By Hugh J. Cannon
The Maui was about to sail from its San Francisco pier for Honolulu. The hurry and confusion inseparable from such a departure prevailed. Porters were carrying the last of the luggage aboard, and the final sack of mail had been swung to the deck. Cautious ones had already taken farewell of friends on the wharf, preferring to lose a few moments of conversation rather than run the risk of being left.
Mr. and Mrs. Redfield and their adopted daughter were near the gangway. Silent and oppressed they stood, one of the girl’s hands in her father’s and the other in her mother’s. For Nell, after a tearful appeal from the woman who had cared for her with such tender love, had repented of the determination never again to address them by those sacred titles.
The pungent smell of the sea, of paint, of tar and rope came to Nell as it had a score of years before when she was leaving Apia. Associated with the odor was the fact that then, too, tears had been shed because she must say goodby to some loved ones, and even in her present trouble she recalled that during all the intervening years a combination of any two of these odors had invariably brought a feeling of deep and, until now, unaccountable depression.
“Not for two years, Father,” she said at last, “must you think of bringing Mother to see me. It will take at least that long to work out my plans. After that, if everything seems favorable, I shall be so happy to see you. But remember, it’s to be a visit only. My future is to be with the island natives, and you couldn’t endure the tropical climate.”
In spite of good resolutions Mrs. Redfield broke down. “But my baby girl, you can’t endure the climate either! And it’s worse than death to think of you alone among those half-civilized peoples.”
Nell made a courageous effort to smile. “Now, Mother, you’re forgetting our solemn agreement to be cheerful at the last minute.”
“That’s right, Mother,” put in Mr. Redfield. His own lips were trembling as with palsy, and tears were running down his cheeks. “We are to give our brave daughter an encouraging send-off. The last thing she sees must be smiles.”
A heavily laden porter passed and Nell saw the initials N.E. on one of the bags. It startled her. She and Nate had planned such a trip as a honey-moon, a visit to Hawaii and Samoa, and the thought that those same letters might have been on her own luggage, that a very dear one would be going with her toward a future full of promise, undermined the determination to be calm. Now the hateful contrast, journeying alone, under such circumstances, stealing away from her lover to avoid a parting too painful to endure, looking into a future not brightened by a single ray of sunshine! Fortunately the sustaining arms of the judge were ready, otherwise she might have fallen. Mrs. Redfield called to a porter for a glass of water.
The girl smiled pitifully. “I’m all right, Mother. It was my soul’s last despairing struggle against leaving you.”
Fortunately the steamer’s whistle sounded its final warning to passengers that in another moment all connection between ship and shore would be severed, for the girl had reached the limit of her strength.
Bidding a hasty goodby to her parents she stumbled blindly up the gangway and no sooner had she put foot on deck that the great vessel began, almost imperceptibly at first, to move away from the pier. She leaned against the rail and waved a handkerchief in the general direction of the spot where her loved ones stood. Through blurred eyes she could barely distinguish their outlines.
Long she stood there, silently weeping and gripping an iron upright with such intensity that when she finally removed her cramped hand it took some of the paint with it. How could the sun shine amid so much darkness! It seemed sinful. The Maui passed the Golden Gate and into the ocean. Then she murmured brokenly, “Farewell, America, goodby Father, Mother, Nate, goodby home and hope.” With unsteady steps she went to her cabin.
During all of the first day Nell’s eyes were too red and swollen to admit of her appearing on deck or in the dining salon. She therefore remained in her cabin. Many hours were spent in a futile attempt to revive shadowy memories of her real parents. The features of a quiet, grave man whose dim image was tall and who was kind and tender could not be recalled. From childhood, memory of her mother had been somewhat clear: the dark hair and eyes had seemed exquisitely beautiful; but now this mental picture was inexpressibly ugly. The hair instead of being wavy was kinky, and the woman’s smile, which she had remembered as something attractive, and indeed had tried to imitate, was now a repulsive grin, emanating from thick, sensuous lips.
Without mercy she stripped from the form, which memory and imagination had created, every vestige of beauty and left of it nothing but a coarse negro wench. She, Lilly Nell Redfield, pronounced the most attractive girl in her home city and modestly proud of the fact, had been given life by such a creature; from such flesh and blood had she come.
Besides these dim recollections of her parents, she could confusedly remember the terror of the people during the disastrous storm which had wrecked their home and killed her father and mother. Also in her mind was a picture of the great warships lying wrecked on the rocks of the harbor. They had passed close by them as she was leaving Apia for the United States with her newly acquired parents. There were other formless images, people whom it seemed she knew well, but memory, though tantalizing her with promises of excursions refused to conduct her into the details of their names and lives.
The only incident of the homeward journey which could be revived was her delight and excitement at the myriads of flying fish emerging like clouds of silver from the water, as Mr. and Mrs. Redfield held her at the rail of the vessel. One of these, she remembered, had landed on the deck, and she was inconsolable because the cat had eaten it before it could be rescued.
Before entering upon this present journey, she had, in consultation with her father, decided that a stay of a few weeks in the Hawaiian Islands would be advisable. It was thought that acquaintance with the more modernized natives of that group would make the transition from her past life to the one which awaited her less abrupt than it otherwise would be.
A violent attack of sea-sickness added to her mental troubles, made Nell wish most devoutly that the boat would go to the bottom, and right speedily. That fate seemed to her inevitable. No ship could weather such a sea, and therefore the sooner this wretched internal turmoil ceased the better. For twenty-four hours she was glad she was not on her honeymoon. It would be terrible to be as ill as this with a husband looking on, or perhaps equally afflicted.
However, unbelievable as it seemed to her, sea-sickness always comes to an end. She awoke early on the morning of the third day out with the feeling that the fresh air would prove a wholesome stimulant. However, she had but little confidence in her ability as a sailor and decided to go on deck while a majority of the passengers still slept, so that there would be few if any observers in the event that the dreaded malady again overcame her.
A stiff breeze, well laden with salty spray, was blowing, and this made Nell duck her head as she came on the port side of the vessel. Suddenly she bumped into a man who, instead of apologizing, seized her in his arms and kissed her time and time again. One upward look and the astonished girl no longer tried to tear herself away from the embrace. She was in Nate’s arms and, weakened by her mental and physical ills, had real need of support. They clung to each other as though each feared another immediate separation impended.
“Forgive me, Nell, for frightening you so,” he pleaded at last.
“Oh, Nate, what are you doing here? I thought you had gone to New York.”
“What a contemptible cad I’d be to let you go off alone to that accursed land. I’m going with you and see that you are properly located. Then if you insist, I’ll come back.”
“Nate, can’t you understand? You are making it so much harder for me.”
“Harder? Why, I’m only truing to make it easier.”
“But we went over that so many times at home. I know, and Father and Mother unwillingly agree, that my plan is the only sane one.”
The rocking vessel made it necessary for them to lean against the rail for support. He held her hand and kissed it whenever the backs of the few early risers were turned.
“Listen to me, sweetheart. I’m aboard the boat and can’t leave it without committing suicide before we reach Honolulu. I know all your arguments but in spite of them and of Mr. Redfield’s quixotic notions, there is no good reason why we should not marry, and especially if we live on the Islands where we are not known. Your father was happy, your mother was a devoted wife, are we so much wiser and better than they were?”
“Yes, it is possible they were happy, but look at me. What a price I’m paying for their happiness! And you know, Nate, we could never be satisfied with the thought hanging over us that some day our children would condemn us as severely as I condemn my parents. I love your devotion and of course do not want you to jump overboard, but you must be very circumspect until we reach Hawaii and then absolutely you must return home. Unless you promise to do so I shall be forced to hide from you and completely change my plans.”
“Well, there’s time enough to discuss that before we land. Meanwhile I’ll promise to be on my best behavior.”
Naturally the two were gloomy and made very few acquaintances during the journey. Nell learned from Nate how he had secretly come aboard the vessel with the determination not to let his presence be known until they were well out at sea. He also made it very clear to her that he was determined not to give up the fight until she was persuaded to marry him. Her spirit was torn by his pleading. Being so firmly convinced of the correctness of her own position she felt that to yield to his arguments would be weakness so contemptible that she would not deserve the respect of anyone, and yet with all her soul she longed to capitulate and go again to his arms as his promised wife. Thus there was abundant reason for depression.
After a week of looking upon nothing but water, the first glimpse of the verdant Hawaiian Islands thrilled them. Momentarily they forgot the nearness of their separation. As the Maui steamed slowly into the Honolulu harbor the two joined with other interested passengers in watching the native boys swimming about the vessel and diving for the small coins which were thrown from the deck. The mad scramble and splashing which ensued when an improvident American threw a half dollar overboard actually made Nell laugh.
A refined old lady, Mrs. Conrad, who occupied the cabin adjoining hers and with whom she had become slightly acquainted, patted her arm affectionately.
“It does me good, dearie,” she whispered, “to see you smile. It’s the first one I’ve seen on your sweet face since we came aboard. Whatever your sorrow is, and apparently it is grievous and hard to bear, smile as often as you can. It’s God’s way of letting peace and sunshine into the troubled soul.”
Nell was surprised. Unconsciously she had felt that to forget her grief for a single instant would be to commit sin. The sympathetic words inspired new courage. Though her sorrow was unforgettable the brooding habit was one which she must not form; it would be too dangerous in her isolation. The lady had walked away and the girl followed her.
“Thank you for your wise suggestion,” she said simply. “Your words have already brought sunshine and peace.”
The few days spent in Honolulu and about the island of Oahu, on which the city is located, were full of interest, likewise of trial to the lovers. The interest was traceable to drives about the city and country, to the mixed population of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Americans, the trials primarily to Nate’s insistent pleadings and Nell’s determination not to yield to them, but the progeny of mixed marriages, so numerous on every hand, also played a part in making the girl unhappy.
The two were invited by Mrs. Conrad, the acquaintance made on shipboard, and her son to drive about the island. Mother and son called for their guests and after looking about the city they drove through an adjacent canyon. As they approached its summit, known as the “Pali,” Mr. Conrad warned them to hold fast to their hats or they would be blown away. As no breeze could be felt they were inclined to treat the warning as a joke until it was repeated in all seriousness. Soon they came to a jutting cliff, at which point the road made a sharp turn. Here not only hats but the people themselves were almost swept out of the car, so strong was the wind. At the highest point on the road they were given a chance to alight and in the direct current, which had all the proportions of a terrific gale, it was almost impossible for Nate with all his strength, to stand, quite impossible to remain erect, while but a few yards in either direction no breeze at all was to be felt.
The “Pali” afforded a scenic view of rare beauty – one of the finest on these very scenic islands. A serpentine road led into the fertile valley below the. Fruitful fields of sugar-cane, rice and pine-apples stretched for miles to the right and left, and in the distance the ocean was visible, its blue artistically enlivened by countless white-caps. Here and there, men, women and children were busy herding flocks of birds from the rice-fields. Mr. Conrad stated that farmers and birds match wits, industry and endurance to see which shall do the harvesting, and that the contest usually results in a tie – at least neither side wins a complete victory.
The factory stood in the center of an extensive pine-apple growing district. It was a mammoth affair capable of canning fifty-thousand cases, more than half a million cans, of pine-apple daily, and the visitors were told that its luscious products were shipped to every part of the civilized world.
Later Nell had, somewhat protestingly, consented to a trip to the island of Hawaii, the largest of the group, in order to see the great Kilauea volcano in action. The twenty-hour boat ride from Honolulu to Hilo, now that the travelers had found their sea legs, was dreamy and restful. Mauna Loa, the highest peak of the islands, nearly fourteen thousand feet high, towered, as it appeared, directly above them even when they were well out at sea. Its summit was a beautiful pink – a modest blush, Nate said, because of the kiss it was receiving from the rising sun, in the presence of so many witnesses. A short distance away several whales were disporting themselves in the water and a dull red furnished color for the scene and at the same time indicated the spot where the volcano was seething and hissing.
It was while looking into the molten mass, literally rivers and lakes of red hot lava, that the girl thought she saw a reflection of her own heart, purgatory in the midst of enchanting surroundings. She walked away from Nate. There was something sinister but dangerously attractive about the weird and grotesque figures which were being thrown into the air as though spewed from the mouth of some herculean monster. The girl was shocked that the arms which these fiery forms seemed to hold out to her were so inviting. For centuries, as she had heard, native girls with broken hearts had come here and, bidding goodbye to the world, had thrown themselves into the crater of this inferno and met a terrible but speedy death. “No heart-ache so intense that Kilauea cannot heal it,” was the common saying. This cauldron offered a solution to her own troubles. Surely the molten lava could not burn more fatally into her vitals than the painful truth of her birth was burning into her soul. Was it the sixteenth of colored blood which drove her so near the perilous brink and made such a fate so attractive?
Nell shuddered at the thought, which now seemed startlingly near to a reality, that the sixteenth was dominating the remaining fifteen-sixteenths. Before she knew of her own descent she had often heard how insistent for recognition negro blood is. Here, thought she, was tangible evidence of it. Thoroughly frightened, she hastened back to Nate, lest the temptation to throw herself from the crater prove too strong.
She flung herself into his arms. “Take me away from here quickly. I cannot bear it a moment longer.”
The young fellow attributed her action to surrender and joyfully assisted her to the waiting car. She did not have the heart to undeceive him. Indeed, she was by no means sure that she was not ready to accede to his wishes. Why should she suffer such agony because of a defect of birth? Life was so dismal without him, the future so hopeless, and she loved him so much! Nate had told her that once the step was taken all misgivings would vanish as the vague vapors which precede sunrise on the ocean. After all, perhaps that would be the case. In any event, it seemed between her lover and the volcano she must choose.
Nell talked but little during the ride down to Hilo, and during the voyage back to Honolulu. But while she did not assent to any change in their relations, never once did she say, as she had constantly done before, that it was madness to think of such a thing. Nate’s devotion touched her deeply. Even now he respected her subdued condition, but it was evident that he was in a high state of happiness and hopefulness. To crush these hopes, destroy that happiness, to immolate herself, for her course seemed nothing less than that, was more than she could now make up her mind to do.
Her passage had been engaged to Samoa, and she suspected that Nate secretly had purchased a ticket for himself on the same boat. She surprised him by asking the direct question.
“Yes, I will not let you go to that outlandish country alone, so why not consent to our marriage here and take the honey-moon trip to Samoa as we originally planned it? If you would prefer to remain there rather than return to the States I am willing to make the South Sea Islands our permanent home.”
As long as her courage remained, the struggle was not so severe, but with crumbling determination, the battle was too oppressive to endure long.
Why should she not consent? Nate had not failed to remind her that Mr. and Mrs. Terry were very happy, living peaceful and contented lives and blessed with a daughter who was beautiful and accomplished. Why should she sit in judgment on them? Why should anyone sit in judgment on her if she yielded to her lover’s plea?
“I’d like to say yes, Nate, but I cannot tonight.” She hesitated. “If it will give you any pleasure, neither can I say no. We’ll have to leave it that way until tomorrow.”
The following day the two visited the Bishop Museum which contains the finest known collection of Polynesian relics. Here they met the curator and were told by that learned scientist that he was personally convinced, though perhaps this was not yet a demonstrated scientific fact, that the Polynesians of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand are related to one another and with the same origin as the American Indian. Furthermore, they are a delightful people, kindhearted, generous to a fault, very intelligent considering their environment, and withal most lovable.
“What about the Fijians?” asked the girl. Her heart alternated between an audible pounding and a dangerous cessation as she awaited his answer.
“They have many of the same characteristics as the Polynesians, though they cannot be said to have the same blood. The true Fijian is of Melanesian descent, quite different form the Polynesian. Until the advent of the whites he was a natural cannibal. In many particulars he resembles the negro one sees in America, and indeed their origin is probably the same. One characteristic which they have in common is particularly noticeable – the persistency of their blood when it is mixed in marriage with the whites. Of course many whites have been foolish enough to marry …”
Even the absent-minded scientist could not fail to remark the young lady’s agitation. “Are you ill, Miss Redfield?” he asked. “I fear you have been greatly bored by my dissertation. Let me bring you a glass of water.”
Away from the museum and alone with Nate, she said, this time in no uncertain terms: “You see how impossible it is. Fate has been cruel to us, but we can gain nothing by flying in her face. My first plan was the right one.”
“But Nell – ”
“Please don’t try to coax me to change my mind, Nate. I cannot listen to more arguments, for my nerves are as brittle as glass, but this I know, I must go, and go alone.” Nell was almost hysterical.
“I shall never, never permit it!” The young fellow’s determined face showed how sincerely the words were spoken.
The girl shook off her threatened attack of hysteria, and continued more calmly. “Nate, I know something of the suffering which exists in childless homes. Think of that, then of the other alternative, children playing about your knee who call you father and whose blood is not wholly white.”
The man’s involuntary shudder did not escape the searching eyes of the girl. Nothing that had occurred since the news of her ancestry was revealed did so much to crystallize her determination as did that slight and unconscious movement. No matter what the temptation, she must never permit herself to think again of marriage.