White Shadows in the South Seas Part 46

Did I know this woman? I was from that island and I had been in that valley. I must have seen her.

I replied that I knew a Jeanette who answered the description beautiful, but that she was not from Chile.

Now, My Darling Hope knit her brow. Why would the _mutoi_ take hold of her son, as he feared?

I soothed her anxiety. The _mutoi_ walked up and down in front of the hotel, but he would not bother her son as long as her son could get a few piasters now and then to hand to him. The woman was rich, and would not miss a trifling sum, five or ten piasters a month for the _mutoi_.

But why was it forbidden for her son to live with Jeanette, being not married to her?

That was our law, but it was seldom enforced. The _mutois_ were fat men who carried war-clubs and struck the poor with them, but her son was _tapu_ because of Jeanette's money.

She was at ease now, she said. Her son could not marry without her permission. No Marquesan had ever done so. She would send the word by the next schooner, or I might take it with me to my own island and hand it to her son. He could then marry.

I had done her a great kindness, but one thing more. Neither she nor t.i.tihuti nor Water could make out what Pahorai Calizte meant by "Coot Pae, Mama." "A.P.A. Dieu." was his commendation of her to G.o.d, but _Coot Pae_ was not Marquesan, neither was it French. She p.r.o.nounced the words in the Marquesan way, and I knew at once.

_Coot pae_ is p.r.o.nounced Coot Pye, and Coot Pye was Pahorai Calizte's way of imitating the American for _Apae Kaoha_. "Good-by, mama," was his quite Philadelphia closing of his letter to his mother.

I addressed an envelop to her son with The Iron Fingers That Make Words, and gave it to My Darling Hope. A tear came in her eye. She rubbed my bare back affectionately and caressed my nose with hers as she smelled me solemnly. Then she went up the valley to enlighten the hill people.

CHAPTER x.x.xIX

The chants of departure; night falls on the Land of the War Fleet.

On the eve of my going all the youth and beauty of Atuona crowded my _paepae_. Water brought his _ukulele_, a Hawaiian _taro_-patch guitar, and sang his repertoire of ballads of Hawaii--"Aloha Oe,"

"Hawaii Ponoi," and "One, Two, Three, Four." Urged by all, I gave them for the last time my vocal masterpiece, "All Night Long He Calls Her Snooky-Uk.u.ms!" and was rewarded by a clamor of applauding cries. Marquesans think our singing strange--and no wonder! Theirs is a prolonged chant, a monotone without tune, with no high notes and little variance. But loving distraction, they listened with deep amus.e.m.e.nt to my rendering of American airs, as we might listen to Chinese falsettos.

They repaid me by reciting legends of their clans, and t.i.tihuti chanted her genealogy, a record kept by memory in all families. Water, her son, who had learned to write, set it down on paper for me. It named the ancestors in pairs, father and mother, and t.i.tihuti remembered thirty-eight generations, which covered perhaps a thousand years.

We sat in a respectful circle about her while she chanted it. An Amazon in height and weight, nearly six feet tall, body and head cast in heroic mold, she stood erect, her scarlet tunic gathered to display her symmetrical legs, tattooed in thought-kindling patterns, the feet and ankles as if encased in elegant Oriental sandals. Her red-gold hair, a flame in the flickering light of the torches, was wreathed with bright-green, glossy leaves, necklaces of peppers and small colored nuts rose and fell with her deep breathing.

Her voice was melodious, pitched low, and vibrating with the peculiar tone of the chant, a tone impossible of imitation to one who has not learned it as a child. Her eyes were kindled with pride of ancestry as she called the roll of experiences and achievements of the line that had bred her, and her clear-cut Greek features mirrored every emotion she felt, emotions of glory and pride, of sorrow and abas.e.m.e.nt at the fall of her race, of stoic fort.i.tude in the dull present and hopeless future of her people. With one shapely arm upraised, she uttered the names, trumpet-calls to memory and imagination:

Enata (Men) Vehine (Women) Na tupa efitu Metui te vehine Tupa oa ia fai Puha Momoo O tupa haaituani O haiko O nuku Oui aei O hutu Moeakau O oko Oinu vaa O moota O niniauo O tiu Moafitu otemau Fekei O mauniua O tuoa Hotaei O meae Oa tua hae O tehu eo Kei pana O ahunia Tui haa O taa tini Kei pana Nohea Tou mata Tua kina Papa ohe Tepiu Punoa Tui feaa Tuhina Naani Eiva Eio Hoki Teani nui nei O tapu ohi Ani het.i.ti Opu tini O kou aehitini O take oho O taupo O te heva Tui pahu Otiu hoku O hupe Oahu tupua O papuaei O honu feti Pepene tona Honu tona Haheinutu O taoho Kotio nui Taihaupu Motu haa Mu eiamau Hope taupo Tuhi pahu Taupo tini Anitia fitu Ana tete Pa efitu Kihiputona Tahio paha oho Taua kahiepo Honu tona Mahea tete t.i.tihuti Aino tete tika Tua vahiane Kui motua t.i.tihuti

Loud sang the names themselves, proclaiming the merits of their bearers or their fathers in heraldic words, in t.i.tles like banners on castle walls, flying the standard of ideals and attainments of men and women long since dust.

Masters of Sea and Land, Commander of the Stars, Orderers of the Waxing and Waning of the Moon, Ten Thousand Ocean Tides, Man of Fair Countenance, Caller to Myriads, Climber to the Ninth Heaven, Man of Understanding, Player of the Game of Life, Doer of Deeds of Daring, Ten Thousand Cocoanut Leaves, The Enclosure of the Whale's Tooth, Man of the Forbidden Place, The Whole Blue Sky, Player of the War Drum, The Long Stayer; these were the names that called down the centuries, bringing back to t.i.tihuti and to us who sat at her feet in the glow of the torches the fame and glory of her people through ages past.

How compare such names with John Smith or Henry Wilson? Yet we ourselves, did we remember it, have come from ancestors bearing names as resonant. Nero was Ahen.o.barbus, the Red-Bearded, to his contemporaries of Rome, at the time when t.i.tihuti's forefathers were brave and great beneath the cocoanut-palms of Atuona. Our lists of early European kings carry names as full of meaning as theirs; Charles the Hammer, Edward the Confessor, Charles the Bold, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Hereward the Wake.

t.i.tihuti, having gravely finished her chant, stood for a moment in silence. Then, "_Aue!_" she said with a sigh. "No one will remember when I am gone. Water, my son, nor Keke, my daughter, have learned these names of their forefathers and mothers who were n.o.ble and renowned. What does it matter? We will all be gone soon, and the cocoanut-groves of our islands will know us no more. We come, we do not know whence, and we go, we do not know where. Only the sea endures, and it does not remember."

She sat on the mat beside me, and pressed my hand. I had been adopted as her son, and she was sorry to see me departing to the unknown island from which I had come, and from which, she knew, I would never return. She was mournful; she said that her heart was heavy. But I praised lavishly her beautifully tattooed legs, and complimented the decoration of her hair until she smiled again, and when from the shadowy edges of the ring of torch-light voices began an old chant of feasting, she took it up with the others.

There were Marquesans who could recite one hundred and forty-five generations of their families, covering more than thirty-six hundred years. Enough to make family trees that go back to the Norman conquest appear insignificant. I had known an old Maori priest who traced his ancestry to Rangi and Papa, through one hundred and eighty-two generations, 4,550 years. The Easter Islanders spoke of fifty-seven generations, and in Raratonga ninety pairs of ancestors are recited. The pride of the white man melts before such records.

Such incidents as the sack of Jerusalem, the Crusades, or Ca.s.sar's a.s.sa.s.sination, are recent events compared to the beginnings of some of these families, whose last descendants have died or are dying to-day.

I took t.i.tihuti's words with me as I went down the trail from my little blue cabin at the foot of Temetiu for the last time: "We come, we do not know whence, and we go, we do not know where.

Only the sea endures, and it does not remember."

Great Fern, Haabuani, Exploding Eggs, and Water carried my bags and boxes to the sh.o.r.e, while I said _adieux_ to the governor, Bauda, and Le Brunnec. When I reached the beach all the people of the valley were gathered there. They sat upon the sand, men and women and children, and intoned my farewell ode--my _pae me io te_:

"Apae!

Kaoha! te Menike!

Mau oti oe anao nei i te apua Kahito"

o a'Tahiti.

Ei e tihe to metao iau e hoa iriti oei an ote vei mata to taua.

E avei atu."

"O, farewell to you, American!

You go to far-distant Tahiti!

There you will stay, but you will weep for me.

Ever I shall be here, and the tears fall like the river flows.

O friend and lover, the time has come. Farewell!"

The sky was ominous and the boats of the _Saint Francois_ were running a heavy surf. I waded waist-deep through the breakers to climb into one. Malicious Gossip, Ghost Girl and the little leper la.s.s, Many Daughters, were sobbing, their dresses lifted to their eyes.

"_Hee poihoo!_" cried the steersman. The men in the breakers shoved hard, and leaped in, and we were gone.

My last hour in the Marquesas had come. I should never return. The beauty, the depressingness of these islands is overwhelming. Why could not this idyllic, fierce, laughter-loving people have stayed savage and strong, wicked and clean? The artists alone have known the flower destroyed here, the possible growth into greatness and purity that was choked in the smoke of white l.u.s.t and greed.

At eight o'clock at night we were ready to depart.

The bell in the engine-room rang, the captain shouted orders from the bridge, the anchors were hoisted aboard. The propeller began to turn. The searchlight of the _Saint Francois_ played upon the rocky stairway of Taha-Uka, penciled for a moment the dark line of the cliffs, swept the half circle into Atuona Inlet, and lingered on the white cross of Calvary where Gauguin lies.

The gentle rain in the shaft of light looked like quicksilver. The smoke from the funnel mixed in the heavy air with the mist and the light, and formed a fantastic beam of vapor from the ship to the sh.o.r.e. Up this stream of quivering, scintillating irradiation, as brilliant as flashing water in the sun, flew from the land thousands of gauze-winged insects, the great moths of the night, wondrous, shimmering bits of life, seeming all fire in the strange atmosphere.

Drawn from their homes in the dark groves by this marvelous illumination, they climbed higher and higher in the dazzling splendor until they reached its source, where they crumpled and died.

They seemed the souls of the island folk.

They pa.s.s mute, falling like the breadfruit in their dark groves.

Soon none will be left to tell their departed glories. Their skulls perhaps shall speak to the stranger who comes a few decades hence, of a manly people, once magnificently perfect in body, masters of their seas, unexcelled in the record of humanity in beauty, vigor, and valor.

To-day, insignificant in numbers, unsung in history, they go to the abode of their dark spirits, calmly and without protest. A race goes out in wretchedness, a race worth saving, a race superb in manhood when the whites came. Nothing will remain of them but their ruined monuments, the relics of their temples and High Places, remnants of the mysterious past of one of the strangest people of time.

The _Saint Francois_ surged past the _Roberta_, the old sea-wolf, worn and patched, but st.u.r.dy in the gleam of the searchlight.

Capriata, the old Corsican, stood on his deck watching us go.

I walked aft and took my last view of the Marquesas. The tops of the mountains were jagged shadows against the sky, dark and mournful.

The arc-light swung to shine upon the mouth of the bay, and the Land of the War Fleet was blotted out in the black night.

Some day when deeper poverty falls on Asia or the fortunes of war give all the South Seas to the Samurai, these islands will again be peopled. But never again will they know such beautiful children of nature, pa.s.sionate and brave, as have been destroyed here. They shall have pa.s.sed as did the old Greeks, but they will have left no written record save the feeble and misunderstanding observations of a few alien visitors.

_Apai! Kaoha e!_

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