Even toward the stranger the Marquesan was never guilty of torture of any kind. Though they slew and ate, they had none of the refinements of cruelty of the Romans, not even scalping enemies as did the Scythians, Visigoths, Franks, and Anglo-Saxons. In their most bloody wars they often paused in battle to give the enemy time to eat and to rest, and there is no record of their ever ringing a valley about with armed warriors and starving to death the women and children within. Victims for the gods were struck down without warning, so that they might not suffer even the pangs of anticipation. The thumb-screw and rack of Christendom struck with horror those of my cannibal friends to whom I mentioned them.
The memorable game for the matches in the cocoanut-grove of Lam Kai Oo.
Parables are commonly found in books. In a few words on a printed page one sees a universal problem made small and clear, freed from those large uncertainties and whimsies of chance that make life in the whole so confusing to the vision. It was my fortune to see, in the valley of Atuona on Hiva-oa, a series of incidents which were at the time a whirl of unbelievable merriment, yet which slowly clarified themselves into a parable, while I sat later considering them on the leaf-shaded paepae of the House of the Golden Bed.
They began one afternoon when I dropped down to the palace to have a smoke with M. L’Hermier des Plantes, the governor. As I mounted the steps I beheld on the veranda the governor, stern, though perspiring, in his white ducks, confronting a yellowish stranger on crutches who pleaded in every tone of anguish for some boon denied him.
“Non! No! Ned!” said the governor, poly-linguistically emphatic. “It cannot be done!” He dropped into a chair and poured himself an inch of Pernod, as the defeated suitor turned to me in despair.
He was short and of a jaundiced hue, his soft brown eyes set slightly aslant. Although lame, he had an alertness and poise unusual in the sea’s spawn of these beaches. In Tahitian, Marquesan, and French, with now and then an English word, he explained that he, a Tahitian marooned on Hiva-oa from a schooner because of a broken leg, wished to pass the tedium of his exile in an innocent game of cards.
“I desire a mere permission to buy two packs of cards at the Chinaman’s,” he begged. “I would teach my neighbors here the jeu de pokaree. I have learned it on a voyage to San Francisco. It is Americaine. It is like life, not altogether luck. One must think well to play it. I doubt not that you know that game.”
Now gambling is forbidden in these isles. It is told that throughout the southern oceans such a madness possessed the people to play the white men’s games of chance that in order to prevent constant bloodshed in quarrels a strict interdiction was made by the conquerors. Of course whites here are always excepted from such sin-stopping rules, and merchants keep a small stock of cards for their indulgence.