Mystic Isles of the South Seas.
Part 4 out of 8
these stony plants, graceful, strange, bizarre. The Tahitian, who
has a score of names for the winds, and who classifies fish not only
by their names, but changes these names according to size and age,
makes only a few lumps of the coral. It is to'a, and when round is
to'a ati, to'a apu; when branching, uruhi, uruana; when in a bank,
to'a aau; when above the surface of the water, to'a raa. A submerged
mass is to'a faa ruru, and the coral on which the waves break, to'a
auau. However, the native knows well that one species of coral, the
ahifa, is corrosive, irritating the skin when touched, and another,
which is poisoned by the hara plants, is termed to'a harahia.
Coral makes good lime for whitening walls, and is cut into blocks for
building. Many churches in Tahiti were built of coral blocks. The puny
fortifications erected by the French in the war with the Tahitians
decades ago were of coral stones, and are now black with age and
I headed my canoe toward the barrier reef, and tied it to a knob
of coral. Then I stepped out upon the reef itself, my tennis shoes
keeping the sharp edges from cutting my feet. It was the low tide
succeeding sunrise, and the water over the reef was a few inches
deep, so that I could see the marine life of the wall, the many kinds
of starfish, the sea-urchins, and the curious bivalves which hide
with their shell-tips just even with the floor of the lagoon, and,
keeping them barely even, wait for foolish prey.
The floor of the lagoon was most interesting; the prodigality of nature
in the countless number of low forms of life, their great variety,
their beauty, and their ugliness, and, appealing to me especially,
the humor of nature in the tricks she played with color and shape,
her score of clowns of the sea equaling her funny fellows ashore,
the macaws, the mandrills, the dachshunds, and the burros.
The sunlight on the water at that hour was like silver spangles on a
sapphire robe. I paddled near to the Marara, and watched her let go
her anchor and send her boat ashore with a stern line. Fastened to
a cannon and passed around a bitt on the schooner, the crew hauled
her close to the embankment, and soon she was broadside to, and her
gangway on the quay. Her captain, M. Moet, Woronick, a pearl merchant,
a government physician, and the passengers from the Paumotus were soon
ashore shaking hands with friends. I walked behind them to Lovaina's
for coffee, and was introduced to them all.
Woronick took me to his house across the street from the Tiare
Hotel, and there opened a massive safe and showed me drawer after
drawer of pearls. They were of all sizes and shapes and tints, from
a pear-shaped, brilliant, Orient pearl of great value, to the golden
pipi of inconsiderable worth. Woronick spoke of a pearl he had bought
some years ago in Takaroa, the creation of which, he said, had cost
the lives of three men including a great savant.
"If you go to Takaroa," said Woronick, "be sure to see old Tepeva
a Tepeva. He used to be one of the best divers in the Low Islands,
but he's got the bends. He sold me the greatest pearl ever found in
these fisheries in the last twenty years, and I made enough profit
on it to buy a house in Paris and live a year. Get him to tell you
his yarn. It beats Monte Cristo all hollow."
Which I made a note to do.
In the afternoon, with Charlie Eager, a guest at the Annexe, I went
to the worship-place of the Chinese, on the Broom Road. Outwardly,
it had not the flaunting distinction of the joss-houses of the Far
East or those of New York or San Francisco. The Chinese usually builds
his temples even in foreign lands in the same Oriental superfluity
of color and curve and adornment that makes them exclusively the
Middle Kingdom's own; but here he had been content to have a simple,
whitewashed church which might be a meeting-house or school. It
was set in the center of a great garden in which mango and cocoa
and breadfruit abounded. We were struck by the superb breadth and
immense height of a breadfruit-tree the shadows of which fell over
a small brick pagoda. This tree was a hundred feet tall, and the
always glorious leaves, as large as aprons, indented and a glossy,
dark green, made it a temple in itself worthier of the ministrations
of priests than the ugly brick or frame structure of our cities. The
Druids in their groves were nearer to the real God than the pursy
bishop in the steam-heated cathedral.
A native woman, aged and bent, said "Ia ora na!" to us, and we
replied. With my few words of Tahitian I gained from her that the
joss-house was open. We entered it, and found no one there. The
center was wide to the sky, that the rain might fall and the stars
shine within it. The altars were brilliant with memorial tablets,
the green, red, and gold flower vases, and sandalwood taper-holders,
so familiar to me, and all about were the written prayers of devotees,
soliciting the favor of Heaven, asking success in business, or the
averting of illness. They were evidently painted by the bonze of the
fane, for his slab of India ink was on a table nearby, as also the
brushes for the ideographs.
Sons expressed their filial duties in glittering excerpts from
Confucius, carved and gilded on expansive boards, and the incense
of the poor arose from the humble punksticks stuck in dishes of sand
upon the floor.
No Levite sat within the shrine or watched to see if profane hand
touched the sacred symbols, and were Charlie Eager sure of that before
we left, he had secured a trophy. Not knowing but that from one of
the numerous crannies or mayhap from the open roof the wrathful eye
of a hierophant was upon him, he had to content himself with a prayer
from the pagoda, which proved on close inspection to be a furnace
for the burning of the paper slips on which the aspirations of the
faithful were written. Whether the prayers had been granted, were out
of date, or the time paid for hanging in the joss-house had expired,
the crematory was four feet deep with the red and white rice-paper
legends, awaiting an auspicious occasion for incineration. Eager of
Inglewood, California, fished secretly, hidden by my body, until
he found a particularly long and intricate set of hieroglyphics,
and deposited it in his pocket. Then we fled.
More than two thousand Chinese in Tahiti, nearly all kin within
a few degrees, found in this humble church a substitute for their
family temples in China, where usually each clan has its own place of
worship. The laboring class of this fecund people seldom extend their
real devotion beyond their ancestors and the principle of fatherhood,
their reasoning being that of the wise Jewish charge to honor one's
father (and mother) that one's life may be long. Loving sons take
care of old parents. It is the old Oriental patriarchy sublimated by
the imposition of commerce upon agriculture.
The Chinese came to Tahiti during the American Civil War. They were
brought by an English planter to grow cotton, then scarce on account
of the blockade and desolation of the South. With the end of the war,
and the looms of Manchester again supplied, the plantation languished,
and the Chinese took other employment, became planters themselves,
or set up little shops. They now had most of the retail business of
the island, and all of it outside Papeete.
The secretary-general gave me figures about them.
"There are twenty-two hundred Chinese in Tahiti now," said he. "We
are willing to receive all who come. They are needed to restore the
population. Who would keep the stores or grow vegetables if we did
not have the Chinese? We exact no entrance fee, but we number every
man, and photograph him, to keep a record. There is no government
agent in China to further this emigration, but those here write home,
and induce their relatives to come. We hope for enough to make labor
plentiful. All cannot keep stores."
"Have you no Japanese?"
"Only those who work for the phosphate company at the island of
Makatea," replied the secretary-general. "They are well paid, their
fare to Tahiti and return secured, and otherwise they are favored. The
Government has agreed with a company to promote Chinese emigration to
the Marquesas. There are thousands needed. In French Oceanie there
are twelve thousand possible workers for nearly a million acres of
land. This land could easily feed two hundred thousand people. The
natives are dying fast, and we must replace them, or the land will
"Couldn't you bring French Chinese from Indo-China?" I asked.
"We haven't any workers to spare there," he answered.
In Papeete the Chinese were, as in America, a mysterious, elusive
race, the immigrants remaining homogeneous in habits, closely united
in social and business activities, and with a solid front to the
natives and the whites. They lived much as in China, though in more
healthful surroundings. Every vice they had in China they brought to
Tahiti; their virtues they left behind, except those strict ethics
in commerce and finance which must be carried out successfully to
"save face." Their community in this island, with a climate and
people as different from their own as the land from the sea, was in
their thoughts a part of Canton and the farms of Quan-tung. All the
bareness, dirt, and squalid atmosphere of home they had sought to bring
to the South Seas. They saw the other nationals here as objects of
ridicule and spoilage. The amassing of a competence before old age or
against a return to China, and the marrying there, or the resumption
of marital relations with the wife he had left to make his fortune,
was the fiercely sought goal of each.
Loti wrote nearly fifty years ago, a decade after their influx:
"The Chinese merchants of Papeete were objects of disgust and horror
to the natives. There was no greater shame than for a young woman
to be convicted of listening to the gallantries of one of them. But
the Chinese were wicked and rich, and it was notorious that several
of them, by means of presents and money, had obtained clandestine
favors which made amends to them for public scorn."
Had Admiral Julien Viaud returned now to Tahiti, he would have found
the Chinese stores thronged by the handsomest girls, their restaurants
thriving on their charms, and the Chinese the possessors of the pick of
the lower and middle classes of young women. Ah Sin is persistent; he
has no sense of Christian shame, and as in the Philippines, he dresses
his women gaily, and wins their favors despite his evil reputation,
his ugliness, and his being despised.
At the Cercle Bougainville I saw more than one Chinese playing cards
and drinking. These were Chinese who had made money, and who in the
give and take of business have pushed themselves into the club of
the other merchants, who feared and watched them.
Women were not allowed in barrooms in Papeete. The result was that
they went to the Chinese restaurants and coffee-houses to drink
beer and wine at tables, as legalized. A concomitant of this was
that men went to these places to meet women, and further that women
were retained or persuaded by the Chinese to frequent their places
so as to stimulate the sale of intoxicants. The Chinese restaurants
naturally became assignation houses.
Walking back, late in the afternoon, from the joss-house, we met
Lovaina in her automobile, with the American negro chauffeur, William,
and Temanu, Atupu, and Iromea. She invited me to accompany them to swim
in the Papenoo River, a few miles towards Point Venus. Other guests
of the Tiare Hotel came in hired cars, and twenty or thirty joined
in the bath. The river was a small flood, rains having swelled it
so that a current of five or six knots swept one off one's feet and
down a hundred and fifty feet before one could seize the limb of an
overhanging tree. We undressed in the bushes, and the men wore only
pareus, while the girls had an extra gown. They were expert swimmers,
climbing into the tops of the trees, and hurling themselves with
screams into the water. They struck it in a sitting posture making
great splashes and reverberations. Their muslin slips outlined
their strong bodies, so that they were like veiled goddesses, their
brownblack hair floating free, as they leaped or fought and tumbled
with the tide. We stayed an hour at this sport, joined when school
was dismissed by all the youth of Papenoo. Under twelve they bathed
naked, but those older wore pareus.
It was hard to keep on a pareu in a swift-running stream unless
one knew how to tie it. I lost mine several times, and had to grope
shamefacedly in the race for it, until finally Lovaina made the proper
knots and turned it into a diaper.
"I not go swim now," she said regretfully, "'cep' some night-time. Too
big. Before I marry, eighteen seven'y-nine, and before my three
children grow up, I swim plenty then."
"Lovaina," I said, "it was hardly eighteen seventynine you were
married. You are only forty-three now. Was it not eighty-nine?"
"Mus' be," she replied thoughtfully. "I nineteen when marry. My
father give me that house, now Tiare Hotel, for weddin' present. All
furnish. You should see that marry! My God! there was bottle in yard
all broken. Admiral French fleet send band; come hisself with all his
officer'. Five o'clock mornin'-time still dance and drink. Bigges'
time T'ytee. You not walk barefoot long time 'count broken glass
I had heard that delicious incident before, but it never lost savor.
After dinner and a prolonged session upon the camphor-wood chest to
hear Lovaina's chatter, I came leisurely to the Annexe along the shore
of the lagoon. It was after midnight, and the heavens sang with stars
as the ripe moon dipped into the western sea.
The tropics only know the fullness of the firmament, the myriad of suns
and planets, the brilliancy of the constellations, and the overpowering
revelation of the infinite above. In less fervent latitudes one can
never feel the bigness of the vault on high, nor sense the intimacy
one had here with the worlds that spin in the measureless ether.
Two lofty-sparred ships but newly from the California coast swung at
moorings within a dozen feet of the grass that borders the coral banks,
and on their decks, under the light of lamps, American sailors lifted a
shanty of the rolling Mississippi. I remembered when I had first heard
it. I was a boy, and had stolen away on a bark, the Julia Rollins,
bound for Rio, and as we hauled in the line let go by the tow-boat,
a seaman raised the bowline song. To me, with "Two Years Before the
Mast" and Clark Russell's galley yarns churning in my mind, it was
sweeter far than ever siren voiced to lure her victims to their death,
and rough and tarry as was the shanty-man, Caruso had never seemed
to me such a glorious figure.
This fascination of the sea and of its border had never left me,
though I had passed years on ships and nearly all my life within sound
of the surf. It is as strong as ever, holding me thrall in the sight
of its waters and its freights, and unhappy when denied them. Best
of all literature I love the stories of old ocean, and glad am I
That such as have no pleasure
For to praise the Lord by measure,
They may enter into galleons and serve him on the sea.
In Tahiti the sea was very near and meant much. One felt toward it
as must the mountaineer who lives in the shadow of the Matterhorn;
it was always part of one's thoughts, for all men and things came
and went by it, and the great world lay beyond it.
But dear or near as the sea might be to such a man as I, a mere
traveler upon it to reach a goal, to the Tahitian it was life and
road and romance, too. Legends of it filled the memories of those old
ones who, though in tattered form, preserved yet awhile the deeds of
daring of their fathers and the terrors of storm and sea monster,
of long journeys in frail canoes, of discoveries and conquerings,
of brides taken from other peoples, and of the gods and devils who
were in turn masters of the deep.
Once a Tahitian stopped the sun as it sank beyond Moorea not to
wage war, as Joshua, but to please his old mother. The sea and the
heavens are brothers to the Tahitian. The sky had two great tales
for him--guidance for his craft and prophecies for his soul; but he
did not inhabit it with his gods or his dead, as do Christians and
other religionists, for the mountains, the valleys, and the caves
were the abiding-places of spirits, and the Tahitian had named only
those stars which blazed forth most vividly or served him as compass
on the sea. He did, however, mark the various phases of the sky,
and in his musical tongue named them with particularity.
The firmament is te ao, te rai, and the atmosphere te reva, and when
peaceful, raiatea. This is the name of one of the most beautiful
islands of this Society group, "Raiatea la Sacree," it is called,
"Raiatea the Blessed," and its own serenity is betokened in its name.
E hau maru, e maru to oe rai
E topara, te Mahana
I Ra' i-atea nei!
So ran the rhyme of Raiatea:
Full of a sweet peace, serene thy sky;
Bright are all thy days
At Raiatea here.
Rai poia or poiri, they say for the gloomy heavens, and rai maemae
when threatening, parutu when cloudy, moere if clear; if the clouds
presage wind, tutai vi. The sunset is tooa o te ra, and the twilight
The night is te po or te rui, and the moment before the sun rises
marumaru ao. A hundred other words and phrases differentiate the
conditions of sky and air. I learned them from Afa and Evoa and others.
The moon is te marama, and the full moon vaevae. Mars is fetia ura,
the red star; the Pleiades are Matarii, the little eyes; and the
Southern Cross, Tauha, Fetia ave are the comets, the "stars with a
tail," and the meteors pao, opurei, patau, and pitau.
The moon was gone, but the stars needed no help, for they shone as if
the trump of doom were due at dawn, and they should be no more. Blue
and gold, a cathedral ceiling with sanctuary lamps hung high, the
dome of earth sparkled and glittered, and on the schooners by the
Cercle Bougainville himenes of joy rang out on the soft air.
I passed them close, so close that a girl of Huahine who was dancing
on the deck of the Mihimana seized me by the arm and embraced me.
"Come back, stranger!" she cried in Tahitian. "There is pleasure here,
and the night is but just begun."
A dozen island schooners swayed in the gentle breeze, their stays
humming softly, their broadsides separated from the quays by just
a dozen or twenty feet, as if they feared to risk the seduction of
the land, and felt themselves safer parted from the shore. On all the
street-level verandas, the entrances to the shops and the restaurants,
the hundreds of natives who had not wanted other lodging slept as
children in cradles until they should rise for coffee before the
From the Chinese shop at the corner the strains of a Canton actor's
falsetto, with the squeak of the Celestial fiddles issued from a
phonograph, but so real I fancied I was again on Shameen, listening
over the Canton River to the noises of the night, the music, and the
singsong girls of the silver combs.
I went on, and met the peanut-man. He sold me two small bags of roasted
goobers for eight sous. He wore the brown, oilskin-like, two-piece
suit of the Chinese of southern China, and he had no teeth and no
hair, and his eyes would not stay open. He had to open them with his
fingers, so that most of the time he was blind; but he counted money
accurately, and he had a tidy bag of silver and coppers strapped to
his stomach. He looked a hundred years old.
When I paid for the two bags, he raised his lids, believed that I
was a speaker of English, and said, "Fine businee!"
As I went past the queen's palace, the two mahus were chanting low,
as they sat on the curbing, and they glanced coquettishly at me,
but asked only for cigarettes. I gave them a package of Marinas,
made in the Faubourg Bab-el-oued, in Algiers, and they said "Maruru"
and "Merci" in turn and in unison. Strange men these, one bearded and
handsome, the other slender and in his twenties, their dual natures
contrasting in their broad shoulders and their swaying hips, their
men's pareus and shirts, and bits of lace lingerie. I met them half
a dozen times a day, and as I was now known as a resident, not the
idler of a month, they bowed in hope of recognition.
In the Annexe all was quiet, but in the great sailing canoe of Afa,
on the grass by the water, there were two girls smoking and humming,
and waiting for the cowboy and the prize-fighter who lived beside me,
and who were dancing to-night at Fa'a. Like Indians, these Tahitians,
especially the women, would sit and watch and wait for hours on hours,
and make no complaint, if only their dear one--dear mayhap for only
a night--came at last.
I was awakened from happy sleep by the cries of a frightened woman,
confused with outlandish, savage sounds. I lit my lamp and leaned
over the balcony. Under a flamboyant-tree was a girl defending herself
from the attack of Vava. She was screaming in terror, and the Dummy,
a giant in strength, was holding her and grunting his bestial laugh. I
threw the rays full in his face, and he looked up, saw me, and ran
away up the beach, yelping like a frustrated beast. In voice and
action he resembled an animal more than any human I had ever seen. The
guilelessness and cunning of child and fiend were in his dumb soul.
The princess suggests a walk to the falls of Fautaua, where Loti went
with Rarahu--We start in the morning--The suburbs of Papeete--The Pool
of Loti--The birds, trees and plants--A swim in a pool--Arrival at
the cascade--Luncheon and a siesta--We climb the height--The princess
tells of Tahitian women--The Fashoda fright.
The falls of Fautaua, famed in Tahitian legend, are exquisite in
beauty and surrounding, and so near Papeete that I walked to them
and back in a day. Yet hardly any one goes there. For those who have
visited them they remain a shrine of loveliness, wondrous in form and
unsurpassed in color. Before the genius of Tahiti was smothered in the
black and white of modernism, the falls and the valley in which they
are, were the haunt of lovers who sought seclusion for their pledgings.
A princess accompanied me to them. She was not a daughter of a king
or queen, but she was near to royalty, and herself as aristocratic in
carriage and manner as was Oberea, who loved Captain Cook. I danced
with her at a dinner given by a consul, and when I spoke to her of
Loti's visit to Fautaua with Rarahu, she said in French:
"Why do you not go there yourself with a Rarahu! Loti is old and an
admiral, and writes now of Egypt and Turkey and places soiled by crowds
of people, but Rarahu is still here and young. Shall I find you her?"
I looked at her and boldly said:
"I am a stranger in your island, as was Loti when he met Rarahu. Will
you not yourself show me Fautaua?"
She gave a shrill cry of delight, and in the frank, sweet way of the
Tahitian girl replied:
"We will run away to-morrow morning. Wear little, for it will be warm,
and bring no food!"
"I will obey you literally," I said, "and you must find manna or
charm ravens to bring us sustenance."
I had coffee opposite the market place in the shop of Wing Luey, and
chatted a few moments with Prince Hinoe, the son of the Princesse
de Joinville, who would have been king had the French not ended
the Kingdom of Tahiti. No matter what time Hinoe lay down at night,
he was up at dawn for the market, for his early roll and coffee and
his converse with the sellers and the buyers. There once a day for
an hour the native in Papeete touched the country folk and renewed
the ancient custom of gossip in the cool of the morning.
The princess--in English her familiar Tahitian name, Noanoa Tiare,
meant Fragrance of the Jasmine--was in the Parc de Bougainville,
by the bust of the first French circumnavigator.
"Ia ora na!" she greeted me. "Are you ready for adventure?"
She handed me a small, soft package, with a caution to keep it safe
and dry. I put it in my inside pocket.
The light of the sun hardly touched the lagoon, and Moorea was still
shrouded in the shadows of the expiring night. As we walked down the
beach, the day was opening with the "morning bank," the masses of
white clouds that gather upon the horizon before the tradewind begins
its diurnal sweep, to shift and mold them all the hours till sunset.
Fragrance of the Jasmine was in a long and clinging tunic of pale
blue, with low, white shoes disclosing stockings also of blue, and
wore a hat of pandanus weave. She carried nothing, nor had I anything
in my hands, and we were to be gone all day. I regretted that I had
not lingered longer with Prince Hinoe over the rolls and coffee.
We fared past the merchants' stores, the Cercle Bougainville, and
the steamship wharf, and over the Pont de l'Est, or Eastern bridge,
to Patutoa. The princess pointed out to me many wretched straw
houses, crowded in a hopeless way. They were like a refugee camp
after a disaster, impermanent, uncomfortable, barely holding on to
the swampy earth. One knew the occupants to be far from their own
Lares and Penates.
"Those are the habitations of people of other islands," she said. "The
people of the Paumotus, the Australs, and of Easter Island settled
there. They were brought here by odious labor contractors, and died
of homesickness. Those men murdered hundreds of them to gain un
pen d'argent, a handful of gold. Eh b'en, those who did it have
suffered. They have faded away, and most of their evil money,
Llewellyn's dark face as he protested against Lying Bill's sarcastic
statement of guilt came before me.
To lighten the thought of the princess I told her the thread of
"The Bottle Imp," and that the magic bottle had disappeared out of
the story right there, by the old calaboose. She was glad that the
white sailor who did not care for life had saved the Hawaiians.
Framed in the door of a rough cabin I saw McHenry. He was in pajamas,
barefooted, and unshaven. I recalled that he had an "old woman"
there. Llewellyn had reproved him for speaking contemptuously of
her as beneath him socially. I waved to McHenry, who nodded charily,
and pulled down the curtain which was in lieu of a door. The shack
looked bare and cheap, as if little money or effort had been spent
upon it. Perhaps, I thought, McHenry could afford only the drinks and
cards at the Cercle Bougainville and economized at home. He did not
reappear, but a comely native woman drew back the curtain, and stood
a moment to view us. She was large, and did not look browbeaten, as
one would have supposed from McHenry's boast that he would not permit
her even to walk with him except at a "respectful distance." Of course
I knew him as a boaster.
The church of the curious Josephite religion was near by, and in the
mission house attached to it I saw the American preachers of the sect.
"What do they preach?" I asked Noanoa Tiare.
"Those missionaries, the Tonito? Oh, they speak evil of the Mormons. I
do not know how they speak of God." She laughed. "I am not interested
in religions," she explained. "They are so difficult to understand. Our
own old gods seem easier to know about."
We had arrived at the part of the beach into which the broad avenue
of Fautaua debouched.
The road was beside the stream of Fautaua, and arching it were
magnificent dark-green trees, like the locust-trees of Malta. This
avenue was in the middle of the island, and looking through the
climbing bow of branches I saw Maiauo, the lofty needles of rock
which rise black-green from the mountain plateau and form a tiara,
Le Diademe, of the French. A quarter of an hour's stroll brought us
to a natural basin into which the stream fell. It was of it Louis
Marie Julien Viaud, shortly after he had been christened Loti, wrote:
The pool had numerous visitors every day; beautiful young women of
Papeete spent the warm tropical days here, chatting, singing and
sleeping, or even diving and swimming like agile gold fish. They
went here clad in their muslin tunics, and wore them moist upon their
bodies while they slept, looking like the naiads of the past.
We were already warm from walking, and I, in my pareu and light coat
of pongee silk, looked longingly at the water sparkling in the sun,
but the princess took me by the hand and led me on.
"It were better to go directly up the valley and out of the heat,"
she advised. "We shall have many pools to bathe in."
It was at the next that I took from my pocket "Rarahu, ou le mariage
de Loti," a thin, poorly printed book in pink paper covers that I had
possessed since boyhood, and which I had read again on the ship coming
to Tahiti. The princess, like all reading Tahiti, knew it better than
I, for it was the first novel in French with its scenes in that island,
and for more than forty years had been talked about there.
"Here at this pool," she said, with her finger on the page, "Loti
surprised Rarahu one afternoon when for a red ribbon she let an old
and hideous Chinese kiss her naked shoulder. Mon dieu! That French
naval officer made a bruit about a poor little Tahitian girl! We will
talk about her when we are at dejeuner."
Dejeuner! My heart leaped. Whence would the luncheon come? Had this
child of Tahiti arranged beforehand that she should be met by a jinn
with sandwiches and cakes? I dared not ask.
We pushed on, and passed many residences of natives. They were almost
all of European construction, board cottages, because the houses of
native sort are forbidden within the municipal limits. Beyond them we
saw no houses. The Tahitian families were cooking their breakfasts,
brought from the market, on little fires outside their houses. They
all smiled, and called to us to partake with them.
"Ia ora na! Haere mai amu!"
"Greeting! Come eat with us!"
They looked happy in the sunshine, the smoke curling about them in
milky wreaths, the men naked except for pareus, and the children
quite as born. Fragrance of the Jasmine answered all with pleasant
badinage, and each must know whither we were bound. They thought it
not at all odd, apparently, that a princess of their race should be
going to the waterfalls with a foreigner, and they beamed on me to
assure me of their interest and understanding.
The broad avenue lessened into a broken road, roofed by many kinds
of trees. Though the sun ascended from the ocean on the other side of
Tahiti above the fantastic peak of Maiauo, it had not shed a beam upon
the ferns and mosses. The guava was a dense growth. Like the lantana
of Hawaii and Ceylon, imported to Tahiti to fill a want, it had abused
hospitality, and become a nuisance without apparent remedy. How often
man works but in circles! Everywhere in the world plants and insects,
birds and animals, had been pointed out to me that had been acquired
for a beneficent purpose, and had become a curse.
The mina-bird was brought to Tahiti from the Moluccas to eat wasps
which came from South America, and were called Jack Spaniards. The
mina, perhaps, ate the insects, but he also ate everything else,
including fruit. He stole bread and butter off tables, and his hoarse
croak or defiant rattle was an oft-repeated warning to defend one's
food. The minas were many in Tahiti, and, like the English sparrow
in American cities and towns, had driven almost all other birds to
flight or local extinction. The sparrow's urban doom might be read
in the increasing number of automobiles, but the mina in Tahiti,
as in Hawaii, had a sinecure.
Noanoa Tiare said that the guava had its merits. Horses and cattle
ate its leaves and fruit, and the wood was a common fuel throughout
Tahiti. The fruit was delicious, and in America or England would be
all used for jelly, but only Lovaina preserved it. The passion-flowers
of the granadilla vines, white and star-like, with purpling centers,
were intermingled with the guavas, a brilliant and aromatic show,
the fruit like miniature golden pumpkins. Their acid, sweetish pulp
contained many seeds, each incased in white jelly. One ate the seeds
only, though the pulp, when cooked, was palatable.
The road dwindled into a narrower path, and then a mere trail. The
road had crossed the brook many times on frail bridges, some tottering
and others only remnants. Habitations ceased, and we were in a dark,
splendid gorge, narrow, and affording one no vision straight ahead
except at intervals.
The princess named many of the growths we passed, and explained their
qualities. The native is very close to the ground. The lantana, with
its yellow and magenta flowerets, umbrella ferns, and aihere, the herbe
de vache, and the bohenia, used by the Tahitians for an eye lotion,
were all about. Palms, with cocoanuts of a half dozen stages of growth,
and giant banana-plants lined the banks, and bushes with blue flowers
like violets, and one with red buttons, intermingled with limes and
oranges to form a thicket through which we could hardly force our way.
We were yet on the level of the rivulet, but now, the princess said,
must take to the cliff. We had come to a pool which in symmetry and
depth, in coolness and invitingness, outranked all before. I was very
hot, the beads of perspiration like those in a steamroom.
"We will rest here a few minutes, and you may bathe," said my lovely
guide. "I have not been to Fautaua vaimato for several years, but I
never forget the way. I will make a basket, and here we will gather
some fruit for our dejeuner for fear there might not be plenty at
I took off my tennis-shoes, hung my silk coat on a limb, and plunged
into the pool. Never but in the tropics does the human being fully
enjoy the dash into cool water. There it is a tingling pleasure. I
dived time and again, and then sat in the small glitter of sunlight
to dry and to watch Noanoa Tiare make the basket. She said she had
a wide choice there, as the leaves of the banana, cocoanut, bamboo,
pandanus, or aihere would serve. She had selected the aihere, the
common weed, and out of its leaves she deftly fashioned a basket a
foot long and wide and deep.
Although she had been in Paris and London and in New York, knew how
to play Beethoven and Grieg and Saint-Saens, had had gowns made by
Paquin, and her portrait in the salon, she was at home in this glade
as a Tahitian girl a hundred years ago. The airs of the avenue de
l'Opera in Paris, and, too, of the rue de Rivoli in Papeete, were
rarefied in this simple spot to the impulses and experiences of her
childhood in the groves and on the beaches of her beloved island.
When I had on my coat, we gathered limes, bananas, oranges, and a wild
pineapple that grew near by in a tangle of coffee and vanilla, and
the graceful acalypha. The yellow tecoma, a choice exotic in America,
shed its seeds upon the sow thistle, a salad, and the ape or wild
taro. The great leaves of the ape are like our elephant's ear plant,
and the roots, as big as war-clubs, are tubers that take the place
of potatoes here. In Hawaii, crushed and fermented, and called poi,
they were ever the main food. The juice of the leaf stings one's skin.
The princess removed her shoes and stockings, and I carried them over
my shoulder. We deflected from the rivulet to the cliff above it,
and there forced our way along the mountain-side, feeling almost by
instinct the trail hidden by the mass of creepers and plants.
It was a real jungle. Man had once dwelt there when his numbers in
this island were many times greater. Then every foot of ground from
the precipices to the sea was cleared for the breadfruit, the taro,
the cocoanut, and other life-giving growths, which sowed themselves
and asked no cultivation. Now, except for the faint trail, I was on
primeval ground, from all appearances.
The canon grew narrower and darker. The undefined path lay inches
deep in water, and the levels were shallow swamp. Nature was in vast
luxuriance, in a revel of aloofness from human beings, casting its
wealth of blazing colors and surprising shapes upon every side. We slid
down the edge of the hill to the burn, where the massive boulders and
shattered rocks were camouflaged by the painting of moss and lichen,
the ginger, turmeric, caladium, and dracaena, and by the overhanging
palms covered with the rich bird's-nest ferns.
We sat again in this wild garden of the tropic to invite our souls
to drink the beauty and quietude, the absence of mankind and the
nearness of nature. We became very still, and soon heard the sounds
of bird and insect above the lower notes of the brawling stream.
The princess put her finger on her lips and whispered in my ear:
"Do you hear the warbling of the omamao and the olatare? They are
our song-birds. They are in these high valleys only, for the mina has
frightened them from below--the mina that came with the ugly Chinese."
"Noanoa Tiare," said I, "you Tahitians are the birds of paradise
of the human family. You have been driven from the rich valleys of
your old life to hills of bare existence by the minas of commerce
and politics. I feel like apologizing for my civilization."
She pressed my hand.
"Taisez-vous!" she replied, smiling. "Aita peapea. I am always
happy. Remember I still live in Tahiti, and this is my time. My
foremothers' day is past. Allons! We will be soon at the vaimato,
and there we will have the dejeuner."
As we moved on I saw that the yellow flowers of the purau, dried
red by the sun,--poultices for natives' bruises,--and candlenuts in
heaps,--torches ready to hand,--littered the moss.
The mountain loomed in the distance, and the immense Pic du Francais
towered in shadow. Faintly I heard the boom of the waterfall, and
knew we were nearing the goal.
The canon grew yet narrower and darker, and the crash of water
louder. We had again attained a considerable height over the stream,
and the trail seemed lost. The princess took my hand, and cautiously
feeling the creepers and plants under our feet, we slipped and crept
down the hidden path. Suddenly, the light became brilliant, and I
found myself in a huge broken bowl of lava rock, the walls almost
vertical. From the summit of the precipice facing me fell a superb
cascade into a deep and troubled tarn. The stream was spun silver in
the sun, which now was warm and splendid. So far it fell that much of
it never reached the pool as water, but, blown by the gentle breeze,
a moiety in spume and spray wet the earth for an acre about. Like
the veil of a bride, the spindrift spread in argent clouds, and a
hundred yards away dropped like gentle rain upon us. Verdure covered
everything below except where the river ran from the tarn and hurried
to the lesser things of the town. The giant walls, as black as the
interior of an old furnace, were festooned with magnificent tree
ferns, the exquisite maidenhair, lianas, and golden-green mosses,
all sparkling in the sun with the million drops of the vaimato.
We withdrew a few paces from the vapor, and found a place on the edge
of the brook to have our fruit and, perhaps, a siesta. A carpet of
moss and green leaves made a couch of Petronian ease, and we threw
ourselves upon it with the weariness of six miles afoot uphill in
the tropics. It was not hot like the summer heat of New York, for
Tahiti has the most admirable climate I have found the world over,
but at midday I had felt the warmth penetratingly. Noanoa Tiare made
nothing of it, but suggested that we both leap into the tarn.
I knew a moment of squeamishness, echo of the immorality of my
catechism and my race conventions. I felt almost aghast at finding
myself alone with that magnificent creature in such a paradisiacal
spot. I wondered what thoughts might come to me. I had danced with her,
I had talked with her under the stars, but what might she expect me
not to do? And what was an Occidental, a city man, before her? She
retired behind a bird's-nest fern, on the long, lanceolate leaves
of which were the shells of the mountain snail. At her feet was the
bastard canna, the pungent root of which makes Chinese curry.
When she emerged, she was an amazing and enchanting personage. She had
removed her gown, and wore a pareu of muslin, with huge scarlet leaves
upon white. She was tall and voluptuously formed, but she had made
the loin-cloth, two yards long and a yard wide, cover her in a manner
that was modest, though revealing. It was the art of her ancestors,
for this was the shape of their common garment of tapa, a native
cloth. With a knot or two she arranged the pareu so that it was like
a chemise, coming to a foot above her knees and covering her bosom.
Her black, glossy hair was loose and hung below her waist, and upon
it she had placed a wreath she had quickly made of small ferns. That
was their general custom, to adorn themselves when happy and at the
bath. The eyes of Fragrance of the Jasmine were very large, deep brown,
her skin a coppery-cinnamon, with a touch of red in the cheeks, and
her nose and mouth were large and well formed. Her teeth were as the
meat of the cocoanut, brilliant and strong. Her limbs were rounded,
soft, the flesh glowing with health and power. She was of that line
of Tahitian women who sent back the first European navigators, the
English, to rave about an island of Junos, the French to call Tahiti
La Nouvelle Cythere, the new isle of Venus.
I had but to tie up my own pareu of red calico with white leaves in
the manner Lovaina had shown me to have an imitation of our usual
"Allons!" cried the princess, and running toward the waterfall, she
climbed up the cliff to a height of a dozen feet, and threw herself,
wreathed as she was, with a loud "Aue!" into the pool.
I followed her, and she dived and swam, brought up bottom, treaded
water, and led me in a dozen exercises and tricks of the expert
swimmer. The water was very cool, and ten minutes in it, with our
sharpening hunger, were enough delight. Fragrance of the Jasmine, as
she came dripping from water and lingered a few moments on the brink,
was a rapturous object. With unconscious grace she flung back her
head many times to shake the moisture from her thick hair, and ran
her fingers through it until the strands were fairly separated. The
pareu disclosed the rounded contour of her figure as if it were
painted upon her. She was one of those ancient Greek statues, those
semi-nudes on which the artists painted in vivid tints the blush of
youth, the hue of hair, and a shadow of a garment. She entranced me,
and I called out to her, "Nehenehe!" "Beautiful!"
She ran to her boudoir behind the bird's-nest fern, and soon returned
in her tunic, still barefoot, and with her pareu in her hand for
drying on a rock. She brought two wreaths now and put one upon me. We
resumed our couches upon the green sward, and the princess laid the
basket of fruit between us.
"Maintenant pour le dejeuner!" she said.
We ate the bananas first, and then the pineapple, which we cut with a
sliver of basalt,--we were in the stone age, as her tribe was when the
whites came,--and last the oranges. She made cups of leaves and filled
them with water, and into them we squeezed the limes for a toast.
"Inu i te ota no te!" she said and lifted her cup. "A health to
you! He who eats the fei passes under a spell; he must return again
to the islands. Have you eaten the fei?"
"Not yet, Princess," I replied.
"There they are in abundance on the hillside," she said. "Look! If we
had fire, I would roast one for you, but to-morrow will be another
The fei, the mountain banana, the staple of the Tahitian, was there
aplenty. The plant or stalk was that of the banana, but very dark at
the base, and the leaves thicker. The fruit was two or three times
as large, and red, and a striking difference was that it was placed
on the bunches erect, while bananas hang down from the stem.
I drank to her increasing charm, and I told her how much the beauty
and natural grace of the Tahitians appealed to me; how I intended to
leave Papeete and go to the end of the island to be among the natives
only; that I had remained thus long in the city to learn first the
ways of the white in the tropics, and then to gain the contrast by
seeking the Tahitian as nearly as possible in his original habitat.
Noanoa Tiare took the orange-peel and rubbed it upon her hair.
"Noanoa!" she said. "Mon ami americain, I will give you a note to
Aruoehau a Moeroa, the tava, or chief of Mataiea district, and you
can stay with him. You will know him as Tetuanui. He will gladly
receive you, and he is wise in our history and our old customs. Do
not expect too much! We ate in the old day the simple things at hand,
fish and breadfruit, feis and cocoanut milk, mangoes and bananas and
oranges. Now we eat the dirty and prepared food of the Tinito, the
Chinaman, and we depend on coffee and rum and beer for strength. The
thin wheat bread has no nourishment compared with the breadfruit
and the fei, the yam and the taro. And clothes! The fools taught us
that the pareu, which left the body exposed to the air, clean and
refreshed by the sun and the winds, was immodest. We exchanged it for
undershirts and trousers and dresses and shoes and stockings and coats,
and got disease and death and degeneration.
"You are late, my friend," the princess went on, with a note of pity
in her soft voice. "My mother remembered the days Loti depicted in
'Rarahu.' My grandmother knew little Tarahu of Bora-Bora of whom he
wrote. Viaud was then a midshipman. We did not call him Loti, but Roti,
our coined word for a rose, because he had rosy cheeks. But he could
not call himself Roti in his novel, for in French, his language, that
meant roasted, and one might think of boeuf a la roti. We have no L
in Tahitian. We also called him Mata Reva or the Deep-Eyed One. Tarahu
was not born on Bora-Bora, but right here in Mataiea."
She lay at full length, her uptilted face in her hands, and her
perfect feet raised now and then in unaware accentuation of her words.
"What Tahitian women there were then! Read the old French writers! None
was a pigmy. When they stood under the waterfall the water ran off
their skins as off a marble table. Not a drop stayed on. They were
as smooth as glass."
Fragrance of the Jasmine sighed.
I had it in my mouth to say that she was as beautiful and as
smooth-skinned as any of her forebears. She was as enticing as
imaginable, her languorous eyes alight as she spoke, and her bare
limbs moving in the vigor of her thoughts. But I could not think of
anything in French or English not banal, and my Tahitian was yet too
limited to permit me to tutoyer her. She was an islander, but she
had seen the Midnight Follies and the Bal Bullier, the carnival in
Nice, and once, New Year's Eve in San Francisco. An Italian and a
Scandinavian prince had wooed her.
I spoke of Loti again, and of other writers' comments upon the attitude
of women in Tahiti toward man.
The princess sat up and adjusted her hei of ferns. She studied a
minute, and then she said:
"I have long wanted to talk with an intelligent American on that
subject; with some one who knew Europe and his own country and these
islands. There is a vast hypocrisy in the writing and the talking about
it. Now, Maru (I already had been given my native name), the woman
of Tahiti exercises the same sexual freedom as the average white man
does in your country and in England or France. She pursues the man she
wants, as he does the woman. Your women pursue, too, but they do it
by cunning, by little lies, by coquetry, by displaying their persons,
by flattery, and by feeding you.
"The Tahitian woman makes the first advances in friendship openly,
if she chooses. She arranges time and place for amours as your women
do. She does not take from the Tahitian man or from the foreigner his
right to choose, but she chooses herself, too. I feel sure that often
an American woman would give hours of pain to know well a certain
man, but makes no honest effort to draw him toward her. They have
told me so!"
I got up, and standing beside her, I quoted:
"Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and silence."
"Mais, c'est vrai!" she said, musingly. "The Tahitian woman will not
endure that. She is on a par with the man in seeking. Without fear
and without shame, and, attendez, Maru, without any more monogamy
than you men. I have told some of those suffrage ladies of London
and of Washington that we are in advance of their most determined
feminism. They will come to it. More women than men in Europe will
bring it there."
Her long, black lashes touched her cheeks.
"We are a little sleepy, n'est-ce pas?" she asked. "B'en, we will
have a taoto."
She made herself a pillow of leaves with her pareu, and arranging her
hair in two braids, she stretched herself out, with her face toward
the sky, and a cool banana-leaf laid over it. I copied her action,
and lulled by the falling water, the rippling of the pool, and the
drowsy rustling of the trees, I fell fast asleep, and dreamed of Eve
and the lotus-eaters.
When I awoke, the princess was refreshing her face and hands in
"A hio! Look!" she said eagerly. "O tane and O vahine!"
In the mist above the pool at the foot of the cascade a double rainbow
gleamed brilliantly. O tane is the man, which the Tahitians call the
real arch, and O vahine, the woman, the reflected bow. They appeared
and disappeared with the movement of the tiny, fleecy clouds about
the sun. The air, as dewy as early morn in the braes o' Maxwelton,
was deliciously cool.
"If you have courage and strength left," the princess said excitedly,
"we will go to the fort of Fautaua, and I will show you where the
last of my people perished fighting to drive out the French invader,
and where the French officials fled with the treasure-box when they
feared war with England not very long ago."
She pointed up to the brim of the precipice, where the river launched
itself into the air, to drop six hundred feet before it fed the stream
below. Sheer and menacing the black walls of the crevasse loomed, as if
forbidding approach, but through a network of vines and bushes, over
a path seldom used, we climbed, and after half a mile more of steeps,
reached the fort. Rugged was the way, and we aided each other more
than once, but rejoiced at our effort when we surmounted the summit.
The view was indescribably grand. One felt upon the roof of the
island, though the farther heights of the valley culminated in a
gigantic crag-wall, a saddle only a yard across, and wooded to the
apex, and above that even towered Orohena, nearly a mile and a half
high, and never reached by man despite many efforts. Tropic birds,
the bo's'ns of the sailor, their bodies whitish gray, with their
two long tail-feathers, had their haunt there, and piped above the
trees. The river was a fierce torrent, and leaped into a water-hewn
lava basin, where it swirled and foamed before it rushed, singing,
through a stone funnel to the border of the chasm, and sprang with
a dull roar into the ether.
There was a chorus of sounds from the cataract, the river, the wind,
the trees, and the birds, a mighty music of elements of the earth
and of life, rising and falling rhythmically, and inspiring, but
nerve-racking. Fragrance of the Jasmine seized my hand and held it.
"Let us go to a more peaceful spot, where I can tell you the story,"
she said in my ear. We passed the rough fort, broken-down and mossy,
and moving carefully along the trail, clambering over rocks and
tearing away twigs and broad leaves, we reached a dismantled and
We sat down upon its steps, and I removed my coat and was naked to
my pareu in the afternoon zephyr.
"That fort," said the princess, "was built by the French in the
forties, when they were stealing my country. From it they could
command the gorge of Fautaua and that and other valleys. This place
was the last stronghold of the Tahitian warriors before the enemy
overcame them, and erected the ramparts and the fort. The last man to
die fell by the river basin. The band of heroes would have held out
longer, but were betrayed by a Tahitian. He led the French troops by
night and by secret paths to a hill overlooking them, so that they
were shot down from above. The traitor lived to wear the red ribbon
of the Legion of Honor and to spend pleasantly the gold the French
Government gave him. C'est la vie."
We cast our eyes over the scene. There was a forest of wild ginger,
ferns, and dracasna all about. Thousands of roses perfumed the air,
and other flowers and strawberries, and feis, green or ripe-red,
wondrous clusters of fruit, awaited man's culling. The stream purled
about worn rocks, and we came to two gloomy pools, black from the
reflection of their bowls, the water bubbling and surging from springs
beneath. It was deliciously cold, and we drank it from leaf cups.
"How about the time the French came here with the treasure?" I
inquired. "Have we time for that history?"
"Mais, oui!" said Noanoa Tiare. "That is too good for you not to
know. You know that the French are excitable, n'est-ce pas? B'en,
a French officer, Major Marchand, put up the tricolor in some place
called Fashoda in Africa, and the English objected. There was some
parleying between the two nations, and the information arrived in
Tahiti that England was going to make war on France. The French papers
or the American papers said so, and every one was alarmed.
"'The treacherous Anglais might strike at any moment,' said the
French, and they were afraid. Then one night some one rode in from near
Point Venus and reported to the Governor that two British frigates had
been sighted. Mon dieu! what to do? There was only a French transport
at Papeete, worth nothing for defense. They tore the trimmings from
that vessel and prepared to scuttle her. The guns were rushed to
Faere Hill for a last, desperate stand against odds. They could die
like Frenchmen! All lights were ordered extinguished, and even the
beacon of Point Venus was dark. The enlisted natives were sent to
watch on every headland, a cabinet meeting was held,--the apothecary,
and the governor, and the secretaries, and the doctor,--and it was
determined to save the money of the city and the archives of the
Government. The valuables and the papers were put in strong boxes
and the governor and all of them made a mad race for this fort."
The princess covered her mouth with her hand to still her laughter.
"Was it not funny? They arrived here at daybreak, and buried
the boxes. They were still at it when an officer of marines came
hurrying to notify them that the frigates were French schooners
from the Paumotus. The whole population had hidden itself away in
the meantime. Well, they had many jokes about it and many songs,
but the governor built this house on the steps of which we sit as a
permanent depository for archives in case of war, and here he used
to come for picnics until a few years ago. There was a post-office,
with a guard of sailors, here. They planted the garden, the flowers,
and strawberries that now run wild. You know our chiefs were always
being secretly warned that England, which owns most of the islands
in these seas, wanted to seize our island."
Over the Diadem the dark shadows were lengthening. The daring pinnacles
of Maiauo were thrust up like the mangled fingers of a black hand
against the blue sky.
Noanoa Tiare pointed to them.
"The ahiahi comes. Night is not far off," she said warningly. "If we
lingered here much longer, we might have to stay all the night."
"How memorable to me would be a sunrise from here," I replied. "I
would never forget it."
She looked at me archly over her shoulder.
"I would like it myself. It would be magnificent, and I have never
spent the night just here."
She considered a moment, and my mind took up the matter of
arrangements. We could cook feis, and there was plenty of other fruit,
with shelter in the house, if we needed that. We could start down early
and be at Lovaina's for the first dejeuner. Zeus! to pass the night in
such a solitude! To hear in the pitch darkness the mysterious voices
of po, the tenebrae of the Tahitian gods; the boom of the cascade in
the abyss; the deep bass of the river in the rocky chute; the sigh of
the wind in the trees; the murmur of the stream near by; the fantasia
and dirge of the lofty night in the tropics. What a setting for her
telling some old legend or fairy-tale of Tahiti!
Fragrance of the Jasmine ended my reverie. She slapped her thigh.
"I dine and dance to-night at eight o'clock," she said. "A rohi! We
must go! Besides, Maru, it would be too cold without blankets. The
mercury here goes to sixty of your thermometer."
We descended by the route we had come, picking up her shoes and
stockings and our hats by our couch, and with the princess leading,
hurrying along the obscuring trail. We passed a Tahitian youth who
had been gathering feis, probably near the tarn, and who was bringing
them to the market of the next morning. He was burdened with more than
a hundred pounds of fruit, which he carried balanced on a pole over
his shoulder, and with this he was to go seven or eight miles from
their place of growth. He was a pillar of strength, handsome, glowing
with effort, clad in a gorgeous pareu of red, and as we went by him,
he smiled and said, "Ia ora na! I hea! Vaimato?" Greeting! Where have
you been? The waterfall?"
"E, hitahita. Yes, we are hurrying back," the princess called
"Those are our real men, not the Papeete dolts," she said. "If we
had time, we would catch shrimp in the river. I love to do that."
When we came to where the habitations began and the road became
passable for vehicles, Noanoa Tiare sat down on a stone. She put on her
pale-blue silk stockings and her shoes, and asked me for the package
she had given me at starting. She unfolded it, and it was an aahu,
a gown, for which she exchanged, behind a banana-plant, her soiled
and drenched tunic. The new one was of the finest silk, diaphanous,
and thus to be worn only at night. The sun was down, and the lagoon
a purple lake when we were again at the bust of Bougainville.
I thanked her at parting.
"Noanoa Tiare," I said, "this day has a heavenly blue page in my
record. It has made Tahiti a different island for me."
"Maru, mon ami, you are sympathetic to my race. We shall be dear
friends. I will send you the note to Tetuanui, the chief of Mataiea,
to-morrow. Au revoir and happy dreams."
The beach-combers of Papeete--The consuls tell their troubles--A bogus
lord--The American boot-blacks--The cowboy in the hospital--Ormsby,
the supercargo--The death of Tahia--The Christchurch Kid--The Nature
men--Ivan Stroganoff's desire for a new gland.
I played badminton some afternoons at the British consulate. The old
wooden bungalow, with broad verandas, stood in a small garden a dozen
yards from the lagoon, where the Broom Road narrowed as it left the
business portion of Papeete and began its round of the island. There
was just room enough on the salt grass for the shuttlecock to fall
out of bounds, and for the battledores to swing free of the branches
of the trees. The consul, though he wore a monocle, was without the
pretense of officialdom except to other officials and, of course,
at receptions, dinners, and formal gatherings. After the games, with
tea on the veranda, I heard many stories of island life, of official
amenities, and the compound of nationalities in our little world.
Half a dozen intimates of the consul dropped in about four, Willi, the
rich dentist and acting American consul; Stevens, the London broker;
Hobson, who closed an eye for the Moorean, McTavish; and others. All
were British except me, but our home tongue and customs drew us closer
together than to Frenchmen, and we could speak with some freedom on
local affairs. If no woman was present other than the cosmopolitan
wife of the consul, born in Persia, we were quite at ease.
Both consuls were usually worried because of the refusals of crews of
vessels flying their flags to leave Tahiti, complaints of the police
of the misconduct of their nationals, or appeals for assistance from
impecunious or spendthrift tourists. It was an every-week happening
for sailors of American vessels and of the New Zealand steamships to
flee to the distant districts or to Moorea, to live in a breadfruit
grove with dryads who asked no vows, or to escape the grind of work
and discipline at sea.
They must be pursued by the French gendarmes, under the warrant
of their own flag, caught, and sent in irons aboard their ships,
with fees paid by their furious captains. Many times the chase was
futile, so well did the dryads secrete them, and the natives of the
district abet the offense. To a Tahitian an amorous adventure, either
as principal or aid, is half of life, and he would risk his liberty
and property to thwart, in his opinion, hard and stupid officials
who wanted to separate loving hearts.
We talked about the kinds of men, other than these sailors, who made
Tahiti their playground, to the annoyance of their consuls. Crime among
the Tahitians was almost unknown. A petty theft rarely happened. They
were never paupers, for their own people cared for them, and unless
absolutely mat-ridden, they could find food on the trees about
them. The whites--and not the French whites either--caused the trouble,
and but for them M. Lontane might have left off his revolver and club.
"There is a type of Britisher," said the consul, "who thinks Tahiti is
his oyster, to be opened with false pretenses, and a pearl found. This
type has two varieties, impecunious, but well-educated, youths,
younger sons, maybe; and valets and varlets. These scoundrels afflict
me dreadfully, because they all ultimately claim the protection of the
British flag or are reported by the police for skullduggery. There
is a fellow now on my hands who is threatenin' suicide. I wish
to Gog and Magog that he would take to the reef or find a stick
of dynamite. Monsieur Lontane, that busy French gendarme, found
him tryin' to borrow a revolver or a stiletto, and thought he was
going to kill a Frenchman. He put him in the calaboose and brought
his effects to me. They consisted of a book of poems and a letter,
but not a ha'penny."
"What does the bounder look like?" asked Stevens.
"He looks like a beadle in a dissentin' church, with a long, skinny
neck, a pasty face, and a cockney accent. I went to see him, and he
talked like an underdone curate who had had a bad night. When he got
off the ship, where he owed everybody, includin' the smokin'-room,
he came to see me with some crazy papers for me to sign. He said then
he had not a shillin', and I advised him to go to work. He said there
wasn't any work; so knowin' Llewellyn was badly in need of people,
I sent him to his vanilla plantation out Mataiea way. You know here
they haven't the bees or whatever it is that transfers the pollen
from the stigma to the anther or what-d 'ye-call-it, and so they do
it by hand with a piece of bamboo or a stem of grass. The girls do it
mostly, but I thought this jackpuddin' could make an honest pound or
two. He came tearin' back to me sayin' I'd insulted him with the work,
askin' him, a nobleman, to pander in the vegetable kingdom."
"I know him. He was at Lovaina's," I interposed. "He was at the bar all
the time, quoting Pope and Dryden and himself. He said he was going
around the globe on a wager of a fortune. He was a poisonous bore,
and always popped up for a drink. By the way, he wears a monocle."
"You've named him," went on the consul. "That's more of the cockney's
pretense. Here's the poem he wrote in the calaboose. He did it on his
shirt-front because the economical French gave him no paper. Lontane
thought it might be his will or a plot, and brought the shirt here,
and I copied the accursed thing for my record, as I am compelled to
by the rules of the august devils of Downing Street."
THE HOME-LAND CALL
Why wilt thou torture me with unripe call,
Bringing these visions of the dear old land?
Dost think 't is sweet to let thy mock'ry fall?
For me to hear forgotten noises in the Strand?
Insidious voice that will not grant my plea,
The mem'ry of thy pleasures dost remain:
Oxonian-Cantabs club; blue-lit Gaiety!'
"What he needs is a permanent permit to patronize the opium den
the Government runs here for the Chinese," said Hobson. "He's off
"Just a minute," continued the consul. "He claims to be a lord and
a millionaire. Here's the letter. He needs no opium to have nightmares:"
Of course, I will be called coward now, but the same people who
call me this are those who have caused me to seek death, for they
branded me liar and wastrel, simply on an untrue report appearing
in an American newspaper. Chief among these people are that most
despicable cad Hallman, and secondly, the British Consul. Even had
I been guilty of all that has been said, why were they not manly and
generous enough to give or find me congenial employment? They are not
blind and could see how anxious and willing I was to obtain this. No,
they only gloated over my starving and pitiable condition. Well, they
spring from the proletariat class and not much else could be expected.
God only knows how much I want to live and how I dread having to take
my own life, but only for the sake of my people. If I could only see
them again it would be easier. How did I ever fall so low! God help
me! Is there nothing else for me but this ignominious death? But
I must save my people from knowing. I am not using my correct name
here, so it will be useless for any one to make inquiries. A volume
of poems will be found in my pocket. I wonder if the Bishop would
kindly post these to Miss B. Wilmer, Broken Hill, West Australia,
but only telling her I died here, without particulars, and saying I
have written these since leaving home. Oh, why did I ever leave there,
where love and all that is good and pure was lavished on me?
If it is possible, could I be buried in the sea? Just placed in a
coffin and dropped into the peaceful ocean, peace that I have not
known for four years. Please have this done for me.
I do not think I am committing suicide, rather I am being murdered by
men who have none of the nobler feelings, ungenerous, unsympathetic
and cruelly unkind. The fact of my death will not affect one of those
who ruined my reputation here, who deprived me of obtaining food,
and a room to sleep in. They have no more conscience so cannot feel
remorse. I will not sign my true name but only part of it.
"He's off his onion," Stevens commented. "The bally fool needs hard
labor and raw feis."
The consul grinned.
"Wait till you hear me read the document with the suicide note. It's
as good as Marie Corelli."
"All right, old thing," answered Stevens. "Fire the whole broadside!"
"No, no; I'm goin' to spare you the whole official document. It
pretends to be a formal instruction to this beef-headed flunky,
from his guardian, of a test to prove his mettle and gain experience
to fit him for the highest posts of the diplomatic service by going
round the bally world and doin' other people in for their tin. It
is a yard long, and was undoubtedly written by the same dish-washer
who wrote that doggerel on his shirt. It promises him half a million
sterling when he comes back to London after visiting Australasia,
China, India, and other countries, and pickin' up his tucker free as
he goes. Also, the shark is permitted to send back for coin at this
date, and he must get married to a Tahitian. He probably fixes it
different in every country. It's signed, 'Your affectionate guardian,
James Kitson, Baron Airedale of Gledhow.'"
"Whew!" spluttered Hobson, "the blighter has no limits. Do you mean
to tell me he gets away with that folderol?"
"For months he has lived at Lovaina's, Fanny's, and even on the
Chinese. He has borrowed thousands of francs, and spent it for drink
and often for champagne. He did old Lovaina up for money as well as
board. She believes in him yet, and calls him Lord Innes or Sir Gordon,
but says she has no more to risk. He promised to build her a big hotel
where the Annexe is. He's got many of the Tahitian girls and their
mothers mad over his style and his prospects. Finally, he was warned
by me to leave the island, and the result was his tryin' to borrow the
lethal weapon, the poem and the letter. The Baron Airedale document he
showed me when he first landed, to try to get my indorsement. There's
no Burke in the South Seas, and there probably is no such bloomin'
baron. Sounds more like a dog." The consul chuckled.
"Those lairds are as plentiful as brands of Scotch whisky made in
England," Stevens said derisively. "What will you do to uphold the
honor of the British crown? Is the Scotch bastard to go on with his
fairy-tale and do brown the colonials?"
"I am going to have the diplomat repair the roads of Tahiti for two
months, and then ship him third-class to New Zealand, where he has to
go to carry out his blasted fate," the consul declared, and ordered
all glasses filled.
We discussed the sudden and abnormal appearance of boot-blacks. One
had set up an ornate stand on the rue de Rivoli. He was an American,
Tom Wilkins, and the first ever known to practise his profession in
the South Seas. He had come like a non-periodic comet, and suddenly
flashed his brass-tagged platform and arm-chair upon the gaping
natives. Most of them being barefooted, one would have thought his
customers not many; but the novelty of a white man doing anything
for them was irresistible to all who had shoes. He did not lower
himself in their estimation. It is noteworthy that the Tahitian does
not distinguish between what we call menial labor and other work. Nor
did we until recently. The kings and nobles of Europe were actually
served by the lords of the bedchamber and the maids in waiting. The
American boot-black was really a boot-white, as all wore white canvas
shoes except preachers and sailors.
The boot-white called out, "Shine!" and the word, unpronounceable
by the native, entered a himene as tina. Within a week he had his
Tahitian consort doing the shining most of the time while he loafed in
the Paris saloon. He lived at the Annexe, and told me that he was not
really a boot-cleaner, but was going around the world on a wager of
twenty thousand dollars, "without a cent." He, too, had a credulous
circle, who paid him often five francs for a shine to help him win
his bet by arriving at the New York City Hall on a fixed date with
a certain sum of money earned by his hands. He raised the American
flag over his stand, and referred to Uncle Sam as if he were a blood
relation to whom he could appeal for anything at any time.
All the foregoing was brought out in our conversation at the British
consul's. Willi, temporarily conducting American affairs in French
Oceanie, gave a denouement.
"The shine isn't a bad fellow," he said, "but he's serious about
the twenty thousand dollars. His statement was doubted to-day by an
English sailor, who called him 'a blarsted Hamerican liar,' and the
shine took off his own rubber leg, and knocked the sailor down. He
could move faster on his one leg than the other on two, and Monsieur
Lontane had to summon two assistants to take him to the calaboose. He
wouldn't resume his rubber leg. I saw him being led and pulled by my
office, calling out, 'Tell the 'Merican consul a good American is in
the grip of the frogs.'"
Within a month of the rubber-legged shiner's debut, there were two
other boot-blacks on the streets. A madness possessed the people,
Tahitians and French, who all their lives had cleaned their own shoes,
to sit on the throne-like chairs, and women and girls waited their
turns. John Conroy and a negro from Mississippi were the additions to
the profession, and during the incarceration of the premier artist,
his sweetheart, a former hula danseuse, remained faithful to his
brushes. When a shoeless man or woman regarded the new-fangled
importations interestedly, the proprietors offered to beautify their
naked feet, and, ridiculous as it may seem, attempted it.
Although I heard odd tales at the consulate, it was at the parc de
Bougainville that I met the gentleman of the beach intimately.
There I often sat and talked with whomever loafed. Natives frequented
the parc hardly ever, but beach-combers, tourists, and sailors, or
casual residents in from the districts, awaited there the opening of
the stores or the post-office, or idled. The little park, or wooded
strip of green, named after the admiral, and containing his monument,
skirted the quay, and was between the establishment of Emile Levy,
the pearl-trader, and the artificial pool of fresh water where the
native women and sailors off the ships washed their clothes. From
one's bench one had a view of all the harbor and of the passers-by
on the Broom Road.
In the morning the pool was thronged with the laundresses, and one
heard their paddles chunking as they beat the clothes. The French
warship, the Zelee, was moored close by, and often the linen of
its crew hung upon lines in the parc, and the French sailors came
and went upon their duties, or sat on the coral wall and smoked and
sang chansons. In the afternoon horses were brought down to bathe,
and guests of the Annexe swam in the lagoon. People afoot, driving
carts or carriages, on bicycles and in automobiles, went by on the
thoroughfare about the island, the Frenchmen always talking as if
excited over cosmic affairs, and the natives laughing or calling to
If there happened to be a shoal of fish near the quays, I was sure
to see Joseph, to whom the wise Dr. Funk had confided his precious
concoction. He would desert the Cercle Bougainville, but still within
hail of a stentorious skipper whose coppers were dry, and with a
dozen other native men and women, boys and girls, lure the fish with
hooks baited with bits of salted shrimp. Joseph was as skilful with
his rod as with a shaker, and he would catch twenty ature, four or
five inches long, in half an hour.
The water, about fifteen feet deep near the made embankment, was
alive with the tiny fish, squirming in a mass as they were pursued
by larger fish. The son of Prince Hinoe, a round-shouldered lout,
very tall, awkward, and merry, held a bamboo pole. His white suit was
soiled and ragged, and he whistled "All Coons Look alike to Me!" The
peanut-vender had brought a rod, and was fishing with difficulty
and mostly by feel. He could keep one eye open only, as one hand was
occupied, but he pulled in many ature.
The parc was the occasional assembling-place for the drifting whites
made thoughtful by trolling the jolly, brown bowl, and by those to
whom lack of francs denied the trolling. It was there I first met
Ivan Stroganoff, the aged Russian philosopher, and it was from there
I took Wilfrid Baillon to the hospital. Baillon was a very handsome
cow-boy from British Columbia, and was housed in Papeete with a
giant Scandinavian who owned a cattle ranch in South America. He
was generally called the Great Dane, and was the person meant in the
charge for three cocktails at Lovaina's: "Germani to Fany, 3 feathers."
The cow-boy became ill. I prescribed castor-oil, and Mme. Fanny,
half a tumbler of Martinique rum, with the juice of a lime in it. She
was famous for this remedy for all internal troubles, and I took one
with the cowboy as a prophylactic, as I might have been exposed to
the same germs. He did not improve, though he followed Fanny's regimen
exactly. He was sitting dejectedly in the parc, looking pale and thin,
when I broached the subject.
"As the Fanny physic fails to straighten you out," I said to him,
"why not try the hospital?"
"Have you ever lamped it?" he asked. "It looks like a calaboose."
"It ain't so bad," said Kelly, the I.W.W., who was proselyting as
usual among the flotsam and jetsam of the waterfront. "I 've been in
worse joints in the United States."
The cow-boy yielding, I escorted him to the institution, carrying
his bag, as what with his disease and his antidote he was weak. The
hospital was a block away from the lagoon. It was surrounded by a
high stone wall, and as it was built by the military, it was ugly and
had the ridiculous effrontery of the army and all its lack of common
sense. The iron gate was shut, and a sign said, "Sonnez s'il vous
plait!" A toothless French portiere of thirty years let us in. All the
doctors of Tahiti had left the island for a few days on an excursion,
and the gay scientist who opened the champagne in his pockets at the
Tiare Hotel New Year's eve was in command. He sat in an arm-chair in a
littered office and was smoking a pipe. His beard had a diameter of a
foot, and obviated any need of collar or shirt-band, for it grew from
his shoulder-blades up, so that his forehead, eyes, nose, and lips
were white islands in a black sea, and even his nose was not bare,
for he had been debited by Lovaina for his champagne as "Hair on nose."
He was reading a novel, and asked gruffly what we were there for. I
told him, and Baillon was assigned a room at twelve francs a day,
and was required to pay for ten days in advance.
The next morning I visited him. He could speak no French, so I
questioned Blackbeard in his office, where we had an aperitif. He
"He has amoeban dysentery," said he. "It is contagious and infectious,
specifically, and it is fortunate your friend is attended by me. I
have had that disease and know what's what."
I, too, had had it in the Philippine Islands, and I was amazed that
it was infectious. How could he have got it?
"Alors," replied the physician, "where has he taken meals?"
"Lovaina's, Fanny's, and some with the Chinese."
The Frenchman threw his arms around the door in mock horror. He gagged
and spat, exciting the cowboy into a fever.
"Oh! la! la!" he shouted. "Les Chinois! Certainement, he is ill. He has
eaten dog. Amoeban dysentery! Mais, monsieur, it is a dispensation
of the bon dieu that he has not hydrophobia or the leprosy. Les
Chinois! Sacre nom de chien!"
Lovaina had often accused her rivals, the Chinese restaurateurs, of
serving dog meat for beef or lamb. Perhaps it was so, for in China
more than five millions of dogs are sold for food in the market every
year, and in Tahiti I knew that the Chinese ate the larvae of wasps,
and M. Martin had mountain rats caught for his table.
The cow-boy's room was bare and cheerless, but two Tahitian girls of
fourteen or fifteen years of age were in it. One was sitting on his
bed, holding his hand, and the other was in a rocking-chair. They
were very pretty and were dressed in their fete gowns. The girl on
the bed was almost white, but her sister fairly brown. Probably they
had different fathers. They told me that they had seen Baillon on
the streets, had fallen in love with him, and though they had never
spoken to him, wanted to comfort him now that he was sick. Jealousy
did not rankle in their hearts, apparently. That absence often shocked
non-Polynesians. Brothers shared wives, and sisters shared husbands
all over old Polynesia.
This pair of love-lorn maidens had never exchanged a word with Baillon,
for he spoke only English. The whiter girl wore a delicate satin gown,
a red ribbon, and fine pearls in her hair. The cow-boy lay quietly,
while she sat with her bare feet curled under her on the counterpane,
looking actually unutterable passion.
"Shucks!" said he to me, safe in their ignorance of his tongue,
"this is getting serious. They mean business, and I was foolin'. I
got a little girl in the good ol' United States that would skin her
alive if she saw her sittin' like that on my sheets. A man's takin'
chances here that bats his eye at one o' these T'itian fairies. Do
you know, their mother came here with them this morning?"
"They mean to have you in their family," I said. "That mother may
have had a white husband or lover, and aids in the pursuit of you
for auld lang syne."
Wilfrid Baillon was out of the hospital in just ten days. His release,
as cured by the doctor, coincided curiously with his payment in
advance. I saw him off for New Zealand by the steamship leaving the
"Those people were awful good to me," he said in farewell. "It hurts
me to treat those girls this way, but I'm scairt o' them. They're
too strong in their feelings."
He ran away from a mess of love pottage that many men would have gone
across seas to gain.
Ormsby, an Englishman in his early twenties, good-looking and
courteous, with an air of accustomedness to luxury, but of being
roughened by his environment, was sitting on a bench one morning with
a girl. He called me over to meet her.
"You are an old-timer here now," he began, "and I've got to go away on
the schooner to the Paumotus to-morrow. Drop in at Tahia's shack once
in a while and cheer her up. She lives back of the Catholic mission,
and she's pretty sick."
Tahia was desperately ill, I thought. She was thin, the color of the
yellow wax candles of the high altar, and her straight nose, with
expanded nostrils, and hard, almost savage mouth, features carved as
with the stone chisel of her ancient tribe, conjured up the profile
of Nenehofra, an Egyptian princess whose mummy I had seen. She was
stern, silent, resigned to her fate, as are these races who know the
inexorable will of the gods.
"Is she your girl?" I asked Ormsby.
He colored slightly.
"I suppose so, and the baby will be mine if it's ever born. At any
rate, I'm going to stick to her while she's in this fix. I'll tell you
on the square, I'm not gone on her; but she had a lover, an Australian
I knew, and he was good to her, but he got the consumption and couldn't
work. Maybe he came here with it. They hadn't a shilling, and Tahia
built a hut in the hills up there near where the nature men live,
and put him in it, and she fed and cared for him. She went to the
mountains for feis she came down here to the reef to fish, and she
found eggs and breadfruit in other people's gardens. She kept him
alive, the Lord knows how, until he could secure money from Sydney
to go home and die. Now, she's got the con from him, I suppose, and
it would be a shabby trick to leave her when she's dying and will be
a mother in two months, according to Doctor Cassiou!"
He made a wry face and lit his pipe. The girl could not understand
a word and sat immovable.
"She's Marquesan," he went on. "Her mother has written through a
trader in Atuona, on Hiva-Oa, to send her to her own valley, but she's
quit. She sits and broods all day. I 'd like to go back to my own home
in Warwickshire. I know I'm changing for the bad here. I live like a
dam' beach-comber. I only get a screw of three hundred francs a month,
and that all goes for us two, with medicines and doctors. She'd go
to Atuona if I'd go; but I can't make a living there, and I'm rotten
enough now without living off her people in the cannibal group. She's
skin and bones and coughs all night."
Ormsby puffed his pipe as Tahia put her hand in his. Her action
was that of a small dog who puts his paw on his master's sleeve,
hesitating, hopeful, but uncertain. She regarded me with slightly
veiled hostility. I was a white who might be taking him away to
"She's heard us talking about Atuona and Hiva-Oa, and she thinks
maybe I 've concluded to go. I can't do it, O'Brien. If I go there,
I'll go native forever. I've got a streak of some dam' savage in
me. Listen! I've got to go on the Etoile to Kaukura tojmorrow. Now,
the natives are always kind to any one, but sickness they are not
interested in. You go and see her, won't you? She's about all in,
and it won't hurt you."
Ormsby went to the Dangerous Isles on the Etoile, and did not return
for three weeks. He did not find Tahia in her shack on the hill. She
was in the cemetery,--in the plot reserved for the natives of other
islands,--and her babe unborn. She had died alone. I think she made
up her mind to relieve the Englishman of her care, and willed to die
at once. Dr. Cassiou, with whom I visited her, said:
"She ought to have lasted several months. Mais, c'est curieux. I
have treated these Polynesians for many years, and I never found one
I could keep alive when he wanted to die. She had already sent away
her spirit, the ame, or essence vitale, or whatever it is, and then
the body simply grows cold."
Ormsby and I talked it all over in the parc. He was deeply affected,
and he uncovered his own soul, as men seldom do.
"I 'm dam' glad she's dead," he said, with intense feeling. "I might
have failed, and she died before I did fail. I'm going back to Warwick
now at first chance, and whatever I do or don't do, I've got that
exception to my credit. It's one, too, to the credit of the whites
that have cursed these poor islanders."
He had chalked it down on a record he thought quite black, but which
I believe was better than our average. He and I went to the cemetery
and had a wooden slab put up:
Tahia a Atuona
Tamau te maitai.
Tahia of Atuona
She held fast.
The Christchurch Kid and I were friendly, and he allowed me once a day
during his training periods to put on the gloves with him for a mild
four rounds. He was an open-hearted fellow, with a cauliflower ear and
a nose a trifle awry from "a couple of years with the pork-and-beaners
in California," as he explained, but with a magnificent body. He also
lived at the Annexe, and did his training in the garden under Afa's
clever hands. The Dummy must have admired him, for he would watch him
exercising and boxing for hours, and make farcical sounds and grotesque
gestures to indicate his understanding of the motions and blows.
The Kid asked me if I knew Ernest Darling, "the nature man," and
identified the too naked wearer of toga and sandals on the San
Francisco wharf as Darling.
"'E looked like Christ," said the boxer. "'E was a queer un. How'd
you like to chyse up there to his roost in the 'ills?"
The next morning at five--it was not daybreak until six--we met at Wing
Luey's for coffee and bread, which cost four cents. Prince Hinoe was
there as usual, and asked us whither away. He laughed when we told
him, and said the nature men were maamaa, crazy. The Kid was of the
We went up the rue de Sainte Amelie to the end of the road, and
continued on up the valley. We could see far above us a small
structure, which was the Eden that Darling had made for the Adamic
colony he had established.
The climb was a stiff one on a mere wild pig-trail.
"The nyture man would 'ike up 'ere several times a day, after the
frogs closed his road," said the New Zealander. "There was less
brush than now, though, because 'e cut it aw'y to carry lum'ber and
things up and to bring back the things 'e grew for market. 'E and
'is gang believed in nykedness, vegetables, socialism, no religion,
and no drugs. The nytives think they're bug-'ouse, like Prince Hinoe,
and I don't think they 're all there, but you couldn't cheat him. 'E'd
myke a Glasgow peddler look sharp in buyin' or sellin'."
The Christchurch Kid was himself strictly conventional, and had
been genuinely shocked by Darling's practices, and especially by his
striking resemblance to the Master as portrayed by the early painters,
and by Munkacsy in Christ Before Pilate.
"'E was all right," he explained to me as we climbed, "but 'e ought
to been careful of 'is looks. I was 'ard up 'ere in Papeete once, and
was sleepin' in an ole ware'ouse along with others. Darling slept on
a window-sill, and 'e used to talk about enjoyin' the full sweep o'
the tradewind. We doubted that, an' so one night we crept upstairs
and surprised him. 'E was stretched out on a couple o' sacks, and a
reg'ler gale was blowin' on him. 'E bathed a couple o' times a day in
the lagoon or in fresh water, but 'e believed in rubbin' oil on his
skin, and when a bloke is all greasy and nyked, 'e looks dirty. 'Is
whiskers were too flossy in the tropics."
It took all my wind to reach the Eden, a couple of miles from our
starting-point, and we were on all fours part of the way.
"'E could run up here like an animal," declared the fighter. "Once when
a crowd of us went to visit 'im, 'e ran up this tr'il a'ead of us,
and when we arrived all winded, blow me up a bloomin' gum-tree if 'e
'ad n't a mess of feis and breadfruit cooked for us."
We came to a sign on the trail. "Tapu," it said, which means taboo,
or keep away; and farther on a notice in French that the owner forbade
any one to enter upon his land.
"'E's a cryzy Frenchman with long whiskers," said the Kid. "'E
'as a grudge against any one who speaks English and also against
the world. They s'y that 'is American wife ran aw'y from 'im, or an
American took 'is nytive wife aw'y. 'E packs a revolver."
Everywhere the mountain-side was terraced, and planted in cocoanuts,
breadfruits, bananas, flowers, and other plants, more than two
thousand growths. Darling's toil had been great, and my heart bled
at the memory of his standing on the piling as we steamed away. He
had intended to have a colony, with bare nature-worshipers from all
over the world. He had written articles in magazines, and tourists
and authors had celebrated him in their stories. A score of needy
health-seekers had arrived in Papeete and joined him, but could not
survive his rigid diet and work. He had talked much of Eves, white,
in the Eden, but none had offered.
On a platform fifteen hundred feet above the sea Darling had built a
frame of beams, boards, and branches, with bunks and seats, much like
a woodcutter's temporary shelter in the mountains, a mere lean-to. The
view was stupendous, with the sea, the harbor, Moorea, and Papeete
hardly seen in the foliage. He had thought his work in life to be
peopling these hills with big families of nature children and the
spread of socialism and reformed spelling.
His dream was transient. He had been treated with contempt, and had
been driven from his garden, as had his first father, and without an
Eve or a serpent. The whiskered Frenchman had bought Eden for a song,
and had made it taboo to all.
We shouted in vain for the Frenchman, so we searched the premises. The
boxer was afraid that after we left he might roll a rock down our trail
because of our breaking his taboo. We found the spring from which
he drank, and a pool dug by Darling for bathing, now only a mass of
vegetation. Evidently the present tenant was not an ablutionist.
"There's a beastly German down on that next level," remarked the
Christchurch Kid. "'E 'ates this Frenchman. Now they don't speak,
but they sent warnin' to each other o' trouble. The frog carries the
revolver for the sauer-kraut. Some day they'll kill each other right
'ere. They're both 'ermits, and 'ermits are terrible when they get
It was almost a straight drop to the German's, a small promontory, with
an acre of land, a platform raised eight feet on poles for a roof, and
under it a berth. A chest held his belongings. He lived on the fruit
he raised and the fish he caught in the sea, to which he went every
day. He tried to keep chickens, but the mountain rats, of which Darling
had trapped more than five thousand, ate most of them. The German,
too, was away from his simple home. Both these men sought in life
only peace and plain living, yet were consumed with hate. One day the
upper dweller had accidentally caused a small stone to roll down upon
the other's roof. The German had shouted something to the Frenchman,
hot words had passed, and now they carried revolvers to intimidate
or shoot each other. Their days and nights were spent on plans to
insult or injure. And because of their feud they hated the whole world.
Once again in Papeete, we met the Swiss of the Noa-Noa who had intended
to eat raw foods in the Marquesas. He was to return to America on
the next steamer.
"De wegetables in Tahiti have no wim in dem," he said. "In California
I ead nudds und raisins mit shtrent' in dem. I go back."
The fighter pointed out the "cryzy" Frenchman of Eden. He was the
customs employee who had provoked the American consul by refusing to
I asked M. Lontane, the second in command of the police, why Darling
The hero of the battle of the limes, coal, and potatoes, looked at
"Is the French republic to permit here in its colony the whites who
enjoy its hospitality to shame the nation before the Tahitians by
their nakedness? That sacree bete wore a pareu in town because the law
compelled him to, but, monsieur, on the road, in his aerial resort,
he and all his disciples were as naked as--"
"I have seen artistes at the music-halls of Paris," I finished.
"Exactement," he spluttered. "Are we to let Tahiti rival Paris?"
Ivan Stroganoff I met two or three times a month. He stayed in his
chicken-coop except when the opportunities came for gaining a few
francs, at steamer-time, and when sheer boredom drove him to Papeete
for converse. With his dislike for the natives and his disdainful
attitude toward the French, he had to seek other nationals in town,
for there were none at Fa'a except a Chinese storekeeper. Stroganoff
at eighty was as keen for interesting things as a young man, but his
philosophy was fatal to his enjoyment. He saw the flaw in the diamond
the sunbeam made of the drop of water on the leaf. He had lived too
long and was too wise in disappointments. He was generous in his
poverty, for he brought me a tin of guava-jelly he had made and a box
of dried bananas. These had had their skins removed, and were black
and not desirable-looking, but they were delicious and rare. In turn,
not wishing to exaggerate the difference between our means, I gave
him a box of cigars I had brought from America. I visited him at Fa'a,
and found his coop had been a poultry shelter, and was humble, indeed;
but I had slept a hundred nights in many countries in worse. He had a
box for a table for eating and writing, and a rude cot. A few dishes
and implements, and a roost of books and reviews in Russian, English,
French, German, and other languages, completed his equipment.
He had several times reiterated his earnest wish to leave Tahiti, and
his longing rested heavily on my heart. Upon lying down at night I had
felt my own illiberality in not making it possible for him to realize
his desire. A hundred dollars would send him there, with enough left
over for a fortnight's keep. But my apology for not buying him a ticket
was the real fear of his unhappiness. What could a friendless man of
eighty do to exist in the United States other than become the inmate
of a poorhouse? The best he could hope for would be to be taken in by
the Little Sisters of the Poor, who house a few old men. They were,
doubtless, kind, but probably insistent on neatness and religiosity.
The cold, the brutal policemen and guards, the venial justice, the
crystallized charity in the name of a statistical Christ, arrested
my hand. I had known it all at first hand, asking no favor. I
believed that he would be worse off than in his chicken-coop. He
could wear anything or nearly nothing in Tahiti, and his old Prince
Albert comforted him; but he would have to conform to dress rules
in a stricter civilization. Nature was a loving mother here and a
shrewish hag there, at least toward the poor. And yet I was uneasy
at my own argument.
For a month or two he had led the talk between us and any others in
the parc to new discoveries in medicine. From his Fa'a seclusion he
followed these very closely through European publications, for which
his slender funds went. He had a curiously opposed nature, quoting
with enthusiasm the idealistic philosophers, and descending into such
abject materialism as haunting the bishop's palace for the cigar-stubs.
He would say that the purest joy in life is that which lifts us out
of our daily existence and transforms us into disinterested spectators
"This divine release from the common ways of men can be found only
through art," Stroganoff would apostrophize. "The final and only
true solution of life is to be found in the life of the saint. True
morality passes through virtue, which is rooted in sympathy into
asceticism. Renunciation only offers a complete release from the
evils and terrors of existence."
Kelly was on the bench one day when the Russian uttered this rule of
the cenobite school. They were good friends, but differed. They agreed
that the world was sick and needed a radical medicine. Kelly was for a
complete cure by ending private business through the workers seizing it
when the time was ripe, which he believed would be soon. Stroganoff was
for an empery of wise men, of scientists, philosophers, and artists,
who would kick out the statesmen and politicians, and manage things
by enlightened pragmatism. For the individual man who sought happiness
his formula was as above--retirement to an aery.
When Kelly was gone to practise on his accordion,--he had opened
a dancing academy at Fa'a,--the octogenarian asked me if I had
read of the recent achievements of the scientists who were making
the old young. He elaborated on the discoveries and experiments of
Professor Leonard Huxley in England with thyroid gland injections,
of Voronoff in France with the grafting of interstitial glands of
monkeys, and of Eugen Steinach in Austria and Roux in Germany, with
germ glands and X-rays. Steinach, especially, he discoursed on, and
drew a magazine picture of him from his Prince Albert. The Vienna
savant had a cordon of whiskers that made him resemble Stroganoff,
and his eyes in the photograph peered through all one's disguises.
"That is what grates me," said Stroganoff. "I am far from all these
worth-while things, these men of brain. I knew Ilya Ilich Metchnikoff
before he became director of the Pasteur Institute. Here I am a rotting
hulk. In the Caucasus I had kephir, and I used to carry kephir grains,
and in America I, at least, could have kumiss or Ilya Ilich's lait
caille. Look! I came here as Ponce de Leon to Florida to find youth,
or to keep from growing older; in a word to escape anno Domini."
I turned and looked at him. He was a venerable figure, but there was
no sign of eighty years in him. Rid of that white, hirsute mask,
so associated with age, Stroganoff might have been twenty years
younger. I said so, but it did not allay his yearning.
"I am well enough," he said, "because I have not dissipated for
thirty years. I turned a leaf, as did Leo Nikolaievitch, after 'War
and Peace.' Now I feel myself slipping into the grave."
He gazed ruminantly away from the lagoon to the pool of Psyche,
where the Tahitian women squatted on their shapely haunches and
thumped their clothes.
"See," he said earnestly. "I am old and useless. Why should not
Steinach or the others make the grand experiment on me? If they
succeed, very good; if they fail, there is no loss. They say those
glands make a man over, no matter what his age. I offer myself
freely. I am not afraid of death. Me, I am a philosopher."
He spoke excitedly. His eyes were fixed on distance, and I followed
Auro, the Golden One, as her name meant, had been washing her muslin
slips in the pool of Psyche, and now stood in the entrance to it. She
was for a fleeting second in her pareu only, her tunic raised above
her head to pull on, and her enravishing form disclosed from her
waist to her piquant face, over which tumbled her opulent locks.
It flashed on me that, wise and old as he was, the spectrum of the
philosopher's soul had all the colors of the ignorant and the young. I
looked from the nymphs of the pool to his darkening eyes, and I had a
revelation of the persistence of common humanity in the most learned
and the most philosophical. My castigation of myself for not buying
his steamship ticket ceased in a moment, though not the less did I
continue to enjoy his fount of learning and experience.
The market in Papeete--Coffee at Shin Bung Lung's with a prince--Fish
the chief item--Description of them--The vegetables and fruits--The
fish strike--Rumors of an uprising--Kelly and the I. W. W.--The
mysterious session at Fa'a--Halellujah! I'm a Bum!--The strike
The market in Papeete, the only one in Tahiti, has an air all its
own. It is different in its amateur atmosphere and roseate color,
in its isothermal romance and sheer good humor, from all others
I have seen--Port of Spain, Peking, Kandy, or Jolo. It is more
fascinating in its sensuous, tropical setting, its strange foods,
and its laughing, lazy crowds of handsome people, than any other
public mart I know. There is no financial exchange in Tahiti. Stocks
and bonds take the shape of cocoanuts, vanilla-beans, fish, and other
comforts. The brokers are merry women. The market is spot, and buyers
must take delivery immediately, as usually not a single security is
left at the end of the day's trading.
One must be at the market before five o'clock to see it all. Sunday
is the choicest day of all the week, because Sunday is a day of
feasting, and the marche then has a more than gala air. The English
missionaries had once made even cooking a fish on Sunday a crime,
severely punished; but the French priests changed all that, and the
French Sabbath, the New York Sabbath, was en regle.
All the east is purple and red, gorgeous, flaring, when I awake. There
are no windows in my connecting rooms in the Annexe. The sun rises
through their wallless front, and sets through their opening to the
balcony. What more liberal dispensation of nature? I am under the
shower in two minutes, long enough to go down the curved staircase,
with its admirable rosewood balustrade, and through the rear veranda to
the room in which the large cement basin serves for bath and laundry
and to lend a minute to the Christchurch Kid, the prize-fighter, to
inform me that he is to open a school of the manly art, with diplomas
for finished scholars and rewards for excellence. The recitals are
to be public, a fee charged, and all ambitious pupils are to be
guaranteed open examination in pairs and a just decision. The Kid
and Cowan are to be hors de combat.
A daughter of a French governor of the Low Archipelago is in the basin,
the door ajar, and the spray blinding her to my presence. She is
seventeen, cafe au lait--beaucoup de lait, kohl-eyed, meter-tressed,
and slim-bodied. She sings the himene of the battle of the limes and
coal and potatoes, with a new stanza concerning the return of the
Noa-Noa, and the vengeance of the Tahitian braves upon the pigs of
"Ia or a na! Bonjour, Goo' night!" she says impartially, and modestly
slips her pareu about her.
"Ia ora na oe!" I reply. "All goes well?"
"By cripe' yais; dam' goo'!" she answers, and goes humming on her
way to her shanty in the yard. She is the maid of my chamber, gentle,
willing, but never to be found for service. She learns English from
the Kid, the rubber-legged boot-black, and other gentleman adventurers
and tars of America and Europe, and she pours out bad words--I cannot
mention them--in innocent faith in their propriety. In French or
Tahitian she speaks correctly.
Outside the bath I hear the vehicles hurrying to market, and dressing
quickly in white drill, and wearing on my Paumotu hat a brilliant
scarlet pugaree, once the badge of subjugation to the Mohammedan
conquerors of India, I join the procession.
Bon dieu! what a morning! The reds and purples are dying in the orient,
and the hills are swathed in the half-white light of day. The lagoon
is now a glistening pearly gray. Moorea, the isle of the fairy folk,
is jagged and rough, as if a new throe of earth had torn its heights
and made new steeps and obelisks. Moorea is never the same. Every
hour of the day and every smile and frown of the sun creates valleys
and spires, and alters the outlines of this most capricious of islets.
Past the bust of Bougainville, past the offices of Emile Levy, the
pearler whom, to Levy's intense anger, Jack London slew in "The House
of Mapuhi"; past the naval depot, the American consulate with the red,
white, and blue flung in the breeze; the Commissariat de Police, the
pool of Psyche, and all the rows of schooners that line the quays,
with their milken sails drying on their masts, and I am by the stores
of the merchants. The dawn is slipping through the curtain of night,
but lamps are still burning. The traffic has roused the sleepers, and
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