By Hugh J. Cannon
Rare indeed is the occasion when a passenger vessel leaves a Hawaiian port without having wafted after it the beautiful strains of “Aloha Oe.” Nell had made a few native friends during her brief visit in Honolulu, and these were on the pier to join in the farewell song, their natural jollity subdued by the sorrow of parting. They had affectionately hung numerous leis around her neck, so many, indeed, that she was well nigh smothered, and notwithstanding the brief acquaintance, it was with sincere regret that she said goodbye, even though after her farewell to Nate she had felt nothing in life could be hard again. Mrs. Conrad, who had cheered her so on the morning of their arrival, was there also to bid her bon voyage.
The two thousand mile journey from Honolulu to Pago Pago, the American naval base on the island of Tutuila, was made without especial incident. The one exciting day was that on which they crossed the equator. Then out of the sea, ostensibly, came King Neptune with trident and royal suite and according to long established custom, held court and ordered all passengers who were crossing the line for the first time to be haled before him. A penalty of greater or less severity was pronounced upon all such. Not being in this class, Nell escaped the ducking or other punishment and therefore enjoyed the fun.
As word was passed around the vessel that land was in sight it created the usual excitement. Miss Redfield, perhaps the only person on board not glad the hour to disembark was so near, excitedly scanned through a glass the distant islands; in this foreign land she was to live and die. True, Pago Pago and this particular group were under the control of the United States, but it was Samoa none the less on that account. She felt that there was a peculiar resemblance between the islands and herself.
U.S. Naval officers stationed at outlying ports are always eager to see visitors arrive. This interest is in nowise diminished when among such arrivals is an undeniably pretty and piquant young lady. En route Miss Redfield had made the acquaintance of Commodore and Mrs. King, the former a retired naval officer, and the party was welcomed by Captain Evans, who was in charge of the island, and everything possible was done to make their visit enjoyable.
Pago Pago is ninety miles from Apia which is on the island of Upolu in Western Samoa. To those who have journeyed from one point to the other in the small, ill-smelling, rough-riding boat which makes the trip at regular intervals, it is anything but a pleasure cruise. Btu Nell, never having made the voyage, was impatient to undertake it. She longed to set foot in Apia, her birthplace and the spot where her parents lay buried. She was anxious to see what association with scenes and perhaps with people familiar to her in babyhood days would do to her procrastinating memory. Urged by these desires, passage on the little inter-island boat had been secured immediately upon arrival, but her fellow voyagers, for whom she had formed a sincere attachment, partly because of their own natural worth and still more on account of her heart hunger, persuaded her to cancel this arrangement, remain a few days with them and accept the invitation of Captain Evans to go on the U.S. gunboat to Apia, whither he was obliged to send Lieutenant Hawley on official business.
Notwithstanding her impatience, the prospect was alluring. Now that her destination was virtually reached there was a haunting fear of being left alone, so she assented to the proposal of her friends. There were in Pago Pago a number of fine young Americans all eager to show her attention and she had more opportunities of seeing the country than it was possible to accept. The beauty of the harbor, the finest in all the South Seas, with its tropical surroundings was charming. Old “rainmaker,” the picturesque mountain standing as a sentinel at the mouth of the bay, invited her to climb to its summit and from that comparatively high vantage point gaze over the adjacent country. She was fascinated, too, by the dignity and sweetness of the native Samoan spirit. It was something new and strange and she felt would abundantly repay intensive cultivation.
In studying the native character, Nell often thought it would not be so intolerable if the hateful sixteenth of corrupted blood in his veins, instead of being Fijian, had come from the Samoan race, dark-skinned though it is.
Here for the first time in her memory she saw a group of her “brothers” as she contemptuously called them. A trading schooner had arrived from Suva, Fiji, manned entirely by natives of that land. Had there been no secret reason for dislike, Nell would have been greatly interested in them. Indeed she was interested, though inwardly repelled. The great bushes of hair, many of them a brick red from the use of slaked lime, formed the only covering for their heads, and if the naked truth must be told they had very little covering of any kind, merely a lava lava, a simple cloth usually made of bark, fastened about their waists and reaching to the knees.
Nell, Mrs. King and Mrs. Evans in company with some of the officers were at the wharf as the sailing schooner, by means of its auxiliary gasoline engine, worked its way to the mooring place.
Captain Evans and the others were amused at and Nell was correspondingly ashamed of her indignant refusal to accept an orange, a fruit for which Fiji is justly famous, from one of the crew.
“Why did you take such offense at that red-headed nigger?” the captain queried mirthfully. “Of course he did not have much on but at that he had no less than the Samoan men usually wear and you’re no longer shocked at them.”
The unhappy girl was sufficiently well-bred to take the raillery good naturedly, but the word “nigger” had aroused tumult in her breast greater than anything which had occurred since leaving home. To hear one of her own race called by that odious name was the exorbitant price she was paying for a few days of pleasure.
This and one other thing caused regret that she had not followed her original intention and departed with the Marastal. Hawley, the rugged young lieutenant, to whom was assigned the duty of conveying the party to its destination, was obviously taking too great an interest in her. Like other attractive women, she had learned that beauty had its disadvantages. So often had she been obliged to head off young men before their admiration turned to a more ardent feeling that she knew instinctively when to be on her guard. Now, after the ruthless manner in which her affections had been treated by fate, masculine attention, if it became even remotely lover-like, was most offensive. Still in this instance she sympathized with the young fellow: he was a long way from home and was lonely – at least that was her first impression; but it was soon apparent that little cause existed for loneliness, favorite as he was with men and women of the colony. Though polished by training and environment, there was a natural and delightful air of unconventionality about him.
Hawley made no effort to conceal his pleasure at the assignment to escort the party to Apia. Proud of his seamanship, the opportunity of displaying it before the commodore pleased him, but even that was hardly as appealing as the privilege of having a few additional hours to cultivate the young lady.
“There’s Apia,” he said handing the glasses to her as the vessel cut through the water. “You can almost see the crescent-shaped harbor. In another hour we’ll be near enough to get a glimpse of the rusting hulk of the Adler on the rocks and the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson on the hill above.”
His companion was trembling with an excitement which her best efforts could not suppress. The officer noticed it and started to call Mr. and Mrs. King who were discreetly entertaining each other.
“Please don’t disturb them,” interposed the young lady.
“But I’m afraid you’re going to faint, Miss Redfield. Let me help you to a seat.”
“No, I’d rather stand, but I am very much excited. Of course you have not heard, for I haven’t told anyone, that I was born in Apia. My parents were killed in the tornado which wrecked the Adler and the other warships and are buried there.”
Hawley was astonished. “You were in Apia at that time? Why, so was I! A little eight-year-old kid in knee breeches; at least I was in knee breeches when I wasn’t wearing a lava lava or paddling about in the water without anything on.”
Nell had been in some doubt as to whether she should reveal any part of her history. Not having reached a positive decision this much of the story had quite unconsciously escaped her. The young man’s surprise did not surpass her own.
“How strange that we should meet here,” she said. “You remember the storm, of course?”
“Remember it! I should say I do. For years almost I dreamed of nothing else. The howling of the wind with which were mingled screams of men and women on shore and the faint cries of doomed sailors on the warships in the harbor! A good many of the fellows who had seemed to take a fancy to me and whom I greatly admired were drowned. Yes, indeed I remember it. Often on squally nights ashore or at sea I have wished I could forget it. But you must’ve been just a babe at the time.”
“I was four years old and of course it all seems like a dream, but I hope sight of the place will revive memory.”
“After such a sorrow as the storm brought, I should think it would be wise to let memory sleep.”
“No; I am anxious to recall every possible detail of my life here and of my parents. It will help me in my work.”
“In your work back in the United States?”
“In my work in Apia.”
“I guess I don’t understand. You’re not going to stay here very long, are you?” It was evident that mere thought of such a possibility made the officer’s heart beat a little faster. He continued, “And another thing, if you’ll not be offended at my curiosity, I understood your parents were living in America.”
“I don’t very often relate family history to strangers, but this time I was surprised into it by the excitement of coming back to my old home, and now that I’ve told you so much there’s no good reason why I shouldn’t answer your other questions. For a long time Samoa is to be my home, at least, to speak more accurately, I intend living somewhere in the South Sea islands. The parents I have in America are the dearest people in the world, but they adopted me, coming to this land to take me back with them after the frightful hurricane.”
“Well, I’ll be – excuse me. Say, that explains a lot of mysteries!” Hawley exclaimed excitedly. “The moment you landed in Pago Pago, I felt sure we had met before, and now I know why. Can’t you remember? As kiddies we played together. Then the Redfields took you away. I’ve often thought about you and wondered where you were and whether you remembered me. Do you?”
The bewildered girl looked at him intently, but there was no sign of recognition in the searching eyes.
To give her time to recover from the surprise caused by this revelation, Hawley excused himself to attend to some duty in connection with the ship. The commodore and his wife were dozing, or pretending to, on the opposite side of the deck. Nell was torn by conflicting emotions, pleasure at meeting an old friend and fear that the secret of her birth might, through the disclosure of her identity, become widely known.
The lieutenant soon returned. “Well you let me call you by your first name?”
The young chap’s face was too frank and open for deceit, but for a moment his companion wondered whether or not he was a pretender, and determined to put him to the test.
“You doubtless have heard my first name, but you may call me by it if you can tell me my last real name.”
“Prudent, aren’t you? Not going to believe any fairy stories.” Hawley laughed delightedly. “Lucky for me I have proof of our early acquaintance. Your real name is Lilly Nell Terry; your father was John Terry; as your house collapsed your mother saved your life by throwing herself over you, and in doing so received her death blow. I can show you the exact spot where the house stood and the cemetery where your parents sleep.”
Nell appreciated the rollicking sailor’s consideration in leaving her at this juncture instead of remaining to enjoy his complete triumph, for she was so perturbed by this unexpected tie-up with her past as to be on the verge of weeping. Later she noticed that he was not busy and motioned him to rejoin her. They were drawing near to the harbor and she was anxious for a few more details.
“You remember my parents?”
“As well as I do my own and loved them almost as much. In those days I was as free in your home as you were.”
“Tell me about them.”
“Everybody spoke of your father as to the squarest man on the Islands and your mother as the most beautiful and talented woman. Naturally her heroic death added to the reverence in which the natives held her. You’ll find plenty of people who will remember them both and when they find out who you are they’ll look upon you almost as a goddess.”
“I would rather keep my identity hidden at least for a time. Of course I may trust you with my secret?”
“I give you the word of a sailor. And now can’t you remember me, Nelly?”
“No, not quite, and yet it seems that I can. Was your mother or some other white lady there?”
“By Jove, you’re getting it! Mother brought you to our home after the accident and you lived with us until the Redfields took you away. I used to carry you around in my arms.”
“Please don’t go into too much detail,” the young lady protested.
“I carried you away from the crowd on the day your parents were buried.” Hawley went on not heeding the admonition, “and we sat on a rock overlooking the ocean. You were hot and thirsty; I broke a cocoanut for you and gave you a drink. Can’t you recall putting your arms around my neck, calling me by name and begging me not to leave you?”
“Dick!” Memory, which refused to operate until it was fully ready, now awoke with a start. “Are you Dick?”
“Yes, I’m Dick!” exclaimed the delighted fellow. “How wonderful that I of all chaps in the world should bring you back to this place where we last met.”
The introduction made Nell very happy; but the light in her newly found friend’s eyes aroused a strong premonition that, as a result of their meeting again so strangely, this playmate of her baby days would be forced to endure disappointment similar to that which had overtaken Nate. This fear reminded her that she might often see him alone and therefore her conduct toward him must be very discreet.
“Now that I am remembered of course you’ll go on calling me Dick?” There was a wistful tone in the man’s voice as though he divined the thought in her heart.
“No, I shall call you Lieutenant Hawley, or Mr. Hawley which I understand from Commodore King is the correct form in naval circles.”
“Now look here, Nell Terry, why the necessity of so much formality? One would think you were an admiral. Why, we’ve known each other a score of years.”
“Yes, but we’re no longer children. You are a strange man wearing the uniform of the great Untied States. I left my old friend Dick in Apia many years ago. He was just a little fellow wearing a lava lava instead of a uniform. I wonder what he’s been doing all this time.”
“You can’t jar me into speaking in the third person, and I’m not going to let you forget that I carried you around in my arms. After you left I started in by climbing to the top of the hill, Mt. Vaea, above the town – look, we can see it clearly from here; it’s the spot where Stevenson is buried. He was known as Tusitala, the Tale-teller. From the very top of the highest cocoanut tree on the highest hill I watched your vessel as long as it was in sight. Afterwards I soundly thrashed a native boy who said I’d been crying. I swore I hadn’t, though there must have been streaks of tears all over my dirty face. Then and there I made up my mind to become a great sailor and go around the world until I found you. That was the incentive for joining the navy, and I’ve been like the Flying Dutchman, wandering over the earth hunting you ever since.”
“You’re about as truthful as other sailors when it comes to paying compliments to ladies. If the real facts were known my pride would have an upset, for you have never thought of your little playmate since that day. Now please forget about me and tell about yourself.”
“We’ll soon be entering the harbor, and I must look after the ship, but first let me square myself by saying you do me an injustice. I am sure that for a week at least I thought of nothing but my sorrow at your leaving.”
“Suppose you are telling the truth now and that you did think of me for a whole week, that furnishes little excuse for any great intimacy after twenty years. We are almost strangers to each other. Must you go?”
The commodore was stalking up and down, and his looks indicated that he thought the young officer should be at his post, and Hawley understood the look. Still he took time to say: “I can’ go ashore now but will be on hand to help you any way I can in the morning.”
“Thank you; I shall be glad of that. I prefer to rent a private cottage rather than live in a hotel if I can find something which suits me.”
“I’m sure we’ll find the very thing you want.”
Nell looked with wonder, indeed with awe, upon the great rusting skeletons, the daylight showing through their steel ribs, which, when she saw them last, were complete, though wrecked, battleships. The harbor is a shallow one, and passengers are obliged to go to and from the wharf to the ocean-going vessels in small boats, and this was one of the things which had always stood out in the girl’s memory.
She could not have described her feelings as she set foot on the land of her birth. Was it also to be the land where she should die and be buried? Imperfect recollections of her sorrowful babyhood days, mingled with the memories of more recent trials, overwhelmed her, and she was glad to reach her room in the primitive hotel where she could weep unrestrainedly.