This etext was prepared by David Price, email [email protected]
from the 1920 Mills and Boon edition.
ON THE MAKALOA MAT/ISLAND TALES
by Jack London
On the Makaloa Mat
The Bones of Kahekili
When Alice Told her Soul
The Water Baby
The Tears of Ah Kim
The Kanaka Surf
ON THE MAKALOA MAT
Unlike the women of most warm races, those of Hawaii age well and
nobly. With no pretence of make-up or cunning concealment of
time's inroads, the woman who sat under the hau tree might have
been permitted as much as fifty years by a judge competent anywhere
over the world save in Hawaii. Yet her children and her
grandchildren, and Roscoe Scandwell who had been her husband for
forty years, knew that she was sixty-four and would be sixty-five
come the next twenty-second day of June. But she did not look it,
despite the fact that she thrust reading glasses on her nose as she
read her magazine and took them off when her gaze desired to wander
in the direction of the half-dozen children playing on the lawn.
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It was a noble situation - noble as the ancient hau tree, the size
of a house, where she sat as if in a house, so spaciously and
comfortably house-like was its shade furnished; noble as the lawn
that stretched away landward its plush of green at an appraisement
of two hundred dollars a front foot to a bungalow equally
dignified, noble, and costly. Seaward, glimpsed through a fringe
of hundred-foot coconut palms, was the ocean; beyond the reef a
dark blue that grew indigo blue to the horizon, within the reef all
the silken gamut of jade and emerald and tourmaline.
And this was but one house of the half-dozen houses belonging to
Martha Scandwell. Her town-house, a few miles away in Honolulu, on
Nuuanu Drive between the first and second "showers," was a palace.
Hosts of guests had known the comfort and joy of her mountain house
on Tantalus, and of her volcano house, her mauka house, and her
makai house on the big island of Hawaii. Yet this Waikiki house
stressed no less than the rest in beauty, in dignity, and in
expensiveness of upkeep. Two Japanese yard-boys were trimming
hibiscus, a third was engaged expertly with the long hedge of
night-blooming cereus that was shortly expectant of unfolding in
its mysterious night-bloom. In immaculate ducks, a house Japanese
brought out the tea-things, followed by a Japanese maid, pretty as
a butterfly in the distinctive garb of her race, and fluttery as a
butterfly to attend on her mistress. Another Japanese maid, an
array of Turkish towels on her arm, crossed the lawn well to the
right in the direction of the bath-houses, from which the children,
in swimming suits, were beginning to emerge. Beyond, under the
palms at the edge of the sea, two Chinese nursemaids, in their
pretty native costume of white yee-shon and-straight-lined
trousers, their black braids of hair down their backs, attended
each on a baby in a perambulator.
And all these, servants, and nurses, and grandchildren, were Martha
Scandwell's. So likewise was the colour of the skin of the
grandchildren - the unmistakable Hawaiian colour, tinted beyond
shadow of mistake by exposure to the Hawaiian sun. One-eighth and
one-sixteenth Hawaiian were they, which meant that seven-eighths or
fifteen-sixteenths white blood informed that skin yet failed to
obliterate the modicum of golden tawny brown of Polynesia. But in
this, again, only a trained observer would have known that the
frolicking children were aught but pure-blooded white. Roscoe
Scandwell, grandfather, was pure white; Martha three-quarters
white; the many sons and daughters of them seven-eighths white; the
grandchildren graded up to fifteen-sixteenths white, or, in the
cases when their seven-eighths fathers and mothers had married
seven-eighths, themselves fourteen-sixteenths or seven-eighths
white. On both sides the stock was good, Roscoe straight descended
from the New England Puritans, Martha no less straight descended
from the royal chief-stocks of Hawaii whose genealogies were
chanted in males a thousand years before written speech was
In the distance a machine stopped and deposited a woman whose
utmost years might have been guessed as sixty, who walked across
the lawn as lightly as a well-cared-for woman of forty, and whose
actual calendar age was sixty-eight. Martha rose from her seat to
greet her, in the hearty Hawaiian way, arms about, lips on lips,
faces eloquent and bodies no less eloquent with sincereness and
frank excessiveness of emotion. And it was "Sister Bella," and
"Sister Martha," back and forth, intermingled with almost
incoherent inquiries about each other, and about Uncle This and
Brother That and Aunt Some One Else, until, the first tremulousness
of meeting over, eyes moist with tenderness of love, they sat
gazing at each other across their teacups. Apparently, they had
not seen nor embraced for years. In truth, two months marked the
interval of their separation. And one was sixty-four, the other
sixty-eight. But the thorough comprehension resided in the fact
that in each of them one-fourth of them was the sun-warm, love-warm
heart of Hawaii.
The children flooded about Aunt Bella like a rising tide and were
capaciously hugged and kissed ere they departed with their nurses
to the swimming beach.
"I thought I'd run out to the beach for several days - the trades
had stopped blowing," Martha explained.
"You've been here two weeks already," Bella smiled fondly at her
younger sister. "Brother Edward told me. He met me at the steamer
and insisted on running me out first of all to see Louise and
Dorothy and that first grandchild of his. He's as mad as a silly
hatter about it."
"Mercy!" Martha exclaimed. "Two weeks! I had not thought it that
"Where's Annie? - and Margaret?" Bella asked.
Martha shrugged her voluminous shoulders with voluminous and
forgiving affection for her wayward, matronly daughters who left
their children in her care for the afternoon.
"Margaret's at a meeting of the Out-door Circle - they're planning
the planting of trees and hibiscus all along both sides of Kalakaua
Avenue," she said. "And Annie's wearing out eighty dollars' worth
of tyres to collect seventy-five dollars for the British Red Cross-
-this is their tag day, you know."
"Roscoe must be very proud," Bella said, and observed the bright
glow of pride that appeared in her sister's eyes. "I got the news
in San Francisco of Ho-o-la-a's first dividend. Remember when I
put a thousand in it at seventy-five cents for poor Abbie's
children, and said I'd sell when it went to ten dollars?"
"And everybody laughed at you, and at anybody who bought a share,"
Martha nodded. "But Roscoe knew. It's selling to-day at twenty-
"I sold mine from the steamer by wireless - at twenty even," Bella
continued. "And now Abbie's wildly dressmaking. She's going with
May and Tootsie to Paris."
"And Carl?" Martha queried.
"Oh, he'll finish Yale all right - "
"Which he would have done anyway, and you KNOW it," Martha charged,
lapsing charmingly into twentieth-century slang.
Bella affirmed her guilt of intention of paying the way of her
school friend's son through college, and added complacently:
"Just the same it was nicer to have Ho-o-la-a pay for it. In a
way, you see, Roscoe is doing it, because it was his judgment I
trusted to when I made the investment." She gazed slowly about
her, her eyes taking in, not merely the beauty and comfort and
repose of all they rested on, but the immensity of beauty and
comfort and repose represented by them, scattered in similar oases
all over the islands. She sighed pleasantly and observed: "All
our husbands have done well by us with what we brought them."
"And happily . . . " Martha agreed, then suspended her utterance
with suspicious abruptness.
"And happily, all of us, except Sister Bella," Bella forgivingly
completed the thought for her.
"It was too bad, that marriage," Martha murmured, all softness of
sympathy. "You were so young. Uncle Robert should never have made
"I was only nineteen," Bella nodded. "But it was not George
Castner's fault. And look what he, out of she grave, has done for
me. Uncle Robert was wise. He knew George had the far-away vision
of far ahead, the energy, and the steadiness. He saw, even then,
and that's fifty years ago, the value of the Nahala water-rights
which nobody else valued then. They thought he was struggling to
buy the cattle range. He struggled to buy the future of the water-
-and how well he succeeded you know. I'm almost ashamed to think
of my income sometimes. No; whatever else, the unhappiness of our
marriage was not due to George. I could have lived happily with
him, I know, even to this day, had he lived." She shook her head
slowly. "No; it was not his fault. Nor anybody's. Not even mine.
If it was anybody's fault - " The wistful fondness of her smile
took the sting out of what she was about to say. "If it was
anybody's fault it was Uncle John's."
"Uncle John's!" Martha cried with sharp surprise. "If it had to be
one or the other, I should have said Uncle Robert. But Uncle
Bella smiled with slow positiveness.
"But it was Uncle Robert who made you marry George Castner," her
"That is true," Bella nodded corroboration. "But it was not the
matter of a husband, but of a horse. I wanted to borrow a horse
from Uncle John, and Uncle John said yes. That is how it all
A silence fell, pregnant and cryptic, and, while the voices of the
children and the soft mandatory protests of the Asiatic maids drew
nearer from the beach, Martha Scandwell felt herself vibrant and
tremulous with sudden resolve of daring. She waved the children
"Run along, dears, run along, Grandma and Aunt Bella want to talk."
And as the shrill, sweet treble of child voices ebbed away across
the lawn, Martha, with scrutiny of the heart, observed the sadness
of the lines graven by secret woe for half a century in her
sister's face. For nearly fifty years had she watched those lines.
She steeled all the melting softness of the Hawaiian of her to
break the half-century of silence.
"Bella," she said. "We never know. You never spoke. But we
wondered, oh, often and often - "
"And never asked," Bella murmured gratefully.
"But I am asking now, at the last. This is our twilight. Listen
to them! Sometimes it almost frightens me to think that they are
grandchildren, MY grandchildren - I, who only the other day, it
would seem, was as heart-free, leg-free, care-free a girl as ever
bestrode a horse, or swam in the big surf, or gathered opihis at
low tide, or laughed at a dozen lovers. And here in our twilight
let us forget everything save that I am your dear sister as you are
The eyes of both were dewy moist. Bella palpably trembled to
"We thought it was George Castner," Martha went on; "and we could
guess the details. He was a cold man. You were warm Hawaiian. He
must have been cruel. Brother Walcott always insisted he must have
beaten you - "
"No! No!" Bella broke in. "George Castner was never a brute, a
beast. Almost have I wished, often, that he had been. He never
laid hand on me. He never raised hand to me. He never raised his
voice to me. Never - oh, can you believe it? - do, please, sister,
believe it - did we have a high word nor a cross word. But that
house of his, of ours, at Nahala, was grey. All the colour of it
was grey and cool, and chill, while I was bright with all colours
of sun, and earth, and blood, and birth. It was very cold, grey
cold, with that cold grey husband of mine at Nahala. You know he
was grey, Martha. Grey like those portraits of Emerson we used to
see at school. His skin was grey. Sun and weather and all hours
in the saddle could never tan it. And he was as grey inside as
"And I was only nineteen when Uncle Robert decided on the marriage.
How was I to know? Uncle Robert talked to me. He pointed out how
the wealth and property of Hawaii was already beginning to pass
into the hands of the haoles" (Whites). "The Hawaiian chiefs let
their possessions slip away from them. The Hawaiian chiefesses,
who married haoles, had their possessions, under the management of
their haole husbands, increase prodigiously. He pointed back to
the original Grandfather Roger Wilton, who had taken Grandmother
Wilton's poor mauka lands and added to them and built up about them
the Kilohana Ranch - "
"Even then it was second only to the Parker Ranch," Martha
"And he told me that had our father, before he died, been as far-
seeing as grandfather, half the then Parker holdings would have
been added to Kilohana, making Kilohana first. And he said that
never, for ever and ever, would beef be cheaper. And he said that
the big future of Hawaii would be in sugar. That was fifty years
ago, and he has been more than proved right. And he said that the
young haole, George Castner, saw far, and would go far, and that
there were many girls of us, and that the Kilohana lands ought by
rights to go to the boys, and that if I married George my future
was assured in the biggest way.
"I was only nineteen. Just back from the Royal Chief School - that
was before our girls went to the States for their education. You
were among the first, Sister Martha, who got their education on the
mainland. And what did I know of love and lovers, much less of
marriage? All women married. It was their business in life.
Mother and grandmother, all the way back they had married. It was
my business in life to marry George Castner. Uncle Robert said so
in his wisdom, and I knew he was very wise. And I went to live
with my husband in the grey house at Nahala.
"You remember it. No trees, only the rolling grass lands, the high
mountains behind, the sea beneath, and the wind! - the Waimea and
Nahala winds, we got them both, and the kona wind as well. Yet
little would I have minded them, any more than we minded them at
Kilohana, or than they minded them at Mana, had not Nahala itself
been so grey, and husband George so grey. We were alone. He was
managing Nahala for the Glenns, who had gone back to Scotland.
Eighteen hundred a year, plus beef, horses, cowboy service, and the
ranch house, was what he received - "
"It was a high salary in those days," Martha said.
"And for George Castner, and the service he gave, it was very
cheap," Bella defended. "I lived with him for three years. There
was never a morning that he was out of his bed later than half-past
four. He was the soul of devotion to his employers. Honest to a
penny in his accounts, he gave them full measure and more of his
time and energy. Perhaps that was what helped make our life so
grey. But listen, Martha. Out of his eighteen hundred, he laid
aside sixteen hundred each year. Think of it! The two of us lived
on two hundred a year. Luckily he did not drink or smoke. Also,
we dressed out of it as well. I made my own dresses. You can
imagine them. Outside of the cowboys who chored the firewood, I
did the work. I cooked, and baked, and scrubbed - "
"You who had never known anything but servants from the time you
were born!" Martha pitied. "Never less than a regiment of them at
"Oh, but it was the bare, naked, pinching meagreness of it!" Bella
cried out. "How far I was compelled to make a pound of coffee go!
A broom worn down to nothing before a new one was bought! And
beef! Fresh beef and jerky, morning, noon, and night! And
porridge! Never since have I eaten porridge or any breakfast
She arose suddenly and walked a dozen steps away to gaze a moment
with unseeing eyes at the colour-lavish reef while she composed
herself. And she returned to her seat with the splendid, sure,
gracious, high-breasted, noble-headed port of which no out-breeding
can ever rob the Hawaiian woman. Very haole was Bella Castner,
fair-skinned, fine-textured. Yet, as she returned, the high pose
of head, the level-lidded gaze of her long brown eyes under royal
arches of eyebrows, the softly set lines of her small mouth that
fairly sang sweetness of kisses after sixty-eight years - all made
her the very picture of a chiefess of old Hawaii full-bursting
through her ampleness of haole blood. Taller she was than her
sister Martha, if anything more queenly.
"You know we were notorious as poor feeders," Bella laughed lightly
enough. "It was many a mile on either side from Nahala to the next
roof. Belated travellers, or storm-bound ones, would, on occasion,
stop with us overnight. And you know the lavishness of the big
ranches, then and now. How we were the laughing-stock! 'What do
we care!' George would say. 'They live to-day and now. Twenty
years from now will be our turn, Bella. They will be where they
are now, and they will eat out of our hand. We will be compelled
to feed them, they will need to be fed, and we will feed them well;
for we will be rich, Bella, so rich that I am afraid to tell you.
But I know what I know, and you must have faith in me.'
"George was right. Twenty years afterward, though he did not live
to see it, my income was a thousand a month. Goodness! I do not
know what it is to-day. But I was only nineteen, and I would say
to George: 'Now! now! We live now. We may not be alive twenty
years from now. I do want a new broom. And there is a third-rate
coffee that is only two cents a pound more than the awful stuff we
are using. Why couldn't I fry eggs in butter - now? I should
dearly love at least one new tablecloth. Our linen! I'm ashamed
to put a guest between the sheets, though heaven knows they dare
come seldom enough.'
"'Be patient, Bella,' he would reply. 'In a little while, in only
a few years, those that scorn to sit at our table now, or sleep
between our sheets, will be proud of an invitation - those of them
who will not be dead. You remember how Stevens passed out last
year - free-living and easy, everybody's friend but his own. The
Kohala crowd had to bury him, for he left nothing but debts. Watch
the others going the same pace. There's your brother Hal. He
can't keep it up and live five years, and he's breaking his uncles'
hearts. And there's Prince Lilolilo. Dashes by me with half a
hundred mounted, able-bodied, roystering kanakas in his train who
would be better at hard work and looking after their future, for he
will never be king of Hawaii. He will not live to be king of
"George was right. Brother Hal died. So did Prince Lilolilo. But
George was not ALL right. He, who neither drank nor smoked, who
never wasted the weight of his arms in an embrace, nor the touch of
his lips a second longer than the most perfunctory of kisses, who
was invariably up before cockcrow and asleep ere the kerosene lamp
had a tenth emptied itself, and who never thought to die, was dead
even more quickly than Brother Hal and Prince Lilolilo.
"'Be patient, Bella,' Uncle Robert would say to me. 'George
Castner is a coming man. I have chosen well for you. Your
hardships now are the hardships on the way to the promised land.
Not always will the Hawaiians rule in Hawaii. Just as they let
their wealth slip out of their hands, so will their rule slip out
of their hands. Political power and the land always go together.
There will be great changes, revolutions no one knows how many nor
of what sort, save that in the end the haole will possess the land
and the rule. And in that day you may well be first lady of
Hawaii, just as surely as George Castner will be ruler of Hawaii.
It is written in the books. It is ever so where the haole
conflicts with the easier races. I, your Uncle Robert, who am
half-Hawaiian and half-haole, know whereof I speak. Be patient,
Bella, be patient.'
"'Dear Bella,' Uncle John would say; and I knew his heart was
tender for me. Thank God, he never told me to be patient. He
knew. He was very wise. He was warm human, and, therefore, wiser
than Uncle Robert and George Castner, who sought the thing, not the
spirit, who kept records in ledgers rather than numbers of heart-
beats breast to breast, who added columns of figures rather than
remembered embraces and endearments of look and speech and touch.
'Dear Bella,' Uncle John would say. He knew. You have heard
always how he was the lover of the Princess Naomi. He was a true
lover. He loved but the once. After her death they said he was
eccentric. He was. He was the one lover, once and always.
Remember that taboo inner room of his at Kilohana that we entered
only after his death and found it his shrine to her. 'Dear Bella,'
it was all he ever said to me, but I knew he knew.
"And I was nineteen, and sun-warm Hawaiian in spite of my three-
quarters haole blood, and I knew nothing save my girlhood
splendours at Kilohana and my Honolulu education at the Royal Chief
School, and my grey husband at Nahala with his grey preachments and
practices of sobriety and thrift, and those two childless uncles of
mine, the one with far, cold vision, the other the broken-hearted,
for-ever-dreaming lover of a dead princess.
"Think of that grey house! I, who had known the ease and the
delights and the ever-laughing joys of Kilohana, and of the Parkers
at old Mana, and of Puuwaawaa! You remember. We did live in
feudal spaciousness in those days. Would you, can you, believe it,
Martha - at Nahala the only sewing machine I had was one of those
the early missionaries brought, a tiny, crazy thing that one
cranked around by hand!
"Robert and John had each given Husband George five thousand
dollars at my marriage. But he had asked for it to be kept secret.
Only the four of us knew. And while I sewed my cheap holokus on
that crazy machine, he bought land with the money - the upper Nahala
lands, you know - a bit at a time, each purchase a hard-driven
bargain, his face the very face of poverty. To-day the Nahala
Ditch alone pays me forty thousand a year.
"But was it worth it? I starved. If only once, madly, he had
crushed me in his arms! If only once he could have lingered with
me five minutes from his own business or from his fidelity to his
employers! Sometimes I could have screamed, or showered the
eternal bowl of hot porridge into his face, or smashed the sewing
machine upon the floor and danced a hula on it, just to make him
burst out and lose his temper and be human, be a brute, be a man of
some sort instead of a grey, frozen demi-god."
Bella's tragic expression vanished, and she laughed outright in
sheer genuineness of mirthful recollection.
"And when I was in such moods he would gravely look me over,
gravely feel my pulse, examine my tongue, gravely dose me with
castor oil, and gravely put me to bed early with hot stove-lids,
and assure me that I'd feel better in the morning. Early to bed!
Our wildest sitting up was nine o'clock. Eight o'clock was our
regular bed-time. It saved kerosene. We did not eat dinner at
Nahala - remember the great table at Kilohana where we did have
dinner? But Husband George and I had supper. And then he would
sit close to the lamp on one side the table and read old borrowed
magazines for an hour, while I sat on the other side and darned his
socks and underclothing. He always wore such cheap, shoddy stuff.
And when he went to bed, I went to bed. No wastage of kerosene
with only one to benefit by it. And he went to bed always the same
way, winding up his watch, entering the day's weather in his diary,
and taking off his shoes, right foot first invariably, left foot
second, and placing them just so, side by side, on the floor, at
the foot of the bed, on his side.
"He was the cleanest man I ever knew. He never wore the same
undergarment a second time. I did the washing. He was so clean it
hurt. He shaved twice a day. He used more water on his body than
any kanaka. He did more work than any two haoles. And he saw the
future of the Nahala water."
"And he made you wealthy, but did not make you happy," Martha
Bella sighed and nodded.
"What is wealth after all, Sister Martha? My new Pierce-Arrow came
down on the steamer with me. My third in two years. But oh, all
the Pierce-Arrows and all the incomes in the world compared with a
lover! - the one lover, the one mate, to be married to, to toil
beside and suffer and joy beside, the one male man lover husband .
. . "
Her voice trailed off, and the sisters sat in soft silence while an
ancient crone, staff in hand, twisted, doubled, and shrunken under