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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 admiring wonder.

"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, alii."

 
 
 

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