Tis In The Blood by Louis Becke
WE were in Manton's Hotel at Levuka-Levuka in her palmy days. There were
Robertson, of the barque Rolumah; a fat German planter from the Yasawa Group;
Harry the Canadian, a trader from the Tokelaus, and myself.
Presently a knock came to the door, and Allan, the boatswain of our brig, stood
hat in hand before us. He was a stalwart half-caste of Manhiki, and, perhaps, the
greatest manaia (Lothario) from Ponape to Fiji.
"Captain say to come aboard, please. He at the Consul's for papers -- he meet
you at boat," and Allan left.
"By shingo, dot's a big fellow," said Planter Oppermann.
"Ay," said Robertson, the trading skipper, "and a good man with his mauleys, too.
He's the champion knocker-out in Samoa, and is a match for any Englishman in
Polynesia, let alone foreigners" -- with a sour glance at the German.
"Well, good-bye all," I said. "I'm sorry, Oppermann, I can't stay for another day for
your wedding, but our skipper isn't to be got at anyhow."
The trading captain and Harry walked with me part of the way, and then
began the usual Fiji gup.
"Just fancy that fat-headed Dutchman going all the way to Samoa and picking on a
young girl and sending her to the Sisters to get educated properly! As if any old
beach-girl isn't good enough for a blessed Dutchman. Have you seen her?"
"No," I said; "Oppermann showed me her photo. Pretty girl. Says she's been three
years with the Sisters in Samoa, and has got all the virtues of her white father,
and none of the vices of her Samoan mammy. Told me he's spent over two
thousand dollars on her already."
Robertson smiled grimly. "Ay, I don't doubt it. He's been all round Levuka cracking
her up. I brought her here last week, and the Dutchman's been in a chronic state
of silly ever since. She's an almighty fine girl. She's staying with the Sisters here
till the marriage. By the Lord, here she is now coming along the street! Bet a dollar
she's been round Vagadace way, where there are some fast Samoan women living.
'Tis in the blood, I tell you."
The future possessor of the Oppermann body and estate was a pretty girl. Only
those who have seen fair young Polynesian half-castes -- before they get
married, and grow coarse, and drink beer, and smoke like a factory chimney --
know how pretty.
Our boat was at the wharf, and just as we stood talking Allan sauntered up
and asked me for a dollar to get a bottle of gin. Just then the German's fiancee
reached us. Robertson introduced Harry and myself to her, and then said
good-bye. She stood there in the broiling Fijian sun with a dainty sunshade over her
face, looking so lovely and cool in her spotless muslin dress, and withal so
innocent, that I no longer wondered at the Dutchman's "chronic state of silly."
Allan the Stalwart stood by waiting for his dollar. The girl laughed joyously when
Harry the Canadian said he would be at the wedding and have a high time, and held
out her soft little hand as he bade her adieu and strolled off for another drink.
The moment Harry had gone Allan was a new man. Pulling off his straw hat, he
saluted her in Samoan, and then opened fire.
"There are many teine lalelei (beautiful girls) in the world, but there is none so
beautiful as thou. Only truth do I speak, for I have been to all countries of the
world. Ask him who is here -- our supercargo -- if I lie. O maid with the teeth of
pearl and face like Fetuao (the morning star), my stomach is drying up with the
fire of love."
The sunshade came a little lower, and the fingers played nervously with the ivory
handle. I leant against a coconut tree and listened.
"Thy name is Vaega. See that! How do I know? Aha, how do I? Because, for
two years or more, whenever I passed by the stone wall of the Sisters' dwelling in
Matafele, I climbed up and watched thee, O Star of the Morning, and I heard the
other girls call thee Vaega. Oho! and some night I meant to steal thee away."
(The rascal! He told me two days afterwards that the only time he ever climbed
the Mission wall was to steal mangoes.)
The sunshade was tilted back, and displayed two big, black eyes, luminous with
"And so thou hast left Samoa to come here to be devoured by this fat hog of a
Dutchman! Dost thou not know, O foolish, lovely one, that she who mates with a
Siamani (German) grows old in quite a little time, and thy face, which is now
smooth and fair, will be coarse as the rind of a half-ripe bread-fruit, because of
the foul food these swine of Germans eat?"
"Allan," I called, "here's the captain!"
There was a quick clasp of hands as the Stalwart One and the Maid hurriedly spoke
again, this time in a whisper, and then the white muslin floated away out of sight.
The captain was what he called "no' so dry" -- viz. half-seas over, and very jolly.
He told Allan he could have an hour to himself to buy what he wanted, and then
told me that the captain of a steam collier had promised to give us a tug out at
daylight. "I'm right for the wedding-feast after all," I thought.
But the wedding never came off. That night Oppermann, in a frantic state, was
tearing round Levuka hunting for his love, who had disappeared. At daylight, as the
collier steamed ahead and tautened our tow-line, we could see the parties of
searchers with torches scouring the beach. Our native sailors said they had heard
a scream about ten at night and seen the sharks splashing, and the white liars of
Levuka shook their heads and looked solemn as they told tales of monster sharks
with eight-foot jaws always cruising close in to the shore at night.
Three days afterwards Allan came to me with stolid face and asked for a bottle of
wine, as Vaega was very sea-sick. I gave him the wine, and threatened to tell the
captain. He laughed, and said he would fight any man, captain or no captain, who
meddled with him. And, as a matter of fact, he felt safe -- the skipper valued him
too much to bully him over the mere stealing of a woman. So the limp and sea-sick
Vaega was carried up out of the sweating foc'sle and given a cabin berth, and Allan
planked down two twenty-dollar pieces for her passage to the Union Group. When
she got better she sang rowdy songs, and laughed all day, and made fun of
the holy Sisters. And one day Allan beat her with a deal board because she sat
down on a band-box in the trade-room and ruined a hat belonging to a swell
official's wife in Apia. And she liked him all the better for it.
The fair Vaega was Mrs Allan for just six months, when his erratic fancy was
captivated by the daughter of Mauga, the chief of Tutuila, and an elopement
resulted to the mountains. The subsequent and inevitable parting made Samoa an
undesirable place of residence for Allan, who shipped as boatsteerer in the Niger
of New Bedford. As for Vaega, she drifted back to Apia, and there, right under the
shadow of the Mission Church, she flaunted her beauty. The last time I saw her
was in Charley the Russian's saloon, when she showed me a letter. It was from the
bereaved Oppermann, asking her to come back and marry him.
"Are you going?" I said.
"E pule le Atua (if God so wills), but he only sent me twenty dollars, and that
isn't half enough. However, there's an American man-of-war coming next week,
and these other girls will see then. I'll make the papalagi officers shell out. To fa,