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Chinese wedding, Mrs. Chang Lucy was just that.

"Why," Li Faa asked Ah Kim when alone with him on their wedding
night, "why did you cry when your mother beat you that day in the
store? You were so foolish. She was not even hurting you."

"That is why I cried," answered Ah Kim.

Li Faa looked up at him without understanding.

"I cried," he explained, "because I suddenly knew that my mother
was nearing her end. There was no weight, no hurt, in her blows.
I cried because I knew SHE NO LONGER HAD STRENGTH ENOUGH TO HURT
ME. That is why I cried, my Flower of Serenity, my Perfect Rest.
That is the only reason why I cried."

WAIKIKI, HONOLULU.
June 16, 1916.


THE KANAKA SURF


The tourist women, under the hau tree arbour that lines the Moana
hotel beach, gasped when Lee Barton and his wife Ida emerged from
the bath-house. And as the pair walked past them and down to the
sand, they continued to gasp. Not that there was anything about
Lee Barton provocative of gasps. The tourist women were not of the
sort to gasp at sight of a mere man's swimming-suited body, no
matter with what swelling splendour of line and muscle such body
was invested. Nevertheless, trainers and conditioners of men would
have drawn deep breaths of satisfaction at contemplation of the
physical spectacle of him. But they would not have gasped in the
way the women did, whose gasps were indicative of moral shock.

Ida Barton was the cause of their perturbation and disapproval.
They disapproved, seriously so, at the first instant's glimpse of
her. They thought - such ardent self-deceivers were they - that they
were shocked by her swimming suit. But Freud has pointed out how
persons, where sex is involved, are prone sincerely to substitute
one thing for another thing, and to agonize over the substituted
thing as strenuously as if it were the real thing.

Ida Barton's swimming suit was a very nice one, as women's suits
go. Of thinnest of firm-woven black wool, with white trimmings and
a white belt-line, it was high-throated, short-sleeved, and brief-
skirted. Brief as was the skirt, the leg-tights were no less
brief. Yet on the beach in front of the adjacent Outrigger Club,
and entering and leaving the water, a score of women, not provoking
gasping notice, were more daringly garbed. Their men's suits, as
brief of leg-tights and skirts, fitted them as snugly, but were
sleeveless after the way of men's suits, the arm-holes deeply low-
cut and in-cut, and, by the exposed armpits, advertiseful that the
wearers were accustomed to 1916 decollete.

So it was not Ida Barton's suit, although the women deceived
themselves into thinking it was. It was, first of all, say her
legs; or, first of all, say the totality of her, the sweet and
brilliant jewel of her femininity bursting upon them. Dowager,
matron, and maid, conserving their soft-fat muscles or protecting
their hot-house complexions in the shade of the hau-tree arbour,
felt the immediate challenge of her. She was menace as well, an
affront of superiority in their own chosen and variously successful
game of life.

But they did not say it. They did not permit themselves to think
it. They thought it was the suit, and said so to one another,
ignoring the twenty women more daringly clad but less perilously
beautiful. Could one have winnowed out of the souls of these
disapproving ones what lay at bottom of their condemnation of her
suit, it would have been found to be the sex-jealous thought: THAT
NO WOMAN, SO BEAUTIFUL AS THIS ONE, SHOULD BE PERMITTED TO SHOW HER
BEAUTY. It was not fair to them. What chance had they in the
conquering of males with so dangerous a rival in the foreground?

They were justified. As Stanley Patterson said to his wife, where
the two of them lolled wet in the sand by the tiny fresh-water
stream that the Bartons waded in order to gain the Outrigger Club
beach:

"Lord god of models and marvels, behold them! My dear, did you
ever see two such legs on one small woman! Look at the roundness
and taperingness. They're boy's legs. I've seen featherweights go
into the ring with legs like those. And they're all-woman's legs,
too. Never mistake them in the world. The arc of the front line
of that upper leg! And the balanced adequate fullness at the back!
And the way the opposing curves slender in to the knee that IS a
knee! Makes my fingers itch. Wish I had some clay right now."

"It's a true human knee," his wife concurred, no less breathlessly;
for, like her husband, she was a sculptor. "Look at the joint of
it working under the skin. It's got form, and blessedly is not
covered by a bag of fat." She paused to sigh, thinking of her own
knees. "It's correct, and beautiful, and dainty. Charm! If ever
I beheld the charm of flesh, it is now. I wonder who she is."

Stanley Patterson, gazing ardently, took up his half of the chorus.

"Notice that the round muscle-pads on the inner sides that make
most women appear knock-kneed are missing. They're boy's legs,
firm and sure - "

"And sweet woman's legs, soft and round," his wife hastened to
balance. "And look, Stanley! See how she walks on the balls of
her feet. It makes her seem light as swan's down. Each step seems
just a little above the earth, and each other step seems just a
little higher above until you get the impression she is flying, or
just about to rise and begin flying . . . "

So Stanley and Mrs. Patterson. But they were artists, with eyes
therefore unlike the next batteries of human eyes Ida Barton was
compelled to run, and that laired on the Outrigger lanais
(verandas) and in the hau-tree shade of the closely adjoining
seaside. The majority of the Outrigger audience was composed, not
of tourist guests, but of club members and old-timers in Hawaii.
And even the old-times women gasped.

"It's positively indecent," said Mrs. Hanley Black to her husband,
herself a too-stout-in-the-middle matron of forty-five, who had
been born in the Hawaiian islands, and who had never heard of
Ostend.

Hanley Black surveyed his wife's criminal shapelessness and
voluminousness of antediluvian, New-England swimming dress with a
withering, contemplative eye. They had been married a sufficient
number of years for him frankly to utter his judgment.

"That strange woman's suit makes your own look indecent. You
appear as a creature shameful, under a grotesqueness of apparel
striving to hide some secret awfulness."

"She carries her body like a Spanish dancer," Mrs. Patterson said
to her husband, for the pair of them had waded the little stream in
pursuit of the vision.

"By George, she does," Stanley Patterson concurred. "Reminds me of
Estrellita. Torso just well enough forward, slender waist, not too
lean in the stomach, and with muscles like some lad boxer's
armouring that stomach to fearlessness. She has to have them to
carry herself that way and to balance the back muscles. See that
muscled curve of the back! It's Estrellita's."

"How tall would you say?" his wife queried.

"There she deceives," was the appraised answer. "She might be
five-feet-one, or five-feet-three or four. It's that way she has
of walking that you described as almost about to fly."

"Yes, that's it," Mrs. Patterson concurred. "It's her energy, her
seemingness of being on tip toe with rising vitality."

Stanley Patterson considered for a space.

"That's it," he enounced. "She IS a little thing. I'll give her
five-two in her stockings. And I'll weigh her a mere one hundred
and ten, or eight, or fifteen at the outside."

"She won't weigh a hundred and ten," his wife declared with
conviction.

"And with her clothes on, plus her carriage (which is builded of
her vitality and will), I'll wager she'd never impress any one with
her smallness."

"I know her type," his wife nodded. "You meet her out, and you
have the sense that, while not exactly a fine large woman, she's a
whole lot larger than the average. And now, age?"

"I'll give you best there," he parried.

"She might be twenty-five, she might be twenty-eight . . . "

But Stanley Patterson had impolitely forgotten to listen.

"It's not her legs alone," he cried on enthusiastically. "It's the
all of her. Look at the delicacy of that forearm. And the swell
of line to the shoulder. And that biceps! It's alive. Dollars to
drowned kittens she can flex a respectable knot of it . . . "


No woman, much less an Ida Barton, could have been unconscious of
the effect she was producing along Waikiki Beach. Instead of
making her happy in the small vanity way, it irritated her.

"The cats," she laughed to her husband. "And to think I was born
here an almost even third of a century ago! But they weren't nasty
then. Maybe because there weren't any tourists. Why, Lee, I
learned to swim right here on this beach in front of the Outrigger.
We used to come out with daddy for vacations and for week-ends and
sort of camp out in a grass house that stood right where the
Outrigger ladies serve tea now. And centipedes fell out of the
thatch on us, while we slept, and we all ate poi and opihis and raw
aku, and nobody wore much of anything for the swimming and
squidding, and there was no real road to town. I remember times of
big rain when it was so flooded we had to go in by canoe, out
through the reef and in by Honolulu Harbour."

"Remember," Lee Barton added, "it was just about that time that the
youngster that became me arrived here for a few weeks' stay on our
way around. I must have seen you on the beach at that very time -
one of the kiddies that swam like fishes. Why, merciful me, the
women here were all riding cross-saddle, and that was long before
the rest of the social female world outgrew its immodesty and came
around to sitting simultaneously on both sides of a horse. I
learned to swim on the beach here at that time myself. You and I
may even have tried body-surfing on the same waves, or I may have
splashed a handful of water into your mouth and been rewarded by
your sticking out your tongue at me - "

Interrupted by an audible gasp of shock from a spinster-appearing
female sunning herself hard by and angularly in the sand in a
swimming suit monstrously unbeautiful, Lee Barton was aware of an
involuntary and almost perceptible stiffening on the part of his
wife.

"I smile with pleasure," he told her. "It serves only to make your
valiant little shoulders the more valiant. It may make you self-
conscious, but it likewise makes you absurdly self-confident."

For, be it known in advance, Lee Barton was a super-man and Ida
Barton a super-woman - or at least they were personalities so
designated by the cub book-reviewers, flat-floor men and women, and
scholastically emasculated critics, who from across the dreary
levels of their living can descry no glorious humans over-topping
their horizons. These dreary folk, echoes of the dead past and
importunate and self-elected pall-bearers for the present and
future, proxy-livers of life and vicarious sensualists that they
are in a eunuch sort of way, insist, since their own selves,
environments, and narrow agitations of the quick are mediocre and
commonplace, that no man or woman can rise above the mediocre and
commonplace.

Lacking gloriousness in themselves, they deny gloriousness to all
mankind; too cowardly for whimsy and derring-do, they assert whimsy
and derring-do ceased at the very latest no later than the middle
ages; flickering little tapers themselves, their feeble eyes are
dazzled to unseeingness of the flaming conflagrations of other
souls that illumine their skies. Possessing power in no greater
quantity than is the just due of pygmies, they cannot conceive of
power greater in others than in themselves. In those days there
were giants; but, as their mouldy books tell them, the giants are
long since passed, and only the bones of them remain. Never having
seen the mountains, there are no mountains.

In the mud of their complacently perpetuated barnyard pond, they
assert that no bright-browed, bright-apparelled shining figures can
be outside of fairy books, old histories, and ancient
superstitions. Never having seen the stars, they deny the stars.
Never having glimpsed the shining ways nor the mortals that tread
them, they deny the existence of the shinning ways as well as the
existence of the high-bright mortals who adventure along the
shining ways. The narrow pupils of their eyes the centre of the
universe, they image the universe in terms of themselves, of their
meagre personalities make pitiful yardsticks with which to measure
the high-bright souls, saying: "Thus long are all souls, and no
longer; it is impossible that there should exist greater-statured
souls than we are, and our gods know that we are great of stature."


But all, or nearly all on the beach, forgave Ida Barton her suit
and form when she took the water. A touch of her hand on her
husband's arm, indication and challenge in her laughing face, and
the two ran as one for half a dozen paces and leapt as one from the
hard-wet sand of the beach, their bodies describing flat arches of
flight ere the water was entered.

There are two surfs at Waikiki: the big, bearded man surf that
roars far out beyond the diving-stage; the smaller, gentler,
wahine, or woman, surf that breaks upon the shore itself. Here is
a great shallowness, where one may wade a hundred or several
hundred feet to get beyond depth. Yet, with a good surf on
outside, the wahine surf can break three or four feet, so that,
close in against the shore, the hard-sand bottom may be three feet
or three inches under the welter of surface foam. To dive from the
beach into this, to fly into the air off racing feet, turn in mid-
flight so that heels are up and head is down, and, so to enter the
water head-first, requires wisdom of waves, timing of waves, and a
trained deftness in entering such unstable depths of water with
pretty, unapprehensive, head-first cleavage, while at the same time
making the shallowest possible of dives.

It is a sweet, and pretty, and daring trick, not learned in a day,
nor learned at all without many a milder bump on the bottom or
close shave of fractured skull or broken neck. Here, on the spot
where the Bartons so beautifully dived, two days before a Stanford
track athlete had broken his neck. His had been an error in timing
the rise and subsidence of a wahine wave.

"A professional," Mrs. Hanley Black sneered to her husband at Ida
Barton's feat.

"Some vaudeville tank girl," was one of the similar remarks with
which the women in the shade complacently reassured one another -
finding, by way of the weird mental processes of self-illusion, a
great satisfaction in the money caste-distinction between one who
worked for what she ate and themselves who did not work for what
they ate.

It was a day of heavy surf on Waikiki. In the wahine surf it was
boisterous enough for good swimmers. But out beyond, in the
kanaka, or man, surf, no one ventured. Not that the score or more
of young surf-riders loafing on the beach could not venture there,
or were afraid to venture there; but because their biggest
outrigger canoes would have been swamped, and their surf-boards
would have been overwhelmed in the too-immense over-topple and
down-fall of the thundering monsters. They themselves, most of
them, could have swum, for man can swim through breakers which
canoes and surf-boards cannot surmount; but to ride the backs of
the waves, rise out of the foam to stand full length in the air
above, and with heels winged with the swiftness of horses to fly
shoreward, was what made sport for them and brought them out from
Honolulu to Waikiki.

The captain of Number Nine canoe, himself a charter member of the
Outrigger and a many-times medallist in long-distance swimming, had
missed seeing the Bartons take the water, and first glimpsed them
beyond the last festoon of bathers clinging to the life-lines.
From then on, from his vantage of the upstairs lanai, he kept his
eyes on them. When they continued out past the steel diving-stage
where a few of the hardiest divers disported, he muttered vexedly
under his breath "damned malahinis!"

Now malahini means new-comer, tender-foot; and, despite the
prettiness of their stroke, he knew that none except malahinis
would venture into the racing channel beyond the diving-stage.
Hence the vexation of the captain of Number Nine. He descended to
the beach, with a low word here and there picked a crew of the
strongest surfers, and returned to the lanai with a pair of
binoculars. Quite casually, the crew, six of them, carried Number
Nine to the water's edge, saw paddles and everything in order for a
quick launching, and lolled about carelessly on the sand. They
were guilty of not advertising that anything untoward was afoot,
although they did steal glances up to their captain straining
through the binoculars.

What made the channel was the fresh-water stream. Coral cannot
abide fresh water. What made the channel race was the immense
shoreward surf-fling of the sea. Unable to remain flung up on the
beach, pounded ever back toward the beach by the perpetual
shoreward rush of the kanaka surf, the up-piled water escaped to
the sea by way of the channel and in the form of under-tow along
the bottom under the breakers. Even in the channel the waves broke
big, but not with the magnificent bigness of terror as to right and
left. So it was that a canoe or a comparatively strong swimmer
could dare the channel. But the swimmer must be a strong swimmer
indeed, who could successfully buck the current in. Wherefore the
captain of Number Nine continued his vigil and his muttered
damnation of malahinis, disgustedly sure that these two malahinis
would compel him to launch Number Nine and go after them when they
found the current too strong to swim in against. As for himself,
caught in their predicament, he would have veered to the left
toward Diamond Head and come in on the shoreward fling of the
kanaka surf. But then, he was no one other than himself, a bronze.
Hercules of twenty-two, the whitest blond man ever burned to
mahogany brown by a sub-tropic sun, with body and lines and muscles
very much resembling the wonderful ones of Duke Kahanamoku. In a
hundred yards the world champion could invariably beat him a second
flat; but over a distance of miles he could swim circles around the
champion.

No one of the many hundreds on the beach, with the exception of
till captain and his crew, knew that the Bartons had passed beyond
the diving-stage. All who had watched them start to swim out had
taken for granted that they had joined the others on the stage.

The captain suddenly sprang upon the railing of the lanai, held on
to a pillar with one hand, and again picked up the two specks of
heads through the glasses. His surprise was verified. The two
fools had veered out of the channel toward Diamond Head, and were
directly seaward of the kanaka surf. Worse, as he looked, they
were starting to come in through the kanaka surf.

He glanced down quickly to the canoe, and even as he glanced, and
as the apparently loafing members quietly arose and took their
places by the canoe for the launching, he achieved judgment.
Before the canoe could get abreast in the channel, all would be
over with the man and woman. And, granted that it could get
abreast of them, the moment it ventured into the kanaka surf it
would be swamped, and a sorry chance would the strongest swimmer of
them have of rescuing a person pounding to pulp on the bottom under
the smashes of the great bearded ones.

The captain saw the first kanaka wave, large of itself, but small
among its fellows, lift seaward behind the two speck-swimmers.
Then he saw them strike a crawl-stroke, side by side, faces
downward, full-lengths out-stretched on surface, their feet
sculling like propellers and their arms flailing in rapid over-hand
strokes, as they spurted speed to approximate the speed of the
overtaking wave, so that, when overtaken, they would become part of
the wave, and travel with it instead of being left behind it.
Thus, if they were coolly skilled enough to ride outstretched on
the surface and the forward face of the crest instead of being
flung and crumpled or driven head-first to bottom, they would dash
shoreward, not propelled by their own energy, but by the energy of
the wave into which they had become incorporated.

And they did it! "SOME swimmers!" the captain of Number Nine made
announcement to himself under his breath. He continued to gaze
eagerly. The best of swimmers could hold such a wave for several
hundred feet. But could they? If they did, they would be a third
of the way through the perils they had challenged. But, not
unexpected by him, the woman failed first, her body not presenting
the larger surfaces that her husband's did. At the end of seventy
feet she was overwhelmed, being driven downward and out of sight by
the tons of water in the over-topple. Her husband followed and
both appeared swimming beyond the wave they had lost.

The captain saw the next wave first. "If they try to body-surf on
that, good night," he muttered; for he knew the swimmer did not
live who would tackle it. Beardless itself, it was father of all
bearded ones, a mile long, rising up far out beyond where the
others rose, towering its solid bulk higher and higher till it
blotted out the horizon, and was a giant among its fellows ere its
beard began to grow as it thinned its crest to the over-curl.

But it was evident that the man and woman knew big water. No
racing stroke did they make in advance of the wave. The captain
inwardly applauded as he saw them turn and face the wave and wait
for it. It was a picture that of all on the beach he alone saw,
wonderfully distinct and vivid in the magnification of the
binoculars. The wall of the wave was truly a wall, mounting, ever
mounting, and thinning, far up, to a transparency of the colours of
the setting sun shooting athwart all the green and blue of it. The
green thinned to lighter green that merged blue even as he looked.
But it was a blue gem-brilliant with innumerable sparkle-points of
rose and gold flashed through it by the sun. On and up, to the
sprouting beard of growing crest, the colour orgy increased until
it was a kaleidoscopic effervescence of transfusing rainbows.

Against the face of the wave showed the heads of the man and woman
like two sheer specks. Specks they were, of the quick, adventuring
among the blind elemental forces, daring the titanic buffets of the
sea. The weight of the down-fall of that father of waves, even
then imminent above their heads, could stun a man or break the
fragile bones of a woman. The captain of Number Nine was
unconscious that he was holding his breath. He was oblivious of
the man. It was the woman. Did she lose her head or courage, or
misplay her muscular part for a moment, she could be hurled a
hundred feet by that giant buffet and left wrenched, helpless, and
breathless to be pulped on the coral bottom and sucked out by the
undertow to be battened on by the fish-sharks too cowardly to take
their human meat alive.

Why didn't they dive deep, and with plenty of time, the captain
wanted to know, instead of waiting till the last tick of safety and
the first tick of peril were one? He saw the woman turn her head
and laugh to the man, and his head turn in response. Above them,
overhanging them, as they mounted the body of the wave, the beard,
creaming white, then frothing into rose and gold, tossed upward
into a spray of jewels. The crisp off-shore trade-wind caught the
beard's fringes and blew them backward and upward yards and yards
into the air. It was then, side by side, and six feet apart, that
they dived straight under the over-curl even then disintegrating to
chaos and falling. Like insects disappearing into the convolutions
of some gorgeous gigantic orchid, so they disappeared, as beard and
crest and spray and jewels, in many tons, crashed and thundered
down just where they had disappeared the moment before, but where
they were no longer.

Beyond the wave they had gone through, they finally showed, side by
side, still six feet apart, swimming shoreward with a steady stroke
until the next wave should make them body-surf it or face and
pierce it. The captain of Number Nine waved his hand to his crew
in dismissal, and sat down on the lanai railing, feeling vaguely
tired and still watching the swimmers through his glasses.

"Whoever and whatever they are," he murmured, "they aren't


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Online LibraryJack LondonOn the Makaloa Mat → online text (page 11 of 13)