Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Louis Becke > Text of "Lano-To"

A short story by Louis Becke


Title:     "Lano-To"
Author: Louis Becke [More Titles by Becke]

A white rain squall came crashing through the mountain forest, and then went humming northward across the quiet lake, down over the wooded littoral and far out to sea Silence once more, and then a mountain cock, who had scorned the sweeping rain, uttered his shrill, cackling, and defiant crow, as he shook the water from his black and golden back and long snaky neck, and savage, fierce-eyed head.

Between two wide-flanking buttresses of a mighty _tamana_ tree I had taken shelter, and was comfortably seated on the thick carpet of soft dry leaves, when I heard my name called, and looking up, I saw, a few yards away, the grave face of an elderly Samoan, named Marisi (Maurice). We were old acquaintances.

"Talofa, Marisi. What doest thou up here at Lano-to?" I said, as I shook hands and offered him my pipe for a draw.

"I and my nephew Mana-ese and his wife have come here to trap pigeons. For three days we have been here. Our little hut is close by. Wilt come and rest, and eat?"

"Aye, indeed, for I am tired. And this Lake of Lano-to is a fine place whereat to rest."

Marisi nodded. "That is true. Nowhere in all Samoa, except from the top of the dead fire mountain in Savai'i, can one see so far and so much that is good to look upon. Come, friend."

I had shot some pigeons, which Marisi took from me, and began to pluck as he led the way along a narrow path that wound round the edge of the crater, which held the lake in its rugged but verdure-clad bosom. In a few minutes we came to an open-sided hut, with a thatched roof. It stood on the verge of a little tree-clad bluff, overlooking the lake, two hundred feet below. Seated upon some of the coarse mats of coco-nut leaf called _tapa'au_ was a fine, stalwart young Samoan engaged in feeding some wild pigeons in a large wicker-work cage. He greeted me in the usual hospitable native manner, and taking some fine mats from one of the house beams, his uncle and I seated ourselves, whilst he went to seek his wife, to bid her make ready an _umu_ (earth oven). Whilst he was away, my host and I plucked the pigeons, and also a fat wild duck which Marisi had shot in the lake that morning. In half an hour the young couple returned, the woman carrying a basket of taro, and the man a bunch of cooking bananas. Very quickly the oven of hot stones was ready, and the game, taro and bananas covered up with leaves.

I had crossed to Lano-to from the village of Safata on the south side of Upolu and was on my way to Apia The previous night I had slept in the bush on the summit of the range. Marisi gravely told me that I had been foolish--the mountain forest was full of ghosts, etc.

Marisi himself lived in Apia, and he gave me two weeks' local gossip. He and his nephew and niece had come to remain at the lake for a few days, for they had a commission to catch and tame ten pigeons for some district chief, whose daughter was about to be married.

We had a delightful meal, followed by a bowl of kava (mixed with water from the lake), and as I was not pressed for time I accepted my host's invitation to remain for the night, and part of the following day.

This was my fourth or fifth visit to this beautiful mountain lake of Lano-to (_i.e._, the Deep Lake), and the oftener I came the more its beauty grew upon me. Alas! its sweet solitude is now disturbed by the cheap Cockney and Yankee tourist globe-trotter who come there in the American excursion steamers. In the olden days only natives frequented the spot--very rarely was a white man seen. To reach it from Apia takes about five hours on foot, but there is now a regular road on which one can travel two-thirds of the way on horseback.

The surface of the water, which is a little over two hundred feet from the rugged rim of the crater, is according to Captain Zemsch, two thousand three hundred feet above the sea, the distance across the crater is nearly one thousand two hundred yards. The water is always cold, but not too cold to bathe in, and during the rainy season--November to March--is frequented by hundreds of wild duck. All the forest about teems with pigeons, which love the vicinity of Lano-to, on account of the numbers of _masa'oi_ trees there, on the rich fruit of which they feed, and all day long, from dawn to dark, their deep _croo!_ may be heard mingling with the plaintive cry of the ringdove.

The view from the crater is of matchless beauty--I know of nothing to equal it, except it be Pago Pago harbour in Tutuila, looking southwards from the mountain tops. Here at Lano-to you can see the coast line east and west for twenty miles. Westwards looms the purple dome of Savai'i, thirty miles away. Directly beneath you is Apia, though you can see nothing of it except perhaps some small black spots floating on the smooth water inside the reef. They are ships at anchor. Six leagues to the westward the white line of reef trends away from the shore, makes a sharp turn, and then runs southward. Within this bend the water is a brilliant green, and resting upon it are two small islands. One is Manono, a veritable garden, lined with strips of shining beaches and fringed with cocos. It is the home of the noble families of Samoa, and most of the past great chiefs are buried there. Beyond is the small but lofty crater island of Apolima--a place ever impregnable to assault by natives. Its red, southern face starts steep-to from the sea, the top is crowned with palms, and on the northern side what was once the crater is now a romantic bay, with an opening through the reef, and a tiny, happy little village nestling under the swaying palms. 'Tis one of the sweetest spots in all the wide Pacific. And, thank Heaven, it has but seldom been defiled by the globe-trotter. The passage is difficult even for a canoe. One English lady, however (the Countess of Jersey), I believe once visited it.

Under the myriad stars, set in a sky of deepest blue, Marisi and I lie outside the huts upon our sleeping mats, and talk of the old Samoan days, till it is far into the quiet, voiceless night.

At dawn we are called inside by the woman, who chides us for sleeping in the dew.

"Listen," says Marisi, raising his hand.

It is the faint, musical gabble of the wild ducks, as they swim across the lake.

"What now?" asks the woman, as her husband looks to his gun. "Hast no patience to sit and smoke till I make an oven and get thee food? The _pato_ (ducks) can wait And first feed the pigeons--thou lazy fellow."

[The end]
Louis Becke's short story: "Lano-To"