Solepa by Louis Becke
The last strokes of the bell for evening service had scarce
died away when I heard a footstep on the pebbly path, and old
Pâkía, staff in hand and pipe dangling from his
pendulous ear-lobe, walked quietly up the steps and sat down
cross-legged on the verandah. All my own people had gone to
church and the house was very quiet.
"Good evening, Pâkía," I said in English, "how are
you, old man?"
A smile lit up the brown, old, wrinkled face as he heard my
voice—for I was lying down in the sitting-room, smoking
my after-supper pipe—as he answered in the island dialect
that he was well, but that his house was in darkness and he,
being lonely, had come over to sit with me awhile.
"That is well, Pâkía, for I too am lonely, and who
so good as thee to talk with when the mind is heavy and the
days are long, and no sail cometh up from the sea-rim? Come,
sit here within the doorway, for the night wind is chill; and
fill thy pipe."
He came inside as I rose and turned up the lamp so that its
light shone full on his bald, bronzed head
and deeply tatooed arms and shoulders. Laying down his polished
wood, he came over to me, placed his hand on my arm, patted it
gently, and then his kindly old eyes sought mine.
"Be not dull of heart,
A ship will soon come—it may be to-morrow; it must be
soon; for twice have I heard the cocks crow at midnight since I
was last here, three days ago. And when the cocks crow at
night-time a ship is near."
"May it be so, Pâkía, for I am weary of waiting.
Ten months have come and gone since I first put foot on this
land of Nukufetau, and a ship was to have come here in
He filled his pipe, then drawing a small mat near my lounge,
he squatted on the floor, and we smoked in silence, listening
to the gentle lapping of the lagoon waters upon the inner beach
and the beating, never-ceasing hum of the surf on the reef
beyond. Overhead the branches of the palms swayed and rustled
to the night-breeze.
Presently, as I turned to look seaward, I caught the old
man's dark eyes fixed upon my face, and in them I read a
sympathy that at that time and place was grateful to me.
"Six months is long for one who waits, Pâkía," I
said. "I came here but to stay four months and trade for copra;
then the ship was to call and take me to Ponapé, in the
far north-west. And Ponapé is a great land to such a man
I know it. Thrice have I been there when I sailed in the
whaleships. A great land truly, like the island called Juan
Fernandez, of which I have told thee, with high mountains green
to the summits with trees, and deep, dark valleys wherein the
sound of the sea is never heard but when the surf beats hard
upon the reef. Ah! a fine land—better than this poor
, which is as but a ring of sand set in the midst of the deep
sea. Would that I were young to go there with thee! Tell me,
dost know the two small, high islands in the
which is called Jakoits? Hast seen the graves of two white men
"I know the islands well; but I have never seen the graves
of any white men there. Who were they, and when did they
"Ah, I am a foolish old man. I forget how old I am. Perhaps,
when thou wert a child in thy mother's arms, the graves stood
up out of the greensward at the foot of the high cliff which
faces to the south. Tell me, is there not a high wall of rock a
little way back from the landing beach?... Aye!... that is the
place ... and the bones of the men are there, though now great
trees may grow over the place. They were both good
men—good to look at, tall and strong; and they fought and
died there just under the cliff. I saw them die, for I was
there with the captain of my ship. We, and others with us, saw
"Who were they, Pâkía, and how came they to
One was a trader, whose name was Preston; he lived on the
mainland of Ponapé, where he had a great house and oil
store and many servants. The name of the other man was Frank.
They fought because of a woman."
"Tell me the story, Pâkía. Thou hast seen many
lands and many strange things. And when ye come and sit and
talk to me the dulness goeth away from me and I no longer think
of the ship; for of all the people on this
, to thee and Temana my servant alone do I talk freely. And
Temana is now at church."
The old man chuckled. "Aye, he is at church because Malepa,
his wife, is so jealous of him that she fears to leave him
alone. Better would it please him to be sitting here with
I drew the mat curtain across the sitting-room window so
that we could not be seen by prying eyes, and put two cups, a
gourd of water, and some brandy on the table. Except my own
man, Temana, the rest of the natives were intensely jealous of
the poor old ex-sailor and wanderer in many lands, and they
very much resented his frequent visits to me—partly on
account of the occasional glass of grog which I gave him, and
partly because he was suspected of still being a
tagata po-uriuri, i.e.
, a heathen. This, however, he vigorously denied, and though
Maréko, the Samoan teacher, was a kind-hearted and
tolerant man for a native minister, the deacons delighted in
persecuting and harassing the ancient upon every possible
opportunity, and upon one pretext or another had
succeeded in robbing him of his land and dividing it among his
relatives; so that now in his extreme old age he was dependent
upon one of his daughters, a woman who herself must have been
I poured some brandy into the cups; we clicked them together
and said, "May you be lucky" to each other. Then he told me of
"There were many whaleships came to anchor in the three
harbours of Ponapé in those days. They came there for wood
and water and fresh provisions, before they sailed to the cold,
icy seas of the south. I was then a boat-steerer in an English
ship—a good and lucky ship with a good captain. When we
came to Ponapé we found there six other whaleships, all
anchored close together under the shelter of the two islets.
All the captains were friends, and the few white men who lived
on shore were friends with them, and every night there was much
singing and dancing on board the ships, for, as was the custom,
every one on board had been given a Ponapé girl for wife
as long as his ship stayed there; and sometimes a ship would be
there a long time—a month perhaps.
"The trader who lived in the big house was one of the first
to come on board our ship; for the captain and he were good
friends. They talked together on the poop deck, and I heard the
trader say that he had been away to Honolulu for nearly a year
and had brought back with him a young wife.
'Good,' said my captain, 'to-night I shall come ashore and
to ye both.'
"The trader was pleased, and said that some of the other
captains could come also, and that he had sent a letter to the
other trader, Frank, who lived on the other side of the island,
bidding him to come and greet the new wife. At these words the
face of Stacey—that was my captain's name, became dark,
and he said—
"'You are foolish. Such a man as he is, is better away from
thy house—and thy wife. He is a
. Take heed of my words and have no dealings with him.'
"But the man Preston only laughed. He was a fool in this
though he was so clever in many other things. He was a big man,
broad in the shoulders with the bright eye and the merry laugh
of a boy. He had been a sailor, but had wearied of the life,
and so he bought land in Ponapé and became a trader. He
was a fair-dealing man with the people there, and so in three
or four years he became rich, and bought more land and built a
schooner which he sent away to far distant islands to trade for
(beche-de-mer). Then it was that he went to Honolulu and came
back with a wife.
"That day ere it became dark I went on shore with my
captain; some of the other captains went with us. The white man
met them on the beach, surrounded by many of his servants, male
and female. Some were of Ponapé, some from Tahiti, some
from Oahu, and some from the place which you call Savage Island
and we call Niué. As soon as the captains had stepped out
upon the beach and I had bidden the four sailors who were with
me to push off to return to the ship, the trader, seeing the
tatooing on my arms, gave a shout.
'Ho,' he cried, turning to my captain, 'whence comes that
boat-steerer of thine? By the markings on his arms and chest he
should be from the isles of the Tokelau.'
"My captain laughed. 'He comes from near there. He is of
"Then let him stay on shore to-night, for there are here
with me a man and a woman from Nanomaga; they can talk
together. And my wife Solepa, too, will be well pleased to see
him, for her mother was a Samoan, and this man can talk to her
in her mother's tongue.'
"'So I too went up to the house with the white men, but
would not enter with them, for I was stripped to the waist and
could not go into the presence of the lady. Presently the man
and woman from Nanomaga sought me out and embraced me and made
much of me and took me into another part of the house, where I
waited till one of my shipmates returned from the ship bringing
my jumper and trousers of white duck and a new Panama hat.
Tāpā! I was a fine-looking man in those days, and
women looked at me from the corner of the eye. And now—
look at me now! I am like a blind fish which is swept hither
and thither by the current against the rocks and sandbanks.
Give me some more grog, dear friend; when I talk of the days of
my youth my belly yearns for it, and I am not ashamed to
"Presently, after I had dressed myself, I was taken by the
Nanomea man into the big room where Solepa, the white man's
wife, was sitting with the white men. She came to me and took
my hand, and said to me in Samoan
'Talofa, Pâkía, e mālolō ea oe?'
and my heart was glad; for it was long since I heard any one
speak in a tongue which is akin to mine own.... Was she
beautiful? you ask. Tāpā! All women are beautiful
when they are young, and their eyes are full and clear and
their voices are soft and their bosoms are round and smooth!
All I can remember of her is that she was very young, with a
white, fair skin, and dressed like the
women I have seen in Peretania and Itālia and in Chili and
"As I stood before her, hat in hand and with my eyes looking
downward, which is proper and correct for a modest man to do
when a high lady speaks to him before many people, a white man
who had been sitting at the far end of the room came over to me
and said some words of greeting to me. This was Franka
—he whom my captain said was a
. He was better clothed than any other of the white men, and
was proud and overbearing in his manner. He
had brought with him more than a score of young Ponapé
men, all of whom carried rifles and had cutlasses strapped to
their waists. This was done to show the people of Jakoits that
he was as great a man as Preston, whom he hated, as you will
see. But Preston had naught for him but good words, and when he
saw the armed men he bade them welcome and set aside a house
for them to sleep in, and his servants brought them many
baskets of cooked food—taro and yams, and fish, turtle,
and pork. All this I saw whilst I was in the big room.
"After I had spoken with the lady Solepa I returned to where
the man from Nanomaga and his wife were awaiting me. They
pressed me to eat and drink, and by and by sent for a young
girl to make kava. Tāpā! that kava of Ponapé! It
is not made there as it is in Samoa—where the young men
and women chew the dried root and mix it in a wooden
(bowl); there the green root is crushed up in a hollowed stone
and but little water is added, so that it is strong, very
strong, and one is soon made drunk.
"The girl who made the kava for us was named Sipi. She had
eyes like the stars when they are shining upon a deep mountain
pool, and round her smooth forehead was bound a circlet of
yellow pandanus leaf worked with beads of many colours and
fringed with red parrakeet feathers; about her waist were two
fine mats, and her bosom and hands were stained with turmeric.
I sat and watched her beating the kava, and as her right arm
rose and fell her short, black wavy hair danced about her
cheeks and hid the
red mouth and white teeth when she smiled at me. And she smiled
at me very often, and the man and woman beside me laughed when
they saw me regard her so intently, and asked me was it in my
mind to have her for my wife.
"I did not answer at once, for I knew that if I ran away
from the ship for the sake of this girl I would be doing a
foolish thing, for I had money coming to me when the ship was
(paid off). But, as I pondered, the girl bent forward and again
her eyes smiled at me through her hair; and then it was I saw
that on her head there was a narrow shaven strip from the crown
backward. Now, in Tokelau, this fashion is called
, and showeth that a girl is in her virginity. When I saw this
I was pleased, but to make sure I said to my friends, 'Her hair
. Is she a virgin?'
"The woman of Nanomaga laughed loudly at this and pinched my
hand, then she translated my words to the girl who looked into
my face and laughed too, shaking her head as she put one hand
over her eyes—
"'Nay, nay, O stranger,' she said, 'I am no virgin; neither
am I a harlot. I am respectable, and my father and mother have
land. I do not go to the ships.' Then she tossed her hair back
from her face and began to beat the kava again.
"Now, this girl pleased me greatly, for there were no twists
in her tongue; so, when the kava-drinking was finished I made
her sit beside me, and the Nanomaga woman told her I would run
away from the ship if she would be my wife. She put her face
to my shoulder, and then took the circlet from her forehead and
bound it round my bared arm, and I gave her a silver ring which
I wore on my little finger. Then, together with the Nanomaga
man and his wife, we made our plans.... Ah! she was a fine
girl. For nearly a year was she wife to me until she sickened
and died of the
which was brought to Ponapé by the missionary ship from
"So the girl and I made our plans, and my friends promised
to hide me when the time came for me to run away. We sat long
into the night, and I heard much of the man called Franka and
of the jealousy he bore to Preston. He was jealous of him
because of two reasons; one was that he possessed such a fine
house and so much land and a schooner, and the other was that
the people of Jakoits paid him the same respect as they paid
one of their high chiefs. So that was why Franka hated him. His
heart was full of hatred, and sometimes when he was drunk in
his own house at Rōan Kiti he would boast to the natives
that he would one day show them that he was a better man than
Preston. Sometimes his drunken boastings were brought to the
ears of Preston, who only laughed and took no heed, and always
gave him the good word when they met, which was but seldom, for
Jakoits and Kiti are far apart, and there was bad blood between
the people of the two places. And then—so the girl Sipi
afterwards told me—Franka was a lover
of grog and a stealer of women, and kept a noisy house and made
much trouble, and so Preston went not near him, for he was a
quiet man and no drinker, and hated dissension. And, besides
this, Franka took part in the wars of the Kiti people, and went
about with a following of armed men, and such money as he made
in trading he spent in muskets and powder and ball; for all
this Preston had no liking, and one day he said to Franka, 'Be
warned, this fighting and slaying is wrong; it is not correct
for a white man to enter into these wars; you are doing wrong,
and some day you will be killed.' Now these were good words,
but of what use are good words to an evil heart?
"So we pair sat talking and smoking, and the girl Sipi made
us more kava, and then again sat by my side and leant her face
against my shoulder, and presently we heard the sounds of music
and singing from the big house. We went outside to see and
listen, and saw that Preston was playing on a
and Solepa and the captain of my ship were dancing
together—like as white people dance—and two of the
other captains were also dancing in the same fashion. All round
the room were seated many of the high chiefs of Ponapé
with their wives, dressed very finely, and at one end of the
room stood a long table covered with a white cloth, on which
was laid food of all kinds and wine and grog to
drink—just as you would see in your own country when a
rich man gives a feast. Presently as we looked, we saw Franka
walk into the room from a side door and look about. His face
was flushed, and he staggered slightly in his steps. He went
over to the table and poured out some grog, and then beckoned
to Preston to come and drink with him, but Preston smiled and
shook his head. How could he go when he was making the music?
Then Franka struck his clenched fist on the table in anger, and
went over to Preston, just as the dancers had stopped.
"'Why will ye not drink with me?' he said in a loud voice so
that all heard him. 'Art thou too great a man to drink with me
"'Nay,' answered the other jestingly and taking no heed of
Franka's rude voice and angry eyes, 'not so great that I cannot
drink with all my friends tonight, be they white or brown,' and
so saying he bade every one in the room come to the great table
with him and drink
to him and his young wife.
"So the nine white men—Preston, and Franka, and the
seven whaleship captains, and Nanakin, the head chief of
Ponapé, and many other lesser chiefs, all gathered
together around the table and filled their glasses and drank
to the bride, who sat on a chair in the centre of the room
surrounded by the chiefs' wives, and smiled and bowed when my
captain called her name and raised his glass towards her. Then
after this he again took up the
and began to play, and my captain and Solepa danced again.
Suddenly Franka pushed his way through the others and rudely
placed his hand on her arm.
'Come,' he said, 'leave this fellow and dance with me.'
"She cried out in terror, and then silence fell upon all as
my captain withdrew his right arm from her waist and struck
Franka on the mouth; it was a strong blow, and Franka staggered
backwards and then fell near to the open door. As he rose to
his feet again my captain came up to him and bade him leave
quickly. 'We want no drunken bullies here,' he said, and at
that moment Franka drew a pistol and pointed it at his chest. I
leapt upon him and as we struggled together the pistol went
off, but the bullet hurt no one.
"Then there was a great commotion, and my captain and
Preston ran to my aid and seized Franka. They dragged him out
of the room, and with words of scorn and contempt threw him out
amongst his own people who were gathered together outside the
house, with their muskets in their hands. But already Nanakin
and his chiefs had summoned their fighting men; they came
running towards us from all directions, and surrounding Franka
and his men, drove them away and bade them beware of ever
returning to Jakoits.
"When they had gone, my captain called me to him, and,
turning to the other white men, said, 'This man hath saved my
life. He hath a brave heart. I shall do much for him in the
time to come.' Then he and the others all shook my hand and
praised me, and I was silent and said nothing, for I was
ashamed to think I was about to run away from such a good
In the morning we went back to the ship, and the boats were
then sent away to fill and bring off casks of water. Every time
my boat went I took something with me; tobacco and clothing and
other things which I had in my sea chest. Sipi and some other
girls met us at the watering place, and they took these from me
and put them in a place of safety. That afternoon as the boats
were about to leave the shore for the last time, towing the
casks, I slipped into the forest which grew very densely on
both sides of the little river, and ran till I came to the spot
where Sipi was awaiting me. Then together we went inland
towards the mountains and kept on walking till nightfall. That
night we slept in the forest; we were afraid to make a fire
lest it should be seen by some of Nanakin's people and betray
us, for I knew that my captain would cause a great search to be
made for me. When dawn came we again set out and went on
steadily till we came to the summit of the range of mountains
which divides the island. There was a clear space on the side
of the mountain; a great village had once stood there, so Sipi
told me, but all those who had dwelt there had long since died,
and their ghosts could be heard flitting to and fro at night
time. Far below us we could see the blue sea, and the long
waving line of reef with the surf beating upon it, and within,
anchored in the green water, were the seven ships and Preston's
"All that day and the next the girl and I worked at building
a little house for us to live in until the ships had gone. We
had no fear of any one seeking
us out in that place, for it had a bad name and none but
travelling parties from Rōan Kiti ever passed there. Sipi
had brought with her a basket of cooked food; in the deserted
plantations we found plenty of bananas and yams, and in the
stream at the foot of the valley we caught many small fish.
Four days went by, and then one morning we saw the ships set
their sails and go to sea. We watched them till they touched
the sky rim and disappeared; then we went back to Jakoits.
"The white man and Solepa were sitting under the shade of a
tree in front of their house. I went boldly up to him and asked
him to give me work to do. At first he was angry, for he and my
captain were great friends, and said he would have naught to do
with me. Why did I run away from such a good man and such a
good ship? There were too many men like me, he said, in
Ponapé, who had run away so that they might do naught but
wander from village to village and eat and drink and sleep.
Then again he asked why I had run away.
"'Because of her,' I said, pointing to the girl Sipi, who
was sitting at the gate with her face covered with the corner
of her mat. 'But I am no
I am a true man. Give me work on thy ship.'
"He thought a little while, then he and Solepa talked
together, and Solepa bade Sipi come near so that she might talk
to her. Presently he said to me that I had done a foolish thing
to run away for the
sake of the girl when I had money coming to me and when the
captain's heart was filled with friendship towards me for
turning aside Franka's pistol.
"I bent my head, for I was ashamed. Then I said, 'I care not
for the money I have lost, but I am eaten up with shame for
running away, for my captain was a good captain to me.'
"This pleased him, for he smiled and said, 'I will try thee.
I will make thee boatswain of the schooner, and this girl here
shall be servant to my wife.'
"So Sipi became servant to Solepa, and I was sent on board
the schooner to help prepare her for sea. My new captain gave
us a house to live in, and every night I came on shore. Ah,
those were brave times, and Preston made much of me when he
found that I was a true man and did my work well, and would
stand no saucy words nor black looks from those of the
schooner's crew who thought that the boatswain should be a
"Ten days after the whaleships had sailed, the schooner was
ready for sea. We were to sail to the westward isles to trade
for oil and tortoiseshell, and then go to China, where Preston
thought to sell his cargo. On the eve of the day on which we
were to leave, the mate, who was an old and stupid Siamani,
went ashore to my master's house, and I was left in charge of
the schooner. Sipi, my wife, was with me, and we sat together
in the stern of the ship, smoking our
(cigarettes) and talking of the time when I
should return and buy a piece of land from her father's people,
on which I should build a new house. There were six native
sailors on board, and these, as the night drew on, spread their
mats on the fore deck and went to sleep. Then Sipi and I went
into the cabin, which was on deck, and we too slept.
"How long we had slumbered I cannot tell, but suddenly we
were aroused by the sound of a great clamour on deck and the
groans and cries of dying men, and then ere we were well
awakened the cabin door was opened and Solepa was thrust
inside. Then the door was quickly closed and fastened on the
outside, and I heard Franka's voice calling out orders to hoist
sails and slip the cable.
"There was a lamp burning dimly in the cabin, and Sipi and I
ran to the aid of Solepa, who lay prone upon the floor as if
dead. Her dress was torn, and her hands and arms were scratched
and bleeding, so that Sipi wept as she leant over her and put
water to her lips. In a little while she opened her eyes, and
when she saw us a great sob broke from her bosom and she caught
my hand in hers and tried to speak.
"Now, grog is a good thing. It is good for a weak, panting
woman when her strength is gone and her soul is terrified, and
it is good for an old man who is despised by his relations
because he is bitten with poverty. There was grog in a wicker
jar in the cabin. I gave her some in a glass, and then as the
dog Franka, whose soul and body are now in hell, was getting
the schooner under way, she told me that while she and Preston
were asleep the house was
surrounded by a hundred or more of men from Rōan Kiti, led
by Franka. They burst in suddenly, and Franka and some others
rushed into their sleeping-room and she was torn away from her
husband and carried down to the beach.
"'Is thy husband dead?' I asked.
"'I cannot tell,' she said in a weak voice. 'I heard some
shots fired and saw him struggling with Franka's men. That is
all I know. If he is dead then shall I die too. Give me a
knife, so that I may die.'
"As she spoke the schooner began to move, and again we heard
Franka's voice calling out in English to some one to go forward
and con the ship whilst he steered, for the night was dark and
he, clever stealer of women as he was, did not know the passage
out through the reef, and trusted to those with him who knew
but little more. Then something came into my mind, and I took
Solepa's hand in mine.
"'I will save thee from this pig Franka,' I said quickly,
'he shall never take thee away. Sit ye here with Sipi, and when
ye hear the schooner strike, spring ye both into the sea and
swim towards the two islands which are near.'
"In the centre of the deck cabin was a hatch which led into
the hold. There was no deck between, for the vessel was but
small. I took my knife from the sheath and then lifted the
hatch, descended, and crawled forward in the darkness to the
fore hatch, up which I crept very carefully, for I had much in
my mind. I saw a man standing up, holding on to the fore stay.
He was calling out to Franka every now
and then, telling him how to steer. I sprang up behind him, and
as I drove my knife into his back with my left hand, I struck
him with my right on his neck and he fell overboard. He was a
white man, I think for when my knife went into his back he
called out 'Oh Christ!' But then many native men who have mixed
with white people call out 'Oh, Christ,' just like white men
when they are drunk. Anyway, it does not matter now.
"But as I struck my knife into him, I called out in English
to put the helm hard down, for I saw that the schooner was very
near the reef on the starboard hand. Franka, who was at the
wheel, at once obeyed and was fooled, for the schooner, which
was now leaping and singing to the strong night wind from the
mountains smote suddenly upon the coral reef with a noise like
the felling of a great forest tree, and began to grind and tear
"Almost as she struck Solepa and Sipi stood by me, and
together we sprang overboard into the white surf ... Give me
some more grog, dear friend of my heart. I am no boaster, nor
am I a liar; but when I think of that swim to the shore through
the rolling seas with those two women, my belly cleaves to my
backbone and I become faint.... For the current was against us,
and neither Sipi nor Solepa were good swimmers, and many times
had we to clutch hold of the jagged coral, which tore our skins
so that our blood ran out freely, and had the sharks come to us
then I would not be here with thee to-night drinking this, thy
good sweet grog which thou givest me out of thy
kind heart. Tāpā! When I look into thy face and see
thy kind eyes, I am young again. I love thee, not alone because
thou hast been kind to me in my poverty and paid the fines of
my granddaughter when she hath committed adultery with the
young men of the village, but because thou hast seen many lands
and have upheld me before the teacher, who is a circumcised but
yet untatooed dog of a Samoan. A man who is not tatooed is no
better than a woman. He is a male harlot and should be
despised. He is only fit to associate with women, and has no
right to beget children....
"We three swam to the shore, and when the dawn came we saw
that the schooner stood high and dry on the reef and that
Franka and his men were trying to float her by throwing
overboard the iron ballast and putting a kedge anchor out upon
the lee side of the reef. And at the same time we saw three
boats put off from the mainland. These boats were all painted
white, and when I saw them I said to Solepa, 'Be of good heart.
Thy husband is not dead, for here are three of his boats
coming. He is not dead. He is coming to seek thee.'"
"The three boats came quickly towards the schooner, but ere
they reached her Franka and those with him got into the boats
in which they had boarded the vessel, and then we saw smoke
arise from the bow and stern.... They had set fire to the ship.
They were cowards. Fire is a great help to cowards, because in
the glare and dazzling light of burning houses or ships, when
the thunder of cannons and the
rattle of rifles is heard, they can run about and kill
people.... I have seen these things done in Chili.... I have
seen men who would not stand and fight on board ship run away
on shore and slay women and children in their fury and
cowardice. No, they were not Englishmen; they were Spaniolas.
But the officers were Englishmen and Germans.
did not run away, they were killed. Brave men get killed and
cowards live. I am no coward though I am still alive. It is
quite proper that I should live, for I never ran away when
there was fighting to be done. I have only been a fool because
of my love for women. No one could say I was a coward, and no
one can say I am a fool, because I am too old now to be a
"As Franka and those with him left the burning schooner and
rowed towards the islands, the three boats from the shore
changed their course and followed him. Franka and his men were
the first to reach the land, and they quickly ran up the beach
and crouched behind the bushes which grew at high-water mark.
They all had guns, and Sipi and Solepa and I saw them waiting
to shoot. We were hiding amid the roots of a great banyan tree,
and could see well. As the boats drew near Solepa watched them
eagerly, and then began to weep and laugh at the same time when
she saw her husband Preston was steering the one which led. She
was a good woman. She loved her husband. I was pleased with
her, and told her to be of good cheer, for I was sure that
Preston and his people would kill Franka and those with him,
for as they rowed they made no noise. No one shouted nor
challenged; they came on and on, and the white man Preston
stood up with the steer oar in his hand, and his face was as a
stone in which was set eyes of fire. When his boat was within
twenty fathoms of the beach the rowers ceased, and he held up
his hand to those who awaited his coming.
"'Listen to me, men of Rōan Kiti. We are as three to
one of ye, and ye are caught in a trap. Death is in my mouth if
I speak the word. Tell me, is my wife Solepa alive?'
"No one answered, but suddenly Franka stepped out from
behind the bushes and pointed his rifle at him, and was about
to pull the trigger when a young man of his party who was of
good heart seized him by the arm, and cried out 'twas a
coward's act; then two or three followed him, and together they
bore Franka down upon the sand; and one of them cried out to
"'This is a wrong business. We were led astray by this man.
We are no cowards, and have no ill-will to thee. Thy wife is
alive. She swam ashore with two others when the ship struck.
Are we dead men?'
"Then, ere Preston could answer, Solepa leapt out from
beneath the banyan tree and ran through the men of Rōan
Kiti towards the beach, and cried—
"'Oh, my husband, for the love of God let no blood be shed!
I am well and unharmed. Spare these people and spare even this
man Franka, for he is mad!'
"Then Preston leapt out of the boat and put his
arms around her waist and kissed her, and then put her aside,
and called to every one around him—
"'These are my words,' he said. 'I am a man of peace, but
this man Franka is a robber and a dog, and hath stolen upon me
in the night and slain my people, and his hands are reddened
with blood. And he hath put foul dishonour on me by stealing
Solepa my wife, and carrying her away from my house as if she
were a slave or a harlot. And there is no room here for such a
man to live unless he be a better man than I. But I am no
murderer. So stand aside all! Let him rise and rest awhile, and
then shall we two fight, man to man. Either he or I must
"Then many men of both sides came to him and said, 'Let this
thing be finished. You are a strong man. Take this robber and
slay him as you would slay a pig.' But he put them aside, and
said he would fight him man to man, as Englishmen fought.
"So when Franka was rested two cutlasses were brought, and
the two men stood face to face on the sand. I kept close to
Franka, for I meant to stab him if I could, but Preston angrily
bade me stand back. Then the two crossed their swords together
and began to fight. It was a great fight, but it did not last
long, for Preston soon ran his sword through Franka's chest. I
saw it come out through his back. But as he fell and Preston
bent over him he thrust his cutlass into Preston's stomach and
worked it to and fro. Then Preston fell on him, and they died
"There was no more bloodshed. Solepa and Sipi and I dressed
the dead man in his best clothes, and the
Rōan Kiti men dressed Franka in his best clothes, and a
great funeral feast was made, and we buried them together on
the little island. And Solepa went back again to Honolulu in a
whaleship. She was young and fair, and should have soon found
another husband. I do not know. But Sipi was a fine wife to