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MONA; THE CHILD; AND THE BEAST

Plus THE SNAKE AND THE BELL and SOUTH SEA NOTES

From "The Strange Adventure Of James Shervinton and Other Stories"

By Louis Becke

T. FISHER UNWIN, 1902

LONDON




MONA; THE CHILD; AND THE BEAST'


mona was, as his master so frequently told him--accentuating the remark
with a blow or a kick--only "a miserable kanaka." Of his miserableness
there was no doubt, for Denison, who lived in the same house as he did,
was a daily witness of it--and his happiness. Also, he was a kanaka--a
native of Niu, in the South Pacific; Savage Island it is called by the
traders and is named on the charts, though its five thousand sturdy,
brown-skinned inhabitants have been civilised, Christianised, and have
lived fairly cleanly for the past thirty years.

mona and Denison had the distinction of being employed by Armitage, one
of the most unmitigated blackguards in the Pacific. He was a shipowner,
planter, merchant, and speculator; was looked upon by a good many people
as "not a bad sort of a fellow, you know--and the soul of hospitality."
In addition, he was an incorrigible drunken bully, and broke his wife's
heart within four years after she married him. mona was his cook.
Denison was one of his supercargoes, and (when a long boat of
drunkenness made him see weird visions of impossible creatures) manager
of the business on shore, overseer, accountant, and Jack-of-all-trades.
How he managed to stay on with such a brute I don't know. He certainly
paid him well enough, but he (Denison) could have got another berth from
other people in Samoa, Fiji, or Tonga had he wanted it. And, although
Armitage was always painfully civil to Denison--who tried to keep
his business from going to the dogs--the man hated him as much as he
despised mona, and would have liked to have kicked him, as he would
have liked to have kicked or strangled any one who knew the secret of
his wife's death and his child's lameness. And three people in Samoa did
know it--mona, the Niu cook, Dr. Eckhardt, and Denison. Armitage has
been dead now these five-and-twenty years--died, as he deserved to
die, alone and friendless in an Australian bush hospital out in the
God-forsaken Never-Never country, and when Denison heard of his death,
he looked at the gentle wife's dim, faded photograph, and wondered if
the Beast saw her sweet, sad face in his dying moments. He trusted
not; for in her eyes would have shown only the holy light of love
and forgiveness--things which a man like Armitage could not have
understood--even then.

She had been married three years when she came with him to Samoa to live
on Solo-Solo Plantation, in a great white-painted bungalow, standing
amid a grove of breadfruit and coco-palms, and overlooking the sea
to the north, east, and west; to the south was the dark green of the
mountain-forest.

"Oh! I think it is the fairest, sweetest picture in the world," she said
to Denison the first time he met her. She was sitting on the verandah
with her son in her lap, and as she spoke she pressed her lips to his
soft little cheek and caressed the tiny hands. "So different from where
I was born and lived all my life--on the doll, sun-baked plains of the
Riverina--isn't it, my pet?"

"I am glad that you like the place, Mrs. Armitage," the supercargo said
as he looked at the young, girlish face and thought that she, too, with
her baby, made a fair, sweet picture. How she loved the child! And how
the soft, grey-blue eyes would lose their sadness when the little one
turned its face up to hers and smiled! How came it, he wondered, that
such a tender, flower-like woman was mated to such a man as Armitage!

Long after she was dead, Denison heard the story--one common enough.
Her father, whose station adjoined that of Armitage, got into financial
difficulties, went to Armitage for help, and practically sold his
daughter to the Beast for a couple of thousand pounds. Very likely such
a man would have sold his daughter's mother as well if he wanted money.

* * * * *

As they sat talking, Armitage rode up, half-drunk as usual. He was a big
man, good-looking.

"Hallo, Nell! Pawing the damned kid as usual! Why the hell don't you let
one of the girls take the little animal and let him tumble about on the
grass? You're spoiling the child--by God, you are."

"Ah, he's so happy, Fred, here with me, and----"

"Happy be damned--you're always letting him maul you about. I want a
whisky-and-soda, and so does Denison--don't you?" And then the Beast, as
soon as his wife with the child in her arms had left the room, began
to tell his subordinate of a "new" girl he had met that morning in Joe
D'Acosta's saloon.

"Oh, shut up, man. Your wife is in the next room."

"Let her hear--and be damned to her! She knows what I do. I don't
disguise anything from her. I'm not a sneak in that way. By God, I'm not
the man to lose any fun from sentimental reasons. Have you seen this
new girl at Joe's? She's a Manhiki half-caste. God, man! She's glorious,
simply glorious!"

"You mean Laea, I suppose. She's a common beacher--sailor man's trull.
Surely you wouldn't be seen ever speaking to _her?_"

"Wouldn't I! You don't know me yet! I like the girl, and I've fixed
things up with her. She's coming here as my nursemaid--twenty dollars a
month! What do you think of that?"

"You would not insult your wife so horribly!"

He looked at Denison sullenly, but made no answer, as the supercargo
went on:

"You'll get the dead cut from every white man in Samoa. Not a soul will
put foot inside your store door, and Joe D'Acosta himself would refuse
to sell you a drink! Might as well shoot yourself at once."

"Oh, well, damn it all, don't keep on preaching. I--I was more in fun
than anything else. Ha! Here's mona with the drinks. Why don't you be a
bit smarter, you damned frizzy-haired man-eater?"

Amona's sallow face flushed deeply, but he made no reply to the insult
as he handed a glass to his master.

"Put the tray down there, confound you! Don't stand there like a
blarsted mummy; clear out till we want you again."

The native made no answer, bent his head in silence, and stepped quietly
away. Then Armitage began to grumble at him as a "useless swine."

"Why," said Denison, "Mrs. Armitage was only just telling me that he's
worth all the rest of the servants put together. And, by Jove, he _is_
fond of your youngster--simply worships the little chap."

Armitage snorted, and turned his lips down. Ten minutes later, he was
asleep in his chair.

*****

Nearly six months had passed--six months of wretchedness to the young
wife, whose heart was slowly breaking under the strain of living with
the Beast. Such happiness as was hers lay in the companionship of her
little son, and every evening Tom Denison would see her watching the
child and the patient, faithful mona, as the two played together on the
smooth lawn in front of the sitting-room, or ran races in and out among
the mango-trees. She was becoming paler and thinner every day--the Beast
was getting fatter and coarser, and more brutalised. Sometimes he would
remain in Apia for a week, returning home either boisterously drunk or
sullen and scowling-faced. In the latter case, he would come into the
office where Denison worked (he had left the schooner of which he was
supercargo, and was now "overseering" Solo-Solo) and try to grasp the
muddled condition of his financial affairs. Then, with much variegated
language, he would stride away, cursing the servants and the place
and everything in general, mount his horse, and ride off again to the
society of the loafers, gamblers, and flaunting unfortunates who haunted
the drinking saloons of Apia and Matafele.

One day came a crisis. Denison was rigging a tackle to haul a tree-trunk
into position in the plantation saw-pit, when Armitage rode up to the
house. He dismounted and went inside. Five minutes later Amona came
staggering down the path to him. His left cheek was cut to the bone by
a blow from Armitage's fist. Denison brought him into his own room,
stitched up the wound, and gave him a glass of grog, and told him to
light his pipe and rest.

"mona, you're a _valea_ (fool). Why don't you leave this place? This
man will kill you some day. How many beatings has he given you?" He
spoke in English.

"I know not how many. But it is God's will. And if the master some day
killeth me, it is well. And yet, but for some things, I would use my
knife on him."

"What things?"

He came over to the supercargo, and, seating himself cross-legged on the
floor, placed his firm, brown, right hand on the white man's knee.

"For two things, good friend. The little fingers of the child are
clasped tightly around my heart, and when his father striketh me and
calls me a filthy man-eater, a dog, and a pig, I know no pain. That is
one thing. And the other thing is this--the child's mother hath come to
me when my body hath ached from the father's blows, and the blood hath
covered my face; and she hath bound up my wounds and wept silent tears,
and together have we knelt and called upon God to turn his heart from
the grog and the foul women, and to take away from her and the child the
bitterness of these things."

"You're a good fellow, mona," said Denison, as he saw that the man's
cheeks were wet with tears.

"Nay, for sometimes my heart is bitter with anger. But God is good to
me. For the child loveth me. And the mother is of God... aye, and she
will be with Him soon." Then he rose to his knees suddenly, and looked
wistfully at the supercargo, as he put his hand on his. "She will be
dead before the next moon is _ai aiga_ (in the first quarter), for at
night I lie outside her door, and but three nights ago she cried out to
me: 'Come, Amona, Come!' And I went in, and she was sitting up on
her bed and blood was running from her mouth. But she bade me tell no
one--not even thee. And it was then she told me that death was near
to her, for she hath a disease whose roots lie in her chest, and
which eateth away her strength.



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