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Title: The Venture Book
Author: Elinor Mordaunt
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1600551.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2016
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------------------------------------------------------------------------


                   [Picture: Two Young Tahitian Girls]





                                   The
                               VENTURE BOOK


                                    BY
                             ELINOR MORDAUNT

                        ILLUSTRATED WITH SKETCHES
                            AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY
                                THE AUTHOR

                              _Sa laka evei_

                             [Picture: Logo]

                                * * * * *

                             THE CENTURY CO.

                 _New York_                     _London_

                                * * * * *

                           Copyright, 1926, by
                             THE CENTURY CO.

                                * * * * *

                            PRINTED IN U.S.A.

                                * * * * *




INTRODUCTION


People ask me whether I travel for pleasure or profit, but I am unable to
say.  I should make a great deal more money if I stayed at home, in
Pimlico or Putney, writing books about the Pacific: about places I have
never seen; about the people I should hate to meet.  But I do not desire
only to make money, though I desire that passionately enough at times,
times when I feel like a poor relation.  If I must work to live,—and
thank God for the necessity!—a thousand thousand times more must I live
to work.  In addition to this I am terribly afraid of being hustled off
to another world before I have had time to find the one perfect spot in
this.  And is there not always, always the something more!  Perhaps this
is why I find myself unable to rest.  There are people who go to the same
English seaside resort every summer of their lives, and they are—well,
that sort of people.  And very nice, truly sane people, too.  Or is it
only that their madness lies in some altogether different direction?

For myself, I am always thinking, “There is something better: other
places, other people.”

Boredom drives me; the dust and ashes of the easily obtainable drive me;
strangeness draws me like a master hand on my heartstrings.

And yet I do not know why.  I am happy in a house of my own, or a single
room of my own.  I love my books, my own household gods.  But there is
something else, another self—and I would give much to know how many other
people are charmed and tortured by this other self—which is like a bird
deep within me; deep in some dark and tropical forest, among trees so
high that no wind touches it; nesting quiet beneath the leaves until
something or some one whistles it away out of its wood.  I am drawn by
some instinct akin to that which sets the swallow, while suns are yet
warm in England, longing beyond all denial for Africa—that glare and
glamour and heartbreak which is Africa.  Drawn like a lark from its happy
nest in the grass, aspiring to the skies.

One is not really happy traveling, one is most happy in remembering.  It
is, indeed, like hanging one’s memory with a magic web in which one must
have done all one’s own weaving, with much hard work, with weariness and
many denials.  A web of gold and drab and black and opal tints; a web
like the canopy of the Milky Way, with dark patches toward which one
never once looks back.  For altogether safe and comfortable traveling, in
which one is surrounded by everything to which one is accustomed—and how
many people ask, “Was it comfortable?” and not “Was it wonderful?”—is
nothing to be accounted of.

To live wonderfully, to live adventurously, to live by the skin of one’s
teeth.  It would be an ill world if every one were like this, but I
cannot help myself, that’s how I am.  And, though it is altogether as a
shifting magic web that I look back upon my adventure, I feel it best to
leave the greater part of it in this book just as I wrote it, sitting in
boats or canoes, standing in crowded streets or market-places, in a
native hut or at the door of my tent, as much in the moment and upon the
spot as though I were drawing actual portraits of places, of people, and
of my own impression of them.

The real loss in writing about such a venture lies in the fact that the
scenes, at first so strange, the people, the material of life itself,
one’s altogether changed method of meeting it, become in so short a time
a commonplace, that one forgets that there are still many people to whom
it is all glamour or altogether unknown.

A ship so quickly becomes a home, with all the queer little ups and downs
of home life, an endless succession of strange ports no more wonderful
than a succession of strange streets less than a mile away from one’s own
doorstep, that, far from exaggerating, it is with difficulty that one can
jerk one’s memory back to the wonder of the first keen impression: the
effect upon one of the first flight of flying-fish, like fine elfin
silver scimitars of the sea, the first fringe of palms upon a white
strand.  It is hard to realize that there are many thousands who have
never seen a Portuguese man-of-war, or nautilus, with all its tiny
orchid-like sails set, indomitably sailing a momentary tranquil,
perfectly blue, and yet to it—no larger in all its pride and panoply than
half a thumb’s length—unending ocean.  Only by an effort does one
remember that there are still, even in these days, many who have not so
much as edged upon the unexplored desert of the Sargasso Sea; been in the
company of a man who has dined upon his fellows, with relish and without
self-consciousness; consorted with widows who regard it as no more than a
commonplace decency of mourning to blacken themselves from head to foot,
wear an assortment of their husbands’ bones slung about their necks, so
that the fact of any one of them choosing to pose for her photograph with
the dear departed’s skull clasped in both hands upon her knee seems no
whit more peculiar than that English beauties should be pictured showing
every tooth—which is, after all, no more than a sort of bone, made to be
decently covered by the lips—in an unending and unvarying smirk.

But, then, what an amazing thing is this affair of modes and morals.
One’s own quick readaptation.  Upon the Trobriand Islands, for
instance,—where for some happy and never-to-be-forgotten weeks I reigned
as king,—it was regarded as in some ways a want of delicacy to allow
worms to devour your dead relatives when you might so well, and with
profit, perform that last office for yourself; whereas in Fiji, even in
the fiercest days of cannibalism, it was looked upon as the worst sort of
form to dish up your own relative, even an in-law.  Again, to show the
difficulty there is in preserving any kind of fixed standard, we have
that curious custom of the people in the Marquesas Islands in which, far
from virginity being counted as a virtue, the bride gains in value, in
consideration, by the number of men of her own village with whom she has
consorted upon the night before her marriage; while one can imagine no
more vile crime in the eyes of any truly moral Marquesan than the denial
involved in taking the veil.

Is it strange, then, that among all these changes one finds oneself doing
quite naturally things which one never could, at home in England, have
imagined oneself as doing?  Though there is still the liability of a
sudden, sweeping wonder as to how you come to be where you are, or if it
is, indeed, you yourself; a longing for the little dog of the nursery
rhyme to prove to you your own identity:

    If this be I, as I should hope it be,
    I’ve a little dog at home and he’ll know me.

And it could but end in one way:

    Home went the little woman all in the dark,
    Up jumped the little dog and he began to bark.

I remember well at one odd little hotel where I was stranded, waiting for
a boat—a place frequented by gold-diggers, searchers after osmium-iridium
and oil, missionaries, pearl-buyers, and people who purchased ancient
vessels for no other reason than to insure and wreck them—getting so
tired of the sound of a violent and noisy quarrel, which went on late
into the night in a neighboring room, sounds which at home in England
would have scared and shocked me, that, rising in my wrath, slipping into
a dressing-gown, I went off to find out what could be done to stop it.

I can see that scene now.  It was a very small room, full of men in
pajamas or trousers and singlets,—the latter so torn open that they did
not count,—beer bottles and glasses; how the most enraged of them found
space to fling up and down it, I don’t know, but he did, while I myself
was drawn by the eddy to a seat on the bed between two other men.

The dispute was upon an affair which really did touch the striding man’s
honor, but still there was no necessity to make such a bellow about it.
When I pointed this out, said that if they would all stop talking at once
I might get at something of the truth, far from telling me to go back to
my own room, mind my own business, they all turned to me, appealed to me,
with a: “Look here, you’re a woman of the world, and you know . . .  He
said . . .” and “He said . . .” and “He said . . .”

In their eagerness the men beside me caught my arms and tugged until I
got to my feet and, snatching the aggrieved one by the sleeve, entreated
him to cease making an ass of himself.

It was all settled at last by my promise to go out at seven next morning,
the moment the wireless office was open, and myself, at my own expense,
send off a message with a prepaid answer which would clench the matter
once for all.  And I remember how it ended too—what I said:

“And now stop making a nuisance of yourself, and get off to bed, for the
Lord’s sake!”

That was one of the occasions when, returning to my own room, I found
myself wondering if this was, indeed, I.

And again, though a very different setting, this: The dense black-velvet
mask of a moonless and starless tropical night; one of those nights when
you hear the swish of the palms above your head, the sea at your feet,
and see nothing, not so much as the ghost of a crested wave, the tremor
of a pale-gray stem; when the very fireflies seem abashed into darkness
by the immensity of unilluminated space.  At such a time was I carried on
shore upon a strange island, having put off in a dinghy from a cutter,
wind-driven with a force which separated us as entirely from civilization
as though the main and altogether sophisticated island of the group were
the width of the Atlantic away; borne in the arms of a gigantic native
through the water to the shore and deposited there, with the sound, the
gentle stir, of a multitude of strange, totally unseen people all around
me.  My pack, with a few personal belongings which might have helped me
to prove my own identity to myself, with the help of Cash’s woven
names,—though Heaven knows that names which nobody can read or pronounce,
giving no indication of tribe or “pigeon,” mean little enough to anybody
once you are off the beaten path and there is nobody to bolster up your
dignity by taking it for granted that you are one of the so-and-so’s of
so-and-so,—was awash in a very insecurely anchored boat, the best part of
a quarter of a mile out to sea.

But here I am forestalling myself, for this is a tale to be told in its
proper place and at its proper time, more especially recorded because it
was the only time when I ever felt really and truly frightened.  Not that
this is any boast or proof of courage, but rather that, sliding eastward
by the West as I did, everything seemed in its own time and place to be
so inevitable, and so altogether as it should be.




ILLUSTRATIONS

Two young Tahitian Girls                                _Frontispiece_
A typical native woman of Martinique                                24
In the market, Fort de France                                       31
Oranges in Martinique                                               32
Bananas                                                             33
A view of the Rivière Madame, Fort De France,                       37
Martinique
A ruined street in St. Pierre, Martinique (1925)                    37
A typical native woman of Fort De France,                           44
Martinique
The U.S.S. _Henderson_ in one of the locks of the                   53
Panama Canal
The slide in the gaillard cut in the Panama Canal,                  53
showing the delay caused to south-bound ships
The far-famed Diadem, Tahiti                                        60
Sweeping the room, with many intervals of dreaming                  67
The pandanus tree                                                   70
One of the ladies in waiting at Maou-U’s Hospital                   81
House
A fisherman’s house in Tahiti                                       81
Holding the pearl upon his finger                                   90
The lagoon                                                          96
The canoe                                                           96
The schooner _Monterey_ sailing under the Panama                   132
flag
The little house where I was entertained by Maou-U                 132
A Samoan dancing-girl                                              139
A Samoan type                                                      140
Samoan native girls dancing the sitting “Siva-Siva”                141
Male dancers of Vavau                                              152
Samoan natives about to dance the sitting                          177
“Siva-Siva”
Making kava                                                        181
Tongans dancing on the shore                                       186
A Tongan type                                                      188
Preparing a feast in Tongatabu                                     192
The council house at Mbau                                          201
The sacred trees of Mbau                                           202
Adi Litia Cakobau                                                  206
Some of the sennit work in Ratu Pope’s house                       207
Ratu Akuri Tudauni Mbau, the last chief of the                     211
Fishers for Human Beings, one hundred years of age
Mbau council tree                                                  213
On the outrigger of a canoe                                        219
Ratu Epeli Gavidi Ganilou, Roko Tui Ra                             222
Ratu Osea, a one-time cannibal of Viti Levu Bay                    224
Ratu Epeli’s boy seated in a kava bowl                             228
A chief’s house at Mbau, Fiji                                      237
Little Nausori                                                     239
In the meke (the man is kneeling to dance)                         243
Boys seine fishing on the edge of the river                        251
The buli’s house at Wailotua                                       252
Fijians                                                            257
The canoe of a Fijian chief                                        259
A Samoan girl                                                      276
Fijian in meke dress                                               276
Section of a rope-tree at Bega                                     281
A typical river scene in the Fiji Islands                          285
Fijian boy spearing fish                                           288

                                * * * * *




CHAPTER I


PEOPLE use Marseilles as a jumping-off place; but to me it is an
enchantment, a hot-pot of strangeness and beauty and villainies.  The
door of the East; the East itself done out, not in the hot colors of oil
paint, but in pastels of infinite softness, hinting and beckoning,
smiling, leering, threatening, enchanting.

The little streets run like outstretched fingers from the palm of the
main streets, clutching the world, with every nationality and every
tongue dripping through them; narrow streets with high white and
cream-colored buildings on each side and green and blue outside shutters;
incredibly narrow alleys with bister-colored houses, and rags of washing
fluttering across them; but at the end of each the beauty of the hills or
the sea, the harbor with its crowded shipping, its forests of masts and
funnels, its quays with men of every shade and color thick upon them, the
romances and horrors of a whole world written upon their faces.

Everywhere there are plane-trees; bare now, with a delicate lace-like web
of twigs against a sky which has been an unclouded soft blue, that same
pastel-like blue, throughout the three days which have passed since I
came rushing down to the South, clear away without a break from the
London fogs, to catch my boat, which is late in arriving from Bordeaux.

The fishermen’s church, La Dame de la Garde, stands high upon its rocky
jag of mountain.  I can see it from my bedroom window at the Hotel
Terminus, set like the crowning point of a tiara, at the end of half the
aspiring streets of Marseilles; most lovely in the evening when the sky
is the color of the skies in very old Chinese prints.

At that time the streets are crowded with promenaders, as are the cafés
which debouch upon them every few yards, crowded with, for the most part,
staid revelers: little families; husbands and wives; young men with their
sweethearts; groups of young men; groups of business men—all eating and
drinking, moderately enough and yet with a relish, a delight, which is
strange to us.

It seems to me, indeed, like a series of fête-days coming one on top of
another, those days when one laughs at nothing in particular, drinks the
health of every one, and no one in particular.  But in reality it is
nothing of the sort; it goes on just the same from day to day.  It is the
everyday life of the South, the sort of life which, whatever it may be,
is most emphatically not English; infinitely far removed from the
drinking of beer in frowzy bars, noisy men, furtive or bold-faced women
in men’s caps, babies in prams upon the pavement outside.

The whole of the front of one large draper’s shop—displaying wax ladies
of an almost incredible loveliness, standing tiptoe in wages-of-sin sort
of undergarments—is aglow with an innumerable number of rose-pink
electric lights.  In front of this shop, and bathed in the pink lights,
are flower-stalls piled high with narcissi, carnations, mimosa,
hyacinths, and violets.

Fresh from the hands of the hairdresser at the Hotel Terminus, I sit on
the open veranda of one of the cafés and sip my coffee.  The dressing of
my hair was in itself a prelude to adventure, a sort of sloughing off of
the skin of everyday life.  My request was for a simple and inexpensive
shampoo, and that was all I was charged for.  But the artist, an artist
with a soul, plump as a rather overgrown Cupid, with large ox eyes, a
brosse of dark hair, deprecating and persuasive hands,—an artist with,
evidently enough, an eye for antiques,—was totally unable to leave it at
that.

After washing my hair he tied up my head tight in a white towel, so that
I looked like a _religieuse_, and massaged me, first with cream that
smelt of lavender, then with three different sorts of powder.  He was
very short and fat, and I am very tall and thin.  When he had almost
finished he made me stand up and tilted my face this way and that, as
though it had been nothing human, to get the light upon it at every
angle.  Never in my life have I seen any one so completely absorbed.  As
I was obliged to stoop, the whole effect, repeated in the manifold
mirrors around the room, was odd beyond words; but like all true artists,
this one was completely lacking in the faintest sense of humor.

His last touch was the most wonderful of all; for with some scented
liquid on the tip of his forefinger he swept up the eyelashes on the
upper lid of each eye and left them curling.  Heavens above! and to think
that I am now a middle-aged woman and never before have I had curling
eyelashes; never before have I realized that my eyelashes were capable of
curling.  So many, many things come to one altogether too late in life.

A man with a wooden leg is sitting under the trees beneath my window at
the hotel.  It makes no pretense of being anything but a wooden leg, for
there is a stump at the end of it, faintly Panlike—so easy to notch into
a hoof!  But this very dapper gentleman has not done that; instead, he
has padded it where the ankle should be, and wears the upper part of a
very neat—oh, but very neat!—patent-leather boot to match the one upon
his other foot, the eyelets rimmed with white and laced with white silk
ties.

                                * * * * *

To-night I dined with a man I met in London, who is also awaiting his
boat, at Le Grand Restaurant Basso, famous for its bouillabaisse.  I
lived too dreadfully long and intimately at one time of my life with
people who guzzled bouillabaisse as nothing else on earth can be sucked
and gobbled, to go there for that; but there were many other things at
Basso’s.  I went, indeed, for the company and the delight of dining in
the upper room with its glazed veranda, so like the upper deck of a ship,
giving straight on to the lights of the harbor.  The dinner, minus
bouillabaisse, was beyond criticism and very carefully thought out:
_Soupe de Petit Marmite_; a mixture of shellfish cooked with creamy white
sauce in large flat shells and deliciously named _Coquille de Fruit de
Mer_; pigeons; _petit pois_; _Peche Melba_ banked round with chopped ice,
and coffee—such coffee, redolent of all the perfumes of Araby!  A dinner
which rounded off to perfection my three days in Marseilles.




CHAPTER II


TO-DAY, the day of my first embarkation, dawned gray and very chilly; all
the magic for the time being gone from out Marseilles, bedraggled drab of
a drunken sailor.

I gave myself an hour to get to my ship, ten minutes’ drive at most.  But
I had forgotten: cargo-boats are things apart, “nothing accounted of” in
Marseilles; and though the porter at the hotel and the taxi-driver
assured me that they knew exactly where mine started from, they knew
nothing whatever about it, while I myself had been perfectly casual.

Quays, quays, quays!  Search for an inconsiderable French cargo-boat
among the quays of Marseilles and the whole world seems to be overrun
with them, thick as a spider’s web.  For what seemed like an eternity we
rushed up and down quays in clouds of dust; threaded tangles of quays;
lost them altogether; were caught in the hem of the town, tore ourselves
loose and raced shrieking from it; got back to our quays and were no
better off; drew up innumerable times to make innumerable inquiries of
wildly excited and gesticulating men, who knew all about everything; were
held back by innumerable open bridges while the ships of the entire
world, or so it seemed, trailed their way with a calculated and malicious
slowness between the draws.  And all the time bells rang, whistles
shrilled; steam-sirens pierced the air with screams, every one of which I
took to be the signal for the departure of my own special ship, while I
myself stood up in the taxi exhorting the driver, in execrable French, to
pull himself together.

The ship, _El Kantara_, was to sail at ten o’clock and the representative
of the Messageries Maritimes Company, to whom she belongs, was to be
there at half-past nine to introduce me to the captain.  It was, however,
precisely three minutes to ten when we at last sighted her, and hurtling
the length of the last quay, the taxi making such sounds as though it
were the only taxi in the world, I scrambled out of it and on board,
finding the agent, exquisitely polite—and still polite!—waiting for me
with the captain by his side.  A shortish, stoutly built man, this
captain whom I was to find so good a comrade, with a short, bright-brown
beard, merry bright-brown eyes, and a bright color; a man in whom every
line and every tint, every movement spoke of a life at sea.

There are some twenty first-class passengers on board,—one Englishman and
the remainder French,—with a few more in the second class.  But they do
not really count, so entirely is the ship built and fitted for cargo.
The alleyways past the cabins and beneath the central deck are flush and
open, with the crew passing to and fro unchecked; while all decks are
free to me.

The lower decks are crowded with live stock: cocks and hens, loudly
quacking ducks, and geese; sheep in pens, and large, mild dun-colored
oxen.  There are soldiers being carried out to New Caledonia, with no one
apart from a petty officer over them.  The crew are of all nationalities
and colors; in the evening long trestle tables, decently laid, are set
out on deck for their dinner, which begins with soup, goes on to other
courses just as ours does, and ends with black coffee and cigarettes,
while bottles of wine stand all along its length.  As I look over the
rail of the upper deck on this first evening more than one man raises his
glass to me, for they all seem entirely friendly.  There is a continual
flow of talk and laughter and loud argument, but they do not seem to
grumble, and I do believe that other nations vent that spleen which
embitters ours by loud shouting and excited gestures leading to nothing
whatever.

On going down to my cabin to wash my hands for dinner I find it lighted
by two candles, for the electric light is out of gear.  So steady is the
boat, so smooth the sea, that they stand upright without so much as a dab
of wax to fix them, reminding me of a Spanish hotel in Tetuan at which I
was staying last year.

In this hotel, where there was rather fine imitation Jacobean furniture,
I noticed that all the tables and flat arms of the chairs were covered
with tallow, the reason for which was shown to me that evening when the
electric light gave out and the incredibly shabby little waiter, wearing
a dress suit which was an epic in descent, coming round with a handful of
candles, poured yet more wax upon every convenient spot and dabbed a
lighted candle down upon it.  That was a hotel which—proudly advertising
fitted basins and hot and cold water in every room, with bath-rooms—used
the baths as dust-bins, while there was nothing beyond the mere basin in
any room; no plumbing of any sort; a bucket beneath to catch the water
when one pulled out the cork, and a battered enamel jug standing by its
side.

The boat is thick with the grime of ports, her decks foul with the
trampling of many feet; while the aft decks are packed high with those
iron rods which—sent aboard her at the last moment at
Bordeaux—necessitated the shifting of much cargo to balance her, the
re-rating of the chronometers which so much iron threw out of gear, thus
accounting for her late arrival at Marseilles.  For a ship is like a
woman in love: it takes very little to upset her when there is nothing
serious in hand.

_El Kantara_ is by far the steadiest boat I have ever been on, pursuing
her somewhat slow way with such placidity that whenever I think of her I
think of a motherly brown hen brooding over her young.  To-day, however,
the third day out, she took a sea—or rather the sea took her—most
uncivilly, right across her starboard bows.

I was still in my bunk when a steward came running to tell me that I must
not go on deck, while the saloon, very far forward, was so full of water
that I couldn’t go there, either.  At this I remembered the bridge, which
the captain had made free to me.  Dressing hurriedly, I made my way up
there, and stood, holding to the rail, torn by the wind, the rain running
in torrents from off my oilskin; while then only, for the first time, the
full delight of the sea got me, the weariness of land was sloughed away
from me.

We have already passed Gibraltar.  The coast of Morocco is dim in the
rain at one side of us, Spain less than two miles away upon the other.
There are steamers upon each side, pitching too terribly, but all this
while we are steady; at least quite steady enough.

                                * * * * *

The name of the colored steward who waits upon me is Chocolat; he has a
very great deal of gold set round his white teeth, reminding me of
Solomon’s throne, all gold and ivory.  I like that.  I like the fact,
also, that despite the passengers whom I had not expected and who at
first rather appalled me, this is, indeed, a cargo-boat where one need
not spend one’s time feverishly dragging out boxes from under one’s bunk,
dressing and undressing, sitting with one’s hair in curlers, or clamoring
at the hairdresser’s door.

We pass Madeira at night.  There must be some festival in progress at
Funchal, for the town glitters with lights; the hillside is looped with
them, but little less remote than the stars.  More remote, indeed, when I
come to think of it, for the stars are our friends, our guides, while the
ephemeral lights of land are left behind us, forgotten for a month at
least.  The weather grows warmer each day, the sun gains in power, and
with the salt and wind and sun comes that delicious languor of the sea,
so that one can sleep in a moment and wake in a moment.  For hours upon
end the soldiers play at dominoes and draughts and cards, with other odd
games which I have not yet mastered, upon the lower decks; while the
members of the crew who are not on duty lounge about and watch them or
take a hand.

The warmest place on board is on the long narrow slit of upper deck in
front of the saloon, and here I love to lean over the flat woodwork of
the rail and watch the life going on beneath me, feel the sun upon my
back.

To-day, during the first half of the dog-watch, there was a thick ring of
backers around two men who were boxing: a tall negro, thin, weak-looking,
and hollow-cheeked, who reminded me of the nigger of the _Narcissus_, and
a small, strongly built Frenchman, with bright black eyes, hard red
cheeks, and a waxed mustache, quivering with life and energy.  At the
first go-off the negro seemed half asleep; his chin appeared to loll
forward on his breast; he moved his muffled hands vaguely, almost as
though he were massaging his own person as certain insects do, swaying
gently from side to side; while the Frenchman danced around him on the
tips of his toes, nimble as a cat, with swift lightning punches up at his
antagonist’s face.

I had no idea how the negro defended himself.  To my mind he just
lolloped from side to side; but somehow or other he did it, while all the
other man’s clean and, as it seemed, beautifully timed blows slid aside
from him.

Quite suddenly, so suddenly that I heard myself cry out, the negro woke
to life.  That sort of gray pallor which comes over colored people when
they are wearied or bored passed away.  It is certain that he grew
blacker, black and shiny; with a fierce left-hander he got the Frenchman
on the jaw just as he was stepping back, and over the little man went;
but he was up in a moment and at it again like a spirited cock-sparrow,
bent beneath a perfect hurricane of two-handed blows.  His eyes, bright
and scared, full of astonishment, ran to and fro, putting him completely
at the mercy of the negro, whose somnolent gaze never for a single moment
left the other’s face, while, though drops of sweat sprayed out from him
in the sunshine, he was still entirely unexhausted.

The fight was interesting, but more interesting still were the
spectators.  A lank blackguard in a red-and-white striped singlet, with
but one tooth in his head and that in the very center of the top jaw,
long and yellow, kept on throwing flirtatious glances up at the poop
where I stood leaning over the rail, as if to say, “All this is done to
please you.”  An apache with inordinately long hair plastered back from
his forehead, who was painting stanchions with red lead, seemed to be
hung upon a string between his interest in the match and his work, to
which he was jerked back by the ferocious stare of the _maître
d’equipage_, who was walking to and fro by me, jerking his chin in my
direction, as if to say: “Did you ever see the like of that!”  An
efficient person with a commanding presence, large and heavily built,
florid and bearded and fierce; so challenging that at first when I spoke
to him I thought he intended to be insolent.  I found later on that his
manner, curt, independent, and fierce, was precisely the same with the
captain as with me; that he was in reality full of kindness, though
intolerant of idlers.  He had been on the ship for nineteen years—ever
since she was built, indeed, save for one short break.

Throughout the evenings the lower decks, both fore and aft, are like
scenes in old Dutch pictures.  Then one hears the thin, piercing note of
mandolin and zither, while men of every shade of color, from the
fair-haired Norman soldier to the full-blooded negro,—though there are
more of the warm chocolate-brown of the Malagash than any other,—sprawl
under the great lamps which hang beneath the awnings, casting all their
light downward in an umber-tinted glow upon the sleepers, the loungers,
the musicians, and the gamblers.  These last are now, for the most part,
possessed by a passion for a game of which I have not yet mastered the
name, played with small, round counters upon little boards showing
numbered squares; the man who holds the bank shaking a bag unceasingly,
picking out numbered counters at random, shouting out the numbers in a
loud monotone which seems to go on thoughout the entire night.

The negro who is now the acknowledged champion boxer of the _Kantara_,
and is to fight another ship’s champion in Martinique, sits motionless
hour after hour, meditatively caressing his vast and shining biceps,
while every little Jack Sparrow among the crew spars at him jocularly, in
passing, and the stowaway—an elderly man with a rascally empurpled face
and incredibly incongruous collection of garments—earns his tucker and
tobacco, all the scraps thrown to him, by a perpetual and ornate stream
of blasphemous humor.  I myself am liable to fine and imprisonment when
we reach Pointe-à-Pitre, for tossing him occasional packets of rank
French cigarettes which I purchase from the _maître d’equipage_, for,
after all, he is a merry rascal and little more coarse, I suspect, than
an aforetime king’s jester.

When night has once really fallen, men strew the deck in every direction.
An hour ago, pacing a narrow slip which edges the saloon, I as nearly as
possible stepped upon a sleeper stretched out upon bare boards; I drew
back my foot just in time, warned by nothing more than the sudden
realization of two curving rows of white teeth in an invisible face
immediately beneath it.

                                * * * * *

The moon is four days old.  At six o’clock this evening it was half-way
up the sky, lying upon its back in a perfect crescent, with the fiery sun
dipping to the sea beneath it, and Venus, diamond clear, immediately
above.  The sea was a deep peacock blue, every small ripple tipped with
gold.  As the sun set, all was clear indigo, sea and sky alike, the moon
and that one lovely planet a shining gold, such as could scarcely be
imagined in more temperate climes.  The sight of it is well worth an
eighteen-days’ voyage, even if we were only to turn and go back the way
we have come.

Every evening I go up to the fore peak and watch the sunset with all that
magnificent panoply of purple, silver, and gold clouds which are part of
the pageant of the trades.

The time is infinitely long and yet short.  It seems as though I could
never have been anywhere else than upon this ship; that Marseilles,
indeed, is farther away than my childhood.  And yet each individual day
slides by like light, though I am up on deck at seven, having my coffee
in my dressing-gown, while the captain walks the deck with quick, short
steps.  He paces thus for hour upon hour each day, wheeling back every
now and then—for he never thinks of it until he is past me—to recount
some ridiculous, amorous, or dangerous adventure; such adventures as
would make a whole book in themselves.

I see very little of the other passengers.  All the morning I work in the
captain’s own little saloon, high up on the bridge, and in the afternoon
every one else is asleep.  For the time being, however, there is nothing
on earth that I desire so little as human companionship; while the voyage
is so uneventful, so quiet, that the days stream out behind me like a
long, indefinitely shaded, blue-and-gray scarf.

What is real is that I am writing short stories to finish a series, of
which I left the first part at home; that the food is good, and there is
good red wine served at every meal; that the captain is a good comrade
when I want one, brave and honest, the other officers pleasant and
friendly, the bridge quiet and infinitely restful.

It is an occasion when we all get into white clothes,—the first
epoch-making event, indeed,—and it means a lot.  One feels cleaner,
fresher, and saner with the sun and the air upon one’s skin, stretching
oneself in it, breathing it all in; lazier also, for more and more often
the captain and his officers lounge at the open door talking to me, while
more and more often I put down my pen and go out upon the open bridge, to
look at—what?—the sea and the sky.

There are twenty cats on board, but only one has the run of the bridge;
she sees to this for herself.  Every morning, when the steward brings the
captain a cup of coffee, the cat brings the captain a dead rat, fruit of
a night’s hunting, and lays it upon the deck beside his bunk.

Up to now she has spent the entire day sleeping in an arm-chair, save
when, arching her back, stretching and yawning, she aroused herself
sufficiently to come down and eat and drink what the obsequious steward
had placed ready for her.  Now, however, she lies, like a tiger,
stretched out upon her side upon the open deck in front of the
chart-house, and when you stoop and stroke her you find that her fur is
deliciously hot, every hair alive with electricity.




CHAPTER III


BY the sea-gulls, if by nothing else, I should know that we were nearing
land.  For weeks the sea has been empty of them, but during the past two
or three days there have been thousands upon thousands, flashing white
against a flawless deep-blue sky, and early this morning we passed the
island of Désirade,—which was among the many islands sighted by
Columbus,—a long, flat wedge upon the very edge of the horizon.  We make
Guadeloupe soon after midnight.

Pointe-à-Pitre as I saw it this morning, backed with its panoply of
mountains, is a poor place, a veritable black man’s town, and it is
necessary to drive a good twenty miles out into the country to get any
real idea of the beauty of the island, when it comes upon one with a
sense of something like enchantment after one has crossed the bridge at
Salt River, which is in reality a narrow strip of sea dividing the
kidney-shaped island toward the southern half.

Beyond this division the road begins to mount up and up in a series of
sharp hair-pin bends among innumerable sugar-cone mountains thick to the
very top with vegetation, while the scenery unrolls itself behind one
like a broad and brilliant ribbon, an endless shining pattern of
bright-blue bays and scattered isles and deep gorges; of small villages,
gold and brown like the wings of a moth, and scattered huts—the meanest,
a single room roofed with palm-leaves, set in its own gem-like garden.
Poinsettias; purple and rose-pink Bougainvillea; rose and scarlet
crotons; hibiscus and plumbago; orange-trees laden with fruit; bananas
with their immense banners of shining enamel-like green leaves overhung
by the glossy foliage of breadfruit, more like shining metal than
anything else.

The Englishman from off the boat, with whom I maintain a curious sort of
armed neutrality,—for quite plainly he dislikes me as much as I dislike
him, and yet at times we are glad to talk to each other in our own
language,—was with me; and for that day, at least, so great was the
enchantment of the place, we were almost friends.

Some fifteen miles from town we passed the cleared open place, the
pedestal and bust which mark the spot where Columbus landed; and soon
after this we came to an immense archway of gray dressed stone,
magnificent in its conception, giving on to a long drive bordered with
the tallest cocoanut palms that I have ever seen, towering and perfectly
upright, silver-gray stems.  An avenue designed to lead to something very
magnificent in the way of palace or city, but leading here, in this
place,—with “all the glades’ colonnades,”—to nothing more than a rougher
track, a deeper bush, a greater exuberance of nature.  An arch erected
during the proud days of Louis XIV, with Heaven only knows what visions
of a semi-royal colonization.

             [Picture: A typical native woman of Martinique]

Fifty kilometers out from the port we drew up at the Hotel des Bains for
lunch, and there saw the first white faces which we had chanced upon
since starting: a couple of very slightly shaded young French girls in
delicate muslin frocks; an old man; the French proprietor and his wife.
Here, too, we discovered what is of all things the most precious, the
rarest and most to be desired in life: a place where those who are
sufficient to themselves may find peace and escape from the perpetual
colds, the unutterable drab dreariness of an English winter; a place
where one might, indeed, taste the almost forgotten joy of living within
one’s income,—or, without any great uneasiness, upon one’s
overdraft,—living at ease in mind and body.

For Monsieur Dole’s Hotel des Bains is cheap, almost given away, indeed,
with the franc as it is: full board with wine, thirteen to fifteen francs
a day; the extravagance of a sitting-room and wide stretch of veranda,
the equivalent of one and twopence a day in our money; board and lodging
for a maid, one and sixpence a day, for a chauffeur, one and ninepence a
day; garage accommodation for a car, twopence; with, actually, a
reduction on all this for any long stay.

_Déjeuner_ for three of us, my companion and myself in the large, clean,
open dining-room—with the forests dipping like green-velvet mantles to
the edge of the sea—and the chauffeur somewhere in the back regions, cost
fifteen francs; roughly, four shillings.  A salad of tomato and onions,
eggs in butter, Jerusalem artichokes in white sauce, fresh tongue served
hot with salad, a dish of wild raspberries,—of a finer grain, harder, and
brighter than ours,—a bottle of claret apiece, iced water, and
coffee—such coffee too, freshly roasted and ground and of the country.
Could any one wish for anything better?  The whole expense increased, as
was explained to us when we went round to the back of the hotel to order
the car and saw nothing of the chauffeur,—apart from a pair of feet clad
in bright blue socks hanging out over the door, while he took his siesta
on the floor,—by the fact, as one might have suspected, that he had
ordered an iced rum-punch.

Some day, I promise myself, I will come out to Guadeloupe again and spend
two or three months in this hotel, a perfectly ideal place to work in.
The beauty of the position and the cheapness are not all there is to it,
either; for five minutes farther up the mountainside are the natural
warm-water baths after which the hotel is named: three great square pools
overhung with immense plumes of bamboo, mahogany trees hung with creepers
showing between them as though in a dark frame, the intense azure patches
of the sea far below them; pools of graduated depths, so that one may sit
or stand with the water to one’s chin.  There were, indeed, a few native
women sitting there with the odd effect of black heads and shining teeth
set upon a clear metal platter of shining green, so deep was the shade;
in water that is of an unchanging warmth, so near to the temperature of
the skin that as I dipped my hand in it I could scarcely feel it—the same
temperature at midnight, at dawn, and at midday.  Think of that, you at
home in England, with the kitchen stove, the hot-water supply, and the
cook’s temper forever at odds!

Yet, even here, where one pictures oneself with old Andrew Marvell,
“Annihilating all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade,”
sorrow has found its way,—albeit the sort of sorrow which wears a feather
in its cap,—for over the door of one of the little dressing-rooms some
swain has written these words:

    Le cœur est porcelaine qui se brise, mais qui ne se raccommode pas.

                                              Signé Duquor: Juillet, 1923.

From the hotel we drove on another fifteen miles to Basse-Terre, down a
succession of steep bends between groves of cocoa-trees and high palms.
Basse-Terre is a far better town than Pointe-à-Pitre.  In the upper part
of it are immense solid old gray-stone buildings, houses and barracks and
forts of the same period as the arch and the cocoanut avenue, and right
on the edge of the sea are modern wooden houses and shops with
brilliantly painted red-and-white and green-and-white striped and checked
and starred and spotted shutters, closed during the heat of the day.  In
the center of its little place is a real merry-go-round—prancing wooden
horses with flowing manes.

On the way back to the port we punctured a tire, and while a new one was
put on we waited in an old cottage with walls close upon three feet in
thickness, where we were regaled with mandarin oranges from a high old
tree just outside the door, dragged down by the weight of the golden
fruit.  A cottage of one large single room, very cool and full of soft
umber lights, belonging to an old negro and his wife who showed us
photographs of their daughter married to a Frenchman and living in Paris
with her husband.  In the beautiful, soft, round-syllabled French used by
the negroes they told us about their other children, widely scattered
throughout the world, and at parting presented me with two treasured
beans of vanilla wrapped in newspaper which looked as though it were
stained with blood from the sweet, perfumed juice which exuded from them.

We were obliged to stop again on our way back, to water our engine at a
little garage over which was posted the delicious sign of _Au Gracieux
Sourire_,—think of that for a motor-garage, with its smells!—and reached
our boat with no more than a bare five minutes to spare before she
sailed.  Not that I myself should have greatly minded had I missed her,
provided I could raise so much as a tooth-brush in the town, with a
memory of the Hotel des Bains still fresh in my mind.




CHAPTER IV


GUADELOUPE grows upon one slowly, in its insidious loveliness; but
Martinique flashes upon one like a great live emerald, catching one’s
breath with its beauty, its greenery, which is like nothing else I have
ever seen, could ever have imagined; every shade of green on earth,—apart
from that of the cool, gray-green English willows,—deep to black, and yet
a shining black, in its shade, brilliant as a parrot’s wing in the
sunshine.

We arrived there this morning, Sunday, the great market-day of the week,
and Fort de France, the port and capital, was all abuzz with life.  The
town is clean and well kept, with tall brick or color-washed houses,
roofed with wooden slats or red tiles; with wide verandas massed with
flowers, the brilliant plumes of bamboos and purple and rose-pink
Bougainvillea waving above the garden walls, and clear water running in a
deep conduit on each side of the street; more houses and shops, built of
wood brilliantly painted and flush with the street.

                 [Picture: In the market, Fort de France]

Everywhere was color, the market-place a kaleidoscope of color: gowns and
turbans of scarlet and crimson, vermilion and pink, crimson and orange,
sky-blue, royal-blue, and peacock-blue, green and yellow, the turbans
tied with two smartly twisted ends erect like ears, one on each side of
the head and in violent contrast to the color of the gowns; stalls heaped
with oranges and red and bright-green and vermilion peppers and purple
egg-fruit, a few mangoes, though it is not yet the season, pumpkins cut
open to show their luscious rose and crimson centers, pomegranates with
their thick red-and-yellow rinds slit, displaying their ruby-like
centers; eggs and fowls, and fish of every color, and white and gray
rabbits.  The colors shifted, mingled, and broke like waves as the people
moved among the stalls—people who are in themselves more beautiful than
anything else; women holding themselves like empresses, deep-breasted and
upright in their immensely full, starched print gowns.

                     [Picture: Oranges in Martinique]

                                * * * * *

                            [Picture: Bananas]

For the Martinique negroes and negresses are surely the most splendid in
all the world, their skins a clear and perfect black, their teeth
flawless, while the great muscles of the men move like snakes beneath the
skin.  All alike are fresh and untired, though many have walked as much
as thirty miles this morning, over the mountains, with their heavy
baskets on their heads.  And the laughter and talk are like the sound of
the sea in a cave, so deep and soft and mellow.

Three of us, the Englishman, a French lady who is another passenger on
the boat,—a tall and magnificently made woman with just enough of
Tahitian to mellow the French blood in her veins,—and I, took a motor and
drove out over the mountains to St. Pierre, the real capital of the
island, which was totally destroyed by an eruption of Mount Pelée in
1902.

For some twenty-three miles the road mounts and mounts, and never in my
life have I seen anything like the splendor and richness of the
vegetation on each side of it: foliage, flowers, fruit.  For the greater
part of the way it passes along an immensely high and ever-rising ridge,
with a deep ravine and silver thread of river far below, to right and
left, running down to the great bay.  Three miles from tip to tip of each
horn and four miles in depth, the bay lay beneath us like a small platter
of pure turquoise, the little islands and ships growing ever more
toy-like as we looked back between the arching bamboos which edged the
road, with ravine and hillside, deep in tree-fern, below them.  The road
twists so sharply that upon each short reach the next turn is completely
lost to sight.

Here were little villages of very clean color-washed houses, and churches
which looked as though they were made of colored cardboard, so crowded
that a greater part of their congregations debouched on to benches
outside.  Magnificently starched and colored and flounced congregations
they were, though every now and then in front of some cottage we came
across a group of laughing children at play, colored and shining like
black pearls, naked as the day they were born—and not out of poverty,
either, for it is impossible to imagine anything of the sort in this
luxuriant land, but from sheer wanton delight in air and sunshine.  And
at one spot, beneath a hibiscus tree with brilliant hanging flowers
shaped and colored like scarlet corals, sat an old man clad in little
more than a tightly curling white beard.

About eighteen miles from St. Pierre the ground begins to drop.  There
were high walls of shining canes on each side of us, and presently we
came across one house which had survived the catastrophe of 1902; and
again the road twisted, bringing us within sight of the sea, and we
dropped to the burial-place—or, rather, the dead bones—of what had once
been a thriving town, with university and schools, a cathedral and a
convent, many shops and many private houses, the most prosperous town in
all the French West Indies.

To-day, when we visited it, we found forty or fifty jerry-built wooden
houses, a pathetic attempt at a market-place, a handful of grown people
and children; a new town devoid of grandeur save for its surroundings.
And yet, with all this, a place in which one was conscious of a brooding
spirit that could have been nothing less than the spirit of death; a
dry-boned and sultry, brooding death which stood with folded wings over
the town where it had reaped so great a harvest.

There was one little café where we took our _déjeuner_, a rickety wooden
affair facing the sea.  The meals were served in an upper room which
stretched the whole width of the house; beneath it was a sort of open
hall with a tiled floor packed with barrels, bottles, and benches, where
chickens wandered about at their own free will.  Back of this were the
kitchen and outhouses.  In the whole place there could be no possible
space for any other rooms, and yet the card which the bowing proprietor
handed to me before I left reads like this:

    Voyageurs, Touristes!

                   N’oubliez pas en passant à Saint-Pierre
                                de visiter le
                                 SELECT-HOTEL
                                 Rue Bouillé
                         (tout près du débarcardère)
                              Où vous trouverez:
               Apéritifs divers, Casse-croute et Repas a toute
                           heure.  Cuisine moderne.
                     Service irréprochable.—Prix modérés.
                             Pension de Famille.

    [Picture: View of the Rivière Madame, Fort de France, Martinique]

                                * * * * *

       [Picture: A ruined street in St. Pierre, Martinique (1925)]

In the upper room four more than brunette Frenchmen were playing
dominoes, splitting a bottle of wine among them.  Two more, whose
mothers, even more obviously, had “drunk too much coffee,” one with a
wooden leg and both very smartly dressed in large-check tweeds and
flowing silk ties,—twanging loudly upon their guitars, decorated with
bright-pink ribbons,—sang French love-songs.  All this did nothing
whatever to diminish that indescribable feeling of the immutability of
everything on earth: a depression which flattened the good rum-punch, the
claret, the simple country meal—brawn and tiny pasties the size of
pennies, cold fish with a piquant sauce heavy in garlic; rabbit and
_purée_ of peas; wild raspberries and coffee.  Even the sight of the
small black pig and pullet which slept in a fond embrace upon the floor
was powerless to lighten my gloom.

An old negro gave me a wonderful and graphic description of the
eruption,—or, rather, what he saw of it from the other side of the
island, for no one now lives who was in it, or can tell exactly how it
came upon the town.  In the whole town there was but one man left alive:
a man who had been imprisoned for murder the night before, shut up in a
deep underground cell.  Four days later his frenzied screams attracted
attention, and he was found to be raving mad, scorched and blistered from
head to foot.

The great eruption took place on the morning of May 8th.  But for days
before that there had been a sound like the continual roar of cannon
inside the mountain, while a fine powdering of ashes had fallen over the
town, lying so thick in the streets that the people moved about silently,
like ghosts; and all the singing and laughing in the cafés, all the
joking upon the quay, came to an end, beaten under by a weight of
foreboding.  The people went about their business white-faced and
tight-lipped, refusing to leave the town which they so greatly loved—“the
darlingest little town in the Antilles,” as Lafcadio Hearn called it,
with all its streets of seventeenth-century houses, its yellow walls and
green hanging balconies, its cathedral and universities, its many
shops,—for was it not rightly named the Paris of the West Indies?—its
theaters and cafés; La Place Bertil, the pride of Martinique, with its
many fountains, its gardens so thronged in general by happy strolling
citizens, overrun by laughing children; for of all the islands in the
world this island of Martinique, with its mixture of French-negro blood,
shows most strikingly what the true mating of different races can be like
at its best, breeding women who are, indeed, unmatched in the whole
world.

One can see it as it lay during those days, edged with the blazing sea,
beneath a sunshine which is like the clear white light of electricity,
with all its palm-fringed streets and gardens, its mountains and many
streams, its wide and shining river, its _mouillage_, or landing-stage,
its many flights of steps leading to the upper part of the town which
must have made it so like Italy.  The lovely capital of an altogether
lovely island.

On May 5th the sound of cannonading within the mountain gathered to one
continuous roar, while a suffocating wind blew from it and a stream of
boiling mud,—which some one speaks of as “Mount Pelée bleeding black like
a dying octopus,”—bursting forth, rolled down the side of the mountain,
spreading out for many acres, moving at the rate of a mile a minute along
the bed of the Rivière Blanche, carrying away a great sugar-factory in
its course, dashing at last into the sea, throwing up fantastic fountains
of steam as though boiling lead had been poured into it.

Upon this night a very few people began to slip away as though ashamed of
being seen leaving by daylight, jeered at by their fellows, who, with
their own nerves all on edge, terrified and defiant, bitterly resented
the very idea of any one being so mean-spirited as to forsake the town.

The night of May 7th was stiflingly hot.  Early in the evening the
Italian ship, _Orsolino_, steamed away; for the captain, who knew Naples,
realized what was brooding over the fated town.  At daylight next
morning, however, the Quebec boat, _Roraima_, came cheerfully to anchor,
to be gutted, charred, burnt to the water’s edge in less than two hours.
For at eight o’clock an explosion came like the bursting of a mine,
cutting short a message which was even then being sent over the telegraph
wires to Fort de France, and of which the one word to reach it, prelude
to Heaven only knows what, was curiously and pathetically enough,
_Allez_.  It was the last word of a doomed city.  A city which was in
another moment devastated by a cyclone of red-hot dust and flame; a
hurricane of sulphur before which the men in the streets were swept
headlong, with clothes and flesh alike torn from them.

That was at eight o’clock, and, at that time, people upon the far
mountain summit declared that they saw a violet-gray cloud, luminous and
shot with fire, belch forth from the torn crater like a charge from a
cannon, striking the town and spreading to the sea, with the flames
eddying and twisting like live things within it.  In another moment the
mountain itself, the blazing city, hills, and bays, were blotted out by a
dense cloud of smoke and ashes which covered the entire island and spread
to many of the nearer ones.

In this disaster there was no fall of lava, and it was altogether from
the poisonous gases and the falling buildings, the flames which swept the
town like a scythe, that the people died,—between twenty and thirty
thousand of them,—while so terrible were the fumes which hung over the
dead town for at least three days that those who ventured near it were
found later, dead among the dead, with blackened and protruding tongues.




CHAPTER V


COLON is ugly and attractive and amazing.  It is, indeed, more like an
insect than a town.  A long, low, scurrying, super-insect.  A Robat among
insects.

The coaling station is a creature apart: an immense, quickly running
black spider with legs and arms which are beyond counting.  In sober
fact, the whole place is hideous; and yet it is so efficient, so
powerful, with all its apparatus at once so slender and so strong, that
it has that sort of beauty appertaining to anything altogether right for
its purpose.  In the glow of the setting sun it is, indeed, wonderful,
with its immensely high, fine cranes, its network of aerial railways; no
longer like an insect, but rather a piece of fantastic music, scrawled
large, with many small blots, wild erasures, across the pure, clean gold
of the sky.  And above it all, this evening, three aeroplanes dip and
circle, while solitary frigate-birds dip and circle with precisely the
same motion, and so much nearer that they appear to be of the same size.

The compound which holds the offices of all the great shipping-lines
visiting Colon is very attractive, with its large white buildings,
deep-arched verandas, gardens, and palm-trees.  But once out of this,
real life begins with an endlessly long street, which is Panama Republic
and “wet” on one side, United States Canal Zone and “dry” on the other;
not that it matters much, for it is only, as the charwomen say in London,
a matter of “just slipping across the road.”

And yet there is a difference, an amazing difference, in what one hears,
what one sees, and, above all, in what one feels—the very atmosphere.

As night falls the American town of Cristobal is dull and dark, and most
uncommonly furtive; while Colon is glaring and noisy and picturesque,
openly disreputable, cheerful, drunken, amorous.

Here on the “wet” side of the road are children laughing and screaming,
spilling over the sidewalk in such masses that one is driven into the
gutter.  Here are green parrots and scarlet and yellow macaws at every
window, in every doorway; rubbishy Indian shops with rubbishy souvenirs
and silks, far dearer than in England, and Panama hats and stuffed
crocodiles.  One wonders who on earth can be found to buy a stuffed
crocodile.  In the doorway of one little shop a small antelope and a
monkey are tied to one string, like the pig and the pullet at St. Pierre.
There is an endless succession of drinking shops, and shops where liquor
may be bought and carried across the road to the snugly closed shops and
houses out of which men peer, with heads which look as though a barber,
intending to shave them, had started upon the backs of their heads in
mistake for their faces.

I really intended only to stay and dine at the Hotel Washington, but the
editor of the _Star and Herald_, a paper printed in Spanish and English,
with whom I dined, kept me enchanted, by his descriptions of the proud
Spanish families who live but just back from the Canal Zone, until it was
too late to return to the boat for the night.  These families live
exactly as they have lived for centuries past, coming into town at long
intervals, by a series of trails cut through the primitive forest or
pampas, with an endless procession of pack-and saddle-mules.

I am writing now at seven in the morning, feeling all the better for a
good sleep in a real bed, in a cool, airy room high up on the third
floor, with the leaves of the cocoa-palms swishing and rustling like rain
outside the window.

     [Picture: A typical native woman of Fort de France, Martinique]

The wind is sweeping straight off the Atlantic and right through the
hotel, with its every door and window wide open.  And, to my mind, one of
the joys in reaching the real tropics is to be able to sit in a strong
draft and feel the air racing through one’s thin muslin garments.  And
what a wind it is, too!  One sits and thinks: “How cool!  How delicious!
How can any one complain of the heat here?”  And yet with the least
exertion, so little as stooping to pick up one’s scattered papers, one is
dripping.  I am so languid as to be thankful that I have no luggage to
bother about; concerned as to whether it will be possible for me to
gather energy to call for my bill, mount one of the funny little zone
carriages, with its orange-and-white striped umbrella, and make my way
back to the boat.

The Panama Canal does not run from east to west as one expects it to, but
due south from Limon Bay on the Atlantic side to the widest part of Gatun
Lake, where it twists sharply to the east.  It is not, indeed, a canal at
all, but a bridge of water eighty-seven feet in height.

It has six locks: three at the entrance to Gatun Lake, one at Pedro
Miguel, which lowers Pacific-bound ships to the level of Lake Miraflores,
and two between Miraflores and sea-level.  Each lock is double, so that
ships going in opposite directions may pass one another.  All the
machinery of the canal is run by electricity, while the Gatun dam and
spillways serve to keep the water in the lake level, allowing for dry
seasons and evaporation.  The dam itself is one and a half miles long at
its crest.

I believe that I am right in these details, but anything may be, in
truth, just the opposite of what I have said.  My mind has a way of
suddenly spinning round on its own pivot over facts, and the only fact of
which I am always altogether certain is the way in which anything new
impresses itself upon me.  After all, any more definite, scientific, or
practical knowledge of the canal can so easily be come by at any public
library.

To me it seems that the Panama Canal is something alive, uncanny, and
quite suddenly created: the outcome of a whim of some demigod having
nothing whatever to do with the pale, set-looking men whom one
sees—appearing so small, inadequate, and fumbling, with an air of somehow
being left behind and very badly scared—about the margin of it.  More
than anything else I have ever known, the silence of it all impresses me:
the perfectly noiseless, relentless motion of every atom of machinery,
with its air of stealing a march upon humanity.

The entrance to the canal is flat, desolate, terribly depressing.  The
air is like the taste of flat soda-water upon one’s lips.  One’s limbs
drag; one’s lungs feel as though they had been ironed out with a hottish
iron and a damp handkerchief; one’s skin is moist and sticky to the
touch; and there is an odd smell in the air, the smell of a close
tailor’s shop.

To my mind there is nothing in the world so desolate as mangrove swamps,
and I wonder how many men they have, in truth, driven to despair,
madness, suicide: the gloom and damp mists and the fever-specters of
them; the grotesque and sinister figures of the roots at low water.
Here, now, on each side of us, are mangroves and ragged acacias.  Upon
the low, half-hearted hills of the landward horizon are gray wooden and
concrete houses, two or three twisted palm-trees; eternal hieroglyphics
of cranes, electric cables, and standards scrawled across the sky.

It all looks like the very end, the last shunting station of the hopes of
man.  Instead of this it is the beginning of something so wonderful, so
altogether and confidently presumptuous that one goes through it in a
state of panic.  Not on one’s own account, but because of what one feels
might happen to the world if things like this went on; the chance of its
slipping entirely out of gear.

At the top of the first lock of the three which will raise us into Gatun
Lake, is a large mail-steamer which looks as though posed upon a wall,
while small squat engines of blue and yellow, shaped like tanks and
worked by electricity, dumb and dreadfully concentrated, run up the slope
to this height and disappear over what might very well be the end of the
world.  As the mail-steamer drops from sight, six of these beetle-like
creatures take us in tow.  Two run on in front with ropes from each side
of the bow; two, with more ropes amidships, keep us off from the walls
which rise high above us; and two more hold us back.  Despite all
precautions there are accidents.  One little engine still lies derelict,
having been plunged into the water by a ship which rushed away too
impetuously under her own steam as she left this lock, making for the
Atlantic; breaking through the chain fenders which in general allow no
ship that is not moving at its staid and proper pace, to “bullock”
through them.

We pass into the lock through an immense gateway from which steel gates
have rolled silently back into the sides of the canal; the gates close,
and an amazing process begins.

In reality, of course, the water rushing in from culverts rises, taking
us with it.  But that is not in the least what it seems like.  Rather,
the walls of the lock, the top of which has been on a level with the
crow’s-nest, appear to sink very slowly down and down, drawn under the
water by some force which leaves us high on a level with the top of it,
paralyzed with wonder.  The whole effect is so keen and piercing that one
is perfectly prepared to see the causeway, the little engines, the
slack-looking men who seem so entirely, blindly indifferent, ultimately
disappear beneath the waters; while we and our ship, all the impedimenta
and furniture and stores and machinery and funnels and fuel, all the
people, crew and passengers, with all their petty strivings,
engrossments, generosities, and jealousies, their families and boxes and
chairs—the whole caboodle are shot up heavenward, amazing Peter; along
with that god upon earth who sits at the top of the center lock,—before
him a flat working model of every wall and gate, every scrap of
machinery,—and, himself alone, throws out the switches, controlling every
operation, every movement of the waters, and of the ships upon the face
of the waters.

It seems as though a lifetime had passed in this amazing process, while
the barometer in the captain’s cabin sinks beneath one’s eyes, with a
heavier weight of air.  And yet, from the moment the great steel gates
close behind us, to the moment the second pair above opens to admit us,
is no more than thirty minutes in all.  Not the least surprising part of
the whole affair is the fact that no one appears to be doing anything
whatever, apart from the pilot, who walks up and down the topmost bridge,
barking out an occasional order.

If I were down upon the lower deck, which I now regard as a sort of
dog-shelf, I could see next to nothing, the whole advance being hidden by
the fo’c’sle.  But from my proud position upon the bridge I see the whole
play opening before me; while as we are raised to the highest level of
the last Atlantic lock, Gatun Lake (made from the deepening and widening
of the old bed of the Chagres River; eighty-seven feet above sea-level,
twenty miles long, and covering an area of one hundred and sixty square
miles) is unfolded like a picture laid flat upon a table, while the
clean, fresh air blowing across it fills one’s lungs so that one feels
almost like a real person again.

Close to the entrance into the lake is a large village, housing some of
the three thousand white men and five thousand colored people employed by
the Canal Zone Company.  We see a series of tennis-courts at one side,
and at the other golf-links with men in white clothes wandering rather
limply across them.  The whole village seems less significant than a
bee’s nest hung upon the bough of a tree at the entrance to an unexplored
forest; for I cannot get over the idea that, as a whole, humanity has had
nothing whatever to do with all this.

It is a misty day, and I think that the shoreless lake seems all the
lovelier for this, as we rise to it and see it dotted with innumerable
islands, which are in reality the tops of one-time hills; every island a
tight bouquet of intensely green palms, hung with vivid green creepers.

Toward the end of the afternoon the sun comes out, not brilliantly, but
in a flattened golden sheen, while the air is so damp that it seems as
though everything were covered with a fine-meshed gray gauze, cut by the
close-pressed wedges of wild duck, which are forever crossing and
recrossing it with the sun upon their backs.

At the end of the lake the little islands thicken and gather to mountains
upon each side of us; until we slide in between the high cliffs which men
are still cutting away—standing as casually as any suburban householder
hosing his garden of an evening after business hours—with a pressure of
water so intense that the walls of the cliffs fall, flatly and almost
silently, unbroken like slices of cut cake.

In between these cliffs we pass to the Gaillard Cut, six miles in length,
among mountains which tower peak upon peak, almost perpendicularly upon
each side of us.  Of all the wonders of the canal, in the main
constructive, this vast and utilitarian work of destruction which formed
the Gaillard Cut—the one “man-made” cañon in the world—is the greatest.
For here is no quiet canal, wending its way through flat meadows, but
that bridge of water still continued at the same height as Gatun Lake,
cutting in among the mountains of the Great Divide.  Of all the
heartbreaking difficulties which the Americans encountered in their task,
there can have been none like those encountered here.  The land-slips or
slides which in a few moments destroyed the work of months or even years,
and others even more devastating which continued with dreadful certainty
at the rate of two or two and a half feet a day, for months upon months
on end, must have dragged the very heart out of the idealists who had
evolved from their dreams this wonder of the world, breaking into the
will of the desert with that strength which is indeed the child of
dreams, overthrowing mountains and gorges, rivers and jungles;
vanquishing, even, that dreaded Cucaracha Slide which, having turned the
French aside from their path, broke out afresh with savage vehemence the
moment that the Americans laid their hands upon its territory, shooting
across the entire canal prism.

       [Picture: Our ship in one of the locks of the Panama Canal]

Here, now, as though in radiant triumph, the scenery—like a woman of the
Sabines scarred and torn, and mantled only in her own hair—is wild and
wonderful beyond all words.  For where the garments of forest trees and
creepers are slashed away from them, the scarred cliffs show pink and
purple, lovely in the last level rays of the evening sun; streaked with
great masses of greenery, toppling trees and trailing creepers which the
fall of soil has dragged away with it.  In one place a huge perpendicular
cliff of absolutely clear vermilion, topped with green, rises against the
clear greenish sky in front of us.

       [Picture: The slide in the Gaillard cut of the Panama Canal]

By the time we reach the single lock of Pedro Miguel the whole scene is
aflame with the setting sun, like the brief but gaudy transit of some
Oriental magnate, crossing the street with all the panoply of one who
sets out to war.

As we enter the first of the two remaining locks a train running between
Colon and Panama comes out from among the mountains and stops at a little
station upon our right.

All through the day, so long that it has seemed altogether unconnected
with time,—for I have not even gone down to the meals which in general
punctuate it,—the whole scene has been like the gigantic setting for some
Titanic drama.  Now the play itself comes upon us, pathetic because it is
so small, infinitely touching as is every aspect of man in the desert;
ridiculously inadequate for the setting—and yet, within it, holding the
material for a hundred little plays in little theaters.

Across from the station, on the opposite side of the lock, there is a
group of dilapidated cars and mule-carts, and the American soldiers who
tumble out of the train on their way back from some race meeting or other
(for it is a fête-day in the real world) make a dash to reach them before
the gates open to let us through.  We are sinking quickly now, going down
and down instead of up and up as we did at the entrance from the
Atlantic, and the men running across the narrow wall above us look like
nothing more than a host of neutral-tinted ants, with their twinkling
legs.  Those who are alone get over in time; but there are many more with
women and children who find themselves cut off and, standing along the
sides of the lock, wait for us to go through.

The sun has almost set by now and sky and water and steep wooded
hillside, the color of spilt wine and purple fuchsias, are reflected upon
the hard white wedge-like faces of the men, very lean and standing very
upright, as though nerving themselves against being overborne by the
heavy brooding silence of the place, the sullen forests, the hot
suggestive twilight: as though they were saying to themselves, setting
their jaws over it, anxious and unsmiling, “It looks as though it might
get us, but—gee-whiz!—we won’t have it!”  The yellow-faced babies which
so many of them hold in their arms, the children who cling to them, the
half-caste wives who lean against them—full-breasted and voluptuous, as
curved as their husbands are angled, waving a languid and indifferent
hand to us, with passionate dark eyes raised to their husbands—have got
them far more certainly than any wild.

Night has closed in before we pass the second of the Miraflores locks and
drop to sea-level: a perfectly clear greenish-indigo night with a full
moon overhead.  As I look back over the length of the ship, the sight is
extraordinarily fairylike, fantastic, and unreal.

Backed with high-peaked mountains, the causeways to the locks, shortened
and broadened by perspective, show like the top of an immense Christmas
cake, the tall white concrete pillars with their lights, clusters of five
hundred wax bulbs under concrete shades, like candles set above them.
The little engines with their bright crimson lamps add a still more
fantastic note of decoration to the scene.  It is an appropriate finish
to the transit through an isthmus in itself fantastic beyond all words,
worked to their own ends by men who, as it seems, could scarcely have
realized the magnitude of their own powers.

Take it all in all, the whole effect of the Canal Zone is theatrical.
The islands are not islands at all, but the tops of mountains pushing up
through the water; the mountains themselves are cut to pattern, placed
just so; the green of the vegetation is more than a trifle overdone, as
are the exaggerated madder and vermilion of the cliffs.  The machinery of
the gigantic transformation scene left lying about, with the pathetic
remains of the heroic failure of Lesseps, suggests the idea that it has
all been brought there by trolleys, small enough because of the primal
flatness; that the valleys which open between the mountains are mere
wings leading to the green-room, with nothing whatever at the back of
them.  We have the feeling that it all must come to an end when the last
of the lights go out, and the electrician, forsaking his engines, goes
home to supper and bed, leaving the night watchman seated on a little
camp-stool in the center of this vast stage, his elbows on his knees, his
chin cupped in his hands, staring out in front of him and wondering what
on earth has been the good of it all, thinking over those days when he
himself took a part in the great play, wore the crown of a king, or saw
himself as one with God, outdoing God, for the amusement or convenience
of a gaping world.

We stop at Balboa for water and some necessary repairs to the engine; but
I am too tired to go on shore, while it is far too late to drive out to
Old Panama.  Besides, I spent so much money at Guadeloupe and Martinique
and Colon that I am beginning to get a little scared at to what will
happen when I get to Tahiti, unless my agents have meanwhile sold
something for me, either in America or England.  Not that I should bother
over-much about ways and means, for one can always get where one means to
go, unless I were dead beat by a heat so enervating that I have been
obliged to tie a towel round my neck while I stooped over my work.  It is
best to leave all one’s money worries upon the knees of the gods—the only
knees I have ever altogether trusted.

The moonlit quay at Balboa is deserted, apart from a few policemen
negligently swinging their “love sticks” in one hand, with the other hand
stuck in a trouser-pocket, who wander on and off the ship in pursuit of
their express duty of seeing that the prohibition regulations are fully
carried out.

I am terribly troubled as to how I am to register and post a packet of
manuscripts; still more troubled when, having entrusted it to one of
these gentlemen, I hear from the captain how many brandies he has
consumed.  My one comfort is that a “dry” American is probably as well
seasoned to liquor as any other man on earth.




CHAPTER VI


ALL night we have been going dead slow so that we may avoid reaching the
tangle of the Tuamotu Archipelago—the Dangerous Isles, as we English call
them—at night.  Now we are in the midst of hundreds upon hundreds of
atolls lying level with the sea, broken rings of coral a few hundred—or
less than one hundred—feet broad, with wide-open lagoons inside them and
cocoanut-palms on the northwest side, away from the prevailing winds.
Rings of coral and scanty sand, simmering in an eternal haze of damp
heat, overhung by a thick cloud of mosquitos which looks like a mist
about them.  Islands where sane or specially courageous white men may yet
be found to make their homes.  Amid these islands—some of the largest of
which are less than two miles one from another—we must now steer our
course.

It is late afternoon when we reach Tahiti, and I tremble with excitement
at the first sight of it, as something which I could never have imagined.
I had thought Martinique green, as I once thought Ireland green, but they
are drab in comparison with this.  It seems, indeed, as though there were
no other color in the world which could ever again matter in the
slightest degree; as though one not only saw it but was shot through and
through with it, permeated with it, so that one’s every thought was
green, reflecting the glitter of the shining, opaque, enamel-like leaves
which cast back the light like mirrors, of the fine transparent leaves,
the fern-like foliage.  I am old enough now to have schooled myself not
to expect much, but I could never have expected anything like this,
excelling all expectation, full in the blaze of the late afternoon sun.

One end of the island runs up from the sea in a sharp wedge, and then
come mountains.  Mountain upon mountain, rocky, gray-blue, purple-blue,
indigo, and a blue which is close upon black; peaked and jagged; with
more faraway mountains the precise shade of faded harebells.

                 [Picture: The far-famed Diadem, Tahiti]

The highest peak of all, Aorai—and it is these vowels that make the
Tahitian language so lovely—has her head in the lead-gray and silver of
cumulus clouds, but the Diadem, the pride of Tahiti, with her seven
piercing peaks of deep indigo, is flung across with no more than the
lightest scarf of that mist which lies thick among the innumerable
ravines.  The foot-hills and lower slopes are of that same vivid and
indescribable green, with—and here is an extravagance of beauty—a broken
rainbow arched above the town.  The white wooden buildings and toy
churches are embowered and almost lost in trees deeply green as the
velvet of a huntsman’s coat, splashed in places with the clear fervent
scarlet of the flamboyant, not yet in its full glory.

There is no ugly quay to mar Papeete, the one town and port of the
island; no chimneys, cranes, and blackened buildings, the cloven hoof of
most seabound towns.  The small wooden landing-stage, this afternoon,
resembles the tulip-beds at Hampton Court, with a breeze-blown parterre
of girls in the lightest of muslin and thin silk gowns,—straw-colored and
daffodil yellow and white and pink and rose, mauve and fuchsia, gray and
blue of every shade,—the most of them flounced to the waist.  Girls with
broad-brimmed hats or with flowing wavy hair falling far below their
waists, wreathed with flowers; and mingled with these, young men and old
men in white suits or shirts and _paréus_.  For the whole island takes
holiday at the incoming of the French boats.

Right opposite to Papeete, seemingly so near that its reflection almost
touches us (though it may be in truth twelve or fifteen miles away) lies
the island of Moorea, all its many peaks pure amethyst, filmed over with
gold in the light of the setting sun; the shadows a deeper purple cut
with gold, the water in the little lagoon deep olive.  Though mountain
and water are alike black—the mountain black velvet, the sea a shimmering
satin, before I can get away from the ship.  For the young French
officers insist upon my drinking to what they call our “friendhood,” in a
glass of sweet champagne; while the murmur of voices from the
landing-stage beneath us, slurred syllables, soft vowels, lap like small
waves on a sandy shore.

It is Saturday night and mercifully the customs officer has started
celebrating it in good time, being so altogether “market ripe” that
seeing two boxes for every one of mine he shakes his head in despair and
allows me to go my way without so much as a tentative offer of keys,
along the shore to “Johnny’s.”  Johnny’s is the only place in which any
one with any sort of soul can stay in Papeete, though there is a
pretentious hotel in the heart of the town where you can put your body
when you have nothing better to do with it, and eat your meals.  At
Johnny’s nothing is supplied beyond the rooms and the _petit déjeuner_;
actually supplied that is, for how infinitely more there is to it!

First Johnny himself, or Paree, as he prefers to be called, the son of
the fattest woman and most famous cook in the Pacific, the friend of
innumerable wanderers, the last refuge of innumerable derelicts.  Johnny
himself is round and fat and cherubic, with the forehead of a dean.  One
can see him wearing a round black shovel hat and a bishop’s apron or
wreathed like Bacchus in vine-leaves, his smiling mouth smeared with
grape-juice.  As it is, he is attired in a dark silk _paréu_ and white
singlet.  He is kind and smiling, and beyond belief glad to see one; so
altogether and artlessly charming that it is little wonder to me that in
speaking of Tahiti every one I have ever met who came from here has
spoken of Johnny first.  And this is not all there is to it, either, for
his house is immediately opposite the sea, and from my latticed
veranda—which forms in reality a second room—I look down upon it, through
a tapestry of solid green and scarlet, to where the lanterns of the
fishermen flicker like fireflies along the reef.

I have just come back from eating my dinner at an unorthodox little
restaurant facing the quay.  It is kept by a Frenchman and an Irishman,
who, dripping with heat in their singlets and white trousers, serve the
most delicious food imaginable, helped by one small bronze boy beautiful
as a statue.

The tables are on a veranda debouching on the road; and here were
officers of all grades from the boats; young Frenchmen and other young
men of every gradation of shade with their Tahitian friends, dark
beauties with flower-bound hair and pale flower-like silk dresses; four
black cats with brilliant green eyes, all precisely alike, which sprang
up on every side of one like the creatures of a dream.  Laughter and
light, the twang of a guitar; salad and grilled chicken and omelette and
good red wine with friendliness.

I was happy there and I am happy now, back at Johnny’s, wandering about
my room,—grandiloquently designated “the countess’s room,”—which is
fantastically hung with scarlet and white _paréus_.  I revel in that
sense of space which makes the end of a voyage almost as good as the
beginning.  It is one of the many delightful reactions of life, such as
the unsung joy of falling out of love, with its delightful sense of
altogether fresh possibilities.

There seems to be nothing more than a bottom sheet on my bed,—of course
no blankets,—and trying to attract the attention of a maid of some sort I
am reassured by a distinctly masculine, friendly American voice on the
other side of the thin wooden partition, informing me that I shall find a
top sheet folded across the foot.  An informal little introduction which
seems to warrant my protesting against the rattle of a typewriter close
against my head, spoiling the beat of the surf in my ears; apart from
which there is no sound save the murmur of voices as barefooted people
pad softly by in the dusty road, the whisper of lovers along the strip of
green between it and the sea.

                                * * * * *

I was up at five o’clock this morning, to visit the market.  But there
was nothing whatever interesting in it, though I enjoyed meandering back
to Johnny’s along the waterfront, where the families aboard the tiny
ketches and schooners and cutters anchored there were making their
morning toilet in a bland, leisurely way, regardless of the long hiatus
which occurred between discarding their night wear, hanging it out among
the rigging to air, and getting into their best Sunday-go-to-meeting
clothes.

There were rolls and butter and coffee, and paw-paw and bananas and melon
on the veranda at Johnny’s when I got back.  All of Johnny’s boarders
were there: two American men, the Englishman who came over on the same
boat with me, a Russian, and an American married couple in their
dressing-gowns, talking and laughing, wandering off to the bath-room,—a
large, cool stone tank, walled round and roofed over, with an immense
shower,—and reappearing, picking up the conversation where they had
dropped it, with their hair still dripping.  These Americans had
evidently been in Tahiti long enough to have all their country’s
irritable restlessness buffed off them.

I have an idea that my veranda will be a very good place to write in; at
least so I tell myself, though at the back of my mind I know better.  I
know that it is, indeed, a place in which to dream, leaning back in a
long chair or opening one of the small lattice shutters and lolling over
the rail, exchanging pleasantries with passers-by whom one has never seen
before.  In my room at the back of the veranda the serving maid is
sweeping the floor.  She wears a bright pink-silk dress flounced to the
waist, with purple violets embroidered upon the low and sleeveless
bodice; her wavy hair, flowing to her waist, is wreathed with flowers,
and she is smoking a cigarette.

        [Picture: Sweeping the room, with intervals for dreaming]

Another maid comes into the room to talk to her.  This girl, who is
dressed in pale lemon-colored muslin, has a guitar in her hand and the
two of them chat together,—chat, chat, chat,—discussing the tune which
she picks out upon it, and love and lovers.  What a place, what a place
for me to find myself in!  I who am in general ravaged by activity.  A
place where time melts like the mist upon the mountains, and is no more
to be caught or woven to any useful end.




CHAPTER VII


I HAVE come for a long, long drive into the country with one of the young
officers from the steamer, a French boy of good family who had an Irish
ancestress in some way remotely connected with myself.  We had bespoken a
tin Lizzie, yesterday, to call for us at half-past six, but it was an
hour later when we did get off, what with the coffee being late and the
amount of melon that we ate for our _petit déjeuner_, and the something
or other that had happened to the chauffeur and the car.  Still, it was
heavenly when we once got started.  Rain had fallen throughout the
greater part of the night, and the island was a thing of perfume and
glitter, with the drops still showering down from the trees, and rainbow
clouds above Moorea, the sea inside the reef showing flattened streaks of
pale and dark opal.

To begin with, our way lay along the sea, here and there on the very edge
of the sand, through cocoanut groves and colonies of small white and pink
and yellow wooden houses, with wide verandas like dolls’ houses.  They
were hedged off from the road with brilliant scarlet and crimson and
green crotons and such hibiscus as I have never seen, an infinite variety
of it.  There were blossoms with soft double petals like large hollyhock
flowers, of the very palest yellow and pink and white; large single
blossoms of a deep ruby and scarlet, and blood-red with fringed and
pointed petals; rounded blossoms of vermilion, orange, pink, rose-pink,
blush-pink, and that magenta-like color which edged the lengths of
flannel used for petticoats in my nursery days.

                       [Picture: The Pandanus tree]

In some places the mountains rose sheer on one side of us, cut by deep
ravines filled with an amazing vegetation, not in the least like ordinary
trees and shrubs.  There were green and pale-yellow striped leaves shaped
like the spear-heads of gods; glossy green leaves like immense fans; the
fronds of ferns brown and hairy as Pan’s hock; the long pale leaves of
wild bananas; the tall straight stems of what is called here the mapau
tree, with immense flanged roots like folds of stiff silk upright above
the ground, and fluted trunks like Ionian columns.  In the sea at the
other side of us, which was perfectly smooth, clear, and shining,
fishermen waded up to their waists, dragging their nets through the
water, so clearly reflected that each man seemed like the upper half of
two men welded together.

At one spot the side of the mountain was hollowed out by an immense cave,
hundreds of feet high, almost completely dark, with the unimaginably long
roots of trees hanging down within it, and a continual drip of water into
the dark and ominous pool which paved it.

More and more I feel that this island is not a place in which to paint.
There are too many strong primal colors; it is at once too artless and
too passionate.  The vegetation is too like the packed hothouse of a
millionaire.  The background of sky and mountain is purposely set for the
life drama of an artless, material, and yet primitive people.

Among the rocks in the ravines are many skeletons, for the people once
hid the bodies of their departed chiefs there so that their enemies might
not get at them.  Thus any wanderer up-country in Tahiti may be
confronted by death grinning out upon him suddenly amid bowers of ferns,
the spurt and spray and whisper of those innumerable waterfalls which
flow with an outward curve like flying-buttresses from the top of high,
in-curving cliffs; finishing touch to those dark figures of dread and
melancholy which step hand in hand with love and beauty through the slow
and silent dance of tropic days.

I am scribbling as best I can upon my knee while we rattle along.  The
air is full of scents: the smell of guavas, like warm flannel, of
mangoes, daturas; of dust and a depth of damp vegetation untouched by the
sun; of plants like animals; of sweet ginger-flower and wild gardenia, or
_tiare_, the national bower of Tahiti, of lantana, with the stuffy odor
of nettle beds at home in England; of seaweed and stagnant salt-water
pools.  And the sibilant secret _hush-hush-hush_ of palms, the pat of
small waves on the shore are forever in the ears.

Two tall bronze colored boys, on the edge of manhood, run out of the sea,
and, vaulting upon a white horse and a chestnut horse, dash up the narrow
steep slope of sand and across the road in front of us.  Fine spray, gold
with sunshine, showers out of their hair as they go, and silver drops
stream down their wet bodies.

Something stirs against a garden hedge as we pass it—a hedge behind which
grow balsams and zinnias of every shade, jasmines, crimson and yellow
crotons, crimson and yellow cannas—and we see a youth leading a white
heifer, white as a transparent silk stocking on a woman’s leg, against
the flaming hibiscus bushes.  The boy, wide-eyed with terror lest we dash
into him and his charge, presses back into the shrubbery, out of our way.

Girls run out of the cottage gardens and throw flowers into our car;
others leap upon the steps and hang garlands—which they must have had in
readiness for any chance passer-by—around our necks.  They have not the
slightest air of expecting anything in return, these laughing girls with
flowing hair and white teeth.

The island is roughly divided in two by a wide causeway and banks of
trees, close upon forty miles out from Papeete.  Just before crossing the
causeway we stop at the house of a Tahitian friend of my friend, who
comes out to be introduced to me.  He promises to have luncheon ready for
us when we return, for we are going on still farther.

We cross the causeway between an inland lagoon and the sea—water clear as
glass without so much as a ripple to break the reflection of unnumbered
islets; bays curving so sharply that they look like islands—and enter a
series of deep woods, broken by clusters of houses with their gardens,
and pass along a road so narrow that the masses of hibiscus growing upon
each side of us are pressed back like wall hangings of brilliant
patchwork.

We come to a space which is a little more open.  On one side of us is the
sea, on the other, a hundred yards back from the road, are immensely tall
cliffs with waterfalls streaming down them at the distance of every
quarter of a mile or less, silver threads and silver ribbons, and widths
of silver tissue hung with mist.

When we get back to Maou-u’s he protests that had we only let him know
earlier he would have had a better meal ready for us, more for us to eat.
At this my companion turns to me, laughing.  “Only wait and see,” he
says.

Maou-u has a little guest-house across the road, and on the veranda of
this our luncheon is served to us.  We are waited upon by one of the
girls who live with the family, not at all a servant, but more like a
lady in waiting.  She is a tall, deep-breasted creature with great dark
eyes swimming with passion, love, and melancholy; the offspring of some
American captain’s stray fancy for a girl of the race to which Marcaline,
despite her assertion to the contrary, so plainly belongs.

More to eat!  How would it be possible?  Marcaline brings us an immense
dish piled with fresh oysters, five dozen of them; a savory omelette;
fried chicken and some sweet, succulent beanlike vegetable; fried
plantains, black coffee.  To all of which we do such justice—think of it,
five dozen oysters between two of us!—that it seems impossible that we
should ever again be able to rise from the low chairs into which we have
sunk.  We lie back without a word, perfectly content to watch our
cigarette smoke rising up against the dark green of the trees, just
sufficiently awake to realize our entire contentment, no more.

When we do at last take our departure Maou-u’s wife and three children,
Marcaline and another girl, with Maou-u himself—stout and smiling,
utterly refusing to accept anything in return for his hospitality,
delighting me with an invitation to come out and stay at his
guest-house—and two shy smiling youths, gather to see us into our motor,
already piled with ripe cocoanuts, a basket of guavas, a bunch of fresh
plantains.  The girls hang round our necks garlands of white and yellow
ginger-flowers, the heavily perfumed cups of the pandanus fruit,
gardenias, and pink and crimson roses.  Every word they say, every glance
of their dark eyes, is full of kindliness toward me, more than kindliness
for the handsome young Frenchman, a boy altogether so delightful that
there is nothing that I should like better than to own him as my son.

To be kind, to be happy, to love and be loved; to find oneself surrounded
by beauty and perfume and sunshine and sea-air, blest with an infinity of
leisure.  Is it to be wondered that many men forget that there is
anything else left in life to be desired?

The _Kantara_ is sailing early to-morrow morning, and a couple of
officers come to make their adieux over a last glass—though that “one
last glass” is a merely formal way of putting it—of Johnny’s iced
rum-punch glowing with golden fruits.  Surely it is one of the most
enticing drinks imaginable!

It is after nine o’clock, for they have been extra busy with the cargo,
and we are out on the narrow slip of crab-ridden grass opposite the
house, between the sea and the road, while the whole entertainment is of
the sort impossible for any England-bound English man or woman to
imagine.  The housemaid and parlor-maid—I use the only words I can find
to describe the nymphs who bring out the punch—have changed into even
brighter silks than they have worn during the day, combed out their long
hair, and placed hibiscus blooms behind their ears—and it is the left ear
for the girl who wants a lover and the right ear for the girl who is
contented, or vice versa; I can never quite remember which.  Not that it
matters, for they themselves make certain of not being left in the lurch,
wearing a bloom behind each ear.

The girls have their guitar with them, and sitting down upon the grass at
our feet, or upon the benches at our side, sing to us—love-songs and that
strange haunting Tahitian song of which the only words seem to be, “How
happy I am! oh, how happy I am!” set to the tune of an old French Baptist
hymn.

Apart from the singing and playing, low notes and low crooning voices,
the night is almost silent.  What sounds there are, beyond the shrilling
of the cicadas—striking upon the ear as though a myriad wires vibrated
between the ground beneath one’s feet and the star-strewn sky—is dulled
by love and languor.  Young men and girls in muslins with flounced skirts
pad softly by, whispering to one another.  Large, majestic women with
straight white cotton dresses to their feet sail past with a flotilla of
small children about them; and there seem to be more children in Tahiti
than I have ever seen before, for whatever the admixture of blood may do
in other directions, it very certainly does not lead to sterility.

“Love and languor.”  The words swim gently through my mind as the keynote
to Tahiti, or rather to the full understanding of it, for I do not
believe that it is of the very faintest use to expect any full-blooded,
warm-hearted people to be moral with so much time on their hands and in a
climate like this, among girls so gentle and smiling, so much more kind
than immoral.  As to working hard or continuously, it is out of the
question.  Never in all my life have I taken so long to dress and
undress; never have I wandered about my room with such vagueness, such
long pauses in everything I happen to be doing, though goodness knows it
would be impossible, with decency, to wear fewer clothes than those which
I put on and take off me.  The fact is that one never can keep to one
thing at a time.  One’s brain is so full of all sorts of odd quotations,
odd ideas, impulses to do something altogether different.  One is,
indeed, in a continuous sort of pleasant swoon.  I am convinced that if I
lived here I should get into the habit of reading nothing whatever beyond
anthologies.

Merely looking out of my window, or leaning over my balcony rail, takes
much time.  To begin with, I am absorbedly interested in what the people
in the next house are doing, waving hands to the domestics who sweep a
little, smoke a little more, and make love a great deal—all precisely as
they do here, and yet, as ever, the house next door is more interesting
than one’s own.  Then in the front there are the land-crabs to beguile
me, so like stout city gentlemen bolting down into the Underground on
their way home at night, running in and out of their holes, forever in a
prodigious hurry.  There are the amazing ways of the sun and moon and the
clouds; the rain which comes down in sudden terrific sluices as though
the sky had opened overhead; and, above all, the ways of the wind which,
rising suddenly in a terrible passion, sweeps through the house, carrying
everything with it, setting every door and window banging.

Really, when I come to think of it, the only thing I ever do with
decision here is getting up in the morning,—the antithesis of my way at
home,—for the mornings are heavenly and I do not sleep very well; the
mosquito curtains remind me of the refrain which a Spanish lover sang to
his mistress: “Neither with thee nor without thee have I any peace,” for
with them it is too stuffy for words, while without them it is impossible
to rest at all.  I scalded one arm rather badly on the boat, and the new
skin, young, tender, and childlike, is so tempting that the mosquitos
literally jostle one another gourmandizing upon it.

To-night two large wreaths of roses and gardenias hang one upon each post
at the end of my bed.  By whom they were sent I know not, though I
suspect the housemaid, for there is no mosquito curtain here.  Yesterday
I pointed out to her that it should be taken down and washed.  She took
it down this morning, declaring that it would dry in less than no time,
would be up again long before I was ready for bed.  But, of course, it is
not there.  No one can find it; no one knows where it is, and I find
myself obliged to fit up, with the help of three giggling maids and the
sacrifice of the tapes out of two petticoats, the curtain belonging to my
own camp equipment, so small that it lies like a veil against my face.

        [Picture: One of the ladies in waiting at Maou-u’s house]

                                * * * * *

                 [Picture: A fisherman’s house in Tahiti]

And this is so like these people.  They could take infinite trouble over
those wreaths and feel themselves utterly unable to grapple with that
curtain—even if they knew where it was, which they don’t.

                                * * * * *

Three days later the curtain is found, I myself spying it on a line at
the far end of the back garden and going out to fetch it.  It has stormed
with rain for close upon twenty-four hours; but for one hour the sun has
shone and the curtain is almost dry.  Taking it off the line and
wandering round the back veranda, seeking some safe place to finish it
off in,—for the sky is as black as ink,—I come upon two of the maids
ironing their own innumerable, brilliantly colored pongée silk dresses.

A large ironing-sheet and blanket are spread upon the floor, where they
sit in their chemises with their legs stretched very far apart, ironing
between them.  There is a great deal of giggling when I come upon them
with the curtain, of which they deny any knowledge whatever.  But in this
island the girls are always giggling, the older women gazing out to sea,
deeply melancholy.

There is one elderly looking woman, though goodness knows she may not be
more than five and twenty.  She appears to live on the veranda of the
house next door, and she greatly intrigues me.  For whatever time in the
morning I happen to look out,—and it has been as early as four,—I see the
outline of her face and figure by moonlight or in the gray dawn, with her
chin propped in her hand, gazing out to sea in the precise attitude of
the Minotaur in Watts’s haunting picture.  Now, while I write, there is a
man upon the bench across the road, gazing, gazing with precisely the
same air of desperate resignation, far and away beyond despair.  I wonder
what it is that, without hope, they long for.  It may be some sort of
subconscious yearning for the land from which their race once came; or it
may be that they are forever trying to follow with their eyes those
sailing-ships which come and go above the horizon, bearing away, away
their loved ones.




CHAPTER VIII


IT is Sunday and we are picnicking in the country.  I got up at half-past
six o’clock, as we were supposed to start at seven.  But innumerable
difficulties intervened, so that it was close upon ten before we got
away; actually past nine before the giver of the picnic—a Russian with an
air of inviolate melancholy, who buys many bad pearls in the hope of
finding one good one—comes out of the bath-room, which smells
intoxicatingly sweet with festive wreaths made overnight and hung there
to keep fresh in the spray from the shower-bath.  Johnny emerges from the
kitchen, where upheld by unlimited supplies of planter’s punch he has
been wrestling throughout the entire night with the preparation of a
multitude of dishes.  Not that it matters when we start, for the morning
is still of a heavenly freshness, and there is always, here in Tahiti, an
amplitude of what Charles Lamb called “estates in time.”

Now, hung with thick wreaths, we lounge under the palms upon a little
point between the mouth of the river and the sea, in a bay some six miles
out from the town, with immense curving waves and sheets of white foam.
Here the water is narrowed to a mere strip between this island and
Moorea, with the full force of the Pacific waves rushing into it.

Our party consists of seven: our Russian host, an Englishman, a young
American, Johnny Paree, his sister and his niece,—an exquisite slender
creature of fifteen with a dreamy, faraway look in her eyes,—and myself.

The fire is lighted among the cooking-stones, for the breadfruit; the
ground spread with white woven mats for us to lie upon; an enamel-like
stretch of shining banana leaves laid as a tablecloth.

We are all smoking, as one must to keep away the mosquitos.  In front of
us is an immense green glass demijohn of punch—rum and ice and
soda-water, with all the glowing fruits of the Goblin Market floating
within it—forming, as the sun shines through it, a centerpiece worthy of
the banquet of gods.

At the mouth of the river two men in scarlet-and-white _paréus_ stand
fishing.  On the opposite side of the river are groups of young men and
women.  The men are in scarlet _paréus_ and white shirts, for only the
middle-aged men are supposed to wear yellow and red, and there are none
of these in Tahiti, where one childhood slips into another.  They are
beautiful as bronze statues.  The women, in white, their long flowing
hair decked with flowers, are playing the guitar and singing together.
The air is like the scented petal of a sun-baked blossom against one’s
cheek, at once warm and cool, and there is no wind whatever.

Johnny Paree is mixing the salad of raw fish—which has been soaking in
vinegar, amid peppercorns and spices, for twenty-four hours—with every
kind of delicately shredded vegetable and a sauce made of cocoanut cream
and lime-juice and gin and salt.  The young American, attired in a white
shirt and scarlet _paréu_, resembling some strange bird with his
long-pointed beak-like nose and dark-rimmed glasses, sits upright upon a
stone and sings to us as we drink the punch out of long tumblers.

The _déjeuner_ is ushered in with Martini cocktails, also in tumblers:
then comes raw fish—of which the sauce is so delicious that we all finish
it by lapping, for there are no spoons, no knives and forks—steaming hot
breadfruit as mealy as the best Irish potatoes, cold chicken, tender
young pork with stuffing, and Russian salad.  With all this is white
wine, followed by a great deal of champagne, for which no one seems in
the very least the worse.

The natives upon the opposite side of the river dive into the water; not
as we dive, but jumping, and alighting sitting.  They swim out into the
sea, breast the waves, shouting and singing, and are driven back into the
shore by a great sweep of surf.  All our party, excepting the Englishman
and me, jump up from the immense meal with cries of delight, run behind
the bushes to get into their bathing-clothes, then into the sea.

I lie upon a white woven mat in the shade and try to sleep.  But it is
too hot; besides, I am too happy, too well entertained watching the
bathers.  The Englishman, however, draws apart and really does sleep,
with a handkerchief over his face.  After a while a little black pig goes
and lies down at his side, snuggles against him, and sleeps also.

It is a good two hours before our friends come out of the water, get into
their clothes, and move away to a bungalow a little back in the bush,
from which, after a while, the long-drawn notes of the “Boatman on the
Volga” played by the gramophone, come to me.  I sit alone on the sands,
my knees clasped in my arms, and gaze across the narrow strip of sea
toward Moorea, incomparably beautiful, done out in shades of amethyst
against a pale-gold sky.

The Russian joins me; he talks of his own early life, his own tragic
country, the beauty of everything in Tahiti, and weeps.  But after a
little while he moves off to the bungalow, and when I follow him later,
through the scented dusk hung with fireflies, I find him dancing to the
strains of the gramophone, with a rapt and passionate air, clasping in
his arms a Chilian lady, the wife of the owner of the bungalow.  Her
hair, which flows loose, reaching below her waist, is still dripping with
sea-water, from her swim.

A Czecho Slav, who is of the party, comes and sits on a little sofa by
me, and we talk together in villainously bad French, the only two of the
party who are not dancing.  An hour or so later we drive back to Johnny’s
along roads which are intoxicatingly sweet with the heavy scent white
datura gives off after sunset; and when we get back, far too tired to
start out again to dinner, cajole our host into feeding us in the
kitchen, dimly illuminated with three candles which cast a windblown
light across our faces, leaving the rest of the queer, untidy place,
umber-brown and black with smoke, deep in shadow.

I had fully made up my mind to go from Tahiti to Samoa and the Tongan
Islands by schooner; had created the actual schooner in my own mind,
before I left London.  The people here, however, tell me that it is out
of the question; that never, never in the whole history of the island has
there been any schooner taking that route.

I do not altogether feel that I am beaten; but as an alternative I think
that I may go to Cook Island.  Hearing that there is a schooner laid up
on the island, being fitted with a new boom, and that she is shortly
going on there, I have this morning been out to see her.  Such is the
languor of the place that, though she lies in a little backwater less
than half a mile away, I cannot bring myself to walk there; I must hire a
motor, for which I am charged an altogether exorbitant sum.

To board the schooner I had to walk one of the longest planks I had ever
crossed, and even when I got there my errand seemed in vain.  She is very
trim and neat, and is in charge of a friendly Danish captain, but there
are only two berths on board and those are in the saloon.  Though both of
these are taken, the captain seemed to think there was a chance that one
of them might be given up at the last moment, but when one has sampled
the heat of that saloon and remembers the constant relay of meals on any
boat, the trip does not strike one as altogether inviting.

                                * * * * *

Ten days ago I went into a Chinaman’s shop to buy a camphor-wood chest
into which to put the few warm clothes which I am keeping for the
homeward journey; for it is a weariness to the flesh to have them in the
same boxes with my light tropical things.

These camphor-wood boxes smell delicious, and so do the clothes which are
kept in them, free from all danger of moth.  My chest is three feet long
by about a foot and a half broad, and the same depth.  It is clasped with
brass, with a brass lock, and is, I fully believe, going to be the pride
of my life.

The Chinaman from whom I bought the box is round like a globe-fish and
sleek as a cat.  He was very anxious that I should buy a pearl instead of
a box, feeling very certain, I should imagine, that even with the pearl I
should still find myself unable to do without the box.  The pearl did,
indeed, look a far more tempting trifle for immediate purchase, lying
upon a scrap of black cloth in the palm of my hand.  I have been to the
shop several times since, once to buy a pair of straw shoes for the
bath-room, and once to buy a little bowl out of which to drink my tea.  I
intended to get one bowl only, but this the Chinaman would not have,
declaring that nobody ever could, or ever would, drink tea without
company, and forced me to take two.

When I got home I discovered that one of the bowls was cracked and I had
to go back next day to change it, as I believe he fully intended that I
should do; whereupon the pearl was once again pressed upon me, at a
greatly reduced price.

               [Picture: Holding the pearl upon his finger]

To-day I walked very slowly past the shop, for I must say that pearl
draws me, so that I find my footsteps continually turning in that
direction.  Seeing me as he stood peering out of his dark shop, the
proprietor beckoned me in, looking very sleek and sly; and when I got up
to the counter he was behind it, holding the pearl upon his finger, as
though it were set in a ring.

I took it from him and he made a pretense of hunting for the little piece
of black material upon which to show it off, apparently distracted when
he could not find it.  As it happened, I had in my bag a powder-puff with
a black satin cover.  I laid the pearl upon this and walked to the door
so as to catch the light, returning at once in a great rage.

“It’s not the same pearl,” I said.

His eyes met mine blankly for a moment; then he smiled very sweetly, and,
curiously enough, with the greatest satisfaction, really liking me for
having found him out.  Unlocking a drawer, he took out what I called my
pearl, twisted in a tiny screw of newspaper.  It seemed to me, however,
that I had found some basis for refusing to buy it, bolstering up my
strength of mind, and with great dignity I walked out of the shop,
declaring that I should never come near it again.  Yet I know in my own
heart that this particular Chinaman and I shall go on playing the same
game for so long as I remain in Papeete.

There are dozens and dozens of Chinese shops here, the most intriguing of
all being those of the Chinese druggists.

To-night I have dined in the largest and most important of the Chinese
restaurants.  The whole of the ground-floor is a store, while above this
is one large room, one smaller room,—which pretends to be set apart for
white people,—and a few little semi-private rooms like bathing-boxes,
with muslin curtains across the empty doorways, and a veranda set with
tables.

It is Saturday and the whole place was crowded with people, many of whom
had evidently come in from the country, for they all were crowned with
fresh flowers.  A few children lay on the floor at their parents’ feet,
sleeping.  There were men of every color there.  No collars were worn
even by the white men, while one—an Englishman, I found out later—was in
nothing more than a bathing-dress and a very great deal of tattoo.  The
noise was terrific: if shouting failed to bring a Chinaman, or one of his
Tahitian waitresses, the people took up their chairs and banged them on
the floor, while all the time an agonizing admixture of many different
tunes was strummed upon innumerable guitars, and concertinas mingled with
the sounds of a gramophone braying out jazz music—or so-called music.

The Tahitian waitresses, with their flowing hair, moved superbly, and
altogether aloof, bearing their heavy trays in front of them.  All the
ladies of the town were there.  There was one, very ugly and badly
dressed, but with such an air, such a beckoning assurance that every man
in the place turned to look at her as she walked down the room with her
breasts thrust out, her shoulders squeezed up high and tight, swinging
her hips in the way in which they all do.

I had a chop-suey of shredded chicken with shrimps, and shredded
vegetables and red pepper—an immense heaped plate of it served with a
bowl of rice and a doll’s saucer of piquant sauce, and China tea to
follow.

Coming back along the waterside I found a great number of little
schooners and ketches anchored there, pulling at their ropes with a soft
whimper, for the tide was going out, endeavoring to draw them with it.

In the stern of one boat some one was playing a guitar and men and women
were singing.  This serenade was broken into by the most appalling,
long-drawn shrieks as I passed the bows, growing louder and louder, more
and more piercing, until they ended in one long, horrid gurgle.  A sound
which made it plain to the meanest imagination that a little pig—and all
boats carry them, running about the deck—was being killed for the Sunday
dinner, while, likely enough, one of the swains chanting such melodious
love-songs was himself doing the job, without so much as turning a hair
over it.




CHAPTER IX


THIS morning I came out to stay at Taravao with Maou-u and his family.
An artist from Papeete arrived at the same time, and wanted to be put up,
greatly embarrassing Maou-u, for he had promised the guest-house to me.
Being, however, fundamentally unable to refuse anything to any one, he
ended by giving the artist a bed in his own house,—one immense room like
a dormitory, with eight beds set with snowy sheets and mosquito curtains,
where he and his wife and three children, and the two maids of honor
sleep; for by Tahitians it would be considered altogether gross and
“uneducated” for any two people, even a husband and wife, to share a bed.
All the meals were taken on the veranda outside, the cooking done over a
fire, or, best of all, in a hole in the ground among hot stones, a little
distance away.

The artist is to have his meals with me on my veranda.  I do not greatly
care for the look of him; still, it can’t be helped, and I am too
altogether full of contentment to be easily put out by anything.

I lay down in the guest-house after _déjeuner_, but I did not sleep.  In
reality I was too happy to sleep.  A tiny, pale, gold-skinned boy came
and squatted on his hunkers on the floor, gazing up at me as I lay upon
my bed.  He fitted in with the general scheme of coloring, for the walls
of the guest-house are made of a basketwork of fine, split, goldy-tinted
bamboo, and there is a high-peaked roof of plaited palm-leaves bleached
to a pale biscuit tint.  There are three windows and three very wide
doorways.  From one of these doorways you look down up the inland lagoon
and the causeway; from another upon the great sweep of bay with its
islands; the third gives into the garden with its pink and scarlet and
rose cannas, crimson and yellow crotons, multi-tinted zinnias, roses and
palms.  Every scene, hung like a magic curtain across the doors and
windows, is so altogether beautiful that upon whichever side I turn I
find myself unable to keep my eyes shut.

                                * * * * *

At five o’clock this evening Maou-u’s wife, the two girls, the three
children and I go down to bathe in the river a quarter of a mile away,
while Maou-u himself follows us later.

We make our way along the road for a little, then turn off through deep
bush to a bend where the river flows, swiftly swirling, beneath a high
bank overhung with trees, whose long roots hang like snakes down to the
water’s edge.

                          [Picture: The Lagoon]

                                * * * * *

                           [Picture: The Canoe]

The three children climb up into the trees, a height full forty feet
above the water, and dive, dropping in a sitting position, crossing their
legs as they touch it.  Armani, aged nine; Spole, aged seven; and
Charlie, only four but tall as a child of six.  Both the little girls
have long, flowing straight hair, and it is delightful to see them
swimming—racing beneath the water, like small fishes, their hair
streaming out beside them like fine, elongated, semi-transparent fins.
They are totally without fear, though the water is at least ten feet
deep.  All three children are swift and supple, finely made and fair as
golden shadows, for their mother has Alsatian blood and is a beautiful
woman with blue-gray eyes.

Maou-u joins his children in the deep water, but we four women go on
farther to a place where there is a beach of round pebbles.  Maou-u’s
wife does not bathe, as there is another baby on its way, but the rest of
us go into the water in our petticoats.  Following the directions of the
others, I have brought a cake of soap, a clean dress, and a princess
petticoat with me.  I bathe in the petticoat I have on; then when I come
out of the water I put on my fresh things and wash those that I have been
wearing, as do the other women.  And this, it seems, is the rule of the
day, to change your clothes twice and bathe twice,—then at night to bathe
your feet the last thing before getting into bed.

The three children come running up, and, seeing that I have not yet
finished dressing, immediately turn their backs, sitting like three small
gold-tinted statues motionless upon the stones at the edge of the water
until I am once more presentable.

                                * * * * *

It is only five in the morning, but I could sleep no longer and am
sitting on my veranda, waiting for the sunrise, which begins with a
silver-gilt diffusion of light over the entire scene.  The fish are once
more leaping high in the inner and outer lagoons, as I could hear them
doing up to twelve o’clock last night.  I see Marcaline’s figure out upon
the causeway and she calls to me, her hands rounded to her mouth, telling
me that the sun is about to rise.  From the exultation and joy in her
voice one might think that such a thing had never happened before.  By
the time I join her, the outer and inner lagoons are like sheets of gold
with crimson roses reflected upon them; the mountains at the back glow
with purple and gilt, while in a cleft of the mountains to the right of
us the sun comes up, as it seems, with a rush.

Already the children are bathing in the inner lagoon, laughing and
shouting, splashing golden drops around them; they bring a small fish to
show to me, flat and broad and of the color of brilliant blue enamel shot
with violet.  For a few minutes they play about around me, then run back
into the water, catching fish in their hands and throwing them up to
their two pet frigate-birds, which swoop and swirl above them, mount so
high that they are lost to sight, then swoop down again.

I am wearing nothing more than my nightgown and the thinnest of kimonos,
but I paddle down to the edge of the water and join the children,
watching them with delight as they gaze upward, throwing the fish as high
as they can, calling out the names of their birds in long-drawn
syllables: “Chacco-o!  Chacco-o!  Chacco-o!  T-i-t-i!  T-i-t-i!
T-i-t-i,” perfectly sure as to which is which, while they are so far
overhead that I myself am unable to see them.

The children have in general lovely manners: never once since that first
afternoon, when Charlie came and sat upon my floor and gazed at me, have
they come near me or into the garden when I might be dressing or resting.
Directly I begin to eat, they move away, however absorbed they may be in
their games upon my veranda, and if, when we are out walking, I stop to
speak to any one, they walk out of ear-shot at once.  All alike, however,
detest the artist, whom Marcaline and the other native girls call
“Mam’selle.”  Spole has two French words, “_savez_” and “_no savez_,”
though there is little enough that she does not know,—the native names
and habits of all the birds and fish, flowers, and trees, being perfectly
familiar to her,—while her English consists of “good” and “no good,” into
which she throws a wealth of meaning.  Thus when she speaks of the artist
she wrinkles up her minute nose until it is nothing more than a series of
creases upon her small thin face, turns down her thumb, and with the
greatest disgust ejaculates, “No good!”

He is, indeed, exasperating.  This morning he had his “little breakfast”
on my veranda with me,—coffee, fresh cocoanut cream, bananas, and oranges
still gleaming with dew,—and all the while he grumbled and peeved,
declaring that he had lost a silver spoon which he had brought with him;
that he had been unable to sleep because of the snoring of his host, the
coughing and fidgeting of children; that the cocks and hens awoke him at
dawn; that he would be sure to get elephantiasis, sleeping among natives.
All this in face of Maou-u’s wonderful hospitality disgusted me so,
spoiled my early morning blaze of joy to such an extent that I am glad
now to be out in the canoe with the children and Maou-u’s best boy to
paddle us.  For the winds get up so suddenly here that it is not safe to
venture far without some one with a strong arm, and we have set our
hearts upon getting out to the reef.

The canoe is so narrow that only the smallest child can really sit in it:
others must perch upon a little board laid across it, or overstride it
like a horse.  The children hop in as light as birds, but for me, a
trifle lame as I am, it is more difficult.  Spole, for all her seven
years no bigger than Charlie at four, is as careful of me as though I
were a child, supporting me with her minute, wiry person, absorbedly
anxious.

I sit cross-legged over the narrow canoe, scribbling upon my knee,
wearing nothing more than a cotton dress and petticoat, with a bath towel
hung over my shoulders to keep off the sun.  If I held up a parasol we
should certainly go over, and I am, indeed, growing so used to this
bath-towel arrangement that when I leave it off I shall feel as naked as
one does when, in London, one makes one’s first appearance without a fur.
For coolness nothing could be better, as I dip it constantly into the
sea, wring it out very slightly, and sit with the drops from it trickling
down my spine.

The water is as clear as glass.  In some places it is so shallow that the
children jump in and out of the canoe and push it in front of them.  As
we near the reef they sit perfectly still, for here the sea is full of
currents, dangerous, and deep.  Below us are gardens of coral and trees
of coral, of every shade of pink and pale mushroom; great flat tables of
coral and fairy fine forests of seaweed, green and rose at the bottom of
it, shot through and through with small brilliant blue fish.

The frigate-birds, which have followed us out, whirl and plane overhead
with a sound like weeping; a sound so penetrating that it pierces the
roar of the waves, which arch their great necks above us at the farther
side of the reef, dropping in a mass of foam upon it, racing toward us in
deep, greedy ripples which rock the canoe violently from side to side.

It is seven o’clock by now, and so hot that we put back toward the shore.
After landing the boy, who is anxious to be back at his work, the
children take me in at the mouth of the river and on up it.  The trees on
each side are immense, dark, sullen, and threatening, as is so much
tropical vegetation.  Here are tall and slender mapau trees, with their
extraordinary flange-like roots, and trees of a heavier build with large,
round, brilliantly green leaves, thick as metal, which the children call
_hotu_.  From all alike hang long beards of lichen and a brilliant green
parasite like bunches of long satin ribbons; while some of the trees are
so thick with the ferns that it is impossible to tell which is fern and
which is tree.

The frigate-birds, overcome by boredom as we turn in among the trees,
where they can no longer display their swooping, leave us and go back to
the shore, where, too lazy to catch fish for themselves, they will,
supposing no one goes out in the canoes, sit mewing and complaining
throughout the entire day.  In their place, however, clouds of shining
white birds the size of pigeons, only more lightly built and with fine
curved wings, hover round us with a loud fretful cry.  “_E-t-a-t-ae_,”
the children call to them, and I write it as they say it, every letter
separate and distinct.

There is another bird, half as large again as a thrush, pale greenish
brown, and very slender, with a long curved bill like that of a
humming-bird, the smooth aristocratic air of a person whose clothes are
very beautifully made by the best tailor.  This the children seem to call
“_a-u-u_,” with the _a_ wide as in the Italian; but then again, or so it
seems to me,—though I cannot be sure that it is the same bird,—they call
to it as “_Au-ta-a_,” “_Au-ta-a_.”

In parts of the river there are deep pools, black, without a ripple; in
others the water eddies over such shallows that the canoe can scarcely
pass, and the children jump in and out of it, pushing it, chasing the
fish.  There are cries of “_Pou-e-e_! _pou-e-e_!” and they tumble out in
such haste after an eel, which they fail to catch, that both paddles go
with them, are recaptured with difficulty, much laughing and shouting.

I should like to draw the mapau trees with their sinister and fleshly
roots; but the mosquitos settle upon my hands so thickly that it is
impossible; while both my hands and ankles are already so swollen out of
shape that we are driven into the open.

Coming out of the mouth of the river, caught by the wind, the canoe
swings atop of the water so airily that it seems that it might take wing
and sweep upward to join the frigate-birds which have come out to meet
us, bitterly complaining.  I, who cannot swim at all, find it difficult
to take it as gaily as the children, who are like fish in the water.

Mam’selle grows to be a more and more unmitigated nuisance; throughout
the whole of dinner this evening he has grumbled.  When Marcaline says,
at the end, in her pretty way: “I hope the dinner was good?”—the dinner,
mind you, for which Maou-u would never accept so much as a penny—he snaps
out, “The coffee is cold.”

To escape from him and the mosquitos I go out in the canoe with the
children.  Armani, who is all moods, is in a fit of the blues, and the
other two, who love teasing—as all these people do—torment her so that
she at last retreats to the extreme stern; sits there with her back
turned to us, her fingers in her ears.

We go a long way up the coast by innumerable bays, past innumerable
islets.  The hills are black, the water shining like mother-of-pearl in
the moonlight.  And all the time we are out, when they are not baiting
Armani, the two younger children sing to me in their soft treble voices.

When we get back to the causeway Maou-u calls for me to come up to the
house and hear his gramophone, playing songs and airs from the grand
operas, which he passionately loves.  The whole party is sitting under
the palm-leaf lean-to, which takes the place of dining- and sitting-room.
Marcaline has a new pale-pink flounced muslin dress and patent-leather
shoes, which she very soon kicks off.  She appears to have quite
forgotten the irritation aroused by Mam’selle and must be dreaming of
love, aching with love, from the look of her, the expression in her face,
as she sits with her chin upon her clasped hands, gazing out to sea.

Maou-u takes Spole on his knee and presses his cheek to hers.  Of the
three children, both he and his wife have always seemed fondest of this
small pale and spiritual creature; now to my surprise I hear her speak of
“My real papa,” and find that Maou-u is, indeed, no more than the “papa
who gives me bread.”  For these people have strange ways with children.
They look upon it as a sort of grossness to be overfond of their own,
differentiating between them and others.  They are, indeed, equally fond
of all children, treating them with a passionate tenderness.  If a woman
is expecting a child and a friend begs that she may have it when it is
born, she will not be refused and another child is taken in its place; so
there may be in one family many children of different parentage, though
it is impossible to tell the difference between them.

Mam’selle has been upsetting Maou-u’s wife so, and she in a state of
health where she must not be upset, that Maou-u came to me this morning
and asked whether his bed could be put on my veranda.  It is an
intolerable nuisance, but how was it possible to say no when Maou-u’s own
hospitality is unbounded?  Fortunately, when I get back to my house this
evening, though it is no more than nine o’clock, he is fast asleep under
a mosquito curtain which I had in my pack and lent to him.  There is no
other place for his bed save directly against the openwork bamboo wall,
at the other side of which stands my washing-stand, and I am rather
afraid that he may awake while I am performing my ablutions.
Fortunately, however, despite his assertions of insomnia, he sleeps on,
even snores; and after all, come to think of it, it doesn’t greatly
matter one way or another, seeing that he is a landscape and not a figure
painter.  But—Heavens!—what a setting for a romance!  Never, never, or so
it seems, were Browning’s wonderful words: “Never the time and the place
and the loved one altogether,” more apt.

                                * * * * *

The end has come.  At his “little breakfast” this morning, the artist was
in an altogether intolerable humor, and the veranda was a disgusting
sight with his unmade bed and all his untidy belongings.  I was the
offender this time—I under whose mosquito curtain he snored, and snored.
I had disturbed him with my fidgeting.  My temper broke and I turned upon
him, bidding him, “For God’s sake, shut up!” and informing him that, as I
had come there for rest and quiet and not to be bothered by anybody, I
should be glad if he would stop complaining.

Upon this he turned on me like a cat, hissing and screaming, stuttering
with rage.  “You damned civilized women oughtn’t to be allowed in the
place, spoiling everything!” he cried, at which I laughed, for it was
really too funny in the face of all his fussing, his silver spoon, his
nerves.  As to my civilization, what was there to be said for it,
considering my costume, a rough-dried dress, my bath-towel over my
shoulders, my hair in a plait?

“That’s good! that’s very good!” I said.  “‘Civilized’ from a man whom
every native girl in the island knows as ‘Mam’selle.’”  An answer which
did nothing whatever to turn away his wrath, for he rushed off down the
garden and across the road to Maou-u’s house, where I heard him shrieking
curses, declaring that he would no longer take his meals with “that
damned woman.”

Of course, this was the end of it, for Maou-u was furious, declaring that
he would not have the creature in his house, though he himself was too
much of a gentleman to send him off in the heat of the day.  Thus, all
this morning, while the children and I have been paddling around the
shallows, in the canoe, we have seen him sulking under the trees where he
was ultimately given his _déjeuner_,—“with the dogs,” as Maou-u put it,
adding, “A cannibal have better manners,”—lying down there to rest until
the motor-lorry which takes bananas, sugar-cane, vegetables, and
passengers to Papeete each day came past.

Now he is safely off the premises and we all go down to bathe together
with a new sense of peace in our hearts.  It is, indeed, almost worth
having had him here to realize the relief of his going: the old game of
the swings and the roundabouts.

It is after eight and we are all sitting upon the edge of the causeway,
with dangling feet, while Maou-u plays very softly upon his concertina.
The after-sunset sky is the color of honey; the moon is honey-like; so is
the sweetness of the air.  Four more days remain to me out here—four
entire days and four nights bland with sweetness and pure air: hours like
honey distilled drop by drop.

Heaven be thanked that I am old enough to realize what happiness is, a
gift denied to youth; to savor the rareness of it, to miss nothing, to
blur nothing.  I am happy now; and throughout four more days and nights I
intend to be happy, for no letter can reach me, and whatever may come
later I shall have had this: a joy free from rivalry and striving, the
fever of love, the strain of triumph; hours like the song of a bird in my
heart.




CHAPTER X


THE little schooner for Cook Island has departed without me, no single
one of the passengers having changed his mind or been translated to a
better world, as I so fondly hoped.  And yet I don’t know that I have
felt altogether disappointed, for, at the back of my mind, I have been
conscious of a fear that in changing my plans I might be upsetting the
decrees of that fate which forever makes difficult things easy, and easy
things difficult, to me; so that, if I set my heart upon anything which
seems well-nigh impossible, I usually get what I want.  It is, indeed,
the commonplace, the ordinary, the everyday sort of luck which fails to
flow my way, and to such an extent that there has never been any real
sequence in my life.

Upon a map in Fleet Street I planned out my voyage among the Pacific
isles and onward round the world, as confidently as though it were the
littlest cross-country journey in England, though if it had been that,
everything would have gone wrong and I should have missed every
connection that it was possible to miss.  I picked it off with the point
of a hat-pin,—“I’ll go there, and there, and there,”—embarking in spirit
upon a journey of hundreds upon hundreds of miles, among islands which
seemed to me, in my ignorance, as easy to dodge about among as the
close-set hamlets of an English county.  I planned it all quite
regardless of distance, the difficulties of connections; the truth being
that, if I am perfectly determined to do anything, I dare not look too
closely into it.

What I said was: “I’ll go by cargo-steamer as far as Tahiti; then I’ll
pick up a schooner of some sort and make my way to Samoa and Fiji.”

I reiterated my intention during the voyage, and people who knew the
Pacific laughed at me as a maniac.

“Why, there’s no schooner going that way once in four years, so you had
better put that idea out of your head, once and for all,” was what they
said.

All the same, I persisted stubbornly in face of their careful
explanation—the sort of explanation which one does give to an idiot—that
the only possible course for me would be to take the New Zealand Shipping
Company’s mail-steamer to Wellington; train from Wellington to Auckland,
and try there for another steamer to Fiji; though it was more than
likely, or so they said, that I should be obliged to go over to Sydney to
get one.

Only look at the map, and imagine what I should have felt had I taken
this seriously; the time, the money involved.  But I simply could not
take it seriously.  It was like an inoculation which has no effect
whatever upon one.

“Oh, but I must be able to pick up something,” was what I said, and stuck
to it, adding: “Anyhow, I’ll give myself six weeks in Tahiti, and if I
don’t hear of something by that time I may begin to think about the
mail.”

Now, however, I have met with an amazing bit of good fortune, and my
belief in the easy attainment of the apparently unattainable is
justified, for when I arrived back from Maou-u’s I found a four-masted
schooner lying up against the wharf.

Upon inquiring about this schooner, however, I was told very definitely
that she was bound for Noumea and never took any passengers.  That seemed
the end.  Not that I was balked by the idea of any one really standing
out against passengers, but that I did not greatly care for anything I
had heard about New Caledonia.

Nevertheless during the week that followed I found myself constantly
loitering upon the wharf, staring at the schooner with that longing, that
pulling at my heart-strings, which sailing-ships of almost any kind bring
to me.

She had the air of a boat that is run for nothing but business.  Battered
by storms, bedraggled by three months at sea, she had not so much as a
single inch of clean paint or unrusted iron about her.  Despite the fact
that she was sailing under the flag of the Panama Republic, for the
single reason that she was carrying such a cargo, stored in such a way,
as no other country would have tolerated, she hailed from San Francisco.
Her holds were crammed with gasolene and dynamite, the decks packed so
high with timber that one could walk level from the poop-deck to the
fo’c’sle head.  A queer build of boat, altogether, for I was used to
schooners with flush decks, fore and aft.

Still I was drawn to her, so drawn that I questioned every one I came
across.  And yet I could hear nothing.  There seemed something elusive
about her.  The captain and officers must have come and gone in the town,
but I could never get hold of them, and though some of the crew, for the
most part Loyalty Island boys, were in the Port Restaurant almost every
evening, they were usually fighting drunk.  And that is what the Loyalty
Islanders are like.  There are no better workers at sea, but once they
get on shore with liquor in their heads, and the evil tempers of shores
raging in their hearts, they are ill to meet.

Now, this morning, when I came down to _petit déjeuner_ at seven, some
one told me that the schooner had moved away from the quay to make room
for another vessel, and that she was sailing to-day, touching at Samoa
and Fiji before she went on to New Caledonia.

At this I was off like an arrow from a bow.  Racing upstairs to get my
hat and put on some shoes—for at Johnny’s one breakfasts barefooted—I
made for the port.

Looking in at the first Chinaman’s store I passed,—for the Chinamen
always know everything,—I found out what company the schooner was
consigned to, and raced on there.  By this time it was after seven, and
the sun seemed to be literally shooting up into the heavens.  Every
moment it grew hotter; my clothes melted around me, and it was a long
walk.  When at last I arrived at the offices of the company I had been
told of, I found that it was true that the _Monterey_ was leaving that
same day, at twelve o’clock, I was informed, bound not only for Fiji and
Samoa, but for the Friendly Islands also, which made me keener than ever;
more absolutely determined to force fate.

There was, however, or so it was said, no sort of accommodation for
passengers.  When I persisted, declaring that I was no sort of a
passenger, as passengers were generally understood, the head of the
company—who had come into the outer office to see what was afoot—shrugged
his shoulders.  Of course the skipper could take me if he wished, the
company had nothing whatever to do with a matter of this sort; he was a
perfectly free agent, part owner, they believed, and they themselves were
merely acting as the consignees for so much of the cargo as was being
unloaded in Tahiti.

The best thing I could do was to go and see the skipper myself, he added,
and very obligingly sent a clerk to show me the way to the new anchorage.

I found the schooner swinging out in the stream so as to allow room for
the stern of an American tourist boat, fattened with Philistines, and
hailed her.

A negro came up onto the fo’c’sle head and I asked if the captain was
aboard, but was told that he had gone ashore ten minutes before.  I had
an idea that I might find him at the Port Restaurant, but I was just
three minutes too late there.  I then enquired at the nearest stores, and
in two of them found that he had been just before me.  It was, indeed,
like following a leaf upon a stream of running water, and every moment I
grew hotter and hotter, more and more fiercely determined.

At last I harked back to the company’s offices, where, to my
surprise,—for the chase had gone on so long that any end to it seemed
impossible, the whole affair had the texture of a dream,—a clerk whom I
met crossing the yard pointed to a man talking to two others in white and
said:

“Why, that’s the skipper of the _Monterey_; he has just this moment come
up here.”

I went up and stood by the three of them.  It was not good manners, but
when you want anything very badly you don’t seem to care for manners.

The two tall, heavily built men in white sun-helmets, drooping a little
from the tropics, stood with their backs to me.  But the captain was
facing me: a small wiry, gray-haired man in a gray suit, with a straw hat
a little on one side; a small gray moustache; very square shoulders, a
look of great activity, and the most intelligent, the clearest and
cleverest, the most sympathetic and mirthful hazel eyes that I have ever
seen.  These eyes met mine and we stared straight at each other, into
each other, while the conviction that we were to be shipmates came to me.

Still they went on talking.  When they came to a pause, however, it was
to him alone I spoke—straight out, with no idea whatever of an
introduction:

“Captain, I want you to let me have a passage on your schooner to—” I was
going to say Samoa, but my mind leapt on to—“Samoa and the Friendly
Islands.”

With his bright gaze still full upon me, smiling, showing a set of the
very whitest teeth imaginable, he answered, and I was sure it was with
reluctance:

“I am sorry, but it is quite impossible.  You see, we have no sort of
accommodation for passengers.”

The words sounded definite enough; but I persisted:

“I am not an ordinary passenger; I am used to all sorts of boats.  I
don’t want a cabin, I can sleep on deck.  I’ll sign on as one of the
crew.  I don’t care what I do; all I want is to get the passage.”  I
heard my own voice passionately eager, knew that what I was saying hit
home.

For a little while longer we talked together; then the skipper said that
he had things to see to; that he would go back to his ship, find out
whether anything could be arranged, and, returning to the office,
telephone me at Johnny’s, though, of course, there was very little time,
for they were sailing at twelve.

I knew that I might be making a fatal mistake in letting him out of my
sight, but there seemed nothing else for it.

Directly I was away from him my heart began to fail me.  I was not so
sure of the passage as I had been.  Devastated by racing about in the
heat of the day, I felt my will-power weakening, and, realizing this as
fatal, as if to clinch it I forced fate—went straight to the bank and
drew out all the money I had there; then to the post-office, where I
ordered all my letters forwarded to Wellington, to await there further
instructions.  After this I went on to the Chinese laundry, where I paid
my bill and took away my bundle of linen—fortunately washed and dried,
though unironed—telling myself that now everything was in train I should
certainly get my passage upon the schooner.

I then went back to Johnny’s; tried to find Johnny to ask what he had
been charging for my room.  I met with no success, and began packing.  By
this time it was eleven o’clock, and my heart was in my boots, though I
could not have said why.

A quarter of an hour later the telephone-bell rang.  When I answered
it—with death in my heart—I found it was one of the clerks from the
shipping-office, ringing up to tell me the captain had just been in and
declared that it was quite impossible to take me.

At this I was mad, and so wound up that, feeling it would be impossible
to stay on tamely where I was, I started off again, in all the dust and
heat, to the far end of the town, to the offices of the representatives
of the Phosphate Company of Makatea.  There I took a ticket for a little
tin-pot steamer leaving that afternoon; for it is only some eighteen
hours’ journey to the island of Makatea, and I thought I would stay there
four or five days; then come back in hopes that something else would have
turned up by that time.

On the way I ran into the captain of the schooner, and once again we
looked each other very straight in the eyes.

“I am sorry you won’t have me, Captain,” I said, and, he answering that
he was sorry too, we passed on our ways, with nothing more between us,
for the heart was clean gone out of me.

On my way back from the Phosphate Company’s offices I turned into the
Port Restaurant for _déjeuner_ and, finding there the Englishman who had
come over on _El Kantara_ with me, sat down at the same table and told
him my troubles.  This only made me feel worse, for he said it was the
sort of chance that could come to any one only once in a lifetime.  The
two keepers of the restaurant added that it would be impossible for me to
find a better skipper, comforting me but little by the declaration that
they would miss me sorely if I went.

After a little while the captain himself came past the veranda where we
were sitting and paused at my table.

“Oho! oho!” I thought; “you would not do that if you really wanted to be
shut of me,” and, introducing him to my friend, I remarked that if he
would not take me on his schooner he might at least sit there and have a
drink with me, which he did.

He would like to take me, he said, “like it fine,” but there was no room
whatever.

It was then twelve o’clock.  The time of sailing for the schooner had
been put off for two hours, so that it would leave at two, the same time
as the steamer for Makatea, which I knew would be punctual.

By this time I was as excited as a gambler.  I praised myself like a
Cheap Jack, extravagantly and without shame: there was no sort of sea
that I minded; I could cook; I could darn socks.

Coming down off the fo’c’sle head in the dark a couple of days earlier
the captain had fallen into the small hatch at the bottom of the
companion and broken three ribs.  He told me about this, pathetically,
like a child, with his hand upon his side; told me that there was nobody
on board who so much as knew how to wind a bandage, and in this I seemed
to find my chance.  To hear me, you would have thought that there was
nothing on earth that I could not do; that no ship, no hospital on earth,
was complete without me.

By this time I was perfectly determined against Makatea, able to sit up
and take some solid nourishment, in which the captain joined me.  The
upshot of the whole thing was the suggestion that I might, anyhow, come
on board and see her; satisfy myself that there was no sort of room.

The two mates looked at me very wryly when I stepped on board.  The very
small amount of deck in any way clear was filthy.

“There is only one possible place where you could sleep,” said the
captain, and showed it to me: a tiny triangular store-room right in the
stern of the boat, stinking to heaven, terribly hot and literally heaving
with cockroaches.  Nothing on earth would have induced me to sleep there,
but when the captain turned to me and said, “You see, it is perfectly
impossible,” I protested stoutly that, on the contrary, it would suit me
very well.  I thought the question of sleeping on deck might well be
fought out later.

Up on deck again, we went over the whole thing afresh.  I felt him giving
in, and at last with a long-drawn sigh he capitulated—and for the
quaintest of reasons.

“I suppose I’ll have to take you, I see that—have to take you.  I can’t
refuse you anything,” he said; and added with a cock of his head, a
long-drawn roll of his “r”: “I’m just fair crazy about skinny women!”

That settled it.  Still, for me to go as a passenger was against all
regulations, and I must sign on as one of the crew—stewardess on a vessel
where there never was, had been, never would be any other woman to attend
to.

Within half an hour I had collected all my goods and chattels, bade an
almost tearful farewell to Johnny and Johnny’s, and got my luggage over
to the schooner.  I left my possessions heaped together on the poop-deck,
met the captain at the port office, and signed on—for a year, if it were
so required of me.

I am now back on the schooner and part of her.  I have got my deck-chair
open and am sitting writing, feeling as completely at home as though I
had never been anywhere else.  There is auxiliary steam, and the engineer
is trying to get the engines going, but without much success, as it
seems, though every now and then a dense puff of smoke laden with soot
belches forth from a tin chimney belonging to the donkey-engine,
immediately above my head.

I write a little and sleep a little, write a little more and sleep a
little more, thickly peppered over with smuts.  Somebody brings me a mug
of black coffee.  There is still a great deal of coming and going of
cargo: two o’clock, three o’clock, four o’clock pass, and there seems no
prospect of getting away.  Not that it matters in the least.  Here I am,
here I stay.

                                * * * * *

Seven o’clock.  There is no wind, and as our engines refuse to do
anything beyond smoking, a small tug comes and draws us out to a fresh
anchorage between the Quarantine Island and the shore.

This little island is now a green black; Moorea, an orchid-purple; the
sea, a pale gold shot with purple.  The tourist steamer lying against the
wharf shows a hundred lights.  There are scattered lights along the
shore, among the trees, in the Port Café—infinitely far removed, aeons
away from the time when I last took my _déjeuner_ there.

Here, on board the schooner, the last meal of the day is over: pea-soup,
meat and vegetables, and strong black coffee.  As usual on this sort of
boat no one at table spoke, unless to growl out some request.  There are
two Swedish mates, the elder stolid, fat, and middle-aged, the younger
morose-looking until he smiles, when his whole deeply tanned face, his
blue eyes, light up like a child’s.  There is also an American engineer
who strikes me as being permanently dyspeptic, and very near permanently
disgruntled by the ways of the strange contraption for which he is
responsible.

Though it was still so early, daylight had gone from the little skylight
atop of the saloon, and the hanging lamp was lighted.  In the galley,
which opens out of it, a blue-robed Chinaman hovered over gleaming copper
pots, while another Chinaman waited at table.

The captain did not come down, for he is suffering so much from his
broken ribs that the steep companionway causes him the intensest anguish.
He is, oddly enough, a Swiss, who since his boyhood has ranged up and
down the West Coast of America, north and south.  He has an engaging
accent, half American, half French, and is amazingly like a bright-eyed
bird, interested in everything.  Even now, when his face is constantly
twisted with pain, he is eager and alert; more alive than any man I have
ever met.  He tells me that he does not go down to his cabin at night, as
he has been unable to lie down since his accident; sleeps as best he can
sitting upright upon the tiny settee in the little wheel-house, or easing
the pain by standing with his arms folded, almost level with his chin,
atop of the locker.  So, if I like, I can have his cabin until the
store-room, in regard to which I am perfectly silent, can be cleared out.

                                * * * * *

I have been lying down, trying to sleep upon the captain’s bunk, but it
was so stiflingly hot with the single port-hole no larger than a
soup-plate that I went up on deck at twelve.  I found the captain, in the
wheel-house, standing with his head down upon his arms.  He was groaning
a little, but the moment he heard me he glanced up with his indomitable
smile.

The first mate was on watch and I sat for a long time in my deck-chair,
talking to him.  The sky overhead was thick with stars and so clear that
it seemed as though one looked through and through it, back and back into
it, like a magic mirror or black pool; while the air on deck was
delicately fresh, like young damp grass against one’s face.

I went below again, and lay upon the bunk, spreading a grass mat upon it
for coolness.  But sleep was impossible, and coming up on deck again, I
slept like the dead, rolled in a blanket on the bare deck, until close
upon four o’clock, when I was awakened by the catting of the anchor.

I sat up, clasping my hands round my knees, and tipping back my head, fed
upon the beauty of the Milky Way almost immediately above me.

There was in the air a delicious smell of freshly roasted coffee, and the
second mate, who was on watch, fetched me a mug—for it was baking-day,
when the Chinese boys are astir before two, making coffee and lighting
the stove.

The air was delightful beyond words; the second mate and I smoked and
talked of Sweden, where I was staying last summer.  How odd life is!  It
came over me with a gust of mirth—the extreme oddness of its ups and
downs.  To think that I should be squatting on the deck of a soot-black
schooner in the Southern Pacific, smoking and drinking coffee, at an hour
when most sane or insane people are tucked in their beds, in box-like
rooms, inclosed in box-like houses more or less hermetically sealed until
morning.




CHAPTER XI


ON board this boat one eats and drinks everything one ought not to—meat
three times a day and lashings of black coffee.  It does not seem that
one is likely to sleep overmuch.  Last night—the first night really at
sea—I could not bear the thought of being below, and had a mattress on
the poop-deck right against the stern rail.  A long chair was rigged up
for the captain to try if he could not lie down, half reclining.

We passed Raiatea at sunset.  The sky was pale green with mists of cloud,
the color of red-hot iron, above the island, which showed out in front of
it as though perfectly flat, a uniform slate-gray with its many peaks.
Just before darkness fell, the sky was barred with perpendicular bands of
cloud above it, black and strangely menacing like prison bars.

In less than half an hour after I first lay down, the wind changed, and
the spanker had to be shifted.  I was awakened by the first mate, whose
watch it was, and staggered into the wheel-house, where I sat until they
had finished, for the boom ran clean across the place where I was lying.

Through the open door I could see the dark figures of the half-naked men
moving against a sky closely sifted over with stars—men who looked as
primitive as though they were part of the Zodiac, working with and in
among the constellations.

Venus is still upon our bows, as she was on the French boat.  Back upon
my mattress now, lying flat on my back, I can see the great spanker in
front of me swinging against the Milky Way, which seems to flow around
the truck of it, parting like water; while the whole heaven races to meet
us, as we sway and dip, going westward; curtsying our way among the
stars.

The next thing is that it begins to rain.  The mate calls me, but I am
more than half asleep, and snapping at him, “Go away,” turn and tuck my
head more deeply into my pillow.  In another moment or so, however, the
rain is falling in a solid sheet and I am driven to the wheel-house,
where I sit drooping miserably, half dead with sleep.  However, it is
soon over, and the benevolent mate finds me a dry blanket and packs me up
afresh.

The night seems endless, for we settled down at eight.  I have had
another move since the rain, for the spanker has had to be shifted again,
but even now it is barely midnight.

For the first time since I came on board, the captain is asleep, the sky
is clear, and it really does seem as if we may at last be starting the
night in earnest.

                                * * * * *

It is impossible to work on deck, for the wind catches my paper and the
smuts smother me; while the two mates and the engineer take it in turns,
during those rare moments when the captain is busy with something else,
to talk to me.  No one of them will speak a single word in front of the
others.  These men have, indeed, been so long at sea that, apart from the
usual taciturnity of sailors, they are acutely on one another’s nerves,
can scarcely bear the sight of one another.

                                * * * * *

The engine is really a little devil.  It never seems to do anything but
rain down greasy soot,—though this in no way diminishes the hopes of all
concerned that each day it will be better,—such soot that it is no good
trying to wash one’s face in the ordinary way, and one must take a
nail-brush to do it.  I have been just forty-eight hours on board and
already my neck is raised up in large water-blisters from the sun, for
there are no awnings; while the backs of my arms are like raw beef.

All the same I am happy, and Heaven only knows why.  Happy in a way that
I am never happy in any other sort of place; for at sea, upon a boat like
this, I have somehow or other the sensation of being at home among people
who like me, whom I understand and who understand me.  I am altogether in
my own element, translated by my freedom from what most people call the
ordinary life—to me so extraordinary that it misfits me like badly made
clothes, stiff and ungainly, in which I never fail to feel an ass.

                                * * * * *

It is getting hotter and hotter.  At breakfast this morning—and seven
o’clock, mind you—it was 112 degrees Fahrenheit in the saloon.  The sweat
pours off us all in a constant, profuse stream, mingling with the soot;
so that though I scrub all over every morning and again in the middle of
the afternoon, put on everything fresh twice each day, I never feel
clean.  No one can eat, but the Chinese boys go on stolidly and
indifferently cooking food and putting it before us.

After all, the heat and discomfort can be nothing to us in comparison
with what it is to the captain, in constant pain as he is.  There is
absolutely no even moderately cool spot on deck except under the boom of
the mainsail.  There one may lie on the top of the timber and get the
draft; but it is impossible for him to clamber across to it, and there is
no place out of the sun where he can sit, excepting in the sweltering
little wheel-house with the steersman, one or other of the Loyalty Island
boys.

     [Picture: The Schooner “Monterey” sailing under the Panama Flag]

                                * * * * *

      [Picture: The Little House where I was Entertained by Maou-u]

I found him asleep this afternoon with the sun from one of the windows
blazing full upon his face.  Getting a bit of curtain out of my pack, I
hung one end to a hook in the wall and was near to bringing catastrophe
upon us all—putting the entire magnetism of the ship out of gear—by
driving in an iron nail to hold up the other.  Thank Heaven, the captain
opened one eye, just then, saw what I was doing, and let out a bellow
such as I should never have thought him capable of.

                                * * * * *

About four o’clock this morning the captain came out of the wheel-house
and advised me to shift myself, as the wind was about to change and I was
likely to get a bucket of soot over me from the chimney of the
donkey-engine.  Stubborn and sleepy, however, I did no more than grunt,
refusing to move, and in another hour was well paid out for my folly by
feeling something like a thick blanket over my face.  Stumbling to my
feet, rubbing my sleepy eyes, I found that I was deluged in soot.

Having moved my mattress and blankets to the leeward, though too late to
be of much use, I crept through the wheel-house—for not for anything in
the world would I have had the captain see me—and stumbled blindly down
to the saloon, where the second mate was having coffee.

The expression upon his face as he saw me, his slow, “Gee-whiz but you
have got it this time!” was enough.  Going into the captain’s cabin,
looking in the glass as best I could,—for I was more than half blinded,—I
discovered that I was as black as though I had been cleaning a chimney
with my head and hands.

The Chinese boy got me some hot water, while the mate held a mug of
coffee to my lips and broke off some bread for me, for I could not touch
anything.  It took seven buckets of hot water and a whole pot of
Selfridge’s best massage cream—and I would have given anything to have
had the lovely young lady who served me with it see to what uses it was
being put—to get me even moderately clean.  I greased and scrubbed every
inch of my body, and each fresh bucket of water was thick with scales of
black.

Now, since breakfast, I have been busy washing my kimono, nightgown, and
pillow-covers, with an accumulation of dresses and petticoats, for we are
well off for soft water after the rain.

I sit upon a box on the poop-deck with a bucket between my knees and wash
in true sailor fashion—for soldiers squat at their washing, rubbing it on
a board on the ground or deck, while sailors sit and rub it between their
hands.  The first mate carries water for me and hangs out my clothes on a
rope along the fo’c’sle head, and the captain wrings out my heavier gear,
for my hands are so feeble with too much writing that I am a hopelessly
bad wringer.

We are now in latitude forty-two south, longitude one hundred and
fifty-nine, fifty-three west, and every afternoon for three or four days
the same thing has happened.  It grows suddenly and terribly hot, as
though some inner oven of hell were opened upon us, and a dense gray
cloud shoots up in the east, lying like a hand close pressed down above
the horizon, which shows a vivid green line.  At the same moment it seems
as though another, and this time unseen, hand throws up a roll of carpet,
the color of old lead, over the eastern edge of the world, with so much
impetus that it rolls out and out, on and on for miles, though it is no
more than a bare half mile in width.  The sea on each side of us remains
the same pinkish mauve, for it is by now almost immediately before
sunset.  Then, in another moment, with a slap as though some one above us
has overturned an enormous bucket, the rain begins to fall, pouring down
upon us in one solid sluice.  The wind swings round with a wrench that
shakes us from stem to stern, and all the sails have to be re-shifted.

There is a Frenchman on board, a sort of semi-passenger, on his way back
to New Caledonia.  He used to be mate of this ship before she was sold to
the present owners, of whom the captain is one.  We all dislike him
intensely, for he has a way of behaving as though the schooner belonged
to him, coming in and out of the wheel-house and glancing at the charts
and sailing directions.  There is also one Englishman, who is supposed to
help with the engine, and of whom I am not particularly proud; and a
Russian among the otherwise entirely native crew.  Everybody is
quarreling; each in turn comes to me with some complaint or other, and
when I look at the log I cannot wonder; for the boat has been over three
months out, was two months later than she should have been in reaching
Tahiti.  Throughout the entire voyage one thing after another has gone
wrong.  She had, indeed, to put back to San Francisco, ten days after she
left, for some repairs or other.

There are continual rains now and it is very difficult to work.  At this
moment the first mate and I are cheek by jowl on two upturned soapboxes
at the chart-table in the wheel-house, I typing and he working out his
calculations.  The captain, who seems to have been in less pain the last
couple of days, is propped up on the little settee, deep in my copy of
“Moby Dick,” with his feet upon another soap-box.  (For we each have a
soap-box of our own, about which we are very fussy.)  An immense and
gravely absorbed Loyalty Island boy stands at the wheel, dressed in his
red _paréu_.  All this in a place smaller than the smallest bath-room.

I begin to think that the officers would be better if they had a little
more variety in the way of food, and have started making them
blanc-manges, treacle tarts, etc., as a sort of treat, though it is too
grilling in the galley to attempt to remain there long at a time.




CHAPTER XII


THERE are some places, as there are some people, which are unresponsive
to us and to which we ourselves are unresponsive; while others affect us
so that the merest trifle, such as the way in which the light falls
across the trunks of a group of trees, a flower, an aspect of the dawn,
endears them to us forever, and, forgetting every discomfort that we have
ever encountered there, we remember this alone.

Now, I find it impossible to write fairly about Upolu—which in speaking
of Stevenson, people choose to call Samoa, as though it, alone, comprised
the whole group—because from the very first moment I set my eyes upon
this island, which I had so greatly longed to see, it was altogether dead
to me.  Dead and deadening the heavy green of the mountains, lacking the
fine piercing peaks of Tahiti; dead and deadening the dark and uniform
masses of growth, with their impression of a scene painstakingly done out
in Berlin wool by those Germans who were so long in possession.

Deadening, too, was my first sight of the bay, with its wreck of an old
German ship which came to grief there as long ago as 1889; deadening the
almost incredibly slovenly beach, the once magnificent cocoanut
plantations, gray with disease and tightly netted over with that
convolvulus-like parasite commonly known as “A-Mile-a-Minute,” which
stifles everything on which it sets its cruel fingers; dead the hotel,
or, rather, the pretense of a hotel,—dead, and dusty with death.

                     [Picture: A Samoan Dancing-girl]

It is not that the island is not beautiful, for it is indeed very
beautiful.  The road up to Vailima is perfectly lovely, with its green
spillways to the sea, the tree-clad heights of Vaea, the sharp dipping
valleys of the Vai-Singano, the swift-running water-courses and
waterfalls, the deep pool shaded with orange-trees where Stevenson used
to bathe; though even here what attracted me more than anything else, the
only thing which has, so far, really touched me in the whole island, were
the groups of native houses that I passed on my way up to Vailima.  And
these are like nothing which I have ever seen before, in their fitness
and charm, in the cleanliness and delicacy of their surroundings, with
their little lawns smooth as pigeons’ breasts, shorn by hand with long
knives, their flower-beds thick with roses, cannas, balsams, and zinnias
of many colors.

                         [Picture: A Samoan type]

The Samoan native house carries all the enchantment of the dream houses
of my childhood days; the Perfect House in the Perfect Wood which not
even Barrie himself has been able altogether to reconstruct for me; the
house of happiness and joy and plenty and beauty, full of song and
laughter, familiar to fairies and a veritable part of the woodland
itself.

The Samoan house has the smoothness and glint of the wing of a
golden-tinted butterfly.  It is very large, comprising one room only, and
round or oval in shape.  The immensely high roof of dried and plaited
sugar-cane—arched over with slender semi-circular laths of wood, crossed
by heavier beams, for all the world like the inside of an overturned
boat—is upheld by two upright posts in the oval houses and one in the
round; the whole being fastened together with elaborate plaitings of
black and red-brown and biscuit-colored twine worked into an infinitude
of geometrical patterns.  There is not a single nail in the building.
All the wood in these houses is of delicate shades of biscuit and
cinnamon.  The sides have open cinnamon-colored blinds of plaited
sugar-cane, ready to let down if the sun is too hot or the rain beats in
too fiercely from one side or the other.  The carpet, raised a couple of
feet above the level of the ground outside, is formed of the finest
transparent black pebbles smoothly raked.

       [Picture: Samoan native girls dancing the sitting Siva-Siva]

For furniture there are a table, a few cedar-wood boxes, piles of finely
woven and patterned mats, and a number of white-covered pillows.  By the
fineness and number of his mats is a man’s wealth known.  Some are so
rare, so fine, that you can crunch them up in your hand like a piece of
silk.

To-day I have been sitting in the house of a chief,—or, rather, lying
lazing upon a pile of mats fully four feet by six in size, fringed round
with brilliantly colored wools,—looking out upon a pleasant green lawn
with other houses dotted round it, and flower-beds and borders, like
silken patches and gay ribbons, running down to a lake-like inlet from
the sea.  I drank fresh cocoanut milk and smoked a cigarette of pungent
home-grown tobacco, like a thin black ribbon, wrapped in a strip of dried
and shredded banana leaf.  While I talked to my host and played with the
baby, the little wife, who had no English, sat by, nodding and smiling;
and the retainers, men and women from the other little houses in the
village,—who do all the work of the chief’s house, the sweeping and
drawing of water,—gathered upon the outer fringe of the pebbled floor,
smiling too, full of interest and a fine courtesy.  And the air flowed
coolly through the open house and around us.

_Talofa Ali_—love to you, O Chief!  Will you ever, you people of Samoa,
by your dignity and repose, by the cleanliness and order of your
dwellings, shame the strangers in your land out of that queer apathy
which seems to hang around them, so that it is impossible to walk along
the foreshore of Apia without being reminded of Kipling’s lines:

    All along of dirtiness, all along of mess,
    All along of doing things, rather more or less.

It is devastatingly hot, so hot that one cannot move without everything
that one wears being wet through in a moment; while a sort of misty heat
hangs over the whole scene, punctuated by clouds of mosquitos.  I take a
motor and drive a couple of miles out of town and, sending it away, move
a few yards into the bush and sit on a log, to watch the building of a
great house which is being put up for one of the chiefs.  A round house
with one immense center pole.

This pole is formed of the trunk of a perfectly straight and very tall
tree, stripped of its bark and quite smooth.  Over seventy men haul at
the ropes, which are fastened to the top of it, as to a May-pole.  Logs
are pushed in under the lower part of it to give it a start, and slowly,
very slowly it is raised.  The butt of it is fitted into a hole already
prepared, into which more men, running forward, roll stones.  While one
swarms to the top and hangs by his knees, fixing the smaller cross-beams,
others mount half-way.  Still others, sticking temporary posts into the
ground, mount them and cling to them with their knees, stretching out
their hands to uphold the smaller cross-beams while these are being
fastened.

The workers wear nothing but their lava-lavas, strips of white material
worn round their waists like petticoats or kilts, shorter than the
Tahitian _paréu_, and always, it seems, perfectly clean.  In work like
this, when the men pull their lava-lavas up and fasten them between their
legs, one realizes the perfectly symmetrical patterning of the tattoo
spread like fine black lace over the upper part of their legs and thighs
and enwrapping their bodies, with a curved line below the breast like a
woman’s stays.

The old chief for whom the house is being built sits beside me, upon the
trunk of a fallen tree, with other white-haired men, gentle and
courteous, who talk to me of houses they have seen built, in the past.
In a sort of chant they describe them,—the length and height of them, the
manifold patterns enwoven around the pillars and beams,—those
wonder-houses of former days.

                                * * * * *

We are four days out from Apia, having left in a deluge of rain which
seems to have extinguished the sun completely, for the sky is a still
leaden black, split by incessant lightning.

It is very hot; but at the same time there is a chilly dampness in the
air.  All the port-holes have to be closed, and down below one could cut
the air with a knife.  The fumes from the donkey-engine make it almost
unendurable.

Up on deck the masts stand bare; the starboard engine is throbbing very
faintly, and we scarcely move.  The port engine is altogether out of
gear, as it has been almost every day since the schooner left San
Francisco.  The deck is flooded; every now and then a heavy shoot of
water slides off from the one scrap of awning which we put up with such
joy in Apia.  As it is impossible to stay out on the open deck, my only
refuge is in the wheel-house.  And here, at night, it is impossible to
have any light apart from that above the binnacle, where the steersman
stands naked to his waist; immovable as a bronze statue, save for the
motion of the hands which grasp the spokes of the wheel, the sidelong
glances of his eyes showing the whites; so immovable that one jumps when
he raises his hand to strike the bell above his head.

The last meal of the day is at five o’clock, and it is dark by six.
After this there is nothing to be done save to sit on the minute settee,
with one’s feet on a soap-box to keep them out of the wet, until one has
gathered sufficient courage or is sufficiently drugged with fatigue to go
below and sleep.  For now that the deck is impossible I am using the
captain’s cabin, my conscience lulled by the fact that though he stayed
in a hotel at Apia, he was still obliged to sit up in a chair all night.

It is a nice cabin with a good bunk; but there are a great many, too
many, cockroaches and copra-bugs.  Seven cockroaches and innumerable bugs
fell out of my hairbrush only this morning.  They do not bite, but they
are disgustingly soft and squashy, and have a passion for perambulating
all over one’s person.  With the heat, the prevailing damp, the smells,
and the insect life, it is for the time being anything but pleasant on
board.

                                * * * * *

The schooner rolled so last night that the heavy electric fan which the
second mate fixed for me in Apia rolled off the table with a tremendous
crash, awakening me to the conviction that we must at last have struck a
rock.  Not that I was in a mood greatly to care, one way or another.
Fortunately it stopped raining between three and four, and—feeling as
though a thick blanket of fugginess had been laid across my face, my
heart stifled in its beat—I wrapped myself in a blanket and went up on
deck, where I slept in snatches, curled up in my deck-chair, with the
water rushing to and fro under it at each roll of the ship.

It is raining again now, and I rather wonder why I ever came to sea.  But
I have felt like that before, in short spasms, and I know the feeling
will soon pass.  It is not, and never will be, in the least like the
constant nostalgia induced in me by shores.




CHAPTER XIII


WE are moving very slowly—for the starboard engine is now out of gear and
the wind is light—among the Vavau group of the Tonga Islands.  These
islands are entirely different from anything I have yet seen in the
Pacific, with cliffs from two to four hundred feet in height, splashed
with bright-red soil, and tufted with trees wherever trees can find a
foothold.  Many of them are so straight up and down, so small and
symmetrical, that they look like cakes freshly turned out of a tin.

As we enter the narrows which give to the largest island, small isles are
so thick upon each side of us that it is difficult to steer our way
through the strips of deep-blue water, with their white-topped waves.
Clouded spray and tens of thousands of sea-birds are about the base of
every cliff, around every peaked rock.

Vavau itself is like an octopus, with chains of lesser islands running
off in every direction for tentacles.  Here the cliffs shelve above dark
hollows and deep black caves, while the vegetation topping the island,
patching the cliffs, is so fresh and light that the whole thing might be
torn out of the side of the Devonshire coast.  It is a brilliant day, and
we are facing the sunrise for the first time since I left England, having
taken a complete turn in order to make the port which lies at the south
of the island.

Last night when I went to bed it was Saturday; but now, to the growling
disgust of every man on board, it is already Monday morning, for we start
here upon Australian time and have completely missed out Sunday.

Neiafu, the one harbor of Vavau, is on the south side of the principal
island, opposite the northeast coast of Pangai Motu.  As we get up to it,
the quay is crowded with men, very clean in white lava-lavas, so long
that they reach to their ankles, exactly like the fold-over skirts of the
day.  Miserable things to work in, one would think; but the Tongans do
not work, save a very little upon their own plantations, while the
trading companies have to import labor to load and unload their ships.
Here in front of the harbor there are no cliffs, but green park-like land
dotted with great clumps of trees running down to the water’s edge.  At
the back of them the island seems no more than a tight bouquet of trees,
upright upon the cliffs, with the foam of the reef like the frill of an
Early Victorian posy around them.

The Burn Philip Company, to whom we are here consigned, have lent me a
launch, and run me out, now while the dawn is still fresh, away among the
islands to a cave in which the water is the most astounding blue I have
ever seen, shot through and through with hundreds of thousands of minute
blue and black fish, so thick that they jostle one another.  The base of
the inner wall of the cave is a madder pink, the arching roof ochre and
blue.  As we came along the coast we passed reach after reach of
deep-golden sand, where people were bathing or fishing, and deep hollows
beneath the higher cliffs, of the clearest blue I have ever seen.  But
returning we break away from the shore altogether, dodge along among
innumerable little islands.

Back on shore, I walk about the tiny township.  The boys and girls from a
missionary school—what I suppose might be called a finishing school, for
many of the pupils are as much as eighteen or nineteen years old and very
mature for their age—are gathered in a ring round a half-witted man who
is sitting on the ground under a banyan tree.  The young people are
singing at the tops of their voices, a sort of loud chant that might be a
marching song, breaking into sudden discordant, startling shouts, which
they assure me make the poor creature “feel good,” though I should doubt
it.  When I give the fool a shilling one of the boys ties it up in the
corner of his lava-lava for him, upon which the man sings a song of
thanks to me—the same swinging sort of marching chant that I heard from
the boys and girls.  He breaks into the same shouts, and massages both
ears so hard with both hands all the while that I am afraid he will rub
them off.

Going over to the school-house, I see one little imp of a girl with
tight, coal-black curls,—many of the Tongans have hair that is more red
than black,—dancing, wriggling her hips, and posturing, making strangely
Eastern gestures with her hands.  A native schoolmaster is standing near,
making a great pretense of reading out of a very large book, to impress
me.  When I ask him to tell more of the girls to dance, he shouts to
them; but only one, a fattish girl of about seventeen, steps forward.

After a few minutes some of the elder boys come and stand near, laughing
and staring.  The dancing girl catches hold of first one and then
another, to try to persuade them to dance with her, but they cuff her
aside.  At last one, who is in reality a man, steps into the little ring
and begins to dance; standing sideways to the girl, with his knees bent
out sideways, and his arms and hands held upright from the elbow, palms
outward.

                     [Picture: Male dancers of Vavau]

At first the two of them merely posture; then the dance becomes faster
and faster, though they scarcely move their feet, and frankly sensual in
every gesture.  They roll their eyes at each other, pouting their lips,
and every now and then the man breaks into loud shouts, showing all his
teeth in a mirthless and horrible grin.  The teacher—Wesleyan
trained—stands by, smiling smugly, though he must know what it all means.

The missionaries here are as thick upon the ground as they were in Samoa,
and I wonder that the country can support them.  The competition for
pupils is great, and the boys and girls are kept at school so long that
they are never much use for anything else afterward.  Here are men from
the London Mission, Seventh-day Adventists, Methodists, Wesleyans,
Mormons, Roman Catholics, and almost everything else you can think of,
though the natives have and try to hold to a Free Tongan Church.  All the
finest houses and plantations belong to missionaries.

                                * * * * *

In the afternoon I hire a sulky and take the captain for a drive.  It is
a great cavalcade.  The mare I drive is almost incredibly thin; the reins
are too short to be managed in any other way than separately, at the
extreme length of my arms; while a four-months-old colt follows behind,
and a man in a purple lava-lava rides on in front to show us the way to
where an underground river comes out into a deep lake in a cave, half-way
down a steep cliff some three miles from the port.

As we pass through the villages, cutting across wide green lawns, girls
and children come running out, juggling with oranges, keeping five or six
in the air at once.  Then, throwing wreaths over our heads they run away,
laughing.

We pass through deep bush in which every tree is hung with parasites and
lichen, broken by open patches of cocoanuts far more healthy-looking than
the ones I saw in Samoa.  There is no sign of vanilla or cocoa, and the
greater part of the land is waste.  The pool of the underground river is
an uncanny place; the air above it dank and chilly.  It is reached by a
small opening in the face of the cliff, through which men and women slip
and swim about like fish in the ice-cold water beneath an absolutely
black arched roof.

                                * * * * *

The mosquitos are almost unbearable upon the schooner, lying up close
against the shore as it does, and after dinner to-night I walked away
from the little town, up a steep slope, and among the trees, through a
series of native villages.  Dipping again, I came at last to a cemetery
on the edge of a wide lagoon, where the graves were covered with very
finely powdered white coral and decorated, here and there, with glass
bottles intended for ornaments.  Here I sat down to watch the moon rise
over the water.  Two natives came up in their canoes and, getting out,
waded toward me, pulling it after them.  Squatting on their hunkers,
quite close to me, they regarded me without—or so it seemed—so much as a
wink, for the best part of half an hour.  My flesh literally crept, for I
have no great belief in cannibalism being altogether obsolete, but at
last they got into their canoes and paddled away, and I returned to the
ship, where the mosquitos were still making night horrible.

                                * * * * *

The captain is the most untidy man I have ever seen.  I ironed his one
shore-going suit before we reached Vavau.  When we left he changed into
his usual kit, shirt and trousers, flinging his suit over the edge of the
bath (which has to be used for storing fresh water, so that one washes in
a tin pail, usually with a scrubbing brush), where I found it this
morning, sopping wet.  His watch and all his money, fallen from his
pocket, lay at the bottom of the water.

Now he has been using my typewriter and left it balanced on the very edge
of the chart-table.  When I take it up, very sweetly, with a
Fairchild-Family smile, and, putting it in its case, remark, “That’s
where it lives,” his only reply is that he reckons it’s like the rest of
us, and must “get used to locations.”

There is virtually no wind, and we are rolling horribly, with a heavy
swell, among deep-troughed waves.




CHAPTER XIV


THE scattered isles of the Haapai group of the Tonga Islands stretch for
fifty miles in a north-easterly direction, and Haapai is the heart of it;
the warm beating heart of all the Tongans, or so it seems to me, though
Nukualofa, in the Tongatabu group, is the head which wears the crown.

From here in Lifuka, the principal island of the Haapai, came the greater
part of the old brave warrior blood which pulsed out through the Pacific;
of those Argonauts of the Pacific who penetrated so far afield that even
in Santa Cruz, or La Perouse, the natives built their huts under the
cocoanuts, daring the fall of nuts and boughs so that they might be able
to run like monkeys up into the trees at the approach of their enemy.  To
this very day they frighten their children with the cry: “The Tongans are
coming!  The Tongans are coming!”  And to this day the Samoans are known
as “the fowls that roost.”

Lifuka is a garden of glades, three quarters of a mile to a mile in width
and less than ten miles in length, facing west and east, so that it is
steeped in sunrise and sunset, perfectly flat, hemmed round with white
sands.

I do not know why it thrilled me so, but it did, and of all places I have
visited it is that in which I long most to stay.  For there is a heart
and soul in Lifuka: it is old, old, and yet forever panting with youth,
filled with warm pulsing blood, all the aspirations and inspirations of
youth.

The people in Lifuka are tall and finely made, and beautifully courteous;
their complaint against the stranger is that he comes to the island and
passes them without salute, with no appeal to the God who means so much
to them, with whom they are in daily communion, to bless them.  For the
religion of the Tongans of Haapai, who own their own church and belong to
no other denomination, is the most vital that I have ever come across.

There is one tiny town,—or, rather, one little street,—called Pangai,
with a handful of brightly painted stores and shops.  Through this and
running the length of the island is one wide road, from which, fifty
yards or so apart, wide, brilliantly green, smooth grass avenues lead
back into the island.  These avenues are bordered with breadfruit and
mangoes and cocoanut palms, and the feathery growth of ironbark; while
every little group of native huts stands upon its own sward.

Every man or woman or child you meet in Lifuka greets you with the words:
“_Ma lo laa_,” (“It is good to be alive”).  If it is a chief, he raises
his right hand in returning your salute.  Many of the people, half past
you, will turn, smiling, to add to their greeting the words: “_Afa atu_,”
(“Love to you—health”).

It is at Lifuka, in an open glade close against the sea, where the great
wooden drums—hollowed trunks of trees beaten once to summon the people to
battle, beaten now to summon them to prayer,—stand upon the very spot
where the Great Ones, the Heroes, landed.

Before ever the Fijians were known in Fiji they came here; and the place
where they knelt, thanking the God of the Jews for their safety and
prosperity—men with hooked noses and full-lipped mouths and curling hair,
more red than black—is still shown beneath the spreading roots of the
banyan tree which forms the roof of the meeting-place of the city fathers
of Haapai.  The meetings are presided over by a descendant of the same
chief who bade Cook welcome, a proud and stubborn man who refused to come
out of his hut upon the occasion of the last visit of the queen—for no
other reason than that the train of tapa worn by the aide-de-camp whom
she sent to summon him, was not in his eyes sufficiently long, flowing,
and ceremonious.

The Taufaa Hau—the Great Ones—brought with them the high priests and the
priestesses, all the rituals of the ancient Jewish religion.  Though no
one up to this time knows rightly who they were, or whence they came, or
how they came.  One thing is sure: that in bringing their religion, they
brought the sword with them.  Whatever one may say in praise of the
Tongans, up to this very day, no one could so dispraise them as to call
them meek.

When the great George Tubou, the great-grandfather of the present queen,
embraced Christianity and imposed it upon his people, he went to them
with a club in one hand and a Bible in the other, giving them their
choice between the two.  He spoke of it afterward with a splendid
audacity as “the time when I Christianized Tonga with a club.”  And a
very little later, when he began to grow old and the people set
themselves against him, pretending that he was mad, he swept through the
island again, like a hurricane; destroyed the sacred groves, burned the
idols, to which they had returned, and slew the priestesses.

To the last and greatest of all the priestesses he went, demanding the
greatest of the gods, Haehaetahi.

“He is gone for a journey,” she said.

“Then we wait for him, you and I,” replied the king, sitting down at her
side.  The two waited, drank kava together—the priestess with Heaven only
know what of fear, or maybe real hope, in her heart.

“He is a long time coming, this god of yours,” said the king; and then
again, and yet again: “He is a long time coming”; laughing, staring into
her face; terrorizing her so that she fell at his feet, told him where
she had hidden the image of the god.  Upon which he hanged the two of
them together, up among the rafters of the temple, as a symbol of things
to be despised, as a sign of the end of all foolishness.

In the old days, the days before the greatest and the best-abused of all
missionaries brought Christianity to George Tubou and the Tongans, all
the people in the islands were serfs.  They could own nothing: if they
gathered cocoanuts or caught fish, they must bring them to the king, lay
them at his feet, so that he could take what he wanted of them.  One of
the tyrant kings of Haapai, indeed, a man named Tugahau, cut off the
right hands of all the young men; the left arms of all the old women;
three fingers of the left hand of all the old men; put a taboo on all the
cocoanut trees, so that the people starved.  He himself was, in the end,
murdered by one of the heroes,—if one can use such a word as murder for
so righteous an act,—who was, in turn, assassinated by the stepson of the
king; who was in his turn slain by his own son, King George’s father.
And this was how things were in Haapai before the days of Christianity.

There are still high priests and priestesses in the island, ranking with
those of royal blood.  The son of a high priest can marry no one of
lesser rank than the daughter of a king.  It is, however, possible for
both priests and priestesses to adopt others into their families; one of
the three daughters of that first missionary,—who are still living in the
island,—is a high priestess, adopted daughter of the last high priest.
She is the only one allowed to enter the sacred inclosure of his grave,
the only person permitted to attend to the tomb, save on special
occasions when she needs help in the garden, and then she must prepare a
ceremonial feast, with roast pig, for her helpers.

With this adopted priestess, followed by an illegitimate son of the high
priest to keep off devils from the back of me, I myself was permitted to
enter the inclosure, to see the tomb.  It is six feet long, formed out of
solid rock cut by the slaves from the coral reef, overhung with pink
hibiscus and spraying asparagus fern.

The arms of Tonga show three swords, signifying the three main groups of
islands, and three stars, with a cross and a dove of peace.  The name of
Haapai, with its three islands of Lifuka, Foa, Haano, means, “Hands
uplifted in supplication.”  The flag of Tonga is white with a red cross;
the red signifying a people who have never known a master; the white,
peace; the cross being the Cross of Christ.  And the lovely name that the
Tongans have given to heaven is Lagi, “The place where the shadow of the
Almighty’s image lives forever.”

                                * * * * *

I walked under the shade of the trees, along the flesh-white sands, to
the house where the three remaining daughters of the missionary live.
The sun was blazing hot; the glare and glitter on the shining, metal-like
leaves of the palms blinding; the shade beneath the more thickly growing
trees grateful beyond words.  Looking across the road to the wide open
glades, with their narrowing perspective, I saw boys and men with their
lava-lavas flowing, galloping on horseback without bridle or saddle,
guiding their horses with their feet, sitting as though one with the
animals—an enchanting sight.  And enchanting, indeed, was all this day in
Haapai: the cool stir of wind in the shadows; the pleasant people who
greeted me,—the men all in white, the women in those thin black muslin
gowns over white slips which all the women in all the islands, even the
queen, wear; girded now with fine mats fringed and torn, pulled and
twisted out of shape as a symbol of mourning for the loss of a still-born
prince.

I sat on the veranda and talked to the three soft-voiced and gentle
daughters of the friend of George Tubou.  One of these is a hopeless
cripple, sitting all day in a wheel-chair; for several years ago she was
thrown out of a cart and had both her legs broken; and, as there was no
boat at that time running to Fiji, on account of the war, it was
impossible to set them.  Another of the sisters, badly gored by a cow
which she was milking, is almost altogether an invalid.  So that upon the
slender and fragile shoulders of the third—the high priestess by
adoption—all the care of this little family rests.  And not that alone,
either, for every living man, woman, and child in Haapai looks to her for
help in time of trouble.

Up to quite lately there was another sister, a helpless invalid ever
since the time when, close upon forty years ago, she threw her own
body—the body of a young girl of eighteen and rarely beautiful, to judge
from the photograph which I was shown, with large startled eyes which
held in their depths, even then, or so it seemed to me, a premonition of
suffering—between the gun of an assassin and her father.

Very, very early in the morning of the day she died, all the people of
Haapai who could come so far gathered upon the strip of sand in front of
the house and sat there, perfectly silent, waiting for the end.  They had
seen—or so they swore—seen the Spirit Canoe with its Spirit Paddler top
the horizon, just before the moon set.  Some declared that even then, in
the pinky-gray mists of dawn, they could see it hovering, waiting, ready
to bear away the woman they loved.  She died but very shortly after
sunrise, sitting up in bed and holding out her arms toward the lagoon.

The surviving three sisters live alone in Haapai, and must, so it seems,
live thus till they die.  With few books and still fewer papers, they
seem to be able to discuss every topic of the day, are as charmingly
courteous and at ease as though constantly moving in society.—But, then,
who could be anything but courteous, living among the Tongans?—Never in
my life have I met three people whom I more wish to meet again.  For
never have I been greeted with a simpler and more whole-hearted
hospitality: an easy-chair; a palm-leaf fan; a glass of lemonade made
from lemons freshly gathered in the garden which reaches to the sea;
home-made cakes and halved paw-paw fruit with the seeds scooped out of
it, the hollows filled with chopped banana, the juice of passion-fruit,
lemon, and sugar.  Of one thing I am certain: that back in the world
again, amid the stress and bustle, the noise and infinite fatigue of
London life, there is no place on earth that I shall more long to visit
than this—a _lagi_, indeed, upon earth.




CHAPTER XV


I HAVE hated leaving Lifuka, for I don’t know when any place has appealed
to me like this tiny island, so full of enchantment and romance—that
_something_ which winds itself about our heartstrings; a mysterious
something having, indeed, nothing to do with its white sands, its glades
and avenues, its kind and courteous people, but altogether of the spirit,
appealing to the spirit, and never to be forgotten.

It is only about an hour’s run to Tongatabu, past the volcanic islands of
Kao and Tofua, sending out great gusts and pillars of smoke which rose
high in the still air as we passed them.  In every direction were islands
and a network of shoals.  We saw the wreck of a schooner which had been
broken in half, its bow and stern sticking up so like two sharp-pointed
rocks that the captain, not finding it upon his chart, had me make a
sketch of it before we realized what it was.

                                * * * * *

To reach Nukualofa from the east one has to go almost entirely round the
island and in through a series of narrows where we are supposed to wait
at least five miles out from the port for the pilot.

We reached this spot at seven this morning and waited until eleven.  But
there was no sign of any pilot, and by this time the wind had risen; the
shallow water was swept with ripples, opal and pale gold above the sands;
the air fresh with a wonderful cleanliness in it; the scene unrivaled in
its variety and beauty, coral reefs and green islands.

The captain walked to and fro continually, through the wheel-house to the
port rail, and back to the starboard; firm and square, and quiet, with a
look as though he were tightly buttoned up inside him.  And this is, I
think, one of the most remarkable things about him: he is so full of life
and fire and yet so altogether able to control himself.  Never once have
I seen him go off the deep end, though when he is annoyed, his mouth
shuts like a rat-trap over those white teeth of his, his bright eyes grow
brighter and brighter.

Every moment I expected him to break out into curses, abuses, at the very
least growlings; for time is money to the _Monterey_, already three
months late, and this delay means an end to all chance of getting any
work done before Sunday.  But he made no sort of fuss; there was not a
word such as, “If he doesn’t come soon I will” do this or that, or “I
have a good mind to” do this or that, such as a weaker man might have
braced himself up with.  So I was startled and thrilled when, quite
suddenly, the starboard engine—which is still the only one of any use to
us—got up full steam, a sort of hum ran through the schooner from end to
end, as though everything in it were being tightened up, and I realized
that the Old Man was actually going to run us into port on his own.

And nothing I can ever say can give any real idea of our route.

Our passage was, indeed, more like a bending race with polo ponies than a
ship’s course.  A swift and madly swerving passage among a tangle of
islands and sand-banks and coral shoals; through channels in many places
no more than three times the breadth of the schooner; all completely
strange to the captain, who has never been over this side of the world
before.

He took it gallantly, however, at a hand gallop, as it were; a gallop so
altogether exhilarating that it seemed as though my blood had never
before run so quickly through my veins; that I was in the midst of a life
so altogether vital that it revitalized me; that, if a thing like this
could go on and on throughout the years, it would be impossible for any
one ever to grow old, tired, or disillusioned.

There is no bridge to the schooner, and ordinarily the pilot stands upon
the unrailed top of the wheel-house; passing his instructions down to the
captain, who, in his turn, passes them on to the man at the wheel.
To-day, however, the captain himself went up there with his megaphone,
glasses, and chart, weighted down upon the deck with anything he put his
hand upon.  For the day, which began in pale pastel tints, was by then a
clear blue and white, with that tearing wind which upon the Pacific seems
always to go with such colors.

A Loyalty Island boy—who could not understand a word of English, though
he knew enough French to steer by—was at the wheel; while the first mate
was stationed at the break of the poop, the second at the foc’s’le
head,—these two understanding no single word of French, so that the
procedure was thus—and thus.  I, myself, standing at the door of the
wheel-house, translated the captain’s orders to the steersman.  It was by
no means so simple a task as it sounds, for the order to “port” or
“starboard” in French means exactly the opposite to what it does in
English.  In the one language if you say “port” you mean that the wheel
has to be moved so that the nose of the ship goes to port; in the other
it is the wheel which has to be turned to port, while the nose of the
ship goes to starboard.  In addition to this, it was perfectly impossible
to steer altogether by the chart, for in these seas the sand-banks are
always shifting.  And the man conning on the foremast was the only one
who could catch the glint of coral beneath the clear water.

Our ramshackle little old engine poured out clouds of black smoke; while
the water roared round us, cutting up into ridges of white foam as we
turned; and every moment it seemed as though the sharp ridges of coral,
spits of sand, so clearly seen below the shallow water, were actually
darting forward to meet us.

The ship was alive with shoutings—French, English, and a medley of native
lingoes.  I could even hear the Russian bellowing in his own language,
out of sheer excitement, without the slightest expectation of being
understood.  The only person on board who took no interest in anything,
did nothing, was the Englishman, whom we had tried to get rid of in
Samoa, but to whom the authorities refused permission to remain in the
islands.

As the household cat, at times, gets under one’s feet, driving one mad at
every step, this man loitering about the deck, and, for goodness knows
what purpose, in and out of the wheel-house, exasperated me until I was
able to bear it no longer.  During one sudden rush from the wheel—where I
had been repeating something the steersman had failed to hear—out of the
narrow door, to scream a question up at the captain, I ran up against the
man, loitering before me, and I did, before I well realized it—or almost
did—an unforgivable thing: well, precisely the thing that one does do to
the cat.  I saw my own foot raised in the air, realized his amazed face
as he turned and saw what was upon him.

But this is what comes of living altogether among men for so long.  The
only chance for me when I do get back to England will be to immure myself
in a women’s club, as I did several years ago after a visit to Albania,
where I never saw a woman unless she were veiled from head to foot; had
my meals at the one European hotel in Durazzo, crowded—so crowded that
one had to scramble one’s way over the beds in the hall to get to the
dining-room—with between sixty and seventy men of every nationality,
speaking every known language.

I am supposed to have left the schooner with all my bag and baggage and
to be waiting in Nukualofa for the next steamer to take me on to Fiji.
The fact of the matter is that a ferment of discontent and
insubordination has been seething through the boat, the engineer having
put the lid on it all by being missing at Vavau, keeping us all waiting,
and being brought back in the end very drunk and loudly abusive.  The Old
Man is spoiling for a row, which he feels it impossible to get himself
well into, heart and soul as he would like, so long as I am aboard.  My
one prayer now is that the storm may burst with a vengeance within the
next few days, clearing the air so that I may go on with them again.
For, though I have only been twelve hours away, I am already sick for the
ship; thankful to remember how altogether taken aback the men were when
they heard that I was leaving it.  I cherish the second mate’s assertion
that he would keep my chair aboard, “so that it will kind of seem as
though you were coming back.”

Here in Nukualofa there is no hotel, but a boarding-house colloquially
known, throughout the whole of the Pacific, as Smith’s; the oddest place
I have ever seen, with sixteen or seventeen rooms all opening out of each
other.  The greater number of these rooms have no outside windows
whatever, while I myself have been given an angle cut off from the front
veranda which serves the other boarders as sitting- and smoking-room,
where the belle of the boarding-house—a typist with one of the business
firms—spends her entire spare time manicuring her nails and flirting with
the young men: clerks and cable men and salesmen from the stores.  The
room is so lightly screened from the rest of the world by a muslin
curtain that I did not dare to burn a light when I was undressing last
night, lest I provide a perfect silhouette show for the company already
very freely discussing me.  The doors to the two rooms, men’s rooms,
opening into mine, not only do not lock, but will not even keep shut;
they fly open at any sudden gust of wind or if any one shakes the rickety
wooden building by walking too heavily across the floor or sitting down
too suddenly.  Both of them were wide open this morning, so that when I
sat up to drink the cup of tea the native girl had put down at my side,
two tousled heads were raised, two men sat up to drink their tea, and a
friendly conversation followed.  Thus I now know exactly which is the one
who snores, and which is the one who mutters in his sleep; who it was who
lost a collar stud this morning,—finding a very great deal to say about
it too,—and who cut himself shaving.  Not that it matters, for the
Pacific is, indeed, a world of nothing-matters, almost as much as it is a
world of to-morrow.  And the kindness of the people who run the
boarding-house, the real authentic Smiths with their two delightful boys,
the beauty and courtesy of the native serving-girls, overbalance the
ingenious inconvenience of the building.  There is compensation for
everything, indeed, save the frightful and unparalleled voracity of the
mosquitos; the tumult of the native village just outside my window; the
multitude of pigs and dogs, ever at odds; the night made hideous by
squealings and yappings, the wild rush of pursued and pursuer.

In Nukualofa is the seat of monarchy.  All along the sea-front is a wide
double avenue of ironbark trees, with that delicate and feathery growth
which is such a relief after the heavy opaque foliage of eternal palms.
To one side of it, the royal palace and chapel of white-painted wood,
with as many frettings and scrollings and pinnacles as though it were
playing at being Milan Cathedral in a German toy sort of a way.

At first sight the island strikes one as disappointing, for it is so
altogether flat that there is very little to be seen.  But once get away
from the town, back a little into the country, and the enchantment of it
all catches you: the wonderful variety of foliage, the inland salt lake,
the villages, the people.  From every curve of the shore one sees a fresh
panorama of islands—island upon island upon island, with sailing-boats,
of every sort of rig, skimming the glassy surface of the sea like
butterflies.

I am sitting now on the sands, scribbling.  A little light ketch has just
come in from one of the islands, laden with people in holiday dress and
wreathed with flowers.  They bring with them nine great turtles, and half
a dozen pigs, which they unlade in the most callous way possible,
dragging the turtles up the steep slope of sand—on their backs, with
wildly waving flappers and altogether insulted air, terribly reminiscent
of stout old ladies being carried out of church in a fit.  These turtles
are eaten by the people and the shells, regarded as nothing more than
mere useless lumber, are thrown away; and a wild scheme for at last
making a fortune by collecting turtle-shells in Tongatabu simmers gently
through my mind: a scheme which I know perfectly well will never be
carried out, will be put off till to-morrow, and to-morrow.  For there is
no doubt whatever that the Pacific has got me, once and for all, with
what seems like the constant repetition of the same dream—which is yet
never altogether the same, for the spirit of every place we touch at is
delicately yet altogether different.

      [Picture: Samoan natives about to dance the sitting Siva-Siva]

On Tongatabu, which a casual tourist might pass by as yet another island
with the eternal sameness of all tropical islands, the whole spirit,
light and joyous and forever youthful, is the spirit of play.  So that in
talking over my wanderings, as I shall do, as we all do,—though no one
really cares to listen and we know it, fully realizing that there is
nothing more than a personal stimulus and delight in saying, In this
place it was like this or that, the people so-and-so or
so-and-so,—Tongatabu will remain forever the playground, the people of
Tongatabu the playboys, of the Pacific isles.

For here there is no need for any one to work.  It is, indeed, an earthly
paradise, where all alike have a few cocoanut trees and a few fowls and
many pigs; where each boy upon reaching the age of eighteen is given half
an acre of land in his own village and three acres of bush land; where if
any one needs kerosene or a new lava-lava or a little money to pay the
infinitesimal taxes, no more exertion is required than that necessary to
gather a few nuts, dry and sell a little copra.

For the rest, the people dance and sing, strumming softly upon their
guitars, feast, and play at football, tennis, and cricket upon the smooth
green and park-like glade in the center of every little hamlet, for,
however small the gathering of huts, there is a cricket-pitch of concrete
where the people play with English cricket bats and balls, and a roughly
marked-out tennis-court with a fishing-net hung across it.  If in the
evening you drive through a village where the people are laughing and
singing and calling to one another in soft-syllabled words, it is as
though a garden fête were in progress.  As for feasting . . . !  The
queen, who has been away in the country, only nine miles distant, for two
or three weeks, came back to her capital yesterday, for no more than a
couple of days, and there was feasting throughout the length and breadth
of it, with ceremonial lengths of tapa and festive mats laid out under
the trees and a tremendous cooking of pigs and yam and breadfruit.

I myself—the _papalagi_, or stranger of the hour—am to-day being fêted.
The occasion will forever live in my memory, like a clear picture painted
upon metal—or, rather, an enamel run out upon metal in brilliant greens
and purples and blues with gold and silver dust—a picture which nothing
can destroy.  In looking back upon my life I shall be able to say,
whatever happened before this, whatever happens after, I shall have had
at least this one brilliant and unspoiled day.

A planter, half Swiss and half Tongan, arranged the feast, at which the
captain of the _Monterey_ was the only other European guest, and to which
we drove some twelve miles in a motor; going past the Queen’s Garden and
the Resting Place of Kings, a raised platform of stone beneath a vast
banyan tree.

Passing Mua, the queen’s country retreat, I saw that she was there again,
sitting on the ground in front of the house, which is altogether a native
one, among her women.  Begging the others to wait for me, I got out of
the motor and crossed the glade to speak to her.

She signed for me to sit down by her, and we talked together, for she has
been at school in New Zealand and speaks perfectly good English.  She and
all the other women, who sat in a semicircle at a little distance from
her, were dressed in the same way, in a thin black muslin dress over
white chemise and petticoat, while none of them wore shoes or stockings.
But for all that she stood out above all of them in her dignity and
serenity; an immense young woman, no more than twenty-four years of age,
six foot four in height and already too fat, though magnificently made.

There has of late been trouble among the Tongan Islanders in regard to
their own Free Church.  The prince consort, who is a good many years
older than the queen, has great power over her, or so it is said.  He
holds as strong a hand as any man can well do, being not only prince
consort, but Minister of Education and Minister of Customs, and he
dominates the young queen, Salote Tubou, to such an extent that she is
becoming very unpopular.  The last straw is that he has persuaded or is
persuading her to force the people to give back their church to the
Wesleyans, to whom he belongs.  I saw him yesterday and he promised me
that nothing would be done without the full consent of all the people;
and yet, immediately afterward, that very afternoon, there was an
unexpected and unannounced meeting of the council, with scarcely any one
there, and the measure for the transference passed.

To-day the queen’s women, a vast kava bowl in front of them, were making
kava, wringing out the roots in their hands.  They brought the queen the
polished half of a cocoanut shell from which she drank, afterward
throwing the shell far away from her, as is the custom.  They then
brought me a shell of kava, but I was out of temper and would not drink,
telling the queen very plainly what I thought of her; expressing it as my
opinion that if she persisted in her course in regard to the people’s
religion she would end by losing her kingdom.  With the placidity of all
very fat people, however, she kept perfectly calm under my onslaught,
reiterating the words, “You must ask my husband about that . . .  You
must tell my husband about that . . .  I leave all that to my husband,”
until, out of all patience with her, I got up and flung back to the
motor, without so much as the semblance of an obeisance or good-by.

                          [Picture: Making kava]

The fête to-day, which takes the form of a picnic, is held at the base of
a steep cliff toward which, some twelve miles out from Nukualofa, we
turn, through by-roads so thick with greasy mud that again and again we
stick and, rounding our hands to our mouths, shout for natives to come
and haul us out with the ropes which we carry.  At the end of the motor
drive there is a walk through grass of a height above my shoulders for
close upon half a mile, a scramble down the steep sides of a cliff, thick
with undergrowth, and we come upon the scene set for our little play: a
curve of cream-tinted sand round a small bay; a strip of purple-blue
lagoon, and pale-jade and lapis-lazuli breakers with white crests upon
the reef.

I have wandered along the shore and paddled through the water into
another bay, silent and fresh and clean as at creation.  I bathed in a
deep pool in the coral under the hanging cliffs, then, getting back into
my clothes, with my skirt pulled up to my knees, my shoes and stockings
hung over my arm, waded out to the reef, where I am sitting.  I came past
brilliant pools of madder and purple and vivid-green rocks; pools as
clear as jewels, with pink branching corals and feathery brilliant green
seaweeds, and jeweled fish and sea-anemones, and jellyfish, like delicate
lengths of silk puffed out with water, thick within them.

Now, upon the reef, the roar of the waves is tremendous as they raise
their green throats high as temple arches above me, threaten terribly,
then drop in a smother of white foam, with a sound like laughter.  The
people on the shore call and beckon to me.  The table-cloths of
palm-leaves—woven with fingers which move as swiftly as small dark fish
sporting in a pool—are already laid.  Some of the guests are seated about
this cloth, others are bent over holes in the ground filled with hot
stones, taking out of them the cooked food.  The hair of some of the men
measures two feet across the top, is smooth and massive as a clipped yew
hedge, and singed into shape, so that no single hair stands a fraction
higher than another, by women with red-hot stones.  The girls’ hair falls
loosely and is decked with flowers and maidenhair fern.

For the feast there are two almost full-grown pigs and four fowls, with a
pile of breadfruit as big as a road-mender’s heap of stones by the
roadside: all of which we finish completely, washing it down with kava
drunk from halved and polished cocoanut shells.  The pigs and fowls are
all deliciously stuffed with herbs and lemon and mashed sweet potatoes.
The leader of the feast has a large knife with which he cuts the thick
skin about the throat of each pig, then tears it, and we eat it with our
teeth and fingers—for there are no other knives and no forks—holding our
salt in the hollow of our hands.

After the feast is over we lie in the shade and rest a little.  Then,
though the sun is still high in the heavens, two girls and two men draw
apart in opposite directions to make themselves ready for the dance.  An
older woman attends upon the girls, oiling them all over, dressing them
in grass mats as fine and soft as silk, appliquéd with patterns of black
velvet, and hanging them with ferns and green creepers.  The men, taking
off their lava-lavas, oil themselves, don a very short pair of cotton
shorts, and wreathe themselves with garlands of brilliant green weed from
off the rocks.

The sun is still high in the heavens, but now the two couples, coming
forward and meeting each other, begin to dance upon the hard white sand
at the edge of the water, with the opal of the lagoon, the wall of foam
upon the reef, the solid blue of the afternoon sky, as a drop sheet
behind them, and to the right a dark arched cave of every shade of purple
and deep madder.  Every movement of these dancers—their advancing,
retreating, beckoning—is infinitely luring, full of the suggestions of
passion and love.  They are so altogether Egyptian that they seem to have
stepped out of an Egyptian frieze.

There are two guitars to which the players sing in deep, monotonous
tones; while we others, sitting along the sand upon our heels, swing our
bodies to and fro, at first slowly then more and more quickly, clapping
our hollowed palms, following the quickened movement of the dancers;
breaking off a little as they pause, posing, as motionless as statues,
then beginning again; faster and still faster, swung not so much by our
volition as by the allurement, the excitement of their movements.

As I squat here upon the sand, clapping my hollowed palms together,
swinging my body to and fro, quite suddenly—as though the slides were
unexpectedly changed in a magic-lantern—my mind goes back to the last
dinner I was at in London: a large literary dinner overborne by the
eternal complacent sameness which overwhelms all people of one craft
gathered together in a mass.  I wonder what on earth the other guests
would think of me if they could see me now, without shoes or stockings,
my wet hair dripping down my back.  Or if they could have seen me eating
pork and chicken with my fingers.  But it only shows how quickly one can
drop into anything on earth, may ultimately drop into anything above or
below it, while manners are, like morals, the merest matter of latitude
and longitude.

                 [Picture: Tongans dancing on the shore]

                                * * * * *

I have come out for a drive with the elder of the two Smith boys, a lad
of fourteen, who knows everything there is to be known about the customs
and superstitions of the people here, the birds and flowers.  We have
driven for some twelve miles,—in a buggy with an ancient white horse, and
harness rather inadequately tied up with string, which the half-caste
Swiss planter has lent me,—past the one spring of natural water in the
whole island, to this spot where I am now writing.  And picture it if you
can: a group of brilliant, glossy-leafed trees with immense blackened
trunks; and beneath their shade a number of elderly men sitting round a
kava bowl, drinking and smoking with an air of the deepest serenity.

Away from this shaded spot runs a clear, wide open glade covered with
short smooth grass, with an immense spread of tapa, two hundred fathoms
in length, laid out upon it.

Tapa-cloth is made of a certain bark, wetted and pulped and beaten into
flat sheets, then glued together so skilfully that there is no join to be
seen.  It is white and soft as silk—so soft that one can crumple it up in
one’s hand without creasing it.  Upon a sheet of white tapa the women of
these islands make patterns, nearly all geometrical and perfectly
symmetrical, in black or brown, using in place of paint-brushes small
three-cornered pieces of slate or stone.

                         [Picture: A Tongan type]

This length of tapa laid out in the glade was already nearly finished,
though at the farther end there were at least fifty women at work upon
it.  Along each edge there was a fine pattern of red-brown, with diagonal
stripes and diamonds.  Against this there were half-diamonds of solid
black, two broad black stripes, a line of checks, a broad band of groups
of four wings like aeroplanes, another stripe, a zigzag of black and
white, and a strange cubist-looking design of elongated diamonds.  The
same pattern was repeated from the other side until the two of them met.
No rough sketch is drawn in with charcoal, and yet there is not one
single mistake in the entire length and breadth of the strip.  Only
imagine the accuracy implied in such work!

We sit for a while among the men, talking to them, the Smith boy
translating all that they say.  Here the shadows are like gray velvet,
the patches of light which fall between the leaves of the trees a
brilliant golden green; the air is like a caress, the touch of a cool
petal of a sweet-scented flower against one’s face.  The first time I
drank kava I hated it, thought that it tasted like nothing so much on
earth as stale soap-suds; but now there is no drink to be found in
tropical countries that I should prefer, and I drink with gratitude what
the men offer to me, throwing my cup as far as possible after I have
drunk.  We get up and, walking along the length of tapa, join the women
at the end of it.  There is less than a yard to be done now and as they
ask me to add something to it, I put my initials and a prancing horse in
one corner of it, witness throughout centuries to come—as this tapa is
virtually indestructible—to the ineptness of a European working with
tools to which she is unaccustomed; for there is nothing, apart from the
point of a triangular piece of wood, to serve me as a brush.

                                * * * * *

The boy and I have come on through an avenue of ironbarks to the shore,
and are now sitting at the top of the terraces, half cliffs, of white
coral, serrated into a thousand spikes and hollows, with rounded pools
and semi-terraces.  Here we watch the great plumes and towers of water
which come up through the blow-holes; for the Pacific breakers rush in
with all their force, under these terraces, and up through the holes,
scattering in lofty columns of foam and spray far, far overhead, against
the brilliance of the unclouded midday sky; driven by the wind back
inland over the cocoanut groves, mingling with the spray-like foliage of
the ironbarks.




CHAPTER XVI


AFTER all, I am back on the _Monterey_, sitting in that very chair which
I left as hostage.  I am filled with delight at the reception I received;
for the two mates and the captain, standing together, with the engineer,
as though there had never been so much as a hint of misunderstanding
between them, were at the top of the gangway to greet me with the words,
“Welcome home.”  It is impossible to express my intense satisfaction at
finding myself aboard again, despite the fact that the copra-bugs and
cockroaches seem to have taken entire possession.

                                * * * * *

The actual and spiritual atmosphere alike have cleared, and we ran before
a fair wind, with all sails set, that devil of an engine unregarded,
’twixt a blue sea and a bluer sky flecked with light mackerel clouds.
Throughout the entire ten days which it has taken us to reach Suva, each
day has ended in a blazing sunset and slipped into a moonlight night so
clear that one could see to read on deck.

Suva, the capital of Viti Levu, and the seat of government of the Fiji
Islands, is on a great bay surrounded by mountains far enough away not to
overshadow the town, of an inconceivable number of shades of delicate
blue—blue of bluebells and partly opened harebells, harebells paled of
summer suns, and ghosts of harebells.

                [Picture: Preparing a feast in Tongatabu]

There is an out-of-the-way good hotel where I am staying until I can find
out some means of getting up-country; for I find the town itself a very
dreary place where people play at being in London—a little on the
outskirts, perhaps, but still very select, elaborately dressing for
dinner each night.  Indeed, in Suva two things strike me more than
anything else: the splendid appearance of the native Fijians, with their
immense and symmetrical heads of hair,—who walk like princes and are so
superior to the imported East Indian, with his poor physique and
curiously furtive air,—and the dress of the European women, delicately
fresh and forever new, or so it seems.

I went down to the port office this morning, to meet the captain and get
my formal discharge from the _Monterey_, though it breaks my heart to
think that I must leave.  But the schooner is not staying here long
enough to give me time to see the islands.

For some whim, I dressed all in my best, in a delicate pale-gray
embroidered muslin, large black hat, and, as an exaggeration of
affectation, long white suede gloves, and nothing has ever amused me more
than the faces of the officials waiting ready to make out the papers of
the ex-stewardess of the little schooner—small, bedraggled, rakish as a
rough-haired fighting terrier, one ear cocked, the other torn down—which
lies against the wharf, discharging cargo with a good deal of language
upon every side.

The certificate of discharge, with an American twenty-five cent piece, as
there must be some pretense of wages, lie before me on the table, back in
my room where I sit writing, after a luncheon at which the captain and I
drank each other’s health with many pretty compliments, with many true
regrets at parting.  Really, it is altogether ridiculous to think that I
am going to leave a boat to which I am far more mated than most men to
their wives.

Here is the discharge:

                       CERTIFICATE OF DISCHARGE
  Name of Ship    Official Number       Port of          Registered
                                        Registry          Tonnage
Monterey                            Panama                        1143
  Horse-power of Engine (if any)          Description of Voyage
                                              or Employment
               600                  Stewardess     Foreign
 Name of Seaman         Age          Place of Birth     Capacity, if
                                                          Mate or
                                                          Engineer
                                                           No. of
                                                      Certificate (if
                                                            any)
E. M. Mordaunt                      England           Stewardess
    Date of           Place of          Date of           Place of
   Engagement        Engagement        Discharge         Discharge
                  Tahiti            3/5/24            Suva, Fiji

I certify that the above particulars are correct, and that the
above-mentioned Seaman was discharged accordingly; and that the character
described below is a true copy of the Report concerning the said Seaman

_Dated this_ 3_rd_ _day of May_, 1924
         A. L. Laur, _Master_.

                                                        _Authenticated by_
                                          W. W. Savage, _Shipping Master_.

Character for Conduct /  Character for Ability:  V.G.

                                                      Collector of Customs
                                                                SUVA, FIJI

What altogether mistaken ideas people have about the women of the
Victorian age!  While resting and gathering myself together before I
start off on my expedition up-country, I have talked a great deal with
two elderly maiden ladies who are staying in the hotel at Suva and they
leave me absolutely gasping at the things which they, and their mothers
before them, seem to have taken for granted.  Their attitude is in strong
contrast to that of the young married women of to-day, with their
complaints of it all, the loneliness of the places to which their
husbands’ business takes them, the dullness, the fear for their own
health, the nerves and general sensitiveness.

Years ago, when these two elderly ladies were small children, their
father and mother came to Fiji upon a schooner, the _Dancing Wave_,
having been told that the Wainimala, right on the edge of the cannibal
country, if not in it, would be a good place in which to settle and plant
coffee.

They brought with them, from New Zealand, six children, a white
woman-servant, a Maori man-servant, several horses—among which was a
beautiful gray stallion, killed within a few days by a native’s poisoned
arrow—cattle, rabbits, fowls, pigeons, and all their household stuff.
The eldest boy was at that time sixteen and the youngest child five.

                         [Picture: Fiji Islands]

The mother was so ill on the voyage that, when they reached Levuka, they
decided to stay there for a few days, anchoring the schooner and going
off in a boat to the shore.  They were quickly driven back by the sight
of the trussed-up limbs of a man, openly carried through the little town
to a place where the fires were already lighted for a feast, and by the
sound of firing, though of this they were told, quite casually, that it
was nothing more than the hillmen fighting the lowlanders.  Anyhow, they
did not attempt to go on shore again, for all their sickness and fatigue,
until Wainimala itself was reached.  There they seemed to have settled
down quite placidly, despite the fact that when the whole family went to
take lunch with the Burns family, their nearest neighbors—the first and
last occasion, for a very few weeks later the Burnses were all
murdered—the little new-comers, running out to the native lines to play
with the Burns children, were struck by the sight of a row of poles with
the immense fuzzy heads of some half-dozen of the highlanders stuck upon
them.  The highlanders themselves had already been cooked and eaten.

They spoke of it quite placidly, these sweet white-haired old ladies,
sitting, with white folded hands, in the lounge of the hotel.  When I
asked if their mother was frightened, if there had been any talk of her
leaving her husband and taking her children away with her from such a
place, they seemed surprised, though this affair of the Burns family—and
they themselves had seen fragments of their playfellows floating down the
river past their house—had by no means been the end.  Out in a canoe with
their father and brother, a very little while later, they met a man in a
canoe, fleeing from the scene of the murder of Mr. Mackintosh and Mr.
Spiers.  They themselves had already passed Mrs. Spiers’s house, and,
returning as quickly as they could, they took the unfortunate wife back
with them to their own house, after which the father and his young son,
both fully armed, went up the river again, to the place where the murder
had been committed.  There they saw the trunks of the two murdered
men—with the heads, arms, and legs cut off them, already prepared for the
feast—propped against a tree.

They told me too, these gentle ladies, of how their mother,—and in what
we consider the most mushy period of Victoria’s reign,—when her husband
was away from home on business, one day heard a great palaver going on
upon the river brink, among a group of gesticulating natives.  She went
down alone, and apparently without the slightest qualm, to find her
friendly lowlanders dragging a highlander, riddled with bullets but still
alive, along the ground; disputing how they could best get him to the
other side of the river, where their store of wood was stacked, so as to
finish killing him and cook him.

Queer—to think that there are now at home in England, at Oxford, at
Balliol, even, grandsons of these old cannibals, finishing their
education.  Though, after all, there are far worse things in life than
murder or cannibalism.  The moral standards of almost any European man
would have brought a blush to the cheek of these warriors, with whom
incontinence in the young man before marriage was regarded, not as
something manly, but as the sign of a feeble, weak-minded person, a sin
certain to be followed by the loss of health if not by the loss of life
itself.

These old ladies in the hotel told me of the murder of the missionary Mr.
Baker.  Some of the natives themselves implicated in the murder recounted
to them—with shame over having been so uneducated and provincial—the fact
that, not realizing that his boots were detachable, they had boiled, and
boiled, and reboiled his feet in despair of ever getting them tender.

                                * * * * *

I am writing now from the tiny island of Mbau, the native metropolis of
Fiji; for Suva is altogether European, the Putney of the Pacific.  This
is by far the most romance-haunted spot—the spot which almost speaks, and
groans in speaking, of what is past—in all the islands.  It is the center
of all that was dreadful in the wild days of the old Fiji; the home of
kings and chiefs, the shrine of cannibalism.  Mbau the beautiful, Mbau
the terrible.

Ratu Pope, the premier chief of Fiji, invited me to stay here.  The
invitation was received through the introduction of a young Fellow of the
Royal Geographical Society with whom I have made friends, and who is, for
the time being, teaching in the principal boarding-school for the sons of
chiefs.  In Fiji, all the chiefs send their sons to boarding-school as we
do in England, receiving them home but once a year.

Ratu Pope Seniloli, Na Gone Turanga ni Vunivalu (“Child of the Root of
War”), himself came down to the water’s edge to meet us, as we
disembarked from the canoe which he had sent across to the main coast for
us,—navigated by a host of small boys, who perched like birds along the
wide-spreading wing-like bows of the outrigger.  Though he is in some
disfavor with the English, he is as fine an aristocrat as Fiji can show.
For Fiji is a land where at a single glance, though all dress alike, one
can discriminate between the noble and the commoner; where the
aristocracy is so fiercely maintained that any young noble might as well
cut his own throat as marry the daughter of a commoner.

                   [Picture: The council house at Mbau]

We have come to the guest-house, which Ratu Pope has prepared for us,
past the council house which now stands in the place of one of the old
temples, upon the same terrace formed of great blocks of stone—many of
them as much as ten feet in height and more than half that width
across—which were brought to Mbau by canoe in the days of its grandeur.
There, also, are the great and sacred gate-posts stolen from Kadavu and
brought to Mbau, stolen again by the men of Rewa and brought back, stolen
and brought back again, and yet again, with God only knows what
bloodshed; gate-posts between which unnumbered British sailors, lured to
the island and sacrificed upon the terraces, were dragged.  I saw the
site of the Temple of the Human Being Fishermen, with its two gigantic,
hoary banyan trees, still so sacred that no single twig can be cut from
them without a great feasting and offering up of roast pigs.  It has
terraces like those of the other temple, less than sixty years ago soaked
with blood.

                   [Picture: The sacred trees of Mbau]

If only I could put it all into words which could adequately picture it,
give my whole impression of it, this minute kingdom of Mbau, with its
immemorial customs; the atmosphere of something powerful, great, and
dreadful which still hangs round it, so that the sighing of the wind
among the trees, the whisper of the waves along the shore, are like the
sighing and the whispering of those who once knew themselves about to
perish upon it.  It is a place where ghosts walk, and sigh and whisper
throughout the entire night; a place inhabited by hundreds whom, without
seeing, one can feel about one.

At home in England, men stand at attention before their superiors; but
here, as we walk along the narrow strip of coast and through the village
edging the sea, men and women alike squat upon their haunches, for it is
forbidden to stand upright before a chief.  At lunch the man and two
girls who wait upon us, in general magnificently erect,—one of the girls,
Maopa Tui Rewa, the daughter of a chief, and lady-in-waiting to Ratu
Pope’s wife, I have already seen crossing a glade with the swiftness and
swing of a panther,—move crouching, bent almost double, round the table,
kneel to serve their chief, and in asking him any question, kneel behind
his chair, whispering—not because the thing is secret, but because one
must not raise one’s voice in the presence of the Great One.  Even the
boy who takes away my wet shoes, to dry and clean, brings them back to me
crouching, and kneels as he hands them to me.

I have a house to myself, with a sitting-room and large bedroom in which
is a wooden bed spread with finely woven mats fringed with scarlet and
bright green and black wool.  The bedroom has two doors and two windows,
one window and one door opening on to a yard-wide strip of grass, with
the low sea-wall beneath it, the other giving into a large sitting-room
in which we all take our meals: that is, the chief and his little son of
twelve, Ratu George Kadavulevu, or Prince Kadavu, myself, and my
companion; for the women of the family do not in general dine with the
men.  In addition to this is another building where my traveling
companion and George sleep, and a separate kitchen.  There is, indeed,
nothing it is possible to think of that has not been done for our comfort
and entertainment, nothing which we could possibly fancy to eat which is
not offered to us; as is only natural in this part of a country where
there are special invocations made over a child immediately after birth
to save it from that worst of all vices, stinginess.

Each night during those faint and mysterious hours when the strength of
man is at its lowest, the chief gets up and walks round his island, then
goes back to bed until five or six o’clock.  And the island is like this:
It is half a mile in circumference, within the middle of it a flat-topped
hill like a haystack with the graves of chiefs upon it.  Upon three sides
there is nothing more than a narrow strip of land between the hill and
the sea; on the fourth is a stretch of smooth open green in front of the
old temples, and a few sacred trees, and, at the farther side of it, the
village, which runs along the edge of the sea, stretching from the green
to the inclosure of the house of the chief, who is not only Lord of Mbau,
but Lord of all the Isles.  Although the island is so small, there are
twelve wells upon it, with fresh water in them as close as six feet from
the edge of the sea.

The widowed sister of Ratu Pope lives in the village.  Almost the first
thing he asked us upon our arrival was that we should go and call upon
her, and this evening I have been spending an hour and more sitting in
her house, talking to her.  She is a woman whom one must recognize at a
single glance as the sister and child of a chief, with her pride of
bearing, her fine skin, her almost Greek features, her hair more wavy
than fuzzy, lying in the smooth waves of the modern shingle, her fine,
slender, quiet hands, her grave and sincere gaze.

In every way Ratu Pope thinks of and for his sister, Adi—the
Princess—Cakobau, with the greatest devotion and tenderness.  But he
cannot speak to his own sister, for that is forbidden to any man of high
rank in Fiji; nor can he enter her house, for that also is against the
etiquette of a country which is ruled by etiquette.  And yet, if this
sister of his had had a son and Ratu Pope a daughter, these would
inevitably, in the old days, have been husband and wife without the
necessity of any ceremony; though if Ratu had a son, it would be an
abomination for him to mate with his cousin, the daughter of his father’s
sister.

                       [Picture: Adi Litia Cakobau]

Ratu Pope’s own house consists of one immense sitting-room and a small
bedroom.  All the pillars and beams in the large room are decorated with
geometric patterns, formed by the black and russet-brown and pale
biscuit-colored twine which holds them together, for no nails are used.
There are many beams and many pillars, for the roof is high, so that,
sitting at one end of the house, one looks down an elaborate vista, with
not two patterns alike.  The entire floor is covered with one immense mat
of white woven pandanus leaf, patterned in black.

         [Picture: Some of the sennit work in Ratu Pope’s house]

Seated at the doorway of my house with Adi Torika, Ratu Pope’s wife, and
the girl, Tui Rewa, I have been telling them of the sciatica or arthritis
or whatever it is torturing my left leg, which has been twice broken.
They, in their turn, immensely concerned, have tendered me a great deal
of advice as to the use of certain leaves, the coöperation of the
fairies, gravely doubtful as to whether dwarfs—whom they picture as we
have always pictured them: squat, malevolent creatures with bald heads
and long gray beards—may not have something to do with it.

“Or an enemy,” suggests Tui Rewa, gazing at me with her great shining
dark eyes, so full of life and intelligence.  “If you can find your
enemy, Marama, and cut a little piece off his dress, or the mat he has
been sitting upon, then roll it up with earth and grass and seaweed, so
as to make a little figure of him, and get the magic man to say magic
words over it, then take your enemy’s water-bottle and put the image in
it and bury it in the ground, it is certain that your enemy will die,
Marama, and the pain in your leg be better.”

Adi Torika has a sad face; as Tui Rewa chatters on, she sits with her
hands folded in her lap, gazing out at sea through the open door.

“Adi Torika,” I say to her, “what will you do when your son goes back to
school?  You will be very lonely without him.  You, Adi Torika, and Ratu
Pope, ought to have more children so that the world may know how fine a
thing the children of chiefs can be; what is one son to people like you?”

The moment the words were out of my stupid mouth, I could have bitten off
my tongue; for the tears came into her eyes and she turned her head
aside.

“Is she angry?” I questioned Tui Rewa.

But Rewa shook her head, and Adi herself, flashing me a reassuring smile,
turned to Rewa and laying her hand upon her knee, spoke to her in her own
language.

“The Princess Torika wants me to tell you,” said Rewa, “that she can have
no more children, for she and her husband, Ratu Pope, broke all the laws
of etiquette and propriety by not going to stay a month with her father
and mother after Ratu George Seniloli was born.  And that is why she is
always sad.  Seeing that they refused this homage to her parents, it is
forbidden to them to have more children, and day and night she dreams of
them and longs for them.”

                                * * * * *

Of all the people in the island of Mbau, the one I have most longed to
meet is the Chief of the Tribe of Human Fishermen,—or, rather, “Fishermen
for Human Beings,”—but that has been hard to come by, for very, very
early each morning he goes out fishing alone in his canoe, remains out
for hours on end; then, when he comes back and I go to his house, I am
told that he is eating or sleeping, and he sleeps much, for he is a
hundred years old.

In the “Small Morning”—the hours between four and six—I saw him push off
from the shore.  An intrepid figure, in that pale and brilliant moonlight
seen immediately before sunrise and at that time alone, lean and upright,
with a thatch of white hair; standing erect in the teeth of a wild gale,
paddling his canoe toward the mainland.

Soon after nine o’clock he came back to sleep, but now it is “The
Afternoon is Near”—the three hours between twelve and three o’clock,—and,
answering the summons of his overlord, he has come to talk to me, sitting
on the floor before me.  An old man with an eagle-keen face, large hooked
nose, the sort of profile which might belong to any old and distinguished
general at home in England.

This Chief of the Fishers for Human Beings has eaten human flesh,
remembers the wild and bloody rites at the temple of his tribe, when the
brains of the captured were dashed out against the great stones which
still support the terraces.  He assures me—this handsome, alert
centenarian, so keenly smiling, bright-eyed, and courteous—that he did
not like the taste of the flesh of white people, even when most
delicately cooked, with _mboro ndina_, or the true spinach, which is used
only with human flesh, any more than he liked the flesh of the people of
the Carpenter Tribe, both alike being tough and tasteless.

       [Picture: Ratu Akuri Tudauni Mbau one hundred years of age]

He tells me, also, so vividly that I seem to see it, of the strangling of
the widows after the death of the father of the old King Cakobau; how he
saw them being led by other women along the green margin of the island
between the hill and the sea, oiled and garlanded and wrapped in their
finest tapa; peeping out at them from a hiding-place he had contrived for
himself, so as to escape having his finger cut with an ax, as was done
with all the male members of the tribes at the death of the king.

With Ratu Pope translating, he tells me, and his still strong voice
singsongs out the tale like a saga, in soft rounded syllables—and in
Fijian every syllable ends in a vowel—which run stream-like, gently, then
with the sound of a rushing river: of the revolt of the people of Kaba;
of the carrying off of the women of Mbau; of the coming of the first
Tongans, with the first missionary, who offered to help them if they
would become Christians; for this was in the reign of King Cakobau,
during the latter part of the reign of King George of Tonga.  Tells of
their return with ten great canoes and of the review of the united troops
upon the reef, the island being too small for the vast number of men
gathered together to spread out upon it.  Tells of how the men of the
Lasekau Tribe had been sent on to the reef before them, toiling
slave-like by hundreds across it, to cut away all the sharp points of
coral, throw aside all the poisonous fish stranded there, lest the
warriors should have their feet injured, and so be unable, not so much to
march as to pursue.  Tells of the favorable augury of the Ghost of the
Sacred Trees of the Fishers of Human Beings, which had been given to them
before they went; of their great victories and the pursuit of their enemy
with their war-cry of “_W-we . . .  W-we . . .  Uway—Uway-y-y-y_.”

                       [Picture: Mbau council tree]

                                * * * * *

It is our last night in Mbau, and I wander backward and forward through
the village, overcome by a feeling of utter misery, weighed down by the
inevitability of that fate which forces me forever to leave the thing
that I most love.  The preparations for a great feast are going on in the
kitchen of the chief’s house, overlooked by Adi Torika and her maidens,
who are cooking and stuffing chickens.  Just outside the kitchen there is
a hole in the ground where among hot stones, covered with many layers of
leaves, fish and breadfruit and pigeons are roasting.  There are
altogether in the kitchen three women and a youth.  When they are tired
or when there is any interval in their labor, they spread mats and lie
down upon the floor to rest, for no one drives any one to work in this
country, and there is no pretense of being busy when one is not busy.

                                * * * * *

I have come to my room, for the feast is over, and all the ceremonies and
good-bys past.  This night, in our special honor, one of the most
stringent rules of etiquette has been relaxed, and Adi Cakobau the
princess and her sister-in-law, Ratu Pope’s wife, dined with us, sitting
in a circle upon the floor; with the old Chief of the Fishermen for Human
Beings and the buli, or lesser ruler, of the village a little distance
away.  At the end of the feast, which began with oysters, we drank
healths: drank the king’s health sitting, as a mark of the highest
possible respect, drank the health of all we loved.

There were two lamps on the floor, but the room was large and full of
shadows; the sound of wind and sea seemed almost deafening.

“And now,” said Ratu Pope, “we will drink the health of Marama, the lady,
Dauvolavola, the one who is always writing; drink to the health of
Vavalagi, the foreigner; drink to the health of The One Who is Always
Sleeping.”

This with a sly glance at my companion, who has passed the entire
afternoon in slumber, to which he responds, jumping to his feet with his
glass in his hand:

“And to the health of Dauboge, the one who is always walking about at
night, the one who is always up to some mischief or other.”

“And still there are more healths to be drunk,” said Ratu Pope, when the
laughter which followed this sally had died away.  “We will drink to the
health of the son of the Marama, and to the health of the captain of the
ship who brought her here.  We will, indeed, drink to the health of every
one we know, of all whom we can think of without knowing.”

When the feast was over there were good-bys to be said, for we were
leaving at dawn next morning, and, going out into the fresh air which
cleared our heads a little, we made the round of the village, sitting for
a long time in Adi Cakobau’s house, overcome by sadness; hung round—at
once depressed and gladdened—by all the kindness and courtesy of our
hostess and her guests, men in white sulus (akin to the lava-lava of the
Samoans) and girls in white gowns, who sat round and sang to us.

There were so many mats on the floor that it was soft to lie upon, being
high above the ground, and we lay on our sides with white pillows under
our heads, smoking.  Tui Rewa had brought us fire for our cigarettes, a
smoldering stick of wood cut at one end to the shape of a halved
triangle, of which the lower half can be laid on the ground, and the
upper point lighted without fear of its setting fire to anything.  Our
cigarettes were of native tobacco rolled round in a thin pandanus leaf.

There was one lantern on the ground at the back of us; for the rest, the
great house was in darkness, the figures of the singers, shadowy.  The
sound of their songs, far away and melancholy, mingled with the wind,
which to-night is sweeping in like a cannonade of great guns from the
sea, with tearing sheets of rain.  Adi Cakobau was wearing a blouse like
a man’s tennis-shirt, open at the neck, and a dark skirt.  From where I
was lying, I could see her fine face and head edged with the light, dark
against the golden-brown walls of her house.

The men and girls sang hymns, “Abide with Me” and “Lead, Kindly Light,”
then with a splendid sort of gusto, rolling it out, “Onward, Christian
Soldiers.”  I and my companion gave one of the girls some money, so that
kava might be drunk, and matches bought at one of the ridiculous little
stores of the metropolis; and when the kava had been brewed the whole
company gathered close around it, drinking it, drinking to our health.

I came back to my house soon after eleven and went to bed and to sleep.
But a little after two I was awakened by the silence, for the storm had
suddenly dropped.  Then came a great splashing against the sea-wall
immediately beneath my window; and, when I got up and went outside, I
found the moon clear and full in a sea of light, mid islands of umber
clouds.

The great bull of the island, two heifers, a cow and a tiny calf were
walking round this small jutting point of sea-wall to the next strip of
sloping shore.  The water was high and the cow and the calf walked
together in front of the heifers, with the bull leading.  At one spot,
however, close to my house, the water was so deep, the waves so high,
that the calf refused to go farther and stood pressing against the wall.
Whereupon the cow mooed to the bull, attracting his attention, so that he
returned, and pushing the cow aside, placing his own solid body between
the waves and the youngster, coaxed the tiny creature on with delicate
touches of his shining wet muzzle against its neck.

I cannot sleep and am sitting writing.  With a sudden fierce slap in the
face of the island, the wind has again risen; a cloud slams across the
moon, and the rain is driven inland in a solid sheet.  A bad outlook for
to-morrow, when we have to go in a canoe and flag the little steamer
which passes on its way to the north of the main island somewhere about
dawn.

                                * * * * *

                  [Picture: On the outrigger of a canoe]

We have actually made the steamer.  It was very cold coming out to her.
There was a wild wind blowing, the sky was heavy and leaden with great
clouds, the gray sea torn with white-topped waves.  But Ratu Pope had
lent us his heaviest canoe and his strongest boys to paddle us.  Looking
back as we came away from the island, we saw our host and his son and
wife waving to us, with his sister standing farther off, in the green
street of the village.  My heart ached as it had never ached since I saw
my own son go away from me, and I was glad that the day was gray; that
the rain, which had ceased to fall in sheets as it did last night, wept
solitary spots, heavy as tears.

I was very much concerned as to how I should ever get on board the
steamer when I saw it come, plowing its way through the deep troughs of
the sea, while we went to meet it, our own canoe like a leaf upon the
water.  For I am no good whatever at anything like a jump.

Luckily, the lower deck of the steamer was very low, and with hoisting
from below and pulling from above I tumbled on to her.  She is
twenty-five tons and there are close upon two hundred passengers aboard
her, crowded upon the upper and lower decks so closely that it seems as
though, should one of them sneeze, the greatest number must go overboard,
for it has no rail.  The width of the deck round the deck-house is no
more than four feet.

We go north, close in against the coast with its interminable mountains,
peaked and jagged mountains showing that queer twist at the top which I
have seen nowhere save in Fiji; rounded hills, and steep cliffs as much
as three hundred feet in height, hung with long creepers falling like
green waterfalls in unbroken streams from top to bottom of them; and
innumerable bays, the names of half of which are unknown to the captain.
If any of the passengers wish to go on shore, however, he is obliged to
stop the steamer and send them off in the boat which we drag behind us,
while the little steamer itself—more like a stage-property vessel than
anything I have ever seen before—spins and twists like a leaf in the
wind.  This process is repeated every half-hour or so during our passage
from Mbau to Viti Levu Bay, a distance of but sixty-four miles, costing
each of us thirty shillings: surely the most expensive sea-voyage per
mile in the whole world, though maybe the charges are in relation to the
nine hours which it takes.

                                * * * * *

When we at last reached our journey’s end, Epeli Gavidi Ganilou, Roku Tui
Ra and Buli of Viti Levu Bay, came down to the shore to meet us, out of
sheer courtesy, as he would have come to meet any stranger, and I handed
him a letter of introduction from the Colonial Secretary.  He seemed,
however, to think very small beer of that, looked at us proudly and
distantly, but when my companion followed it up with a note from Ratu
Pope, his whole demeanor changed, and it seemed that he could not do
enough for us, sending messengers to his house with our luggage, telling
them to ask his wife to make ready for us.

             [Picture: Ratu Epeli Gavidi Ganilou Roko Tui Ra]

We are staying with Ratu Epeli now, in his house high on a terraced hill
above the village, looking down on the great sweeping Viti Levu Bay with
its island, and landward at each side, on range upon range of mountains,
betwixt every two peaks a paler and more distant range, and between these
other ranges, swept and hung with veils of mist crossed with the
continual broken arcs of rainbows.  The fresh cool air is filled with the
scent of honeysuckle, falling in thick wreaths from the trees around the
wide smooth grass terrace in front of the house, which is more European
than Ratu Pope’s, with a wide veranda, a central sitting-room, and two
bedrooms.  In the larger room I sleep with Ratu Epeli’s wife and baby,
while my fellow-traveler, of much the same age as my own son, and
amazingly wise in all the ways of the Fijians,—wise and grave as only the
very young can be, the most perfect companion in that he is the
quietest,—shares the other bedroom with our host, with whom in the quiet
of the evening we have great talks and discussions.

The Labor Government is in power in England, and Ratu Epeli, who takes a
keen interest in European politics—a chief and the son of a chief of an
unbroken line of chiefs, an aristocrat to his backbone—is entirely amazed
that we should submit to such a thing.  To his mind it seems incredible
that warriors and chiefs should sink so low—or so he regards it—as to
allow themselves to be dictated to by commoners.

                                * * * * *

I got up very early this morning, and walked round the garden and am now
sitting in the veranda, writing.  The moon is still up and it is very
cold, but the wind has ceased and the bay lies like a sheet of glass
beneath me.

The ground falling away from the terraces dips so sharply that there is
no slope to be seen, nothing beyond the feathery tops of ironbark and
cocoanut palms, and one large bush of coral hibiscus, its deeply serrated
petals, its long streamers and tasseled pistil hung with dew.  Far below
me I look down into the brown-roofed village where the fires are
beginning to be lighted, thankful to think that we have made arrangements
to stay here for this entire day, waiting for the horses which the one
Englishman in the district, who runs a cattle ranch some fifteen miles
away, is sending over to meet us.

An old man, with but two teeth left in his head, has been sitting on the
veranda recounting to me, in a sing-song voice, one of those interminable
epics of great fights which have all the swing of pages straight out of
Homer.

        [Picture: Ratu Osea, a one-time cannibal of Viti Levu Bay]

“For all the wars there are five sorts of men needed: first, the
_Vunivalu_, or _Tui_, the Root of War, and Chief of the Ruling Tribe;
secondly, the _Santuraga_, those who see to it that reverence is paid to
the chiefs; thirdly, the _Bete_, or Priest—the priests being of the tribe
of those who are all priests—with their long beards; fourthly, the
_Matanivanua_, or spokesmen; fifthly, the _Bati_, or Warriors.  Before
the people make war they must lay their purpose before the _Bete_,
meeting him if possible upon the _Nakauvadra_, or Sacred Mountain. {225}

“In the war between Natauya and Nalawa, Marama, many were killed; the
chief of the Naroko, he also was killed; I myself saw it.  The fighting
swept up the hill here, swept up it like a raging sea, and many men were
killed, for Ratu Pope’s grandfather had sent a boat bringing rifles and
powder.  Also many of the Sesse were killed.  Those who were captured
were put in a house, and the house was burned, and they burnt with it; I
myself saw it, Marama . . .”

For a moment or so the old man broke off, puffing at his cigarette, a
black ribbon of tobacco and twisted pandanus leaf, gazing out before him
with fierce old eyes, re-hearing God only knows what sounds, re-seeing,
re-tasting.

“The people that were burnt in the house were eaten, Marama, for it was
in the bad old days, when there were cannibals.”  He gave me a sly
sidelong glance as he said this, speaking of the bad days, though I could
almost swear that the old villain licked his lips as he said it.  “There
was another fight later on, Marama, a small and unconsidered fight, with
the people up the coast.  We brought back one of them bound hand and
foot, and slew him; we took off his legs and his arms and took out his
entrails,—for these were in the bad days, Marama, the days before we were
educated,—and filled him up with taro, and baked him in hot stones for
two hours, and cut him up and ate him.”

Ratu Epeli and my friend and companion are on the veranda with me.  We
have a bowl of kava in front of us and other men of high caste gather
round it; all together they talk of witchcraft, and the ritual of
Luve-Ni-Wai, the practice of which is now forbidden, any man found
practising it being punished and liable to six months in jail.

We speak in a low voice, almost whispering, not because we are afraid of
being overheard, but for the reason that terror and mystery hang about
the very name of Luve-Ni-Wai (“Child of Water”), a devil no more than
three feet in height and yet so powerful that all alike tremble before
him, even the _Dau Vakadrauni Eua_, or witch doctor, into whom
Luve-Ni-Wai himself enters, and who is fated to die if he fails in the
least iota to follow all the rules set out for him.

“If you wish to practise the ritual of _Luve-Ni-Wai_, you must go into
the bush, taking a _yangona_ (kava) bowl and a cup made of _ai-bo_ with
you,” said Ratu Epeli.

“That is what you must do,” repeated the others, “and find the banyan
tree.”

“Yes, you must find the banyan tree,” said Ratu Epeli; “a wide-spreading
banyan tree in an open space in a wild and secret place.  Then having
prepared your _yangona_, you must make a litany to Luve-Ni-Wai, a
_kerekere_, or request, that he will be good enough to allow two or more
to be chosen to help you.

“At this, if Luve-Ni-Wai approves, he will take possession of two of your
companions; if he enters into them by the feet, their feet will tremble
so it is with difficulty they can keep upright on the ground, while, if
he enters into their heads, their heads will tremble so that it seems as
if they would shake off from their bodies; after which, Luve-Ni-Wai
himself begins to speak, expounding the rules.”

Up to this we have all sat perfectly silent, almost breathless, weighed
down by the oppressive sense of something dreadful drawing close to us,
listening to what we are saying, hanging over us with a hot fetid breath,
for the wind has ceased and there is not the slightest stir among the
trees, while the almost full moon hangs right above us, ringed and
distorted by some queer twist of clouds.

Ratu Epeli, as though half forgetful of what he was saying, or frightened
of saying more,—sitting with his hands pressed down against his
knees,—drops to silence, while the old man takes up the tale.

“Every night after this, the one who is being initiated, he with the
desire, and his two companions, must take themselves to this lonely spot.
During this time he must touch no woman, nor must he drink any strong
drink.  But once that the devil has appeared to him and spoken to him he
has this power.  He can take any woman and no one can know; he can go
into a house or a store and steal anything he wishes, and though it is
full of people no one will see him.

“If during this time,” said the old cannibal, weightily, nodding his
head, “anybody cuts off his head, the Luve-Ni-Wai will put it on again,
and there will be no harm done to him.”

            [Picture: Ratu Epeli’s boy seated in a Kava Bowl]

The talk went on from tale to tale.  Ratu Epeli told me of Koro, the
island where you can go up on to a high cliff and call three times to the
Turtle-ghost, who will come up and answer you.  “If he does not answer
you at first you call into the bush, for he may be planting, and upon
that he will come down into the water where his attendants are waiting
for him, with the big shark which is his guard, and, rising to the
surface, listen to what you have to say to him, answering your question.

“Some say,” put in the old cannibal, who seemed to act as a sort of Greek
chorus to all that Ratu Epeli told us, “that at one time some men caught
the Turtle-ghost and made a fire with stones in a hole in the ground and
put him in there to cook him; but when they opened the fire they found
nothing there but one stone.  And these are the words they call to the
Turtle when they wish him to come to them, _‘Tui Naikasi_, _Ko iko ha Vie
Viei_, _vio iko na eguege_.’”

He ran on and on with the soft-syllabled Fijian words, in a sort of chant
which might, indeed, have conjured the fish out of the water; so that I
seemed to see them ranging up in rows, as St. Francis saw them, around
the magic turtle.




CHAPTER XVII


WE have, indeed, had the most monstrous day.  This morning, soon after
nine o’clock, the Englishman who owns the cattle ranch, half-way between
where I am now writing and Ratu Epeli’s village, sent over two horses for
us.  It was pouring with rain, had been all night, the rain coming down
in solid sheets as it can in this country where it has been known to rain
just under a yard in twenty-four hours, and I can imagine nothing worse
than the road—or, rather, bridle-path—through the bush, which we had to
follow.  In some places the soil was washed away at each side, running
off in an almost perpendicular slope, leaving the road like a sharp
knife-edge of soapstone, upon which it would have been impossible for the
horses to keep their footing at all had they been shod.  In the dips of
the path, though the actual foothold was better, the water was again and
again up to our saddle girths.

Some years ago I had malaria so badly that I was paralyzed down one side,
and since then I have broken the leg on that side twice over.  Gaily I
had planned the first twenty miles or so of our ride from Ratu Epeli’s,
but I had not been on a horse for more years than I can say and could
never have imagined what agony the sitting astride could be; while my
horse, which was a perfect wonder and as agile as a cat, had a trick of
jumping every place which was at all jumpable, with a sharp jerk which
pained me so that I thought I should faint.

The first part of our ride lay through flat country with myrtles and
tree-ferns and crimson ginger, growing like gigantic gladioli, upon each
side of us, to a height above my knee; while every tree was hung with
long trails of creepers; though my companion who led the way and kept
looking back at me—with the rain running down my back, soaking through my
mackintosh cape, sopping the bath-towel which was, as usual, elegantly
draped round my neck—assured me that the vegetation was very poor, owing
to the fact that we were on the “dry side of the island”!

The Englishman, the one other white person we had seen for ten days or
more, or were likely to see for another ten, lived upon the top of a hill
which was like the side of a house; so steep and slippery that, as our
horses plunged up through the fern and undergrowth, the only thing for it
was to leave the reins absolutely loose and fling ourselves forward upon
their necks, hanging on by the saddle to keep from slipping off backward.
The hillside had by no means been improved, as we heard a little later,
by the fact that three hundred head of cattle had been driven down it
only the day before.

It is amazing how horses are left to fend for themselves in this country.
When we did at last reach the estate house the saddles and bridles were
simply taken off these fine, well-bred creatures, which were left out to
graze while we went in to lunch; staggering up the veranda steps, feeling
like nothing on earth, absolutely drenched to the skin, the water
streaming off us as though we had been dipped in a river.  I hardly gave
myself time to greet my host before demanding dry clothes: “Anything on
earth, so long as they are dry.”

Of course, there were no women’s things, but he showed me into an empty
room, and as I threw out my wet clothes threw me in a set of flannel
pajamas.  Never, never have I been so thankful for anything as for the
touch of that coarse, dry flannel against my skin; though Heaven only
knows what I must have looked like when, having thrown a sheet round my
shoulders for the sake of extra warmth—for it was very high up and
bitterly cold—I entered the dining-room; barefooted, for my shoes had
been full of water and were in the kitchen with everything else drying.

We started off again at four o’clock that afternoon; for, though I would
have given anything on earth to stay, our boys had gone on to our next
stopping-place with our packs.  Besides, there was only one bed, and
nowhere could I see any extra blankets.

I clung to the pajama jacket, for my own jumper was still sopping wet,
wearing my own skirt, which was warm though not dry, and wrapping the
pajama trousers tightly round my waist under everything else, so that I
might have the prospect of at least one dry garment at the end of the
day’s journey.  Having become accustomed to some such decoration, my
treasured bath-towel being perfectly hopeless, I bore off the sheet also,
swearing to post it back with the rest of the things, wearing it draped
over my shoulders under the mackintosh cloak which I had bought in Suva,
and which leaked like a sieve.

The first part of this second lap of our journey was nothing to make any
fuss about, and we were extremely gay after our good meal, a great deal
of hot tea well laced with brandy, which in our old hunting days used to
be known as “brown cream.”  Very soon, however, the path ran into a mere
swamp through which the horses plunged up to their girths in mud, so that
it was with the very greatest difficulty that we could get them on at
all.  The darkness gathered more and more thickly, and the rain, which
had ceased for a time, poured down as though a sluice had been opened in
the heavens above us.  The climax was reached when in almost complete
darkness I saw my companion, who was riding in front of me, drop out of
sight.  When I myself got on a little farther, I found that his horse,
half the time on its tail, was sliding down a steep bank at least sixty
feet in height, and so thick with scrub that one could see no ground
whatever, though a wide lead-colored streak in the darkness beneath me,
the loud roar of a river in flood, told me, and no doubt about it either,
what was in store for us.

I don’t know that I was so much frightened as rebellious at this.  We had
come so far, I was so wet and cold, in such an agony of pain that I could
have sobbed, at the same time actually afraid that I might faint and fall
off my horse.  Though all that was nothing to my indignation at the
thought that my companion, hard as all young people are, could ride on
ahead without so much as a word of pity or encouragement, without so much
as a glance back at me, stuck there on the top of the hill; for there was
no need to draw rein, my horse being fully as terrified as I was.

“Look here, we must stop here!  It’s impossible to go on; I can’t face
it, I’m scared to death; I simply can’t face it,” I shrieked down after
him; though all the while, despite these laments, something in me more
courageous than myself compelled me to kick my heels into my horse’s
side, force him over the brink of the hill,—cliff, rather,—press him,
slithering down, with the thorny undergrowth tearing at my legs.  I
reached the bottom just in time to see my companion drive his own horse
into the river; get it across, drifting and struggling and swimming,
somehow or other to the farther bank; then drive it up a slope every bit
as steep as that down which we had come.

With death in my heart and yet with more of rage than death; furious with
him, with the state of the river, most of all with the pitiless and
exasperating rain, I pushed my own horse into the water; felt him lose
his footing again and again underneath me, swimming a little, catching a
sort of foothold upon higher ground, and swimming again, nearly beaten by
the current, which ran like a wild animal against us, high above my
knees, until we at last reached the opposite shore.  Leaning forward,
lying flat along his neck, I caught my fingers in his mane and somehow or
other drove him up such an ascent I should have thought impossible for
any horse.  I found my companion at the top, dismounted and with his hat
off, wiping the sweat from his face, and realized in the chill twilight
that he was every bit as white and sheepish as I myself.

“You might at least have looked back,” I remarked bitterly, conscious
that I was trembling from head to foot: upon which he turned and grinned
rather shakily.

“If I had once looked back you would never have dared to come on,” he
said, showing an amazing knowledge of feminine nature, for one so young,
an instinct for managing women which may stand him well in the years to
come.  The next moment he himself confessed that he had never been in
such a funk in his life, and scarcely thought it was possible for us to
get through.  “Though,” he added gravely, “we couldn’t have gone back,
you know.”

To which I agreed, for to me, of all deadly things in life, far worse
than death itself, is anything in the nature of a going back.

The man with whom we had lunched had sent one of his boys on with us to
bring back the horses next day; and after a pause this boy also got
through the river, and came struggling up the bank, trembling and
shivering, trotting close at our heels as we turned, determined not to be
left alone in such a spot.

                 [Picture: A chief’s house at Mbau, Fiji]

Another five miles, going at the slowest possible pace,—for our horses
were absolutely exhausted and there was no road or track of any sort to
be seen,—and we heard in front of us the loud, incessant roar of yet
another river, to which the sound of the last had been nothing more than
the cry of a puling child: a roar so deafening that while we were yet
about half a mile away it seemed as though we must be at the very edge of
it.  When we did reach the margin—for it ran flat through high
marshland—we realized that here we were at last beaten.  It was in wide
flood, the water flecked with yellow foam, running like a mill-race,
filled with the trunks of trees and broken boughs, swirling round and
round in it.

It was impossible even to think of crossing upon horseback, and queerly
enough my one feeling was that of an intense relief; for by this time I
had reached a state of mind akin to that of Sir Roland upon first sight
of his Round Tower, thankful for any sort of an end.  As I slipped from
my horse and plumped down upon the swampy ground, the mere fact of being
out of the saddle, of even a momentary cessation from the stab of pain in
my leg, was all I asked for; though goodness knows that by this time the
outlook was dark enough, dark as the fading day, for it was as impossible
for us to turn back as it was for us to go on.

The moon had by now risen, appearing and disappearing between scuds of
clouds, and the rain had ceased.  Not that that mattered, not that
anything on earth mattered, for by this time I had no inclination for
life left, felt a little contemptuous of my companion and the black boy,
who stood on the edge of the river, which we now knew to be the
Wai-ni-buka, with their hands rounded to their mouths, endeavoring,
childishly as it seemed to me, to shout down the flood, pitch their
voices toward the unseen village, which the native boy declared to be
Little Nausori, lying within a fold of the hill, almost immediately
opposite to us.

So altogether fatalistic was my attitude of mind, indeed, that I could
scarcely believe my ears when loud shouts were returned to us, and
looking far up the stream we saw men pushing off in two large canoes,
guiding them with their paddles and allowing them to drift down to where
we stood out upon a spit of land, having dully and indifferently enough
taken the saddles and bridles off our horses, tethered them, and left
them where they were when we saw the canoes coming.  Two beautiful,
well-bred, and well-trained horses whose owner must have known that this
was the only way in which they could pass the night, after a long day
with two complete strangers who might well have broken their knees or
given them a sore back.  And here, indeed, you have an epitome of the
most complete hospitality in the whole world, the hospitality of the
horsey man willing to lend his horses.

                        [Picture: Little Nausori]

As my companion and I crossed the river in one canoe, and the native boy,
who was to take back the two horses the next morning, in the other, they
spun like leaves upon the water, whirling round and round as the stream
drove them, making land upon the far side close upon half a mile farther
down, so that we had all that distance to scramble back through the bush.
I, for my part, made my way up the steep hill to the village—and all
Fijian villages are, if possible, built upon hills, to keep them clear of
the flood—more or less upon my hands and knees; for the moon was already
hidden behind clouds, and such a path as there was no more than a steep
slide of mud.

When we did at last reach the village we found to our surprise that it
was in complete darkness, while the people who came out to stare at us,
holding their lanterns high and peering into our faces, plainly had no
idea who we were or whence we came.

Directly the buli came out of his house to welcome us, however, we
discovered why.  The note sent on by our boys from Ratu Epeli had been so
sopped with rain that it was unreadable, so that he had no idea whom the
baggage belonged to, from which direction the owners of it were coming,
or when they were to be expected.  Not that this greatly mattered, for in
any case we should have been given the best which the village afforded.

I am writing now in the village council chamber, the biggest native house
I have ever seen; I have just stepped it, and make it roughly seventy
feet in length.  Large fires had been lighted and new mats laid down.
The buli himself has carried off my companion to his own house, to change
into such dry clothes as he can lay hands upon; while the buli’s wife and
some of the other women have helped to get me out of my dripping
garments, clinging round me like an eelskin, and into an old jumper which
I have found dry in the heart of my pack.  I unwound the pajama trousers,
still mercifully dry, from my waist, and got into them, to the surprise
of the feminine community.  They raised their hands and their eyes,
glancing from one to another with loud clucks of astonishment: for though
they have never seen a white woman here before, apart from the
fourteen-year-old daughter of a doctor who once passed through here with
her father,—were thrown into transports of amusement and fear when I drew
off my sopping gloves and threw them on the ground, running toward them,
touching them with the very tips of their fingers or toes, running away
again, clinging together, laughing and screaming,—they realized at once
that my costume was not at all what it should be.  They described me
among themselves, with all sorts of curious conjectures, as being half a
woman and half a man, christening me at once as “The One with Shells in
Her Ears,” on account of the small stud pearl ear-rings which I always
wear.

                                * * * * *

My traveling mate and I are sitting on the floor now beside the fire upon
which fowl and yams are being cooked for our supper.  Or, rather, I am
sitting cross-legged with my writing-pad on my knee and he is lying upon
his side smoking.  At the back of us, far away in the dim distance, I
have hung up my mosquito curtain over the little platform which is to
serve as a bed, while my pillow is propped up in front of the fire to
dry; and all our clothes are hung on strings across the room.

It is close upon ten o’clock and I am drunk with sleep; but as yet there
is no prospect of supper, for the fowls here take an inordinately long
time cooking,—and even then one can, in general, only drink the broth in
which they are stewed, mingling it with the yams,—while a _meke_ is in
progress, especially arranged in our honor.

          [Picture: In the meke (The man is kneeling to dance)]

There is one lantern on the ground at my side and the red twinkle of the
fire beneath the cooking-pot.  In addition to this there is the _buke_
(fire) for our cigarettes, twinkling like a small red eye between us.
For the rest the vast room is in darkness, though every now and then as
the fire springs up one realizes from the flash of white teeth, the
turning white of an eye, that the walls are lined with people silently
watching us, utterly spellbound and scarcely breathing.

Immediately in front of us and not more than four yards away a line of
young girls, almost naked, wreathed with green creepers,—which hang round
their bodies and are braceleted round their wrists in long streamers like
ribbons,—their bodies freshly oiled and shining, are seated, swaying to
and fro, moving their bodies as though dancing, with expressive
Egyptian-like gestures of their hands, with the mimicry of paddling a
canoe, of beckoning, of embracing, of repulsing.  As they dance they turn
their heads from side to side, throwing them back so that one sees no
more than a line of smooth throats in the oasis of gold and umber light
cast by the hurricane-lantern immediately before them; enwrapped in the
rapture of a dance in which they never once rise to their feet; in which
the hands and bodies, arms, neck, and head, alone are occupied.  And all
the time that they dance they make songs for us: songs of Russia and
France,—these girls who have never been away from their own village, who
have never before seen a white woman,—songs of the war and of Germany;
songs of battle-ships and steamers coming and going; songs of the
climbing of mountains and the swimming of rivers and the passage of
rapids in canoes.  One after another starts upon a fresh theme, and the
whole party of girls catch it and carry it on, tossing it as though it
were a ball, from one to another, throwing it over their shoulders, their
heads thrown back, to the long line of men who kneel to their dancing
behind them.

The buli sits by my companion’s side and talks to him; he cannot
understand how we ever crossed the mountains and rivers to come so far in
such weather, along such a terrible road.  Above all he is overcome with
what he calls my courage.  He himself is a young man, thirty at most, but
with the utmost gallantry—glancing sideways at me as I sit nodding over
my writing-pad, looking like nothing on earth—he remarks:

“I am an old, old man, and she is but a child.”

It seems to me that the _meke_ will go on and on forever.  It is, indeed,
a day of eternities; the ride itself was an eternity; it is more than an
eternity since we left the shelter of Ratu Epeli’s house; and it seems to
me that now we have, indeed, reached a point at which nothing ever ends;
that the fire will go on burning forever and the food cooking, the _meke_
dancers swaying to and fro in dreadful monotony.  An added note of
inevitability is to be found in the fact that the rest of the audience,
who at first gathered around the walls, are now ringed around us, line
upon line of them, lying flat upon their stomachs with their elbows on
the ground, their chins cupped in their hands, perfectly immovable.

                                * * * * *

A sort of end has at last come, but only a sort.  We have eaten the yams
soaked in broth, and drunk all that remained over; the great house is
cleared of men, and my companion has gone off to the buli’s own private
dwelling, while I myself am lying with half the mats on my bed pulled
over me,—for the blanket in my pack is still sopping wet,—shivering with
cold and trying to sleep, with but poor success.  For though all the men
have been turned out of the room, the women and children are still here,
talking, talking, and talking and talking, as the Fijians can, and do,
talk throughout the entire night.  The rats rustle and squeal in the
loose straw beneath my bed, and a horse crops the grass so close against
my head that I can hear its heavy breathing, catch an occasional puff of
warm breath through the openwork bamboo wall.

At last I can bear it all no longer, and rising in my majesty of very
large borrowed pajamas, walk the length of the room toward the staring
women.  Demonstrating by every possible sign that is known to me that I
am longing for sleep, that it seems a good thing that they also should
rest, I seem to have reduced them to, at least, temporary silence.

                                * * * * *

The night has passed: it is five o’clock.  The rain has ceased; but the
mountains and valleys around us, the river below us, still yellow and
turbulent, are hung in a veil of light silvery mist.

This village, with its goldy-brown thatched roofs, is set upon a series
of very smooth green sugar-cone-like hills.  The children and grown
people come and go around me, bringing in wood, carrying up water from
the river, taking very little notice of me sitting on the doorstep
writing.  They appear to have got entirely used to me, as well they
might; for throughout the entire night—after I was supposed to have
settled to sleep, did, indeed, sleep in short, heavy spells—it seemed as
though the whole village came and went through the great room, men and
women, boys and children.  I was conscious of a continual whispering, a
rustling, apart from the rats; the flicker of a little taper floating
upon oil, breaking through the sleep into which I sank back and back, as
though drugged; while every now and then some small portion of me was
picked up between the finger and thumb by some more daring explorer,
determined to find out whether I was altogether real or not—a liberty
which I was too dead with sleep to resent by anything more than a grunt,
a half-hearted twist aside.




CHAPTER XVIII


WE have said good-by to every one at Little Nausori, for it seemed that
the entire village flocked down to the water’s edge to see us off;
shaking hands till my hands are so swollen that I can scarcely hold a
pencil.

Now, for hours and hours, as it seems, we have been sitting in a canoe,
with a deafening swirl and thunder of water in our ears, shooting
innumerable rapids.  To begin with, my heart was up in my throat as we
rushed toward what looked like inevitable destruction against the jagged
sides of great rocks; but I am now completely at my ease, realizing that
the two men standing at the bow and stern of the canoe, with poles or
paddles, will manage somehow or other to steer clear.

How far it is to Wainimala nobody can tell us, for “Only the white man
knows that,” is what they say.  Not that it greatly matters so long as we
get there some time to-night, or to-morrow night, or the night after.
For the sun is shining; the chill mists melting, rising in light wisps to
the tops of the trees—orange-trees and myrtles, immense plumed bamboos,
and innumerable, unknown forest trees, springing up from a thick
undergrowth of tree-ferns and wild bananas.  Although Wainimala is the
nearest village where there is a buli, or anything definite in the way of
accommodation certain, there are plenty of villages on each side of us,
perched high on green hills down which the people run with that polite
questioning, that interest in the doings of others, without which the
Fijians would look upon themselves with disgust as a mannerless and
uneducated people.

“_Sa lako evei_?  _Sa lako evei_?” (“Where are you going?”)  They follow
up their salute with all sorts of scraps of news which seem to them,
immersed in their own little world, as the news of the universe itself.
In front of one village we are hung up for some time to listen to every
intimate detail of the death of a man “with something bad in his
stomach”; while the women washing clothes, the men bathing, the small
naked boys astride logs of trees or in rickety canoes, the many more
streaming in from every direction, over the hill and down the river, are
all agog to see the _Valagi_.

          [Picture: Boys seine fishing on the edge of the river]

We are a day late, but we have at last reached Wainimala, just before
sunset, toiling up a steep hill to the little village, at the farther
side of which is a deep ravine filled with the tree-ferns and myrtles
edged with brilliant crimson and yellow, green and spotted crotons.
Around it are more cone-like little hills, each with its cluster of three
or four pale-brown houses and a few wind-twisted cocoanut trees.  Beyond
and below these are the river valley and mountains of every shade, the
more distant a clear pale gold against the clear pale-gold sky.

                 [Picture: The buli’s house at Wailotua]

We have come steadily downhill during our journey, not only actually but
socially; starting with the highest chief in Fiji, going on to a lesser
chief, then to the most important buli, then to a lesser buli.  It is
always to the buli’s house that any visitors, whether expected or not,
are shown.  New mats are laid out, or the best the village owns in the
way of mats, a fire lighted and water and yam boiled upon the very first
sight of any newcomer.  We are now the guests of a man who is in reality
a commoner, and, though he has not yet appeared, the difference in his
house shows plainly enough the lowness of his rank.

There are a great many girls in the village, and they gather round us as
we sit on a bench at the gate of the buli’s house, openly wooing my
companion, making eyes at him, laughing and joking; tall, finely
developed girls with clean, smooth brown skins and very white teeth,
wearing skirts of different colors and thin muslin bodices, very
negligently open in front and in any case showing every curve.

The buli and his wife are very late coming back from the fields, where
they are planting out their yams, and we have our supper, yams and tea
and the remains of a tin of salmon, out upon the bench, with a nearly
full moon, deep gold like an apricot, rising almost immediately above us.

It is close upon ten o’clock before our host and hostess get back.  They
do their best for us, but there is no spare house in the village, and so,
for the first time, I have to sleep with the entire family, though they
hang up a mat to screen me as much as they can from the public gaze.
Bed, however, is out of the question, for the present at least, for it
seems that the buli, a rather surly peasant, having penetrated as far as
Suva some months back, has returned with a sewing-machine for his wife; a
machine which he must have imagined to be possessed of some gnome-like
quality of doing everything that was required of it without any human aid
whatever, for neither he nor any one else in the village has the faintest
idea of how to work it.  Half dead with sleep, I am required to lie flat
on the front of myself, upon the none too clean mat, tinkering with the
wretched thing by the light of one miserable lamp, half blinded with the
smoke, for the buli’s wife is cooking the supper for herself and her
family inside the house itself—the first time I have seen such a thing
done.

                                * * * * *

It has been a perfectly horrible night.  There was an open doorway just
opposite the end of my platformed bed.  When I shut it I was almost
choked by the smoke and the smell of the many people, talking and eating
and drinking throughout the entire night, crowded together in the hut;
leaving it open, I was chilled to death by the damp, cold mist which
drifted in so that even my hair was wet and I thought I should die until
the idea came to me of getting under the two upper mats of my bed instead
of lying on them.  Upon getting up this morning I bitterly regretted not
having taken my clothes in with me, for when I dressed, between five and
six, I could have wrung the damp out of them.  However, the sun is now
shining, growing every moment hotter and hotter, so that I and my
companion send out great puffs of steam.  Our boatmen, who were gray with
cold,—dulled and colorless, as all bronze men when they are not feeling
well, or are depressed,—glow and darken and shine, breaking into songs.

                                * * * * *

The sun is immediately overhead, the river like molten lead, colorless
and shining; all the moisture has gone out of both us and our clothes,
and I feel as though I might literally crackle with dryness.  We have
finished all the water we brought with us and all our food save a few
cold yams, morsels of which I turn round and round in my mouth, finding
myself unable to swallow.  It is ridiculous for any one to say that when
you are really hungry you can eat anything, the fact being that you get
to a stage when without fat or any form of grease you find such food as
yams, so like moist wood, impossible to swallow.

It seems now as though we have been traveling for half a lifetime.  I am
not unhappy, I don’t want to go back, and not for one single moment do I
wish that I hadn’t come; but, for all that, I’ve reached a state where
time is absolutely non-existent, and I rather wonder if other people are
like that, losing all sense of time, realization of place—at least any
place apart from that in which they happen to be at the moment, seeing
even that through a haze—when they are really hungry or absolutely
exhausted.

                                * * * * *

I am altogether myself again, for I have eaten and drunk.  A couple of
hours ago a twist in the river showed us a small red-brick house, with
outhouses and grazing cattle, on the top of a bank a quarter of a mile or
so above us.

As the ground at the edge of the river was a swamp of black mud, my
companion volunteered to go up to the house and see what he could get.
But he seemed to be so long gone, and I was so frantic with hunger and
thirst, that I tumbled out of the canoe, plumping into the mud over the
tops of my shoes, and clambering up the hill,—for the most part on my
hands and knees, too completely done to battle with the achieved habits
of humanity,—flung myself down upon the veranda of the strange house.  I
offered no explanation whatever to the owner of the place,—an elderly
one-eyed Dane who came round from the back and stood over me, stolidly
staring down at me,—nothing on earth beyond a hoarse and piteous beggar’s
whine:

“For the Lord’s sake give me some bread.”

                            [Picture: Fijians]

For this is what it had come to after days and days without the staff of
life; the very thought of bread blocking out the sky, smothering my
horizon, no other idea in my mind, no other desire in my heart.

Now we have had bread and coffee and cheese,—hard, yellow cheese, of
which I have eaten what would at any other time have seemed an impossible
quantity,—with lashings of fresh butter; for by some happy accident we
have chanced upon a dairy farm, and are sitting waiting for a letter over
which the Dane is laboring, and which he wishes to send on by us to meet
the launch which we shall pick up in a few hours.  Meanwhile his only
companion, a half-caste Maori, one of the most completely villainous
creatures I have ever seen,—just the sort of man who might have stepped
right out of one of Joseph Conrad’s books, and fully capable, to judge by
the look of him, of murdering his white companion,—sits and brags to us,
with a living stream of lies.

                                * * * * *

I am back again in the hotel at Suva.  A very gay and cheerful Suva, for
the fleet is in and the whole town _en fête_.  This morning I’ve had an
experience I would not have missed for anything.  For all the Fijian
chiefs sent out their war canoes to meet the incoming ships,—canoes so
large that it takes twenty men to launch them,—and Ratu Pope allowed me
to go out in his, the greatest and leading canoe,—with George Seniloli
and his chief boatmen,—the only European, apart from a couple of boys, in
the whole flotilla.

                  [Picture: The canoe of a Fijian chief]

These canoes have one great three-cornered sail made of mats, woven out
of palm-leaves and sewn together.  There is a mast and a swinging boom,
and another boom down the farther bunt of the sail,—at least that is the
only way that I can find to express it,—the junction of these two booms
being held jambed against the small cross-beam on the taffrail either at
the stern or bow.  When the sail is shifted, one of the boatmen,—and it
must be a feat which calls for the greatest strength,—lifts it and,
taking the whole weight of the sail with it, runs along the extreme edge
of the canoe and drops it into the V-shaped junction of the two curved
beams against the ledge of the opposite side.  The canoe is balanced by
an immense outrigger, formed of long slender beams running at right
angles out from the canoe to what is virtually the trunk of a tree—across
which we all had to hurl ourselves when the wind heeled over the canoe,
bringing it down with a slap upon the water.

All these mat sails are a pale golden brown, and what the fleet of canoes
must have looked like from the land I cannot say.  But we were
leading,—for though we started last, we very soon shot ahead,—and as I
looked back at them they seemed to me like nothing more than a fleet of
shining brown butterflies, driven sideways by the wind, not in the water
at all, but just scudding over it, light as air.




CHAPTER XIX


WHAT a queer thing the spirit of adventure is—and for once it seems that
the word “spirit” is used rightly.  It is not of the soul, which is
religion; though it is also a religion, the religion of those who are
forever searching after the best in beauty and keenness of perception.
It is not of the mind, for, though the mind evolves it, it is most often
without reason; common sense has nothing whatever to do with it; gain has
less than nothing to do with it.  It is as unreasoning as the upward
flight of the lark.  It is untouched by the elements—revels in them,
indeed.  You cannot call it bravery, for it does not know fear.  It is of
the spirit—that spirit which is like a bright and shining fountain rising
above the clay of the body; a flashing sword, clean from its sheath.

All this to explain why, having returned to Suva thinking that there was
nothing on earth I wished for more than to remain in a comfortable hotel,
within easy reach of a hot bath, to eat well-served, well-cooked meals,
sleep in a comfortable bed,—for I am subject to the delusion that I
should like to try the lap of luxury before being hurtled on to Abraham’s
bosom,—I found after three days that there was nothing I desired less.
The very desire itself was no more than the soft, overripe fruit of an
immense fatigue.  Thus it is that I now find myself, driven by that
ruling spirit, living in the greatest possible discomfort out at Navua,
for no other reason than that it is from this place alone there seems to
be the faintest chance of getting to Bega, the one island in the group
which I was most earnestly warned against visiting without some companion
or other.  Bega is only fifteen miles from Suva, and that shows what
traveling in this part of the world means.

I came here upon a shockingly overcrowded little steam-launch,—for there
are no roads,—having caught her by the skin of my teeth.  Though she
usually leaves three quarters of an hour after the scheduled time, she
chose upon this occasion, for some whimsy or other, to leave a quarter of
an hour earlier than she should have done; so that I only just managed to
scramble on board her as she was leaving the wharf.

She was a shallowly built abomination, but for all that the water in the
reef was so shallow that we continually stuck upon the coral, so that all
the passengers had to herd upon one side or the other, back into the
stern or forward into the bows, to clear her; while, once she was in the
open sea, the waves broke clean over her at every forward plunge.

Not for one single moment during the whole trip—which took rather over
four hours—did it cease to pour with rain, so that it was impossible to
remain on deck, and I was forced to languish, half suffocated, down in
what was grandiloquently called “the first saloon”!  It was separated
from the second and third by nothing more than the back of a seat, over
which a large number of the vociferously and dramatically seasick
Indians, with whom it was packed, draped themselves.

I have now been three days in Navua and the rain has never, for a single
moment, ceased; falling with a maddening monotony upon the iron roof of
the dreary and desolate hotel in which I am staying, with such a
deafening din that one has to shout at the top of one’s voice if one
wants to be heard.  Not that there is any one to talk to, for the immense
and shapeless woman who manages it—and who at first sight I imagined must
be pleasant and kind because she is so fat, though I wonder, bitterly
enough, how I ever came to cherish such a delusion, seeing that she has
an eye like an old, ill-tempered elephant—cares nothing for anything or
any one, apart from those few dazed and desiccated individuals who
frequent the bar.

Navua itself stands upon a point of land sprinting out into the sea; to
one side of it runs a river now in flood, and a more depressing place,
indeed, could scarcely be imagined, a place of swamps and rice-fields,
degenerate Indians, mosquitos, and rain.  The only gleam of light in the
whole district—or falling across my own mood of abysmal depression—is
afforded by the nearness of a very delightful District Magistrate and his
wife.

I dined with this couple last night, finding myself immensely entertained
by certain items in the government of the natives, more particularly the
Indians, which they recounted to me.  The most engaging of all was the
sentence of six months’ imprisonment with hard labor for adultery,
flashing through my mind, as it did, a bizarre picture of an almost
deserted Bond Street; a desolate and weed-grown Leicester Square; sudden
wide gaps in society where no one ever quite dared to ask where any one
else might happen to be.

                                * * * * *

Day after day I have worn my soul out hoping for a passage to Bega, but
there has been a strong wind blowing in from the sea, and even if the
chief did get over with his cutter—and he is the only person from whom I
can expect anything—he would never be able to get back.  Last evening,
however, the District Magistrate, who is also Provincial Commissioner and
Police Magistrate—there used to be all three of them and a doctor too,
until the Fiji Government bled to death a sugar-company which had started
large operations here—came up to see me.  Finding me in despair, he
suggested, as there was no sign of the wind abating, that I should fill
in the time by going up the river to-day, starting at six o’clock in the
morning, staying at a native village twenty miles away for a couple of
nights, and then coming back to see what had happened here meanwhile.

All last night it rained as though the bottom had fallen out of a tank
immediately above us, so that I hardly thought that the pole-men for the
boat would have the courage to put in an appearance, for there is nothing
that a Fijian dislikes more than getting wet; but less than an hour late,
which is nothing to be accounted of here, we started off with a fierce
current against us, making close upon three miles in as many hours.  I
myself sat in the center of the canoe, endeavoring to keep my entire
person, including my feet, dry upon a kerosene box; with an enormous
umbrella with twenty ribs—which I bought at the Chinaman’s store here for
five rupees—open over me; while the four men, two at the bow and two at
the stern, alternately poled and paddled.

When we reached the first rapids, however, we found the thick yellow
water so swollen by rain, with waves as big as the sea, thick with tree
trunks hurtling down or whirling round and round,—the whole face of the
river being carpeted by millions upon millions of dead grasshoppers,—that
my men, try as they would, were absolutely helpless, not only to make any
way, but to prevent us from being driven back by the current.  So we were
at last reluctantly forced to turn, race downstream to Navua, reaching
there close upon midday, terribly depressed.

As I streamed into the hotel I encountered the District Magistrate, who
told me that the Ratu, or chief, of Bega, had actually got over, and was
now lying round a turn of the river in a new cutter with an auxiliary
engine.  He was starting back to his island this afternoon and had been
prevailed upon to take me with him, though in telling me of it the D.M.
did make one proviso, and very emphatically too: that, however sick or
however frightened I might be, I should not blame him.

We start at two o’clock, and now, moderately dry, very moderately fed, I
am sitting on the veranda scribbling.

It is not necessary to state that it is still raining; for that must be
understood to run like a Greek chorus through the greater part of this
recital.

                                * * * * *

Another day has dawned, rather to my surprise, and I am sitting, writing,
upon the sea-whitened trunk of a tree washed up upon the white sands of
Bega.  Yesterday I wrote what I did write about the rain because it
seemed impossible to believe that it could ever stop, but to-day is fine.
Later on the sun may come out, for it is, as yet, scarcely five in the
morning, and everything has improved—as it well may do, for yesterday,
take it all in all, was about as bad a day as I have ever yet chanced
upon.

The chief’s cutter is very small.  He is proud of its auxiliary engine,
but as the engine broke down before we reached the mouth of the river,
refused to come to, however much the Fijian engineer hammered at it,—and
a Fijian’s one idea of engineering is hammering,—it was not of much use
to us; though we sailed out of the lagoon in great style, and, taking
some very bad seas, tacking a good deal, got within about three quarters
of a mile of Bega at four-thirty.

It was bitterly cold, the rain icy and sleet-like.  Inside the cutter the
engine, stinking horribly, took up what room there was, and I myself sat
by the helm on an upturned kerosene box.  It is more than four months,
now, since I left England, and never for more than a few days at a time
have I been divorced from a kerosene box, or a bath-towel to keep the
blazing sun or pelting rain off my back.

The chief is a fairly young man, handsome and finely grown, as all these
Fijian chiefs are.  With him there were two young men and another whom he
called the captain, hideously distorted by elephantiasis.  But even with
these four the sail thrashed so whenever we tacked that I myself took the
helm—a bar of iron so heavy that I was obliged to lash myself round, with
a rope fastened to the hatch of the companionway, to keep myself from
being flung overboard or swept off by the waves.

Close upon Bega the wind dropped, or was shut away from us by the
mountain, so that tack and tack as we might, it seemed as though we
should never make land at all.  After a while the darkness fell suddenly,
like a black curtain; then it cleared a little, though there was no moon,
and I could see no reason for it.  The chief took the helm, and, lying
down upon the deck, I sprawled my arms across my kerosene box, laying my
head upon them, every inch of me aching from the strain of holding on and
steering.  The two younger men disappeared into the bowels of the cutter,
and the captain, a monstrous and pathetic figure, remained stationary in
the bow, silhouetted out against the pale sky, staring toward the
mountainous mass of land as though by staring he could bring it nearer.

For close upon a couple of hours scarcely a breath of air came to us, and
the sails hung fretting against the mast.  Then the darkness fell again,
so thickly that I had a feeling as though I could taste it, smell it,
while a little wind arose, just sufficient to take us within a quarter of
a mile of the shore.  The dinghy which we had been dragging behind us was
pulled up level with the cutter, so full of water that as I dropped into
it in the darkness I was sure that I had dropped into the sea.

We struck the coral so far out that I had to be carried.  And this was
the beginning of the first panic which has seized me since I left
England.  Picture it like this: I was in the arms of a chief of whom I
knew nothing whatever, disembarking by night upon an island where he was
absolute ruler.  I was not even going into his own village where his wife
and family lived, for we were unable to make it on account of the wind,
but to a lonely place of which I had heard nothing but ill.  Even then,
as he carried me, all that I had heard of Bega flashed through my mind,
the thought that there was no other single white person nearer to us than
Navua, to which it was perfectly impossible to return.  My return
anywhere, indeed, hung upon the will and the word of the man who carried
me, high up in his arms as though I had been a baby; while it was no
better when he put me down upon the soft sand in the velvety blackness of
that teeming-wet and moonless night, with the breathing of many people
who must have seen us coming, flocked down to the shore to meet us,—were
then gathered, without a word, without a single sound save that soft
sibilant breath,—all around us parting as I moved, so that, however close
they might be, nobody touched me.

The chief himself spoke to nobody apart from his men who came splashing
on shore after us.  He bade them go on to the nearest village and tell
the villagers that we were coming, while he and I went up to a little
shop, which he declared to be close by us in the bush, to see if it were
possible to buy any food.

When he turned and said, “Come,” I followed him, stretching out one hand
in front of me, just touching him to make sure of not losing him.  My
nerves were so on edge that I had no confidence in him, and was only more
afraid of the people I had not yet seen than I was of him; I scarcely
believed that there was any shop.

After a while, however, though there was no light showing, we reached a
door.  I knew it was a door by the chief’s knocking upon it and by the
variety of snores that came from behind it, lost in the blackness; by the
peremptory calls to open.  After a long delay a glint of light showed,
the door opened, and in we went, finding ourselves in a small and very
dirty hovel with an Indian man and woman and half a dozen naked children.

Here we bought hard biscuits and tinned salmon; I myself had tea and
sugar in my pack.  All the while I was in the place the Indian woman
grinned, the children stared, while, after I had paid for what we bought,
the man, catching hold of the chief’s sleeve with a sidelong glance in my
direction, made some facetious whispering remark which I could not catch,
and could not have understood if I had caught it, though the effect of it
frightened me more, all strung up as I was, than anything has ever done
before; for the chief giggled as he moved away, beckoning me to follow.
And only those who are acquainted with the almost unvarying gravity of
the aristocratic Fijians, their proud aloofness in all their dealings
with white women, can realize what this giggle meant to me, though there
was, of course, nothing left to do but to follow him, the very thought of
a night spent with the Indian family, filthy and low-classed as they
were, being out of the question.

We had borrowed the Indian’s lantern, and making our way down to the
shore again, we followed it, I walking behind the chief without the very
slightest idea as to how far we had to go.  By this time the sands, so
far as I could see, were deserted, but looking down upon them in the
light of the lantern I found them padded over by innumerable
footprints—footsteps among which, at that moment, I would have given
almost anything to discover the impress of a boot or shoe.

After what seemed a little more than a quarter of an hour we came to a
village, lying on a narrow strip of land between the shore and the high
cliffs, hung with creepers and loud with the trickle of innumerable small
waterfalls.  Here the people flocked openly around us, leading us to the
buli’s house, where the three men from off the cutter were already
gathered, the figure of the captain throwing grotesque shadows across the
walls as he leant above the fire, poking at it, setting an iron pot of
yams to boil over it.

The room was dirty, not very big, and crowded with men; littered with
spades and axes and fishing-gear; the floor without mats.

It is always very difficult for me not to be smiling and friendly, often
enough out of sheer nervousness.  But last night, feeling very much
alone, I kept my mouth set like a rat-trap and, walking past the men as
though they did not exist, moved to the place of honor at the top of the
room and sat down on the platform-like bed.

The chief came up to me and asked whether I wanted to change my things.
When I said that I would change my shoes and stockings, which were
soaking wet, he ordered one of the men of the village to give me a clean
lava-lava, so that I could spread it over my knees to hide myself as I
did so.  He himself opened my pack and handed me clean shoes and
stockings out of a calico bag—very polite and ingratiating; awed, I
think, by my silence and my set face.

I sat on the bed without moving until the food was cooked; then I moved
forward into the room, and sat down upon the floor.  The chief and I ate
together, passing on what remained of the food to the crew and the other
men; who in their turn tossed on the scraps to a couple of women who came
in and out of the hut, replenishing the fire.

After we had all finished eating, the women went out of the room with the
pots and pans, but the men remained.  The chief came up to me, and,
asking me if I wished to sleep, himself spread my mat and hung up my
mosquito curtain, and told me to lie down and rest.  I had often slept in
a room full of people before, but I did not dare to do it there, in that
strange place.  Telling the chief that the room must be emptied before I
would lie down, I went out and walked up and down the shore a little so
as to give them time to discuss matters and finish their smokes.

The shore was absolutely deserted and so was the village; not so much as
a glint of light was to be seen or the sound of a voice heard anywhere.
But the rain had ceased, there was a deliciously fresh, clean wind
blowing, and the moon had risen, so nothing seemed altogether so desolate
as it had done.

When I went back into the but it was evident that the chief had been
talking to the men, for they immediately rose and went out, while he
himself walked round, fastening the shutters and arranging the fire so
that the ashes would not blow about if a sudden gust of wind arose.

I walked to the end of the room and, sitting upon the edge of the bed,
watched him for a moment or two, curiously uneasy.

When I spoke, however, saying, very decidedly, “I must have the room to
myself before I can sleep, and nobody must come near me until morning,”
he wished me good night and went out without a word, closing the door
behind him.

For a long while I lay uneasily on the hard plank bed, unable to sleep.
For I am so accustomed to have every door and window open that I felt
stifled, while the room was so dirty, with corners heaped with rubbish
into which I dared not pry, that it smelt horrible.  A skeleton of a
white dog kept on getting in between the lintel and the door, licking
some of the empty pots which the women had left behind them, and the rats
rustled and squealed continually.

At last I could bear it all no longer, and, thinking that I could hear
people whispering round the house, got up, went out.  The moment I was in
the fresh air, however, all my fears were gone, for I found that the
sounds I had heard were nothing more than the trickle of running water
down the cliff behind me, the rustle of the palms, the pat of small
placid waves lapping upon the shore.  My nerves were so soothed that,
after a quiet half-hour, sitting, half dreaming, on a heap of driftwood,
white as skeletons in the moonlight, I went back to bed and slept until
close upon five o’clock this morning, forgetful of the dog, of the close
air, of the chief’s giggle.

                                * * * * *

                         [Picture: A Samoan Girl]

                                * * * * *

                     [Picture: Fijian in meke dress]

It is a divine morning, so exquisitely fresh that it might be the very
first that the world has ever known.  As I sit upon the shore, writing, a
great tree above me which the natives here call _futu_ is dropping down
masses of bright rose-colored stamens from a creamy white flower,—of
which each petal is tipped with rose-pink,—so thickly that it lies like a
velvet carpet upon the sand beneath it and mantles my shoulders with
pink.  At the back of me the black cliff is hung with ferns: asparagus
and maidenhair, and dozens of others of which I do not know the name.
The smooth golden sands are spread with fragile and beautiful shells,
thick as though it were the counter of a shell shop, punctuated by the
small, upright bronze figures of the native children, with their long
lavender-gray shadows, who run in and out of the sea.  They come to me
with what they call “eye-shells,” the rounded portion of a shell
precisely like the porcelain of an artificial eye.

The people out of the village come round me and talk to me.  They are
more primitive than any Fijians I have yet seen, but they are smiling and
pleasant, and I cannot for the life of me imagine why I had such a
sinister impression of them and their village last night.  The chief,
too, is quiet and dignified and very polite, sitting on the floor of the
hut, counting out small piles of money to pay for a load of bananas which
he took into Navua.

The cutter is still hung far out in the bay and, as there is not enough
wind for sailing, the chief is going to take me up the coast and round
the island in his long boat with six pairs of oars, directly he has
finished his business.

                                * * * * *

We are at sea again.  Just because we do not particularly want it, a
stiff wind has risen, the sky is a clear dark blue, piled with
silver-white cumulus clouds, the sun is shining.  As the men bend to
their oars the chief sits in the stern of the boat just behind me and
tells me tales.

“There is a tree on the shore called the _fau ceva_ tree; you can see it
there with bent boughs and a bent trunk, like an old, old man.  If you
cut a bough of that tree you will not be able to go to sea, because of
the wind which will arise and last for eight days.  If you want the wind
to cease, all you can do is to go to the wise man of Dakuni, who will
make a bow and arrow, and shoot at the wind so that it drops dead.”

All the chief’s stories are of the ways of the wind and the sea, and of
magic which is used in the controlling of them.  When he ceases telling
stories he starts to sing a long-drawn monotonous song, of the ways of a
boat and of the sails and the helm; of boat-building, and of battles at
sea.  From this he goes on to sing of me, myself, calling me by the same
name as they gave me in Mbau, Dauvolavola—The One Who is always Writing.
The men who are rowing the boat are not his own men, but come from
Dakuibeqa.  After he has told them of my writing, in a song with a chorus
where they pick up the last line of every verse,—repeat it again and
again in a swinging chant to which they keep time with their oars,—he
starts off upon another song in which he tells them how I steered the
cutter over from Navua, tying myself with a rope so that I should not be
washed overboard; tells how the wind stormed and the waves washed over
and the rain fell, finding a new name for me—“The One Who is Never
Afraid.”

Toward the middle of the day the wind rises so that the rowers are unable
to make any way against it, and we turn into a little bay, where the men
carry me on shore to a village.  Here we go into the buli’s house, and
when my pack is on shore make some tea, while the women give us fresh
oranges.  All the village seems busied over the making of dancing skirts
out of long streamers of the fine, silvery inner bark of trees, so beaten
and polished that they are as thin and shining as ribbons; dyeing them
every sort of color—pink and blue and magenta and purple, yellow, brown,
and russet—with vegetable dyes; hanging them across strings from tree to
tree to dry.




CHAPTER XX


WE arrived at the chief’s house close upon three o’clock yesterday,
having taken over twenty-four hours to get here and found that his wife,
having already heard that I was coming—in the way which one does hear
everything in these islands—had a delicious boiled fowl and fried bananas
all ready for us.  The guest-house was already prepared, a large
exquisitely clean room with a wooden bed on which were piles of fringed
mats.  The moment I finished my meal I flung myself down and slept the
sleep of the just,—with every door flung wide open, the sea wind blowing
clean over me, and no sort of doubt or fear in my mind,—until well into
the afternoon; lulled by the sound of the sea no more than a yard away
from my head.  Heaven only knows how I shall ever again live or sleep in
the close room of a London flat.

The chief himself prepares my meals and takes them with me while his wife
waits upon us.  So long as we are actually eating he sits upon a chair,
but he is so manifestly uncomfortable that the moment he has finished he
stretches himself out upon the floor and plays with his little boy.  He
is very polite to me, very punctilious about helping me first, but I
wonder what he really thinks about civilized women, for even his own wife
never eats with him.  She is a plain-looking woman, with white and very
regular teeth.  When I admire them he says, rather sulkily, that mine are
better, and I find it difficult to stiffen gravely instead of laughing.
This is his fourth wife.  He tells me in his naif, boyish way that the
other three were lazy and dirty, and no good for anything, so he sent
them back home at the end of their month—which had a classic sort of
sound to my mind, so long accustomed to the erratic ways of English
servants.

                [Picture: Section of a rope-tree at Bega]

Bega is all mountains and deep valleys, and thick and luxurious
vegetation.  Sitting on a bank this morning I counted what I took to be
sixteen different ferns within reach of my hand.  When I brought them
home, however, and showed them to the chief, he laid them out upon the
table and separated them into pairs, pointing out to me that nearly all
of them were male and female, so that there were only six or eight
different varieties, in all.

“And that is the way with everything,” he said.  “There are always men
and women among the trees and the flowers, the birds and the fish in the
sea; no one is altogether alone.”

Last evening he took me for a walk through the village which lies in an
amphitheater of hills, all alike crowned to the very top with forests;
excepting for one single sugar-cone hill half a mile away, which is
smooth green, like a field, with a fringe of dark trees running up one
side of it and down the other.

From the village we mounted a steep hill high above to the right of it,
with a wonderful view of jutting bays, and here he showed me the schools
which he is building for the boys of Bega: four large native houses in
which there are already forty boys and three teachers.  In time, however,
he intends to make room for one hundred and forty, being determined that
the boys of his island shall be well educated.  And yet what is
education?  He himself had never been to school, never learned to read,
and yet he could tell me what he had about the ferns.  Imagine any
uneducated man at home being able to differentiate between the male and
female of the same species!

We went into one of the school-houses, really a boarding-house, and sat
upon the bed—one long platform running the whole length of the room, and
divided into sections by the different boys’ mats, with their vividly
colored woolen fringes.  Here there was, as in most houses, a clearing
made in the coarser mats which covered the floor, and a large wood fire
burning there.  Some of the boys were paring and cooking a vast pot full
of taro for their evening meal, while others came and went with wood and
water.

At that height the air was fresh and sweet with the scent of burning
wood.  From where I sat the coast with its three bays enwrapped a trefoil
of smooth sea reflecting as in glass the pale daffodil sky above it;
while the fire in the corner of the room was red and gold, flickering
upon the dark faces of the boys, who divided their attention between
their cooking and us: boys with shining bronze skins, bright dark eyes,
and white teeth, wearing nothing more than the whitest of sulus.

The chief began to sing—the song of the shipbuilding and the sailing, the
song of the fighting men in their canoes, and the song which he had made
about me; while his small son of three years old who sat upon my lap beat
upon my chest with his hands in time to the music, and his mother,
sitting upon the floor beside him, smiled pensively.

As we toiled up the steep path to the school she had carried the child on
her back; but as we walked down it he walked like a little chief by his
father’s side, holding his hand, while the mother followed behind us.

                                * * * * *

This island of Bega is different from all the other islands, because here
the men have the gift of being able to walk over red-hot stones without
being burned.

To-day the chief took me to see the immense amphitheater where the
ceremony takes place.  I saw the burned ground, the ashes and charred
wood, the blackened stones, and the marks of fire upon the trees all
around it which show how intense the heat must be on such occasions.  But
as it is a great performance and requires a great deal of time to get it
ready it could not be done for one person alone; or, at any rate, without
several days’ warning, so that it is impossible for me to see it.

           [Picture: A typical river scene in the Fiji Islands]

Whenever we are walking about the village the chief walks in front of me.
If I want anything carried when we first start, he calls a man to follow
with it; but if I take off my coat and carry it he waits till we are well
away out of sight of every one, then he takes it from me.  Very often
when I am sitting sketching he will fan me with a large leaf to keep away
the mosquitos and flies, but if any one passes he drops it at once, like
a shy, proud school-boy, terribly embarrassed.

I keep on trying to settle when, and how, to get back to Navua; but he
wants me to stay and teach him more English, threatens to cut off a bough
of the _fau ceva_ tree so that I shall not be able to get away.  He
promises me that if I stay he will take me over to the other side of the
island—show me there upon the coast a great rock; a rock so sacred that
if you lay your hands upon it three great waves will come sweeping up out
of the sea, one after the other, and it will be a wonder if you escape
with your life.

Across many of the paths here are creepers with thick twisted stems like
ropes.  I persuaded the chief to attempt to measure one for me to-day;
but after he had measured it to the length of sixty-two fathoms it lost
itself among the other trees and he was obliged to give it up.  He had
not, indeed, much liked touching it at all, for it, also, is sacred, and
if any man cuts it he will die within the month.

                                * * * * *

I am back again in Navua, where it is still raining.  Though thank Heaven
I am leaving this afternoon, having crossed over from Bega yesterday, a
Sunday.  And in this lay the root of all my trouble, for the Fijians do
not like starting any enterprise upon that day, though it did not seem to
me that the captain of the cutter had any religious scruples about going
as far as he wished, which was to the second village along the coast,
where he happened to have a wife.

The chief himself was not able to come over with me, and he put me in
charge of this captain, the man with elephantiasis, and two younger men.
From the very beginning everything went wrong.  The engine would not work
and the wind was so light and fitful that it seemed as though we should
never get out of the land-locked bay.  Then when we did get out of it,
the men kept so close into the coast that we lost what wind there was.
It was useless to expostulate with them, for they knew scarcely any
English and were sulky and obstinately fixed in their own way.

At the first village the cutter was run into a bay, and one of the men,
going on shore, sent out a young boy in his place.

Coming over we had had the so-called captain, the chief, and two other
men; now there were only three counting the boy; and though I steered I
did not know enough about the coast, the opening in the reefs, to take
the matter entirely into my own hands.

As the wind rose still more the youth whom we had started with, and whom
we had originally brought over from Navua, went below and started
tinkering with the engine; while the captain and the new boy talked
together, shaking their heads and saying that it was impossible that we
could ever reach Navua that night, that the winds were against us and the
time wrongly chosen, plainly performing for my benefit; though it was
only when we got level with the village, where we had stayed the night we
came over, that the trouble really began, for here the captain took the
tiller out of my hand, and, shouting to the boy to shift the sails, ran
the cutter right up into the bay.

At this I became furiously angry, going for the captain so fiercely that
he went below into some mysterious little cubbyhole up in the bow and
shut the hatch over himself, leaving the tiller to me.

                   [Picture: Fijian boy spearing fish]

At first I was glad enough to be rid of him.  But after we had passed the
Bega Passage, out of the reef, the wind got up and blew so heavily, in
such fierce gusts, with blinding torrents of rain, that it seemed
impossible for us to manage the sails, and I sent first one boy and then
another to tell the captain to come on deck, cursing my own trust in the
Fijian character; for if I had only taken a revolver with me I could have
frightened him to his post.

All this while the seas grew higher and higher, and the pull upon the
tiller was such that I had to hold it with my legs flung over it at my
knees, as well as my hands, lashing myself round with a rope to keep from
being washed overboard.  Still, for all our difficulties, short-handed as
we were, we succeeded in running across to the mainland reef; had made
the passage and got through it; were a good three quarters of a mile on
the landward side, when the captain came up on deck and said that he
would steer.

So great was my distrust of him, however, that I would not let him touch
the tiller; and, turning away, he went and stood in the bow of the
cutter, on the steps of the tiny hold, with his head just out of the
hatch, a monstrous and sinister figure wrapped round with mist and rain.

The Navua boy, Mau, said that he must try to persuade the auxiliary
motor—at which he had been hammering on and off throughout the whole
passage—to go, or else we should not be able to get up the river.  He
disappeared below and the Bega boy, who had never stopped grumbling about
the wet and cold, followed him, leaving me alone on deck to manage the
cutter which had taken four men on the voyage over.  Though I shouted
down the hold, furiously telling him to come up on deck again, he took no
notice whatever, while the captain remained immobile in the bow.

Then, quite suddenly, things began to happen.  The captain clambered up
on deck and shouted to the Bega boy, who immediately came shouting up out
of the cabin.  For a moment or so they bellowed furiously at each other,
over-shouting the wind, the thresh of canvas; then, before I knew what
they were about, the captain came toward me, wrenched the tiller out of
my hand, and unshipped the rudder; while the boy ran down the sail,
leaving it loose and flapping with the boom, swinging so that it was with
the greatest difficulty that I could keep from being swept overboard.

At this I was strung up into such a rage as I think I have never been in
before.  It is impossible that the men could have understood the language
that I used, and, indeed, I was amazed at myself, at the sound of my
voice hurtling it out; but something in the way I used it or the look of
me—for I always get a dead white when I am really angry—frightened them
so that they ran forward and began to hoist the sail.  Rather, they
pretended to hoist it, getting it all twisted in a way that no Fijian who
had not some ulterior motive of his own would ever do, for these people
are the most wonderful seamen in the world.

Hanging on as best I could, I picked up the tiller, which had dropped
upon the deck beside me, and was trying to fix it into its socket when,
happening to glance round, I saw to my horror that we had drifted back
within half a dozen yards of the reef, white with foam, overhung with
thick clouds of spray.

At this I gave up all idea of steering.  Crawling to the little mouth of
the engine-room, I shrieked down it to the boy Mau, who ran up on deck,
took the loose iron bar of the tiller out of my hand, and then,—realizing
how hopeless it was, for of course we had no steering-way on us,—called
to me, bellowing through the wind, the roar of the waves, and the loud
flapping of the sails, with his hands to his mouth, though it was no more
than a yard away:

“Marama, come away with me in little boat.  These men very bad men.  Me
row Marama.”

The dinghy trailing behind us was more than half full of water, but,
pulling her up a little, he took a running jump into her and drew her
level with the cutter, which had now swung round so that she had her nose
almost on the reef.  I made the other boy and the captain, who by now
looked thoroughly frightened, throw in my suit-case and bundle of
bedding,—for I knew I could not trust them once I was out of the
cutter,—then scrambled overboard as best I could, horribly hampered by my
lame leg and the tossing of the little dinghy—for the sea ran like a mad
mill-race through the opening in the reef, spreading out all fanways
beyond it.

By this time it must have been six o’clock, and was almost dark, while
the rain fell in torrents which no words can describe.  The boy, Mau,
said that it was only three miles to the mouth of the river, two or more
up it; but, while it might have been no more, it seemed endless; seemed,
indeed, after the first hour’s battling with wind and tide against us,
impossible that we should ever even reach the shore.

The water in the dinghy was half-way up to my knees and deadly cold.  I
bailed the whole time, but it was impossible to lessen it.  When we did
reach the river mouth we found—hearing and feeling it, for by now it was
too dark to see anything—that the river was running in just such a flood
as it had been when I left; while the mangrove swamps and rice fields
were so flooded upon each side that it was only by the rush of water that
we could judge where its right course lay.

Ultimately we did, however, reach the hotel at Navua, between eight and
nine o’clock; though for the last mile or so I had to keep Mau, who was
nearly exhausted, going by a running series of questions and promises; my
own voice, hoarse as a crow’s, sounding oddly far away to myself.

When he told me that he was about to be married, I drew a vivid fancy
picture of his future happy state, and the family which he would have;
told him of my own son in Africa and how there were lions and elephants,
and Heaven only knows what, there.  The poor fellow’s voice sank to a
hoarse whisper over the oft-repeated words, like a sort of desperate
chorus: “Me get Marama to Navua.  Me get Marama there”; while he kept
missing strokes so I thought that every moment he must collapse.

Never in my life have I been so glad of anything as I was when I saw the
lights of that so-called hotel, inhospitable as it proved.  For when I
streamed up into the veranda, with the water literally sluicing off me,
the few wastrels gathered there stared at me without the slightest
movement to help me with the baggage which I was pulling after me; for by
this time Mau was so utterly exhausted that it was all he could do to
drag himself up the river bank and through the thick belt of scrub to the
hotel.

In the one sitting-room the landlady, playing cards with two of her male
boarders, glanced up at me sullenly.  When I asked her for food for Mau,
who was my first thought, she answered, “We don’t serve niggers here,”
and went on dealing without a second glance at me; while the two men in
dirty and bedraggled white clothes, with unshaven faces and bloodshot
eyes—one of them, to his shame, an English public-school boy—stared
stupidly without so much as rising to their feet.

As I rapped out an order for whisky, however, the landlady hoisted
herself out of her chair, slopped with bare slippered feet into the bar,
measured out two tots,—of which I gave one to Mau, though it is
altogether against the law,—then returned to her cards, licking her thumb
as she dealt.  And if Somerset Maugham could only have seen that room and
that party, the dirty flaming lamp, its blackened chimney hung round with
insects, the flying ants lying among their own fallen wings upon the
spotted table-cloth, the filthy cards, the derelict specimens of
civilization playing at some unknown game with that shapeless woman; been
deafened by the deluge which poured down unceasingly upon the tin roof,
he would have realized afresh the frightful truth of his own masterpiece,
“Rain.”

I asked the landlady, quietly enough, if I might have something to eat.
But when she grunted out sullenly that it was too late, saying, “There is
no night service here,” my short patience came to a sudden end and I
flung round at her savagely, declaring that if she did not find something
for me at once I would go off and complain to the Resident Magistrate.
Then, making out some sort of acquiescence, more like a grunt than human
speech, I went up into my room and changed my things, feeling that I
would give anything on earth for some hot water to put my feet in, or,
best of all, a hot-water bottle and bed.  I pottered about miserably for
a good half-hour, trying to get my hair dry, thinking that I would give
the slut downstairs time to prepare something for me to eat, but when I
did get down again I found her still at her cards and got nothing, in the
end, beyond a plate of half-raw cold meat with pickles and some sodden
bread for my supper.  And this from one white woman to another in a
far-away country!

Throughout the better part of that night I lay awake, too chilled to
sleep,—for my rug was sopping wet, like everything else I had taken over
to Bega with me,—listening to the persistent thrash of rain upon the iron
roof, the torturing drip, drip, drip where it soaked through the weak
places and splashed down on the floor.

                                * * * * *

Once more I am back in the hotel in Suva, wallowing in hot baths and
linen sheets, telling myself that there is nothing on earth that I could
wish for.  Though, even now, I am perfectly aware, at the back of my
mind, that in no more than another twenty-four hours I shall be mad to be
off on the trail again.

I hear from the magistrate at Navua that from all he hears that rascally
captain from Bega got up his sails and raced back to his own island
directly I was out of sight.  As for Mau, he is enshrined forever in my
memory, together with all the hospitable and courteous Fijians I have
known.  Goodness only knows what would have happened to me if it had not
been for him, as nothing on earth would have persuaded me to give in to
the captain’s demands.  It would have been by no means a pleasant night
at sea, with no choice between the open deck and the one tiny hold used
to carry bananas, shared with that swollen parody of man.




CHAPTER XXI


I HAVE come over to Auckland on one of the New Zealand Company’s boats,
with the idea of going on down to Wellington, picking up a French boat
there, and so over to New Caledonia.  Now, however, I find that if I do
go to New Caledonia I shall not only have to stay there a great deal
longer than I want to, but from there shall have to go on to Fiji again.
For, though boats run there from Wellington, there are no boats that run
back here.

I am now waiting for a Chinese boat which I have a fancy for journeying
upon up to Sydney, whence I shall be able to get on to British New
Guinea; though it is all rather a waste of time, for New Zealand has been
too much written about for me to tackle it, and the time is too short to
get farther afield than Rotorua, where I have spent an altogether
fascinated week.

Meanwhile I have been thrilled by meeting Conor O’Brien, who is on his
way round the world in a twelve-ton ketch, built under his own eyes out
of Irish oak in Cork, during the time that the rebellion was going on;
with every sort of wildness knocked into her by the men who were
continually throwing down their tools to go and fight for the Republicans
or Irish Free State; leaving the prospective owner to carry on with odd
jobs as best he could; that is, when he himself was not treading upon the
tail of somebody else’s coat.  For in those days Captain O’Brien was a
fierce Republican; as he may be now, for all I know, though we had no
time or thoughts for politics, gathered round the table in the saloon,—a
saloon so tiny, that from any one of the settees, which run three sides
of it, one may lean forward and rest one’s arms upon the table,—talking,
talking, talking, by the light of three candles set in heavy brass
candlesticks, dimmed by a thick haze of cigarette smoke.

And what talk it was!  I remember a man once saying to me, “Wine and
women I love, but talk is the breath of my nostrils”; and I myself feel
much the same way.  There is nothing upon the whole face of the earth
that I delight in so much as the sort of talk which we had then—Conor
O’Brien, myself, and a man who is with him.  Talk of the ways of ships
with the wind, and the ways of the sea; of strange and dangerous coasts;
of alarms and excursions; of the strange places we have been in, of the
queer things we have seen.  Never shall I forget the picture of the two
men: O’Brien, shortish, square-built, with closely cut fair beard and
brilliant blue eyes; his companion, Captain West, who only joined him in
Melbourne, spare and hard, with curiously light, rapidly dilating gray
eyes, like gimlets for sharpness, and a gift of silence.

I am wild to get a passage on the ketch, but the difficulty is that,
though the owner is quite willing to take me, accept my seamanship at a
glance, he is going on to the Friendly Islands and Fiji, while I myself
am bound in the opposite direction.  If, as it was suggested in the
course of our long discussion, we should split the difference, and he
should run me up in a north-easterly direction, dropping me at New
Caledonia, he would find there no wind to take him on to any place to
which he is now bound, upon his homeward voyage round by the Horn; and
this, as the vessel has already been out close upon a year, would be a
very serious consideration.

I do not intend repeating here anything that Conor O’Brien told me of his
own venture,—a venture in comparison with which mine is a mere affair of
milk and water,—for he will give it to the world in a book of his own.
During all the time he and I talked together his companion had scarcely
uttered a word.  But last night he came up with a message for me and I
persuaded him to stay to dinner, with the result that, later on, over the
fire in the hotel sitting-room, which we had to ourselves, he quite
suddenly began to talk; staring straight in front of him with his odd,
bright light eyes, betraying no emotion of any sort, yet speaking so
quickly, in such a rapid, sustained rush, that it seemed as though what
he had to tell me had been bottled up until he no longer had any control
over it.

Since leaving Melbourne with O’Brien he has had a bad time, having fallen
on the unrailed deck of the ketch and broken his knee, which swelled to
an enormous size.  And only imagine what the agony must have been on such
a boat, where any sort of comfort was altogether out of the question.
Indeed, the pain at one time proved so intense that he lanced the knee
with his knife, without improving matters.  He has now but just come up
to Auckland after a month in the Wellington hospital, for on account of
this accident O’Brien found himself obliged to put in at New Zealand
instead of going straight on to Fiji as he had intended.

However, it was not of this, all of which I had heard before from
O’Brien, that West now spoke, but of what had gone immediately before it.

Almost at the same time that O’Brien left Ireland—that is, close upon a
year ago—he had started off from Newcastle, New South Wales, as a
passenger in a barquentine called the _Amy Turner_, bound for Manila,
where he was to join a ship as mate; having been at sea since he was
fourteen and seen as much of the world, bitter and sweet,—mostly bitter
to judge by the look of him,—as any man.

This _Amy Turner’s_ captain was also her owner, and had his wife with
him.  To begin with, they had a good enough voyage.  When they were
almost in sight of Guam, one of the Ladrone Islands north of the
Carolines, however, she was caught by a typhoon—which the annals of
shipping show to be one of the worst ever experienced—and for four days
and nights every hand, including the passenger, was at the pumps, with
very little food, no chance of getting anything hot, and no sleep.

It was the twenty-third of June when the typhoon caught the ship.  On the
twenty-seventh, when it was found that there was no longer any hope of
combating the water in the hold and it was plain that she was sinking
rapidly, nose downward, it was decided if possible to launch the boats.
This was in itself a desperate venture, with, of course, no davits of any
sort and a mountainous sea running; such a sea as can be encountered
nowhere and at no time save where the center of the cyclone has
immediately passed, leaving behind it a demoniacal conflict.  For after
the center is passed, when the wind slaps round from a completely
opposite direction to that from which it has before blown, the waves,
still carrying with them the old impetus, pile up high, pyramid-like, in
every direction.

As the men struggled with the port boat on the main deck, helped by the
passenger,—and all alike near up to their necks in water,—the captain and
his wife, the second mate and steward, remained upon the poop-deck; the
idea being that a line could be passed from the boat round to them, so
that if she was once launched they might be able to drag her along to
such a position that they could either jump into her, or jump into the
sea and climb into her.

As Captain West explained this to me,—or, rather, not to me at all, for
he gave me the idea that things had got to such a pass with him, the lust
to tell so overwhelming, that he would have gone on speaking just the
same whether I was there or not, for he never so much as glanced in my
direction,—it was amazing what a sense of rush and pressure, the pressure
of time shutting to with a slam like a violently banged door, the whole
level recital gave me.  So overwhelming, indeed, was the impression of a
wild rush of events, of the hurry and horror of those last few moments,
that I felt as breathless as though I myself were being torn through the
whole dreadful experience: the straining, the gasping, the
heart-arresting blank as the ship sank beneath my feet,—yes, actually
beneath my feet,—turning over upon her side, dragging the port boat down
with her; seeing the starboard boat, seeing it with my own eyes as they
saw it, shoot out clear in an upright position upon the curved crest of a
wave; feeling the icy water close over me as I struggled to rise, recatch
my breath, with death at my heart.

“I don’t know how long we were in the water,” the shy, quiet voice
continued; “it could not have been for long,—a few minutes,—for no one
could have lived longer; the thrash of it was like a flail.  For a moment
I saw the captain’s wife—only a moment—torn as though she had been
dragged through a hedge, the expression on her face, all queer and
mazed-looking.  The others saw more of the men, but no one saw the
skipper; we spoke of that later, I and the three who got into the boat
with me,—yes, there were three, a Liverpool man, an Australian, and a
Russian-Finn,—making the starboard boat, dragging ourselves into it as
best we might.  A job, let me tell you this.  Yes, a job.

“After that, of course, there was no one to be seen.  How was it
possible?”  His voice took on a queer note of surprise at a question
which I had not so much as thought of asking.  “Why, the sea was like
mountains, with deep valleys between them.  Nothing whatever to be seen,
not so much as a glimpse of our ship, no sort of wreckage, no anything.
We ourselves deafened by the roar of the waves, like thunder; blinded by
the spume, the tearing sheets of rain.

“For two days and two nights it went on.  For two days and two nights.
Yes, that was it.”

His voice dropped at this, and he paused for a minute or two, giving so
unbearable an impression of something which knew no end, of an eternity
of suffering amid an unendurable tumult,—and to my mind no torture can
ever be so terrible as the torture of noise,—that I cried out to him to
go on, which he did; without, though, so much as turning his head in my
direction, with no appearance whatever of having heard me.

“It was bitterly cold; I never felt such cold.  All four of us were
wearing nothing more than our trousers, for we had stripped at the pumps.
Two days and two nights, thrashed by the sea, chilled to the bone, unable
for one moment to break off in our business of trying to keep the boat
afloat, watching the waves.  No time for anything, not so much as to see
what food there might be aboard with us.  And all this on the top of four
days and nights at the pumps.  No joke, that, eh?”

Whom he was speaking to I know not; certainly it was not to me.  Rather,
to the ghosts of those others who had gone down with the barquentine;
rather, as though he thought that they might feel some resentment against
him for not having managed to save them; was putting it to them that life
was, indeed, “no joke,” likely enough worse than death; speaking in so
reasoning and reasonable a voice that I became shudderingly aware of
others whom I could not see, there in that over-furnished,
plush-bedizened hotel sitting-room, so smug and comfortable with its
blazing fire.  I noticed afresh with a sort of terror the curious
expansion and dilation of the light-tinted eyes of the mariner.

“At one time, in spite of all we could do, she beam-ended, and spilt the
four of us out into the water.  She righted herself, however, so that we
were able to crawl back into her, more miserable, if that was
possible—and I don’t know, really I don’t know.  It all seemed to have
reached such a dead level of misery that nothing could, any longer, be
worse or better than it had been before.  I suppose it was lucky, anyhow,
that the gear the boat had in her was so securely fastened that nothing
was spilt beyond ourselves.  It was after this that we found the sea
anchors, and that helped to keep her more or less steady.  Not that we
minded one way or another.  I don’t think, by that time, we any of us
minded what happened; just went on fighting for life as though it was a
sort of habit, with nothing to it, nothing whatever.

“On the third day the weather began to improve a little.  On the fifth it
was so much better that we were able to take some sort of stock of what
we had with us: a few tins of meat; half a becker of water; a sextant,
and a nautical almanac; mast and sail still lashed in their places.

“On the sixth day the sail was set and I took the latitude—as best I
could, for I had no idea how far we had drifted since the typhoon first
struck us.  Why—” his voice was patiently argumentative—“no one could
have had any idea; it was all beyond us, beyond the power of man.

“What worried me,” he went on in a slightly complaining tone, “was as to
what seemed the best course for us to take.  It was I who was
responsible, you see.”  He said “you,” but it was not in the least to me
that he spoke; more likely he was explaining to the dead captain-owner
what he had done with his boat and his men.  “We could try to make for
Saipan, which I calculated to be somewhere about three hundred and fifty
miles away.  On the other hand, there was Guam.  Yes, Guam was nearer;
but then it was dead to windward, with a very strong current setting in
against it; this wiped it out and brought us down to Saipan.

“But even then we missed Saipan.”  West’s voice was dreary and dejected,
as though he could not cease to blame himself for that.  “I’m sure I
don’t know how I did it; suppose we must have drifted beyond all
calculations; it was none too easy, you see, no chronometers, no sight of
the sun.  Anyhow, when I realized that we had missed Saipan, I saw that
this left us with the Mackenzies, eight hundred miles away, and, failing
this, the Philippines, twice that distance.  Not that there seemed much
chance of our reaching them unless we got rain, as we might do somewhere
about the eighth parallel, for the sun had been blazing down upon us for
days past, and we were getting pretty short of water, though, of course,
I had set them all upon rations; they gave in to me in that; they gave in
to me in everything, I had no trouble in that way.  I suppose they sort
of felt that I was the only one they could depend on, and kept to what I
said.

“One tablespoonful of water a day; not much for tropical seas, under a
tropical sun,” he went on flatly.  “But there it was; there was no help
for it.  And when I found we had missed Saipan I put it to them that we
should all go without food until we found it impossible to endure
starvation any longer, and they agreed to that too.  Not a bad lot, take
them all in all, and by that time I had got to know them.  The young
Australian was a reasonable lad; one could do anything with him, that was
evident enough.  The Liverpool chap was a brainless mass of bone and
muscle, a sort of draft animal, but he did all he could, kept quiet; I’ve
nothing to say against him—against any of them, come to that.  For the
Russian-Finn could not help being what he was,—none of us can,—going all
to pieces almost at once, having to be cared for like a child.  The poor
devil was covered all over with boils; I never saw anything like it.  It
was bad enough for all of us, with sores which broke out from being so
constantly washed with salt water, and horribly stiff with not being able
to walk about, you see, but far worse for the Finn.  As for me, I did not
dare to think of sleep.  The responsibility—that was what weighed on me.

“By this time our tongues were blackened, swollen so that we could hardly
bear the feel of them in our mouths.  We managed to catch a dolphin which
had been following us for several days, but the meat was all salt, and we
could not swallow more than a morsel or so of it.

“The nasty thing about it all was—” he spoke so calmly that there seemed
nothing uncongruous about that petty word “nasty”—“there was a huge great
shark started to follow us, did follow us for days, rubbing its beastly
nose against the side of our boat, brushing beneath it.  The men
unshipped the rudder and hit at it, but it did not seem to take any
notice; seemed a jolly sight surer of life than we were, and that got on
our nerves.  Then it came over me that I had missed the Mackenzies—how,
God knows, but those small islands are none too easy to find, flat down
in an open boat.  At one time we sighted a steamer, too far away to see
us, still there was a sort of comfort in feeling that there were other
people in the world, and ships afloat upon the sea—queer though.  But
then the whole set was clear; or so it seemed to us—ordinary enough in
reality.”

The quiet man by my side upon the hotel sofa—a hard, twisted contortion
of a sofa, despite its plush—spoke ruminatingly; adding no word as to the
desperate disappointment which must have overcome the castaways when that
steamer passed by on its way without seeing the one precious flare, one
out of the three found in the boat, which they burned, the waving of
their miserable rags upon the end of one of their two oars.

“That night it rained,” he went on, “and we were able to drink as much as
we wanted.  If it had come at the same time as we had killed the dolphin
it would have been better, for it made us frightfully hungry, almost
beyond bearing; but there you are, things never come as they might do.
Anyhow, we were able to bathe our sores, and that was something.  The
wretched Finn went pretty well mad with delight at the touch of the
water; awful to think how he must have suffered, that chap.  Twenty-three
days we were at it, twenty-three days and nights.  By that time I had
found my reckoning, and made out that in two days we should see land.
Not that I really believed we’d see it, really believed we would ever see
it again.  All the same, I was right, for at the end of those two days we
did actually sight a small island in the Philippines.  Though even then
it seemed as though we might be beaten, for there was a devil of a
current setting down the coast, and by that time we none of us had
strength left to use the oars.

“We hung about as best we could, however, and at sunset that same evening
a little breeze sprang up from the sea and drove us into shore.

“The difficulty then was to know what to do with our boat.  I tell you I
couldn’t make out what we were to do with it; it seemed as though after
everything, I was beat there,” continued the narrator, in a low, hopeless
tone; while nothing, I think, in all that dreadful narrative wrung me
more than his account of that landing when it might have been reasonably
hoped that the worst of their troubles were over.

“We knew nothing of what there was on the island; if there were people
they might not be friendly; one could not be sure of water or food: there
was nothing which one could be sure of, and, if we lost our boat, what
might happen to us?  We could not drag it up upon the sands; how could
we?  We none of us had an ounce of strength left in us; and there was
nothing like a stump or the fallen trunk of a tree on the shore.  At last
it came to me that we might tie the painter to a stone, though when we
found one big enough—which in general I could have lifted perfectly well
for myself—it took the four of us what seemed like hours to roll it down
a few yards of sand.  We were done at the end of it.

“There were no houses or people within sight.  But we dragged our way a
little into the bush at the back of the beach, and found a deserted
palm-leaf hut, that seemed to us like the Ritz, the Carlton, and
Piccadilly all rolled into one—” that’s what he said, “the Ritz, the
Carlton, and Piccadilly all rolled into one,” of this wretched, deserted
native dwelling!—“and there we threw ourselves down, slept like the dead
until sunrise, while no one knows what the feel of the soft sand was like
to us after that boat.

“As it grew light we roused ourselves, feeling stronger.  The Australian
boy, poking about in the corners of the hut, came across an old
cooking-pot with some rice still in the bottom of it.  We found water,
too, just at the back of it.  All this while we had kept the last of the
tins of meat unopened; and now, with one of our flares, we lit a fire and
cooked the first hot meal we had tasted since the day the typhoon struck
us.

“And that was the end of our troubles, or pretty near the end,—not that
they sound much when one comes to talk about them,—for some natives on
some of the other islands, seeing the smoke of our fire, came off in
their canoes and took us in charge; nursed and fed and looked after us as
though we were kids.  But that’s the way with most natives,—what people
call savages,—so long as there’s not been too many white men about to
spoil them.  It was they who got us up to Manila, where I picked up a
boat running down to Melbourne.

“They gave me some sort of a reception—ovation, whatever you call it—in
Melbourne,” he added, in a shy whisper.  Then turned and looking at me
with a sort of astonishment as if surprised to see me there—though later
on, before he left, he held my hand and gazing at me very earnestly
thanked me for having listened to him; added that it made “all the
difference.”  “Presented me with an address and a gold watch, they did—a
queer sort of present for a man with no money and nothing more than one
suit of cast-off white things, picked up in Manila, to his name.  But,
there, I suppose they meant it kindly.  They made fuss enough of me, but
I was glad to fall in with O’Brien, to get off to sea again.”

“To get off to sea again,” with the memory of all those dreadful days
still fresh upon him, his flesh scarred with sun and salt!  But there,
indeed, spoke the true sailor.  Why, I myself remember having been at sea
from the middle of February to the end of June without a sight of land;
going on shore the first day in Adelaide, driving up Mount Lofty with the
captain of the barque I was traveling on, and sickening for a sight of
the sea; exclaiming with delight, as we caught sight of it, shining far
away among the trees below us, during our homeward journey:

“There’s the sea!  Why, there’s the sea,” as though it were altogether
strange.

And how the captain added:

“A sight for sore eyes, ain’t it?”




CHAPTER XXII


I AM writing on board the Chinese steamer the _Ling Nam_, an adventuress,
if ever there was one, with all the hard, brazen look of her kind.  At
the present time she is owned by the Chung Wha Navigation Company,
running from Chili to Hongkong, touching at Tahiti, New Zealand, and
Australia, flying the striped and many-colored flag of the Chinese
Republic,—red for China, yellow for Manchuria, blue for Mongolia, white
for the Mohammedans, and black for Thibet,—but just before the war she
was the German passenger-ship, _Field Marshal_, plying between Hamburg
and East Africa.

At one time the German crown-prince sailed in the _Ling Nam_, and she
still bears his impress in the most appalling decorations, mostly marble
and tiles, like an underground railway station.  The cabin he occupied is
unchanged, all lined with glazed tiles of the most virulent blue
imaginable; the ceiling literally peppered over with unshaded electric
bulbs; the whole thing, down to the bed, so entirely characteristic that
one can almost see the hope of the Hohenzollerns lying there, sleeping
with the light full upon his face, his mouth open, his chin running back
in acute perspective from under it.

Soon after war was declared a hole was ripped through the side of the
_Field Marshal_ by an English shell, which shattered one of the marble
panels on the stairway, and she passed into our hands; was sold to an
Australian company and carried troops home to England.

They call her a passenger-ship now, but never was anything more unlike
the ordinary passenger-ship.  She has all the liberties of a cargo-boat,
and something else, altogether intriguing, a queer sense of unreality;
though what it comes from I cannot say; perhaps from the emptiness of the
vast decks, which—though I know there are at least three hundred
third-class Chinese passengers on board her, a number of first-class,
and, in fact, five classes in all—have up to now been so completely empty
that one wandered over them as one wanders over a vast and empty house,
feeling that the supposed tenants could be nothing more than the ghosts
of the men who have died there.

And how many of these ghosts there might well be!  For the _Ling Nam_ is
mainly occupied in carrying back to China men who have spent the greater
part of their lives in South America, with but one desire left: to return
to their own country and lay their bones there.  These people the
shipping company has undertaken to repatriate, either alive or dead; the
fact being that many of them have been so engrossed in money-making, or
felt themselves so young, that they have put off returning until too late
and there are continual deaths throughout the voyage.

We carry no doctor with us, and when an old man dies—no one troubles
about returning the old women—the first mate and one of the engineers
embalm him between them; a ghastly performance which I have seen taking
place to-day, out in the open upon the poop-deck, with thousands upon
thousands of sea-birds wheeling and screaming overhead, collected
together in this vulture-like fashion by Heaven only knows what instinct;
swooping down with loud screaming cries upon any choice fragment which is
thrown overboard.  And it strikes me that a great deal less of the
defunct Chinaman than his relations can be aware of ever reaches China.

                                * * * * *

Throughout five days at sea the weather has been bad, with continual rain
and wind.  To-day, however, we have had a little sunshine: pale and
fitful gleams which drew the passengers up from their lairs, looking like
curiously bedraggled crows; sitting about upon the deck, blinking and
smiling.  All the decks are now crowded.  There are none of the women
from the first class to be seen,—they, indeed, will remain immured below
until the very end of the journey,—but among the lesser classes there are
many women and children.  Never in my life have I heard such incessant
talking, running on and on without ceasing,—like nothing so much on earth
as the sound of water being violently poured out of a great many bottles,
the shaking of innumerable crow-scarers,—such laughing and tittering, the
men laughing like women.  Nothing less like the taciturn, dark brooders
over deep and guilty secrets, such as fiction writers love, could be well
imagined than these Chinese turning themselves round in the sparse
sunlight, wrinkling up their queer parchment faces with delight, while
the women, odd little images in black trousers and short coats, of a
shining stuff which looks like mackintosh, scuttle round after the
children, squealing with laughter.

I see next to nothing of the white passengers.  The men, having discarded
their collars and ties,—not for coolness, for the wind is icy, but
rather, it seems, from an ingrained habit,—spend their time playing
bridge or poker, or lying back upon the settees with their feet upon the
tables.  Which will, I think, show them as they are, as well as any more
elaborate word-picture.  The two white women whom I know to be on board
are apparently overcome by sea-sickness.

All this morning I spent up on the fo’c’sle head in a state of splendid
isolation, drenched with sharp scuds of spray from the immense swathes of
foam, and marbled ice-green water which parted before us, sweeping out
triumphantly on each side.  Launched as I was clear above the water, I
felt as though I had a horse, with a vast, sweeping, and immensely
buoyant gallop, beneath me; while the ship itself lost, for the first
time, that queer demi-mondaine aspect which she in general wears.

For the most part, however, I have spent my time since I came on board
talking to Mr. Wu Shen-kun,—as unlike the Mr. Wu of the drama as the real
is forever unlike the purely imaginary,—who seems to have fitted as many
activities as possible into his short life, and now, hopelessly
paralyzed, sits all day, smiling, at the door of his cabin, hung round
with every intelligent man on the boat, for he has the keenest mind, the
most engaging personality that it is possible to imagine.

For two years Mr. Wu was at the London University and the School of
Economics, this period being broken by a distinguished interval as one of
the members of the Chinese delegation at the Washington Conference upon
disarmament and followed by his appointment as secretary to the Chinese
Legation in Chili.  During the time that he was in Washington, and again
in London, he tells me,—though it is difficult to get anything out of him
about himself,—he was troubled with constant dragging pains in his limbs
which the doctors then thought to be the result of the climate.  When he
got down to Chili, however, he was told by two different specialists that
these pains were connected with his spine, and that he must undergo an
operation, which he did, with the result that he is now a cripple for
life,—and still well under thirty years of age,—on his way back to his
own quiet home in the Province of Hunan, or South Lake, in central China;
with no prospects save to be tied to his bed or chair for the remainder
of his life, among people whose whole outlook upon life is that of the
most remote Middle Ages.

Not that he makes a grievance of his own fate, or of anything else; and
that is part of the charm he carries with him, imparts to others,—an
indomitable and unwordy philosophy,—tapping his closely cropped little
round head and saying, “After all, it is what is in there, and how it got
there, and who put it there, and what I myself am going to do with it,
which is all that really concerns me.”  He greatly surprises
me,—surprises me because one has such strange preconceived notions about
the Chinese,—by saying that he considers that the young men at Oxford and
Cambridge and the boys at English schools learn much more than the young
men and the boys in China, for the simple reason that they are so much
more serious; though, every day that I am on board among these childish,
laughing, chattering, and hysterical people, I realize how true this may
be.

There are three young Chinese doctors on board, students and business
men, and the talk is well worth hearing: talk of things which happened
four thousand years ago,—for these people seem to have a faculty for
completely disregarding time,—tales of the time of the Emperor Shun,
whose two wives wept themselves to death when he died, their tears
falling upon the young bamboo above his grave, the Hsian bamboo which
remains spotted to this day from the scalding drops which fell upon it;
tales of Tso-lu, the oldest town in China, founded by the Emperor Hwan,
who had gained his dominion by killing Chi-yu, who in his fighting made
smoke screens, apparently much the same as those used in the last war, to
protect his men.  Hwan himself invented the compass in the shape of a
little man, whose finger always pointed to the south, seated in a tiny
carriage.

                                * * * * *

We are nearing Sydney, where I hope to pick up a boat for Papua; but I
shall hate to leave Mr. Wu and his friends with whom I have spent
enchanted hours in never-ending discussion of philosophies and religions,
speculations as to the future, talks of the past.  Of all they have told
me, there is nothing attracts me more than their description of Taoism,
so that if ever I can come to form any definite faith I think I shall be
a Taoist; for with three souls and seven sub-consciousnesses, and ten
ruling influences, how could one ever feel lonely?

Of all these souls and sub-consciousnesses and influences the three souls
alone proceed, in after life, to heaven, the seven sub-consciousnesses
accompanying the body into the grave; while, if there be any man so
wicked that he deserves to die, a holy Taoist can accomplish his death by
the simple process of drawing away from him his three souls and his seven
sub-consciousnesses—or spirits, as they often call them, puzzling me
until I find how sharply they differentiate between the soul and the
spirit.

The doctors talked continually and gravely of their profession.  The one
whose words they most hung upon, however, spoke—apart from his own
language—only Spanish, and thus I missed a great deal which I should have
liked to hear; though there were certain things, like their cure for
meningitis, which were explained to me, interesting me immensely.  It
seems that the Chinese doctors have a horror of our method of treating it
with ice and cold-water bandages, which they declare increases the
mischief by hardening the arteries.  They themselves use everything that
is possible to make the patient perspire, immersing him in an atmosphere
of steam.  This is very curious, for the native Tahitians also treat this
disease with heat, placing the two rinds of a divided fresh, soft
cocoanut round a child’s head after immersing the nut in boiling water;
binding it about with many layers of leaves to keep the heat in.  The
Chinese, like many native people, treat blood-pressure by enriching the
blood as much as possible, so that it may flow more quickly.

The captain of the _Ling Nam_ is quite young,—very young indeed to be a
captain,—tall and spare, handsome in a sort of dashing way.  He moves
quickly, often runs, talks incessantly, talks of himself without ceasing;
cannot cross the deck without seeming to make a procession of one.
Always, always, we are in a position of terrible danger from which he
alone can save us.  Either the ship will sink or be dashed to pieces on a
rock or captured by an uprising among the third-, fourth-, and
fifth-class passengers.  They do, indeed, grow increasingly restless,
surging up on to the first deck, querulous and loud-voiced, all their
infantile smiles a thing of the past,—though I suspect that they are
merely hungry and in need of a square meal, supposing that the bill of
fare drops through that second, third, fourth, and fifth, below what is
really inadequate to the first,—while the captain confronts them with a
pistol in each hand, his long legs wide apart like an animated compass,
his hair streaming in the wind.

This evening he rushed into the saloon where the European passengers were
playing bridge, and screamed into the ear of the most elderly and nervous
of them that we were now in the Tasman Sea, the most dangerous part of
the whole voyage, and it would be a wonder if we got through.  The first
night out, going through the narrows after leaving Auckland, he dragged
me up on the bridge in a thick darkness which could be felt, to impress
me with a purely fictitious account of how the compasses had all gone
wrong, how he himself would not dare to leave the bridge for a single
moment—having but just left it for no other reason than to see how easily
I could be frightened.  And never, never, throughout the entire voyage,
has he allowed us for one single moment to forget that we are at the
mercy of the most mutinous crew, including the officers, the most
bloodthirsty steerage passengers upon the most unstable ship in the most
dangerous waters in the world; foretelling southerly busters and cyclones
from which we may deem ourselves fortunate to escape alive, with sincere
thanks to the Almighty for having created the one man in the entire world
capable of saving us.

                                * * * * *

Sydney, after fifteen years; an immeasurably elongated Sydney, running
from bay to bay, from inlet to inlet, round one promontory after another,
in a wide ribbon of red-tiled roofs, threaded in among masses of green
trees, as beautiful a modern city, in as beautiful a setting, as can well
be imagined; and yet bringing with it, to me at least, that exhausted and
mazed feeling, that sense of being nothing more than a mere pinch of
friable dust, to which conventional civilizations and great cities always
reduce me.  And in this state I shall remain until I can, by some means
or other, gather enough money to move on to yet other islands, embrace
afresh all that they mean to me of delight and enchantment: an altogether
apart world of flesh-white sands and blazing sea; palm-trees, schooners,
ketches: pearlers, planters, and sea-captains; of aspirations, failures,
relinquishments, and dreams which broke one’s heart while one was among
them and drag now at the strings of it with an almost intolerable
nostalgia; of a bronze-skinned people who are innocent as we can never
now be, guilty as we have never yet been; people with their own ideals,
their own traditions, so entirely different from ours that we touch a new
heaven and a new hell in realizing them, a grown-upness which we have
before never known and a childishness which eludes our grasp.

All this and more; the very atmosphere of the little islands of the South
Seas: a sun which bakes to the bone, and an air like a caress; a glow and
wonder in the sky, and upon the sea and upon the mountain-tops; color
which runs itself in upon our mind like a gleaming flood of jeweler’s
enamel, color piled upon every wharf, spilling down upon every sandy
shore where one makes landfall.

Wharfs and landing-stages like rainbow gardens with girls—girls with silk
and muslin dresses of every light and delicate and vivid tint flounced to
the waist as in Tahiti; waving, flowing hair, and flowers—challenges to
love—behind each ear.  Brilliant green and golden oranges and mangoes and
pomegranates.  The flare of scarlet flamboyant trees and purple
Bougainvillea hanging in mantles from the banyan trees which fringe the
bays, backed with their mountains, their blue and lavender peaks.

The dropping of the anchor outside new islands,—islands and islands and
islands, no two ever alike,—ever-changing languages and ever-changing
peoples; all in the little, small as a jewel, so that it seems as though
one were able to take it up in the hollows of one’s two hands, feel the
warmth of it, turning it, catching the glow upon it as upon a jewel.

That, for me, is life.

                                * * * * *




NOTES.


{225}  All this is taken down on the spot, the native words written as
they sounded to me; with no clue to any standardized spelling.—_Author_.


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