Tahiti - The Tahitian Sky
( Originally Published 1921 )
I move to the Annexe---Description of building-The baroness and her baby—Evoa and poia—The corals of the lagoon—The Chinese shrine—The Tahitian sky.
LOVAINA suggested, since I liked to be about the lagoon, that I move to the Annexe, a rooming-house she owned and conducted as an adjunct to the Tiare. I moved there, and regretted that I had stayed so long in the animal-yard. And yet I should have missed knowing Lovaina intimately, the hour-to-hour incidents of her curious menage, the close contact with the girls and the guests, the El Dorado heroes, the Dummy, and others.
The Annexe fronted the lagoon. It was a two-story building, with broad verandas in front and rear, and stood back a few feet from the Broom Road. It had a very large garden behind, with tall cocoanut trees, and the finest rose-bushes in Tahiti. Vava, the Dummy, put all the sweepings from his stable on the flower beds, and Lovaina cut the roses for the tables at the Tiare Hotel and for presents to friends and prosperous tourists. Vava was often about the garden, and drove Lovaina to and fro in her old chaise.
When he brought me and my belongings from the Tiare, Lovaina came with us. She signed to him to go to the glacerie, the ice- and soda-water factory, to buy ice for the hotel. The Dummy was intensely jealous of newcomers whom Lovaina liked. He left on foot, but merely took a walk, and, returning, answered her question by opening his hands and shaking his head, conveying perfectly the statement that the glacerie had refused Lovaina credit because of her debt to it of two hundred francs, and that cash was demanded. He intimated that the proprietor had ridiculed her.
"That dam' lie," said Lovaina to him and to me,—she always supplemented her gestures to him with words,—and she made a sign that she had paid the bill. He uttered a choking sound of anger, accompanied by a dreadful grimace, and after a little while came back with a large piece of ice, which he placed in the carriage. Lovaina told him to break off a lump for my room. He became indignant, and in pantomime vividly described the suffering of guests at the Tiare with the ice exhausted, and Lovaina's plight if she could sell no more drinks.
Lovaina persisted, and when I went to take the ice myself, he struck me with his horsewhip. Temanu, who had come with Lovaina, rushed out shrieking, and the Dummy, seeing his advantage, began to threaten all who came at the noise. Afa, a half-white, who lives in a cottage in the garden, and who alone could control him, slapped his face. The wretched mute sat down and wept bitterly until Lovaina rubbed his back, and in-formed him that he was again in her good graces. I, too, smiled upon him, and he became a happy child for a moment.
The Annexe was decaying fast. In the great storm of 1906 it was partly blown down, and was poorly re-stored. It was the prey of rat and insect, dusty, neglected, but endearing. It had had a season of glory. It was built for the first modern administration office of the French Government, over sixty years before, and was painted white with blue trimmings. In its bare and dusty entrance-hall hung two steel engravings en-titled, "The Beginning of the Civil War in the United States" and "The End of the Civil War in the United States." The former showed Freedom in the center; Justice with a sword and balance; the Stars and Stripes being torn from a liberty-tree, with a snake winding about it; an aged man labeled Buchanan asleep on a big book ; and a gentleman named Floyd counting a bag of money; on the other side Abraham Lincoln exhorted a white-haired general who commanded a file of soldiers, and some rich-looking men were throwing money on the floor.
The other picture was indeed florid. It represented three ladies, Freedom, Justice, and Mercy, disputing the center, slaves being unshackled, the army of victory led by Grant claiming honors, Lee handing over a sword, an ugly fellow toting off a bag of gold (graft?) and a gang of conspirators egging on the madman Booth to slay Lincoln. In both these engravings there were scores of supposed likenesses, but I could not identify them. They were published by Kiinmel & Forster in New York in 1865, and had probably decorated Papeete walls for half a century. There were large, ramshackle chambers on the first floor, and an exquisite winding staircase, with a rosewood balustrade, led to the second story, where I lived.
In this building all the pomp and circumstance of the Nations in Tahiti had been on parade, kings and queens of the island had pleaded and submitted, admirals and ensigns had whispered love to dusky vahines, and the petty wars of Oceanie had been planned between waltzes and wines. Here Loti put his arms about his first Tahitian sweetheart, and practised that vocabulary of love he used so well in "Rarahu," "Madame Chrysantheme," and his other studies of the exotic woman. A hundred noted men, soldiers, and sailors, scientists and dilettanti, governors and writers, had walked or worked in those tumbling rooms.
Lovaina had owned the building many years, buying it from the thrifty French Government.
My apartment was of two rooms, and my section of the balcony was cutoff by a door, giving privacy unusual in Tahiti. The coloring of the wall was rich in hue.
Any color, so it 's red, said a satirist, who might have been characterizing my rooms. Turkey-red muslin with a large, white diamond figure was pasted on the plaster walls and hung in the doorways.
"It very bes' the baroness could do in T'ytee,'' explained Lovaina. "She must be bright all about, and she buy and fix rooms. She have whole top floor Annexe, and spen' money like gentleman, two or three thousand dollar' every month. I wish you know her. She talk beautiful', and never one word smut. Hones', true. Johnny, my son, read `Three Weeks' that time, and he speak the baroness, `You jus' like that woman in the book.' She have baby here and take with her to Paris. She want that baby jus' like `Three Weeks.' Oh, but she live high ! She have her own servants, get everything in market, bring peacocks and pheasants and turkeys from America. How you think? Dead? No.
She sen' man to bring on foot on boat. You go visit her, she give champagne jus' like Papenoo River. She beautiful? My God! I tell you she like angel. She speak French, English, Russian, German, Italian, anything the same. She good, but she don't care a dam' what people say. When she go 'way Europe she give frien's all her thing'. Now she back in her palace with her baby. She write once say she come back T'ytee some day by'n'by. She love T'ytee somethin' crazee."
At the Cercle Bougainville Captain William Pincher told me more of the baroness.
"Is the bloody meat-safe still on the back porch? The baroness made a voyage with me to the Paumotus just for the air. She sat on deck all the time, rain or shine. I 'd put a'- awnin' over 'er in fair weather or when it rained and there was n't much wind. She was a bloody good sailor, too, and ate like us, only she never went below except at night. I give her my cabin. She 'd spen' hours lookin' over the side in a calm—we had no engine-an' she 'd listen to all the yarns."
Lying Bill burst out with one of his choicest oaths.
"She was n't like some of those ladees I 've 'ad aboard. She was a proper salt-water lass. She loved to 'ear my yarns of the sea. When she was big with child an' I ashore, I 'ad the 'abit o' droppin' in o' afternoons and 'avin' a slice of 'am or chicken out o' the safe. Afa ran 'er bloody show for 'er, an' it cost 'er a bloody fortune. I used to lie for 'er to 'ear 'er laugh. You know I 'm called Lyin' Bill, but Mc-Henry tells more real lies in a day than I do in a bloody year. She was' the finest-looking girl of the delicate kind I ever saw, all pink and white an' with fringy clothes an' little feet. Oh! there was nothing between us but the sea, an' I know that subject."
Lying Bill sighed like a diver just up from the bottom of the lagoon.
"You know that big cocoanut tree in the garden of the Annexe? She would sit under that with me an' smoke her Cairo cigarettes an' talk about her bally kid-die. She wanted him to be strong an' to love the sea; and she thought by talking with me about 'im an' ships an' the ocean she could sort of train him that way, though he 'd been got in Paris an' might be a girl. Is there anything in that bleedin' idea? She could quote books all right about it."
Ah, beautiful and brave baroness! I often thought of you during those months in the Annexe. You will come again, you say, to Tahiti, bathe again in its witching waters, and let the spell of its sweetness bind you again to its soil. Maybe, but baroness, you will never again be as you were, flinging all body and soul into the fire of passion, and yearning for motherhood! Such times can never be the same. We burn, even de-sire, and consume our dreams. Child of aristocracy, you found in this South Sea eyot the freedom your atavism, or shall I say, naturalness, craved, and you drank your cup to the lees and thought it good. I shall not be the one to point a finger at you, nor even to think too vivid the scarlet of my toilet set. That flamboyant outside my window, once yours, is as garish, and yet lacks no consonance with all about it.
The scene from my veranda was a changing picture of radiance and shadow. Directly below was the Broom Road. Umbrageous flamboyants-the royal poincianas, or flame-trees—sheltered the short stretch of sward to the water, and their blossoms made a red-gold litter upon the grass. A giant acacia whose flowers were reddish pink and looked like thistle blooms, protected two canoes, one my own and one Ma's. The Annexe was bounded by the Broom Road and the rue de Bougainville, and across that street was the restaurant of Mme. Fanny. It was built over a tiny stream, which emptied fifty feet away into the lagoon. A clump of banana-trees hid the patrons, but did not obscure their view from Fanny's balcony.
In the lagoon, a thousand yards from me, was Motu Uta, a tiny island ringed with golden sand, a mass of green trees half disclosing a gray house. Motu Uta was a gem incomparable in its beauty and its setting. It had been the place of revels of old kings and chiefs, and Pomare the Fourth had made it his residence. Cut off by half a mile of water from Papeete, it had an isolation, yet propinquity, which would have persuaded me to make it my home were I a governor; but it was given over to quarantine purposes, with an old care-taker who came and went in a commonplace rowboat.
The Annexe housed many rats. I brought to my rooms a basket of bananas, and put it on a table by my bed, the canopied four-poster in which the son of the baroness was born. In the night I was awakened by a tremendous thump on the floor and a curious dragging noise. I listened breathlessly. But the rat must have heard me, for he ceased operations, only returning when he thought I was asleep. He leaped on the table, scratched a banana from the basket, threw it to the floor, and pulled it to his den near the wardrobe. The joists and floor boards were eaten away by the ants, and in one hole six or seven inches long this rat had entrance to his den between the floor and the ceiling of the room below. He had trading proclivities, and in exchange brought me old and valueless trifles. I once knew a miner in Arizona who found a rich gold-vein through a rat bringing him a piece of ore in exchange for a bit of bacon. He traced the rat to his nest and discovered the source of the ore. The rats had their ancient enemies to guard against, and the cats of Tahiti, not indigenous, slept by day and hunted by night. They cavorted through the Annexe in the smallest hours, and one often wakened to their shrieks and squeals of combat. The tom-cats had tails longer than their bodies, the climate, their habits and food developing them extraordinarily.
The roosters grew to a size unequaled, and those in the garden of the Annexe roused me almost at dawn. Their voices were horrific, and one that had fathered a quartet of ducks—an angry tourist had killed the drake because of his quacking—was a vrai Chantecler. When he waked me, the sun was coming over the hills from Hitiaa, brightened Papenoo and leaped the summits to Papeete, but it was long before the phantom of false morning died and the god of day rode his golden chariot to the sea. The Diadem was gilded first, and down the beach the long light tremulously disclosed the faint scarlet of the flamboyant-trees, their full, magnificent color yet to be revealed, and their elegant contours like those graceful, red-tiled pagodas on the journey to Canton in far Cathay.
Motu Uta crept from the obscurity of the night, and the battlements of Moorea were but dim silhouettes. The lagoon between the reef and the beach was turning from dark blue to azure pink. The miracle of the ad-vent of the day was never more delicately painted be-fore my eyes.
In my crimson pareu I descended the grand staircase, which had often echoed to the booted tread of admiral and sailor, of diplomat and bureaucrat, and outside the building I passed along the lower rear balcony to the bath. The Annexe, like the Tiare Hotel, made no pretense to elegance or convenience. The French never demand the latter at home, and the Tahitian is so much an outdoor man that water-pipes and what they signify are not of interest to him.
The bath of the Annexe was a large cement tank, primarily for washing clothes. Its floor was as slippery as ice. One held to the window-frame at the side, and turned the tap.
A shower fell a dozen feet like rose-leaves upon one. Ah, the waters of Tahiti ! Never was such gentle, velvety rain, a benediction from the tauupo o to moua, the slopes of the mountains.
I deferred my pleasure a few minutes as the place under the shower was occupied by an entrancing pair, Evoa, the .consort of Afa, and her four-months-old infant, Poia. Evoa was sixteen years old, tall, like most Tahitians, finely figured, slender, and with the superb carriage that is the despair of the corseted women who visit Tahiti. Her features were regular, but not soft. Her skin was ivory-white, with a glint of red in cheek and lip, and the unconfined hair that reached her hips was intensely black and fine. I could see no touch or tint of the Polynesian except in the slight harshness of the contours of her face, and that her legs were more like yellow satin than white. Her foot would have given Du Maurier inspiration for a brown Trilby. It was long, high-arched, perfect; the toes, never having known shoes, natural and capable of grasp, and the ankle delicate, yet strong. Her father she believed to have been a French official who had stayed only a brief period in Bora-Bora, her mother's island, and whose very name was forgotten by her. She had not seen her mother since her first year, having, as is the custom here. been adopted by others.
Poia had a head like a cocoanut, her eyes shiny, black buttons, her body roly-poly, and her pinkish-yellow feet and hands adorable. Evoa was dressing her for the market in a red muslin slip, a knitted shawl of white edged' with blue, and, shades of Fahrenheit! a cap with pink ribbons, and socks of orange. Evoa herself would wear a simple tunic, which was most of the time pulled down over the shoulder to give Poia ingress to her white breast. Poia was like a flower, and I had never heard her cry, this good nature being accounted for perhaps by an absence of pins, as she was usually naked. She had two teeth barely peeping from below.
Evoa spoke only Tahitian, which is the same tongue as that spoken in Bora-Bora, and she was totally with-out education. Afa had found her, and brought her to his cabin in the garden. He did not claim to be the father of Poia, but was delighted, as are all Polynesians, to find a mate and, with her, certainty of a little one. They have not our selfishness of paternity, but find in the assumed relation of father all the pride and joy we take only with surety of our relationship.
Afa was a handsome half-caste, his mustache and light complexion, his insouciance and frivolity, his perfect physique, skill with canoe and fish-net and spear, his flirtations with many women, and his ability to pro vide amusement for the guests, making him a superior type of the white-brown blood. There was a black tragedy in this life which, with all his heedlessness, often and again imprisoned him in deep melancholy.
His father was a wealthy Italian who lived near the home of a Tahitian princess, and who won the girl's love against her father's commands. Afa was born, the princess was sent away, and the child brought up in . a good family. When he was fourteen. years old he was taken to the United States. His father became en-gaged in a quarrel with certain natives whom he forbade to cross his land to gather leis in the mountains. As they had always had this right, they resented his imposition, and plotted to kill him. He disappeared, and a long time afterward his body was found loosely covered with earth, the feet above the surface. In court the surgeons swore that he had been alive when buried. A number of men were tried for the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment in New Caledonia.
Afa returned from America to find that much of his father's property had been stolen or claimed by others, and he became a cook and servant. He had been many years with Lovaina, and though he owned valuable land, he preferred the hotel life, half domestic, half manager and confidant, to the quietude of the country. In Afa's single room were two brass bedsteads, many gaudy tidies, an engraving of the execution of Nathan Hale, and a toilet-table full of fancy notions. Evoa was always barefooted, but Afa, on steamer days and when going to the cinematograph, appeared in immaculate white and with canvas shoes. Otherwise he wore only a fold of cloth about the loins, the real garment of the Tahitian, and the right one for that climate.
Again on my balcony, I saw the sun had passed the crown of the Diadem and was slanting hotly toward Papeete. Moorea was emerging from darkness, its valleys a deep brown, and the tops of the serried mountains becoming green.
Along the reef, outside, a schooner, two-masted, was making for the harbor. She was very graceful, and as she entered the lagoon through the passage in the barrier I was struck by her lines, slender, swelling, and feminine. She passed within a few hundred feet of me, and I saw that she was the Marara, the Flying-Fish.
I did not know it then, but I was to go on that little vessel to the blazing atolls of the Dangerous Archipel ago, and to see stranger and more fascinating sights than I had dreamed of on the Noa-Noa during my pas-sage to Tahiti.
I dragged my canoe to the edge of the quai des Subsistances, so-called because of the naval depot. The craft was dubbed out of a breadfruit-tree trunk, and had an outrigger of purau wood, a natural crooked arm, with a small limb laced to it. The canoe was steady enough in such smooth water, and I paddled off to Motu Uta. That islet is a rock of coral upon which soil had been placed unknown years before, and which produced fruits and flowers in abundance under the hand of the caretaker. Motu Uta is about as large as a city building lot, and the coral hummock shelves sharply to a considerable depth. Under this declining reef were the rarest shapes and colors of fish. They swam up and down, and in and out of their blue and pink and ivory-colored homes, slowly and majestically, or darting hither and thither, angered at the intrusion of my canoe in their domain, courting and rubbing fins, repelling invaders. The little ones avoiding dexterously the appetites of their big friends, and these moving pompously, but warily, seeking what they might devour.
A collector of corals would find many sorts there. They are wonderful, these stony plants, graceful, strange, bizarre. The Tahitian, who has a score of names for the winds, and who classifies fish not only by their names, but changes these names according to size and age, makes only a few lumps of the coral. It is to'a, and when round is to'a ati, to'a apu; when branching, uruhi, uruana; when in a bank, to a apu; when above the surface of the water, to'a raa. A submerged mass is to'a faa ruru, and the coral on which the waves break, to'a auau. However, the native knows well that one species of coral, the ahif a, is corrosive, irritating the skin when touched, and another, which is poisoned by the Kara plants, is termed to'a harahia.
Coral makes good lime for whitening walls, and is cut into blocks for building. Many churches in Tahiti were built of coral blocks. The puny fortifications erected by the French in the war with the Tahitians decades ago were of coral stones, and are now black with age and weather.
I headed my canoe toward the barrier reef, and tied it to a knob of coral. Then I stepped out upon the reef itself, my tennis shoes keeping the sharp edges from cutting my feet. It was the low tide succeeding sunrise, and the water over the reef was a few inches deep, so that I could see the marine life of the wall, the many kinds of starfish, the sea-urchins, and the curious bivalves which hide with their shell-tips just even with the floor of the lagoon, and, keeping them barely even, wait for foolish prey.
The floor of the lagoon was most interesting; the prodigality of nature in the countless number of low forms of life, their great variety, their beauty, and their ugliness, and, appealing to me especially, the humor of nature in the tricks she played with color and shape, her score of clowns of the sea equaling her funny fellows ashore, the macaws, the mandrills, the dachshunds, and the burros.
The sunlight on the water at that hour was like silver spangles on a sapphire robe. I paddled near to the Marara, and watched her let go her anchor and send her boat ashore with a stern line. Fastened to a cannon and passed around a bitt on the schooner, the crew hauled her close to the embankment, and soon she was broadside to, and her gangway on the quay. Her captain, M. Moet, Woronick, a pearl merchant, a government physician, and the passengers from the Paumotus were soon ashore shaking hands with friends. I walked behind them to Lovaina's for coffee, and was introduced to them all.
Woronick took me to his house across the street from the Tiare Hotel, and there opened a massive safe and showed me drawer after drawer of pearls. They were of all sizes and shapes and tints, from a pear-shaped, brilliant, Orient pearl of great value, to the golden pipi of inconsiderable worth. Woronick spoke of a pearl he had bought some years ago in Takaroa, the creation of which, he said, had cost the lives of three men including a great savant.
"If you go to Takaroa," said Woronick, "be sure to see old Tepeva a Tepeva. He used to be one of the best divers in the Low Islands, but he 's got the bends. He sold me the greatest pearl ever found in these fisheries in the last twenty years, and I made enough profit on it to buy a house in Paris and live a year. Get him to tell you his yarn. It beats Monte Cristo all hollow?'
Which I made a note to do.
In the afternoon, with Charlie Eager, a guest at the Annexe, I went to the worship-place of the Chinese, on the Broom Road. Outwardly, it had not the flaunting distinction of the joss-houses of the Far East or those of New York or San Francisco. The Chinese usually builds his temples even in foreign lands in the same Oriental superfluity of color and curve and adornment that makes them exclusively the Middle Kingdom's own; but here he had been content to have a simple, white-washed church which might be a meeting-house or school. It was set in the center of a great garden in which mango and cocoa and breadfruit abounded. We were struck by the superb breadth and immense height of a breadfruit-tree the shadows of which fell over a small brick pagoda. This tree was a hundred feet tall, and the always glorious leaves, as large as aprons, indented and a glossy, dark green, made it a temple in itself worthier of the ministrations of priests than the ugly brick or frame structure of our cities. The Druids in their groves were nearer to the real God than the pursy bishop in the steam-heated cathedral.
A native woman, aged and bent, said "Ia ora na 1" to us, and we replied. With my few words of Tahitian I gamed from her that the joss-house was open. We entered it, and found no one there. The center was wide to the sky, that the rain might fall and the stars shine within it. The altars were brilliant with memorial tablets, the green, red, and gold flower vases, and sandalwood taper-holders, so familiar to me, and all about were the written prayers of devotees, soliciting the favor of Heaven, asking success in business, or the averting of illness. They were evidently painted by the bonze of the fane, for his slab of India ink was on a table nearby, as also the brushes for the ideographs.
Sons expressed their filial duties in glittering excerpts from Confucius, carved and gilded on expansive boards, and the incense of the poor arose from the humble punk-sticks stuck in dishes of sand upon the floor.
No Levite sat within the shrine or watched to see if profane hand touched the sacred symbols, and were Charlie Eager sure of that before we left, he had se-cured a trophy. Not knowing but that from one of the numerous crannies or mayhap from the open roof the wrathful eye of a hierophant was upon him, he had to content himself with a prayer from the pagoda, which proved on close inspection to be a furnace for the burning of the paper slips on which the aspirations of the faithful were written. Whether the prayers had been granted, were out of date, or the time paid for hanging in the joss-house had expired, the crematory was four feet deep with the red and white rice-paper legends, awaiting an auspicious occasion for incineration. Eager of Inglewood, California, fished secretly, hidden by my body, until he found a particularly long and intricate set of hieroglyphics, and deposited it in his pocket. Then we fled.
More than two thousand Chinese in Tahiti, nearly all kin within a few degrees, found in this humble church a substitute for their family temples in China, where usually each clan has its own place of worship. The laboring class of this fecund people seldom extend their real devotion beyond their ancestors and the principle of fatherhood, their reasoning being that of the wise Jewish charge to honor one's father (and mother) that one's life may be long. Loving sons take care of old parents. It is the old Oriental patriarchy sublimated by the imposition of commerce upon agriculture.
The Chinese came to Tahiti during the American Civil War. They were brought by an English planter to grow cotton, then scarce on account of the blockade and desolation of the South. With the end of the war, and the looms of Manchester again supplied, the plantation languished, and the Chinese took other employment, became planters themselves, or set up little shops. They now had most of the retail business of the island, and all of it outside Papeete.
The secretary-general gave me figures about them.
"There are twenty-two hundred Chinese in Tahiti now," said he. "We are willing to receive all who come. They are needed to restore the population. Who would keep the stores or grow vegetables if we did not have the Chinese? We exact no entrance fee, but we number every man, and photograph him, to keep a record. There is no government agent in China to further this emigration, but those here write home, and induce their relatives to come. We hope for enough to make labor plentiful. All cannot keep stores."
"Have you no Japanese ?"
"Only those who work for the phosphate company at the island of Makatea," replied the secretary-general. "They are well paid, their fare to Tahiti and return se-cured, and otherwise they are favored. The Government has agreed with a company to promote Chinese emigration to -the Marquesas. There are thousands needed. In French Oceanie there are twelve thousand possible workers for nearly a million acres of land. This land could easily feed two hundred thousand people. The natives are dying fast, and we must replace them, or the land will become jungle."
"Couldn't you bring French Chinese from Indo-China?" I asked.
"We haven't any workers to spare there," he answered.
In Papeete the Chinese were, as in America, a mysterious, elusive race, the immigrants remaining homogeneous in habits, closely united in social and business activities, and with a solid front to the natives and the whites. They lived much as in China, though in more healthful 'surroundings. Every vice they had in China they brought to Tahiti; their virtues they left behind, except those strict ethics in commerce and finance which must be carried out successfully to "save face." Their community in this island, with a climate and people as different from their own as the land from the sea, was in their thoughts a part of Canton and the farms of Quan-tung. All the bareness, dirt, and squalid atmosphere of home they had sought to bring to the South Seas. They saw the other nationals here as objects of ridicule and spoilage. The amassing of a competence before old age or against a return to China, and the marrying there, or the resumption of marital relations with the wife he had left to make his fortune, was the fiercely sought goal of each.
Loti wrote nearly fifty years ago, a decade after their influx :
"The Chinese merchants of Papeete were objects of disgust and horror to the natives. There was no greater shame than for a young woman to be convicted of listening to the gallantries of one of them. But the Chinese were wicked and rich, and it was notorious that several of them, by means of presents and money, had obtained clandestine favors which made amends to them for public scorn."
Had Admiral Julien Viaud returned now to Tahiti, he would have found the Chinese stores thronged by the handsomest girls, their restaurants thriving on their charms, and the Chinese the possessors of the pick of the lower and middle classes of young women. Ah Sin is persistent; he has no sense of Christian shame, and as in the Philippines, he dresses his women gaily, and wins their favors despite his evil reputation, his ugliness, and his being despised.
At the Cercle Bougainville I saw more . than one Chinese playing cards and drinking. These were Chinese who had made money, and who in the give and take of business have pushed themselves into the club of the other merchants, who feared and watched them.
Women were not allowed in barrooms in Papeete. The result was that they went to the Chinese restaurants and coffee-houses to drink beer and wine at tables, as legalized. A concomitant of this was that men went to these places to meet women, and further that women were retained or persuaded by the Chinese to frequent their places so as to stimulate the sale of intoxicants. The Chinese restaurants naturally became assignation houses.
Walking back, late in the afternoon, from the joss-house, we met Lovaina in her automobile, with the American negro chauffeur, William, and Temanu, Atupu, and Iromea. She invited me to accompany them to swim in the Papenoo River, a few miles towards Point Venus. Other guests of the Tiare Hotel came in hired cars, and twenty or thirty joined in the bath. The river was a small flood, rains having swelled it so that a current of five or six knots swept one off one's feet and down a hundred and fifty feet before one could seize the limb of an overhanging tree. We undressed in the bushes, and the men wore only pareus, while the girls had an extra gown. They were expert swimmers, climbing into the tops of the trees, and hurling them-selves with screams into the water. They struck it in a sitting posture making great splashes and reverberations. Their muslin slips outlined their strong bodies, so that they were like veiled goddesses, their brown-black hair floating free, as they leaped or fought and tumbled with the tide. We stayed an hour at this sport, joined when school was dismissed by all the youth of Papenoo. Under twelve they bathed naked, but those older wore pareus.
It was hard to keep on a pareu in a swift-running stream unless one knew how to tie it. I lost mine several times, and had to grope shamefacedly in the race for it, until finally Lovaina made the proper knots and turned it into a diaper.
"I not go swim now," she said regretfully, "'cep' some night-time. Too big. Before I marry, eighteen seven'y-nine, and before my three children grow up, I swim plenty then."
"Lovaina," I said, "it was hardly eighteen seventy-nine you were married. You are only forty-three now. Was it not eighty-nine?"
"Mus' be," she replied thoughtfully. "I nineteen when marry. My father give me that house, now Tiare Hotel, for weddin' present. All furnish. You should see that marry! My God ! there was bottle in yard all broken. Admiral French fleet send band;' come hisself with all his officer'. Five o'clock mornin'-time still dance and drink. Bigges' time T'ytee. You not walk barefoot long time 'count broken glass everywhere."
I had heard that delicious incident before, but it never lost savor.
After dinner and a prolonged session upon the camphor-wood chest to hear Lovaina's chatter, I came leisurely to the Annexe along the shore of the lagoon. It was after midnight, and the heavens sang with stars as the ripe moon dipped into the western sea.
The tropics only know the fullness of the firmament, the myriad of suns and planets, the brilliancy of the constellations, and the overpowering revelation of the infinite above. In less fervent latitudes one can never feel the bigness of the vault on high, nor sense the intimacy one had here with the worlds that spin in the measureless ether.
Two lofty-sparred ships but newly from the California coast swung at moorings within a dozen feet of the grass that borders the coral banks, and on their decks, under the light of lamps, American sailors lifted a shanty of the rolling Mississippi. I remembered when I had first heard it. I was a boy, and had stolen away on a bark, the Julia Rollins, bound for Rio, and as we hauled in the line let go by the: tow-boat, a seaman raised the bowline song. To me, with "Two Years Before the Mast" and Clark Russell's galley yarns churning in my mind, it was sweeter far than ever siren voiced to lure her victims to their death, and rough and tarry as was the shanty-man, Caruso had never seemed to me such a glorious figure.
This fascination of the sea and of its border had never left me, though I had passed years on ships and nearly all my life within sound of the surf. It is as strong as ever, holding me thrall in the sight of its waters and its freights, and unhappy when denied them. Best of all literature I love the stories of old ocean, and glad am I
That such as have no pleasure For to praise the Lord by measure, They may enter into galleons and serve him on the sea.
In Tahiti the sea was very near and meant much. One felt toward it as must the mountaineer who lives in the shadow of the Matterhorn; it was always part of one's thoughts, for all men and things came and went by it, and the great world lay beyond it.
But dear or near as the sea might be to such a man as I, a mere traveler upon it to reach a goal, to the Tahitian it was life and road and romance, too. Legends of it filled the memories of those old ones who, though in tattered form, preserved yet awhile the deeds of 'daring of their fathers and the terrors of storm and sea monster, of long journeys in frail canoes, of discoveries and conquerings, of brides taken from other peoples, and of the gods and devils who were in turn masters of the deep.
Once a Tahitian stopped the sun as it sank beyond Moorea not to wage war, as Joshua, but to please his old mother. The sea and the heavens are brothers to the Tahitian. The sky had two great tales for him—guidance for his craft and prophecies for his soul; but he did not inhabit it with his gods or his dead, as do Christians and other religionists, for the mountains, the valleys, and the caves were the abiding-places of spirits, and the Tahitian had named only those stars which blazed forth most vividly or served him as compass on the sea. He did, however, mark the various phases of the sky, and in his musical tongue named them with particularity.
The firmament is te ao, te rai, and the atmosphere te reva, and when peaceful, raiatea. This is the. name of one of the most beautiful islands of this Society group, "Raiatea la Sacree," it is called, "Raiatea the Blessed," and its own serenity is betokened in its name.
E hau maru, e maru to oe rai
So ran the rhyme of Raiatea :
Full of a sweet peace, serene thy sky;
Rai poia or poiri, they say for the gloomy heavens, and rai maemae when threatening, parutu when cloudy, moere if clear; if the clouds presage wind, tutai vi. The sunset is tooa o te ra, and the twilight marumarupo.
The night is te po or te rui, and the moment before the sun rises marumaru ao. A hundred other words and phrases differentiate the conditions of sky and air. I learned them from Afa and Evoa and others.
The moon is te marama, and the full moon vaevae. Mars is fetia ura, the red star; the Pleiades are Matarii, the little eyes; and the Southern Cross, Tauha. Fetia ave are the comets, the "stars with a tail," and the meteors pao, opurei, patau, and pilau.
The moon was gone, but the stars needed no help, for they shone as if the trump of doom were due at dawn, and they should be no more. Blue and gold, a cathedral ceiling with sanctuary lamps hung high, the dome of earth sparkled and glittered, and on the schooners by the Cerele Bougainville himenes of joy rang out on the soft air.
I passed them close, so close that a girl of Huahine who was dancing on the deck of the Mihimana seized me by the arm and embraced me.
"Come back, stranger!" she cried in Tahitian. "There is pleasure here, and the night is but just begun."
A dozen island schooners swayed in the gentle breeze, their stays humming softly, their broadsides separated from the quays by just- a dozen or twenty feet, as if they feared to risk the seduction of the land, and felt themselves safer parted from the shore. On all the street-level verandas, the entrances to the shops and the restaurants, the hundreds of natives who had not wanted other lodging slept as children in cradles until they should rise for coffee before the market-bell.
From the Chinese shop at the corner the strains of a Canton actor's falsetto, with the squeak of the Celestial fiddles issued from a phonograph, but so real I fancied I was again on Shameen, listening over the Canton River to the noises of the night, the music, and the sing-song girls of the silver combs.
I went on, and met the peanut-man. He sold me two small bags of roasted goobers for eight sous. He wore the brown, oilskin-like, two-piece suit of the Chinese of southern China, and he had no teeth and no hair, and his eyes would not stay open. He had to open them with his fingers, so that most of the time he was blind; but he counted money accurately, and he had a tidy bag of silver and coppers strapped to his stomach. He looked a hundred years old.
When I paid for the two bags, he raised his lids, believed that I was a speaker of English, and said, "Fine businee!"
As I went past the queen's palace, the two mahus were chanting low, as they sat on the curbing, and they glanced coquettishly at me, but asked only for cigarettes. I gave them a package of Marinas, made in the Faubourg Bab-el-oued, in Algiers, and they said "Maruru" and "Merci" in turn and in unison. Strange men these, one bearded and handsome, the other slender and in his twenties, their dual natures contrasting in their broad shoulders and their swaying hips, their men's purees and shirts, and bits of lace lingerie. I met them half a dozen times a day, and as I was now known as a resident, not the idler of a month, they bowed in hope of recognition.
In the Annexe all was quiet, but in the great sailing canoe of Afa, on the grass by the water, there were two girls smoking and humming, and waiting for the cowboy and the prize-fighter who lived beside me, and who were dancing to-night at Fa'a. Like Indians, these Tahitians, especially the women, would sit and watch and wait for hours on hours, and make no complaint, if only their dear one—dear mayhap for only a night—came at last.
I was awakened from happy sleep by the cries of a frightened woman, confused with outlandish, savage sounds. I lit my lamp and leaned over the balcony. Under a flamboyant-tree was a girl defending herself from the attack of Vava. She was screaming in terror and the Dummy, a giant in strength, was holding her and grunting his bestial laugh. I threw the rays full in his face, and he looked up, saw me, and ran away up the beach, yelping like a frustrated beast. In voice and action he resembled an animal more than any human I had ever seen. The guilelessness and cunning of child and fiend were in his dumb soul.