“It torments these French, former sailors or petty officials gone into trade or speculation, with delusions and ambitions of grandeur. There is no remedy. The King of Apamama said it all when he divided the whites into three classes, ’First, him cheat a litty; second, him cheat plenty; and third, him cheat too much.’”
Stroganoff got on his feet, rubbed his knees to limber them, and began to move off slowly toward Fa’a, his place of abode.
“But, Mr. Stroganoff,” I called to him, “you said all that about the Tahitians, also.”
The Russian octogenarian drew an over-ripe mango from his skirt, and bit into it, with dire results to his whiskers and coat,—it should be eaten only in a bathtub,—and replied wearily:
“I except nobody here.”
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. Republics 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.