Last days in Atuona; My Darling Hope’s letter from her son.
Exploding Eggs was building my fire of cocoanut-husks as usual in the morning to cook my coffee and eggs, when a whistle split the sultry air. Far from the bay it came, shrill and demanding; my call to civilization.
Long expected, the first liner was in the Isles of the Cannibals. France had begun to make good her promise to expand her trade in Oceania, and the isolation of the dying Marquesans and empty valleys was ended. The steamship Saint Francois, from Bordeaux by way of Tahiti, had come to visit this group and pick up cargo for Papeite and French ports.
Strange was the sight of her in Taha-Uka Bay where never her like had been, but stranger still, two aboard her, the only two not French, were known to me. Here thousands of miles from where I had seen them, unconnected in any way with each other, were a pair of human beings I had known, one in China, and the other in the United States, both American citizens, and sent by fate to replace me as objects of interest to the natives.
They came up from the beach together, one a small black man, the other tall and golden brown, led by Malicious Gossip to see the American who lived in these far-away islands. The black lingered to talk at a distance, but the golden-brown one advanced.
His figure was the bulky one of the trained athlete, stocky and tremendously powerful, his hide that of an extreme blond burned by months of a tropic sun upon salt water. His hair was an aureole, yellow as a sunflower, a bush of it on a bullet-head. And, incredible almost—as if made of putty by a joker—his nose stuck out like the first joint of a thumb, the oddest nose ever on a man. His little eyes were blue and bright. Barefooted, bare-headed, in the sleeveless shirt and short trousers of a life-guard, with an embroidered V on the front of the upper garment, he was radiantly healthy and happy, a civilized being returned to nature’s ways.
Though he did not recognize me, I knew him instantly for a trainer and beach-patrol of Southern California, a diver for planted shells at Catalina Island, whom I had first seen plunging from the rafters of a swimming-tank, and I remembered that he had flattened his nose by striking the bottom, and that a skilful surgeon had saved him its remnant.
He had with him a bundle in a towel, and setting it down on my paepae, introduced himself nonchalantly as Broken Bronck, “Late manager of the stable of native fighters of the Count de M—— of the island of Tahaa, near Tahiti.”
“I’m here to stay,” he said carelessly. “I have a few francs, and I hear they’re pretty hospitable in the Markeesies. I came on the deck of the Saint Francois, and I’ve brung my things ashore.”
He undid the towel, and there rolled out another bathing-suit and a set of boxing gloves. These were his sole possessions, he said.