Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
Part 3 out of 8
And wet them again
To you, Tahitian Children!
The bandsmen were probably all related to Llewellyn, or at least
they were of his mother's clan. His own son and nephew by unmarried
mothers were among them; so that they were of our party, and yet on a
different footing. They were our guests, we paying them nothing, but
they not paying their scot. They did not mingle with us intimately,
although probably all the whites except myself knew them well, and
at times were guests at their houses outside Papeete.
The air to which the himene was sung eluded me for long. It was,
"Oh, You Beautiful Doll!" They had changed the tune, so that I had
not recognized it. The Tahitians have curious variations of European
and American airs, of which they adapt many, carrying the thread of
them, but differentiating enough to cause the hearer curiously mixed
emotions. It was as if one heard a familiar voice, and, advancing to
grasp a friendly hand, found oneself facing a stranger.
None of these island peoples originally had any music save
monotones. In fact, in Hawaii, after the missionaries, Kappelmeister
Berger, who came fifty years ago from Germany to Honolulu,
was largely the maker of the songs we know now as distinctively
Hawaiian. He fitted German airs to Hawaiian words, composed music on
native themes, and spontaneously and by adaptation he, with others,
gave a trend to the music of Hawaii nei that, though European in the
main, is yet charmingly expressive of the soft, sweet nature of the
Hawaiians and of the contrasts of their delightful gaiety and innate
melancholy. These native tongues of the South Seas, with their many
vowels and short words, seem to be made for singing.
The voyage from Tahiti to Moorea was a two-hours' panorama of
magnificence and anomalism in the architecture of nature. Facing my
goal was Moorea, and behind me Tahiti, scenes of contrary beauty as
the vessel changed the distance from me to them. Tahiti, as I left it,
was under the rays of the already high sun, a shimmering beryl, blue
and yellow hues in the overpowering green mass, and from the loftiest
crags floating a long streamer-cloud, the cloud-banner of Tyndal.
Moorea was the most astonishing sight upon the ocean that my eyes
had ever gazed on. It was as if a mountain of black rock had been
carved by the sons of Uranus, the mighty Titans of old, into gigantic
fortresses, which the lightnings, temblors, and whirlwinds of the
eons had rent into ruins. Its heights were not green like Tahiti's,
but bare and black, true children of the abysmal cataclysm which in
the time of the making of these oases of the sea thrust them up from
the fires of the deep.
Far up near the peak of Afareaitu, nearly a mile above the wave,
in one of the colossal splinters of the basalt rocks, was an eye,
an immense round hole through which the sky shone. One saw it plainly
from Tahiti. It was made by the giant Pai of Tautira when he threw his
spear a dozen miles and pierced a window in the solid granite that all
might know his prowess. One felt like a fool to rehearse to a Tahitian,
telling one the tale, the statement of scientists that the embrasure
had been worn by water when Afareaitu was under the ocean during its
million-year process of rising from the mud. It would be like asking
Flammarion, the wisest of French astronomers, to cease believing in the
mystery of transubstantiation. He would smile as would the autochthon.
There was one picture in murky monochrome which never could be
forgotten--a long sierra of broken pinnacles and crags which had
all the semblance of a weathered and dismantled castle. It stood out
against the tender blue of the morning sky like the ancient stronghold
of some grisly robber-baron of medieval days; towers of dark sublimity,
battlements whence invaders might have been hurled a thousand feet
to death, slender minarets, escarpments and rugged casements through
which fleecy clouds peeped from the high horizon. I once saw along the
Mediterranean in Italy or France the fastness of a line of nobles,
set away up on a lonely hill, glowering, gloomy, and unpeopled, the
refuge, mayhap, of the mountain goat, the abiding-place of bats and
other creatures of the night. Moorea's fortress conjured up the vision
of it, its wondrous ramparts and unscalable precipices strangely the
counterpart of the Latin castle.
But if one dropped one's eyes from the hills, gone was the recollection
of aught of Europe. There was a scene which only the lavish colors
of the tropics could furnish. The artist had spilled all his shades
of green upon the palette, and so delicately blended them that they
melted into one another in a very enchantment of green. The valleys
were but darker variants of the emerald scheme.
The confused mass of lofty ridges resolved into chasms and combes,
dark, sunless ravines, moist with the spray of many waterfalls, which
nearer became velvet valleys of pale green, masses of foliage and
light and shadow. The mountains of Moorea were only half the height
of Tahiti's, but so artfully had they been piled in their fantastic
arrangement that they seemed as high, though they were entirely
different in their impress upon the beholder. Tahiti from the sea was
like a living being, so vivid, so palpitating was its contour and its
color, but Moorea, when far away, was cold and black, a beautiful,
ravishing sight, but like the avatars of a race of giants that had
passed, a sepulcher or monument of their achievements and their end.
As about Tahiti, a silver belt of reef took the rough caresses of
the lazy rollers, and let the glistening surf break gently on the
beach. Along this wall of coral, hidden, but charted by its crown of
foam, we ran for miles until we found the gateway--the blue buckle
of the belt, it appeared at a distance.
Within the lagoon the guise of the island was more intimate. Little
bays and inlets bounded themselves, and villages and houses sprang
up from the tropic groves. The band, which so far as I knew had not
been silent a moment to awaken me from my adoration of the sculpture
and painting of nature, now poured out the "Himene Tatou Arearea" in
token of our approaching landing, which was at Faatoai, the center
of population. All its hundred or two inhabitants were at the tiny
dock to greet us, except the Chinese, who stayed in their stores.
Headed by the pipe and accordion, the brass and wood, now playing
"Onward, Christian Soldier,"--which, if one forgot the words,
was an especially carnal melody,--we tramped, singing a parody,
through the street of Faatoai, and into a glorious cocoanut grove,
where breakfast was spread.
A pavilion had been erected for our feasting. It was of bamboo and
pandanus, the interior lined with tree ferns and great bunches of
scarlet oleander, and decorated with a deep fringe woven of hibiscus
fiber. The roof was a thatch of pandanus and breadfruit leaves, the
whole structure, light, flimsy, but a gamut of golds and browns in
color and cool and beautiful.
A table fifty feet or longer was made of bamboo, the top of twenty
half sections of the rounded tubes, polished by nature, but slippery
for bottles and glasses. A bench ran on both sides, and underfoot
was the deep-green vegetation that covers every foot of ground in
Moorea except where repeated footfalls, wheels, or labor kills it,
and which is the rich stamp of tropic fertility.
The barrels of beer were unheaded, the demi-johns from Bordeaux were
uncorked, and from the opened bottles the sugary odor of Tahiti rum
permeated the hot air. The captain of the Potii Moorea and the hired
steward began to set the table for the dejeuner and to prepare the
food, some of which was being cooked a few feet away by the steward's
kin. The guests disposed themselves at ease to wait for the call
to meat, the bandsmen lit cigarettes and tuned their instruments or
talked over their program, while they wetted their throats with the
rum, as admonished by the "Himene Tatou Arearea."
I strolled down the road along the shore of the lagoon. Here was
erected the first Christian church in this archipelago. British
Protestant missionaries, who had led a precarious life in Tahiti,
and fled from it to Australia in fear of their lives, were induced
to come here and establish a mission. The King of Tahiti, Pomare,
had fled to Moorea after a desperate struggle with opposing clans,
and he welcomed the preachers as additions to his strength. The high
priest of the district, Patii, collected all the gods under his care,
and they were burned, with a Bible in sight, to the exceeding fear of
the native heathen, and the holy anger of the other native clergy,
who felt as Moses did when he saw his disciples worshiping a golden
calf. On the very spot I stood had been the marae, or Tahitian temple,
in which the images were housed, now a rude heap of stones. A hundred
years ago exactly this exchange of deities had been made. Alas! it
could not have been the true Christ who was brought to them, for they
had flourished mightily under Oro, and they began almost at once to
die. Not peace, but a sword, a sword of horrors, of frightful ills,
was brought them.
There was a little canoe under a noble cocoanut-tree on the
shell-strewn and crab-haunted coral beach, the roots of the palm
partly covered by the salt water, and partly by a tangle of lilac
marine convolvulus. I pushed the tiny craft into the brine, and
paddled off on the still water of the shining lagoon.
No faintest agitation of the surface withheld a clear view of the
marvelous growths upon the bottom. I peered into a garden of white
and vari-colored flowers of stone, of fans and vases and grotesque
shapes, huge sponges and waving bushes and stunted trees. Fish of
a score of shapes and of all colors of the spectrum wove in and out
the branches and caverns of this wondrous parterre.
Past the creamy reef the purple ocean glittered in the nooning sun,
while the motionless waters of the lagoon were turquoise and bice near
by and virescent in the distance. Looking toward the shore, the edge
of milky coral sand met the green matting of moss and grass, and then
the eye marked the fields of sugar-cane, the forests of false coffee
on which grew the vanilla-vines, the groves of cocoanuts, and then
the fast-climbing ridges and the glorious ravines, the misty heights
and the grim crags.
The Arearea in the pavilion--Raw fish and baked feis--Llewellyn,
the Master of the Revel; Kelly, the I.V.W., and His Himene--The
Upaupahura--Landers and Mamoe prove experts--The return to Papeete.
The company was assembled in the pavilion when I walked through the
streets of Faatoai again, and the food was on the bamboo table. One
might have thought the feast would have been spread on soft mats on
the sward, as is the Tahitian custom, but these whites are perverse
and proud, and their legs unbending to such a position.
We had raw fish cut up, with bowls of cocoanut sauce. It was delicious
in taste, but raw fish is tough and at first hard to chew until one
becomes accustomed to the texture. Whites learn to crave it.
This fish was cut in small pieces thicker and bigger than a domino,
and steeped in fresh lime-juice for half a day. The sauce was made
by pouring a cup of seawater over grated cocoanuts and after several
hours' straining through the fiber of young cocoanut shoots. It was
thick, like rich cream.
We had excellent raw oysters and raw clams on the shell, crabs stewed
with a wine sauce that was delicious, fish, boiled chicken, and baked
pig. I had not tasted more appetizing food. It was all cooked in the
native fashion on hot stones above or under ground. We saw the pig's
disinterment. On the brink of the stream which flowed past the bower
the oven had been made. The cooks, Moorea men, removed a layer of
earth that had been laid on cocoa-palm leaves. This was the cover
of the oven. Immediately below the leaves were yams and feis and
under them a layer of banana leaves. The pig came next. It had been
cut into pieces as big as mutton-chops and had cooked two and a half
hours. It was on stones, coral, under which the fire of wood had been
thoroughly ignited, the stones heated, and then the different layers
placed above. The pig was tender, succulent, and the yams and feis
The two native men, in pareus, and with crowns of scarlet hibiscus,
waited on us, while the son of Llewellyn uncorked the bottles. As
usual, the beverages were lavishly dispensed, beginning with Scotch
whisky as an appetizer, and following with claret, sauterne, vintage
Burgundy, and a champagne that would have pleased Paris. These more
expensive beverages were for us hosts only.
We were an odd company: Llewellyn, a Welsh-Tahitian; Landers,
a British New-Zealander; McHenry, Scotch-American; Polonsky,
Polish-French; Schlyter, the Swedish tailor; David, an American
vanilla-grower; "Lying Bill," English; and I, American. There was
little talk at breakfast. They were trenchermen beyond compare, and
the dishes were emptied as fast as filled. These men have no gifts
of conversation in groups. Though we had only one half-white of the
party, Llewellyn, he to a large degree set the pace of words and
drink. In him the European blood, of the best in the British Isles,
arrested the abandon of the aborigine, and created a hesitant blend
of dignity and awkwardness. He was a striking-looking man, very tall,
slender, about fifty years old, swarthy, with hair as black as night,
and eyebrows like small mustaches, the eyes themselves in caverns,
usually dull and dour, but when he talked, spots of light. I thought
of that Master of Ballantrae of Stevenson's, though for all I remember
he was blond. Yet the characters of the two blended in my mind, and I
tried to match them the more I saw of him. He was born here, and after
an education abroad and a sowing of wild oats over years of life in
Europe, had lived here the last twenty-five years. He was in trade,
like almost every one here, but I saw no business instincts or habits
about him. One found him most of the time at the Cercle Bougainville,
drinking sauterne and siphon water, shaking for the drinks, or playing
ecarte for five francs a game.
Below the salt sat his son and his nephew, men of twenty-five years,
but sons of Tahitian mothers, and without the culture or European
education of their fathers. With them two chauffeurs were seated. One
of these, an American, the driver for Polonsky, had tarried here on
a trip about the world, and was persuaded to take employment with
Polonsky. The other was a half-caste, a handsome man of fifty, whose
employer treated him like a friend.
Breakfast lasted two hours for us. For the band it kept on until
dinner, for they did not leave the table from noon, when we sat down,
until dark. When they did not eat, they drank. Occasionally one of
us slipped down and took his place with them. I sat with them half
an hour, while they honored me with "Johnny Burrown," "The Good,
Old Summertime," and "Everybody Doin' It."
The heavy leads of the band were carried by an American with
a two-horsepower accordion. He told me his name was Kelly. He was
under thirty, a resolute, but gleesome chap, red-headed, freckled, and
unrestrained by anybody or anything. He had no respect for us, as had
the others, and had come, he said, for practice on his instrument. He
had a song-book of the Industrial Workers of the World, a syndicalistic
group of American laborers and intellectuals, and in it were scores
of popular airs accompanied by words of dire import to capitalists and
employers. One, to the tune of "Marching through Georgia," threatened
destruction to civilization in the present concept.
"I'm an I. W. W.," said Kelly to me, with a shell of rum in his
hand. "I came here because I got tired o' bein' pinched. Every town
I went to in the United States I denounced the police and the rotten
government, and they throwed me in the calaboose. I never could
get even unlousy. I came here six weeks ago. It's a little bit of
When Kelly played American or English airs and the Tahitians sang their
native words, he gave the I. W. W. version in English. Some of these
songs were transpositions or parodies of Christian hymns, and one in
particular was his favorite. Apparently he had made it very popular
with the natives of the band, for it vied with the "Himene Tatou
Arearea" in repetition. It was a crude travesty of a hymn much sung
in religious camp-meetings and revivals, of which the proper chorus as
often heard by me in Harry Monroe's mission in the Chicago slums, was:
Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Hallelujah! Amen!
Hallelujah! Thine the glory! revive us again!
Kelly's version was:
Hallelujah! I'm a bum! Hallelujah! Bum again!
Hallelujah! Give us a hand-out! To save us from sin.
He had the stanzas, burlesquing the sacred lines, one of which the
natives especially liked:
Oh, why don't you work, as other men do?
How the hell can we work when there 's no work to do?
None of us had ever heard Kelly's songs, nor had any one but I ever
heard of his industrial organization, and I only vaguely, having
lived so many years out of America or Europe. But they all cheered
enthusiastically except Llewellyn. He was an Anglican by faith or
paternal inheritance, and though he knew nothing of the real hymns,
they being for Dissenters, whom he contemned, he was religious at soul
and objected to making light of religion. He called for the "Himene
Tatou Arearea." He took his pencil and scribbled the translation I
"This is the rough of it," he said. "To write poetry here is
difficult. When I was at Heidelberg and Paris I often spent nights
writing sonnets. That merely tells the sense of the himene, but
cannot convey the joy or sorrow of it. Well, let's sink dull care
fifty fathoms deep! Look at those band-boys! So long as they have
plenty of rum or beer or wine and their instruments, they care little
for food. Watch them. Now they are dry and inactive. Wait till the
alcohol wets them, They will touch the sky."
Llewellyn's deep-set eyes under the beetling brows were lighting with
His idea of inactivity and drought was sublimated, for the musicians
were never still a moment. They played mostly syncopated airs of the
United States, popular at the time. All primitive people, or those
less advanced in civilization or education, prefer the rag-time
variants of the American negro or his imitators, to so-called good
or classical music. It is like simple language, easily understood,
and makes a direct appeal to their ears and their passions. It is the
slang or argot of music, hot off the griddle for the average man's
taste, without complexities or stir to musing and melancholy.
The musicians had drunk much wine and rum, and now wanted only
beer. That was the order of their carouse. Beer was expensive at two
francs a bottle, and so a conscientious native had been delegated to
give it out slowly. He had the barrel containing the quartbottles
between his legs while he sat at the table, and each was doled out
only after earnest supplications and much music.
"Horoa mai te pia!" "More beer!" they implored.
"Himene" said the inexorable master of the brew.
Up came the brass and the accordion, and forth went the inebriated
Between their draughts of beer--they drank always from the bottles--the
Tahitians often recurred to the song of Kelly. Having no g, l, or s
among the thirteen letters of their missionary-made alphabet, they
pronounced the refrain as follows:
Hahrayrooyah! I'm a boom! Hahrayrooyah! Boomagay!
Hahrayrooyah! Hizzandow! To tave ut fruh tin!
Landers being very big physically, they admired him greatly, and
his company having been two generations in Tahiti, they knew his
history. They now and again called him by his name among Tahitians,
"Taporo-Tane," ("The Lime-Man"), and sang:
E aue Tau tiare ate e!
Ua parari te afata e!
I te Pahi no Taporo-Toue e!
Alas! my dear, some one let slip
A box of limes on the lime-man's ship,
And busted it so the juice did drip.
The song was a quarter of a century old and recorded an accident
of loading a schooner. Landers's father's partner was first named
Taporo-Tane because he exported limes in large quantities from Tahiti
to New Zealand. The stevedores and roustabouts of the waterfront made
ballads of happenings as their forefathers had chants of the fierce
adventures of their constant warfare. They were like the negroes,
who from their first transplantation from Africa to America had put
their plaints and mystification in strange and affecting threnodies
All through the incessant himenes a crowd of natives kept moving
about a hundred feet away, dancing or listening with delight. They
would not obtrude on the feast, but must hear the music intimately.
The others of our party, having breakfasted until well after two,
sought a house where Llewellyn was known. McHenry and I followed
the road which circles the island by the lagoon and sea-beach. In
that twelve leagues there are a succession of dales, ravines, falls
precipices, and brooks, as picturesque as the landscape of a dream. We
walked only as far as Urufara, a mile or two, and stopped there at
the camp of a Scotsman who offered accommodation of board and lodging.
His sketchy hotel and outhouses were dilapidated, but they were in
the most beautiful surrounding conceivable, a sheltered cove of the
lagoon where the swaying palms dipped their boles in the ultramarine,
and bulky banana-plants and splendid breadfruit-trees formed a temple
of shadow and coolth whence one might look straight up the lowering
mountain-side to the ghostly domes, or across the radiant water to
the white thread of reef.
We met McTavish, the host of the hotel, an aging planter, who kept
his public house as an adjunct of his farm, and more for sociability
than gain. He was in a depressed and angry mood, for one of his eyes
was closed, and the other battered about the rim and beginning to
turn black and blue.
He knew McHenry, for both had been in these seas half their lives.
"In all my sixty years," he said, "I have not been assaulted quite
so viciously. I asked him for what he owed me, and the next I knew he
was shutting out the light with his fists. I will go to the gendarme
for a contravention against that villain. And right now I will fix
him in my book."
"Why, who hit you, and what did you do?" asked McHenry.
"That damned Londoner, Hobson," said McTavish. "He was my guest here
several years ago, and ate and drank well for a month or two when he
hadn't a sou marquis. I needed a little money to-day, and meeting him
up the road, I demanded my account. He is thirty years younger than me,
and I would have kept my eyes, but he leaped at me like a wild dog,
and knocked me down and pounded me in the dirt."
I sympathized with McTavish, though McHenry snickered. The Scot
went into an inner room and brought back a dirty book, a tattered
register of his guests. He turned a number of pages--there were only
a few guests to a twelvemonth--and, finding his assailant's name,
wrote in capital letters against it, "THIEF."
"There," he said with a magnificent gesture. "Let the whole world
read and know the truth!"
He set out a bottle of rum and several glasses, and we toasted him
while I looked over the register. Hardly any one had neglected to
write beside his name tributes to the charm of the place and the kind
heart of McTavish.
Charmian and Jack London's signatures were there, with a hearty word
for the host, and "This is the most beautiful spot in the universe,"
for Moorea and Urufara.
There were scores of poems, one in Latin and many in French. Americans
seem to have been contented to quote Kipling, the "Lotus Eaters," or
Omar, but Englishmen had written their own. English university men are
generous poetasters. I have read their verses in inns and outhouses of
many countries. Usually they season with a sprig from Horace or Vergil.
"I'm goin' to the west'ard," said McTavish. "There are too many
low whites comin' here. When Moorea had only sail from Tahiti, the
blackguards did not come, but now the dirty gasolene boat brings
them. I must be off to the west'ard, to Aitutaki or Penrhyn."
Poor Mac! he never made his westward until he went west in soldier
McHenry, on our way back to Faatoai, said:
"McTavish is a bloody fool. He gives credit to the bleedin'
beach-combers. If I meet that dirty Hobson, I'll beat him to a pulp."
From under the thatched roof of our bower came the sounds of:
to oe Tamarii Tahiti
The himene was in its hundredth encore. The other barrel of bottled
beer had been securely locked against the needs of the morrow, and
the bandsmen's inspiration was only claret or sauterne, well watered.
We sat down for dinner. The dejeuner was repeated, and eggs added
for variety. We had risen from breakfast four hours before, yet
there was no lack of appetite. The drink appeared only to make
their gastric juices flow freely. I hid my surfeit. The harmonies
had by now drawn the girls and young women from other districts,
word having been carried by natives passing in carts that a parcel
of papaa (non-Tahitians) were faarearea (making merry).
These new-comers had adorned themselves for the taupiti, the public
fete, as they considered it, and as they came along the road had
plucked ferns and flowers for wreaths. Without such sweet treasures
upon them they have no festal spirit. There were a dozen of these
Moorea girls and visitors from Tahiti, one or two from the Tiare Hotel,
whose homes were perhaps on this island.
The dinner being finished, the bandsmen laid down their instruments
and the girls were invited to drink. Tahitian females have no thirst
for alcohol. They, as most of their men, prefer fruit juices or cool
water except at times of feasting. They had no intoxicants when the
whites came, not in all Polynesia. It was the humor of the explorers,
the first adventurers, and all succeeding ones, to teach them to like
alcohol, and to hold their liquor like Englishmen or Americans. Kings
and queens, chiefs and chiefesses, priests and warriors, were sent
ashore crapulous in many a jolly-boat, or paddled their own canoes,
after areareas on war-ships and merchantmen. Some learned to like
liquor, and French saloons in Papeete and throughout Tahiti and Moorea
encouraged the taste. Profits, as ever under the business rule of
the world overweighed morals or health.
These girls in our bower drank sparingly of wine, but needed no
artificial spirits to spur their own. Music runs like fire through
Iromea of the Tiare Hotel--perhaps some of Lovaina's maidens knew our
plans and came over on the packet--took the accordion from Kelly. She
began to play, and two of the Moorea men joined her, one with a pair
of tablespoons and the other with an empty gasolene-can. The holder
of the spoons jingled them in perfect harmony with the accordion, and
the can-operator tapped and thumped the tin, so that the three made
a singular and tingling music. It had a timbre that got under one's
skin and pulsated one's nerves, arousing dormant desires. I felt like
leaping into the arena and showing them my mettle on alternate feet,
but a Moorea beauty anticipated me.
She placed herself before the proud Llewellyn, half of her own blood,
and began an upaupahura. She postured before him in an attitude of
love, and commenced an improvisation in song about him. She praised
his descent from his mother, his strength, his capacity for rum,
and especially his power over women. He was own brother to the great
ones of the Bible, Tolomoni and Nebutodontori, who had a thousand
wives. He drew all women to him.
The dance was a gambol of passion. It was a free expression
of uninhibited sex feeling. The Hawaiian hula, the nautch, and
minstrelsy combined. So rapid was the movement, so fast the music,
so strenuous the singing, and so actual the vision of the dancer,
that she exhausted herself in a few minutes, and another took the turf.
A thousand years the Tahitians had had these upaupahuras. Their
national ballads, the achievements of the warrior, the fisherman, the
woodsman, the canoe-builder, and the artist, had been orally recorded
and impressed in this manner in the conclaves of the Arioi. Dancing
is for prose gesture what song is for the instinctive exclamation
of feeling, and among primitive peoples they are usually separated;
but those cultured Tahitians from time immemorial had these highly
developed displays of both methods of manifesting acute sensations. The
Kamchadales of the Arctic--curious the similarities of language and
custom between these far Northerners and these far Southerners--danced
like these Tahitians, so that every muscle quivered at every moment.
The dancing in the bower was at intervals, as the desire moved
the performers and bodily force allowed. The himene went on
continuously, varying with the inspiration of the dancer or the
whim of the accordion-player. They snatched this instrument from
one another's hands as the mood struck them, and among the natives,
men and women alike had facility in its playing. Pepe of Papara,
and Tehau of Papeari, their eyes flashing, their bosoms rising and
falling tumultuously, and their voices and bodies alternating in
their expressions of passion, were joined by Temanu of Lovaina's, the
oblique-eyed girl whom they called a half-Chinese, but whose ancestral
tree, she said, showed no celestial branch. Temanu was tall, slender,
serpent-like, her body flexuous and undulatory, responding to every
quaver of the music. Her uncorseted figure, with only a thin silken
gown upon it, wreathed harmoniously in tortile oscillations, her long,
black hair flying about her flushed face, and her soul afire with
her thoughts and simulations.
Now entered the bower Mamoe of Moorea, a big girl of eighteen. She was
of the ancient chiefess type, as large as a man, perfectly modeled,
a tawny Juno. Her hair was in two plaits, wound with red peppers,
and on her head a crown of tuberoses. She wore a single garment,
which outlined her figure, and her feet were bare. She surveyed the
company, and her glance fell on Landers.
She began to dance. Her face, distinctly Semitic, as is not seldom
the case in Polynesia, was fixed a little sternly at first; but as
she continued, it began to glow. She did not sing. Her dance was the
upaupa, the national dance of Tahiti, the same movement generally
as that of Temanu, but without voice and more skilled. One saw at
once that she was the premiere danseuse of this isle, for all took
their seats. Her rhythmical swaying and muscular movements were of
a perfection unexcelled, and soon infected the bandsmen, now with
all discipline unleashed. One sprang from the table and took his
position before her. Together they danced, moving in unison, or the
man answering the woman's motions when her agitation lulled. The
spectators were absorbed in the hula. They clapped hands and played,
and when the first man wearied, another took his place.
Mamoe stopped, and drank a goblet of rum. Her eyes wandered toward our
end of the table, and she came to us. She put her hand on Landers. The
big trader, who was dressed in white linen, accepted the challenge. He
pushed back the bench and stood up.
Landers in looks was out of a novel. If Henry Dixey, the handsome
actor, whose legs made his fame before he might attest his head's
capacity, were expanded to the proportions of Muldoon, the wrestler,
he might have been Landers. Apparently about thirtythree, really
past forty, he was as big as the young "David" of the Buonarroti,
of the most powerful and graceful physique, with curling brown hair,
and almost perfect features; a giant of a man, as cool as an igloo,
with a melodious Australasian voice pitched low, and a manner with
men and women that was irresistible.
He faced Mamoe, and Temanu seized the accordion and broke into a mad
upaupa. An arm's-length from Mamoe Landers simulated every pulsation
of her quaking body. He was an expert, it was plain, and his handsome
face, generally calm and unexpressive, was aglow with excitement. Mamoe
recognized her gyratory equal in this giant, and often their bodies
met in the ecstasy of their curveting. Landers, towering above her,
and bigger in bone and muscle than she in sheer flesh, was like a
figure from a Saturnalia. The call of the isles was ringing in his
ears, and one had only to glance at him to hear Pan among the reeds,
to be back in the glades where fauns and nymphs were at play.
I saw Landers a care-free animal for the moment, rejoicing in his
strength and skill, answering the appeal of sex in the dance. When he
sat down the animal was still in him, but care again had clouded his
brow. I think our early ancestors must have been much like Landers
in this dance, strong, and merry for the time, seeking the woman
in pleasures, fiery in movement for the nonce, and relapsing into
stolidity. I can see why Landers, who takes what he will of womankind
in these islands, still dominates in the trading, and bends most
people his way. The animal way is the way here. The way of the city,
of mere subtlety, of avoidance of issues, of intellectual control,
is not the way of Polynesia. Bulk and sinew and no fear of God or
man are the rules of the game south of the line, as "north of 53."
With Landers dancing, so must the others. Hobson had dropped in,
and he, David, McHenry, Schlyter, and Lying Bill, trod a measure,
and I, though with only a Celtic urge and a couple of years in Hawaii
to teach me, faced Temanu. The bandsmen could not remain still, and,
with Kelly to play the accordion, the rout became general. McHenry
did not molest Hobson, who remained.
When we retired from the scene late at night, the upaupa was still
active. We went to the house of Pai, a handsome native woman, whose
half-caste husband was Mr. Fuller. There were only three beds in the
house, which Landers, Lying Bill, and McHenry fell on before any one
else could claim them. I contented myself with a mat on the veranda,
and noticed that, besides the remainder of our party, Pai and her
tane were also on that level.
At half past two in the morning we lay down. I could not sleep. From
the bower the song and music rang out continuously, mingled with
laughter and the sounds of shuffling feet.
I got up at five, and with a pareu about me, followed the stream until
I found a delicious pool, where I bathed for an hour, while I read
"The Ballad of Reading Gaol." The level land between the sea and
the mountains was not more than a quarter mile broad, and the near
hills rose rounded and dark green, with mysterious valleys folded in
between them. All about were cocoanuts and bananas, their foliage wet
with the rain that had fallen gently all night. The stream was edged
with trees and ferns and was clear and rippling. At that early hour
there was no sensation of chill for me, though the men of native blood
balked at entering the water until the sun had warmed it. A Chinese
vegetablegrower sat on the bank with his Chinese wife and cleaned
heads of lettuce and bunches of carrots. She watched me apathetically,
as if I were a little strange, but not interesting.
A dozen natives came by and by to bathe in the next pool. They observed
me, and called to me, pleasantly, "Ia ora na!" which is the common
greeting of the Tahitian, and is pronounced "yuranna." The white is
always a matter of curiosity to the native. These simple people have
not lost, though generations of whites have come and bred and died
or gone, at least some of their original awe and enjoyment of their
conquerors and rulers.
When we had coffee in the morning, our serious and distinguished
native hosts stood while we ate and drank. We, guests in their own
comfortable house, did not ask them to join us. Llewellyn, when I
put the question, answered:
"No. I am both white and of too high native rank. You cannot afford
to let the native become your social equal."
"You're bloody well right. Keep him in his stall, and he's all right;
but out of it, ye'll get no peace."
So the gentle Pai and her husband--they are religious people, and went
to the Faatoai church three times this Sunday--stood while we lolled at
ease. Courtesy here seems a native trait, though even a little native
blood improves on the white as far as politeness is concerned. En
passant, the average white here is not of the leisure class, in which
manners are an occupation; the native, on the other hand, is of a
leisure class by heredity, and it is only when tainted by a desire
to make money quickly or much of it that he loses his urbanity.
We had breakfasted in the bower at ten o'clock, with the band in
attendance. Not one of the musicians had slept except Kelly, who said
he had forty winks. When the pastors and their flocks of the various
competing churches passed on their way to services, the band was
keyed up in G, and was parading the streets, so that the faith of the
Tahitians was severely tried. Even the ministers tarried a minute,
and had to hold tightly their scriptures to control their legs,
which itched to dance.
Aboard the Potii Moorea the bandsmen came sober, a revelation in
recuperation. Again we passed the idyllic shores of Moorea, glimpsed
the grove of Daphne and McTavish's bungalow at Urufara, and saw the
heights, the desolated castle, the marvels of light and shade upon
the hills and valleys, left the silver circlet of the reef, and made
the open sea.
The glory of the Diadem, a crown of mountain peaks, stood out above
the mists that cover the mountains of Tahiti, and the green carpet
of the hills fell from the clouds to the water's-edge, as if held
above by Antaeus and pinned down by the cocoanut-trees.
At landing I discovered that the bandsmen had stolen away the sleeping
Mamoe, and had carried her aboard the Potii Moorea, and deposited her
in the hold. She emerged fresh from her nap, and apparently ready
for an upaupa that night. We marched to the Cercle Bougainville to
recall the incidents of the excursion over a comforting Dr. Funk.
The storm on the lagoon; Making safe the schooners--A talk on
missing ships--A singular coincidence--Arrival of three of crew of
the shipwrecked El Dorado--The Dutchman's story--Easter Island.
It blew a gale all one day and night from the north, and at break
of the second day, when I went down the rue de Rivoli from the Tiare
Hotel to the quay, the lagoon was a wild scene. Squall after squall
had dashed the rain upon my verandas during the night, and I could
faintly hear the voices of the men on the schooners as they strove to
fend their vessels from the coral embankment, or hauled at anchor-ropes
to get more sea-room.
The sun did not rise, but a gray sky showed the flying scud tearing
at the trees and riggings, and the boom of the surf on the reef was
like the roaring of a great steelmill at full blast. The roadway was
littered with branches and the crimson leaves of the flamboyants. The
people were hurrying to and from market in vehicles and on foot,
soaked and anxious-looking as they struggled against the wind and
rain. I walked the length of the built-up waterfront. The little
boats were being pulled out from the shore by the several launches,
and were making fast to buoys or putting down two and three anchors
a hundred fathoms away from the quays.
The storm increased all the morning, and at noon, when I looked at
the barometer in the Cercle Bougainville it was 29.51, the lowest,
the skippers said, in seven years. The William Olsen, a San Francisco
barkentine, kedged out into the lagoon as fast as possible, and
through the tearing sheets of rain I glimpsed other vessels reaching
for a holding-ground. The Fetia Taiao had made an anchorage a thousand
feet toward the reef. The waves were hammering against the quays,
and the lagoon was white with fury.
In the club, after all had been made secure, the skippers and managers
of trading houses gathered to discuss the weather. Tahiti is not so
subject to disastrous storms as are the Paumotu Islands and the waters
toward China and Japan, yet every decade or two a tidal-wave sweeps
the lowlands and does great injury. Though this occurs but seldom,
when the barometer falls low, the hearts of the owners of property and
of the people who have experienced a disaster of this kind sink. The
tides in this group of islands are different from anywhere else in the
world I know of in that they ebb and flow with unchanging regularity,
never varying in time from one year's end to another.
Full tide comes at noon and midnight, and ebb at six in the morning
and six in the evening, and the sun rises and sets between half
past five and half past six o'clock. There is hardly any twilight,
because of the earth's fast rotation in the tropics. This is a fixity,
observed by whites for more than a century, and told the first seamen
here by the natives as a condition existing always. Another oddity
of the tides is that they are almost inappreciable, the difference
between high and low tide hardly ever exceeding two feet. But every six
months or so a roaring tide rolls in from far at sea, and, sweeping
with violence over the reef, breaks on the beach. Now was due such a
wave, and its possibilities of height and destruction caused lively
argument between the traders and the old salts. More than a dozen
retired seamen, mostly Frenchmen, found their Snug Harbor in the Cercle
Bougainville, where liberty, equality, and fraternity had their home,
and where Joseph bounded when orders for the figurative splicing of
the main-brace came from the tables.
George Goeltz, a sea-rover, who had cast his anchor in the club after
fifty years of equatorial voyaging, was, on account of his seniority,
knowledge of wind and reef, and, most of all, his never-failing
bonhommie, keeper of barometer, thermometer, telescopes, charts,
and records. When I had my jorum of the eminent physician's Samoan
prescription before me, I barkened to the wisdom of the mariners.
Captain. William Pincher, who had at my first meeting informed me he
was known as Lying Bill, explained to me that some ignorant landsmen
stated that this tidal regularity was caused by the steady drift of
the tradewinds at certain hours of the day.
"That don't go," said he, "for the tides are the same whether there's
a gale o' wind or a calm. I've seen the tide 'ighest 'ere in Papeete
when there wasn't wind to fill a jib, and right 'ere on the leeward
side of the bloody island, sheltered from the breeze. How about it
at night, too, when the trade quits? The bleedin' tide rises and
falls just the same at just the same time. Those trades don't even
push the tidal waves because they always come from the west'ard,
and the trades are from the east."
"I can look out of the veranda of this Cercle Bougainville and tell
you what time it is to a quarter of an hour any day in the year just
by looking at the shore or the reef and seein' where the water is,"
said Goeltz. "You can't do that any place on the globe except in
A beneficent nature has considered the white visitor in this concern,
for he can go upon the reef to look for its treasures at low tide,
at sun-up or sun-fall, when it is cool.
We fell to talking about missing ships, and Goeltz insisted on Lying
Bill telling of his own masterful exploit in bringing back a schooner
from South America after the captain had run away with it and a
woman. Pincher was mate of the schooner, which traded from Tahiti,
and the skipper was a handsome fellow who thought his job well lost
for love. He became enamored of the wife of another captain. One night
when by desperate scheming he had gotten her aboard, he suddenly
gave orders to up anchor and away. The schooner was full of cargo,
copra and pearl-shell and pearls, and was due to return to Papeete to
discharge. But this amative mariner filled his jibs on another tack,
and before his crew knew whither they were bound was well on his long
traverse to Peru.
Lying Bill was the only other white man aboard, and he took orders, as
he had to by law and by the might of the swashbuckler captain. The lady
lived in the only cabin--a tiny corner of the cuddy walled off--and ate
her meals with her lover while Pincher commanded on deck. At a port
in Peru the pirate sold the cargo, and taking his mistress ashore,
he disappeared for good and all from the ken of the mate and of the
"Now," said Captain George Goeltz, "Bill here could 'a' followed suit
and sold the vessel. Of course they had no papers except for the
French group, but in South America twenty-five years ago a piaster
was a piaster. Bill was square then, as he is now, and he borrows
enough money to buy grub, and he steers right back to Papeete. Gott
im Himmel! Were the owners glad to see that schooner again? They had
given her up as gone for good when the husband told them his wife
had run away with the captain. That's how Bill got his certificate
to command vessels in this archipelago, which only Frenchmen can have."
Goeltz picked up the "Daily Commercial News" of San Francisco, and
idly read out the list of missing ships. There was only one in the
Pacific of recent date whose fate was utterly unknown. She was the
schooner El Dorado, which had left Oregon months before for Chile,
and had not been sighted in all that time. The shipping paper said:
What has become of the El Dorado, it is, of course, impossible to
say with any degree of accuracy, but one thing is almost certain,
and that is that the likelihood of her ever being heard of again is
now practically without the range of possibility. Nevertheless she
may still be afloat though in a waterlogged condition and drifting
about in the trackless wastes of the South Pacific. Then again she may
have struck one of the countless reefs that infest that portion of the
globe, some entirely invisible and others just about awash. She is now
one hundred and eighty-nine days out, and the voyage has rarely taken
one hundred days. She was reported in lat. 35:40 N., long. 126:30 W.,
174 days ago.
"There'll be no salvage on her," said Captain Pincher, "because
if she's still afloat, she ain't likely to get in the track of
any bloody steamer. I've heard of those derelic's wanderin' roun'
a bloody lifetime, especially if they're loaded with lumber. They
end up usually on some reef."
This casual conversation was the prelude to the strangest coincidence
of my life. When I awoke the next morning, I found that the big
sea had not come and that the sun was shining. My head full of
the romance of wrecks and piracy, I climbed the hill behind the
Tiare Hotel to the signal station. There I examined the semaphore,
which showed a great white ball when the mail-steamships appeared,
and other symbols for the arrivals of different kinds of craft,
men-of-war, barks, and schooners. There was a cozy house for the
lookout and his family, and, as everywhere in Tahiti, a garden of
flowers and fruit-trees. I could see Point Venus to the right, with
its lighthouse, and the bare tops of the masts of the ships at the
quays. Gray and red roofs of houses peeped from the foliage below,
and a red spire of a church stood up high.
The storms had ceased in the few hours since dawn, and the sun was
high and brilliant. Moorea, four leagues away, loomed like a mammoth
battle-ship, sable and grim, her turrets in the lowering clouds on the
horizon, her anchors a thousand fathoms deep. The sun was drinking
water through luminous pipes. The harbor was a gleaming surface,
and the reef from this height was a rainbow of color. All hues were
in the water, emerald and turquoise, palest blue and gold. I sat down
and closed my eyes to recall old Walt's lines of beauty about the
--World below the brine.
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves.
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seed.
The thick tangle,... and pink turf.
When I looked again at the reef I espied a small boat, almost a speck
outside the coral barrier. She was too small for an inter-island
cutter, and smaller than those do not venture beyond the reef. She
was downing her single sail, and the sun glinted on the wet canvas. I
called to the guardian of the semaphore, and when he pointed his
telescope at the object, he shouted out:
"Mais, c'est curieux! Et ees a schmall vessel, a sheep's boat!"
I waited for no more, but with all sorts of conjectures racing through
my mind, I hurried down the hill. Under the club balcony I called up
to Captain Goeltz, who already had his glass fixed. He answered:
"She's a ship's boat, with three men, a jury rig, and barrels and
boxes. She's from a wreck, that's sure."
He came rolling down the narrow stairway, and together we stood at
the quai du Commerce as the mysterious boat drew nearer. We saw that
the oarsmen were rowing fairly strongly against the slight breeze,
and our fears of the common concomitants of wrecks,--starvation
and corpses--disappeared as we made out their faces through the
glasses. They stood out bronzed and hearty. The boat came up along
the embankment, one of the three steering, with as matter of fact an
air as if they had returned from a trip within the lagoon. There was a
heap of things in the boat, the sail, a tank, a barrel, cracker-boxes,
blankets, and some clothing.
The men were bearded like the pard, and in tattered garments, their
feet bare. The one at the helm was evidently an officer, for neither
of the others made a move until he gave the order:
"Throw that line ashore!"
Goeltz seized it and made fast to a ring-bolt, and then only at another
command did the two stand up. We seized their hands and pulled them up
on the wall. They were as rugged as lions in the open, burned as brown
as Moros, their hair and beards long and ragged, and their powerful,
lean bodies showing through their rags.
"What ship are you from?" I inquired eagerly.
The steersman regarded me narrowly, his eyes squinting, and then said
taciturnly, "Schooner El Dorado." He said it almost angrily, as if
he were forced to confess a crime. Then I saw the name on the boat,
"El Dorado S. F."
"Didn't I tell you so?" asked Lying Bill, who was in the crowd now
gathered. "George, didn't I say the El Dorado would turn up?"
He glared at Goeltz for a sign of assent, but the retired salt sought
kudos for himself.
"I saw her first," he replied. "I was having a Doctor Funk when I
looked toward the pass, and saw at once that it was a queer one."
The shipwrecked trio shook themselves like dogs out of the water. They
were stiff in the legs. The two rowers smiled, and when I handed each
of them a cigar, they grinned, but one said:
"After we've e't. Our holds are empty. We've come thirty-six hundred
miles in that dinghy."
"I'm captain N.P. Benson of the schooner El Dorado." vouchsafed the
third. "Where's the American Counsul?"
I led them a few hundred feet to the office of Dentist Williams,
who was acting as consul for the United States. He had a keen love of
adventure, and twenty years in the tropics had not dimmed his interest
in the marvelous sea. He left his patient and closeted himself with
the trio, while I returned to their boat to inspect it more closely.
All the workers and loafers of the waterfront were about it, but
Goeltz would let none enter it, he believing it might be needed
untouched as evidence of some sort. There are no wharf thieves and
no fences in Tahiti, so there was no danger of loss, and, really,
there was nothing worth stealing but the boat itself.
Captain Benson and his companions hastened from the dentist's to
Lovaina's, where they were given a table on the veranda alone. They
remained an hour secluded after Iromea and Atupu had piled their
table with dishes. They drank quarts of coffee, and ate a beefsteak
each, dozens of eggs, and many slices of fried ham, with scores of
hot biscuits. They never spoke during the meal. A customs-officer
had accompanied them to the Tiare Hotel, for the French Government
wisely made itself certain that they might not be an unknown kind of
smugglers, pirates, or runaways. Their boat had been taken in charge
by the customs bureau, and the men were free to do what they would.
When they came from their gorging to the garden, they picked flowers,
smelled the many kinds of blossoms, and then the sailors lighted their
cigars. This pair were Steve Drinkwater, a Dutchman; and Alex Simoneau,
a French-Canadian of Attleboro, Massachusetts.
"Where's the El Dorado?" I asked of the captain.
Again he looked at me, suspiciously.
"She went down in thirty-one degrees: two minutes, south and one
hundred twenty-one: thirty-seven west," he said curtly, and turned
away. There was pride and sorrow in his Scandinavian voice, and a
reticence not quite explicable. The three, as they stood a moment
before they walked off, made a striking group. Their sturdy figures, in
their worn and torn clothes, their hairy chests, their faces framed in
bushes of hair, their bronzed skins, and their general air of fighters
who had won a battle in which it was pitch and toss if they would
survive, made me proud of the race of seamen the world over. They
are to-day almost the only followers of a primeval calling, tainted
little by the dirt of profit-seeking. They risk their lives daily
in the hazards of the ocean, the victims of cold-blooded insurance
gamblers and of niggardly owners, and rewarded with only a seat in
the poorhouse or a niche in Davy Jones's Locker. I was once of their
trade, and I longed to know the happenings of their fated voyage.
Next morning the three were quite ordinary-looking. They were shorn
and shaved and scrubbed, and rigged out in Schlyter's white drill
trousers and coats. They had rooms under mine in the animal-yard. They
were to await the first steamship for the United States, to which
country they would be sent as shipwrecked mariners by the American
consulate. This vessel would not arrive for some weeks. The captain
sat outside his door on the balcony, and expanded his log into a story
of his experiences. He had determined to turn author, and to recoup
his losses as much as possible by the sale of his manuscript. With
a stumpy pencil in hand, he scratched his head, pursed his mouth,
and wrote slowly. He would not confide in me. He said he had had
sufferings enough to make money out of them, and would talk only to
"There's Easter Island," he told me. "Those curiosities there are
worth writing about, too. I've put down a hundred sheets already. I'm
sorry, but I can't talk to any one. I'm going to take the boat with
me, and exhibit it in a museum and speak a piece."
He was serious about his silence, and as my inquisitiveness was now
beyond restraint, I tried the sailors. They would have no log, but
their memories might be good.
Alex Simoneau, being of French descent, and speaking the Gallic
tongue, was not to be found at the Tiare. He was at the Paris, or
other cafe, surrounded by gaping Frenchmen, who pressed upon him
Pernoud, rum, and the delicate wines of France. So great was his
absorption in his new friends, and so unbounded their hospitality,
that M. Lontane laid him by the heels to rest him. Simoneau was wiry,
talking the slang of the New York waterfront, swearing that he would
"hike for Attleboro, and hoe potatoes until he died." I was forced to
seek Steve Drinkwater. Short, pillow-like, as red-cheeked as a winter
apple, and yellow-haired, he was a Dutchman, unafraid of anything,
stolid, powerful, but not resourceful. I called Steve to my room
above Captain Benson's, and set before him a bottle of schnapps,
in a square-faced bottle, and a box of cigars.
"Steve," I said, "that squarehead of a skipper of yours won't tell
me anything about the El Dorado's sinking and your great trip in
the boat. He said he's going to write it up in the papers, and make
speeches about it in a museum. He wants to make money out of it."
"Vere do ve gat oop on dat?" asked the Hollander, sorely. "Ve vas
dere mit 'im, und vas ve in de museum, py damage? Dot shkvarehet
be'n't de only wrider?"
I shuddered at the possible good fortune. I transfixed him with a
"Steve," I asked gentry, "did you keep a log? Pour yourself a
considerable modicum of the Hollands and smoke another cigar."
"Vell," said the seaman, after obeying instructions, "I yoost had vun
hell of a time, und he make a long rest in de land, I do py dammage! I
keep a leedle book from off de day ve shtart ouid."
I heard the measured pace of the brave "shkvarehet" below as he
racked his brains for words. I would have loved to aid him, to do
all I could to make widely known his and his crew's achievements and
gain him fortune. However, he would sow his ink and reap his gold
harvest, and I must, by master or by man, hear and record for myself
the wonderful incidents of the El Dorado's wreck. The insurance was
doubtless long since paid on her, and masses said for the repose of the
soul of Alex Simoneau. The world would not know of their being saved,
or her owners of the manner of her sinking, until these three arrived
in San Francisco, or until a few days before, when the steamship
wireless might inform them.
Steve came back with a memorandum book in which he had kept day by day
the history of the voyage. But it was in Dutch, and I could not read
it. I made him comfortable in a deep-bottomed rocker, and I jotted
down my understanding of the honest sailor's Rotterdam English as he
himself translated his ample notes in his native tongue. I pieced
these out with answers to my questions, for often Steve's English
was more puzzling than pre-Chaucer poetry.
The El Dorado was a five-masted schooner, twelve years old, and left
Astoria, Oregon, for Antofagasta, Chile, on a Friday, more than seven
months before, with a crew of eleven all told: the captain, two mates,
a Japanese cook, and seven men before the mast. She was a man-killer,
as sailors term sailing ships poorly equipped and undermanned. The
crew were of all sorts, the usual waterfront unemployed, wretchedly
paid and badly treated. The niggardliness of owners of ships caused
them to pick up their crews at haphazard by paying crimps to herd them
from lodging-houses and saloons an hour or two before sailing to save
a day's wages. Once aboard, they were virtual slaves, subject to the
whims and brutality of the officers, and forfeiting liberty and even
life if they refused to submit to all conditions imposed by these
Often the crimps brought aboard as sailors men who had never set
foot on a vessel. On the El Dorado few were accustomed mariners,
and the first few weeks were passed in adjusting crew and officers
to one another, and to the routine of the overloaded schooner. When
they were fifteen days out they spoke a vessel, which reported them,
and after that they saw no other. The mate was a bucko, a slugger,
according to Steve, and was hated by all, for most of them during
the throes of seasickness had had a taste of his fists.
On the seventy-second day out the El Dorado was twenty-seven hundred
miles off the coast of Chile, having run a swelling semicircle to
get the benefit of the southeast trades, and being far south of
Antofagasta. That was the way of the wind, which forced a ship from
Oregon to Chile to swing far out from the coast, and make a deep
southward dip before catching the south-west trades, which would
likely stay by her to her port of discharge.
They had sailed on a Friday, and on Wednesday, the eleventh of the
third month following, their real troubles began. Steve's diary, as
interpreted by him, after the foregoing, was substantially as follows,
the color being all his:
"From the day we sailed we were at the pumps for two weeks to bale
the old tub out. Then she swelled, and the seams became tight. There
was bad weather from the time we crossed the Astoria bar. The old man
would carry on because he was in a hurry to make a good run. The mate
used to beat us, and it's a wonder we didn't kill him. We used to lie
awake in our watch below and think of what we'd do to him when we got
him ashore. All the men were sore on him. He cursed us all the time,
and the captain said nothing. You can't hit back, you know. He would
strike us and kick us for fun. I felt sure he'd be murdered; but when
we got into difficulty and could have tossed him over, we never made
"On the seventy-third day out, came the terror. The wind is from the
southeast. There is little light. The sea is high, and everything is
in a smother. We took down the topsails and furled the spanker. The
wind was getting up, and the call came for all hands on deck. We had
watch and watch until then. That's four hours off and four hours
on. When the watch below left their bunks, that was the last of
our sleep on the El Dorado. A gale was blowing by midnight. We were
working all the time, taking in sail and making all snug. There was
plenty of water on deck. Schooner was bumping hard on the waves and
making water through her seams. We took the pumps for a spell.
"We had no sleep next day. In the morning we set all sails in a lull,
but took them down again quickly, because the wind shifted to the
northwest, and a big gale came on. Now began trouble with the cargo. We
had the hold filled with lumber, planks and such, and on the deck we
had a terrible load of big logs. These were to hold up the walls and
roofs in the mines of Chile. Many of them were thirty-six feet long,
and very big around. They were the trunks of very big trees. They
were piled very high, and the whole of them was fastened by chains
to keep them from rolling or being broken loose by seas. In moving
about the ship we had to walk on this rough heap of logs, which lifted
above the rails. They were hard to walk on in a perfectly smooth sea,
and with the way the El Dorado rolled and pitched, we could hardly
keep from being thrown into the ocean.
"This second day of the big storm, with the wind from the northeast,
the El Dorado began to leak badly again. All hands took spells at the
pumps. We were at work every minute. We left the ropes for the pumps
and the pumps for the ropes. We double-reefed the mizzen, and in the
wind this was a terrible job. It nearly killed us. At eight o'clock
to-night we could not see five feet ahead of us. It was black as hell,
and the schooner rolled fearfully. The deck-load then shifted eight
inches to starboard. This made a list that frightened us. We were all
soaking wet now for days. The after-house separated from the main-deck,
and the water became six feet deep in the cabin.
"We had no sun at all during the day, and at midnight a hurricane
came out of the dark. All night we were pulling and hauling, running
along the great logs in danger always of being washed away. We had to
lash the lumber, tightening the chains, and trying to stop the logs
from smashing the ship to pieces. It did not seem that we could get
through the night.
"This is Friday. When a little of daylight came, we saw that everything
was awash. The sea was white as snow, all foam and spindrift. It
did not seem that we could last much longer. The small boat that
had been hanging over the stern was gone. It had been smashed by the
combers. We should have had it inboard, and the mate was to blame. Now
we took the other boat, the only one left, and lashed it upright to
the spanker-stays. In this way it was above the logs and had a chance
to remain unbroken.
"We sounded the well, and the captain ordered us again to the
pumps. These were on deck between the logs, which were crashing
about. We couldn't work the pumps, as there was seven feet of water
in there on deck. The second mate spoke to the captain that it would
be best to start the steam pump. The smokestack and the rest of the
steam fittings were under the fo'c's'le head. It took a long time
to get them out, and then the steam pump would not work. The water
gained on us all the time now, and the captain ordered us to throw
the deck-load overboard. We were nearly dead, we were so tired and
sleepy and sore. This morning, the cook served coffee and bread when
daylight came at six o'clock. That was the last bit of food or drink
we had on the El Dorado.
"The taking off of the great chain was a murderous job. When we
loosened it, the huge seas would sweep over the logs and us while
we tried to get them overboard. It was touch and go. We had to use
capstanbars to pry the big logs over and over. We tried to push them
with the rolling of the ship. One wave would carry a mass of the
logs away, and the next wave would bring them back, crashing into
the vessel, catching in the rigging, and nearly pulling it down,
and the masts with it. Dodging those big logs was awful work, and
if you were hit by one, you were gone. They would come dancing over
the side on the tops of the waves and be left on the very spot from
which we had lifted them overboard. The old man should have thrown
the deck-load over two days before. The water now grew deeper all the
time, and the ship wallowed like a waterlogged raft. The fo'c's'le
was full of water. The El Dorado was drowning with us aboard.
"We were all on deck because we had nowhere else to go. There was
nothing in the cabin or the fo'c's'le but water. The sea was now
like mountains, but it stopped breaking, so that there was a chance
to get away. We were hanging on to stays and anything fixed.
"The captain now gave up hope, as we had long ago. He ordered all hands
to make ready to lower the one boat we had left, and to desert the
ship. We had a hard time to get this boat loose from the spanker-stay,
and we lowered it with the spanker-tackle. Just while we were doing
that, a tremendous wave swept the poop, with a battering-ram of logs
that had returned. Luckily, the boat we were lowering escaped being
smashed, or we had all been dead men now.
"We filled a tank with twenty-five gallons of water from the
scuttle-butts and carried it to the boat. The old man ordered the
cook and the boy to get some grub he had in a locker in his cabin,
high up, where he had put it away from the flood. The cook and the
boy were scared stiff, and when they went into the cabin, a sea came
racing in, and all saved was twenty pounds of soda crackers, twelve
one-pound tins of salt beef, three of tongue, thirty-two cans of milk,
thirty-eight of soup, and four of jam.
"We went into the boat with nothing but what we wore, and that was
little. Some of us had no coats, and some no hats, and others were
without any shoes. We were in rags from the terrible fight with the
logs and the sea. The old man went below to get his medicine-chest. He
threw away the medicine, and put his log and the ship's papers in
it. He took up his chronometer to bring it, when a wave like that
which got the cook and the boy knocked the skipper over and lost the
chronometer. All he got away with was his sextant and compass and
his watch, which was as good as a chronometer.
"We got into the boat at four o'clock. The boat had been put into
the water under the stern and made fast by a rope to the taffrail. We
climbed out the spankerboom and slid down another rope. The seas were
terrific, and it was a mercy that we did not fall in. We had to take
a chance and jump when the boat came under us. Last came the old man,
and took the tiller. He had the oars manned, and gave the order to
let go. That was a terrible moment for all of us, to cast loose from
the schooner, bad as she was. There we were all alone in the middle
of the ocean, bruised from the struggle on deck, and almost dying
from exhaustion and already hungry as wolves. In twenty-four hours
we had had only a cup of coffee and a biscuit.
"It was very dark, and we had no light. We were, however, glad to leave
the El Dorado, because our suffering on her for weeks had been as much
as we could bear. The last I saw of the schooner she was just a huge,
black lump on the black waters. We rose on a swell, and she sank into
a valley out of sight.
"The captain spoke to us now: 'We have a good chance for life,' he
said. 'I have looked over the chart, and it shows that Easter Island
is about nine hundred miles northeast by east. If we are all together
in trying, we may reach there.'
"None of us had ever been to Easter Island, and hardly any of us
had ever heard of it. It looked like a long pull there. All night
the captain and the mate took turns in steering, while we, in turn,
pulled at the oars. We did not dare put a rag of canvas on her,
for the wind was big still. The old man said that as we had both
latitude and longitude to run, we would run out the latitude first,
and then hope for a slant to the land. We were then, he said, in
latitude 31 south, and longitude 121 west. That being so, we had
about three hundred miles to go south and about six hundred east. He
said that Pitcairn Island was but six hundred miles away, but that
the prevailing winds would not let us sail there. We set the course,
then, for Easter Island. We wondered whether Easter Island had a
place to land, and whether there were any people on it. There might
be savages and cannibals.
"It rained steady all night, and the sea spilled into the boat now and
then. Two of us had to bale all the time to keep the boat afloat. We
were soaked to the skin with fresh and salt water, weak from the days
of exposure and hunger, and we were barely able to keep from being
thrown out of the boat by its terrible rocking and pitching, and yet
we all felt like singing a song. All but the Japanese cook. Iwata
had almost gone mad, and was praying to his joss whenever anything
new happened. During that night a wave knocked him over and crushed
one of his feet against the tank of drinking water. The salt water
got into the wound and swelled it, and he was soon unable to move.
"The second day in the small boat was the captain's forty-eighth
birthday. The old man spoke of it in a hearty way, hoping that when
he was forty-nine he would be on the deck of some good ship. There
was no sign of the El Dorado that morning. But with wind and sea as
they were, we could not have seen the ship very far, and we had made
some distance under oarpower during the night. We put up our little
sail at nine o'clock, though the wind was strong. The skipper said
that we could not expect anything but rough weather, and that we had
to make the best of every hour, considering what we had to eat and
that we were eleven in the boat. The wind was now from the southwest,
and we steered northeast. We had to steer without compass because it
was dark, and we had no light.
"We had our first bite to eat about noon of this second day out. We
had then been nearly three months at sea, or, to be exact, it was
seventy-eight days since we had left port. It was thirty hours after
the coffee and biscuit on the El Dorado, and God knows how much longer
since we had had a whole meal, and now we didn't have much. The old
man bossed it. He took a half-bucket of fresh water, and into this he
put a can of soup. This he served, and gave each man two soda crackers
and his share of a pound of corned beef. We dipped the crackers into
the bucket. (I tell you it was better than the ham and eggs we had
at the hotel when we landed.) We had this kind of a meal twice a day,
and no more.
"The next day the wind was again very strong, with thunder and
lightning, and we ran dead before the wind with no more sail than
a handkerchief. The sea began to break over the boat, and our old
man said that we could not live through it unless we could rig up a
sea-anchor. We were sure we would drown. We made one by rolling four
blankets together tightly and tying around them a long rope with
which our boat was made fast to the ship when we embarked. This we
let drag astern about ninety-feet. It held the boat fairly steady,
and kept the boat's head to the seas. We fastened it to the ring in
the stern. We used this sea-anchor many times throughout our voyage,
and without it we would have gone down sure. Of course we took in
a great deal of water, anyhow; but we could keep her baled out,
and the sea-anchor prevented her from swamping.
"The nights were frightful, and many times all of us had terrible
dreams, and sometimes thought we were on shore. Men would cry out about
things they thought they saw, and other men would have to tell them
they were not so. We were always up and down on top of the swells, and
our bodies ached so terribly from the sitting-down position and from
the joggling of the motion that we would cry with pain. The salt water
got in all of our bruises and cracked our hands and feet, but there
was no help for us, and we had to grin and bear it. A shark took hold
of our sea-anchor and we were afraid that he would tear it to pieces.
"Every day the captain took an observation when he could, and told
us where we were. We made about a hundred miles a day, but very often
we steered out of our course because we had no matches or lantern.
"On the eighteenth we were in latitude 26 53' South, and the captain
said that Easter Island was in the 27th degree, so after all we had
steered pretty well.
"On the night of the nineteenth, we had a fearful storm. It seemed
worse than the hurricane we had on the El Dorado. All night long we
thought that every minute would end us, and we lay huddled in misery,
not caring much whether we went down or not. But the next morning,
we set part of the sail again, and at noon that day the captain took a
sight and found that we were in latitude 27 8' south. Easter Island
is 27 10' south. And now we began to fear that we might run past
Easter Island. If we did, we knew we could never get back with the
wind. We had squall after squall now, but we felt sure that soon we
must see land. Our soup was all gone, and we were living on the soda
crackers mixed with water and milk. Each of us got a cupful of this
stuff once a day.
"On the twenty-second, when we were nine days out, I saw the land at
ten o'clock in the morning, thirty miles away. We felt pretty good
over that, and had two cupfuls of the mixture, because we felt we
were nearly safe. My God! what we felt when we saw the rise of that
land! The captain said it was Easter Island for certain, but that
it was not a place that any merchant ships ever went, as there was
no trade there. Once we saw the land we could not get any nearer
to it. We tried to row toward it, but the wind was against us. Two
days we hung about the back of that island, just outside the line
of breakers. We were afraid to risk a landing, for the coast was
rocky. On the eleventh day we saw a spot where the rocks looked white,
and we rowed in toward it with great pains and much fear. A big sea
threw us right upon a smooth boulder, and we leaped from the boat and
tried to run ashore. We were weak and fell down many times. Finally
we got a hold and we carried everything out of the boat, and after
hours hauled it up out of reach of the breakers.
"There was a cliff that went right up straight from the rocks, and
we could not climb it, we were so weak from hunger and the cramped
position we had had to keep in the boat. We laid down a while, and
then it was decided that the first and second mates should have a good
feed and try to get up the precipice. We were taking risks, because
we had very little grub left. It was about a hundred feet up, and we
watched them closely as they went slowly up. They did not come back,
and we were much afraid of what they might find. We did not know but
there might be savages there. During the day the other sailors also
got up, leaving the old man and me to watch the boat.
"Help arrived for us. The mates had walked all night, and at daybreak
they reached the house of the head man, employed by the owner of
Easter Island. It was a sheep and horse island. The mates were fed,
and then they went on to the house of the manager. Horses were gotten
out, and bananas and poi sent to us. The water just came in time,
because we were all out. They brought horses for all of us then, and
after we had started the people of the island went ahead and came back
with water and milk, which did us a world of good. At the house of the
governor we had a mess of brown beans, and then we all fell asleep
on the floor. God knows how long we slept, but when we waked up we
were like wolves again. We then had beans with fresh killed mutton,
and that made us all deathly sick because our stomachs were weak."
* * * * *
Underneath us, while the red-cheeked and golden-haired Steve uttered
his puzzling sentences in English, I heard from time to time the
heavy tread of Captain Benson. He was, doubtless, living over again
the hours of terror and resolution on the El Dorado and in the boat,
and seeking to find words to amplify his log by his memories. I
heard him sit down and get up more than once; while opposite me in an
easy-chair, with his glass of Schiedam schnapps beside him, was the
virile Dutchman, hammering in his breast-swelling story of danger and
courage, of starvation and storm. I sighed for a dictaphone in which
the original Dutch-English might be recorded for the delight of others.
Alex Simoneau came back after a night of the hospitality of M. Lontane,
and soon was joyous again, telling his wondrous epic of the main to
the beach-combers in the parc de Bougainville or in the Paris saloon,
where the brown and white toilers of land and sea make merry.
"A man that goes to sea is a fool," he said, with a bang of his fist
on the table that made the schnapps dance in its heavy bottle. "My
people in Massachusetts are all right, and like a crazy man I will
go to sea when I could work in a mill or on a farm. They must think
I'm dead by now."
Alex was corroborative of all that Steve said, but I could not pin
him down to hours or days. He was too exalted by his present happy
fate--penniless, jobless, family in mourning, but healthy, safe, and
full-stomached, not to omit an ebullience of spirits incited by the
continuing wonder of each new listener and the praise for his deeds
and by the conviviality of his admirers.
Alex was sure of one point, and that was that the El Dorado was
"Dose shkvarehet shkippers vould dake a cheese-box to sea mit a cargo
of le't," commented Steve. "All dey care for is de havin' de yob. De
owner he don't care if de vessel sink mit de insurance."
When Alex had shuffled out of the cottage, I gave the Dutchman the
course of his narrative again.
"You were safe on Easter Island, and ill from stuffing yourself with
fresh mutton," I prompted, "And now what?"
Steve spat over the rail.
"Ram, lam', sheep, und muddon for a hundred und fife days. Dere vas
noding odder. Dot's a kveer place, dot Easter Island, mit shtone gotts
lyin' round und det fulcanoes, und noding good to eat. Ve liffed in a
house de English manager gif us. Dere's a Chile meat gompany owns de
island, und grows sheep. Aboud a gouple of hundred kanakas chase de
sheep. Ve vas dreaded vell mit de vimmen makin' luff und the kanakas
glad mit it. Dere vas noding else to do. De manager he say no ship
come for six months, und he vanted us to blant bodadoes, und ve had no
tobacco. He say de bodadoes get ripe in eight months, und I dink if I
shtay dere eight months I go grazy. Ve vas ragged, und efery day ve go
und look for a vessel. Ve gould see dem a long vay ouid, und ve made
signals und big fires, but no ship efer shtopped. De shkipper made
a kvarrel mit de mates, und de old man he say he go away in de boat,
und he bick Alex und me because ve was de bestest sailormen. Ve vas
dere nearly four months ven ve shtart ouid. De oder men dey vas sore,
but dey vanted de old man to bromise to gif dem big money, und ve go
for noding. Ve fix oop de boat und ve kvit."
Steve went on to describe how they fixed up the boat for the voyage
by making guards of canvas about the sides, and an awning which they
could raise and lower. They took a ten-gallon steel oil-drum and
made a stove out of it. They cut it in two at the middle and kept the
bottom half. They then made a place for holding a pot, with pieces of
scrap-iron fixed to the side of the drum, so that they could make a
fire under the pot without setting fire to the boat. Then the captain
set them to learning to make fire by rubbing sticks, and after many
days they learned it. The manager had a steer killed, and they jerked
the meat and loaded up their boat beside with sweet potatoes, taro,
white potatoes, five dozen eggs, and twenty gallons of water in their
tank, with twenty-five more in a barrel.
Then bidding good-by to everybody who gathered to see them off, they
steered for Pitcairn Island. They soon found that the prevailing
wind would not permit them to make that course, and so they laid
for Mangareva in 23 south and 134 west, sixteen hundred miles
distant. They had to go from 28 south and 110 west, 5 of latitude
and 24 of longitude. Again they were at the mercy of the sea, but
now they had only three men in the boat, and had enough food for many
days, rough as it was. In the latitude of Pitcairn, the island so
famous because to it fled the mutineers of the Bounty, they all but
perished. For two days a severe storm nearly overwhelmed them. The boat
was more buoyant, and with the sea-anchor trailing, they came through
the trial without injury. Steve said the lightning was "yoost like a
leedle bid of hell." It circled them about, hissed in the water, and
finally struck their mast repeatedly, so that the wise captain took
it down. The entire heavens were a mass of coruscating electricity,
and they could feel the air alive with it. They were shocked by
the very atmosphere, said Steve, and feared for their lives every
moment. The sea piled up, the wind blew a gale, and death was close
at hand. They wished they had not left Easter Island, and envied
those who had remained there.
But they rode it out, with their pile of blankets a-trail, and with
helm and oars alert to keep the boat afloat.
The gale amended after several days, and on the sixteenth day
from their departure they reached Mangareva. That island is in the
Gambier group, and a number of Europeans live there. The castaways
were received generously, and were informed that a schooner was
expected in a fortnight, which might carry them to some port on
their way home. But the old man said they must push on. He had to
report to his owners the loss of the El Dorado; he had to see his
family. They had come twenty-six hundred miles since deserting the
schooner, and the thousand miles more to Tahiti was not a serious
undertaking. He persuaded Steve and Alex to his manner of thinking,
and with the boat stocked with provisions they took the wave again,
after a couple of days at Mangareva.
Now the bad weather was over. The sea was comparatively smooth, and
the breeze favorable. But fate still had frowns for them, as if to
keep them in terror. Sharks and swordfish, as though resenting the
intrusion of their tiny craft in waters where boats were seldom seen,
attacked them furiously. Five times a giant shark launched himself
at their boat, head on, and drove them frantic with his menace of
sinking them. They were so filled with this dread that they fastened
a marlinespike in the spar, and despite probability of provoking the
shark to more desperate onslaughts, maneuvered so that they were able
to kill him with a blow.
The next day a swordfish of alarming size played about them,
approaching and retreating, eying them and acting in such a manner
that they felt sure he was challenging the boat as a strange fish
whose might he disputed. One thrust of his bony weapon, and they
might be robbed of their chance for life. They shouted and banged on
the gunwales, and escaped.
Steve hurried through this part of his diary. So near to safety then,
he had had not much thought for a record. There was little more
to tell, for after the lightning, the sharks, and the swordfish,
they had had no unusual experiences. They had made the voyage of
nearly four thousand miles from the pit of water in which they had
left the El Dorado, and were glad that they had not stayed behind on
Easter Island. Steve had only good words for the skipper's skill as
a seaman, but now that they were there, he would like to be assured
of his wages. The captain said he did not know what the owners would
do about paying Steve for the time since the El Dorado sank. He
was sure she had gone down immediately, for, he said, he would not
have left his ship had he not been certain she could not stay on the
surface. He contrasted his arrival in Papeete with his coming years
before in the brig Lurline, when he brought the first phonograph to
the South Seas. Crowds had flocked to the quay to hear it, and it
was taken in a carriage all about the island.
The superb courage of these men, their marvelous seamanship, and their
survival of all the perils of their thousands of miles' voyage were
not lessened in interest or admiration by their personality. But one
realized daily, as one saw them chewing their quids, devouring rudely
the courses served by Lovaina, or talking childishly of their future,
that heroes are the creatures of opportunity. It is true Steve and Alex
were picked of all the crew for their sea knowledge and experience,
their nerve and willingness, by the sturdy captain, and that he, too,
was a man big in the primitive qualities, a viking, a companion for a
Columbus; but--they were peculiarly of their sept; types molded by the
wind-swept spaces of the vasty deep, chiseled by the stress of storm
and calm, of burning, glassy oceans, and the chilling, killing berg;
men set apart from all the creeping children of the solid earth, and
trained to seize the winds from heaven for their wings, to meet with
grim contempt the embattled powers of sky and wave, and then, alas! on
land to become the puny sport of merchant, crimp, and money-changer,
and rum and trull.
Goeltz, Lying Bill, Llewellyn, and McHenry sat in the Cercle
Bougainville with eager looks as I read them the diary of Steve
Drinkwater. The seamen held opinions of the failure of Captain Benson's
seamanship at certain points, and all knew the waters through which
he had come.
"Many of the people of Mangareva came from Easter Island," said Lying
Bill. "There was a French missionary brought a gang of them there. 'E
was Pere Roussel, and 'e ran away with 'em because Llewellyn's bloody
crowd 'ere tried to steal 'em and sell 'em. They lived at Mangareva
with 'im till he died a few years ago, and they never went back."
Llewellyn lifted his dour eyes. There was never such a dule countenance
as his, dark naturally with his Welsh and Tahitian blood, and shaded
by the gloom of his soul. He looked regretfully at Captain Pincher.
"You are only repeating the untruthful assertion of that clergyman,"
he said accusingly. "He put it in a pamphlet in French. My people
have had to do with Easter Island for forty years. I lived there
several years and, as you know, I made that island what it is now, a
cattle and sheep ranch. It is the strangest place, with the strangest
history in the world. If we knew who settled it originally and carved
those stone gods the Dutch sailor spoke of, we would know more about
the human race and its wanderings.
"The Peruvians murdered and stole the Easter Islanders. Just before
we took hold there, a gang of blackbirders from Peru went there and
killed and took away many hundreds of them. They sold them to the
guano diggings in the Chincha Islands. Only those escaped death or
capture who hid in the dark caverns. Nearly all those taken away died
soon. We then made contracts with some of those left, and took them
to Tahiti to work. It is true they died, too, most of them, but some
you can find where McHenry lives half a mile from here at Patutoa. We
sold off the stock to Chileans, and that country owns the island now.
"I think the island had a superior race once. There are immense
platforms of stone, like the paepaes of the Marquesas, only bigger,
and the stones are all fitted together without cement. They built them
on promontories facing the sea. Some are three hundred feet long, and
the walls thirty feet high. On these platforms there were huge stone
gods that have been thrown down; some were thirty-seven feet high,
and they had redstone crowns, ten feet in diameter. There were stone
houses one hundred feet long, with walls five feet thick. How they
moved the stones no one knows, for, of course, these people there
now were not the builders. Some race of whom they knew nothing was
there before them.
"They are one of the greatest mysteries in the world. Easter is the
queerest of all the Maori islands. They had nothing like the other
Maoris had in any of these islands, but they had plenty of stone, their
lances were tipped with obsidian, and they were terrible fighters among
themselves. They had no trees, and so no canoes; and they depended
on driftwood and the hibiscus for weapons. They are all done for now."
Captain Benson was still busied with his log when the steamship from
New Zealand arrived to take the shipwrecked men away. The El Dorado's
boat was stowed carefully on the deck of the liner. I saw the skipper
watching it as the deck-hands put chocks under it and made it fast
against the rolling of the ship. That boat deserved well of him,
for its stanchness had stood between him and the maws of the sharks
many days and nights.
I bade him and the two seamen good-by on the wharf. The old man was
full of his plan to exhibit the boat in a museum and of selling his
account of his adventures to a magazine.
The crew left on Easter Island were rescued sooner than they had
expected. A British tramp, the Knight of the Garter, put into Easter
Island for emergency repairs, having broken down. The castaways left
with her for Sydney, Australia, and from there reached San Francisco
by the steamship Ventura, ten months after they had sailed away on
the El Dorado. That schooner was never sighted again.
I move to the Annexe--Description of building--The baroness and her
baby--Evoa and poia--The corals of the lagoon--The Chinese shrine--The
Lovaina suggested, since I liked to be about the lagoon, that I move
to the Annexe, a rooming-house she owned and conducted as an adjunct
to the Tiare. I moved there, and regretted that I had stayed so long
in the animal-yard. And yet I should have missed knowing Lovaina
intimately, the hour-to-hour incidents of her curious menage, the
close contact with the girls and the guests, the El Dorado heroes,
the Dummy, and others.
The Annexe fronted the lagoon. It was a two-story building, with broad
verandas in front and rear, and stood back a few feet from the Broom
Road. It had a very large garden behind, with tall cocoanut trees,
and the finest rose-bushes in Tahiti. Vava, the Dummy, put all the
sweepings from his stable on the flower beds, and Lovaina cut the
roses for the tables at the Tiare Hotel and for presents to friends
and prosperous tourists. Vava was often about the garden, and drove
Lovaina to and fro in her old chaise.
When he brought me and my belongings from the Tiare, Lovaina came with
us. She signed to him to go to the glacerie, the ice- and soda-water
factory, to buy ice for the hotel. The Dummy was intensely jealous
of new-comers whom Lovaina liked. He left on foot, but merely took a
walk, and, returning, answered her question by opening his hands and
shaking his head, conveying perfectly the statement that the glacerie
had refused Lovaina credit because of her debt to it of two hundred
francs, and that cash was demanded. He intimated that the proprietor
had ridiculed her.
"That dam' lie," said Lovaina to him and to me,--she always
supplemented her gestures to him with words,--and she made a sign that
she had paid the bill. He uttered a choking sound of anger, accompanied
by a dreadful grimace, and after a little while came back with a large
piece of ice, which he placed in the carriage. Lovaina told him to
break off a lump for my room. He became indignant, and in pantomime
vividly described the suffering of guests at the Tiare with the ice
exhausted, and Lovaina's plight if she could sell no more drinks.
Lovaina persisted, and when I went to take the ice myself, he struck
me with his horsewhip. Temanu, who had come with Lovaina, rushed out
shrieking, and the Dummy, seeing his advantage, began to threaten all
who came at the noise. Afa, a half-white, who lives in a cottage in
the garden, and who alone could control him, slapped his face. The
wretched mute sat down and wept bitterly until Lovaina rubbed his
back, and informed him that he was again in her good graces. I, too,
smiled upon him, and he became a happy child for a moment.
The Annexe was decaying fast. In the great storm of 1906 it was
partly blown down, and was poorly restored. It was the prey of rat
and insect, dusty, neglected, but endearing. It had had a season
of glory. It was built for the first modern administration office
of the French Government, over sixty years before, and was painted
white with blue trimmings. In its bare and dusty entrance-hall hung
two steel engravings entitled, "The Beginning of the Civil War in the
United States" and "The End of the Civil War in the United States." The
former showed Freedom in the center; Justice with a sword and balance;
the Stars and Stripes being torn from a liberty-tree, with a snake
winding about it; an aged man labeled Buchanan asleep on a big book;
and a gentleman named Floyd counting a bag of money; on the other side
Abraham Lincoln exhorted a white-haired general who commanded a file of
soldiers, and some rich-looking men were throwing money on the floor.
The other picture was indeed florid. It represented three ladies,
Freedom, Justice, and Mercy, disputing the center, slaves being
unshackled, the army of victory led by Grant claiming honors,
Lee handing over a sword, an ugly fellow toting off a bag of gold
(graft?) and a gang of conspirators egging on the madman Booth to
slay Lincoln. In both these engravings there were scores of supposed
likenesses, but I could not identify them. They were published by
Kimmel & Forster in New York in 1865, and had probably decorated
Papeete walls for half a century. There were large, ramshackle
chambers on the first floor, and an exquisite winding staircase,
with a rosewood balustrade, led to the second story, where I lived.
In this building all the pomp and circumstance of the Nations in Tahiti
had been on parade, kings and queens of the island had pleaded and
submitted, admirals and ensigns had whispered love to dusky vahines,
and the petty wars of Oceanic had been planned between waltzes and
wines. Here Loti put his arms about his first Tahitian sweetheart,
and practised that vocabulary of love he used so well in "Rarahu,"
"Madame Chrysantheme," and his other studies of the exotic woman. A
hundred noted men, soldiers, and sailors, scientists and dilettanti,
governors and writers, had walked or worked in those tumbling rooms.
Lovaina had owned the building many years, buying it from the thrifty
My apartment was of two rooms, and my section of the balcony was cut
off by a door, giving privacy unusual in Tahiti. The coloring of the
wall was rich in hue.
Any color, so it's red, said a satirist, who might have been
characterizing my rooms. Turkey-red muslin with a large, white diamond
figure was pasted on the plaster walls and hung in the doorways.
"It very bes' the baroness could do in T'ytee," explained Lovaina. "She
must be bright all about, and she buy and fix rooms. She have whole top
floor Annexe, and spen' money like gentleman, two or three thousand
dollar' every month. I wish you know her. She talk beautiful', and
never one word smut. Hones', true. Johnny, my son, read 'Three Weeks'
that time, and he speak the baroness, 'You jus' like that woman
in the book.' She have baby here and take with her to Paris. She
want that baby jus' like 'Three Weeks.' Oh, but she live high! She
have her own servants, get everything in market, bring peacocks and
pheasants and turkeys from America. How you think? Dead? No. She sen'
man to bring on foot on boat. You go visit her, she give champagne
jus' like Papenoo River. She beautiful? My God! I tell you she like
angel. She speak French, English, Russian, German, Italian, anything
the same. She good, but she don't care a dam' what people say. When
she go 'way Europe she give frien's all her thing'. Now she back in
her palace with her baby. She write once say she come back T'ytee
some day by'n'by. She love T'ytee somethin' crazee."
At the Cercle Bougainville Captain William Pincher told me more of
"Is the bloody meat-safe still on the back porch? The baroness made a
voyage with me to the Paumotus just for the air. She sat on deck all
the time, rain or shine. I'd put a' awnin' over 'er in fair weather
or when it rained and there wasn't much wind. She was a bloody good
sailor, too, and ate like us, only she never went below except at
night. I give her my cabin. She'd spen' hours lookin' over the side
in a calm--we had no engine--an' she'd listen to all the yarns."
Lying Bill burst out with one of his choicest oaths.
"She wasn't like some of those ladees I've 'ad aboard. She was a
proper salt-water lass. She loved to 'ear my yarns of the sea. When
she was big with child an' I ashore, I 'ad the 'abit o' droppin' in o'
afternoons and 'avin' a slice of 'am or chicken out o' the safe. Afa
ran 'er bloody show for 'er, an' it cost 'er a bloody fortune. I
used to lie for 'er to 'ear 'er laugh. You know I'm called Lyin'
Bill, but McHenry tells more real lies in a day than I do in a bloody
year. She was the finest-looking girl of the delicate kind I ever saw,
all pink and white an' with fringy clothes an' little feet. Oh! there
was nothing between us but the sea, an' I know that subject."
Lying Bill sighed like a diver just up from the bottom of the lagoon.
"You know that big cocoanut tree in the garden of the Annexe? She
would sit under that with me an' smoke her Cairo cigarettes an'
talk about her bally kiddie. She wanted him to be strong an' to love
the sea, and she thought by talking with me about 'im an' ships an'
the ocean she could sort of train him that way, though he'd been
got in Paris an' might be a girl. Is there anything in that bleedin'
idea? She could quote books all right about it."
Ah, beautiful and brave baroness! I often thought of you during those
months in the Annexe. You will come again, you say, to Tahiti, bathe
again in its witching waters, and let the spell of its sweetness bind
you again to its soil. Maybe, but baroness, you will never again be
as you were, flinging all body and soul into the fire of passion,
and yearning for motherhood! Such times can never be the same. We
burn, even desire, and consume our dreams. Child of aristocracy, you
found in this South Sea eyot the freedom your atavism, or shall I say,
naturalness, craved, and you drank your cup to the lees and thought
it good. I shall not be the one to point a finger at you, nor even to
think too vivid the scarlet of my toilet set. That flamboyant outside
my window, once yours, is as garish, and yet lacks no consonance with
all about it.
The scene from my veranda was a changing picture of radiance and
shadow. Directly below was the Broom Road. Umbrageous flamboyants--the
royal poincianas, or flame-trees--sheltered the short stretch of
sward to the water, and their blossoms made a red-gold litter upon the
grass. A giant acacia whose flowers were reddish pink and looked like
thistle blooms, protected two canoes, one my own and one Afa's. The
Annexe was bounded by the Broom Road and the rue de Bougainville,
and across that street was the restaurant of Mme. Fanny. It was built
over a tiny stream, which emptied fifty feet away into the lagoon. A
clump of banana-trees hid the patrons, but did not obscure their view
from Fanny's balcony.
In the lagoon, a thousand yards from me, was Motu Uta, a tiny island
ringed with golden sand, a mass of green trees half disclosing a
gray house. Motu Uta was a gem incomparable in its beauty and its
setting. It had been the place of revels of old kings and chiefs,
and Pomare the Fourth had made it his residence. Cut off by half a
mile of water from Papeete, it had an isolation, yet propinquity,
which would have persuaded me to make it my home were I a governor;
but it was given over to quarantine purposes, with an old caretaker
who came and went in a commonplace rowboat.
The Annexe housed many rats. I brought to my rooms a basket of bananas,
and put it on a table by my bed, the canopied four-poster in which
the son of the baroness was born. In the night I was awakened by
a tremendous thump on the floor and a curious dragging noise. I
listened breathlessly. But the rat must have heard me, for he ceased
operations, only returning when he thought I was asleep. He leaped on
the table, scratched a banana from the basket, threw it to the floor,
and pulled it to his den near the wardrobe. The joists and floor
boards were eaten away by the ants, and in one hole six or seven
inches long this rat had entrance to his den between the floor and
the ceiling of the room below. He had trading proclivities, and in
exchange brought me old and valueless trifles. I once knew a miner
in Arizona who found a rich gold-vein through a rat bringing him a
piece of ore in exchange for a bit of bacon. He traced the rat to his
nest and discovered the source of the ore. The rats had their ancient
enemies to guard against, and the cats of Tahiti, not indigenous,
slept by day and hunted by night. They cavorted through the Annexe
in the smallest hours, and one often wakened to their shrieks and
squeals of combat. The tom-cats had tails longer than their bodies,
the climate, their habits and food developing them extraordinarily.
The roosters grew to a size unequaled, and those in the garden of the
Annexe roused me almost at dawn. Their voices were horrific, and one
that had fathered a quartet of ducks--an angry tourist had killed the
drake because of his quacking--was a vrai Chantecler. When he waked me,
the sun was coming over the hills from Hitiaa, brightened Papenoo and
leaped the summits to Papeete, but it was long before the phantom of
false morning died and the god of day rode his golden chariot to the
sea. The Diadem was gilded first, and down the beach the long light
tremulously disclosed the faint scarlet of the flamboyant-trees,
their full, magnificent color yet to be revealed, and their elegant
contours like those graceful, red-tiled pagodas on the journey to
Canton in far Cathay.
Motu Uta crept from the obscurity of the night, and the battlements
of Moorea were but dim silhouettes. The lagoon between the reef and
the beach was turning from dark blue to azure pink. The miracle of
the advent of the day was never more delicately painted before my eyes.
In my crimson pareu I descended the grand staircase, which had often
echoed to the booted tread of admiral and sailor, of diplomat and
bureaucrat, and outside the building I passed along the lower rear
balcony to the bath. The Annexe, like the Tiare Hotel, made no pretense
to elegance or convenience. The French never demand the latter at home,
and the Tahitian is so much an outdoor man that water-pipes and what
they signify are not of interest to him.
The bath of the Annexe was a large cement tank, primarily for washing
clothes. Its floor was as slippery as ice. One held to the window-frame
at the side, and turned the tap.
A shower fell a dozen feet like rose-leaves upon one. Ah, the waters
of Tahiti! Never was such gentle, velvety rain, a benediction from
the tauupo o te moua, the slopes of the mountains.
I deferred my pleasure a few minutes as the place under the shower
was occupied by an entrancing pair, Evoa, the consort of Afa, and her
four-months-old infant, Poia. Evoa was sixteen years old, tall, like
most Tahitians, finely figured, slender, and with the superb carriage
that is the despair of the corseted women who visit Tahiti. Her
features were regular, but not soft. Her skin was ivory-white, with
a glint of red in cheek and lip, and the unconfined hair that reached
her hips was intensely black and fine, I could see no touch or tint of
the Polynesian except in the slight harshness of the contours of her
face, and that her legs were more like yellow satin than white. Her
foot would have given Du Maurier inspiration for a brown Trilby. It
was long, high-arched, perfect; the toes, never having known shoes,
natural and capable of grasp, and the ankle delicate, yet strong. Her
father she believed to have been a French official who had stayed only
a brief period in Bora-Bora, her mother's island, and whose very name
was forgotten by her. She had not seen her mother since her first year,
having, as is the custom here, been adopted by others.
Poia had a head like a cocoanut, her eyes shiny, black buttons, her
body roly-poly, and her pinkish-yellow feet and hands adorable. Evoa
was dressing her for the market in a red muslin slip, a knitted shawl
of white edged with blue, and, shades of Fahrenheit! a cap with pink
ribbons, and socks of orange. Evoa herself would wear a simple tunic,
which was most of the time pulled down over the shoulder to give Poia
ingress to her white breast. Poia was like a flower, and I had never
heard her cry, this good nature being accounted for perhaps by an
absence of pins, as she was usually naked. She had two teeth barely
peeping from below.
Evoa spoke only Tahitian, which is the same tongue as that spoken in
Bora-Bora, and she was totally without education. Afa had found her,
and brought her to his cabin in the garden. He did not claim to be the
father of Poia, but was delighted, as are all Polynesians, to find
a mate and, with her, certainty of a little one. They have not our
selfishness of paternity, but find in the assumed relation of father
all the pride and joy we take only with surety of our relationship.
Afa was a handsome half-caste, his mustache and light complexion, his
insouciance and frivolity, his perfect physique, skill with canoe and
fish-net and spear, his flirtations with many women, and his ability
to provide amusement for the guests, making him a superior type of
the white-brown blood. There was a black tragedy in this life which,
with all his heedlessness, often and again imprisoned him in deep
His father was a wealthy Italian who lived near the home of a
Tahitian princess, and who won the girl's love against her father's
commands. Afa was born, the princess was sent away, and the child
brought up in a good family. When he was fourteen years old he was
taken to the United States. His father became engaged in a quarrel
with certain natives whom he forbade to cross his land to gather feis
in the mountains. As they had always had this right, they resented
his imposition, and plotted to kill him. He disappeared, and a
long time afterward his body was found loosely covered with earth,
the feet above the surface. In court the surgeons swore that he had
been alive when buried. A number of men were tried for the crime and
sentenced to life imprisonment in New Caledonia.
Afa returned from America to find that much of his father's
property had been stolen or claimed by others, and he became a
cook and servant. He had been many years with Lovaina, and though
he owned valuable land, he preferred the hotel life, half domestic,
half manager and confidant, to the quietude of the country. In Afa's
single room were two brass bedsteads, many gaudy tidies, an engraving
of the execution of Nathan Hale, and a toilet-table full of fancy
notions. Evoa was always barefooted, but Afa, on steamer days and
when going to the cinematograph, appeared in immaculate white and with
canvas shoes. Otherwise he wore only a fold of cloth about the loins,
the real garment of the Tahitian, and the right one for that climate.
Again on my balcony, I saw the sun had passed the crown of the
Diadem and was slanting hotly toward Papeete. Moorea was emerging
from darkness, its valleys a deep brown, and the tops of the serried
mountains becoming green.
Along the reef, outside, a schooner, two-masted, was making for
the harbor. She was very graceful, and as she entered the lagoon
through the passage in the barrier I was struck by her lines, slender,
swelling, and feminine. She passed within a few hundred feet of me,
and I saw that she was the Marara, the Flying-Fish.
I did not know it then, but I was to go on that little vessel to the
blazing atolls of the Dangerous Archipelago, and to see stranger and
more fascinating sights than I had dreamed of on the Noa-Noa during
my passage to Tahiti.
I dragged my canoe to the edge of the quai des Subsistances,
so-called because of the naval depot. The craft was dubbed out of a
breadfruit-tree trunk, and had an outrigger of purau wood, a natural
crooked arm, with a small limb laced to it. The canoe was steady enough
in such smooth water, and I paddled off to Motu Uta. That islet is a
rock of coral upon which soil had been placed unknown years before,
and which produced fruits and flowers in abundance under the hand of
the caretaker. Motu Uta is about as large as a city building lot, and
the coral hummock shelves sharply to a considerable depth. Under this
declining reef were the rarest shapes and colors of fish. They swam
up and down, and in and out of their blue and pink and ivory-colored
homes, slowly and majestically, or darting hither and thither, angered
at the intrusion of my canoe in their domain, courting and rubbing
fins, repelling invaders. The little ones avoiding dexterously the
appetites of their big friends, and these moving pompously, but warily,
seeking what they might devour.
A collector of corals would find many sorts there. They are wonderful,
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