Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Florida and Japan.
Edward Spalding, president of Honolulu’s prestigious Pacific Club, examined his Havana cigar. “Why can’t someone invent a proper cigar box, one that keeps them moist?” he asked to no one in particular, his nose wrinkled. Spaulding cut the end of his and dipped it into his Armagnac. The club’s senior butler, a snowy-haired Azorean, padded to Spalding’s side, struck a long match and held it steady until the cigar’s tip glowed uniformly red.
The sugar cane barons sat in ruby-hued high-back chairs upholstered with felt that were loosely arranged around a pair of coffee tables in the men-only smoking room. They began their own cigar-smoking rituals, as if preparing a choreographed sacramental offering.
Lining the dimly lit baroque walls were staid portraits of past presidents dating back to the club’s founding in 1852 when it was called the “British Club,” reflecting its business dominance at the time. Outside the windows, where vineyards once flourished, gas-lit torches glowed beneath palm tree fronds snapping in the wind. None of the trade winds ripping up from the harbor filtered into the enclosed room, which suited the men just fine, for they enjoyed air rich with cigar perfume — the fragrance of power.
Except for their spokesman, the lanky John Waterhouse, the men thought of their Teddy Roosevelt girth as evidence of their success. Bilkerton, the only nervous man in the circle, dipped his cigar in his brandy without first cutting off the tip. He missed the disdain in the eyes of the other men as he said, abruptly, “I believe, Eddie, you were present in this club when the decision was made to overthrow the queen.”
“It’s Edward, if you don’t mind, Joshua.” Spalding drew on his cigar and let the smoke out slowly.
“Overthrow? Really, now. The queen stepped aside realizing the time for the monarchy had passed. A wise and highly respected woman. But, yes, I was present. And, as a new member, I listened.” Spalding paused to sip his Armagnac without taking his eyes off Bilkerton. His tobacco-tarred voice added, “It would be good . . . if you did the same.”
John Waterhouse tamped his pipe in an ashtray fashioned from a conch shell and struck a match to light his pipe. Satisfied with the glow, he tilted the stem of the pipe toward Spalding. “If I may?”
Smiling indulgently, Spalding swept his left hand, gesturing, “Go ahead, be my guest.”
Bilkerton gulped down half his brandy, even while sensing this wasn’t the proper way. He felt at a loss, unable to discern the meaning of the ritual playing out here. Yet, at last, he had been invited to the club. A long overdue invitation. No doubt, his strong handling of the wildcat strike had earned these men’s respect. He had acted decisively, firmly. He had hired fisherman and renegade Filipino strikebreakers to cut cane for $2 a day. He’d shown those Japs he could get along without them. It was about time these men recognized his contribution.
“We don’t want any more sideshows in Waimea,” said Waterhouse, his voice low and his gaze on Bilkerton unforgiving. “The killing of the child and mother has been a distraction, Joshua.” He picked up the tear sheet from the Feb. 2, 1920, edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, its page still damp with fresh ink. “This is an advance copy of tomorrow’s front page. Read it out loud, please,” he said holding out the sheet.
Bilkerton felt the blood rush to his neck, all the while thinking, This isn’t right. I have stood up for you. He leaned over to take the sheet. He didn’t clasp his finger and thumb fast enough and the page fluttered to the floor. “Your brandy’s too good,” he apologized with a sheepish smile while bending to pick it up. He extracted a pair of reading glasses from his outside coat pocket. Bringing the sheet into focus, he read barely loud enough to be heard. “‘What is Hawai‘i going to do about the strike? What is the government of the U.S. going to do? Is Hawai‘i ruled by Tökyö? The strike is not over wages, but who controls Hawai‘i?’”
Before he could continue, Spalding interrupted. “Thank you.” He picked up another tear sheet.
Bilkerton’s sphincter tightened. His mind flashed back to school, where he hated sitting in the front of the class because his name started with a “B.”
“I will read this one,” said Waterhouse, holding the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Waterhouse’s voice rose in pitch to that of a lawyer addressing a jury on final summation. “‘Priests of Asiatic paganism, foreign language teachers and Japanese editors control laborers to become masters of Hawai‘i’s destiny.’” Spalding cleared his throat. “Do you understand the strategy, Joshua?”
“There’s a helluva lot more at stake than wages,” he said, decisively.
Spalding slammed his glass on the table. “It’s only about wages.”
Bilkerton’s mouth opened like a fish reaching for a baited hook.
Westinghouse lifted his index finger, quieting Bilkerton before he uttered a word. He spoke like a teacher in front of a pupil having trouble understanding a simple math equation. “If we fight the union demands on their terms — wages and benefits — we place ourselves in a tug of war that could go either way. So this strike must be sold on our terms. Who controls the destiny of these islands? White, Christian, real Americans? Or bronze Buddhists who bow every morning to their heathen leader thousands of miles away?”
“Of course,” said Bilkerton, embarrassed by his precipitous reply.
“So we fight the troublemakers on the issue of sovereignty. We cannot recognize a union controlled by foreign agitators. Now can we?”
“I understand,” said Bilkerton, almost pleading him to stop the lesson.
Spalding spoke over the groans of his fellow barons perched like bishops at an inquisition. “You idiot! You understand nothing. The day before your nightriders stirred up the do-gooders, we had the newspapers report that America demanded Japan withdraw from Siberia, proving the Japanese can never be trusted. We reminded the readers of how those damned Jap language schools are part of the emperor’s design to use his overseas workers as a stalking horse to absorb Hawai‘i into the Japanese empire. We printed evidence of one group of plantation workers sending a million dollars in remittances to Japan. They cry about low wages while sending money to the emperor!”
Spalding stood up. “So, just as we started our campaign to cripple these Bolsheviks, what happens?” Spalding swirled his arms over his head in frustration. “A front-page story about a mother and children burned to death in a Ku Klux Klan-type night raid.” He let his eyes rove over all the owners.
In a steely calm voice, Westinghouse accused, “Japanese businessmen, who were sitting this out, are throwing money at Tsutsumi.”
“What do you want me to do?
“Nothing!” rasped a voice from one of the Big Five.
“Nothing,” repeated Waterhouse. “Do not negotiate. Do not hire any more strikebreakers. Do not talk to reporters. Nothing.”
Sweat trickled down Bilkerton’s face.
Spalding’s voice intoned, “I believe we can have our strike strategy meeting now, John.”
The men waited.
It took Bilkerton half a minute to realize he’d been dismissed. He rose and walked out of the room, determined to step steadily despite the alcohol and humiliation. He thought of that priest and his wife. All these years, that Takayama fellow had pretended to help calm the workers. All the time setting me up. He will pay for this day.
To be continued . . .