South Sea Talesby Jack London, Tony Horwitz (Introduction), Christopher Gair (Editor)
Like the celebrated Klondike Tales, the stories that comprise South Sea Tales derive their intensity from the author’s own far-flung adventures, conveying an impassioned, unsparing vision borne only of experience. The powerful tales gathered here vividly evoke the turn-of-the-century colonial Pacific and its capricious tropical landscape, while also trenchantly observing the delicate interplay between imperialism and the exotic. And as Tony Horwitz asserts in his Introduction, “When London’s stories click, we are utterly there, at the edge of the world and the limit of human endurance.”
Read an Excerpt
The House of Pride
Percival Ford wondered why he had come. He did not dance. He did not care much for army people. Yet he knew them all—gliding and revolving there on the broad lanai of the Seaside, the officers in their fresh-starched uniforms of white, the civilians in white and black, and the women bare of shoulders and arms. After two years in Honolulu the Twentieth was departing to its new station in Alaska, and Percival Ford, as one of the big men of the Islands, could not help knowing the officers and their women.
But between knowing and liking was a vast gulf. The army women frightened him just a little. They were in ways quite different from the women he liked best—the elderly women, the spinsters and the bespectacled maidens, and the very serious women of all ages whom he met on church and library and kindergarten committees, who came meekly to him for contributions and advice. He ruled those women by virtue of his superior mentality, his great wealth, and the high place he occupied in the commercial baronage of Hawaii. And he was not afraid of them in the least. Sex, with them, was not obtrusive. Yes, that was it. There was in them something else, or more, than the assertive grossness of life. He was fastidious; he acknowledged that to himself; and these army women, with their bare shoulders and naked arms, their straight-looking eyes, their vitality and challenging femaleness, jarred upon his sensibilities.
Nor did he get on better with the army men, who took life lightly, drinking and smoking and swearing their way through life and asserting the essential grossness of flesh no less shamelessly than their women. He was always uncomfortable in the company of the army men. They seemed uncomfortable, too. And he felt, always, that they were laughing at him up their sleeves, or pitying him, or tolerating him. Then, too, they seemed, by mere contiguity, to emphasize a lack in him, to call attention to that in them which he did not possess and which he thanked God he did not possess. Faugh! They were like their women!
In fact, Percival Ford was no more a woman’s man than he was a man’s man. A glance at him told the reason. He had a good constitution, never was on intimate terms with sickness, nor even mild disorders; but he lacked vitality. His was a negative organism. No blood with a ferment in it could have nourished and shaped that long and narrow face, those thin lips, lean cheeks, and the small, sharp eyes. The thatch of hair, dust-coloured, straight and sparse, advertised the niggard soil, as did the nose, thin, delicately modelled, and just hinting the suggestion of a beak. His meagre blood had denied him much of life, and permitted him to be an extremist in one thing only, which thing was righteousness. Over right conduct he pondered and agonized, and that he should do right was as necessary to his nature as loving and being loved were necessary to commoner clay.
He was sitting under the algaroba trees between the lanai and the beach. His eyes wandered over the dancers and he turned his head away and gazed seaward across the mellow-sounding surf to the Southern Cross burning low on the horizon. He was irritated by the bare shoulders and arms of the women. If he had a daughter he would never permit it, never. But his hypothesis was the sheerest abstraction. The thought process had been accompanied by no inner vision of that daughter. He did not see a daughter with arms and shoulders. Instead, he smiled at the remote contingency of marriage. He was thirty-five, and, having had no personal experience of love, he looked upon it, not as mythical, but as bestial. Anybody could marry. The Japanese and Chinese coolies, toiling on the sugar plantations and in the rice-fields, married. They invariably married at the first opportunity. It was because they were so low in the scale of life. There was nothing else for them to do. They were like the army men and women. But for him there were other and higher things. He was different from them—from all of them. He was proud of how he happened to be. He had come of no petty love-match. He had come of lofty conception of duty and of devotion to a cause. His father had not married for love. Love was a madness that had never perturbed Isaac Ford. When he answered the call to go to the heathen with the message of life, he had had no thought and no desire for marriage. In this they were alike, his father and he. But the Board of Missions was economical. With New England thrift it weighed and measured and decided that married missionaries were less expensive per capita and more efficacious. So the Board commanded Isaac Ford to marry. Furthermore, it furnished him with a wife, another zealous soul with no thought of marriage, intent only on doing the Lord’s work among the hea- then. They saw each other for the first time in Boston. The Board brought them together, arranged everything, and by the end of the week they were married and started on the long voyage around the Horn.
Percival Ford was proud that he had come of such a union. He had been born high, and he thought of himself as a spiritual aristocrat. And he was proud of his father. It was a passion with him. The erect, austere figure of Isaac Ford had burned itself upon his pride. On his desk was a miniature of that soldier of the Lord. In his bedroom hung the portrait of Isaac Ford, painted at the time when he had served under the Monarchy as prime minister. Not that Isaac Ford had coveted place and worldly wealth, but that, as prime minister, and, later, as banker, he had been of greater service to the missionary cause. The German crowd, and the English crowd, and all the rest of the trading crowd, had sneered at Isaac Ford as a commercial soul-saver; but he, his son, knew different. When the natives, emerging abruptly from their feudal system, with no conception of the nature and significance of property in land, were letting their broad acres slip through their fingers, it was Isaac Ford who had stepped in between the trading crowd and its prey and taken possession of fat, vast holdings. Small wonder the trading crowd did not like his memory. But he had never looked upon his enormous wealth as his own. He had considered himself God’s steward. Out of the revenues he had built schools, and hospitals, and churches. Nor was it his fault that sugar, after the slump, had paid forty per cent; that the bank he founded had prospered into a railroad; and that, among other things, fifty thousand acres of Oahu pasture land, which he had bought for a dollar an acre, grew eight tons of sugar to the acre every eighteen months. No, in all truth, Isaac Ford was an heroic figure, fit, so Percival Ford thought privately, to stand beside the statue of Kamehameha I. in front of the Judiciary Building. Isaac Ford was gone, but he, his son, carried on the good work at least as inflexibly if not as masterfully.
He turned his eyes back to the lanai. What was the difference, he asked himself, between the shameless, grass-girdled hula dances and the decollété dances of the women of his own race? Was there an essential difference? or was it a matter of degree?
As he pondered the problem a hand rested on his shoulder.
“Hello, Ford, what are you doing here? Isn’t this a bit festive?”
“I try to be lenient, Dr. Kennedy, even as I look on,” Percival Ford answered gravely. “Won’t you sit down?”
Dr. Kennedy sat down, clapping his palms sharply. A white-clad Japanese servant answered swiftly.
Scotch and soda was Kennedy’s order; then, turning to the other, he said:—
“Of course, I don’t ask you.”
“But I will take something,” Ford said firmly. The doctor’s eyes showed surprise, and the servant waited. “Boy, a lemonade, please.”
The doctor laughed at it heartily, as a joke on himself, and glanced at the musicians under the hau tree.
“Why, it’s the Aloha Orchestra,” he said. “I thought they were with the Hawaiian Hotel on Tuesday nights. Some rumpus, I guess.”
His eyes paused for a moment, and dwelt upon the one who was playing a guitar and singing a Hawaiian song to the accompaniment of all the instruments. His face became grave as he looked at the singer, and it was still grave as he turned it to his companion.
“Look here, Ford, isn’t it time you let up on Joe Garland? I understand you are in opposition to the Promotion Committee’s sending him to the States on this surf-board proposition, and I’ve been wanting to speak to you about it. I should have thought you’d be glad to get him out of the country. It would be a good way to end your persecution of him.”
“Persecution?” Percival Ford’s eyebrows lifted interrogatively.
“Call it by any name you please,” Kennedy went on. “You’ve hounded that poor devil for years. It’s not his fault. Even you will admit that.”
“Not his fault?” Percival Ford’s thin lips drew tightly together for the moment. “Joe Garland is dissolute and idle. He has always been a wastrel, a profligate.”
“But that’s no reason you should keep on after him the way you do. I’ve watched you from the beginning. The first thing you did when you returned from college and found him working on the plantation as outside luna was to fire him—you with your millions, and he with his sixty dollars a month.”
“Not the first thing,” Percival Ford said judicially, in a tone he was accustomed to use in committee meetings. “I gave him his warning. The superintendent said he was a capable luna. I had no objection to him on that ground. It was what he did outside working hours. He un- did my work faster than I could build it up. Of what use were the Sunday schools, the night schools, and the sewing classes, when in the evenings there was Joe Garland with his infernal and eternal tum-tumming of guitar and ukulele, his strong drink, and his hula dancing? After I warned him, I came upon him—I shall never forget it—came upon him, down at the cabins. It was evening. I could hear the hula songs before I saw the scene. And when I did see it, there were the girls, shameless in the moonlight and dancing—the girls upon whom I had worked to teach clean living and right conduct. And there were three girls there, I remember, just graduated from the mission school. Of course I discharged Joe Garland. I know it was the same at Hilo. People said I went out of my way when I persuaded Mason and Fitch to discharge him. But it was the missionaries who requested me to do so. He was undoing their work by his reprehensible example.”
“Afterwards, when he got on the railroad, your railroad, he was discharged without cause,” Kennedy challenged.
“Not so,” was the quick answer. “I had him into my private office and talked with him for half an hour.”
“You discharged him for inefficiency?”
“For immoral living, if you please.”
Dr. Kennedy laughed with a grating sound. “Who the devil gave it to you to be judge and jury? Does landlordism give you control of the immortal souls of those that toil for you? I have been your physician. Am I to expect to-morrow your ukase that I give up Scotch and soda or your patronage? Bah! Ford, you take life too seriously. Besides, when Joe got into that smuggling scrape (he wasn’t in your employ, either), and he sent word to you, asked you to pay his fine, you left him to do his six months’ hard labour on the reef. Don’t forget, you left Joe Garland in the lurch that time. You threw him down, hard; and yet I remember the first day you came to school—we boarded, you were only a day scholar—you had to be initiated. Three times under in the swimming tank—you remember, it was the regular dose every new boy got. And you held back. You denied that you could swim. You were frightened, hysterical——”
“Yes, I know,” Percival Ford said slowly. “I was frightened. And it was a lie, for I could swim. . . . And I was frightened.”
“And you remember who fought for you? who lied for you harder than you could lie and swore he knew you couldn’t swim? Who jumped into the tank and pulled you out after the first under and was nearly drowned for it by the other boys, who had discovered by that time that you could swim?”
“Of course I know,” the other rejoined coldly. “But a generous act as a boy does not excuse a lifetime of wrong living.”
“He has never done wrong to you?—personally and directly, I mean?”
“No,” was Percival Ford’s answer.
“That is what makes my position impregnable. I have no personal spite against him. He is bad, that is all. His life is bad——”
“Which is another way of saying that he does not agree with you in the way life should be lived,” the doctor interrupted.
“Have it that way. It is immaterial. He is an idler——”
“With reason,” was the interruption, “considering the jobs out of which you have knocked him.”
“He is immoral——”
“Oh, hold on now, Ford. Don’t go harping on that. You are pure New England stock. Joe Garland is half Kanaka. Your blood is thin. His is warm. Life is one thing to you, another thing to him. He laughs and sings and dances through life, genial, unselfish, childlike, everybody’s friend. You go through life like a perambulating prayer-wheel, a friend of nobody but the righteous, and the righteous are those who agree with you as to what is right. And after all, who shall say? You live like an anchorite. Joe Garland lives like a good fellow. Who has extracted the most from life? We are paid to live, you know. When the wages are too meagre we throw up the job, which is the cause, believe me, of all rational suicide. Joe Garland would starve to death on the wages you get from life. You see, he is made differently. So would you starve on his wages, which are singing, and love——”
“Lust, if you will pardon me,” was the interruption.
Dr. Kennedy smiled.
“Love, to you, is a word of four letters and a definition which you have extracted from the dictionary. But love, real love, dewy and palpitant and tender, you do not know. If God made you and me, and men and women, believe me He made love, too. But to come back. It’s about time you quit hounding Joe Garland. It is not worthy of you, and it is cowardly. The thing for you to do is to reach out and lend him a hand.”
“Why I, any more than you?” the other demanded. “Why don’t you reach him a hand?”
“I have. I’m reaching him a hand now. I’m trying to get you not to down the Promotion Committee’s proposition of sending him away. I got him the job at Hilo with Mason and Fitch. I’ve got him half a dozen jobs, out of every one of which you drove him. But never mind that. Don’t forget one thing—and a little frankness won’t hurt you—it is not fair play to saddle another’s fault on Joe Garland; and you know that you, least of all, are the man to do it. Why, man, it’s not good taste. It’s positively indecent.”
“Now I don’t follow you,” Percival Ford answered. “You’re up in the air with some obscure scientific theory of heredity and personal irresponsibility. But how any theory can hold Joe Garland irresponsible for his wrongdoings and at the same time hold me personally responsible for them—more responsible than any one else, including Joe Garland—is beyond me.”
“It’s a matter of delicacy, I suppose, or of taste, that prevents you from following me,” Dr. Kennedy snapped out. “It’s all very well, for the sake of society, tacitly to ignore some things, but you do more than tacitly ignore.”
“What is it, pray, that I tacitly ignore!”
Dr. Kennedy was angry. A deeper red than that of constitutional Scotch and soda suffused his face, as he answered:
“Your father’s son.”
“Now just what do you mean?”
“Damn it, man, you can’t ask me to be plainer spoken than that. But if you will, all right—Isaac’s Ford’s son—Joe Garland—your brother.”
Percival Ford sat quietly, an annoyed and shocked expression on his face. Kennedy looked at him curiously, then, as the slow minutes dragged by, became embarrassed and frightened.
“My God!” he cried finally, “you don’t mean to tell me that you didn’t know!”
As in answer, Percival Ford’s cheeks turned slowly gray.
“It’s a ghastly joke,” he said; “a ghastly joke.”
The doctor had got himself in hand.
“Everybody knows it,” he said. “I thought you knew it. And since you don’t know it, it’s time you did, and I’m glad of the chance of setting you straight. Joe Garland and you are brothers—half-brothers.”
“It’s a lie,” Ford cried. “You don’t mean it. Joe Garland’s mother was Eliza Kunilio.” (Dr. Kennedy nodded.) “I remember her well, with her duck pond and taro patch. His father was Joseph Garland, the beach-comber.” (Dr. Kennedy shook his head.) “He died only two or three years ago. He used to get drunk. There’s where Joe got his dissoluteness. There’s the heredity for you.”
“And nobody told you,” Kennedy said wonderingly, after a pause.
“Dr. Kennedy, you have said something terrible, which I cannot allow to pass. You must either prove or, or . . .”
“Prove it yourself. Turn around and look at him. You’ve got him in profile. Look at his nose. That’s Isaac Ford’s. Yours is a thin edition of it. That’s right. Look. The lines are fuller, but they are all there.”
Percival Ford looked at the Kanaka half-breed who played under the hau tree, and it seemed, as by some illumination, that he was gazing on a wraith of himself. Feature after feature flashed up an unmistakable resemblance. Or, rather, it was he who was the wraith of that other full-muscled and generously moulded man. And his features, and that other man’s features, were all reminiscent of Isaac Ford. And nobody had told him. Every line of Isaac Ford’s face he knew. Miniatures, portraits, and photographs of his father were passing in review through his mind, and here and there, over and again, in the face before him, he caught resemblances and vague hints of likeness. It was devil’s work that could reproduce the austere features of Isaac Ford in the loose and sensuous features before him. Once, the man turned, and for one flashing instant it seemed to Percival Ford that he saw his father, dead and gone, peering at him out of the face of Joe Garland.
“It’s nothing at all,” he could faintly hear Dr. Kennedy saying. “They were all mixed up in the old days. You know that. You’ve seen it all your life. Sailors married queens and begat princesses and all the rest of it. It was the usual thing in the Islands.”
“But not with my father,” Percival Ford interrupted.
“There you are.” Kennedy shrugged his shoulders. “Cosmic sap and smoke of life. Old Isaac Ford was straitlaced and all the rest, and I know there’s no explaining it, least of all to himself. He understood it no more than you do. Smoke of life, that’s all. And don’t forget one thing, Ford. There was a dab of unruly blood in old Isaac Ford, and Joe Garland inherited it—all of it, smoke of life and cosmic sap; while you inherited all of old Isaac’s ascetic blood. And just because your blood is cold, well-ordered, and well-disciplined, is no reason that you should frown upon Joe Garland. When Joe Garland undoes the work you do, remember that it is only old Isaac Ford on both sides, undoing with one hand what he does with the other. You are Isaac Ford’s right hand, let us say; Joe Garland is his left hand.”
Percival Ford made no answer, and in the silence Dr. Kennedy finished his forgotten Scotch and soda. From across the grounds an automobile hooted imperatively.
“There’s the machine,” Dr. Kennedy said, rising. “I’ve got to run. I’m sorry I’ve shaken you up, and at the same time I’m glad. And know one thing, Isaac Ford’s dab of unruly blood was remarkably small, and Joe Garland got it all. And one other thing. If your father’s left hand offend you, don’t smite it off. Besides, Joe is all right. Frankly, if I could choose between you and him to live with me on a desert isle, I’d choose Joe.”
Little bare-legged children ran about him, playing, on the grass; but Percival Ford did not see them. He was gazing steadily at the singer under the hau tree. He even changed his position once, to get closer. The clerk of the Seaside went by, limping with age and dragging his reluctant feet. He had lived forty years on the Islands. Percival Ford beckoned to him, and the clerk came respectfully, and wondering that he should be noticed by Percival Ford.
“John,” Ford said, “I want you to give me some information. Won’t you sit down?”
The clerk sat down awkwardly, stunned by the unexpected honour. He blinked at the other and mumbled, “Yes, sir, thank you.”
“John, who is Joe Garland?”
The clerk stared at him, blinked, cleared his throat, and said nothing.
“Go on,” Percival Ford commanded. “Who is he?”
“You’re joking me, sir,” the other managed to articulate.
“I spoke to you seriously.”
The clerk recoiled from him.
“You don’t mean to say you don’t know?” he questioned, his question in itself the answer.
“I want to know.”
“Why, he’s——” John broke off and looked about him helplessly. “Hadn’t you better ask somebody else? Everybody thought you knew. We always thought . . .”
“Yes, go ahead.”
“We always thought that that was why you had it in for him.”
Photographs and miniatures of Isaac Ford were trooping through his son’s brain, and ghosts of Isaac Ford seemed in the air about him. “I wish you good night, sir,” he could hear the clerk saying, and he saw him beginning to limp away.
“John,” he called abruptly.
John came back and stood near him, blinking and nervously moistening his lips.
“You haven’t told me yet, you know.”
“Oh, about Joe Garland?”
“Yes, about Joe Garland. Who is he?”
“He’s your brother, sir, if I say it who shouldn’t.”
“Thank you, John. Good night.”
“And you didn’t know?” the old man queried, content to linger, now that the crucial point was past.
“Thank you, John. Good night,” was the response.
“Yes, sir, thank you, sir. I think it’s going to rain. Good night, sir.”
Out of a clear sky, filled only with stars and moonlight, fell a rain so fine and attenuated as to resemble a vapour spray. Nobody minded it; the children played on, running bare-legged over the grass and leaping into the sand; and in a few minutes it was gone. In the southeast, Diamond Head, a black blot, sharply defined, silhouetted its crater-form against the stars. At sleepy intervals the surf flung its foam across the sands to the grass, and far out could be seen the black specks of swimmers under the moon. The voices of the singers, singing a waltz, died away; and in the silence, from somewhere under the trees, arose the laugh of a woman that was a love-cry. It startled Percival Ford, and it reminded him of Dr. Kennedy’s phrase. Down by the outrigger canoes, where they lay hauled out on the sand, he saw men and women, Kanakas, reclining languorously, like lotus-eaters, the women in white holokus; and against one such holoku he saw the dark head of the steersman of the canoe resting upon the woman’s shoulder. Farther down, where the strip of sand widened at the entrance to the lagoon, he saw a man and woman walking side by side. As they drew near the light lanai, he saw the woman’s hand go down to her waist and disengage a girdling arm. And as they passed him, Percival Ford nodded to a captain he knew, and to a major’s daughter. Smoke of life, that was it, an ample phrase. And again, from under the dark algaroba tree arose the laugh of a woman that was a love-cry; and past his chair, on the way to bed, a bare-legged youngster was led by a chiding Japanese nurse-maid. The voices of the singers broke softly and meltingly into an Hawaiian love-song, and officers and women, with encircling arms, were gliding and whirling on the lanai; and once again the woman laughed under the algaroba trees.
And Percival Ford knew only disapproval of it all. He was irritated by the love-laugh of the woman, by the steersman with pillowed head on the white holoku, by the couples that walked on the beach, by the officers and women that danced, and by the voices of the singers singing of love, and his brother singing there with them under the hau tree. The woman that laughed especially irritated him. A curious train of thought was aroused. He was Isaac Ford’s son, and what had happened with Isaac Ford might happen with him. He felt in his cheeks the faint heat of a blush at the thought, and experienced a poignant sense of shame. He was appalled by what was in his blood. It was like learning suddenly that his father had been a leper and that his own blood might bear the taint of that dread disease. Isaac Ford, the austere soldier of the Lord—the old hypocrite! What difference between him and any beach-comber? The house of pride that Percival Ford had builded was tumbling about his ears.
The hours passed, the army people laughed and danced, the native orchestra played on, and Percival Ford wrestled with the abrupt and overwhelming problem that had been thrust upon him. He prayed quietly, his elbow on the table, his head bowed upon his hand, with all the appearance of any tired onlooker. Between the dances the army men and women and the civilians fluttered up to him and buzzed conventionally, and when they went back to the lanai he took up his wrestling where he had left it off.
He began to patch together his shattered ideal of Isaac Ford, and for cement he used a cunning and subtle logic. It was of the sort that is compounded in the brain laboratories of egotists, and it worked. It was incontrovertible that his father had been made of finer clay than those about him; but still, old Isaac had been only in the process of becoming, while he, Percival Ford, had become. As proof of it, he rehabilitated his father and at the same time exalted himself. His lean little ego waxed to colossal proportions. He was great enough to forgive. He glowed at the thought of it. Isaac Ford had been great, but he was greater, for he could forgive Isaac Ford and even restore him to the holy place in his memory, though the place was not quite so holy as it had been. Also, he applauded Isaac Ford for hav- ing ignored the outcome of his one step aside. Very well, he, too, would ignore it.
The dance was breaking up. The orchestra had finished “Aloha Oe” and was preparing to go home. Percival Ford clapped his hands for the Japanese servant.
“You tell that man I want to see him,” he said, pointing out Joe Garland. “Tell him come here, now.”
Joe Garland approached and halted respectfully several paces away, nervously fingering the guitar which he still carried. The other did not ask him to sit down.
“You are my brother,” he said.
“Why, everybody knows that,” was the reply, in tones of wonderment.
“Yes, so I understand,” Percival Ford said dryly. “But I did not know it till this evening.”
The half-brother waited uncomfortably in the silence that fol-lowed, during which Percival Ford coolly considered his next utterance.
“You remember that first time I came to school and the boys ducked me?” he asked. “Why did you take my part?”
The half-brother smiled bashfully.
“Because you knew?”
“Yes, that was why.”
“But I didn’t know,” Percival Ford said in the same dry fashion.
“Yes,” the other said.
Another silence fell. Servants were beginning to put out the lights on the lanai.
Meet the Author
Christopher Gair is a lecturer in American Studies at the University of Birmingham, and a contributor to the Jack London Journal and other publications. He lives in Cambridge, England.
Tony Horwitz is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and the author of Confederates in the Attic, among other books. He lives in Virginia.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
To anyone who has never read any Jack London this book is a perfect place to get to know this classic writer of high adventure. London is one of those writers whose work is truly written for the ages and is often read over and over again, never growing old. There are few writers about whom this can be said, but two others who readily come to mind are Hemingway and Michener, and what better company could London have than that?
*a strange being walked into the fray. His species unknown The figure was humanoid looking, except for a couple characteristics. He was tall and muscled. His skin was coal black. His eyes had icy blue irises. He was bald except for two large horns that came out of his head. He had clawlike nails. His hands and legs were chained together and he was dressed in brown torn rags. He stumbled through the area*
She flew in with massive white wings, accented by pink and gold runes. She landed gracefully and folded her wings back. "Hello." She greeted softly.
"Ah, yes, sorry. I'm here." He landed in the clearing, folding his exppansive wings behind his back.