“It is not long. We vanish like the small fish before the hunger of the mako. The High Places are broken, and the pahue covers our paepaes. It does not matter. E tupu te fau; e toro to farero, e mou te taata. The hibiscus shall grow, the coral shall spread, and man shall cease. There is sleep on your eyelids, and the mats are ready.”
His hospitality would give me the place of honor, despite my protests, and soon I found myself lying between my host and his wife, while the other members of the household lay in serried rank beyond her on the mats that filled the hollow between the palm-trunks. All slept with the backs of their heads upon one timber, and the backs of their knees over the other, but I found comfort on the soft pile between them. My companions slumbered peacefully, as I have remarked that men do in all countries where the people live near, and much in, the sea. There was no snoring or groaning, no convulsive movement of arms or legs, no grimaces or frowns such as mark the fitful sleep of most city dwellers and of all of us who worry or burn the candle at both ends.
I lay listening for some time to their quiet breathing and the sound of rain drumming on the thatch, but at last my eyes closed, and only the dawn awoke me.
[Illustration: Splitting cocoanut husks in copra making process]
[Illustration: Cutting the meat from cocoanuts to make copra]
The household of Lam Kai Oo; copra making; marvels of the cocoanut-groves; the sagacity of pigs; and a crab that knows the laws of gravitation.
Next morning, after bidding farewell to my hosts, I set out down the mountain in the early freshness of a sunny, rain-washed morning. I followed a trail new to me, a path steep as a stairway, walled in by the water-jeweled jungle pressing so close upon me that at times I saw the sky only through the interlacing fronds of the tree-ferns above my head.
I had gone perhaps a mile without seeing any sign of human habitation, hearing only the conversation of the birds and the multitudinous murmuring of leaves, when a heavy shower began to fall. Pressing on, hampered by my clinging garments and slipping in the path that had instantly become a miniature torrent, I came upon a little clearing in which stood a dirty, dark shanty, like a hovel in the outskirts of Canton, not raised on a paepae but squat in an acre of mud and the filth of years.
Two children, three or four years old, played naked in the muck, and Flower, of the red-gold hair, reputed the wickedest woman in the Marquesas, ironed her gowns on the floor of the porch. Raising her head, she called to me to come in.
This was the house of Lam Kai Oo, the adopted father of Flower. Seventy-one years old, Lam Kai Oo had made this his home since he left the employ of Captain Hart, the unfortunate American cotton planter, and here he had buried three native wives. His fourth, a woman of twenty years, sat in the shelter of a copra shed nursing a six-months’ infant. Her breasts were dark blue, almost black, a characteristic of nursing mothers here.