Tahiti - My First Visit To The Bougainville
( Originally Published 1921 )
The Cercle Bougainville—Officialdom in Tahiti—My first visit to the Bougainville—Skippers and merchants—A song and a drink—The flavor of the South Seas—Rumors of war.
IN Papeete there were two social clubs, the Cercle Bougainville and the Cercle Militaire. Even in Papeete, which has not half as many people as work in a certain building in New York, there is a bureaucracy, and the Cercle Militaire, in a park near the executive mansion on the rue de Rivoli, is its arcanum. Only members of the Government may belong, and a few others whose proposals must be stamped by the political powers. There is a garden, with a small library, but not many read in this climate, and the atmosphere of the Cercle Militaire was tedious. The governor himself and the black procureur de la Republique, born in Martinique, the secretary-general, naval officers, and the file of - the upper office-holders frequent the shade of the mangos and the palms, but themselves confessed it deadly dull there. Bureaucracy is .ever mediocre, ever jealous, and in Papeete the feuds among the whites were as bitter as in a monastery or convent. Every man crouched to leap over his fellow, if not by position, at least by acclaim. None dared to discuss political affairs openly, but nothing else was talked of. It was a round of whispered charges and recriminations and audible compliments. A few jolly chaps, doctors or naval lieutenants, passed the bottle and laughed at the others.
Every now and then a new governor supplanted the incumbent, who returned to France, and a few of the chiefer officials were changed; but the most of them were Tahitian French by birth or long residence. Re-publics are wretched managers of colonies, and monarchies brutal exploiters of subject peoples. Politics controlled in the South Seas, as in the Philippines, India, and Egypt. Precedence at public gatherings often caused hatreds. The procureur was second in rank here, the governor, of course, first, the secretary-general third, and the attorney-general fourth. When the secretary-general was not at functions, the wife of the governor must be handed in to dinner and dances by the negro procureur. This angered the British and American consuls and merchants, and the French inferior to him in social status, although the Martinique statesman was better educated and more cultivated in manners than they.
The indolence of mind and body that few escape in this soft, delicious air, the autocracy of the governing at such a distance from France, and the calls of Paris for the humble taxes of the Tahitians, robbed the island of any but the most pressing melioration. The business of government in these archipelagoes was bizarre comedy-drama, with Tartarins at the front of the stage, and a cursing or slumbrous audience.
Count Polonsky, a Russian-born Frenchman, appeared in court to answer to the charge of letting his automobile engine run when no one was in the car. He was fined a franc, which he would take from his pocket then and there, but must wait many days to pay, until circumlocution had its round, six weeks after the engine had been at fault. I was assessed two sous duty on a tooth-brush. I reached for the coins.
"Mais, non," said the prepose de le douane, "pas maintenant. No hurry. We will inform you by post."
These officials had pleasing manners, as do almost all Frenchmen, and though they uttered many sacres against the home Government and that of these islands, they were fiercely chauvinistic toward foreigners, as are all nationals abroad where jingoism partakes of self-aggrandizement. The American consul, a new appointee, addressed the customs clerk in his only tongue, Iowan, and received no response. I spoke to him in French, and the prepose replied in mixed French and English, out of compliment to me. The consul was enraged, considering himself and the American eagle affronted. I interposed, but the customs-man answered coldly in English:
"This is a French possession, and French is the language, or Tahitian. I speak both. Why don't you? You are supposedly an educated man."
The Stars and Stripes were unfolded in a breeze of hot words that betrayed the consul's belief in the pre-pose's sinister ancestry and in eternal punishment. No entente cordiale could ever be cemented after that lingual blast.
The consuls all had honorary memberships in the Cercle Militaire, and none of them entered the Cercle Bougainville, it not being de rigueur. I had a carte d'invite personelle to that club, and there I went with roused curiosity to hear the other sides of questions already settled for me by the amiable officials and officers on the rue de Rivoli. I had been warned against the Cercle Bougainville by staid pensioners as being the resort of commoners and worse, of British and American ruffians, of French vulgarians, and of Chinese smugglers. This advice made a seductive advertisement of the club to me, anxious to know everything real and unveiled about the life here, and to find a contrast to the ennui of the official temple.
A consul said to me : "Look out for some of those gamblers in that Bougainville joint ! They 'll skin you alive. They drink like conger-eels."
M. Leboucher, my fellow-passenger on the Noa-Noa, sent me the card to the Jacobin resort, and I got in the habit of going there just before the meat breakfast and before dinner. I found that the warning of the aristocratic bureaucrats was of a piece with their philosophy and manners, hollow, hypocritical, and calculated to deny me the only real human companionship I could endure. From about eleven to one o'clock and from five until seven, and in the evenings, the Cercle Bougainville held more interesting and merry white skins than the remainder of Tahiti. Merchants and managers of enterprises and shops, skippers of the schooners that comb the Dangerous Archipelago and the dark Marquesas for pearl and shell and copra, vanilla- and pearl-buyers, planters, and lesser bureaucrats, idlers or retired ad-venturers living in Tahiti, and tourists made the club for a few hours a day a polyglot exchange of current topics between man and man, a place of initiation and of judgment of business deals, a precious refuge against smug bores and a sanctuary for refreshment of body and soul with cooling drinks. Naturally, every one played cards, dominoes, or dice for the honor of signing the chits, and it goes without saying that one might roar out an oath against the Government and go unscathed. Even in the Bougainville lines were drawn; only heads of commercial affairs were admitted. It was bourgeois absolutely, but bosses could not imbibe and play freely in the presence of their employees whom they might have to reprimand severely for bad habits, nor scold them for inattention to trade when their employers spent precious hours at ecarte or razzle-dazzle.
The club was within fifty feet of the lagoon, close to the steamship quay, its broad verandas overlooking the fulgent reef and the quiet waters within it. In .odd hours one might find Joseph, the steward, angling on the coral wall for the black and gold fish, and a shout from the balcony would bring him to the swift succor of a thirsty member. During the four hours before the late dejeuner and dinner, he had incessant work to answer the continuous calls.
When Joseph became overwhelmed with orders he summoned his family from secret quarters in the rear, and father, mother, and children squeezed, 'shook, and poured for the impatient crowd.
When the monthly mail between America and Australasia was in, few packs of cards were sold, for every one was busied with letters and orders for goods. But only three or four days a month were so disturbed,. and for nearly four weeks of the month Papeete lolled at ease, with endless time for games and stimulants. Leisure, the most valuable coin of humanity in the tropics, was spent by white or brown in pleasure or idleness with a prodigality that would have made Samuel Smiles weep.
The entrance to the Cercle Bougainville was very plain, with no name-plate, as had the Militaire,—a mere hole in the front wall of Leboucher's large furniture shop. One could be going along the street in full view of important and respectable people, and suddenly disappear. A few steep stairs, a quick turn, and one was on the broad balcony, with easy-chairs and firm tables, and bells to hand for Joseph's ear.
In a room off the balcony there was a billiard-table, the cloth patched or missing in many spots, and with cues whose tips had long since succumbed to perpetual moisture. A few old French books were on a shelf, and a naughty review or two of Paris on a dusty table. Undoubtedly, this club had begun as a mariner's association, and there was yet a decided flavor of the sea about it. Indeed, all Tahiti was of the sea, and all but the mass of natives who stayed in their little homes were at times sailors, and all whites passengers on long voyages. Everything paid tribute to the vast ocean, and all these men had an air of ships and the dangers of the waves.
Nautical almanacs, charts, and a barometer were conspicuous, and often were laid beside the social glasses for proof in hot arguments. Occasionally an old Chinese or two, financiers, pearl-dealers, labor bosses, or merchants, drained a glass of eau de vie and smoked a cigarette there. One sensed an atmosphere of mystery, of secret arrangements between traders, or hard endeavors for circumvention of competitors in the business of the dispersed islands of French Oceania.
A delightful incident enlivened my first visit, and gave me an acquaintance with a group of habitues. When I reached the balcony I saw a group of French-men at a table who were singing at the top of their voices. I sat down at the farthest table and ordered a Dr. Funk.
I did not look at them, for I felt de trop; but suddenly I heard them humming the air of "John Brown's Body," and singing fugitive words.
"Grory, grory, harreruah!" came to my ears, and later, "Wayd"un S' ut ' in le land de cottin."
They were making fun of me I thought, and turned my head away. It would not do to get angry with half a dozen jovial Frenchmen.
"All Coons Look alike to Me," I recognized, though they sang but fragments of the text.
Through a corner of my eye I saw them all anxiously staring at me; then one of the merrymakers came over to me. I had a fleeting thought .of a row before he bowed low and said in English:
"If you please, we make good time, we sing your songs, and must be happy to drink with you."
He announced himself as M. Edmond Brault, chief clerk of the office of the secretary-general, fresh-faced, glowing and with a soul for music and for joy. He was so smiling, so ingenuous, that to refuse him would have been rank discourtesy. I joined the group.
"I am twenty-eight times married this day," said M. Brault, "and my friends and I make very happy."
The good husband was rejoicing on his wedding anniversary, and I could but accept the champagne he ordered.
"I am great satisfaction to drink you," he said. "My friends drink my wife and me."
We toasted his admirable wife, we toasted the two republics ; Lafayette, Rochambeau, and Chateaubriand. "Ah, le biftek!" said M. Leboucher.
We toasted Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and then we sang for an hour. M. Brault was the leading composer of Tahiti. He was the creator of Tahitian melodies, as Kappelmeister Berger was of Hawaiian. For our delectation Brault sang ten of his songs between toasts. I liked best "Le Bon Roi Pomare," the words of one of the many stanzas being :
Il etait un excellent roi
Toujours joyeux, d'humeur gauloise,
"Ah, he was a chic type, that last King of Tahiti," said M. Brault, who had written so many praiseful, merry verses about him. "He would have a hula about him all the time. He loved the national dance. He would sit or lie and drink all day and night. He loved to see young people drink and enjoy themselves. Ah, those were, gay times! Dancing the nights away. Every one crowned with flowers, and rum and champagne like the falls of Fautaua. The good king Pomare would keep up the upaupa, the hula dance, for a week at a time, until they were nearly all dead from drink and fatigue. Mon dieu! La vie est triste maintenant."
Before we parted we sang the "Marseillaise" and the "Star-Spangled Banner." Nobody knew the words, I least of any; so we la-la-la'd through it, and when we parted for luncheon, we went down the crooked stair-way arm in arm, still giving forth snatches of "Le Bon Roi Pomare" in honor of our host:
Mais, s'il aimait tant les plaisirs, Les chants joyeux, la vie en rose, Le plus ardent de ses desirs, Pour lui la plus heureuse chose, Fut touj ours que 1'humanite Regnat au sein de son Royaume; De meme que l'Egalite Sous son modeste toit de chaume.
Hallman, with whom I journeyed on the Noa-Noa, dropped into the Cercle Bougainville occasionally, but he was ordinarily too much occupied with his schemes of trade. Besides, he had only one absorbing vice other than business, and with merely wine and song to be found at the club, Hallman went there but seldom, and only to talk about pearl-shell, copra, and the profits of schooner voyages. However, through him I met another group who spoke English, and who were not of Latin blood. They were Llewellyn, an islander Welsh and Tahitian; Landers, a New Zealander; Pincher, an Englishman; David, McHenry, and Brown, Americans; Count Polonsky, the Russo-Frenchman who was fined a franc; and several captains of vessels who sailed between Tahiti and the Pacific coast of the United States or in these latitudes.
The Noa-Noa was overdue from New Zealand, by way of Raratonga, and her tardiness was the chief subject of conversation at our first meeting. A hundred times a day was the semaphore on the hill spied at for the signal of the Noa-Noa's sighting. High up on the expansive green slope which rises a few hundred feet behind the Tiare Hotel is a white pole, and on this are hung various objects which tell the people of Papeete that a vessel is within view of the ancient sentinel of the mount. An elaborate code in the houses of all persons of importance, and in all stores and clubs, interprets these symbols. The merchants depended to a considerable extent upon this monthly liner between San Francisco and Wellington and way ports, and all were interested in the mail and food supplies expected by the Noa-Noa. Cablegrams sent from any part of the world to New Zealand or San Francisco were for-warded by mail on these steamships. Tahiti was entirely cut off from the great continents except by vessel. There was no cable, and no wireless, on this island, nor even at the British island of Raratonga, two days' steaming from Papeete. The steamships had wireless systems, and kept in communication with San Francisco or with New Zealand ports for a few days after departure.
There were many guesses at the cause of the delay.
"Nothing but war!" said the French post-office clerk who sat at another table, with his glass of Pernoud. "Germany and England have come to blows. Now that accursed nation of beer-swillers will get their lesson."
The subject was seriously discussed, the armaments of the two powers quoted, and the certainty of Germany's defeat predicted, the Frenchman asserting vehemently that France would aid England if necessary, or to get back Alsace-Lorraine. There were gatherings all over Papeete, the war rumor having been made an alleged certainty by some inexplicable communication to an unnamed merchant.
The natives hoped fervently that the war was between France and Germany, and that France would be defeated. After generations of rule by France, the vanquished still felt an aversion to their conquerors here, as in the Holy Land when Herod ruled.
"I hope France get his," said a chief, aside, to me.
The mail's delay upset all business. Letters closed on the day the liner was expected were reopened. For three days the girls at Lovaina's had worn their best peignoirs, and several times donned shoes and stockings to go to the quay. Passengers for San Francisco who had packed their trunks had unpacked them. The air of expectancy which Papeete wore for a day or two be-fore steamer-day had been so heated by postponement that nerves came to the surface.
Tahiti was a place of no exact knowledge. Few residents knew the names of the streets. Some of the larger business houses had no signs to indicate the firms' names or what they sold. Hardly any one knew the names of the trees or the flowers or fishes or shells.
A story once told, even facts thoroughly well known, changed with each repetition. A month after an occurrence one might search in vain for the actuality. It was more difficult to learn truthful details than anywhere I had been. The French are niggardly of publications concerning Tahiti. An almanac once a year contained a few figures and facts of interest, but with no newspapers within thousands of miles, every person was his own journal, and prejudices and interest dictated all oral records.
McHenry hushed war reports to talk about Brown, an American merchant who had left the club a moment before, after a Bourbon straight alone at the bar. Mc-Henry was a trader, mariner, adventurer, gambler, and boaster. Rough and ready, witty, profane, and obscene, he bubbled over with tales of reef and sea, of women and men he had met, of lawless tricks on natives, of storm and starvation, and of his claimed illicit loves. Loud-mouthed, bullet-headed, beady-eyed, a chunk of rank flesh shaped by a hundred sordid deeds, he must get the center of attention by any hazard.
"Brown's purty stuck up now," he said acridly. "I remember the time when he did n't have a pot to cook in. He had thirty Chile dollars a month wages. We come on the beach the same day in the same ship. His shoes were busted out, and he was crazy to get money for a new girl he had. There was a Chink had eighteen tins of vanilla-beans worth about two hundred American dollars each. He got the Chink to believe he could handle the vanilla for him, and got hold of it, and then out by the vegetable garden Brown hit the poor devil of a Chink over the nut with a club."
McHenry got up from the table, and with Llewellyn's walking-stick showed exactly how the blow was struck. He brought down the cane so viciously against the edge of the table that he spilled our rum punches.
"Mac," exclaimed Llewellyn, testily, as he shot him a hot glance from the melancholy eyes under his black thatch of brows, "behave yourself ! You know you 're lying."
McHenry laughed sourly, and went on :
"I was chums with Brown then, and when I caught up to him,—I was walkin' behind them,—he asked me to see if the Chink was dead. I went back to where he had tumbled him. He was layin' on his back in a kind o' ditch, and he was white instead o' yeller. He was white as Lyin' Bill's schooner. How would you 'a' done? Well, to protect that dirty pup Brown, I covered him over with leaves from head to foot—big bread-fruit- and cocoanut-leaves. He never showed up again, and Brown had the vanilla. That's how he got his start, and, so help me God ! I never got a franc from the business."
There was venom in McHenry's tone, and he looked at me, the newcomer, to see what impression he had made.
The others said not a word of comment, and it may have been an often-told tale by him. He had emptied his glass of the potent Martinique rum four or five times.
"Was the Chinaman sure dead when you put the leaves over him?" I asked, influenced by his staring eyes. McHenry grinned foully.
"Aye, man, you want too much," he replied. "I say his face was white, and he was on his back in the marsh. If he was alive, the leaves didn't finish him, and if he was croaked, it didn't matter. I was obligin' a friend. You'd have done as much." He took up his glass and muttered dramatically, "A few leaves for a friend."
I shuddered, but Landers leaned over the table and said to me, sotto voce:
"McHenry's tellin' his usual bloody lie. Brown got the vanilla all right, but what he did was to have the bloomin' Chink consign it to him proper', and not give him a receipt. Then he denied all knowledge of it, and it bein' all the bleedin' Chinaman had, he died of a broken heart—with maybe too many pipes of opium to help him on a bit. McHenry and Pincher are terrible liars. They call Pincher `Lyin' Bill,' though I 'd take his word in trade,or about schooners any day."
I had been introduced to a Doctor Funk by Count Polonsky, who told me it was made of a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine,—a syrup of the pomegranate fruit,—the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water. Dr. Funk of Samoa, who had been a physician to Robert Louis Stevenson, had left the receipt for the concoction when he was a guest of the club. One paid half a franc for it, and it would restore self-respect and interest in one's surroundings when even Tahiti rum failed.
"Zat was ze drink I mix for Paul Gauguin, ze peintre sauvage, here before he go to die in les isles Marquises," remarked Levy, the millionaire pearl-buyer, as he stood by the table to be introduced to me.
"Absinthe seal he general' take," said Joseph, the steward.
"I bid fifty thousand francs for one of Gauguin's paintings in Paris last year," Count Polonsky said as he claimed his game of ecarte against Tati, the chief of Papara district. "I failed to get it, too. I bought many here for a few thousand francs each before that."
"Blow me!" cried Pincher, the skipper of the Morning Star. "'E was a bleedin' ijit. I fetched 'im absinthe many a time in Atuona. 'E said Dr. Funk was a bloomin' ass for inventin' a drink that spoiled good Pernoud with water. 'E was a rare un. 'E was like Stevenson 'at wrote `Treasure Island.' Comes into my pub in Taiohae in the Marquesas Islands did Steven-son off'n his little Casco, and says he, "Ave ye any whisky,' 'e says, "at 'as n't been watered? These South Seas appear to 'ave flooded every bloomin' gallon,' 'e says. This painter Gauguin was n't such good company as Stevenson, because 'e parleyvoud, but 'e was a bloody worker with 'is brushes at Atuona. 'E was cuttin' wood or paintin' all the time."
"He was a damn' fool," said Hallman, who had come in to the Cercle to take away Captain Pincher. "I lived close to him at Atuona all the time he was there till he died. He was bughouse. I don't know much about painting, but if you call that crazy stuff of Gauguin's proper painting, then I 'm a furbelowed clam."
"Eh Bien," Count Polonsky said, with a smile of the man of superior knowledge, "he is the greatest painter of this period, and his pictures are bringing high prices now, and will bring the highest pretty soon. I have bought every one I could to hold for a raise,"
Polonsky was a study in sheeny hues. He was twenty-seven, his black and naturally curled hair was very thin, there were eight or nine teeth that answered no call from his meat, and he wore in his right eye
socket a round glass, with no rim or string, held by a puckering of cheek and brow, giving him a quizzical, stage-like stare, and twisting his nose into a ripple of tiny wrinkles. He weighed, say, one hundred pounds or less, was bent, but with a fresh complexion and active step. I saw him rise naked from his cot one morning, and the first thing he put on was the rimless monocle. The natives, who name every one, called him "Matatitiahoe," "the one-windowed man." He had journeyed about the world, poked into some queer places, and in. Japan had himself tattooed. On his narrow chest he had a terrible legendary god of Nippon, and on his arms a cock and a skeleton, the latter with a fan and a lantern. On his belly was limned a nude woman. He had certain other decorations the fame of which had been ,bruited wide so that a keen curiosity existed to see them, and they were discussed in whispers by white femininity and with many "Aues!" of astonishment by the brown. They were Pompeiian friezes in their unconventionality of subject and treatment.
Llewellyn, McHenry, David, and I accompanied the count to his residence on the outskirts of Papeete to taste a vintage of Burgundy he had sent him from Beaune. Like most modern houses in Tahiti, his was solely utilitarian, and was built by a former American consul. It exactly ministered to the comforts of a demanding European exquisite. The house was framed in wide verandas, and was in a magnificent grove of cocoanut-trees affording beauty and shade, with extensive fields of sugar-cane on the other side of the road, and a glimpse of the beach and lagoon a little distance away. A singing brook ran past the door. The bed-rooms were large and open to evey breeze, and the tables for dining and amusement mostly set upon the verandas.
Polonsky's toilet-table was covered with gold boxes and bottles and brushes; scents and powders and pastes. If he moved out, Gaby de Lys might have moved in and lacked nothing. He was a boulevardier, his clothes from Paris, conforming not at all to the sartorial customs of Tahiti, and his varnished boots and alpine hat, with his saffron automobile, marked him as a person. In that he resembled Rigby, an Englishman in Papeete, who wore the evening dress of London whenever a steamship came in, though it might be noon, and on the king's birthday and other British feasts put it on when he awoke. He was the only man who went to dinner at the Tiare in the funeral garb of society. He said he was setting up a proper standard in Tahiti. It was suspected really that he was short of clothes, with perhaps only one or two cotton suits, and that when those were soiled he had to resort to full dress during the laundering.
While David and I inspected the house and grounds, McHenry and Llewellyn sat at the wine. Polonsky had a curious and wisely chosen household. His butler was a Javanese, his chef a Quan-tung Chinese, his valet a Japanese, his chambermaid a Martinique negress, and his chauffeur an American expert. These had nothing in common and could not ally themselves to cheat him, he said.
As I came back to the front veranda McHenry and Llewellyn were talking excitedly.
"I 've had my old lady nineteen years," said Mc-Henry, boastfully, "and she would n't ,speak to me if she met me on the streets of Papeete. She would n't dare to in public until I gave her the high sign. You 're a bloody fool makin' equals of the natives, and throwin' away money on those cinema girls the way you do."
This incensed Llewellyn, who was of chiefly Tahitian blood, and who claimed kings of Wales as his ancestors. Although extremely aristocratic in his attitude toward strangers, his native strain made him resent McHenry's rascally arrogance as a reflection upon his mother's race.
"Shut up, Mac!" he half shouted. "You talk too much. If it had n't been for that same old lady of yours, you 'd have died of delirium-tremens or fallen into the sea long ago."
"Aye," said the trader, meditatively, "that vahine has saved my life, but I'm not goin' to sacrifice my dignity as a white man. If ye let go everything, the damn' natives '11 walk over ye, and ye '11 make nothin' out o' them."
Lovaina had occasionally called me Dixey, and had explained that I was the "perfec' im'ge" of a man of that name, and that he owned a little cutter which traded to Raiaroa, on which atoll he lived. I walked like him, was of the same size, and had the "same kin' funny face."
She piqued my curiosity, and so when I found him at the round table of the Polonsky-Llewellyn group at the Cercle Bougainville, I looked him over narrowly. His name was Dixon,-Lovaina never got a name right,—an Englishman, a wanderer, with an Eton schooling, short, solidly built, with a bluff jaw and a keen, blue eye. He was not good-looking. He had learned the nickname given me, and was in such a happy frame of mind that he ordered drinks for the club.
"I 'm lucky to be here at all," he said seriously. "I have a seven-ton cutter, and left the Paumotus four days ago for Papeete. We had eight tons of copra in the hold, filling it up within a foot of the hatch. Eight miles off Point Venus the night before last, at eleven o'clock, we hoped for a bit of wind to reach port by morning. It was calm, and we were all asleep but the man at the wheel, when a waterspout came right out of the clear sky,—so the steersman said,—and struck us hard, We were swamped in a minute. The water fell on us like your Niagara. Christ! We gave up for gone, all of us, the other five all kanakas. We heeled over until the deck was under water,—of course we 've got no freeboard at all,—and suddenly a gale sprung up. We pulled in the canvas, but to no purpose. Under a bare pole we seemed every minute to be going under completely. We have no cabin, and all we could do was to lay flat on the deck in the water, and hold on to anything we could grab. The natives prayed, by God! They 're Catholics, and they remembered it then. The mate wanted to throw the copra overboard. I was willing, but I said, `What for? We 're dead men, and it 'II do no good. She can't stand up even empty.' We' stayed swamped that way all night, expecting to be drowned any minute, and I myself said to the Lord-I was a chorister once—that if I had done anything wrong in my life, I was sorry-"
"But you knew you had?" I interposed.
"Of course I did, but I was n't going to rub it in on myself in that fix. I knew He knew all about me. My father was a curate in Devon. Well, we pulled through all right, because here I am, and the copra 's on the dock. What do you think—the wind died away completely, and we had to sweep in to Papeete."
I touched his glass with mine. He was very ingenuous, a four-square man.
"Did the prayers have anything to do with your pulling through and saving the copra?" I questioned, curious.
"I don't know. I did n't make any fixed promises. I was bloody well seared, and I meant what I said about being sorry. But that 's all gone. Let 's drink this up and have another. Joseph !"
Haas! the waterspout did not harm my twin half so much as the rum-spout, which soon had him three sheets in the wind and his rudder unmanageable. When I went down the rue de Rivoli that night to the. Cercle Militaire, he had drifted into the Cocoanut House, and was sitting on a fallen tree telling of the storm to a woman in a scarlet gown with a hibiscus-blossom in her hair. I got him by the arm, and with an expressed de-sire to know more of the details of the escape, steered him to the Annexe, where he had a room.
A good sort was Dixon. He had in the Paumotus a little store, a dark mother-girl of Raiaroa who waited for him, and a new baby. He had been only a year in the group. He referred to "my family" with honest pride.
The captains of the Lurline and the O. M. Kellogg were at the club. The Lurline was twenty-seven years old, and the Kellogg, too, high up in her teens, if not twenties. Their skippers were Americans, the Kellogg's master as dark as a negro, burned by thirty years of tropical sun.
"I used to live in Hawaii in the eighties," he said. "I used to pass the pipe there in those days. There'd be only one pipe among a dozen kanakas, and each had a draw or so in turn. They have that custom in the Marquesas, too, and so had the American Indians."
I walked with the Kellogg's skipper to his vessel, moored close to the quay in front of the club. He gave an order to the mate, who told him to go to sheol. The mate had been ashore.
"Come aboard," cried the mate, "and I will knock your block off."
The whole waterfront heard the challenge. Stores were deserted to witness the imminent fight.
The dark-faced captain ascended the gang-plank, and walked to the forecastle head, where the mate was directing the making taut a line.
"Now," said the skipper, a foot from the mate, "knock!"
The mate hesitated. That would be a crime; he would go to jail and the captain would be delighted. The master taunted him :
"Knock my block off! Touch my block, and I 'll whip you so your mother would n't know you, you dirty, drunken, son of a sea-cook!"
The mate looked at him angrily, but uncertainly. He heard the laughter and the cheers of the bystanders on the quay and in the embowered street. He looked down at the deck, and he caught sight of a capstan-bar, which he gazed at longingly. Any blow would send him to prison, but why not for a sheep instead of a lamb?
He hesitated, and lifted his eyes to the black brow of the skipper, lowering within touch.
"Make fast your line about that cannon!" said the master, sharply.
The sailors waited joyfully for the fray, and the Raratonga stevedores on other vessels stopped their work. But nothing happened.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the mate, and shouted the order to the men ashore. The captain regarded him balefully, muttered a few words, and returned to the club for a Dr. Funk. That medical man ranked here above Colonel Rickey, who invented the gin-rickey in America.
Herr Funk was better known in the Cercle Bougainville than Charcot or Lister or Darwin. The doctor part of the drink's name made it seem almost like a prescription, and often, when amateurs sought to evade a second or third, the old-timers laughed at their fears of ill results, and said :
"That old Doctor Funk knew what he was about. Why, he kept people alive on that mixture. It 's like mother's milk."