Part 2 out of 2
She fought with the pearls that clung to the flowers. The transport
was moving steadily on. Steve was already beneath her. This was
the moment. The next moment and he would be past. She sobbed, and
Jeremy Sambrooke glanced at her inquiringly.
"Dorothy!" he cried sharply.
She deliberately snapped the string, and, amid a shower of pearls,
the flowers fell to the waiting lover. She gazed at him until the
tears blinded her and she buried her face on the shoulder of Jeremy
Sambrooke, who forgot his beloved statistics in wonderment at girl
babies that insisted on growing up. The crowd sang on, the song
growing fainter in the distance, but still melting with the sensuous
love-languor of Hawaii, the words biting into her heart like acid
because of their untruth.
Aloha oe, Aloha oe, e ke onaona no ho ika lipo,
A fond embrace, ahoi ae au, until we meet again.
CHUN AH CHUN
There was nothing striking in the appearance of Chun Ah Chun. He
was rather undersized, as Chinese go, and the Chinese narrow
shoulders and spareness of flesh were his. The average tourist,
casually glimpsing him on the streets of Honolulu, would have
concluded that he was a good-natured little Chinese, probably the
proprietor of a prosperous laundry or tailorshop. In so far as good
nature and prosperity went, the judgment would be correct, though
beneath the mark; for Ah Chun was as good-natured as he was
prosperous, and of the latter no man knew a tithe the tale. It was
well known that he was enormously wealthy, but in his case
"enormous" was merely the symbol for the unknown.
Ah Chun had shrewd little eyes, black and beady and so very little
that they were like gimlet-holes. But they were wide apart, and
they sheltered under a forehead that was patently the forehead of a
thinker. For Ah Chun had his problems, and had had them all his
life. Not that he ever worried over them. He was essentially a
philosopher, and whether as coolie, or multi-millionaire and master
of many men, his poise of soul was the same. He lived always in the
high equanimity of spiritual repose, undeterred by good fortune,
unruffled by ill fortune. All things went well with him, whether
they were blows from the overseer in the cane field or a slump in
the price of sugar when he owned those cane fields himself. Thus,
from the steadfast rock of his sure content he mastered problems
such as are given to few men to consider, much less to a Chinese
He was precisely that--a Chinese peasant, born to labour in the
fields all his days like a beast, but fated to escape from the
fields like the prince in a fairy tale. Ah Chun did not remember
his father, a small farmer in a district not far from Canton; nor
did he remember much of his mother, who had died when he was six.
But he did remember his respected uncle, Ah Kow, for him had he
served as a slave from his sixth year to his twenty-fourth. It was
then that he escaped by contracting himself as a coolie to labour
for three years on the sugar plantations of Hawaii for fifty cents a
Ah Chun was observant. He perceived little details that not one man
in a thousand ever noticed. Three years he worked in the field, at
the end of which time he knew more about cane-growing than the
overseers or even the superintendent, while the superintendent would
have been astounded at the knowledge the weazened little coolie
possessed of the reduction processes in the mill. But Ah Chun did
not study only sugar processes. He studied to find out how men came
to be owners of sugar mills and plantations. One judgment he
achieved early, namely, that men did not become rich from the labour
of their own hands. He knew, for he had laboured for a score of
years himself. The men who grew rich did so from the labour of the
hands of others. That man was richest who had the greatest number
of his fellow creatures toiling for him.
So, when his term of contract was up, Ah Chun invested his savings
in a small importing store, going into partnership with one, Ah
Yung. The firm ultimately became the great one of "Ah Chun and Ah
Yung," which handled anything from India silks and ginseng to guano
islands and blackbird brigs. In the meantime, Ah Chun hired out as
cook. He was a good cook, and in three years he was the highest-
paid chef in Honolulu. His career was assured, and he was a fool to
abandon it, as Dantin, his employer, told him; but Ah Chun knew his
own mind best, and for knowing it was called a triple-fool and given
a present of fifty dollars over and above the wages due him.
The firm of Ah Chun and Ah Yung was prospering. There was no need
for Ah Chun longer to be a cook. There were boom times in Hawaii.
Sugar was being extensively planted, and labour was needed. Ah Chun
saw the chance, and went into the labour-importing business. He
brought thousands of Cantonese coolies into Hawaii, and his wealth
began to grow. He made investments. His beady black eyes saw
bargains where other men saw bankruptcy. He bought a fish-pond for
a song, which later paid five hundred per cent and was the opening
wedge by which he monopolized the fish market of Honolulu. He did
not talk for publication, nor figure in politics, nor play at
revolutions, but he forecast events more clearly and farther ahead
than did the men who engineered them. In his mind's eye he saw
Honolulu a modern, electric-lighted city at a time when it
straggled, unkempt and sand-tormented, over a barren reef of
uplifted coral rock. So he bought land. He bought land from
merchants who needed ready cash, from impecunious natives, from
riotous traders' sons, from widows and orphans and the lepers
deported to Molokai; and, somehow, as the years went by, the pieces
of land he had bought proved to be needed for warehouses, or coffee
buildings, or hotels. He leased, and rented, sold and bought, and
But there were other things as well. He put his confidence and his
money into Parkinson, the renegade captain whom nobody would trust.
And Parkinson sailed away on mysterious voyages in the little Vega.
Parkinson was taken care of until he died, and years afterward
Honolulu was astonished when the news leaked out that the Drake and
Acorn guano islands had been sold to the British Phosphate Trust for
three-quarters of a million. Then there were the fat, lush days of
King Kalakaua, when Ah Chun paid three hundred thousand dollars for
the opium licence. If he paid a third of a million for the drug
monopoly, the investment was nevertheless a good one, for the
dividends bought him the Kalalau Plantation, which, in turn, paid
him thirty per cent for seventeen years and was ultimately sold by
him for a million and a half.
It was under the Kamehamehas, long before, that he had served his
own country as Chinese Consul--a position that was not altogether
unlucrative; and it was under Kamehameha IV that he changed his
citizenship, becoming an Hawaiian subject in order to marry Stella
Allendale, herself a subject of the brown-skinned king, though more
of Anglo-Saxon blood ran in her veins than of Polynesian. In fact,
the random breeds in her were so attenuated that they were valued at
eighths and sixteenths. In the latter proportions was the blood of
her great-grandmother, Paahao--the Princess Paahao, for she came of
the royal line. Stella Allendale's great-grandfather had been a
Captain Blunt, an English adventurer who took service under
Kamehameha I and was made a tabu chief himself. Her grandfather had
been a New Bedford whaling captain, while through her own father had
been introduced a remote blend of Italian and Portuguese which had
been grafted upon his own English stock. Legally a Hawaiian, Ah
Chun's spouse was more of any one of three other nationalities.
And into this conglomerate of the races, Ah Chun introduced the
Mongolian mixture. Thus, his children by Mrs. Ah Chun were one
thirty-second Polynesian, one-sixteenth Italian, one sixteenth
Portuguese, one-half Chinese, and eleven thirty-seconds English and
American. It might well be that Ah Chun would have refrained from
matrimony could he have foreseen the wonderful family that was to
spring from this union. It was wonderful in many ways. First,
there was its size. There were fifteen sons and daughters, mostly
daughters. The sons had come first, three of them, and then had
followed, in unswerving sequence, a round dozen of girls. The blend
of the race was excellent. Not alone fruitful did it prove, for the
progeny, without exception, was healthy and without blemish. But
the most amazing thing about the family was its beauty. All the
girls were beautiful--delicately, ethereally beautiful. Mamma Ah
Chun's rotund lines seemed to modify papa Ah Chun's lean angles, so
that the daughters were willowy without being lathy, round-muscled
without being chubby. In every feature of every face were haunting
reminiscences of Asia, all manipulated over and disguised by Old
England, New England, and South of Europe. No observer, without
information, would have guessed, the heavy Chinese strain in their
veins; nor could any observer, after being informed, fail to note
immediately the Chinese traces.
As beauties, the Ah Chun girls were something new. Nothing like
them had been seen before. They resembled nothing so much as they
resembled one another, and yet each girl was sharply individual.
There was no mistaking one for another. On the other hand, Maud,
who was blue-eyed and yellow-haired, would remind one instantly of
Henrietta, an olive brunette with large, languishing dark eyes and
hair that was blue-black. The hint of resemblance that ran through
them all, reconciling every differentiation, was Ah Chun's
contribution. He had furnished the groundwork upon which had been
traced the blended patterns of the races. He had furnished the
slim-boned Chinese frame, upon which had been builded the delicacies
and subtleties of Saxon, Latin, and Polynesian flesh.
Mrs. Ah Chun had ideas of her own to which Ah Chun gave credence,
though never permitting them expression when they conflicted with
his own philosophic calm. She had been used all her life to living
in European fashion. Very well. Ah Chun gave her a European
mansion. Later, as his sons and daughters grew able to advise, he
built a bungalow, a spacious, rambling affair, as unpretentious as
it was magnificent. Also, as time went by, there arose a mountain
house on Tantalus, to which the family could flee when the "sick
wind" blew from the south. And at Waikiki he built a beach
residence on an extensive site so well chosen that later on, when
the United States government condemned it for fortification
purposes, an immense sum accompanied the condemnation. In all his
houses were billiard and smoking rooms and guest rooms galore, for
Ah Chun's wonderful progeny was given to lavish entertainment. The
furnishing was extravagantly simple. Kings' ransoms were expended
without display--thanks to the educated tastes of the progeny.
Ah Chun had been liberal in the matter of education. "Never mind
expense," he had argued in the old days with Parkinson when that
slack mariner could see no reason for making the Vega seaworthy;
"you sail the schooner, I pay the bills." And so with his sons and
daughters. It had been for them to get the education and never mind
the expense. Harold, the eldest-born, had gone to Harvard and
Oxford; Albert and Charles had gone through Yale in the same
classes. And the daughters, from the eldest down, had undergone
their preparation at Mills Seminary in California and passed on to
Vassar, Wellesley, or Bryn Mawr. Several, having so desired, had
had the finishing touches put on in Europe. And from all the world
Ah Chun's sons and daughters returned to him to suggest and advise
in the garnishment of the chaste magnificence of his residences. Ah
Chun himself preferred the voluptuous glitter of Oriental display;
but he was a philosopher, and he clearly saw that his children's
tastes were correct according to Western standards.
Of course, his children were not known as the Ah Chun children. As
he had evolved from a coolie labourer to a multi-millionaire, so had
his name evolved. Mamma Ah Chun had spelled it A'Chun, but her
wiser offspring had elided the apostrophe and spelled it Achun. Ah
Chun did not object. The spelling of his name interfered no whit
with his comfort nor his philosophic calm. Besides, he was not
proud. But when his children arose to the height of a starched
shirt, a stiff collar, and a frock coat, they did interfere with his
comfort and calm. Ah Chun would have none of it. He preferred the
loose-flowing robes of China, and neither could they cajole nor
bully him into making the change. They tried both courses, and in
the latter one failed especially disastrously. They had not been to
America for nothing. They had learned the virtues of the boycott as
employed by organized labour, and he, their father, Chun Ah Chun,
they boycotted in his own house, Mamma Achun aiding and abetting.
But Ah Chun himself, while unversed in Western culture, was
thoroughly conversant with Western labour conditions. An extensive
employer of labour himself, he knew how to cope with its tactics.
Promptly he imposed a lockout on his rebellious progeny and erring
spouse. He discharged his scores of servants, locked up his
stables, closed his houses, and went to live in the Royal Hawaiian
Hotel, in which enterprise he happened to be the heaviest
stockholder. The family fluttered distractedly on visits about with
friends, while Ah Chun calmly managed his many affairs, smoked his
long pipe with the tiny silver bowl, and pondered the problem of his
This problem did not disturb his calm. He knew in his philosopher's
soul that when it was ripe he would solve it. In the meantime he
enforced the lesson that complacent as he might be, he was
nevertheless the absolute dictator of the Achun destinies. The
family held out for a week, then returned, along with Ah Chun and
the many servants, to occupy the bungalow once more. And thereafter
no question was raised when Ah Chun elected to enter his brilliant
drawing-room in blue silk robe, wadded slippers, and black silk
skull-cap with red button peak, or when he chose to draw at his
slender-stemmed silver-bowled pipe among the cigarette- and cigar-
smoking officers and civilians on the broad verandas or in the
Ah Chun occupied a unique position in Honolulu. Though he did not
appear in society, he was eligible anywhere. Except among the
Chinese merchants of the city, he never went out; but he received,
and he always was the centre of his household and the head of his
table. Himself peasant, born Chinese, he presided over an
atmosphere of culture and refinement second to none in all the
islands. Nor were there any in all the islands too proud to cross
his threshold and enjoy his hospitality. First of all, the Achun
bungalow was of irreproachable tone. Next, Ah Chun was a power.
And finally, Ah Chun was a moral paragon and an honest business man.
Despite the fact that business morality was higher than on the
mainland, Ah Chun outshone the business men of Honolulu in the
scrupulous rigidity of his honesty. It was a saying that his word
was as good as his bond. His signature was never needed to bind
him. He never broke his word. Twenty years after Hotchkiss, of
Hotchkiss, Morterson Company, died, they found among mislaid papers
a memorandum of a loan of thirty thousand dollars to Ah Chun. It
had been incurred when Ah Chun was Privy Councillor to Kamehameha
II. In the bustle and confusion of those heyday, money-making
times, the affair had slipped Ah Chun's mind. There was no note, no
legal claim against him, but he settled in full with the Hotchkiss'
Estate, voluntarily paying a compound interest that dwarfed the
principal. Likewise, when he verbally guaranteed the disastrous
Kakiku Ditch Scheme, at a time when the least sanguine did not dream
a guarantee necessary--"Signed his cheque for two hundred thousand
without a quiver, gentlemen, without a quiver," was the report of
the secretary of the defunct enterprise, who had been sent on the
forlorn hope of finding out Ah Chun's intentions. And on top of the
many similar actions that were true of his word, there was scarcely
a man of repute in the islands that at one time or another had not
experienced the helping financial hand of Ah Chun.
So it was that Honolulu watched his wonderful family grow up into a
perplexing problem and secretly sympathized with him, for it was
beyond any of them to imagine what he was going to do with it. But
Ah Chun saw the problem more clearly than they. No one knew as he
knew the extent to which he was an alien in his family. His own
family did not guess it. He saw that there was no place for him
amongst this marvellous seed of his loins, and he looked forward to
his declining years and knew that he would grow more and more alien.
He did not understand his children. Their conversation was of
things that did not interest him and about which he knew nothing.
The culture of the West had passed him by. He was Asiatic to the
last fibre, which meant that he was heathen. Their Christianity was
to him so much nonsense. But all this he would have ignored as
extraneous and irrelevant, could he have but understood the young
people themselves. When Maud, for instance, told him that the
housekeeping bills for the month were thirty thousand--that he
understood, as he understood Albert's request for five thousand with
which to buy the schooner yacht Muriel and become a member of the
Hawaiian Yacht Club. But it was their remoter, complicated desires
and mental processes that obfuscated him. He was not slow in
learning that the mind of each son and daughter was a secret
labyrinth which he could never hope to tread. Always he came upon
the wall that divides East from West. Their souls were inaccessible
to him, and by the same token he knew that his soul was inaccessible
Besides, as the years came upon him, he found himself harking back
more and more to his own kind. The reeking smells of the Chinese
quarter were spicy to him. He sniffed them with satisfaction as he
passed along the street, for in his mind they carried him back to
the narrow tortuous alleys of Canton swarming with life and
movement. He regretted that he had cut off his queue to please
Stella Allendale in the prenuptial days, and he seriously considered
the advisability of shaving his crown and growing a new one. The
dishes his highly paid chef concocted for him failed to tickle his
reminiscent palate in the way that the weird messes did in the
stuffy restaurant down in the Chinese quarter. He enjoyed vastly
more a half-hour's smoke and chat with two or three Chinese chums,
than to preside at the lavish and elegant dinners for which his
bungalow was famed, where the pick of the Americans and Europeans
sat at the long table, men and women on equality, the women with
jewels that blazed in the subdued light against white necks and
arms, the men in evening dress, and all chattering and laughing over
topics and witticisms that, while they were not exactly Greek to
him, did not interest him nor entertain.
But it was not merely his alienness and his growing desire to return
to his Chinese flesh-pots that constituted the problem. There was
also his wealth. He had looked forward to a placid old age. He had
worked hard. His reward should have been peace and repose. But he
knew that with his immense fortune peace and repose could not
possibly be his. Already there were signs and omens. He had seen
similar troubles before. There was his old employer, Dantin, whose
children had wrested from him, by due process of law, the management
of his property, having the Court appoint guardians to administer it
for him. Ah Chun knew, and knew thoroughly well, that had Dantin
been a poor man, it would have been found that he could quite
rationally manage his own affairs. And old Dantin had had only
three children and half a million, while he, Chun Ah Chun, had
fifteen children and no one but himself knew how many millions.
"Our daughters are beautiful women," he said to his wife, one
evening. "There are many young men. The house is always full of
young men. My cigar bills are very heavy. Why are there no
Mamma Achun shrugged her shoulders and waited.
"Women are women and men are men--it is strange there are no
marriages. Perhaps the young men do not like our daughters."
"Ah, they like them well enough," Mamma Chun answered; "but you see,
they cannot forget that you are your daughters' father."
"Yet you forgot who my father was," Ah Chun said gravely. "All you
asked was for me to cut off my queue."
"The young men are more particular than I was, I fancy."
"What is the greatest thing in the world?" Ah Chun demanded with
Mamma Achun pondered for a moment, then replied: "God."
He nodded. "There are gods and gods. Some are paper, some are
wood, some are bronze. I use a small one in the office for a paper-
weight. In the Bishop Museum are many gods of coral rock and lava
"But there is only one God," she announced decisively, stiffening
her ample frame argumentatively.
Ah Chun noted the danger signal and sheered off.
"What is greater than God, then?" he asked. "I will tell you. It
is money. In my time I have had dealings with Jews and Christians,
Mohammedans and Buddhists, and with little black men from the
Solomons and New Guinea who carried their god about them, wrapped in
oiled paper. They possessed various gods, these men, but they all
worshipped money. There is that Captain Higginson. He seems to
"He will never marry her," retorted Mamma Achun. "He will be an
admiral before he dies--"
"A rear-admiral," Ah Chun interpolated.
"Yes, I know. That is the way they retire."
"His family in the United States is a high one. They would not like
it if he married . . . if he did not marry an American girl."
Ah Chun knocked the ashes out of his pipe, thoughtfully refilling
the silver bowl with a tiny pleget of tobacco. He lighted it and
smoked it out before he spoke.
"Henrietta is the oldest girl. The day she marries I will give her
three hundred thousand dollars. That will fetch that Captain
Higginson and his high family along with him. Let the word go out
to him. I leave it to you."
And Ah Chun sat and smoked on, and in the curling smoke-wreaths he
saw take shape the face and figure of Toy Shuey--Toy Shuey, the maid
of all work in his uncle's house in the Cantonese village, whose
work was never done and who received for a whole year's work one
dollar. And he saw his youthful self arise in the curling smoke,
his youthful self who had toiled eighteen years in his uncle's field
for little more. And now he, Ah Chun, the peasant, dowered his
daughter with three hundred thousand years of such toil. And she
was but one daughter of a dozen. He was not elated at the thought.
It struck him that it was a funny, whimsical world, and he chuckled
aloud and startled Mamma Achun from a revery which he knew lay deep
in the hidden crypts of her being where he had never penetrated.
But Ah Chun's word went forth, as a whisper, and Captain Higginson
forgot his rear-admiralship and his high family and took to wife
three hundred thousand dollars and a refined and cultured girl who
was one thirty-second Polynesian, one-sixteenth Italian, one-
sixteenth Portuguese, eleven thirty-seconds English and Yankee, and
Ah Chun's munificence had its effect. His daughters became suddenly
eligible and desirable. Clara was the next, but when the Secretary
of the Territory formally proposed for her, Ah Chun informed him
that he must wait his turn, that Maud was the oldest and that she
must be married first. It was shrewd policy. The whole family was
made vitally interested in marrying off Maud, which it did in three
months, to Ned Humphreys, the United States immigration
commissioner. Both he and Maud complained, for the dowry was only
two hundred thousand. Ah Chun explained that his initial generosity
had been to break the ice, and that after that his daughters could
not expect otherwise than to go more cheaply.
Clara followed Maud, and thereafter, for a space of two years; there
was a continuous round of weddings in the bungalow. In the meantime
Ah Chun had not been idle. Investment after investment was called
in. He sold out his interests in a score of enterprises, and step
by step, so as not to cause a slump in the market, he disposed of
his large holdings in real estate. Toward the last he did
precipitate a slump and sold at sacrifice. What caused this haste
were the squalls he saw already rising above the horizon. By the
time Lucille was married, echoes of bickerings and jealousies were
already rumbling in his ears. The air was thick with schemes and
counter-schemes to gain his favour and to prejudice him against one
or another or all but one of his sons-in-law. All of which was not
conducive to the peace and repose he had planned for his old age.
He hastened his efforts. For a long time he had been in
correspondence with the chief banks in Shanghai and Macao. Every
steamer for several years had carried away drafts drawn in favour of
one, Chun Ah Chun, for deposit in those Far Eastern banks. The
drafts now became heavier. His two youngest daughters were not yet
married. He did not wait, but dowered them with a hundred thousand
each, which sums lay in the Bank of Hawaii, drawing interest and
awaiting their wedding day. Albert took over the business of the
firm of Ah Chun and Ah Yung, Harold, the eldest, having elected to
take a quarter of a million and go to England to live. Charles, the
youngest, took a hundred thousand, a legal guardian, and a course in
a Keeley institute. To Mamma Achun was given the bungalow, the
mountain House on Tantalus, and a new seaside residence in place of
the one Ah Chun sold to the government. Also, to Mamma Achun was
given half a million in money well invested.
Ah Chun was now ready to crack the nut of the problem. One fine
morning when the family was at breakfast--he had seen to it that all
his sons-in-law and their wives were present--he announced that he
was returning to his ancestral soil. In a neat little homily he
explained that he had made ample provision for his family, and he
laid down various maxims that he was sure, he said, would enable
them to dwell together in peace and harmony. Also, he gave business
advice to his sons-in-law, preached the virtues of temperate living
and safe investments, and gave them the benefit of his encyclopedic
knowledge of industrial and business conditions in Hawaii. Then he
called for his carriage, and, in the company of the weeping Mamma
Achun, was driven down to the Pacific Mail steamer, leaving behind
him a panic in the bungalow. Captain Higginson clamoured wildly for
an injunction. The daughters shed copious tears. One of their
husbands, an ex-Federal judge, questioned Ah Chun's sanity, and
hastened to the proper authorities to inquire into it. He returned
with the information that Ah Chun had appeared before the commission
the day before, demanded an examination, and passed with flying
colours. There was nothing to be done, so they went down and said
good-bye to the little old man, who waved farewell from the
promenade deck as the big steamer poked her nose seaward through the
But the little old man was not bound for Canton. He knew his own
country too well, and the squeeze of the Mandarins, to venture into
it with the tidy bulk of wealth that remained to him. He went to
Macao. Now Ah Chun had long exercised the power of a king and he
was as imperious as a king. When he landed at Macao and went into
the office of the biggest European hotel to register, the clerk
closed the book on him. Chinese were not permitted. Ah Chun called
for the manager and was treated with contumely. He drove away, but
in two hours he was back again. He called the clerk and manager in,
gave them a month's salary, and discharged them. He had made
himself the owner of the hotel; and in the finest suite he settled
down during the many months the gorgeous palace in the suburbs was
building for him. In the meantime, with the inevitable ability that
was his, he increased the earnings of his big hotel from three per
cent to thirty.
The troubles Ah Chun had flown began early. There were sons-in-law
that made bad investments, others that played ducks and drakes with
the Achun dowries. Ah Chun being out of it, they looked at Mamma Ah
Chun and her half million, and, looking, engendered not the best of
feeling toward one another. Lawyers waxed fat in the striving to
ascertain the construction of trust deeds. Suits, cross-suits, and
counter-suits cluttered the Hawaiian courts. Nor did the police
courts escape. There were angry encounters in which harsh words and
harsher blows were struck. There were such things as flower pots
being thrown to add emphasis to winged words. And suits for libel
arose that dragged their way through the courts and kept Honolulu
agog with excitement over the revelations of the witnesses.
In his palace, surrounded by all dear delights of the Orient, Ah
Chun smokes his placid pipe and listens to the turmoil overseas. By
each mail steamer, in faultless English, typewritten on an American
machine, a letter goes from Macao to Honolulu, in which, by
admirable texts and precepts, Ah Chun advises his family to live in
unity and harmony. As for himself, he is out of it all, and well
content. He has won to peace and repose. At times he chuckles and
rubs his hands, and his slant little black eyes twinkle merrily at
the thought of the funny world. For out of all his living and
philosophizing, that remains to him--the conviction that it is a
very funny world.
THE SHERIFF OF KONA
"You cannot escape liking the climate," Cudworth said, in reply to
my panegyric on the Kona coast. "I was a young fellow, just out of
college, when I came here eighteen years ago. I never went back,
except, of course, to visit. And I warn you, if you have some spot
dear to you on earth, not to linger here too long, else you will
find this dearer."
We had finished dinner, which had been served on the big lanai, the
one with a northerly exposure, though exposure is indeed a misnomer
in so delectable a climate.
The candles had been put out, and a slim, white-clad Japanese
slipped like a ghost through the silvery moonlight, presented us
with cigars, and faded away into the darkness of the bungalow. I
looked through a screen of banana and lehua trees, and down across
the guava scrub to the quiet sea a thousand feet beneath. For a
week, ever since I had landed from the tiny coasting-steamer, I had
been stopping with Cudworth, and during that time no wind had
ruffled that unvexed sea. True, there had been breezes, but they
were the gentlest zephyrs that ever blew through summer isles. They
were not winds; they were sighs--long, balmy sighs of a world at
"A lotus land," I said.
"Where each day is like every day, and every day is a paradise of
days," he answered. "Nothing ever happens. It is not too hot. It
is not too cold. It is always just right. Have you noticed how the
land and the sea breathe turn and turn about?"
Indeed, I had noticed that delicious rhythmic, breathing. Each
morning I had watched the sea-breeze begin at the shore and slowly
extend seaward as it blew the mildest, softest whiff of ozone to the
land. It played over the sea, just faintly darkening its surface,
with here and there and everywhere long lanes of calm, shifting,
changing, drifting, according to the capricious kisses of the
breeze. And each evening I had watched the sea breath die away to
heavenly calm, and heard the land breath softly make its way through
the coffee trees and monkey-pods.
"It is a land of perpetual calm," I said. "Does it ever blow here?-
-ever really blow? You know what I mean."
Cudworth shook his head and pointed eastward.
"How can it blow, with a barrier like that to stop it?"
Far above towered the huge bulks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, seeming
to blot out half the starry sky. Two miles and a half above our
heads they reared their own heads, white with snow that the tropic
sun had failed to melt.
"Thirty miles away, right now, I'll wager, it is blowing forty miles
I smiled incredulously.
Cudworth stepped to the lanai telephone. He called up, in
succession, Waimea, Kohala, and Hamakua. Snatches of his
conversation told me that the wind was blowing: "Rip-snorting and
back-jumping, eh? . . . How long? . . . Only a week? . . . Hello,
Abe, is that you? . . . Yes, yes . . . You WILL plant coffee on the
Hamakua coast . . . Hang your wind-breaks! You should see MY
"Blowing a gale," he said to me, turning from hanging up the
receiver. "I always have to joke Abe on his coffee. He has five
hundred acres, and he's done marvels in wind-breaking, but how he
keeps the roots in the ground is beyond me. Blow? It always blows
on the Hamakua side. Kohala reports a schooner under double reefs
beating up the channel between Hawaii and Maui, and making heavy
weather of it."
"It is hard to realize," I said lamely. "Doesn't a little whiff of
it ever eddy around somehow, and get down here?"
"Not a whiff. Our land-breeze is absolutely of no kin, for it
begins this side of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. You see, the land
radiates its heat quicker than the sea, and so, at night, the land
breathes over the sea. In the day the land becomes warmer than the
sea, and the sea breathes over the land . . . Listen! Here comes
the land-breath now, the mountain wind."
I could hear it coming, rustling softly through the coffee trees,
stirring the monkey-pods, and sighing through the sugar-cane. On
the lanai the hush still reigned. Then it came, the first feel of
the mountain wind, faintly balmy, fragrant and spicy, and cool,
deliciously cool, a silken coolness, a wine-like coolness--cool as
only the mountain wind of Kona can be cool.
"Do you wonder that I lost my heart to Kona eighteen years ago?" he
demanded. "I could never leave it now. I think I should die. It
would be terrible. There was another man who loved it, even as I.
I think he loved it more, for he was born here on the Kona coast.
He was a great man, my best friend, my more than brother. But he
left it, and he did not die."
"Love?" I queried. "A woman?"
Cudworth shook his head.
"Nor will he ever come back, though his heart will be here until he
He paused and gazed down upon the beachlights of Kailua. I smoked
silently and waited.
"He was already in love . . . with his wife. Also, he had three
children, and he loved them. They are in Honolulu now. The boy is
going to college."
"Some rash act?" I questioned, after a time, impatiently.
He shook his head. "Neither guilty of anything criminal, nor
charged with anything criminal. He was the Sheriff of Kona."
"You choose to be paradoxical," I said.
"I suppose it does sound that way," he admitted, "and that is the
perfect hell of it."
He looked at me searchingly for a moment, and then abruptly took up
"He was a leper. No, he was not born with it--no one is born with
it; it came upon him. This man--what does it matter? Lyte Gregory
was his name. Every kamaina knows the story. He was straight
American stock, but he was built like the chieftains of old Hawaii.
He stood six feet three. His stripped weight was two hundred and
twenty pounds, not an ounce of which was not clean muscle or bone.
He was the strongest man I have ever seen. He was an athlete and a
giant. He was a god. He was my friend. And his heart and his soul
were as big and as fine as his body.
"I wonder what you would do if you saw your friend, your brother, on
the slippery lip of a precipice, slipping, slipping, and you were
able to do nothing. That was just it. I could do nothing. I saw
it coming, and I could do nothing. My God, man, what could I do?
There it was, malignant and incontestable, the mark of the thing on
his brow. No one else saw it. It was because I loved him so, I do
believe, that I alone saw it. I could not credit the testimony of
my senses. It was too incredibly horrible. Yet there it was, on
his brow, on his ears. I had seen it, the slight puff of the
earlobes--oh, so imperceptibly slight. I watched it for months.
Then, next, hoping against hope, the darkening of the skin above
both eyebrows--oh, so faint, just like the dimmest touch of sunburn.
I should have thought it sunburn but that there was a shine to it,
such an invisible shine, like a little highlight seen for a moment
and gone the next. I tried to believe it was sunburn, only I could
not. I knew better. No one noticed it but me. No one ever noticed
it except Stephen Kaluna, and I did not know that till afterward.
But I saw it coming, the whole damnable, unnamable awfulness of it;
but I refused to think about the future. I was afraid. I could
not. And of nights I cried over it.
"He was my friend. We fished sharks on Niihau together. We hunted
wild cattle on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We broke horses and branded
steers on the Carter Ranch. We hunted goats through Haleakala. He
taught me diving and surfing until I was nearly as clever as he, and
he was cleverer than the average Kanaka. I have seen him dive in
fifteen fathoms, and he could stay down two minutes. He was an
amphibian and a mountaineer. He could climb wherever a goat dared
climb. He was afraid of nothing. He was on the wrecked Luga, and
he swam thirty miles in thirty-six hours in a heavy sea. He could
fight his way out through breaking combers that would batter you and
me to a jelly. He was a great, glorious man-god. We went through
the Revolution together. We were both romantic loyalists. He was
shot twice and sentenced to death. But he was too great a man for
the republicans to kill. He laughed at them. Later, they gave him
honour and made him Sheriff of Kona. He was a simple man, a boy
that never grew up. His was no intricate brain pattern. He had no
twists nor quirks in his mental processes. He went straight to the
point, and his points were always simple.
"And he was sanguine. Never have I known so confident a man, nor a
man so satisfied and happy. He did not ask anything from life.
There was nothing left to be desired. For him life had no arrears.
He had been paid in full, cash down, and in advance. What more
could he possibly desire than that magnificent body, that iron
constitution, that immunity from all ordinary ills, and that lowly
wholesomeness of soul? Physically he was perfect. He had never
been sick in his life. He did not know what a headache was. When I
was so afflicted he used to look at me in wonder, and make me laugh
with his clumsy attempts at sympathy. He did not understand such a
thing as a headache. He could not understand. Sanguine? No
wonder. How could he be otherwise with that tremendous vitality and
"Just to show you what faith he had in his glorious star, and, also,
what sanction he had for that faith. He was a youngster at the
time--I had just met him--when he went into a poker game at Wailuku.
There was a big German in it, Schultz his name was, and he played a
brutal, domineering game. He had had a run of luck as well, and he
was quite insufferable, when Lyte Gregory dropped in and took a
hand. The very first hand it was Schultz's blind. Lyte came in, as
well as the others, and Schultz raised them out--all except Lyte.
He did not like the German's tone, and he raised him back. Schultz
raised in turn, and in turn Lyte raised Schultz. So they went, back
and forth. The stakes were big. And do you know what Lyte held? A
pair of kings and three little clubs. It wasn't poker. Lyte wasn't
playing poker. He was playing his optimism. He didn't know what
Schultz held, but he raised and raised until he made Schultz squeal,
and Schultz held three aces all the time. Think of it! A man with
a pair of kings compelling three aces to see before the draw!
"Well, Schultz called for two cards. Another German was dealing,
Schultz's friend at that. Lyte knew then that he was up against
three of a kind. Now what did he do? What would you have done?
Drawn three cards and held up the kings, of course. Not Lyte. He
was playing optimism. He threw the kings away, held up the three
little clubs, and drew two cards. He never looked at them. He
looked across at Schultz to bet, and Schultz did bet, big. Since he
himself held three aces he knew he had Lyte, because he played Lyte
for threes, and, necessarily, they would have to be smaller threes.
Poor Schultz! He was perfectly correct under the premises. His
mistake was that he thought Lyte was playing poker. They bet back
and forth for five minutes, until Schultz's certainty began to ooze
out. And all the time Lyte had never looked at his two cards, and
Schultz knew it. I could see Schultz think, and revive, and splurge
with his bets again. But the strain was too much for him."
"'Hold on, Gregory,' he said at last. 'I've got you beaten from the
start. I don't want any of your money. I've got--'"
"'Never mind what you've got,' Lyte interrupted. 'You don't know
what I've got. I guess I'll take a look.'"
"He looked, and raised the German a hundred dollars. Then they went
at it again, back and forth and back and forth, until Schultz
weakened and called, and laid down his three aces. Lyte faced his
five cards. They were all black. He had drawn two more clubs. Do
you know, he just about broke Schultz's nerve as a poker player. He
never played in the same form again. He lacked confidence after
that, and was a bit wobbly."
"'But how could you do it?' I asked Lyte afterwards. 'You knew he
had you beaten when he drew two cards. Besides, you never looked at
your own draw.'"
"'I didn't have to look,' was Lyte's answer. 'I knew they were two
clubs all the time. They just had to be two clubs. Do you think I
was going to let that big Dutchman beat me? It was impossible that
he should beat me. It is not my way to be beaten. I just have to
win. Why, I'd have been the most surprised man in this world if
they hadn't been all clubs.'"
"That was Lyte's way, and maybe it will help you to appreciate his
colossal optimism. As he put it he just had to succeed, to fare
well, to prosper. And in that same incident, as in ten thousand
others, he found his sanction. The thing was that he did succeed,
did prosper. That was why he was afraid of nothing. Nothing could
ever happen to him. He knew it, because nothing had ever happened
to him. That time the Luga was lost and he swam thirty miles, he
was in the water two whole nights and a day. And during all that
terrible stretch of time he never lost hope once, never once doubted
the outcome. He just knew he was going to make the land. He told
me so himself, and I know it was the truth.
"Well, that is the kind of a man Lyte Gregory was. He was of a
different race from ordinary, ailing mortals. He was a lordly
being, untouched by common ills and misfortunes. Whatever he wanted
he got. He won his wife--one of the Caruthers, a little beauty--
from a dozen rivals. And she settled down and made him the finest
wife in the world. He wanted a boy. He got it. He wanted a girl
and another boy. He got them. And they were just right, without
spot or blemish, with chests like little barrels, and with all the
inheritance of his own health and strength.
"And then it happened. The mark of the beast was laid upon him. I
watched it for a year. It broke my heart. But he did not know it,
nor did anybody else guess it except that cursed hapa-haole, Stephen
Kaluna. He knew it, but I did not know that he did. And--yes--Doc
Strowbridge knew it. He was the federal physician, and he had
developed the leper eye. You see, part of his business was to
examine suspects and order them to the receiving station at
Honolulu. And Stephen Kaluna had developed the leper eye. The
disease ran strong in his family, and four or five of his relatives
were already on Molokai.
"The trouble arose over Stephen Kaluna's sister. When she became
suspect, and before Doc Strowbridge could get hold of her, her
brother spirited her away to some hiding-place. Lyte was Sheriff of
Kona, and it was his business to find her.
"We were all over at Hilo that night, in Ned Austin's. Stephen
Kaluna was there when we came in, by himself, in his cups, and
quarrelsome. Lyte was laughing over some joke--that huge, happy
laugh of a giant boy. Kaluna spat contemptuously on the floor.
Lyte noticed, so did everybody; but he ignored the fellow. Kaluna
was looking for trouble. He took it as a personal grudge that Lyte
was trying to apprehend his sister. In half a dozen ways he
advertised his displeasure at Lyte's presence, but Lyte ignored him.
I imagined Lyte was a bit sorry for him, for the hardest duty of his
office was the apprehension of lepers. It is not a nice thing to go
in to a man's house and tear away a father, mother, or child, who
has done no wrong, and to send such a one to perpetual banishment on
Molokai. Of course, it is necessary as a protection to society, and
Lyte, I do believe, would have been the first to apprehend his own
father did he become suspect.
"Finally, Kaluna blurted out: 'Look here, Gregory, you think you're
going to find Kalaniweo, but you're not.'
"Kalaniweo was his sister. Lyte glanced at him when his name was
called, but he made no answer. Kaluna was furious. He was working
himself up all the time.
"'I'll tell you one thing,' he shouted. 'You'll be on Molokai
yourself before ever you get Kalaniweo there. I'll tell you what
you are. You've no right to be in the company of honest men.
You've made a terrible fuss talking about your duty, haven't you?
You've sent many lepers to Molokai, and knowing all the time you
belonged there yourself.'
"I'd seen Lyte angry more than once, but never quite so angry as at
that moment. Leprosy with us, you know, is not a thing to jest
about. He made one leap across the floor, dragging Kaluna out of
his chair with a clutch on his neck. He shook him back and forth
savagely, till you could hear the half-caste's teeth rattling.
"'What do you mean?' Lyte was demanding. 'Spit it out, man, or I'll
choke it out of you!'
"You know, in the West there is a certain phrase that a man must
smile while uttering. So with us of the islands, only our phrase is
related to leprosy. No matter what Kaluna was, he was no coward.
As soon as Lyte eased the grip on his throat he answered:-
"'I'll tell you what I mean. You are a leper yourself.'
Lyte suddenly flung the half-caste sideways into a chair, letting
him down easily enough. Then Lyte broke out into honest, hearty
laughter. But he laughed alone, and when he discovered it he looked
around at our faces. I had reached his side and was trying to get
him to come away, but he took no notice of me. He was gazing,
fascinated, at Kaluna, who was brushing at his own throat in a
flurried, nervous way, as if to brush off the contamination of the
fingers that had clutched him. The action was unreasoned, genuine.
"Lyte looked around at us, slowly passing from face to face.
"'My God, fellows! My God!' he said.
"He did not speak it. It was more a hoarse whisper of fright and
horror. It was fear that fluttered in his throat, and I don't think
that ever in his life before he had known fear.
"Then his colossal optimism asserted itself, and he laughed again.
"'A good joke--whoever put it up,' he said. 'The drinks are on me.
I had a scare for a moment. But, fellows, don't do it again, to
anybody. It's too serious. I tell you I died a thousand deaths in
that moment. I thought of my wife and the kids, and . . . '
"His voice broke, and the half-caste, still throat-brushing, drew
his eyes. He was puzzled and worried.
"'John,' he said, turning toward me.
"His jovial, rotund voice rang in my ears. But I could not answer.
I was swallowing hard at that moment, and besides, I knew my face
didn't look just right.
"'John,' he called again, taking a step nearer.
"He called timidly, and of all nightmares of horrors the most
frightful was to hear timidity in Lyte Gregory's voice.
"'John, John, what does it mean?' he went on, still more timidly.
'It's a joke, isn't it? John, here's my hand. If I were a leper
would I offer you my hand? Am I a leper, John?'
"He held out his hand, and what in high heaven or hell did I care?
He was my friend. I took his hand, though it cut me to the heart to
see the way his face brightened.
"'It was only a joke, Lyte,' I said. 'We fixed it up on you. But
you're right. It's too serious. We won't do it again.'
"He did not laugh this time. He smiled, as a man awakened from a
bad dream and still oppressed by the substance of the dream.
"'All right, then,' he said. 'Don't do it again, and I'll stand for
the drinks. But I may as well confess that you fellows had me going
south for a moment. Look at the way I've been sweating.'
"He sighed and wiped the sweat from his forehead as he started to
step toward the bar.
"'It is no joke,' Kaluna said abruptly. I looked murder at him, and
I felt murder, too. But I dared not speak or strike. That would
have precipitated the catastrophe which I somehow had a mad hope of
"'It is no joke,' Kaluna repeated. 'You are a leper, Lyte Gregory,
and you've no right putting your hands on honest men's flesh--on the
clean flesh of honest men.'
"Then Gregory flared up.
"'The joke has gone far enough! Quit it! Quit it, I say, Kaluna,
or I'll give you a beating!'
"'You undergo a bacteriological examination,' Kaluna answered, 'and
then you can beat me--to death, if you want to. Why, man, look at
yourself there in the glass. You can see it. Anybody can see it.
You're developing the lion face. See where the skin is darkened
there over your eyes.
"Lyte peered and peered, and I saw his hands trembling.
"'I can see nothing,' he said finally, then turned on the hapa-
haole. 'You have a black heart, Kaluna. And I am not ashamed to
say that you have given me a scare that no man has a right to give
another. I take you at your word. I am going to settle this thing
now. I am going straight to Doc Strowbridge. And when I come back,
"He never looked at us, but started for the door.
"'You wait here, John,' he said, waving me back from accompanying
"We stood around like a group of ghosts.
"'It is the truth,' Kaluna said. 'You could see it for yourselves.'
"They looked at me, and I nodded. Harry Burnley lifted his glass to
his lips, but lowered it untasted. He spilled half of it over the
bar. His lips were trembling like a child that is about to cry.
Ned Austin made a clatter in the ice-chest. He wasn't looking for
anything. I don't think he knew what he was doing. Nobody spoke.
Harry Burnley's lips were trembling harder than ever. Suddenly,
with a most horrible, malignant expression he drove his fist into
Kaluna's face. He followed it up. We made no attempt to separate
them. We didn't care if he killed the half-caste. It was a
terrible beating. We weren't interested. I don't even remember
when Burnley ceased and let the poor devil crawl away. We were all
"Doc Strowbridge told me about it afterward. He was working late
over a report when Lyte came into his office. Lyte had already
recovered his optimism, and came swinging in, a trifle angry with
Kaluna to be sure, but very certain of himself. 'What could I do?'
Doc asked me. 'I knew he had it. I had seen it coming on for
months. I couldn't answer him. I couldn't say yes. I don't mind
telling you I broke down and cried. He pleaded for the
bacteriological test. "Snip out a piece, Doc," he said, over and
over. "Snip out a piece of skin and make the test."
"The way Doc Strowbridge cried must have convinced Lyte. The
Claudine was leaving next morning for Honolulu. We caught him when
he was going aboard. You see, he was headed for Honolulu to give
himself up to the Board of Health. We could do nothing with him.
He had sent too many to Molokai to hang back himself. We argued for
Japan. But he wouldn't hear of it. 'I've got to take my medicine,
fellows,' was all he would say, and he said it over and over. He
was obsessed with the idea.
"He wound up all his affairs from the Receiving Station at Honolulu,
and went down to Molokai. He didn't get on well there. The
resident physician wrote us that he was a shadow of his old self.
You see he was grieving about his wife and the kids. He knew we
were taking care of them, but it hurt him just the same. After six
months or so I went down to Molokai. I sat on one side a plate-
glass window, and he on the other. We looked at each other through
the glass and talked through what might be called a speaking tube.
But it was hopeless. He had made up his mind to remain. Four
mortal hours I argued. I was exhausted at the end. My steamer was
whistling for me, too.
"But we couldn't stand for it. Three months later we chartered the
schooner Halcyon. She was an opium smuggler, and she sailed like a
witch. Her master was a squarehead who would do anything for money,
and we made a charter to China worth his while. He sailed from San
Francisco, and a few days later we took out Landhouse's sloop for a
cruise. She was only a five-ton yacht, but we slammed her fifty
miles to windward into the north-east trade. Seasick? I never
suffered so in my life. Out of sight of land we picked up the
Halcyon, and Burnley and I went aboard.
"We ran down to Molokai, arriving about eleven at night. The
schooner hove to and we landed through the surf in a whale-boat at
Kalawao--the place, you know, where Father Damien died. That
squarehead was game. With a couple of revolvers strapped on him he
came right along. The three of us crossed the peninsula to
Kalaupapa, something like two miles. Just imagine hunting in the
dead of night for a man in a settlement of over a thousand lepers.
You see, if the alarm was given, it was all off with us. It was
strange ground, and pitch dark. The leper's dogs came out and bayed
at us, and we stumbled around till we got lost.
"The squarehead solved it. He led the way into the first detached
house. We shut the door after us and struck a light. There were
six lepers. We routed them up, and I talked in native. What I
wanted was a kokua. A kokua is, literally, a helper, a native who
is clean that lives in the settlement and is paid by the Board of
Health to nurse the lepers, dress their sores, and such things. We
stayed in the house to keep track of the inmates, while the
squarehead led one of them off to find a kokua. He got him, and he
brought him along at the point of his revolver. But the kokua was
all right. While the squarehead guarded the house, Burnley and I
were guided by the kokua to Lyte's house. He was all alone.
"'I thought you fellows would come,' Lyte said. 'Don't touch me,
John. How's Ned, and Charley, and all the crowd? Never mind, tell
me afterward. I am ready to go now. I've had nine months of it.
Where's the boat?'
"We started back for the other house to pick up the squarehead. But
the alarm had got out. Lights were showing in the houses, and doors
were slamming. We had agreed that there was to be no shooting
unless absolutely necessary, and when we were halted we went at it
with our fists and the butts of our revolvers. I found myself
tangled up with a big man. I couldn't keep him off me, though twice
I smashed him fairly in the face with my fist. He grappled with me,
and we went down, rolling and scrambling and struggling for grips.
He was getting away with me, when some one came running up with a
lantern. Then I saw his face. How shall I describe the horror of
it. It was not a face--only wasted or wasting features--a living
ravage, noseless, lipless, with one ear swollen and distorted,
hanging down to the shoulder. I was frantic. In a clinch he hugged
me close to him until that ear flapped in my face. Then I guess I
went insane. It was too terrible. I began striking him with my
revolver. How it happened I don't know, but just as I was getting
clear he fastened upon me with his teeth. The whole side of my hand
was in that lipless mouth. Then I struck him with the revolver butt
squarely between the eyes, and his teeth relaxed."
Cudworth held his hand to me in the moonlight, and I could see the
scars. It looked as if it had been mangled by a dog.
"Weren't you afraid?" I asked.
"I was. Seven years I waited. You know, it takes that long for the
disease to incubate. Here in Kona I waited, and it did not come.
But there was never a day of those seven years, and never a night,
that I did not look out on . . . on all this . . . " His voice
broke as he swept his eyes from the moon-bathed sea beneath to the
snowy summits above. "I could not bear to think of losing it, of
never again beholding Kona. Seven years! I stayed clean. But that
is why I am single. I was engaged. I could not dare to marry while
I was in doubt. She did not understand. She went away to the
States and married. I have never seen her since.
"Just at the moment I got clear of the leper policeman there was a
rush and clatter of hoofs like a cavalry charge. It was the
squarehead. He had been afraid of a rumpus and he had improved his
time by making those blessed lepers he was guarding saddle up four
horses. We were ready for him. Lyte had accounted for three
kokuas, and between us we untangled Burnley from a couple more. The
whole settlement was in an uproar by that time, and as we dashed
away somebody opened upon us with a Winchester. It must have been
Jack McVeigh, the superintendent of Molokai.
"That was a ride! Leper horses, leper saddles, leper bridles,
pitch-black darkness, whistling bullets, and a road none of the
best. And the squarehead's horse was a mule, and he didn't know how
to ride, either. But we made the whaleboat, and as we shoved off
through the surf we could hear the horses coming down the hill from
"You're going to Shanghai. You look Lyte Gregory up. He is
employed in a German firm there. Take him out to dinner. Open up
wine. Give him everything of the best, but don't let him pay for
anything. Send the bill to me. His wife and the kids are in
Honolulu, and he needs the money for them. I know. He sends most
of his salary, and lives like an anchorite. And tell him about
Kona. There's where his heart is. Tell him all you can about
I was born in San Francisco in 1876. At fifteen I was a man among
men, and if I had a spare nickel I spent it on beer instead of
candy, because I thought it was more manly to buy beer. Now, when
my years are nearly doubled, I am out on a hunt for the boyhood
which I never had, and I am less serious than at any other time of
my life. Guess I'll find that boyhood! Almost the first things I
realized were responsibilities. I have no recollection of being
taught to read or write--I could do both at the age of five--but I
know that my first school was in Alameda before I went out on a
ranch with my folks and as a ranch boy worked hard from my eighth
The second school were I tried to pick up a little learning was an
irregular hit or miss affair at San Mateo. Each class sat in a
separate desk, but there were days when we did not sit at all, for
the master used to get drunk very often, and then one of the elder
boys would thrash him. To even things up, the master would then
thrash the younger lads, so you can think what sort of school it
was. There was no one belonging to me, or associated with me in any
way, who had literary tastes or ideas, the nearest I can make to it
is that my great-grandfather was a circuit writer, a Welshman, known
as "Priest" Jones in the backwoods, where his enthusiasm led him to
scatter the Gospel.
One of my earliest and strongest impressions was of the ignorance of
other people. I had read and absorbed Washington Irving's
"Alhambra" before I was nine, but could never understand how it was
that the other ranchers knew nothing about it. Later I concluded
that this ignorance was peculiar to the country, and felt that those
who lived in cities would not be so dense. One day a man from the
city came to the ranch. He wore shiny shoes and a cloth coat, and I
felt that here was a good chance for me to exchange thoughts with an
enlightened mind. From the bricks of an old fallen chimney I had
built an Alhambra of my own; towers, terraces, and all were
complete, and chalk inscriptions marked the different sections.
Here I led the city man and questioned him about "The Alhambra," but
he was as ignorant as the man on the ranch, and then I consoled
myself with the thought that there were only two clever people in
the world--Washington Irving and myself.
My other reading-matter at that time consisted mainly of dime
novels, borrowed from the hired men, and newspapers in which the
servants gloated over the adventures of poor but virtuous shop-
Through reading such stuff my mind was necessarily ridiculously
conventional, but being very lonely I read everything that came my
way, and was greatly impressed by Ouida's story "Signa," which I
devoured regularly for a couple of years. I never knew the finish
until I grew up, for the closing chapters were missing from my copy,
so I kept on dreaming with the hero, and, like him, unable to see
Nemesis, at the end. My work on the ranch at one time was to watch
the bees, and as I sat under a tree from sunrise till late in the
afternoon, waiting for the swarming, I had plenty of time to read
and dream. Livermore Valley was very flat, and even the hills
around were then to me devoid of interest, and the only incident to
break in on my visions was when I gave the alarm of swarming, and
the ranch folks rushed out with pots, pans, and buckets of water. I
think the opening line of "Signa" was "It was only a little lad,"
yet he had dreams of becoming a great musician, and having all
Europe at his feet. Well, I was only a little lad, too, but why
could not I become what "Signa" dreamed of being?
Life on a Californian ranch was then to me the dullest possible
existence, and every day I thought of going out beyond the sky-line
to see the world. Even then there were whispers, promptings; my
mind inclined to things beautiful, although my environment was
unbeautiful. The hills and valleys around were eyesores and aching
pits, and I never loved them till I left them.
Before I was eleven I left the ranch and came to Oakland, where I
spent so much of my time in the Free Public Library, eagerly reading
everything that came to hand, that I developed the first stages of
St. Vitus' dance from lack of exercise. Disillusions quickly
followed, as I learned more of the world. At this time I made my
living as a newsboy, selling papers in the streets; and from then on
until I was sixteen I had a thousand and one different occupations--
work and school, school and work--and so it ran.
* * *
Then the adventure-lust was strong within me, and I left home. I
didn't run, I just left--went out in the bay, and joined the oyster
pirates. The days of the oyster pirates are now past, and if I had
got my dues for piracy, I would have been given five hundred years
in prison. Later, I shipped as a sailor on a schooner, and also
took a turn at salmon fishing. Oddly enough, my next occupation was
on a fish-patrol, where I was entrusted with the arrest of any
violators of the fishing laws. Numbers of lawless Chinese, Greeks,
and Italians were at that time engaged in illegal fishing, and many
a patrolman paid his life for his interference. My only weapon on
duty was a steel table-fork, but I felt fearless and a man when I
climbed over the side of a boat to arrest some marauder.
Subsequently I shipped before the mast and sailed for the Japanese
coast on a seal-hunting expedition, later going to Behring Sea.
After sealing for seven months I came back to California and took
odd jobs at coal shovelling and longshoring and also in a jute
factory, where I worked from six in the morning until seven at
night. I had planned to join the same lot for another sealing trip
the following year, but somehow I missed them. They sailed away on
the Mary Thomas, which was lost with all hands.
In my fitful school-days I had written the usual compositions, which
had been praised in the usual way, and while working in the jute
mills I still made an occasional try. The factory occupied thirteen
hours of my day, and being young and husky, I wanted a little time
for myself, so there was little left for composition. The San
Francisco Call offered a prize for a descriptive article. My mother
urged me to try for it, and I did, taking for my subject "Typhoon
off the Coast of Japan." Very tired and sleepy, knowing I had to be
up at half-past five, I began the article at midnight and worked
straight on until I had written two thousand words, the limit of the
article, but with my idea only half worked out. The next night,
under the same conditions, I continued, adding another two thousand
words before I finished, and then the third night I spent in cutting
out the excess, so as to bring the article within the conditions of
the contest. The first prize came to me, and the second and third
went to students of the Stanford and Berkeley Universities.
My success in the San Francisco Call competition seriously turned my
thoughts to writing, but my blood was still too hot for a settled
routine, so I practically deferred literature, beyond writing a
little gush for the Call, which that journal promptly rejected.
I tramped all through the United States, from California to Boston,
and up and down, returning to the Pacific coast by way of Canada,
where I got into jail and served a term for vagrancy, and the whole
tramping experience made me become a Socialist. Previously I had
been impressed by the dignity of labour, and, without having read
Carlyle or Kipling, I had formulated a gospel of work which put
theirs in the shade. Work was everything. It was sanctification
and salvation. The pride I took in a hard day's work well done
would be inconceivable to you. I was as faithful a wage-slave as
ever a capitalist exploited. In short, my joyous individualism was
dominated by the orthodox bourgeois ethics. I had fought my way
from the open west, where men bucked big and the job hunted the man,
to the congested labour centres of the eastern states, where men
were small potatoes and hunted the job for all they were worth, and
I found myself looking upon life from a new and totally different
angle. I saw the workers in the shambles at the bottom of the
Social Pit. I swore I would never again do a hard day's work with
my body except where absolutely compelled to, and I have been busy
ever since running away from hard bodily labour.
In my nineteenth year I returned to Oakland and started at the High
School, which ran the usual school magazine. This publication was a
weekly--no, I guess a monthly--one, and I wrote stories for it, very
little imaginary, just recitals of my sea and tramping experiences.
I remained there a year, doing janitor work as a means of
livelihood, and leaving eventually because the strain was more than
I could bear. At this time my socialistic utterances had attracted
considerable attention, and I was known as the "Boy Socialist," a
distinction that brought about my arrest for street-talking. After
leaving the High School, in three months cramming by myself, I took
the three years' work for that time and entered the University of
California. I hated to give up the hope of a University education
and worked in a laundry and with my pen to help me keep on. This
was the only time I worked because I loved it, but the task was too
much, and when half-way through my Freshman year I had to quit.
I worked away ironing shirts and other things in the laundry, and
wrote in all my spare time. I tried to keep on at both, but often
fell asleep with the pen in my hand. Then I left the laundry and
wrote all the time, and lived and dreamed again. After three
months' trial I gave up writing, having decided that I was a
failure, and left for the Klondike to prospect for gold. At the end
of the year, owing to the outbreak of scurvy, I was compelled to
come out, and on the homeward journey of 1,900 miles in an open boat
made the only notes of the trip. It was in the Klondike I found
myself. There nobody talks. Everybody thinks. You get your true
perspective. I got mine.
While I was in the Klondike my father died, and the burden of the
family fell on my shoulders. Times were bad in California, and I
could get no work. While trying for it I wrote "Down the River,"
which was rejected. During the wait for this rejection I wrote a
twenty-thousand word serial for a news company, which was also
rejected. Pending each rejection I still kept on writing fresh
stuff. I did not know what an editor looked like. I did not know a
soul who had ever published anything. Finally a story was accepted
by a Californian magazine, for which I received five dollars. Soon
afterwards "The Black Cat" offered me forty dollars for a story.
Then things took a turn, and I shall probably not have to shovel
coal for a living for some time to come, although I have done it,
and could do it again.
My first book was published in 1900. I could have made a good deal
at newspaper work; but I had sufficient sense to refuse to be a
slave to that man-killing machine, for such I held a newspaper to be
to a young man in his forming period. Not until I was well on my
feet as a magazine-writer did I do much work for newspapers. I am a
believer in regular work, and never wait for an inspiration.
Temperamentally I am not only careless and irregular, but
melancholy; still I have fought both down. The discipline I had as
a sailor had full effect on me. Perhaps my old sea days are also
responsible for the regularity and limitations of my sleep. Five
and a half hours is the precise average I allow myself, and no
circumstance has yet arisen in my life that could keep me awake when
the time comes to "turn in."
I am very fond of sport, and delight in boxing, fencing, swimming,
riding, yachting, and even kite-flying. Although primarily of the
city, I like to be near it rather than in it. The country, though,
is the best, the only natural life. In my grown-up years the
writers who have influenced me most are Karl Marx in a particular,
and Spencer in a general, way. In the days of my barren boyhood, if
I had had a chance, I would have gone in for music; now, in what are
more genuinely the days of my youth, if I had a million or two I
would devote myself to writing poetry and pamphlets. I think the
best work I have done is in the "League of the Old Men," and parts
of "The Kempton-Wace Letters." Other people don't like the former.
They prefer brighter and more cheerful things. Perhaps I shall feel
like that, too, when the days of my youth are behind me.