Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
Part 2 out of 8
At breakfast the next morning I was waited on by Atupu, the beauty. Her
face was tear-stained, and a deep weariness was upon her. She regarded
me with a glance of mixed anger and hurt.
"Vous etes fache avec moi?" she inquired accusingly.
"I angry with you?" I repeated. "Why what have I done to show it?"
And then she told me of her visit and vigil. Seeing me alone in
Tahiti, and kind-hearted, she said, she had thought to tell me of
the Tahitian heart and the old ways of the land. She had robed,
perfumed, and adorned herself, and entered my sleeping-place, as she
said was the wont of Tahitian girls. I had certainly heard her enter,
and seen her kneel to await my greeting, and if not then, I had seen
her plainly when I lifted the lamp, for the light had streamed full
upon her. She had remained there upon the floor half an hour until my
audible breathing had compelled her to believe against her will that I
was asleep. Then she had fled and wept the night in humiliation. Never
in her young life had such a horror afflicted her.
I was stunned, and could only reiterate that I had not known of her
presence, and with a trinket from my pocket I dried her tears.
Rupert Brooke in a letter to a friend in England drew a little etching
of our lodging:
I am in a hovel at the back of my hotel, and contemplate the yard. The
extraordinary life of the place flows round and near my room--for
here no one, man or woman, scruples to come through one's room
at any moment, if it happens to be a shortcut. By day nothing much
happens in the yard--except when a horse tried to eat a hen, the other
afternoon. But by night, after ten, it is filled with flitting figures
of girls, with wreaths of white flowers, keeping assignations.... It is
all--all Papeete--like a Renaissance Italy with the venom taken out,
No, simpler, light-come and light-go, passionate and forgetful, like
children, and all the time South Pacific, that is to say unmalicious
When a steamship was in port the Tiare was a hurly-burly. Perhaps
forty or even a hundred extra patrons came for meals or drinks. It
was amusing to hear their uncomprehending anger at their failure to
obtain quick service or even a smile by their accustomed manner toward
dark peoples. The British, who were the majority of the travelers,
have a cold, autocratic attitude toward all who wait upon them,
but especially toward those of the colored races. In Tahiti they
suffered utter dismay, because Tahitians know no servitude and pay
no attention to sharp words.
I saw a red-faced woman giving an order for aperitifs to To Sen,
the Chinese waiter.
"Two old-fashioned gin cocktails," she iterated. "You savee, gin
and bitters? Be sure it's Angostura, and lemon and soda, and two
Manhattans with rye whisky. Hurry along now! Old-fashioned, remember!"
In ten minutes Temanu came for the order. To Sen knew no English,
and Temanu only, "Yais, ma darleeng," and "Whatnahell?"
"Spik Furanche?" she begged.
"Oui, oui!" said the red-faced lady. "Dooze cocktail! Vous savez
cocktail, a la mode des ancients? Gin, oon dash bittair, lem' et soda!"
"Mais, madame, douze cocktail!" and the half-caste Chinese girl
held up all her fingers and added two more. "Vous n'etes que quatre
ici! Quatre cocktails, n'est-ce pas?"
"Dooze gin, dooze Manhattan? My heavens! They ought to
understand my French in this out-of-the-way place when they do in
Paris. Listen! Dooze is two in French," and she held up two pudgy
fingers. But Temanu was gone and returned with four cocktails made
after her own liking.
All the girls, Atupu, Iromea, Pepe, Maru, Tetua, and Mme. Rose
and Mama-Maru, helped in the service, some beginning with shoes and
stockings, but soon slipping them off as the crowd grew and their feet
became weary. Lovaina herself moved happily about the salle-a-manger
telling her friends that she was a grandmother. A letter had given the
information that her daughter had a child. She was a doting parent, and
we all must toast the newborn. Two grave professors of the University
of California, ichthyologists or entomologists, sat entranced at the
unconventionality of the scene, drinking vin ordinaire and gazing
at the Tahitian girls, or eating breadfruit, raw fish, and taro,
as if they were on Mars and did not know how they got there.
I saw an entry in Lovaina's day-book on the table:
"Germani to Fany 3 feathers."
This was a charge made by Atupu against a Dane for three cocktails. He
took his meals at Mme. Klopfer's restaurant. Her first name is
Fanny, and Atupu thinks all men not English, French, or Americans,
are Germans; so she identified the Dane as the German who went to
Fanny's for his meals.
Lovaina said to me:
"I hear you look one house that maybe you rent. You don't get wise
if you rent from that French woman. I don't say nothing about her,
but you know her tongue? So sharp jus' like knife. All time she have
trouble. Can't rent her house so sharp. Some artist he rent; she take
box, peep over see what he do jus' because he have some girl. Nobody
talk her down. No, I take back. Jus' one French woman who know to
swear turribil. This swear woman she call her turribil name and say,
'Everybody don't know you was convict in Noumea for killing one man
for money.' That turribil talk, and she jus' fell down. Good for her,
Lovaina seldom rode in her automobile, which she kept primarily for
renting to guests for country tours. She had had for years a carriage,
a surrey, drawn by one horse, which had grown old and rickety with
the vehicle. The driver was a mute, Vava, his name meaning dumb in
Tahitian, and the English and Americans called him the Dummy. He was
attached to Lovaina as a child to his mother--a wayward, jealous,
cloudy-minded child, who almost daily broke into fits of anger
over incidents misunderstood by his groping mentality, and because
of his incommunicable feelings. The hotel was in a fearsome uproar
when Vava fell into a tantrum, women patrons afraid of his possible
actions and men threatening to club him into a mild frame of mind. I
doubt if any one there could have subdued him physically, for he was
a thick-bodied man in his thirties, with a stamina and a strength
incredibly developed. I had seen him once lift over a fence a barrel
of flour, two hundred pounds in weight, and without full effort. His
skin was very dark, his facial expression one of ire and frustration,
but of conscious superiority to all about him. He had had no aids to
overcome his natal infirmity of deafness and consequent dumbness, none
of the educational assistance modern science lends these unfortunates,
no finger alphabet, or even another inarticulate for sympathy. He was
like the mutes of history, of courts and romances, condemned to suffer
in silence the humor and contempt of all about him, though he felt
himself better than they in body and in the understanding of things,
which he could not make them know. This repression made him often
like a wild beast, though mostly he was half-clown and half-infant
in his conduct. He had a gift of mimicry incomparably finer than any
professional's I knew of. This, with his gestures, stood him instead
of speech. A certain haughty English woman whose elaborate hats in an
island where women were hatless, or wore simple, native weaves, were
noted atrocities, and whose chin was almost nil, kept the carriage and
me waiting for breakfast while she primped in her lodging. The Dummy
uttered one of his abortive sounds, much like that of an angry puma,
contorted his face, and put his hand above his head, so that I had
a very vivid suggestion of the lady, her sloping chin and her hat,
at which all Papeete laughed. Vava's gesticulations and grimaces
were unerring cartoons without paper or ink. If one could have seen
him draw one-self, one's pride would have tumbled. He saw the most
ridiculous aspect of one. His indication of Lovaina's figure made one
shriek, and the governor would have sentenced him for lese-majesty
had he seen himself taken off. The sounds he made in which he greeted
any one he liked, or in anger, were terrible, dismaying. They; must
have been those made by our ancestors, the first primates, when they
began the struggle toward intelligent language. Vava's sounds were as
the muttering of an ape, deep in his throat, or, when he was roused,
high and shrill, like the cry of a rabbit when the hound seizes it. He
could make Lovaina know anything he wanted to, and she could direct
him to do anything she wished. In that house of mirth, brightness,
and laughter, he was as a cunning and, at times, hateful jester,
feared by the Tahitians, and, indeed, to whites a shadowy skeleton
at the feast, a thing of indescribable possibilities. I knew him,
he liked me, and I drew from him by motions and expressions some
measure of his feelings and sufferings. But I, too, occasionally,
shuddered at the animal cries and frightful grimaces wrung from him
in beating down his soul bent on murder.
Lovaina was a spendthrift, giving money liberally to relatives,
lending it to improvident borrowers, and dispensing it with open hands
when she had it, though always herself in debt. Yet she liked to make
money, and to have her hotel filled with tourists who patronized her
little bar or drank at meals other wines than the excellent Bordeaux,
white or red, which was free with food. Most she loved the appearance
of prosperity, the crowding of casual voyagers on steamer-days, the
visit of war-ships, the sound of music in her parlor, the rustling of
dancers, and the laughter and excitement when the maids were busied
carrying champagne and cheaper drinks to the verandas.
I saw her at her best when El Presidente Sarmiento, an Argentine
training-ship, came to port with a hundred cadets. A madness then
possessed the girls of Tahiti.
Forsaking their old loves or those of the moment, they threw themselves
into the arms of the visitors, determined on conquest. The quays
where the launches of the Sarmiento landed their passengers, and the
streets about the saloons, restaurants, and theaters, were thronged
with the fairest and gayest girls of the island. They poured in from
the country to share in the lovemaking. The cafes were filled with
dancing and singing crowds, the volatile Argentineans matching the
Tahitians in abandon and ardor.
Accordions, violins, guitars, and mandolins were played everywhere. The
scores of public automobiles were engaged by joyous parties who
sallied to the rural resorts, each Juan with his vahine. Mostly
unable to exchange a word, they were kissing and embracing in their
seats. The ship had been there a year before, and many of the men
were hunting former sweethearts. They found that very difficult,
as they had not accurate descriptions.
"A beauty named Atupu," or "A black-eyed girl?" They had no aid among
the girls they interrogated.
"Why bother with some one who may be dead when we are here?" they
asked. And Juan listened to the sirens and rested content.
At Lovaina's there were seventy to dinner. Captain and officers were
cheek by jowl with gunners and plain sailors. The veranda was jammed
with tables, corks hitting the ceiling, glasses clinking, and Spanish,
French, English, and Tahitian confused in the chatter and the shouts
of To Sen, Hon Son, the maids, and a dozen friends of the hostess
who always came at such times to share the glory of the service.
Lovaina was at the serving-table with volunteers cutting cakes and
taking the money. The parlor, with its red and blue plush chairs,
was filled with Argentineans playing the piano and singing songs of
their country. Suddenly Lovaina discovered that some one had stolen
the album of portraits from the piano-top. These were of her family,
and of notable visitors who had written grateful notes after their
return home, and sent their pictures to her. Professor Hart, teacher
of English aboard the Sarmiento, was asked to find the thief, and he
promised that he would have the ship searched.
Lovaina lamented her loss, but counted her sovereigns. The Argentineans
had English gold, and Lovaina passed the shining, new pieces from
one hand to the other, enjoying their glitter and sound. She liked
to play with coins, and often amused herself as did the king in the
"My God!" said Lovaina, as she pulled me down to her bench and rubbed
my back, "that Argentina is good country! Forty dollars lime squash
by himself." She opened her purse, and poured out more gold. With it
fell a cloth medallion, red letters on white flannel, "The Apostleship
of Prayer in League with the Sacred Heart of Jesus."
"I find that on the floor two day' 'go," said Lovaina, "and I put it
in purse to see if good luck. What you think? Argentinas come in nex'
day. I don' know, but that thing is good to me. See those bottle'
champagne goin' in?"
Perhaps I shall carry longer than any other memory of Tahiti that
of the endearing nature, the honest heart, and the laughing, starry
eyes of Lovaina, with a tiare-blossom over her ear, or a chaplet
of those flowers upon her head, as she sat on her throne behind the
serving-table, and I on the camphor-wood chest.
The Parc de Bougainville--Ivan Stroganoff--He tells me the history
of Tahiti--He berates the Tahitians--Wants me to start a newspaper.
In the parc de Bougainville I sat down on a bench on which was an
old European. He was reading a tattered number of "Simplicissimus,"
and held the paper close to his watery eyes. I said, "Good morning"
and he replied in fluent though accented English.
His appearance was eccentric. He was stout, and with a rough, white
beard all over his face and neck, and even on his chest. He wore a
frock coat and a large cow-boy hat of white felt. His sockless feet
were in old base-ball shoes of "eelskin," which were of the exact
color of his coat, a dull green, like moldy, dried peas. Apparently
the coat was his only garment; but it was capacious, and came almost
to his knobby knees. Missing buttons down its front were replaced by
bits of cord or rope. The pockets were stuffed with papers, mangos,
and a hunk of bread. A stump of lead-pencil was behind his ear. His
hair, a dusty white, met the frayed collar of the coat, and through
the temporary gaps which he made in its length to cool his body,
I saw it like a gnarled and mossy tree. His hands were grimy and
his nails black-edged, but there was intellect in his eye, and a
broken force in his huddled, loosed attitude. He was not decrepit,
or with a trace of humility, but had the ease of the philosopher
and also his detachment. It was plain he did the best he could with
his garb, and was entirely undisturbed, and perhaps even unmindful,
of its ludicrousness. He was as serene as Diogenes must have been
when he crawled naked from his tub into the sun.
We talked first of the horses in the lagoon a dozen yards from us,
their grooms or their owners submerging them, and squatting on the
ground to chat as the horses wallowed willingly in five feet of salt
water. We agreed that the Tahitians were as bad drivers as the Chinese,
and that they were, wittingly or unwittingly, cruel to their beasts of
burden. This led to a discussion of native traits, and he was caustic
in his castigation of the Tahitians. He asked me my name and what
brought me to Tahiti; and when, wanting to be as honest-spoken as he,
I said, "Romance, adventure," he burst out that I was crazy.
"I have been here seventeen years," he said bitterly--"me, Ivan
Stroganoff, who was once happy as secretary to the governor of
Irkutsk! I was better off when I was on the Merrimac fighting the
Monitor, or with Mosby, the guerilla, than I am in this accursed
island. I think a man is mad who can leave Tahiti and stays here. I
wish I could go away. I would like to die elsewhere. I am eighty years
old, I starve here, and I sleep in a chicken-coop in the suburbs."
"You are lodged exactly as was Charlie Stoddard, who wrote 'South
Sea Idylls,'" I interposed.
"They have lied always, those writers about Tahiti," said Ivan
Stroganoff. "Melville, Loti, Moerenhout, Pallander, your Stevenson,--I
don't know that Stoddard,--all are meretricious, with their pomp of
words and no truth. I have comparisons to make with other nations. I
am more than sixty years a traveler, and I am here seventeen years
without cessation, in hell all the time."
"You Russians always like the French. How about their achievements
here?" I questioned, hoping to lift his shade of melancholy.
"The French?" he repeated. "They are brigands and weak governors. They
have been in Tahiti four generations. Do you want to know how they
got hold here? A monarchy, a foolish Louis, sent a marine savant
and soldier named Dumont D'Urville to the South Seas with the casual
"'D'apprivoiser les hommes, et de rendre les femmes un peu plus
sauvages;' to tame the men and make the women a little more savage. The
French did both, and took all of this part of the world they could
find unseized by Europe, and tamable, at not too great a shedding
of French blood. They said that it was their duty to restore Temoana
his kingdom in the Marquesas Islands, eight hundred miles from here,
northward, Temoana had been a singer of psalms at the Protestant
mission in his valley of Tai-o-hae, in the island of Nukahiva, a
victim of shanghaiers, a cook on a whaler, a tattooed man in English
penny shows, a repatriate, a protege of the Catholic archbishop of the
Marquesans, and finally, through the influence of the Roman church,
a king. He worked damned hard for the French flag and the church,
and the generous colonial bureau of France paid his widow a pension
of ten dollars a month until she died of melancholy among the nuns. I
knew her and I knew men who knew him. He was given a gorgeous uniform
of gold lace by his promoters, which I think killed him, though when
he sweated, he would strip to his handsomely marked skin and sit
naked in the breeze. The queen never wore more than a diaper or a gown.
"With the Marquesas Islands taken, the French warships came to
Tahiti. French Catholic priests had been deported from here because the
Protestants were already in possession, and objected to competition,
saying that the priests were children of Beelzebub, and taught false
doctrines and morals. The Queen of Tahiti, whose dynasty the Protestant
missionaries had created, advised the pope's men to seek a heathen
people not already worshiping the true God. The zealous priests
who had come with explicit commands to found a mission in Tahiti,
launched the curse of Rome upon the king, the Protestant ministers,
and especially upon Mr. Pritchard, the British consul and the queen's
physician and spiritual adviser.
"Pritchard had the interests of England and the Lord at heart, and
his whispers in the queen's ear sent the earnest priests aboard a ship
bound for a distant port. They complained, and the French admiral then
arrived and pointed his guns at the palace and the Protestant mission,
and demanded thirty thousand dollars for the insult to the French flag;
and for the jibe at the pope, the matching of every Protestant church
in the islands, by a Catholic edifice. The queen had a panic and fled
to Moorea in a canoe. The admiral then put Consul Pritchard in jail
for ten days, and after chastening his mood, put him on an English
ship at sea homeward bound. France and England were showing their
teeth at each other over more important differences, which ended in
a revolution in Paris and a change of kings, so that the admiral had
his way. The queen came back, the priests established their mission
and their churches, and the Tahitians with any blood in them went to
war again. The French built forts about the island, and killed off
with their guns all the natives they could get sight of. Then they
took all the other islands around here that England didn't have,
declared Tahiti had to be a protectorate in 1843, and in 1880 gave
King Pomare Fifth twelve thousand dollars a year to let them annex
his kingdom. You see, after all, his crown was made by the British
puritans, and taken from him by the French or Romish Church."
The aged Russian laughed in his huge whiskers. He fished in the rear
of his frock and produced the stump of a cigar, for which I yielded
"I found that on the steps of the Roman Catholic bishop's carriage,
which was standing near here an hour ago," he said. "They'll tell
you that you will burn in hell; but they smoke here, and good Havana
"I think it's a pity the Tahitians weren't left alone," I asserted.
He gave me a look such as Diogenes might have given the man who stood
in his sunlight. He lit his cigar-end, puffed it diligently for a
minute, and then said arbitrarily:
"The Tahitian is, first, a coward, afraid to fight the white; but
if he can, in a group or by secret, kill or hurt you, he will. He
is treacherous, and the more he pretends to be your friend, the more
he connives to cheat you. I should have said first of all that he is
lazy, but that is not to be disputed. He was corrupt to begin with,
and religion accentuates every evil passion in him. He is a profound
hypocrite, and yet a puritan for observance of the ceremonies and
interdictions of his faith. He has more guile than a Japanese guide,
and in land deals can skin a Moscow Jew. He will sell you land and
get the money, and later prove that his father or brother is the real
owner, and that relation will do the same, and you will pay several
times for the same land. In the Paumotus, where the missionaries are
like a swarm of gnats, this deception is threefold as bad."
"But the Tahitians are at least generous," I broke in.
Stroganoff combed his whiskers with a twig of the flamboyant tree
under which we sat. He glared at me.
"Generous! If you have money they will overwhelm you with presents,
looking for a double return; but if you are poor, they will treat
you as dirt under their feet. I know, for I am poor, and I live among
them. They are like those mina birds here, which will steal the button
off your coat if you do not guard it."
"Does not Christianity improve them?"
"No. The combats between Protestants, Catholics, and Mormons ended all
hope of that. They are never sincere except when they become fanatics,
and even then they never lose their native superstitions. Beliefs in
the ghosts of Tahiti, the tupapau, ihoiho, and varua ino, are common
to all of them."
"My dear Mr. Stroganoff," I expostulated, "your czars believed
in icons. My grandmother believed in werewolves and banshees, and
we burned blessed candles and sprinkled holy water in our houses
on All Souls' night to keep away demons. I have seen a clergyman,
educated in Paris and Louvain, exorcising devils with bell, book,
and candle in Maryland, in one of the oldest and proudest cities of
the United States. I have seen the American Governor-General of the
Philippines carrying a candle in a procession in honor of a mannikin
from a shrine at Antipolo, near Manila. Why, I could tell you--"
"Please, please, let me talk," Ivan Stroganoff interrupted. "What I
say is true, nevertheless. The Tahitian has not one good quality. He
is not to be compared with the American negro for any desirable trait."
"Do you know the negro?" I asked.
The old man grunted. He relit his cigar, now only an inch long,
"I was on the Merrimac when she fought the Monitor in two
engagements. I was a sailor on other Confederate men-of-war. I was
one of Colonel Mosby's guerillas, and was wounded with them. I have
lived thirteen years in the United States. I know the coon well. I
fought to keep him a slave."
"You are not an American?"
"I am a Russian, an anarchist once, and now I am for Root and Lodge,
the stand-pats. I lived in Russia in its darkest days, under several
czars, when your life was the forfeit of a wink. I was a lawyer there,
a politician, an intrigant. I knew Bebel and Jaures and the men before
them. I lived in Germany many years, in France, in England, anywhere,
everywhere. I first came to New York from Siberia. I was broke. The
Civil War was on. There were agents of Lee and Jeff Davis in New York
seeking sailors. They offered lots of money,--thousands,--and I went
along, smuggled into the South by an underground road."
Stroganoff threw away the shreds of tobacco, now a mere fiery wafer
that threatened his mouth's seine of silver strands. He put his hand
in his Prince Albert and scratched his stomach.
"Mr. Stroganoff," I queried, with a moral tide rising, "how could
you join in a life-and-death issue like that of the Civil War, and
kill men without hatred of their cause in your heart?"
He patted my shoulder.
"My dear young American," he replied, "you join anything, even a
sheriff's posse, into which you are dragged, and have a bullet from
the other side slit your ear, or a round shot bang against your deck,
and you'll soon convince yourself that you are in the right, or,
anyway, that your adversary is a scoundrel. I handled a gun on the
Merrimac in Hampton Roads when that cheese-box of a Monitor rattled
her solid shot on our slippery sides. I was two years in that damned
un-Civil War, and as I started on the Southern side, I stayed on
it. I left the navy to go with John Mosby and burn houses. When
the war was over, and I recovered from my wound, I went to 'Frisco
and crossed to Siberia, and thus back to Moscow. No, I never was an
exile in Siberia or in a Russian prison. I knew and worked for the
leaders of the old Nihilists. I was with them till I knew them, and
then I saw they were selfish and fakers. I knew the socialist chiefs
in France and Germany, the fathers of the present movement there. I
was red-hot for the cause until I knew them, and I quit."
He sat meditatively for a few moments.
"I'm all but eighty years old," the raider of the '60's continued
sorrowfully. "I work now for Chinese, preparing their mail, their
custom-house papers, and orders. I scrape along like a watch-dog in a
sausage factory, getting sufficient to eat, but fearful all the time
that the job will kill me. Most of the time I live a few kilometers
from Papeete, toward Fa'a, and come in to town about steamer-time. I
sleep in the chicken-coop or anywhere. I make about forty francs a
month." He stamped upon the grass. "I take it you are a journalist,
and, do you know, what is needed here most is publicity. Graft
permeates the whole scheme. Mind you, there are no secrets. You
could not whisper anything to a cocoanut-tree but that the entire
island would know it to-morrow. But there is no open publicity. Start
"In what language?" I demanded, interested.
"Huh? That's it. If in French, only the French would read it; and if
in Tahitian, the French won't touch it; and English is known only
by the Chinese and the few British and Americans here. I hate that
Tahitian. I don't know a word of it after seventeen years. Say what you
will, Roosevelt made them stand around. I liked him for many things;
but, after all, the old order must stand, and Root is the boy for
me. This fellow Wilson is a regular pedagogue."
"But they have newspapers here?" I asked.
"Newspapers? They call them that."
He stood up and searched in the pockets of his voluminous coat,
which he opened. I saw that the lining was of silk, but now worn and
torn. He brought out a roll of papers.
"Here is 'La Tribune de Tahiti,'" he said. "It is edited by
Jean Delpit, the lawyer whose offices are next to the Bellevue
Restaurant. It's a monthly, published in San Francisco, and has a brief
summary of world events, besides articles on the administrative affairs
of Tahiti. It's against the Government. Then there's 'Le Liberal,'
a socialist journal, with Eugene Brunschwig editor, which pours hot
shot into the Government. Look at his announcement! Do you understand
that? He is fierce. He is an anarchist and wants to be bought up. Of
course he is attacking from outside Tahiti.
"There is no newspaper printed here except the 'Journal Officiel'
which, of course, is not a newspaper, but a gazette of governmental
notices, etc. The Government has its own printing-office, but if
these other, the 'Tribune' and the 'Liberal,' had establishments
here, they would be raided and closed, for they would hardly be
allowed to criticize the Government as harshly as they do. The
'Tribune' is in French and Tahitian, the 'Liberal' and the 'Journal
Officiel' in French. One time it was recommended that the official
paper might be more popular if it had some fiction for the natives,
so they printed a translation of 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,'
but everybody laughed, so it was dropped.
"The Mormons have the best paper here. It is a monthly, too. There
is plenty need here for a fearless newspaper. The faults, weaknesses,
and venality of the Government call for publicity, but I'm afraid the
journalist might soon find himself in prison. You can do nothing. The
fault is in this damned climate--la fievre du corail. Paul Deschanel,
senator of France, who wrote a book on this island without ever
leaving his chair in Paris, says:
"In presence of the apparent facts one is forced to ask himself
if there is not in the climate of this enchanted Tahiti, in the
soft air that one breathes, a force sweet but invincible which at
length penetrates the soul, enervates the will and enfeebles all
sense of usefulness or right, or the least energy necessary to make
"It is this spirit, without any harmony, bereft of all real cordiality
between neighbors, of family and family, which one must find in the
ambient air and which is called the coral fever."
"It torments these French, former sailors or petty officials gone into
trade or speculation, with delusions and ambitions of grandeur. There
is no remedy. The King of Apamama said it all when he divided the
whites into three classes, 'First, him cheat a litty; second, him
cheat plenty; and third, him cheat too much.'"
Stroganoff got on his feet, rubbed his knees to limber them, and
began to move off slowly toward Fa'a, his place of abode.
"But, Mr. Stroganoff," I called to him, "you said all that about the
The Russian octogenarian drew an over-ripe mango from his skirt, and
bit into it, with dire results to his whiskers and coat,--it should
be eaten only in a bathtub,--and replied wearily:
"I except nobody here."
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.
In Papeete there were two social clubs, the Cercle Bougainville and the
Cercle Militaire. Even in Papeete, which has not half as many people
as work in a certain building in New York, there is a bureaucracy,
and the Cercle Militaire, in a park near the executive mansion on
the rue de Rivoli, is its arcanum. Only members of the Government
may belong, and a few others whose proposals must be stamped by the
political powers. There is a garden, with a small library, but not many
read in this climate, and the atmosphere of the Cercle Militaire was
tedious. The governor himself and the black procureur de la Republique,
born in Martinique, the secretary-general, naval officers, and the
file of the upper office-holders frequent the shade of the mangos and
the palms, but themselves confessed it deadly dull there. Bureaucracy
is ever mediocre, ever jealous, and in Papeete the feuds among the
whites were as bitter as in a monastery or convent. Every man crouched
to leap over his fellow, if not by position, at least by acclaim. None
dared to discuss political affairs openly, but nothing else was talked
of. It was a round of whispered charges and recriminations and audible
compliments. A few jolly chaps, doctors or naval lieutenants, passed
the bottle and laughed at the others.
Every now and then a new governor supplanted the incumbent,
who returned to France, and a few of the chiefer officials were
changed; but the most of them were Tahitian French by birth or long
residence. Republics are wretched managers of colonies, and monarchies
brutal exploiters of subject peoples. Politics controlled in the South
Seas, as in the Philippines, India, and Egypt. Precedence at public
gatherings often caused hatreds. The procureur was second in rank
here, the governor, of course, first, the secretary-general third,
and the attorney-general fourth. When the secretary-general was not
at functions, the wife of the governor must be handed in to dinner
and dances by the negro procureur. This angered the British and
American consuls and merchants, and the French inferior to him in
social status, although the Martinique statesman was better educated
and more cultivated in manners than they.
The indolence of mind and body that few escape in this soft, delicious
air, the autocracy of the governing at such a distance from France,
and the calls of Paris for the humble taxes of the Tahitians, robbed
the island of any but the most pressing melioration. The business
of government in these archipelagoes was bizarre comedy-drama, with
Tartarins at the front of the stage, and a cursing or slumbrous
Count Polonsky, a Russian-born Frenchman, appeared in court to answer
to the charge of letting his automobile engine run when no one was
in the car. He was fined a franc, which he would take from his pocket
then and there, but must wait many days to pay, until circumlocution
had its round, six weeks after the engine had been at fault. I was
assessed two sous duty on a tooth-brush. I reached for the coins.
"Mais, non" said the prepose de le douane, "pas maintenant. No
hurry. We will inform you by post."
These officials had pleasing manners, as do almost all Frenchmen,
and though they uttered many sacres against the home Government
and that of these islands, they were fiercely chauvinistic toward
foreigners, as are all nationals abroad where jingoism partakes
of self-aggrandizement. The American consul, a new appointee,
addressed the customs clerk in his only tongue, Iowan, and received no
response. I spoke to him in French, and the prepose replied in mixed
French and English, out of compliment to me. The consul was enraged,
considering himself and the American eagle affronted. I interposed,
but the customs-man answered coldly in English:
"This is a French possession, and French is the language,
or Tahitian. I speak both. Why don't you? You are supposedly an
The Stars and Stripes were unfolded in a breeze of hot words that
betrayed the consul's belief in the prepose's sinister ancestry and
in eternal punishment. No entente cordiale could ever be cemented
after that lingual blast.
The consuls all had honorary memberships in the Cercle Militaire,
and none of them entered the Cercle Bougainville, it not being de
rigueur. I had a carte d'invite personelle to that club, and there
I went with roused curiosity to hear the other sides of questions
already settled for me by the amiable officials and officers on the
rue de Rivoli. I had been warned against the Cercle Bougainville
by staid pensioners as being the resort of commoners and worse, of
British and American ruffians, of French vulgarians, and of Chinese
smugglers. This advice made a seductive advertisement of the club to
me, anxious to know everything real and unveiled about the life here,
and to find a contrast to the ennui of the official temple.
A consul said to me: "Look out for some of those gamblers in
that Bougainville joint! They'll skin you alive. They drink like
M. Leboucher, my fellow-passenger on the Noa-Noa, sent me the card to
the Jacobin resort, and I got in the habit of going there just before
the meat breakfast and before dinner. I found that the warning of
the aristocratic bureaucrats was of a piece with their philosophy and
manners, hollow, hypocritical, and calculated to deny me the only real
human companionship I could endure. From about eleven to one o'clock
and from five until seven, and in the evenings, the Cercle Bougainville
held more interesting and merry white skins than the remainder of
Tahiti. Merchants and managers of enterprises and shops, skippers
of the schooners that comb the Dangerous Archipelago and the dark
Marquesas for pearl and shell and copra, vanilla- and pearl-buyers,
planters, and lesser bureaucrats, idlers or retired adventurers
living in Tahiti, and tourists made the club for a few hours a day
a polyglot exchange of current topics between man and man, a place
of initiation and of judgment of business deals, a precious refuge
against smug bores and a sanctuary for refreshment of body and soul
with cooling drinks. Naturally, every one played cards, dominoes,
or dice for the honor of signing the chits, and it goes without
saying that one might roar out an oath against the Government and
go unscathed. Even in the Bougainville lines were drawn; only heads
of commercial affairs were admitted. It was bourgeois absolutely,
but bosses could not imbibe and play freely in the presence of their
employees whom they might have to reprimand severely for bad habits,
nor scold them for inattention to trade when their employers spent
precious hours at ecarte or razzle-dazzle.
The club was within fifty feet of the lagoon, close to the steamship
quay, its broad verandas overlooking the fulgent reef and the quiet
waters within it. In odd hours one might find Joseph, the steward,
angling on the coral wall for the black and gold fish, and a shout
from the balcony would bring him to the swift succor of a thirsty
member. During the four hours before the late dejeuner and dinner,
he had incessant work to answer the continuous calls.
When Joseph became overwhelmed with orders he summoned his family
from secret quarters in the rear, and father, mother, and children
squeezed, shook, and poured for the impatient crowd.
When the monthly mail between America and Australasia was in, few packs
of cards were sold, for every one was busied with letters and orders
for goods. But only three or four days a month were so disturbed,
and for nearly four weeks of the month Papeete lolled at ease, with
endless time for games and stimulants. Leisure, the most valuable coin
of humanity in the tropics, was spent by white or brown in pleasure
or idleness with a prodigality that would have made Samuel Smiles weep.
The entrance to the Cercle Bougainville was very plain, with no
name-plate, as had the Militaire,--a mere hole in the front wall
of Leboucher's large furniture shop. One could be going along the
street in full view of important and respectable people, and suddenly
disappear. A few steep stairs, a quick turn, and one was on the
broad balcony, with easy-chairs and firm tables, and bells to hand
for Joseph's ear.
In a room off the balcony there was a billiard-table, the cloth
patched or missing in many spots, and with cues whose tips had
long since succumbed to perpetual moisture. A few old French books
were on a shelf, and a naughty review or two of Paris on a dusty
table. Undoubtedly, this club had begun as a mariner's association,
and there was yet a decided flavor of the sea about it. Indeed, all
Tahiti was of the sea, and all but the mass of natives who stayed in
their little homes were at times sailors, and all whites passengers
on long voyages. Everything paid tribute to the vast ocean, and all
these men had an air of ships and the dangers of the waves.
Nautical almanacs, charts, and a barometer were conspicuous,
and often were laid beside the social glasses for proof in
hot arguments. Occasionally an old Chinese or two, financiers,
pearl-dealers, labor bosses, or merchants, drained a glass of eau
de vie and smoked a cigarette there. One sensed an atmosphere of
mystery, of secret arrangements between traders, or hard endeavors
for circumvention of competitors in the business of the dispersed
islands of French Oceania.
A delightful incident enlivened my first visit, and gave me an
acquaintance with a group of habitues, When I reached the balcony I
saw a group of Frenchmen at a table who were singing at the top of
their voices. I sat down at the farthest table and ordered a Dr. Funk.
I did not look at them, for I felt de trop; but suddenly I heard them
humming the air of "John Brown's Body," and singing fugitive words.
"Grory, grory, harreruah!" came to my ears, and later, "Wayd' 'un S'ut'
in le land de cottin."
They were making fun of me I thought, and turned my head away. It
would not do to get angry with half a dozen jovial Frenchmen.
"All Coons Look alike to Me," I recognized, though they sang but
fragments of the text.
Through a corner of my eye I saw them all anxiously staring at me;
then one of the merrymakers came over to me. I had a fleeting thought
of a row before he bowed low and said in English:
"If you please, we make good time, we sing your songs, and must be
happy to drink with you."
He announced himself as M. Edmond Brault, chief clerk of the office
of the secretary-general, fresh-faced, glowing and with a soul for
music and for joy. He was so smiling, so ingenuous, that to refuse
him would have been rank discourtesy. I joined the group.
"I am twenty-eight times married this day," said M. Brault, "and my
friends and I make very happy."
The good husband was rejoicing on his wedding anniversary, and I
could but accept the champagne he ordered. "I am great satisfaction
to drink you," he said. "My friends drink my wife and me."
We toasted his admirable wife, we toasted the two republics; Lafayette,
Rochambeau, and Chateaubriand.
"Ah, le biftek!" said M. Leboucher.
We toasted Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and then we sang
for an hour. M. Brault was the leading composer of Tahiti. He was
the creator of Tahitian melodies, as Kappelmeister Berger was of
Hawaiian. For our delectation Brault sang ten of his songs between
toasts. I liked best "Le Bon Roi Pomare," the words of one of the
many stanzas being:
Il etait un excellent roi
Dont on ne dit rien dans l'histoire,
Qui ne connaissait qu'une Loi:
Celle de chanter, rire, et boire.
Fervent disciple de Bacchus
Il glorifiait sa puissance,
Puis, sacrifiait a Venus
Les loisirs de son existence.
Toujours joyeux, d'humeur gauloise,
Et parfois meme un peu grivoise
Le genereux Roi Pomare
Par son peuple est fort regrette.
S'il avait eu de l'eloquence
Il aurait gouverne la France!
Mais nos regrets sont superflus;
Puisqu'il est mort, n'en parlons plus!
"Ah, he was a chic type, that last King of Tahiti," said M. Brault, who
had written so many praiseful, merry verses about him. "He would have
a hula about him all the time. He loved the national dance. He would
sit or lie and drink all day and night. He loved to see young people
drink and enjoy themselves. Ah, those were gay times! Dancing the
nights away. Every one crowned with flowers, and rum and champagne like
the falls of Fautaua. The good king Pomare would keep up the upaupa,
the hula dance, for a a week at a time, until they were nearly all
dead from drink and fatigue. Mon dieu! La vie est triste maintenant."
Before we parted we sang the "Marseillaise" and the "Star-Spangled
Banner." Nobody knew the words, I least of any; so we la-la-la'd
through it, and when we parted for luncheon, we went down the crooked
stairway arm in arm, still giving forth snatches of "Le Bon Roi Pomare"
in honor of our host:
Mais, s'il aimait tant les plaisirs,
Les chants joyeux, la vie en rose,
Le plus ardent de ses desirs,
Pour lui la plus heureuse chose,
Fut toujours que l'humanite
Regnat au sein de son Royaume;
De meme que l'Egalite
Sous son modeste toit de chaume.
Hallman, with whom I journeyed on the Noa-Noa, dropped into the Cercle
Bougainville occasionally, but he was ordinarily too much occupied with
his schemes of trade. Besides, he had only one absorbing vice other
than business, and with merely wine and song to be found at the club,
Hallman went there but seldom, and only to talk about pearl-shell,
copra, and the profits of schooner voyages. However, through him
I met another group who spoke English, and who were not of Latin
blood. They were Llewellyn, an islander--Welsh and Tahitian; Landers,
a New Zealander; Pincher, an Englishman; David, McHenry, and Brown,
Americans; Count Polonsky, the Russo-Frenchman who was fined a franc;
and several captains of vessels who sailed between Tahiti and the
Pacific coast of the United States or in these latitudes.
The Noa-Noa was overdue from New Zealand, by way of Raratonga, and her
tardiness was the chief subject of conversation at our first meeting. A
hundred times a day was the semaphore on the hill spied at for the
signal of the Noa-Noa's sighting. High up on the expansive green slope
which rises a few hundred feet behind the Tiare Hotel is a white pole,
and on this are hung various objects which tell the people of Papeete
that a vessel is within view of the ancient sentinel of the mount. An
elaborate code in the houses of all persons of importance, and in all
stores and clubs, interprets these symbols. The merchants depended to
a considerable extent upon this monthly liner between San Francisco
and Wellington and way ports, and all were interested in the mail
and food supplies expected by the Noa-Noa. Cablegrams sent from any
part of the world to New Zealand or San Francisco were forwarded by
mail on these steamships. Tahiti was entirely cut off from the great
continents except by vessel. There was no cable, and no wireless, on
this island, nor even at the British island of Raratonga, two days'
steaming from Papeete. The steamships had wireless systems, and kept
in communication with San Francisco or with New Zealand ports for a
few days after departure.
There were many guesses at the cause of the delay.
"Nothing but war!" said the French post-office clerk who sat at
another table, with his glass of Pernoud. "Germany and England have
come to blows. Now that accursed nation of beer-swillers will get
The subject was seriously discussed, the armaments of the two powers
quoted, and the certainty of Germany's defeat predicted, the Frenchman
asserting vehemently that France would aid England if necessary, or to
get back Alsace-Lorraine. There were gatherings all over Papeete, the
war rumor having been made an alleged certainty by some inexplicable
communication to an unnamed merchant.
The natives hoped fervently that the war was between France and
Germany, and that France would be defeated. After generations of rule
by France, the vanquished still felt an aversion to their conquerors
here, as in the Holy Land when Herod ruled.
"I hope France get his," said a chief, aside, to me.
The mail's delay upset all business. Letters closed on the day
the liner was expected were reopened. For three days the girls at
Lovaina's had worn their best peignoirs, and several times donned
shoes and stockings to go to the quay. Passengers for San Francisco
who had packed their trunks had unpacked them. The air of expectancy
which Papeete wore for a day or two before steamer-day had been so
heated by postponement that nerves came to the surface.
Tahiti was a place of no exact knowledge. Few residents knew the names
of the streets. Some of the larger business houses had no signs to
indicate the firms' names or what they sold. Hardly any one knew the
names of the trees or the flowers or fishes or shells.
A story once told, even facts thoroughly well known, changed with
each repetition. A month after an occurrence one might search in vain
for the actuality. It was more difficult to learn truthful details
than anywhere I had been. The French are niggardly of publications
concerning Tahiti. An almanac once a year contained a few figures and
facts of interest, but with no newspapers within thousands of miles,
every person was his own journal, and prejudices and interest dictated
all oral records.
McHenry hushed war reports to talk about Brown, an American merchant
who had left the club a moment before, after a Bourbon straight
alone at the bar. McHenry was a trader, mariner, adventurer,
gambler, and boaster. Rough and ready, witty, profane, and obscene,
he bubbled over with tales of reef and sea, of women and men he had
met, of lawless tricks on natives, of storm and starvation, and of
his claimed illicit loves. Loud-mouthed, bullet-headed, beady-eyed,
a chunk of rank flesh shaped by a hundred sordid deeds, he must get
the center of attention by any hazard.
"Brown's purty stuck up now," he said acridly. "I remember the time
when he didn't have a pot to cook in. He had thirty Chile dollars a
month wages. We come on the beach the same day in the same ship. His
shoes were busted out, and he was crazy to get money for a new girl
he had. There was a Chink had eighteen tins of vanilla-beans worth
about two hundred American dollars each. He got the Chink to believe
he could handle the vanilla for him, and got hold of it, and then out
by the vegetable garden Brown hit the poor devil of a Chink over the
nut with a club."
McHenry got up from the table, and with Llewellyn's walking-stick
showed exactly how the blow was struck. He brought down the cane
so viciously against the edge of the table that he spilled our rum
"Mac," exclaimed Llewellyn, testily, as he shot him a hot glance
from the melancholy eyes under his black thatch of brows, "behave
yourself! You know you're lying."
McHenry laughed sourly, and went on:
"I was chums with Brown then, and when I caught up to him,--I was
walkin' behind them,--he asked me to see if the Chink was dead. I
went back to where he had tumbled him. He was layin' on his back in
a kind o' ditch, and he was white instead o' yeller. He was white
as Lyin' Bill's schooner. How would you 'a' done? Well, to protect
that dirty pup Brown, I covered him over with leaves from head to
foot--big bread-fruit and cocoanut-leaves. He never showed up again,
and Brown had the vanilla. That's how he got his start, and, so help
me God! I never got a franc from the business."
There was venom in McHenry's tone, and he looked at me, the newcomer,
to see what impression he had made. The others said not a word of
comment, and it may have been an often-told tale by him. He had
emptied his glass of the potent Martinique rum four or five times.
"Was the Chinaman sure dead when you put the leaves over him?" I asked,
influenced by his staring eyes.
McHenry grinned foully.
"Aye, man, you want too much," he replied. "I say his face was white,
and he was on his back in the marsh. If he was alive, the leaves didn't
finish him, and if he was croaked, it didn't matter. I was obligin'
a friend. You'd have done as much." He took up his glass and muttered
dramatically, "A few leaves for a friend."
I shuddered, but Landers leaned over the table and said to me,
"McHenry's tellin' his usual bloody lie. Brown got the vanilla
all right, but what he did was to have the bloomin' Chink consign
it to him proper', and not give him a receipt. Then he denied all
knowledge of it, and it bein' all the bleedin' Chinaman had, he died
of a broken heart--with maybe too many pipes of opium to help him on a
bit. McHenry and Pincher are terrible liars. They call Pincher 'Lyin'
Bill,' though I 'd take his word in trade or about schooners any day."
I had been introduced to a Doctor Funk by Count Polonsky, who told
me it was made of a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine,--a
syrup of the pomegranate fruit,--the juice of two limes, and half
a pint of siphon water. Dr. Funk of Samoa, who had been a physician
to Robert Louis Stevenson, had left the receipt for the concoction
when he was a guest of the club. One paid half a franc for it, and
it would restore self-respect and interest in one's surroundings when
even Tahiti rum failed.
"Zat was ze drink I mix for Paul Gauguin, ze peintre sauvage, here
before he go to die in les isles Marquises," remarked Levy, the
millionaire pearl-buyer, as he stood by the table to be introduced
"Absinthe seul he general' take," said Joseph, the steward.
"I bid fifty thousand francs for one of Gauguin's paintings in Paris
last year," Count Polonsky said as he claimed his game of ecarte
against Tati, the chief of Papara district. "I failed to get it,
too. I bought many here for a few thousand francs each before that."
"Blow me!" cried Pincher, the skipper of the Morning Star. "'E was a
bleedin' ijit. I fetched 'im absinthe many a time in Atuona. 'E said
Dr. Funk was a bloomin' ass for inventin' a drink that spoiled good
Pernoud with water. 'E was a rare un. 'E was like Stevenson 'at wrote
'Treasure Island.' Comes into my pub in Taiohae in the Marquesas
Islands did Stevenson off'n his little Casco, and says he, ''Ave
ye any whisky,' 'e says, ''at 'asn't been watered? These South Seas
appear to 'ave flooded every bloomin' gallon,' 'e says. This painter
Gauguin wasn't such good company as Stevenson, because 'e parleyvoud,
but 'e was a bloody worker with 'is brushes at Atuona. 'E was cuttin'
wood or paintin' all the time."
"He was a damn' fool," said Hallman, who had come in to the Cercle
to take away Captain Pincher. "I lived close to him at Atuona all
the time he was there till he died. He was bughouse. I don't know
much about painting, but if you call that crazy stuff of Gauguin's
proper painting, then I'm a furbelowed clam."
"Eh bien," Count Polonsky said, with a smile of the man of superior
knowledge, "he is the greatest painter of this period, and his
pictures are bringing high prices now, and will bring the highest
pretty soon. I have bought every one I could to hold for a raise."
Polonsky was a study in sheeny hues. He was twenty-seven, his black
and naturally curled hair was very thin, there were eight or nine
teeth that answered no call from his meat, and he wore in his right
eyesocket a round glass, with no rim or string, held by a puckering
of cheek and brow, giving him a quizzical, stage-like stare, and
twisting his nose into a ripple of tiny wrinkles. He weighed, say,
one hundred pounds or less, was bent, but with a fresh complexion
and active step. I saw him rise naked from his cot one morning, and
the first thing he put on was the rimless monocle. The natives, who
name every one, called him "Matatitiahoe," "the one-windowed man." He
had journeyed about the world, poked into some queer places, and in
Japan had himself tattooed. On his narrow chest he had a terrible
legendary god of Nippon, and on his arms a cock and a skeleton,
the latter with a fan and a lantern. On his belly was limned a
nude woman. He had certain other decorations the fame of which had
been bruited wide so that a keen curiosity existed to see them, and
they were discussed in whispers by white femininity and with many
"Aucs!" of astonishment by the brown. They were Pompeiian friezes in
their unconventionality of subject and treatment.
Llewellyn, McHenry, David, and I accompanied the count to his residence
on the outskirts of Papeete to taste a vintage of Burgundy he had sent
him from Beaune. Like most modern houses in Tahiti, his was solely
utilitarian, and was built by a former American consul. It exactly
ministered to the comforts of a demanding European exquisite. The
house was framed in wide verandas, and was in a magnificent grove
of cocoanut-trees affording beauty and shade, with extensive fields
of sugar-cane on the other side of the road, and a glimpse of the
beach and lagoon a little distance away. A singing brook ran past
the door. The bedrooms were large and open to every breeze, and the
tables for dining and amusement mostly set upon the verandas.
Polonsky's toilet-table was covered with gold boxes and bottles and
brushes; scents and powders and pastes. If he moved out, Gaby de Lys
might have moved in and lacked nothing. He was a boulevardier, his
clothes from Paris, conforming not at all to the sartorial customs
of Tahiti, and his varnished boots and alpine hat, with his saffron
automobile, marked him as a person. In that he resembled Higby,
an Englishman in Papeete, who wore the evening dress of London
whenever a steamship came in, though it might be noon, and on the
king's birthday and other British feasts put it on when he awoke. He
was the only man who went to dinner at the Tiare in the funeral garb
of society. He said he was setting up a proper standard in Tahiti. It
was suspected really that he was short of clothes, with perhaps only
one or two cotton suits, and that when those were soiled he had to
resort to full dress during the laundering.
While David and I inspected the house and grounds, McHenry and
Llewellyn sat at the wine. Polonsky had a curious and wisely chosen
household. His butler was a Javanese, his chef a Quan-tung Chinese,
his valet a Japanese, his chambermaid a Martinique negress, and his
chauffeur an American expert. These had nothing in common and could
not ally themselves to cheat him, he said.
As I came back to the front veranda McHenry and Llewellyn were
"I've had my old lady nineteen years," said McHenry, boastfully, "and
she wouldn't speak to me if she met me on the streets of Papeete. She
wouldn't dare to in public until I gave her the high sign. You're a
bloody fool makin' equals of the natives, and throwin' away money on
those cinema girls the way you do."
This incensed Llewellyn, who was of chiefly Tahitian blood, and
who claimed kings of Wales as his ancestors. Although extremely
aristocratic in his attitude toward strangers, his native strain
made him resent McHenry's rascally arrogance as a reflection upon
his mother's race.
"Shut up, Mac!" he half shouted. "You talk too much. If it hadn't been
for that same old lady of yours, you'd have died of delirium-tremens
or fallen into the sea long ago."
"Aye," said the trader, meditatively, "that vahine has saved my life,
but I'm not goin' to sacrifice my dignity as a white man. If ye let go
everything, the damn' natives'll walk over ye, and ye'll make nothin'
out o' them."
Lovaina had occasionally called me Dixey, and had explained that I was
the "perfec' im'ge" of a man of that name, and that he owned a little
cutter which traded to Raiaroa, on which atoll he lived. I walked
like him, was of the same size, and had the "same kin' funny face."
She piqued my curiosity, and so when I found him at the round table
of the Polonsky-Llewellyn group at the Cercle Bougainville, I looked
him over narrowly. His name was Dixon,--Lovaina never got a name
right,--an Englishman, a wanderer, with an Eton schooling, short,
solidly built, with a bluff jaw and a keen, blue eye. He was not
good-looking. He had learned the nickname given me, and was in such
a happy frame of mind that he ordered drinks for the club.
"I'm lucky to be here at all," he said seriously. "I have a seven-ton
cutter, and left the Paumotus four days ago for Papeete. We had
eight tons of copra in the hold, filling it up within a foot of the
hatch. Eight miles off Point Venus the night before last, at eleven
o'clock, we hoped for a bit of wind to reach port by morning. It
was calm, and we were all asleep but the man at the wheel, when
a waterspout came right out of the clear sky,--so the steersman
said,--and struck us hard. We were swamped in a minute. The water
fell on us like your Niagara. Christ! We gave up for gone, all of us,
the other five all kanakas. We heeled over until the deck was under
water,--of course we've got no freeboard at all,--and suddenly a gale
sprung up. We pulled in the canvas, but to no purpose. Under a bare
pole we seemed every minute to be going under completely. We have
no cabin, and all we could do was to lay flat on the deck in the
water, and hold on to anything we could grab. The natives prayed,
by God! They 're Catholics, and they remembered it then. The mate
wanted to throw the copra overboard. I was willing, but I said,
'What for? We're dead men, and it'll do no good. She can't stand up
even empty.' We stayed swamped that way all night, expecting to be
drowned any minute, and I myself said to the Lord--I was a chorister
once--that if I had done anything wrong in my life, I was sorry--"
"But you knew you had?" I interposed.
"Of course I did, but I wasn't going to rub it in on myself in
that fix. I knew He knew all about me. My father was a curate in
Devon. Well, we pulled through all right, because here I am, and the
copra's on the dock. What do you think--the wind died away completely,
and we had to sweep in to Papeete."
I touched his glass with mine. He was very ingenuous, a four-square
"Did the prayers have anything to do with your pulling through and
saving the copra?" I questioned, curious.
"I don't know. I didn't make any fixed promises. I was bloody well
scared, and I meant what I said about being sorry. But that's all
gone. Let's drink this up and have another. Joseph!"
Helas! the waterspout did not harm my twin half so much as the
rum-spout, which soon had him three sheets in the wind and his rudder
unmanageable. When I went down the rue de Rivoli that night to the
Cercle Militaire, he had drifted into the Cocoanut House, and was
sitting on a fallen tree telling of the storm to a woman in a scarlet
gown with a hibiscus-blossom in her hair. I got him by the arm, and
with an expressed desire to know more of the details of the escape,
steered him to the Annexe, where he had a room.
A good sort was Dixon. He had in the Paumotus a little store, a dark
mother-girl of Raiaroa who waited for him, and a new baby. He had been
only a year in the group. He referred to "my family" with honest pride.
The captains of the Lurline and the O. M. Kellogg were at the
club. The Lurline was twenty-seven years old, and the Kellogg, too,
high up in her teens, if not twenties. Their skippers were Americans,
the Kellogg's master as dark as a negro, burned by thirty years of
"I used to live in Hawaii in the eighties," he said. "I used to pass
the pipe there in those days. There'd be only one pipe among a dozen
kanakas, and each had a draw or so in turn. They have that custom in
the Marquesas, too, and so had the American Indians."
I walked with the Kellogg's skipper to his vessel, moored close to
the quay in front of the club. He gave an order to the mate, who told
him to go to sheol. The mate had been ashore.
"Come aboard," cried the mate, "and I will knock your block off."
The whole waterfront heard the challenge. Stores were deserted to
witness the imminent fight.
The dark-faced captain ascended the gang-plank, and walked to the
forecastle head, where the mate was directing the making taut a line.
"Now," said the skipper, a foot from the mate, "knock!"
The mate hesitated. That would be a crime; he would go to jail and
the captain would be delighted.
The master taunted him:
"Knock my block off! Touch my block, and I'll whip you so your mother
wouldn't know you, you dirty, drunken, son of a sea-cook!"
The mate looked at him angrily, but uncertainly. He heard the
laughter and the cheers of the bystanders on the quay and in the
embowered street. He looked down at the deck, and he caught sight of
a capstan-bar, which he gazed at longingly. Any blow would send him
to prison, but why not for a sheep instead of a lamb?
He hesitated, and lifted his eyes to the black brow of the skipper,
lowering within touch.
"Make fast your line about that cannon!" said the master, sharply.
The sailors waited joyfully for the fray, and the Raratonga stevedores
on other vessels stopped their work. But nothing happened.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the mate, and shouted the order to the men
ashore. The captain regarded him balefully, muttered a few words,
and returned to the club for a Dr. Funk. That medical man ranked here
above Colonel Rickey, who invented the gin-rickey in America.
Herr Funk was better known in the Cercle Bougainville than Charcot
or Lister or Darwin. The doctor part of the drink's name made it seem
almost like a prescription, and often, when amateurs sought to evade a
second or third, the old-timers laughed at their fears of ill results,
"That old Doctor Funk knew what he was about. Why, he kept people
alive on that mixture. It's like mother's milk."
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.
The Noa-Noa came in after many days of suspense, during which rumors
and reports of war grew into circumstantial statements of engagements
at sea and battles on land. A mysterious vessel was said to have
slipped in at night with despatches for the governor. All was sensation
and canard, on dit and oui dire, and all was proved false when the
liner came through the passage in the reef. Nothing had happened to
disturb the peace of nations, but a dock strike in Auckland had tied
up the ship. The relief of mind of the people of Papeete caused a wave
of joy to pass over them. Business men and officials, tourists who
expected to leave for America and the outside world on the Noa-Noa,
overflowed with evidence of their delight. The consuls of the powers
met at the Cercle Militaire the governor, and laughed hectically at
the absurd balloon of tittle-tattle which had been pricked by the
Noa-Noa's facts. There had been absolutely nothing to the rumors but
the fears or the antipathies of nationals in Tahiti.
It was the holiday season, the New Year at hand, and, moreover, there
was added cause for rejoicing in the safety of the Saint Michel,
a French-owned inter-island steamship which had been missing six
weeks. She had left one of the Paumotu atolls and failed to reach her
next port, thirty miles away. Rumor had sent her to the bottom. She
was a crank vessel, with a perpetual list, and a roll of twenty-five
degrees in the quietest sea; the dread of all compelled by affairs
to take passage on her.
"She's sunk; rolled over too much, and turned turtle," was the verdict
at the Cercle Bougainville. Her agents had sent the Cholita, a small
power schooner, to go over the Saint Michel's course, and find trace
of her, if possible. Imagine the excitement along the waterfront
when, almost coincident with the sighting of the Noa-Noa, the Saint
Michel appeared, pulled by the Cholita. Familiar faces of passengers
appeared on her deck as she made fast to the quay, holding cigarettes
as if they had waked up after a night in their own beds. The Cholita
had found the Saint Michel at the Marquesas Islands, whither she had
drifted after losing her rudder on a rock. After a month lying inert
at the Marquesas, the Cholita had taken hold and dragged the crippled
Saint back to Papeete.
The joy and surprise of the families and friends of the passengers and
the crew must have the vent usual here, and what with the Noa-Noa's
crew of amateur sailors, firemen, and yachtsman, and six licensed
captains, taking the places of the strikers, the town was filled with
pleasure-seekers. A high mass of thanksgiving at the cathedral was
followed by a day of explanations, anathemas upon the owners of the
Saint Michel, and the striking labor-unions, and of music, dancing,
New Year's eve, two picture shows, hulas, and the festivities of the
wedding of Cowan, the prize-fighter, brought in a throng from the
districts to add to the Papeete population and the voyagers.
The streets were a blaze of colored gowns and flower-crowned girls
and women. The quays were lined with singing and playing country
folk. Small boats and canoes were arriving every few minutes during
the afternoon with natives who preferred the water route to the
Broom Road. Cowan was a favorite boxer, and shortly to face the
noted Christchurch Kid, of Christchurch, New Zealand, whose fist
was described on the bill-boards as "a rock thrown by a mighty
slinger." Cowan, a half-Polynesian, was beloved for his island blood,
and was marrying into a Tahitian family of note and means. The nuptials
at the church were preceded by a triumphal procession of the bride
and groom in an automobile, with a score of other cars following, the
entire party gorgeously adorned with wreaths,--hei in Tahitian,--and
the vehicles lavishly decorated with sugar-cane and bamboo tassels. The
band of the cinema led the entourage, and played a free choice of
appropriate music, "Lohengrin" before the governor's palace, and
"There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town To-night" as they passed
Lovaina's. The company sang lustily, and toasts to the embracing
couple were drunk generously from spouting champagne-bottles as the
cortege circled the principal streets.
There was rare life at Lovaina's, for besides all the diners in
ordinary and extraordinary in the salle-a-manger, Stevens, the London
stockbroker, had a retired table set for the American, British, and
German consuls, and their wives. The highest two officials of France
in this group, Messieurs, l'Inspecteurs des Colonies, were there,
eating solemnly alone, as demanded by their exalted rank, and their
mission of criticism. They glanced down often at their broad bosoms to
see that their many orders were on straight, to note the admiration
of lesser officialdom, and to make eyes at the women. Their long and
profuse black beards were hidden by their napkins, which all Frenchmen
of parts hereabouts tuck in their collars, and draw up to their mouths,
a precaution which, when omitted, is seen to have been founded on an
etiquette utilitarian and esthetic.
The company was complex. At a table opposite me sat the juge inferieur
and the daughter of the Chinese cook at the Hotel Central, a smart,
slender woman with burning eyes, and with them, in full uniform,
were two French civil officials, who wore, as customary, clothes like
soldiers. One unfamiliar with their regalia might mistake, as I did,
a pharmacist for an admiral. Mary, the cook's half-Tahitian daughter,
was in elaborate European dress, with a gilded barret of baroque
pearls in her copious, ebon tresses, and with red kid shoes buckled
in silver and blister pearls.
The son of Prince Hinoe, who would have been the King of Tahiti
had the dynasty continued to reign, had a dozen chums at a table,
oafs from seventeen to twenty, and with the fish course they began
to chant. The captain of the Saint Michel was with Woronick, the
pearl-buyer, who had made the fearful trip to the Marquesas with
him. There was Heezonorweelee, as the natives call the Honorable
Walter Williams, the most famous dentist within five thousand miles,
and the most distinguished white man of Tahiti; Landers; Polonsky;
David; McHenry; Schlyter, the Swedish tailor; Jones and Mrs. Jones,
the husband, head of a book company in Los Angeles; a Barbary Coast
singer and her man; a demirep of Chicago and her loved one; three
Tahitian youths with wreaths; the post-office manager, and with him
the surgeon of the hospital; a notary's clerk, the governor's private
secretary; the administrateur of the Marquesas Islands, Margaret,
Lurline and Mathilde, Lena, and Lucy, lovely part-Tahitian girls
who clerked in stores; the Otoman, chauffeur for Polonsky; English
tourists; Nance, the California capitalist; and others.
Curses upon Saint Michel, threats of damage suits for fright and
delay, laughable stories of the mistakes of the volunteer crew of the
Noa-Noa; discussions of the price of copra, mingled with the chants of
the native feasters and ribald tales. The Tiare girls, all color and
sparkle, exchanged quips with the male diners, patted their shoulders,
and gigglingly fought when they tried to take them into their laps.
In the open porch, Lovaina, gaily adorned, her feet bare, but a
wreath of ferns on her head, sped the dishes and the wine. She kept
the desserts before her and cut portions to suit the quality of her
liking for each patron.
"Taporo e taata au ahu" said Atupu.
"The lime and the tailor," that means, and identified Landers
and Schlyter. Landers was the "lime" because a former partner
of his establishment exported limes, and Landers succeeded to his
nickname. Landers and Schlyter were good customers, so they got larger
slices of dried-apple pie.
Chappe-Hall, being bidden farewell on his leaving for Auckland, was
apostrophizing Tahiti in verse, all the stanzas ending in "And the
glory of her eyes over all." There were bumpers and more, and "Bottoms
up," until a slat-like American woman bounced off the veranda with her
sixth course uneaten to complain to Lovaina that her hotel was no place
for a Christian or a lady. Lovaina almost wept with astonishment and
grief, but kept the champagne moving toward the Chappe-Hall table as
fast as it could be cooled, meanwhile assuring the scandalized guest
that nothing undecorous ever happened in the Tiare Hotel, but that
it were better it did than that young men should go to evil resorts
for their outbursts.
"My place respectable," Lovaina said dignifiedly. "I don' 'low no
monkey bizeness. Drinkin' wine custom of Tahiti. Make little fun,
no harm. If they go that Cocoanut House, get in bad."
Lovaina told me all about it. She was quite hurt at the aspersions
upon her home, and entered the dining-room in a breathing spell to
sit at my table, a rather unusual honor I deeply felt. I pledged my
love for her in Pol Roger, but she would have nothing but water.
"I no drink these times," she explained. "Maybe some day I do
again. Make fat people too much bigger. That flat woman from 'Nited
States, ain't she funny? I think missionary."
From the screened area in which the consuls dined with the broker
"Here's to the king, God bless him!" "Hoch der Kaiser!" "Vive la
Republique!" "The Stars and Stripes!" as the glasses were emptied by
the consuls and their wives and host.
Lovaina had taken up the rug in the parlor, and a graphophone
ground out the music for dancing. Ragtime records brought out the
Otoman, a San Franciscan, bald and coatless. He took the floor with
Mathilde, a chic, petite, and graceful half-caste, and they danced
the maxixe. David glided with Margaret, Landers led out Lucy, and
soon the room was filled with whirling couples. A score looked on
and sipped champagne, the serving girls trying to fill the orders
and lose no moment from flirtation. On the camphor-wood chest four
were seated in two's space.
When midnight tolled from the cathedral tower, there was an
uncalled-for speech from a venerable traveler who apparently was not
sure of the date or the exact nature of the fete:
"Fellow-exiles and natives bujus Teetee. We are gathered together
this Fourth of July--"
Cries of "Altai" "Ce n'est-pas vrai!" "Shove in your high! It's
"--to cel'brate the annivers'ry of the death of that great man--"
Yells of "Sit down!" "Olalala!" "Aita maitai!" and the venerable
orator took his seat. He was once a governor of a territory under
President Harrison, and now lived off his pension, shaky, sans teeth,
sans hair, but never sans speech.
The Englishmen and Americans clattered glasses and said "Happy New
Year!" and the Tahitians: "Rupe-rupe tatou iti! I teienei matahiti
api!" "Hurrah for all of us! Good cheer for the New Year!"
Monsieur Lontane, second in command of the police, arrived just in
time to drink the bonne annee. He executed a pas seul. He mimicked a
great one of France. He drank champagne from a bottle, a clear four
inches between its neck and his, and not a drop spilled.
Lovaina sat on her bench in the porch and marked down the debits:
Fat face............3 Roederer..........
New Doctor..........5 champag...........
Hair on nose........2 champ.............
The electric lights went out. There was a dreadful flutter among the
girls. Some one went to the piano and began to play, "Should Auld
Acquaintance be Forgot," and the Americans and English sang, the
French humming the air. The wine flattened in the glasses and open
bottles, but no one cared. They gathered in the garden, where the
perfume of the tiare scented the night, and the stars were a million
lamps sublime in the sky. Song followed song, English and French,
and when the lazy current pulsated again, the ball was over.
We walked to the beach, Nance and I.
"It's hell how this place gets hold of you," said Nance, who had shot
pythons in Paraguay and had a yacht in Los Angeles harbor. "I dunno,
it must be the cocoanuts or the breadfruit."
Walking back alone through a by-path, I saw the old folks sitting on
their verandas and the younger at dalliance in the many groves. Voices
of girls called me:
"Haere me ne!" "Come to us!" "Hoere mai u nei ite po ia u nei!"
The Himene tatou Arearea of our Moorea expedition came from many
windows, the accordions sweet and low, and the subdued chant in
sympathy with the mellow hour. "The soft lasceevious stars leered
from these velvet skies."
Lovaina had gone to bed, but, with the lights on again, patrons of
the prize-fight had dropped in. The Christchurch Kid had beaten Teaea,
a native, the match being a preliminary clearing of the ground before
the signal encounter with the bridegroom.
The glass doors of the salle-a-manger were broken in a playful scuffle
between the whiskered doctor of the hospital, and Afa, the majordomo
of the Tiare. The medical man ordered five bottles of champagne,
and, putting them in his immense pockets, returned to his table and
opened them all at once. He had them spouting about him while their
fizz lasted, and then drank most of their contents. He then threw all
the crockery of his table to the roadway, and Afa wrestled him into
a better state, during which process the doors were smashed. When
the bombilation became too fearful, Lovaina called out from her bed:
"Make smaller noise! Nobody is asleep!"
At two in the morning the gendarmes advised the last revelers to
retire, and the Tiare became quiet. But Atupu slept in a little
alcove by the bar, and any one in her favor had but to enter her
chamber and pull her shapely leg to be served in case of dire need.
The incidents of the departure of the Noa-Noa that day for San
Francisco will live in the annals of Papeete. Its calamitous happenings
are "in the archives." I have the word of the secretary-general of the
Etablissments Francais de l'Oceanie for that, and in the saloons and
coffee-houses they talked loudly of the "bataille entre les cochons
Anglais et les heros les Francais et les Tahitiens."
It was a battle that would have rejoiced the heart of Don Quixote,
and that redoubtable knight had his prototype here in the van of it,
the second in command of the police of Papeete, M. Lontane, the mimic
of the Tiare celebration.
The Noa-Noa's amateur crew of wretched beach-combers, farm laborers,
and impossible firemen, stokers, and stewards, a pitiable set, were
about the waterfront all day, dirty, dressed in hot woolen clothes,
bedraggled and as drunk as their money would allow. The ship was down
to leave at three-thirty o'clock, but it was four when the last bag
of copra was aboard. There were few passengers, and those who booked
here were dismayed at the condition of the passageways, the cabins,
and the decks. The crowd of "scabs," untrained white sailors, and
coal passers was supplemented by Raratonga natives, lounging about
the gangway and sitting on the rails. On the wharf hundreds of people
had gathered as usual to see the liner off. Lovaina was there in a
pink lace dress, seated in her carriage, with Vava at the horse's
head. Prince Hinoe had gathered about him a group of pretty girls,
to whom he was promising a feast in the country. All the tourists,
the loafers, the merchants, and the schooner crews were there, too,
and the iron-roofed shed in which it is forbidden to smoke was filled
with them. The Noa-Noa blew and blew her whistle, but still she
did not go. The lines to the wharf were loosened, the captain was
on the bridge, the last farewells were being called and waved, but
there was delay. Word was spread that some of the crew were missing,
and as at the best the vessel was short-handed, it had to tarry.
At last came three of the missing men. They, too, had welcomed the
New Year, and their gait was as at sea when the ship rises and falls
on the huge waves. They wheeled in a barrow a mate whose mispoise
made self-locomotion impossible. The trio danced on the wharf, sang a
chantey about "whisky being the life of man," and declared they would
stay all their lives in Tahiti; that the "bloody hooker could bleedin'
well" go without them. They were ordered on board by M. Lontane,
with two strapping Tahitian gendarmes at his back.
If there are any foreigners the average British roustabout hates it
is French gendarmes, and the ruffians were of a mind to "beat them
up." They raised their fists in attitudes of combat, and suddenly
what had been a joyous row became a troublesome incident.
Sacre bleu! those scoundrels of English to menace the uniformed
patriots of the French republic! The second in command drew a revolver,
and pointing at the hairy breast of the leader of the Noa-Noans,
shouted: "Au le vapeur! Diable! What, you whisky-filled pigs, you
will resist the law?"
He took off his helmet and handed it to one of the native policemen
while he unlimbered the revolver more firmly in the direction of the
seamen. The sailor shrank back in bewilderment. Guns were unknown in
"I'll 'ave the British Gov'ment after ye," roared the leader. "I'll
write to the Sydney papers. Ye've pulled a gun in me face."
Steadily and with some good nature the Tahitian officers pushed
the trio toward the gangway and up it. Once aboard, the gangway was
hoisted, the pilot clambered up the side, and it seemed as if the liner
was away. But no; the three recalcitrants jumped on the bulwarks, and
joined by a dozen others, yelled defiance at the authorities. As the
Noa-Noa gradually drew out these cries became more definite, and the
honor of France and of all Frenchmen was assailed in the most ancient
English Billingsgate. Gestures of frightful significance added to the
insults, and these not producing retorts in kind from the second in
command and the populace, a shower of limes began to fall upon them.
Sacks of potatoes, lettuce-heads, yams, and even pineapples,
deck cargo, were broken open by the infuriated crew to hurl at the
police. The crowd on the wharf rushed for shelter behind posts and
carriages, the horses pranced and snorted, and M. Lontane leaped to the
fore. He advanced to the edge of the quay, and in desperate French,
of which his adversaries understood not a word, threatened to have
them dragged from their perches and sent to New Caledonia.
A well-aimed lime squashed on his cheek, and with a "Sapristi!" he
fled behind a stack of boxes. The riot became general, the roustabouts
heaving iron bars, pieces of wood, and anything they could find. No
officer of the Noa-Noa said a word to stop them, evidently fearing a
general strike of the crew, and when the missiles cut open the head
of a native stevedore and fell even among the laughing girls, the
courtesies began to be returned. Coal, iron nuts, stones, and other
serious projectiles were thrown with a hearty good-will, and soon
the crew and the passengers of the Noa-Noa were scuttling for safety.
The storm of French and Tahitian adjectives was now a cyclone, Tahitian
girls, their gowns stained by the fruity and leguminous shot of the
Australasians, seized lumps of coal or coral, and took the van of the
shore legions. Atupu struck the leader of the Noa-Noa snipers in the
nose with a rock, and her success brought a paean of praise from all
The entente cordiale with Britain was sundered in a minute. The melee
grew into a fierce battle, and only the increasing distance of the
vessel from shore stopped the firing, the last shots falling into
The second in command had been reinforced by the first in command,
and now, summoned by courier, appeared the secretary-general of
the Etablissements Francaises de l'Oceanie, bearded and helmeted,
white-faced and nervous, throwing his arms into the air and shrieking,
"Qu' est-que ce que ca? Is this war? Are we human, or are these
Lovaina, in the rear of whose carriage I had taken refuge, exclaimed:
"They say Tahiti people is savage! Why this crazy people must be
finished. Is this business go on?"
"Non, non!" replied the secretary-general, with patriotic anger,
"We French are long suffering, but c'est assez maintenant."
He spoke to the first in command, and an order was shouted to M. Wilms,
the pilot, to leave the Noa-Noa. That official descended into his boat
and returned to the quay, while the liner hovered a hundred yards away,
the captain afraid to come nearer, fearful of leaving port without
expert guidance, and more so that the crew might renew the combat.
The secretary-general conferred with the private secretary of
the governor, the first and second in command, and several old
residents. They would apply to the British consul for warrants for
the arrest of the ruffianly marksmen, they would wrench them from
the rails, and sentence them to long imprisonments.
So for an hour more the steamship puffed and exhausted her steam,
while the high officials paced the wharf shaking their fists at the
besotted stokers, who shook theirs back.
The stores, closing at five o'clock, sent their quota of clerks
to swell the mob at the quay, and the "rubberneck wagon," alert to
earn fares, took the news of the fray into the country, and hauled in
scores of excited provincials, who had vague ideas that la guerre was
on. The wedding party, only six motor-cars full on the second day,
all in wreaths of tuberoses and wild-cherry rind, the bride still in
her point-lace veil, and the groom and all the guests cheered with
the champagne they had drunk, drove under the shed from the suburbs
and honked their horns, to the horror of the secretary-general and
The situation was now both disciplinary and diplomatic.
"C'est tres serieux," whispered the secretary to the governor's private
secretary, a dapper little man whose flirting had made his wife a Niobe
and alarmed the husbands and fathers of many French dames et filles.
"Serious, monsieur?" said the private secretary, twisting his black
wisp of a mustache, "it is more than serious now; it is no longer
the French Establishments of Oceania. It is between Great Britain
A peremptory order was given to drive every one off the quay, and
though the crowd chaffed the police, the sweep of wharf was left free
for the marchings and counter-marchings of the big men.
"What would be the result? Would the entire British population
of the ship resist the taking away of any of the crew? Oh, if the
paltry French administration at Paris had not removed the companies
of soldiers who until recently had been the pride of Papeete! And
crown of misfortune, the gun-boat, sole guardian of French honor in
these seas, was in Australia for repairs. Eh bien, n'importe! Every
Frenchman was a soldier. Did not Napoleon say that? Nom de pipe!"
Wilfrid Baillon, a cow-boy from British Columbia, was standing near me
with his arms folded on his breast and a look of stern determination
on his sunburned face.
"We must look sharp," he said to me. "We may all have to stand
together, we whites, against these French frog-eaters."
The tension was extreme. The warrants had not come from the British
consul, and there seemed no disposition on the Noa-Noa to save the face
of la belle republique, for the blackened and blackguardly stokers
still dangled their legs over the rail and made motions which caused
the officials to shudder and the ladies to shut their eyes.
The agent of the vessel in Papeete, an American, appeared. He talked
long and earnestly with the secretary-general and the first and second,
and to lend even a darker color to the scene, the procureur-general,
the Martinique black, tall, protuberant, mopping his bald head, took
the center of the conclave. Noses were lowered and brought together,
feet were stamped, hands were wiggled behind backs, and right along
the American, the agent, talked and talked.
They demurred, they spat on the boards, they lifted their hands
aloft--and then they ordered the pilot to return to the Noa-Noa, and
that vessel, whistling long and relievedly, pointed her nose toward
the opening in the reef.
Mon Dieu! the suspense was over. The people melted toward their homes
and the restaurants, for it was nearly seven o'clock. I drifted into
the knot about the officials.
"It is in the archives," said the secretary-general. "It will go down
in history. That is enough."
The delightful M. Lontane, in khaki riding breeches,--he, as all
police, ride bicycles--his khaki helmet tipped rakishly over his
cigarette, blew a ringlet.
"C'est comme ca. We would not press our victory," he said
gallantly. "We French are generous. We have hearts."
The secretary-general, the procureur-general, the first in command
and the private secretary, sighted the carriage of the governor,
who had not appeared until the Noa-Noa was out of the lagoon, and
they went to tell him of the great affair.
The agent of the line, grim and unsmiling, climbed to the wide veranda
of the Cercle Bougainville, and ordered a Scotch and siphon.
"There she goes," he said to me, and pointed to the steamer streaking
through the reef gate. "There she goes, and I'm bloody well satisfied."
At tea the next afternoon the British consul cast a new light on the
international incident. He was playing bridge with the governor and
others when the demand for the warrants was brought.
"The blighters interrupted our rubber," said the consul, "and the
governor was exceedingly put out. I told them the Noa-Noa couldn't
proceed without the stokers, and as it carries the French mail, they
patched it up to arrest them when they return. We quite lost track
of the game for a few minutes."
But the cruel war would not down. There was not a good feeling between
the English and French in Tahiti. A slight opposition cropped out
often in criticism expressed to Americans or to Tahitians, or to
each other's own people. New Zealand governs the Cook group, of which
Raratonga is the principal island. Comparisons of sanitation, order,
neatness, and businesslike management of these islands, with the
happy-go-lucky administration of the Society, Paumotus, Marquesas,
and Austral archipelagoes, owned by the French, were frequent by the
English. The French shrugged their shoulders.
"The Tahitians are happy, and we send millions of francs to aid
France," they said. "The English talk always of neatness and golf links
and cricket-grounds. Eh bien! There are other and better things. And
as for drink, oh, la, la! Our sour wines could not fight one round
of the English boxe with whisky and gin and that awful ale."
The French residents protested at the missiles of the crew and the
laissez-faire of the Noa-Noa officers, and the British consul received
a letter from the governor in which the affair of the riot was revived
in an absurd manner.
One might understand M. Lontane, second in command of the police
forces,--six men and himself,--magnifying the row between the tipsy
stokers and his battalions, but to have the governor, who was a
first-rate hand at bridge, and even knew the difference between a
straight and a flush, putting down in black and white, sealed with
the seal of the Republique Francaise, and signed with his own hand,
that "France had been insulted by the actions of the savages of the
Noa-Noa," was worthy only of the knight of La Mancha.
So thought the consul, but he was a diplomat, his adroitness gained
not only in the consular ranks, but also in Persia as a secretary of
legation, and in many a fever-stricken and robber-ridden port of the
Near and Far East. He pinned upon his most obstreperous uniform the
medal won by merit, straddled a dangling sword, helmeted his head,
and with an interpreter, that the interview might lack nothing of
formality, called upon the governor at his palace.
He told him that the letter of complaint had roused his wonderment,
for, said his British Majesty's representative, "There can be no
serious result, diplomatically or locally, of this Donnybrook
Fair incident. In a hundred ports of the world where war-ships
and merchant ships go, their crews for scores of years have fought
with the police. Besides, I am informed that Monsieur Lontane put
a revolver against the stomach of one of the stokers, and that
provoked the nastiness. Until then it had been uncouth mirth caused
by the vile liquor sold by the saloons licensed by the Government,
and against the Papeete regulations that no more intoxicants shall
be sold to a man already drunk. But when this British citizen,
scum of Sydney or Glasgow as he might be, saw the deadly weapon,
he felt aggrieved. This revolver practice is all too common on the
part of Monsieur Lontane. Six such complaints I have had in as many
months. As to that part of your letter that the crew of the Noa-Noa
not be allowed to land here on its return to Papeete, I agree with you,
but it will be for you to enforce this prohibition."
It was agreed that on the day the Noa-Noa arrived on her return trip,
all gendarmes and available guard be summoned from the country to
preserve order, and that, as asked in the letter, the consul demand
that the captain of the steamship punish the rioters.
And all this being done through an interpreter, and the consul having
unlimbered his falchion and removed his helmet, he and the governor
had an absinthe frappe and made a date for a bridge game.
"Te tamai i te taporo i te arahu i te umaru," the natives termed the
skirmish. "The conflict of the limes, the coal, and the potatoes." A
new himene was improvised about it, and I heard the girls of the
Maison des Cocotiers chanting it as I went to Lovaina's to dinner.
It was something like this in English:
"Oh, the British men they drank all day
And threw the limes and iron.
The French in fear they ran away.
The brave Tahitians alone stood firm."
And there were many more verses.
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.
My acquaintances of the Cercle Bougainville, Landers, Polonsky,
McHenry, Llewellyn, David, and Lying Bill, were at this season bent on
pleasure. Landers, the head of a considerable business in Australasia,
with a Papeete branch, had time heavy on his hands. Lying Bill and
McHenry were seamen-traders ashore until their schooner sailed for
another swing about the French groups of islands. Llewellyn and David
were associates in planting, curing, and shipping vanilla-beans,
but were roisterers at heart, and ever ready to desert their office
and warehouse for feasting or gaming. Polonsky was a speculator
in exchange and an investor in lands, and was reputed to be very
rich. He, too, would leave his strong box unlocked in his hurry if
cards or wassail called. These same white men were sib to all their
fellows in the South Seas except a few sour men whom avarice, satiety,
or a broken constitution made fearful of the future and thus heedful
of the decalogue.
These merry men attended to business affairs for a few hours of
mornings, unless the night before had been devoted too arduously to
Bacchus, and the remainder of the day they surrendered to clinking
glasses, converse, Rabelasian tales, and flirting with the gay
Tahitian women in the cinemas or at dances. There was a tolerance,
almost a standard, of such actions among the men of Tahiti, though
of course consuls, high officials, a banker or two of the Banque de
l'Indo-Chine, and a few lawyers or speculators sacrificed their flesh
to their ambitions or hid their peccadillos.
A chorus of wives and widows--there were no old maids in
Tahiti--condemned scathingly the conduct of the voluptuaries, and the
preachers of the gospel lashed them in conversation or sermon now and
then. But on the whole there was not in Tahiti any of the spirit of
American towns and villages, which wrote scarlet letters, ostracized
offenders against moral codes, and made Philistinism a creed. Gossip
was constant, and while sometimes caustic, more often it partook of
curiosity and mere trading of information or salacious prattle.
Tahitian women concealed nothing. If they won the favors of
a white man, they announced it proudly, and held nothing sacred
of the details. One's peculiarities, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies,
physical or spiritual blemishes, all became delectable morsels in the
mouths of one's intimates and their acquaintances. One's passions,
actions, and whisperings were as naked to the world as the horns on a
cow. Every one knew the import of Polonsky's dorsal tattooings, that
Pastor ---- had a case of gin in his house, and that the governor,
after a bottle or two of champagne, had squeezed so tightly the waist
of an English lady with whom he waltzed that she had cried out in
pain. Though bavardage accounted for much of the general knowledge
of every one's affairs, there was an uncanny mystery in the speed at
which a particular secret spread. One spoke of the bamboo telegraph.
It was proposed at the Cercle Bougainville that we have a series
of jaunts to points some distance away. I was promised that I
would see fully the way my acquaintances enjoyed themselves in the
open. Llewellyn was given charge of the first excursion. It was to
Moorea, an island a dozen miles or so to the northwest from Papeete,
and which, with Tetiaria and Mehetia and Tahiti, constitute les iles
de Vent, or Windward Islands of the Society archipelago.
In clear weather one cannot look out to sea from Papeete, to the north
or west, without Moorea's weird grandeur confronting one. The island
of fairy-folk with golden hair, it was called in ancient days by the
people of other islands. A third of the size of Tahiti, it was, until
the white man came, the abode of a romantic and gallant clan. Eimeo,
it was called by the first whites, but the name of Moorea clings
to it now. Over it and behind it sets the sun of Papeete, and it is
associated with the tribal conflicts, the religion, and the journeys
of the Tahitians. Now it is tributary to this island in every way, and
small boats run to and from with passengers and freight almost daily.
We met at seven o'clock of a Saturday morning at the point on
the coral embankment where the Potii Moorea was made fast, the
gasolene-propelled cargo-boat which we had rented for the voyage. A
hundred were gathered about a band of musicians in full swing when I
appeared at the rendezvous on the prick of the hour. The bandsmen,
all natives but one, wore garlands of purau, the scarlet hibiscus,
and there was an atmosphere of abandonment to pleasure about them
and the party.
A schooner swung at her moorings near by, under a glowing, flamboyant
tree, and her crew was aboard in expectation of sailing at any
hour. Another small craft, a sloop, was preparing to sail for Moorea,
also. She was crowded with passengers and cargo, and all about the
rail hung huge bunches of feis, the mountain bananas. Most of the
people aboard had come from the market-place with fruit and fish and
vegetables to cook when they arrived at home. A strange habit of the
Tahitians under their changed condition is to take the line of least
resistance in food, eating in Chinese stores, or buying bits in the
market, whereas, when they governed themselves, they had an exact and
elaborate formula of food preparation, and a certain ceremoniousness
in despatching it. Only feasts bring a resumption nowadays of the
The crews of the schooner and of the other Moorea boat besides our
own had a swarm of friends awaiting the casting off. Even a journey
of a few hours meant a farewell ceremony of many minutes. They
embrace one another and are often moved to tears at a separation of
a few days. When one of them goes aboard a steamship for America or
Australasia, the family and friends enact harrowing scenes at the
quay. They are sincerely moved at the thought of their loved ones
putting a long distance between them, and I saw a score of young
and old sobbing bitterly when the Noa-Noa left for San Francisco
though they stormed the stokers lustily when aroused. Their life is
so simple in these beloved islands that the dangers of the mainland
are exaggerated in their minds, and to the old the civilization of a
big city appears as a specter of horrible mien. The electric cars,
the crowds, the murders they read of and are told of, the bandits
in the picture-shows, the fearful stranglers of Paris, the lynchers,
the police, who in the films are always beating the poor, as in real
life, the pickpockets, and the hospitals where willy-nilly they render
one unconscious and remove one's vermiform appendix--all these are
nightmares to the aborigines whose relations are departing.
When heads were counted, Landers's was missing, and jumping into
Llewellyn's carriage, an old-fashioned phaeton, I drove to Lovaina's,
where he occupied the room next to mine in the detached house in
the animal-yard. He was sound asleep, having played poker and drunk
until an hour before; but when I awoke him I could not but admire the
serenity of the man. His body was in the posture in which he had lain
down, and his breathing was as a child's.
"Landers, get up!" I shouted from the doorway. He opened his eyes,
regarded me intently, and without a word went to the shower-bath by the
camphor-wood chest, returned quickly, and dressed himself. I fancied
him a man who would have answered his summons before a firing-squad as
calmly. He had a perfection of ease in his movements; not fast, for
he was very big, but with never an unnecessary gesture nor word. He
was one of the finest animals I had ever seen, and fascinating to
men and women of all kinds.
The Potii Morea had taken on her passengers when we returned, and we
put off from the sea-wall at once, with two barrels of bottled beer,
and half a dozen demi-johns of wine prominent on the small deck. Often
the sea between Tahiti and Moorea is rough in the daytime, and passage
is made at night to avoid accident, but we were given a smooth way,
and could enjoy the music. We sat or lay on the after-deck while the
bandsmen on the low rail or hatch maintained a continuous concert.
During the several days between our first planning the trip and the
going, a song had been written in honor of the junketing, and this
they played scores of times before we set foot again in Papeete. It
was entitled: "Himene Tatou Arcarea," which meant, "Our Festal Song."
One easily guessed the meaning of the word himene. The Polynesians'
first singing was the hymns of the missionaries, and these they termed
himenes; so that any song is a himene, and there is no other word
for vocal music in common use. The words of the first stanza of the
"Himene Tatou Arearea" and the refrain were:
I teie nei mahana
Te tere no oe e Hati
Na te moana
No te au
Tei tupi i Moorea
Tera te au
Ei no te au
Ei reo no oe tau here
I te pii raa mai
Aue oe Tamarii Tahiti te aroha e
A inu i te pia arote faarari
Faararirari ta oe Tamarii Tahiti
Llewellyn put the words into approximate meaning in English, saying
it was as difficult to translate these intimate and slang phrases
as it would be to put "Yankee Doodle" into French or German. His
translation, as he wrote it on a scrap of paper, was:
Let us sing joyful to-day
The journey over the sea!
It is a wonderful and agreeable thing to happen in Moorea,
Hold on to it! That is just it;
And because it is just it,
Why hold on to it!
Your voice, O, Love, calls to us.
O Tahitian children,
Love to you!
Let us all drink beer,
And wet our throats!
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