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Pallou's Taloi by Louis Becke

 

A Memory Of The Paumotus

I STAYED once at Rotoava -- in the Low Archipelago, Eastern Polynesia -- while suffering from injuries received in a boat accident one wild night. My host, the Rotoava trader, was a sociable old pirate, whose convivial soul would never let him drink alone. He was by trade a boat-builder, having had, in his early days, a shed at Miller's Point, in Sydney, where he made money and married a wife. But this latter event was poor Tom Oscott's undoing, and in the end he took his chest of tools on board the Thyra trading brig, and sailed away to Polynesia. Finally, after many years' wandering, he settled down at Rotoava as a trader and boat-builder, and became a noted drinker of bottled beer.

The only method by which I could avoid his incessant invitations to "have another" was to get his wife and children to carry me down to his work-shed, built in a lovely spot surrounded by giant puka trees. Here, under the shade, I had my mats spread, and with one of his children sitting at my head to fan away the flies, I lay and watched, through the belt of coconuts that lined the beach, the blue rollers breaking on the reef and the snow-white boatswain-birds floating high overhead.

. . . . .

Tom was in the bush one morning when his family carried me to the boat-shed. He had gone for a log of seasoned toa wood to another village. At noon he returned, and I heard him bawling for me. His little daughter, the fly-brusher, gave an answering yell, and then Tom walked down the path, carrying two bottles of beer; behind him Lucia, his eldest daughter, a monstrous creature of giggles, adipose tissue, and warm heart, with glasses and a plate of crackers; lastly, old Marie, the wife, with a little table.

"By ----, you've a lot more sense'n me. It's better lyin' here in the cool, than foolin' around in the sun; so I've brought yer suthin' to drink."

"Oh, Tom," I groaned, "I'm sure that beer's bad for me."

The Maker of Boats sat on his bench, and said that he knew of a brewer's carter in Sydney who, at Merriman's "pub," on Miller's Point, had had a cask of beer roll over him. Smashed seven ribs, one arm, and one thigh. Doctors gave him up; undertaker's man called on his wife for coffin order but a sailor chap said he'd pull him through. Got an indiarubber tube and made him suck up as much beer as he could hold; kept it up till all his bones "setted" again, and he recovered. Why shouldn't I -- if I only drank enough?

"Hurry up, old dark-skin!" -- this to the faded Marie. Uttering merely the word "Hog!" she drew the cork. I had to drink some, and every hour or so Tom would say it was very hot, and open yet another bottle. At last I escaped the beer by nearly dying, and then the kind old fellow hurried away in his boat to Apatiki -- another island of the group -- and came back with some bottles of claret, bought from the French trader there. With him came two visitors -- a big half-caste of middle age, and his wife, a girl of twenty or there-about. This was Edward Pallou and his wife Taloi.

. . . . .

I was in the house when Tom returned, enjoying a long-denied smoke. Pallou and his wife entered and greeted me. The man was a fine, well-set-up fellow, wiry and muscular, with deep-set eyes, and bearing across his right cheek a heavy scar. His wife was a sweet, dainty little creature with red lips, dazzling teeth, hazel eyes, and long wavy hair. The first thing I noticed about her was, that instead of squatting on a mat in native fashion, she sank into a wide chair, and lying back enquired, with a pleasant smile and in perfect English, whether I was feeling any better. She was very fair, even for a Paumotuan half-caste, as I thought she must be, and I said to Pallou, "Why, any one would take your wife to be an Englishwoman!"

"Not I," said Taloi, with a rippling laugh, as she commenced to make a banana-leaf cigarette; "I am a full-blooded South Sea Islander. I belong to Apatiki, and was born there. Perhaps I have white blood in me. Who knows? -- only my wise mother. But when I was twelve years old I was adopted by a gentleman in Papeite, and he sent me to Sydney to school. Do you know Sydney? Well, I was three years with the Misses F----, in ---- Street. My goodness! I was glad to leave -- and so were the Misses F---- to see me go. They said I was downright wicked, because one day I tore the dress off a girl who said my skin was tallowy, like my name. When I came back to Tahiti my guardian took me to Raiatea, where he had a business, and said I must marry him, the beast!"

"Oh, shut up, Taoi!" growled the deep-voiced Pallou, who sat beside me. "What the deuce does this man care about your doings?"

"Shut up yourself, you brute! Can't I talk to any one I like, you turtle-headed fool? Am I not a good wife to you, you great, over-grown savage? Won't you let a poor devil of a woman talk a little? Look here, Tom, do you see that flash jacket he's wearing? Well, I sat up two nights making that -- for him to come over here with, and show off before the Rotoava girls. Go and die, you ----!"

The big half-caste looked at Tom and then at me. His lips twitched with suppressed passion, and a dangerous gleam shone a moment in his dark eyes.

"Here, I say, Taloi," broke in Tom, good-humouredly, "just go easy a bit with Ted. As for him a-looking at any of the girls here, I knows better -- and so do you."

Taloi's laugh, clear as the note of a bird, answered him, and then she said she was sorry, and the lines around Pallou's rigid mouth softened down. It was easy to see that this grim half-white loved, for all her bitter tongue, the bright creature who sat in the big chair.

Presently Taloi and Lucia went out to bathe, and Pallou remained with me. Tom joined us, and for a while no one spoke. Then the trader, laying down his pipe on the table, drew his seat closer, and commenced, in low tones, a conversation in Tahitian with Pallou. From the earnest manner of old Tom and the sullen gloom that overspread Pallou's face, I could discern that some anxiety possessed them.

At last Tom addressed me. "Look here, ----, Ted here is in a mess, and we've just been a-talkin' of it over, and he says perhaps you'll do what you can for him."

The half-caste turned his dark eyes on me and looked intently into mine.

"What is it, Tom?"

"Well, you see, it come about this way. You heard this chap's missus -- Taloi -- a-talkin' about the Frenchman that wanted to marry her. He had chartered a little schooner in Papeite to go to Raiatea. Pallou here was mate, and, o' course, he being from the same part of the group as Taloi, she ups and tells him that the Frenchman wanted to marry her straightaway; and then I s'pose, the two gets a bit chummy, and Pallou tells her that if she didn't want the man he'd see as how she wasn't forced agin' her will. So when the vessel gets to Raiatea it fell calm, just about sunset. The Frenchman was in a hurry to get ashore, and tells his skipper to put two men in the boat and some grub, as he meant to pull ashore to his station. So they put the boat over the side, and Frenchy and Taoi and Pallou and two native chaps gets in and pulls for the land.

"They gets inside Uturoa about midnight. 'Jump out,' says the Frenchman to Taloi as soon as the boat touches the beach; but the girl wouldn't, but ties herself up around Pallou and squeals. 'Sakker!' says the Frenchy, and he grabs her by the hair and tries to tear her away. ''Ere, stop that,' says Pallou; 'the girl ain't willin',' an' he pushes Frenchy away. 'Sakker!' again, and Frenchy whips out his pistol and nearly blows Pallou's face off'n him; and then, afore he knows how it was done, Ted sends his knife chunk home into the other fellow's throat. The two native sailors runned away ashore, and Pallou and Taloi takes the oars and pulls out again until they drops. Then a breeze comes along, and they up stick and sails away and gets clear o' the group, and brings up, after a lot of sufferin', at Rurutu. And ever since then there's been a French gunboat a-lookin' for Pallou, and he's been hidin' at Apatiki for nigh on a twelvemonth, and has come over here now to see if, when your ship comes back, you can't give him and his missus a passage away somewhere to the westward, out o' the run of that there gunboat, the Vaudreuil."

. . . . .

I promised I would "work it" with the captain, and Pallou put out his brawny hand -- the hand that "drove it home into Frenchy's throat" -- and grasped mine in silence. Then he lifted his jacket and showed me his money-belt, filled.

"I don't want money," I said. "If you have told me the whole story, I would help any man in such a fix as you." And then Taloi, fresh from her bath, came in and sat down on the mat, whilst fat Lucia combed and dressed her glossy hair and placed therein scarlet hisbiscus flowers; and to show her returned good temper, she took from her lips the cigarette she was smoking, and offered it to the grim Pallou.

A month later we all three left Rotoava, and Pallou and Taloi went ashore at one of the Hervey Group, where I gave him charge of a station with a small stock of trade, and we sailed away east-ward to Pitcairn and Easter Islands.

. . . . .

Pallou did a good business, and was well liked; and some seven months afterwards, when we were at Maga Reva, in the Gambier Group, I got a letter from him. "Business goes well," he wrote, "but Taloi is ill; I think she will die. You will find everything square, though, when you come."

But I was never to see that particular island again, as the firm sent another vessel in place of ours to get Pallou's produce. When the captain and the supercargo went ashore, a white trader met them, with a roll of papers in his hand.

"Pallou's stock-list," he said.

"Why, where is he? gone away?"

"No, he's here still; planted alongside his missus."

"Dead!"

"Yes. A few months after he arrived here, that pretty little wife of his died. He came to me, and asked if I would come and take stock with him. I said he seemed in a bit of a hurry to start stocktaking before the poor thing was buried; but anyhow, I went, and we took stock, and he counted his cash, and asked me to lock the place up if anything happened to him. Then we had a drink, and he bade me good-day, and said he was going to sit with Taloi awhile, before they took her away. He sent the native women out of the bedroom, and the next minute I heard a shot. He'd done it, right enough. Right through his brain, poor chap. I can tell you he thought a lot of that girl of his. There's the two graves, over there by that fetau tree. Here's his stock-list and bag of cash and keys. Would you mind giving me that pair of rubber sea-boots he left?"

 
 
 

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