There in his board shanty, six by ten feet, we ate our first dinner in the islands, while the wind surged through swishing palm-leaves outside, and nuts fell now and then upon the iron roof with the resounding crash of bombs. It was a plain, but plentiful, meal of canned foods, served by the tawny gendarme and the wicked Song, whose term of punishment for distributing brandy seemed curiously suited to his crime.
At midnight I accompanied a happy governor to his palace, which had one spare bedroom, sketchily furnished. During the night the slats of my bed gave way with a dreadful din, and I woke to find the governor in pajamas of rose-colored silk, with pistol in hand, shedding electric rays upon me from a battery lamp. There was anxiety in his manner as he said:
“You never can tell. A chief’s son tried to kill my predecessor. I do not know these Marquesans. We are few whites here. And, mon dieu! the guardian of the palace is himself a native!”
[Illustration: Antoinette, a Marquesan dancing girl]
[Illustration: Marquesans in Sunday clothes The daughter of Titihuti, chieftess of Hiva-Oa. On the left her husband, Pierre Pradorat, on the right, his brother]
First night in Atuona valley; sensational arrival of the Golden Bed; Titi-huti’s tattooed legs.
It was necessary to find at once a residence for my contemplated stay in Atuona, for the schooner sailed on the morrow, and my brief glimpse of the Marquesans had whetted my desire to live among them. I would not accept the courteous invitation of the governor to stay at the palace, for officialdom never knows its surroundings, and grandeur makes for no confidence from the lowly.
Lam Kai Oo, an aged Chinaman whom I encountered at the trader’s store, came eagerly to my rescue with an offered lease of his deserted store and bakeshop. From Canton he had been brought in his youth by the labor bosses of western America to help build the transcontinental railway, and later another agency had set him down in Taha-Uka to grow cotton for John Hart. He saw the destruction of that plantation, escaped the plague of opium, and with his scant savings made himself a petty merchant in Atuona. Now he was old and had retired up the valley to the home he had long established there beside his copra furnace and his shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
He led me to the abandoned shack, a long room, tumbledown, moist, festooned with cobwebs, the counters and benches black with reminiscences of twenty thousand tradings and Chinese meals. The windows were but half a dozen bars, and the heavy vapors of a cruel past hung about the sombre walls. Though opium had long been contraband, its acrid odor permeated the worn furnishings. Here with some misgivings I prepared to spend my second night in Hiva-oa.
I left the palace late, and found the shack by its location next the river on the main road. Midnight had come, no creature stirred as I opened the door. The few stars in the black velvet pall of the sky seemed to ray out positive darkness, and the spirit of Po, the Marquesan god of evil, breathed from the unseen, shuddering forest. I tried to damn my mood, but found no profanity utterable. Rain began to fall, and I pushed into the den.