“She levies tribute on all whom she likes,” said Grelet. “Her devotions are rum and tobacco.” On meeting me she squatted and spat through her fingers to show her thirst, as do all Marquesans whose manners have not been corrupted by strangers.
The other girl, younger, in a scarlet tunic with a wreath of hibiscus flowers on her head, startled me by appearing with all her body that I could see colored a brilliant yellow. She had decked herself for the journey with a covering of ena-paste, perfumed with saffron, a favorite cosmetic of island beauties.
The sun was white on Oomoa beach as we came down to it from the grateful shade of Grelet’s plantation. Against the blinding glimmer of it the half-naked boatsmen, bearing bunches of bananas, dozens of drinking nuts, bread, and wine, the gifts of my host, were dark silhouettes outlined against the blue sea.
Behind them walked Tetuahunahuna. Calm, unburdened, and without a tattoo mark on his straight brown body, he looked the commander of men that he was, a man whose word none would think to question or to doubt. Indifferent alike to the dizzying heat and to the admiring glances of the women, he set at once to ordering the loading of the boat that lay upon the sands beyond the reach of the breakers.
A dozen women lounged in the ancient public place beneath the banian tree, a mighty platform of black stone on which the island women had sat for centuries to watch their men come and go in canoes to the fishing or to raids on neighboring bays, and where for decades they have awaited the landing of their white sailor lovers.
“Tai, menino! A pacific sea!” they called to us as we passed them, and their eyes followed with envy the progress of Ghost Girl and Sister of Anna.
The boat was already well loaded when I reached it. The fermented breadfruit wrapped in banana-leaves, the pig dug from the pit that morning and packed in sections of bamboo, the calabashes of river water, the bananas and drinking nuts, were all in place. With difficulty my luggage was added to the cargo, and we found cramped places for ourselves and bade farewell to Grelet, while the oarsmen held the boat steady at the edge of the lapping waves. Tetuahunahuna, watching the breakers, gave a quick word of command, and we plunged through the foam.
The boat leaped and pitched in the flying spray. The oarsmen, leaping to their places, struck out with the oars. A sharp “Haie!” of alarm rose behind me, and I saw that an oar had snapped. But Tetuahunahuna, waist-deep in the water at our stern, gave a mighty push, and we were safely afloat as he clambered over the edge and stood dripping on the steersman’s tiny perch, while the men, holding the boat head-on to the rolling waves, drove us safely through to open water.
Outside the bay they put by their oars and we waited for a breeze to give the signal for hoisting mast and sail. The beach lay behind us, a narrow line of white beyond the whiter curve of surf. The blue sky burned above us, and to the far shimmering horizon stretched the blue calm of a windless sea.