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Title: The Island of Desire (The Story of a South Sea Trader)
Author: Robert Dean Frisbie (1895-1948)
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0100261.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted: November 2001
Date most recently updated: November 2001

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Title:      The Island of Desire (The Story of a South Sea Trader)
Author:     Robert Dean Frisbie (1895-1948)




A number of years ago Robert Dean Frisbie set up a trading station on Danger
Island, a lonely paradise four hundred miles northeast of Samoa. This
autobiographical story relates how the author fell in love with a charming
Polynesian girl, how he became part of the life of the island, how he
eventually survived a man-sized South Sea hurricane.

When Frisbie went to meet Desire under the magnolia trees, the islanders
laughed about it, thinking they were having an affair. Constable Benny even
arrested Desire on a charge of loitering after curfew. But when the American
built a house and gave a house party for such friends as Parson Sea Foam,
Vicar Araipu, Heathen William, and Desire's many sisters, they saw that he
was really in love. During the feast Frisbie and Desire were officially
married.

The next six years were wonderfully happy ones for both of them. Desire gave
birth first to Johnny (a girl), then Jakey, Elaine, and Nga. The charm of
their lives is spread before the reader with the miraculous color and
texture of a Gauguin painting. Frisbie's deep love for Desire, his portrayal
of the glamorous South Seas, his bursts of affectionate humor, and his pride
in his half-Polynesian "cowboys" play a part in this remarkable story.




CONTENTS


PART I   DANGER ISLAND
PART II  THE HURRICANE



CHARACTERS OF THIS BOOK


PART I

ARAIPU: the vicar and storekeeper
AUGUSTUS, HORATIO: the native resident agent
AUGUSTUS, SUSANNA: his sanctimonious wife
BENNY: constable of Central Village
BONES: the satyr, father of Poaza and Strange-Eyes
BOSUN-WOMAN: the village undertaker
BRIBERY, DEACON: the crooked-legged tobacco addict
BRIBERY, JR.: son of Deacon Bribery
DESIRE: wife of Ropati
EARS: constable of Leeward Village
ELIHU: the supercargo
FIRST-BORN: son of Parson Sea Foam
JOHNNY (FLORENCE NGATOKORUAIMATAUEA) the author's first child
LETTER: a bloodthirsty deaf-mute
LITTLE SEA: wife of a deacon
LULUIA: the youth who insults the losers
MALOKU: Desire's half sister
MAMA: Ropati's cook, wife of William
MISS LEGS: who sleeps in a house with loose floor boards
MISS MEMORY: Desire's fraternity name
MISS TERN: The village Jezebel
MISS WHITE TERN: Tangi's fraternity name
MR. BREADFRUIT: poker-playing councilman of Leeward Village
MR. HORSE: one of Pio's fraternity names
MR. MANOWAR HAWK: another of Pio's fraternity names
MR. MOONLIGHT: Ropati's fraternity name
MR. SCRATCH: the old gentleman who doesn't savvy much
MRS. SCRATCH: wobbling wife of Mr. Scratch
PATI: one of Desire's sisters
PILALA-WOMAN--a shriveled old termagant
PIO: Tanges wonder-boy of the cocolele
RACHEL: daughter of Maloku
ROPATI--the trader and author
SEA FOAM: parson of Danger Island
STRANGE-EYES: daughter of Bones
TALA: mother of Desire
TANGI: one of Desire's sisters
TIBBITTS--the politician who visited Danger Island
TILI: Desire's youngest sister
VAEVAE: one of Desire's sisters
WILLIAM THE HEATHEN: blasphemer, whalerman, reprobate


PART II

ELAINE: Ropati's third child
JAKEY: Ropati's only son, another cowboy
JOHNNY: Ropati's oldest child, one of the four "cowboys"
NGA: Ropati's youngest daughter, aged four
OLI-OLI: cook aboard the Hurry Home
POWELL, RONALD: of Palmerston Island, Pratt's companion aboard the Vagus
PRATT, JOHN: Englishman, owner of the Vagus
PROSPECT, CAPTAIN: owner and navigator of the Hurry Home
TAGI, FIRST MATE: second-in-command of the Hurry Home
TAKATAKA, SECOND MATE: third member of the Hurry Home crew





PART I  DANGER ISLAND




Chapter I



In a past inconceivably remote it must have been the peak of a volcano,
jutting from the midst of a sea whose solitude was broken only by flocks of
migrating birds, a pod of sperm whales lumbering down from the Austral ice
fields, or the intangible things of the mythic world; the spirits of Storm,
Fair Weather, Night, Day, and Dawn.

Coral polyps attached themselves to the steep walls of the volcano to build
their submarine gardens a mile or more to sea, surrounding the island with a
reef and shallow lagoon; then erosion, the battering of the Pacific combers,
and subsidence, until finally the volcano had disappeared, leaving a blue
lagoon shimmering in the sunlight, a barrier reef threaded with islets and
sand cays; Danger Island, or Puka-Puka--Land of Little Hills.

So it was called by the first Polynesians who came here, centuries ago. It
appears now much as it did then: a tiny place compared with the vastness of
the sea surrounding it. The low hills, scarcely twenty feet high, are shaded
by cordia and hernandia trees, groves of coconut palms, thickets of magnolia
bushes; and between the hills lie patches of level land where taro is grown
in diked swamps and where the thatched houses are half obscured by clumps of
bananas, gardenia bushes, and the gawky-limbed pandanus.

There are three islets on the roughly triangular reef: Ko to the southeast;
Frigate Bird to the southwest; and the main islet of Wale to the north. Ko
and Frigate Bird are uninhabited eight months of the year, while on the
crescent-shaped bay of Wale, facing southward toward the lagoon, are the
three villages: Ngake, Roto, and Yato--or Windward, Central, and Leeward.

The trading station is in Central Village. I, Ropati, live in its upstairs
rooms, while the two downstairs rooms have been vacant since the station was
closed. The building is glaringly white, shaped like a packing case, has an
asbestos-cement roof, balconies in front and back, and, leading from the
balconies to the living quarters, doorways just high enough so I can crack
my head against the lintels.

Across the village road from the station stands the schoolhouse, another
boxlike coral building, but with a thatch roof, pleasing to the eye. The
great glaringly ugly church, with its red iron roof, stands to one side of
the schoolhouse, while elsewhere, to east and west, lagoonward and inland,
are the Central Village houses, all save Araipu's native store, attractively
built of wattle and thatch.

The rumbling sound that rises and falls fitfully is not caused so much by
the surf on the outer reef as it is by the snores of my six hundred and
fifty neighbors. All are asleep, for it is midday and they must be refreshed
for the night's toil ahead. There is old Mr. Scratch, Deacon Bribery, and
Bones piping off the watches under a coconut tree. There is William the
Heathen folded on my woodbox, his head between his bony knees. There is
pretty Miss Strange-Eyes, daughter of Bones, without any clothes at all,
fast asleep in a canoe, while a rooster on one of the crossbeams stares at
her perplexed. And there is Constable Benny, growling like Cerberus as he
guards the village in his dreams.

I walk on tiptoe to the lagoon beach lest I waken the toil-exhausted
neighbors; but even here there are scores of toddlers, aged one to ten, fast
asleep in the shady places.

The beach of the big crescent-shaped bay is not very attractive. The sand is
scarcely white, and there is plenty of rubbish strewn about; but the bay
itself and the lagoon beyond are clean, blue, sparkling, enticing. Almost
daily I explore its submarine mountain ranges and chase the grotesquely
beautiful fish among its crevices and caverns.

Today I follow the beach, first eastward, then gradually to the south. The
great piles of plaited fronds are coverings for canoes; the dash of red is
the iron roof of Araipu's store; Miss Legs sleeps over yonder, in the little
house with unnailed floor boards that can be pushed up from below if one is
lonely and wants to talk to Miss Legs.

Following the curved beach, I leave Central Village, then turn inland to
stop at an excavation ten feet deep and one hundred yards across. It is
green with taro leaves that undulate under the puffs of wind; along its
border are gardenia bushes. The Windward Village girls stop here, on
moonlight nights, to gather flowers for their hair before proceeding to the
Place of Love.

After skirting the taro bed and walking a little farther through the groves
I come to the southeast point of the main islet--the Point of Utupoa. Here
the coconut trees give place to pandanus, then to magnolia and pemphis
bushes, then to pure-white sand with an occasional greasy-leaved
tournefortia bush; and finally the sand spills out in the shallows.

Southward from the Point of Utupoa, at low tide, there is a brick-red
highway, a quarter of a mile wide and four miles long, leading to a similar
point on the far islet of Ko. On the east side of this highway the reef
combers form an azure-tinted wall that rises and subsides and roars
unceasingly; on the other side is the lagoon, while a half mile across the
lagoon is another highway, or shallows, this one leading from the southwest
point of the main islet to Frigate Bird Islet.

It is here at Utupoa that the children come to fly their kites; it is under
the big tournefortia bush that I spend many an afternoon with M. Michel de
Montaigne; it is in the deep pool in the shallows that the village girls
duck and turn somersaults, that the wild youth cool their heated bodies,
that the Seventh-Day Adventist missionary once a year baptizes his converts;
it is here at Utupoa that the Windward Village youths and maidens come on
moonlight nights to dance and sing--in a word, this is one of the many
places of love.

The sunlight reflected from the sand hurts my eyes. I leave the point to
walk along the east side of the islet, at the edge of the pandanus trees,
where it is shady; and presently I pass Windward Village, which stretches
from the outer beach across an arm of the islet to the lagoon beach. The
houses are not very interesting and the place is not very tidy, but I make a
little detour inland so as to steal a wistful glance at Desire, the
prettiest Mongolian-eyed girl in the South Seas. She sits in her cookhouse,
clothed only in a strip of cloth around her waist; and she does not try to
cover herself when I approach, for she is an innocent virgin, bless her! If
I ever marry, I hope it will be to a girl like Desire. After telling her
this I move back to the beach to pass the stronghold of Christian
puritanism: the residence of Horatio and Susanna Augustus, the native
resident agent et ux.

The Augustuses are high-island natives, missionary educated, too
sanctimonious for my taste, living evidence of the disastrous result of
attempting to civilize primitive people. They speak a little English and, as
schoolteachers, try to teach it to the children. So far--seven years--they
have taught only a few of the brighter scholars that good morning differs
from good-by. A couple of days ago on the causeway I met a boy of sixteen
who solemnly took off his hat, bowed stiffly, and in perfect seriousness
greeted me with "Oh . . . yes!" spoken slowly, with a longish pause between
the words. However, the Augustuses believe they are doing a noble work in
teaching English.

They treat me with respect though they are convinced that their government
position elevates them above a mere epicurean beachcomber. When I visit them
they make a pretense of European culture, such as serving weak tea and
remarkable scones flavored with banana extract, but at other times they are
simply a native family living in a wattle-and-thatch house on the outer
beach. I am, as formerly, the only white man on the island.

Ahead of me, now, is a mile of straight, high beach, unbroken save for a
group of huts used by Central Village when the island reserves are opened
for the copra makers. A stretch of brick-red coral, one hundred yards wide,
lies between the beach and the barrier reef, which last, now that I am on
the windward side of the island, blusters, shakes its white mane, roars
mightily. Beyond is the sea, and the horizon clouds, and the fluffy little
balls of cotton wool separating themselves from the eastern rack to scud
cockily overhead.

Note how the coconut fronds and the pandanus leaves are flung out
horizontally in the wind. Note the misty wraiths of reef spray drifting up
the beach and into the jungle. Fill your lungs with the clean salty smell of
the sea! Would you exchange this for U.S.H.A., Unit 168-b, or even for the
flashiest apartment in Metropolis?

The white pebble beach is hurting my eyes, for there is no shade, and at the
edge of the trees the beach is covered with lumps of coral too jagged for my
bare feet. So through the magnolia bushes I follow a path laid with
steppingstones and enter the refreshingly cool shade of the atoll jungle to
come to a path leading parallel to the outer beach. Now and then I pass a
deserted hut, and taro beds bordered by banana plants and gardenia bushes. I
pick blossoms to put behind my ears. No one is in sight; the place seems to
have been deserted for months. Inland, doves coo in a note of infinite
sadness, and sometimes one flaps noisily among the hernandia trees. Lizards
and mice scurry over the fallen fronds; land crabs wave their claws at the
passer-by; ghost terris flutter like butterflies in the shadows--but there
is no human being save myself.

Just now the inland groves and taro beds are closed. Central Village has put
a tapu on them so the people will not steal the nuts or kill the nesting
birds. Only a white man dares violate this tapu; if a native did so, the
Goddess Taira would cause him to fall when he climbs a coconut tree or would
cause death by a tumor in the armpit.

I pick from the ground a young coconut the size of a crab apple; then,
tearing a leaf from an overhanging frond, with my fingernail I cut away the
tough but pliant midrib and jab the thick end of it into the immature
coconut. It is my intention to take it home for some village child to play
with, but the temptation to play myself is too great, so, swinging it round
my head, I let it fly into the air--as children catapult crab apples with a
willow stick. It soars over the highest coconut trees to land in the shore
bush. I grin, delighted, and start breaking my way through the bush to
retrieve my toy. Do I look silly with a gardenia blossom behind my ear,
flinging immature coconuts into the air? Well, we get that way on the
atolls; many of the inhibitions of our civilized training are happily lost.

Here is the toy, and here is a wide avenue leading to the Point of Smoking
Seas. I walk down the avenue, for the gloomy groves are uncanny and the
loneliness preys on my spirits. Beyond the shore bush the wind, the roar of
crashing seas, the smell of the ocean break suddenly on my senses.

The trading station is now due south; I am halfway round the islet. Here the
barrier reef is close to the beach, forming a point sharper than a right
angle. Beyond the point, over a shoal stretch of sea bottom, the current
meets the Pacific rollers and they pile up in a furious maelstrom. The sight
sometimes frightens me. Staring at the rearing, plunging patch of sea, I
recall how Satyr Bones swam into it to rescue his womarm, who had been
washed over the reef. Somehow he lived, but the woman was dead when, like a
hairy sea beast, he dragged her out of the breakers.

Beyond the Point of Smoking Seas I pass another group of copra makers' huts,
then walk doggedly along the beach, which curves gradually to the west and
south. Though my eyes pain me, I grin and bear it, for there is no parallel
path inland; and the sand seems less glaringly white when I recall that
here, on moonlight nights, is pagan loveliness; here is where the youths and
maidens of Central and Leeward villages come for their nightlong dances,
their singing, and their love-making. Alas! now under the disillusioning
sunlight I can see only little paths leading into the magnolia bushes--
leading to the love nests of the young unmarried.

At the edge of the shallows is a conglomerate of sand and shells that has
somehow caked into a limestone-like rock so that the wild youth can carve
their names for posterity to read: Mr. Horse, Mr. Coconut, Jack Dempsey,
Eagle-wing, Mr. Banana, Messrs. Achilles and Ajax, Mr. Casanova; Princess X,
Miss White Tern, Miss Flower, Miss Love, Miss Mermaid, Miss Memory--
fraternity names that the young people take when they enter the House of
Youth or the House of Young Women--between puberty and marriage.

A little farther along the outer beach and I come suddenly to Yato-Leeward
Village. I have nearly finished the circuit of the main islet.

Yato Point is on the west side of the crescent-shaped bay. A half mile away
is the Point of Utupoa, where I stood a couple of hours ago; and here is the
wide reef highway leading to Frigate Bird Islet, flooded now, for the tide
is coming in; and there, on the outer edge of the reef, is the beacon of the
boat passage, while beyond it, at sea, is the offing where the trading
schooners lie. Far out at sea, to the southwest, breakers are sometimes
visible; they are on Te Arai Reef, which stretches four miles due west from
Frigate Bird and ends in a barren sand cay.

Leeward Village is spotlessly clean. About half the houses are built of
chipped coral blocks; the rest are of wattle and thatch, with one red iron
roof where an Aitutaki carpenter lives. This prominent citizen came here to
remove the only beautiful feature from our church, the thatch roof, and put
a galvanized iron one in its place. During the four years of exhausting toil
required to complete this great innovation, the carpenter fell in love with
a Leeward Village maiden. Now she has claimed him: he is happily lost
forever. All day long he sweats in his iron-roofed house, and, judging by
the husky and wanton appearance of his wife, all night long too.

On the east side of Yato Point I stop to glance at my house site and for the
thousandth time visualize the wattle-and-thatch palace I have always planned
to build here. I feel the cool trade wind blowing on me from across the bay;
I hear the wind singing in the palm fronds, and the thundery combers far
away on the Point of Smoking Seas; I gaze across the lagoon toward Frigate
Bird Islet, Ko Islet, the eastern reef, Utupoa Point, the cloud mountains of
the sky, the entire littoral of the bay, the villages, the causeway, and the
fishpond beyond it. This is indeed an Ogygian place for a renegade Ulysses
to forget the world, and eat lotus, and love a South Sea Calypso.

The causeway is six feet high, six wide, and about three hundred yards long.
Made of coral blocks gray with age, it stretches across an arm of the bay
from Leeward to Central Village, and thus it fences off a fishpond belonging
to Leeward Village and full of milk mullet and young turtles.

When a trading schooner is in the offing and the hard-doers of the South
Seas are drinking deeply they habitually fall from the causeway into the
fishpond. In fact groups of natives often camp at one end of the causeway
solely to observe South Sea traders falling into the fishpond, when, the
natives having had their money's worth, they become a rescue gang.

Safely across the causeway, I enter the walled compound of Parson Sea Foam.
I smile at his pretty daughters, examine his huge coral-lime parsonage with
its silly little four-foot verandas in front and in back, and shake hands
and yarn for a little space with the parson himself. He is partially bald,
has pendulous cheeks, several chins, and elephantiasis. Presently he swings
an elephantiac leg through the doorway, follows it, then reappears with an
ancient tin of beans. He gives it to me, with a suitable text--for he is
always giving me perished provisions, which in turn I bury quickly, before
they explode.

Finally I pass the hut of that terrible loudmouthed creature, Pilala-woman;
then the house of First-Born, son of Sea Foam; and at last I enter my own
cookhouse at the lagoon side of the trading station, where old Mama has the
teakettle boiling and greets me with an interrogative smile.

To me several features of this walk have seemed remarkable. There has been
an appearance and a feeling of cleanness. I have been aware of the sea as an
enclosing presence, both sheltering and dangerous. But, most important, I
have noticed that the atoll belongs to the organic world; it is a living
island. Some stretches of beach have appeared to be fine yellow sand, but if
I had examined it closely I should have found that each grain was a minute
shell or the skeleton of a coral polyp. Think of the untold billions of
creatures that have lived and died for ages to build up a coral atoll! And
think of the untold billions of creatures that are laboring even now, as I
close my journal, so that Danger Island may grow slowly upward at precisely
the same rate that the sea bottom subsides! Here is a land becoming rather
than one become, a land functioning in Time rather than in Space!

The other morning Araipu, who is both the storekeeper and vicar of Puka-Puka
Atoll, came to the cookhouse while I was having coffee. I asked him to join
me, which he did; but before he had tasted his coffee he started talking
about Abraham.

"This Abraham," he said, "worshiped the sun. He was a heathen like William.
He would get up in the morning at dawn"--here Araipu pointed to the sun
rising over the coconut trees of Windward Village--"and would pray to the
sun! He thought the sun was a god! He was a foolish heathen like that old
fellow William!"

"I don't recall anything about Abraham worshiping the sun," I broke in. "It
isn't in the Bible, is it?"

"No," Araipu replied; "I read it in a book Parson Sea Foam brought from
Tahiti. The book says that Abraham would kneel facing the east, and bow down
to the sun, like this," and here the vicar bowed.

"Araipti, let's go for a picnic. I'm fed up with sanctimonious resident
agents, village smells, noise, heat. Let's go bird hunting on Frigate Bird
Islet."

"He had a son called Isaac," Araipu went on, paying me not the slightest
attention; "and when Abraham was an old man, and had learned how foolish it
was to worship the sun, he agreed to sacrifice Isaac to Jehovah. Then the
Lord was very pleased, and gave Abraham great power. Abraham could command
the east wind, 'Blow from the north!' and the east wind would switch round
to the north. Or Abraham could command the hurricane, 'Stop blowing!' or
'Blow easy!' and the hurricane would stop blowing or blow easy. You see, he
got all his power because he stopped worshiping the sun and started
worshiping the True God instead."

A hundred yards from the station Bone's daughter Strange-Eyes was bathing at
the back of her house without any clothes or shelter. So naturally I stared
at her. Pretty soon Araipu found he had lost my attention. Turning his head,
he saw Strange-Eyes in a lather of soapsuds.

"Hm!" the vicar muttered, and shook his head meditatively for a little time;
then, brightening, "David was of the seed of Abraham," he said.

Tentatively I mentioned that David had seen a beautiful maiden bathing.

"Yes, of course," Araipu interrupted quickly; "that was Bath-sheba, the wife
of Uriah the Hittite." Then he started telling how David had sent Uriah into
the front of battle so he should be killed; but again I interrupted, this
time to suggest our immediate departure for Frigate Bird.

Araipu vaguely consented, as though he would of course go with me to the
islet, but the sail four miles across the lagoon would be only incidental to
a flowing comment on the seed of Abraham, which apparently he would talk
about for the next few days, oblivious betimes to all else in the physical
world.

I told my old cook Mama I was going. Then we launched Araipu's canoe and
brought it round to the trading station. We stepped the mast and took aboard
a basket of provisions as well as a pound of twist tobacco for the Leeward
villagers, who were temporarily living on the islet. When our sail was
set and we had moved a few yards from the beach there was a great
screaming ashore. We saw old Bosun-woman dashing down the beach, a basket
of taro on her head, a bundle of clothes in her hands. We dug our paddles
in the sandy bottom to hold back the canoe and waited for her to wade out.

"The taro is for Pilala-woman!" she screamed, her lips within an inch of my
ear. "The clothes are for Bones!"

"Better come along with us," I suggested ironically.

"Whee-ee!" she screamed--the Puka-Pukan ejaculation. "Me go to Frigate
Bird! I've never been there once!"

Think of it! A woman living on this island for some seventy years and never
visited Frigate Bird Islet, four miles across the lagoon! It reminds me of a
pair of darling old maids who lived near our ranch in the foothills of
California. They were in their forties, alone on a farm only a few miles
from Fresno, the lights of which place they could see, on a clear night,
from a hill beyond their house--yet they had never been to Fresno nor to
any city! Once I tried to take them, and I remember that one old dear
couldn't go because she had a hen setting and her sister was "no hand at
poultries"; the other one couldn't go because she was afraid to leave her
sister alone--"something might happen." So it is with lots of Puka-Pukans.
We have only three islets on this reef, yet many of the neighbors have set
foot on only one.

Well, it must be otherwise with the coming generation, for while Bosun-woman
was screaming at us a half-dozen urchins, aged three to seven, came charging
down the beach, splashed out to our canoe, and, naked and without luggage,
tumbled aboard. God knows whose children they were.

"Where are you going?" I asked like a silly white man.

"I dunno," a squint-eyed Tartar replied. "Where you going?"

"We are going to Frigate Bird Islet."

"That suits me," said the hoyden, and apparently the others concurred, for
they didn't even discuss the matter. Picking up paddles or using their
hands, they sent the canoe scudding out of the lee of the land.

Lucky we were to have those extra hands, for presently we saw coming down
the beach the rest of the gang, about fifty strong--and their noise was
like the yelping of a pack of coyotes, I pulled in the sheet, we dug our
paddles in the water, and escaped by the skin of our teeth. Dozens of the
urchins plunged in the bay and tried to overtake us, but, what with our
half-dozen wild man-eating sailors, we managed to escape.

That's the way with the Puka-Pukan toddlers. They run over this island like
a vandal horde controlled, I'll swear, by a sort of group impulse. Perhaps a
few of the women know to whom certain toddlers belong; it is even possible
that fathers can isolate their own brats and name them. Araipu was pretty
certain of the names of two of our sailors, but he admitted that he was
better versed in the seed of Abraham than in the seed of his neighbors.

Soon the wind took hold of our sail; we dodged about the coral beads,
scudded through a crooked passage leading to the lagoon, and drove like a
racing yacht--faster than a racing yacht--toward Frigate Bird Islet, the
urchins whooping so loudly that Araipu didn't have half a chance to get a
word in edgewise about Abraham. Within thirty minutes we had nosed the
canoe's bow into the beach of the far islet.

Four and a half seconds before the canoe touched the shore six naked
toddlers described six graceless parabolas in six different directions. Some
landed like spiders--all arms and legs--in the water; one or two landed on
the beach; but, wheresoever they landed, within another four and a half
seconds not a single one was in sight. For a little space we could hear them
yelling as they plundered land crabs, coconuts, mummy apples--or as they
flung stones at fledglings, terns, boobies. Presently they would be breaking
the law by broiling young birds and gorging themselves with burnt flesh and
coconuts.

Constable Ears, who alone met us, eyed with displeasure the streaks of brown
skin cutting across the beach and into the bush. "They should not have come
to our islet," he said severely; then he scowled, raised his eyebrows in a
manner almost sanctimonious, and approached to shake hands with Araipu and
me.

The constable is tall, long-faced, very very serious in all things, and
given to long silences before replying to the simplest questions. If one
asks him, "When do we eat?" or "Will it rain?" or "What do you think of the
universe" Ears will knit his brow, gaze meditatively nowhere, cock his head
to one side, and, after a full moment of silence, reply gravely: "Now," or
"Perhaps," or "I think it is a good thing."

Not another soul was in sight. This annoyed me, for usually when I go to
Frigate Bird Islet the young men run into the shoal water, pick up my canoe
with me in it, and carry it ashore. Being accustomed to this kind of a
welcome, I was peeved when only the constable met us; in fact I was on the
point of stepping the mast in the other end of the canoe and returning to
the main islet. I said as much to Araipu; but Ears, overhearing me, assured
me that the inhabitants would be overjoyed at my coming, but just now they
were playing cricket, so of course they could not welcome me with songs,
dances, wreaths of gardenias, and welcoming orations.

I should have understood this at once, but for some reason my pride was
hurt. In a huff I walked through the deserted copra makers' village,
following the sound of whoops, groans, and guffaws; and presently, in a
little clearing, I came upon the hundred and fifty people of Leeward
Village, playing or watching a studied game of cricket. Two or three men
glanced at me in a vaguely preoccupied way, then jerked their heads around
to watch the game. Happy-go-lucky old Tapipi, his eyes shifting between me
and the players, explained hurriedly that for six hours they had been
playing to decide which half of the village should gather coconuts tomorrow
for the other half. I then realized that if the British Navy were target
practicing in the offing no one would leave the game. Like children that can
play for two hours but cannot work for two minutes, these atoll people can
play cricket all day to determine who shall work an hour tomorrow. I
mentioned as much to Tapipi. He knitted his brow, pondered my words, and
finally opined that it would be hard work gathering coconuts tomorrow, for
the people would be stiff and tired from the cricket game.

Presently I went to the parson's house, and there I found Araipu telling
Ears about the seed of Abraham, while betimes the constable scowled and
nodded his head gravely.

"You see those coconut trees," the vicar was saying, pointing through the
open side of the house to where straight rows of young trees stretched
seaward. "All those trees to the right are bearing nuts, and all the trees
to the left are barren."

"Maybe it would be a good idea to drive some spikes in the barren ones," I
suggested. "The rusty iron sometimes makes them bear."

Araipu eyed me severely and mumbled something about driving spikes into
Sarah; then I divined that I had broken into a carefully planned metaphor,
so I held my peace.

"Yes, they are barren," the constable said. "And yet the fruitful trees and
the barren trees were planted at the same time. They are twenty-four years
old."

"It may be many years before they bear," the vicar said. "They may not bear
until they are ninety years old. . . . You needn't snicker, Ropati. If you
read your Bible you would know that Sarah laughed when the Lord told her she
would have a child in her old age--but she had one just the same. That was
Isaac, the half brother of Ishmael. He married Rebekah and had two sons by
her, Esau and Jacob . . ."

"The game's finished!" Ears exclaimed suddenly, jumping to his feet. "My
half of the village has won!",

"How do you know?"

"Can't you hear them?"

"I can hear only a noise like a massacre of the seed of Abraham," I replied;
then, as Araipu beamed on me, I watched the constable dash toward the
cricket ground, his long legs and arms swinging, his head thrust forward. A
moment later the vicar and I followed with the leisurely dignity befitting
strangers. We arrived just in time to see the grand ceremony of "insulting
the losers."

At the far side of the clearing stood the winners in attitudes of Roman
conquerors, while under the trees, in groups hushed and expectant, sat the
entire remaining population, including, of course, the losers. First-Born
moved to the front of the winning team, squatted on the ground, and rattled
off a dance rhythm with a pair of sticks on his homemade cricket bat; then
the important young man, Luluia, walked mincingly, affecting timidity, to
the center of the glade. The dance tempo became more rapid, and Luluia,
flinging out his arms, seemed with the same gesture to fling away his
timidity. With brazen effrontery he went through contortions that I shall
call "dancing" for lack of a better word. It was utterly obscene and
insulting--and was enjoyed by winners and losers alike.

After the first "dance" Luluia walked back and forth between the wickets,
shouting, "Aha! . . . I? . . . Who am I?" He paused to laugh in a way that
reminded me of a villain in a cheap melodrama. "I? . . . Who am I? . . . Ask
the losers . . . Ask the winners . . . Ask the frigate birds that roost in
the hernandia trees . . . Ask the fish in the sea! Who am I? . . . I am
Lu-lu-i-a!" Here he made an awful noise, something between a bellow and a
shriek, then continued: "I am Lu-lu-i-a! I am the man that made the most
runs today! I am the man that blackened the faces of the losers! I am
Lu-lu-i-a! . . . Yip! . . . Wow! . . . Whoop!" and with that the cricket-bat
drum sounded again, while the champion--oh well, he "danced."

Presently the people returned to their village, two hundred paces away, but
Araipu held me back. "Give them time," he whispered. "They will want to
greet us in a becoming manner, like the sons of Jacob were greeted by Joseph
the second time they went into Egypt."

"We'll walk this way and come up to the village from the lagoon beach."

And so we did, Araipu betimes giving me some further details concerning
Joseph's brethren.

We found every last villager awaiting us, and every one of them in an
awkward, expectant attitude. They stood in groups, as though they had
casually met, were passing the time of day, and had not the foggiest idea
that Ropati himself had arrived with no less a person than the vicar. When
we were close to them they glanced up suddenly, as though at a prearranged
signal, and, "Hello!" they exclaimed. "It is Ropati! It is Araipu!" Their
faces wreathed in smiles, they rushed forward, relieved from the
anticipatory waiting, hands outstretched.

"When the King of Israel visited the Pharaoh of Egypt," the vicar cried, "he
sent his spokesman before him, bearing presents for Pharaoh--jars of honey,
spices, gems, frankincense, and myrrh. Thus he softened the heart of
Pharaoh. . . . Now Ropati has come to your islet to hunt sea birds with the
young men of your village, and he has sent me, his spokesman, before him,
bearing this pound of Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco so that your hearts
may be softened toward him."

Araipu then handed the package of twist to the "supercargo" of Leeward
Village, and Immediately we turned to hurry away. As we left the village we
could hear the supercargo shouting:

"Gather by the House of Youth! The old men! The first-born! The deacons! The
fathers! The youths! the naked ones! Gather by the House of Youth! We are
dividing a pound of Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco presented by the King of
Israel to the Pharaoh of Egypt!"

There were whoops of laughter, and bellows of delight from tobacco-hungry
old men; then the atoll jungle deadened the sound. We moved inland,
following a crooked path; the branches of cordia and hernandia trees met
overhead, and above them interlaced the fronds of coconut palms; below was
an undergrowth of bird's-nest ferns, magnolia bushes, pipturus, and
pandanus, walling us in.

Presently we entered the clearing where Leeward Village's lime tree grows,
then moved on to the outer beach and followed it to Pilato the androgyne's
Place of Love. The Place was deserted; it seemed almost drab in the
afternoon sunlight; it would waken to life and beauty when the moonlight
slanted across the magnolia bushes, gleamed on the white coral sand, and the
dancers were there. Leaving the Place, we walked around the islet's west
point and returned by an inland path. It was night by then, but the moon
lighted our way. Araipu left me, to follow the lagoon beach to the parson's
house, while I wandered among the houses, wondering if I could escape the
vicar and spend the night in the House of Youth. I decided I couldn't, so I
turned toward the community house, in the center of the village, and,
crawling in, stretched out on a heap of logs used as seats by the Village
Fathers.

I could see the copra makers' huts lit up fitfully by tiny fires. Each
open-sided hut had a sleeping platform raised a foot or two off the ground.
They looked like the counters in a shooting gallery or a hoopla concession.
No; they were platforms in the cages of a zoo. Over yonder sat gorilla-like
Bones, staring sullenly out of the open side of his house, firelight from
coconut shells flashing on his huge and hairy face. And there was lion-maned
King-of-the-Sky, recumbent on his platform, a veritable Lion of Lucerne. And
there was old Mr. Scratch, a baboon if ever there was one. The
hippopotamuslike Sacred Maid moved sluggishly about the Great House of King
Toka, while shrew-like, Pilala-woman, in her cage to seaward, screamed at the
passers-by; and close to the community house, in the House of Youth, a dozen
monkey boys chattered and laughed and ogled the monkey girls in the
adjoining House of Young Women.

One of the youths left the house to dive into the community house and alight
beside me, on hands and knees, his face within a few inches of mine. "Come
to the House of Youth tomorrow night,' Ropati," he whispered. "After the
bird hunting, when the south reef is dry, the girls of Ko Islet will come to
our Place of Love!"

Then he was gone, a shadow blown through the fitful night. I thought of
little auburn-haired Desire and wondered if she would be among those who
crossed the south reef at low tide.

Then I felt incapable of thinking of anything, even of Desire, for I was at
peace with the whole world. Everything was good: the lions and monkeys, the
sound of surf beating on the outer reef, the smell of grilling fish. The
light puffs of wind were just cool enough to add to my feeling of
well-being. There were no mosquitoes. The voices of the villagers did not
come in the usual undisciplined screams, or, if they did, I did not mind it.
My nerves were asleep. When I rolled a cigarette and smoked it slowly the
tobacco tasted fragrant, mellow, delicious. The flashing fires, which
usually hurt my eyes, now had a lulling effect. The hard logs beneath me,
pressing into my back, my head, my legs, only added to my sensuous
enjoyment.

A little girl of about four years came toddling along the road, crawled into
the community house, stared at me for a little space, and then cuddled close
beside me. She seemed as happy as I. She did not find it necessary to speak;
she simply lay by me, communing with me in spirit. Then the toddler snuggled
closer; then she threw her little body across me and almost instantly fell
asleep.

Now that I could not courteously or conveniently rise and leave, I should
have felt ill at ease; but through some rational quirk of the brain I
continued to feel at peace with the world. I appreciated the pretty
confidence of this child. I felt her to be an old friend who had come to me
for security and sleep. I was nearly asleep myself when Constable Ears
stalked past the Great House and, stopping by the House of Youth, asked my
whereabouts. Having been told, he came to the community house and called my
name.

"Yes."

Ears cleared his throat, nodded thoughtfully for a full minute, then told me
that a feast had been prepared and was awaiting me in the parson's house.

"All right," I replied. "I will come when I can find someplace to put this
child."

"Child, you said? What child? Whose child?"

"Take her to her mama," I added. "She is lying on top of me."

With a good deal of diffidence Ears crawled under the eaves. When he was
close I grasped his hand and laid it on the toddler.

"Oh!" he muttered. "It's a baby!" Then gruffly, affecting anger, he shouted:
"Here's a child! Here's somebody's brat annoying Ropati! Whose brat is this?
Has anybody lost a child?"

"Bring it to the fire!" Pilala-woman screamed.

Ears carried the child to the shrew's fire and leaned over so the light was
on the child's face. Then he straightened up, and, in an apologetic tone,
"Oh! I see it's mine!" he muttered. "Hey! Woman! Come here, woman! Take away
the brat!"

"I hope you're not annoyed," I said when the constable had returned.

"Oh no," he muttered in an absent-minded way. "But I came here to tell you
something, and now I've forgotten it."

"Food?" I queried.

"Ah yes, that's it! You are to feast at the parson's house."

Araipu and I had expected to rough it in the South Seas, but the villagers
had thought differently. When we had left to watch the insulting of the
losers the house had been empty, for the parson himself was on the main
islet. Now it was furnished. Mats covered the coral-gravel floor; there were
pillows whose slips were embroidered with all the flowers of the field and
the flags of the nations; there were patchwork quilts; a lantern swung,
flickered, and smoked from one of the tirbeams, and spread under the eaves
was a picnic for a gourmand.

The villagers were aware that they had served us well. They told us about
it. The dancer Luluia gave a before-dinner speech in which he modestly
omitted mentioning himself but spoke instead of the generosity of his
village.

"When the King of Israel visited the Pharoah of Egypt," Luluia shouted,
"Pharaoh set before him all the choice delicacies of his realm! Here is food
for the King of Israel and his spokesman the Vicar Araipu! Here is coconut
sauce! Here are drinking nuts! Here are grilled sea birds, lobsters, and
fish! Here are taros, bananas, utos, mummy apples! Here is a basin of water,
and smell soap, and a towel! When you have feasted you can wash your hands,
then lie back on our mats, with our lantern lighting your house; and you can
smoke and gossip until our maidens come to sing you to sleep!"

There being a vicar among us, Luluia then gave a few short and snappy texts.
Araipu replied with some appropriate remarks about manna in the wilderness,
and we fell to.

The people left while we were picnicking. When we had eaten our fill we
gathered the remnants in frond food mats and hung them to the tic beams;
then we lay down to cigarettes and sleep.

Some toddlers came to the house during the night to sleep here, there, or
most anyplace--or, better, they went to sleep here, rolled about the house
from here to there, and woke up in the morning most anyplace. A strong wind
came up; the coconut trees beat their wings against the sky; but in the
morning Araipu woke me with a cheerful, "The sun is up, Ropati! Did I tell
you that the sun was the God of Abraham?" and then he kept doggedly on the
ancient Hebrew genealogies until we had finished our breakfast and I had
escaped from him.

"The young men! The tree climbers! The bird hunters! Gather at the Point of
Hernandia Trees tonight! The King of Israel and the Pharaoh of Egypt will go
a-hunting tonight! Gather at the Point of Hernandia Trees! The young men!
The tree climbers! The bird hunters!"

At sundown thirty of us walked from the copra makers' village to the western
point, where for a little space we lay on the beach between the wall of
hernandia trees and the shallows. The great combers rolling across the
barrier reef, a hundred yards away, thundered mightily, but they did not
drown the lonely cries of the thousands of boobies, terns, and frigate birds
circling over us, flock above flock, until they were lost in the confused
cloud masses that streaked and blotched the sky.

"The birds are roosting," someone said; then, later: "Look--the tops of the
trees are black with them!"

They were a strange sight, belonging to the world of demonology. Lying on
the beach, with my binocular to my eyes, I could see on the topmost branches
of the hernandia trees crowds of boobies, frigate birds, and terns. The
frigate birds were seizing the places of honor. Often one would flap down to
a twig where a booby was roosting and make a great to-do until he had
frightened the booby away and taken the perch for himself. Black,
long-beaked, evil-eyed, the frigate birds stared this way and that,
stretched their necks and spread their wings as though to straighten out the
kinks. Above the roosting birds thousands of others circled and squawked in
a note both lonely and petulant. Seeing them roost so high, I wondered how
the men could climb to them.

I turned my eyes from the birds to see, in the now dim evening light, a
dozen naked boys squatting on the sand. They had come from nowhere, without
sound; they had been materialized out of the spirit of this desolate place.
With mouths open slightly, bodies motionless, they stared fixedly at the
roosting birds. I fancied them mischievous idols squatting on the sand, and
when I turned my eyes back to the wall of hernandia trees I fancied the
birds were malevolent pagan idols perching in the trees.

A mosquito buzzed in my ear. I slapped.

"What's that?" came First-Born's voice from behind me.

"Mosquitoes."

"Mosquitoes!" First-Born cried in a note of indignation. "That's impossible.
There are no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet!" The last words had been said
dogmatically, brooking no contradiction; but I replied nevertheless that one
had buzzed in my ear and that now I could feel one biting my ankle.

First-Born laughed sardonically. "Oh," he muttered, "perhaps just now, at
dusk, with a moon, on the beach," and then, raising his voice, "but there
are no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet!"

"Mosquitoes?" Constable Ears called from the group of bird hunters. "Hm!
Mosquitoes, you said?"

"Ropati says there are mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet!"

Everyone had a good laugh over that, for one of their pet delusions,
actuated by village patriotism, is that there are no mosquitoes on Frigate
Bird Islet--though the other (and inferior) islets are swarming with them.
If you swat a mosquito and hold its carcass before their eyes the villagers
will dismiss the evidence with contempt. "Oh, one or two, perhaps, just at
this time, with the moon nearly full," they will admit, "but there are no
mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet."

"It will be another hour before the moon is high enough to light the bird
hunters," someone said presently.

"The moon is under the ridgepole of the sky," First-Bom said. "Where's
Araipu? You pray for us, Araipu."

When we had gathered close to the vicar and lowered our heads he told his
Creator all about the hunting party, mentioning that we were good
Christians, had paid our church dues, and never missed a service. He asked
that no youths fall from the trees and kill themselves like the heathen
youths had done in days gone by, and he asked that enough "quails be sent"
to support our bodies in the wilderness. He prayed for a long time, and
though the prayer turned out to be more of a sermon about Moses and the
Exodus than a supplication, had he not raised his voice to Heaven for at
least ten minutes no one of the hunters would have dared climb the trees.

We rose. First-Bom grasped my arm while the ape-man Poaza walked a few paces
ahead and the others straggled up the beach to disappear instantly in the
deep black of the hernandia grove.

Despite the moon it was very dark indeed in the grove. We could scarcely see
a man standing an arm's length away; and the air, heavy with the miasma of
bird droppings and decayed vegetation, seemed to quiver when great seas
pounded along the barrier reef. We separated in eight or ten groups without
my knowing we had separated, for the natives moved through the grove as
silently as shadows. Presently I heard First-Born's voice:

"There goes Poaza!"

"Where?"

First-Bom grasped my arm, pulled me close to him, and pointed upward. By
stooping a little and pressing my cheek against his shoulder I could glance
along his outstretched arm and see, high up against the background of
checkered leaves and sky, something moving. Then I fixed my binocular on the
object and guessed, if not saw, that it was a man. He must have been one
hundred feet above us. I lost sight of him when he crawled into a mass of
foliage, but later I saw him again, always higher and higher up.

"No money in the world could make me climb one of these trees at night," I
said to First-Born. "The Puka-Pukan youths are cowboys!"

"That's right; they are cowboys," First-Born agreed, cowboy being a local
appellation for a bold and reckless fellow. "I myself am probably the best
bird hunter on this island--but tonight I have a sore foot, so I can't
climb."

"How do they get up the straight, slippery trees? The trunks must be ten
feet around, and there's not a limb till you get fifty feet up."

First-Bom did not reply, for just then there was a great squawking high over
our heads: "Naw-ah! Ngaw-ah!" choked off suddenly. Then we heard the
crackling sound of a bird falling through foliage and a loud thud as it
struck the ground. First-Born groped forward to hunt for the bird but told
me to stay where I was.

Throughout the grove boobies were squawking and dead bodies thumping to the
ground. Sometimes a matchlight would pierce a red hole in the umbra;
whispered voices moved like ghostly presences about me; and once I heard
Araipu intoning, startlingly loud, seemingly from nowhere: "'And there went
forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them
fall by the camp . . .' Numbers II: 31." In a half hour the rain of birds
had lessened. I found First-Born close to me again.

"Would you dare walk here alone at night?" I asked.

"I should die of fear."

"Why?"

"Ghosts, Ropati, ghosts."

"Have you ever seen a ghost?"

"No, and I never want to."

"If you had seen one you might not be so frightened. They are harmless."

"Ropati, have you ever seen a ghost?"

"Many times," I replied. "I saw one in this grove, some years ago, when I
was walking round the islet on the lookout for turtles."

First-Bom edged away from me as though frightened of a man who had seen a
ghost; then he moved still farther away, to pick up another bird; but soon
he hurried back, more afraid of ghosts than of a man who had seen a ghost.

"I wish you would talk about something else," he said crossly. "It's
dangerous to talk about such things out here at night in the hernandia
grove. Ghosts often come snooping around when you are talking about them--
and Poaza might hear you! If he gets thinking about ghosts all the strength
will go out of him and he will fall out of the tree!"

But presently Poaza himself appeared. We felt our way to the edge of the
grove, then walked a little way down the beach to where the rest of the bird
hunters were gathered. We had seven boobies; the entire catch numbered
sixty-one, which was exceptionally good. It represented a feast for the
entire village, wing feathers enough to decorate all the hats, wing bones
enough to make popguns for all the children, and, most important of all,
enough birds to make the Central and Windward villages green with envy.

"I shall preach about it next Sunday," Araipu said as we trod the gleaming
sand back to the copra makers' village; and then, his head thrown back, he
shouted to the moon:

"'He spread a cloud for a covering; and fire to give light in the night.

"'The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the
bread of heaven.

"'He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places
like a river.

"'For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant.' Psalm 105:
39, 40, 41, 42."

At the copra makers' village I left Araipu and entered the House of Youth.




Chapter II



I climbed to one of the sleeping platforms that extend across the tie beams
at either gable end of the House of Youth and stretched out beside the young
men of Leeward Village.

I breathed deeply of the heavy, satisfying smell of human bodies mingled
with the fragrance of flower-scented coconut oil, the slightly dank yet
appetizing smell of newly opened native ovens, smoke impregnated with the
odor of damp thatch, all of which combined to suggest a sense of security,
shelter, sustenance. And at times, when a gust of wind swooped down from the
treetops to pass through the House of Youth and eddy above the sleeping
platform, the fragrance of jungle flowers, reef mist, and the sea would
envelop me.

Coconut-shell fires flashed here and there in the village, and a fire of
coconut spathes burned between the Great House of King Toka and that of the
gorilla Bones. Their vagrant gleams moved across the thatching in the House
of Youth and were diffused onto the sleeping platform.

Slung to the ridgepole above me I could see a bundle of fish poles with
their lines of pipturus bark and their gleaming pearl-shell hooks. Water
containers made from whole coconuts, in nets of sennit, with stoppers of
wood in their eyes, hung like gourds from the rafters; and stuck into the
thatch or tied to the rafters by strips of bark were coconut-meat scrapers,
rolls of sennit, great wooden ruvettus hooks a handsbreadth from barb to
bend, many faded wreaths of fern leaves--memory presents from the girls of
Windward Village.

Next to me lay crooked-legged little Bribery, Jr., only son of
crooked-leggged Deacon Bribery. Beyond was the big youth Eagle-wing, the
bosom friends Messrs. Achilles and Ajax, and the small but active Mr. Horse.
The six of us fitted snugly on the narrow platform, shoulder to shoulder and
hip to hip. On the other gable-end platform lay another group of youths,
while below us, on the ground floor of thick, roughhewn planks, were a dozen
others--Mr. Boston, Mr. Coconut, Jack Dempsey, Mr. Casanova. These
fraternity names are never used in the unromantic daylight, when among their
elders.

Though it was nearly midnight the village was awake. Women gossiped as they
cleaned and broiled the night's catch of birds; a group of old men shouted
advice and encouragement to King Toka and Bones, who were playing a
disk-tossing game by the light of a spathe fire; children screamed as they
splashed in the lagoon; from near by in the village I heard the cracked
voice of old Mr. Scratch intoning a Christian prayer before stretching out
to sleep; there was singing and laughter from the House of Young Women, but
this last sounded to me insincere. I wondered if they knew and resented that
the girls of Ko were to cross the reef tonight.

"What a contrast in cultures!" I thought. "These people do not know whether
they are pagan or Christian. Here in the House of Youth I am virtually in
ancient Puka-Puka; but over on the main islet, or even on this islet in the
daytime, I am in Christianized Danger Island. The people seem to slip back
to pagan times with the setting of the sun . . . I wish it were always
night."

"Tst!" came suddenly from little Bribery, and at the same instant, from a
house across the road, a woman started screaming.

There was the sound of running footsteps.

"Wake up, Pilala-woman!" someone cried. "Why are you screaming?"

"She has had a bad dream!"

"The spirits of the underworld are tormenting her!"

"No; it is her old husband! He comes from his grave every night to haunt
her!"

For some time the screaming continued, unsuppressed, in a note of panic
terror; then Pilala-woman's voice: "It was a devil from the underworld! He
was raping me! Oh! his thing was as hot as a firebrand!"

Then another voice: "That might be a good dream! Perhaps you are pregnant!"

"No; it foretells death!" a quavering old voice declared.

"It was a bad dream!" wailed Pilala-woman. "I know I have conceived a
devil-baby! It will kill me when it drops! Aue-ue! I shall die. I shall make
my grave-skirt! I shall die!"

Mr. Horse, in the House of Youth, laughed aloud.

"Who laughed?" screamed Pilala-woman. "May Satan eat his ears! It was one of
those fledglings in the House of Youth! May his thing hang like a wilted
leaf!"

And then, gradually, the village was quiet again.

"We must leave soon," Eagle-wing said. "The tide is out; the south reef is
dry."

"Desire will come tonight. She was made into a woman yesterday. She will
lead the dance."

"Ropati will take Desire."

"If only I could!"

"Oh, she loves you, for you have a chest full of smell soap and talcum
powder and firecrackers and hair oil . . . and you can pay her fine every
time the resident agent arrests her."

"Why does Horatio Augustus put us in jail? Is it sinful to love our girls?
Why does he do it?"

"Because he is a fool!"

"Come! Pilato will be waiting for us. Bring your cocolele, Mr. Horse: the
little mice squeal when they hear it."

"Perhaps the little mice are at our Place of Love now!"

"They will laugh at us if we keep them waiting!"

"They will say our women kept us in the village!"

We lowered ourselves from the sleeping platform and moved to the road. Mr.
Horse struck some chords on his cocolele, and one of the Village Fathers,
hearing him, shouted, "Where are you going, wild youths?" And we replied:
"We go to our women in the Place of Love!"

"Go; and may luck go with you!"

Pilato's Place of Love stands in a clearing by the outer beach. It is no
more than an open-sided hut where the young unmarried take shelter from the
rain; but it is said that the sandy beach stretching from the Place to the
shallows had been cleared in pagan days by Goddess Taua for the dances of
the youths and maidens; the densely leaved magnolia bushes lining the beach
as far as the Point of Hernandia Trees had been planted by the goddess so
that lovers should have privacy; and the deep pool between the beach and the
reef had been scooped out by Taua so that hot bodies could be cooled in the
foam-mottled, constantly renewed water.

Tonight we from the House of Youth, standing back in the shadows, saw Pilato
move mincingly from his hut, his wide, feminine hips swinging under their
bushy grass skirt, a song on his lips. For a little while he stared down the
beach and along the moonlit coral highway to Ko; then, seeing a group of
figures, "Tangi!" he called.

"Aye!" came the laughing voice of Desire's elder sister. She stepped into
the clearing, followed by pretty little auburn-haired Desire and a score of
girls from Ko Islet. In one hand she carried a smoldering segment of coconut
husk, in the other hand a frond basket. "I have brought you some
periwinkles," she said to Pilato. "Desire will cook them."

With that she put the smoldering husk and the basket on the sand near the
hut. Desire laid a coconut spathe on the husk and blew it to a blaze, then
piled coconut shells on top of it. In a few moments the shells had burned to
a bed of coal, and on this she laid the periwinkles. When the juice sizzled
in the shells she picked them from the coals and shook out their meat on a
food mat of frond leaves.

"You will lead the dance tonight," Pilato told Desire when he had squatted
by her and was eating the periwinkles. "And now that you are a woman you can
choose any boy you wish." Then he laughed spontaneously, threw back his
head, joggled his shoulders, and sang:

"The back of the rat goes up and down!
Toko toi toi, toko toko to!
Toko toi toi, toko toko to!"

"Mr. Horse will be the little rat!" one of the girls cried.

"No; it will be Mr. Achilles or his friend Mr. Ajax. How they stare at her
when she works in the taro bed!"

Desire shrugged her shoulders in a contemptuous way. "I shall have a cowboy
for my husband!" she said.

"Te witoki [The impudence]!" screamed a chorus of voices.

Then we from the House of Youth moved into the glade. Pilato brought out his
huge wooden gong and, squatting by it, beat out a rapid tattoo, and then,
with the high-pitched voice of a woman, he called the first movement of the
dance.

Now moonlight glistened on the white coral sand, cast moving lights and
shadows among the metallic-green fronds. The magnolia leaves became
tarnished silver, gleaming dully. Combers rumbled over the barrier reef, and
across the shallows parallel ridges of water, their crests foaming, raced
hissing shoreward, where they broke and surged up the beach, jangling the
coral gravel.

Louder than the thunder of breakers and the jangle of coral gravel came the
tattoo of Pilato's gong. He squatted by his gong to beat it in a kind of
frenzy. His body was never at rest, his eyes sparkled; there were laughter,
shouts of encouragement, and snatches of song from his lips. In the clearing
before him the girls of Ko danced, formed in a double line, their arms and
their hips moving in a manner that suggested physical love. We from the
House of Youth stood here and there close to the dancers; but now and again
one of us would leap forward, shouting in a spontaneous burst of excitement,
and dance between the lines of girls, arms outstretched, knees knocking
together, shoulders swaying. There would be screams from the girls, a shriek
of laughter from Pilato, and hoarse shouts from the youths.

The moonlight played on the naked brown skins; it seemed to caress the
shimmering black hair, the firm young breasts half hidden under wreaths of
flowers; it played wantonly in the grass skirts and then moved on to project
a nether dance, elongated and fantastic, across the sand until it was lost
in the shadows. The moonlight was an actor in this scene of pagan
loveliness, as was the wind with its tantalizing smell of hot bodies, of the
night breath of wilting flowers.

Desire led the dance, as was her right, for she had been declared mature on
the day before, and this was her night of glory. There were wreaths of
cordia and pandanus blossoms around her head, flowers in her hair and behind
her ears. Her grass skirt had been made by Tangi from the whitest of
bleached fiscus bark; it was so bushy that it accentuated the width of her
hips and their movement in the dance. Her breasts were bare, to me they were
soft, round, inviting. With her mind on the movements of the dance, a little
scowl puckering her brow and the bridge of her nose, she danced as though
she were a priestess officiating in her temple--as perhaps she was.

Dawn was at hand when the dancing had ended. We strolled southward along the
beach, and I so managed it that I was close to Desire and soon had my arm
over her shoulders.

"I am coming for you, Desire," I said when we had reached the place where
our friends must turn onto the reef highway. "Wait for me when the moon is
full."

Then I felt her arm slip around my waist and her hand press me gently, and
then she was gone. For a little while we watched our friends move in single
file along the reef, and we could hear the plash of their bare feet, for the
tide was coming in. They were lost when the moon sank behind a bank of
horizon clouds.

Suddenly tired to exhaustion we walked back to the copra makers' village.

At sundown I sent for Pio--the Mr. Horse of the House of Youth. I fed him
bully beef and biscuits to make him strong at the paddle; and at deep dusk,
after expressing the proper excuses to Araipu (and borrowing his canoe), we
set off. It was night by the time we had paddled the mile to Matauea Point,
on the westward side of Ko Islet. From there we skirted far out in the big
horseshoe bay, so as to be safe from prying eyes, and paddled noiselessly.

There was a full moon. Soon I laid my paddle in the canoe and, sitting in
the bow, stared into the water. In the shallow places the white sand bottom
was of the light blue of a clear summer sky, with here and there growths of
coral, shadowy fish moving among the coral forests. Elsewhere the water
changed to deeper shades, to violet and purple and blue-black. Then
presently we came to where the sand gave way to coral mountains as weird, as
gloomy, as mysterious as the mountains in a book of fairy tales.

"Sh!" came suddenly from Pio. He backed water silently. "There's a malau
fisherman!"

I soon made him out. Leaning low, we turned the canoe and paddled farther
out in the bay, but only to find ourselves in a maze of reefs, scarcely
awash, over some of which we had to drag the canoe. And the farther we
paddled the closer the malau fisherman seemed to be. We soon guessed that he
was following us so he could have a sauce of scandal to serve with his
malau. And sure enough, when we were wedged in a great mass of reefs, each
one of which was so thickly covered with spiny coral that we could not pull
the canoe over it, the fisherman managed to come within recognizing
distance.

"Ha, ha! Ropati and Pio!" the cur whooped.

Everyone knows how sound carries over calm water. Though the head of the bay
was nearly a mile away, the villagers could hear every word the fisherman
shouted.

"Oh, it's you, Bribery," I snarled, recognizing the crooked-legged deacon.
"We're going to the main islet. Show us the way out of this mess."

"Aye, little Ropati; presently, Ropati dear!" the creature whined. "But how
is it that you, who have lived on Puka-Puka all these years, do not know the
way to the main islet? And has Pio forgotten the way? And do you always use
such nice-smelling hair oil when you are paddling to the islet?"

"Be still, you old fool! If you breathe another word you'll never get any
more tobacco from me!"

"Aye; the old man will be silent as the moon, little Ropati," Bribery
whooped. "Just give the old man a pinch of tobacco for his pipe, and he will
be silent as the moon and show you the way out of these reefs."

I gave him some tobacco; but instead of thanking me by speaking softly, he
shrieked: "So Ropati and Pio are not going to the main islet at all! So they
are out hunting little mice to play with tonight. . Oh, when I was a wild
youth all the little mice--"

"Be still! No one cares about what happened when you were a wild youth! Show
us the way out of here!"

Bribery's reply was a cackling laugh that rent the still night air. I
fancied scores of villagers poking their heads under the eaves of their
houses, cocking their ears, glancing and nodding meaningfully at one
another. Perhaps even Desire had heard us and was laughing at us! But
presently, when the deacon had had his laugh and had shouted a number of
other not very witty things, he noisily led us out of the maze.

We paddled to Matautu Point, which is directly across the bay from Matauea.
There we hid our canoe under some pemphis bushes that hung over the shallow
water, had a smoke, and, happy again, started toward the copra makers'
village of Ko. It was then that I began really to enjoy myself. I followed
Pio, through the shadowy jungle, under long-leaved pandanus trees, through
the gloom of hernandia groves. I listened as though for the first time to
the distant thunder of combers on the barrier reef, the mournful cooing of
island doves, the squawking of noddy terns a-roost in the coconut trees. The
night noises were primitive music, and I was a primitive man out hunting for
his woman.

Once we slipped inland to crouch behind a clump of bird's-nest ferns, roll
cigarettes, and light them where the flame of the match would not be seen in
the village. Then we moved on again, cautiously now, till presently we saw a
fire burning before the first village house. It was Mama Tala's place, where
Desire was staying.

When we were within a hundred paces of the house Pio grasped my arm,
pointed, and whispered: "There she is! She is sitting close to the fire,
with her back to a coconut tree. She and Tangi and her mother are eating
coconut crabs . . . . Listen! Can't you hear the old lady cracking the claws
with her teeth?"

"I can see only a red glow in the darkness and hear only the terns squawking
in the treetops."

"Wait here," Pio whispered. "I will slip through the shadows, and creep up
behind her, and tell her you have come for her. Mama Tala must not know that
I am here, for it is tapu for the Leeward villagers to come to Ko."

I was about to tell him that Bribery would carry the news to the villagers
if they did not know it now, but by then Pio was gone. I moved a few paces
to the lagoon beach and sat there in the shadow of a cordia tree. Across the
narrow stretch of water at the head of the bay, I could see a score of fires
creating out of darkness pictures of village life; a group of half-naked
figures squatting round a cooking fire; an old man sitting with his back to
a house post, oblivious to the present world as he dreamed of the past;
children playing in firelit glades; the red glow on domes of foliage shaken
fitfully in the breeze.

There was the steady rhythm of a gong from some place of love on the outer
beach, merging and sometimes lost in the thunder of reef combers, the
screams of children, the sustained murmur of the coconut fronds. There was
the smell of broiling fish from a cookhouse near by in the village, the
heavy odor of seaweed cast along the shore, and once a vagrant waft of
scented coconut oil, and with it, in my mind's eye but seemingly as tangible
as living flesh, the face of Desire. I drank in these sights, sounds,
smells, and I felt myself a part of this world far away.

The night birds were flying seaward now. I could hear them squeak petulantly
as they winged overhead. Terns soared down from their perches to wheel over
the water before flying to the shallows; curlews piped their cry of panic
loneliness. I could feel a lizard moving across my leg, and I knew the great
lobsterlike coconut crabs were coming forth from their holes and hollow logs
to climb the palms for their nightly plunder.

"Ropati!" Pio whispered in my ear. "Why are you sitting here as though in a
dream? Desire will meet you on the Point of Teauma. Tangi will be with her,
for she is going to be my girl tonight. Give me your flashlight. I will lead
them to the point. Come to us when you see the light."

Then Pio slipped away again, and a moment later I was picking my way inland
through the groves and jungle. Coming to a trail that I recognized, I
followed it to the outer beach and then walked along the hard sand by the
edge of the shallows to the south point--the Point of Teauma. Close by a
clump of magnolia bushes I found a place to wait for Pio and Desire. The
coral gravel was small enough to lie on comfortably, and I had a good view
of the stretch of beach on either side and of the jungle barrier behind me.

It was a lonely place indeed--a lonely place to meet Desire! The wind had
sprung up; now it blew over me caressingly. The magnolia bushes spread their
gnarled and twisted branches over my head, rustled faintly and sibilantly
like the distant buzz of night insects. A few paces away the ripples marched
across the shallows to jingle the coral gravel with a tintinnabulation of
tiny bells; there was not a human sound to jar on my ears. Across the
shallows, in the sky above the eastern reef, a somber cloud had risen. It
reminded me of a sitting Buddha. The full moon cast a dim shadow across it.
It seemed to me that I was worshiping in an ancient temple where a candle
burned before the idol of a pagan god. Then the beam of a flashlight played
on me, and an instant later Pio and Desire were at my side. Back in the
shadows I saw another figure and guessed it was Tangi.

I cannot tell a great deal of that night with Desire, for it was an
experience of the spirit more than of the flesh. Though she was clothed only
in a grass skirt, when she lay flung out by the magnolia bushes, the
moonlight full upon her, I sat by her and stared at her, marveling that such
a lovely creature should exist, that she should come to me in this lonely
place, and that I might have her for the asking.

"Why did you come so stealthily?" Desire asked when she was lying close to
me and Pio and Tangi had slipped away to some love nest of their own. "I
heard you out in the lagoon. I knew you were coming for me, and I told my
mother so."

"What did she say?"

"She was willing. I have been a woman a whole week now, so my mother would
not stop me going to the outer beach with you. Why didn't you come openly
and take me from my mother's house?"

"I do not belong to your village. It is tapu for the Leeward villagers to
come here."

"Nothing is tapu for you: you are a white man."

"Well, anyway, little one, it was fun meeting you this way."

"Yes, I understand," Desire said thoughtfully. "That is why I told Pio I
would meet you on this point. I knew you wanted to creep through the jungle
like a cowboy and meet me in the loneliest place in the world."

Then she moved closer to me and laid her head on my arm. "You are one of the
wild youths now," she said. "Why don't you take a new name, like the boys in
the House of Youth--a name like Mr. Horse or Eagle-wing?"

"You think of one for me, Desire."

"I have done it already. You told me you would come for me when the moon was
full, and now you are with me alone for the first time, with the moonlight
shining on us, so I am going to call you Mr. Moonlight."

"That's a nice name--and what is your name in the House of Young Women?"

"I am Miss Memory."

"What a pretty name! Do you know what it means?"

"No, but I saw the word in a white man's book, and when I spoke the word it
sounded nice--memory!"

"I love you, Miss Memory."

"And I love you, Mr. Moonlight . . .  Am I to be your woman now--forever?"

"That you are. When the villagers return to the main islet you must come
each morning to the trading station. We will call you a housemaid so the
resident agent will not arrest us; but old Mama will do the work while you
stay close to me where I can see you and be happy."

Then I leaned over her to kiss her in the white man's way, and then to rub
my nose in her hair like the natives do; and then we lay back, arm in arm,
under the magnolia bush, to talk of the things lovers talk about, which talk
is nothing at all unless the lovers are there, and the feel of each other,
and the moonlight, and the fragrance, and the sound of soft voices. So I
shall leave myself under the magnolia bush with Memory until the dawn
quickens, for it was then that I led her back to Mama Tala's house, and, in
broad daylight, caring not a whit who saw me, paddled back to Frigate Bird
Islet with Pio.




Chapter III



I have been back on the main islet for nearly a month, and I am writing in
the Danger Island trading station. If anyone should find these scribbled
pages among my worldly effects, when I have passed happily into the pagan
underworld, and should wonder why I now speak of my atoll as Danger Island
instead of Puka-Puka, let him understand that, to me, the modern name better
fits the main islet with its three churches, its native store, its resident
agent (a native of the Lower Islands), and its villagers clothed in ragged
European clothes. The main islet is only four miles from Frigate Bird, yet
in time I seem to leap from a primitive age to a mockery of civilization--
from Puka-Puka to Danger Island.

Here in the station the empty shelves are about me, with their ghosts of
cheap print, butterfly scent, pipe knives, smell soap, marbles, lollipops,
firecrackers; a few books are on the counter where formerly flowered muslin
was cut in three-yard lengths, where Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco was
traded for coconuts, where beaudful maidens leaned their elbows as they
smiled at the Yankee trader. And it is the same counter where I piped off
many a watch while drawing pay as a trader, and where William the Heathen
and I discussed many a bottle of brew. I might call it a storied counter,
and I might tell of the storied bar of the Line Islands Trading Company, the
wreck of which is still in the other downstairs room. Sometimes I fancy I
can smell the stale beer.

Desire comes to the trading station every day except Sundays to help Mama in
the cookhouse, tidy the station, or simply be with me; but she returns in
the evening to her mother's house in Windward Village, directly across the
bay from the station. On Sundays I spend much of my time on the back
balcony, watching her move from her house to the cookhouse or to the village
road and thence to church; and in the latter eventuality I will hurry down
to the trade room and wait for her, for she often calls before crossing the
road to the great white mausoleum of the missionary society. Or I will watch
her sitting with her sister Tangi under the cordia tree, by the beach, where
she knows I can see her. Also, though we have all day to make dates, we have
worked out a system of signals to add variety to our language of love. Thus
a white cloth hung on the balcony railing means: "Tonight, when Constable
Benny beats the curfew gong, I shall come for you."

I find that it adds zest to the adventure if I breathe not a word of it
during the day but wait till she has left in the evening, then hang the
cloth from the railing, knowing she will not see it until she leaves the
road in Windward Village and turns lagoonward toward her mother's house; and
I am on the balcony to watch her through my binocular--watch her appear
from behind Uka's house, raise her head, hesitate a moment as she stares at
the signal cloth, then turn her head away demurely and hurry into her
mother's house, her heart beating fast--or is it my heart?

When Benny beats the curfew gong I go to First-Born's house, where the
deaf-mute Letter is waiting for me. Because he is blind at night I lead him
to my canoe, place him in its bow, and put a paddle in his hands. When I
thump the side of the canoe he paddles, while I steer, slowly and silently
across the bay to a coral head near Windward Village beach. With the bow of
the canoe on the coral I wait until a mass of wavy auburn hair seems to
float across the calm water toward me. A brown hand reaches up to grasp the
canoe's crossboom, Miss Memory boards us and whispers that the villagers are
asleep and nighttime was made for us.

I am becoming rankly sentimental. Perhaps my head is still drunk with the
adventure of last night. The time was moonrise, the place the lee of a
magnolia bush on the outer beach, the company was Miss Memory, and of
further company there was none.

In a frond basket I carried two thick albacore steaks, two drinking nuts,
and some raw peeled taro. Memory carried balanced on her head a basket of
coconut shells and a pair of food tongs made from an eighteen-inch piece of
frond midrib. We needed nothing else--no salt, paper, lunch kit, thermos
bottle, sweet pickles or sour--though in my pockets were matches, tobacco,
a pipe, and a knife.

On the way to the outer beach I took my arm from Memory's shoulders long
enough to pick up a couple of coconut spathes and to fray their ends so they
would light readily. She stopped at a guettarda tree to pick a score of
leaves and lay them on her basket of shells.

When we had decided on our magnolia bush I lighted the spathes and piled the
coconut shells on top of them. The shells would burn with a white sputtering
flame, and they would leave a bed of coals that smoldered for a half hour or
more . . . But I was not concerned. After kindling the fire I crawled under
the magnolia bush, lighted my pipe, and watched my atoll girl as she laid
the fish, the taro, the coconuts on the coals. Puffing away at the old pipe,
grunting occasionally in the Puka-Pukan manner just to show that I was
happy, I watched her turn the fish and the taro with her midrib tongs; I
noted how charmingly her hair fell about her bare shoulders, how the glowing
coals lent their spirit to play in her tresses. And now, mingled with my
tobacco smoke, came the savory odor of fat that had oozed from the fish and
was sputtering on the coals. My mouth watered so freely that soon a gurgling
sound came from my pipe, so I knocked out the remnant of tobacco, blew the
moisture out of the stem, and filled her up again.

My atoll girl laid out the leaves in a nice little circle close beside me so
I could eat in the old Roman manner, accumbent; and I had scarcely finished
my second pipe when she picked the fish and the taro from the coals with her
tongs and laid them on the leaves. Then, protecting her hands with a mat of
leaves, she opened the coconuts by tapping them with a lump of coral, added
them to the feast, then crawled under the bush to cuddle beside me.

What a feast it was! In a European dining room it would have been a sorry
mess; but here, with the silken trade wind, the thundery barrier reef, the
moonlight dodging between the magnolia leaves--here, with my atoll girl at
my side, equally willing to nibble the broiled albacore or my shoulder . . .
sons of Adam! And yet I have journeyed away from Puka-Puka solely to taste
again the insipid, the indigestible, the artificial cuisine of civilization
served by chaste and hard-faced waitresses!

Yesterday afternoon I lay on the counter in Araipu's store and daydreamed of
the fleshpots of civilization, while betimes Araipu squatted on the floor,
splitting matches lengthwise so as to double the number in each box. The
tightwad! He does not have to do this, for he has bags and bags of money;
but the rest of the neighbors have a good excuse for splitting their
matches: that is, they have only enough money to afford two or three boxes a
year. Araipu laid each match circumspectly on a block of wood; then he fixed
his razorsharp pipe knife along the edge of it and pressed down. Sometimes,
when the matchwood ran diagonally, the split pieces would break off close to
the head, but they were kept nevertheless, and each one would light a lamp
or kindle a fire though it burned the stingy storekeeper's fingers in the
bargain.

Splitting matches is not the end of our thrift. Seldom does a man light his
pipe with even the shortest sliver of a broken match. When a light is needed
he sends a child to beg fire from house to house or even village to village,
and his pipe waits until the child has returned with a burning spathe or a
smoldering husk. If the child can find no fire, the man grudgingly takes a
split match and, sheltered from the wind, lights a coconut husk with which
he kindles a fire, finally to light his pipe with a live coal.

However, I have left myself lying on Araipu's counter, my head pillowed on a
bolt of unbleached calico. I believe it was at the time my thoughts had
turned to Aunt Adelina and the salt-rising bread she used to make, and how
tasty it was with homemade butter and strawberry jam, that William the
Heathen came tramping and blustering into the store.

William the Heathen, the reprobate, the ex-whaler, the beer guzzler, the
blasphemer! He is ageless. When I first met him I judged he was close to
eighty; but today he appears neither a day older nor a day younger--unless
it is when he is drinking bush beer, for at such times he seems to shuffle
off a score of years, his eyes brighten, his tongue wags more profanely than
usual; and often enough, leaping to his feet, he will move with the
limberness of youth through one of the obscene dances of pagan times.

William is the lone heathen of Danger Island, frequently in trouble with
both secular and religious authorities, who know little of the man's
cultural background. They consider William no more than a worthless Kanaka
with a thirst for the poisonous coconut-husk beer that he brews secretly in
his little hut by the taro bed of Kawa. He has a keen sense of the
degradation that has fallen on his people since the coming of the white man.
He corresponds, in Polynesia, to some old Indian chief, the descendant of
warriors, in the Americas, who cannot and will not adapt himself to the
modern conditions of life; to whom existence is alone made endurable by means
of the liquor that enables him from time to time to forget.

I have called him a heathen. True, from his youth to his eightieth-odd year
he had been the sole heathen on this otherwise Christian island; but a few
months ago the galvanizing report was cried through the villages that he had
joined the Seventh-Day Adventist Chapel! At first it was thought that the
heathen intended to break up the chapel, to do some scandalous thing during
meetings--smoke his greasy old pipe while the pastor was praying or rise to
tell improper anecdotes from his life as a whaler. But William did none of
these things. His deep-dyed strategy was discovered later. When it was
learned that he had been put in charge of the chapel's moneybag, and when he
started going to Araipu's store with pennies, threepenny bits, and sixpences
(with which to buy Adventist-proscribed tobacco), it became quite evident
why he had become a Christian. At the present moment it is rumored that
William is about to leave the chapel; collections are too small to warrant
his splendid hypocrisy.

"Gimme sixpence niggerhead!" the heathen growled today, moving to the
counter to strike it with his fist. Having been a whaler in his youth,
William affects a sort of sailor English. To him tobacco is either
niggerhead or bonded jackey.

Araipu sighed and picked up a split match to eye it critically, while the
heathen stood glowering and muttering curses at both of us.

"You got some money, oh yes?" I asked, mimicking his way of speech.

"Money? Sure t'ing! All the same bloody cowboy millionaires, too much money
all the time!" Bang! and his hand came down to slap a sixpence on the
counter.

"There must have been a big collection last Sabbath in the Adventist
Chapel," I muttered.

William ignored the thrust with the fine contempt of a hardened thief, so I
went on: "Let's take a walk behind the church. I want to find a place to
build a henhouse. I plan to get married soon, so I want to get my
establishment in order: have some chickens, and pigs, and ducks, and things
for--for the girl I marry."

"I'll come too," Araipu said, fitting the last of the split matches into
their box. "I want to look at my duck." Then he sold William a stick and a
half of twist, untied his moneybag, circumspectly put the sixpence in, tied
the bag again, put it in his chest, locked the chest, and grinned in a
manner that informed us the day's business was done.

William took charge of the expedition. He led us to the big grove of
hernandia trees behind the church, and there he stopped to peer searchingly
along the paths leading inland, across the cemetery to westward, and toward
the village houses. But presently he nodded his head as though with complete
satisfaction and muttered that it would be a number-one place to build a
henhouse, all right, all right.

"It's rather too damp and shady, isn't it?" I objected.

"Too shady?" William queried, accenting the first word. "Plenty shade,
that's good. When you get married your wife no see you when you feed the
hens. Plenty trees, plenty dark. You come 'long this path, walk 'round
behind church. Miss Legs come 'long that path, walk 'round behind school.
Then you both go in bush by taro bed of Kawa. Oh yes," he muttered, nodding
his head thoughtfully, "I t'ink this number-one place for build henhouse."

"I don't see that a man has to sneak out here if he wants to meet Miss
Legs."

For a moment the heathen eyed me ironically, then suddenly he threw back his
hoary old head to roar with laughter, while Araipu, only half understanding,
stared at us bewildered. "Oh, bloody hell!" William guffawed. "You too much
savvy, all right, all right! You been poking up floor boards in Miss Legs'
house and crawling in at night, I t'ink, oh yes, Goddam! Go ta hell! I tell
everybody 'bout it soon as I get home!"

"What a depraved old heathen you are," I growled, "talking that way to a man
who is about to be married! Come on, Araipu; I'm going to build my henhouse
in the middle of the village road. Let's have a look at your duck."

We moved toward the duck pen, but we had gone only a few steps when we came
to Constable Benny's pig, so we stopped, of course, to observe it and pass a
few sarcastic remarks.

Benny was formerly my store boy, but when the station was closed he changed
his profession from cornmerce to law, put on weight, became opinionated and
much too overbearing with the neighbors. Formerly he was an ideal store boy,
and, more important, an expert brewer, but that was before he had become a
deacon, a councilman, and a constable. Think of all these titles crowning
the head of a single Danger Islander! How can one blame him for having
grandiose delusions concerning himself?

Only a few nights ago he arrested five boys and five girls for loitering on
the beach after curfew. There was a great to-do about it. Horatio Augustus
lectured them on the sin of cohabitation and fined each one five pounds. The
amount of the fine was of no consequence, for fines are never paid, and
anyway, five pounds means about as much to a Danger Islander as an
astronomical light-year means to me--it is beyond their grasp.

The songsters had a withering revenge. One dark and rainy night they sneaked
into the grove of hernandia trees where Benny keeps his pig and they cut off
its tail! Not a soul saw them; but Benny, on a hunch, hauled them to court
again, whereupon they were each fined another five pounds. Benny, however,
is now the laughing-stock of the entire island. The Central villagers have
composed a song about the curtailment, which they will sing at the New
Year's festival:


Alas!
Where is the tail of the constable's pig
Alas! Alas! Alas!


the song goes. It makes Benny mad as a hornet to hear the villagers
rehearsing it.

We observed and discussed his pig from all angles and aspects. After
satisfying ourselves that the stump of its tail would not grow again and its
general appearance was one of humiliation and anxiety, we proceeded to
Araipu's duck.

She was in a pen, taking life easy during her period of ovulation. We
observed her for a long time, not saying anything in particular or thinking
anything in particular: just observing so we would not have to do anything
more strenuous; then:

"I see she is laying," I remarked.

"Yes," Araipu confirmed; "six eggs."

"There's no drake. The eggs won't be fertile."

"A drake mounted her last month, before I put her in the pen."

"Will one time be enough? Don't they have to go through the ordeal for each
egg?"

Araipu scowled, then glanced at me in an annoyed way--but I could not
decide if he were disheartened at the thought of having to catch a drake and
put him in the pen or was merely perplexed over the biological problem. "Ke
[I don't know]!" was all he replied.

But William knew all about it. "Sure t'ing!" he bellowed. "Half a dozen
times for each egg--all same womans! You t'ink maybe--so womans catch baby
after one time? Hell no! You mount her two, t'ree hun'erd time and she catch
baby! You ask Ropati: he too much savvy. He gonna get married pretty soon,
and he all the time poke up floor boards in Miss Legs' house, and Miss Legs
no catch no baby yet! Hell and damn! I laugh too much now!" And thereupon
the heathen laughed--or rather guffawed.

After this burst of erudition we dropped the subject, none of us being very
good on biology. We decided, in Danger Island fashion, to wait and observe,
and learn.

Desire has been arrested by strong and fearless Constable Benny, charged
with loitering at night after curfew--not with "cohabitation," as they
quaintly call the crime in these islands, prudishly omitting any adjective
such as "lascivious" that might explain what they mean. But in court it was
more than broadly hinted that of course a girl would not be walking alone at
night toward the trading station for any honest purpose.

I listened to the trial from an adjoining room, mad as a hornet as I glared
at Mrs. Susanna Augustus, who stood near me, spying through the wattle
partition, visibly excited. I heard His Worship Horatio Augustus preach on
the sin of fornication, sputter texts, wax eloquent, and probably become
turnescent as he wallowed in a sadistic spree. And presently I heard him
shout: "Are you guilty?" and then Desire, by now convinced that she was
being charged with cohabitation, gasp in a thin, terrified voice, "No!"

"All right!" Horatio shouted. "Don't do it again! [sic!] You are sentenced
to ten days in jail!"

I knew the sentence was a slap on my own face. Horatio does not dare bring
me to court, so he humiliates me indirectly by punishing my friends. On this
day it would have done me good to have walked into the courtroom and slapped
the sanctimonious hypocrite's face; but I recalled in time that I was a
foreigner, and, as an official once pointed out, was privileged to leave the
island at any time that the administration became obnoxious. Moreover, it
would have only made things worse for Desire.

In practice Desire's sentence means that she must work every day from 8 A.M.
to noon for Mrs. Susanna Augustus--who, incidentally, humiliates her with
the peculiar viciousness of the sexually repressed prude. The sentence is no
less than terrible for poor little Desire. She is no longer her bright,
laughing, innocent self; she finds it necessary to defend herself behind a
sullen and unnaturally aggressive exterior.

One afternoon, during her period of correction, I saw her sprawled face
downward on the leaning bole of a coconut tree, in an immodest posture, her
legs gripping the bole. She was dressed in the vilest of old rags; her hair
had not been combed for days; her face was dirty. Without a doubt she was
having her fill of self-humiliation. She stared at me sullenly when I
approached.

"Hello, Miss Memory," I said, putting my arm around her. "Don't glare at me
as though I were the resident agent. You know I love you." Then I said some
other things, which there is no need to repeat. When I left she was smiling,
we had made a date, and she had given me a kiss.

Desire's trouble has led me to think lately of the sex tapu and its
influence over both civilized and primitive man. We make profound changes in
the economic life of the South Sea Islanders, but their sex tapu remains
unaltered. Christianity adds only sex hypocrisy. I say this advisedly:
Christianity has made no substantial change in the sex tapu of the
Polynesians, but it has taught the island people to conceive as sinful that
which they formerly looked on as a natural and felicitous function of life.
The rank and file of the missionaries--not the leaders--have been unable
to understand that the sex hypocrisy which they insinuate into native life
is a far greater evil than the promiscuity which they so one-mindedly, and
futilely, try to suppress.

We must not get the erroneous notion that people like the Danger Islanders
live in a state of sexual saturnalia. Their sexual lives are no more active
than those of the Londoners or the New Yorkers; it is rather that they
approach the subject with more realism and that there are fewer inhibitions.
When the youth go to the places of love they do not grab girls
indiscriminately and drag them into the bushes to violate them. Many a night
there may be no sexual relations; on other nights two or three pairs of
lovers may slip away from the groups. The youth are at the places of love
primarily to sing and dance and tell stories, to be away from their elders,
to feel momentarily the intoxication of a youth-governed society. College
boys have their fraternities for the same purpose. Moreover, primitive
boys are like civilized boys in that they fall in love. Often enough a lad
will cleave to his first girl and marry her; it is exceptional for a lad
to go through all available women before he chooses his mate. The girls
are far more promiscuous than the boys; they seem less inclined to fix
their affections on a single man. Perhaps they know intuitively, from some
atavistic source, that this is their only period of complete freedom;
after marriage they must settle down to household duties and nursing
babies. Therefore they live (as Horatio Augustus puts it) as active
"social lives" as their men will grant them.

If my life in the South Seas has taught me anything, it is this: Do not
meddle with the sex tapu of primitive people; your own sex tapu may have
less virtue than theirs.

Let me return to Desire. In another country her sentence might have wrecked
her life, but on Danger Island she can restore her self-respect in the arms
of a lover--mine, in this case. The effect of the Augustuses' sex hypocrisy
is not so harmful as might be expected, for the people do not take a court
sentence seriously. There are cases, like Desire's, where a sentence wounds
deeply and may turn the course of life for the worse; but most of the
neighbors have too lively a sense of humor and too nice a sense of values to
be humiliated or even distressed by our remarkable form of jurisprudence. Of
course no good can come from such stupid meddling; whatever effect it has is
bad. It is like mumps, a baneful disease which can be borne, which often
causes amusement, but which may occasionally leave scars for life.

The young people have always led free sexual lives; now they are often
obliged to do so surreptitiously--and this, of course, adds excitement to
the adventure. The Augustuses increase promiscuity by making it a fruit
particularly delicious because it is forbidden. Man has always made this
error in psychology, perhaps because his prototype, Jehovah, made it in the
year 4004 B.C., as is written.

Desire will be able to restore her integrity in the arms of her lover; and
if she takes the advice I gave her she will do it tonight, for I have told
her I would wait for her on our coral-head trysting place. But if Desire had
no established lover the procedure would be different, for the girls on this
island lure the men to chase them, even as birds and beasts and society
women do. They walk the road at night, and when the boys chase them they run
shrieking into the bush. On being caught they make a pretense of struggle,
but in a moment they admit defeat, put their arms around their captor, give
him a kiss, and go with him to the Place of Love, or, which is more likely,
return to the road to play the game again.

This game is called tango-tango; it only occasionally results in a sexual
act. The sexually repressed puritan, observing a big game of tango-tango,
would declare that every girl on Danger Island is violated scores of times
every night; but many a virgin plays tango-tango with her father's consent
and is not violated until she wants it to happen. Probably all deeply
enamored couples, who have no inclination toward promiscuity, play
tango-tango for the fun of the thing, the same as we play tag or
hide-and-seek. Any girl who wishes to preserve her chastity--and there are
many--is safe an the loneliest trail at any hour of night. If one asks a
wild youth: "How about that girl?" one will be told: "Oh, she is tapu," or,
"She is our meat."

But when the young people join the church they play tango-tango no more; it
is forbidden. Now they change their tactics to Ulu'u, which invariably ends
in a sexual act. In Ulu'u, you worm on your belly into the house of a deacon
and tickle the toes of his daughter (praying betimes like a good Christian
that you are not tickling the toes of the deacon) until she wakens, when you
crawl with her into the cookhouse and talk shop.

On this Aegean isle the Calypsos are much more wanton than the Odysseans--
incomparably more wanton. On a Sunday night, after a day spent in puritan
hypocrisy, with only slight titillation from listening to the "sex religion"
of Parson Sea Foam, the girls and the unmarried women comb the island for
men.

How often, on a Sunday night, do we see a company of girls marching past the
station, each one wearing a wide-brimmed pandanus hat! They march four
abreast, in three lines, and they turn their heads neither to right nor left
though they know we are watching them from the shadows of the balcony. Then,
"Where are you going?" we shout. "Why the hats?"

"You mustn't speak to us," one of them replies snobbishly, and we recognize
the voice of Strange-Eyes. "We are white women strolling through the native
village. We are observing the primitive island." And then, from Miss Legs,
with a half-suppressed whoop: "We are hunting lovers for the night!"

Suddenly the group shrieks like a banshee; the group explodes like a
shrapnel!

Here come the cowboys of Danger Island!

A white dress describes a parabola over the churchyard wall; a yellow dress
hurtles down the road; a green dress shoots behind First-Born's house; a red
dress rockets up in the air to disappear in the neighborhood of Betelgeuse!

Here come the barbarians!

Shouts, screams, billy-goat noises, silence!

In three seconds the village road is deserted. There is not a soul in sight.
We fancy this fantastic rape of the Sabines was something we had read about
long ago in a naughty fairy tale. Then we hear Mr. Horse strumming his
cocolele, the giggling of a dancing girl; we hear a man whooping someplace
out in the lagoon--whooping simply because he feels like whooping, not
necessarily because he has caught a fish or a meteor has struck his head.

Laughter, the tramp of feet! Here comes the parade again, hats and all! They
have not been raped after all: they are only playing tango-tango! When they
are tired of the game they will go after men in earnest. . . .

For in the quiet hours of night, while lying on our sleeping mat, only
vaguely conscious of the snores of the Watch and Ward out woman-chasing in
their dreams--while longing once again to drink tea and read Browning with
Penelope--while pondering chastity, purity in thought and deed, suppression
of the bestial cravings of the lower man--how often do we hear the crunch
of coral gravel under bare feet, a soft incontinent laugh, husky girl voices
whispering! The stairs creak; the folds of the mosquito net ripple; the odor
of scented coconut oil insinuates itself into our thoughts as welcomely as
the fingers, the lips, the breasts of an atoll Calypso hungry for love.




Chapter IV



Now the schooner is in, and once again I am a South Sea trader; the days of
epicurean beachcombing are at an end--and a good thing, too, with marriage
imminent. For the past few days I have been busy brightening up the trade
room with smell soap, Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco, Derby Honey Dew Cut
Plug, lollipops, print, muslin, dungaree, unbleached calico, some hanks of
fishline, bright red firecrackers and shiny mouth organs, bush knives and
pipe knives, striped singlets and squeaking shoes--the same shoddy junk
that I sold back in the 1920's.

There is displayed on the shelves at the present moment an assortment of
fine matting, stick-to-the-chests, and stick-to-the-legs. You no savvy? How
dense! Fine matting is cloth, and the stick-things are undershirts and
pants. Also there is a whole gross of cero-kingfish, sometimes known as pipe
knives because of the tobacco pipes the makers stamp on each blade as a
trade mark, but which we call cero-kingfish because the tooth of that fish
was our knife in the old days. Also there is a case of doctor soap, which is
known as carbolic soap in other countries. Our name demonstrates that modern
advertising has reached even the loneliest isles of the South Seas.

It is easy enough to imagine that all the remnants from the old station had
been stored for the past eight years, now to be once again offered for sale.
In my books the trade goods are worth 1115/6/4! I caught my breath when I
noted this sum jotted boldly against the store, and then turned my eyes to
glance at the moldy, faded, and perished goods on my shelves! The smell has
long since vanished from the smell soap, which is discouraging, for it is
the only quality my customers will look for--or, rather, smell for. But
conversely there is scarcely anything left but the squeak in the squeaking
shoes, which is encouraging, for my customers will want nothing else. Also,
I find the company has sent me a gross of ladies' bloomers and a gross of
jew's-harps. Now how does the damned company expect me to sell ladies'
bloomers and jew's-harps? However, there they are: two-and-sixpence each,
and take your choice.

Thank God that's done! For six solid days I have been sweating over the
counter, but now the bulk of the 250 pounds that the company paid for our
copra is in my camphorwood chest. The few shillings that are left with the
villagers will dribble into Araipu's store during the next six months,
principally in tobacco, match, and fishhook sales. That's the way it is
here; just like old times. When the people get a few shillings they have a
spending spree. They can no more keep their money than can a child; and,
most remarkable of all, it makes little difference whether the trade goods
are new or old, of some conceivable use or worthless: the fun of spending is
the principal thing. Thus my ladies' bloomers and my jew's-harps were
snapped up in half an hour, as I shall explain later.

I entered the trading post by the back doorway. By being quick and ruthless
I managed to slam the door behind me before any of the jostling crowd had
forced their way in. Only a few fingers and toes got jammed. Then I opened
the front door and vaulted behind the counter, when instantly the place was
packed with a solid mob of yelling savages! I do not exaggerate. All that
day and the next day and the next day the place was a solid mass of
sweating, yelling, writhing human flesh. Over their closely fitted heads,
through the upper part of the doorway, as far as the schoolhouse I could see
an undulating field of unkempt hair; in the window on my left was a mass of
faces, solidly fitted cheek to cheek and chin to crown, with scores of arms
stuck through the interstices between the chins and necks, with scores of
hands gripping shillings and florins, scores of voices yelling: "Ropati!
Ropati! Hi, Ropati! Tobacco! Hair oil! Doctor soap!"

I have said that the company sent me a gross of ladies' bloomers and a gross
of jew's-harps. Well, Saturday afternoon I found Miss Tern loitering about
the station, so I called her in, showed her a pair of bloomers, and asked
her to be a customer on Monday morning, This she agreed to do when I had
given her the two-and-sixpence needed to buy the bloomers. Incidentally,
Miss Tern is goodlooking and is a singularly successful man-hunter. For this
reason the women are jealous of her, and for the same reason I picked her as
the ideal customer to start the bloomer sale.

Monday morning I saw her working her way into the mob. It required strength
of mind and body. She had virtually to climb over deacons and crawl between
the legs of councilmen--but she got to the counter at about noon. For a
moment she let her great Semitic eyes move from the painkiller to the Dolly
dyes; then, fixing them on the pair of bloomers hanging immodestly from a
tie beam, she raised her lovely arms, pointed upward, and, as per
instruction, started yelling with a sort of frenzied jubilation: "Bloomers!
Bloomers!" And when I pretended not to hear her she went on: "Quick, Ropati,
gimme the bloomers before some silly Leeward Village girl buys them!"

"That's all right, Miss Tern," I said casually. "I have three or four pairs
under the counter."

"They'll be sold out!" Miss Tern screamed, reaching up as though she would
pull the pair from the tie beam. "Oh, please, quick, Ropati, the bloomers!"

When I had handed them to her and unblushingly taken the two shillings and
sixpence she shrieked with delight, waved them over her head, and, despite
the press, did a wild hula-hula, bumping her hips against Mrs. First-Born on
her left and Mrs. Scratch on her right. If there had been a helluva
hullabaloo a moment before there was a helluva helluva hullabaloo now. Men,
women, and children started buying bloomers as fast as I could hand them
out. Bloomers were passed out the window; bloomers were passed out the back
doorway; bloomers were passed over the heads of the customers to people in
the road. Old grandpapas bought them; children bought them; even Desire
bought a pair. Within three minutes the whole stock had been sold out; then
they started on the jew's-harps, the sales stimulation having been arranged
for, through the person of my friend Mr. Horse, in the same manner as the
bloomer sale.

Thus the crack trader handles such little matters as selling unsalable
goods. Had there been a gross of medieval helmets they would have been
snapped up just as quickly. The thought: "It's a bargain," or, "If I don't
buy now they'll be sold out," blocks the ability to estimate the article's
utility.

Thank God it is over with! It was in some ways a pleasant break in atoll
life, but I've had enough of it for six months. From now on Araipu will
handle the tobacco and match sales and weigh my copra, while I pursue the
affair of my heart. I am not cheating the company in doing this. I am doing
all that is expected of me. So long as I have weighed in the copra and taken
in all the money there is on the island my employer will be satisfied. If
there is any village business, such as costumes for the Christmas
celebrations, then I will open the station for a few hours; but otherwise I
will open it only to sell wholesale to Araipu or get out a few things for
Horatio and myself. Hory, I fancy, will be a big customer in hair oil,
perfume, back combs, talcum powder, and such incidentals to one's "social
life." Yes, despite his sadistic sprees in the courtroom, His Worship is one
of our most successful woman-chasers.

Greasy, crafty, dishonest, conceited Eliu, the supercargo of Windward
Village, came through the back doorway on tiptoe, his eyes furtively darting
this way and that, under the counter and behind packing cases, as though he
were hunting for spies or eggs or murderers or pins. It was a long time
before he could trust himself to speak, and then his communication came in
fragmentary hints:

"There is talk, Ropati--wind-talk," he whispered, somehow giving me the
impression, as usual, that his mouth was full of mutton fat. "Wind-talk,
Ropati. Wind-talk from Ko; wind-talk from Frigate Bird . . . It is said that
things are not as they should be in the trading station--the wind-talk says
so, Ropati-the wind-talk from Ko and Frigate Bird . . . Prices, Ropati,
prices . . . The windtalk says that you raise the prices!"

"Well, what about it?"

"Prices, Ropati! . . . The wind-talk says that you buy your goods cheap--and
raise the prices! . . . Of course I know you wouldn't do such a dishonest
thing; but then there is wind-talk, Ropati, windtalk . . . You wouldn't buy
tobacco for eight shillings a pound and sell it for sixteen! You wouldn't do
such a dishonest thing, would you, Ropati?"

"Sure I would--and I reckon I know where the wind-talk comes from: Horatio
Augustus, eh?"

Eliu became more furtive than ever. His words were scarcely audible when he
whispered: "You know, Ropati, that I am going to open a store . . . Can I do
it? . . . Can I raise the prices like you do--like the wind-talk says you
do?"

"Of course you can; it's easy. You buy a hundred pounds worth of goods and
sell them for two hundred pounds. That's all there is to it."

Eliu pressed his lips together and squinted his eyes. His breath came quick
and his words more pinguid than ever. "I'll do it!" he exclaimed in a
whisper. "How wise the white men are! . . . Buy, one hundred
pounds . . . Sell, two hundred pounds! . . . Whee-ee! . . . So that's how the
white men make their millions! . . . I'll open a store tomorrow! . . .
Today! . . . You give me one hundred pounds of goods on credit, and I'll sell
them for two hundred pounds. Then I'll pay you a hundred pounds and keep
the other hundred pounds!"

"I won't give you any credit."

Eliu scowled blackly; the mutton fat turned acrid in his mouth. He tiptoed
to the doorway to scan the yard and beach; then, returning to the counter,
"You'd better give me the goods!" he hissed. "You'd better, Ropati . . .
because . . . if you don't . . . I'll tell everybody you're a crooked trader
. . .  You raise the prices!"

Horatio Augustus' personal goods from the schooner, amounting to nearly a
ton, were landed with my goods and stored in the station. We had no time or
inclination to sort them out while the schooner was here or during the
business rush; but this afternoon Hory came to the station, to interrupt
Desire and me in a game of marbles, and demanded his goods. We rolled up our
sleeves and went to work; and when Hory's gear was stacked in front of the
counter he told me, in an offhand manner, to have it delivered at once to
the government residency; so I stepped on the front porch and called:

"A stick of Lord Beaconsfield Twist Tobacco for each strong young man that
helps carry His Worship's gear to the government shack!"

There was a stampede. Old gentlemen and young, they came leaping to the
station, yelling: "Ropati! Me! Tobacco! Me!"

Deacon Bribery shouldered a forty-pound tin of biscuits, and the sea-monkey
Poaza a fifty-pound bag of flour, and Mr. Horse a case of tomatoes, and
First-Born a bag of rice. Twenty-five porters shouldered Horatio's gear, as
I knew, for I had bought a pound of twist--twenty-six sticks--and I had
one stick left when the twentyfifth man staggered into the road--and there
was one seventy-pound bag of sugar left to go. I glanced up and down the
road. Not a soul was in sight except the porters and hefty old Mrs. Scratch,
squint-eyed and grinning as usual. She wobbled from the road to the porch,
through the doorway, snatching en route the last stick of tobacco from my
hand; then she shouldered the seventy-pound bag of sugar as effortlessly as
would a stevedore and, wobbling more alarmingly than before, followed a few
steps in the wake of the cheerful porters.

Horatio followed in the wake of Mrs. Scratch. His cork helmet being at
precisely the correct angle, and his twenty-six porters being visible at
once as they filed through Central Village, Hory's ego was, I fancy, exalted
above the highest coconut trees. He smirked a little, believing himself
smiling charmingly, when he saw the lovely Kura standing by Constable
Benny's house, grinning equivocally as she watched her important lover
hoofing it along like a colonial Englishman among the coolies.

Desire and I, standing in the doorway, also grinned.

Sight gives you only a coldly detached vision of the familiar spirit of
place. When you hear him snore and feel his hairy chest you are casually
acquainted, but when you smell and taste the little devil you know him to
the marrow of his bones. That is one reason why I must tell you something
about what we eat and drink; another reason is that, the Christmas holidays
being but a few days past, the time is fitting for a dissertation on food.

On every island one finds a different way of making the native oven. This is
our method: we dig a shallow pit, nine inches deep and four feet square, and
wall it with upright blocks of coral or pandanus logs. If we are lucky we
have fifty pounds or so of volcanic stones for our oven; if not, there is a
hard coral that serves the purpose but soon crumbles under the heat. A fire
is kindled in the pit and the stones are laid on it. When the fire has died
down the hot stones are leveled by prodding them with the butt end of a
frond, and the food, wrapped in leaves or in coconut-shell containers, is
laid on the stones. Then the food is covered with sections of green coconut
husk and pieces of old matting. Enough steam is formed in the green husks to
keep the food moist. That's all there is to it, unless I add that it is a
good idea to weigh down the outer edges of the matting so the neighbors'
pigs and cats do not nab your dinner.

The coconut-shell container that I have mentioned is a large drinking nut
from which the meat has been scraped out and a section from which about two
inches in diameter has been cut off the eye end. Chopped taro with coconut
cream is cooked in this container; also clams, fish fillets, and turtle, the
last being one of the choicest foods on earth--a little fat, a little lean,
a few fetal eggs, some chopped onion, and salt to taste. Bake at least two
hours, with the top of the container covered with green leaves, and you have
a meal for a king, his queen, and all the little royalties in the bargain.

Our fish we bake wrapped in green leaves, grill on coconut-shell coals, or
boil with coconut cream. We seldom eat raw fish, but we eat raw lobster
whenever we can get the wherewithal. When a man begs or steals a few limes
from Frigate Bird Islet he hides them in the cookhouse thatch, then goes
surreptitiously to the reef and dives through the breakers to swim down to
his private lobster hole. Now, the position of a lobster hole, where whole
colonies live and breed, is a closely guarded secret passed down from father
to son; so the fisherman scans the reef and lagoon before he dives, and if
anyone is in sight he abandons the expedition for the time being. But if the
coast is clear he dives to his hole, reaches in, and pulls out a pair of
lobsters. It sounds easy, but try it. I shall carry for life the scars of
coral cuts that I have gotten trying to pull lobsters from their holes. I
have filled my hands with sea-urchin spines; I have been bitten by eels,
pinched by crabs, clutched by octopods, but never have I pulled a lobster
from his hole.

Home again, the fisherman flings the forward end of each creature to the
women and brats; then he removes the shell from the tail end, chops the
white meat into small cubes, and squeezes lime juice on it. In a few hours
he drains off most of the lime juice, then adds a cupful of sour coconut
sauce and, if he has it, some chopped onion. Finally he chases everybody
away, lets out his belt, smacks his lips, and feeds like the king of a South
Sea isle, washing down the luscious meat with mangaro beer.

I slip the beer recipe to you entre nous because Honorable Horatio frowns on
brewing, while Lady Susanna classifies as drunkards all men who so much as
sip wine with their meals. Anyway, with a weather eye peeled for the police,
bake ten green mangaro nuts (the variety with sweet edible husks), split
them lengthways, pour their water in your beer tub, beat the husks with a
heavy stick and squeeze the water from them into your tub; then, when the
liquid is cool, add enough coconut water to make five gallons. If you wish
to speed up the brewing, add the water from a quarter pound of boiled hops,
and if you wish a strong brew, add three or four pounds of brown sugar. In
four days it is ready. Very intoxicating and perhaps slightly narcotic. Only
optimists try to cross the causeway singing "A Wee Doch-an-Dorris" after the
third glass.

When I tell you that we atoll people live principally on coconuts and fish
you probably fancy us with a mature coconut in one hand and a live fish in
the other, biting into them alternately. Nothing could be further from the
truth.

Mature coconuts, such as one buys in a civilized country, are eaten only
occasionally. They are used for making coconut cream, as follows: Split a
ripe coconut in two by tapping it gently with a bushknife midway between the
eye end and the base, grate the meat, place the resultant flakes in a mat of
hibiscus bark, coconut fiber, or a piece of strong cloth, and squeeze.
Result: your cream. It sours in a few hours when, with the addition of two
thirds of its quantity of sea water and a few chili peppers, some garlic, or
onion, it becomes sour coconut sauce. When dining, one pours a bowlful of
the sauce, then crushes the food in it and eats with one's fingers, head
bent close to the bowl, fingers raised quickly to the mouth so the sauce
will not drip back, and taken with a hearty, noisy intake of breath so as to
intensify the flavor by oxidization . . . . My chemistry may be faulty--
I'll not swear by it--but I know that coconut sauce taken noiselessly,
urbanely, with a spoon is insipid stuff.

That is virtually our only use for the mature coconut; the green one is the
one eaten. It is cracked in two; about half the water is poured in a bowl,
and the meat is scraped out and added to the water. The scraper is made of
pearl shell or iron, two inches by ten, with one end spoon-shaped and the
other end serrated. To the meat and water baked uto is often added; uto is
the pulpy, absorbing organ that forms in a sprouting coconut. It looks like
a puffball but is more oily and palpable. To obtain the best utos the
sprouting coconuts are husked and the sprouts and roots are cut off at about
an inch from the eyes. The coconuts are then laid in the sun for a few hours
so the ends of severed sprouts will sere; then they are buried. In two or
three months the utos absorb most of the coconut meat and, the sprouts
having been cut off they retain the absorbed matter, become rich, crisp, and
very good eating, raw or baked. During the Christmas holidays, with no flour
or biscuits on the island, my household nibbled raw uto with their coffee.

Our diet, consisting of coconuts and fish with an occasional dish of taro,
may sound monotonous, but it is not so in practice--any more than the
Englishman's diet of roast beef and potatoes is monotonous. Now and then
there is a scrawny atoll chicken, sea birds, a bunch of bananas once in a
blue moon, and perhaps a mummy apple on the Fourth of July and St. Patrick's
Day. None of these is a regular article of diet. The Danger Islanders do not
drink tea or coffee, eat bread, ship's biscuits, or any other European food
except bully-beef and rice, which last they may indulge in once or twice a
year. Yet their diet contains all the ingredients necessary to build a
strong people and keep them healthy. I have eaten it for so many years that
I can assimilate little else. The vegetables and fruits that, I am told, are
"absolutely indispensable" make me ill; and when on Danger Island I feel a
trifle off color I eat a bowl of raw tridacna clams soaked in sour coconut
sauce, or I chew the sweet husk of a green mangaro nut, and in a few hours I
am in the pink of health. Even taro disagrees with me, and I tire of
fish . . . but a coconut! Ah, a coconut contains everything necessary to
support a man from the cradle to the grave.

From where I sit in my thatched house on Matauea Point, on the islet of Ko,
I have a fine view of the horseshoe bay and the four miles of reef
stretching to the main islet. Across the bay, to eastward, is Matautu Point,
where Pio and I beached our canoe the night we went woman-hunting; and at
the head of the bay is the copra makers' village, where we found Desire and
her mother eating coconut crabs by the light of a tiny fire; and behind me,
two miles to westward, but visible if I lean over and look under the low
eaves, is Frigate Bird Islet.

Desire is in the cookhouse with her mother, for Honorable Horatio Augustus
has condescended to allow her to live with me as a servant; and Desire's
sisters, Tangi, Vaevae, Pati, and Tili, are diving from the little wharf I
have built into the lagoon. Three native boys are with them, but they seem
unaware that they are swimming and playing with four naked maidens. When I
was their age such a sight would have shocked me beyond measure. Even now I
cannot look at them, without an impulse to snort and paw the earth; the
native boys look at them with clean unconsciousness of sex. Howbeit, if I am
to tell of the Christmas holidays I must turn my eyes from the lovely and
(to me) exciting scene on the wharf.

At Danger Island Christmas is the time for exchange of gifts, not the time
for altruism. If we accept this fact gracefully as a custom in the land of
our adoption we lose none of our respect for the people and we go through
the Christmas ordeal with little pain.

Several days before Christmas the people started coming with their presents.
Old Mr. Scratch brought me a conch shell because he wanted a stick of
tobacco-bless him! he told me so--may his lumbago be easier this coming
year. Moonfaced Deacon Tane and his moonfaced wife came with their arms full
of mats and hats, shell wreaths, and a nicely carved cordia-wood box to keep
knickknacks in. They sat in the house for an hour or more, scarcely saying a
word but eying with disfavor the other neighbors who brought gifts: Mr.
Horse with a roll of sermit, Mama Tala with a pandanus mat, Tangi with a
plaited basket, Araipu with a ruvettus hook, Desire with a beautiful white
hat she had made herself. The presents piled up, seventy-two of them; and on
Christmas Eve I made the rounds of the three villages, figged out in white
drill, with suitable speeches on the end of my tongue, and with my pockets
and arms full of cartons of matches, sticks of twist tobacco, bars of soap,
packages of firecrackers, and a few lengths of dress goods for particular
friends.

I turned in at midnight, but rose bright and early to join the grand parade.

This was the woman's year, when the men were supposed to stay at home and
cook the food; but I joined the parade nevertheless, being an important
person who is not obliged to abide by all the customs.

With sharkskin drums a-booming and wooden gongs a-rat-a-tatting, the women
of Central Village crossed the causeway to Leeward Village, and there they
danced for an hour or more, while now and again the youths of Leeward
Village leaped forward to knock their knees together, swing their arms, and
in other ways give vent to their libidos. The older men laid out a mighty
feast which was done justice to in a mighty way, slim maidens gormandizing
as much pork as could a stevedore. But all the pork and fish and taro were
joggled down when the women recrossed the causeway, passed silently through
their own village, and entered noisily Windward Village; for there they
danced for another hour or two, and ate more great hunks of pork, which same
would be joggled down during the final dance in Central Village. Meanwhile
the Windward and Leeward village women were having an equally grand time in
the other villages. At dusk they joined forces before Constable Benny's
house; drums boomed and gongs rattled, hips swayed, knees, knocked together,
eyes flashed, everybody yelled for all he was worth, the last of the fat
pork was joggled down, and, in a word, a marvelous time was had by all.

The rest of the week, save for Sunday, was devoted to the noble game of
cricket, fifty players to a side, and if the ball gets lodged in a coconut
tree it counts six runs. I know little of cricket, and, like any Yankee,
care less, but I will say that these people take it in deadly earnest. It is
almost warfare with them. I should not wonder but that they shuffle off a
lot of aggressiveness during the long-drawn-out games, and get rid of the
last vestiges of it when they "insult the losers." I cannot say exactly how
the losers get rid of their aggressiveness. Maybe they go home and slap
their wives, or they bury the hatchet until May Day, when another
intervillage game will give them their chance.

As far as I am concerned, this mania for doing things, for excitement, for
action is not an essential ingredient in the abundant life. A good
digestion, a healthy liver, and a gentle wife make the most uneventful day
abundant. But how strange it is that we humans suffer from a surfeit of
happiness more than from a surfeit of pain! After a long period of health
and happiness I am often driven to break the strain through a carousal. I
have just recovered from one. I am not repentant, for repentance plays a
small part in my life; but I am perplexed: I want to know why I drank a case
of whisky in ten days--alone and singlehanded, as the tautologists say.

I am normal again now and feel much better for the spree. Without a doubt it
has been a psychological cathartic. Probably I shall not need another
cleaning out till the trading schooner returns and--so I hear--the
Augustus family leaves.

You will want to know where I got the case of liquor. Patience: it is a long
story, including the most spectacular event to occur since the landing of
the first missionaries.

First I must tell you that Desire and I are living in Mama Tala's house at
the head of the horseshoe bay, for the Augustuses are at my old place on
Matauea Point. Desire's lovely sisters live with us, while other relatives,
Parson Sea Foam among them, come and go in the seemingly aimless native way.

Mama Tala is a large, placid woman, pleasant company, and tolerant of the
easy morals of her daughters. Maloku, a half sister to Desire, is getting on
in years, has a good husband living with her next door and numerous
children. Tangi is an exquisitely lovely girl, starting her love life and
therefore more demure than the other sisters. Though of frail health, she
looks a good deal like Desire but lacks the latter's delicate features.
Vaevae-of-the-budding-breasts is too epicene to be judged by the standards
of a South Sea trader, as is Tili a little girl of six with the build of an
Aphrodite of Capua. But glance at Pati, sitting by my writing table with two
of her sisters! Did you ever see anything as lovely as this child? Pati may
be even more beautiful than Desire, and that is compliment enough. Like
Desire, she has a soft, husky voice and a natural antipathy to raising it
above a murmur.

Parson Sea Foam is one of Desire's relatives. It seems that I am temporarily
in his bad graces. Early in the spree, Desire tells me, I was silly enough
to question the existence of an anthropomorphic god, and the following
Sunday Sea Foam indignantly replied with a rousing sermon inspired by Psalm
14: The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

First Sea Foam spoke of the kind of people that renounce God; men that delve
into the past of dark-minded heathens, exposing shameful things best
forgotten; men that drink strong liquor, fall off causeways, and meet loose
women in the magnolia bushes. Then, rising to his subject, his podgy arms
working as though he were grinding fodder at a hand mill, Sea Foam
demonstrated once and for all the existence of God.

"Who makes the rain fall?" he wanted to know. "Who makes the wind blow, the
lightning flash, the thunder roar? Who makes the taro grow; I ask you, who
makes it grow? Who makes the coconut tree come into fructification? Why are
men and women born instead of men alone?" At this point Sea Foam gave us a
dry little laugh reminiscent of a cheap tragedian being cynical--a sort of
"Ha, ha!" that expressed: "So, my brethren, our little atheist is squelched
for all time!"

However, squelched or not, Sea Foam ended with a grand coup de grace by
stating that many atheists, when death knocks at the door, turn at the last
to God and embrace the church. Sea Foam then did some praying and stumped
down from the pulpit, convinced that, even though I might not take the
sacrament immediately, he had silenced me forever.

Oh well, the startling occurrence that I intended to narrate will have to
wait till tomorrow. My brain is distraught. On Matauea Point, Desire's
sisters go swimming in puris naturalibus, while here, in Tala's house, at
this moment Tangi, Vaevae, and Pati are sitting by my writing table,
plaiting a pandanus-leaf mat. They are speaking, with Danger Island realism,
about love! And because of the way they sit, cross-legged, facing me, their
dresses drawn up above their knees--and because they have low-necked
dresses on, and plaiting requires that they lean over slightly--I shall
close my journal until they are visiting their aunt at the other end of the
village.




Chapter V



The Augustuses had notified us that on the fifteenth of February there would
be a birthday feast at Matauea to celebrate Susanna's unhappy appearance on
the mundane scene. This meant nauseous heaps of half-cooked pork, scraggly
fowls, tari, and coconuts, with perhaps one of those poisonous things that
Susanna calls "cakes." But luckily, at 9 p.m. the night before, a vessel's
lights were sighted to southward.

Desire and I saw the lights while we were walking on the outer beach, and,
because we were close to Matauea, we hurried there to tell the Augustuses
the news--then we leaped back into the shadows, appalled by the scene that
followed. Have you ever seen a stampeding herd of cattle "milled"--that is,
driven so they move like a whirlpool? That is what our casually stated,
"There's a big steamer in the offing," did to the Augustuses. They started
milling, noisily, like a panic-stricken herd of cattle. They lost contact
with the familiar realities of the Danger Island world.

"Don't forget to ask them for some banana extract!" Mrs. Augustus shrieked
while her long-legged, self-important husband rushed to the cookhouse,
forgot what he had gone there for, thought of something in the sleeping
house, rushed there, then recalled what he wanted in the cookhouse but
forgot what he had returned to the sleeping house for.

"And bring some butter ashore by the first boat!" Susanna screamed at her
distracted husband. "I got to make them some scones for tea tomorrow, and I
got to have butter, because white people would despise us if we didn't have
butter, and I know they will despise us, because white people always have
butter on their tea, and you'll forget all about the banana extract . . .
Oh, Horatio, you're such a trial, and here I am now, and can't find your
store teeth!" And so on, while Horatio flew panting to the canoe, started
stepping the mast, then joined Susanna in hunting for his false teeth,
forgot them, and hurried to the end of the point to ascertain that the
vessel was still there.

Desire and I, back in the shadows, snickered sardonically.

Somehow--God knows how!--they left Matauea for the main islet at about 11
p.m.; but when they were halfway across the lagoon Horatio found he had
forgotten his teeth, so back they came to Matauea, remembered what they had
come for, and at 1 A.M. started a second time for the main islet.

Next morning Desire and four of her sisters--Tangi, Vaevae, Pati, and Tili
--sailed the Honorable Ropati to the main islet. Araipu was waiting for us
on the beach. He told us the strange vessel was H.M.S. Percival, and
scarcely had he mispronounced the name when the stirring music of a military
band came crashing on our ears!

Sons of Adam! We caught our breath! We turned our eyes! Desire squealed!
Tili started crying! Every pig and fowl on the island dashed for the bush!
Down the road of Central Village marched a military band!

I was simply flabbergasted--let it go at that!

With a drum major leading, the band marched four abreast. The clarion notes
of the cornets pierced the foliage of coconut trees; the shrill piping of
the piccolo roused even old Mr. Scratch from his sleeping mat. The umph
pom-pom of the tuba caused scores of miscarriages among the village hens
quaking in the magnolia bushes. The boom of the big bass drum silenced
completely the lonely rumble of combers on the barrier reef! A military band
marching down the road of Central Village! Never had such a spectacle been
dreamed of. The people were dumfounded. Men, women, and children stared
with stupefied eyes, their mouths open.

I came to my senses with Desire standing behind me, supporting me. She said
later that she had been afraid I would fall over backward like the man in
the comic paper. When the band had passed, the music had stopped, and only
the snare drum rattled its tap, tap tap tap, tap-tap tap, Desire had again
to support me. Following the band came a crowd of officers and men from His
Majesty's ship, led by Honorable Horatio himself, and beside Honorable
Horatio a perfectly spherical man, red-faced, perspiring like a tropic
squall, continually mopping his face with a big handkerchief from which he
would now and again wring the sweat. It was Honorable Tibbitts, I learned
later, but even then I knew he was a politician.

A few steps behind Honorable Tibbitts scuttled Deacon Bribery, stubbing his
toes and wobbling from side to side, his eyes riveted on the politician's
cigar. Deacon knew that soon the precious perfecto would be tossed away, and
Deacon was determined to pounce on it before that old fellow Scratch got it.

When the lot of them had passed, Araipu looked at me with an expression of
imbecile bewilderment, but he did not trust himself with words. Then we were
brought to our senses by Desire, "Come, Ropati," she said in a thin, shaky
little voice, "we'll go to the govemment shed and see what it's all about."

So we walked across the islet to the government residence and arrived there
in time to see Honorable Tibbitts shaking hands with everybody, slapping
backs right and left, and to hear him saying nice things about the babies,
the coconuts, and the island in general. It was like old times: I could
fancy myself at a county election in Fresno.

Presently the Danger Islanders gave the foreigners the usual presents of
mats, hats, fans, and pearl-shell hooks, and Tibbitts presented the school
children with three tins of hard candy. Then Tibbitts made a long speech
which Horatio, nervous, stiff, stern-eyed, his ego exalted to the sky,
translated. Susanna buzzed about; Araipu pressed his eyeballs back in their
sockets; Ropati calmly smoked a cigarette.

The neighbors seemed scarcely aware of the startling events taking place
under their eyes. They stared this way and that, mouths open, brows
perplexed. Now and again a Village Father would note some minute personal
detail and straightway make a pointed remark, as: "He's got a wart on his
nose!" Or Deacon Bribery--as he cut a slice from the dry end of the
perfecto and jammed it in his pipe--would mention casually: "His pants
aren't buttoned!" Or the roughneck village girls would talk about sexy
things, and giggle, and plan how they could make dates with husky sailor
boys. But that was as far as their cognizance led them. Luckily only I among
the whites could appreciate the exquisite humor of the neighbors.

In Honorable Tibbitts' speech he told us the government was establishing
wireless stations on all the outposts of progress. "Aye, even on Danger
Island--even now, this very day!" And with a sweep of his stumpy arm he
pointed to a heap of packing cases, on one of which sat a flashily dressed
native of the Lower Islands, presumably the wireless operator.

"Wireless telegraphy will be a great blessing to the palm-encrusted isles of
the Southern Sea," Tibbitts told us, "a great blessing to the brown
brothers, so happy, so free from the trials and tribulations of the
outside world!" Smiling beatifically, Tibbitts stated that the government
had donated thousands of pounds to send this great and beautiful warship.
"And even now," he claimed, his voice bathetic, "your white brothers are
tossing on their sleeping mats, harassed over the plight of the poor
Danger Islanders, so happy and free from care, who have no wireless
communication with the outside world. But your white brothers will
weep with joy and relief"--and here Tibbitts shed a tear by way of
illustration---"when they learn that even the last outpost is blessed with
that marvelous creation of the intellect of modem man--wireless
telegraphy!"

Through force of habit Tibbitts paused here to give the neighbors an
opportunity to applaud, but as none of them had ever heard of that manner of
recognizing forceful oratory he covered his confusion with an "Ahem!",
delivered another neat peroration, and then followed Horatio to the banquet
hall.

He had to pay for his blarney by eating great gobs of Susanna's nauseous
birthday feast, but there was a spark of heroism in him: he ate with a
semblance of heartiness and even made an after-dinner speech in which,
incidentally, he repeated his former one.

The neighbors were regaled with music, but it did not harmonize with the
primitive background. The stirring march, the seductive waltz, the frisky
mazurka made us laugh. We felt a sort of vicarious humiliation because of
the humiliation we believed the bandsmen must be feeling, and because of
this we gave each musician a pandanus-leaf hat as a solace for his failure
to lift us on the wings of song.

While the band played, the politician drank tea and shook hands, the
Augustuses dashed every which way without the slightest idea which way they
were dashing, I assorted some of the mail and made the acquaintance of Pure,
the wireless operator. Then the navigating officer of Percival suggested
that I go aboard with him and "have a spot."

Now, "friends" have been quoted as stating that I am both irresponsible and
incapable of sustained exertion. These "friends" should have seen me aboard
the great warship--after the spot. God knows how I got through with
everything. There, being a dentist aboard, I went to him as soon as I was
through with the navigating officer. He was a very young and pleasantly
ingenuous dentist. Like all dentists, he asked me questions when my mouth
was full of things. Why do dentists invariably ask--"What is your opinion
of the European crisis?" when one's mouth is full of lint, mirrors, cotton
wool, rubber gadgets, instruments, and fingers? Are they sadists? If so, do
they not derive enough vicious pleasure from drilling into nerves and
pulling the wrong teeth without adding to their depraved satisfaction by
observing the poor fool trying to reply courteously when his mouth is full
of things? Barbers have the same nasty habit of asking questions when they
are shaving a man's upper lip or when they have his face swathed in hot
towels.

However, this creature was not so depraved as most of them. He worked
rapidly. Young and spry, he literally leaped from one end of the cabin to
the other. He sprang here for the saliva ejector, dove there for a pellet of
amalgam, leaped hither for the novocain, dashed thither for the dental
forceps. After an hour of this, when he had removed a few of the properties
from my mouth, I managed to mention that the Percival might sail while I was
still aboard.

At this the very young dentist whisked to the doorway, shrilled, "Steward!"
and, when that man had appeared, shouted. "Dental Surgeon X sends his
respects to the commanding officer and requests that Percival delay sailing
a half hour. Very urgent dental work!"

That's the way we are on the outposts of progress. It is nothing at all to
have one of His Majesty's ships held up for half an hour while we get a
tooth filled.

When the dentist was through I asked for the bill, but he waved the detail
aside. "Quite all right!" he cried. "Always glad to be of service to men on
the outlying islands!"

Percival did not delay sailing on my account, for, back on deck again, I saw
a fleet of canoes crossing the reef and shallows, with Honorable Tibbitts
bulging over the gunwales of one of them. I realized that there was no time
to lose if I wished to buy any provisions, so I got a sailor to lead me to
the canteen, and there, with sweeps of the arm, I cleaned the place out.
Then I bought a great heap of provisions from the victualing officer,
exchanged three hundred dollars into British currency, cadged some medicine
from the doctor, sat drinking and yarning in the wardroom, and was presented
with a case of whisky by the officers of His Majesty's ship. When finally I
was helped to the accommodation ladder I was in the condition any South Sea
trader should be in when one of His Majesty's ships is in the offing. I
rolled into Araipu's boat; we gave three rousing cheers for the King, the
Queen, the British Navy, and Honorable Tibbitts, then we started for shore,
with Horatio in another boat, abeam of us.

I was sober enough to see that Horatio was peeved. He reckoned he had not
shined; a trader had taken the wind out of his sails; Ropati had bought a
boatload of provisions, including many cartons of lollipops, and, worse,
Ropati had acquired two amalgam fillings in his front teeth--fillings that
the maidens would examine and admire for months to come--while he had
managed to beg and buy scarcely anything. But I was tight enough to laugh
off his sour looks. I told him he had made an indelible impression on
Honorable Tibbitts; that undoubtedly the newspapers would contain columns
and columns about the efficient way the resident agent of Danger Island had
handled with deft and sure hands such a big problem as Percival's unexpected
arrival had created. In fact I kept tossing bouquets at Horatio all the way
to the beach at Yato. Also I promised him a pair of manowar shoes, a bag of
onions, and a carton of lollipops, whereupon he condescended to forgive me
and, tacitly understood, not to arrest Desire again, as he is always liable
to do when peeved at me.

So I rolled up the beach, rolled through Leeward Village, rolled on to the
causeway, and rolled into the fishpond, to the complete gratification of the
villagers (the rescue gang), who had been waiting impatiently for several
hours. The gang escorted me to the trading station, where Desire and her
sisters were waiting for me with a dry suit of clothes laid out, and where
my boatsmen were storing the warship provisions.

Desire--the dear!--likes to see me happy now and then. It breaks the
monotony of atoll life; it transforms me from the strong, silent man whom
she obeys but does not understand into a cheerful, whooping youth whom she
bosses and understands perfectly. She is wise enough to take charge of the
menage when I am reverting to type. This evening she decided it would be
unsafe to sail back to Ko, so she herded her sisters into our canoe and
ordered them to bend their backs to the paddles.

It was night by the time we had worked our way into the lagoon, but, like
myself, the moon was nearly full. Lolling in the canoe, my feet on the
gunwales, my cork helmet on the back of my head, I, pausing now and again to
refresh myself from a bottle of Highland Dew, made the girls a dozen better
speeches than Honorable Tibbitts had made, while betimes sisters-in-law
paddled leisurely.

Halfway across the lagoon we were passed by Horatio Augustus, sailing to
Matauea with dozens of brats, wives, and retainers. And, incredible though
it seemed, five minutes later we were passed by him again, sailing, this
time, back to the main islet.

"I want you to keep sober, Ropati!" he called sullenly. "If you get drunk
and go running after women, both Susanna and I shall be quite angry!"

"Okay, Horatio!" I whooped, knowing he was merely restoring the last stones
on his defensive wall. Then I yelled: "Why are you sailing back to the main
islet?"

Horatio might have lied out of it, but he didn't. Perhaps he was too peeved
to lie. "I forgot my teeth!" he snarled, and the boat passed on into the
night.

It must be a Sunday morning! Just now, as I tried to make an entry in my
journal, Desire entered silently. My first intimation of her was a fugitive
waft of Tiare Tahiti perfume, at first mingling with and then displacing the
smell of the moldy trade goods. And I heard her little voice, speaking
banteringly:

"Ongi, Ropati [Kiss me, Ropati]!"

I knew it was a Sunday. I knew it before turning to gaze at her in all her
Sunday-go-to-meeting loveliness: a light blue voile dress with pink roses
scattered over it, a white straw hat with a red ribbon, a pearl-shell
pendant on a real gold chain, a ring with three cream-colored pearls. Her
hair was done up in European fashion, with a wavy lock patted down on each
temple; and I could see that she had used powder and rouge for the first
time, sparingly and therefore charmingly. Also, there was an underthing of
pure silk, and another underthing no less precious; and I knew she wore
these things because, childlike, she showed me she was wearing all the
presents I had given her.

"You are lovely, Desire," I said; "but next Sunday I want you to be Miss
Memory. Put on your old clothes and we will go for a picnic."

"Yes, Ropati," as she leaned over to kiss me lightly lest she spoil her
make-up. "Ongi, Ropati!" and she toddled off to church.

Concerning Desire's sister Tangi, I am worried about her. She has a
persistent cough and often is feverish at night--yet there is no keeping
her from going to the outer beach with her boy. When I hear someone coughing
on this island it fills me with dismay, for tuberculosis is our most deadly
affliction. Half the deaths are due to it; I have never known of an arrested
case. Oh well (again); but this time many people care--Tangi's boy friend,
Desire, and I, among others.

Let me think of something pleasanter to write about.

While the last schooner was here an Adventist missionary stopped ashore,
guest of the Augustuses. He was intelligent, witty, broadminded--until he
got astride his pet mania, Adventism, when he would lose all contact with
solid earthly things.

Desire attended one of the Adventist's outpourings of the True Faith, and
she was greatly impressed by all he said, though she believed not a word of
it. A few days ago, recalling the service, she said to me playfully:

"The end of the world is very near, Ropati, so I think we'd better join the
Adventist's Chapel. Next year or may be the year after there is going to be
a terrible explosion, and the world will burst into little pieces! Then all
the Catholics and the Missionary Society Christians and the heathens like
you and William will tumble down to Hell; but the Adventists will grow wings
and fly to Heaven like little white ghost terns or maybe frigate birds!"

Then she went on, her laughter accompanying her words: "Won't it be funny to
see that old Adventist Manea fluttering up in the clouds, with his big
elephantiac legs swinging back and forth like bags of copra! Or old Mr.
Breadfruit, who has elephantiasis in the other place!" And the little
realist, throwing herself back on the sleeping mat, screamed with laughter.

Well, the next day I went for my usual walk through the taro beds of the
main islet and along the beach to Utupoa; and presently I met the entire
male congregation of the Adventist Chapel, led by their native pastor,
carrying slabs of coral to build a new church. Recalling the near approach
of the millennium, I asked the pastor how long it would take to build the
church.

"Oh, maybe ten years," he replied.

"You'd better hurry," I advised. "You'll be worshiping in a golden church
before ten years are up. End of the world next year, or maybe the year
after."

Because it was a Sunday morning I told Desire to meet me on Utupoa Point
when the people were all safely in church; then, when the church bell had
sounded, I took my shotgun from its peg on the wall, filled my pockets with
cartridges, and started toward the windward reef.

Presently I heard a clapping sound a little to one side of the path, and, on
making a detour, soon came to my old friend the deaf-mute Letter. He was
chopping down the biggest hernandia tree on Danger Island. It was immense!
It looked to be the biggest tree in the world! Particularly so in contrast
to hairy little Quasimodo sitting by it, a boy-scout hatchet in his hands.
Letter had chopped a tiny notch in one of the twelve-foot buttresses. I
wondered if he had been roused by a surge of the masculine protest that Jung
writes about so convincingly. I gave him a piece of tobacco, whereupon he
made the notch a little bigger; then, more than likely, he went home to wait
till next year, when perhaps another visitation of masculine protest might
rouse him into giving another whack or two at the buttress.

Dear old Letter! If Desire had not been waiting for me, I should have asked
him to come with me to Ko. True, he is a congenital beggar--but not a
vicious one. When I meet him there is no mistaking the genuine pleasure that
lights up his old eyes or the respect with which he kisses my hand, but a
moment later the habit of mendicancy overcomes him and he cadges, by hand
talk, anything cadgable--tobacco preferred. Outside his duties as town
gossip his principal occupation is cadging tobacco; and, so far as that
goes, he makes the two occupations join forces, weighing out, as it were, so
much scandalous gossip for so much tobacco. Trotting hither and thither on
skinny, crooked legs, his head thrust forward as though he were trying to
keep pace with his beaklike nose, sniffing the air, he follows the odor of
tobacco from the Point of Smoking Seas to the Point of Utupoa and the Point
of Yato; and if, sometime when tobacco is scarce, we slip to the outer beach
to enjoy our pipe, after the third puff we will hear Letter's footfalls
crackling through the bush. And when he finds us he will sit by us and gaze
at us with the fond and begging eyes of a dog waiting for his bone.

However, having tobaccoed the deaf-mute this Sunday morning, I walked to
where the Point of Utupoa ends on the reef highway between the main islet
and Ko, and there I found Desire sitting under the big tournefortia bush,
her back to me.

"Desire!" I cried, as though I had not asked her to meet me for she
understands such whimsies. "You here? What grand luck! I am going to Ko
Islet, won't you come along?"

"Yes, Ropati," she replied; then, correcting herself: "Yes, Mr. Moonlight. I
knew we were going to do some wicked thing on Sunday--but I don't care. I'm
your woman now, so I'm a cowboy, like you."

"Now that the Reverend Horatio has gone it won't be wicked," I told her.
"You won't be put in jail again." Then, as she rose and stepped to my side,
"Come, Miss Memory," I said, "we will escape to Ko Islet and live for the
rest of our lives hidden in the jungle."

Then we left the point to walk along the dry brick-red reef toward the far
islet. Sometimes I would stop to bring down a curlew or a sandpiper when it
came within range, or to light my pipe and suck on it with the relish of a
William the Heathen; and as we moved forward, plucking the feathers from the
birds, now and then glancing over our shoulders at the main islet growing
misty and far away, gradually there came over me a feeling of keen
pleasurableness. I anticipated with zest the meal of grilled birds, the
fresh, cold drinking nuts of Ko, the healing solitude of an uninhabited
place.

The first mile was delightful, for the sun was still low in the sky and only
the largest waves washed over the outer reef to its inner edge where we
walked. In the pools were scores of blue parrot fish. They finned for cover
at our approach or, ostrich-like, thrust their heads into the holes and
crevices, leaving the greater part of their bodies exposed. We could have
caught them with our bare hands, but we left them undisturbed, for there
would be plenty of sea food close to the islet.

After the first mile we came to a tiny coconut islet. As often before, it
reminded me of the ones pictured in comic papers: a quarter acre of sand, a
dozen coconut trees, and a fringe of bush. Only the castaway sailor, his
wrecked raft, and his signal flag were missing. There we stopped to pull
down drinking nuts with a split frond tied together at its outer extremity
and to drink them.

The next mile was over a series of sand cays broken by channels where the
waves washed into the lagoon, a foot or two deep, and where inordinately
inquisitive, or hungry--I have never been sure which--sharks rushed toward
us, only to be frightened away by a great beating on the water with our
staffs. At times even this did not suffice and we must jump from the water
when the brutes were only a few inches from our feet.

There was a mile of open reef between the last sand cay and the islet, and
now, with the tide coming in, it was waist-deep with flowing water. We
started across it, knowing that danger was remote, but aware that, should a
shark set his heart on a human meal, there would be short shrift for us.
Once blood was let we should have every shark on the reef charging us, for
the brutes have some occult means of scenting a good meal though it be miles
away.

And the last stretch was through a channel shoulder-deep for me, which means
that Desire had to swim. But there the sharks kept at a healthy distance, as
they generally do when one is in deep water. Perhaps, seeing more of the man
below the surface, they realize that he may turn out to be a dangerous
enemy, while when only his legs are visible they see nothing to prevent
their enjoying an unusual morsel. But we knew that a shark would mean
business should he attack us here.

It was late afternoon when we climbed up the beach of Matautu. There we
built a wigwam of palm fronds, close to a copse of ngangie bushes; then
Desire cleaned the birds and started to grill them and a big coconut crab
that had been waiting for us at the edge of the bush, while I went in search
of drinking nuts. All the trees thereabouts seemed unusually high, but a
quarter of a mile along the beach I found a low tree leaning over the water.
I made a strop out of my belt, put my feet in it so the under part of the
strop crossed the instep, and jumped on the tree in the native manner. Thus
my feet were on either side of the bole while the belt held them firmly
against it. I climbed by raising my feet as I clung to the tree with my
arms, then gripping the tree with my feet as I straightened up and took
another hold with my arms.

There were ten nuts of the right age for drinking, as I knew by tapping them
and listening to their sound. These I threw in the water and, climbing down,
brought them ashore. When I husked them on a pointed stick thrust in a
crabhole, two were broken. I drank what water was left in them, scraped out
the tender flesh with my thumbnail and ate it, then walked back to the
wigwam.

Desire had cooked the birds to a fine crisp brown, and now the fat from the
coconut crab was oozing on the coals, sputtering and filling the air with a
savory odor. As it was nearly dark she had built a fire of husks and
spathes; it broke the gloom, touched the lagoon ripples with aurorean
lights, and guided Desire's nimble fingers as she plaited frond food mats
for our feast.

Aye, we feasted that night. Desire ate four curlews, and, I enough crab fat
to make six civilized men violently ill. We were midway in our meal when
Desire motioned to one side where three coconut crabs had crawled into the
firelight. They were semaphoring to us with their great claws, while their
little anterior prehensile legs worked back and forth toward their mouths,
mimicking us, perhaps, or beckoning for us to follow them into the black
jungle to feast on raw flesh and coconut meat, or perhaps intimating that
they too could do with a little cooked food. Gradually they approached us,
and, by the time we were gnawing the last wing bones they had adopted
themselves into the family. We threw them scraps of their fellow coconut
crab, which they devoured with the gratitude of cannibals. But when our meal
was finished Desire picked up the cheeky crabs and threw them far into the
bush, lest they try to share her bed as well as her meal. She had no faith
in the integrity of coconut crabs.

Presently we lay on a bed of leaves close to the wigwam, and there we talked
desultorily, smoked, and watched the full moon emerge, dull red and
enormous, from behind a great heap of cumulus clouds. For a moment the color
of the moon bewildered me, then: "Miss Memory! It is an eclipse!" I cried.
"Did you ever see an eclipse before?"

"Yes, Mr. Moonlight; when I was a little girl and you were a trader for
Captain Viggo. I remember that it was the night of the big dance at Yato
Village, and the dance was stopped while the people watched the moon go red
with blood, and while old King-of-the-Sky told us the story of
Lingutaimoa."

"Tell me the story, Miss Memory--it will be a bedtime story; then we will
crawl into the wigwam and go to sleep."

Desire rolled on her side, laid her arm across me, and in her soft, gentle
voice half sang, half chanted, in the manner of Polynesian storytelling:

"There is a woman named Lingutaimoa, living on some coral isle in the South
Seas. A long time ago she caught a manini fish about as big as the end of
your finger. She thought the fish was pretty, so she made it her pet.
First she put it in a coconut shell full of sea water, and every day
she fed it bits of hermit crab. Before long the manini fish grew
too big for the shell, so she put it in a wooden pod bowl and fed
it pieces of land crab. Then, when the fish was too big for the pod
bowl, she put it in a canoe and fed it pieces of lobster, until finally it
was so big she had to set it free in the lagoon.

"But the manini fish remembered Lingutaimoa, and every time the woman went
to the beach it would swim to her and eat from her hand. This continued for
a long time until finally the fish was many fathoms long and as big around
as a ship.

"Now, it happened that one day Yina, who lives in the moon, dropped her
fishline to the lagoon of Lingutaimoa's coral isle, and the manini fish took
her hook! Yina pulled the fish up to the moon; she called all the gods and
goddesses to her and showed them the fish, and they all danced with
happiness, thinking of the big feast they were to have.

"That same day Lingutaimoa went to the lagoon and called: 'Manini fish!
Manini fish! Come to her gift-woman! Here is food for you, my manini fish!'
But though she called and called no fish came. Then Lingutaimoa wept, and
she ran through the village, asking first the old people, then the
middle-aged people, then the young people if they had seen her manini fish;
but no one had seen it save a little child, who told Lingutaimoa that a
fishline had dropped down from the sky and the manini fish had been pulled
up to the moon.

"When night came Lingutaimoa walked along the beach, staring at the moon,
and soon she saw the blood of her manini fish spilling over the surface of
the moon until it was red. Then Lingutaimoa knew that Yina had killed her
fish. She wept; but next day she went to the lagoon, caught another little
manini fish, and made it her pet. When it had grown big Yina caught it too.
And so it goes: every few years the gods in the moon cut up Lingutaimoa's
fish--as you can see now, Mr. Moonlight, for the moon is red with
its blood."

Desire ended her story with a sleepy sigh, cuddled close to me, and fell
asleep with her head pillowed on my arm; and long before the manini fish's
blood had dripped from the moon I too was fast asleep.

"Who is Mr. Manowar Hawk?" Desire asked me.

She and her sister Tangi were sitting on the back balcony. They had a scrap
of note paper before them and apparently were snickering over the words
scribbled on it.

"How should I know? I never go to the House of Youth any more, so I don't
know what names the boys take."

Desire turned to Tangi. "You are sure Ropati didn't give you this letter?"
she asked her sister.

"No, Desire; I told you someone threw it at my feet last night."

"Where were you?"

"I was walking by the churchyard wall."

"You weren't passing under the trading-station balcony?"

"No, Desire."

"Well, then, it couldn't have been my Mr. Manowar Hawk. . . . Maybe it was
Bribery, Jr.?"

At mention of the crooked-legged grandson of the crooked-legged deacon Tangi
turned up her nose in a way that might have humiliated Master Bribery, and
she shrugged her shoulders in a way that might have humiliated him still
more. Then Desire handed me the note, and I read:


TO MY LITTLE WHITE TERN, MY SWEET-SMELLING LITTLE BIRD:

This letter is a meeting between Mr. Manowar Hawk and Miss White Tern. Is my
little bird well, or is my little bird ill? Your big manowar hawk is well,
he is not ill.

Oh, little Miss White Tern, why do you let me die of weeping? Fly to me,
little bird, Fly to me where I wait for you every night when the curfew
rings, behind the churchyard wall.

Oh, little Miss White Tern, I will lure you to my love nest with a bottle of
hair oil. Come to me quickly behind the churchyard wall.

MR. MANOWAR HAWK


Now at last I have a purpose in life! I must discover what cheeky native
buck has lately assumed the fraternity name of Mr. Manowar Hawk. Think of a
Danger Islander presuming to make a date with such an exquisite creature as
sweet little Tangi!--and Tangi's cough daily becoming worse! The two of
them should be spanked--or, better, in Tangi's case, put in the hospital.

Tangi is head over heels in love with a brand-new boy, and this in spite of
the fact that I am now keeping her at the station and trying to nurse her
back to health--hopeless task!

One morning, some weeks ago, I entered the cookhouse less noisily than
usual, and there I saw the lovely girl sitting on an empty kerosene case,
staring abstractedly into the fire, her hands clasped in her lap in a tense
manner, coughing at times. The kettle was boiling away merrily, but Tangi
knew it not. The time had long since passed for making coffee, but Tangi's
thoughts were on the "moonlit solitudes mild" of the outer beach. A fine
cavalla waited on the table to be fried, but Tangi was still in the arms of
her gift-boy. When I had roused her from the state of erotic dissociation I
leaned over to ask in a whisper the name of her wonderboy.

"Pio!" she whispered back, with a catch in her breath, and almost burst into
tears.

Pio!--Mr. Manowar Hawk, formerly Mr. Horse, my bosom friend! Big,
beautiful, brainless Pio! Pio of the striped pants, the curly hair, the
cocolele, the noble mien!

And now they are to be married!--despite my protest. This morning Desire
and I watched them walk past the station on their way to Parson Sea Foam's
house, where they would sign their names in the Big Book. Tangi was clothed
in white muslin and Desire's black shoes. Beautiful, brainless Pio, his
cocolele for a wonder left at home, walked proudly in front of his girl, his
handsome figure clad in my best white suit.

"Pataitai [How wasteful]!" Desire murmured. And as I stared at the soft
folds of muslin over the soft, budding breasts of poor little Tangi I
agreed, as usual, with Desire.




Chapter VI



Satyr Bones is dead, and I shall write his obituary on this hideously noisy
night in the trading station.

Bones lived to a ripe old age, but he never admitted it. Up to the night
before his death his voice was as stentorian as ever: to him a whisper was a
mighty bellow that reverberated across the lagoon like a clap of thunder.
Though his flesh sagged, it told the tale of a mighty man in the true Danger
Island manner: mighty in love and eating. But now Bones is dead.

He was famous for his gargantuan guttlings. He alone of all the Danger
Islanders had three native ovens in his cookhouse, and all three were heaped
with food every day so the grown-old hero could eat his way through them,
with many a hearty belch and smacking noise.

His teeth were a full inch long from gums to tips, yellow-brown, as big as a
boar's tusk. Only a few of them had been broken by gnawing thighbones and
cracking coconut shells. His cookhouse reminded one of the cave of a
Cyclops. Perhaps in future ages a party of archeologists will smell out the
site of Bones's cookhouse and will excavate to find stratum on stratum of
fishbones, turtle shells, pig skulls, clamshells, feathers, charred faggots;
and perhaps the archeologists will write a learned monograph about the large
tribe of primitive Puka-Pukans that gorged for many centuries on this
particular spot, while in fact Satyr Bones, "alone and singlehanded," built
up the great bed of refuse over the span of a few short years.

When the satyr was in funds he would buy a fifty-pound bag of flour, toss it
to his woman, and bellow: "We'll have a white man's snack today, old woman!
Boil me this bag of flour!"

So the gigantic woman would herd together her female relatives, scores of
coconuts would be grated, the meat would be mixed with the flour, and great
gobs of the mixture would be dropped into kerosene tins of boiling water. It
came out a food solid enough for an army mule--a light snack for
big-bellied, barrel-chested, fangtoothed Bones.

Bones's wife survives him. What an Amazon she is! She reminds one of
Michelangelo's Cumaean Sibyl--big-boned, muscular, forbidding. One day,
when I held out my hand to her, forgetting that she had never heard of that
form of greeting, she put a baked taro in my hand! Force of habit, force of
habit. When Bones held out his hand it meant only one of two things: food or
woman.

It is said that when she was about to give birth to Strange-Eyes she drove
everyone away, then braced herself in her cookhouse with her feet against
one post and her arms around two others. At the last labor pain she,
Samson-like, pulled down the two posts and pushed over the third one. The
house tumbled down, leaving her squatting in the square space between two
tie beams and two wall plates, her head thrust through the thatching. Thus
she could hear but not see the daughter that had at that instant arrived on
the mundane scene. That's the kind of woman Bones left behind him. God
forbid that Desire ever become such an Amazon as she.

I left the trading station to go to the outer beach and escape the hideous
death chant over the body of Bones. On the way I passed First-Born's house.
Six old ladies, sitting under the eaves, broke from their rapt attention in
the chant long enough to have grand fun speculating on the probable purpose
of my walk.

"Whee-ee!" one of them screamed. "Ropati is going to the outer beach!"

"Whoo-oo!" another crone shrieked. "What will he do on the outer beach?"

"He is going to play tango-tango! The Yato girls are waiting for him!"

"No; it is Miss Legs! Whee-ee! Miss Legs, eh, Ropati?"

"Whoo-oo!"

"Why doesn't Ropati take us?"

"Pss-ss!"

"Ropati doesn't like old copra nuts; he likes the young drinking nuts!"

"Luck to you, Ropati! May their bellies swell!" This last being the most
complimentary thing that can be said (on Danger Island) to a young man out
walking at night.

Though I looked this way and that in the bush and scanned the outer beach, I
saw no beautiful maidens, so, with a sigh of relief, I walked to the big
tournefortia bush close to the shallows, made myself comfortable sprawled on
one of its limbs, and rolled a pandanus-leaf cigarette.

For a little while I stared abstractedly across the shallows to where
moonlight brought the wall of reef combers in dim relief against the sea and
its continent of horizon clouds. I inhaled the fragrant perique, listened to
the thunder of breakers, and wondered why it did not disturb me. Were there
a man on the reef, shouting, the magic of this night would have been lost.

"Now," I thought, "this would be a fine place to build a little hut. On
noisy nights Desire and I could come here to sleep."

Then, as often before, it occurred to me that Yato Point, to westward across
the bay from the trading station, would be an ideal place to build a
permanent home. It was well away from Leeward Village; there was usually a
fresh trade wind from across the bay or the fishpond; it was clean, almost
free from mosquitoes, and there was a fine bathing beach. Why suffer in
Central Village? My presence was required in the trading station only twenty
days or so a year. Why not have the Leeward villagers build a house on Yato
Point, a sleeping hut out here under the tournefortia bush, and a country
place on Frigate Bird Islet? My chest was full of silver shillings and pound
notes: why not spend some of them for the health of my soul?

Then there was Desire to consider. I am firmly resolved to marry her in the
very near future, and how nice it will be to lead my bride to a beautiful
home--instead of to the musty trading station!

And so my determination was formed. I rolled another cigarette, smoked it
slowly, and then, forgetting the death chant in the enthusiasm of a new
idea, I walked along the beach, hunting for the trail that leads directly to
the station. But I missed it, took the wrong trail, got lost inland, and
wandered at haphazard through the bush until suddenly I was halted by the
sound of voices.

I moved slowly toward the sound, and presently I saw, in a little glade
surrounded by magnolias, a boy and a girl. They were illumined dimly by
moonlight slanting over the tops of the bushes. The girl wore a cotton
chemise, the boy a pareu; there were flower crowns on their heads and
gardenia buds behind their ears and thrust at random in their hair. Pagan
lovers, they sat facing each other, with the girl's legs thrown over the
boy's. They slapped their thighs rhythmically and sang a delightfully
naughty song for, I suppose, the frankly avowed purpose of exciting
themselves.

Staring at them, I became filthily jealous. I wondered if a ghostly noise or
a fiendish howl would scare the lovers away, and, when they were separated,
if I could catch the girl. William had done something of the kind in the old
days, I recalled. Then I remembered Desire and the palace I was to lead her
to.

When I climbed up the beach of Frigate Bird Islet the people were waiting
for me. "Life to you, Ropati!" they shouted, while one of the young men ran
forward with a drinking nut.

I returned the greeting, drank my nut, then beckoned to old poker-playing
Mr. Breadfruit and took him aside.

"Now," I said when we were sitting in the lee of his cookhouse and the old
gentleman had got his elephantiac things in a comfortable position, "I have
made my belly humble, and have come to you, my friend, to ask a great favor.
I have come as a child of yours."

Mr. Breadfruit blinked and stiffened for the shock. "Eh, eh, eh!" he
muttered, then reached for the tin of tobacco I held out and started to roll
a cigarette.

"I intend to marry soon, as you know, and so I wish to build a little house
on your land, the Point of Yato. Just a little thatched hut that I can lead
mv bride to and we can sleep and eat, away from the noise and heat of
Central Village."

"Eh, eh, eh!" Breadfruit muttered again, noncommittally.

"So I have made my belly humble, and I have come to you to ask you to let me
build this little thatched hut on your land. My wife and I will live in it
until we are tired of it; then the house will be yours."

Breadfruit lit his cigarette, smoked, and asked: "You will give the house to
no one else?"

"No, Breadfruit; Desire and I will live in it; but when we are through with
it we will give it to you."

"Very well, Ropati," said Breadfruit. "Because you are like a child of mine,
and the girl you wish to marry is like a child of mine; and because you have
made your belly humble; and because you are a stranger with no land on our
island, I will let you build on my point. I will make my belly humble even
as you have made yours, and let you build on my beautiful Point of Yato."

So that was done. These atoll people will often let one use their land so
long as they know that, when one leaves, the land will return to them. They
will let one live on their land for a hundred years so long as the land will
return eventually to their lineage; but they will not sell outright, and in
this they are wise. Long ago I gave up the idea of trying to own land. It
can be done on some of the high islands, but on the atolls there is so
little land that every inch of it is precious. Yesterday I literally
compelled Breadfruit to part with his property. With shameless dissimulation
I made my belly humble (akaaka toku manava), knowing that Breadfruit would
be unable to refuse me, while had I offered him a bag of money he would have
turned me down--as already he had done a dozen times.

We called a meeting in the community house, and I put the following
proposition to the villagers: I offered to pay them five pounds New Zealand
($20) a month to take care of all my wants except for clothes and European
food. They were to build my three houses, as well as any outhouses I might
need, and to keep them in repair. They were to cook my food, laundry my
clothes, carry water, chop firewood, furnish a canoe and paddlers to take me
to and from Frigate Bird Islet, and they were to allow Desire and me to
visit Frigate Bird Islet at any time we wished and stay as long as we
pleased. This last was a considerable concession, for the islet is under a
strict tapu eight months of the year. But on the other hand five pounds is a
large sum on Danger Island, and the people know we will not disturb the sea
birds or chop down trees.

They accepted the offer, and will start taking care of me (and, later,
Desire, I hope) when they return to the main islet. We will move into the
new house when it is built, which should be in about two months.

This morning I made a budget. It seems to me that it represents the minimum
on which a white man and his wife can live decently on this island. But to
live on this sum a man must have simple tastes: he must not require tinned
fruit, jam, butter, asparagus, pork and beans, hair oil. To me it represents
a satisfactory life; to another man it would represent dire poverty.

To Leeward Village for food, rent, servants . . . 5 pounds

The six essentials: soap, kerosene, tobacco, matches, tea,
sugar . . . 2 pounds

Clothes . . . 1 pound

European goods: biscuits, rice, onions, bully beef, typing materials,
luxuries, etc. . . . 3 pounds

Total (per month) . . . 11 pounds

The last item can be reduced during hard times, and during very hard times
the budget can be reduced to 0 pounds, for no man goes hungry on this island
whether he be native or white.

This budget gives one of the reasons why I refuse to return to civilization.
Here I am rich enough to indulge in marriage, but I would be a pauper in my
own home town.

Here at Puka-Puka, even though I become penniless, I shall eat, sleep under
a roof, be clothed, have a mistress or a wife, an occasional bottle of
mangaro beer, numerous servants; but with my assured income of fifty dollars
a month I correspond on this island to a millionaire in civilization. I am
fabulousiy wealthy; my income is as great as the combined incomes of my six
hundred and fifty neighbors! I have many servants: a washerwoman, Mama as
head cook, a pretty little housemaid and often several of her sisters, two
fishermen, two women food gatherers, two assistant cooks, two youths to
climb coconut trees, gather firewood, carry water, paddle my canoe, and
William the Heathen as my private bard and comedian. Of course one person
could do all this work, but why should he? I do not have to feed any of my
servants; I do not have to clothe them or house them; and their wages come
out of the five pounds a month I pay to Central Village but will soon pay to
Leeward Village. Moreover, these people like to work in pairs, and they are
apt to throw up the sponge and sneak off someplace to sleep if there is too
much to do. Old Mr. Scratch, for instance, said to me the other day: "My
work today will be sharpening my knife." He took the whole day at it, too!

It is to my increased prestige and therefore to my well-being to have many
servants. The more I have the more I am looked up to as a superior person,
and the more I am looked up to the simpler it becomes to get things done
quickly and cheerfully.

But no matter how wealthy a man is, how simple his tastes, or how wisely his
budget has been prepared, he can live happily in these islands only if he
retains his status as a white man. He must not go native. It is a pleasant
thought to dally with in civilization, a disastrous one to put into
practice. When a white man goes native the people brand him as no better
than themselves. Now, probably he is no better; but if he goes native he
will not be as good, and he will find that soon the natives look down on
him. Why shouldn't they? He cannot compete with them in their own culture:
he cannot catch a fish as well as they, climb coconut trees, build a canoe,
or catch a turtle. If he tries to do these things he makes himself
ridiculous: plainly he is inferior to the natives. But he can, by living as
a white man, prove his foreign culture to be, in many ways, superior to the
native culture, and this he should do. I do not mean that he should dine in
a dinner jacket and sleep in a brass bedstead, or that he should refrain
from a fishing excursion or a turtle hunt: I mean only that in his general
attitude toward life he should remain true to his race.

Natives want to be proud of their white man--as they call a South Sea
trader like myself. They are disappointed when their white man does not live
up to expectations. They want to admire him, brag about him, serve him in
the grand manner--and glow themselves from his reflected glory.

Fifty-eight men and fifty women worked six days, and on the seventh day they
are resting--today. Result: the best house on Danger Island. It is so
beautiful that yesterday evening, when I was walking back to the station, I
nearly fell off the causeway through craning my neck around to stare at it
from different angles and perspectives; and when I got to the trading
station I took out my binocular to gaze at the house from the Central
Village beach. The neighbors claimed I was staring at the lovely Yato
maidens. Devil take them! These low Danger Islanders habitually interpret my
innocent acts into the language of sex--the only language they know.

I must tell about building the house. Monday and Tuesday the young men
gathered material while the old men sat by the house site braiding and
laying sennit, a mile or more of which was needed, for it takes the place of
nails in a native house. Pandanus trees were cut down by the score, the
trunks trimmed, barked, and carried to Yato; some six hundred dry coconut
fronds were gathered for roofing sheets and sunk in the shallows where the
salt water would soak into them and preserve them; the wattling was cut from
the aerial roots of pandanus, barked, split, and stacked to dry.

These aerial roots have the appearance of broom handles. They are straw
yellow but vary enough to lighter and darker shades to give a pleasing
effect. Also they have a dull polish and markings similar to bird's-eye
maple. The roots are split in halves, then cut the right length so they will
fit between the house posts, their ends wedged in grooves, and with two
parallel sticks seized on their inner sides. The general appearance is that
of closed window shutters, each wattling overlapping the one below it; to
form a wall tight enough for this climate. Rich men improve the appearance
with a coat of coconut oil, but never with paint, for it gives a garish
effect. Finally, boring insects never attack pandanus wattling as they do
the bamboo walls of Tahiti.

On Wednesday and Thursday there was still no actual construction. The old
men continued braiding and rolling their sennit, doing a good deal of
gossiping betimes, as much smoking as they could afford, and frequently
laying off for a few hours' sleep. The women plaited the fronds into roofing
sheets. The younger men chopped out the wattling grooves and made numerous
mortises for window sills, posts, and such things.

Each afternoon at about two o'clock a score of men stopped work to take my
fish net to the reef and catch a thousand or so needlefish, while the
village boys went to the food reserve for five hundred drinking nuts. This
food was divided after the day's toil was done. Fires flared up around the
house site; the air became heavy with the nidor of grilling fish; the honest
laborers relaxed and became noisy.

Friday was the spectacular day, so I watched the work from dawn to sunset,
sitting by old Mr. Scratch most of the time, talking to him as I watched the
house rise with the magic of an Aladdin's palace.

Though I speak the native tongue as well as does Mr. Scratch, he has the
notion that, because I am a white man, I have only the sketchiest knowledge
of his language, and this despite his hearing me interpret for government
officials, sing native psalms, and, when the home-brew is flowing, give long
and detailed accounts of my adventures in distant lands. "White men cannot
speak Puka-Pukan," is one of our popular delusions, ranking in second place
to "There are no mosquitoes on Frigate Bird Islet," and being about equally
popular with "Ropati is no fisherman!" The cows!

Well, it's no use getting peeved: let the silly animals have their silly
delusions. Today, as I sat by Mr. Scratch, our conversation went as follows:

"Wale lelei--lelei wale [House nice-nice house]?" the old gentleman asked,
repeating his sentence, with the words reversed, for the sake of clarity.

"Yes, it is an excellent house," I replied. "I note that they are fixing
upright wattling under the window sills. Will that be satisfactory?"

In Monsieur Scratch's opinion my question was too difficult for a white man
to ask, so instead of a reply he asked: "'Wawine lelei--lelei wawine [Woman
nice-nice woman]?" Then, to ascertain that I had understood him, he pointed
to Mrs. Little Sea, who was on the lagoon beach, and, putting the palms of
his hands together, he laid his stubbly cheek on them, closed his eyes, and
snored; and then, glancing at me meaningfully, he asked: "Lelei? Wawine?
Moe?"

"Perhaps," I replied testily, "for a certain type of low person it may be
pleasant to sleep with a woman."

Herr Scratch grinned and pretended he had not understood me. He eased his
shriveled bag of bones to a more comfortable position, and, "'Kai-kai lelei
--lelei kai-kai [Eat nice-nice eat]?" he asked.

So our conversation proceeded desultorily throughout the day, while betimes
the men warmed to their work. Up went the posts, the plates, the tie beams;
deft and speedy fingers laid the lashings; rafters, battens, and secondary
rafters were seized in place; slowly the wattling filled the spaces between
the posts. There was the clang of bush knives, the thud of axes, the bang of
hammers; there were the screams of women, the undisciplined whoops of honest
laborers--for on this atoll each acceleration in speed must be accompanied
by a rise in the volume of yelling. My capable craftsmen suffered from no
inhibitions: their yells resounded over the calm water like the
panic-stricken cries of a routed army. By the time the thatching was being
laid, men, women, and children were bellowing in one sustained hullabaloo,
and even Mr. Scratch and I were voicing a few lusty whoops. This may sound
like a hyperbole, but it is nothing of the kind. "I speak only truth!" (as
the missionary affirmed after describing the creation of Eve). The noise was
so uproarious that I could scarcely hear the noble Scratch wheezing in my
ear: "Monomono lelei--lelei monomono?" which same I shall not even bother
to translate.

The construction was finished on Friday. Saturday--yesterday--the men
carried white coral gravel for the floor, while the women plaited fifty
frond blinds for the windows. Also, the men built a cookhouse and a
bathhouse and dug a pit for rubbish. Finally my cheerful and industrious
laborers cleaned up the mess incidental to housebuilding.

In the evening we had a grand feast. I had bought a pig weighing two hundred
and twenty-one pounds. When he had been unhooked from the scale beam a score
of the bright young scholars from Horatio's school tried to calculate how
much I should pay at threepence a pound. Using sticks, they covered the sand
with calculations, multiplying by three, then dividing by twelve, and
twenty. Each of the score of mathematicians arrived at a different sum, so,
once again to demonstrate the white man's superior intelligence, I marked on
the sand:

221 divided by 4 = 55/3 = 2 pounds 15/3

Then, to shame the despicable Scratch, who had been standing behind me
whining, "Puaka lelei--lelei puaka [Pig nice--nice pig]?", I gave the
assembled villagers a lecture on advanced mathematics.

While the pig was roasting in a huge native oven the women prepared great
heaps of taro, some of the young men took the net to the reef, and others
went to the food reserve for a thousand drinking nuts.

The food was spread before the community house at dusk. Tapipi made a
speech, Uncle Scratch said, "'Kai-kai lelei--lelei kai-kai?" and then I
delivered a short but witty oration. Finally Luluia & Co. gave us an
extemporary dance, and the food was divided, each person's share to be taken
to his home and eaten in privacy. Nice custom! These atoll people seldom
gather round the festive board, as we do: they consider eating a vulgar
though pleasant occupation best carried on in privacy.

Well, I have already told you that I nearly fell off the causeway. There is
only to add that on Monday morning my triclinium will be built (I'll
describe it when it's done), a door made for the little room where I will
store brew and such things, and a few other details attended to. On Tuesday
the entire village will come to the trading station, manning the biggest
canoes on the island, to take Desire, myself, and our gear, in the grand
manner--with sharkskin drums a-booming and maidens a-bursting into
song--to our wattle-and-thatch palace on Yato Point!

My house is beautiful. There is no garish paint to distress the eye. The
pandanus framework, the wattling, and the mats are the color of new-mown
hay; the blinds and the thatching are russet brown; mats are on the
triclinium couches and tables and the shelves where I keep lamps and books
and such things. There are dashes of red in the mat designs--just enough to
break the monotony. Patches of pure-white coral gravel show here and there
on the floor; and, to set off the whole scheme, there is, to the east, a
view of the azure-blue bay, with the Point of Utupoa and the Central Village
houses a half mile away.

Close to the house is shoal water over white sand. The delicate shades vary
under sunlight and shadow, but it is most beautiful when a rain squall comes
down from the northwest. Then gusts of wind and rain pass over my house to
swirl down to the water, and other gusts hurtle across the fishpond. I can
hear them coming from afar; I can see them meet over the blue shoal water
and see the sheets of rain eddy and rush away. By Sea Foam's house, where a
little point juts into the bay, the tall coconut trees become living
creatures, misty now as though a gauze curtain were dropped before them, the
rain dense as smoke among their fronds.

Through the open window in the sleeping cubicle--where I am now scribbling
these lines, while betimes Desire, dreamy-eyed, nibbles my shoulder
abstractedly--I can feel the full force of the trade wind across my face
and chest, and I can see it pass its fingers through my gift-girl's hair.

Across the crescent-shaped bay the houses of Windward Village are white in
the evening sunlight, but farther back, in the groves, they are scarcely
visible. The deep shadows suggest sleep, as do the coconut palms. These last
droop their fronds, in deep and dreamless sleep; but when a faint breeze
passes over them, whispering a dream image, the fronds stir slightly in
their sleep, then rest again as the image passes away.

"I am lost--I am happily lost!" I murmur to Desire. "I am slipping so far
from the awareness of the world I live in that the dreaming palms are more
real to me than the men and women of my own blood."

I can see also the Central Village houses strung, along the head of the bay,
the nearest one, three hundred yards away, being the coral-lime residence of
Sea Foam. Two of his daughters, dabs of red and blue calico, move back and
forth between the cookhouse and the parsonage. Some days, when the light is
such that they can make me out, they wave their hands; and if it is calm I
can hear their laughter, or if the night is calm I can hear the parson
singing psalms.

From Sea Foam's house the causeway leads to the beach close to the back of
my house. By craning my neck a little I can see the whole length of it. Like
the Lady of the Lake, I can watch the villagers passing, to and fro--women
with baskets of taro on their heads, their bodies straight and supple; men
with bunches of green coconuts and strings of fish; youths with cocolele's,
their arms around their gift-girls, gardenias in their hair; a group of
youths, marching slowly, singing . . . what is it? I seem to have heard it
long ago, in a grand opera, when a chorus of soldiers marched on the stage
shouting an arrogant paean. On Sundays, going and coming from church, the
villagers pass along the causeway in single file. The whole length of it is
animated by bouncing, jogging, swaying figures in white drill, blue denim,
khaki, calico, muslin as colorful as the dawn; in hats native and European,
derby and straw; in shoes white, black, and yellow, but principally no shoes
at all. I can watch them coming from early morning service, and betimes I
can sip my coffee and wonder if the dawn, which I had been staring at a
moment before, has not become materialized in the costumes of my neighbors.

On Friday afternoon Parson Sea Foam, Vicar Araipu, and Heathen William came
to the housewarming. There was no one else save Desire, her sisters, and my
numerous menials, which last appeared at regular intervals to smilingly
refill our pewter mugs or to pick up the thrashing cavallas that I tossed
over the heads of my guests and through the doorway.

Araipu, being a devil-may-care vicar, reclined with me on the triclinium's
cast couch in the best Roman manner. Reverend Sea Foam, however, felt it
beneath his dignity to eat accumbent, so he compromised by heaving one of
his great elephantiac legs on the south couch. William sprawled all over the
west couch, while Desire moved between the main house and the cookhouse,
directing her sisters and the servants in the ways of a European-Roman-South
Seas establishment.

"This is a strange house," Araipu said, "It is like one of those tents
Abraham used to live in. It is undoubtedly the strangest house on Danger
Island." His eyes contracted to pin points, as they always do when he is
deep in thought; then he grinned, and, "Here's the text for the house," he
said: "'Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven
pillars . . .' Proverbs 9: 1."

That's the way with the atoll preachers: they find texts for everything. The
text seems to give a sense of completeness. Any sin is venial if the sinner
can find a text to excuse it (an easy task); a righteous act is
insignificant until it has been pointed up with a Biblical verse. This
evening Sea Foam was not to be outdone by a mere vicar. He hipped and hawed
for a little space, cleared his throat very audibly, blinked a dozen times
in rapid succession, and intoned

"This is the foundation: 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the
earth.' Genesis 1: 1. And this is the interpretation: 'The carpenter
stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with
planes, and he marketh it out with the compass . . .' Isaiah 44: 13."

Araipu seemed peeved that the parson had outquoted him, but just then a file
of slave girls appeared with platters of roast pig; fish grilled, boiled,
baked, and raw; grated drinking nut with uto; and scores of lobsters, crabs,
and shellfish.

We feasted as in the days of Trimalchio and Fortunata, We washed down great
hunks of fat pork with great goblets of Extra Special Housewarming Brew. Sea
Foam let out his belt; Araipu chewed with his mouth open; William belched
and grunted over his guttling. The parson mentioned Joseph feasting his
brethren in Egypt; and from William there was an account of a carousal on
the Barbary Coast; and from Araipu there was a long narration of the feast
of Belshazzar (Daniel 5) right to the mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, which
last words were whiffled on us in a shower of fishbones and other refuse
from the vicar's mighty feasting.

It was dusk when we were gorged to repletion, but a dozen tiny lanterns,
hanging from tie beams and rafters, converted the house into a gnome's
grotto lit up for a wedding; aye, for it was then that I arose to announce
the big event of the party.

"Now, Sea Foam, Araipu, William," I said, catching hold of Desire and
putting my arm around her, "we are not here solely to feast. Far from it.
There is to be a marriage ceremony tonight. All the best authorities--the
sky pilots and the officials and such people--tell us that it is sinful to
live with a woman unless the bonds of marriage have been tied. So Desire and
I are going to be married. Marry us, Sea Foam!"

"Marry?" the parson queried, his mouth open and his eyebrows raised in a
perplexed expression. "The Big Book, Ropati--you haven't signed your name
in the Big Book. You haven't paid your seven and sixpence for the license,
and I haven't published the banns in church!"

"Sea Foam," I cried, in half a rage, "you can take all your Big Books and
licenses and banns to the devil. Desire and I are going to be married
tonight . . . . William, marry us!"

"Sure t'ing!" William cried, as though he had been waiting for the order.
Then suddenly he became very serious for such an old sinner. He rose,
assumed a huffy attitude, threw back his shoulders, cleared his throat with
a startling detonation, and, glaring under his beetling brows, he asked me:

"Do you want this here woman?"

"Yes," I said resolutely.

William scowled, cleared his throat again, and, "Well, that's finish!" he
stated. Then he jerked his head toward poor little scared Desire. He eyed
her in a diagnostic way and asked: "Do you want this here man?"

"Yes," she gasped in the feeblest of voices.

"You're lucky!" William declared, then went on: "Do you take this here man
for your wedded husband?"

"Yes."

"Will you cook his food, wash his clothes, take care of him when he's sick?"

"You won't throw things at him when he's drunk, or go running after native
bucks, or steal his tobaccer for your bloody relatives?"

"No."

"Hm! That's what you say! Well, you're married, I reckon!"

William turned to Sea Foam and Araipu. "How 'bout it?" he asked in a
bellicose tone brooking no protest. "They're married, ain't they?" And then,
with a great guffaw, as though suddenly relieved of the need to be serious:
"Sure t'ing they're married--spliced as good as any landlubber of a sky
pilot could splice them! . . . Here you, Ropati, damn you, open another
bottle of beer!"

The slave girls brought a fresh supply of brew, and we settled down to talk
of the things that South Sea hard-doers talk about: women, the price of
copra, pilgarlics, distant ports of call, and incredible adventures. The
waning moon had risen above the wind-ward point when finally I got my guests
precariously treading the causeway homeward.

The wedding guests have gone; I am alone with my little family, lying on the
east triclinium couch. The waning moon shines on me through the open window,
and I am drunk with a headier wine than that of the wedding party.

Am I mad tonight? Is it the moon shining on me or is it the wine of love? I
fancy myself floating peacefully, without resistance, on the stream of
events; and perhaps I fancy this because Desire and I went to the outer
beach to sleep last night. In the little hut under the tournefortia bush I
had used no resistance: I had not warned my self that I should not go too
far. No; I let myself drift as improvidently as a toy boat on Niagara River;
and I toppled over the falls in the arms of Desire; and I stared into her
eyes and fancied I was gazing at a pagan girl of ancient Puka-Puka! Strange,
how these atoll girls give me the impression of women of long ago!

Last night was a recapture of the night when Desire had lain half naked by a
magnolia bush on Teaurna Point and I had stared at her, amazed that such a
beautiful creature should exist, feeling a sense of guilt that I should
possess her--a sense of guilt for which I can thank my sanctimonious
father, who impressed in my mind that all pleasure is evil . . . . What am I
writing about, anyway?

I am degenerating. Like the universe, I am running down. Thank God I have
company--that is, Desire and the universe. No longer do I stand braced in
the Stream of Duration, my loins causing the eddies that Bergson likens to
evolution. Nay; Miss Memory and I drift with time into the space of
which we know nought and care less. How silly for man to struggle
in a different direction from the natural course of events. Man is,
in the last analysis, the slave of his environment. He only chafes his
ankles by fighting his fetters. And oh, when a man is able to put aside his
childish ambition, and go to a South Sea atoll, and eat coconuts, and love
Desire, then it is so satisfying to simply drift, splitting his infinitives,
down, down, down into the Happy Valley of the Forgotten One.

The moon has risen above the eaves: the moon madness soon will leave me.
Three stars hang like tiny lanterns an inch or two below the line of
thatching; and, by looking southward through the big open window, I can see
the Centauri glinting above the trembling lagoon.

Someone is laughing. Albeit I can see no one passing along the causeway--
for there is a background of dense shadow--I can see movement. I know not
how else to express it. Though it is close to midnight the himene singers
are yelling lustily, but they are scarcely audible on Yato Point. The reef
combers, breaking over the cavern entrance to the Pagan Underworld, sound
like a freight train rumbling through a tunnel. I can smell the scented
coconut oil on the body of Miss Memory.

Little Tili lies on the triclinium couch beside me. She is fast asleep, and
so is Vaevae, who has occupied my sleeping cubicle, and Pati, who is piping
off the watches close by on the lagoon beach. Desire is flung out on the
sleeping mat in the center of the room. Above her half-clothed body hovers
the soul of a pagan girl; the eyes of her man feast on her from the
triclinium couch. All's well with the world of Danger Island.




Chapter VII



Araipu's flat-bottomed boat is eighteen feet long, five wide, and has three
ironshod keels, which enables it to sail into the wind after a fashion. I
have rigged it with a sliding-gunter sail. Yesterday evening I bundled the
household gear, the woman, Pati, Tili, and Maloku's two-year-old daughter
Rachel into the boat, locked the trading station, and set sail for Frigate
Bird Islet with a fresh beam wind. We were bound for the new house Leeward
Village has built for us on Puipui Point, there to await Desire's
parturition.

The sun set about the time we were abeam Utupoa Point, but there was a full
moon which would light us across the lagoon, and we had Pati in the bows to
con us through the reefs, crying, "Upwind, the coral head!" or "Down-wind,
the long reef!" as cheerfully as any homeward-bound sailor. When we were out
of the bay the wind shifted slowly ahead, but this did not trouble us, for
by now the moon was a big yellow lantern hanging from our masthead, lighting
the lagoon as we plunk-plunked on the port tack and plunk-plunked on the
starboard tack.

Desire sat on the floor battens, round as a pumpkin, the very symbol of
justification for existence in spirit and body, as contented as a fat old
Chinese mandarin after a banquet. To me there is something fine about
pregnancy. Desire's swollen body does not shock my aesthetic sense. I love
to lay my hand on her, feel the child stirring, and muse on the strangeness
of life. And the rest of her body, with the face chubby and the angles
rounded off, is lovelier than that of a slim girl. My sense of beauty may be
colored by sensuousness (not by sensuality), but nevertheless there is at
least something homely, and human, and satisfying about a pregnant woman.

Pati kept a bright lookout forward, but Rachel went to sleep with her head
on Tili's lap, while the latter tried to keep awake, for I had told her to
guard her little niece against the moon-cows that swoon about on a night
like this; but presently the rhythmic slatting of the ripples, the
plunk-plunk of the boat, the sonorous voice of Ropati-tane singing
"Clementine" was too much for her. She slept jackknifed across Rachel until
Desire straightened them out so they would not smother each other. Then
Desire too (bless her!) nodded and slept, while betimes Papa Ropati, the
steering oar held firmly in his hand, his head thrown back in a noble way
that only the moon and stars could see and appreciate, shifted from
"Clementine" to "Wake Nicodemus" and then to "Lizzie Gurney."

At Puipui Point I drove the boat's stem into the sand; then Pati and I
carried the gear into our new house, laid out sleeping mats, pillows, and
quilts, and finally carried the three sleeping nuisances to the house and
put them to bed. Only Desire knew, with the dulled perception of a pregnant
woman, that she had arrived. She nibbled my shoulder as I carried her, and
she sighed in a manner rich with sensuous contentment.

Before sailing I had left word with William to keep a sharp lookout every
night, and if he saw three torches flaring on Puipui Point to come quickly
to my aid, for it would mean that Desire's labor had started. As for women--
midwives and the like--I would not have the creatures about. In fact we
came to Frigate Bird to escape unclean and meddlesome old women with their
superstitions and their native nostrums, and stupid men who insist on a long
prayer as soon as the child has dropped. I have seen newly bom babies lying
on the birth mat, without any attention whatsoever being shown them, while
the damn-fool fathers prayed fully five minutes. It is remarkable that there
is so little mortality at birth.

My infant will come into the world with the most expert obstetrical aid on
Danger Island. Her back will be slapped; silver vitellin will be dropped in
her eyes; the umbilical cord will be neatly cut and ligated; the nuisance
will be bathed in smell soap; the belly will be bandaged, and the backsides
will be spanked to show her from the very first what she must expect from
this weary world of care; and finally Papa Ropati will drink a bottle of
Special Obstetrician's Brew and crow like any successful rooster.

Desire has been frightened by no warnings of the dangers of parturition.
There have been no kind, sympathetic friends to work her into a state
bordering on hysteria--so that when she has her baby she will be capable of
feeling only fear and pain. She seems to be in a spiritual state that
uplifts her above such things as pain and makes her ignore danger with a
fine gesture of contempt. She wants to be left alone; she senses, I believe,
that a companion will somehow diminish the feeling of spiritual exaltation.
Perhaps it is much the same as my wish to be left alone when I am reading
The Eve of St. Agnes or when I am lying on some lonely tropic beach, staring
across the barrier reef and the sea. I feel something that I cannot express
to another person, that I do not wish to express, that I wish to enjoy
alone.

Each afternoon for the past week Desire and I have spent a few hours in the
lagoon with Rachel, Tili, Pati, and the yet-unborn daughter that is kicking
lustily in her mother's womb. Like all atoll mothers, Desire believes the
cool water will make her child strong and clean-skinned.

At Puipui Point the lagoon shelves off steeply to three or four fathoms; and
from there on, all the way to the main islet, it is studded with coral
mushrooms and crisscrossed with reefs. You can swim for miles, from coral
head to coral head, and never be more than a hundred yards from some sort of
pinnacle or reef on which to rest. And you will have no trouble in finding
your way stations, for the water is crystal clear. On an atoll, where there
is no river mud, you can see bottom at ten fathoms. What a contrast to San
Francisco Bay, where you cannot see bottom at ten inches!

Because Rachel is just leaming to swim I carried her. We waded through the
shoal water and swam to the first coral mushroom. Rachel was no problem, for
she has learned to let her body go limp in the water, do some kicking, and
make divers whooping noises instead of climbing on my head. Presently she
was placed on the mushroom, in about a foot of water, while Desire, Tili,
Pati, and the unborn daughter perched beside her, comprising the audience.

For a little while we did some deep diving to bring up handfuls of sand,
thus proving we had been to the bottom; and when slyly I filled Rachel's
hands with sand she ducked her head under water, then, sputtering,
bright-eyed, she showed us the sand and shrieked that she had been countless
fathoms down. She believed it, too, for that night she gave a fisherman a
long yarn about it and called on Desire as a witness.

Presently I had forgotten the audience. I swam from coral to coral; I dove
into dark and tortuous submarine canyons and poked my head into caves
mysterious and black as the days before Genesis; I porpoised under beetling
cliffs and wormed my way through crevices and fang-toothed holes, far below
the surface. I fancied myself a fish, an eel, a turtle, and to substantiate
the illusion I slithered through the water in fish, eel, and turtle manner.
I fancied myself a glaucus, and straightway rolled myself into a ball to
find out what it was like. I fancied myself a lobster, and tried swimming
backward, but only to fill my nose with water. Then, going through a billion
years of evolution in a second, I fancied myself a bewhiskered oceanographer
observing the coral polyp.

In some places there were flat stretches of brick-red coral such as you find
on the reef; in other places the coral was gray and probably dead; and in
still other places there were great forests of antler coral, pale yellow and
delicate, stippled by the varicolored mantles of tridacna clams. But the
most beautiful were the lichenlike growths clinging to the coral heads.
Their colors were fantastically brilliant and their forms as many as their
number. Some growths were corrugated with scabrous brown ridges, while in
the interstices was a paris-green substance soft as putty--as I discovered
by pricking it with a safety pin used otherwise as a pants button. When I
laid my hand on one of these corals it felt rough as a wood rasp, but when I
took my hand away and clenched it I found it covered with invisible slime.

Here and there were black-spined sea urchins, shellfish that lived in
nacre-lined holes, conch shells, spider shells, cowrie shells half hidden
under the coral ledges. There were great beds of tridacna clams, some buried
so deep in the solid-growing coral that they could scarcely open their
valves. There were mother-of-pearl shells and pipi shells, and a great
formless shell that darted into its hole with marvelous agility for such an
apparently sedentary creature. There were marine hermit crabs, starfish, sea
centipedes; and there was a freakish snail that poked out a sort of fluke
and hopped an inch or two off the bottom. There were brown, black, and white
trepang, the former often as big as a loaf of bread. When I lifted one to a
coral head it spewed out long white filaments like spaghetti--the stickiest
substance in the sea. Now and again I would see the head of a moray eel half
obscured by the gloom of its cave; often I came upon octopods squatting on
the coral lumps.

Yet people claim the atoll scenery monotonous, the animal, vegetable, and
mineral worlds meager! Nowhere else have I seen such amazing sights as an
atoll lagoon affords in infinite variety.

After returning to the audience I put on my final act by diving to a forest
of antler coral where thousands of tiny South Sea demoiselles hovered in
azure-tinted clouds. Minnows ranging from the size of a shirt button
to that of a shilling, some were shaped like parrot fish, light
blue and almost transparent; others were similar to butterfly
fish, with three black bands around their bodies; and still others
were young triggerfish, or, as it seemed to me, miniature Cubist paintings.

When close to a school of them I waved my arms about, as William the Heathen
does when telling lies. The demoiselles flipped into a bush of antler coral,
which I broke off and took to Rachel. When I shook it over her cupped hands
literally scores of minnows fell out, and also a number of tiny crabs and
things that looked like lobsters. Rachel thanked me with excited, screams;
when I carried her to Puipui beach she had dozens of fish, crabs, and
lobsters in each fat hand. Some of these she fed to the tame booby perched
on a coconut stump by the cookhouse; others Desire found this morning under
her pillow and on her sleeping mat.

Desire has given our daughter a typical native name. I mention this with
diffidence. What excuse am I to offer for Ngatokoruaimatauea? You are
certain to exclaim: "Ropati! Think of a frail wisp of a girl dragging a name
like that through life! Think of her sweetheart whispering: 'I love you,
Ngatokoruaimatauea!' Think of her angry mother screaming: 'Wipe your nose
this instant, Ngatokoruaimatauea!'" But for such situations there is
another name, Florence, and yet another one, Johnny. I believe the daughter
will be called Johnny, for I shall refuse even so much as to whisper
Ngatokoruaimatauea*, while Desire, try as she does, cannot come closer to
Florence than Paloreniti. Doesn't sound much like Florence, does it? But if
you tried to pronounce Ngatokoruairnatauea you might fail quite as badly.

[* Actually the fourth child was named Ngatokoruaimatauea--Nga for short
and the other three were called respectively Johnny (as above), Jakey, and
Elaine.]

Desire's labor started on the twenty-ninth of last month, so we expected
Johnny to arrive on the thirtieth. Neither of us was worried. The old lady
did a little walking about to speed things up; the old man caught a fish and
cooked a meal; the children stared at Desire with genuine annoyance, then
dashed off to do some fancy swimming in the lagoon.

At dusk I put the teakettle on the fireplace and arranged kindling under it
so I could heat water in a hurry. Then I made three frond torches, lit them,
stuck them in the sand where they would be seen from the main islet, drank a
bottle of home-brew, and asked Desire how she was getting along. She replied
that the pains were light, and perhaps they were the "false pains" that
sometimes precede the real ones by a few days. She asked me to go to my
little workhouse on the beach and sleep so I would be rested if she needed
me during the night. This seemed good advice, so I drank another bottle of
brew, went to the hut, and fell asleep.

Either Desire was being very brave or her parturition was uniquely painless.
I slept for about two hours, then was wakened by a scream. I jumped up,
knocked my head on the low rafters, tumbled out of the house, and rushed to
the big sleeping house. The lantern was burning, of course, so I could see
Desire's gentle eyes staring at me, weary with pain. "It is a daughter," she
said. Then I glanced down and saw that, sure enough, a daughter had arrived.

I asked her why she had not wakened me, and she replied that there had been
no need, and anyway she had wished to be alone.

"Ropati! Ropati! What is it?" came just then from Tili, lying with Pati near
by.

"A baby girl," I said.

"Oh," she muttered, disappointed that nothing really spectacular had
happened, and went back to sleep. I attended the baby and the mother.

"Well," I thought, like a South Sea trader acting true to type, "I think a
brew is indicated. Damme, yes! . . . Ropati, congratulations! You've got a
daughter! . . . You're quite a man, Ropati; upon my word you are! . . . Have
another glass? . . . Don't mind if I do!"

It was only a few moments later that William had something to say about it
too. "Bloody hell!" the profane heathen bellowed when he was still far down
the path, his torchlight throwing fantastic shadows through the atoll
jungle. "Hell and damn! Whas a matta? Come too soon? How many you catch--
two, three, half dozens? Oh, Goddamn! You all the same me, too much savvy
all the time, oh yes!"

Soon he entered the clearing, threw his torch in the rubbish pile, and
approached the house. He gave the sleeping mother and child a glance of
feigned contempt; then, seeing the half-empty brew bottle, "Well," he
opined, "maybe-so I come just in time," and hurried to upend the bottle at
his wrinkled lips.

Of course we made a night of it. The lonely groves and jungle echoed and
re-echoed with songs, laughter, curses, and gurgling sounds; the sea birds
fled from their roosts in the coconut trees; and when dawn broke over Puipui
Point, William had worked himself into such a state of enthusiasm that he
took as much pride in the child as though he had made it himself. He crawled
into the house on hands and knees, his bony limbs grotesque in the mingled
lantern light and the dawn, and for a long time he stared at the child with
leering eyes.

For the past two weeks Desire has been seriously ill--pneumonia, perhaps. A
week after the daughter's arrival, feeling perfectly strong, she went
swimming in the lagoon, and she fell sick a day or so later. At first I was
afraid she might not pull through, but now she is convalescing slowly.
Little Johnny is being fed on drinking-nut meat and coconut water. It agrees
with her, and it is the usual diet when an atoll mother is unable to nurse
her child.

Except for Desire's illness we are a happy family. William is still with us,
and Pati, Tili, and Rachel spend a good deal of their time on the point.
Mama Tala was here for a few days, but she had to hurry back to the main
islet to take care of her other sick daughter, Tangi. Poor child! she is in
the last stages of tuberculosis. Before coming to Frigate Bird I was at her
house, but I could scarcely bear to look at her, with her big, eloquent eyes
moving in an emaciated face that seemed already dead. Pio--happy savage--
seemed oblivious of tragedy in his house.

Now that Desire is better, with only a dry cough troubling her, I spend much
of my time in the lagoon and sea. I am involuting back to an amphibian,
brown as a native, and disgustingly healthy. Often I wish that Desire could
absorb some of my health--as Queen Elizabeth believed she could do by
sleeping with a virgin. However, yesterday, with tobacco and matches in a
waterproof container, a tin for marine specimens, and a sheath knife, I swam
leisurely the half mile of lagoon to the west reef.

The water was warm above and cool below, so, paddling slowly, I now and then
jackknifed down for a spell in the colder climate. At other times I lay on
my back and swam, as Rachel says, "Pei te poti palala," which means, "Like a
flat-bottomed boat," my arms being the oars. At other times, fancying myself
an Olympian champion, I practiced the Australian crawl, the trudgeon, and
graceful side stroke, the effortless backstroke. Again, I metamorphosed into
a green turtle, swam submerged, with half-empty lungs, and came up to
breathe with a raucous intake of air. I have often wished myself a turtle.
For calm philosophical detachment, for longevity, for, as Horatio Augustus
would put it, "social life" a turtle takes all prizes.

After a dive in the Hot Mineral Baths I moved seaward. The reef was
unusually calm, with only an occasional surge, laced with foam, washing up
the barrier. Standing by a deep crevice, I raised my hands above my head,
palms together in the best textbook manner and was on the point of plunging
in when abruptly I drew back, genuinely scared.

Eight or ten feet below the surface was an immense brute as big as a
porpoise! He lay perfectly still, waiting, no doubt, for me to dive. We
stared at each other for some moments; then the fish, deciding that I had
changed my mind about diving, finned slowly to the edge of the crevice and
gave me a mean, impatient glance.

The surge made ripples on the water so I could not see him clearly, but his
size alone was enough to terrify me. I sensed that the brute would have no
compunctions about eating me, Ropati-tane; it seemed reprehensible in a fish
to contemplate eating the father of that remarkable daughter, etc.; but now,
as I write this, it occurs to me that I should have felt no compunctions
about killing and eating the fish, so I cannot complain.

I scrambled to the top of the reef, pried off a tridacna clam, gouged out
the meat, and threw it to the fish. I should like to state that he ate it
and gave me a grateful flip of the tail; but he ignored it, while a school
of black triggerfish appeared from nowhere to gobble the meat.

Then presently the big fish dissolved in the water in the mysterious way of
fish. They do not seem to swim away or sound: they just dissolve. Feeling
not so brave as before, I walked slowly toward the Point of Hernandia Trees,
picked up a shrimplike creature with claws on two of the middle legs instead
of the front ones (silly shrimp!), put it in my specimen tin, and returned
to Puipui Point.

The Leeward villagers are now on Frigate Bird Islet, so in the evening I
went to the village to tell the neighbors of the big fish; but they
dismissed my story with guffaws and told me it was ancient history.

"Even Letter knows about that fish," Tapipi said, and to prove it he called
the deaf-mute. Our speechless gossip then gave me a long account in
pantomime, interspersed by wa-wa sounds of how he had been fishing on the
reef and how his tremendous brute had taken his minnow hook. According to
Letter, he had played the fish long and skillfully. His pole had been jerked
downward, heaved up; the line had zimmed through the water; the fish had
leaped like a tarpon, plunged, and finally escaped--as Letter signified by
spreading out his hands, palms upward, in the Hebrew gesture of negation.
But Letter affirmed that he intended to catch the fish, club it, jugulate
it, rip open its belly, crunch its skull between his teeth. In fact he
became so ferocious in describing the numerous deaths he would inflict upon
the poor fish that I made up my mind to catch it myself and kill it
mercifully.

While Letter was working himself into a frenzy Constable Ears came in from
albacore fishing. In his canoe were seven hundred flying fish that he had
picked up in the shallows. They were spawning, fat, and sluggish. Ears
reckoned the big fish had chased them onto the reef, but they may simply
have been washed up during low tide, for all creatures become silly during
parturition. However, the fish were divided among all the villagers, and I
salted down my share to be used as bait on the morrow.

Now it is nearly noon. I shall eat; then William and I are going to the reef
to catch that big fish. William is convinced that it is a patuki-wala, which
in English is a serranus something like a jewfish.

Yesterday afternoon, at low tide, William and I waded through the shallows
to the reef, with single-prong fish spears across our shoulders, heavy
fishlines, shark hooks, and flying-fish bait in our pockets. The combers
were higher than they had been the day before, but we managed to dive
through them near the crevice I have mentioned. For a little while we peered
this way and that, swimming  cautiously outward, but we did not see the
fish; then we forgot him in the more interesting sport of spearing
surgeonfish and exploring the reef shelf. That's the way with a fisherman:
he sallies forth to harpoon whales and ends by snaring minnows.

I have told how crystal clear the lagoon water is, how vivid the coral
colors. Well, they are not comparable to what is found beyond the reef. In
this last place Nature seems to make her final grand splurge of color and
outlandish design. If you paddle in a canoe close to the reef you see only
dull yellow coral and an occasional uninteresting fish--a blue shadow in
the lighter blue water--but if you dive down with water goggles on you
become utterly flabbergasted. No other word in my vocabulary describes the
state of both spiritual and intellectual amazement. There are literally
thousands of fish, everywhere, and scarcely two alike. I recall one little
fellow so violently crimson that he shocked my eyes; and a school of
spoonbilled violet-colored fish; and butterfly fish with trailing dorsal
fins twice the length of their bodies, as soft and delicate as silk, as
gorgeously tinted as the butterflies from which they receive their name.

Even under water I could hear the clink of William's spear against the coral
as he missed one fish after another. When finally he speared a red-spotted
surgeonfish he waved it over his head, sputtering and round-eyed, proud as a
child.

As for me, I dove about the deep black crevices and the submarine caverns,
full of holy wonder, wishing I could grow gills, disappear forever from the
hazardous world of dictators and health foods, inhabit the mysterious sea,
the solemn sea . . . Why do I say solemn? Perhaps it is because the purple
half-light, the mystery of this unusual world, fills me with solemnity, so I
transfer my subjective feeling to the objective sea.

Presently I saw two blue spines sticking out of a hole and guessed them to
be the antennae of a lobster. I called William, and together we dove down to
investigate. First I thrust my hand in the hole, but only to draw it back
quickly when the lobster flapped his tail. . "Nevva mind. No get scared,"
William said when we had come to the surface. "You all-the-same reach in and
grab him this-a-way," and thereupon William made a grabbing motion.

"You do it," I countered. "You savvy better than I."

But William reckoned his hand was larger than mine; and anyway, just then a
fine school of parrot fish came by, which gave him an excuse to wallow away,
goggle eyes in the water, spear poking this way and that.

I made another attempt to get the lobster, but unluckily I grabbed a knob of
white coral to hold myself under, and instantly discovered it poisonous.
Once in a while I run into this strange coral. Though it may not scratch, it
stings quite painfully and leaves a burning feeling for some time, with a
red rash.

However, I had little more than time to realize that I had been poisoned,
for suddenly, without warning, I found myself looking straight into the
ruthless, bloodthirsty, coldly evil eyes of the man-eating patuki-wala, not
more than fifteen feet away!

I was facing outward from the reef, in two fathoms of water. Before me was a
great yellow dome of coral, and beyond it hazy blue water fathomless deep.
The patuki-wala had risen over this coral dome, looked me straight in the
eye, and gnashed his teeth! Mephistopheles rising from Hell could have
surprised and terrified me no more. He was a black, hideous, ferocious devil
from a barbarous past. He did not belong to this secure world of
dictators'and health foods. His jaws spread across his head and down the
sides of his body halfway to his tail in a grin inhuman and horrible. I have
said that with water goggles on one gets an illusion of gigantic size and
vast distance. Well, this patuki-wala looked to me like a large battleship
poised over a cathedral.

Pain from bursting lungs finally brought me to my senses. Weak,
panic-stricken, sensing that my legs might be crunched at any moment in
those awful jaws, I shot to the surface and yelled:

"William! Come quick! The fish!"

The brute made me feel so tiny and helpless that I wanted to cry.

The heathen, thirty yards away, stared at me with the same inhuman
detachment as had the fish. "Whas a matta, all the time get scared?" he
guffawed. "First see lobster--get scared. Then see little fish--get
scared. Oh, you too much get scared all the time, oh yes, Goddamn!"

"The patuki-wala!" I screamed, then ducked my head under water, sensing that
the brute was about to swallow me. But he was in the same place, gnashing
his teeth, a vile glint in his eyes. He was thinking: "Shall I swallow him
now or wait till I have scared him to death?" It's odd how a man, in a state
of terror, can read even the mind of a fish.

Swimming backward so as not to lose sight of the brute, I reached William.
He made light of the matter, but yet I detected, with a lot of satisfaction,
that there was a tremor in his voice when he affirmed: "Patuki-wala no eat
you. All the same lobster, he no eat you all the time."

"You get between us," I suggested. "You've got a long, heavy spear and
mine's a short, light one. I mustn't take any chances, William. I got a sick
wife ashore and a helpless little baby to consider. Just think if Johnny's
papa never came home from sea!"

William laughed a little at that and made some asinine remark about the
helplessness of Mama; but presently, our courage returning, we swam toward
the brute, side by side, circled round, and even swam down to poke our
spears to within a fathom of him. Lord knows what would have happened had we
actually speared him. The fish might have eaten us both in retaliation. Old
Mr. Scratch once hooked a patuki-wala and was towed several miles to sea
before his line parted. That shows how strong they are. Up to yesterday no
Danger Islander had ever killed a full-grown patuki-wala.

We did!

It was done this way: We baited the shark hook with a whole flying fish
split open lengthways, boned, and turned inside out. This, with half the
fishline, I took to a point directly above the
patuki-wala, while William took the other end of the line to the reef. I
chummed; then I lowered the bait to the fish's nose and lay face downward,
watching.

Save for the slow, rhythmic motion of his gill casings, the patuki-wala was
as fixed as the yellow coral beneath him. He seemed rigid, and yet I knew he
was eying the bait in a dubious way, was smelling or tasting it. I don't
know how long I stared at the fish and the fish stared at the bait.
Certainly I raised my head dozens of times to breathe. Perhaps ten minutes
had passed when suddenly the bait was gone! It was like a conjuring trick.
The fish had not moved. The bait had been dangling about eighteen inches
from his nose; then instantly it was gone--sucked into his mouth, I suppose
--while my fishline, still slack, led between his jaws. It took half a
minute to realize what had happened; then, yelling bloody murder, I yanked
upward, and then, holding the line for dear life so as to act as a buoy and
thus keep the fish from swimming into a hole, I felt myself jerked violently
downward.

William, on the reef, was pulling in for all he was worth, and undoubtedly
making himself heard from the main islet to Ko. Even I for a little while,
until I was too deep in the water, could hear him blaspheming. The
patuki-wala was swimming to sea for all he was worth, tending to straighten
the line, pull me to the bottom, and drown me. But I held on, and soon found
myself moving slowly toward the breakers. It flashed through my mind that at
any moment the brute, in a fit of unchristian vindictiveness, might charge
forward to bite me. I glanced back, saw he was now over clear coral, then
swam to the surface.

For a moment I was so busy regaining my breath that I scarcely saw William
doing a sort of ballet dance on the reef, his eyes like toy balloons; but I
have a clear recollection of his face horribly distorted, and of how one leg
was flung high above his head and was waving back and forth as though to
secure his balance, while betimes he heaved on the line as though he were
trying to pull a battleship from the bottom of the sea. But William
succeeded. He got the fish on the reef and pulled it to a dry patch of
coral. When I had reached him he was squatting in a little pool, holding his
head tightly in his hands, cursing rapidly and incoherently like a man
demented. The look of the patuki-wala was enough to dement any man. His size
alone--two hundred and forty-six pounds of Araipu's scale beam was enough
to precipitate the soberest fisherman into a state of frenzy.

I have said that it was the first full-grown patuki-wala ever caught at
Danger Island. To commemorate the occasion (or ourselves) we divided the
creature among all the villagers. The day before, Constable Ears had been
vilely conceited because the people were eating his flying fish; now Ears
has "salt water in his eyes" because the people are eating our strange and
terrible denizen of the deep.

For the past twenty hours William has been shrieking like the famed
mountaineers. Desire and I can hear him now, far away in the copra makers'
village, telling the world of Puka-Puka the details of his heroic deed. As
for me, I am satisfied with relating modestly that William was deathly
afraid of the fish and that he made me do the actual fishing while he stayed
on the reef.

"At any moment," I add, "the brute might have chosen me instead of the bait
--but what cared I?" And here I snap my fingers. "Danger is my meat!"

Only the deaf-mute is disgruntled. Letter considers that it was
ungentlemanly of us to catch his fish.




Chapter VIII



When a man gets in the fishing mood it's no use discussing any other subject
with him or trying to set right his sense of values. He wants to catch a
fish--preferably a big fish--and that's all there is to it, and that's all
there is worth living for. Our savants tell us he is trying to give vent to
his agressive impulse in a harmless way; but what does the fisherman care
for all the savants from Sarawak to Samarkand? Whoever heard of a savant
catching a fish? What do they know about it, anyway?

Desire knows more about the psychology of a fisherman than all the savants
lumped together, and that's because she is the wife of a fisherman who once
caught a patuki-wala weighing two hundred and forty-six pounds! Even my
daughter Johnny knows enough to look at me with sighing pity--and keep her
mouth shut--when I am going fishing.

The other day Desire and a group of her sisters and cousins sat by the
doorway of the Yato house, grinning and making sarcastic remarks while
busily I fashioned lures for a big fishing expedition to The Rock. First I
bought a duck from the lady next door, pulled out a handful of its tail
feathers, and let it go; then I cut one of the lead weights from my casting
net, punched a bigger hole in it, passed a hook-and-wire leader through the
hole, seized on the duck feathers, and had a fairly good jig. Still I was
not satisfied. I wanted a spoon hook. I tried to hammer one out of a Chili
dollar and was on the point of hammering one out of a ten-dollar gold piece
when suddenly my eyes lighted on our big gun-metal soupspoon. I pounced on
it and in two seconds had chopped off its handle with an ax.

I scarcely heard Pati scream: "Look at him, Desire! It's the only spoon you
have!" And my wife's curt reply: "I've been living with the man four years.
He never changes. It's no use talking to him." And then Tili's indecent
remark: "And look at the poor little duck, Desire. He can't sit down any
more!"

Nothing deters or humiliates a born fisherman. I drilled a pair of holes in
the spoon, wired on a No. 10/0 hook, seized a length of piano wire to it,
and hung it and the duck-feather jig to a tie beam. Then I got out my
fishlines and wound them in neat balls, with the working ends hanging from
their centers; and finally I made a huge gaff, which I hung too from the tie
beam. By then it was evening; early in the morning we would sail.

The Rock, four miles seaward from Frigate Bird Islet, is a circular coral
reef a half mile across, with a small sand cay in its center. It is
surrounded by fringing reef where the seas beat heavily on all sides, and it
is joined to Frigate Bird Islet by a dangerous sunken reef--Te Arai. To
north and south of this reef, depending on the way the current is flowing, a
tide rip whitens several square miles of sea. "Rip" may suggest "ripple" to
you, but you must picture this patch of sea as broken by gigantic combers. A
few years ago a trading schooner blundered into the rip and was nearly
capsized; the captain believed his vessel over shoal water until his lead
line told him differently. Probably Te Arai and the tide rip suggested the
name "Danger Island" to Commodore Byron when he "discovered" the place in
the 1760s.

Danger Islanders who at rare intervals go fishing close to The Rock return
home heroes, but once in a while they fail to return. I have made three
trips to this perilous place. Each time I have sworn it would be the last;
but, as Desire will tell you, no peril daunts a fisherman when the fever is
in his blood.

We sailed at dawn in Araipu's flat-bottomed boat, with the vicar at the
steering oar, First-Born and myself on the after thwart, William and Poaza
forward.

First-Born, the son of Sea Foam, lives next door to the trading station, as
I may have mentioned before. About thirty-five, he is tall, well-built, and
handsome save for a badly scarred face where he was bitten by a shark. He
has a broader outlook on life than have his neighbors, and he is aware of
this: he does not hesitate to tell us that, Ropati perhaps excepted, he is
the smartest man on the island. He addresses one tersely and definitively;
he never admits himself in error, and if he is proven wrong he blames it on
his wife. She, patient woman, is too fond of her husband to complain. Does
he not feed her and her many children? Does he not keep her in a continual
state of pregnancy? What more can she ask?

Poaza, son of Bones, is a small, wiry man with sharp interrogative eyes, a
leering smile, and a tremendous opinion of himself as an expert fisherman,
which in fact he is. Sometimes I wonder if Poaza is entirely human. I fancy
him half amphibian--a sort of simian-amphibian. Climbing coconut trees or
scuttling bowlegged along the road, he seems more monkey than man; but when
fishing he seems more like a wise old penguin. If he is human, it is
manifested in his masculine protest. He is vainer than First-Born! He is so
sure of himself that, if called the nasty names you can think of or poked
fun at till you are black in the face, he will only leer at you and shrug
his shoulders as though pitying you for having so imperfect an insight into
his sterling qualities. One can no more believe him the brother of
Strange-Eyes than one can believe Strange-Eyes the daughter of Bones.

I have told many times of Araipu, and I seem to remember having mentioned
the scandalous William. We can continue the expedition.

We crossed the reef at sunrise; then, with a beam wind on our portside, we
skirted along the reef toward Frigate Bird Islet. The air was fresh and
clear; our spirits were high; the boat plunk-plunked over the waves; William
cursed from force of habit; Araipu sang a hymn. Presently Poaza baited his
trolling hook with a red mullet and dropped it over the portside. I dropped
my duck-feather jig over the starboard side, and--it's a fact!--within
half a minute a whale of a fish took it. The line burned through my hands
until I took a bight with it over the thwart; then it parted!

"Nevva mind, oh yes!" William guffawed. "You no savvy lead make him go down
quick? Oh hell! Tomorrow I dive down, get him for you!"

The heathen had insinuated that the hook had become fouled in the bottom.
The more I see of the profane old man the less I like him. However, I pulled
in the line, put on my spoon hook, warned Araipu to keep farther away from
the reef, and started fishing in earnest. I ignored the comments of the rest
of them, but I could not help hearing First-Born explaining that I should
have payed out my line slower, and Araipu opining that we should have
offered the customary prayer, and Poaza stating that no white man knows how
to catch a fish.

I have to admit that I didn't catch any fish on the way to The Rock. It was
Poaza's fault: the red-mullet bait on his hook frightened the fish from my
spoon. Poaza, however, with his usual fluke of luck, pulled in a  few
cavallas--but they were thin fish and covered with scales.

Presently we had left the reef and were sailing seaward toward The Rock. A
mile to our left, over the sunken Te Arai Reef, black walls of water marched
toward us. They were awe-inspiring even at that distance and in the
daylight. They didn't belong out there in the open sea, with no land in the
background. Spray rose from their crests to form a low, misty cloud that
obscured the horizon; and occasionally, when one toppled over, a geyser of
foam and spray would rise, seemingly slowly and deliberately, fifty feet or
more to lose itself against the white wall of horizon clouds.

Then we raised the breakers on The Rock's fringing reef, and soon we could
make out the sand cay, yellow and hazy through the spray. Araipu sailed the
boat around the fringing reef to bring it into the wind in the lee of the
sand cay; the sail was lowered, the mast unstepped, and the sailing gear
stowed along one of the gunwales. Oars were shipped, and we rowed close to
the reef to drop our anchor. Then we payed out line until we were over fifty
fathoms of water, made fast, and sat back for a smoke, a rest, and a prayer.

Seen from The Rock, Danger Island was scarcely recognizable. Frigate Bird
and Ko islets were on a line and therefore visible as one islet, with the
Point of Hernandia Trees and its cloud of birds closest to us. The main
islet, seven miles away, seemed very distant and misty. It did not appear to
be connected with Frigate Bird and Ko, for the lagoon and the reef were
below the horizon. From The Rock we had the illusion of seeing two distinct
islands separated by four miles of sea.

To our right, as far as we could see, the tide rip churned the sea to foam.
Directly in front of us twenty-foot combers crashed and roared on The Rock's
fringing reef, and through their spray, only two hundred yards off, yet
visible only for short periods between the breakers, the sand cay lay yellow
and desolate, a place to depress the spirits of anyone but a born fisherman.
Sea birds mottled the yellow sand--often flocks of them soared screaming
overhead--and now and again a bird swooped down so close that Poaza tried
to kill it with an oar.

Only a few years ago the sand cay was a luxuriant little islet, inhabited a
part of the time. That's the way with these atolls: they're here today and
gone tomorrow. One wonders how the people have endured.

The wind freshened as soon as we were anchored off The Rock. William spoke
of it and mentioned that it would be a hard pull back to the main islet;
then Poaza jerked his head toward Samoa, four hundred miles away, and
grinned. First-Born muttered that he had always wanted to take a run down to
Apia; but Araipu, the practical vicar, told us to take off our hats while he
prayed.

The atoll people are always praying. They never start fishing without
offering a prayer: even a man spearing fish on the reef will invoke the
divine blessing before he impales his breakfast shark. Today Araipu seemed
to find sensuous pleasure in addressing his Creator. First he settled
comfortably in the stem sheets, as might a man who is preparing to enjoy a
glass of beer and a chat. He smiled in a gratified way that seemed to
express: "Now, boys, we'll have a nice long delicious prayer!" He almost
smacked his lips. While the boat rolled and pitched, the combers thundered,
the sea birds screamed, Araipu raised his voice to the God of Abraham. He
prayed and he prayed. He enjoyed himself so much that he seemed reluctant to
stop praying; but finally, hearing William light his pipe and grunt
impatiently, he ended with a hurried "Amen" lest the heathen spoil the
prayer's magic by roaring a volley of curses. As it was, William contented
himself with a mere, "Whas a matta? All time pray? No catch fish?" and
started baiting his hook.

By speedy work I got my line over the side first. Like a flash a gar pike
rose to grab my hook while it was still on the surface! With a single
graceful jerk I swung the fish into the boat, then I let my eyes move slowly
and interrogatively from one fisherman to the next, asking tacitly: "Well,
gentlemen, what have you to say now?"

William replied with a sniffle; Araipu and First-Born were too astonished
(or humiliated) to speak. Poaza pounced on my gar pike, crushed its skull
between his teeth, and bit out a piece of flesh from its back, which same he
fixed on his hook and dropped over the side, almost instantly to bring up a
big cavalla. He glanced at us with a leer, rebaited his hook, and caught
another fish. That's the way with Poaza. Though he uses the same tackle and
bait as the rest of us use, he invariably catches twice as many fish.

Soon we were fishing with a vengeance. In a few hours we had fifty
good-sized groupers, cavallas, barracudas, schnappers, but it is a fact
that, after pulling up my one little gar pike, I never caught another fish!
First-Born said it was because Desire was ill; Araipu said it might have
something to do with my irregular church attendance; William affirmed that
Miss Legs was to blame. He asked me if I had been poking up the floor boards
in her house recently, and he ended his insulting speech by laughing so
loudly that I scarcely heard Poaza telling me that I had caught no fish
because I didn't know how to catch fish. Thus was I repaid for bringing the
animals on the expedition. I redoubled my efforts, but not so much as a
minnow would take my hook!

By two o'clock we had as many fish as the boat would hold, and by then the
wind was blowing half a gale. First we tried to sail back, but the sea was
too choppy to make headway in a flat-bottomed boat. After a tack to the
north and one back to The Rock we were a quarter of a mile farther away than
when we had started. So we stowed the sailing gear, got out the oars, and
started rowing. It was three o'clock by then. By four o'clock we were back
alongside The
Rock; by sundown we had gone perhaps one mile. Pulling lustily, the boat did
not seem to move: it seemed anchored with a stem kedge.

And then, when the sun had set and we were no more than a half mile from Te
Arai Reef, my unimaginative fishermen started talking about the canoes that
had been lost with all hands when unexpectedly the current had changed.
First-Born, who knows more about Te Arai Reef than most of the neighbors,
said that often the current changes from south to north without warning.
When this happens the tide rip smooths off on the south side of the reef and
forms on the north side--where we were now!

I could bear only to glance at Te Arai in the gloomy evening light. It was a
murderous sight: great, towering jet-black walls of water marching toward us
inexorably. I knew these black walls of water, moving so deliberately,
sometimes toppling over in thunderous and confused cataclysms, were
unconcerned whether or not they engulfed us, broke our boat to kindling,
killed us. We could not argue the point with them, supplicate them, offer
them cash money. They would keep on moving, oblivious to our entreaties,
oblivious that they were destroying us, oblivious to having left tragedy in
their wake.

Now and again I glanced at the combers, and I heard their dull thunder, and
I felt very small and pitiful, and I might have shown my terror in some
unmanly way had not Poaza and William been there; but as it was I shouted an
unfelt witticism and lay manfully to my oar.

I could have kissed that barrier reef. It represented shelter and, what was
perhaps more acceptable, rest, for no work fatigues me more than rowing. We
stepped the mast again, set sail, and skimmed along happily with a beam wind
to make the boat passage at about nine o'clock.

Desire and her objectionable sisters and cousins said not one word when,
during the fish division, I refused to take any because they were too gamy
for my taste. I have mentioned what a gentle wife Desire is, how resigned
she is to my eccentricities. Well, I have been mistaken. Like all women, she
is a little shrew. Think of it: next morning, laid neatly by my coffee bowl
was a handleless spoon with two little holes drilled through it! Desire,
Mama, Pati, and Tili had found positions where they could watch me when I
slumped down in my chair, filled my bowl, and picked up the spoon. They
grinned like harpies, and Desire, the vixen, lisped sweetly:
"Perhaps you can hold your fingers under the holes, Ropati sweetheart! It is
the only spoon we have!" Then Pati trilled something about "Ropati te
tautai!" which I suppose means "Ropati the fisherman!" And Tili murmured:
"There goes the poor little duck, Desire! How tired he looks! He didn't sit
down all night long!" And at the same time Mama pushed a tin of bully beef
toward me in a meaningful way, her lips pressed tightly together.

The trading schooner is many months overdue. For nine months (save for
Horatio's spectacular return) we have had but one hint of contemporary life
on this planet--smoke on the horizon, fugitive smoke too timid to reveal
its source. I stared at it through my 22 pounds, 7X binocular, but not a
sign of a smokestack, let alone a hull, could I see. At times it rose in a
heavy black cloud, indubitable smoke; then again it dissolved in the horizon
clouds. Presently I decided it was passing to westward. In a fit of
disappointment I flung my binocular on the ground and broke one of the
lenses. Now I have to use it as a monocular, and all because a damn-fool
captain was not considerate enough to pass close to the reef so I could buy
a few fresh provisions, and perhaps some medicine, for poor little
Desire . . . I know she will recover if only I can feed her milk, eggs,
potatoes, bread--anything to keep up her strength . . . but as it is . . .

The rest of the world seems very unreal indeed. Sometimes I wish that Pure
could repair his hopelessly broken wireless set so that I could sit in his
station and, hearing him mutter: "Trenn is speaking: he sends his
greetings!" re-establish objective relations with the now mythic world.

The last teaspoonful of sugar was used long ago. There is still enough tea
for another month if I use it sparingly, boiling the leaves a long time. The
soap is gone too, but there is a vine here that takes its place after a
fashion. The idea is to bathe in the sea first, then rinse off in fresh
water, rubbing one's self with a great mass of vines. As for clothes, one
wears as few as possible, for at best they are smelly.

I still have a little tobacco, and probably a few of the neighbors have tiny
morsels hidden in the thatch or in the bottom of their chests. Poor old
Deacon Bribery devotes his entire time to hunting and begging tobacco. A few
nights ago he appeared on the back porch with a basket of taro and a fowl.
After the presentation and a suitable speech he stood anchored in the exact
center of the porch, grinning foolishly or perhaps imploringly, but anchored
nevertheless. It took no great perspicacity to divine that Bribery would not
leave the porch until I had given him some tobacco. I was reluctant to part
with any, for I have cut myself down to three smokes a day to make my tiny
hoard last another month or two; but I couldn't have Bribery die on my
porch, so I gave him a morsel of twist about as big as a bean. Immediately,
with shaking fingers, he cut it up and packed it in his astonishingly black
and greasy pipe, lit it, and sucked in a single deep breath; then,
extinguishing the coal with his finger so as not to waste any of the
precious poison, he staggered to one of the porch posts to fall against it
and cling to it for a long time. "I'm drunk! I'm drunk!" he groaned happily.
"My head is twisted in a knot!"

It looked as though Deacon might die on my premises after all. I learned
later that it was the first smoke he had had in ten days barring hernandia
leaves, coconut roots, and husks. Being pure perique, it was as effective as
poison gas. He will make the pipeful last a long time, taking a single
breath of smoke a day.

Horatio is no better off than the rest of us. Even his social life is
slackening, now that he has no tea or coffee to keep him awake through the
moonlight watches. This morning I called on him, and, looking down his nose
for the first time in weeks, he told me he had resolved never again to be
unfaithful to Susanna.

"Oh yes," I commented, "this morning at coffee Desire told me that Kura has
jilted you."

Hory scarcely heard my whole sentence. At the word "coffee" his brain became
blocked. "Coffee, you said?" he asked, raising his eyes from his nose. "Now,
Ropati, if you are drinking coffee I shall be very angry with you. It is not
right for you to drink coffee when the resident agent has none. If you have
any coffee, Ropati, you must share it with me."

I told him Desire had hidden a spoonful particularly for my birthday.

"Oh," Hory sighed, again looking down his nose. "So it is your birthday. I
hope you many happy returns, I am sure."

"Let's talk about Kura," I suggested. "Tell me about the time her papa
caught the two of you under the magnolia bush."

Hory being too humiliated to reply, I picked up a magazine and started
turning the pages idly. Presently I came to a colored picture of a man in
the act of biting into a sandwich. I turned the magazine so Hory could see
the picture. A look of bathos came into his eyes.

"What is it, Ropati--bread?", he asked with a strange little snicker.

"A sandwich," I replied. "Ham!"

Then he laughed outright, ending on a high falsetto note; and instantly
after he glanced at me to see if I had noticed the evidence of lessened
self-control. I stared blankly at the thatching overhead, whistled a tune,
and reflected that such things as ham sandwiches meant little to me, "Why,"
I muttered, "I'd rather read a page of Proust than eat any number of ham
sandwiches."

Rising to leave, I said: "You'd better go back to Kura, Horatio. I know she
loves you. She feels terribly bad because you have jilted her. Desire told
me that last night Kura cried her eyes out. She may kill herself if you
forsake her! An important person like you should not win a maiden's love and
then cast her aside. She needs you, Horatio, needs you! Moreover, living
alone on the last outpost of progress, with no other entertainment, you have
a right to your social life."

So I flattered and lied; and Hory listened, believed, and decided that he
might "forgive" Kura.

Here I am, trying to be cheerful when there is no cheer in my heart. I shall
not open my journal again unless Desire's health improves or I have
something pleasant to narrate.

Now there shall be an exciting entry, a happy entry, an entry smelling of
beer and onions and noisy with the whoops of the neighbors!

Horatio had been down with a bout of filariasis and was hopping around on
half a leg, looking down his nose, unable to prosecute even his social life.
I had read through my bookshelf to The Manual of Dermatology and was turning
for very problematical relief to a second reading of The Complete Works of
Anthony Trollope . . . when suddenly . . . out of the blue . . . sail ho!

Like a flash I shaved, bathed, dressed in immaculate white drill, put on my
shiny black manowar shoes, and got my new cork helmet out of the cordia-wood
box. Then when Desire had tied my black four-in-hand tie I kissed her
good-by, promised her a grand meal as soon as I returned ashore, and walked
with dignified slowness to the reef boat, where Araipu was waiting for me
with Pio, Deacon Tane, and Constable Benny.

We did not think of Honorable Horatio until we were in the shallows, halfway
to the reef. Then it occurred to us that we should have waited for him, so
we held back the boat with our oars shoved in the sand. Presently we saw
Poaza and First-Born paddling Hory like mad across the bay, and when they
were close we could see a suitcase in Hory's lap while in his hands were
papers, envelopes, stamps, and pound notes. He transshipped himself to my
boat, snarling something about my expecting him to swim to the ship; but he
was too excited to remember long that he was peeved. After a few quick
perfunctory glances down his nose he heaved his inflamed leg on the gunwale
and started shifting his papers, envelopes, stamps, and pound notes from one
hand to the other as aimlessly as old Mama shifts eggs and biscuits and
butter and things from one hand to the other.

"Is my necktie straight, Ropati?" he asked, screwing up his chin.

"No, Horatio," I replied, and forthwith straightened the silly little black
bow tie on the celluloid turndown collar, but only to notice it slip askew
again.

"I wish you would call me Mr. Augustus today," he said fretfully, "I don't
mind being called Horatio when we are alone, but now that we are going
aboard a strange ship you must remember that I am the resident agent."

"Okay, Mr. Augustus," I said, and then told the boys to pole us to the reef.
On crossing, Horatio got his trousers wet as well as his sheaf of papers,
envelopes, stamps, and pound notes, while the silly little bow tie worked
from a forty-five-degree to a vertical position; then we forgot papers,
ties, and malicious intents to leave ties askew, for the most beautiful
vessel ever to visit Danger Island rounded the northern point! She clove the
water at a good twenty-five knots; her brass glistened; a flag flew from her
mast!

Lying in the swell close to the reef, Horatio and I squinted at the flag;
then, when the vessel was close to us, Horatio asked: "What flag is that,
Ropati? Is that the Japanese flag?"

I had recognized it by then. My heart was thumping; I could scarcely speak.
"No, Mr. Augustus," I replied, tears starting from my eyes. "No, Hory, damn
you! . . . It's the good old Stars and Stripes!"

We had a devil of a time getting aboard her. Though we had fairly scudded
across the lagoon and through the shallows--though we had made the reef
shipshape and Bristol fashion and pulled out to sea handsomely--now my
able-bodied oarsmen started staring. Rot them! There's something missing
in the Danger Island brain.

The people are incapable of doing or thinking two things at once . . . as is
demonstrated by Mama, who when she sets the teakettle on the stove can do
nothing else until the water has boiled. Asked what she is doing, she
replies, "Boiling the water." Probably she would throw a fit if she had to
set the table or make the coconut milk while the water was heating. But when
the teakettle sings she moves it to the back of the stove, then methodically
if aimlessly does her other duties, and, last of all, she brews the tea with
the now cold water.

My husky oarsmen stared at the coast guard cutter Telemachus, and because
they could not do two things at once they stopped rowing. I yelled a few
sharp commands, but they could not hear me and observe the ship at the same
time. Horatio yelled some commands, but was heard only by the men aboard the
cutter. The wind drifted us closer. We could see the swank officers by the
accommodation ladder, grinning and nudging one another, and all the sailors
on the fo'c'sle deck, also grinning and nudging one another. Though I felt
silly I yelled some more; but the damn-fool oarsmen continued to sit rigid
and goggle-eyed, their oars held stiffly and unconsciously at varying
angles, their heads twisted round on their shoulders, their eyes glued on
Telemachus, their mouths open. We were abeam by now. A little farther and
the remarkable oarsmen's heads would be twisted completely round, their
necks would be broken, and we should drift with their dead bodies to Samoa--
if Telemachus didn't bother to pick up such a boatload of lunatics.

Hory and I actually had to jump up and work shoulder to shoulder before we
managed to rouse our noble oarsmen from their absorption in the ship and
force them to row us to the accommodation ladder. The resident agent boarded
her first, his tie making a complete revolution with each step he took up
the ladder. I saw him unceremoniously turned over to one of the officers and
led away.

Then, nonchalantly, my four-in-hand tie hanging exactly right, my cork
helmet at just the proper daring angle, I climbed up the ladder.

But I felt like a silly fool nevertheless, and the feeling was intensified
when I reached deck and the officers started clicking their heels and
saluting me--saluting me, Ropati-tane of Puka-Puka! I took off my helmet,
wondered if it were the proper thing to do, started saluting rapidly and
nervously, grinned, turned red, and sputtered: "My name is Ropati."

"Yes, yes, Mr. Ropati," someone murmured. "Follow me, please. The commander
is waiting for you in his quarters." Then, as I followed him, with hundreds
of eyes staring at me, he added: "You had quite a pull getting out to us,
didn't you? Ha, ha!"

When I was ushered into the commander's sitting room I found a group of
distinguished-looking gentlemen waiting for me. One stepped forward, with
outstretched hand, smiling. I seemed to recognize him.

"It is a great pleasure to meet you again, Ropati!" he said. "You may
remember me: I am the curator of the Museum, Mr. O'Neill." And then, as
though in a dream, I heard him murmur: "Let me introduce you to Captain Bier
of the coast guard cutter Telemachus . . . and Honorable George Prince, the
congressman. Having read your Contemplative Essays and being greatly
impressed by them, Mr. Prince arranged with the Coast Guard to have
Telemachus call here--particularly to meet you!"

Dizzy, drunk as I had ever been on mangaro beer, I scarcely heard that
excellent gentleman the curator when he continued: "And let me introduce you
to Mr. James Powers, who is in charge of the Phoenix Islands Colony; and Mr.
George Chudde, collector of customs; and Dr. Wolfe, senior medical officer
of the Coast Guard.

"All right, if you're through, let's eat," Captain Bier drawled like a true
down-East Yankee, and motioned to the table that had been set in his sitting
room. "We have delayed lunch so we could have the pleasure of your company,"
he added.

Horatio had been relegated to the wardroom; I was dining with the commander
and the distinguished passengers! Yet I scarcely touched the food. We get
that way on the atolls. We dream of potatoes and beefsteaks, but when we are
served these foods we cannot relish them: they are strong, salty,
unpalatable.

Congressman George Prince seemed to know intuitively how I should be served.
"Have a can of beer?" he suggested.

A steward, as distinguished in manners as the rest of the company, produced
a can of beer--the first I had ever seen--and opened it with a little
gadget that filled me with admiration. He gave me the gadget later, thus
ascertaining that his memory would live on Danger Island with the memories
of the heroes.

I drank the beer and fiddled with the food. I drank another can of beer,
felt more at home, and invited them ashore; but the captain said that if
they left the ship it would "create an international crisis, for he had not
received permission to land, though he and Congressman Prince had applied
through the consul in Wellington, the British Ambassador, and the Court of
St. James . . . . . . And all," he added with charming blarney, "so we could
see for ourselves the heavenly isle that has lured you from the land of your
fathers."

I was about to tell him that Danger Island had not lured me from my native
land; that in fact I longed to return to my old position in the hair-oil
business, and that I was more than half determined to throw myself at the
feet of Penelope . . . but then it occurred to me that a classical allusion
would sound dippy; and anyway, James Powers had jumped to his feet in his
energetic way and shouted: "Now, Ropati, we'll show you some Yankee
trading!"

The main deck had been roped off fore and aft so one half could be used by
the Danger Islanders, who had come off by the score, and the other half by
the officers, crew, and passengers. With true Yankee enterprise these last
were carrying on trading such as would take the shine out of the wildest
business rush ashore: mats, hats, pearl-shell hooks, shell wreaths, and
sennit for old clothes and dollar bills. It reminded me of the Stock
Exchange; but instead of a man yelling, "Five thousand Hair Oil!" he would
whoop: "Hey, you! A busk fer yer straw hat!" or, "Gimme that grass carpet! A
pair of pants fer yer grass carpet!"

There must have been a hundred buyers and a hundred sellers, all yelling for
all they were worth. Never before had the Danger Islanders received such
wealth for their goods. James Powers had a suitcaseful of his wife's old
clothes--clothes that would make history on Danger Island but were
worthless to Powers. A crowd of natives surged about him, yelling their
heads off; and he handed out the ancient laced satin, the velvet, the voile,
to gather in an immense heap of native gear. The natives believed they
were robbing the white men with a vengeance, Any villager would have given
all he owned for one of Powers' old dresses. But conversely the white men
fancied they were doing some slick trading, so everyone was happy.

Of course I was in demand. "What's this?" Poaza would whoop, waving a dollar
bill over his head. "Is it money? Is it a pound?" Then Dr. Wolfe would grab
my arm and shout in my ear: "Get me that shell wreath! Tell him I'll give
him a w'stcoat for it." Or old Mr. Scratch would wheeze: "Ropati! Ropati!
Tell them I'll trade my cane for a pipe!"

Presents were heaped on me. Congressman George Prince forced into my hands a
box of Habana cigars and never asked for my vote; the curator gave me an
ethnology; the collector of customs cried in my ear, above the racket: "I've
just had a gross of canned beer put in your boat!" and the captain shouted
in the other ear: "I'm sending ashore some fresh meat and butter and
things!" Then the doctor gave me a bottle of bourbon, with a little sticker
on it telling the sad tale of how Officer So-and-so had seized it from
such-and-such a car, and later he gave me some morphine and heroin for
Desire. Then Powers gave me a toy balloon and a voile dress for Johnny. Lord
A'mighty! Horatio threw a fit of jealousy when he saw all the presents!

Before long I managed to get aside with the chief steward and buy a boatload
of provisions. Only superlatives express what they were like. The flour came
in fifty-pound tins and would keep for years. And the onions! Each one was a
perfect specimen fit for a county fair, while our trade onions come to us
virtually in the form of onion soup. Two-pound tins of pineapples at seven
cents a tin! Tobacco at forty cents a pound--and our trade tobacco is four
dollars! I bought and bought until the boat was heaped high, but even then
the steward urged me to take more. "No fancy goods?" he asked. "We have
cases of pork and beans, clam chowder, tomato juice, peaches, pickles sweet
or sour, most anything you can name." So I bought some fancy goods too,
hoping that Desire might eat them, but wondering, at the same time, how I
could get everything ashore.

Presently the collector of customs led me to the wardroom, where I was
introduced to a number of officers and to a newspaper reporter. Think of it!
A newspaper reporter at Danger Island, and as true to type as they make
them! I had scarcely shaken hands with him when he started asking questions,
but I escaped him for the moment, for just then cans of beer were being
opened, and I have never been able to give impressions to newspaper
reporters while cans of beer are being opened.

The beer soon went to my head. I became very talkative. Again the reporter
asked for my impressions of Danger Island, so, purposely misunderstanding
him, I gave him my impressions of the men aboard Telemachus.

"I am impressed," I said, half fuddled by now, "by the wellgroomed--one
might almost say immaculate--appearance of these my countrymen. There are
no bow ties askew; the clothes fit well; the shoes are polished, the hair
recently cut. The faces of these my countrymen," I continued, a tear
glistening in my eye, for I was rapidly becoming more fuddled, "are
clean-shaven and healthy. They are full of energy. They are enterprising.
This is particularly noticeable to me, for the white men in this part of the
world are a lackadaisical set of loafers, myself excepted. All in all,
gentlemen, I am so favorably impressed that I drink to your health!"

I turned to glance at Mr. Chudde's boyish fifty-year-old face. I could see
that he was having the time of his life, was recapturing his youth. He had
let his beard grow, his hair too. He was dressed in work pants and a black
smoking jacket. Now and again he would let a "damn" escape his lips in a way
that suggested it was not customary. He drank his beer with gusto, even
bravado; he gestured in a devil-may-care manner. In fact, he was extremely
likable.

More cans of beer were opened; then a message came from the captain that he
was sailing immediately, so I upended my can and hurried to the main deck.
The natives had been herded into their canoes; Horatio was on his way
ashore; apparently I was the only one left aboard. I shook hands with the
distinguished gentlemen gathered by the ladder and climbed into my boat.

"Will you make it?" Captain Bier called. Glancing down, I noticed that the
gunwale was within two inches of the water. The boat was heaped four feet
high with provisions, and on top of the provisions squatted a flock of
natives. But I was full of Yankee beer and knew the passengers could be
jettisoned if need be, so, "Sure!" I yelled back. "Just watch us. . . . .
Give way, boys!" and we moved toward the reef.

Telemachus turned on her heel as niftily as a soldier doing the about-face.
Away she marched at double time; but when she was a mile or so off we saw
her suddenly do a rightabout-march and steam back to us.

There on deck was Araipu! The vicar's eyes were like saucers! We could see
he was badly scared. Well, he was got aboard, and Telemachus speeded over
the horizon.

At first Araipu was too scared to talk, but by the time we had crossed the
reef he managed to tell us that he had been wandering about the ship in a
kind of daze and had got into a room where there was a row of white basins.
Then he had noticed at least a dozen doors and had wondered vaguely by which
one he had entered. Perplexed, he had chosen a door at random, opened it,
and found himself in a tiny room empty save for a roll of paper and a sort
of basin with water in it and a pump handle at one side. The door had locked
itself behind him while he was leaning over to examine the strange basin,
and at the same time he had heard the engines churning as the ship got under
way! For a little time Araipu had tried to open the door, then he had
noticed a space beneath it big enough to crawl through. He lay flat on the
floor, and he was worming his way out when someone came in, discovered him,
and hurried him on deck.

By the time we had reached Yato Point, Araipu was full of courage again: he
was bragging about his adventure; he was telling us that for tuppence he
would have gone with Telemachus to the Island of the White Men. "I always
did want to see Falisico [Frisco]," he declared. In a day or two he will
claim he had tried to stow away.

Desire was quite cheerful when I got home. We had a grand meal of beef and
onions, boiled potatoes with butter oozing all over them, and three tins of
pineapples. After the meal Desire downed a can of beer and then gave me
permission to make a night of it, so, "Sit you down, William," I ordered the
heathen retainer, and continued, when he had placed his hoary person on the
triclinium's south couch: "Here I have a gross of canned beer. . . . Sit
still, damn you! Don't grab! . . . And here"--displaying a nickel-plated
gadget--"I have a . . . thing. We shall call it a can opener. I fix the
opener on the can, thus, pull upward, and pierce an equilateral triangle in
the can. Like a cumulus cloud the beer foam rises above the tin horizon. I
fix the opener on the other side and pierce another hole, this being done so
a vacuum will not be formed when you suck beer out of the first hole. . . .
Physics, you see, William! Here, you low fellow, drink heartily to the
President of the United States, God bless him!"




EPILOGUE



For a long time I have been too gloomy to write. Of course I am referring to
Desire's illness. She is slipping away from me; there is no hope for her
recovery.

For months I have been trying to work up enough fortitude to write this, and
thereby, perhaps, lessen my pain by establishing it as a thing that cannot
be avoided, a thing inexorable, destined; but always I have managed, some
way or other, to postpone the unpleasant task. Even now I am not at all
certain that I shall finish it. I suppose we are all that way. When we have
an unpleasant task to do we unconsciously postpone it by finding other
things to attend to first. Before opening my journal I found it necessary to
mend my fish net; then I moved toward my writing table, but only to note
some scraps of pandanus leaf on the floor where I had been making cigarette
papers. So I cleaned them up, and while doing so I remembered, by a natural
association of ideas, that the rubbish pile by the cookhouse needed burning.
And finally, when everything had been attended to, I felt nauseated, too ill
to write. I was about to give it up when Desire started coughing and thus
drove me to writing to him the reality in the narration thereof.

I have told you little of Desire's illness. If the details have been scant
it is not because of callousness on my part but rather cowardice. I have
been afraid to admit that the diagnosis is all too evident:  tuberculosis--
the same affliction that killed Tangi. I try to delude myself into believing
it is something else. I study my Hughes's Practice of Medicine, compare
Desire's symptoms with the ones described under scores of afflictions, and
try to make myself believe she has some other complaint. For days I try to
convince myself that she has chronic bronchitis.  I distort the recognized
bronchitis symptoms so they tally with those of Desire, but always in the
end it comes back to the scourge of the South Seas:  tuberculosis.

True to type, I am spending my time trying to escape. Sometimes I wonder if
I am spending my life trying to escape from something--myself perhaps. Half
my dreams are of running away from an unseen pursuer, leaping down ridges,
dashing through forests, swimming across rivers, with the sure knowledge
that some person or intangible danger is pursuing me. Never have I seen this
pursuer or known what the danger is; but he, or it, is none the less
terrifying.

But this is no dream in the little house at Yato Point. God knows I wish it
were one. I am trying to escape from awareness of impending tragedy, and I
am succeeding at times by telling the fribbling details of a trader's life.

Meekly carrying the lamp, William, like a hoary wise virgin, lighted us into
the house, set the lamp on the floor, and departed without a word. Desire,
drowsy with morphine, dozed in my arms and did not waken when I laid her
gently on the sleeping mat. William having left, I blew out the lamp, then
sat close to my wife. The fires burning here and there in the village cast
fitful lights and shadows through the house, moved caressingly in Desire's
auburn hair and across the delicate sculpture of her face.

Presently I changed to my pajamas, lay beside my wife, and lifted her
feverish head to rest it gently on my arm. I did not wish to sleep: I wished
only to be alone with her and my thoughts.  My arm pressed about her, and a
poignant longing came over me to tread with her the cavern path to the Pagan
Underworld, to sit with her under the great hernandia tree of Tangi and
listen to the gong music of Tulikalo, the laughter and songs of the
gods. Much better such a hereafter than the harping and adoration of the
Christian Heaven! And by and by we could descend, hand in hand, to the third
level of the Underworld, where the ancients gossiped in Leva's House of a
Thousand Posts; where taro grew to maturity overnight and fish leaped from
the sea to fill one's canoe; where the souls of dead children played on the
grassy knolls; where there were places of love more inviting than the places
of the upper world; and where the strange Goddess Leva plaited in her mat
figures symbolic of the earthly life of each spirit. You see, I know all
about the nether world. In a few days Desire will grope down the cavern
path.  She will be alone in the awful blackness! Oh, if only I could walk
before her so she could place her little foot in my footprint, feel some
small comfort in the presence of her man! Then together we could wash away
our earthly longings, our evil inclinations, even our memory of the upper
world, in the pools of fresh water. We could listen to Tulika-lo's gong; we
could sit on Hokamani's stone; we could watch Leva incorporate in her mat
the design of our lives, and, closely embraced as of old, we could sleep in
a leaf-bowered place of love by the pagan sea!

 

I dreamed that I had wakened in a strange house and, on going to the
breakfast room, had found Desire seated at the table. She smiled and sipped
her tea but did not speak; and she was dressed in the blue flowered voile
that became her so well. Her long hair was done up in European fashion, with
a wavy lock patted down on each temple, a tortoise-shell comb, and a
gardenia behind her ear. She was as I loved to see her.

I have said that she did not speak, but someone--myself to myself, perhaps
--spoke for her.

"She wanted to be with you," the voice said softly, apologetically. "She
could not bear to be away from you."

"It is cruel!" I exclaimed, staring at the gentle, fawn-eyed girl. "Now the
pain, the dreadful anticipation must be repeated!"

"Oh no," the voice replied. "She is quite well again. She needed only a long
rest."

"I am glad you have returned, Desire," I said. "I thought you were--were
gone!"

Then the voice said in the same soft, apologetic way: "No, she did not
die. It was a dreadful mistake. You are taking her to Hawaii now, as you
often promised."

The scene changed and I dreamed that I was lying alone in the mosquito net
when suddenly an edge of it was lifted and Desire crept in. She smiled,
leaned over to kiss me, and made love in her intimate, deeply serious
way. The dream was more vivid than a waking experience could be. When I woke
I found myself weeping, and I remembered that Desire was dead.

She died on the fourteenth of January, more than six months ago; and all
this time I have been wandering about like a man in a dream, only vaguely
aware that something has gone amiss.  When asked: "Where are you going,
Ropati?" I have replied: "I am searching for my wife. She must be at her
mother's house. I believe she has been ill and is taking some kind of a
witch-doctor cure."

But now I remember how, the night before her death, we knew the end was near
and we talked about it. She asked me to be close to her when she died and to
hold her in my arms a little while afterward. At seven in the morning her
sister Pati came. Then I sat on the floor, with my back braced against a
wall post, and I held Desire in my arms; and then, in a little time, her
heart fluttered--I could feel it under my hand--there was a convulsion,
her breathing stopped, and she relaxed in my arms. Later she breathed once
again, a little sign from the place of death, and that was the end.

I told Pati to be quiet so as not to attract the neighbors; then I sat with
Desire for a half hour, as she had asked me to; and by and by I closed her
eyes and her lips, and I bathed her, and dressed her, and kissed her
good-by. Pati sent for the relatives. They took Desire away, and I did not
see her again.





PART II  THE HURRICANE




Chapter I



The trading ketch Hurry Home lumbered up to the boat passage at noon, and an
hour later Captain Prospect came ashore, viewing life on the sunny side as
he puffed prodigiously at the great calabash pipe that hung down to his
Adam's apple. On entering my house he squeezed his toothbrush and clean
singlet in the bookcase between the works of Nat Gould and the shelf above
them, then made himself at home, muttering at the time, even before a word
of greeting or the latest news of World War II, that he liked my taste in
books, and adding that he had just read a not-too-trashy yarn by Nat Gould
entitled Madame Bovary--Bovary being from the Latin bovus, a cow.

Probably Captain Prospect had taken for granted that I was at home, for he
is very nearsighted and my house is dark to one coming in from the noonday
glare. "I am glad to see you back at PukaPuka," I said. "Sit down and tell
me the news. Is there still a war going on?"

"I suppose that is you, Ropati," the captain replied in a matter-of-fact
tone, his head cocked toward me and his eyebrows crimpled. "I saw somebody
and thought it might be you . . . . I've nearly gone blind since sailing
among these atolls." He grinned faintly and a merry twinkle came into his
green farset eyes. "The people in Rarotonga claim it's due to alcohol," he
went on, chuckling dryly. "They say my eyes are bloodshot and bleary because
I'm a secret drinker--and I never touched a drop of alcohol in my born
days."

Captain Prospect folded his wiry self on a mat in a corner of the room and
started repeating all the gossip from the Cook Islands. So important to him
was the local South Sea scandal that I could scarcely turn his mind from it
long enough to learn that my country had entered the war.

"Yes, yes, Ropati; we're allies now," he told me. "America fell into the war
just before my radio battery ran down. That was about two weeks ago. The
Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, sank half the Pacific fleet, and they may be
sinking my ship from under me if I don't keep a sharp lookout. . . . But on
the other hand Hurry Home is a lucky ship, if I do say so myself. I'd just
as soon take my chances on her as ashore."

"Perhaps the children and I will take our chances on her, now that the
U.S.A. is in the war," I said after he had satisfied my many questions. "I'd
like to get close to civilization, in case I'm needed." Then, with a good
deal of sincerity, I added that I should prefer sailing on Hurry Home to any
luxury vessel that ever tossed her proud head above the billows.

"Perhaps, perhaps," Captain Prospect assented cautiously. "Of course that's
the way I feel about my ship; but to some passengers--the finical kind--
she may have her drawbacks--a little slow, perhaps, and not what you'd call
luxurious. But I'll tell you one thing, Ropati: she has the big Rarotonga
traders on their toes. She's making history in these islands! Now take that
fellow Tenneb, the Line Islands' manager. I've got him eating out of my
hands, I have. He tried to stop me carrying passengers--said my ship wasn't
seaworthy. My ship not seaworthy! She's the huskiest little packet in this
ocean, and she can outsail Tenneb's worm-eaten old schooner, fair wind or
foul. And as for safety and comfort . . ." And so on until finally I managed
to turn him back to the subject of our departure from Puka-Puka. He agreed
to take us, but mentioned that we would have to stop on uninhabited Suvarrow
Atoll a month or two while he refitted.

Late in the afternoon he left me, to take tea with the resident agent. While
moving out the doorway he told me to be ready to go aboard at noon the next
day, which meant, however, in two or three days.

"Hurry Home will call at Suvarrow!" I exclaimed to myself as I left the
house to look for the cowboys and tell them the exciting news. I pictured my
four children--the cowboys--chasing fish in the reef shallows, hunting
wide-awake eggs on the sand cays, exploring the jungle. There was Son Jakey
coming into camp with a giant coconut crab, his chest thrust out, his eyes
agleam; and six-year-old Elaine hunting periwinkles on the fringing reef;
and little Nga-the-youngest playing in the clean white sand of Anchorage
Island, digging up, mayhap, the gold of an old Spanish adventurer; and
Daughter Johnny being a ten-year-old mother to the other children, full of
the joy of responsibility now that there were no servants to take the spice
out of doing things in her own way; and the old man himself, in glowing
health, thankful to be at last on an island where he can invite his soul
without disturbance from those pests of the South Sea--mosquitoes, flies,
and roosters. It would be a fitting way to bid farewell to the island life.

"Bundle up your dresses," I said to Johnny when I found her with the rest of
the cowboys. "We're sailing on Hurry Home. We'll go to Suvarrow first, then
to America, where we'll ask our uncle for a job."

"What uncle?" Johnny wanted to know.

"Uncle Sam," I replied.

Probably the artist in Captain Prospect brought him to the South Seas, but,
once arrived, the man in him had to subjugate the artist to survive. Now the
artist defends his fall by pretending not to see, save at unguarded moments,
the beautiful in island life. Captain Prospect has a genuine appreciation
for good books, but he disguises it by claiming, with waggish humor, that he
never heard of any author except Nat Gould. "Oh, that book!" he'll mutter.
"I've read that book. It was by Nat Gould or one of those author fellows."
Likewise he excuses the accidental use of a rare or poetic word by giving it
an imaginary Latin root and thus passing it off as an idle conceit.

Two unhappy contradictions of character have been the curse of his life:
that is, an artistic temperament in conflict with the necessity to live on
next to nothing, and a capacity for friendship in conflict with an
overpowering mania for gossip. But whatever failings he may or may not have,
his virtues outbalance them. Bloodshot and bleary though his eyes may be, an
occasional twinkle in them tells of a rich sense of humor and a kindly
temper. Short and bony though his body may be, in it lies the heart of both
an artist and a doughty seaman.

Mayhap the artist in him transfigures decrepit old Hurry Home into a
white-winged clipper ship, but, whatever his vision, he is without doubt a
courageous man and a stubborn one. He is putting up a gallant fight to make
his little sea louse pay, and, incomprehensible to all the traders in these
islands, he is keeping her afloat. There was little dissimulation in me when
I told him I should prefer sailing in Hurry Home to any luxury vessel that
ever tossed her proud head above the billows.

Formerly Captain Prospect was master of a schooner in the island trade. On
his first departure from Rarotonga, Tenneb, his firm's manager, told him to
hurry round the Lower Group and hurry home. And on subsequent voyages
the instructions were always the same: "Hurry home, hurry home," until
Captain Prospect became rebellious. "All right, I'll hurry home,"
he grimly assured the manager, and from then on he made such quick
passages that Tenneb could not find enough work to keep his schooner
at sea. She lay in port half the time, exasperating Tenneb and
gratifying Prospect. Before long Tenneb suggested that, due to depressed
business conditions, the schooner might make more leisurely passages; but
Prospect shook his head stubbornly, growled that he must hurry home, and
proceeded to break all former records. The outcome was that they parted with
mutual ill esteem. Then Prospect bought his little ketch and, perhaps in
both drollery and resentment, christened her Hurry Home. But not even he,
optimist that he is, would hint that his vessel is able to get home in a
hurry.

In this vessel we sailed today--Daughters Johnny, Elaine, and Nga; Son
Jakey; the old man; and, among the household goods, four camphorwood chests,
a roll of mats, a case of books, and a PukaPuka sailing canoe--which last
pretty well occupies the entire deck, but promises a grain of safety should
Hurry Home meet with misadventure, the canoe being more seaworthy than the
ship.

Hurry Home is of about twenty-five tons. She has no engine, she will not
sail better than an average raft, and her topsides are from five to eight
feet out of the water, giving her the appearance of a floating packing case.
Her gear is rotten, her sails have to be patched after every puff of wind,
her rope is gray and threadbare, and there is no spare rope or canvas aboard
her. She has five rusty oil drums for water, insufficient provisions to
carry her back to her home port, no passenger accommodations whatsoever--
yet often she carries from ten to twenty--and she exudes a fetor that
distinguishes her from all Portuguese sponge fishers, Chinese junks, and
garbage scows--a peculiar stench that is best left undescribed.
Furthermore, she leaks on topsides and bottomsides; there is no w.c. or even
a basin for washing one's hands, and not even a galley. But there is a rusty
tin trunk seized to the taffrail aft, with three iron bars driven through it
for a grate, and in this strange contraption Oli-Oli, the Puka-Pukan cook,
boils water and cooks a mess called stew--a mess as nauseous as the stench
of Hurry Home herself.

When it blows and rains the tin trunk is closed, a draft of air is sucked in
it through a number of holes below the grating, and the smoke oozes out
through a number of holes in its top. Captain Prospect is very proud of his
"ship's galley," and solely because it was begotten by his ingenuity in
salvaging junk. And as for the food dished out from the galley--well,
perhaps his roseate spirit infuses a fragrance to even Oli-Oli's mephitic
stew and insipid tea.

The galley is on the starboard quarter aft of the tiller; the substitute for
a w.c. is on the port quarter. About two feet forward from the transom an
old spar has been fixed athwartship, from railtop to railtop, and from this
spar hangs a piece of ragged canvas. It is there as a symbol of modesty, but
because it blows in one's face when the wind is forward and blows away from
one when the wind is aft, one relies on the delicacy of the sailors and
passengers more than on the canvas for privacy. Only First Mate Tagi
ignores, in this respect, the amenities of good breeding.

The captain's cabin is forward of the galley, the w.c., and the tiller.
About six feet fore and aft by the width of the vessel there is a berth on
either side, and between them a tiny table that is used for meals, cards,
and a jumble of odds and ends. The starboard berth is for the captain, his
magazines, his spectacles, clothes, oilskins, radio, and so on; the port
berth and the rest of the cabin present a scrambled heap of everything that
should not be in a captain's cabin.

Said the captain when we were drawing away from the land, headed for The
Rock at the end of Te Arai Reef: "Now, Ropati, the chronometer is out of
order, the radio battery is run down, I've got only a 1930 Nautical Almanac,
my Epitome is a hundred years old, my eyesight is failing, and I don't know
what day of the month it is--but my sailors will know that." He cleared his
throat, a waggish flicker came into his farset eyes, and he asked: "Ropati,
would you mind taking my ship to Suvarrow?"

"Not at all," I replied, "so long as you mean it."

"Of course I mean it," he spat at me. "You take charge; then I'll have
plenty of time to play cribbage with you." He blinked a few times in rapid
succession, thoughtfully, then amended: "I don't mean that you are to
interfere with my sailors. My mate Tagi is a thoroughly capable man; and
when he's below, my second mate Takataka takes charge; and when they're both
below, my cook Oli-Oli sails my ship. What I want you to do is to navigate--
and be on hand for a game of cribbage. . . . You don't play chess?"

I replied that I played a very poor game.

"Then it's no use playing with me," Captain Prospect informed me, and added
that he played the best chess in the Cook Islands, often taking on two or
even three players at once, and invariably beating them.

Just then my attention was turned to the children. We were beyond the lee of
the west reef; Hurry Home was lurching and plunging, the children in the
throes of seasickness. Poor cowboys! I had my hands full for the rest of the
evening carrying buckets for them and trying to make them comfortable. When
we had missed by inches The Rock's fringing reef and had plunged and rolled
through the tide rip that builds up beyond Te Arai Reef the sun had set, the
night had turned squally, and I had to get the children--or the cowboys, as
they prefer to be called--below. Johnny and Jakey managed to lower
themselves into the hold, but I had to carry Elaine, while Oli-Oli carried
Nga.

Below was a mass of cargo stowed in any old way. Heaps of rusty chain and
rocks for ballast; trunks, chests, and bundles; bags of flour and cases of
beef; several hundred baskets of dried fish that smelled to high heaven; the
five water drums; and no ventilation whatsoever. But there was a smoky
little lamp by the light of which I managed to stow the cowboys here and
there and furnish receptacles of sorts for seasickness. Poor dears! They
were too ill to know or care whether they lay on chain or rocks or the
corners of packing cases.

Now they are asleep; it is raining hard; the air is so thick that they must
be close to suffocation; and I myself am so close to that state that I must
close my journal.

"You've been to Suvarrow before, of course, Ropati," Captain Prospect said
after his spirit had been mellowed by winning three games of cribbage, "but
you've never seen the island in a really pristine state." He paused, and his
brow clouded in thought as though, mayhap, he were fishing for a Latin root
for pristine. Apparently not hooking one, he continued: "Suvarrow is grown
up solid in jungle, right down to the water's edge. The only place where you
can walk without cutting a path through the bush is in the clearing where
the old trading post used to be. That's the way Suvarrow is now: it is a
bird and crab and turtle sanctuary."

Captain Prospect tapped the cards into their box and shoved them, and the
cribbage board, to the back of the table. Then, after a glance at the clock,
he continued: "H.M.S. Leith stopped at Suvarrow for a few hours back in
1938, and the yacht Lorna D. was there for two days in 1939, and I called in
for a short visit last year; otherwise no one has been on Suvarrow since you
were there in 1934. As I have said, Anchorage Island is a solid block of
jungle . . . . But, Ropati--but before the year is out I will clear away
the jungle, build houses, and establish the most unique tourist resort in
the world! Instead of a sanctuary for birds, crabs, and turtles it will be a
sanctuary for sun-hungry white men from New Zealand, London, New York!"

He scowled slightly, as though in anticipation of some facetious remark;
then, deciding that I was interested, he fumbled among the odds and ends at
the back of the table until he had unearthed a scrap of paper. This he laid
where we both could see it and started to comment on the items jotted
thereon.

"The Spa: That will be established on the north point of Anchorage Island,
by that sun-heated swimming pool. A grand place for lungers and rheumatics--
with a refreshment house and beach umbrellas by the fresh-water pools!
That's the first attraction. Second: Big Game Fishing: I have no doubt,
Ropati, but that motorboats will be going out for swordfish every day. The
time will come when no sportsman will consider himself worthy of the name
unless he has fished at Prospect's South Sea Tourist and Health Resort! Now,
Jungle Expeditions: Very thrilling--at five shillings and sixpence a head,
including transportation by Hurry Home to Seven Islands and back, and with a
jungle feast of sea birds and coconuts thrown in. And finally, Games:
Tennis, ping-pong, golf--"

"Wait a minute, Captain," I interrupted. "How can you play golf on an atoll
where the biggest islet is not a mile long?"

The captain eyed me sourly, muttered something about my lack of imagination,
then glanced at the dock, and, "You'd better go on deck and take the sun,"
he said. "It's ten minutes to twelve. We might make Nassau this evening if
you paid more attention to navigating and less attention to cribbage and
wild schemes to establish a tourist resort on Suvarrow!"

I took the sextant on deck but did not bother to keep the sun on the
horizon, for I knew the latitude within a mile or two, having sighted the
breakers on Tema Reef at sunrise. Oli-Oli, the Puka-Pukan cook, sailor, and
general roustabout, was at work by the tin-trunk stove. He was naked to the
waist, but his fat buttocks were covered partially by a ragged pair of
cotton shorts, stiff with grease and grime and with a number of large rents
and holes. The sweat poured from him on deck and often enough in the food he
was preparing. Today he worked like a Trojan grating coconuts, squeezing the
oil from the meat, then wiping his hands on his sweaty skin and in his hair.
Presently the coconut oil was poured in the stew, the mess was stirred
vigorously with a piece of firewood, and the pot was removed from the stove
to be placed on deck where it would be handy to stumble against. Then
Oli-Oli took the teakettle, which had been made from the half of a kerosene
tin, filled it with water, and placed it in the stove. He added a half
teaspoonful of tea leaves while the water was still cold, so he would not
forget them, perhaps, for when the water had boiled it would be impossible
to tell by sight, smell, or taste whether the tea had been added. In getting
the tin on the fire he covered his hands with soot. This he wiped off on his
skin but not in his hair. And finally, his labors for the moment
accomplished, he rolled to the hatchway, where the cowboys were lying, and,
being a Puka-Pukan and therefore feeling paternal relationship toward them,
he picked up little Nga and fondled the rest of the soot, grime, sweat, and
grease onto her unresisting person. This delighted Nga and amused the other
cowboys; the two mates and the captain, who were on deck, did not seem to
notice anything unusual about Nga's soot-smeared face; and as for me--well,
when traveling on Hurry Home one must not be fastidious.

Takataka was at the pump, which is the only thing in good working order
aboard Captain Prospect's "ship." He is 'a handsome half-caste from
Palmerston Island, about forty, and strong as a bull. He speaks the curious
provincial English that was brought to Palmerston originally by William
Marsters, a trading skipper who settled on the island with his three wives
and forthwith increased and multiplied with a vengeance. "Yas," Takataka,
will say, "I smokes cigarettes; also I chaws tobaccer." Or: "I tromped to my
lond and I clombed a tree." Though a little too obsequious for my taste, he
has the manners of a gentleman. He alone of the crew eats his food with a
knife and fork, removes his spoon from his cup of tea, and eschews
conversation when his mouth is full. I believe Tagi and Oli-Oli resent this:
they feel that he is putting on airs. Today, as I watched him at the pump,
each to and fro motion seemed a gesture of protest against such ignoble
labor for a descendant of Captain William Marsters.

Querulous old Tagi, Hurry Home's mate, was asleep forward in the shade of
the jib. An indifferent sailor, a mighty eater, finical and likable as an
old woman, Captain Prospect calls him "my first officer," or "my mate Tagi,"
perhaps humoring himself with the idea that his ship carries a mate, as well
as a second mate and a cook--common sailors being superfluous. But Tagi has
none of the qualities of an officer. If he tells Takataka and Oli-Oli to
take in sail they tell him to do it himself, and he does it, in a mood at
once resigned, peevish, and vindictive. If a black squall looms over the
horizon and he calls the captain, as invariably he does, the captain reminds
him that, being mate, he should do as he thinks best; but because he does
not think, save only about food, fat women, and grievances, he then consults
the second mate, who, as a matter of Palmerston politeness, takes the cook
into consultation. The result is that they are consulting noisily when the
squall strikes the vessel, when, often enough, one of the passengers may
take in sail or the halyards may part and the sail come down of its own
accord.

But when there are fish to be caught, Tagi is the man of the moment. There
is something savage about the way he brings in the bonito and the albacore.
His orders are snarled too fiercely to be disobeyed. Of the sport of fishing
he knows nought; to him each bonito he swings over the side is food, and
food is second to nothing, not even to fat women and grievances.

This is the mate to whom Captain Prospect gives complete charge of his ship.
It seems all wrong, but the fact remains that, sooner or later, by guess or
by God, without benefit of navigation or seamanship, Hurry Home often
reaches her ports of call--sometimes she misses them.

There is a light wind tonight and the sky is clear. The cowboys are asleep,
all in a row on the main hatch. Tagi is sleeping on deck forward; Oli-Oli is
stewing in his Black Hole of a forecastle; Takataka is at the tiller. If the
wind holds we will be off the reef of Nassau early tomorrow morning--not
bad sailing for Hurry Home: fifty miles in forty hours!

We sighted Nassau dead ahead at daylight and were close aboard by 8 a.m. The
seas were heavy on the reef, as they often are at Nassau--or Motu Ngaungau
(Lonely Island), as the Puka-Pukans call this round, lagoonless, hillock of
sand. We had little hope of landing our ton of cargo for the two white men
and three natives who are at present the sole inhabitants of Lonely Island,
and for some time we doubted if anyone would come out to us. Tagi, at the
helm, brought the vessel close to the reef. We could see, over the high
barrier of breakers and the stretch of shallows, the glaring white beach, a
copra shed set back in the outstretched shadows of coconut trees, a
hedge-bordered path leading to the houses on the windward side of the
island, and under a clump of pandanus trees above the beach an outrigger
canoe with a few coconut fronds laid over it. Save for these there was no
sign of human life.

"I guess they haven't sighted us," Captain Prospect muttered, "and that's
strange, because the arrival of my ship is a big occurrence in their lives."

"Thar they coam!" Takataka shouted.

"Do you see them, Ropati?" Prospect asked. "Are they all there--all five?"

"No, Captain; just two natives. They're carrying the canoe down to the
shallows now."

"I'm worried," came from Prospect as he squinted toward the beach, his
eyebrows knitted and his head thrust forward a little. "I hope nothing has
happened to Ellenden and Clarke. They were such pleasant men!"

The two natives pulled the canoe through the shallows and then held it in
the rush of water on the reef. It was a long time before they attempted to
shoot through the breakers, but at last a lull came; they rushed forward,
swung themselves into the canoe, grasped the paddles and dug them into the
water. It looked to us, at sea, as though they would never make it; but they
knew what they were about. After seesawing over the crest, of a curling
breaker they reached the calm water in the lee of the reef, then paddled
leisurely to us.

Of course there was plenty of shouting and laughing and tobacco cadging when
they had boarded us, but Takataka managed to get the letter that one of them
had in his hat. He brought it to the captain.

"Read it to me," the captain said. "I haven't got my spectacles." So I
opened the letter and read:

"DEAR CAPTAIN WHOEVER-TO-HELL-YOU-ARE:

"We've been waiting for your damned sea louse since the middle of December.
Where's our case of Christmas beer and our mail? Send them ashore p.d.q. and
to hell with the rest of the cargo. And tell the bloody Administration to
next time send our gear by a sure ship--not by Noah's Ark or a raft or
Hurry Home.

"ELLENDEN AND CLARKE"

The captain didn't comment on the letterr, but I could tell, by his
expression of disappointment when the canoe had managed to recross the reef
in returning to the island with the mail and beer, that he was deeply hurt.
Also, I knew by the way he made his eyes snap that the letter would rankle
in his soul for many a day to come.

I felt genuinely sorry for Captain Prospect. I knew that such rebuffs pain
him more than he is willing to admit. "To the devil with them," I said,
swinging my arm toward the beach. "We'll treat them with silent
contempt . . . Let's get under way for Suvarrow."

"Yes," the captain replied, "I think we can ignore them." Then he shouted to
his mate, so lightheartedly that I could not believe it affected, "Set the
stays'l, Tagi! We'll show Ropati what the old lady can do when all her kites
are flying!" And then, with a sudden, momentary change to asperity, "Noah's
Ark! A raft! I hope those fellows ashore see us, for really, Ropati, Hurry
Home puts on quite a burst of speed with her stays'l set!"

The sea is calm; not a ripple wrinkles her pinguid scalp. The sea louse
crawls on the bald pate of the sea in a blue funk, searching in vain for a
tuft of spray in which to hide her odious self as betimes she sucks the
lifeblood from the ocean. But suck she does, as greedily now as when the sea
wears a tousled head of hair. Each watch the sailors work a half hour at the
pump. Shush shush, shush shush, the intermingle sound wakens me when I am
sleeping below, and it seems that I wait for hours for the gurgling sound
that apprises me the pump has sucked.

The cowboys are well and have taken complete charge of the vessel, much to
the annoyance of Tagi and the relief of Captain Prospect. I believe the
captain would not hesitate to turn the vessel over to Jakey, and I believe
that Jakey would be quite as trustworthy a first officer as Tagi.

The children fancy they have embarked on an odyssey; they are "sailing
swiftly over the broad back of the wine-dark unharvested sea" to fabulous
lands beyond the edge of the world. To them the sea pest is a thing of
magic; it is even beautiful, as are all things strange and incomprehensible.
Johnny has been to Fiji, so she is able to tell the others of the wonders
they will see in Rarotonga's cinema, of the beatitude of the ice-cream
parlor, the ecstasy of the motorcar, the ravishment of chewing gum.

Fat little six-year-old Elaine squeals with delight when the sea louse rolls
her hairy side in an oily swell. She pays much attention to her food, so as
to make up for time lost during seasickness. What with the stew she plasters
over her face while eating with her hands and the grime Oli-0li plasters
over her while fondling her, she is in a paradise of childish nastiness--
God bless her!

So is Nga, but somehow the youngest daughter does not seem so filthy.
Perhaps it is because, being only half the size, there is not so much child
to be soiled. Four-year-old Nga insists on climbing to the crosstrees
several times a day to look for the land. This terrifies the captain, and
his temper is not improved when I explain that the only danger lies in the
rigging parting from the strain of her weight.

"Lond ho!" Takataka sang out from the crosstrees. I climbed the tilted
ratlines to where the Palmerston Islander was on lookout, and soon I made
out a few dots seemingly suspended a little above the horizon. They were, of
course, the tallest of the coconut trees on Anchorage Island--Suvarrow's
largest reef islet--raised above the horizon before the rest of the trees
were visible.

"Thar she lays," said Takataka, grinning at me. "Yo're a good cap'n. The
sailors ne'er changed yor course at all, at all, and you rose the lond o'er
the bo'sprit!"

Then Takataka climbed cautiously down the rigging, testing each ratline with
his bare foot before risking his weight on it. I stayed aloft until the sun
had set and the misty, undulating line of treetops had risen above the sea
marge and then faded in the darkening clouds.

It is midnight now, but I have no wish to sleep, with lonely, haunted
Suvarrow so close aboard. At eight o'clock I took the tiller for the first
half of the watch; then Tagi relieved me, I went below, and, returning with
my binocular, picked the island out of the darkness, stared at it, and
recalled little idylls from the three months I had spent there on a former
visit, when Desire was alive and Johnny and Jakey were babies. As I stared
at the crumb of land, scarcely more than visible, I felt a pang of mingled
sadness for the loss of Desire and happiness for my return to the island
that somehow must shelter her spirit.

Presently the sea fell calm. Then I heard resounding across the quiet water
the thunder of breakers, far away on Suvarrow's barrier reef. The sound came
low and mournful, rising and subsiding, calling with a dreadful and yet
fascinating insistence. Emotion welled up in me, I thought I could perceive
the voice of Desire in that faraway lonely call.

At 4 A.M. we were a half mile off Anchorage Island, with the passage into
the lagoon dead ahead. There was a waning moon over our counter; the night
was clear, the dawn close at hand. I remembered the landmarks and coral
heads as well as though they were the familiar ones in Puka-Puka lagoon, so
I decided to take Hurry Home to the anchorage and not even apprise the
captain. Having Prospect on deck would spoil the charm of this home-coming.
How much better to sail in quietly, alone, breathing deeply betimes of the
spirit of this Happy Isle! And probably the captain would not even mention
that he had not been called, for he takes pride in the belief that he
chooses unerringly men who can take better care of his vessel than he, and
he delights in having his judgment vindicated in singular if not spectacular
ways.

Oli-0li was at the tiller, half asleep as usual. I sent him to his stewpot
of a forecastle, telling him not to call Tagi. The fat cook rolled greasily
across the deck and plopped down the hatchway; a moment later Johnny and
Jakey crawled aft to stand beside me. I told them not to speak lest they
waken the captain.

We made slow progress, for the wind was light and the last of the ebb tide
was flowing out the passage. Anchorage Island lay over our starboard beam, a
gloom-haunted mass of low-lying jungle less than a mile long. Presently it
seemed more distinct, the stars faded, the first glimmer of a nether dawn
lay phosphorescent and unearthly on Suvarrow's lagoon. Sea birds piped as
they passed overhead on their way to the morning's fishing. Sometimes we
could smell the land and the salty spray. The low thunder of reef combers
filled the air and made us conscious of holy things; and to me these
sensations were associated with the memory of Desire: I seemed to feel her
presence welcoming us home with a pleasure both fierce and devoted.

It was only half light when we rounded the south point of Anchorrage Island;
then, out of the tidal swell, we became aware suddenly of the pattering of
ripples on Hurry Home's side, the soft, unvarying plash of feathering water
from her bow. Save for these scarcely audible sounds she moved in the lee of
the land as silently as a ghost ship, as though reluctant to break the peace
of this lonely land. When we were abreast of the stone wharf I brought the
vessel into the wind and gave Johnny and Jakey the tiller to hold hard alee.
Then, for a little time, I stood still, allowed my mind to go blank, and
sensed the strange and sequestered beauty of this uninhabited place. I
sensed the presence of the familiar spirit of place in the fragrant odor
from the land, in the sustained drone of palm fronds, the clamor of birds,
the deep undertone of reef combers rising and falling and mingling with the
other sounds in a kind of fugue that expressed the loneliness and beauty of
primitive things.

To me Anchorage Island was alive with memories of men who had lived in her
fastness, had dug gold, weighed pearls, loved native women, caroused,
fought, and died. Now Time and the Jungle had claimed Suvarrow; now the
creeping and the flying creatures had returned to the fastnesses; now only
memories of the old days remained.

The sky turned red and then dissolved to lighter shades. The dull glimmer of
light on the lagoon ripples brightened to the glint of diamonds. Now we
could see, far across the lagoon, misty and unreal, the coconut islets and
sand cays that are threaded on Suvarrow's reef. The Tou Group and Bird Islet
lay six miles to the west, Turtle, One Tree, and Brushwood to the north.
Seven Islands and the Gull Group were almost lost against a bank of clouds
to the southeast; Entrance and New islets lay like black squares above the
horizon to the south; and Whale Islet, close at hand, seemed like a tiny and
exquisite painting plucked from a book of fairy tales.

With a pang of regret that the happiness of this moment must give place to
the humdrum monotony of life in the world of the flesh, I went forward and
let go the anchor. The jangle of chain grated on my spirit as harshly as it
grated on its hawsepipe.




Chapter II



"Tago! Where's Tagi?" Captain Prospect growled, poking his head out of the
companionway. "Takataka! Turn out that Palmerston Islander! Get all the gear
out of Ropati's canoe! He'll want to go ashore and sleep, now that he's
brought my ship to anchor! Oli-Oli! Where's that lazy Puka-Pukan? Where's my
tea? Why ain't you got the water boiling? You've been asleep? Asleep! My
knee!" The captain is always irritable before he has gulped his morning's
cup of tea.

Tagi and Takataka helped us slide our sailing canoe into the water, the
cowboys piled into it, I followed them, and we shoved off. Captain Prospect
and his crew would come later, in their own canoe, for seafaring men seem to
find a sort of satisfaction in remaining on their ship a few hours after she
has reached her port, perhaps to taste the joys of shore life in
anticipation as they let their eyes rove here and there.

As we paddled through the shallows, alongside the stone wharf, hundreds of
parrot fish finned past us with little spurts of fright, as though not
knowing whether or not this strange, tailless, finless fish were an enemy.
The wharf itself, we noticed, was broken where heavy seas must have bashed
it. After pulling the canoe up the beach we moved inland along a weed-grown
path to the clearing in the center of the island. The jungle of young
coconuts, pemphis, and pandanus walled us in; it was so dense that we could
scarcely hear the thunder of breakers on the fringing reef less than a
quarter of a mile away--or perhaps the thunder was lost in the sustained
clamor of sea birds roosting in the trees and circling overhead. The air was
damp, and heavy with jungle smells; but now and then a breath of wind would
eddy down to touch us lightly, then vanish, leaving us with a vague feeling
that we had smelled the sea.

The cowboys yelled their excitement. Within two minutes they had plunged
into the jungle in search of sprouted coconuts, green drinking nuts, coconut
crabs, and sea-bird fledglings. As for me, I moved through the early-morning
gloom of this uninhabited place with a feeling of religious awe. I sensed
that I was trespassing in a fairyland where only children are permitted to
roam. The spell was complete until I came to the south side of the clearing
and saw the galvanized-iron roof over the brick water tank, testifying that
other mortals had dared break into this sanctuary. The bright unpainted iron
stood out in pleasing contrast against the deeply shadowed green.

I have mentioned the "clearing"--which formerly extended for two hundred
yards down the center of Anchorage Island--but in truth it is a clearing
now only in contrast with the heavy jungle surrounding it. There are
thickets of spiny-leaved pandanus, nonu and tamanu saplings, a few clumps of
bananas and mummy apples, breadfruit trees, young coconuts, all tangled with
triumfetta vines, gardenia and fiscus bushes, and coarse atoll ferns. The
only clear ground in the clearing is under five gigantic tamanu trees, which
stand in a row about fifty yards from the tank. It was there that I found an
old pearling cutter, paintless, mastless, its hull full of leaves and dead
branches, and at one side of the tamanus I stumbled on the wreck of the old
trading post, now scarcely more than a heap of rusty iron and rotten wood,
but with part of one wall standing by virtue of the supporting jungle. The
door still hung in its doorway, for the hinges were of bronze.

I found the cowboys, and it was not long before we had kindled a fire, and
not long thereafter before three coconut crabs and six fledglings were on
the coals, sizzling and sputtering and filling the air with a savory odor.
We made a meal of it, eating the food with our fingers, filling the odd
corners with sprouted-coconut utos, and washing it all down with cool
drinking-nut water.

After the meal, a smoke, and a nap we built a wigwam of green coconut fronds
in a little glade opening to the lagoon beach; and later we walked to the
north point, where there is a deep hole on the edge of the shallows--
Captain Prospect's Spa--and plunged in to turn somersaults, stand on our
heads, swim sharkwise and turtlewise, and in other ways enjoy ourselves
after the manner of old men and children.

And tonight, while writing these words by campfire and at times pausing to
stare at the dim shape of Hurry Home riding at anchor, I have wondered if it
is fair play to be so happy when the rest of the world is in tears.

This afternoon Captain Prospect and I rummaged about the wreckage of the old
trading post. We found some lumber good enough for the framework and floor
of a temporary house, but all the iron roofing was rusted beyond further use
--even to the captain's sanguine eyes. For a long time he refused to admit
it. He would squint at a rusty, torn, and bent piece of iron, nod his head,
and, "Perhaps there's a little life left in that piece," he would venture.
"What do you think, Ropati?" "It's nothing but rust," I would reply. "No,
no," the captain would then insist, and, leaning over, he would try to pull
it out of the wreckage; but when it fell to pieces in his hands he would
admit that, yes, it was somewhat damaged--damaged being from the Latin:
Damn-a age-a--damned by age.

We turned back to the clearing and inspected the twenty-foot pearling
cutter.

"Well, Ropati, you'll have to admit that there's still some life left in the
old boat," the captain said as he pulled dead tamanu branches out of her and
started thumping her planks and picking the scales of paint from her sides.

"Yes, she's not beyond repair," I admitted, and added that she might be
useful, when the tourist resort was established, to take the big-game
fishermen out to sea or the lady tourists to the jungle expeditions on Seven
Islands.

"Hm, yes," the captain agreed, taking me seriously. "She'll settle the
inter-lagoon transportation problem. . . . I'll put Oli-0li to work on her
right away. I'll have him replace those rotten frames and those floors and
knees. And that plank," he added, kicking it and then pulling his foot out
of the hole he had made, "yes, that plank will have to be renewed; and I
think she'd better have a new stem and a sternpost too. The keel may be
sound, but if it's not, then Oli-0li can cut a new keel from one of these
big tamanu trees." He stopped abruptly, grinned waggishly, and then told me
that the chain plates, being bronze, were in good shape, so at worst Oli-0li
would simply have to build a new boat between them.

A few moments later we turned to the tamanu trees, standing in a row, close
together, on the north side of the clearing. Each was as big as an English
oak, had the same dark, glossy leaves and gnarled limbs. Because they leaned
at about forty-five degrees to the west, Captain Prospect found them easy to
climb. In a moment he had clambered up one of them to where it forked twenty
feet from the ground, and had perched birdlike on one of the smaller limbs.
I of course followed, somewhat bewildered and with a lively sense of the
unconventionality of climbing trees with a gray-haired skipper. I hoped
First Mate Tagi-would not see us.

"Nice place to build a house," the captain opined, producing his calabash
pipe and lighting it. Then, as he blew a series of smoke rings and sighed
with the satisfaction that only tobacco and weak tea bring him, he pointed
out the vistas of reef and sea to the east and the lagoon to the west,
interposed by the boles of coconut trees that rose above the jungle; and he
called my attention to the light drafts of wind; and finally he told me
that, in a little house in these trees, a man would be as safe in a
hurricane as he would be aboard Hurry Home.

"That's right," I replied. "I'm going to build a house up here. I'm going to
live in a tree, like Swiss Family Robinson."

"I remember that book; it was by Nat Gould," the captain informed me; then
he offered me my pick of the old trading-post lumber to build the house.

I had not thought of such a house until that moment, but, sitting in the
tree with the captain, I at once realized how easily it could be built.
There was another tree within eight feet of the one we were sitting in, and
there were forks on it at about the same height. I visualized a beam
stretched from this tree to that one, another yonder, a post here and a
brace there. In a moment the house was snugly nested in a great mass of
foliage, a ladder led to the ground, and I myself was stretched out on a
bunk by a big open window, feeling the wind on my bare chest as I stared
dreamily across the jungle to the passage, the reef, the open sea, the
vagrant clouds.

"I am quite serious," I said when we had climbed down the tree and were
studying the house site from ground level. "I'll go to work on it right
away."

I was enthusiastic. It was not until later in the day that I decided to work
leisurely on the house, timing the construction so it would be half finished
when Hurry Home sailed back to Nassau to discharge her cargo. The
half-finished house would give me an excuse for remaining here with the
cowboys until Prospect returned.

I woke this morning at 4 A.M., well before the first sign of dawn and
because I was thoroughly refreshed I went about cooking breakfast at once.
It amounted only to kindling the fire, putting on the teakettle, and
breaking out a dozen ship's biscuits and a tin of jam. When the tea had been
brewed and I had sipped a few spoonfuls I called the cowboys, gave them
their bread and jam, and sent them to the basket of drinking nuts for the
rest of their breakfast.

It was a skimpy meal, and that is why we got thinking about wide-awake eggs
and decided, before we had finished our biscuits and jam, to go to Whale
Islet and the Bird Cays. There would be time before the tide came in, we
miscalculated, to walk to the cays and back.

We rummaged about until we found some frond baskets for the eggs and some
two-pound beef tins for testing their freshness. There was still no sign of
dawn when we moved down the path to the lagoon beach and followed it to the
north point; but when we were tramping along the reef shallows, now bone
dry, we became aware of the first candlelight of dawn like a little cloud of
mist flung up from the reef spray.

The coral on the inner side of the reef was smooth walking even for the
littlest daughter, who trailed along behind the others, swinging her frond
basket and piping a songlet as pretty and simple as herself. Johnny and
Jakey ran hither and thither, chasing fish in the crevices and pools or
yelling with mock terror when they spotted a conger eel. Elaine stayed close
to the boss of the outfit, as she always does.

"Papa-look!" she cried abruptly, pulling my arm and at the same time
pointing to tiny Whale Islet, now behind us. "It is like the island in the
funny paper--the little island in the middle of the ocean, with only two or
three trees and a man and a woman and a raft."

We stopped at a reef pool to fill our beef tins with salt water, and then we
spread over the cays, rousing the birds from their nests. Bedlam broke
loose. The birds rose, wheeled, banked, dove in confusion worse confounded.
Their clamor seemed a palpable substance, filling the air and our very
bodies as well. Their excitement was contagious. The cowboys dashed this way
and that, their eyes flashing, their little throats screaming a close second
to the pandemonium of the birds.

I tried to keep my wits and gather a few eggs, but I soon found that most of
them on the Bird Cays were far advanced in incubation. Picking up a
fresh-looking egg, I would drop it in my tin of water. If it lay on its side
in the bottom of the tin it was fresh, if it stood an one end it had started
to incubate, and if it floated the incubation was far advanced. By the time
we had reached the last cay I had found only a dozen or so fresh eggs, and a
dozen or so eggs are only an appetizer for my family. We needed several
hundred, both for ourselves and for the crew of Hurry Home, each one of whom
would think nothing of putting away five dozen eggs at a single meal.

We decided to move on, a mile farther along the reef to Brushwood Islet. The
tide was low, and, miscalculating a second time, we believed we could make
it to Brushwood and back to Anchorage Island before the reef was flooded. So
we left our basket of eggs on the last cay and struck out to the edge of the
barrier reef, where it was dry walking save for an occasional sea that
washed languidly past our ankles. In the shallow pools we could see, when
the foam had cleared away, scores of bright-blue parrot fish and
brown-mottled reef cod. We could have picked them up with our hands. There
were lobsters too, but we could see only their long feelers thrust out from
holes in the coral.

When we were opposite the south point of Brushwood we left the reef to wade
to the beach through a channel two feet deep and a hundred yards across. We
might have noticed then that the tide was flowing, but our brains were so
excited by the wild scene before us that we were scarcely aware of the
current flowing along-shore toward the lagoon; nor did we give more than a
passing glance at the sharks that circled round us and sometimes charged for
our legs only to stop suddenly when a few feet away and then, perhaps seeing
our bodies above the water, charge away faster than they had come. One big
shark, hungrier than the others, brushed my leg with his tail.

On a quiet day, far from the screaming birds and the roar of breakers, the
sharks might have put us in a blue funk; but today we felt as reckless as
the sharks themselves. We felt like kicking them or, as Jakey often says,
eating them alive--and all because of the contagious excitement about us.
If there were tens of thousands of birds on the cays there were hundreds of
thousands here. The sky was so thick with them that in places they cast a
solid shadow. In each pemphis bush squatted row on row of long-faced
boobies, owl-eyed, serious and professorial in their bearing, with rings
around their eyes like the rims of spectacles; and row on row of frigate
birds, glossy black, with wattles as big and red as a turkey's, eyes red and
utterly cruel, birds as emblematic of evil as the raven. They eyed us with a
sort of calculating detachment, with cold objectivity, snobbishly.
Sometimes, when we approached, they would rise clumsily to coast down-wind a
few yards to the next bush; at other times they seemed to defy us. But when
Jakey knocked one from his perch his expression changed suddenly from
contempt to righteous indignation.

He squawked in remonstrance; he flapped this way and that as gracelessly as
a tumbling pigeon; then he soared away, while from Elaine, the humorist of
the family, came squeals of unsympathetic laughter.

Perhaps we were the first humans these birds had seen; perhaps a few of them
had looked down to the decks of ships to observe incuriously the wingless
bugs that poked their heads from holes, turned wheels, squawked some unknown
tongue, and smoked pipes.

Fresh wide-awake eggs were everywhere, on an average of about four to each
square foot of sand. We had to walk with care to avoid trampling them. We
bagged ten noddy-tern fledglings and five boobies, filled our baskets with
eggs, and then inspected the Turtle. We had seen her from afar, stranded on
the reef that fringes the lagoon side of Brushwood, dragging her three
hundred pounds, at the rate of about a foot a minute, toward the lagoon.
Such a turtle on Puka-Puka would have fed the entire island; and Elaine must
have been thinking something of the kind, for she shook her head regretfully
and told me that a lot of good turtle soup was going to waste. Then she
forgot her preoccupation in food, for Johnny and Jakey had mounted the
creature, Nga was squealing for a ride, and Elaine was not going to let any
cowboy outdo her. We wasted a good ten minutes while the cowboys rode their
bronco ten feet along the fringing reef; then, thinking for the first time
of the tide, we hurried back to the south point.

The channel was flooded three feet deep! That was bad. To be marooned on
Brushwood, where there was no water, during a tide would be uncomfortable
indeed. Water suggested rain. We glanced to windward to see a black squall
bearing down on us. Well, we studied the mile of open reef to the Bird Cays
and decided we could make it. I took Elaine and Nga on my shoulders, slung
the baskets of eggs and the birds over my arms and neck, and with Johnny and
Jakey clinging to me we started across.

Though there were no sharks in the channel I felt something akin to panic
until we had made the reef. Here in the South Seas we are convinced that
sharks will attack a man carrying fish or sea birds but will not molest him
otherwise. This may be no more than one of our superstitions, but because I
believe it my knees were "unstrung." Had a shark charged us I should not
have had the strength to kick him, and I doubt if the fierce Jakey would
have thought seriously of eating him alive. In fact we wasted no time
plowing through the deep water and climbing on the reef, where, the water
being only knee-deep, I let Elaine and Nga walk. We splashed along in grand
style for half a mile; then the seas became higher or the reef lower, for
more and more often big combers surged past us, and I had to brace myself
while the cowboys, holding to my hands and belt, were flung away from me
like streamers in the wind. One big wave actually did wash us into the
shallows; but we scrambled back to the reef, and it was then that we threw
away our birds. We kept the baskets of eggs.

The last stretch was very bad indeed, for we had to leave the reef and all
but swim through a channel to the first sand cay; and it was then that the
big squall roared down on us. The rain seemed almost as solid as the water
we waded through. With Elaine and Nga on my shoulders again, Johnny and
Jakey holding to my belt and each swimming with one hand, the baskets of
eggs slung around my neck and over my arms, I put my back to the squall and
plowed through the swiftly flowing water to the first cay. There we
retrieved the other basket of eggs and then skirted along the lee side of
the cays to Whale Islet, making it just as the last of the squall was
pelting us. Another squall was humping its back over the horizon to
windward; a single glance at the reef between Whale Islet and Anchorage
Island convinced me that we could not reach home until the tide had ebbed,
so we broke inland, found a good place for a shelter, and proceeded to make
a lean-to of coconut fronds. It was finished in half an hour-in time to
huddle under it while the next squall yelped in the fronds and spattered the
islet with rain. After the squall we decided that food and drink were
indicated.

My matches were soaking wet, but that did not deter us. We found a guettarda
stick, whittled away its wet outer wood, and used it for a hearth log. A
pemphis stick furnished a fire-plow, and the old man furnished the power to
plow a little pile of smoldering wood dust out of the log. The wood dust was
dumped on a segment of dry coconut husk and blown to a blaze; coconut
spathes and pemphis twigs were piled on top until we had a roaring fire.

Then we built another fire, in a shallow pit, and piled lumps of coral on
it. While the coral was heating we gathered the big unfluted leaves of
sprouted coconuts and wrapped five dozen eggs in them. These we laid on the
hot stones, when the fire had died down, and covered them with leaves and
sand.

Jakey gathered a number of drinking nuts while the rest of us hunted for
utos, and when that part of the meal was laid out on Suvarrow's
willow-pattern dishes the eggs were cooked.

It was raining again, but we didn't give a whoop. The old man had had a
smoke, we each had drunk a few coconuts, and we were protected from the rain
in a fairly tight makeshift house. So we feasted in the Homeric manner; the
old man had another smoke, and the cowboys took a few puffs to show they
were hard-boiled. By that time it was late afternoon. We rolled down to the
beach, saw that the reef was drying, returned for our baskets of eggs, and
rolled happily home.

The bathing pool on the north point of Anchorage Island lies in the hard
coral conglomerate of which the point is formed. It is a miniature bay. The
entrance to the bay is only a foot deep at low water, but the pool itself
has a good four feet of water, is round, about sixteen feet across, and has
a bottom of smooth yellow coral. On a sunny day it is warm almost to
hotness. Just beyond the mouth of the pool is a channel two feet deep and
twenty wide, leading from a depression in the barrier reef across the
shallows to the lagoon. Because the water in the channel flows swiftly from
the sea it is always cool.

At low tide this Sunday afternoon Captain Prospect, the cowboys, and I
followed the lagoon beach to the north point, there to stew in the hot pool
and shiver in the cold stream while betimes we discussed this and that from
the Latin roots of obscure words to the works of Nat Gould. Presently the
cowboys, fed up with our erudition, went chasing fish in the shallows; and
presently the captain started talking about his scheme to start a tourist
resort on lonely Suvarrow.

"I can just see them, Ropati!" he exclaimed after he had warmed to his
subject in exact ratio to the warmth imparted to his skinny body by the hot
water in the pool. "Just use your imagination. Picture poor sun-hungry
people from New Zealand and England and the States in this natural-ah-spa!
Picture society ladies sitting under beach umbrellas up there on the high
coral by the fresh-water pools, watching their children romp about the reef
--just like yours are romping now--and all the rheumatics and lungers
sweating themselves into health, here in the pool! I don't doubt for a
minute but what they'll pay me a bob an hour just to let them bathe here!"

At this point I suggested that we wallow through the shallow entrance to the
cold stream, which we did. As I had expected, the cold water chilled the
captain's dream. He reduced the admittance fee from a bob to a tanner, and
then, as his teeth started to chatter, he magnanimously opened the pool to
his invalids free of charge, but made a nominal charge of sixpence for tea
served under the beach umbrellas. I asked him what kind of a joint he
proposed putting up on Suvarrow,

"I don't propose putting up any joint at all," the captain spat at me. "I
propose establishing a high-toned health resort. First of all I'll build six
cabins in the hold of my ship. That'll settle the transportation problem.
Then I'll have Tagi and Takataka clear about five acres right down the
center of Anchorage Island, and I'll have Oli-Oli build a dozen or so little
native huts for the guests and one big house that'll be both a dining room
and a clubhouse. There I'll put my radio and rig up a windmill affair for
charging the batteries--and that'll pretty well settle the amusement
problem. The young people will dance to radio music, and the older ones will
listen to the news and the stockmarket quotations. . . . But there'll be
other amusements: draughts, chess, and cribbage; big-game fishing, jungle
expeditions, and historic monuments; tennis, ping-pong, and golf; and for
highbrow blighters like you I'll have a bookshelf with the complete works of
Nat Gould."

At that he rolled over, got a handhold and a foothold and, after raising the
part of his anatomy covered by his pink bathing trunks, he straightened up
to haul his bony self back to the warm pool. I followed.

"Golf, Ropati, golf!" he exclaimed when he had again stretched out, this
time with his head on a shelf of coral. "Use your imagination, man! Can't
you see that Suvarrow has the finest natural golf course in the world? My
God, man! The place is simply crying out for someone to exploit it! Let me
put my sailors to work for one week and I'll have a golf course that will
attract players from the four comers of the world!

"Listen," he continued, his voice rising as his scheme unfolded, his arms
working in violent and yet more violent gesticulations. "Listen, now: the
first green right here on Anchorage Island, with a little clubhouse where
the players can buy spare balls at a moderate profit to me of about
twenty-five per cent. From the first green they drive down the reef
shallows, at low tide, to the second green on Whale Islet. What a fairway!
just look at it, Ropati! Use your imagination! Bone dry and almost as smooth
as a billiard table! Well, from Whale Islet there'll be the Bird Cay Hazard
and then the third green on Brushwood, the Water Hazard from Brushwood to
Green IV on One Tree, and then a straight fairway across the channel to
Turtle Islet--Green No. V.

"The tide will be coming in by the time they reach Green No. V," the captain
continued, his excitement increasing alarmingly, "so all the twosomes and
foursomes, the spectators, and the caddies will rest on Turtle Islet for a
few hours and refresh themselves with tea and cakes at, say, one and
sixpence a player. I'll have Oli-0li established permanently on Turtle Islet
to serve refreshments!"

"Yes, yes, Captain!" I cried, noting that his eyes were becoming fixed in a
glassy stare, but aware that he was drunk only on the wind of optimism; that
he was seeing files of twosomes and foursomes, in plus fours, caps, and
brogues, tramping the reef to Turtle Islet, while caddies dashed this way
and that, while golf balls soared o'erhead, winging the wide-awakes; that he
was seeing hungry players lined at the resthouse--sixpence extra for jam
with your cakes. . . .

"Next low tide," the captain continued, "they'll drive down to the sixth
green on Bird Islet, then Greens VII and VIII on the Tou Group, where
there'll be a resthouse for them for the night. But early the next morning
they'll be playing again, driving along the fairway to Green IX on the
Buckland Cays, Green X on New Islet, Green XI on Tirel Cay, Green XII on
Entrance Island, and Greens XIII and XIV on Seven Islands, where again
they'll take tea and cakes while the tide is high. But when the shallows dry
they'll be off again, on the home stretch now, driving to the last three
greens, on the Gull Group . . . and then, Ropati! and then--think of it--
the Passage Hazard! The greatest obstacle ever encountered by a golfer! Only
the longest drive will clear the Great Passage Hazard! It will be unique!
Just imagine a golf ball soaring skyward from the Gull Group, describing a
parabola high above the shouting seas on the barrier reef, high above the
passage itself, to land squarely on the Home Green on Anchorage Island!"

"Making," I screamed, "a hole in one! . . . Quick, Captain, quick! Jump in
the cold stream!"

But Captain Prospect caught my implied meaning. His frenzy slipped off him;
he eyed me sourly, snarled something about my unimaginative plebeian brain,
hauled his bony self out of the water, and returned in high dudgeon to the
clearing.

Takataka has finished the little native shack by the water tank. It is about
ten feet wide by sixteen long, with a frond roof, open sides, and a board
floor: a good-enough place to crawl into when it rains--and what more does
a man want with a house in the tropics?

Oli-0li is progressing famously with the pearling cutter. He finds that it
is in better shape than we had thought. Apparently the plank that the
captain kicked his toe through was the only rotten one in the boat. We have
moved the cutter to the south side of the tank, at the end of the path
leading to the lagoon. The captain has decided not to launch her until he
returns from Nassau and Manihiki.

I have laid the floor of my tree-house. Captain Prospect is delighted--and
at the same time exasperated because the work progresses so slowly. He tells
me that as soon as he returns from Nassau he will put all three sailors to
work on his Arboreal Villa. There will be the Aerie, the Nest, the Roost,
the Hermitage, the Monkey House, the Rookery; and others later, when, I more
than half believe, he can think of names for them. There will be footbridges
from Aerie to Roost to Monkey House, ladders to the ground, dumb-waiters for
hauling up one's tea and cakes, spyglasses for watching the golf tournaments
on the barrier reef.

Tagi has been working on Hurry Home, puttering about every morning until
about nine o'clock, when, the pangs of hunger telling him that another meal
will soon be indicated, he gets out his fishline, baits his hook with hermit
crabs, drops it over the side, and in no time catches enough fish for all of
us.

This morning the captain and I went aboard with Tagi, not giving him time to
hunt for hermit-crab bait. "Maybe he'll get the standing rigging set up,"
Captain Prospect growled as we paddled out to the ship, "now that he can't
fish."

With the three of us aboard it seemed that the work actually might be done,
but alas! the flesh is frail. Within a half hour the captain had lost
interest; within thirty-five minutes he had left the job to Tagi and had
lured me into his cabin for a rubber of cribbage.

After winning two games the captain's stony heart softened. "We might as
well let Tagi catch a few fish for lunch," he said. "I don't believe in
being too hard on sailors . . . and anyway, he'll be expecting bully beef if
there's no fish."

"Bully beef is three bob a tin now."

"Yes, it's exorbitant."

"Exorbitant--orbitas: that's from the Latin, isn't it?"

"I doubt it," said the captain sourly, then he poked his head out of the
hatchway and called for Tagi. "You can lay off now, if you want, and catch
some fish," he said when the mate had come aft.

"I got no bait," Tagi replied, both peeved and vindictive.

"Bait--my knee! Whoever heard of a sailor up against it for bait?" He
scowled, let his eyes dart this way and that, and, "Here's some prunes," he
suggested, picking one from the rubbish at the back of the table.

But Tagi would have none of the prunes, so the captain got out his queer
fishing tackle consisting of a big clumsy hook, a length of seizing wire,
and a few fathoms of sennit. He jabbed a prune on the hook, took the outfit
on deck, dropped the hook over the side, and pulled up a red schnapper.
Then, highly pleased with himself, he gave the fish to Tagi, for--bait,
and, turning to me, offered to shout me a cup of weak tea if I would kindle
the fire.

"No one would believe it," he told me later, "if you said you caught fish
with prunes." Then, with the light of an idea in his eyes, he went on: "When
my tourist resort is established I'll put a big sign down on the wharf:
FISHING EXCURSIONS. YOUR MONEY BACK IF YOU DON'T CATCH A FISH. . . . That'll
get 'em!" he affirmed. "Two bob an hour, with hooks and lines thrown in."

Hurry Home sailed at noon; the cowboys and I have been left on Suvarrow
until Captain Prospect returns, in two or three months, from Nassau and
Manihiki. We have been marooned by request, as the captain put it. Perhaps
the half-finished tree-house influenced his decision to leave us, as well as
our offer to clear away the wreckage of the old trading post and cut a trail
to the outer beach.

I went aboard early this morning to buy a few provisions and take ashore
some odds and ends of personal gear; but when it came to my case of books,
weighing fully two hundred pounds, I decided to leave it aboard for ballast.
I had reading matter enough ashore anyway, with Montaigne, Lamb, Spengler,
The Friendly Arctic, The Columbia Encyclopedia, and a few other books.

After we had carried our provisions from the beach to the clearing we sat on
the end of the wharf and watched Hurry Home drag herself away from the
anchorage. We went through the convention of waving, then we crossed the
island to its east side, where we sat under a bush; and after an
interminable time we saw Hurry Home nose her head around the south point and
flounder into the passage. There she seemed to take wing like T. S. Eliot's
hippopotamus. Resting her belly in the current, she seemed for a little time
firm enough; but "flesh and blood is weak and frail, susceptible to nervous
shock," we recited as the ebbing tide caught her and rushed her down the
passage at a good five knots--at twice the speed she makes in a gale of
wind with all her sails drawing! She struck the nasty tide rip; the wind
fell light in the lee of the land; twice she was turned completely around,
then she was laid squarely in the trough, rendered helpless, and given such
a rolling that we could scarcely ascertain whether she was belly up or back
up to the sky.

Poor old Captain Prospect and his crew must have been in a blue funk. We
could all but hear their yells as each one of them, from the cook to the
skipper, took charge at once, and each one yelled orders that were heard by
only himself. The sails thrashed back and forth. First one rail was under
water, then the other. The current swung her head to the sea and she buried
her bows under, then her stern to the sea, and a nasty chop crashed down on
her tin-trunk stove and her w.c. And when she had been bashed this way and
that for a quarter of an hour she was swept within yards of the point of
reef on the west side of the entrance, where the seas humped their backs
before crashing down on the barrier reef. Apparently all hope was gone; her
crew were doomed to feed the voracious sharks or be bashed to death on the
jagged coral, when . . .

The cowboys were whooping now. Jakey and Nga had dashed down to the beach;
Johnny sat by me, gripping my arm; Elaine was crying; and I--for the life
of me I could feel no proper horror or even concern. The 'potamus was about
to take wing, I reflected.

"And him shall heavenly arms enfold,
Among the saints he shall be seen
Performing on a harp of gold----"

My quotation was broken off suddenly. Johnny relaxed; Elaine stopped crying;
Jakey and Nga stopped whooping. With a leer of irony--or perhaps with
dismay at the thought of the hippopotamus performing on a harp of gold--
Poseidon, girdler of the earth, sent a puff of wind into Hurry Home's sails
and literally pushed her sideways out of danger.

Then we ashore watched Captain Prospect's "hollow ship" get snappily under
way. She showed her scabby bum to the barrier reef; up went her staysail,
the tack where the peak should be; and away raged Hurry Home "over the wet
ways of the teeming sea" at a good two knots if not a two-point-five. She
was a mile off when the cowboys glanced over their shoulders in a meaningful
way, then rose, and led me back to the clearing and the cookhouse.




Chapter III



Tea this morning at half-past four, ship's biscuits, and three dozen
wide-awake eggs between the five of us; then we went to work in earnest on
the tree-house. Jakey worked as steadily as a boy can, salvaging galvanized
nails from the wreckage of the trading post; Johnny plaited roofing sheets
from green coconut fronds; Elaine and Nga bossed the job when they were not
minding their babies--that is, their long, slim, undeveloped coconuts
wrapped in rags and tags.

Now that Hurry Home has left there has been no excuse for delaying the work.
The sun had scarcely risen before I had cut a score or two of green nonu
saplings, strong, tough, and flexible. These made window sills, rafters, and
ridgepole. By noon the framework was complete; then Johnny and I cooked a
pot of rice, opened a tin of bully beef, and we made a meal of it, polishing
off with a couple of green coconuts each. This afternoon I helped Johnny
with the roofing sheets while Jakey went to the reef with his spear. By the
time Jakey returned with enough fish for all of us Johnny and I had finished
the forty sheets needed for the roof. For the evening meal we boiled some
unleavened dumplings made from grated coconut and flour, grilled our fish on
pemphis-wood coals, and brewed ourselves a cup of tea. Then, there being a
moon three quarters full, we went to work lashing the sheets on one side of
the roof and finished the job by 8 p.m.

The little house has a fascinating look by moonlight. I can scarcely keep my
eyes off it. I shall sneak away from the children and sleep in the little
monkey nest up the tree.

We put the rest of the roof on the house yesterday morning, then plaited
coconut fronds on the sides, and finished the job by night. These plaited
fronds give both a beautiful effect and a raintight shelter. Today Johnny
made two big blinds, six feet by thirty inches, for the two windows, and I
hung them on the lintels so they could be raised or lowered. Also I made a
bunk on the east side of the house, and I am lying on it at this moment. By
turning my eyes to the right I can look over the undergrowth and see,
between the boles of coconut trees, vistas of the passage, the east reef,
and the Gull Group beyond. The trade wind blows fresh and fragrant through
the house. In a half hour, when it is dark, I will see the moon over the far
islets, splashing mild yellow light on the fierce tide rip that will then be
flowing out the passage.

I have made a writing table from the south end of the bunk across the house
to its west side. A kerosene case with a back nailed to it serves for a
chair. My mat, pillow, and quilt are on the bunk, and under it are the
children's sleeping things, while on the table are my typewriter,
dictionary, thesaurus, encylopedia, a half-finished novel, and numerous
papers. Under the table is a little chest with papers, ribbons, letters, and
odds and ends. Also there is a shelf by my head, and on it smoking
paraphernalia, Lamb's Letters, Montaigne's Essays, Spengler's Decline,
Stefansson's Friendly Arctic, and a few volumes of lighter reading.

Only one thing troubles me: there is a tall coconut tree leaning over my
house, with its head above the tamanu trees and therefore above the roof.
The tree is loaded with coconuts, and I have been wondering if one might
fall, go through the roof, and land on me! Probably not, for the rafters are
a foot apart and the roofing sheets close together. However, it is a
troubling thought, so tomorrow morning I shall send Jakey up the tree to
throw down the nuts. Incidentally, Jakey, though not too hot at the three
Rs, is a number-one hand at climbing trees.

It is late twilight. I can see the moon, just below the eaves and hedged on
two sides by coconut fronds. The roar of seas on the barrier reef comes
loudly above the jungle; its thunder mingles with the sustained metallic
tinkle of coconut fronds and comes to me as the peculiar voice of the spirit
of place. The trade wind brings me the spirit's smell, but it is too subtle
to evoke through the medium of words. Perhaps there is a tang of the salty
sea spray, perhaps a spicy trace of the sea weed washed up on the beach, and
perhaps a drop of the essential oil of pandanus flowers and those of the
cordia, tamanu, coconut.

I wonder if, animal-like, most people identify places and things by their
odor? If I read or think or hear the name Papeete no vision comes to my
mental eye of a red-roofed cathedral or a market place, nor does there come
to my mental ear the strumming of guitars or the babel of Chinese traders;
but to my mental nostrils comes an undefinable smell, and instantly I
identify the word Papeete with the smell.

This is a night of luxury. Not even the whoops of the cowboys jar my nerves,
for they are on the end of the wharf fishing. My body feels strong and well
and sensuously happy, and yet I feel my body to be something extraneous to
my real self. I look down on my body, naked, brown as a Polynesian,
functioning as perfectly as a finely geared machine, giving me pleasure and
yet being another person than the Ropati that writes this entry. My body
seems like a servant. My fingers are not I, but my sense of touch is; nor
are my nostrils, my eyes, my ears, my palate the "I" that lives on Suvarrow
with four children, but my senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste I identify
with myself. These organs are instruments that I have acquired to keep me in
touch with the external world. It seems--at this moment, at least--silly
to believe the eyes can see, the ears hear: they are only instruments of
precision with which I can see and hear. Would you say a binocular can
observe a ship, a telephone can carry on a conversation? The binocular is an
extension of the eye, the telephone an extension of the ear; and the eye and
the ear are extensions of the mind of man. At least so it seems to me
tonight.

Prirnitive men do not differentiate so nicely. Tell a Puka-Pukan that the
palate experiences no pleasure from a particular taste but is simply an
apparatus for transmitting certain impressions to the brain, which in turn
translates these impressions into a language that the mind delights in, and
the Puka-Pukan will think you mad. To him his body is the whole man, and
this, perhaps, is the reason he is so assiduous in his attention to the
dead.

Oh well, by thinking back I find that I was discussing luxury . . . .

Tonight I feel that a cup of tea and a cigarette, and perhaps afterward an
essay by M. Michel de Montaigne, would give me physical and spiritual
pleasure more exquisite than I have ever known; for it is not the quality or
the quantity of the good things of life that gives us pleasure, but it is
our capacity to enjoy them. This afternoon, when I had finished the bunk and
laid the sleeping things thereon, I determined, with a feeling of guilt,
that I would relax for fully fifteen minutes. I looked at the ship's clock,
which is on the east wall with the barometer, noted the time, lay back on
the bunk, and relaxed save for my fingers, which rolled a pinch of tobacco
in a pandanus leaf. I lit the cigarette, smoked slowly, inhaled deeply,
breathed out the smoke through my nose, tasted the fragrant leaf, watched
the wind carry the smoke away, and delighted in the mingled intoxication of
tobacco and the sensuous pleasure that comes from feeling the wind blow over
one's bare body. Only once was the complete "ataraxy" dispelled, and that
was when I felt a sense of guilt at being so happy. It seemed to me that I
was escaping a certain undefined duty to be miserable. Then, "Away with
morality!" I cried. "I shall be a Heliogabalus! I shall be a remorseless
sinner wallowing in the sensuous pleasure of a cigarette!" And so I did; and
so it is that I now conclude that there is as much pleasure to be derived
from insignificant pastimes as from the dissipations of a Trimalchio.

I am becoming long-winded and trite. One feels the need of prattle when
living alone on a haunted island, and triteness is inevitable since
Montaigne left no unharvested fields of thought for coming generations to
reap . . . . Oh well, by the unholy row some twenty feet below me I conclude
that four cowboys have returned with a string of fish and that they intend,
without pain of conscience, to do some gargantuan guttling before they turn
in to sleep the sound sleep of the well-fed.

We had a grand time on the reef this morning and a grand bird snaring this
afternoon. The tide was low in the forenoon and the reef dry. Johnny and
Jakey had short fish spears made of six-inch spikes seized on four-foot nonu
poles; Elaine and Nga had frond baskets for periwinkles; the Boss of
Suvarrow had his heavy singleprong spear. Thus equipped, we walked to the
north point, across the shallows, to the reef.

Every island has a reef peculiar to itself. On some the coral is so jagged,
the crevices so wide and deep, that it is difficult to walk them even at low
tide; but Suvarrow's reef is as smooth as a fairway. There would be no great
difficulty in driving a golf ball from Anchorage Island the four miles to
Turtle Islet. The combers break from thirty to forty feet to seaward of the
highest part of the reef, and only the big ones lap over the reef shelf into
the shallows.

"Captain Prospect's scheme is within the bounds of possibility," I reflected
as I tramped toward Whale Islet. "The only difficulty would be in getting
the golfers." Then, of course, I thought of the Arboreal Villa, jungle
Excursions, the Spa and the Beach Umbrellas--until abruptly my attention
was turned to a big parrot fish who, ostrich-like, had poked his head in a
hole to leave three quarters of his body outside. I pulled him out, dropped
him in my bag, and moved on.

There was little sport in spearing fish, for they were too plentiful. We did
not have to hurl our spears like Achaean warriors in Ilion, and see them
describe perfect parabolas before transfixing the fish. When we spied a big
parrot fish or a reef cod in one of the pools, half hidden under a ledge of
coral, we simply poked our spear in him, then flipped him up on the dry
coral.

Jakey and Johnny soon tired of this. Sticking their spears in holes in the
coral, where they could be retrieved later, they chased triggerfish and
butterfly fish about the shallows until the gorgeous creatures took refuge
under coral boulders, in holes and crevices. Then the children would reach
in and pull the creatures out. Often the triggerfish would be hard to get
out, and then, more than once, the little savages would duck their heads
down and pull them out with their teeth! They killed them with their teeth
too. This was a specialized business. The two older cowboys knew enough to
hold the fish laterally and bite down on the back of their heads; but poor
little Elaine, lacking in experience, thrust a triggerfish head first in her
mouth and bit down. The fish retaliated by biting Elaine's tongue! Poor
cowboy! She always makes a great to-do about her pains. Today her screams
broke up the excursion for five minutes, while the old man comforted her and
the rest of the cowboys suppressed their giggles as best they could. Elaine,
however, has a sense of humor. She soon sees the comic side of her troubles
--particularly so when the old man is comforting her.

 "Poor Elaine! Cry, Elaine!" I said soothingly today as betimes I petted her
and held her tightly. "Cry as loud as you can. It will do you good. Poor
little cowboy! A big fish bit her tongue! Johnny, come here! Jakey! Nga!
Don't you feel sorry for your sister? She got her tongue bit by a big fish!"

Presently I felt a slight convulsion in her fat little body and knew she was
struggling to hold back a laugh. I insisted that she cry louder, as loudly
as she could--like this--and I let out an awful yell. Elaine joined me,
but ended the yell with a burst of laughter. The incident was closed. I
placed her on the reef, noting that her eyes were still streaming though she
was chording with laughter. Probably her tongue still pained her, but, as I
have said, she has a sense of humor. She'll probably turn out to be a very
fat woman.

The quiet, gentle, diffident little Nga, the spiritual counterpart of her
mother, nosed about the reef crevices and potholes like a mouse, sniffing
here and there, poking her little paw into a hole to pick out a periwinkle
or a cowrie shell, never screaming or showing any excitement, perfectly
self-contained. Presently she showed me her basket full of shellfish and
smiled in a way that said: "There you are, Papa. I don't make as much noise
over my fishing as the rest of the cowboys do, but I bring home the bacon."

After climbing up the beach of the tiny storybook islet we inspected the
lean-to we had built while Hurry Home was here. Elaine and Nga found a
ghost-tern fledgling on a low limb of a tournefortia bush, and of course
they fell in love with it--who wouldn't? It looked like a fuzzy little ball
of cotton wool with two red eyes and a black beak, and, to the delight of
the cowboys, it opened its mouth to exhibit an amazingly large gullet. Jakey
climbed a coconut tree to throw down nuts for all of us, and after we had
refreshed ourselves with food and water we proceeded to the Bird Cays--the
same cays where we had gathered eggs a month before.

Now the eggs were all hatched, while under the bushes were thousands of
wide-awake fledglings. So far as I know they are the only young sea birds
that are agile on their legs; other sea birds can scarcely walk, and their
fledglings can no more than push themselves across the sand. Wide-awakes
scamper over the cays, in flocks of several hundred, precisely like baby
barnyard chicks. They make a peeping noise, and, though I have not seen them
scratch, they remind me of the speckled chicks of a Plymouth Rock hen. When
watching them this morning, sometimes in flocks a thousand strong,
scattering from one cay to the next, as identical as machine-made
cigarettes, I marveled that the mother birds can find their fledglings.

The tide started to come in while we were on the cays, so we hurried back to
Whale Islet, and from there waded to the inner edge of the reef, both
because it was the shallowest place and because we had to retrieve Johnny's
and Jakey's fish spears.

"There's a shark!" Elaine squealed presently.

"Two of them!" Nga corrected her.

The children gathered close to me, and we kept a sharp lookout. By the time
we had retrieved the spears there were five sharks circling about us. Then a
few heavy seas came over the reef to race across the shallows a good two
feet deep. Johnny and Jakey braced themselves with their spears against the
coral; I held Elaine and Nga. There were twelve sharks about us when the
seas had gone down, and when we reached the "Spa" we counted twenty-five of
the brutes within a hundred yards of us. It was one of the times I have
wished there were other people on the island. I doubt that the sharks were
after us, but they were after our fish and lobsters; and how they knew we
were carrying them I leave to someone else to decide.

We had a huge meal at noon; then the boss cowboy climbed into the tree-house
for a smoke, an essay of Montaigne's, and a doze; but the rest of the
cowboys had heard a flock of curlews piping their characteristic  kee-u-ee
cry. Food being their sole reason for living, the cowboys went after the
birds. Johnny and Jakey got lengths of fishline, fixed small hooks on them,
and baited them with hermit crab. They laid the baited hooks on the lagoon
beach, close to the water, and scattered various legs and claws of hermit
crabs about them. Then they brought the other ends of the lines up the beach
and whistled the birds to them. It was simple enough. Any sort of a whistled
kee-u-ee will attract a curlew. In a half hour they had six of the big, fat,
delicious birds.

The birds made us a Homeric evening feast. Now the warriors are once again
asleep, their bellies full, their souls at peace. The old man proposes to
join them. Good night.

For two days and nights I was down on my back with filarial fever, while
betimes a northwesterly gale was bawling outside our little tree-house and
the children were living on coconuts, with not a whimper from them.

It was not a pleasant experience. It terrifies me to anticipate what might
happen in a state of delirium--or what might happen were I to die! Think of
these four children, aged four to ten, left alone on Suvarrow Atoll! . . .
Oh well, I should have thought of this before being marooned here by
request; but I didn't, and that's the end of it; and anyway, our adventure
in solitude has been delectable save for this one bout of fever.

All's well today. The old man has had an excuse to take things easy from
dawn to dark, reading the Letters of Charles Lamb. I believe I am enjoying
them more than I did at the first or the second reading. After an hour or
two of oblivion to the present I lay the book down, and dully my eyes become
cognizant of the familiar aspect of present-day Suvarrow while in spirit I
am still in Lamb's London with Manning, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Dyer. Then I
hear Johnny's voice, Jakey's. A feeling of mingled surprise and pain comes
over me: surprise when I begin to remember I am on a South Sea island; pain
because, for an instant, I feel that I have been neglecting my children--
neglecting them since August 22, 1800, when Lamb's priceless letter to
Manning was written. I have been neglecting my children! Perhaps they have
forgotten me during the one hundred and forty-two years it has taken me to
reach them from the London of Charles Lamb. Now I shall have to coax back
their friendship, even renew their acquaintance.

We are working into a comfortable routine of life. Being in fine health
again, I wake before daylight, fully refreshed and with no desire to lie
a-mat. Nevertheless I lie on my bunk in the tree-house long enough to roll a
pandanus-leaf cigarette, light it, and take a few deep puffs as betimes I
glance out the big window and decide that it will be a fine day. If there is
a moon, as there is now, I can see the passage black as River Styx, and
beyond it a misty line where the combers thunder over the east reef. The
cigarette half finished, I bind on a loincloth and climb from the
tree-house.

After the first bowl of coffee I remember that there are some cowboys in the
tree-house. A thunderous roar wakens them; another roar informs them that it
is a good morning; a third roar warns them that faces are washed and hair
combed before breakfast.

Their morning meal consists of a drinking nut each, a ship's biscuit, an uto
(the absorbing organ in a sprouted coconut), and anything that happens to be
left over from the night before. They do not drink coffee or tea because
they have been told that they may drink either whenever they wish. Likewise
they do not make a habit of smoking or drinking whisky because they know
that I have no objection to their doing either.

After breakfast I take a walk along the beach as far as the Spa, and usually
I take my fish spear with me, for octopuses are found easily in the early
morning, and they make good bait. By the time I have returned the sun has
risen, the children have washed the few cooking and eating utensils and
cleaned the house and the clearing--which last requires a short
explanation.

When Desire died I told my friends that I proposed to keep my children and
bring them up without a woman's help. If my wife could bathe my son I opined
that I could bathe my daughter, but as all my children could bathe
themselves it should be necessary for me only to see that they did so. In
other things I proposed to teach my children to take care of themselves. My
friends were skeptical. They believed I would soon be fed up and would
remarry or hire a nursemaid. Hire a nursemaid! For myself, perhaps, but
certainly not for my children; and I need no nursemaid to take care of me so
long as I have the children for the job.

It is wonderful how industrious children can be if left to their own
devices. An unpleasant job becomes play to them if they are allowed to work
at it in their own way and learn by their own mistakes; but any job becomes
a chore when older people are overseeing them.

One of the nastiest chores about a South Sea house is keeping the yard
clean; and this is a chore we expect our children to do, for their backs are
limber, their fingers nimble, their eyes sharp. For a long time I failed to
find a way to make policing the yard a pleasure; then by accident, here at
Suvarrow, I discovered it.

"Jakey," I said one morning, "I'm going fishing. You take charge of the
outfit and see to it that the women clean the yard."

Then off I pranced, without much attention to Jakey's grin of malicious glee
or the angry glances of Johnny, Elaine, and Nga. When I returned I was met
with a storm of protest. Jakey, it seems, had become drunken on the wine of
authority; Jakey had stuck out his chest, lowered his voice to a growling
basso-profundo, made his eyes snap, and worked his sisters like slaves.

A critical situation had arisen, but with my usual discretion (quoting
Captain Prospect) I smoothed things over at once by telling Johnny that she
would be in charge tomorrow, Elaine the next day, and Nga the day after.
Later I dropped a hint to Johnny that if she was too hard on the other
children they would take revenge on their days.

The scheme worked. Johnny bossed her brother and sisters mildly, getting the
job done well without starting any fist fights or even reports of cruelty to
the lord of the aegis. When Elaine's day came it was a sight for a sore
spirit to see the little dear almost in tears with happiness as, for the
first time, she bossed her brother and sisters. Now and again she would gasp
with emotion, her eyes would become soft and almost sensuously happy. "Rinse
out the teakettle, Jakey!" she would command, and when the big cowboy obeyed
without a murmur she would be so happy that she could not find the heart to
work Jakey any more that day. But when Nga disobeyed her a little spark of
anger came into her soft brown eyes, and her peppery cry to Nga came in a
tone I had never heard her use before. Gentle little Nga looked up with eyes
wide and mouth open, as surprised as I, and straightway did as she had been
bidden.

When Nga's day came she made somewhat of a mess of things; but the children
are fond of her and Elaine had forgiven her insubordination, so when she
ordered them to burn down the cookhouse and fill the tank with sand they
swept the yard and washed the dishes; and when she ordered her old man to
make rock candy he obeyed without a murmur, being fond of rock candy
himself.

I did not have to suggest that the experiment become a part of our household
routine. They took this for granted, and from the first day started looking
forward to their days of authority. Now there would be war in camp if I
proposed abandoning the scheme. Incidentally, I let one of the children
sleep with me each night, on the bunk in the tree-house, while the others
sleep on the floor; and the child that sleeps with me is put in charge of
the household the following day. Thus I can keep tally, and thus I can drop
a few hints about the morrow's work. "What do you think, Johnny," I can ask,
"wouldn't it be a good idea tomorrow morning before breakfast to inspect
hair for combing and eyes and ears for washing?" "Good idea; just leave it
to me," Johnny will comment, whereupon I know, beyond the slightest doubt,
that hair will be combed, faces and ears washed, tomorrow morning before
breakfast.

As for the old man, he eschews his turn at bossing the outfit, for he is too
fond of his gang to deprive them of a recurrent day's pleasure; and anyway,
as I have said, the old man is the only one in the outfit that requires a
nursemaid.

When the yard is clean, the houses are tidy, the dishes washed, the boss of
the day lines up the other three cowboys in the clearing below the
tree-house, roars "'Ten-shun!" then marches down the line to inspect hair,
eyes, cars, and to see that no scholar has forgotten to dress for school.
Then the three warriors are put through a little snappy drill, some
calisthenics, and finally marched up the ladder into the tree-house for
instructions in the Higher Learning.

Though Jakey is younger than Johnny, they are in the same class. I write
them a page of English to be learned and copied, a page of arithmetic, and a
page of drawing with captions and conversation, as in the comic papers. They
are enthusiastic scholars, and solely, I verily believe, because they know I
should prefer not to teach them and that I have not the slightest objection
to their playing hookey anytime they wish.

Elaine has a page of English and lots of pictures to copy. Nga is given a
carbon of Elaine's page, which she interprets, with the rare genius of a
modern artist, into whirligigs and thingamabobs.

Jakey, being a real he-man, takes little interest in school learning. This
should worry me, I suppose, but it doesn't. The trouble with Jakey is that
he can't keep more than one thing in his head at a time. For a day or two I
will drill him in the "put-togethers," and he advances rapidly. "What are
two plus two plus two plus two?" I'll ask, and, after a little quick
calculation on his fingers, he'll come out with the answer, correct every
time. Then I'll switch to the "take-aways," and in three or four days he's
better at 'em than at the put-togethers; but when I return to review the
put-togethers I find that he has forgotten them, and when I brush him up on
them I find that, in the process, he has forgotten the take-aways. At such
times, seeing his usually happy face drawn and frustrated, I will brighten
him, and myself, by quoting the Chinese poet:

Families, when a child is born,
Want it to be intelligent.
I, through intelligence
Having ruined my life,
Hope only my child will be ignorant and stupid.
Then he will crown a successful career
By being a cabinet minister.

This perks us both up; and if there is still a feeling of inferiority we
remind ourselves that the younger one of us is a number-one performer at
spearing fish, shying stones at roosting birds, standing on his head in the
water, and climbing trees.

Johnny is very bright--too bright; and this is more troubling to me than
Jakey's dullness, for Johnny becomes bored with schoolwork if it is too
easy. She is in danger of finding fife too easy for her, and hence tiring of
life.

Elaine, I am, afraid, resents her lower grade, feels it is impossible to
catch up with Johnny, and therefore suffers from mild frustration. I try to
remedy this by giving her mostly drawing, at which she surpasses her older
sister. This tickles Elaine into chortles of delight and does not worry
Johnny. Nga is still too young to do much, but I keep her happy by admiring
her whirligigs and thingamabobs and calling them topsail schooners and
automobiles.

School stops when the children have had enough. Then many things may happen.
This morning Jakey went pole fishing off the south side of the island, the
tide being too high to go on the reef. Johnny stayed at home, for she has a
boil on her knee. Elaine and Nga did what they do virtually all the time:
rustled food, ate, rustled more food, and ate some more. The old man
continued work on his novel until noon, then kindled a fire in the native
oven, made a sort of pudding of utos, grated coconut, and arrowroot starch,
and baked it.

We had a big meal when Jakey came home with his fish; then I returned to the
tree-house, this time to read a dozen pages of The Decline of the West,
wonder if I really live in the same world Spengler writes about, and to go
to sleep. I woke at about four and put in two hours of hard work clearing a
path to the north point. Arrived there, and finding the children in the Spa,
I joined them till dusk, to cool off and wash the sweat and grime from me.

In the evening we polished off the rest of our pudding and fish, built a
fire with pemphis logs, laid out mats and pillows, smoked and told stories
till eight or nine o'clock, when I returned to the treehouse, carrying the
sleeping Nga, whose turn it is to occupy the bunk with me tonight.

After writing the above I blew out the hurricane lantern and stretched out
on the bunk. I lay on my left side, with my back to the window facing the
passage; and presently, through the window across the house, I saw,
apparently a little to one side of Tou Islet, a light! It was too big for a
star, and it glowed red, like a palm-frond torch. I laid Nga on the floor so
she would not fall out of the bunk, woke Johnny, and the two of us climbed
out of the house and hurried to the wharf. From there we could see that the
light was a half mile to the north of Tou Islet and apparently suspended a
little above the horizon. It did not move.

"What is it, Papa?" Johnny asked.

"That's what I want to know," I replied, and that's what I want to know now.
In about a half hour it disappeared suddenly, nor did it reappear, though we
watched for fully an hour. Were it not that the wind is blowing fresh and
the lagoon is too choppy for my sailing canoe I would go over to Tou
tonight. Perhaps there are some shipwrecked sailors over there. Perhaps it
was a signal of distress!

To give an impression of this exciting day will be hopeless unless one bears
in mind the loneliness of Suvarrow, its complete isolation from the rest of
the world. Try to imagine a ring of green islets that no one knows anything
about or cares anything about. Try to hear the monotonous rumble of reef
combers, the screaming of sea birds, the wind's everlasting song in the palm
fronds, which combine in the very language of solitude itself. Try to smell
the clean breath of an island untainted by habitations. Try to feel the
presence of the familiar spirit of this haunted place--the familiar spirit
that has inhabited the sequestered groves for ages, only at long separated
intervals to see strange man-creatures come ashore, to see fights, carouses,
murders, and then the man-creatures, or those that survived, sail away,
leaving the island for years or even decades to the flying and the creeping
things and the spirits of the dead.

I felt strongly the loneliness of Suvarrow this morning as I trod the beach
toward the north point, spear in hand. I was thinking, of course, of the
strange light Johnny and I had seen the night before; and it was several
seconds before I became conscious of something strange in the humming sound
that came from across the lagoon. Then suddenly I associated the sound with
Fiji, where Johnny and I were last year, and the next instant with the
warplanes we had seen flying over Suva. My heart missed a beat and my knees
wentweak. Warplanes! Japanese! Suvarrow an air base for the enemy! All
settlers on Suvarrow summarily dispatched with machine-gun fire! My
children! They were a half mile away, too far to warn!

Then I saw the warplanes over Tou Islet--two of them! I did not have to
dive for shelter: I had simply to step back a pace and the jungle swallowed
me so completely that a man passing ten feet away could not have seen me.
The hum of the warplanes rose quickly to a vicious roar. They were circling
over Anchorage Island! I parted the leaves slightly and glanced up. One
plane flew over me not three hundred feet away. On each of its silver wings
I saw a star. I let the leaves close over me again and offered a little
prayer that my children were as well hidden as I. What nation uses a star
for its insigne? I wondered. Perhaps the United States. I hoped so but did
not know.

The planes circled over the island for fully five minutes, then they roared
away toward Turtle Islet; their noise diminished; they were gone.

I hurried back to the clearing to find that the children had taken cover
like mice, crawling into a great heap of palm fronds. Needless to write all
the exclamations, surmises that passed between us. Now we are wondering if
the warplanes were associated with the light we saw last night. We are
wondering if some vessel has been wrecked on the other side of Tou Islet, if
there are castaways on Tou, and if the airplanes have been searching for
them. On this supposition we sail for Tou tomorrow, the wind permitting.

Silver wings over Suvarrow! So there is another world, after all! So there
is a war going on; my country is embroiled in it, and I should be almost
anyplace except Suvarrow--anyplace where I can give some kind of aid to my
country. Well, I can't swim to the U.S.A., and neither Panikiniki--my
sailing canoe--nor the pearling cutter will take me there.




Chapter IV



We set out in Panikiniki (Skipping-stone) this morning for the six-mile sail
across the lagoon to Tou Islet. For equipment we took a bush knife, a fish
spear, matches, and tobacco: nothing else, for we enjoy using our wits to
live when we go to the far islets. We consider a civilized picnic more
nuisance than pleasure, and a camping trip, with almost everything from
portable bathtub to medicine kit, the next thing to a nightmare. I say this
advisedly, for often I have nightmares in which I am trying frantically and
hopelessly to pack all the "essentials" for such an expedition. God save me
from portable property! God save me from traveling with dozens of trunks,
suitcases, hatboxes, bundles, and packages! God permit that I go through
life like a child, with a spare shirt and a slingshot tied up in a
handkerchief!

There was a mild breeze, but even so the crossing was unsafe, for Suvarrow's
lagoon, being almost free from coral heads and reefs, builds up an ugly
chop. By the time we were beyond the lee of the land, skipping along under
the full force of the wind, I wished we had taken a reef in the sail, not
only because there was danger of Panikiniki capsizing but also because, when
she sails faster than eight knots, she takes a good deal of water over her
bows. Well, I got Elaine and Nga aft with me, so as to keep the bows well
out of water, put Johnny and Jakey on the forward outrigger crossboom, and
we flew along in grand style. But later, when the wind freshened a little, I
had to send Johnny on the outrigger itself. She sat on its forward end, her
back to the crossboom; and it must have been an exciting ride for her,
sometimes skipping from wave to wave, sometimes swung a foot or two above
the water, and sometimes ducked to her neck when the outrigger plowed
through a wave. Jakey perched halfway out on the crossboom, steadying
himself with one hand on the windward stay. Elaine and Nga were busy
bailing.

With an outrigger canoe--mine, at least--a man cannot come about and
return to his point of departure, for the canoe will capsize if the
outrigger is on the lee side. To come about the canoe must be beached or
sailed to shallow water where it can be held. Then the sail is lowered, the
mast unstepped and then secured in the other end of the canoe, and the sail
hoisted again. The outrigger must be always on the windward side.

So there was nothing for us to do but carry on, once we had started; and
when we were halfway across I stopped worrying about the wind--I hoped it
would freshen--for all at once I got to thinking about the warplanes--
curse them! "What a perfect target we would make!" I thought with a shudder,
and straightway fancied scores of enemy planes swooping down on us to spray
us with machine-gun bullets . . . . And yet Captain Prospect claims I have
no imagination! It was with a good deal of relief that I steered Panikiniki
through the mess of coral heads in Tou Islet's crescent-shaped bay and got
the children ashore.

First we walked around the islet in search of castaways; but not a sign of
one did we see, not even a footprint to fire the blood of Ropati Crusoe and
family. On returning to the lagoon side, of the islet we found a place where
it was possible to break through the thick shore bush and go inland; and
this we did, at times creeping or even worming our way under the bush, or
tramping over it, or cutting a path through it. The jungle was denser than
it is on Anchorage Island, for there were thickets of cordia saplings, which
do not grow on the other islets, and there were guettarda trees, and
hernandia, impenetrable tangles of pemphis and pandanus, and in the center
of the island as fine a grove of tou trees as I have ever seen.

There was less undergrowth under the tou trees. Glancing up, we could see
thousands upon thousands of noddy terns, ghost terns, and boobies nesting in
the branches. The air was rank with the miasma of decayed vegetation and
sea-bird droppings; the thunder of reef combers came seemingly from far
away, very faintly and hollowly, and somehow lugubrious. There was not a
breath of wind. The clamor of the birds was so great that we had to shout to
be heard; and all about us, climbing the trees, in every hollow log, under
rocks and rubbish, or even on the open ground, scurried the coconut crabs,
like prehistoric creatures, big-clawed, red-eyed, feeding on sea-bird
fledglings and eggs.

In the deep gloom of the tou forest, hemmed in by jungle, with the clamor of
the birds both exciting and bewildering me, I sensed that we had explored to
a land beyond the edge of the world. I fancied that no human being had ever
been there before. It gave me a panicky feeling. I sensed that I had gone
too far, that I had gone back in time to a pre-man age, that an impenetrable
curtain had dropped between me and the world of the twentieth century.

On the lagoon beach there was no place to make a camp, for the bush grew in
a solid wall to the water's edge; but before moving on we pulled some
drinking nuts from a low tree, drank their water and ate their meat, then
had a smoke, and a council in which we decided to explore the other islets.

There are three islets to the south of Tou, with narrow channels between
them. We poled the canoe to the first one, but found the bush so dense that
we did not even attempt to break into it. The next one would have made a
possible camping place, but there were only five coconut trees and not more
than a rood of ground. The third islet looked no more promising at first,
but when we had poled the canoe to its south point we found as pleasant a
camping place as one could wish for. A white coral beach shelved into a
narrow channel six feet deep, while beyond the channel the reef shallows,
now dry, curved away to Jack Buckland's Cays and New Islet. Above the beach
was a clump of tournefortia bushes, about twenty feet high and with walking
room under most of their branches. Their leaves gave partial shade, so there
was none of the gloom and dampness of the jungle, nor was it too hot and
glaring. A colony of ghost terns had laid their eggs in the forks of the
branches, and now the limbs were spotted with white fledglings. We could see
on the top of each fuzzy head the black stripe they had inherited from their
famous ancestor whom the god Maui had marked with his firebrand. The mother
birds, returned from sea, fluttered like butterflies in the shadows.

We pitched our camp under a big tournefortia bush, within a few feet of the
beach. Then Jakey and I went after drinking nuts and utos while the
womenfolk picked the noddy terns and the booby and cooked them, and the
crab, on pemphis-wood coals. We gorged like savages. Free from the last
inhibition of civilized man, the cowboys seemed to delight in smearing their
faces with bird grease and grime, in snoggling as they poured the coconut
water down their rapacious gullets. Nga was a shade daintier than the
others; but Elaine, the sweet glutton of the family, managed to smear
herself from navel to crown, with a few dabs and streaks on her fat legs and
a spot or two on her toes. Johnny and Jakey did their best to be tough and
fierce and covered with war paint, and the old man himself came in a close
second, as Nat Gould would put it.

After the meal we jumped into the channel for a swim and a partial
cleansing, and then, at sunset, we made beds and pillows of magnolia leaves.
It it doesn't rain we shall use the sail for a quilt, but if rain comes the
sail will have to serve as a tent and we shall have to huddle together as
best we can. The usual procedure in such a case is to lay the sail over the
canoe, weigh down its edges with stones, and prop it up with a paddle at
each crossboom.

I have been writing the last of this by firelight. I shall now lie on the
beach, beside Panikiniki, smoke a cigarette, and invite my soul in this
grotesque, this weird, this fantastic isle so far beyond the edge of the
world that I sense here the presence of spiritual things. Good night,
cowboys! Good night, Desire! Do you remember, Desire, the time when we
walked the reef from Anchorage Island to Tou, how you carried two-months-old
Jakey in a net on your back and I carried two-year-old Johnny? How I wish
you were with us tonight!

This has been a lazy, happy day albeit I missed my early-morning cup of
coffee. The day started, at the first blush of dawn, with a lecture on
ichthyology by Professor Booby. He was drolly pedantic. Twittering and
occasionally squawking, he shook his head so vigorously that I feared the
spectacles, which seemed to rim his eyes, would be shaken off. Mrs. Booby,
the only student, was bored stiff; but when the professor had lectured
himself dry on the natural history of fishes, and had cleared his throat for
a few remarks on the sex life of the solan goose, Mrs. Booby perked up a
little, eyed her husband wistfully, and snuggled a trifle closer. Watching
her, in the dim morning light, with a background of flushed clouds seen
through gaps between the leaves, I thought I could detect the ghost of a
smirk on her somewhat verjuiced face.

I felt comfortable and lazy. The cowboys were fast asleep, so they did not
see the mother ghost tern bring a yellow mullet in from the lagoon and feed
her fledgling. The breakfast was as big as the birdlet, but he bolted half
of it bravely and let the other half protrude from his mouth, to be
swallowed when the first half had been digested. This necessitated his
perching on the branch with neck thrust out stiffly and beak open, but he
didn't seem to mind it; he seemed sensuously happy.

I rose quietly, so as not to waken the cowboys, took my fish spear, and went
to the channel. There I found a school of silver mullet so closely packed
that I could have speared them with my eyes shut. As it was, I got two with
one jab of the spear, and as they weighed over a pound each I did not have
to look farther for breakfast.

Next I laid a few coconut spathes on the embers of last night's fire and
piled pemphis sticks on top of them. The wind blew them into a blaze in a
few minutes, and a half hour later they had burned down to coals, on which I
threw the fish, gutted but not scaled. There were plenty of drinking nuts
from last night, so I laid five of them on the edge of the fire to warm,
wishing that the all but sufficient coconut tree bore coffee nuts.

When the fish were cooked and the nuts warm I yelled some pleasant words to
the cowboys, and when they had risen I herded them down to the channel and
pushed them in. They splashed about for a few minutes and then scampered up
the beach shining both in body and spirit, after which we breakfasted.

The rest of the day was spent on the main islet of Tou, gathering food,
eating, lying in the shade to smoke and drowse, shying stones at roosting
birds, picking up shells from the outer beach, and, at low tide, gathering
periwinkles on the great brick-red "fairway" that leads four miles to the
Buckland Cays . . . .

We are comfortably tired this evening, but we have enjoyed ourselves so
thoroughly that we propose to stay on this islet beyond the edge of the
world for several days. Later we will sail the two miles to Bird Islet, then
the five miles to Turtle Islet, and finally the four miles back to Anchorage
Island. I hope the weather holds good: February is the worst month in the
year for a picnic of this kind.

We arrived at Bird Islet this morning, and we found it to be the richest and
most beautiful of all the islets on Suvarrow's reef.

Desire, Johnny, Jakey, and I had been here before, but it was only to skirt
along the outer beach when on our way to Tou. Today I decided to do a little
exploring.

After we had rustled our morning meal I left the cowboys in camp and started
through the islet toward the northwest point, which is also the point
closest to the barrier reef; but before I had gone three hundred yards I
stopped, with a flutter of excitement and surprise. I had stumbled into a
ditch some three feet deep, and then, peering this way and that in the thick
undergrowth, I had seen that the ground was crisscrossed with ditches over
an area of nearly an acre! It must have been where Jule Tirel had dug for
treasure! Jule Tirel! A whole cinematograph of pictures flashed through my
mind to end with the Frenchman begging for his life, the oar of a Penrhyn
diver crashing down on his skull, and finally Tirel sinking to the bottom of
the passage, in the grave with Tom Carlton and Joe Bird!

"Well," I thought as I started forward again, "here's a combined Jungle
Expedition and Historical Monument for Captain Prospect's tourists. The
golfers can take it in as a diversion from the long drive from Turtle Islet
to Tou. . . . One bob for tea and cakes at the site of Jule Tirel's treasure
hunt!"

Presently I broke through the bush to the outer beach and there walked
slowly toward the northwest point, staring with wonder at the birds roosting
in the pemphis bushes: frigate birds and boobies, terns and tropic birds,
and not a one of them polite enough to grant me more than a casual
uninterested glance. Their smug self-complacency annoyed me a little. I felt
like knocking a few of them from their perches so as to demonstrate the
importance of the white man even among the birds of Suvarrow. Then I became
as snobbish as they, for along the tidemark I found first one bottle and
then a second one. Each was corked and had a paper in it!

I crawled under a magnolia bush and laid the bottles on the thick mat of
leaves, to stare at them for a little space and thus by anticipation whet
the thrill of opening them and reading their messages. But presently my
curiosity could endure the strain no longer, so I broke the neck from one of
the bottles, fished out a paper that appeared old, yellow, and stained, and
read:


TO FINDER

THIS BOTTLE WAS THROWN OVERBOARD BY KEITH SHEPHERD EN ROUTE TO AUSTRALIA,
BETWEEN MADANG AND SALAMAUA. PLEASE WRITE AND TELL ME WHERE YOU FIND IT.

G.O.P. BOX 589
SHANGHAI CHINA


There was no date. I speculated on how the bottle could have reached this
desolate spot, both to windward and upcurrent from where it had been thrown
overboard. The current in this part of the Pacific flows to the southwest.
The bottle must have been carried south to the great westerly drift, thence
to a point close to Cape Horn, thence up the Humboldt Current to the
Equator, and thence across the Pacific to the southwesterly drift, which
brought it here.

The other bottle contained a religious tract, printed in small type on both
sides of a single sheet of paper, and with virtually no margins. The caption
was in black letter:

Bread Cast Upon the Waters.--No. 16.

Then followed in Roman type:

How Does the Believer
Know that He Is Justified?

And then a verbose sermon, as unnourishing a crust as was ever thrown upon
the waters. It was signed "C.S.," and an advertisement at the bottom of the
page informed me that it had been printed by G. Morrish, 20 Paternoster
Square, London, E.C. Below and to one side of this had been written in
pencil: 25th, 8, 40.

"Hm!" I thought. "Even to the last isle of the heathen, and beyond, back to
prehistoric Suvarrow in time, beyond the edge of the world in space, the
missionaries succeed in scattering the seeds of the True Faith. Tireless
Soldiers of the Cross, they have buttonholed me even here, on Bird Islet, to
ask me how the believer knows that he is justified!"

Last night squall after squall yelled over Bird Islet; we got soaked to the
skin in spite of our sail, and this morning we turned out of our makeshift
tent as bedraggled and shivery as the sea birds roosting in the open. We
found that heavy seas were building up along the west reef, the sky was
black and ominous, and over the islet great flocks of frigate birds were
wheeling--a sure sign of worse weather to come.

We managed to cook a good breakfast, and when we had eaten our fill our
spirits were revived and we decided to watch for our chance between squalls
and set out for Turtle Islet. The wind being in the west, we would have the
reef and shallows to break the worst of the sea. We took two reefs in
Panikiniki's sail, stepped the mast and stayed it well, got our gear aboard,
and set off.

There followed one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever known. The
first mile or two was fairly safe sailing; but then the tide started to
flow, monster seas piled over the reef and the shallows to form a nasty chop
in the lagoon, and from then on it was all we could do to keep afloat. A
raging squall, thick with rain, rolled down on us when we were halfway
across; sunlight faded into darkness; the canoe pitched and rolled her
outrigger under; the waves lapped over the gunwales. I swung her into the
wind and tried to hold her close to the reef shallows, but, paddle as I did,
we drifted a half mile to leeward before the wind had abated. Soon we were
in deep water, too far from the reef to make it swimming should the canoe
capsize. Turtle Islet looked misty and far, far away; my heart sank in
despair, but I called cheerily to Johnny and Jakey to jump to the outrigger
and for Elaine to bail and, laying the canoe off from the wind, nosed her
slowly into the choppy sea.

From then on Elaine had to bail continually and Johnny and Jakey had to
perch far out on the outrigger crossboom, steadying themselves by holding to
the windward stay. Every now and then the outrigger would be buried two or
three feet beneath the water, then, after rising slowly to the surface, it
would leap out of the water with a jerk, fly into the air, and I would throw
myself on the after crossboom to keep her from capsizing, We did not dare
lower the sail, for then we would drift into the open lagoon where the chop
was far more dangerous. Then there was the gloomy sky, the black squalls
pelting us, the knowledge that Suvarrow's lagoon is infested with man-eating
sharks! If the children had not been with me I should have been less
frightened. Continually I found myself picturing what would happen if we
were capsized. . . .

Well, we got to Turtle Islet, but the weather had turned so bad that we
decided not to try to make the remaining four miles to Anchorage Island
until the morning. We managed to carry the canoe far up on the beach, on the
edge of the shore bush, and then we went to work building as rainproof a
shelter as possible. This we managed by making a tent over the outrigger
booms, with the body of the canoe as a windbreak. The steep roof kept most
of the rain out, and it was improved by laying fronds on the windward side,
thus breaking the wind that otherwise drove rain through the canvas.

Luckily my matches were dry. We got a fire going after several attempts,
brought in some logs to keep it burning all night, and built a lean-to of
fronds to protect it from the full force of the wind and rain.

Drinking nuts we gathered from a low tree by prodding them with the fish
spear and pulling them down. Of utos and coconut crabs there were aplenty,
so we managed to make a meal of it. Now the children are drying their
clothes at the fire, laughing and chattering; I am dreading the night, and I
am wondering if we will be able to get back to Anchorage Island tomorrow or
if we will have to weather the storm here at Turtle Islet.

Well, we have had a never-to-be-forgotten primitive picnic, and, albeit it
is miserable now, we will enjoy thinking about it later, for it seems that
our pains more than our pleasures give us enjoyment in retrospect.

Still a few smokes left in the tobacco tin!

This morning the wind had settled in a northwesterly gale. I knew this meant
a week of bad weather, and, husky though the cowboys are, I did not like the
idea of weathering it on Turtle Islet; so, bright and early, we got our gear
into the canoe and stepped the mast but did not set the sail: the mast alone
would drive us forward as fast as we cared to go.

By starting early we profited by less chop in the lagoon, for the tide was
low and only the biggest seas spilled over the reef into the lagoon. For the
first mile we had One Tree Islet and the Brushwood Group on our lee, so if
we came to grief we had only to swim a few yards to the fringing reef. But
along the mile of open reef from Brushwood to the Bird Cays we were in as
great danger as we had been in the day before, for the tide was coming in,
flowing across the shallows to strike the lagoon waves crosswise and build
up a chop that threatened to swamp us. Of course we knew we could swim to
the shallows, but it was doubtful if we could wade through the strong
current fast enough to make the cays before the tide rose and washed us back
into the lagoon. We were all bailing for dear life before we made the Bird
Cays; then the chop smoothed down, leaving only the waves rolling under our
stern. I sighed with heartfelt relief, rolled a cigarette and smoked it to
strengthen me for the final dash to Anchorage Island.

When we came abreast of the south point of Whale Islet I saw at once that to
continue in the lagoon would be perilous indeed, so I ran the canoe ashore,
took down the mast and laid it across the, outrigger booms, then made a line
fast to the bow of the canoe and proceeded to pull it along the shallows the
remaining half mile to Anchorage Island. It was bad business. Johnny tried
to help me, but the first sea that swept through the shallows nearly carried
her away. She grabbed the canoe, however, and managed to pull herself
aboard. Then I struggled on alone, waist-deep in the water when the seas
surged past me, often nearly carried off my feet, and half the time unable
to make any headway. I was working too hard to be afraid. Even the knowledge
that the tide was rising, and must soon sweep us into the lagoon if we did
not make the land, did not frighten me. I remember eying an approaching sea
with a sort of grim amusement and reflecting that Captain Prospect's golfers
would have to wear rubber clothes and use celluloid golf balls today.

Of course we made the land, pretty well cold and exhausted, but excited as
kids, for just as we were wallowing through the channel, by the Spa, Johnny
yelled at the top of her lungs: "Sail ho!"

And, so help me, if it wasn't the sails of a cutter rounding the point of
Turtle Islet!




Chapter V



Last night we talked about the cutter, we dreamed about it, we worried about
it. When we first sighted her we thought she might be Hurry Home, for there
was no telling whether or not she had a mizzenmast; but once we were home
and had studied her through the binocular there was no question about her
belonging to a species of vessel much evolved above Captain Prospect's
"ship".

She had a long main gaff and a tall mast, she was painted white, and there
was an odd structure aft, which I took to be some kind of shelter for the
man at the wheel.

I hoped she had an engine; and this was associated with my worry, for she
was within the northeast bight where so many ships have been wrecked, the
wind was rising, and squalls were darkening the northern sky. The last we
saw of her she was beating up slowly on the port tack, four miles off the
passage, presently to drive into a huge squall; and when it had passed,
night had come down ominous, windy, and sudden.

This morning, on crossing to the outer beach, we saw her in about the same
place. We returned to the clearing to cook our breakfast and eat it
hurriedly; then we went back to the beach, this time to see the cutter close
to the passage. The current was running out strong, and seas from the north
were rolling into the passage to build up a tide rip fully twenty feet from
crest to trough. In the shoal places the big combers broke continually;
along the fringing reef, fifty feet from the beach, enormous seas curled and
broke and filled the air with their thunder. Never before had I seen
Suvarrow's passage presenting such a wild and turbulent scene. It seemed
impossible for a vessel to live in that confusion of foaming seas. I
wondered what the men aboard the cutter must be thinking and feeling!

Of course they saw their danger; but there was no turning back, for the wind
was dead over their stern, the seas so high that to bring the vessel around
would have been to wreck her. They took in the mainsail, however, and with
their engine going full speed ahead and their headsails drawing strong
entered the reef heads. What a tossing they got then! Several times the
cutter sank so deeply in the troughs that only her topmast was visible to us
ashore, which means that the tide rip was over twenty feet from trough to
crest!

I had my binocular on her. When she rose on a crest I could see a man at the
starboard shrouds and another at the wheel. Both, like good sailors, kept
their eyes ahead; and this must have taken courage, for every moment or two
a great sea would surge up behind the tiny boat, lift her stem until she was
virtually standing on her bowsprit, fling her forward a few yards, then roll
under her to set her on her stem with bowsprit pointing almost to the
zenith; and then, as she tried to climb the wave, the current would drag her
back a little so that at times she lost a little more than she gained. But
she gained at other times; and once, when a sea broke a few feet aft of her
transom and swept her deck from end to end, she was flung fully fifty yards
ahead.

It is about three quarters of a mile from the mouth of the passage to the
south point of Amchorage Island. It took the cutter fully four hours to make
this short distance; then she was safe, for she was out of the current and
the tide rip and had entered the lagoon as soon as she had rounded the
point.

The five of us hurried across the island to where we had left Panikiniki and
paddled out to meet the cutter. When we were close, and had read the name
Vagus on her bow, we threw a line aboard, which one of the men made fast,
and then climbed on deck.

A short, red-faced man of about thirty, with a broken nose and the combined
appearance of a pugilist and a dreamer, was at the wheel. I noted that his
black hair was parted and plastered down, and I smelled the odor of
island-made coconut oil scented with gardenia flowers; so I knew he was a
South Sea Islander. He grinned rather alarmingly and stretched out his hand.
I gave him my name.

"Frisbie!" he exclaimed, as though lost in astonishment. "Not the Frisbie--
the Frisbie of Puka-Puka!"

"Yes, that's me," I replied, somewhat abashed by his mannerism.

"Shake hands again!" he cried. "I never expected to meet the Frisbie of
Puka-Puka at Suvarrow! . . . My name is Powell."

Then came my turn. "Not the Powell!" I cried, trying, but probably failing,
to put the same warmth into my tone. "Not the Powell of Palmerston Island!"

"The same," he replied, grinning, and we shook hands yet once again, which
made us even, the first one having been in mutual esteem, the second one in
my honor, the third one in honor of Powell.

"We'll have a glass of rum when we get anchored," Powell added, which tied
another knot in the bonds of friendship and made me aware that I had met a
good man--according to the South Sea trader's definition of the word
"good."

Then the cowboys shook hands with Powell, and then the other member of the
cutter's company came aft and was introduced as John Pratt of London, the
owner. He was of about the same age as Powell, but where the latter was a
sparrow hawk John Pratt was a heron. He had the same drolly humorous
expression; his eyeglasses added to the expression, and his long limbs
completed it. His hair was thin and sandy, his nose long and pointed, his
ears large--and his hands! I noticed them the instant I had thrown out my
hand to grip his. Never had I seen such hands. The most casual glance
determined that they could belong only to an artist. The fingers were twice
the length of mine, but they were not slim or knotty or nervous fingers:
they were long and thick and straight and immensely strong. You knew they
would grip anything firmly, without a tremor, and would move with uncanny
precision.

"Oh, you're F-F-Frisbie," Pratt said, stuttering slightly. "I know all about
you." Then, a fleeting sparkle in his otherwise dull eyes, he repeated what
Powell had said: "We'll have a glass of rum when we're anchored."

"You had a nasty time of it in the passage," I remarked, and at that the
dull look came back in his eyes, and, "Yes," he muttered, "there was a bit
of a chop," then turned to set up the mainsheet.

Again I noticed his hands. They dosed around the rope with a sort of joy in
action, and they gave a long steady pull which somehow made me think of
drawing a straight line with a pencil. Accuracy, precision, ease in perfect
accomplishment, nerves tuned so nicely that there seemed to be no nerves at
all, deft fingers that could draw a cathedral or an engine part, remove an
appendix or cut a throat with equal dexterity!

With Panikiniki towing astern I piloted them to the anchorage, and when she
was snugly berthed Powell and Pratt invited the five of us below. Cakes and
lime juice were served to the cowboys, Barbados rum to the three hard-doers
of the South Seas . . . .  And now let me leave myself sipping Barbados rum
and listening to the odyssey of Powell and Pratt, and leave the cowboys
gorging on lime juice and cakes, to describe briefly this "hollow ship" and
its two adventurers.

Vagus is the finest little vessel I have ever seen, heard of, or dreamed of.
She was built on the lines of the Colin Archer North Sea lifeboats, the same
lines Ralph Stock used for his famous Dream Ship. She is a double-ender,
forty feet long, beamy, with a low freeboard, about eight feet draft, and
with planking of two-and-a-half-inch English oak. Forward is a small winch
that actually works. Aft of the winch is stowed a seaworthy dinghy. The mast
is tall and must be fully a foot in diameter at the deck; the boom is as
heavy as Hurry Home's mainmast. The stays are of plow steel, and not a spot
of rust; the running rigging is likewise of the best that can be had. From
the mast there is a cabin house, only about a foot high and with wide
alleyways, running aft to the bridge deck, where a wide hatchway leads
below. A canvas shelter stands on the bridge deck, like the hood of a buggy.
It extends aft over the cockpit to the wheel, so the helmsman can take
shelter under it in bad weather or sleep under it when the wheel is lashed.
In the cockpit are the engine controls, the binnacle, and a thirty-six-inch
hardwood wheel. The decks are of teak, the deck fastenings bronze.

Below, elegance has been sacrificed for simplicity. Everything is strong and
of the best quality: waterproof canvas pillows and mattresses on the bunks,
a primus stove with a five-gallon supply tank in the galley, instruments of
navigation that delight the eye, eighteen months' supply of food--corned-beef
hash and chili con carne, Hormel hams and chickens, ginger-snaps
and cheese biscuits, dill pickles and Roquefort cheese, American canned beer
and French bottled wine . . . Oh Lord, why enumerate? It makes my mouth
water to think of all the grand food stowed away on Vagus. The cowboys,
little hypocrites, are cajoling Pratt shamelessly, petting the heron and
feeding him coconuts and fish, in the hope of making a substantial inroad on
his cases of jam and ginger-snaps.

Everything inside the ship is of the best that can be bought. The bronze
gimbal lamps, the Diesel engine, the shelf of fine books, the woolen
blankets for cold weather and the linen sheets for hot weather. John Pratt's
boat is the one I have dreamed of since I was old enough to know what a boat
is. All my sins and all my failures, I verily believe, have been begotten by
a feeling of intense frustration because I could never hope to own a boat
like Heron Pratt's Vagus.

Oh well, let it go at that.

While sipping the Barbados rum I learned that John Pratt was a commercial
artist. A year before World War II he sailed out of England, with a partner,
for the West Indies. Arrived at Cuba, he sent his partner home, then cruised
in the Caribbean for three years. A few months ago, in Panama, he
provisioned his boat for an eighteen-month cruise and set out alone for
Rarotonga. He made the passage in eighty-odd days. "I just let her g-g-go,"
he told me with a kind of childish simplicity that was altogether charming.
"I never t-t-took in sail but once, but I hardly left the deck either. I
always slept in the little h-h-half shelter aft."

At Rarotonga his arrival caused no little excitement. It seems that the
Tartarins of this more than provincial Tarascon took Vagus for some kind of
an enemy vessel. They sounded the tocsin; the home guards jumped to their
guns; the civilians evacuated the little port of Avarua! Then the doughty
Bill Bryan, ex-bosun, ex-wharfinger, ex-pilot, manned his lifeboat and went
out to Vagus bristling with arms. There the doughty Bill found the heron
alone, more flustered than Bill himself, stuttering, "But really, you know,
I'm not a b-b-bleeding Jap!"

After stretching his legs ashore at Avarua, Pratt sailed to Palmerston
Island, where lived Ronald Powell, a friend of former days . . . . And now
for a word about the sparrow hawk.

"Ron" Powell is a master shipwright, sailmaker, carpenter, cooper,
blacksmith, sailor, and a dilettante in the arts, surrealism being his fad
at the present moment, much to the disgust of the true artist Pratt. Powell
has written a good book, but, more to his credit, he has built, at
Palmerston, boats as fine as any shipyard could put out. With these boats
the people have established a successful fishery. Powell has made his own
salt from sea water, salted and smoked his fish, made his own barrels from
coconut wood, packed the fish in them and shipped them to Rarotonga by the
ton. He has raised Palmerston from poverty to moderate opulence. Before he
married and settled on the island there had not been a ship sighted for four
years; now Hurry Home calls every six months to lift his cargo.

When many of the "better people" of the South Seas are forgotten, Ron
Powell's name will be remembered with those of Ellis, Strickland, Williams,
Jennings, and a host of other renegades and beachcombers who have brought
the Polynesians a useful culture if they have not taught them the hypocrisy,
sanctimony, intolerance that passes for religion in the Pacific.

When Pratt put into Palmerston, ten days ago, Powell joined him for a short
cruise among the Northern Islands. . . . And here they are now, at Suvarrow.
. . . And there we were--the cowboys and I--drinking Barbados rum and lime
juice, gorging on cakes, raising our voices to see who could do the most
talking in the shortest time.

Presently I told them about the warplanes and how we had taken cover and
later had sailed in search of castaways on Tou Islet, and when they asked me
I told them about the star on the warplanes' wings.

They had a good laugh over that and explained that the insigne, a star, was
one of the stars from my own star-spangled banner. Then Pratt asked me what
kind of planes they were, land or sea, and when I replied that I hadn't the
foggiest idea he laughed again and told me I was a generation behind the
times, for any child in England or America would instantly have catalogued
them as sea, land, or amphibian; fighter, bomber, or observation.

Abruptly Pratt glanced thoughtfully at Powell, smiled, and, turning to me,
said: "I think I can explain those warplanes. They were looking for the lost
aviators. At Rarotonga B-B-Bill Bryan told me to keep a sharp lookout for
them."

"That's it!" Powell exclaimed, and then he told me that three weeks or a
month ago an American bomber, with three men aboard, had disappeared in this
part of the Pacific. It is probable, Powell thought, that the men had saved
themselves by inflating their rubber raft and drifting on it. And it is
possible that they are still alive, being tossed by the storm, perhaps in
sight of Suvarrow's barrier reef!

I then told them of the light we had seen over Tou Islet. They could make
nothing of it but surmised that it might have something to do with the lost
aviators and the warplanes.

I find that I am not writing very coherently. Let me blame it on the
Barbados rum. It is half-past four in the morning, I note by flashing my
torch at the clock-barometer combination on the wall opposite my bunk.
(Torch batteries from Vagus.) The glass reads something like 29:70. Very
low! We're in for a bad northwesterly, I fancy. The tree-house creaks and
shakes with every blast of wind. Perhaps I made a mistake by straddling the
house between two trees. Now if the trees bend in opposite directions the
house may fall. The phlegmatic heron is sleeping on the floor under my bunk,
where the cowboys usually sleep. The sparrow hawk is in the ground-house
sleeping with the children.

I shall rise and kindle a fire under the teakettle. There must be a glimmer
of dawn behind the black pall of clouds.

We have spent the day in hearty eating, drinking, and talking. Heron Pratt
has been generous with his ship's provisions; also he has brought ashore a
bottle of Barbados, which last has gone the way of all rum in the South
Seas. We have heard about the delectable West Indies, and Pratt has told us
of his ego-inflating experience in going through the Panama Canal with a
private pilot assigned to his boat and of having the great locks opened for
him alone--all for something like fifteen dollars. And he has stuttered
eloquently over the hospitality of the Canal Zone people, the cheapness of
food and drink, the off-color joys to be found by crossing out of the Zone
into the nameless dives beyond. Also he has told us what it feels like to
set out alone for a five-thousand-mile open-sea voyage in a forty-foot
cutter, of the monotony of calms in the Gulf of Panama, the glory of the
trade wind in the South Pacific. He didn't seem to mind being alone at sea.
He must have a temperament as serene and philosophical as a heron's seems to
be. He might have stopped at the Galapagos, for he passed close to them, but
he had heard stories of yachtsmen having received bad treatment there, so he
satisfied himself with a glimpse of their mountains above the horizon. And
he did not stop at the Marquesas, Dangerous Archipelago, or Tahiti, for he
thought they might have gone over to Petain's France, and satisfied himself,
therefore, by sailing within a few hundred miles of them. But Rarotonga he
felt sure would be a safe Allied port, if there was one left in the South
Seas; and anyway, he wanted to drink a cup of tea with his old friend Ron
Powell of the broken nose and the artistic temperament, and Rarotonga is the
port of entry for Powell's island.

Powell and I talked about our mutual friends among the islands. The bottle
of Barbados no more than sufficed to keep our throats charged for the mere
mechanics of discussing every Tom, Dick, and Harry from Easter Island to the
Fijis. We even talked of Captain Prospect, wondered if he was out in the
storm or if he was still searching for Nassau and Manihiki, someplace in the
moonlit reaches near Honolulu or Singapore.

I suppose I have just written "Singapore" because Pratt brought us the news
that the Japanese were at the gates of that city and it was expected
momentarily to fall. It seems incredible, or rather unreal, as does all news
from the outside world. I respond to such news as I do to a discussion about
books; for the life of me I can excite in myself only mild interest. Instead
of, "Have you heard about Singapore?" substitute, "Have you read The
Conquest of Mexico?" and then carry on the conversation, recalling various
of the incidents of horror and high romance in Prescott's history, and the
sensation you will feel will be identical to the one I feel when Pratt
speaks of the war. This is not due to any unpatriotic apathy in my nature,
but it is because I have heard so little of the struggle that I have not
been able to develop, by accumulated shocks, an emotional awareness of it.
My awareness is almost entirely intellectual, and of course such an
awareness can no more make the blood run hot, the eyes glint, the breath
come fast than can an awareness of the function of zero in mathematics.

Pratt gave us good news when he told us of the reverses the Germans are
suffering from the Russians. As to the United States, he says that my
country is not yet properly in the war and that probably she will be delayed
for some time due to the heavy losses to her fleet in Pearl Harbor.

That one piece of information--which I had already heard vaguely from
Captain Prospect--brought the war a little nearer to me: it has determined
me to return to the United States as soon as I can. Hawaii is only about two
thousand miles away as the crow flies, but God knows how many thousands of
miles lie ahead of me or how many months of travel! I have now been on my
way six weeks, and I have managed to sail some two hundred and fifteen miles
farther from Hawaii than was my point of departure.

Well, we yarned and yarned; we drank Barbados rum and coconut water; Powell
and Pratt ate coconut crabs and uto pudding; the children and I gorged on
Hormel ham, biscuits and jam, tinned peaches and cakes . . . . and all the
time the wind howled evilly and shifted more and more to the north, which is
just the opposite of what it should do, damn it! Seas built up on the reef,
which means that the passage has become so rough that there is no hope of
sailing out to sea. This last is what Powell and Pratt want to do, but a
glance at the passage firmly changes their minds. They are here now, and
they'll have to stay until the weather moderates. Their boat is safe enough,
for there doesn't seem to be much danger of the weather getting worse. The
barometer remains steady at 29:70.

Tonight the little tree-house shivers and creaks with every blast of wind.
Pratt, the nerveless heron, doesn't seem to mind it, but I do. I have not
mentioned to him that there is a tall coconut tree leaning over the house,
and I doubt if he has noticed it. He moves about in a kind of bewildered
way, as though he were lost in some profound philosophical deliberation. His
dull, myopic eyes blink goodnaturedly and vacantly from behind his
thick-lensed glasses. No wonder he didn't mind the eighty-odd days' sail
from Panama to Rarotonga. Perhaps he, like myself in relation to the war,
was only intellectually aware that he was at sea.

Powell has taken charge of the ground-house, where tonight he is sleeping
again with the children. I find him a difficult person to describe, and I
more than half suspect the reason to be that he is a good deal like myself.
Oh well, I suppose that most of us in the South Seas acquire similar
characteristics.

The wind has been in the east-northeast today and seems to have settled
there. It is blowing at about a force eight, which in other words is a full
storm. This is the strongest wind I have experienced in the South Seas save
only for the edge of a hurricane that I went through in Puka-Puka. The
passage is a nightmare of confused fighting seas. Vagus is weathering it
handsomely. We went aboard her this morning in Panikiniki, started the
engine, and steamed close to where the anchor had been dropped, there to
drop a second hook and then let the boat drift back until both chains got an
equal strain. After that, feeling better, we sat in the cabin and looked
through Pratt's scrapbook. It contained mostly clippings from magazines in
which his drawings had appeared. There were many drawings of German
automobiles. When I asked him if he had been in Germany he said that
formerly he went there once a year to attend some kind of an automobile show
and during one of his visits had met Hitler at a dinner given to foreign
correspondents. Hitler, the heron claimed, did not give the impression of
being a man of blood and steel. "He was quite a cheery little fellow," Pratt
told me, "full fun and jokes, and very friendly to us."

It was snug and comfortable in the cabin; the vessel pitched slightly;
somehow I felt securely isolated from the ominous weather outside. But when
I went on deck a wet blast of wind slapped my face, the cutter seemed
suddenly to pitch and roll, the lagoon's face had a nasty look. Big seas,
piling over the reef and shallows, had whitened the water with foam; long
reaches of chopping waves curved away to the west as far as I could see. I
noticed that the wharf, for the moment, was entirely under water. Seas were
washing up the beach and into the jungle. The sky was ghastly.

"There's nothing more we can do," said Powell. "I'll break out some tinned
pineapple and biscuits for Ropati and his cowboys and we'll go ashore."

"Yes," Pratt agreed, "and break out a dozen c-c-cans of beer. I don't mind
losing my boat, b-b-but I'd hate to have all that b-b-beer go to the
bottom."

When we had paddled ashore we hauled Panikiniki well above the high-water
mark; then, in as casual a way as possible both for my own peace of mind as
well as for the cowboys', Powell's, and Pratt's, I drove a few spikes into
the beams of the tree-house and fixed four braces to the ground-house posts.
Glancing at the barometer, I found it had dropped to 29:50

We now know there is a hurricane brewing somewhere in this vicinity, but we
do not speak of it. A hurricane on a tiny island of twenty-five acres, with
the highest elevation thirteen feet, and nothing more substantial underfoot
than sand and gravel, is a nasty thing to contemplate. If a hurricane
strikes us Vagus will be lost, the houses will be blown away, some of us may
be killed, and it is very possible, indeed almost probable, that the whole
island will be swept away. In such an eventuality, when Captain Prospect
returns he will find only a bare coral reef, with a few bewildered sea birds
winging overhead, perplexed at the disappearance of their old nesting
ground.

I am beginning to believe that Pratt's attitude of complete dissociation, or
abstraction, or nonchalance, is the outward manifestation of profound
fatalism. At most times he seems lost in spiritual detachment from the
vulgar physical world, but when his eyes brighten and he takes cognizance of
the world about him it is to meet one with almost childish simplicity and
candor.

This evening, as we sat at the shore end of the wharf, watching Vagus strain
at her anchors, trace with her masthead great arcs in the gloomy western
sky, I offered the heron a penny for his thoughts. I had expected him to
reply that he was worrying about his ship, but he told me he was thinking of
the three aviators, perhaps still alive, clinging to their rubber raft,
tossed about by the storm.

"There are lots of people worse off than we, aren't there?" I muttered.

"Worse off?" Pratt exclaimed, for the first time showing me a fervent side
to his character. "Even if we have a hurricane it will be nothing to
complain about. A hurricane is a thing of Nature; it is one of the
inevitable things of the physical world--like earthquakes and seismic
waves. A man is a fool to fret over the inevitable . . . . But think of the
people in Europe suffering indescribable agonies when they might be living
in peace and happiness! Those are the kind of calamities that both
discourage and terrify a man, and simply because they are unnecessary. When
I feel like pitying myself I think about bombed London; and now, if I start
thinking about the danger my cutter is in, I turn my thoughts to the three
aviators drifting out at sea. If my vessel is lost it will be through an act
of God, but if those aviators die at sea it will be through the imbecility
of man!"

Just then I caught a whiff of gardenia-scented coconut oil and, turning, saw
the sparrow hawk standing behind us and the four cowboys coming down the
path from the clearing.

"How about those cans of beer?" Powell suggested. "It's getting late. If we
don't crowd sail we'll never finish them today!"

Pratt grinned and started to rise, but just then the four cowboys, with
ear-rending whoops, tore past us, shedding shirts and dresses as they ran,
to plunge headlong into the turbulent water by the wharf. A startled cry
came from the usually phlegmatic heron, but he settled back with a
bewildered look when Powell and I urged the savages on.

I felt proud of my toddlers then, particularly so of four-year-old Nga, who
thought nothing of paddling dog-fashion into the deep, churning water. The
waves bashed her and ducked her, but she responded by turning a somersault.
The current carried her to the wide floodgate at the shore end of the wharf,
but she let herself go, to be swept through the gate and lost for a moment
in a seething pool of foam. It looked as though she were doomed to have her
head bashed on the coral blocks at the sides of the floodgate, to be drowned
instantly, to be carried out through the passage to sea, but she knew
herself to be safe as a bug in a rug. So much did she enjoy the ride that,
when she had been carried fifty yards down the beach, she climbed ashore,
ran back to us, jumped in, and did it all over again. And so much did Powell
and I enjoy it that presently we plunged in to join her--and the other
three savages. Pratt stayed on the beach. Like a true heron be could float
but he could not swim a stroke.

In a half hour, remembering suddenly the beer, we herded the cowboys out of
the lagoon and up the path to the clearing, ordered them to prepare food and
plenty of it, and then settled down to the important business of a South Sea
Islander's life.

We're in for it, I'm afraid. Last night the seas broke through Anchorage
Island, at its lowest and narrowest place, to wash a clean channel from the
outer beach to the lagoon; also they flooded about five acres on the
northern point. The whole ocean seems to have raised its mean level by about
six feet. Violent squalls intermittently slash across the island, and when
they come it is wise to take shelter, for the raindrops prick the skin "like
pins and needles," as Mark Estall said of the hurricane at Hikueru. After a
heavy squall the wind abates a little, to about the violence of a gale;
sometimes a misty sun shows furtively beyond the racing storm clouds,

Powell has been busy with Vagus' sails, patching one and sewing a reefing
band across the other. Perhaps he keeps at work to divert his mind from the
storm and the possibility of losing the cutter; or perhaps, like myself,
sailmaking stimulates his mind, and therefore, as he takes his stitches, his
thoughts are far away on Palmerston Island, where pretty little Elizabeth
Powell awaits both her husband and her eagerly expected baby.

Throughout the morning Pratt lay in the tree-house, improving his mind with
The Decline of the West; but this afternoon he went to the beach to watch
Vagus pitching and straining on her moorings two hundred yards beyond the
end of the wharf. When he returned to the clearing he told us that one of
her anchor chains had parted!

I got out my binocular to verify that the starboard chain was hanging
straight down and swinging a little with the tossing of the cutter. We
decided to go aboard her at low tide this evening, when there might be less
chop in the lagoon, and try to get the big sheet anchor over the side.

This we did. The cutter was now in the lee of Anchorage Island, for the wind
had shifted to the northeast; but still it was a man's job getting the canoe
launched, for the reef combers swept around the north point and along the
lagoon beach, to bash against the stone wharf and submerge it a good six
feet deep, then surge far into the interior of the island. However, we
waited for a calm spell, ran down the beach with the canoe, launched her in
the lee of the wharf, and paddled furiously into deep water. There the
wind caught us and sent us scudding out to the cutter so livelily that
boarding her was like changing horses by a pony express.

We made Panikiniki fast to the taffrail and went to work as smartly as we
could. First there was the big 100-pound anchor to hoist out of the forepeak
and shackle to the remaining fifteen fathoms of starboard chain. Then the
engine was started, and we moved slowly ahead, at the same time hauling in
with the winch about five fathoms of the chain on the port anchor. That was
as much as we could get in, for a long cavalcade of chopping waves swept
down on us to strike us with such force that, with the engine going full
speed ahead and both Powell and I straining at the winch, we drifted back
until the port chain was straight and taut as a bowstring. Up went Vagus'
bowsprit in a wild heave, adding another ton or two of strain on the anchor.
For a little time the sea vagrant heaved and tugged at her mooring. Afraid
that the chain might part, Pratt lifted the new anchor chest-high and, by
some faculty unknown to landsmen, balanced himself on the reeling deck to
literally "cast" it over the starboard bow. Oddly, even at that moment, in
the strain and excitement, I noticed how Pratt's fingers had closed around
the stock of the anchor in what seemed fierce joy in proving their strength;
then I turned my eyes to Panikiniki, afraid that she might have been swamped
or broken loose; but she had weathered the seas better than had the cutter.

It was getting dark, with dense black clouds piled above the western horizon
and ugly squalls looming to windward. What if the anchor chains parted while
we were aboard? There were no more anchors. There was no possibility of
sailing or steaming in this wind. We should be swept across the lagoon to
the southwest reef and, if we missed Tou Islet, end our days ingloriously in
the awful turmoil of breaking seas . . . while the children, left alone
ashore, with a hurricane brewing . . .

"Let's get out of this!" I yelled when we had payed out all the anchor
chain.

"Just a minute!" came from Pratt. He jumped down the companionway to return
in no time with four bottles of Barbados rum, two under each arm. Then he
closed the scuttle and we all climbed into the canoe. We cast off and bent
our backs to the paddles with every ounce of strength we had, and every
ounce of strength was scarcely enough. The wind was nearly dead in our
teeth, but that was not so alarming as the current, which swept us
alongshore toward the south point.

There is something fearful about the destructiveness of inanimate things;
and this, perhaps, is because we sense that they are impervious to the human
qualities of pity and forbearance. We cannot argue the point with them,
quell them by threats, appeal to their better natures, bribe them with cash
money. This evening we knew that if we did not quickly make the shallows the
whole force of the current would grip us, sweep us round the south point,
and carry us to sea. Again I thought of the cowboys, alone ashore, waiting
for their old man to come home. The thought put more strength in my arms
than has ever been there before. We drove the canoe into the shallows, then
jumped out and, because no seas were running, managed to rush Panikiniki up
the beach. We had missed being swept around the south point by a matter of
yards and seconds!

Once on the beach, we felt so exhausted that we could scarcely lift the
canoe; but lift it we did, and we carried it well above the wash of the
highest seas, there to make it fast to a coconut stump.

We were now on the south half of Anchorage Island, a third of a mile from
the clearing and separated from it by the newly scooped out channel a
hundred yards wide; so we had to run the gantlet of seas across the new
channel to reach the north islet. It was nearly dark when we made the dash
across. The water was to our knees and the bottom uneven, and Pratt, more
than half blind at night, had to be led by Powell and me and supported when
he stumbled. Once, as we ran, I glanced down the channel to the passage, but
only for an instant. It seemed, in the gloomy light, that snow-capped
mountain ranges, from some cataclysmic upheaval, were tumbling, colliding,
crashing in awful turmoil; and, above the clamor of the wind, their almost
human outcry came to me as the yelling of the hounds of hell. By the
slimmest chance we three had escaped becoming a part of that scene of
annihilation!

The gods of Suvarrow were with us; we were well up the beach of the north
islet before a sea came from lagoonward to surge through the channel like a
tidal bore, then meet a comber from the passage, drive into it, seemingly
explode, and blast into the air a cloud of spray which the wind caught and
hurled back to the lagoon.

When we got to the clearing we found the cowboys playing blackjack by
firelight. The heron opened one of the bottles of rum. A big tot of it was
taken gratefully by all hands. A second tot eased my nerves sufficiently to
make this journal entry.

We are all sleeping in the tree-house tonight. I have cotton in my ears to
deaden the noise of the storm and to deaden the ominous sepulchral groan
that comes from one of the tamanu trees, like a warning of doom, each time
the tall coconut tree, leaning over the roof, rubs against one of the limbs
of the tamanu.

Three men and four children are in this tiny house measuring six feet by
eight. What a mess the tall coconut tree will make if it falls on us
tonight!

When I woke early this morning I saw Pratt standing at the west window, his
head and shoulders thrust out and, so help me! his right leg cocked up so
the foot rested against the side of his left knee, The perfect human heron!
For a little time he was motionless, then he scratched the side of his knee
with his foot, stretched his neck first to the right side and then to the
left, and finally made a rotary motion with his two shoulders, his hands on
his hips, reminding me of the physical-culture exercises my aunt Charity
performed to the end of her days, morning, noon, and night, hoping thereby
to alleviate her burden of bodily woes.

Again Pratt was motionless, but abruptly he put his right foot down, thereby
resuming the character of Mr. John Pratt of London, turned, noted that I was
awake, and:

"She's still there," he said. "I can see her m-m-masts."

We had a good breakfast, then we left the clearing to walk toward the lagoon
beach. We found that during the night the seas had swept inland halfway to
the clearing and had cleaned out every sign of jungle, leaving the coconut
trees standing in pure white sand. It was a bewildering sight. Here, where a
day or two ago Johnny and I had hunted coconut crabs in dark and all but
impenetrable jungle, was smooth, clean, sloping sand staked off with the
slim, polefike boles of coconut palms and, here and there, with fallen trees
tracing their length down the beach. But we were soon shocked out of our
bewilderment, for a great comber, a deluge, swept over the north point,
surged down the beach with the noise of a freight train, washed up to within
a yard of where we stood, then rolled away to divide its volume between the
new channel and the South Islet. For a few moments Anchorage Island had been
reduced in size to about five acres!

All the trees on the lagoon side of the island, we noticed, were black with
roosting birds. Many frigate birds were still in the air, blown this way and
that in wild confusion. Now and again one would be caught by a downgust of
wind and dashed into the water. We found plenty of them, maimed or
exhausted, on the beach, and we brought a few back to the clearing to be
cooked for our noon meal.

Near the outer beach, on the sea side of the clearing, stands a beacon built
of solid masonry, eight feet square and as many high. This afternoon Jakey
and I went to the beacon, climbed to its top, and for a little time watched
the raging fury in the passage. It reminded me of the Clashing Rocks of the
Odyssey. "Thereby no ship of men ever escapes that comes thither, but the
planks of ships and the bodies of men confusedly are tossed by the waves of
the sea and the storms of ruinous fire." No clear water was visible. Combers
forty feet high seemed to be breaking in all directions, bashing each other
to spurt great geysers of foam high above the turmoil. Above it all a cloud
of driving spray blocked off the Gull Group of islets and even the barrier
reef on the far side of the passage.

"Suvarrow! Suvarrow! What a siren you are!" I exclaimed. "How you seduce men
to your haunted shores, but only to destroy them! You seem to have a feeling
for the dramatic in your tragedies, an eye for the fantastic and the
grotesque and the spectacular. You have brought together Heron Pratt of
London, Sparrow Hawk Powell of Palmerston Island, Ropati and his four
cowboys of Puka-Puka; you have moored the little sea vagrant in the lee of
Anchorage Island; and in the background, in the heaving seas, close by
mayhap, you have placed three American aviators clinging to their rubber
raft, the hurricane roaring down on them! But beware lest your love of the
spectacular lure you into destroying yourself as well as your actors.
Already half of your Anchorage Island has been swept away. If the wind
increases but a little more, the combers rise another foot or two, you will
destroy yourself in your last great drama!"

So I mused as I stood with Jakey on the beacon. We did not try to speak, for
it is unlikely that we could have made ourselves heard. Presently Jakey
glanced up at me, with fear in his eyes. I helped him down from the beacon
and we returned to the clearing.

Later in the afternoon we went to South Islet and, after a long and
wearisome effort, carried Panikiniki to the lee of the five tamanu trees in
the clearing. Then Powell bent a line from the canoe's forward crossboom to
a limb of one of the trees, thus mooring her in case a sea should sweep
through the clearing. He then put a strip of matting, a pillow, and a quilt
in the body of the canoe and lashed a length of iron roofing above the
gunwales. He intends to sleep there, believing that if seas wash across the
clearing he will be able to ride them safely. He ought to know, for he comes
from an island infamous for its hurricanes. Pratt has decided, in a like
eventuality, to trust his life to the tree-house. The cowboys and I will
take refuge in the pearling cutter.

At dusk Vagus was still weathering the storm, but she was receiving terrible
punishment, with the wind holding her bow to the land and the seas striking
her beam. We watched her rolling jerkily, her masthead tracing an arc of
fully ninety degrees. Sometimes a particularly heavy sea would swing her
round until she had her beam to the land, and then the wind and the sea
would contend, the one blowing her stem lagoonward, the other bashing it
back. We realized that with all this swinging about her anchor chains must
be fouling in the coral bottom, and we knew that soon the chains must work
under a coral lump close below her bows, when, a sea heaving her up,
something must part. We watched her out there, as evening darkened into
night, but we did not speak about her, nor did we when we had returned to
the clearing.

Now, at 7 p.m., the barometer is at 29:42! The wind still blows from the
northeast, which means that the hurricane--if there is one--is headed
straight for Suvarrow. Its center will pass to the west-northwest; we will
be in the "dangerous semicircle."

We have strengthened the ground-house with new braces, lashings, and plenty
of spikes; and we have taken refuge there tonight. Vagus' sails are on the
windward side of the roof; they hang over the eaves to the ground, where I
have staked them down. My small chest and typewriter, the three remaining
bottles of rum, some tea and tobacco, and a few tools and pieces of rope are
in the tree house. The pearling cutter, near the water tank, has been
secured to a tamanu stump with sixteen turns of rope.

The wind howls; the rain lashes across the island; the coconut trees bend
far over, their fronds flung out and clustered together. Sometimes a tree
breaks off, usually ten feet from the ground, and is carried fathoms away
before it lands.

I have the hurricane lantern in a kerosene case where it burns fairly well.
All of the children have on their warmest clothes, and around the waist of
each, as well as around my own waist, I have tied a two-fathom length of
sennit, with the ends, each about four feet long, dangling down in front.
These are for tying us to the trees--should the seas come! . . . It gave me
a sinking feeling to write those last words--should the seas come! . . .
Damn the wind! We can stand any amount of wind. We can survive if the wind
blows down every tree--so long as they don't fall on us. But the seas!
Great combers crashing, thundering over this tiny bank of sand! In Hikueru,
in 1906, a thousand people were drowned when the reef failed to stop the
hurricane seas!

10 p.m.: We are snug enough. The low jungle, the tamanu trees, and the sails
along the windward side of the house keep out most of the wind and rain; but
nothing will keep out the ungodly roar--not even the wet cotton I have
stuffed in my ears. The windward side of the roof sags far down under each
gust of wind; the whole house moves, shudders. Outside, enough moonlight
seeps through the clouds to show sheets of rain driving horizontally across
the clearing. When I flash my torch into it I can see the jungle, seemingly
in convulsions, and the tops of the lower coconut trees flinging their black
wings to the storm. I know that only a few yards away the seas are
inundating the land.

The children are asleep, unconscious of danger. Pratt sits with his back to
a house post and smokes cigarettes. We do not talk, for it would mean
shouting in each other's ears; but a fleeting glance, a ghost of a smile,
speaks companionship. Powell is in the canoe.

I will sit under the eaves, on the lee side of the house, and watch for the
big seas that may come at any minute. When they start flooding the clearing
I shall take the children to the pearling cutter and try there to ride out
the rest of the storm; but if the cutter proves unsafe I shall tie them to
the tamanu trees.

Midnight: I have just been on a tour of inspection during a lull in the
rain. First I climbed to the tree-house to find everything shipshape, but to
read the barometer at 29:26! In a way the reading was a relief, for it
convinced me that we are in the worst of the hurricane now.

Then I went to the path that leads from the tank to the stone wharf, and
there I found that the seas had swept up to the clearing or, in other words,
to within thirty yards of our house. Practically all the undergrowth between
the clearing and the lagoon had been washed away.

Keeping a sharp lookout, with my torch darting this way and that, I ran to
within ten yards of the shore end of the wharf, then swept the lagoon with
the beam of fight. Vagus was still there! For a moment I stared at her in
mingled amazement and admiration. It must have been an exceptionally calm
spell, for she rode easily; and she seemed so snug that, perhaps by
association, I felt safe myself. For a moment I did not heed the sense of
danger that prompted me to glance to the north. Then the feeling of peril
became overpowering. I turned the torch up the beach, and its beam met a
towering comber, only thirty yards away and seemingly curled up fifty feet
above me and about to crash down! It carried on its crest a great mass of
brush and limbs and coconut fronds! I do not know whether I had time or
coolness enough to realize the uncanny silence of the thing--to realize
that it seemed to be moving with lethal silence--for the noise of the wind
drowned the thunder of the sea. I do not know how greatly the sea terrified
me, for three other objects caught my attention immediately and drew from me
a scream of horror!

I saw, or imagined I saw, the figures of three men, just under the crest of
the wave! They stood stiffly, facing away from me. One of them leaned
slightly and seemed to support himself on a staff. Perhaps it was only the
stumps of three coconut trees; perhaps it was only the contagious delirium
of the night maddening my brain; yet when I recall the scene, now, three
half-clothed figures leap distinctly into my mind's eye, the comber curls
over them, crashes down; I yell, but the noise of the storm is so great I
cannot hear my own voice. And now I wonder: were those three figures the
three American aviators or only phantoms begotten by the storm?

Suddenly panic terror seized me. The figures had been buried by the sea. I
leaped back, bumped against a coconut tree, and the next instant, by some
newborn agility and strength, I managed to climb high up on its trunk. There
I swung the ends of my life rope around the tree and held myself tightly
against it.

The comber swept beneath me. I could feel the tree shudder. A boulder bashed
its trunk. The sea surged away. Weak, trembling, I loosened my life rope and
slipped to the ground. Then I turned my torch to where the figures had been,
but only to see white, glinting sand criss-crossed with the trunks of fallen
trees. Again I turned my torch to the lagoon, beyond the end of the wharf.
Vagus was gone!

Returned to the clearing, I went to the canoe to get Powell out of it, for,
from what I had seen on the beach, I knew that the first wave to flood the
clearing would bring with it a great mass of debris, which would smash the
canoe. Powell was glad enough to come to the ground-house. He said nothing;
just rose like an obedient child and followed me. When we had rejoined Pratt
we each took a big tot of rum; and the rum, as earlier in the night, has
made it possible for me to make this entry.

I have not told Powell and Pratt that Vagus is gone, or of the three figures
on the beach, or of my own narrow escape. Now I sit by the kerosene case
with its flickering old lantern. Elaine's head is on my lap and the other
cowboys are near by. As I listen to the storm I feel very small, and I want
to cry when I think of the peril my children are in.

Ten yards from where I sit great hurricane seas are eating away the land.




Chapter VI



It came on us out of the blackness, at four o'clock in the morning of
February 22. We were all sleeping fitfully except for Powell, whose turn it
was to sit under the eaves, on the lee side of the house, now and then to
flash his torch to windward, on watch for the sea. Elaine and Nga slept with
me, each with her head on my arm. Johnny and Jakey were close by. I had
fallen into my first sound sleep when Powell woke me with a yell:

"Look out! It's coming! The sea!"

The next instant there was a rush of water, about a foot deep, through the
house! Wide awake instantly, I picked up Elaine and Nga, jumped to my feet,
stumbled, fell, and was rolled to the far side of the house with all four
children. No one of us was hurt. The hurricane lantern, in its kerosene case
on top of a chest, was still burning.

When the sea had drained away we sat up to take our bearings. Powell and
Pratt had disappeared. Elaine was laughing, but the other children seemed
bewildered. I became aware that the noise of the hurricane was much louder
now, that its pitch had risen from a roar to a shriek.

There was no indecision, for we had planned exactly what to do in case the
reef combers swept through the clearing. In a moment I had Elaine on my back
and had tied her there with a quilt. Johnny took Nga on her back, I gripped
the hands of the two older children, and we broke out of the house to come
against the wind. It struck us like a solid stream of water; and the simile
is a fair one, for the air was dense with rain. And the noise! Put your ear
to a ship's whistle and pull the cord. That is what it was like. The noise
seemed to have density. We became like people suddenly stricken deaf and
dumb, maladroitly trying to express ourselves with grimaces and
gesticulations. Had another sea flooded the clearing then we could not have
heard it; nor could we have seen it, even with the torchlight, until it was
within a few yards of us.

We crept through the clamorous blackness. Then I remembered my torch, felt
for it, and found it in my trousers pocket. I flashed it in the tank to find
it half full of muddy salt water. The galvanized-iron roof was still intact.

A few yards farther and we were at the pearling cutter, which, as I have
said, had been secured to a stump with sixteen turns of rope. I put the
children in the boat, climbed in myself, and then, for a moment or two,
flashed the torch here and there to find the ground crisscrossed with fallen
trees and at one side a tangled mass of rusty iron and rotten planks, near
where the old trading post had been. I could not see the lagoon beach, nor
could I make out the tamanu trees albeit they were not sixty feet away.

I felt no fear and no excitement, but rather a dumb horror, such as one
might experience when lost and groping blindly in the inky blackness of the
Roman catacombs. I understood very clearly that I was now being called upon
to face death, that my efforts might save us or, quite as likely, be of no
avail. I remember that I rolled a cigarette and actually lit it and smoked a
part of it by lying in the bottom of the boat and covering my head with a
quilt.

An hour must have passed, but still there was no sign of dawn; then a second
sea swept through the clearing, this one about three feet deep. It raced
toward us with terrific force, carried away half of the roof over the tank,
and then swept the wreckage down on us with a great churning mass of bush
and fronds and other rubbish. It struck the boat on her beam, heaved her up,
and laid her over until she was all but capsized. The five of us were
tumbled in her bilge; we felt the water pouring over her sides onto us, and
when we had scrambled to our feet we found the boat swamped to her gunwales!

Then the sea spilled away. Turning my torch to the children, I saw them
standing to their waists in the swamped boat, facing me. Their mouths were
wide open and tears were streaming from their eyes. Of course I could not
hear them crying. There was something both agonizing and bathetic about the
little picture, which I know I shall never forget.

A second sea came, this one from the passage side of the island. It was not
so high as the first one, but it rolled the boat completely over, pitched us
out, and drained away to leave us scattered here and there in the wreckage,
more bewildered than hurt. Flashing my torch on each of the children, I
found that they had stopped crying; and I may as well mention now that they
did not cry again--not even when the climax of peril was upon us and it
seemed that there was no hope of escape.

We knew then, of course, that there was no hope of security in the boat. The
seas had only started to flood the island, and already we had nearly lost
our lives. Was there time to take refuge elsewhere? When would the next sea
come? I felt a touch of despair: it seemed so hopeless to contend against
this almost supernatural power. But the despair was short-lived, for Johnny
shook it out of me by pulling my hand and beckoning toward the tamanu trees.

I tied Elaine on my back again and this time took Nga under my arm, for the
tamanus were to windward, and Johnny could not carry her sister against the
wind. We crawled past the tank on our hands and knees, seeming to force our
heads and shoulders into a solid substance, feeling our bodies too light to
grip the ground. It was slow work and it was desperate work, for constantly
we were haunted by the knowledge that we might not reach the trees before
the next sea came. Even now it makes a cold sweat start from my skin when I
recall that laborious half hour's struggle when the five of us wormed
painfully through the solid body of wind, desperate but not despairing.
Brave children! They dug their toes and fingers in the sand and pushed
forward like draft horses hauling a heavy load. And the seas! The seas!
Would another comber rage through the clearing before we made the tamanus?

Then, all at once, I became aware of the vague shapes of coconuts bowed away
from the wind. The formless umbra of tamanu trees emerged from the denser
blackness beyond. Dawn was breaking.

A beam of light flashed from the tree-house. It stabbed this way and that in
the rain-streaked darkness. It showed Panikiniki's crossboom hanging from a
limb; the canoe was gone. It turned up the path, and then we could see that
most of the islet was swept clean of jungle, opening a clear path for the
next comber to flood the island. Then the torch beam was turned up to a tall
coconut, and I noticed how the fronds were all packed together tightly, as
though seized, and how they were flung out horizontally away from the wind,
seemingly motionless. They reminded me of a wet mop.

We felt a degree of safety when we reached the first of the tamanus, for
now, if a sea came, we might clamber up it in time to save ourselves. On a
limb up the second tree I saw a huddled figure. Like all the tamanus, this
one leaned at about forty-five degrees, so I had no trouble climbing it with
Nga and handing her to Powell, whom the figure proved to be. When I left
them Nga was bundled in a quilt, sitting in Powell's lap and sheltered by
his body.

In the third tree, about twenty feet from the ground, a natural basket was
formed by a fork in the main trunk and a number of smaller branches. In our
fair-weather days it had been a favorite retreat for the cowboys, their
private tree-house. I motioned for Johnny to climb to this fork, which she
did, carrying her quilt wound round her waist; and I left her there alone,
but with little concern for her, for she is as self-reliant as any grown
person I know.

Elaine, Jakey, and I crawled to the last two trees, where my house stood.
The ladder was still there, so we had no difficulty in getting into the
house. There, perched in the doorway, his chin to his knees, we found Pratt.
I flashed my torch in his face, and, for just a moment, I almost laughed at
his expression of unutterable disgust. He seemed to be trying to tell me:
"So this is your peaceful South Seas! So this is your island paradise with
its blue lagoon, its whispering palms, its balmy trade wind! Bah! and bah
again!"

We had been up the tree fully ten minutes before the next sea came. It was
fairly light by then, so we could see it charging toward us at what seemed
the speed of an express train. We saw it uproot a full-grown tamanu tree
three feet in diameter at the base, roll it over and over, lift it on its
crest, dash it through the ground-house and the remainder of the tank-house,
and then pick up the mass of wreckage, and the pearling cutter as well, and
roll them in a tangled mess some place out of sight to leeward. Thus, with
the ground-house gone, the children and I lost everything we owned save for
the clothes we wore and the few odds and ends in the tree-house; but we did
not think of our loss: we thought only of the cutter and the death we had
escaped!

That sea was ten feet deep where it passed under the five tamanu trees, on
the highest part of Anchorage Island, thirteen feet above normal sea level.
It was followed by another comber, but now we realized that both were in
reality one. Apparently a gigantic sea had rolled over the barrier reef from
the north and had struck the point of Anchorage Island, there to divide so
its west half flooded the island first, while its east half, slowed down by
the current in the passage, followed a moment later.

As the morning advanced, the wind, still blowing from the northeast, became
fiercer; more and more frequently the combers swept the island from end to
end, from six to fifteen feet deep where we had taken refuge. For a time we
could see the lagoon beach, now not half so far away as formerly, for much
of the land had been washed away. There was no sign of the wharf; the
turmoil of water was indescribable. We could see the eastern beach too, and
sometimes we caught glimpses of amorphous shapes like clouds in the driving
rain, rising and subsiding as they rolled along the fringing reef; but soon
the rain, thickening more and more, blotted out these shapes of monstrous
reef combers; then the eastern beach was blotted out, and before long our
circle of visibility did not extend beyond fifty yards.

By ten o'clock the last of the jungle was swept clean away, leaving only a
desolate bank of sand with here and there a wind-ravaged coconut tree, a
pile of debris, a great lump of coral wrenched from the barrier reef. And
how insecure that bank of sand seemed to us, clinging to three of the trees
still left standing, isolated in the midst of an ocean homicidal in its
frenzy! At least nine out of every ten coconut trees had been uprooted or
blown down. I saw only one of them fall. I had been watching the trees to
leeward and noticing that they did not sway this way and that, as they had
done the night before, but rather leaned far over, as stiff and motionless
as steel bows; but when they did move it was always in unison, like a class
in calisthenics. Slowly they straightened up a little, their fronds, like
arms, stretched out horizontally; then, when the wind shrieked down on them
with renewed violence, they bowed their heads away from it with one accord.
Watching them, but with my eyes fixed on a single tree, I saw that tree
disappear suddenly! It gave me a little shock of panic until I realized that
it had broken off some ten feet from the ground and had whipped down so fast
that my eyes could not follow its fall. The tall coconut tree to windward
leaned so far over that it sometimes touched the tree-house. We avoided
looking at it or even thinking of it.

Later in the morning visibility lessened until at times we could see no more
than twenty or thirty feet. We thought the air was thick with rain until we
tasted it and found it salt; then we knew that the wind was scooping up
great masses of the sea itself and flinging them in all but solid sheets
across the land.

The little tree-house faced the wind bravely, and the roof stayed on, for I
had lashed it down with sennit. Made of green, tough, and pliable nonu
poles, the house leaned away from the wind: at times it folded down until
its sides were at forty-five degrees from the vertical. I stood outside the
doorway, braced between two limbs, within reach of the children should they
need me. I watched the house bend and straighten in unison with the coconut
trees. There was an uncanny harmony about this concurring obedience to the
wind that fascinated me horribly; it fascinated me, too, to watch the wind,
like a gigantic hand, push the house over until Pratt and the children,
crouching in the doorway, would suddenly be outside the house, then watch
the roof slowly move back until it was over their heads again.

Shortly after ten o'clock I noticed that Elaine's lips were blue, and then I
remembered the remaining bottles of rum. In a moment I had crawled into the
house and removed the patent cap from one of the bottles, which I handed to
Pratt, then turned to glance at the barometer. It read 28:32! I tapped it,
but the needle did not move, so I concluded that it would register no lower.
Lord knows what the true pressure was--or what it dropped to later! Silly
though it may seem, the barometer reading brought home to me more than did
the wind and sea that we were experiencing a cyclonic storm. Perhaps
unconsciously I had been defending my sanity by refusing wholly to admit the
truth. Knowing well enough that we were in the midst of a hurricane, I had
still refused to accept the fact unreservedly--I had allowed myself a ray
of hope; but now the fact was forced on me, will or nill, by the barometer's
uncompromising statement: 28:32!

When Pratt had taken a few swallows of rum I forced Elaine and Jakey to
drink. They took the raw stuff like little martyrs. It worked wonders: in
five minutes their lips were red, their eyes alight, and I believe they were
beginning to enjoy the experience. Then I chose my time, climbed down the
tree, and went to Powell. I found him cramped and numbed with cold, holding
little Nga in arms too stiff to move. I put the bottle to his lips and he
drank fully a quarter of it; then he smiled wanly and asked me by gestures
if Vagus were gone. I replied with a nod, then held the bottle to Nga's
lips. She took the rum as bravely as the others, swallowing fully two
ounces.

Johnny came last. Incredible though it may seem, I found her in her little
basket fast asleep! She was rolled up like a baby sloth, and bundled, head
and all, in her quilt. When I wakened her she eyed me crossly, then turned
to watch a big sea surge under her tree and sweep on into the desolation to
leeward. She refused the rum at first, but I forced her to drink. Later she
told me, almost fretfully, that the rum had kept her awake during the rest
of the storm!

In the meantime I had taken two or three good drinks myself. Perhaps they
made me foolhardy. Anyway, I had been wondering what hope would remain to us
if the five tamanu trees fell. I knew it would be possible to save myself.
Unencumbered by the children, I could climb a stout coconut tree and lash
myself to it; but I knew also that I could not leave my children for the
next sea to devour; I could not abandon even three of them so as to take
refuge in a coconut tree with one. If the five tamanu trees fell we should
all die together. I am not trying to make myself appear a hero; a truly
courageous man, in the last extremity, would have resolved to save one of
the children. I have no such fortitude. To me death seemed infinitely
preferable to life with the recollection of myself safe in a tree watching a
great comber curl over three of my children, crash down, and sweep them to
an awful death.

It is for this reason that I studied carefully the effect of the seas on an
enormous tamanu tree standing some fifty feet to windward. It would stand, I
concluded, so long as there was any land left on Anchorage Island; but it
grew straight, and its lowest limb was about twenty feet from the ground.

There was rope in the tree-house. I cut off a few fathoms of it, again chose
my time, then forced my way through the solid stream of wind to the base of
the tree. Throwing the rope over the lowest limb was easier than it sounds,
for the limb was on the lee side where an eddy of wind sucked the rope close
to the trunk rather than carried it to leeward. After two or three attempts
I got the rope over the limb; then I tied the two loose ends, climbed to the
limb and, after pulling the loose ends up, tied knots in them at intervals
of a foot or two. The loose ends, dropped close to the trunk, made a
good-enough rope ladder.

I felt relieved after this and for some time stayed on the limb to watch
several combers wash across the land and to note their appearance under the
five tamanus. It gave me a sinking feeling to see how close the rushing
water came to the floor of the tree-house: there could not have been more
than three feet of clearance! I noticed also that the seas were piling a
barricade of fallen coconut trees, fully six feet high, along the west side
of the five trees and heaping tons of sand beyond them. This weight would
hold the roots down and thus strengthen the trees, but also it would bring
the combers closer to the floor of the house. Then I looked on the east side
of the trees to see that the roots were exposed where the water, piling over
the barricade, had washed away the sand! It seemed, then, that the five
tamanus could not stand much longer!

Alarmed for my children, and with half a mind to bring them to the big tree
at once, I climbed down the rope ladder and fairly let the wind fling me
back to the five tamanus. And I got back none too soon; a big comber all but
caught me as I was climbing to the tree-house. For a moment I was too
excited to glance toward the big tamanu I had just left. Then, my eyes
closed to slits, I peered into the driving rain to see that the tree had
fallen! And, to make matters more desperate still, it was at that moment
that the big limb, which I had my back to, broke off just above my head and
crashed down on the tree-house!

Some god must have looked down on us and saved us, for the house did not
collapse immediately. The broken end of the limb, fully fourteen inches in
diameter, pushed the roof down slowly, giving Pratt time to climb out and me
time to pull out the two children. For a moment I held them between my legs
while I glanced over the wrecked house toward Johnny's tree. The smaller
branches from the broken limb had fallen about her; now I saw her little
hand reaching up from the natural basket in a silly, futile movement toward
the branches, as though she were trying to brush them away. She was safe
enough for the present, I decided; then I went to work lashing Elaine and
Jakey to the limb I had been bracing my feet against. I tied the life ropes
loosely, in bowknots, so I could free the children quickly if the tree fell.
Pratt had climbed over the wrecked house to the next tree and tied himself
to it. I slipped my life rope around the limb my back was to but kept the
ends, untied, in my hands.

During the morning the wind had shifted very slowly from northeast to
north-northeast, but from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. it swung round rapidly to the
north. Those were three hours of madness. We experienced something there is
no name for in my vocabulary: a sort of insane exhilaration. The violence of
the wind had broken through our material bodies to enter our spirits, so
that we experienced a wild madness in keeping with the storm itself. Often I
wanted to scream louder than the wind, and I believe I did scream, but my
poor voice was inaudible even to myself. Of physical sensations I remember
only that my eyes burned.

The storm center must have been close to us during those three hours. The
wind had ceased to be a wind: it had become a monstrous thing that did not
belong to the physical world. For three hours we ceased to live on the
familiar Earth; and perhaps that is why I find it so difficult to describe
the wind, the sea, our own emotions. Vocabularies were built around the
things of everyday life; this thing belonged to the frenzied life of
delirium.

The air was now almost solid with salt water driving past us horizontally,
seeming to drive its needles through us. The great combers hurled themselves
beneath us almost continuously. There seemed to be no land. The tamanu trees
were growing out of the sea itself growing out of a sea in turmoil
indescribable. The wind lashed us and clawed us and yelled in our cars, and
we bowed our heads away from it, bereft of our senses.

I believed we were about to die in a wild nightmare of churning seas and
tumbling masses of trees. More than once my brain took crazy flights, made
me believe my tree was uprooted, was being rolled by the combers across the
island and into the passage; and more than once I broke from my crazy
hallucination to find myself holding my breath to keep from drowning.

I thought that Desire was with me, clutching my arm and crying, "The
children! The children! The children!" I must have been stark mad at times.

About 2 p.m. the wind shifted suddenly from the north to the northwest, and
it was then that the awful thing came down on us--but, alas! I have used my
superlatives, I have no words left to describe it! When we saw the comber
looming out of the rain we were struck dumb with awe. Distinctly I remember
bracing myself for death. Its noise could be heard above the shrieking of
the wind. It raged toward us, engulfing everything in its path. It seized
the fallen tamanu tree and flung it at us. The comber loomed above us, its
crest thirty feet high; and I remember closing my eyes tightly, gritting my
teeth, holding my breath, feeling every nerve come up taut.

There was a moment of crashing branches, rushing water. My life rope bit
into my flesh; then the ends were jerked from my hands. The comber gripped
me and rolled me under. It pitched me this way and that. My head struck
something and I nearly lost consciousness. I thought I could hear my
children screaming for help which I could not give; Desire's cry: "The
children! The children!" Then I was flung against a mass of branches. I
clutched them blindly, held my breath, and felt the comber surge over my
body. Then the water subsided; and then suddenly quietness! Even the wind
seemed hushed! Was it death?

It was fully a moment before I dared open my eyes. When I did so I saw
Johnny, lying face downward directly below me, her arms and legs gripping
the branches; I was wedged in among a great mass of branches high above her.
Then I glanced this way and that, furtively, afraid of the havoc and death I
felt certain the sea must have left in its wake. The big tamanu had been
flung against the two in which the tree-house had stood; these had fallen,
with Jakey, Elaine, and Pratt tied to their limbs, and then all three trees
had been pitched against the one that Johnny was in. It had stood! Jakey,
his arm badly lacerated, was clinging to his limb, which now lay horizontal,
three feet off the ground. Elaine hung limply by her life rope, and I
thought her dead until I had climbed down to her and found her only
stupefied by the shock. Pratt was hanging to his limb, one rib broken, limp
and unconscious. Johnny and Nga were unhurt, and Powell and I had escaped
with scratches.

In this predicament we awaited the next sea.

The air had cleared with the shifting wind. Now we could see the havoc
wrought on lovely, haunted Suvarrow. Everywhere was desolation--clean-swept
sand with here and there a pile of rubbish, a fallen tree, the scattered
stumps of coconut palms. Only a few trees had withstood the hurricane; among
them was the tall coconut leaning over our house. We stared at this scene of
ruin with dull, uncomprehending eyes; we awaited death with fierce
impatience; our spirits were broken. We believed we had only to wait for the
next comber, when the three remaining tamanus must fall and we must be swept
to sudden, awful death!

But there were no more combers! Perhaps the sudden shift in the wind had
broken the offshore seas; perhaps once again a god had looked down on us. By
evening the wind had abated to the force of a full storm. To us, huddled in
the lee of the barricade of fallen trees, so soaking wet that we heeded not
the rain, it seemed that there was no wind at all.

Sometime during the night, when the noise of the storm had lessened, we
heard, at first indistinctly, then louder and louder, the thunder of great
combers rolling over the barrier reef.




Chapter VII



The life and sparkle are blown out of everything, from the living creatures
to the soil itself. The palm fronds droop; the creeping things move
sluggishly over the land; the sun seems pale and cold; the sea birds squat,
disconsolate, on the piles of rubbish and the branches of fallen trees. The
life has been blown out of even the tough nonu saplings: they break off at a
touch. All the jungle is gone; now white coral sand reflects a lusterless
glare. There are three barren sand cays where Anchorage Island once flung
its living green against the sky.

We are demoralized. We grope about the wreckage with mouths agape, eyes
inflamed, tongues muttering all but senseless jabber. Our hands and feet are
swollen; the least scratch pains and festers. Jakey's lacerated arm is
puffed and swollen; Elaine coughs continually; Pratt has stabbing pains in
his side, where one of his ribs is broken. The terror of our experience,
which we were too excited to feel during the hurricane, is haunting us now.
We never speak of the storm, but we dream of it. After a long nightmare of
surging seas and yelling wind I waken with a feeling of relief. Perhaps the
dream is Nature's way of relieving terror.

Nor do we speak to Pratt of his lost Vagus. I fancy that his brain is so
dulled by shock that he has no more than a hazy awareness of his loss. We
see him stalking back and forth on the lagoon beach, his hand pressed to his
painful side, for all the world like a bedraggled heron. Powell scratches in
the rubbish heaps on the forlorn hope that he may find a stick of tobacco, a
tin of tea, or a bar of soap. Formerly he suggested a sparrow hawk; now he
reminds me of a badly scarred and ruffled barnyard rooster.

Even the sky is lifeless. Until this morning the atmosphere was so thick
that we could not see halfway across the lagoon. Yesterday, with a pale
glimmer of sunlight, the air cleared a little; this morning, with the first
bright sunlight in ten days, we can see the entire circle of Suvarrow's
reef, almost bare of land. There are six islets, now, where formerly there
had been over twenty. Bird Islet, where the cowboys and I camped before the
storm, has been washed clean off the reef; likewise Whale Islet, Brushwood,
One Tree, six of the Seven Islands Group, and all of the Gull Group. Staring
at the long stretches of bare coral reef, and at Anchorage Island itself, we
begin to realize how narrowly we escaped being washed into the sea. Had the
storm lasted three hours longer there would not have been a single islet
left on Suvarrow's reef!

Perhaps the strangest sight of all is One Tree Islet, three miles along the
reef to the northwest. Formerly it was of about ten acres, heavily wooded,
and with one tall coconut tree rising above the lower growth. Now only the
tall coconut tree is left. It seems to contradict every law of Nature,
growing, as it does, out of the bare coral. Fancy it, with the empty horizon
beyond, its roots planted in the seawashed barrier reef!

Dead coconut crabs, sea birds, rats, and fish are strewn about the land and
buried in the piles of rubbish. Last night we smelled their stench; today it
is nauseous. The few birds that have survived can be had for the trouble of
pulling them from their perches. They are so dazed and exhausted that they
make no attempt to fly away when the children hunt them. At night the
coconut crabs and the rats crawl like lice over the land; and they crawl
over our bodies, unafraid.

Coral boulders weighing tons have been wrenched from the reef and rolled on
the land. The tank is full of stones and sand. The ground-house and the
tank-house are tangled with debris of trees and nuts and fronds: a piece of
roofing here, a corner post at the other end of the island, a strip of
galvanized iron half buried in the sand. Panikiniki's outrigger has been
torn from her and a hole has been bashed in her side. The pearling cutter
stands on her stem far down on the central islet. The wharf is gone. The
tree-house is a mass of wreckage jammed and twisted about the broken
branches of the fallen tamanus. Some of the things I left in the house have
been salvaged.

Last night Elaine, pressing her cold little body close to mine for warmth,
whispered: "I love hurricanes, Papa!"

We were sleeping, or trying to sleep, in the lee of the barricade that had
been piled up on the west side of the tamanus. There was no shelter
overhead, but the barricade protected us from the northwest wind.

"Why do you love hurricanes, Elaine?" I asked, and the fat little darling
told me, without guile, "Because now you let me sleep with you every night."
Then she coughed, as though unconsciously proving her right to be with me.
Poor cowboy! Probably she is not seriously ill, but when she coughs it fills
me with dread, reminding me of her mother's death.

Tonight we will sleep in the comfort of a house of sorts, for we have
salvaged the frond roofing sheets from the tree-house and made a sort of
cave of them--a roof with the eaves touching the ground, with the barricade
at one gable end and the other end open.

And tonight there will be fire! I should write it in capitals F I R E! When
on Monday morning--the day after the hurricane--we checked over our
possessions we found that we each had a box of safety matches. Powell's,
being in a tobacco tin, was less sodden than Pratt's or mine; and because we
were too weak to start a fire with a rubbing stick, we handled the matches
with breathless care and put them in a dry, safe place. This morning we laid
them in the sun and early in the afternoon we managed to kindle a fire! Now
Powell is carrying pemphis stumps to the open fireplace, while Jakey and
Johnny are clubbing sea birds to be roasted tonight. Our depressed spirits
are reviving. Soon we will gorge on cooked meat, then we will lie back to
watch the moon and stars, to feel the warmth of the campfire, and to be
thankful that we are alive.

This morning we followed the reef to where Whale Islet used to be. For a
little time we moved about the clean-swept coral, as smooth as a tennis
court save for here and there the stump of a pemphis bush; and of course we
spoke of the rainy day when the tide had caught us on the reef and we had
built a lean-to on Whale Islet and feasted on wide-awake eggs; and when we
recalled the little shelter, the grove of coconuts, the familiar aspect of
the storybook islet, it was with a feeling of loss precisely the same as one
experiences on recalling to memory a dead friend.

A cloud passed before the sun. I turned to see Johnny staring at Anchorage
Island. A scowl of perplexity had creased her pretty brow. Following her
gaze, I saw that a misty rain had drawn a gauze veil before the island; but
still I could see the three sandbanks, the postlike stumps of coconut palms,
the leafless tamanu trees. Before the hurricane Anchorage Island had
appeared as a dense black oblong set against the sky; now it seemed too
tenuous to belong to the material world.

Johnny must have been thinking, or sensing, something of the kind, for,
"Look, Papa," she cried, "it is a ghost island now! I can see through it!"

"Yes, Johnny," I thought as we turned homeward, "it is like the ghost of
Suvarrow Atoll. The jungle is gone: Bird Islet, Whale Islet, Brushwood, One
Tree, and a score of others are gone--but new islets will grow up in their
place. Call it regeneracy or call it reincarnation: the sea will pile sand
on the site of Whale Islet; it will fill the channels in Anchorage Island;
it will build up even the sand cays. Bush and trees will appear; the sea
birds will multiply; and in a few years there will be a new Suvarrow rising
above the wreckage of the old. For an atoll is a living island: it rebuilds
the land the sea has detroyed."

So I reflected, and now, back in the cave-house, I have been wondering if,
in this power of regeneracy, an atoll does not resemble a nation, a city, a
human being. We see our great cities and we believe they will endure
forever, but in truth we are being misled by the spectacular. Earthquakes,
bombs, or the decay of a culture lay them low. Then comes a dormant period,
but eventually the cities build up again, different than before but, we
hope, better. We should not moan too loudly over the loss of our material
gods, for "indeed we die many deaths before we die," whether we be cities or
atolls or men, and only through these deaths are we goaded out of our
complacence and sloth and forced to rebuild above the wreckage of the past.

And I have been wondering if the loss of my personal property is not a
blessing. I am beginning to feel a kind of angry pleasure because these
household gods are gone. The hurricane has been Nature's way of cleaning the
old deadwood from Suvarrow, and incidentally I have profited by losing my
own deadwood. I had chests full of instruments, tools, manuscripts,
keepsakes, rags and tags, books that would never be read again but were kept
as sentimental reminders of the past--deadwood that had burdened me for
years but that I had never had the fortitude to throw away. Like Christian,
I carried on my back a burden of possessions, never realizing that the
effort to carry them was out of proportion to the pleasure they could give
me. Now I am grateful that they are gone. Let these reminders of the past be
forgotten; let them molder with the wreckage of Suvarrow. Let the past be
forgotten lest it fasten its cumbrous fingers on the future.

Heat, flies, sweat, exhaustion. The heat pours down on the white sand and is
splashed back in seething whorls and eddies. There is no shade except in the
cave-house and in the tent Powell and Pratt have made from Vagus's staysail.
There is no escaping the heat and the blinding sun until night brings
delectable coolness, darkness, relaxation, rest.

Millions of flies have bred in the bird carcasses; they are so thick that we
seldom attempt to eat save in the gray dawn and the late twilight. To escape
them we close the open end of the cave-house with old matting, then crawl in
the darkened hole to relax for a brief moment or two.

Sweat makes our skin itch and causes inflamed spots under the armpits and in
the groins. The salt water aggravates the burning itch. Our only relief is
from pouring the rancid water from old green coconuts over our bodies. When
it rains, and the fresh-water pools on the north point are filled, we wallow
in them by the hour. Pure luxury!

Exhaustion! Every day, by four o'clock, I believe I have come to the end of
my tether. Perhaps I have been along the reef as far as Turtle Islet and
returned with a heavy load of fish. I have husked fifty utos, worked on
Panikiniki, improved the cave-house, hunted tropic birds with Jakey. Such
would be a fair example of a day's work. At four o'clock I have a huge pile
of food under the leafless tamanu trees. It must be cooked for our meal
tonight and our breakfast tomorrow.

Well, we have a native oven made of a brick-lined pit. We kindle a fire in
it, and when the fire has burned down we simply throw in the food: birds
without picking or gutting, fish without scaling or cleaning, husked utos,
and the buds of coconuts. Then we cover the oven with pieces of roofing,
heap sand on top, and heave a great sigh of relief. In the meantime Jakey
and Johnny have brought in enough pemphis stumps to keep the fire going all
night, so we have only to lay out our mat by the fire, with a log for a
pillow, and then, if there is fresh water on the point, bathe.

It is evening. Already we are feeling a little better. With each degree of
darkness our spirits revive. Now the flies are gone. Now the heron and the
sparrow hawk come from their camp on the central islet. We feed--that's the
only word for it. We build up the fire, and we sprawl out on our ragged mat
to feel the cool night breeze on our half-naked bodies, to fair worship it,
almost to cry from sensuous happiness--and also to dread a little the
coming of tomorrow's sun.

This is our life. The cowboys are well and happy; Jakey's arm has healed;
Elaine's cough is better; Pratt's broken rib is knitting; the old man's
beard grows apace. In many ways we are enjoying ourselves; but oh! the
misery of dreaming of food, food, food! If Satan should offer me a wish for
my immortal soul I am afraid that I should be sorely tempted to make as bad
a bargain as did the poor man who asked for a black pudding. I should sell
my soul for a tin of bully beef, an onion, a cup of tea, and a slice of
bread plastered with butter and jam! . . . Away with you, gluttonous
thought! I shall take the advice I gave to Heron Pratt. "The trouble with
you, John," I said, "is that you eat too much. All this gormandizing on
coconuts and fish is making you liverish. You wanna eat less, like me and
the cowboys. Mortify the flesh. Release the spiritual man through fasting,
like the yogis do. . . . Do you want to hear some things about the yogis?"
To this Heron Pratt replied with a piping laugh full of irony and contempt.

Our life is not altogether miserable. When a fern leaf springs up from the
barren sand we hold a pagan holiday. Yesterday we saw a coconut tree in
bloom, and we cheered the brave tree as though it were a hero--as in fact
it was. I sometimes think we are beginning to love the new Suvarrow as much
as we did the old one. We admire its pluck. The sea has laid it low, but it
will grow up again: even now it is shooting up its first buds of renascent
life.

Hurry Home returned on March 25. She had been blown hither and thither and
yon, escaping the hurricane, but pitched, bashed, and battered by the nasty
weather on the edge of the storm, her chronometer run down, her radio
battery exhausted, her almanac of a previous decade, her Epitome of a
previous century, her captain half blind, her first officer an old woman.
But there was plenty to eat, for schools of albacore followed the ship, and
there were plenty of coconuts aboard for the first few weeks.

After the hurricane Captain Prospect started hunting for Manihiki in
earnest, believing that if he didn't find it he ought at least to sight
Nassau or some other island. He sailed on the port tack and he sailed on the
starboard tack; he sailed to the north, the south, the east, the west; he
saw land birds and he saw flotsam from the hurricane--but he saw no land.

Captain Prospect became worried, and when his coconuts gave out and his
water ran low the worry waxed into something like a blue funk; and finally,
when he decided to sail for Samoa, and a day or two later sighted an utterly
unknown island, the blue funk assumed the symptoms of panic.

"Land ho!" Tagi sang out from the masthead.

"Where away?" cried the captain.

"Dead ahead!"

"What land is it?"

"I don't know!"

As they approached the land their panic increased. Here and there were a few
tiny islets, a few bedraggled coconut trees, not resembling any land in this
part of the Pacific. It was like finding an elephant in one's garage. One
sees the elephant but at the same time refuses to believe the evidence of
one's senses. Something clicks in one's brain. Perhaps one screams.
Certainly one swears never to drink again.

"Damn it!" the captain yelled. "There's no land here! Haven't I been dozens
of times to every island in this part of the world? This island doesn't
belong here! It's a mistake--no! it's a mirage!"

"Uriia--hurricane!" said Takataka, and then they began to understand that
the few sandbanks were in fact all that remained of once luxuriant Suvarrow.
When they had rounded the northeast point, where the Gull Group used to be,
and had seen Anchorage Island reduced to three little cays, they concluded
that we must have perished. It did not seem possible that anyone could have
lived through a disaster that caused such wreckage. Captain Prospect wrote
in his log:

March 24, 13h: Observed Seven Islands, Suvarrow, presenting a badly battered
appearance, evidently having been visited by a violent gale, which same
Hurry Home encountered and weathered handsomely on February 21 at a position
150 miles NNW or thereabouts.

18h: Light breeze, and still too far off to make the entrance before dark.
Am standing off to the NE for the night.

March 25, 5h: Stood in for Anchorage Island, but the SE breeze too light to
stem the ebb so am lying in the offing.

10h: Anchorage Island has the appearance of being badly swept by a
hurricane, with no sign of life anywhere. There are now three small cays
with a few coconut stumps where formerly there had been a rich little island
of some twenty-five acres. On Hurry Home's departure for Nassau and Manihiki
on January 24 there were left on the island Mr. R. Frisbie, a Yankee,
together with his son and three daughters, who ranged in ages up to ten
years. Hurry Home has now returned to Suvarrow for water and repairs, has
been two months at sea, having failed, due to the storm, to make Manihiki.

As near as can be observed, the following islands have been totally swept
away: Whale, the Bird Cays, Brushwood, One Tree, Bird, two of the Tou
Islets, New, and all of the Gull Group, while of the Buckland Cays there is
not a trace and of Seven Islands all that remains is a small patch of sand
with a few dead trees. Anchorage Island has been reduced to one tenth its
former area. The seas have swept two wide channels through it, giving it the
appearance of three small cays.

When the captain wrote this entry he did not know that we had miraculously
survived, nor did he know of Powell and Pratt and the loss of Vagus. When we
went aboard Hurry Home he told us he had expected to go ashore to hunt for
and bury our bodies.

Hurry Home has sailed, taking Powell and Pratt to Rarotonga if Captain
Prospect can find Rarotonga. We have been left behind, at our own request,
for there was less than a drum of water aboard and very little food. The
captain would have taken us had we decided to go, but he seemed relieved
when we told him we would wait for his return. As it is, he has left us a
little tobacco, tea, and soap, so we feel ourselves well off indeed.

The cowboys and I paddled out to Hurry Home when she was weighing her
anchor. Takataka and Oli-Oli gave us a hand hoisting our heavy case of books
from the hold and lowering it to the canoe; then we went aft to shake hands
with the captain, Powell, and Pratt, and to wish them a prosperous journey.

"I know you will be all right ashore," the captain said as we moved to the
rail. "I'll come back for you as soon as I've gone on the slip and made a
round of the Lower Group. You can look for us in the latter part of April,
let us say--or in May or June or thereabouts."

The cowboys and I piled into Panikiniki. We paddled a little way off, and we
raised our voices in three rousing cheers when Hurry Home's mainsail went
up, three more when her jib and her mizzen were set, and three final ones
when her staysail was hoisted, bottom side up. . . . But we were very lonely
this evening, with Powell and Pratt gone, sitting on the outer beach of a
desert island in mid-ocean, watching Captain Prospect's ship sail away to
dissolve gradually in the gray evening light.

"When the next ship comes we must leave," Johnny said as we sat by the
campfire that night. "Jakey's pants--and yours too--are full of holes, and
my sisters and I have only these ragged old dresses. We must buy plenty of
pretty clothes."

"That means money, Johnny."

"Yes," the mother of the family replied thoughtfully; "we'll all have to go
to work for our uncle . . . What is his name?"

"Uncle Sam."



THE END





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