Unconventional Journey: The Travels of Ropati




ONE quiet afternoon in the PukaPuka trading station, as I was pondering the gastronomic amenities of civilization, a craving, all but unbearable, came over me for prime ribs of corn-fed steer, au jus; and this craving, more than the desire to revisit the land of my birth, keen though that desire may have been, started me on my unconventional journey to North America.

‘Prime ribs of corn-fed steer, au jus!‘ I thought, sitting upright on the trading-station counter, where habitually I take my siesta.

‘Wyvern pudding!’ I dropped my legs over the edge of the counter and raised my eyes to glance wearily at the rows of New Zealand trade beef lined on the shelves with the precision of soldiers on parade, which, in fact, they recalled to mind. On one flank, drawn up for inspection, a dozen tins of chum salmon; on the other flank a sad battlefield of sardines, strewn like dead grenadiers this way and that, as Benny, my store boy, had left them after a foray to find an unblown tin.

‘Baked potatoes sliced open, peppered, salted, big dabs of fresh butter oozing into the steaming white meat!’

‘Tuppence of Bonded Jackey! ’ came old William’s voice from behind me, asking for tobacco; but I paid him no attention, for my mind was far away, in the Hofbrau of San Francisco, dining on assorted cold cuts with Brunswick salad, roast stuffed poulard, giblet sauce.

‘Tuppence of Niggerhead!’ William growled, moving to the counter to strike it with his fist. ‘ Whas-a-matta? You loco? Damn! Hell! Go-ta-hell!’

‘William,’ I said, turning to the ancient ex-whalerman, my retainer, ‘I have been thinking about food. Food, William, controls the destinies of men. Food is about to lure me away from this miserable South Sea island — lure me far, far away to lands of calf’s head en tortue (or sauce vinaigrette). William, don’t you ever get fed up with the atoll diet of coconuts and fish?‘

The old heathen pulled thoughtfully the dozen wiry hairs on his chin. Forgetting for a brief space his tobacco, he heaved a sigh, and, cursing as usual, ‘Damn, yes!’ he growled. ‘Sometimes I think too much ’bout nice fat hunk salt horse, pea soup, duff and treacle! Oh yes, nevva mind, aboard ship we eat too much number-one kai-kai. But you savvy,’ he added, with a flash of perspicacity, ‘when I go to sea aboard Captain Pester ship I think too much ’bout nice Puka-Puka coconut, taro pudding, fine fat albacore cooked on hot coals. Everybody all the same damn fool. Puka-Puka feller wanna eat too much beefsteak; white man wanna eat too much coconut! Everybody damn fool, sure t’ing, oh yes — gimme my tobacco!’

‘Now, William,’ I said, leaning against the counter, a dreamy look, I fancy, coming in my eyes, ‘let’s plan what we’d have for dinner if we were in San Francisco. We’ll have a kind of Barmecide feast here in the trading station. First, a couple dozen deviled duck eggs, stuffed olives, dill pickles, about twoscore Blue Point oysters and a bottle of Chambertin, 1919, eh?’

Just then William slapped two pennies on the counter. ‘Tobacco!’ he roared. ‘Nevva mind your barnacle feast — I wanna smoke!’

‘But William,’ I countered, ‘you know I don’t sell twopenny cuts of tobacco. You’ll have to get another penny.’

The old man gave me a withering glance, and started cursing horribly; but I was not afraid of him: I knew I could close his profane old lips instantly with an allusion to the source of his wealth. I had only to say: ‘William, how many pennies are there now in the Adventists’ moneybag?’ and he would be effectually silenced.

William, from his youth to his eightieth year, had been the sole heathen on this otherwise Christian island. His greatest pleasure in life had been to chop wood behind the church during services, to make slighting remarks to the deacons about their anthropophagous ritual during Communion, or when Parson Sea Foam was stumping to church, dignified in his bandmaster hat, his large wife and many children trailing behind, to stop him and ask, with raucous laughter, how it happened that Jonah was not digested during those three days.

Then one day the galvanizing, utterly devastating report came to us that William had joined the SeventhDay Adventist Chapel!

At first we thought that the old heathen intended to break up the chapel, to do some scandalous thing during meetings — smoke his abominable old pipe while the parson was praying, or rise to tell improper anecdotes from his life as a whaler. But William did none of these things. I discovered his deep-dyed strategy later. At first I had thought that he had been lured into grace by the expectation of perverse satisfaction in belonging to a church antagonistic to the powerful London Missionary Society; but when he started coming to the station with pennies, threepenny bits, and sixpences (with which to buy Adventistproscribed tobacco), and when Benny told me he had been put in charge of the chapel’s moneybag, it was then quite evident why he had become a Christian. And to-day, when he came to the station with only two pennies, I knew that they were the last of the Adventists’ money. To-morrow, more than likely, he would leave the church.

I gave William his tobacco and took his money, for had I refused to sell it to him he simply would have cadged it from me; then, intimating that the interview had come to an end, I again settled back on the counter, this time to lose myself among the fascinating pages of The Boston Cookbook.


At Puka-Puka we date and redate our lives from the semiannual visits of the trading schooner. For instance, Village-Dandy George’s son was born a month before the May schooner; Benny’s pig lost his tail two months after the last schooner; Heathen William had his carbuncle during the visit of the November schooner. Or, anticipating the future, Miss Tern expects to be married when the ship comes; William will leave the Adventist Chapel (if the moneybag is taken from him) when the ship comes; old Bones will pay his debt at the trading station (so he says) when the ship comes— mañana.

This semiannual date is both our blessing and our curse. It punctuates our lives — gives, as it were, a grammatical sequence to events. Twice a year there is new food to take the place of the everlasting coconuts and fish; there are new topics for conversation; Parson Sea Foam’s church is revivified by the visit of the white missionary; there is renewed faith in the coexistence of the outside world, a world in whose reality we had begun to doubt. As with sailors long at sea who are at last discharged ashore, our petty animosities melt away like the morning mist before the rising sun. The day before the schooner is sighted we will not speak to our neighbors. Old Abraham, the thrice-cursed something-orother, he refuses to keep his pig tied up; Bosun-woman, the loud-mouthed troublemaker, we’ll give her a piece of our mind some day; the Chief of Police, the sawed-off coxcomb, we’ll tweak his nose for him. We hate them all, every last one of them — until the ship comes, when, as the parlor conjurer says, presto chango they become our beloved neighbors, our friends.

When the schooner is overdue (and always it has been overdue since 1924, when it surprised us by arriving a month ahead of time) we say: ‘But in 1924 she came on the twentieth of April, you remember!’ thus intimating that she may be expected at any moment, and thus tormenting ourselves weeks before she actually is due. At first we speak jokingly about it. ‘Well, William,’ I will say, ‘how about taking a walk down to the Point of Yato and having a glance along the horizon for a sight of the ship?’ Or at breakfast, if I feel brighter than usual, I will ask Mama: ‘No ship this morning, Mama?’ and ‘Ship?’ she will query. ‘No, Ropati; there is no ship.’ Then, ‘Ha, ha!’ I will cry. ‘It’s past the twentieth of April, you know, Mama — we had a ship on the twentieth back in 1924!’ But this means little to Mama, for in the first place she has never learned to distinguish one date from another, and in the second place the arrival of a ship causes in her mind only a slight excitation: something out of the common run of events has happened; there are potatoes in the cookhouse; Ropati is not so grouchy as usual; William spent the greater part of the night singing in a strange tongue an outlandish sort of hymn, his breath fragrant with Butterfly perfume.

After the first of May there is a chance that the ship actually will come, and consequently our ears become keyed to the expected cry of ‘Payi! Te payi, e! — ’Ship! The ship, yes!’ — which is the Puka-Pukan equivalent of ‘Sail ho!’ When the last of the tobacco has gone up in smoke, as it always has by the fifth of May, my ears, deprived of the numbing drug, become oversensitive. I fancy I hear the cry of ‘Ship! The ship, yes!’ when I am searching through the wastepaper basket for cigarette stubs, or when I am peeling tiny morsels of leaf from an old tobacco case, or when I am making wry faces over pipes of tea or trying to decide whether the leaves of the hernandia, the cordia, or the pandanus are more nauseous than coconut husk, or when I am scraping the bowl of my pipe to a mere shadow of its former self and imagining that I derive satisfaction from smoking the scrapings. About the eighth of May I hear daily the shout of ‘Ship! The ship, yes!’ By the tenth I hear it hourly; by the fifteenth the air resounds with a continual and overlapping series of such shouts: in other words, by then I am a trifle mad.

At first it is a cry of ‘Ship!’ from some urchin on the leeward point of the crescent-shaped main islet. Like the small boy who is curious to discover the result of setting off the giant firecracker under grandpapa’s chair, the Puka-Pukan youngster yelps a tentative ‘Ship! The ship, yes!’ and instantly after, I fancy, he is petrified by the spectacle of every drowsy human on the island galvanized to life. He sees his erstwhile languid elders rushing down the village road, leaping along the beach, dashing like mad for the lookout point, shouting at the tops of their lungs, ‘Ship! The ship, yes!‘

From that moment, until the ship actually does come, the whole island resounds, day and night, with an uninterrupted hullabaloo of false alarms; and often enough we become so disheartened, so skeptical, that the veritable sight of Cockroach Schooner in the offing leaves us cynically incredulous.


I am addicted to the vulgar habit of early rising. I believe there is no habit so salutary as that of reflection in the solitude of the dawn. After the first sip of coffee my mind seems to run away with me. Problems that were foggy, the night before, become solved at once; also I am subjectively conscious of my own individuality, while that consciousness, as the day advances, as I am influenced by the life about me, becomes lost in the group-consciousness of my associates, until I seem to know myself only through the objective perception.

I prefer someone — some mythical being whom I never see — to prepare my coffee. Then, the instant it is brewed, the cup of coconut milk is on the table, the eggs are fried, that unknown entity must come to my door, knock loudly, and ‘Coffee!’ it must shout. Not another word. The mysterious thing must promptly disappear, leaving the breakfast spread with the fabulous magic of an Aladdin’s jinni. Though Mama, my cook, is no ideal mythical conception, still she makes a real effort to humor me and to allow me singular indulgences. I am at liberty to growl, curse the island, my neighbors, myself. I am permitted to stumble to the water tank, wash my face with or without soap, omit the absurd hair-combing convention, stagger to the cookhouse, and slump down on the one chair to grasp with avid fingers the coffeepot. With the first cup there is no time for such fribbling unessentials as sugar and coconut milk, nor does Mama remind me that I have forgotten them. I pour a bowl of coffee, gulp it boiling hot — and suddenly, the miracle! There is a stirring of vital forces, beginning from the pit of the stomach to spread rapidly until they have suffused the whole body. I glance out of the cookhouse, amazed at the lambent pink dawn reflected from the clouds on to the lagoon; I hear the wind’s mysterious voice; I hear Mama’s pleasantly monotonous cackle as she stands over the stove, fanning the embers with her grass skirt; I smell coffee, I fill my lungs with its fragrance, and sighing a heartfelt ‘Ah!’ I refill my bowl.

Mama, old William’s wife, approximates the perfect servant. She does not make me wash behind my ears or comb my hair; she considers my bearded chin manly; she takes a personal pride in my being able to tolerate soap for a dentifrice; she does not expect me to greet her with a cheery ‘Good morning!’ It is true that she is an inveterate gossip, but what of it? Her cackling reaches my ears in sympathetic consonance with the cackling of the neighbors’ hens as they scratch the gravel in the cookhouse yard. Moreover, Mama does not insist on my listening to her; she will cackle just the same, day and night, whether there is a large audience or she is alone gathering coconuts by the outer beach.


This particular morning I was in a vile humor. The coffee seemed only to aggravate my temper. Mama had forgotten to remove the shells before frying the eggs; the taro was soggy; there were shreds of husk in the coconut milk; the dawn — oh, Lord! I had seen enough of the dawn!

‘There are no amenities to life at Puka-Puka, ’ I growled as I picked the particles of shell from the eggs. ‘The people are stupid. William the Heathen is no more than a buffoon. Mama would never be admitted to even lower middle-class society at home, certainly not unless she discarded once and for all that terrible grass skirt. Benny, with his conditional conjunctions (if the man had bought the mouth organ, if I had been awake at the time, and so forth), his inability to learn that rayon is silk, that a hundred pounds of copra weigh only eighty pounds (twenty pounds must be deducted for the lump of coral the brown brothers invariably secrete in the bags), would not for a moment serve as store boy were it not for his special technique in making the No. IV brew. There’s not a soul at Puka-Puka with whom I can associate intellectually. They think the stars are eyes of the night, that there is a cave somewhere on the reef through which one descends to Hell, that the spirits of the ancient people are wandering through the groves at night, that colic is caused by a sea urchin in one’s stomach, a sore eye is the result of the evil machinations of the spirit of some cantankerous ancestor.

‘Moreover, the place is lacking in beauty,’ I wont on, scowling at Mama and warning her that her grass skirt was about to catch fire. ‘Puka-Puka is a miserable bank of sand in the middle of the uninteresting Pacific, and that sand is always littered with coconut husks, fronds, old food baskets — worse things, too. There is nothing beautiful here. The tropic moon keeps me awake at night; moreover, it keeps the silly neighbors awake. I can hear them gabbling on the churchyard wall all night long, singing their foolish songs (if it can be called singing), making billy-goat noises as they go chasing through the groves. The sun is blinding; it is so hot in the daytime that a man can’t leave the trading station — a glance at the white beach will blind him. There is an unpleasant salty smell in the air, mixed with the nauseating odor of pandanus flowers. Add to this the incessant screaming of children, the monotonous roar of reef combers, year in and out with never a break — add a thousand other grievances, and they will give half an impression of what a miserable place it is. No one would stay here till I came; and the skippers think, rightly too, that I am mad to live here. Well, I won’t be here much longer.

‘Flies? Why, I never knew what flies were till I’d landed on this island. Except for the rare days when I can induce one of Mama’s flat-faced nieces to stand over the table continually to fan the pests away (or fan them into the food) it is impossible to tell a grilled fish from a taro pudding, for both are just black, shapeless, writhing masses of flies. The babies, crawling and yapping along the beach, are as unrecognizable as the food. A mother has to whisk the flies away before she can tell her own child!

‘And mosquitoes? Why at night, if you pass your hand flatways through the air, you’ll feel the cursed things pattering against your palm like raindrops. They swarm over the island like the locusts over Egypt, like the tourists at a World’s Fair. Make a smudge of smoke that will suffocate a fireman: the mosquitoes grin, take deep breaths, and plunge into it, proboscides rigidly outthrust on a line with their quivering bodies. They strike the victim javelin first, drive their sucking organs to the hilt, squirt out jets of poison, and, with single gulps, bloat their bodies with the blood of a South Sea trader; then they dash off, exactly one tenth of a second before the credulous, punitive hand comes down wit h a futile, resounding slap.

‘Trading is poor. What with all the guileless natives bringing half-dried mouldy copra, with lumps of coral in the bags, and then shouting for credit, credit, credit, there’s not a bare two hundred per cent in the business any more. It’s time I was getting out of it. The whole system of South Sea trading has gone to the dogs.

‘Potatoes!’ I exclaimed aloud, addressing Mama so sharply it made her start. ‘There are no potatoes, Ropati,’ she gasped weakly. ‘I know that, Mama!’ I shouted. ‘Good Lord! Do you think I could forget it? I only wish to speak about potatoes. Think of it! I can’t have even a decent potato now and then! With the ship coming only twice a year I can’t have potatoes more than two months out of the twelve, and then they are wretched things, as wrinkled as your old man, William. And bread, Mama, bread — the staff of life! Even the poorest man has bread every day; but I, Ropati, have bread only four months in the year. It’s a luxury with me, the same as sugar and butter and rice! Bah!

‘Now, Mama, if to-day I could have something simple—’ Here my tone must have become pensive, for Mama smiled sweetly, wiped her hands on her grass skirt, and gazed at me with the fond eyes of a mother. ‘Some liver and onions, Mama, or a slice of Roquefort cheese with toasted crackers, Mama, toasted crackers! Or a ten-cent bowl of chile con carne, or deviled duck eggs, or Blue Point oysters, raw, on the half-shell, with little slices of lemon, or just a few pounds of prime ribs of corn-fed —’

‘Oh, Ropati!’ Mama exclaimed suddenly, as though reminded of something. With a girlishly self-conscious, mincing motion she sidled close to me, an angelic smile wreathing her aged lips. Then, to my consternation, she sat down on the edge of my chair, slipped one arm around my shoulders, and, looking in my eyes for all the world like an amorous young thing gazing at her sweetheart, she breathlessly said: ‘I had forgotten to tell you, Ropati. Something has happened. The ship came last night, and it is off the reef now! ’

‘Ropati! Hi! Ropati!’Benny yelled suddenly, as, panting, he rushed into the cookhouse.

‘Yes, yes, Benny,’ I growled peremptorily, at the same time putting my arms around Mama and giving her a big kiss. ‘Yes, Benny; we know the ship’s come. Run along now and open the trading station!’


Benny has worked for me, off and on, for the past thirteen years. He is now forty-five, a trifle fat, opinionated, much too overbearing in his relations with the neighbors. Formerly he was an ideal store boy, but that was before he had become a deacon of the church, a council member, and a constable.

Though I had thought that these nimbi would crown his value as a store boy, I am now doubtful about it. He certainly induces the deacons to buy from my station instead of waiting to trade off the ship, but as a constable he makes enemies. Only a few months ago he arrested five youths and five maidens for singing on the outer beach after curfew. There was a great to-do about it. Chief of Police Ura (who is also a self-appointed magistrate) fined each of them fifty pounds. The amount of the fine was of no consequence, for fines are never paid, and anyway fifty pounds means about as much to a Puka-Pukan as the Vancouver gold digger’s $3,500,000 was to mean to me, as shall be seen; but Benny’s tyrannical gesture has forfeited all ten of them as potential customers in the trading station.

The songsters had a withering revenge. One dark and rainy night they slipped into the grove of hernandia trees where Benny keeps his pig, and cut off its tail! Not a soul saw them; but Benny, on a hunch, hauled them to court again, whereupon they were each fined another fifty pounds. Benny, however, is now the laughingstock of the whole island. The Leeward Villagers have composed a song about the curtailment, which they will sing at the next May Day church festival.

Where is the tail of the constable’s pig?
Alas! Alas! Alas!

the song goes. It makes Benny mad as a hornet when he hears the villagers rehearsing it.

However, I keep Benny in his place, and when one of his enemies appears I send him out behind the cookhouse to chop wood. To-day, though, there was too much excitement in the trading station for anyone to be concerned with petty grudges.

’I understand, Ropati, that you are going to North America,’ said VillageDandy George, a tall solemn-faced youth who takes himself very seriously.

‘Yes, George,’ I sighed; ‘a business trip. I want to stock the station with high-grade lines which I will buy personally in New York. I will go to the manufacturers for checked pants, red bandanna handkerchiefs, and some of those brown bowler hats like the one you wear to church.’

George pulled a long face at the mention of bowler hats, for at present he outshines the neighbors, during the Sunday church parade, by being the only Puka-Pukan in possession of such a valuable headpiece. Presently he brightened a little, and ‘Bring me a pair of shoes,’ he said. ‘Yellow ones with bulldog toes — light yellow ones, like those in the photograph you showed me of the movie man, with big brass eyes, wide laces, and striped canvas backstraps. You know the kind I want. Size 12½, extra wide, and they must squeak very loudly.’

I marked George’s shoes down in my memorandum book; then I turned to old Bones, the village satyr, who had just entered. ‘Well, Bones, what can I bring you from America? A jew’sharp, or some little bottles of sixpenny scent for your lady friends?’

‘America? What’s that?’ he grunted, raising his gorilla-like arms above his head and yawning.

‘Why, Bones! Have n’t you heard of America? It’s the land I came from.’

‘Oh,’ Bones muttered with distressing matter-of-factness, ‘the island of the foreigners. Well, you can bring me a gold pipe like the ones they had on the millionaire’s yacht.’

‘Certainly, Bones — a corncob pipe. Anything else?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Bones. ‘A pig.’


‘Mine died,’ Bones explained, ‘and I can’t get the neighbors to give me another one. You bring me a spotted white-man’s pig, with a tail like one of those things you pull corks out of bottles with, and stiff bristles on her neck.’

Just then William entered the station. ‘I hear you are going to America, Ropati,’ he said in Puka-Pukan, making a sniffling sound, as he always does when he wishes to discredit me. ‘Oh, yes,’ shifting to whaler English, ‘I been there plenty time. You go Barbary Coast, tell ’em you savvy old William what was there fifty year ago on Captain Pester ship. They treat you fine when they savvy you’re my frien’.’

The old heathen darted a glance at George to determine what effect he had made; but he had overlooked the fact that George does not understand either the King’s or William’s English. It is a mortification to my retainer that he cannot simultaneously air his English and be understood.

‘The Barbary Coast is in Africa, William,’ I said hurriedly, hoping to change the subject. ‘I am not going to Africa.’

‘ Whas-a-matta? You no savvy Barbary Coast in San Francisco, where all the sailors dance with the beautiful maidens? Oh! I savvy Barbary Coast too much!’

‘What can I bring you from America, William?’ I said, sharply this time, before the old heathen got started on one of his long and indelicate stories.

‘Me? Oh, a pair of spectacles.’

‘All right,’ as I marked them down. ‘What age?’

‘Age eighty,’ the heathen-Adventist replied. I required no further particulars, for in the South Seas spectacles are sold by age. All men of sixty, for instance, are supposed to suffer from an equal eye weakness, so they buy glasses, steel-rimmed, with pretty little bubbles in the lenses, for age sixty; and if they are worthless as spectacles they serve admirably for burning glasses or to hang on the wall as a sign of opulence.

More orders came in during the day. Mama wanted a blue silk parasol of the style of 1890. Parson Sea Foam ordered a black woolen suit of clothes. Benny had his heart set on a trench helmet — he thought it would look impressive when he was functioning as constable. Chief of Police Ura asked for a cowboy six-shooter, with plenty of ‘stones’ for it. In my memorandum book there were three solid pages of the wants of my neighbors, but scarcely an article that was of any substantial use. I would buy them all, however, even down to Bones’s pig, for a South Sea trader is in business to supply the desires of his customers rather than their needs. Of the latter there are none. We traders in the islands sell things for which the people have no need, in exchange for copra which is of great value to us.

That day I dined aboard ship. Albeit the food was terrible, as it always is on Cockroach Schooner, I enjoyed the pale wrinkled potatoes, the soggy bread, the rancid butter. On the morrow at dusk, the captain told me, we should sail.


Next day I was kept busy in the trading station. Though no copra was to be taken away this voyage, which obviated the bagging, weighing, and boating of my fifty tons, and though I had little packing to do, there was a great amount of talking involved in turning over the station to Benny. I have learned that at Puka-Puka it is necessary to repeat a statement thrice to ascertain that it will be understood and remembered; so, when telling Benny that he must give no credit to Bones, and that he must never accept payment for more than one article at a time, and that he must not use the carton of giant firecrackers for a pillow when he smokes and sleeps on the counter, each statement had to be said clearly, with graphic gesticulations, three times. Had I left a full stock of goods, the vocal labor would have been immense, but I was trusting Benny with only a few of the essentials, among them matches, tobacco, marbles, lemon drops, biscuits, fishhooks, Boston garters, perfume (for medicine), and ‘smell soap’ (for hair oil). Such luxuries as cloth, bread, shirts, trousers, shoes, rice, sugar, kerosene, and laundry soap, the people could manage without.

I was on the point of omitting the matches and fishhooks until it occurred to me that this would be enforcing an undue hardship on the poor villagers, for, through long custom, they have developed a need for these two articles in their poker games.

Toward evening, having repeated my last order for the last time, I picked up my suitcase and my umbrella and walked out of the trading station.

‘Remember, Benny,’ I said as an afterthought, ‘whenever there is any question about whether the article sells for a shilling or sixpence make the price one-and-six so as to be on the safe side . . . and don’t open that case of No. IV brew that I have left under the counter. When I return, and the neighbors are all gathered in the trading station, I shall need that brew to help draw out the story of my travels. You know what the Japanese poet says: —

‘How great a thing is a single cup of wine!
For it makes us tell the story of our whole lives.’

Benny nodded his head sadly, whether because of my departure, or the verses, or the interdiction on the brew, I could not decide, though I gave him a scrutinizing glance. Then he sighed, dug his hand in his trousers pocket, and brought out a half-dozen beautifully carved pearl-shell hooks. Benny always becomes sentimental on the least provocation. On this occasion there were tears in his eyes when he handed me the hooks; his voice had a catch in it when he bade me good-bye and, as a last word of friendly advice from one fisherman to another, said: ‘Remember, Ropati, you must use the little one, the yeki, for triggerfish and shiners, with hermit-crab bait (I only hope there will be plenty of hermit crabs in America). The gold-lip hook is for albacore, but you can catch dogtooth tuna with it, too. The two black-lip ones are for deep-sea fishing with squid bait, and the others are for fishing on the coral reef. I’m sure, Ropati, that you will astonish the Americans with all the fish you catch, for everybody knows that the foreigners’ steel hooks won’t catch fish like our shell ones. Good-bye, Ropati — I ’ll try to remember some of the things you told me. I won’t touch the No. IV brew — and don’t forget my trench helmet.’ Here a great sob came from the store boy, while I, placing the hooks in my pocket, and again warning him to be always on the safe side in the matter of pricing, with a twirl of my umbrella hurried away.

Walking to Leeward Village, where my canoe awaited me, I was forced to pass through the missionary grounds, and there it was obligatory to say goodbye to Sea Foam. He was waiting for me at the doorway to his chipped-coral house, dressed for the occasion, a great ironwood club in his hands.

‘Now, Ropati,’ Sea Foam said, as meditatively he rubbed his large hand over the equally large knob on the lethal end of the club, ‘I have heard these stories about America — a very wicked country, Ropati. There is that place, Tikawko, where all the cowboys shoot each other.’ At this point Sea Foam wagged his graying head and made a clucking noise with his tongue on the roof of his mouth. ‘You must be careful, Ropati,’ he continued; ‘you must put your faith in the Lord — but if you see any of those cowboys in Tikawko, then I trust that this ancient club, which was used by my ancestors in the heathen wars, will lay your enemies low. I advise you never to leave the ship without it; and if you are foolhardy enough to stop ashore at night, sleep with your hand gripping it. Good-bye, Ropati; put your faith in the Lord — and this club.’

At the beach by Leeward Village I had to bid farewell to several hundred people. I am afraid that I shook hands and accepted the many gifts with poor grace. To me the charm of the PukaPukans, their humor, picturesqueness, beauty, humanity, had become contemptible through too close familiarity. (How different it was to be on my return!) I received dozens of mats, hats as fine or finer than the best Panamas, wreaths of shells, great wooden ruvettus hooks, coils of sennit (on which to hang my washing in America), baskets, bunches of drinking nuts, roast fowls, pigs, and taro for the voyage south. These I piled in the canoe; and I was about to jump in myself when dear old Mama broke from the crowd, rushed up to me, flung her arms round my neck, and planted a kiss on each of my cheeks. Then, from the tangled rick of her grass skirt, she produced a pint bottle full of some sickly-green liquid.

‘It is for the stomach,’ she explained breathlessly, for she must have been running to overtake me before I had left the beach. ‘When you are sick in America . , . eating too much of the indigestible white-man’s food ... a big swallow of this stomach remedy will clean you out, thoroughly. . . . Don’t be without it, Ropati. . . . Remember, just one big swallow at night!’ Then the dear little lady, having thrust the bottle into my reluctant hand, again pressed a kiss on either cheek, while I, assuring her that I would follow her advice, shouted a last farewell to the villagers. Jumping into the canoe, William and I paddled across the reef to the ship.

The captain had been waiting for me, so I had little time to say good-bye to my retainer. The old heathen! The fake Adventist! The shameless whalerman! I had seen the great Puka-Puka sleeping mat in the bow of the canoe — the type of mat that is given to a bride and groom — and I had expected that it would be presented to me as a last gift; now, with a significant leer, the old scoundrel handed it to me, or, rather, crushed me with its great weight as he laid it across my shoulder.

‘Damme, Ropati!’ he whispered in my ear. ‘You take this number-one sleeping mat along to Barbary Coast! You savvy? Go-ta-hell! Good-bye!’ And after giving my hand a powerful grip he lowered his disgraceful body to the canoe.

The engine-room telegraph rang; the diesel engine pop-popped through its exhaust; slowly Cockroach Schooner got under way, while I, watching old William paddle across the reef, his naked back bent, too proud to give me a last parting glance across his shoulder— I, feeling the vessel roll as she drew away from the land, smelling the stench of rancid copra, bilge water, engine fumes — I poignantly, so irrational is man, with all my heart and soul longed to be back ashore again.

(To he continued)