10:2 A Carpet of Flowers

MILAKALE, KAUA‘I, THE REPUBLIC OF HAWAI‘I  |  1889

On the landing, the pair was welcomed by the Lanthier’s housekeeper, Noelani Mahoe, who proved to be a gracious hostess in her own right and placed opulent flower leis on the shoulders of both travelers as they disembarked the steamship. The humid air and heady mix of perfumes from fragrant plumeria, carnation, orchid, and pikake flowers made Philomena’s head swim as she followed the sturdy yet graceful woman from the dock.

“Reverend Fox, we are so blessed to have you and little Philomena as our guests,” Mahoe gushed.

Once they were free of the crowd, the woman squatted down in her pleats to get a better look at Philomena. “And you, my poor dear, this must be some adjustment, yea? Have you ever been to the islands before?”

Philomena couldn’t tell if she was making fun of her or not. “No, ma’am,” she answered. “I have never been out of Fiesta before … ” For the second time that afternoon, Philomena found herself unable to keep from crying.

“Oh, now, it just won’t do to have such a beautiful girl weeping in such a public place,” Mahoe theatrically waved her hand back at the busy dock. “Let’s go home, shall we? You can cry it all out there. Mrs. Lanthier will be so happy to see you both, tear-stained or not.”

“Where are the Lanthiers, Miss Mahoe?” Fox asked. I expected that Anias would have been loath to pass up a chance to leave the plantation.”

“Oh, Mrs. Lanthier is excited to see you, Reverend,” Mahoe said, glancing sideways at the young girl. “And I’m sure very excited to meet you, little miss. It’s just … I’m afraid there has been a terrible accident, sir. Mr. Lanthier—if I might speak frankly in front of the girl—is in a bad way.”

“Then you must take us there immediately!” Fox exclaimed.

“What about your trunks?” Mahoe looked around the busy landing.

“We have no trunks, madam. Please, make haste; I feel that God has delivered me to this island for a reason!”

Once again, Philomena was taken aback at how quickly her guardian could slip into what she came to think of as Holy Mode.

“Let us go, then,” Mahoe acquiesced. “Afterward, though, you have to let me get some good island food into you. You both look like a couple of stowaways. If Mrs. Lanthier finds time to focus on your belies instead of her troubles, I will be let go for sure.”

“I would listen to her, Philomena,” Fox conspiratorially put his arm around the girl as he led her from the dock. “Mrs. Lanthier is a woman who is used to getting what she wants. If she wants us to be fat and sassy, well, I guess we are going to be fat and sassy. I, for one, am OK with that. What say you?”

The road to the Lanthier’s sprawling property was lavishly lined with citrus trees of all kinds. Lemons, pummelos, and grapefruit all competed to see who could better perfume the soft breeze that drifted up the valley. Fat honeybees buzzed and hummingbird moths flitted from bloom to bloom as the open carriage carrying the housekeeper and the two guests rolled by.

A carpet of Asian coral jasmine blossoms that had dropped with the morning’s first light was crushed into the iron-rich red dirt underneath wooden wheels and horses’ hooves, releasing even more fragrance as the carriage passed.

As they rounded a final corner, Philomena was stunned at the opulent beauty of the Lanthier house. She would often mention when retelling the story of her arrival on Kaua‘i that one should think that an ornate Victorian mansion would look out of place on the edge of a tropical forest, but Mrs. Lanthier, her kupuna wahine, or adopted grandmother, somehow managed to infuse the structure with the spirit of the island so well that it looked as if it had grown as sympathetically from the volcanic soil as any fern or acacia koa.

A wide porch, or lanai, surrounded the two-story section of the main house and was outfitted with a small army of wicker couches and rockers set back in the shade. A surprising percentage of the island’s important business was done in the cooler evenings out on the Lanthier’s lanai, where men—and a few native women—could smoke the cigars that Mrs. Lanthier did not allow in her house.

To either side of the Big House in repose, smaller, more traditional plantation bungalows sat as if waiting to fulfill the mansion’s needs, and indeed, that is where the house staff and their families lived. On the much smaller lanai of the low, one-story house to her right, Philomena noticed a boy around her own age sitting on the stair watching their arrival. She waved as the carriage came to a stop and the boy returned the gesture but did not leave his precious shade.

“Who is that, Miss Mahoe?” Philomena asked.

The woman followed the girl’s gaze and considered the boy as if noticing him for the first time. “Oh, that is my nephew Maleko,” she tossed off. “I should have mentioned him. I can ask him to show you around the grounds if you like. There are plenty of places to explore.”

Philomena looked up at Fox for permission. He was less than excited to have his charge run off with an unfamiliar native child just yet—God knows what sort of mischief they could get in to—however, he would just as soon not have the girl underfoot as he attended to Alexander.

“Why don’t you go introduce yourself,” he begrudgingly suggested. “I’ll have Miss Mahoe take me to see Alexander.”

The girl could barely contain her excitement. Just think of the mischief we could get into!

Mahoe dismounted and handed the reins to one of her brothers while helping Philomena down from the carriage.

“I’m afraid we must walk from here, Reverend. The trail to the beach is too narrow and rugged for the carriage.”

“Lead on then, miss, I fear that time may be against us,” Fox charged.

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