By Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall








By Charles Nordhoff






















Published June 1938









The Dark River


At the southeastern extremity of the island of Tahiti, and connected with it by a narrow isthmus, lies the peninsula of Taiarapu, where ancient weathered mountains, green to the topmost pinnacles, rise abruptly from the sea, rank beyond rank, until they are lost to view in shrouds of rain. On the northern side, a grass-grown road, which branches from the main thoroughfare at the isthmus, follows the sunlit coastal land through groves of coconut palms, breadfruit and mango trees, until it reaches the village of Tautira, the farthest settlement on that side of the island. Beyond this village, and extending for a distance of nearly twenty miles, lies a region known as the Fenua Aaiheré,—the Land of Forests,—long since depopulated, and bearing to-day scarcely a sign of human habitation.

On a February afternoon a small canoe with two occupants was skirting this lonely region along the lagoons that border the eastern side of the Taiarapu Peninsula. The man on the stern thwart was a native, about sixty years of age, with a lined, rugged, and kindly face, and the muscular frame common even to the older men of his race. He was naked to the waist and wore a weather-stained pandanus hat pressed over his thick gray hair. He paddled with the unconscious ease of breathing, first on one side, then on the other, and the canoe, slipping along with a faint seething hiss, appeared to be guiding itself through the channels of vivid green water, darkening at times to deepest blue, amongst the scattered coral shoals that rose here and there to within a few inches of the surface of the lagoon. His companion, a girl of sixteen, sat forward, using her paddle with the same effortless skill, scarcely aware of her movements as she dipped her blade into the sunlit water. Presently the man looked over his shoulder as a faint breath of air fanned his cheek.

“Enough,” he said. “Rest, Naia; the breeze is coming.”

The girl glanced back, then drew in her paddle and gazed dreamily before her as the old man took up two green palm fronds that had been lying in the bottom of the canoe. These he stood erect, tying the butts to the thwart in front of him and attaching a line to the stems higher up, making the ends fast to cleats on either side of the canoe. The breeze, faint at first, gradually freshened; the tall fronds made an excellent sail for so light a craft, which was soon moving quietly on again, looking smaller than a child’s toy in that wide landscape, between the mountains that towered above them on the right hand and the empty sea on the left. In this latter direction the sky was clear, but inland, masses of cloud, gleaming in the afternoon sunlight, clung to the shoulders of mountains whose peaks pierced through them here and there or showed in canyons of clear air between, thus giving them the appearance of fantastic height and of stretching away, summit beyond summit, to infinite distances.

The girl glanced back once more.

“How smoothly we go,” she said. “We are lucky to have so fine a breeze from the north.”

“It will hold,” her companion replied. “We shall be at home in another hour.”

The old man, glancing to left and right as he steered, let his eyes rest fondly upon the figure of the girl from time to time, seeming to deny himself the privilege at one moment that he might enjoy it the more a moment later. After a long silence he spoke again.

“Naia, a strange thing has happened these past few weeks.”

“Strange? What is it?”

“It is of yourself I speak. You do not know, perhaps, but your mother must have seen.”

“But what are you telling me?”

“You have changed of a sudden. You are no longer a child.”

The girl smiled back at him. “Well? And what is there strange about that?”

“Only yesterday you were a baby; so it seems to me. Do you remember how you would ride on my shoulder with your little fingers fast in my hair? Happy days they were!”

“Happier than these, you think?”

“No; only different. . . . Then, before I knew, almost, the baby was a little girl needing me no longer; proud to do everything for herself.”

“She wanted her grandfather often enough.”

“I know. . . . But now, perhaps . . .” He broke off and shook his head wonderingly. “Yes, it may well be said: I looked away for a moment and the child was gone. A young woman stood in her place. That is the way it happened.”

“And you are sad, for this?”

“Perhaps a little. I needed more time. I would have liked to say good-bye to her.”

Naia turned in her seat and sat facing astern, her chin in her hands, gazing at the old man with misty eyes.

“Never fear,” she said. “The child is still there. She will always be there, for you.”

“I hope so, Naia. I hope so.”

“How have I changed?”

“Well . . .” Again he broke off and shook his head. “It is wonderful. There’s no explaining it.”

“You think I am prettier?”

He smiled faintly. “Enough. Would you have your grandfather praise you to your face? There is no need for that, surely. Look ahead, Naia. Our friends are there again.”

They were now moving through deep blue water, and a little way before them a school of porpoises had appeared, crossing and recrossing the path of the canoe, so close at times that Naia could almost touch them and their breathing was plainly heard as they broke the surface. They played close by for some time, then their forms became shadowy and they next saw them far in the distance, making toward a break in the reef.

“Are they always the same ones?” she asked.

The old man smiled. “Why not? They know you. They are always here by the passage to welcome you home.”

The great valley of Vaihiva now opened up before them, and the girl turned to gaze inland over the groves of palms and the belts of forest that bordered the river to the high upper valley where a waterfall could be seen, so far distant that it appeared as a mere shining thread clinging to the wall of rock. The valley which looked eastward was now filled with deepening shadows, but high above it the fantastic weathered peaks of the interior still glowed with the last light of day. A quarter of a mile to seaward, near the break in the reef called the Vaihiva Passage, the outlines of a small islet with its fringe of bush, and its scattered clumps of coconut palms and pandanus trees, were blurring in the dusk. The breeze died away as they came within the shelter of the land, and for a moment or two the canoe was allowed to drift with the barely perceptible current moving down the lagoon to join that of the river. Then the old man wielded his paddle once more. Entering the mouth of the river, about thirty yards wide at that point, he brought up at the end of a wooden pier.

Naia sprang out and, taking various small parcels handed up to her, went along a footpath toward the house which stood midway on the point, at some distance from the riverbank. A slender, middle-aged native woman stood awaiting her at the top of the steps leading to the verandah. She kissed the girl lightly on the cheek as she helped to relieve her of the parcels.

“You are late, Naia,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you since midday.”

“Scold Papa Ruau for that,” the girl replied. “He met some of his old fishing friends. It was one of his parau-parau days. I had to drag him away.”

“You didn’t forget the tin of kerosene?”

“No.” She sighed happily as she seated herself on a sofa. “It is good to be at home again. Two days at Tautira are enough—more than enough.”

“You mean it? You like home best?”

“Much the best. Mother, do you realize that it’s been six months since you were last in Tautira? All of your friends were asking if you meant never to go again.”

“I know. I shall, soon, on my way to Moorea. I must see to the copra making on our lands there.”

“You don’t want me to go with you?”

“Not unless you wish it.”

“Then I shall stay at home. How long shall you be gone?”

“Two weeks, perhaps. Now give me your news. What has happened in Tautira?”

Mauri, the elder woman, seated herself beside the girl, stroking her hand as she listened to the recital, prompting Naia with questions from time to time, allowing her to pass over no slightest detail concerning any event that had been brought to her notice in the distant village. In all of the Taiarapu Peninsula’s forty miles of coast line there was no household more isolated than theirs. It was Mauri rather than Naia who missed the small distractions of village life, and twenty years of absence from them had only served to increase her interest in the lives of her distant friends and relatives. Although she was skilled in all the pursuits of a native woman, her life had set her apart, in more than a physical sense, from her own people, who treated her with the deference of acknowledged superiority, and this had been increased by her marriage to a white man, an American named Thayer, who had died some years before. A widow at thirty-four, in sole charge of her own widely scattered family lands, Mauri proved herself thoroughly competent as a business woman. Native managers, connected with her family by blood or marriage, lived on her lands on the island of Hao, in the Low Archipelago, and at Moorea, in the Windward Group. As the years passed her absences from Vaihiva grew less and less frequent, and those who knew her best were both surprised and puzzled at her seeming preference for a life so solitary when a woman of her possessions might have lived where she would. Since her husband’s death, the household consisted of herself, Naia, and her father, Raitua; and their only near neighbors were three families who lived far up the valley and performed the work on her plantations.

Raitua was a native of the old school, proud of the Polynesian learning with which his mind was stored, and secretly contemptuous of nearly all that the white man had to offer. Something childlike in the old man’s nature appealed to a side in his granddaughter’s nature to which Mauri had never gained access, and the girl had listened all through her childhood, with believing wonder, to Raitua’s tales of old gods and heroes, of ancient voyages across thousands of leagues of sea, of the drawing up of new lands from the deep, and of the creation of those children of the gods who first peopled them.

Coming through the hallway from the rear of the house, Raitua stood listening while Naia completed her account of happenings in the distant settlement.

“I have filled the lamps,” he said. “We could bring only one tin of kerosene in the small canoe. Terii will fetch the other. He will pass this way next week.”

“There were no letters, I suppose?” Mauri asked.

Aué! To be sure there was—one,” Naia replied. “Where is it, Papa Ruau?”

“Ah, é—the letter.” The old man scratched his head. “I put it in my hat, perhaps.”

While he was gone in search of it, Naia turned to her mother.

“It is from Amanu, I think,” she said. “I was about to open it; then I saw written on the envelope: ‘To be read only by Mauri.’ What secret can this be?”

“No secret, surely,” Mauri replied. “Some business matter, perhaps.”

She took the letter from her father, opened and glanced through it hastily; then she slowly folded it and placed it in her bosom.

“What is it, Mother?” Naia asked.

“Nothing—a request. It is of no importance. They are always wanting something, those people from Amanu.” She rose. “Open the himaa, Father. I have two fine mullet baking there and sweet potatoes from the garden up the valley. You must be hungry, you two.”

The house on the point at the entrance to Vaihiva Valley was a substantial frame dwelling with a wide verandah facing the lagoon and a hallway running through to a second verandah at the back. Beyond, and connected with the main building by a covered passageway, was the kitchen, spacious, airy, and spotlessly clean.

Late on this same evening, Mauri was seated at a table here, a lamp before her and writing materials at hand. Naia had gone to bed long since, and Raitua had retired to his own little house a quarter of a mile distant along the beach. Mauri, having looked into the girl’s room to be certain that she was sleeping, returned to the kitchen and opened and read the letter her father had brought her.

To Mauri Vahiné, in the name of Jesus Christ.      Amen.

Greetings and health to you, and to Raitua, your father, and to Naia, your daughter.

It is of our son, Maunga, that we speak, with his good will and in the name of our family. You know him well. You last saw him when you passed this way two years ago, on your voyage to Hao. He was then a youth. He is now a man of twenty-one. It is our wish that he be provided with a wife, and that in the children of this marriage the blood of two ancient families may be mingled. Your daughter, Naia, is his choice and ours, and if our son is pleasing to you little more need be said. He will have lands here, at Amanu, equal to those which will come to Naia, at Hao. If these two are united, our desire is that they should live at Amanu, but we will meet your wishes and those of your daughter in this matter.

Finished is this little letter. We await your word, hoping that this union in our families may be found pleasing to you, to your father, and to Naia.

Kaupia Tané

Kaupia Vahiné

Having read and reread this letter many times, Mauri continued to gaze unseeingly at the lines of neatly written script. At last she took up the sheet of paper, held it to the lamp until it was alight, and carried it to the stove, where she watched until it was consumed by the flame. Having put away her writing materials unused, she turned the lamp low and went through the hallway to the front verandah, where she stood for some time listening to the rasping and rustling of the palm fronds. The sky was now overcast and a damp wind blowing from the southeast, but the moon, a little past the full, shone wanly through the clouds. She went softly down the steps, crossed the point of land, and walked rapidly northward, following the contours of the beach. For an hour she proceeded at unslackened pace until she came to the entrance of a small valley that showed itself as a pit of deeper blackness against the hills that rose steeply on either side. She turned to the left here, groping with her feet for the pathway and pausing for a moment until her eyes became accustomed to this intenser gloom. Proceeding then, she went slowly until she felt rather than saw a small thatched house immediately before her. Making her way to the doorstep, she halted.

“Taio Vahiné!”

There was no response. She called again, more loudly. “Taio Vahiné, O!”

Presently she heard a slight stirring within doors. “É,” a voice replied. “O vai tera?

“It is I—Mauri.”

“Wait, then. I will light the lamp.”

A moment later the hut with its walls of split bamboo was outlined, like a small cage, with bars of light. An old woman, her scant hair hanging in a single braid, opened the door, the lamp in her hand, as Mauri mounted the steps. Her figure was scarcely larger than that of a child, forming a striking contrast to the snow-white hair and the lined and rugged face of a woman of eighty.

“Enter, Mauri. It is a late hour you come.” She turned to peer at her again before leading the way into the small bare room. “There is nothing wrong at home?”

“You shall hear,” Mauri replied. “You will forgive me, Mama Taio, for disturbing your rest? I have not come without reason.”

Aita é péapéa. The slumbers of the old are light. The visit was expected. I dreamed of you—when was it?—three nights back.”

“Of me? What was this dream?”

“I could make little of it. But it was of a time when Naia was a child at your breast. I see you still, as it was in the dream, rocking her in your arms and weeping.”

“I was directed to you of a certainty,” Mauri replied, in an awe-struck voice. “I am greatly troubled, and it is of Naia I would speak.”

The old woman drew up her only chair for her guest. Going to a shelf in a corner, she returned with a coconut shell in which she kept her smoking materials. She offered it to Mauri, who shook her head. Taio Vahiné seated herself on the floor, her small bare feet tucked beneath her, with the lamp at her elbow. Peeling a leaf from the cake of black tobacco, she toasted it over the flame of the lamp, then rolled it in a strip of dried pandanus leaf. She lighted the cigarette and let the smoke curl slowly from her nostrils.

“I am waiting, Mauri,” she said, presently; “but speak in your own good time.”

Mauri looked searchingly into the wrinkled face of her companion.

“You are no gossip, Mama Taio,” she began. “No one could say that you have ever betrayed a secret.”

Taio Vahiné smiled. “You say no more than truth. There must be one woman worthy of trust in every district. An old woman, without family, is best for this. You may speak without fear.”

“If I had come to you long ago,” Mauri replied, ruefully. “Tirara—nothing is to be gained by thinking of that. I did not come. Not even you did I trust. But now I must speak. You shall tell me what I must do.”

Taio Vahiné waited, her small brown hands resting lightly on her knees.

“It is hard,” Mauri said, at last. “I am overproud . . . but the truth must be told. . . . Mama Taio, you will not have forgotten the two English people who came to Vaihiva to live many years ago? The man who was ill and his young wife? They had their child with them, a little boy of four years. They lived in the house we built for them across the river from our own house.”

Taio Vahiné nodded. “I remember them well. Let me think . . . Makla we called them.”

“Their name was McLeod in the English speech. Their little son’s name was George.”

Te haamanao nei au! I saw them often as they passed this way, and never did they pass without coming in to greet me. I remember still the young woman’s laughter as she tried to speak in our tongue. How pretty she was! And the poor husband, so soon to die!”

“You will not have forgotten how quickly the young wife followed him?”

“I remember well. It was at the time of the great storm. Were not you and the English girl alone at your house?”

“So it was,” said Mauri.

The old woman shook her head sadly. “Ah, é. She was with child, and it came before its time—born dead. And the mother died as well.”

“Mama Taio . . .”

É. What would you say, Mauri?”

“The mother died, but her baby lived. She is living to-day. She is Naia.”

“Mauri! You tell me . . .” The old woman broke off and stared blankly at her. “You tell me . . .?”

“It is true. Naia was her child, not mine. We were alone when the mother died, and none could know the truth. I have carried the secret till this moment. Now you must bear it with me.”

The old woman clasped her hands tightly. “Aué, Mauri! What is this you say? But . . .”

“You shall hear. Listen well. You remember that the English girl and I were both with child at the same time? We were expecting our babies within a week of each other. There remained two weeks, so we thought, before either would come. The English girl was to have gone to the hospital in Papeete for her confinement and all had been prepared for this. I wished to have my baby at home, and my father had gone to Tautira to fetch Mana, the midwife. He had gone early in the morning expecting to return with Mana the next day. But the great storm broke in the afternoon of the day he left. You will remember how swiftly it came, with little warning; the wind was at its height almost at once, and in less than an hour it was as dark as night. The English girl had left her own house across the river and was staying with me at this time. The child in her body was heavy for her, and she was a delicate girl; not strong like me. She had been resting in bed since morning, on the day of the storm.

“When the wind came, I made all as safe for ourselves as I could, fastening doors and windows. I went out to let down the wooden shutters along the east verandah. While I was doing this I was struck a heavy blow in the side by the butt of a frond torn loose by the wind from one of the coconut palms to seaward. The pain of the blow was great; I lay by the steps for a long time, drenched by the rain and unable to move. I called and called, but the English girl could not hear me in the roaring of the wind. At last I managed to rise and go into the house. That night my baby came, born dead.”

Aué, Mauri . . .”

“So it was, Mama Taio. It was a little girl. A prettier daughter was never seen, so beautifully formed, with such tiny hands and feet. And she was dead.

“Nina was the English girl’s name. She helped me—there was no one else to help. She knew little of such matters, but she rose from her bed, heated water for me, and did all that she could. Hard it was for her, but she had the courage of a man.

“All that night and the next day the storm was at its worst. You remember, Mama Taio?”

“Aye, well,” the old woman replied. “But I was sheltered in this small valley from the full force of the wind.”

“It was not so at Vaihiva,” Mauri continued. “There were times when I thought the house would go. And the rain! Never have I seen such a weight of water as fell then, and it came, and it came. We were alone and I knew that no help would reach us. The rivers for miles on either side were flooded far beyond their banks, and the sea at Vaihiva Point showed me what it would be elsewhere. The great combers swept over the reef and across the lagoon and far up the beach, almost reaching the house. We waited, Nina and I, all the second day. At last we could wait no longer. What must be done can be done, but how we did it I scarcely know. At a late hour that night the rain slackened a little, and the wind. I was very weak, but I rose from the sofa where I lay. I begged Nina to stay in the house, but she would help me even at the risk of losing her own child. I put the body of my baby in a little box and we went out together, supporting each other as best we could. We could not go far in so black a night. I scooped out a little grave in the sandy soil near the house and covered it over quickly, and Nina knelt beside me, sheltering the lantern from the wind. It was a terrible thing to leave my baby alone, in the storm, but it was done. When we reached the house again, Nina was at the end of her strength. I helped her to remove her wet clothing and got her into bed.

“That same night her pains began. She had great courage, as I have said, but her small body was not fashioned for childbearing. I lost no time in making all ready. I was able to forget my grief and my weakness at this time in my sorrow for that poor girl whom I could help so little. Her labor was terrible; no woman could have suffered more cruelly. For long afterward my arms bore the marks of her fingers where she had clung to me. And we were alone. No one could come from up the valley. The river had flooded Manu and his sons out of their houses, and they had been forced to climb with their children to a cave on the mountain side and wait till the storm should pass. George, Nina’s little son, was with them. Manu’s daughter-in-law had taken him into the valley the day before to play with her children. It was one thing to be thankful for that he was not with us.

“The next morning Nina’s baby was born. I took it at once, slapped its body lightly, and tossed it in my arms, and it breathed! For this little time I thought only of the child. Then I laid it aside and turned to the mother. She gave a sigh and was gone. She died without knowing that her child had come.

“I had no time to grieve for her then. Hard it was to do all that had to be done, for I was very weak. But in the end, the mother lay in her bed as though asleep, with her pretty brown hair lying loosely around her shoulders. Death kept no memory of the pain she had suffered. All that had been smoothed away.

“I sat by the side of the bed with her baby in my arms, and when the time came I suckled the little daughter. My milk flowed strong and good. To feel that little mouth at my breast, and those tiny hands . . . it gave me a feeling of peace, Mama Taio, of deep happiness. I forgot the loss of my own. It is truth I speak: I could even believe, at moments, that the little daughter was mine. All the day I sat there, holding her, and so my father found me on the evening of that day. He had come, swimming the flooded rivers. It was a journey few men could have made in such a storm.

“I knew then what I would do. The need to lie was stronger than myself. It was so easy to explain. I told my father the child was mine and that it was Nina’s that died. I seemed to have been given the power to claim it. My father believed at once, nor has there been the least doubt in anyone’s mind from that day to this. My husband was in the Low Islands, at Hao. He came within the week, and there is no need to tell you how he loved the little daughter he believed his own. Never, till the day of his death, did he suspect that Naia was not his own flesh and blood. I felt neither shame nor guilt. I could believe that Nina herself would have wished it so, for who could care for that fatherless, motherless child as well as I? And whose need could have been greater than the child’s and mine for one another?

“Enough. The truth is told at last, and we two alone know it. Naia’s true name is McLeod. Had she come from my own body, I could not love her more.”

Mauri broke off, waiting anxiously for her companion to speak. The old woman moved the lamp a little more to one side and sat for a time gazing at the floor in front of her, rubbing her knees gently with her open palms.

“Mauri, why have you told me this?” she asked. “Your secret shall be well kept, but why have you told me?”

“Naia is no longer a child,” Mauri replied. “There have been times, many times, when I have felt deeply the wrong I have done her. And I have felt the grief, the anger, of the parents in their graves. Is it they who accuse me or my own heart? Naia is of English blood. What right have I to keep her?”

“You have some reason for speaking of this now. What is it?”

“It is true. I have received a letter from the Low Islands. There is a family on the island of Amanu well known to me. They seek a wife for their son. The parents, at the young man’s request, have asked for Naia.”

“She would accept him?”

“She knows nothing of the offer. Nor does she know the young man except by sight.”

“You would consent to this marriage?”

“Consent? Never!” Mauri exclaimed. “Can you believe that I would consider it?”

“Why, then, do you speak of it?”

“Because I see that the time has come when I must think of Naia’s future. This I have never done; I had not the courage. The fear that I might have to give her up has been more than I could face.”

“But now you are willing, if the need comes? You would let the truth be known, for her sake?”

Mauri bent her head and sat with her hands tightly clasped between her knees.

“I cannot say, Mama Taio! I cannot! I would try, perhaps, but . . . it might be more than . . . more than I could do.”

“What became of the little boy, Naia’s brother?”

“I should have spoken of him. You will remember, perhaps, that after the mother’s death he was sent back to England, to a friend of his father who wished to rear him with his own son. I have heard of him through the British consul in Papeete. He is now a young man.”

Taio Vahiné shook her head slowly. “Mauri, it is a grievous thing you have done. My heart is sore for you both, but what remedy there could now be . . . Think what it would mean if you were to tell Naia the truth. She looks upon you as her mother, and Vaihiva as her home. Her life is here; her thoughts are those of our people and our ways are her ways.”

“Have I not thought of it!” Mauri exclaimed, bitterly. “And yet, she is young . . .”

“What would you do?”

“You shall tell me, Mama Taio. This matter is too hard for me. I have thought to no purpose. You can see into the future; that is known to all. Many things have you foretold that are hidden from us. I would know where Naia’s happiness lies, here or elsewhere.”

“And if it should be elsewhere?”

“Then I would tell her—if I can,” Mauri replied in an anguished voice. “If it must be, I could, perhaps, for her sake.”

Taio Vahiné stared at the small flame of the lamp in silence. At last she rose and laid a hand on Mauri’s shoulder.

“Mauri . . . let this be for now. The time may not be far when you will need to know what I can tell you. Come to me then.”

Mauri regarded her anxiously. “Aye, it will be better so,” she replied. “I shall do as you say.”

The old woman stood in the doorway holding the flickering light above her head as Mauri went down the path and vanished in the darkness.


Mr. Robert Tyson, His Britannic Majesty’s consul on the island of Tahiti, having dined late and alone, came out on his verandah to enjoy his coffee and liqueur in the cool of the evening. The sun had set half an hour since, and the afterglow was fading slowly from a cloudless sky. The lagoon, motionless in the evening calm, still reflected an ashy light which brought into clear silhouette a small gemlike island with its cluster of coconut palms near the entrance to the harbor, and the monthly steamer from San Francisco, just then steaming out through the pass on her lonely voyage to New Zealand and Australia.

The consul sank into an easy chair with a sigh of content and, for a moment, let his gaze follow the departing vessel, her lights beginning to twinkle as she moved farther out into the gathering dusk. He selected a cigar, which he clipped carefully with a penknife and lit with the deliberation of one who finds keen enjoyment in the small amenities of life. He was a man in his early fifties, sturdy of frame, with thick snow-white hair which set off to advantage his tanned, weather-beaten face. A stranger, meeting him for the first time, might have noticed a humorous, rather obvious cynicism of manner, bespeaking the man, tolerant and humane by instinct, who makes a conscious effort in the presence of others to conceal the qualities upon which his nature is based.

Mr. Tyson had long since come to be regarded as a fixture at Tahiti, as much so as the consulate itself. On a voyage across the Pacific, some years before the war, he had stopped over, presumably for a month’s sojourn, but liking the place he had remained. He was then in his early twenties, without family ties, and in easy circumstances which suited well with an indolent temperament. To give him the illusion, at least, of an occupation, he later accepted the office of acting consul during the absence in England of the then incumbent, an elderly career officer who had died at home. As Mr. Tyson continued to fill the post to the satisfaction of the Foreign Office and cared nothing about salary, a successor had never been sent out from England. Mr. Tyson was still acting as consul pro tem, without pay, after a period of nearly thirty years.

His only absence from the islands had been during the war, when the consular duties had been performed by his secretary, a competent, middle-aged spinster who was better acquainted with the small intricacies of consular business than he himself. Badly wounded in 1916 and invalided out of service, he had then returned to Tahiti, where he settled down once more to his quiet, easy-going life with a relish heightened by his experience as an infantry officer in France. He loved the changelessness of life in this remote island world, and would have loved it still more had it been even farther removed from the turbulence of post-war Europe. His official duties being far from exacting, he had ample opportunity to travel amongst the lonely scattered archipelagoes composing French Polynesia, until there was scarcely an island within a radius of five hundred miles that he had not visited. But, having seen all or most of them, Tahiti was still the island of his choice, though he was careful to give strangers the impression that he could barely contrive to tolerate existence in such a tropical backwater and was prevented from leaving the wretched place only by an unconquerable inertia. And of all the bays, coves, rocky promontories, and stretches of sun-drenched alluvial plain around its one hundred-odd miles of coast line, he loved most the site where the consulate stood, toward the western end of the little port town, with its fine old trees shading lawn and road, and its view to the north and west over lagoon and sea. And that view he liked best when the wide expanse of ocean was made to seem emptier still by the dwindling shape, showing black against the afterglow, of the monthly steamer proceeding on its long voyage to the Antipodes.

Having watched the vessel disappear around a distant headland, the consul switched on his reading lamp and took up his newly arrived copy of Blackwood’s. He loved the old periodical and looked forward to its coming from month to month. He found there a picture of England and the outposts of Empire as he had known and thought of them in his younger days, and it reassured him to believe that, despite the vast changes wrought by the war, the old life still persisted; that it contained in it the seeds of health and vigor to perpetuate itself down the generations to come. He was in the midst of the first article when the bell in his office tinkled faintly. Looking up, he found a young man in gray flannels standing at the top of the verandah steps.

“Mr. Tyson?”

The consul, after a quick appraising glance, rose from his chair.

“At your service, young man. Come in.”

“If I’m intruding, please say so, frankly. I can come just as well at another time.”

“Not at all, not at all. I’m merely loafing after the exhaustion of steamer day. You came by the Makura?”

The young man nodded. Tyson sized him up rapidly and found his first impression distinctly favorable. His visitor was a tall fellow of the fair-haired Norman type. Under his loosely fitting clothes the consul could detect the sturdy structure of his body. His manner was easy and the gray eyes, set widely apart under level brows, met his own in glances direct and unself-conscious. The consul asked his usual perfunctory questions about the voyage and felt rather silly at having done so, for his visitor failed to make the customary perfunctory replies of the transpacific passengers. He seemed to take it for granted that the consul was interested, and replied with intelligence, humor, and good sense. Tyson noted that he spoke with an engaging emphasis of understatement. He approved of that: a good English trait.

“You like Tahiti, what little you’ve seen of it?” he asked, presently. “You’re here for a month, of course. Now that the steamer has gone you’ll have to stop whether you like it or not.”

The young man hesitated in replying. “I hardly know, sir. I’m here with a friend. This is my first visit to the tropics. I must say that I was deeply impressed with the view of the island as we saw it coming in early this morning. I was eager to be ashore. And then . . .”

“Later impressions not precisely favorable?”

“Well, no; they’re not, if you don’t mind my saying so?”

“Mind? Why should I? But tell me a little more of how the place strikes you; in a general way, I mean.”

“It’s presumptuous to speak of it, after one day ashore. I’ve been charmed and repelled at the same time. The town seems a bit on the sordid side. I dislike squalor, and I’ve seen a good deal of it in rambling about to-day. My friend’s enchanted with the place. He thinks Papeete is just what it should be.”

Tyson smiled. “He’ll be the first to want to move on.”

“What makes you think so?”

“Experience—long experience. Those who dislike the place at first are the ones who stay longest. It’s not to be explained, but so it is. You might be an exception, but take care! I loathed the island when I first came. I’ve been here thirty years. Lord knows why!”

“Yes, so my father told me.”

“Your father?”

“He claims to be a friend of yours. I’d not venture to say how often I’ve heard him speak of you.”

Tyson sat up in his chair. “The devil you say! What’s your name?”

“Hardie. Alan Hardie.”

The consul got up with alacrity and strode over to grasp the young man’s hand. “Hardie, you rogue! God bless my soul! Why didn’t you tell me when you first came in? Claims to be? I should think he might. You’re here with a friend, you say. Someone from home?”

“Yes. You’ll remember him, sir. At least you’ll remember about him—George McLeod.”

“You don’t tell me,” the consul exclaimed, his face beaming. “That infant? But of course he’ll have managed to grow up by this time. Where is he?”

“He’s wandering along the waterfront. He thought we’d be putting you out, coming to call on steamer day. I decided to drop in for a moment, anyway.”

“Putting me out! Nonsense! Hardie, I’m the idlest man in the whole of French Oceania. Why didn’t you let me know you were coming? I might have been off somewhere, fishing. That’s my chief occupation as consul.”

“My father insisted that we shouldn’t trouble you in advance.”

“That’s your father. I can see he hasn’t changed. Now tell me about him. Why didn’t you bring him with you?”

“He’s coming, sir, shortly.”

“That’s the best news I’ve had in many a day,” said Tyson, warmly. “You mean to wait for him here?”

“I’m not so sure of that,” Hardie replied. “McLeod and I rather thought we’d go on to New Zealand or Australia and wait there. But we can decide this later.”

“Of course you can. Don’t make any hasty decisions about pushing on. Your father’s still in the Army, of course?”

“Yes; but he’s retiring soon. He doesn’t yet know just when he can leave, but he means to take life easy from now on.”

“Good! How he’s been able to stick that deadly life all these years is more than I know. Sense of duty, I suppose.”

“He loves it,” said Hardie. “I’ve never known a man happier in his profession.”

“I know, I know. He’s wrapped up in it. Always was. What of yourself, Hardie? Somehow, you haven’t the look of Sandhurst about you.”

“My interests run in another direction. I’ve just come down from Cambridge. This voyage was my father’s idea, and by good luck it fitted in with McLeod’s plans. When my father joins us we expect to go home by way of the Straits Settlements and the Dutch East Indies. We’ll be gone close to a year.”

“I hope your father will give me a month of that time,” said Tyson. “I must try to persuade him. It’s curious: we were in the war together, but we almost never write. But what does it matter? There’s a great deal of useless letter writing done in the world.”

“I’ve heard my father say the same thing,” Hardie replied. “But he spent most of a day, just before we left, writing the letter I’ve brought you. I fancy he’s tried to make up for a long silence.”

He took a letter from his breast pocket and handed it to the consul.

“By Jove! He has, evidently,” said Tyson as he felt of the bulky packet. “I’ve a treat in store.” He laid the letter on the table beside him. “There’s nothing like the old war comradeships, Hardie. You don’t know that, of course, but you can take my word for it. Well I remember meeting your father in September, ’14. I’d just arrived in London from here, and was joining one of Lord Kitchener’s New Army battalions. Your father was a lieutenant then and got me posted to his platoon. Alan McLeod, George’s father, was there too, and I took up two old friendships where I’d left off with them years before. Does George remember anything of his parents?”

“Very little.”

“It isn’t likely that he would. He was a mere infant when they died.”

“But he’s become interested now. He means to ask you all about their coming out here.”

“He does? Well, I shan’t tell him. It was too damnably tragic. I don’t mind telling you, though, if you’d care to hear about it?”

“I’d like to, very much, sir.”

“You know, Hardie, you make me feel a veritable relic of antiquity. I remember hearing about you one night during the battle of the Somme. Our battalion was in and out of that slaughter during the greater part of it. One week, I remember, we’d gone into support and your father was given three days’ leave. You were very ill—I’ve forgotten with what—and it was touch and go whether you lived or died.”

“It must have been when I had the accursed scarlet fever,” Hardie replied. “I know that it played the devil with my eyes. They’ve been weak ever since.”

“That was it—scarlet fever. Well, on the day your father returned we were pitched into the mess again, another of those incredibly stupid and costly attacks which gained us nothing but casualties. Your father went from company to battalion commander in the course of one day.

“That same evening, he and I were lying at the lip of a huge shell crater in the midst of desolation. It was pitch dark and raining hard, and for an hour or two we had a blessed release from shell fire. That was when your father spoke of you. You were out of danger, the doctors had told him. He’d seen Nina McLeod, too, while on leave, and young George. George’s father was not with us then. He’d been badly gassed six months before and was still in hospital. By good luck I had a canteen half full of brandy and, b’gad, your father and I drank long life and health to you. How well I remember that night! I’ve thought of you as an infant ever since. A precious big one you’ve grown to be! I was knocked out the very next day, and that ended the war, for me.”

“You returned to Tahiti then?”

“Yes, as soon as I was able to travel, and Alan and Nina McLeod came too, and young George with them. Alan was done for, after his experience with gas, but he’d lost none of his old courage. The climate at home was impossible for him and his doctors had urged him to go to the tropics. I had no difficulty in persuading him to try Tahiti.

“They stopped with me at the consulate for a fortnight while plans were being made. They wanted a little place in the country, with a house of their own, where they could have a garden, fowls, and the like, and loaf in the sun to their hearts’ content. We looked at half a dozen places on the main island, and one day I took them to the farthest peninsula, a glorious stretch of coast called the Fenua Aaiheré. It is far and away the most beautiful part of the island, though I doubted that they would want to live in so lonely a region. I was mistaken; they loved it at sight, so we lost no time in getting them settled.

“I saw a good deal of them in the months that followed. For all their urging, I disliked intruding upon them, for they knew and I knew that he hadn’t long to live. They were trying to crowd a lifetime of companionship into a few short months. However, I made it a point to go fishing on that side of the island at least once a fortnight. It wrung my heart to visit them. They tried to deceive themselves about his condition, and he was looking death in the face every moment.

“Six months later he was gone. Nina bore the loss like the thoroughbred she was. She was expecting a baby in a few months’ time. I wanted her to return to Papeete, but she was not to be moved from their little home in Vaihiva. I didn’t insist overmuch, then, for she was in excellent hands, with a native family, friends of mine, living close by. However, I made her promise to come to the hospital here well before the time of her confinement.

“Those plans went for nothing. I was to fetch her in my launch, on the Monday, I think it was. Three days before this a storm broke that came close to being a hurricane; it was one of the worst I remember here. I went to Vaihiva the moment wind and sea would let me, but I was too late. Nina had died in childbirth in the midst of the storm, and her baby with her.”

Tyson was silent for some time. “Tell young McLeod as little of this as you like,” he said. “One thing you can say with truth: his father and mother loved Vaihiva. They were as happy there as his health would let them be. George was too small, of course, to remember much about it. By good luck, he was not with his mother at the time of her death.”

“He was trying to remember the name of some woman who used to take care of him,” Hardie remarked; “the one he hated so to leave.”

“That would be Mauri. She still lives at Vaihiva; she owns the valley, in fact. She’ll want to see George. She’s asked about him from time to time. If you like, I’ll take you both out there one of these days. . . . By the way, where’ve you put up—Hôtel du Port? Why not stop with me? The hotel’s nothing to boast of.”

“We’ll accept with pleasure, sir, if you’ll ask us a bit later. For the next few days we thought we’d like to wander about on our own.”

“Of course. So would I in your place. You want your first impressions fresh and unspoiled by the consular atmosphere. Well, come when you please. You’ll be welcome at any time. Meanwhile, perhaps you could have dinner with me on Friday?”

Hardie rose and took up his hat. “We’d like nothing better. What time shall we come?”

“Dinner at seven-thirty. Any time you please before that.”

“We’ll be on hand. Good night, sir.”

“Good night.”

Tyson stood at the top of the steps, looking after his guest until he was lost to view in the shadows of the avenue. Returning to his chair by the shaded lamp, he took up his old friend’s letter, carefully slit open the envelope, and drew out the sheaf of closely written pages. He lit a cigarette and began to read.

“North Camp: Aldershot.” As Tyson’s glance fell upon the familiar heading, a gust of emotion swept across his senses. North Camp—how vividly he remembered the place and his own experiences there twenty years before! He saw the rows of old brick barracks, the bare parade grounds with their borders of dusty trees, and men armed with ancient Boer War rifles at squad, platoon, and company drill in the first autumn of the war. “Move to the right in fours! Fo-o-rm, fours!” . . . “At the halt, on the left, form close column of platoons!” He could hear the voices of those old dependables, the sergeants, whipping Lord Kitchener’s First Hundred Thousand into shape. And what men they were, those early volunteers! Never in England’s history had there been such an army as that, nor would there be again. He recalled the spirit of those days—the never-to-be-forgotten comradeships, the sense of great events at hand, and, above all, the mingled feeling of happiness and poignant sadness that seemed to be a part of the wan autumn sunshine. He remembered the route marches, the brigade and divisional field days in the early spring of ’15, when the bitterness, the tragedy, the disillusionment, of war were yet to come; when the roads of the English countryside were filled with high-spirited lads in the perfection of health and hardness after nine months of training. He saw them marching, rifles at the slope, singing the songs of those days: “Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy!” . . . “Hello! Hello! Who’s Your Lady Friend?” and a score of others. He heard again the bugles of Aldershot sounding retreat, last post, lights out. He sighed deeply. Best to let those memories lie buried with the men who might have shared them with him.

Turning to the letter, he read slowly, with deep enjoyment, reluctant to come to the end of each page. It was as though his friend were there beside him, talking in the blunt incisive manner he remembered so well.