Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
Fredrick O'Brien

Part 1 out of 8

Mystic Isles of the South Seas


Frederick O'Brien

Ia Ora Na!

This is a simple record of my days and nights, my thoughts and dreams,
in the mystic isles of the South Seas, written without authority
of science or exactitude of knowledge. These are merely the vivid
impressions of my life in Tahiti and Moorea, the merriest, most
fascinating world of all the cosmos; of the songs I sang, the dances
I danced, the men and women, white and tawny, with whom I was joyous
or melancholy; the adventures at sea or on the reef, upon the sapphire
lagoon, and on the silver beaches of the most beautiful of tropics.

In this volume are no discoveries unless in the heart of the human. I
went to the islands below the equator with one thought--to play. All
that I have set down here is the profit of that spirit.

The soul of man is afflicted by the machine he has fashioned through
the ages to achieve his triumph over matter. In this light chronicle
I would offer the reader an anodyne for a few hours, of transport
to the other side of our sphere, where are the loveliest scenes the
eyes may find upon the round of the globe, the gentlest climate of
all the latitudes, the most whimsical whites, and the dearest savages
I have known.

"Mystic Isles of the South Seas" precedes in experience my former book,
"White Shadows in the South Seas," and will be followed by "Atolls of
the Sun," which will be the account of a visit to, and a dwelling on,
the blazing coral wreaths of the Dangerous Archipelago, where the
strange is commonplace, and the marvel is the probability of the hour.

These three volumes will cover the period I spent during three
journeys with the remnants of the most amazing of uncivilized races,
whose discovery startled the old world, and whom another generation
will cease to know.



Kaoha, Sausalito, California.

In this book the reader may be tempted to stumble over some foreign
words. I have put them in only when necessary, to give the color and
rhythm of Tahiti. The Tahitian words are very easily pronounced and
they are music in the mouth of any one who sounds them properly. Every
letter and syllable is pronounced plainly. The letters have the Latin
value and if one will remember this in reading, the Tahitian words
will flow mellifluously. For instance, "tane" is pronounced "tah-nay,"
"maru" is pronounced "mah-ru." "Tiare" is "tee-ah-ray." The Tahitian
language is dying fast, as are the Tahitians. Its beauties are worth
the few efforts necessary for the reader to scan them.

Frederick O'Brien.


Chapter I

Departure from San Francisco--Nature man left behind--Fellow-passengers
on the Noa-Noa--Tragedy of the Chinese pundit--Strange stories of
the South Seas--The Tahitian Hula

Chapter II

The Discovery of Tahiti--Marvelous isles and people--Hailed by a
wind-jammer--Middle of the voyage--Tahiti on the horizon--Ashore
in Papeete

Chapter III

Description of Tahiti--A volcanic rock and coral reef--Beauty of
the scenery--Papeete the center of the South Seas--Appearance of
the Tahitians

Chapter IV

The Tiare Hotel--Lovaina the hostess, the best-known woman in the
South Seas--Her strange menage--The Dummy--A one-sided tryst--An
old-fashioned cocktail--The Argentine training ship

Chapter V

The Parc de Bougainville--Ivan Stroganoff--He tells me the history
of Tahiti--He berates the Tahitians--Wants me to start a newspaper

Chapter VI

The Cercle Bougainville--Officialdom in Tahiti--My first visit to the
Bougainville--Skippers and merchants--A song and a drink--The flavor
of the South Seas--Rumors of war

Chapter VII

The Noa-Noa comes to port--Papeete en fete--Rare scene at the Tiare
Hotel--The New Year celebrated--Excitement at the wharf--Battle of
the Limes and Coal

Chapter VIII

Gossip in Papeete--Moorea, a near-by island--A two-days' excursion
there--Magnificent scenery from the sea--Island of fairy folk--Landing
and preparation for the feast--The First Christian Mission--A canoe
on the lagoon--Beauties of the sea-garden

Chapter IX

The Arearea in the pavilion--Raw fish and baked feis--Llewellyn,
the Master of the Revel; Kelly, the I. W. W. and his himene--The
Upaupahura--Landers and Mamoe prove experts--The return to Papeete

Chapter X

The storm on the lagoon; making safe the schooners--A talk on missing
ships--A singular coincidence--Arrival of three of the crew of the
shipwrecked El Dorado--The Dutchman's Story--Easter Island

Chapter XI

I move to the Annexe--Description of the building--The baroness
and her baby--Evoa and Poia--The corals of the lagoon--The Chinese
shrine--The Tahitian sky

Chapter XII

The princess suggests a walk to the falls of Fautaua, where Loti went
with Rarahu--We start in the morning--The suburbs of Papeete--The Pool
of Loti--The birds, trees and plants--A swim in a pool--Arrival at
the cascade--Luncheon and a siesta--We climb the height--The princess
tells of Tahitian women--The Fashoda fright

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

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--Hallelujah! I'm a Bum!--the strike
is broken

Chapter XV

A drive to Papenoo--The chief of Papenoo--A dinner and poker on the
bench--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

Chapter XVI

A journey to Mataiea--I abandon city life--Interesting sights on the
route--The Grotto of Maraa--Papara and the Chief Tati--The plantation
of Atimaono--My host, the Chevalier Tetuanui

Chapter XVII

My life in the house of Tetuanui--Whence came the Polynesians--A
migration from Malaysia--Their legends of the past--Condition of
Tahiti when the white came--The great navigator, Cook--Tetuanui tells
of old Tahiti

Chapter XVIII

The reef and the lagoon--Wonders of marine life--Fishing with spears
and nets--Sponges and hermit crabs--Fish of many colors--Ancient
canoes of Tahiti--A visit to Vaihiria and legends told there

Chapter XIX

The Arioi, minstrels of the tropics--Lovaina tells of the
infanticide--Theories of depopulation--Methods of the Arioi--Destroyed
by missionaries

Chapter XX

Rupert Brooke and I discuss Tahiti--We go to a wedding feast--How the
cloth was spread--What we ate and drank--A Gargantuan feeder--Songs
and dances of passion--The royal feast at Tetuanui's--I leave for
Vairao--Butscher and the Lermantoffs

Chapter XXI

A heathen temple--The great Marae of Oberea--I visit it with Rupert
Brooke and Chief Tetuanui--The Tahitian religion of old--The wisdom
of folly

Chapter XXII

I start for Tautira--A dangerous adventure in a canoe--I go by land
to Tautira--I meet Choti and the Greek god--I take up my home where
Stevenson lived

Chapter XXIII

My life at Tautira--The way I cook my food--Ancient Tahitian
sports--Swimming and fishing--A night hunt for shrimp and eels

Chapter XXIV

In the days of Captain Cook--The first Spanish
missionaries--Difficulties of converting the heathens--Wars over
Christianity--Ori-a-Ori, the chief, friend of Stevenson--We read the
Bible together--The church and the himene

Chapter XXV

I meet a sorcerer--Power over fire--The mystery of the fiery
furnace--The scene in the forest--Walking over the white-hot
stones--Origin of the rite

Chapter XXVI

Farewell to Tautira--My good-bye feast--Back at the Tiare--A talk
with Lovaina--The Cercle Bougainville--Death of David--My visit to
the cemetery--Off for the Marquesas


Chapter I

Departure from San Francisco--Nature man left behind--Fellow-passengers
on the Noa-Noa--Tragedy of the Chinese pundit--Strange stories of
the South Seas--The Tahitian Hula.

The warning gong had sent all but crew and passengers ashore, though
our ship did not leave the dock. Her great bulk still lay along the
piling, though the gangway was withdrawn. The small groups on the
pier waited tensely for the last words with those departing. These
passengers were inwardly bored with the prolonged farewells, and
wanted to be free to observe their fellow-voyagers and the movement
of the ship. They conversed in shouts with those ashore, but most of
the meanings were lost in the noise of the shuffling of baggage and
freight, the whistling of ferries, and the usual turmoil of the San
Francisco waterfront. I was glad that none had come to see me off,
for I was curious about my unknown companions upon the long traverse
to the South Seas, and I had wilfully put behind me all that America
and Europe held to adventure in the vasts of ocean below the equator.

But the whistle I awaited to sound our leaving was silent. Officers
of the ship rushed about as if bent on relieving her of some
pressing danger, and I caught fragments of orders and replies which
indicated that until a search was completed she could not stir on
her journey. Then I heard cries of anger and protest, and caught
a glimpse of a man whose appearance provoked confusing emotions of
astonishment, admiration, and laughter. He was dressed in a Roman
toga of rough monk's-cloth, and had on sandals. He was being hustled
bodily over the restored gangway, and was resisting valiantly the
second officer, purser, and steward, who were hardly able to move him,
so powerfully was he made. One of his sandals suddenly fell into the
bay. He had seized hold of the rail of the gangway, and the leather
sandal dropped into the water with a slight splash. His grasp of the
rail being broken, he was gradually being pushed, limping, to the
dock. His one bare foot and his half-exposed and shapely body caused
a gale of laughter from the docks and the wharf.

The gangway was quickly withdrawn, and our ship began to move from
the shore. The ejected one stood watching us with sorrow shadowing
his large eyes. He was of middle size; with the form of a David
of Michelangelo, though lithe, and he wore no hat, but had a long,
brown beard, which, with his brown hair, parted in the middle and
falling over his shoulders, and his archaic garb, gave me a singular
shock. It was as if a boyhood vision, or something seen in a painting,
was made real. His eyes were the deepest blue, limpid and appealing,
and I felt like shouting out that if it was a matter of money,
I would aid the man in the toga.

"Christ!" yelled the frantic dock superintendent. "Get that line cast
off and let her go! Are you ceemented to that hooker?"

Instantly before me came Munkacsy's picture of the Master before
Pilate, evoked by the profanity of the wharf boss, but explaining
the vision of a moment ago. The Noa-Noa emitted a cry from her iron
throat. The engines started, and the distance between our deck and
the pier grew as our bow swung toward the Golden Gate. The strange
man who had been put ashore, with his one sandal in his hand, and
holding his torn toga about him, hastened to the nearest stringer of
the wharf and waved good-by to us. It was as if a prophet, or even
Saul of Tarsus, blessed us in our quest. He stood on a tall group of
piles, and called out something indistinguishable.

The passengers hurried below, to return in coats and caps to meet the
wind that blows from China, and the second officer and the surgeon
came by, talking animatedly.

"Oh, yus," said the seaman, chuckling, "'e wuz 'auled out finally. The
beggar 'ad 'id 'imself good and proper this time. 'E wuz in the
linen-closet, and 'ad disguised 'imself as a bundle o' bloomin'
barth-towels. 'E wuz a reg'lar grand Turk, 'e wuz. Blow me, if you'd
'a' knowed 'im from a bale of 'em, 'e wuz so wrapped up in 'em. 'E
almost 'ad us 'ull down this time. The blighter made a bit of a
row, and said as 'ow he just could n't 'elp stowin' aw'y every boat
for T'iti."

"He's a bally nut," said the surgeon. "I say, though, he did take me
back to Sunday school."

I recalled a man who walked the streets of San Francisco carrying a
small sign in his upraised hand, "Christ has come!" He looked neither
to the right nor the left, but bore his curious announcement among the
crowds downtown, which smiled jestingly at him, or looked frightened
at the message. If many had believed him, the panic would have been
illimitable. He was dressed in a brown cassock, and looked like the
blue-eyed man who had been refused passage to my destination. Probably,
that American in the toga and sandals, exiled from the island he loved
so well, had a message for the Tahitians or others of the Polynesian
tribes of the South Seas; Essenism, maybe, or something to do with
virginal beards and long hair, or sandals and the simple life. I
wished he were with us.

We were in the Golden Gate now, that magnificent opening in the
California shores, riven in the eternal conflict of land and water,
and the rending of which made the bay of San Francisco the mightiest
harbor of America. Before our bows lay the immense expanse of the
mysterious Pacific.

The second officer was directing sailors who were snugging down
the decks.

"What did the queer fellow want to go to Tahiti for?" I asked him.

He regarded me a moment in the stolid way of seamen.

"The blighter likes to live on bananas and breadfruit and that kind
of truck," he replied. "The French won't let 'im st'y there. 'E's
too bloomin' nyked. 'E's a nyture man. They chysed 'im out, and
every steamer 'e tries to stow 'imself aw'y. 'E's a bleedin' trial
to these ships."

That was puzzling. Did not these natives of Tahiti themselves wear
little clothing? Who were they to object to a white man doffing the
superfluities of dress in a climate where breadfruit and bananas
grow? Or the French, the governors of Tahiti? Were they, in that
isle so distant from Paris, their capital, practising a puritanism
unknown at home? Was nature so fearful? The figure of the barefooted
man often arose as I watched the Farallones disappear, the last of
land we would see until we arrived at Tahiti, nearly two weeks later.

The days fell away from the calendar; they obliterated themselves
as quietly as our ship's wake to the north, as we planed over the
smooth waters toward the equator. Gradually the passengers took on
character, and out of the first welter of contacts came those definite
impressions which are almost always right and which, though we modify
them or reverse them by acquaintance, we return to finally.

There was a Chinese, the strangest figure of an Asiatic, with a thin
mustache, and wearing always a black frock-coat and trousers, elastic
gaiters, and a stiff, black hat. His face was long and oval and the
color of old ivory. He had tried to gain admission to Australia and New
Zealand, and then the United States, and had been excluded under some
harsh laws. He was plainly a scholar, but had brought with him from
China a store of curios, probably to enable him to earn money in the
land of the white. Australia had refused him; he had been shut out of
San Francisco, and the very steamship that brought him was compelled
to take him away. He had failed to bring a necessary certificate,
or something of the sort, and the inexorable laws of three Christian
countries had sent him wandering, so that it was inevitable he must
return to China by the route he had come. He was the most mournful of
sights, sitting most of the day in a retired spot, brooding, apparently
over his fate. He never smiled, though I who have been much in China,
tried to stir him from his sadness by exclamations and gestures. His
race has a very keen sense of humor. They see a thousand funny things
about them, and laugh inwardly; but they never see anything amusing
in themselves. The individual man conceives himself a dignified figure
in a world of burlesque.

This man's face was rid of any self-pity. I think he was stunned by
the horror of the thing, that he, a man of Chinese letters, who had
departed from the centuried custom of his pundit caste of remaining
in their own country, who had left his family or clan to increase
his store of lesser knowledge, should be denied the door by these
inferior nations of the West. He might have recalled Chien Lung, a
Manchu emperor, who, when apologized to in writing by a Dutch governor
of Batavia who had murdered almost all the Chinese there, replied that
China had no interest in wretches who had left their native land. A
thousand years ago the Chinese put the soldier lowest in the scale and
the scholar highest, with the man of business as of no importance. And
yet these commercial peoples barred their gates to him! For a number
of days he took his place in the shade of a davited boat, and now
and again he read from a quaint book the Analects of Confucius.

We sailed on Wednesday, and on Sunday made the first tropic, nearly
twenty-three and a half degrees above the line. No rough weather
or unkindly wind had disturbed us from the hour we had left the
"too nyked" man upon the wharf, and Sunday, when I went to take my
bath before breakfast, I felt the soft fingers of the South caress my
body, and looking out upon the purple ocean, whose expanse was barely
dimpled by gleams of silver, I saw flying-fish skimming the crests
of the swinging waves. The officers and stewards appeared in white;
the passengers, too, put off their temperate-zone clothes, and the
decks were gay with color. We all seemed to feel that we must be in
consonance with the loving nature that had made the sky so blue and
the sea so still.

The Chinese--he was Leung Kai Chu on the list--did not change his
melancholy black. The deck sports were organized, ship tennis, quoits,
and golf, and the disks rattled about his feet; but though he often
moved his chair to aid those seeking a lost quoit or ring, and bowed
ceremoniously to those who begged his pardon for bothering him, he
kept his position. I felt a somber sense of gathering tragedy. In
his face was a growing detachment from everything about him; he
hardly knew that we were there, that he ate and slept, and took his
seat by the boat. All of us felt this, but with many it meant merely
remarking that "the Chink is getting off his head," and a wish that
he would not obtrude his grief when we were filled with the joy of
sunny skies and a merry company.

The tragedy came sooner than expected by me. I had cast a thought to
my understanding that the philosophy of Confucius did not contemplate
self-destruction, and had been divided between relief and wonder that
it was so.

It was dusk of Monday. The sun had sunk behind the glowing rim of
the western horizon, and the air was suffused with a trembling rose
color, when Leung Kai Chu tapped at my cabin-door, which gave on the
boat-deck. I opened it, and he bowed, and handed me an image. It was
of porcelain, precious, and I was at a loss to know whether he had
felt the need of a little money and had brought it to sell, or had
been impelled to give it to me because of my feeble efforts to cheer
him. I made a gesture which might have meant payment, but he raised
his hand deprecatingly, and for the first time I saw him smile,
and I was afraid. He bowed, and in the mandarin language invoked
good fortune upon me. He had the aspect of one beyond good and evil,
who had settled life's problem. When he left me I stood wondering,
holding in my hands the majestic god seated upon the tiger, the symbol
of the conquest of the flesh.

I heard a shout, and dropping the image, I rushed aft. Leung Kai
Chu had thrown himself over the rail just by the purser's office. A
steward had seen him fling himself into the white foam. I tore a
gas-buoy from its rack and tossed it toward the screw, in which
direction he must have been swept. A sailor ran to the bridge, the
whistle blew, and the ship shook as the engines ceased revolving,
and then reversed in stopping her. Orders were flung about fast. A man
climbed to the lookout as the first officer began to put a boat into
the water. The crew of it and the second officer were already at the
oars and the tiller as the ropes slid in the blocks. The passengers
came crowding from their cabins, where they were dressing for dinner,
and there were many expressions of surprise and slight terror. Death
aboard ship is terrible in its imminence to all. The buoy, with its
flaming torch, had drifted far to leeward, and the lookout could do no
more than follow its fainting light as the dark of the tropics closed
in. An hour the Noa-Noa lay gently heaving upon the mysterious waters
in which the despairing pundit had sought Nirvana, until the boat
returned with a report that it had picked up the buoy, but had seen no
sign of the man. Doubtless he had been swept into the propellers, but
if not quickly given release in their cyclopean strokes, he may have
watched for a few minutes our vain attempt to negative his fate. If so,
I imagine he smiled again, as when he gave me the god upon the tiger.

As they hoisted the boat to its davits, I found in the lantern light
his ancient volume, the "Analects of Confucius," and claimed it for
my own. It was the very boat he had been accustomed to sit under, and
he must have laid down the ancient philosopher to procure the gift for
me, his grim determination already made. I had caught a glimpse of him
Sunday morning listening to the Christian services conducted by the
captain in the social hall, and when I told the brooding captain that,
he was struck by the idea that perhaps some word of his preachment
might have come to Leung Kai Chu's mind in his agony in the waters,
and that at the last moment he might have repented and been saved.

"One aspiration, and he might be washed as white as snow. 'This day
thou shalt be with Me in Paradise,'" said the commander, who was
known as the parson skipper, dour, but ever on the watch for the
first sign of repentance.

On the other hand, Hallman more nearly stated the general feeling:

"By God, he spoiled sport, that black ghost on deck. He was like a
tupapau, a Polynesian demon."

Hallman was in his early forties, with twenty years of South-Seas
trading, a tall, strong, well-featured, but hard-faced, European,
with thin lips over nearly perfect teeth, and cold, small,
pale-blue eyes. He talked little to men, but isolated young women
whenever possible, and bent over them in attempted gay, but earnest,
converse. He was one of those cold sensualists whose passion is as
that of some animals, insistent, prowling, fierce, but impersonal. An
English South-Sea trader aboard gave me an astonishing light upon him:

"Some dozen years ago," he said, "I made a visit of a few weeks to the
Marquesas Islands. Hallman had kept a store there then for more than
ten years, and had a good part of the business of buying and shipping
copra and selling supplies to the natives and a few whites. He lived
in a shack back of his little store, with his native woman and four or
five half-naked children. They told me queer stories about his madness
for women. They said he would go out of his house and into the jungle
near the trails and would lie in wait. If a woman he coveted passed,
he would seize her, and even if her husband or consort was ahead of
her, in the custom of these people, he would grab her feet, and make
her call out that she was delaying a minute, that her companion was
to go along, and she would catch up in a minute. He had some funny
power over those women. Anyhow, that's the story they told me in those
cannibal islands. And yet, you know, there's something different in
him, because he sent two of his sons to school, and afterward to a
university in Europe. To make it queerer yet, one of them is here
on this ship, in the second class, and wouldn't dare to speak to
his father without being asked. Of course he's a half-Marquesan--the
son--and looks it. I know them all, and only yesterday I heard Hallman
call his son on the main-deck, away from where any one could see him,
and threaten him with 'putting him back in the jungle, where he came
from,' if he appeared again near the first-class space. I tell you,
I'd hate to be in his hands if I was in his way."

Fictionists who take the South Seas for their scenery too often
paint their characters in one tone--black, brown, or yellow, or even
white. Their bad men are super-villains, and yet there are no men
all bad. I know there are no supermen at all, bad or good, but only
that some men do super acts now and then; none has the grand gesture
at all times. Napoleon had a disgraceful affliction at Waterloo,
which rid him of strength, mental and physical; the thief on the
cross became wistful for an unknown delight.

Hallman had said to me in the smoking-room that he never drank alcohol
or smoked tobacco, because "it took the edge off the game." Now,
a poet might say that, or even a moralist, but he was neither.

That night I walked through the waist of the ship and on to the
promenade-deck of the third-class passengers, where a huddle of
stores, coiled ropes, and riff-raff prevented these poor from taking
any pleasurable exercise. I stood at the taffrail and peered down at
the welter of white water, the foam of the buffets of the whirling
screws, and then at the wide wake, which in imagination went on and
on in a luminous path to the place we had departed from, to the dock
where we had left the debarred lover of nature. The deep was lit
with the play of phosphorescent animalculae whom our passage awoke
in their homes beneath the surface and sent questing with lights for
the cause. A sheet of pale, green-gold brilliancy marked the route
of the Noa-Noa on the brine, and perhaps far back the corpse of the
celestial philosopher floated in radiancy, with his face toward those
skies, so brazen to his desires.

A Swiss with a letter of introduction to me presented it when seven
days out. It was from the manager of a restaurant in San Francisco, and
asked me to guide him in any way I could. The Swiss was middle-aged,
and talked only of a raw diet. He was to go to the Marquesas to eat
raw food. One would have thought a crude diet to be in itself an end in
life. He spoke of it proudly and earnestly, as if cooking one's edibles
were a crime or a vile thing. He told me for hours his dictums--no
alcohol, no tobacco, no meat, no fish; merely raw fruit, nuts,
and vegetables. He was a convinced rebel against any fire for food,
making known to any one who would listen that man had erred sadly,
thousands of years ago, in bringing fire into his cave for cooking,
and that the only cure for civilization's evils was in abolishing
the kitchen. He would live in the Marquesas as he said the aborigines
do. Alas! I did not tell him they ate only their fish raw.

Ben Fuller, the Australian theatrical manager, frowned on him. Fuller
was as round as a barrel, and he also was certain of the remedies
for a sick world.

"How you 're goin' a get any bloody fun with no roast beef, no mutton,
no puddin', and let alone a drop of ale and a pipe?"

The Swiss smiled beatifically.

"You can get rid of all those desires," he said.

"My Gawd! I don't want to get rid o' them, I don't. I'm bringing up
my kiddies right, and I'm a proper family man, but I want my meat
and my bread and my puddin'. The world needs proper entertainment;
that's what'll cure the troubles."

The Swiss was also ardent in attention to the women aboard, and I
wondered if there was a new school of self-denial. The old celibate
monks eschewed women, but had Gargantuan appetites, which they
satisfied with meat pasties, tubs of ale, and vats of wine.

There were two Tahitians aboard, both females. One was an oldish
woman, ugly and waspish. She counted her beads and spoke to me in
French of the consolations of the Catholic religion. She had been to
America for an operation, but despaired of ever being well, and so
was melancholy and devout. I talked to her about Tahiti, that island
which the young Darwin wrote, "must forever remain classical to the
voyager in the South Seas," and which, since I had read "Rarahu"
as a boy, had fascinated me and drawn me to it. She warned me.

"Prenez-garde vous, monsieur!" she said. "There are evils there,
but I am ashamed of my people."

The other was about twenty-two years old, slender, kohl-eyed,
and black-tressed. She was dressed in the gayest colors of
bourgeois fashion in San Francisco, with jade ear-rings and diamond
ornaments. Her face was of a lemon-cream hue, with dark shadows
under her long-lashed eyes. Her form was singularly svelt, curving,
suggestive of the rounded stalk of a young cocoa-palm, her bosom
molded in a voluptuous reserve. Her father, a clergyman, had cornered
the vanilla-bean market in Tahiti, and she was bringing an automobile
and a phonograph to her home, a village in the middle of Tahiti.

One night when a Hawaiian hula was played on the phonograph, she
danced alone for us. It was a graceful, insinuating step, with
movements of the arms and hands, a rotating of the torso upon the
hips, and with a tinge of the savage in it that excited the Swiss,
the raw-food advocate. Hallman was also in the social hall, and,
after waltzing with her several times, had persuaded her to dance
the hula. He clapped his hands loudly and called out:


That is Tahitian for bravo, and I saw a look in Hallman's face that
recalled the story by the Englishman of the jungle trail. He was
always intent on his pursuit.

Was I hypercritical? There was Leung Kai Chu with the sharks, and the
nature man left behind! The one had lost his dream of returning to
Tahiti, in which the Chinese might freely have lived, and the other
had thrown away life because he could not enter the America that
the other wanted so madly to leave. The lack of a piece of paper
had killed him. Was it that happiness was a delusion never to be
realized? If the pundit had bribed the immigration authorities, as
I had known many to do, he might now have been studying the strange
religion and ethics which had caused the whites to steal so much of
China, to force opium upon it at the cannon's mouth, to kill tens
of thousands of yellow men, and to raise to dignities the soldiers
and financiers whom he despised, as had Confucius and Buddha. And if
that white of the sandals had kept his shirt on in Tahiti, he might
be lying under his favorite palm and eating breadfruit and bananas.

People have come to be afraid to say or even to think they are
happy for a bare hour. We fear that the very saying of it will
rob us of happiness. We have incantations to ward off listening
devils--knocking on wood, throwing salt over our left shoulders,
and saying "God willing."

What was I to find in Tahiti? Certainly not what Loti had with Rarahu,
for that was forty years ago, when the world was young at heart, and
romance was a god who might be worshiped with uncensored tongue. But
was not romance a spiritual emanation, a state of mind, and not people
or scenes? I knew it was, for all over the earth I had pursued it,
and found it in the wild flowers of the Sausalito hills in California
more than among the gayeties of Paris, the gorges of the Yangtse-Kiang,
or in the skull dance of the wild Dyak of Borneo.

Chapter II

The Discovery of Tahiti--Marvelous isles and people--Hailed by a
windjammer--Middle of the voyage--Tahiti on the horizon--Ashore
in Papeete.

What did Tahiti hold for me? I thought vaguely of its history. The
world first knew its existence only about the time that the American
colonies were trying to separate themselves from Great Britain. An
English naval captain happened on the island, and thought himself the
first white man there, though the Spanish claim its discovery. The
Englishman called it King George Island, after the noted Tory monarch
of his day; but a Frenchman, a captain and poet, the very next spring
named it the New Cytherea, esteeming its fascinations like the fabled
island of ancient Greek lore. It remained for Captain James Cook,
who, before steam had killed the wonder of distance and the telegraph
made daily bread of adventure and discovery, was the hero of many a
fireside tale, to bring Tahiti vividly before the mind of the English
world. That hardy mariner's entrancing diary fixed Tahiti firmly in
the thoughts of the British and Americans. Bougainville painted such
an ecstatic picture that all France would emigrate. Cook set down
that Otaheite was the most beautiful of all spots on the surface of
the globe. He praised the people as the handsomest and most lovable
of humans, and said they wept when he sailed. That was to him of
inestimable value in appraising them.

About the beginning of the nineteenth century the first English
missionaries in the South Seas thanked God for a safe passage from
their homes to Tahiti, and for a virgin soil and an affrightingly
wicked people to labor with. The English, however, did not seize the
island, but left it for the French to do that, who first declared it
a protectorate, and made it a colony of France, in the unjust way of
the mighty, before the last king died. They had come ten thousand miles
to do a wretched act that never profited them, but had killed a people.

All this discovery and suzerainty did not interest me much, but
what the great captains, and Loti, Melville, Becke, and Stoddard, had
written had been for years my intense delight. Now I was to realize the
dream of childhood. I could hardly live during the days of the voyage.

I remembered that Europe had been set afire emotionally by the first
reports, the logs of the first captains of England and France who
visited Tahiti. In that eighteenth century, for decades the return to
nature had been the rallying cry of those who attacked the artificial
and degraded state of society. The published and oral statements of
the adventurers in Tahiti, their descriptions of the unrivaled beauty
of the verdure, of reefs and palm, of the majestic stature of the
men and the passionate charm of the women, the boundless health and
simple happiness in which they dwelt, the climate, the limpid streams,
the diving, swimming, games, and rarest food--all these had stirred
the depressed Europe of the last days of the eighteenth and the first
of the nineteenth centuries beyond the understanding by us cynical
and more material people. The world still had its vision of perfection.

Tahiti was the living Utopia of More, the belle ile of Rousseau, the
Eden with no serpent or hurtful apple, the garden of the Hesperides,
in harmony with nature, in freedom from the galling bonds of government
and church, of convention and clothing. The reports of the English
missionaries of the nakedness and ungodliness of the Tahitians created
intense interest and swelled the chorus of applause for their utter
difference from the weary Europeans. Had there been ships to take them,
thousands would have fled to Tahiti to be relieved of the chains and
tedium of their existence, though they could not know that Victorianism
and machines were to fetter and vulgarize them even more.

Afterward, when sailors mutinied and abandoned their ships or
killed their officers to be able to remain in Tahiti and its
sister islands, there grew up in England a literature of wanderers,
runagates, and beach-combers, of darkish women who knew no reserve
or modesty, of treasure-trove, of wrecks and desperate deeds, piracy
and blackbirding, which made flame the imagination of the youth of
seventy years ago. Tahiti had ever been pictured as a refuge from a
world of suffering, from cold, hunger, and the necessity of labor,
and most of all from the morals of pseudo-Christianity, and the
hypocrisies and buffets attending their constant secret infringement.

One morning when we were near the middle of our voyage I went on
deck to see the sun rise. We were that day eighteen hundred miles
from Tahiti and the same distance from San Francisco, while north
and west twelve hundred miles lay Hawaii. Not nearer than there,
four hundred leagues away, was succor if our vessel failed. It was
the dead center of the sea. I glanced at the chart and noted the spot:
Latitude 10 N.; Longitude 137 W. The great god Ra of the Polynesians
had climbed above the dizzy edge of the whirling earth, and was making
his gorgeous course into the higher heavens. The ocean was a glittering
blue, an intense, brilliant azure, level save for the slight swaying
of the surface, which every little space showed a flag of white. The
evaporation caused by the blazing sun of these tropics made the water
a deeper blue than in cooler latitudes, as in the Arctic and Antarctic
oceans the greens are almost as vivid as the blues about the line.

I watched the thousand flying-fishes' fast leaps through the air, and
caught gleams of the swift bonitos whose pursuit made birds of their
little brothers. Then, a few miles off, I saw the first vessel that
had come to our eyes since we had sunk the headlands of California
more than a week before. She was a great sailing ship, under a cloud
of snowy canvas, one of the caste of clippers that fast fades under
the pall of smoke, and, from her route, bound for the Pacific Coast
from Australia. The captain of the Noa-Noa came and stood beside me
as we made her out more plainly, and fetching the glasses, he glanced
at her, started, and said in some surprise:

"She 's signaling us she wants to send a boat to us. That's the first
time in thirty years in this line I have ever had such a request from
a wind-jammer. She left her slant to cross our path."

Half a mile away a beautiful, living creature, all quivering with
the restraint, she came up into the eye of the wind, and backed
her fore-yard. A boat put off from her, and we awaited it with
indefinable alarm. It was soon at the gangway we had hastily lowered,
unknowing whether woman or child might not be our visitor. It was
a young Russian sailor whose hand had been crushed under a block a
fortnight before, and who, without aid for his injury other than the
simple remedies that make up the pharmacopoeia of sailing vessels,
was like to die from blood-poisoning. Had our ship not been met, he
would undoubtedly have perished, for no other steamer came to these
points upon the chart, and, as we were to learn, his own ship did
not reach her port for many weeks. He was a mere boy, his face was
drawn with continued pain, but, with the strong repression of emotion
characteristic of the sailor, he uttered no sound. The passengers,
relieved from silent fears of any catastrophe aboard the sailing ship,
and perhaps salving their souls for fancied failure toward the drowned
Leung Kai Chu, crowded to fill the boat with books, fruit, and candy,
and to help the unfortunate boy. When he had been made comfortable
by the surgeon, he was overwhelmed with presents.

My vis-a-vis at table, Herr Gluck, a piano manufacturer of Munich, was
a follower of Horace Fletcher, the American munching missionary. Unlike
the Swiss, who craved raw food, Herr Gluck ate everything, but
each mouthful only after thorough maceration, salivation, and slow
deglutition. At breakfast he absorbed a glass of milk and a piece of
toast, but took longer than I did to bolt melon, bacon and eggs, toast,
coffee, and marmalade. He sold the pianos his family had made for a
hundred years, and munched all about the world. He professed rugged
health, and never tired of dancing; but he looked drawn and melancholy,
and had naught of the rugged masculinity of the bolters. Once or
twice he drank in my company a cocktail, and he munched each sip as
if it were mutton. He would occupy the entire dinner-time with one
baked potato. I was endeared to him because I had known his master,
Fletcher, and with him, too, had chewed a glass of wine in the patio
of the Army and Navy Club in Manila. I longed to pit the Swiss and
Herr Gluck in argument, but in sober thought had to give the laurel to
the latter, because, in case of stress, one might, with his system,
live on a trifle, while raw, nourishing food might be difficult to
get in quantity.

Most of the passengers were Australians and New-Zealanders returning
home, and only a few were bound for Tahiti--the Tahitian women,
the Swiss, Hallman and his son, and M. Leboucher, a young merchant,
born there, of a Spanish mother. William McBirney of County Antrim,
but long in Raratonga, an island two days' steaming from Tahiti,
was going back to his adopted home.

"Sure," he said, "I'm never happy away from the sound of the surf on
the reef and the swish of the cocoanuts. I was fourteen years in the
British army in England when I made up my mind to quit civilization. I
put it to the missus, a London woman, and she was for it. I've had
nearly ten years now in the Cook group. D'ye know, I've learned one
thing--that money means very little in life. Why, in Aitutaki you
can't sell fish. The law forbids it, but do you suppose people don't
fish on that account? Why, a man goes out in his canoe and fishes
like mad. He brings in his canoe, and as he approaches the beach he's
blowing his pu, the conch-shell, to let people know he has fish. Fish
to sell or to barter? Not at all. He wants the honor of giving them
away. Now, if he makes a big catch, do you see, he has renown. People
say, 'There's Taiere, who caught all those fish yesterday.' That's
worth more to him than money. But if he could sell those fish, if
there was competition, only the small-minded, the business souls,
would fish. I'm not a socialist, but Aitutaki shows that, released
from the gain, man will serve his fellows for their plaudits. And,
mind you, no person took more fish than he needed. There was no greed."

"That's rot!" broke in Hallman, who entered the smoking-room. "The
natives are frauds. You've got to kick 'em around or bribe 'em to do
any work. Haven't I lived with 'em twenty years? They're swine."

"It depends on what you bring them and what you seek," said
McBirney. "Ah, well, it's getting too civilized in Raratonga. There's
an automobile threatening to come there, though you could drive
around the island in half an hour. And they're teaching the Maoris
English. I must get away to the west'ard soon. It's a fact there are
two laws for every inhabitant."

Would I, too, "go native"? Become enamored of those simple, primitive
places and ways, and want to keep going westward? Would I, too, fish
to be honored for my string? Would I go to the Dangerous Archipelago,
those mystic atolls that sent to the Empress Eugenie that magnificent
necklace of pearls she wore at the great ball at the Tuileries when
the foolish Napoleon made up his mind to emulate his great namesake
and make war? Would I there see those divers who are said to surpass
all the mermen of legend in the depths they go in their coral-studded
lagoons in search of the jewels that hide in gold-lipped shells? Was it
for me to wander among those fabulous coral isles flung for a thousand
miles upon the sapphire sea, like wreaths of lilies upon a magic lake?

The doldrums brought rain before the southeast wind came to urge us
faster on our course and to clear the skies. Now we were in the deep
tropics, five or six hundred miles farther south than Honolulu, and
plunging toward the imaginary circle which is the magic ring of the
men who steer ships in all oceans. Our breeze was that they pray for
when the wind alone must drive the towering trees of canvas toward
Australia from America.

The breeze held on while games of the formal tournaments progressed,
and prizes were won by the young and the spry.

One night I came on deck when the moon had risen an hour, and saw as
strange and beautiful a sight as ever made me sigh for the lack of
numbers in my soul. A huge, long, black cloud hung pendent from midway
in the sky, with its lower part resting on the sea. It was for all the
world of marvels like a great dragon, shaped rudely to a semblance of
the beast of the Apocalypse, and with its head lifted into the ether,
so that it was framed against the heavens. The moon was in its mouth;
the moon shaped like an eye, a brilliant, glowing, wondrous orb, more
intensely golden for its contrast with the ominous blackness of the
serpentine cloud. I felt that I had found the origin of the Oriental
fable. Some minutes the illusion held, and then the cloud lowered,
and the moon, alone against a pale-blue background, the horizon a
mass of scudding draperies of pearly hue, lit the ocean between the
ship and the edge of the world in a tremulous and mellow gilded path.

There was dancing on the boat-deck, the Lydian measures of the
Hawaiian love-songs, those passionate melodies in which Polynesian
pearls have been strung on European filaments, filling the balmy air
with quivering notes of desire, and causing dancers to hold closer
their partners. The Occident seemed very far away; even older people
felt the charm of clime that had come upon them, and laughter rang
as stories ran about the group in the reclining-chairs.

The captain, though grim from a gripping religion that had squeezed
all joy from his scripture-haunted soul, added an anecdote to the

"Passing from Fiji to Samoa," he said, "I had to leave the mail at
Niuafou, in the Tongan Islands. It is a tiny isle, three miles long by
as wide, an old crater in which is a lagoon, hot springs, and every
sign of the devastation of many eruptions. The mail for Niuafou was
often only a single letter and a few newspapers. We sealed them in a
tin can, and when we met the postmaster at sea, we threw it over. He
would be three miles out, swimming, with a small log under arm for
support, and often he might be in company with thirty or forty of
his tribe, who, with only the same slight aids to keeping afloat,
would be fishing leisurely. They carried their tackle and their catch
upon their shoulders, and appeared quite at ease, with no concern for
their long swim to shore or for the sharks, which were plentiful. They
might even nap a little during the middle afternoon."

"When our people wanted to sleep at sea," said McBirney, "if there
were two of them, though we never bothered to take along logs, one
rested on the other's shoulder."

One listened and marveled, and smiled to think that, had one stayed at
home, one might never know these things. Forgotten was the wraith of
Leung Kai Chu, the jungle trail of Hallman, and even the trepidation
with which we had awaited the sailing ship's boat. I was soon to be
in those enchanted archipelagoes, and to see for myself those mighty
swimmers and those sleepers upon the sea. I might even get a letter
through that floating postmaster.

There was a Continental duchess aboard, whom I pitied. She was oldish
and homely, and couldn't forget her rank. She had a woman companion, an
honorable lady, a maid, and a courier, but she sat all day knitting or
reading poor novels. She had nothing to do with the other passengers,
eating with her companion at an aloof table, and sitting before her
own cabin, apart from others. The courier and I talked several times,
and once he said that her Highness was much interested in a statement
I had made about the origin of the Maori race, but she did not invite
me to tell her my opinion directly. Poor wretch! as Pepys used to
say, she was entangled in her own regal web, and sterilized by her
Continental caste.

For days and nights we moved through the calm sea, with hardly more
than the sparkling crests of the myriad swelling waves to distinguish
from a bounded lake these mighty waters that wash the newest and oldest
of lands. It seemed as if all the world was only water and us. The
ship was as steady in her element as a plane in those upper strata
of the ether where the winds and clouds no longer have domain. The
company in a week had found themselves, and divided into groups in
which each sought protection from boredom, ease of familiar manners,
and opportunity to talk or to listen.

Often when all had left the deck I sat alone in the passage before the
surgeon's cabin to drink in the coolness of the dark, and to wonder at
the problem of life. If a man had not his dream, what could life give
him? In his heart he might know by experience that it never could come
true, but without it, false as it might be, he was without consolation.

One night, the equator behind, I saw the Southern Cross for the first
time on the voyage, its glittering crux, with the alpha and beta
Centaur stars, signaling to me that I was beyond the dispensation
of the cold and constant north star, and in the realm of warmth and
everchanging beauty.

Tahiti, the second Sunday out, was a day off. I arose Monday with
a feeling of buoyancy and expectancy that grew with the morning. I
was as one who looks to find soon in reality the ideal on earth his
fancy has created. The day became older, and the noontide passed. I
had gone forward upon the forecastle head to seize the first sign
of land, and was leaning over the cathead, watching the flying-fish
leaping in advance of the bow, and the great, shining albacore throwing
themselves into the rush of our advance, to be carried along by the
mere drive of our bows.

I drew a deep breath of the salt air when there came to me a new and
delicious odor. It seemed to steal from a secret garden under the sea,
and I thought of mermaids plucking the blossoms of their coral arbors
for the perfuming and adornment of their golden hair. But sweeter
and heavier it floated upon the slight breeze, and I knew it for the
famed zephyr that carries to the voyager to Tahiti the scents of the
flowers of that idyllic land. It was the life vapor of the hinano,
the tiare and the frangipani exhaled by those flowers of Tahiti, to be
wafted to the sailor before he sights the scene itself, the breath of
Lorelei that spelled the sense of the voyager. No shipwrecked mariner
could have felt more poignancy in his search for a hospitable strand
than I on the plunging prow of the Noa-Noa in my quest through the
bright sunshine of that afternoon for the haven of desire. I strained
my eyes to see it, to realize the gossamer dream I had spun since
boyhood from the leaves of beloved poets.

It was shortly after three o'clock that the vision came in reality,
more marvelous, more exquisite, more unimaginable than the conception
of all my reveries--a dim shadow in the far offing, a dark speck in
the lofty clouds, a mass of towering green upon the blue water, the
fast unfoldment of emerald, pale hills and glittering reef. Nearer as
sailed our ship, the panorama was lovelier. It was the culmination of
enchantment, the fulfilment of the wildest fantasy of wondrous color,
strange form, and lavish adornment.

The island rose in changing shape from the soft Pacific sea, here sheer
and challenging, there sloping gently from mountain height to ocean
sheen; different all about, altering with hiding sun or shifting view
its magic mold, with moods as varied as the wind, but ever lovely,
alluring, new.

I marked the volcanic make of it, cast up from the low bed of Neptune
an eon ago, its loftiest peaks peering from the long cloud-streamers
a mile and a half above my eyes, and its valleys embracing caverns
of shadow. It was a stupendous precipice suspended from the vault of
heaven, and in its massive folds secreted the wonders I had come so
far to see. Every minute the bewildering contours were transmuted by
the play of sun and cloud and our swift progression toward the land.

Red spots appeared rare against the field of verdure where the
mountain-side had been stripped naked by erosion, and the volcanic
cinnabar of ages contrasted oddly with the many greens of frond and
palm and hillside grove. Curious, fantastic, the hanging peaks and
cloud-capped scarps, black against the fleecy drift, were tauntingly
reminiscent of the evening skies of the last few days, as if the
divine artist had sketched lightly upon the azure of the heavens the
entrancing picture to be drawn firmly and grandly in beetling crag
and sublime steep.

Most of all, as the island swam closer, the embracing fringe of
cocoanut-trees drew my eyes. They were like a girdle upon the beautiful
body of the land, whose lower half was in the ocean. They seemed the
freewaving banners of romance, whispering always of nude peoples, of
savage whites, of ruthless passion, of rum and missionaries, cannibals
and heathen altars, of the fierce struggle of the artificial and the
primitive. I loved these palms, brothers of my soul, and for me they
have never lost their romantic significance.

From the sea, the village of Papeete, the capital and port, was all but
hidden in the wood of many kinds of trees that lies between the beach
and the hills. Red and gray roofs appeared among the mass of growing
things at almost the same height, for the capital rested on only a
narrow shelf of rising land, and the mountains descended from the sky
to the very water's-edge. Greener than the Barbadoes, like malachite
upon the dazzling Spanish Main, Tahiti gleamed as a promise of Elysium.

A lighthouse, tall minister of warning, lifted upon a headland, and
suddenly there was disclosed intimately the brilliant, shimmering surf
breaking on the tortuous coral reef that banded the island a mile
away. It was like a circlet of quicksilver in the sun, a quivering,
shining, waving wreath. Soon we heard the eternal diapason of these
shores, the constant and immortal music of the breakers on the white
stone barrier, a low, deep, resonant note that lulls the soul to
sleep by day as it does the body by night.

Guardian sound of the South Seas it is, the hushed, echoic roar of a
Jovian organ that chants of the dangers of the sea without, and the
peace of the lagoon within, the reef.

A stretch of houses showed--the warehouses and shops of the merchants
along the beach, the spire of a church, a line of wharf, a hundred
tiny homes all but hidden in the foliage of the ferns. These gradually
came into view as the ship, after skirting along the reef, steered
through a break in the foam, a pass in the treacherous coral, and
glided through opalescent and glassy shallows to a quay where all
Papeete waited to greet us.

The quay was filled with women and men and children and dogs. Carriages
and automobiles by the score attended just outside. Conspicuous
above all were the Tahitian and part-Tahitian girls. In their long,
graceful, waistless tunics of brilliant hues, their woven bamboo
or pandanus hats, decorated with fresh flowers, their feet bare or
thrust into French slippers, their brown eyes shining with yearning,
they were so many Circes to us from the sea. They smiled and looked
with longing at these strangers, who felt curious thrills at this
unknown openness of promise.

Louis de Bougainville wrote in his diary at his first coming to Tahiti
a hundred and fifty years ago:

The boats were now crowded with women, whose beauty of face was
equal to that of the ladies of Europe, and the symmetry of their
forms much superior.

Leboucher called to his mother. "Madre mia! Como estas tu?"

Cries rang out in French, in Tahitian and in English. Islanders,
returning, demanded information as to health, business ventures,
happenings. Merry laughter echoed from the roof of the great shed,
and I felt my heart suddenly become joyous.

The girls and women absorbed the attention of passengers not of
Tahiti. The New-Zealanders of the crew called excitedly to various
ones. Most of the men passengers, tarrying only with the vessel,
planned to see a hula, and they wondered if any of those on the wharf
were the dancers.

A white flower over the ear seemed a favorite adornment, some wearing
it on one side and some on the other. What struck one immediately was
the erect carriage of the women. They were tall and as straight as
sunflower-stalks, walking with a swimming gait. They were graceful
even when old. Those dark women and men seemed to fit in perfectly
with the marvelous background of the cocoas, the bananas and the
brilliant foliage. The whites appeared sickly, uncouth, beside the
natives, and the white women, especially, faded and artificial.

The Noa-Noa was warped to the wharf, and I was within a few feet now
of the welcoming crowd and could discern every detail.

Those young women were well called les belles Tahitiennes. Their
skins were like pale-brown satin, but exceeding all their other charms
were their lustrous eyes. They were very large, liquid, melting, and
indescribably feminine--feminine in a way lost to Occidental women
save only the Andalusians and the Neapolitans. They were framed in
the longest, blackest, curly lashes, the lashes of dark Caucasian
children. They were the eyes of children of the sun, eyes that had
stirred disciplined seamen to desertion, eyes that had burned ships,
and created the mystery of the Bounty, eyes of enchantresses of the
days of Helen.

"Prenez-garde vous!" said Madame Aubert, the invalid,
in my ear.

Mixed now with the perfumes of the flowers was the odor of cocoanuts,
coming from the piles of copra on the dock, a sweetish, oily smell,
rich, powerful, and never in foreign lands to be inhaled without its
bringing vividly before one scenes of the tropics.

The gangway was let down. I was, after years of anticipation,
in Tahiti.

Chapter III

Description of Tahiti--A volcanic rock and coral reef--Beauty of
the Scenery--Papeete the center of the South Seas--Appearance of
the Tahitians.

Tahiti was a molten rock, fused in a subterranean furnace, and cast in
some frightful throe of the cooling sphere, high up above the surface
of the sea, the seething mass forming into mountains and valleys, the
valleys hemmed in except at their mouths by lofty barriers that stretch
from thundering central ridges to the slanting shelf of alluvial
soil which extends to the sand of the beach. It is a mass of volcanic
matter to which the air, the rain, and the passage of a million years
have given an all-covering verdure except upon the loftiest peaks,
have cut into strangely shaped cliffs, sloping hills, spacious vales,
and shadowy glens and dingles, and have poured down the rich detritus
and humus to cover the coral beaches and afford sustenance for man
and beast. About the island countless trillions of tiny animals have
reared the shimmering reef which bears the brunt of the breaking
seas, and spares their impact upon the precious land. These minute
beings in the unfathomable scheme of the Will had worked and perished
for unguessed ages to leave behind this monument of their existence,
their charnel-house. Man had often told himself that a god had inspired
them thus to build havens for his vessels and abodes of marine life
where man might kill lesser beings for his food and sport.

Always, in the approach to the island in steamship, schooner, or
canoe, one is amazed and transported by the varying aspect of it. A
few miles away one would never know that man had touched it. His
inappreciable structures are erased by the flood of green color, which,
from the edge of the lagoon to the spires of La Diademe, nearly eight
thousand feet above the water, makes all other hues insignificant. In
all its hundred miles or so of circumference nature is the dominant
note--a nature so mysterious, so powerful, and yet so soft-handed,
so beauty-loving and so laughing in its indulgences, that one can
hardly believe it the same that rules the Northern climes and forces
man to labor in pain all his days or to die.

The scene from a little distance is as primeval as when the first
humans climbed in their frail canoes through the unknown and terrible
stretches of ocean, and saw Tahiti shining in the sunlight. A mile
or two from the lagoon the fertile land extends as a slowly-ascending
gamut of greens as luxuriant as a jungle, and forming a most pleasing
foreground to the startling amphitheater of the mountains, darker,
and, in storm, black and forbidding.

Those mountains are the most wonderful examples of volcanic rock on
the globe. Formed of rough and crystalline products of the basic fire
of earth, they hold high up in their recesses coral beds once under
the sea, and lava in many shapes, tokens of the island's rise from
the slime, and of mammoth craters now almost entirely obliterated by
denudation--the denudation which made the level land as fertile as
any on earth, and the suitable habitation of the most leisurely and
magnificent human animals of history.

A thousand rills that drink from the clouds ever encircling the
crags, and in which they are often lost from view, leap from the
heights, appearing as ribbons of white on a clear day, and not
seldom disappearing in vapor as they fall sheer hundreds of feet,
or thousands, in successive drops. When heavy rains come, torrents
suddenly spring into being and dash madly down the precipitous cliffs
to swell the brooks and little rivers and rush headlong to the sea.

Tahiti has an unexcelled climate for the tropics, the temperature for
the year averaging seventy-seven degrees and varying from sixty-nine
to eighty-four degrees. June, July, and August are the coolest and
driest months, and December to March the rainiest and hottest. It is
often humid, enervating, but the south-east, the trade-wind, which
blows regularly on the east side of the islands, where are Papeete
and most of the settlements, purifies the atmosphere, and there are
no epidemics except when disease is brought directly from the cities
of America or Australasia. A delicious breeze comes up every morning
at nine o'clock and fans the dweller in this real Arcadia until past
four, when it languishes and ceases in preparation for the vesper
drama of the sun's retirement from the stage of earth.

Typhoons or cyclones are rare about Tahiti, but squalls are frequent
and tidal waves recurrent. The rain falls more than a hundred days
a year, but usually so lightly that one thinks of it as liquid
sunshine. In the wet quarter from December until March there are
almost daily deluges, when the air seems turned to water, the land
and sea are hidden by the screen of driving rain, and the thunder
shakes the flimsy houses, and echoes menacingly in the upper valleys.

Papeete, the seat of government and trade capital of all the French
possessions in these parts of the world, is a sprawling village
stretching lazily from the river of Fautaua on the east to the cemetery
on the west, and from the sea on the north to half a mile inland. It
is the gradual increment of garden and house upon an aboriginal
village, the slow response of a century to the demand of official and
trading white, of religious group and ambitious Tahitian, of sailor
and tourist. Here flow all the channels of business and finance,
of plotting and robbery, of pleasure and profit, of literature and
art and good living, in the eastern Pacific. Papeete is the London
and Paris of this part of the peaceful ocean, dispensing the styles
and comforts, the inventions and luxuries, of civilization, making
the laws and enforcing or compromising them, giving justice and
injustice to litigants, despatching all the concomitants of modernity
to littler islands. Papeete is the entrepot of all the archipelagoes
in these seas.

The French, who have domination in these waters of a hundred islands
and atolls between 8 and 27 south latitude, and between 137 and 154
west longitude, a stretch of about twelve hundred miles each way,
make them all tributary to Papeete; and thus it is the metropolis
of a province of salt water, over which come its couriers and its
freighters, its governors and its soldiers, its pleasure-seekers and
its idlers. From it an age ago went the Maoris to people Hawaii and
New Zealand.

Papeete has a central position in the Pacific. The capitals of Hawaii,
Australia, New Zealand, and California are from two and a half to
three and a half thousand miles away. No other such group of whites,
or place approaching its urbanity, is to be found in a vast extent
of latitude or longitude. It is without peer or competitor in endless
leagues of waves.

Yet Papeete is a little place, a mile or so in length and less in
width, a curious imposition of European houses and manners upon a
Tahitian hamlet, hybrid, a mixture of loveliness and ugliness, of
nature savage and tamed. The settlement, as with all ports, began at
the waterfront, and the harbor of Papeete is a lake within the milky
reef, the gentle waters of which touch a strip of green that runs
along the shore, broken here and there by a wall and by the quay at
which I landed. Coral blocks have been quarried from the reef and
fitted to make an embankment for half a mile, which juts out just
far enough to be usable as a mole. It is alongside this that sailing
vessels lie, the wharf being the only land mooring with a roof for
the housing of products. A dozen schooners, small and large, point
their noses out to the sea, their backs against the coral quay, and
their hawsers made fast to old cannon, brought here to war against
the natives, and now binding the messengers of the nations and of
commerce to this shore. Where there are no embankments, the water
comes up to the roots of the trees, and a carpet of grass, moss,
and tropical vegetation grows from the salt tide to the roadway.

Following the contour of the beach, runs a fairly broad road, and
facing this original thoroughfare and the sea are the principal
shops of the traders and a few residences. French are some of
these merchants, but most are Australasian, German, American and
Chinese. France is ten thousand miles away, and the French unequal
in the struggle for gain. Some of the stores occupy blocks, and in
them one will find a limited assortment of tobacco, anchors, needles,
music-boxes, candles, bicycles, rum, novels, and silks or calicos. Here
in this spot was the first settlement of the preachers of the gospel,
of the conquering forces of France, and of the roaring blades
who brought the culture of the world to a powerful and spellbound
people. Here swarmed the crews of fifty whalers in the days when
"There she blows!" was heard from crows'-nests all over the broad
Pacific. These rough adventurers, fighters, revelers, passionate
bachelors, stamped Tahiti with its first strong imprint of the white
man's modes and vices, contending with the missionaries for supremacy
of ideal. They brought gin and a new lecherousness and deadly ills and
novel superstitions, and found a people ready for their wares. An old
American woman has told me she has seen a thousand whalemen at one
time ashore off ships in the harbor make night and day a Saturnalia
of Occidental pleasure, a hundred fights in twenty-four hours.

As more of Europe and America came and brought lumber to build houses,
or used the hard woods of the mountains, the settlement pushed back
from the beach. Trails that later widened into streets were cut through
the brush to reach these homes of whites, and the thatched huts of the
aborigines were replaced by the ugly, but more convenient, cottages
of the new-comers. The French, when once they had seized the island,
made roads, gradually and not too well, but far surpassing those of
most outlying possessions, and contrasting advantageously with the
neglect of the Spanish, who in three hundred years in the Philippines
left all undone the most important step in civilization. One can
drive almost completely around Tahiti on ninety miles of a highway
passable at most times of the year, and bridging a hundred times the
streams which rush and purl and wind from the heights to the ocean.

The streets of Papeete have no plan. They go where they list and
in curves and angles, and only once in a mile in short, straight
stretches. They twist and stray north and south and nor'nor'west
and eastsou'east, as if each new-comer had cleft a walk of his own,
caring naught for any one else, and further dwellers had smoothed it
on for themselves.

I lost myself in a maze of streets, looked about for a familiar
landmark, strolled a hundred paces, and found myself somewhere
I thought a kilometer distant. Everywhere there are shops kept
by Chinese, restaurants and coffee-houses. The streets all have
names, but change them as they progress, honoring some French hero
or statesman for a block or two, recalling some event, or plainly
stating the reason for their being. All names are in French, of course,
and many are quaint and sonorous.

As the sea-wall grew according to the demands of defense or commerce
the sections were rechristened. The quai des Subsistences tells its
purpose as does the quai de l'Uranie. The rue de l'Ecole and the rue
de la Mission, with the rue des Remparts, speak the early building
of school and Catholic church and fortifications.

Rue Cook, rue de Bougainville and many others record the giant figures
of history who took Tahiti from the mist of the half-known, and wrote
it on the charts and in the archives. Other streets hark back to that
beloved France to which these French exiles gaze with tearful eyes,
but linger all their years ten thousand miles away. They saunter
along the rue de Rivoli in Papeete, and see again the magnificence
of the Tuileries, and hear the dear noises of la belle Paris. They
are sentimental, these French, patriots all here, and overcome at
times by the flood of memories of la France, their birthplaces,
and their ancestral graves. Some born here have never been away, and
some have spent a few short months in visits to the homeland. Some
have brown mothers, half-islanders; yet if they learn the tripping
tongue of their French progenitor and European manners, they think
of France as their ultimate goal, of Paris their playground, and the
"Marseillaise" their himene par excellence.

One might conjure up a vision of a tiny Paris with such names in
one's ears, and these French, who have been in possession here nearly
four-score years, have tried to make a French town of Papeete.

They have only spoiled the scene as far as unfit architecture can,
but the riot of tropical nature has mocked their labors. For all
over the flimsy wooden houses, the wretched palings, the galvanized
iron roofing, the ugly verandas, hang gorgeous draperies of the giant
acacias, the brilliant flamboyantes, the bountiful, yellow allamanda,
the generous breadfruit, and the uplifting glory of the cocoanut-trees,
while magnificent vines and creepers cover the tawdry paint of the
facades and embower the homes in green and flower. If one leaves the
few principal streets or roads in Papeete, one walks only on well-worn
trails through the thick growth of lantana, guavas, pandanus, wild
coffee, and a dozen other trees and bushes. The paths are lined with
hedges of false coffee, where thrifty people live, and again there
are open spaces with vistas of little houses in groves, rows of tiny
cabins close together. Everywhere are picturesque disorder, dirt,
rubbish, and the accrued wallow of years of laissez-aller; but the
mighty trade-winds and the constant rains sweep away all bad odors,
and there is no resultant disease.

"My word," said Stevens, a London stockbroker, here to rehabilitate
a broken corporation, "if we English had this place, wouldn't there
be a cleaning up! We'd build it solid and sanitary, and have proper
rules to make the bally natives stand around."

The practical British would that. They have done so in a dozen of
their far-flung colonies I hare been in, from Singapore to Barbadoes,
though they have failed utterly in Jamaica. Yet, I am at first sight,
of the mind that only the Spanish would have kept, after decades of
administration, as much of the simple beauty of Papeete as have the
Gauls. True, the streets are a litter, the Government almost unseen
as to modern uplift, the natives are indolent and life moves without
bustle or goal. The republic is content to keep the peace, to sell
its wares, to teach its tongue, and to let the gentle Tahitian hold
to his island ways, now that his race dies rapidly in the spiritual
atmosphere so murderous to natural, non-immunized souls and bodies.

Many streets and roads are shaded by spreading mango-trees, a fruit
brought in the sixties from Brazil, and perfected in size and flavor
here by the patient efforts of French gardeners and priests. The trees
along the town ways are splendid, umbrageous masses of dark foliage
whose golden crops fall upon the roadways, and which have been so
chosen that though they are seasonal, the round mango is succeeded
by the golden egg, and that by a small purple sort, while the large,
long variety continues most of the year. Monseigneur Jaussen, the
Catholic bishop who wrote the accepted grammar and dictionary of the
Tahitian language, evolved a delicious, large mango, with a long,
thin stone very different from the usual seed, which occupies most
of the circumference of this slightly acidulous, most luscious of
tropical fruits. Often the pave is a spatter of the fallen mangos,
its slippery condition of no import to the barefooted Tahitian,
but to the shod a cause of sudden, strange gyrations and gestures,
and of irreverence toward the Deity.

Scores of varieties of fruits and flowers, shade-trees, and ornamental
plants were brought to Tahiti by ship commanders, missionaries,
officials, and traders, in the last hundred years, while many of
the indigenous growths have been transplanted to other islands and
continents by those whose interests were in them. The Mutiny of
the Bounty, perhaps the most romantic incident of these South Seas,
was the result of an effort to transport breadfruit-tree shoots from
Tahiti to the West Indies. It is a beautiful trait in humankind, which,
maybe, designing nature has endowed us with to spread her manifold
creations, that even the most selfish of men delight in planting in
new environments exotic seeds and plants, and in enriching the fauna of
faraway islands with strange animals and insects. The pepper- and the
gum-tree that make southern California's desert a bower, the oranges
and lemons there which send a million golden trophies to less-favored
peoples, are the flora of distant climes. Since the days of the white
discoverers, adventurers and priests, fighting men and puritans,
have added to the earth's treasury in Tahiti and all these islands.

Walking one morning along the waterfront, I met two very dark
negresses. They had on pink and black dresses, with red cotton
shawls, and they wore flaming yellow handkerchiefs about their woolly
heads. They were as African as the Congo, and as strange in this
setting as Eskimos on Broadway. They felt their importance, for they
were of the few good cooks of French dishes here. They spoke a French
patois, and guffawed loudly when one dropped her basket of supplies
from her head. They were servants of the procureur de la Republique,
who had brought them from the French colony of Martinique.

Many races have mingled here. One saw their pigments and their lines
in the castes; here a soupcon of the French and there a touch of the
Dane; the Chileno, himself a mestizo, had left his print in delicacy
of feature, and the Irish his freckles and pug, which with tawny
skin, pearly teeth, and the superb form of the pure Tahitian, left
little to be desired in fetching and saucy allurement. Thousands of
sailors and merchants and preachers had sowed their seed here, as did
Captain Cook's men a century and a half ago, and the harvest showed
in numerous shadings of colors and variety of mixtures. Tahiti had,
since ship of Europe sighted Orofena, been a pasture for the wild
asses of the Wanderlust, a paradise into which they had brought their
snakes and left them to plague the natives.

There were phonographs shrieking at one from a score of verandas. The
automobile had become a menace to life and limb. There were two-score
motor-cars in Tahiti; but as the island is small, and most of them
were in the capital, one met them all the day, and might have thought
there were hundreds. Motor-buses, or "rubberneck-wagons," ran about the
city, carrying the natives for a franc on a brief tour, and, for more,
to country districts where good cheer and dances sped the night. A
dozen five- and seven-passenger cars with drivers were for hire. Most
nights until eleven or later the rented machines dashed about the
narrow streets, hooting and hissing, while their care-free occupants
played accordions or mouth-organs and sang songs of love. Louis de
Bougainville, once a French lawyer, and afterward soldier, sailor,
and discoverer and a lord under Bonaparte, had a monument in a tiny
green park hard by the strand and the road that, beginning there,
bands the island. He is best known the world about because his name is
given to the "four-o'clock" shrub in warm countries, as in Tahiti,
which sends huge masses of magenta or crimson blossoms climbing
on trellises and roofs. I walked to this monument from the Tiare
along the mossy bank of a little rivulet which ran to the beach. It
was early morning. The humble natives and whites were about their
daily tasks. Smoke rose from the iron pipes above the houses, coffee
scented the air, men and women were returning from the market-place
with bunches of cocoanuts, bananas, and breadfruit, strings of fish
and cuts of meat in papers. Many of them had their heads wreathed in
flowers or wore a tiare blossom over an ear.

The way in which one wears a flower supposedly signifies many
things. If one wore it over the left ear, one sought a sweetheart;
if over the right, it signified contentment, and though it was as
common as the wearing of hats, there were always jokes passing about
these flowers, exclamations of surprise or wishes of joy.

"What, you have left Terii?"

"Aita. No."

"Aue! I must change it at once."

Now, really there was no such idea in the native mind. It was invention
for tourists. The Tahitian wears flowers anywhere, always, if he can
have them, and they do express his mood. If he is sad, he will not put
them on; but if going to a dance, to a picnic, or to promenade, if he
has money in his pocket, or gaiety in his heart, he must bloom. Over
one ear, or both, in the hair, on the head, around the neck, both sexes
were passionately fond of this age-old sign of kinship with nature. The
lei in Hawaii around the hat or the neck spells the same meaning, but
the flood of outsiders has lost Hawaii all but the merest remnant of
its ancient ways, while here still persisted customs which a century
of European difference and indifference has not crushed out. Here,
as there, more lasting wreaths for the hat were woven of shells or
beads in various colors.

As I strolled past the houses, every one greeted me pleasantly.

"Ia ora na," they said, or "Bonjour!" I replied in kind. I had not
been a day in Tahiti before I felt kindled in me an affection for
its dark people which I had never known for any other race. It was
an admixture of friendship, admiration, and pity--of affection for
their beautiful natures, of appreciation of the magnificence of their
physical equipment, and of sympathy for them in their decline and
inevitable passing under the changed conditions of environment made
by the sudden smothering of their instinctive needs in the sepia of
commercial civilization. I saw that those natives remaining, laughing
and full of the desire for pleasure as they were, must perish because
unfit to survive in the morass of modernism in which they were sinking,
victims of a system of life in which material profits were the sole
goal and standard of the rulers.

The Tahitians are tall, vigorous, and superbly rounded. The men,
often more than six feet or even six and a half feet in height, have
a mien of natural majesty and bodily grace. They convey an impression
of giant strength, reserve power, and unconscious poise beyond that
made by any other race. American Indians I have known had much of this
quality when resident far from towns, but they lacked the curving,
padded muscles, the ease of movement, and, most of all, the smiling
faces, the ingratiating manner, of these children of the sun.

The Tahitians' noses are fairly flat and large; the nostrils dilated;
their lips full and sensual; their teeth perfectly shaped and very
white and sound; their chins strong, though round; and their eyes
black and large, not brilliant, but liquid. Their feet and hands are
mighty--hands that lift burdens of great weight, that swing paddles
of canoes for hours; feet that tread the roads or mountain trails
for league on league.

The women are of middle size, with lines of harmony that give them a
unique seal of beauty, with an undulating movement of their bodies,
a coordination of every muscle and nerve, a richness of aspect in
color and form, that is more sensuous, more attractive, than any
feminine graces I have ever gazed on. They have the forwardness of
boys, the boldness of huntresses, yet the softness and magnetism of
the most virginal of their white sisters. One thinks of them as of old
in soft draperies of beautiful cream-colored native cloth wound around
their bodies, passed under one arm and knotted on the other shoulder,
revealing the shapely neck and arm, and one breast, with garlands upon
their hair, and a fragrant flower passed through one ear, and in the
other two or three large pearls fastened with braided human hair.

The men never wore beards, though mustaches, copying the French custom,
are common on chiefs, preachers, and those who sacrifice beauty and
natural desires to ambition. The hair on the face is removed as it
appears, and it is scanty. They abhor beards, and their ghosts, the
tupapau, have faces fringed with hair. The usual movements of both
men and women are slow, dignified, and full of pride.

Chapter IV

The Tiare Hotel--Lovaina the hostess, the best-known woman in the
South Seas--Her strange menage--The Dummy--A one-sided tryst--An
old-fashioned cocktail--The Argentine training ship.

The Tiare Hotel was the center of English-speaking life in
Papeete. Almost all tourists stayed there, and most of the white
residents other than the French took meals there. The usual traveler
spent most of his time in and about the hotel, and from it made
his trips to the country districts or to other islands. Except for
two small restaurants kept by Europeans, the Tiare was the only
eating-place in the capital of Tahiti unless one counted a score
of dismal coffee-shops kept by Chinese, and frequented by natives,
sailors, and beach-combers. They were dark, disagreeable recesses,
with grimy tables and forbidding utensils, in which wretchedly made
coffee was served with a roll for a few sous; one of them also offered
meats of a questionable kind.

The Tiare Hotel was five minutes' walk from the quay, at the junction
of the rue de Rivoli and the rue de Petit Pologne, close by Pont du
Remparts. It was a one-storied cottage, with broad verandas, half
hidden in a luxuriant garden at the point where two streets come
together at a little stone bridge crossing a brook--a tiny bungalow
built for a home, and stretched and pieced out to make a guest-house.

I was at home there after a few days as if I had known no other
dwelling. That is a distinctive and compelling charm of Tahiti,
the quick possession of the new-comer by his environment, and his
unconscious yielding to the demands of his novel surroundings,
opposite as they might be to his previous habitat.

Very soon I was filled with the languor of these isles. I hardly
stirred from my living-place. The bustle of the monthly steamship-day
died with the going of the Noa-Noa, the through passengers departing
in angry mood because their anticipated hula dance had been a
disappointment--wickedness shining feebly through cotton gowns when
they had expected nudity in a pas seul of abandonment. There was a
violent condemnation by the duped men of "unwarranted interference
by the French Government with natural and national expression."

Hogg, an American business traveler, said "The Barbary Coast in
Frisco had Tahiti skinned a mile for the real thing," and Stevens,
a London broker, that the dance was "bally tame for four bob."

Papeete, with the passing throng gone, was a quiet little town,
contrasting with the hours when the streets swarmed with people
from here and the suburbs, the band playing, the bars crowded, and
all efforts for gaiety and coquetry and the selling of souvenirs
and intoxicants. What exotic life there was beyond the clubs,
the waterfront, and the Asiatic quarter revolved around the Tiare,
and entirely so because of its proprietress, Lovaina. She was the
best-known and best-liked woman in all these South Seas, remembered
from Australia to the Paumotus, from London to China, wherever were
people who had visited Tahiti, as "dear old Lovaina."

She was very large. She was huge in every sense, weighing much
more than three hundred pounds, and yet there was a singular
grace in her form and her movements. Her limbs were of the girth of
breadfruit-trees, and her bosom was as broad and deep as that of the
great Juno of Rome, but her hands were beautiful, like a plump baby's,
with fascinating creases at the wrists, and long, tapering fingers. Her
large eyes were hazel, and they were very brilliant when she was merry
or excited. Her expansive face had no lines in it, and her mouth
was a perfection of curves, the teeth white and even. Her hair was
red-brown, curling in rich profusion, scented with the hinano-flower,
adorning her charmingly poised head in careless grace.

When she said, "I glad see you," there was a glow of amiability, an
alluring light in her countenance, that drew one irresistibly to her,
and her immense, shapely hand enveloped one's own with a pressure
and a warmth that were overpowering in their convincement of her good
heart and illimitable generosity.

Lovaina was only one fourth Tahitian, all the remainder of her racial
inheritance being American; but she was all Tahitian in her traits,
her simplicity, her devotion to her friends, her catching folly as
it flew, and her pride in a new possession.

One morning I got up at five o'clock and went to the bath beside the
kitchen. It was a shower, and the water from the far Fautaua valley
the softest, most delicious to the body, cool and balmy in the heat
of the tropic. Coming and going to baths here, whites throw off
easily the fear of being thought immodest, and women and men alike
go to and fro in loin-cloths, pajamas, or towels. I wore the pareu,
the red strip of calico, bearing designs by William Morris, which
the native buys instead of his original one of tapa, the beaten cloth
made from tree bark or pith.

I met Lovaina coming out of the shower, a sheet about her which could
not cover half of her immense and regal body. She hesitated--I was
almost a stranger,--and in a vain effort to do better, trod on the
sheet, and pulled it to her feet. I picked it up for her.

"I shamed for you see me like this!" she said.

I was blushing all over, though why I don't know, but I faltered:

"Like a great American Beauty rose."

"Faded rose too big," exclaimed Lovaina, with the faintest air of
coquetry as I hastily shut the door.

A little while later, when I came to the dining-room for the first
breakfast, I met Lovaina in a blue-figured aahu of muslin and
lace, a close-fitting, sweeping nightgown, the single garment that
Tahitians wear all day and take off at night, a tunic, or Mother
Hubbard, which reveals their figures without disguise, unstayed,
unpetticoated. Lovaina was, as always, barefooted, and she took me
into her garden, one of the few cultivated in Tahiti, where nature
makes man almost superfluous in the decoration of the earth.

"This house my father give me when marry," said Lovaina. "My God! you
just should seen that arearea! Las' all day, mos' night. We jus' move
in. Ban's playin' from war-ship, all merry drinkin', dancin'. Never
such good time. I tell you nobody could walk barefoot one week,
so much broken glass in garden an' street."

Her goodly flesh shook with her laughter, her darkening eyes suffused
with happy tears at the memory, and she put her broad hand between
my shoulders for a moment as if to draw me into the rejoicing of her
wedding feast. She led me about the garden to show me how she had from
year to year planted the many trees, herbs, and bushes it contained. It
had set out to be formal, but, like most efforts at taming the fierce
fecundity of nature in these seas, had become a tangle of verdure,
for though now and then combed into some regularity, the breezes,
the dogs, the chickens, and the invading people ruffled it, the
falling leaves covered the grass, and the dead branches sighed for
burial. Down the narrow path she went ponderously, showing me the
cannas, jasmine and rose, picking a lime or a tamarind, a bouquet of
mock-orange flowers, smoothing the tuberoses, the hibiscus of many
colors, the oleanders, maile ilima, Star of Bethlehem, frangipani,
and, her greatest love, the tiare Tahiti. There were snakeplants,
East-India cherries, coffee-bushes, custard-apples, and the hinano,
the sweetness of which and of the tiare made heavy the air.

I said that we had no flower in America as wonderful in perfume
as these.

Lovaina stopped her slow, heavy steps. She raised her beautiful,
big hand, and arresting my attention, she exclaimed:

"You know that ol' hinano! Ol' time we use that Tahiti cologne. Girl
put that on pareu an' on dress, by an' by make whole body jus' like
flower. That set man crazee; make all man want kiss an' hug."

Doubtless, our foremothers when they sought to win the hunters of their
tribes, took the musk, the civet, and the castor from the prey laid at
their feet, and made maddening their smoke- and wind-tanned bodies to
the cave-dwellers. When they became more housed and more clothed, they
captured the juices of the flowers in nutshells, and later in stone
bottles, until now science disdains animals and flowers, but takes
chemicals and waste products to make a hundred essences and unguents
and sachets for toilet and boudoir. These odors of the hinano and
tiare were philters worthy of the beautiful Tahitian girls, with their
sinuous, golden bodies so sensualized, so passionate, and so free.

The ordinary life of the Tiare Hotel was all upon the broad verandas
which surrounded it, their high lattices covered with the climbing
bougainvillea and stephanotis vines, which formed a maze for the
filtering of the sunlight and the dimming of the activities of the
streets. On these verandas were the tables for eating, and in the
main bungalow a few bedrooms, with others in detached cottages within
the inclosure.

There was a parlor, and it was like the parlors of all ambitious
Europeans or Americans in all islands--a piano with an injured tone,
chairs blue and scarlet with plush covers that perspiring sitters
of years had made dark brown, a phonograph, and signed photographs
of friends and visitors who had said farewell to Tahiti. There were
paintings of flowers by Lovaina, showing not a little talent and much
feeling. All these were the pride of her birthright--"Murricaine"
fashion, as the hostess said pensively.

I have said that the life of the hotel was upon the veranda, and so
it was at meal-time and for the casual tourist staying a day with
a steamship to or from New Zealand or the United States; but to the
resident of Tahiti, the American, Britisher, or non-Latin European,
the place of interest in Papeete other than the clubs was a small
porch approached from the street by a few steps.

On this tiny porch was a large table, and behind it a couch. The table
was the only desk for letter-writing, the serving-stand for meals,
the board for salad and cake-making, and the drink-bar. A few feet
removed from this table, and against the wall, was a camphorwood
chest on which two might sit in comfort and three might squeeze at
angles. In the chest was kept all the bed and table linen, so that
one might often be disturbed by the quest of sheets or napkins.

Upon this little porch the kitchen, bath, and toilets opened, a few
feet from the table. It was the sleeping and amusement quarters
of five dogs, the loafing place for the girls, the office of the
hotel, the entry for guests to the dining-room or to the other
conveniences. Through it streamed all who came to eat or drink or
for any other purpose. The hotel having grown slowly from a home,
hardly any changes of plumbing had been made, and men and women
in dressing-gowns, in pajamas, or in other undress came and went,
under the interested gaze of idlers and drinkers, and they had often
to endure intimate questions or badinage. All were on a footing as
to the arrangements, and I saw the haughty duchess of the Noa-Noa
follow Lovaina's American negro chauffeur, while a former ambassador
waited on the chest. There was no distinction of rank, since Tahiti,
excepting for an occasional French official, was the purest democracy
of manners in the world, a philosophy the whites had learned from
the natives, who think all foreigners equally distinguished.

Those not of the South Seas, and unused to the primitive publicity
of the natural functions there, suffered intensely at first from
embarrassment, but in time forgot their squeamishness, and perhaps
learned to carry on conversations with those who drank or chatted

The Tahitian cook slept all day between meals on a chair, with his
head hanging out a window. He was ill often from a rush of blood
to his head. Lovaina had offered him a mat to lie on the floor, but
he pleaded his habit. All the refuse of the kitchen was thrown into
the garden under this window, and with the horses, chickens, dogs,
and cats it was first come, first served.

On the couch back of the table Lovaina sat for many hours every
day. Her great weight made her disinclined to walk, and from her
cushions she ruled her domain, chaffing with those who dropped in
for drinks, advising and joking, making cakes and salads, bargaining
with the butcher and vegetable-dealer, despatching the food toward the
tables, feeding many dogs, posting her accounts, receiving payments,
and regulating the complex affairs of her menage. She would shake a
cocktail, make a gin-fizz or a Doctor Funk, chop ice or do any menial
service, yet withal was your entertainer and your friend. She had the
striking, yet almost inexplicable, dignity of the Maori--the facing
of life serenely and without reserve or fear for the morrow.

Underneath the table dogs tumbled, or raced about the porch, barking
and leaping on laps, cats scurried past, and a cloud of tobacco smoke
filled the close air. Lovaina, in one of her sixty bright gowns,
a white chemise beneath, her feet bare, sat enthroned. On the chest
were the captain of a liner or a schooner, a tourist, a trader, a girl,
an old native woman, or a beach-comber with money for the moment. It
was the carpet of state on which all took their places who would have
a hearing before the throne or loaf in the audience-chamber.

In her low, delightfully broken English, in vivid French, or sibilant
Tahitian, Lovaina issued her orders to the girls, shouted maledictions
at the cook, or talked with all who came. Through that porch flowed all
the scandal of the South Seas--tales of hurricanes and waterspouts,
of shipwrecks, of accidents, of lucky deals in pearls or shells, of
copra, of new fashions and old inhabitants, of liaisons of white and
brown, of the flirtations of tourists, of the Government's issuing an
ultimatum on the price of fish, of how the consuls quarreled at a club
dinner, and of how one threw three ribs of roasted beef at the other,
who retorted with a whole sucking pig just from the native oven,
of Thomas' wife leaving him for Europe after a month's honeymoon;
and all the flotsam and jetsam of report and rumor, of joke and
detraction, which in an island with only one mail a month are the
topics of interest.

The porch was the clearing-house and the casual, oral record of the
spreading South Seas. It was the strangest salon of any capital,
and Lovaina the most fascinating of hostesses. Stories that would
be frowned down in many a man's club were laughed at lightly over
the table, but not when tourists, new-comers, were present. Then
the dignified Lovaina, repressing the oaths of potvaliant skippers,
putting her finger to her lips when a bald assertion was imminent,
said impressively:

"That swears don't go! What you think? To give bad name my good house?"

Only when old-timers were gathered, between steamships, when the
schooners came in a drove from the Paumotu atolls, and gold and silver
rang on the table at all hours, there was little restraint.

With only one mail a month to disturb the monotony, and but trifling
interest in anything north of the equator except prices of their
commodities, these unrepressed rebels against the conventions and even
the laws of the Occident must have their fling. On that camphor-wood
chest had sat many a church-going woman and dignified man of Europe or
America, resident for a month or longer in Tahiti, and shuddered at
what they heard--shuddered and listened, eager to hear those curious
incidents and astonishing opinions about life and affairs, and to mark
the difference between this and their own countries. It was without
even comment that people who at home or among the conventions would be
shocked at the subjects or their treatment, in these islands listened
thrilled or chucklingly to stories as naked as the children. Double
entendre is caviar to the average man and woman of Tahiti, who call the
unshrouded spade by its aboriginal name. The Tahitians were ever thus,
and the French have not sought to correct their ways. I heard Atupu,
one of the girls of the hotel, in a Rabelaisian passage of wit the
while she opened Seattle beer for thirsty Britishers, old residents,
traders, and planters. One could not publish the phrases if one could
translate them.

Lovaina, in her bed just off the porch, was laughing at the retorts
of Atupu, who by her native knowledge of the tongue was discomfiting
the roisterers, who spoke it haltingly. I heard an apt interjection
on the part of the proprietress which set them all roaring, and so
lowered their self-esteem that they left summarily.

One day when I was hurrying off to swim in the lagoon, I asked
Lovaina to guard a considerable sum of money in bank-notes. She
assented readily, but when several days later I mentioned the money
she struck her head in alarm. She thought and thought, but could not
remember in what safe place she had hidden the paper francs.

"My God! Brien," she said in desperation, "all time I jus' like that
crazee way. One time one engineer big steamship come here, he ask
me keep two thousan' dollar for him. I busy jus' like always, an'
I throw behin' that couch I sit on. My God! he come back I fore-get
where I put. One day we look hard. I suffer turribil, but the nex'
day I move couch and find money. Was n't that funny?"

I suggested we try the couch again, but though we turned up a number
of lost odds and ends, it was not the cache of my funds. By way
of cheering her, I ordered a rum punch, and when she went to crack
the ice, a gleam of remembrance came to her, and, lo! my money was
found in the reserve butter supply in the refrigerator, where she had
artfully placed it out of harm's way. It was quite greasy, but intact.

The first breakfast at the Tiare began at 6:30, but lingered for
several hours. It was of fruit and coffee and bread; papayas, bananas,
oranges, pineapples, and alligator-pears, which latter the French
call avocats, the Mexicans ahuacatl, and were brought here from the
West Indies. To this breakfast male guests dropped in from the bath
in pajamas, but the dejeuner a la fourchette, or second breakfast at
eleven, was more formal, and of four courses, fish, bacon and eggs,
curry and rice, tongues and sounds, beefsteak and potatoes, feis,
roast beef or mutton, sucking pig, and cabbage or sauer-kraut. For
dessert there was sponge- or cocoanut-cake. All business in Papeete
opened at seven o'clock and closed at eleven, to reopen from one
until five. Dinner at half-past six o'clock was a repetition of the
late breakfast except that a vegetable or cabbage soup was also served.

Two Chinese youths, To Sen and Hon Son, were the regular waiters,
but were supplemented by Atupu, Iromea, Pepe, Akura, Tetua, Maru,
and Juillet, all Tahitian girls or young women who had a mixed status
of domestics, friends, kinfolk, visitors, and hetairae, the latter
largely in the sense of entertainers. I doubt if they were paid more
than a trifle, and they were from the country districts or near-by
islands, moths drawn by the flame of the town to soar in its feverish
heat, to singe their wings, and to grow old before their time, or to
grasp the opportunity to satiate their thirst for foreign luxuries
by semi-permanent alliances with whites.

Lovaina's girls! How their memory must survive with the guests of the
Tiare Hotel! One read of them in every book of travel encompassing
Tahiti. One heard of them from every man who had dropped upon this
beach. Once in Mukden, Manchuria, I sat up half the night while the
American consul and a globe-trotter painted for me the portraits of
Lovaina's girls.

I was atop a disorderly camel named Mark Twain nosing about the Sphinx
when my companion remarked that that stony-faced lady looked a good
deal like Temanu of Lovaina's. Then I had to have the whole story of
Lovaina and her household. I have heard it away from Tahiti a dozen
times and always different.

Doubtless, in the dozen years the gentle Lovaina ministered to the
needs of travelers and residents, many girls came and went in her
house. Some have married, and some have gone away without a ring,
but all have been made much of by those they served, and have lived
gayly and by the way.

Lovaina, herself, said to me:

"You know those girl', they go ruin. That girl you see here few
minutes ago I bring her up just like Christian; be good, be true, do
her prayers, make her soul all right. Then I go San Francisco. What
you think? When I come back she ruin. 'Most break my heart. That man
he come to me, he say: 'Lovaina, I take good care that girl. I love
her.' That girl with him now. She happy, got plenty dress, plenty
best to eat, and nice buggy. I tell you, I give up trying save those
girl'. I think they like ruin best. I turn my back--they ruin."

Iromea was the sturdy veteran of the corps. Tall, handsome, straight,
mother of four children, obliging, wise in the way of the white,
herself all native.

"And the babies?" I inquired.

"They all scatter. Some in country; some different place," answered
Iromea, who ran from English to French to Tahitian, but of course
not with the ease of Lovaina, for that great heart knew many of the
cities of her father's land, was educated in needlework style, and
with a little dab of Yankee culture, now fast disappearing as she
grew older. One marked that tendency to reversion to the native type
and ways among many islanders who had been superficially coated with
civilization, but whom environment and heredity claim inexorably.

Iromea was thirty years old. She had been loved by many white men,
men of distinction here; sea-rovers, merchants, and lotus-eaters,
writers, painters, and wastrels.

Juillet, whose native name was Tiurai, helped old Madame Rose to care
for the rooms at the Tiare. She was thirteen years old, willowy,
with a beautiful, smiling face, and two long, black plaits. Though
innocent, almost artless, in appearance, she was an arch coquette,
and flirted with old and young. One day a turkey that shared the back
yard with two automobiles, a horse, three carriages, several dogs,
ten cats, and forty chickens, disappeared. Juillet was sent to find
the turkey. She was gone four days, and came back with a brilliant
new gown. She brought with her the turkey, which she said she had
been trying to drive back all the four days.

Juillet was named for the month of July. Her mother was the cook
of a governor when she was born on the fourteenth of July, the
anniversary of the fall of the Bastile, and the governor named her
for the month. She was also named Nohorae, and noho means to be naked
and rae forehead. Juillet had a high forehead.

Lovaina pointed out to me the man who had taken away her favorite
helper. He was about forty years old, tall, angular, sharp-nosed, with
gold eyeglasses. I would have expected to meet him in the vestry of
a church or to have been asked by him at a mission if I were saved,
but in Tahiti he had gone the way of all flesh. His voice had the
timbre of the preacher. He had come to the hotel in an expensive,
new automobile to fetch cooked food for himself and Ruine.

"Seven or eight leper that man support," said Lovaina to me. "They
die for him, he so good to them. He help everybodee. He give them
leper the Bible, and sometime he go read them."

It would be the Song of Solomon he would read to Ruine. She had red
hair, red black or black red, a not unusual color in Tahiti, and
her eyes had a glint of red in their brown. She was exquisite in her
silken peignoir, a wreath of scarlet hibiscus-flowers on her head,
and a string of gorgeous baroque pearls about her rounded neck.

My room at the Tiare was in the upper story of an old house that sat
alone in the back garden, among the domestics, automobiles, carriages,
horses, pigs, and fowls. The house had wide verandas all about it,
and the stairway outside. A few nights after I had arrived in Tahiti
I was writing letters on the piazza, the length of the room away from
the stairs. I had a lamp on my table, and the noise of my type-writer
hushed the sounds of any one entering the apartment. It was about ten
o'clock, and between sentences I looked at the night. The stars were
in coruscating masses, the riches of the heavens disclosed as only
at such a cloudless hour in this southern hemisphere, the Milky Way
showing ten thousand gleaming members of the galaxy that are hidden
in our skies. I thought of those happy mariners who first sailed their
small, wooden ships into these mysterious seas, and first of our race,
saw this strangely brilliant macrocosm, and appreciated it for its
marvels and its differences from their own bleaker, Western vault.

There were no doors in the openings into my room from the verandas, but
hangings of gorgeous scarlet calico, pareus, kept out the blazing sun,
and lent a little privacy at night. All the furniture was a chair,
a dressing-table, and two large beds, canopied with mosquito-nets,
evidently provided for a double lodging if needed.

As I finished my letters twenty feet away, a Tahitian girl parted the
farther curtain nearest the stairway, and slipped into the room with
the silence of the accustomed barefooted. Imagine her in her gayest
gown of rose color, a garland of hinano-flowers on her glossy head,
her tawny hair in two plaits to her unconfined waist, and her eyes
shining with the spirit of her quest!

She looked through the room to where I sat in the semi-obscurity,
and then knelt down by the first bed, and waited. I gazed again at
the starry heavens, and, stepping over the threshold, entered the
chamber, lamp in hand. I undressed leisurely, and putting about
me the pareu Lovaina had given me, I threw the light upon the two
beds to make my nightly choice. I surveyed them both critically,
but the one nearest to me having the netting arranged for entrance,
I selected it, and setting the lamp upon the dresser, extinguished
it, groped to the bed in darkness, and lay down upon the coverless
sheet. A few minutes I stayed awake going over the happenings of the
day, and fell asleep in joyful mood that I was in the island I had
sought so long in desire and dream. I knew nothing of my visitor,
for she had made no audible sound, and the shadows had hidden her.


Back to Full Books