MILAKALE, KAUA‘I, THE REPUBLIC OF HAWAI‘I | 1889
The Pride of Jefferson steamed into the harbor at Lihue as a light morning rain watered the garden island of Kaua‘i. The crowded harbor was abuzz with activity; sugar plantations to the north and south of the boom town were drawing workers from all over the Pacific.
There was such a desperate call for labor that rumors of pirates from the South China Sea hiding out as workers in the cane fields brooked no scrutiny by anyone. The consensus was, if they were willing to do the dangerous and backbreaking job of cutting sugar cane, that was punishment enough for whatever crimes they might have committed.
Recent immigrants from Japan worked the busy docks along with Açoreans, Porto Ricans, and new arrivals from the Spanish Philippines. Both Lihue and Koaloa to the south teemed with the business of providing the world its sugar fix.
For a young girl raised in California’s Central Valley, Philomena was used to a binary change of season between verdant green to sun-baked brown and back again with little variation. As the steamer maneuvered its way to the passenger dock, she was overwhelmed by the profusion of color in the hills behind the landing.
The island’s heady perfumed air was a second welcome surprise as her hometown of Fiesta only ever smelled like dirt. Dirt and cow dung. Philomena immediately felt she was going to like her new home in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Her reverie was interrupted as she noticed movement—or more accurately, the lack thereof—at the edge of her vision. Down on the dock, a middle-aged Hawai‘ian woman stood out from the bustling crowd dressed in a fashionable box-pleated skirt, and, despite the humidity, a high-necked woolen jersey. As if sensing Philomena’s gaze, the woman turned to wave.
“Who is that lady?” she asked Fox who had rallied enough to stand at her side at the railing. “It looks like she is trying to get our attention.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” Fox admitted, taking a long look at the woman that was returned in kind. “Perhaps our patron has sent a welcoming party.” Fox took off his stiff-crowned hat and waved it in the air.
“What’s a patron?” Philomena asked.
“Why a patron is a who not a what, my child. Our particular rock and salvation is one Mrs. Anias Lanthier, wife of Alexander Lanthier, the wealthy sugar baron—although he much prefers ‘magnate.’ Mrs. Lanthier and I have long been in correspondence concerning matters of the spirit. The Lanthiers have some progressive ideas when it comes to spreading the Golden Light. I have faith that we can do great works together.”
“Why hasn’t she come to meet us instead of sending someone if she is such a rock?”
“I don’t know the answer to that either,” Fox conceded. “Patrons work in mysterious ways sometimes. Being rich is a full-time job—so I’ve heard. At least she appears to have sent someone. I would be worried if you and I were to end up standing on that pier alone.”
“Alone? I can barely see the planks for all the people on it.”
Fox took a beat to try and determine if his young charge was being insolent or simply specific. “Do try to make an impression, Philomena,” he counseled. “We many be here for awhile.”
“Does she have any children?” Philomena abruptly changed the topic, having had enough of the world of adults during the long ocean voyage to last her a lifetime.
“Anias? No, I’m afraid the Good Lord did not see fit to bless Mrs. Lanthier with children, Philomena. Perhaps it will do you both a bit of good to be around each other for awhile.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” the girl snapped. “I don’t need another mother! I don’t even need you!” As the pressure of the long trip and its horrifying visions was finally released upon arrival, Philomena allowed herself to break down in tears.