He called me over to meet her.

"You are an old-timer here now," he began, "and I've got to go away on the schooner to the Paumotus to-morrow. Drop in at Tahia's shack once in a while and cheer her up. She lives back of the Catholic mission, and she's pretty sick."

Tahia was desperately ill, I thought. She was thin, the color of the yellow wax candles of the high altar, and her straight nose, with expanded nostrils, and hard, almost savage mouth, features carved as with the stone chisel of her ancient tribe, conjured up the profile of Nenehofra, an Egyptian princess whose mummy I had seen. She was stern, silent, resigned to her fate, as are these races who know the inexorable will of the gods.

"Is she your girl?" I asked Ormsby.

He colored slightly.

"I suppose so, and the baby will be mine if it's ever born. At any rate, I'm going to stick to her while she's in this fix. I'll tell you on the square, I'm not gone on her; but she had a lover, an Australian I knew, and he was good to her, but he got the consumption and couldn't work. Maybe he came here with it. They hadn't a shilling, and Tahia built a hut in the hills up there near where the nature men live, and put him in it, and she fed and cared for him. She went to the mountains for feis she came down here to the reef to fish, and she found eggs and breadfruit in other people's gardens. She kept him alive, the Lord knows how, until he could secure money from Sydney to go home and die. Now, she's got the con from him, I suppose, and it would be a shabby trick to leave her when she's dying and will be a mother in two months, according to Doctor Cassiou!"

He made a wry face and lit his pipe. The girl could not understand a word and sat immovable.

"She's Marquesan," he went on. "Her mother has written through a trader in Atuona, on Hiva-Oa, to send her to her own valley, but she's quit. She sits and broods all day. I 'd like to go back to my own home in Warwickshire. I know I'm changing for the bad here. I live like a dam' beach-comber. I only get a screw of three hundred francs a month, and that all goes for us two, with medicines and doctors. She'd go to Atuona if I'd go; but I can't make a living there, and I'm rotten enough now without living off her people in the cannibal group. She's skin and bones and coughs all night."

Ormsby puffed his pipe as Tahia put her hand in his. Her action was that of a small dog who puts his paw on his master's sleeve, hesitating, hopeful, but uncertain. She regarded me with slightly veiled hostility. I was a white who might be taking him away to foreign things.

"She's heard us talking about Atuona and Hiva-Oa, and she thinks maybe I 've concluded to go. I can't do it, O'Brien. If I go there, I'll go native forever. I've got a streak of some dam' savage in me. Listen! I've got to go on the Etoile to Kaukura tojmorrow. Now, the natives are always kind to any one, but sickness they are not interested in. You go and see her, won't you? She's about all in, and it won't hurt you."

Ormsby went to the Dangerous Isles on the Etoile, and did not return for three weeks. He did not find Tahia in her shack on the hill. She was in the cemetery,—in the plot reserved for the natives of other islands,—and her babe unborn. She had died alone. I think she made up her mind to relieve the Englishman of her care, and willed to die at once. Dr. Cassiou, with whom I visited her, said:

"She ought to have lasted several months. Mais, c'est curieux. I have treated these Polynesians for many years, and I never found one I could keep alive when he wanted to die. She had already sent away her spirit, the ame, or essence vitale, or whatever it is, and then the body simply grows cold."

Ormsby and I talked it all over in the parc. He was deeply affected, and he uncovered his own soul, as men seldom do.

"I 'm dam' glad she's dead," he said, with intense feeling. "I might have failed, and she died before I did fail. I'm going back to Warwick now at first chance, and whatever I do or don't do, I've got that exception to my credit. It's one, too, to the credit of the whites that have cursed these poor islanders."

He had chalked it down on a record he thought quite black, but which I believe was better than our average. He and I went to the cemetery and had a wooden slab put up:

Tahia a Atuona Tamau te maitai.

Tahia of Atuona She held fast.

The Christchurch Kid and I were friendly, and he allowed me once a day during his training periods to put on the gloves with him for a mild four rounds. He was an open-hearted fellow, with a cauliflower ear and a nose a trifle awry from "a couple of years with the pork-and-beaners in California," as he explained, but with a magnificent body. He also lived at the Annexe, and did his training in the garden under Afa's clever hands. The Dummy must have admired him, for he would watch him exercising and boxing for hours, and make farcical sounds and grotesque gestures to indicate his understanding of the motions and blows.

The Kid asked me if I knew Ernest Darling, "the nature man," and identified the too naked wearer of toga and sandals on the San Francisco wharf as Darling.

"'E looked like Christ," said the boxer. "'E was a queer un. How'd you like to chyse up there to his roost in the 'ills?"

The next morning at five—it was not daybreak until six—we met at Wing Luey's for coffee and bread, which cost four cents. Prince Hinoe was there as usual, and asked us whither away. He laughed when we told him, and said the nature men were maamaa, crazy. The Kid was of the same mind.

We went up the rue de Sainte Amelie to the end of the road, and continued on up the valley. We could see far above us a small structure, which was the Eden that Darling had made for the Adamic colony he had established.

The climb was a stiff one on a mere wild pig-trail.

"The nyture man would 'ike up 'ere several times a day, after the frogs closed his road," said the New Zealander. "There was less brush than now, though, because 'e cut it aw'y to carry lum'ber and things up and to bring back the things 'e grew for market. 'E and 'is gang believed in nykedness, vegetables, socialism, no religion, and no drugs. The nytives think they're bug-'ouse, like Prince Hinoe, and I don't think they 're all there, but you couldn't cheat him. 'E'd myke a Glasgow peddler look sharp in buyin' or sellin'."

The Christchurch Kid was himself strictly conventional, and had been genuinely shocked by Darling's practices, and especially by his striking resemblance to the Master as portrayed by the early painters, and by Munkacsy in Christ Before Pilate.

"'E was all right," he explained to me as we climbed, "but 'e ought to been careful of 'is looks. I was 'ard up 'ere in Papeete once, and was sleepin' in an ole ware'ouse along with others. Darling slept on a window-sill, and 'e used to talk about enjoyin' the full sweep o' the tradewind. We doubted that, an' so one night we crept upstairs and surprised him. 'E was stretched out on a couple o' sacks, and a reg'ler gale was blowin' on him. 'E bathed a couple o' times a day in the lagoon or in fresh water, but 'e believed in rubbin' oil on his skin, and when a bloke is all greasy and nyked, 'e looks dirty. 'Is whiskers were too flossy in the tropics."

It took all my wind to reach the Eden, a couple of miles from our starting-point, and we were on all fours part of the way.

"'E could run up here like an animal," declared the fighter. "Once when a crowd of us went to visit 'im, 'e ran up this tr'il a'ead of us, and when we arrived all winded, blow me up a bloomin' gum-tree if 'e 'ad n't a mess of feis and breadfruit cooked for us."

We came to a sign on the trail. "Tapu," it said, which means taboo, or keep away; and farther on a notice in French that the owner forbade any one to enter upon his land.

"'E's a cryzy Frenchman with long whiskers," said the Kid. "'E 'as a grudge against any one who speaks English and also against the world. They s'y that 'is American wife ran aw'y from 'im, or an American took 'is nytive wife aw'y. 'E packs a revolver."

Everywhere the mountain-side was terraced, and planted in cocoanuts, breadfruits, bananas, flowers, and other plants, more than two thousand growths. Darling's toil had been great, and my heart bled at the memory of his standing on the piling as we steamed away. He had intended to have a colony, with bare nature-worshipers from all over the world. He had written articles in magazines, and tourists and authors had celebrated him in their stories. A score of needy health-seekers had arrived in Papeete and joined him, but could not survive his rigid diet and work. He had talked much of Eves, white, in the Eden, but none had offered.

On a platform fifteen hundred feet above the sea Darling had built a frame of beams, boards, and branches, with bunks and seats, much like a woodcutter's temporary shelter in the mountains, a mere lean-to. The view was stupendous, with the sea, the harbor, Moorea, and Papeete hardly seen in the foliage. He had thought his work in life to be peopling these hills with big families of nature children and the spread of socialism and reformed spelling.

His dream was transient. He had been treated with contempt, and had been driven from his garden, as had his first father, and without an Eve or a serpent. The whiskered Frenchman had bought Eden for a song, and had made it taboo to all.

We shouted in vain for the Frenchman, so we searched the premises. The boxer was afraid that after we left he might roll a rock down our trail because of our breaking his taboo. We found the spring from which he drank, and a pool dug by Darling for bathing, now only a mass of vegetation. Evidently the present tenant was not an ablutionist.

"There's a beastly German down on that next level," remarked the Christchurch Kid. "'E 'ates this Frenchman. Now they don't speak, but they sent warnin' to each other o' trouble. The frog carries the revolver for the sauer-kraut. Some day they'll kill each other right 'ere. They're both 'ermits, and 'ermits are terrible when they get excited."

It was almost a straight drop to the German's, a small promontory, with an acre of land, a platform raised eight feet on poles for a roof, and under it a berth. A chest held his belongings. He lived on the fruit he raised and the fish he caught in the sea, to which he went every day. He tried to keep chickens, but the mountain rats, of which Darling had trapped more than five thousand, ate most of them. The German, too, was away from his simple home. Both these men sought in life only peace and plain living, yet were consumed with hate. One day the upper dweller had accidentally caused a small stone to roll down upon the other's roof. The German had shouted something to the Frenchman, hot words had passed, and now they carried revolvers to intimidate or shoot each other. Their days and nights were spent on plans to insult or injure. And because of their feud they hated the whole world.

Once again in Papeete, we met the Swiss of the Noa-Noa who had intended to eat raw foods in the Marquesas. He was to return to America on the next steamer.

"De wegetables in Tahiti have no wim in dem," he said. "In California I ead nudds und raisins mit shtrent' in dem. I go back."

The fighter pointed out the "cryzy" Frenchman of Eden. He was the customs employee who had provoked the American consul by refusing to understand English.

I asked M. Lontane, the second in command of the police, why Darling had gone.

The hero of the battle of the limes, coal, and potatoes, looked at me fiercely.

"Is the French republic to permit here in its colony the whites who enjoy its hospitality to shame the nation before the Tahitians by their nakedness? That sacree bete wore a pareu in town because the law compelled him to, but, monsieur, on the road, in his aerial resort, he and all his disciples were as naked as—"

"I have seen artistes at the music-halls of Paris," I finished.

"Exactement," he spluttered. "Are we to let Tahiti rival Paris?"

Ivan Stroganoff I met two or three times a month. He stayed in his chicken-coop except when the opportunities came for gaining a few francs, at steamer-time, and when sheer boredom drove him to Papeete for converse. With his dislike for the natives and his disdainful attitude toward the French, he had to seek other nationals in town, for there were none at Fa'a except a Chinese storekeeper. Stroganoff at eighty was as keen for interesting things as a young man, but his philosophy was fatal to his enjoyment. He saw the flaw in the diamond the sunbeam made of the drop of water on the leaf. He had lived too long and was too wise in disappointments. He was generous in his poverty, for he brought me a tin of guava-jelly he had made and a box of dried bananas. These had had their skins removed, and were black and not desirable-looking, but they were delicious and rare. In turn, not wishing to exaggerate the difference between our means, I gave him a box of cigars I had brought from America. I visited him at Fa'a, and found his coop had been a poultry shelter, and was humble, indeed; but I had slept a hundred nights in many countries in worse. He had a box for a table for eating and writing, and a rude cot. A few dishes and implements, and a roost of books and reviews in Russian, English, French, German, and other languages, completed his equipment.

He had several times reiterated his earnest wish to leave Tahiti, and his longing rested heavily on my heart. Upon lying down at night I had felt my own illiberality in not making it possible for him to realize his desire. A hundred dollars would send him there, with enough left over for a fortnight's keep. But my apology for not buying him a ticket was the real fear of his unhappiness. What could a friendless man of eighty do to exist in the United States other than become the inmate of a poorhouse? The best he could hope for would be to be taken in by the Little Sisters of the Poor, who house a few old men. They were, doubtless, kind, but probably insistent on neatness and religiosity.

The cold, the brutal policemen and guards, the venial justice, the crystallized charity in the name of a statistical Christ, arrested my hand. I had known it all at first hand, asking no favor. I believed that he would be worse off than in his chicken-coop. He could wear anything or nearly nothing in Tahiti, and his old Prince Albert comforted him; but he would have to conform to dress rules in a stricter civilization. Nature was a loving mother here and a shrewish hag there, at least toward the poor. And yet I was uneasy at my own argument.

For a month or two he had led the talk between us and any others in the parc to new discoveries in medicine. From his Fa'a seclusion he followed these very closely through European publications, for which his slender funds went. He had a curiously opposed nature, quoting with enthusiasm the idealistic philosophers, and descending into such abject materialism as haunting the bishop's palace for the cigar-stubs.

He would say that the purest joy in life is that which lifts us out of our daily existence and transforms us into disinterested spectators of it.

"This divine release from the common ways of men can be found only through art," Stroganoff would apostrophize. "The final and only true solution of life is to be found in the life of the saint. True morality passes through virtue, which is rooted in sympathy into asceticism. Renunciation only offers a complete release from the evils and terrors of existence."

Kelly was on the bench one day when the Russian uttered this rule of the cenobite school. They were good friends, but differed. They agreed that the world was sick and needed a radical medicine. Kelly was for a complete cure by ending private business through the workers seizing it when the time was ripe, which he believed would be soon. Stroganoff was for an empery of wise men, of scientists, philosophers, and artists, who would kick out the statesmen and politicians, and manage things by enlightened pragmatism. For the individual man who sought happiness his formula was as above—retirement to an aery.

When Kelly was gone to practise on his accordion,—he had opened a dancing academy at Fa'a,—the octogenarian asked me if I had read of the recent achievements of the scientists who were making the old young. He elaborated on the discoveries and experiments of Professor Leonard Huxley in England with thyroid gland injections, of Voronoff in France with the grafting of interstitial glands of monkeys, and of Eugen Steinach in Austria and Roux in Germany, with germ glands and X-rays. Steinach, especially, he discoursed on, and drew a magazine picture of him from his Prince Albert. The Vienna savant had a cordon of whiskers that made him resemble Stroganoff, and his eyes in the photograph peered through all one's disguises.

"That is what grates me," said Stroganoff. "I am far from all these worth-while things, these men of brain. I knew Ilya Ilich Metchnikoff before he became director of the Pasteur Institute. Here I am a rotting hulk. In the Caucasus I had kephir, and I used to carry kephir grains, and in America I, at least, could have kumiss or Ilya Ilich's lait caille. Look! I came here as Ponce de Leon to Florida to find youth, or to keep from growing older; in a word to escape anno Domini."

I turned and looked at him. He was a venerable figure, but there was no sign of eighty years in him. Rid of that white, hirsute mask, so associated with age, Stroganoff might have been twenty years younger. I said so, but it did not allay his yearning.

"I am well enough," he said, "because I have not dissipated for thirty years. I turned a leaf, as did Leo Nikolaievitch, after 'War and Peace.' Now I feel myself slipping into the grave."

He gazed ruminantly away from the lagoon to the pool of Psyche, where the Tahitian women squatted on their shapely haunches and thumped their clothes.

"See," he said earnestly. "I am old and useless. Why should not Steinach or the others make the grand experiment on me? If they succeed, very good; if they fail, there is no loss. They say those glands make a man over, no matter what his age. I offer myself freely. I am not afraid of death. Me, I am a philosopher."

He spoke excitedly. His eyes were fixed on distance, and I followed them.

Auro, the Golden One, as her name meant, had been washing her muslin slips in the pool of Psyche, and now stood in the entrance to it. She was for a fleeting second in her pareu only, her tunic raised above her head to pull on, and her enravishing form disclosed from her waist to her piquant face, over which tumbled her opulent locks.

It flashed on me that, wise and old as he was, the spectrum of the philosopher's soul had all the colors of the ignorant and the young. I looked from the nymphs of the pool to his darkening eyes, and I had a revelation of the persistence of common humanity in the most learned and the most philosophical. My castigation of myself for not buying his steamship ticket ceased in a moment, though not the less did I continue to enjoy his fount of learning and experience.



Chapter XIV

The market in Papeete—Coffee at Shin Bung Lung's with a prince—Fish the chief item—Description of them—The vegetables and fruits—The fish strike—Rumors of an uprising—Kelly and the I. W. W.—The mysterious session at Fa'a—Halellujah! I'm a Bum!—The strike is broken.

The market in Papeete, the only one in Tahiti, has an air all its own. It is different in its amateur atmosphere and roseate color, in its isothermal romance and sheer good humor, from all others I have seen—Port of Spain, Peking, Kandy, or Jolo. It is more fascinating in its sensuous, tropical setting, its strange foods, and its laughing, lazy crowds of handsome people, than any other public mart I know. There is no financial exchange in Tahiti. Stocks and bonds take the shape of cocoanuts, vanilla-beans, fish, and other comforts. The brokers are merry women. The market is spot, and buyers must take delivery immediately, as usually not a single security is left at the end of the day's trading.

One must be at the market before five o'clock to see it all. Sunday is the choicest day of all the week, because Sunday is a day of feasting, and the marche then has a more than gala air. The English missionaries had once made even cooking a fish on Sunday a crime, severely punished; but the French priests changed all that, and the French Sabbath, the New York Sabbath, was en regle.

All the east is purple and red, gorgeous, flaring, when I awake. There are no windows in my connecting rooms in the Annexe. The sun rises through their wallless front, and sets through their opening to the balcony. What more liberal dispensation of nature? I am under the shower in two minutes, long enough to go down the curved staircase, with its admirable rosewood balustrade, and through the rear veranda to the room in which the large cement basin serves for bath and laundry and to lend a minute to the Christchurch Kid, the prize-fighter, to inform me that he is to open a school of the manly art, with diplomas for finished scholars and rewards for excellence. The recitals are to be public, a fee charged, and all ambitious pupils are to be guaranteed open examination in pairs and a just decision. The Kid and Cowan are to be hors de combat.

A daughter of a French governor of the Low Archipelago is in the basin, the door ajar, and the spray blinding her to my presence. She is seventeen, cafe au lait—beaucoup de lait, kohl-eyed, meter-tressed, and slim-bodied. She sings the himene of the battle of the limes and coal and potatoes, with a new stanza concerning the return of the Noa-Noa, and the vengeance of the Tahitian braves upon the pigs of Peretania, Britain.

"Ia or a na! Bonjour, Goo' night!" she says impartially, and modestly slips her pareu about her.

"Ia ora na oe!" I reply. "All goes well?"

"By cripe' yais; dam' goo'!" she answers, and goes humming on her way to her shanty in the yard. She is the maid of my chamber, gentle, willing, but never to be found for service. She learns English from the Kid, the rubber-legged boot-black, and other gentleman adventurers and tars of America and Europe, and she pours out bad words—I cannot mention them—in innocent faith in their propriety. In French or Tahitian she speaks correctly.

Outside the bath I hear the vehicles hurrying to market, and dressing quickly in white drill, and wearing on my Paumotu hat a brilliant scarlet pugaree, once the badge of subjugation to the Mohammedan conquerors of India, I join the procession.

Bon dieu! what a morning! The reds and purples are dying in the orient, and the hills are swathed in the half-white light of day. The lagoon is now a glistening pearly gray. Moorea, the isle of the fairy folk, is jagged and rough, as if a new throe of earth had torn its heights and made new steeps and obelisks. Moorea is never the same. Every hour of the day and every smile and frown of the sun creates valleys and spires, and alters the outlines of this most capricious of islets.

Past the bust of Bougainville, past the offices of Emile Levy, the pearler whom, to Levy's intense anger, Jack London slew in "The House of Mapuhi"; past the naval depot, the American consulate with the red, white, and blue flung in the breeze; the Commissariat de Police, the pool of Psyche, and all the rows of schooners that line the quays, with their milken sails drying on their masts, and I am by the stores of the merchants. The dawn is slipping through the curtain of night, but lamps are still burning. The traffic has roused the sleepers, and they are dressing. They have brought, tied in pareus, their Sunday clothes. Women are changing gowns, and men struggle with shirts and trousers, awkward inflictions upon their ordinarily free bodies.

All the night people who have journeyed from Papara, from Papenoo, or nearer districts slumber upon the sidewalks. This sleeping about anywhere is characteristic of the Tahitian. On the quays, in the doorways of the large and small stores, in carriages, and on the decks of the vessels, men and women and children lie or crouch, sleeping peacefully, with their possessions near them.

In the fare tamaaraa, the coffee-houses of the Tinitos, the Chinese, the venders of provender and the marketers alike are slipping their taofe tau, their four-sous' worth of coffee, with a tiny pewter mug of canned milk, sugar, and a half-loaf of French bread with butter.

My vis-a-vis at Shin Bung Lung's is Prince Hinoe, the heir to the broken throne, a very large, smiling brown gentleman, who sits with the French secretary of the governor, the two, alack! patting the shoulders, pinching the cheeks, and fondling the long, ebon plaits of the bevy of beauties who are up thus early to flirt and make merry. Tahiti is the most joyous land upon the globe. Who takes life seriously here is a fool or a liver-ridden penitent. The shop is full of peals of laughter and stolen kisses. Those sons of Belial who taught the daughter of the governor of the Dangerous Isles her unspeakable vocabulary are here. They have been to the Paris, the premier saloon of Papeete, for their morning's morning, an absinthe, or a hair of the dog that bit them yester eve.

What jokes they have! Stories of what happened last night in the tap-room of the cinematograph, how David opened a dozen bottles of Roederer, and there was no ice, so all alike, barefooted and silk-stockinged, drank the wine of Champagne warm, and out of beer glasses; of Captain Minne's statement that he would kill a scion of Tahitian royalty (not Hinoe) if he did not marry his daughter before the captain returned from the Paumotus; and of Count Polonsky's calling down the black procureur, the attorney-general, right in the same tap-room, and telling him he was a "nigger," although they had been friends before.

Tahitian and French and English, but very little of the latter, echoes through the coffee-room. Even I make a feeble struggle to speak the native tongue, and arouse storms of giggles.

The market-place faces the Mairie, the city hall, and its center is a fountain beloved of youth. There sit or loll the maidens of Papeete at night, and titter as pass the sighing lads. There wait the automobiles to carry the pleasure bent to Kelly's grove at Fa'a, where the maxixe and the tango rage, the hula-dancers quiver and quaver, and wassail has no bounds.

When the whites are at dinner, the natives meet in the market-place, which is the agora, as the place du gouvernment is the forum of the dance and music of these ocean Greeks.

But at this hour it is wreathed with women, scores squat upon their mats on the pave, their goods spread before the eyes of the purchasers.

The sellers of the materials for hats are many. The bamboo fiber, yellowish white, is the choicest, but there are other colors and stuffs. The women venders smoke cigarettes and are always laughing. Old crones, withered and feeble, shake their thin sides at their own and others' jokes.

Already the buyers are coming fast, householders and cooks and bachelors and beaux, tourists and native beauties.

A score of groups are smoking and chatting, flirting and running over their lists. Carriages and carts are tied everywhere, country folk who have come to sell or to buy, or both, and automobiles, too, are ranged beside the Mairie.

Matrons and daughters, many nationals, are assembling. The wife of a new consul, a charming blonde, just from New Jersey, has her basket on her arm. She is a bride, and must make the consul's two thousand dollars a year go far. A priest in a black gown and a young Mormon elder from Utah regard each other coldly. A hundred Chinese cafe-keepers, stewards, and merchants are endeavoring to pierce the exteriors of the foods and estimate their true value. The market is not open yet. It awaits the sound of the gong, rung by the police about half past five. Four or five of these officials are about, all natives in gaudy uniforms, their bicycles at the curb, smoking, and exchanging greetings with friends.

The question of deepest interest to the marketers is the fish. The tables for these are railed off, and, peering through the barriers, the onlookers comment upon the kinds and guess at the prices.

The market-house is a shed over concrete floors, clean, sanitary, and occupied but an hour or two a day. There are three main divisions of the market, meat, fish, and green things. Meat in Tahiti is better uneaten and unsung. It comes on the hoof from New Zealand. Now, if you are an epicure, you may rent a cold-storage chamber in the glacerie, and keep your steaks and roasts until tender.

Fish is the chief item to the Tahitian. Give him only fish, and he may murmur at his fate; but deny him fish, and he will hie him to the reef and snare it for himself. All night the torches of the fishermen gleam on the foaming reef, and often I paddle out near the breakers and hear the chants and cries of the men as they thrust their harpoons or draw their nets. So it is the women who sell the fish, while the weary husbands and fathers lie wrapped in dreams of a miraculous draught.

There are three great aquariums in the world, at Honolulu, Naples, and New York. There is no other such fish-market as this of Papeete, for Hawaii's has become Asiaticized, and the kanaka is almost nil in the angling art there. But those same fish that I gazed at in amazement in the tanks of the museums are spread out here on tables for my buying.

Impossible fish they are, pale blue; brilliant yellow; black as charcoal; sloe, with orange stripes; scarlet, spotted, and barred in rainbow tints. The parrot-fish are especially splendid in spangling radiancy, their tails and a spine in their mouths giving them their name.

The impression made upon one's first visit to the Papeete market is overwhelming, the plenitude of nature rejoicing one's heart, and the care of the Great Consciousness for beauty and color, and even for the ludicrous, the merely funny, causing curious groping sensations of wonder at the varied plan of creation.

Sexual selection and suitability to survive are responsible. Those vivid colors, those symmetrical markings, and laughable forms are all part of the going on of the world, the adaptation to environment, and the desire for love and admiration in the male and female.

These things from the deep seem hardly fish. They are bits of the sunset, fragments of a mosaic, Futuristic pictures; anything but our sodden, gray, or wateryhued fish of temperate climes. Some are as green as the hills of Erin, others as blue as the sky, as crimson as blood, as yellow as the flag of China. They are cut by nature in many patterns, round, or sectional, like a piece of pie, triangular, almost square; some with a back fin that floats out a foot or two behind.

They are grotesque, alarming, apparently the design of a joker. But tread not on the domain of the scientist, for he will prove to you that each separate queerness is only a trick of nature to fit its owner to the necessities of his habitat. The parrot-fish are screamingly fantastic. There are not even in the warm California or Florida waters the duplicates of these rainbow fish. The Garibaldi perch and the electric fish excite interest at Santa Catalina, but here are a hundred marvels, and if I wish I can see them all as they swim in and out of the coral caverns within the lagoon.

Porcupine fish are a delicacy, squid are esteemed, and even the devilfish is on the tables, hideous, repellent, slimy, horned, and tentacled; not mighty enough to crush out the life of the fisher, as was the horrific creature in Victor Hugo's "Toilers of the Sea," whom his hero fought, yet menacing even when dead. It is a frightful figure in its aspect of hatred and ugliness, but good to eat. See that fat Tahitian thrust his finger into the sides of the octopus to plumb its cooking qualities. It is quickly sold.

There are crabs and crawfish, eels and shrimps, prawns and varos, all hung up on strings. There are oysters and maoao, alive and dripping. The maoao is the turbo, a gastropod, a mysterious inhabitant of a twisted shell, who shuts the door to his home with a brightly-colored operculum, for all the world like half of a cuff-button. One eats him raw or cooked or dried. But he is not so odd as the varo one of the most delicious and expensive of Tahitian foods. These sea centipedes, as the English call them in Tahiti, are a species of ibacus, and are from six to twelve inches long, and two wide. They have legs or feelers all along their sides, like a pocket comb, a hideous head, and tail, and a generally repulsive appearance. If one did not know they were excellent eating, and most harmless in their habits, one would be tempted to run or take to a tree at sight of them. Their shell is a translucent yellow, with black markings. The female has a red stripe down her back, and red eggs beneath her. She is richer in flavor, and more deadly than the male to one who has a natural diathesis to poisoning by varos. Many whites cannot eat them. Some lose appetite at their looks, their likeness to a gigantic thousand-leg. Others find that the varo rests uneasy within them, as though each claw or tooth of the comb grasped a vital part of their anatomy. I think varos excellent when wrapped in hotu leaves, and grilled as a lobster. I take the beastie in my fingers and suck out the meat. Amateurs must keep their eyes shut during this operation.

Catching varos is tedious and requires skill. They live in the sand of the beach under two or three feet of water. One has to find their holes by wading and peering. They are small at the top, but roomy below. One cannot see these holes through ruffled water. Once located, grapnels, or spools fitted with a dozen hooks, are lowered into them. A pair inhabits the same den. If the male is at home, he seizes the grapnel, and is raised and captured, and the female follows. But if the female emerges first, it is a sure sign that the male is absent in search of food. I have pondered as to this habit of the varo, and have tried to persuade me that the male, being a courteous shrimp,—he is a kind of mantis-shrimp,—combats the intruding hooks first in order to protect his loved one; but the grapnel is baited with fish, and though masculine pride would insist that chivalry urges varo homme to defend his domestic shrine, fishers for the tidbit say that he is after the bait, and holds to it so tightly that he sacrifices his life. Nevertheless, the lady embraces the same opportunity to rise, and their deserted tenement is soon filled by the sands.

Trapping varos calls for patience and much dexterity. The mere finding of the holes is possible only to natives trained from childhood. Six varos make a good meal, with bread and wine, and they are most enjoyable hot—also most indigestible.

"Begin their eating by sucking a cold one," once said a bon vivant to me. "Only when accustomed to them should you dare them hot and in numbers."

Flying-fish are sold, many of them delicate in taste and shapely.

One may buy favorite sauces for fish, and some of the women offered them to me. One is taiaro, made of the hard meat of the cocoanut, with pounded shrimp, and allowed to ferment slightly. It is put up in bamboo tubes, three inches in diameter, and four or five feet long, tied at the opening with a pandanus-leaf for a seal. It is delicious on raw fish. I have seen a native take his fish by the tail and devour it as one would a banana; but the Tahitians cut up the fish, and, after soaking it in lime-juice, eat it with the taiaro. It is as tasty as Blue Points and tabasco.

There are two other epicurean sauces, one made of the omotu, the soft cocoanut, which is split, the meat dug out and put in the hue, the calabash, mixed with a little salt water, lime-juice, and the juice of the rea, the saffron, and allowed to ferment. This is the mitihue, a piquant and fetid, puante sauce that seasons all Tahitian meals. The calabash is left in the sun, and when the sauce dries up, water is poured on the dry ingredients, a perpetual saucebox.

In the arrangement of vegetables our own hucksters could learn. Every piece is scraped and cleansed. String beans are tied together in bundles like cigars or asparagus, and lettuce of several varieties, romaine and endive, parsnips, carrots, beets, turnips, and even potatoes, sweet and white, are shown in immaculate condition. The tomatoes do not rival ours, but Tahiti being seventeen degrees below the equator, one cannot expect such tropical regions to produce temperate-zone plants to perfection. That they are provided at all is due to the Chinese, those patient, acute Cantonese and Amoyans. The Tahitian has no competence in intensive cultivation or the will to toil. Were it not for the Chinese, white residents in many countries would have to forego vegetables. It is so in Mexico and Hawaii and the Philippines, although Japanese in the first two compete with them.

The main food of the Tahitians is feis, as is bread to us, or rice to the Asiatic. It is not so in the Marquesas, eight hundred miles north, where breadfruit is the staff, nor in Hawaii, where fermented taro (poi) is the chief reliance of the kanaka. The feis, gigantic bananas of coarse fiber, which must be cooked, are about a foot in length, and three inches in diameter, and grow in immense, heavy bunches in the mountains, so that obtaining them is great labor. They are wild creatures of heights, and love the spots most difficult of access. Only barefooted men can reach them. These feis are a separate species. The market-place is filled with them, and hardly a Tahitian but buys his quota for the day. The fei-gatherers are men of giant strength, naked save for the pareu about the loins, and often their feet from climbing and holding on to rocks and roots are curiously deformed, the toes spread an inch apart, and sometimes the big toe is opposed to the others, like a thumb. There are besides many kinds of bananas here for eating raw; some are as small as a man's finger, and as sweet as honey.

The fei-hunters hang six or seven bunches on a bamboo pole and bring them thus to market. One meets these young Atlases moving along the roads, chaplets of frangipani upon their curling hair, or perhaps a single gardenia or tube-rose behind their ears, singing softly and treading steadily, smiling, and all with a burden that would stagger a white athlete.

The taro looks like a war-club, several feet long, three inches thick, and with a fierce knob. It and its tops are in demand. The breadfruit are as big as Dutch cheese, weighing four or five pounds, their green rinds tuberculated like a golf-ball. Sapadillos, tamarinds, limes, mangoes, oranges, acachous, and a dozen other native fruits are to be had. Cocoanuts and papayas are of course, favorites. There are many kinds of cocoanuts. I like best the young nut, which has the meat yet unformed or barely so, and can be eaten with a spoon, and holds about a quart of delicious wine. No matter how hot the day, this wine is always cool. One has only to pierce the top of the green rind, and tilt the hole above one's mouth. If one has alcoholic leanings, the wine of a cocoanut, an ounce of rum, two lumps of sugar, a dash of grenadine, and the mixture were paradise enow.

The papayas, which the British call mammee-apple or even mummy-apple or papaw, because of the West Indian name, mamey, are much like pumpkins in appearance. They grow on trees, quite like palms, from ten to thirty feet high, the trunk scaly like an alligator's hide, and the leaves pointed. The fruit hangs in a cluster at the crown of the tree, green and yellow, resembling badly shaped melons. The taste is musky sweet and not always agreeable to tyros. The seeds are black and full of pepsin. Boiled when green, the papaya reminds one of vegetable marrow; and cooked when ripe, it makes a pie stuffing not to be despised. I have often hung steaks or birds in the tree, protected by a cage from pests, or wrapped them in papaya-leaves to make them tender. The very atmosphere does this, and the pepsin extracted from the papaya by science is much used by druggists instead of animal extracts.

The market closed, the venders who have come in carts drive home, while those Tahitians who are not too old adorn themselves with flowers and seek pleasure. Young and old, they are laughing. Why? I need never ask the reason here, but look to the blue sky, the placid sea within the lagoon, the generous fruitage of nature, the palms and flowers ever present and inviting; the very sign of the gentle souls and merry hearts of these most lovable people. When I am alone with them I do not walk. I dance or skip.

Life is easy. The fei, the breadfruit, the cocoanut, the mango, and the taro are all about. No plow, no hoe, or rude labor, but for the lifting of one's hand there is food. The fish leap in the brine, and the pig fattens for the oven. Clothes are irksome. A straw hut may be built in an hour or two, and in the grove sounds the soft music of love.

Aue! nom de poisson! within a day the market became a wailing-place. There were no fish. The tables daily covered with them were empty. The happy wives and consorts who had been wont to sell the catch of the men remained in their homes, and the fishers themselves were there or idle on the streets. The districts around the island, which for decades had despatched by the daily diligence, or by special vehicle or boat, the drafts of the village nets, sent not a fin. Never in Tahiti's history except when war raged between clans, or between Tahitians and French, had there been such a fish famine.

And, name of a dog! it was due to a greve, a strike. It came upon the Papeete people like a tidal wave out of the sea, or like a cyclone that devastates a Paumotu atoll, but, entre nous, it had been brooding for months. Fish had been getting dearer and dearer for a long time, and householders had complained bitterly. They recalled the time when for a franc one could buy enough delicious fish for a family feast. They called the taata hara, the native anglers, cochons, hogs, and they discussed when they gathered in the clubs, or when ladies met at market, the weakness of the authorities in allowing the extortion. But nothing was done. The extortion continued, and the profanity increased. At the Cercle Bouganville Captain Goeltz and the other retired salts banged the tables and said to me:

"Sacre redingote! is it that the indigenes pay the governor or give him fish free? Are we French citizens to die of hunger that savages may ride in les Fords?"

They shouted for Doctor Funks, and drank damnation to the regime that let patriots surfer to profit les canaques. But, in reality, the governor months ago had secretly begun a plan to help them.

One day the governor, his good lady being gone to visit at Raiatea, had given his cook three francs to buy fish for the dejeuner at the palace. When they came on the table, a bare bite for each of the company, the governor had called in the chef.

"Mais, I gave you three francs for the fish, n'est-ce pas?"

"Mais, vous don' lai moi t'ree franc, oui, oui," answered the Chinese. "Moi don'lai canaque po po'sson."

The governor had led in the chorus of sacres and diables. All at the table were of the redingote family, all feeding from the national trough at Paris, and they had the courage and power to end the damnable imposition on the slender purses of Papeete citizens. Sapristi! this robbery must cease. He must go slow, however. Being an honest and unselfish man, he investigated and initiated legislation so carefully and tardily that the remedy for the evil was applied only four days ago. He had returned to France, so one could not say that he consulted his own purse; but the present governor, an amiable man and a good bridge-player, also liked fish, and they pay no bonanza salaries, the French. The fishermen had known, of course, of the approaching end of their piracy, but, like Tahitians, waited until necessity for action. The official paper in which all laws are published had the ordinance set out in full. Translated, briefly, from the French, it ran like this:

That the Governor of the establishments of France in Oceania, a chevalier of the Legion of Honor [this information is inserted in every degree, announcement and statement the governor makes, and stares at one from a hundred trees], in view of the "article du decret du 21 decembre, 1885," etc. [and in view of a dozen other articles of various dates since], considering that fish is the basis of the alimentation of the Tahitians, that in the Papeete public market, fish has been monopolized with the result that its price has been raised steadily, and a situation created injurious to the working people, the cost of living necessitating a constant increase in salaries, orders that after a date fixed, fish be sold by weight and at the following prices per kilo, according to the kind of fish:

30 cents a kilo 25 cents a kilo 20 cents a kilo 1st category 2d category 3d category

Aahi Auhopu Ature Ahuru Au aavere Atoti

Anae Ioio Aoa-Ropa Apai Mahimahi Faia Ava Moi Fee Lihi Nato Fai Mu Nape Honu Nanue Orare Inaa Oeo Paere Maere Paaihere Parai Maito Paraha peue Puhi pape Marara Tehu Tohe veri Manini Varo Taou Mao Oura (chevrette) Uhi Mana Paapaa (crabs) Ume Ouma Oura-miti (langouste) Vau Oiri Roi Pahoro Tuhura Patia Puhu miti Pahua Tapio

As a kilo is two and a fifth pounds, the ature that Joseph caught by the Quai de Commerce, being in the third category, would cost, under the ukase, less than ten cents a pound. Crabs being in the first category—paapaa,—would cost about thirteen cents a pound, and the succulent varo the same, whereas they were then two francs, or forty cents a pound. We lovers of sea centipedes toasted the brave governor vociferously.

The decrees were nailed to the trees on the Broom Road, in the rue de Rivoli, and in the market-place. The populace were joyous, though some old wholesale buyers like Lovaina questioned the wisdom of the governor's edict and the effect on themselves.

"If they do that," said she, "maybe, by'n'by they fix my meal or lime squash."

Until the date of carrying out the mandate, one picked out a pleasing fish or string of fish, all nicely wrapped in leaves, and one asked, "A hia? How much?"

When Lovaina inquired the price, she smiled her sweetest, rubbed the saleslady's back, and uttered some joke that made her sway with laughter, so that price became of no importance. But a sour-faced white or a pompous bureaucrat paid her saving, and Chinese, who kept the restaurants, invoked the curse of barrenness upon the venders.

The day came for the new scheme of fish-selling to go into effect. The mayor, a long-bearded and shrewd druggist, had bought up all the half-way accurate scales in the city, for there had not been a balance in the market. Everything was by strings, bunches, feels, and hefts. The fish counters, polished by the guardian of the marche, were now brilliant with the shiny apparatus.

The long-awaited morning found a crowd peeping through the railing half an hour earlier than usual. All would have a fill of delicacies. Lovaina with the Dummy drove down to the Annexe for me. Vava was making queer signs to her which either were unintelligible or which she thought absurd. She waved her long forefinger before him, which meant: "Don't talk foolishness. I am not a fool."

We reached the market-place when only a score or two had gathered.

A thousand devils! there was not a fish on the slabs. The merry wives were absent. The condition was plain.

The Dummy uttered a demoniacal grunt, and shook his head and hands before Lovaina in accusation. She answered him with a movement of her head up and down, which signified acquiescence.

"Dummy know," she said mysteriously. "That Vava he find everything. He like old-time tahutahu, sorcerer. He tell me Annexe no fish. He say now no fish till finish those masheen."

She laughed and rubbed my shoulders.

"The fish slip away," she said, "and leave only their scales! Aue!"

M. Lontane, the second in command of the gendarmes, was sent scouting, and reported to the governor—not the one who originated the manifesto—that the famine was the result of an organized revolt against the law and order of the land. Fishermen he had questioned, replied simply, "Aita faito, paru! Aita hoo, paru!" Which, holy blue! meant, "No scales, fish! No price, fish!"

What to do? One cannot make a horse drink unless one gives him red peppers to eat. Even the Government could not make a fisherman fish for market, as there was a law against enforced labor except as punishment for crime or in emergencies, such as during the existence of martial law, the guarding against a conflagration, or a tidal wave or cyclone. At the Cercle Militaire many of the bureaucrats, and especially the doctor who had treated the cow-boy, were for martial law, anyway. Napoleon knew, said the fierce medecin. "A whiff of grapeshot, and the reef would be again gleaming with lights, and the diligences would pour in with loads of fish."

Doctor Cassiou, a very old resident, and not at all fierce, asked his confrere against whom would the grapeshot be directed. Would he gather the fishermen from all over Tahiti, and decimate them, the way the Little Corporal purged mutiny out of his regiments? Lontane was sent out again. In the Cerele Bougainville he took a rum punch before starting on his bicycle, and he swore by his patron saint, Bacchus, that he would solve the problem even if denied the remedy of force majeure.

Within three hours of his return from Patutoa, a meeting was called of the council of state, the governor, the doctors, the druggist, a merchant or two, and a lawyer, and before it M. Lontane disclosed that the natives were possessed by a new devil that he feared was a recrudescence of the ancient struggle for independence.

Each fisherman he had examined refused to answer his interrogations, saying only, "I dobbebelly dobbebelly."

The governor scratched his ear, and the mayor wiggled his hands behind, as he had on the wharf after the battle of the limes, coal, and potatoes. The lawyer said it must be an incantation, but that it was not Tahitian, for that language had no "d" in its alphabet. M. Lontane and all his squad were given peremptory orders to unriddle the enigma.

Meanwhile the fishless market continued. It was not entirely fishless, for before the bell rang we would see over the railings a few handfuls of varos, crayfish, and shrimps and perhaps a dozen small baskets of oysters. A policeman prevented a riot, but could not stay the rush when the bell rang and the gate was opened. The lovers of shellfish and the servants of the well-to-do snatched madly at the small supply, and paid whatever extravagant price was demanded. The scales were never touched, and any insistence upon the new legal plan and price was laughed at. With these delicacies beyond their means, the natives stormed the two pork butchers, the Tinitos. They grabbed the chops and lumps of pig, poking and kneading them, shouting for their weight, and in some instances making off without paying. There was such a howdy-do that extra policemen were summoned to form all into line.

There were no scaly fish, and it came out that the shellfish were caught by women, widows who had no men to obey or please, who had children, or who wanted francs to buy gewgaws or tobacco; and a few unsocial men fishers who did not abide by the common interests of their group.

At Lovaina's we were on a tiresome round of canned salmon, eggs, and beef, and eggs rose to six sous each. In about a fortnight we began to have fish as usual, and Lovaina signed to me that the Dummy procured them in the country. I was very curious, and asked if I might accompany him. She said that he would call for me at the Annexe the next time he went.

I was awakened after midnight in my room—the doors were never locked—by the Dummy leaning over and shaking me. I opened my eyes, and he put his fingers to his lips. I dressed, and went with him in the old surrey. We drove through the night along the Broom Road. Once past the cemetery we were in the country. The cocoanut-trees were gray ghosts against the dark foliage and trunks of the breadfruits and the sugar cane; the reef was a faint gleam of white over the lagoon and a subdued sound of distant waters.

We jogged along, and as we approached Fa'a, I lit a match and looked at my watch. It was nearly two o'clock. The Dummy stopped the horse at Kelly's dance-hall in a palm grove. The building was of bamboo and thatch, with a smooth floor of Oregon pine, and was a former himene house. Kelly had rented it from the church authorities. The dancing was over for the night, but a few carts were in the grove, and the lights were bright. We went inside, and found forty or fifty Tahitians, men and women, squatting or sitting on the floor, while on the platform was Kelly himself, with his accordion on the table. He saw me and shouted "Ia ora na!" And after a few minutes, while others came, began to speak. What he said was interpreted by a Frenchman, who, to my astonishment, proved to be the editor of one of those anti-government papers printed in San Francisco, that Ivan Stroganoff had shown me.

Kelly addressed the audience, "Fishermen and fellow stiffs." He said that the fish strike was a success, and if they all remained true to one another, they would win, and the scales would be kicked out. The few scabs who sold fish in the market only made sore those unable to buy. He said that he had found out that the law applied only to the market-place, and that a plan would be tried of hawking fish from house to house in Papeete. They would circumvent the governor's proclamation in that way. He praised their fortitude in the struggle, and after the editor had interpreted stiffs by te tamaiti aroha e, which means poor children, and scabs by iore, which means rats, and had ended with a peroration that brought many cries of "Maitai! Good!" Kelly took up his accordion, and began to play the sacred air of "Revive us Again!"

He led the singing of his version:

"Hallelujah! I'm a bum! Hallelujah! Bum again! Hallelujah! Give us a hand-out! To save us from sin!"

The Tahitians rocked to and fro, threw back their heads, and, their eyes shut as in their religious himenes, chorused joyfully:

"Hahrayrooyah! I'm a boom! Hahrayrooyah! Boomagay! Hahrayrooyah! Hizzandow! To tave ut fruh tin!"

They sang the refrain a dozen times, and then Kelly dismissed the meeting with a request for "three cheers for the I. W. W."

There is no "w" in French or in Tahitian, and the interpreter said, "Ruperupe ah-ee dohblevay dohblevay!" And the Tahitians: "Ai dobbebelly dobbebelly!"

Kelly came down from the platform, his freckled face shining and his eyes serious but twinkling. He greeted me as the natives lit cigarettes and filed out.

"I'm runnin' their strike for them," he said. "It 's on the square. The poor fish! They don't make hardly enough to pay for their nets, let alone an honest day's pay, and they're up half the night and takin' chances with the sharks and the devil-fish. They have to pay market dues and all sorts of taxes. They 're good stiffs all right, and every one has a membership card in the I. W. W. applied for."

When we went outside, I saw that the Dummy who had been a witness of the scene in the hall, had a large package of fish in the surrey, and all around there were other packages of them. The men had been selling to those who came to Fa'a for them, the law extending only to the market in Papeete.

The strikers hawked the fish in town the next day, but this was immediately forbidden. Hungry for fish—the Tahitians have one word meaning all that—though the people were, few could drive out to Fa'a to fetch them. Within Papeete fish were mysteriously nailed to the trees at night, and over each was a card with the letters, "I. W. W."

Again a meeting of the council of state was called, and at it M. Lontane revealed the meaning of those cabalistic letters and the leadership of Kelly. He had tracked down the fishermen and found their headquarters at the dance hall.

At the Cercle Bougainville there was an uproar. Merchants drank twice their stint of liquor in their indignation. Syndicalism was invading their shores, and their already limited labor supply would be corrupted.

I could not picture too seriously the wrath of the honest traders at the traitorous conduct of Kelly, "a white man," as told by M. Lontane. I was upbraided because of Kelly being an American with an Irish name. Lying Bill said it was "A bloody Guy Fawkes plot."

M. Lontane took full credit for the discovery of what he termed "A complot that would rival the Dreyfus case."

He struck his chest, and asked me sternly if I knew of M. LeCoq, the great detective, of Emile Gaboriau.

Kelly was arrested in the midst of his dancing soiree at Fa'a. He was put in the calaboose, and when he frankly said that he had come to Tahiti to preach the gospel of I. W. W.-ism and that he believed the fishermen had all the right on their side, he was sentenced as "a foreigner without visible means of support, a vagrant, miscreant, vagabond, and dangerous alien," to a month on the roads, and then to be deported to the United States, whence he had come.

The strike or walk-out was broken. With the cessation of the direction of Kelly and his heartening song, the fishermen gradually went back to their routine, and their women folk to the market. The scales were in operation, but the himene, "Hahrayrooyah! I'm a boom! Hahrayrooyah! Boomagay!" was sung from one end of Tahiti to another, and "Ai dobbebelly dobbebelly" was made at the Cercle Bougainville a password to some very old rum said to have belonged to the bishop who wrote the Tahitian dictionary.



Chapter XV

A drive to Papenoo—The chief of Papenoo—A dinner and poker on the beach—Incidents of the game—Breakfast the next morning—The chief tells his story—The journey back—The leper child and her doll—The Alliance Francaise—Bemis and his daughter—The band concert and the fire—The prize-fight—My bowl of velvet.

We had another picnic; this time at Papenoo. Polonsky owned thirty thousand acres of land in the Great Valley of Papenoo, the largest of all the valleys of Tahiti. He had bought it from the Catholic mission, which, following the monastic orders of the church in other countries for a thousand years, had early adopted a policy of acquiring land. But there were too few laborers in Tahiti now. Christianity had not worked the miracle of preserving them from civilization. The priests were glad to sell their extensive holdings at Papenoo, and the energetic Russo-French count said that he would bring Slav families from Europe to populate and develop it. He would plant the vast acreage in cocoanut-trees, vanilla vines, and sugar-cane, and build up a white community in the South Seas. He had noble plans for a novel experiment.

We started from the Cercle Bougainville in the afternoon in carriages pulled by California bronchos. The dour Llewellyn, the handsome Landers, the boastful McHenry, Lying Bill, David, the young American vanilla-shipper, Bemis, an American cocoanut-buyer, the half-castes of the orchestra, and servants, filled three roomy carryalls. The ideal mode of travel in Tahiti in the cool of the day would be a donkey, a slow, patient beast, who might himself take an interest in the scenery, or at least the shrubbery. But the white must ever go at top speed, and we dashed through the streets of Papeete, the accordions playing "Revive us again!" the "Himene Tatou Arearea," and other tunes, and we singing, "Hallelujah! I'm a bum!" and "Faararirari ta oe Tamarii Tahiti! La, li!" One never makes merry privately in the South Seas.

Through Papeete we went along the eastern Broom Road, our train attracting much attention. We stopped at the glacerie for ice, and Polonsky insisted that we make a detour to his residence to drink a stirrup-cup of champagne. He donned riding-breeches and took a horse from his well-appointed stable.

Against the road on each side were close hedges of acalypha, or false coffee, called in Tahitian tafeie, a small tree which grows quickly, and the leaves of which are red or bronze or green, handsome and admirably suited for fencing. Through these hedges and the broad entrances I saw the houses and gardens, the residents and family life of the people. Everywhere was a small prosperity, with gladness; pigs and sheep cropping the grass and herbs, which were a mat of green, rising so fast with the daily showers that only flocks could keep it shorn. On the verandas and on the turf idle men and women were gazing at the sky, talking, humming the newest air, plaiting hats, or napping. No one was reading. There was no book-store in Tahiti. I had not read a line since I came. I had not stepped up to the genial dentist's to see an American journal. After years of the newspaper habit, reading and writing them, it had fallen away in Tahiti as the prickly heat after a week at sea. Of what interest was it that the divorce record was growing longer in New York, that Hinky Dink had been reelected in Chicago, and that Los Angeles had doubled in population. A dawn on the beach, a swim in the lagoon, the end of the fish strike, were vastly more entertaining.

We passed the gorge of Fautaua, where Fragrance of the Jasmine and I had had a charmed day. The pinnacles of the Diadem were black against the eastern sky. Aorai, the tallest peak in sight, more than a mile high, hid its head in a mass of snowy clouds.

Not far away was the mausoleum of the last king of the Society Islands, Pomare the Fifth, with whose wide-awake widow, the queen, I had smoked a cigarette a day ago. It was a pyramid of coral, a red funeral-urn on top, and a red P on the facade. Pillars and roof were of the same color, and a chain surrounded it. The tomb was rococo, glaring, typical of the monuments in the South Seas where the aboriginal structures of beauty or interest were destroyed by the missionaries to please their Clapham Seminary god. Pomare, who had been the victim of French political chicane, enjoyed now but one privilege. If his spirit had senses, it heard the lapping of the waves upon the beach of the lagoon across which his ancestor, the first Pomare, had come from Moorea to be a king.

We left the Broom Road for Point Venus to see the monument to Captain James Cook, the great mariner of these seas. The only lighthouse on Tahiti is there. On that spot Cook and his astronomers had observed the transit of Venus in 1769, and it was there the first English missionaries landed from the ship Duff to convert the pagan Tahitians. Cook has a pillar, with a plate of commemoration, in a grove of purau-trees, cocoanuts, pandanus, and the red oleander; Cook who is an immortal, and was loved by a queen here.

We left behind Paintua, Taunoa, Arahim, Arue and Haapape, and came to a shore where no reef checked the waves in a yeasty line a mile or less from the beach. The breakers roared and beat upon a black shore, strangely different from the Tahitian strand that I had seen. For miles a hundred feet of sable rocks, pebbles, some small and others as big as a man's hand, lay between the receded tide and the road, and all along huge islets of somber stone defended themselves as best they could against the attack of the surf. Signs of surrender showed in some, caverns and arches cut by the constant hammer of swell and billow.

Sugar-cane, vanilla, pineapples, coffee, bananas, plantation after plantation, with the country houses of Papeete's merchants, officials, lawyers, and doctors, moved past our vehicle, and, as we increased the distance from the capital, the beautiful native homes appeared.

Simple they were, with no windows or doors, mere shelters, but cool and cheap, with no division of rooms, and no furniture but the sleeping mats and a utensil or two. Natives were seen cooking their simple meal of fish and breadfruit, or only the latter. The fire was in the ground or under a grill of iron on stones. They would not go hungry, for mango-trees lined the road, and bananas, feis, and pineapples were to be had for the taking.

We drove through Aapahi and Faaripoo and saw a funeral. In the grounds of the dead man sat two large groups of people, the men and the women separate. They talked of his dying and his property, and his children, while those who liked to do so made him ready for the grave. A hundred yards away, in a school-yard, twoscore men, women, boys, and girls played football. The males were in pareus, naked except about the waist, and they kicked the heavy leather sphere with their bare feet.

Pare, Arue, and Mahina districts behind us, we were in Papenoo, a straggling village of a few hundred people along the road, the houses, all but the half-dozen stores of the Chinese, set back a hundred yards, and the domestic animals and carts in the front.

With a flourish we drove into the inclosure of the largest, newest, and most pretentious house, and were greeted by Teriieroo, the Tahitian chief, all native, but speaking French easily and musically. Count Polonsky shook hands with him, as did we all, but when a daughter appeared, neither Polonsky nor we paid her any attention. Yet she was Polonsky's "girl," as they say here, and he kept her in good style in a house near her father's, sending his yellow automobile for her when he wanted her at his villa near Papeete.

The chief's house had four bedrooms, each with an European bed, three-quarter size, and with a mattress two feet high, stuffed with kapok, the silky cotton which grows on trees all over Tahiti, These mattresses were beveled, and one must lie in their middle not to slip off. The coverlets were red and blue in stamped patterns.

It was dark when we touched the earth after two hours' driving, and leaving the coachman to care for the horses, we went with the chief, each of us carrying a siphon of seltzer or a bottle of champagne or claret. Our way was through an old and dark cocoanut grove, a bare trail, winding among the trees, and ending at the beach.

Polonsky had had built a pavilion for the revel. Fifty feet away was a kitchen in which the dinner was cooking, its odors adding appetite to that whetted by the several cocktails which Polonsky had mixed when the ice was brought in a wheelbarrow from the wagon.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse