Eden settled in for the short ride as the hackney jolted along the narrow street. The morning had proven demanding, just as Aunt Lana had said. Eden was grateful for a reprieve and leaned back into the seat for a few undisturbed minutes. She loosened a wooden button near her throat and relished the trade wind blowing warm and moist.
The Pacific came into view and she could just make out the greenish-blue haze she knew to be the glove-shaped island of Molokai with its leper settlement, Kalaupapa. Once again the tragedy of her mother Rebecca came to mind, bringing feelings of regret and wishful thinking.
If only she could have known her mother.
Though her mother had been incarcerated at the settlement for years, Eden had learned of the tragedy only two months ago from Grandfather Ainsworth, and only because of Rafe’s insistence.
“If Eden is not told the truth, I’ll tell her myself,” he told Ainsworth. “She actually suspects her mother was murdered.”
The Derrington family, with her Grandfather’s permission, had kept Rebecca’s condition a secret for over a decade because the pervading culture of business and society shunned anyone connected with the sickness. Uncle Townsend in particular wanted the matter hidden because he was running for the Hawaiian legislature, and he had warned “It will give my opponent something even more devastating to use against me.”Even so, her uncle’s political race had not gone smoothly because of his own moral leprosy. He’d been young at the time, politically inexperienced, spoiled, and unfaithful in his marriage.
It had been the Derrington name that helped Uncle Townsend win his seat in the Legislature. Now, many years later, he still held it, though he hadn’t changed for the wiser, and his sinful ways were occasionally mentioned in the small Honolulu newspapers that opposed his political views.
Eden bristled over the fact that the family had concealed her mother’s condition. Since childhood she’d naturally accepted what she’d been told --- that her mother was dead. Then, as Eden matured, there had been several bewildering contradictions that caused the story to unravel. In her confusion she began to suspect that Rebecca may have been murdered. Meanwhile, during Eden’s troubling years of doubt, her grieving father, driven by some haunting passion that savaged his strength, had traveled the exotic world seeking the cure that would set his wife free. If there was any shame, it was that the truth was kept from me all those many years.
Ling Li pulled to the side of the road, bringing the hackney to a shuddering halt.
“What is it? Why are we stopping, Ling?”
He hissed. “Must stop. Stay in seat.”
Eden leaned forward and looked across the road. She recognized a group of islanders being escorted single file from the quarantine station to the wharf where they would board the Kilauea, a steamer licensed by the Board of Health to transport lepers into forced exile at Molokai. For all the times she had witnessed this tragic scene, she could never look upon the lepers with the professional detachment of the Board of Health doctors. For the most part these people were without faith in God, without hope of ever returning to home or family, and doomed to a solitary life of hardship ending in dismal death.
On the deck of the steamer were rows of cages where the lepers would be confined for the fifty-eight mile voyage. Once the steamer reached Molokai and neared the section of beach where the lepers were to be left, they would be given a bundle of meager supplies allotted to them by the Hawaiian government. Then the landing boats would be lowered into the sea for the perilous ride through the surf to the rocky shoreline. High waves had on occasion caused some to drown before reaching land. The lepers would be off-loaded near the rocky shore, or directly into the sea if rough breakers prevented a landing. Those that reached the beach often died within a few short years from health complications, such as pneumonia during the rainy season. The huts they lived in were leaky, and when the patients grew weak from their disease they were unable to go out and gather wood for warmth and cooking. Though the government gave them taro roots for planting, not all had the strength to do so, and many wasted away. Still, others lived on for many years.
Is there not some better way? she thought again. Surely there must be, but the Board of Health was out of money. The past king had squandered finances on his extravagant lifestyle, and now his sister, the present queen, insisted that conditions on Molokai would not be improved because Hawaii was deeply in debt. If only someone could tour churches in America, thought Eden, telling Christians of the dreadful fate of the Molokai lepers, and raising money for assistance and better dwellings. She would be willing to go, especially if Lana or Dr. Bolton could accompany her.
Eden was especially grateful that her father had arranged for her mother to have a bungalow at Kalaupapa. He had also paid for a kokua woman to live with her. A kokua was a servant who did not have leprosy, but was willing to risk the disease to care for the person. Many times they ended up with leprosy as well, but it was part of the grave risk they knew they were taking. Eden had tried to discover the name of Rebecca’s kokua, but no one in the family apparently knew. It was a sad statement on their lack of interest in Jerome Derrington’s wife, an ordinary teacher at the Royal School.
Eden was still trying to discover the kokua’s identity. She wanted to reward her, if alive, with whatever she and her mother needed. Eden considered that no one in the Derrington family actually knew for certain if Rebecca was still alive. She had personally done what she could to learn of her mother’s condition, but the matter remained hazy. She had written her father telling him she’d learned about her mother, but hadn’t heard back from him yet. He was due to arrive back in Honolulu within the year, however, and then she would know everything. She would even make the trip to Molokai --- something she now dreamed about --- with Dr. Jerome Derrington leading the way.
As the group of lepers marched to the pier, they were followed by great wailings of lamentation from family and friends. The Hawaiians going about their normal business drew away from the pier when they recognized the wailing, as though they expected poisonous vipers to lunge out and sink sharp fangs into their legs. Some of the lepers had been in hiding until bounty hunters tracked them down. These were far enough along in the crippling disease to offend the sensibilities of the crowd. They hobbled up the ramp on feet with rotting toes, using canes to achieve an awkward balance. Others had only recently contacted the disease and were still whole except for a missing earlobe or a bright spot on the cheek. Many of them wept in despair seeing what they would become in time. Still, there were those who boarded the ship with dignity, shoulders back, and heads held high. One young man smiled as he waved a salute to family. “Only for a short time,” he called,” and then I’ll be home with the Lord.” His family waved their goodbye, then bowed their heads in prayer.
The guards kept their distance, using long poles to urge the line up the ramp, as though prodding cattle. Their faces were as stoic as the medical practitioners.
No matter how many times Eden viewed this tragic scene, she could never keep the professional lid on her emotions. These people once had hopes and plans, and now their lives had come to this. Those sent to Molokai never returned.
“It’s the hopelessness of their situation that’s so dreadful,” she told Ling. “Leprosy in the Bible is a picture of incurable sin. Lepers would stand afar off and cry Unclean! Unclean! so that others would not come near. Only the sinless One, Jesus, was able to touch and cure a leper.”
Eden watched with deep emotion as men, women, and even two children were hurried toward the gangplank. She remembered the two children. Dr. Bolton had spoken of them with sorrow and frustration. “What could I do? It pains my heart. If I’d left either of them with their mother, the disease could contaminate her and break out among relatives. Where they came by it, no one knows.”
The children’s mother, wearing a yellow muumuu, followed barefoot in the wake of the guards, wailing inconsolably.
“Auwe! Auwe! Auwe!” the pitiable cry continued.
The two children, huddled together, captured Eden’s attention. Scared and bewildered, they clung to each other like Hansel and Gretel, looking back over their shoulders at their wailing mother. The pathetic sight tore at Eden’s heart.
The other lepers seemed not to notice. Like men already dead, forever separated from their mournful relatives, they shuffled up the gangway to board the Kilauea.
Eden grasped Ling’s shoulder. He flinched, startled. “Drive me closer.”
He moaned his displeasure.
“You’re safe,” she assured him. “Doctor Bolton’s staff examine lepers every day. Please, Ling.”
He did so, the horse walking slowly nearer.
A larger throng gathered along the wharf now, watching. More wailing filled the air. The two children kept crying and looking back as the guard hurried them up the gangway. The woman tore at her hair with a wail and broke through the onlookers, running toward her children.
“I go with them,” she cried. “I die with them—be their kokua.”
The stone-faced captain shook his head. “Nay, woman, ye make a big mistake. Go and you’ll never come back. You’ll become a leper. Return to your husband.”
“Husband gone, and my little flowers are still buds. I go with them.
As she screamed and pleaded, a Hawaiian guard rushed forward to restrain her. The captain spat tobacco juice and lifted a silencing hand. “You cannot come without legal papers. I’ve no time to wait.”
“I cannot leave them!” she cried. Struggling, kicking, and screaming hysterically, she managed to twist free from the guards and clawed her way past the others. By this time the two children were wailing as loudly as she. The guards caught her again, this time roughly holding her arms behind her. She fell to her knees weeping.
Eden glared, climbing down from the hackney in order to reprimand the guards in the name of the Board of Health. At that moment the captain intervened. In a loud voice he shouted, “Do you vow before these many witnesses ye want this damnable fate?”
“I go with my children!”
“As ye will, then, woman. Come! Ye’ll soon be numbered among the lepers.”
Eden stood there, numb. The wind shook her straw sunhat. She watched the woman run to the children and gather them to her bosom like two trembling chicks, now safe beneath her wings. The throng fell silent.
Eden’s thoughts flashed to the only one in all recorded history who could touch a leper and say, “Be clean.” Jesus came as the spotless lamb of God to a world of spiritual lepers, who in God’s holy view, were as loathsome as these physical lepers. But Jesus, who cleansed physical leprosy, thought it more important that men be cleansed from spiritual leprosy. Sinful men who believed in His atoning death and resurrection became purified children of God, without spot or blemish. She remembered what Jesus had spoken to Mary Magdalene in the garden after His bodily resurrection. “I ascend unto My Father and your Father.”Now,Eden thought, because of Jesus, God can be my Father.
Excerpted from THE SPOILS OF EDEN: The Dawn of Hawaii © Copyright 2011 by Linda Lee Chaikin. Reprinted with permission by Moody Publishers. All rights reserved./p>