I turned and looked at him. He was a venerable figure, but there was no sign of eighty years in him. Rid of that white, hirsute mask, so associated with age, Stroganoff might have been twenty years younger. I said so, but it did not allay his yearning.
“I am well enough,” he said, “because I have not dissipated for thirty years. I turned a leaf, as did Leo Nikolaievitch, after ’War and Peace.’ Now I feel myself slipping into the grave.”
He gazed ruminantly away from the lagoon to the pool of Psyche, where the Tahitian women squatted on their shapely haunches and thumped their clothes.
“See,” he said earnestly. “I am old and useless. Why should not Steinach or the others make the grand experiment on me? If they succeed, very good; if they fail, there is no loss. They say those glands make a man over, no matter what his age. I offer myself freely. I am not afraid of death. Me, I am a philosopher.”
He spoke excitedly. His eyes were fixed on distance, and I followed them.
Auro, the Golden One, as her name meant, had been washing her muslin slips in the pool of Psyche, and now stood in the entrance to it. She was for a fleeting second in her pareu only, her tunic raised above her head to pull on, and her enravishing form disclosed from her waist to her piquant face, over which tumbled her opulent locks.
It flashed on me that, wise and old as he was, the spectrum of the philosopher’s soul had all the colors of the ignorant and the young. I looked from the nymphs of the pool to his darkening eyes, and I had a revelation of the persistence of common humanity in the most learned and the most philosophical. My castigation of myself for not buying his steamship ticket ceased in a moment, though not the less did I continue to enjoy his fount of learning and experience.
The market in Papeete—Coffee at Shin Bung Lung’s with a prince—Fish the chief item—Description of them—The vegetables and fruits—The fish strike—Rumors of an uprising—Kelly and the I. W. W.—The mysterious session at Fa’a—Halellujah! I’m a Bum!—The strike is broken.
The market in Papeete, the only one in Tahiti, has an air all its own. It is different in its amateur atmosphere and roseate color, in its isothermal romance and sheer good humor, from all others I have seen—Port of Spain, Peking, Kandy, or Jolo. It is more fascinating in its sensuous, tropical setting, its strange foods, and its laughing, lazy crowds of handsome people, than any other public mart I know. There is no financial exchange in Tahiti. Stocks and bonds take the shape of cocoanuts, vanilla-beans, fish, and other comforts. The brokers are merry women. The market is spot, and buyers must take delivery immediately, as usually not a single security is left at the end of the day’s trading.
One must be at the market before five o’clock to see it all. Sunday is the choicest day of all the week, because Sunday is a day of feasting, and the marche then has a more than gala air. The English missionaries had once made even cooking a fish on Sunday a crime, severely punished; but the French priests changed all that, and the French Sabbath, the New York Sabbath, was en regle.