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manhood, took up the same honourable profession. Farther back than
all remembered annals of the family, had the males of it been
towing coolies. At the time of Christ his direct ancestors had
been doing the same thing, meeting the precisely similarly modelled
junks below the white water at the foot of the canyon, bending the
half-mile of rope to each junk, and, according to size, tailing on
from a hundred to two hundred coolies of them and by sheer, two-
legged man-power, bowed forward and down till their hands touched
the ground and their faces were sometimes within a foot of it,
dragging the junk up through the white water to the head of the
canyon.

Apparently, down all the intervening centuries, the payment of the
trade had not picked up. His father, his father's father, and
himself, Ah Kim, had received the same invariable remuneration - per
junk one-fourteenth of a cent, at the rate he had since learned
money was valued in Hawaii. On long lucky summer days when the
waters were easy, the junks many, the hours of daylight sixteen,
sixteen hours of such heroic toil would earn over a cent. But in a
whole year a towing coolie did not earn more than a dollar and a
half. People could and did live on such an income. There were
women servants who received a yearly wage of a dollar. The net-
makers of Ti Wi earned between a dollar and two dollars a year.
They lived on such wages, or, at least, they did not die on them.
But for the towing coolies there were pickings, which were what
made the profession honourable and the guild a close and hereditary
corporation or labour union. One junk in five that was dragged up
through the rapids or lowered down was wrecked. One junk in every
ten was a total loss. The coolies of the towing guild knew the
freaks and whims of the currents, and grappled, and raked, and
netted a wet harvest from the river. They of the guild were looked
up to by lesser coolies, for they could afford to drink brick tea
and eat number four rice every day.

And Ah Kim had been contented and proud, until, one bitter spring
day of driving sleet and hail, he dragged ashore a drowning
Cantonese sailor. It was this wanderer, thawing out by his fire,
who first named the magic name Hawaii to him. He had himself never
been to that labourer's paradise, said the sailor; but many Chinese
had gone there from Canton, and he had heard the talk of their
letters written back. In Hawaii was never frost nor famine. The
very pigs, never fed, were ever fat of the generous offal disdained
by man. A Cantonese or Yangtse family could live on the waste of
an Hawaii coolie. And wages! In gold dollars, ten a month, or, in
trade dollars, two a month, was what the contract Chinese coolie
received from the white-devil sugar kings. In a year the coolie
received the prodigious sum of two hundred and forty trade dollars-
-more than a hundred times what a coolie, toiling ten times as
hard, received on the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse. In short,
all things considered, an Hawaii coolie was one hundred times
better off, and, when the amount of labour was estimated, a
thousand times better off. In addition was the wonderful climate.

When Ah Kim was twenty-four, despite his mother's pleadings and
beatings, he resigned from the ancient and honourable guild of the
eleventh cataract towing coolies, left his mother to go into a boss
coolie's household as a servant for a dollar a year, and an annual
dress to cost not less than thirty cents, and himself departed down
the Yangtse to the great sea. Many were his adventures and severe
his toils and hardships ere, as a salt-sea junk-sailor, he won to
Canton. When he was twenty-six he signed five years of his life
and labour away to the Hawaii sugar kings and departed, one of
eight hundred contract coolies, for that far island land, on a
festering steamer run by a crazy captain and drunken officers and
rejected of Lloyds.

Honourable, among labourers, had Ah Kim's rating been as a towing
coolie. In Hawaii, receiving a hundred times more pay, he found
himself looked down upon as the lowest of the low - a plantation
coolie, than which could be nothing lower. But a coolie whose
ancestors had towed junks up the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse
since before the birth of Christ inevitably inherits one character
in large degree, namely, the character of patience. This patience
was Ah Kim's. At the end of five years, his compulsory servitude
over, thin as ever in body, in bank account he lacked just ten
trade dollars of possessing a thousand trade dollars.

On this sum he could have gone back to the Yangtse and retired for
life a really wealthy man. He would have possessed a larger sum,
had he not, on occasion, conservatively played che fa and fan tan,
and had he not, for a twelve-month, toiled among the centipedes and
scorpions of the stifling cane-fields in the semi-dream of a
continuous opium debauch. Why he had not toiled the whole five
years under the spell of opium was the expensiveness of the habit.
He had had no moral scruples. The drug had cost too much.

But Ah Kim did not return to China. He had observed the business
life of Hawaii and developed a vaulting ambition. For six months,
in order to learn business and English at the bottom, he clerked in
the plantation store. At the end of this time he knew more about
that particular store than did ever plantation manager know about
any plantation store. When he resigned his position he was
receiving forty gold a month, or eighty trade, and he was beginning
to put on flesh. Also, his attitude toward mere contract coolies
had become distinctively aristocratic. The manager offered to
raise him to sixty fold, which, by the year, would constitute a
fabulous fourteen hundred and forty trade, or seven hundred times
his annual earning on the Yangtse as a two-legged horse at one-
fourteenth of a gold cent per junk.

Instead of accepting, Ah Kim departed to Honolulu, and in the big
general merchandise store of Fong & Chow Fong began at the bottom
for fifteen gold per month. He worked a year and a half, and
resigned when he was thirty-three, despite the seventy-five gold
per month his Chinese employers were paying him. Then it was that
he put up his own sign: AH KIM COMPANY, GENERAL MERCHANDISE.
Also, better fed, there was about his less meagre figure a
foreshadowing of the melon-seed rotundity that was to attach to him
in future years.

With the years he prospered increasingly, so that, when he was
thirty-six, the promise of his figure was fulfilling rapidly, and,
himself a member of the exclusive and powerful Hai Gum Tong, and of
the Chinese Merchants' Association, he was accustomed to sitting as
host at dinners that cost him as much as thirty years of towing on
the eleventh cataract would have earned him. Two things he missed:
a wife, and his mother to lay the stick on him as of yore.

When he was thirty-seven he consulted his bank balance. It stood
him three thousand gold. For twenty-five hundred down and an easy
mortgage he could buy the three-story shack-building, and the
ground in fee simple on which it stood. But to do this, left only
five hundred for a wife. Fu Yee Po had a marriageable, properly
small-footed daughter whom he was willing to import from China, and
sell to him for eight hundred gold, plus the costs of importation.
Further, Fu Yee Po was even willing to take five hundred down and
the remainder on note at 6 per cent.

Ah Kim, thirty-seven years of age, fat and a bachelor, really did
want a wife, especially a small-footed wife; for, China born and
reared, the immemorial small-footed female had been deeply
impressed into his fantasy of woman. But more, even more and far
more than a small-footed wife, did he want his mother and his
mother's delectable beatings. So he declined Fu Yee Po's easy
terms, and at much less cost imported his own mother from servant
in a boss coolie's house at a yearly wage of a dollar and a thirty-
cent dress to be mistress of his Honolulu three-story shack
building with two household servants, three clerks, and a porter of
all work under her, to say nothing of ten thousand dollars' worth
of dress goods on the shelves that ranged from the cheapest cotton
crepes to the most expensive hand-embroidered silks. For be it
known that even in that early day Ah Kim's emporium was beginning
to cater to the tourist trade from the States.

For thirteen years Ah Kim had lived tolerably happily with his
mother, and by her been methodically beaten for causes just or
unjust, real or fancied; and at the end of it all he knew as
strongly as ever the ache of his heart and head for a wife, and of
his loins for sons to live after him, and carry on the dynasty of
Ah Kim Company. Such the dream that has ever vexed men, from those
early ones who first usurped a hunting right, monopolized a sandbar
for a fish-trap, or stormed a village and put the males thereof to
the sword. Kings, millionaires, and Chinese merchants of Honolulu
have this in common, despite that they may praise God for having
made them differently and in self-likable images.

And the ideal of woman that Ah Kim at fifty ached for had changed
from his ideal at thirty-seven. No small-footed wife did he want
now, but a free, natural, out-stepping normal-footed woman that,
somehow, appeared to him in his day dreams and haunted his night
visions in the form of Li Faa, the Silvery Moon Blossom. What if
she were twice widowed, the daughter of a kanaka mother, the wearer
of white-devil skirts and corsets and high-heeled slippers! He
wanted her. It seemed it was written that she should be joint
ancestor with him of the line that would continue the ownership and
management through the generations, of Ah Kim Company, General
Merchandise.


"I will have no half-pake daughter-in-law," his mother often
reiterated to Ah Kim, pake being the Hawaiian word for Chinese.
"All pake must my daughter-in-law be, even as you, my son, and as
I, your mother. And she must wear trousers, my son, as all the
women of our family before her. No woman, in she-devil skirts and
corsets, can pay due reverence to our ancestors. Corsets and
reverence do not go together. Such a one is this shameless Li Faa.
She is impudent and independent, and will be neither obedient to
her husband nor her husband's mother. This brazen-faced Li Faa
would believe herself the source of life and the first ancestor,
recognizing no ancestors before her. She laughs at our joss-
sticks, and paper prayers, and family gods, as I have been well
told - "

"Mrs. Chang Lucy," Ah Kim groaned.

"Not alone Mrs. Chang Lucy, O son. I have inquired. At least a
dozen have heard her say of our joss house that it is all monkey
foolishness. The words are hers - she, who eats raw fish, raw
squid, and baked dog. Ours is the foolishness of monkeys. Yet
would she marry you, a monkey, because of your store that is a
palace and of the wealth that makes you a great man. And she would
put shame on me, and on your father before you long honourably
dead."

And there was no discussing the matter. As things were, Ah Kim
knew his mother was right. Not for nothing had Li Faa been born
forty years before of a Chinese father, renegade to all tradition,
and of a kanaka mother whose immediate forebears had broken the
taboos, cast down their own Polynesian gods, and weak-heartedly
listened to the preaching about the remote and unimageable god of
the Christian missionaries. Li Faa, educated, who could read and
write English and Hawaiian and a fair measure of Chinese, claimed
to believe in nothing, although in her secret heart she feared the
kahunas (Hawaiian witch-doctors), who she was certain could charm
away ill luck or pray one to death. Li Faa would never come into
Ah Kim's house, as he thoroughly knew, and kow-tow to his mother
and be slave to her in the immemorial Chinese way. Li Faa, from
the Chinese angle, was a new woman, a feminist, who rode horseback
astride, disported immodestly garbed at Waikiki on the surf-boards,
and at more than one luau (feast) had been known to dance the hula
with the worst and in excess of the worst, to the scandalous
delight of all.

Ah Kim himself, a generation younger than his mother, had been
bitten by the acid of modernity. The old order held, in so far as
he still felt in his subtlest crypts of being the dusty hand of the
past resting on him, residing in him; yet he subscribed to heavy
policies of fire and life insurance, acted as treasurer for the
local Chinese revolutionises that were for turning the Celestial
Empire into a republic, contributed to the funds of the Hawaii-born
Chinese baseball nine that excelled the Yankee nines at their own
game, talked theosophy with Katso Suguri, the Japanese Buddhist and
silk importer, fell for police graft, played and paid his insidious
share in the democratic politics of annexed Hawaii, and was
thinking of buying an automobile. Ah Kim never dared bare himself
to himself and thrash out and winnow out how much of the old he had
ceased to believe in. His mother was of the old, yet he revered
her and was happy under her bamboo stick. Li Faa, the Silvery Moon
Blossom, was of the new, yet he could never be quite completely
happy without her.

For he loved Li Faa. Moon-faced, rotund as a water-melon seed,
canny business man, wise with half a century of living -
nevertheless Ah Kim became an artist when he thought of her. He
thought of her in poems of names, as woman transmuted into flower-
terms of beauty and philosophic abstractions of achievement and
easement. She was, to him, and alone to him of all men in the
world, his Plum Blossom, his Tranquillity of Woman, his Flower of
Serenity, his Moon Lily, and his Perfect Rest. And as he murmured
these love endearments of namings, it seemed to him that in them
were the ripplings of running waters, the tinklings of silver wind-
bells, and the scents of the oleander and the jasmine. She was his
poem of woman, a lyric delight, a three-dimensions of flesh and
spirit delicious, a fate and a good fortune written, ere the first
man and woman were, by the gods whose whim had been to make all men
and women for sorrow and for joy.

But his mother put into his hand the ink-brush and placed under it,
on the table, the writing tablet.

"Paint," said she, "the ideograph of TO MARRY."

He obeyed, scarcely wondering, with the deft artistry of his race
and training painting the symbolic hieroglyphic.

"Resolve it," commanded his mother.

Ah Kim looked at her, curious, willing to please, unaware of the
drift of her intent.

"Of what is it composed?" she persisted. "What are the three
originals, the sum of which is it: to marry, marriage, the coming
together and wedding of a man and a woman? Paint them, paint them
apart, the three originals, unrelated, so that we may know how the
wise men of old wisely built up the ideograph of to marry."

And Ah Kim, obeying and painting, saw that what he had painted were
three picture-signs - the picture-signs of a hand, an ear, and a
woman.

"Name them," said his mother; and he named them.

"It is true," said she. "It is a great tale. It is the stuff of
the painted pictures of marriage. Such marriage was in the
beginning; such shall it always be in my house. The hand of the
man takes the woman's ear, and by it leads her away to his house,
where she is to be obedient to him and to his mother. I was taken
by the ear, so, by your long honourably dead father. I have looked
at your hand. It is not like his hand. Also have I looked at the
ear of Li Faa. Never will you lead her by the ear. She has not
that kind of an ear. I shall live a long time yet, and I will be
mistress in my son's house, after our ancient way, until I die."


"But she is my revered ancestress," Ah Kim explained to Li Faa.

He was timidly unhappy; for Li Faa, having ascertained that Mrs.
Tai Fu was at the temple of the Chinese AEsculapius making a food
offering of dried duck and prayers for her declining health, had
taken advantage of the opportunity to call upon him in his store.

Li Faa pursed her insolent, unpainted lips into the form of a half-
opened rosebud, and replied:

"That will do for China. I do not know China. This is Hawaii, and
in Hawaii the customs of all foreigners change."

"She is nevertheless my ancestress," Ah Kim protested, "the mother
who gave me birth, whether I am in China or Hawaii, O Silvery Moon
Blossom that I want for wife."

"I have had two husbands," Li Faa stated placidly. "One was a
pake, one was a Portuguese. I learned much from both. Also am I
educated. I have been to High School, and I have played the piano
in public. And I learned from my two husbands much. The pake
makes the best husband. Never again will I marry anything but a
pake. But he must not take me by the ear - "

"How do you know of that?" he broke in suspiciously.

"Mrs. Chang Lucy," was the reply. "Mrs. Chang Lucy tells me
everything that your mother tells her, and your mother tells her
much. So let me tell you that mine is not that kind of an ear."

"Which is what my honoured mother has told me," Ah Kim groaned.

"Which is what your honoured mother told Mrs. Chang Lucy, which is
what Mrs. Chang Lucy told me," Li Faa completed equably. "And I
now tell you, O Third Husband To Be, that the man is not born who
will lead me by the ear. It is not the way in Hawaii. I will go
only hand in hand with my man, side by side, fifty-fifty as is the
haole slang just now. My Portuguese husband thought different. He
tried to beat me. I landed him three times in the police court and
each time he worked out his sentence on the reef. After that he
got drowned."

"My mother has been my mother for fifty years," Ah Kim declared
stoutly.

"And for fifty years has she beaten you," Li Faa giggled. "How my
father used to laugh at Yap Ten Shin! Like you, Yap Ten Shin had
been born in China, and had brought the China customs with him.
His old father was for ever beating him with a stick. He loved his
father. But his father beat him harder than ever when he became a
missionary pake. Every time he went to the missionary services,
his father beat him. And every time the missionary heard of it he
was harsh in his language to Yap Ten Shin for allowing his father
to beat him. And my father laughed and laughed, for my father was
a very liberal pake, who had changed his customs quicker than most
foreigners. And all the trouble was because Yap Ten Shin had a
loving heart. He loved his honourable father. He loved the God of
Love of the Christian missionary. But in the end, in me, he found
the greatest love of all, which is the love of woman. In me he
forgot his love for his father and his love for the loving Christ.

"And he offered my father six hundred gold, for me - the price was
small because my feet were not small. But I was half kanaka. I
said that I was not a slave-woman, and that I would be sold to no
man. My high-school teacher was a haole old maid who said love of
woman was so beyond price that it must never be sold. Perhaps that
is why she was an old maid. She was not beautiful. She could not
give herself away. My kanaka mother said it was not the kanaka way
to sell their daughters for a money price. They gave their
daughters for love, and she would listen to reason if Yap Ten Shin
provided luaus in quantity and quality. My pake father, as I have
told you, was liberal. He asked me if I wanted Yap Ten Shin for my
husband. And I said yes; and freely, of myself, I went to him. He
it was who was kicked by a horse; but he was a very good husband
before he was kicked by the horse.

"As for you, Ah Kim, you shall always be honourable and lovable for
me, and some day, when it is not necessary for you to take me by
the ear, I shall marry you and come here and be with you always,
and you will be the happiest pake in all Hawaii; for I have had two
husbands, and gone to high school, and am most wise in making a
husband happy. But that will be when your mother has ceased to
beat you. Mrs. Chang Lucy tells me that she beats you very hard."

"She does," Ah Kim affirmed. "Behold! He thrust back his loose
sleeves, exposing to the elbow his smooth and cherubic forearms.
They were mantled with black and blue marks that advertised the
weight and number of blows so shielded from his head and face.

"But she has never made me cry," Ah Kim disclaimed hastily.
"Never, from the time I was a little boy, has she made me cry."

"So Mrs. Chang Lucy says," Li Faa observed. "She says that your
honourable mother often complains to her that she has never made
you cry."

A sibilant warning from one of his clerks was too late. Having
regained the house by way of the back alley, Mrs. Tai Fu emerged
right upon them from out of the living apartments. Never had Ah
Kim seen his mother's eyes so blazing furious. She ignored Li Faa,
as she screamed at him:

"Now will I make you cry. As never before shall I beat you until
you do cry."

"Then let us go into the back rooms, honourable mother," Ah Kim
suggested. "We will close the windows and the doors, and there may
you beat me."

"No. Here shall you be beaten before all the world and this
shameless woman who would, with her own hand, take you by the ear
and call such sacrilege marriage! Stay, shameless woman."

"I am going to stay anyway," said Li Faa. She favoured the clerks
with a truculent stare. "And I'd like to see anything less than
the police put me out of here."

"You will never be my daughter-in-law," Mrs. Tai Fu snapped.

Li Faa nodded her head in agreement.

"But just the same," she added, "shall your son be my third
husband."

"You mean when I am dead?" the old mother screamed.

"The sun rises each morning," Li Faa said enigmatically. "All my
life have I seen it rise - "

"You are forty, and you wear corsets."

"But I do not dye my hair - that will come later," Li Faa calmly
retorted. "As to my age, you are right. I shall be forty-one next
Kamehameha Day. For forty years I have seen the sun rise. My
father was an old man. Before he died he told me that he had
observed no difference in the rising of the sun since when he was a
little boy. The world is round. Confucius did not know that, but
you will find it in all the geography books. The world is round.
Ever it turns over on itself, over and over and around and around.
And the times and seasons of weather and life turn with it. What
is, has been before. What has been, will be again. The time of
the breadfruit and the mango ever recurs, and man and woman repeat
themselves. The robins nest, and in the springtime the plovers
come from the north. Every spring is followed by another spring.
The coconut palm rises into the air, ripens its fruit, and departs.
But always are there more coconut palms. This is not all my own
smart talk. Much of it my father told me. Proceed, honourable
Mrs. Tai Fu, and beat your son who is my Third Husband To Be. But
I shall laugh. I warn you I shall laugh."

Ah Kim dropped down on his knees so as to give his mother every
advantage. And while she rained blows upon him with the bamboo
stick, Li Faa smiled and giggled, and finally burst into laughter.

"Harder, O honourable Mrs. Tai Fu!" Li Faa urged between paroxysms
of mirth.

Mrs. Tai Fu did her best, which was notably weak, until she
observed what made her drop the stick by her side in amazement. Ah
Kim was crying. Down both cheeks great round tears were coursing.
Li Faa was amazed. So were the gaping clerks. Most amazed of all
was Ah Kim, yet he could not help himself; and, although no further
blows fell, he cried steadily on.

"But why did you cry?" Li Faa demanded often of Ah Kim. "It was so
perfectly foolish a thing to do. She was not even hurting you."

"Wait until we are married," was Ah Kim's invariable reply, "and
then, O Moon Lily, will I tell you."


Two years later, one afternoon, more like a water-melon seed in
configuration than ever, Ah Kim returned home from a meeting of the
Chinese Protective Association, to find his mother dead on her
couch. Narrower and more unrelenting than ever were the forehead
and the brushed-back hair. But on her face was a withered smile.
The gods had been kind. She had passed without pain.

He telephoned first of all to Li Faa's number but did not find her
until he called up Mrs. Chang Lucy. The news given, the marriage
was dated ahead with ten times the brevity of the old-line Chinese
custom. And if there be anything analogous to a bridesmaid in a


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Online LibraryJack LondonOn the Makaloa Mat → online text (page 10 of 13)